Documentary tracking these women over the next fifty years

ht Joe Mande and Dave King


Aquarium Drunkard

Picked this one up from listening to Aquarium Drunkard‘s playlists on Spotify.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 8.53.26 AM

Don’t know anything about Aquarium Drunkard except passed-down oral legend and intend to keep it that way but I’m not the first to discover him — the guy is brightening my life with his (?) music curating.

Tanya Tucker

Sherrill initially planned to have Tucker record “The Happiest Girl In the Whole USA,” but she passed on the tune to Donna Fargo, choosing “Delta Dawn” — a song she heardBette Midler sing on The Tonight Show — instead. Released in the spring of 1972, the song became a hit, peaking at number six on the country charts and scraping the bottom of the pop charts. At first, Columbia Records tried to downplay Tucker’s age, but soon word leaked out and she became a sensation. A year later, Australian singer Helen Reddy would score a No. 1 U.S. pop hit with her version of “Delta Dawn.”

She had begun drinking in her late teens, and she explained how it started: “You send your ass out on the road doing two gigs a night and after all that adoration go back to empty hotel rooms. Loneliness got me into it.” In 1978 Tucker moved to Los Angeles, California, to try, unsuccessfully, to broaden her appeal to pop audiences, and was quickly captivated by the city’s nightlife. She also said that she “was the wildest thing out there. I could stay up longer, drink more and kick the biggest ass in town. I was on the ragged edge.”

Worth having a look at Bette’s version if only for her outfit:

Tam Is Uniform For This Bridge Player


Guessing that Bobby from work is the only other person who maybe paused the Frank Sinatra HBO documentary to read some of the other articles.

Harry Fishbein

Fishbein, tamless.

It’s really too bad how much journalism has declined.

Tam O Shanter

you gotta keep this one in your rotation.

here’s to pretzels

Posted: April 15th, 2015 | No Comments »


Shady Grove

In my foolish youth I thought Tom Petty was kind of a joke, until Bob Dylan in Chronicles woke me up hard.

Bob also has words of respect for Jerry Garcia:

What an eerie tune.  Wikipedia is unusually quiet on this one.

Many verses exist,[citation needed] most of them describing the speaker’s love for a woman called Shady Grove. There are also various choruses, which refer to the speaker traveling somewhere (to Harlan, to a place called Shady Grove, or simply “away”)



The folks at take on the problem:

Subject: Origins: ‘Shady Grove’ a mondegreen ?
From: GUEST,Jake
Date: 15 Aug 10 – 11:23 PMMulling (for the thousandth time) over the incongruity of ‘Shady Grove’ which is nothing about trees protecting the singer from the sun, but seems to be a woman’s name, it occurred to me in a flash of insight, that of course it must have started as a song about a Woman or girl named “Sadie” with the surname “Grove”, ie, “Sadie Grove”, and was corrupted by the usual vagaries of oral transmission, etc, etc.   Searching this forum and the web generally provides no support for this conjecture, however.

Subject: RE: Origins: ‘Shady Grove’ a mondegreen ?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 15 Aug 10 – 11:32 PMI have always shared this confusion: Shady Grove seems to be the woman’s name, but also the name of the place or location in which she lives, sometimes incongruously both at the same time. The fact that it’s one of those myriad songs [Going Down Town; Bowling Green …] which share pretty much the same set of ‘floaters’ doesn’t help.~Michael~

Subject: RE: Origins: ‘Shady Grove’ a mondegreen ?
From: Hamish
Date: 16 Aug 10 – 03:18 AM”Wish I was in Shady Grove” takes on a new meaning.”When I was in Shady Grove I heard them pretty birds sing” (and the earth moved, no doubt).

Subject: RE: Origins: ‘Shady Grove’ a mondegreen ?
From: GUEST,Lynn W
Date: 16 Aug 10 – 04:11 AMThere is a comment on Wikipedia that the melody is similar to Matty Groves. Any connection, I wonder?

Subject: RE: Origins: ‘Shady Grove’ a mondegreen ?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 16 Aug 10 – 05:19 AMWikipedia has got it backwards. The folk-revival version of “Matty Groves” took its tune from “Shady Grove”.

That’s as far down this hole as I can go at the moment.

I’d be shocked if any Helytimes readers hadn’t wikipedia’d The Child Ballads.

If demographizing the known Helytimes readership, I’d say “it’s people, mostly people I know, who have Wikipedia’d The Child Ballads.”

Still, why not a refresher on some best ofs?


Although shy and diffident on account of his working-class origins, he was soon recognized as “the best writer, best speaker, best mathematician, the most accomplished person in knowledge of general literature” and he became extremely popular with his classmates.

Child became the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory when he we was 26.  Says an admirer, writing in the 1970s:

Child well understood how indispensable good writing and good speaking are to civilization, or as many would now prefer to say, to society. For him, writing and speaking were not only the practical means by which men share useful information, but also the means whereby they formulate and share values, including the higher order of values that give meaning to life and purpose to human activities of all sorts. Concerned as he thus so greatly was with rhetoric, oratory, and the motives of those mental disciplines, Child was inevitably drawn into pondering the essential differences between speech and writing, and to searching for the origins of thoughtful expression in English.

(Yes!  That’s the good reason for being into this I’ve been looking for.)

Sometimes I picture Child backpacking around from pub to pub learning these things.  Mostly, though, he got them from manuscripts.

Don’t you worry, he could cut loose sometimes:

he also gave a sedulous but conservative hearing to popular versions still surviving.

Child engaged

 in extensive international correspondence on the subject with colleagues abroad, primarily with the Danish literary historian and ethnographer Svend Grundtvig, whose monumental twelve-volume compilation of Danish ballads, Danmarks gamle Folkeviser, vols. 1–12 (Copenhagen, 1853), was the model for Child’s resulting canonical five-volume edition of some 305 English and Scottish ballads and their numerous variants.



Child is buried in the Sedgwick Pie.

Sedgwick pie

Is Kyra Sedgwick eligible for the Sedgwick Pie?  Seems like she might be.  Also seems a bit rude to ask a wonderful and very alive actress and mother if she’s given any thought to her grave.

Famously (? I guess, I never read the biography) not included:

Edie Sedgwick


Videos discussed last night

from a conversation about whether my friends should get a goat:

from a conversation about Tinashe:


Not everyone likes Yass cat.  Myself, I think it’s about the best seven seconds of filmmaking I’ve ever seen.  I hate when people apply “perfect” to invariably flawed human works but this video is perfect.

Perfect performances, perfect editing, perfect lighting, perfect audio quality.  Perfect three act structure.


An informant told me about Yaaaaaaas Gaga guy.

When Rupert Murdoch talks about his dad

he’s talking about a man who was born in 1885.

Keith Murdoch

One more good one from




Breaking The Maya Code

Dresden Codex

Franciscan monk Diego de Landa arrived in the Yucatan in the year 1541.  He wrote up a description of the Mayan people he found there.  He says:

These people also used certain characters or letters, with which they wrote in their books about the antiquities and their sciences; with these, and with figures, and certain signs in the figures, they understood their matter, made them know, and taught them.  We found a great number of books in these letters.

So: what did he do next?

Do you guess made put together a fantastic collection for posterity?

The answer is:

Since they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods of the devil we burned them all, which they took most grievously, and which gave them great pain.

What kind of jackass shows up in a place and the first thing he does is burn all the books?  Even fellow missionaries thought de Landa was a little much.


To look at it from his perspective though?  Just for one second?  In his mind he was in a jungle where every single person was worshipping idols or demons or maybe even the Devil himself and bound for fiery Hell unless by a miracle their souls could be saved.

Supposedly — who knows if this is true, but this is a story — on like his first day in the Yucatan he was walking out in the sticks when he interrupted a human sacrifice, and the whole thing freaked him out.

Anyway: the total number of Mayan books that survived – codices is the more accurate word, I’m told, because they’re not bound like books exactly — the total number of Mayan codices is three.  Maybe four.  Dresden, Madrid, Paris, named for the city that had the dusty library where they were found.  Maybe Grolier is authentic too, I refuse to weigh in, Grolier is named for a private club of book-collectors in Manhattan where it was exhibited after it was, allegedly, found in a cave in the 1970s.

grolier codex

The Grolier Codex. Suspicious.

Each of the codices has some amazing backstory.  The Dresden Codex was underwater for awhile.

The story of how they figured out how to read Mayan is great.  A bunch of wacky geniuses take on the world’s hardest crossword puzzle, where new clues are hidden in the jungle  might be the logline.


The story is well told in this book.

Virtually everybody involved was some kind of lunatic:IMG_7727 IMG_7728

Now that’s the way to go!

IMG_7720 IMG_7721

How about Cyrus Thomas?


Or amateur linguist Benjamin Whorf?:


(Don’t think for one second, by the way, that Whorf was letting all this distracting from his insurance work.  From wiki:

He was particularly good at the job and was highly commended by his employers. His job required him to travel to production facilities throughout New England to be inspected. In one anecdote his arrival at a chemical plant is described in which he was denied access by the director because he would not allow anyone to see the production procedure which was a trade secret. Having been told what the plant produced, Whorf wrote a chemical formula on a piece of paper, saying to the director: “I think this is what you’re doing”. The surprised director asked Whorf how he knew about the secret procedure, and he simply answered: “You couldn’t do it in any other way.” 

Another famous anecdote from his job was used by Whorf to argue that language use affects habitual behavior. Whorf described a workplace in which full gasoline drums were stored in one room and empty ones in another; he said that because of flammable vapor the “empty” drums were more dangerous than those that were full, although workers handled them less carefully to the point that they smoked in the room with “empty” drums, but not in the room with full ones. Whorf explained that by habitually speaking of the vapor-filled drums as empty and by extension as inert, the workers were oblivious to the risk posed by smoking near the “empty drums”

Whorf got himself mixed up in the Hopi Time Controversy, a dispute about whether the Hopi language suggests a whole other way of conceiving/perceiving time, whether the Hopi walked around in some tripped-out timeless cognitive condition.


As I know many Helytimes readers are quite tired of that subject let’s just agree it’s pretty badass to have your own law in Uto-Aztecan linguistics and go back to Coe.

How about another enthusiastic amateur, John Teeple, who used to work out the Mayan calendar on his commute?


And what do we learn from all this reading?  That the Mayans were deeply wack:

IMG_7725 IMG_7726


Almonds and water

Written about California water before.  If I had ten hours to spare for the round trip I’d drive up to Bishop and retake this photo:


Taken about this time three years ago, I bet there’d be no snow in it now.

This article by Helaine Olsen on The Baffler seemed insightful to me:

Barely mentioned was the fact that the clueless wealthy might just as well go ahead and turn on the taps—let ten thousand golf course bougainvillea bloom. They aren’t the problem, or not much of the problem.

Listen up: California’s agricultural sector uses about 80 percent of the state’s water. As Mother Jonesreported, it takes one gallon of water to grow a single almond, and nearly five gallons to make a walnut edible.

But, hey, Governor Brown says those almonds and other produce grown in California aren’t living large. That’s why agriculture was all but excused from his edict. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” Brown told ABC’s This Week, of the farmers. “They’re providing much of the fruits and vegetables of America.”

Nuts: Too tasty to fail?

The ritual shaming of the public, in which politicians blame us for their failures, seems like democratic politics in reverse. And the bigger the crisis, the greater the gall. For example, as we all know but few care to remember, the United States recently went through a financial crisis. Banks made massively leveraged bets that didn’t pay off. Complicated, risky financial innovations were presented as safe by people and institutions all of who should have known better. Subprime mortgages were pushed and promoted, often under false pretenses. Credit was offered up to Americans, many of whom took it because they were told it is was a good idea, and cheap, and, anyway, their incomes weren’t keeping up with the cost of housing, healthcare, and education and they needed to get money from somewhere, dammit.

Alex Tabarrok saying similar things on Marginal Revolution:

The NYTimes has an article on California’s extreme water drought with the usual apocalyptic imagery (see the video especially):

California is facing a punishing fourth year of drought. Temperatures in Southern California soared to record-high levels over the weekend, approaching 100 degrees in some places. Reservoirs are low. Landscapes are parched and blighted with fields of dead or dormant orange trees.

The apocalyptic scenario needs to be leavened with some basic facts.

California has plenty of water…just not enough to satisfy every possible use of water that people can imagine when the price is close to zero. As David Zetland points out in an excellent interview with Russ Roberts, people in San Diego county use around 150 gallons of water a day. Meanwhile in Sydney Australia, with a roughly comparable climate and standard of living, people use about half that amount. Trust me, no one in Sydney is going thirsty.

So how much are people in San Diego paying for their daily use of 150 gallons of water? About 78 cents. As Matt Kahn puts it:

Where in the Constitution does it say that the people of California have the right to pay .5 cents per gallon of water?

Water is such a small share of most people’s budgets that it could double in price and the effect on income would still be low. Moreover, we don’t even have to increase the price of water for residential or industrial uses. As The Economist points out:

Agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption in California, for example, but only 2% of economic activity.

What that means is that if agriculture used 12.5% less water we could increase the amount available for every residential and industrial use by 50%–grow those lawns, fill those swimming pools, manufacture those chips!–and the cost would be minimal even if we simply shut down 12.5% of all farms.

Moreover, we don’t have to shut down that many farms, we just have to shut down the least valuable farms and use water more efficiently. If you think water is cheap for San Diego residents it’s much cheaper for Almond-Trees-and-Flood-Irrigationfarmers. Again from The Economist:

Farmers flood the land to grow rice, alfalfa and other thirsty crops….If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that they would waste far less of it, and the effects of California’s drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe.

Even today a lot of CA agriculture uses the least efficient flood irrigation system.

According to data from the state Department of Water Resources, 43 percent of California farmland in 2010 used some form of gravity irrigation, an imprecise method that uses relatively large amounts of fresh water and represents a big opportunity for water conservation.

The NYTimes article is worried about farm loss:

“I’m going to fallow two acres of my land immediately,” said Geoffrey C. Galloway, who has a citrus grove on his ranch near Porterville, in the Central Valley. “Depending on how the season goes, we may let another four go.”

…Last year, at least 400,000 acres went unplanted, and farmers reported losses of $2.2 billion, said Mr. Wenger, the head of the farm bureau, who owns a farm in Modesto. “This year we could see easily 50 percent more,” he said. “We are probably going to be looking at well over a million acres.”

California has approximately 25 million acres of farmland. And while our bodily fluids might be precious not every acre of farmland is. A few less acres of farmland producing low value crops in return for a lot more water is a very acceptable tradeoff.

Addendum: Low prices are not always wasteful. David Zetland’s short primer on water policy is available for free as pdf. Matt Kahn’s Fundamentals of Environmental and Urban Economics is on Amazon for Kindle for just $1. Both are very good.

I have a personal, untested theory of a major factor in the California water problem:

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.25.35 AM

The boom in almond milk consumption.  Almond milk is made of 1) water and 2) water intensive almonds.

Think Piece About Mad Men

more mad men

Mad Men is great.

The writing is great.

The directing is great.

The actors are good.

The set decorating is great.  Really colorful.

Mad Men 1

The main guy is cool and I like the stuff he does.

The other guys are funny.

The girls are hot and wear cool clothes.

mad men brits

There’s good stories, with surprises.

Sometimes I don’t know what’s happening but usually I figure it out or I just kinda go along.

So, I think, Mad Men is great.

How big was Mexico City in 1519?

Another possible interpretation is that “she” represents the Aztec main temple, the Templo Mayor. In Mesoamerican literature, the temple is often referred to as “she,” since both men and women were sacrificed there and a considerable part of the main temple was dedicated to the Aztec rain god, who is often described as a female. The temple was uncovered in 1978 (three years after the album was released) after being buried beneath Mexico City for nearly 500 years.

On a more cynical note, in Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Young, entitled Shakey, the author asked Neil if his songs were autobiographical. Young replied, “What the fuck am I doing writing about Aztecs in “Cortez the Killer” like I was there, wandering around? ‘Cause I only read about it in a few books. A lotta shit I just made up because it came to me.”[1]

Reader Amanda W. in Connecticut writes:

Much as I enjoyed your post about A Bachelor’s Mexico I think we’re all wondering: why did you need the letters of Cortes?

Great question Amanda.  I needed them because I was writing about Mexico City.  And I was trying to figure out the size of the city that was there before, Tenochtitlan.

I got distracted reading the incredible recollections of Cortes expedition veteran Bernal Diaz, but let’s pick up:


Tenochtitlan Seeds of Change 32

from the mural at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia

Tenochtitlan was the great city of the… well, Aztec is not the preferred nomenclature anymore.  The great Charles Mann calls the people in charge of Tenochtitlan “the Triple Alliance.”  They might’ve called themselves “Mexica.”

In the middle of a fifty-some square mile lake, there was this massive city.


Here’s Diego Rivera’s mural of it, which is in the Palacio National I think. Stole this photo from

How many people lived in Tenochtitlan?

212,500, says Professor Michael E. Smith of SUNY Albany in this article in the Journal Of Urban Studies.

But even he counsels cautious.  He takes awhile to pause and talk about rank-size analysis:

In the 1950s and 1960s, geographers developed the technique of rank-size analysis to study the sizes of cities within nation-states.33 An empirical pattern was observed in a number of areas of the world in which the second-largest city has roughly one-half the population of the largest city, the third-largest city has one-third the population, and so on down the size scale. This distribution, known as the log-normal distribution, is illustrated by plotting city size (Y axis) against rank (X axis). When these variables are graphed using logarithmic scales, the log-normal distribution is expressed as a declining straight line. Two major kinds of deviations from the log-normal pattern have been noted for various nations and regions: primate distributions (in which the largest city is “too large” for the log-normal pattern) and convex distributions (in which there are “too many” very large cities). Much of the literature on rank-size analysis is devoted to exploring the causes and implications of deviations from log-normal distributions.34 Archaeologists seized on rank-size analysis as a potentially useful tool for analyzing settlement patterns, and they joined the discussion of the determinants of the various rank-size distributions. Most applications by archaeologists have been conducted on a regional scale, such as the Valley of Oaxaca and the Basin of Mexico, or the plains of Mesopotamia.35 A number of archaeologists went beyond the limits of the method to address the distribution of the sizes of tiny settlements that were not central places.36 To summarize the findings of geographers, anthropologists, and archaeologists, log-normal distributions tend to be found in large urban systems with a long history of commercial and demographic interaction among central places.

The great Charles Mann again:

Tenochtitlan dazzled its invaders – it was bigger than Paris, Europe’s greatest metropolis.  The Spaniards gawped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away.  Boats flitted like butterflies around the three grand causeways that linked Tenochtitlan to the mainland.  Long Aqueducts conveyed water from the distant mountains across the lake and into the city.  Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens — none existed in Europe.  The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren’t ankle-deep in sewage!  The conquistadors had never conceived of such a thing.)

open air model

Open-air model of Tenochtitlan, in the Zocalo of Mexico City, so what was once more or less dead center on this model.   found at

Cortes himself said:

The great city of Texmixitan is built on the salt lake, and from the mainland to the city is a distance of two leagues.

(a Spanish league at that time was 2.6 miles, the word originally meant the distance a man could walk in an hour). 

The city is as large as Cordoba or Seville.


16th century Seville painted by Alonso Sanchez Coello maybe?

Cortes and his guys arrived in Tenochtitlan in 1519.  Two years later the whole place was destroyed.

Brief Digression about William Prescott:

 The first American — talking United States American here — to really write a history of Cortes and the conquest of Tenochtitlan was William Prescott.


Prescott’s eyes were fucked up because he got hit with a crust of bread in the eyeball during a food fight when he was at Harvard.  As far as I can tell he never went to Mexico.  But he had been to Spain, he was pals with aristocratic Spaniards who sent him “eight thousand sheets of manuscript beautifully copied from the Spanish archives, all the original documents, diaries, letters, never yet published, never seven seen.”

So says Van Wyck Brooks, who describes Prescott like this:

He had an extravagant love of jolly parties.  He talked with a joyous abandon, running over with animal spirits, laughing at his own inconsequences, with always some new joke or witty sally.  He could be happy in more ways, in spite of his defective eyes, and happier in every one of them, than anyone else his friends had ever seen.  One met him in the street, with his rosy air, with his gay blue satin waistcoat, tall, graceful, with light brown hair and a clear and ruddy complexion… One of his relatives, meeting him on the street, not long before his book appeared, urged him to undertake some serious task.  It would be so good for him.  It would be more respectable than leading this unprofitable life.

… He did not like to get up in the morning, and had to instruct his servant, the faithful Nathan, to pull away his bed-clothes.  He did not like to work.  He had to make bets with his secretary that he would write a certain number of pages or carry out some other resolution… When he broke too many resolutions, he introduced into his reckoning sets of fixed exceptions, amendments on amendments; then he scored them all off and opened a new account.  By this means, and others, he made himself a causist, able to comprehend the Spanish mind.

Anyway.  Prescott wrote a monster History of Ferdinand and Isabella, and then he took on the History Of The Conquest of Mexico.
 Here’s what Prescott has to say about Tenoch, which gives a pretty good sense of his vibe:

IMG_7406 IMG_7407 IMG_7408

Prescott’s history came out in 1843.  When the US Army stormed Mexico City three years later a bunch of the officers had copies with them.


I prefer Bernal Diaz:

who rode with Cortes and saw Tenochtitlan with his own eyes in 1519.  Fifty years or so later he dictated what he remembered.


Here’s what Bernal Diaz says he saw when they crossed the causeway into Tenochtitlan:

IMG_7677At first things were groovy.  Montezuma took them to a banquet:


Mexican food:


In Tenochtitlan, they had their own Hollywood:


What really impressed Diaz though was the shopping:


One unique item:


Montezuma took them to the top of the temple for a view:IMG_7683 IMG_7684

Well, things went downhill from there.

If you pull out some illustrations from the Florentine Codex, you can read it like a comic book.

Things fall apart, basically:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.07.09 PM

Montezuma gets killed — Diaz says by his own people while he was trying to give a speech:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.08.02 PM

They chucked his body:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.08.15 PM

Cortes and his guys got driven out of the city.
Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.08.41 PM

The Spanish are driven out into the cactus lands:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.21.41 PM But they round up allies:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.21.35 PM Meanwhile, the Aztecs get smallpox and everybody dies:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.08.55 PM

The Spanish attack:
Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.09.04 PM

Diaz says:


There was a guy, Diaz says, who claimed to Cortes that he knew how to build a catapult.  Turns out he didn’t.  Cortes was piiiiiiiiiiiiissed.

More battles.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.09.20 PM

Maybe ninety days of continuous fighting, Diaz says.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.09.46 PM

This sounds horrifying:

IMG_7686 IMG_7687

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.09.55 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.10.02 PM

Geez.  Even Diaz, who’d seen plenty already, says he came pretty close to losing it:


Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 8.10.14 PM

In the end, Diaz’s team won.  The aftermath:

Why did Bernal Diaz write this book?  I don’t know enough about 16th century Spanish or Latin American publishing to speak to that.  He says at the beginning that he’s poor and maybe he can leave something to his descendants this way.  Maybe it was a like a pop war hero bestseller like American Sniper or Lone Survivor.

Here’s what he says happened to Cortes:


Very last words in the book:


I wonder if he was.

That’s the story of Tenochtitlan.  On its ruins arose Mexico City.  The big cathedral is right on top of where the rubble of the Templo Mayor was buried.


The cathedral’s off-center, sinking, because the ground underneath is soft.  There was a fifty mile lake around it once.

Mexico City

Thanks for writing, Amanda!

(I have no idea if I’m allowed to put up whole chunks of books like this without permission.  The Florentine Codex is online and free here, and if there are any descendants of Bernal Diaz out there lemme know, I’ll paypal you a couple bucks.)