E. B. White in the Paris Review

Found here, what a great interview:


You have wondered at Kenneth Roberts’s working methods—his stamina and discipline. You said you often went to zoos rather than write. Can you say something of discipline and the writer?


Kenneth Roberts wrote historical novels. He knew just what he wanted to do and where he was going. He rose in the morning and went to work, methodically and industriously. This has not been true of me. The things I have managed to write have been varied and spotty—a mishmash. Except for certain routine chores, I never knew in the morning how the day was going to develop. I was like a hunter, hoping to catch sight of a rabbit. There are two faces to discipline. If a man (who writes) feels like going to a zoo, he should by all means go to a zoo. He might even be lucky, as I once was when I paid a call at the Bronx Zoo and found myself attending the birth of twin fawns. It was a fine sight, and I lost no time writing a piece about it. The other face of discipline is that, zoo or no zoo, diversion or no diversion, in the end a man must sit down and get the words on paper, and against great odds. This takes stamina and resolution. Having got them on paper, he must still have the discipline to discard them if they fail to measure up; he must view them with a jaundiced eye and do the whole thing over as many times as is necessary to achieve excellence, or as close to excellence as he can get. This varies from one time to maybe twenty.

The whole thing is good.  White describes how he came to draw the above New Yorker cover, his only one.  And he talks about the diaries of Francis Kilbert, which sure do sound interesting.  (Jump to “4. Relations With Girls”)




Meanwhile, out in the desert

The top story in both the Hi-Desert Star and The Desert Trail is the removal of 1,100 desert tortoises from the Marine Corps base to safer lands.

Was Defense Secretary Mattis personally briefed on the operation?

It may seem silly but the story made me feel good.

find happy homes guys.

All I Gotta Do Is Act Naturally

When I first got to California a real curiosity was Bakersfield and the Bakersfield Sound.

from wiki’s article on the Kern River Oilfield. Photo by Antantrus

What the hell was going on up there in Bakersfield?  There were four Basque restaurants in town.

Buck Owens was the king of the Bakersfield sound, he had the Crystal Palace.  He died before I got to see him.  From Wiki:

The Los Angeles Times interviewed longtime Owens spokesman (and Buckaroos keyboard player) Jim Shaw, who said Owens “had come to the club early and had a chicken fried steak dinner and bragged that it’s his favorite meal.”


Afterward, Owens told band members that he wasn’t feeling well and was going to skip that night’s performance. Shaw said a group of fans introduced themselves while Owens was preparing to drive home; when they told him that they had traveled from Oregon to hear him perform, Owens changed his mind and took the stage anyway.

Shaw recalled Owens telling the audience, “If somebody’s come all that way, I’m gonna do the show and give it my best shot. I might groan and squeak, but I’ll see what I can do.” Shaw added, “So, he had his favorite meal, played a show and died in his sleep. We thought, that’s not too bad.”

The alpha song of the Bakersfield sound has to be Act Naturally.  The Beatles had Ringo sing it:

I’ve probably listened to the Buck Owens version between 50 and 100 times.  It continues to reveal itself.  How about the the paradox of acting naturally.

Only very very good actors are capable of truly acting naturally.

Otani Oniji II as Yakko Edobei in the Play “Koinyabo Somewake Tazuna”
Saraku, Toshusai (worked 1794-1795)
Polychrome woodblock print with mica ground
h. 15 in. w. 9-7/8 in.
 from the Met.

Did Otani Onjii act naturally?

Whole acting schools are devoted to teaching people how to act naturally.

Why do people have so much trouble acting naturally?

If you’re in Bakersfield get an ice cream sundae at Dewar’s.


To My House Guest:

If you found a note on a scrap of paper in my house that said “Maybe I can stop masturbating” on it I promise it was related to an upcoming work of television comedy.

Enjoy VEEP on Sundays at 10:30pm and then on HBO Go forever!

Will and Ariel Durant

One of the local branches of the LA Public Library, the one on Sunset across from Wendy’s, is named after Will and Ariel Durant.

David Brooks grows wistful as he considers the Will and Ariel Durant project:

Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.

I’ve taken a look at the first volume of the series,

and was astounded, amused, and delighted by what I found there.  Here’s an example.

When Will met Ariel Durant, her name was Ida, she was fourteen, and she was his student.

She was 15 at her marriage on Oct. 31, 1913, and came to the ceremony with her roller skates slung over her shoulder. Her husband was just about to turn 28. He called her Ariel, after the the imp in Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest,” and she later had her name legally changed.

(from Will’s NYT obituary).  In Our Oriental Civilization, Will makes the case for himself:

It’s pretty funny that we named the library after a pair of lovers whose romance would get the man arrested today.

On the other hand, that’s the kind of paradox of historical and civilizational change that Will Durant took so much joy in teaching about.

More from the NYT:

Dr. Durant consistently took a generally optimistic view of civilization, despite a growing belief that ”the world situation is all fouled up.”

”Civilization is a stream with banks,” he said in his precise voice. ”The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues.

”The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”

Will and Ariel, from Wikipedia:

Tween Selfie


April 19. Patriots Day.

Worth remembering that the American Revolution started when the federal government sent troops to take away people’s guns and ammunition.

More men from Needham died on April 19, 1775, I believe, than from any other town except Lexington:

The detail in that footnote!  What she remembers, the old blind woman: how many of the soldiers had thrown away their coats!  It was under the will of this venerable lady that he first received a legacy!

History gets so much more interesting when you get into how do we know this?  what is the source?  who claims this?  who saw it happen?

The Needham Public Library.

Amos Doolittle wasn’t there but he showed up a few weeks later:

My favorite book on this topic is:

Tourtellot is really kind of funny when he rips into his least favorite patriot, vain old John Hancock:

that illustration up top from:

a British book – is there a pro-Redcoat bias?

TAKE: vote yes on WGA strike authorization

The Writers’ Guild is weird.  For one thing, some of the members are owners or bosses.  Writers who become showrunners and share in the profits of a show can have an owner’s interest.  Another: writers have agents who negotiate for them.

Some writers make lots and lots of money.  Others are unemployed, or at least unemployed as writers.  It’s not really a union, it’s a guild, like a medieval guild, an association of craftspeople who work a certain trade.

Why is Staalmesters translated as “Syndics”? Rembrandt’s Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild.  The Sampling Officials sounds cooler.  

Or maybe something like London’s livery companies?:

A writers union going on strike can seem silly when you picture a union like this:

and a strike like this:

I find this on the Post-Bulletin: Steve Martell, Charles Brown, and an unidentified third man stand on the picket line on the morning of August 17, 1985, outside the Hormel Foods plant in Austin, Minnesota.  Did Trump steal that style of hat consciously?

and writers like this:

But, if you’re in the Writers Guild, and you’re a Helytimes reader, I think you should vote yes on the strike authorization.

If you’re not in the Writers’ Guild, here are the facts, as I misremember them:

  • TV writers are making less and less money but working the same amount of time.  As shows have smaller orders of episodes, ten instead of twenty-two, writers are still working the same amount of days, but since many of us get paid per episode, we’re getting paid less for the same or more amount of days working.
  • The studios are making enormous profits.*
  • The studios sort of owe it to us to maintain our healthcare and pension plans, due to deals that were made over the years, and they’re saying they’re not going to do that.

Like all workers, we’re getting squeezed as much as possible by companies whose mandate is to be as profitable as possible for shareholders.

Workers can and should use every tool they can to fight for as much as they can.  Our guild’s leaders are negotiating and have asked us to vote to authorize a strike, so they can bargain as effectively as possible.

Gunawan Kartapranata provided Wikipedia’s photo for the article on Bargaining

That’s pretty much my take.  I hope it doesn’t happen.  It will be very painful and hurt a lot of people.  It shuts down production, which means grips, PAs, electricians, etc. are all out of work too.  And actors, lots of whom have really struggled to get a shot and are going to continue to struggle.

I think the studios should just give us what we asked for.  Disney is one of the studios we’re negotiating with.  They have a market cap of $178 billion.  I appreciate that Bob Iger has his strategic challenges with ESPN and so on but it seems wise and reasonable to me to  say “fine let’s give the creators of our highly profitable content their not ridiculous demands and continue generating money from some of the world’s most popular entertainment, TV shows and movies.”

During the last strike my dad sent me his book of AFL-CIO songs

If we do go on strike, I think we shouldn’t picket.  That was unhelpful.  There should be some human shows of solidarity, but daily picketing got to be a weird ritual, some kind of bizarre martyrdom that in the end made us look more ridiculous.  I am proud to say I feel like I did my duty, but I preferred my days answering the phones at Strike Headquarters to making small talk with Tom Bergeron while I held a sign outside CBS.  Although that was fun too.

We discussed Rap Around. Source.

A dissenting opinion from a writer with always interesting takes:

The idea of a WGA strike in these times, when freedom of expression is a far more fundamental issue than small differences between comparatively large amounts of money, is stunningly tone deaf and offensive.

That’s on a moral level.

On a strategic level, strikes are only effective when one side has both desperation and leverage. The WGA has neither.

I voted for the WGA strike in 2008. I regret it. The tangible benefits to the lives of working writers have never been explained in any relevant or understandable terms. The tangible losses to writers’ lives were painfully clear.

This is a bad idea masquerading as the right thing to do. On every level, it is not.

The issues at stake in the last strike were complex.  I thought it was important for writers to get some kind of residual for streaming content.  Whether it was necessary or well-executed, I’m not informed enough to answer.  There was a layer of silliness to it for sure.

I do feel some energy like “one strike is fine, but two in this short a time is awful much.”

I kind of get that?  But: the WGA is sort of the first union down the chain.  We’re on the frontier here, that’s why we keep having to fight.

So, that’s my take.

* I saw the number $51 billion thrown around.  I have no idea where that came from.  Does it include, for instance, Disney’s theme park division?  It’s hard to assess how much profit the studios are making.  The AMPTP represents over 350 companies.  I’m sure some of them are doing terribly!

But, here are some numbers for the bigger companies, from a 2015 Forbes magazine rundown by Natalie Robehmed:

Once the theatrical run of a film is over, studios make money from home video, video on demand, and through syndicating hit TV shows, as 21st Century Fox was able to do with Modern Family. Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox clocked the second highest profit of the publicly traded studios, earning $1.5 billion in 2014. It measured revenue of $10.3 billion, largely from betting big on books that turned into box office hits hits such as Gone Girl and The Fault in Our Stars.

Undeterred by the failed Comcast/Time Warner merger, NBCUniversal outdid itself and recorded its most profitable year ever. The studio notched $711 million in profit on $5 billion in revenue – the second best ratio in Hollywood.

Warner Bros.’ films grossed a collective $4 billion in 2014, but the studio pocketed $1.2 billion in profit from $12.5 billion in revenue. This was up 23% on 2013’s tally. The studio weathered its fair share of flops: Transcendence, Blended and Winter’s Tale all failed to perform. Its pockets were fattened by the last Hobbit movie, plus popcorn cruncher The Lego Movie which has a sequel in the works. The studio is also expanding its $5 billion television business internationally, paying $267 million for production company Eyeworks which operates in 15 countries

etc.  There is poor baby Paramount:

The title of least profitable studio goes to the Viacom-owned Paramount. Despite an increase in its films’ performance at the international box office, the filmed entertainment division tallied just $219 million on revenues of $3.7 billion. This was a decrease from 2013, when profit surged thanks to selling distribution rights for Marvel movies to Disney.

Hit me up if you disagree, find factual errors, want to express a contrary view!

Star Axis

When completed it will be eleven stories high and one-fifth of a mile long.  (Star Axis by Charles Ross, not Vali)

Star Axis was begun in 1971. The Star Tunnel is the central element of Star Axis. It frames our north star, Polaris. The Star Tunnel is precisely aligned with the earth’s axis. Within it a stairway rises 10 stories toward a circular opening at the top that frames all of the orbits of Polaris throughout the ages. As you climb the stairway toward the circular opening you see larger and larger views of the sky. The view from each stair frames an orbit of Polaris for a particular time in the 26,000 year cycle called precession. The smallest orbit of Polaris, viewed from the bottom stair, is about the size of a dime held at arms length. The largest orbit of Polaris, viewed from the top stair, encompasses your entire field of vision.

Literary Life

Some real talk from Larry McMurtry

One of these days I’m going to rank all of McMurtry’s non-fiction books.  They’re all chatty and great.  This is the single best one.

Either Film Flam or Hollywood tells what it’s like to be friends with Diane Keaton and her mom.

McMurtry has really meant a lot to me.  Here are some other posts about him:

his book Roads

about the time I heard him talk about Brokeback

Oh What A Slaughter and Sacagawea’s Nickname

Sarah Palin and glamour

The Field Of Blackbirds

Joshua Tree from the air

from Google Earth.  A little closer to the ground:

Bob Marley’s lawyer

Diane Jobson, as seen in the Marley doc.  (contender for best doc ever?)

250 points if you can guess the pun headline for this article about sorting out the Bob Marley estate.

Marley had eleven kids with seven women and left no will.  Good luck, Diane!

More on Chikamatsu

Donald Keene isn’t having any of this Japan’s Shakespeare business:

A poem:

Railroading was a talent


Reading about Casey Jones:

Railroading was a talent, and Jones was recognized by his peers as one of the best engineers in the business.

Campfire cooking

Something Biblical about roasting lamb chops right on the fire.  A true al pastor.  Plus it seemed to honor(?) the local fauna:

Of course you need a charcuterie plate.

Working on taking campfire cooking to the next level.  HT various campmates for the photos and ideas.

Some notes:

  • Foil packeted onions and peppers came out pretty well.  More elaborate foil pack meals have been a bust for me.  I tried some stew meat / potatoes sitch once, pointless.  Keep it simple.
  • Wrapping a potato in foil and putting it in the ashes is such a crapshoot.  You have to leave it in there for a good hour I believe.
  • You always want the cheapest hot dog buns you can find.
  • Enjoyed reading these camping experts’ recipes from kayakcritic.net and would like to try Cristina Lash’s cast iron apple cinnamon oatmeal.

Man vs. nature. A tie, in this case.


You’re the puppet

Bunraku is Japanese puppet theater.  It’s been around since the beginning of the 17th century.  The puppets are maybe three feet tall and are operated by people all in black.

Must credit young adult book The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson for giving me some background in this bizarre art when I was a boy.

When I was in college the Awaji Island Puppet Troupe of Awaji Island came and did a performance in Boston.  I went to see it and only left with more questions.  Awaji puppets are similar to but not exactly bunraku.

Here we see Chikamatsu Monzaemon, who wrote at least 130 plays and is sometimes compared to Shakespeare.  Until 1705, he wrote kabuki plays, for human actors.  Then he abruptly switched to puppets.


Why did Japan’s greatest dramatist switch to writing plays for puppets?

Wikipedia wagers some guesses:

The exact reason is unknown, although speculation is rife: perhaps the puppets were more biddable and controllable than the ambitious kabuki actors, or perhaps Chikamatsu did not feel kabuki worth writing for since Tōjūrō was about to retire, or perhaps the growing popularity of the puppet theater was economically irresistible.

Perhaps in Chikamatsu’s day the puppets weren’t really point, the point was the lyrics and the music, so you may as well have puppets instead of actors.

How cool would it be if Aaron Sorkin switched tomorrow to puppets?  Or better yet Shonda Rhimes?

“I only do puppets now!”

After the switch, Chikamatsu’s career followed an all too familiar path:

Chikamatsu’s popularity peaked with his domestic plays of love-suicides, and with the blockbuster success of The Battles of Coxinga in 1715, but thereafter the tastes of patrons turned to more sensational gore fests and otherwise more crude antics

I feel I’ve reached the end of what I can learn about this art form unless I actually go to the National Bunraku Theater in Osaka to see a performance of The Love Suicides at Sonezaki.

The National Bunraku Theater – Mc681 on Wikipedia.

“Art is something that lies in the slender margin between the real and the unreal.” — Chikamatsu Monzaemon, Naniwa Miyage

Let’s get comfortable

Roundup of books I haven’t read all the way through but have in a crate in my garage



PFC Albert Bullock took this one of the damaged Franklin.

My copy is pre-owned and comes already highlighted:

I’ve always hated Hugo’s.  On acting technique:

How about this one, about Australian historians?

Geoffrey Blainey’s recipe for peach-tin eggs:

Graeme Davison on the wrong side of the law in Melbourne:

There are no wasted humans:


from the boss Thomas Cleary:

And finally, some Daily Drucker:

History of theater

Trying to help Filip and Fredrik out on their commedia del’arte question, I pull down my Oxford Illustrated History of the Theater.

There I learn the reason there are no female kabuki actresses:

The earliest kabuki performers were women, but later all roles, including female, were played by men.  This was because the government banned women from the stage in 1629, their policy being that nobody should follow more than one profession: this prevented women from being both prostitutes and actresses.

source: ukiyo-e.org

Spring cleaning overturns