Mark Two

Miniature 2427, “Archaic Mark,” turns out is actually a forgery?

Why Mark?”, I asked. “Because it’s short“, he replied. I was willing to give anything a go, so I took the vicar’s advice and read it and the Gospel of Mark just swept me up.

So says Australian musician Nick Cave

in his intro to the Gospel of Mark, which I found on this Italian Nick Cave fan site.

The Gospel of Mark has to be one of the weirdest and most compelling books ever written.  Nick Cave continues:

Scholars generally agree that Mark’s was the first of the four gospels to be written. Mark took from the mouths of teachers and prophets the jumble of events that comprised Christ’s life and fixed these events into some kind of biographical form. He did this with such breathless insistence, such compulsive narrative intensity, that one is reminded of a child recounting some amazing tale, piling fact upon fact, as if the whole worlddepended upon it – which , of course, to Mark it did. ‘Straightway’ and ‘immediately’ link one event to another, everyone ‘runs’, ‘shouts’, is ‘amazed’, inflaming Christ’s mission with a dazzling urgency. Mark’s Gospel is a clatter of bones, so raw, nervy and lean on information that the narrative aches with the melancholy of absence. Scenes of deep tragedy are treated with such a matter of factness and raw economy they become almost palpable in their unprotected sorrowfulness.

Couple things about the Gospel of Mark:

  • there’s no Christmas.  Jesus just turns up one day down by the river where John The Baptist is doing his thing.
  • the oldest gospel.  “Most scholars agree” is a term you come across again and again when you read into Bible stuff, especially New Testament stuff.  Let’s acronym that as msa.  As far as I can tell most scholars do agree on this one.
  • the shortest gospel.  11,304 words.  Very cool.
  • simple language.  Mark is written in Koine Greek which I can’t read.  I’m told this was a simple version of Greek that people could use all over the Mediterranean.  “Koine” just means “Common.”  Mark wrote Common Greek.

I’m told Mark’s Greek is “rough”:

(from:

Now, “rough” sure but “unrehearsed”?  Isn’t it likely Mark was writing down stories and quotes that had been transmitted orally, and thus were quite rehearsed?)

The version I’m reading is:

Here’s what J. B. says:

J. B. seems more confident than others that Mark = John Mark, but who cares?

It’s cool to imagine in the rubble of burned out Rome Mark starts going around saying “guys, I got some good news.”

“Who wants to read my book?”

Other scholars insist that Mark was written after 70 AD, because that’s when the Temple was destroyed after the Roman Siege of Jerusalem:

David Roberts’ lost painting of the siege of Jerusalem, source

which was a traumatic time.  That chronology is the one Reza Aslan believes:

Me personally? I’m no expert but I think it’s possible someone like the writer of Mark might’ve been obsessed with the idea of the destruction of the Temple before it happened.

Maybe Mark saw things coming the way the Simpsons saw President Trump coming:

But let’s say Mark was written in 70.  He’s writing about Jesus, who msa died around 33.  So it’s like writing a book, today, about a guy who died in 1980.

John Lennon, say, or Colonel Sanders.

 

Mark isn’t writing a biography of Jesus though, he’s writing the “good news.”  A good point by theologian Marcus Borg over at HuffPo:

  • Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.

Here’s the craziest part about Mark imo.  The last sentence of the original version, msa, is 16:8.

The women were shaking and confused. They went out and ran away from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

What a freaky ending to your book!

Learned a lot about the Gospel origins from the PBS series From Jesus To Christ.  Li’l snippet from this essay by Marilyn Matthews on their website:

What message did Mark intend to send to his audience? Scholars do not agree. Some argue that Mark deliberately constructs a bleak and frightening picture because that was the experience of the people for whom Mark composed his work. Elaine Pagels offers a different interpretation: “And the last words of the original gospel are ‘and they were terrified.’ It would be very bad news if it weren’t that underneath this rather dark story is an enormous hope . . . that this very promising story and its terrible anguished ending is nevertheless not the ending. That there’s a mystery in it, a divine mystery of God’s revelation that will happen yet. And I think it’s that sense of hope that is deeply appealing.”

This is Helytimes so next time we will have a look and see if we can find the oldest source of Mark.

 


The stock market is pretend until it isn’t

Sometimes, calls get called. When the stock market becomes real, it becomes very real.

Consider the naked short, explained in this medium post, “GameStop: Power To The Market Players,” by Nope, It’s Lily:

If you’ve been anywhere in the trading universe, it’s been partly a meme and partly a higher calling to long $GME since about July/August 2020, when everyone suddenly realized the short interest on $GME actually exceeded its available float. In English, this meant that there were more shares sold short (a strategy to benefit from the stock price going down, this involves borrowing a share to sell with the intent to repurchase it at a lower cost later) than actually available to buy. How does this happen exactly?

This can happen one of two ways:

Naked shorting — This is a mostly illegal practice in which an individual or institution first sells shares without locating that they well, actually exist. This is fairly sneaky, but works as long as they can find the shares before the settlement period (delivery date) of the shares actually occurs. If they find it before then, no one is the wiser (except the SEC, when it decides to do anything ever).

Despite what idiots online believe, naked shorting isn’t always illegal (hence the word mostly). In particular, the ban on naked short-selling (Regulation SHO) isn’t because the government thinks you’re a meanie for doing it, but because of its hypothesized connections to the 2008 financial crash (actual data on it is mixed). In general, the belief was that naked short sellers helped destabilize investor confidence in the banks, leading to that fun period best remember by watching The Big Short accompanied by a full handle of Svedka.

Naked shorting, however, is legal by bona-fide market makers, which according to our SEC friends means simply it is done to hedge an option position sold (as part of market making duties, to buy and sell a security at publicly stated prices) rather than for speculation. If you want to read boring legal stuff, here’s a link to Regulation SHO.

Similarly, despite what your favorite rocket-emoji’ing internet guru believes, causing an actual short squeeze is hard, and almost always mostly illegal. The last public short interest (the next one should be released on January 27th, per FINRA reporting) on GME was released on Dec 31st, 2020.

Second bold mine.

I can’t say I understand the article. My first experience with this journalist. I’ll be interested to see what happens on January 27th.

The GameStop story is very compelling. Matt Levine’s take as always definitive. Comparisons to what Trump and Trumpians did to the GOP (and then the country) in 2016: an ebullient Internet-centered group of trolls realize there are tricks they can use to mock and demolish the establishment players, moving faster than the other guys can say “hey, what a second, that isn’t how we play!” The end result of that gleeful message board based takeover was (glances at Washington) huh looks like establishment people with 40 plus year careers are back in control of all branches after a brief reign of chaos (though they are rattled by what happened).


Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West by William McKeen

This is a book about a scene, and the scene was Key West in the late ’60s-’70s, centered on Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Buffett, and some lesser known but memorable characters.  I tried to think of other books about scenes, and came up with Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind, and maybe Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh, about Van Morrison’s Boston.  Then of course there’s Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, referenced here in the subtitle, a mean-spirited but often beautiful book about 1920s Paris.

I was drawn to this book after I heard Walter Kirn talking about it on Bret Easton Ellis podcast (McGuane is Kirn’s ex-father-in-law, which must be one of life’s more interesting relationships).  I’ve been drawn lately to books about the actual practicalities of the writing life.  How do other writers do it?  How do they organize their day?  What time do they get to work?  What do they eat and drink?  How do they avoid distraction?

From this book we learn that Jim Harrison worked until 5pm, not 4:59 but 5pm, after which he cut loose.  McGuane was more disciplined, even hermitish for a time (while still getting plenty of fishing done) but eventually temptation took over, he started partying with the boys, eventually was given the chance to direct the movie from his novel 92 In The Shade.  That’s when things got really crazy.  The movie was not a big success.

“The Sixties” (the craziest excesses bled well into the ’70s) musta really been something.

On page one of this book I felt there was an error:

That’s not the line.  The line (from the Poetry Foundation) is:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
          Gang aft agley,
but maybe I’m being a hopeless stickler and we can translate Burns from Scots into English whenever we feel like it.
After that small bump, I got swept up in the rhythm and the fun of this book and enjoyed it very much.  A vacation in book form.  From this book I learned that it was Jerry Jeff Walker who introduced then-failing country singer Jimmy Buffett to Key West, when Buffett went to Miami for what he thought was a gig, found out he wouldn’t be playing for two weeks, so the two of them took an impromptu road trip.

Part of what these writers found special about Key West, beyond the Hemingway and Tennessee Williams legends, was it just wasn’t a regular, straight and narrow place.  Being a writer is a queer job, someone’s liable to wonder what it is you do all day.  In Key West, that wasn’t a problem.

Key West was so irregular and libertine that you could get away with the apparent layaboutism of the writer’s life.

Some years ago I was writing a TV pilot I’d pitched called Florida Courthouse.  I went down to Florida to do some research, and people kept telling me about Key West, making it sound like Florida’s Florida.  Down I went on that fantastic drive where you feel like you’re flying, over Pigeon Key, surely one of the cooler drives in the USA if not the world.

The town I found at the end of the road was truly different.  Louche, kind of disgusting, and there was an element of tourists chasing a Buffett fantasy.  Some of the people I encountered seemed like untrustworthy semi-pirates, and some put themselves way out to help a stranger.  You’re literally and figuratively way out there, halfway to Havana.  The old houses, the chickens wandering, the cemetery, the heat and the shore and the breeze and the old fort and the general sense of license and liberty has an intoxicating quality.  There was a slight element of forced fun, and trying to capture some spirit that may have existed mostly in legend.  McKeen captures that aspect in his book:

 

Like McGuane, I found the mornings in Key West to be the best attraction.  Quiet, promising, unbothered, potentially productive.  Then in the afternoon you could go out and see what trouble was to be found.  Somebody introduced me to a former sheriff of Key West, who helped me understand his philosophy of law enforcement: “look, you can’t put that much law on people if it’s not in their hearts.”

I enjoyed my time there in this salty beachside min-New Orleans and hope to return some day, although I don’t really think I’m a Key West person in my heart.  I went looking for photos from that trip, and one I found was of the Audubon House.

After finishing this book I was recounting some of the stories to my wife and we put on Jimmy Buffett radio, and that led of course to drinking a bunch of margaritas and I woke up hungover.

I rate this book: four and a half margaritas.

 

 


Mark Five: Weird

Fifth in our series about the Book of Mark: 

Mark One, about the scraps of Mark on Papyrus One. 

Mark Two, an intro to Mark, and what’s going on with it. 

Mark Three,  about “The Secret Gospel of Mark.”

Mark Four, about J. B. Phillips.

As a kid the first time I heard The Book of Mark was read aloud to me, in deliberate boring tone, in Catholic church, a notoriously stiff and elderly kind of place, not all that appealing to the average child.

On the plus side, you did get a good education in a way in the Bible and some aspects of human behavior.

Wanted to stand up and cheer when I got to this part of Ross Douthat and Tyler Cowen’s conversation.  Connecting Catholic theology to what the Guy says on the hillside in Galilee in the Gospels takes insane mental labyrinth building.  A fun project in a way but not what the Guy himself seems to describe as the way forward.

Take, for example, Mark Five.  (Turns out we’ve discussed it before).

Here’s what the NIV gives as the rough sections of this chapter.

Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man

Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman

JB Philips gives it:

Jesus meets a violent lunatic

Faith is followed by healing

Weird, supernatural type stuff.  How’re you gonna deal with this?  Unpacking the events of Mark Five could probably be a career for a theologian.

Hard to make your church last 2,000 years without sanding the edges down a bit I guess but when you go back to the source you can sometimes feel like what’s missing is the compelling, almost alarming strangeness of the story.

Let’s say only that by Chapter Five of his book, Mark’s Jesus is unstoppable, coursing with power that flows almost like electricity.

If Mark is avail they should hire him for a Marvel movie.

Next time:

 


Mark Four

this is the fourth in our series on the Book Of Mark.

Mark One, about the scraps of Mark on Papyrus One.

Mark Two, an intro to Mark, and what’s going on with it.

Mark Three,  about “The Secret Gospel of Mark,” and now Mark Four, about J. B. Phillips.

Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand? 22 For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

That’s how the King James Version does Mark 4:21.  Here’s how J. B. Philips does it:

Then he said to them,

“Is a lamp brought into the room to be put under a bucket or underneath the bed?  Surely it’s place is on the lamp-stand!  There is nothing hidden which is not meant to be made perfectly plain one day, and there are no secrets which are not meant one day to be common knowledge.  If a man has ears he should use them!

Wanting to know more about the guy I was trusting to translate my Mark for me, I read J. B.’s book:

It’s good and short and clearly written, much like Mark.  J. B.’s strongest point is that the Gospels seem true to him because, well, who could make this stuff up?

 

That kind of reminded me of the several times in the Quran where Allah says, hey, if you don’t believe this, let’s see you write a Quran.

Surprised to find, in the next Phillips I picked up, a description of my workplace.

I can’t say The Price Of Success was exactly a page-turner.  JB Phillips had a hard childhood, but through diligence earned himself a place at Cambridge, became an Anglican churchman, and started translating The New Testament during World War II.

No surprise that he was pals, or at least sometime correspondents, with C. S. Lewis.

I often heard Lewis’s Screwtape Letters recommended for young Christians in my youth.  When I finally got to the book (audiobook) I found it a really stiff and unattractive vision.  How did Christianity, which, when you get back to the source, was unquestionably weird, get claimed by stiff collar types like C. S. Lewis?

I found Ring Of Truth to be a more compelling read.

In Price of Success, Phillips is very open and honest about his struggles with depression.
I

No doubt hearing this, from a respected Christian leader in 1984, was really helpful to people.  The book was published two years after his death.

Am I allowed you quote you by the way, J. B.?

Thanks!

NEXT TIME:

Mark Five: Strange Tales Of Jesus!

 


Mark Three: Secret Mark?

Latest posts in our series on the Book of Mark, one of the weirdest and most popular books of all time.

Mark One

on Papyrus One

Mark Two

Why Mark?

and now:

MARK THREE

Did Mark look like this? by Bronzino

Or like this?

or this? by Mantegna

Here we see the Mar Saba monastery in Israel, twelve miles outside Jerusalem:

Cool structure.  Would make a dope boutique hotel.

This is where Morton Smith supposedly found a

 previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria transcribed into the endpapers of a 17th-century printed edition of the works of Ignatius of Antioch

The letter, which would’ve been from like the year 200, says (I paraphrase) “hey there’s a more spiritual, weirder version of the Gospel of Mark floating around, heads up.”

Was there a “Secret Gospel Of Mark”?  Says Wiki:

Ron Cameron (1982) and Helmut Koester (1990) argued that Secret Mark preceded the canonical Mark, and that the canonical Mark is in fact an abbreviation of Secret Mark. This would explain the narrative discontinuity above. John Dominic Crossan (1985) has also been supportive of these views of Koester: “I consider that canonical Mark is a very deliberate revision of Secret Mark.”

An interesting question for sure.  As Wiki says:

The process of canonization of the New Testament was complex and lengthy.

The version I’m using is this one:

I don’t think the late J. B. will mind my excerpting his helpful introduction:

When J. B. talks about “the manuscript of Mark,” I’m not sure what he means.  Wiki tells me the oldest complete version is the Codex Vaticanus,

and the Codex Sinaiticus, which they found at St. Catherine’s Monastery:

which would also make a cool boutique hotel.  The Codex got taken to Russia, and then:

In 1933, the Soviet Union sold the codex to the British Museum for £100,000 raised by public subscription (worth £6.5 million in 2017)

You can read it if you want online.

The oldest known written scrap of Mark appears to be Papyrus 45:

which came from who knows where.  American-Anglo-Irish industrialist Chester Beatty, the “king of copper,” was mad for papyri apparently and bought tons of them from illegal dealers.

His first job in the mines earned him $2 per day as a ‘mucker’, clearing away rock and soil from mine tunnels.  He was quickly promoted to supervisor of the Kektonga Silver Mine.

Alfred Chester Beatty by Colin Colahan.
© Mrs. Monique Colahan.  From the Chester Beatty Library website.

Papyrus 45 is now in Chester’s library/museum in Dublin:

source: Wiki user Charles Curling

So, that’s how we get to Mark.

 

NEXT TIME in our series on Mark:

Translator J. B. Phillips, who started working on the New Testament in a bomb shelter during the London Blitz.


Mark One

1: 1] genealogy library YY YY YY yyyid [YY] Abraham [1: 2] Abraham [Heaven] nor did he [be] present in [his] [1: 3] take care of him and take him out of him they did not greet the embassy [1: 4] did not give birth and they have been in the midst of the sea

1: 5] Salvation shall not [be] of the rabbi did not recognize him from the p [o] y [to be] s een [1: 6]  the dairy farm has been re-established it was the sausage of the sky. [1: 7] nor is it possible to do so ạμ does not enforce the [lacuna] you will be able to find [ gap [1:12] gap the man who gave birth to [n and he did not have the olive tree, [1:15] [Oliver] ḍε̣ [[in] η̣̣̣ [σ] ε̣ [ν] ο ελέξΑζζάρ ελέ [and] he did not do [the] knowledge of [ [1:16] and [he] is not [ [to] enforce the law of the [ ̣̣̣̣̣ []] ξ </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> </s> [1:17] ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣ ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣ I have been born and I have been born [d] ạ [υ] ι̣δ̣ [ε] ω̣σ̣ τ̣η̣ [ς] (s) of [b] the weight of the toilet seat [to] of the YYYYyyyyyy [I] D [1:18] and YYYYY genera so that it can not be misinterpreted he shall have [his] name before the [e] found that this is the case of a gypsy [1:19] [ωσηφ̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣̣] and [those] who do not desire it, compass [t] e [is] [1:20] [th] thou hast thou vnto him, []] [[]] [] [] [] [] that] [appears] [to] say [h] φ son] ḍ [da] ṃ [η] φ̣̣ β β β</s></s></s></s></s></s> [receive] [make] the [you] know [your] name the birth of [t] ns [estin] α̣ [son] [1: 21-23] the gap with [heat-treated methane]

Put some of Papyrus One through Google Translate and this is what I got.

Probably a li’l jumbled between the 2nd century Greek and the modern Greek.

Wiki tells me that what’s on Papyrus One is, in fact, Mark 1 1-9.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

I baptize you with[e] water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

The papyrus skips over Mark 10:

1Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.

Cool edit.  The dove is a little much, too John Woo.

Then it continues:

11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness,

13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

That from the New International version via Bible Gateway.

Grenfell and Hunt found Papyrus One at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, along with a lot of other paperwork:

Administrative Documents assembled and transcribed from the Oxyrhynchus excavation so far include:

  • The contract of a wrestler agreeing to throw his next match for a fee.

  • Various and sundry ancient recipes for treating haemorrhoids, hangovers and cataracts.

  • Details of a corn dole mirroring a similar program in the Roman capital.

Plus some comedy scripts:

The classical author who has most benefited from the finds at Oxyrhynchus is the Athenian playwright Menander (342–291 BC), whose comedies were very popular in Hellenistic times and whose works are frequently found in papyrus fragments.

The Grouch at the Louvre by Wiki’s Rennet Stowe

Menander’s most popular character was a kind of proto Oscar the Grouch it sounds like.

Menander or literally me:

photo by Wiki’s Dave & Margie Hill of a relief of Menander choosing New Comedy masks.

Papyrus One is dated to the early 3rd century.  Is Papyrus One the earliest fragment of Mark known to exist?  We’ll take that up another time.

It’s interesting that there’s no birth of Jesus (“Christmas”) in Mark.  Mark just jumps right in.

Here are the things Jesus says in Mark, Chapter One.

The time has come at last – the kingdom of God has arrived.  You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news.

 

Come and follow me, and I will teach you to catch men!

 

(to a demon) Hold your tongue and get out of him.

 

Then we will go somewhere else, to the neighboring towns, so that I may give my message there too – that is why I have come.  

 

(to a leper) Of course I want to – be clean!

 

(also to a leper) Mind you say nothing at all to anybody.  Go straight off and show yourself to the priest, and make the offerings for your cleansing which Moses prescribed as public proof of your recovery.

NEXT TIME:

Mark Two: what is the oldest version of Mark?


Public Land, Part Two: What Happened with H. R. 621

We can’t all be experts on every outrage that’s going to come along.  At Helytimes we’ve taken on the issue of

Our Public Land

up in the national forest

up in the national forest

the land owned by the US government in the form of national parks, national forests, national monuments, and much more.’ The land we, the American People, own together, in other words.

Part One covered HJ Res 46, which proposes to ease up the rules for oil, gas, and mineral drilling and extraction in our national parkland.

Part Two: 

Victory on H. R. 621 and What We Can Learn From It

Meet Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz

You may have heard of him, he was in the news this week catching hell at his town hall:

You may have seen some these videos on Twitter.

Chaffetz is an interesting character.

  • Born to a Jewish family in California
  • he was the placekicker on BYU’s football team.
  • Married a Mormon woman and converted to Mormonism.
  • Utah campaign manager for Michael Dukakis in 1988
  • at some point he became a Republican.  Possibly after meeting Ronald Reagan in 1990 (when, remember, Reagan had a decent degree of dementia)
  • Ran an aggressive Tea Party-style primary campaign in 2008 against a longtime Utah Republican, Chris Cannon, and knocked him out
  • An aggressive Benghazi investigator
  • Was all over the map on Trump: endorsing, unendorsing.  In the end he did vote for him
  • Has made it difficult for the residents of Washington DC to implement the legalization of marijuana they voted for

Here’s a funny article by Thomas Burr in the Salt Lake City Tribune about Chaffetz involving himself in DC local politics, and then getting payback where some DC politicians are like “fine Utah bitch you gonna tell us how to run our city then help us fix our potholes.”

Today though, we’re going to focus on a bill he introduced that comes up in the town hall.

H. R. 621: Story of a Victory

On Jan 24, Chaffetz introduced H. R. 621, which he titled “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017” which proposed to “dispose” – sell off – some land that is owned by you and me.

The Cosumnes River Preserve is home to California’s largest remaining valley oak riparian forest, and is one of the few protected wetland habitat areas in the state.

“The Cosumnes River Preserve is home to California’s largest remaining valley oak riparian forest, and is one of the few protected wetland habitat areas in the state.” Photo on BLM instagram by the legend, Bob Wick

 

Let’s back up.

Do the Republicans Want To Sell Off Our Land?

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-9-53-07-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-6-51-29-pm

Is this true?  Will Trump / The GOP Sell Off Our Public Land?!

Joshua Tree

JTree by Helytimes

My take: they definitely tried to do so.  Given nearly complete power after the 2016 election, it was a top priority for several Republicans.

The rush to sell off public land has been beaten back, for now.

There’s a lot to learn from what went down about how to win against the Republican Party of Donald Trump.

Bias: Love for national lands

I love national lands.  I love national parks and national forests and national historic sites and national seashores.  I love national monuments and national battlefields.

hartwells

Minuteman National Historical Park

from Acadia National Parks Instagram

from Acadia National Park’s Instagram

crater

Crater Lake

The best of the United States is on display in a US Park Service uniform.

from the NPS instagram

from the NPS instagram

The National Parks are the gems.  Most federal land is not like this at all.

How much land does the federal government

– the US –

– us –

own?

The federal government owns a huge amount of land.  For instance, the federal government owns about 84% of the total land area of Nevada.

Here is federal land ownership in California:

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-8-27-35-pm

The federal government owns 47% of California.

As you can see, this is a much different issue for some states than others.  Here is Utah:

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-9-55-57-pm

The feds own 66.5% of Utah.

from Boston Kayaker

from Boston Kayaker

The feds own a mere .8% of Rhode Island, mainly coastal scrubland.

Getting all that from this great piece in the Deseret (UT) News by Jackie Hicken.

All told the federal government owns about 28% of the nation’s total surface, 2.27 billion acres.

Isn’t that crazy?

Here is a reasonable position:

The federal government shouldn’t own that much land.  It’s not in the Constitution as a job for the federal government to own a buncha land.

Here’s a sample of that take:

Now: I think Lars Larson may even have a point about cutting down forests.  Forestry is a science, I’m not well-informed enough to opine on it except to say I believe any forester will tell you burns are part of a life cycle of a forest.

But I disagree with Lars Larson on his first part.  Because when we say “the government owns this land,”  really we mean we own this land.  What could be more “the people’s land” than land we all own together?  “Give the people’s land back to the people?”  It already is ours!

You and me.  The taxpayers.  The voters.  The government is just us.

 

 

What Are The Kinds Of Our Lands?

Here are the percentages of our land, broken down by which agency manages them for us.  The  “Big Five”:

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-15-40-am

Proud of this chart I made.

(getting my data from here, from 2013.  The pie would be slightly bigger if we included the Department of Energy, and there’s the Indian reservations, but that’s a whole other thing.)

As you can see, the National Park Service owns a mere 13% of US federal land.

National Park Service handles:

  • National Parks
  • National Monuments
  • National Preserves

Plus battlefields, historic sites, seashores, etc.  As I understand it, the only way to get rid of these would be to pass a bill through both houses of Congress and have the president sign it.  A cool power of the President is that he can create a National Monument out of any existing federal land.  Obama did this often.

The Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture handles:

our National Forests.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service handles:

our National Wildlife Refuges.  (Their slice of the pie gets way bigger if you count marine acres.)

There are National Wildernesses, administered by various different folks because they’re usually part of some other land.

There’s lots of land owned by the Department of Defense,

Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army bases and such.  The Navy owns a surprising amount of inland land here in California for dropping bombs on.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-19-34-am

And there is a bunch of leftover extra land, BLM land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM owns about 47% of the west and one-eighth of the land of the United States.

(Here’s a good Gizmodo article by Wes Siller about this same topic).

blm

The biggest chunk of public land is BLM land

On a trip to California in 2002 or so the Jeppson-Gamez brothers took me to some BLM land.  I learned you can shoot a gun and drive a Jeep and do whatever the fuck you want on BLM land.  What a great privilege as an American.

Here’s some BLM land in California:

from BLM's instagram

from BLM’s instagram

Here are some facts:

A lot of federal land is already used, mined, logged, grazed, and exploited now

There’s logging in national forests, and mining and grazing on BLM land.  The major operating principle for BLM land law is “multi use.”  Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m no expert just an interested citizen, but I believe most BLM rules stem from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

The National Forest Service, National Park Service, and now, the Bureau of Land Management, are commissioned in FLPMA to allow a variety of uses on their land (of greater concern for the BLM, who is the least restrictive in terms of uses) while simultaneously trying to preserve the natural resources in them. This concept is best summarized by the term ‘multiple-use.’ ‘Multiple use’ is defined in the Act as “management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people.”

Who should handle this junk land has a long, contentious history

Here is a readable summary of some history on the subject.  Who should own and manage land that looks like this?:

sagebrush

Should the states manage it?  In the Depression the states didn’t want it.

Fights over which of the multiple uses should be favored come up all the time.  The most newsworthy fight in recent years on this topic, the weird Oregon standoff originated with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s dispute with the BLM over grazing his cattle on their lands:

the dispute started in 1993, when, in protest against changes to grazing rules, Bundy declined to renew his permit for cattle grazing on BLM-administered lands near Bunkerville, Nevada. According to the BLM, Bundy continued to graze his cattle on public lands without a permit. In 1998, Bundy was prohibited by the United States District Court for the District of Nevada from grazing his cattle on an area of land later called the Bunkerville Allotment.

Cliven Bundy refused to recognize federal ownership of the land, claiming it rightfully belonged to Nevada, which would maybe be chiller about letting him graze his cattle there.

Cliven, found on this CNN piece about him claiming he's not a racist

Cliven, found on this CNN piece: Cliven Bundy says he’s not racist

This being the USA, Cliven’s stand led to, a few years later, Bundy’s sons sitting around with guns at a remote bird refuge while Dad reflected on his views on “the Negro“:

they abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?

fullsizerender-13

Where does the GOP Congress stand on federal land ownership?

All over the place, is the answer.

1) the Republican Party’s platform supports returning some federal land to the states.

See here for a Snopes breakdown of this.  Here’s the language on federal land transfer in the Republican Platform:

The federal government owns or controls over 640 million acres of land in the United States, most of which is in the West. These are public lands, and the public should have access to them for appropriate activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Federal ownership or management of land also places an economic burden on counties and local communities in terms of lost revenue to pay for things such as schools, police, and emergency services. It is absurd to think that all that acreage must remain under the absentee ownership or management of official Washington. Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states. We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands, identified in the review process, to all willing states for the benefit of the states and the nation as a whole. The residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live. They practice boots-on- the-ground conservation in their states every day. We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.

Key word there is “certain”?

I think it’s possible to be passionate about maintaining our treasured national land, and still think some federal land could be better managed by the states.

There’s a lot of wack stuff in the GOP platform, like this:

A Republican administration should streamline personnel procedures to expedite the firing of bad workers, tax cheats, and scammers.

Obviously they’re not worried about the Commander in Chief who won’t release his tax returns.  Maybe they will be similarly hypocritical about conveying federally controlled land to states.

Ah-Shi-Sie-Pah Wilderness Study Area in New Mexico

Ah-Shi-Sie-Pah Wilderness Study Area in New Mexico

2) the Republican Congress changed rules to allow the federal government to give up land while counting it as “budget neutral”

Meet Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah:

rob-bishop

A Republican Congressman.  He is apparently responsible for a change in House of Representatives rules.  Now, I don’t know anything about House budgeting rules. This article, from The Salt Lake City Tribune, written by Juliet Eilperin, seems fair and clear:

Under current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury — whether through energy extraction, logging, grazing or other activities — has a cost. If lawmakers wanted to give land-generating receipts to a given state, local government or tribe, they would have to account for that loss in expected cash flow. If the federal government conveys land where there is no economic activity, such as wilderness, there is no estimated cost associated with it.

But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman [Rob] Bishop [Republican Congressman of Utah], who backs the idea of providing state and local officials with greater control over federal land, has authored language in the new rules package saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.”

This was the same rules package that had the ethics loosening thing that got people to call their reps in an effective show of democratic displeasure.  Here is a much-tweeted Guardian article on the topic.

There’s lots about public land on Rob Bishop’s website. One issue that seems to bother Rob Bishop in particular is Wilderness Study Areas.  And I agree they represent the complex mess of interests when you deal with public land.

A Case Study: How A Wilderness Study Area Becomes A Wilderness

The Wilderness Study Areas are roadless sections of land that the BLM puts a hold on until Congress decides whether to designate them as wilderness or not.

Here’s my personal favorite:

fullsizerender-4

Here’s what Rob Bishop says:

For decades, unsettled land-use designations, such as wilderness study areas, have fueled distrust and acrimony. The uncertainty about the future of these lands created conflict amongst those favoring differing types of uses. The diverse uses of public lands have an important role in making Utah healthy, viable, and inviting. The future of the state depends on a responsible balance of both conservation and development.

There are 86 Wilderness Study Areas in Utah.  Myself, I think we should err on the side of keeping wildernesses — once they’re gone, they’ll never come back.

Once you’re a WSA, you either become a Wilderness, federally protected, or you get dropped and you can get chopped up and mineraled and whatnot like any old BLM land.  Or you get downgraded to Conservation Area, or some other designation.

The most recent Wilderness Study Area bill I can find in Congress was from last year, when some WSAs inside federal conservation areas were proposed to get dropped.  It’s been referred to committee.  Here’s an article about it, it sounds like a complicated issue.

You can see how this all gets pretty slow-moving and bureaucratic.

Maybe Rob Bishop has a point

The bottom line of what Rep. Bishop wants to do is made pretty clear on his website:

Congressman Bishop’s views on public land use differ from mine, why should I trust that this is a good faith effort to make new conservation areas?

Congressman Bishop is committed to conservation and economic development as part of the Public Lands Initiative. Throughout his career, Congressman Bishop has had a strong record of both conservation and development. The Cedar Mountain Wilderness area was created in 2006 after Congressman Bishop facilitated a locally-driven, collaborative process similar to the Public Lands Initiative. As a former high school teacher, Congressman Bishop also has pushed for increased energy production in Utah to help support and fund public education. Congressman Bishop is committed to elements of both conservation and development as part of any Public Lands Initiative legislative proposal.

How will the state of Utah benefit from this?

The state of Utah’s public education system will benefit from increased energy and mineral production. Public land users will benefit from the regulatory certainty that comes from congressionally designated lands. Local governments will benefit from revenue generated from multiple use of the land, including recreation, mineral development, and energy production. The outdoor recreation businesses will benefit from the improved certainty about land use and conservation. Future generations will benefit by having responsible policies that utilize the land in the most responsible and reasonable ways that make sense now and into the future.

Here’s more:

Proponents argue, however, that taking the federal government out of the picture will help the budget and offer economic benefits for the many communities located near federally-guarded land.

“In many cases, federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities,” Molly Block, spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues.”

That’s from this UPI article by Stephen Feller and Doug C. Ware.

Look, Rob Bishop’s there in Utah.  Maybe he knows best what should happen with this land.  In tough Western areas he could see roped off federal preserves with no clear purpose, and point out those could be jobs and money for his district, or even just better managed wilderness under local control.

BUT:

Why shouldn’t disposed-of land be marked as a loss to the federal revenue, when it is?  Isn’t this a form of the federal government lying to itself?  Lying to its citizens?  As an American taxpayer, I don’t see how this rather sneaky accounting change is at all good for me.

Plus what the hell?!  This land belongs to us, American citizens.  These guys want to sell away our inheritance?

High Desert News‘ Elizabeth Shongren puts it clearly:

Previously, when Congress wanted to transfer public lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or other federal agency, the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ research arm, calculated the cost to the U.S. Treasury by computing what revenues the lands provide over 10 years, such as grazing fees or oil and gas royalties. Under House rules, before a bill approving a transfer could be adopted, budget cuts would have to be made in other federal programs equal to the value of that land. The rules change eliminates that budgetary barrier to land transfer bills.

I’d have to explore this more, but I have a feeling the House somehow tied itself into knots on spending and budgetary rules to make various political points, and is trying to untangle this particular aspect so they can get rid of public land.

Can the government sell off our treasured national lands?

Yes, but it’s not that easy.

Let’s start with the BLM.  Can the BLM sell off their land?  From their website:

How are these lands selected for sale?

The law states that the BLM can select lands for sale if, through land use planning, they are found to meet one of three criteria: 1) they are scattered, isolated tracts, difficult or uneconomic to manage; 2) they were acquired for a specific purpose and are no longer needed for that purpose; or 3) disposal of the land will serve important public objectives, such as community expansion and economic development.

More:

The BLM does not offer much land for sale because of a congressional mandate in 1976 to generally retain these lands in public ownership. The BLM does, however, occasionally sell parcels of land where our land use planning finds disposal is appropriate.

Of the Big Five Agencies, only DoD and BLM lost land between 1990 and 2013 (again, source here).  In those years, the BLM went down by 24, 777, 190 acres.

Where did those acres go?

This decline in Alaska is largely the result of the disposal of BLM land, under law, to the State of Alaska, Alaska Natives, and Alaska Native Corporations.

Seems fine to me.  The Congressional Research Service goes on:

With regard to disposal, the NPS and FWS have virtually no authority to dispose of the lands they administer, and the FS disposal authorities are restricted.

Last big push to dispose of national lands failed.  It was HR 350: State National Forest Management Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Don Young of Alaska.

don-young

Didn’t pass.

 

HR 621: Story of A Victory

Let’s return to Utah rep Jason Chaffetz:

jason-chaffetz

Which land did he try to sell away?

Great question.

It’s not immediately clear.  Chaffetz’s website links to a 1997 report of disposable lands.   Ryan Krogh at Men’s Journal identifies some of the choice land included in the 1997 report:

State: Wyoming

County: Sheridan

The Potential Land: 35,200 acres of BLM-managed land in the Powder River Basin, which is just east of the Bighorn Mountains, popular with hikers, campers, horseback riders, and hunters.

Here’s what’s going on on BLM land in the Powder River right now:

Powder River, from a BLM website

Powder River, from a BLM website

State: Wyoming

County: Park

The Potential Land: 27,300 acres surrounding the Shoshone River, a popular fly-fishing stream in northern Wyoming. Most of the BLM-managed land in Park County is downstream of the town of Cody, which sits between the Big Horn, Owl Creek, Bridger, and Absaroka mountain ranges. Tourism is the town’s primary industry.

State: Oregon

County: Harney

The Potential Land: 44,000 acres in a county that’s home to Steens Mountain, a 9,733-foot peak that’s popular with campers and hunters, and Malheur National Forest.

State: New Mexico

County: Catron

The Potential Land: 25,000 acres that contain “cultural resources,” meaning it’s probably home to pueblo ruins. The land is most likely a giant tract southwest of the town of Quemado, and some of the land abuts the Gila National Forest, home to the endangered Mexican gray wolf, the Gila trout, and some of the best elk hunting in the U.S.

State: Colorado

County: Montrose

The Potential Land: 2,105 acres that is home to endangered species and “historic/cultural resources.” The surrounding area contains the Gunnison Gorge, famous for its rafting and fly-fishing trips, and Uncompahgre National Forest, which is home to elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.

State: Nevada

County: Elko

The Potential Land: 208,900 acres that contains endangered species, historic resources, and is home to “wetlands/floodplain.” BLM-managed land makes up a giant percentage of land in Elko County, but exactly what land is up for consideration is unclear, or what the effects might be.

State: Arizona

County: Mohave

The Potential Land: 23,525 acres with mining claims and historic resources. A comment attached to the description notes that the land is “classified as habitat for the Desert Tortoise (a sensitive species).”

Now I heard about this, and I was pissed, because this land belongs to me.  And you.  And us.  Any time we wanna go there, it’s there.

And Jason Chaffetz tried to sell it off.  

Backcountry Backlash

Well this did not play.  Word spread via strong, aggressive groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers:

Google HR 621 and you fill find angry, mobilized publicity from groups like TheMeatEater.com, BowHunter.com, WiredToHunt (“Deer Hunting Strategies for the Next Generation”), and TexasBowhunter.com.

There were rallies in Helena, MT and Santa Fe, NM which BHA says drew a thousand people.

Chaffetz backed down by last night — six days after introducing the bill:

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-30-09-pm

 

What can we learn from the defeat (for now) of HR 621?

  • Strong, organized, motivated, attentive citizens can win, easily, on issues that matter.
  • Play to a politician’s fears.  Jason Chaffetz got to Congress by primarying a guy in his own party.  He’s got to watch his back constantly.  His greatest fear has got to be somebody doing to him what he did to Chris Cannon, outrunning him on the right.
  • Push the pushable.  Chaffetz wasn’t moved by people who would never vote for him.  He was moved by hunters and fishermen,  people who probably would vote for him, as long as he doesn’t fuck them on something they care about.
  • Look at the focus on these groups: bow-hunters, meat-eating hunters.  They have clear interests, goals, and passions.  They follow their issues and inform each other.
  • Powerful allies.  Look at the sponsors for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.  These are big corporations with big interests in keeping their customers happy and hunting and fishing.  Yeti coolers has a partnership with MeatEater.com.  What are rich companies that have interests that could align with yours?
  • Specific targets.  They learned something from all that bow-hunting.
  • See how fast and aggressively they responded to the slightest hint of a challenge and you can get an answer to the seemingly baffling question of why gun control bills get crushed so easily.  Strong, organized people are paying attention to the slightest threat to their gun rights and they do not let up.

The Trump hurricane has achieved an effect of constantly shifting focus.  When we compare what bow-hunters did to the stammering, confused, bafflement of the Hollywood libtards we follow on Twitter, and my own flabbergasted reactions, we realize we have much to learn from Texas bow-hunters on how to stay focused on a few issues that matter to us most.

The biggest lesson:

This issue brought together, on the same side, Joyce Carol Oates:

and these kind of guys:

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-11-38-01-am

And the bros on the Texas Bowhunter forums.

They’re both passionate on the same side on this issue.

For me, the strongest takeaway is don’t insist on too much ideological purity.

Build coalitions on issues you care about.

That is the way to win in politics.

Plus who do you think Jason Chaffetz is most scared of?

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I’m guessing it’s this kinda guy? (seen here killing a huge deer with a bow and arrow).

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-26-36-am

This guy and I may have different ideas about what to do with the land we share.

But we share an interest.  We can team up.

One of the most illuminating things I read about the election was “David Wong”‘s piece on Cracked.com about the rural vs. urban divide. Here I am very far from Powder River, WY.  The odds of me visiting it in the next ten years are small (but real).  But here I am allied with people who live near there and use it all the time.

Gotta Hear Both Sides

Look, it’s fair to say maybe we should sell off some public land.  The clearest expression I found of this ambiguity was put up by this poster on TexasBowhunter.com — I hope user 175gr7.62 won’t mind me quoting him, I think it’s a valid take (encourage you to read him in context):

I’m torn on it. The Constitutional side of me says the Fed should have never owned it anyway. The Constitution says the government can acquire and retain land necessary for carrying out its enumerated powers. This includes parcels for military bases, post offices and buildings to house federal employees undertaking enumerated functions. I don’t think anything the BLM or Forest Service does counts as anything enumerated. Several Supreme Court cases have said the govt can own it but I think that’s just case law.

The hunter in me said it could be bad if the Feds sell the land because it could be bought by a private citizen who can then prevent its use. That being said, if they sell it and I don’t have the money to buy it that’s my fault…I should have gotten a better education or made better investment decisions.

Tough call.

Reasonable people can disagree on how public land should be managed and who should managed it.

What bothers me, and what puts me on edge, is the sneakiness of what Bishop and Chaffetz appear to be doing.

And the misguided priorities.  This is the first thing they got to post-election.

Well, Chaffetz at least got called to the carpet for it.

A Passionate Plea

Here’s a full video of Jason Chaffetz’s town hall.  Listen to this guy at 11:39 say our free public lands are all he has.

Please write to us (helphely at gmail or in the comments) if we got something wrong or you have a strong take.  

These are complicated issues, I did my best and in good faith but it’s easy to make an error.  

In our Next Installment:

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Part Three:  Strange Allies.  

And why this:

ryan-zinke

is better than this:

cathy-mcmorris-rogers

 

 


Tennessee Williams -> Dr. Feelgood -> Mark Shaw

 

Tennessee Williams in Key West

Strewn around the apartment of a friend this weekend were a few biographies of Tennessee Williams.

I don’t know much about Tennessee Williams.  The most I ever thought about him was when I was briefly in Key West, where there’s some stuff named after him.  He jockeys with Hemingway for local literary mascot top honors.

Looking into it, I found this stupefying article about TW in Key West from People Magazine, 1979, entitled “In His Beloved Key West, Tennessee Williams Is Center Stage In A Furor Over Gays.”  Tough reading, on the one hand.  On the other maybe we can find some optimism in how far things have come?:

Some of Williams’ friends are less sanguine—notably Rader (whom some Key West sympathizers find faintly hysterical on the subject). “It has been terrible,” he said in the aftermath. “Tenn won’t talk about it, but it has been really frightening what’s happening in Key West and in this house. The worst was the night they stood outside his front porch and threw beer cans, shouting, ‘Come on out, faggot.’ When they set off the firecrackers, I remember thinking, ‘God, this is it. We’re under attack. They’ve started shooting.’ ”

Williams’ imperturbability springs both from a matter of principle (he once defined gallantry as “the grace with which one survives appalling experiences”) and from a diminished interest in the Key West gay scene. “I’ve retired from the field of homosexuality at present,” he explains, “because of age. I have no desires—isn’t that strange? I have dreams, but no waking interest.” The thought does not cheer him. “I’ve always found life unsatisfactory,” he says. “It’s unsatisfactory now, especially since I’ve given up sex.” His own problems seem far more pressing to him than the city’s. “I suspect I’ll only live another two years,” says Williams, 68, who tipples white wine from morning on and complains of heart and pancreas disorders. “I’ve been working like a son of a bitch since 1969 to make an artistic comeback. I don’t care about the money, but I can’t give up art—there’s no release short of death. It’s quite painful. I’ll be dictating on my deathbed. I want people to say, ‘Yes, this man is still an artist.’ They haven’t been saying it much lately.”

As a consummate prober of human passions, Williams does have theories on why his adopted hometown is under siege. “There are punks here,” he explains. “That’s because a couple of gay magazines publicized this place as if it were the Fire Island of Florida. It isn’t. One Fire Island is quite enough. But it attracted the wrong sort of people here: the predators who are looking for homosexuals. I think the violence will be gone by next year.”

Other residents seem less willing to wait. The leader of the anti-gay forces, the Reverend Wright, says Anita Bryant has promised to come to Key West to help his crusade. Recalling nostalgically the days when “female impersonators and queers were loaded into a deputy’s automobile and shipped to the county line,” Wright warns: “We’ll either have a revival of our society or the homosexuals will take it over in five years.”

Mamet On Williams

This morning happened to pick up in my garage this book by David Mamet:

IMG_6629

Highly recommend this book as well as Three Uses Of The Knife, True And False: Heresy And Common Sense For The Actor, and On Directing Film by Mamet.  All short, all tight, all good.  (His subsequent nonfiction seems to me to be a bit… deranged?)

Found this, and thought it was great:

IMG_6630 IMG_6631

Wikipedia Hole

Reading about Tennessee on Wikipedia, I learn:

As he had feared, in the years following Merlo’s death Williams was plunged into a period of nearly catatonic depression and increasing drug use resulting in several hospitalizations and commitments to mental health facilities. He submitted to injections by Dr. Max Jacobson – known popularly as Dr. Feelgood – who used increasing amounts of amphetamines to overcome his depression and combined these with prescriptions for the sedative Seconal to relieve his insomnia. Williams appeared several times in interviews in a nearly incoherent state, and his reputation both as a playwright and as a public personality suffered.[citation needed] He was never truly able to recoup his earlier success, or to entirely overcome his dependence on prescription drugs.

Let’s learn about Dr. Feelgood, who was also screwing up Elvis and everybody else cool back then:

John F. Kennedy first visited Jacobson in September 1960, shortly before the 1960 presidential election debates.[9] Jacobson was part of the Presidential entourage at the Vienna summit in 1961, where he administered injections to combat severe back pain. Some of the potential side effects included hyperactivity, impaired judgment, nervousness, and wild mood swings. Kennedy, however, was untroubled by FDA reports on the contents of Jacobson’s injections and proclaimed: “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.”[10] Jacobson was used for the most severe bouts of back pain.[11] By May 1962, Jacobson had visited the White House to treat the President thirty-four times.[12][13]

By the late 1960s, Jacobson’s behavior became increasingly erratic as his own amphetamine usage increased. He began working 24-hour days and was seeing up to 30 patients per day. In 1969, one of Jacobson’s clients, former Presidential photographer Mark Shaw, died at the age of 47. An autopsy showed that Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.”

Well, that takes us to

Mark Shaw

Born Mark Schlossman on the Lower East Side, a pilot on the India/China Hump in World War II, he became a freelance photographer for life:

In 1953, probably because of his fashion experience, Shaw was assigned to photograph the young actress Audrey Hepburn during the filming of Paramount’s Sabrina. Evasive at first, Hepburn became comfortable with Shaw’s presence over a two-week period and allowed him to record many of her casual and private moments.

Audrey 1

Audrey 2

He married singer Pat Suzuki, “who is best known for her role in the original Broadway production of the musical Flower Drum Song, and her performance of the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in the show”:

In 1959, Life chose Shaw to photograph Jacqueline Kennedy while her husband, Senator John F. Kennedy, was running for President.[8] This assignment was the beginning of an enduring working relationship and personal friendship with the Kennedys that would eventually lead to Shaw’s acceptance as the Kennedys’ de facto “family photographer”. He visited them at theWhite House and at Hyannisport; during this time he produced his most famous photographs, portraying the couple and their children in both official and casual settings. In 1964, Shaw published a collection of these images in his book The John F. Kennedys: A Family Album, which was very successful.

Jackie 3

Jackie 1

 

A bunch of even better ones can be found here, at the tragically disorganized website of the Monroe Gallery, they’re stamped “No Reproduction Without Permission” so whatever.  Don’t miss this one.

Here’s another famous Jackie Mark photo’d:

Jackie Gleason1959© 2000 Mark Shaw

And finally:

BB 1

 

 

 

 


Mark Helprin

from The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

Why don’t you like to give interviews?

MARK HELPRIN

When I was young it was impossible to stop me from talking about myself, but I now find it difficult to start. As an adolescent (which stage in life took me to about the age of thirty) I had a facile tongue, a prodigious memory, and an all-consuming fear of sociality (a fear and distaste that is, if anything, stronger now than it ever was, but now I am disciplined enough just to suffer through it and, quite frankly, I’m tired of trying to keep back a sea of discomfort with the flood of my own words).

The source of my aversion is partly hereditary, in that my father and many of my relatives were much the same, and partly an acquisition that I owe to my early upbringing. When this was far more serious a matter than it is now, I was born two months prematurely, with malformations of the spine (spina bifida) and lungs, and what was later diagnosed as “hyperconvulsive neurological syndrome.” Whatever that is, it was sufficient to have kept me out of the United States Army, though not the Israeli infantry and air force or the British Merchant Navy.

To make a rather long story extremely short, I spent many weeks in an incubator, came home as damaged goods, and spent much of my early life in the throes of respiratory diseases that kept me out of school and apart from others. As a small child, I once ran a fever for, literally, a year. I had pneumonia half a dozen times, double pneumonia, whooping cough—all because of the circumstances of my birth.

Now, combine that, and all that you can imagine might flow from it, with the place in which I was raised—Ossining, New York. Culturally, the character of the area was formed during the Revolutionary War, when it was a no-man’s-land between the Americans and the British, and every criminal, deserter, and malcontent for hundreds of miles found his way there and left his genes. When I was a child, I would always look at people’s hands, to see if they had six fingers, and sometimes they did.

My draft board, I am told (although it may be myth), had, of all draft boards in the United States, the highest proportion of men killed in Vietnam—where, incidentally, my godfather, the photographer Robert Capa, was the first American to die, though he was a Hungarian and had nothing to do with the Hudson. The area was salted with military institutions—West Point, military academies, veterans’ hospitals—and old soldiers, including even, when I was young, some from the Civil War. The play of the boys was guerilla warfare in the extensive woods. Every stranger was a threat, an enemy. Indeed, there were a lot of bad apples around—escaped convicts from Sing Sing (twice as I remember), standard criminals, gangs in the fifties, child molesters (a beautiful little girl was taken from my third-grade schoolyard and raped and beaten over a period of many hours), and hoboes (not Shakespearian woodwinds) on the rail line that was the geographical locus of my childhood. I ran wild through all this, protected by my paranoia, by my sharply-honed guerilla skills, and by a rather extensive arsenal. Had you turned me upside down and shaken me, the floor would have looked like a military museum after an earthquake.

INTERVIEWER

I was asking about your dislike of being interviewed.

(photo found here, by Jim Harrison for Harvard Magazine)


Local origin of the AR-15 rifle

from Wikipedia’s article on ArmaLite:

ArmaLite began as a small arms engineering concern founded by George Sullivan, the patent counsel for Lockheed Corporation, and funded by Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation. After leasing a small machine shop at 6567 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, California, Sullivan hired several employees and began work on a prototype for a lightweight survival rifle for use by downed aircrew.On October 1, 1954, the company was incorporated as the Armalite Corporation, becoming a subdivision of Fairchild. With its limited capital and tiny machine shop, ArmaLite was never intended to be an arms manufacturer but was instead focused on producing small arms concepts and designs to be sold or licensed to other manufacturers.

Right near Paramount Studios, and Rao’s.

ArmaLite continued to market the AR-10 based on a limited production of rifles at its Hollywood facility. These limited-production, virtually hand-built rifles are referred to today as the “Hollywood” model AR-10.

A key figure was Eugene Stoner:

On May 16, 1990, Stoner and Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 and its derivatives, would meet for the first time. They would spend the next few days talking, sharing stories, shopping, going out to dinner and touring Washington D.C. They visited the Smithsonian Institution, the NRA’s National Firearms Museum, and a hunting lodge owned by the gun club at Star Tannery, where they went shooting. They would also visit the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, where they watched new weapons being tested. During this short visit, both men, intimately familiar with the other’s work, shared a common bond and became friends, “not needing an interpreter to get their thoughts across.”

I first came across the name ArmaLite in 1990s readings about the Northern Ireland Troubles and the Provisional IRA. ArmaLites were an important goal of their gunrunning operations, becoming almost a totemic object in IRA lore.

Harrison spent an estimated US$1 million in the 1970s purchasing over 2,500 guns for the IRA. According to Brendan Hughes, a key figure in the Belfast Brigade, the IRA smuggled small arms from the United States by sea on Queen Elizabeth 2 from New York via Southampton, through Irish members of her crew, until the network was cracked down on by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1980s. These Queen Elizabeth 2 shipments included Armalite rifles, and were driven from Southampton to Belfast in small consignments.

Perhaps you have seen this iconic photograph of an unidentified woman in Belfast:

Source. More info. The rifle there is an AR-18.


A Pirate Looks At Fifty by Jimmy Buffett

How many of Jimmy Buffett’s Big Eight (now the Big Ten) could you name? A few weeks ago I could’ve gotten two for sure, maybe three, I’m no Parrothead.  When I thought of “Jimmy Buffett,” I thought of MW’s story of listening to his greatest hits on cassette on their way to family vacation, with his mom reaching over to frantically fast forward whenever “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” came around.

In Mile Marker Zero I loved the origin story of Jimmy Buffett: down on his luck in Nashville, goes to Miami for a gig, only to find either he or the club owner got the dates wrong.  Stuck, he calls his friend Jerry Jeff Walker, whose girlfriend suggests they take the unexpected week and go down to Key West.  When Jimmy Buffett sees the lifestyle there he knows he’s in the right place and never turns back.

The Margaritaville retirement community was profiled in The New Yorker.  How many of the singer-songwriters of the ’70s have a retirement community based on their worldview? John Prine? Kris Kristofferson? Only one. At the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting they sold a Jimmy Buffett boat. The man is a phenomenon. Why?

On a warm spring morning driving from Chapel HIll to Wilmington, NC in a rented Ford Escape armed with Sirius Satellite XM, I put on Parrothead Radio.  They were playing a live concert from March 2001.  “Before 9/11,” I thought.  The contagious fun of this man came through, and the joy of the audience. It’s strange since, can you even really picture Jimmy Buffett?  You can picture what kind of shirt he wears.  

He’s in that kinda shirt on the cover of the mass market paperback of A Pirate Looks at Fifty. On a sunny beach obviously.  Behind him is an enormous Albatross seaplane, the Hemisphere II. 

This is a travel book, and a great one.  I’d rank it up there with Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, which it references a few times.  I bet more of A Pirate Looks at Fifty is true.  I saved this book to read on the beach in Malibu – perfect setting. The book, leisurely, describes a trip around the Caribbean Sea to commemorate his fiftieth birthday, with stops in Grand Cayman, Costa Rica, Cartagena, St. Barts.  A treasure map opens the book, you can follow the voyage.  Along the way, Buffett tells of his rise and his adventures.  He desired to be a Serious Southern Writer, but that wasn’t him.  As a boy he was struck by a parade at Mobile Mardi Gras of Folly chasing Death.  That was him.  Catholicism plays a bigger role than you may suspect, with St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans his home church, but plenty of bad behavior to balance the ledger.  A friend at Auburn teaches him the D and C chords on a guitar. He busks on the corner of Chartres and Conti in New Orleans.

My talent came in working an audience.

Buffett begins the book with four hundred words summing up his life to present. An excerpt:

I signed a record deal, got married, moved to Nashville, had my guitars stolen, bought a Mercedes, worked at Billboard magazine, put out my first album, went broke, met Jerry Jeff Walker, wrecked the Mercedes, got divorced, and moved to Key West. I sang and worked on a fishing boat, went totally crazy, did a lot of dope, met the right girl, made another record, had a hit, bought a bought, and sailed away to the Caribbean.

Having brought us up to speed, he gets going. This is a memoir more of flying and fishing than of music. Buffett is a pilot, and recounts many adventures in the air, usually flying somewhere to fish or surf.

In looking back, I see there wasn’t that much difference between Jimi Hendrix playing “The Star-Spangled Banner at dawn at Woodstock and Jimmy Stewart playing Charles Lindbergh in “The Spirit of St. Louis.”

Memorable meals are described: cucumber and tomato sandwiches at the brassiere on the Trocadero in Paris for example.  And bars: Buck Forty Nine, New Orleans; Trade Winds, St. Augustine; The Hub Pub Club, Boone NC; Big Pine Inn; The Hangout, Gulf Shores; The Vapors, Biloxi; Le Select, St. Barts. 

Of a visit to paintings of Winslow Homer and Frederick Edward Church:

I can’t put the feeling into words; the closest I can come is to say that the sights and sounds of such things may enter the body through the senses but they find their way to the heart, and that is what art is really about.  

Buffett says:

Anyone bellying up to a bar with a few shots of tequila swimming around the bloodstream can tell a story. The challenge is to wake up the next day and carve through the hangover minefield and a million other excuses and be able to cohesively get it down on paper.

Mission accomplished.


Xth

The ten year anniversary of Helytimes rolled around without our really noticing.  We started this website* in February 2012.  The posts from that month are as clear a reflection as there is of the idea (extinct links and lost images are a curse but come w/t/territory).

There wasn’t a master plan.  “I should know something about writing for the Internet.” The directness is powerful (and frightening): what writer of the past wouldn’t have dreamed of an instantaneous worldwide publishing platform you could control? A piece published on Helytimes generates a link that’s as accessible as a link to The New York Times. How could we not try that? Authors had websites; I’d published two books and hoped to do more.  The magic of putting up pieces that entered the great Google library, the creation of a personal wondermuseum, it seemed fun.  

A strong sense memory lingers about the day of origin: I was in my office on the TV show The Office. Across the hall was my college Alison Silverman. Our offices were in an annex trailer in the parking lot, which often roasted in the sun. Inside between our offices was a treadmill people sometimes used. That was a funny time and place. I told Alison I was thinking of starting a blog and I remember not having any reaction at all. It was like I said I’d had a salad for lunch. But what was I expecting?

WordPress provided the structure. I’m not sure I’d recommend WordPress, it feels flimsy, it feels like it could collapse tomorrow. GoDaddy sold us the URL. Although GoDaddy’s name and TV ads make it seem ridiculous, they are really dependable, we’ve never had a problem. I copied a simple design template my cousin was using and off we went.

Since then we’ve published 1,624 posts.  Some of the most popular are:

– a guest post by Hayes about a local political issue, No on Measure S (No prevailed, and thank goodness). This post shows the value of possessing an easy distribution platform

– a post about the alleged subject of Gordon Lightfoot’s song Sundown. People Google this person and find the site, it’s celebrity gossip.

– a comparison of the UK in size to California. Another Google inbounder.

Mountaineering movies on Netflix (needs updating, The Alpinist and 14 Peaks both great)

– an investigation of whether the last joke Abraham Lincoln heard was funny

– a consideration of how a mosaic at Disney World was made by Hanns Scharff, one of the Luftwaffe’s top interrogators (and revealing insights in interrogation)

– a look into the darkness of Donald Trump’s father and the destruction of Coney Island

Some posts about JFK were also quite popular, as was a post about The White House Pool.

Anything about Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will pop.  

Anything about writing or writing advice from other people will move the needle.

We consider Record Group 80 to be kind of a signature post.

Ten years as an amount of time is significant.  We once heard an interview with Joseph Campbell, he was talking about a young student who was asking Campbell about whether he thought he, the student, could make it as a writer.

Well, can you go ten years without making it?

was Campbell’s question. A good question to ask.  

What would “making it” mean?  We don’t profit off this website, but it’s very valuable as as storehouse of material that caught our attention. And it feels contributive.  It’s brought about many connections and friendships of great value, even if you can’t put a price on them.  

Once I was talking to a guy who knew a thing or two about SEO and metrics and online business about the site. He suggested we should pick any one specific niche and go deep, make that our thing. For instance, “Navy photos.” But that’s not the idea (and it would be boring).

Once I was talking to a successful Hollywood type guy who’s a reader of Helytimes. I asked him what I should do to get more readers. He looked at me like I was kind of an idiot.

Write about the Kardashians

he said.

That’s not the idea here either.

This isn’t any kind of business. During the lifespan of this website we published a book, wrote several other books, wrote lots of television, co-hosted hundreds of episodes of The Great Debates. This is a straightup side project. But sometimes that’s where the life is.

My life times out so my growing up parallels the Internet growing up. My age 18 was close to the Internet’s age 18. So I followed and tracked the rise of what we unfortunately have to call blogging. 

Andrew Sullivan was an early one. Blogging eventually burned him out and he had to stop.  Matt Yglesias was my near contemporary in college (I don’t think I ever met him).  He seems built to be a blogger and has made a job of it.  That takes stamina, focus, and drive we don’t have.

Hot takes aren’t the game around here. Unless they’re hot takes on something from like the 15th century

We maintain this site out of desire to clean out the brain-attic, to keep an independent publishing vector open, to settle anything that’s gnawing at us, to share (and clear the mind of) passions, obsessions, curiosities and discoveries.  

Over the years we’ve had a worldwide readership, lured in some surprising customers, lost one contributor to death by tragedy, and had some touching comments.  The funniest people reach out to us. Usually about content we never would’ve thought anyone would care about. 

We made a scratchmark on the cave wall, which, what else are we here for?  

So, onward!  Thanks for reading, we really appreciate you.  

* the word blog just isn’t a winner, is it folks?


Pipelines

To understand the Kremlin’s motivations in regard to its smaller, and relatively impoverished, neighbor, the key fact to know is that Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s heating-fuel supplies — namely, natural gas.

To get it there, Russia relies mostly on two aging pipeline networks, one of which runs through Belarus and the other through Ukraine. For this, Russia pays Ukraine around $2 billion a year in transit fees.

Russia is a petrostate and relies on oil and natural-gas sales for about 60% of its export revenue and 40% of its total budget expenditures. Any crimp on Russia’s ability to access the European market is a threat to its economic security.

so writes Lukas I. Alpert in Marketwatch. Samuel Bailey is credited for the below map, found on the Wikipedia page, “Pipeline Transport.”

Ironically the cost for Russia will be “decertification” of Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Closer to home: big news came from the Supreme Court today re: the Dakota Access Pipeline. The court declined to hear Energy Transfer’s plea to avoid a legally mandated environmental review.

The ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota tribes including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

It signals the end of the litigation road for the Texan energy company, but the pipeline, known as DAPL and open since 2017, will continue to operate as the review is carried out.

You gotta be on the side of the tribes here, they don’t want a pipeline under their lake. But on the other hand, aren’t pipelines a pretty good way to transport oil? What’s better, trucks? Trains?

Oil and gas is extracted in inconvenient places and is messy to move. The limited pipelines create chokepoints. Remember when “hackers” shut down Colonial? 45% of all the fuel consumed on the East Coast comes through that one pipeline.

A map of US pipelines made using a tool at FracTracker.

Here in greater Los Angeles we have refineries, so several pipelines flow out. If I understand right, just two pipelines, one from here and one from Utah, bring all the necessary jet fuel, heating oil, and gasoline to Las Vegas.

You’d think there’d be one of those books called like Invisible Veins: How Pipelines Run Our Lives but I couldn’t find one. If you look up “pipeline” in books on Amazon, you get a graphic novel, some books about metaphorical “pipelines” like in education and income, and this one:

Beautiful cover. The target audience for that one seems to be those involved in legal matters:

In this edition of Oil and Gas Pipelines in Nontechnical Language, Tom Miesner and Bill Leffler leverage the hundreds of courses they have taught in the past decade, along with the interaction with their audiences, clients, and opposing attorneys to present a totally understandable view of pipeline inception, planning, construction, start-up, and operation. Those experiences allowed them to expand but simplify the complexities of pipelines, including a totally revised chapter on equipment that provides a complete view of pipeline components. A separate chapter on control systems updates this technology.

At over $100 that’s too expensive for a probably very boring book right now, but we did get this one:

and will report

In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel extraction to stop–with our actions, with our bodies, and by defusing and destroying its tools. We need, in short, to start blowing up some oil pipelines.

Haven’t read it yet, but blowing up an oil pipeline seems like one of the messiest things you could possibly do! You really gotta believe in the ends justifying the means etc. if you’re blowing up pipelines to help reverse ecological collapse.

I wonder if we ought instead to say a prayer for the health and safety of all pipelines!

We’ll let Malm make his case.


Warren Buffett on horse race wagering

And when the Buffett family moved to Washington, D.C., Warren just had one request for his dad:

“When we got to Washington, I said, ‘Pop, there’s just one thing I want. I want you to ask the Library of Congress for every book they have on horse handicapping.’ And my dad said, ‘Well, don’t you think they’re going to think it’s a little strange if the first thing a new Congressman asks for is all the books on horse handicapping?’”

But Buffett reminded his father of the help he gave him during the winning campaign, and pledged to be there for him again during his re-election. So Howard got Warren hundreds of books about handicapping horses.

“Then what I would do is read all these books. I sent away to a place in Chicago on North Clark Street where you could get old racing forms, months of them, for very little. They were old, so who wanted them? I would go through them using my handicapping techniques to handicap one day and see the next day how it worked out. I ran tests of my handicapping ability – day after day – all these different systems I had in mind.”

I was looking for someone who’d compiled up every reference Buffett and Munger made to horse race wagering, and I found it here, “DRF Legend Steven Crist on Value Investing and Horse Betting,” by Dillon Jacobs on Vintage Value. (Note that much of that quotes from The Snowball.)

Buffet on Value and DRF

Buffett noted that a bookie actually took action inside Washington’s Old House Office Building.“You could go to the elevator shaft and yell, ‘Sammy!’ or something like that and this kid would come up and take bets.”

Even Buffett himself did some bookmaking for guys who wanted to get down on the big races like the Preakness Stakes. “That’s the end of the game I liked, the 15 percent take with no risk,” Buffett said.

Buffett got along well with his high school golf coach, Bob Dwyer, and the two frequently rode the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad together from Silverspring, MD to Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia. Dwyer taught Buffett how to better understand the Daily Racing Form.“I’d get the Daily Racing Form ahead of time and figure out the probability of each horse winning the race. Then I would compare those percentages to the odds,” said Buffett, who bet from $6 to $10 to win. “Sometimes you would find a horse where the odds were way, way off from the actual probability. You figure the horse has a 10 percent chance of winning, but it’s going off at 15-to-1.”

That last part sounds a lot like Crist on Value, doesn’t it?

This method, looking for overlays, is at the heart of every serious book about horse wagering.

Going broke one day at Charles Town

One day, Buffett went to Charles Town by himself. He lost the first race and his performance went from bad to worse until he was down $175. Feeling depressed, he went to an ice cream shop and bought himself a sundae with the last of his money.

While eating, Buffett thought to himself that he had just lost more money than he made in a week.“And I’d done it for dumb reasons. You’re not supposed to bet every race. I’d committed the worst sin, which is that you get behind and you think you’ve got to break even that day. The first rule is that nobody goes home after the first race, and the second rule is that you don’t have to make it back the way you lost it. That is so fundamental.”

This was an important lesson that definitely influence Buffett’s investing later in life. You’re not supposed to be every race. Instead, just wait for the right pitch.

What Buffett and Munger both discovered is that making money in the stock market is much, much easier than making money at horse betting. For one thing, there’s no 14-25% track takeout. But it’s interesting how both markets teach similar lessons.


Shooter Corridor

Perhaps you’ve seen this scene in Full Metal Jacket, where R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant connects Charles Whitman’s shooting spree from the UT Austin tower and Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting of JFK to the training they received as Marines.

My mind did some pondering of these incidents as I drove on I-35, which connects the two sites of these incidents, Austin to Dallas.

Since my ultimate destination was Oklahoma City, my mind couldn’t help but turn to another former US military member who perpetuated a freakish, difficult to comprehend outburst of violence. Timothy McVeigh, a washed out failure from Army Ranger school with vague anti-government grievances bombed the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

McVeigh was obsessed with another violent American incident which happened along the route, the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, TX.

Along this route, you’ll also pass Killeen, Texas, where in 1991 there was a mass shooting at a Luby’s cafeteria. Up until that time it was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in the USA (the Virginia Tech massacre would overtake it).

Killeen is home to Fort Hood. In 2009 a US army major and psychiatrist killed 13 people and wounded 30 others in a mass shooting at Fort Hood. The Wikipedia page for that shooting has an amazing American detail:

Fort Hood, set to be renamed sometime in the future, is currently named after John Bell Hood, another renegade US soldier and dramatic personality with visions of violence, who once said to Sherman:

Better die a thousand deaths than submit to live under you or your Government and your Negro allies.

If you throw the site of the Alamo into the mix, I-35 really pops with scenes of strange fanatic American violence.

The big unmarked portion there in Oklahoma is of course the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, destination for the southeastern Indian removals, themselves an act of American violence, but perhaps beyond the scope of this post.

You could probably take any 400 mile stretch of American interstate and string together a few outbursts of historical violence, but I can’t help but observe this stretch of I-35 feels like an unusually haunted and scarred stretch of our national geopsyche.

Some excellent barbecue, steak and catfish can however be found.

Update: an Oklahoma reader sends us this one

Our suburb of Edmond is sadly another spot you could add to Shooter Corridor: the ‘86 post office shooting that inspired the phrase “going postal” happened here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmond_post_office_shooting

Wild.


The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition by Chris Wilson

Santa Fe is old. Founded in 1610, Santa Fe is older than Boston, older than Plymouth, older than any town in New England, older than any still-existing town in Virginia, older than Williamsburg, Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans. Quebec City is only two years older.

Santa Fe was laid out on the prinicples of the Laws of the Indes.

The Laws codified seventy years of Spanish town planning experience in the Americas and drew from a variety of European sources, Roman and Renaissance planning theory from Vitruvius to Alberti, monastic complexes and military encampments, and the siege towns built during the reconquest of Spain from the Moors.

Santa Fe is almost medieval, laid out (like Los Angeles) according to the Laws in a place “in an elevated and healthful location; with means of fortification; fertile soil with plenty of land for farming and pasturage; have fuel, timber and resources; fresh water, a native population.” It’s still has fresh water running right through it, it’s in an elevated and healthful location, timber and resources, a native population. It has the feel of being old, it’s small, it’s at a high, almost intoxicating altitude, it’s surrounded by forest and mountains, it’s charming and special. But in 2021, real estate is incredibly expensive, the buying of second homes is a huge force in the city. Is Santa Fe becoming a tourist attraction of itself? Is there the authentic still there? What even counts as authentic? How does this happen to a city?

This book The Myth of Santa Fe was for sale in Albuquerque, which struck me as funny, since I’d never seen it in Santa Fe. Comical to sell a book about how your rival city is a myth.

The New Deal populists of the 1930s sought to balance the myth of Santa Fe between the economic necessity of tourism and the use of its symbols to promote more broadly conceived social objectives such as public education and local economic self-sufficiency. Progressive regionalism peaked again in the early 1970s, with the counterculture and the Chicano and environmental movements.

But in the 1980s, this balance tilted almost completely toward the manipulation of the myth as a tourism marketing image. Simultaneously Ronald Reagan led a reallocation of resources from social programs to the military and from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy. Some of those with conspicuous new wealth were attracted to the city by the upsurge of international publicity that projected Santa Fe as a Tahiti in the desert, bathed in rosy sunsets, and elevated it (or reduced it, depending on your point of view) to a chic style of interior design and a world-class tourist destination.

The book is great, it functions as an informative and readable history of the city, as well as a catalogue of cultural shifts in self-understanding, belief, feelings towards that history which took form in architecture. Here’s a great summary of the book from 99% Invisible. Roughly the story told is how Santa Fe tried to be not Santa Fe, then stopped not being Santa Fe and switched to being more Santa Fe than ever (or at least an idea of Santa Fe, which may or may not have ever been the “real” Santa Fe) maybe to the point that it became so “Santa Fe” it risks not being Santa Fe any longer.

What is authentic, really?


San Luis Obispo

A couple years had passed since I’d last taken the train up to SLO. The town appears to be prospering. The Thursday night farmers market and Halloween festivities were full of happy faces, the farm produce looked amazing, the grilled meats smelled good. There are multiple stores that sell like soaps and globes and mugs and scarves. And places called like

The creek runs right through town. A fantasy would be to open a Japanese style inn alongside it, in about 300 years you might have a decent ryokan. Kids were on campus at Cal Poly, they looked healthy and vital. School pride there feels abundant, and it’s my sense that the learning there is practical and focused. Is the more famous Cal Poly alum Ozzie Smith or Weird Al Yankovich?

The Central Coast cadence of chill can be overheard everywhere, over pale ale and pinball at Lincoln Market for sure. Del Monte Cafe, La Loconda, Big Sky Cafe, Mistura all make my list. Dr Burnsteins Ice Cream Lab unfortunately somewhat disappoints. The “lab” theme is simply not maniacal enough.

Several California towns I’ve visited in the last year have a hollowed out feel, the main streets shells, but San Luis Obispo feels alive. I’ve never failed to feel good after a journey there. A small house in town will run you $600k at least, and there are not many available. In previous October visits the weather’s been brisk, but this time the air was quite toasty. Three or four visits over a few years is not a fair sample size, so I wouldn’t consider this science, but I feel the climate is changing.

Bought these at Phoenix Books, where I’ve never failed to score:

The Garden Street Inn has been taken over by Hilton, but not to worry, it’s still weird and the staff are still friendly and the rooms retain their individual themes (not on Madonna Inn level, just small touches).

Any traveler on Amtrak should expect a two hour or so delay somewhere along the line, and at least one semi deranged fellow passenger, but the Coast Starlight still can’t be beat for oceanside leisure travel. For lunch I had a baked potato with vegan chili, cheese, and half a bottle of Dark Harvest cab, tell me where you can have a better lunch at 50 mph.

WNBA should return to this fit

The mission in SLO is one of the more inviting California missions in its architecture, in my opinion. The town was named for St. Louis of Toulouse. Three hundred years after, the mission of converting California to Catholicism must be declared a failed project but the lingering relics of the medieval Spanish priests are significant and still impress.

“The solidity of justice,” my dad commented on my photos of the county courthouse.


The murder of Jane Stanford

On Saturday, January 14, 1905, at her Nob Hill mansion, wealthy widow Jane Stanford took a sip of mineral water that didn’t taste right. She vomited up the water and had her secretary, Bertha Berner, taste it. The secretary agreed it tasted strange, so they sent it to the pharmacy to be analyzed. A few weeks later, the report came in: the mineral water had been poisoned with a lethal dose of strychnine.

Who would want Jane Stanford dead? Well, maybe a lot of people. Her late husband was Leland Stanford, one of the “Big Four” founders* of the Central Pacific Railroad and a former governor of California, a tough customer for sure. Together the Stanfords founded Stanford University in honor of their son, Leland Jr., who died young. When Leland Senior died, Jane ended up in a long running squabble with the university’s president, David Starr Jordan.

haunted looking couple

After the attempted poisoning, Jane Stanford fired her maid and decided to get out of San Francisco. She sailed to Hawaii. Soon after arriving at the Moana Hotel in Honolulu, she asked for a bicarbonate of soda to settle her stomach. Bertha Berner prepared it for her and gave it to her. Jane Stanford drank it. A few hours later she cried out that she’d been poisoned. The hotel physician was summoned and tried to help her:

As Humphris tried to administer a solution of bromine and chloral hydrate, Mrs. Stanford, now in anguish, exclaimed, ‘My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible death to die.’ Whereupon she was seized by a tetanic spasm that progressed relentlessly to a state of severe rigidity: her jaws clamped shut, her thighs opened widely, her feet twisted inwards, her fingers and thumbs clenched into tight fists, and her head drew back. Finally, her respiration ceased. Stanford was dead from strychnine poisoning.

I quote from Wikipedia:

After hearing three days of testimony, the coroner’s jury concluded in less than two minutes that she had died of strychnine “introduced into a bottle of bicarbonate of soda with felonious intent by some person or persons to this jury unknown.” The testimony revealed that the bottle in question had been purchased in California (after Richmond had been let go), had been accessible to anyone in Stanford’s residence during the period when her party was packing, and had not been used until the night of her death.

After the death, David Starr Jordan, the president of Stanford, turned up in Hawaii and def acted fishy. He hired a local doctor and tried to prove that Mrs. Stanford wasn’t poisoned. Which, like, shouldn’t you be running your university?

Jordan’s motives for involvement in the case are uncertain, but he had written to the new president of Stanford’s board of trustees, offered several alternate explanations for Jane Stanford’s death, and suggested to select whichever would be most suitable. The university leadership may have believed that avoiding the appearance of scandal was of overriding importance. The coverup evidently succeeded to the extent that the likelihood that she was murdered was largely overlooked by historians and commentators until the 1980s.

The coverup worked! I mentioned this story to my friend MLW who’s affiliated with Stanford, and she’d never heard it. I’d never heard it either until I read about it in this terrific book, The King and Queen of Malibu, by friend of the blog David K. Randall:

Randall’s book is about Frederick and May Rindge, who owned almost all of what’s now Malibu in the late 19th century. May was a distant relative of Jane Stanford. The Rindges had their own share of enemies among the squatters, travelers, and developers of the pretty wild California of that era. I loved this part about the boundaries of the old ranchos of California:

In the Rindge days, the only way to cross Malibu was along the beach at low tide, until the Rindges put up gates, one at Las Flores Canyon and one at Point Dume, the eastern and western boundaries of their ranch. This pissed everybody off. After her husband’s death, May Rindge tried, and failed, to keep the Pacific Coast Highway from being built across what had once been her family’s idyllic ranch. Randall’s book functions as a great introduction to the history of Los Angeles as it transitioned from a distant outpost to a train and car-based metropolis that grew, fast.

As for Jane Stanford, her murder was never solved. David Starr Jordan lived on to promote his views of eugenics until his death, on campus, in 1933.

I’ll tell you who was never mixed up in anything like this:

source

* of the Big Four, two have names that live on in institutions in California: Leland Stanford has Stanford U, Collis Huntington has Huntington Library and Huntington Beach (both actually named after Collis’ nephew, Henry, but still), and Mark Hopkins at least has the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. In fact, Stanford, Huntington, and Hopkins all have stuff named after them around Nob Hill. But you don’t hear much about Charles Crocker. Seems like he was a bit of a petty bitch? I learn from Wikipedia that he is great-great-grandfather to Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.


Warrior of Capestrano

The Warrior of Capestrano is a tall limestone statue of a Picene warrior, dated to around the 6th century BC. The statue stands at around 2.09 m. It was discovered accidentally in 1934 by a labourer ploughing the field in the Italian town of Capestrano, along with a female statue in civilian attire, called Lady of Capestrano.

Imagine you’re just ploughing your field and you come across this thing. (Or was that a cover story for a band of tomb raiders?). 6th century BC, long before Rome. An inscription apparently found in the extinct South Picene language:

Makupri koram opsút aninis rakinevíi pomp[úne]í” (“Aninis had this statue made most excellently for Rakinewis, the Pomp[onian]”).

Capestrano is a town in Abruzzo:

I’ve been near there, 40km away or so.

You’ll find a description of a visit to the farm of a distant relative in my book, co-authored with Vali, The Ridiculous Race.

Among those with ancestral roots in this region are myself and Madonna, whose father’s folks are said to be from Pacentro.

The claim on Madonna’s roots was told to me in Abruzzo by a distant relative with some combination of local pride and disgust for Madonna’s life and art, a very contradictory, Italian Catholic reaction to something provocative and famed.

The fortified mountain towns of that region suggest a long stretch of history when “Italy” was a crazy war of all against all, with an Appalachian geography. (And temperament? Somewhere in my notes I have a draft proof that the Italians are the original Scotch Irish).

Capestrano was home to the saint John of Capestrano, Giovanni da Capestrano:

Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade

Though John’s ferocity can’t be questioned, his theology and record don’t seem favorable to contemporary standards.

Like Bernardine, he strongly emphasized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus

The section of his Wikipedia page entitled “Anti-Jewish Incitement” gives much we can’t approve of. He died of plauge.

The spirit of Giovanni da Capestrano was brought to California by Spanish Franciscan missionaries, who founded the mission of San Juan Capistrano. We had a chance to visit there recently.

The mission does deliver in the charm department in part because of the semi-ruined quality of the place. One of the first efforts at a grand stone church collapsed in an earthquake, killing forty-two people attending Mass inside. You’d think this would suggest maybe the missionaries line to God was not direct, or at the very least, instead of stacking heavy rocks, they should switch to a vernacular architecture:

But no. The California missions seem like they used to be more of a draw. The popular novel Ramona, early movies, Zorro, plein air painters, early preservationist movements, all these seem to have flowed around, drawn inspiration from and contributed to the appeal of the missions in popular imagination.

This one was a hit (?) for The Ink Spots in 1949, maybe marking the peak:

Maybe Madonna should cover it?

I don’t think this is what an airline would use to advertise SoCal today?

One incident I didn’t learn about at the site, but have now found looking at Wikipedia: in 1818 the French-born Argentine sea captain Hipólito Bouchard and his guys raided the mission. I guess it makes sense the mission doesn’t want to emphasize that, it must’ve been a sad day. Plus they don’t want to scare the current tourists.

The Lady of Capestrano: