The patience of the pursuer

The subject is Warren Beatty:

“You’d go up to his penthouse at the Beverly Wilshire two to three hours a day and go through a whole argument,” recalled writer and director Paul Schrader.  “You’d go back the next day and start at zero until, finally, you realized we will have the same argument over and over until he wins, and that’s when I realized why he was such a successful lothario. [He had] the infinite patience of the pursuer.”

from Rock Me On The Water: 1974 The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television and Politics by Ronald Brownstein. I bought it over at Chevalier Books in Larchmont.

The patience of the pursuer reminded me of this, from The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser:


Pari-Mutuel

Saratoga and Del Mar seasons are underway, a worthy time to consider pari-mutuel wagering.

While some might think that pari-mutuel wagering has been around ever since organized horse racing started, this is hardly the case. There is a clear history to pari-mutuel wagering, and there is one actual and acknowledged inventor in Joseph Oller. The invention of pari-mutuels was not even Oller’s major contribution to cultural history. He was probably better known as the founder and manager of Moulin Rouge, probably the most famous nightclub of all time.

The pari-mutuel story dates from Paris in 1862. Oller pioneered a sweepstakes game based on horse racing results. This was a system based on total chance. The bettor paid for a chance and was randomly assigned a horse on a given race.

This was however illegal in France. Betting wasn’t illegal, but lotteries were. So:

In place of the system under which the bettors were assigned their designated horse by pure chance, Oller devised a system under which the bettors selected the horses themselves. “By this scheme each investor selected the horse he desired to bet on, and if his favorite proved successful, he became entitled to all the money in the pool, less the commission exacted by Mr. Oller.

Meanwhile, in the US:

Before 1870, the main form of wagering at the American tracks – which were reopening after the Civil War – was the auction pool, also known as the Calcutta pool. Under this system, bettors bid on the right to choose horses in a race. The highest bidder got to pick the horse of his choice, usually the favorite.

In time, an engineer named Harry Straus devised a machine that would issue a printed ticket, and update bettors on the odds.

Straus developed the totalizer – a system of rotary switches and relays based on the principles of automatic dial telephone.

Straus founded a company, American Totalisator, which is now owned by Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, Pimlico, Gulfstream, and few other racetracks.

All that from an illuminating article, “Pari-Mutuels: What Do They Mean and What is at Stake in the 21st Century?” by Bennett Liebman in Marquette Sports Law Review, Vol. 27 Issue 1, Fall 2016.

It’s illuminating to know that bettors were once assigned a horse at random. Liebman’s writing on the legal meanings of “pari mutuel” is thrilling intellectual history.

Many state constitutions exempt or have unusual rules for different kinds of wagering like lotteries and “pari mutuel betting.” Struggles over the definitions have meaningful consequences.

Take the case of “historical racing machines.” These are pretty much just slot machines but technically (maybe) their outcomes are generated on the results of horse races, and the betting is arguably “pari mutuel.” Liebman’s article offers good examples of the law being whatever convinces the judge.

Choosing a horse at random may not be a terrible method, especially given that the pari mutuel market as a whole tends to be pretty sharp. Many a study has looked for inefficiencies, and though they exist, I do not know of a study that’s found an enduring profitable angle. Bill Benter’s work took advantage of inefficiencies in Hong Kong racing, combined with sophisticated modeling developed over painful trial and error. Dr. Z might be onto something but who wants to do all that math?

Horse handicapping is more art than science. I’ve found Brad Free’s book to be the most readable and clear-eyed. Steven Crist (whose own memoir Betting On Myself is fantastic) recommends Davidowitz, which is indeed full of insight. My copy of James Quinn’s Complete Handicapper is thoroughly marked up. Tom Ainslie writes with a style that makes the whole game seem amusing, for example his choice use of the word “animal”:

These books I bought at the Gambler’s Book Shop in Las Vegas all brought me some delight and in a limited way insight.

Andy Beyer’s books are all quite fun. Even the heroes of the great 1970s era of horse race betting, when Beyer discovered his E=mc^2 (“six furlongs in 1:13 equals seven furlongs in 1:26 and a fifth”) tell that it’s near impossible to make money these days. Certain trainer patterns can be exploited from time to time. The dominance of Bob Baffert in southern California can’t be ignored as an example.

Remember that the takeout is sometimes as high as 25%, even higher once you factor in rebates given to high rollers. Something like 40% of the money in competition might be from syndicates working with advanced computer modeling. And note, in the case of the Stronach Group, the track owners are themselves invested in one of the syndicates! Should be illegal but isn’t.

Liebman quotes the UK’s Chief Justice Cockburn, making a ruling in 1871:

experience shews that there is nothing about which there is so much uncertainty as the event of a horse race.

But when that rainbow shines over the racetrack, and you’ve got the Form open, and you think Forbidden Kingdom might be for real? Nothing better.


The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley

It’s 1953, Aldous Huxley’s in California.  He’s close to sixty, a literary man who’s also made a good living as a screenwriter.  A friend, one of the “sleuths – biochemists, psychiatrists, psychologists” – has got some mescaline, the active ingredient in peyote.  He gives four-tenths of a gram to Aldous and we’re off.

What if you could “know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about?”  That’s what he’s after.

The mescaline kicks in.  Aldous looks at flowers, and the furniture.  He looks at a book of Van Gogh paintings, and then a book of Botticelli.  He ponders, in particular, the folds of drapery in the pictures.

I knew that Botticelli – and not Botticelli alone, but many others too – had looked at draperies with the same transfigured and transfiguring eyes as had been mine that morning.  They had seen the Istigkeit, the Allness and Infinity of folded cloth and had done their best to render it in paint and stone.

Cool.  He lies down and his friend hands him a color reproduction of a Cezanne self-portrait.

For the consummate painter, with his little pipeline to Mind at Large by-passing the brain valve and ego-filter, was also just as genuinely this whiskered goblin with the unfriendly eye.

Huxley feels an experience of connecting to “a divine essential Not-self.”  Vermeer, Chinese landscape painting, the Biblical story of Mary and Martha, all pass through his mind.  William Blake comes up, from him Huxley took his title.  Huxley listens to Mozart’s C-Minor Piano Concerto but it leaves him feeling cold.  He does appreciate some madrigals of Gesauldo.  He finds Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite kind of funny.  He’s offered a lunch he’s not interested in, he’s taken for a drive where he “sees what Guardi had seen.”

he comes down.

OK, says Huxley, ideally we’d have some kind of better mescaline that doesn’t last this long and doesn’t cause a small percentage of takers to really spin out.  But: we’ve got something here.  A possible help on the road to salvation.  A substance which allows you to perceive the Mind at Large, to feel the connection to the divine superpower, what he calls in the next essay “out there.”

However, once you go through the Door In The Wall (Huxley credits this phrase to H. G. Wells) you’re not gonna come back the same.  You’ll come back “wiser but less cocksure, happier by less self-satisfied,” humbler in the face of the “unfathomable Mystery.”

My friend Audrey who works at the bookstore tells me she sells a lot of copies of this book, mostly to young dudes.  The edition I have comes with an additional essay, “Heaven and Hell,” which considers visionary experiences both blissful and appalling, and tries to sort out what we can from them.  There’s also an appendix:

Two other, less effective aids to visionary experience deserve mention – carbon dioxide and the stroboscopic lamp.

Huxley finds these less promising.


Who runs Bartertown?

When he gets to Bartertown, Max is taken up in the tower to meet Aunty (Tina Turner). She tells him she wants him to kill somebody. Who? Master Blaster.

Master is a little gnome who rides around on the giant Blaster. Aunty explains that the energy to run the lights and electricity of Bartertown comes from the underworld, a horrible factory-like place where pig shit generates methane.

Max goes down to the underworld under the guise of a pig-shit shoveler. While there, he meets Master Blaster, who is determined to show him who really runs Bartertown. Master Blaster turns off the methane to Bartertown. Everything goes dark. Master Blaster calls up to Aunty. His demand to turn the methane back on is that she answer the question: Who run Bartertown? Reluctantly, she answers: Master Blaster. He makes her say it publicly, over the PA system. Who run Bartertown? Master Blaster. Once she’s said this he smiles and turns the methane back on.

That’s all pretty early in the movie, we haven’t even gotten inside the Thunderdome yet. And since the movie is called Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, we know we’re barely getting started.


I Am Alive and You Are Dead

You don’t need to have read a single book by Philip K. Dick – there are 44+ – to feel his influence. Ridley Scott told Dick he never read his source material (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) before making the adaptation Blade Runner. Total Recall, Minority Report, Man In The High Castle, The Adjustment Bureau, these are a few of the filmed versions. In Slacker Richard Linklater films himself telling stories of Dick’s life and beliefs; later he made a version of A Scanner Darkly. PKD was picking up a signal and asking qs that pretty soon everybody would have to think about:

what if there were a robot so good that you didn’t know it was a robot?

what if there was a robot so good it didn’t know it was a robot?

what if we’re living in a simulation? what if our art and dreams and visions are what’s real and the rest is… what? A trick?

what does it mean if we can invent worlds the feel realer than world world?

what if we were all on so many powerful drugs we lost the thread of reality?

what if we were all on so many powerful drugs we found the thread of reality?

what if surveillance became so elaborate that we ended up surveilling ourselves?

It’s one leap to come up with ideas like this, but another to make them as vivid and lived in as PKD did. (Take even the term “blade runner” – what??)

Despite (because?) of this profound, influential imaginative work, PKD led a marginal existence, almost all in second-tier California towns, ending when he was found unconscious in his apartment in Santa Ana in 1982 and was “disconnected from life support” (an idea he would’ve invented if it hadn’t already existed) days later.

Wrapping your head around this guy isn’t easy, especially since he spent about eight years writing a million plus word “exegesis” that got launched when the fish symbol around the neck of a pharmacy delivery girl convinced him VALIS (vast active living intelligence system) was communicating with him while we were all living in an unending Roman empire.

Imagine what it was like for PKD:

The drugs he had taken during the 1960s, he was convinced formed a chemical soup in which his brain now stewed.

Mostly prescription stuff; he took LSD once and had a real bad time. His place got broken into, and at first he thought the FBI might’ve done it, but then he wondered if he’d done it himself. He was somewhat plausibly worried government agents were monitoring everything he did, but then he wondered why, or if it was even possible he was monitoring himself. Imagine how he felt, then, when the President of the United States (also an Orange County bro) was investigated (on TV) in regard to a mysterious break-in, caught by his own hidden surveillance system that he’d apparently installed to try and remember what he himself had been saying, and thus all his paranoid obsessions became the national, still-unraveled narrative?

Tough challenge for the biographer.

The book you hold in your hands is a very peculiar book. In it I have tried to depict the life of Philip K. Dick from the inside, in other words, with the same freedom and empathy – indeed with the same truth – with which he depicted his own characters. It’s a trip into the brain of a man who regarded even his craziest books not as works of imagination but as factual reports.

Mission accomplished. This is one of the best bios of a writer I’ve ever read. It passes one of the key tests, telling us what Philip K. Dick ate (frozen meals, stuff he got at the local convenience store). It functions as useful psychic history of California from 1950-1980, from the Communist scene in Berkeley to the turn from druggy hippie near utopia to speedfreak nightmare to a semi-religious recovery. Towards the end, PKD was half-convinced he might be living in the Book of Acts (which he hadn’t read), but also thought it possible he was just losing it.

Terry Car, the Ace paperback editor, used to joke that if the Bible had been published as science fiction, it would have had to be cut down to two volumes of twenty thousand words each; the Old Testament would have been retitled “Master of Chaos,” and the New Testament “The Thing with Three Souls.”

How about this?:

[PKD] told the doctor what John Collier, the British writer of fantastic fiction, had said – that the universe was a pint of beer and the galaxies nothing but the rising bubbles. A few people living in one of the bubbles happen to see the guy pouring the beer, and for them nothing will ever be the same again. That, said Phil, is what had happened to him.

In a way PKD was sort of an anti-Joan Didion, who took a deadeyed look at the results of the nightmare, while he himself wondered if the nightmare might be the fruit of his own imagination. Where did one end and the other begin? A wild ride.

The first story PKD sold, “Roog,” kinda hints at it all, here is the summary:

“Roog” is a story told from the point of view of a dog named Boris, who observes his masters carefully storing food in containers outside of their house day after day. Unbeknownst to the dog, these are the human’s trash cans for garbage. The dog is later horrified to witness some food being ‘stolen’ by garbagemen who the dog believes are predatory carnivores from another planet. The dog comes to know these beings as ‘Roogs’, and tries to warn his master of each ‘theft’ with cries of ‘Roog!’ ‘Roog!’. The humans, unable to comprehend the hound’s message, think the dog is just being rowdy. Thus they attribute the sound the dog makes to be the sound that all dogs make when they are excited: ‘Roog!’ ‘Roog!’ The tale concludes with the animal being somewhat distraught, barking “ROOG!” very loudly at the garbagemen before they make off once more with trash in their garbage truck.

Poor PKD was kinda like Boris. You can’t help but like him.

Roog is apparently also “the Supreme God and creator of the Serer religion of the Senegambia region.” That’s the kind of thing that would’ve sent PKD spinning for weeks in his apartment in Santa Ana.


Genius of the system

The sheer number of movies Hollywood cranked out during the peak of the studio system is wild. In 1936, for example, Paramount released 69 movies, RKO had 39, Fox had 50 movies, MGM put out 48 movies, Warner 56, Universal 34.

This was the factory-like story production processes Faulkner was working under.

Thomas Schatz’s book The Genius of the System is of daunting thickness, but it’s very readable, and I like the thesis: despite the factory nature and control by the money guys rather than the directors, real style and art was achieved.

Auterism itself would not be worth bothering with if it hadn’t been so influential, effectively stalling film history and criticism in a prolonged stage of adolescent romanticism. But the closer we look at Hollywood’s relations of power and hierarchy of authority during the studio era, at its division of labor and assembly-line production process, the less sense it makes to assess filmmaking or film style in terms of the individual director – or any individual, for that matter.

Should we look at the old studio system trying to find cases where a rare director snuck art past the suits? Or should we look at it and see a miraculous time, when thousands of artists and craftspeople came together for a brief period to create the collective dreams of a nation?

Schatz gives a good short summary of his work and the rise and fall of the studio system in this 1989 Fresh Air interview.

In The Offer, Paramount +’s show about the making of Paramount Pictures’ The Godfather, you can see dramatized some of the problems from the end of the true studio system days. The show was shot on the Paramount lot, doubling as the Paramount lot from 1971. There’s a studio, but when they start a movie, they start from scratch. Casting, finding the right people for technical roles, chain of command, getting a workflow going, dealing with the unions, the mob: all these are begun anew for each production. Poor Al Ruddy has to solve each problem fresh. Robert Evans is there, but he’s no Thalberg, with central command over all the gears in the machine. When the movie’s, it’s over. Everything resets. In the year The Godfather came out, Paramount put out sixteen pictures.

Sometimes companies manage to recreate the cohesion of the studio system. Take Pixar, for example, or the Marvel movies. How about Hallmark movies? Individual directors and producers can have runs like this too: Selznick was doing it by 1935. But at nowhere like the studio scale.

Studios had specialties, flavors: MGM had musicals, Universal had monster movies, Warner Brothers had gangster pictures. In 2022, do the streamers have anything like this? I know what BritBox is.

Even on our startup model, plenty of dreams get produced. Movies might be uncountable, how many are there? 403? How many scripted TV shows are there? 532?

Gracenote, a Nielsen company, listed more than 817,000 unique program titles across U.S. traditional TV and streaming services, with many of those titles featuring hundreds of individual episodes and chapters. Back in December 2019, there were just over 646,000 unique program titles.

So says Nielsen’s State of Play report. I found this Hollywood Reporter piece citing an FX report from 2016 that lists all 1,400 primetime shows, starting with Big Bang Theory and ending with:

The Paramount decree in 1948 stopped the studios from owning the theaters. One of many blows, along with TV, shifting lifestyles, etc that forced change on the system. But we’ve re-evolved back around on vertical integration. Disney, for example, is a studio yet owns its own distribution: Disney +. Is that a violation of the Paramount decree? Let’s look into it:

As part of a 2019 review of its ongoing decrees, the Department of Justice issued a two-year sunsetting notice for the Paramount Decree in August 2020, believing the antitrust restriction was no longer necessary as the old model could never be recreated in contemporary settings.

Oh!


slop

from The Nation’s review of Dana Brown’s DILETTANTE: TRUE TALES OF EXCESS, TRIUMPH, AND DISASTER, a memoir of life as Graydon Carter’s assistant at Vanity Fair and the decline of magazine high life in NYC.


How to get through a meeting (Faulkner’s version)

This book is very illuminating if you’re interested in studio screenwriting methods of the late 1930s and early ’40s, although at some point the effort to pick apart Faulkner’s contributions to particular screenplays becomes an unknowable bit of textual archaeology. Faulkner would often be one of 5-7 writers working simultaneously or overlapping on the same property. Faulkner didn’t take Hollywood personally. He managed his Hollywood career better than Fitzgerald did, and later benefited from his collaboration with Howard Hawks, who seems to have both liked Faulkner as a guy and liked having the legend around. Faulkner was fast and hard working. If I have the timeline right, he worked on Gunga Din (his version not used) while also revising Absalom, Absalom.


LRB on Roe

Deborah Friedell in London Review of Books has a wild review of The Family Roe: An American Story by Joshua Prager. Jane Roe’s real name was Norma McCorvey:

She blames her religious parents (Pentecostals turned Jehovah’s Witnesses) for neglecting to tell her how babies were made. When she became pregnant at seventeen, she was ‘shocked’ – ‘somehow what Woody and I had been doing together didn’t seem to be what was needed to create a whole new life.’

An important player in how the case evolved was Judge Sarah Hughes, who swore in LBJ on Air Force One, November 22, 1963.

Coffee would probably have continued to work on the case by herself if she hadn’t received a phone call from her old law school classmate Sarah Weddington. They weren’t friends, but Weddington had a question about federal procedure, and knew that Coffee had clerked for a federal judge – Sarah Hughes, who was instrumental in securing Texan women the right to serve on juries, though she’ll always be most famous for swearing in Lyndon Johnson as president on Air Force One after Kennedy’s assassination. … Coffee … said it would be smarter to file in Dallas, not Austin, so there would be a chance of arguing in front of Judge Hughes.

Judge Hughes in the spotted dress. She had an incredible life’s journey:

She attended classes at night and during the day worked as a police officer. As a police officer, Hughes did not carry a gun or wear a police uniform because she worked to prevent crimes among women and girls, patrolling areas where female runaways and prostitutes were normally found. Her job was an expression of the progressive idea of rehabilitation instead of punishment. Hughes later credited this job with instilling in her a sense of commitment and responsibility to women and children. At that time she lived in a tent home near the Potomac River and commuted to the campus by canoe each evening.

The lawyer representing Texas in the case opened his Supreme Court oral argument with a “joke”:

The lawyer representing Texas began his argument by saying: ‘It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they’re going to have the last word.’ When no one laughed, Weddington thought he became ‘unnerved’.

I had to look this up to confirm. But there it is!

At the end of everything, this is how Norma McCorvey came to feel:

Maybe America will resolve this issue with voting, as was done in Ireland.

Often when LRB writes about USA stuff, it’s great, just a new perspective. David Runciman’s piece on Colin Kaepernick was really good, addressed to readers who have to have American football explained to them, and in so doing brings beginner’s mind to one of those controversies that’s become locked-in.


Keep an eye out for this man

From a journey that took me to the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Most Wanted Fugitives site.


smart little kid

Martin Anderson talking to Stephen Knott about Ronald Reagan for The Miller Center.

Anderson

Were you a smart little kid too?

Knott

I guess so. Yes, the feedback was mostly positive, so I should assume.

Anderson

Did that make you popular with the other little kids?

Knott

Not necessarily.

Young

No. No.

Anderson

Everybody says the same thing. I think it’s a fascinating—I’ve only done about 20 people so far, but everybody says the same thing. First of all, (A) they were really smart. I remember when I went to school, I knew all the alphabet, I knew everything and I used to raise my hand, I knew all the stuff and it was just terrific. The next thing you know, they were calling me Smarty Marty and I discovered this was not good.

Then, I don’t know about you, but the next step they all go to is that they all learn ways to cope with that. And one of the things they learned was that it’s not good to be smart and show other people how smart you are, at least if you want any friends. And that may be the key to Reagan, that he was incredibly smart and quick and he was also tall and he was handsome, he was good-looking. That’s a very powerful combination to drive on people and he laid back. That’s a pure guess.

the dimensions to this man. from an interview with Ken Adelman:

The next day we got there to the chateau in Geneva. We’d spent a long time setting up the meeting. It was in a neutral place in a neutral city and a neutral country. This chateau was owned by the Aga Khan, and Reagan was told he could take it if he fed the goldfish; he was very attentive about feeding the goldfish

The goldfish appears to have been a news item at the time.

Here’s more from Anderson (a loyalist and enthusiast) on Reagan’s nature:

Anderson

I once described him as warmly ruthless. He had this appearance of being friendly and jovial and nice, never argued with anyone, never complained. But if you shook your head and thought about it a little bit, he always did it his way. It was like there was a steel bar right down the middle of him and everything you touched was soft and fuzzy except the steel bar in the middle. He always did it his way. No matter how many people talked to him, no matter what happened, he always did it his way. If you were in the way, you were gone, you were fired. He never took any pleasure out of it, just gone.

I think if you really want to look at Reagan, one of the things we show with this new book we have, is something that I knew from dealing with him. He was incredibly smart. I know this doesn’t sound reasonable, but he was incredibly smart. I’ve dealt with professors at Columbia and professors at Stanford, but he could look at something and understand it and grasp it and turn it around and work with it and play with it. He was incredibly quick. I’d say he had a brain that was comparable to—and I’d talk to Milton Friedman or Ed Teller and Arthur, all those guys, he could stay with them.

Now, he hid that. He just backed off. He never argued with staff. You could have ten different people tell him the same thing and he’d just listen. He never said to them, Look, you dumb bunny, ten years ago I wrote an article on this, a long article. He’d just say, That’s an interesting idea. So many of the policy issues that were proposed to Reagan over time, by different people, he listened, That’s very interesting. Then when he did it, even though it was something he’d decided many, many years previously he would do, all these people were delighted. He was doing what they had told him. He was happy with that, he didn’t care.

He used to say privately, There’s no limit to what a person can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit. And he was just very smart. The second thing is, there was this feeling that he was lazy, that he took naps. Well, I traveled with him for almost four years. He never took a nap. It was total nonsense. In fact, he worked all the time. We have uncovered evidence with this book in terms of the handwritten documents and so on, he was writing all the time. He was studying, he was writing, he was working all the time, in private. As soon as he came out in public, put on the public persona, he was friendly and jovial and talking.

So I think people made the mistake of saying, Gee, this guy is an easy-going—obviously, we never see him working, so therefore the staff must be telling him what to say. Not true. And when they ran up against him, they assumed he could be persuaded and pushed around. Big mistake. And the woods are full of people that tried to do that, like Al Haig, Don Regan, a whole bunch of them.


Chapel Hill

The Carolina Inn is immaculate. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a tight ship of a hotel. Warm cookies in a jar as you check in? Yes.

It was built (by hand? -ed) by alumnus John Sprunt Hill and donated to the university in 1935.

Is “it” right, maybe it should be “she” like a ship. Top: you should stay in any hotel that has her own Wikipedia page.

They take the color scheme seriously at UNC Chapel Hill. This is from the Color Palette section of the University Branding and Identity Guidelines.

All anyone wanted to talk about in Chapel Hill (this was Thursday, March 31 of this year) was the Duke vs UNC basketball game. At The Dead Mule Club, anyone who walked in had one question: what time do you open on Saturday? (12noon, first come first serve, no cover).

My photos always feel inadequate to the emotional experience. I don’t have anything like the eye nor take the care Ansel Adams did.

I’d heard it said that the campus of UNC at Chapel Hill is one of the most beautiful in the USA. My sample is not total but from what I’ve seen yes, let’s include it. Who are the other contenders? University of Virginia. Harvard. Middlebury. I find the vibe off at Princeton but “it has to be in the conversation” as the televised sports discussers say. UCLA and Cal Berkeley, both are impressive to me, as are Amherst, Wellesley. Feel like I’ve seen both Smith and Mount Holyoke and they look nice? Although if they sorta blur together, is that judgment on their beauty? Did we see William & Mary when I was a boy? Anyway, UNC at Chapel Hill is beautiful.

Beautiful places are inspiring, old beautiful places especially so. That such a place can be not just created but sustained and maintained for generations.

Moved by the university cemetery. Students would die, and sending their bodies home on wet roads in winter wasn’t hygienic, so they started a cemetery.

Just after a rainstorm when I rolled in. Only late in the day maybe did people realize the rain was gone. . They came back out. First I had the walk pretty much for myself. Wet blooming trees. Some people waiting for the bus, some naval cadets getting together for a run. Dog walkers and stray errand doers.

On the walls of The Carolina Inn they have displays about distinguished grads of the university. Many, many, not just famous ones. White and black, men and women, on my floor law school alums. The vastness of the collection creates an impression, these countless dignified people who taught constitutional law for thirty years or were judges or the first black person to serve in some important role in some county.

How about the sad fate of Spaight?

Father and son both killed in duels. Like Hamilton. “As lucky as a Spaight in a duel” is a localism.

The most famous grad of UNC Chapel Hill has got to be Michael Jordan. Right? One way UNC is inspiring is it shows a state, public institution capable of producing excellence. The University of California is capable of that too, what treasures, do we appreciate them enough? How do we keep them?

Would this make a good movie? The music might not bang enough for modern ears. But maybe? Picture it as a small budget feel good festival kinda thing, it might find an audience.


not my favorite name

but if I’m in that part of Nevada I will stop.


Colson / Buchanan

One thing led to another and I’m reading an oral history of Charles Colson from the Nixon Library.

Hungry for more I read a Pat Buchanan one for the Gerald Ford Oral History Project:

“What I care about is the Law of the Sea Treaty.”


The price of hay

A friend of ours who runs a horse barn told me the price of hay is up $5 a bale, from $27 to $32.

(I know what you’re thinking, that’s a lot for hay, but trust me, these horses are getting primo stuff.)

(painting is Rhode Island Shore by Martin Johnson Heade, at LACMA, not on display last I was there).


The Price of Gas

Along old US Route 66 in West Hollywood

It’s so high! How can people do anything? Yet shouldn’t we want the price of gas to be high, so we don’t cook up the planet quite as fast? Though, won’t the high prices cause estimates and spreadsheets and algorithms across the oil and gas companies to be adjusted? When the calculations are revised, it suddenly makes sense to drill more and deeper and in crazier ways in more chaotic countries? They’ll capitalize new and more projects, dredging up our oil faster than ever.

Is this merely the boom and bust cycle we all must toil under, written many times over in the history of every boomtown and oil craze? From Nantucket to Houston to the Bakken to Bakersfield to Alaska we are told this story. Above LA looms the Getty, named for a man whose father left Minnesota for a boom in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The son took the lesson and was early in on Saudi Arabia. To get to the Getty from here you’d have to cross Doheny, he of Teapot Dome. But look, you saw the oil wells when you came in from the airport (in a car), and if you looked out the window of your plane as you landed at LAX you saw the diesel tankers and maybe even an oil tanker filling up at the offshore spigot. You get the idea.

Not so long ago I watched the documentary version of The Prize in small chunks, just before bed. Though the content can be bracing it is soothingly narrated by Donald Sutherland, and there is something relaxing about seeing how the pieces fit together. Finding the doc compelling I read Daniel Yergin’s original book, which is full of great characters and strange scenes:

In early March 1983 the oil ministers and their retinues hurriedly convened, ironically in London, the home court of their leading non-OPEC competitor, Great Britain.  They met at the Intercontinental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, for what turned out to be twelve interminable, frustrating days – an experience that would leave some of them with an allergic reaction whenever, in future years, they set foot inside the hotel. 

and:

Later in the day, Silva Herzog was glumly eating a hamburger at the Mexican embassy, preparing to leave, when a call came from the United States Treasury saying that the $100 million fee had been rescinded.  The Americans could not risk a collapse.  Who knew what the effects would be on Monday?  And with that, the Mexican Weekend concluded, with the first part of the emergency package now in place.  

Some takeaways of value:

  • it’s not just the getting of the oil. It’s the refining. Rockefeller controlled the refining, and the shipping, and eventually everything
  • one of Rockefeller’s killer qualities: he was a visionary accountant. Can there be such a thing? Yes. Rockefeller.
  • The Great War, later World War One, was a gamechange for oil.  Railroads had been key in the US Civil War, but in World War One, the tank and the truck, oil powered vehicles, proved to be the crucial transport.  Churchill, head of the Admiralty at the time, switched the Royal Navy to oil from coal.  At the end of the war, the destruction of the Ottoman Empire left the British and French in control of oil fields in Mesopotamia.
  • both on the Eastern Front and in the Pacific in World War Two, oil was the key strategic factor. Really everywhere, but those offer clear examples. Decisions on how to invade the Soviet Union were based on gaining control of oil fields before the German forces ran out of oil. The Japanese navy’s decisions were bounded by limits on oil. The fleet had to be stationed near Singapore. The “Marianas turkey shoot” was a result of decisions made based on saving oil. There was not enough oil not only for active operations, but for pilot training.

How about this?:

When [J. Paul] Getty died in 1976, age eighty-three, the eulogy at his funeral was delivered by the Duke of Bedford.  “When I think of Paul,” said the Duke, “I think of money.” 

Many people and groups of people have attempted to control oil, but it’s unpredictable. Sometimes the board gets reshuffled: North Sea oil fields, Saudi, Alaska.  The North Sea oil fields saved the UK economy. Or did it ruin the UK economy? It saved Margaret Thatcher. You can’t send ships and helicopters to the coast of Argentina if you don’t have oil.

Look how rich Norway is. It doesn’t have to be this way, Norway used to be poor, that’s why Rose on Golden Girls is from St. Olaf.

Obama’s presidency coincided with a huge boom in US oil extraction. Is “coincided” the right word? Was it a coincidence? What’s at work here?

A character worth some study: Marcus Samuel. (Shell, the first oil tanker, Lord Mayor of London).

It was called Shell because his Iraqi Jewish family used to import and sell seashells. (That’s the story, anyway.)

Here’s a solid summary of The Prize.

Recall that Moby-Dick is about the oil business, and Ahab like Daniel Plainview is an oilman.


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.


Dodge City Kansas

seen from the train, back in December. Maybe you’ve heard the American colloquialism, let’s get the hell out of Dodge.


now this just seems wasteful

via


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?