october 31, 2003
The Hittite Horrors
After nearly 3,500 years the Hittites are back and coming to a documentary screening room near you! A film about this venerable civilization has finally been made, although by the looks of things it contains a great deal of costumed re-enactment; a documentary style that used to be frowned upon. I have only seen a few stills, but it seems the Turkish producers have decided to restage the entire Battle of Kadesh! Hope it is gripping stuff.
The Hittites, of course, will be familiar to readers of Evelyn Waugh. One of his characters refers to Hittite pottery as "The Hittite Horrors". Perhaps this is merely another manifestation of Waugh's aversion to all things non-Victorian. Anyway, perhaps examples of Hittite art will be shown on PBS, and then you can make your own mind up - seems pretty similar to Egyptian pottery of the same period, if you ask me. But then, an urn's an urn for all tha' as Robert Burns would say.
stephenb 14:25 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Final Bars of Musical Chairs
A friend of mine teaches high school music, or at least he did until the educational authorities scrapped the entire department.
When I was in school we were taught musical appreciation by listening to Holst's The Planets with our eyes closed, creating mental pictures of heavenly bodies revolving in space while the music played. And there was Appalachian Spring too, of course. The use of imagination governed by suggestive title is all well and good, but not much help when faced by something called Opus Sixteen. What then, lay back and think of fifteen scrolls of yellowing parchment scores with a new one being put on top?
Occasionally we attempted to blow notes through heavily sterilized recorders; the resultant noise sounded like a medieval peasant's holiday after too much mead. How could anyone learn to appreciate anything under such conditions?
I still do not really know much about music beyond, as the philistine said, what I like. However, I have done my best to educate myself, and so, now, will my friend's former pupils.
But where will they begin?
stephenb 12:26 - [Link] - Comments ()
october 30, 2003
My most perceptive readers have probably noticed that The Stephenhead has received a much needed facelift. It has, in contemporary jargon, been "rebranded"; although I would you to think of it as a favorite armchair that has been upholstered with superior fabric. In other words, I have changed the design of the page. Not by very much, of course, but nevertheless, a slight visual modification has unequivocably occurred. However, the color scheme remains unaltered and Osbert Lancaster's illustration has now become a sort of talismanic emblem. Fonts, too, are as they were prior to renovation; except, notably, for the banner title that is currently written in a font called 'Apple Chancery', which as every Dickens scholar knows, was created by an orchard owner while he languished in debtors prison.
All this was accomplished by scribe S.J Baldwin, who knows nothing about computers at all, and is amazed that it has happened sans ill effect.
stephenb 09:46 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Halloween Zeitgeist Gesundheit
If you really wish to know where the Zeitgeist is, or even where it is at, then you can't do better than attend your local Hallowen party, since all the latest newsworthy characters and important cultural figures will be represented by costumed revellers: Homicidal Postmen, Britney Spears, The President of the United States, Gandalf the Magician, etc
Personally, I am going to my party dressed as William Hazlitt on the assumption that 2004 will see a revival of interest in his work.
A lady friend of mine will be disguised as - my brilliant idea, this - Virginia Woolf dressed as Witch carrying a copy of - wait for it!- A Broom of One's Own, and also wearing a fake witch's nose like Virginia Woolf's in the film of The Hours. So my lady friend will be covering many zeitgeist cultural bases. We should be an interesting, arresting even, looking pair.
Reading Armavirumque, I see that James Panero has finally decided to attend their Halloween festivities dressed as Conservative Party Shadow Minister Without Portfolio, in honor of the Tories very, very different type of Halloween "Bash".
Meanwhile, please be careful this year, and do not accept any 'trick or treat' candy from strangers called Howard Dean.
stephenb 18:15 - [Link] - Comments ()
Initially Yours, S.J Baldwin
october 29, 2003
Since my proper name, Stephen Baldwin, is also a noun than means screen hunk from famous contemporary thespian family, and because my middle initial is J, henceforth, for purposes of penmanship, I have decided to sign myself as S.J Baldwin in honor of S.J Perelman, and also as a nod to P.G Wodehouse, but not, God forbid, to F.R Leavis.
The great composer Peter Warlock once wrote an essay in The Sackbut about composers who chose to use their initials rather than their full first names. Warlock noted that Frederick Delius chose not to be an initialite for the good reason that, if he did, he would be known as F.A.T Delius.
Who says musical criticism is not funny?
And speaking of initials, is it not strange that no-one has made a H.P Lovecraft movie adaptation called Enter The Dagon?
stephenb 09:22 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Future Has-Dean
The populist bandwagon is a dangerous vehicle, precariously over laden with passengers, likely to spin out of control at any moment, it speeds along the fast lane with its populist rhetoric sound system cranked so high that no-one can hear or pay attention to anything else. The driver of this terrible populist bandwagon has also learnt a thing or two from the automobile showroom salesman, and he will say anything to secure widespread admiration of his particular populist bandwagon: "My populist bandwagon logic engine can do zero to sixty in two seconds."
So does it does it not appear as though Howard Dean is following in the footsteps - or rather the driving seat - of that other famous Dean, James Dean: Howard's ambition to become all things to all people is moving too fast and will surely hit an immoveable object before too long. Perhaps he will follow in the heavily disinfected footsteps of that other famous Howard, Howard Hughes, and retire from public life. Let us hope so.
stephenb 16:14 - [Link] - Comments ()
Proudly Sponsored by the Fat Kids of America
How soon before anachronistic product placement advertising appears in film adaptations of great classic literature. Actually, I am sure it already does, since the obvious method of ensuring that a Coke or Pepsi bottle appears in Hamlet is simply to update the action to modern day. You can mess with the structure of classic works too, by squeezing the story into a framework of flashbacks told from the modern day ...over a couple of cans of Budweiser and a bag of McDonalds, naturally.
I spotted a glossy, trashy magazine today that boasted of revealing the names of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Oddly, these power-wielding personages turned out to be actors, directors, producers and the like. Really? Surely the most powerful people in Hollywood are the popcorn, chocolate and sugary drink vendors without whom the movie theaters chains would be forced to file for bankruptcy. Ticket sales alone cannot support the local Cineplex Bore-O-Rama, and no movie theaters equals no Hollywood film industry, no matter how many Green Light heads Nicole Kidman can cause to swivel. And obviously, the coma triggered by consuming all that sticky junk food is the only reason why people sit in the dark and watch all that celluloid crap in the first place.
stephenb 13:26 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Demon of Progress in the Weblog
october 28, 2003
For those readers new to The Stephenhead, here is a brief description of this online diary and its discontents. The Stephenhead is an open forum for the free and frank exchange of ideas providing that they agree with mine. The Stephenhead promotes Anarcho-Traditionalism, meaning that it waves black flags as long as they are made of good fabric and well constructed. The Stephenhead is written from the following critical points of view:
The Lamp of Architecture
Needs a new bulb, obviously. Personally, I think that the Trinity Church in Boston?s Copley Square looks like a child's inflatable bouncy castle. And that stained glass, can something be devout and vulgar at the same time? Yes, I think it can. I pass this building everyday, and it always bothers me.
The Lamp of Literature
You have repeatedly tap the lampshade to ensure that the light comes on. The Lord of the Rings is a kids book for kids, and so it should remain. Please see the column on this page entitled "Great Ones of the Earth" for my reading list.
The Lamp of Painting
Burnt out a long time ago. I do not like the work of Mondrian, for example, and what is more, I think his paintings make for really boring, easy to complete souvenir museum jigsaws. Bring back Winslow Homer.
The Lamp of Music
Very dim. Shakespeare?s Anthony and Cleopatra says it all, as wittily spotted by composer Constant Lambert in the epigraph to his book Music Ho:
All: The music ho!
(enter Mardian the Eunuch)
Cleopatra: Let it alone; let?s to billiards.
The Lamp of Sculpture
There is one, but it does not look like a lamp. It is just some sort of blob welded from bits of metal with holes punched in it. Rubbish!
stephenb 10:43 - [Link] - Comments ()
Statementia: I am advertising my services as a freelance aphorist offering cheap evening rates. Here is an example of the wares I am hawking.
The grass is always greener on the other side, but remember that grass is merely a thin, gaudily colored veneer that covers masses of dirt, filth, worms, and decaying human remains; and what if the supposedly pleasanter, more verdant pastures on this so-called "other side" contain even more dirt, filth, worms and decaying human remains than the meadow you are currently standing in, what then? Well? Answer me that!
Email me for a quote on any cliché you would like ridiculed.
stephenb 14:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Perils of Not Writing on Paper
october 27, 2003
This time last year, I was in the middle of writing a comedic ghost story when my computer broke and I lost the whole thing. The story was about a romantic phantom who falls in love with a woman visiting the house he haunts. I called it We Could Walk Through Walls Together.
The main thrust of the narrative concerned the difficulty in trying to kiss someone while clutching your head beneath your armpit. It also contained the, I believe, immortal line: "I met you at a party last week. I was the cold damp spot on the floor."
A great loss to supernatural literature. It might have been as good as Blithe Spirit, even.
Consequently, everything I write these days is scrawled on lined foolscap with an ink pen before transmutation to electronic data. Also, I believe that staring at words on a computer screen blunts the creative imagination. Although, it makes the transfer from notebook to computer an extremely tedious task.
But that is another matter.
stephenb 11:07 - [Link] - Comments ()
All Great Satirists Are Conservative. And They Make Good Music Mix Tapes Too!
Since the rather wonderful Armavirumque has been so kind as to promote my humble blog recently, I thought I would repay their kindness by suggesting a few musical gems they can play at the Halloween party they will no doubt be holding in the New Criterion's new offices. It should be a good bash. Perhaps Roger Kimball will wear his truly scary, attention-grabbing and ultra conceptual "Post Modernism" costume again. And I think James Panero is going as Enoch Soames
But enough highbrow gossip. What about the playlist:
To get everybody in the mood, let's begin with Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. Preferably a mono recording and sung by real Czeckoslovakians. The organ section should really get everyone well and truly shivered up.
Next up, The Shrouding of the Duchess of Malfi by Peter Warlock. You really cannot get more spooky than this. Sing-a-long ....if you can!!
Saint Saens' Danse Macabre, obviously. I mean, you may as well NOT BOTHER making a halloween music tape if you are not going to include this classic.
And what about Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman Overture - Some seafaring chills to fill the October air.
We had better have a Nocturne or two too. How about Ben Britten's setting of Auden's poem? And then one by Debussy as well. Of course, these are not very scary pieces of music, they merely promote the theme. However, I thought we ought to tone things down a little before the TRUE MUSICAL HORROR kicks in.
Yes, that's right. To cap the evenings festivities ...
The Complete Works of Philip Glass! That should send your guests screaming into the night in the true Halloween spirit!
stephenb 17:08 - [Link] - Comments ()
Is This A Dagger I See Before Me?
Many years ago, at the instigation of a friend and because the proceeds were donated to repairing some dilapidated church roof, I was reluctantly persuaded to attend a Festival of Spiritualism. After paying my twenty dollars, I was ushered into the church basement to meet my contact with those who dwell in the Vale of Shadows.
So imagine my snorting incredulity upon discovering that, apparently, an ectoplasmic confabulation of my ancestor's shades had gathered beyond the darkling veil purely to command that I pay more attention to "outstanding paperwork."
All this ... for that? Naturally, I decided there and then that henceforth I could obviously ignore all outstanding paperwork without ill effect; an assumption, I should add, that has proved to be wholly correct to this day. Unfortunately, the only thing the dead can really tell us with any certainty is that we, too, will die. Sad but true.
I was reminded of this spiritualist event on Saturday while visiting the Borders Book and Variety Shop in downtown Boston. Alas, it was impossible to navigate the aisles due to the number of people assembled to have their books signed by a visiting author called John Edward. I forget the actual name of his book, but the subtitle was Answers From The Other Side. Amongst all the other pulp Gandalfian, Potterish nonsense published today, this really plumbed and scraped the lowest common denominators, since it claimed to be about, of course, "healing".
"Aunt Mabel wants you to know she is very happy on the other side and her hip replacement no longer troubles her."
Perhaps not, but other things should, namely the fact that her loved ones are wasting vast amounts of money on this rubbish: I saw one woman buying TWO copies with a credit card.
It is hard to believe that people buy into this sort of thing, but apparently they do, and in droves as well.
stephenb 09:49 - [Link] - Comments ()
october 24, 2003
The drawing above was scanned from the back cover of Osbert Lancaster's book With An Eye To The Future.
The Wyndham Lewis magazine; the framed photograph of The Ingénue; the enormous lamp; the African mask; the record player with either Cole Porter or -popular at the time - Sibelius on it; and for some reason I used to think that was a picture from L'Apres midi d'un faun, but surely it must be just some Rio Grande dancer.
Perhaps I am stepping on someone's copyright toes by posting this picture? Too bad. Surely it is time for them to pull their lazy fingers out, get cracking, and do more to promote the great man.
stephenb 08:58 - [Link] - Comments ()
Sphere of Knowledge and Selfishness
One wonderful kickback from the general decline in intellectual standards is that my own particular brow has been elevated by a considerable number of notches. Fifty years ago, I would have been your average lowbrow who made the occasional Rosamond Lehmann joke. Today I can be defined as comfortably middlebrow by any standard of gray matter measurement. There are even some people who think, you know, that I am wikked smaart because I am included in extended Sir Thomas Browne reference-a-thons. Hurrah! I am the Concorde of Thought: very noisy and quick.
stephenb 10:54 - [Link] - Comments ()
Shhhh. Come closer. We must whisper for the fact checkers will overhear us and we will be unmasked. And rightly so!
october 23, 2003
Peter the Hermit's words from the thirteenth century:
"The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone know everything."
Some things never change. The eminent Theodore Dalrymple, aka C3PO, writes on worthy subjects for many of the magazines linked to on this page. Unfortunately, amongst his normally excellent articles, are an inordinate number criticizing the young for being, well, young.
Bemoaning the foibles of youth is a subject that obviously provides enough ammunition to invade Russia three times over. And criticizing the young IS like invading Russia: it is a cold and useless business, and the young always win, even if they are all fat and stupid.
But surely being foolish, arrogant, and rebellious is what being young is all about. Let them get on with it, Theodore. Who knows whom yesterday's slangy, dissolute fool may become: Henry V, maybe; or the drunken sheriff who rises from his stupor to do the right thing when the evil hour is at hand.
This hope of salvation holds true for all young people except the following:
Those Neanderthals who do not remove their backpacks on public transport.
Those oblivious idiots who practice flash photography on the public library while others are trying to read.
Those graduate art students who claim that any works from the Pre-conceptual Era are boring.
Those who? oh for heaven's sake.
Go get 'em Theodore!
stephenb 10:18 - [Link] - Comments ()
Works In Progress
The books currently ink-staining my fingers as I try to write them in long hand and with short brain:
Asphyxionado: Lurid supernatural murder mystery. Bill Sykes is back from the grave and he is not happy about it. Fortunately, Oliver is also back from the grave and investigates. Unfortunately, Oliver is still a rather feeble character and the body count continues to rise. Enter Inspector Eduardo Sneed of the Yard with his magic truncheon.
668 The Neighbor of the Beast: Supernatural comedy. Sir Thomas Browne moves next door to the Devil with hilarious consequences. At least I wish they were. Unless you are really familiar with "Urn Burial", you will not understand this at all.
First Light on the Dark Continent: Humorous travel book about Africa. Alas, no publisher is willing to offer me the airfare. What a waste of a truly great title. I mean, THIS MIGHT ACTUALLY SELL with a title like that! It is better than "Under the Tuscan Sun", at any rate.
A Belted Coat In The Hallway: Just what the world needs, yet another Rosamond Lehmann spoof! So why bother? Beats me. I must enjoy it, I guess.
Clubfoot Forward: A sad, weepy children's book about boy with a clubfoot who goes on a walking tour of the Grand Canyon. He makes friends with a lizard whom he called Bob. But Bob dies. Hopefully, the children who read it will learn important lessons about not going on walking tours of the Grand Canyon without parental supervision, and not keeping lizards in old Tupperware containers without air-holes. Doubt they will learn anything, though. Kids are like that. No attention span at all these days.
Yeti Quest: Lavishly illustrated Coffee table book featuring the world's most hirsute men ...and women!
stephenb 15:48 - [Link] - Comments ()
Oh The Things I Used To Do
It is doing its level best to snow here in Boston. Hence nostalgia mode. Bear with me. It doesn't get any better than this:
As a boy I was forced to write with an ink fountain pen and blotting paper. At close of day my hands, shirt cuffs and tie were covered with blue smudges, the result of spending most of my time performing Rorschach (Raw Shack) ink-blot tests: "What do you think it is? It's just another blob isn't it. Oh well."
I made fishing floats by collecting bird feathers and de-feathering the quill, paint one tip red and attach a tiny ring to the other end with thread, sealing it with varnish. Then I would go fishing and not catch anything.
World War Two Desert Rat dioramas were constructed of chipboard, glue, sand, and scale model tanks and soldiers. I would heat a needle and pierce the tiny oil drums with it so that it looked like they were riddled with bullets holes.
I read The Wind in the Willows, The Phantom Tollbooth and remember sitting transfixed in bed listening to a shortwave broadcast of someone else reading Le Grand Meaulnes - which I could not spell then and still cannot.
And, of course, I fired large potatoes over my mother's rhodedendron bushes at passing cars with my toy field artillery mortar.
stephenb 12:50 - [Link] - Comments ()
Flash And Quiz
october 22, 2003
I used to think that anyone talking to themselves on the street was obviously a metholated spirits sodden lunatic bum; now, no matter how bedraggled or unconscious they made be, I merely assume they are talking on a mobile phone.
Just as the invention of the ubiquitous mobile phone allows people to scream inane babble at the top of their voices in the most inappropriate places, so the proliferation of digital cameras apparently suggests to the terminally uncivilized that they can practice flash photography anytime, anywhere, and of anyone they choose.
For instance: I was in the library deciding not to borrow The Charterhouse of Parma for the umpteenth time when I was half-blinded by a sudden lightning bolt of electronic ferocity; my moment of Stendhalian equivocation had been captured for posterity by an MIT student. She was taking pictures of the library for an architectural class without regard for those actually reading in the building.
Similarly, last night I went to see the scatological British comedian, Eddie Izzard at the Schubert Theater. Sixty dollars per ticket to watch patchy transvest stand-up! Anyway, as you can imagine, flash, flash, flash. So annoying.
Need Food For Idle Thought?
Then this should keep you going
With reference to some of my recent posts, I have compiled the following questionnaire.
1. Who is your favorite Lord?
a) Lord of the Realm
b) Lord of the Rings
c) Lord of the Flies
d) Lord of the Dance
d) Jack Lord.
2. Who would win a bare-knuckle food fight?
b) Oswald Mosley
c) Mikhail Lermentov
e) Gay Bishop
e) Three of the above
3. What WW2 Action figure would Stephenhead be?
a) Politician furious about the betrayal of Czechoslovakia
b) Diarist who lunches with Emerald Cunard
c) U-Boat Commander
4. Who is your favorite Mitford Sister?
f) The other ones
Please email your answers in the form of a Venn Diagram. Thanks
stephenb 10:33 - [Link] - Comments ()
So. The British House of Lords has refused to ratify the Government's bill to ban hunting with dogs... surely that should be hounds, no? Anyway, the British sporting print can breathe a sigh of relief for now.
Although I respect traditional country pursuits, I fail to understand the need for terrifying an animal out of its mind by chasing it across the fields with a pack of hounds; surely there must be more humane ways of culling those woodland creatures that country folk believe to be a bunch of pests.
The only things I have ever hunted with dogs are the dog's bone and the dog's squeaky toy when the dog has lost them. The dog and I usually have a good rummage around the moral high ground and, at last, there is the squeaky toy, right where we left it.
Still, it is good to see the House of Lords pulling its weight. I was a Lord once - in a school production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe
I was terrible.
stephenb 14:01 - [Link] - Comments ()
At my table, after the ladies have departed, the port is passed diagonally between the legs missing out every third person on the right. It is a social minefield!
october 21, 2003
Like many people today, by the time I get home from work it is far too late and I do not have time to cook myself a balanced meal.
This is why I pay some qualified French chef to cook it for me.
Actually, I wish I could afford my own personal French chef. If you can, then I take my beef bourguignon stained napkin off to you, you lucky devil. Still, if I could afford a personal French chef, I cannot imagine that the relationship would last very long with my simple culinary tastes: "Zut alors! Monsieur Stephenhead he wants ze boring rust bif again tonight! I hand in ze notice already!"
Which brings me to that wonderful question that I ask myself and others so frequently: If you could invite any historical personages to a dinner party, who would you invite?
Bizarrely, many people often answer Gandhi. Now, to be sure, he was an important historical figure, but let us be honest, hardly the stuff scintillating dinner conversationalists are made of. And besides, I imagine he would not be very comfortable with all the meat I will be serving. So he will not be attending my affair.
Personally, I think I would invite Casanova: "Regale us again, Giacomo, with the tale of how you escaped from the Leads." This is the kind of thing you want to listen to while wiping the gravy off your chin.
Lermentov is next. He can read my favorite extracts from A Hero of our Time and give a demonstration of the art of the duel.
At the risk of offending my other guests, I would invite Oswald Mosley as well. I think he would mix well with Casanova and Lermentov and I want to hear what he has to say for himself. He knew everyone in the thirties, was a terrific womanizer, and I always enjoy hearing stories about street fights with communists.
Finally, I need someone to remind me what happened in the morning. So Edward R. Murrow, the King of Eyewitness, is seated at the opposite end of the table. I have always been a big fan since watching archive footage of Ed blowing cigarette smoke into the face of the insipid politician he was interviewing. Hopefully he will bring the cigars also.
Now that is what I call a good dinner party.
Stop Press: How Bizzaah
Reading through James Lees Milne's post-war diaries Midway On The Waves. Shockingly, one entry describes his meeting with an American lady, and JLM asserts that the Boston accent is one of the most beautiful sounds in the English speaking world!
It is enough to make one doubt his appraisals of Regency buildings.
stephenb 10:08 - [Link] - Comments ()
Who Will Buy It?
I received a very nice day-making email this afternoon from the well-worth reading Enoch Soames.
Most of my other email, alas, came from email-based salesmen who employ false names that also sound vaguely familiar: Robert Bloch, Dame Janet Baker, the New York Times, and so on.
For example, I received an email solicitation from a shadowy figure calling himself Eduardo Sneed. Predictably, he was hawking a penis enlargement program: I too could be hung like Gulliver in Lilliput should I decide to buy his wares. Is that an Iron Age fertility symbol in your loincloth, or have you just discovered Bronze, etc.
Eduardo Sneed. He sounds like a character from Dickens. Great Expectations springs to mind, obviously, considering the product that Eduardo Sneed sells: "I am but a wretched convict, Pip, yet observe the stout pavilion of my ragged trouser and take heed."
Personally, I think I shall remain a Tiny Tim for now.
stephenb 15:32 - [Link] - Comments ()
Doris Day For Knight (good punning, eh?)
october 20, 2003
An American joins the RAF, plucks the heartstrings of many a bosomy English Rose, and single-handedly wins the Battle of Britain; a typical Hollywood scenario; one causing great complaint among the Brits - with good reason. The Colditz Castle story told with Yankee heroes is a recent example of bogus historical redramatization.
Yet, if they are so concerned, why do the British not make their own new films on these subjects - they used to excel at this - rather than just complaining about the US versions? Why not reverse the trend, even: how about a British film featuring Brits who join the Boston militia and single-handedly win the American War of Independence for America? ... oh, oh, hang on a minute...
Never mind, apparently current British filmmakers can only make films about chirpy, fashionable gangsters, or unemployed bricklayers, or middle-aged trendy charmers with a stutter suffering from romantic complications. Yawn.
However... I saw a trailer for a made-for-British TV film about Queen Boudicca. Now, perhaps I am wrong, but I thought the ancient Britons were bare bummed and covered in blue daub. The figures in the trailer looked like refugees from Lord of the Rings. Maybe the Iceni hordes moon the Romans in the actual film, I certainly hope so. Anyway, a film on this particular subject has been a long time coming: strong woman hero; bare, blue bums; and Roman legions. How can you go wrong!
Here is another idea for the British film industry: Alfred the Great: good battle scenes against the Vikings; man on the run against the odds; excellent comic relief with the episode of the burnt cakes; and a happy ending. It will surely pack them in.
I demand to see this at my local Cineplex by next summer. Where is Ken Russell when you need him?
stephenb 10:35 - [Link] - Comments ()
I came across an interesting blog written by someone who calls himself the irascible professor, devoted to discussion concerning the state of American education. A worthwhile read. Alas, my own views on the subject can be summed up as follows: Anyone who thinks a decent eduction can be received at any institution of learning deserves to fail their sanity mid-term. My own education was quite expensive, and if there were even an iota of Show 'n' Tell justice in the world I should have recourse to demand a refund.
This sorry conclusion was formed by a couple of incidents that have remained with me through the many years since I last sat an exam.
a) At seventeen I was told I would fail my English exam if I wrote an essay describing how awful a book I thought Sons And Lovers was. Surely any rational person would have passed me with flying colors attached to a supersonic rocket.
b) An obviously bored judge of papers gave me extra marks for the absurd quotes I invented and inserted in my French History exam - one of these fake sources was even named the Comte de Fabrique!
c) All of the above.
Frankly, Anthony Powell's remark that his teachers at school could have made a fortune merely by walking across a musical hall stage still holds true today.
stephenb 17:52 - [Link] - Comments ()
Diaries of the Rich and Famous
What did James Lees Milne, Chips Channon, Harold Nicholson, Evelyn Waugh and the Countess of Ranfurly all have in common? I'm sorry, but Emerald Cunard does not count.
...What is that you say?
Yes, that's right, they all kept extensive diaries during WW2 and they all knew each other quite well.
For the cross-reference enthusiast, this provides a splendid opportunity to waste time checking up on whether JLM was actually given "luncheon" by HN on April 15th, 1943. Did, for example, EW dine at the Ritz with CC, NH, CoR and JLM on August 4th, 1944? Did the dinner include, as asserted by CC, potted shrimp and mediocre claret? And did they indeed discuss Diana Mosley, as EW claims they did? Surely their respective diaries should bear out each other's entries.
Alas, they do not - at least as far as I could tell before the whole exercise became extremely tedious.
Note to fact checkers: the luncheon and dinner diary entries described above were purely invented by me purely for the sake of inventing them.
Still, I bet if you did cross-reference these diaries the entries where they mention each other really would not match up. Someone ought to write a book about it, because, God knows, they have written books about everything else to do with these people.
stephenb 15:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
Belle Bank Sans Merci
october 17, 2003
Unfortunately, I cannot post today since I am recovering from an expedition to the bank. A frightening excursion that entails zig-zagging my way through the Goblin Market they call Boston's Prudential Center Shopping Mall.
I had hoped to discover the reason why the bank charges me a monthly fee of a dollar-fifty because my checking account consistently fails to maintain a balance of a million dollars. No such luck. As I beat my retreat from his desk, the clerk said, "Have a good weekend." It is Monday, for heaven's sake.
stephenb 13:48 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Dance To The Music of Thyme
Why oh why do sophisticated restaurants and elegant cafes no longer employ live orchestras to serenade their guests as they dine?
Who has not sat down at a candle-lit table for two uncomfortably close to the bathrooms and said to themselves, "If only my local bistro were reminiscent of Vienna before the war with it's Strauss music and easy charm. But, alas, my local bistro is more reminiscent of feeding time at the zoo."
I know I always do.
Dancing to the orchestra used to be one of the courses in the better class of restaurant. Menus would read something like this:
Boiled eggs voila
A slow sultry tango
An energetic fun-filled rumba
Unfortunately, the only live sounds you are likely to hear in a modern restaurant are bored and weary gluttons slurping their way through gallons of watery gazpacho while tinny Annie Lennox albums shriek from overhead speakers.
I do not ask for much, merely a small ensemble able to fit comfortably on any average reasonably sized bandstand: perhaps a songbirdish piccolo accompanied by a proud trumpet; a bassoon soloist; a few assorted strings scattered here and there; maybe an oboe or two and an upright piano beside the upright bass. There ought to be a torch singer as well, for performing standards and leading the Happy Birthday choruses at the appropriate times. A torch singer who can also play the banjo, ukulele, mandolin, Spanish guitar, mouth organ, Gaelic harp, and two-tier semi-electric xylophone with one arm tied behind her back. Unquestionably, an accordion player should be included for the weekends and miscellaneous themed evenings. We must also consider a glockenspiel for rhythmic requirements, with a snare drum and hammered dulcimer nearby just in case the glockenspiel specialist gets sick when he is really needed. And let us not forget the world music instrumentalists who are absolutely essential for celebrating ethnic holidays such as Bastille Day. Ideally, such a little orchestra should be able to set up in a corner of the room across from the dining area and directly opposite the kitchen doors. Such an arrangement will ensure that foxtrotting couples do not overturn the bubbling Hungarian goulash tureens as they are transported from the galley to the customer's table.
That is what I think anyway.
stephenb 15:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts From Recent Retrospectives
october 16, 2003
A brief and philistine word about El "Buy The Souvenir Coffee Mug" Greco. It is impossible for me to observe El Greco's paintings without imagining the banner heading "Weird Tales" written at the top of them in garish green lettering. All his figures appear to be waiting for some supernaturally disastrous event to befall them. And that includes the city of Toledo. What a truly superb illustrator of pulp fiction book covers he would have been if born in the modern age: H.P Lovecraft and El Greco would have made an excellent team. Better still, imagine the portrait of the already El Grecoesque George Orwell if El Greco had been a member of the Euston Road School. Now that would be a very grim and gaunt picture.
Which brings me to my final art world thought for the day. What a pity that there are no "at the court of..." type artists active today. Could you begin to fathom the works of such characters as 'Matthew Barney, Conceptualist At The Court of President Clinton'?
An extremely alarming prospect!
stephenb 11:51 - [Link] - Comments ()
More Magazine Notes
october 15, 2003
The New Yorker magazine currently threatening to splinter the shelves in my local bookstore is an especially thick, ad stuffed edition of that famous publication. Absolut Vodka's interactive and extremely inflexible advertisement is the greatest offender, closely followed a similarly rigid effort promoting hideous roof designs for the new Mini Cooper. It requires the biceps of Hercules to roll the magazine up and wedge it under your arm so that the zillions of subscription inserts do not slide out and litter the sidewalk. The placement of both ads makes it enormously difficult to read the pages they bisect. But never mind, it is only the special Hollywood issue and so there is not much of interest to read anyway.
There is ninety thousand dollars worth of brand new Porsche Cayenne Stockbrokerwagen parked outside: automatic transmission, so what is the point of it?
Baseball Pitcher Makes The, Er, Scottish Play
Here in Boston, we are celebrating our baseball team's valient efforts at drawing level with their New York rivals. They have won three games, we have won three games; and now there will be a seventh attempt to create good reason for one team's fans to drive through the city streets with klaxons and flags. World Series optimism is the opium of the New England people at the moment, and also their most fervent religious belief.
And yet ... deep in an enchanted forest to the wicked west of Yankee Stadium, three wizened concession stand ladies who can remember when Babe Ruth was just a babe in arms are carefully adding things their disturbing cauldron... "eye of newt, wing of bat, child born out of wedlock wearing Yankees cap bring me the head of Bill Buckner, etc."
If there was ever a time for the Curse of the Bambino to strike, alas, it is now. Should be a quiet weekend for looking at the foilage fall.
stephenb 09:54 - [Link] - Comments ()
Games People Play
As the long winter nights begin to gird their icy loins for another deep freeze winter, here are some ideas for new board games you might like to play at home by the fire:
The board is fashioned along the lines of an average city street. But who is the murderer?
Could it be the drug dealer with the knife outside the all night pharmacy? The gang member with the gun in the alleyway? The pimp with the hammer on the fire escape?
The insane office worker with the Uzi by the elevators? The idiot on the mobile phone driving the huge oversized vehicle in the middle of the road?
The New Chess
Since the appointment of the first Epiceneopal Bishop of New Hampshire, I have been very busy designing alternative lifestyle chess pieces: Gay Bishops, naturally; the Queens, of course, go without saying; the Kings are modeled after Edward II; there are don't ask don't tell Knights; the Castles are fitted with S&M dungeons; and last but with equal rights, a gay pride parade of pawns completes the set. The board, obviously, will be rainbow colored and consequently the pieces can move in any direction they like. Players have the length of one Judy Garland song in which to make their move.
How do I become a Grand Master, you ask. Well, hey, you can be anything you want. You just have to believe. You just have to work it.
NB: I would not describe myself as homophobic. I am sure others would. However, certain people I know were genuinely distressed by the appointment of the Gay Bishop.
Why could he and his adherents not start their own church, and leave the Episcopal to mumble on along it's traditional way? If they did so, then I would wish them nothing but good luck. As it is: you are now my chess piece, vicar!
To any alternative lifestyler reading this who has a sense of humor, I hope you think it is at least moderately funny.
How sad that I should feel the need to write such quasi-disclaimers.
stephenb 13:33 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Fistful of Lire (doesn't go very far)
october 14, 2003
Are you more interested in Belladonna than Bella Tuscany? Would you prefer to read about desperate battles fought in the Campagna than reports about riots between the Ultras of Inter and AC Milan? Look no further ....
Much as I admire Miss Sylvia Burlesqueoni, surely it is time our Italian friends relapsed to their Renaissance system of nation states. Such a courageously backwards step - from mafioso theifdom to old fashioned feifdom - would assist their economic recovery by creating jobs for such traditional figures as Borgia Popes and their lively daughters, Prospero-a-likes, Machiavellian skullduggarians(!), Giordano Bruno, Duchesses of Malfi, and, of course, your average workaday poisoner.
Maestro Burlesqueoni himself could kick start the campaign, his portrait painted against one of those flat landscapes rendered with no regard for proper perspective so popular during that entertaining period.
I, for one, would purchase a satellite subscription to RAI.
Perihelion, or My Ramblings Infiltrate the Web Pages of the Mighty
Admittedly, I bought the reference by obsequiously mentioning their august publication in a previous post of mine, yet I was very pleased indeed to discover the humble Stephenhead quoted by armavirumque, weblog of the New Criterion. In fact, it increased the luminosity of my day considerably. Every month I wade through a dense fog produced by steeping aromatic herbal tea leaves - slung like breakfast hash - at Boston's all natural Bookseller Cafés to purchase this fine magazine, where it can usually be found hidden behind shelf-creakingly numerous copies of The Nation, Lesbio-Vegetarian Almanac and Nudist Bhuddist Newsletter. Anyway, it is a personally satisfying example of the democratization of comment, however odd mine may be.
I had written a letter to the New Criterion editors before, regarding the excellent Mark "Extoller of Leiber and Stoller" Steyn's review of a musical based on the Jeeves and Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Alas, they did not, perhaps wisely, publish it. However, since my views on the matter still deserve an airing I will briefly recap them now:
Reasons Why Dramatic Adaptations of Jeeves and Wooster are Never Funny
For heaven's sake! The books are narrated in the first person! The humor derives from Bertie's hilarious - and knowing - anecdotes of the calamitous events that befall him. Bertie Wooster is actually a raconteur of genius rather than the gibbering buffoon he is always portrayed as; and for the adaptations to replicate the wit of the books, Bertie should make asides to camera with pertinent voice-overs when required. Surely that must be obvious to even the most humorless of producers?
stephenb 09:58 - [Link] - Comments ()
Suitable For Framing
october 09, 2003
There are a trio of laughable architects drawings of the proposed Rose Kennedy Greenway in the Boston Globe today. They are pleasant, clean, spacious imaginings of zonal Boston stretching from the North End to Chinatown, yet oddly devoid of the angry mobs of drunks, urinating dogs, lunatics on bikes, graffiti or drug peddlers you might expect to see in realistic expositions of city life. These pictures can almost be described as pastoral idylls of Arcadia. One almost expects to see a naked shepherd with a flute perched on a convenient hydrant. The lamb lies down with the Mercedes SUV.
The Globe article is called "A Vision of the Future". Alas, it is obviously the same disinterested, vacuum-sealed, antiseptic vision of the future that includes powdered milk, tupperware and tinned peaches amongst its components.
I can remember the very similar architects drawings of Rowes Wharf, for which they had big plans several years ago. But what happened to Rowes Wharf? Today it is an enormous, very grand taxi rank for taking people elsewhere.
Likewise, the Rose Kennedy Greenway will become either an extremely long impromptu skateboard park, or a barren, windswept corridor of nothingness. It really depends on the whim of the teenage skateboarding nomads.
Architects and city planners, of course, are the sort of people who live in pre-revolutionary homes in Lexington with absolutely no intention of interacting with the horrible environments they design for everybody else, except, perhaps, to partake in late night, drunken, chow-mein eating hi-jinks in Chinatown celebrating lucrative contracts to erect yet more hideous blocks of granite everywhere.
And I should know. I grew up surrounded by such people.
stephenb 10:13 - [Link] - Comments ()
How Very Sad
A glossy, colorful advertising supplement for a retail store selling Hallowe'en supplies arrived with my newspaper this morning. Featured amongst the usual collection of shoddy plastic pirate, monster and goofball costumes for sale were a series of teenybopper pop star inspired outfits, obviously aimed at the pre-pubescent girl trick-or-treat market. These costumes even included faux microphone headsets; toy replicas of those Britney Broccoli Spears and Christina Agriculture might wear. Fortunately, these glitzy, spangled glad rags utilize more yardage of polyester than the equivalent 'clothes' worn by the aforementioned pop superstars. In other words, the tiny tots who wear them out that night will not look like the bunch of strippers on crack that most modern female pop stars do.
Nonetheless, they will not receive any candy from me if they arrive on my doorstep without traditional Hallowe'en attire - and I mean dressed like a witch with a conical hat with silver moons stuck on it - "and please do not use the word trick when you are dressed like that, young lady. It has other meanings, you know."
Alas, flicking through the advertising supplement, I do not think I saw a single witch costume for sale, except, naturally, for the Harry Potter versions.
Why can't popular culture go hang itself? Now that IS an idea for a costume!
stephenb 16:22 - [Link] - Comments ()
An Unlikely Story
october 08, 2003
It was the Sultan of H'ggath who took me to see the Colossus of Xerxes in that hot summer of 1924. His Highness greeted me seated upon the sapphire throne: "I have never met an international tennis champion before," he said in his excellent, Oxford educated English. He himself was actually the forty-eighth Sultan I had met, but I refrained from imparting this salient piece of information.
I had visited the Colossus of Xerxes the previous year. Indeed, I had shot a leopard in the temple grounds and eaten its head cooked over a bed of couscous. However, I had not been admitted inside the Colossus itself, as this was an honor refused to infidels without a National Public Radio membership card. The Sultan had finally decided to make an exception for me, since I had been able to convince him that I represented a non-profit organization called Friends of H'ggath's Historical Monuments.
Our journey via elephant and camel took three weeks. We trekked through hazardous jungle followed by relentless desert terrain. The Sultan's guides and luggage bearers died one by one in the terrible sun. Eventually only the Sultan and I remained alive, shaded from the awful heat by the massive WGBH TV/NOVA logo we had taken with us.
Lost, we managed to find a local nomad squatting by an oasis and asked him directions to the Colososs. The nomad drew a map in the baking desert sand which we shoveled into a bucket before continuing on our way.
stephenb 12:47 - [Link] - Comments ()
Boston Red Sox
You can see it now: the gray overcast streets and the puddles of rain water filling the gutters; the muttering, depressed men in baseball hats haunting the grim environs of Fenway Park as crumpled "Go Sox" banners are crushed beneath the wheels of passing traffic; a single headline on the newspaper hoardings, "Cowboy Fucks Up".
Without doubt, the Red Sox will pay the price of too much early jingo-ism. It is always a bad omen.
People seem to believe the Babe Ruth Curse has been lifted and the team will win the World Series, a vain hope for which I think HBO is partly to blame after broadcasting that silly show about it.
Slice of Automobile Turnover during the game anyone?
If my mother was the mother of Icarus also, her advice would not concern flying too close to the sun but what factor sun-block Icarus should wear while doing it.
I wonder if Stalin's mother was like that:
"I think I'm going to have a bloody purge, mother."
"That's very nice, dear. But make sure you don't get it all over your nice new shirt."
stephenb 17:24 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Lost World
october 07, 2003
I have been reading What I Saw by Joseph Roth, a collection of his journalism from the Weimar Republic years of pre-war Germany. This is my favorite book of the year by far. As Roth himself wrote of the German Jewish writers of this period, which would, of course, include himself:
"The great gain to German literature from Jewish writers is the theme of the city... They have discovered the café and the factory, the bar and the hotel, Berlin's bourgeoisie and its banks, the watering holes of the rich and the slums of the poor, sin and vice, the day of the city and the city by night, the character of the inhabitant of the metropolis." And added, poignantly, "We have sung Germany, the real Germany! And that is why today we are being burned in Germany!"
Alas, he was exiled in Paris by this time, where he died in 1939.
The breathless prose reminds me of those seventeenth century writers such as Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy and Sir Thomas Browne's Urn Burial, the long, run-on sentences filled with information and ideas that ricochet from one theme to another without stopping. And also of Bruno Schulz, another writer, Polish this time, killed by the Nazis.
For some reason these men remain my favorite authors; highly readable, full of wonder at the world in all it's infinite oddness, warm and good humored, yet aware that things are going terribly wrong. Writing of Berlin?s old Jewish quarter, Roth tells of the ancient gray beard who built a beautiful scale replica of the Temple of Solomon in all its glory - also mentioned in W.G Sebalds' The Emigrants - that was available for viewing by asking at a local cafe. What a sight that must have been. Yet, Roth adds that almost nobody ever wanted to go and see it.
Of course not.
stephenb 10:56 - [Link] - Comments ()
october 03, 2003
Oafish behavior in men is extremely contagious. Weekend nights on Boylston and Newbury Streets, it manifests itself as varieties of call and response bellowing based on the single theme of fuck. The infected stampede like wildebeests along the sidewalk, or swing rom lamp post to lamp post as apes do - "Take cover, here they come again!"
By comparison to these tight-shirted hordes, the punk rockers and pierced, tattooed whoevers on Mass Ave in Cambridge seem like an oasis of civilisation.
Last Saturday night I was returning from Brookline with a young lady acquaintance who needed to be dropped at a bar called Lir - pronounced Lear - on Boylston Street to meet her friends. Personally, I would prefer to cavort on the blasted heath with the old king and his fool. But that is just me apparently, since there seemed to be a huge line to get in.
Later, as I passed Store 24 on my home a bum squatting on the floor called out, "Hey, spare some change I've got a six hundred pound wife to feed and it's just like paying rent."
stephenb 13:45 - [Link] - Comments ()
My political philosophy
october 02, 2003
Am I neo-con, pinko liberal, or anarcho-syndicalist? You decide. You are the Stalinist tribunal....
Tenet number one: Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, everyone can vote, free speech and all that nonsense obviously.
Tenet number two: It is permissible to sail to foreign and distant lands, make contact with the natives, and then trade our ill-fitting, itchy underpants for their valuable raw materials such as coffee, tobacco and gold. Afterwards we can set up factories in their villages for the cheap manufacture of those ill-fitting underpants. That is just the way the world works.
Tenet number three: The United Nations should be renamed 'The Honorable Society of The Last of the Mohicans', or the 'Count of Monte Cristo Club' - they can vote on which name they prefer. I am not too bothered about it, actually.
Tenet number four: The automobile should be replaced by the horse. People can ride into work on the long trail and arrive covered in dust. This will also create lots of jobs for the company ostler, the company blacksmith, etc, thereby solving the unemployment problem in an exciting and nostalgic way.
Tenet number five: Television should be taxed. If you want to watch TV you will have to pay the government on a show by show basis. The money raised should be used to fund publication of the New Criterion
stephenb 11:41 - [Link] - Comments ()
My Plan For The Future
october 01, 2003
Such a pity that incompetent and fraudulent executives are no longer literally drummed out of the professional organizations to which they belong; and I mean frog-marched past the ceremonial drum corps, heads bowed in shame and ignominy, surrounded by jeering peers and interested members of the general public who pelt them with rotten eggs and fungous vegetables. If such official drumming out ceremonies were the subject of live broadcasts, I might even consider watching television every now and again. The threat of such humiliating spectacles might even induce these crooked executives to pay a little more attention and integrity to what they are doing. Instead, they get their hands slapped, a paragraph in the WSJ, and a few months detention in white-collar prison.
Personally, I think there should be a lot less Oprah talk show empathy and understanding, and much, much more mediæval marketplace punishments: it is the only language these people understand.
stephenb 15:17 - [Link] - Comments ()
Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Gloom Of Night
The United States Post Office's motto claims that varieties of bad weather, no matter how cyclonic or bleak, will not prevent the delivery of letters, parcels, and, of course, personal tailoring bills. Alas, the founding mail fathers who constructed this famous saying never considered the medical condition known as dyslexia, which continually proves to be a significant impediment to the accurate completion of their appointed rounds. I regularly open my mailbox only to discover post addressed to my neighbors, and vice-versa.
For example, here is a list of correctly addressed items - of which I am aware - that I failed to receive over the years:
1. Postcard from my girlfriend who was visiting her college roommate in Tokyo (lost).
2. Package from my mother containing foods she thought I ought to be eating (it finally turned up at a house down the street, the owner of which was considerate enough to call me).
3. Birthday card from my sister. (accepted as lost, although possibly dubious)
4. Postcard from my father visiting family in England (lost).
5. Wedding invitation from an old roommate of mine (missing, presumed lost).
6. Probably some others that I have forgotten about.
Nevertheless, I still find it amazing that you can stamp and address an envelope to a small island in the Outer Hebrides, mail it in Boston, and that it usually arrives at its destination. So three cheers for the world's postmen, even if they cannot see straight sometimes!
Meanwhile, an historical note:
"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is actually a quote from Herodotus, describing Greek excursions versus Cyrus, the Achaemenian king of Persia in 500BC. Apparently, Cyrus maintained a fleet of particularly tough postal couriers to deliver correspondence across his empire in those ancient days.
stephenb 12:33 - [Link] - Comments ()