FACT AND TRUTH, OR FAKE, AND FANTASY

In this media-driven world reporting every assertion, claim and utterance, truth seems impossible to determine or accept. This circumstance has existed a while, since the the Iraq War, or I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman (If it wasn’t sex, what was it?), or before. This circumstance has accelerated and intensified under Don Trump.

Having run across the good description of results of this circumstance in Harold Schonberg, The Great Pianists, provides a time to amplify. Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Soviet pianist, left the Soviet Union and lived in London. He said, “I would call Russia a country of lies….By the time you are a grown-up person you’re so utterly brainwashed that you don’t know anymore what you like and what you don’t like.” (page 472)

Note the sort of brainwashing being described. It is not a planned program, enforced by laws and threats. It is a passive, random presentation of dissimulations fed to the public all the time to destroy individuality, thought, criticism and judgment. It creates confusion and misunderstanding. In the end no one knows what is actually fact and truth, including the persons promulgating the lies. 

The means to overcome a passive presentation of distortion is not in social or broadcast media – one side or another edge, the third fringe, the fourth abyss, the fifth dimension, or the sixth amoeba. It is incumbent for individuals to educate themselves, reason and evaluate on their own, hear and listen, and to continue to educate themselves. Determination by the individual what is fact and truth and what is fake or fantasy can lead to a sense of control, involvement and self. Repeat the process. Instead many people seem satisfied to withdraw sometimes into drugs, or other physical distractions, and hear the media. The individual efforts are better than the results of fake fantasies, coming from brainwashing, being presented to Americans every day  

It is necessary and fitting for Americans to read everything. An example from history: Vietnam. How many Americans could have found that country on a map in 1955? How many Americans could find Vietnam on a map in 1973, after 58,000 Americans had been killed, hundreds of billions of dollars spent, depletion of military will and assets, and a reckless abandonment to a policy to contain communism? Obviously, the Vietnamese were not into expanding communism. For them it a nationalistic war: After the Americans left Indochina the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and got rid of the evil that had killed millions of Cambodians. The Vietnamese left Cambodia to itself. It did not take over parts of Laos which had been part of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Yet, a silhouette of Vietnam in 2005 evoked no recognition from an educated American. Every American should not never remember. No American should forget to forego learning and education.

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FREE SPEECH

Free Speech is not an issue in the United States. Anyone can say anything about anyone at any time, and not be arrested.

The problem is talking so other Americans can or must listen. There are forums where people go and listen: religious services, sporting and entertainment events, institutions of government (Remember the “You lie.” interruption of an Obama State of the Union Address), and lectures with limited or specific subjects in science, educations, art and culture. This last group usually allows interruptions, politely, by raising hands and allowing questions and comments.

Free speech in open, general forums does not mean that people are compelled to listen. Free Speech does not mean that people cannot interrupt, shout objections or make comments. Indeed, free speech by a speaker invites other Americans who want to add or exercise their free speech rights in the same forum, at the same time. Those added speakers may seem rude, but that is the world Americans live in. Actually, it has always been the world Americans have lived in.

Consider Abraham Lincoln. It was said he would hook an audience and everyone would listen. Indeed, with one speech, given in New York City at Cooper Union speech, the westerner came to the notice of easterners. Lincoln became the Republican nominee for president in 1860. The Cooper Union speech not only had a profound effect on its audience, but also the words, the writing and the substantive captures readers today. Therein one may say Lincoln was eloquent.

Eloquence is the hallmark, the end game, what is required. Imagine how an abolitionist speaker gave speeches before the Civil War to hostile, interrupting, slave-tolerating audiences? The best of those speakers was Wendell Phillips of Boston. Besides being anti-slavery he had other causes: woman’s rights, labor rights, a progressive tax system. There was much for the Establishment and its audiences to hate or dislike.

How eloquent was Wendell Phillips? Ralph Waldo Emerson described his speech: The whole air was full of splendors. This type is speaker either presents such compelling content (like Lincoln) so the audience listens, or the flowing words are so elevated and unique that people want to hear how the language can be used to its best effect. It appears that Phillips had both abilities. He was a Knight Errant of Unfriended Truth. A Southern newspaper called Phillip’s speaking, an infernal machine set to music. And there was this report:  At the end of a Phillips speech, a member of the audience stood and applauded while yelling, “You God-damned-son-of-a-bitch!”  

And how did Phillips interact with his audience: “There was absolutely nothing of bull-dog combativeness; but a careless buoyant, almost patrician air, as if nothing in the way of mob-violence were with considering, and all the threats of opponents were simply beneath contempt. He seemed like some English Jacobite nobleman on the scaffold, carelessly taking snuff, and kissing his hand to the crowd, before laying his head upon the block.”

Today, speakers want respect, like Rodney Dangerfield. But every human being must earn respect. Speakers are dilettantes who want every person to hear every word uttered in monotone voices: Give the same speech at Texas A & M that will be given at the University of California at Berkeley later? Is there any eloquence? Some of those speakers have Ivy-League educations, like Abraham Lincoln, right? That’s how they graduated – having little education, faking knowledge and brain activity by repeating errant and sundry thoughts previously published on TV – they’ve gone through four years of higher learning where many survived by grade inflation: No one at this Ivy League deserves a C. (Are some people truly worried about students paying into get into college?) These speakers do no know excellence in communication. Having rudimentary logic, they can organize texts and insert cliches popular for limited audiences with no development but scattered among wine-and-cheese-party analyses: That’s real sophistication. None are original, and few, if any, know how to write. Many are authors of ordinary, mundane volumes with no joie de vive. In the end none can offer more than warmed-over phrases, bathroom sponsored suggestions and off-the-cuff offerings to solve any issue. Finally, in the world of writing, they are persons of adjectives and adverbs.

On the lecture and specking circuits these speakers are easy targets who become flustered with the first interruption and off-comment. (That isn’t in my speech, but it logically follows.) Their reactions reveal a complete misunderstanding of a speaker’s status – part entertainer. They lack confidence, have poor speaking ability (unlike Wendell Phillips), are completely unable to defend points of view so the speaker advances his argument while answering comments, generally lack ego and at heart are general misanthropes unable to communicate with the entire human race. 

A final analysis proves these speakers are not Rodney Dangerfield. They are not ready for prime time.

[Quotes and some facts above were taken from a sketch of Wendell Phillips by Norman Thomas,

GREAT DISSENTERS, New York, Norton, 1961.]

BILLY WILDER IN HOLLYWOOD

Maurice Zolotow

Like its subject this biography is told indirectly including juxtapositions and metaphors. Inferences must be made. Discussions about the films are well put, engaging and informative. I recommend the book.

Frequently, the outrageous slings and arrows of existence which are funny best define a biographical subject. Wilder knew the value of pets, especially little dogs, in film: “There’s ain’t a dog alive that can’t act the pants off Lillian Harvey…” (Chapter 3) At home and among friends Wilder disliked pets, including little dogs.

Wilder lived with his wife and daughter between Santa Monica Boulevard and Sunset in Beverly Hills during World War Two. Someone have his daughter a little dog and a pig. The pig was always getting loose and liked to run into the shopping area of Beverly Hills – you know, Rodeo Drive. Wilder was at the studio working on Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend, and he get calls from the Beverly Hills cops, “Come get your pig.” Wilder hoofed across town more than once.

This was a sore memory for Wilder. It is odd that in none of his Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau movies was there ever a call to a character, interrupting a crisis or a turning point: Come get your pig. 

DISAFFECTED

The word was once, alienated. Now individuals are lonely. Wisecrackers and smart guys figure loneliness is society’s problem. Let’s make money. The United Kingdom has a Minister of Loneliness. They are wrong. The appropriate word is disaffected, and each person is alone.

If an individual is lonely today – media; cable TV; music everywhere; books and libraries; families; social, political and cultural groups catering to all causes, stamps and ilks; telephones; computers; and social platforms, religions, faiths and belief systems to follow or create – than that human being is not trying. 

The basic problem becomes, can any person entertain her or him self?

Lonely persons in ill-health, physically or mentally, or are handicapped are less capable. Some might abuse alcohol or drugs; or they are like Alice, one pill makes them bigger and the other makes them small; not all humans like the lingering haze of THC and what it does to company.

Lonely people might have just left a job or are retired. They know nothing of life but work and fellow employees. Perhaps they have never heard or heard anything except they themselves are right and righteous. Finally some might now fear other human beings, whom they consider enemies: Consider the trash man who has seen the worst of society.

So what is loneliness today? Having 5,000 friends on Facebook and trying to respond to 50 people might take two weeks – hopelessness of reaching everyone and explaining X. Does anyone truly care? How come no one responds? Each friend has 5,000 friends of her own to respond to. People in this predicament are like attendees at a wedding in the scrum to catch the bridal bouquet. An individual gets a quarter of the flowers, along with pedals and other plant composition. What good are the thorns on a rose stem?

Some famous people and well-known individuals, exposed on social media, have announced they are going dark. The end. After 2015 Kelly Evans of CNBC made that announcement. Perhaps the best way to reach Kelly Evans is by letter delivered by the United States Postal Service – stamp (now 55 cents – two quarters and a nickel for new-school devotees), an envelope, a written address, and some form of return address delivered by a mail carrier to a street address. Old-school, they say. Come out and play.

Is the ability to reach three billion people in the world and become known raise the worrisome issue of loneliness? Over exposure to the masses is not a situation most individuals are prepared for, or like. Individuals cherish isolation. Human beings cling to what is familiar and friendly, sensations that comfort and warm. Does anyone ever wonder why any individual remains and lives in Barstow, California? The cultural center is the McDonalds attached to a few railroad cars converted into shops selling sundries and T-shirts and doubling as a bus stop. A gas station is across the main drag, next to the Freeway off/on-ramp. The biggest thing around is the San Andres Fault, 50 miles away.

It seems isolated, but most human beings like what familiarity delivers: Security. What is known become secure. What is routine becomes predictable. What seems certain and simple become truth. Why wonder? Why ask why? Curiosity is something to overcome, put away and reject. The imagination is fiction and dreams, the fake and the fancy of childhood. So at twenty years of age, human beings may have in place the ingredients to stop living.

Like all other animals human beings feel good being on solid ground, accepting set rules and going forward from there, rather than swimming in a swamp, or stepping into quicksand. This great divide separates home versus taking risks.

On its own communication becomes preposterous because the current length and style confine a tweet or text to a 50-word unit. Emails are short. Oft times one has not seen the person for two years or more. Nothing has changed in those years – life is the same, experiences are the same, human beings have not grown, no sense of living and doing, accomplishment, failure, struggle and solutions. Every person is the same, samo-samo. Time stands still as in The Lord of the Flies: Boys on the island for months maintain all physical, mental, spiritual abilities and relationships as when they were together in boarding school, or wherever. The in-group kills Piggy. Life on earth is always static. Put and keep the best face forward despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. A person can be in luxury or comfort and live a sheltered, rote, routine existence and wonder why life is not satisfying. Hamlet is no longer amongst us.

Will Rogers reacted to persons recommending a facelift: “I want the world to know why I look this way.” It was similar to Abraham Lincoln’s response to his being two-faced during the 1860 campaign for President: “If I had another face, do you think I would use this one?”

Which age of life do curiosity and imagination leave human beings? Two aspects – one regarding one’s own personal outlook, no self-reflection, and the second, looking at the world including human beings around us. The Second: Each of us has observed friends, acquaintances and souls who are or who have checked out no matter their ages. The ardent sports fan might be unable to tell which teams are on the field, who the players are and the sorts of plays. Those persons may be unable to recount a play or a situation. Indeed, some of those fans aren’t unable to comprehend the game without the noise of the crowd on TV. It is why the Whistle Guy, a New Orleans fan, was so annoying. Alert: Whistle Guy was why pass interference was not called against the Rams. The Rams won the trip to the Super Bowl.

Good Luck, Rams. Boston Red Sox versus LA Dodgers. No Babe Ruth. SOX.

Pats versus the Rams. Brady versus The Brady Bunch. PATS.

I know someone, somewhere wants to punch me in the nose for writing these sentences. They aren’t politically correct. Offend someone: I won’t watch because I don’t want to hear the announcers chat between themselves rather than describe the game to viewers. Plus there are loads of advertisements. No one comments about the commercials. There is humor and honesty when someone can present an alternative, cogent reality or faith. However, they are not present during the Super Bowl.

Next are grandparents in their Sixties and older. Many cannot shut up about their grandchildren, primarily because they have forgotten the lives of their own children or have rid themselves of recollections of their own lives. What happens to a young child may seem new and strange, but truly it is close to what was experienced by previous generations. Any grandparent may not feel alone if memory recalls the similarity between their own lives and what the runts, generic off spring are going and experiencing. 

Many people my age, and many younger and lots older, have forgotten that humor – not comedy – plus a sense of ridiculous boost hope throughout society. Human folly. Everyone with a family knows nothing in life is perfect; indeed, nothing turns out perfect. Laugh or cry. Drollness is a good response to occurrences in life and society. The best any individual can expect is a sense of fairness. Old people know this. Young people must struggle with it; they must fight for perfection – it is the glory of being young, enthusiastic and somewhat ignorant and naive. The triumph of youth is sometimes blessed: James Madison was 37 years old when the Constitution was ratified in 1788. He had worked seven years getting a governing document accepted. Off the bad in human behavior Madison took opportunities to exploit the good.

In society Americans are offended. Don’t judge me. Don’t be judgmental. Americans are wrong. Yet, they are revealing they watch too many law programs: Perry Mason gone wild, now Law and Order. There’s no evidence. I have issues. That’s hearsay. I did nothing wrong. Prove it. I’m innocent. You’re judging me. Other legal words and phrases have crept into the American vernacular and are used to ward off preconceived criticisms or to avoid conversation.

Any friend is not judging. At best he is a juror and mostly works on impressions. Issues are problems sometimes revealing mental illnesses. No one can live life bound by rules of evidence – Just the facts, Madame. All human interaction would be frozen by evidence. Hearsay is inadmissible but is frequently true. Human beings infer, feel, suppose, believe and wonder. Every claim to be innocent – innocent until proven guilty – misstates the legal principle: Not guilty until proven guilty. The legal principle is closer to reality, because everyone is guilty: …He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…(John 8:7)

If Americans remain defensive about everything, we are a sorry set of human beings, each an over sensitive crybaby. Our society is odd, foreign and idiotic; it is incomprehensible. Is it all right to be discriminating, or judgmental? Food, stores, clothes, personal hygiene. music, movies, sports teams, games, sports teams, music, cars, etc. Americans make choices, express opinions, have likes and dislikes (thumbs up or down, emojis with a smile or a frown), vote with dollars, and favor many things over others which might be beneficial or a waste of time: Global warming, (climate change, or new term} and pollution need a stronger push and better arguments to be accepted by persons other than benevolent enthusiasts. 

What is the difference between making choices and being discriminating and being offensive when doing your own thing or making comments about behaviors and attitudes that offend, are gross or arise from curiosity? Most people do not make the distinctions. They say nothing; they end friendships; they are silent; they become isolated. Ideas offend or an individual’s behavior can be entertaining: Comments say more about the person making them than the recipient. Americans do not always believe adverse words carry benefit or are funny. Is any comment accurate or true? An individual should evaluate. Should an American have to reflect on comments? Yes, we are human beings. Someone on Facebook told me I wasn’t part of the Twenty-First Century because I didn’t smoke marijuana. I’m taking that comment to the bank. Should Americans distrust that which is perceived to be criticism? The immediate reaction is do the macho thing, make fools of defending oneself in all circumstances, and lose: Americans should be celebrate the manifestation of human diversity, opinion and folly, and recognize all that in ourselves. 

An unquestioning mindset over decades separates thousands of individuals from more wondering human beings. There is security in isolation – I’m right; no one else tells me otherwise. That person may as well be living in Barstow, California. What anyone says reveals deficiencies: Spout cliches and dated ideas, like the person has lived on that island with boys and none had changed. What does any human being think now, about existence, life or the news, rather than events 40 years ago? Who to talk to? How to entertain oneself? Cable TV, Doctor Phil. Change the channel to Judge Judy. Think TV was once better? Indeed, did Edward R. Murrow ever ask anyone he interviewed: “How did you feel?” Eventually most human beings want society after fifty years of confined, narrow thinking. How to break out? Human beings lose the ability to socialize. It is why principle topics that emotionally come to people – religion and politics – are forbidden subjects in many retirement homes.

It is all education of a lifetime, not lessons of don’t judge, don’t question. Show no curiosity. Misunderstandings reveal weakness. Show ignorance, never! Listen to the exotic and believe it automatically. However being stupid and curious is fun, inspiring and harmless:  A supernova produces energy, radiation and light. I’ve never heard anyone ask an expert whether any sound or noise is emitted from a supernova which humans have detected, or whether it exists at all. [If a tree falls in the forest and no person is there, is there noise?] It seems absurd that noise would come from an exploding supernova a billion light years away! Perhaps it is the sound and sight of deity.

Finally, laugh. Laugh at yourself/ Follow Herman Melville’s advice in Moby Dick, Chapter 5:

A good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scare a good thing: the more’s the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent on that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.  

And there is nothing more pleasing and refreshing than a human being who is honest, frank and well-balanced, willing to admit what was once stupid, miscalculated and a jump into the abyss. That human being has learned, knows honesty, become conscious of the world and fellow beings, and is comfortable giving lessons, relaying experiences and telling stories. What all human life is, nothing is perfect: Mistakes, regrets and blunders speckle our lives. There is humor, irony, joy or love in all that.

 

 

THE FORGOTTEN DEPRESSION 1920-1921

James Grant

James Grant is the publisher of the Interest Rate Observer, a highly-regarded Wall Street investment sheet.

Grant’s book adumbrates the Depression of 1920-1921, following the 18 month participation in World War One. From April 1917 to January 1922 is not five years. It was a boom and bust. In all of American history little supports this time as economically and socially significant, except war and peace their after effects and the advent of Prohibition. 

What were the United States like? It is a short book; Grant does not explain. He mentions 12 Regional Banks of the Federal Reserve, and in a few passages notes that interest rates vary among the Regions. Who knew that interest rates might vary that much, a half point or more, especially today when a decision is made centrally and that’s it. 

Grant’s book is written like many history books about economics, incidences which were separated by time and place. Each incident is not dispositive, and collectively it is difficult to know the interconnections, if there were any: Each seems power fading, misfortune and no loss in the departure. 

The only national effect was in the markets, where the stock market fell, commodities markets fell, real estate prices fell – all observable by some sort of national statistic.

The biggest historical fallacy in Grant’s book is his recounting, without correcting, Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury for Warren Harding and Coolidge. Mellon was a big fan of Alexander Hamilton because Mellon mistakingly believed (as does Grant) that Hamilton was a small government and smaller debt person. FALSE! Hamilton was a BIG DEBT, FAT GOVERNMENT MAN. While Secretary of the Treasury and until 1803 Hamilton tried to weaken the Constitution (using, inter alia, the Alien and Sedition Acts); he supported a monarchial government and he proposed war with France. Mellon and Grant should read history, especially Grant who wrote John Adams: Party of One. Apparently Grant does not know that Adams said Hamilton was of the British Faction, which outraged the former Treasury Secretary.

Mentioning Mellon and Hamilton together detracts from anything Mellon did on his own, in response to events and circumstances before him. Mellon was not Hamilton’s clone. He was more akin to Jefferson and Madison’s Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin.  

THE FORGOTTEN DEPRESSION indicates how loose was national sentiment and communication. Something might happen in New York City and only be known in Montana two weeks later. Indeed, communications into the exchanges and markets were weak and inadequate. The experience of there being too many market orders and not enough people to process them was not realized until October 1929. Nothing in the country seemed connected. Entertainment was a nationalizing and unifying force, but little mentioned in the text. Automobiles and roads were just beginning. Dwight Eisenhower’s cross-country trip in the Twenties gave him the experience to propose the Interstate Highway System, begun when he was President. 

It was a disjointed United States. Many points are raised but not well put. Despite the change within America the experience that the people may do something without the government is a message that may be discerned, not fully or well, from this history. 

MOBY DICK – A POLITICAL NOVEL

Herman Melville

Nobody thinks Moby Dick is a book about politics flowing from the economic and sociological forces of its times. But it is. Heretofore, the focus of the novel is directed to make it seem more daunting, embedded within the Nineteenth Century. WRONG! Its style is pure Nineteenth Century; characters, descriptions and advancement of the theme reek of that century’s style and is long – L-O-N-G – how many more words can be used to say what should be said in five words 

It is easier if the reader approaches the novel knowing what it is about. Read for that and sense all else, which is frequently covered in Cliff Notes.Those summaries and analyses overlook the significance of Melville’s story. And overall, Joseph Conrad puts forth better stories of the sea than Herman.

The nineteenth century is not a reason not to read Moby Dick. It is invaluable today because it is very current. Readers can determinate that if they know what metaphors and allegories are. Aids may be found. Copious amounts of liquor help the mind. Any native strong drink from sea-faring nations – Dutch, British, Japanese and American  – can produce the will and courage to get through the next chapter.

Without some comprehension, understanding and knowledge of this novel, every American writer experiences a hole, a gap, and something major missing. It was published a year before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which as a political sweep was also that author’s best book. Both authors wrote other books later but none was as good. Few reviewers look at the primary political theme of Moby Dick, but they ponder literary devices to interpret part of the gross writing. There is nothing metaphysical about this book, not abiding the predominant hodge-podge prized by Emerson, Hawthorne and others from New England, pursuing philosophies of reveries leading to nothing. Disregard all that. None of that is in Melville’s mind or writing.

In its Nineteenth Century style a bit of dialogue tells what the writing is about. In the last chapter (135), Captain Ahab says about his ship, having been rammed and sunk by the whale: “The ship! A hearse! – the second hearse!” cried Ahab from the boat, “it’s wood could only be American.” Truer words were never spoken (only to the reader because other characters in the story could not hear them). Most reviewers like Howard Mumford Jones, reportedly an American intellectual, did not notice this line. He asked wandering questions about Ahab’s personality traits, his psyche, his psychosis, his moods, behaviors and outrages. Arab did this; Ahab did that. Write a 20 page analysis. Or perhaps Harman Melville, himself, never wrote a novel.

Moby Dick is a novel, an allegory, about what? The United States of America. Melville was writing while observing what was happening within the country: Contentious, divisive times when men were trying to attract other men to their points of view by parsing ideas and demanding agreement: There were upcoming and different rules of civility. Next came the election which brought the Southern Whig, Zachary Taylor to the White House, the admission of California as a state with the Compromise of 1850, and a tougher Fugitive Slave Law. All unsettled and divided the nation. 

In the story of the novel, who is who? What is what? The ship is the American nation. The crew is the South – Ahab may as well be a high-strung, fire-eating, slave-owning Southerner like John C. Calhoun. Sperm whales including the white whale are the North.

Reading the novel from this viewpoint makes it accessible and understandable. It removes from the process much that Cliff Notes has to add. I am not wholly critical of Cliff Notes. They’ve done their best, considering it appears written by know-all academians, who don’t explain much. That’s how academians earn their money and demonstrate their value: Tell of obscure references to Greek mythology, unconnected passages from the Bible, but omit and overlook analyses to pertinent facts and sources and neglect structure, characters and setting.

The ship is a small place. Few pages tell its size for 30 plus men. There is no hope, except that Ahab spews, mostly about greed, money to be made for finding and killing the white whale.

How is the society on the ship? A novelist who puts 30-35 men on  a ship does more than describe a little society, offer a few comments and show little interaction except as a gross group. So there is no crew eating dinner together, socializing, boasting, bantering, moping, complaining about the food, the weather or anything, There seems no camaraderie in a book of 300,000 words. Social and economic rules seem set, and those personages, despite their race (harpooners are men of color, irony anticipated because they are invaluable members of the crew). This is a strict feudal society where every person has his place and can not shift his status. Down, is the usual way toward death.

None of that is important to Melville. WHY? It is irrelevant to the story as it reflects American society in the South.

The crew is a mixed-raced society, a favorite plaything like Pip, to be protected by Ahab, and offensive – the death of Parsee by the whale. But why should Queequeg, Ismael’s best friend, disappear for chapters. And Ahab only realizes what is at stake in the last pages of the novel. 

Sperm whales are the most dangerous creatures in the ocean. (Chapters 32) Whale lore reenforces this impression (Chapter 41, 45) Yet sperm whales are intelligent, mystical (Chapter 80) and silent (Chapter 79).  

The whales are like the force and influence of the North, a fact that Starbuck cries to Ahab on the Third Day of the chase (for readers only, not character to character); “Oh Ahab,” cried Starbuck, “not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou that madly seekest him.” (chapter 135)

Ahab is the captain with noone to challenge him, save Starbuck. (Chapter 36, 123) Ahab derives authority from the owners and their “practical world.” “This world pays dividends.” (Chapter 109) regardless of Ahab’s state of mind. (Chapter 41)

Ahab maneuvers and works the crew and officers (Chapter 41, 46: Ahab managing the men, “every minute atmospheric influence…for his crew to be subject to.”) Demanding an oath to hunt the White Whale (Chapter 119) Ahab eventually tells the crew the whale will return on the third day, like a resurrection when the whale will be killed. (Let us kill Jesus Christ): “Aye men he’ll rise once more – but only to spout his last.” (Chapter 134) Payment is promised early on in the novel with the doubloon (Chapter 36) and later for a larger prize for one man, and for all the men.(Chapter 134)  

What is Ahab’s mind? Ahab “never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that’s tingling enough for mortal man! to think’s audacity. …Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that.”(Chapter 135) Ahab believes himself acting for powers beyond himself: “What  is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing it is; what cozening, middle lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings; I so keep pushing, and crowding and jamming myself on all the time; reckless making me read to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who that lifts this arm? But it the great to move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single start can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does the beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.”…”Where do murderers go man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?” (Chapter 132)  Indeed, Ahab knows he is demented and is leading the weak: “Nor is the history of fanatics half so striking in respect to the measureless self-deception of the fanatic himself, as his measureless power of deceiving and bedeviling so man others.” (Chapter 71)

And who are the men? What is the crew? “…the meanest mariners, renegades and castaways” (Chapter 26). “The savage crew…all sailors…are…capricious and unreliable – they live in varying outer weather, and they inhale its fickleness.”(Chapter 46) “I stood at the helm…and I better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continued sight of the fiend shapes before me…” (Chapter 96)

And who are the officers? “the incompetence of men unaired virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him [Ahab] to his monomaniac revenge.” (Chapter 41)

Madness does not stop Ahab from one precaution, leaving Starbuck on the ship during the final hunts (Chapters 130, 132) Indeed, having gone too far, Ahab is in a boat, and he realizes the ship is in jeopardy. He sings, “…I see: the ship! Dash on, my men! Will ye not save my ship?”

(Chapter 135; note reference to wood for a coffin being American, Chapter 117.) The crew looks – each has been described – and fears all is lost: “For an instant, the tranced boat’s crew stood still; then turned. “This ship? Great God, where is the ship?” (Chapter 135)

The ship is a small place. Few pages tell of it, but there is no hope except those fomenting from the spews of Ahab. The presence of charity is absent. Faith comes from Ahab.

Being a mixed society brings forward playthings, a favorite like Pip who is killed; the death of Parsee, the weapon maker and a fawner over Ahab and his quest during the hunt for the white whale. But why does Queequeg disappear for chapters?

When he was young and at sea, Melville in his life led or joined a mutiny against the ship’s captain. He was well-versed in ship’s rules of discipline and the authority of the officers. He knew of the independence of sailors and their edginess. In Moby Dick, the allegory, Melville avoided freewheeling ways of New England sailors, many of whom had educations. In the novel the sailors are ignorant and followers; they came from somewhere else. It is unlike the Rachel (ship in the novel) whose Captain has taken two sons on his voyage; it is assumed sailors had  educations. Moby Dick describes the sorts of sailors, but they were unusual. In the allegory, it could be expected. Southern society was narrow and hierarchical. Every person, every job, each presented status and every man was set apart in relation to other employments, reputation and status. Rabble never mixed with yeomen, or higher ups, persons in professions or wealthy. Likewise aboard ship, the “crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him [Ahab] to his monomaniac revenge.” (Chapter 41)

It was a Northern view of Southern society and culture. Hierarchy of planation owners, the wealthy and well-positioned plus resort to any invention from history, fantasy or myth – medieval ways, customs and traditions. Accordingly, Melville freely employs words of status indicating medieval rules and actions: Knights and Squires (Chapters 26, 27) The special Captain’s Table (like Arthur’s) for preferred and valuable shipmates (Chapter 34) Glories of whaling “the knightly days of our professional” (Chapter 82) Noble harpooners. St. George. (Chapter 82) The final chapter against the white whale: noble, heroic, joust, tilting, run it through.

Southerners were looking to medieval times, accepting cues from past deeds and behaviors, It made living life easier with a predictable, structured society. Likewise, having a whale boat crew be compliant to the Captain is easily understood. The Captain’ status was knowledge and authority, not insanity: Follow and trust him! A generation later Mark Twain observed that Sir Walter Scott and his novels highlighting medieval traditions had caused the American Civil War. While not completely agreeing, Clement Eaton, The Old South. devoted an Appendix to analyze Twain’s comment: The influence of Scott’s writing about medieval times and tales on Southern society. Clement Eaton might also have also included Herman Melville and other northern authors.

The sense of looking at every aspect of the whale is a disassembling of the North, and that is not good for the crew [or the South]. In many ways Southerners disliked and were disgusted by Northern Culture and Society – they did not mind a Northerner writing Dixie in 1857. But Southerners clung to their ways and fantasies to the end. In February 1865 Abraham Lincoln met three Commissioners from the Confederacy. Having nearly won the Civil War militarily, Lincoln asked what they could all do to make peace immediately. No deal – the Southerner Commissioners  offered: Two countries, or let the South be as before the fighting, and preservation of slavery. Within the confines of Southern society Southerners had to make a way out of custom and tradition superimposed by medieval examples. Southerners never did. If hierarchy did not keep persons to their place and status, then violence would. Southerners knew no other way to live but to promote a fantastical world and pursue its life. 

So it was with Ahab and the whale. “Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with  him, not only his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations… Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them [devils}; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale; he pitted himself; all mutilated against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonizes of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.” (Chapter 41)

Like Ahab who had transferred his focus from himself to the whale, the South lost its ability for self-reflection and analysis. It focused on the North in incomprehensible hatred. This stubbornness, an unwillingness to look at reality and go forward, the preference for the past, whatever it may be. Whales, Ahab, the South, Southerners – all had forsaken the lesson of Jonah (Chapter 9) “…on what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet!…” What was that  “bidding….To preach the Truth in the face of Falsehood! That was it!”

Ahab and the crew are impervious to Truth. They cannot observe and see. If they hear, they do not listen. If they touch, they don’t feel. If they smell, they do not detect. Moby Dick  is a fantastical story based upon an actual whaling event. But as an author, Melville had observed, had listened, had felt and had sensed what was happening in the South: Use a whaling ship – whaling was primarily an American occupation (Chapter 101). Melville reported what was present and advanced all the facts, using the ship, crew, officers and whales as metaphors in a grand allegory. Moby Dick a story of sociology and politics. Melville’s conclusion is the general theme of the novel, the consummate power of hate, blind and unaware and irrationally inhuman. The situation of Moby Dick was not present on most whaling ships, but it was rampant in the Ante-bellum South. Melville concluded that hate would destroy the United States. 

Indeed, a final paragraph of the novel has the sinking of the ship, with a sea hawk [like an eagle] inadvertently nailed to the top mast: “…Ahab…like Satan, would not sink to hell till she [the ship] had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.” (Chapter 135)

HARD SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco was not and is not a romantic place. Supposedly Tony Bennett left his heart there, a lifetime ago. What happened is a warning.

In 1941 The Maltese Falcon purportedly was set there. Except for a few external shots, it was filmed in Los Angeles. The film portrayed San Francisco as nitty-gritty on the sound stages of Warner Brothers studios, Burbank. No love, Humphrey Bogart sends his love interest off for twenty years in the slammer, or to be hanged. Few movies before the Sixties were shot in San Francisco. 

That town was once a special place. It had an opera house and opera company; it has a symphony orchestra. it has a small drama community. There were movie theaters. It had small district for dancing and nightclubs. It was a commercial center, attracting shoppers. But by the Sixties most of that left the city or went to Broadway in the city, nightclubs were among the burlesque houses, except for Bill Graham’s Fillmore of the Sixties. Shopping moved to the suburbs. And driving into San Francisco became difficult and is expensive today. Los Angeles surpassed San Francisco in many of those entertainments and conveniences, plus it had the Hollywood Bowl, Forest Lawn and Disneyland.

Bullitt was the beginning of the end. It appears shot in San Francisco. It is about murder, corruption, political intrigue and cops. There was not much love in 1968. Yeah, there was a car chase shot on various streets of the city, in wide spread locations, not all in San Francisco.  Nothing in Bullitt made San Francisco iconic. The building where the salient murder occurred was torn down.

Nothing is iconic about San Francisco in Clint Eastwood’s, 44 Magnum Dirty Harry movies, except many are filmed in the city and are about murder, crime, corruption, violence, undeveloped political and social intrigue, cops and not much love. Women seem expendable, wantonly killed or roughed up. The city becomes a place of things, influences and events no one wants identifying or around their own towns. No one goes to the beach – there are not two girls for every boy. There is little sun, and the beaches don’t have consistent waves for good surfing.

Eastwood filmed on the San Francisco docks before those redwood piles and boards were dismantled and sold for secondary uses. What replaced that wood and connections to history and heritage were cement walkways and cement walls along side an asphalt road. Very civilized. San Francisco almost did away with Fisherman’s Wharf, now a shack to buy shrimp cocktails but mostly preserved on post cards. There’s a whole pier devoted to sea lions, not very good for fishermen but apparently a wildlife refuge. Go farther north to see a dainty marina: Sail a boat to Sausalito.

Freebie and the Bean (James Caen, Alan Arkin) was another cop movie where crime, violence, corruption and similar and sundry occurrences carried the story along. During a car chase as Caen is driving, Arkin asks, “Why don’t we stop for a cup of coffee?” So much for the big Bullitt ending. The chase stops when the police car flies off the elevated San Francisco freeway once sweeping from the Bay Bridge into a business district (torn down after the 1989 earthquake). The car crashes into an apartment occupied by an older couple eating lunch. That building has been torn down.  

Other movies showed parts of San Francisco, the best and most complete might be Walter Matthau, The Laughing Policeman. Yet again the city was a place of cops, crime, corruption and no love. Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase had Foul Play where an albino murderer is on the prowl. It is not the same albino homicidal freak that is in Bullitt. In 48 Hours Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte did not highlight the backdrop of San Francisco. I will say about that movie no one during the Eighties in that city drove a tuna boat.

Star Wars IV presented decent commentary about events, people and incidents in San Francisco, but much of that movie was set outside the city, in time and place – San Francisco of the future. But one had to wonder how to get to San Francisco two centuries hence, especially when Basic Instinct intervened, presumably showing the city, some suburbs and their bedroom aspects. Truly, Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn did their best.

I left Alcatraz off the San Francisco list, but anyone can get there from any Bay Area port. It is a San Francisco Bay feature and story. Alcatraz is hardly a good sightseeing venue for admirers of the city. I have spent more than twenty years in the Bay Area, and thrice had my way paid to the Rock for a tour. Locals don’t go there, except movie characters for roles. It’s not romantic; no one has left a heart there, unless he was a convict who died. It is a place best seen in books or on postcards. Any current natural beauty of San Francisco is emphasized on that island – steel, cement, glass and bars. The island supports the impressions of San Francisco presented in the movies – crime, corruption, violence, and everything no one wants present in their hometowns. Add plastic, and those are all the ingredients of the present-day San Francisco with dozens of high-rises marring the land and blocking the views – almost 40 of 50 square miles of that stuff and nothing else, unless tourists pay to see what?

A TRAVELLER IN ROMANCE

A TRAVELLER IN ROMANCE 

Somerset Maugham’s A Traveller in Romance discusses the nineteenth century novel: Style, subjects and topics, formats – all mostly apart from content. It makes for odd descriptions and overblown characters, and a lot of insignificant stuff that the twentieth century novelist dropped from manuscripts. 

Most nineteenth century connotations about the novel has lapsed or expired; there are adherents clinging to them today, wondering why the English language is moving from those expressions and disregarding their volumes. From what I inferred Ulysses and its structures based upon theology and doctrine from the Catholic Church is an expression of the Nineteenth Century. Reading Virginia Woofe, and many of her literary enthusiasts present lapses in truth, logic, reason, and anything to make her prolix novels comprehensible. 

From the other side of the literary world was a non-novelist who wrote the most splendid novels and terrific short stories: Youth and End of the Tether alone should make Joseph Conrad’s career. Every detail tells the story and builds without many literary artifacts derived from the Greeks, Romans, the Renaissance or from poetry. The stories define characters and actions. Hemingway does that in his more cryptic style. 

Maugham highly criticized Henry James – HORRORS! 

 The faults of English writing have always been diffuseness, verbosity, and in the novelists of my generation, anaemia. This anaemia..we owe largely to an American writer, Henry James. His influence on English fiction was enormous. Henry James never came to gripes with life. He was afraid of it, and knew it only as you might know what is going on in a busy street by looking out of an upstairs window. The problems that he examined with such scrupulous integrity were little social problems of no real significance. But such was his skill, such was his charm and such was the power of his personality that he led many of the better writers in England to turn their eyes away from the needs, passions and immortal longings of humanity to dwell on the trivial curiosities of sheltered gentlefolk.

  The verbosity of the English language…is due…to our love of words for their own sake, apart from the meaning they convey. (page 209)

Maugham’s comments about Herman Melville aroused my curiosity: “Good writing is a stylization of the common speech of the people. To my mind, the two great masters of prose the America has produced are Hawthorne and …Melville. Melville learned to write from his study of the great English stylists of the seventeenth century, and at his magnificent best he has a splendour, a majestic, resonant eloquence, that no modern writer has surpassed.” (page 209)

I remembered the antiquated style in Moby Dick. I reread. It is easy to recognize that book as an allegory, and once the reader keeps it in mind, neglect all else. Verbosity – why say in five words what can be said in twenty. Writers of English prose like to consider themselves as poets and sometimes playwrights. There are overblown passages. No one in English ever talks in the way that Melville has characters exchanging words. Thoughts of characters, the common person of the nineteenth century, did not consider Greek mythology or Biblical passages to consider, influence and control life, unless he was some egghead or bonehead living the simple life in the Massachusetts suburbs. But Thoreau did not think much of the Ancients – he was too busy counting tree rings.

Every early writer of English liked to consider themselves as poets. What is poetry, stylistically?

The best poetry is made up of nouns and their relationships with one another. Nouns are the medium. Nouns are the message. What is English prose, stylistically? The best prose depends on verbs. They make the language go; they take readers places. However, the longer the English sentence, the more likely readers will lose sight of the verb and lose their way, mired in words, prepositional phrases, wandering logic, roaming reason, dependent clauses with antecedents in independent clauses – before or after – four lines away, ample reliance on willing suspension of belief and exotic uses of grammar. Critics and others prize sentences, beautiful sentences – long and longer sentences. A modern English reader doesn’t give a hoot about sentences if they are unconnected to telling stories. Indeed, long and lengthy sentences lose most participants in conversation. 

While reading along the analogy in Moby Dick, a reader can avoid many nineteenth century pitfalls. Just know Moby Dick primarily tells about the United States, 1850. The whales are the North. The crew and Ahab (John C. Calhoun) are the South – the consummate power of hate. The ship is the nation.

   

PAT BUCHANAN – RUSSIA LOVE

Yesterday old Pat has called for an American reevaluation and withdrawal from NATO. Russian ain’t a threat – totalitarian government, invasions of Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine, violations of the anti-ballistic missile treaties, poisoning of opponents living overseas, killing members of the opposition within Russia, interfering in elections in the West. It’s a goon country. 

All that is fine with Pat. Pat was big when he was Old Dick Nixon’s chief screw in the 1970s. Pat is that far out of date, equally manifested when Pat relies on George Kennan. George Kennan set FDR straight about the Soviet Union, didn’t he Pat?  Nixon himself was a communist. He embarked on policies which allowed the Soviet Union and Red China to succeed and expand, all the while weakening the United States. 

Now Pat wants to follow Don Trump and his BFF, Vlad Putin. Putin wants to do away with security arrangements which have kept Europe at peace for three-quarters of  a century and have delivered prosperity to most citizens. What does Don get out of dissolving the American-European security arrangements? Money plus he gets to build an ugly hotel in Moscow, his wet dream of this decade. Pat gets a government job where he can crawl, cower, slink and grovel before powerful men like he did with Old Dick. Vlad gets to be more aggressive and intimating with the Europeans each who has the backbone of a chocolate eclairs. 

Meanwhile if Don and Pat succeed in order to gain their silly goals, the Atlantic Ocean will not protect the United States. For a third time the United States will be forced to defend and cross it to bring peace to the world.

A TRAVELLER IN ROMANCE

John Whitehead, Editor

This collection of Somerset Maugham’s writings presents a mixed bag, in quality of writing and acuteness of observations. Short stories are included, the best being The Buried Talent: A woman with a promising career in the arts choses a quiet life of family and security in a tucked away backwater. Twenty years later she remeets the narrator who knew of her talents. Those urges return in a rush. The retired artist regrets.

That engaging story accompanies observations, not developed in a serious way: The lack of art – literature, painting and music – in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union. It is true for any totalitarian system, in the past and today which represses and prohibits artistic freedom, preferring authentic replications rather than new expressions. Also mentioned but left mostly undeveloped is the issue of style for an author. Maugham is correct that each story and every set of characters in a new novel should have their own style. No use writing about New England in the same style or manner as one might an Arizona story. Likewise, writing history and in other disciplines require the writer to create a style suitable to the research and story.

 Where Traveller falls down are pieces where Maugham is delivering criticism, is writing praise about a contemporary (Neal Coward) or is discussing people he has met or known. This tedious flabbiness is longer than half the volume. 

However, the portions about writing are fun to read and need to be remembered: 

One day Alfred de Musset went to see his friend George Sand, then a famous 

novelist, and as women will, she kept him waiting. To pass the time he took  

up one of her books and to amuse himself he crossed out all the superfluous 

adjectives he came across. History relates that, when the lady came in and 

saw how he was occupied, she did not receive him with her usual show of

affection. There are few English writers whose prose could not be bettered

by the same drastic process. (p. 209-210)

 

Also Maugham has a jaundiced view of Henry James:

His influence on English fiction was enormous. Henry James never came to

grips with life. He was afraid of it, and knew it only as you might know what 

is going on in a busy street by looking out of an upstairs window. The problems

that he examined with such scrupulous integrity were little social problems of 

no real significance. But such was his skill, such was his charm and such was 

the power of his personality that he led many of the better writers in England

to turn their eyes away from the needs, passions and immortal longings of

humanity to dwell on the trivial curiosities of sheltered gentlefolk.(p.209)