Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Next stop, the Haymarket?

The New York Times published this
lovely photograph of the latest
resort of politics to Washington
Square, reminding one and all of
the genius of the Electoral Col-
lege to ignore such excesses of
popular sentiment, with a sage
hypervaluation of our agrarian
wastes. Emma Goldman, eat your
heart out: what happens in
Greenwich Village stays there,
give or take a Weather Under-

But of course, it's true. Of 
the many ways this republic
has invented or adapted to re-
duce its vulnerability to any
reckless reliance upon one
person, one vote, nothing has
outdone good, old-fashioned
shaming of the call for that
human right, itself. Hence,
our President's excoriation
of homelessness, as a blight
on the prestige of Nob Hill.

This proficiency in oligar-
chy's seizure of power in the
United States, has meant that
the electorate isn't remotely
a wellspring of policy, but 
manipulable blocs, exploitable
for permits to rule over them.
But I stray. It was a pleasant
evening in Washington Square.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Society, the direst study

This past Monday, the photographer
Robert Frank died at the age of 94.
Seeing as an untiring, and sometimes
unsparing examiner of America, he's
urgently to be remembered for an al-
most paradigm-shifting attitude and
style in his portrayals of this so-
ciety, published in 1955, under the
title, The Americans. Among other
things, this compilation made it
possible, and quite necessary, to
stop conceiving of the United States
as a nation, and to study it exactly
as it is, as a society. Not a figment
for anthems, an organism for defining.

This photograph of an urban trolley
could have been taken virtually any-
where in the United States in 1955.
It happens to come from New Orleans,
and because it does, it enables what
the late San Francisco columnist Herb
Caen used to call, elsewhereans, to
recall in smug horror, and everyone
today to consign to antiquity, for
its candidly visible moral turpitude. 

Everyone, but the Supreme Court of the 
current American government, composed
unscrupulously and dishonorably to re-
flect the ruling presumptions of this
society in 1955. Robert Frank's Amer-
ica is enshrined in the Court's latest
tribute to Donald Trump's racist core
of political support, in Barr v. East
Bay Sanctuary Covenant, a ruling re-
jecting a U.S. District Court injunc-
tion against the new American govern-
ment's wholesale reversal of asylum
law as it relates, exquisitely, only
to the Southern border.

I do not pretend to understand pho-
tography. I do not pretend to under-
stand the law. But Robert Frank made
no claim to understand them, either.
His study was society, and how it
lived with itself. He contributed
unforgettably to the protection of
that urgent distinction, lifting the
fog of nationhood to show how we act.

Robert Frank

Monday, September 9, 2019

Moving again, sorting

.. as contradictory as isolation-
ism and internationalism could
sometimes prove themselves to be,
there was a common factor between
them, though only of a negative
character: isolationism existed
in a sphere of timelessness; in-
ternationalism existed in the fu-
ture. Neither existed in the world
of the present. Thus the attitudes
which the young republic had adopt-
ed had not yet satisfactorily sol-
ved the problem .. of how to chart
a course in the world as it was.

There is so much exercise given to
the term, "sorting," in the social
sciences these days, that its vir-
ility in the reclamation of socks
from the laundry room has fallen
almost into desuetude. Be that as
it may, we soldier on, who jetti-
son whole shelves of our library
as we move house, tripping lightly
as we're dripping priceless cash-
meres from a maze of vegan fibers.

I nearly threw out Felix Gilbert
this morning, the fellow whose ob-
servation opens this entry. In the
ostensibly better world to which
all our mobilizations - our sort-
ings - are directed, if in vain, a
disposal of Professor Gilbert is
an opening of the sea cocks in the
hull of human progress. Now, my an-
cient, trusty Harper Torchbook of
the text transcribed above, priced
at 1.25 pre-supply side American
dollars, finds itself back aboard,
illuminating the dawn from one of
its unexcavated layers of wisdom.

Writing in 1961 of General Wash-
ington's time - even then, past -
Gilbert allowed drop an unexamined
paradox which comes in handy in an
age like ours, as binomially ossi-
fied as any since the Third Reich,
which he fled: You're both wrong,
sums it up, pretty nicely for a
Monday. One doesn't read Felix Gil-
bert without gathering the under-
standing of the fatality of fixed
ideas, and of the absurdity of
choosing between hostile illusions.
One could read this insouciant,
not to say nonchalant, paragraph
of his with a nicely poured taste
of morning coffee, and appreciate
the possibilities for serenity.

Felix Gilbert
Princeton University Press

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Purging Toryism of its excuses

the party of hereditary privilege,
anywhere in the English-speaking
world, throws its literate elements
to the maw of nativist cannibalism.
There's a nasty stink of inorganic
impostorship in these impertinences,
of the soil from which it arose. The
Times publishes a fine report today,
on the compulsory schism which Brit-
win's Prime Minister is imposing on
his Party, culminating in expelling
one of his country's ornaments of a
distinctly British tradition, the

He might as well have told Francis
Drake not to go sailing, or Patrick
so he jettisoned Rory Stewart, than
whom no one holds a more permanent
claim on travel literature's shelf.

Britain has only begun to be sorry,
for a gruesome imitation of America.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Do the deal, Wellington

Whenever we wax sentimental for
the decline of Toryism at home,
we've always had the invigorat-
ing example of intransigence to
admire in Britain, whose class
system has been such a preser-
vative of the laziest impulses.

But now we have an entire gen-
eration raised under the exam-
ple of cut-throat Thatcherism,
to hold the line for restraint
in caning. This is not a solid
bet, it turns out. It seems we
must turn to New Zealand for a
model of modesty in public af-
fairs. Maybe we could buy them.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Moving again, without portfolio

The difference between the mass mig-
rations of refugees from a scourge
and the generational replenishments
of enlistments in academic or mili-
tary services on the one hand, and
the mature single arrival at a res-
idential freehold, on the other, is 
the rate of their assimilation. The
bird disdains the shoulder of the
undocumented nomad, and the environ-
ment follows suit. This is more than
ordinarily the case in places where
the Christian sects have balkanized
the population, and provincial prior
schooling must be verifiable. Stores
and restaurants mount lurid banners,
embracing the funneled, without al-
lowance for the overspray of indiv-
idual motivation. Probably this is
why the rakish sporting dog was in-
vented, the heart-throbbing, skate-
board-braking boulevardier of arch
tailoring and swaggering wag, whose
name must simply be learned on the
spot. Frank Bruni posted a knowing
entry on this syndrome at The Times
the other day, with typically high
hopes for redeeming democracy via
canine diplomacy. Thorny and I, for
our part, have always settled for
a cultivated tender of courtesy.

Frank Bruni
The New York Times
August 31, 2019

Jenny Uglow
The New York Review
  of Books
August 15, 2019

i   Ben Hardie

ii  Jonathan Swift
    Gulliver's Travels
      Illustration for the 
      edition of 1726


Monday, September 2, 2019

Moving again, lichen

    Lichen in natural mid-day light
    in September is an eloquent but
    ambiguous grace note in a cleft
    between the harder hues of heat
    and bitter cold. It pleases one
    to admire its tenacity and sure
    sense of calm, on a door to the
    outside, benign in its signing.


Farrow & Ball
No. 19©
Dorset, England

Not to politicize the arsenal, you understand

I realize, it could probably be
just me, but I was thinking, it
might be worth a try if we were
vigilant "Second Amendment peo-
ple" to quit popping off at ev-
eryone. He might just give it a
try with Texas. A timely sermon
from the Chosen One could help;
the thoughts and prayers of his