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The Hotsy Totsy Club

2000-03-08. . . Cholly Kokonino reporting

Irony Watch
Chris Ware - art = Dave Eggers ?
'Cause I remember that comic Eggers did for the SF Weekly, and -- hoo boy, he sure ain't Chris Ware!

Among other equations derivable from San-Francisco-to-New-York transformation functions (well, more like Berkeley-to-Brooklyn, but you'd hardly expect a bohemian spokesperson nowadays to admit to being from Berkeley, would you?), we find that old favorite:

Snob + hypocrisy = Times rock critic

. . . 2000-03-09

Everything I need to know about American politics I learned from Henry Adams.

His History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison diagrams the first of our country's Jimmy-Carter-to-Ronald-Reagan drunken staggers with "How Things Don't Work" clarity. His novels, Education, and letters provide a lifetime's course on the place of the intellectual in American government (somewhere behind the croquet mallets in the back of the garage).

And so, in big election years, I turn to Henry Adams for guidance:

"Everything here creaks and groans like a heavy old Dutch man-of-war in bad weather. Congress is floundering over necessary business and inventing all kinds of excuses for steering nowhere. The single great and controlling political fact is our national prosperity which is stupendous, and covers all waste of force....

I have noticed a general law that our entire political system breaks down in the winter before a general election. The moment a course is adopted, the terrors begin and the votes fall off. The politicians are fleas; they jump just because they are made that way....

The Democrats are clutching frantically for an issue. The Republicans are crawling on all fours for votes. [For Year 2000 conditions, reverse the parties.] The Germans rule the Republicans; the Irish rule the Democrats; and money is the ruler of us all. I see no public measure to care about. There is no real difference of opinion. But they have to talk."

-- Henry Adams, letters from February and March 1900

. . . 2000-03-10

Overheard in the Castro / Noe Valley overlap:
"...get home to the kids."

"Oh.... Are they real kids or are they dogs?"

. . . 2000-03-11

Nothing ages like senility: A tale of two libraries

The Little Leather Library is a set of teensy-weensy cheaply-bound booklets stored in a plain cardboard container about half the width of a sneakers box, marketed around 1920. My father had a set (presumably inherited from his father), and they made up a large part of my childhood reading.

The "leather" looks like the seal on rotgut bourbon, the paper is the color of burnt caramel, and the smell is pure nostalgia. Aside from that, the Little Leather Library's enduring appeal for me lies in its editorial hand, which rested heavily on "modern classics" (i.e., the fin-de-siècle). Here are some volume titles:
Salome by Oscar Wilde
  1. "Fifty Best Poems of England" (including representative works by Francis Thompson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Georgina Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne)
  2. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
  3. "The Happy Prince"
  4. "Salome"
  5. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"
  6. "Bab Ballads"
  7. "Barrack Room Ballads"
  8. "Short Stories of De Maupassant"
  9. "Man Without a Country"
  10. "Sherlock Holmes"
  11. "The Gold Bug" (the volume is filled out with a repeat of the first 30 pages of "The Gold Bug")
  12. "The Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream" (and what other two Shakespeares could they possibly have picked?)
  13. and, for good or ill, most influential of the bunch, "Dreams" by Olive Schreiner
A heady mix for a healthy growing son of the US Navy...

+ + +

... and as a strapping middle-aged man, I was delighted to find the continuing education course that is The Golden Gale Electronic Library: a world-wide distributed database of texts viewable only with the the Golden Gale Book Reader program.

The program is -- well, let the coder without sins throw rocks at it; Greek font or no Greek font, I wish I could extract the whole text into an editor and be done with it -- but what a public service in these texts! Starting from the sizable splash of the leaden Benson brothers' upper-class Anglo-Catholic end-of-the-nineteenth-century public-school boy-mania, Golden Gale has captured over a hundred volumes of otherwise vanished ripples. So far, I've galed along to:
  • "Don Tarquinio: A Kataleptic Phantasmatic Romance" by Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), a Renaissance adventure that grounds the Baron's personal obsessions solidly and satisfyingly in historical context and beat-the-clock narrative structure.
  • "Stories Toto Told Me, or, A Sensational Atomist" by Baron Corvo (Fr. Rolfe), the most popular of the Baron's work in his own time, and a typically queasy mix of pedophilic exploitation and Catholic aesthete speculation. The next best thing to tertiary syphilis.
  • "Plato and Platonism" by Walter Pater, first recommended to me by Samuel R. Delany.
  • "The Outcry," Henry James's novelization of a very bad Henry James play that attacks those beastly Americans who come over to good old England and start appropriating....
  • "William Blake: A Critical Essay" by Algernon Charles Swinburne: "But if we regard him as a Celt rather than an Englishman, we shall find it no longer so difficult to understand from whence he derived his amazing capacity for such illimitable emptiness of mock-mystical babble as we find in his bad imitations of so bad a model as the Apocalypse: his English capacity for occasionally superb and serious workmanship we may rationally attribute to his English birth and breeding...."
  • ... with more to come, I'm sure.
Toto by Baron Corvo

. . . 2000-03-13

Affirmations: It was probably easier for people to think nice things about the Life Force before they found out about germs.

. . . 2000-03-15

A Throw Of Loaded Dice Sometimes Will Abolish Chance

Rhonda Roland Shearer and Stephen Jay Gould are understandably full of themselves after their discovery of two previously uncommented-on hacks by Marcel Duchamp:

. . . 2000-03-16

Won't somebody please think about the children?
The scary thing about a new Ice Age is that we'll use up all the fossil fuel right away.

But on the other hand there's nothing like an Ice Age to build up the fossil fuel supply!

+ + +

Our Motto:

"There is a worthy publication in which every contributor knows all and has a word to say about all, a journal in which every member of the staff can instruct us, by turns, in politics, religion, economics, the fine arts, philosophy, and literature. In this vast monument of fatuity, which leans toward the future like the Tower of Pisa, and in which nothing less than the happiness of humankind is being worked out..."
-- Charles Baudelaire on Le Siècle, as quoted by Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project

+ + +

He broke a kid's leg, broke a kid's wrist, and killed a kid? If this gets out, Crazy Clown Dentists will be the laughingstock of the industry! (via Obscure Store) (two Simpsons references in one episode dedicated to JC)

(But seriously -- nah, quiet down now, this is important. Dentists and oral surgeons are, if you think about it, even scarier than they are if you don't think about it. They're regulated less than doctors just because they cut up your mouth? Like my mouth isn't important to me? And to the rest of the world? Anyone working close to my tongue should be more regulated than anyone working close to something dopey like an, I don't know, appendix or spleen or something.... So write your congressperson. Choose your dentist wisely. And god bless.)

. . . 2000-03-17

Elements of Film Style:
"Critics are inclined to belittle them and call them cheap. But they don't seem to sense the idea that life is made up largely of melodrama. The most grotesque situations rise every day in life.... And yet when these true to life situations are transferred to the screen, they are sometimes laughed down because they are 'melodrama.'

"If this is true then all life is a joke and while some humorists hold to this idea, I am not one those who believe it so."

-- Frank Borzage as quoted by Peter Milne in Motion Picture Directing, 1922
Little Man, What Now?

Those of us who have attended fiction workshops may recognize this as the flip side of the common warning against overly dramatic plot points whose only defense is "But that's how it really happened!" Some such warning is needed, as those of us who have read manuscripts in fiction workshops can testify, but when overapplied leads to the numbly unmoving body of cliché called "literature" by its practitioners and "MFA crap" by everyone else.

And then we end up relying on the unguiltily mendacious genre of the memoir to get our melodrama fix.

Not a pretty sight. Not compared to a Borzage movie, anyway.

Our memories and self-images are formed of stories. And so it's inevitable that we're particularly drawn to the most obviously story-like (i.e., melodramatic) incidents that crop up in our "real life," and that we strive to make the incidents that seem important to us more story-like.

But when we put ourselves to the job of story-telling rather than the job of real life, we're operating in a different context. In real life, it's excitingly unusual for story-like forms to appear. In story-telling, it's expected; you don't get extra credit for producing a story that does nothing but sound like a story -- that's the bare minimum that you promised when entering the fray.

Borzage (along with most of the other narrative artists I love) shows by example that melodrama is not a guarantee of success, to be clung to; nor a guarantee of failure, to be shunned. Melodrama is an added responsibility, to be taken on and dealt with, to be rewarded and punished. Melodrama executed with courage, wit, observation, and beauty will always carry more weight than work that avoids "grotesque situations."

And it'll also always run the risk of being laughed down.

. . . 2000-03-18

In Old Manhattan

Ray, reading aloud from the plaque on a fence: "Also buried here are such 19th century notables as: Preserved Fish, the merchant."

Laura: "You should write a biography."

+ + +

Affirmations: The trouble with admitting failure is that they still refuse to end the game.

. . . 2000-03-19

Field notes, Audubon Canyon Ranch, March 12, 2000:

Tree fed by solar power

Inconsistent moving power source:
wavering bending growth.

Unshielded power source:
roots widely separated from branches.

Tree fed by alternating current

Consistent stationary power source:
efficient straight growth.

Shielded power source:
roots combined with branches.

. . . 2000-03-20

Sharp as mud

Life decreases logical entropy while increasing thermal entropy: local hotbeds of organization become more complexly organized by expending energy into the tepidbed.

Intelligence and free will can be defined as those forces which introduce randomness into an otherwise predictable system. The number of possibilities increases, and so does apparent logical entropy.

For example, when intelligence creates a new conceptualization of a phenomenon, the existing phenomenon is not erased and continued misunderstandings of that phenomenon are not prevented. On the contrary, a new opportunity for misunderstanding is opened up: to wit, misunderstanding of the new concept.

To put it in terms of information theory: The amount of available information can only be increased by increasing the amount of possible confusion. Thus the main by-product of the evolution of intelligence is stupidity, and, as intelligence continues its work through the millennia, the gross amount of stupidity increases. Intelligence is life's little atonement for its sin against disorder, a back-door way to increase logical entropy after all.

And The Hotsy Totsy Club is proud to be part of this effort.

+ + +

To continue with the Science News....

You gotta love people who exclaim over "astronomical odds." (I guess you gotta do something with them, and love's as good as anything.)

Flip a coin. Flip it again. Flip it again.

The odds of getting heads, heads, and heads are 1-out-of-8. What a defiance of probability!

But the odds of getting heads, tails, and tails are also 1-out-of-8. The odds of getting tails, heads, and tails are 1-out-of-8. And so on. 'Cause any given result is 1-out-of-8.

When you flip heads three times in a row, it doesn't mean that you defied astronomical odds. It just means that that's the 1-out-of-8 chance that happened out of 8 possible happenings. The probability that some one of the possible patterns would happen is 100%.

The point of statistics is not that it's miraculous that one of those possible patterns did happen. The point is that you'd be stupid to bet on a particular one of those possible patterns happening before it happened. It doesn't matter how low the probability is that life would come into existence on earth in just such a way that at least one grumpy guy named Ray was able to make an 8 AM train to Redwood City ("CLIMATE BEST BY GOVERNMENT TEST") today. The event has already happened, and therefore it was possible, and therefore it just happened to be the possible event that happened out of all possible events that could have happened. That doesn't mean that I 'd lay money on it spontaneously springing from the clog in my bathtub while I was gone.

... an' anotha thing ...... then again ...

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2000 Ray Davis.