. . . Big business monkeys

. . .

Debt before dishonor: We call him La Traviata because he's dying of consumption.

. . .

The attribution of inventions to gods, legendary heros, or emperors has a contemporary equivalent when CEOs publicly announce new products.

+ + +

Forbies: animatronic financial advisors.

. . .

Sometimes I feel a little blue about having so thoroughly avoided the possibility of serious money during these many years of involvement with the Web. But then I remember what Gertrude Stein wrote about dropping out of Johns Hopkins Medical School --

Her very close friend Marion Walker pleaded with her, she said, but Gertrude Gertrude remember the cause of women, and Gertrude Stein said, you don't know what it is to be bored.
-- and I realize that I didn't even have to betray the cause of women. All right!

Underreported fact: Gertrude Stein's gravestone misspells her birthplace.

. . .

My Malaysia; Dr. Mohamad's Air.

. . .

To Err Is Human; To Give Up, Divine: Good riddance. I was a lot sorrier to see the Mosaic name go.

Ah, memories, in the coroner of my mind.... Throwing Internet development into the Dark Ages by deciding to dictate new "standards" by whim was antisocial enough. But then came the Doughboy's astonishing claim that his (or NCSA's, who's counting?) browser was going to become an honest-to-gosh operating system and wipe Microsoft out. Oh right, I spouted off at the time, a cross-platform operating system that's going to fit without any problems in application space on top of another operating system (which in turn was on top of a third operating system, in the case of MS Windows).... It's exactly the kind of plan you'd expect from an arrogant college goop dropped straight from campus to boardroom.

And it worked exactly as well as you'd expect, too. As a business move, it brought Microsoft down hard on the browser market. As an engineering move, it turned the Netscape application into a breakdown-prone resource-tapeworm. And as for Andreessen's grander ambitions -- surprise! -- Microsoft's engineers had an easier time integrating with an existing operating system than Netscape's engineers had creating and layering a new one.

It did, however, shift enormous piles of money to those responsible for the debacle, thus helping to reorient software engineers' definition of "success" to match their CEOs': the timely manipulation of market gullibility.

Too bad Gates & Co. decided to keep IE5 single-platform; thank goodness they were dumb enough to get into legal trouble by using high-pressure monopolistic tactics to push an application which would be quite capable of walking on its own. And my very best wishes go to Opera and iCab.

. . .

It's official: dot-com-izing is the colorization of the 1990s! And see how nicely it can learn to play with the new copyright laws! As excerpted from some guy named Bloomberg:

American Film Technologies Inc. officials have ousted the chief executive of the company that pioneered "colorizing" of black-and-white movies and replaced him with a turnaround specialist, according to filings with securities regulators.
. . .
But a dropoff in demand for colorized films left the company struggling to survive, court papers said. American Film hasn't generated any revenues since 1995 and its lab and film library are sitting unused.
. . .
Rudy said he's arranged for a $250,000 cash infusion for American Film, which will now focus on offering colorized films via the Internet. The company is planning to offer color versions of such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird and A Farewell to Arms, he added.

By colorizing such older movies -- whose copyrights have expired -- American Film gets exclusive rights to the films for the next 95 years, Rudy said.

"We're excited about the possibilities of distributing our product over the Internet and rebuilding the value in this company," he said.

. . .

Big business monkeys: An office job is a lot like agreeing to be put in cold storage for a year.

Except without the refrigeration.

. . .

Big business monkeys: A story ripped from sixty-five-years-later's headlines, High Pressure remains the best fictional treatment of Internet startups, taking us from moronic vision statement through publicity-inflated stock prices to a happily sold-out ending in only 72 minutes of overtime.

Although mostly sticking to sober reportage, the movie does offer one innovative management idea: unlike most Silicon Valley companies, High Pressure's is careful to restrict its blowhard chief executive to strictly figurehead status, attracting favorable attention from venture capitalists and the press while not interfering with the progress of real work. Why aren't they teaching this at Stanford?

. . .

The lights are strung up, Cholly's strung out, and the Club's finally got the true holiday merchandising spirit prancin' and dancin' and donnin' and blitzin' in The Hotsy Totsy Discount Warehouse Outlet:

To the Moon
  • To our left and right, we see samples of Christina La Sala's and Steven Elliott's Cootie Catchers, published by Chronicle Books. Perfect ice-breakers for the tasteful yet shy, these cunning hand-and-eye-developers are sure to replace Dan Savage and the Magic 8-Ball as your mystic advisor of choice.

  • Arthur Lee once asked, "Pictures and words: is this communicating?" Well, if he'd been talking about the pamphlets of Juliet Clark, we'd have to reply that they're even better than communicating! And at only $5 each, including postage, they're cheaper, too! Give three copies and their grateful recipient can shelve 'em under "Comix," "Memoirs," and "Small Press Collectibles" for easy access. The perfect stocking stuffer for those with large flat stockings.

  • Ray Davis's and Christina La Sala's much bruited about film The Ichthyoid Syndrome ("THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT OF OUR TIME!") is finally available for home entertainment centers. I'll ship a copy on a videotape or Zip disk at cost -- that's only 14 dollars! (Actually, it sounds like a lot to me, too, but that really is the cost, if you include the envelope and all.) Sure to be a collector's item, since normal people don't buy five-minute-long movies!
Desert Isle

. . .

As regards meme-propagating, the Hotsy Totsy Club has been a slugabed. We've never dogpiled on a Turkish guy, we've had so many days without weblogs that A Day Without Weblogs would've just been silly, and I'm so content-centric that I'm not even sure that owning a dot-com domain name is a vital matter of artistic integrity.

But this -- this is the most straightforward evil-vs.-good Internet story yet:

Meme rating: 9.7 cams -- should be propagated till DiCaprio himself asks to take the stand. Take one down and pass it around.

. . .

But if you want to raise a young executive, it's probably best to accustom him to indulgence from the start. How can anyone who's scrubbed a toilet manage a decent vision statement? "Visions" (that aren't visions) and "toys" (that aren't toys) are what the "boys" (that aren't boys) need to save themselves for; as for dealing with that-which-is, The Girl will do that for us.

A while ago, I sat in a white-collar-crimes grand jury and heard a year-and-a-half of buffoonish CEOs deny their own competence (more plausibly than they might think) with a formula so consistent that it must be part of the MBA program: no decision had ever been made by them, no memory had ever been set; they were no more than perpetually adorable infants fed and changed by "The Girl." "Sorry, but I let The Girl take care of that kind of thing." "I have no idea, but The Girl would be able to tell you what went on." "Oh, that's over my head; you'd have to ask The Girl."

Grand jurors are allowed to question witnesses, and so the obvious question was occasionally put: "If 'The Girl' does all the work, how come you make all the money?" Though we might briefly eclipse their winsome twinkles, our curiosity was never satisfied, and finally, like everyone else, we got tired of asking.

. . .

Rastafarian stocks skyrocketed this morning after announced its switch to lowercase "i"s.

. . .

Weekly Engineering Group Status Meeting Notes:

. . .

Our motto

"Out, out damned dot-com!" - Julianne Leigh

. . .

After twenty years, I conclude:

As long as we work in the software, academic, or entertainment industries, our lives will be controlled by maniacs or idiots.
I don't know what filters and transforms are in place to ensure this, but, whatever they are, they do their job a lot more effectively than we ever will.

. . .

Continuing his series of commentaries on Election Year '00, here's Henry Adams with some thoughts about the Microsoft antitrust trial:

"The merits or demerits of the particular interest, -- what Roosevelt calls the good and bad trusts, -- concern particular districts or individuals; but this personal question surrenders the principle; nor can I see, as our society has now fixed itself, any loop-hole of escape. The suggestion that these great corporate organisms, which now perform all the vital functions of our social life, should behave themselves decently, gives away our contention that they have no right to exist. Nor am I prepared to admit that more decency can be attained through a legislature made up of similar people exercising similar illegal powers.

"As long as these people subject me, as person and property, to the arbitrary brutalities of the Custom House Jews in order to make money for private individuals in business, I shall be perfectly willing -- nay! I shall be singularly pleased,-- to see you Spokaners skinned by Jim Hill. None of you dare touch the essential facts. The whole fabric of our society will go to wreck if we really lay hands of reform on our rotten institutions. From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud,-- all of us know it, laborers and capitalists alike,-- and all of us are consenting parties to it.

"All we can hope to do is to teach men manners in wielding power, and I'll bet you ten to one, on the Day of Judgment, that we shall fail."

-- Henry Adams to his brother, September 1900

(Like most turn-of-the-last-century well-to-do non-Jewish Anglo-American intellectuals, Adams uses "Jew" as the catch-all term for anything that he doesn't like about big business, small business, middle European immigrants, bad taste, or urban life. I've never seen him use it to refer to religious practice.)

. . .

Uneconomical guy that I am, I never all through these decades understood why it is that we have government spokestypes saying stuff about needing to "maintain a high level of unemployment" amongst us governed, unless out of pure meanness. To my clarification leaps the 13th issue of The Baffler with a Little Business Monkey's Guide to Big Business Monkeys called "Atlas Finally Shrugged" by Christian Parenti.

In the late 1960s, large chunks of America had been doing nicely for a long time. Too long. Unemployment was low and social services were high. Those conditions make the prospect of losing your job less scary: if you get fired, you can always find another job; until you find one, there's welfare. (Speaking as a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay area, I can testify that it is yes indeedy pretty nice not to be scared all the time.) Lowered fear increases employee power at the expense of owners, since employees can more easily afford to risk a confrontation.

And so, starting in 1968, employees (especially those in unpleasant or dangerous jobs) started pumping strikes like so many wah-wah pedals, with or without the support of their unions. In 1970, 66 million work days were spent on strikes; between 1967 and 1973, 40% of the work force had been involved in strikes, and had won most of them. Wages went up. Health and safety laws were put into effect and, worse yet, enforced.

What a predicament! 'Cause the costs of wages and safety have to be taken from somewhere. Bosses tried raising prices to keep their own profits going, but with so much power on the worker's side, they couldn't keep inflation of the prices they took in much ahead of the wage inflation they had to shell out. The average company's after-tax profit was cut in half between 1965 and 1974.

From the business owners' point of view, the only solution, painful though it might be, was to induce a recession, a process started off by Paul Volcker ("The standard of living of the average American has to decline") in 1979, and pushed forward with enthusiasm by the Reagan administration. Interest rates were boosted to reduce access to the financial cushion of property investment; taxes were cut; business was deregulated; the safety net of welfare was eliminated; domestic unemployment was bullied upwards -- all to make workers more frightened of the prospect of job loss and to increase owner profits.

What a success story! By 1982, 44% of new contracts included wage freezes or cuts. And nowadays the proposed solution to all employee discontent is to buy stocks, joining in the triumph of the owner -- no one even bothers to dream of the possibility of being successful as a mere worker!

So that's why I was always mystified by those pro-unemployment squibs in the business news. Since it's aimed square at the owners, business news has to talk about these tactics. But since the owners already know what the tactics are for, business news doesn't have to spell the motivation out.

Also, if the motivation was spelled out all the time, it might start to sound kind of unpleasant.

. . .

There aren't many things I've been overly optimistic about, but one of 'em was that we'd have a lot more websites like Ian McKellen's by now. Intelligent celebrities have even more reason to be wary of journalists than big business monkeys are, and taking charge of your own quotes is pretty much the same idea as a company's publishing its press releases on the web, except more entertaining:

[Christopher Lee] loves stories about actors and I amused him last week with one he didn't know, which I was told by Brian Bedford: "Noël Coward reads a poster: Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them! 'I don't see why not -- everyone else has.'"

. . .

In related news, Doug Asherman points us to a "well-funded startup" who stapled this flyer to a telephone pole on Sixth Street in Berkeley:

Software Developers with Expertise
in XML/Java/C++

Referral Fee
Sign Sign-On Bonus

I wonder how much they'd offer me for a proofreader....

. . .

1995 flashback:

Dave Gobel, the company's president and CEO, envisions the Web changing into a social environment. "Today, the Web is a lonely place," he said....
I just don't get why all these old rich guys are so worried about me being lonely. Are they, like, coming on to me or something?

. . .

Even aside from the New York Times reporter's hopeless muddle over the word "virus," I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, The Sims is proving to big business monkeys that the CD-plus-downloadable-behavior-changes software model I've been pushing (with no luck) for six years actually does work. On the other hand, I'm not programming The Sims.

"Like almost everything in the game, the guinea pig's function as a disease vector was carefully simulated, Mr. Wright said. For example, the guinea pig only spreads the disease if a Sims player neglects to clean its cage, and only if a player reaches into the cage to pet the software animal and is bitten will he get sick. Someone who has gotten sick sneezes and coughs and will infect other human characters in the game who come within several 'tiles' distance."

. . .

Gosh Darn the Pusher

One of the few things I don't like about MP3-mania is the way that the big software concerns have positioned it as a way to pirate CDs. I mean, what I love about MP3 is that it's a convenient cheap durable way to preserve and play audio that's otherwise available only on inconvenient or not-so-durable media: cassette-only recordings, old 45s and 78s, very out-of-print LPs.... But Real and Microsoft and concentrate solely on making it easy for moving CD tracks to the computer, and since CDs are already pretty convenient and durable and are less likely to be out of print, it's hard not to see that as encitement to piracy.

In fact, one of the first free pieces of software that did convert non-CD-audio to MP3 files, BladeEnc, was hassled right out of binary distribution by big business monkeys. Conspiracy theory, anyone?

For alternatives, go to The Sonic Spot and Transferring LPs to CDR. My current toolkit: Wave Repair for recording and LAME for compressing.

. . .

Sticky Fingers

This graphic (via Beth Rust) does for connectivity what Microsoft Outlook has done for love letters, prompting the question: Might David Cronenberg have a future in Bell Canada commercials?

. . .

The Media Question of the Month (and potential Word of the Day) was raised by Joseph Gallivan in the New York Post:

On hearing last week that Freenet was on hit list of Hilary Rosen and the RIAA to be shut down, Clarke laughed. ".... any legal action against me would be just as ridiculous as taking legal action against the manufacturer of women's [pantyhose] that were used in a bank robbery. Both Freenet and women's [pantyhose] provide anonymity to those who use them."
So what word or phrase do you reckon is hiding behind the "[pantyhose]" brackets? I hope it's a dirty word for pantyhose, 'cause I've been wanting one bad!

. . .

The Death Wish in American Publicity Material: Part 2 in an Occasional Series

Perennial Journal

Those who haven't triggered the proper marketing traps won't be familiar with Levenger -- a stationery store aimed at nouveaux riches -- and its catalog of "Tools for Serious Readers."

Even for yuppie junk mail, Levenger's copy is overripe, redolent of leather everything (including leather manila envelopes -- "rather like changing Eliza Doolittle from East End flower girl to Ascot lady... will burnish beautifully the more it's handled"), splattered with $90 ball point pens, and bedecked with sepia-toned celebrity portraits. Be as happy as Henry James! as suave as Robert Louis Stevenson! as elegant as Sir Isaac Newton!

And for the most part the photographed samples of what's achievable with a little intellectual leverage from Levenger are what you'd expect given such heady role models. On "the BMW of folios" someone's noted that "Each new product will be involved in a series of meetings from concept to final update"; "Monumental Letters with Pedestals" construct the message "ASPIRE"; the "lighthearted Innovation gel pen" has written "Discuss strategy with Internet group," "Confirm flight reservation" is written on "a delicious temptation of color and texture" (i.e., notepad), and "5 year plan - Goal?" is written with "Rotring's impeccable style"....

But in The Perennial Journal ("a luscious cream stock... with gilded edges for lasting beauty"), the target consumer's mask slipped:

"One less bell to answer. One less egg to fry. Isn't that how the song goes? Not that I fried eggs anyway. Too much fat and cholesteral. But I digress... I'm just trying to keep my mind busy with other thoughts, I suppose. I'm not meant to live alone, to have everything to myself. Some would say I am lucky now, but all I can do is cry." I am lucky

. . .

Token Non-Trivial Item of the Day

Juliet Clark forwards her sighting of a very rare bird, actual reporting from a San Francisco newspaper!

"Tens of millions of Americans can no longer get medical treatment, a job, a home, a credit card or a host of goods and services without agreeing to resolve future disputes in confidential, unregulated proceedings riddled with conflicts of interest. They cannot claim injury, fraud or discrimination without paying filing fees that may reach thousands of dollars. They cannot rely on legal guarantees of due process and fair treatment. They cannot appeal, except in rare circumstances...."

. . .

Is there any other position where incongruous boasts of one's athletic prowess and fatuous preening over not being asked tough questions would be called "new maturity" or "growing into the job"?

Why, yes; thinking back over the CEOs and corporate board members I've met, there are plenty of such positions....

. . .

Childe Roland to the Drop Zone Stunt Tower Came (or, I could be well contented) (via metameat)

Simon & Schuster Chief Operating Officer Jack Romanos will take over as president and chief executive of the publishing unit. He will report to Jonathan Dolgen, chairman of the entertainment group, which includes the Paramount film studios and theme parks.

Simon & Schuster, the smallest Viacom unit, accounting for around 3 percent of the company's total revenues, will benefit from being under the larger entertainment umbrella, since both businesses are celebrity-driven and could result in more projects and tie-ins, Viacom spokesman Carl Folta said.

"There's a natural transaction that comes between book publishing and motion pictures," he said. "We think we can get more out of that."

Dolgen told The Post: "The idea was to try to put together the companies that have a share of common DNA. They both operate at an interesting place where art meets commerce."

Another company insider said the reporting decision was based "first of all on content: Simon & Schuster is all about content, and content is the business Jonathan's running."

. . .

Trading a living

The best way I can think of to memorialize last September 11 is to go to work late. That's how all the survivors I know of survived.

(When I worked at WTC myself, I probably tended towards promptness, or worse. It must be some delusion that I'm getting the job over with quicker that way.... But my most vivid memories of the place are simply of waiting for an elevator, joining in the competitive speculation over which would show first and be emptiest.

My most vivid memories that are my own, I mean.)

. . .

He governs best who governs leased

Kevin Phillips throws all the busy bulk of Wealth and Democracy behind two central points:

  1. There ain't no such thing as a free market. From colonial days to tomorrow, the great fortunes of America have been created and maintained with government aid, and policy has been steered by the rich whenever they weren't forcibly kept away from the wheel. The wealthiest citizens-to-be when Adam Smith wrote were Revolutionary War profiteers, and we're still paying big for the oil subsidies that fueled the Bushes and their friends.

  2. Booms, balloons, busts, and recoveries follow a similar pattern through the centuries and across leading economic powers. Wealth pours into the financial sectors; the middle class, although they hardly notice in the hullabaloo, work more, gain less, and take on debt; industry and agriculture weaken; the tariff setters of yesteryear suddenly insist that uninhibited global trade is an essential human right.... Post-bust, the middle class regains control of politics, and part of whatever's left of the upper-five-per-cent's plunder is redistributed. (Did you realize that the Eisenhower administration kept the New Deal upper-tax-brackets in place funding the nation through all those Republican-idealized good old days? I didn't, not in so many words.)
As might be expected from an old Nixonian, Phillips's prose stumbles the gamut between flatfooted and clownshoed. And while one copyeditor labored over his sentences, another might have been profitably employed in rationalizing the book's unnecessarily complex and repetitious structure: it's almost impossible to guess where a particularly pressing bit of information might have landed.

But that's really only a problem because particularly pressing bits of information land on virtually every page. Wealth and Democracy became an indispensable reference somewhere during its first chapter, and I've found occasion to refer to it in every other extended conversation of the last few weeks, online and fleshy, from the Bay Area to rural Missouri. Even if written by a mere best-selling TV-guesting pundit, it's that rarest of secondary (or, in this case, tertiary and popularizing) sources: the one I'll buy for my own library.

Which is how I discovered an Amazon game new to me, though not to hundreds of satisfied players. A mob of dittoboys dogpiles on an insufficiently right-wing book, posts extremely negative reviews, and then boosts their own reviews' rankings. The results stand out (and are made easier to remove) by the outrageously high number of "found this helpful" votes (over a hundred instead of the usual ten or less) and by the absurd blatancy of the reviewers' lack of first-hand knowledge. I'm sorry I didn't save a few samples before Amazon cleaned the joint up; the ones calling Nixon-loyalist Phillips a Communist were particularly refrigerator-door-worthy. No, Phillips's concern is the middle class, pure and simple and unspoiled.

That's what makes the book useful and even, with reservations, hopeful, this being America and all.

. . .

Happy Hour for Depressives

For a limited time only, you can punch back those Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are with the big hit of the Comics Journal message board, "It's a Great Life (If You Don't Weaken)," recorded by Sam Lanin & his Orchestra on November 26, 1929. That same day, long-time Hearst columnist Arthur Brisbane assured his readers that "All the really important millionaires are planning to continue prosperity." Six days earlier, he'd predicted "It ought to be a good year"; by January 1931, he was looking at the bright side: "Sometimes when things go wrong, it is a comfort to be reminded that nothing matters very much. If the earth fell toward the sun, it would melt like a flake of snow falling on a red-hot stove."

If you don't lose heart,
The hardest part
Is the first hundred years....

. . .

Product Placement

...compliments of Milwaukee Road 'white coal'
Harper's wartime ad

. . .


OKI is "easily of the importance of moveable type, the alphabet, and printing," says Ed Walker, CEO of the IMS Global Learning Consortium....
MIT Enterprise Technology Review

. . .

Resolving the conflicting investment trends

"Money talks; bullshit walks."

"He talks the talk but can he walk the walk?"

Maybe a peripatetic portfolio is safest.


a junkey I knew came up with that joke once
"I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?"

This post really needs a link to Nick Piombino's Contradicta.

. . .

Early Harvest

From The Dial review of Douglas Sladen's Twenty Years of my Life (1914), via a tip from Philip Waller's Writers, Readers, and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain, 1870-1918:

Curiously interesting and rather characteristic of puzzling human nature is the fact that Mr. Sladen, with so many other books of far greater literary worth to his credit, seems to take especial pride in his editorship of the first “Who’s Who” in its present form there had been an annual of that name in existence for half a century before he recognized, in 1897, the splendid possibilities in its peculiar title. So great is his satisfaction in this product of his editorial industry that he calls himself, on the title-page to his present book, “author of ‘Who’s Who,’” and nothing more. In fact, he devotes a special chapter to the history of “How I Wrote ‘Who’s Who.’” Among the interesting things he tells us about the planning of the work we quote the following:

“The idea of adding ‘recreations’ to the more serious items which had been included in previous biographical dictionaries was adopted at one of the councils of war which we used to hold in the partners’ room of A. & C. Black, at 4 Soho Square. And for selling purposes it proved far and away the best idea in the whole book, when it was published. The newspapers were never tired of quoting the recreations of eminent people, thus giving the book a succession of advertisements of its readability, and shopkeepers who catered for their various sports bought the book to get addresses of the eminent people, who were, many of them, very indignant at the Niagara of circulars which resulted.”

. . .

Mr. Security recruits a recent graduate

FRANK : Thou takest the safest course.

SECURITY : Faith, the quieter, and the more contented, and, out of doubt, the more godly. For merchants in their courses are never pleased, but ever repining against heaven: one prays for a westerly wind to carry his ship forth; another for an easterly to bring his ship home; and at every shaking of a leaf, he falls into an agony, to think what danger his ship is in on such a coast, and so forth. The farmer, he is ever at odds with the weather: sometimes the clouds have been too barren; sometimes the heavens forget themselves their harvests answer not their hopes; sometimes the season falls out too fruitful corn will bear no price, and so forth. Th’ artificer, he’s all for a stirring world: if his trade be too full or fall short of his expectation, then falls he out of joint. Where we that trade nothing but money are free from all this, we are pleased with all weathers: let it rain or hold up, be calm or windy, let the season be whatsoever, let trade go how it will, we take all in good part, e’en what please the heavens to send us so the sun stand not still, and the moon keep her usual returns, and make up days, months, and years.

FRANK : And yet, forsooth, we must have trades to live withal, for we cannot stand without legs, nor fly without wings, and a number of such scurvy phrases. No, I say still, he that has wit, let him live by his wit; he that has none, let him be a tradesman.

SECURITY : Witty Master Francis! ’Tis pity any trade should dull that quick brain of yours.

- Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, & John Marston, 1605


More news that stayed news.

. . .

ATTN: Mark Yudof, Jean Quan, & most especially Brian Moynihan

Farmers envelope: Your occupation could save you hundreds on insurance.

. . .

The Three Cultures

Back in the mid-1980s when I first saw copies of The Mythical Man-Month, I assumed it was about Elizabeth Bishop.


The third culture is the third rail.

Guy Davenport, from "The Peales and their Museum":

(The word mammoth Peale got from the zoologist Georges Cuvier, who got it from the Russians; it is the Yakut word mamont, meaning "creature-from-the-earth," the nt looking in Russian, MAMOHT, like a typo for th, which somebody corrected.)

. . .

Innavaidavavision Honey statement

. . .

The golden age of postmodernism is fifty-six

The most ephemeral of unremunerative essays outlasts the most highly-priced products of my or anyone else's dayjob. Stream-dipping consistently outdraws source-immersion. Whatever melts into air fastest wins.


no dry ice in the house

My first lover and I tried to work our way through The Joy of Sex (a gift) and I can testify that even wet ice has its delights. (Unbeknownst to us, we were also working our way through Goodbye, Columbus, first editioned the year we were fucking born, which just goes to show why people hate nonephemeral writing.)

yes work is sublimation (but is it of the freudian or endothermic variety?)

David Auerbach efficiently condenses Georg Simmel: "money will always be there as a reminder that it will all be torn down soon enough."

. . .

It's morning again in medieval France

To appreciate the significance of these changes we must evaluate the place occupied by the nobles in French society in the middle of the fourteenth century. They comprised 1.5 to 2 per cent of the population, perhaps some 40,000 to 50,000 families, or between 200,000 and 250,00 individuals. There was a strict internal hierarchy.... This in turn affected their political role and decisions.

As a social group, the nobility was more accessible than is generally believed. If an individual was no longer in a position to ‘live nobly’, he left the group; while newcomers continued to be admitted, in so far as the nobility remained the only social model for those who aspired to upward mobility.

Whatever its composition, in 1360 the nobility remained the framework within which the nation’s military, political and social affairs were still conducted. It was this framework, shaken by military defeats, political crisis and, indeed, the brutal rise of the state, that had to be strengthened in the reigns of Charles V and Charles VI. Crucial measures were taken in 1360 when John II returned from captivity, and the money for his ransom had to be found. Taken together, they formed a package with three main elements. First, there was the introduction of the franc, a strong gold coinage, which blighted the money markets but guaranteed high revenues and stable yields to those (notably lay and ecclesiastical lords), who received payments established in money of account....

Secondly, direct taxation was established, with a fiscal system that remained essentially unaltered until 1380, and then survived with various alterations and controversies. Here, the most important aspect was the nobility’s exemption from taxation. Despite both the precedent of the feudal aids, levied in four different contexts (one of which was the ransom of a lord) and the specific instructions for the collection of taxes in 1360 (‘all of the king’s subjects are bound to pay by the general custom of the kingdom’), the nobility paid nothing. Exemption was formally granted in 1363. And thirdly, there was a restriction in the number of officials in the royal administration, which symbolically halted the progress of the state.

- "France Under Charles V and Charles VI" by Françoise Autrand,
The New Cambridge Medieval History ed. Michael Jones


Meanwhile, in the French Revolution:

Sophie de Grouchy’s Letters, the preface to her translation of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, articulated the idea of commercial or modern citizenship with real clarity. Reversing Rousseau’s drama of alienation, she argued that as societies become more complex they amplify the capacity of individuals for empathetic understanding of one another. Their education through society in their dependence on one another allows citizens to glimpse universal rules of justice and equity. Only the rich and powerful, cocooned away from the common life of interdependence, would be insensitive to the education of a commercial society in compassion. The political consequences of inequality created the role for the state: “one of the primary goals of the laws ought to be to create and maintain an equality of wealth among the citizenry.” Her argument was not for material but moral equality. Gross material need would “render them incapable of the degree of reflection necessary for the perfection of all natural sentiments, and particularly that of humanity.”
- James Livesy, "Ch. 20: The Political Culture of the Directory" in
A Companion to the French Revolution, ed. Peter McPhee (2013)
quoting Theéorie des sentiments moraux, ou, Essai analytique, sur les principes des jugemens que portent naturellement les hommes, d’abord sur les actions des autres, et ensuite sur leurs propres actions: Suivi d’une Dissertation sur l’origine des langues; par Adam Smith; traduit de l’anglais, sur le septième et dernière édition, par S. de Grouchy Veuve Condorcet. Elle y a joint huit Lettres sur la sympathie (An VI/1798)

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are : I walk a little lame

"September Song"

- by Kurt Weill & Maxwell Anderson
for Walter Huston, Knickerbocker Holiday, 1938

But it's a long, long while from May to December
And the days grow short when you reach September
And I have lost one tooth and I walk a little lame
And I haven't got time for the waiting game

And the days turn to gold as they grow few
September, November
And these few golden days I'd spend with you
These golden days I'd spend with you

When you meet with the young men early in Spring
They court you in song and rhyme
They woo you with words and a clover ring
But if you examine the goods they bring
They have little to offer but the songs they sing
And a plentiful waste of time of day
A plentiful waste of time

But it's a long, long while from May to December
Will the clover ring last till you reach September?
And I'm not quite equipped for the waiting game
But I have a little money and I have a little fame

And the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I'd spend with you
These precious days I'd spend with you

QUESTION: In terms of the director-actor relationship, how did it feel directing your father in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre? How did it feel to be directed by, say, Roman Polanski in Chinatown?

HUSTON: Well, on the set, the director is the father image. So I was my own father's father. And as I appeared in the The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, I was my father also, so that made me my grandfather. It's like the play on Shakespeare in Joyce's Ulysses.

- "Dialogue on Film with John Huston",
The American Film Institute, 1984

Walter Huston's original 78 of "September Song" sold respectably in 1938 and even better in 1950. But "September Song" could only go on to become a standard for self-pitying horny old crooners by standardly shedding the toothless-and-lame money-and-fame couplets. Which, aside from its loss of Brechtian piquancy, sadly undercuts the subliminal-marketing promise behind word-choices like golden, precious, and spend.

A memory of Walter's short-term-investment pitch might have helped suggest John's casting in Chinatown:

Evelyn! How many years have I got?

. . .

Twenty Years of Hot One-on-One Action cum grano salis

The first photograph showed a naked ameba, fat and replete with food vacuoles, splashing lazily and formlessly at the bottom of a metal tank in the completely relaxed state that precedes reproducing.

The second was like the first, except that a trickle of salt water had begun down one side of the tank and a few pseudopods had lifted toward it inquiringly. To leave nothing to the imagination, a sketch of the sodium chloride molecule had been superimposed on the upper right corner of the photograph.

In the third picture, the Gtetan was ecstatically awash in the saline solution, its body distended to maximum, dozens of pseudopods thrust out, throbbing. Most of the chromatin had become concentrated in chromosomes about the equator of the nucleus. To an ameba, this was easily the most exciting photograph in the collection.

- from "Party of the Two Parts" by William Tenn (AKA Philip Klass)

* * *

Gosh, I like the Internet: Mr. Waggish surveys the past twenty years from a different vantage point (and incidentally alerts us to two new translations of the Musil work I reread most often). Jessie Ferguson shares lovingly bitter gleanings from a twenty-year gaze into Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina. Two Dutch translators present a convincingly anti-scholarly argument for a revised Finnegans Wake (which was published eight years later, very affordably, by Oxford). My favorite institutionally-funded "blogs" (nasty jargon for "weblogs," which one would have thought nasty-jargon enough as is) compare swallows and strangles among Ibsen translators. At the Public Domain Review, Jé Wilson relates the long history of French male delight in female decapitation and skull-hammering. Justin E. H. Smith considers the beaver. The Neurocritic triggers a bloom of cognitive sparks. Matt Cheney knocks around one of those west/burst years. Michael Peverett hits the road and British rails with Paul Simon and Terrance Hayes. ("America" is one of the three Paul Simon songs I like, but it always embarrasses me too. Puerility well-conveyed remains puerile. [PULL IN YOUR HEAD - WE'RE COMING TO A MISE EN ABYME])

* * *

Big business monkeys: Hoping to get lucrative stock options from a computer science degree is like hoping to get rich parents from an M.B.A.

* * *

A Valediction of his carbon footprint

Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
Whoe’er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death.

* * *

Our Motto: If you build it, they will route the highway around it.

* * *

In production: Leopold & Loeb: The Birth of Modernist Epic from the Classicism of Amateurs

* * *

She's only a bird in a feathered cage.

* * *

Theme from The Vanishing

He was a grave digger
One way passage, oh
It took me so long
To find out
But I found out

(The best story in the anthology which published my first story was a "don't believe in Beatles" affair. I guess that's not very interesting but at least the story was.)

* * *



Your link to "I buried Paul" on on your "Bobbettes" page of 2003/04/28 must be changed to the official site for Paul and Jane Bowles as the site is NOT accurate and does not have the endorsement of the official site, which also serves as the official Jane Bowles site. The site is but one of numerous domains bought up by an English couple who never even wanted to meet Bowles during the 20 years they have visited Morocco. No one who knew the Bowleses personally, nor any other authoritative site, links to

Thank you for changing this to, which was established by the literary and musical heirs of the estate of Paul Bowles.

Best wishes,
administrator and webmaster for

We regret any inconvenience.

* * *

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ur-rah-tah: Reggie Hall says Perry Mason sold shoelaces. But that's not so. He sold Sweetheart Soap.

* * *

I've at least ensured that my wasted life was no great loss. If 'tweren't done, 'tweren't best done cheaply.

* * *

Critics rave

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"Pleasure is no fun."

. . .

Lord Kelvin's Monkey
or, The Heat Death of the University

Vacationers returned from the Lands of Science can be expected to display the following reflections:

Henry Adams displayed the usual range, and, like other humanist intellectuals then and since, came to suffer from science envy. His discipline must innovate to regain relevance, and relevant innovation means Science or at least the sciences considered most newsworthy.

During Adams's decades as a professional historian, those sciences were geology and Darwinist evolution. Afterwards, at century's end and in his mid-fifties, he struggled to comprehend the hot topics of contemporary physics: thermodynamics and electromagnetism, and later, radioactivity.

His new studies were in some ways more intriguing and more satisfying than his old: the applications easier to see, the theories more convincingly law-like, the outlooks grimmer. Adams was particularly taken by Lord Kelvin's terse style and ultimate admission of FAILURE, announcing in one letter, "I am a dilution of a mixture of Lord Kelvin and St Thomas Aquinas" a fair one-line summary of Adams's two best-known books.

But the physicists' mathematics were opaque; even their imagery could be daunting: "How then does the molecule bounce?" "Maxwell gives no definition of a dead molecule, yet a dead molecule must be something very different from a living molecule."

And Adams lacked a tutor or informant. In geology, he'd relied on his friend Clarence King, and even provided King with field reports from Polynesia. Brother Brooks served as prod and soundboard in the science of economics. (Economics has numbers, and numbers make a Science, and a Science must have Laws. As the big business monkeys at Cal used to state, if it's not quantifiable it doesn't exist. Quantify Excellence. Excel Excellence.™) In physics, however, Adams relied on the kindness of strangers, and the strangers often took their time about replying.

Hungry for explanations, corrections, angry denunciations, enthusiastic assent, or simple companionship, Adams slowly began to expose his worries and speculations more widely. By age 72, he felt ready to send a privately printed volume to a select audience of professional historians. To compensate for his deficiencies as a physics scholar, he equipped the Letter with a formidable barricade of quotes from eminent authorities and tried not to stray far from its protection.

And by this cautious route he stumbled into the final trap awaiting would-be straddlers of the Two-or-More1 Cultures: bad timing.

1. Nowadays Three at least, being topped by a business school more antagonistic to the Second Law of Thermodynamics than historians ever were.

. . .

If You Can Read This Clickbait You're Too Damn Close

"When X graduated college, he had a burning desire to be an entrepreneur. Now, he is one."
- Microsoft Office-promoting link on Windows login screen

Sometimes I fantasize it as "a burning desire to save lives," or "a burning desire to bring beauty into the world," but I always feel worse afterwards.

"Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority"
- New York Times headline, 2022-10-18

The message is neither welcome nor surprising, but I do appreciate its elegant concision. In that respect, at least, the news is unlikely to get better for a while.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.