Monday, June 18, 2018

This Just In From Wanda & Biff At Action McNews — Babble, Babble, Babble

Today's 'toon was a surprise from Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins). Instead of last week's promise of an evergreen (rerun) 'toon, Tom/Dan explained:

Hey all,

I spent almost an entire week up in New Haven, to see my son for his birthday and attend some end-of-school activities, to meet with lawyers and divorce mediators, and to finish up packing a lifetime of memories in the old house, juggling all these things from early morning until late in the night each day.

So, that was kind of a full week.

I got back to New York late on Thursday, mentally and physically exhausted, with the intention of running a rerun cartoon this week — but once I had a few moments to dive back into the news, I felt compelled to crank out something new. My process is much slower than the usual cartoonist — I generally take a few days to research and write a cartoon, time to let it turn over in my head, time to sit with it and think about whether there’s a better way to get my point across, a more elegant turn of phrase, a sharper line of dialogue. But in this case it just felt more important to be contributing *something*, than to take a week off. There will be weeks like that at some point, no matter what’s happening in the news cycle — I’m taking my son on vacation for a couple weeks in August, and that’s just going to have to be time away from work, like any normal human being with a job is occasionally able to do. But I do want to keep them to an absolute minimum.

In other news: as you probably heard, my friend Rob Rogers was fired from his longtime staff job at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, for being too critical of the President. The new publisher of the paper is apparently quite the Trump fan. Here’s the thing: being critical of any sitting president is literally the job description for a political cartoonist. If you are simply cheerleading, well, there’s a word for that: propagandist. And Trump has a few of those out there. (Look up the works of Ben Garrison, if you want to see a prime example — his depictions of Trump as a muscular, well-coiffed conqueror are almost sexual in their adulation of an objectively grotesque man.) I took a lot of grief during the Clinton and Obama years for criticizing each man from the left, but I make no apologies for it, and the work holds up. (Cleverly inserted promotional link: you can read it for yourself and decide, in the comprehensive 25 YEARS OF TOMORROW compilation!)

The PPG runs TMW as a syndicated feature, and it hasn’t been dropped yet. I haven’t had a lot of extra mental bandwidth this week, and haven’t figured out yet if I should pull the strip in solidarity, or keep a voice of left-wing Trump opposition running in the paper as long as possible.

Below: a photoshop created for me by Rob Rogers 15 years ago. The tiny human in the (original, unretouched) photo now stands eye to eye with me, and I will always be grateful for his presence in my life. Happy fathers day to my fellow dads.

Until next time,
Dan (Tom)

In today's 'toon, even Wanda and Biff at Action McNews are reduced to babbling Fake News. If this is a (fair & balanced) view of the mad, mad world of June 2018, so be it.

[x TMW]
Breaking The News
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2018 This Modern World/Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

On Father's Day 2018, Let Us Think About Digital Memories (And What To Do About Them)

This blog has had an impact on this blogger's life. When the blogger turned 75 a few years back, an essay by Ezekiel Emanuel, MD (one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare) convinced this blogger to eschew several medical procedures that would supposedly prolong his life beyond age 75. Today, Luke O'Neil — in the essay below — has caused this blogger to reflect upon the fate of this very blog after the blogger has breathed his lastd. To that end, this blogger went to Google's Inactive Account Manager and provided instructions to end this blog and Gmail if either or both remained inactive for 3 continuous months. If this is a (fair & balanced) rational decision, so be it.

[x Boston 'Zine]
Gone But Not Deleted
By Luke O'Neil

TagCrowd Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

I don’t remember the final conversation I had with my father. Toward the end of his life, he was hard to understand on the phone, as years of substance abuse and failing health had garbled his voice. He’d call at inopportune times—from a rehab center or hospital on the Cape, or the home of a friend in Florida he had somehow charmed his way into—and I’d hurry to get off the phone. Sometimes I’d find myself annoyed by his attempts to reconnect and let the call go to voicemail. It had been more than 15 years since we’d had anything resembling a normal relationship, and more than 30 since he and my mother had. Even in my frustration, though, it was hard not to think of his looming existential deadline. I may never get the chance to talk to him again, I’d say to myself. I always did. Until, of course, I didn’t.

On good days, he’d tell me about his latest living situation, calling from a flip phone with a number that changed as frequently as a drug dealer’s. He’d ask about my writing and where I’d traveled to lately, seemingly in awe of all the opportunities I had that he didn’t; even approaching 40, I’d revert to the role of a young boy eager to make his father proud, despite having received plenty of love from my mother and stepdad. He’d lobby me to put in a good word with my sisters on his behalf, a message I would relay. Just call the old bastard back, I’d tell them. You’ll regret it someday if you don’t.

I do, however, remember the exact day and time of our final few text exchanges, because they’re still on my phone, where, for at least as long as the cloud exists and I stay current on my bill, they’ll live forever. There’s a photo I sent him from December 2015, just after I’d had a chance to interview Tom Brady. What Massachusetts dad wouldn’t want to see that? It kind of breaks my heart to read his reply again now: “im so proud of u my son i cant wait to show everyone tomorrow i cant express my joy dad go get the big fish son agAIN IM TO PROUD FOR WORDS LOVE YOU DAD.”

Reading other texts from around that time makes me laugh: “i feel like such lo gool o gohurrf horp,” he wrote. “,,ro jlpw up pi f.” I still have no idea what he was talking about. And then in February 2016, the last message I’d ever receive: “hello my son how you doing today i have been in the hospital for two weeks now but I’m getting better TALK TO you Soon love Dad.” Three months later, he died of sepsis.

I was thinking about those texts during a family dinner at my mother’s, not long after my father’s death. Someone had asked about a wall of photos that functions as an ad hoc memorial to assorted ancestors on my mother’s and stepfather’s sides, all mustachioed, bonneted, and stoic. The Wall of the Dead, we joked. But it occurred to me that the pictures are different from my father’s text messages—as are the letters I have stashed away from my beloved grandmother, stuffed with newspaper clippings she thought I’d like and uncashed $5 checks for “pizza.” My wife just found one in which my grandmother tried to persuade her to get me to give up on writing and find a real job. Those artifacts are moments frozen in time, part of my distant past.

Our phones, on the other hand, are tools we live with every day. I could respond to my dead father’s final text right now, adding to the running conversation. Our devices are where we carry out the business of living our lives and are increasingly our primary means of communicating with the people in them. Should they also be where we lug around our memories of the deceased? More to the point, do the digital ghosts the dead leave behind make it harder to let them go at all?

The idea that the dead can speak to us feels like something from a horror or sci-fi movie. Yet the reverse, talking to them from the here and now, whether through prayer, quiet reflection, or even speaking out loud—You’d love this, wouldn’t you, Ma?—doesn’t seem strange at all. Keeping our loved ones stored in our smartphones, often not deleting their contacts for a long time after they’re gone, has made this even easier to do. We ask our devices for directions home, to bring us food, to broadcast our entire selves to the world. Now they’re also boxes we carry around that store our conversations with ghosts.

Megan Summers, a longtime Boston resident now working for Facebook in New York, is the perfect example. She told me she has voicemails from two deceased friends that she can’t listen to now, but she needs to know they’re with her just in case. “It’s almost as though I am saving them for the future,” she says. “They just really need to be in the world to me. If I lost them, I’d be devastated.”

Shortly before Selene Angier, a copywriter from Cambridge, lost her mother, she received a voice message of her mom singing “Happy Birthday.” It was before she knew how bad her mother’s cancer was, and now, three years later, the song serves as a time capsule of happier days. Angier listens to the recording on her cell on her birthday every year. She’s even backed it up, just in case she loses the phone or something unexpected happens. “I cherish that voicemail, and a few other random ones I have not deleted yet, even the super-boring stuff like ‘I’m running late, be there soon!’” she says. “It’s a great comfort to still hear her voice, more so on the day she brought me into this world.” When we spoke, Angier’s father was dying of cancer and she was preparing his digital memorial, saving everything. “On my birthday,” she says, “I asked him to leave me a voicemail singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me, so I’d have his, too. He mistimed the recording, and all that’s there is ‘…to you!’ followed by a minute of silence.” He’s since passed away.

Lindsay Mace, an administrative assistant for adults with disabilities who lives in Kingston, lost a close friend in 2011 and saved his contact in her phone for four years. For the first year and a half, she regularly dialed the number, telling me that “the saddest part was calling and not hearing his voicemail anymore but a disconnected line. I left one message for him after he passed. I just wanted to hear his voice and get some reassurance he wasn’t really gone.” Calling was a means of staving off some of the more overwhelming emotions, she says, things she couldn’t deal with all at once: “I finally erased it because I felt it was time. Long after the number had been shut off. Sort of like, I don’t need this anymore. I feel like I know he’s still here.”

Texts and voicemails are just two of the ways in today’s digital world that we can stay connected to those who’ve passed away. But when it comes to online memories, cherished or not, they’re hardly the only ones.

By some estimates, 8,000 to 10,000 Facebook users die every day. What survives is a trove of digital footprints, including posts, messages, and pictures. So where does it all go? Turns out you can name an account executor, presumably a close friend or family member, to come in and tidy up your social media belongings in the event of your death, although that person will not be given access to your private chat logs. Immediate family members can also select the option to memorialize the account, turning off certain features, such as birthday reminders, which many users report are exceptionally painful to see.

Gmail, meanwhile, has a tool called the Inactive Account Manager that lets you tell Google what to do with your account after you have stopped using it for a certain amount of time. Before the deadline, Google will reach out to see if you’re still there, checking your digital vital signs. If you don’t respond, it will contact your preselected trusted contacts with a message you’ve written. “Hey man I’m dead lol. Don’t look at my nudes, please,” or something to that effect. And Twitter has the option to remove the account of a deceased family member, but only if you submit official proof of death—not exactly a breezy ask when you’re grieving.

Which brings me to my next point: As technology advances, it promises to change the very nature of how we mourn our loved ones. In Wired last year, for instance, writer James Vlahos documented his final few months with his father, during which he tried to capture the idiosyncrasies of his dad’s voice and upload it into an artificial intelligence chat software he called the Dadbot. It was an attempt to effect a sort of immortality—a concept many are working on around the world, and one sure to be improved upon. One company recently made headlines by promising to preserve your brain and upload it to the cloud—a cool idea, except they had to kill you to do it.

For the forward thinkers among us, there are options to plan our communiqués from the other side. Moran Zur, the founder of a service called SafeBeyond, explained to me that his “emotional life insurance policy” was inspired by the deaths of his wife and his father. His wife had been suffering from cancer for years, and he wanted her to leave behind messages for their children that they could receive at various milestones in their lives as they got older. “These are future conversations they will never have the chance to have, but now even if it’s going to be one-sided, she’s recorded them for them in advance,” he said. “It’s not just leaving money behind; it’s leaving words of wisdom, being there for them at significant moments of their life.”

Being able to hear from their mother will likely be a salve to their children, but it’s worth asking: How can we ever move on in this brave new digital era if the dead are never truly gone?

It’s been a couple of months now since I first reopened the texts from my father, and I’ve been looking at them again, swimming in the absurd melancholy of it. I could do the same with others who’ve died, but it would take an extra step, rummaging around in old photo albums and digging through letter boxes in the back of the closet. Now, in the time it takes to look up a movie schedule or restaurant menu, I can call up the history of my relationship with my dad.

Right now, we don’t know much about the impact of our devices on mourning—at least not academically. There just haven’t been many studies of it, says Elsa Ronningstam, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital. I suspect that when it is studied, we’ll find that phones have vastly complicated, and perhaps even forestalled, our ability to grieve in a natural fashion.

Our digital mourning isn’t nearly as separated from our everyday lives as the experience of visiting a graveyard or holding a physical letter or photo. Such a ritual “is an act that has space and takes its time,” Ronningstam says. “That has been part of our human lives for many, many years.” The ease with which we can access memories of lost loved ones on our phones or social media accounts, on the other hand, may end up trapping us in our grief. “Say you’re in a romance, and the romance breaks up and you’ve got that person’s voice on your telephone,” says Donnah Canavan, an associate professor of psychology at Boston College. “I think to the extent that you use listening to the person’s voice to keep you connected to that relationship, it’s bad for you.”

Still, allowing yourself to remember is part of the mourning process, says Michael Grodin, a professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine who works with trauma patients from around the world. “You can’t get rid of the memories, but you don’t want to constantly be in the moment.” In his estimation, there’s nothing abnormal or unhealthy about returning to digital artifacts; it’s no different from cherishing an old blanket or wearing a loved one’s T-shirt. It’s just a matter of monitoring the extent of it. “If it’s interfering with relationships, everyday functioning, your ability to work and carry on with life, then it’s worth seeking professional help,” Grodin says.

Even after all of these interviews and the hours I’ve spent thinking about my father’s texts, it’s not entirely clear what they mean to me, or if they even mean anything at all. Contending with the digital endpoint of a relationship with a person who was a constant and loving part of your life for a long time is a lot different from when it is a reminder of someone who was absent. I can no longer call my father on the phone, but that was true for most of my life anyway. Perhaps I should have done so more often. Perhaps he should have. Every text I have now is a glaring reminder that neither of us bothered to. I feel guilty about that. In part that’s because he had the foresight to die before my loving stepfather, hogging all of my good “my dad died” writing before the man who actually raised me could get the chance. I wonder if he was capable of thinking about any of this stuff in the last week or two he spent in a medically induced coma at the hospital as his children and exes reemerged to say goodbye one final time. It was like a dress rehearsal. We were talking to him, but he couldn’t talk back. I guess I’m doing the same thing now.

Although we still cannot speak directly to the dead, these days they can call back out to us. And what they say, whether it’s in a voicemail, a text, or a tweet, is the most important message any of us will ever be able to convey: I was here. I am gone now, but I was here.

I just went back and looked at one of my last text messages to my father, sent shortly before he stopped responding. “Hi dad was planning on calling soon,” I wrote. “Glad to hear you’re well.” I wonder how long he saved that one from me? Probably right up until the end. # # #

[Luke O'Neil is a long-time journalist for the Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix, and the author of Boston's Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in Beantown (2011). His pop culture, music, and political writing appears regularly in Vice and Bullett magazine, and has also been featured in Slate, the Wall Street Journal, Interview magazine, and Men's Journal. O'Neil received a BA (English) from Harvard University (MA) and an MA (journalism) from Columbia University (NY).]

Copyright ©' 2018 Boston Magazine/Metro Corporation

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Roll Over Don McLean — The Music May Have Died On The Night Of February 3, 1959, But A Lubbock Renaissance Man Has Breathed Life Into Lubbock Music Again

Earlier this week, this blogger's best friend (yes, the blogger has a friend) here sent an e-mail containing Terry Allen performing "Bottom of the World." This blogger's jaw dropped because he had never heard or seen Terry Allen before that moment. This post provides all you could ever know about Terry Allen and his many artistic endeavors in music, songwriting, painting, and sculpture. If this is a (fair & balanced) nomination of Terry Allen to the MacArthur Foundation for a "Genius Grant," so be it.

The Panhandle Mystery Band members Terry Allen (Keyboard), Bukka Allen (Accordion), Richard Bowden (Mandolin), and Brian Standefer (Cello) perform the "Bottom of the World" in the video (below).

[x TM]
There And Back Again
By Jason Cohen

TagCrowd Cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

The guide leading incoming freshmen around Texas Tech University on the first Saturday of 2016’s college-football season didn’t look as though he’d been on campus longer than one academic year himself, but he had his patter down. As the group moved from the library to the student union, he pointed out a work commissioned by the school’s public art program and installed in 2003: a hominid-like bronze figure cast entirely from books. While all the students call it “Bookman,” the sculpture’s formal title is a play on the university’s Red Raiders nickname: Read Reader. And there’s a second pun in Bookman’s anatomical construction. “His spine is made out of actual book spines,” the guide observed, before offering his own interpretation of the work. “He’s running to the library to cram for his test. But he’s probably going to fail, because he’s reading a website.”

What the collegiate docent didn’t mention was the sculptor, a not-insignificant omission. "Bookman" sprung from the mind and hands of Lubbock native and one-semester Texas Tech dropout Terry Allen, who is arguably the first of Lubbock’s legendary post-hippie semi-country singer-songwriters. Allen’s first two albums, 1975’s Juarez and 1979’s Lubbock (on everything), are as canonical to hard-core Texas music fans as Townes Van Zandt’s Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger; even those who don’t know Allen’s music firsthand have probably heard his song “Amarillo Highway,” which has been covered by the likes of Bobby Bare, Robert Earl Keen, and Sturgill Simpson. As large as Allen looms over Texas music, however, he is even more revered as a visual and multimedia artist: his paintings, sculptures, and installations—which can be found everywhere from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art to the DFW and Houston airports—have earned him both national and international recognition.

Allen hasn’t lived in Lubbock in more than fifty years, but there are traces of him all over the city. Some are ghosts: the former wrestling arenas and music halls once run by his father, promoter Fletcher “Sled” Allen; the dirt-road childhood home that is now an insurance office on busy Thirty-fourth Street; the grassy lot that was the first site of Caldwell Studios, where Allen and what he would dub the Panhandle Mystery Band recorded Lubbock (on everything). Some are literal monuments, like Allen’s likeness of the late Christopher B. “Stubb” Stubblefield, the Lubbock meat master and music-scene patron turned barbecue-sauce figurehead, which looms over the otherwise abandoned site of the original Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. There are also the plaques on the West Texas Walk of Fame, which has inducted both Terry and his wife, the actress and writer Jo Harvey Allen.

What the tour guide couldn’t have known is that Allen was just a few hundred feet away, in the basement of the library, on that same college-football Saturday. He was in town, first of all, to mix audio in the university’s Crossroads Recording Studio for a DVD of a concert he had played earlier that year at the student union building’s Allen Theatre. The show, held in February, had kicked off a 2016 that had also featured luxe, elaborately annotated reissues of Juarez and Lubbock (on everything), as well as fanfare over Texas Tech’s plans to create something called the Allen Collection. The name of the theater was a coincidence (it honors the school’s first dean of student life, James G. Allen), but the name of the collection was not: the Allens had agreed to donate sixty-plus years of journals, tapes, blueprints, sketches, and photographs to the university, to be housed as a “living archive.” The couple weren’t interested in socking their life’s work away in acid-free cardboard boxes, to be checked in and out of a humidity-controlled room by the occasional biographer or academic; they envisioned a shape-shifting gallery that would host classes, fellowships, residencies, and research devoted to the creative process. Perhaps to the chagrin of some at Texas Tech, Allen prefers to call this collection “The Center for Unlearning.”

Inside the recording studio, Allen sat in front of a computer monitor, scrutinizing footage of the concert, for which he and most of the original Panhandle Mystery Band—as well as his sons, Bukka and Bale, and special guests Keen and Delbert McClinton—had performed Lubbock (on everything) live in its entirety for the first time since its recording, as part of Tech’s annual Lubbock Lights concert series. A genial but imposing figure—mostly pepper hair, black long-sleeved buttoned shirt, black jeans, and desert-beaten cowboy boots—Allen has the slightly hunched bearing of someone who has loomed over a piano or a drafting table for the better part of his 73 years. As the studio’s engineer worked the audio board, Allen read from, or made notations in, a small Moleskine notebook and offered the occasional instruction or request. On the monitor, Allen’s concert self played the opening notes of “The Beautiful Waitress,” a wistfully funny greasy-spoon-crush song (today’s titular character would be a barista). The song ends with a based-on-a-true-story monologue about art, detailing the waitress’s fondness for horses and the difficulty she had drawing them. “Said she could do the body okay, but never get the head, tail, or legs,” narrated Allen onstage. “I told her she was drawing sausages, not horses. She said no, they were horses.” Allen in the studio laughed.

He and Jo Harvey had driven in from Santa Fe, where they’ve lived since 1987. Two nights earlier, they’d dined with Texas Tech president Lawrence Schovanec to discuss ideas for the Allen Collection, and that night they would watch the Red Raiders’ game against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks from [Texas Tech] Chancellor Robert Duncan’s stadium box. The couple had plans to continue on to Austin, where their sons and a few grandsons live, but before leaving, Allen had agreed to give me a bit of a Lubbock memory tour, with drive-by looks at his old haunts, as well as the city’s tallest [20-story] building (the former Great Plains Life skyscraper, which famously survived a 1970 tornado), the American Wind Power Center, and the State Theater, where Buddy Holly got the idea for “That’ll Be the Day” while watching "The Searchers" [starring John Wayne].

We clambered into his truck, a big, gleaming-white Ford F-150, and set off, heading first to Stubb’s memorial and the Panhandle South Plains Fairgrounds. A medal of Saint Christopher, a holdover from previous trucks, hung on the rearview mirror; the console held a larger notebook, one of hundreds Allen has filled over the years, in many colors, styles, and sizes: plain black sketchbooks, Italian leather–bound journals, Indian rice paper ledgers, oversized spirals for drawing public works and installations. “I’ve always loved a variety of sizes and am easily seduced by the feel and look of empty paper in a book,” he explained. “And the longing to fill it with words, pictures—something.”

We cruised through what’s now called the Depot District before eventually heading south on University to look for the former site of Cold Water Country, the club that served as a home base for the Maines Brothers Band and Joe Ely when Allen was making Lubbock (on everything). But the city has changed so much since then that we drove by the spot, which now includes a Target and various fast-food options, without realizing it. “Did we already go past the Loop?” Allen asked. He was referring to the elevated Texas Highway 289, which was just being built when he first left Lubbock. After it was finished, ten years later, he’d gotten to know it well. “We would come back, and I’d get on the Loop and never wanted to get off,” he said. “Just drive the Loop, in circles.”

The Loop even gets a mention in the thank-you section of the original Lubbock (on everything) liner notes. Looping within, away from, and back to Lubbock has defined Allen’s career, and now here he was, five decades after his first departure, bequeathing almost the entirety of his artistic output to the Llano Estacado that had formed him. Allen likes to say (as do many Lubbock natives) that his hometown is so flat that on a clear day you can see the back of your own head. Even as he has always looked beyond Lubbock, the city has never left his sight.

When Allen was a senior at Lubbock’s Monterey High School, in 1961, he and his classmate David Box auditioned for the annual talent show. They earned a spot in the lineup by playing either a Bo Diddley song or the popular folk standard “Cotton Fields.” Allen can’t remember which, but he played piano and Box the guitar. (Box would go on to front a version of the Crickets after Holly’s death and died young in a plane crash himself.) But when the day of the actual performance came, the two budding rock and rollers switched their number without telling their teachers, taking the stage in togas and playing a racy song that Allen had written himself called “Roman Orgy.” The stunt earned them a three-day suspension. “It was my only scholastic achievement,” Allen told me.

But it was an achievement. Butch Hancock, who, along with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, was a Monterey sophomore at the time (their future Flatlanders bandmate Ely was two years younger), remembers being amazed. “I just heard somebody sing a song they wrote!” he marveled.

Allen’s playful, independent streak—the musical confidence, the inclination to provoke—was less rebellion than inheritance. His mother, Pauline, was a professional barrelhouse piano player who gave him exactly one keyboard lesson: how to play “Saint Louis Blues.” His father, Fletcher “Sled” Allen, had been a Major League Baseball player in 1910, then a Minor League manager (he’d led the Lubbock Hubbers [Lubbock proclaimed itself "the Hub City" of the Panhandle-Plains] to a championship in 1923) before he turned to promoting concerts, boxing matches, and professional wrestling. Terry grew up helping sell drink setups—Lubbock was dry back then—at wrestling matches and dances around town. Friday night dances were usually blues or R&B, for black audiences, while Saturday night was country, for white audiences. One show Terry remembers his dad promoting at the county fairgrounds was the country artist Little Jimmy Dickens, with Elvis [Presley] opening. He has never forgotten the screaming girls, a phenomenon he’d only seen before watching Frank Sinatra on TV.

At the same time, and at those same fairgrounds, there were also record burnings. Rock and roll was as divisive and transformative in Lubbock as it was everywhere. “It was almost like the Vietnam War, except nobody was coming home in a box,” Allen told me. “All the preachers saying, ‘It’ll turn you into some kind of teenage thug, it will turn you into a racial minority, it will rot your soul!’ ” He also remembers everyone being transfixed by news of Nebraska teenager Charlie Starkweather and his murderous cross-country spree. “The first rock and roll killer,” he said. “Was he coming through Lubbock, kill-crazy, headed for Mexico? It had a riveting effect on my tiny adolescent brain.”

Starting in middle school, Allen would drive with friends to the cotton fields in the middle of nowhere—which wasn’t far—to park their cars in a circle, turn on the headlights, and dance to the sounds of deejay Wolfman Jack on Mexican station XERF, a ritual that Allen would later chronicle in the Lubbock (on everything) song “The Wolfman of Del Rio.” “With rock and roll, it was the first time people had music that really addressed them,” he told me. “Everything before had been God, family and country, and school. But rock and roll was about you, as an individual. ‘Don’t step on my blue suede shoes!’ In Lubbock, and in a lot of rural areas, it was the first open door to the outside world. The first time self-expression had a value.”

Allen wasn’t chafing to get out of town, but as the end of high school approached, he realized he needed to. “The only thing I was comfortable with was making drawings and writing in notebooks and playing music, and I didn’t have a concept of that being of any value,” he said. He enrolled at Texas Tech, but the only class he liked was drawing. After asking the professor if a school existed where the entire course load was like drawing class, he was told about, and decided to apply to, the Chouinard Art Institute, in Los Angeles (now the California Institute of the Arts). In the application, Allen was asked to name the greatest artist of all time, to which he answered Norman Rockwell, because he didn’t know the names of any others.

He was accepted, and that was enough to put Lubbock in the rearview mirror. “It was that need to get out into the world, without any real reason other than curiosity,” he recalled. “To get the nerve to do it, you blamed it on your hometown, or on your family, or on your school. Whatever was at hand to propel you out of there.”

Fortunately for him, he would not have to go alone: his girlfriend, Jo Harvey, had already agreed to move to California on a coin flip (New York being the other option). The two had met in middle school but were not a couple until senior year. “We always say we met when we were eleven,” Jo Harvey told me. “But I’m six months older than Terry, so it occurs to me that Terry might have been ten!” (“Our line is ‘We didn’t sleep together until we were twelve,’ ” said Terry.) Their connection was instant, a mix of chaos and friction combined with deep affection and like-mindedness that would fuel their long-lasting personal and artistic partnership. Jo Harvey gave Terry one of his first records ever, by John Lee Hooker; he gave her one by Jimmy Reed. Sometimes they’d go to the twenty-story Great Plains Life building, look up, and pretend they were in New York City, then go for coffee next door at the Lubbock Hotel, like fancy adults. She still remembers a date when he came to pick her up and, before she could open the car door to get in, yelled, apropos of nothing, “Run! Run for your life!” She got the joke. “We both just tore out running,” she said. “All night long, we hid from whoever was chasing us.” (“I think we’re still running from the sons of bitches,” said Terry.)

The two were married in Lubbock two months before he started at Chouinard full-time, and Jo Harvey joined him in LA. Even as Terry went to art classes, music remained a fruitful vocation; he played the piano in cover bands and in solo performances. (True story: an unwitting drunk guy once offered $50 to anyone who could play “Saint Louis Blues.”) For a time, he existed on the fringe of the growing rock and roll scene, with an appearance, in 1965, on the show "Shindig!" He also landed a record contract, but it was so financially unfavorable that he didn’t release any music. Both Terry and Jo Harvey also did experimental theater, and from 1965 to 1969, Jo Harvey hosted a groundbreaking weekly alternative radio show, "Rawhide and Roses," in Pasadena. (Restoring the tapes of those broadcasts was one of the first things Texas Tech later did for the Allens.)

It was during this time that the ideas for Juarez began to swirl. Like most Texans, Allen grew up with the mythology of the border. “There was always that magnet,” he told me. “Every movie you saw, the romance of Mexico. You robbed a bank, you went to Mexico. You came back from the Civil War pissed off, you went to Mexico and joined the revolution. It was always, ‘Cross that line and everything will be different.’ ”

Bloody, romantic, and imaginative, Juarez came together over a period of about seven years. What started as a mix of songs and drawings morphed into a bigger, all-encompassing project, one that embraced all of Allen’s artistic interests. “My idea of making music was sitting in a back room trying to write words that made sense in some way, and that was a struggle,” said Allen. “But I was also thinking in the context of images. And how the two worked together. Could they become one thing?”

A song cycle about four star-crossed characters who make their way from California to Colorado and then Mexico, Juarez was originally released as a boxed edition, limited to fifty, with each copy also including six lithographs of the related art. The album’s subsequent “wide” release was just one thousand copies. Though eventually it would be considered a wide-ranging cultural influence—on the surreal hippie-punk music of the band Camper Van Beethoven, on Cormac McCarthy and his Border Trilogy—its slight distribution meant it received little attention at the time. (It was named “the best concept album ever recorded,” over Red Headed Stranger and the Who’s Tommy, by the website Popmatters almost thirty years later.)

Juarez became the urtext for Allen’s whole career: its characters and themes have turned up repeatedly in his work, and Juarez itself has experienced other lives, as a theater performance (starring Jo Harvey and the Panhandle Mystery Band), an unproduced film script, and a musical theater piece (co-written with David Byrne, of the Talking Heads, who also featured the Allens in his Texas film "True Stories"). What Allen came to realize is that everything—words, images, cultural and political contexts—was, for him, not only one thing but the same thing. He was aware of the cross-pollinating influences in his own life: the Beat poets and the tattoo and comics artists he’d discovered in the fifties, the politics and war and rock and roll of the sixties. He decided that labels were meaningless. “Are you a musician? Are you an artist? Are you a writer?” he said. “What are you, anyway? I’ve just never been comfortable with making these divisions.”

His career became ecumenical, his art finding expression in whatever medium suited him, with most of his major works falling into the category of “all of the above.” "Ring," a multidisciplinary saga inspired in part by his father’s ties to professional wrestling, began in 1976 as a gallery exhibition, then became a theater performance and part of two museum exhibits. "Youth in Asia," which Allen worked on from 1982 to 1990, was an ambitious series of exhibits and installations about the Vietnam War that included a 1968 classic-rock sound track, Disney characters, and a Buddha statue covered in bubblegum (freshly chewed and stuck on by workers at each showing). "Dugout," a piece connected to his father’s baseball past, was a combination of installations, video, theater, and radio drama (as well as a 2005 University of Texas Press book).

“Art is about all of your senses,” Allen told me. “You don’t say, ‘Okay, today I am going to only look. Today I am going to only listen. Today I am going to only touch.’ ” It’s not, one might add, as if his multitasking is all that unusual: Patti Smith is also a painter; Byrne went from the Rhode Island School of Design to music to film and writing. There’s also a certain 2016 Nobel Prize winner for literature who paints and has written books and poems as well as songs. Whenever Allen has an idea, he doesn’t know what form it might take, and often it takes more than one. Whether it’s painting, sculpting, playing the piano, or writing a play, “What you’re trying to do is the same thing every time,” he told me. “You’re trying to deal with something you don’t know.”

The conventional wisdom when it comes to Lubbock is that, while the city has always had its mystical, artistic, and wind-beaten independent side—it produced both Buddy Holly and the Flatlanders, after all—it is mostly a conservative place from which creative types have to escape. Hancock, Gilmore, and Ely all left. Mac Davis (“Texas in My Rear View Mirror”) and the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines (“Lubbock or Leave It”) wrote songs about their own expatriation. Even Allen has been on the receiving end of this traditionalist bent: when up-and-coming country musician and Texas Tech alum Josh Abbott covered the Lubbock (on everything) diptych “FFA/Flatland Farmer” in 2012, fans found the lyrics to be heresy—three decades after the fact—for daring to mock Future Farmers of America. Abbott wound up writing an apology on Facebook.

But it is also an article of faith that Lubbock’s long horizons and dusty stretches are precisely what give rise to that creativity in the first place. “There’s a desperation to be visual when you grow up in a place that has nothing visual,” Allen is quoted saying in the liner notes for the reissued Juarez. Happy to continue satisfying those expressive cravings in LA, he and Jo Harvey remained in California. They did, in 1970, make an attempt at living in Lubbock again, but the move was an exercise in frustration: when Terry wrote a jingle for the utility company Lubbock Power and Light, residents felt it was blasphemous (“Turn on brothers and sisters, and let your good light shine”), while Jo Harvey missed out on a local TV job because the station’s sponsors did not approve of a woman doing something as important as the weather forecast. Within months the couple had returned to California, where Terry was a guest artist at Cal-Berkeley for a semester before landing a job teaching at Fresno State.

They would eventually move to Santa Fe, in the late eighties. But along the way, in 1978, Lubbock beckoned again—this time with a glimmer of promise. During the Allens’ years away, the Lubbock music scene had coalesced. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q had opened as both a food joint and music venue, showcasing the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Muddy Waters before audiences that were, in a move ahead of its time, integrated. The Flatlanders had come and gone; Hancock released his first record in early 1978, and Ely signed to MCA around the same time. Saxophonist Don Caldwell had established a recording studio, where Lloyd Maines, a steel-guitarist who played with Ely, launched a second career as a producer. Meanwhile, Allen—who’d had a few of his unreleased songs performed by Bobby Bare and Lowell George—had gone to work writing and sequencing a second album, this one devoted to his hometown. When Lubbock artist Paul Milosevich got wind of the new songs, he suggested that Allen come back to record them.

Allen showed up at Caldwell Studios and met with Maines, as well as the rest of what would become known as the Panhandle Mystery Band, a sprawling assemblage of musicians that included Maines’s brother, Kenny, who would back Allen on bass; Caldwell, on saxophone; Richard Bowden, on fiddle; Ely, on harmonica; and guitarist Jesse Taylor and accordionist Ponty Bone, both famed members of Ely’s group. (Allen still uses the name Panhandle Mystery Band regardless of who’s backing him.) “I didn’t have that much confidence, because I didn’t play with anybody,” Allen recalled. “I didn’t have a sense of being in a band.” But the group went into the studio and managed to make a perfect, in-sync record almost immediately. It was a revelation: they already knew how to play together, it turned out, because they’d shared the same oxygen, seen the same cotton, and heard the same crickets (and Crickets).

A fan of the pounding rhythms of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley growing up, Allen has famously played the piano very hard. “I did. I pounded the shit out of it,” he said. “At one time, I had a collection of pedals I’d broken off of various pianos on a little shelf in my studio.” When he’d recorded Juarez, the engineer had told him to sit still, lest the mikes pick up on the clatter. “They said, ‘Don’t stomp your foot, don’t move your head,’ ” he recalled. “Don’t, don’t, don’t.” Maines and Caldwell, however, weren’t about to infringe on Allen’s style, so instead they filled the piano, and the space around Allen, with clumps of foam rubber. (Allen dubbed the pile “the only mountain in Lubbock.”)

The resulting episodic song cycle, released the following year as Lubbock (on everything), brings to mind a Texas version of Robert Altman’s "Nashville," packed with outsized and affectionately mocked characters—from the album’s leadoff track, the satirical shit-kicker anthem “Amarillo Highway (for Dave Hickey),” to “The Great Joe Bob,” the story of a gone-bad high school football hero. Of great personal relevance to Allen is “Truckload of Art,” the supposedly true story of a group of New York artists who decide to flaunt their superiority by hauling their masterworks to the West Coast in a Peterbilt. The song pokes fun at the New York art world’s arrogance from a California perspective, but it’s a Texas perspective too, and also a self-mocking one. “Son, you’re better off dead,” sang Allen, “than haulin’ a truckload full of hot avant-garde.”

The record was no more widely distributed than Juarez, but it became legendary in certain circles. Brendan Greaves, the founder of Paradise of Bachelors—the label responsible for 2016’s reissues—writes in his liner notes that, similar to the Velvet Underground’s music in New York, seemingly everyone who bought Allen’s album “started a band or started writing songs in a different way.” Allen too was changed: by the time he finished committing his songs to tape, he’d realized that there was a lot more to them than his jaundiced eye and sense of distance. “I never really felt that I’d made any kind of peace with Lubbock until I recorded that record,” he said. “It dawned on me that there was something going on inside of me that was very counter to what I thought I felt. I started really listening to those songs and realized that I had a whole other sense of feelings and caring about the people.”

In any case, the record presaged Allen’s psychic, if not entirely physical, return to the fields and venues that first influenced him. Today’s Lubbock is a growing college town that’s still cotton, football, and conservative West Texas (the Avalanche-Journal was the only large newspaper in the state to endorse Donald Trump for president) but also more openly embracing of its artists: The Buddy Holly Center, a museum devoted to both Holly and multidisciplinary arts, opened in the Depot District in 1999, followed by the installation of a giant replica of Holly’s glasses in 2002. In 2015, after years of estrangement with Natalie Maines over her 2003 comments about George W. Bush, the city partially made nice by inducting her into the West Texas Hall of Fame, the same year it inducted Jo Harvey (an important move for the Allens, given how close they’ve been to the Maines family since Natalie was a girl). And now, with the Allen Collection, Terry and Jo Harvey are getting their own little slice of Lubbock. Their creative trove had been headed for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art until Terry sent off a preliminary box of material—a combination of music and artworks, with tapes and catalogs from the sixties—and the museum sent it back. “They said, ‘We don’t want anything with music. We only want your art,’ ” Allen told me. “It was like, ‘We’ll take this part of what you do, but this other part of what you do, we disdain.’ It pissed me off, so I told them, ‘Forget it.’ ”

He and Jo Harvey plan to move their work to Lubbock over the next year, though the collection will not be fully accessible for another year or two after that. Their ideas for the project are loose; there’s been talk of using the historic Dairy Barn facility on campus part-time for exhibitions or workshops, and Jo Harvey likes the idea of movable trailers. The notion is to create a place for students to make art and exchange ideas, where disciplines such as science and architecture and agriculture can overlap. “Creative work is creative work no matter where you’re doing it,” said Andy Wilkinson, a singer-songwriter who is currently an artist in residence at Texas Tech. It was Wilkinson who first broached the idea of bringing the collection to the university, and his enthusiasm is shared by others. “The opportunities of Lubbock spring from its hard bark and from the need to carve one’s own path,” noted Chris Taylor, an associate professor who directs the university’s Land Arts of the American West program. “The Allen Collection’s move home makes good on the value of this place as a cultural generator.”

Whether that results in a literal “Center for Unlearning” remains to be seen. “It won’t be written in script,” said Allen—though he added, half-jokingly, that he has considered making a neon art piece with the words, to end up on campus somewhere. He defines “unlearning” as getting past blocks, shedding reflexive habits, finding new ways of creating. He thinks of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, which opened in 1968, as one of the city’s first such centers. When Allen got back to town to record his second album, Stubb himself showed up at the recording studio at 2 AM with barbecue. “He was the epitome of the arts, in a sense. Here was a guy who had a space and fed people, and the space generated music, and music generated the space, and people of all kinds got together. And when he died, a whole other institution came out of it.”

To have his and Jo Harvey’s work embraced as valuable is nothing short of astounding to him. “I’m sure it would be amazing anywhere, but especially in Lubbock,” he said. “That we left to go out into the world, then do what we do, and just suddenly, to be welcomed back—it really is amazing.” Not that acceptance by the institutions of his youth means the rock and roll author of “Roman Orgy” isn’t still alive and well. In one of our conversations, I told Allen about the campus tour guide’s take on Read Reader, and he was pleased. “Any interpretation people have is fair. It’s always great when somebody sees something in your work you never intended or thought of.”

But then he pointed out another detail, one that hadn’t been mentioned on the tour. The statue’s rear end, located beneath the spine made out of book spines, was fashioned from a single open book, splayed out rather deliberately toward the rest of campus. “It’s kind of facing the administration building,” said Allen. “Every chance I get, I’ll give an ‘open book’ to the administration!”

Last May, after several bouts in the hospital, Allen’s friend Guy Clark died at the age of 74. The singer-songwriter, who grew up in Rockport and lived mostly in Nashville, was originally from Monahans, or “sub-Lubbock,” as Allen likes to say, and the two first met in the eighties, when they both played the Kerrville Folk Festival. They maintained a close friendship, and before his death, Clark made a request: he asked that his ashes [sic — cremains] become part of an Allen sculpture. “Sobering and hilarious at the same time,” said Allen. He pushed back. “ ‘What I should do is make a goat,’ I told him, ‘and take your ashes and shove it up its ass.’ He said, ‘Perfect!’ ”

After a wake in Nashville, Clark’s ashes made an eighteen-hour bus ride to Santa Fe, escorted by Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and other friends, as well as Clark’s son, Travis, for a private memorial at the Allens’ home. Terry has since been pondering the commission. He does not care to repeat the experience of sculpting a friend’s likeness, as he did with Stubb; it was unnerving to share work space with the figure of a dead friend. He is considering something else. Clark was haunted by two crows’ nests, made out of barbed and bailing wire, that were found inside a windmill at Lubbock’s American Wind Power Center. The nests, made in the absence of twigs, were the inspiration for what might have been the last song Clark ever wrote. “It has a line about a crow,” said Allen. “So black you could only see it at night.”

The song is one that Clark, working on and off with Crowell, struggled to finish, and it is not, in Allen’s opinion, his best. “But all of his conversations were about trying to make this song work,” he said. “There was a sense of desperation about finishing it.” He paused. “I’m not so sure the whole thing was even about the song. It was maybe not meant to get finished. I’m not sure it wasn’t some kind of last exploration on his part—what was happening to him and what was going on. But he loved that those crows’ nests got built so beautifully out of almost nothing, just like a song.”

This leaving and returning—to a place, to an idea, to a thing—is a familiar instinct. After his visit to Lubbock, Allen spent the fall in Austin, preparing for the opening of his latest installation, a full-size bronze replica of a car titled Road Angel. The piece, cast in the Deep in the Heart Art Foundry, in Bastrop, was unveiled in December on the outdoor grounds of Austin’s sculpture park at Laguna Gloria. The work is an almost-exact copy of Allen’s first vehicle, a 1953 Chevy, except for a missing front passenger-side tire. That wheel well instead hides a speaker that blasts, as Allen put it, “Things you’d want to hear coming out of a car.”

The installation is in keeping with other Allen sculptures that feature sound tracks, including 1986’s Trees, his first public outdoor installation—which emits songs, stories, and poems—at the University of California at San Diego, and 1999’s Countree Music, his piece at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, in which a roughly thirty-foot bronze oak looms over a distorted global map, with Houston as the center of the world (as the people hustling through Terminal A move over the map, they trigger the playback of 21 songs inspired by air travel). In Road Angel’s case, the sound track was provided by writers, artists, musicians, and storytellers, including Crowell, Earle, and Wilkinson. Artist Ed Ruscha made a recording of himself reading a piece called “Vehicular Ventricle” by the poet and actress Amber Tamblyn. Singer Shawn Colvin covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street.” And Allen’s son Bale wrote a song (“Winters-Wingate Highway”) that includes the line “Neil Young on the radio playing guitar sounds just like the way I drive my car.”

The installation is a meditation of sorts on the imprint cars have left on both Allen and his audience. “The great Western romance of moving through space in an automobile is coming to an end,” he wrote in the accompanying notes. He can remember when that romance began: how the checkers-playing old-timers in Lubbock—men just older than his father who had been alive for the Battle of Palo Duro—complained about “how their kids didn’t care about the land and only cared about their cars.” He and Jo Harvey may no longer drive out to the cotton fields to dance to the sounds of the Wolfman, but they do put in thousands of miles between Santa Fe and Lubbock, as well as anywhere else in Texas they’re performing music or showing art. His truck has long played an important part in his recording process, the “car stereo test” (a familiar ritual at most studios) requiring a lot of open Texas road. “Every time Terry finished an album and he’d get the tapes, we’d get on the highway and go for a long ride and listen to it,” recalled Jo Harvey.

Road Angel is also a work in progress in and of itself. One of the things Allen likes about doing large pieces is that they are both fluid and one of a kind, in a way that a recorded song or finished painting can’t be. “The thing about an installation is, you have to be there,” he said. “It’s like talking about a song. You really need to hear it. You have to walk through and be inside the thing.” He and the museum plan to add new audio submissions on a semi-regular basis. In the meantime, there’s another potential layer still to come: because of the installation’s location in a wooded, remote portion of Laguna Gloria, his son Bukka—who also contributed a song (“Land of Dreams”) to the sound track—has predicted it will immediately become one of Austin’s great make-out spots.

It’s the kind of interactivity that both delights and motivates Allen, that keeps him moving continually forward even as he returns to the past, always on the Loop. “That’s been an endless pattern for me,” he said when we’d talked about the archives bringing him and Jo Harvey back to Lubbock. “Art always takes you in some kind of circle back to yourself, each one different.” # # #

[Jason Cohen is an author, journalist, and social media creator. He was a senior editor at Texas Monthly for nearly 4 years (2011-2014). He has written two books, Generation Ecch!: The Backlash Starts Here (1994) and Zamboni Rodeo: Chasing Hockey Dreams fromn Austin to Albuquerque (2001). Cohen received a BS (communication) from Northwestern University (IL) and an MA (journalism) from The University of Texas at Austin.]

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Roll Over Ogden Nash (1902-1971) — "Candy Is Dandy, But Liquor Is Quicker" (1931) Can't Compete With "Gossip Is Good, But Blogging Is Gooder"

It would appear that gossip is the most common of all human rituals. Norman Rockwell captured it in "The Gossips"

If this is (fair & balanced) exploration of social psychology, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Gossiping Is Good
By Ben Healy

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Word on the street is that gossip is the worst. An Ann Landers advice column once characterized it as “the faceless demon that breaks hearts and ruins careers.” The Talmud describes it as a “three-pronged tongue” that kills three people: the teller, the listener, and the person being gossiped about. And Blaise Pascal observed, not unreasonably, that “if people really knew what others said about them, there would not be four friends left in the world.” Convincing as these indictments seem, however, a significant body of research suggests that gossip may in fact be healthy.

It’s a good thing, too, since gossip is pretty pervasive. Children tend to be seasoned gossips by the age of 5, and gossip as most researchers understand it—talk between at least two people about absent others—accounts for about two-thirds of conversation. In the 1980s, the journalist Blythe Holbrooke took a stab at bringing rigor to the subject, tongue firmly in cheek, by positing the Law of Inverse Accuracy: C = (TI)^v – t, in which the likelihood of gossip being circulated (C) equals its timeliness (T) times its interest (I) to the power of its unverifiability (v) minus the reluctance someone might feel about repeating it out of taste (t).

Despite gossip’s dodgy reputation, a surprisingly small share of it—as little as 3 to 4 percent—is actually malicious. And even that portion can bring people together. Researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma found that if two people share negative feelings about a third person, they are likely to feel closer to each other than they would if they both felt positively about him or her.

Gossip may even make us better people. A team of Dutch researchers reported that hearing gossip about others made research subjects more reflective; positive gossip inspired self-improvement efforts, and negative gossip made people prouder of themselves. In another study, the worse participants felt upon hearing a piece of negative gossip, the more likely they were to say they had learned a lesson from it. Negative gossip can also have a prosocial effect on those who are gossiped about. Researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley found that once people were ostracized from a group due to reputed selfishness, they reformed their ways in an attempt to regain the approval of the people they had alienated.

By far the most positive assessment of gossip, though, comes courtesy of the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. Once upon a time, in Dunbar’s account, our primate ancestors bonded through grooming, their mutual back-scratching ensuring mutual self-defense in the event of attack by predators. But as hominids grew more intelligent and more social, their groups became too large to unite by grooming alone. That’s where language—and gossip, broadly defined—stepped in. Dunbar argues that idle chatter with and about others gave early humans a sense of shared identity and helped them grow more aware of their environment, thus incubating the complex higher functioning that would ultimately yield such glories of civilization as the Talmud, Pascal, and Ann Landers.

So the next time you’re tempted to dish the dirt, fear not—you may actually be promoting cooperation, boosting others’ self-esteem, and performing the essential task of the human family. That’s what I heard, anyway. # # #

[Ben Healy is a writer and former Atlantic deputy managing editor. Currently he is a senior writer at IDEO. Healy received a BA (American civilization) from Brown University (RI) and an MFA (fiction and screenwriting) from The University of Texas at Austin.]

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Very Dishonest & Weak" Is A Fitting Description Of The Current Occupant Of The Oval Office, NOT The Canadian PM

If we're talking about strong personal odors, the current occupant of the Oval Office doesn't pass the smell test. The current occupant is a graduate of World Wide Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The current occupant's tweet about Robert DeNiro referred to one of our best actors as "Punchy." This is smartass reference to DeNiro's performance in the prizefighting film "Raging Bull." DeNiro's realistic performance of the savagery in the boxing ring would give him enough skills to meet the current occupant of the Oval Office mano a mano on a neutral site (Las Vegas) under the supervision of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. This would prevent the current occupant from using any of WWE's nefarious tactics. This blogger would predict a KO in the first seconds of the first round unless the current occupant could crawl through the ropes and run away from the ring. If this is a (fair & balanced) daydream, so be it.

[x The New Yorker]
Why Justin Trudeau Is Able To Stand Up To Donald Trump
By Adam Gopnik

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Right now is a nice time to be Canadian. Brought up in Canada, as I was, and married to a woman so Canadian that she is both Winnipeg Icelandic and Winnipeg Jewish (you would have to be a Canadian to grasp the full glory of that combination), I have the immediate urge to praise Canada, set in motion by Justin Trudeau’s recent rebuke of Donald Trump at the G-7 summit. There, Trudeau made it plain that he and his country were not about to be bullied by the American President, not on a question of unilateral tariffs, not about anything. Trump responded with gangster-style threats and sneers, followed by more threats and sneers from his associates. Trudeau, a young man generally thought to lack the great prime-ministerial gravitas of his late father, Pierre, emerged as a statesman and a leader. On Monday, the Canadian Parliament voted its unanimous support for his statements.

Instantly and hilariously, this was recognized as Justin’s “Love Actually” moment—named for the scene in that holiday-film classic in which the British Prime Minister, played with an oddly Trudeau-like reticence and charm by Hugh Grant (OK, how else does Grant play anything?), quietly and against the advice of his advisers, repudiates an Ugly American President, and becomes beloved by the British people. The “Love Actually” American prez, to be sure, merely combined the worst features of George W. Bush’s insularity and Bill Clinton’s lechery—the clowning cruelty of Trump being beyond the imagination of even British romantic comedies of that era.

The question worth asking is what it is in the Canadian national character, if I may call it that, that makes Canadians so ready to take on bullies? Canada has been doing this as long as there has been a Canada. The Mounties wear red coats, we were taught in school, to defy villains by their very presence. More seriously, Lester Pearson prompted Charles de Gaulle to cut short a visit to the country, in 1967, after he had insulted Canadian sovereignty. When Pierre Trudeau learned that Richard Nixon, in 1971, had called him an “asshole,” he delivered an unforgettable Canadian retort: “I’ve been called worse things by better people.” Canada also negotiated its way through a constitutional crisis of Quebec nationalism to emerge with the country reasonably, if imperfectly, elucidated by bilingualism from coast to coast, and Quebec reasonably secure within the confederation.

Famously obliging in attitude—how do you get twenty-five Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, “Please get out of the swimming pool”—Canadians are also notoriously stubborn of spirit. What gives them backbone alongside their gift for compromise, allowing them to bend equably and then snap back sharply? One might be inclined to say that it’s their national sports. Canada has two: curling, a sport in which absolutely nothing happens, slowly; and hockey, a sport in which everything happens, too quickly to follow. But there is a genuine answer to the question: it’s love, actually.

Canadian democracy is supported by some of the strongest social capital in the world, exceeded only, by most academic measures, by that of Scandinavia and New Zealand. Trust in social institutions, in the honesty of government and the solidarity of citizens, remains strong in Canada, even when its results, as with the election of Doug Ford—the smarter brother of the late Rob Ford, the onetime mayor of Toronto—to the premiership of Ontario, is not what progressive-minded people might like. Though United States now ranks below Canada, it still scored high in recent registries. But it once led the world in social capital. Can it do so again?

What do we mean by social capital? The term seems to have originated, or at least become most closely associated, with the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam. His book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, published in 1993, is a study of what happened after the powerful central government in Rome “democratized,“ in 1970, transferring some power to regional governments. Putnam discovered that the existence of “intermediate institutions” was crucial: in northern Italy, where citizens participate actively in sports clubs, literary guilds, service groups, and choral societies, regional governments are “efficient in their internal operation, creative in their policy initiatives and effective in implementing those initiatives.” In southern Italy, by contrast, where patterns of civic engagement are far weaker, regional governments tend to be corrupt and inefficient.

Putnam explained this relationship between strong networks of citizen participation and positive institutional performance with “social capital.” Translated from the sociologese, this makes perfect sense. If you have experience working outside your immediate clan or cohort, you’re likelier to be able to practice democratic politics. It’s the same idea that the philosopher Jürgen Habermas captured in the phrase “the public sphere,” when he showed how essential civic life was to the Enlightenment: a government is only as strong as its cafés. The most poetic term to describe the idea that I know of comes from Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park. Olmsted is a doubly interesting liberal hero, because, although he is best known now as a kind of urban pastoralist, he was also one of the first great American journalists. In one of the first famous reports that the Times published, Olmsted compared the Southern states with those of the North and found that, for all the South’s cultural self-proclamation, it was a paralyzed, frozen society, while the North was full of activity. “Our young men are members and managers of reading rooms, public libraries, gymnasiums, game clubs, boat clubs, ball clubs, and all sorts of clubs, Bible classes, debating societies, military companies; they are planting road-side trees, or damming streams for skating ponds, or rigging diving-boards, or getting up fireworks displays, or private theatricals; they are always doing something,” he wrote. Olmsted called this orgy of sociability “commonplace civilization.”

By this measure, it was the strength of Canada’s commonplace civilization, the knowledge that a huge and hugely variegated country would find bullying unacceptable, that gave Trudeau the nerve to speak in ways that previously had been the province of escapist romantic comedy. He was, of course, speaking up practically for Canadian aluminium- and steelworkers. But the thing that sparked his countrymen’s admiration seems to be not simply his defense of their interests but his defense of the idea that there is more to politics than the rituals of domination and submission, which are the sum total of Donald Trump’s understanding of society. Trudeau is hardly a perfect politician, and in the months leading up to the G-7 he had plenty of political pratfalls and problems of his own, but the unanimity of support that his defiance achieved was a marker of renewed trust.

Beneath the days’ conflicts between Trudeau and Trump lay a deeper conflict between a society that, for all its difficulties, has a strong public sphere and a powerful sense of solidarity—and the American one, that is debased every day by its own leader. The bankruptcy of America’s social capital becomes more evident when we see it flourish elsewhere. It’s no accident that Trudeau, in addition to receiving the support of his own Parliament, has received that of what used to be called the free world. The American President, meanwhile, has found himself more at home with the brutal leaders of gangster governments. Not an accident at all. But certainly a tragedy. # # #

[In 1986, Adam Gopnik began his long professional association with The New Yorker with a piece that would show his future range, a consideration of connections among baseball, childhood, and Renaissance art. He has written for four editors at the magazine: William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown, and David Remnick. Gopnik, born in Philadelphia, lived his early life in Montreal and received a BA (art history) from McGill University. Later, he received an MA (art history) from New York University. In 2011, Adam Gopnik was chosen as the noted speaker for the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Massey Lectures where he delivered five lectures across five Canadian cities that make up his book Winter: Five Windows on the Season (2011). More recently, Gopnik has written The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (2012). In 2013, McGill University awarded a DLItt (honoris causa) to Adam Gopnik.]

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