Friday, December 31, 2010

This Blog Rang Out 2009 With The Coen Brothers... Why Not 2010?

On December 30, 2009, this blog featured a review of the scholarly literature that has been inspired by the Coen Brothers' film, "The Big Lebowski" (1998). At the time, this blogger burbled that he had never met a Coen Brothers' film that he didn't like. As 2010 draws to a close, "True Grit" (2010) is another Coen Brothers' gem. Stan (THe Man Unusual) Fish proclaims "True Grit" (2010) to be a religious film. If this is (fair & balanced) cinematic homiletics, so be it.

PS: A persistent reader can go here to read the nearly 300 comments to Stan The Man Unusual's take on the new "True Grit." Comment #110 proves what this blogger's maternal grandmother always told him: "Fools' names and fools' faces are often found in public places."

[x NY Fishwrap]
Narrative And The Grace Of God: The New "True Grit"
By Stanley Fish

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Movie critic Dan Gagliasso doesn’t like the Coen brothers’ remake of the Henry Hathaway-John Wayne “True Grit.” He is especially upset because the moment he most treasures — when Wayne, on horseback, takes the reins in his teeth and yells to Lucky Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall), “Fill your hand you son-of-a-bitch” — is in the Coens’ hands just another scene. “The new film,” Gagliasso complains, “literally throws that great cinematic moment away.”

That’s right; there is an evenness to the new movie’s treatment of its events that frustrates Gagliasso’s desire for something climactic and defining. In the movie Gagliasso wanted to see — in fact the original “True Grit” — we are told something about the nature of heroism and virtue and the relationship between the two. In the movie we have just been gifted with, there is no relationship between the two; heroism, of a physical kind, is displayed by almost everyone, “good” and “bad” alike, and the universe seems at best indifferent, and at worst hostile, to its exercise.

The springs of that universe are revealed to us by the narrator-heroine Mattie in words that appear both in Charles Portis’s novel and the two films, but with a difference. The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious.

A third sentence, left out of the film but implied by its dramaturgy, tells us that the latter reading is the right one: “You cannot earn that [grace] or deserve it.” In short, there is no relationship between the bestowing or withholding of grace and the actions of those to whom it is either accorded or denied. You can’t add up a person’s deeds — so many good one and so many bad ones — and on the basis of the column totals put him on the grace-receiving side (you can’t earn it); and you can’t reason from what happens to someone to how he stands in God’s eyes (you can’t deserve it).

What this means is that there are two registers of existence: the worldly one in which rewards and punishment are meted out on the basis of what people visibly do; and another one, inaccessible to mortal vision, in which damnation and/or salvation are distributed, as far as we can see, randomly and even capriciously.

It is, says Mattie in a reflection that does not make it into either movie, a “hard doctrine running contrary to the earthly ideals of fair play” (that’s putting it mildly), and she glosses that hard doctrine — heavenly favor does not depend on anything we do — with a reference to II Timothy 1:9, which celebrates the power of the God “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”

This and other pieces of scripture don’t emerge from the story as a moral kernel emerges from a parable; they hang over the narrative (Mattie just sprays them), never quite touching its events and certainly not generated by them. There are no easy homiletics here, no direct line drawing from the way things seem to have turned out to the way they ultimately are. While worldly outcomes and the universe’s moral structure no doubt come together in the perspective of eternity, in the eyes of mortals they are entirely disjunct.

Mattie gives a fine (if terrible) example early in the novel when she imagines someone asking why her father went out of his way to help the man who promptly turned around and shot him. “He was his brother’s keeper. Does that answer your question?” Yes it does, but it doesn’t answer the question of why the reward for behaving in accord with God’s command is violent death at the hands of your brother, a question posed by the Bible’s first and defining event, and unanswered to this day.

In the novel and in the Coens’ film it is always like that: things happen, usually bad things (people are hanged, robbed, cheated, shot, knifed, bashed over the head and bitten by snakes), but they don’t have any meaning, except the meaning that you had better not expect much in this life because the brute irrationality of it all is always waiting to smack you in the face. This is what happens to Mattie at the very instant of her apparent triumph as she shoots Tom Chaney, her father’s killer, in the head. The recoil of the gun propels her backwards and she falls into a snake-infested pit. Years later, as the narrator of the novel, she recalls the moment and says: “I had forgotten about the pit behind me.” There is always a pit behind you and in front of you and to the side of you. That’s just the way it is.

Reviewers have remarked that the new “True Grit” — bleak, violent, unrelenting — is just like “No Country for Old Men.” Yes it is, but not quite. “No Country for Old Men” is a movie I could barely stand seeing once. I watched “True Grit” twice in a single evening, not exactly happily (it’s hardly a barrel of fun), but not in revulsion, either.

The reason is that while the Coens deprive us of the heroism Gagliasso and others look for, they give us a better heroism in the person of Mattie, who maintains the confidence of her convictions even when the world continues to provide no support for them. In the end, when she is a spinster with one arm who arrives too late to see Rooster once more, she remains as judgmental, single-minded and resolute as ever. She goes forward not because she has faith in a better worldly future — her last words to us are “Time just gets away from us” — but because she has faith in the righteousness of her path, a path that is sure (because it is not hers) despite the absence of external guideposts. That is the message Iris Dement proclaims at the movie’s close when she sings “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”:

Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way
Leaning on the everlasting arms
Oh how bright the path goes from day to day
Leaning on the everlasting arms
What have I to dread what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up. Ω

[Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Fish also taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University. Fish received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from Yale University. He is the author of 10 books, most recently — Save the World on Your Own Time (2008).]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mama Don't Take My Kodachrome Away (For A Third — And Final — Time)

The first mention of the demise of Kodachrome appeared in this blog on September 22, 2008. Then, this blog featured a second farewell to the iconic photographic film on June 23, 2009. So, why not a third curtain call for Kodachrome? Today, on Thursday, December 30, 2010, Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, KS will process the last roll of Kodachrome (1935-2010) film. If this is a (fair & balanced) fade to black, so be it.
PS: The copyright police blocked earlier versions of "Kodachrome" from YouTube on the two earlier blog posts, but — like WikiLeaks — YouTube just keeps rollin' along. Rock on, Paul & Artie (and enjoy YesMan46's Kodachrome slideshow)!

[x YouTube/YesMan46 Channel]
"Kodachrome" (1973)
By Paul Simon & Art Garfunkle

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away....

[x NY Fishwrap]
For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends At Photo Lab In Kansas
By A. G. Sulzberger

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An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

In the span of minutes this week, two such visitors arrived. The first was a railroad worker who had driven from Arkansas to pick up 1,580 rolls of film that he had just paid $15,798 to develop. The second was an artist who had driven directly here after flying from London to Wichita, KS, on her first trip to the United States to turn in three rolls of film and shoot five more before the processing deadline.

The artist, Aliceson Carter, 42, was incredulous as she watched the railroad worker, Jim DeNike, 53, loading a dozen boxes that contained nearly 50,000 slides into his old maroon Pontiac. He explained that every picture inside was of railroad trains and that he had borrowed money from his father’s retirement account to pay for developing them.

“That’s crazy to me,” Ms. Carter said. Then she snapped a picture of Mr. DeNike on one of her last rolls.

Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome rewarded generations of skilled users with a richness of color and a unique treatment of light that many photographers described as incomparable even as they shifted to digital cameras. “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” Paul Simon [and Art Garfunkle] sang in his 1973 hit “Kodachrome,” which carried the plea “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.”

As news media around the world have heralded Thursday’s end of an era, rolls of the discontinued film that had been hoarded in freezers and tucked away in closets, sometimes for decades, have flooded Dwayne’s Photo, arriving from six continents.

“It’s more than a film, it’s a pop culture icon,” said Todd Gustavson, a curator from the George Eastman House, a photography museum in Rochester in the former residence of the Kodak founder. “If you were in the postwar baby boom, it was the color film, no doubt about it.”

Among the recent visitors was Steve McCurry, a photographer whose work has appeared for decades in National Geographic including his well-known cover portrait, shot in Kodachrome, of a Afghan girl that highlights what he describes as the “sublime quality” of the film. When Kodak stopped producing the film last year, the company gave him the last roll, which he hand-delivered to Parsons. “I wasn’t going to take any chances,” he explained.

At the peak, there were about 25 labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome, but the last Kodak-run facility in the United States closed several years ago, then the one in Japan and then the one in Switzerland. Since then, all that was left has been Dwayne’s Photo. Last year, Kodak stopped producing the chemicals needed to develop the film, providing the business with enough to continue processing through the end of 2010. And last week, right on schedule, the lab opened up the last canister of blue dye.

Kodak declined to comment for this article.

The status of lone survivor is a point of pride for Dwayne Steinle, who remembers being warned more than once by a Kodak representative after he opened the business more than a half-century ago that the area was too sparsely populated for the studio to succeed. It has survived in part because Mr. Steinle and his son Grant focused on lower-volume specialties — like black-and-white and print-to-print developing, and, in the early ’90s, the processing of Kodachrome.

Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.

The passing of Kodachrome has been much noted, from the CBS News program ”Sunday Morning” to The Irish Times, but it is noteworthy in no small part for how long it survived. Created in 1935, Kodachrome was an instant hit as the first film to effectively render color.

Even when it stopped being the default film for chronicling everyday life — thanks in part to the move to prints from slides — it continued to be the film of choice for many hobbyists and medical professionals. Dr. Bharat Nathwani, 65, a Los Angeles pathologist, lamented that he still had 400 unused rolls. “I might hold it, God willing that Kodak sees its lack of wisdom.”

This week, the employees at Dwayne’s worked at a frenetic pace, keeping a processing machine that has typically operated just a few hours a day working around the clock (one of the many notes on the lab wall reads: “I took this to a drugstore and they didn’t even know what it was”).

“We really didn’t expect it to be this crazy,” said Lanie George, who manages the Kodachrome processing department.

One of the toughest decisions was how to deal with the dozens of requests from amateurs and professionals alike to provide the last roll to be processed.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010.” Ω

[Arthur G. Sulzberger is the 29-year-old son and grandson of NY Fishwrap publishers Arthur ("Pinch") Sulzberger, Jr. and Arthur ("Punch") Sulzberger, Sr. The youngest Sulzberger ("Pending"?) received a BA in political science from Brown University.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

On New Year's Day, Please Pass The Black-Eyed Peas!

Here's a preview of the 2011 Super Bowl halftime show.

[x YouTube/BlackEyedPeasVEVO Channel]
"Boom Boom Pow" (2009)
By The Black Eyed Peas

This blogger met black-eyed peas on New Years during during his first year in Texas, not long after the fall of the Alamo. He's been eatin' the awful things every New Year's Day since and the good luck has been overwhelming. Well, maybe whelming is closer to defining this blogger's life trajectory. In the meantime, please pass the thiebou niebe.

If this is (fair & balanced) dietary superstition, so be it.

]x NY Fishwrap]
Prosperity Starts With a Pea
By Jessica B. Harris

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At year’s end, people around the world indulge in food rituals to ensure good luck in the days ahead. In Spain, grapes eaten as the clock turns midnight — one for each chime — foretell whether the year will be sweet or sour. In Austria, the New Year’s table is decorated with marzipan pigs to celebrate wealth, progress and prosperity. Germans savor carp and place a few fish scales in their wallets for luck. And for African-Americans and in the Southern United States, it’s all about black-eyed peas.

Not surprisingly, this American tradition originated elsewhere, in this case in the forests and savannahs of West Africa. After being domesticated there 5,000 years ago, black-eyed peas made their way into the diets of people in virtually all parts of that continent. They then traveled to the Americas in the holds of slave ships as food for the enslaved. “Everywhere African slaves arrived in substantial numbers, cowpeas followed,” wrote one historian, using one of several names the legume acquired. Today the peas are also eaten in Brazil, Central America and the Caribbean.

In the United States, few foods are more connected with African-Americans and with the South. Before the early 1700s, black-eyed peas were observed growing in the Carolina colonies. As in Africa, they were often planted at the borders of the fields to help keep down weeds and enrich the soil; cattle grazed on the stems and vines. These practices are at the origin of two of the peas’ alternative names: cowpeas and field peas. The peas, which were eaten by enslaved Africans and poorer whites, became one of the Carolinas’ cash crops, exported to the Caribbean colonies before the Revolutionary War.

Like many other dishes of African inspiration, black-eyed peas made their way from the slave cabin to the master’s table; the 1824 edition of The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph includes a recipe for field peas. Randolph suggests shelling, boiling and draining the “young and newly gathered” peas, then mashing them into a cake and frying until lightly browned. The black-eyed pea cakes are served with a garnish of “thin bits of fried bacon.”

Of course, black-eyed peas find their most prominent expression around New Year’s in the holiday’s signature dish: Hoppin’ John, a Carolina specialty made with black-eyed peas and rice and seasoned with smoked pork. Again, though, the peas and rice combination reaches back beyond the Lowcountry to West Africa, where variants are eaten to this day. Senegal alone has three variations: thiebou kethiah, a black-eyed pea and rice stew with eggplant, pumpkin, okra and smoked fish; sinan kussak, a stew with smoked fish and prepared with red palm oil; and thiebou niebe, a stew seasoned with fish sauce that is closest to America’s Hoppin’ John.

Just as nobody is sure of the origin of the name Hoppin’ John, no one seems quite certain why the dish has become associated with luck, or New Year’s. Some white Southerners claim that black-eyed peas saved families from starvation during the Union Army’s siege of Vicksburg in the Civil War. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food suggests that it may come from Sephardic Jews, who included the peas in their Rosh Hashana menu as a symbol of fertility and prosperity.

For African-Americans, the connection between beans and fortune is surely complex. Perhaps, because dried black-eyed peas can be germinated, having some extra on hand at the New Year guaranteed sustenance provided by a new crop of the fast-growing vines. The black-eyed pea and rice combination also forms a complete protein, offering all of the essential amino acids. During slavery, one ensured of such nourishment was lucky indeed.

Whatever the exact reason, black-eyed peas with rice form one corner of the African-American New Year’s culinary trinity: greens, beans and pig. The greens symbolize greenbacks (or “folding money”) and may be collards, mustards or even cabbage. The pork is a remembrance of our enslaved forebears, who were given the less noble parts of the pig as food. But without the black-eyed pea, which journeyed from Africa to the New World, it just isn’t New Year’s — at least not a lucky one. Ω

[Jessica B. Harris is a Professor in the English Department at Queens College-CUNY and the author of the forthcoming High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America. Harris attended Bryn Mawr College, earning her A.B. degree in French in 1968. While there, she spent her junior year abroad in Paris. She returned to France in 1968, attending the Universite de Nancy for a year, and then earned her master's degree from Queens College in 1971. Harris earned her Ph.D. from New York University in 1983.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Real Melancholy Baby

Frances "Sissy" Farenthold (D-TX) was called "A Melancholy Rebel" during her quest to be governor of Texas in 1972. Her melancholia could not have been lifted by the 2010 election of her grandson, Blake Farenthold, to represent Texas's 27th congressional district (Corpus Christi) as a DUMBO. Sissy Farenthold served as a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1968 through 1972. In both 1972 and 1974, she unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Governor of Texas, having been defeated both times by Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde, a more conservative Democrat. Frances Farenthold had a quality that was missing among Texas politicians, then and now: integrity. You could ride to the river with Sissy Farenthold; her grandson is probably selling the public portions of the Nueces River shoreline to developers at this very moment. If this is (fair & balanced) regret for what might have been, so be it.

[x TXTrib] (Reprinted from The New Yorker, June 17, 1972)
The Reformer
By Calvin Trillin

As a gift to Trib readers this holiday week, we're pleased to reprint Calvin Trillin's New Yorker profile of 1972 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frances "Sissy" Farenthold — one of a dozen and a half articles and poems that will be published early next year in Trillin on Texas, a new anthology from the University of Texas Press. A staff writer at the magazine since 1963, Trillin has long seen the state as a rich source of material; elsewhere in the anthology are meditations on subjects ranging from Texas barebecue to the fictional film critic Joe Bob Briggs. He also considers Texas to be a part of his ancestral narrative, as several members of his family arrived in the United States by way of Galveston. "Yes, I do have a Texas connection," he writes in the introduction to the anthology, "but, as we'd say in the Midwest, where I grew up, not so's you'd know it."

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It is customary for any woman in politics who is against the established regime to be called feisty, more or less the way any elderly black sharecropper whose picture is taken by a magazine photographer is spoken of as having great dignity. Frances (Sissy) Farenthold, a state legislator from Corpus Christi who just lost a runoff for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Texas, was occasionally called feisty during the campaign by some visiting reporter, but the Texas Observer — a liberal Austin biweekly that happens to have as its principal editors two women who are sometimes called feisty themselves — titled its cover story on her last year “A Melancholy Rebel.” When Mrs. Farenthold said during the campaign that a “private government” of special interests controls the state capitol, she seemed to be expressing disappointment even more than anger. Her voice often had a tone of weary resignation, as if nothing would please her more than to hear that everyone in Austin had reformed and thus relieved her of the unpleasant duty of dealing once more with a tiresome subject. When asked about her mood by reporters, Mrs. Farenthold sometimes said it derived partly from her experiences during the two years she served as director of a legal-services program in her home county, just before her election to the Texas House of Representatives. An alternate theory is that anybody who has seriously worked for change through three sessions of the Texas House of Representatives is fortunate to escape with a melancholy frame of mind instead of severe, disabling depression.

Mrs. Farenthold went to Austin in 1968 with the idea of working for welfare reform — having come to the conclusion that the welfare laws had a lot to do with the pathetic condition of her clients in Nueces County — but she eventually became identified with reform of the state government itself. The Sharpstown stock-fraud scandal — a complicated series of events tied together by the passage of some banking legislation and the stock profits of some people who were helpful in passing it — made corruption the most important issue in Texas politics during her second term in the House. Normally, officeholders in a state like Texas have differed from eminent public servants in the federal government primarily in the way some social scientists claim that lower-class Americans differ from those Americans who have arrived at the middle class — an inability to defer reward. A commissioner of an important federal regulatory agency is content to live on his government salary, secure in the knowledge that his next job may be as a highly paid executive or counsel in the industry he has been regulating. Distinguished Washington lawyers who serve as deputy secretaries of one department or another are ordinarily not given large retainers to use their influence until after they resign their posts. In some states, though, it is understood that such patience is too much to ask of a poor frail human being who happens to find himself governor. In Texas, participatory democracy has meant that leading Democrats can participate in the most lucrative business deals. During her campaign for governor, Mrs. Farenthold would sometimes ask her audience, “How long has it been since we’ve had a governor who left office without a ranch?” When Orval Faubus left the governorship of Arkansas, he was asked how he had managed to build a two-hundred-thousand-dollar house after having earned only ten thousand dollars a year during his twelve years in office, and he said he owed it all to thrift.

What brought Sissy Farenthold to prominence was that the Sharpstown scandal was blatant enough to offend the voters but not the Legislature. In the House, Mrs. Farenthold’s resolution calling for an independent committee to investigate the scandal drew the support of only thirty out of a hundred and fifty members — a group that became known in Austin as the Dirty Thirty. But it soon became obvious that even Texans who are relatively tolerant about how the temptations of high public office might strain a man’s patience were shocked by the Sharpstown disclosures. Voters never seem shocked at hearing about the impersonal forces that actually control a state government. Nobody seemed surprised during the campaign, for instance, at Mrs. Farenthold’s disclosure that there were a hundred and seventeen utility lobbyists registered at the last session of the Texas Legislature and that Texas remains one of the few states in the country without statewide regulation of utility rates. Candidates for governorships around the country rarely bother to bring up the fact that the state regulatory agencies that do exist are often controlled by the industry they are supposedly regulating. (When Mississippi’s insurance commission authorized a rate increase after Hurricane Camille, the commission consisted of two insurance agents and a lawyer for insurance companies.) But personal corruption can make voters angry. In Texas, there has been much more interest in how relatives of some legislators managed to end up on the payroll of other legislators than in how Texas manages to remain one of the four states in the union without a corporate income tax.

When the governor of Texas, Preston Smith, who profited personally in some stock transactions connected with the Sharpstown case, decided to run for renomination in the Democratic primary this spring anyway, he was given little chance of success. Dolph Briscoe, a millionaire banker and rancher from Uvalde, who had finished fourth after an expensive campaign for the nomination in 1968, was considered a strong candidate, partly because he could prove that he was innocently banking and ranching in Uvalde when everybody was trading stock in Austin, his only state-government service having been as a legislator in the fifties. The favorite in the primary was Ben Barnes, the lieutenant governor, who had not been directly involved in the Sharpstown transactions, although, as David Broder of the Washington Post pointed out, all the talk about the number of investigations that had failed to link him with the scheme made him sound uncomfortably similar to Big Jule in “Guys and Dolls,” who was renowned for having had thirty-three arrests, no convictions. (In the financial statement required of gubernatorial candidates, Barnes stated that he had two hundred and sixty-seven thousand dollars in assets — which, for a young man who had spent his entire career as a public servant at a salary even below that of the governor of Arkansas, displayed a degree of thrift that approached asceticism.) In winning the lieutenant governorship, Barnes, a protégé of Lyndon Johnson and John Connally, had carried every single one of the two hundred and fifty-four counties in Texas. His political rise was considered so inevitable that the two sides of a late-night political discussion about him in Austin could be divided by differing opinions on precisely which year he would become President of the United States.

The candidacy of Frances Farenthold seemed barely able to survive a description of who she was — a politically liberal woman who was called Sissy and had gone to Vassar and was married to a foreigner. (George Farenthold is a businessman who was born in Belgium and has been an American citizen since 1940. The George Farenthold, Jr., who was found murdered last week was his son by a previous marriage.) She was dismissed by all professional politicians as a token candidate who had absolutely no chance of making the runoff. In Austin, she was known for holding strong views and expressing them — which in the way professional politicians judge candidates for statewide office is like having a serious disease and developing complications. In 1969, a resolution commending Lyndon Johnson for his handling of the Presidency, including, presumably, his handling of the war in Vietnam, had divided the Texas House along strictly male-female lines — a hundred and forty-nine for, one opposed. Among all the legislators who believed that sooner or later there had to be a change in the Texas marijuana law, which now makes possession of marijuana a felony that can be punished by life imprisonment, Mrs. Farenthold was the one willing to become identified as an advocate of pot by introducing a bill that would have made first-offense possession a misdemeanor. She openly supported the farm workers’ boycott of lettuce and refused to join the other candidates in reciting the dread effects of school busing. Early in the campaign, she called for the abolition of the Texas Rangers — an élite corps of the state police that many Texas Anglos think of as a symbol of proud Texas history and many Mexican-Americans in the southern part of the state think of as a symbol of Anglo oppression. (She later said she would settle for making South Texas off-limits to the Rangers.) Her supporters could think of hardly anything else she could do to offend the type of voters Texas candidates ordinarily cultivate, except, perhaps, to launch a vitriolic personal attack on John Wayne. But her most important identification was still as someone who had fought the corruption in Austin rather than tolerated it — the Den Mother of the Dirty Thirty. Dolph Briscoe, advertising that he was a man Texans could believe in, got forty-four per cent of the votes, almost winning the primary without a runoff. But Sissy Farenthold finished second, eliminating both the incumbent governor and the incumbent lieutenant governor from the race.

Whether the simple fact of being a woman gained or lost votes for Sissy Farenthold was a popular subject for discussion after the primary — the primary results having relieved the discussants of the burden of arguing about which year Ben Barnes would be President. There was some question whether a woman candidate was culturally unacceptable to a lot of Mexican-Americans or to those Texas Anglos whose idea of a public leader is the father of the Cartwrights on horseback. There was some question whether middle-class Anglo women found her a source of pride or envy. She had, after all, lived what might be the fantasy of any housewife who felt unfulfilled by the League of Women Voters: a lawyer from a family long prominent in Texas law, she had waited until her youngest child was in school before taking up full-time practice, and seven years later had found herself as a candidate for governor. There were those who believed that her unusually strong primary vote in normally conservative suburbs reflected the support of women, although other analysts traced it to simple snob appeal.

In the runoff campaign, being a woman gave Mrs. Farenthold certain advantages — all of them the kind of advantages that would strike a women’s liberationist as reflections of a sexist society. Briscoe suffered from his refusal to meet her in debate, a refusal normally expected of a candidate who knows he has a large lead, mainly because it made him appear to be cowering before a woman. Mrs. Farenthold, who at one point trapped Briscoe in a Fort Worth hotel lobby to ask him about the debate face-to-face, often said that Briscoe was running away from her, and in speeches during the last week of the campaign she sometimes followed that accusation with a line that never failed to draw applause: “How unmanly!”

The singularity of a woman candidate was probably responsible for some of the television and newspaper coverage that made Mrs. Farenthold’s name familiar to voters in an extraordinarily short time. At some point in the runoff campaign, Mrs. Farenthold became a star, and rallies would end with dozens of young people coming up to the platform to thrust forward posters on which she was expected to scrawl “Sissy.” Outside Corpus Christi, she did not receive the endorsement of one major newspaper, but any news item about Dolph Briscoe seemed to be accompanied by two or three about Sissy Farenthold. The headlines usually referred to Briscoe formally by his last name and called Mrs. Farenthold Sissy, as if the reporter thought of him as some stiff banker suffering an interview and of her as a personal friend — which, as it happened, was usually the case. Just before the runoff voting, a labor lawyer who has become accustomed to finding word of his candidates somewhere back near the auction notices told an acquaintance that he first realized Mrs. Farenthold’s appeal to the press after she made a routine trip to inspect the pollution in the Houston ship channel. (The ship channel may be best known to future historians not for the role it plays in Houston’s economy but for a remark made in defense of its cleanliness. When environmentalists were being particularly critical a year or so ago about what some factories were dumping into the water, one official tried to put it all into perspective by telling a reporter that arsenic is a scare word.) “At breakfast the next morning, I picked up the paper and there was a three-column headline saying ‘Sissy Astonished at Pollution in Ship Channel,’” the labor lawyer said. “Three columns! I said, ‘Well, the Lord is with us this time.’” On the day the conservative Dallas Morning News endorsed Briscoe on its editorial page, its two interpretive pieces on the campaign were headlined “Briscoe Strategy Barring Full Coverage by Press” and “Sissy Shoulders Burden of Stardom with Aplomb.”

Despite their reputation for being embattled, liberals in Texas are not just a tiny minority, as they would be in, say, Mississippi. When their traditional coalition of labor and the minorities and ideological liberals is operating, they can carry the state — which hasn’t happened in the governor’s race for many years but has accounted for the election of Ralph Yarborough to the Senate a few times. The two or three people who told Sissy Farenthold that she had a chance of making the runoff based their prediction not on her appeal as a reformer but on what they called a “structural opportunity” — a number of liberal votes that no other candidate was likely to get. She went into the runoff without the official endorsement of the state labor organization and without assurance of a large turnout of black and Mexican-American voters. But her advisers hoped she could make up the difference with the support of young voters and women and, most of all, people of all sorts of backgrounds who were disgusted with the state government and wanted reform.

It is routine for Texas-candidates who can be labelled liberals to assure voters that old labels like “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless. Mrs. Farenthold managed to sound more persuasive than most, partly because of her approach — she seemed to be considering each issue separately rather than fitting it into some ideological framework — and partly because of the issue that brought her to prominence. Although the Dirty Thirty had included the liberal faction in the House, it had also included some Democrats who were not liberals and even some Republicans. Mrs. Farenthold, campaigning as a reformer rather than a liberal, maintained that the issue of the campaign was public government versus private government rather than liberal versus conservative. Compared to what she was accused of believing about marijuana and busing and abortion, her concentration on the need to end favoritism and bring honest representation to Austin sometimes sounded like a respectable, middle-class appeal for good government. But if public government actually ever did replace private government in Austin — if, as Mrs. Farenthold suggested, the lobbyists were reduced to the role of petitioners rather than manipulators — the result would have been the “radical upheaval” Briscoe accused Mrs. Farenthold of favoring. The manipulators she was talking about represent the most powerful financial interests in the state. What the Democrats who have always defeated the liberals in statewide races have had in common is not a rigid political ideology — a number of them, including Ben Barnes, are noted for their flexibility — but a compassion for the plight of people who have to wake up every morning and face the problems of running an oil company or a bank or a utility.

Briscoe, in a cautious campaign restricted pretty much to television and newspaper advertisements, said that the reform issue had been settled in the first primary. As most voters perceive the need for reform — ending personal corruption rather than tampering with corporate control — he was right. The incumbent governor had been badly defeated, after all, and the Speaker of the House had eventually been convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery. The line that always drew the most applause at one of Mrs. Farenthold’s speeches — that the governor’s chair was not for sale this year — expressed a view that cost Briscoe no votes among voters who were interested in reform. As a matter of personal corruption, it made no difference that, as Mrs. Farenthold often said during the campaign, Briscoe had already begun to deal with the same lobbyists she had been fighting. In the traditional view of reform, Briscoe had the same qualification that is often mentioned about a Rockefeller who runs for governor in a place like Arkansas or West Virginia or New York — “He’s too rich to steal.” Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine, and has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1963. For fifteen years Trillin wrote a series for The New Yorker called "U.S. Journal" — a 3,000-word article from somewhere in the United States, every three weeks. Since 1984, he has penned a series of longer narrative pieces under the heading "American Chronicles." He later became a columnist for The Nation, writing what USA Today called "simply the funniest regular column in journalism." That column became syndicated from 1986 through 1995. In 1996, he returned to Time magazine as a weekly columnist. To date the column has been collected in five books. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA, from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

From Trillin On Texas by Calvin Trillin, Copyright © 2011 Courtesy of the University of Texas Press

Copyright © 2010 The Texas Tribune

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Listen Up! Today's Versus Parody Contains Adult Language!

Last warning! Ol' Marcy Shaffer took off the gloves with today's lyrics aimed at the Masters of the Universe on Greed Street. If you will turn into a pillar of salt upon reading street language, go no further. If this is (fair & balanced) rapping, so be it.

[x YouTube/VersusPlus Channel]
"I Came Upon An Engingeer" (Wall Street v. America’s Industry)
Parody of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"
(Words by Edmund Hamilton Sears/Music by Richard Storrs Willis)
Additional Music By Greg Hilfman
Parody Lyrics By Marcy Shaffer

robber baron:




hey mister robber baron
man, there's no debatin'
you rule and that's cool
you're captivatin' as satan

you're hauntin' my quantin'
to goose your abstruse stuff
but i am wantin' to produce stuff
for use stuff

like funky chips
and funky ships
to base in space or chase trace blips
my thingamabobs will bringama-jobs

spur u.s. feet to the beat
meet your new silicon-trepreneur

vc's gushin' i'll be flushin' the chinese
who i can tell, LOL, you do swell to appease

mister robber baron, we don't fit one bit
you just gild
i submit
you don't build shitret

and your middle class hole
a mass hole
which is rich, asshole
got no itch to be your bitchh

restatin', pal, you go pluck some other sucker
and pucker
i'm creatin' value

so no i won't go
to grow your dough
'cause dude, i conclude you are just a ho
a ho
a ho
a ho, ho, ho
and you blow

robber baron:


[Gary Stockdale - Lead Vocal (Robber Baron)
Randy Crenshaw - Lead Vocal (Engineer)
Angie Jarée - Background Vocal
Janis Liebhart - Background Vocal
Gary Stockdale - Background Vocal
Greg Hilfman - Music Director

VERSUS parodies are written by Marcy Shaffer, whose professional writing experience includes television, film, lyrics, verse and… musical parody. VERSUS is co-produced by Russ Meyer, a private equity veteran whose industry expertise includes financial services as well as entertainment. Shaffer is an attorney-cum-parodist (Roll over Stephan Pastis!) and her partner, Russ Meyer, received his MBA from Stanford University. Shaffer writes the words and Meyer counts the beans.]

℗ © 2010 RMSWorks

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Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Snark From Hitch: Henry The K Is "A Nose-Pick Anti-Semite"

Henry The K is disgusting: a war criminal, a Jewish anti-Semite, and a Holocaust affirmer. This sumbitch would have worked for Hitler or Stalin without batting an eye. His toady-service to The Trickster is revealed in Henry The K's own words in the Nixon tapes. When The Dubster appointed Henry The K to chair the 9/11 Commission, the sleazeball refused to disclose the international clients of Kissinger Associates and so the nation was spared a dishonest 9/11 report. If there is a Hell, may Henry the K burn there forever and ever. If this is (fair & balanced) Kissinger-hatred, so be it.

[x Slate]
Mr. Kissinger, Have You No Shame?
By Christopher Hitchens

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at

Until the most recent release of the Nixon/Kissinger tapes, what were the permitted justifications for saying in advance that the slaughter of Jews in gas chambers by a hostile foreign dictatorship would not be "an American concern"? Let's agree that we do not know. It didn't seem all that probable that the question would come up. Or, at least, not all that likely that the statement would turn out to have been made, and calmly received, in the Oval Office. I was present at Madison Square Garden in 1985 when Louis Farrakhan warned the Jews to remember that "when [God] puts you in the ovens, you're there forever," but condemnation was swift and universal, and, in any case, Farrakhan's tenure in the demented fringe was already a given.

Now, however, it seems we do know the excuses and the rationalizations. Here's one, from David Harris of the American Jewish Committee: "Perhaps Kissinger felt that, as a Jew, he had to go the extra mile to prove to the president that there was no question of where his loyalties lay." And here's another, from Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League: "The anti-Jewish prejudice which permeated the Nixon presidency and White House undoubtedly created an environment of intimidation for those who did not share the president's bigotry. Dr. Kissinger was clearly not immune to that intimidation." Want more? Under the heading, "A Defense of Kissinger, From Prominent Jews," Mortimer Zuckerman, Kenneth Bialkin, and James Tisch wrote to The New York Times to say that "Mr. Kissinger consistently played a constructive role vis-à-vis Israel both as national security adviser and secretary of state, especially when the United States extended dramatic assistance to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War." They asked that "the fuller Kissinger record should be remembered" and, for good measure, that "the critics of Mr. Kissinger should remember the context of his entire life." Finally, Kissinger himself has favored us with the following: At that time in 1973, he reminds us, the Nixon administration was being pressed by Sens. Jacob Javits and Henry Jackson to link Soviet trade privileges to emigration rights for Russian Jews. "The conversation at issue arose not as a policy statement by me but in response to a request by the president that I should appeal to Senators Javits and Jackson and explain why we thought their approach unwise."

But Kissinger didn't say something cold and Metternichian to the effect that Jewish interest should come second to détente. He deliberately said gas chambers! If we are going to lower our whole standard of condemnation for such talk (and it seems that we have somehow agreed to do so), then it cannot and must not be in response to contemptible pseudo-reasonings like these.

Let us take the statements in order. Harris and Foxman at least assume what we know for many other reasons to be true: Richard Nixon was a psychopathic anti-Semite. Is Kissinger so base as to accept their defense—that he was cringing before a Jew-baiter? Surely this, too, is "hurtful" to him (the revealing term he employs for reading criticism of his words rather than for their utterance)? He declines even to discuss the subject, though it has come up on countless previous Nixon tapes. The difference on this occasion is stark: The other recordings have Nixon giving vent to his dirty obsession while Kissinger makes fawning responses. This time, it is Kissinger who goes as far as any pick-nose anti-Semite can go. And Nixon doesn't bother to grunt his approval. Not even he demanded so much of his eager toady. Of the Zuckerman-Bialkin-Tisch school of realpolitik, nothing much needs to be said. They refer to the "shock and dismay of some in the Jewish community"—as if only that community was entitled to shock or dismay—while quite omitting even the usual formality of expressing any disapproval of their own. To them, pre-approval of genocide, offered freely to a racist crook, is forgivable if the speaker is otherwise more or less uncritically pro-Israel. Add to this the other excuses of Jewish officialdom—that the pre-approval is also excusable when used to appease the evil mood swings of a criminal president—and you have the thesaurus of apologetics more or less complete. Kissinger's own defense—that pre-approval of gas chambers was his thinking-aloud dress rehearsal for an "appeal to Senators Javits and Jackson"—is of course unique to him.

So our culture has once again suffered a degradation by the need to explain away the career of this disgusting individual. And what if we did, indeed, accept the invitation to "remember the context of his entire life"? Here's what we would find: the secret and illegal bombing of Indochina, explicitly timed and prolonged to suit the career prospects of Nixon and Kissinger. The pair's open support for the Pakistani army's 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, of the architect of which, General Yahya Khan, Kissinger was able to say [PDF]: "Yahya hasn't had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre." Kissinger's long and warm personal relationship with the managers of other human abattoirs in Chile and Argentina, as well as his role in bringing them to power by the covert use of violence. The support and permission for the mass murder in East Timor, again personally guaranteed by Kissinger to his Indonesian clients. His public endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party's sanguinary decision to clear Tiananmen Square in 1989. His advice to President Gerald Ford to refuse Alexander Solzhenitsyn an invitation to the White House (another favor, as with spitting on Soviet Jewry, to his friend Leonid Brezhnev). His decision to allow Saddam Hussein to slaughter the Kurds after promising them American support. His backing for a fascist coup in Cyprus in 1974 and then his defense of the brutal Turkish invasion of the island. His advice to the Israelis, at the beginning of the first intifada, to throw the press out of the West Bank and go for all-out repression. His view that ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia was something about which nothing could be done. Forget the criminal aspect here (or forget it if you can). All those policies were also political and diplomatic disasters.

We possess a remarkably complete record of all this, in and out of office, most of it based solidly on U.S. government documents. (The gloating over Bangladesh comes from July 19, 1971.) And it's horribly interesting to note how often the cables and minutes show him displaying a definite relish for the business of murder and dictatorship, a heavy and nasty jokiness (foreign policy is not "a missionary activity") that was by no means always directed, bad as that would have been, at gratifying his diseased and disordered boss. Every time American career diplomats in the field became sickened at the policy, which was not seldom, Kissinger was there to shower them with contempt or to have them silenced. The gas-chamber counselor is consistent with every other version of him that we have.

To permit this gross new revelation to fade, or be forgiven, would be to devalue our most essential standard of what constitutes the unpardonable. And for what? For the reputation of a man who turns out to be not even a Holocaust denier but a Holocaust affirmer. There has to be a moral limit, and either this has to be it or we must cease pretending to ourselves that we observe one. Ω

[Christopher Hitchens is an Atlantic contributing editor and a Vanity Fair columnist. Hitchens was educated at The Leys School, Cambridge (His mother arguing that "If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it."), and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and graduated with a "gentleman's 3rd." Hitchens came to the States in 1981 to write for The Nation. Hitchens is the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, CA and is the author of Hitch-22: A Memoir (2010).]

Copyright © 2010 Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive Co.

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves