The Man Without a Country

The USS Constitution at Sea

As we suddenly find ourselves in the position of fending off sedition and insurrection by a mob of moronic yokels, I find myself in the position of wanting to make a modest proposal. I am irked that these clowns who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were waving the American flag and wearing red, white, and blue even as if they tried to overthrow the government in favor of a criminal president who is about to leave Washington under a cloud.

My proposal is this: There is an 1863 story by Edward Everett Hale called “The Man Without a Country.” It is about a stubborn criminal convicted of treason who is forced to spend the rest of his life aboard American ships on which no officer or crewman is allowed to mention anything about the United States. Perhaps Trump could be joined on such a ship with the would-be insurgents who have been convicted.

What with the global coronavirus epidemic, I am sure there are a lot of substandard passenger ships that could be used for ferrying such prisoners around the world without setting foot back on American soil. It would probably be cheaper than sending them to a Federal prison, and no effort need be made to have fancy food and cocktails or entertainment of any sort.

Hale’s story made an impression on me when I was young. I even remember having a Classic Comic Book based on it.

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909)

This would a a fitting fate for adherents of QAnon, the “Proud Boys,” and other troublemakers who have forgotten what a good deal they had in living in a democracy—one which they intended to wantonly destroy.

Library-To-Go

The Flower Street Entrance to the Los Angeles Central Library

The Central Library still looks like this, though most of the buildings around it have changed. What is more, after a devastating 1986 fire, the building was expanded on the Grand Avenue side and remodeled. Fortunately, the murals on the second floor rotunda were saved, leaving some of the old library highlights still intact.

Because of the coronavirus lockdown, patrons of the library may not enter the building. If I want access to the library’s holdings, however, I can access the Library-To-Go service. It involves four steps:

  • Select the books I want to read using the library’s website
  • Place a hold on those books and check the status every few days
  • When the books are marked as being available, use the library website to make an appointment for pickup
  • Show up at the approximate appointment time at the 5th street entrance, phone the librarians inside, and wait until they deliver the books to you in a brown paper bag

I am currently set to go downtown on Thursday morning to pick up four books: Jamyang Khyentse’s What Makes You NOT a Buddhist; Ma Jian’s Red Dust: A Path Through China; Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers: A Novel; and Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov. As I am still working on my Januarius Project. this month I am reading only books by authors I have not previously read.

Thanks to the library’s vast holdings, I can easily reserve books that are out of print and difficult to find.

The Lubitsch Touch

Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall, and Kay Francis in Trouble in Paradise (1932)

In the last few days, I have been watching three pre-Code films that Ernst Lubitsch directed for Paramount in three successive years. They all starred Miriam Hopkins and were a delight to watch. In his book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, film critic Andrew Sarris writes about the director’s attention to manners:

What are manners, after all, but the limits to man’s presumption, a recognition that we all eventually lose the game of life but that we should still play the game according to the rules. A poignant sadness infiltrates the director’s gayest moments, and it is this counterpoint between sadness and gaiety that represents the Lubitsch touch, and not the leering humor of closed doors.

My favorite of the three films is Trouble in Paradise, about two con artists/thieves/pickpockets played by Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall. They prey upon the wealthy Kay Francis—except that Marshall begins to fall for her to Hopkins’s disgust. How Marshall leaves both women happy is utterly delightful.

Poster for Design for Living (1933)

The subject of Design for Living is a ménage à quatre between Miriam Hopkins, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Edward Everett Horton. This being a pre-Code picture made before July 1934, Design for Living gets away with salacious sexual suggestiveness that wasn’t seen again in Hollywood until the 1970s. What gets me is how a film with so much envy and yearning was made with such a light touch.

Lobby Card for The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Finally, I saw (for the first time) The Smiling Lieutenant, in which Maurice Chevalier gets away with several capital crimes, including stepping out on his wife who is a royal princess. The princess, played by Hopkins, finally gets a talking-to by Claudette Colbert, who plays the leader of a beer garden all-girl band. Again, the result is a satisfying but highly unusual happy ending of a story which more frequently leads to depression and even suicide.

The three films all played on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) this month. It turns out that Miriam Hopkins is TCM’s Star of the Month. As far as I am concerned, Ernst Lubitsch is the director of the month.

Other Lubitsch films worth seeing include:

  • The Marriage Circle (1924)
  • Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925)
  • The Love Parade (1929)
  • Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo
  • The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
  • To Be or Not To Be (1942)

The last film on the list is an unlikely comedy about the Nazi invasion of Poland starring Jack Benny, Robert Stack, and Carole Lombard. It is one of the funniest films ever made. (“So, they call me Concentration Camp Erhard!”) Only Lubitsch could carry that off.

Serendipity: Wounded Bear

No, Not Donald Trump—This Time

The following consists of the opening paragraphs of novelist Trygve Gulbranssen’s Beyond Sing the Woods (1933), set in 18th century Norway. The novel reads almost like an old Icelandic saga. It is a pity that it is not better known.

The crags above the depths of Maiden Valley were deepening to blue and their lines softening in the raw air of the autumn evening. Behind them the sky flamed, with a streak of blood where the sun was setting. Upon the outermost crag a bear stood, dark as the rock itself, and sniffed towards the Broad Leas where mist lay over tarn and water-way.

His head was lean and sharp, his neck long and scraggy and sparsely covered with fur. These last few autumns he had been late in hibernating; for all his plundering and devouring the comfortable, lazy, autumnal heaviness of his younger days was slower every year in coming, and this year there was something gravely wrong. Somewhere in his body pain snarled at him, and meat had lost its savor. The greater part of every carcass he left lying, and when he gulped a little warm blood, half-living hearts, and other such light fare, he could eat no more.

No longer could he stalk elk in the forest, for his body soon stiffened and wearied, and the pain had gnawed ever since that dread reëchoing bang came at him from the man away to the north in the Björndal woods. The bang had torn its way into his flank so that the blood gushed, and the wound ached and gnawed at him long afterwards. But though he could no longer go after elk, he had felled cattle and stolen many sheep.

This autumn people had housed their animals too early. On one or two evenings he had had to venture as far as their dwellings under cover of dusk, and break in the cattle-shed doors to find blood and meat. Men had come after him with yells and shouts, but he had dashed his paw at one of them so that he fell and lay still. After that they had followed him no further.

Both men and dogs down here in the Broad Leas were different from those northward in Björndal, where he had raided in his young days. There they had hounds that hurtled upon one, and yapped and barked and drove one out of one’s wits, while the men came quietly without yells or shouts, and one was not aware of them until they were close—then would come a bang shivering through guts and bones, leaving a pain that stayed. Down here in the Leas dogs slunk scared behind the men, and there was only noise and uproar, and no bangs. He would stay here, and in the evening when the lights were out make his way down to the byres.

He remained standing for a long time, pitch-black against the sky now darkening to blood and night. His head stood out sharply, his ragged neck stretched at a slant from his powerfully built body, shrunken now, with pointed shoulder-blades sticking up under his coat.

Not a Revolution

The Start of the French Revolution in 1789: The Oath on the Tennis Court

Sorry for continuing in a political vein, but the events of the last week have infuriated and energized me. The bozos who invaded the Capitol last Wednesday were not on any mission to represent the voters of the United States. In fact, they were attempting to disenfranchise the majority of American voters who had decided they had enough of Donald Trump and his cheapjack presidential administration.

Trump made much of the fact that 74 million voters were behind him. He totally ignored the fact that 81 million voters were against him. During his entire presidency, Trump only cared for the people that supported him; all the others were nasty haters. He never tried to increase the number of his supporters. Instead, he kept going back to the states that supported him to hold massive rallies.

Has he ever held a rally in Los Angeles? No. He has few supporters here, and lots of enemies (including me).

I fear that Monday, January 20, will see a rather tense inauguration for the presidency of Joe Biden. I certainly hope that he is backed up by armed military units that will be prepared to fire on violent demonstrators, and not the Capitol Police. Trump’s supporters will do nothing for me; they will do nothing for California; they will do nothing for the majority of Americans who voted him out of office.

After 1789, the French Revolution became bloody; but it did get rid of a privileged aristocracy that was bleeding the nation and a clueless king that was as dumb as a post.

Did I say “clueless king”? Hmm, reminds me of Trump. Bring on the guillotine!

A Trump Prezidenchul Library?

The Massive Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA

No, there isn’t currently a Trump Presidential Library, nor are there any plans under way to build one. There is an interesting story on the subject in the December 30, 2020 issue of the Palm Beach Post. Some interesting points are raised:

“Everything about the Trump presidency has been unconventional,” said historian Robert Watson at Lynn University. “To the point where I’ve been joking with some friends that of mine that we are going to have to rewrite all the textbooks because he has violated everything we said, what every textbook said, was a truism of the office.”

And consider, too, that as of December 30, there was no march on Washington by violent tattooed Yahoos in a failed attempt to wreak vengeance on Congress.

And if there were such a presidential library, what would be in it? What kind of attention to document preservation was there by the drooling sycophants who held office during his administration? Would there be a whole wall of Tweets (call it the Covfefe Collection), and maybe copies of all the presidential proclamations which were promulgated but never put into action?

Martine and I have visited three presidential libraries: the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan libraries in Southern California and the John F. Kennedy library in Boston. All made an honest attempt to portray the conditions that prevailed during their respective administrations. What kind of honesty could we expect in a Trump library? Maybe an exhibit on QAnon and the Proud Boys? Perhaps videos of Trump saying “You’re fired!” from his TV reality show?

Perhaps the end result of such a collection would ultimately be only horror and dismay.

How Do I Ignore an Insurrection?

Oh, Are They Still Fighting That War?

You know that, when the Confederate Battle Flag comes out of the mothballs, that nothing good is going to happen. I wonder what Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson would think of the tattooed monkeys and other deplorables that descended on the nation’s capital yesterday.

I know that I promised not to write political posts any more, but I would like to say a few words about the events of January 6 and why it was such a miserable failure.

Adolph Hitler was nobody’s idea of a capable leader, but he had one quality that the Trumpster lacked. He had more or less capable chiefs at his side that he stood with for the whole duration of his rule. I include Joseph Göbbels, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Albert Speer, and Martin Bormann. Of course, Ernst Röhm of the SA didn’t last out the war, nor did Rudolf Hess—but for the most part, the Führer didn’t change his subordinates as often as he changed his underwear.

Hitler Did Know How to Hang On to “Good” People

Trump, on the other hand, couldn’t abide anyone for more than a few weeks. Then he would part company with them and make noises about never really knowing them that well. When he said that about Steve Bannon or his ex-attorney Michael Cohen, he thought it made him look good. Actually, it showed that he was an ingrate who couldn’t interact well with his subordinates. (Or that he didn’t choose them well to begin with.)

In a way, that’s good. If one has a malignant narcissist leading your country, you don’t want him to be all that effective. At least the Capitol Building is still standing, more or less.

Music and Me

An Alto Saxophone: How It Consumed Ten Years of My Life

It is possible to love music and at the same time be a total incompetent when it came to performing it. It all started with voice after I joined the choir at Saint Henry School. I did not know, but soon found out that I sounded like a crow when singing the great Latin hymns of the Catholic liturgy. At least, it kept me from becoming an altar boy and having to wake up at 5:00 am to help officiate at the 6:00 am Mass, and memorize a ton of Latin in the process.

Both of my parents wished that their parents had let them play musical instruments. So they asked me what I would like to play. I quickly answered that I wanted a trombone. Mom and Dad took me to a music store at Prospect and Ontario in downtown Cleveland. The salesman agreed with my them that I did not have the right teeth for either a trombone or a trumpet, but that an alto saxophone was “very nice.”

Well, “very nice” translated into a whole new set of responsibilities, such as joining the band in high school and practicing for 30-60 minutes every day. All four years in high school, I played the sax in concerts and marched in formation during halftime at Chanel High’s games football games. It’s kind of hard to march in formations when there are only twenty or so members of the band, but we were game.

The only problem was that I didn’t much like playing the sax. There is something mucky about what happens to your saliva as it accumulates on the underside of a reed. Plus, I was pre-asthmatic, which probably should have disqualified me from any wind instruments. My parents, however, were determined to recover their $100+ dollar investment in the instrument by forcing me to play against my will.

Although I took my sax to college and even joined the Dartmouth College band, I saw that I was in with a group that was so much advanced over me in musical ability that I was only too happy to retire the sax and forego any further practice after only a couple of sessions. (Yay!)

Masque of the Red Death

Death Is Stalking the Land in Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death

I cannot help but feel that Covid-19 is inching ever closer. The son of one of my friends probably has it; and all the holiday socializing that has been going on is leading to a crisis in Los Angeles. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had a headline in which paramedics can refuse to pick up a patient if he or she appears to be near death in their judgment. Emergency rooms and intensive care units are packed to overflowing such that local hospitals are casting about for hallways, chapels, and other rooms in which to deposit patients. And hospital morgues are overflowing with the dead.

Tomorrow, I was planning to ride the train downtown to return some library books. With the coronavirus news becoming worse day by day, I will wait two or three weeks until the maskless fools who have been socializing during the Christmas and New Years holidays come down with the virus and isolate themselves.

Because of their behavior during this outbreak, I am becoming reluctant to associate with young people in any capacity. I have numerous preexisting conditions that make me a prime target for the Red Death. Thankfully, all the young people in my family live out of town.

Instead of going downtown, I’ll take a walk to Bay City Imports in Santa Monica to get ingredients for a Calabrian Chile Pasta dish that looks interesting. As long as this outbreak lasts, I will be intent on working on my cooking skills. I know I’ll never catch up to my brother in this regard, so I’ll just have to reconcile myself with accepting second place in a family of two.

Knocking the Knobel

Brazilian Novelist Jorge Amado (1912-2001)

The following is a repeat of a post I wrote five years ago, in January 2016. I have since read Meek Heritage by Finnish writer Frans Eemil Sillanpää and consider that he deserved his prize.

I don’t have too much good to say about the Swedish Academy, which decides who will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you look at the list of its recipients, it would not take too much effort to produce a list of as great as or even greater literary figures who have not received the laureate. Let me take a stab at it:

  • Kobo Abe (Japan), Woman in the Dunes
  • Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), Things Fall Apart
  • Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Japan), Rashomon
  • Jorge Amado (Brazil), Gabriela: Clove and Cinnamon
  • W. H. Auden (UK), Poetry
  • Georges Bernanos (France), Mouchette
  • Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), Ficciones
  • Joseph Conrad (UK/Poland), Nostromo
  • Richard Flanagan (Australia), The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  • Graham Greene (UK), The Heart of the Matter
  • Vassili Grossman (Russia), Life and Fate
  • Henry James (US/UK), The Ambassadors
  • James Joyce (Ireland), Ulysses
  • Yashar Kemal (Turkey), Memed, My Hawk
  • Gyula Krúdy (Hungary), The Red Post Coach
  • Stanislaw Lem (Poland), Solaris
  • Osip Mandelstam (Russia), Poetry
  • Vladimir Nabokov (US/Russia), Lolita
  • Fernando Pessoa (Portugal), The Book of Disquiet
  • Marcel Proust (France), In Search of Lost Time
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (Russia), Roadside Picnic
  • Italo Svevo (Slovenia), Confessions of Zeno
  • Leo Tolstoy (Russia), Novels and Stories
  • Mark Twain (US), Novels and Stories
  • Evelyn Waugh (UK), Brideshead Revisited
  • Virginia Woolf (UK), Mrs Dalloway

As you can see, I have not overloaded the list with the names of American authors, in the interests of being fair. If I wanted to, I can add names like Philip Roth, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip K. Dick, Cormac McCarthy, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and a few others.

These can replace such figures as the following, whose reputations have not kept up with the times: Bjornsterne Bjornson, José Echegaray, Giosue Carducci, Rudolf Christoph Eucken, Paul von Heyse, Verner von Heidenstam, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontopiddan, Carl Spitteler, Jacinto Benavente, Grazia Deledda, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Pearl S. Buck, Frans Eemil Sillanpaa [SIC], Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, Earl Russell, and a few dozen others—mostly Scandinavian nonentities which at one time were highly thought of by a couple dozen mouldy Swedish academics. (Please forgive me for being lax about the diacritical marks in the above names.)