The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fireball Success!

A brief update for the billion-eyed audience; yes, the event came off, the video I produced with Eric Futterman that celebrated the theater's 15 years looked marvelous on the 42-inch screen and I think my walking tour went for $550.

The Fireball took in $29,180 -- a banner amount for a one-night fund raising event at our dinged-up little 105-year-old fire station.

We got into some of the films of the French Film Festival, more on all this later. To bed.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Greetings! From Kollatz...

The ancestral manse is at lower right. Well, not quite. This image, and almost all the others exhibited here, were borrowed from a website I stumbled onto years ago, way pre-Blue Raccoon, and I still can't believe that such an artifact as reproduced here exists: a post card from Kollatz. Probably in a shoebox on the upper shelf of somebody's closet.

The site is an ancestry research guide for those of us whose country hasn't received an entry in the gazetteer for more than a century. Our land of origin is found on old maps purchased at random from a New Orleans antiques shop. The Kollatz family came from a small village in Pommern, or Pomerania. This state linked Prussia to Germany until after the discussion of 1939-1945. At that time, Poland reclaimed the lands that had been, as we might say hereabouts, "stolen from the Poles fair and square" and switched Germanic names back to Polish. Kollatz is Kolacz these days, and located in the southeastern quadrant of a county called Swidwin.

The closest town of consequence to Kolacz is Polczyn-Zdrój, the former Bad Polzin--I believe in Wilhelmine days, a resort village--and today a place of 11,573 persons.

There is, say the Interwebs, a resort there even today, replete with therapeutic muds and salts. These images come from the resort's site. My goodness, I could use an extended stay there now. Looks luxe and lush. I think I could get some serious writing done there and visit the ancestral lands. Whether the "Switzerland of Poland" appellation seems to extend to wee Kolacz. And it is there in color on a map. If you follow the main red highway east of Polczyn-Zdrój you can spot Kolacz sitting by itself near the lake that has its name. There's a "Kolaczek" that is Neu Kollatz, or, New Kollatz, just east.
There are the biking, hiking and horse trails all around, and you can see them, here.

I'm doubtful that any of my long distant cousins remain in Kolacz. As the Third Reich collapsed and the victors took their vengeance on the vanquished, about 17 million ethnic East European Germans were rousted from their homes of generations and some 2 million were killed. This was a nasty endnote to the catastrophe of Word War II, and not much talked about, except in A Terrible Revenge by Dr. Alfred-Maurice de Zayas.

Instant karma was visited upon Kollatz when the Russian army and the liberated Poles came roaring through. The ethnic residents of the town that hadn't run off were abused or killed. Even the old cemetery was plowed up.

The early 20th century card at the top of this post shows, clockwise, the school, lake, baronial palace, and the church. My guess is, there wasn't much else in Kollatz picturesque enough to warrant a place on a post card.

The squire's house seems rather austere compared to some I've seen though I suppose for minor Teutonic royalty--and in comparison to how the peasants were living--it must've seemed rather palatial--the biggest house in town. The lords of this manor were called Manteuffel, though the workers and farmers who lived under their rule didn't think much of them at the time and used--out of earshot--a German pun to insult the Manteuffels, saying they were more like the devil (Teufel) than men.

I was disappointed to read this. The single von Manteuffel I knew of was a bantam German tank commander of the Second World War, Hasso von Manteuffel. I first encountered his name as a kid reading about the Battle of the Bulge and with those repeated consonants between the Junker "von" it just looked interesting in type and cool to say. He also had the thankless task of trying to defend Berlin against most of the Red Army, and I encountered him again in Cornelius Ryan's book, The Last Battle, where he came across as a sympathetic character. And he wore his military hat at the customary rakish angle. He was also an Olympic Modern Pentathlon champion, like Patton. But unlike Patton, Manteuffel lived on, and he built a productive life in West Germany.

The second image below gives the spelling that in my life I've had to spend correcting -- "K, not C, o-l-l-a-t-z." But there that variant is in black-and-white. From clockwise, the "herrschaftliches wohinhaus," or literally, "the manorial dwelling," the church and school. The lake didn't make it to this one.

Remaining today--at least as of 1999 when these images were taken, according to the Pomerania site I, um, cited above, this is the church, left and the school, right.

In 2004 I had the great good fortune to, with Amie, visit Berlin due to my involvement in the experimental international theater event called The Mutation Project. Prior to our arrival there I communicated via e-mail with Heidemarie Kollatz whom I located during a search for those with my name. She and her husband, a computer software designer, lived in the Wedding neighborhood in a courtyard community with a beautiful garden that the neighbors maintained in a cooperative manner.

There's even a Kollatz Street in Berlin, named for a long ago clergyman. Amie and I took the subway and walked there one sunny afternoon. The curved thoroughfare isn't probably a mile long and lined by large not unattractive apartment buildings.

It began by a parklike cemetery and ended alongside a commuter rail line and expressway. During this trip I saw the first SmartCars, which at the time were designed by the makers of Swatch.

I met Frau Kollatz on a damp Berlin day but enjoyed a wonderful conversation with her, part geneaological, part historical, a little political in terms of then-current events. She is an educational policy consultant. I didn't meet her husband on this trip, as he at the time was riding across Sierra Leone and Mauretania on a bicycle. For fun.

At left is the spiral stair that led up from the gardens to the balconies of these apartments, and I was reminded how the shape also corresponds to that of DNA.

I had brought some pictures of my family and she was kind to bring out albums from her own, and we could see in these faces, from across the years and continents that we bore some relation--though how exactly was not readily determined. Long story short, Frau Kollatz wasn't sure of all her grandfather's siblings--and perhaps one or more of them chose to light out for the U.S. Below is my clumsy attempt with a 35mm SLR to record a page from Frau Kollatz's family album.

My story was the first time that Heidemarie had heard of any Kollatz migration to the United States. She didn't know, either, about the town of Kollatz or Kolacz. Her father's family originated in East Prussia and following the First World War moved to Pommern, to Stargard (Szczecinski), a town next to Szcezecin along the Oder River.

The story I'd heard from my now long deceased Grandfather Kollatz was that our people were...draft dodgers. That is, they were avoiding Prussian compulsory military service. Lacking any kind of letters or photographs from that long ago, I cannot say. But, thankfully, for me, my people were prescient enough to avoid both world wars by coming to this nation and proceeding to fight among themselves.

But I'm getting ahead in the telling.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Annual Fire Ball Gala!

Saturday, March 29, 7 PM at The Firehouse Theatre!

Do you the HOTTEST Ticket to the COOLEST Party in Town?

If your answer is YES, then we know you are busy assembling your outfit, determining your high bid, and kicking back as you anticipate the multitudes of pleasures that await!

If your answer is:
A. Not yet
B. I've been planning to, but...
C. I will, soon!
What's the holdup? Get on the stick! Click on the ticket purchase link; click directly on the link; do not pass GO, do not collect $200!
Got it? Good!

But if you need a little more persuasion, may we tempt you?

Don't Miss:
Fun with your favorite actors, friends, & Firehouse family!
Dancing to live music by our favorite, the R & B, Motown sounds of Legacy!
Fantastic food & drink with our popular wine & martini bar!

Auctioneer: Scott Wichmann, actor/entertainer extraordinaire!

Auction items include:
- One-week time-share in Hawaii
- Vacations at Wintergreen, Sandbridge, & "Da Rivah"
- Fashion Makeover on "The Avenues"
- Firehouse party for 100, with DJ, food, and drink
- Night of fine art, wine, and theatre for ten friends
- Dinner for two at fantastic restaurants
...And More!

All proceeds benefit The Firehouse Theatre Project.
Only a few tickets left - so don't wait!

Get Your Tickets Here!
Two price points, three ways to buy!

Singles: $100
Save BIG on a pair: $150 for two!

To Purchase:
Click here to purchase tickets online, or
Call the Firehouse at 804-355-2001, or
Mail a check to the address below, payable to The Firehouse Theatre Fire Ball Gala.
Don't forget to indicate the # of tickets in the memo!

A portion of the ticket price is tax-deductible.
Out of town? Car broke down? We know you'd be with us if you could. Don't enable those guilty feelings - just click here to support us and feel better already!

Theatrical Black Tie Attire! Be There!

The Firehouse Theatre Project
1609 W. Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23220
Photo credits: Image of Scott Wichmann, um, borrowed from his My Space Page. Fire Ball 2007 photos courtesy the Firehouse Theatre staff.

About The Firehouse Theatre Project

The Firehouse Theatre Project, a non-profit theatre company, was founded in 1993 to present important contemporary American theatre pieces with an emphasis on plays not previously produced in the metropolitan Richmond area. The company, which is under the direction of Carol Piersol, Founding Artistic Director, is housed in the former Richmond Fire Station #10 at 1609 West Broad Street. For more information about the Firehouse Theatre Project's 2007/08 season, please call 804.355.2001 or visit the website.

The Firehouse Theatre Project
Stacie Birchett
Public Relations and Marketing
phone: 804-355-2001


The Goat: Or Why Is Harry On TeeVee?

The billion-eyed audience can check out me talking about Blue Shingles in a Mark Holmberg segment (click the thumbnail underneath the train, "White Goat") about its current occupant on WTVR-Channel 6 ("The South's First Television Station," don't you know--in that clip, push toward the end to see the title card).

Mark's piece aired this past Monday at 11 p.m. and Tuesady evening, at 5:30, though you can just go to the link above. Yes, he's interviewing me at, surprise, the New York Deli where I arrived thinking that he'd be there with a pad and pen, but he doesn't do that anymore, which I full well knew but didn't think to remember--and so he caught me live in my native habitat.

Mark was kind to give True Richmond Stories a little nod (soon out in its second printing in finer bookstores, and Barnes & and

How it happened was that Mark was pursuing this tale about a wild goat roaming around in the 14 acres of woods and rocks that once formed the estate of Blue Shingles. The three-tory, five bedroom house stood from 1922 to 1968 an
d was designed with Mediterranean flair by Otis K. Asbury (1905-1959). Asbury gave the house blue copper shingles.

Alma W. Evans, wife of Richmond coal and fuels executive Lorenzo Sibert Evans, in 1922 purchased the 14 and a half acres from Richmond News Leader publisher John Stewart Bryan. The Evanses built their five-bedroom, three-story river view Mediterranean-styled dream house at the end of a curvy road leading from the end of present day Blue Shingles Lane, off Butte Lane. The Evanses had a son, Lorenzo Jr. and Mary Anne.

The property was then bordered on its eastern edge by the arched buttresses of the Atlantic Coast Line/Belt Line Rail and a stretch of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac railroad. Douglasdale Road and the Powhite Parkway bridge later framed the grounds.

Alma Evans employed the expertise of landscape artchitect Charles Gillette to create formal gardens to the east and southeast of the house, and terraces were around back and facing west. (The Library of Virginia keeps Blue Shingles drawings and plans in their archives.) The view
would've been marvelous of the river and surrounding countryside from the Blue Shingles plesaure gardens. One can envision the cocktail parties Lorenzo Evans held in connection to his business, the tinkle of ice cubes in whisky glasses and Big Band music playing at background level on the hi-fi.

Asbury ultimately designed at least five houses on West Franklin Street and Monument Avenue. A 1926 Blue Shingles cousin designed for the Raab family is at 2502 Monument Avenue.

You can go to the Monument Avenue Internet Repository, stored here, thanks to the Elams, but go to MAIR and search by block. Which is where the image is from.

Asbury, son of a North Carolina architect, worked as a draftsman in Charles K. Bryant's (c.1872-1935) high end Richmond firm for at least five years. After that partnership split apart, Asbury set up shop with Herbert C. Whitehurst, the son of a prosperous Richmond manufacturer of sash, blinds and doors. Asbury went out on his own after World War I. Most of his known surviving examples are in the Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival mode and resemble early Duncan Lee, a renowned niche-style architect of the day.

Asbury would’ve been a known quantity when 48-year-old Evans commissioned him to build his Blue Shingles.

The first floor public rooms of Blue Shingles were decorated in handsome walnut paneling, the drawing room in English style with a ceiling of parquet plaster and the dining room was executed with a French flair. The Evans family crest, on a stone plaque in the foyer, greeted visitors. The main staircase steps were made of railroad ties and adorned by wrought iron railings and balusters. Five bedrooms and four baths, dressing rooms and large closets rounded out the second story. The third floor was plastered, with cedar room storage space, servants’ room and bath. A recreation room dominated the full basement that also contained the laundry, connected by chutes to the upper floors, and a bath, “most convenient for yardman or chaffeur,” as described in a period real estate publication.

Two tragic events occurred on or near Blue Shingles.

On Easter Sunday, 1955, World War II and Korean War veteran Lorenzo Evans Jr. stood beside the ceremonial entrance fountain and shot himself. On December 7, a military training jet crashed into the nearby posh neighborhood of Windsor Farms and destroyed two houses. An audio clip of veteran WRVA radio correspondent Alden Aaroe reporting the event is here.

One long-time resident recalled to me that rescue workers in search of the pilot found what was left of him below Blue Shingles. He recalled the incident to me as a collision.

"We were there when the two fighter planes crashed, one landed in Windsor Farms and the other in the water behind Blue Shingles. They [the rescue workers] didn’t know how to get around. The overflow from the springhouse deteriorated and eroded the land that created this backwater, off the canal and river; it was tricky to get in and out. But us, playing around there, we’d done it at night and could guide them.

Kind of a valley where Rothesay [Circle] came around and Blue Shingles took up [195/Downtown Expressway didn't exist then] and they didn’t know how to get down there. The rescue people were following the eastern plane, they were following it and they got to Blue Shingles, and the house was closed so there was nobody to tell them how to get down there.

We were up playing, we were just hanging out, we were back above the Blue Shingles property at Butte and Sunset. We watched that plane crash, and you heard the emergency vehicles.

I took them down…We used to catch frogs down there. I’ve never heard an explanation of how it happened. That was the final flight of the P-47 squadron that was leaving the airbase there, it was a quite a hassle, they could’ve gotten through several ways, but I got them down there. I recovered a boot with a foot in it. I didn’t get close to it once I saw it, I backed up and pointed. Best we could see, he [the pilot] tried heading for the river and didn’t make it."

(I'm still not certain about how one version of events squares with this memory, but that's another project. )

Update 2009: The gentleman in question confabulated two crashes that occurred a decade apart over Windsor Farms. A Sept. 1, 1945 crash dropped a plane into field near the 200 block of Canterbury Road, killing the pilot. This is the origin of the gruesome foot-in-a-boot story. I've since noted that story elsewhere. On Dec. 7, 1955, two jets nicked each other mid-air and one spiraled into Windsor Farms. I wrote about it here.

By the 1950s an assessor noted that, " The Blue Shingles have now turned green."

In happier times, the Evanses enjoyd parties and held Christmas open houses. But in the latter years, the riverfront terraces were favored by neighborhood youths. A long-time resident reminisces, “You’d sit out there in the evening with your friends, pass around the grapefruit juice and gin and at night a cold breeze would blow up from the river. Great to snuggle up under a blanket with somebody you knew well. Or somebody you wanted to know well.”

Evans Sr. died in 1958, aged 83, and was cremated in Washington D.C. Alma remained at Blue Shingles until age overtook her. In late December 1966 daughter Mary Ann Evans Steele sold the house to quarry magnate C. Merle Luck Sr. Luck and his wife had restored the Bellona Arsenal in Chesterfield where they lived from 1941 to 1963. He envisioned luxury apartments along the bluff. Luck had none where Blue Shingles was concerned, though. Financing and zoning thwarted the plan.

Teenagers meanwhile claimed Blue Shingles as a party house. A 1967 Times-Dispatch article described every window broken, the walnut paneling stripped out, the Evans crest in the foyer removed, the French doors bare, the formal gardens dug up. Mary Ann Steele said, “The vandalism has been the most vicious thing I have ever heard of. There is nothing there they have not wrecked.”

Blue Shingles wasn't old enough to gain historic recognition. By 1968, the hasty departure was well underway of many whites and blacks from Richmond's established neighorhoods into the suburbs. The Carillon neighborhood was integrated, and quite proud of the fact. A ravaged, decrepit old mansion, set at the end of an isolated road, didn't attract any takers. The name of Otis K. Asbury didn't cause preservationists to leap to the cause of saving what was, by then, a ruined hulk of a house, no matter the grandness of the view.

After the 1968 demolition numerous unsuccessful ventures attempting to build high rent high rises met strident neighborhood objections. An intense slope that makes approximately two-thirds of the property undevelopable has thus far protected the land. Further, the one road into Blue Shingles, which snow storms (back when Richmond experienced such phenomenons) would block, makes the land difficult to access. Contemporary zoning requires a road for emergency vehicles that would have to come off Douglasdale Road, and the community doesn't approve of such an effort.

Thus, goats and an occasional stray bear today make Blue Shingles their home.


Southern Man of Mystery:
Harry Gives Good Talking Head

Not long ago I was asked by videographer producer Ryan Eubank to participate in a documentary he was making as part of a series of biographies for Henrico County publc access cable. You can read about Ryan, but scroll down, here.

The result, Southern Man of Mystery: Edgar Allan Poe is pretty cool. I'm one of several, all far more knowledgable than me, but apparently I give good talking head.

The airdates are as follows: on the EVEN HOURS: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, the week of March 31st. It will air on Channel 17 on Comcast in Henrico, and on Verizon channel 39 throughout the metro area.

The image here was one of at least two taken by William Abbott Pratt--himself a curious cat--right here in Richmond several weeks before he left town for the last time. As I say in the piece, Baltimore has his body, Richmond has his soul.

I wrote of the daguerreotype session between Poe and Pratt in 2oo7:

"One morning in late September 1849, an impatient Edgar Allan Poe sits for his portrait under the second floor skylight of daguerreotypist William Abbott Pratt’s Gothic-style studio. Between them, Poe and Pratt are perhaps Richmond’s best-known eccentrics.

Pratt knows Poe as Richmond’s most famous artist son. He’d interrupted Poe as the writer passed by his studio while bustling down Main Street intent on other business.

British-born Pratt opened the Virginia Skylight Daguerrean Gallery in 1846, seven years after the daguerreotype was introduced into the United States. He took an estimated 35,000 images throughout his career.

Poe is 40 and worn out. His stay in Richmond began in mid-June when he was on verging on a mental collapse, but the town he considers home greeted him like a proto-alt-indie rocker. He is seeing how that in the place he considers home his writings matter.

He’s been busy lecturing, writing, trying to squire a former teen-aged flame now a widow on Church Hill, Elmira Royster Shelton, and attending temperance meetings. He told Pratt she wasn’t dressed for a portrait, but daguerrean process fascinated Poe.

The tiny four-by-three inch Pratt pictures show a gaunt, haggard Poe with sunken and bagged eyes. He’s plopped down upon the portrait chair. The first image shows a sprig of evergreen in his vest lapel, (Did Pratt stick it on him for esthetic effect? Was it Poe’s idea? In the second image, it’s gone.). His “steamboat” collar is turned down, his cravat untied – he looks uncomfortable and just off the humid street. His hair is disarrayed and a big handkerchief thrust into his waistcoat; perhaps, one historian suggests, hiding threadbare material. By the second image, his hair is pushed up, his vest straightened out.

Contemporaries consider Poe proper and almost courtly in manner. Poe is amusing Pratt and trying to be polite. But here, he’s eager to be on his way.

The second pose has an enforced calmness. Still, whether it is the turn of his face, the fullness of his lower lip and the shadow of his moustache (which he didn’t grow until he was 38), Poe may be making a weary attempt to force a slight smile. Perhaps Pratt kept up some banter to ease Poe’s impatience.

The images would’ve taken 15 minutes to develop, but Poe didn’t tarry, and left them behind – perhaps because he couldn’t afford them at the time, and knew he’d soon return for them.

But on Oct. 7, 1849 he died in Baltimore. There are some 24 theories about what killed him.
The original images (they were copied) became known for later owners, the “Thompson” for John R. Thompson, an exploitive Poe lecturer, and the “Traylor.” Elmira Shelton purchased one of the images from Pratt and kept it until her 1888 demise; then it passed to Robert Traylor, a Richmond Poe aficionado. Around 1900 a botched cleaning attempt made the little picture more spooky but less detailed.

About a decade after taking Poe’s picture he built Richmond’s strangest house, sited upon Gamble’s Hill, one of the city’s best vistas. Besides Thomas Jefferson's Virginia State Capitol, Pratt’s Castle became among the most photographed building in Richmond.

The place was built of rolled sheet iron, perhaps from Tredegar Iron Works at Gamble's foot, that Pratt scored and painted to resemble stone. The foundation was of James River granite. The rooms were of irregular shape and ecclectic design. Pratt installed stained glass windows he purchased in England. There was a dungeon--that is, a coal or wine cellar--and at least one hidden room and a secret staircase. While not the House of Usher, Pratt's Castle and his tagential connection to Poe caused, in urban myth fashion, stories to sprout that Poe had visited and written stories while staying there.

Pratt's studio building was consumed by the 1865 Evacuation Fire. Pratt died in Waynesboro in 1878. The castle was taken down in 1958 for Ethyl [NewMarket] Corporation’s headquarters. A plaque promised by the company to mark the site of Pratt's was never installed and the whereabouts of the stained glass windows are unknown.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

You Can't See What's Coming
Grim films for the times

There Will Be Blood,
image (left) by Francois Duhamel, via ; No Country For Old Men, via I Watch "Javier Bardem dressed as Johnny Cash meets He-Man."

For those members of the billion-eyed audience who a)haven't yet seen either of the two acclaimed films pictured above, I wouldn't read any further, however, b) if you live in the vicinity of Richmond, Va., and want to see both, they are on one astonishing double bill at the Byrd Theatre here, and I'd advise you to go.

I'm late to these dual cinematic experiences. Me and the partner-in-art-for-life greet with little enthusiasm the prospect of an excursion to a suburban octoplex for a film fix. The Westhampton Theatre, a 1930s Colonial Revival former one-screen cinema which we like quite a bit, is about a 45-minute walk, or less, if you can get lucky with a bus. What I'm saying is, we don't go to the movies, we wait for them to come to us, though not always delivered via a fiber-optic line.

Attending the Byrd is better than cable. For two bucks you get an organ concert, a light show, Dolby digital sound and a huge screen. So we don't see everything but what we do see is more special as a result of a Byrd screening.

These two films will remain with me a long while.

There Will Be Blood in another era could've been the subject for John Huston or Howard Hawks but in 2007, Paul Thomas Anderson dedicated his film of greed and arrogance, deception and delusion to the late great Robert Altman.

A theme of the film is how the pursuit of oil has wrecked the world. Anderson makes it splendid to view, and the in all parts, the film excels, which is why they gave it Academy Awards. The undulating soundtrack, by Jonny Greenwood, is perfect in complement, and Robert Elswit's cinematography is astounding.

The twining of religion and capitalism is encapsulated here. The last line, "I'm finished," is delivered when the oil tycoon is sitting next to the bloody body of a (false) preacher he's beaten to death. The sanguine tide oozing out of the busted body and across the wood floor of the bowling alley isn't quite "The Blood of the Lamb" but is as close as one gets in this tale. "I am finished" -- the material has thrashed the spiritual, which really was a degenerated form of vainglory, and the minister couldn't save even himself. This is Daniel Plainview's world, and we just live in it. The spirit--if it exists--is debauched in the yammerings of organized religion. Religion is a prop for justifying almost any heinous act undertaken by the corporation/nation state, and a prod for those who know how to use people's superstitions against them.

The blood also resembles the seeping oil that has built a fortune for Plainview, but in amassing the millions, he's lost everything else that moors him to civilization. The only thing remaining of him is untempered and unchecked ambition. He is the Corporation so lifted up in the era of which Upton Sinclair wrote (and whose novel, Oil! upon which the film is, with great leeway, based).

The last sentence summarizes the magnate's murderous rage, the possibility that his own life is now over because of what he's done. There's also perhaps a trace of irony, that last utterance of Christ on the Cross as recorded in the Gospel of John, "It is finished!"

The statement hit me at a different level, too. I'm seeing the recent headlines of 4,000 U.S. soldiers dead in Iraq and the fifth year of that splendid little war passing by with an unreal speech given by its prime motivator and also an audio tape of the ostensible creator and reason for the circulating circulating on the media. (Or at least, we're told it's his voice...)

Organized religion is used to gin up anger toward the foreign nations that hold most of the oil, and also a mechanism to coddle and control the cultures that both produce petroleum and gobble down the stuff. The sad state of affairs is as tangled in hypocrisy as a bag of snakes. I'm reminded of Jean Genet's The Balcony, in which the denizens of a brothel live out their fantasies by posing as society's pillars. A revolution erupts, a prostitute becomes its leader, and the real judges and bishops are killed. Thus, the fakers are pushed out for the roiling crowds to see, to show that everything is still under control.

The rapacious avariciousness of small men in high places has always used the perversion of faith to get what they want --that isn't new. Materialism has triumphed in our culture to the detriment of what I'd refer to as the spiritual, (absent the perversion of the religious). That isn't stop-the-presses, either. But that oil has damaged the natural world and distorted the affairs of humanity is a more poignant truth now than ever. Plainview has gained all, but has lost all. He is finished. And he's taking us with him.

The Coen Brothers present an absurd world, a broken place where the good, swift and the clever are all swept away by the juggernaut of implacable death. Irrational capacities are the Coen's bailiwick. They are in their particular and peculiar noir mode here where they've poured elements of their Blood Simple and Fargo into the Cormac McCarthy novel , with a gentle helping of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and a smidgin of A Touch of Evil, and served a piping hot dish of angst.

The means of protecting those who dwell in the world and seek to get along and not harm anybody is eclipsed by the element that seeks to crush the well-meaning with despair and death. I was reminded, though, of Sam Raimi's adaptation of A Simple Plan, wherein basic schmoes get in above their heads and terrible events result.

The implacable killer and the befuddlement of the protectors of civilized mediation is a critique of our time. True, every generation thinks the past was better, and the present wretched, but ...what is to be done? With 2 million people in jail, and the War On Drugs and War On Terror without any end in sight, and low level bureaucratic contractors hunting up personal information of presidential candidates (Surprise! We're getting spied upon by our government!), law enforcement is just another kind of warfare against the populace that, unable to protect them, has instead turned them all into the condemned. No one is exempt or safe. There is instead anxiety, and all that is done by the characters in the world of No Country, is based out of or springs from fear.

The most innocent of all the story's characters, the film's single true moral character, Carla Jean Moss is sacrificed to the twisted principles of the killer who roams the movie like a Terminator robot. He's half man and half machine, with his pneumatic weapon. [For a more extensive and well-written analysis, see the source of the image, The House Next Door blog].

Carla dies because she calls the monster on his rationale for death dealing. She won't play his existensial coin toss game because she doesn't believe in his values. She is killed on the same day she's buried her mother; having lost her husband to this creature, and Carla would rather not live in a world where this hideousness roams unchecked. Carla shows him himself.

Except--to say that Anton Chigurh is a monster lets us off the hook. He is flesh and bone and irrational and demented. If history--and the morning papers-- tell us anything about the crimes and errors of humanity, Chigurh is a freak, and one of us, though we wouldn't want to stand next to him in an elevator. He is Thanatos, too; coming for us all, whenever that slide projector in the pineal gland throws up the title card that says END.

Happy Easter.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

I've Just Been Busy
Birthdays, short stories, leaf sweeping, work, history, wondering if JPMorgan's purchase of Bear Stearns signals the collapse of the economy.

This is Amie and me at the New York Deli's photo booth during the wonderful observation of the annual anniversary of her birth this past week. I love photo booths. They are so retro, and you always look famous. In addition, I'm reminded both of Amélie and Paris, both of which Amie and I enjoyed in the recent past.

The weather here has been sunny, bright, breezy and a bit rainy in the evenings. I got some leaf sweeping accomplished during the weekend, from out of the stairwells to the basement. And the upright waste pan I use that saves untold suffering of my back fell apart during the process. My screws came loose.

The Late Henry Moss closed at the Firehouse Theatre Project and so goes an era at the company. This was Justin Dray's final performance on the Firehouse stage for the foreseeable future as he leaves this week for L.A. and director and actor Bill Patton returned to his new conjugal home in Maine. We were so happy to see our most civilized friends, the Cusacks, down from their home of about two years, near Boston.

I completed a short story and submitted it for a compilation volume; a day late, and not short, and perhaps not much of a story. We'll see. I wish I'd demonstrated some patience and gotten Amie to read the piece before I slung it through the cyber-aether.

At any rate, billion-eyed audience I'm a bit concerned--as many of you are, too , I wager-- about the financial future of the nation as today--Sunday--JP Morgan purchased the failing mortgage house Bear Stearns. I've navigated around various blogs from the sober probity of The Economist to the sassy libertarian (and pro-bankruptcy advocate, among many other things) Just A Girl In Shorts Shorts Talking About Whatever and I look forward to what Kunstler will make of the mess.

To quote Twofish:

"So what is happening is that the Federal Reserve is basically taking the role that would be played by bankruptcy court, it gave Bear-Stearns an emergency blood transfusion that could get it to the emergency room. This is quite unique and it is something that was done in the case of Long Term Capital Management. It’s really breaking new ground here, and what happens will be studied as a guide for what happens the next time this happens (which I hope will be a long, long time from now, but who knows).

One group that comes out of this looking really bad is CITIC Securities. JP Morgan ended up paying $200 million for all of Bear Stearns and total control, whereas CITIC was about to pay billions for ten (?) percent with no management control. It’s fortunate that the Chinese securities regulators failed to approve the deal otherwise, CITIC would have ended up burning $5 billion.

I think the one common thing that Spitzer, Tibet, and Bear-Stearns have in common is that it shows how quickly things can fall apart."

I watched Wolf Blitzer with U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and all I could think of was this Saturday Night Live character from years ago; he was the Corporate Spokesman, who smoked, and sweated and got visibly more nervous as he was asked questions by a Weekend Update reporter, and his catch phrase was, "Did I say that? I don't recall saying that."

"Remain not only calm, but convivial."

As Tom Hanks admonished patrons at the Byrd Theatre last week during a power interruption, so seems the grey Establishment faces and Voices of Reason pertaining to the financial crisis. As of Monday prior to lunch, the joggled U.S. markets were actually rebounding, but concerns that this is but the beginning of something worse has curtailed outright optimism. Lehman Brothers could be on the ropes.

Steve Duncan, a poster commenting on Kunstler's blog, makes the laconic observation that,
"Market trading in positive numbers. Bear meltdown but a blip. I think if NASA scientists announced concrete proof the Earth was getting sucked into the Sun on April 1st there would be a 500 point rise in the Dow. There is seemingly no such thing as bad news. And what we think is bad news produces positive trading action. Go figger........"

And this pragmatic assessment from Tanqurena reacting to one of Kunstler's observations:

">In addition to the financing the Federal Reserve ordinarily provides through its Discount Window, the Fed will provide special financing in connection with this transaction. The Fed has agreed to fund up to $30 billion of Bear Stearns’ less liquid assets.

So. In this week's Rodney Dangerfield moment, the Fed had to tie a $30 Billion pork chop around Bear Stearns' neck to get JPM to play with them.

And to think that JPM only paid $236Million for that $30Billion pork chop (it is a non-recourse loan, which means the Fed can't go after JPM if they default on it). Ain't corporate welfare wonderful?"

By the way, Kunstlers's posting this a.m. "A Real Freak Out," is well-worth reading and until the comments deteriorate into flame throwing--why, boys and girls, why?--they, too, can provide insights.

I quote from Kunstler:

"Things are getting very weird very fast -- and will probably get even weirder, faster, as the train wreck of bad debt meets the Saint Paddy's Day Parade of bacchanalian excess at the grade-crossing of destiny. The train is carrying America's financial system, but the engine driving it is peak oil, because declining energy resources necessarily means declining capital wealth -- and declining value of all the institutions, instruments, and markers that denote that wealth or hope to profit by trading in it. The fiasco leads straight to the necessary reinvention of American life on other terms and by other means....

I'm sure our political leaders will mount a campaign to rescue the futureless infrastructure of suburbia. It will necessarily be an exercise in futility. But it has already started. That's what the swindle of ethanol has been all about. And the touting of hybrid cars, and the flimflam of "energy independence." Even the "environmental" crowd" squanders most of its attention these days on how to keep all the cars running on something other than gasoline. They don't question the assumption that we will remain a car-dependent society.

As much as I loathe the suburbs in their grotesque late-stage efflorescence, I can understand why those stuck in them would wish to defend their misinvestments. I just hate to think of the political consequences when their disappointment catches up to the reality that the suburbs will not be rescued. And by that I mean not just the houses but the way-of-life associated with them and all its accessories, furnishings, and activities. Bewilderment will soon turn to rage out in the highway-strip-and-cul-de-sac empire."

l love that phrase "grotesque late-stage efflorescence." Kunstler is all about the peak oil business and if you read him every week, his message of The End Is Near gets threadbare as the End's goalpoasts, that seem to be getting closer, are instead moved down the field a few more yards. Being a Jeremiah has its risks because you end up sounding like a crank, but doom and gloom provides odd comfort to those who see nothing but a collapsing civilization all around--much like that crane in New York, or tornadoes in Atlanta (see below).

Kunstler reminds me of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), whose philosophy hinged on how life is in the crapper and you just have to realize this without expecting events to get any better. He was a best seller, in his day. (And, by the way, I'm not saying either Schopenhauer or Kunstler are wrong.)

Schopenhauer, not content to the detail the depressing nature of things, gave his readers the following advice for-- not quite happiness, but emotional maintenance.

• Live in the present, making it as painless as possible.
• Make good use of the only thing we can control, our own minds.
• Our personality is central to our level of happiness.
• Set limits everywhere: limits on anger, desires, wealth and power. Limitations lead to something like happiness.
•Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if we're responsible.
•Seek out solitude, other people rob us of our identities.
•Keep busy.

He sounds almost Zen here: desire is the root of all unhappiness, or even Existential: recognize life is meaningless and have a good time, whatever that means to you.

I don't know enough about Schopenhauer's views on whether art or creativity mattered in all this (I think the importance is paramount), and he seems to prefigured Sartre in Nausea: hell is other people. Which, by the way, I believe only a few days out of the year.

And by the way, Kunstler's next book is coming out. World Made By Hand: A Novel of the Post-Oil Future. Listening to the "trailer" (Books with trailers!) I am reminded of The Postman, that called up a post-oil world, too, and focused on bands of survivors and zealots. The subject seems less far fetched today than when David Brin's novel was published in 1982. That was a time of nuclear immolation fears, Reagan and the "Evil Empire." Those were far off, innocent days.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road of 2006 is even more grim; and is set in the immediate post-collapse of Everything, what Kunstler is also discussing.

From CNBC:

"There's turmoil in all markets after Bear Stearns, and equities is not the place to be," BNP Paribas strategist Edmund Shing told Reuters. "Everyone's asking: Who's next? Is there a Bear Stearns in Europe, could investment banks start to fail?"

The shock news, the biggest sign yet of how devastating the credit crisis is for Wall Street, slammed the U.S. dollar to a record low against the euro and boosted gold and low-risk bonds.

"The fear is how many more skeletons in the closet are still there in the global credit markets?" said David Cohen, economist at Action Economics in Singapore. "This is another effort by the Fed to calm things down, but the cloud on the horizon is just how much more of these credit issues are still out there."

Tornado Hits CNN -- World Stops Spinning

CNN all the sudden became the Weather Channel on Saturday as its varied correspondents went scrambling through a few blocks of blasted wreckage following the work of a tornado roaring through during the night.

[The image is via
Sansego's blog that has some other arresting images and good commentary. ]

We first heard the news on Colonial Avenue when Amie's dad, watching the SEC Tournament in progress on live television, observed how the Alabama v. Missississippi State matchup was interrupted when part of the Georgia Dome was ripped away.

At least three are known to have died--a low number considering the thousands who were concentrated in midtown Atlanta that night. Stilll, behind every statistic is a tragedy, and no less so than in Atlanta. Bonnie Turner, a protector of animals, was taken by this force of nature. Many of the animals she'd rescued were loosed into the storm.

According to CNN's Wynn Westmoreland, Mrs. Tyler left this quote on her Web site, "Beauty such as this is a gift, and I'm often in awe of this world we've been given."

In other news, as they say, a gigantic construction crane operating in east Manhattan collapsed, causing wreckage that looked like that wreaked by a tornado, and killing even more than than what natural forces took out of Atlanta-- maybe four died as the device smashed to the ground. The construction of a 43-story building had been cited for 13 safety violations, five of which were pending resolution. In Bloomberg's New York, if it isn't getting turned into a Starbuck's, then it's a high-priced condo. Hizzoner never met a developer he didn't like.

The Duty Patriot

So we watched the first two episodes of John Adams tonight. The program does convey the anarchic quality of revolutions--what with goaded massacres and crowds gone crazy. That any kind of Declaration of Independence came out of such a cauldron of emotions is amazing.

McCullough was right to point out in his remarks that the 18th century was not a simpler time. From disease to the whimsical rules of a tyrant, life's qualities were far more challenging. Still, one does wonder: thinking of Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin...where is such brilliance in the public sphere today?

The lonesome whistle of a train in the distance, and the lateness of the hour, and work in the morning, hastens me to bed.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

John Adams At The Byrd:
Tom Hanks asks us all to be convivial in the dark

Well, watch the trailer here.

Billion-eyed audience I can't tarry here long though I wanted to say that we were able to attend the preview of the HBO John Adams miniseries at the Byrd Theatre and Richmond got to see Tom Hanks hijinks. When the Byrd Theatre lost power-- for quite a brief period--Hanks seized the flashlight from Governor Kaine's security detail and illuminating himself went up to the podium and said, "Virginia has survived 300 years. You can take a power outage. Please, do not just remain calm, but convivial." For the record, Hanks is not shorter in person and can command a room like a stage actor, and he shaved a century off Virginia's founding date. Oh, well. It was Tom Hanks! In the house!

An HBO executive made reference to miniseries shot here--from Finnegan Begin Again to the Lackawanna Blues but it was Hanks who played to the assembly with Governor Kaine and legislators among those in the Byrd. He mentioned that the John Adams set near Mechanicsville was already getting used for another shoot, and that this activity should continue, adding with a wry smile, "Not that Virginia should become known as the Hollywood of the South or anything..." causing a roar from the crowd. Virginia has lost film shoots because the General Assembly stopped using incentives to tax breaks to production companies to lure them here. Hell, back in the late 1990s even I got some film work. Governor Kaine and Hanks acknowledged the effort of Virginia Film Commission director Rita McClenny, through whose good offices I was there.

Speaking of good offices, in the 1,500 or so people who filled the Byrd, I found myself one empty seat away from Joe Walton, a board member and IT guru at the Firehouse Theatre, and also an actual elected representative to the governing body of Powhatan County. We both thought that the fortuity of us ending up next to each other was quite interesting. He also urged me to shout out "Wilson!" at some point, a clever Hanks reference that I didn't get until long afterward. This is why I don't play Movie Trivia on Facebook.

Following remarks by a procession of various dignitaries and executives and a presentation by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps, there was a brief hesitation about starting the film. Hanks declared, "You need to move the podium or the people up front can't see." Somebody went up and leaned the podium on its side, as Hanks yanked off the HBO decoration and handed it to an audience member in the front row.

Paul Giamatti was there, too, and he didn't say much but waved and looked quite cool with his characteristic dark rimmed glasses. He received compliments from Hanks how with in a script of 50,000 words, and Giamatti says many of them, that he never forgot a line.

We watched Episode Two, which covered a great deal of ground, involving the siege of Boston, the Battle of Concord, and drafting and proclaiming the Declaration of Independence. David Morse is a convincing Washington--stiff, well, unemotional and he seems older than Washington's then-43 years (!) -- which is maybe how we see him in this episode, and Stephen Dillane plays the somewhat dreamy/odd duck Jefferson well, too, except, by no fault of his own, he didn't seem to me as tall as Jefferson was; perhaps this was done with deliberation, so that G.W. looms over everything.

Thing is, I can't see George Washington without seeing Kevin Grantz. Kevin always played the Indispensable Man when I portrayed Jefferson at St. John's Church. That's him, on the right, in this image, from here.

Speaking of actors out of the Richmond region, the one who is most visible in this episode is Ford Flannagan, known from his stage work at TheatreIV/Barksdale here. He portrays a physician inoculating Abigail (Laura Linney) and her kids against smallpox. The long, white
curling white wig Ford wears makes him almost recognizable. Still, it's an important role in a crucial scene that shows how Mrs. Adams had to make decisions for the benefit of her family's safey when Mr. Adams was away--another scene prior to his departure when she's on her knees scrubbing the floor is every effective.

By the way, the use of wigs in this show is more realistic in terms of how people dealt with them--at one point it's so hot in Philadelphia that Adams removes his, then he forgets himself when he chooses to speak without wearing the thing. Though any comments about the Founding Fathers all resembling Vin Diesel should be kept at a minimum.

I got to shake David McCullough's hand and he provided his autograph. He was radiant in his Pultizer-prize winning historian-with-a-mniseries and old school manners. Having experienced in quite a minor way the exhiliration of exaustion of book signings, I appreciated his taking time out, standing there under the Byrd's marquee, poised to enter his limousine, to put his signature on the title page.

He also spoke this evening, in that rich Wurlitzer of a voice, and made the point that Adams advanced Washington to Congress as commander of the Continental Army, put Jefferson in charge of writing the Declaration, and appointed John Marshall Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- all Virginians. "Adams knew a good thing when he saw it," McCullough quipped.

Much resonance in those formative debates as there are now in the current political season, and we on occasion should be reminded of whence we came. Also, if you've ever sat on a committee for any kind of administrative body, you can understand the frustration of trying to accomplish something like writing a document with the input from a group of very strong personalities.

This isn't the contrivances of The Patriot (in which Tom Wilkinson played Cornwallis, and here is a fine Franklin) or Revolution (Al Pacino! Nastassia Kinski! The white cliffs of Yorktown!--Wha?). Nay, 'tis closest you'll get this generation to an epic pertaining to the War for Independence.

And I just love me some Laura Linney (who wasn't in attendance). In the episode we viewed, she gets to heft a rifle, chop wood, raise the question about slavery and she received rousing applause when suggesting that maybe she should go down to Congress and box some ears, lay upon a bench and weep at John's writing, and play Mother Courage with her smallpox afflicted children.

Maybe the sense is imprinted upon me from my early days at Colonial Williamsburg, but I dunno, those 18th century dresses that give glimpses of women's elbows, and emphasizes their necks and clavicles...something to be said for showing little. The restrictive undergarments were for those who were required to wear them, less than desirable, though I recall one female interpreter who worked at CW when I was there, describing how stays worked something like a sports bra. Though I doubt Abigail Adams would've wanted to run a marathon while trussed up in one.

Those 18th century walk-around woman's fashions weren't as confining as, say, mid-19th century clothes would get, though the Empire period in the early 19th were quite beautiful for the women and men.

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Black Out in Richmond
High winds blow out our power, send us to the movies.

Well, billion-eyed audience, many of you reading this in the Lower 48 are dealing with several feet of snow and icy winds. Here, we are flake-free, and sunny, but yesterda howling gusts clocking in at close to 50 mph overtaxed our power system and put some 43,000 people in the dark.

Amie needed wifi to tend to some bid'ness, so I was sent out to find some, and lucked out at Karsen's where I've wanted to go since the place opened. We were accommodated at the bar, plugged in, and drank fulfilling draught Guinness and ate on gourmet mac and cheese and spinach appetizers. Amie was reminded of the time we spent her birthday stranded in a London airport trying to return to Paris.

Then we went to the Byrd Theater see the much touted Charlie Wilson's War, written by my fave Aaron Sorkin, and featuring Tom Hanks and a Texas accent. And there was Julia Roberts, too, who betrayed her big guffaw laugh just once. Problem when Stars try to become Characters. Somehow I can believe her better as Erin Brockovich; a past and quite successful role which made Roberts, playing an ultra-conservative Texas socialite sneering, "Sluts!" at Charlie's partying entourage even more...textured.

Hanks, at certain angles, through no fault of his own, resembles Amie's brother Mark and that pulled us out of the movie's convention. Still, I found him agreeable company. However, a scene of Amy Adams marching in high heels up a corridor, auburn pony tail swishing, was worth seeing and put me in another kind of convention.

I also got a little West Wing rush, with Sorkin's Restoration comedy in- one-door-and-out-the other scene wherein Charlie Wilson is both trying to get weapons to Afghanis battling the Soviets through CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and determining with his staff how he can get himself out of a scandal involving a stripper and cocaine charges.

Wilson's office is run by a Greek chorus of muses that careen through the film like Charlie's quadriga -- the point, I think. They include Amy Adams (center, in the image from This scene was excellent and demonstrated Sorkin's live theater roots.

There's also Sorkin classic walking-and-talking while in the corridors of power scenes. The great Mike Nichols directed; but, I left the theater feeling Charlie Wilson was a bit perfunctory. The brisk, tight scenes just didn't add up for me as a pleasing whole. The film looked a bit and felt like a 1980s made-for-television movie, and seeing a dark-haired Dan Rather and newscast clips of the time completed the sense.

The ending of the film, where Wilson tries then to gin up funds for repairing Afghan infrastructure, and a quote from him saying how the U.S. "fucked up the end game" leaves the audience thinking: oh, that's why there was Osama bin Laden. The movie has gotten critiqued from both political sides as propaganda. Fact is, with a character like Wilson, nuance and ambiguity was part of his political life and personality. Of course, as Amie pointed out to me, at about the same time, Oliver North was running a secret government out of the White House basement to combat the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Sigh. Much work to be done here on Colonial Avenue. Later, dudes.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Hey Y'aa-aalll: It's First Friday

Yes, billion-eyed audience, if you've visited here often, you know what this image means: these two ladies, of opposing expressions but exuberant attitudes, shown here during a long ago opening at the defunct Three Miles Gallery which is now Tarrant's restaurant -- it's First Friday in Richmond.

The Weather Channel says' "Soon It's Gonna Rain" so, ladies, carry a bumbershoot and slip on a pair of cute but functional galoshes.

The printmakers (Southern Graphics Council) are coming to town, thus there's a number of galleries dedicated to one of the oldest, and newest, art forms. Check out Transmission's exhibition of the Women of Studio 23, and visit the gallery with the most appropriate name this month, Ghostprint.

Now, further uptown, actually in Uptown, as this strip of Ruchmun' styles itself, at the Red Door Gallery is work by five artists, including Amie Oliver, my partner-in-art, in an exhibition called Sugar and Spice. You have until the end of the month to see the work of these unique makers and creators.

Another Oliver, Rebecca Goldberg Oliver, has new paintings up at Gallery6. She's an Art Cheerleader, you know, and they won a Muse award last night at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Gooooo- Art!

Another friend of the Blue Racccoon was celebrated in the Marble Hall; developer Tom Robinson, whose Vacant Spaces = Artful Spaces program makes waiting for the bus in midtown even more of an an aesthetic experience, and also provides attention for empty and neglected interwar storefronts. He's a caution, that Tom, as they used to say.

By the way, for those of you who've anxious about the second printing of True Richmond Stories, it'll be in the finer regional book shops as of March 28. If your Little Shop Around The Corner doesn't carry it by April, demand that the slender volume be stocked. Or -- you can go to

Last night I spoke with a book group hosted by Katie at the "Dooley Mansion" and had a splended time. They didn't mind my three-cornered hat.

In other unrelated news, Charlie
Wilson's War
has arrived at the
Byrd Theatre. We're going.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Placebo Nation
Denial is a non-prescription drug

Via, Nov. 29, 2003.

"In the '60's, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal." --quoted by "Mr. Purple" in the comments of James Howard Kunstler's Clusterfuck Nation blog, and the citation is from another peak oil blog.

Except that research during recent years indicate that for many people, placebos are just as effective as Prozac.

Gary Greenberg, a therapist, wrote in a 2003 Mother Jones, "that in more than half of the 47 trials used by the Food and Drug Administration to approve the six leading antidepressants on the market, the drugs failed to outperform sugar pills, and in the trials that were successful, the advantage of drugs over placebo was slight.
As it would hardly help drug sales, pharmaceutical companies don't publish unsuccessful trials, so University of Connecticut psychology professor Irving Kirsch and his co-authors used the Freedom of Information Act to extract the data from the FDA.
What they found has led them, and other researchers who've investigated antidepressants' relatively poor showing against placebos, to conclude that millions of people may be spending billions of dollars on medicines that owe their popularity as much to clever marketing as to chemistry, and suffering serious side effects -- not to mention becoming dependent on drugs for healing they might be able to do without them -- in the bargain."

You can read the whole thing here.

If that's too lefty for you, this information has popped up in other places; at Science-A-Go-Go in 2002, here and from the British Daily Mail, just this month, here.

I've not yielded to the temptation of extensive therapy, though wondered at times if I should've given it a go, and my mood altering drugs of choice are coffee, Legend beer and the very occasional cigar that I often share with Amie.

The point here is, and we all possess an intellectual awareness of this: large corporations and marketing of miracluous cures are invovled, you can never trust them. They are no better than patent medicine hucksters. And this goes from children's toys, to automobiles, to government policies, and even up and especially including presidential candidates.

So many bloggists out there screaming about the end of the world as we know it, and pruporting to hold the truth, and bellowig that the "we the sheeple" need to wake up....but it's just bloggists bloviating to bloggists. The majority of the country gets its news predigsted from television and their preferred online sources, and not that many are over-adventurous because they might see or read something that frightens them.

Or, they run with glee down the various conspiracy theory sites because it is far easier to accept a globe-girdling group calling the shots for everybody than accept that humans are very smart about doing dumb things. But, this gives the conspriacists a ready-made excuse-- due to the immense size of Conspiracy, is impossible to take down short of some kind of violent overthrow, and that's never going to happen, because, well, violence gets people hurt and killed, and after all, would interrupt the next installment of Lost. Being Jeremiah has only one reward, that of being right, and when everything is crashing down on the heads of you and all you know, then there's no solace in rectitude.

As for the other aspect of that statement, the world is weird by its nature. Our constructs have rendered existence absurd. Again, I quote the poster on the Gawker site this past summer:

"If the mental health industry were honest, it would admit that the consequences of freedom are aimlessness and anomie, and that a consequence of the market economy is a lifetime of consumerism culminating in death without meaning. If this life is a hell for some, the world we have inherited is why...Of course, if the mental health industry were honest, nobody would buy their happy drugs anymore; and everybodies [sic.] gotta make a living - right?"

Besides aimlessness and anomie is art, though -- and that is a whole different world of issues.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Getting Played
Politics as just another content provider for reality news teleivsion

TV Cello (1971) by Nam Jun Paik (1932-2006) Performer Charlotte Moorman (1931-1993).

While walking yesterday evening through the unexpected warm spring evening of March in Richmond-in-Virginia, a city bus passed by and I observed a placard attached to the side that queried, "WHICH HDTV IS BEST FOR YOU?" and arrows pointing to opposite ends of the question, and two different prices, due to the various attachments and whizbangs that come on these devices.

And I thought about this in a political sense. We are getting asked basically to choose which HDTV is best for us, whether or not we want an HDTV. The Dueling Democrats competing for convention delegates are two versions of the same appliance, though one may have a sharper picture, or clearer sound.

Today, state Democrats cast votes that are described by the vidiot box's talking heads in eye-bulging, vein-pulsing excitement as "crucial" and "defining." My guess is the needle isn't going to really move much: billion eyed audience, you read it here, that my guess is neither Clinton nor Obama will seal the deal today. Clinton, bloodied but unbowed as they say, will be able to spin whatever happens as a victory because it isn't a total defeat, and Obama can make one of his patented stem-winder speeches to get people stomping their feet and chanting his slogan of the week, and say he won because Clinton didn't take everything. And on we'll go to Pennsylvania or Lower Slobovia or whatever's next.

What would amuse me, in a schadenfreude sense, is if somehow Huckabee managed to thwart McCaine from getting all the delegates he needs in this one fell swoop.

Then again, I see this as emboldening the enemies of the U.S. Constitution. I'll tell you in brief why.

The other night, I was at a dinner party. A bright, articulate cosmopolitan mother of three was there and describing her adventures in southern Missouri, where she went with her family to procure a service dog trained to detect the falling blood sugar of one of her children afflicted by diabetes. The kicker to this is that a religious group trains these rare dogs and an applicant must attend services at this particular institution of faith and endure harangues from the pulpit.

Her description of the the spittle-projecting, screaming minister denouncing McCain and Obama, using these Internet lies to besmirch the Illinois senator, and saying that after Obama wins--a foregone conclusion to this preacher in Missouri--then the country will be such a wreck, a good Christian soldier like Huckabee will be needed to set things right, and the golden era of a U.S. theocracy can descend upon the land. These are people who think The Handmaid's Tale isn't a dystopian novel, but how things should work.

My tour of the Deep South these past few weeks demonstrated to me, albiet in an anecotal way, a genuine suspicion of the front running candidates--no matter their political stripe. Still, there is a solid evangelical political consitituency in the nation that has hijacked the process by making religion a candidate's validiation point. Never mind that our greatest presidents were either never asked or weren't over-board in their religious faiths. When Billy Graham started hanging out with Richard Nixon, we started having problems.

Today's true believers are re-writing history to suit them, and they tie everything to abortion and cutting welfare and policing the morals of the culture. There never was a golden age of U.S values, except on 1950s television, or in rural provincial back waters where women and minorities were second class citizens and almost invisible.

So that it comes down to is: it's a 50-50 political environment; a pathetic zero sum game where even the most idealistic must sell themselves out just to get their message out, even as they make critical compromises to do so.

We should ask why Obama, for example, hasn't said almost nothing about getting mercenary forces like Blackwater out of Iraq. He's made passing mention to why the United States is building the largest embassy ever in its history in Baghdad, which you can read about here and here. We're not leaving anytime soon. [Image via Bruce Gagnon at Space4peace].

Nor has much at all been said about killing off these Brobdingnagian anti-missile defense projects that include this leviathan radar array called SBX attached to a former Russian oil rig platform, so large that in deployment the thing couldn't go through the Panama Canal.

The current administration's spending on missile defense ballooned to $11 billion -- far outstripping energy research funding--and could grow to $19 billion. That's billion with a "b" for you readers at home.

And what of the recent report that some 2.3 million people in the United States are behind bars -- more than any other nation on earth? Why do we tolerate this? Says the Washington Post, quoting a Pew research document, "One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group." And, "Although studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect may be less influential than changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents and the proportion of young people in the population."

I don't hear the Dems talking with any consistency about these pertinent subjects (among many others), about these colossal waste of funds, exclusive of the Iraq debacle. Nor has either one of the candidates leveled with the U.S. citizenry and said in point blank fashion: You have to ask yourselves, is it worth cheap gas for your motor vehicle to send your husband, father, uncle, wife, daughter, neice off to some desert nation perhaps never to return, or come back maimed and mangled and mental? If it is, then fine. That's what we'll do. But know what you're asking for; don't delude yourself with 9/11 rhetoric and patriotic fervor.

So, OK. I'm in Obama's camp. For the novelty of his candidacy, I think, and maybe because of some of that hope he dispenses like ketchup at the Hardee's. But in the end, if he does manage to wrestle this nomination process from two of the most tenacious political street fighters in recent times, he'll have much to answer for. The Clinton campaign has started running the Republican campaign for them considering how Hillary said she and McCain were the most experienced and deserved to be president.

If Hillary stays in the race, and for seven weeks continues to muck up the environment prior to Pennsylvania, while McCain and Bush are able to bad mouth and Obama all day long, then what's the point to any Democratic campaign at all? I return to the Democratic voting Republican ladies standing in my line during the Virginia primary: some Republicans are voting Democrat in essence just to play with our heads.

And Obama is inheriting a catastrophe, and there are many, many millions who want to see him fail and who'll work with determined and deliberate zealous energy to undermine him during every single moment of his public life. I don't want Obama to be this generation's Jimmy Carter, I really don't. Perhaps Obama is a "posing conservative." But maybe that's the way he could ever hope to get elected in this shambling makeshift republic.

And if it is McCain v. Obama, and they conduct every nasty maneuver brewing in the infernal cauldron of Rove's dirty tricks kitchen, and Obama loses, then we get what we deserve. The political process is a farce, but if Obama is trounced, then it becomes tragedy. Problem is, we who cannot expatriate to foreign climes will have to endure what follows, just as we've had to endure the past eight long years, and watch the country just slide away.

If you've just not gotten our fill of Obamadness, a Richmond blogger at West of Shockoe provdes one stop swooning. It's better than listening to the blithering and blathering on television.

This I gleaned from Wonkette.

Here is His Hopeness at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2008. The comments to Wonkette's snarky descriptions are more interesting, as they tend to be in opposition to each other. Some say this is like Dukakis and the tank. I don't see it; Obama isn't displaying his national defense prowess, or lack thereof, by posing as though operating farm equipment.

Two polar opposite remarks:

by PopoZao at 02:55 PM
@TheRainWhisperer: Because for 9 out of 10 Americans (the ones who don't vote in a primary but do vote in a general election) Barry Hussein Idi Amin Obama is more alien than a Martian.

I think the Democratic Primary process has created the false impression that Barry has widespread appeal.

Poor McCain sounds like he is in complete disbelief that Barry is the best the Democrats have to offer up to him every time Barry's name is mentioned. I can't wait to see his self-righteous ass get whupped by McCain. Barry acts like his santorum doesn't stink as bad as the rest of ours but it does!

by ultramk at 03:01 PM
The thing that gets me, is that even sitting on a goddamn tractor, the dude still looks like the president.

You know, aside from the speeches, and the sincerity and all that shit, the dude is straight out of central-fucking-casting. He's presidentier-than-presidenty: he's the presidentiest. He's clay-oven-baked-president-covered-in-tangy-president-sauce-served-with-a-side-of-hot-mesquite-grilled-president.

This, from Lance Mannion, a pragmatic view of a Clinton loss tonight and what it'll mean for Obama. It's a Blame The Media argument; similar in theme to the one I'm making with the title and image at the top of this post:

Clinton is going to lose

Big day tomorrow. Vote early, vote often.

Based on what I've been reading I predict Hillary Clinton's going to lose.

She'll probably wind up pocketing the most delegates but she's going to lose.

The Media will see to it.

It's unlikely she'll get out and out beaten across the board, but she'll still lose. She'll lose by not beating Obama across the board or she'll lose by not winning in every big state or she'll lose by not winning by a large enough margin in the states she's supposed to win or by not coming close enough in the states she's expected to lose or she'll lose by not getting the votes of the right demographic or she'll lose by not getting enough votes in the demographics that were going to vote for her anyway or she'll lose because not enough people tell the exit pollsters on their way out how excited they were to cast their vote for her.

Whatever, however.

She's going to lose.

She's going to lose because they're going to say she did and they'll say it because they want her to.

This is not sour grapes. This is the way it's been going on for fifteen years now. And those of you who think that this is a good reason not to support her, so we can get away from this, those of you who think that Obama will somehow be able, through the sheer force of his personality or the beauty of his rhetoric or the wonderfulness that is him or through the plain fact that he is not a Clinton need to consider this very real possibility:

The reason he's a media darling now is because he's not a Clinton. He gives them a way to dump on the Clintons while congratulating themselves on how cool and post-partisan they are.

If and when Hillary's beaten and Obama's the nominee he becomes the Democrat running for President.

And you watch.

If the Republican running against him is John McCain then every single move Obama makes will be the wrong one.

Everything he says will be a lie.

Every time he appears to win he will lose.

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