Wildness and Savage Majesty Reigned

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

storm king

Now did the soft breezes of the south steal sweetly over the genial face of nature, tempering the panting heats of summer into genial and prolific warmth; when that miracle of hardihood and chivalric virtue, the dauntless Peter Stuyvesant, spread his canvas to the wind, and departed from the fair island of Manna-hata. The galley in which he embarked was sumptuously adorned with pendants and streamers of gorgeous dyes, which fluttered gayly in the wind, or drooped their ends into the bosom of the stream. The bow and poop of this majestic vessel were gallantly bedight, after the rarest Dutch fashion, with figures of little pursy Cupids with periwigs on their heads, and bearing in their hands garlands of flowers, the like of which are not to be found in any book of botany; being the matchless flowers which flourished in the golden age, and exist no longer, unless it be in the imaginations of ingenious carvers of wood and discolorers of canvas.

Thus rarely decorated, in style befitting the puissant potentate of the Manhattoes, did the galley of Peter Stuyvesant launch forth upon the bosom of the lordly Hudson, which, as it rolled its broad waves to the ocean, seemed to pause for a while and swell with pride, as if conscious of the illustrious burthen it sustained.

But trust me, gentlefolk, far other was the scene presented to the contemplation of the crew from that which may be witnessed at this degenerate day. Wildness and savage majesty reigned on the borders of this mighty river — the hand of cultivation had not as yet laid low the dark forest, and tamed the features of the landscape — nor had the frequent sail of commerce broken in upon the profound and awful solitude of ages. Here and there might be seen a rude wig-wam perched among the cliffs of the mountains with its curling column of smoke mounting in the transparent atmosphere — but so loftily situated that the whoopings of the savage children, gamboling on the margin of the dizzy heights, fell almost as faintly on the ear as do the notes of the lark when lost in the azure vault of heaven. Now and then, from the beetling brow of some precipice, the wild deer would look timidly down upon the splendid pageant as it passed below, and then, tossing his antlers in the air, would bound away into the thickets of the forest.

Through such scenes did the stately vessel of Peter Stuyvesant pass. Now did they skirt the bases of the rocky heights of Jersey, which spring up like everlasting walls, reaching from the waves unto the heavens, and were fashioned, if tradition may be believed, in times long past, by the mighty spirit Manetho, to protect his favorite abodes from the unhallowed eyes of mortals. Now did they career it gayly across the vast expanse of Tappan Bay, whose wide-extended shores present a variety of delectable scenery, — here the bold promontory, crowned with embowering tress, advancing into the bay, — there the long woodland slope, sweeping up from the shore in rich luxuriance, and terminating in the upland precipice, — while at a distance a long waving line of rocky heights threw their gigantic shades across the water. Now would they pass where some modest little interval, opening among these stupendous scenes, yet retreating as it were for protection into the embraces of the neighboring mountains, displayed a rural paradise, fraught with sweet and pastoral beauties; the velvet tufted lawn — the bushy copse — the tinkling rivulet, stealing through the fresh and vivid verdure — on whose banks was situated some little Indian village, or, peradventure, the rude cabin of some solitary hunter.

The different periods of the revolving day seemed each, with cunning magic, to diffuse a different charm over the scene. Now would the jovial sun break gloriously from the east, blazing from the summits of the hills, and sparkling the landscape with a thousand dewy gems; while along the borders of the river were seen heavy masses of mist, which, like midnight caitiffs, disturbed at his approach, made a sluggish retreat, rolling in sullen reluctance up the mountains. At such times all was brightness, and life, and gayety, — the atmosphere was of an indescribable pureness and transparency, — the birds broke forth in wanton madrigals, and the freshening breezes wafted the vessel merrily on her course. But when the sun sank amid a flood of glory in the west, mantling the heaves and the earth with a thousand gorgeous dyes, then all was calm, and silent, and magnificent. The late swelling sail hung lifelessly against the mast; — the seaman, with folded arms, leaned against the shrouds, lost in that involuntary musing which the sober grandeur of nature commands in the rudest of her children. The vast bosom of the Hudson was like an unruffled mirror, reflecting the golden splendor of the heavens excepting that now and then a bark canoe would steal across its surface, filled with painted savages, whose gay feathers glared brightly, as perchance a lingering ray of the setting sun gleamed upon them from the western mountains.

But when the hour of twilight spread its majestic mists around, then did the face of nature assume a thousand fugitive charms, which to the worthy heart that seeks enjoyment in the glorious works of its Maker are inexpressibly captivating. The mellow dubious light that prevailed just served to tinge with illusive colors the softened features of the scenery. The deceived but delighted eye sought vainly to discern in the broad masses of shade, the separating line between the land and water, or to distinguish the fading objects that seemed sinking into chaos. Now did the busy fancy supply the feebleness of vision, producing with industrious craft a fairy creation of her own. Under her plastic wand the barren rocks frowned upon the watery waste, in the semblance of lofty towers, and high embattled castles, — trees assumed the direful forms of mighty giants, and the inaccessible summits of the mountains seemed peopled with a thousand shadowy beings.

Now broke forth from the shores the notes of an innumerable variety of insects, which filled the air with a strange but not inharmonious concert, — while ever and anon was heard the melancholy plaint of the whippoorwill, who, perched on some lone tree, wearied the ear of night with his incessant moanings. The mind, soothed into a hallowed melancholy, listened with pensive stillness to catch and distinguish each sound that vaguely echoed from the shore — now and then startled perchance by the whoop of some straggling savage, or by the dreary howl of a wolf, stealing forth upon his nightly prowlings.

Thus happily did they pursue their course, until they entered upon those awful defiles denominated the Highlands, where it would seem that the gigantic Titans had erst waged their impious war with heaven, piling up cliffs on cliffs, and hurling vast masses of rock in wild confusion. But in sooth very different is the history of these cloud-capt mountains. These in ancient days, before the Hudson poured its waters from the lakes, formed one vast prison, within whose rocky bosom the omnipotent Manetho confined the rebellious spirits who repined at his control. Here, bound in adamantine chains, or jammed in rifted pines, or crushed by ponderous rocks, they groaned for many an age. At length the conquering Hudson, in its career towards the ocean, burst open their prison-house, rolling its tide triumphantly through the stupendous ruins.

Still, however, do many of them lurk about their old abodes; and these it is, according to venerable legends, that cause the echoes which resound throughout these awful solitudes, — which are nothing but their angry clamors when any noise disturbs the profoundness of their repose. For when the elements are agitated by tempest, when the winds are up and the thunder rolls, then horrible is the yelling and howling of these troubled spirits, making the mountains to rebellow with their hideous uproar; for at such times it is said that they think the great Manetho is returning once more to plunge them in gloomy caverns, and renew their intolerable captivity.

But all these fair and glorious scenes were lost upon the gallant Stuyvesant; naught occupied his mind but thoughts of iron war, and proud anticipations of hardy deeds of arms. Neither did his honest crew trouble their heads with any romantic speculations of the kind. The pilot at the helm quietly smoked his pipe, thinking of nothing either past, present, or to come — those of his comrades who were not industriously smoking under the hatches were listening with open mouths to Antony Van Corlear, who, seated on the windlass, was relating to them the marvelous history of those myriads of fireflies that sparkled like gems and spangles upon the dusky robe of night. These, according to tradition, were originally a race of pestilent sempiternous beldames, who peopled these parts long before the memory of man; being of that abominated race emphatically called brimstones; and who, for their innumerable sins against the children of men, and to furnish an awful warning to the beauteous sex, were doomed to infest the earth in the shape of these threatening and terrible little bugs, enduring the internal torments of that fire, which they formerly carried in their hearts and breathed forth in their words, but now are sentenced to bear about for ever — in their tails!

And now I am going to tell a fact, which I doubt much my readers will hesitate to believe; but if they do, they are welcome not to believe a word in this whole history, for nothing which it contains is more true. It must be known then that the nose of Antony the Trumpeter was of a very lusty size, strutting boldly from his countenance like a mountain of Golconda; being sumptuously bedecked with rubies and other precious stones, — the true regalia of a king of good fellows, which jolly Bacchus grants to all who bouse it heartily at the flagon. Now thus it happened, that bright and early in the morning, the good Antony, having washed his burly visage, was leaning over the quarter railing of the galley, contemplating it in the glassy wave below. — Just at this moment the illustrious sun, breaking in all its splendor from behind a high bluff of the highlands, did dart one of his most potent beams full upon the refulgent nose of the sounder of brass — the reflection of which shot straightway down, hissing-hot, into the water, and killed a mighty sturgeon that was sporting beside the vessel! This huge monster being with infinite labor hoisted on board, furnished a luxurious repast to all the crew, being accounted of excellent flavor, excepting about the wound, where it smacked a little of brimstone; — and this, on my veracity, was the first time that ever sturgeon was eaten in these parts by Christian people.

When this astonishing miracle came to be made known to Peter Stuyvesant, and that he tasted of the unknown fish, he, as may well be supposed, marveled exceedingly; and as a monument thereof, he gave the name of Antony’s Nose to a stout promontory in the neighborhood; and it has continued to be called Antony’s Nose ever since that time.

But hold: whither am I wandering? By the mass, if I attempt to accompany the good Peter Stuyvesant on this voyage, I shall never make an end; for never was there a voyage so fraught with marvelous incidents, nor a river so abounding with transcendant beauties, worthy of being severally recorded. Even now I have it on the point of my pen to relate how his crew were most horribly frightened, on going on shore above the highlands, by a gang of merry roistering devils, frisking and curveting on a flat rock, which projected into the river — and which is called the Duyvel’s Dans-Kamer to this very day. But no! Diedrich Knickerbocker, it becomes thee not to idle thus in thy historic wayfaring.

Recollect that while dwelling with the fond garrulity of age over these fairy scenes, endeared to thee by the recollections of thy youth, and the charms of a thousand legendary tales, which beguiled the simple ear of thy childhood, — recollect that thou art trifling with those fleeting moments which should be devoted to loftier themes. Is not Time — relentless Time! — shaking, with palsied hand, his almost exhausted hour-glass before thee? Hasten then to pursue thy weary task, lest the last sands be run ere thou hast finished thy history of the Manhattoes.

Let us, then, commit the dauntless Peter, his brave galley, and his loyal crew, to the protection of the blessed St. Nicholas; who, I have no doubt, will prosper him in his voyage, while we await his return at the great city of New Amsterdam.

— Washington Irving

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Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

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Naked Lady of the Week: Lindsey Marshal

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

lm-cover

Lindsey Marshal is a smiley Canadian with light freckles and sea-foam eyes. In 2004 she experienced a brief flash of fame when she was fired by the Toronto Raptors, for whom she was cheerleading, for posing nude on the internet. There’s an amusing and charmingly old-school discussion of the scandal here.

When nude photos of an actress are posted on the internet, she gets more work. I guess it doesn’t work that way for cheerleaders.

She’s such a sunny thing. Here’s hoping she achieved her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

Nudity below. Have a great weekend.

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Guns Again

Fenster writes:

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt suggests that in a new generation the NRA may have finally met its match.  Could be.  A spate of recent polls indicate a spike in support for some kind of action.  If those polls indicate a permanent shift Pollitt may be on to something, though even then it is far from clear whether a shift in favor of so-called common sense regulation really signifies an emerging revulsion against guns and gun culture and the death of the NRA, both led by the young.

While there could well be a turn of sorts on the margin it could well be among all age categories.  If I am suspicious of anything about Pollitt’s argument it is the breathless Age of Aquarius implication, so characteristic of Boomer vanity, that a child will lead us, just as America was delivered by a youthquake in Pollitt’s formative years.

It is true that polling data suggests that support for the NRA is lowest among younger Americans.  But the fight over the NRA as a proxy for the fight over guns is also generationally-inflected.  Boomers like Pollitt have been fighting the NRA/gun battles for decades and may not see that new generations are not just shock troops to be conscripted for one’s own side but are also going to bring to the broad question their own idiosyncratic views.

Unless one thinks that youth has suddenly been galvanized as whole–remotely  possible but evidence please–this could well be a case of a slice of youth having louder mouths, with megaphones and podiums graciously provided by the media.  This also reflects Boomer history.  Even today a small slice of youth stands in for the whole in cultural memory of the Sixties and early Seventies.

So while keeping one eye on the newer polls and where they go is important it is worth looking back at past polling data, too.  There, the issue of guns and youth is decidedly mixed.

While being less partial to the daddy’s NRA today’s youth have been somewhat less in favor of gun restrictions than their elders and are significantly more likely to think concealed carry will result in more safety.  The rate of gun ownership is lower but guns are take seriously recreationally and in terms of safety by those that do own them.

Things change to be sure but they do not change on the two-dimensional axis that constitutes the default worldview of those getting on in years.  Rachel Wolfe writes in Vox that “it’s possible that being born after the Columbine High School shootings and experiencing mass shootings as a routine event will change how (the young) think.”  True, but what kind of change?

Will it necessarily signal gun revulsion in line with the Pollitt agenda?

Or might it be in favor of some restrictions but lack the underlying desire—palpable among many now both under and above the surface—for something like confiscation?

Or might it even reflect a mature consideration of the need for guns for self-protection, for the need to harden schools as targets, for the wisdom of arming teachers?

In other words is it possible that when the younger generation grows up a bit they will take this problem, left unresolved by decades of distrust from the edges, and solve it from the center out?  Gun control and abortion are both issues that have been stuck in gridlock for ds now, with partisans unwilling to give an inch for fear of slippery slopes to the other edge.  The best way of stopping a slippery slope all the way to the other edge is to empower the center, and to bulk up the belly of the bell curve.

I can imagine a political and legal environment in which gun rights advocates feel that their backs are well protected against reinterpretation of the Second Amendment. And a social environment that reflects a general consensus against confiscation or anything like it. Perhaps in that environment we could see the kind of legislative debate we see with most other issues, with a reasonable muddling through of this or that weapon, this or that definition of mental illness, this or that process for buying or being precluded from buying.

That environment would meet the anti-gun advocates desire for some kind of action. The problem is that the conditions for it would otherwise be anathema: no progressive president, a judiciary remade under eight years of Trump, a Supreme Court not tempted to alter settled Second Amendment law and interpretation. 

A less toxic environment would be healthy overall.  It would expose the hardliners on both sides for what they are.  That would mean marginalizing right-wing loonie holdouts.  But it would also mean, as I pointed out in a previous post, shining a light on “liberal dogmatists who talk about guns because they don’t want to talk about inner city pathologies, deinstitutionalization or radical Islam.”

One can only hope that a rising generation might solve the gun problem from the center outward.  Pollitt may gripe that we remain a country with too many deplorables from which she is culturally alienated.  The NRA may find its membership drops and that is had less control over the terms of the debate.  But I don’t see the gun war subsiding until the culture war recedes, and we may be a crisis or two away from that happening.
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Earlier posts on guns and the Second Amendment here and here.
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Zero Days and Russian Meddling

Fenster writes:

If you haven’t seen Alex Gibney’s excellent 2016 documentary Zero Days you should.  If you have you will recall it recounts good, bad and ugly aspects of cyberwarfare as practiced by America on others, and the risks of it being practiced back on America by those we have attacked in the virtual world.  I think it has relevance to discussions today over weaponizing Facebook, Russian meddling, making life difficult for RT, and the like.

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Wonton Speculation

Fenster writes:

Citizenship increasingly resembles a night at the movies.  Better yet, an obscure foreign art film without subtitles.  Better yet, a foreign miniseries with multiple plot lines and seasons, each uncertain climax leading us not to clarity but to another season of confusion.  We poor schlubs are alternately entertained, horrified and mystified in search of the plot line and in the hope of a satisfactory conclusion.  “What the hell is going on?” is a better default attitude than reflexively rooting for a good guy.

What shall we make of the current tension between Russiagate and FISAgate?

My guess below, with implications for how the season may end.

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“Marjorie Prime”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

marjorie-prime

Director Michael Almereyda often uses postmodern prickliness to bring us closer to his subjects. He courts obviousness, underlining his meanings so that we won’t miss them; yet his work has a quicksilver quality that belies its didacticism. It can sharpen your perceptions, bringing you to a state of pleasant cogitation that makes you feel as though you’ve retreated into your headspace. It helps that Almereyda is so attentive to mood and setting. In his 1994 “Nadja,” the atmosphere of ironic-posh alienation revealed the characters’ romanticism as a kind of protective garment — as ephemeral and as lovely as the shoegaze pop on the movie’s soundtrack. In 2015’s “Experimenter,” the shifting planes of the sets and narrative highlighted the way in which our sense of reality is inseparable from our manner of testing it. If we devote our lives to developing a theory of the world, at what point does the theory become the world, and the world change to conform to it?

In Almereyda’s latest, “Marjorie Prime,” adapted by the director from a play by Jordan Harrison, a family deals with the gradual loss of its members by replacing them with artificially intelligent holograms. In the opening scene, the aged Marjorie, played by Lois Smith, talks to a recreation of her dead husband, Walter. Portrayed by Jon Hamm, the hologram — it’s named Walter Prime — is half Marjorie’s age; it’s a representation of the handsome Walter of fifty years prior. So it’s no surprise that Marjorie looks at it with longing. But there’s a hint of the predatory there as well. For we gradually realize that this is Marjorie’s Walter; its consciousness exists for her benefit; she owns it. Even so, when she tells the faux Walter that she feels the need to perform for it, she’s being truthful: The hologram’s performance is drawn from her memories; without her input, it has nothing to work with, no material. In return the hologram engages in a performance of its own — a performance designed to seduce Marjorie. When it tells her a story, we understand that it’s reciting her cherished memories. In doing so it imbues them with a vividness that her failing mind won’t permit. Perhaps it even rewrites those memories. Like the two women in Bergman’s “Persona,” Marjorie and her electronic amanuensis constitute a feedback loop. Where does one personality end and the other begin?

Occasionally Almereyda opens up the play by inserting a flashback to the characters’ past lives. Since they’re unmediated — untainted by repetition and performance — they’re our only glimpses of the family’s actual history. In one such flashback, the youthful Marjorie canoodles in bed with Walter; the 1997 “My Best Friend’s Wedding” plays on a television. Walter proposes to Marjorie in a way that’s perhaps too casual. We immediately recognize that the flashback doesn’t jibe with Marjorie’s memory of the moment, as expressed by Walter Prime in the opening scene. In the memory the couple saw the movie in a grand theater. It was a big moment; there was nothing casual about it. Did the hologram invent this embellishment or did Marjorie? Either way, its extravagance has replaced the mundanity of the actual event — reordered it as a recording head reorders the particles on a magnetic tape. Now it’s the reality for Marjorie and hologram alike.

The plot of “Majorie Prime” is riddled with false memories, unfounded stories, and elisions. Late in the film, a story concerning one of Marjorie’s former suitors is revealed to be the partial invention of her daughter and son-in-law, Tess (Geena Davis) and Jon (Tim Robbins). In order to pad her ego they’ve given her the impression that she rejected a tennis pro; in reality, he was in the drywall business. Does a part of Marjorie recognize the tale as bunk? Smith’s performance, a diaphanous evocation of the cunning naivety of old age, suggests that possibility. On the other hand, Marjorie has heard the story so many times that it might as well be real; its telling has become a ritual with a value independent of veracity. Why contradict it? Though Jon calls the story a “harmless lie,” other fibs cut deeper. Over the course of the film we learn that as a young woman Marjorie lost her son, Damien. Though it was a defining moment, she’s suppressed her memory of it, a lie of omission in which the whole family is complicit. Is this lie also harmless? By forgetting Damien the family has attempted to erase him, but his specter persists; his absence is felt in the awkward shapes their conversations take as they talk around his existence. And the consciousness of this evasion has left a poisonous residue. “I hated him,” says Tess, without apparent guilt. In an act of transference as troubling as it is understandable, Marjorie has moved her memories of Damien onto the late family dog. She catches herself when she refers to its fur as “hair”; the shadow of a barely understood revulsion flits across her face.

It’s too simplistic to say that “Marjorie Prime” is about the fudginess of memory. Harrison and Almereyda are after something more elusive. They’re trying to pin down the subjectiveness of personality, of relationships, of communal narrative. Like the Primes (in addition to Walter, we meet electronic recreations of Marjorie and Tess), the movie’s viewers engage in an act of intuitive reconstruction. Presented with the chunks of a family’s history, we fill in the gaps between them, inevitably adding our own biases to the emerging model. Is this not how shared notions of history take form? That these notions contain inaccuracies is admitted by the movie’s writers through their inclusion of at least one historical red herring: The composer of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is not Mozart, as the characters of “Marjorie Prime” believe, but an unknown songwriter, a person whose name has failed to find a place in our collective memory. (Does that absence mean the composer never existed?) Being a movie buff, Almereyda can’t help but wink at the issue of unreliable memory via a film reference: A flashback scene depicting the first meeting of Tess and Jon takes place in a museum whose walls are painted to resemble the gardens in “Last Year at Marienbad.”

It’s to Almereyda’s credit that “Marjorie Prime” never feels like a puzzle movie. Its revelations are gradual rather than abrupt; even the deaths of major characters seem to register subconsciously, as though we’re remembering rather than experiencing them. Wisely, the chamber-drama structure has been taken as the basis for the film’s aesthetic; the nondescript domestic settings are as anodyne as the pacing, and Sean Price Williams’ diffuse lighting makes everything look a little transient, like a sunset. Almereyda and his team prove that philosophical sci-fi doesn’t require scale and showy ponderousness to put its points across. Despite its modesty, “Marjorie Prime” is sprightly, engaging, and profound; it expresses in 100 minutes what the handsomely catatonic “Blade Runner 2049” merely suggests in 160.

In the movie’s final scene the electronic shades of Walter, Marjorie, and Tess engage in a conversation. They trade tales, all derived from their now-deceased human subjects. Left without their fleshy reference points, sources of new material, will they eventually converge on a single consciousness, all of them repeating the same details of the same stories for eternity, or are they capable of improvising? Their discussion may provide a clue: In their retelling of Walter’s proposal to Marjorie, the movie they attend is not “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” but “Casablanca.”

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