Monday, July 16, 2018

The Cost of It All: An Anti-Trump Ramble and Anti-Conservative Screed

Like all sane and non-evil Americans, I found Trump's trips to the G7, Singapore, NATO, the EU, and Helsinki, disgraceful and mortifying.

When a Democrat inherits Trump's mess and scandal, like Obama inheriting George W. Bush's financial collapse and wars, there will be an actual, tangible cost to fixing it.

But lets start with the basics. Whoever is in charge needs to prioritize the following, and could create task-forces based along these general lines:

1) Undoing Trump damage and creating legally binding norms. This group would go through Trump's Executive orders and reverse them where appropriate (a majority no doubt). They would also be in charge of making norms laws, and wrangling the Legislative branch to do so, ensuring that Presidential candidates, for example, had to disclose their tax returns, etc. Lots of it will be little stuff, but it does have to be done, and addressed.

2) Global warming and the environment. In terms of long-term consequences, undoing the Koch-backed practices of Trump's carnival of horrors would need a good force working to undo the damage and make up for lost time. From the Paris Accords to renewables to Bears Ears there is a ton to do and fast. Strengthening the EPA alone will be a huge undertaking. Infrastructure for the 21st century falls under this banner as well.

3) Voting rights. A third force needs to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again, in part, by making ballot access easier. The conservative Supreme Court is making this harder with rulings in recent years, which means some serious measures - basically a belly-buster Constitutional Amendment that finally deals with 1) gerrymandering, 2) campaign finance reform, 3) ID laws. Statehood for Puerto Rico and DC and full voting rights for others, universal enfranchisement at 18, and making it a holiday to ensure people show up and cast a ballot, would all help.

4) Prosecution and indictments. The cabal of Trump people need to go to jail. Lots of them. They need to actually be punished for their crimes, as a deterrent to others who wish to act in treasonous fashion, and to restore some measure of the American people's faith in justice in this country. Ford's pardon of Nixon was one of the great mistakes in American politics of the past 50 years. It should not be repeated. This also applies to ejecting members from the Legislative branch who knowingly aided and abetted treason. Censure and expulsion for their crimes. Jail for them too, of course. Any who aren't guilty of crimes, but helped the Trump crime syndicate in overt measures, should be barred from running for office or holding jobs in the federal government or lobbying. You know - drain the swamp.

5) Education reform. Fuck home schooling. We need to make it harder for people to take their kids out of accountability - not impossible, but much harder. Private schools can teach what they like, but must be aligned with certain English, Math, Science, and History standards. With this oversight must come a substantial rollback of testing. We are wasting everyone's time and a generation and a half has been through a No Child Left Behind system that robbed them of fundamentals for filling in bubbles. More federal holidays throughout the year will offset a shortening of summer to a month and half (July and half of June) as well. If not evil, it takes a certain kind of stupid to support Trump in thinking he is out there trying to help the little guy. For long-term gains we need to make a major push in this country to decimate the dumb quotient of the population.

6) Reestablishing global order. Russia is our enemy, as is North Korea. Europe and NATO are good things. Mexico and Canada are partners, and we don't like strongmen like Duterte. Pretty basic, but it will take a strong task force a lot of hours of hard work to fix this, just as Clinton had to go around the world and bring goodwill to our allies after the disastrous Bush years. We need to respect the United Nations, and help them (rejoin UNESCO and the UNHRC) and, with top civilian brass' full-throated support, have a couple of Joint Chiefs and an Executive who want to join the ICC and get Congress to send people like Trump and Dubya to the Hague.

7) Tax reform, healthcare, and unions. A seventh group needs to focus on helping struggling working-class Americans. Tax reform that helps the middle and lower class Americans is needed, and helping lift folks out of poverty, since the economy is a force leading to Trumpism. Further some viable healthcare system is needed. And in contrast to the Supreme Court's recent lousy decisions regarding labor unions, Americans need to have those rights secured and restored. I do not envy this group the challenges they face. Just making work more palatable, from minimum wage to closing the 'contractor' and intern loopholes are all going to be serious fights.

8) Human rights. Finally a group needs to be tasked with reestablishing human rights, safety, and lack of discrimination. From LGBTQ to refugees at the border and children torn from their parents, to taking tangible steps to limit white nationalist terrorism and Constitutionally enshrine Roe v. Wade, much needs doing. Making federal laws that prevent domestic abusers from holding office - there's a simple idea. These and so many more laws need to protect the Americans under the Constitution Trump swore he'd serve when he lied under oath.

That got Clinton impeached, right?

So. All of this is going to cost us. Materially, financially, and in terms of time spent to correct the wrongs. Rectifying this Administration (I do not say 'Presidency' since he is more akin to the Steward of Gondor than an actual leader) will take at least eight years of very hard work from top minds and sleepless nights from dedicated public servants who wish the ungrateful American electorate the best.

You just know the Conservatives will hang back until enough damage is undone, and memories are clouded, and then come forward wagging fingers and blustering on Fox News about how we're a bunch of tax and spend liberals. How the Democrats want to grow government and spend us into oblivion - and despite all the evidence to the contrary, those sons of bitches will have a captive and fawning audience to hear them testify the gospel of Gilded Age prosperity to a bunch of down-and-outers, the afterbirths of William Jennings Bryant's electorate, the trifecta of great-grandchildren of the Know-Nothings, the Midwestern Klan, and Confederate grunts whose stories have been inflated by adoration of the generations to add epaulets to their long-lost Dixie uniforms, and their modern equivalents, the illegal militiamen and their kin of the West who idolize the likes of Trump's recently-pardoned Hammonds, not to mention a panoply of misogynists, harassers, rapists, abusers, and patriarchs from all corners of this Union. These are the people who for 16 years have made Fox the most watched cable news show, but before that they were the Southern Strategy's 'Silent Majority', and the Dixiecrats before that who followed Thurmond and Wallace, the suburbanites who thought McCarthy was speaking truth to Washington power, the Hannity viewers of today who in a different age would've tuned into Father Coughlin and stood by Huey Long, the thugs with clubs who busted Unions by busting skulls, and the Republicans who abandoned Reconstruction, and Lincoln's values, denying African American's rights for a further century, just to hold onto political power with Hayes.

These kinsmen have long been our greatest source of peril, for they impede progress, loathe our Constitutional ideals, and maintain the importance of superiority over others - economically, racially, sexually, or what-have-you - contrary to the fundamental egalitarianism of our Nation's moral objectives. They will grumble, as they did with FDR's New Deal, and Obama's salvation of the national economy, and cry out that it costs too much, that we need another good strong Republican to come in and fix this mess the GOP just made.

All of this will come to pass if the folks in group five, above, don't do their jobs.

And that's why I'm a teacher.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Paintings (Well, Posters) in My Apartment

One of the exciting things that happened in the past six months was that my framed posters arrived from Boston, where they’d been hurriedly stashed four years ago upon departing Connecticut to return to sunny California. When in CT I had money to burn, and did so by professionally framing a number of works of art which I enjoyed. They are all fine art pieces – works I knew I would want hanging on my walls for years to come. (To share a secret I may even daydream of a house that feels like an art museum, complete with the individual lighting, like V’s shadow gallery or the library from Myst.)


The pictures of framed art from here on out are all mine. I spent a lot of money on framing these works, so I wanted the frames to be represented along with my descriptions. Some angles are askew, and this is due to attempting to avoid glare. Without further ado, then, here’s a guide to the art on my walls, and why these pieces speak to me:

We’ll start in the bedroom.

The Treachery of Images, Rene Magritte, 1929.
Purchased and framed in CT.

This is my smallest piece, above my door. It’s a standard size, so we found nice, rich chocolate frame with a black highlight to bring out the contrast of the image and its light background – nearly the same shade as the walls it would be hanging on. I like Magritte, he’s one of my favorite surrealists. As a kid I had a poster of the other great surrealist Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory (you know, the soft watches). It was my first fine art poster, along with, of all things, Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks. Both are now lost or destroyed.

The Hicks painting is interesting as it represents a visual list, namely of animals. He made many versions, and one is housed in the collection in de Young art museum in San Francisco. The de Young is relatively third-rate, but I liked that one painting as a child, obviously due to its animals, and my mom bought it for me. In general, I enjoy works that require time to soak in – and a visual list is a good example of my early interest, in a basic way, with this form of contemplation. In Umberto Eco’s work, The Infinity of Lists, a companion piece to a curatorial work he did for the Louvre, he dedicates a chapter to paintings that are visual lists of animals, usually focusing on Noah’s Ark as the encyclopedia-ing means (for example Memberger’s The Animals Entering the Ark). Later in his work, a chapter discusses the role of lists of excess, with animal themes again prevalent (for example Bruegel the Elder’s Allegory of Air).

So my first two paintings were an allegorical bestiary and a highwater-mark of surrealism. Magritte’s small piece is the inheritor of the latter trend in my taste. In high school, while reading Scott McCloud’s now-ubiquitous, then-still-fresh work Understanding Comics, I ran across the following:

When time came for a Magritte to add to my collection, despite having dressed up as The Son of Man for Halloween in high school, Treachery of Images became my choice.

Drawing Hands, M.C. Escher, 1948.
Purchased in youth, framed in CT.

The third print I bought as a youth, which happily still survives, is Escher’s Drawing Hands. The work has long been a favorite. In my high school Ceramics class I made a pencil holder that was a to-scale three-dimensional rendition of the lithograph. Escher is fun, although my favorite work of his is the cosmic Another World II, about which I wrote and submitted a poem my Freshman year. (Our English teacher, Dave Lavender, read it in front of the class, anonymously, and then said ‘Well done, Ross,’ at the end, upsetting the preservation of anonymity. Oh well.)

Two of the art books I first bought, in middle school, were compendiums of Dali and Escher. I still own the Escher work, but the Dali coffee table book I gave away. Surrealism was a favored theme of my childhood, and Escher, these days, is the other manifestation of that.

The framing is one of three works where we decided to use a very simple black metallic frame, to not distract from the composition.

Three Musicians, Pablo Picasso, 1921.
Purchased and framed in CT.

This painting, what with a border already present, is the second of the simply-framed pieces. The framer and I even decided, for the proportions, to keep the poster’s label visible at the bottom. I enjoy Picasso, but struggled to find a work of his that matched my aesthetic and taste. Guernica is too large, as is Les Demoiselles. I enjoy Picasso, but not to that extent. The Old Guitarist was a work I admired as a child, but as I got older felt less inclined to it. Instead, this work, with its harlequin flair, may be the most humorous of his works, which drew me to it. I like an aspect of humor in my works, whether through absurdity or other means.

The final touch, and a theme we will see repeated, is the detail, perhaps initially missed, of the dog under the table. A dog under the table of the three musicians, who are themselves seemingly allegorical, is what sold me on adding this work to my little poster collection.

The Tempest, Giorgione, c. 1508.
Purchased and framed in CT.

We now step way out of the 20th century, back to the Renaissance. This is one of my all-time favorite paintings, because, in keeping with the theme, it is so very peculiar. It is the oldest work on my walls.

For framing I wanted to highlight the three dominant colors, the verdant green, the gold in the cloud, and the light brown earthiness. With the double matte I think we achieved the result. It is easily my favorite framing job I’ve ever planned.

In college I lived at the San Francisco Zen Center for a month or so, and during that time, as the weeks went on, the Center decided to sort of use me as a go-between for them and the outside world. One particularly pleasant errand they sent me on was to get some works of art that hung in their hallways framed – they wanted a double matte, but beyond that trusted my artistic judgement to decide the rest (my tastes and talents having recently been displayed in an exercise of flower arranging). That was when I became interested in framing as an art. But admittedly, the roots go deeper, to trips to Marin with my father who was busily framing the dozen or so works of original comic book art he had purchased and was hanging around our house.

I have no recollection how I first came upon the work – I suspect it was in a book, but don’t recall. Years later, though, in college, during my Junior half-year abroad, I dragged my mother and sister through the Accademia in Venice – which is not a great collection – just to see it, the highlight of the gallery.

There is symbolism here, and intriguing, near-surreal aspects as well. First the woman’s gaze directly engages the viewer. The way she is holding the child is odd, instead of on her lap, at her side. The nudity is also inexplicable. The role of the solider, at left, is also strange – why is he there? He may be focused on her, but maybe not. There’s a storm coming, as the title suggests, but their stance and poses are calm, unhurried, and unconcerned. The ruins in the background of the mythic town are hauntingly empty, and there’s further a broken column prominently displayed – a well-known symbol from the era of death, a life cut short.

This was also the first nude I added to my collection. I was hesitant at first to have nude paintings – what would people think? – but I have subsequently purchased two more. I have no intent of adding to these three, though.

Cupid and Psyche, Gerard, 1798.
Purchased and framed in CA.

I bought this, the most recent nude of the three, in response to a framing sale. I simply needed a poster to frame and I’d been planning on buying this poster for a while, and so it was picked! It is again a double matte, which coincidentally is the case with all three of my nudes, a fact I did not realize until surveying them now. The blue of the sky needed a bit of punching up, I thought, and the creaminess of the flesh-tones could also feature. The more old-fashioned dark wood frame balances it out, so that the work doesn’t become too light and airy, veering into sentimental, or even kitsch, territory.

Gerard is not a great artist. I can’t claim to like any of his other works – portraits of Napoleon and women in the style of, but inferior to, Jacques-Louis David.

According to the myth, Psyche cannot see Cupid, who has himself fallen in love with the beautiful young woman. This kiss, then, is strange to her, as she cannot see the love-grounded, winged figure bestowing it upon her. The wings of Cupid, incidentally, are a favorite – clearly the artist studied some bird of prey, matching nicely with his quiver.

This poster is easily the most explicitly erotic, yet it’s very sweet, the mythology telling a story of innocence and gentleness tempered by new feelings of arousal, seen in Psyche’s dilated pupils engaging with us, the viewer, striving, perhaps, to glimpse her lover.


The School of Athens, Raphael, 1511.
Purchased and framed in CT.

While discussing the Greeks, let’s look at the great Renaissance masterpiece depicting the cream of ancient thought.

This is one of my largest posters, and one of the costliest to frame. No matting here – bust we needed a huge wood frame to hold it, and the monster of silver, with simple classical lines, did the trick. As a shinier frame it matches with the actual contours and molding of the wall which the image depicts – the painting is, after all, a fresco, and Raphael used a little trompe-l’oeil to make his work fit in with the wall he was working on.

The work is obviously a list, a game to find the various famous figures and identify them, from Raphael himself in the bottom right, looking out at us, and his contemporary Michelangelo, slouched in purple mirroring Diogenes on the stair, to the great philosophers of antiquity – Plato and Aristotle, center, Socrates, at left, in green, etc.

My earliest engagement with philosophy came in middle school, in religion classes, but ripened during my Sophomore through Senior years in high school when I started reading original texts, and then came to fruition in college, where I averaged one philosophy class per semester until grad school. This poster is a reminder to me of that development of my mind.

Again, in college while abroad, my mother, sister, and I went to the Papal chambers in the Vatican to see the original work. Secular in nature, it has long been a favorite depiction from the height of the Renaissance era. I identify far more with School of Athens than, say, the Sistine Chapel ceiling which we saw later that day.

Autumn, Spring, Summer and Winter, Alphonse Mucha, 1896.
Purchased and framed in CT.

This set of four, depicted in the poster not quite in the order they were painted, was bought in desire to have an Art Nouveau poster, preferably a Mucha. Since Steinlen’s Le Chat Noir has become a poster-lover’s clichĂ©, I wanted something of the time period, but maybe more refined. As a boy I like Toulouse Lautrec, and even wrote a report on him. I admired his style, and so the initial interest in having a work from the French Belle Epoque could be said to stem from grade school.

San Francisco, being a city that was born during the era of Art Nouveau, has remnants of this sensuous past, built upon the wealth of immigrants seeking gold, whose conspicuous consumption was displayed in mimicking the European visual tastes of the era. Not much survived the 1906 earthquake, but again, the style fascinated me from my earliest rambles around the city as a child.

For this framing we hit upon an ideal wooden frame immediately. Since the poster already has a large gap surrounding the four figures we dispensed with the matte and enclosed the work in a slightly ornate, faintly curlicued, dark gold border. It picks up and mirrors the four individual frames and is just shiny enough to add a little glint to a relatively flat subject matter.

As for the allegorical depiction of the seasons, since this is one of Mucha’s earlier works, I think it doesn’t suffer from the rigidity of his later portraits of women. With time they became increasingly academic, whereas this work, due to its subject, presents the models in sparse, but evocative backgrounds – landscape elements which his lithographs in later years tended to avoid, or not accomplish as well.

We now move on to the living room.

San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, Claude Monet, 1908.
Purchased and framed in CA.

Sticking with the Belle Epoque, we come to another centerpiece.

This is my other very large work, along with the Raphael, and it required a lot of deliberation. I bought it in response to moving into my new apartment in Berkeley, which had vast white walls to fill. At the framers we decided on a blue to both compliment the overall orange and red, and to bring a bit more notice to the strip of sky at top. I was concerned, at first, about using a simple white matte, but the framer was right in the need to create some visual distance from the business of the work, providing room for those intense colors to pop before contacting the frame.

Not my favorite Monet. That title goes to Impression, Sunrise from 1872. But that landmark work, however wonderful, does not match my aesthetic and style of dwelling. I do, however, enjoy this Venetian sunset as a close second, and more harmonious choice, for my space.

Again, at the de Young, I recall seeing an exhibit of Monet’s water lilies as a child. I liked his works immediately – as so many do – but the lilies weren’t a motif I cared for as much. I left wanting to learn more about him and his style, if not lilies.

Oddly, this is the only landscape in my collection.

Picture Gallery with Views of Modern Rome, Giovanni Paolo Pannini, 1757.
Bought in MA, framed in CT.

This picture caused some confusion for me. The version I have is on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where I purchased it from. Yet I have seen it elsewhere, as there are different versions of work, with slight variances, in different locales. This was the first work I got professionally framed in CT, and we immediately hit upon the ruddy gold, with the black contrast as the frame that perfectly matched the subject.

What I like most about this visual list of a painting, though, is an aspect seen only, to my knowledge, in the MFA’s copy: the children peeking in to view the painting from behind this bizarre theatrical curtain.

It cannot be classified with a proto-work of post-modernism, like Foucault famously does with Las Meninas in The Order of Things. Indeed, such peeking and framing is not unusual: going back at least as far as Filippo Lippi in the 1400s. But by combining it with the infinity on display it makes for a special piece.

Umberto Eco, in his work on lists, has the following to say about the version of the work found in the Louvre:

“The fact is that an image in sculpture is defined in space…whereas in paintings the image is limited by the frame. As we have said, even the Mona Lisa is portrayed against the background of a landscape that could obviously continue beyond the frame, but no one wonders how far the forest behind her may extend, and no one thinks Leonardo wished to suggest that it extend to infinity. Nonetheless, there are other figurative works that make us think that what we see within the frame is not all, but only an example of a totality whose number is hard to calculate…Think of Pannini’s picture galleries: they are not intended to represent merely what is shown but also the rest of the (indefinitely large) collection of which they are only an example.”

Choose Your Weapon, Banksy, 2010.
Purchased and framed in CT.

By far the most recent piece in my collection. The next oldest is Escher’s Hands, from 70 years earlier. It is the third, and final, work for which we used a simple black metallic frame.

My San Francisco 90s childhood was rife with Keith Haring. His large sculpture, Three Dancing Figures was initially located downtown before moving adjacent to the de Young in Golden Gate Park. His altarpiece, The Life of Christ was located at my school, Grace Cathedral, in the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel.

Not until I was older did I learn of his graffiti roots, roughly around the same time when I was discovering Banksy as a prankster ‘guerrilla artist’ who was sneaking his works into museums. It was all very exciting and Thomas Crown Affair – it appealed to my subversive adolescent tendencies going into college.

When Banksy decided to make a statement that art is a weapon, and in doing so pay homage to Haring, I knew it was a work I wanted in my collection. My sister, Jess, bought the print for me, done on canvas, and I was glad to add it. Its inclusion means that Escher’s monochromatic hands aren’t quite so lonely.

Thalia, Muse of Comedy, Jean-Marc Nattier, 1739.
Purchased and framed in CA.

We end with my favorite painting.

I bought this upon returning to California, to mark moving home to the Bay Area. The piece was purchased already framed from the Legion of Honor, my favorite art museum in San Francisco. They used a standard ‘academic’ framing, whose gold helped accentuate the light gold touches in the work. It has a double white matte frame, which is peculiar, in my opinion, and a standard black frame, but, as a standard frame, it works well.

Thalia is a Grecian muse, as the title states, of comedy. I can recall from middle school art classes my teacher telling me that, to direct the eye of the viewer, you want to think carefully about what you put in the center, and to sparingly use the color red.

I therefore find this painting to be hilarious. Nattier’s bullseye of a nipple is fitting for a comedic muse. Besides being an attractive subject, from the twinkle in her eye to the smirk, this is the third, and final, of my nudes. For all the talk of the de Young, the Legion, as a space and a collection, is strongly preferred, and as a child, when I bashfully looked at this portrait, I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Unlike Psyche or the enigmatic figure of The Tempest, this is the only female figure adorning my wall which is placed there for attraction.

We again, like Pannini, have a theatrical curtain, blue to contrast to the red from before, with a stage scene in the background. All of my framed posters bring me an aspect of joy and contemplation, but perhaps none so much as Thalia, embodying comedy, mirth, and laughter itself. She makes me smile.

So there you have it, all of my posters, and why they are important to me.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Road Trip Write-Up: Pennsylvania and Environs

What follows is the details of my week-long trip, sometimes in excruciating detail. And here we go:

The flight was direct, and fine – left around 11 pm on Wednesday and got into Toronto around 7 am. I changed into clean clothes in the restroom near baggage claim. Got my rental car, from Budget, a Hyundai Accent, then drove over towards the CN Tower. It was cool – they had just reopened the 360 degree view that day and I was among the first couple of groups to see it. Walked out on the glass, 114 stories up, and did the bubble as well. It’s a cool structure and didn’t disappoint. From there I walked over to the St. Lawrence Market, which was okay, and found a Chinese vendor inside (Yip’s) which was odd, and not super good. I saw St. Lawrence Hall and the park across from it, including the church. From there I walked back to the garage by the CN Tower, stopping into the Royal York Hotel on the way. I was tired, and it was not mid-afternoon. 

I drove over to where my AirBnB-style setup was, a Yorkville condo thing. Hung out in a trendy coffee bar, reading Sound of the Mountain, because I was beat. Once it was after 3, I checked in, showered, napped, and waited until dark. After dark I walked down Bloor St a ways until I got to a Smoke’s Poutinerie, and got a triple meat poutine. Took it back to my luxury condo thing. It was the solstice, and Pride, so the streets were abuzz. It was a gorgeous stretch to walk, and reminded me, with a small pang, of Berkeley’s Southside.

Friday I awoke, checked out, and got my car from the lot, proceeding to Niagara Falls, at the Table Rock visitor center. The sky was fairly grey. That said the falls were magnificent, and it was a pleasure to see them from the more majestic Canadian side. I got a grilled cheese and tomato at a Tim Hortons, ‘cause those are a Canadian thing. I drove on to the border, the guard seemed suspicious until I told him I was headed to a wedding in Erie. I got in to my hotel, which was fairly odd (under new management and, it seemed, construction. There was a switchblade on the bed when I arrived). The rehearsal dinner, in Erie proper (I was in North East), was set for 6:30. There was no real rehearsing (or maybe they did it before I came - I was 10 minutes late due to a confusion as to the start time), but there were tasty tacos and good company.

Saturday I went first to the bicentennial tower on Lake Erie. It may be the first actual Great Lake I’ve been to…As I came down from the observation tower it was just beginning to rain. I went to a restaurant called Habibi’s, back near the rehearsal venue, and had some tasty middle eastern food (hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush) but outside it began coming down in buckets. Realizing it wasn’t going to get any better I headed back to the hotel to change for the wedding, 25 min each way, but slower going do to near whiteout conditions. I eventually got back to the wedding venue, the Watson-Curtze Mansion, with time to spare, maybe fifteen minutes before 5, when the wedding was to begin. The wedding ceremony was lovely, and short, and like most weddings I've been to, they did they Celtic hand-binding. After the ceremony I looked around the mansion which was open to guests and then had a nice dinner. After a few more festivities I went back to the hotel.

Sunday I got up early to get to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It was not scenic, nor spectacular. I first went to the Boston Store, which is their visitor center. From there I headed to Brandywine Falls, which… is just a waterfall. An especially dull fall after Niagara. Then I drove to the Ritchie Ledges, which were kind of cool, but would not be a main feature at most other parks. Having so much time to kill I drove on to a small covered bridge. After this, all fairly disappointing, and fighting with my Google Maps, I went to the town of Peninsula, to a place called Fishers, and had some truly magnificent ribs – a full slab. That put me in a better mood heading to Pittsburgh. I got there early still, around 3:30 instead of 4, and met my friend at her house. It’s nice, and she’s done a good job on it - the rare Millennial achievement of home ownership. We did the Duquesne Incline, and then got ice cream at Millie’s (it started to rain – I got a peanut butter shake). From there we headed down to the river walk, and we crossed the Clemente bridge into downtown. It was getting dark – we moseyed around to the weird glass tower, and then headed back, stopping at the super creepy Mr. Rodgers memorial before heading back to her home.

After some dining table conversation in the morning I headed out, to make my tour. I actually got to Mills Run a bit early, and so they put me on an earlier tour of Fallingwater. The interior spaces are smaller than I expected, after the enormity of Taliesin’s living room, I suppose due to the cantilevered decks. Above the son’s bed was the Audubon print of anhingas I have as my phone’s background. There were also a couple Picasso and at least one Diego Rivera sketch. It was a great space, and a pleasure to be in. I was neither under- nor overwhelmed, which is peculiar in that I’m usually one or the other. I got my main big souvenir for the trip – a throw rug/blanket piece for the couch, based on the window I worked on for so long. I got lunch, a meh meatloaf sandwich at the cafĂ©, and continued on to the Flight 93 Memorial. It was fairly moving, but very sparse. I spent a little longer there than expected – you can’t get very close, due to the monument wall being the edge of what had been the debris field. It was overcast, and I headed on to Harpers Ferry, passing through Maryland and Virginia (very briefly) to get there. My hotel was a little ways away, so I got food at the restaurant attached, the White Horse Tavern, and took it back to my room, where I watched Star Trek TNG. The food was tasty, but rich, and I felt ill.

In the morning I started exploring Harpers Ferry, which has more history to it than John Brown’s raid – I was previously unaware but Meriwether Lewis got his supplies there, and it was also important during the Civil War, which makes sense, as the site of an armory. The town itself was incredibly picturesque. I drove on to Gettysburg, getting there around noon. The main center verged on horrific, it was so commercial and tacky. I was in low spirits as I walked to the Soldier’s Cemetery, but treading the ground of the actual sites was restorative. I headed by foot over to the High Point, and the Angle - the turning point on the third day - and then walked back to my car. It was getting on, and I had a drive ahead of me. So after two hours of that (admittedly I bought a small bust of Lincoln in the gift shop) I headed to Bethlehem. I arrived just before 5, but of course there was still plenty of light. I spent around an hour going around the Moravian historic sites (the church closes at 3, apparently, so I unfortunately did not get to see the interior). I got a pumpkin milkshake, and headed to my hotel, the View Inn. After unloading my bags I moseyed out to a restaurant in a restored farm, the Road House of Hanover, I think. Got some pierogis and a Cobb salad. It wasn’t very good. Spent the rest of the night in the hotel, after buying more film, as I’d run out.

Wednesday, the final day, I got up very early to get to the Franklin Institute when it opened. Morning traffic was pretty bad, but I got there not too long after 9:30. I went in and took pictures of Benjamin Franklin’s National Memorial, and then left to go to Independence Hall. Again a parking garage fee, and with time to spare I moseyed to the cemetery where old Ben was buried. From there I got my ticket for the tour, went past the Liberty Bell (which you can view from outside and had a super long line) and then went to Carpenter’s Hall, which was small, before going in at 11:20 for my 11:40 tour. Our guide was great, and projected by shouting at us, but we all liked him. I recalled the grey room somewhat once I’d actually gone into it. That had been eighteen years ago… It was nice to be back, and see it as an adult. When I was 14 the main memory had been eating lunch, seeing the Bell, and buying a hat.

I drove to the Budget at the airport, they charged me $9/gallon, for four gallons. I’d not seen a station on my way, unfortunately, and the car was due back at 1 (I got it there around 12:45). Both flights, Philadelphia – Boston, and Boston – Oakland, were uneventful. 

So there you have it, a play by play of my vacation week.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Drugs (and Alcohol)

Eight years ago I discussed why I don't drink. Part of that story dealt with a high school friend, Avery, who died between our junior and senior years when he was hit by a drunk driver. A few weeks ago, this past May, another high school friend's death made international headlines when he died in a car crash a few hours after his wedding. They are still, as of posting, awaiting toxicology reports.

So I'm not really going to get into all that.

Now, unlike alcohol, where I've tried sips and tastes of pretty much everything over the years, I have never bothered trying drugs in any quantity. The risks are too high, the rewards too few. As I always tell people - no one tries something for the first time with the intention of becoming an addict.

Instead what prompted this renewal of reflection was reading yet another article about how Michael Pollan took acid and enjoyed it. The timing of Mr. Pollan's praise, and renewed academic discussion, just seems so... off.

Pollan, as every piece mentions, is Mr. Natural (in the Whole Foods sense, as opposed to the 60s and 70s counter-culture usage). Why would the guy who likes plants and grains, who has been exhorting us to live healthier lifestyles, go in for what is usually targeted as the most synthetic and unnatural drug?

The different articles make different claims attempting to answer those and other questions. I don't really care. The bothersome aspect for me remains the timing and context. Our country is in the middle of a deadly epidemic of opioid use. Quick terminology: Opioids are distinct from opiates - the plant-based precursors which had to be derived from Opium poppies (morphine, for example). Oxycodone, a common opioid, is synthetic - it doesn't come from plants any more than the lab-created Fentanyl which is dominating headlines as the new front on the war against opioid addiction. Fentanyl, perhaps not coincidentally, was synthesized in the 1960s, right when LSD was becoming popular (having been synthesized decades earlier).

According to the most recent data, from late 2017, about 64,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2016. One third of those were from Fentanyl and other opioids. (For context, around 88,000 people die annually from alcohol. But we're not talking about that.) 64,000 may not seem like much - it is literally .0001% of the population. It's only 1/5 the number of Americans who contacted HIV/AIDS at the height of that epidemic crisis in 1993. It's less than 3% of Brooklyn.

Is all of this hand-wringing, then, and talk of a national crisis, just getting the spotlight because it effects the Trumpian base? I doubt that's the only reason. The issue is vulnerability - rural vs. urban communities, the elderly, the poor - the usual victims of social ailments. This in turn raises the antennae of the liberals, who see the spread of opioids as harming our most vulnerable. That way it's not just the communities which overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump that care about the issue close to their hearts, but seemingly the nation as a whole.

Meanwhile, predominately liberal states like California and Colorado are going toe-to-toe with Jeff Sessions regarding marijuana legalization, and New York is set to soon follow. Of the states with legalization (California, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Vermont) only one - Alaska - is identified as conservative, and tellingly Alaska's 'leave-me-alone' libertarian-extreme definition of conservative has long been regarded as unique in the national makeup.

So while rural and lower working-class communities from West Virginia to California's farming communities in the north, are dealing with addiction and fatality, the urbane centers are getting back into pot and acid.

If this all sounds familiar, like the 60s is back, I would recommend instead a comparison to the 1980s. The now infamous lies told during the decade regarding the discrepancies between cocaine and crack reflected socio-economic prejudices more than narcotic realities. Wealthy elites, liberals and conservatives, did coke, while poor communities, especially POC, in America's cities were arrested for crack. To be fair, the criminalization of marijuana was due to similar attempts of targeted social engineering, as of course, was LSD.

But the history goes deeper. The same decade that saw the synthesizing of Oxycodone and LSD was ironically the start of America's obsession with body image and health. The pendulum since the 1930s has repeatedly swung back and forth between 'body as temple' and 'body as receptacle' - Eat oranges from sunny Florida / put bacon on everything, achieve a glowing tan or gleaming smile / beautiful at any shape or size, exercise and aerobics trends from jogging to jazzercise / the late 90s/00s obesity epidemic. For around a century, since it first became possible to carefully control our bodies' looks and contents, we have as a nation had both our fad diets and our cheat days.

Drugs have traditionally straddled both sides of this debate: whether they are treats we know are bad for us, or part of our general well-being and health. Neurochemically we know that salt and sugar are addictive like drugs, not as much as, say, tobacco, but still. And sugar probably does more harm to us in the quantities we consume it than the toll marijuana may take on your lungs. But saying that is a guess.

Why Pollan, railer against the evils of high fructose corn syrup, is groovy with micro-hits of acid is beyond me. Oxy and LSD are about the same street price (or so the internet tells me). Is it due to availability? Oswald Stanley got to spend two years in prison for LSD, but he was a grimy hippie who toured with the Dead - Michael Pollan? Heaven forbid. He's allowed to write up a book about how it helped expand his horizons. I wonder if the Feds will come knocking on his door.

Our relationship to drugs as a nation is complex, ever-evolving, and reflective of wide disparities in socioeconomic status and cultural and ideological biases. The timing of Pollan's embrace of synthetic drugs comes right when vulnerable Americans are dying at the hands of synthetic drugs. It is not a new story - but it is a new, and dangerous narrative that the non-addictive drugs (pot, LSD) are for the liberals and elites, and the addictive drugs (opioids) are for the plebes. Liberals should take note that we have long-championed the counter-narrative, that addiction is not a personal failing, but instead a social issue that needs our compassion. With nearly 80,000 Americans living in the hell of the Federal Penitentiary System for drug violations, Mr. Natural's making money off of his story advocating tripping can't help but be seen as arrogant bragging that he is above the law. I wonder how his defense of drug use will go over in a place like Fayette county, West Virginia - or even Humboldt county, California - where opioids have claimed the highest toll. We have enough big issues and culture wars to deal with in 2018 before we bring legalizing LSD back into the mix.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Presidential Medal of... Social Sciences?

So one issue I have with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is that there is a whole field missing, namely: the social sciences.

As someone who majored in this field it's a little sad to contemplate. Surely our field is of some value to America?

That being said, there are a few categories which are and have been represented, namely History, Education, Politics, and Economics are all awarded, and full of famous inductees (David McCullough, John Kenneth Galbraith). So what we need is a grab-bag of the other fields: Anthropology, Geography, Linguistics, Psychology, and Sociology, under the heading of Social Sciences.

To get the ball rolling, here are ten posthumous and ten living candidates. All posthumous candidates would have been alive in 1963 when the award was first given (as is the requisite custon observed by all but one - Juliette Gordon Low - posthumous inductees).

Posthumous Inductees

WEB Du Bois - Sociologist, founder of field
Margaret Meade - Anthropologist, founder of field
Robert K. Merton - Sociologist, "unintended consequences," "role model," "self-fulfilling prophecy"
Betty Friedan - Sociologist, second-wave feminist
Erving Goffman - Sociologist, dramaturgy theory
Abraham Maslow - Psychologist, "hierarchy of needs"
Dian Fossey - Anthropologist, primatologist
Alfred Crosby - Geographer, "Columbian exchange"
Edward Said - Sociologist, "Orientalism"
Carl O. Sauer - Geographer, "cultural landscapes"

Living Inductees

Noam Chomsky - Linguist, modern founder of field
Cass Sunstein - Sociologist, legal and social connections
Jared Diamond - Anthropologist and Geographer, cultural geography
Albert Bandura - Psychologist, social learning theory
Kimberle Williams Crenshaw - Sociologist, "intersectionality"
Patricia Hill Collins - Sociologist, black feminism
Steven Pinker - Psychologist and Linguist, evolutionary psychology
Elizabeth Loftus - Psychologist, memory constructs
Henry Louis Gates Jr. - Sociologist, African American studies and genealogy
Francis Fukuyama - Sociologist, "end of history" and influential neoconservative

On a separate note - Has anyone else noted that Trump hasn't awarded any medals yet, now in his second year of office? How typical. Probably feels no one deserves one besides himself...

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Five Pieces of Media

Here are five pieces of media which were very influential for me.

1. The Movie: The Three Caballeros

This movie is so weird. Of the 1940s Disney package films, this one takes the cake for surrealism. There is no real plot, hardly any character development, just a few shorts in a frame story followed by a reverie of live action and travelogue through Latin America.

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Why is it important?

1) I saw this as a young kid and definitely didn't know movies could be so wildly free-form. It got me interested in experimental film narratives and surrealism.

2) For better or worse, it was an interesting introduction to Latin America, at least...

3) through the lens of the 1940s. The live action was so clearly of another era. I realized it was a glimpse into what must be a forgotten time, and it intrigued me immensely that a small slice was preserved. Documentaries, history, the past - this film planted those seeds to see the world as it once was and is no longer.

4) Mary Blair, the head artist, is awesome, and I consider her films in the Disney canon to be the most artistically valuable (Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty).

2. The Album: Go Soundtrack

The soundtrack to the late-90s film 'Go', about the California rave scene and party culture for young adults (I think. I have not watched this movie in a very long time.)

Why is it important?

1) The first album I bought for myself (because my sister had it).

2) I was really intrigued by America in the late 90s. Everything was so optimistic, slick and digital (especially in the Bay Area). Yet there was this underbelly, a warehouse-aesthetic of secrets, dark shadows in the nightlife of the vibrant, connected city. This album represented that mysterious fringe to me. It encapsulated the feeling of exploration, of horizons, and  experiences utterly alien to my own during a time which, I would reflect on later, was historically unique.

3) Electronic music and pop music. This was my introduction to both - my parents didn't listen to either genre on the radio, Top 40 wasn't part of my childhood. This coincided with the end of middle school, and I was just the right age to go to Tower Records and find CDs I wanted. I still like electronica to this day.

3. The Book: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

A man answers an ad to save the world, which leads to becoming the disciple of a gorilla with deep knowledge about human nature.

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“The premise of the Taker story is 'the world belongs to man'. … The premise of the Leaver story is 'man belongs to the world'.” 

Why is it important?

1) I grew up curious, like the above intrigue into the underground world of 'Go', but more or less not questioning my world. Ishmael, encountered in high school, changed all that. I began to fundamentally question how the world works, what deep patterns may be present, how things could be different. Everything came up for grabs during adolescence, and here was a work that said civilization itself was arbitrary, and more to the point, mad. It came at the perfect age to question why anything we do is 'right' or 'necessary'.

2) For about four years, two in high school and two in college, I was pretty obsessed with Quinn's two volumes, Ishmael and The Story of B. As offshoots of their teachings I got interested in anthropology, sustainability, and population. From these origins I got into Amory Lovins, Michael Pollan, Jared Diamond, and so forth. I made signs and went to parking lots in supermarkets talking to people about overpopulation and food production. I worked on designing solar panels for buildings, went to lectures in San Francisco and the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, volunteered on archaeological digs, and was a self-righteous ass in Anthro 101.

4. The Show: Connections (1978)

A program in which science historian James Burke describes how the story of history is not linear, but tangled, complex, and surprising. He traces the ten most important inventions of the modern world from their unexpected and unrelated origins to the present day, and attempts to look a little ways into the future.

Why is it important?

1) Burke got me interested in history, which is now my profession. More than that, I take time each year to introduce a new generation of students to his ideas. I consider him one of the most prescient thinkers of the 20th century.

2) Connections was first shown to me, a single episode, when I was a kid. I was amazed, but long forgot about it, and didn't finally sit down to watch the whole show until I was in grad school. After years of studying philosophy and history (and anthropology and the rest) it was a really interesting return to what began it all for me, my love of the study of historical narrative and the deep patterns of humanity.

3) It informed my educational model of the need in History class to focus on depth, using intriguing stories and details to hook students into the essential narratives. It got me interested in other synthesizers, like Carl Sagan, who told big stories.

4) I learned some seriously important lessons about human nature and our ability to make predictions or call the shots on what the future has to offer, what role history plays in society and how it can be used as a tool. I ended up giving a series of lectures on this topic in Singapore, for example, about a year after grad school.

5. The Internet: YouTube

A platform for videos online.

Why is it important?

1) Burke ends his final episode saying, in 1978, that there was a communications revolution just around the corner, and that it was going to come out of the computer. How right he was. But this revolution has made things very problematic for historians. A history of print media, for example, gets exponentially more difficult as you cross from the popular heyday of novels in the 1800s to the insane volume of material in the first few decades of the 20th century. A history, today, of the internet seems impossible, beyond covering its earliest development. Post-2000 it would all be too much.

2) YouTube supposedly gets about 100 hours of videos added every minute. It parallels the trends of having grown up with the internet. You were at one point able to catalogue the most popular memes of the early Net. No longer. As more people joined, the community became too big and unwieldy. Viral hits used to get a million or so views, and maybe talked about for weeks - still a relatively short time compared to books, video games, or movies. Now a million views is quaint, and not unusual for basic user-created content.

3) All of this troubles me, as a historian. YouTube is the best example, but we see it increasingly in movies and television as well - there's too much to keep up with. The quantity of broadcast media has, in my lifetime, matched the problematic volume that print media took four centuries to reach.

4) Still, YouTube has created some interesting new formats and video art forms. The somewhat interactive nature of it is typical of our 1990s hopes for the Net: talking with people on the other side of the world in real time. Live chats and live broadcasts, the infamous comments section, and so forth, all adds to the communal feel, while also remaining significantly private.

5) I recall a friend, a couple of years after grad school while teaching in CT, calling me over in a hookah bar to watch a weird video of a guy making what he thought were fox sounds. About a week later the video, which when we watched it had a couple thousand views, had become a viral sensation. Social gatherings back then often involved gathering around the screen to watch YouTube. They were basically viewing parties. Vine could be experienced this way as well. But that was in 2013. Five years later, and nowadays I would never imagine friends gathering around to watch a YouTube video. You still occasionally show videos to friends, but only rarely. It no longer commands the entertainment novelty, and furthermore being part of something viral has lost any previous social cache and relevance.

6) As I moved into my adult career, YouTube became more and more important. I use it in the classroom. Some pioneers have scrambled to stay on top, and as a result the content creators of note have become celebrities who my students idolize. The fact that I went to school with Mike Rugnetta of Idea Channel and Crash Course is a lot of cool points. Watching an episode of Odd1sOut will pay dividends in relating to my students. Vine was really good for this too (RIP). Some creators sank to obscurity (almost tragically the old cast of Sourcefed Nerd is trying to reunite, but their day has long since passed) just as some actors couldn't make the leap from silent films to talkies. These sorts of developments and transitions, while paralleling certain other media, are happening much faster, though.

7) On a personal level YouTube became how I watched Jon Stewart's Daily Show (and then Colbert's Late Show) as well as getting into things like ASMR and watching BBC and other TV shows like QI and Would I Lie to You, John Oliver, etc. It's how I watched stand-up comedy. Some of its unique content has become favorites (Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, etc.) It has, consequentially, taken more and more of my time over the years, originally something to browse occasionally, and now a key part of my week. I read less, watch fewer movies, and listen to less music because of it. Not a good thing, perhaps.

8) Tribalism can be directly related to this over-saturation of media, I think. Everyone has their own self-perpetuating communities, and so we get in our bubbles and rarely emerge. The Net went from let's talk and share ideas, to seeking out our own favorite things, creating patterns of addiction from social media, to watching and following increasing amounts of content that reinforced our interests; like the progression from a radio broadcast in the living room to listening to a mix-tape on your Walkman. It has helped to isolate us more and more.

I grew up as a child with glimpses of an intriguing world, a world of exotic lands and strange places. As I grew up I discovered there were subcultures, fringes, narratives that veered and shied away from the mainstream, potentially intriguing mystery worlds of an already fascinating human experience. In my adolescence, though, and going into adulthood, I stumbled upon a rational order, the sort of Deep Magic the type of which C.S. Lewis would write about. There were patterns, logic and an order to things. The most sacred and fundamental aspects could be explained, categorized, and studied. I underwent my own Enlightenment, of the European mold, questioning everything, discovering answers, and figuring it all out - not just one small area of expertise, but the whole of human experience. Devouring the classics and feverishly counteracting the very lessons they were striving to impart. Into my professional career I balanced these counteractive forces, found others who knew the secrets and saw civilization the way I did. But then it started to unravel at the seams. Content became unwieldy, too much, exponentially unmanageable. The patterns were now computer algorithms, and I had no stomach for math. Overwhelming quantities engulfed the historical narrative. To try to write a history of something like YouTube would be a folly. Media has now become more a part of my life than ever, but it is equally problematic.

It has become impossible to gauge cultural touchstones, such as Birth of a Nation or Forrest Gump, To Kill a Mockingbird or Harry Potter, Sgt. Peppers or Nevermind, The Twilight Zone or The Simpsons. The 90s were the last full decade of that sort of cultural capital. By the mid-aughts it was already starting to get out of control.

And the viral memes and videos added almost nothing to our conversation. There's nothing thought-provoking about cheeseburger cat, the dress, or laurel vs. yanny. Even the basic internet meme shorthand, developed early on in Web 2.0, has come to an end. I drew the Not Sure If meme on a student's paper, which would have been immediately recognized by students a few years ago (even though the confused image of Fry would have already been a years old reference) but now it elicited nothing but confusion and puzzled looks.

It has inadvertently made for a lonelier media landscape. Only a few really big cultural mythos in media have any rallying force - The MCU, Star Wars. Even the biggest YouTube stars, PewDiePie, Smosh, etc. are just celebrities - like Will Smith or Beyonce. They have their followers. They rarely make globally-important history.

My life has come full circle, returning to the discombobulating, disconcerting topsy-turvy world of my Three Caballeros-infected childhood. Little make sense, patterns occasionally seem present, only dissipate and reemerge in strange unexpected forms. There's too much to try to understand, and it would only scratch the surface even if I got a good glimpse.

My media journey has taken me on a journey from confusion, to sure-footed certainty, and back again - an exercise in all-too-human futility.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Michael Anderson, the director of 'Around the World in 80 Days' (ATW8D), as well as 'Logan's Run', died recently. I decided to rewatch my copy of the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 1956.

I like this movie, and it holds a special place in my heart. It was the first "cinematic" film I saw when I was young that made an impression of scope, grandeur, and cinematography. Here's a clip which I fell in love with as a kid, which you should watch before proceeding:

Train Sequence Through India

So if you find the above link visually pleasing, you may enjoy the film. If not, then... Probably not. Here's a post-viewing reckoning of the film, after having seen it again, considering its pros and cons, and whether it holds up:

Pro: Cinematography

ATW8D is full of beautiful shots. Besides the India section above, there are two other significant sequences. The first, and most famous, is the hot air balloon ride, which shows off Europe, freshly rebuilt and restored after the damage from WWII. It comprises the first leg of the journey. After India, the other train sequence of note is through America, with vast wilderness and untrammeled prairies to ooh and aah over.

If you like sweeping vistas shot in CinemaScope-style, you may well like this movie.

Con: The really weird intro

I had forgotten that the movie opens with an extended introduction by Edward R. Murrow, discussing new rocket technologies, able to circumnavigate the globe in 80 minutes. It's a nice concept, but it doesn't add much, and having Murrow walk us through Melies' abridged 1902 classic Voyage to the Moon, while likely highly enjoyable for audiences in 1956, isn't so swell in 2018. That said, you can easily skip all this on a DVD.


Mix: Rule Britania

If you enjoy British humor, and David Niven walking around as Phileas Fogg being proper to the point of absurdity, you'll like ATW8D's sense of humor. When they arrive in San Francisco they are struck with the foreigner's barbarism. The dry wit and stiff upper lip are fun for anglophiles. It can at times be too much, though.

Pro: Cameos and credits

The movie is a who's who of famous actors and actresses. Sir John Gielgud to Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton to Noel Coward, Joe E. Brown to...

The end credits, by the renowned Saul Bass, of Hitchcock fame, are also a tremendous treat which help you identify all the cameos throughout the film.

Con: Racism and stereotyping

Not surprisingly, as time has gone, like Disney and the rest, the stereotypes and poor choices have only become uglier with age. With regards to cameos, not all are that pleasing, most notably Peter Lorre's depiction of a Japanese man:

All you Scarlet Johansson complainers should check this scene out for yellow-face and pidgin English that is second only to Mickey Rooney's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Yikes.

This is not perhaps the only problematic Asian depiction. Cantinflas wanders through Japan in an extended silent segment which is almost charming enough to off-set the cheap humor of his attempted bull-fight with a Hindu sacred cow in India. But when Fogg and the Indian princess (Shirley MacLaine - again, not great casting) arrive:

I mean... this is probably how Brits would've dressed, which... doesn't excuse... *sigh*

Other scenes are problematic as well. The American section is generally a Western of the 1950s mold, with cowboys v. Indians, although one section does try to show the natives as peaceful, of course by sharing a peace pipe:


How much of this in 1956, and how much is a faithful depiction of Verne's book and what would have been normal for 1872? While I try to be generous, too many gags and jokes are at the expense of other's cultures - this is what makes the Rule Britania humor problematic when I mentioned it earlier.

Oddly, Bill Maher recently addressed this very issue around the time director Anderson died, in his usual style:

Where you fall on this issue is up to you. I think ATW8D has aged... okay. But it was uncomfortable to rewatch certain scenes, detracting from the overall enjoyment of the film.

Mix: Women and servants

There is something jarring about the tyranny of Fogg over his manservant, although, like any good protagonist, he is shown to actually care deeply about Passepartout. Likewise, the movie is trying to poke fun at the upper and lower class divisions (for example the servants of the gentleman's club are making bets alongside the their wealthy clientele).

Or you can mix servants with racial stereotypes for a fun and healthy mix of British Imperialism

So, too, the role of women - MacLaine, besides being cast as an Indian princess, is further first introduced as an Indian princess in distress (she is about to be burned alive in barbaric cruelty). Her relationship with Fogg is very reminiscent of Prof. Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. The weirdest, most heavy-handed, joke is that of the ending of the film, when she arrives at the club, which no woman has ever entered before, and which is taken as a sign of the end of the British Empire. 

It's meant to be funny, to show how progressive 1956 was compared to 1872, but both the master-servant relationships and depictions of women can be a swing and a miss. We've progressed so far, just in 20 years, that even the best attempts of past eras to be progressive can strike us as woefully out-of-touch. (See again that Bill Maher clip.) 

Cantinflas also goes around lusting after the local ladies in many ports of call, and is first introduced on penny-farthing circling back to take a look at a shapely governess, which reminded me of something:

Some things haven't changed all that much, I suppose...

Final verdict: Does it hold up?

That depends more on you, than the film. If you can overlook the stereotyping and you find the British funny, then yeah, you'll probably like it. As said before, if widescreen visuals of foreign locales is your thing, then again you're in for a three-hour treat. Admirers of classic Hollywood and cameos will also get a kick out of spotting all 48 or so famous people. It comes back to that original sequence of the train - simple gags, lush imagery, accompanied by an equally lush film score, and a celebration of Britain with a mix of sincerity and a wink. Part travel film, with long sequences of "action" like a Wild West movie, a bullfight, and trying to outrun the police - it's sprawling, cinematic, and clearly the sort of film the Oscars would go for. I like it enough, but maybe that's just me.