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Presidential Dislike

Or, as the phenomenon is known across the fruited plain, “Obama hate”.

It’s easy to see why it’s out there, what with the lousy shape the country is in.  Like for instance:

The strong November jobs number—a result of the 321,000 jobs employers added, which was well over the predicted 230,000 economists predicted—has inspired optimism among CNBC TV anchors. That’s because it pushed the employment rate down to 5.8 percent, making 2014 the strongest year for job growth since 1999.

One of my oldest friends, a life-long Republican who worked for Dick Nixon’s re-election committee back when T-Rexes roamed the earth, said to me:  “I don’t get it.  Fifty-even months of economic growth and a lot fewer soldiers getting killed and the stock market way up.  Shouldn’t this be ‘morning in America’?”

Uh, no.

Obama has the wrong skin color, and gets to be president in the time of frantic 24-hour news cycles where every national hiccup is a freaking crisis (remember when Ebola presaged the End of Days?) and every journalistic meme gets clung to no matter how fantasy-based it is:  “ISIS is going to kill us all!”

My trouble is, I keep looking at our hated President through the question handed me by a conservative college professor half a century ago …

Based on your results, how are you doing?

Based on results, Barack Obama is doing rather well, certainly better than any President in the last fifteen or sixteen years.  But please don’t confuse Mr. Obama’s political opponents with facts.  It’ll just tick them off.


Out of Hibernation

Re Turnip Blood Press:

I started this blog a few years ago with the intention of posting on it daily.  But this scheme quickly collapsed because

A) I was already blogging each and every day on “The Animation Guild Blog”.

B)  I had a day job that took up a lot of time.

C)  I’m a bit lazy.  And am not looking, at this point in my illustrious career, to pile work on top of  work on top of work.  (I’m strange that way.)

So this site languished, although it served a useful purpose in launching a short book entitled “Mouse in Transition” … and then I let the thing lie fallow.  But I’m now reactivating the pup, with the intent of devoting it to Topical Political Idiocies, Historical Factoids, and Investing, since those are the topics that interest me.

They don’t interest you?  Then feel free to get your internet jollies elsewhere.

Animation, which has been my professional bag for awhile now, will get short shrift here, so for a heavy dose of Cartoonland, you will have to go to the Brew or Animation Scoop or (God help us) The Animation Guild blog.  Or any number of fine animation sites that float out there in the ether and deal with the industry.

We’ll see how this project goes.  Blogs are way yesterday, but I enjoy writing them, so I’ll flail away in the darkness, hoping for the best but happy to receive whatever I get.  Two years hence, I won’t have other distractions to slow me down, or give me excuses.


Ringside Seat to Carnage

Just now I’m poring through “The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell,” which contains amazing stuff, like for instance this fragment of letter written immediately after the battle of Gettysburg (July 5th, 1863):

… Of a sudden, from the left, … a battery opened up on us the most terrific fire I ever witnessed. The first shell struck not more than two rods behind where I was standing. We all retired precipitately to the partial shelter of a brick barn hard by, and there remained until our artillery silenced the guns that had opened. It was awful. For half an hour it raged incessantly. Grape, canister, solid shot and shell whizzed and shrieked and tore past us. The trees nearby were torn and dismembered. A fragment of shell killed two chickens a rod from where I sat. …

Joe Twichell was a twenty-four-year old army chaplain who enlisted as a “three year man” in July 1861, and left the army thirty-six months later. He witnessed battles, ministered to thousands of wounded soldiers, and was under fire a hell of a lot, even as a non-combatant.

After the war, he became pastor at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford Connecticut. He met and became friends with Mark Twain at the beginning of Twain’s literary career and remained a close chum to the end of Twain’s life. (He turns up as a character in several Twain books under other names. Mark Twain found him a compelling talker but less adept “when taking up the pen.”)

But Twichell was (is) sufficiently compelling in these letters. The book offers a riveting first-hand account of the war, which became the touchstone of Joe Twichell’s life:

Much of Twichell’s time was spent in hospitals, ministering to the spiritual needs of sick,  wounded and dying men but also serving as a nurse, litter bearer and gravedigger …
“I find that I am getting, not hardened, but accustomed.  I shrank from witnessing  operations.  At length I have overcome all this. …I have acquired a skill and handiness which enable me to act as an assistant in an operation.” …

As Twichell writes, he is  “in blood up to my elbows” much of the time.  Then there is the reverend’s letter recounting time spent with a union deserter waiting to be executed for desertion.  Rev. Twichell makes it clear that he is a reluctant participant, since the man wasn’t from Twichell’s regiment. But Twichell is the only minister available, so he stays with the man before and during the death by firing squad.  And describes the whole gut-wrenching episode.

Powerful reading, particularly if you’re interested in the Civil War.

Crusty. Catankerous. Talented.

Walt Peregoy is one of the big talents in the animation industry.  (By “big talent,” I mean just that.  He was one of the principal drivers in the design and look of Walt Disney Productions “101 Dalmations” a great animated feature if ever there was one.)

Walt had a hard-scrabble upbringing, and a rough go of early adulthood.  He went to work at Disney during World War II as a traffic boy, but left soon after in frustration and disgust.  (“It was a goddamn factory!  I didn’t like it!”)

He came back later as a drone in the animation department.  but slowly, painfully, he worked his way into the background department and painted a string of Disney animated classics.  I met him when he was in his early thirties.  At the time, I was ten years old, but even though I was still in knickers and knee socks, I recognized his crustiness, and the chip that he kept balanced on his shoulder.

Fifty years later, I visited his house in Encino, California for the first time and sat down to interview him for the Animation Guild.  (You can hear that hour-plus sit-down here and here.)

As Walt was in 1959, so he was in 2011.  Only more so.  Thirty seconds into our back-and-forth I thought to myself: “Wow.  This is going to be a wild ride.”  Twenty minutes in, I mused: “Some people are going to be ticked off by this.”  When we were done, I told Mr. Peregoy I was going to put it up on the internet and was he (ahem) okay with that?

“Sure, why not?” he said.  “It’s who I am.  I’ve got nothing to hide.”

So I put it up, unedited.  I’ve done a number of interviews with pillars of the animation community since, but Walt Peregoy’s talk is the one that has drawn the most reaction.

Not hard to hear why.  Crusty and cantankerous, that’s Mr. Peregoy.

Raymond Chandler Looks at Television.

… Bleakly.

Raymond Chandler wrote mystery novels.  Also, too, he composed letters to friends. Caustic letters.  In 1950, at the dawn of the television age, he went out and bought a television set, and soon made up his mind about it. And, as he tended to do, wrote a friend:

… Television is really what we’ve been looking for all our lives. It took a certain amount of effort to go to the movies. Somebody had to stay with the kids. You had to get the car out of the garage. That was hard work. And you had to drive and park. Sometimes you had to walk as much as half a block to the theater. Then people with big fat heads would sit in front of you and make you nervous.

Reading took less physical effort, but you had to concentrate a little, even when you were reading a mystery or a western or one of those historical novels, so-called. And every once in awhile you were apt to trip over a three-syllable word. That was pretty hard on the brain.

Radio was a lot better, but there wasn’t anything to look at. Your gaze wandered around the room and you might start thinking of other things — thing you didn’t want to think about. You had to use a little imagination to build yourself a picture of what was going on just by the sound.

But television’s perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don’t have to concentrate. You don’t have to react. You don’t have to remember. You don’t miss your brain because you don’t need it. Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet. You are in the poor man’s nirvana. And if some nasty-minded person comes along says you look more like a fly on a can or garbage, pay him no mind. He probably hasn’t got the price of a television set.

Television hasn’t changed much. You can still sprawl on the floor and gawk at it, turning your frontal lobes to “twilight sleep,” and miss … not very much. (I missed not very much paying only a small percentage of my attention to the recent political conventions.)

But the big improvement with TV is the DVR. You can now skip over commercials and cut viewing time by fourteen point two percent. Large strides for mankind in the past six decades.

Stagecraft for the Lowest Political Class

Four decades ago, a very good college professor named Martin Shapiro told me and sixty other undergraduates in Government 101 that:

… The American voting population is made up of three political classes: High, middle and low. The highest political class is politicians and their aides; the broad middle is people who know a lot, or at least something, about what’s going on in the nation and can name most of their elected leaders.

The lowest political class is made up of people who maybe can tell you the President and Vice-President, and maybe one of their Senators. They don’t have a lot of information, and view everything in black and white: good, bad; failed leader or successful leader. They don’t do a lot of nuance.

The lowest political class is the largest political class, and it tends to vote against perceived failure. …

Last night, Congressman Paul Ryan made his pitch at the GOP convention to the lowest political class. as Fox News said, his acceptance speech was:

Dazzling … Deceiving … Distracting …

But then, why the hell not?  He was, for the most part, talking to the lowest political class.  And his aim wasn’t to add knowledge to an under-nourished voting group but to sell a narrative.  And if people found his presentation “dazzling,” I’m sure he’s good with that.

19th Century Kardashian

One would think that the celebrity of the Kardashians, the Hilton sisters, and a few other talent-free upright mammals was a 21st century phenomenon.  But one would be wrong.   As Mark Twain recollects in his Autobiography:

The “lyceum [lecture] circuit” was in full flower in [the 1860s and 1870s].  There were a number of good drawing names:  Henry Ward Beecher; Anna Dickenson; John B. Gough; Horace Greeley …  Beecher, Gough, Nasby and Anna Dickenson were the only lecturers who knew their own value and exacted it.  In towns their fees were $200 and $250; in cities $400.  The lyceum always got a profit out of these four (weather permitting), but generally lost it again on the house-emptiers.

There were two women who should have been house-emptiers — Olive Logan and Kate Field — but during a season or two were not. …  Olive Logan’s notoriety grew out of — only the initiated knew what.  Apparently it was a manufactured notoriety, not an earned one.  She did write and publish little things in newspapers and obscure periodicals, but there was no talent in them, and nothing resembling it.  …

Her name was really built up out of newspaper paragraphs set afloat by her husband, who was a small-salaried minor journalist.  During a year or two this kind of paragraphing was persistent; one could seldom pick up a newspaper without encountering it.

“It is said that Olive Logan has taken a cottage at Nahant, and will spend the summer there.”

“Olive Logan has set her face decidedly against the adoption of the short skirt for afternoon wear.”

“The report that Olive Logan will spend the winter in Paris is premature.  She has not yet made up her mind.”

“Olive Logan was present at Wallack’s on Saturday evening, and was outspoken in her approval of the new piece.”

“Olive Logan has so far recovered from her alarming illness that if she continues to improve her physicians will cease from issuing bulletins tomorrow.”

The result of this daily advertising was very curious.  Olive Logan’s name was as familiar to a simple public as any celebrity of the time, and people talked with interest about her doings and movements, and gravely discussed her opinions.  Now and then an ignorant person from the backwoods would proceed to inform himself, and then there were surprises in store for all concerned:

“Who IS Olive Logan?”

The listeners were astonished to find that they couldn’t answer the question.  It had never occurred to them to inquire into the matter.

“What has she DONE?”

The listeners were dumb again.  They didn’t know.  They hadn’t inquired.

“Well, then, how does she come to be celebrated?”

“Oh, it’s about SOMETHING, I don’t know what.  I never inquired, but I supposed everybody knew.”

For entertainment I often asked these questions myself, of people who were glibly talking about that celebrity and her doings and sayings.  The questioned were surprised to find that they had been taking this fame wholly on trust, and had no idea who Olive Logan was or what she had done — if anything.

— The Autobiography of Mark Twain, pp 379-380.

There’s a golden line running from Ms. Logan to Ms. Kardashian. As the first was famous for nothing in the 19th century, so Ms. Kardashian is an iconic figure for the same exact talent-set in the 21st.

Empty fame is, apparently, a long-time staple of American life.