Imperial Commander #2

December 12, 2008


Our Winter Wonderland

December 12, 2008

Sometime today, Vancouver will get its first dusting of snow this season — and this morning it sure is cold enough.   However, my gal and I are escaping to Mexico today for a week in the sun!


While our house-sitters can take care of our house and home, their ability to post here is more limited.  I have set up the Imperial Commander series to post once a day. Other than that, this is by way of saying “adieu” until the 20th.

Have fun!

The Anarchists Amongst Us

December 12, 2008

Philosophically and politically, I have been an anarchist for a very long time. However, I find myself embedded within this capitalist web and I’m frankly too comfortable to do much these days except pontificate from the heights of theory. There are, however, true anarchists that live among us, living as anarchists.

They are perhaps not as obstrusive as they once were, but they are with us nonetheless. These true anarchists are the hobos. They travel where they want, do what they want when they want, and work as they need. They are burdened by no quantity of possessions and leave little or no footprint on the environment.  They are the modern equivalent of the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers.

Unfortunately we are forced to define by exclusion here, to overcome a long-held societal belief that hobos are bad folk. We are not talking here of tramps and bums, nor even of the urban homeless. As the late “hobo doctor” Benjamin Reitman, P.h.D, noted,

“a hobo works and wanders, a tramp dreams and wanders, and a bum drinks and wanders.”

Tramps and bums are seen as lazy, alcoholic, or dirty but authentic hobos are none of these, according to 2003 Hobo Queen Mama Jo LeCount. They are migrant workers, honest friends, and grateful stewards of the earth. A true hobo will always offer to work a chore in exchange for food and shelter. Handouts are for bums.


In North America, Civil War soldiers seeking a way home spawned the hobos and they were propelled by further economic necessity during the Depression years. Today, to live as a hobo is generally a lifestyle choice.  I am reminded of this by a fascinating article in Culture 11 that looks at wannabe hobos and the annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa.  Thousands

make the trek each year to convene with their fellow wanderers in joyful celebration and community at the convention, held in Britt since 1900. The week long event, which often includes weddings and parties, is filled with hobos and “hobos at heart” alike.

Mama Jo LeCount describes the hobo life as an “adventure” and there is certainly something in that.  The road trips many of us made around the world in the 1960s (in our hippy search for something that may or may not have been just drugs) were hobo-like in that adventurous sense.  However, most of us did those trips knowing that, at the worst, we had middle class parents and/or a full-employment economy to come home to.

For the true hobo, however, there is no backstop and their choice of lifestyle is much more serious than just “adventure”.  I am certain that the absolute freedom to choose — the essence of true anarchism — that is essential to the lifestyle is at the heart of their choice.  I’ll add it to my ToDo List to get to Britt one year and talk to them about it.

RIP, Bettie!

December 11, 2008

picbettiepagefaceforblogThe gorgeous Bettie Page died earlier today in Los Angeles, a week after suffering a heart attack from which she never regained consciousness.  She was 85.

”She captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality,” her agent Mark Roesler said. ”She is the embodiment of beauty.”

Bettie Page suffered badly in her later years from mental and physical illnesses.  Hopefully she finds peace now.

Imperial Commander #1

December 11, 2008

Imperial Commander was a series I ran a few years ago.  In the run up to the end of Bush’s Presidency, I thought that a little nostalgia was in order.


Word On The Street #4

December 11, 2008


The Art of TV Rep

December 11, 2008

A long, long time ago, I was a member of a repertory theatre company in London.  We alternated with one of two plays each evening, and one or the other for a matinee on Saturdays.  Every four weeks or so we changed the plays.   That meant in any particular week, each actor/crew member was performing two full plays and was rehearsing two others.  It was a tough slog and I didn’t last long as an actor.  I just couldn’t retain that many lines and still keep them straight.  Hold that thought.

Meanwhile, my Bride is addicted to the soap opera “General Hospital“.  It is a love affair that long predates her infatuation with yours truly.  I generally don’t get to see it because I’m at work when it is on.  But when I am at home, like this week, “General Hospital” is not something I can easily avoid.  Like many, I have had a very low opinion of soap operas.  But why exactly?  Is it a class thing? I don’t really know.

general_hospitalWhat I do know, is that I have come to respect the repertory actors who inhabit these shows.  Soap operas don’t have the budgets for special effects or location shooting.  They are dialog-driven, with more than forty minutes of speech delivered every day, five days a week, 50 or so weeks every year.  These things tend to have large ensemble casts (contrast them with primetime comdedies or dramas), but still the burden on each actor is impressive.  It so far exceeds the number of lines I had to learn on the stage each week, that I cannot but be impressed.

And a surprising number of the actors make a great effort in their characterizations.  They are hamstrung by the contrived nature of much of the dialog, by the budget/production limitations that keep each scene in a single place, and by the limited number of locations that be created.  But they keep at it.  These, just like the actors who fill out the #2 and #3 touring companies across the continent, are true artisans of the acting craft, excellent workaday actors.

Did this post have a point?  Does it need to?

Being Middle Class Bites

December 11, 2008

domelargeJust a few days ago we were discussing the period between the World Wars when the middle class lost their live-in servants.  Now, the economic crunch is forcing the middle class to let go their daily staff, too.

In September, Cathy DeVore, a real estate agent in Larchmont, N.Y., whose business has been at a standstill lately, began taking gradual steps to lay off her longtime nanny and housekeeper … “I was worried about having to cut her back more,” Mrs. DeVore said. “In October I started a no-overtime policy; in November I told her that as of Jan. 1, I am cutting her back to 20 hours a week, and that as of June 30, I probably won’t need her at all.”

Domestic Workers United estimates there are more than 200,000 nannies, housekeepers, personal chefs and other domestic workers employed in the New York metropolitan area alone.

Ai-jen Poo, an organizer at Domestic Workers United, [said] “domestic workers’ wages are often the first thing that gets compromised … Essentially, 10,000 jobs lost at Lehman Brothers means 10,000 domestic workers’ jobs that are in jeopardy.”

If they can find another job, the wages may well have been cut.

Jaime Hochhauser, who runs the Right Staff, an agency that places nannies and housekeepers with families throughout the tri-state area, said the compensation being offered right now is about 20 percent less than it was six months ago, a decrease that’s consistent “even among the wealthiest clients” … Employers are also combining positions, asking for nannies who will watch their children and do the cleaning, for example, or switching from three days a week of help to just one, according to Ms. Hochhauser and several other agency owners.

The New York Times piece stresses just how hard this is for the middle class employer; the angst they suffer, etc.   I think their main anguish is about losing their last tiny grip on the coat-tails of the super-rich — those who, today, really are the only ones who can afford service of any kind.

No Theory, It Really Is String

December 8, 2008

ball-of-stringThese days we look down on string.  We don’t use it as much as we used to. The occasional turkey gets trussed, a few packages may get tied, and some garden plants are stabalised.  But that’s just about it.   We don’t give much thought to the fact that string was a major supportive technology for thousands of years. Now, archaeologists have excavated a piece of string from surroundings that date it to 8,000 years ago.

The fibres were discovered in a flooded Stone Age settlement just off the coast of the Isle of Wight [England]. The four-and-a-half inch long string was made from tough stems of honeysuckle, nettles or wild clematis that were twisted together.  British Archaeology magazine Editor Mike Pitts described it as a “fantastic find”.   He said: “I don’t think the average person realises what an important piece of technology string has been over the ages.”

Culture is all about the details.

English As She Is Not

December 8, 2008


I just love this. It is from the always creative Michael Ciancio.

And The Next Item Is …

December 7, 2008

princeAt Christies in Paris on Tuesday, there is the next chance to measure the current health of the Post-War and Contemporary Art market.

This is an interesting “retail” level sale with only one lot, Richard Prince’s The taming of nurse Conway ($2.5 million to $3.8 million) estimated to fetch more than $900,000.  Of the 229 lots, only 55 have pre-sale estimates higher than $100,000.

It would seem to me that this is smaller collector and institutional territory.  Will we see a pull-back in this market, too?

Odds and Sods #2

December 6, 2008

An occasional series of interesting material I don’t have time to comment on.

  • Archaeologists in China have discovered the oldest extant stash of marijuana cultivated for its psychoactive properties.  About 26 ounces of dried dope were found in the tomb of a shaman dated to 2,700 years ago.
  • FT has an interview — and lunch — with one of my old heroes, Tom Peters.
  • A new survey suggests that Britain is the most sexually liberal among western industrial nations.  There seems to be some surprise about this result.

Word On The Street #3

December 5, 2008


The End of Service

December 5, 2008

Last month, the Nation had a summary by Elaine Blair of Alison Light’s fascinating “Mrs Woolf and The Servants:  An Intimate History of Domestic Life In Bloomsbury.”

woolf-and-servants3The history of the servants of Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell in their Bloomsbury residences in Edwardian times and the period between the Wars allows us a close look at the last generation or two of domestic service to the middle class.

Light describes former domestic servants in the 1950s and ’60s looking back on their old lives as if from a hangover. Social changes had come so quickly and definitively that the culture of service and subservience they had taken for granted as young women seemed impossibly antiquated: “When they looked back in old age the girls who had gone into service were often mystified, sometimes furious or appalled, that they had emptied those earth-closets, scrubbed the stone flags, washed their employers’ clothes” …

The idea of doing arduous, messy work that rich or middle-class people considered beneath them came to seem “anachronistic and demeaning,” Light writes, to working-class women who “increasingly had other options: clerical, shop or factory work, work as a waitress or a chambermaid, receptionist, florist, beautician, anything that gave them their evenings or weekends off, the freedom to meet friends, or simply to stay at home.”

The availability of choice was often combined with a distaste for the arrogance of class that still permeated the master-servant relationship even in households that occasionally broke social barriers.

Woolf’s diaries and letters are sprinkled with careless snobbish comments about servants, and her and Vanessa’s dislike of having servants shades easily into disdain for the servants themselves. They make everything “pompous and heavy-footed,” Virginia writes to her sister, who in another letter complains that her “brains are becoming soft…by constant contact with the lower classes” during a vacation when her family and their servants were living in close quarters.

And then there was the question of money.

Though Woolf and her sister had moderate leftist leanings–later in life, under the influence of her husband, Woolf would become active in the newly formed Labour Party–their political beliefs did not translate into a desire to improve the economic situation of their servants. The Woolfs paid their help the meager wages typical of the era, a shockingly small proportion of their income: according to Light, they gave their servants £40 a year when they earned £4,000.

I look forward to reading the book which covers the cusp between one cultural norm and its successor.  Final thought:   when the middle class were obliged to give up their domestic servants, the gap between the rich (who could still afford a full personal services staff) and everyone else grew much wider than it had been before.

How Will We Die?

December 5, 2008

I was drawn to the World Health Organization’s recently published “The Global Burden of Disease:  2004 Update” through David Kenner’s review article in Foreign Policy.    The WHO’s report is a snapshot of the world’s health as of 2004.  From that, “using projections of economic growth and advances in medical treatment”, they extrapolate the leading causes of death in 2030.


It is interesting to me that the three causes expected to kill more people (heart disease, lung disease and traffic accidents) are each deaths by consumer choice in the use of fatty foods, tobacco, and automobiles.

I was surprised to see that tobacco consumption is expected to rise.  But then again, it is reasonable that developing nations should buckle under the full weight of tobacco advertising just as we did.  It is a pity that they can’t seem to skip that bit of our experience.  But Big Tobacco can make the stuff for as little as it needs to keep the wholesale price low, and governments quickly become addicted to the tobacco sales taxes they collect.  The guy on the street hardly stands a chance.

A final thought:  when you add up the cost of the world’s military, the tobacco and road transportation industries, and the unhealthy parts of agribusiness, it quickly becomes apparent that modern capitalism is in large part an economy of death.  I’m certain that is something we could change if we really wanted to.

Drink Up, Lads. It’s Legal Now!

December 5, 2008

Break out the kegs!   Today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in the US.


Of course, turned away from alcohol as a target, the censorious citizenry then turned their blue lights on drugs and homosexuality.  There is always something someone will want to ban.  Perhaps that is the sign of a degenerate “civilization.”   Or maybe it is just boredom that drives some people to interfere in the private lives of others.  Either way it is a sad business.

Remembering Frank Zappa

December 4, 2008

It is all of 15 years since Frank Zappa died, on this day in 1993.  One of the great original musical minds of our generation, he is missed.  Here’s Joe’s Garage:

I only got to see him perform once, in London on the Sheik Yerbouti tour back in 1979.  It was one of the great nights of my musical memory.

The Other Side Of Progress

December 2, 2008

As many of us, regardless of our political stance, cherish the success of Barack Obama and the national mental breakthrough it represents, others have reverted to primitive stereotypes.   The Los Angeles Times reports that just a month after his election,

[N]oose hangings, racist graffiti and death threats have struck dozens of towns across the country. More than 200 such incidents — including cross burnings, assassination betting pools and effigies of President-elect Barack Obama — have been reported, according to law enforcement authorities and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.  Racist websites have been boasting that their servers have been crashing because of an exponential increase in traffic.  And America’s most potent symbol of racial hatred, the Ku Klux Klan, is reasserting itself in a spate of recent violence, after decades of disorganization and obscurity …

“We’ve seen everything from cross burnings on lawns of interracial couples to effigies of Obama hanging from nooses to unpleasant exchanges in schoolyards,” said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala. “I think we’re in a worrying situation right now, a perfect storm of conditions coming together that could easily favor the continued growth of these groups.”   Experts attribute the racist activity to factors including the rapidly worsening economic crisis; trends indicating that within a generation whites will not comprise a U.S. majority; and the impending arrival of a black family in the White House …

“The rhetoric right now is just about out of control,” said Brian Levin, director of Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “When you get this depth of hatred, it usually is the smoke before the fire.”

One white supremacist leader, describing himself as moderate, professes alarm.

“There is a tremendous backlash” to Obama’s election, said Richard Barrett, the leader of the Nationalist Movement in Learned, Miss. “My focus is to try to keep it peaceful. But many people look at the flag of the Republic of New Africa that will be hoisted over the White House as an act of war.”

The reaction is shown in acts both big and small.

In the small Louisiana town of Angie, 58-year-old Judy Robinson put an Obama sign outside her home a few weeks before the Nov. 4 presidential election. The morning after Halloween, she awoke to find the words “KKK” and “white power” spray-painted around her yard …

Late last month, two men with ties to a notoriously violent Klan chapter in Kentucky were charged in a bizarre plot to kill 88 black students and then decapitate an additional 14 students — and then assassinate Obama by shooting him from a speeding car while wearing white tuxedos and top hats.

Let us hope that these kind of acts stay as the drunken antics of a few uneducated bigots.  But I’ve lived through the assasinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, gunned down by people of similar backgrounds, and I really have to wonder if Obama will survive his term.

Word On The Street #2

December 2, 2008



December 1, 2008