Friday, August 31, 2012

I think the thing about reading that is so disheartening is that so few people do it. Reading is often said to be a solitary pursuit. But I don't think so. There once was a time when people recommended books to one another (and you read what was recommended to you). A time when people often read the same book, not because it was on Oprah but because everyone liked it and everyone wanted to talk about it.

That's why reading is not a solitary pursuit. Books are meant to be talked about. Discussed. Publicly digested.

No book was ever meant to be read alone.

Very few people I know read books. Many of them read some things online (primarily Faceplant, news sources, blogs, and policy analysis sites like HuffPo or TPM Cafe). But books? No. None of them could name the last big gay-themed book to be published. They probably could name the last gay-themed book they read, but it would have been a very long time ago (probably shortly after they came out of the closet). A few of them read popular fiction -- mostly pkcing up the latest Dan Brown novel, or decade-old Stieg Larsson novels (because they were turned into films), or whatever novel ties in to the latest movie or mini-series they've seen. (George R.R. Martin, anyone?) If you pushed a work of history or politics at them, they'd flee to Mexico and fight extradition.

Most of the books I read are nothing anyone is interested in. The books themselves might be fascinating, award-winning, deeply enlightening. And it wouldn't matter.

Even when I read stuff that lots of people have read -- like Erik Larson's Devil in the White City or David McCullough's John Adams or Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel or David Grann's The Lost City of Z -- it doesn't matter. No one I know is reading those types of works.

I once had a friend who wanted desperately to read books and talk about them with somebody. So we made a pact: He'd choose one, we'd read it together, we'd discuss. Then it was my turn. He broke the pact immediately after I chose Edmund Morris' prize-winning Theodore Rex (the second of a three-part biography of Theodore Roosevelt, documenting his presidency). I gave up after that. I had read his uninteresting, popular fiction choices over and over. He wouldn't even give my choice the time of day. Fuck him.

I have another friend who has tried to read things that I find absorbing. He pretty much gave up on it, too. I recommended Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s three-volume The Age of Roosevelt -- a gripping, highly detailed, authoritative history of the Great Depression and Frankling D. Roosevelt's first term in office. (Yes, gripping you assholes.) He's so unused to reading history, reading long works, and reading that kind of detailed work, he also gave up on it. He couldn't get more than a few pages into the first volume.

It's very depressing, in a way. My youngest brother is an avid conspiracy theorist. He is dead-sure that the FBI, CIA, KGB, Mafia, Area 51, Federal Reserve, Freemasons, Better House & Gardens, and the Tuesday night knitting club at church killed John F. Kennedy. I bought him a copy of Vincent Bugliosi's Four Days in November, a minute-by-minute account of the movements of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald. Bugliosi (who convicted Charles Manson) gathered the most reliable eyewitness accounts, testimony, and evidence of the Kennedy assassination, Oswald murder, Kennedy autopsy, and Kennedy burial. Along the way, he addresses and pooh-poohs the multitude of conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination.

My idiot brother read about a quarter of it. Because the text wasn't foaming at the mouth, didn't claim that a clone of John Wilkes Boothe was the co-assassin, and didn't ask him to believe unsubstantiated rumor in place of hard evidence, he stopped reading. It was too challenging of his conspiracy theory beliefs.

I often find myself biting my tongue at parties or in bars, because I just can't keep undercutting people's wacky ideas about history, politics, economics, or science. If I do so, I come off as argumentative. (I have enough problems dating without making myself out to be know-it-all. I feel like I'm back in junior high...) No one wants their ideas challenged. No one wants to think, or keep an open mind. No one wants to learn more facts. Even with close friends, I find myself clamping down hard to keep my idiot mouth shut.

It comes down to this: We have so little to talk about, because they are so uninformed or misinformed. I don't dare introduce new information or challenge bad data, because they take it so personally. I just don't want my friendships damaged. But then, I find myself with nothing to say.


"The problem with sex is that it makes me stupid.
No one really talks about Sartre or Camus naked."

Well, when you look like Nick Comilla, I doubt the first thing that people think about is epistemology. Dick size, or whether those are four-pack or six-pack abs, or whether he's a top -- yeah, they think of those things.

Poor little handsome boy...

(By the way, this image of Comilla with his hot, hot lover Janosh Meursault is from David Romero's blog.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I've read David Grann's The Lost City of Z.

The Lost City of Z is Grann's first book. He graduated from Connecticut College in 1989 with a BA in government. He began his career as a freelance journalist by writing on Mexican politics and U.S.-Mexican relations, and received a masters degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in 1993. He got a job as a copy editor at The Hill (a D.C.-based newspaper covering Congress) in 1994. The same year, he earned a master's degree in creative writing from Boston University. He was named The Hill's executive editor in 1995. He became a senior editor at The New Republic in 1996. He was supposed to cover politics, but ended up covering crime and espionage. He joined The New Yorker in 2003 as senior writer.

The Lost City of Z is based on an article that Grann published in The New Yorker in 2005.

I'm a big fan of these kind of books, whether it's Simon Winchester's Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded or Nathaniel Philbrick's National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Such books are history without being history, more story than history. But then, good history is always a good story.

The Lost City of Z is a very, very quick read. None of the text is dense or requires much thought, and although there are research notes they are coded to each quotation and page at the end of the book rather than listed on each page or via footnotes. This is a work of complete nonfiction. That is, nothing in The Lost City of Z is made up. When the author has to hypothesize about something, he uses other works by other explorers and generalizes to Fawcett's expeditions.

In general, I enjoyed the book. The writing wasn't as good as, say Winchester or Philbrick's, but then not much is. I will say that I didn't quite find the beginning that enthralling. Grann takes an almost "televisionistic" approach to his story by starting out with a cliffhanger, and "then meanwhile..." introduces a second cliffhanger. "And then meanwhile..." he introduces a third cliffhanger. While each cliffhanger gets resolved fairly quickly, this was a rather off-putting way of opening the book. It seemed cheap, almost as if the author had a very thin story to work with, and debased the historical-factual nature of the book (on which the book's whole reputation and my reason for reading it rests).

The main body of the book is a lot of fun. Grann has a strong sense of narrative, and that comes through so strongly that the book almost reads like a work of fiction with sidebars on "real history" thrown in. But is this, finally, satisfying? I'm not entirely sure. One of the reasons why a person reads a book like this is not only because the writing is just goddamn superb, but because it is enlightening. You learn about things you never knew about. In this regard, the first few chapters of the book are probably the best. Grann gives a backstory about the science of geography and cartography that is nothing short of eye-popping. Did you know that until 1800 very few good maps of any part of the world -- including Europe -- existed? The primary problem was longitude, knowing how far east or west you were from any given point. Determining longitude required accurate time-keeping, and an accurate clock had yet to be invented. (The minute hand wasn't even put on clocks until 1475.) Springs and pendulums were an obvious solution to powering a clock. But how did you produce a clock which could maintain accurate time on a lengthy, rough sea voyage with widely varying conditions of temperature, pressure, and humidity? Pendulums would not work on a swaying ship, and the tension of a spring (which regulated the clock's actions) could vary according to weather conditions. The problem was so severe that in 1714, Great Britain offered a reward of $12 million to the first person who could deliver an accurate chronometer. The prize was claimed by John Harrison in 1773 (who invented the bi-metallic strip, caged roller bearings, and the detent escapement -- which was the mainstay of all watches until the electronic quartz vibration watch was created in 1969). The Royal Geographical Society was founded in 1830 to help push geography and cartography forward, and map all the empty places on the globe. (It was estimated that in 1800 fewer than 700 places on earth had been accurately mapped.) This is all exciting, fascinating stuff. But it takes up only a few pages, and once Grann is past it the narrative proceeds apace but the learning-level falls way, way off.

I was fairly surprised at the way the book ended. (I won't give away that here; see below for spoilers.) Nontheless, rather than leave the book hanging on a fairly breathless note (in which the author daydreams of the Lost City, envisioning it imposed on an Amazon rainforest), I would have much preferred a more extensive and critical look at the conclusions the author makes.

Finally, I will say that I found the maps in the overleafs of the book very inadequate. The maps in the back-matter are clearly inaccurate, and do not name the rivers or show the mountain ranges involved.

Overall, it's a good book. Well-written, fast-paced, exciting, fun, easy to read. But it is also a very light book, and one that isn't really aimed at the intellectual crowd the way Winchester's or Philbrick's books are. It doesn't grab you at the end, and make you feel really satisfied. Instead, you just feel a little empty, and wishing for more.

I was reading a few things here and there, and kept coming across books and plays which mention "gay orphans." You know, some kid who has no background but lives on the street and is gay. Or some kid who lives with his homophobic uncle.

But I only see this in fiction books and plays.

Are there any gay orphans? I mean, how would you know? A kid wouldn't exhibit his sexuality until he was in his teens, for sure. But even then, are there any such kids? Aren't most orphanages run by homophobic religious outfits? That would not be conducive to a kid's coming out! Come out of the closet, and find yourself on the street because the nuns didn't like you any more.

Several years ago, I knew this guy. Very hot, very handsome, very sweet. Not terribly bright, but willing to learn.

He was an orphan. His parents died in a car accident when he was a baby, and he had no family in the U.S. Since he was an American citizen, he was placed in the care of the state (Pennsylvania, in this case). After a while, as he aged, it became apparent that he would not be adopted. The social workers at the state-run orphanage near Pittsburgh became his family. Fairly self-sufficient, he wasn't placed in a foster home (like young children were, or teens needing a family environment). He went to junior high and high school, with employees of the state home giving him the occasional birthday present or money to attend a dance or Christmas present.

He was gay. Or, I should say, bisexual. He'd had several encounters with other boys in the orphanage, and two in high school with gay boys he knew. After high school, he enlisted in the Army. He'd had an oral encounter with a guy in basic training, and another one when he got posted to Georgia. Being handsome and extremely well-hung as well as rather wiry and muscular and Latino, he was very attractive to other men. He was so gentle and quiet, so easy-going and with such a big, bright smile...

He struggled with his sexuality, clearly. He'd grown up in this love-vacuum. Not hated or abused, just lacking in the family he really, desperately wanted. He had no one to rely on if things went bad. He sort of glommed onto society's norms in sheer desperation. He'd never had anyone help him explore his feelings, his life. He never got exposed to the things which might make him re-think the assumptions in his life.

We never had sex, but we did talk about these things. You could see his eyes light up when we'd talk about his experiences. He'd almost squirm in delight as we'd talk about sex, growing up, finding out about new things and new people and new ways of being and living.

People often say there are gay homeless youths living in D.C. I've never see any of them. There was a rumor that they would congregate near Union Station on Friday evenings beginning at 5 p.m. I worked near there for 10 years, and never saw that. In the summer, you'll sometimes see streetkids hanging out around Dupont Circle. All of them are straight, insofar as I can tell, because you see the boys doing the "heterosexual ownership thing" with the girls (langorously putting their arm around them to "claim" them, forcing her to do things for him, ordering her around, sitting upright while she leans on him or pets him, etc.).

Perhaps in big cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta or Los Angeles, there are gay homeless teens. I wonder, though, how many are really orphans. Most are homeless due to homophobia (a sign of mommy and daddy's Christian love) or drugs. The drug problem among gay homeless teens is phenomenally high. In many cases, they're homeless because they ran toward drugs. They weren't kicked out for their sexuality or drug use, they just ended up on the street doing drugs all the time. Some are homeless because they are runaways, fleeing violence or homophobia. But because they are orphans, with no family (or distant family unwilling to take them in)...I don't think so.

Gay orphans? I don't think such a person really exists. But I wondered about it this morning.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 28 is a date you should remember. It's the day the world changed.

On August 24, 1955, 14-year-old African American youth Emmitt Till from Chicago was with some cousins in a convenience store in Money, Mississippi (about 90 miles north of Jackson). Till did something that alarmed the 21-year old white woman (Carolyn Bryant) behind the counter. Did he wolf-whistle? Did he grab her hand, or put his arm around her waist? Did he say "Bye, baby" as he left the store, or "You needn't be afraid of me, baby, I've been with white women before"? Or did he say something so sexually crude it could not be printed? Stories differ.

Around 2:30 AM on August 28, Carolyn's husband (Roy Bryant), her husband's half-brother (J.W. Milam), and another man (who may himself have been black) drove to the house where Till was staying. The men forced Till's uncle to hand him over at gunpoint. They drove to an empty, nearby plantation house, and pistol-whipped Till repeatedly. They threw him in the back of the truck and covered him with a tarp. They drove around all night, visiting various spots, deciding what to do with the boy. They took him to a shed behind Milam's home and beat him again. Other men may have joined in the beatings. Till may have verbally defended himself (calling Bryant and Milam "bastards" and that he was as good a person as they were). Around dawn, Milam and Bryant went to a cotton mill, got a large fan blade, took Till to the nearby Tallahatchie River, and shot him in the head with a .45 revolver. They weighted his body with the fan blade (tying it to his neck with barbed wire), and threw him in the river.

Till's decomposing body was found three days later. His mother, Mamie Till Bradley, demanded that her son's body be sent home to Chicago. She also demanded an open-casket funeral. "I just wanted the world to see what they did to my baby boy." The stench could be detected two blocks away. Jet publisher John H. Johnson decided to publish a photograph-- of Till's mutilated corpse lying in the coffin -- his features obliterated from beatings. The photograph caused such an uproar that "mainstream" newspapers began printing it as well. Soon, it was on the front page of newspapers all over the United States. (When Johnson died in 2005, eulogizers agreed that this was his greatest moment. Rep. Charles Diggs later said that publication of the image was "probably one of the greatest media products in the last 40 or 50 years".)

Emmitt Till was buried in a glass-topped coffin in Burr Oak Cemetery near Chicago.

Governor Hugh White had to order local officials to prosecute Bryant and Milam for Till's murder. Racists spread the rumor that the body wasn't Till's, that blacks were hiding Till on a farm somewhere, that it was a conspiracy by the NAACP to railroad two innocent white men. On September 23, 1955, a jury acquitted both defendants after just 67 minutes of deliberation. One juror said it wouldn't have taken nearly as long, but the jury had stopped to drink some soda.

In 1956, Look magazine paid Bryant and Milam $4,000 for their story. Unprompted, and with prosecution prevented by the Constitutional prohibition against double-jeopardy, the two men told how they kidnapped, tortured, and killed Emmitt Till. They believed they had done nothing wrong. But many Mississippians were so repulsed by Byrant and Milam's actions that they began ostracizing the two men. They lost their jobs, went bankrupt, couldn't get work, couldn't get loans to buy seed for their farms.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white bus rider. Asked later why she did not move to the rear of the bus, she said, "I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn't go back." Harper Lee's 1956 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is loosely based on the murder. Till's murder was one of several reasons the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was passed. In 1964, sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer -- emboldened by Till's story -- led a massive voter registration drive in Mississippi. Although blacks represented 41 percent of the Mississippi Delta population, only 265 were registered to vote. The Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 registered 63,000 black voters.

Milam died of cancer in 1980 at the age of 61. Bryant divorced Carolyn, and died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 63. Emmett Till's mother became a teacher and lifelong civil rights activist. She died of heart failure in 2003.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice reopened the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant was involved. Till's body was exhumed and DNA analysis, dental records, and other body samples taken to prove that the body was indeed Mamie Till's son, Emmitt. His skull was fractured in several places, his left leg was broken, both wrists were broken, and he'd been shot in the head.

In 2009, police investigators discovered that the Burr Oak Cemetery had not disposed of Till's original glass-topped casket. Instead, cemetery workers and stashed it in a dilapidated shed, where it was rusting and animals lived in it. The workers were arrested. The cemetery raised money to have the coffin restored, but the cemetery president pocketed the money. He was arrested. Finally, he Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture acquired the casket. The Smithsonian intends to make it a centerpiece of the new museum when it opens in 2015.

In 1992, Roy Bryant was interviewed about his involvement in the Till murder. The interviewers also asked Mamie Till for an interview. As Bryant's interview began, Mamie Till was seated just around the corner -- able to hear everything. Bryant (unaware that Till was listening) said Emmett Till had ruined his life. "Emmett Till is dead," he whined. "I don't know why he can't just stay dead."

Emmitt Till lives.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Here's a screenshot from the 1936 comedy classic My Man Godfrey. It stars William Powell, Carole Lombard, Eugene Pallette, Alice Brady, Mischa Auer, Gail Patrick, and Alan Mowbray. Director Gregory LaCava was nominated for an Oscar, as was Powell, Lombard, Brady, and Auer. Writers Eric Hatch (novel) and Morrie Ryskind were also nominated.

Godfrey (Powell) is a tramp whom rich but ditzy socialite Irene (Lombard) hires as a butler for her wacky family. Hilarity ensues as Godfrey deals with their insanity, and tries to hide his own secret.

In this scene, Godfrey is serving hors d'oeuvres to the family while evil older sister Cornelia (Patrick) baits Irene over Godfrey's employment.

Why is this film so good? It contains a vast number of little things -- deep composition, excellent acting, and strong comic timing -- that make it so.

Consider this: Cornelia and Irene are actually IN THE BACKGROUND as their verbal sparring is the only thing you can hear on the soundtrack. In the foreground, however, Godfrey moves past Mr. Bullock (Pallette) to serve Mrs. Mullock (Brady).

Notice Eugene Pallete's hands: He's motioning for Godfrey to bring him a very, very tall alcoholic drink. This goes completely unremarked upon in the film. Yet, minutes later, Godfrey will enter with a tray of drinks which Pallette will take away from him (and go drink). It's a subtle gesture, one that can be completely missed. But my god, it's funny!!!!!!!!!!!

Tom Roston had an article in this past weekend's New York Times in which he discusses the new trend in documentary film whereby a director claims formal Writer's Guild of America (WGA) "writing credits" for a documentary film.

As Claude Rains ironically said in Casablanca, everyone seems shocked -- SHOCKED! -- to find that documentary film isn't truth.

Documentary film is as old as the medium. Most of the earliest films were simple things which are clearly documentary: A train arriving at a station, workers leaving a factory, a horse running. In part, the new medium was so thrilling, audiences just wanted to see such everyday things. Travelogues became popular after 1900, particularly those which presented foreign places as exotic and (often) dangerous. Another major innovation was the creation, in France in 1908, of the newsreel. Newsreels were important not only because they showed people, places, and things as well as interviews, but because they also re-enacted events (like battles) for the public. During World War I, the Crimean War, the Boer War, and other early 20th century wars, it was not uncommon for a motion picture studio to venture to the site of a recent battle and have soldiers re-enact a portion of the event for movie cameras.

Two major innovations came in the 1920s. The first was the 1919 documentary South by Frank Hurley. This film reviewed the doomed Shackleton Expedition of 1914-1917 to the South Pole. This was the first film to examine a historic event from a documentary perspective. In 1922, Robert J. Flaherty directed another major documentary film, Nanook of the North. Flaherty wanted his film to recreate the way people lived a hundred years ago. Subsequently, his documentary film about Eskimo life in the early 1800s was completely faked: Eskimos dressed, acted, and used tools from the period in question. The famous walrus hunt depicted in the film was done using old techniques, not the shotgun that the Eskimo family relied on most days.

In the 1930s, documentary film took on a new function: Propaganda. One of the earliest, and still one of the most influential (and effective) such films was Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), made for the government of Nazi Germany. In the United Kingdom, the "Documentary Film Movement" was a group of documentarians who wished to make documentary films to educate the public about the importance of democracy. Some of the most influential propaganda films made in the 1940s came out of the United States. The First Motion Picture Unit was part of the 18th Air Force Base Unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Frank Capra directed and director/actor Walter Huston narrated six films (Prelude to War, The Nazis Strike, Divide and Conquer, The Battle of Britain, The Battle of Russia, The Battle of China, and War Comes to America) between 1942 and 1944. All the films were designed to whip up war-hysteria, patriotism, anti-German and anti-Japanese feeling, xenophobia, and rage against America's enemies.

In 1958, a new form of the documentary emerged in the United States. Known as "Direct Cinema", this type of documentary used the new, incredibly small film cameras just then becoming available. The goal was to be a "fly on the wall" and to film people and events without those people becoming aware of the camera. The idea was that "the camera doesn't lie". Direct Cinema was a strong reaction to the propaganda films being made in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Direct Cinema correctly saw what a powerful medium film could be in the hands of deceptive government, and wanted to develop a new form of documentary film which obviously was not manipulated. Therefore, Direct Cinema developed cinematography and editing techniques which purported to be more "real" and less "manipulated" than studio films. Thus, in Direct Cinema there are had hand-held cameras, long takes, and little editing. Intrusiveness by the filmmaker (such as conversations with the individuals being filmed or narration) was made explicit. The "Hollywood Style" developed in the 1930s focused on making cinematograpy, editing, and sound as seamless and unintrusive as possible. Direct Cinema rejected this style, arguing that it the filmmaker's intervention in the reality being filmed had to be minimal. When it couldn't be minimal, it had to be obvious so that the viewer could see that interference was being made.

Just a year or two after the creation of Direct Cinema in North America, French filmmakers created their own similar, and yet dissimilar, movement -- one known as cinéma vérité. Cinéma vérité used many of the naturalistic cinematography, editing, and sound techniques of Direct Cinema. But advocates of cinéma vérité argued that minimizing the impact of the camera was a paradox. How could a filmmaker declare that "the camera doesn't lie" when he also denies the camera's existence? Cinéma vérité documentarians resolved this paradox by making the camera part of the discovery of truth. After all, cinéma vérité means "truthful movie". In cinéma vérité, documentarians returned to the stylized camera work and editing of the "Hollywood Style", but did not attempt to make them invisible. Rather, the camera was used provocatively -- as a means of provoking the subjects, and bringing out the truth of their actions and statements insofar as the filmmaker knew what those truths were. Reality was less important than truth. Stripping people's delusions away with cinéma vérité also meant that documentarians often staged events (such as the way 60 Minutes or Michael Moore ambushed interview subjects) or provoked confrontation between subjects. The camera was a catalyst -- much like how a scientist has to shoot a stream of electrons at an atom and blast it apart to reveal the truth of what's inside.

Cinéma vérité advocates also strongly criticized Direct Cinema. They argued that it is impossible for the filmmaker to be a "fly on the wall". The filmmaker is making choices about what camera angle to use, about what to film and what not to film, about what to edit in and edit out, about who is filmed and who is not filmed. When documenting a coal mine strike, for example, a filmmaker could decide to film only the peaceful events, or only the violent events, or both. Does the filmmaker film only the least-violent of the violent events, and then describe in narration that some events were more violent? Does the filmmaker interiew only the employer, while narrating the union side? Cinéma vérité advocates argued that Direct Cinema could never achieve the "fly on the wall" perspective that the movement advocated. All filmmakers make choices; the camera is an eye, and the eye looks at one thing and does not look at another.

From the foregoing, it's pretty clear that at no time during the history of the documentary film has the filmmaker been "just a fly on the wall".

Some filmmakers actually do write a documentary film in the sense that they have a narrative they wish to follow. March of the Penguins clearly wanted to follow the seasonal events which affected a colony of emperor penguins. But the narration had to be written. The filmmakers had to decide which events to include, and which to ignore. They decided to focus on some penguins whose chicks died in the snow, or whose eggs didn't hatch, or whose father did not survive the winter -- because those events illustrated points and made emotional contact with viewers. They decided not to focus on other penguins for similar reasons. The narrative of a documentary film about the My Lai Massacre or Watergate or the Great Depression or Ulysses S. Grant's second term have linear stories to tell -- and thus are "written" in the sense that the filmmaker has to decide what issues should be included and excluded, how to depict issues visually and aurally, and how to pace the film. This is writing, as surely as Steven Spielberg taking a script about an alien accidentally left behind on Earth and coming up with actors, visual effects, cinematography, editing, sound and music to create E.T.

Some filmmakers also "write" documentary films in another way. The Up documentary series in the U.K. identified 14 children who were all seven years of age in 1964. Every seven years, the filmmakers find these people, and do a documentary about their lives. Clearly, there is no pre-planned story in the way that the story of World War I or the story of a family of penguins braving the Antarctic winter. Yet, the filmmakers must still identify the issues, forces, events, and people who were important in an individual's last seven years of life, and must still make choices about what to include, exclude, film, narrate, etc.

Is this process written down? More than likely not. But then, is an improvised scene in a Woody Allen film written down? More than likely not. When a director and actors do a scene for a motion picture, and decide on the spot that the dialogue isn't working and rewrite it on the spot, will that be written down? More than likely not. When The Blair Witch Project contained no written dialogue but just an outline of activities that the actors were supposed to enact -- is that a documentary? Or a scripted film? Neither? Both???

And yet, for some reason, although scripted films contain unwritten scenes and dialogue and documentaries contain scripted scenes and dialogue, there is this supposed bright line separating the two. One is "written by" and the other is.... filmed by? Documented by? "Our fly-on-the-wall camera caught this"?

Motion pictures have traditionally asserted that the distinction between writer and director is strong and clear. But, as anyone who knows movie-making realizes, that's not so. Writers rarely have any input on directing, but a director often is able to rewrite at will (taking credit or not, as s/he sees fit). It's really about power.

I think the brou-ha-ha we're seeing in the documentary film area is another power struggle. Writers -- often the most disrespected of all craftspeople in filmdom -- are trying to stop directors from infringing further on their territory.

But the ground is already grey and mushy, I'm afraid. Documentary film has long blurred the line between director and writer into a single role. I don't know what to call that role. "Filmmaker"? "Documentarian"? Whatever it is, the battle was lost in the early 20th centruy. Documentary film has long cast the documentarian in the role of both writing and directing their film.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I love volcanoes. I was reading up on volcanoes on Wikipedia, and came across this timeline of the largest volcanic explosions in history. Volcanic eruptions are rated on a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), which ranks from zero (dust, steam) to eight (Yellowstone Caldera 600,000 BC). Mt. St. Helens was a VEI-5; Krakatoa in 1883 was a VEI-6; Mt. Tambora in 1815 was a VEI-7. No VEI-8 has occurred in recorded human history. Most VEI-6 eruptions were between 1260 AD and 1900 AD. Only two have occurred since 1900: Novarupta (a volcano in Katmai National Park in Alaska) in 1912, and Pinatubo in The Philippines in 1991.

Stromboli, the text says, is not on the list. I wondered why. It turns out Stromboli is only a VEI-3 volcano.

Interestingly, JRR Tolkien took a cruise in the Mediterranean around 1937, and during this trip he saw the volcano Stromboli from the sea. He thought that Stromboli looked exactly like "Emyn Anar"...

Like what???

"Emyn Anar" is not mentioned in any of Tolkien's texts.

Tolkien, a gifted linguist, created several Elvish languages for his books. The original Elvish language was Quenyan. But in Tolkien's novels, large numbers of Elves remained behind in Middle-earth, and over the millennia their language became corrupted (in part) and added new words (in part). This new, derivative language was called Sindarin. In time, the Elves fought great wars against a fallen angel (if you will) named Melkor (also known as Morgoth). During this time, large numbers of Quenya-speaking Elves left the Western Lands (where God and angels ruled in bliss) and returned to Middle-earth. Subsequently, both Quenya and Sindarin were spoken by Elves in Tolkien's books. Men, on the other hand, originally spoke a language called Numenorean. But after humanity was dispersed across the world in the aftermath of the defeat of Melkor/Morgoth, people largely stopped speaking Numenorean and developed their own languages. A trade language, Common Speech (or Westron), was used by most people (as well as the Dwarves and Elves) when traveling, but at home people spoke Gondorian or Rohirric or whatnot.

Now, "emyn" is the Sindarin word for "hills," and "anar" is the Quenyan word for "fire-golden." The Sun, for example, is called "anar."  ("...and Anar the Fire-golden, fruit of Laurelin, they named the Sun.") I don't think that "Anar" per se means "fire-golden." Rather, anar has its own meaning, translated as "Sun." We know that the root "-nar" means flame, for the sword Narsil is a conglomeration of the root "nar" with "sil" ("-sil" meaning "white" and coming from the name Isil or "Moon").

Now, in Sindarin, "anar" would be "anor." So clearly this is a conglomeration word again... A Sindarin and Quenyan word put together.

Transliterally, the words mean "Sun Hills." If they meant "Fiery Hills," the word would be "Emyn Nar." A more loose translation might call the Emyn Anar the "Sunny Hills."

But perhaps Tolkien meant "Emyn Arnen" rather than "Emyn Arnar"? We know what the Emyn Arnen are, because Tolkien tells us what they are in his novels: They are the hills in central Ithilien across the Anduin from Minas Tirith. This was where the Stewards of Gondor came from, and constituted the Stewards' ancestral lands. In fact, Faramir dwelt there after the War of the Ring.

The problem here is that the words "Emyn Arnen" are Sindarin for "Hills Beside the Waters." Not flaming or fiery or sunny anything! (The term is often mistranslated as "High Hills" or "Royal Hills" on the Web.) That's because "Arnen" is assumed to be Sindarin. The root "-nen" in Sindarin means "water," and can be translated as pool, creek, stream, river, pond, lake, etc. The root "ar-" in Sindarin can mean either "set apart/outside/distinctive" or "royal/most high/exalted". Thus "arnen" would be "royal waters" or "mighty waters" or "holy waters," but could also mean "by the waters" or "beside the waters." Tolkien (who liked to pretend that his made-up languages were real) "speculated" that the word "Arnen" may not be Sindarin, however. Rather, it could be a pre-Numenorean word, and in "The Etymologies" in the book History of Middle-earth: The Lost Road and Other Writings (edited by Christopher Tolkien), JRR Tolkien said the translation might be lost. JRR Tolkien actually discussed the word in a note to himself called "The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor" (also titled "Nomenclature"), which he wrote some time between 1967 and 1969. On page 17 of "The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor" (which Christopher Tolkien edited together with other works to create the chapter "The Etymologies"), JRR Tolkien says "Arnen" may not be Sindarin -- thus, the phrase might simply be "The Hills of Arnen."

At any rate, "Hills Beside the Waters" hardly is "Fiery Hills" or "Sunny Hills"!

Clearly, Tolkien simply did not make a mistake and say "Emyn Arnar" when he really meant "Emyn Arnen." Tolkien must have been speaking of some place inside Mordor.

It's also pretty obvious he is not referring to Mount Doom. We already have Sindarin words for Mt. Doom: Orodruin ("orod - mountain and "ruin" - red flame; "the fiery mountain") and Amon Amarth (amon = Sindarin version of Emyn and amarth = "doom"; "mountain of doom"). In Quenyan, the name would be Emyn Ambar (ambar is Quenyan for amarth; see the explanation in Tolkien's short story, "Turin Turambar").

It's also clear he could not be using Emyn Arnen as a synonym for Mordor itself. Mordor is a conglomeration of the Sindarin "mor" (black) and "dor" (land). In Quenyan, "morna" meant "darkness" or "shadow" (an alternative is "mórë," which means the same thing) and "ndor" (also "norë") meant "land." In Quenyan, the name would be "Mornanor" (the "-dor" ending can occur only when the root ends in l, r, or n).

Emyn is clearly no synonym for "land."

So: Is there a place in Mordor which Tolkien intended to model after Stromboli? Perhaps there is a part of Mordor, possibly near Mt. Doom, which has smoking hills, or hills which glow red (e.g., emit lava).

We know that the phrase Emyn Arnar is not a reference to the "inner fence" of mountains on the Western border of Mordor. The outer mountains, we know, were the Ephel Duath. "Ephel" is a conflation of "et" (outer) and "pel" (fence). "Duath" is a conflation of "du" (darkness) and "wath" (twilight or dim light). Hence, the Sindarin name Ephel Duath is "outer fence of dark shadows". In Quenyan, the phrase would be Entpele Morolómë: Entpele is a conflation of "ent" (outer) and "pele" (fence). And "Morolómë" is a conflation of "moro" (dark) and "lómë" (twilight). ("Mordor" is often erroneously assumed on the Web to be both Sindarin and Quenyan; it is only Sindarin.) The Morgai (a Sindarin name) were the "dark mountains" (mor=dark and aegais=mountains) or "dark fence" (mor=dark and cail=palisade or fence). In Quenyan, they would be the Mornoronti (morna=dark and oronti=mountains) or "dark mountains" or possibly the Mornapelle (morna=dark and pelle=fence) "dark fence." In any case, both mountain ranges are named.

It's possible that part of the eastern edge of Mordor was not, however, absolutely open. Most maps (including Tolkien's) depict Morder as a large letter "C". That is, there is the Ethed Lui (Mountains of Ash) on the north, and the Ephel Duath and Morgai on the west. To the south is an unnamed mountain range (possible an extension of the Ephel Duath). But let's assume that the eastern side of Mordor was not completely open. Perhaps a mountain range there also partially blocked the entrance to Mordor -- not as narrowly as the Black Gate and valley of Udûn did in the northwest, but perhaps partially.

This eastern range of mountains (let's assume they were volcanic, possibly even still steaming or spewing highly viscous lava in small volumes) would catch the sun's rays first thing in the morning.

Could these be the "Fiery Mountains" that Tolkien thought mimicked Stromboli??

Perhaps these were the "Mountains of the Sun" over which the Sun rose each morning, but which blocked much of the morning light from reaching Mordor??

It's all very interesting, in a fan-boy sort of way. Or, if you like the creative process, it's interesting because it provides insight into how creative people conceive of things.
Help me I.D. a gay porn film.

It's probably European or South American. Two men fuck. (Gee...) One ofthem is a tall, black-haired guy with an enormous cock. The other is ashorter guy, more muscular, bedroom eyes, very short hair and a big cock.

The two fuck reverse-cowboy-style (e.g., riding cock, not facing one another) while sitting on a two-step pyramid made out ofround grey stones and cement.

One of the actors, I think, is a David someone. The other is Alex orAlexander or Alessandro... and his last name might be Reyes.
Charles Moore, a photographer, died in March 2010 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., at the age of 79 from natural causes.

To call him a photographer is not faint praise. Moore put himself in physical danger while capturing appalling images of white racial brutality that helped energize the U.S. civil rights movement and led directly to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation -- the first such federal action since the Civil War.

Both Senator Jacob K. Javits and the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. said Moore's images not only helped build public antagonism against white racism, but implicated the whole nation in what was going on in the Deep South.

Moore made hundreds of images which documented the brutality toward African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama.  In May 1962, Moore visited the city to document the "Birmingham Campaign" -- a major effort to desegregate critical city services such as public transportation and hospitals.  Moore was arrested during his trip by the Birmingham Police.  The police discovered that Moore had taken graphic images of police brutality.  But they could not seize the images, because they were not evidence.  Desperate to stop the images from getting out, the Birmingham Police blocked the entrance to the airport to prevent Moore from leaving and sending the images to the whole world. So Moore climbed a fence, ran across the runway, and hid behind the terminal. He boarded the airplane just as the stairs were about to be pulled away. "We flew away as fugitives from justice," Moore said. But justice was done.

Below are some of the photographs Moore took which proved critical to igniting and fueling the American civil rights movement.

* * * *

Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., in September 1958. King was arrested while waiting in line to enter a courtroom where civil rights activists were being tried. The police handcuffed him, and then the 6-foot-tall cops lifted the 5'7" King onto his tiptoes and hustle-marched him down the block to the police station. They shoved King up onto the sergeant's desk in front of a terrified Coretta Scott King and booked him. King was ordered to pay a $10 fine. He refused. He was sentenced to 14 days in jail for refusing to obey an officer. Realizing that King's actions would bring unwanted national attention to the city's actions, the Montgomery police commissioner paid King's fine to avoid the publicity.

Birmingham, Ala., "Public Safety Commissioner" Bull Connor turns attack dogs on civil rights protesters in his city in 1963.  The Birmingham Police trained the dogs to attack on hearing the word "nigger".

This is one of the most famous images in U.S. history. Bull Connor ordered his city's firefighters to turn the hoses on teenagers and children to drive them from the streets. Many families were dressed in their Sunday-best clothes, having left church to join the march. Many young people clung to buildings, trying to resist, determined to march. Afterward, a disgusted city firefighter said, "We were trained to fight fires, not people."

Here is future U.S. Congressman John L. Lewis being beaten during "Bloody Sunday" March 7, 1965, when 600 civil rights activists trying to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery were attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas.

On this day in 1883, the largest explosion in human history took place when the volcanic island of Krakatoa (located in the Sunda Strait just northwest of Java) obliterated itself in a titanic explosion.

"Under the impact of Krakatoa's explosion, 13 percent of the earth's surface vibrated audibly, and millions who lived there heard it, and when told what it was were amazed." - Simon Winchester, Krakatoa (2003)
Many people criticize me because I leave my cell phone in the kitchen when I come home. It's rare for me to have it on me at home, and I often forget it over the weekend (its battery goes dead and I don't recharge it until I get to work). I'm snubbed because others believe my work is "not important enough" to "require" being constantly connected. I'm snubbed because others believe my life is "not busy enough" or "not important enough" to require being constantly connected via text, FB, voicemail, whatever. I'm laughed at for not "taking advantage" of life. It is, frankly, difficult emotionally to be constantly denigrated for not being over-connected. There is a constant undermining of one's self-esteem because I'm not over-connected. I find myself cutting myself off from people I like and want to be with simply to avoid this un/conscious attack on my choices. There is an article in today's New York Times which talks about the joys of being disconnected -- even if only for a short time every day. It provides some very, very good advice about "learning to eat (data) in a healthy way". It discusses the ways in which people can learn self-control, and overcome what the author feels is an "adolescent" attachment to the smartphone and the Web. But this is like telling people to turn off the TV and "live life". It's like telling the Kindle addict (who can't stop talking about the joy of not having to carry a book around) that physical books are important -- if only because 99.9 percent of what's been published in the world has never and will never be on Kindle. It's like telling the Soccer Mom to stop rushing around to umpteen zillion events during the day with her kids. Good luck with that.

The New York Times today discusses what a Romney win means. Essentially, it means Paul Ryan wins -- and the newspaper discusses this very even-handedly. Some people really do want to see this. So here's what they'll get:
  • Huge cuts in Medicaid and an end to Obamacare, meaning your local hospital ER will be swamped for the remainder of your life with ill poor people (whose conditions could have been cheaply and easily diagnosed and fixed under Obamacare and Medicaid).
  • There will be an end to federal support for elementary, secondary, and higher education. OK, so that's only a 10 percent cut for elementary and secondary schools. But it means no more school lunches, no more girls' sports, no more "impact aid" for military kids in your school district, and no more support for handicapped or mentally disabled kids. (Goodbye, special ed!)
  • It also means an end to subsidized federal student loans and most federal higher education grant programs (what's left of the Pell Grants). The interest rate on existing student loans will also rise dramatically. Because, Romney, also supports massive cuts to federal research programs in higher education, you will also see almost no support for higher education in other areas (like money for labs, or money for buildings, or money for research programs).
  • If you are working in science, say goodbye to your federal support. All basic science research grants will no longer exist. NIH -- which conducts two-thirds of all national spending on human healthcare research -- will see its funding cut by one-third to half, and almost all NIH research at NIH facilities will cease in favor of grants to the private sector. Basic research in astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, and biology will end. Spending on human medicine will focus only on the Big Five: Cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes/digestive, and "infectious disease".
  • You can see further deterioriation in veterans' healthcare, but not in current military spending. (Watch for the U.S. to get involved in a war against Iraq, one primarily led by the U.S. Navy.)
  • Watch for huge cuts in environmental protection, workplace health and safety, and huge cuts to all federal funding for road construction, bridge replacement, clean water facilities, sewer subsidies, and airport building.
  • There will be an immediate gutting of federal labor law as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Space Window - South Nave Bay E - National Cathedral - DC

The Space Window at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Goodbye, Neil Armstrong.

Take the weakest thing in you
And then beat the bastards with it
And always hold on when you get love,
So you can let go when you give it... give it... give it...

A long, long, very quiet morning under overcast skys spent sipping chocolate mint-flavored coffee (with half-n-half), watching the squirrel in the holly tree next to my balcony, and reading E.M. Forster's Howards End.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Soooooooo.................. Ya think you know your Doctor Who, huh? LIAR! Take my short quiz about all 11 Doctors, and we'll see how smart ya are...

1) The Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan, traveled to Earth for what purpose?

2) The Second Doctor encounters the Cybermen twice: Once on their home planet Telos, and again -- where?

3) The Third Doctor is exiled to Earth because...?

4) The Fourth Doctor carried what food item with him at all times?

5) As he lay dying, the Fifth Doctor mentioned the name of which Companion?

6) The Sixth Doctor's arch-nemesis is a renegade Time Lord. What is this Time Lord's name?

7) The Seventh Doctor reveals a device named "The Hand of Omega." What critical role does this device play in Time Lord history?

8) The Eighth Doctor is show kissing his companion, Dr. Grace Holloway. Is this the first romantic liaison for the Doctor in the series?

9) The Ninth Doctor tortures the "last Dalek" and attempts to destroy it -- essentially committing genocide. What other Doctor also attempted to commit genocide against the Daleks?

10) Like the Fifth Doctor, the Tenth Doctor sometimes puts on....what? (Hint: Not an article of clothing.)

11) The Sixth Doctor confronts a possible evil future version of himself who has gone back in time to steal his younger self's regenerations. The Eleventh Doctor also confronts an evil aspect of himself. What was this evil aspect's name?

Answers behind the cut...

From the spectacular album "Liberator"!

We always stick together like we're something made of glue
Justify the passion that one is more than two
But if you don't believe the words they're surely coming true
There's one thing that's so obvious that it's something you won't do

Because you stand above me
But I know you don't
You say you love me
But I know you won't

"This one was banned from music television because you can see my junk through my jumpsuit." - Dr. Rockzo

So let's talk about the Young Adult LGBT novel Huntress by Malinda Lo.

Lo was born in China, and her family moved to the United States when she was still a child. Formerly an entertainment reporter, she won the 2006 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association for her work on the Web site Her YA science fiction novel, Adaptation, will be published in fall 2012.

Huntress is a prequel to Lo's Lambda-nominated 2009 novel, Ash. Huntress was published in 2011, and nominated for a 2012 Lambda Literary Award in the Young Adult category. (It lost to Bil Wright's Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy.)

It's some indeterminate time before the events of Ash, although it's not clear at all if it's just a half-century or a half-millennium. Taisin is an 18-year-old girl who is training at The Academy -- a hide-bound but still effective school for druid-like magicians. One of The Academy's most advanced students, she's been having dreams about an "ice fortress" in the north. They also involve her being in love with another female student, and setting her adrift in a rowboat. Taisin is deeply troubled by the dream, since sages must be celibate.

Taisin's dreams are particularly important because the whole world has gone topsy-turvy. For the past few years, crops have inexplicably failed, magic has malfunctioned, there is rebellion in The Kingdom, and there are strange stories of "fay" creatures -- monsters -- killing people in the north. Although it is now summer, winter has remained. With little sunlight, near-constant rain, and cold weather, the people of The Kingdom are now beginning to starve.

King Cai and his chief advisor, Lord Raiden, visit the island on which The Academy sits because Cai has received an invitation from the Fairy Queen to come north into the Fairy Lands. An ancient war (caused by a terrible misunderstanding) led to extensive war between the two races. The war ended with a treaty in which humanity agreed to stay south of the River Kell, and fairy (also known as "Xi") to stay north of it. But now fairy-like creatures of monstrous appearance have been spotted south of the River Kell, and the King is worried that the treaty is breaking down.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ash is the debut novel by by Malinda Lo.

Lo was born in China, but her family moved to the United States when she was still a child. She graduated from Wellesley College, and began a career as a reporter. She worked for a variety of outlets, but is best known as an entertainment reporter for In 2006, she received the Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. During her career as a journalist, she received master's degrees from Harvard and Stanford.

Pubished in 2009, Ash was a nominee for the Andre Norton Award, a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Award, a Kirkus Best Young Adult Novel, and a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Children's/Young Adult literature. The book was also a nominee for best novel at the 2010 Northern California Book Awards.

Heady stuff for a debut novel!

Ash is, in many ways, a riff on the fairy tale "Cinderella." Blatantly so. Admittedly so.

Ash lives with her parents in a bucolic rural town in the northern part of an unidentified nation that seems perpetually stuck in the High Middle Ages. Much of the early part of the novel is expository, although it's well-concealed beneath Ash's own reminisences. Once, magic was the norm in this nation, and fairies lived openly alongside the human race. But some two or three centuries ago, the magic began to fail. The fairies retreated into the woods, rarely being seen, turning into myth. (If you hear any J.R.R. Tolkien in this, you're probably right.) About a century ago, a sea-faring king waged war in the deep south and returned with some "philosopher-priests" who taught a new, austere religion that denied the existence of magic and taught sacrifice and the afterlife. (If you hear any T.H. White or Mary Stewart in here, too, you are not far wrong.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bad foot! BAD BAD FOOT! Hurting me. Torn up. Broken.

Why can't you be more like the right foot, and do as you're told?

tim bad foot

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Well, the streetlights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holding hands two by two
A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin 'round
My jacket's on, I'm out the door
Tonight I'm gonna burn this town down

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ugh. I'm sick.

I had a frog in my throat on Wednesday morning, but it went away.

I felt tired Thursday, but slept eight hours and felt fine.

But Friday, around noon, I started getting a sore throat. It was clear I had a sinus infection. I wasn't sniffly, but could feel the sinuses at the rear of my throat swelling. By 3 PM, my throat hurt terribly. When I got home at 6:30 PM, I was really tired and achy. I napped for 90 minutes. I got up, had some dinner, and then was in bed again by 10 PM.

And today, I'm still sick. I'm self-medicating, but my sinuses are so bad and I'm feverish.

Not a great way to spend the weekend.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I was describing the old gay dance club Tracks (which we used to have here in D.C.), and said that Tracks used to have a "voguing track" outside sandwiched between the dance floor and the sandlot volleyball court.

He asked me what "voguing" was.

Gosh, do the kids still vogue any more? I guess that they do somewhere in an isolated, backwoods bar in Boise, Idaho, or Williston, North Dakota.

At Tracks, you'd find 20 young twinky things voguing every night. Anyway, since it's Madonna's birthday, here we go.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Some cars sing The Cars' "Just What I Needed"!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Here ya go...........

The American Civil War in a nutshell!


April 12, 1861 – Confederate forces fire on Union troops holding Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina. The Civil War begins.

May 14, 1861 - Lincoln appoints Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell head of the Army of Northeastern Virginia.

July 21, 1861 - McDowell's Army of Northeastern Virginia (30,000) attacks Confederate General P.T. Beauregard's army (20,000) at the Battle of Bull Run (near Manassas, Virginia). Confederate Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson inspires his Virginia troops to stand their ground. They do, and Jackson earns the name "Stonewall." Confederate General Joe E. Johnston arrives with 12,000 reinforcements, and McDowell's army flee in panic. Politicians, socialites, and picnickers from Washington, D.C., are caught on the road by the fleeing army – and panic as well. Beauregard's exhausted army does not pursue. (If it had, it might have seized Washington.)

July 26, 1861 – Major General George B. McClellan is summoned from Ohio. McDowell is dismissed, and McClellan named commander of the newly formed Army of the Potomac. McClellan begins training his troops relentlessly, earning their adulation.

September 3, 1861 – Confederate General Leonidas Polk seizes Columbus, Kentucky, violating the state's theoretical neutrality. His action makes the Mississippi River below Illinois safe for Confederate ship traffic. Major General Ulysses S. Grant seizes Paducah, Kentucky, two days later to prevent Confederate forces from moving up the Ohio River.


February 2, 1862 – Grant moves up the Tennessee River, and seizes Fort Henry, Tennessee.

February 15, 1862 – Grant continues up the Tennessee, and seizes Fort Donelson, Tennessee.

February 24, 1862 – General Don Carlos Buell seizes Nashville, Tennessee.

March to June 1862 – McClellan moves the Army of the Potomac by ship to Newport News, Virginia. He attempts to attack Richmond from the peninsula, but his own lack of aggressiveness leads him to overestimate the size of Joe E. Johnston's Army of Virginia. Johnston is wounded on June 1, and Robert E. Lees takes command. Lee hammers McClellan, and fighting ends in June. McClellan moves back by ship to D.C. in August 1862 In the Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson defeats five Union armies in quick succession by moving his troops at high speed (on foot no less) and using cavalry to attack the Union flanks and rear. These armies pull back to D.C. as well.

April 6, 1862 – General Henry Halleck, Grant, and Buell attempt to seize the critical railroad crossing at Corinth, Mississippi. But Confederate Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Albert Sidney Johnston detect their approach. Grant is caught unprepared at Shiloh, Tennessee (about 10 miles northeast of Corinth). Grant rallied his men in an astonishing display of leadership, and held his ground. Reinforced by Buell late in the day, Grant pushed Beauregard and Johnston back (and Johnston was killed).

April 7, 1862 – Major General John Pope seized Island No. 10 in the Mississippi River, opening up the river as far south as Memphis to Union gunboats.

May 18, 1862 – Admiral David Farragut captures New Orleans without a fight, depriving the Confederacy of its only major seaport.

May 29, 1862 – Halleck finally takes Corinth after Confederate forces slip away.

July 11, 1862 – Lincoln dismisses McClellan and appoints General John Pope as head of the Army of the Potomac.

August to October 1862 – Confederate General Braxton Bragg and Union General Don Carlos Buell clash repeatedly in mid-Tennessee but Buell's cautiousness leads to no decisive outcomes.

August 29, 1862 – After a series of skirmishes with Lee and Jackson (who'd moved up from Richmond), Pope attacks Lee in the Second Battle of Bull Run. Confederate General James Longstreet reinforces Lee with 18,000 men, and Pope is soundly defeated.

September 1862 – Emboldened, Lee invades Pennsylvania. McClellan, back in charge of the Army of the Potomac, confronts Lee at Antietam Creek, Maryland (about 10 miles west of Frederick). On September 17, McClellan almost overwhelms Lee's force (which is half his size), but Confederate General A.P. Hill arrives with reinforcements that scare McClellan and save the day. Lee retreats, and Abraham Lincoln uses the occasion to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

October 3, 1862 – Confederate forces attack Grant at Corinth, but are easily repelled.

November 7, 1862 – Lincoln dismisses McClellan again for failing to pursue Lee. General Ambrose Burnside is appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac. Burnside attempts to cross the Potomac River and attack Lee, but is brutally beaten at Marye's Heights. Stonewall Jackson is mistakenly fired on by his own troops, and killed.

December 31, 1982 – Bragg surprised Union General William S. Rosecrans near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Rosecrans retreats, but holds at the Tennessee River. Although Bragg wins a tactical victory, he is forced by long supply lines to retreat into Georgia. The Confederacy loses middle Tennessee.


January to July 1863 – Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman try five times to conquer the "fortress city" of Vicksburg, Mississippi, by rerouting the river or by draining marshes nearby. They all failed. In April, Grant secretly managed to cross the Mississippi from the west. Continuing to move at a swift pace rather than attack Vicksburg, Grant sent Sherman to capture Jackson – which fell on May 14. With one Confederate army routed, Grant and Sherman turned west (living off the land) and slammed into Vicksburg from its relatively unfortified west. The Vicksburg army was soundly defeated on May 16, and retreated into the city. After a lengthy siege, Vicksburg surrendered on July 4.

January 26, 1863 – Lincoln dismisses Burnside, and replaces him with General Joseph Hooker. Hooker spends the winter resting and provisioning his troops.

May 1, 1863 – Hooker advances to Fredericksburg, Va. He encounters Lee's army about four miles west of the town, at a small village known as Chancellorsville. Despite an overwhelming advantage, Hooker loses his nerve. Lee outflanks his right, and retreats across the Rappahannock River.

June 1863 – Lee moves to invade Pennsylvania again. He moves up the Shenandoah Valley, which screens his movements from the Union forces.

June 28, 1863 – Lincoln replaces Hooker with General George Meade. Meade, realizing Lee is going to come at Washington from the Pennsylvania (in the northwest), spreads his army out in a giant fan and begins advancing north and west to locate Lee.

July 1, 1863 – Meade and Lee encounter one another near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lee pounds Meade backward for two days, but Meade doesn't retreat. On July 3, Lee sends Colonel George Pickett and three divisions toward the Union middle; they are wiped out by accurate rifle and cannon fire. Lee retreats.

September 19, 1863 – William Rosecrans drives Confederate General Braxton Bragg from Tennessee. The two armies confront one another at Chickamauga, Georgia (about two miles south of Chattanooga). A misunderstanding divides Rosecrans' forces, and the Confederates charge through the middle. Rosecrans is routed and flees to Chattanooga, where Bragg lays siege to the city.

November 24, 1863 – With Bragg close to winning the siege, Grant sends Sherman to Chattanooga to relieve Rosecrans. General Joseph Hooker leads a portion of the Army of the Potomac across northern Virginia to help. Bragg is forced to retreat on November 24 after Union forces break his lines. Bragg is dismissed, and Confederate General Joseph Johnston takes over his army.


March 1864 – Meade is dismissed, and Lincoln promotes Ulysses S. Grant to Lieutenant General and places him in charge of the Army of the Potomac. Grant puts Sherman in command of all Union forces in the west.

May to June 1864 – Sherman uses his three armies (the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Ohio, and the Army of the Cumberland) to repeatedly outflank Johnston and push southeast into Georgia. Sherman only once hit Johnston head on, at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27. He was defeated (his troops were running uphill). Sherman pushes Johnston to Atlanta.

May 5, 1864 – Grant moves south from D.C. and battles Lee to a standstill in the Battle of the Wilderness. Grant refuses to retreat, as all previous Union generals had. Grant moves to the southeast to try to flank Lee, forcing Lee to retreat closer to Richmond.

May 8-22, 1864 – Grant assaults Lee's forces, who are dug in at Spotsylvania Courthouse (near Chancellorsville). Grant uses innovative trenching tactics to bypass Lee's earthworks. After a standtill, Grant again disengaged and moved southeast.

June 12, 1864 – Grant and Lee clash again at Cold Harbor, Virginia (about four miles east of Richmond and on the eastern outskirts of the town of Mechanicsville). Reluctantly, Grant engages in a head-on assault and loses 12,000 men. The press calls him a "butcher". But Grant slips away during the night and using pontoon bridges gets his men across the James River. Lee beats Grant to a railroad crossing called Petersburg (about 10 miles south of Richmond). Both sides engage in trenching operations, and dig in.

June to October 1864 – Lee sends Confederate General Jubal Early into the Shenandoah Valley in an attempt to get Grant to send reinforcements to D.C. Grant sends his ablest cavalry officer, Major General Phil Sheridan, into the Shenandoah to stop him. Sheridan engages in a scorched-earth campaign to deny Early the food and supplies he was getting from the people of the valley. Early's forces collapse, and the threat to D.C. ends.

July 20, 1864 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaces Johnston with Lieutenant General John Bell Hood. Hood attacks Sherman, but fails repeatedly.

August 24, 1864 – Admiral David Farragut slips past mines ("torpedoes") in Mobile Bay, Alabama, as Confederates ships shell his fleet. Announcing "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!", his ships rush into the bay and force the surrender of the Confederate fleet. Although Mobile itself remained in Confederate hands, the last remaining port of any size open to the Confederacy was now closed.

September 1, 1864 – Hood evacuates Atlanta, setting fire to the city as he does so.

September to December 1864 – Confederate General Hood attempts to cut Sherman's lines of supply and communication by moving west through Alabama and north to Tennessee. But Sherman sent Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland to stop him. November 29-30, Hood destroyed his army attacking heavy Union fortifications.

November to December 1864 – Sherman marches overland from Atlanta to capture Savannah, Georgia, in his famous "March to the Sea." Savannah fell on December 22.


January to March 1865 – Grant encircles Petersburg, cutting off Lee's supplies.

February to April 1865 – Sherman marches overland through South and North Carolina, destroying everything in his path. Sending corps as screens in various directions to confuse the Confederates, he seized Columbia, South Carolina, on February 17. Sherman had reached Durham, North Carolina, by the time Lee surrendered.

March 31-April 1, 1865 – Grant sends Sheridan to cut off the remaining railroad supplying Lee. Sheridan is successful. Grant orders an assault all along the line, and breaks through in numerous places. Lee flees during the night, heading westward.

April 3, 1865 – Richmond falls to Grant.

April 4, 1865 – Abraham Lincoln walks the streets of Richmond, mobbed by weeping ex-slaves.

April 3-9, 1865 – Lee and Grant engage in a series of running battles along the Appomattox River. Grant captures a quarter of Lee's forces on April 6. Lee attempts to reach Lynchburg and a major supply depot, but Grant cuts him off. Lee surrenders on April 9, at Appomattox Courthouse.

April 14, 1865 – John Wilkes Booth assassinates Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln dies at about 7:30 AM the following morning.

I've been reading a three-volume history of the New Deal (1932-1936). And the author raised the issue of "going off the gold standard."

What the...???

William Jennings Bryan said, "You shall not crucify this people on a cross of gold." This Democratic presidential candidate, who campaigned many times for the presidency between 1880 and 1920, said that. It is a famous saying. He wanted American on the "silver standard."

What does that mean: "Silver standard"...."gold standard"...."paper standard"?

Here goes:

In the beginning, there was bartering. Two people would make a direct exchange: Food for clothes. However, bartering is inefficient. Say that I want your bread. I offer furs. But you want wine, not furs. I have to find someone with wine who needs my furs. That may be a hard thing to do.

Money solves this problem.

But what should the money be made out of? If it is made out of something common -- say, rocks -- then we run into problems. You offer bread for sale. I pick up a rock, and offer one rock. But someone else picks up two rocks. A third person picks up five rocks. This is the essence of inflation: There is too much money available. So, in early economies, this is why money was almost always made out of something rare, like silver or gold. One could choose something hard to forge, like an intricately carved metal disk. But now the money is so hard to make, it will be difficult to make more of it if the economy expands and there is a greater need for money. Make the money out of something intrinsically rare, like gold, and you solve the problem -- because even though gold is scare, it's not rare.

But money can't be too rare, or the economy shuts down. Say that money is represented by one gold coin. Money is rare. And so you'll offer your loaf of bread for one gold coin. I have to offer all the money I own in order to get just one small thing. In return, the baker has to offer all the money he now owns in order to get my furs. The economy is barely moving! Making sure there is enough money for the economy to function is the other pitfall to avoid.

Thus, the amount of money has to be just right -- not too much, but not too little.

But what happens if the economy grows so much that even gold coins are scarce?

Paper money is the answer. Instead of making the money itself out of gold, let's say that I take all the gold coins I can find -- 1 million of them -- and put them in a vault. Then I issue a piece of paper, and call each piece of paper a "dollar." Each piece of paper represents 1 gold coin. I could issue "one million dollars" (one million pieces of paper, with a face value of one gold coin each). If a loaf of bread costs one unit of work, and a buyer can exchange one gold coin for one unit of work, then the buyer need only give "one dollar" for a loaf of bread.

This is the "gold standard." Money literally represents something -- gold bullion held by the government. We don't have to use gold, of course. We could use silver, platinum, uranium...anything.

But let's say we are using gold. How much gold does "one dollar" buy? We could let the marketplace set the price of gold. If the government buys more gold, this makes gold on the market increasingly rare. Gold prices go up, and so does the value of my dollar. If the government sells gold on the open market, then gold prices fall -- and we get inflation.

But let's say that the government sells all the gold it has. Now it's stuck. The government can't manipulate the value of money. It couldn't do anything if a recession hit.

Often, governments on the gold standard decide not to permit gold to be bought or sold. They buy a certain amount, to prop up gold prices. Then they sit on it. To make sure that others can't buy lots of gold and artificially increase the value of the dollar, they make it illegal for the average citizen to own gold. Thus, the price of gold stays stable.

Let's say that we've been humming along on the gold standard for 100 years. Let's say, too, that farmers have taken out loans to buy tractors and plows and other machinery. But they are so successful at farming that there's too much grain on the market. Farm prices fall. Farmers can't make their loan payments. What do we do?

One answer is to inflate the currency. Say $10,000 bought one tractor in Year 1. That tractor could grow 10,000 bushels of wheat, which are worth $1 each. But in Year 2, due to inflation, one bushel of wheat is now worth $5. I need to only sell 2,000 bushels of wheat. But I only need to pay the bank back $10,000. Inflation makes the economic position of creditors much worse, see? The value of the money they are getting paid with is less than the value of the money they loaned out.

This is what William Jennings Bryan wanted. Go off the gold standard, and go on the silver standard. Since silver is less rare than gold, this will mean that the value of the money falls. It takes more dollars to buy things. Farmers get more dollars, and pay off the bank with "cheap money."

Because inflation is politically tempting, Bryan knew that you can't just print more money. It gets out of hand. So instead, Bryan proposed moving to the silver standard -- something you could do only once. Bryan proposed that one dollar equal 16 ounces of silver. (Setting the "ratio" higher or lower is another way of inflating or deflating the value of money.) This would help farmers -- and Bryan was a proponent of the family farmer and the common man against the creditors (banks, investors, etc.).

In normal times, I spend -- and it becomes your earnings. You spend -- and your spending becomes my earnings. But let's say that for some reason, you think hard times are coming. So you decided to save your money. Because I am depending on your spending, I respond by saving, also. The result is a drop in economic activity. If it goes far enough, I might not have enough money to employ people. This worsens the trend. Soon, we get a "recession."

Keynesian monetary policy calls for expanding the money supply (printing more dollars).

But what if we are on the gold standard? How can we get out of a recession? We can't mine more gold. What do we do?

"Gold bugs" -- those who like the gold standard -- argue that the value of money will automatically adjust itself. Here's how it works: Suppose three people live in a village, and they have 100 coins among them. Suppose this gold represents 100 units of work. A loaf of bread may require five units of work, and therefore cost five coins. Now suppose that their economy grows to 120 units of work. There are two ways for the money supply to adjust to this new activity. The villagers could simply make 20 more coins. Or they could let the value of the coins increase. Say the extra 20 units of work is being produced by one villager. He is eager to sell his product, and the other two are eager to buy it. But no one can afford to buy, because there is insufficient money. So the village artificially "creates" money by lowering the prices for all goods. For example, a loaf of bread still requires five units of work, but the seller lowers the price from five to four coins. The extra coin can now be used to purchase of the product. This process is called deflation.

Prices do indeed inflate and deflate in this way. The problem is that deflation is terribly inefficient. In real economies, prices tend to be "sticky" -- that is, enormously resistant to change in a downward direction. There are several reasons for price stickiness. One is psychological -- people hate to cut their prices and wages. Another is that salaries and wages are often locked into contracts. But perhaps the most important reason is that in a big and complex economy, people just don't realize when goods start becoming plentiful; the glut may have to reach crisis proportions before people notice and take action.

Economists have found it much faster and simpler (more efficient!) to expand the money supply and cut the recession short.

There are other ways to expand the money supply than just printing more dollars.

Let's say that a bank has a big pile of gold coins. The bank issues one dollar for each gold coin. the banker notices that people are not visiting his bank very frequently to exchange paper money for gold. His gold is just sitting around. So he gets a bright idea: He'll print up some new dollars. The new dollars are not backed up by actual gold reserves. But the banker can get away with this because only a percentage of money-bearers come in on a given day asking for gold. Now the bank is a "trust," because people must now "trust" that the banker will have the gold reserves to cover their withdrawals.

Of course, if too many people come in at once demanding gold, the bank is out of luck. Experience may teach the bank that it will need to keep a "reserve" of 1 gold coin for every 3 "dollars" in circulation. Any more pieces of paper money in circulation, and the bank might not be able to cover withdrawals. This is a somewhat risky business because it creates the possibility of a "run on the bank" -- people panic and want more gold than the bank has in actual reserve.

Let's say, too, that the government decides to regulate "reserves." Let's say that the government says a bank has to have 15% reserves (15 coins for every 100 dollars in existence). But if the government wants to expand the money supply, it can lower the reserve requirement -- say, to 10%. This expands the amount of dollars the bank can print.

There are other economic consequences to a gold standard. Suppose Britain runs up a trade deficit with the U.S. and promptly pays in gold. The U.S. money supply would expand (more gold in the U.S. means more dollars can be printed), and its economy would experience a mixture of inflation and growth. Conversely, the British money supply would shrink. Theoretically, this should result in deflation. But in practice, it resulted in widespread unemployment due to price stickiness. Therefore, outflows of gold from a country were often very painful to its economy. And when people learn that gold is leaving a country, bank run often occur (as people try to withdraw their gold before it runs out).

A country could place restrictions on "convertibility" (the ability to exchange a piece of paper money for gold) or it could issue "non-convertible" paper money. But this goes against the very reasons why a country would be on the gold standard in the first place.

A country could "insure" bank deposits, too. This is what the U.S. did in the 1930s. In creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the federal government told consumers that it would make good any deposit up to $100,000. This helped to stop bank runs, because depositors knew that there would always be enough either in the bank or coming from the federal government to make good any deposit under $100,000.
"I, Mark Morrisroe, swear to coldly manipulate every one who can help my career. No matter how I hate them I will pretend that I love them. I will fuck any one who can help me no matter how aesthetically unappealing they are to me."

Mark Morrisroe was a photographer. He was born in 1959 in Boston and died in 1989 from AIDS. His mother was a drug-addicted prostitute. At 13, Morrisroe left home and began a life of prostitution. One of his disgruntled johns shot him; he carried a bullet in his chest for the rest of his life. His painting and photography won him a place at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. But he continued to indulge in drugs, cross-dressing, and exhibitionism. The school kicked him out shortly thereafter.

Morrisroe continued with his photographic work, however. He became friends with a number of famous photographers, including Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, Jack Pierson, and Philip Lorca diCorcia. Most of Morrisroe's photographs were self-portraits which formed a visual diary of his life. He worked in both color and black-and-white, and preferred spontaneous rather than staged images. His work was so attractive that the Polaroid company gave him an instant camera, which he carried with him for the rest of his life.

Morrisroe assumed a number of pseudonyms and false identities. Among them were "Mark Dirt," a fanzine editor, and "Sweet Raspberry," a maudlin drag queen down on her luck.

Morrisroe became infected with HIV. Toward the end of his life, he spent so much time in the hospital that he set up a dark room in the shower. When he died, 2,000 Polaroids were found at his bedside along with a number of Super-8 films.

And you know something? That's all that's known about him. I've searched in vain for more.

"It kills me to look at my old photographs of myself and my friends. We were such beautiful, sexy kids but we always felt bad because we thought we were ugly at the time. It was because we were such outcasts in high school and so unpopular. We believed what other people said. If any one of us could have seen how attractive we really were we might have made something better of our lives. I'm the only guy that I know who wanted to runaway to be a prostitute."

I've decided to break down and spend the huge amount of money it's going to take to get a limited edition of Morrisroe's photographs. That's why I mention him.

And isn't that obscene? Mentioning a great artist, only because you intend to buy his work.