Ideally, a recreational drug shouldn”t make your flesh fall off your bones. Nor should it cause you to overheat and drop dead onto the dance floor. But we don”t live in a perfect world, now, do we?
Having come of age during the drug-soaked 1970s, I learned to cast a cynical eye toward drug-hysteria propaganda, especially since the hype rarely jibed with my personal experiences. As someone who’s probably smoked a minimum of 40 bales of marijuana, I stand here today to declare that films such as Reefer Madness severely exaggerate the deleterious effects of cannabis. As someone who was taught as a child that LSD causes you to freak out, rip your genitals off your body, and leap from a window to your death, my experience was that acid wasn’t nearly as dangerous as the four drunk guys who pick you up while you’re hitchhiking on acid. Even crack, meth, and PCP failed to live up to the tantalizing horror stories that led me to sample them in the first place. Ketamine, well, yeah, that was terrifying. Worst experience of my life. Believe whatever negative hype you hear about that one.
Still, I’m not sure whether street drugs are getting scarier or I’m just getting more easily scared. I always used to enjoy a ripping good national drug panic, and I almost always wound up trying the newly demonized drug as a result. But things such as age, fatherhood, a slowly evolving yet still highly delicate wisdom, and nine-hour brain surgery have caused me to ease up on the psychonautical recklessness. Hate to disappoint anyone, but I will not be wrestling with Krokodil or dancing with Molly.
The Web was ablaze last week with scare stories about a spate of young clubbers’ deaths from Molly overdoses. Far more ominous was the announcement that Krokodil, the repulsive, deadly, flesh-eating home-cooked opioid that first came yawning out of Siberia’s frozen womb a decade or so ago, has possibly reached America’s shores.
The term “Molly” is said to be derived from “molecule” or “molecular,” seeing as the drug is touted as chemically pure MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy. The fact that “Molly” is also a feminine pronoun leads to unforgivably dorky editorial copy such as “Molly is not someone you want for a friend,” “That’s when Molly made her way onto the scene,” and “There is a new girl in town”and she can kill.”
Molly is thought to have killed at least four college students”one in Boston, two in New York, and one in DC“over a two-week span that ended in early September. The fact that the victims all seemed to be fans of electronic dance music should not be held against them.
One of the two New York victims died from pure MDMA. The other died from a mixture of MDMA and the stimulant methylone. In some cases, the reputedly “pure” MDMA in Molly capsules is even cut with adulterants such as crystal meth, rat poison, and baby powder.
Adverse effects even from pure, untainted MDMA can include fatal heart attacks, strokes, and seizures, and liver or kidney failure due to dehydration. Nevertheless, its glories have been touted by such chart-topping pop-music stalwarts as Rick Ross, Kanye West, and Miley “I Vow to Do Everything Within My Power to Humiliate My Father” Cyrus.
Some suggest the recent spate of Molly-related deaths, confined as it was to the Northeast, may simply be the result of a single bad batch. Thousands of earnest young electro-boppers have been using MDMA and its variants for decades now without adverse effects.
In contrast, Krokodil seems to kill nearly everyone who touches it. It is perhaps the most nihilistic drug ever devised.
One explanation for the etymology of “Krokodil” (Russian for “crocodile”) is that users wind up with green, scaly abscesses on their skin. Another is the fact that the compound chlorocodide is produced during the cooking process. What is not disputed is the fact that like a crocodile, this drug can literally eat you.
The Week’s Most Bloody, Gutty, and Nutty Headlines
THEY HAVE MALLS IN KENYA?
The death toll stands at around 70 and continues climbing in the wake of a four-day siege of an Israeli-owned shopping mall in Nairobi by Islamist militants. Grisly stories emerged from survivors about children being stabbed to death and shoved into refrigerators with knives still in their bodies; of adult victims being castrated, having their eyes gouged out and their noses ripped from their faces with pliers, being impaled with hooks and hanged from the ceiling, and even having their fingers sharpened “like pencils” and being forced to sign their names in their own blood. The death toll was undoubtedly worsened when bumbling Kenyan forces fired rocket-propelled grenades and knocked out a support column in the mall, causing a three-story collapse.
ATTACK OF THE HOMOPHOBIC PASTA SHELLS
Guido Barilla, the world’s largest producer of pasta, is facing the Gay Mafia’s wrath after he blithely told an Italian radio interviewer that he would not feature gay couples in his advertising:
I would never make a spot with a homosexual family. Not out of a lack of respect but because I do not see it like they do. (My idea of) family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role. If [gays] don’t like it, they can go eat another brand.
Obviously the gays didn’t like it”they don’t seem to like anything these days beyond unblinking affirmation and veneration so shameless, it borders on camp”and their fellow pillow-biters in media and advertising started the predictable campaign of scorched-earth PR destruction against Barilla, abetted by rival Bertolli Germany, who immediately ran an ad claiming they didn’t care whether their pasta was homosexual or not.
Guido Barilla released a series of apologies that culminated in a video where he looks every bit as beaten and humbled as Paula Deen did during her travails this past summer.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, however, appears to have not received the Homo Memo. His comments before the UN General Assembly on Friday contained the following sodomite-inflaming bons mots:
Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence. It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior. Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers.
Homosexual activists are planning to boycott all of Gambia’s chief exports once they figure out what they are.
To further hammer home the notion that the “old queer” is the “new normal,” CBS in Sacramento recently featured a presumably heartwarming story of a man and a woman who got married, only to realize twenty years later that they were both gay, but since the man was actually a lesbian woman trapped inside a man’s body, they were still compatible…or something.
Argentinian officials have rubber-stamped a gender change for a six-year old male who, according to his parents, identified as a female since he began speaking. A federal body ruled that denying the gender change would violate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
HITLER IN THE NEWS (AGAIN!)
Adolf Hitler, still one of the world’s most recognizable celebrities nearly 70 years after his untimely death, continues to grab headlines.
A new book by Harvard scholar Ben Urwand alleges that Hollywood’s moguls, despite being disproportionately Jewish, collaborated with Germany’s Propaganda Ministry in the years leading up to World War II. It also avers that Hitler absolutely loved King Kong but had a severe distaste for the Tarzan movies.
Another new book claims that in 1941, Hitler sent Rudolf Hess to Britain to negotiate a peace settlement whereby Germany would evacuate all its occupied territory in Western Europe so long as Churchill agreed not to interfere in Germany’s onslaught against Russia.
Spain, which has been observing Central European Time since 1942 when Francisco Franco set his country’s clocks to sync with those of Nazi Germany, has apparently realized that Hitler isn’t considered “cool” anymore and will be switching back to Western European Time.
An unaccomplished shlub of an art critic for the Guardian recently slammed surrealist master Salvador Dali for claiming that Hitler “turned me on” as well as for befriending Wallis Simpson, “who has also been suspected of Nazi sympathies.”
Abe Foxman of the ADL, who apparently believes he has jurisdiction over Saudi Arabia, has demanded the immediate removal of a Saudi TV ad that Foxman claims “trivializes the Holocaust by turning Hitler into a cartoonish poster child.” Foxman expressed much wailing and gnashing of teeth over how the ad will be received “across the Arab world, where there is scant education about the murder of six million Jews and millions of others by Hitler and the Nazis and where Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are rampant.” The ad allegedly features Hitler praising the TV station’s September film lineup.
During his 21-hour speech in protest of Obamacare, upstart Texas Senator Ted Cruz mentioned the Nazis, only to be upbraided later by senile albino ape John McCain for mentioning the Nazis.
After shooting an elephant dead as part of an NBC wildlife show, NRA lobbyist Tony Makris chided those who make a distinction between killing smaller mammals and poultry but are outraged when an elephant bites the bullet. Makris called such attitudes “a very unique form of animal racism. You know, Hitler would have said the same thing.”
It’s late, and I”m half-watching Hobo With a Shotgun on the widescreen while I write. The feeling is, it’s getting late. My working hours are 11PM-5AM. My waking hours are also late”noon and onwards. We, the international community, are late to react to chemical weapons in Syria.
Yes, Putin played us like a puppy. By the way, is it me, or is Vladimir looking more and more handsome in his Dr. Zhivago hat? Those cool blue eyes: cold as water below a hole in the ice. He’s seen to fish, to hunt”always big prey”but do you believe it? It’s a smokescreen. I have it on good authority that there may be more than one Putin. Kind of like The Matrix. Possibly as many as three Putins, all dead ringers close up. Three have been snapped on digital photo, at the same time, in three different places. I like the conceit, but I think Putin simply knows how to work the time zones to his advantage. This is one man who is never late. Learn, kiddo.
The capital markets are booming”single-day records were reached this week. All asset classes are up, from equities to gold”all of them. Only bonds are down. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke surprised the world with another month’s delay on tapering off the pace of QE”he’s so late, many of us have forgotten what a normal economy looks like. I”m all for it. Yet credit cards and short-term loans are being hoovered up by the British public, who are thirty years behind America in discovering the beauty and pain of the “payday loan.” The Internet has removed the dirty-raincoat image of the payday lender’s store, which was never quite a destination retail venue. Now everyone’s Googling “rapid cash today.”
Now the payday shark has become a destination, at least online. The Brits are bathing in credit cards with advance cash offers, with small-printed interest accruing at 1,950% APR for the luckier borrower. I saw an offer for a 2,600% APR card. It seems we think we”re back to the risk-off world of yesteryear, when stock markets were always climbing, the NASDAQ breaking new highs daily”only this time the recovery is driven by spurious forces such as QE or usurious “loans for bad credit”; the latter market’s exploding, and what does it tell us? People are broke. Cash is back on tap, splashing life into the economy, but not from the banks. It’s a financial novelty piece: Give us your future earnings and we”ll give you £1,500 now. Yes, we will employ known thugs to collect on defaults. My street-savvy advice: Live in an apartment building, not a house”they can”t legally enter a private building, so they won”t even get near knocking on your door.
In reality, we”re not flush with cash. The banks are as reluctant to help house buyers with mortgages as they ever were, at least in the UK. Consumer debt and consequently the prospect of massive consumer-debt default may dampen a corporate recovery, when and if it happens. In the golden years we enjoyed endless credit at incredibly competitive rates. (0% for three years!) Now there’s little long-term credit available to the non-oligarchs among us.
Why do I care about this? I know that it makes me uneasy. Can you moralize the flow of capital at all in an open market? No, I believe. Is there a disconnect between generations when it comes to capital and commerce? Yes. Will we retire without pensions? I plan on it, friendo. It keeps you from getting old.
What am I getting at? What’s the “arc” of this story, as we say? Good question. What is the point of these messages? Why am I sitting here at 4AM, musing on the economy, puffing on Pueblo cigarettes and necking green tea and Gabapentin 300MG capsules (for my frozen neck)? I don”t know the answer this second, but I”m getting closer. There’s a method to this madness, trust me. Where’s the arc? You tell me! The arc is: the American Dream. It’s the vaunted return to a boom time. It is…a necessary fiction that makes things tick? I”m trying to read the coffee grains.
Will we in the US be lucky enough yet again, in the 21st century, to enjoy the “exorbitant privilege” that comes with being the world’s numero-uno hegemony? Is there a higher point to these messages? I can”t think of one. Then again, I”m not writing postcards here. No. (Thinks)….
An overarching malaise drives me to write. A wonder about whether or not the “old normal””exponential economic growth”will ever return. The happy days I grew up in. The 80s, 90s, most of the “00s. Now, post-crisis, fragments of the world are more, not less, Balkanized (see Greece). Most of Europe is in stasis. The Romanian and Albanian Mafia are running the whole continent, it seems. Yet here in the US, it’s never been a better time to be a farmer or agribusinessman, and we don”t need to talk about the divine gift (to our wallets) that is fracking. Just like the old days, a lot of people are going to make money, and some of them overnight.
There is social hatred in Brazil, despite its growing middle class. Weird happenings going down in Siberia”where Vice TV reported on the North Korean slave laborers hacking at the frozen ground to procure some commodity or other for the Russians. “North Korea [is] outsourcing its labor force to work in Siberia as a way to generate much needed hard currency for Kim Jong-il’s [now -un’s] cash-strapped regime,” journalist Simon Ostrovsky revealed. A dictator selling his people for cash! Meanwhile, Dennis Rodman visits the supreme leader a couple of weeks after Kim Jong-un had his ex-girlfriend executed along with nine other well-known North Korean performers.
I”ll tell you what I”m really getting at in these messages next time after I”ve received a newsflash. For now, I dunno…
Let’s go shopping?
Bitcoin? “Hey Meester…you want bitcoin?”
Yes, I do. I”m all over it. 52% of my expenditures in the last month were bitcoin-denominated; mostly for consumables, the rest just holding money. Do you doubt it has value, think it’s a fad? I understand why.
However, the Winklevoss twins”the very same rowing stiffs from the Facebook movie”announced months ago that they had amassed a holding of 1% of bitcoin’s total currency. Appearing uncannily like in the movie”great marketing, placing them in cultural lore”the Winklevoss twins this week confirmed their plan to float an exchange-traded fund to buy bitcoins.
Cruzing for a bruising “ Who will defy the Slave Power? “ Where the money goes “ That’s OUR word, Gringo! “ Liberals are NASTY “ Putin for President?
In early 2035, the thirty-fourth year of the war against al-Qaeda, the Pentagon issued a White Paper saying that the F22 Raptor, the front-line fighter plane of the United States, was nearing the end of its useful life and needed to be replaced. Not everyone agreed. Various budget-cutting organizations argued that the Raptor had never been used and thus no one could tell whether it had a useful life.
Anyway, the job of the Air Force”killing Third World peasants and their families”had been coopted by drones. America didn”t need a new fighter, said the critics.
The Air Force countered that the new plane would look feral and make loud, exciting noises. To this, critics could find no rejoinder. Design studies began.
An early question was what to call the new fighter. By tradition, aircraft were named after aggressive but unintelligent birds (F-15 Eagle, F16 Fighting Falcon), unpleasant animals (AH-1 Cobra, F-18 Hornet), ghosts (F-4 Phantom, AC-130 Spectre), or Stone Age nomads (AH-64 Apache). However, something with more pizzazz was needed to get funding through Congress.
Discussion ensued. Suggestions were solicited from The Building, as the Pentagon calls itself. These ran from “F-40 Screaming Kerblam” to the politically marginal “Horrendous Dyke,” whose author believed that it would depress enemy fliers. Going with zoological tradition, the Air Force wanted to call it the Rabid Bat. A congressional wag weary of military price tags suggested “Priscilla,” because no pilot would then go near it and the country would be spared the expense of wars. (His idea of painting it in floral patterns was not taken seriously.)
A national transgender-advocacy group favored “Susan B. Anthony,” but this was held to be disrespectful of Ebonics, and in any event Anthony might be Susan. It was hard to tell about these things.
The Air Force prevailed. The Rabid Bat was born.
Squabbling over specifications immediately began. Lockheed-Martin and Boeing Military Aircraft, both expected to bid, wanted a cruising speed of Mach 13, as this was technically impossible and would allow them to do lucrative design work until the entropic death of the solar system. A time-honored principle of government contracting is that if you are paid to solve a problem, the last thing you want is to succeed, because then you stop getting paid. This explains the anti-ballistic-missile program, racial policy, and Congress.
The matter of social consciousness arose. Half of fighter pilots were women, as prescribed by law in 2016. To facilitate gender equity, a bracket in the pilot’s seat was mandated to hold a telephone book for the flier to sit on so she could see out the windshield. Since many pilots were single moms, the design included a drop-down changing table in the cockpit.
These gender-friendly measures were championed by Dacowits, who is not a Polish mathematician but the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. These ladies subscribe to the principle that if a thing weighs more than twenty pounds, it ought to be left on the damned truck.
All buttons and switches on the Rabid Bat were to be labeled in English, Spanish, Choctaw, and Tloxyproctyl. This latter was the language of an obscure tribe of seven primitives in the Amazon rain forest. Tloxyproctyl consisted of seven words, none of which meant anything. The tribe had been discovered when one of its members, named Wunxputl, had fallen into the Atlantic atop a log and washed up on Miami Beach. Thinking that an airliner he saw must be God, he enlisted in the Air Force. The EOST (Ethnic Outreach and Sensitivity Training) program had done the rest.
Secondary considerations were next addressed, such as speed, range, armament, and stealth. Critics again pointed out that none of these mattered, since Afghan weddings and lightly armed peasants could be blown up more cheaply with drones, which in any event were more agile than great honking piloted fighters. In fact Raytheon was working on wedding-recognition software, which went swimmingly and was only 1700% over budget. A maverick in Congress suggested that the Rabid Bats be lined up on a runway and used as planters for geraniums, but he was not taken seriously.
Lockheed-Martin said that the program’s price would only be about $987 billion”a steal. Historically minded critics predicted that after the program was too far along to be abandoned, Lockheed-Martin would discover that the price would be…heh…rather more. This is a standard part of military contracting, with its own accounting category.
Where would college football be if games were played only every other year and coaches were unable to recruit enough freshmen to replace graduating seniors? In the last decade, egalitarian college admissions policies have turned into a sort of athletic neutron bomb that leaves stadium sports intact while threatening less popular ones with demographic extinction.
Consider Yale’s century-old polo team. Last year it scheduled a match to continue its long rivalry with Harvard. The event appeared on the calendar of the host field and alumni invitations were duly mailed, but as the date approached, it became increasingly clear that Yale could not muster a foursome to play the game. Its varsity team had, in large part, up and graduated last June. Harvard had to go offshore and invite Holland’s university team.
Great sports programs are built on finding enough freshmen to field a hierarchy of teams of increasingly skilled upperclassmen. Such was the case when the great Ivy rivalries began, but in many sports, today’s coaches are hard-pressed to find one potential player in a whole incoming class.
It isn”t only low-profile sports that are endangered. Connoisseurship, specialized clubs, and esoteric curricula are all but dead. Every Saturday, Princeton’s Nassau Street saw snuff-bottle-collecting alumni teaching the finer points to their undergraduate opposite numbers. Harvard’s Widener Library boasted a ten-thousand-volume collection of antique fishing books intended to encourage wannabe Isaak Waltons, while high above Cayuga’s waters, Cornell’s view of higher education encompassed undergraduates majoring in horticulture. Alongside works on literary theory, university library shelves groaned under the weight of books on big-game hunting.
No longer. Connoisseurship clubs have been decimated and denounced as insensitive to the feelings of the differently cultured and indifferently gendered. Harvard’s vegan Mafiosi rejoice at the fearsomely fishy Fearing Collection’s banishment to a fate worse than burning. Locked in a distant repository, the books will never again tempt stack-browsing undergraduates to get out and experience the innocent pleasures of blood sports.
American academe’s politically correct passion for safety and mediocrity contrasts radically with events elsewhere in the world. China’s latest Cultural Revolution is spearheaded by Great Wall Gatsbys hell-bent to make up for all the time they lost under the dictatorship of the proletariat. At first this merely meant turning Shanghai’s Bund into a luxury-lined clone of Bond Street, but what would Chairman Mao make of this mandarin Mr. Samgrass’s confusion of Ralph Lauren and reality?:
The Swiss canton of Ticino is holding a referendum on a burqa ban, and it is about time. Burqa, niqab—it’s all Arabic to me, although I understand firsthand how deep-seated the hatred of women is in Arab countries that men wish to cover them up.
Funny enough, when you see these bearded assholes shouting on TV, it is the men who are so ugly it should be a mandatory cover-up. When I lived in the Sudan and Egypt while on punishment by my father for running up debts, women dressed like Europeans. (She was beautiful, a famous Hollywood actress who taught me rather a lot about sex, and very expensive, so what was I supposed to do, take her to the automat, the el cheapo of the time?)
I’ve written all about this already, but once Farouk fell in 1952, creepy Islamism reared its ugly head. The hatred of women is an endemic barbarism of Islam, no ifs or buts about it. And in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, they are about to put it to a vote. The Brits, as usual, are leading from behind. Both the French and the Belgians have forbidden women—if they are women—to walk around totally covered up. The Swiss love money too much to throw out all these bums who force their women to look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, so they are putting it to a vote. The Frogs, mind you, do not always enforce the ban, but they turn a blind eye when a fat rich Ay-rab goes shopping with his ghosts on the Champs-Élysées. Ditto the yellow-spined Belgians.
I find it incredible that in the time of terror bombings a person can totally conceal themselves while people who sit on parliamentary benches defend the act. It’s almost as ridiculous as the clown last week who took exception to the fact that Nigel Farage was named a prefect at his school while in his teens. Channel 4 News began the program with this Earth-shattering revelation. The man who broke the story, one ridiculous-looking baldie with bad teeth who shouts a lot named Michael Crick, used to be known when he was at school—a place much too below stairs to mention its name in high life—as the manic masturbator. Crick did not declare an interest about his chronic masturbation problem—which I fear is continuing—but went on interviewing pupils and masters of Farage’s school trying to get them to call Farage names.
He failed miserably. Nigel was named a prefect by the powers of the school, graduated honorably, went on to a successful career in the city, and now heads the third-biggest political party in the UK. The great masturbator failed to make his case that Nigel sang fascist songs while a teenager—which he didn’t—but certainly made the case for masturbation being the prime mover where Jon Snow and himself are concerned. The UKIP’s leader’s great crime as a teenager was to defend Enoch Powell, one of the greatest men to sit on benches now soiled by the likes of those who defend those veils on women. Go figure, as they say in Brooklyn, where I hope to visit next week.
As I walked down Gstaad’s main street, a totally covered-up person whizzed by on a bicycle. Main Street in Gstaad is a car-free area now made much more dangerous by Arab women—again, if they are women—trying to stay upright on two wheels. After avoiding her I watched a group of covered-up ladies slowly make their way around the expensive shops that line the street.
“Fascism” is the preferred political swear word of the left. Fascism was largely a European phenomenon, and an anticapitalist one to boot. In America we got FDR’s alphabet soup instead of jackbooted thugs rocking Hugo Boss. Still, all you have to do is tell a bunch of unemployed college students to stop camping in a public park and they’re dropping the leftist “f” word.
Quick pop quiz: Actual, historical fascists were known for which of the following?
A) Dressing up in fetish gear and playing dirgeful folk jams.
B) Organizing to shut down speech with which they disagree.
This irony was lost (surprise of surprises) on the “antifa” (antifascist) leftist crowd who recently turned their guns on British/Australian neofolk musicians Death in June. Names will not be named here, as shrieking mobs of would-be terrorists need no help getting publicity. However, DI6’s (as they are known to the cognoscenti) recent “Death of the West Tour” of the United States provides a laughably unteachable moment about who are the real fascists in America today.
Formed in the early 80s, Death in June split off from the Goth movement in favor of traditional European folk and martial influences. Hardly a fascist group, they’re better described as a band built around (gay) founder and driving force Douglas P.‘s Nazi fetish. Sure, the band flirts with Nazi iconography with their Totenkopfs and their Algiz runes. What of it? Is anyone seriously suggesting that Slayer and MotÃ¶rhead are fifth columnists for the Fourth Reich?
If anything, DI6 stand in a Goth tradition older than the genre itself, stretching backward to Bowie. Here’s the formula: Ambiguously flirt with fascist iconography but leave a bit of wiggle room. Smirk while making inflammatory statements about genocide as the highest form of self-expression or how you really have to admire that Hitler chap because wasn’t he just like a rock star himself, maaan?
Bake 60 minutes for a ready-made controversy every time your group does anything. Music historians still debate to this day whether Bowie gave a Sieg Heil salute or was just waving to the crowd one fateful day.
Yes, my friends, it brings me no pleasure to tell you that there are some people who take this stuff seriously.
But does playing dress-up make a band a “Nazi band?” Are the Sex Pistols and the Dead Boys the political equivalent of Skrewdriver and Max Resist? To truly be a “Nazi band,” shouldn’t a group have actual ties to National Socialist organizations? There is no shortage of such musical acts and no one, so far as I can tell, is suggesting that Douglas P. has any connection to the legions of mouth-breathing, basement-dwelling keyboard warriors that make up the post-WWII neo-Nazi movement, even if he has been known to make the occasional shock shock shocking! statement cryptically and ambiguously supporting them.
Talk about biting off more than you can chew! Since taking up the Civil War (War Between the States, War of Northern Aggression, whatever) as a part-time study, I’ve been getting emails from friends and readers asking me what I’ve learned.
The main thing I’ve learned is how impossibly much there is to learn. Goodness, how those four years have been worked over by authors! My own good-but-modest suburban library has a whole wall of Civil War books in the lending section. In the reference section there are several shelves more, on one of which lies a fine old edition of the supersized (14 x 17 inches) Official Military Atlas with painstakingly engraved topographical maps of all the battlefields.
You could spend months reading just the general histories. I didn’t know, until I found it in my library, that British military historian John Keegan, of Face of Battle fame, whom I encountered around the old Daily Telegraph offices once or twice, had written one. (It was not, to judge from the reviews, one of his best.) Then there’s the supporting reference material you need for a quick check of where you are in the great saga: I got the Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline at a discount and find it invaluable.
Not an inch of Civil War ground has been left untilled. I had no idea until reading Foote that the war was fought as far west as New Mexico. It was, and there’s a (short) shelf of books about that.
There are not just military histories, but social, political, judicial, and diplomatic histories, at least one moral history, and even a culinary history. There are books about why the South lost and books about how the North won. There are books devoted to particular years, months, and days. There are books covering short stretches of time during which, in the beginner’s mental map of the war, nothing happened.
History is written only by the victors? Not in the case of the Civil War. Disappointed Southerners were taking up their pens before the guns had cooled. I’d heard the expression “Lost Cause” but didn’t know how early it was coined in a book title: 1866! Friends in the Dark Enlightenment have urged Lunt on me, and Dabney, Semmes, Seabrook, the Kennedys, and DiLorenzo. Everybody’s got an opinion.
And all that’s just the historians. Then there’s the literature: biographies, diaries, fiction, poetry. Good grief!
I have read a distressingly tiny fraction of all this, “looked into” some more, and marked yet more down as must-read. I’ve even done my first Civil War book review. I doubt I shall ever be a Civil War authority; but looking at that vast mass of scholarship engenders some skepticism about claims to authority. So you have an opinion about this general or that battle, about this weapon or that diplomatic maneuver? Have you read and evaluated all of the umpety-ump books arguing a contrary opinion? So far my Civil War explorations have been mainly an exercise in humility.
Recently, after a few months wrestling with Leviathan, I took a break and read Gone with the Wind. I never had, though of course I’d seen the movie way back. People had told me that it is a woman’s book, what publishers call a “bodice-ripper””a genre I have no interest in. Dim recollections of the movie seemed to confirm that.
The Graduate, the December 1967 box-office smash starring newcomer Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, is often recounted as a major volley in the history of the Generation Gap. Made on a $3-million budget, it took in over $100 million domestically, which would be around $700 million in 2013 dollars. (In this century, only Avatar has earned more.)
Continuing my intermittent series reinterpreting American history, it’s worth reconsidering what The Graduate was actually about. Looking back from nearly a half-century later, The Graduate seems less like a landmark in the short-lived Generation Gap and more of a milestone in the long-lasting Ethnic Gap.
There’s very little in the film to situate it in the 1960s hippie/protest/drug era. Young Benjamin, for example, wears a coat and tie throughout. Much of the popular image of The Graduate appears to be a projection of Baby Boomers who were then hungry for any kind of cinematic affirmation.
Hollywood seldom adapts nimbly to youth trends because they don’t put young people in charge of making movies, which are costly and easily botched. Thus, The Graduate‘s main contributors were untrustworthy thirtysomethings: Director Mike Nichols was sometimes referred to as a boy genius and the second coming of Orson Welles due to his precocious success directing on Broadway. But he was 36 by the time The Graduate was finished.
Similarly, screenwriter Buck Henry was 37. Producer Lawrence Turman, who had discovered the novel by Charles Webb, was now 41. Bancroft’s character was supposed to be in her mid-40s, but the actress was 36.
And while Hoffman, making his movie debut, could effectively portray a socially maladroit 21-year-old, he was 30. Hoffman had been an Off-Broadway actor for a decade and his milieu had hardly been Haight-Ashbury. He’d shared apartments with two other future stars, neither of whom was ever thought of as the face of the counterculture: Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall.
Katharine Ross, 27, played Mrs. Robinson’s ingÃ©nue daughter. And the 26-year-old musicians Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel added much to The Graduate‘s hepness quotient. Still, Simon and Garfunkel weren’t exactly Frank Zappa in terms of alienating the old folks. Their “Mrs. Robinson” was a huge hit on the middle-of-the-road radio station my middle-aged parents listened to in 1968.
The only true 1960s person involved was the eccentric novelist Webb. He had published The Graduate in 1963 at age 24 based on his growing up a wealthy WASP in old-money Pasadena. A committed anti-materialist, he’d already turned down a large inheritance and has spent much of his life since his moment of fame in principled poverty.
The Graduate famously failed to impress the Hollywood old guard when previewed for them. Less well known is that a publicity tour of college campuses that Nichols and Hoffman undertook was not a success, either. Nichols recalls:
In college after college, there was one question: Why isn’t the movie about Vietnam?…No matter what you were doing”if you ran a laundry, your shirts had to be outraged about Vietnam.
The movie took off with Jewish audiences in a few Manhattan theaters and slowly became a juggernaut nationally. It was lavishly praised for being the first movie to plumb the depths of the Generation Gap that suddenly everybody was talking about. Nichols admitted later:
At that particular moment, “the generation gap” was everything. It never even entered our minds! The generation gap? Was it worse than Romeo and Juliet? What’re they talking about?
So what was The Graduate about?
While Benjamin certainly feels beleaguered by his parents’ hearty, talkative friends, they are the only people who will talk to him. He’s an odd choice for the spokesman for the rising generation, since he appears to have no friends his own age.
In fact, Benjamin, with his flat affect, appears to be not quite right in the head.
In the Freudian style of the era, the movie briefly implies that Benjamin’s affair with Mrs. Robinson is a displacement of his Oedipal urges toward his own mother. But a contemporary viewer would possess a more useful vocabulary to describe Benjamin than was available during Freud’s monopoly upon popular psychologizing.
Today, we might call Benjamin an Aspergery nerd, a depressive, and an obsessive-compulsive stalker. In the future, people will no doubt look back and laugh at the crudity of 2013’s psychological categories. Still, you have to admit we’ve at least made progress over the last 46 years by losing interest in Freud’s.
In retrospect, Benjamin Braddock seems like Hoffman’s beta release of his Oscar-winning portrayal of autistic Raymond Babbitt in 1988’s Rain Man. Before his unexpected stardom, Hoffman had made ends meet working as an attendant at the New York Psychiatric Institute, so he had some hands-on familiarity with actual mental disabilities rather than the fanciful ones discussed by the patients of expensive Freudian shrinks.