Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Grift...

A friend of mine called from Sacramento the other day wanting to discuss the latest gossip regarding the Mayor (Kevin Johnson) and his wife (Michelle Rhee) and the way public monies were being divvied up to support the Sacramento Kings and various high-budget arts organizations... and I just sort of sighed one of my bigger sighs and pointed out that here in New Mexico (where he once lived), there may be plenty of grift, but nothing remotely like what I happily left behind in California, and there is nothing like the endless circular battles that literally get nowhere on behalf of the People while the con artists walk away with more millions lining their already bulging pockets.

Johnson and Rhee are two of the more notorious swindlers and grifters in California and the nation these days, known far and wide for their high-handedness in dealing with the rabble and their startling ability to extract millions by the hundreds out of the public coffers (and a handful of private benefactors, including, so I understand, the Kochs) on behalf of one or another of their "programs."

It doesn't take long to get very tired of this shit.

When I look at Johnson and Rhee, I see a couple of con artists who have parlayed their smooth talk and big grins into vast fortunes for themselves and untold misery for their marks. Long ago I stopped wondering why people bought into their flim-flam. Of course there are plenty of Big Money folks backing their charades, and the Big Money makes it possible for them to sell their snake oil as effectively as they do.

Ordinary People are highly vulnerable to their kind of All-American Bullshit.

It's the kind of Bullshit, too, that America has been built on from the beginning, which is part of the key to why it works so well even now, when so many people should be jaded and aware. They still fall for the cons.

Why do people fall for it? Well, I refer back to Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man." People want to believe. If you want a darker vision of what the grift is about, review your copy of Sinclair Lewis's "Elmer Gantry." People fall for the con-artists' blandishments because they want what they think the grifter is selling.

Johnson is focused on Making Sacramento A World-Class City -- a civic dream for as long as San Francisco has eclipsed the tattered majesty of California's Capital City. Say the last 150 years or so. Closer to 160 years by now. But KJ came to his current focus through some very highly profitable "education reform" by which his private education company St. HOPE took over the operations of the city's eponymous high school, turning it into a charter school. I won't go into the details of what happened, but it was a very profitable deal for KJ, not so much for the students and teachers nor for the citizens of Sacramento, some of whom are still bitter about it. Ultimately, KJ let go of St. HOPE (though one assumes he still profits from it) in order to run for Mayor -- a candidacy backed by the richest of Sacramento's rich from the get to now -- with stated objectives of keeping the Kings, building a new arena, and making Sacramento a World Class City.

Yes, well.

We all had heard that line many times before, but for once, voters believed it was possible through the agency of KJ's big, toothy grin, and so they put him in office and re-elected him even though he was essentially a failure.

Rhee, on the other hand, has stuck with the "education reform" grift and is making millions on her own account with her "Students First" con. It's really quite amazing how she continues to bamboozle the multitudes after her many failures, the high-light being her disastrous tenure as Chancellor of Washington DC's failing public schools.

But people want to believe the snake oil she's been selling will anoint their kids and make them smart and wise and successful, and she's just as happy to keep on selling it. With, of course, the backing of plenty of billionaires who help ensure her pitch is as perfect and effective as possible.

Public education in California has been on the ropes for many years, and the reasons why are plain enough to see. The system is wildly over-administered while being critically underfunded. Public schools are mandated to provide "quality education" (with an ever-shifting definition) to all, yet are burdened by top-heavy administrative requirements, and are frequently left without funding for even minimal educational purposes. There has long been a pretty obvious and deliberate policy of "administering public education to death."

The alternative private charter system largely eliminates the burden of administration (and service, but that's another issue) while providing enormous profits to the operators and proprietors of these private schools -- at the public's expense. It's a money-machine, whereas public schools have become a money-pit.

KJ and Rhee know how to squeeze the teats of the system for their own advantage. Bless their hearts.

But people really do want to believe in what they are selling. It's as American as apple pie. And I can't even bear to look at it any more...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

OT: A Vanished World

We've been spending the last few days working on the house, primarily rearranging furniture -- which is becoming more and more difficult as we get older -- and while taking a break, I came across the picture above, an illustration for an Armstrong Linoleum ad from a December, 1921,  Delineator magazine (available online from the ever-popular Google Books.)

A big part of the project currently underway is trying to find room in the house for more of the books... so far, no luck. We have so many books in the house as it is, and there are probably as many books again still in storage -- even though I made a point of donating hundreds and hundreds of books before we moved last fall.

When I came across the illustration above, I had a surprisingly visceral response, almost as if I had once been in that room ages ago when I was a child. It's not unlike rooms that friends of the family might have lived in -- even in the early 1950s. My parents were old when I came along, after all, and though my father was into modern stuff, my mother and most of her friends were very traditionalist. A room like the one above would suit them to a tee.

I noticed there are only a handful of books visible in the picture. While some people had a lot of books in their homes, most didn't. One borrowed from a library if one wanted a book to read -- far more than one purchased books -- not so much because books were so costly (they weren't, not really), but because they were such a burden and bother to store and take care of, not to mention what a problem they were to lug around.

Out in the studio, we have a bookshelf which came from one of my childhood homes, probably one of the earlier ones in California. We moved a lot when I was little, so I can't be sure which house it was originally purchased for, but I can recall it standing tall next to the Philco console radio in the living room of the house on Mill St. in Santa Maria, so it must have been purchased before 1953 before I started kindergarten.

The bottom shelf had the encyclopedia volumes purchased at about the same time, the rest of the shelves contained book club novels and a handful of children's volumes (Little Golden Books). I would say that altogether there were no more than 25 books in the whole case. The rest of the space had knick knacks . I remember there were a number of "Oriental" things, wood carvings and porcelain, and a scent bottle that had cotton stuffed in it, cotton that smelled exactly like the heady camphor or cedar wood incense smell of a Chinese merchant's store.

So far as I can recall, it was the only bookcase and those were the only "real" books we had in the house. There were magazines and assorted paperbacks, but they didn't stick around very long; paperbacks in those days had a tendency to fall apart (either the book paper would start disintegrating or the glue holding the book together would dry out and the volume would spontaneously disassemble...). Magazines were considered temporary and weren't generally saved unless there was something important in them. Of course, now I wish I still had some of them (and yes, in addition to many books, we have a plethora of magazines, some of them quite old, that have been collected over the years.)

I started collecting books on my own in high school, and I still have quite a few I acquired then -- though I gave many of them away. I still have a couple of Little Golden Books and one or two volumes of the New Standard Encyclopedia that I had when I was a child. Most of these and the rest of the books we have are of no particular monetary value, though some, I'm told, may fetch a few hundred dollars if a buyer were handy. I can't recall ever selling any of the books I've ever owned, though I'm sure I've given away or donated thousands of them.

What I notice about the room above -- in addition to the minimal number of books -- is the relative lack of furniture and lighting fixtures, the surprising color coordination, and the remarkable filtered sunlight coming through the lightly curtained and shaded windows.

The time of day must be early morning or late afternoon when the slanting rays of the sun could reach all the way into the house beyond the porches and roof overhangs. I'm guessing the house faces east or west, though it is possible that similar sunlighting effects can be generated in the winter near midday in a south facing room.

At any event, the sunlighting and the whole atmosphere of the room are highly evocative to me, evocative of memories partially formed, from a time when I was very young, perhaps only two or three, and I went with my mother to visit an elder lady who lived down the street in a tidy bungalow with a wide front porch, a low picket fence, a flagstone path,  and a brown painted screen door. The front door was multi-panes of glass.

I think I even remember her name now. It was Mrs. Fawcett, and I remember her as compact, gray-haired, wearing a print dress with a white apron. Sensible shoes. The kind of Oxfords old ladies wore back in the day.

It seems that I can remember her lilting voice, easy laugh, and the slight smell of linament and flour that came off her clothes. She was cooking in the kitchen, getting something ready for the oven, perhaps a cake, when we arrived. She ushered us into the living room -- a room not unlike the one above -- and went back to her labors in the kitchen, joining us a few minutes later.

I thought the room -- and her whole house, for that matter -- was a wonderland. Apart from being neat and clean and rather sparely furnished, there were so many things to catch my eye. The pictures on the walls, the candlesticks on the mantle, the books and magazines scattered about, and though I don't recall there being so many drawers in her room as there are in the picture, if there had been drawers, I'd want to know what was in them. And I loved the feeling of comfort from the sunlight...

It's not that we lacked these things in our own house. We might not have had a fireplace, though some of the houses we lived in did have one. We had the usual furnishings, though in our house, it was all maple "Early American," purchased new in the late 40's or early 50's. There was that console radio of course. No TV. Not that early, though we got one by 1954, a big (it seemed to me) Packard Bell in a blonde wood cabinet. It was put in the den while the radio stayed in the living room. There was an assortment of braided rugs on the (typically) oak floors, some of the rugs were made by my mother and sister.

The pictures on the walls were a series of framed Currier and Ives prints that my mother was inordinately proud of. I think there were six of them. Over the couch (that's what it was called, not a sofa, divan or davenport) hung a large mirror in a gilt curvilinear frame, probably something salvaged from the Art Nouveau era and painted gold, but I really don't know where it came from. I know it was a beast to handle when we moved. Heavy and awkward. There were brass lamps with dark green paper shades on the tables, and a floor lamp to read by. The curtains were plain muslin; ruffled criss-cross priscillas or cafe style depending on the room. The upholstery on our furniture was a fairly bold plaid or dark green tweed.

Practically everywhere we lived, though, the main room faced north, so the sunlight came into the bedrooms or the kitchen, not the living room -- which typically stayed fairly dark all the live long day, even when, as in one house I can remember very clearly, there was a large picture window to let in the light.

Rooms in the houses where we lived were painted gray or beige or they had wildly flowered wall papers, such as you might have seen in the 1940's. Nobody painted rooms white in those days.

Some of the places where we lived were fairly old, but none were Victorian or Craftsman bungalow style. Most, I would say, were built in the 1940's and were fairly standardized "modern," though not "moderne."

Mrs. Fawcett, on the other hand, lived in a genuine stick-style bungalow, and she'd probably lived there since the house was new, thirty or more years before. That, I think, was part of the charm of the place to me. She'd lived there forever, while we were always moving -- which meant living relatively lightly and easily packed.  In a place like Mrs. Fawcett's, nothing was ever packed for moving. It was always there. Her stuff was old, much older than anything we had, and the wood was dark, not maple. Her pictures were landscapes, portraits and flowers, probably prints or even pages from magazines which people collected and framed and hung with pride especially during the Depression.

Her rugs were woven, not braided, though I can't imagine they were actually Persian or anything like that. Her floors were wood like ours, not linoleum -- which simply didn't appear outside of kitchens and baths. I can only recall one house I've ever been in where linoleum was used outside those rooms (in fact, all the rooms in that particular house had linoleum floors) and the less said about it, the better.

[A side note on linoleum: When we had our house in New Mexico renovated, the contractor and I went round and round about "linoleum." When I told him I wanted (genuine) linoleum in the kitchen and bath, he asked what pattern... I knew that these days linoleum comes in colors, but you can only get one pattern: speckled. The fancy prints and patterns of yore are long gone. I said I wanted green in the kitchen and sort of terra cotta in the bathroom. But what pattern he wanted to know. I said you can only get speckled linoleum nowadays. Your only choice is color. He said, "Oh no, you can get any kind of pattern you want. Just go to Armstrong's website and pick something out." I said, "I want linoleum." "Yeah, I know." Of course, he meant vinyl flooring, I meant linoleum. They are very different animals. No matter how I tried to explain it to him, he didn't get it. Vinyl flooring was "linoleum" as far as he was concerned, and the genuine article -- which is still obtainable though at a steep price -- didn't even figure in his thinking. When I finally got him to recognize there was a difference and that genuine linoleum was what I wanted, he put up one roadblock to using it after another. The price was double that of vinyl (actually more than that) and it would blow the budget, it wasn't available, couldn't even special order, would take too long, it was too difficult to work with, etc., etc. The real problem, I realized, was that he didn't have workers who were familiar enough with it to do a proper job, and it was winter when it is difficult/impossible to handle linoleum in an unheated house. Because we are going to have to re-renovate the kitchen and bath anyway (it's a long story), I settled on vinyl as a temporary solution. It's fine. For now. But I still want linoleum.]

Only recently I came to realize that my mother grew up in houses that resembled the illustration at the top of the page, whereas my father grew up in a relatively high Victorian atmosphere with parlors and servants and all the rest of it. The lifestyle is completely different, of course.

My mother would remain a traditionalist (though she preferred everything "new") whereas my father would become quite a modernist and prefer "new and lean". The differences in their approaches were stark.

As we make all the adjustments in the house here in New Mexico, trying to find room for more books (!) I'm imagining how various pieces of memory have become part of this house. There are a few pieces of furniture that have been with me or with my wife since we were children, but most of what we have now is what we have accumulated over the years, most of it purchased when it was already old. There is very, very little in this house that we purchased new -- and that's mostly electronics and appliances. New furnishings have never really appealed to me, whereas the old stuff has "character." Some of what we have now resembles what appears in the illustration at the top of the page, but a lot of it comes from a different time/space altogether. There are distinct eras: Victoriana, Craftsman/Mission Oak, 1930's (even some Moderne, though I got rid of most of the chrome stuff), 1940's (the Mahogany Era), and so on. We've also managed to pick up a few "New Mexico" pieces that are made from recycled materials to look old.

The room in the illustration above is clearly 1920's and the style is unified in a sort of pseudo-Colonial effect (that's still very '20s) in a coordinated red/brown/tan color scheme. There is no real style unity in our house these days, though we've tried for color unity -- our bedroom is The Blue Room; the guest room is The Red Room, though both bedrooms' walls are painted yellow; the living room furniture and rugs are in browns and tans, though the paintings are mostly in greens and blues and the walls are "Navajo White" (a somewhat difficult to explain color that is not white but vaguely tan; on the other hand, in florescent light, it's typically quite yellow; the kitchen and dining area are yellow and green. We have wide-board pine floors in some rooms;  narrower maple (or possibly poplar) floors in the bedrooms.

We use a wide variety of rugs on the wood floors, some of the smaller ones are handwoven Persian, the larger ones are mostly Couristan/Karastan (and similar), as well as carved Chinese rugs in halls and our bedroom.

I know where we are going to find most of the room we need for more books: the Jesus Room. Right now it's being used to store all sorts of miscellaneous stuff which needs sorting. Once that's done, there will be quite a bit more room for book shelves and books. (Smile.) I've recently learned, too, that the santo shrine that gives the room its name, the shrine I've been calling the room's "nicho," is actually called an alacena or cupboard. The one we have filled with santos was probably used as a winter refrigerator (there is a blocked up window and room for shelves). There's another one as well, under the window, that may also have been used as a cooler. Both go all the way through the adobe wall and have thin barriers to the outside. 

Meanwhile, the dust has been rising again, rising in great billowing clouds. They seem to pass by fairly quickly, but there's surely another one ready to blow in from the west. The word is, the dust will be rising for the next couple of days thanks to a low pressure system over Colorado.

Time to move the living room couch and ponder more memories...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Oh, And the Prairie Dogs Are Back, Too

Prairie dogs from the Wiki

The horses and cattle are mostly gone these days. There's been no almost rain, so there is nothing in the fields for them any more. Cattle were being run on the range nearby, but only for a couple of days. There were three horses pasturing reasonably well on about 70 acres through the winter, but the past few weeks have been so dry they've eaten the stubble down to bare ground. They were starting to look pretty bad, too. First one was gone, then another. Finally, on Monday, the last one was gone. Don't know where they've gone to, but these horses have been pasturing on this land for years now, so I imagine they've been moved up north where at least there is something to eat. Or they might have been brought into the barn and are being fed hay -- as is the case with most of the cattle that are still being raised in these parts.

But the prairie dogs that I thought had been removed from their plot over by the community center re-appeared in April, and they've expanded their territory quite a bit. Not only are they skittering around their original town site, they've expanded across the road, and I've even seen them in fields near our place and in the horse pasture. They keep their areas very clean and neat, free of the trash that so often gets blown around by the wind. And they're cute.

They need to learn to stay away from the roads, however. For whatever reason, they seem to love to play in traffic.

The Art and Wealth of St. Francis

Giotto's fresco of St. Francis's rejection of worldly goods, Upper Church, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi.

I stumbled on this the other day as I was sifting through issues of Gustav Stickley's 'The Craftsman' magazine -- a magazine that became something of the Bible of the turn of the last century Craftsman-Bungalow movement.

It's a remarkably long article that gets fairly deeply into the artistic legacy of St. Francis, including his own contribution as poet and builder. His canticles are some of the sweetest ever written in Italian -- well, Umbrian(!) -- and the fact that he wrote in the vernacular opened the door for Dante and so many other poets and writers of the early Renaissance to do likewise.

I'm reposting the article in its entirety here. I understand that is allowed by the University of Wisconsin so long as I don't try to profit from reposts. Yeah, right. Heh.

Anyway, here goes. These jpgs of the pages, so they can't be easily searched or quoted from; there are text versions available at the site, but they are difficult and inaccurate due to the limitations of character recognition.

I was somewhat startled when Pope Francis on Wednesday offered a homily after mass in which he stated that all who "do good" (even the atheists) are saved. This is standard Church teaching -- at least since St. Francis himself -- and yet it is hard to recognize such magnanimity among many who profess the Catholic faith, including plenty of the Church hierarchy. Thus it is refreshing to see the Pope issue a reminder to his colleagues and to the world. 

As announced on Vatican Radio:

Pope at Mass: Culture of encounter is the foundation of peace

(Vatican Radio) “Doing good” is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions, and creates the “culture of encounter” that is the foundation of peace: this is what Pope said at Mass this morning at the Domus Santae Martae, in the presence of employees of the Governorate of Vatican City. Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, concelebrated at the Mass.

Wednesday’s Gospel speaks to us about the disciples who prevented a person from outside their group from doing good. “They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

This was the final prayer of Pope Francis:

"Today is [the feast of] Santa Rita, Patron Saint of impossible things – but this seems impossible: let us ask of her this grace, this grace that all, all, all people would do good and that we would encounter one another in this work, which is a work of creation, like the creation of the Father. A work of the family, because we are all children of God, all of us, all of us! And God loves us, all of us! May Santa Rita grant us this grace, which seems almost impossible. Amen.”

Text from page
of the Vatican Radio website

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Return of the Swallows

Swallows on the wire out front
Seems that I forgot to mention: the swallows have returned.

Two pair of swallows have been nesting in the eaves of our front porch for years and years now, though they're probably not the same pairs every year but more likely the descendants of those who hatched them in previous years.

Last summer, however, a nasty boy who was staying with the family across the street came over to our place while we were still in California. He got himself a stick (there are plenty of them lying around) with which he commenced to bash and batter at the swallow nests. He destroyed one altogether, severely damaged the other.

When I got here and saw the destruction, the boy came over to proudly confess his misdeed. I had words with him, pointing out that swallows are a protected species and interfering with their nests is a crime. This gave him the willies, of course. As far as I knew, the birds had finished nesting for the year when he did his damage, so technically, he had not actually broken the law (though I'm not exactly clear what can and can't be done vis a vis swallow nests). But I put the fear into him, and I hope he never interferes with a swallow's nest again.

Meanwhile, May 1 came and went this year, and there were no swallows to be seen. I thought perhaps they weren't coming back, or maybe they came to scout but found so much destruction they decided to roost somewhere else. The places next door on either side of us have been vacant for a while, and though they don't provide quite as sheltered a nesting site as our place does, they'd still make relatively quiet places to raise a bird family.

Well, one evening I went out the front to look at the stars, and what do I see overhead as I'm passing by the swallow nests but a swallow snoozing in the damaged nest and evidence on the ground of repairs started on the destroyed nest. This would have been about May 10th, somewhat late for the birds' return, but still within a reasonable time frame to raise at least one brood before the end of summer.

For some time, I only saw the one swallow day or night. Then, a few days ago, I saw both pair, flitting and chittering about, one pair working diligently to repair the ruined nest, the other pair apparently working on hatching some eggs.

It's taking quite a while to rebuild the destroyed nest but both birds of the pair work diligently in the morning and the evening to assemble a new one.

Swallow working diligently
Must be difficult to find appropriate mud because of the drought. We have a birdbath in front, but we also have a feral cat colony, and the birds are very wary. I've seen lots of different birds use the birdbath, but never the swallows. Instead, they sit on the wire above it, chittering away to one another about the cats down below, and then they fly off to wherever they are getting their mud, soon to return to add to the nest(s). There have been several repairs to the damaged nest as well.

(Oh, regarding feral cats and birds. We have an absolute abundance of many species of birds around here -- drought or no drought. They nest in the trees and the eaves in their multitudes, and the cats are seen to stalk them from time to time. In the more than six months we have been permanent residents, the cats have caught two birds that we know of, both doves. The claims that feral cats will catch dozens of birds each during a season seem to be somewhat... exaggerated to say the least.  The cats love to stalk the birds to be sure, but the birds are not exactly stupid about predators, and they mostly seem to be perfectly capable of eluding their stalkers.)

Some people don't like swallows because they're messy. Yes, the area below the nesting sites can become pretty foul pretty fast when there is a brood in the nest. We just clean it up, but some people get so aggravated by the mess, they want to chase the swallows away. I can understand the feeling, but I have more sympathy for the birds who are just doing what comes naturally to them. It's not really that hard to clean up after them in any case. And the baby birds are cute!

We're glad, very glad the swallows have returned.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

OT: How Not to Bungalow

[Somewhere, we have a White Album; pretty much the entire Beatles vinyl output from Meet the Beatles onward, too. Probably in a box somewhere... Pictures of them taken at the Cow Palace in 1965, Candlestick Park in 1966. Such innocent times... Hay, Bungalow Bill, what did you kill Bungalow Bill...]

The Johnson House, Los Angeles. (Photo from the Google Maps, c. 2011; house constructed c. 1910)

While pondering the issue of the Vast Bungalow, I found these images of what not to do -- bungalow-wise -- but what was done by some who adopted the style but not the ethic of the Bungalow Era. I don't recall ever being in a house quite like this one, to tell the truth, but I did visit a few quite fancy places before they were redone in more modern styles.

Note, the Johnson family that built this house in Los Angeles in 1910 really had no idea or concept of what a Bungalow was meant to be. They clearly wanted an up to date house that would be in the fashion of the times, but which would hold both their old stuff (such as the Victoriana you can see in the parlor) and their assemblage of new things, as in the matched suites in the chambers upstairs.

It looks just... wrong.

Several things boggle the mind:

  • The patterned wall to wall carpeting practically throughout the house. Wall to wall carpeting was a High Victorian affectation that had been largely disposed of during the early 20th Century as uncleanly and unsanitary. In the proper Bungalow style, carpeting was eliminated and rugs were reduced to a minimum -- so as to be easily taken up and beaten to within an inch of their lives at least twice a year over the clothesline in the back. Vacuum cleaners were not unknown in these days. In fact, they were quite popular among those who could afford them (as the Johnsons clearly could.) But the spirit of the times was to eliminate all the potential hiding places for dust, dirt and germs, and that meant eliminating the well-known filth that accumulated in wall to wall carpeting. The Johnsons thought otherwise, it would seem...
  • The plethora of heavy pseudo Renaissance and High Victorian furnishings, no doubt walnut and mahogany, in all the public rooms and the matched suites of furniture in the chambers upstairs. This violates every precept of the Bungalow style. It's not simply the wretched excess of it all, it is the fundamental incompatibility of the heavy carved look of the furniture with the (relatively) spare woodwork of the house. The woods are wrong, too. Mahogany? Walnut? Never. Bungalows used oak, Douglas fir, and (in California) redwood almost exclusively. Furnishings were made of the same materials, or wicker. The Mission Oak furniture style was standard (and it wasn't just from Stickley and Roycroft. There were many manufactures of the style nationwide and internationally.)  The Mission Oak furnishing style was standard, modern, clean, and most of all, moral. If there were pieces from the previous era, they were kept as artifacts, examples of what not to do. But here we have the Johnsons literally filling their house with such examples. 

  • The dark, heavy flocked wall papers downstairs and the painted wall papers upstairs... These no doubt were laid on in a futile attempt to match the style of the furnishings with the style of the house. These papers scream Victoriana, almost defiantly so. A proper bungalow would have plain plaster walls, perhaps covered with Japanese style grass cloth, perhaps bare, often colored butterscotch or some other relatively light neutral (pale gray, green, gold, rarely blues or pinks...), sometimes textured, frequently with a paper or stencil border near the ceiling. Alternatively, a proper bungalow might have wood paneled walls, such as we can see in the photos of what appear to be the servants' rooms. The paneling would be made up of narrow planks of tongue and groove pine or fir or redwood, laid directly on the framework. The look would be considered stark but functional. In other rooms, there might be fancier paneling up to the level of a chair rail (though in such rooms as libraries, the paneling might be taken to the ceiling.) The fancier paneling would still utilize the standard woods, however. In the Johnson house, we see what looks like walnut or mahogany paneling in the Better Rooms of the house, and that simply would not happen in a proper bungalow.

  • The light fixtures in the Better Rooms are some of the most extravagant and baroque I've ever seen from the period. Even the plainest ones seem to be overwrought, though if they are still preserved in the house, they would be considered spectacular examples of early electric lighting fixtures and be coveted by collectors. The table lamps, on the other hand, though also highly collectable today, seem almost chaste by comparison with the ceiling and wall fixtures. In fact, for the most part, the portable lamps would not be out of place in a proper bungalow of the era.

  • On the other hand, the kitchen, pantries and bathrooms appear to be very straightforward and very up to date according to the precepts of the Bungalow ethic. The kitchen, in fact, is spectacularly modern, with built in cabinetry and countertops, a high-end gas range, and in the pantry an excellent refrigerator. Though it is probably cooled with ice, it is just barely possible that an early mechanical refrigerating plant was installed in the basement to provide remote cooling for the upstairs refrigerator. The flooring is an attractive linoleum, and the walls and cabinetry appear to be painted with white enamel. While there is only one electric light shown in the kitchen and pantry photos, there must have been more. The style suggests they may have been semi-flush mounted ceiling fixtures that are out of the range of the camera.

    The bathrooms are fully equipped -- including at least one sitz bath -- and at least one is fully tiled for sanitary cleanliness. The sense of modernity in the kitchen, pantries and baths (for the times) contrasts sharply with the heavy-handed anachronisms of the rest of the house.

    Of course part of the problem with the Johnson house is that it is so very big. It seems to go on forever. One of the advantages of its relative defiance of Bungalow style, however, is that no doubt its many rooms did not echo, the floors didn't creak, and while it was not easily cleaned or cared for, there were plenty of servants for that, and it felt relatively homey and comfortable to its residents, as opposed to the more ideologically driven Mission Bungalows that were not intended to be either homey or comfortable but were instead intended to reflect a sense of reform, mission, purpose, simplicity, modernity and -- frankly -- discomfort.

    Many issues of Gustav Stickley's "The Craftsman" magazine are available online, and it can be instructive to sit with them for a while to absorb the spiritual essence of the reform he and others working in the Mission/Craftsman Movement were trying for. In a sense, they failed, marvelously, as a "bungalow" like that of the Johnsons' in Los Angeles illustrates. On the other hand, the spirit of the era, and at least something of the style, lives on through deeply passionate and dedicated Bungalow fanatics all over the country and the world.

    Back when the Beatles presented us with "The Continuing Story..." the Bungalow was considered a not-so-quaint anachronism from a bygone era. They were being demolished or modernized everywhere; but here and there, some of them were inhabited by the surviving elders who had built them back in the day, and who treasured them as the only real home and hearth they'd ever known. Those Bungalows that had been preserved or that could be restored to their pristine original look are now treasured by younger generations who seek or act on their own mission of reform today.

    Hay Bungalow Bill...

    Tuesday, May 21, 2013


    The remains of Park Towers Elementary School, Moore, OK

    Yet again, Moore, OK is leveled by a monster tornado. I was watching some of the live coverage from the Oklahoma City teevee stations yesterday. Again and again, they remarked on how the storm track was almost identical to the May 3, 1999 tornado that destroyed much of the town. I recalled that one fairly well because of some personal connections we had with people who were from Moore. But this tornado was of an altogether different character... one of the helicopter pilots said he'd flown over the destruction in Moore in 1999, and to his eye, the situation yesterday looked like it was "three times worse."

    The destruction in Moore looked to me somewhat like Joplin a couple of years ago, and it gives me the willies to see anything like that. This level of complete wipe-out of entire sections of cities is almost unbelievable, or it would be if we hadn't already seen it over and over and over again, not solely from tornadoes, but from earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes as well...

    I've only been through one tornado warning, and that was outside St. Louis decades ago. There were no shelters or storm cellars nearby, naturally, and so I asked a neighbor what, exactly, we were supposed to do if a tornado touched down. He laughed and said, "Duck and pray." Luckily, the tornado did not touch down, and so after the sirens stopped, we all went back about our business as if nothing (much) was awry.

    Until recently, there had only been the rarest reports of "tornado-like winds" in California's Central Valley, and then suddenly there was a rash of them year after year. Weather-people refused at first to call them "tornadoes" -- even though that's what they looked like, and their damage was the damage you'd expect from tornadoes, albeit small ones -- because officially tornadoes couldn't happen in California's Central Valley. This reticence became absurd after a while. The theory was that there wasn't enough room for tornado cells to develop between the coastal mountains and the Sierras, so even though there might be occasional episodes of spiraling winds, they weren't "tornadoes" because they didn't get big enough to classify. Eventually, the absurdity became even too much for officials. Suddenly what had been long denied was admitted -- officially -- to be true.

    One day,  I was watching the sky from the westward downslope of the Sierra, and I saw four funnel clouds in a line from north to south; two of them touched down, and I could see debris flying in the air, in no way different than a midwest tornado except for size. I would see similar sights again and again over the next few years, as tornadoes (and water spouts) formed and blasted their way through (mostly) farm fields, but every now and then taking out a shed or blowing off a house roof or uprooting a tree or two. There wasn't a lot of damage reported from what eventually became many tornadoes and water spouts, but the very sight of these funnel clouds and the winds that they produced was enough to give a lot of people pause. It seemed to be, among other things, an obvious sign of Climate Change.

    Tornadoes are said to be possible -- but rare -- in New Mexico. If they happen, they happen mostly over on the Texas side of the state, from about Santa Rosa eastward, but something tells me they could happen just about anywhere, including the Estancia Basin -- maybe especially here, because of the lay of the land.

    Nothing like a tornado has actually occurred since we've been here, but for the last few days, the afternoon winds have been pretty severe -- I'm thinking these winds have been feeding into the cells that produce tornadoes farther east -- and yesterday the dust briefly became so severe that I literally could not see more than 50 feet in front of me. The dust has become a real hazard. It gets into everything, of course, but when it comes up -- which it does more and more often -- it blocks visibility. Not good to be out driving in it. We were familiar enough with the winds here -- that's been a constant -- but the dust is something new for us, and I don't think we like it. The tantalizing rain clouds that don't drop any rain -- they come and go practically every day now -- are almost worse than the dust. I wonder if anybody's tried to seed them... I remember when I was a child, cloud seeding was routine in Southern California, and sometimes it would cause fairly good rainfall. Does anybody bother anymore? If so, I don't recall hearing about it...

    The tornado situation in the midwest and plains has been one of those constants for generations on end. The area is "prone" as they say, and there is little or nothing that can be done about it. Back in the day, of course, practically everybody had a storm cellar, but not anymore. Not only are houses commonly built without cellars at all, they often don't have any kind of safe room above ground either. Of course, the "double wide tornado catcher" is legendary -- but also all too true -- in the region, with the routine wiping out of entire mobile home parks expected during Tornado Season. Before yesterday, in fact, it was the demolition of a mobile home park and the death of an elderly resident in Oklahoma that led the tornado news...

    But yesterday's path of destruction in Moore was something else again. I grieve for the loss of people and livestock (apparently up to 100 horses were killed at a stable that was destroyed by the tornado)  caught in the path of the storm. It's a horrible thing to imagine let alone witness. The level of catastrophe at the Park Towers Elementary School is still being assessed. They say as many a 40 children may still be unaccounted for and presumed to be buried in the debris. Up to a hundred people have been dug out from underground shelters (so there are some!) since last night.

    And of course, more storms are developing across the whole state of Oklahoma...

    Monday, May 20, 2013

    Steps in the Right Direction

    In contrast to the constant litany of nay-saying and protecting the status quo that leads us ever farther away from a Better Future, the co-operative movement is one of many steps taking place all over the country and the world that's leading in the right direction.

    More and more, Our Betters are living in their own bubble world of fiction and finance, where their rewards come automatically, without work or reason. Their goal is to become immortal spectators as the world and ultimately the Universe revolves around them, providing them with endless amusement, wealth, and power with no effort whatsoever on their part. To become Gods, in a word.

    Some believe they have reached that status already or that it is surely within their grasp.

    On the other hand, more and more of the People are coming to the realization that we don't need Our Betters and their quest for personal divinity in order for us to live fulfilling, rewarding, and (relatively) abundant lives. Co-operatives, communes, intentional and transitional communities of all different kinds, alternatives to the perpetuation of decline, are cropping up seemingly everywhere. Many of them simply reject the System of exploitation and destruction that has served the predators very well for the past many years. Others have learned how to work that System, or at least its margins, to their own benefit.

    Whatever the case, the alternatives are out there. More of them all the time.

    Building a Better Future for all will come through those efforts, not through pleading with the Ruling Class or through participation in their shams and cons.

    Sunday, May 19, 2013

    "Space Hoser, Eh?" -- Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield Does Bowie on the ISS

    I don't usually post things that go viral (when was the last time you saw a cat video on this blog??), but in this case, the video is moving enough and the vicarious thrill of being in space is great enough that I'm happy to pass it on:

    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Uno y dos... Ay Flamenco Otra Vez. ¡Olé!


    We've been attending openings and performances and literary gatherings and so on and so forth fairly often since moving to New Mexico last fall, far more often if the truth be known than was the case when we lived in California. Or at least it seems so.

    Last night, it was Jesús Muñoz at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (a venue we've practically made our second home...;-).


    Yes, very much so. Flamenco is called El Alma de España, yet it's probably not "native" Spanish, it's Gypsy, Gitano, and it reflects the Gypsy soul fully as much as the far more reserved and proper "Spanish" soul.

    This was in essence a taberna (tablao) show, one that showcased two bailadores, two cantantes, two guitarraistas (one electric) and a percussion virtuoso. As I said at the show, "I want to learn to play The Box." (El Cajón)

    It was, from beginning to end, in a word, brilliant.

    We've noticed that flamenco has become pretty much the default (modern) Hispanic cultural art form in Albuquerque, and it's made strong inroads in Santa Fe and in the rest of Northern New Mexico. It's not a traditional art form in these parts, so I understand, only fairly recently introduced and popularized by such artists as Maria Benitez -- who was actually instrumental in introducing me to flamenco somewhat more than thirty years ago in St. Louis of all places. Flamenco classes and workshops are going on constantly and seemingly everywhere, and solo, duo, and group performances are frequent. We attend performances as often as we can, and if our health issues allowed it, I don't doubt we'd be attending classes at the very least.

    We'd seen Muñoz's choreography in Rudolfo Anaya's "Rosa Linda" and thought highly of it. His "Red Note" production was being promoted on lobby cards at the performance of "Rosa Linda," so we thought why not plan on going and got ourselves some tickets. Little did we know...

    This production was the distilled essence of Flamenco, just two dancers, two singers and a handful of appropriate musicians. In addition to Jesús -- who danced superbly -- the nearly legendary "La Chispa" (Valeria Montes) repeatedly stole the show with her fiery and intricate movements and perfect attitude. Her introductory dance with a Spanish shawl was mesmerizing and earned an enthusiastic response from the audience. But every time she appeared, the crowd went wild. Not that they had any less enthusiasm for Muñoz himself.

    His moment, really, came when he "painted with his feet." Just before the intermission, a large piece of black plastic was brought out from the wings and laid on the floor; a somewhat smaller piece of something black -- maybe itself made of hard plastic -- was lowered from the flies. Stage hands applied red and white paint to a corner of the hard plastic. Jesús appeared in jeans and t-shirt and paint-stained white flamenco boots. He proceeded to dance. Every now and again, a stage hand would squeeze more paint from a ketchup dispenser while Jesus continued to dance. In the end, he took off his boots and marched off into the wings. His painting was raised from the floor and was displayed with two others, the others done by Reyes Padilla (whether while he danced, I don't know!) in the style of the work by Muñoz. The paintings hung through the intermission.

    Singers José Vega and José Cortes Fernandez had extraordinary and complementary voices; their songs formed the basis for the improvisations of the dancers, but they also had their solos and duets and they were captivating.

    Just so the guitarists, Ismael De La Rosa and Yosmel Montejo, whose accompaniment, along with their own virtuoso moments, made not a little magic on stage.

    But my attention was drawn repeatedly to percussionist, K'tumba (Francisco Xavier Mera Rodriguez). Ay, if only...!  I thought, I would love to sit on The Box and play...!  But then, I've longed to do that for many years. One day, I keep thinking, one day for sure... Psst, he's doing a workshop on Monday and Tuesday....

    There was an after party at the Hotel Andaluz in town. We had to skip it because we are old now, and it was very late (for us) to be out and about, and we faced a long drive over the hill back home. Yet were we just a bit younger... 


    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Sharks!!! Missing White Women!!!! The Summer Driving Season Comes Early This Year!!!!


    The recent trio of Scandals!!! at the White House remind us just how desperate the media can be when ginning up something -- anything -- to keep the masses distracted for the Summer.

    This Summertime Distraction is an Absolute Tradition and Iron Law among the ink stained wretches who ply the media trade. You got to have a hook. That's all there is to it. And because the media is largely on hiatus during the summer, the thinking is that certain tried and true stories, particularly of Shark Attacks!!! and Missing White Women!!!! and Summer Driving (as gas prices go through the roof, again)!!!, will do the trick. They always have in the past, why not again?

    But what if the media doesn't want to play that record again? The summer of 2001 was the most notorious one for these sorts of distractions, really quite shameful when you think back on it. Bush cleared brush, White Women went missing, and sharks, sharks, sharks patrolled the waters eating whomever they chose, and then, right after Labor Day, bam. 9/11 happened. Putting the kibosh on frivolity, at least until the next summer, when of course, WAR was all the rage, and the occupation of Iraq was getting all the news.

    It took some time to get back to the distractions of Shark Attacks and Missing White Women, but eventually things seemed to settle down enough to fire up the old tried and true stories once again. And so it has been for a while now.

    But there is another summertime media tradition that goes back to Nixon at least, and probably farther.

    I'm always amazed when I read historical political material to discover that everything old is new again, and that the political cycle and the scandal-mongering that goes with it has been churning unrelentingly all my life, since well before I was born in fact, cycling through the same, same, same things over and over and over again.

    The White House Scandal (!!!!!) is part of the traditional cycle, but it doesn't come around every year like Missing White Women and Shark Attacks are supposed to do. No, the White House Scandal is periodic, but not annual. It typically begins when Someone Who Matters takes offense at something someone in the White House has said or done, much as Katherine Graham took offense at something Nixon said or did (or simply because she didn't like him) and launched the Watergate Thing. The Thing  that eventually took him down.

    It was a Summer Scandal that ultimately went on for a couple of years, but it was based not so much in the crimes of the Nixon Administration -- gawd knows, there were plenty of those -- as it was in the animosity of the Press (ie: Katherine Graham of the Washington Post) to Richard M. Nixon, President of These United States of America.

    Somewhat similar was the media attack on President Clinton, for everything it seemed, until something stuck, ie: Monica. Leading to his aborted impeachment -- which itself was a full-on Summer Scandal (!!!) though the impeachment itself was delayed until fall.

    The Media Summer Distraction Machine was fully on during the summer of 2001, and many observers at that time seemed to sense that something was up. The 2000 election was an abomination decided through the lawless intervention of the Supreme Court, and the People were not happy about it, not on a bet. Bush himself was shortly revealed as a stumble bum fool once installed on the Throne, with that eminence grise Cheney skulking about in the shadows doing who knew what mischief? Meanwhile, Bush cut brush on his phony ranch in Texas, and the mighty White House press corps suffered through the heat and humidity of a Texas summer. Bush ponderously pondered stem cell research, and he would give a Speech From the Throne about it, with bats zipping around in the night sky behind him, that left everyone scratching their heads and saying "Whatttt????"

    But Chandra Levy was Missing (!!!!!) and Congressman Gary Condit was just like Clinton!!!!! and the likeliest suspect in her disappearance, obviously a murderer, just like Clinton!!!,  and he would not be allowed to get away with it, the way Clinton was, not if Nancy Grace had anything to say about it!

    Yes, well.

    And the sharks were biting up a storm. Chomp. Chomp, Chomp.

    It was Such a Beautiful Summer. Then it was spoiled by the Nasty Mooslims.

    Now that we are deep into White House Scandal Stories that have prefigured what the Summer Stories will be like -- All Scandal, All the Time, with one or two Missing White Women and a Shark Bite Story thrown in for good measure -- we might want to think about what is not being covered in the "news" and what sort of Holy Horror is being worked up for the fall.

    Apparently, the more rabid of the Rightists are intent on forcing the impeachment or resignation of the President, though what the point of it might be is anybody's guess. They want Happy Joe on the Throne instead? I seriously doubt it. No, this is Show Business and the political motive is to keep the common people distracted and entertained while... what?... is going on in the background?

    The Correspondent's Dinner seemed to mark the point at which the White House Press Corps turned on the President, and from that point their sole (pack) interest was focused on what damage they could help the Rs do to the White House.

    Beng[h]azi was the key to the process in that Congressional Hearings were in the offing, and they would heat the Scandal Pot to a boil, no matter what was revealed. But then to find out that the IRS had been targeting conservative political groups!!!! OMG!!!. Actually, this had long been known, the 'Baggers had long been fuming about the delays in approving their non-profit status, and there had already been official look-sees over it. In other words, the story was old, it just hadn't been made a Scandal(!!!!) yet. But you see, anything can be turned into a Scandal(!!!!). And so it has been with the IRS Thing. Notice that with this one, the White House has gone fully along with it, too. Something in the background will likely not be done because of this, and I wonder what it might be. Some people seem to think it could mean that Obamacare subsidies would have to be scrapped (because they are administered by the IRS.)  That would be interesting. It would effectively blow up the whole Rube Goldberg contraption, and there are plenty of Americans who would not have a sad over that. On the other hand, we may be looking at the imposition of "Tax Reform" sooner rather than later. "Tax Reform" as in "broadening the base and 'lowering the rates.'" What it really would be is a massive tax burden shift from them that's got onto them that's not, and though I've been pointing this out for many years, the notion still hasn't firmly penetrated the conscious understanding of many of those who write about these things.

    That's what I see as the likely upshot of the IRS Thing.

    The Beng[h]azi Thing appears to be little more than endless face-time opportunities for that execrable Darrell Issa, and I say, dayum, if Dude wants to get his ugly mug on the teevee that bad, let him. He has always come across as a maroon of the first water, and the more people see of him, the more they loathe him and everything he "stands" for -- which is more face time.

    The Beng[h]azi Thing is going nowhere as a Scandal (!!!!) except on FOX, and they don't have any idea what to do with it. In due time, it will simply evaporate as if it never was.

    On the other hand, the Beng[h]azi Thing could be serving as a mask -- or an excuse -- for preparations for yet another warrior foray into the Heart of Darkness, ie: the Mooslim World. The various wars, after all, have not been going well, and clusterfucks (like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya) that have resulted from unleashing the Dogs of War among Those People have created a level of uncontrollable chaos that gives the willies to anyone who observes it and leaves tragedy and bloodshed throughout the region. Shock Doctrine principles (which seem to be the rule among Our Rulers) require an even bigger shock than the daily bombings and dronings and catastrophic living conditions that have become routine in the Middle East and North Africa. Something much bigger must occur to bring Those People into line. I would guess that's a joint American-Israeli attack on Iran, something lusted after by the already blood-drenched Ruling Class for many a long year.

    Perhaps the Beng[h]azi Thing will prove to be the catalyst for doing it. I hope not, but that's the way these things tend to go. They take on a life of their own.

    The AP Thing is another one that was a story but not a Scandal(!!!!) sometime back. It involves a key aspect of the National Security State, the essentially universal surveillance of the public that's been going on for years.

    Apparently, the AP (along with other news outlets) think they should be exempted and immune from the surveillance everyone else is routinely subjected to. There's a lot of history of press freedom in this country, and there is the tattered remnant of the Constitution to fall back on, but there are certain court rulings that essentially cancel those privileges in the face of National Security, and so as much as Gary Pruitt and the AP want to make this into some Big Deal, it's unlikely they will succeed. For one thing, the public has little tolerance for media preening and complaining, and for another, the AP has long sucked. They have been the ones promoting the Summer Scandal/Summer Distraction stories for years and years, and the AP wire is filled with trash like this (though Pruitt, to his credit has tried to clean it up a little).

    The AP is trying to make a case that they are somehow above you and me, and it's just not going to fly among the public. Whether it will have an impact among the High and the Mighty remains to be seen. And it will depend on what the real objection is -- and who is making it. Nobody really cares if the phone calls of reporters in the field are looked into by the Security State. But if the Government goes "too far" all hell could break loose, with the press going fully rogue against the State. So I'd look at this as a shot across the bow, a warning to the Government to stay within bounds, which will be set by the High and Mighty to protect the High and Mighty.

    Surveille the public all you want (and please share the information with the press!!) they seem to be saying, but stay within strict bounds when it comes to surveilling the establishment press or pay the price. This is a periodic issue. It's always been resolved one way or another, but it crops up again and again.

    So Summer has come early. I don't know where all these White House Scandals are headed, but there were signs on the "news" last night that the media isn't going to go all the way with them -- depending on how well they are able to control these things of course, and how much the White House is willing to play.

    Now that the White House is paying attention to the plaints of the media, they seem to be happy enough.

    We'll see.

    If the Missing White Women and Shark Attacks start bubbling up to the front pages again, we'll know that the plug has been pulled on these Scandals(!!!) -- at least for the time being. On the other hand...

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    OT: The Frontier Progressive Bungalow

    Albuquerque Bungalow, Needs Work...

    Not long ago, Cocktailhag (one of the best writers on the internet bar none) posted about his recent renovation project, a huge old Portland (OR) bungalow that he rightly compared to a "beige four-door" -- referring to the stripped down car models that are plain as can be, like Jerry Brown's 1974 Plymouth, and were once intended to make a statement: "I (myself) lack the gene for ostentation... you see."

    It was a huge house, enormous by every measure (at more than 7,000 square feet), but plain as an Amish elder -- at least compared to the typical bungalow style house of the era -- and lacks many of the features that bungalow fanatics treasure.

    I got to thinking about that house, and thinking about it in the context of the Reform Progressive Era. Initially, I thought that the house was as stripped down (and basically unfinished) as a "beige four-door" because the cheapskate who had it built didn't want to pay the Lower Orders to do a proper job, but in talking about it with an architect friend, I learned that no, it probably wasn't like that at all. The house was probably built the way it was and was "finished" as plainly as it was because the (likely) cheapskate owner wanted to make a statement: "I (myself) am not an ostentatious SOB like most of the 'businessmen' and would-be aristocrats around here."

    Part of the ethic of the Reform Progressive Era was a lifestyle change, a change to a far simpler, cleaner, purer, and obviously Better way of living that included living in the plainest possible house with the fewest possible furnishings (preferably Mission oak, -- as back-breakingly uncomfortable as possible) and the elimination of everything superfluous and ostentatious.

    The American Bungalow itself was intended as such a statement, though some of the bungalows that were put up in the early part of the 20th Century were quite lavish by any standard, cf: Green and Green's Gamble House in Pasadena as archetype of the Lavish Bungalow Style. But there were many thousands of other bungalows that were very modest by any standard. My mother (who was born in 1911) lived in a number of them in California.

    I have a certain fondness for the style, but I'm not altogether sure I'd want to live in one.

    Bungalows are fairly rare here on the New Mexico frontier. Oh, there are some, especially in the little settlements along the railroad routes, but many of them have been skimmed with stucco, painted brown or beige with white trim,  and made to look vaguely "territorial" so as to fit the local vernacular -- even though they were built to resemble whatever the Bungalow Style Book said, or in some cases were shipped in a rail car in pieces to be erected on site, complete with doors, windows, shingles, bathtub and sink.

    The New Mexico vernacular is the cubical neo-Pueblo style in much of the state (like this:)

    Neo-Pueblo Bungalow
    or in fancier guise like this:

    Fancy Territorial, Santa Fe

    whereas the peak-roofed Northern New Mexico style (which more strongly resembles the Bungalow) predominates in the snowy-cold mountainous areas, something like this:

    Northern New Mexico Style

    But back in the day, way back, when New Mexico was being first overrun by its Norte Americano conquerors, a kind of early style, pre-Bungalow you might call it, was built for officers at the various forts around the state, distinctively at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe, where the New Style contrasted sharply with its mud brick surroundings.

    Fort Marcy Officers Quarters, Santa Fe, c. 1873
    These houses were actually built of adobe, but they surprisingly resemble Cape Cod cottages. Out in the middle of the desert. (Santa Fe is more foresty than desert, but that's another issue for another day...)

    Compared to the typical Santa Fe streetscape at the time, they were striking indeed:

    Looking toward Fort Marcy, Santa Fe, c. 1873

    The neo-Pueblo style was being adapted and adopted in New Mexico at about the same time as the Bungalow craze was sweeping the rest of America, and so the Bungalow never really took hold here -- at least not like elsewhere -- and I think there were a number of reasons for it.

    Despite the fact that the Bungalow was intended to be a modest contrast to the ostentation of the High Victorian era, it was actually quite a fancy style compared to the spare simplicity of the Frontier Adobe house that was the norm in New Mexico and elsewhere in the Southwest at the time. (At the time of the photo above, for example, Los Angeles didn't look much different.) The Frontier Bungalow seemed almost palatial compared to what the locals were used to. It had all sorts of fancy woodwork, big and fancy glass windows that went up and down (instead of opening out the way the tiny windows in New Mexico had always done), porches instead of portals, steam heat, indoor plumbing, hardwood floors, and even linoleum in the kitchens. Fireplaces were made of burned bricks instead of adobe.

    All this was akin to ostentation on the Frontier. For one thing, it could be very difficult to get all the necessary lumber to build a proper bungalow in the wilds of New Mexico, even long after the railroads came. And if you tried to build one of adobe, the typical local material, you would be bound to ask, "What's the point of this exercise again?" If you're going to build of adobe anyway, why not build the way the locals have been building for hundreds of years?

    If you could get all the lumber you needed for a proper bungalow, then you'd have to get all the gas and plumbing and electrical piping and wiring and gizmos and accessories that were part of an up-to-date bungalow, and then you'd have to figure out how to hook it all up, since there weren't any proper gas or electric or public water services, at least not like you'd find Back East.

    So why bother?

    Stick with the tried and true.

    Our house is something of a hybrid. It's was built (mostly) of adobe, starting with two dirt-floored rooms around 1900, then adding two more in the 1920's or early '30's, then two more again in the 1950's, while subdividing some of the original rooms and adding luxuries like an indoor bathroom and such, rather like a traditional New Mexico ranch house would expand over time. Stylistically, though, it rather resembles the Cape Cod officer housing at Fort Marcy pictured above, even more strongly since being clad with aluminum siding and shutters in the '50's -- which we haven't had taken off yet.

    Our Place in Snow
    I'd call it Late Victorian more than anything else, and the exterior is the fanciest thing about it. The interior is very plain, and in some ways, it seems strangely unfinished (though not necessarily unfinished in the context of New Mexico.) I was working in one of the bedroom closets yesterday. The room that is now the North Bedroom was clearly at one time the "parlor," and closet was improvised along one wall -- where the room's only electrical outlets had been put when that modern feature was installed (looks to have been in the 1930's based on the outlet style.) The closet was a somewhat haphazard installation, probably done with scraps from other remodeling done in the 1950's. It's functional, I'll say that for it, but it was never really finished, and when we had the place renovated, the contractors didn't do anything to it but paint the back wall and scrape the floors, probably cursing every time they hit their heads on the hanger pole (as I did many times yesterday.)

    I had filled the closet with random stuff we didn't have any other place for and left it like that until yesterday, when I took out the objects stored there and started to get it ready receive clothing (what a concept). We've been keeping our clothes in dressers and out on various improvised racks until the closets were available.

    Well, there I was fussing with this and that unfinished aspect of the North Bedroom closet (once I got all the stuff out), and I made several discoveries. First, the wood floor is nicely scraped and sanded, but the sawdust was never vacuumed up, and the floor in the closet was never sealed or finished. I didn't realize that, partly because there is no light in the closet, and so its unfinished state isn't that noticeable.

    I put down a hall rug that had been rolled up in the other bedroom as a temporary expedient, but I'm thinking of doing some fairly extensive renovation, and not just in that closet...

    Meanwhile in a corner of the closet, I noticed that though there were wide baseboards, the wood flooring did not actually reach it. The gap was close to half an inch, and there was another vertical gap where the baseboard of one wall met the baseboard of the other wall. This was in the darkest corner of the closet, and so I had never noticed it before. It was part of the original construction of this wing, which I think was added in the 1920's or 30's, for the specific purpose of being fancy and up-to-date, with electricity and all that, and here is a corner of what had been the fanciest room where nothing actually meets at any angle, let alone a right angle.

    It's very New Mexico, and it made me laugh. I stuffed the gaps with cardboard and piled up some bags of spare table cloths and curtains to seal out any likely drafts for the time being and was done it for now. No sense getting all worked up about it. Then I installed an air conditioner in the bedroom window. What with climate change and all, last year -- for the first time -- the summer heat started getting to me, and fans weren't enough to cool things down. Signs are that this summer will be even hotter.

    (Aside: I'm still puzzling when electricity was first installed in this house. I've read a report prepared in 1937 when there still was no electric utility in these parts, but the report recommended that the rural electric co-op be extended this far. There are signs, however, that this place had electricity well before then. Some of the wiring appears to be very early. Much earlier than the late 1930's. So this place may have had its own generator at one time...)

    When I lived in Sacramento, I knew some of the old-line Progressives, a couple of whom lived in vast old bungalows, not unlike the one Cocktailhag was renovating up at the top of this post. The size of their houses knocked me out -- they seemed to go on forever, with dozens of rooms, crooked hallways that led who knew where and flights and flights of stairs. They were dark as caves, despite all the windows. The huge rooms echoed, in part because they had so little furniture, and what they had was very uncomfortable. There were no rugs, no drapes. Instead, if a room needed something on the floor (such as in the dining room or the kitchen) it was likely to be oil cloth or linoleum; if there was anything at the windows, it was plain muslin, possibly with a stenciled border. The finish was typically worn off the oak floors, and the floors themselves creaked and squeaked wherever you walked. These people were for the most part very well off, and they could easily have afforded to live in luxury. Instead, they chose to live in Spartan, almost monastic conditions, as a very conscious lifestyle choice.

    Today's Bungalow aficionados may or may not understand the consciousness that informed the early Reform Progressives who lived this Spartan lifestyle in their own (sometimes enormous) bungalows back in the day. I know some who do understand it and try to emulate it, but some of the more recent efforts at recreating the bungalow style and lifestyle as it was in the Progressive Era seem to me to be far too luxurious. The rugs are too thick and too expensive. Not that many bungalows were furnished by Stickley or Roycroft back in the day. There's too much furniture in the rooms, and often too much light. (These houses were dark, dark, dark.) The floors are too shiny, the brass too polished, the bathrooms and kitchens too deluxe. And it seems to me there's too much effort put into living the style too well, when those who actually lived it at the time didn't look at it as a style so much as they saw their way of life as a mission. I won't get into the details now, but there was nothing casual about the early Progressive Era. It was launched and practiced as a mission -- a mission to move past the tired opulence of the immediately past era and enter onto a path of righteousness and progress and equality.

    New Mexico became a state in 1912, at the height of the Reform Progressive Era, and there are plenty of aspects of Reform Progressivism in its ways and means to this day, perhaps the most apparent part of it is the widespread sense of civic duty and participation. Much of it grows less out of the style of the era as it is part of the fabric of the place and its people. It's simpler, more direct, and I'd like to think it is kinder, but I'm not sure I can go that far yet. This is a harsh land for the most part; it's not that the people are harsh, by any means, but many live a hard life, and that hardness can overwhelm natural kindness. Something like the Cowboy Code.

    At any rate, I often get (delightfully) distracted by houses and their origins and styles -- as well as by notions of Progressivism and the Progressive Era. The Bungalow was part of the Progressive Movement in the early part of the 20th Century, and its image will stay with Americans for a long time to come.

    What seems to be missing today, however, is an appropriate ideal of Reform.

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    The AP Thing, The IRS Thing, The Beng[h]azi Thing...

    Whoo boy, the Roller Coaster is in overdrive now boys and girls. Did somebody offend somebody? Or is the situation behind the scenes just too unstable to keep the ship of state aright?

    This is primarily a media scandal-fest, something like the ones that went wilding during the 90's leading to the Impeachment Circus and all the rest of it. Which led, of course, directly to the Supremes' lawless intervention in the 2000 election to put the majority's candidate on the Throne. If we think back, it's easy to see how media driven this all was, from the get-go to the miserable end of the Bushevik Regime.

    How many millions paid with their lives and fortunes for this political misadventure? Did the media gain from their scandal mongering? Ask Roger Ailes, maybe he'll tell you. Maybe he won't. Maybe he'll lie.

    The AP Thing is a doozy; they're all panty-wadded because their counsel got notice that phone records of certain reporters had been scrutinized by the DoJ, apparently as part of a leak investigation by the gov't. Hm. Yes, well. At least they got notice.

    I mean, this sort of thing really galls me. Ever since the imposition of the Patriot Act back in the day, warrantless domestic surveillance has been essentially universal. But now AP is calling foul, stomping its little feet and screaming, "You can't do this to MEEEEE!!!!" Everybody else is fair game? But not the AP? Bullshit. The problem is not surveillance of the press; the problem is universal domestic surveillance. Period. And that's not something the Mighty-Mighty Press has ever had the least bit of concern about. Was it assumed that the Press would be immune?

    This is not unlike my annoyance at the nearly hysterical response to the "torture" of Bradley Manning by members of the blog-o-tariat, with nary a nod to the fact that what was happening to him was relatively  mild compared to what goes on in American detention facilities to tens of thousands of Americans, every. fucking. day. And which has been going on for YEARS. What happened to Manning shouldn't have happened, but in my view, you cannot separate out his treatment from the gross brutality -- and yes, torture -- that is part and parcel of the entire American detention system.

    Just so with the surveillance of the AP reporters. Yes? And? This is 'Merika. This is what goes on, has been going on for YEARS, "it's the Law," and this is what has been done to millions and millions of Americans on a day-in and day-out basis. What has the AP had to say about that? Nothing, right?

    The AP is demanding -- now -- special treatment for itself, to be free of "this sort of intimidation!" Great, fine. They should be free of it -- so should everyone else. But you are unlikely to ever hear that from the AP or any of those marching around with their chins thrust out in AP's defense these days.

    No, they want their own special dispensation, just as many of the advocates for Bradley Manning wanted his dispensation, ignoring the thousands and the millions who faced the same sort of intimidation/torture under the color of authority every day. For whatever reason, in the minds of so many people, the masses who suffer don't matter, only the individual -- or institution in the case of the AP.

    To my way of looking at these things, it's nonsense.

    Separating out an individual or one institution and demanding recompense for their suffering while ignoring everyone else who is facing the same sort of thing or worse is not even a simulation of "justice."

    It's grotesque.

    But that's how very far we've fallen under the spell of the Individual.

    As for the IRS Thing, the notion that the IRS uses its power and authority to go after certain targeted individuals and institutions, and it sometimes oversteps its authority in doing so, is hardly news. The notion that some of their scrutiny has the appearance of a political motivation again is hardly news. What's news in this case is apparently that the agency was inclined to use its clout to look into nonprofit status of TeaBagging and other rightist political organizations, something that simply is not done in this country, rightists being Free and all. Well, Patriots, you know.

    Scrutinizing Leftist outfits is only right and proper, but dare the IRS -- or anyone else in Gubmint -- to probe the  behavior of a 'Bagging interest and all hell breaks loose. Again, we are dealing with demands for special exemptions and dispensations for certain (perhaps momentarily) favored individuals or groups, leaving everyone else who has the same or similar difficulties to fend for themselves. This is not "justice." I can't put it any plainer than that.

    To my way of looking at it, the IRS should be abolished for cause (along with quite a few other government department and agencies) and its functions should be reformed from the bottom up. The notion of non-profit, religious, or charitable tax exemptions should be re-thought. Just what is the purpose of these exemptions, and why should certain industries and individuals be exempt while others must pay and pay more, with the tax burden being shifted more and more onto the backs of those least able to pay?

    But that's not what the hoop lah is about. No, it's about "targeting" rightist outfits, purely and simply. The whole system is rotten, but as long as it doesn't "target" rightists, it's OK? Leftists can be targeted -- and have been for generations -- but not rightists? What utter crap.

     Finally The Beng[h]azi Thing. It's as if no one involved in the many "investigations" has ever heard of or utilized (deceptive) Talking Points before. Yes, of course, the talking points were not accurate. Yes? So?

    How often are talking points used by anyone fully accurate? How often are they intended to spin and how often are they intended to deceive?

    In this case, the whole thing appears to be a mighty clusterfuck. It's not the first time. And until the AP and IRS Things, it seemed that the "investigations" of the clusterfuck were going to be taunted and dismissed by the media as so much political posturing by the Rs (which they are), but now, with the other "scandals" on the table as it were, Beng[h]azi will loom large on the topic list for some time to come.

    I assume all this is coming to a head now (even before the Summer Driving and Shark and Missing White Woman Season gets going) because someone who matters in the media was offended by someone in the White House, possibly even by the President Himself. The media skin is sometimes very thin, and the least insult, or even an accidental one, can open the gates of Hell on an otherwise unsuspecting officialdom.

    It's happened before. I would just remind readers that the Watergate Thing happened largely because A Person Who Mattered in the Media (Katherine Graham) took offense at the White House, and took personal offense at Richard Nixon for some insult or slight or other, and she vowed to have his ass in a sling or know the reason why. She got what she wanted.

    A lot of people tend to think the Watergate story reporting and the subsequent investigations leading to the resignation of Richard Nixon was somehow a high point of public and media integrity. I would suggest it was nothing of the kind. It was instead an act of gross and deliberate revenge for... an insult. There were crimes committed, lord knows, in the course of the Nixon administration, monstrous, horrible crimes, compared to which the Watergate burglary was small potatoes. The point, which got completely missed, is that it is in the nature of our system of governance for the government itself to operate lawlessly, criminally, and often murderously. It is in the DNA of the institution, and the only way I know of to change things is to start over with a different institution.

    Thus, as criminal as the Nixon administration was, it was by no means uniquely criminal. It was typically criminal. Decapitating the operation doesn't change its fundamental nature. But in the course of events, someone who mattered in the media demanded and got revenge against Richard Nixon, thus in effect decapitating the government, yet not changing it in any important way (she didn't care about that, after all), and here we are, forty years down the line, and guess what?

    Nothing has really changed but the optics.

    But at least the media now has its summer shitstorm laid out. What will happen to the Sharks and the Missing White Women?

    And what of the Summer Driving Season?