It’s June bug season, and Birch is having fun with these tantalizing airborne snacks. They’re alive! You can bring them down and they’ll still buzz and you can bat them and snap at them and then eat them whole - eh, nothing special. In the future we will have nanobot pretzels loaded with peanut butter; they will fly just above dog height and provide all sorts of amusement and rewards. Right now, though, it’s June bugs or bones. There are three shin-bones of some slaughtered ruminant in the yard, like we housesat a baby Rancor.
Ordinary day; usual peaks and troughs. The period between 11 and nap is the worst. Fore and aft I have enough work to occupy my mind, and enough stuff gets done that the day has purpose, but the middle of the day is when all the gargoyles roost and jeer. I punch back by trying to figure out what I will do next, what’s the third act, what’s the plan, what’s the project? Or just more of the same? Gah
At least I have two big ongoing things that keep me interested on a daily basis: one is the 1919 project, which you’ll see next year, and the 1980s project, which is bringing back all sorts of warm emotions about things for which I probably had few warm emotions at the time, because I was in my 20s and everything SUCKED because of REAGAN and YOUTH. But now it’s all wonderful. I’m about 300 pages into the 2019 stuff.
Anyway, blah blah moan boo-hoo, yada; yada. Let's move along. I invite you to pay particular attention to Cliffhangers today, even if you don't like the feature; there's some fun urban archeology that winds up in an old issue of the New Yorke, quoting our old friend T-Square. If you wish to skip the screedyness, why, click here to be whisked along.
This article on the overuse of the word “Curate” expresses a sentiment with which I am in full, vigorous accord. Stop it, you twee, precious, aggrandizer of ordinary things. But.
It's a good piece, but I always get snagged on something that seems debatable.
I last encountered the “c” word on a visit to a recently opened independent bookstore, an immensely agreeable place where a lover of books could wile away many delightful hours. Like any bibliophile, I am inclined to hail the mere survival of such stores with a champagne toast, and to greet the creation of new ones as a token, however faint, of civilizational recovery.
While it’s nice to see signs that our civilization is recovering, when was the golden age, and when was the collapse? You could say that civilization collapsed when Trump was elected, I guess - a mass panic, induced by underhanded means and ominpowerful memes. The intellectual class went into hiding, the colleges shuttered, pyres of burning books soiled the night with their twisting rebuke to the mankind’s inquisitive desires.
Then in the salted earth, a tender green shoot appears. A bookstore!
You suspect that the only good times the country has ever known in its entire history - laden as it was with slavery, imperialism, sexism, iron-clad gender roles, and so on - was the period from 2008 to 2016, when the arc of history was behaving. You know, back when it was 80s-style thinking to regard Russia as a foe.
The world had moved beyond such things.
(Obligatory reminder: I did not vote for Trump, and also, my self-conception does not hinge on being opposed to his existence)
Probably reading a bit too much into that. But civilizational recovery can take many forms. Would a newspaper take a sympathetic approach to neighborhood activists who had fought gentrification under the banner of cultural cohesion? I think so; there are tensions in the issue - cities good, density good, rehabbing neighborhoods good, funky coffeeshops with hipster baristas who dote over the cold-press rituals, good.
Opponents of gentrification would say well, there are lots of those! Already! So if one community wants to stay what it is, that’s cool, and if the people protesting are the proper mix - people who were historically marginalized, or they are previously oppressive groups who have compensated for their class / identity sins by adopting rad anarchist views. Or both. Maybe a brick gets thrown through a window of an art gallery that’s spearheading the gentrification, but all in all, it’s the Lord’s work. The gentrifiers are driven back; the neighborhood retains its ethnic / economic profile. Their civilization, thus energized, is reknewed. Or at least preserved.
Great. Now consider a town in Europe, Germany or Sweden; it is not a big town, and has had to absorb a lot of immigrants. The culture of the town has been changed, inasmuch as it’s no longer a monoculture in the most general sense (within every monoculture are innumerable fissures, because people are people.) The town prefers the dominance of its own culture, and rejects the cultural manifestations small and large that the new arrivals bring. In fact, they oppose the newcomers in the name of ensuring their own values, which range from the small (dietary) to the large (tolerance for homosexuals, women’s equality.) Is this viewed as civilizational renewal?
Probably not. It would be a Worrisome Example about the rise of nationalist intolerance.
“Civilizational renewal,” in other words, depends on what civilizatio you're thinking about. In the case of the piece cited, it's meant to indicate the bygone civilization that existed for a firefly's lifetime, AND the manifestation of a set of ideas that describes the ideal civilization.
Which is not ours. Yet.
In this perfect arrangement there is universal agreement about all the good things. Dissent is not forbidden, but is confined to lunatics.
“Ah, a new book store. Civilization is being renewed!”
“Okay yeah great, but have you seen what they stock? They’ve segregated the books by race. The literature section has none of the canonical Western authors. The architecture section has nothing about any buildings before 1996. The musical section has no biographies of Western composers, but consists entirely of lyrics from songs from the 21st century. The Art History books don’t go back any further than 1968. The history section is just Chomsky, Zinn, Marx, and Foucault.”
“Hmm? Well, what’s important is there’s a new book store. Civilization is being renewed.”
Revision and erasure is a form of renewal, too. It’s the best kind, if you’re impatient for that arc to start bending back towards Utopia.
As every one who ever put on a black mask and picked up a brick said: that arc ain’t gonna bend itself.
Secret Agent X-9! Something quite unexpected today. A bit of history, revealed. Let's get up to speed:
If you recall, Pidge freed X-9, except he took a book off the shelf to get the safety-deposit box receipt, and that triggered a Secret Gun. He fell down, apparently shot, because why would you fall down if you hadn’t been shot?
THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED
Here’s the previous episode’s cliffhanger:
So they just assumed that the audience would remember it incorrectly? It’s been a week and I remember.
So Pidge is down for the count, and one of the crooks takes the receipt (SIX EPISODES ABOUT A RECEIPT) to get the jewels for himself; Blackstone, who is the leader of the gang working for Brenda the International Jewel Thief, is driving away with the Baron, who’s been trying to get the jewels back for his country (there’s more to that, of course) - and Blackstone is furious to learn the RECEIPT is back at the house.
By the way, Pidge is just wounded. Shot clean through the shoulder and upper lung, but he’s okay!
But X-9 get the drop on the crooks again, and off he goes with Pidge - whose coat doesn’t even have a bullet hole:
X-9 follows the crook who took the receipt, and tries to beat him while he drives.
That doesn’t go so well:
Meanwhile, Blackstone and the Baron go back to the Mansion, because there are only four or five locales in any serial, and lets the henchmen out. They vow to find the judas crook at the bank when he presents the safe-deposit box receipt.
The FBI, using an Infrared Detector, manages to get the bank information from the painting where it was stuck, and stake out the bank - which is also in that all-American town where the Art Supply Store in located.
The stake-out guy:
I wonder. Could I find this paper? (34 minutes later: no)
The henchmen find the renegade crook, and slug him. They get the jewels. FINALLY. But the G-men have all the roads sealed. They’re in pursuit! But the crooks use their secret weapon: stock footage
Another car has Blackstone and Brenda, and they zoom past Agent X-9 - just like there are only four locations, there’s only one road - and X-9 trails him into town. Only to lose him! But they find his car in a garage. Where could Blackstone and Brenda be? Could a rear-projection scene help?
Do you know the location? It’s here:
And that leads me to something interesting. Let’s look at that newsboy shot again:
See that row of columns? Let's take a look at what’s there today.
Looks modern enough, eh? But look at the massing, the way the glass seems to suggest the podium on which the rest of the building rests. Yes: built in 1927 - 28.
It was reskinned in 2009. But it gets better!
The building was originally the three story Colonnade Building, designed by William Welles Bosworth and constructed in 1923. This had a structure and foundation designed to support a future office tower, which was built in 1927-28 (Shreve & Lamb).
ding ding ding I know that name from one of my massive New York architecture books. I found the picture, which I can’t reproduce here, but sure enough. Same building. What was built atop? The General Motors Building, because this stretch of New York in the 20s was Automobile Row. Dealerships and showrooms.
Googling around led me to a site that cited the Jan. 15th 1927 New Yorker review of the building by T-Square, so I called up my subscription and found it.
The Newyorkerstateofmind page, I saw later, clipped the same thing I did:
Anyway: it goes without saying that the box taken from the Judas Crook is full of junk; they got MalteseFalconed on that one. But how? Ah: Blackstone says the cops must have switched it before they got there.
The “idea” referenced in the previous vid? Using the newsboy to shout “extra, extra, police have the jewels” so one of the crooks will lean out the window of the apartment and ask the newsboy to bring up a paper.
It’s X-9, of course! He has them at bay! The case is almost solved! Alas:
And then double alas.
I don’t know how they’ll possibly get out of this one, except to do what they did before: change what happened.
Somehow, that breaks faith.
Whew; that was a lot. See you around.