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A taste of Conrad’s genius

Here are two passages from “Youth, A Narrative” by Joseph Conrad, a story told in a bar many years after the fact by the second mate on an ill-fated ship. Much power in these words written by a man who knew not a word of English before he was 20. Many of Conrad’s stories are in the public domain and available on the net.

 “The coal-dust suspended in the air of the hold had glowed dull-red at the moment of the explosion. In the twinkling of an eye, in an infinitesimal fraction of a second since the first tilt of the bench, I was sprawling full length on the cargo. I picked myself up and scrambled out. It was quick like a rebound. The deck was a wilderness of smashed timber, lying crosswise like trees in a wood after a hurricane; an immense curtain of soiled rags waved gently before me—it was the mainsail blown to strips. I thought, The masts will be toppling over directly; and to get out of the way bolted on all-fours towards the poop-ladder. The first person I saw was Mahon, with eyes like saucers, his mouth open, and the long white hair standing straight on end round his head like a silver halo. He was just about to go down when the sight of the main-deck stirring, heaving up, and changing into splinters before his eyes, petrified him on the top step. I stared at him in unbelief, and he stared at me with a queer kind of shocked curiosity. I did not know that I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, that my young moustache was burnt off, that my face was black, one cheek laid open, my nose cut, and my chin bleeding. I had lost my cap, one of my slippers, and my shirt was torn to rags. Of all this I was not aware. I was amazed to see the ship still afloat, the poop-deck whole—and, most of all, to see anybody alive. Also the peace of the sky and the serenity of the sea were distinctly surprising. I suppose I expected to see them convulsed with horror…. Pass the bottle.”


 “And then I saw the men of the East—they were looking at me. The whole length of the jetty was full of people. I saw brown, bronze, yellow faces, the black eyes, the glitter, the colour of an Eastern crowd. And all these beings stared without a murmur, without a sigh, without a movement. They stared down at the boats, at the sleeping men who at night had come to them from the sea. Nothing moved. The fronds of palms stood still against the sky. Not a branch stirred along the shore, and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green foliage, through the big leaves that hung shining and still like leaves forged of heavy metal. This was the East of the ancient navigators, so old, so mysterious, resplendent and somber, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise. And these were the men. I sat up suddenly. A wave of movement passed through the crowd from end to end, passed along the heads, swayed the bodies, ran along the jetty like a ripple on the water, like a breath of wind on a field—and all was still again. I see it now—the wide sweep of the bay, the glittering sands, the wealth of green infinite and varied, the sea blue like the sea of a dream, the crowd of attentive faces, the blaze of vivid colour—the water reflecting it all, the curve of the shore, the jetty, the high-sterned outlandish craft floating still, and the three boats with tired men from the West sleeping unconscious of the land and the people and of the violence of sunshine. They slept thrown across the thwarts, curled on bottom-boards, in the careless attitudes of death. The head of the old skipper, leaning back in the stern of the long-boat, had fallen on his breast, and he looked as though he would never wake. Farther out old Mahon’s face was upturned to the sky, with the long white beard spread out on his breast, as though he had been shot where he sat at the tiller; and a man, all in a heap in the bows of the boat, slept with both arms embracing the stem-head and with his cheek laid on the gunwale. The East looked at them without a sound.

“I have known its fascination since: I have seen the mysterious shores, the still water, the lands of brown nations, where a stealthy Nemesis lies in wait, pursues, overtakes so many of the conquering race, who are proud of their wisdom, of their knowledge, of their strength. But for me all the East is contained in that vision of my youth. It is all in that moment when I opened my young eyes on it. I came upon it from a tussle with the sea—and I was young—and I saw it looking at me. And this is all that is left of it! Only a moment; a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour—of youth!… A flick of sunshine upon a strange shore, the time to remember, the time for a sigh, and—good-bye!—Night—Good-bye…!

“He drank.”

White flies

The grapefruit are beginning to change color. Won’t be long before they will be ready. The grapevines have been infested by white flies since August and despite copious applications of insecticide, they remain, obscenely and wantonly chewing up grape leaves, creating havoc and despair. They remind me of Putin who reminds me of Cream (click here) — “I’m so Vlad/I’m so Vlad/I’m glad/I’m Vlad/I’m Vlad.”

The roses also also have run amok. They’ve been left on their own because my lower back and I had a severe disagreement more than two weeks ago. The roses grew merry during the Big Wet of about a month ago. (For the first time in nearly four decades, Edie complained of gray skies and rain.) The canes shot skyward and produced abundant blossoms. Today, they have faded much in the manner of Jed Bush’s presidential prospects. Just think: He has more than a hundred million dollars and Trump has successfully portrayed him as a fool and a wimp. Así botan las pelotas (or lack thereof).

The weeds went whacko during the Big Wet, off their rocker not unlike Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, he of the Bengazi rant. The House Republicans have spent $14 million trying to crucify Hillary Clinton on the Bengazi cross. They won’t stop. They are much like an infestation of white flies.

A little nostalgia

Pablo Picasso’s “Femme Assise sur une Chaise,” 1938, is estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million. Credit 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Sotheby's

Pablo Picasso’s “Femme Assise sur une Chaise,” 1938, is estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million.
2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Sotheby’s

The New York Times reports that Sotheby’s first auction of the late A. Alfred Taubman’s art collection will be Nov. 4. Christie’s tried to win the auction rights, but lost. It would have looked bad if Christie’s had won. Taubman was Sotheby’s “principal owner” for 22 years. The collection is expected to generate a raft of money, perhaps $500 million, possibly the biggest private haul ever. There are big names in it — Rothko, Raphael, Picasso and Modigliani.

The Times noted that Taubman died in April at the age of 91, and that he was a philanthropist and shopping mall magnate. I did not know Taubman, but I have reason to dislike him. It has nothing to do with the fact that he wound up in the slammer for nine and a half months for price fixing while in charge of Sotheby’s. He was convicted in a U.S. court while his Christie’s counterpart, also accused of bilking buyers, was in England, above and beyond extradition.

In the 1980s, awash in cash, Taubman decided he fancied the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a relatively modest family enterprise owned by the descendants of Joseph Pulitzer, journalism’s giant and pioneer. Besides the Post, the family owned broadcast properties, The Arizona Daily Star and some small publications. I worked for, and reported directly to, Joseph Pulitzer’s grandson, Michael Edgar Pulitzer, who then served as editor and publisher of the Star. Michael’s half-brother, Joseph Pulitzer III, was editor and publisher of the Post-Dispatch.

Amedeo Modigliani’s “Portrait de Paulette Jourdain,” circa 1919, also estimated to bring $25 million to $35 million. Credit Sotheby's

Amedeo Modigliani’s “Portrait de Paulette Jourdain,” circa 1919, also estimated to bring $25 million to $35 million.

Taubman’s assault on Pulitzer publishing involved a segment of the family that was not satisfied with dividends and was unable according to the trust to cash in its shares at market value. Thus Taubman offered $500 million for the company with the dissenting family members offering 43 percent of the company. The dissidents were paid off when the Joseph and Michael and the rest of the majority shareholders decided to take the business public. The initial public offering (IPO) generated enough cash to pay off the dissidents.

But the nature and character of the enterprise changed drastically. It became public corporation with a singular responsibility to serve shareholder interests above all. As a family company, it had paternal bent, and money was not the be all and end all.

Thus, Taubman’s hostile takeover effort came to naught. Instead, Pulitzer Inc. was born. It died in 2005 with the sale of the company to Lee Enterprises. By then, Joseph Pulitzer III was long dead and Michael Pulitzer headed the company and guided the sale. The company had tripled in value over Taubman’s offer. The sale took place at the peak of the company’s value. Two years later and the value of the company probably would not have been half. Lee Enterprises carries today a market cap value of $112 million and still owes $745 milliion from its Pulitzer purchase 10 years ago. The debt from that purchase has been an enormous yoke.

I cannot dislike Taubman a lot. The corporatization of newspapers was a trend long before he asserted himself into the takeover fray. If I wax nostalgic, so be it. Newspapers became great when they were owned by individuals whose families considered it wise and necessary to uphold tradition, at least until love of money got in the way. The only way I see for them to rediscover greatness again is with that same ownership by individuals who love newspapering and the excitement it creates serving the public good and its First Amendment responsibility.


” ‘You’ve got a set of unintended consequences that weren’t planned for,’

said Richard F. Hohlt, a Republican donor and lobbyist.”

From today’s (9/20) New York Times, page one

Republicans planning for unintended consequences sounds about right.


The big story in today’s (Sunday, 9/13) Arizona Daily Star was the headline:

“Million-dollar home market

roars back to life in Tucson”

It plumb tickles me to death (apologies to Howdy Lewis*) that we in the Old Pueblo have a rip-roaring million-dollar housing market. It warms the cockles of my profit-loving heart to know the Geoffrey Gotrocks of the world are spreading welcome wampum around this (presently) very wet desert.

I’m just going to set down ratchere next to my favorite 50-cent prickly pear, hold out my tin cup and wait for all that moolah to trickle down.



*See The Rounders, a motion picture (1965).

Cow pies

Isn’t Diane Douglas just adorable?

The lady has stepped in more fresh political cow pies than any AZ politician since Evan Mecham. She hasn’t just stepped in them. She’s stomped those pies so the splatter factor has been REALLY BIG. If you have forgotten or never knew about the infamous Gov. Mecham, see this “60 Minutes” interview with Morley Safer from the time of the covered wagons. (Notice how uncomfortable Safer is.)

Douglas was elected superintendent of public instruction, but acts as though she were crowned Queen of Pedagogy. She therefore believes she is sovereign over all the education she surveys, a notion a court recently rejected.

It seems unlikely that Ms Douglas will be satisfied with the court’s decision and will appeal, thus spending more public money on lawyers who charge a few hundred quid an hour. As queen, she is something of a bulldog, and she seems determined to visit all the cow pies this state has to offer.

And that, as they say in the land of double negatives, is not insignificant.

Heaven’s Gate

After reading “Final Cut” by Steven Bach, I had to watch “Heaven’s Gate,” the movie that occupies the book and a significant amount of territory in the history of motion pictures. Bach headed United Artists, the studio that essentially gave Michael Cimino carte blanche to make the movie. He was still basking in success of “The Deer Hunter.” The book is very readable tells a good — if greatly padded — story. I just watched a YouTube video that claims the movie bankrupted United Artists. This is untrue. The movie prompted Transamerica, an insurance company that decided to stick its stinking toe in movie waters, to sell UA to Kirk Kerkorian who also owned MGM. The United Artists name lasted a short time thereafter and then was combined with MGM.

The death of United Artists was (and still is) accompanied by much hand wringing and nostalgic mourning. It had a long tradition. It was created in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin. They wanted to wrest control of their work from the studios and thus founded their own.

“Final Cut” covers in great detail Cimino’s disregard for the initial $12 million budget. He spent $44 million and overran the production schedule by about a year. In 1980 — when the film was finally released — that was a powerful pile of cash. One version of its release was more than five hours long. Bach and Co pared it, but the movie was a bust. It put Hollywood off Westerns, damnit. It’s sad. One can watch “The Searchers” only so many times.

This movie is so bad, Netflix does not have it. I rented it from Casa Video. I watched the first hour and decided to watch an hour a night. Wednesday night I sat for the second hour. After about 20 minutes I could take no more. Every scene in this move is about three times longer than it should be. There is a plethora of dust and smoke in this film, enough to clog and fog three or four movies.  Some — many actually — of the scenes are beautiful and creative. Clearly, Cimino took his eye off the story and crafted a series of beautiful 20-minute videos. The roller skating scene is breathtaking.

One good thing came out of this movie: Hollywood became kinder to animals. The American Humane Association accused Cimino of killing four horses, disemboweling cattle, decapitating a chicken and staging actual cockfights. The AHA also claimed a horse and rider were accidentally blown up with dynamite. The horse died.

You can search YouTube for the trailer and other stuff.


We Arizonans have one of the most remarkable legislatures in the country. In 2000, the voters of Arizona approved the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district lines, thereby removing the power to do this from the Arizona Legislature. The Legislature has drawn these lines since statehood. Since it has become a Republican-dominated Legislature, these Republicans have drawn legislative districts in such as way as to make certain that its dominance and power are maintained.

These Republicans considered the will of the people in passing the independent redistricting referendum an unacceptable breach of its powers and rights. Thus Republican lawmakers voted to bring a lawsuit against the commission, in effect challenging the will of the people.

The Supreme Court decided this question about a month ago against the challenge wrought by the Republican Legislature, upholding the creation of the bipartisan commission.

It is gratifying that the court upheld the people’s will. But any joy in Mudville is tarnished by the fact that we taxpayers paid the legal costs of the Republican challenge. And we picked up the tab for the defense of the commission’s creation.

Now some may argue that the Legislature demonstrated great hubris in fighting the people and using the people’s money to do so. But upon further reflection, one must admit that the Legislature in principle also reflects the will of the people. So it was just one of those things, like “garbage in, garbage out,” and “people get the government they deserve.” Moreover, after the Legislature’s virtual destruction of public education, its neglect of the environment and its love and dedication of and to prisons, the voting taxpayers have no reason to expect any less arrogance from its Republican lawmakers.

On Route 66

 The one thing I remember from “Route 66,” the TV series, was this moment when Tod turns the ignition key of the Corvette and it roars. I remember the sense of being engulfed by envy. I — along with a gazillion other 14-year-old adolescents — could not imagine anything could beat that for cool.

The thought came back with the news that Martin Milner, who played Tod, died Sunday at the age of 83. He and his sidekick Buzz — played, or rather overplayed, by George Maharis — were characters created by the legendary screenwriter Stirling Silliphant whose work still holds up after all these years. He died in 1993.

I remember one episode in particular where Tod and Buzz get jobs working on the construction of a dam. The entire episode was shot in Page and during the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam.

In its time, Route 66 was the best thing on television. It embodied all the best of the American road trip. The theme was written by Nelson Riddle, a great tune that worked perfectly as shown right here.

This and that

The New York Times obit on Merl Reagle pointed out that one of his better cross-word moments was this clue: Most unpopular cookbook. The answer: “To Grill a Mockingbird.”


It’s a thrill to see the Tucson city primary results. The incumbents shall return to the general. The mayor will be reelected.

And of course nothing will change, save for the potholes that will get wider and deeper and the future will yet hold more Being and Nothingness.


Can anyone imagine a more arrogant, contemptible and execrable group of lawmakers than the Republicans of the Arizona Legislature? Consider this: The people vote by way of referendum to establish a nonpartisan group to draw legislative district boundaries. The Republicans of the Legislature decide to challenge the will of the people and pursue the case until it reaches the highest court in the land. A majority of the Supreme Court tells the AZ Republicans to go spit. Meanwhile, taxpayers pay for the legal representation on both sides.

Then these same Republicans refuse to abide by the vote of the people in 2000 to state financing of education include additional money to allow for inflation. The Republicans did not comply and now that aid is $1.3 billion in arrears. The AZ Republicans ignored the mandate.

This is reprehensible, an unconscionable breech of public trust. Still the voters return the AZ Republicans to office.



This is from a book review written by Rachel Cusk that appears in the August 30 issue of the NYT Book Review:

“Elena Ferrante has written her story twice: once in a group of intense, highly modeled short novels whose action unfolds over a brief time span; and again in the four sprawling, rambunctious, decades-spanning works that compose her Neapolitan saga. That these two modes of storytelling — the compact and the commodious; the modern and the historical; the distilling of life into metaphor and its picaresque, riotous expansion — are so obviously the obverse of each other constitutes yet another narrative, the story of how an individual (more specifically, a woman) arrives, after the ­vicissitudes of living, at a definition of self. “Do you want the long answer or the short?” is the customary divide between explanations versus outcomes in the retelling of events. Ferrante gives us both the long answer and the short, and in doing so adumbrates the mysterious beauty and brutality of personal experience.”