Saturday, October 29, 2011

Edward de Vere Meets JFK

Recently, I posted here about a new movie called Anonymous, opening October 28 at a theatre near you.

Anonymous is the story of Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who may have written some or all of the body of work we know as "Shakespeare."

At this writing, I still haven't seen the movie, but I'm looking forward to it. I've read a smattering of the reviews, though, and many are quite vicious. I cannot help being reminded of reviews of JFK, Oliver Stone's twenty-year-old film that raised questions about the Kennedy assassination – and with it, the ire of the media establishment.

In a word, many (though not all) of the Anonymous reviews say that as far as filmmaking goes, it's a fine effort. But they trash the filmmakers for making it, and endorsing so deluded a notion that someone other than an undereducated burgher could have written the most renowned prose in the English language.

Take Roger Ebert, for example. I respect Roger Ebert. I like his stuff. He calls Anonymous "a marvelous historical film," but covers his ass by observing that "there seems little reason to doubt that [Shakespere] wrote the plays performed under his name."

Memo to Roger: There are actually plenty of reasons to doubt the authorship of William Shakespeare. Read a few of them in Who Wrote Shakespeare?, by John Michell.

In the Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore said Anonymous is "all poppycock." And The New Yorker, that urbane East Coast rag, called the film "preposterous fantasia."

Nearly two decades earlier, some of these same publications assailed Oliver Stone as equally deluded for making a movie about a conspiracy to kill JFK. George Lardner led the assault in the Washington Post. He wrote a long article charging "errors and absurdities" and that Stone was "chasing fiction." In Esquire, Robert Sam Anson portrayed director Stone as unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.

Oddly, Ebert was sympathetic to the whole idea of a JFK conspiracy. "Do you know anyone who believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted all by himself in killing Kennedy?" he asked at the time. "I don't."

There's a sense of hands off – that these subjects are not to be critically explored. Accept the established view, and shut up. But just as there were a smattering of defenses of Oliver Stone's JFK, so there are a smattering of mostly tepid defenses of Anonymous. It's early in the game. Perhaps there will be more, and stronger, defenses. But for now, the Stratfordians seem to have the opposition in a powerful headlock.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Snow

We had our first snowfall of the season last night.

We knew it was coming, and the kids were hoping for a day off school. Sorry! We didn't get nearly enough snow for that minor miracle.

It was, however, a bit of a mess this morning.

The snowfall had a very high moisture content, meaning it was a dense, heavy snow. Trees in the area are bent under its great weight. At right is a picture of my car's appearance this morning.

Still, we did not get nearly as much snow as the forecast  called for. (As I write this, it's still coming down...I may speak too soon...) A winter weather advisory went into effect around 9pm last night and doesn't expire until 6pm this evening. It's around lunchtime as I write this. Precipitation has tapered off to a very light snowfall. But I suppose it could pick up again.

This is the sort of weather it takes for me to finally concede that yes, summer really is over...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Urban Blight

A long time ago, a saxophone player I knew asked me to take some photographs in and around the city of Detroit, where we both lived.

He had just recorded a bunch of his music and planned to release it as a CD. Maybe, he thought, I could provide some cover art.

And so, following his instructions to the letter, I took pictures of the most blighted areas I could find. Not that it took a lot of searching. Detroit at that time was probably at its nadir, in terms of neglect, urban decay, national image and reputation. (Or maybe not. A subsequent administration probably forced these things even lower, but by then I'd relocated to a distant city.)

My friend's idea was to contrast images of the worst of Motown with images of the worst of South Africa – of Soweto and other townships. At this time, South Africa's apartheid regime was, at last, being forced from power. Nelson Mandela was about to get out of prison.

And so I drove brazenly into the most afflicted parts of Detroit that I could find. Looking back, it was probably a risky endeavor, but I didn't stop to think about that. Rather, it seemed like a challenge, or an adventure – although I did choose to do most of my shooting early on Saturday mornings. I had a notion that even the criminals had to sleep, and that Saturday mornings might be one of the safer times I could venture into some really crappy areas with an expensive camera, and take a lot of pictures.

Here are a few of the images I collected over two expeditions.

As it turned out, my sax playing friend did not use the pictures I took. I don't remember the reason. It wasn't personal.

On another occasion, I spent an afternoon in the little club my friend ran, taking photos. The picture below is from that shoot. It might have made a pretty good album cover.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Every year or so, they catch up to me again: unscrupulous Internet so-and-sos, who send out cannonloads of spam.

Spam is as old as the Internet, but with a little determination you can usually block it. Or at least some of it. At least for a while.

Which is what I do. Sometimes I even notice a slight decrease in volume, but it never lasts.

At first, when all those unwanted solicitations begin to accumulate again, I just delete it. But before too long, I get mad.

Enough is enough, I think. And I start clicking on the "unsubscribe" links, typically buried at the very bottom of the spam, and in the tiniest of print – so tiny it isn't easy to read, but is easy to overlook.

But they're usually there. So I start clicking on them, and filling out the associated forms.

It rankles me to have to fill out an "unsubscribe" form, even though most of them are short and sweet. To unsubscribe implies that I subscribed in the first place!

These unsubscribe links obviously get a lot of use. I clicked on one once, and got an error message that said, "Could not connect. Too many connections."

Here's a web site with some useful information about spam.

I don't think it's possible to eliminate spam entirely. The Internet is filled with unscrupulous, bottom-feeding bastards out to sell you something you don't need; to dupe anyone and everyone into buying some spurious product or service. And it isn't just the former finance minister of a tiny African country you might not even be able to locate on a map.

The nerve of these people!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Authorship Question

The so-called "Authorship Question" has intrigued me for many years. Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare?

My interest is a little incongruous, since I am by no means a Shakespearean. I am, however, conspiracy minded.

There's a movie about the Authorship Question due out soon, called Anonymous. I just heard about it the other day, and it sounds like a far cry from Shakespeare In Love. According to some stuff I found on the Internet, Anonymous "speculates on an issue that has for centuries intrigued academics and brilliant minds ranging from Mark Twain and Charles Dickens to Henry James and Sigmund Freud, namely: who was the author of the plays credited to William Shakespeare?"

When you really delve into the Authorship Question, aka the Authorship Controversy, it's a complex issue. But at its heart is the simple discrepancy between the established facts of the life of "William Shakepere" and the nature of Shakespeare's works. The known Shakespere seems to have been an uneducated rustic, an illiterate boob. Yet the plays and sonnets are the most exalted works of Western literature.

I can't remember now when I first heard about the Authorship Question. But my interest wasn't very strong until I saw a PBS Frontline episode about it. It centered on Edward de Vere (above), the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Many believe de Vere is the true author of at least some of the Shakespeare canon, in particular the Sonnets, and perhaps Hamlet.

The value (and ultimate message) of Anonymous remains to be seen. Will it straddle the fence? Will it champion de Vere as the true author of Shakespeare? Or another candidate, such as Francis Bacon, or Christopher Marlowe?

You can find a good overview in a book called Who Wrote Shakespeare? by John Michell. The case for de Vere is fully explored in The Mysterious William Shakespeare, by Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

Or, you can read this entry in good ol' Wikipedia.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Used Books

At present, there aren't any used bookstores in my area.

And that is a real shame, because I've always loved used bookstores.

Everything about them appeals to me: the ambiance, the musty aroma of old books, and the thrill of the unexpected discovery. I even like the often-eccentric merchants who operate them.

When we first moved to our little berg, there was a used bookstore in the main business district. It was a pretty good one, but it's been gone for years. A couple others have come and gone, in the years since. I have always wondered how used bookstores stay in business.

Most used bookstores are filled with thousands of arcane volumes that don’t interest me at all, with big sections like Americana, Railroads, and Regional History. That must sound like a paradox – thousands of titles that don’t interest me – but like most book lovers I have esoteric passions. When I go into any used bookstore I become a homing pigeon. I almost always turn up something of interest; and every now and then I’ll unearth some genuine nugget, a truly exciting and prized discovery.

Some years back, when I lived in San Francisco, my neighborhood had seven or eight used bookstores. On Saturdays I used to make the rounds, beginning with a streetcar ride down Church Street to the main business district in that area. After checking out three or four different places I’d stop for coffee at Spinelli’s. Then I’d catch the electric bus and take it for eight blocks to my favorite, The Bibliophile, where the proprietor astonished me with the breadth of her knowledge of a vast inventory.

During this period I began actively searching for books about the JFK assassination. My interest had been dormant for years, but was revived by a chance remark one day in The Bibliophile. I came across a battered mass-market paperback called If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade, a memoir by a colorful figure named Warren Hinckle. I’d never heard of it before. The proprietor noticed me flipping through it and said, “There’s a really fascinating chapter in there about the Kennedy assassination.” The book only cost a dollar, so I bought it. And indeed, the chapter fascinated me – and my interest in the case was revived.

Used bookstores, I soon learned, tend to categorize Kennedy books inconsistently. In one store they might be in U.S. History, while in another, True Crime. In others still, there might be a Conspiracies section. Once I figured that out I began to find curiosities like The Witnesses ("one of the most biased offerings ever to masquerade as objective information"), and worthies like Jim Garrison's Heritage of Stone. I was hooked.

But I stray. I'm beginning to wonder whether, with the demise of places like Borders, used bookstores might make a comeback. If publishing is overwhelmed by electronic books, as seems to be quite likely, then a new demand for physical books could develop. Of course, they'll be available via the Internet, and if they're antiques they'll be more costly than now. Maybe they'll even make a partial comeback, like vinyl records. And that would be a good thing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


For the time being, I enjoy my morning coffee.

As it was in the beginning, and unto the ages. Amen.

Some years back, though, I quit drinking it. Coffee, I decided, revs me up a just little too much.

A few years later I started up again. It happened on a morning when I felt unusually sluggish. What the hell, I reasoned – that most notorious of reasonings.

So I made a cup and drank it up. My work that morning went very well.

And that's all it took! I fell off the coffee wagon very hard; was back to my old consumption rate in no time.

I typically only drink two or three cups a day. The thing is, I like it strong. My latent, inner Parisian wants beans from far-flung regions, dark-roasted and ground to a fine powder, Turkish style. It makes a powerful cup.

But that stuff just gets me too cranked up. So eventually, I quit again.

Now, another year gone by, I'm back on it. Got started again the same way: I needed the jump-start.

I do not drink it guiltlessly. It's only coffee, I rationalize. But the truth is I feel much the way I felt when a younger, stupider me started smoking, quit, started again, quit again, etc etc, before finally quitting for good.

So before too much longer, I'm sure to give coffee up...again.