reasons to be cheerful*

Although it hasn't stopped me from planning a trip in February, I've been preoccupied with what I call, somewhat loosely, the end of the world. I find myself scanning news headlines obsessively, salting away tidbits and references in my mental eschatological clipping file: environmental catastrophes, genetically modified foods, religious extremism, obesity, technological singularity (that's a new one for me and, boy, its a doozy), heck, throw in zebo, and the decline of civility. From the absurd to the epic, it's all become a kind of drone that I'm always tuning in to. Perhaps that's why I found Niall Ferguson's piece in Vanity Fair, arguing that the decline of the West is not imminent-- its here, perversely gratifying. It won't win many (other) liberal hearts and minds, making sloppy shorthand of it all in equating NASCAR, illegal immigration, and, yes even tattoos, with signs of The End:
Shame has gone; so has civility. On Friday and Saturday nights, most English city centers become no-go zones where drunken, knife-wielding youths brawl with one another and the police. Another striking symptom of this new primitivism is the extraordinary surge in the popularity of tattoos, once associated with the unruly Picts of the Far North. In this modern decline and fall, it seems, at least some of the barbarians come from within the empire.
But I don't do him justice by merely quoting that, there's much more reasoned content. Somehow I found his cross-referenced kitchen sinkism compelling.

And what about
the byzantine and loony mental machinations of Daniel Pinchbeck? I've got a reserve on The Return of Quetzalcoatl at the library! From a piece in LA Weekly:
In 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, his part memoir, part anthropological journey through many things spiritual, metaphysical and just plain eerie, Pinchbeck illuminates not the world’s end but the many ways in which our social structures are disintegrating. “What I’m trying to show is that we’re already in a process of accelerated transformation,” he told me. “And I find that a reason to be hopeful.”
More salient is this comment (from a recent Rolling Stone hatchet job)
"We have to fix this situation right fucking now, or there's going to be nuclear wars and mass death, and it's not going to be very interesting. There's not going to be a United States in five years, OK?"
I think I'm with him on that...
A few months ago I saw a BBC documentary about Isaac Newton, 'outing' him as a religious obsessive, apocalyptic thinker and alchemist. He is said to have calculated AD 2060 as the time when there would be

a dramatic transition to a millennium of peace. In other words: the end of the secular world and the beginning of the Kingdom of God.
2012? 2045? 2060? Whichever date you choose to give credence to, something seems to be coming soonish.

Kurt Anderson made an excellent observation in his End Days trend piece in New York magazine

I don’t think our mood is only a consequence of 9/11 (and the grim Middle East), or climate-change science, or Christians’ displaced fear of science and social change. It’s also a function of the baby-boomers’ becoming elderly. For half a century, they have dominated the culture, and now...I think their generational solipsism unconsciously extrapolates approaching personal doom: When I go, everything goes with me, my end will be the end.
The "Me Generation" indeed.
* "Why don't you get back into bed
Why don't you get back into bed
Why don't you get back into bed...
Reasons to be cheerful part 3"

(image from: Morse Library, Beloit College)


looks like a genocide, quacks like a genocide...

France has initiated a parliamentary bill to make it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide of 1915 and now Turkey is stamping its foot and giving Europe the evil eye. I'm aware that I can sometimes be appallingly uninformed and simplistic when it comes to political history, but --why can't the Turks just own up to their episode and everyone can move on? Germany's managed to! Twice! One can't be a Holocaust Denier, why can one be a Genocide Denier? Why do the Turks make it a criminal act to even speak about it in Turkey, but cry loss of freedom of speech with this bill? And (and!) the EU doesn't even require Turkey to acknowledge 1915 for its proposed membership, but Turkey is issuing blustery warnings anyway. Perhaps someone can explain this to me?

And another issue is why the US, UK and Israel acknowledge something went on but its sorta, maybe what other people might call "genocide."
According to the BBC:
In May 1915, the Armenian minority, two or three million strong, was forcefully deported and marched from the Anatolian borders towards Syria and Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Many died en route...
Whether or not the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during World War I amounted to genocide is a matter for heated debate. Some countries have declared that a genocide took place, but others have resisted calls to do so.
Perhaps for the US what happened in Asia Minor sounds a wee bit too familiar. (If displacing and death-marching an entire ethnic community is genocide, that opens a whole other can of worms...). So what is the UK's and Israel's issue?


Highlights from the Collection

By popular demand (ie. my friend Clay expressed passing interest in the Holcottsville souvenir) I am posting some more generic landscape postcards. Left, from top, Nature Lovers' Utopia, a Dextone Beauty Scene, "Indian Summer," a Dextone Beauty Scene, Untitled [imprinted "Greetings from Wurtsboro, New York"].

The card below
, right, is worth quoting in its entirety, "A color symphony deep in the autumn woods, reflected by the shining, limpid waters in this Dextone Beauty Scene." Ektachrome by Thomas A. Dexter.


minor casualties of the 21st century

My friend Doug and I are making some letterpress notecards (who isn't these days?) and we're looking for something to print and line the envelopes with. Onion skin I thought. Kind of like the old air mail paper. Its mottled translucence, theoretically, could be interesting and it has that crinkley, unusual sound. Nice. So I started calling some stationery shops and got some chuckles on the other end of the line. One nice man mused, surely with some hyperbole, "we sold that about 40 years ago." Another said, with amusement, " you have to talk to Abe, he remembers that," and put me on hold. Alas, when Abe, evidently too busy to be troubled with memories of antiquated stock, picked up he simply said, "No, we don't got that." Todd Bielen over at Papertec Inc, which specializes in, well, "specialty papers," was very helpful. They had onion skin that, according to their site, "was approved for use by the US government and meets military spec P-157A... used in the production of military flares, munitions, and detonators." Unfortunately it was the cockle finish I was looking for and there was none left. Not only that, the "only mill in North America" that made onion skin had just ceased production. "So whatever's out there now," said Mr. Bielen with sympathy,"that's it."

I thought of something I'd read somewhere about a group of sound engineers in the 1970s who went around with microphones and reel-to-reels recording everyday sounds that were "endangered" like hand cranks and, presciently, telephone rings...

Doug and I have several options (we can try eBay, we can try Bible paper, we can go another route entirely) but I find it strangely sad.

Addendum: I've gotten an (relatively) outrageous amount of traffic from onion skin queryists. Now, in the comments for this post, The Paper Mill Store reports they have onion skin-- although I do not see any of the much-celebrated cockle finish...


Young Americans

The "Reverend Rollin Heber Neale" and "Unknown Woman in 9 Views" (both c. 1850) are from the magnificent book Young America, the Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes. S&H were a daguerreotype studio "of the highest order" in Boston from the 1840s to early 60s and produced some of the finest examples of the process. In 10 to 30 second exposures, daguerreotypists attempted to represent the best likeness-- the 'inner soul'-- of the sitter. The daguerreotype fixed, on a highly polished silvered metal plate, a single unique image that, though exquisitely almost unnervingly detailed, would dissolve into an evanescent, shimmering mirror depending on the angle at which it was viewed. The French invention took hold in the US to such an extent that by 1851 the Americans took home all the gold medals in 'Works of Industry' at the Crystal Palace exposition and daguerreotypy became known as the "American process." About the same time the daguerreian mania hit US shores the Young America movement gained prominence -- a radical democratic/utopian spirit in the arts, and political thinking--bringing together a preening sense of superiority, idealism and expansionist fervor. Daguerreian process and product seemed to reflect, both literally and figuratively, the energy and nationalist and individualist spirit of the 1840s and 50s. At that time, America, and a good portion of Europe, really thought the "Great Experiment" would work. As Alan Trachtenberg relates in Young America:
Envisioning a continental "empire of liberty" Young America saw the American nationalist mission as the "hope of mankind." The prospects of the country seemed without parallel in human history
Looking at the many portraits in this book I feel oddly emotional. That type of boundless optimism, the sense that anything could be achieved, and anyone, anywhere, improved, with a little American Know-How is inconceivable... The earlier simplistic adolescent vigor, overreaching but potent and impressive, is now still-naive, still-overreaching (with a sense of entitlement to boot) but in its bloated Late Middle Age is not so "Great" anymore.
I came across a haunting latin phrase: Vis consili expers mole ruit sua ("Strength without wisdom falls by its own weight")...

The portrait of the Reverend Neale, shown at about age 42, is riveting. If it is possible to be swept off one's feet by someone who has been dead for 127 years, I have succumbed.


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