- Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart - The Supremes
- Somebody's Watching You - Rufus
- I Got a Feeling - Four Tops
- Gimme Little Sign - Brenton Wood
- I'm Glad You're Mine - Al Green
- Tell Mama - Etta James
- Suga Duga ft. DukeDaGod - Cam'ron
- Touch It ft. Kanye West - Pusha T
- Grindin' - Clipse
- The Thrill Is Gone - B.B. King
- Highway to Hell ft. Freddie Gibbs and Bun B - Mexicans with Guns
- There Will Be Tears - Frank Ocean
- Hope She'll Be Happier - Bill Withers
- Survival of the Fittest - Mobb Deep
- Want Ads - Honey Cone
Boss Tweed (@jonathandoster) is back with another mixtape. Give it a listen on this royal Friday:
Sure, the Royal Wedding is silly and shallow, particularly when Britain’s economy continues to struggle, but the media’s obsession with the proceedings does not actively anger me. Chalk it up to my Anglophilia, a (hereditary) amusement with pageantry, and my interest in the devious politicking behind the spectacle, as elucidated by Doug Sanders at the Globe and Mail. I just can’t dismiss outright a cultural event that 2 billion people deem worthy of attention.
At tomorrow’s ceremony, with a heavy dose of pomp, the couple will try to “lift the spirits of a downtrodden nation“ while respecting the economic hardship so many of their compatriots currently face. That’ll be a tricky, if not impossible, task.
No regal couple tapped into the zeitgeist of a nation more deftly than Japan’s Emperor Akihito and his bride, Michiko Shoda. A half-century ago, Michiko -- the gorgeous, intelligent daughter of a flour manufacturing magnate -- became the first “commoner” to marry into the Japanese Imperial Family in 2,600 years. Their relationship was not arranged; the organic “love marriage” was forged on the tennis court, and the young and hip “Mitchy” helped legitimize that cultural practice, which had just been legally enshrined in the new Constitution 12 years prior. Her style and independent streak -- she ditched the traditional kimono for a full-length dress, for example -- were revered by young Japanese trying to forge a forward-looking, post-war identity. (Time argued that Michiko was “symptomatic of democratic ideas that eventually began to take hold in all of Japan.”) Not surprisingly, their nuptials captivated the country; roughly 2 million households bought televisions specifically to watch the new Empress walk down the aisle.
Sadly, the media attention, along with intense badgering from her conservative in-laws, has taken a toll on Michiko. Over the years, she’s dropped weight, suffered stress-induced intestinal bleeding, and at one point even lost the ability to speak. From a statement in 2007:
“I feel the same way even now. Much of the time I find it difficult to be confident in my decisions. It has been a great challenge to get through each and every day with my sorrow and anxiety.
“When I am sad and concerned about things, I don’t know how to cope. So sometimes I pray or whisper a childish magical charm. I also feel an affinity with the many other people who live wordlessly under sadness and anxiety. Perhaps this is an illusion, but I regard it as a boon, and take solace and encouragement.”
The lights will beat even heavier on England’s newest princess in the days, weeks, and years ahead. That exposure is both a privilege and a burden. Let’s hope she doesn’t experience the same type of anguish as her East Asian sister.
Modern man’s voracious appetite for seafood is endangering one of the Amazon’s most majestic marine mammals, and with it some delightfully bizarre folk tales.
The pink river dolphin, or Boto, is a staple of South American life. Found in shallow, slow-moving waters, the good-natured creatures can reach 200 pounds in size, which make them an attractive target for fisherman looking to secure heaps of catfish bait. Although slaughtering the rosy beasts is illegal and carries an 18-month prison sentence in Brazil, enforcement is basically impossible, as several environmentalists have warned over the past year. The dolphins are often harpooned at night, and only five environmental agents have been hired to patrol the massive jungle region (twice the size of Texas) they call home. For the anglers, the price is worth any potential risk; two dead dolphins can generate about $2,400 in catfish sales in just one day. Of the 30,000 river dolphins remaining, which are already threatened by rising boat traffic and mercury pollution, experts predict that 1,500 are killed annually.
Some native Amazonians can’t wait for the Boto to go the way of the Dodo. For generations, the species has held a mythical role in the region as a shape-shifting, and often dangerous, Encantado:
The encantado -- Portuguese for “enchanted ones” -- are river-dwelling spirits who can take either human form or the form of a boto, the bizarre long-beaked freshwater dolphins of the Amazon. In human form they are pale-skinned and graceful, dressed usually in bright clothes in an old-fashioned style. Their transformation is never fully complete, however: an encantado will always have a bald spot on the top of its head where its dolphin blowhole remains. For this reason, the encantado always keeps his head covered, usually with a broad-brimmed straw hat. The encantado is better at assuming its dolphin form, though strange boto with flippers ending in human hands have been reported.
The encantado are curious about human society, and they are particularly fond of festivals and parties where they can enjoy music and dancing. It is not unheard-of for an enchanted one to dwell on land long-term, making a living as a musician. This fascination with people shows its dark side when a lovestruck encantado abducts a human girl back to its home in the underwater city called the Encante. Most of these girls never return from this mystic place, and those that somehow escape their abductors are never quite right in the head. Many return pregnant; this happens often enough that it’s common in some areas for any child whose father is unknown to be called a “child of the boto.”
The Yangtze River Dolphin, the Boto’s Chinese cousin, was declared functionally extinct in 2007, a victim of overfishing in Asia. The extermination of these seafarers may ease concerns of human fathers, but it certainly does not bode well for the future of freshwater ecosystems.
The Illinois State Fair is an event with some history. The Springfield-based Crazy Dog Drive In helped popularize the corn dog when its proprietors began serving the encased meat on a stick in 1946. Twenty-two years later, playing with a "sound system that was totally inadequate," The Who opened for The Association at the fair ground grandstand, one year before the release of the band's first U.S. top-ten album.
These days, with conservatives moaning about the cost of maintaining the agricultural showcase, thrift is the name of the game. That's made quite clear by the musical acts booked for August 20: MC Hammer and (a shrunken) Boyz II Men. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
For your weekend pleasure, go back and read the memorable 1994 Harper's essay (PDF) on the fair by Bloomington-native David Foster Wallace. And see if you can spot a still-respected drummer in this video:
Chris Bond is tired of his constituents expectorating on the sidewalk. The London City Council member, representing the far northern neighborhood of Enfield, is petitioning his country’s Secretary of State for Justice to give local officials the authority to outlaw public spitting. "It is my belief,” he said in an interview with the BBC this week, “that most people find spitting a wholly obnoxious, filthy habit which can spread germs and causes health issues.”
One hundred years ago, Bond’s request would not have seemed peculiar. Indeed, by 1916, 195 out of 213 American cities with populations over 25,000 had prohibitions against the practice on their books. The laws were imposed to prevent the spread of tuberculosis, which can be contracted by inhaling just a tiny bit of particulate bacteria embedded in sputum. The National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, the antecedent of the American Lung Association, was actually formed in 1904 with the direct goal of educating the public about the dangers of unloading saliva near the feet of unsuspecting neighbors.
These days, we in the west live cleaner lives and have access to antibiotics and vaccines that largely protect us from that deadly infection. Chewing tobacco, a once-prevalent substance that produces excess saliva, has also fallen out of favor with the non-baseball-playing public. (The Onion had some fun with that development a few years back.) So the problem is solely cosmetic, not health-related. And enforcing spitting bans, it turns out, is incredibly difficult pretty much everywhere, especially when law enforcement is apathetic about the statute itself. As one police official in the Indian state of West Bengal (which does outlaw spitting) told The Telegraph three years ago, “if we started imposing the law, we would perhaps end up having to arrest every second person on the streets of Calcutta.”
Some other politicians have tried alternative methods to dissuade spitters. The city of Kunming, China, for example, began distributing tiny green phlegm bags for people to hock into and then trash. And India has launched the Spit Free India campaign in an effort to raise awareness about potential health risks. Perhaps its a good time to invest in modern-day spittoon manufacturers, if any actually exist.
(H/T The Awl)
There’s an episode in the last season of The Larry Sanders Show in which “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley, concerned that his days in show business are numbered, runs into singer Andy Williams in the makeup room. The legendary crooner gives Hank some advice: when Larry retires, move down to Branson, Missouri and open up your own theater. Kinglsey is incredulous. “Wow, it’s packed every night?” “Every night,” Williams intones.
I don’t blame Hank for his skepticism; the transformation of this little isolated Missouri town -- population 10,000 -- from a modest homesteading community into one of America’s premiere tourist destinations is an unlikely phenomenon that befuddles most non-Ozarkians. In 2009, 7.8 million visitors swung through Branson and 85 percent of them took in at least one stage show while there, generating $3 billion in tourism-related spending. The region now boasts 50 theaters and a larger nightly seating capacity than Broadway. Not bad for a city many Americans could not identify on a map.
Branson’s entertainment infrastructure developed relatively rapidly, beginning in 1959 with the establishment of the Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree Show, a variety show combining country music and “hillbilly humor.” Over the next decade, several theaters catering to visiting fishermen opened up shop along Hwy. 76., now known as The Strip, hosting live shows similar to WLS’ famous National Barn Dance. As Aaron Ketchell describes it, “entertainment was built on … innocent country and gospel music, the promotion of antimodern nostalgia, civil religious patriotism, and a distinct construction of domestic appropriateness expressed though the rhetoric of ‘family values.’” Their business was steady, if a bit narrow in appeal.
It was in the early 1980s, after celebrity country music star Roy Clark came to town, when the game changed. Around that time, Nashville record companies hoping to attract a younger, hipper audience started dropping established artists from their labels. Clark and his dissed compatriots moved 450 miles west, and their audience came with. From the journal Organization Science:
The process accelerated when “people from Nashville started coming,” beginning in 1983 when Roy Clark opened his own theater. By booking stars for limited engagements and continually rotating them, Clark’s theater acted as an “incubator” that introduced them to Branson’s possibilities, encouraging many to set up local theaters and driving a “Country Music Explosion” Celebrities who founded theaters in Branson attracted other celebrities, some of whom also founded theaters after seeing the available opportunities, and these in turn attracted others. Among the “big name country music stars” who settled in Branson were Boxcar Willie, Mickey Gilley, and Mel Tillis. According to informants and documentary sources, Branson offered these older stars a place to be “classics” instead of “has-beens”; a ready market of loyal and adoring fans; a respite from the tedium and rootlessness of years of touring; a vehicle for unfettered artistic expression; and a chance to reconnect with family, community, and friends with whom they had grown up in the business.
Seeking the same accepting atmosphere as their country contemporaries, aging mainstream stars like Williams and Wayne Newton followed suit, drawing more fans (and national media attention) to southern Missouri and establishing it as the self-proclaimed "Live Entertainment Capital of the World.” If the likes of Yakov Smirnoff can consistently sell out 2,000 seat amphitheaters, the title may actually be apt.
What a country! And what a weird town.
There was a time in Alexander Graham Bell’s life, before he was awarded the first patent for the telephone, when he worried about paying the bills. Like scores of freelance entrepreneurs who succeed him, the inventor was forced to pair his creative work with a job that provided a modicum of financial stability. Bell choose deaf education.
That decision was not as random as it initially appears. Both Bell’s mother and his eventual wife were deaf, and his father was a renowned researcher and teacher of speech and elocution who developed a writing system -- Visible Speech -- he thought could help deaf students learn spoken language. The younger Bell went to Boston in 1871 to train teachers in his father’s methods and was quickly hooked. “My interest in the Deaf is to be a life-long thing with me,” he wrote in a letter to his wife. “I see so much to be done, and so few to do it.”
Bell’s pedagogy, however, proved controversial. The inventor was a proponent of Oralism, which restricts children’s use of sign language in favor of lip reading and breathing techniques that approximate verbal speech. Roughly analogous to the contemporary “English-only movement,” Oralists like Bell considered American Sign Language “foreign” and a barrier to the full integration of deaf youth into American life.
Manualists saw both practical and cultural problems with Bell’s approach. For starters, lip reading is incredibly difficult; only about 40 percent of sounds in the English language are distinguishable by sight. When students struggle to pick up the practice quickly, it leaves less time for actual academic studies. And while Bell considered deafness a disability to be overcome, most folks in the Deaf community viewed their inability to hear only as a difference in identity, one in which the use of sign language is central.
Bell didn’t do his side any favors when he incorporated into this legitimate debate his theories about Eugenics. In 1884, he published a loony paper -- “Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race” -- that characterized the formation of deaf clubs and the possibility of deaf marriage as “a great calamity” for the nation. If ASL and deaf teachers were removed from the classroom, Bell argued, America would not dilute its stock.
While those charming theories were eventually discredited, Bell’s oralist legacy lives on through the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a non-profit organization (initially financed by profits from the Graphophone) that advocates in favor of spoken language and hearing technology for deaf kids. In the end, it was Bell’s creative inventions that supported his forays into the world of education.
Before I head down to City Hall to watch this ordinance pass, I thought I'd share several cultural artifacts I know you all will enjoy consuming!
Few Americans weathered the Great Recession as nimbly as the Amish, a religious group with a (growing) population of 250,000. The distinctive mores of the Pennsylvania Dutch -- self sufficiency, a rejection of modern conveniences, conservation -- largely insulated this religious group from the economic pain so many of its Midwestern neighbors endured. And their rigid belief system, which emphasizes family and humility, instills in its members sound financial habits; the majority of young adults live and work at home, are obliged to save the majority of their earnings, and are taught that accruing debt brings shame.
Financial temperance, however, does not a good investor make, a lesson Sugarcreek, Ohio native Monroe Beachy found out the hard way. Armed with a 10th-grade education and some classes from H&R Block, the Amish man (now 77) began selling investment contracts 25 years ago to members and institutions in his community, including a school capital fund and a Mennonite church. Unfortunately for them, Beachy wasn’t exactly forthright about the haphazard investment decisions he subsequently made. From a February complaint filed with the SEC:
"From as early as 1986 through June 2010, Beachy, doing business as A&M Investments, raised at least $33 million from more than 2,600 investors through the offer and sale of investment contracts," the complaint states. "The vast majority of Beachy's investors were Amish. Beachy told the investors that their money would be used to purchase risk-free U.S. government securities, which would generate returns for the investors.”
"In reality, Beachy used investor money to make speculative investments. Until he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June 2010, Beachy never told his investors that he had lied about how he was investing their money. Beachy also never told his investors that he had experienced significant losses on the underlying investments. Beachy provided his investors with monthly account statements that showed fabricated gains.”
In total, Beachy lost $15 million of the original capital, and was technically insolvent as early as 1998. But while one bankruptcy trustee essentially equated Beachy with Bernie Madoff, the SEC filing does not actually accuse Beachy of profiting personally from the operation. It seems more likely that his goal was altruistic in the beginning, and when things started to go south, he panicked. (Beachy told the Washington Post that “of course it was not intentional.”)
The saga of the Amish “Ponzi scheme” is far from resolved. Because “participation as a creditor is abhorrent to [their] deeply held spiritual principles,” investors have asked the bankruptcy court Beachy entered to drop the case and let the community address the debts internally. If that happens, it’s tough to see how the fraud victims will recoup their losses entirely. Under their alternative plan, a committee would only distribute evenly the remaining $18 million in assets, not seek full restitution for the squandered funds.
Forcing Beachy to repay the additional $15 million, on the other hand, would put his brothers and sisters in a Catch-22; when an Amish member faces financial difficulties, he or she is expected to ask neighbors for assistance. In Beachy’s case, those would be the same folks he so inelegantly swindled.
I'm cashing in a Christmas gift certificate for a cooking class this morning -- "Weeknight Meals: From Drab to Fab" -- so you'll have to wait until next week for my post on Amish hucksterism. In the meantime, go to your nearest bookstore and pick up this week's edition of The Nation, which includes a short piece by me about safe small-dollar loan programs. And then enjoy your weekend!