Friday, November 30, 2012


Harry Callahan [1912-1999] was an important 20th Century American photographer whose career spanned the entire post-WWII period. He began photographing seriously in the late 1930's, but his career really didn't get going until after the war. Self-taught, he went on to teach photography for many years, first at the Institute of Design in Chicago, and later at the Rhode Island School of Design (until 1977). Though he was associated early in his career with the work of Aaron Siskind, his work always showed a strong individual vision. He was always one of the least derivative artists in his métier, and in each phase of his work he blazed new paths for development. 

Callahan was famous, if not notorious, for not furnishing aesthetic explanations or programs for his own work. Though entirely devoted to his art--he photographed almost every day--what he may have thought about his approach to subject matter, and the process he went through to attain his desired ends he preferred to keep to himself, despite the implied pedagogical obligation his teaching position implied. He was quoted as saying that a serious photographer should be able to make an interesting picture of anything, no matter where one was, and that one needn't go further than a few paces from where one sat or stood to find a good vantage point. This kind of reductive minimalist approach to the meaning of content seems to me quintessentially American. When Callahan visited Europe on a grant, he complained that it was "too photogenic"--that he "couldn't find pictures" to make. The notion of an unfinished or unripe visual reality is specific to the American mind, which thinks of an unsettled and undeveloped frontier as the crucial inspiring ground for exploitation. Europeans, in the era of exploration, may have felt something similar, but they didn't have cameras to record what they found and saw in the strange new lands they found. The idea of exploring reality as a given abstraction, without the associations assigned to it by society, history, aesthetic discipline, is a particularly American endeavor, and one reason for the revolutionary quality of so much successful American art in the 20th Century. 

Like William Carlos Williams, one often has the feeling, looking at a Callahan print, that he is like Robinson Crusoe walking along the beach and seeing another human footprint for the first time after being marooned. Each fact, each event, each discovery acquires a significance far beyond its measure in a world fully occupied by humankind. There's a loneliness and isolation in most of Callahan's images, which enables the visionary eye to see things in their original wonder and simplicity, shorn of extraneous associations and habitual contexts. This kind of seeing is both a condition of innocence before nature, and a discipline that is rather like eastern mystical notions of a perfected state of attention and openness. And yet Callahan tells us nothing about any of this, preferring to let us attend to his images without any controlling or suggestive rubric. A critic is both free, and constrained by this lack of a surrounding aesthetic context. The denial of a precedent or methodology allows the image to stand alone, in isolation from history and associations. 

I like to think of Callahan's photographs as exhibiting a quality of controlled passivity, creating a kind of tension between the impulse to respond in a certain way to an image, and an apparent laxity (or relaxation) which the very quiet mood of his work permits. An apparent stasis or balance between viewer and scene, between opposing dimensions of the picture frame, creates a provisional unification of intention. Time stands still, in order that we may contemplate the poised impression of a specific bit (or frame) of reality. This original simplicity characterizes much of Callahan's best early work.        

At first glance, a work like this early study of high contrast reflections on a water surface might seem like doctrinaire Abstract Expressionist work. But in the milieu of Callahan's other work, it stands out as a specific discovery amidst a series of unique moments. But unlike the elusive, fleeting "moment" as expressed in the work, say, of Cartier-Bresson (and/or other generic photo-journalists), this one doesn't stand on the candid delight of an elusive intention; it's chosen out of the great wealth of similar moments and stands as an example of a deliberate found instant--ethically neutral--a democratic particular chosen from the unlimited record of all such instants, none more value-laden than any other. An image type-cast from the Platonic array of possible form(s). Photography's great potential is to be able to imply and capture all this meaning in an otherwise inert visual template. Callahan's refusal to bridge the gap between the weight of his images, and the viewer's hunger for pretext, leaves a void which can only be filled with after-market critical additions.     

During mid-career, Callahan explored multiple exposures as a way of visualizing time and the meaning of repetition--which occurs most noticeably in mechanical circumstance(s). He manages here to imply all the variations in stepped occurrence possible within a segment (or passage) of an urban street scene. There's a kind of lagging fatigue which resists the drag of all these masses of metal through prostrate space. It's a mindless exhaustion of tedious appointments in eternity--yet it's the world we pass through on our respective numberless errands, so we know it must be real. Though the monotonous look of these vehicles is locked in the obsolescent imagination of 1940's auto design--an industry in which Callahan worked for some years prior to beginning his life as an artist--it speaks the same message to us today. Against the monotony of post-War America and its relentless capitalist expansion, Callahan sees in nature an idealized iconography, but without any of the meubles, or the trappings of erotic or religious baggage. His many and varied images of his wife Eleanor, describe an intimate concentration that amounts to a kind of aesthetic obsession.         

The mood in these studies is one of abiding intimacy and affection, the nudes are almost religious in their intensity and focus. In the image below, Callahan has made what is known as a contact print. That is, the frame of the negative is entirely filled from the image projected through the lens; there is no "cropping" or adjustment of the frame. In other words, what he composed through the back of the camera is exactly what was printed on the exposed negative in the film holder at the back of the camera. There's an implied directness and completeness in the making of the image, and a total sufficiency to the process. Everything is deliberate; nothing is left out. Nothing is left to chance or later adjustments. This directness is part of Callahan's purified, hygienic approach to image-making. 

Callahan's intense concentration on the intimate facts of his own family life has no counterpoint in the rest of his published or displayed work. There's a cleanliness about this that is almost Puritan in its nature. There is nothing vicarious about Callahan's work. Seeing his pictures of his wife is like looking through the eyes of Adam in Paradise, as Eve first appeared to him. In one of his canonical images--which has been used in various venues over the years--is this other-worldly picture of Eleanor submerged in the waves of the Great Lakes. The face is striking not just for the iconic, classic lines, but as a result of the closed eyes, and the gently undulating dark tresses of her hair, which partially cover her upper trunk. She's like a mermaid, or a sea nymph rising out of the ocean. Her implied somnolence suggests a birthing, or a trance state. She's like some ancient goddess or symbol of feminine power seducing us into the water, or to some fantastic idyll.     

And yet it also has a kind of plainness and simplicity which belies all that myth-making. She is just a woman, elevated in our regard to a position of inspired visionary illumination. If woman, in the guise of Eleanor, is the love goddess of pre-history, then nature, or the forms of the universe as we're given to know it, has its own seemingly baffling designs.


Callahan's nature studies have none of the picturesque qualities ordinarily associated with classic landscape photography. They're nonetheless totally aesthetic, not scientific, not inspirational, not "ideal," and not unique examples. Again, they seem almost random as subject-matter. And it's the tension between the ordinary subject and the photographer's opportunity which gives them their common astonishing quality. When Callahan wandered in nature, it wasn't the striking gnarled tree trunk that caught his attention, or the swirling mass of a thunderhead, but the jumble and chaotic mass of twisted grass stems he saw at his feet. Recognizing immediately how photogenic this composition would appear in black and white, he pointed his camera down. That moment was a metaphysical realization whose implications were greater than any feeling we might have about the heroic character of inspired landscape views. And the form these stems have bears the same relation to the meaning of nature, as a specimen on a slide under a microscope. The formal qualities exhibited in it have the same indelible immanence as an equation--a revealed truth laid bare. 

And yet the impression you are left with in Callahan's work isn't complexity and contradiction and confusion, but clarity and passive acceptance. Even when the subject may be the harried expressions of commuters on an urban street, the feeling we have is not intrusion, or shock, or dismay, but a sense of random impulsiveness to which we're only casual witnesses. Callahan's range is a good deal more varied than my own partial appreciation might suggest--   

--but for me, the power of his vision is best expressed where his control over the event within the frame of the moment and the whole picture is most complete. To make something new out of a built scene requires a transformative process that accepts the implications of pre-existing man-made environments, while seeing into or beyond them to an unsuspected vantage. But when he confronts nature, the original purity of his approach is preserved. Within the universe of possible scenes, there is a vast limit. We are both a part of, and apart from, the universe of light to which we belong. The photo above could be of a Mars landscape, and yet if it were, the implication of the thin dark line, compressed by the gradations of wind-blown sand, would be measurably the same. In one sense the picture is "empty"--the sky presses down upon the land, and the dark sea is "squeezed" into a thin strip, barely visible. The earth's spherical curve disappears just beyond our reach. It is like the first view of the sea by a land-bound being, or of a newborn baby turtle "returning" to the sea its ancestors left to deposit its egg.     

Humans stand in the light of the sun's angle, and are forever held there in a timeless relation to the folded infinity of such moments--possible, realized, or dreamed. Life is fleeting, and transient, and elusive, and unverified without a record. It happens all around us, with or without notice. We are its only witnesses.    

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Grey Satin Lady

I don't know why cocktails are associated with ladies. A lot of them are named "ladies" as if an alcoholic drink could be considered an intoxicating abstraction. Perhaps it has to do with the tradition of attempting to seduce a lady by getting her tipsy. Or perhaps, more innocently, it refers to the sense of style or panache which going out with a lady dressed in her sexiest outfit inspires. Jazz pieces, by Ellington, say, are named as if they were cocktails--e.g., "Sophisticated Lady." In the 1920's, the heyday of the cocktail, drinking and jazz were closely associated. The music was naughty in the same way that the illegal drinking was. And maybe the sex was considered just as naughty. In a more permissive society, such forbidden pleasure doesn't carry quite the same caché, which may be why cocktails aren't as exciting as they were once.     

I'm not a big fan of Violette liqueur, but in the right proportion, and with the right accompaniments it can be a winner. As a flavoring agent, it combines nicely with other fruit hints, and in gin drinks it can be very subtle, though its intense purple color may turn a drink grey (instead of merely violet).   

Mixing cocktails is nothing more than cooking without heat, though there are a few "hot" drinks you can make. There are even alcohol-free concoctions, for those who can't (or won't) tolerate the sauce. And there are as many different kinds of bar-snacks as there are drinks. But most people aren't adventurous enough--they know only a half-dozen cocktails, and always order those, instead of considering alternatives. This one's a charmer, take my word.

For one drink--

2 1/2 parts Tanqueray #10 gin
1/2 part Violette liqueuer
2 shakes Pernod
2 shakes Peach Bitters
1/2 part fresh lemon juice

--served up in a cocktail glass chilled to a frosty white. 

Lift up your skirts, ladies, we're passing through hell.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Inner Rose - New Cocktail

A rose is a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. They who feel their thought as immediately as the odor of a rose. He arose at break of day to see the last dew drops upon the petals of the roses. Google your mind and what turns up?

Roses on stems have the look of knowing they are being looked at. They pose in such a way as if to say. Self-consciousness in nature makes wild feelings domestic. The music of their arrival reminded them of sounds, of scents, of memories of conversations. 

What they shared they shared in private. The symbol of their longing was a petal torn from time. They turned inward towards a silence, quieter now than before. All things approached thus, were closer. Arranged to make a scene.   

The smell a rose makes comes from the sap inside the stems, which draw moisture up from the roots in the ground, designed (along with brilliant pastel coloration) to attract pollinating insects, in order to promote reproduction. In other words, a flower's beauty and scent are survival techniques. 

We don't need alcoholic drinks to survive, but the human sense of taste is quite sophisticated, and our ability to give names (nomenclature) to the variations in flavor is one mark of our refinement as a species. A mildly intoxicating sensation is what some people feel in the presence of roses, in a rose garden. What does an insect feel as it descends into the center of a flower to gorge itself on nectar? Probably is in a state of heightened consciousness, as we used to say back in the 1960's. 

Cocktails usually don't make me feel as if I were in a "heightened state" of consciousness, but this concoction comes close. Mix one and see what you think. This recipe is for a single drink.  

2 parts white rum
1/2 part coconut syrup
1/2 part spiced rum
1/2 part Aperol
1/2 part white (oro blanco) grapefruit 
1/2 part lemon juice

To describe this recipe as heavenly is an understatement. I don't know what the magic ingredient is--if there is one--but perhaps the coconut syrup is the secret. 'Tis the season to be merry--between Thanksgiving and Christmas--so there's excuse enough. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Su-Mee at 31 Months

I don't know what to say about people who dote on their pets. Once upon a time, I would probably have thought it over-indulgent.  

When I was a boy, I got a girl kitten whom we named Snowfoot, as she was black with white feet, a white stomach, and a white chin. I don't know why animals coats are colored the way they are. I once heard that Siamese cats are darker where they're hotter (or where their blood collects in their extremities (feet, tail, head)), but I don't know about that. Seems bogus. It certainly doesn't seem to hold true for other cat breeds. 

We got Su-Mee as a kitten, when he was just a few weeks old. He was born in April 2010. We got him from a breeder. I know the PC thing now is to get your pets from the pound or a shelter, to save them, but we've grown fond of Siamese, and they don't show up very often in rescue. As a male, he may think his name is slightly inappropriate; I often just call him "Sue" (as in "a boy named Sue"). We name all our cats after coffee beans, or nearly. We've had Java, Vanilla ('Nilla), Coco, Mocha (Mokie), Lottie (for latte), and now Su-Mee (for Sumatra). We'll be running out of names soon.    

Su-Mee grew up in an ideal household, filled with his Mother and siblings. The furniture and rugs were cat-proof, the owners had created a perfect routine, and all the cats got attention and handling and the best food. 

Su-Mee has turned out to be the best adjusted and habituated animal we've owned. All cats are different, with individual personalities, and each has peculiarities which make it unique. One thing we've noticed with Siamese is that they are creatures of habit; they like to do the same things at the same time every day. Also, they seem very attuned to our moods, checking us constantly and making slight reactive adjustments in their behavior. Su-Mee is by far the most affectionate of the cats we've owned. He requires a certain amount of "lap-time" every day, and likes to cuddle and kiss regularly. He's attached himself to me, and thinks of me as the "alpha male" in the household. Mocha, our other older male, and Su-Mee like to joust and tussle with each other, occasionally racing around the house in mad-cap hijinks. Needless to say, we aren't a family which owns (or displays) crockery or glassware or sculpture on furniture. It wouldn't last long if we were. Also, fabric furniture is endangered, so we cover up the couple of pieces we do have with plastic. 

Su-Mee has what I would describe as the classic Siamese voice: low-pitched and lamb-like, and when close and curious, a quiet low rumbling murmur. He's a picky eater, and has grown fond of a new brand of crunchies which resemble dark brown Cheerios. He can put those away at an alarming rate, and has begun to get a bit paunchy, not good for an otherwise long and limber body like his. He has the large Siamese translucent ears--as you can see in the photo--and a long, "insinuating" tail. He won't tolerate having his face scrubbed or his nails trimmed. I haven't tried bathing him yet, and I'm not sure I want to try. Cats who don't want to do something can become feral, and Su-Mee is a very strong cat. He's good at chasing bugs, and will often sit on a window-sill watching the birds as they flit among the shrubbery or tree branches outside. Sometimes, when he's getting turned on by this, he'll let out a little cackling sound, something I've seen other cats do when in high hunting mode. 

Cats generally live between 12-18 years, though some may live longer. Vanilla lived to be 19, and was sweet and affectionate to the end. Lottie died at 8 of breast cancer. I suppose it's possible that Su-Mee may outlive me, if he has a long life. Once, many years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the case of a very rich old woman who left her entire fortune to her cats. I suppose the administrator of the estate probably maintained these animals in some kind of a home, while donating the residue--after his fees--to the SPCA. Or maybe the City of San Francisco made a claim against the estate and seized it to support the local animal control department. 

Domestic pets depend upon us for their livelihood. Those that "go back into the wild" are no longer domestic, though we still have responsibility for their welfare. Is man's "best friend" the dog, or the cat, or the horse? Obviously there's no completely correct answer. Cats are generally clean, orderly and loyal. Siamese, especially, seem more civilized than other breeds. Su-Mee is a chocolate point, with very deep blue eyes. Right now, he's nagging me for his third breakfast, so I'll conclude this with a purr of appreciation. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Elliott Carter's Piano Sonata [1945-46]

Elliott Carter has died, and with his very late departure we can finally close the book on a whole epoch of American musical genius. As a member of the generation which included Copland, Harris, Thomson, Barber, Bernstein, Antheil, Bowles, Cage, Ellington, Gershwyn, Harrison, etc., all long since gone--to name but a few high-spots,-- or the first wave of Modernist American musical minds which defined the character of our country as separate from European traditions--Carter was a path-blazer, from the beginning, taking his queue from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and Charles Ives (a family friend). He was aged 103 when he died, and he was active to the end. When someone lives this long, and is continuously engaged, they live through several periods in artistic time, as witness, and participant, and critic. And thus it is no surprise that Carter composed works of differing character, and lived well beyond the typical career arc, which he shared with his immediate contemporaries, starting in the 1930's. It allowed him to mature well beyond the point at which most artists are permitted by their mortality to attain--living through two lifetimes' worth of event, in a very eventful century. 

I am not a close follower of music trends, but I followed my curiosity a good way during my youth, and listened to a lot of avant garde classical music. I had a friend in those years named Michael Lamm, and he actually preferred 20th Century classical music to earlier periods. We played chess, and argued about politics, and listened to serious modern symphonic works. He liked Shostakovich, while I loved the French composers. I played the piano, but he didn't play an instrument. During my first year at Berkeley, I found an LP recording of Elliott Carter's Piano Sonata 1945-46. For those of you who grew up after the advent of digital recordings, an LP could only handle about half of a long work on one side, and had to be turned over to hear the rest. The Sonata lasts about 25-28 minutes, depending on how fast it's played. Though the work had been composed relatively early in his career, it was already over 20 years old when I first heard it. Nevertheless, it sounded newly minted to my ears, and I responded at once to its seriousness and subtle mood-shifts, qualities I generally found lacking in much pre-Modern musical works. Much of the earnestness and sense of wounded pride and resignation, coming out of the Depression years, seemed contained in its halting statements and beginnings-again, its querulous intrigues and seductive tangential musings. Playing this work presents a number of problems to any performer; there are few pianists who would even attempt it, much less perfect it sufficiently for recording. Consequently it is a work seldom heard, both because of its length, its intense seriousness, and because there are few versions to choose from. One is unlikely to hear it played on a classical music station, or at a live performance anywhere that is not devoted to serious music. And with the current fragmentation and disintegration of musical taste which has overtaken our culture over the last quarter century, one would be unlikely to "discover" it casually, since there is no more material media to browse, as music stores have all but disappeared, to be replaced by the internet. It is doubtful I would ever have discovered the piece, were I 20 years old today, and interested in this kind of music. 

The wonderful thing about this work is that, though it employs very complex tonal modulations and rhythmic changes, it still manages to sound inspiring and emotionally enthralling. Lyrically it seems of a piece with the best serious works of Roy Harris and Aaron Copland, and yet goes well beyond their comparative simplicity and economy of means to achieve its effects. Carter has been quoted saying that American music tends towards rhythmic complexity, unlike European music, which is dominated by fixed rhythmic intervals. For an interesting discussion of its musical content and methodology, you might care to read some of this thesis essay by Jane E. Gormley Perkyns, University of British Columbia, 1990, An Analytical Study of Elliott Carter's Piano  Sonata. For me, the aspect of struggle as expressed through competing themes is one I hear as very compelling. The sliding tonalities suggest layers of distraction or obsessive concern; and too the chaotic disintegration of modern urban life, mechanized and poly-contextual. 

In many respects, I think American music has gone far beyond its literature, in exploring the formal complexities and ambiguities of its medium. Writers like Clark Coolidge (an abstract structuralist), or Robert Grenier (a Zen-like minimalist a la Cage), share many of the formal interests which a work like Carter's offers, though on a somewhat intuitive level. Musical meaning, like grammar, forms the linkages within which thought moves. Writing a piece of music may be emotionally subtle, but the means would appear to be  more logically set out, than in the much greater vocabulary of our recorded verbal language. The Sonata is divided into two broad movements, within which are divisions. Clicking on the three underlined parts below will take you to a complete performance on YouTube by John Anderson, performed in 2009 in Lugano Switzerland. Though I have reservations about his version, and the recording is a bit echo-y, it's a good intro to the piece.    

First Movememt: Introduction, Exposition, Development, Recapitulation, Coda
[Maestoso - Legato scorrevole]
Second Movement: (Fugue) 
[Andante - Allegro - Andante - Allegro giusto]

While some of this music may sound "atonal" to your ears, the more you study it, the less dissembling it will seem, though the degree of complex engagement this requires may well be beyond the interest or patience most people have to give to it. Though this is not a problem in logic, it may seem quite entangling once you're well into it.  For my part, though I'm hardly a musical scholar, I find it a fascinating way to understand how works are composed, since I love to compose on the keyboard myself. But my feeling is that this piece is approachable enough to be appreciated by any reasonably intelligent person who is interested in music per se, as an exercise in apprehension or inspired meditation. Pure musical expression, apart from its historical context, may be an impossibility, and we can't listen to music as an alien would, devoid of any pre-conceptial frame. But Carter's Sonata suggests ways in which we might be free of the sort of musical clichés which usually limit our apprehension of fascinating sound(s). 

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Myth of Trickle-Down Job Creation

Governor Romney has rung the familiar charity bells for the "poor" rich folks who've had a tax holiday over the last decade. It's such a hackneyed refrain, as indelible as the jingle bells of the corner Salvation Army dragoon, dressed up in a Santa suit and looking pathetic holding out a little red pail for charity. Someone remarked that if Romney were Santa Claus, he would fire his reindeer and replace them with a coal-fired steam engine. The railroad industry long ago abandoned steam in favor of diesel, though Romney may be unaware of that; he seems to have lost track of history somewhere back in the early days of the previous century. He's such a generous guy he's sworn not to "lower" the tax burden of the rich. What a guy! During the Clinton Administration, when the rich were paying their fair share, America's economic engine was chugging along. The great Recession got going when we gave the rich back their hard-earned winnings during the Bush years. 

According to Romney, the quickest way to get the economy going again is to let the rich keep their money, while the middle class takes on more taxes to pay off the debt that was created during Bush II. This will promote growth as the rich invest in the economy, creating more private sector jobs. 

Is there presently a shortage of investment capital in America right now? Not according to economic analyses. There is an incredible stockpile of unspent capital which corporate America is holding on the sidelines. As much as $400 billion is sitting in the coffers of corporate accounts. The commonly reported excuse for this hoarding is that "business uncertainty" is making it overly cautious. It's "waiting on the sidelines" before sending its precious stimulus into the game. It lacks "confidence" that tax and regulatory policies will be favorable enough to justify its high stakes risk in America. 

Let's get a few things straight about investment strategies. Once upon a time, America was a very good place to invest. Our capitalist economy was designed to facilitate easy access to money, and our entrepreneurial spirit was expressed through the rapid rise and consolidation of industry. Ours was an economy of scale which dwarfed the competition. But the Great Depression, which as a typical business cycle correction was unusual only in the depth of its effects, reminded everyone that capital investment, unchecked and unregulated, presents great risks to society at large. The Great Recession of 2008 was produced by the same kinds of exaggerated risk-taking as the earlier one had been. The lessons taken from these broad corrections are typically the same for both sides of the equation. Business is reminded of the risks of unbridled expansion and unwise investment; and labor is reminded of the need to build in regulatory checks to curtail the behavior of the investment community. Keynesian theory presumes boom-and-bust economic cycles--accepts them as a given--and suggests we soften the extremes through curbs on profit, and a social safety-net for the bottom, with various kinds of stimulus to bridge from one peak to the next. 

Smart capital investment knows that the shortest route to improved margins is to hold down costs. Throughout the post-War period, American labor made gains in pay and benefits, and influence. Capital gritted its teeth. The memory of the consequences of unbridled investment activity was still fresh in everyone's minds. But collective memory only lasts for about a single generation. By the 1980's, the "me" generation had convinced itself that the risk-reward formula justified our removing the safeguards, and playing fast and loose with America's investment pool. By the 1990's, corporations were beginning to beat back the unions, cut benefits, and trim payrolls. Much of the "growth" of the 1990's and early 2000's was based on this cut-throat cost-cutting. In the 1990's, everyone was talking about "globalism" and the new world-wide economy that would "raise all boats" in the flood of prosperity. 

What they didn't tell us was that the new global economy meant a series of sudden jolts, as investment money--and jobs--moved rapidly from place to place, seeking the best opportunity. We'd been told, or perhaps everyone just assumed, that improving the economies of the third world would automatically mean good times at home. Unfortunately, just the opposite was true. Smart money was moving overseas, where the pickings were choice, and the downside less. Why pay American workers, when you could pay foreign workers 100 times less? Why pay American taxes, when you could siphon off your profits and offshore them in palmy West Indies havens? 

The fact is that the smart money is not likely to consider investing in America in the immediate future. Smart money seeks the highest return, and the highest return nowadays is to be had abroad. 

The Republicans' mantra about investment flowing down from above simply isn't true. If the present unspent pool of corporate capital refuses to invest in America now, what would make it any more prone to do so in the future? What policies, which don't already exist for big capital, would Romney promote to improve the likelihood of trickle-down job creation? 

Smart money doesn't want employees, who come with all the usual baggage of wages, taxes, health care and benefits packages. Smart money wants to CUT payrolls, not increase them. In the common sense arena of corporate management, payrolls represent the biggest single threat to the bottom line. Once you hire a body, you take on an enormous burden in obligation, one that necessitates the maintenance of a large part of your administration just to service it. 

Globalism is just the latest iteration in the evolution of smart investment theory. There is no such thing as loyalty or patriotism in investment. Smart money doesn't waste its time on philanthropic black holes. It's true that automation has eliminated many jobs, but the fact is that most American manufacturing and resource extraction jobs lost over the last quarter century, are not coming back. Because smart money won't let them. And the smart money is the rich people, whose taxes we've been keeping low for the last decade.

Believing that rich people will invest their tax break windfalls in job-producing American industry is the sheerest folly. Selfishness and greed respect no borders. If someone tells you that voting for Republicans will help "manage our economy" or spur growth at home, they're lying. And they know they're lying. Do Americans know that trickle-down is a crock, that more tax breaks for the rich and the corporations won't result in more jobs here at home? A lot of them don't seem to.   

Thursday, November 1, 2012

There Are No Words

Our Giants' path to the championship this last weekend was impossible to anticipate. At mid-season, with the loss of Wilson and Cabrera, few would have predicted that this team would go as far as it did.  

Cain and Bumgarner showed the steady improvement which had been expected of them, and Vogelsong was as good as he had been in 2011. Lincecum fell down, but Zito made a comeback, and the bullpen combination of Casilla, Affeldt, Lopez, Kontos and Romo proved more than adequate to fill in for the absent Wilson. Offensively, the team still lacked power, but Posey fulfilled his early promise (winning a batting title in his first full season), and Pagan and Scutero and Belt stepped up bigtime. 

What might have happened had Melky not been suspended. It's an intriguing question, considering how well the team played after he left. Sometimes a sudden vacuum will cause a readjustment which was unimagined. (The talk now is about whether the team will decide to pursue Cabrera for the 2013 season, given their success without him, and the example that keeping him, after his suspension, might set for the team going forward.)

Romo in triumph after striking out the side in the last inning

With two championships in three years, by a team which historically was one of the weakest hitting groups, there are some who are asking whether the chemistry of this combination might not serve as a new model for the ideal mix. Clearly, the Giants are now a team that lives on its pitching, with a team ERA (3.68)  a full .64 lower than its runs-per-game average (4.32). What kind if statistics measure the true performance of a team? In a power-rich era, the champion is the weakest of all in terms of traditional criteria. What are the implications of this outcome?  

I've said before that a major league team--a collection of very talented individuals from varying backgrounds and experience, all presumably working towards a common goal--is not a machine, it's an organic phenomenon. It's alive. It undergoes change. It responds to challenges or fails to meet them. And there are several different kinds of chance. The indeterminacy we see in contending groups of players is the subject of much speculation, some of it live gambling. The kinds of data that go into the intelligent consideration and setting of odds can be tweaked and teased until you're blue in the face, but how much do numbers tell us? 

Contextual data--that is, data that measures combinations of performance under differential applications--is a new kind of science. How many times did a certain hitter get a hit with two or three runners on base with less than two outs, when the team was behind by less than two runs after the 7th inning, when the team was playing on the road, and the season was still in doubt? In the first place, someone has to record all that stuff, before it can be manipulated. On the intuitive side, there is the obvious. Anyone who watched Marco Scutaro for the last month of the season, and during the playoffs, could read his face and body language; his statistical performance was the consequence, but when put together with what you could see, you knew immediately that this guy was totally focused, and at the top of his performance curve. Whatever it was that was motivating him, or permitting his mind and body to function in this way, could be expressed statistically and through empirical observation. 

But professional athletics is not a science. You can put the duck into water, but you don't know where it will swim, or when it will fly. All the owners and general managers and coaches and scouts can't predict how a group of guys will gel, or excel, or overcome the pressures of competition and boredom and envy and frustration and distraction, to compete at the highest calibre. Competition may in a sense be a metaphor for the Darwinian principle of existence, but in the end professional baseball is just a game men play for the entertainment of spectators. How silly is it to want to succeed at such a pastime well into one's adult life? In a sense, nothing "depends" upon it the way we depend upon the performance of a bank, or a social agency, or construction firm to solve problems and needs in the "real world." Of course, big-time sports is about big-time money, and everyone who feeds at that trough can testify to the rewards. Opportunity in a capitalist society may present in many different guises, and the high-def high exposure world of popular professional sport is the crowning glory of capitalist glitz. 

We celebrate our sports heroes in the same way we do our military heroes, or our great artists and scientists, though in a more demonstrative fashion. Yesterday, San Francisco held its victory parade down Market Street, ending up at the Civic Center Plaza. Ecstatic fans cheered and jostled one another for a view of their heroes as they passed by in jovial delight, basking in the fervor and exultation of unquestioned triumph. 

Regard here Buster Posey--with his peach fuzz beard, looking as if he might be ready for the junior high school prom--in a blizzard of confetti. Who would not want to share the dream of his improbable transcendence? There is no one to stand behind him, holding a golden crown, to whisper in his ear that all victory is fleeting, because he's sitting on a car hood, instead of in a chariot.