A Quote from Primo Levi’s “The Truce”

From the Afterword, “The Author’s Answers to His Readers’ Questions,” If This is a Man/The Truce, Abacus 1979, trans. Ruth Feldman.

It is, therefore, necessary to be suspicious of those who seek to convince us with means other than reason, and of charismatic leaders: we must be cautious about delegating to others our judgment and our will. Since it is difficult to distinguish true prophets from false, it is as well to regard all prophets with suspicion. It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exalt us by their splendor or if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis. It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exciting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion and reasoning, those that can be verified and demonstrated. (p.397)

Leggi l’originale:

Occorre dunque essere diffidenti con chi cerca di convincerci con strumenti diversi dalla ragione, ossia con i capi carismatici: dobbiamo essere cauti nel delegare ad altri il nostro giudizio e la nostra volontà. Poiché è difficile distinguerei profeti veri dai falsi, è bene avere in sospetto tutti i profeti; è meglio rinunciare alle verità rivelate, anche se ci esaltano per la loro semplicità e il loro splendore, anche se le troviamo comode perché si acquistano gratis. È meglio accontentarsi di altre verità più modeste e meno entusiasmanti, quelle che si conquistano faticosamente, a poco a poco e senza scorciatoie, con lo studio, la discussione e il ragionamento, e che possono essere verificate e dimostrate.

dall’Appendice a Se questo è un uomo. La tregua, Einaudi, Torino 1989, p.327.

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An excerpt from Octavio Paz’s “Mexico and the United States”

‘Today, the United States faces very powerful enemies, but the mortal danger comes from within: not from Moscow but from that mixture of arrogance and opportunism, blindness and short-term Machiavellianism, volubility and stubbornness which has characterized its foreign policies during recent years and which remind us in an odd way of the Athenian state in its quarrel with Sparta. To conquer its enemies, the United States must first conquer itself — return to its origins. Not to repeat them but to rectify them: the “others” — the minorities inside as well as the marginal countries and nations outside — do exist. Not only do we “others” make up the majority of the human race, but also each marginal society, poor though it may be, represents a unique and precious version of mankind. If the United States is to recover fortitude and lucidity, it must recover itself, and to recover itself it must recover the “others” — the outcasts of the Western World.’

Octavio Paz, ‘Mexico and the United States,’ first published in the New Yorker of 17 September 1979.

Leer en el idioma original:

«Hoy los Estados Unidos se enfrentan a enemigos muy poderosos pero el peligro mortal no está fuera sino dentro: no es Moscú sino esa mezcla de arrogancia y oportunismo, ceguera y maquiavelismo a corto plazo, volubilidad y terquedad, que ha caracterizado a su política exterior en los últimos años y que recuerda extrañamente a la del Estado ateniense en su disputa con Esparta. Para vencer a sus enemigos, los Estados Unidos tienen primero que vencerse a sí mismos: regresar a sus orígenes. Pero no para repetirlos sino para rectificarlos: el otro y los otros —las minorías del interior tanto como los pueblos y naciones marginales del exterior— existen. No sólo somos la mayoría de la especia sino que cada sociedad marginal, por más pobre que sea, representa una versión única y preciosa de la humanidad. Si los Estados Unidos han de recobrar la entereza y la lucidez, tienen que recobrarse a sí mismos y para recobrarse a sí mismos tienen que recobrar a los otros: a los excluidos del Occidente.»

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Le elezioni

On the front pages

On the front pages

One of the many small pleasures in Italian daily life is picking up a thick edition of one of the dailies and reading through it over a strong morning coffee (or two, if one still has jet lag). Yes, such paper monsters still exist, and the thick, clotted Latinate prose and strong opinions make, as any student of the language knows, for quite different newspaper reading — frustrating at first, but with a payoff after repeated efforts. This is the third presidential election that I’ve had the luck to witness from Italy, and I’m always struck at just how much attention the foreign press pays to our elections. And why wouldn’t they? Our decisions affect many, a fact possibly lost on some of the isolationist movements coursing through democracies today. (NB: I was out with a British friend last night discussing Brexit over some pizza and beer.) So as a testament to that, witness two of the three pages of coverage that the august Corriere della Sera gave to Monday’s debate — not only the photographed two-page spread, but also a third page (not shown), plus they put it as the lead item on the front page. In the ancient times of print media, word count and page space, as well as quaint old notions like ‘above-the-fold’ (which the debate was for Corriere) and below-the-fold were bellwethers for the importance of an event — which, as if it need be said one more time, this election is.

Minute-by-minute breakdown

Minute-by-minute breakdown

For those not intimidated by the Italian journalism style, this article by Beppe Severgnini analyzing Trump’s use of the word “stamina” and Hillary’s use of “fact-checking” is a nice little linguistic diversion (print edition, bottom of p.9).

And don’t forget to vote.

 

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Evergreen – On Another Dimension in Indiana

Sean McLoughlin as rendered by Caleb

Several years ago, I wrote about an Evergreen show at the 1995 St. Francis Battle of the Bands at the Grand Theater in New Albany in which drummer Britt Walford (Slint, many others) was lifted off the throne, practically still playing. I was thrilled to see that Vice’s Party Legends features an episode with Dave Pajo that re-tells that story with animation. Sandwiched between segments talking about wild and decadent L.A. parties, once again, little Louisville punches several classes above its weight. Pajo’s description of Walford also gives the episode its title — Britt was, in those days, as so many of us were, “clearly on another dimension.” Pajo’s portion starts at 11:15.

I remember the cops pulling Britt off the kit. Pajo remembers that it was band members Sean McLoughlin and Tim Ruth. His version makes a bit more sense, because I clearly remember everybody meeting up later at the “Dixie House” — the ramshackle two-bedroom house on the outskirts of Louisville where Sean lived with Richard and Joe from Wino. Had it been the cops, then Britt likely would have been in a cell. [Update: one of the “hardcore partiers in town” who was there wrote to say that he clearly remembered that it was the cops who pulled Walford off the kit. They then just stared at him, and he took off. This jibes with my recollections as well. I’m trying to imagine that happening in today’s world of police-civilian interactions.] I also remember taking some alternate route away from the Grand to the Sherman Minton Bridge. Today’s kids will take solace in the fact that they’ll have far more bridges to choose from when running from Indiana’s finest — which I hope they’ll have occasion to do.

Pajo does conflate a bit the straightedge bands and the scene. (I don’t blame him.) The band that played and that he is talking about is Metroschifter, but there were far worst offenders in onstage preaching — I can’t not mention Endpoint’s Rob Pennington and Guilt’s Duncan Barlow. But Metroschifter frontman Scott Ritcher was the one to make a couple of bids for entry into local politics, first as mayor in 1998 and then as state senator ten years later.  The animation is a good composite of the blather endemic to straightedge sub-scene at that time. Post-high school, for me, anyway, the sanctimoniousness of Minor Threat-inspired hardcore had started to wear thin. Although a lot of girls were certainly into it, its puritan ethos seemed to contradict the whole rock ‘n’ roll spirit.

Britt by Caleb

I don’t know much about animator Caleb, but he did a great job capturing details like the wild look in Sean’s eyes, Britt’s lack of facial expression and determined drumming, the pompousness of the preachy straightedge bands, and in general the vibe of a show in the middle of nowhere over two decades ago. Kudos to Caleb. The music is also well done, with strains of what sounds like live or practice versions of Evergreen’s “Klark Kent” and “Petting the Beast” running over Pajo’s re-telling.

Hat-tip to Richard for hipping me to this episode. I’m a bit out of the loop about such things.

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Happy (belated) birthday, Hunter Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, who was from Louisville, would have turned 79 this week. With the Republican National Convention in full swing and on the cusp of a truly ludicrous election, we need him now more than ever. The Paris Review’s lengthy interview from 2000 is worth re-reading, and quotes the following from 1988’s Generation of Swine:

. . . I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than from anything else in the English Language—and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.

This week, the New Yorker ran a satirical bit that started as such:

The 2016 Republican National Convention became embroiled in another controversy on Tuesday, as Biblical experts accused Republicans of plagiarizing the entire Convention scenario from the Book of Revelation.

So HST’s ghost still walks with us.  I wish he had stuck around for another decade or so. There will be much unfinished business to come, it seems, in the matter of the “autopsy of the American dream,” a job at which he excelled.

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Lament Fragment

Go down

(Forsaking the lagoons of bridged Atlantis)

To the mid-Atlantic ridge

where are the crazed
Magnetic fields and roped sheets, and stains
(The disordered fabric of the volcanic
Bed chamber) and the gigantic vermicular
Testimonies

and stare upon the great
Principle of the solid world—the original
Torment trace.

Go down, for down is the way,
And grapple one stone syllable
Of all that frozen love’s discourse
Onto an iron dredge

and on it rise
(Borne on the enormous weight of its desire
For light and the air)

until it explodes
Upon the deck amid the astonished crew.

Then empty out the nets disposed about
Your person, and fill them with the pieces
Of that one vast syllable

and carry them
To Cahokia in East Saint Louis, where
My father was born who is dying now
(He was an honest man—mute as stone)

Place them on the top of Monk’s Mound

(Go you. I am his son. I have no words.)

and let
Them off like a siren.

–Allen Grossman

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La grande bellezza

Finisce sempre così. Con la morte. Prima, però, c’è stata la vita, nascosta sotto il bla bla bla bla bla. È tutto sedimentato sotto il chiacchiericcio e il rumore. Il silenzio e il sentimento. L’emozione e la paura. Gli sparuti incostanti sprazzi di bellezza. E poi lo squallore disgraziato e l’uomo miserabile. Tutto sepolto dalla coperta dell’imbarazzo dello stare al mondo. Bla. Bla. Bla. Bla. Altrove, c’è l’altrove. Io non mi occupo dell’altrove. Dunque, che questo romanzo abbia inizio. In fondo, è solo un trucco. Sì, è solo un trucco.

 

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Dry Heat

Ali, accompanied by Jimmy Ellis, runs along Regent Street; London 1966

Ali, accompanied by Jimmy Ellis, runs along Regent Street; London 1966

When I heard Muhammad Ali, the Champ, died Friday, I thought I would go for a three mile run. I figured that it would be a small thing to do for someone who had done so many big things. There had recently been a shooting at my gym so I thought I would go outside.

***

The Champ made it ok to be from Louisville, Kentucky. When traveling, it is much better to be able to talk about the Champ rather than fried chicken chains or whiskey or the other things that people talk about if they think about Kentucky. 

The Champ helped my brother out in Serbia. We were at a music festival in Novi Sad in 2004, and although it was a festival designed to promote peace, Americans still had to be careful and respectful. Even though the NATO bombing was five years past — an eternity in cable news cycle damaged American minds — it was like yesterday in Serbia. In case anyone might’ve forgotten, the bridge connecting the island where the festival was to Novi Sad was a temporary pontoon bridge, the original having been struck by NATO bombs. My brother had crossed the bridge and was held up at security by Serbian police officers intent on searching all he had. But when they looked in his bag and found the The Fight by Norman Mailer, with Ali’s picture on the cover, one said in the manner of being let in on some tremendous and wonderful secret, “ah, the Champ,” and then they let him pass. 

The Champ helped me out in Italy, too. Wandering the industrial zone around Lodi TBB station which was the only place my magazine could afford an office, where I watched whores trick on the tracks and Gypsies shoot up in the thin tree lines along the track, I found a coffee place tended by a lone and gaunt Italian. The bar, like many things in Italy, seemed from a different era. He had a photo of the Champ on the wall.  I said, “è il mio paesano,” as I waited on my coffee and the gaunt barista came over and started talking to me. We talked for awhile. I went to that coffee place for the rest of the time we had our offices there.

And when some neighborhood bullies acted like they were going to steal my bike one day when I was 11 or 12, my father taught me a few moves in my room and then I overheard him saying to my mother that he was going to send me to his friend Joe Martin’s gym if this went on. My mother groaned. It didn’t go on, so I never went.

Of course all these things could have happened had the Champ not been alive, but here are some that couldn’t have.

In the mid-1990s, my father met the Champ in the lobby of the Starks Building in Louisville, where he had his office. He was working late, as he often did, but it was a Friday and his secretary made him leave before it got too late. As they went towards the catwalk that led to the parking garage, they saw a gaggle of people surrounding the Champ. My dad slid through them and stuck out his hand. “Hello, Champ,” he said. The Champ already had Parkinson’s but smiled and took my father’s hand in his and made a little time for him. When my father caught up with his secretary, who walked faster than he did, she said, “I can’t believe you did that. That was Muhammed Ali.” He said, “I know.”

But that wasn’t the first time he saw him. He saw him walking down Walnut Street by himself in the late summer of 1960, right after he’d won the gold medal in Rome, the one they say he threw in the Ohio River later. My father said he was walking down Walnut Street by himself like he owned the place. He didn’t then, but he would.

There was no coffeeshop or restaurant or bar in Louisville that would have served him then and in the next year’s mayoral race, Louisville’s Fourth Street Democratic organization would run segregationist candidate William S. Milburn, president of the Board of Aldermen, against republican William O. Cowger.  Milburn lost overwhelmingly. By 1978, the Board of Aldermen had changed the name of Walnut Street to Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

***

Where I live, it was 117 degrees today. By the time the sun went down, it was only 107. I made it to four miles.  It’s a dry heat.

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Literary Lunches: Rebecca West

Today we’ll kick off what will hopefully be a literary lunch series, in which I’ll showcase a (usually) simple meal from a great book. 

Black Lamb & Grey FalconAll I had time for today was a quick lunch — a couple of slices of prosciutto di parma (Citterio, aged 420 days, Trader Joe’s; $6.49 for 4 oz.) on a leftover hunk of pain de campagne (Leonora’s; de-thawed free “sympathy loaf” given to me the day before Snowzilla). This spartan lunch reminded me of Dragutin, Rebecca West’s chauffeur in the Macedonia chapter of Black Lamb, Grey Falcon. All I’m missing is some good Hungarian, or better, Serbian paprika. 

 

On the step of the automobile Dragutin sat and ate his lunch between the two young soldiers, who had the dutiful and dedicated look I have noticed so often in Yugoslav conscripts. His lunch was, as always, ascetic and chosen in accordance with the principles of sympathetic magic: he liked lean meat and rough black bread and paprika, and he regarded as weakening all soft and slippery things like butter and kaymak and sardines.

Certainly no sardines on my sandwich. But if only one could get some decent njeguški pršut around here. 

Njeguška pršuta

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The Economics of Cover Charges

pettibon collage shirt

“Let’s raise the price at the door. How much tonight? Three thousand or four?”

Today’s post is inspired by a friend who got into an internet tussle over cover charges in his local music scene. I discovered that there wasn’t enough good writing on cover charge economics, so I give you the following:

Touring bands have contacts that they insist on and that agents push get clubs and promotors to sign because they need to finance the tour somehow. They need income and they need to avoid prospective costs; e.g., van breaks down and they have to crash in a hotel for three nights while it gets fixed. They’re certainly not getting rich either but they actually have to get paid to make it to the next city and eat etc. So naturally touring bands charge more for their shows.

Local bands are different because all their costs are sunk costs. The rent on the practice space, the gear, etc. — it’s all paid for by the time you get up on stage. So it’s your choice: you can charge $12, or $7, or $5 (if you really have nostalgia for 1983), or $0.

I think the fundamental assumption one must make is that most local rock musicians are hobbyists and thus irrational actors who are going to play no matter what. The price at that point is just a symbol that you put on something and for whatever nostalgic, and not economic, reason, many people in the independent music scene have seized on that magical $5 figure.

Anyone who is not on welfare or committed to going out 7 nights a week can afford $2 more. The idea that an average person with a job who can’t afford an extra $2 is a framing effect — a great example of cognitive bias. 

Someone who thinks that the extra $2 ($0.84 in 1983, by the way) is not affordable suffers from loss aversion — the commonly held perception that it’s worse to lose something than to gain something. (That is, that most people would rather get $2 discount than avoid a $2 charge.) In this case, the haters are averse to losing the extra $2 in their pocket and don’t realize that they gain more quality local rock.

The rational economic actor and hobbyist rocker in this case should then ask the bar to charge a $7 cover and then give everyone a drink ticket for a $2 beer.

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