It was a long week here in New Orleans. There was a six-alarm fire on Canal Street in a building owned by a slumlord/tourist trap tycoon who I call the Sam Walton of crap. It resulted in much fretting before the fire was extinguished because it’s located near three recently renovated architectural treasures: the Roosevelt Hotel, and the Orpheum and Saenger Theatres. Mercifully, they emerged unscathed from the smoke and flames, and no one was hurt in the blaze.
Carnival rolls on. One good thing about the early parade season is that there will be fewer college kids in town to get drunk, puke in the nearest gutter, and flash their naughty bits. It’s always a relief because locals don’t play that except for the drinking thing. It’s an all-ages event despite all the dicks in Krewe du Vieux.
R. Crumb week at First Draft continues. I posted his most famous image as this week’s featured picture. The keep on truckin’ dudes were Sixties icons even though their creator was neither a hippie nor cared for them. Bummer, man.
It’s always fun when there are two wildly different songs with the same title. That’s why we have two theme songs this week. They come from the same era, but from different genres. We begin with Temptations vocalist Eddie Kendricks with his biggest solo hit-you guessed it-Keep On Truckin’:
Now that I’ve posted something for the soul music fans, here’s one for the hippies and old-time music folks out there:
I suppose I *should* discuss the Summer of Love, but it’s not on this week’s agenda. You’ll have to make do with another song with Truckin’ in the title:
Guess I threw you a curve ball with the Dwight Yoakam version. Sounds more like a knuckleball to me. Just ask the Niekro brothers:
We’ll keep on truckin’ after the break.
We begin this week’s festivities with a history lesson of sorts:
FDR’s Pollster: The 2016 campaign is one of the most poll obsessed in recent memory. Everyone has forgotten that the polls got it terribly wrong in both the Israeli and British general elections last year. Pundits have short memories so they’re back to thinking the polls are golden and never wrong. They need a history lesson: Alf Landon was the pollsters fave in 1936 and we all remember the Dewey-Warren administration. More recently, I recall the leaked exit polls in 2004 showing John Kerry as the winner. I was guilty of premature celebrating that year thanks to Wonkette. Never again.
That brings me to David Greenberg’s piece at Politico Magazine about the man who was the first to poll for a sitting President:
The man who conducted Farley’s poll, under the anodyne moniker “National Inquirer,” was Emil Edward Hurja, a jowly, somber-looking 43-year-old employee of the Democratic National Committee. An autodidact who taught himself statistics, Hurja rose to national prominence during FDR’s first term, making the cover of Time magazine in March 1936. FDR’s aide Louis Howe dubbed his brilliant prognosticator “Weegee” (a phonetic spelling of Ouija) for his seemingly prophetic powers, while Farley called him “the Wizard of Washington.” Roosevelt’s enemies called him “Farley’s stooge.” This renown was not undeserved: Though little remembered today—only one obscure but indispensable biography exists, by historian Melvin G. Holli—Hurja was, in fact, the first man to poll for an American president.
It’s a fascinating story as is our next piece, which examines the intersection of history, popular culture, commerce, and extremism. That’s a helluva 4-way stop sign, y’all.
How the Klan Got Its Hood: The venerable New Republic Magazine has seen better days, Its recent seduction, purchase, and abandonment by Facebook puke Chris Hughes has left TNR reeling. It is still quite capable of good work including this story by Alison Kinney:
In 1915, director D. W. Griffith adapted The Clansman as The Birth of a Nation, one of the very first feature-length films and the first to screen in the White House. Its most famous scene, the ride of the Klan, required 25,000 yards of white muslin to realize the Keller/Dixon costume ideas. Among the variety of Klansman costumes in the film, there appeared a new one: the one-piece, full-face-masking, pointed white hood with eyeholes, which would come to represent the modern Klan. Maybe it was Griffith who brought those pieces of fabric together in their soon-to-be iconic form; after all, his mother had sewn costumes for his Klansman father. Or, given the heterogeneity of Reconstruction Klan costumes, maybe Griffith got the idea from another source altogether: Freemason regalia. Or maybe it wasn’t Griffith’s idea at all, but that of Paris-trained, Costume Designer Guild’s Hall-of-Famer Clare West, who worked on the film: maybe she had witnessed confraternal processions in the streets of Europe, or just made it up.
What we do know is that the blockbuster popularity of The Birth of a Nation gave free advertising to a traveling fraternal order organizer, former Methodist minister, and garter salesman, William J. Simmons. Simmons didn’t just organize fraternities; he’d joined fifteen of them, including the Knights Templar and the Masons. The 1915 lynching of Leo Frank had inspired Simmons to form a new anti-Semitic, nativist fraternity. One week before The Birth of a Nation’s Atlanta premiere, Simmons received his state charter for “The Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Incorporated.” He sold hoods and robes ($6.50) sewn in a local shop, wrote a handbook—the Kloran—and, in 1920, hired publicists Edward Y. Clarke and Elizabeth Tyler to launch a massive campaign that attracted 100,000 new members in 16 months. Kleagles, or recruiters, arranged minstrel shows and screenings of The Birth of a Nation and other pro-Klan films.
That’s right, folks, for good or ill, all early 20th Century roads lead to D.W. Griffith . Speaking of roads, let’s turn our attention to a fabulous piece at Bitter Southerner:
Neighbors of the Fence is a brilliant photo essay by David Hanson that takes a close look at Standard Heights, which is a Baton Rouge neighborhood in the shadow of the massive Exxon-Mobil refinery. Hanson will make you laugh, cry, and think, which is all you can ask of a story that takes you on a tour of Louisiana’s cancer alley.
Hanson’s article made me think of Zachary Richard’s Sunset on Louisianne, which covers some of the same territory:
We turn our attention from literal toxicity to the state of the Tweeter Tube, which some think has become a toxic outpost on the interwebs:
Whither Twitter: I have mixed feelings about the Tweeter Tube. It can be informative and even fun but it often degenerates into a nasty, unforgiving place. It’s easy to be misinterpreted by strangers when you have only 140 characters to express yourself. It’s also a shitty place for serious conversation but people insist on doing so any way. I stick to promoting the blog and cracking wise. It’s how I Express Myself:
Slate recently ran two interesting pieces about the state of the Tweeter Tube. The one by Will Oremus focuses on the business side. It’s interesting, but who gives a shit about a bunch of techies trying to raise their stock price? I’m more interested in punning on the author’s name. Who among us doesn’t remember Uncle O’Remus? It also reminds me of this Zappa song featuring the late, great George Duke:
David Auerbach addresses user issues and makes some suggestions that will surely be rejected by rancor-and-file Twitteratti. It’s written in the form of an open letter to Twitter, and it’s a pistol of an epistle. I like the Vonnegut quote so let’s start there:
In Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut wrote that “the human condition can be summed up in one word, and this is the word: Embarrassment.” Yes, Twitter, you are being blamed for the human condition. Some commentators even want you to fix it. I think I could hear Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Del Harvey, cringing in Wired’s recent roundtable on harassment after the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Nadia Kayyali suggested that social networks shame their users with pop-ups into behaving better. But turning you into the Shame Network won’t save the company. You and I both know better:Twitter already is the Shame Network. Name-calling, ridicule, embarrassment, and shaming now constitute cycles in your circle of life.
Your central problem, ironically, isn’t real harassment—though there is plenty of it on Twitter—but an overall miasma of hostility and rancor, a faint yet incessant stench of a thousand trolls ready to inject themselves into a conversation at any moment and piss in your apple juice. It’s this toxic atmosphere that makes Twitter such a burden for those who rely on it as a source of new discoveries.
Unless it’s aimed at me or a real as opposed to virtual friend, I ignore the miasma. I’ll take Miami over miasma any day. I may, however, be punished for that pun by being force fed Cuban food, which is a punishment I am prepared to accept…
I was involved in something of a Twitter flame war with a local politician’s spouse not long ago. She made some wild allegations about two friends of mine so I entered the fray. It was an exception to the prime Adrastos directive of internet discourse: do not feed the troll.
2016 could turn out to be both the year of the dead rock star *and* the year of the troll. Why? The Insult Comedian and his followers are trolltastic:
Now that I’ve seared that image into your head, we all need some music therapy:
Saturday Classic: It’s time for another tribute to the late Paul Kantner. His landmark 1970 concept album Blows Against The Empire has long been one of my favorite records. It made me want to go out and fight Darth Vader before he was created:
That’s it for this week. It’s been cold in New Orleans, so I’ll give the last word to Bat-villain Mr. Freeze as played by the great George Sanders. Yeah, I know, Otto Preminger played Mr. Freeze too but only after Sanders’ untimely demise. He’ll get his own week at some point, so it’s time to place this discussion in the deep freeze where it belongs.