Category Archives: Scrogues Gallery

The democratization of photography: S&R Honors George Eastman

Our lives are full of Kodak moments, even now.

The New York Times estimates there will be 1.3 trillion photos taken this year. Granted, the signal:noise ratio is low. A vast majority of these images will be captured with mobile phones of varying quality. Most will be selfies and casual users curating the moments of their lives, and if you want to insert the word “banal” in that description somewhere I won’t argue. I learned not long after buying my first camera that there’s a big difference between doing photography and merely taking pictures.

All that said, 1.3 trillion – that’s a huge number, and it must be acknowledged that digital technology has exerted a democratizing force on creativity. New tools have provided those who can’t afford an expensive DSLR with a means to capture, process and interpret their worlds in remarkably inventive ways.
If you can afford a nice digital camera, as well as increasingly accessible top-end digital editing tools (I use Lightroom, Photoshop and several of the functions in the Nik suite), the options are, for all practical purposes, infinite. Continue reading The democratization of photography: S&R Honors George Eastman

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Nobel Committee gives Bob Dylan the wrong prize

Dylan is one of the greatest artists of his time. But his genius wasn’t about Literature.

Part 1 of a series.

The Nobel Committee today awarded American folk icon Bob Dylan its annual prize for Literature. Not surprisingly, reactions have been mixed.

I’m a bit torn myself. There is no questioning at all the immensity of Dylan’s artistic accomplishments, and there’s perhaps even less argument to be had over the influence he has wielded not only over popular music, but over the larger culture. It is simply impossible to imagine what the US would look like today had he never been born, but we can start by considering his role in the anti-war movement of the ’60s. In truth, you could look at his centrality to the revolts that eventually led to the end of that war and make a case that he deserved the Peace Prize.

And what about the who’s who of musical artists who followed in his steps? A very small catalog of those who owe their souls to Dylan would include these names, and if there’s nobody on here that you love and admire you just don’t like music. Continue reading Nobel Committee gives Bob Dylan the wrong prize

Muhammad Ali: The Champ for racial equality and social justice

Not everybody loved The Greatest: what Muhammad Ali meant to one racist Southern kid

That was always the difference between Muhammad Ali and the rest of us. He came, he saw, and if he didn’t entirely conquer – he came as close as anybody we are likely to see in the lifetime of this doomed generation. – Hunter S. Thompson

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70 in a rural Southern culture that was stereotypically:

  • racist
  • segregationist
  • sexist
  • homophobic
  • nationalistic
  • jingoistic

And, of course,

  • conservative Christian

As a kid, all you know is what you’re taught. Continue reading Muhammad Ali: The Champ for racial equality and social justice

Audre Lorde: S&R Honors an icon of artistic vision, diversity and self-awareness

Audre Lorde taught us that power begins with knowing and accepting ourselves.

In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.

We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

Audre Lorde

The reading list for the contemporary poetry seminar during my first semester in the MA program at Iowa State was an interesting one. Elizabeth Bird, Louise Erdrich, Richard Wright, Charles Wright, Gary Snider, Carolyn Forché, plus a couple others I can’t recall right now. Also, the point of today’s story, Audre Lorde, a writer I had never heard of.

It was Fall of 1987 and it was a fascinating, albeit frustrating class. Continue reading Audre Lorde: S&R Honors an icon of artistic vision, diversity and self-awareness

S&R Honors: Edmund Blackadder

S&R Honors Edmund BlackadderScholars & Rogues has been around for seven and a half years or so, and during that time we have evolved. Early on we were a political blog with a culturalist bent. These days we’re a “journal of progressive culture” – in a nutshell, we’re a culture blog informed by a strong political foundation. Our writing wanders far and wide, as you may have noticed, but the pieces all seem to fit together.

We have had, through the years, a number of discussions about who we are and who we want to be. In corporate terminology, what is the Scholars & Rogues brand? And while these conversations have occasionally been nuanced and overrun with self-doubt – if you don’t have the occasional crisis of identity in seven years you’re not trying hard enough – I have always had an answer that served as a sort of starting point.

The S&R brand is Edmund Blackadder. Continue reading S&R Honors: Edmund Blackadder

Generation X, whatever, nevermind: reflecting on Kurt Cobain

No one could possibly be THE voice of Gen X, but Cobain was certainly A voice of my generation.

SRHonors_Kurt CobainIn their seminal 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, published in 1993, Neil Howe and William Strauss argued that the only thing Generation Xers really agreed on was that there was no such thing as Generation X. Given the inherent irony and collective self-denial bound up in any examination of the cohort born from 1961 to 1980, then, maybe Kurt Cobain was the Voice of His Generation.

Whatever. Nevermind.

Yeah, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but not as much as you might think. Gen X is a subject I have studied deeply through the years, and if trying to characterize any demographic that’s 50 million people wide is a tricky enterprise, it’s doubly so with m-m-my generation because we’re so goddamned contrary. Continue reading Generation X, whatever, nevermind: reflecting on Kurt Cobain

A league of their own: S&R honors Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis (and baseball-playing women everywhere)

Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” You could look it up. – Annie Savoy

My grandfather used to tell stories about his sister, my aunt Janie. She played baseball. Not softball, but baseball. And was better than most of the boys. Her girls team even beat the boys a time or two (I’m guessing that boys in the 1930s were enough like the boys of today that they didn’t want to lose to the girls, so there might have been fewer opportunities for inter-gender matchups after that first win). Then there was Gertrude Hines, and older girl in his neighborhood when he was growing up. Nobody wanted little Sammy Linville on their team because he was too young and small, but Gertrude, who was always one of the captains, would say “I’ll take him if I can have his third strike.”

In my neighborhood, Debbie Altman was maybe the best baseball player. A leftie, she was a great pitcher and could hit the hell out of the ball. (She was also really, really pretty, and the combination of athletic ability and long blonde hotness was responsible for my first major boyhood crush.)

Later, when I managed the Colorado Sun Kings in the Denver NABA 30+ league, we had a woman on the team. Teresa, who played second and short, was set for a tryout with the Coors Silver Bullets, but injured her hand just before camp. I saw the Bullets play, and Teresa would have made that team.

This past week, Lavonne “Pepper” Paire-Davis died at the age of 88. Paire-Davis was our most visible link to a past when girls were allowed to play hardball, owing to the fact that she was the inspiration for Geena Davis’s character in A League of Their Own, the 1992 movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. If you don’t know the story, the AAGPBL was started as an alternative to the Major League, which was hard hit by World War II. It was originally feared the league might fold for the duration of the war; it didn’t, but the quality of play obviously suffered as all the young stars, men in the prime of their lives and careers, marched off to the European and Pacific theaters.

It wasn’t enough for AAGPBL players to be athletes, of course. The original rules (which evolved into something like pure baseball over time) looked more like softball, and the players were required to wear skirts and behave like proper ladies at all times.

During spring training the girls were required to attend Helena Rubinstein’s evening charm school classes. The proper etiquette for every situation was taught, and every aspect of personal hygiene, mannerisms and dress code was presented to all the players. In an effort to make each player as physically attractive as possible, each player received a beauty kit and instructions on how to use it. As a part of the leagues ‘Rules of Conduct’, the girls were not permitted to have short hair, smoke or drink in public places, and they were required to wear lipstick at all times. Fines for not following the leagues rules of conduct were five dollars for the first offense, ten for the second, and suspension for the third.

Paire-Davis was, to all accounts, a very good player.

An All-Star catcher, Paire was a fine defensive player with good range on the field and a strong throwing arm. She exhibited an aggressive catching style, leading to a broken collarbone in her rookie season. She suffered numerous injuries thereafter, but kept on playing. Basically a line-drive hitter, she had a compact swing and tremendous plate discipline, collecting a significant 2.63 walk-to-strikeout ratio (308-to-117). A lifetime .225 hitter she made good contact, hitting safely more frequently with runners on base or when the team was behind in the score, as her 400 runs batted in ties her in fourth place with Elizabeth Mahon on the all-time list, behind Dorothy Schroeder (431), Inez Voyce (422) and Eleanor Callow (407). In addition, the versatile Paire played shortstop and third base, and even pitched. She also was a member of a championship team and made the playoffs in nine of her ten seasons.

In 60 playoff games, she hit .211 with one home run and 16 RBI, including one triple and seven stolen bases.

In fact, a lot of women were good players. And would be today if they were allowed to play the game. But instead they’re stuck playing softball, and I can only assume this is because it’s presumed to be safer. (This isn’t a logical conclusion that takes into account the speed with which some women pitch or the fact that the ball is plenty hard, but the fact is that little girls don’t have the option of playing the American pastime once they get past coed tee-ball age.) This system has always felt a little like the old six-on-six basketball rules, which were finally eradicated for good in the ’90s (Iowa and Oklahoma were the last two holdouts).

Is softball a remnant of a paternalistic culture that feels girls and women have to be protected? Probably. But I’ve played a number of sports with women – basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, you name it. The idea that these are delicate flowers who can’t handle the full measure of the game is ludicrous, and we have all the examples you’d ever need in pretty much every game except baseball and American football (which frankly, I’m not sure anyone ought to play, male or female). Do Mia Hamm and Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach look fragile to you? Maya Moore and Candace Parker?

A League of Their Own sparked a brief revival in women’s baseball. The Silver Bullets were founded shortly after the movie popularized the idea of women with fastballs. Here in Denver, the NABA launched a women’s league. The whole fad fizzled, though, and with our last links to that legacy of women’s baseball dying out, it’s hard to see how the vaguely sexist softball culture might ever be replaced with a baseball option.

It’s a shame to think that there will be no more Pepper Paires. There will certainly be plenty of Debbie Altmans ripping doubles into the gap on the playground and Gertrude Hineses taking little Sammy LInville’s third strike and Aunt Janies who show up the boys every time they step on the field. The occasional Teresa will love the game so much that she’s willing to deal with being stared at and whispered about when she steps into the box as the only woman in a man’s league, and her teammates will scream their fool heads off when she smacks an RBI single up the middle off a pitcher who now has to go back to the dugout and endure the humiliation of having given up a hit to a girl.

Perhaps no character in the canon of American culture has ever loved baseball so completely as Bull Durham‘s Annie Savoy. Few have known more about the game or more fully inhabited its spiritual essence. I have always called Bull Durham the greatest sports movie ever made, and in part this is because not of what happens on the field, but because of the negative space in the social fabric: Annie, the soul of the narrative, is only allowed to play the game in her back yard. She has no league of her own.

For a few years, Lavonne Paire-Davis and the rest of the women in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League did. S&R honors them and the grace with which they crashed the gender barrier, if only for a while. We hope that the US, as it evolves on questions of fairness and equity, finally creates a place where little girls and young women can fully share in what the Boston Globe‘s James Carroll once called the “baseball communion.”

If we do, it will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.

Image Credits: NBC Sports, Feminist Guide to Hollywood

S&R Honors Richard Joshua Reynolds: Self-interest, rightly understood, and our legacy of progressive capitalism

This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back. – Bono

When we hear talk about “markets” and “capitalism” and “business,” especially as such things are fetishized in the corporate media (think about how The Apprentice franchise has apparently made Donald Trump, a barking conspiracy theorist whose companies have declared bankruptcy four times and who has flirted with personal bankruptcy, as well, into something of a corporate statesman), the mainstream of our culture tends to think we’re discussing the exclusive domain of Republicans. The GOP is assumed to be “pro-business” and all too often those who oppose them (at the ballot box, in the Capitol, in the court of public opinion) must overcome the inverse assumption, that they are “anti-business” and perhaps even “socialist.” A great deal of money (much of it issuing from people like the Koch brothers) is spent fostering and reinforcing this ideology, and it’s nigh-on impossible to argue that their efforts haven’t been spectacularly successful.

If you’re of a more critical bent, perhaps you hear these terms and are more likely to think of our modern robber barons, of Bernie Madoff, Joe Nacchio, Bernie Ebbers, the Rigas family, Dennis Koslowski, Jeffrey Skilling, Ken Lay and all things Halliburton, of men whose pathological greed and power-lust knows no boundaries. Men who will sit around and joke about stealing a grandmother’s retirement – a joke that my own particular dark, twisted sense of humor can parse in the right context, but certainly not in a situation where they’re actually doing it, even as they speak. None of this is remotely new, of course. If you remember the ’80s, perhaps you recall Michael Milken and Ivan Boeski. And of course, our original robber barons – excuse me, I mean industrialists – those captains of commerce after whom we name buildings and institutions and even universities. Names like Astor, Carnegie, Drew, Duke, Gould, Mellon, Morgan, Rockefeller, Schwab, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

What’s frustrating here is that capitalism isn’t a privilege reserved for Republicans, nor is it inherently the work of the devil. It’s part of our culture’s progressive birthright, as well. Some of our most remarkable business achievements have been accomplished ethically, with a keen eye toward the ways in which the tools of capitalism can be used to create a greater prosperity for everybody. Enlightened capitalists like Richard Joushua Reynolds, for instance, created an economic base in my hometown that afforded generations of working class and minority employees an opportunity to participate in the rewards of their work, increasing educational opportunities and providing genuine security for their families. (Yeah, I know – tobacco. Let’s accept for the moment that it’s very bad and also acknowledge that at the time we didn’t know how bad.) Thanks to RJR’s stock investment plans, there were line workers in Winston-Salem, NC who retired as millionaires.

R.J. Reynolds and his family played a large part in the public life and history of the City of Winston-Salem. In 1884 he served as a city commissioner. Reynolds was politically progressive especially for his time. He established progressive working conditions in his factory, with shorter hours and higher pay. He also signed a petition for a property tax to pay for public schools and voted to approve an income tax. After his death, Katharine Reynolds continued his philanthropic activities.

Part of that RJ Reynolds progressive bent is something that only the locals seem to know about. The Reynolda Estate was a massive operation and required a lot of on-site manual labor to maintain. So he built a village that included housing and a comprehensive set of services for all his employees. This included building top-notch schools for the children of black workers, at a time when educating blacks wasn’t on anybody’s agenda. His black workers enjoyed conditions (and even management opportunities) that were simply unprecedented at the time.

The Reynolds family also brought Wake Forest University, my alma mater, to Winston-Salem via a massive grant of land and cash, and that institution, which has grown into a top 30 national university, today stands as the largest employer in the county and the new center of an evolving innovation-centered economy. Wake’s motto, appropriately enough, is Pro Humanitate.

There are other examples out there – feel free to populate the comment box with your own – but the point is that progressive, “Pro Humanitate” principles are not incompatible with capitalism and business.

I frequently refer to Alexis de Tocqueville’s seminal Democracy in America, a book published in 1835 that today remains one of the greatest assessments of the American system ever composed. For me, the most important idea in the whole of the book is the principle of “self-interest, rightly understood.”

The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of persons in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self- command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. The principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught and restrained by it. Observe some few individuals, they are lowered by it; survey mankind, they are raised.I am not afraid to say that the principle of self-interest rightly understood appears to me the best suited of all philosophical theories to the wants of the men of our time, and that I regard it as their chief remaining security against themselves. Towards it, therefore, the minds of the moralists of our age should turn; even should they judge it to be incomplete, it must nevertheless be adopted as necessary.

It’s the erosion of this essential principle that lies at the core of what we have become. In short, capitalism of the sort practiced all-too-frequently in America has been obsessed with self-interest and totally unconcerned with rightly understood.

If we’re to regain our former greatness – and please, don’t mistake affluence with greatness – we must insist on rightly understood. Capitalism must be progressive, not corrosive. It must be about creating opportunity for everyone instead of building barriers to keep wealth in and people out. And while locking the pillagers up is an important and altogether satisfying step that a moral society must take, understand what Tocqueville says above. Our collective greatness is ultimately not about grand acts but about the small, the routine, the ordinary daily acts of self-denial.

Capitalism isn’t a dirty word, and shame on us that we’ve allowed a few sick men to steal it from us. It’s time to steal it back.

_____

This post is adapted from a piece that originally appeared at Scholars & Rogues on June 9, 2007.

Image Credit: Wikipedia