history, money, technology

Tesla and Morgan

From the Echoes of History Dept:

Around the turn of the last century, Nikola Tesla went to JP Morgan, hat in hand. He needed money to fund this idea he had for wireless technology. Depending on the source you consult, he wanted to communicate wirelessly, or he wanted to actually transmit energy wirelessly. Morgan and some other investors gave him some cash. It was about $150,000 and wasn’t nearly enough. Tesla built a huge tower on Long Island that never really worked. Meanwhile, Marconi broadcast the first trans-Atlantic radio signal. After a few years, JP Morgan wouldn’t give Tesla any more money and the project fell apart. Tesla is supposed to have had a breakdown. Years later Tesla turned over the property to the owner of the Waldorf Astoria, where he had been living. The tower was destroyed and sold for scrap in 1917.

In 2011, an analyst at Morgan Stanley rated Tesla Motors stock as “overweight”, boosting its price about 20 percent. Later that year, Morgan Stanley changed its mind, and the analyst declared that these electric cars were “not ready for prime time.” Tesla stock plunged, erasing the year’s gains. (But, to be fair, only briefly; the stock has rebounded nicely.)

It’s almost purely coincidence, though I supposes there are only so many history-making robber baron bankers whose name can be on the letterhead, and so many crazy pioneers of electricity to inspire the name of your electric car company.

And the lesson, if one can be squeezed from this whisp of nominal historical parallelism, may be that just as Morgan giveth, Morgan taketh away.

***

Below: A 1917 issue of The Electrical Experimenter. On Page 7 is an article on the destruction of the tower, stating that the tower was removed due to worries that German spies were using the structure.

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art, history, movies, music, race

Steamboat Willie

Behold.

“Steamboat Willie” was the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. [First distributed in theaters, not first produced —Ed.] It premiered November 18, 1928, at the Colony Theater in New York City. It was also the first cartoon to have synchronized sound.

If you watch the whole thing, which I had never done until last year, you’ll see it’s also a catalog of animal abuse that would not pass muster today.

screenshot of mickey mouse pressing his shoe on the back of a cat's neck

Since I mention abuse: About halfway through, the song “Turkey in the Straw” starts playing. I never gave much though to the single verse of lyrics that my brother and I learned for this song as kids. (I also never learned that version asking if your ears hang low.) A quick look at Wikipedia suggests that they were from a variation sung by George Gobel on television in the ’50s. Ours went a little like this:

Oh, I had a little chicken and she wouldn’t lay an egg,
So I poured hot water up and down her leg,
Oh, the little chicken hollered and the little chicken begged,
And that darn little chicken laid a hard-boiled egg.

Ouch! Poor little chicken.

1918 sheet music cover portraying a fashionable african-american man called the zip coonLike folk music in general, this song has undergone all kinds of tweaking and transformations. In fact, one of the earliest versions had the unfortunate title “Zip Coon,” a minstrelsy reference to an African-American who was sharply dressed, urban, and free. Or, to use another more subtly charged word that is still around: uppity.

Maybe that earlier song variation could makes sense in the Steamboat Willie context, given the criticism of Mickey Mouse as minstrel.

Fortunately, we were spared the blatant racial mockery when we learned our lyrics. Though if you want to insist on some social subtext, I suppose there was some gender silliness: the hard-boiled-egg-laying chicken’s sex was variable in our singing. Sometimes we poured hot water up and down his leg.

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anticipation, dissipation, history, politics

Why Elections Matter

American soldiers in Iraq walk past the word VOTE spray painted on a blast wall. From New York Times.

Apologies to Joao Silva/New York Times for using their photo. But look: American soldiers walking past a
spray-painted blast wall in Al Awad, Iraq, yesterday.

The first time I voted in a presidential election was in the 2000 election. I was a senior in college in New Hampshire. I voted absentee in Alaska. Before election night, the campaigns had seemed like exercises in pure politics. The country was doing well, the government was running a surplus, and the U.S. seemed pretty invincible, in spite of apparent anomalies like the recent USS Cole bombing and the earlier African embassy explosions. Bush was promising humility, compassionate conservatism, and explicit opposition to nation-building. Gore’s posturing, on the other hand, showed up in his physical performance. We seemed headed for a bland, bureaucratic age in which politicians were interchangeable functionaries. In college, we learned about the end of history. My cohort was restless, believing we would inherit a world marked by anomie. Friends were going to rallies for Ralph Nader–Ralph Nader–who gave young people something to rally around, a promise to Shake Up the Status Quo. And then Florida, outrage both real and manufactured, and an election put to rest by a split Supreme Court vote. The age of aimless political gamesmanship was upon us. The next summer we were preoccupied by shark attacks.

All this didn’t last another year.

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history, politics, race

The Wallace Clarification

The news these days is the sort that inspires a lot of confusion, and when there’s confusion, there is no shortage of arm-waving, all-of-a-sudden experts buzzing around. You know what I mean: the street-corner authority: the pedestrian who sees a house on fire or a car accident, and then when anyone asks, “Hey, what’s going on?”, he’s the one who answers like he knows it all.

Every political talk show, dinner party chatter, phone call home makes at least glancing reference to the Economic Crisis. Inevitably, someone says, “You know, I still just don’t get.” And inevitably one person will say, “Well, here’s how it happened.” If you’re really lucky, you’ll be at dinner and two or three people will all vie for the resident expert crown and they’ll get into it full force. Pretty soon, your nice dinner has been hijacked by Hank and Neel and Ben, and and the best resolution is the simplest. More wine!

Before September 2008, the casual authority opined on terrorism or global warming, possibly both. Before 2001, they waxed on the New Economy (and the Dot-Com Bubble). Or, if you were really lucky, the perennial favorite: quantum physics. Possibly all of those. In the novel Making History, Stephen Fry alluded to the armchair experts who could recite ego-stroking theories they’d memorized from pop physics books. In the novel White Noise, Don DeLillo includes a scene in which a family begins to talk about theoretical physics and pretty much gets it all wrong:

Steffie said in a small voice, “How cold is space?”

We all waited once more. Then Heinrich said, “It depends on how high you go. The higher you go, the colder it gets.”

“Wait a minute,” Babette said. “The higher you go, the closer you get to the sun. So the warmer it gets.”

“What makes you think the sun is high?”

“How can the sun be low? You have to look up to see the sun.”

“What about at night?” he said.

“It’s on the other side of the earth. But people still look up.”

“The whole point of Sir Albert Einstein,” he said, “is how can the sun be up if you’re standing on the sun?”

I wonder what Sir Albert would make of the state of today’s world.

There’s a smaller tempest of interpretation occurring in the politics of the day in regard to some comments of Congressman John Lewis, in which he brought up the specter of George Wallace and the McCain-Palin rallies.

I have to confess, comically, that I was very confused about George Wallace when I was younger. I’d heard that he was a terrible racist. But then the only George Wallace I’d ever seen was the black comedian, who I thought was hilarious, and is currently playing the Flamingo in Vegas. And so when you’re hearing about these guys, starting in junior high or so, it all gets a little mixed up.

But it turns out that I’m not the only one confused about George Wallace. Luckily, we have Russ Rymer, a great journalist of race in America (and, quite often, of science).

On Friday, Russ published an op-ed in the Times with his explanation of the George Wallace comparison. It’s fun to read, and informative, and, at the climax, cinematic. Up front, Russ’s clarification: “The context of Mr. Lewis’s critique is not as has been presented: a saint of the civil rights movement likening a decorated war hero to an infamous racist. Rather, it was a collegial (if rough) caution from one brother to another, about a third, politicians all.”

I don’t want to steal Russ’s thunder, so take a look.

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history, ideas, international, journalism

Unfamiliar does not equal Improbable

Kaplan has a worthy review of Donald Rumsfeld’s strategic legacy in the Atlantic. I’ll comment more on it later. But for now, a provocative point that Kaplan introduces in the piece’s lede:

In 1962, a Harvard economics professor named Thomas C. Schelling wrote an introduction to Roberta Wohlstetter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. In a few hundred words, Schelling, a future Nobel Prize winner, delivered a tour de force about the failure to anticipate events. “We were so busy thinking through some ‘obvious’ Japanese moves,” he writes,

that we neglected to hedge against the choice that they actually made … There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable … Furthermore, we made the terrible mistake … of forgetting that a fine deterrent can make a superb target.

Schelling’s introduction so impressed Donald H. Rumsfeld that he memorized parts of it and, as others have reported, regularly handed it out before the Pearl Harbor–level attack of 9/11. In his subsequent planning for the invasion of Iraq, Rumsfeld took Schelling’s precepts to heart, thought pessimistically about all sorts of dire scenarios, and got the best possible result.

But only up to the point when organized Iraqi military resistance collapsed. In a tragic, latter-day extension of Schelling’s analysis, Rumsfeld was so busy thinking about the Iraqis’ “obvious” military moves—launching chemical weapons, making a last stand in Baghdad—that he neglected to hedge against what they actually did: melt away and return weeks later as small bands of insurgents. Because of the meager resistance to our interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and the swiftness of our apparent victory in Afghanistan in 2001, which Rumsfeld had played a great part in orchestrating, by early 2003 the specter of a debilitating Vietnam-scale insurgency against the United States military had been sufficiently exorcised to seem “unfamiliar,” and therefore to be confused with “the improbable.” By the time Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in Baghdad, we had become too impressed with our own military to see it as a “superb target.”

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Asia, history, journalism, lost, video

Panic in Da Nang, 1975.

Before the fall of Saigon, there was the loss of Da Nang, a major port city and host to American military forces during the Vietnam War. As North Vietnamese forces approached the city, residents tried to evacuate.

For a little more information that covers some of the technical details–fuel loss, passenger load, etc.–click on the video (or here) to read the summing up that accompanies the piece on YouTube. Have been thinking about the Vietnam War lately–less because of Iraq than because John Peabody is working on a story about the Hmong community in California. 

P.S.: Sometimes journalists, these days, wonder what the best medium is to tell a story. An event like this can, and probably should, be told many ways. But it’s clear that to get it fast and make it pack a punch, video (or probably film, in those days) is the way to go.

Via Kottke.
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China, geography, history, international, irony, really?

A little torch history.

I’ve been throwing ideas around lately to all kinds of people. They haven’t stuck, which is too bad. But one of them was to look at the history of the torch relay after reports that the IOC and Britain may forgo the tradition in the runup to the 2012 games. I kind of knew the answer to the question about how the modern torch relay started, but the LA Times editorial page beat me to it:

The Olympic torch relay was invented by the Nazis. According to historians, Adolf Hitler wanted to promote his belief in an Aryan master race by symbolically linking the 1936 Berlin Games to the ancient Greek gods and rituals, hence the carrying of the flame from Olympia to Germany. The first relay was chronicled on film by Hitler’s propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl.

We bring you this brief history lesson because, as the Olympic torch makes its only North American appearance today in San Francisco, it will be met by thousands of protesters decrying China’s human rights record. In response to similar demonstrations Monday in Paris, the Chinese government complained that a “small group” of Tibetan activists was seeking to politicize an event that should have been a tribute to the love of sport.

Nonsense. From its very beginning, the torch relay has been deeply political, a promotional extravaganza for the Games’ host country. Chinese officials are well aware of this, having designed the longest relay in Olympic history — an 85,000-mile, six-continent tour, meant to highlight China’s vast economic and political might. The protests are a welcome reminder to Beijing that it can’t tailor public opinion in the rest of the world the way it can at home.

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history, journalism, lost, photography

The Mexican Suitcase

mxsc.jpg
Photo by Tony Cenicola
A long-lost cache of original negatives shot by Robert Capa (as well, possibly, as Gerda Taro and others) recently turned up in Mexico City. According to the Times:

The suitcase — actually three flimsy cardboard valises — contained thousands of negatives of pictures that Robert Capa, one of the pioneers of modern war photography, took during the Spanish Civil War before he fled Europe for America in 1939, leaving behind the contents of his Paris darkroom.Capa assumed that the work had been lost during the Nazi invasion, and he died in 1954 on assignment in Vietnam still thinking so. But in 1995 word began to spread that the negatives had somehow survived, after taking a journey worthy of a John le Carré novel: Paris to Marseille and then, in the hands of a Mexican general and diplomat who had served under Pancho Villa, to Mexico City.

And that is where they remained hidden for more than half a century until last month…

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art, history, ideas, language, life, poetry, talent, unfortunate

Enormous Changes, Last Minute: About Grace Paley

Grace Paley died two days ago. She was a sweet and humane poet and short story writer, one of those individuals for whom many will admit a familiarity with the name if not a specific knowledge of the work because some high school English teacher somewhere along the line (but a fan, truly) assigned a couple of her stories about the lives of working class New York women, narrated by those same working class New York women. But many others will remember her for a long time because they were great stories and great poems and illuminated a talent and a part of society that we would do well to remember–the Yiddish-inflected Jewish street and home life of New York in the 50s and 60s.

Grace was also an ardent activist, particularly for the cause of piece. During the Vietnam War she went to Hanoi on a peace mission to negotiate for the release of American prisoners. To learn more about her, I strongly recommend the obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post–the Post for its wit (really, Grace’s wit), and the Times for its sheer, uninhibited enthusiasm.

I first met Grace Paley in 2000 or 2001. She lived near my college during the later part of her life, in Thetford, Vermont, and we had a couple of friends in common. One of them, Cleopatra Mathis, introduced me to her after a reading by the poet Grace Schulberg. We were at a little reception, catered by a local African restaurant, with platters of doughy fried finger foods and fresh vegetables. Grace Paley wasn’t in much of a talking mood, but was still very warm and friendly. “Don’t forget to eat your vegetables,” she told me. And then she bit into a carrot.

I saw her again a few years later, in April 2003. During the new Iraq War, it turned out. And she was worried about me. It was like talking to a close family friend or favored great aunt who is in town for the night and really just wants to make sure I’m getting along OK: am I? really? OK?

She was in San Francisco to give a talk at the giant Temple Emanu-el. (I wrote a friend about it, and from that am I getting some of these comments.) She didn’t read much, except a short and excellent story about spending six days in jail, and a few poems by other people. But she did talk a lot, especially about current events, and she didn’t avoid any questions. When asked about US involvement in the domestic situations of other countries, she recalled meeting a Chilean truck driver who had a briefcase full of paper money from the CIA. She and her husband Bob Nichols were visiting Chile to learn about strawberry farming. This was 1973.

I think I must have been the youngest person in the audience, except for a few 12 year olds. Maybe I was the youngest person who went there voluntarily. One woman a bit older than me stood up and asked Grace how she felt about current events as a Jewish person. This woman was young and attractive and well-dressed and well-spoken and after Grace’s talk she was surrounded by complimentary old women who clucked and cooed over her. The question seemed to arouse a sense of approval from some sections of the audience, though not necessarily all. How do you feel about these things as a Jewish person?

And Grace said, I’m not quite sure what you mean.

Grace Paley grew up as a normal socialist Jewish girl, she said, and added that religion never was very important in her family. I think she also said that her parents were quite critical of religion. She did make her opinion on the Israel-Palestine problem clear by suggesting that we transplant the anti-war slogan “Bring our soldiers home” to the occupied territories: “Bring the settlers home.” (This was before Sharon started the settlement withdrawals.) An Israeli friend of hers pointed out that having those settlers integrated into regular Israeli society would drive everyone else crazy, so Grace switched gears: “Send them home. They’re all from Brooklyn, anyway.”

She then mentioned that a series of threats she had received for her criticism of the settlements were traced to a single phone booth at a college in Brooklyn.

I talked to her briefly afterward, and she signed my edition of Collected Poems. (The poet and professor Gary Lenhart gave me a copy of her Collected Stories a couple of years back, as well–there you’ll find much of what the critics rave about.). We talked for what seemed a long time, but was probably just 10 or 15 minutes. I could feel all the middle aged women there eyeing me suspiciously–why is he taking so long? Though by the time I talked to her, there was no line. No rush, I suppose, either, as she made time for everyone who wanted to speak with her.

She hadn’t shaken the Bronx inflections (one former New Yorker told me they all work to cultivate it long after they’ve left): How’s life, dahling, whatta ya doing, are ya making enough money, good luck, dahling, good luck to you.

*

Grace Paley figured in the first blog entry I ever wrote, on the occasion of the death of a playwright. In that little essay, I lamented not getting to meet these great and talented people who lived when I lived, but died before I could talk to them, and noted that when it came to Grace Paley, I was lucky. Another person I mentioned there was the poet Kenneth Koch.

Kenneth Koch wrote a lot about helping people–especially children and seniors–write poetry. Koch figured heavily in me getting to know the aforementioned Gary Lenhart. And a friend of mine used some of Kenneth Koch’s writings when he helped children learn creative writing. Through some circuitous conversation, we ended up talking a little about all that. I hadn’t talked or thought of Koch for a while. This was Wednesday, the same day Grace Paley died. She was 84.

*

“Here,” by Grace Paley. First published in the Massachusetts Review.

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sitting
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that’s my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips

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history

Recreating Rome

Tom Holland doesn’t explicitly compare the old republic to these United States in his book Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. He leaves that to the reader–at least, inthe first third that I’ve gone through. What is the Rome he describes? A nominal democracy with wide gaps between rich and poor; high-rise slums (six story tall walk-ups that had a bad habit of collapsing); a national habit of picking fights with foreign governments to great profit; the rise of a business class that grows rich off of those conquests combined with close relationships with the bureaucrats and politicians; the thrashing of foreign landscapes for mineral wealth and subsequent pollution (like the ancient smog from ancient smelters settling over the heavily mined Iberian Peninsula).

One of the most helpful additions to the book are the maps, showing where the rich hill of Rome (the Palatine) is in relation to the poor hill (the Aventine), for example.

UC Regents

As of Monday, we can get another look at the eternal city on the web at Rome Reborn 1.0. Doesn’t look
quite as nice as Ridley Scott’s version (see below, for example), though probably more accurate.

We do get a whole-city perspective with video flyovers and various pictures. But this Rome is empty of people, it’s streets are uncluttered. And we can’t walk through Rome under our own direction. Instead, we’re given our choice of what are essentially prepackaged tours following a scripted route.

No way to really know a city, is it, if you can’t get out and walk? I guess we’ll have to wait for Rome 2.0.

Gladiator still from dscaler.org
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history, international, language, politics, really?

The Time Has Come To Talk of Many Things: Of Ducklings and Kings

In 2001, not long after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that people “need to watch what they say, watch what they do…” It was an unfortunate comment that was rightly criticized for its implicit threat against anyone who did not say the “right” things. It was also a good example of the growing politicization of national security and what constitutes a threat to that security.

For a while, language like this was spoken with impunity, as those who adopted a “tough-on-terrorism” posture flexed their political muscles by setting French fries free of their nominal burden, among other priorities. If those same people hadn’t been proven horribly wrong in the execution of many of their tough-on-terrorism strategies (Iraq), their rhetoric might have hardened into something more explicitly sinister. For an example of such rhetoric in the extreme, we need only look at a figure currently in the news, Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, re-elected today in what is characterized as an unfree, unfair election. Those who oppose Lukashenko (who won with something like 83 percent of the vote; Aleksandr Milinkevich, the opposition candidate, came in a close second with 6 percent) announced that they would protest the results in a peaceful gathering in the capital, Minsk, in October Square. In response, Lukashenko “vowed to crush any protests, warning Belarussians not to participate and foreign governments not to encourage them,” according to Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times. Furthermore:

“We know where they met, whom they met with and what discussions they had,” Mr. Lukashenko said during remarks made at an auto factory in Zhodino on Friday, according to the Interfax news agency. “God forbid that they should try to perpetrate something in the country. We will twist off their heads as though they are ducklings.”

We will twist off their heads as though they are ducklings. Is this a sign of Lukashenko’s power—that he could make such an explicit and mean-spirited threat? Or is it the product of a culture that values strength and decisiveness (but not ducklings)? One in which opponents don’t stand a chance. Is there a cultural or political driver behind that statement? Or is it just something clever that Mr. Lukashenko thought up on the spot? Whatever the case, the United States would have to be paralyzed by fear before President Bush could compare opponents to ducklings, if only because some would say he was making terrorists look sympathetic. The closest acceptable animal metaphors we employ have to do with taking advantage of defenseless animals to demonstrate the ease of victory (fish in a barrel, ducks in a row), which I guess is not so far from Lukashenko’s point. Instead, Bush compares terrorists to criminals—which they are—wanted dead or alive, to be “smoked out” of their caves. Unless you bring up the Crusades analogy.

No, for an American politician, twisting the heads off of ducklings won’t work as a metaphor for easy triumph. It would be like proclaiming that dispatching of your enemies is as easy as drowning kittens in a sack, or stepping on puppies. Big mistake. Politicians don’t have the grip on this country that Lukashenko has on his—he controls the media, got Parliament to make organizing protests or making statements against the state punishable by years in prison, even resurrected the KGB. Lukashenko can make the line work, but decapitated ducklings are out of our rhetorical bounds.

American politicians only make aggressive, extreme, or interesting statements if they don’t care about the repercussions, are desperate or confused, or are just bad politicians. Examples? Mike Bloomberg has recently sharpened his tongue, wandering off-script to claim, among other things, that junior high students were better reporters than the City Hall press corps, a habit attributed to his lack of grander political ambitions. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s sad and satisfying call for help after Katrina:”Now get off your asses and do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.” George Bush’s attempt to describe what happens when you fool me once. Even Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was sort of puzzling and refreshing in his impolitic bluntness. On the other hand, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous labeling of Democrats in the state legislature as “girlie men” made for great copy, but would only invite ridicule now that he is in more dire political straits.

If, eventually, Belarussia has its own revolution, as the opposition wishes, one in the tradition of the Orange Revolution or the Rose Revolution, Lukashenko may become the unfortunate duckling. In the meantime, he’s the one in charge, and he’ll twist the heads off of as many ducklings as he likes, thank you very much. “L’etat c’est moi,” said Louis XIV—apocryphal, quite likely, but close enough. It’s a nice position to be in. Remember Tom DeLay, who tried to smoke a cigar at a federal building and, when told that federal law prohibits smoking in such facilities, replied, “I am the federal government.”

Louis died, eventually, and DeLay fell, and continues to fall, but Lukashenko hangs on. It’s good to be the king, or something close—I know it, you know it, Louis XIV knew it, Aleksandr Lukashenko and DeLay know it, Mel Brooks knows it. Even George W. Bush knows it. He told us as much as president-elect in December 2000 (and continues to make the point): “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” That’s a funny thing for an American president to repeatedly bring up. Fair’s fair, I guess. He’s the guy running the country. It’s not like he should have to watch what he says.

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Alaska, geography, history, really?

A Special Geographic Diversity

A North Carolinian correspondent of a colleague of mine recently noted that the outhouse is “quintessentially southern.” This aroused a peculiar response, and, possessed of some form of outhouse inspiration, I felt compelled to share the following (in a germinal form) with my entire department, and now (in a sort of sprouted form), with you:

In light of Ms. Diggins’ assertion that outhouses are “quintessentially southern,” I am compelled to note that although the outhouse may be the image that she believes crystallizes in our minds when we think of the South, their cultural significance is characterized by a special geographic diversity.

They are ubiquitous in Alaska, which in some key ways is quite the opposite of the South. And in the late winter, just about every tenth town hosts outhouse races in the snow (probably because it would take the canvassing of at least ten towns’ worth of people to field a competitive set of outhouse racers). The outhouse race is enough of a cultural marker to be listed in the calendars of publications in the state. Even our landed aristocracy take part, appropriating the outhouses of their serfs—a necessary price paid for the all-consuming drive to accumulate accolades.

The most famous race, from my parochially Interior point of view, is probably the Chatanika Days Outhouse Race, in the busted gold-town of Chatanika, a surprisingly scenic 28 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Feast on the visual wonders of Chatanika here (unfortunately, there are no outhouse race photos).

That said, as a (lapsed) Alaskan, I’m happy to cede the platonic outhouse to North Carolina, and we Alaskans will cling to our idealized visions of imposing mountains, abundant wildlife, bonanza oil fields, and rampant political nepotism, even in the face of imperfect realities.

I did finally find a picture of the races from none other than the Army post Fort Wainwright’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation [Program, presumably]. Looks like the races are scheduled for March 11 and 12 this year.

(Bodie Outhouse photo at top by Flickr star Sara Heinrichs.)

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