FlyOver: March 2009 Archives

... it's going to hurt.

Lindsay Koob, Charleston City Paper's critic, reports today that the orchestra's musicians, staff, and conductors agreed to a pay cut of nearly 23 percent in the form of eight weeks of furlough -- shortening the 2009-2010 season from eight months to half a year.

The musicians voted on the proposal Friday and the results were announced before last night's Masterworks concert by the chairman of the board. The average salary for musicians is likely to be well under $20,000.

By the way, that's below the poverty line for a family of four.

The unofficial scuttlebutt is that the board threatened to stall selling tickets for next season, a good source of revenue that can be used right now, if the musicians didn't agree to the pay cut. That threat was made explicit during a meeting days before the voting deadline.
March 29, 2009 9:23 AM |
I interviewed Barry Strauss, the acclaimed military history and author of The Spartacus War, a page-turner about one of the world's most successful insurgency leaders. Spartacus was a slave and gladiator who should have been freed.

Later Roman writers believed the rebellion, which scorched the countryside and beat nine Roman armies, could have been avoided. Strauss says Roman sources blamed Rome's leaders, not the guerilla fighters, for the war, because it could have been avoided were Spartacus not inspired by a desire for revenge.

Add to that a revolt fueled by religious fervor. Spartacus was a charismatic leader who whipped up support by calling on the name of Dionysius, a revered god of rural Italy, where he got most of his 60,000-man army. Strauss says it's not too much of a stretch to call the rebellion a jihad waged for the sake of God's revenge.

Strauss also points out what became obvious after a while -- the enormous similarities between then and now. America is an empire by any standard in world history. It's also a superpower like Rome. The latter was bogged down in a insurgency just as the former has been in Iraq and will be again in Afghanistan. The old empire fought men who believed they were on the right side of God, just as this new empire has been in the Middle East.

"The similarities leap off the page," Strauss says.

You can read the interview at Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Evidently, Strauss isn't alone in finding similarities between then and now. The coming months promise at least a handful of titles focusing on ancient Rome. I don't know how tight the comparisons are, but the volume at this moment is worth taking note of. They are:

March 26, 2009 8:05 AM |
Jedediah Purdy's *A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom* does for history what Allen Tate did for Faulkner: It gives history a close reading to come to conclusions about America's tradition of individual freedom. Part of that tradition is firmly ensconced in economics: I am free, because I can trade my expertise, skill, and knowledge (i.e., labor) in exchange for something or equal or greater value. The idea of free labor had its greatest articulation when Thomas Jefferson wrote that among (white, male, property-owning) Americans inalienable rights were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Jefferson dreamed of a country populated by small farms on which every man was a king. That changed with the Industrial Revolution when capital became consolidated and ownership of property became increasingly put in the hands of the wealthy and few. Even so, the idea of free labor continues: We still believe a person is responsible for failures even if those failures are for the most part out of his control. People my age (mid-30s) have never known anything else, even though most presidents of the 20th century took for granted the notion that society and economies are too complex for one person to understand, control, and exploit. The idea had been around since Teddy Roosevelt, but it became doctrine when Herbert Hoover failed to contain the Great Depression. Individuals were helpless alone, but together, with the right leadership, they could do something to get out of the mess they were in. That meant government. That meant a more active role by government to help those who would help themselves if they could. That always made sense to me. But this idea -- not very inspiring, not very positive, not very constructive -- lost traction badly when people soured on Civil Rights, lost faith in government during Vietnam, and put all their hopes in a good-looking, charismatic, rugged westerner named Ronald Reagan, who insisted Americans can do whatever they put their minds to. Here's a snip from my [interview]( with Purdy (published in the *Independent Weekly*). An amazing guy, illuminating book.

"Everyone before [Reagan] said that people can't be the authors of their own lives," Purdy says. "The role of government was to create order out of disorder, so that if we can't control these forces alone, we can together. Reagan rejected what was a consensus for most of the 20th century."

Reagan was influenced by economic thinkers such as Milton Friedman and polemicists such as Ayn Rand, but he also believed in a mythical American type previously envisaged by Jefferson and Emerson--rugged, individualist, self-reliant. And though he replaced regulation with a sink-or-swim ideology, it was very inspiring. No president since has dared to say Americans can't do anything.

"Reagan seized the moment," Purdy says of the 1980s, a time when people were still feeling disaffected by Vietnam and soured by the Civil Rights Movement and economic stagflation. "He said we are all free to dictate our own lives. As long as the idea works, it's powerful."

But does it work anymore? And if it doesn't, what ideas will emerge to replace Reagan's politically influential dogma of individualistic freedom?

[Full story . . . ](
March 22, 2009 12:47 PM | | Comments (2)
revealedbeauty.jpg*Playboy*, the magazine, used to say something, because it used to say something about the female body, something that was erotic, not just sexual. What's the difference? Erotic, in my mind, is fleeting, ineffable, hard to pin down, tantalizingly elusive, and pleasurable for it. Sexual is fine, but it's concrete. The difference between them, you might say, is the difference between faith and knowledge. *Playboy* these days, as [Molly Young rightly describes it]( in this insightful essay for *N1BR*, the online book review of the annual *n+1* magazine: "*Playboy* ceases to be about the erotic everyday encounter. Flesh and blood women turn to images; the "girl next door" becomes distinctly mediated."
The bunnies were always mediated, of course, but something about the earlier photographs made you forget the medium and feel as though you were staring straight into the eyes of a luscious partner. Enthusiastic photoshopping has aided the transformation. Gone are the freckles and downy arm hairs of the predecessors. Breasts are surgically standardized; gym routines and spray tans produce identically toned and tinted bodies. Girls of all ethnicities blend together into one latte-colored woman, and the result looks computer-generated. When you try to imagine how the models might feel and smell, things like rubber come to mind.
I happened to read Young's piece before [interviewing Ed Coyle](, a photographer of [black-and-white nudes]( here in Charleston who loves women the way Hugh Hefner loves women. The difference is that Coyle's nudes do not blend together into "one latte-colored woman." Coyle's nudes are of course mediated through his lens and his eye, but they are not blurred into a composite ideal of sensual femininity. Instead, he seeks out what makes an individual women distinct (most of them in their 30s and 40s, many of them having borne children) and therefore what makes her beautiful. Beauty is in the freckles and curves and appearance of comfort. It was charming to discuss the craft of man so clearly enamored of women, especially older women, he says, who "get it," but also so clearly in love with the discovery of their beauty.
March 17, 2009 9:08 AM | | Comments (1)
We already knew the management of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (S.C.) was at odds with the orchestra's musicians over how to cut spending in order to stave off the threat of bankruptcy. Now we know which side was stronger. The musicians received just 20 percent of their normal pay on Friday, the day before one of its Masterworks concerts featuring a guest violinist and guest conductor. The orchestra's administrative staff took the same percentage cut. Insiders say the difference will be paid in December when the orchestra's fund-raising is in full swing again. Meanwhile, the musicians have figured out a way to downsize their ranks in compliance with management's goal of reducing the budget by $500,000.The downsizing is by attrition and there are only a handful of musicians affected.
March 16, 2009 6:54 AM |
It's not a question I hear often. More like rarely. And when I encounter an entertaining and sagacious volume like Ron Padgett's, the question comes to mind once again. How to Be Perfect is funny first, ethical second. It's a begrudging kind of wisdom, it seems, almost as if the poet is a little embarrassed to be addressing the things that are most important. Like how to love and how to receive love. And even which of those questions is more important. A wise teacher of mine once said it's more important to love than to be loved. I'm still untangling that one. Ron Padgett's How to Be Perfect helps. Here's [a brief review]( published in the *Pittsburgh City Paper*:

Padgett, a New Yorker who visits the International Poetry Forum on March 11, has mastered the art of surprise. He leads you down avenues of free association, and you can't see where he's going until he gets there. The effect is a cloud of uncertainty zapped by a delightful snap of light, as in a seasoned comic's polished standup routine.

Rather than being merely witty or self-effacing, Padgett's comic sensibility is often leavened with a pinch of bittersweetness -- as when he muses on his dead mother or on a friend, the poet Kenneth Koch -- or a dollop of alienation. "Country Room" seems at first a clever play on the slipperiness of language. But on a deeper level, it appears to touch on the fundamentals of the universe -- matter, space and time -- while addressing humanity's struggle to find meaning amid evident meaninglessness.

[Full story . . . ](
March 15, 2009 8:53 AM |
The Dow slipped below 6,500. Unemployment hasn't been this bad since 1983. And it's probably worse. If you measure employment in terms of being able to get by -- that is, not a part-time job -- then that 9 percent figure is surely optimistic. What's the upside? If you ask journalist Kat Long, the upside is sex. Her new book, *The Foribben Apple: A Century of Sex & Sin in New York City*, is a history of public sexual expression in New York City from the Guilded Age through the end of the Giuliani Era. During her research, she found a surprising pattern -- when the economy is good, people tend to get uptight about forms of sexual expression. When the economy is bad, however, public expressions of sexuality are met with more tolerance, even encouragement. Here's a snip of my [talk with her]( in the *New York Press*:

An economy spiraling downward might be a good thing. For sex, anyway. Historically, these two forces have been at odds.When the economy goes down, public expressions of sexuality go up. When stock portfolios are making bank, people tend to get prissy.

This dialectic between sex and money was a surprise discovery for Kat Long, author of the forthcoming history of sex called The Forbidden Apple. She couldn't believe few had written about it. There are niche books aplenty about gay men in 1970s New York, but little about the competing forces of "good and evil," as she calls it, a pendulum that has swung faithfully since New York's Gilded Age, where Long begins her sordid tale.

"When the economy is bleak, sex culture becomes more visible on a street level," says Long, a former editor at GO magazine and contributor to BUST and the late Playgirl. "I think people need escape. Simple needs still need fulfilling. And these don't change. It's human nature. The question is how the sex industry adapts to these times."

[Full story . . .](
March 9, 2009 10:46 AM |
What is the role of government? It might depend on what's needed. Obama, during his inaugural address, recast the debate not in terms of size but utility. But it's an argument going way back to the 1930s when capitalism was untenable and marketplace forces threatened to tear the country apart. Given our crisis, I'm struck by the similarities between now and then. Reading William E. Leuchtenburg's new biography of Herbert Hoover is like reading today's newspaper. In this *New Haven Review* [piece](, I say it's nothing short of breathtaking:

In 1932, the country was facing a credit crisis the likes of which had never been seen. Americans were losing their jobs, their houses, and their life savings as the stock market crashed and banks collapsed.

To stymie a plunge that could last years, Hoover OK'd the renewal of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to recapitalize the financial sector, infusing $2 billion--a "staggering amount" at that time, Leuchtenburg reminds us--into banks, insurance firms, railroad companies, and other finance institutions. Will Rogers wrote that the bankers had "the honor of bring the first group to go on the 'dole' in America."

But efforts to save the banks and stimulate the economy from the top down backfired. Banks were still closing, though at a slower rate, and instead of loosening up credit markets, as the bailout was intended to do, banks found a way to use the millions to shore up their own holdings.

New York Senator Robert Wagner, a progressive critic of the Hoover administration, responded to this blank-check strategy by zeroing in on the fatal flaw of Hoover's economic ideology: Even in extraordinary times, even in the face of starvation, Hoover believed welfare would impair the character of the needy and rob benefactors of the opportunity to exercise voluntarism and civic duty. Wagner, like many others, was stunned by Hoover's decision to bail out banks. "We did not preach to them rugged individualism," he said:

We did not sanctimoniously roll out sentences rich with synonyms of self-reliance. We were not carried away with apprehension over what would happen to their independence if we extended them a helping hand.... Must [the individual] alone carry the cross of individual responsibility?

I don't think Leuchtenburg intended his biography to reflect so acutely our current hardships. His aim was to paint a not unsympathetic portrait of a hard man to have sympathy for. But as I zipped through this lucid book, I kept trying to think of a good word to describe the feeling of my frequently being taken aback. History repeats itself, sure, but how often does it do so with such vengeance?

[Full review . . . ](
March 1, 2009 7:57 PM |

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