Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Borrego Modern Weekend II

Many pictures were promised of our weekend Borrego Springs Modern Architectural Tour, so here goes. As a quick recap, the San Diego Save Our Heritage Foundation (SOHO) put together an event involving tours of five notable midcentury homes in the Borrego Springs section of the San Diego desert. Jane and I and our two friends are all fans of vintage design, adore the desert and love peering into stranger's homes, so the event was tailor-made for us.

The event headquarters and concluding cocktail reception took place at The Desert Club, a 1949 landmark by famed Los Angeles architect William Kesling. Eventually eclipsed by the late-60s construction of the de Anza Country Club, this structure sat unused and in a state of disrepair until quite recently, when it was purchased and restored. While sporting a few odd design quirks (including a bathroom with two open-air toilets side by side), the facility offered beautiful views of the surrounding valley and incorporated open space and glass quite effectively.

We worked backwards from the official tour, and started with House #5, the 1956 Harrington Residence, built by an unknown architect but suspected to be the handiwork of Hal Martinez (the tour notes insisted his name was pronounced Martin-eh). Currently unoccupied and for sale or rent (including by the week), this home was a fairly typical ranch from the outside, with a large expanse of desert landscaping. The interior remained fairly authentic to the 1950s, including a vintage kitchen and a limestone fireplace studded with prehistoric fossils. This is one of the few homes I took indoor photographs of, as such activities were frowned upon in the other homes with current occupants.

Our second stop was the 1959 de Anza Fairway Cottage #11, one of several cottages designed around the de Anza Desert Country Club by Richard Zerbe. These structures were difficult to appreciate from the outside, well-hidden by landscaping and design, but the grounds were quite pretty, and the connectedness of the multiple cottages were a pleasant departure from the typical suburban format.

The interior of the de Anza Fairway Cottage seemed to be the most self-consciously retro or vintage of any of the homes we visited, and the table sets and color schemes were right out of an early-60s Palm Springs home magazine.

The Yale Residence, from 1973 and the work of a twenty year-old William Perry, was possibly the most impressive from the outside, and offered a stunning incorporation of natural light, with the result being that one felt at times to be standing outside even while wandering through interior rooms. The pool and courtyard area were equally attractive.

My favorite exterior actually came courtesy of the 1959 Borrego Golf Club Estates home, the work of William Krisel and Hal Martinez. Recently restored to the original design, this lovely little home is currently being used as a "play house" for two Southern Californians, both of whom were present during the tour and offered friendly conversation. The back outdoor area offered a nice transition between the landscaped pool and a wilder desert vegetation plot.

Our final home was the 1958 Givler Residence, from architect Henry Hester. This home offered a near-flawless representation of classic midcentury desert design, with floor to ceiling glass walls on both sides, and an innovative use of its 1,000 square feet. This, to me, was the most perfect example of the intelligent ways architecture can both manipulate and play off its natural surroundings - a home that stands as a refuge from the elements yet co-exists naturally with the scenery.

After a long day under the desert sun, we headed back to the Palms for a quick swim and preparation for the evening cocktail reception.

The mood at the Desert Club was enhanced by the gorgeous sunset views and the excellent cocktails, made to order by individuals who weren't about to water anything down, and knew how to make a fine and crisp Dry Martini.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Borrego Modern Weekend

This past weekend, Jane and I headed north once more into the desert - this time, to San Diego's own corner of the Colorado Desert, the Anza-Borrego region. Our friend at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park had heard of an upcoming architecture and preservation event taking place in the small resort town of Borrego Springs and arranged tickets for a day-long tour and supporting receptions. The Borrego Modern III event encompassed five homes exemplifying the best of mid-century modernism - the "Palm Springs" style of architecture, yet here stripped of Palm Springs' sprawl and over development. As somebody who loves both the desert and mid-century style - and as somebody astonished to finally find themselves living somewhere that once gave birth to a famous and identifiable school of design - this equally historical and swanky event was not to be missed.

I took literally hundreds of photographs this past weekend, many of which will find their way onto this site as the week progresses, but I thought I'd first share some images from the lovely and historically significant hotel / resort the four of us stayed at. The Palms at Indian Head lies just outside the park entrance of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and stands as the perfect example of mid-century desert modernism. Once the equal of any Palm Springs resort, the original structure of 1947 burned to the ground in a fire, but the current grounds date from 1955. A key draw to the Palms were the numerous film stars who often flew in on private planes (a small landing strip lay nearby) to escape the confines of Hollywood - the lobby boasts photos of Marilyn Monroe, Lon Chaney, Jr., Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift, among other famous guests. The hotel had at one point fallen into disrepair, but the new owners have (rather slowly) set about restoring the place and returning sections to its former glory. There are still some landscaping issues to be improved, and one hopes the subterranean bar looking into the pool will one day return, but the resort seems to once again approach its former glory.

While the original 56 bungalows from 1947 were destroyed in the fire and never replaced, the pool remains, and it stands as one of the most gorgeous of its kind in San Diego County. Even in late April, the water was still a bit cold, but the adjacent spa was plenty warm and the views both across the Olympic-size facility and of the surrounding mountains were impressive.

Our rooms were the two poolside casitas that opened up directly onto the patio and courtyard areas.

We saw this trip as a nice escape from the drudgeries of library school and the pressures of weekly ship visits and clinic, and a great chance to play at being grown up. The furious wind storm that blew in Friday afternoon and buffetted the resort throughout the night was an added treat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Taste of Democracy

I just finished reading Dana Nelson's thought-provoking Bad for Democracy: How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People, which rather convincingly makes the case that democracy ceases to function when citizens limit their actions to simply voting every four years and placing their entire concept of government within a single office. Touching upon yet moving beyond concerns of presidential overreach and theories of the Unitary Executive, Nelson also insists contemporary views of the Congress as "partisan" and "argumentative" reflect a surprising disdain for the nuts-and-bolts matter of democracy - that is to say, the system of checks and balances put into place by the Founding Fathers, and their recognition of the need to limit presidential power. Our desire to merely act in solitude every four years and then live with the results induces helplessness and apathy, while our tendency to place our trust in one individual suggests a contemporary business model (the CEO as leader) rather than any belief in power by and for the people. As the country splinters more and more into distinct groups and becomes isolated from dissenting opinions, the more our entire concept of democracy moves away from discussion and compromise and more towards handing the job off to a larger-than-life individual.

I was thinking about Nelson's book when I walked over to the Ocean Beach branch library last week to hear San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders speak to the press and the community about his revamped 2010 city budget. You may recall an earlier flurry of posts I made concerning the decision to close down library and rec centers to make up for a projected budget shortfall, and the large turnout from Ocean Beach residents determined to speak out against such measures. I was among dozens who spoke at a city council hearing downtown directly to the mayor, laying out specific arguments against the recommended closures. I helped take part in a rally at the OB library and a march through our downtown area. Many others wrote letters and emails to the Mayor's office and city council members. The city council eventually voted down the closures, or at least voted to defer deciding on the issue until later in the year.

Perhaps it really was the response from the community - the protests, the letters, the speakers, the emails - or perhaps it was pressure from certain city council members hearing from their constituents. Whatever the reason, the Mayor apparently did hear the voices of the people, and made the decision to craft a new budget which would not touch any library budget, branch or services. He went out of his way to reference this, stating that San Diegans had clearly demonstrated that libraries were an important aspect of their communities and something not to be touched during budget shortfalls. And he chose to announce this new budget in front of one of the very libraries he had once threatened to shut down completely - our branch in Ocean Beach.

The mayor doesn't get out to OB very often, although he did ride by during last year's Christmas parade, something he referenced in his short speech last week, noting he heard cries from the crowd to "save the library" as he went by (one of those cries came from Jane, sitting at the open window at The Harp, our local Irish pub). And while the Mayor returned to Ocean Beach last night to offer a community budget briefing (not very well attended, perhaps due to the late-afternoon mercury rise), it's unlikely he'll be back in town anytime soon. Which made the decision to speak in front of the library all the more welcome. I recognize it as a smart PR move, of course, although PR works for both sides - in the middle of the press conference, the library's children story time let out, with nearly forty adorable wide-eyed kids wandering right through the assembled crowd and the assembled media cameras. Save our Story Time, indeed!

This was not a total victory, of course. The new budget merely took libraries off the cutting board and placed the salaries of city workers there instead. The Mayor's promise that all city salaries would see a 6% decrease to make up for the shortfall - from the mayor's staff and the fire department to the librarians standing behind him and the janitors who clean the rec center bathrooms - suggested a democratic, across-the-board compromise. Yet it also served to deflect blame away from poor fiscal practices and mismanagement and place it squarely on the heads of local unions, who will no doubt continue to be painted as obstructionists as they attempt to protect the salaries of workers. There's also little doubt that a 6% decrease will impact some greater than others - while certain staffers may need to choose a different downtown dining establishment for Tuesday power lunches, I'm wondering if the janitors will end up losing their vehicles to the repo man.
But despite these concerns (and despite my continuing amazement that the possibility of charging San Diegans for garbage pickup was still left out of any official discussion on meeting a budget shortfall), the fact remains that this decision on the mayor's part, imperfect though it may be, represents a significant victory for local democracy. It's not often that one can take to the streets or approach city council to oppose a measure, and then, several months later, find that elected officials have heard your concerns and acted accordingly. The Mayor tried to shut down our library, and we said no. And that sounds like democracy to me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Among the Mariposa

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far in the San Diego region (with today forecast to get even warmer), and we decided to head out to the warmest section - Escondido, which sizzled at a record-breaking 96 degrees in the late afternoon. We braved the heat and gusty winds because Jane wished to see the annual springtime Butterfly Jungle at the Wild Animal Park, in which the walk-through Hidden Jungle Aviary is filled with tropical butterflies. Jane is a big fan of lepidoptera - I can think of at least two other Butterfly Jungles we've gone out of our way to walk though over the years, including a steamy indoor museum exhibit in Chicago and a larger permanent exhibit in Key West, Florida. While yesterday's exhibit wasn't as overflowing with butterflies as some of the others we've visited, there were still plenty of beautiful mariposa to flutter among the crowds.

Eventually, quite by accident, Jane was lucky enough to have a small, delicate butterfly land on her bare shoulder, no doubt looking for nectar. She reported the tiny feet to tickle and grip her skin stickily.

Jane couldn't compete, however, with the yellow-shirted man who found himself crawling with butterflies for nearly the entire duration of his walk through the gardens. And as the authorities were quite adamant about visitors not leaving the enclosure with any stray hitchhikers on board, he was still wandering around with his light cargo when we ducked out the side exit.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More Homework: The Ghost of Richard Nixon

It's been busy over here, what with the semester hurtling into its final month, and papers piling up left and right. I managed to finish up two long-looming projects this past week, one of which I have absolutely nothing to say about, and another one which I thought I'd go ahead and post here in case there are any fellow enthusiasts of the long and sordid career of Richard Nixon.

The assignment was an open-ended essay requirement for Government Documents, and after spending some time examining the office of the presidency and a bit on presidential libraries, I thought I'd dive into the morass caused by Watergate and its continuing impact on public access to presidential records and arguments over executive reach. I must say that over the past eight years, the crimes of Orange County's stiffest politician have come to seem less and less outrageous, and more petty, almost quaint. Spying on perceived political enemies is a far cry from spying on the American public, breaking into office buildings less intrusive than torturing detainees and setting up CIA black sites. But the fascination remains, and one thing I was surprised to discover is how clearly the struggles over Nixon's documents helped set up future claims against the need for greater executive transparency.

At a mere five pages (double-spaced!), I found it hard to reach the depths and complexities of the issues raised, but I did my best within the established confines. As always, feel free to read, skim, discard as you see fit.

An Extended Chilling Effect: The Legacy of Richard Nixon and the Presidential Records Act

Presidential libraries may be viewed as special creations reflecting both the legacy of individual politicians and the American populace’s right to access executive information. Neither libraries nor museums, they more closely resemble dynamic archival collections, with political rhetoric supposedly shunned in favor of public sharing of political documents. One might also suggest presidential libraries serve more covert purposes – shaping public perception of specific presidents. G.H. Bennett has noted presidential libraries “illuminate, and to some extent obscure, the past” (Bennett, 2003). Such libraries, he continues, help form a “national consciousness” and foster “national identity,” and, like other state-sponsored monuments, represent a “self-aggrandizing national history” (ibid, 2003). One need not agree wholeheartedly with Bennett’s assessment to recognize that presidential libraries and documents housed within them represent a compromise between a president’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know. This compromise has been exemplified through the struggle to achieve public access to the records of President Richard Nixon, and the protracted history of the Richard Nixon Library. These struggles arose as a consequence of specific controversies, but the legal issues surrounding the Nixon papers have ramifications beyond that of Nixon’s materials being the “most widely scattered of any modern American president” (Bennett, 2003). Rather, the Nixon controversy has impacted subsequent presidencies and public access to their documents.

The actions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act helped bring about the desire for presidential papers to be preserved and deposited in one place. Prior to this, as Bruce Montgomery notes, “presidents had always treated their papers as private property,” with documents purged or left to heirs “who in turn sold them for a profit, destroyed them, or donated or sold them” (Montgomery, 2003). Yet even with the 1955 Act, Bennett argues, “presidents were under no more than a moral obligation to participate in the system,” and used their own discretion to decide whether or not to deposit papers into designated locations (Bennett, 2003). Presidential documents, then, were still viewed as private property, with the potential of becoming public through the generosity of the individual.

The Watergate scandal complicated matters. As the controversy unfolded, Nixon steadfastly argued for “an absolute and unreviewable privilege concerning all matters of his office” (Montgomery, 2003). This claim was dismissed by the Supreme Court, after a declaration limiting privilege to military or “sensitive national security secrets” (ibid, 2003). But the ramification for presidential documents came after Nixon’s resignation, following a depository agreement with the General Services Administration head, Arthur Sampson. This “Nixon-Sampson Agreement” gave Nixon complete control over documents created during his presidency. Steven Yuhan notes that in and of itself, this Agreement was “consistent with the generally accepted custom that presidential papers were the property of the President” (Yuhan, 2004). However, given the ongoing criminal investigation, and the fact that the Agreement gave Nixon authorization to destroy the White House tape recordings, this document stood as a politicized threat. Congress intervened, and the subsequent passing of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) dissolved the Nixon-Sampson Agreement, in effect seizing Nixon’s materials. This act was explicitly worded, intended for the Nixon Presidency only – the President identified by name, recording locations including San Clemente and Key West specified, and the time period between January 20, 1969 and August 9, 1974 highlighted (, 2009). In addition, the Act transferred “complete possession and control” of the documents to the United States Archivist and warned “none of the tape recordings or other materials referred to in section 101 shall be destroyed” (, 2009). Nixon’s subsequent legal fight was nullified in a 1977 Supreme Court decision, with Justice John Stevens declaring Nixon an “unreliable custodian”.

It may be surprising that it required an egregious action such as Nixon’s to force Congress to declare presidential records, in effect, public property. And it would be another year before any kind of governmental action addressed the larger issue of federal ownership over all Presidential records, not simply Nixon’s. The passage of the 1978 Presidential Records Act (PRA) expanded federal control in order to “prevent another legal crisis surrounding ownership of presidential records,” according to Montgomery (2003). A starting date of January 20, 1981 was established, with the stipulation that “public interest outweighed any embarrassment that might accompany the public release” of White House materials (Montgomery, 2003). Certain documents could be requested for restriction, but only for twelve years after leaving office and only under the agreement of the U.S. Archivist. Finally, the National Archives was directed to remain “independent of the General Services Administration (GSA) and insulated from partisan political influences,” by the passage of the National Archives and Records Administration Act (Yuhan, 2004).

Such directives seem straightforward, yet the process towards transparency was hampered by legal challenges. Montgomery notes that Nixon challenged PRMPA’s constitutionality, claiming it “violated the separation of powers and executive privilege” (Montgomery, 2003). After the signing into law of the PRA, the Reagan Administration attempted to override the Act on behalf of Nixon. Rather than attempt to regain control of his materials, Nixon sought to block access. The “Achilles heel” of the PRA, Montgomery concludes, was Congress’s concern at balancing executive privilege with public access – while perhaps necessary, such compromises had the unintended consequence of favoring executive privilege over public access (Montgomery, 2003). This partly explains the protracted release schedule of thousands of pages and hundreds of hours of Nixon Administration documents, a process that continues to the present day.

The consequences of Nixon’s actions may be felt both in the public’s lack of access to Nixon documents and in attempts by subsequent administrations to circumvent or override federal oversight and public ownership of official documents. Bruce Montgomery argues presidents have borrowed Nixon’s claims ever since. In addition to various Reagan-era actions, Montgomery points to more recent maneuvers by the George W. Bush Administration, specifically Executive Order 13233, issued in November of 2001. This order attempted to nullify the PRA by “allowing former presidents, vice presidents, and their heirs to assert independently based claims of executive privilege to control access to White House materials” – a directive nearly identical to that put forth by the Reagan Justice Department (Montgomery, 2002). There have been several attempts to revoke the order, including Rep. Henry Waxman’s 2007 bill H.R. 1255. Several historians testified on the “chilling effect” 13233 had upon the collections of presidential libraries - historian Robert Dallek noted, “It is understandable that every president and his heirs wants to put the best possible face on his administration, but an uncritical or limited reconstruction of its history does nothing to serve the long-term national interest” (Dallek, 2007). The order was eventually revoked in January 2009 by President Obama.

The Nixon Library itself has seen its holdings divided up into two geographically and politically distinct locations – the National Archives facility Nixon Library in College Park, Maryland (Presidential materials) and the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California (pre- and post-Presidential materials). The Yorba Linda location became a federal facility in 2007 after nearly twenty years as a private facility. Until the federal takeover, the Nixon Library had been viewed skeptically by historians, especially in light of a much-ridiculed Watergate exhibit (painting the controversy as a coup launched by Nixon enemies) and a prior announcement by director Hugh Hewitt that the library would “bar researchers deemed not ‘responsible,’” (Greenberg, 2005). In late 2008, 90,000 pages of materials and 198 hours of tapes were released by the Nixon Library during the transition towards becoming a National Archives institution (Goffard, 2008). Yet while this transfer of materials continues, certain historians warn the Yorba Linda facility is hardly alone in controlling public perception of presidential legacies. Quoting Stanley Katz, Greenberg recommends “external experts periodically evaluate” presidential library programs, and monitor the financial backing of such foundations.

The “chilling effect” of Nixon’s legacy noted by Robert Dallek continues to impact Nixon scholarship and public access to Nixon documents, while also raising larger questions about the fight between public and private demands, or the limits of executive privilege in the face of calls for greater transparency and accountability. Wherever one falls in the debate, it is likely that the very nature of presidential libraries –part museum exhibit, part archival treasure, part public property, part public relations body – will force such questions to remain in the public discourse for some time.

Sources (2009). Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA)
of 1974. Retrieved April 12, 2009 from
Bennett, G.H. (2003). ‘Goodbye Mr. President’: Presidential libraries and public history
in the USA. European Journal of American Culture, 22(1), 23-37.
Gofford, Christopher. (December 3, 2008). Nixon archives shed light on his campaign to
investigate enemies. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 13, 2009 from
Greenberg, David. (March 15, 2005). Nixon library can’t be trusted not to play with his
words. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 13, 2009 from
Montgomery, Bruce P. (Spring/Summer 2003). Presidential materials: politics and the
Presidential Records Act. The American Archivist, 66, 102-138.
Montgomery, Bruce P. (December 2002). Nixon’s ghost haunts the Presidential Records
Act: the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. Presidential Studies
Quarterly, 32(4), 789-810.
The Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 (H.R. 1255) A Review of Executive
Branch Implementation and Compliance, House Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform, 110th Cong., 1st Sess. (2007) (testimony of Robert Dallek).
Retrieved April 14, 2009 from
Yuhan, Steven H. (2004). The imperial presidency strikes back: Executive Order
13,233, the National Archives, and the capture of presidential history.
New York University Law Review, 79(4), 1570-1604.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Road to Twentynine Palms

This weekend, Jane and I made a trip into the high desertlands of the Mojave. A close friend and fellow Navy physician will be stationed at Twentynine Palms for the next two years, and we tagged along as she and her boyfriend (who'll be staying put in Irvine for the next few years) scouted out locations for possible homes and got a feel for this lonesome but beautiful land. We've had other San Diego-area Navy friends who've been moved to "Twentynine Stumps" before, and while the area sizzles brutally in the summer and tends to be overrun with Marine culture (more tattoo parlors and barber shops than sushi bars and bookstores, unsurprising as the base is the largest in the country), the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park lies just up the rising hillside of the Morongo Basin, the stars burn brighter than any other place in Southern California, and the mysterious Kelso Sand Dunes rest a hour's drive north. That is to say, for all the drawbacks, this is country living of the kind that's difficult to find in the San Diego - Los Angeles area. And after sitting in traffic along State Route 91 through Riverside - ranked one of the most polluted and sprawling cities in America, and nothing more than endless corridors of foreclosed McMansions and RV stores - decamping to the high desert sounded pretty good (at one point, glancing with horror at the empty "townhouse condos" overlooking the clogged freeway, an electrical plant and several ATV warehouses, I remarked that "Riverside is where the armpit of America runs out of deodorant." I also said something along the lines of, "If this is what destroyed the economy, than the economy deserved to be destroyed." Sitting in the back of a car sometimes boosts philosophizing abilities).

At any rate, we drove through the several neighborhoods scattered among the scrublands and lifting up into the hills, looking for hints of rental units that might boast the two important characteristics of any desert home - charming exterior, air-conditioned interior. While I'm a sucker for the geodesic domes, something tells me our friend will be quite satisfied with a compact, tidy and cactus-strewn desert cottage. Jane requested a bougainvillea bush somewhere in the front yard. Our friend's boyfriend recommended she take up rock-climbing. We all agreed a season's national park pass would be an important first step.

In an utterly shameless act of consumer overkill, on the drive back from Twentynine, we celebrated the Easter holiday with the rest of Riverside and Orange County by hitting up the Cabazon Outlets along the 10 Freeway, a first for me. The folks at Burberry were quite kind.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ranting and Raving

It may have been the result of 6+ hours sweating (well, not literally) over a despised Annotated Bibliography Assignment regarding Privacy Issues and Access Within the Archival profession (blecccccchh) or it may have been too many wide-eyed Twitter-besotted encomiums to salvation-through-mass-technology. Maybe I was just going into the low blood sugar zone. Whatever the reason, the result was the same - my required weekly posting on a topic of our instructor's choosing turned into something involving a rant. One that chose a nearly Luddite path, and will no doubt seem incomprehensible to my fellow classmates. The topic was mundane - simply this -

With ever-growing decreases in funding for libraries and archives, what can the archival profession do to better position itself? What concrete steps could archivists take to better promote and publicize their profession (not necessarily specific institutions or collections)?

Not exactly the riddle of the sphinx, but not unapproachable. But as I read the earnest responses from my fellow library and archival enthusiasts - responses that seemed to suggest that "being proactive," "networking," "utilizing Flickr widgets," and posting YouTube tours online might bring the shuddering hordes crashing enthusiastically into the archive profession - I felt a need to rain on some meandering parades. And so, before my common sense got the better of me, I mounted the soapbox and blatted forth:

As a defiantly old-fashioned Gen-Xer, I remain rather cynical about the ways certain professions attempt to maintain their "edge" or continue to stay vibrant in an era of plunging spending and decreasing literacy. I'm not at all convinced that the archival path to salvation lies in YouTube or Twitter, and must admit to sometimes cringing with embarrassment when I see certain professions trying to embrace youthful tools in the hopes they'll immediately become relevant. Others have mentioned library blogs, but I wonder how many people are truly reading these blogs? Like Scott mentioned earlier, the simple existence of a blog (like his and like mine) is not enough to guarantee a higher profile. People must be interested in the information first - one rarely discovers things through a blog, they merely discover blogs through their interests. I'm not sure if the audience for YouTube and the audience for archives are one and the same. Having said that - I adore YouTube (I'm not that old-fashioned) and I'm interested in archives, so clearly the market exists. But I'm not sure if the audience unaware of archives and just waiting for the right YouTube video to bring them into the flock really exists. But that may just be the cynicism talking.

It's difficult to watch a profession one loves experience a personality crisis. One hopes for increased visibility while also secretly praying that the profession doesn't give up too much of what makes it special in the process. And too often, it's exactly that which makes something special that damns it to a lower visibility tier. Public relations does seem to have a potential in recalibrating the role of archives within our society, and I think good word of mouth can do wonders for any struggling business, non-profit or not. My own recommendation would be for the archival profession to actually worry less about networking and starting a video blog and focus more on setting up collections that clearly reflect a specific community. Wherever the current recession may take us, there has been a disdain for the local, the unique and the non-chain over the past few decades that may have finally reached an end. If archives can continue to strengthen their community ties - if collections can reflect the lives of the individuals surrounding them - there at least will be one audience that continues to care. Whether this will be enough to keep archives competitive in a brutal marketplace that remains suspicious of anything involving freely transmitted ideas....who can say?

I'm not sure if this will ignite furious discussion or simply go unnoticed (our bibliography assignment is due tomorrow and the discussion forum closes within twenty-four hours). But I had to vent a little spleen. If my instructor has a sense of humor or a weakness for irony, I think I'll get a decent grade.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Springtime Blossoms

Signs of spring have been building for some time now, and if the young couple attempting to get frisky in the car parked outside our house yesterday afternoon wasn't one of them (our neighbor did a double take as he walked by, and the amorous couple sped off almost immediately - a literal case of coitus interruptus), the rapidly advancing state of our garden projects is a clear indication of change in the seasonal air. Our "green room" leading out towards the backyard (nominally the laundry room) is heating up during the lengthening afternoons, thanks to the extra hours of direct sunlight, and the rosemary and mint have responded in turn. Smaller shoots wait only for a transplant to the garden.

The garden itself is coming along promisingly. While our tomato plant struggles on, having never completely died during our brief winter, the telltale signs of beet greens have popped above the soil, and green bean shoots [ed. sorry, pea shoots] are well on the way towards requiring some pole support. Our mystery plants are the large green leaves in the foreground, which we've decided look like squash or zucchini. These weren't planted by us, but we suspect entered clandestinely when we used a large amount of my compost for soil. We'll have to keep an eye on these.

It will be some time before our grape vine begins producing any fruit, but the vine has turned green and thick, after months of hanging brown and bare. Our seasonal grape harvest has yielded delicious grape juice for two years now, and hopefully this summer will be no different.

And the lemon tree has once again started to hang low from the weight of accumulating citrus. The neighborhood we live in (and the flightplan we live under) means we can't use these lemons for zesting purposes, but the juice inside is perfect. There are few benefits to living in Southern California more persuasive than the ability to walk outside any time one needs fresh lemons.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bud Shank, 1926-2009

Alto saxophonist, flautist and West Coast jazz legend Bud Shank passed on last week at the age of 82, one day after cutting tracks here in San Diego as a hired session player. My familiarity with Shank isn't the strongest, but I do treasure one of his earlier albums - the Brazilliance LP of 1953, cut with Brazilian composer and acoustic guitarist Laurindo Almeida. It's hard to imagine how foreign-sounding these sessions must have seemed to contemporary American audiences at the time, nine years before the bossa-nova craze swept the country, and forever rendered the complex rhythms and compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto into cocktail party background music. While the music in Brazilliance isn't bossa-nova per se - the style wouldn't properly develop until the later 1950s in Rio de Janeiro- the samba rhythms and folk-derived melodies (all but 4 of the 14 tunes are based on traditional Brazilian compositions) clearly look towards the future innovation. And while it was Almeida and his intricate guitar that injected the most obvious flavor of exoticism, it was Shank's lovely, airy and cool tone that helped ground the proceedings in a familiar and explicitly West Coast jazz sound.

Others may be more familiar with Shank's work in the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and I suspect his biggest audience came the day he cut the flute solo on the Mamas and the Papas' hit song, "California Dreamin'" in 1965. But for me, his legacy clearly rests with Brazilliance, a wonderful piece of enjoyable innovation and a major addition to West Coast improvisation, a scene still denied a rightful place in the jazz pantheon. Shank's gentle work on "Atabaque" and "Baa-Too-Kee" bring an automatic smile to my face, and goes some way towards lowering the blood pressure, and even his work on the less successful (and more flute-heavy) follow-up, 1958's Brazilliance sequel, has multiple charms.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

From High Brow to No Brow

My last few posts have almost exclusively concerned themselves with world literature and pondering ideas to be found therein. This may give off the suggestion that I am some lonely scholar entrenched within the dusty halls of academe, shut out from humanity and the coarse pulsations of mass culture.

Nothing could be further from the truth! I could point to an impromptu viewing of 1983's Flashdance, just the other evening, starring Jennifer Beals, boasting more synth bass than a Parliament single and more close-ups of jiggling leotard-clad buttocks than....anything else I've seen all year. To see Jerry Bruckheimer AND Giorgio Moroder AND Joe Eszterhas all mentioned in the opening credits was to feel a sense of impending doom settle upon me. And yet I watched the entire program, and even sang along with Michael Sembello's Maniac at film's end.

OK, so if my slightly sneering recounting of a Flashdance viewing still reveals me for the snob I am, how about a thorough deconstruction of the April 13, 2009 issue of US Weekly? I wouldn't dream of positing how it found its way into my lap (I certainly don't hold a subscription), but seeing how it was laying around the house anyway, the 88 pages between glossy covers proved too tempting to ignore. As with any cultural text, mysteries abound, especially on the front cover (see above image), and for me these mysteries lie not so much in the blue banner concerning OCTO MOM but the following completely indecipherable headline, expertly posed between two scantily-clad ladies - DWTS DIET SECRETS. I've struggled over tracts by Derrida with more success than I made with this headline, utterly unable to determine what DWTS might mean, who it was, or what it stood for. It was Jane who finally crcaked the code for me, but only because she had previously read the article - DWTS stands for Dancing With The Stars. Which, yes, of course, I've heard of, if never actually viewed. I understand it's rather popular, but has our nation's love affair with this CBS reality show really reached acronym proportions? Do we love DWTS as much as we love other government-sponsored bureaucratic nightmares, like CIA, NAFTA and the USA PATRIOT ACT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, in case you didn't know)?

So, perhaps I'm still giving off a veneer of ivory tower-ness - the clueless academic stunned at what passes for entertainment among the masses. I'm sure the inability to immediately decipher DWTS really gives the game away. But I plunged inside nevertheless, whipping past fascinating segments such as "Who Wore It Best?" in which 100 lucky souls standing outside Rockefeller Center were asked to compare Lindsay Lohan, Marisa Tomei and Michelle Williams in an identical $595 Alexander Wang dress (Ms. Tomei won by a landslide), updates on Rihanna's "shocking" tattoo (an unnamed source opined, "it's her way of taking control and showing that it's her body"), and 25 Things You Don't Know About Me featuring Nick Lachey (I might never have guessed #5, "The next movie I want to rent on DVD is Napoleon Dynamite," but #21, "If I weren't in the entertainment business, I would have explored a career in sports medicine," came as little surprise) to ponder the page posted below.

And here I pondered my own mortality and the passage of time. If Matthew Arnold once stood upon the shores of Dover Beach and remarked upon Sophocles' own hearing of the tide beating upon the Aegean Sea, I glance down upon page 12 of US Weekly and become one with the elders of the world left behind in the march of progress. Because I discovered an entire page filled with celebrities of which I only could positively identify one - and that celebrity was Tina Yothers, apparently hanging out these days on the stages of Celebrity Fit Club. Shawn Johnson? Willie Ames? Amber Smith? Or such reality shows as Celebrity Apprentice or Celebrity Rehab? Sorry, not a clue. In fact, I find it hard to believe anybody would be interested in stalking the green-gowned Johnson (maybe it's not the most flattering photo - I understand she's a fine gymnast). But mostly, I ponder the fact that Tina Yothers has become my lifeline to popular culture.

Well, what more can I say to plead off charges of elitism? That I tried to read with some interest the diet tips offered by DWTS' Julianne Hough ("I eat only until I'm full," she sagely observes, before discussing her love of orange juice in language that might make the surgeon general proud; "I drink it all's got vitamins and makes me feel great")? That I shed a tear for poor Jennifer Aniston after seeing how mean old John Mayer launched a "Final Insult" her way in the lyrics of new ditty "Heartbreak Warrior"? (Sample lyric: "If you want more love, why don't you say so?" Despite US Weekly's hyperventilating over this "public slap in the face," it hardly seems defamatory towards Ms. Aniston). Or that I once again was forced to puzzle over the American fascination with quintuplets and other acts of super-human strength, this time also questioning if the media attacks upon the fiendish Octo-Mom (sounds like a mutant villain in an old Batman story line) aren't just further demonstration of the dominance of mother / whore thinking? (HER STRIPPER PAST! WON'T WASH BABIES! IGNORES KIDS TO SHOP! are only a few of the topics open for discussion in this long, thoughtful investigation into private lives and the politics of reproduction, and while I didn't stay long, I am somewhat placated to find out that her "stripper past" involved one topless spin across a gentleman's club stage fifteen years ago).

No, I guess the final argument in my own defense is that I simply cannot accept the fact that Rascal Flatts should be viewed or accepted as the new "Country Kings". As the photo below clearly demonstrates, these three finely-coiffed and no-doubt-pedicured poseurs have about as much to with country as Panda Express does with the Eight Great Traditions. The leering one on the left seems to have mistakenly entered a David Bowie lookalike contest, the average joe in the middle looks like he's a whiz at properties management, and the slightly-unkempt fellow on the right looks like a Hobbit. I'm no advocate of violence, but I'd love to lock these three imposters in a room with the ghosts of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to see who emerges the worse for wear. And there ain't a damn thing snobby about a good ol' southern ass-whuppin'.