The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

by Richard Klaymann

This insightful local history of Malden MA, an early satellite city north of Boston, focuses on the city’s ethnic groups and their attitudes toward The Great Depression. Klaymann’s central character here is Malden’s Jewry, whose arrival he chronicled in his earlier monograph The First Jew. These are, to my knowledge, the only social histories of modern Malden .

Malden began as a colonial-era village. In the mid-19th century, it became a moderate industrial center with a major rail line and big factories making rubber shoes, gym shoes, dyed fabrics, and furniture. A retail center flourished in Malden center with homegrown theaters and department stores. From the beginning, Malden had a tiny Black community down the road in its 7th Ward, and when Eastern-European immigrants began to arrive in the late 19th century, lots of them moved into that quarter of the town. Jews weren’t averse to Black neighbors, and other immigrant groups, notably the Irish, often were.

Malden’s Depression-era conflicts were essentially ethnic. Yankee Protestants ran the Republican Party, but were declining in numbers as wealthier members moved away from the city. Irish-Americans ran the Malden Democrats, who even today meet in the Irish-American Club even though that club has never had a Black member or a female officer. Much of the Irish agenda was focused on preserving their dominance, typically by opposing the aspirations of the growing Italian-American community in its Ward 2 enclave. Throughout, Malden High was racially integrated but reserved class offices (and major roles in extra-curricular activities) for the offspring of Yankee Protestants.

Malden’s large population of Jews shlepped through the Depression. The kids often did well in school: so well, in fact, that community opposition to academic excellence became a movement. When the WPA planned to build a big and greatly-needed new school, the city dithered for years over the question of whether it should be beige or brick. The Jews didn't care about the color.

The Depression created a tight-knit Jewish community but carried the seeds of its dissolution. Immigrant Jews had accents and knew a world of pogroms; their kids didn’t. The kids did know Father Coughlin, an anti-semite with a vast American following; Malden was riven by a long struggle in the 1930s to get the Public Library to stop circulating the Protocols of the Elders Of Zion, which was in great demand. The immigrant generation built delis and shops and tenements, but the Depression deferred maintenance and redlining suppressed values and the kids moved to newer, nicer suburbs. The old Suffolk Square tenements were removed for urban renewal. The communitarian values of the old community survived, but were antennuated by the failure of Debs-style socialism in the 20s and by the enfeeblement of New Deal socialism in the wake of Nixon and Reagan.

The roots of our current miserable political predicament are deeply buried, but that misery and its correction are exclusively our responsibility.

Feb 19 13 2019

Game Notes

Alexis Kennedy provides a remarkably complete and transparent view into the first year of his new game studio.

At this point half the audience are saying ‘112K? How did you spend that much? It’s only a 2D text game’ and the other half are saying ‘only 112K? How did you spend that little?’ The numbers above are how.

Eastgate’s not a game studio, but we’re not bigger than Kennedy’s Weather Factory. A few things leap out at me.

  • Their producer costs about £17.50/hr. I assume that includes health insurance, payroll taxes, and such — yes, I know about NHS. I’ve always been very sad that we don’t pay people more at Eastgate, but this is in line with our reality, too.
  • There’s no line for office rent or equipment. Be careful on this if you’re starting up. At minimum, get yourself a very good office chair. I’ve known people in their twenties who did themselves lasting harm by spending a startup year perched on an inadequate chair. Be good to your back.
  • There’s no line for accounting time or help, unless this is folded into the principal’s 170 days.

Ex-Eastgater Stacey Mason tweets:

Game Notes

I think Stacey may be too kind to academics in writing about the “the gap between the kinds of research academics are interested in & the stuff companies will fund.” My experience makes me wonder whether academics who study computer games are, on the whole, deeply interested in computer games.

Imagine a university film society in the 1950s, at a place where there was lots of interest in Cinema. Those people would be delighted to talk about Bergman or Goddard or Kurosawa. They’d have read last month’s Cahiers du Cinéma and would have strong opinions about it. Some of them would have read next month’s Cahiers, too. They would travel and wait in long lines for a chance to see The Bicycle Thief or The Philadelphia Story, because you couldn't stream and and you couldn’t rent.

This isn't my experience of academic game studies.

Beck Tench: Reading Notes

Fascinating videos of one scientist’s approach to capturing reading notes.

by Dan Kauffman

Wisconsin was settled in the mid-19th century by emigrants, chiefly from Sweden and Norway, who were inclined by background and experience to place a very high value on community. In the early 20th century, Wisconsin became a bastion of Progressive politics and the laboratory of social democracy. No state excelled Wisconsin in respect for the environment.

In the 21st century, Scott Walker rolled back all that. Wisconsin, heavily gerrymandered to create a permanent Republican majority, became an anti-union hotbed. The legislature repealed almost all meaningful environmental restrictions on mining and pollution, and gave billions of dollars to Foxconn for the promise of a new factory that might never open.

This sad, but not entirely pessimistic, overview of Wisconsin politics is a superb starting point for anyone interested in taking back our nation from the minions of ignorance and greed.

by Michele Mendelssohn

In 1882, Oscar Wilde was little-known Oxford graduate, a young man who had a done well in school (partly by virtue of having don't it twice), had indifferent success socially. He had received a little journalistic attention, and had far too little money. He parlayed this into an 1882-3 lecture tour of the United States.

It did not go smoothly. Wilde’s promoter, it turns out, was chiefly interested in drumming up publicity for Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, and for that purpose was content for Wilde to make a fool of himself. Wilde walked into a complex thicket of racial humor — the minstrel show — as well as the ancestor of drag. The doubtful racial status of the Irish in America complicated everything. Somehow, Wilde managed to preserve some dignity, avoid fatal missteps, and to return home with some profit and a considerable-enhanced reputation.

Michele Mendelssohn uncovers the story of Wilde’s lecture tour — and the fascinating competitors and parodies rival promoters launched at Wilde — from local newspaper accounts that, until recently, would have been virtually inaccessible. Of particular interest are wildly popular performers who have been lost to us, like The Only Leon — Francis Patrick Glassey — a drag ballerina who danced the lead in “Patience Wilde; or the Ten Sisters of Oscar.” Callender’s Colored Minstrels performed a Wilde parody, The Utterly Too Too’s, as a minstrel show, using the novel dramatic approach of having actual black people perform. Nor were the minstrel parodies merely irritants to Wilde: Mendelssohn observes interesting parallels between minstrel show staples and Wilde’s dramatic repartee.

by Alan LeMay

This delightful old book was a pleasant companion during my recent visit to Santa Fe. It’s the story of two young men who are caught up in an act of terrorist violence and who head out to even the score. Other men spend a week or a month on the trail, but these two — for reasons they themselves can’t quite fathom — never stop. The underlying crime — the abduction of a young girl who is raised by and ultimately joins her captors — is handled less badly here than you might have expected for a book of this era. Now that the US had concentration camps for toddlers and is in the business of stealing migrant babies, it’s frighteningly pertinent.

by Blair Worden

The issues of this moment, in which the President of the United States, frustrated by a Congress unwilling to fund The Wall, is threatening to circumvent the Constitution and to build a Wall without congressional appropriation, is starkly reminiscent of 1640. This accessible, compact history of the Civil War era is pleasant and modern in its viewpoint, and does a nice job of pointing to major historical and historiographical controversies.

Jan 19 4 2019

Cousin Randolph

by Anita Leslie

Having been felled by a Dublin cold once I returned from Interactive Digital Storytelling, I sought refuge in a volume of Nancy Mitford’s letters I’d been saving for a rainy day. Those letters led me to this biography of Randolph Churchill, son of Sir Winston Churchill.

As a rule, biographies often are written about people who did important things, occasionally about people who were simply well liked, and occasionally about people who committed notable crimes. Randolph did none of these. He very much wanted to be in Parliament, but aside from one uncontested wartime election he never could win a seat. Everyone knew him, and few liked him. He came to parties, charmed the ladies, drank too much, said and did appalling things, and left. A young Nancy Mitford says in a letter that “Randolph tried to rape me, it was funny. This is a secret.”

This chatty, anecdotal, and sympathetic portrait was written by a relative who, like Randolph, grew up in a castle but without enough money. In a circle where, by current standards, everyone drank like fish, Randolph was prodigious: his father, who started drinking with breakfast and continued throughout the day, though Randolph drank far too much. So did Evelyn Waugh, even in the years when Waugh’s criterion for friendship was wit when drunk.

Leslie argues that Randolph deeply wanted to be liked. But his mother never really liked him, and in her view Randolph recreated that relationship endlessly. A simpler interpretation is that Randolph lacked anything like empathy: he expected service and demanded an audience, and seldom care very much how other people felt about that. That, after all, was someone else’s problem.