Thursday, June 19, 2014

Free Silver, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and settling for YouTube video trailers.

Back to my book blogging...

The historian is usually liberal, more often than not a Democrat. He is hostile to big business, an advocate of government regulation, strong executive leadership, and an expert civil service. The post-Civil War era stands for all the historian opposes. It was an era of Republicanism, big business power, ineffectual attempts at government regulation, weak executives, and an essentially nonprofessional civil service."

 So says Ari Hoogenboom in his essay, "Civil Service Reform." It's a weird exercise, an attempt by the author to show that this particular time period shouldn't be described as a time of great corruption. He mainly does this by means of definition, claiming that liberal historians unfairly label anyone who used the spoils system as corrupt. Well, yes, I would say that if you are a great organizer and philanthropist, but still reward political cronies with jobs, you are a corrupt politician. It's a fairly useless essay, particularly when he points out that the reformers of the time also expected appointments as reward for political work. That just works against his argument by showing how entrenched the system was. There is an argument that could be made for popular history being dominated by a liberal viewpoint, but that doesn't excuse the actual historical figures for their actions.

Silver demonetization became law virtually without notice in the general or financial press. There was nothing surreptitious about it; it was not noteworthy.

The next essay, "Money, Politics, and Society" by Walter K. Nugent, is a vast improvement. In this weird time of people actually calling for a return to a gold or silver standard, it's good to look back and recognize that the previous populist silver movement was rooted in emotion and not economics. Before the depression of 1873, most countries had already cut their ties to Silver. The United States hadn't issued specie in years; there was no demand for it. Partly out of this recognition, and partly out of fears of instability due to the discovery of new silver mines in the west, the U.S. followed suit with the European powers in switching to a gold standard. If you think about it, it's obvious how much superior our modern system of paper currency is; metallic currency is vulnerable to market fluctuations and hoarding. Which is what happened to the gold supply in the 1890s:

But repeal [of silver purchases] did not end the presentation of Treasury certificates for redemption, and the gold reserve kept declining. The President had to deal with the very group which silverites denounced as public enemies, the "international bankers." A syndicate headed by J.P. Morgan accepted new Treasury bond issues which replenished the gold reserve. The syndicate resold the bonds within hours at a 7 percent profit...

Yes, so by all means, let's put the national currency back into the hands of a few individuals who don't answer to any checks and balances.


Anywho, to keep my palate from getting dusty with old history, I'm also reading this collection of articles from Necronomicon magazine. This is one of those books that could only exist before the internet; this reads much like a collection of horror movie blogs without a host website.

The first selection is "Once Upon a Time in Texas" by Mikita Brottman. It's a dry, but interesting look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a movie that encodes standard fairy tale motifs, but reverses them. If fairy tales give us a young person's guide to the hero's journey, the horror story tells us what happens when everything goes wrong.
Sally Hardesty would be a heroine if there were anything rational or calculated she could do to escape her situation, but there is nothing, and, when she does escape, it is by pure accident. In this fairytale there are no clues, no magic passwords, no treasures to rescue or battles to fight because this is not a narrative governed by any logical order.
Kudos to Brottman for also pointing out that part of the horror comes from the weird male inversion of a loving family, a household full of slaughterhouse workers living somewhere in mythological Texas. I guess I'll have to see if the library has a copy that I can sit down with and re-watch.

I know they're not going to have this one. Carol Jenks writes the next piece, a meditation on the use of sexual transgression as a way to manipulate the lead male in Daughters of Darkness. It sounds like an interesting movie, and it's a well-written essay. But in our new world where the independent video rental shop is no longer a feasible enterprise, there isn't any way for those of us that are limited of means to watch some of these cult movies. It's much like being a kid again, when all one could do is read about, say, Rocky Horror, without there being much of a chance to actually see it. 

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