Monday 30 January 2012

Random Dicks Round Two

I happen to be in Italy right now (in your faces, bitches! – but I mean that with love), so I haven’t had a lot of time for Dick research. I’m also posting a tad early because I have free internet here in Florence, but I won’t in Venice. Since being cheap is one of my salient characteristics, I will not pay to post (even for Dicks).

So here are some random thoughts, randomly organized.

What’s in a Name?

So the name Richard breaks down into two parts “Ric” and “hard.” The "ric" part means ruler, while the "hard" part means strong or powerful. When their powers combine you get [Captain Planet!] “powerful ruler.” Or maybe “hard ruler,” which is completely hilarious given the diminutive Dick.

I also discovered that Richard is the name of a variety of street football (or soccer as some of the world likes to call it). While I know a few things about soccer-football (way the hell more than I know about American football), I don’t feel qualified to explain Richard to you. So I’m letting Wikipedia do the heavy lifting:

“The name comes from the Spanish verb rechazar ("to reject"). The players must reject the ball from their area (the limit is usually the middle line of the field) and score goals. After one player kicks the ball to the other area, the second player may touch the ball up to three times (two optional touches and the shot). Richard is usually played with one or two players per side.

Players gain one point per goal, and two if the player shoots at once with no additional touch (and previously shouts that he/she will try to score double). If a player exceeds the three-touch limit, touches the ball within his/her goal area with the hand or within the opponent's area, a penalty kick is given to the opponent.

If one player stops a kick with its chest before the ball hits the ground (to perform a pechito, a Spanish diminutive for chest), the player can enter the rival's area and touch the ball any number of times to score. This "status" is finished if the keeper catches the ball (outside the goal area or the rival's area), so he/she can throw it to the attacker's body to be given a penalty.”


I have also spotted some Dicks in a few books, but these are not books I feel inclined to extensively blog about.

Dick from News From Nowhere by William Morris. This is a utopian socialist book, in which the narrator falls asleep and wakes up in the England of the future. The future is a world without money, where everyone does whatever work they feel inclined to do. Laziness is a real fault in this society, so you don’t have tons of people who fail to be productive. Dick is a ferryman who first meets the narrator and then serves as his guide. This Dick is a pretty cool guy, further disproving my theory that Dicks are dicks in fiction.

Dick Sands from Dick Sands, Boy Captain by Jules Vern. As the title character of this adventure novel, the orphan Dick is damn-near perfect. His main fault is his youth, which prevents him from knowing when someone on his crew is messing with him. In this book, Dick becomes captain after the rest of the crew is killed while whaling; Dick is left in charge of the cook (an evildoer), five formerly-shipwrecked black men, a woman, her five-year-old son, and her maid. Because the cook is really a Portuguese slaver on the run, he messes with the ship’s instruments in order to send the ship to Africa (rather than South America) so that he can sell the black men into slavery. (The ship has to go to Africa because this is the late 1800s and the four younger black men – all American – were born free). Bad things ensue in Africa, but Dick, with the help of Hercules (the biggest and strongest of the shipwrecked men) saves the day. Eventually they all make it back to the US (even the men who were sold into slavery) and the evil cook ends up dead. Dick completes his education and becomes the youngest captain his company has ever had. Good inspirational stuff for boys, no doubt.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Richard Burton (1821-1890)

As you astute readers can surely tell by the dates, this is not the actor Richard Burton who was married twice to Elizabeth Taylor. This is the linguist, explorer, writer, diplomat, jack-of-nearly-all-trades Richard Burton. I mentioned this Richard Burton in my Thanksgiving post, noting that I was thankful for him because he translated The 1001 Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra. After reading a biography of him, though, I realize he was also a bit of a dick. C’est la vie. Why do so many of these Richards insist on being human, having faults to go with their virtues?

Richard Burton was born in Devon, but he lived most of his life outside of England. Even as a child, he spent much of his time on the Continent, as his parents lived the expatriate life. After a stint at Oxford, which ended when Richard purposely got himself expelled (his father would not allow him to quit school), he took up a military career in India. He actually worked for the British East India Company’s private army, as this was the 1840s and the British government had not yet taken all of India on as a colony. While in India, Richard learned several different languages. Languages were something for which he had a real talent, and this knowledge would serve him well in his late-life role as a public intellectual.

It was Richard’s linguistic skills which helped him to sneak into Mecca, disguised as an Indian Muslim, for the hajj pilgrimage. This occurred in 1853, and it made Richard famous in England. Interestingly, it also generated a fair degree of controversy, as some Europeans claimed Burton had converted to Islam. Others might well have doubted just how well Richard managed to fool the other pilgrims (the biography listed below does an excellent job of exploring just who deceived who). The fame generated by this exploit assisted in securing Burton a place in an 1857-1859 scientific expedition to East Africa to look for the source of the Nile. Despite the sympathies Richard had for Hindus, Muslims, and their culture, he was unabashedly racist towards Africans. Burton regarded Africans as an inferior race, finding support for this idea not only in European attitudes but in scientific theories that all of humanity had not descended from a common ancestor. He even went so far as to defend slavery because it helped to civilize Africans. Differences of opinion with the other leaders of the mission also served to make the East African adventure a bit of a debacle. As someone predisposed to like Burton, I have to say that he was not at his best at this time in his life.

In 1861, he married Isabel Arundell and embarked on a diplomatic career. Burton served in Fernando Po, Brazil, Damascus (also a debacle in which he developed some anti-Semitic tendencies), and Trieste (where he died). Burton was not the greatest of consuls, as his main interests in life were exploring, linguistics, and other intellectual pursuits. Richard often left his consular posts for weeks or months at a time in order to gallivant about the surrounding area. This was especially noticeable in Brazil, in which he would leave the city in which he was stationed for long stretches in order to explore nature. It seems rather clear that Burton owed his consular paycheck to his wife’s connections; she made sure he had a job that could sustain the lifestyle and situation of a married man (exploring was more of a bachelor’s activity).

It was in the 1880s that Richard’s life became especially fascinating again. Burton published prolifically throughout his life, but in the 1880s he began to publish erotic works that he had translated (or helped translate). These included the Kama Sutra, the Ananga-Ranga (both originally in Sanskrit), and The Perfumed Garden (a medieval Arabic text). Burton’s massive, ten-volume translation of The 1001 Arabian Nights also (temporally and thematically) fits this era. For those only familiar with The Arabian Nights through the story of Aladdin, this medieval work is actually quite erotically charged. It features homosexuality, as well as fornication and adultery, much of it quite explicit. While the Victorian public was aware of these stories, they had only been treated to expurgated versions; Richard’s complete translation was therefore shocking and condemned by many as pornographic. Although he was never prosecuted for obscenity, Richard knew that he was running a risk. He felt, however, that such erotic information was badly needed by a sexually-repressed British public. Burton, ever the lover of Oriental cultures, believed that these Eastern men could better sexually please women; British men needed to learn these techniques in order to forge better relationships with their wives. Of course, Burton was not so enlightened as to think that women should have unfettered access to this glorious sexual information – men should read, learn, and transmit it to them. *Sigh* You were so close, Richard.

Controversy surrounded Burton even after his death. A religious skeptic throughout his life (and especially harsh on Christianity, although he admired Islam), Burton’s very-Catholic wife Isabel arranged a Catholic burial for her husband. This set off a firestorm of conflict, as Richard’s friend defended his religious skepticism, and Burton’s natal family tried to claim him as a good Anglican. Eventually things settled down (helped by Isabel’s 1896 death), and now Richard is mainly remembered for getting circumcised as an adult in order to sneak into Mecca.

Richard Burton had no children. Instead, he left behind a pile of publications and a larger-than-life reputation. He did many exciting things (such as journey to Mecca and Africa), some good things (his sexology work), and some terrible things (his racism). In the end, he was human.

I read the following biography of Richard Burton, and it is really very good. It not only chronicles Burton’s life but places him in the context of his time. Very scholarly and erudite.

Kennedy, Dane. The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World
            Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Movies, Comics, and Songs – Oh My!

Today I’m going to briefly feature a few Richards who are awesome, but about whom I don’t know a whole lot. My lack of knowledge should not keep them from getting the love!

First up: Richard White. This past weekend I went to see Beauty and the Beast in 3-D (it was awesome!) and therefore got to enjoy the mellifluous singing of this Broadway actor. Richard voiced Gaston, the douche-y guy who wants to force Belle to marry him. As the song “Gaston” says, “no one takes cheap shots like Gaston” (or “persecutes harmless crackpots like Gaston”). So, yeah, Dick voiced the movie’s major dick.

As a fun side note, when my cousin and I looked Richard White up on IMDB, there was a message board post proclaiming, “He’s my uncle!” As you might have guessed, it was from a niece or nephew of Richard’s offering to answer any questions. It also appears (based on perusal of said message boards) that Richard White just might be a minister as well. Who knew.

The voice of a Dick. [Image from]

Moving on to the world of comics. A few years ago, I went to an exhibit on golden age (1940s) comic books at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. I distinctly remembered that one of the Batman artists was from Fremont, Ohio, which excited me because I live rather near there. I couldn’t remember the artist’s name, so imagine my delight when I discovered this artist was none other than Richard “Dick” Sprang (1915-2000).

Sprang started penciling Batman stories in 1941 and later illustrated covers as well. He principally worked on Detective Comics, Batman, and World’s Finest Comics. He did most of his work in World’s Finest Comics in the late 1950s and early 1960s, drawing the Batman and Superman team-ups. Because of that, he also did some art for the Superman group of comics (which included Superman, as well as comics about Supes’ girlfriend Lois Lane and his buddy Jimmy Olsen). Dick drew the first appearance of the Riddler (Detective Comics #140 from October 1948).

Three fun facts about Dick Sprang: he had terrible vision (20/400) which kept him out of military service during World War II, despite being drafted twice. He taught his wife Laura how to do comic book lettering (which I assume means write the words in the speech bubbles), and she subsequent lettered much of his artwork (under the gender neutral pen-name “Pat Gordon”). She even did freelance work for the government and Hollywood. What a team! Dick (and Laura/Pat) also got to work from home! Although DC was (and probably still is) based in New York City, from 1946 on Dick lived in Arizona and Utah. He continued to work for DC until 1961 (coming back for special occasions in 1987 and 1990). How awesome would it be to draw superheroes in your pajamas all day – and get paid for it?! Not bad for a kid from Fremont.

Also, Dick Sprang was kind of hot, in a clean-cut 1940s sort of way. As evidence see this 1945 photograph taken from Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946.

Pow! Bang!

Finally, a song. “Open the Door, Richard” was originally recorded by Jack McVea in 1946. The song was based on a vaudeville routine, in which a half-drunk man comes home and wants Richard to open the door and let him inside for the night. According to Wikipedia, the “spoken dialog makes humorous references to negative aspects of urban African-American life, including poverty and police brutality.”

The song, considered a novelty R & B work, was recorded by several artists and proved to be quite popular. So popular, in fact, that the music charts of January, February, and March 1947 seem saturated with Richard and his door. Below is a quick list of when five different versions of “Open the Door, Richard” first hit the Billboard Best Seller chart.

-31 January 1947 the version by Dusty Fletcher, which stayed on for five weeks and 
                peaked at number 3

-7 February 1947 the version by Count Basie, which stayed on for four weeks and peaked 
                  at number 1

-14 February 1947 two versions entered the chart:
            -the original version by Jack McVea, which stayed on for two weeks and peaked 
                                at number 7
            -a version by The Three Flames, which stayed on for three weeks and peaked at 
                                 number 4

-7 March 1947 the version by Louis Jordan, which stayed on two weeks and peaked at 
                      number 7

That means the week of 14 February 1947, four different versions of “Open the Door, Richard” were simultaneously on the Billboard Best Seller chart. Was everyone getting this recording for Valentine’s Day?

The song title has seeped into the wider culture, with Looney Tunes and numerous old-timey comedians making puns on the title. Apparently, one could even purchase hats, t-shirts, and jeans that referenced the song.

To enjoy the song for yourself, please check out the following You Tube links:

*Louis Jordan version, complete with pictures of famous Richards (truly diggity dank!):

*A banned version from Walter Brown and Tiny Grimes Sextet:

Further investigating:

Richard White on IMDB:

Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946 (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), 22-3. This is a reprint of the 1990 version published by Kitchen Sink Press.

            This entry borrows heavily from: RJ Smith, “Richard Speaks! Chasing a Tune from the Chitlin Circuit to the Mormon Tabernacle,” in Eric Weisbard, ed., This is Pop (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 75-89.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Richard Daley

I was in Chicago recently, and the politics of that city is intimately entwined with two men named Richard: Richard J. and Richard M. Daley. As you probably knew (or guessed) these two are father and son. Together they have instrumentally shaped Chicago in the late twentieth century. Father Richard J. is the second-longest-serving mayor in Chicago history; son Richard M. is the longest serving.

Richard J. Daley was mayor from 20 April 1955 to his death on 20 December 1976. He was one of the last big city bosses, which means he ran Chicago like a political machine. If you remember high-school history, think “Boss Tweed” of nineteenth-century New York. When you run a political machine, you get stuff done, but corruption can often taint the process. Surprisingly, though, Richard J. was never charged with corruption (however, the same cannot be said about some of his subordinates).

An Irish-American Catholic from Chicago’s South Side, Richard J. Daley is generally credited with doing much to prevent Chicago from declining. In essence, he kept Chicago from becoming a cesspit/brunt of frequent jokes, the fate which has befallen both Cleveland and Detroit (and other Rust Belt cities). Much as I love Detroit (let’s go Red Wings!) and hate to see it derided, I admit that Chicago wins. I know plenty of people who have vacationed in Chicago (and I have even been one of them), but I can’t think of anyone who has “vacationed” in Detroit. In fact, my brother claims he had “the worst day of his life” in Detroit, although I believe that was more because he was in an art museum than because he was in Detroit.

Despite saving Chicago from the fate of Detroit, Richard J. didn’t make Chi-Town all flowers and sunshine. Between 1940 and 1960, Chicago became the most segregated city in the North, in terms of housing. [This is chronicled in the book Making the Second Ghetto by Arnold R. Hirsch. Although I have not read this work, I have heard amazing things.] In 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago to try to integrate housing. Although Richard J. gave lip service to King’s project, nothing really came to pass. Chicago remained extremely segregated, a great blow to the Civil Rights Movement.

Richard J. was a huge figure in Democratic politics, although he lost some power near the end of his life. For instance, George McGovern tossed Richard J. out of the 1972 Democratic National Convention and replaced him with Jesse Jackson. Despite some setbacks, Richard J. was still going strong in politics when he died of a massive heart attack (which happened at his doctor’s office) in 1976. He was 74.

Richard M. Daley, the eldest son of Richard J. Daley, was born on 24 April 1942. While he has been a Marine, a lawyer, and an Illinois state senator, Richard M. is most famous for being mayor of Chicago (just like his father). Richard M. is Chicago’s longest-serving mayor, holding the post from 24 April 1989 (aww, his birthday!) to 16 May 2011. His twenty-two years as mayor narrowly edged out his father’s twenty-one years.

Like all politicians, Richard M. has good and bad points. He seems to favor businesses over neighborhoods, but he also has some decent liberal cred. He favors immigration reform and gay rights (including same-sex marriage). He also believes in gun control, and apparently threatened, with a rifle, a reporter who questioned Chicago’s hand gun ban, saying “If I put this up your butt, you'll find out how effective it is.” (See Wikipedia for source). He helped create Millennium Park (which apparently used to be an old rail yard), as well as turn Navy Pier into a tourist hot spot (formerly it had been a glorified garage sale).

The first time I ever went to Chicago, I was in a car approaching from the east. As we left Indiana, we were greeted with a sign proclaiming, “Welcome to Chicago! Richard M. Daley, mayor.” Shortly afterwards, we saw a sign welcoming us to Illinois (courtesy of whoever was governor then). Although I have no proof, I feel like that pretty much sums up Chicago/Richard M. Daley’s attitude towards the rest of Illinois.

Fun Fact: the William M. Daley who just quit as Obama’s White House Chief of Staff is Richard M. Daley’s younger brother!

Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago 1940-1960