Monday 28 May 2012

The House that Dick Built

About two months ago, I was vacationing in Key West, Florida with my family. For those of you who don’t know, Key West is a famed drinking-and-partying spot. It’s also very gay friendly (and nakedness friendly – they have several topless bars). There’s also more academic fun as well. I stayed right down the street from Ernest Hemingway’s House, which I did not visit because 1) I detest Hemingway and his lame-ass female characters and 2) I was not paying $12.50 to tour it! I did manage, however, to find some free, historical, Richard-related fun (which meets all of my requirements for a good time), and even dragged my family along. Luckily for them, it was a short visit.

And what, you ask, was this amazing adventure? Well, it was a trip to “The Oldest House in Key West,” which was built circa 1829 by Richard W. Cussans, a ship’s carpenter. I don’t know too much about Cussans; aside from building this house, he didn’t leave much of a mark on the historical record. So please allow these pictures to provide an extra two thousand words to the story of Richard Cussans. For more on the house, see

To round out this post of constructing Dicks, I also give you a picture of Chateau Gaillard, a castle in Normandy that was built under the direction of Richard I (the Lion-heart). Sadly these pictures are not mine because I have not been to visit (someday!); you can find more here on Wikipedia.

And a little FYI for you all: June is going to be “Fictional Dick Month” (for no apparent reason; I just decided that it should be). This means I’ll be posting about books and giving the plot away. Consider yourselves warned – spoilers ahead!

Tuesday 22 May 2012

"Lucky Dick, you big stiff."

So Dr. Richard “Dick” Diver whispered to himself in the first few pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Dick Diver, a young American psychiatrist working in post-World-War-I Europe, is the protagonist of Fitzgerald’s most auto-biographical novel. Diver, the stand-in for F. Scott himself, is a smart, sociable, successful guy with his whole life ahead of him. While working in a Swiss sanatorium, he meets Nicole Warren, a wealthy young American with some serious mental problems. Nicole becomes fixated on Dr. Diver, who gradually falls in love with her. The two marry, hoping that Dick can keep Nicole healthy outside a mental hospital. It doesn’t work. As Nicole and her needs suck the life out of Dick, he turns to alcohol and their marriage disintegrates. In the end, they divorce; Dick is left a hollow, alcoholic husk of a man, while Nicole remarries and continues on her merry way. Their positions have completely reversed by the end of the novel. What is most disconcerting, though, is that Nicole’s older sister doesn’t care a bit that Nicole has essentially ruined another person’s life. Dick did not come from money, so Nicole’s sister was content to keep him around as long as he was useful. When Nicole comments that Dick was a good husband and never let anyone or anything hurt her, her sister responds with, “That’s what he was educated for.” And big sister doesn’t seem to be talking about psychiatry – she seems to mean that Dick was educated to protect his wife and that his success in that was no great achievement. He is expendable and easily replaced by Nicole’s new husband.

Obviously, the book is more detailed than that, but I don’t want to give it all away. Although I realize I just spoiled the plot, you don’t read a Fitzgerald novel just for the plot. It’s not so much that A leads to B, as how A leads to B. But I must admit, I have a beef with the journey.

According to Wikipedia, there are two versions of Tender is the Night. In the original version, published in 1934, the story is told through flashbacks; in the 1951 revision (made by Malcolm Cowley from notes Fitzgerald left), the story is told in chronological order. The revision was possibly done because readers initially complained about the novel’s structure; seemingly the revised version is now more widely in print.

I read the revised (chronological) version, and I kind of wish I had the flashback version. The juxtaposition of a strong Dick beside an alcoholic, hollow Dick would have been very powerful. In the chronological version, I didn’t feel Dick’s desperation. I get pretty emotional about books (although not about real life) and I expected to feel completely gutted and devastated by the end – but I didn’t. The novel is pretty long (my version was 392 pages) and there was just too much space between strong Dick and weak Dick (it didn’t help that the middle of the book was taken up with introducing and explaining another character). There’s a reason Fitzgerald wrote the book the way he did. The chronological version just loses something in the telling.

So there you have the rise and fall of Dick Diver, a close parallel of Fitzgerald. Although Dick is a physician and not a writer, both men are exceedingly smart and, as adults, live a far wealthier and more exotic lifestyle than they did as children (both were ex-pats). Both turned to alcohol as a way to dull the pain, had their life-force sucked out of them by their mentally-ill wives (I’m not blaming Nicole and Zelda; mental illness is tough to deal with and care-givers have to take responsibility for their own health and well-being), and ended in a heap of despair. Dick, however, is also an idealized version of Fitzgerald: a man who gives his all to his wife, only to be cast off once he has outlived his usefulness. Although it doesn’t feel quite right to say Dick is “wronged,” he clearly gets a raw deal; this is most obviously seen through the comments of his sister-in-law, who is not mentally ill and still sees fit to use Dick like a medicine, rather than a person. As a reader, we feel deep sympathy for Dick (although, in the chronological version, not as much as we could). In real life, Fitzgerald was not quite so splendid. It seems he could be a real douche to his wife and was probably an alcoholic before he even met her. However, Zelda’s illness didn’t help things; she suffered much more than the fictional Nicole does.

Anyway, Tender is the Night is a good novel featuring a Dick. Richard Diver’s descent into alcoholism and despair is quite sad, so don’t read this novel looking for a good time.

Read more:

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Dick Lugar

I must admit that Dick Lugar wasn’t really on my radar until he lost the Republican Primary on 8 May 2012. After that setback, I think I need to throw the poor guy a bone. And what could be a better consolation prize than being featured on this fine blog!

Richard Green Lugar was born 4 April 1932 in Indianapolis. He was valedictorian of his high-school class (all the way back in 1950). He attended Denison University and then went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship (graduating in 1956). After Oxford he went into the Navy, then politics. He also manages a 600-some acre farm in Marion County, Indiana.

Lugar was mayor of Indianapolis before running for the US Senate. He first ran in 1974 but narrowly lost that election. In 1976 he ran again, winning by a large margin. Lugar was then re-elected five times: in 2006 (when he won his sixth term) he defeated his Libertarian opponent 87% to 13%. The Democrats didn’t even field a candidate! That, my friends, is the power of incumbency.

And yet… nothing lasts forever. In 2012, Lugar was handily defeated by another Dick (Richard Mourdock) in the Republican primary. This primary was basically a repeat of Lugar’s initial 1976 victory, except the shoe was on the other foot. Lugar was defeated 61% to 39%.

Although Lugar is (was) a Republican, he was a decent sort of Republican (aka he understood the meaning of bipartisanship). He also seems to have taken his job seriously – he had a 98% attendance record, which is pretty damn good. He got along well with President Obama and Vice President Biden, even remarking in 2008 that he approved more of Obama’s than McCain’s foreign policy strategies.

Lugar did not toe the line on all Republican policies, which possibly accounts for his primary defeat by a Tea-Partier. For instance, Lugar has an “F” rating from the NRA, which suggests he is a fan of moderate gun control. Furthermore, Lugar supported immigration reform, eschewing the more hardline policies of many of other Republicans. Lugar also voted for President Obama’s nominees for the Supreme Court (he was the first Republican to announce his support for Sonia Sotomayor).

On the other hand, Lugar did not vote for Obama’s Health Care Reform and he’s not exactly in favor of abortion (although he’s not rabidly pro-life either, it seems). He also voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and supported the Federal Marriage Amendment. However, he was in favor of the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded federal hate crime statutes to include crimes based on sexual or gender identity.

As someone who is not a Republican, Lugar seems like the kind of Republican I could respect. I can’t expect him to be as liberal as a Democrat (otherwise, he would presumably be a Democrat) or as liberal as a young person (the dude is 80 after all). It is rather depressing that he lost his primary to a guy whose definition of bipartisanship is (I’m paraphrasing here) “Democrats doing what Republicans want them to do.” Somebody get that tea-bagging Dick Mourdock a dictionary!

But sad as it might be to lose a bipartisan Senator, Lugar is 80 years old. It just might be about time to retire. Give the kids a chance to run (or ruin) the country.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Dick Whitman

Otherwise known as Don Draper, the main character on Mad Men.

I have only recently started watching Mad Men (I am a little behind the times when it comes to television shows). I’m about done with Season 2, so I’m mostly going to talk about what I know thus far. If you haven’t ever seen the show, there will be spoilers; if you have seen more than two seasons of the show, you will know more than I am revealing.

When the show begins, Don Draper is a high-flying ad exec at Sterling Cooper in Manhattan. Don later becomes a partner at the firm, and he makes tons of cash. It’s funny to see what was a lot of money in the early 1960s – Don gets a huge raise and begins to make $45,000!

Anyway, within the first few episodes of Season 1, it’s revealed that Don is not what he seems. He is, in fact, not really Don Draper at all, but a man named Richard “Dick” Whitman. Dick Whitman was born in Illinois, sometime in the 1920s, to a young prostitute who died giving birth to him. He was subsequently raised by his biological father (although Dick never knew for certain that this man was his actual father) and his father’s wife, Abigail. Dick had an incredibly shitty life: his stepmother called him a “whore child” and his father beat him (Don/Dick later reveals that the beatings caused him to fantasize about murdering his father). When Dick was ten, his father was killed right in front of him when a horse kicked the older man in the face. Abigail then moved with Dick and her younger son Adam to Pennsylvania, and raised them with the help of a man called “Uncle Mac.” Uncle Mac was apparently nice to Dick, so that might have been one bright spot in a terrible, poverty-stricken childhood.

In his twenties, Dick enlisted in the US Army and was sent off to fight in the Korean War. On arrival in Korea, Dick was assigned to help Lieutenant Donald P. Draper, a man several years older and with only a few months left on active duty, build a field hospital. Since it was just the two of them digging the hospital’s foundation, it was pretty slow going. After experiencing some enemy gunfire, Dick accidentally caused a gasoline explosion; Dick was injured but Draper was killed. Sensing a way out of the war zone, Dick switched dog tags with Draper. The Army, believing Dick to be the real Don Draper, sent him home, allowing him to finish his final months of service in the reserves. Dick escorted the coffin of Dick Whitman home, but refused to meet his family. With Dick Whitman dead, he set off to begin a new life as Don Draper.

The new Don Draper worked as a car salesman, then a fur salesman, before ending up in advertising. When he was still selling cars, he was visited by Anna Draper, the widow of the real Don Draper. Anna is a wonderful person and easily accepts that Dick is using her husband’s identity. The two become friends. When Dick/Don meets Betty and wants to marry her, he divorces Anna but continues to support her. He bought her a house in California (seems to be in the greater Los Angeles area) and visited her in Season 2. It’s almost too bad Don didn’t stick with Anna, as she seems to be pretty darn awesome. It might not have worked, however, because she is older than Don and seems to have a big sister-maternal dynamic going on with him.

After his divorce from Anna, Don married Betty, a former model. The two settle down in a huge house in the suburbs and have two children, a son and a daughter (a third child might be on the way). Don works as an ad man, and spends his days drinking like a fish, smoking like a chimney, and adulterating like a rabbit. He has a very intense ethical code when it comes to business, but that code doesn’t prevent him from cheating on his wife with the skill and frequency of an Olympic gold-medalist. From where I’m at now, it seems like this behavior is finally going to bite him in the ass.

I feel that Dick’s masquerade as Don Draper really helps us to understand why he’s so good at advertising. Don is perpetually selling himself, which in turns helps him sell products. His life is nothing but an advertisement for Madison Avenue.

For more, watch the show or check out Don’s Wikipedia page.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Dicks and their Castles Part Two: Richard III

Today we have a selection of castles associated with Richard III. Many of these are from the north of England, where Richard spent much of his time (especially in the 1470s). However, I also have some photos of places in London that are associated with good old R3. Just like last time, photos were taken by me.

The Tower of London. Like every English king, Richard spent time in the Tower before his coronation. (Like every monarch, Richard III also spent time in Windsor Castle; see last week for photos). Unlike other monarchs, Richard has been accused of murdering a former king within the Tower. Rumor has it that Richard stabbed Henry VI to death in the Tower (the spot is featured in the picture below). This is pretty unlikely, as Richard’s brother, Edward IV, the direct beneficiary of Henry’s death, is a more likely candidate (for ordering the murder. The idea that members of the royal family would do their own stabbing is absurd. You can hire people for that nonsense).

Crosby Hall. Richard rented this London manor house when he was visiting the capital. As a northern landholder, Richard didn’t own property in London. Crosby Hall used to be within the square-mile City of London (it was specifically located in what is now the financial district), but the house was relocated to Chelsea at some point. Fun fact: Sir Thomas More, who wrote a very famous but not-very-nice book about Richard III, also lived at Crosby Hall for a time.

Carlisle Castle. Located in Carlisle near the Scottish border, Richard was once warden of this castle. He didn’t live here, but he was in charge of the garrison.

Penrith Castle. Located in the town of Penrith, in Cumbria, Richard was also warden of this castle.

Barnard’s Castle. This castle is in county Durham, north of Yorkshire. Richard III installed a fancy bay window in this castle, as well as having his heraldic symbol (the white boar) carved into the walls in a few places. One of the pictures below shows the boar, although it’s partially worn away and thus a tad difficult to discern.

The boar. Its butt is on the right-hand side.

Middleham Castle. Middleham Castle is pretty much a Richard III pilgrimage site (and I can’t believe I’ve only been once!). Richard spent most of his time here: a few years in childhood when he was being raised by the Earl of Warwick (the owner of Middleham at that time) and much of his married life before he became king (about 1472 to 1483). Middleham is THE castle most associated with Richard III, and English Heritage (the good people who manage the property) knows that. Richard III’s fabulous face is emblazoned on the castle’s sign, and the courtyard features a weird modern art statue of the man.
Arms! Arms! My kingdom for some arms!

Bonus feature. Below is a picture of Richard III from the walls of the Charing Cross tube stop in London. Charing Cross is the stop for Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait of Richard III with the red background (featured on the Middleham Castle sign) hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, which is why R3 gets a pictorial shout-out in the Underground.
By the way, Richard III did not smoke - medieval Europeans didn't have tobacco!