Category Archives: Books

Saturday Odds & Sods: Promised Land

Marbotikin Dulda by Frank Stella.

We seem to have hit peak pollen this week in New Orleans. Achoo. As a result, I awaken each day with watery eyes and a runny nose. Achoo. It’s most unpleasant as is my daily sinus headache. The good news is that we’re supposed to have some rain to wash away the sticky yellow stuff. The bad news is that it won’t happen until later today when we have plans to attend a festival not far from Adrastos World HQ. Oh well, that’s what umbrellas are for.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or watching teevee with the Insult Comedian, you know that Chuck Berry died at the age of 90.  This week’s theme song, Promised Land, is my favorite Chuck Berry tune. I was introduced to it at the first Grateful Dead show I ever attended. It was a helluva opening number.

I have three versions for your entertainment: Berry’s original, the Band’s rollicking piano driven take from Moondog Matinee, and the Dead live in the Nutmeg State. It’s time to jet to the promised land, y’all.

I remain mystified as to why Chuck wanted to get out of Louisiana and go to Houston town. There’s no accounting for taste. Let’s ponder that as I insert the break, but not where the moon don’t shine.

Continue reading

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Here’s Blood In Your Eye

I know nothing about Manning Long’s work but I know a good title when I see one.

The Americans Thread: Bugging Out

Hunger was the main theme of the third episode of The Americans. We heard Tuan the Vietnamese commie kid’s story about eating “garbage off the streets” back home and saw a flashback to Philip’s time as a hungry Russian lad. I was half-way worried that this bloke would knock on my door:

It could be worse. Simon Le Bon Bon might be there with Duran Duran:

That’s the last wolf song for now. I promise, promise.

I almost needed a snack after watching the episode, but resisted because I was afraid that Aussie Midges had invaded my fridge. Oh yeah, The Midges is the buggy title of this pestiferous episode.  As far as I know, they have nothing to do with Patricia Hitchcock’s character in Strangers On A Train

I’m still trying to avoid spoilers so I’ll send you to the break with the song they played as Philip and Elizabeth packed a corpse into a rental car. (It’s not the first time they’ve done that, so how can it be a spoiler?) I’d hate to be the guy who rented that ride after them. It Hertz just thinking about it.

Continue reading

Your President* Speaks: Trump Potpourri For $100, Alex

After a brief period of relative silence after his “Obama was mean to me” tweet, the Insult Comedian has been shooting his mouth off again.  We begin with this morning’s tweet storm via Parker Malloy:

It’s always good when someone else does the heavy-lifting by bringing Trump’s digital diarrhea together. We all know what he means by fake news: items he doesn’t like. If he doesn’t like them, they cannot be true. It’s the way his mind, such as it is, works when concocting a new word salad for the tweeter tube: add a few verys, too many exclamation points, and garnish with a dash of fake news.

A funnier recent tweet was his attack on Snoop Lion or is he Snoop Dogg again? I cannot keep up with Calvin Broadus’ stage names. I’m kind of surprised Trump doesn’t go on about Snoop’s fake names. There must be something sinister about not using the name Calvin. I bet British Intelligence is behind it or maybe the North Koreans. There’s bound to be a conspiracy. Bannon should get Roger Stone and Alex Jones on the Calvin conspiracy ASAP.

I, for one, wouldn’t have bothered to look at Snoop’s latest video prior to seeing this rant. It just makes Trump look small and petty, which is what he is. The news may be fake but Trump’s vindictiveness is not and I’m not lion about that…

Let’s turn away from the Tweeter Tube and move on to a quote from an interview the president* did with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Carlson seems to have forsaken bow ties, which is a pity since I enjoyed calling him a bow-tie mothertucker.

“Well, you know, I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book, I’m reading a book, I’m trying to get started. Every time I do about a half a page, I get a phone call that there’s some emergency, this or that. But we’re going to see the home of Andrew Jackson today in Tennessee and I’m reading a book on Andrew Jackson. I love to read. I don’t get to read very much, Tucker, because I’m working very hard on lots of different things, including getting costs down. The costs of our country are out of control. But we have a lot of great things happening, we have a lot of tremendous things happening.” 

It’s nice that he interrupted his teevee watching to read about one of our craziest previous Presidents. Anyone think he’ll finish the book? I wonder which tome it is: Arthur Schlesinger? Jon Meacham? He said we was “looking” at it so maybe it’s this one:

It’s ironic that nice is one of the Insult Comedian’s favorite words. I guess it’s because it’s short and simple enough to be in what Philip Roth called Trump’s 77-word vocabulary. Roth not only reads books, he writes them without a ghost writer. Imagine that. See Donald read. Read, Donald, read.

Speaking of niceness, Trump continues to go back-and-forth on the subject of his predecessor. He’s gone from calling former President Obama “a bad and sick guy” to vouching for his niceness. Of course, that’s like calling Charlie Manson as a character witness. Here’s what the Insult Comedian said on Fox yesterday:

“He’s been very nice to me personally, but his people haven’t been nice,” Trump told Fox News’ Jesse Watters. “While he’s nice personally, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of nice things happening behind the scenes, and that’s unfortunate.”

This is a classic Trump formulation. He begins with a mild compliment and concludes with an insult. That’s why I call him the Insult Comedian.

Before the president* said that Obama was “very nice” he made a lame joke about him at his joint presser with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps.”

That’s a harmless jab by Trumpian standards, but it led to the dirtiest look ever given an Oval One by a visiting dignitary:

See Angela glare. Glare, Angela, glare.

That’s the opposite of a poker face. I cannot wait until Tracey Ullman give us her take on the Merkel-Trump confab. If you haven’t seen her Merkel, it’s to die for:

That concludes this edition of Your president* Speaks. I’d give you a reading assignment but I’m trying to keep costs down. Class dismissed.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Disturbance At The Heron House

Elijah and the Ravens by Ralph Chessé, 1945.

Winter played a fleeting return engagement in New Orleans this week. Unlike the Mid-March blizzard in the Northeast, it wasn’t anything to write home about but we ran the heater and shivered a bit. I’m not a fan of the new practice of naming winter storms even if the first one is named after a famous theatrical character, STELLA. Unless, that is, it’s named for the Hunter-Garcia ballad Stella Blue. The mere thought of a blizzard makes me blue so that could be it.

It may have been chilly of late but Spring allergy season is upon us with a vengeance. I have a mild case of red-eye but I’m used to that. A worse pestilence is this year’s flea crop. We haven’t had a hard freeze for several years so the nasty little buggers are dining on Oscar and Della Street. All we can do is treat the house, medicate the cats, and hope for the best. The idea of putting a flea collar on Della is particularly unappealing. She’s been known to draw blood so I’ll pass. Chomp.

This week’s theme song comes from R.E.M.’s classic 1987 Document album; more on the album anon. It’s my favorite record in their catalog and Disturbance At The Heron House is the kat’s meow. The lyrics were inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is another reason I like it so much.

Here are two versions. The original studio track and one from R.E.M.’s appearance on MTV Unplugged. The second video has Radio Song as lagniappe.

The “followers of chaos out of control” indeed. In fact, they can follow me to the other side after the break. I hope it’s sufficiently chaotic.

Continue reading

King Of The Bigots

Our old “friend” Congressman Steve King of Iowa used to claim that he wasn’t a racist. Now that white ethno nationalism is fashionable among the deplorables, those days are gone, gone, gone:

Guess who applauded King:

The Wilders mentioned by King is far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders whose ironically named Party for Freedom is running first in the polls in that nation’s upcoming election. A headline in the “failing” NYT captures the horror of what’s happening in the Netherlands: How The Dutch Stopped Being Decent and Dull. I’d like to throw another D word in the mix: depressing.

The good news is that, thanks to Holland’s multi-party system, Wilders is unlikely to be the next Prime Minister BUT his party has gone from being cranks to contenders. That’s bad news for those of us who have admired the Dutch for their political common sense and cultural tolerance. The French presidential election is next up and Marine LePen may lead in the first round. The conventional wisdom is that her opponents will unite against her as they did against her father in 2002 but the CW has taken a beating in the last few years. Stay tuned: if France leaves the EU, it’s as dead as the Weimar Republic.

Back to Steve King. The Iowa cornholer is standing by his statements. It’s now safe in certain circles for an elected official to sound like David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Geert Wilders. King was on CNN this morning and went into a rhapsody about his horrendous views:

“I’ve been to Europe and I’ve spoken on this issue and I’ve said the same thing as far as ten years ago to the German people and to any population of people that is a declining population that isn’t willing to have enough babies to reproduce themselves. And I’ve said to them, you can’t rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies,” King said on CNN. “You’ve got to keep your birth rate up and that you need to teach your children your values.”

There you have it, we’re not “making” enough babies. It’s what happens when women get uppity and think they can do other things and not just be baby factories as in The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s a new teevee version of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic and it couldn’t be timelier. Make sure you read Ms. Atwood’s essay about The Handmaid’s Tale continuing relevance in the “failing” NYT.

In addition to supporting the King of Bigots, the erstwhile Gret Stet Fuhrer is bragging about his own fertility. Duke only has two kids whereas his role model Joseph Goebbels had six. Of course, he murdered his children in 1945. Some hero. Some role model.

Remember when mainstream conservatives ran away from David Dukkke? Now they sound just like him: Steve King is merely a canary in the coal mine. That’s life in the 21st Century, which is starting to feel like the 1930’s with memes. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland recently had a great deal to say about that, so I’ll give him the last word:

If there’s a common thread linking 21st-century European nationalists to each other and to Trump, it is a similar, shared contempt for the structures that have bound together, and restrained, the principal world powers since the last war. Naturally, Le Pen and Wilders want to follow the Brexit lead and leave, or else break up, the EU. And, no less naturally, Trump supports them – as well as regarding Nato as “obsolete” and the UN as an encumbrance to US power (even if his subordinates rush to foreign capitals to say the opposite).

For historians of the period, the 1930s are always worthy of study because the decade proves that systems – including democratic republics – which had seemed solid and robust can collapse. That fate is possible, even in advanced, sophisticated societies. The warning never gets old.

But when we contemplate our forebears from eight decades ago, we should recall one crucial advantage we have over them. We have what they lacked. We have the memory of the 1930s. We can learn the period’s lessons and avoid its mistakes. Of course, cheap comparisons coarsen our collective conversation. But having a keen ear tuned to the echoes of a past that brought such horror? That is not just our right. It is surely our duty.

The Fog Of History: George Orwell On Trumpist Autocracy

I’ve avoided discussing all the 1984 references people are making because I’m a genuine admirer of George Orwell, especially the collected essays.  As you can see from the Time cover above, the last wave of Orwell chic took place, well, in 1984 when the Reaganites and Thatcherites tried to claim him. It was a poor fit: Eric Blair was a man of the left who had slowly moved to the social democratic left as he observed what was going on in *his* world. He chose the title 1984 for his oft-cited, little understood novel by simply flipping the last two digits. The book was about Stalin’s Soviet Union, not some dystopian future state, and Animal Farm was about the false egalitarianism of Leninism. He was a political writer, not a sci-fi guy.

Having said that, there are some quotes from 1984 that are applicable to life in 21st Century ‘Merica. Plus, I had a lot of fun quoting Sam Clemens and Henry Mencken not long ago, so why not Eric Blair? Obviously, Orwell wasn’t writing about Trumpist autocracy but these quote work quite well by analogy. In fact, Trump puts the anal in analogy.

The first quote reminds me of Steve Bannon’s admiration of  Tailgunner Joe McCarthy:

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

I thought of the next quote when reading about how Obamacare repeal is about freedom. You know, the freedom to die without medical care:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.”

Orwell, of course, was a fan of  Britain’s NHS. He knew that good health is freedom.

We’ve heard a lot about newspeak but what the Trumpers specialize in is doublethink.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

I don’t know if the average Trumper understands the big words, but the concept is surely not alien to Spicy as he spews lies from his gum hole.

As a veteran of the Spanish Civil War-he fought alonsgide the far-left  POUM militia-Orwell even has advice for today’s resistance:

“Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

Unconsciouness seems to be a Trumper trait; that and believing whatever nonsense comes out of their dear leader’s big bazoo.

In one of his essays, Orwell warned the world about how history was being twisted.

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.

He specifically had Stalinist rewriting of history in mind. Did you know that everything good was invented by a Russian? Me neither, but that’s what they taught in schools in the USSR. It explains Putin’s national chauvinism rather well.

Finally, Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language, has been posted in its entirety online. Make sure you read it. Here’s how it concludes:

Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Rodent Mutation

A friend of mine has a vexatious critter in her attic. I hope it’s not one of these suckers:

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Eye Of Karnak

Apologies for not posting more yesterday. My Ash Wednesday penance has taken the form of a vile stomach flu so it’s hard for me to sit up and write.

This week’s cover has nothing to do with the Johnny Carson character but apparently has something to do with belly dancing. Why? I’ll never know.

33071563211_068593eb46

Lundi Gras Odds & Sods

I decided to emerge from the Carnival bubble today just to mess with y’all. Our run of hosting came to an end yesterday. It’s fun but I’m always glad when it’s over. We have two more days until we repent our Carnival sins on Ash Wednesday. I’m an agnostic but my legs are already repenting all the standing and walking I did this  year. And there’s more to come. Ouch. Pass the Ibuprofen.

Obviously, we were not impacted by the accident Saturday night at the Endymion parade. That’s the *other* parade route and we take the night off. I also hate that fucking parade: the riders tend to be suburban yahoos who snub small black chirren in favor of blond bimbos. It’s the “show your tits” parade. I like tits as much as the next guy but that parade is tacky and tawdry.

We had an enormous party on Muses Thursday. Muses is an all woman krewe who had a Dr. Seuss theme in 2017. Their signature throw is decorated shoes. One of my quirkier Muses friends, Jen K, made a shoe just for me. Remember Ken Bone? He’s the dorky dude who asked a question during the town hall Clinton-Trump debate and briefly became an internet sensation. Here is the Ken Bone shoe, Jen threw to me. Thanks, sweetie:

32768502260_df966cf4a3_n

In a visual pun worthy of this feature, Jen replaced the heel with a plastic bone:

33024056411_c88936023b_n

Another highlight of Carnival for me was a book signing on the Uptown parade route before the Tucks parade. There’s a rolling group in that parade: the Laissez Boys. They parade in pimped out motorized recliners whilst wearing smoking jackets. I am not making this up.

I have some friends in the group and decided to get one of them, Michael Tisserand, to sign my copy of his latest book, Krazy. It’s the story of George Herriman the creator of Krazy Kat. He was from New Orleans and was a black creole who passed as white. It’s the next book in my hopper so to speak.

Michael is an online friend so we surprised him with the help of my friend Paul aka Q. He was as thrilled as I was, “I’ve done a lot of things in this chair but never a book signing.”

Later on twitter he said this:

Here are a few pictures of the event taken by Dr. A:

16939261_10154648354662758_4136926839126025112_n16938970_10154648355107758_6991405901068887455_n

The only thing that came close to the Krazy book signing last weekend was the mishigas at the end of the Oscars. There’s a first time for everything. I hope it’s the last time for that sort of fuckup and of Jimmy Kimmel as host. Flying donuts? Mean tweets? Jimmy should get on the tour bus with Gary from Chicago.

Back to the bubble. Proteus and Orpheus await.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Carnival Honey

It’s Muses Thursday here in New Orleans and half the known universe is coming to Adrastos World HQ later today. I wonder if she’ll make it?

Carnival

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Brave New World

Dystopian fiction is hot right now. I cannot imagine why. Brave New World was one of the first dystopian novels. It has remained in print since its initial publication in 1932.

Here are two of the many covers Huxley’s book has had over the years:

d1360078b065a40df4b5f0fa4d98ac52xhuxley2-jpg-pagespeed-ic-nkisn4kyq3

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Overboard

I found this one on the Pulp Librarian’s twitter feed. It has a killer tagline. Here’s the cover: Worts and all, by George.

c3_r1hhwyaaqcmg

 

The Fog Of History: Explaining Trump

Ron Rosenbaum wrote one of the best books about the Hitler phenomenon and its persistence through the years: Explaining Hitler. In that brilliant work, Rosenbaum talked to some of the explainers-from the crazy to the reputable-to try to understand how Nazism could have taken hold in a country known for its literature, music, art, and cinema. Rosenbaum also endeavored to understand *why* Hitler’s demonic spell continued after his catastrophic failure and revelation as the war criminal’s war criminal. If you’re interested in the subject, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. What’s not to love about a book that has a chapter titled The Hitler Family Film Noir?

Rosenbaum was approached by some publications to explore comparisons between Hitler and the man some call Hair Fuhrer and I call the Insult Comedian: Donald J. Trump. He was initially reluctant to do so for reasons he explains in a brand spanking new piece in the Los Angeles Review Of Books:

Until the morning after the election I had declined them. While Trump’s crusade had at times been malign, as had his vociferous supporters, he and they did not seem bent on genocide. He did not seem bent on anything but hideous, hurtful simplemindedness — a childishly vindictive buffoon trailing racist followers whose existence he had mainstreamed. When I say followers I’m thinking about the perpetrators of violence against women outlined by New York Magazine who punched women in the face and shouted racist slurs at them. Those supporters. These are the people Trump has dragged into the mainstream, and as my friend Michael Hirschorn pointed out, their hatefulness will no longer find the Obama Justice Department standing in their way.

Bad enough, but genocide is almost by definition beyond comparison with “normal” politics and everyday thuggish behavior, and to compare Trump’s feckless racism and compulsive lying was inevitably to trivialize Hitler’s crime and the victims of genocide.

As a believer in Godwin’s Law until the 2016 election, I understand where Rosenbaum is coming from. It’s why I still prefer using the term Fascist to describe the Trump-Bannon “movement” and their loathsome followers.

Now that they’re in power, Rosenbaum detects a methodological similarity between the Trumpers and German Nazis. It’s rooted in both the big lie technique and the war on the press. In Hitler’s case, his fiercest foes back home in Bavaria were the reporters of the Munich Post who were referred to as “the poison kitchen” by the Nazis.

I really should let the master explainer explain himself:

But after the election, things changed. Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German. Now is the time for a much closer inspection of the tactics and strategy that brought off this spectacular distortion of American values.

What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. And they’re not joking. If you’d received the threatening words and pictures I did during the campaign (one Tweet simply read “I gas Jews”), as did so many Jewish reporters and people of color, the sick bloodthirsty lust to terrify is unmistakably sincere. The playbook is Mein Kampf.

Trump, of course, is not only incapable of writing a book on his own, he’s a notorious non-reader. Instead, he’s the teevee-watcher-in-chief. But Hitler was *not* an intellectual. He was a demagogue with an acute sense of his audience and what we would call his base. Trump may not be a true believer in the white nationalist ideology that Bannon and Miller have cobbled together BUT he *is* its best salesman.

Back to Hitler and the poison kitchen. The Munich Post did its best to expose the petty criminality and nationalistic bigotry that drove Hitler and the Nazis but in the end, we know what happened. They lost the kampf: Hitler came to power and plunged the world into an orgy of chaos, hatred, and violence. Steve Bannon is on the record as wanting chaos and destruction in order to bring on his own B3 new order and I’m not talking about the band of that name. He’s a right-wing Leninist. I’m a John Leninist myself.

Rosenbaum is even more worried about the normalization of Trump now that he’s the Current Occupant:

Cut to the current election. We had heard allegations that Trump kept Hitler’s speeches by his bedside, but somehow we normalized that. We didn’t take him seriously because of all the outrageous, clownish acts and gaffes we thought would cause him to drop out of the race. Except these gaffes were designed to distract. This was his secret strategy, the essence of his success — you can’t take a stand against Trump because you don’t know where Trump is standing. You can’t find him guilty of evil, you can’t find him at all. And the tactics worked. Trump was not taken seriously, which allowed him to slip by the normal standards for an American candidate. The mountebank won. Again.

Suddenly, after the inconceivable (and, we are now beginning to realize, suspicious) Trump victory, the nation was forced to contend with what it would mean, whether the “alt-right” was a true threat or a joke to be tolerated. Did it matter that Trump had opened up a sewer pipe of racial hatred? Once again, normalization was the buzzword.

And I remembered the Munich Post, defending Weimar Germany. I reflected on how fragile democratic institutions could be in the face of organized hatred. Hitler had been tricky about his plans until he got the position and the power to enact them. Trump had been tricky, neither accepting nor rejecting the endorsement of KKK leader David Duke. David Duke! The KKK! In this century! He claimed he didn’t know who he was. He couldn’t be disqualified because of someone he didn’t know. That’s where we all went wrong, thinking he was stupid and outrageous, not canny and savvy and able to play the media like Paganini. The election demonstrated the weakness of a weak democracy, where basic liberties could be abolished by demagoguery and voter suppression.

Rosenbaum is concerned that normalization is taking place in too many sectors of the public and press. The MSM wavers between exposing Trumpian excesses and normalization. I am cautiously optimistic that vast swaths of the American people do not accept Trump’s legitimacy and will never normalize his “movement.” Look at me: I am fundamentally a center-left Democrat who belongs to the “get shit done” wing of the party. That’s been suspended along with my adherence to Godwin’s Law. I am committed to resisting Trumpism and everything about it. This is not the time to make a deal with the devil. Trump regards offers of compromise as signs of weakness. I will continue to show him the same level of respect that Republicans gave to Barack Obama: zero, zilch, bupkis, nada.

People need to be patient. Given the current make-up of  Congress, Trump can only be removed if Republicans turn on him. That will only happen when they think the cost of supporting him outweighs the cost of pissing off rank and file Trumpers. That’s why public displays of disapproval are so vital. And the much ballyhooed 25th Amendment solution requires the support of his cabinet. It’s one reason why, with the exception of Generals Mattis and Kelly, the cabinet is loaded with wealthy political non-entities, sycophants, and right-wing ideologues. They *might* rebel if Trump continues his manic ways but it will take time. You know things are bad if I think Mike Pence is less horrific than Donald Trump. Why? He’s less likely to plunge us into a war caused by the last thing he saw on teevee. Trump puts the boob into boob tube as well as the idiot into idiot box.

Pressure and patience must be the watchwords of the resistance. We didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of it quickly either. Satire is one of our best weapons. It hits Trump where he lives: he wants to be loved and admired. It’s our job to see that he’s neither. We don’t want him to think he’s Chaplin’s Great Dictator, Adenoid Hynkel. If Trump tries to dance with a global balloon, we need to pop it.

Vive les Maquis.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Brain Guy

We need all the comic relief we can get during the winter of our political discontent:

lion_39

This book title also reminded me of the Brain Guy played by Bill Corbett on MST3K:

 

Philip Roth On Trumpism

Roth

There’s been a lot of chatter about dystopian novels of late. I cannot imagine why. I’ll save my take on 1984 for another time, but if you haven’t read Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. In the book, Charles Lindbergh is nominated by the GOP in 1940 and defeats Franklin Roosevelt on a platform of  isolationism and appeasement with the help of Nazi Germany. In the real world, the Nazis were paying off prominent isolationist Senators who, despite the rhetoric, put America second and their wallets first. It all sounds painfully familiar, doesn’t it?

The 83-year-old Roth has retired from writing but shared his views about Trumpism via email with the New Yorker’s Judith Thurman. Below are some excerpts of their electronic epistolary exchange. Try saying that four times. Dare ya.

Roth wrote in the Times Book Review that “The Plot Against America” was not intended as a political roman à clef. Rather, he wanted to dramatize a series of what-ifs that never came to pass in America but were “somebody else’s reality”—i.e., that of the Jews of Europe. “All I do,” he wrote, “is to defatalize the past—if such a word exists—showing how it might have been different and might have happened here.”

Last week, Roth was asked, via e-mail, if it has happened here. He responded, “It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s ‘The Confidence-Man,’ the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’ ”

It’s hard to argue that point. Trump has become the most successful flim-flam man in American history. In fact, his white nationalist regime has stolen our history and put it on a perilous path of putrid populism. I love the smell of alliteration in the morning.

Another quote from the great novelist:

“It isn’t Trump as a character, a human type—the real-estate type, the callow and callous killer capitalist—that outstrips the imagination. It is Trump as President of the United States.

“I was born in 1933,” he continued, “the year that F.D.R. was inaugurated. He was President until I was twelve years old. I’ve been a Roosevelt Democrat ever since. I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

That’s a tremendous analysis of a very, very bad dude. Believe me.

I would love to hear Roth’s take on the brown eminence behind Trump, Steve Bannon. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about Bannon since last summer. I’m glad people are finally taking notice of this sinister albeit rumpled figure. Trump is not only Putin’s useful idiot, he’s Bannon’s as well.

I’ll give Philip Roth the last word:

“My novel wasn’t written as a warning. I was just trying to imagine what it would have been like for a Jewish family like mine, in a Jewish community like Newark, had something even faintly like Nazi anti-Semitism befallen us in 1940, at the end of the most pointedly anti-Semitic decade in world history. I wanted to imagine how we would have fared, which meant I had first to invent an ominous American government that threatened us. As for how Trump threatens us, I would say that, like the anxious and fear-ridden families in my book, what is most terrifying is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”

 

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Food Of The Gods

H.G. Wells was one of the first “grown up” writers I read as a kid. And The Food Of The Gods was my first Wellsian experience. Who among us doesn’t love giant mutant animals going berserk?

The Food Of The Gods has been published in many forms. It has even been adapted as a comic book on two occasions.

thefoodofthegods-01304

Can’t you just imagine the chap in the bowler saying: “What ho. It’s a giant chicken.”

630498-16018493375

Finally, there was a cheesy movie version made in 1976:

more-great-posters-for-bad-movies

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Johnny Staccato

I had never heard of Johnny Staccato until I went a googling. It turns out to be one of the first examples of a book that was inspired by a teevee series. The series in question was about a shamus/jazz pianist named Johnny Staccato who was played by my countryman, John Cassavettes.

We begin in reverse order with the book.

31990307030_b1d59e4ec1

Here’s a promo image for the show:

31556006203_849e56a67e

Here’s the series theme song:

Finally, it’s time for some serious lagniappe, the pilot episode:

The Fog Of MLK Day History

I was among those NOT surprised when a tweet from some bozo in Biloxi “revealed” that today is Great Americans Day in the Magnolia State. White Southern conservatives have long resisted the holiday, massively. At least MLK *was* an American hero even if the Confederates his memory has been erroneously linked to were not.

The social media discussion of the Insult Comedian’s idiotic attack on John Lewis has been deeply shallow. Anyone surprised? I thought not. On the right, Lewis has been called a minor figure in the Civil Rights movement. On the left, I saw multiple tweets referring to him as a King lieutenant. Neither are true: he was a major figure as one of the leaders of SNCC and was often an irritant to MLK’s SCLC. Lewis was an ally, not a lieutenant.

I wish people would consult with Mr. Google so their social media sophistry would have a scintilla of substance. Better yet, read David Halberstam’s The Children to learn more about John Lewis. Shorter Adrastos, put down the smart  phone and read a book.

Happy MLK Day, y’all.

The Fog Of History: Mark Twain On The First Gilded Age

jb_gilded_subj_e

In 1873 Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published a novel called The Gilded Age: A Tale Of Today. It was one of the few times Sam Clemens worked in a band and not as a solo artist. End of tortured musical analogy. The book was not merely a “tale of today,” like much of Twain’s best satire it remains applicable to *our* today.

The Gilded Age was not specifically about the political culture of the era, but the term has come to be associated with the excesses of the one-party pro-plutocratic Republican rule of the postbellum age. I believe that the-ugh-Trump Era will be a New Gilded Age with the Darnold as robber baron-in-chief. We’ve had other Gilded Ages, but I expect the next four years will be among the most corrupt in our history. The fish rots from head, after all, and nobody is rottener than the Insult Comedian. Imagine the stench when the nutria pelt atop his head begins to melt. It’s bound to smell like cotton candy piss.

Pondering the man I insist on calling Sam Clemens (we’re old literary friends and brothers in satire) resulted in a Google search for quotes that are applicable to both his time and our own. History *always* repeats, y’all.

Below are a few Twain nuggets that I have excavated from the recesses of the internet mine. I’m all about tortured analogies today and they’re mine all mine. I am, however, neither a miner nor a 49er and don’t have a daughter named Clementine…

If you think income inequality is a recent phenomenon, Sam begs to differ:

“The external glitter conceals a corrupt political core that reflects the growing gap between the very few rich and the very many poor.”

Twain was the greatest satirist of his time. He was as fond of food analogies as I am:

“The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.”

We’re inclined to think Trump is sui generis to our day and age.  But Sam knew the type only too well:

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. ”

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

The Insult Comedian is not only insulting, he’s an habitual, almost obsessive liar:

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

Trump, alas, doesn’t even try to keep his lies straight. He counts on the short-term memory of his followers. It’s what fake populist strong men do.

The next Twain bon mot illuminates the difficult position those of us in the resistance find ourselves in:

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Nobody likes to admit to getting conned. The country is littered with people who fell for Trumpian flim-flammery. Many are still sleepwalking. It’s going to be ugly when they wake up and realize they’ve been had. Bigly.

Finally, I believe that the best way to undermine this illegitimate mountebank is with ridicule. Who can forget how he attacked SNL after Alec Baldwin nailed his cotton candy piss hair to the wall. Sam is in accord:

“Only laughter can blow [a colossal humbug] to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

Ain’t no bigger humbug that the Insult Comedian. Believe me, he’s a tremendous gasbag.

Welcome to the New Gilded Age.

Vive les Maquis.