Category Archives: Books

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Robert McGinnis Meets Perry Mason

I wrote about artist Robert McGinnis at the end of April in a Saturday post. Here are two covers he did for Perry Mason novels. The feline Della Street approves.

Book Review: The Selected Letters Of John Kenneth Galbraith

Every once in a while I’m offered a review copy of a new book. It’s always flattering when someone is interested in what a mere internet wise ass has to say. This time around, I was contacted by Diana Rissetto of Cambridge University Press and offered a copy of The Selected Letters of John Kenneth Galbraith. I accepted with alacrity but it’s taken longer than expected to review this outstanding book. Ms. Rissetto has been as unfailingly patient as I have been dilatory. She also has a most amusing and witty Twitter feed, which is a plus. One can tell that I’ve finished the book because Galbraith’s style is contagious and this paragraph is redolent of it. It’s a good thing I’m under the spell of Ken Galbraith, not Pepe Le Pew. Le sigh of relief.

The British historian Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics the dismal science. Economists are not known for their prose style or sense of humor. It’s dry, dry stuff. John Kenneth Galbraith was an exception to that usually accurate rule. In fact, he’s one of my favorite writers of his era as he dabbled in writing outside his area; especially in the world of politics where he was a committed liberal Democrat with a wry sense of humor. No other economist ever made me laugh out loud, which I did repeatedly as I read this book.

The letters have been edited and annotated by Richard P.F. Holt. He did a smashing job ensuring that we know who Galbraith was corresponding with and why. I knew most of the names but there were some sleepers. Additionally, Holt has collected memos, speeches, and other non epistolary documents. Good job, sir.

Galbraith had an active sideline as an adviser to, among others, Adlai Stevenson, Jack Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and-until they broke it off over Vietnam-Lyndon Johnson. While Ambassador to India from 1961-63, Galbraith was dispatched to Vietnam by JFK and asked for his input. He offered it to his successor as well until Johnson ended the correspondence. It was a pity that LBJ was less receptive to Galbraith’s advice on that lamentable conflict than to his suggestions on domestic policy. If LBJ had listened, he might have been our greatest President.

In addition to his political side, The Selected Letters, dips a toe into Galbraith’s personal life.  Most interesting are his exchanges with Jackie Kennedy. They’re flirtatious on both sides without being OTT. Ken Galbraith would have made an excellent courtier, which he was by analogy. He offered the Kennedys his loyalty but it was never blind fealty. Galbraith believed in plain speaking wrapped in wit when corresponding with the Kennedys. It’s a pity that the Current Occupant is surrounded by nothing but yes men, relatives, and non-entities. He could also use a decent joke writer. Believe me.

Galbraith had some close friends on the other side of the political spectrum: Henry Luce, William F. Buckley, and fellow economist, Milton Friedman. Friedman was the godfather of Thatcherism and Reagonomics but his correspondence with the uber Keynesian Galbraith was respectful and, at times, hilarious. Friedman did a better job of hiding his puckish side than Galbraith so I enjoyed their exchanges inordinately. That’s another Galbraithian word. I seem to be turning into him. I hope I don’t become 6’8″ at my advanced age: none of my clothes will fit…

I’m not known for my adherence to chronology, so let’s circle back to Galbraith’s war-time activities with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS.) His letters home to his wife Kitty from 1945 are a must read for anyone interested in World War II. His service with the USSBS led to Galbraith being the only Harvard faculty member ever name checked by Pete Townshend in a Who song. Now that’s an honor.

Speaking of The Who, I considered reviewing this wonderful book as a Saturday Odds & Sods segment, but thought better of it. I think it’s time for a Galbraith revival. He was a witty and wise man who was usually right. He was an uncommonly good, decent, and intelligent human being; qualities we are badly in need of as we endure an uncommonly bad, indecent, and stupid administration*.

I highly recommend that y’all pick up a copy of The Selected Letters Of John Kenneth Galbraith. Ken Galbraith passed away in 2006 but he remains good company; pun intended, it always is. The only bad thing about finishing the book is that I will miss hearing his marvelously droll voice in my head as I read. For those of you unfamiliar with JKG’s cadence, here’s a 1986 interview with the man himself.

Who else but Ken Galbraith could possibly have the last word in this post?  That would be me. But I’ll use his typical epistolary closer, his Won’t Get Fooled Again as it were:

Yours Faithfully,

Adrastos

Quote Of The Day: Art Of The Creep Edition

The Insult Comedian spent the weekend in Saudi Arabia getting his ass kissed. It was his kind of visit. Tremendous. Believe me.

Saudi Arabia is perfect for Trump.  It’s a corrupt family dictatorship that subordinates women. Trump heaven except for that pesky Muslim thing. Of course, rich Muslims are okay in Trump World, which is a faraway kingdom built on bullshit and glitz. The purveyors of sweet Saudi crude also like the crude president* because he’s glad to sell them billions and billions in arms. Tremendous. Believe me.

It’s time to end the travelogue and get to the point of this post; a quote from a WaPo piece by Tony Schwartz with such a good title that I feel compelled to post it all: I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past:

 Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump would see no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and thereby undermining the statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying Trump’s psyche in the last two years. I have to give him credit for being sui generis. He’s a lizard man with bad hair. He’s cold-blooded and transactional in his dealings with others. I’ve had my share of arguments with people-including anti-Trumpers-who expect him to react with normal human emotions, other than rage, to a given situation. Not gonna happen, my friend. Emotions are reserved for himself and *occasionally* for his family. For all his superficial passion, he’s one of the coldest fish I’ve ever encountered albeit one with rageaholic tendencies and no impulse control. Holy toxic cocktail, Batman.

There was another interesting piece circulating on the internets this weekend: 4-Year-Olds-Don’t Act Like Trump. I agree with most of author Alison Gopnik’s premise about Trump lacking their better qualities.  BUT the Insult Comedian possesses all the WORST qualities of a small child (tantrums, selfishness, petulance) without any of their redeeming characteristics. It’s what makes him so dangerous. He needs to be put in an extended time-out, but his love of yes men makes that unlikely. That will be up to people *outside* his orbit. Let’s hope it happens before this damaged man can do even more damage to the country.

I’ll give Aimee Mann the last word with a repeat appearance of her bang-on trip into Trump’s psyche. It amounted to a cry for help from the then candidate. It’s a pity not enough people listened.

Tremendous. Believe me.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Made Up To Kill

This cover gives an entirely new meaning to the Britism green fingers. That’s green thumb to us Yanks. I have the opposite talent, a black thumb. I can kill a plant just by being within hailing distance. So it goes.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Coffin For A Cutie

It’s weirdo title time here at First Draft. A pin up girl on a coffin? Oy, just oy.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Maquis

It’s time for a rule bending PFT. Maquis by George Millar is not fiction. The cover, however, is as pulpy as all get out. I wanted to post something about the French resistance this week in the wake of my Vichy On The Potomac post. This is it.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Crime On My Hands

I’m not sure if Carl G. Hoges spun a “sensational suspense story” but the cover art and tagline are both swell.

MOAB DICK

Call me Ishmael. Call me anything; just don’t call me late when supper’s ready.

Last week’s astonishing series of Trump administration* foreign policy u-turns and flip flops convinced some in the MSM that the long-awaited PIVOT had come. The Insult Comedian actually got some positive press as the media drooled over the “beautiful” missiles that struck Syria. Lyin’ Brian actually out malaproped Gum Spice on that one. Instead of gushing over Trumpian manliness, the MSM should be worried about the erratic course this incompetent and incoherent administration* is steering. 

While many in the MSM became tumescent over Donald’s dick waving, those of us who do satire searched (groped?) for the right analogy. As you can see above, Dr. Strangelove references are popular with the madcap zanies at Wonkette. They got there first so that’s Slim Pickens for me. That’s when a military acronym exploded in my head: MOAB.

MOAB is, of course, military speak for the mother of all bombs. They’ve been around for a while but neither Bush nor Obama wanted to drop the very big one. The Donald is made of stupider stuff: how could he resist dropping the biggest non-nuclear bomb in history? It’s like being Dirk Diggler for a day. y’all. It *almost* made us forget his teeny, tiny hands. Almost.

MOAB was tailor-made for Trump. He’s just another boomer chicken hawk whose manhood is linked in his own mind with weaponry. Bombs are glimmering phalluses hence MOAB Dick. I have the feeling that the Insult Comedian never finished Moby Dick, so he might want to pick up one of these nifty comix. Cliff’s Notes are so un-presidential.

It’s from 1942, so it’s older and rarer than Trump-hab. His white whale was the White House, which has become such an Albatross that he spends every weekend at Mar-A-Lugee. We’re also treated to endless stories of the struggle between Bannon and young Jared as they vie to be Ishmael to Trump’s Ahab. The Melville character was the sole survivor of the Pequod and narrated Moby Dick. My money is on Jared. He married the boss’ daughter and gave the president* grandchirren. All Bannon gave him was the White House. Jared is blood. Blood trumps everything in Trump World: “Call me Jared. I survived.” He *is* a two-legged cockroach, after all.

Back to the dangerous situation caused by Trump’s face off with pipsqueak North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. They’re actually peas in a very crazy pod. Both will do *anything* for attention, which is why the Obama administration’s policy of’ “strategic patience” was a wise one. When a toddler pitches a tantrum at the dinner table, one can either ignore them or go the time-out route. Never give them what they want: attention and approval. That’s what the world needs to do with both of these baby men: put them in time-out.

Our Asian allies are noticeably unenthusiastic about toddler tantrum as policy:

Those in the US&A who would like a manly “preemptive strike” on North Korea forget the fact that it’s the Republic of Korea that will suffer the consequences. It’s a friendly nation, and has become a democracy during my lifetime. South Korea is going through a painful political scandal and has no appetite for Trumper dick waving. I wonder if he even knows about the impeachment and indictment of former President Park Guen-hye

The Darnold is a profoundly, indeed militantly, ignorant man. He was convinced until recently that China could order North Korea to knock it off.  Wrong.The Kim family dynasty have long been China’s crazy communist cousin. The PRC has influence but Kim Jong-un and his generals run the show in Pyongyang. I’m waiting for another overgrown toddler, Dennis Rodman, to revive wormplomacy and offer to serve as an intermediary.  The Insult Comedian might take him up on it: Rodman appeared on Celebrity Apprentice twice. I hear the ratings were better than on Arnold’s watch. Believe me.

Another thing strikes me about Trump’s new role as MOAB Dick to the world. He’s facing off with two family dynasties in Syria and North Korea. Perhaps that’s why he thinks he can solve these problems: he learned about dynastic power at Fred Trump’s dinner table. The Assads and the Kims, however, put the nasty in dynasty. They’re not going anywhere even though we all wish they would. It’s much harder than dealing with other developers, gangsters, Ed Koch, and Gary Busey. Believe me.

Team Trump’s effort in wagging the dog and distracting attention from their scandals has been surprisingly effective. It’s the only thing they’ve gotten right thus far, but the act isn’t going over very well in Seoul and Tokyo. It’s time for them to put the MOAB Dick back in their pants and zip it about North Korea. Twitplomacy won’t work any better than wormplomacy despite Rodman’s tremendous tattoos. Believe me.

I didn’t plan to write such a long post. I guess the Melville geist has taken hold. It’s time to meet Bartleby the Scrivener for coffee. I hope he doesn’t consider me the Melvillain of the piece…

Friday Catblogging: Bookish Cat

It’s time for another Della in a box picture. I believe my copy of Michael Tisserand’s Krazy came in this Barnes & Noble box. Della Street, however, is more of an Ignatz than a Krazy. It’s why we don’t let her near bricks.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: The Eunuch Of Stamboul

This post was inspired by the Pulp Librarian’s Twitter feed. I’d never heard of The Eunuch Of Stamboul before. It turns out to have been a wildly successful thriller that has been reprinted many times hence all the swell covers below.

That was a hardback edition. Let’s move on to the paperbacks but first it’s time to don a fez:

The book was made into a movie in 1936. They changed the title and made it less eunuch:

I’ve never seen the movie but I’m interested because I love James Mason and Valerie Hobson. I couldn’t find a trailer but one cover has given me a benign earworm. Here it is:

 

Wingnut Publisher Now Sad Publishing So Wingnutty

Another wingnut sees money to be made bemoaning the State of Things Today, and another company jumps to pay him money for it: 

During his 30 years in editing, Adam Bellow has handled some of the most controversial and notorious right-wing books of our era, including “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein, Dinesh D’Souza’s “Illiberal Education” and David Brock’s “The Real Anita Hill.”

But last fall, in the middle of one of the most acrimonious and divisive presidential elections in American history, Mr. Bellow, 60, made a surprising pivot. He left his post as editorial director of Broadside, a conservative imprint at HarperCollins, and started a new imprint at St. Martin’s Press, where he plans to edit authors from across the political spectrum.

As a well-known neoconservative culture warrior, Mr. Bellow is an unlikely emissary for fostering bipartisan dialogue. He’s not softening his views, or renouncing the right-wing polemics he’s edited over the decades, some of which continue to kick up controversy. (Last month, Mr. Murray faced violent protests when he gave a speech at Middlebury College in Vermont.)

Instead, Mr. Bellow said he hoped to bring Democrats and Republicans together — or at least onto the same publishing list. “I saw an opportunity to get myself out of the box that I was in,” he said. “Both sides need to re-examine their assumptions, and I want to sponsor that process.”

Both sides need to re-examine their assumptions, even though I made shitloads of money on one side explicitly NOT examining any assumptions, but hey, at least I admit it!

Mr. Bellow played a role in widening the ideological divisions he now maintains he wants to bridge. At Broadside, which he founded in 2010, he edited partisan books by Donald Rumsfeld and Ted Cruz. He helped fuel the right’s attacks on Hillary Clinton as a corrupt career politician, with works like Daniel Halper’s “Clinton, Inc.” and Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash.”

“I plead guilty,” he said. “If it’s true that our public culture has become overly polarized and people no longer argue in a respectful way with one another, I’m sure I had something to do with that.”

You know, I’m not so much mad at this guy as I am at the people who looked at his schtick and said, “Okay, let’s give him a giant pile of money to buy books with.”

This is the natural consequence of us constantly talking about “partisan politics” and America’s “political polarization” as if the state of us just happened, like the weather, as if we all just woke up one morning batshit crazy and full of rage at poor people’s grocery carts. The people who made us this way get to slither on out of the swamp they created and stocked with piranhas, clucking their tongues at how terrible it is to be here these days.

(See also Sykes, Charlie, and “talk radio is terrible now I’m done making money from wrecking Wisconsin.” I swear, every time some liberal approving retweets that asshole into my timeline I want to make them have holiday arguments with my relatives, who all think Charlie is just the shiznit because he helped bust up those dastardly public employee unions back in ’11. The north remembers, motherfucker.)

We have been sold this, for decades, sold a story of America that has never been remotely true, sold a story of selfishness and resentment and paralysis in the face of need, sold a story of government ineptitude and waste and abuse beginning in the 19goddamn30s when those commies wanted to put on plays with YOUR MONEY. We have been offered, night after night at our dinner tables, a meal of rotting meat and blighted potatoes and when some of us got hungry enough to eat it, NOW comes someone to tell us all it’s time to get healthy again?

Just spare me the paychecks written to these types, when I can throw a rock and hit a dozen writers and editors and publishers who have never been wrong about anything political in the last two decades, who are not morally bankrupt or punishingly stupid, who are working day jobs and night jobs to keep writing because there is no Big Publishing Money for being FUCKING RIGHT THE FIRST TIME AROUND.

If you want a job describing the wreckage these days, it seems you have to have had a hand on the detonator.

A.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Murder In The Navy

This week’s book cover is unexceptional with one, uh, exception: the blurb. The rave comes from Evan Hunter one of whose pen names just happened to be Richard Marsten. That’s right, he wrote a superb blurb for his own novel.

Hunter had many pen names, the best known of which was Ed McBain. In fact, Evan Hunter was a pen name that morphed into a legal name when he was 26.  He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino. I guess he always wanted to be a WASP.

Pulp Fiction Thursday: Kiss Me, Deadly

There was an unexpectedly poignant moment in the last episode of Feud: Bette and Joan. Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) asked Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) if he could be a great director. Warner’s response was NO. In fact, Aldrich was an outstanding genre film director who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Robert Wise and Anthony Mann and direct “prestige” pictures. The irony is that neither Wise nor Mann’s films were as good or distinctive when they left the world of genre films.

Genre films were not respected in 1962 when Feud: Joan and Bette is set. Aldrich continued to make thrillers, action movies, and westerns, which were more entertaining than many bloated big budget prestige pictures of his time.

The best movie Aldrich ever made was based on Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly. Spillane was a legendarily lowbrow writer but he was a good storyteller: Kiss Me, Deadly is his masterpiece. Aldrich’s  film adaptation of it is now regarded as one of the best films of the 1950’s. What’s not to love about Mike Fucking Hammer?

It’s time for a pictorial look, PFT-style, at Kiss Me, Deadly. We begin with two paperback editions of the book:

Robert Aldrich elevated Spillane’s gritty tale but it was a low-budget film without movie stars. Aldrich once mused that it would have been better with William Holden as Mike Hammer. My reply: most movies in that era would have been better with Bill Holden in the lead. He was *that* good. Ralph Meeker, however, gave the performance of a lifetime in Kiss Me, Deadly.

Kiss Me, Deadly may have come from a lowbrow crime fiction writer but Aldrich elevated the material enough for it to be released as a part of the Criterion Collection. It doesn’t get snootier or film buffier than that:

The movie has been remade but stick to the 1955 original. Here’s the trailer:

 

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.