Book-Review

Jerzy Kosinski’s Steps: the singer not the song…?

Steps is a National Book Award winner, a glowingly reviewed best seller – and a completely forgettable book by an author who may or may not be one of literary fiction’s greatest charlatans…

Steps by Jerzy Kosinski (image courtesy Goodreads)

The name Jerzy Kosinski conjures varying reactions among readers and critics and writers of serious fiction. An infamous 1982 exposé in the Village Voice accused him of – well, faking his literary career and may have, at least in part, contributed to his suicide at 57.

The Kosinski literary reputation was/is based primarily on his first three novels: The Painted Bird, a harrowing depiction of childhood (Kosinski claimed it was his, though there are doubts) during the Holocaust, Being There, a novel about the confusing and vulgarizing influences of media on even the most serious minds, and Steps,  a rambling, episodic depiction of bad romances, life under totalitarian rule, and sexual and other forms of depravity that won the National Book Award in 1969.

Steps is, then, a fair book by which to evaluate Kosinski and determine whether his meteoric rise and equally meteoric fall as a major literary  figure of the later 20th century is justified. Continue reading

American-Culture

RIP American Dream: pro wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes dead at 69

As a performer and storyteller, Virgil Runnels became a working class hero because he was a man of the people.

The American Dream, Dusty RhodesMy best friend Jesse and his family were huge pro wrestling fans. I was pretty young at the time – no more than 10, probably – and I remember the Saturday, sitting in the living room at Jesse’s watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, when they announced that The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes, was coming. I had no idea who he was, but Jesse’s mama nearly had a conniption. I deduced, from all the whooping and hollering, that this was a big deal. And it was not good news for The Nature Boy, Ric Flair.

We were working people, all of us, up and down Reid Rd., out Eastview Dr. and down to the end of the dirt lane where I lived with my grandparents. We were not especially enlightened on most matters, and it wasn’t hard to get a good argument boiling over a topic like whether or not wrestling was fake. Later on I’d work all this out, but getting a glimpse behind the curtain never dulled my love for what is now known as “sports entertainment.”  Continue reading

Entertainment

Geeks, freaks and cable TV

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

We humans are what we are, even if some parts of our nature aren’t always what we wish they were—our attitudes toward race, sex, and sexual orientation, our propensity for violence, our gawping at car wrecks, and our desire to stare at, and in some cases mock, those who are different.

A hundred years ago human oddities were collected in traveling freak shows. Monkey-boys, half-man/half-woman, fat ladies, dwarves, the tattooed and pierced, fire-eaters, sword swallowers, and people who bit the heads off live animals. Some became famous, like the dwarf Tom Thumb, who was billed as an adult when still a child and started drinking and smoking cigars at seven to support the illusion, or John Merrick, the Elephant Man, a beautiful man trapped in a horribly deformed body, and Grady Stiles, a horribly nasty man trapped in a horribly nasty body. Continue reading

Politics

Revolving door spits out a Koch lobbyist for McConnell’s ‘policy chief’

The road to personal riches and political influence in Washington, D.C., is well trod. From Congress to K Street and back. From the White House to K Street and back. From numerous executive branch appointments to K Street and back. It’s called “the revolving door.” (If you’d like a close look at how many former government employees and members of Congress have been seduced by the fat purses at K Street, the good folks at the Center for Responsive Politics will provide you details.)

Yes, I know: This isn’t news. It’s historical; it has happened for generations. It rarely draws the attention it ought to. (Hear that, CNN? New York Times? Washington Post? Network news? Get off the dinner party circuit, risk losing your access to the powerful, and dig into these people.)

But every now and then, a door revolves and disgorges something so egregious that any hope, any last shred of hope, that decent, fair, legislatively productive government is possible fades to black.

Meet Hazen Marshall (here and here). You can see in his LinkedIn profile that he’s “revolved” before.

Continue reading

Journalism

You, too, can be a journalist (or a corporate message control specialist)

I asked my students as the semester ended: “How many of you do not want to be journalists?”

Most raised a hand, albeit timidly. (I am, after all, a professor of journalism.)

“How many of you wish to work in PR or advertising?”

Several raised their hands. I smiled – in the evil way they say I do when I’m setting them up for the kill.

“If you plan to work in PR and advertising, then I’ll bet you’re going to be working as a journalist,” I said.

Confused looks ensued.

Suppose they take jobs with a mattress company, thinking they’ll be pushing sleep products — writing ads, doing media buys, all the sorts of things PR and advertising flacks do.

But at Casper, a start-up company, they’ll likely be working as journalists. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Pulitzer-winning Colorado Springs Gazette ignores calls to correct their falsehood-filled global warming editorial

The Pulitzer-winning Colorado Springs Gazette has been informed twice about blatant falsehoods in their April 23, 2015 global warming editorial. The editorial board has failed to even acknowledge their error, never mind correct or retract the editorial, calling into question their journalistic integrity.

August ice extent trend by NSIDC

August ice extent trend by NSIDC

On April 23, the Colorado Springs Gazette wrote an editorial on the subject of global warming that contained four factual errors and several distortions, failed to credit sources, and appeared to be largely based on an 2014 infomercial for a free market group that denies the reality of global warming (aka climate change or industrial climate disruption1). S&R documented the many problems with the editorial in a post published on April 27, and I emailed the Gazette’s editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen with one example error and asked for comment. S&R received no response.

On April 29, I submitted a letter to the editor via email that documented the four factual errors and called for a retraction. It has now been 10 days since I submitted the letter and I have received no response to my call for a correction or retraction of the editorial, nor has my letter been published by the Gazette. At this point I have to conclude that the Gazette’s editorial board has no intention of correcting or retracting their error-filled editorial, and so I have published my letter to the editor below. Continue reading

Sports

Mayweather/Pacquiao review: three things to know

Welcome to the Fall of Rome.

1: Mayweather won a unanimous decision. Just like everyone who has been paying at least a little attention knew he would. Yawn.

2: I keep hearing people calling this the “fight of the century.” And by people, I mean beefwitted sports talk assclowns. Listen, douchenozzles, nothing involving two guys ten years past their primes who have combined to knock out zero opponents in the last six or seven years is a fight of the anything, let alone century. Unless that century is very, very sad. There was a pull-apart rager last week down at the assisted care facility over which is better, tapioca pudding or chocolate, that was at least as compelling. Continue reading

S&R Honors: the Blues Boy, BB King

“Muddy Waters was born near Rolling Fork, Mississippi. And to me he’s a Mississippi person that went to Chicago and play[ed]. John Lee Hooker was born in Mississippi and went to Detroit. B.B. King was born in Mississippi and went to Memphis.” – B. B. King

B.B. King and Lucille (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The news announced on B.B. King’s web site that the great guitarist and singer is in home hospice care means that soon another of the great blues musicians produced by the Mississippi Delta will soon no longer whinny with us, as Dylan Thomas would say. The loss of a figure like King is greater than the loss of a brilliant musician; with his passing another link to the long, storied history of one of America’s great original musical forms will be lost. In our current cultural malaise, with musicians unable to get paid for their creative efforts, King is also one of the last reminders that talent and perseverance could once lead to musical success, cultural respect, and recognized influence. Continue reading

Film

Buster Keaton, existentialist…

In his films Buster Keaton is often like Camus’s Sisyphus – he will keep pushing that boulder up the hill no matter how many times it rolls back down. 

Buster Keaton in The General (image courtesy indiewire.com)

I find myself caught out short this week. I had planned to review Scott Archer Jones’s book The Big Wheel, but events (read work stuff) have conspired to keep me from finishing (I’m about 2/3 through and will review next Thursday). That explained, I have found myself scrambling for a topic to write about.

Enter Buster.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve re-watched my collection of Keaton films (I have all the significant features except The Cameraman as well as a considerable collection of the short films), in the meantime making my way through Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography The Words.  The similarities of Sartre’s and Keaton’s weltenschauungs were underscored for me yet again, so it seems apropos to say a few words about Buster Keaton, Existentialist.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

Who can sue Rolling Stone?

Law and logic limit the possibilities for potential litigants

by Carole McNall

I hope they get sued by everyone … and they lose big.

I’ve heard that reaction often since the Easter Sunday release of a report sharply critical of Rolling Stone’s article “A Rape on Campus.” I’m a journalism professor, lawyer and former newspaper reporter, so I’ve been following the story with deep interest.

My journalism professor and former reporter side agree with the “sue ’em” crowd. But my lawyer side cautions defamation law could pose a barrier to any win, big or small, for those suing Rolling Stone or the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Erdely’s article claimed to tell the story of Jackie, a University of Virginia student allegedly raped at a fraternity party.

But almost immediately after the story was published last November, observers questioned its accuracy. Continue reading

Piers Morgan, sad, pathetic little man, celebrates a suicide

Now if only some sharp instrument could be used to amend his poison pen

I don’t generally follow celebrity news because, well, there’s actually important things going on in the world. In my world, that might even mean laundry and trimming toenails. It doesn’t take much to be more important than celebrity news. Now and then, something actually hits my radar. This is one of those moments. Apparently, one Dr. Brandt, “plastic surgeon to the stars,” recently committed suicide.

I never knew you, Dr. Brandt, and, averse as I am to celebrity news, never heard of you. Nevertheless, rest in peace.

I never heard of you until now, that is. Continue reading

Journalism

Rolling Stone brass to undergrads: ‘Feel free to fuck up badly; you won’t get fired’

Rolling Stone’s flawed story and its reaction to a critical report make teaching journalism to the ‘instant gratification’ generation even more difficult

When Rolling Stone’s editorial apparatus published Sabrina Erdely’s story alleging a gang rape at the University of Virginia, it sent this message to journalism students everywhere:

• It’s okay to write 9,000 words and base the principal thrust of the story on only one source.
• It’s okay to take instructions from your one source to not speak to those who might undermine the source’s claims.
• It’s okay to shop for the best circumstances to write a story based on your own biased, preconceived narrative.
• It’s okay, because when the story blows up as dead wrong and leads to national and international condemnation, don’t worry: You won’t get fired, and your publication will feel no need to address the gaping holes in its “editorial apparatus.”
Continue reading

Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month – meet Judy Chicago

Of Judy Chicago, wikipedia gives the following introduction:

Judy Chicago (born Judith Sylvia Cohen; July 20, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American feminist artist, art educator, and writer known for her large collaborative art installation pieces which examine the role of women in history and culture. Born in Chicago, Illinois, as Judith Cohen, she changed her name after the death of her father and her first husband, choosing to disconnect from the idea of male dominated naming conventions. By the 1970s, Chicago had coined the term “feminist art” and had founded the first feminist art program in the United States. Chicago’s work incorporates stereotypical women’s artistic skills, such as needlework, counterbalanced with stereotypical male skills such as welding and pyrotechnics. Chicago’s masterpiece is The Dinner Party, which is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

Continue reading

Fascinating

Leonard Nimoy is dead but Spock will endure, even in the constant fetid flow of forgettable celebrities and tabloid American pop-culture bullshit…

(Picture taken in Midtown Market, Brisbane, California on March 22nd, 2015. Live long and prosper.)

Women you’ve probably never heard of – Pulitzer winner Susan Glaspell

This is the beginning of the Wikipedia article on Susan Glaspell:

Susan Keating Glaspell (July 1, 1876 – July 27, 1948) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, actress, novelist, and journalist. Continue reading

Art

MoMa, Bjork, and the future of art…

For art and artists, these are interesting times…as Adam Marsland reminds us, that’s a Chinese curse…

I’m currently working my way through a re-read of Honoré de Balzac’s marvelous Pere Goriot as part of my 2015 reading list. While the opportunity to savor Balzac’s loquacious piece of realism that examines parental love and Parisian society is certainly pleasant for a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of realism in its various literary expressions, both foreign and domestic, I have found myself with nothing to write about unless, as Mr. Micawber optimistically, invariably expected, something turns itself up.

One of the representations of the always inimitable, sometimes unfathomable Bjork at MoMA (image courtesy Vulture via Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary)

Since you are reading this, you know that my own Micawberean expectations have not been disappointed. A piece by art critic Jerry Saltz at the Vulture blog of New York Magazine caught my attention because it addresses one of the unresolved cultural questions left to us by the 20th century: to wit, how do we reconcile the merging of popular and what was once termed “high” culture and make intelligent determinations about what is culturally worthwhile for us to explore, discuss, even preserve in this merged culture?

This issue is one that I have explored extensively before, and, despite my best efforts to offer some explanations/insights/whining complaints, it pops up again and again and smacks me (metaphorically, of course) upside the head saying, “How do you like me now, Jim?” and forcing me to take yet another look at this perhaps never to be resolved issue.

So. Here we go again…. Continue reading

Mr. Spock is dead: RIP Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away today at age 83. I read that he was taken to the hospital last Thursday with a possible heart attack, so I am not completely surprised. I am, instead, deeply saddened. It’s like the end of The Wrath of Khan–but this time it’s for real and there will be no Genesis planet.

Spock: The ship… out of danger?
Kirk: Yes.
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh…
Kirk: The needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?
Kirk: Spock.
[Spock sits down]
Spock: I have been, and always shall be, your friend.
[he places a Vulcan salute on the glass]
Spock: Live long and prosper.

Continue reading

George Harrison’s Birthday…

George Harrison’s 72nd birthday…a bittersweet reminder that All Things Must Pass…

George Harrison (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In many ways it’s pointless to write or say much more about The Beatles. They remain, despite revisionist rock historians’ best efforts, rock music’s most important band. Arguments about their merits as solo artists follow similar paths. John is better because he was truest to rock and roll’s founding principles. Paul made what Dave Marsh once called “the Decision for Pop” because he wanted to be loved. Ringo was – well, Ringo was better than anyone expected but still the luckiest sod in musical history.

Then there is George. Known during the Fab Years as “the quiet Beatle,” his release from what had become for him the prison of being a Beatle led to a creative outburst and the best of all Beatle solo efforts, the magnificent All Things Must Pass. Many critics think George had the best solo career of any former Beatle. I think Paul has done so but then, I’m his buddy.

On to the music…

Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Peddlers of climate change deceit have significant advantages over climate realists

Climate realists are fighting an uphill battle against professional climate disruption deniers who have media bias, time, money, and an apathetic public on their side.

Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt

For the other posts in this series, click here.

Today scientists are as certain about the threat of industrial climate disruption as they are about tobacco smoke causing lung cancer, yet neither the United States nor the broader international community has made any significant progress toward addressing the disruptions expected as a result of the Earth’s changing climate. The question is why.

When we look at the public discussion of industrial climate disruptionA (aka global warming or climate change), it’s clear that the playing field is not level. It’s very clearly slanted in favor of peddlers of deceit like Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), and his fellow professional climate disruption deniersB for four main reasons. First, the media prefers publishing disinformation that’s interesting to publishing uninteresting “me too” articles. Second, professional climate disruption deniers simply have more time and money available with which to push their disinformation. Third, writing disinformation is remarkably easy when you’re not inhibited by facts, yet correcting the disinformation is difficult partly because it requires strict adherence to the facts. And fourth, Harris et al are peddling disinformation that people want to hear, rather than an unpleasant reality that they need to hear. Continue reading