Journalism

The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

Continue reading

Music

Lost Highway: Peter Guralnick’s search for the roots of roots music – part 1, fame and its discontents

Being an artist is hard; being a successful artist is even harder.

Lost Highways by Peter Guralnick (image courtesy Goodreads)

Lost Highways by Peter Guralnick (image courtesy Goodreads)

“You see, from the honky tonks you got such a mixture of all different types of music, and I think what happened is that when Elvis busted through, it enabled all these other groups that had been going along more or less the same avenue—I’m sure there were hundreds of them—to tighten up and focus on what was going to be popular.” – Peter Guralnick

Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians is one of those books that can be both maddening and rewarding. His work consists of explorations of roots musicians famous, known mainly to cognoscenti, and obscure. At times one wonders why Guralnick took the time to pursue, interview and write about characters like Charlie Feathers or Sleepy LaBeef; at other times one appreciates his brilliant, incisive treatments of Charlie Rich, Hank Williams, Jr., and Elvis Presley.

It’s a great book, in other words.

Guralnick’s skill, if this book is any indication, is to strip away the possible and leave the probable. That may sound like double talk, but understanding artists is part inference, part voodoo.

He’s really good at it, by the way. Continue reading

Music

Lady Day’s blues: Billie Holiday remembers…

Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away.

“I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, it ain’t music, it’s close order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.” – Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lady Sings the Blues is, I suppose, one of the first autobiographies by a popular music star. This, the first book from the 2017 reading list, is an “as told to.” One of the things the ghost writer (to resurrect an old term), William Dufty, a reporter for the New York Post and a personal friend of Holiday, does beautifully is avoid much revision of Holiday’s words. As best as I have been able to discover, Dufty did a series of extended interviews with Holiday without the benefit of tape recording. That Lady Sings the Blues reads like a transcribed conversation with Lady Day is a tribute to Dufty’s careful rendering of Holiday’s words in her voice.

Dufty’s success in allowing Holiday to speak for herself is both charming and haunting, both illuminating and (unintentionally, perhaps) misleading. What one realizes as one reads this autobiography is that Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away. Let me put that more accurately: what Billie Holiday tries to do in Lady Sings the Blues is not give her self away even as she reveals herself. Continue reading

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Introducing the American Civic Debate Union: first event addresses the Electoral College

American Civic Debate Union logoWe need a new American consensus driven by a commitment to knowledge, reason and good faith engagement with those whose views differ from our own.

For decades I have toyed with the idea that we could use a civic forum for popular debate, an organization that would make it possible for communities to discuss the issues of the day in ways that would spark thought and reflection, perhaps enabling better decision-making come Election Day. This idea has grown stronger over the past 20 years, as the combined corrosive mechanisms of partisan tribalism, cable media and, worst of all, the Internet and social media seemed to find new and better ways of tearing society apart, making us dumber and more hateful in the process.

I broached the idea recently with friends and colleagues and their response convinced me that now was the time to give it a try. So I have founded what I’m ambitiously calling the American Civic Debate Union. Our first event will be held next Sunday here in Denver, and it will feature me squaring off with my good friend Dr. Frank Venturo over the question of whether the US ought to do something, once and for all, about the Electoral College. If so, what? Continue reading

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John Lennon reaches Across the Universe…

Lennon once said that he likes the lyrics of “Across the Universe” perhaps the best of all the songs he wrote with The Beatles.

“When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there.” – George Harrison

John and Yoko (image courtesy Vanity Fair)

John and Yoko (image courtesy Vanity Fair)

Recent news reports have noted that the best selling book at Amazon is currently George Orwell’s classic novel of dystopian horror, 1984. Given our national circumstances, I suppose this could be seen as a positive, an effort on the part of at least some of the populace to educate themselves, even if a significant number of others in the populace (including me) wish that this sudden urge toward historical and cultural literacy had occurred before a certain November event.

Such, such is life, as the poet says. We seem only to want to listen to our poets and sages in times of distress.

There are some who, in the face of what certainly feels like imminent disaster, keep telling us that, to quote the mystic, “All shall be well.” It is difficult to the level of impossibility, however, to emulate the purity and power of a Julian of Norwich’s faith which is roughly the level of faith needed these days.  What are we of little faith to do?

Well, we can listen to “Across the Universe.”
Continue reading

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Was Donald Trump a Boy Scout?

usa-995To be frank, I can’t find any evidence that he was, or he wasn’t. But if I had to guess, no, Donald Trump was not a Boy Scout. Growing up in the milieu he did, it’s not likely. Billionaires don’t usually send their sons off packing without a helicopter backup. But I suppose it’s possible. Let’s say he was. How good a scout was he? In fact, if he was, how good a job of internalizing what Scouts are supposed to embody has he done?

It’s easy enough to guess. All you have to do is look at what all Boy Scouts have always had to remember–the 12 laws of scouting, as they’re called. Every scout has to remember them, and try to live accordingly. And you know what? We probably do remember all of them. What Scouting was always about, as Paul Fussell reminded us in the 1970s in his still-magnificent review of The Boy Scout Handbook, is service. And that’s embodied in the 12 rules. So how does Trump stack up? Let’s see, a Scout is: Continue reading

Through a glass darkly

I’m sharing this article from Independent Journal Review just to make a point.

hypocritesIndependent Journal Review: Those Outraged At Trump Blocking Refugees Didn’t Seem To Care About What Obama Did To Cubans

I learned of it from the Facebook page Conservative Daily. To hell with that page, no link. Thanks to my embrace of people at least as good-hearted as me however differently, people of widely differing viewpoints, I have the good fortune of seeing this kind of crap splatter across my screen on a regular basis, like I’ve just flown under a magpie’s flight path at exactly the wrong time.

For the moment, for the point I’m coming to, I actually don’t care if the claims in this particular case are true or not. The truth of the claims is beside the point. Continue reading

democracy-in-america

The overlooked battlefield in the war against the press

democracy-in-americaThe war against the press will be fought at the local and state level, but the war at the federal level will get the most airtime.

CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:

Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.

The sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration. Continue reading

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Facing down the piggies with George Harrison…

George Harrison’s song “Piggies” from the White Album (written during another year of tumult, 1968) seems a perfect description of our present situation.

“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game…. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.” – John Lennon

George Harrison at the time of The Beatles' White Album (image courtesy The Beatles Bible)

George Harrison at the time of The Beatles’ White Album (image courtesy The Beatles Bible)

We seem to be living in what the Chinese curse calls “interesting times.” 2016 was one of the most turbulent years in modern American political history, and the turmoil attendant to the presidential election felt exacerbated by the deaths of some of popular music’s most important figures. The list still seems breathtaking: inimitable talents David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael; Eagles founder Glen Frey; Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner; both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of ELP; songwriter extraordinaire Leonard Cohen; funk genius Maurice White…. I’ll stop here out of a kind of emotional fatigue. For one like me, it was at the least a trying year, one which left me feeling that I was losing my country to people possessed by greed and at the same time losing so many musicians whose work provided me with joy, solace, and inspiration. Yes, anyone and everyone have to die. Like many others, I suspect, I have questioned why it had to be these anyones and everyones. (My apologies to both you and ee cummings for the digression.)

Yet, as the French say, and rightly so, “La vie continue….”  Continue reading

Tiny woman, big butt

The smoking section for your average taco truck…

Smoking an elongated cigarette on El Camino Real in front of the Kaiser Permanente hospital…

(South San Francisco, California 2017. See more of my street photography works here.)

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Why I marched

20170121_095000We took Uber from the Trinidad neighborhood near Gallaudet University as close as we could get to the Capitol. We were told to be on the lookout for St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, which was opening its doors for marchers who needed a bathroom, some refreshment, or to charge their phones. Our driver was from Baltimore–he’d brought a carload of women down to DC and then decided to work the city since he was already there. He dropped us off across the street from St. Mark’s. He wished us luck on the march and we wished him luck with fares. Continue reading

sean-spicer-white-house

If they lie, journalists should stop covering the White House. Let the interns do it.

sean-spicer-white-housePresident Donald’s press secretary boldly and bluntly lied to the White House press corps last week. Yawn.

Well, so what? Politicians and their spear carriers have prevaricated, evaded, fibbed, misinformed, misdirected, and dissembled since the dawn of government.

But Sean Spicer lied. He did not disguise the lie. He told lies easily contravened. He did so acting as the representative of the president of the United States. He did so just days after promising he wouldn’t lie.

Media navel gazers pounced. Continue reading

Trump voters

Dear Liberals: you don’t vote in your economic best interests, either

trump-votersBottom line: almost ALL Americans vote against their best interests.

For years progressives have been hammering conservatives – specifically social conservatives – who “vote against their own interests.” As in, poor working people who vote for the wealthy GOP interests that are the reason they’re poor, and whose policies insure they will remain that way. I have certainly been among this crowd – I remember wondering back in the 1992 election what the fuck could be wrong with Arkansas Bush I voters, for instance. They concluded that Dubya’s Daddy was the sort of guy “they’d like to have a beer with.” Somehow a Northeastern blueblood Skull & Boneser who’d been born with a silver spoon up his ass was more “one of them” than, you know, the guy who was actually born in the trailer park down the road.

It was irrational, it was self-defeating, and it was stupid beyond all imagining. Continue reading

Trump-Brownshirts

I almost got in a fight last night

Trump-BrownshirtsIf you back down from loudmouths it just encourages them.

Last night I saw guy wearing a “Make America Great Again” tee-shirt at the Y. He was about 35, wore a Navy cap, and was walking with his young son who wore a karate uniform. He was a large man and muscular. I quietly told him I found his tee-shirt offensive. He raised his voice and followed me into the locker room. Continue reading

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President Donald’s already shrunken government

The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.

trumpPresident Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.

The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? Continue reading

books

Book Review: Goldhead by J. Haviland

Goldhead is the best kind of novel of its genre – it is a novel that provides a great ride even as it reiterates a great lesson.

“People start acting stupid when a lot of money is involved, even people you think you know.” – J. Haviland, Goldhead 

Goldhead by J. Haviland (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

Goldhead by J. Haviland (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

J. Haviland’s novel Goldhead is a couple of things at once: it’s a caper story (the modern thread of the story follows a group of WWII vets hired in 1959 by a shady tycoon to find a lost Spanish galleon’s treasure); it’s a history lesson (Haviland creates a fictional explorer’s journal similar to that of Bartolomé de las Casas that tells a parallel story of  a 16th century conquistador’s expedition driven aground on the Florida coast by a hurricane that ends in disaster for all but the chronicler). Overarching both these narratives is the lust for gold – a fortune in gold from the Spanish colonial era that drives the behavior of the conquistador and his crew as well as that of the WWII vets and their crooked boss.

The novel is composed in alternating chapters and alternates between the Spanish expedition and the 1959 treasure seekers. Two things become obvious for the reader as this alternating plot structure unfolds: Haviland handles this plot structure beautifully, and avarice and greed separated by 430 years act in exactly the same way upon 16th and 20th psyches. Continue reading

ignorance-is-power

Rural elites: I’ve had it with the arrogance of ignorance (and its promoters)

ignorance-is-powerThe only thing worse than the willfully ignorant is the legion of apologists enabling them.

Since the election – before, really – we’ve heard a lot of talk about how all those urban liberal elites need to stop being so arrogant and start listening to very real concerns of real Americans in rural flyover values America.

We have more recently begun to see some informed pushback against this silliness self-serving rhetorical engineering masquerading as good-faith socio-political analysis. Now we’ve hit the daily double, though.

First, our friend Otherwise passed along a righteous rant from a very frustrated Melinda Byerley, CMO of TimeShare. Have a quick look. Continue reading

Music

What is the true story about The Beatles’ rise to fame?

“The people who screwed you on your way to rock stardom will screw you on your way down – the people you screwed will try to get even.” – Jay Breeze, The Rock and Roll Handbook

Would be Beatles circa 1975

Would be Beatles circa 1975 – author at front right

I mentioned in my last essay that Larry Kane’s book When They Were Boys seemed problematic to me because Kane seemed to lack empathy with The Beatles even though he knew them rather intimately as a young reporter about the same age as the lads when he covered their 1964, ’65, and ’66 tours of America. It seems to me that Kane’s book is a possible example of what one person who commented on my piece thinks of when using the now bowdlerized term “fair and balanced“: in an effort to maintain “journalistic distance” and “objectivity,” reporters put themselves into the position of failing to admit (even embrace) their biases and accept their subjectivity. They thus set themselves up to make false equivalences that render what they mean to be “the accurate truth” neither accurate nor truthful.

That’s part of the problem with When They Were Boys. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

The true story of The Beatles: Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness…When They Were Boys by Larry Kane

“In Liverpool, no one ever really walks alone.” – Larry Kane

How much do stars owe to those who helped them become stars?

When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)

When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)

That is the central question in Larry Kane’s latest book on The Beatles, When They Were Boys. Kane has the credentials to ask such a question – he traveled as part of the press entourage attached to The Fabs during their entire 1964 and 1965 tours (and most of their 1966 tour). In that period he met many of the key players in the background of what is historically called Beatlemania: Brian Epstein, the record store executive who became their manager and paternal figure; Tony Barrow and Derek Taylor, two brilliant journalists and PR experts who helped the rising band become a media tsunami; Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, and Tony Bramwell, local Liverpool mates who served as protectors, gofers, and confidants for the guys at the center of the maelstrom; and an array of former supporters, promoters, and club owners/managers ranging from Alan Williams (who died on the last day of the heinous 2016) to deposed Beatle Pete Best’s mother Mona to Sam Leach, a promoter who helped The Beatles gain better engagements and expand their reach beyond Liverpool to Manchester and other cities.

Each has a story to tell – and an ax to grind. Continue reading