ArtSunday: LIterature

James Hilton, WP Kinsella and The Bettys: writing to remember, writing being forgotten…

There are two motivations for writing – one pure and one not so much.

“There’s only one thing more important… and that is, after you’ve done what you set out to do, to feel that it’s been worth doing.” – James Hilton

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

This is about being a writer.

The motives for someone wanting to do more than write, to become that person that others refer to as a writer, may be so individual as to be specific to very single person who aspires to that moniker. But I doubt it.

My suspicion is that there are two motives that drive writers, one fairly – shall we say pure? One, not so much. The first, purer, motive is that writers are blessed (or cursed, I can never decide) with the desire to preserve that which they have known or known about or would have liked to know. That act of preservation is part of the title of this essay: one might call it writing to remember. When done really, really, really well, it gives us lines like this:

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Then there’s that other motive, the – less than pure one, shall we say. That’s the desire for recognition: fame, money, respect in one form or another, either because of critical success or financial reward (I have met famous writers who were humble and I have met famous writers who were smug enough to deserve a boot up their asses). It may be of interest only to me that the humble famous ones were far less rich than the smug famous ones. Maybe Ms. Lauper pegged it when she intoned, “…money changes everything….” Continue reading

Police Violence

What if cops were Skittles?

According to Vox, police have killed over 2,000 people since Ferguson. Their map of fatal encounters illustrates the point with red dots.

That made me wonder. What if cops were Skittles?
Continue reading

democracy-in-america

Democracy in America: a bad idea

It’s now clear that democracy, as practiced in an anti-intellectual society like ours, doesn’t work. Let’s give elitism (properly understood) a try.

Democracy+ElitismMany of you probably read Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece back in April. If not, you should do so as soon as possible – it’s among the most important and insightful political essays we have seen in a generation and will reward your time. I won’t even try to summarize his message, because no paraphrase I could provide would do it justice. Short version: the US is in trouble, and democracy is perhaps the reason.

Sullivan got me to thinking, in some depth, about where I am politically and how I got here. More importantly, where do I go now? Continue reading

Monorail to the Future: reasserting the American Dream for #HopeTuesday

With the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle asserted itself as the city that invented the future. Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Key Arena, the Pacific Science Center and other Jetsonesque architectural wonders, gave us a stunning Mid-Century Modern vision of our presumed technotopian future. In 2000 the EMP Museum opened, inserting a postmodern generational overlay in the form of Frank Gehry’s gripping postmodern architectural style. Ever upward, ever forward.

For #HopeTuesday today, I offer you a metaphor. Let’s rekindle our dream of a clean, sustainable, prosperous future with opportunity for all – a true and attainable American dream. I took this shot of the World’s Fair monorail, which connects the EMP and Seattle Center with downtown, in November of 2013. What could possibly be more optimistic, more hopeful, for Americans than a train destined for a technological Utopia?

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

ArtSunday

Book Review: Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett

“History written by men reveals no cowards except those of the enemy, tells of great deeds of worth and cause, but shows only one face, and fails to distinguish the testimony of those consumed by its passing.” – Michael Kinnett

Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett (image Southern Yellow Pine Publishing

Apalachicola Pearl by Michael Kinnett (image Southern Yellow Pine Publishing

Michael Kinnett’s Apalachicola Pearl is clearly a work of a lover of history. This tale of one Florida city’s role in the Civil War is based on Kinnett’s  research into the annals of the city. In his preface, Kinnett claims that his novel is based upon “journals I found hidden beneath a floorboard in the attic of the Orman House Museum.” Whether this is true or the author’s invention is a matter for reader conjecture. If true, Kinnett is indeed fortunate to have found such a trove of material; if it is a literary invention, it is a wonderfully clever one.

The novel is a melange of two forms: while it purports to be the journal of the main character, one Michael Brandon Kohler, it eventually evolves into a historical adventure. Further – the character who gives her name to the title to the novel, LaRaela Retsyo Agnusdei, known to both characters and readers as Pearl, appears only briefly in the novel near its beginning and at its end.

Either of these choices on the part of the author might seem to jar the reader enough to make the novel an unsatisfying read, but the narrative is packed with so much action and historical information that one is carried along by the quick pace and the wealth of detail about 19th century Florida life that Kinnett offers.  Continue reading

facebook-arrechaga-meme

Examining a cynical, fake-patriotic Facebook meme

Instead of making yourself a tool for those whose agendas run counter to the best interests of the nation that flag represents, how about stepping back and asking  who’s playing you, and why?

This meme came across my Facebook feed earlier today.

facebook-arrechaga-meme

Obviously somebody has an issue with Colin Kaepernick (and other black athletes) protesting injustice in America by refusing to stand during the national anthem. Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading

Woman-Power

Goodbye forever, Phyllis Schlafly, 9/5/16

Schlafly’s personal formula was to marry rich, employ a housekeeper while proudly touting her housewife credentials, follow her bliss (into enterprises for which she did not require a living wage), and then work to deny equality for all women.

We knew you too well and for too long, hypocrite extraordinaire.

She was a conservative who was against the New Deal, feminism (“Men should stop treating feminists like ladies, and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be.”), an equal rights amendment to the Constitution (“I simply didn’t believe we needed a constitutional amendment to protect women’s rights.”), legalized abortion, laws against the harassment of women in the workplace (“Sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women.”), sex education for children in public schools (“Sex-education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions.”), and the Supreme Court’s ban on teacher-led prayer in public schools (mind you, she only wanted Christian prayer in all children’s schools, of course). Continue reading

By AgnosticPreachersKid - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10191704

Trump reminds former Bosnian refugees of Slobodan Milošević ethnic nationalism

Slobodan Milošević made Yugoslavia into fascist state based on Serbian nationalism. 30 years later, Donald Trump’s rhetoric reminds some Bosnian refugees of those years.

In 1994 I I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC as part of a history class on fascism and Nazism. While there, I visited the lower level (down the steps at the center bottom of the image at right) where there was a gallery space set aside for special exhibits. The exhibition being shown was a bunch of small black and white images of concentration camps from the former Yugoslavia, where civil war and genocide had been taking place since 1991. What I remember the most was that, if the photos hadn’t been clearly labeled with dates and locations, the photos could have been mistaken for photos of the German death camps instituted by the Nazis during World War II.

Today, I read in the Guardian about how the large Bosnian Muslim population of St. Louis, Missouri seemed to be uniting against Donald Trump because they are the children of refugees or former refugees themselves. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Leiber and Stoller: behind the music

Jerry Leiber is gone now but Mike Stoller is still with us. And thankfully, we have Hound Dog – the story of one of pop music’s greatest songwriting teams told in their own words.

Hound Dog: the Leiber and Stoller Autobiography [with David Ritz] (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“…we were… part of the rhythm and blues and rock and roll revolution…. we found ourselves by sheer coincidence or exceptionally good fortune, smack dab in the middle of the action.” – Mike Stoller

My Aunt Mary Ann, my mother’s youngest sister, was only eight years older than me. What that meant was that she was a teenager in the later 1950’s. Like any teenager of the period, she had a portable record player and a huge stack of 45’s. I spent every visit to my grandmother’s house when I was six-seven-eight listening to those records. I heard Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Duane Eddy, The Drifters, The Coasters, and, of course, Elvis.

I don’t know how many other kids my age were falling madly in love with rock and roll and rhythm and blues. But I did, and I’ve never fallen out.

So when a friend of mine surprised me with Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography as a birthday present, it was like being that second grader all over again. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

I love Beach Music: the heart of darkness

Rick Simmons’ Beach Music sequel is part oral history, part encomium, part bullshit – but it all works.

“I didn’t like ‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.…'” – Jay Proctor, Jay and the Techniques

So my sister gave me this book for my birthday….

Carolina Beach Music: The New Wave by Rick Simmons (image courtesy Goodreads)

Somehow, my sister has the impression that I might like the fusion of R&B, soul, rock, and dance pop that is known in the Southeast as “Beach Music.” Well, I love music, so she was half right. For anyone who grew up in the Carolinas over the last 60 years or so (both North and South, though perhaps SC has the greater claim to the genre since they have all the relevant beaches name checked in beach music songs [chiefly Ocean Drive and Myrtle Beach]), Beach Music (and it really should be capitalized, I suppose), is a regional genre that, while well past its peak, persists even now. Its roots lie in classic R&B, though it has incorporated elements of rock, soul, and dance pop in its long history.

Rick Simmons, a historian at Louisiana Tech (and a native South Carolinian) has written two books on the genre, Carolina Beach Music: The Classic Years and Carolina Beach Music: The New Wave. My sister’s birthday gift this year was a copy of the latter, so I’m going to talk about that here. But first, as I am wont to do, I’ll share an anecdote…. Continue reading

Image Credit:Nigel Parry for CNN

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Eight

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part eight of a series.

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

Click here for all the other parts of this series

In conclusion – why Donald Trump is a fascist

This analysis has examined seven different definitions of fascism and how Trump’s statements match the various characteristics of each. And the conclusions have varied significantly depending on the specifics of the definition. If we look at each definition, here’s how the conclusions ranged:

  1. Derived from “The History of Fascism and Nazism” class, spring 1994. Conclusion: Trump is almost certainly a full fascist
  2. Fascism according to Stanley G. Payne’s 13 characteristics. Conclusion: Trump is probably not a proto-fascist
  3. Fascism according to Roger Griffin’s “fascist minimum” definition. Conclusion: Trump is almost certainly a proto-fascist and probably a full fascist
  4. Fascism according to Kevin Passmore’s definition. Conclusion: Trump is probably a proto-fascist
  5. Fascism according to Emilio Gentile’s ten characteristics. Conclusion: Trump is probably not a proto-fascist
  6. Fascism according to Robert Paxton’s definition. Conclusion: Trump is almost certainly a proto-fascist and is on a path to become a full fascist if he can take power and retain it
  7. Fascism according to Umberto Eco’s 14 characteristics of Ur-Fascism. Conclusion: Trump is very likely a fascist

Of the seven definitions, two result in a strong conclusion that Trump is a full fascist, two more conclude that Trump is most likely a proto-fascist and may be a full fascist, one concludes that Trump is probably a proto-fascist, and two that Trump is probably not even a proto-fascist, never mind a full fascist.

So why have I concluded so strongly that Trump is a fascist when the experts’ own definitions vary so much? Continue reading

Trump-Brownshirts

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Seven

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part seven of a series.

Trump-BrownshirtsClick here for all the other parts of this series

Fascism according to Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco was an Italian novelist and public intellectual who, in the June 22, 1995 issue of the New York Review of Books, wrote an essay titled “Ur-fascism” (eternal fascism) in which he discussed fascism in general and identified fascism’s characteristics.

In his essay, he writes that it would be difficult for “the totalitarian governments that ruled Europe” prior to World War II to “reappear in the same form in different historical circumstances.” In this way Eco agrees with the many historians who have claimed that fascism was essentially unique to the period between World Wars I and II. But Eco thinks that “behind a regime and its ideology there is always a way of thinking and feeling, a group of cultural habits, of obscure instincts and unfathomable drives.” He calls fascism a “fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions” that was the result of “political and ideological discombobulation.” To Eco, “fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations.” Continue reading

Donald Trump, Public Idiot

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Six

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part six of a series.

trump-fists-upClick here for all the other parts of this series

Fascism according to Robert Paxton

In his 2004 book, “The Anatomy of Fascism,” historian Robert Paxton defines fascism as follows:

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. (from Wikipedia)

Trump has tapped into a “preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood” in the American middle class, especially white, blue-collar workers. Trump and his vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence, are building a movement of purity that rolls back gay marriage and claims to promote “traditional” American and Christian values, but it’s as yet unclear whether this “compensatory cult” will be one of unity and energy as described by Paxton. Continue reading

Image Credit: Getty

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Five

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part five of a series.

trump-praise-the-lordClick here for all the other parts of this series

Fascism according to Emilio Gentile

Gentile is an Italian historian who considers fascism to be a form of political religion. The ten characteristics of fascism that he has identified apply to movements rather than individuals, so it’s difficult to apply them to any single individual like Donald Trump. In addition, most of Gentile’s characteristics have multiple sub-elements, making a determination of whether or not an individual qualifies as a fascist even more complicated. And several of his characteristics only apply after a fascist movement has taken power.

Given these complications, it’s reasonable to expect that comparing Trump to Gentile’s list of characteristics will result in fewer strong matches to Trump’s policy statements and a lower confidence in any conclusions we draw from Gentile’s characteristics. Continue reading

trump-fists-up

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Four

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part four of a series.

FORT WORTH, TX - FEBRUARY 26:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Fort Worth Convention Center on February 26, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Trump is campaigning in Texas, days ahead of the Super Tuesday primary.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

FORT WORTH, TX – FEBRUARY 26: (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Click here for all the other parts of this series

Fascism according to Kevin Passmore

Cardiff University’s Kevin Passmore developed another definition of fascism for his book “Fascism: A Very Short Introduction.” The entire definition is available in Passmore’s book and at Wikipedia, but the most important parts are addressed below.

Fascism is a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty, and to create a mobilized national community.

Trump’s rhetoric is intended to appeal to a definition of national identity that is white and racist. In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump said that “We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice,” which is coded racist rhetoric as well. Note that Trump didn’t contrast “failing” with succeeding, but rather “safe.” The implication is that failing schools are dangerous and that safe schools are succeeding. And where are most “failing” and dangerous schools located? In minority neighborhoods and in urban areas. His anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim positions are similarly coded to appeal to whites who are afraid of brown people moving into their neighborhoods. Continue reading

Image Credit:Nigel Parry for CNN

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Three

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part three of a series.

trump-sloganClick here for all the other parts of this series

Fascism according to Roger Griffin

Roger Griffin, historian and author of “The Nature of Fascism” and numerous other fascism-related books in the 1990s and 2000s, has defined fascism as follows:

Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra nationalism.(from “The Palingenetic Core of Fascist Ideology,” a chapter in A. Campi (Ed.), Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospecttive di richerche (pp. 97-122). Rome: Ideazione editrice, 2003., via libraryofsocialscience.com)

This statement is Griffin’s attempt to create an objective definition of a “fascist minimum,” the minimum criteria that all fascisms share. Unfortunately, this single sentence is so nuanced and uses enough academic language that it takes Griffin several pages to explain what it means. Continue reading

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Two

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part two of a series.

Donald Trump, Public IdiotClick here for all the other parts of this series

Fascism according to Stanley G. Payne

Stanley Payne is a historian from the University of Wisconsin and the author of “Fascism: Comparison and Definition.” He has generated a list of 13 characteristics that he thinks are necessary for a political movement or ideology to be fascist, and he classified them into three groups – ideology and goals, negations, and style/organization.

  • Espousal of an idealist, vitalist, and voluntaristic philosophy, normally involving the attempt to realize a new modern, self-determined, and secular culture
  • Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state not based on traditional principles or models
  • Organization of a new highly regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
  • Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use violence and war
  • The goal of empire, expansion, or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers

Trump shows aspects of the first characteristic in that he supports an idealistic philosophy in pursuit of a new modern and self-determined culture that is rooted in the idea of American exceptionalism. Voluntarism is “a theory that conceives will to be the dominant factor in experience or in the world,” and while Trump’s language has echos of the national and personal ambition and aggression that comes with the concept of Will to Power as described by Nietzche, Trump hasn’t explicitly called for his supporters to exert their will upon the nation to change it. Continue reading

Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a fascist, Part One

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part one of a series.

Donald Trump announces his candidacy for  president during a rally at his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday June 16, 2015. Mr. Trump also announced the release of a financial statement that he says denotes a personal net worth of over 8 billion dollars.

Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president during a rally at his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday June 16, 2015.

Click here for all the other parts of this series

In 1994, I took a class titled “The History of Fascism and Nazism.” It remains one of the most profound educational experiences of my life, and ever since then I have been extremely careful about referring to someone as a Nazi. In a 2010 post about my experiences in this class, I wrote

This class taught me that some things are just so bad, so legitimately evil, that making bullshit comparisons cheapens that evil. And I cannot stand by and let true, legitimate evil be cheapened. As a result, if I ever use the word “Nazi,” you know I mean it and I’m not joking.

And as my record here at S&R has shown, I have taken many people to task for misusing references to the Nazis (and, more recently, to fascism in general).

The class also taught me to be on the lookout for the rise of fascism in the United States, and impressed upon me an ethical responsibility to identify fascism if I ever saw it. I see fascism in the candidacy and person of Donald Trump.

Let me be perfectly clear, so there is no possibility of confusion about where I stand on this point: Donald Trump is a fascist.

This eight part essay explains how I have reached this conclusion, based first on what I learned from my “History of Fascism and Nazism” class in 1994, followed by an investigation of historians’ more recent expert opinions on what characteristics define fascism. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writers of slender acquaintance: Jorge Ferretis

“He would never wish to see his son as he himself had been once, living discontentedly amidst men at the beck and call of masters.” – Jorge Ferretis

Jorge Ferretis (image courtesy Enciclopedia de la Literatura en Mexico)

I’ve finally made my way through the lengthy collection of stories A World of Great Stories, I’ve found a number of the selections rather creaky (likely a fault of older translations) or by authors who are obscure outside their own countries. (I see this as a positive since it introduces American readers to talented authors they might not otherwise encounter.) There is a sincere effort by the various region editors to include representative work from most of the world – the U.S., British Isles, eastern and western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. Africa is not represented, an omission one feels more keenly now than might have been felt when the collection first appeared in 1948. Still, it is a collection that has reminded me about – or introduced me to – writers such as Sherwood Anderson, Rudyard KiplingRhian Roberts, Lauro de Bosis, Karel Capek, and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, writers who represent all the previously mentioned geographic regions except Latin America.

This essay on Jorge Ferretis, A Mexican author you may, like me, not be familiar with, completes the full tour of all the geographic regions covered by the story collection I’ve been blathering on about. He’s a good choice because he allows us to talk about Latin American literary history a bit. Continue reading