Saturday, July 23, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Nearly seven inches of rain fell in about ninety minutes in Chicago early this morning. Awakened by the commotion, I can tell you it was as if my apartment was going through a carwash. It was the highest daily rain total for this city, which is home territory for torrential downpours, in 140 years of record keeping. Number two, by the way, about a half-inch shy of this morning's sum, was three years ago.

Yep my friends, something is abroad in the land, a system-wide disdain for human plans and political positions, an indifference to the best made plans. New rules are in place and even the stupidest climate-change denier must be feeling a certain unease at this summer's events.

No, check that, the stupidest ones likely think this is part of some great plan in which they have starring roles to play. That is certainly the case in D.C. (because everything is connected) where I now put even odds on default, a drop from 3-1 against in a few days. Stated earlier are the four reasons why I think it'll happen. The fifth being that the president, as I thought, for all his high-minded policy flexibility, can and did draw a line.

According to the L.A. Times, the collapse came when the White House wanted to up the scope of the deal to something along the lines of the senate work group proposal (let us note in passing, a fairly rightest plan), while the GOP wanted to hold the health insurance mandate hostage to insure Democratic complicity to tax "reforms". This strikes me as the last cards from both sides; the President wanted something transformative, and the GOP wanted a scalp.

It is worth noting that Republicans are mainly trying to make substantial policy changes divorced from writing and voting on any distinct legislation doing so. I know I'm a little boring on the subject, but this is a tactic of a bankrupt political party; its articulated policies are broadly unpopular, its ruling philosophy utterly schitzophrenic, its leadership fractured, and with yet enough power to presume to control events even as events spin out of anyone's control.

The Republic has been here before, and while I can't say if the collapse of the Whig party led inevitably to the Civil War, or if momentum towards the war tore apart the Whigs, the two events are intimately connected. Though I have been predicting the end of the GOP for a while, what I didn't appreciate until very recently is how when one party in a two party system implodes, the consequences for the nation, in the short term at least, are really very serious.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Day In The Lie

Oh what to make of today's Murdoch hearing? That members of both all three political parties asked tough and pressing questions was enough to make the old man wish this were happening in the U.S. Senate, where the Republican half of his inquisitors could be counted on to tell him what a great man he is, attack the motives of the majority, and apologize for his having to testify in the first place.

No, money does not mean quite as much in Blighty as it does in the States, where it means everything. One might note too the generally higher intelligence level on display in Parliamentary proceedings than in our highest legislative chambers. Fact is, Americans have always been suspicious of smart people in public life, possibly for broadly democratic reasons and the idea that a stupid politician is easier to control and less likely to cause trouble on his or her own.

James Murdoch, with his American accent and occasionally British pronunciation, came off well enough, I reckon--nervous, helpful, deferential, concerned, and opaque when necessary. One senses that he'd much rather spend his days in the relatively clean and cool lairs of TV and new media. I'm betting that when dad goes, so do the messy old print properties.

The Dirty Digger looked done and dusted, gruff and out-of-it, and certainly gave no evidence of being fit enough to helm a multi-national communications corporation--at least one that's publicly traded. His dignity was saved somewhat when that fuckwit assaulted him with shaving cream, a despicable thing to do to any 80-year-old, especially one giving testimony, for which he should spend several years in gaol; but what will be remembered going forward was a stern old man fond of pounding the table who yet claims ignorance with how a good part of his U.K. business operated.

His denials were not particularly convincing and could be capsized by the criminal investigations. Indeed, the next phase of the drama will be if, or when, the Murdochs will be called upon to add to or amend their testimony in light of further revelations. Because young James was both insistant of what he knows now, and evasive enough, especailly in regard to paying hush money, to lead one to believe he was being prudent in light of fresh revelations.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Liar In Winter, Cont.

Rupe is to give testimony (with his son) tomorrow regarding the phone hacking scandal to a panel of MPs. People who know think he won't do well. Be that as it may, as Murdoch's world implodes what should be kept in mind is that no matter the legal outcome--which is years away--the grip he had on the imagination, the public and political mind of Great Britain is gone forever. He might be able to keep some of the juice he has in the States after this, though I doubt it.

It's clear that News Corp. channeled a river of money flowing from cable TV and network sports into any number of questionable (from a strictly financial perspective) if altogether legal investments, to criminal escapades like bribery, industrial and private espionage run by a cadre of goons masquerading as journalists; the main object being to create and maintain a growing bubble of power with the Dirty Digger at its center.

What's notable is how self-reinforcing the project was, that money paid for access, which led to power, and more money, and access, as the influence spread from Australia to the U.K. to the United States. Soon enough a reputation for brains, ruthlessness, and success became a fantasy which bears very little relation to the easily-disregarded human toll of the many victims, underlying political realities, and financial missteps that cannot be wished away. In the end the whole project became so unfeasibly supercharged that all it took was one little story about a murdered girl's voicemail and the whole rotten thing popped like a dead pig in the sun.

The outsized nature of Murdoch's reputation, the idea that he was smarter and more powerful than he apparently was, has vanished in the last ten days. Depend on it, no one of any consequence is afraid of him anymore, and a lot of his former dependents are sorry they know him. This is a fatal blow to an enterprise which has relied on intimidation and illusion for so long. It was all a stupid dream.

Jumping The Shark Jumps The Pond

On Saturday, I wrote that While evidence of outright thuggery in the States has yet to appear, everyone seems to be taking a sensible wait-and-see attitude [...] You can now rest easy knowing that such evidence has shown up, in fact was in something like the public record, as the estimable David Carr reports this A.M.:

In 2009, a federal case in New Jersey brought by a company called Floorgraphics went to trial, accusing News America [a News Corp. marketing subsidiary] of, wait for it, hacking its way into Floorgraphics’s password protected computer system.

(Really, the whole article is required reading.) The case was settled out-of-court to the tune of 655 million scarole, with the plaintiff company quickly purchased by the defendant too. So let us add over two-thirds of a billion dollars to the list of recent News Corp. losses noted earlier here. What's more, the guilty chief of News America has since been named publisher of the loss-leading N.Y. Post, a position he fills today.

I might be wrong, but it feels that, with Carr's piece, the Times is announcing a more active stance regarding its reporting of the Murdoch crime family here in the States. Who knows where it might lead, and one hopes that this possibly new sense of mission and fight has everything to do with the pending departure of the inane Bill Keller as ed-in-chief.

UPDATE: And of course there's the matter of certain Brit-celebs who had their phones hacked while on U.S. soil.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Numbers Crunk

As much as one agrees with the overall points made by the London Obsever's Will Hutton regarding Murdoch's influence on the D.C. budget madness (and more of that here anon) the notion that, I quote: Fox News, [has] an audience of 100 million... is absurd, and wrong by a factor of 35.

The latest ratings for that mighty propaganda network total on the short side of 2.5 million viewers (aka less than one percent of the population.) It is in fact a measure of the inanity of our media landscape that what Bill Paley would have considered a rounding error 50 years ago is felt to be so goddamn influential. That people who should know better have for years credited the dwarf with a giant's stature, is one more indication of where Murdoch's power will be once the reality principle is finished with him.

Rupe's Snoops' Deep Poop, Cont.

I had to look it up, but, sure enough, I came up with this nearly two years ago about what I suspected was the looming failure of the Dirty Digger's business:

Depend on it, outside of its pathetic share price, we will not hear about the impending collapse of the Murdoch empire until after it has happened and no one can pretend anymore.

As it transpired, the implosion has been very public and in real time. Still, no one can pretend things are okay, and the celerity of the implosion conforms to another truism I'm fond of, namely that when things collapse, they collapse very fast.

While I admire the paranoid verve of the British MP who suspects this morning's unexpected arrest of Rebekah Brooks was to keep her from giving testimony to a Parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday (at the Guardian blog) one has to think it happened because some new evidence of thuggery popped-up sometime in the last 24-48. No, madame was pinched without warning. If it were the States I'd suspect a plea bargain for sworn testimony is on the table, but recall that in Olde Blighty, one is guilty until proven innocent, so maybe the authorities are not looking to make deals right now.

To reiterate, I expected Murdoch's ruin to come in the shape of revelations of financial chicanery, an idea I am loathe to give up on just yet.

UPDATE: Oh, dear. Apparently Mrs. Brooks' arrest comes as part of an investigation by the Crown's Serious Fraud Office.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News Crips

Yesterday saw an apparently abject R. Murdoch begging forgiveness from the parents of the murdered schoolgirl whose voicemail his goons manipulated; not to mention the resignation of two of his closest fixers who were in charge of things during the in-house phone hacking project. One of these worthies was the head of Dow Jones, the U.S. company Rupe paid way too much money for, which publishes the, uhm, Wall Street Journal.

While evidence of outright thuggery in the States has yet to appear, everyone seems to be taking a sensible wait-and-see attitude about it. Frankly, in such an arrogant, macho, and belligerent corporate culture, one in which paranoia also has its place, conditions seem perfect for some kind of surveillance operation, if only against its own employees, quite distinct from the News of the World campaign.

We shall see, but in the meantime it is getting clearer by the day that even if no smoking wiretap is uncovered by the Feds, the corporate culture at News Corp is about to undergo a pronounced readjustment. A British investment blogger (via the terrific Guardian feed)
spells it out:

[Let's say] that I am the CEO of a public company. If I had indulged in the following:

1. Paid >$500m for MySpace and then sold it for $35m;
2. Paid $5.7bn for Dow Jones and written off $2.8bn;
3. Paid $615m for my daughter's business;
5. My company’s shares had underperformed for 15 years;
6. And some of my staff had engaged in criminal phone hacking and bribing Police officers and this had been covered up by my management.

I think the shareholders would have had me fired.

[...] why hasn't Murdoch been fired?


To the list I'd add the N.Y. Post which has been famously losing a million dollars a week (or more) for almost two decades, and the FOX business channel which--last I heard anyway--was venting money outward at a brisk pace.

Mr. Smith is nice enough to answer his own question: because the Murdoch’s control News Corp through differential voting rights: the Murdoch’s own 40% of the B voting shares. The much more numerous A shares have no votes, so the Murdoch’s are able to control a company in which they own only 13% of the issued share capital.

(And let me say in passing how discouraging it is to see an educated Englishman misusing the apostrophe as thoroughly as any U.S. high-schooler.)

Grammatical issues aside however, Mr. Smith raises a jolly good point, and one suspects that if all those class A shareholders have anything to say about it, the days of News Corp. remaining a family enterprise are numbered and few. (The latest Guardian story about who's up and down in such an eventuality gets the stock class conditions wrong, but is worth a read.)

The writer here seems to think that one winner would be Roger Ailes, but of that I wonder. Rupe has been Roge's chief shield from reasonable voices in and outside the company who consider his propaganda operation something of a national disgrace. The story also repeats the common proposition that FUX News makes money hand over fist--to which I've often wondered here how a channel whose top-rated shows attract no more than 2.5 mil. rather old viewers might qualify as such. If someone feels like explaining in comments, I'm all ears.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Being something of a betting individual, I'll stick with my prediction--currently at 3-1--that the House will let the debt limit fail. I noted the main reasons a few days ago, to which I'll add that enough players, albeit a minority, want the thing to crash. It's gone on too long and the tolerances are very tight.

I'll add too that nearly everyone believes that the president will do the adult thing and cave at the last best chance. Me? I'm not so sure. Let's see what Reid and McConnell come up with, but our chief executive has already said he wants a deal that includes new revenues. He's also long railed against Washington business-as-usual and advocated shared sacrifice. (See where this is going?)

So what if he decides that shared sacrifice includes a shock to the system--one that abruptly ends business as usual? The senate fix, however expedient, sets a terrible precedent for the future well-being of the state. What if he refuses to trade away core social programs to a radical minority rump lacking any kind of mandate and with a jackass for a leader? Americans are strong and resourceful people, he is fond of saying, and he was sent to Washington to make tough decisions. How tough? We're about to find out.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Face Worse Than Death

It's been fascinating these last few days to see Rupert Murdoch's photographed expression go so rapidly from smarmy arrogance, which was standard for decades, to dotty gramps. Okay, he's 80 and probably has not gotten a lot of sleep--of the unmedicated variety--for ten days; but still I can't decide if the vacant, affable grin now plastered on for the cameras is there on instructions from his image consultant, indicates a steady loss of brain function, or if he is simply drifting into a charmed revery, picturing what he would do if positions were reversed and he had the whip.

Or maybe he's marveling in a grown-up manner at the workings of Fate, on how everything he's built his whole life--after inheriting dad's newspaper business, anyway--is just one grant of immunity in U.S District Court away from crumbling into sand.

UPDATE: Forbes and the phiz

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Liar In Winter

What a difference a day or two makes, huh? The past 24 hours have not only seen the effective, and long-pending, implosion of the GOP (Wonder which of the splinters gets to keep the name? Probably the Banking wing) but the sudden collapse in the fortunes--one long-predicted here--of Rupert Murdoch.

Now admittedly, my suspicions regarding the Dirty Digger's fate relied more on a gut sense than any reading of wind currents. To my way of seeing things, any big operation which relies on swagger, rabble-rousing politics, and intimidation to grow its brand (and, no, I'm not referring to the Republican Party, but the parallel is striking) very likely has something hinkey under the hood, a financial structure over which accountants may disagree, and that may not survive close inspection by legal authorities. Let us recall the fate of the little-remembered Robert Maxwell, once Rupe's main rival in British media piracy whose empire's finances were revealed to be a colossal fraud just hours after the proprietor's fat corpse was found floating in the ocean not far from his yacht. (Was Cap'n Bob pushed? Who cares?)

The main problem of growing big by being Chief Bastard is that, once the image wobbles, those who've had to take shit for so long are eager to return it, with interest. I do believe we'll discover more about News Corp's finances now that its bid for a majority share of BSkyB has been withdrawn, and it's tossed out about $5 billion in a bid to prop-up its stock price, which for years has been oddly soft for a putatively mighty media giant. And honestly, if it turns out that elements of the organization were also spying on Americans, Murdoch's whole rancid operation will be a lovely pile of lawsuits by Christmas.

UPDATE: (via Balloon Juice) If anyone was a target of those goons in the U.S., it was Eliot Spitzer. Is he signaling something here?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

R.I.P. GOP

Mitch McConnell is not a smart person, indeed he may be the dumbest one in the highest position of power in Washington. So it is altogether fitting that today, with his inane proposal on the debt ceiling, that he should ring down the curtain on the GOP as a national force in politics. T'was a day long in the making. Kevin Drum explains (albeit without my gloss.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

While conventional, old-hand political observers are certain a debt deal will be made by Aug. 2 I've believed for some time that it will not, and in the wake of the president's pitch-perfect press conference this morning, I'll outline the reasons which no one in the MSM or even Bloglandia have articulated in public. They are simple:

1) Republican leadership in Washington hates President Obama, and will refuse to agree to anything which looks like a win for him.

2) The no-tax pledge is the only issue keeping the dumb GOP coalition together, and they know it. If any House Republicans help pass any new forms of tax revenue, their whole well-funded jackass project implodes forever.

3) Eric Cantor, Jon Kyle, and Mitch McConnell are not very bright, and have no idea what they're screwing with. John Boehner, whom I credit with having more brains than the others put together, never had the needed control of his caucus in the first place, and is now toast.

4) Autocracies and oligarchs are perfectly willing to destroy a social system they can no longer dominate. Examples of this litter history; and we are currently observing the 150th anniversary of the last time it happened here.

The Dirty Digger's Dust

You need to read allll the way to the end of this ABC News write-up of the Murdoch Mess before it mentions that, gee, those sociopaths also own FOX News and the Wall Street Journal. I submit that this information belongs in the second paragraph of a story headlined "Will His Empire Survive?" being, you know, a big part of the empire in the nation Murdoch, presumably, votes in.

This is, of course, emblematic of the system in which that creep has thrived: informed, meritocratic, short-sighted and utterly blinkered to the needs of anything but itself. As newspapers and magazines have withered and died, and TV audiences shrunk, Murdock and his gang gained a certain lustre in the rest of the field. One might disagree over politics and methods, but damn they're smart and what they're doing works. There was also that lingering sense of fear unease that to get on the Dirty Digger's wrong side closed too many doors to count in what may be now laughingly referred to as a profession.

Journalists take pride in access and--in the political and business press especially--the superior knowledge gained thereby. Good stories, interesting, informative, and clear, come out every day, almost none of it of lasting value. In the U.S. the main topic of the biz press is the American Project, and the greatness--albeit with the inevitable shocks that come from a Free Market--of its dynamic results. Political writers love the scrum and the sheltering idea that there are no good actors, only power centers. As a consequence, journalists, ones with mortgages anyway, love to be with winners, and tend to regard the rest of us, the poor, the uneducated, the naive, the dissidents and discontented, as suckers who don't know how things work.

Meanwhile they hew to old narratives, corrosive ideas of balance, and a fealty to white collar hierarchies. Of the latter, the Murdoch Empire is hardly the most sociopathic, only--by the nature of its business--more exposed.

UPDATE: K. Drum, and B. Somersby, on our white collar press.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rupe's Snoops' Deep Poop 2

We interrupt our aimless series of book reports to revisit one of my favorite long-term hobby horses: the pending collapse of the Murdock Empire. Noted here last January was a series of revelations regarding the wiretapping, or phone hacking in contemporary parlance, of British politicians and media figures by stooges of the Dirty Digger. I thought the game was up then; but as outrageous as the revelations were, the whole thing seemed rather par-for-the-course to a mostly jaded U.K. public, and not at all a subject for widespread press inquiry. Then things changed.

Last week news arrived that the Murdocperatives accessed the voice mails of crime victims, the families of dead soldiers, and even deleted messages left for a 13-year-old girl who later turned up dead. Please know that while in America murdered children are subjects of morbid curiosity and--if there's a hot, white mom involved--mainly self-serious media displays, in Britain, a far-more compassionate society than ours, they are taken Very Seriously Indeed. A spark was touched, the gas ignited, and things are still exploding.

How long before folks at FUX are implicated? A matter of days is a decent bet.

UPDATE: Wowie: James Murdoch could face criminal charges on both sides of the Atlantic

UPDATE II: Kevin Drum seems to think so too.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Sunday Review


The Gift
Vladimir Nabokov

A dense and down-to-earth work shot-through with a lyrical imagination that gives certain vividly-seen details of everyday life an enchanted existence of their own; Nabokov stakes a claim to his own genius, his own gift, in rendering the two-tiered interior monologue of his near-double and main character, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdynstev, a young Russian nobleman--a poet and struggling author--negotiating life as an exile in '20s Berlin.

Nabokov's last Russian novel, The Gift is probably his frankest depiction of a poetic mysticism which informs the rest of his mature fiction. Time is an illusion, he posits, and life obscures the true reality of a boundless, and Godless, existence of pure unity and radiant observation we reach upon death. Solitary Fyodor seems to float through a fairly shabby life of rented rooms, mended clothes, genteel poverty, and the loneliness of a society of bickering and pathetic exiles, with the serene indifference of a genius secure on a true path.

Fyodor finds his voice as an author (Chapter Four is his literary biography of the 19th-century Russian political thinker and novelist Chernyshevski) just as fate brings him together with the love of his life. Buoyed by his artist's sense of wonder at the world revealed to him, his victory is one of art and fortitude.

On another plane, The Gift seems to both sum up Russian literature (Nabokov seems to note and review every Russian writer, good or bad, of any consequence) and then cast it aside. His creative sense of self-worth precludes any deep identification with other authors, and his literary sensibility is closer to those French and English writers he admires over every Russian author except Pushkin. It is the Russian language--young Fyodor’s greatest gift--which Nabokov prizes far more than Russian literature and, with this book, bids it farewell forever.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sunday Review


A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
David Foster Wallace

A work of staggering genius, heartbreaking now in the wake of the writer's 2008 suicide. Wallace wrote with a comic invention connected to a forthright catalogue of personal shadows--phobias and painfully aware sensitivities--which seem to intrude at every step of his supposedly benign excursions (to the Canadian tennis open, the Illinois State Fair, a Caribbean luxury cruise--the title essay of the volume) written up for mainstream magazine publication.

What we notice, marvel at, and now mourn, is the acute detail of Wallace's observations and the confident way he rendered them into language which is at once erudite and exceptionally readable--very smart and very funny. The evidence here suggests he was the greatest magazine feature writer who ever lived, something he neither strove to become, nor spent much time doing.

That said, the retrospective sadness of Wallace's suicide hovers over every page. (Even the book's title has now become a wry comment about life.) His immense intelligence and sense of shared humanity was not enough to keep what was apparently an oceanic sense of sorrow, intimated through glimpses throughout the book, at a safe enough remove.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Sunday Review


Gomorrah
Roberto Saviano

A heart-breaking and enraging look at a criminal enterprise that has ruined millions of lives and turned the Italian south, and especially the region surrounding Naples, into a vast toxic waste dump for the industrial north. Gomorrah is as great a work of personal journalism, written by a very brave man, that you will ever read.

Saviano writes with knowledge and passion and makes a very compelling case that the Camorra, the endemic criminal organization of Naples, has evolved to become a deadly shadow multinational corporation (with an ever-shifting board of officers and directors constantly getting murdered, on the lam, or in jail) that does the needed dirty work of international finance capitalism: trafficking in weapons, drugs, toxic waste disposal, sweat shop labor, and mountains of 'duty-free' clothes and electronics from China.

It is impossible for a single work to convey the connivance of 'legitimate' companies and government necessary to allow this horror to grow and thrive in post-war Italy (and here I highly recommend Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily and Alexander Stille's Excellent Cadavers), but Saviano's work makes the case that the situation is an international menace, one past the point of avoiding by looking away.

Our news is filled with putative threats from terrorists and failed states when in fact a far greater threat exists from a vast criminal network designed to deliver the most goods at the lowest cost--at the expense of humanitarian and ecological disasters--one which extends effortlessly into apparently legal enterprises.

Gomorrah outlines a logical endpoint of Edmund Burke's theory of social contracts; being a free market of violence and degradation rooted in a population which mainly exists to produce low-cost service, consume low-cost goods and provide a constant supply of entrepreneurial murderers needed to keep the system working. It induces a lasting moral nausea.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sunday Review


The Song of the Lark
Willa Cather

The struggle and triumph of a great artist is the subject of this early Willa Cather novel. The gorgeous setting in a small high-plains Colorado town, based on the author's own childhood, which takes up the first half of the book, is as fine an evocation of late 19th century western American life, its people, customs and economy, as I have ever read. From there--following the heroine's escape to study music in Chicago--the story flags as Cather's stand-in, Thea Kronborg, rather awkwardly takes on the personality of a renowned opera singer of the time, soprano Olive Fremstad; an individual the author knew and greatly admired, but could not understand nearly as well as herself.

Cather covers this central flaw with superb writing, careful plotting, and a fine cast of characters, from a country doctor to a New York "opera queen" (in what must be one of the first sympathetic, albeit veiled, portraits of a gay man in American literature.) Despite an unconvincing love story, and later passages of melodrama and fairly self-conscious palaver about the mission of a true artist, we care what happens to the people Cather presents, vividly seen individuals with lives of their own, which is the highest accomplishment of any novelist.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Sunday Review


My Last Sigh
Luis Buñuel

Quite possibly the greatest artist autobiography since Benvenuto Cellini's. But Cellini was a relatively minor sculptor; in the thirty years since Buñuel wrote his memoir--and then so considerately died--his influence on modern filmmakers--especially Pedro Almodovar, Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, David Lynch, and (that sponge) Quentin Tarantino--has become deep, wide and indelible.

Buñuel's written style, as his films, is off-hand, sly, in depth, and acidly funny--especially on the subject of his abiding hatreds: the Catholic church, patriotic nationalism, newspapers, spiders, and the blind. He recounts his education in Spain, his student friendships with Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali, the years in Paris among the surrealists, and a very sobering chapter on the Spanish Civil War, in which he served the Republic as a diplomat (and--reading between the lines--an espionage officer) in France. A great many of his friends, like Lorca, were murdered by one side or the other in the war (Buñuel gives as fine a brief account of the Spanish conflict as you'll read), and he was lucky to have found a refuge in exile, first in the U.S. and then Mexico.

For Buñuel, imagination, and the unexpected images conjured from it, always precedes meaning; just as an impish, perhaps eternal, perversity trumps any philosophy. We meet in these pages a warm and amiable man, eager to laugh at the god who supposedly presides over this very cruel world. Buñuel is proud of his obsessions and accomplishments; happy here to talk until his last breath--to outrage the powerful, whip the bourgeoisie, and, always, always, insult devout Christians.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hard Cell

Not so long ago, maybe watching the World Series, it occurred to me that advertising for cell phones and wireless networks has now reached a saturation point on TV, radio, billboards, magazines, and newspapers unmatched since the bad old cigarette days, which--for the record--I recall very well (and LSMFT is why.)

What this means, of course, is that the health risks, such as jaw and brain cancers, of said instruments will be ignored by the paid-for corporate media, then minimized until further studies are undertaken, then debated and obscured as long as possible. I bring this up today because we may be starting to enter Phase Two.

The truth of this was sent home for me during a recent visit to my sister's. There I was able to watch part of a Today Show plugging an article ostensibly about the health risks of cell use. The idiot author announced that, whew, moderate call use probably isn't harmful, leaving off what is considered "moderate", and how likely it is that a huge section of the population probably exceeds that level without trying hard. (And I think we can all agree that 16 hours non-stop is probably a fatal dose right there.)

For the record, I live without a cell phone, and TV, and car, and microwave, and DVD player, which certainly qualifies me as a freak and a crank; I know, I know.


--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Sunday Review


The Castle in the Forest
Norman Mailer

I would have liked to awarded three stars to this title, if only for my deep and abiding admiration of Mailer as an author, and a man; indeed, Mailer describes some individual characters and scenes with great skill here. However, The Castle in the Forest rates but two. It begins with an interesting narrative voice, and the promise of a sort of splendid nonsense--a devil describing the childhood of Adolf Hitler. But the splendor quickly wears off. The narration is slack and meandering, and the epistemology--a cosmos in which supernatural beings have their powers limited (somehow) in space and time--is inconsistent and provisional to the shifting dramatic needs of the author.

Humans, devils and angels are at first posited to stand on something of an equal footing, but Mailer is content to show nothing of the broad conflict between Good and Evil in which the story is set, and the humans are all fodder for his devil narrator's ends. Of them all, only Alois Hitler, the tyrant's father, comes to vivid life. Long-time Mailer readers will not be surprised that Alois, a compulsive philanderer who fathers many children with several wives, allows Mailer ample opportunity to make wry, and tired-feeling, observations about women, sex, marriage, and life.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

I've thought for a while now that one of the stranger features of our political culture is the need to re-fight the Civil War every fifty years. Another possibly related thought is how autocracies, when faced with change to their familiar way of life, are perfectly willing, maybe even happy, to watch their social order, and often the country around it, die. Ancient Rome is a fine example, as is Habsburg Austria, Nazi Germany; Argentina and the Shah's Iran also spring to mind.

What is it about the white-guy south--which I shall extend to Red States in general--that is so in love with stupid ideas of social order, and the lost causes of defending the same? You have to wonder how otherwise rabidly self-interested fatheads (and I'm referring now to congressional Republicans) could show such disdain for their own fortunes, personal and political, and the welfare of their constituents, not to mention the health of our disordered republic.

The lockstep defense of the Ryan budget and the inane gamesmanship over the debt ceiling hike we've seen in the last few days are not signs of strength, just as R.E. Lee's daring thrust into Pennsylvania in July, 1863 was not a sign of strength, rather a desperate gamble with waning resources to force a favorable outcome against the logic of numbers and the times.

Clearly, someone important decided a couple years ago that the only way the old style GOP could survive was to become a boutique brand with the clout of an exclusive club; both aspirational and exclusive at the same time. They had money and organization; and maybe too much of both. What was missing was any kind of ideological flexibility, diverse voices, and, fatally, smart people advancing cogent plans.

Nope. They cleft to nativism, coded racism, no taxes, no healthcare, torture, and war. While almost all have been popular causes from time to time, NONE of have EVER been a demonstrated long-term persuasive force in our politics. Furthermore a healthy political party manages to produce every so often a figure who might single-handedly redefine a party's policies, if not its so-called principles. The Democrats had--for example--FDR, and Clinton; the Republicans, Teddy Roosevelt and Ike. Now these men I mention are, of course, very rare in history, but we might pick out many other lesser lights who advanced in their respective parties by challenging the ways and means of the existing, sclerotic orders.

Ladies and gentlemen, is there one such figure in the modern GOP? Look at who thinks they can be president over there then tell me.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Sunday Review

The Town and the City
Jack Kerouac

Dated, and written with a generally overwrought lyricism, Kerouac's mainly overlooked 1950 first novel offers surprising riches as it charts the disappointments and disintegration of an American working class family in the years before and through the Second World War.

Right from the start, Kerouac identified a nearly inexplicable sense of loss and loneliness in American young people, a climate of the Great Depression; hollow feelings which they push aside, explain with self-involved philosophizing, cover with alcohol or drugs, or try to mediate with a rootless searching which might never end.

Kerouac's innate conservatism--an attachment to religion, tradition, and family--is very clear throughout and ever at odds with his sympathy for, and curiosity about, those who manage to live outside the moral bounds of middle class or lawful society. Homosexuality, for example, is overtly derided, but intense male relationships, only slightly disguised, characterize the second half of the book. (One might observe that this sexual ambivalence eventually killed the author, who came to reject his beat, outsider friends for a kind of non-corporate, reclusive Catholic patriotism, and managed to drink himself to death in 1968 at age 46.)

Though clearly inspired by Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac has an affection for his characters and hometown which the completely overrated Wolfe could never muster. Though The Town and the City is overlong, and often overwritten in a sturdy, Whitmanesque voice, it has frequent passages of great beauty and compassionate observation--a sort of warm regard of a cold world--which will carry most readers along to its beautifully realized finish.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Gallows Humidor

In one of my arch-er moments a couple weeks ago, I wondered aloud to my facebook friends if I should start a blog called Climate Disasters in Red States. The very next day an enormous tornado killed around 300 people in Alabama.

Drought in Texas, floods along the Mississippi, a brutally gray and chilly spring across the upper Midwest, these are facts on the ground, or rather in the air, that I think are beginning to (as Dr. Johnson said of the gallows) focus minds wonderfully.

The corporate press is very good at showing healthy skepticism about everything--unless it's the inevitable housing revival, and the return to championship form of Tiger Woods--and it's been impressive to see all those stories about the weird weather without mention of how well it was modeled, oh, gee, fifteen years ago by climate scientists. Over a century ago Twain wondered about how the southern churches of his childhood could lie so much about slavery. The answer, which I'm sure Mark knew, was in the abject eagerness of an unremarkable and lazy people to believe them.

Now I'd like too think that the ongoing and impending climate disasters will change some dim U.S. minds fast, and that the climate-change denial party will pay for their pattern of lies at the polls. No question, that tide is changing. But I also think that some new lies will appear, and that whole populations of unremarkable people will believe them until such groups get washed away.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pulp Friction

It has been a longstanding whimwham here that the Republican Party is a dying thing, a victim of changing demographics, new broad-based communication technologies, and a culture of stupidity and greed left over from the days when our empire was feeling its oats and white guys called ALL the shots.

An associated point is that, given the above, we don't know what such an implosion would look like. (And, relatedly, that most of the pressures outlined above would have a strong effect on the Democrats as well, though their organization would be in a much better condition to absorb the shocks and move on.)

Now there were a few factors I didn't consider, the main one being how deeply invested the corporate media--along with a certain portion of the loyal opposition--is in propping up the sick half of our two party system. I should have been more sensitive to the bonds of education and class which unites all who are vested in the white-collar dream, especially now that it's under direct assault from economic and social realities far outside anyone's control.

On a whole different level, I also didn't consider just how frightened, angry, and spiteful a significant part of the electorate would be once our African-American president took office; impulses which a reactive media were pleased to objectify and, in the worst cases, stoke (see above.)

And while I am willing to shape my long-standing long-term forecast, I will not change it. I do believe that recent events touching the GOP brand: their extremist, and pointless, House bills, the nitwits hogging all the attention "running" (or not) for president, the power grab in Wisconsin, the torture apologists, not to mention the racists camping in their living room, to me indicates a distinct sense of hysteria in the face of dire emergency. When facing the end, people will often do desperate things.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Room with a Review


Inherent Vice
Thomas Pynchon

The third of what might be considered Thomas Pynchon's California entertainments, Inherent Vice (2009) is a genre detective novel set in El-Lay in the spring of 1970. Doc Sportello (door in Italian) is a 30-ish hippie PI given a couple missing-person cases to look into. Things get complicated, which does not stop Doc from nearly chain smoking joints from page one on.

I am an abiding and devoted fan of Mr. P's, and his many, many strengths as a narrator are all on display, not the least of which is a golden ear for dialogue. He also fills in with a lot of minor characters dotting the L.A. landscape of cheap beach apartments, seedy office buildings, creepy mansions and the offices of Law Enforcement downtown. By the middle of the book the many bit players are hard to keep track of, as is (just sayin') the plot.

But the plot of any American detective novel anyway is just a excuse to hang dark observations of society, and Pynchon serves up the goods. In fact, just when I was wondering if maybe this one had been tossed-off just a tad too carelessly, the looping plot resolved into a very tight-lensed look at a hierarchy of corrupt power that seems to lurk behind everything in California.

While I.V. is missing the radiant, bare-bones paranoia of The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon's first short California novel, and the sincere sense of human loss, nostalgia (and paranoia) of Vineland, his second, the latest work shares their tender regard for a time and place where a brief visit of a certain type of freedom was followed hard upon by an army of losers and cutthroats, come to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.

The novel also has what strikes this loyal reader as the finest confrontation yet between a typical Pynchon good guy and representatives of Them (you Pynchon fans will know what I mean.) Far from the nearly invisible actors of Lot 49, and the nearly faceless law enforcement agents of Vineland, Doc Sportello spends some quality time with several of the sociopaths in question as the story glides towards its beautifully written final page.

As a genre piece, Inherent Vice fits that space between Carl Hiaasen's wacko intrigues and William Gibson's rather more sinister dealings. As a vehicle for a slumming Great Writer's ideas and craft, we'd have to go back to Mailer's terrific Tough Guys Don't Dance, another ga-ga pulp exercise set on the edge of an ocean. Inherent Vice might be a bit overpopulated and scattered, but that sort of goes with the territory.

See also: The author does a VO promo for the book, interestingly, in a first-person narration not used in the novel.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blameless Plug

You several regular readers might be pleased to hear that Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is now available as a Kindle download, if, that is, the technology appeals to you. (Me? I'm kinda a book guy.) Any satisfied customers are encouraged to leave glowing comments in the appropriate place there.

What else? Though posts here have dwindled to a trickle, that doesn't mean I don't regularly think about this place. Tired to death of our bitter, attenuated, and increasingly nihilistic politics, and our very modern reluctance to face facts, I've been thinking of posting short book reviews here to--oh, I don't know--promote some kind of clarity of vision, adherence to ideals, if only my own. I'm also thinking of putting together another Guide to an American classic.

And, oh yeah, it looks like the big book I finished writing three years ago will be published in 2012 by a major university press. I'll certainly let you know about that when the time comes.

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hit Parade

Most commentators are expressing caution over how the bin Laden takedown effects the president's re-election chances, but you know me: It seals the deal.

Where to start? With the efficiency and dispatch of the event itself? Of the calm decision behind it? The promise Obama made during the campaign to do exactly what was done? That it wipes clear away about half of the GOP talking points, the ones about his timid, anti-American, leadership? That they can't say Osama is still at large?

That this underlines one more time what a incompetent jerk that squalid little man (meaning, for new readers, our former president), and how stupid his gang of fixers was? (And here let me refer you to the early 2002 news conference in which the SLM natters on about how he doesn't give OBL much thought anymore, along with the inescapable impression he gives of being drunk at the time.) How petty and laughable most Republicans now look trying to absorb some of the credit?

While I would have preferred a live bin Laden on trial in New York, that would have been possible only in a nation which had not been driven mad with fear by seven years of relentless rightist howling, and a profoundly deranged corporate media. We are a far less free and confident nation than we were on 9/10/01, and a lot of people are to blame. Don't get me wrong, Osama got exactly what he deserved, and dropping the corpse in the ocean was an especially pleasing piece of symbolic action. Governments rarely act out disdain so simply, so poetically.

I'm not sure how we can regain that sense of national fortitude, and I submit that the Sunday evening hit job is not the place to start. But it did clear a big field of a lot of brainless opponents; and I am speaking domestically. Clarity is hard to find in our time, and I doubt any single act will provide much for the middle east. But Americans now have a much better sense of how our chief executive rolls, and how no one, Republican or Democrat, even begins to measure up.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Joe



While I'm here, let me also note with sorrow the recent passing of Joe Bageant, a fine writer, and very nice man, whom I had the good fortune to correspond with a few years ago. Talk about clarity, Joe had it in spades.

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

Anyone paying attention, and with no fear of possibly appearing wrong in public, could have predicted late last week that the House GOP would precipitate a government shutdown, which I was meaning to mention at the time, but then lost interest. Frankly, this blogging business used to be more fun. When the government was run by corrupt nitwits, it was easy to cultivate a Mencken-like archness (though my model was the now all-but-forgotten Murray Kempton.) But poking a brain-dead opposition gets old, especially when the ostensible good guys--while at least appearing human--can't seem to stand up and fight for the policies needed to break with a very sorry recent past.

As I recently noted to reader Sglover in the comments section of the previous post, my disappointment with the president is fairly mild compared to the dismay which wells up when I consider principle-trimming congressional Democrats and the paranoid and delusional Republican "policy" enabled by such spineless dithering, and amplified by the protocols of a dying corporate media historically, and hysterically, disdainful of liberal populism.

Add-in a distracted, or bored, or simple-minded, or simply beaten, electorate and the picture emerges of what I referred to a couple years ago during the financial meltdown as a cultural collapse. Well, cracks and meltdowns of all kinds are in the news lately, and even I get tired of saying I Told You So. The problem is no one, and that includes our competent Chief Executive, wants to consider the implications of endemic social failure, and so are pretending otherwise--that the problem is strictly limited to financial realms--as long as possible.

My other prediction which came true--albeit in a way very few may have foreseen--is the implosion of the Republican party, a drama now just beginning Act IV. The nonsense in Wisconsin (and Ohio, and Indiana, and California) and DC, the simmering stupidity of their putative presidential candidates--which even has the egregious Joe Klein yanking out what's left of his hair in vexation--the headache-making spectacle of a pack of beady-eyed losers thinking they're winning, and a press ignoring all the polling evidence to the contrary, just isn't all that funny anymore. What's missing is any clarity from the other side--a banner, a person, anything to rally behind. Our choice is between deep crazy and a sort of crass competence which, as okay as it is, is itself a dreary form of drift.

Perhaps the needed clarity will come in the wake of the federal shutdown, the Wisconsin recall, the defacto state bankruptcies, and a presidential campaign guaranteed to redefine ideas of hateful political inanity. I wouldn't count on it, though; not immediately. If you think things are strange now, wait until the jackasses realize how much, and how badly, they've lost, and how far from any lawful remedy they stand.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Rupe's Snoops' Deep Poop

The method of Rupert Murdoch's astonishing world-wide success might be boiled down to three clear and easy steps; 1) Hire the smartest sociopaths you can find. 2) Give them unlimited resources. 3) Turn them loose on your business rivals and political enemies.

Loyal readers here will recall one of my favorite hobbyhorses is that the FUX News empire, or, more properly, News Corp., is in fact a house of sticks, held-up mainly by huge revenues from sports broadcasting which are then disbursed to publishing and propaganda outlets by way of the above. The only thing keeping the b-b wolf from blowing it all down--that is, any sort of accurate reporting of financial internals--were outright bribes, and the innate fear of payback in the liberal democracies of the english-speaking world. Though its stock price has lately been languishing in the $15-16 range, meaning someone is hip to the drip, the Dirty Digger's empire seems to chug along from strength to strength.

Well, now, maybe not so much anymore. While we can all marvel at how the UK phone hacking story has not exactly made it to the awareness of US media, thigs are getting worse and worse for ol' Rupe in Old Blighty, and all it will take is one US celeb or politician to find their privacy hijacked by some sweaty limey in the pay of the old guy, then the fun will begin in earnest.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cutoff At The Past

The aim of every politician is to be taken seriously on their own terms. Very few achieve this goal, and it is striking how almost no Republicans have done so since that squalid little man declared that no one could have foreseen the failure of New Orleans' levies. This peculiar state of affairs strikes me as pretty interesting.

John McCain's stupid presidential campaign was a constant search for endemic seriousness, from his stern speaking style, the invocation of his military service, his immersion in the pools of town hall talkathons, his drop-everything return to Washington during the financial collapse. Still, a self-defined seriousness eluded him, and was eventually obliterated not long after he chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

The former Alaska governor--who self-immolated in an astonishing display of rancor, illogic, and self-pity yesterday--mainly defines how NOT to go about achieving seriousness on one's own terms. Her poor example points to the overall failure for GOP politicians to gain general stature (and I'll suggest that the only one of them to maybe break through is Speaker Boehner, the beneficiary of events and some luck. Time will tell.)

Barack Obama took on his own specific gravity in a long nominating campaign against seasoned veterans, and by having to articulate the differences, that is, show the nation his thinking, between himself and his nominal pastor. In doing so, he managed to say something true about himself, our fellow citizens, and the nation.

The reason why no Republicans can be taken seriously on their own terms is simple, and indelible. No candidate can afford now to separate his or her self from an info-tainment political apparatus which demands utter fealty to an idealized body which nevertheless contains two broadly conflicting philosophies. Civil libertarians will always butt against religious activists, small government advocates never seem to overcome legislators out to deliver for their districts, budget hawks aren't allowed to raise taxes, Main St. hates Wall St., and Wall St. always wins in DC. Furthermore, NO ONE is allowed to make deals with Democrats

It is worth considering then that the gushing fonts of what Krugman called eliminationist rhetoric which spewed from the Right was meant to cover-over very deep divides in the GOP's beliefs and goals. (Let us note that the notorious ad Giffords' opponent ran evidenced far more ill will towards other Republicans--so-called RINOS--than Giffords herself.) Though many in the GOP disagree over policy details, nearly all could rally 'round a campaign of guns, guts, and glory and direct any rage they might feel for fellow party members towards the other side.

And it worked fine for a while, but anyone paying attention knew something like this was bound to happen; and now that rhetorical low road, so handy for electoral shortcuts, has been effectively cutoff for anyone in, or running for, national office. This is not to say that more than a few might keep at it (one sees no U-turn for the Alaskan queen, for example), but the violence of rhetoric and the rhetoric of violence has become just one more fault line for a political party that had too many already.

Friday, January 07, 2011

That Word

Let us note that the word slave does not appear in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn until Chapter XVI, just at that point where Mark Twain picked-up writing the book after a hiatus of about three years. What had probably begun as a story meant to profit from his great success with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer had taken a strange turn for the author. The humanity of his characters, and the vividness of their plight, in a time and place firmly rooted in his heart, pulled Twain inevitably away from the children's novel genre into deeper, in fact eternal waters.

The words slave and slavery together appear only eleven times in the book, mostly at the end, after the arch satire of selfish altruism (that least-understood, and liked, portion of the novel--Tom's sadistic plan to free Jim) is completed. From this we might safely presume that Twain didn't intend the book to be about slavery.

The words nigger and niggers appear more times than I care to count; occurring right off the bat, in Chapter I: By and by they fetched the niggers in and had prayers, and then everybody was off to bed. Let me suggest that the juxtaposition of the words niggers and prayers is not accidental. Right from the start, Twain meant the word to be far more insulting to a so-called Christian society than demeaning towards black people.

The last appearance of the word is in the final chapter. Huck asks Tom what he had meant to do if his insane plot to free Jim had worked. The answer is just as crazy as the plan: And he said, what he had planned in his head from the start, if we got Jim out all safe, was for us to run him down the river on the raft, and have adventures plumb to the mouth of the river, and then tell him about his being free, and take him back up home on a steamboat, in style, and pay him for his lost time, and write word ahead and get out all the niggers around, and have them waltz him into town with a torchlight procession and a brass-band, and then he would be a hero, and so would we.

That a well-meaning middlebrow academic has prepared an edition of the novel now to "get out all the 'niggers' around", replacing them with the word slave, for secondary school study should come as no special surprise; and I can't say it bothers me that much. Or, put another way, there are plenty of well-meaning middle- and lowbrow projects out there which bother me a lot more. It points to a certain laziness and prudery in the national character which Twain was very familiar with. If awakened from his eternal rest, he would probably say something acid and funny about it, and make damn sure all royalties from the stupid edition were paid to his estate.

The main problem with Huckleberry Finn, at least how it's regarded today, is partly Twain's fault: It is NOT, and never was, a young person's book. He only dressed it up as one--very deliberately with its many original illustrations--to rather strengthen its subversive blast. It should be read by adults, it needs to be read by adults. Most of the people complaining about the sanitized edition probably haven't read the damned thing since they were forced to in seventh grade, and probably regard it as a coming-of-age tale featuring two true friends. Making Huck Finn safe for kids is about as pointless as removing the drinking from The Great Gatsby for the edification of Mormons.

The new edition creates certain pedagogic difficulties I'm glad I don't need to solve. For one, the words nigger and slave are not exactly synonymous in the book, no more so than in the mouth of Huck's loutish Pap, who in a drunken tirade rages over his encounter with a highly-educated African-American:

Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio [....] And what do you think? They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain't the wust. They said he could vote when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was 'lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn't too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote agin.

Stranger still is how the new edition is to be presented to the poor, unsuspecting students. Are they to be told of the change, that whenever they see the word slave the author had written first nigger? (And if not, why not?) And now what to make of all those rappers, calling all their slaves in da house to represent?

--------------
Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95.