Friday, September 30, 2011

Bill O'Reilly's Lincoln

Sorry, but I couldn't resist posting this.  Republicans have generally distanced themselves from Lincoln.  After all, he instituted the first federal income tax to fund the Civil War, conscripted soldiers, successively abolished slavery and began the federally-sponsored Reconstruction of Southern states, all of which would be anathema to present-day Republicans, except maybe abolition of slavery.  So what does Bill O'Reilly have to say about Lincoln?

To read this article from The Daily Beast, it seems O'Reilly has essentially made Killing Lincoln into a political potboiler, and if successful plans more books in this vein.O'Reilly boasts of an extensive "Presidential Library."  With his money, he certainly can afford some prized first editions, but he isn't willing to divulge the contents of his library for fear that he might attract unwanted attention.  As it is, he has a close security watch given the "death threats" he receives.

O'Reilly has also been promoting his book on The Daily Show.  Seems he and Jon Stewart have developed an amicable relationship over the years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's Afraid of Shirley Jackson?

I remember reading The Lottery in high school.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it then and have long thought to revisit the novella.  Abebooks  pays Shirley Jackson her due, with a wonderful collection of first editions.  Library of America also has a collection of her novels and stories, with a forward by Joyce Carol Oates.

In the Shadow of Columbus

Charles Mann's new book, 1493, is garnering rave reviews.

Voltaire would have loved Charles C. Mann’s outstanding new book, “1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.” In more than 500 lively pages, it not only explains the chain of events that produced those candied fruits, nuts and gardens, but also weaves their stories together into a convincing explanation of why our world is the way it is. 

That's pretty impressive when even Voltaire gives his "thumb's up!"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

I am admittedly way behind the times in both reading and recommending this book.  It has been sitting on my shelf since early in 2008.  If you have already read all you ever plan to read about Iraq, I understand completely.

Chandrasekaran's book, however, is both well written and illuminating.  Or maybe illuminating isn't quite the right word for this tale of American hubris run amok.  I mean, how many books have been written about members of the American military industrial complex acting like total idiots and squandering vast sums of money in the process?  

Of the cast of characters presented here, Bernie Kerik (remember him?) combines stupidity and arrogance in almost Herculean proportions.  It's comforting to know that he is now behind bars, albeit for criminal activities having nothing to do with his short stay in Iraq.  Too bad more of his Green Zone compatriots haven't found their way into a small cell somewhere. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Canadian Meander

Not to bump the airstream's pride of place, but we haven't had a good meander in a long time. This one is from Canada.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Silver City

I finished Americana this week.  Interesting collection of "dispatches" over a 15-20 year span of time. It lacked any cohesiveness, but Hampton Sides touched on some interesting themes.  I liked his description of the Airstream conventions held every year, in which thousands gather at pre-selected sites to create a gleaming "silver city" and swap road stories and engage in various activities.  They name their club after Wally Byam, who launched the first Airstream caravan back in 1936.  More important, he set an ethos in caravaning that lives to this day, with events held all around the world.  Sides notes one particular road trip that stretched from Cape Town to Cairo, taking in the immense reach of Africa in 1959.

Chloroform in Print

Probably more about Joseph Smith than any "Gentile" would care to know, but Richard Lyman Bushman's biography has garnered mostly favorable reviews, including this one from the New York Times.  Bushman is a Mormon himself, but apparently went to great lengths to write an "unbiased" account of  "The Prophet," setting him within the religious ferment of the time.  After all, America was going through a second "Great Awakening," so it's not surprising Smith was able to quickly find adherents to his unique vision, which Mark Twain called "chloroform in print."

You really do have to wonder at the gullibility of people to swallow such a far-fetched story, replete with golden tablets, which he never produced.  Apparently, it was these golden tablets that sent Thomas Stuart Ferguson on his quest to find the lost tribe of Nephites in the jungles of the Yucatan, eventually setting up the New World Archeological Foundation, which still functions today.  Smith himself had hinted that this may be the place where the famous battle between the Lamanites and Nephites took place, after reading John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, published in 1837, and that the long form version of The Book of Mormon might be buried there.  Twenty-five years of fruitless digging (at least as far as any evidence of Nephites is concerned) resulted in a serious crisis of faith for Ferguson, who was forced to admit there was no archeological basis for anything Smith had written in his book.

Yet, there are many Mormons who still hold to Smith's gospel, which he supposedly "translated" from some Egyptian-like hieroglyphs with the help of magic stones, only to bury the golden tablets again as the angel Moroni instructed him to.   You have to hand it to Smith in covering his bases, as any good storyteller does.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Theory Toolbox

I hope you all won't mind this short break from politics.  The book at left is one I have recently become aware of and will be using in a freshman seminar in the spring.  The subtitle, "Critical Concepts for the Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences," definitely makes it sound like a textbook, which is how I will be using it.  But it's not your average textbook.

Young people, or at least many of the ones I see in my classrooms,  are not sufficiently curious about the great big world around them.  Part of that may be a result of growing up in the Bible Belt, but the lack of curiosity goes beyond that.  It's not that they are afraid to ask questions, they don't quite understand why any questions need to be asked in the first place.

The authors of this book provide a pretty cool introduction to some pretty big theories.  The idea is not to knock some healthy skepticism into them as much as it is to help them figure out how to think about theoretical concepts that are in conflict.  Or at least that is one way I plan to use the book.

Even though you won't be enrolling in my freshman seminar, I recommend this book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the Shadow of No Towers

I found myself looking through Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers the yesterday.  It is a very nice tribute to the event without reducing the event to a maudlin commemoration as we have seen over the years.  Spiegelman combines pathos and humor in the best tradition.  Often it seems you can convey a greater sense of an event such as this through graphics than you can through words.  I'm sure he would be raked over the coals by "The Five" today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kicking a Hornets' Nest

Seems Paul Krugman kicked a hornets' nest in his 911 blog entitled Years of Shame.  He didn't allow comments on the blog, but that didn't stop people from commenting, including the political pundits at Fox News, calling him a "creep" and a "coward."  The blog caused so much outrage that even our dear Donald Rumsfeld was compelled to cancel his subscription to the NY Times.  Reminds me of the media gang bang when Bill Maher had the audacity to say that the terrorists weren't cowards in the immediate aftermath of 911.

Seems whenever we have one of these deeply emotional events, Americans are all supposed to fall in line, or at least keep quiet, so as not to rain on anyone's parade.  And, what a media parade we had this past Sunday.  The coverage was non-stop, following events in the three hallowed sites that have now become so firmly embedded in American memory. 

It has indeed been "Years of Shame," as the Bush administration shamefully exploited 911 to concoct two wars, which Obama continues to perpetuate.  Not to mention the shameful Homeland Security Act which is still in effect, the shameful detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the shameful renditions and tortures no one has made the least contrition for.  The untold cost of the "War on Terror" appears to have no end.

But, on 9-11, we are all supposed to give pause and only remember those who died, especially those who bravely gave their lives to save others from the World Trade Center towers that have become even more symbolic than the Statue of Liberty.  How dare Paul Krugman question the motivations of George Bush, Rudy Guliani and Bernie Kerik!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Hips that Shook the World!

On a lighter note.  Hard to believe it was 55 years ago.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Happened to Obama?

I asked myself this question today and found this op-ed piece by Drew Westen posted last month in the New York Times.  Westen paints a broad historic picture which Obama has failed to live up to.  There was no question that the President had a good first 100 days, passing an historic budget plan that offered badly needed relief to a devastated economy.  Unfortunately during the health care debate, Obama lost his momentum and hasn't been able to recover it since.

It appears that Obama is more a product of his press handlers than he is himself.  This man who presented himself as a "blank slate" onto which you could project your hopes and aspirations has left few people satisfied after nearly 3 years in office.  I'm reminded of The Candidate from 1972, in which Robert Redford was able to project the aura of a leader Californians were looking for, only to ask his advisers "what next?" when he pulled off his improbable Senate victory.

Obama has the opportunity to stimulate the country once again with his speech to a joint session of Congress on his proposed American Jobs Act.  At $300 billion, it doesn't sounded overly promising, but if he can assert himself and make Americans feel he has their best interests in mind, maybe he can turn a corner and put the onus back on the Republicans, who have effectively hijacked government since taking the House last year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Better this World

By some good fortune I turned on the t.v. to see this film just starting. An amazing film. And it's available online, linked above. For some reason, I didn't pay any attention to the 2008 GOP convention or, more to the point, what was happening in the streets. I'm fairly confident, though, the news channels weren't showing what was really happening in any event.

Trailer here:

Miss America Turns 90!

Miss America was originally conceived as a publicity stunt for Atlantic City.  Margaret Gorman was the big winner.  It has since blossomed into one of the signature media events of the year.  Lee Meriweather was the first televised winner in 1955, resulting in a number of television roles including Catwoman, although she is probably best remembered for her role opposite Buddy Ebsen in Barnaby Jones.  In 1997, contestants were allowed to further reveal themselves with the introduction of the two-piece swim suit.  Despite attempts to keep this a wholesome event, any number of scandals have plagued the event.  Remember Vanessa Williams being stripped of her title when it was found out she had posed nude for Penthouse back in 1984?  She also went onto have a very successful television career and can be currently seen in Desperate Housewives.  She showed her good humor, not to mention her curvacious body for Allure magazine in 2007.   Miss America has also resulted in political wives like Phyllis George Brown.  Who was your favorite Miss America?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Bohemian Club

Hampton Sides has a very interesting chapter on the Bohemian Club.  It was a San Francisco club that started in 1872 and included such early luminaries like John Muir, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and Jack London, but became supplanted by local conservative tycoons who turned it into a redoubt for the Republican Party. 

According to this amusing Vanity Fair article, dated 2009, it has essentially become a pissing contest, although the question now is whether the club is leasing logging rights to the old growth redwoods on their 2700-acre private reserve known as Bohemian Grove.  It wouldn't be much of a surprise, given the disregard conservatives have for the environment.  What is amazing is their need for a pristine retreat like this, but I suppose it gives them a sequestered place to go through male bonding rituals like the "Cremation of Care."

At the center of the Grove is a huge concrete statue of an owl, which judging by this picture has seen better days.  I suppose it gives some sense of age to the place, if the 3000 year-old Redwoods weren't enough. The Grove appears relatively easy to infiltrate. There have been any number of accounts written up over the years, with Kerry Richardson being the most obsessed tracker of the many distinguished visitors in his ongoing journal

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Measuring the Pulse of the Country

I've been reading Hampton Sides' Americana.  It is not really a "road trip" in the sense of Travels with Charley or even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although he starts in Vegas with a madcap skateboarding and motorcycle extravaganza called HuckJam, put in on by daredevil Tony Hawk.  It is a series of dispatches from different times that in their own way measure the pulse of the country.

I assume he wrote most of these "chapters" for magazines over the years.  I liked the way he deconstructed G. Gordon Liddy in his chapter, Waiting for Liddy, in which he takes one of Liddy's "security seminars" only to find out Liddy just had his name affixed to the program and makes his entry only at the end to hand out diplomas.

His piece on Russell Means was very good, as Sides manages to encapsulate the rise and fall of the American Indian Movement in one man, along the acrimonious feuds he has had in the years since the movement ground to a halt with most of its leaders behind bars.

There is a bit of the Gonzo in the way Sides is able to capture details, but he prefers to write straight up, letting the persons he interviews in "American Originals" pretty much speak for themselves, except Liddy, who he was unable to pin down for anymore than a few quips.