Friday, August 30, 2013

Portrait of a Novel

I like it when writers tackle a single literary work of a major author rather than trying to sum up his entire life.  Here, Michael Gorra dissects Henry James' Portrait of a Lady, which Gorra apparently argues is a critique of American Exceptionalism, as he studies both the author's and Isabel's intents, careful "about the dangers of matching art and life too neatly."  Sounds like a very interesting read!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Much anticipated!

Salinger I simply couldn't resist, and what makes the pot even sweeter is that the biographers claim there are five verified Salinger novels heretofore unpublished, continuing the story of Holden Caulfield. It's just too good to believe,

The Salinger books would revisit “Catcher” protagonist Holden Caulfield and draw on Salinger’s World War II years and his immersion in Eastern religion. The material also would feature new stories about the Glass family of “Franny and Zooey” and other Salinger works.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Butler

It seems it is never enough to hew a historical line, or in this case biographical line.  Better to make a real figure into a caricature you can easily wrap your own ideas about race and inequality around.  This certainly seems to be the case with The Butler, an odd cross between Remains of the Day and Forrest Gump, with Eugene Allen remade as Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served 8 presidents between 1952 and 1986.

The New Yorker notes that this is pretty lightweight drama, with Forest Whitaker offering a very restrained portrayal of the butler, in contrast to his fictionalized son who actively takes part in the Civil Rights movement.  Cecil can only watch, quite literally, as he sees his son being arrested on television, and is forced to hold his tongue, as the White House is pretty much portrayed as a "plantation."

Not surprisingly, right-wing pundits have lashed out at this film, notably Reagan's adopted son Michael, who likened the movie to Sayles' The Brother from Another Planet, mostly because he felt the title suited this largely fictionalized account, claiming his father was not a racist as he felt he was portrayed in this movie.

Lee Daniels appears well meaning, but this film seems to be in the contemporary lineage of Driving Miss Daisy and The Help, as he tries to find a populist angle to present his vision of the Civil Rights Movement, with popular actors like Robin Williams, Leiv Schrieber and John Cusack hamming it up as the former presidents.  It would have been much more interesting to get inside Eugene Allen, who is featured in Smithsonian Folkways' Workers at the White House.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I have a Dream - 50 years later

I caught snippets of the 50th anniversary of MLK's I Have a Dream Speech and sad to say I was underwhelmed by the featured speakers, particularly Eric Holder and Cory Booker.  Why all that stridency?  Granted the Trayvon Martin case is an issue in the black community, but I would think an occasion like this would largely be celebrated by the gains made over the last 50 years, notably John Lewis being a ranking Democratic member of Congress, which was virtually inconceivable when King delivered his powerful speech.

In many ways the dream has been fulfilled, but we have yet to move into a post-racial society, which some pundits opined with the election of Obama in 2008.  The Trayvon Martin case notes the shortfalls in our purportedly "color-blind society," which Reagan tried to invoke in 1986.  Even with the highly toxic decision of the Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act, there are still federal laws in place to challenge state attempts to restrict voting by requiring picture IDs and by shortening the window of early voting.

What worried me the most is that this largely Democratic rally in Washington saw no aspiring Democratic leader seize the moment to launch a bid for 2016, especially with so many people on hand for the occasion.  Once again it is left to Obama to encapsulate the moment.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What will Hillary do?

It seems the success of the Republicans to filibuster virtually every bill in Congress and shut down government has led them to now threaten to "shut out" news networks.  In one of the more audacious moves yet, the RNC has threatened to shut out CNN and NBC from future presidential primary debates if they continue with proposed documentaries on Hillary Clinton.

The RNC strategy for 2016 appears to consist entirely of preemptively blocking Hillary Clinton's presumed Democratic nomination, and that they view these documentaries as an attempt to foist her candidacy on an unsuspecting public.  It doesn't matter that Hillary is the most respected woman in American national politics.  Hell, it wasn't so long ago that Republicans were singing her praises in a last ditch effort to thwart Obama's nomination, with many Republicans crossing over to vote for her in the 2008 primaries in Ohio.  But, ever since Benghazi she has become the favorite target of GOP pundits.

Of course, no one knows what Hillary will do in 2016.  It is a long way off and there is a nasty set of mid-term elections on the event horizon that will set the tone for the second half of Obama's administration, and in turn who will be the presumptive front runner to his "throne."  That doesn't stop everyone from speculating on the 2016 presidential elections, with virtually every news outlets handicapping the race.  But, why all this "hate" directed at Hillary?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

War on Labor

It was 32 years ago that Ronald Reagan and the Republicans began their assault on organized labor, by staring down the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).  Since then we have seen a steady erosion of labor rights, stagnated wages and more and more companies using part-time employment (up to 35 hours per week) to avoid providing health care and unemployment compensation to its workers.

Walmart is the most notorious example of this. PBS provided a broad outline of Walmart's hiring practices in Store Wars, but this didn't stop Forbes from ranking Walmart as one of the 100 best corporations to work for, even going so far as to blame "Obamacare" for Walmart's increased use of temps, which has been a practice used long before Obama came to town.

Obama and the Democrats have made few in-roads over the last 5 years, but the attempt to spread government health care to a broader segment of the population took an important first step today, as you can now open your own personal "Obamacare" account.

Still, the battle to raise the minimum wage to a living wage is thwarted by Congressional Republicans.  This hasn't stopped municipalities from establishing their own minimum wages, such as San Francisco, which set $10.55 an hour as the baseline.  Even still, it is below the $11 most economists regard as the bare minimum to meet today's cost of living.

This didn't stop Fox's purported "financial analyst" Neil Cavuto from offering viewers a little anecdote how he started out at two bucks an hour at Arthur Treacher's in 1974.  He didn't bother to tell his listeners that if that same starting wage was adjusted for inflation, it would be $9.47 per hour today, more than most fast food workers get.  But, it seems the GOP lives in a world not adjusted for inflation, at least not at the bottom rung of the ladder.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hello Latvia

Hello, Latvia, so good of you to drop in. I love checking the stat box and seeing the different countries peeking in. Once again, I say don't feel afraid to comment. Your feedback is very much appreciated.  Mark Rothko must have been thinking of his home country when he did this painting.

Hothouse: an irresistible history of Farrar Straus & Giroux

Looks like an interesting book due out this month.

In his first book, Kachka, who writes about literature for New York magazine, makes the case that FSG, home to more Nobel Prize-winners than any other publisher in the world — 25, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elias Canetti, Seamus Heaney, Joseph Brodsky and Mario Vargas Llosa — is "arguably the most important publisher of foreign works in the United States." More broadly, he contends that FSG "arguably set the intellectual tone of postwar America."

That's quite a collection of writers!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

All About Margaret

This book is definitely on my to-read list.  Margaret Fuller's relationship with Adam Mickiewicz was recently explored in a Lithuanian play, Mistras, my wife and I saw.  She was portrayed with a blonde bouffant  and all the verve you would expect from a woman who touched many persons' lives in her tumultuous 40 years.  The play included her as part of the entourage (also included Frederic Chopin and George Sand) that surrounded the famous poet in 1840's Paris as he lamented the sad state of affairs in his homeland, hoping to rally Polish-Lithuanians as part of an army to reclaim their land lost to the Russians.

Megan Marshall's new book has been very well received and appears to help fill in the holes in the era we are discussing in relation to Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance.

Age of Romance

I have to thank you guys for reminding me of The Blithedale Romance as I've been looking through other titles about that era, and came across this biography of the Peabody Sisters.  The book opens with the marriage of Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne, signaling a new age in romance.  Their Diary of a Marriage was on exhibit not so long ago at the Morgan Library and Museum.  The book received great reviews when it came out in 2005.  For some reason I remember it coming up in the old NYTimes forums, but can't sure about that.