Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Country Held Hostage?

Until the federal government takes responsibility . . . states, counties and cities need to enact EMERGENCY laws PROHIBITING GUNS IN PUBLIC. Starting now. No guns in public. Big guns, little guns, pretty guns, ugly guns, manly guns, silly guns. Guns.

Otherwise, we are held hostage by angry armed thugs. We know that without their guns they’re cowards. With their guns they’re self-righteous bullies. I like them better without their guns.

Steinbeck’s small world

A high fog covered the sky, and behind it the moon shone, so that the forest was filled with a gauzelike light. There was none of the sharp outline we think of as reality. [Tortilla Flat]

Book cover design depicting several male workers, a woman in a dress, and several dogs of different breeds on a neighborhood street

They are novels in that each one is a series of connected stories, occurring chronologically. Put together they only equal the length of one shorter-than-average novel. But in Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row, there’s more heart, and soul, than just about anything before or since.

Light in tone and small in scope, these short works capture everyday humanity, its strengths and weaknesses, to a T, because that’s what Steinbeck did better than anyone. Together they paint a true to life picture of the Monterey that Steinbeck knew as a young man.

They should be read consecutively, Tortilla Flat and then Cannery Row. Tortilla Flat, set in the squalid outskirts of Monterey, charts the friendship and fates of a group of young men bonded by their mutual lack of opportunity and ambition. Cannery Row is the industrial shoreline of Monterey, and its inhabitants reflect all the earthiness of any Depression-era factory town or village. The reader begins to feel like Monterey is a place they know and understand.

The stories should be read with appreciation for Steinbeck’s language: spare, vivid, poetic, every word a key to something. The characters’ speech is unadorned, natural to the place, time and class of the speaker:

“He ain’t going to be what you’d call tender,” said Hazel. “You’d have to cook him about two weeks to get him tender. How old about do you judge he was, Mack?”

“I’m forty-eight and I ain’t as tough as he is,” said Mack.

Eddie said “How old can a chicken get, do you think—that’s if nobody pushes him around or he don’t get sick?”

“That’s something nobody isn’t ever going to find out,” said Jones. [Cannery Row]

Steinbeck wrote some weightier books, far more serious and larger in scope. But these two short works are American gems, they say so much so sweetly about what we’re capable of as simple human beings.

Apparently, when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 there was criticism of the choice. I will never understand how that could be. While taste is a subjective matter, when you weigh the stories, the strength of the characters and their lives, along with the richness of the prose, I cannot see another writer more deserving of the award. In my school of thought, Steinbeck is the Dean of American writers.

WHAT IS AN ELECTION?

An election is really a big, powerful march. A march through the streets of Everytown. A march for truth and justice.

Every ballot is a giant protest sign.

Every vote is a clear, deafening shout.

Every trip to a polling place is a proud fist in the air.

Every decision in a voting booth is an impassioned speech from the courthouse steps.

Every mail-in ballot is a cheer from a crowd filled with hope and solidarity.

Every election is a march to a better world.

Recently read The Magnificent Ambersons

First I read The Plutocrat (see prior post)and now The Magnificent Ambersons. I have spent my whole life (until recently) ignorant of the genius of Booth Tarkington. Am I solely to blame? Why didn’t English teachers and professors lecture me upon his deeply American (and Midwestern) wit and wisdom? Why didn’t friends or family members fold his books into my eager little hands? Why didn’t kindly librarians lead me to the correct shelf midway between Steinbeck and Twain and tell me that Tarkington is the third and central pillar of American letters?

Why? I don’t have time to worry about why, I have thirty-three Tarkington novels to read before my body or my brain turn to mold. Maybe reading them will work like an antiseptic and delay the moldering process.

 

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . The Erasers, by Alain Robbe-Grillet

The row is broken only at the perpendicular, identical crossroads, leaving just room enough to slip between the piles of ledgers and adding machines.

BOOK? . . . The Erasers, by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1953)

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Nouveau Roman. Absurdist and/or realist mystery

ABOUT WHAT? . . . This is a murder mystery. But IS IT a murder mystery? And if it IS a murder mystery, WHY is it a murder mystery? And eventually, finding no answers, you die of frustration. When you read a story by Robbe-Grillet there will be things that you will never quite be sure of. He will tell you things and show you things and you will want to believe them, even if they don’t make sense because he never actually explains the things that he shows and tells. But if you find yourself believing certain things other things will make you think that you were a fool to believe the first set of things and that there are an infinite number of sets of things that you might want to believe in except that there could only be one set of things. Or could there?

On a slightly more literal level, the story is about a political murder in a port city of post-war Flanders. A government agent arrives in the city and investigates the murder. At least he SEEMS to be investigating the murder. And he SEEMS to be a government agent. Or does he? Sorry, strike that. Force of habit. Anyway, one thing is definite: he’s not a very efficient investigator. He spends a whole day wandering the streets of the port city, which are like a labyrinth (in college we read Robbe-Grillet’s In the Labyrinth. I remember liking it because of its mysterious strangeness. That’s all I remember). He finally manages to track down all the witnesses but the manner in which he does that leads to an illogical, nerve-racking climax. Or does it? Now cut that out, Chuck! Okay, you’re right, strike that, too.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Uhhhhh. Life is a mystery? Yeah, the book is absurdist and questions reality. It uses experimental style and structure. He creates a cold bleak mechanical world. Even the people are strange and mechanical, going about their lives as though they have no personal will. This was his first novel, the beginning of a groundbreaking career in literature and film.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Uhhhhh. Depends on your mood and your personality. Maybe not. But I’m glad I read it.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . The universe is expanding. In case you need something to make you feel less lost after reading Robbe-Grillet.

“Mother, dear, don’t fuss over me . . .”

Almost one hundred years ago, this was the young Englishman’s declaration of independence from The Mater:

I don’t really want to have my bed choked with hot-water bottles whenever I sneeze, and be given whiskies and lemon last thing; or to have my suits forever reft away to be cleaned, and all that. If I want a whisky I can ask the butler for it . . .”

Ann Bridge, Illyrian Spring (1935)

You Rang M Lord.jpg

I hope Thurgood Marshall would have agreed . . .

Thurgood-marshall-2.jpg

Our criminal laws are found in statutes and court decisions, and they generally reflect our shared societal values. But they are often applied or enforced unfairly or unequally.

Assault, battery and other acts of violence are crimes, whether you’re in law enforcement or just a private individual. If you are defending yourself or others from harm, you are allowed to use reasonable force. You cannot use excessive force and if you do you are guilty of a crime of violence. These concepts are extremely complicated in real life. They get especially complicated in situations like arrests or detentions. There are whole sets of laws dealing with things like resisting arrest. Do not assume that you know what is reasonable and what is excessive. This applies to both police and private individuals. You may think something is reasonable but you could be wrong, under the law. Think with your head, not  your gut.

The fundamental truth is that violence is violence and people get hurt and there is no excuse for any of that.

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini

“When we know all of whatever it may be, we can never do anything but forgive, madame. That is the profoundest religious truth that was ever written.”

Scaramouche 1923 movie poster.jpg

BOOK? . . . Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini (1921)

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Historical fiction, Adventure, Romance

ABOUT WHAT? . . . The French Revolution, what else? Andre-Louis Moreau (aka Scaramouche) is the kind of hero that silent movies were made about in Hollywood in the 1920’s. (That was even before the word “movie” was coined—they were called “photoplays” at that time.) There are also villains, swordplay, and beautiful damsels. There is rapier-like wit on the part of Scaramouche himself (he’s really a very clever guy), and his tongue keeps getting him in trouble in situations that would probably blow over if he held his tongue. He’s not the kind of guy to hold his tongue, though, or to make nice to bad guys just to avoid bloodshed. Hence, a very exciting, romantic novel written in stunning prose by Sabatini, who was only half English and spoke several other languages.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Nothing deep or significant, except that it does a good job of describing some of the chronology of the French Revolution and the complexity of the class struggle, from maybe a little more conservative point of view than we normally see.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Yeah, it’s very well written and conceived, the plot is twisty and tangly.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . It would be weird if the novel was translated into French: a French translation of an English novel about the French Revolution?

A CREDIBLE CLAIM

I read the New York Times article of April 12 (updated April 29), “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden”. The writers did not express an ultimate opinion about the truth or falsity of Ms. Reade’s accusation, but the overall weight of the article seemed to raise serious questions about the veracity of her claim. The article had a link to the podcast of Ms. Reade’s interview by Katie Halper in March. So I listened to the podcast of the full interview, more than one hour. She is totally credible. I was spellbound. She describes the incident so well that I can see it in my mind’s eye as if I had been there watching. I can say that about very few of the witnesses I have questioned over the years. I can see Joe Biden saying and doing exactly what Ms. Reade describes.

There are people in the media attempting to find inconsistencies but they focus mainly on outlying and second hand facts that are largely immaterial to the alleged incident itself. And Ms. Reade herself explained why it took so many years for this allegation to evolve, and why Joe Biden still triggers self-doubt and ambivalence for her. Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the incident happened and that it happened exactly or very nearly as she describes it.

The podcast interview is not testimony, in the legal sense. It is a statement, in a loose question and answer format. Ms. Reade is a victim/witness. Because people vary so much in so many ways, witness statements can range from extremely poor to unsatisfactory to average to good to great. In her interview by Katie Halper, Ms. Reade is a great witness. She is not merely credible or plausible, she is just about as good a witness as you could ask for. That’s based on forty years spent mostly in court. To use a well-worn descriptive formula, if I’ve seen one witness I’ve seen fifty thousand. Tara Reade is perceptive and articulate. She has depth and sensibility. She reminds me of my daughter. There are details and nuances in Ms. Reade’s statement. She puts everything in the real-life context of her own personal situation and the atmosphere of Senator Biden’s office. She has insight. Insight into her reactions, as well as Senator Biden’s actions and reactions. She is responsive, she is direct. Her reluctance to answer one of the particular questions is completely appropriate, it’s understandable. It hurts. There are things that she remembers and things she doesn’t. That is also appropriate. She does not try to make up answers for what she doesn’t remember. She is testifying from real memories, for better or for worse.

So, what does Joe Biden do? I will still vote for him either way. But I hope he does what Brett Kavanaugh didn’t do. I hope Joe Biden does what he did last year and admits that he’s not a saint, that he used to take liberties with women and their bodies, that he did something in 1993 that he is very ashamed of and that caused Tara Reade a lot of pain, and that he hopes he has begun to atone by becoming a better person and a champion of women and all the other segments of humanity who really need a champion in the White House right now.

SOAR’s new album

I like the review, from theowlmag.com, of SOAR’s new album. I adopt his conclusions wholeheartedly. I don’t have much to add. Like I’ve said before about SOAR, I’m in love with their four-part harmonies, and also the times that they all take their voices off into separate melodies that blend like a cool fruit smoothie. Their guitars, bass and drums are voices, too. They sing with a whole range of near-human thoughts and impressions.

SOAR image

Soft Dial Tone is an enigmatic title, and there is much to ponder in the lyrics of the album. There are meanings in those words that I may never resolve, but we can try, can’t we? That’s what counts. Isn’t it? There is some overall feeling of transience, impermanence throughout the album. How timely. I was particularly struck with the eerie foreshadowing of the pandemic that has become our new reality. The second track, “Corner of a Room”, says “wash your hands” and feels like there’s no turning back from the choice between staying home and leaving home. We are all cornered, in a sense. Until we aren’t. And so the unsettling, disconnected nature of our lives today is echoed, like a Soft Dial Tone, in this album that is sometimes slow and contemplative, sometimes upbeat, and always ambivalent about whether there is any lasting difference between the two.

Go to Bandcamp at https://soartheband.bandcamp.com/album/soft-dial-tone

Truth is “Stranger” than . . .

Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel, portrait en buste, posé au bureau, faisant face à gauche, cigarette de tabagisme.jpg

It may sound like the LAST thing you’d want to read right now, but in a weird way it could be the feel-good novel of the year. The Plague, by Albert Camus, is the story of a major city under siege by a deadly virus. Set in Oran, Algeria, in the 1940’s, it’s a graphic portrayal of a city suddenly infested with Bubonic Plague, strictly quarantined and cut off from the rest of the world. With little outside help, the city and its stunned residents must cope with the unreality of their situation alongside its very real threat to their lives. With contagion and corpses around every corner, the moral fiber of the populace is tested to its limits.

La Peste book cover.jpg

As in all his major writings, Camus questions the fundamental nature of life and death. As hard as it is to define those questions, the answers are even more elusive. But The Plague is a beautiful, yes beautiful, frightening and inspiring study of human nature in all its imperfection. And while we all want to escape, somehow, from the sadness and fear that right now bombard us from every direction, perhaps a deep dark look into the mirror of literary fiction is a truer escape, one that might comfort us longer and reflect a bit of light upon our path.

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . The Plutocrat, by Booth Tarkington

” Upon the wine list the General discovered a red Beaune, a dear lost love of his, he said—and not only said, but copiously proved by wearing his lost love’s colours, ere long, as his own complexion.”

BOOK? . . . The Plutocrat, by Booth Tarkington (1927)

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Romance, but tempered somewhat by a jaded irony

ABOUT WHAT? . . . A 1920’s Atlantic Ocean voyage and North Africa land tour embarked upon by a young playwright named Laurence Ogle (I had a high school math teacher named Miss Ogle. Probably doesn’t mean anything). Well, for Laurence Ogle, this is a case of first love. They are barely out of U.S. waters before he is unwittingly smitten by a co-voyager, a Frenchwoman roughly a decade beyond his years, but what young man cannot relate to Ogle’s puppy-like helplessness, to the torment, the humiliation, the splendor of his infatuation? Ogle is not a simple character but, seeing only her loveliness, he discovers much more complexity in Madame Momoro’s nature than he is equipped to understand. The most obvious obstacle for Ogle is the gregarious Mr. Tinker, who seems to be everywhere that he, and Madame Momoro, happen to be. A ship can be like a prison when there is a ruggedly-handsome Midwestern plutocrat on board who can’t be avoided. Even North Africa can feel pretty small.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . This book illustrates the difference between realism and romance. Not in literature. In life. Guess which one wins in the end. And guess what the book is really saying about class distinctions in America. And guess how many reversals of fortune you will encounter in its pages. And guess what mysteries will be presented and puzzled over. And guess how many other things you will see in the characters and the plot that I did not see.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Uh-huh. Very funny, in parts, but that’s just the icing on the cake. There is sophistication, artistry and astuteness. The Plutocrat is a mislaid American gem of a novel, obscured and overshadowed by Tarkington’s other books only because it is not of very epic proportions. But you don’t find writing like this every day. Hardly ever, nowadays.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . I’m gonna get me some more books by this fella Tarkington because I probably shouldn’t even be writing little Two-bit reviews until I make sure I know what I’m talking about.

New CAVE BABIES album

Some I’d heard before, others I’m hearing for the first time. Free-wheeling and original. Okay, some of it is a little crazy.

The words and music are co-equal. There’s a lot of pain in those words and notes, but, encouragingly, even more of hopefulness. And a consistent thread of humor. Love the humor. I’ll guarantee you, there’s nothing like this on the Grammys.

https://cavebabies.bandcamp.com/album/emotional-intimacy

Puzzling over “The Four Quartets”

This is a re-blog from THE ARGUMENTATIVE OLD GIT, my favorite literary blog. . .

The Argumentative Old Git

I have spent the first few days of this new year puzzling over T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets.

But when have I not puzzled over these endlessly mysterious and elusive works? And will there ever be a time when I won’t be puzzling over them? As Eliot put it himself, we shall not cease from exploration. He continued:

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Looked at logically, this does not make sense. Having declared categorically that our explorations will not end, Eliot immediately goes on to speak of the condition that will characterise the end that he has already declared will never happen.

The four poems, the “quartets”, as Eliot calls them, are full of such contradictions:

                      Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the…

View original post 1,734 more words

JUST DENY EVERYTHING. IT’S NEVER FAILED. . .

“I hardly know the lady.”
“Sir, she’s your wife, she’s the First Lady of the United States because she’s married to you.”
“Can you prove that ridiculous allegation? I don’t see any evidence.”
“Mr. President, you’ve been married to Melania for many years. You have a child together. She’s traveled all over the world with you.”
“You see, this is exactly what I’m talking about. You liberal media guys are just mouthpieces for the Democrats.”
“Mr. President, I’m with The National Review.
“Yeah? Well I don’t like smart alecks. Sit down and shut up or I’ll take your White House press pass away. You there, with the big cross and the NRA cap. What’s your question?”
“Mr. President, I interviewed you and Mrs. Trump just last month. My paper gave your campaign a big check and a special commemorative assault rifle. When Mrs. Trump said she’s afraid of guns you pulled the trigger just to show her it wasn’t loaded. The problem is, Mr. President, now you say you barely know her and, uh, it kinda, you know, makes my paper look bad.”

File:President Trump Delivers Remarks Upon Departure 2019-09-22.webm

“What the—”
“Mr. President, are you trying to distance yourself from Mrs. Trump because of—”
“I didn’t call on you, you’re very rude and out of—”

“—because of her statement today that she’s worried about you, that you’ve been talking Russian in your sleep and—”

“Security, I want that woman removed from this—”

“—and that you’ve been choking your pillow and calling out Rudy Giuliani’s name?”

“I don’t know that Giuliani guy. I think I saw him once at one of my country clubs, he was trespassing and double bogeyed the tenth hole.”
“Sir, over here Sir. In 2016 you said you would jump off your penthouse balcony if Melania asked you to, that’s how much you love and depend on her.”
“I never said that. Melania who?”
“Nice try, Mr. President. Every network has news footage of you saying that, Sir, and giving her a big sloppy kiss right afterwards.”
“It’s fake. They used computer tricks.”
“Mr. Trump, the whole world is watching this news conference as we speak. Do you realize that you are destroying any shred of credibility that you might still have had left?”
“That’s right, Mr. Trump, you can’t deny what the whole world sees and hears and what these cameras preserve for the record.”
“You guys think you’re so smart. Well how do I know that this is really me talking? How do I know that some Democratic conspiracy hasn’t built a fake me and put him up here at this podium to say things that make no sense? Maybe this whole room is a fake. Maybe all of you are hoaxes. Maybe you’re all holograms. Maybe the whole government is a hologram. Which means I’m a hologram. Which means I’m not the me that said that I’m me because I’m the me that someone else said was me before they realized that I’m a lot smarter me than that other me and I’m also twice as rich as that other me, and a hell of a lot better looking or why else would all those magazines and TV shows keep flashing my picture everywhere and why else would all those sexy broads keep flirting with me and make me do things that only a hologram could do and maybe I should ask for a better hologram, one with better hair, although really my hair is perfect, it was a perfect haircut, it was a beautiful haircut, there was nothing wrong with that haircut, there was no quid pro quo for any kind of investigation into anyone else’s haircut. Speaking of investigations, did you ever notice that it begins with the word ‘invest’? If they didn’t want rich people to own investigations and make money from them, they should have called them something else. Am I right? Any suggestions? Why do I see holograms wearing D.C. Department of Mental Health uniforms? Why are they coming towards me and smiling like Newt Gingrich? Why is Mike Pence coming towards me. Did you ever see a hologram with such a ridiculous smile?”

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . The Way of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler

” I think the Church Catechism has a good deal to do with the unhappy relations which commonly even now exist between parents and children. That work was written too exclusively from the parental point of view; the person who composed it did not get a few children to come in and help him; he was clearly not young himself, nor should I say it was the work of one who liked children. . .”

Samuel Butler by Charles Gogin.jpg

BOOK? . . . The Way of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler (1903)

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Realism/Satire

ABOUT WHAT? . . . This is a multigenerational family saga of 19th Century rural England, but it’s much more than just a story about a family’s historical struggles. The family is a typical one full of ordinary people who make the parish church their means of livelihood and the foundation of their self-identity. But, despite their ordinary lives, the insights Butler gives us about such families are extraordinary.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Thanks to its eloquent narration and its depiction of the traditional way the older generation raises and instructs the younger generation, The Way of All Flesh is one of the great novels exposing the cruelty of strict religions and other hypocrisies. The book dared to say things rarely, or never before, said about established religion and Victorian morals. The book was monumental in its impact on modern thinking. It was a work of humanist philosophy that used a fictional story as its vehicle.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Maybe. . . The plot is slow but it’s a slow-motion slap in the face. The characters are unremarkable but that’s how Butler needed them to be, and they’re as well-drawn and real as a portrait on a wall. The dialogue is sparse and the prose is unadorned. But Butler’s message is full of sympathy and kindness.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . . The finished manuscript sat in a drawer for twenty years until Samuel Butler gave it to a friend and as a dying wish asked the friend to arrange for it to be published, finally. It was published a year after Butler’s death.

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

” The bruise was deep, deep, deep…the bruise of the false inhuman war. It would take many years for the living blood of the generations to dissolve the vast black clot of bruised blood, deep inside their souls and bodies.”

BOOK? . . . Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Romance plus philosophical and social themes

ABOUT WHAT? . . . An illicit and potentially scandalous love affair, described in intimate detail, and the emotional conditions leading up to it. The book portrays the sadness and emptiness of the generation that fought and endured World War I. It offers only a glimmer of hope that people so emotionally damaged can find fulfillment in their lives. Clifford, Lord Chatterley, who is left paraplegic from the war, physically personifies the emotional numbness that torments Connie, Lady Chatterley, and leaves her feeling that something is missing from her life and life in general.

The novel also describes the ugliness, the misery of modern industrial society, and laments the loss of pastoral beauty. At the same time the book deplores British class structure, which persists despite the social and economic upheaval all around it.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Most people think of Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a daringly sexual book that offended large segments of the public. Unlike other books (by Updike, Roth, Irving, etc.) that unfortunately add sexual content merely to shock or titillate, Lawrence’s novel is rich in sex because sex is a symbol and a symptom. It is there to convey serious feelings that matter to the characters. It is described with wondrous respect, and the love scenes place women and men on the same plane, in terms of desires and feelings.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Maybe. It may not be a great novel, standing head and shoulders about others. But it’s a very good one, with memorable characters, a lot of remarkable prose and deep disturbing thoughts about men, women, life, love and sex.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . Nope. I said what I gotta say.