Love and Protest

Amy’s Story by Anna Lawton sets a tempestuous romance against the turbulent half-century of global change that erupted in the 1960s and flowed across the land like a modern Great Flood. The novel plants the seeds of these decades in the post-World War One migration from Europe to the United States and reveals the newest fruits—poison to some, nectar to others—in the closing pages. The private romance and the public turmoil work together to create a story as much about love as it is about progress, about aspiration and success as about longing and loss.

A third conflict, the subtle struggle between the adventurous Amy and childhood friend Stella (with whom she shares a surprising connection) can be summed up in a line: ‘She tried to pull me back and make me think before jumping into action, although my instinct often prevailed.’

At every level the book addresses the question, ‘Where are you from?’ And the structure suggests there is no true answer without first understanding the history that brings you there.

The protagonist arrives in L.A. from Turin as the lover of a charming, if arrogant, Fulbright scholar. Jim is writing an industry-shattering book about Italian film’s influence on Hollywood, an anti-establishment work that will keep him struggling for years to win his place at the table. The pair struggle together; they’re a team; and their struggle occurs at a time when baby boomers around the world are struggling to upend the status quo.

We know the reasons: the war in Vietnam; political assassinations; craven and unstable American leadership; beats and hippies and drugs and music; the push for racial and gender equality. A trip to Mexico during these years reveals the nightmare women endured in the years before Roe v. Wade, a stunning description of the harrowing limits being pushed in the struggle to maintain control over a woman’s own body.

But as her mentor makes plain, not all protestors understand exactly what or why they protest. ‘These kids fill up their mouths with words such as Marxism, Communism, class struggle, revolution, but they don’t even know their true meaning. They lack historical knowledge, never went to the roots.’

The roots he refers to are the ideas from Europe that stitched themselves into the fabric of the American Constitution. And his lesson carries an eerie foretaste of the conformity and demagoguery that duped 46.1% of voting Americans last fall: ‘The ‘mass’… this is one of the favorite words in Marxist parlance because the mass can be easily manipulated. All you need is a charismatic leader, a simplistic doctrine, smart images on posters and banners, and…. A new dogma is born, an absolute truth, and all genuflect to it.’

Continue reading Love and Protest

Earth Day for Dummies

What I plan to do for Earth day is drive a gas guzzler up the road tossing hamburger wrappers out the window and blasting Metallica’s “Blackened” ’til Johnny Law hunts me down in his fuel sucking hot rod and hands me a ticket for speeding, littering, and noise pollution.

Earth Day? What a scam! We should treat Earth Day like the Mardi Gras of pollution. Don’t celebrate Earth Day by riding your bike to work in a green shirt and re-using your dental floss. That’s shallow and disgusting.

Walk or bike to work the other 364 days a year; also properly dispose of your batteries and engine oil; eat eco-friendly vegetables; turn off the lights and turn down the A.C.; reduce, re-use, recycle! That’s the 364-day plan!

Earth Day is a day for flushing the toilet twice instead of not at all. Take long, hot showers and eat meals that require an abundance of grassland and disgraceful amounts of irrigation to produce. Water your lawn and wash your car! Add noise pollution to this mix of insanity and blast your favorite big hair aerosol band from 1988! Rock on! Live free or die. It’s Earth Day!

Then wake up and treat the next 364 days like Lent, pious and observant. We have only one Mother Earth.

* And don’t get me started on all the other International Days of This and That!

House of Cards, Sleight of Hand

Think the opening credits for House of Cards is just some anodyne tour around the nation’s capital? Not so.

One minute into the 90 second clip the camera pans desolate tracks. It’s night. All is still, the music foreboding. A locomotive blows through timed to a sudden guitar chord—sound and vision merged for a dramatic second before the tracks go empty again. The music pulses low and ominous.

Soon after a horn peels in martial tone, saluting the statue of General Grant high up on his horse. The horn and military man work in concert unifying sound and image.

The audio buzzes in hellish frenzy. The screen zeroes on a shadowy demon (the statue is Thales, a philosopher-electrician, not the devil but demonic nonetheless). Sound and vision subtly collude in these final seconds, producing certainty that what follows will be the cold calculations of evil minds, deceptions making an inhuman city a place of dread. Continue reading House of Cards, Sleight of Hand

The Run

My son’s offering his services as my campaign manager. More than the trappings of power, I think the third grader’s hooked on creating slogans.

‘Want the Best?
Vote the Beast.’

Beast is a nickname I picked up in Jr. High. It was my sister’s fault. A clever P.E. teacher pegged her first initial against her last name, and the Beast was born. When I started climbing rope two years later, the name was passed down to me and I became the Beast myself. Continue reading The Run

Calling Mr. Robot

If the leadership really wants to improve our healthcare insurance, they should start with a phone call to Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 12 seconds or less they’ll learn that legislating insurance can only make America great again if it kills the robots taking our calls.

I’m sorry, I did not understand your response.
‘That’s because you’re a robot.’
I’m sorry, I did not understand your response.

Even the privileged elite in congress should recognize the futility of this conversation. Continue reading Calling Mr. Robot

Supporting the Women’s March on Washington

wmarch

I may not be marching, but I refuse to be silent. The cause is just and the timing right. I will be counted among the marchers by rolling up my sleeves at home. A list of ways you can do the same:

1. Make the signs.
2. Airport/train/bus pickup for out-of-towners.
3. Pack their lunch (and a thermos of brandy).
4. Keep the young ones from burning down the house.
5. Wave to them when they wave to you on TV.
6. Hot soup on the stove.
7. Foot. Massage!
8. Bail money.
9. Encourage. Support. Participate.
10. Listen.

Or, you could march.

Transition Brief

With another POTUS valedictory in the books & just a week to inauguration, it’s a good time to dust off The Transition Brief: a look at how an outgoing Administration briefs an incoming Administration how the outgoing administration was briefed by the outgoing administration before that…

President-elect Barack Obama is welcomed by President George W. Bush for a meeting at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009, with former presidents, from left, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) 04032013xMETRO
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Good morning and thank you for coming. Let me begin with a clear statement of what we do and why we do it. Our objectives are clear because they have to be, and to achieve this clarity we did many things. We went around in circles looking at our objectives and we came to one conclusion: someone had to do something.

Read the full brief

Billy Lynn’s Long Thanksgiving Slog

billy_lynn_book_Thanksgiving. The most American day of the year. More American, perhaps, than the Fourth of July.

Throw in a hyperbolically American venue—Texas stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys—and you’ve got Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (also now in theaters).

For the heroes of Bravo squad, barnstorming the U.S. on a brief victory tour to rile up the natives before returning to the front lines of the War on Terror, there is nothing more American than this. Even the stadium concourse reflects Americana: “Your Taco Bells, your Subways, your Pizza Huts and Papa John’s, clouds of hot meaty gases waft from these places and surely it speaks to the genius of American cooking that they all smell pretty much the same. It dawns on him [namesake protagonist Billy Lynn] that Texas stadium is basically a shithole.”

Basically a shithole.

Here’s a grunt deeply scarred by the memory of squatting in the roadside reeds next to his dying buddy, covered in blood, half-wondering if any of it is his, “His bloody hands so slick he finally had to tear open the compression bandage with his teeth.” Yet Texas Stadium’s the shithole.

This early passage about sums up the point of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Not a war novel so much as a warrior’s rebuke of the country he’s fighting for, a blazing satire of patriotism on the home front while the national treasury is raided in pursuit of a wholly unnecessary, errant, distracting war.

“The Catch-22 of the Iraq War”
–Karl Marlantes

It’s an accurate premise but a flawed approach, a long-ass slog covering maybe six present-time hours while the he-roes of Bravo squad (there is no such thing as Bravo squad) sit on their hands and drink with wealthy Texas hot-shots and wait to watch one of the dullest games on earth (football is still better than curling). Long before the end Ben Fountain’s satiric display of Americans at their worst is collapsing under its own weight. Anyone hoping for a better understanding of what the soldiers in Iraq have gone through should choose The Yellow Birds instead. This story tells us what we witness every day: the worst of America.

That isn’t to say Ben Fountain hasn’t got a few sticks of dynamite up his sleeve. There’s magic in the neat line he draws between the game of football and the game of war, the equipment production of a pro football team and war-time’s production of death. “Soon after kickoff Billy intuits the basic futility of seizing ground you can’t control.”

More than his own heroic actions, gunning down the enemy while simultaneously applying pressure to his buddy’s bleeder, that have made Bravo squad the toast of Amurica, Billy’s got Shroom on his mind. Shroom, the magical, mystical figure who embodies the warrior-poet (in contrast to Dime, the tough Sgt. In charge). Shroom foretells his own death and its simple as that: “I’m going down.”

When the grateful citizens meet him, “His ordeal becomes theirs… some sort of mystical transference takes place and its just too much for them… One woman bursts into tears, so shattering is her gratitude. Another asks if we are winning…”

Another grateful American man suggests the proper response: “You and your brother soldiers are preparing the way.” The question is—and we now know the answer—Preparing the way for what, exactly?

Full Review

The Anatomy of Political Implosion

Top 10 list requiring no preface or introduction—

10. Bubba. She enabled him. He enabled her. Until they didn’t.bubba

9. BO. The Affordable Care Act. Its moral necessity was lost on the selfish many.

putin8. Vlad. Great spook. Spooky guy. Data thief. Exposer of secrets.

7. Gowdy (hair!) & Chaffetz. Drawn out hearings to reveal nothing again and again.

6. FacebookBubbles, FacebookFakeNewsGuy, FacebookNYTWaPoPollstersCNN.

5. Wiener. Danger. Aptly named.weiner

4. Huma. See above.

3. Debbie. What happens when you short-circuit Democracy. (Also, nice hair)

2. Comey. The shamefully garrulous lawman.

1. HRC. So capable. So capable. So draped in corruption & surrounded by villains.

rr1

The Literary Excellence, III

My nominations for The Stephen T. Colbert Award for The Literary Excellence continue. Boy, this effort is really lifting my mood!

pc-group-chevy-chase-4

In Preston Lang’s The Sin Tax a female baddy flashes her gun at a male ex-con baddy: “You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a carry permit in New York. It’s insane. But once they give you one, they’re basically saying they want you to shoot somebody.”

So many major issues from the campaign! Taxes—somebody didn’t pay them. Crime—somebody’s still wriggling on the hook over them. Boy v Girl. Threats of violence. It’s all here.

So, is Janet serious? To protagonist Mark she’s serious as a heart attack:

It was a real gun, small and cold, looking like the smartest guy in the room.

Probably a lot smarter than The Orange One, anyway.

There’s lots of Lang’s best ‘Who’s Hustling Who’ in The Sin Tax, a quest for money, smokes, and—less important—absolution. The petty take’s what matters. Watch it grow from 10’s to 100’s to ever bigger digits. Bigger as in life and death:

Only a psychotic individual would kill a man to make a point to someone as unimportant as Mark… once you erase a man as a form of communication to someone who isn’t even valuable to himself, there’s something very cold running inside of you.

To each his own vendetta in The Sin Tax, where even the winners get a taste the barrel. Let’s just hope our Republic can avoid the same fate.

Anyone who missed Lang’s first two crime paperbacks, The Carrier and The Blind Rooster, ought to jump right in and read The Sin Tax. Hard, straight writing. Contemporary plot. All the author’s wry and unobtrusive observation of human habit.


“Heroes, by buying and reading this book, you’ve proven you get it–and are therefore now members of the nominating committee for The Stephen T. Colbert Award for The Literary Excellence.” Use the medallions below to nominate any book that you feel embodies the values of the Colbert Nation.”

Previous nominees for 2016:

Sterling Johnson—English as a Second F*cking Language
Ted Prokash—The Brothers Connolly