When ‘Best’ was Best

16 Sep
Fifty Best American Short Stories edited by Martha Foley

Fifty Best American Short Stories edited by Martha Foley

Back in 1915 when publisher Houghton Mifflin issued the first Best American Short Stories,the superlative ‘best’ was not yet a shopworn descriptor. HoughtonMifflin Harcourt has continued publishing that yearly anthology for the past hundred years. Along the way Best Essays and a number of other rubrics have come*(and some gone).

Three years ago The Best American Infographics was introduced by series editor Pulitzer Prize Awardee Gareth Cook. For this year’s edition Cook teams with “Brain Pickings” creator Maria Popova to produce The Best American Infographics 2015

The Best American Infographics 2015 by Maria Popova, Gareth Cook

The Best American Infographics 2015 by Maria Popova, Gareth Cook

As information architecture has become a vital element of new technologies annual does fulfill a real need. And doubly interesting is including Ms Popova whose web site Brain Pickings is one of the freshest and original resources in all of webworld.

Here’s a quick take on Maria Popova

And here’s a recent article

So what exactly is it that she does? Ms. Popova says she views her job as “helping people become interested in things they didn’t know they were interested in, until they are.” One entry might discuss how to find your true passion, with links to a talk by Alain de Botton, a book by the cartoonist Hugh MacLeod and a commencement address by Steve Jobs; another, how she asked an artist friend to illustrate thoughts on love from Susan Sontag’s diaries. Recently she recounted an aging Helen Keller’s visit to Martha Graham’s studio.

Paola Antonelli, a senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art and a friend of Ms. Popova’s, said a good curator was someone whose own taste had somehow become the taste of millions. “What Maria has is the DNA of millions of people,” Ms. Antonelli said. “She somehow tunes in to what would make other people dream, or inspire them in a way that is quite unique.”

And if you haven’t had enough Popova here’s a conversation with Rachel Sussman at the school of Visual Arts

*The Best American Comics 2015
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015
The Best American Short Stories 2015
The Best American Travel Writing 2015
The Best American Mystery Stories 2015
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015
The Best American Essays 2015
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015
The Best American Mystery Stories 2015
The Best American Sports Writing 2015

Various and Sundry: Ooh-Shoo Bee Doobee

3 Sep
George Scialabba by Stu Rosner

George Scialabba by Stu Rosner

If you have landed on this sceptered isle serendipitously the name George Scialabba may not mean anything to you but even occasional visitors will know of my great admiration for George (see my recent chat with him)—thus I am happy to pass on the news of George Scialabba day in Cambridge and star-studded attached to that celebration

* * *

Arianna Huffington is right up there with the short-fingered vulgarian who has turned the presidential primary season into a bad reality TV show, as someone who is its easy to dislike. The ever vigilant Jim Romenesko files this item. Veteran journalist Lauren Lipton responds to a query from Huff Post’s research editor;

I have worked my entire career as a professional journalist….I am very, very good at what I do.

Unfortunately, your boss’s predatory business practices have deeply undercut the ability of all reporters, writers and editors to make any kind of living wage. The rapacious Ms. Huffington seems to believe that journalism skills are worth nothing, and that my beleaguered colleagues and I should be thrilled to help her make hundreds of millions of dollars in return for “exposure.”

If Ms. Huffington would like to know how I uncovered that particular statistic, she is free to hire me and pay me for my time and expertise.

Masks of Anarchy by

Masks of Anarchy by

Historian Paul Buhle‘s body of work is impressive. Here he introduces Michael Demson’s Masks of Anarchy: The Story of a Radical Poem from Percy Shelley to the Triangle Factory Fire. providing a useful survey of comic art:

…the first decade of the new millennium has seen more significant developments in comic art than any time since the first comic strips appeared, in the dailies of the 1890s. Now, of course, comics as well as their artists and readers are found all over the globe, both in print and on the Internet. From a visual standpoint, today’s comics are inspired and shaped by a contemporary readership that is not only substantially larger than in the past, but also arguably more aesthetically sophisticated than its predecessors in the “reading” of the comics.

Comics have now become a full-blown field of scholarly inquiry, as numerous scholarly journals and books have vanished in their earlier forms to be replaced by electronic versions, and as comics scholars themselves gain status in the universities. This marks either a fitting irony or a kind of fulfillment of the art form.

The field of comic art, always subject to volatile market conditions and very often to a boom-and-bust pattern, with surges followed by collapse, has advanced so unpredictably that almost nothing seems far in the past….

A People's History of American Empire by Paul Buhle and Howard Zinn

A People’s History of American Empire by Paul Buhle and Howard Zinn

* * *

Keystone Kops— This might be funny but the police killed a dog…

Jez Burrow does some clever shit with the dictionary



Whatever your geo-political view(s) on the debacle known as Gaza, there must be somethingthat can be done about this


How much does the rubber on a MLB pitcher’s mound weigh?

Two Stones [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Two Stones [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

From Melancholy by Carina del Valle Schorske (found at Wood’s Lot)

Melancholy is a word that has fallen out of favor for describing the condition we now call depression. The fact that our language has changed, without the earlier word disappearing completely, indicates that we are still able to make use of both. Like most synonyms, melancholy and depression are not in fact synonymous, but slips of the tongue in a language we’re still learning. We keep trying to specify our experience of mental suffering, but all our new words constellate instead of consolidate meaning. In the essay collectionUnder the Sign of Saturn, Susan Sontag writes about her intellectual heroes, who all suffer solitude, ill temper, existential distress and creative block. They all breathe black air. According to her diagnostic model, they are all “melancholics.” Sontag doesn’t use the word depression in the company of her role models, but elsewhere she draws what seems like an easy distinction: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms.” But what are the charms of melancholy?


Here’s the Associated Press on the coming inhabitability of Gaza and here is Agence France-Presse

We’re gonna miss these guys

Murder Roger Goodell? A joke?

News is seeping into view ahead of the December release of the film Concussion that perhaps the controversial story line was toned down (to please the NFL?)The film is based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’s book Concussion:

Concussion by Jean Marie Laskas

Concussion by Jean Marie Laskas

…is the of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pathologist who made one of the most significant medical discoveries of the twenty-first century, a discovery that challenges the existence of America’s favorite sport and puts Omalu in the crosshairs of football’s most powerful corporation: the NFL.

In September of 2002, in a dingy morgue in downtown Pittsburgh, a young forensic neuropathologist named Bennet Omalu picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he never intended. Omalu was new to America, chasing the dream, a deeply spiritual man escaping the wounds of civil war in Nigeria. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old named Mike Webster—aka “Iron Mike”—a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the greatest to ever play the game. After retiring in 1990, Webster had suffered a dizzyingly steep decline. Toward the end of his life, he was living out of his van, Tasering himself to relieve his chronic pain, and fixing his rotting teeth with Super Glue. How did this happen? Omalu asked himself. How did a young man like Mike Webster end up like this? The search for answers would change Omalu’s life forever and put him in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful corporations in America: the National Football League. What Omalu discovered in Mike Webster’s brain—proof that his mental deterioration was no accident, but a disease, caused by relentless blows to the head, that could affect everyone playing the game—was the one truth the NFL would do anything to keep secret.

Clearly, the controversial subject (only controversial because it pits commerce vs science) of brain damage and football will be thrashed out into the foreseeable future and a good starting point for thinking about it is the Frontline special, League of Denial (from which, by the way, the NFL’s stenographer ESPN withdrew its participation).

Diverse Diversions: Not Aggravating Aggregations

31 Aug
Kodak 'Brownie'

Kodak ‘Brownie’

Recently I noted (in the cursory manner to which I am accustomed) Teju Cole’s commentary on a Rene’ Burri photo. Over at Howard Dinen’s 1standarddeviation.com, Dinin engages in a informed and illustrated exchange with another photography enthusiast

The big news is that Japan won the Little League World Series (which is a legitimate world competition, unlike some misnomered World Series to which we can point) but we should (and will) note a charming display of sportsmanship from the Chinese Taipei/Uganda (next big beisbol powerhouse) game.

RIP Oliver Saks ” poet laureate of medicine”*, whom millions knew as the physician played by actor Robin Williams in the 1990 film “Awakenings”

The box office hit documentary Amy is not the only recent memorial to MS. Winehouse. Two (so called) art exhibits in San Francisco, A Family Portrait and You Know I’m No Good

Hockey tradition comes to baseball when Edwin Encarnacion hits his third dinger of the game in Toronto

Jim Harrison and Dalai Labrador Rosie [photo: Robert Birnbaum circa 2004]

Jim Harrison and Dalai Labrador Rosie [photo: Robert Birnbaum circa 2004]

From Jim Harrison’s Songs of Unreason

When young I read that during the Philippine War
we shot six hundred Indians in a wide pit. It didn’t seem fair.
During my entire life I’ve been helpless
in this matter. I even dream about it.


In summer I walk the dogs at dawn
before the rattlesnakes awake. In cold weather
I walk the dogs at dawn out of habit.
In the pastures we find many oval deer beds
of crushed grass. Their bodies are their homes.


I left this mangy little
three-legged bear two big fish
on a stump. He ate them at night
and at dawn slept like a god
leaning against the stump
in a chorus of birds.


The fly on the window is not a distant crow
in the sky. We’re forced into these decisions.
People are forever marrying the wrong people
and the children of the world suffer.
Their dreams hang in the skies out of reach.

Vin Scully has been calling baseball games as long as I have been alive—he’s coming back for one more year

ALEX COX is the director who among other films made Repo Man, Walker (for which Joe Strummer did the soundtrack),Sid and Nancy. I recently received a this note, “Robert: This is what old filmmakers do when they show us the barn…”

Alan Watt observes

The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the “I” out of the experience. We pretend that we are amoebas, and try to protect ourselves from life by splitting in two. Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate “I” or mind can be found.

To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.

Eleven days before George Scialabba is feted in Cambridge and other parts of the known world

* from Washington Post obitituary

Disparate Dispatches: Far Flung & What Not

28 Aug
George Sciallabba [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

George Sciallabba [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Thirteen days to George Scialabba day and assorted star studded events. Did you miss my recent chat with George inspired by his revealing piece about his mental health history in a recent issue of the Baffler? Go here and here

Joy In Mudville or in this case ” The Friendly Confines

James Baldwin exclaimed

I am stating very seriously, and this is not an overstatement: I picked the cotton, I carried it to the market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing. For nothing. The Southern oligarchy, which has still today so very much power in Washington, and therefore some power in the world, was created by my labor and my sweat, and the violation of my women and the murder of my children. This, in the land of the free, and the home of the brave. And no one can challenge that statement. It is a matter of historical record.

Hey American Exceptionalsts—celebrate two anniversaries this week:

The 60th anniversary memorial of the murder of Emmett Till

President Bush flies past  Nw Orleans during Hurricane Katrina

President Bush flies past Nw Orleans during Hurricane Katrina

And, of course, the 10th anniversary of the debacle known as Katrina (is the shameless George W Bush really going to show his face in New Orleans?). Randy Newman who has written more great songs than any living sing writer not named (Bob)Dylan or William “Smokey”)Robinson recently played at a benefit in New Orleans.

Newman’s song Louisiana 1927 is one of the few modern day acknowledgments of the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1927. In case you are interested there is an excellent and unheralded novel set in the greatest US natural disaster (up until 1927) by Beth Fenelly and Tom Franklin, The Twisted World and John M. Barry’s Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America

And then there is Newman’s great God’s Song: That’s Why I Love Mankind)

Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:
Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
‘Cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be
That’s why I love mankind
I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why I love mankind
The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, “Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples…

I have been advocating ignoring the short fingered vulgarian political machinations for some time. Charles Blow agrees Matt Taibbi chimes in http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/donald-trump-just-stopped-being-funny-20150821:

[The Short fingered vulgarian] isn’t really a politician, of course. He’s a strongman act, a ridiculous parody of a Nietzschean superman. His followers get off on watching this guy with (allegedly) $10 billion and a busty mute broad on his arm defy every political and social convention and get away with it.

People are tired of rules and tired of having to pay lip service to decorum. They want to stop having to watch what they say and think and just get “crazy,” as Thomas Friedman would put it.

[The Short fingered vulgarian]’s campaign is giving people permission to do just that. It’s hard to say this word in conjunction with such a sexually unappealing person, but his message is a powerful aphrodisiac. Fuck everything, fuck everyone. Fuck immigrants and fuck their filthy lice-ridden kids. And fuck you if you don’t like me saying so.

My man AJ who reputation as a great teammate and hated adversary didn’t play in Boston was dispatched out of Fenway in typical Red Sox with sports news crowd badmouthing him on his way out. Now Aj is a feisty guy (not a bad trait for a MLB backstop whose long career include stints with the Twins and the World Series champ White Sox and the Rangers. Now since his Red Sox service Aj has been with the Cardinals
when Yadier Molina was hurt ) and the Yankees (when Brian McCann was injured)AJ is currently with the Braves


Katrina, Katrina…*

27 Aug

From my vantage point up here in tight-sphincteral New England, New Orleans has always looked like the most interesting city in the USA. Which is why the great natural(and then some) disaster known, like a super model, as Katrina, is exponentially fascinating. Firstly, because of the callous disregard exhibited by a regime busy embroiling this country in a disastrous military adventure as effects of Katrina unfolded and then allowing incompetence (remember FEMA head ‘Brownie’?) and mean-spiritedness to triumph. As the 10th anniversary of Katrina draws nigh let’s revisit and reflect.

There is a rich bibliography of fiction connected to the Big Easy (Robert Stone’s Hall of Mirrors comes to mind) and there have been some creditable recent additions

City of Refuge byTom Piazza

City of Refuge byTom Piazza

City of Refuge byTom Piazza

In City of Refuge, a heart-wrenching novel from Tom Piazza, the author of the award-winning Why New Orleans Matters, two New Orleans families—one black and one white—confront Hurricane Katrina, a storm that will change the course of their lives. Reaching across America—from the neighborhoods ofNew Orleans to Texas, Chicago, and elsewhere—City of Refuge explores this turning point in American culture, one whose reverberations are only beginning to be underst

Secessia  by Kent Wascom

Secessia by Kent Wascom

Secessia by Kent Wascom

New Orleans, May 1862. The largest city in the ill-starred confederacy has fallen to Union troops under the soon-to-be-infamous General Benjamin “the Beast” Butler. The city is rife with madness and rage. When twelve-year-old Joseph Woolsack disappears from his home, he draws into the unrest his mother, Elise, a mixed-race woman passing for white, and his father, Angel, whose long and wicked life is drawing to a close. What follows forces mother and son into a dark new world: Joseph must come to grips with his father’s legacy of violence and his growing sentiment for Cuban exile Marina Fandal, the only survivor of a shipwreck that claimed the lives of her parents. Elise must struggle to maintain a hold on her sanity, her son and her own precarious station, but is threatened by the resurgence of a troubling figure from her past, Dr. Emile Sabatier, a fanatical physician who adores disease and is deeply mired in the conspiracy and intrigue surrounding the occupation of the city. Their paths all intersect with General Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, a man who history will call a beast, but whose avarice and brutal acumen are ideally suited to the task of governing an “ungovernable city.” Alternating between the perspectives of the five characters of Elise, Dr. Sabatier, Joseph, Marina, and Butler, Secessia weaves a tapestry of ravenous greed and malformed love, of slavery and desperation, set within the baroque melting-pot that is New Orleans. A Gothic tableaux vivant of epic scope and intimate horror, Secessia is the netherworld reflection of the conflict between north and south.

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

A man murdered during Katrina in a hotel room two blocks from her art-restoration studio was closely tied to a part of Johanna’s past that she would like kept secret. But missing from the crime scene is a valuable artwork painted in 1926 by a renowned Belgian artist that might bring it all back.An acquaintance, Clay Fontenot, who has enabled a wide variety of personal violations in his life, some of which he has enjoyed, is the scion of a powerful New Orleans family.And Marion is an artist and masseuse from the Quarter who has returned after Katrina to rebuild her life.When Eli, a convicted art thief, is sent to find the missing painting, all of their stories weave together in the slightly deranged halls of the Quarter.

 A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a portrait of a city under siege.Cartoonist Josh Neufeld depicts seven extraordinary true stories of survival in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. Here we meet Denise, a counselor and social worker, and a sixth-generation New Orleanian; “The Doctor,” a proud fixture of the French Quarter; Abbas and Darnell, two friends who face the storm from Abbas’ s family-run market; Kwame, a pastor’s son just entering his senior year of high school; and the young couple Leo and Michelle, who both grew up in the city. Each is forced to confront the same wrenching decision–whether to stay or to flee. … A.D. presents a city in chaos and shines a bright, profoundly human light on the tragedies and triumphs that took place within it.




…two very different characters—a black boy who loses his home in Hurricane Katrina and a white boy in Vermont who loses his best friend in a tragic accident—come together to find healing. A hurricane, a tragic death, two boys, one marble. How they intertwine is at the heart of this beautiful, poignant book. When ten-year-old Zavion loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, he and his father are forced to flee to Baton Rouge. And when Henry, a ten-year-old boy in northern Vermont, tragically loses his best friend, Wayne, he flees to ravaged New Orleans to help with hurricane relief efforts—and to search for a marble that was in the pocket of a pair of jeans donated to the Red Cross.

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

… Hurricane Katrina’s monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The riveting tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage—and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality.Don Brown’s kinetic art and as-it-happens narrative capture both the tragedy and triumph of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. A portion of the proceeds from this book has been donated to Habitat for Humanity New Orleans.

Why New Orleans Matters  by Tom Piazza

Why New Orleans Matters
by Tom Piazza

Why New Orleans Matters Paperback by Tom Piazza (

In the aftermath of Katrina and the disaster that followed, promises were made, forgotten, and renewed. Now what will become of New Orleans in the years ahead? What do this proud, battered city and its people mean to America and the world? Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and neglected American metropolis by evoking the sensuous rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking; examining its deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice; and explaining how its people endure and transcend those conditions. And, perhaps most important, he asks us all to consider the spirit of this place and all the things it has shared with the world: its grace and beauty, resilience and soul.

Dr John aka mac Rebeneck makes New Orleans musical gumbo

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City by  David G. Spielman

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City by
David G. Spielman

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City by David G. Spielman

In the 10 years since, David G. Spielman embraced the traditions of photographers from the Works Progress Administration and Farm Security Administration and documented subtle changes throughout his beloved city.’New Orleans has a melancholy beauty that defies logic and transcends time,’says Spielman. Vines creep up the side of a home that could be vacant or occupied. Graffiti mars or beautifies? the walls of an abandoned building. Readers must draw their own conclusions from his haunting black-and-white images.

When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, Spielman decided to stay and weather the storm, assisting his Uptown neighbors, the sisters of the order of Poor Clare. Katrina passed, and as the flood waters filled the city, the scope of the devastation only gradually dawned on Spielman, who was cut off from outside communication. Faced with the greatest personal and professional challenge of his life, he determined to document the scene unfolding around him. He managed to secure a generator to power his laptop computer, and in the days, weeks, and months after August 29, 2005, he transmitted emails to hundreds of friends and clients and cautiously traversed the city taking photographs. In Katrinaville Chronicles: Images and Observations from a New Orleans Photographer Spielman’s gathered images and observations, relating his unique perspective on and experience of a historic catastrophe. He never expected his emails to survive beyond the day he sent them. But his descriptions of what he was seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking, feeling, and fearing in post Katrina New Orleans were forwarded again and again, even around the globe. They reveal the best and worst in Spielman: a Samaritan who becomes caretaker of the sisters’ monastery, as well as a stressed gent who frets about the lack of starched shirts and a decent cup of coffee. He rants about political leaders and voices a deep concern for his city’s future. He tells of feeling overwhelmed, at a loss for words, unable to capture on film the individual tragedies manifested in home after destroyed home, many marked by death. His arresting black and white photographs record the details of the disaster on both a grand and an intimate scale, at times recalling works by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. What emerges above all is Spielman’s buoyant spirit. Living without electricity or running water and existing on peanut butter sandwiches, he nonetheless is able to appreciate the complete quiet and unadulterated starlight in a surreal city without power. He encourages his fellow citizens to see Katrina as an opportunity for improving upon the past and making a better tomorrow.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital  by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial,the culmination of six years of reporting, is Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her portrayal of the quest for truth and justice.Physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.fter Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better.

Here’s a sample of Spike Lee’s (wacked)four part documentary When The Levees Broke:

 Katrina: After the Flood  by Gary Rivlin

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin (

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana—on August 29, 2005—journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting affects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure—but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.Much of New Orleans still sat under water the first time Gary Rivlin glimpsed the city after Hurricane Katrina. Then a staff reporter for The New York Times, he was heading into the city to survey the damage. The Interstate was eerily empty. Soldiers in uniform and armed with assault rifles stopped him. Water reached the eaves of houses for as far as the eye could see.Four out of every five houses—eighty percent of the city’s housing stock—had been flooded. Around that same proportion of schools and businesses were wrecked. The weight of all that water on the streets cracked gas and water and sewer pipes all around town and the deluge had drowned almost every power substation and rendered unusable most of the city’s water and sewer system.
People living in flooded areas of the city could not be expected to pay their property taxes for the foreseeable future. Nor would all those boarded-up businesses—21,000 of the city’s 22,000 businesses were still shuttered six months after the storm—be contributing their share of sales taxes and other fees to the city’s coffers. Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce—precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. Meanwhile, cynics both in and out of the Beltway were questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to rebuild a city that sat mostly below sea level. How could the city possibly come back?
Katrina traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes—politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white—as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that’s the soul of this nation.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards by Roberta Brandes Gratz

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards by Roberta Brandes Gratz

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Gratz presents a panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane.sharing the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. It shows how the city—from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue—is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas  by Rebecca Solnit,  Rebecca Snedeker

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca Snedeker

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca Snedeker

This book is a reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions. More than twenty essays assemble a chorus of vibrant voices, including geographers, scholars of sugar and bananas, the city’s remarkable musicians, prison activists, environmentalists, Arab and Native voices, and local experts, as well as the coauthors’ compelling contributions. Featuring 22 full-color two-page-spread maps, Unfathomable City plumbs the depths of this major tourist destination, pivotal scene of American history and culture and, most recently, site of monumental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. The innovative maps’ precision and specificity shift our notions of the Mississippi, the Caribbean, Mardi Gras, jazz, soils and trees, generational roots, and many other subjects, and expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced. Together with the inspired texts, they show New Orleans as both an imperiled city—by erosion, crime, corruption, and sea level rise—and an ageless city that lives in music as a form of cultural resistance. Compact, lively, and completely original, Unfathomable City takes readers on a tour that will forever change the way they think about place.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

Natural and man-made disasters can be utopias that showcase human solidarity and point the way to a freer society, according this stimulating contrarian study. Solnit reproves civil defense planners, media alarmists and Hollywood directors who insist that disasters produce terrified mobs prone to looting, murder and cannibalism unless controlled by armed force and government expertise. Surveying disasters from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, she shows that the typical response to calamity is spontaneous altruism, self-organization and mutual aid, with neighbors and strangers calmly rescuing, feeding and housing each other. Indeed, the main problem in such emergencies, she contends, is the elite panic of officials who clamp down with National Guardsmen and stifling regulations. Solnit makes a compelling—and timely—case for the ability of ordinary people to collectively surmount the direst of challenges

And of course David Simon’s love song to New Orleans, Treme.

* Due to lack of time (or as one friend insists, indolence)book descriptions are taken from publishers websites.

Misc. Miscellany: Aggregating is the way…

26 Aug

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Wiretap signs off… (thanks, Jason Kottke)

Apropos of nothing (except my lack of understanding of Taylor Swift’s popularity), she and this group (Celeste Dion, Michael Bolton, Shania Twain)are an aggregate of nails being run across a blackboard…(feel free to add your own musical mediocrity)

I have enjoyed William Boyd’s fiction for some time and I especially liked the cinematic iteration of Any Given Heart(available gratis on YouTube) a broad, sweeping narrative covering well over a half century and a stellar cast (including the voluptuous Hayley Atwell):

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Sweet Caress by William Boyd

Boyd has a new novel, Sweet Caress, which I also enjoyed and in preparation for yet another conversation with him, I also read Restless which has recently been made into a film and which you can also watch in its entirety here

On the plus side, it does feature MS Atwell. On the minus part, the younger and older versions of the main characters match up badly (which is to say they don’t)— I can’t imagine Hayley Atwell aging into Charlotte Rampling and Rufus Swell into Micheal Gambon.But maybe that is what aging is — transformation into the unimaginable.

We know Curt Schilling is a dick. But how disingenuous is ESPN?

Serena (borrowed from New York magazine)

Serena (borrowed from New York magazine)

Serena takes a lot of (racist) shit.Personally I find her appearance protean and endlessly attractive. As I do Ronda Rousey. Maybe the competition that should be promoted would between these two super jocks



Misc Miscellany : Covering the Waterfront

24 Aug

If there is such thing as must-see-TV for pissed-off people (POPeeps) like you and me than John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight would be it. I can rattle off a hand full of topics on which Oliver & Co. Swiftian lampooning point of view vivisected conventional wisdom and apathy (drones. sex education, food waste, Edward Snowden interview, Chicken farming). The lastest sacred bovine to feel the sharp blade of Oliverian wit — Televangelism.

The Daily Beast‘s Marlow Stern updates:

In order to prove how ridiculously easy it is to establish a tax-free “church” that pads its coffers with donations for “blessings,” Oliver established his own church—Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption—and asked his viewers to send cash donations to a P.O. Box that he’d then donate to charity….It turns out that, aside from the bags of seeds, beef jerky, and foreign currency, Oliver and Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption received a boatload of money from viewers….

How great it would be if Oliver targeted the exemption Scientology received after strong-arming the IRS with the threat of a 1000 lawsuits (as stated in the documentary Going Clear )

I guess if the New York Times is going to publish silly shit like this it makes up for it by good stuff like this


Nobody brings this up about the SHORT FINGERED VULGARIAN, who is always on about, ‘We can’t have foreigners coming into this country!’” said Maher. “His first wife is from Czechoslovakia. His current wife is from Slovenia. So, if you think crawling under a wall is the most disgusting way to become an American, somewhere there is a Panamanian woman hiding in a truck full of chickens with ten pounds of heroin-filled condoms in her stomach who’s thinking, ‘Well, at least I didn’t have to blow the SHORT FINGERED VULGARIAN.’

Speaking of “the short fingered vulgarian”, who is now the leading tag for click-baiting media, SFV weighed in on the other popular click bait tag, Deflategate (talk about a massive failure if imagination, 42 years later ‘gate’ is still the suffix of choice for mindless journalists)

Streaming video is coming close to taking over my life (a subject I expect to elaborate on in the fullness of time). In any case I chanced upon a baffling but compelling film entitle Upstream Color

Celebrities doing senseless and silly things

I had not known of actress Olivia Munn (which does highlight my pop cultural illiteracy)until The Newsroom featured her as a nerdy financial news reporter. Turns out she is a hysterically bawdy and quick witted lady

Book publisher Europa Editions deserves this attention

Will Cuba take over Major League Baseball?

NFL thug James Harrison made news by rejecting “showing up trophies for his adolescent boys. And what do you know, the usual know-nothing trolls lined behind him…

Good 70's by Mike Mandel

Good 70’s by Mike Mandel

As it is in limited edition, Good 70’s (and thus I don’t have firsthand, hands on knowledge of it, I can’t properly say much about) seems to be a special thing.

This boxed collection contains facsimiles of Mandel’s original publications, long out of print, including the Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, Myself: Timed Exposures, Seven Never Before Seen Portraits of Edward Weston, plus previously unpublished work such as Motel Postcards, People in Cars and Mrs. Kilpatric, and ephemera from the projects, including selected facsimile contact sheets from the baseball photo shoots, a letter to Mandel from Charis Wilson regarding Edward Weston and a pack of ten of the original 1975 baseball cards.

Do Men In Blue (baseball umpires)make boo boos? A long as I am talking umps, baseball has a long memory

Move over Cuba and Dominican Republic, Uganda — the next baseball powerhouse?

Arff, Arff: Dogging It

23 Aug
My Boys- Cuba & Beny [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

My Boys- Cuba & Beny [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

I have often heard people opine that they like canines more than humans— which on the face of it makes a lot of sense (especially if you have a pooch companion or family member). While I am not prepared to make such a overblown claim, though I am enamored of the canine species I will say (was it it Will Rogers who said this?) I have never met a hound I didn’t like.

Books on dogs (and other species humans ‘petify’)are usually either informative studies of their history and behavior* or collections of cute/clever photos (such as the apparently William Wegman photos of his Weimerheiners). You can guess what follows.

I have written about Enchanted Lion Books (publishers of books for children of all ages) before and given the splendid tomes they regularly published I probably should write about them more often. At any rate, here’s one — Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York by French illustrator Yann Kebbi— for which I am compelled to give it notice. From the publisher:

Here, a French dog, upon his return to Paris, recounts his amazing trip to New York City to his dog pals. Sharing his visit so they can really, truly see it through his eyes, so, too, does the reader, in page after glorious page of free, vibrant, kinetically sketched images! Whether it’s the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, the Guggenheim Museum, Grand Central Station, or a pug looking in a doughnut shop window, Americanine pulsates with aliveness and charm. Marked by energy and humor, and rendered from a haute dog perspective through fresh, as well as French, eyes, Americanine doesn’t give us the elegant, platinum New York of Stieglitz, but rather a bold, contemporary, colorfully diverse city that feels bright, nonstop, and like no other. In these pages you will find real people in a real city, perceived with the romance of a young French artist.

Americanine: A Haute Dog in New York  by Yann Kebbi

Americanine: A Haute
Dog in New York by Yann Kebbi

The ever original Brain Pickings and Maria Popova takes a novel view of

A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry.” So wrote E.B. White wrote in his timeless love letter to New York — a city that has, in fact, has inspired a great deal of poetry itself: visual poetry, like Berenice Abbott’s stunning photographs of its changing face and Julia Rothman’s illustrated tour of the five boroughs; poetic prose, like Zadie Smith’s love-hate letter to Gotham and the private writings of notable authors who lived in and visited the city; and poetry-poetry, like Frank O’Hara’s “Song (Is it dirty)” and Walt Whitman’s “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun.”

 Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories  by Traer Scott

Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories by Traer Scott

Photographer Traer Scott’s Finding Home: Shelter Dogs and Their Stories is not only comprised of beautiful black and white photographs but compelling life stories of his subjects. From the publisher:

…Scott began photographing these dogs in 2005 as a volunteer at animal shelters. Her first book was Shelter Dogs…and in this follow-up, Scott introduces a new collection of canine subjects, each with indomitable character and spirit: Morrissey, a pit bull, who suffered from anxiety-related behaviors brought on by shelter life until adopted by a family with four children; Chloe, a young chocolate Lab mix, surrendered to a shelter by a family with allergies; Gabriel and Cody, retired racing greyhounds; and Bingley, a dog who lost his hearing during a drug bust but was brought home by a loving family that has risen to the challenge of living with a deaf dog. Through extended features we become better acquainted with the personalities and life stories of selected dogs and watch as they experience the sometimes rocky and always emotional transition to new homes. The portraits in Finding Home form an eloquent plea for the urgent need for more adoptive families, as well as a tribute to dogs everywhere

I suppose this NYT effort starring fashion designer Marc Jacobs dog is cute but I am left with a So What? feeling.

And in case you missed this one >The Silence of Dogs in Cars by Martin Usborne

Martin Usborne’s photo series, which was funded by a kickstarter campaign, consists of over forty-five images of dogs gazing silently through car windows, often in the dead of night. The images, which are staged and highly cinematic, evoke a mood of loneliness and longing. They are not so much portraits of dogs as studies in separation: on one level referring to the separation between humans and (other) animals but on another the separation within ourselves, between our everyday selves and the rawer (more animal) parts that we keep locked away. The photographs draw on the work of Edward Hopper and Gregory Crewdson.


Rosie (1997-2008 [photo:Robert  Birnbaum]

Rosie (1997-2008 [photo:Robert Birnbaum]

*Some recent dog books

No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII by Robert Weintraub

How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz

What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World by Cat Warren

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods

How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends by Mark Derr


20 Aug

I have always liked Terry Francona— I especially like what he did when the two spuds who announce Red Sox games were disrespecting him

Tito salutes Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy

Tito salutes Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy

I am no fan of the bottom feeding website Gawker but this is a unique take of Straight Out of Compton and NWA

My kind of useful consumer research( except for including V necks) thanks to Garrett Kamps

The current legal wrangle involving the NFL and one of its big money, big time players is in itself in the scheme of things barely newsworthy (except that it is). It does raise some fun questions—like knowing what they knew about the great, big zed Roger Goodell how could the players union agree to a CBA (collective bargaining agreement) that game him so much power?

Baseball apparently can make you do dumb things

No surprise that the Amy Winehouse documentary has a large audience. The surprise is that Amy’s father, Mitch, still shows his face and continues to cash in on his brilliant daughter.Well maybe not—he comes off as a money grubber when she was alive so…

I bet you don’t know what The Glomar Response is. Well, if you read (as I think you should)Laura Poitras’s (director of Citizen Four)‘interview’ at the Daily Beast you will find out about that and some other disquieting things about your government in action. That’s if you haven’t read this about AT&T helping the NSA

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

I have been mulling over the meteorological event known as Katrina (perhaps in the future it will stand as a symbol of governmental malfeasance) I came across a fine novel,The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell set in post Katrina New Orleans Jenny McPhee blurbs

A bedazzling southern noir set in post-Katrina New Orleans, The Lower Quarter catches us up in the tangled paths of four individuals, each haunted by a brutal past. While expertly unraveling her characters’ intertwining stories, Elise Blackwell in her highly atmospheric new novel powerfully conveys the endlessly destructive legacy of violence and the redemptive beauty of art.


18 Aug

The only news here is why the Times waited to report this previously well reported information

Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert, John Oliver, Keys & Peele, Barry Crimmins are great but these guys paved the way

Brady Vs Goodell: Being paid 46 million dollars a year to front a 10 billion dollar a year enterprise doesn’t necessarily make you the worst person in the world. Right?

There was a time when Maureen Dowd was worth reading and I get that The Short Fingered Vulgarian is hot stuff currently and that you get clicks by mentioning him but any regard I had for MS. Dowd has vanished. She now completes the troika of to be avoided Times columnists.

Amazon is a white collar sweat shop and the New York Times did some good work presenting that—which is plain to see if you have the old fashioned attention span to go through its 5100 word reportt

Jeff Bezos, the fifth richest person in the world, of course, demurs.Perhaps you are not famiiar with business magbate BEZOS:

That Amazon’s so called fulfillment centers were literally sweat shops is old news

Two things (at least) to note are that the Times Amazon expose garnered 5100 (and counting)comments and it stimulated bloviating pundits to moral ideation

Meta item of the day

DISPOSABLE  FUTURES by Brad Evans and Henry Giroux

DISPOSABLE FUTURES by Brad Evans and Henry Giroux

From Disposable Futuresby Brad Evans & Henry Giroux

It was against twentieth-century forms of human dispos- ability that we began to appreciate the political potency of the arts as a mode of resistance, as dystopian literatures, cinema, music, and poetry, along with the visual and performing arts, challenged conventional ways of interpreting catastrophe. We only need to be reminded here of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, Bertolt Brecht’s The Interrogation of the Good, Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rain, and Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 to reveal the political value of more poetic interventions and creative responses to conditions we elect to term “the intolerable.” Indeed, if the reduction of life to some scientific variable, capable of being manipulated and prod- ded into action as if it were some expendable lab rat, became the hallmark of violence in the name of progress, it was precisely the strategic confluence between the arts and politics that enabled us to challenge the dominant paradigms of twentieth-century thought. Hence, in theory at least, the idea that we needed to connect with the world in a more cultured and meaningful way appeared to be on the side of the practice of freedom and breathed new life into politics.

And yet, despite the horrors of the Century of Violence, our ways of thinking about politics not only have remained tied to the types of scientific reductions that history warns to be integral to the dehumanization of the subject, but such thinking has also made it difficult to define the very conditions that make a new politics possible. At the same time accelerating evolution of digital communications radicalizes the very contours of the hu- man condition such that we are now truly “image conscious,” so too is life increasingly defined and altered by the visual gaze and a screen culture whose omniscient presence offers new spaces for thinking dangerously. This hasn’t led, however, to the har- nessing of the power of imagination when dealing with the most pressing political issues. With neoliberal power having entered into the global space of flows while our politics remains wedded to out dated ways of thinking and acting, even the leaders of the strongest nations now preach the inevitability of catastrophe, forcing us to partake in a world they declare to be “insecure by design.”


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