Is It Good for the Jews?

29 Oct
Gabe Kapler (photo borrowed from Internet)

Gabe Kapler (photo borrowed from Internet)

As the 2015 Major League Baseball draws to a close, baseball devotees look forward to the Hot Stove League MLB’s second season. Two managerial openings have already been filled with Bud Black going to the Washington Nationals and sanguine Don Mattingly moving to the St coast to work for Jeff Lurie’s plaything, The Miami Marlins. Which leaves the recently vacated Los Angeles Dodgers helm to be filled

Numerous reports cite the much traveled (among other stops, the Red Sox)Gabe Kapler as the front runner to lead baseball’s most expensive lineup (joining the Detroit Tigers Brad Ausmus as one of two Jewish field managers.)

Kapler is colorful and baseball savvy and appears to have opinions on a wide swath of subjects (see his website here)

Larry Ruttman (courtesy of

Larry Ruttman (courtesy of

You can also check out Larry Ruttman’s seminal American Jews and America’s Game: A History of the Larger-Than-Life Role of Jews in America’s Pastime which has an entry on Kapler…

Gabe Kapler (circa 2004 at Fenway, vs NY Yankees)

Gabe Kapler (circa 2004 at Fenway, vs NY Yankees)

One of Kapler’s innovations (for baseball, anyway) was to focus on the dietary/nutritional regimen of the Dodgers ball players. Given his expansive world view
Kapler would be a welcome addition to MLB joining the Cubs skipper John Madden as colorful revisionists of the sport’s conventional wisdom.

For Pete’s Sake

22 Oct

He runs the Cassidy crime family. Little people with enormous heads, every one if them. And they’ve all have been shot in the head, and they never die They believe it’s the luck of the Irish—they walk around thinking they were all born lucky—and it never occurred to any them yet that if they were that fucking lucky, they wouldn’t keep getting shot- Pete Dexter

Pete Dexter [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Pete Dexter [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

If you enjoy the fiction of Pete Dexter,who came to some prominence for his 1988 National Book Award winning novel, Paris Trout, it has been a too long since the publication of his last novel —the splendidly humorous near autobiographical Spooner.Dexter’s ouevre ranges from the hard scrabble working class Philadelphia (God’s Pocket) to the still somewhat untamed of (Deadwood)* of Wild Bill Hickcock and Calamity Jane to the steamy back woods and death row of Florida (The Paper Boy) to the noir atmospherics of 1953 Los Angeles. Before he took up writing novels, Dexter was a popular columnist for a major Philadelphia daily who in 1981 was severely beaten by a mob in the neighborhood of Schuylkill (upset by a recent column} suffering a broken back, pelvic bone, brain damage, and major dental damage.This incident is fictionalized in God”s Pocket**

The good news is that Pete Dexter is offering his trenchant view of our current state of affairs at the Daily Beast— on subjects such as serial woman beater Floyd Merriweather, the short fingered vulgarian running for president, police violence,shelter dogs,Norman Mailer and more:

…You may remember Mailer—at one time America’s most famous living writer—a man fascinated by violence who stabbed one of his wives and bragged about sparring with former light-heavyweight champion José Torres. Who directed a movie called “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” and once used his considerable literary standing to convince a parole board to release a violent killer named Jack Abbott, whose undeveloped literary talent in Mailer’s judgment made his release from prison worth the risk to society. Mailer could make this call because he was the most talented novelist of his generation, or so said Norman Mailer.

Thus Abbott got out and for six weeks, mostly on Mailer’s say-so, was New York’s newest hot literary property, and then stabbed a 22-year-old kid named Richard Adan to death outside the diner where Adan worked, this in an argument over insurance regulations that prohibited customers from walking through the kitchen to the bathroom.

Abbott went back to prison and eventually hung himself in his cell. A good idea but too late to do anybody any good. Mailer never admitted to second thoughts, if any existed. Literature, he said, was worth the risk. The fact that Adan was trying to make something of himself on the stage—both as a playwright and an actor—didn’t matter. Novels, Mailer famously said, could change the world….

By the way, if you haven’t read Spooner and now are so moved by my encomium I would wear diapers while reading it as so high is the hilarity quotient that bladder control may be difficult…

* Producer of the HBO series Deadwood David Milch clims he did not read Dexter’s novel of the same name

** There is a film version of God’s Pocket with Phillip Seymor Hoffman

My Kind of Town or A Stranger in A Strange Land

21 Oct
Johnny Guitar directed by Nichola Ray

Johnny Guitar directed by Nichola Ray

I am a stranger here myself – Johnny Guitar

Events of recent days and the recent 162 game MLB season should make clear why an expatriated Chicagoan might feel pangs of nostalgia for the the city of big shoulders*, the Friendly Confines, Leon Depres, Wolfy’s hot dogs, Nelson Algren,Mike Royko and Studs Terkel, da Bears and Ditka, Small Fabulous Jews,Karl Shapiro and Joseph Epstein, Dick Gregory and Fred Hampton, the Playboy Mansion and the unforgettable Democratic convention of 1968.

Studs Terkel [photo:Robert Birnbaum]

Studs Terkel [photo:Robert Birnbaum]

Actually, for this expatriate, the stirrings of a rare adult onset homesickness go further and deeper. For one thing I have discovered a mesmerizing recording by bassist William Parker, which interprets the songs of the mighty, mighty Chicago musical giant Curtis Mayfield who may at the very least ring familiar as the composer of the Civil Rights anthem, People Get Ready**. In fact if you were paying attention, at the 2004 Democratic Convention, it was Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up playing as Sen.Barack Obama sauntered up to the podium to give the keynote speech***

Actually Parker has two recordings of I Plan to Stay a Believer The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield,the second one being a live version done in Rome. These renditions offer a full palette of music from Ornette Colemanish free jazz moments to quotes of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and aided and abetted by the trenchant verse of poet Amiri Baraka.

The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield/Live in Rome by William Parker

The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield/Live in Rome by William Parker

Here’s a powerful version of We People Who are Darker Than Blue

Chicago is also the home of writer(forget that carpet bagger Saul Bellow), Joseph Epstein**** whose story collection Small Fabulous Jews is one of my favorite 50th Ward/Golden Ghetto touchstones.

Joseph Epstein [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Joseph Epstein [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

And who doesn’t know about the Monsters of The Midway—da Bears

The Chicago Tribune Book of the Chicago Bears: A Decade-By-Decade History H
by Chicago Tribune Staff

Uh huh, my kind of town…


*Hospital Karl Shapiro

This is the Oxford of all sicknesses.
Kings have lain here and fabulous small Jews
And actresses whose legs were always news.
In this black room the painter lost his sight,
The cripples dancer here put down her shoes,
And the scholar’s memory broke, like an old clock.

** People Get Ready

*** Move On Up

**** Joseph Epstein

America The Exceptional

5 Oct


As many things that one can list that contribute to pride and patriotism that its citizens avidly trumpet, there is also a rather long list of shameful and reprehensible acts and episodes that festoon United States history(Even the phrase American Exceptionalism echoes US arrogance, as’American’ refers to the nations of two continents). The history of the relations between the United States and Cuba is on that list, just one imposing example of the depredations of the self-serving doctrine of manifest destiny, an Uhr concept of US Exceptionalism.

Though the baby American republic’s covetousness of Cuba dates back to Jefferson’s time, the Spanish-American-Cuban war finally brought the largest island in the Caribbean under the control of Uncle Sam. With pseudo laws such as the Platt Amendment, Cuba essentially remained a US protectorate (and brothel) until the Bearded Ones drove out the United Fruit backed puppet Fulgencio Batista in 1959. As the sad story goes, relations between the USA and the Cuban Revolution soured when its leader, Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state and went on to nationalize American holdings —which coincidentally saw the flight (exodus) of the (essentially white) upper and middle classes.

Now this may seem like non-sequitor to the subject at hand—Guantanamo—but I suspect many readers may be lacking the context for understanding the sinister and unholy place that is the Cuban property the USA has expropriated. In comic operatic fashion, the USA has insisted on sending the Cuban government a rent check yearly which Fidel Castro, naturally,has refused to cash.

Since the creation of the War on Terror, post September 2001, Guantanamo has been one of the United States’s rendition sites used to house detainees who were pronounced (without trial or any commonly accepted legal proceedings) dangerous terrorists.

Detainees at Guantanamo are shackled, blindfolded and made to wear industrial earmuffs

Detainees at Guantanamo are shackled, blindfolded and made to wear industrial earmuffs

Now if you have a reasonably healthy recall if you harken back to President Obama’s election you should note his ‘promise’ to close “Gitmo’,as it is also known. Needless to say that hasn’t happened. Apparently that righteous act hasn’t been validated by a groundswell of support of the citizenry.

Unlike the awful acts perpetrated by various European totalitarian regimes and by US backed ‘strongmen, the stench of Guantanamo has been reported and graphically exhibited in a number of books.

Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant’s Pursuit of the Truth About Guantanamo Bay by Joseph Hickman

Murder at Camp Delta  by Joseph Hickman

Murder at Camp Delta by Joseph Hickman

Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power by Joseph Margulies

Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power by Joseph Margulies

Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power by Joseph Margulies

The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison by Andy Worthington

The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison by Andy Worthington

The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison by Andy Worthington

Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi  (edited by Larry Siems)

Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (edited by Larry Siems)

I don’t know is this a case of ‘hidden in plain sight”?

And if you really want to feel ashamed you could have a peek at

The CIA Torture Report by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

The CIA Torture Report: Unclassified by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (

The CIA Torture Report: Unclassified by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (

Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program – Foreword, Findings and Conclusions, and Executive Summary. The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, commonly known as the CIA Torture Report, is a 6,000-page report compiled by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s Detention and Interrogation Program using enhanced interrogation techniques (a euphemism for torture) on detainees following the September 11 attacks in 2001. The full report has not been published, but the committee voted in April 2014 to release the recommendations, executive summary, and findings of the report. A 525-page unclassified portion of the report was released on December 9, 2014, after a presentation on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Over 90% of the report remains classified. The report, which took four years and $40 million to compile, focused on 2001-06. It detailed actions by CIA officials and shortcomings of the detention project. One key finding was that enhanced interrogation techniques did not help acquire actionable intelligence or gain cooperation from detainees.

But let’s get real here—it is highly unlikely you’re going to avail yourself of the information. Right?

But you do have the opportunity to see a movie that has a budding super star (Kristen Stewart) in Camp X-Ray as a young US Army recruit who is stationed in Guantánamo and whose duties include 12 hour shifts rotating around a claustrophobic cell block [60′ x 20′) on suicide watch of 8 detainees.

Need I say, its a harrowing narrative? And profoundly disturbing.

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, 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

[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




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