Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Fake News" Stories Are Fake News Stories

Considering the hoopla surrounding supposed fake news, you'd think that misrepresenting facts has never been an issue in journalism before, yet fake news existed before the USA itself spewed from the wigged heads of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, et al.  What's new is the label "fake news."  Before the popularity of the internet, it was easy for conventional media to control what information reached the people, but since then, the relatively inexpensive mode (though the recent ruling negating net-neutrality may change this) of presenting alternative news reports has created a conundrum for corporate-owned news providers. 

With politicians & celebrities quick to defend the corporate media & defame the rest, it's no wonder that many Americans have bought into the notion that the only real news is the one presented by the "reliable" sources, such as Newsweek, Time, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN & the big three networks.  They are reliable in that you can rely on them to present a pro-American stance in nearly every circumstance, constantly vilifying & demonizing those who oppose the American view.  It is mostly through alternative news sources that we can learn what those in power don't want us to know. 

As a result, Google, Twitter, & Facebook, among others, have implemented filtering systems that limit what feeds you receive.  They don't want people to have to think about things themselves, to decide for themselves whether the reports are nonsensical or "fake."  These corporations have decided to take it upon themselves to help you form the right world view, i.e., that of the corporate elite.  Of course, there is fake news.  As I mentioned, much of what the mainstream media presents is "fake" in that it presents only a limited view, one that's heavily biased.  That you can't believe everything you read remains true regardless of the source.  But to label as "fake news" any report that doesn't fit the narrative that the mainstream media conveys is yet another attempt to control what we know, what we think. 

Most of us probably remember the oft-cited quote from newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst ("You furnish the pictures.  I'll furnish the war."), who helped sell the Spanish-American War to the American public.   Even if the quote itself is apocryphal, the fact is that Hearst's papers carried stories with a clear jingoistic edge.  Many Americans like to believe this example is an outlier, not the normal manner in which the press works.  Many have apparently already forgotten the media's role in selling the war in Iraq--er, make that wars.  Unfortunately, in most instances, the press operates as a propaganda tool, readily accepting & rarely questioning the government's account of facts.  Likewise, their audiences afford the media that same leniency, literally buying their stories wholesale.   

The current media Russia-hate blitz fits perfectly into the "propaganda model," developed by Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, in which the authors analyze raw data from newspaper articles to determine the editorial biases of the so-called "free press."  The conclusions they reach, it would seem in every instance, is that the mainstream press (including, yes, The New York Times) rarely questions government reports, but instead buys & sells the government & its corporate masters' point of view to the public. 

Below are two links to The Real News interview with Max Blumenthal detailing many of the ways the media is misrepresenting the facts in the Russia-hate hysteria, as well as an article by Aaron Maté in The Nation, dispelling many similar assertions.  My hope is that, even if I'm preaching to the choir, reading or listening to them will give you a new, better informed perspective. 


Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Death of Knut House Press

Some time in 2017, Knut House Press went out of business.  As a result, my collection of poems, Walking in Chicago with a Suitcase in My Hand, published by Knut House Press, is no longer in print.  While there are still a few copies of the black & white edition of Walking in Chicago available at Amazon--& at a deep discount, I might add--the color edition is no longer available.  (It would also appear that the Kindle version can still be purchased, but I don't know if that will continue.)

Needless to say, I'm deeply saddened by the turn of events.  I am free to market my book to other publishers--it was a finalist at a half dozen other poetry contests before Knut House published it, so maybe there's some interest--& may pursue this course at some point in the future.  However, I have no immediate plans to do so.  As of now, Walking in Chicago has limited availability.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Gift of Plutocracy

Hey, I hate to interrupt the pagan holidays, but before the corporatists & their lackeys in Washington turn the internet completely into an AT&T subsidiary (how better to disseminate propaganda, i.e., the fake news they want you to read, & bilk you at the same time), I want to let you know about Plutocracy.  It's a free, online documentary series in three parts, which you can watch as easy as Plutocracy 1, Plutocracy 2: Solidarity, Plutocracy 3: Class War.  It's entertaining--though not in a jokey, Michael Moore sort of way--& informative, providing details to the often suppressed history of the labor movement in the U.S.  Sadly, many of the issues explored are still applicable today.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

BiB 4

Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare.  The tragedy is that a simple solution--leaving Verona--could have solved the wooing lovers' woes.  Instead, they choose a more elaborate, melodramatic path.
Of course, the play depicts a different time with different customs.  While the state & church, even then, maintained their choke-hold on ruining lives, the depiction of the the two star-crossed lovers' utter stupidity obviously alludes to inbreeding among the nobles.  Call it The Aristocrats!

Love Poems of Ovid, trans. Horace Gregory.  While Peter Green's topnotch translation of The Art of Love is complete & if I understand--which is a big if, admittedly--more accurate, I've enjoyed Gregory's translation ever since I bought this slim volume for maybe half a buck at a used book store back in college. Incomplete, but its selections are enjoyable portions of all the love the law allows.

Candide, Voltaire.  If you can look past the racism, sexism, & anti-Semitism--a Herculean task given their frequency--it's quite a thoughty hoot.  What I find especially surprising is that Tony Orlando was able to translate it into a hit song, though you got to admit it's a catchy tune, the kind that gets stuck in your head like a railroad spike.

It Can't Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis.  Much has been made of this novel since the election of Trump, but the United States has been skating a fine line with fascism long before the current fuckwad took office, as evidenced by the 1935 publication date of Lewis's novel.  In fact, while the founding of the US obviously predates the formation of corporations & corpocracy (fascism), the seed of fascism is inherent in all capitalism.  I'm hardly breaking new ground by saying that this country was founded on racist, sexist, & classist principles to propagate the wealth of its new bourgeois ruling class.  Sometimes Lewis gets it right, as when he suggests that the US decrying Japan's invasion of China wasn't on moral grounds, but because Japan was infringing on American imperialism.  Yet at other times, he misses the mark by a wide margin, as when he seems to cite Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson, among the usual suspects, as model presidents.

Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler.  I like detectives hard-boiled, & few are harder or boiled-er than Marlowe with his gift for glibness, but the ethnic stereotypes & epithets that pepper the story--I guess it's supposed to make it gritty--rise to Trump-level offensive. To be fair, if Chandler's intent is to show the reader that in 1940, when the book was published, crooked cops serving corrupt politicians in a corrupt & crooked system don't care if a black guy is murdered--well, unfortunately, some things never change.

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett.  Once you've seen the movie, it's nigh impossible to read without hearing Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet & Astor delivering the lines, which is OK, since it's a classic flick & who doesn't like Bogey?  Spade's as hard-boiled as Marlowe, at least on the surface, for Hammett doesn't delve into inner monologues of any characters, which I applaud as a technique, but I enjoy Marlowe's voice--when it's not a sexist, racist rant--in Chandler's stories, so it's hard to say which style I like better for detective fiction.  Certainly, Hammett's third-person limited narration makes for easy adaptation to film, which accounts for the success of The Maltese Falcon & some of the less successful ventures in turning Chandler titles into flicks.

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut.   Although I'm quick to call Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut's greatest accomplishment, I'd not read it in probably 30 years, so maybe I was wrong?  No, it really is.

War Is a Racket, Gen. Smedley Butler.  A retired Marine general, Butler presents a plethora of evidence from War World I to support his impassioned claim that war isn't waged because of ideological differences or, as is often bandied about by today's leaders, humanitarian (ha!) concerns, but rather so private individuals can get rich--er, richer--at the expense of taxpayers & the lives of young soldiers & their families.  If you want to end war once & for all, Butler says, enact laws that prevent corporations from profiting from it.  However, he's not naive enough to believe it can be done with what we today call the military industrial complex ensconced in D.C.  Butler's pamphlet is particularly cogent today as America's duopoly pushes for more war & destruction in the name of Bucks Almighty.

Killing Hope, William Blum. This is a thoroughly researched, well-documented & richly detailed expose of how U.S. actions against perceived enemies (i.e., any person or nation not in alignment with American imperialistic goals) have killed & impoverished millions around the world.  Blum shows time & again that government's depictions of the so-called "communist menace," conveyed via an accommodating media only too happy to be a partner in the choreographed fear-mongering, were about as plausible as a bad James Bond plot.  It is difficult to recount the volume of atrocities committed in the name of American self-interests, i.e., corporate profits, without retelling this volume in its entirety.  For anyone interested in what created many of today's highly politicized concerns, such as terrorism & North Korea, this book provides answers that may shock & disturb the reader, especially those who drink the Kool-Aid that corporate media sells.

Rogue State, William Blum.  While the above focuses on the post-WW2 era through the Clinton 90s, this volume includes the Dubya years as well as a condensed discussion of many of the topics covered in Killing Hope.  Blum questions the tacit belief that many hold of America, despite myriad evidence otherwise, as a moral & ultimately good nation.  Regardless of how our leaders have lied, cheated, murdered, razed countries for their resources & committed war crimes, among a litany of other despicable & insidious acts, we are to believe their hearts were nevertheless in the right place.  Blum's list of UN resolutions that the United States alone opposed should cause any conscientious reader to question the good & wholesome USA brand marketed globally.

Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano.  Much like Blum, Galeano details the devastating effects of European & U.S. imperialism, focusing on Latin America.  Some may recall that Hugo Chavez presented a copy of this book to then-President Barack Obama, who, one may assume by his continuation of the imperialistic policies Galeano decries, didn't bother reading it.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino.  It's not so much a novel as an imaginative collection of prose poems about cities, real or unreal, as described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.  It's not the best book I've read this year, but it's not the worst either.  As with much Dickens, it's a far, far better thing to have read than to read.

Call of Cthulhu & Other Weird Stories, H.P. Lovecraft.  Ghastly supernatural beings & purple prose!  The horror!  The horror!

No Away, John Repp.  No, not Johnny Depp, but a "widely published poet, fiction writer, essayist, & book critic," as well as a past winner of the Devins Award in Poetry & the Lyre Prize, Repp has his moments, though in his stabs at minimalism, Repp seems to put forth "minimal" effort.  For instance, "Good" reads in its entirety: "The world is good / at eating us gone."  For my tastes, that's not a complete poem, but an opening line or lines.  I've not read his other work & perhaps this chappie's a poor representative, but, point is, it's not my wish to beat up on Repp.  I mean, it's not as if he's Johnny Depp making those crappy Tim Burton Mad Hatter flicks.

Howl's Moving Castle, Diane Wynne Jones.  While I'm a huge Miyazaki fan, I now understand why some critics were disappointed with his adaptation, which, outside of the basic plot premise & characters--actually, just the names of characters--shares few resemblances with the novel.  I'm not saying that movie's not worth watching, for Miyazaki is, after all, Miyazaki, but it's a completely different story.  I hate to say it, but the punchline to the old joke about two billy goats eating reels of film sums up my feelings: The movie's good, but the book was better.

Medicus, Ruth Downie.  I'm not sure what to make of a detective series set in Roman times.  It's hard to say how accurately Downie recreates Roman life--I'm hardly knowledgeable enough of Roman life to critique--but since she cautions readers in an afterword not to look to her fiction for authenticity, it's probably fair to conclude she takes poetic license.   Fair or foul, I can't help remembering shows like Mary Tyler Moore or Bob Newhart.  Both, outside of opening montages & scattered handfuls of generic references about Minneapolis or Chicago respectively, could have easily taken place in NYC or LA, where all sitcoms up til then took place.  That aside, Downie has a flair for the kind of dry wit associated with the detective genre, which helps make Medicus enjoyable.

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle. Remember what I just said about dry wit in detective fiction?  You'll find little of that here. Outside of how foolish others look relative to Holmes, the primary amusement lies in Holmes unraveling a baffling mystery.  I've watched every episode of Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes in the PBS series, for what that's worth, so Doyle's novel's pretty much what I expected, save for the abrupt plot shift to the western United States & Mormon country, which I'll admit I didn't see coming.

A Little History of Philosophy, Nigel Warburton.  In a way, Warburton's survey of Western philosophy is an updated  Reader's Digest edition of Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy, which is shit, & Bertrand Russell's A History of Western Philosophy, which is not.  Warburton usually does a nice job of summarizing & making, like Russell, philosophical concepts accessible, presenting them, at times, in a fresh light.  However, like Durant, he can't stop himself from allowing his personal politics to color his depictions, but who am I to talk?

The World As Will & Idea, Vol 1, Arthur Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer begins by cautioning readers not to bother reading this volume if they haven't yet read his previous treatise.  Until then, they can decorate their bookshelves with it or give it to a lady friend to adorn her coffee table.  As if.  Briefly, since the world is comprised of many elements that we can't perceive, the mind constructs an idea of the world from what we can perceive, so the world as idea, or representation, is phenomena.  Our will is that basic impulse that gives us our will to live, & life is a reflection of the will.  Through will, we pursue things that make us, if not happy, then content.  Unfortunately, we can never truly be satisfied, which is especially true while reading Schopenhauer, whose primary impulse is toward self-aggrandizing self-promotion, as evidenced by the footnote whose sole purpose is to alert readers that Goethe has read the aforementioned treatise that I, you may infer, blew off.  Many of Schopenhauer's beliefs about human nature are supported by stereotypes & hasty generalizations, such as Spaniards are hot-blooded & the true genius, i.e., the artist, is bad at math.  Whatever.  Maybe Lenny Bruce can make that kind of shtick work, but Schopenhauer's not funny in the least. 

Paradise Lost, John Milton.  According to Milton, Eve lacks skills as a negotiator.  Why else would she trade Eden & all that implies to the serpent--which most biblical scholars nowadays believe to be a dinosaur (voiced by Phil Silvers)--for an apple?  A deliciously sweet & crunchy apple maybe, but even Jack of beanstalk fame struck a better deal, viz. a cow for magic beans.  After Adam, letting the little head do the thinking for the big one, bites the apple & all that implies, he & Eve fuck in every sundry position like the hairy beasts themselves, which are also fucking, making paradise look a bit like a prehistoric Woodstock until God tosses the lot of creation out.  This is why we suffer. 

Paradise Regained, John Milton.  Adam & Eve form an unholy alliance with Satan, who leads a successful military coup over the Kingdom of Heaven's troops occupying Eden.  Starring Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, & Lana Turner.

The Essential D.G. Jones, D.G. Jones.  An enjoyable, lyrical selection of the poet's work, it may possibly be my favorite of those poetry books I read this year.

More reviews are easy as  one, two, three.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Helen: A Literary Magazine

I have a couple of poems, "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" & "Classic Theater," in the latest issue of Helen: A Literary Magazine (Fall 2017).  You may read them by clicking here & here.  Also, you can watch a video of "Classic Theater" by clicking hereIn case you missed it, Helen released a video of  "To F.W." earlier this year, which you may read & watch by clicking here.

Many thanks to all the good people at Helen, which you may read by clicking here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

BiB 3

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood.  I subscribe to the theory that the more something's hyped, the more it's to be avoided. With that in mind, given the amount of hype this novel's generated over the years, including its recent miniseries adaptation on Hulu--which, for the record, I don't subscribe to--The Handmaid's Tale is surprisingly good.  If you ask me, the last chapter creates unnecessary problems in the narrative, yet Atwood proves, as usual, a worthwhile read.

Animal Farm, George Orwell.  Orwell demonstrates definitively that animals are really no better than humans in this satiric send-up of PETA.  For a further discussion of satire, click here.

Beloved, Toni Morrison.  A suspenseful, richly woven story, though perhaps it moves a bit too slowly & runs a tad too long, Beloved is, I'm ashamed to say, only the second Morrison novel I've read. Apparently, I can't urge myself enough to read her more often.

The Waves, Virginia Woolf.   I've read a half dozen Woolf novels, most of them two or three times--she's that good--but The Waves is kind of, to be kind, dull, if not indeed very dull. I wouldn't say it lacks imagination, but it's lacking in imagery for roughly the first 2/3 of the book.   While there are moments of Woolf's brilliance, too much of the narration focuses, if that's the right word, on disjointed, abstract, introspective, internal monologues, many of which concern aggrandized visions of the future conveyed via monotonous litanies of "wills" & "shalls" (but absolutely no "gonnas," puh-leze, as these people are quite posh, not your common street variety riff-raff).  Nevertheless, I kept reading like a religious devotee expecting my reward at the end.

Persuasion, Jane Austen.  Not Austen's best--I've read most of her novels--but I enjoy the diction of England's Regency period, so I decided to try another Austen, as in . . .

How to Do Things with Words, J.L. Austin.  While the title suggests that this is a how-to book on clever & creative ways to use words, it's actually a collection of the author's Harvard lectures, in which Austin delves at length into the way that words are used, i.e., how words function in sentences.  If you're interested in philosophical probing of the often pedantic world of sentence diagramming, by all means, read the hell out of this fucker.

Free Air, Sinclair Lewis.  In my recent run on dystopian novels, I mistakenly--while looking over the menu at a Mexican restaurant--downloaded Free Air, confusing it with Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, in which fascists take over the USA.  Since the first chapter of Free Air depicts tire tracks leaving swastikas in the dirt, I didn't catch my error until the middle of the second chapter, & by then, the entrees had arrived, so much as with my choice of Zacatecas, I lived with my mistake. Anyway, Free Air's a light but amusing story about class & culture shock on a great American road trip. Think On the Road set in the 1910s, only well-written.

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Fredrich Engels.  I probably hadn't read Marx's Manifesto since college, but with "socialism" bandied about these days in all manner of dilution & perversion, I thought I'd give it a quick read.  It's basically a pamphlet that you can read in a single sitting--then read it again, for it's packed with information.  I'd forgotten the section that deals with socialism's meaning being usurped even back in Marx's day, though Marx makes it clear that socialism means the elimination of private property.  Thus, former Daily Show host John Stewart--who once identified himself as a socialist who doesn't believe in collective ownership--is, in other words, not a socialist.  Indeed, Stewart's even less of a socialist than Bernie Sanders, who despite his self-designation & proposals for sweeping domestic change, still supports American imperialism & the spread of neoliberal values through various military & economic means.  Both he & Stewart are, among other things, reformists in the mode of, if I want to be extraordinarily generous, FDR, also not a socialist. The Daily Show, on another occasion, re: the Occupy Wall St. protests, suggested private & personal property are one & the same.  While they passed this off as "humor," it is, unfortunately, a common misconception shared by running dog lackeys & others too lazy to Google the terms, much less read a 100 page pamphlet.  As a rule of thumb, personal property consists of things you can use yourself, without help, whereas private property requires the labor of others to make use of.  Conflating the two terms is a way to propagate fear that socialists will, say, take away your personal computer & make you go to the public library & stand in long lines for your turn on the state computer, a refurbished Dell with 2 MB memory--& just think about how horrible it will be when you'll have to stand in the same long line to use the community toothbrush, comrade!  The thing is, even in Marx's time, 90% of private property was already owned by the 1%, so capitalism provides just the illusion that private property is available for acquisition by the masses.   Some things never change unless you change them

The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser.  I'd first read The Faerie Queene as an undergraduate, so when I saw it named in an online list of the most difficult books to read, my initial reaction was, "It's about knights & dragons & stuff.  How difficult can it be?"  To be fair, I'd read only Book I in college, & while I'll admit the length of the entire work is intimidating--just be glad Spenser didn't finish it--it still isn't difficult unless you find such allegories as battling the seven daily--er, that is, deadly--sins hard to understand, even with Spenser providing a synopsis before each canto.  If anything, it's kind of dull after a while, what with all its stale morality.

Raw Heaven, Molly Peacock.  After reading The Faerie Queene, I can only take so much rhyming before I'm calling on Dr. Bombay to come right away to cure the barbaric strain I've contracted, but Peacock tosses an assortment of sight & slant rhymes into the mix, so the poems--which employ a conversational, if not light tone-- are less predictable than much rhyming verse, especially the bad kind, tends to be, such as Robert Creeley's "A Wicker Basket."

The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde.  Wilde's wildest work.  Wickedly witty.

Wicked, Gregory Maguire.  An old friend--well, I shouldn't say that since she's much younger than I am--used to love Wicked, though it was probably the musical more than the novel, given how she'd break into a cappella renditions of "Popular" without provocation.   I wouldn't call this light reading--it's a huge tome with actually something to say about the perception of evil--but for an (harrumph) intellectual such as myself, I felt I was wasting my time & mind when I could have been nose-diving into . . .

Lobotomy, Dee Dee Ramone. Dee Dee (aka Douglas Colvin) is all over the place in this, um, autobiography, I said questioningly, as he cretin hops & blitzkrieg bops from the fifties & sixties in Berlin to New York in the seventies & the end of the century almost randomly, but, listen, I don't care.  It's still fun for Ramones fans & anyone with nothing to do & nowhere to go & interested in the punk rock scene.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson.  Considering the way the story's commonly portrayed in popular culture, you'd expect to find a madman tearing through London like Jack-the-Ripper on every page, but this novella depicts nonesuch violent scenes, save those few conveyed after the fact via hearsay & confession.  However, Stevenson deftly shows Hyde's distinct lack of manners, which, I guess, some may view as monstrous behavior.

On Poets & Others, Octavio Paz.  Revelations about Soviet labor camps, precipitated in part by Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, created a litmus test by which Paz judged the political character of all leftists.  Those like Breton and Paz himself who denounced the Soviet labor camps are the good guys, while Neruda, Sartre, Aragon & others who didn't acknowledge, much less condemn, the labor camps--since they believed in the ultimate cause of socialism & felt that Western media was already rampant with anti-Soviet propaganda--were tagged as hypocrites & worse.  Paz seems to interject the artist's position on the labor camps as part of his literary criticism. For instance, Paz held Sartre in contempt as a philosopher, writer &, it would seem, a human being, based on the latter's position that many Western societies employ practices just as heinous, yet receive little attention in the press.  If you consider Michelle Alexander's take on America's prison system in The New Jim Crow (see below), Sartre's point (though he, too, later renounced the Soviet practice) seems particularly apt.

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander.  Alexander presents a convincingly detailed analysis to show how a racially biased system of incarceration in America is used to create a subclass of citizens. While the second half seems a bit repetitive & less focused & I may differ here & there--well, when don't I--it is an extraordinary book & highly recommended.

Sometimes I Call Old Lovers, Bernadette Savage.  Some of the poems in this chapbook seem less finished than others, but my general impression is positive.  I especially like "Photo Album."

The Art of the Poetic Line, James Longenbach.   Even if he gets a bit repetitive, which for a book of this length is no mean feat--although it is an unkind criticism--Longenbach provides excellent analysis of the function of lines & line breaks.  I found the discussion of parsed & annotated lines, citing examples from William Carlos Williams & Marianne Moore, particularly engaging.

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett.  In case you didn't know, I've played the title role in my community theater presentation of Beckett's masterpiece for the past Godot knows how many years. Tray bong.  Tray tray tray bong.

Want more reviews?  Click here & here.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Really Cool News

Subprimal Poetry Art is a really cool magazine.  You’ll not only see great poems there, but you’ll hear them too, as audios of many of the poets reading their work are provided.  Here’s a link to “My Great Depression,” which appears in the Summer 2017 issue.  While you’re there, you can click my name to find links to a couple other poems that have previously appeared at Subprimal.

Also really cool, Helen:  A Literary Magazine posted a video of “To F.W.” as part of its Friday Night Special series.  Click here to see.   It’s really, really cool & it’s really cool too that I have two additional poems forthcoming in Helen’s fall issue.

One more really cool thing:  both magazines pay!