Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Fighting Fake News with Fake News

After billionaire schmuck Mark Suckerberg (British spelling) testified before Congress that he'd allowed Cambridge Analytica to use Facebook as a virtual glory hole, I expected the scandal would force the US to expel British diplomats, make the BBC register as a foreign agent--in my opinion, The Guardian too--& vilify, besmirch & otherwise smear the Queen & Theresa May. 

OK, the last of these I do anyway & it's nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica.  

The upshot of the scandal/investigation/bullshit is that Facebook (as well as Twitter & Reddit, if I'm not mistaken) is stepping up its efforts to filter feeds to protect us from fake news.  I'm not sure exactly how the censorship--er, filtering--system works, but I'm pretty sure its purpose is banning any info or opinions that our corporate overlords don't want shared.  Instead, FBers will be treated to generous & unadulterated doses of propaganda based on flimsy to no evidence in support of our latest war--er, "humanitarian intervention"--followed by a fluffy feature on Meghen Markle's upcoming royal nuptials.

If you haven't read Herman & Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent, you should.  In the meantime, New York Times lying sack of shit columnist Farhad Manjoo's "For Two Months, I Got My News from Print Newspapers.  Here's What I Learned" serves as a risibly good example of just how untrustworthy so-called vetted news is.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fistful of Comments on Books

In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez.  Sobbed my way through this tragic (based on real life events) story of the Mirabal sisters during Trujillo's reign in the Dominican Republic.

Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski.  The On the Road of the K-12 crowd.  Certain passages sound very much like Bukowski's poetry.  Whether that's good or bad is a question readers must decide for themselves.

Plato & a Platypus Walk into a Bar, Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein.  Explaining philosophical concepts through jokes may sound funny, but the jokes are stale & the relationship to philosophic principles is often strained.  Well, I didn't get it.

Manufacturing Consent, Edward S. Herman & Noam Chomsky.  Great analysis & indictment of the "free press" & its wont to legitimize & enable insidious US foreign policies.

America's Deadliest Export: Democracy, William Blum.  While there's new material, it's basically a rehash of Blum's other, better, more detailed books, Killing Hope & Rogue State, both of which, the former esp., I highly recommend.

This Big Fake WorldAda Limón.  Enjoyable, funny & smart, but I have a complaint.  This "story in verse," as it says on the cover, refers frequently to one character as "our hero" in various titles & poems, which strikes me as neither necessary nor amusing, but rather cliche, esp. in comparison to the creativity Limón demonstrates elsewhere.

You Must Revise Your Life, William Stafford.  S'alright, but I like Writing the Australian Crawl better.

The Route As Briefed, James Tate.  An eclectic selection of interviews, essays, & fiction any Tate fan will enjoy, which I certainly did, despite my copy containing horrendous printing errors.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick.  I'd say that I like Dick, but that might give some of you the wrong idea.  I'd also say the book's better than the Harrison Ford movie supposedly based on the novel, but quite frankly, it's not even the same story.  It's a good movie, but as to its myriad differences, the term "blade runner" isn't used anywhere in the novel.  Re: the movie sequel, I'll probably watch it when it comes to TV, if it hasn't already.

To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway.  OK, the fragmented episodes may not actually contribute to the overriding story arc & it's chock full of gratuitous racial epithets, yet it's surprisingly not as bad as . . .

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway.  I'd first read this novel as a college freshman, but sweet Felipe, Matty & Jesus Alou, that was in another millennium & I was left (far-left, actually) with only a vague dream-like memory that I didn't enjoy it.  Now I remember why.  Slow pacing & insipid conversations make this, if not Hemingway's worst, potentially his most boring book.

Tortilla Flat, John Steinbeck.  May I recommend Tortilla Factory instead?

My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse.  Other than a few scraps here & there, I'd not read much Wodehouse & his comic shtik before.  Yep, he's witty, that's for sure.

Selected Poems, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. What can I say?  I kind of like Tennyson.  He's got a great ear--& awesome beard--though he does go on a bit at times.

A Mercy, Toni Morrison.  Terrific lyrically spun narrative. 

All of Us, Raymond Carver.  He's a great short story writer, but this volume of his collected poems shows Carver's prowess as a poet.  Sure, you may want to overlook those that read more like journal entries than finished poems, but there's an unflinching honesty in these poems that have caused me to read this collection from start to finish again & again.

Want more reviews?  Try clicking here.  

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.