Jerry Jay Carroll's Blog: The Man Himself

October 27, 2017

The News Biz

Having spent the greater time of my life making a living in it, I can tell you these are grand times for the news business or what’s left of it. The news generally speaking is always bad for someone and at times for everyone. This is meat and drink for the journalist. Good news doesn’t sell because it is usually dull except for those lucky enough to make it--the lottery winner, the lost hiker who is found, the athletic conqueror and the followers if it is a team sport, even the new parents who return to obscurity after the blessed event unless they are celebrities or related to one, in which case the tabloids dog them through life unless there are career reverses, in which case obscurity claims them as well. But good news has the duration of a firefly while bad news has a long life--months and even years. The people who will turn out to howl at the sky on the first anniversary of Trump’s election are just one example. They wept openly when the results were in. Not satisfied with his victory, the other side, its appetite for revenge ravenous, calls for Hillary’s trial and imprisonment, her disgrace being inadequate for what they perceive as her monstrous crimes. A segment of her own constituency despises her for putting the fix in during the primaries and then losing, “unexpectdly,” after the news trade had jubilantly spread the news she had the election locked up.
Like a chef in a kitchen, the journalist can mix any number of ingredients into the soufflé of bad news that make the day’s papers, the evening network news, or cable, which regurgitates it 24/7 with a spicing of invective tossed in by news personalities whose specialty that is. To name just a few at hand, there is North Korea led by a seeming madman; climate change; racial conflict; the rise of the machines which will leave all but the privileged without work, a circumstance that has already turned many to hopelessness and drug addiction; the disturbing timidity of college students who require safe places when upset by micro-aggressions all but invisible to a healthy mind; the antifas (rebranded anarchists); the gross disparities in wealth, which seem to be embarrassing even some of its possessors, though not enough; the slow devolution of the European Union back to nation states despite their centuries-long history of war and mass murders in that form; China feeling its oats as an emerging superpower and Japan planning to rearm against this threat; economists already asking one another when the present bubble of prosperity will burst; Hollywood’s beastly depravity being exposed, as it is from time to time with no lasting result, and with pedophilia likely to be the next focus; the realization that the two-party system, which has created a class every bit as permanent as the administrative state itself, and which doesn’t seem to get anything done but self-enrichment; super germs that create incurable infections; Islamic fanatics as willing to die for their religion as unquestioningly as the kamikaze pilots and barbaric soldiery of the late empire and emperor; illegal immigration leading to the creation of walls... well, I could go on and on and so could you. In ordinary times, the journalist would gorge on this feast and be satisfied that he or she--increasingly she--was performing a vital public service. But the days when journalists merely observed events and provided what we called the first draft of history are over. Now the journalist is no longer an observer but a participant in events, hoping to shape them through the way they select their stories, write and edit them, and choose their placement. The uniformity of opinion found in the news business has often been remarked on. Some might find in it a conspiracy when in fact it is only the result of group thinking of the sort you find among social workers or in another form in police forces, where the distancing cynicism about human nature once shared by journalists still exists to restrain zeal. Today’s news gatherers are ardent progressives, impassioned believers in causes that bring to mind the spirit of Communists in the ‘Thirties. At that time, with capitalism prostrate, nearly everyone in the intellectual classes (which, stretching a point, included journalists) sympathized with the Soviet Union as it strove to haul a medieval society into the Twentieth Century no matter how many millions had to die. Eggs had to be broken or the omelet couldn’t be made, that was both explanation and justification. The New York Times correspondent declined to report the deliberate famine Moscow created in Ukraine and no doubt many other crimes of the regime, and was rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize for his body of work. At that time, many if not most newspapers had conservative ownerships, but the bosses who were raking in fabulous wealth couldn’t be everywhere or inspect every article, and sly journos, who after all were members of the working class, managed to insinuate a progressive point of view into the product. I worked with an editorial writer who boasted that he presented the publisher’s occasional thoughts on the issues of the day in language so dull as to be unreadable. Being a dull man himself, the publisher didn’t notice. Today there are no conservative newspapers to speak of and only FOX is available to express that point of view, less forcibly since the crash and burn of boorish Bill O’Reilly, the right’s approximation of the barely sane Keith Olbermann, who was cast into the darkness not for his opinions or for bothering women with unwanted attentions, but because he was so unpleasant that everyone he came in contact with ended up hating his guts. FOX’s cable audience, however, is miniscule compared to the mighty networks, which are strongly liberal in orientation, not to mention the noisy choirs at MSNBC and CNN that gave up eve the pretense of objectivity at some point. Objectivity was the ostensible goal of journalism in the past, but that fantasy was abandoned long ago. Now the media boast of their partisanship. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” the Washington Post proclaims in its new slogan. It offered me a month of free readership, but I canceled after two days because it read like a reverse of the wall poster days when Mao led the country in The Great Leap Forward. Instead of extolling The Great Steersman as the Chinese media were required to do under the penalty of being sent to the countryside to suppress weeds with hoes or to bring in the harvest, the Post was stuffed with stories hating on Trump. Or Mr. Wiggy Piggy to use one of the many names the left has for the president.
But my point is not the present prostitution of the press, but the amazing persistence of this kind of bad news that is found in declining empires over the past three thousand years. They last on average 250 years, or ten generations, before they collapse. The United States is 234 years old, so it would seem we’re right on track.
Up next, as they say in TV news, is what happened back then happening now? Hint: the worship of celebrities is a tell-tale symptom of social degradation and civilizational collapse. Seriously, you guys.
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Published on October 27, 2017 09:58

May 28, 2017

The morning walk

The chiropractor’s small waiting room was crowded when I walked in for a second treatment for my lower back. His assistant, an older woman with dyed black hair, was behind the counter working the computer and answering a phone call while balancing a sleeping baby on her other arm. “Now that’s what I call multi-tasking,” I said. That was received with the silence it deserved. “I’m the 2:10 the appointment.” The baby, a girl less than a month old if I’m any judge, was pink and exquisite and just now beginning to wake. Her perfect little mouth opened wide and a weak, little wail began. I assumed her mother was a patient being attended to inside. I read somewhere that hearing that cry make a mother’s milk flow. The assistant, already stressed, got more so and kissed the infant and crooned soothingly without effect. “I’ll come back,” I said. She flashed me a look of gratitude; one less problem to contend with.
The last time I was in with back trouble was three years ago and she made it worse by asking me to turn on my stomach. This move caused the pain to skyrocket from merely severe to acute agony. “Arrrrrgh,” is as close as written language can come to the sound I made. It appeared often in the bubble over comic book characters when I was young. “Aieeeee” also was common, but that was usually reserved for variations on villains knocked or kicked to perdition by the superhero. The chiropractor, a big, friendly guy, hustled from the other treatment room and between us I managed to achieve a sitting position. Looking genuinely appalled, he said he couldn’t do any manipulation because of my pain and sent my wife off to buy one of those girdle-like back braces worn by deliverymen and others who bend with heavy loads. I crept out of the office with my wife’s help, embarrassed by the build-up of patients in the waiting room that left several without a place to sit. I wore the brace day and night for a long time. “Do you remember me?” I asked the assistant. She said no. “I do,” Dr. Dailey said. “It was a chiropractic emergency.”
The day before he had me lean against a table that stands on end. It slowly lowered to the horizontal and on the way I was jolted and there was a hiss like air brakes. Whatever was out of alignment popped back in and problem solved; I strode out like a sergeant major on the parade ground. In the old days, you lay on your back with legs up and a quick movement by the chiropractor grasping your knees did the job. One told me to have a glass of wine before coming because I was too tense for him to work with; I was happy to oblige, it being in the interest of health. These moving tables are another of technology’s blessings. Chiropractors have shed the shady reputation they had in years past when the medical profession pounded away at the interloper's treatments as quackery. And there were cultish aspects that did cling to it; some of its practioners said you needed regular adjustments for the rest of your life or something would happen... unhappiness, I think. Even now they are after you to come back two or three more times when it isn't really needed.

I had an old storage shed on our property torn down, a structure the previous owner put up in violation of the Property Owners Association policy. The boss of the wrecking crew was a 30-year Air Force veteran with a no-nonsense manner. With him was an old man who didn’t do much but look on with me as a young guy, early 20s maybe, did easily seventy per cent of the work. He was shirtless and wore flip flops and satin trunks like a boxer; they rode so low on his skinny hips that he was only an inch or two from indecent exposure. He was a dynamo of energy, attacking the walls like they were enemies and dragging the debris to the trailer at a lope. He did not have one single ounce of fat. “Yeah, I’m superman,” he said when I admired how speedy and hard working he was. He had a jabbering way of speaking that was hard to understand. I’m pretty sure he was on meth. He is going to marry his step sister in December. He said they’ve been sweet on each other since they were little kids. It’s Arkansas, folks.
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Published on May 28, 2017 12:45 Tags: chiropractor, infant, jerry-jay-carroll, the-morning-walk

May 18, 2017

The morning walk

A new McDonald’s opened yesterday just outside the gate of our quiet village and people are popping their buttons with pride. It is as if at last we are linked to the common culture and the greater world beyond our rural horizons. The Sonic drive-in on the highway a mile away now looks shabby and forlorn compared to the newcomer in its crisp, modern architecture that pays homage to the pioneering McDonald’s franchises with a Golden Arch that is more hinted at than emblazoned as in days of old. It is on the site of the old Burger King, which was driven to the wall by Sonic. The building lay vacant for a couple of years before it was razed by the new occupant. I suppose it says something deep about the fleeting nature of things. McDonald’s itself is staggering according to the financial press; thousands of franchises have closed in the past few years as the lumbering colossus was slow to react to the challenges of In-and-Out and other fast-food purveyors more nimble in anticipating and responding to the fickle public tastes. McDonald’s is returning to its original menu, its roots so to speak, of fattening foods regrettably more to the public taste than its disastrous foray into healthy foods. Michelle Obama discovered this when children turned their noses up at the healthy school lunches she imposed with the muscle of the federal government behind her; the lunches were scraped off into the garbage can and a flourishing black market trade arose in potato chips and candy bars. The Sonic down the highway was having trouble even before McDonald’s opened. “She can’t get people to work,” said the nurse as she stuck a needle in my arm to draw blood for next week’s annual physical (fingers crossed). The nurse, who has grown alarmingly stout since her marriage, referred to the Sonic manager. “She hires them and they won’t work so she fires them.” There is a permanent Help Wanted in the window. The new rival can only add to her problems, skimming off the best of the worst as Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary observed before that untimely remark lost him that job. After the blood drawing, we went to the farmer’s market in the village. Not much there, it being early in the season. I gave a farmer twenty dollars for a bunch of garlic and he slowly and carefully peeled off nineteen dollars as my change. A roll that thick in the pocket makes a man feel flush. We strolled to another booth for something else and were both struck by the silent woman sitting with her husband at the table where their goods were laid out. Her eyes burned with inexpressible tragedy. One had to look away from such pain openly admitted to. It reminded me of Mister Weaver, the jug-eared country man of unfailing good humor we used to depend on for fresh fruits and vegetables. “We’re in business thanks to you good folks,” he said every time. The last time I saw him he came through the door with a face full of pain and desperation. On his last legs, I thought. Is that expression used any more? I have lots of them, like “That’s hog wash”. But then I can remember when McDonald’s sold their burgers for twenty-five cents. When we came back the next week, his wife, sweet-faced but less outgoing than him, dabbed her eyes and said he was dying in a hospice.
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Published on May 18, 2017 09:08 Tags: common-culture, macdonald-s, sorrow, suffering

May 13, 2017

The Horror Writer

I think I just might be up there in the stretch run later this year for the BookLife Prize sponsored by Publishers Weekly. At least Horror Writer is showing swift early foot out of the gate:

BookLife Prize - 2017
Visibility : public
Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10
Plot: The Horror Writer offers a highly original plot that keeps the reader intrigued and invested. The author reveals details little by little, building up to a tense and riveting conclusion.
Prose: Carroll is a superb writer, with a clear gift for not only prose but for plotting, pacing, and characterization.
Originality: The author offers up an inventive, unique story that, like the best plots in the horror genre, makes the impossible seem plausible and allows the reader to suspend disbelief.
Character Development: Carroll's characters are masterfully created, warts and all. As a result, his protagonist, Thom Hearn, is a living, breathing being with qualities and personality traits that readers will immediately associate with someone they know.
Blurb: With a gripping narrative that will hook the reader from the very first page, this haunting story is the stuff nightmares are made of.
This notice wasn't bad either:

A thriller about an irascible horror author with an overactive imagination.
Thom Hearn is a writer who sees elements of horror everywhere and who sizes up everyone he meets as potential fodder for new characters. Carrie Alexander is a Type A personality in hedge fund management. They’re soon thrown together at a conference for big names in banking, business, and science, among many other fields, after both characters are almost killed in an airplane accident. But once they make it to the conference, even stranger things start to happen. The resort they’re staying at looks like a tropical paradise, but it feels somehow artificial to Thom; he also feels like he’s being watched. He quickly finds out that Carrie feels the same way, and so do others at the conference. Thom also develops a healthy mistrust of Hermod, the golden boy running the whole operation. Carroll’s (The Great Liars, 2014, etc.) novel offers a creative mashup of elements from Romancing the Stone, The Stepford Wives, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He creates some fantastic oddities for his characters to navigate, including a public murder that no one seems to know anything about the next day; later, Thom even confronts one of his own fictional characters. It’s all very unsettling in a very pleasing way, and readers will find it hard to guess what’s coming next. Still, as entertaining as it all is, there are a few flaws. For example, Carroll opens with the thrilling action of the aforementioned airplane mishap, but then the narrative bounces back and forth, via flashbacks, to set up how Thom and Carrie each came to be on that plane, which muddies the waters for readers. Later, Thom thinks about his writing operation back home during jungle-survival scenes, and the transitions between the two are a bit rough.
An imaginative, engaging story despite minor distractions.
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Published on May 13, 2017 11:14 Tags: fast-paced, suspense

April 1, 2016

The French Are Sad

Jerry Jay Carroll

New York Times bestselling author

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The French Are Sad

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Are we becoming Frenchified? I don’t mean the thin-skinned souls on college campuses looking for things that offend and sadden them. (Cultural appropriation is the latest in case you’re following developments in the ivory tower). Polls for years have shown the French are among the unhappiest people in the world, and the guerrilla warfare now being waged in their midst isn’t going to lift spirits. The Germans, better at building war machines than whipping up dishes, walloped the French three wars in a row. Germans historically have been more comfortable in a helmet and the French in a toque. It must depend on what’s more important, a war or a great meal. We’re down in the dumps too, the polls show.

The excellence of French cuisine goes back to the 1870 war when Paris was besieged by who else? Food was so scarce Parisians had to catch and eat rats, a test that required sauces of a high order. The second one, World War I, left the French so depleted they were defeatist pushovers for the even bigger one that followed 20 years later. Napoleon, France’s last great warrior, created a centralized state where power flowed to Paris. A powerful bureaucracy directed by an elite became supreme, proving the superiority of their culture in the minds of the French. This logically led, as they like to say, to a more comprehensive bureaucracy operating under slightly different principles in Moscow. The French motto of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity gave way under Marx’s influence to another he borrowed from a Frenchman. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” The ant hill society in short.

Bureaucratic centralization took root in the United States during FDR’s years and has strengthened under every administration since, getting fuel injection under Obama. An elite schooled at Ivy League colleges runs our country like the French graduates from the grandes écoles. Wealth is being concentrated in keeping with the natural trends of an oligarchy. But we haven’t gone French all the way yet. Washington has rival power centers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. However, the greatly expanded administrative state has spent Obama’s two terms frenziedly writing rules and regulations that reduce the independence of regions, states, cities, towns, neighborhoods and countrysides. The runaway EPA wants to extend its control over ditches and ponds; puddles can’t be far behind. The devious IRA was caught trying to repress the conservative movement, and the left wing wants to criminalize dissent over the causes of climate change. The age of government surveillance by drone and NSA algorithms gives government (their workers earn 70% more than counterparts in private industry) powerful new tools to work its will. This might contribute to the glumness Americans feel, the sense that something is gone away that they always thought would be there. That and the new schoolyard coarseness Donald Trump has brought to the political culture. Something happened at some point in his transition from developer ranked no higher on the scale to measure psychotics than any other CEO or arriviste at the top of the mountain. Normal people don’t make it up there, folks, you have to climb a mountain of bodies.

As he handed out money to politicians whose favor or protection he needed, a thought bubble must have formed over Trump’s head at some point: Why, I’m as smart as they are… no, I’m smarter! George Pataki, the long-time governor of New York, was the proof of the pudding and even closer to home Mayor Bill de Blasio was the whipped cream on top. His years in showbiz gave Trump a great insight into the American public. We like celebrities and we don’t know very much or care to. Bingo! But like everyone surrounded by yes men and women, he didn’t know to quit when he was ahead and they were afraid to say. His initial vulgarity and bluster seeming like a fresh wind blowing away politically correct cobwebs won him a place at the table, but someone should have advised a tactical pull back when he got deeper into the campaign. Stop being the clown with the red nose (orange hair in his case, strangely arranged) and take up the masterly air of the lion tamer using will power more than whip and chair to put them through their paces. The performance has gone on too long and people have wised up to catchphrases repeated ad nauseam. We’re gonna build a wall. America is gonna be great again. The contrapuntal flip side, America doesn’t win anymore. Our leaders are stupid. We’re being cheated. There is just enough truth in it to make people nod like the bald, open-mouthed people in the classic Apple ad.

But it appears from the polling – yes, they have been as reliable up to now as soothsaying – Wisconsin is about to slam on the brakes. Comfortable old bore John Kasich might even finish second behind Ted Cruz. Reading the portents of that outcome for the convention, Trump might wash his hands of the GOP and go the third party route. If the people who have felt the Bern do likewise, theoretically there could be four names on the November ballot, the officially-sanctioned Republican, the officially-sanctioned Democrat, Trump and Sanders. It would be so French. Or maybe Donald will throw in his cards when he thinks the game is up. The presidency looks like an even tougher job than ordinary with the shambles Obama is leaving behind, and Trump has accomplished what has always been his lodestone, enhancing the financial value of his celebrity brand.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on April 1, 2016. Edit

Jim Harrison R.I.P.

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Jim Harrison died the other day, a man I knew was something of a character but didn’t know how much. I have admired his poetry but not got around yet to his novels. There are exceptions, but as a general rule writers are dull dogs. I suppose it’s because they save what is most vivid and interesting about themselves for the page. Harrison, like Hemingway, was one of those larger-than-life characters with plenty to go around for both life and fiction. The NYT had a venerating obituary that included a dig at “the self-regarding literary soirees of New York, for which he had little but contempt.” It sounds like whoever wrote the obituary shares that sensible view. It is rare to find anyone with anything good to say about literary circles. Dorothy Parker appears at the end of her life to have despised the time she wasted at the Algonquin Round Table. Writers are a venomous lot, although again the rule is not inflexible. Joyce Carol Oates, the furious writing machine, is said to be nice, and Stephen King is famously generous in his praise for other authors. On the other hand, Paul Theroux is one of the nastiest people I’ve met. His feud with V.S. Naipaul, an even nastier piece of work if you believe what you read, was the stuff of legend.

Harrison summered in Montana and wintered in Arizona, blazing away at wildlife in both places. He kept a pack of mongrels, fished, ate and drank prodigiously, and appears to have always kept a cigarette burning. He once flew to France for a lunch that consisted of 37 courses and 19 wines and took 11 hours to eat. Another time, the Times tells us, he shared a lunch with Orson Welles where the two put away a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a leg of lamb with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports and a chaser of cocaine. No one had a clock on that marathon but twilight must have been coming on. If Harrison had taken better care of himself, maybe he wouldn’t have been cut down at a mere 78. (Rimshot) To his dislike, he was continually compared to Hemingway, another famed outdoorsman and trencherman. But Ernest was almost epicene in comparison, particularly in later life when he was into cross-dressing. The Times ran a photo of Harrison with the obituary that told you as much as all the words. He had a lived-in face, as rugged as a butte with strong outcroppings of Rabelaisian voluptuary. I sent off for a copy of one of his novels. It cost a penny plus three bucks shipping. And you wonder why the book trade is in such shape and most writers are poor as church mice.

The Politico website has a story by its media sage Jack Shafer explaining why the Trump-Cruz cage match over infidelities will go into extra rounds. “Whether valid or not, an individual’s sex life has come to stand as a marker of trustworthiness. Once the subject is breached, it takes superhuman powers by the press to avoid talking about it.” Many things can be said about the media, but superhuman powers is not one of them. And why should the subject be sniffed at as the supercilious French did until only recently? The last two presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, found themselves in the crosshairs for women trouble formerly was seen as no more than a minor peccadillo, certainly nothing that would cause a sophisticated adult to raise an eyebrow. François Mitterrand, the president who came before them, had two children from extra-marital affairs and the French media turned a blind eye. It was his private business.

That was the case in Washington, D.C., Shafer points out, until 1979 when an article that the New Republic deep-sixed appeared in the Washington Monthly about Teddy Kennedy’s rampant womanizing. It offered no details but blandly argued that his philandering should be seen as “as a legitimate issue in the campaign.” It was left to later times to disclose that Teddy, having a bit of afternoon delight in mind, trolled Washington streets in his chauffeured limousine offering rides to young female government workers. If he got turned down, he rolled the window back up and they drove on to the next one. It worked pretty well for him.

Hitler gained complete power over the German army in 1938 when it was learned the war minister in his government had married a woman thirty-five years younger who had posed for pornographic photos taken by a Czech Jew with whom she cohabited and who was on a Berlin police register as a prostitute. To rub salt in the wound, Hitler and Hermann Goring had stood up for the couple at their wedding ceremony. The war minister’s number two did not step into his shoes because he was being blackmailed by a rentboy. The charge was untrue but the damage was done and he resigned anyway.

So sex scandals continue to hold sway over the public mind, which is why Ted Cruz is sweating bullets over the National Enquirer story. There has always been an oozing Uriah Heep insincerity about him that is hard to take. His voice ranges from confident orator to treacly sympathy with no stop in between. Trump lies, he says, but everybody knows that so the charge comes in with a generous built-in discount. I expect pictures to appear in the tabloid’s issue that is timed for the maximum impact on a brokered convention. Jeb called himself “the joyous tortoise” at one point in his campaign, but maybe another deserves that laurel. President Kasich—does that work for you? The permanent GOP establishment is about to throw itself weeping on his lapels. He is the ultimate outsider’s insider.

This entry was posted in obituaries, Politics, Politics, Trump, Clinton, Election, Primary, The literary life, Uncategorized, Writing on March 28, 2016. Edit

Is it a Clinton-Trump conspiracy?

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Yes, the political season is really, really nasty. The higher the stakes, it seems, the faster the elevator descends. We’re past the gutter now and heading for the sewage treatment plant. The political viciousness was bad enough before, but with the year still young we have a chance to top the worst. Just to pick one example from the past, “clean government” candidate Grover Cleveland came under heavy fire in 1884 for fathering a bastard, an accusation that under the modern dispensation seems so far beyond the pale as to be in another country. Even “illegitimate” is used but sparely, it being unfair to taint a child whose role in many cases was consequential but blameless. But bastardy was a grave charge in earlier times when moral codes were firmer. “Ma, Ma, where`s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha,” they jeered at Cleveland. Like all successful chants, it was catchy. It was only when his accusers went on to denounce Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion” that they lost the key Irish vote, which might otherwise have gone to James G. Blaine despite his peculation at the public trough. Apart from being president, Cleveland was noteworthy for being so fat – somewhere well north of 300 pounds – that when he got stuck in the White House bathtub he had to be levered out by a mechanical apparatus.

I’m surprised no one has raised the possibility of a conspiracy regarding Donald Trump’s candidacy. With the exception of old-style political bore John Kasich, Trump has blown to smithereens the ranks of Republican hopefuls and badly damaged the other survivor, Ted Cruz. It seems Trump saved the toughest nut to crack for last. Cruz is a bona fide tea party conservative unlike late arrivals to the cause already receding to the dimming past like Jeb, anointed heir to the Bush claim on semi-permanent residency in the White House. But now Cruz has received his bucket of excrement in the face. Accusations (accusation of accusations, really) that Cruz is a serial fornicator and all-around philanderer have sprung from the pages of the National Enquirer, which has a distinguished record for revelations that end public lives. (See John Edwards). Before Edwards there was Gary Hart, forced out of the race in 1987 when reporters, having been tipped off by someone, tailed him to a tryst with Donna Rice. In dropping out, Hart paraphrased Thomas Jefferson. “I tremble for my country when I think we may, in fact, get the kind of leaders we deserve.” By that reckoning, the recent run of presidents shows us either undeserving to an extraordinary degree or under a curse.

Hart later said, “I watched journalists become animals, literally.” Surely, he meant figuratively, but hyena comes to mind when the Fourth Estate is in full cry after hapless quarry. The National Enquirer broke the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and it still makes regular appearances in its pages. It led the coverage of the O.J. story, revealed Jesse Jackson’s “secret family,” and got the goods on Tiger Woods. If it has been wrong for the past year or so about Cher and Michael Douglas being on the edge of the grave, surely it will be proved right sooner or later. In 2009 it said Michael Jackson would die within six months and was right on the money. If the Enquirer is not always right, it’s not always wrong, particularly when it comes to politics. It greases palms for tips and lays out fortunes for juicy stories, which the so-called mainstream American press is too cheap or fuddy-duddy to do. Interestingly, the tabloid is owned by a company run by one of the Friends of Bill.

There was a little-noticed private meeting last year between Trump and Bill Clinton. That was all that was ever reported, that there had been a sit down. Up to that point Trump could be defined as a standard New York liberal who contributed large sums of money to Democratic candidates and smaller amounts to the occasional Republican. Then, a few months later, he emerges as a full-blown candidate for the GOP nomination and overturns every understanding of how the game is played. He has been like a bowling ball, knocking rivals over like tenpins. If Cruz is mortally wounded in the evangelical community by the Enquirer’s story and those in store for him, the field will be clear for Trump with the exception of Kasich, who makes no pulses beat stronger. But in demolishing his opposition, Trump’s sheer nastiness is also throwing into question his chances in November. For every scalp he has taken there is a constituency he has alienated, beginning with women and continuing through country-club RINOs and now Cruz’s conservative backers. He claims he will bring people to the polls who quit voting when Ronald Reagan left office. These will include blue-collar workers ignored by the Ivy League toffs of both parties. Will they be enough? Here’s a thought to ponder. Trump doesn’t really want to be president. It’s all been an act by a master showman. So now he is now embarked on the next stage of the deal he and Bill reached, making himself so obnoxiously toxic that Hillary sashays into office.

Oh, you may say, that’s just conspiracy talk. But there have been many successful conspiracies through history, most of which we don’t know anything about. But here are some we do. The Dreyfus Affair: In the late 1800s in France, Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason based on false government documents, and sentenced to life in prison. The French government attempted to cover this up, but Dreyfus was eventually pardoned after the affair was blasted open by Emile Zola. The Mafia was virtually unknown until the 1960s, when Joe Valachi first revealed the society’s secrets to law enforcement. The Manhattan Project, a good conspiracy and one of history’s greatest industrial projects, was built in total secrecy. The asbestos and tobacco interests covered up the lethality of their products for decades. Watergate brought down Richard Nixon. Obamacare was described by a Princeton professor who was a principal architect as drafted so that the American people would be too stupid to understand it; it was then passed in the middle of the night by a Congress that didn’t read its 2000 pages. There was a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, tragically unsuccessful. The Warren Commission report said Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy and Jack Ruby killed Oswald. Oswald had CIA and FBI connections and Ruby had Mafia connections. A second Congressional investigation in 1979 that produced twelve volumes of appendices found that there was a “probable conspiracy.” More often, the very people–often in government or having some other official standing –with something to hide routinely accuse others of being conspiracy nuts when they question the party line.

What would be the payoff for a Clinton-Trump conspiracy? Bill would become the power behind the throne he once occupied (he and Hillary are themselves a conspiracy) and Donald has already added billions of dollars to the value of his brand. The presidency used to be considered hard work until Obama showed you don’t even have to break a sweat to do the job. As the most famous billionaire in the world –Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have been left in the dust–Trump can go back to making deals and telling people he’s the greatest. It’s win-win.

This entry was posted in Politics, Trump, Clinton, Election, Primary, Writing on March 26, 2016. Edit

Donald Trump

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Is there a whiff of revolution in the air? That blockade of cars on a freeway in Arizona certainly had a to-the-barricades look, but hyperbole is easy in our hyper-inflated times. Still, something is touching the olfactory sense in a way not felt since 1968, which was a genuine annus horriblis. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, race riots shook the country, campus buildings were occupied , and people marched against the war in Vietnam. It was even worse in France, where protests against capitalism nearly brought the system to a halt. More than 22 per cent of the population downed tools in wildcat strikes over a two-week period. Charles de Gaulle felt it prudent to leave the country for a period, retiring to a French base in Germany. Twenty years later came the fall of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring that brought upheaval to a dozen country and regime change to four.
No one was more surprised than the leadership in those countries when governments toppled. The U.S. is the most stable democracy in the world but I think you have to go back to the Depression and the Civil War to find people as divided as they are today. FDR famously said that he saved capitalism for the capitalists, but Bernie Sanders doesn’t appear to care much for it and young people today don’t see anything wrong with socialism. This is because they don’t know very much history because it doesn’t appear to be taught anymore except in a manner at the grade school level that guarantees kids will be turned off on it for the rest of their lives. It is bled of all interest by the input of committees responsive to the sensitivities of anyone likely to take offense, which today is just about everyone. Late night comics who send roving reporters out on the streets to quiz people about history and even current events return with evidence of the hilarious public ignorance about anything but the activities of celebrities. Everyone seems to know about them in minute detail. Even I’m wondering why Madonna appears to be drunk and crazy whenever she appears in public. Is it only because her son doesn’t want to leave her dad and the British seem reluctant to agree to extradition?
His celebrity is reason for Donald Trump’s astounding success. That and using the vocabulary of a fourth grader so his message is spread even to the unlettered. “It’s gonna be great.” Who needs to know more than that? Where have all the decades of wonkery in Washington, D.C., and Wall Street predation got us? Manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to foreign countries, leaving blue collar workers holding the bag and turning to meth and oxycontin for the pain and boredom of empty lives cushioned somewhat by food stamps and hundreds of cable channels. The economy feels like it’s knee-deep in molasses with historic levels of unemployment (if you count the people who stopped looking), record levels of part-time workers, college graduates with crushing levels of debt looking for jobs that aren’t there. And even if they were, those who majored in queer or one of the other grievance studies didn’t learn the skills prized in the private sector, one of which is the ability not to be perpetually offended and in need of trigger warnings. When will fainting couches and smelling salts make their comeback in the Ivy League schools?
The WSJ had an interesting article the other day comparing Trump to the sort of authoritarian figure who has always flourished in the banana republics, the caudillo. Hugo Chavez and Juan Peron were mentioned. If young people today want an idea of where socialism leads, it is more likely Venezuela and Cuba than the Scandinavian countries Bernie Sanders keeps touting. Speaking of them, do you ever watch films made in those countries? Everyone looks depressed. The long sunless winters can’t be the only explanation. My guess is another reason is the nanny state that looks after citizens from cradle to grave, putting a floor under the lows and a ceiling on the highs. Lifelong ennui is the result. The immigration of Muslims and their customs should break the monotony, particularly for the women. Venezuela the other day said it was necessary to do without power for a week. Has that ever happened before? Chavez and his successor and the Castro brothers managed to squeeze the middle class out of existence, which is what has been happening in this country regardless of which party is in power. Venezuela is often without such basics as toilet paper, but at least everyone apart from the elites suffers equally, fulfilling the practice if not the promise of socialism. Cuba shows signs of an economic pulse only because the hated Yanquis are beginning to return with their dollars. Otherwise, it looks pretty much like it did in the ‘Fifties as if was frozen in time by some evil sorcerer.
The Latin American caudillo is one thing, but Trump is also being compared with Hitler, which Jews rightly regard as indecent. Who has he killed? But then nobody today learns history, which explains the cheap shot. If you want a historical example Mussolini is more your man. He began as a socialist and became an authoritarian. Trump began as a New York liberal and has become a populist without dropping anchor in one school of political thought or another. This is why he is equally hated by the elites and chattering classes of both parties. It is also why he is free to drift according to which way the winds are blowing. Ross Perot was the last loose cannon in American politics, but he was stiff and uncomfortable in the limelight. Trump can’t get enough of it. It will be an interesting summer and fall. These are the times the radical left lives for, they never feel so alive. That was them blocking the cars on the freeway.

This entry was posted in The literary life, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged Donald Trump, literary, the writing life, Writing on March 20, 2016. Edit

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on March 20, 2016. Edit

Inside a riot

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The first thing you have to understand about rioting is it’s fun. Seriously. I covered quite a few in my time as a journalist and noticed everybody was having a great time except for people whose property was being trashed or stolen. Even the cops seemed to enjoy it, although they had to pretend they didn’t. I think it’s the adrenalin rush. Rioting is a contact sport and if you are involved in an ideological sense it gives you a warm sense of virtue before, during and after. People lose a sense of individuality in a mob action and a kind of hyper communality sets in. It’s not you rocking the car back and forth or heaving something through a window, it’s everybody. The restraints of civilization are flung off and you behave like you would in a wild state of nature: you’re an unthinking beast. It’s a blast! I got swept up in one of the Watts riots and put in a paddy wagon with a bunch of other young men, the arsonists and window breakers, the looters and brutes. The sense of deflation in that van with its barred windows was like coming down off any high. Regrets had already set in. I talked my way out of there so I didn’t participate in the booking process, the fingerprinting, mug shots and the rest of it. I covered student riots in Berkeley and San Francisco. I had my chin opened up in one and went to an emergency room for treatment. In Berkeley we wore helmets and flak jackets. Even so, one colleague caught birdshot in one arm on a day when one of the protestors was shot dead. His name was once on everyone’s lips, like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. No one remembers him now.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2016. Edit

Our foul times

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I came across an arresting essay by Joseph Pearce, hitherto unknown to me, a writer in residence and director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee. The sex and drugs revolution of the ‘Sixties was the torch that set fire to what remained of Western culture after two world wars in less than a half century. The ruins are to be seen all around us in this dumbed-down world submerged and hell-bent in its self-gratification and materialism. Pearce says it better here:

Rescuing Our Maidens from the Culture of Death

I have been skeptical of the “rape-culture” frenzy on the college campuses, but Pearce brought my attention to a study conducted in the U.K. by the Girl Guides, its equivalent to our Girl Scouts. It said suicide rates are way up and half of teenage girls have sought help for mental problems, many of which are caused by the widespread acceptance of pornography. In my youth so long ago it was regarded as dirty and something to be ashamed of. But now it is so widespread that you are regarded as a prude if you find it objectionable. A winking acceptance is thought of as a badge of broad mindedness. This is what happens when moral relativity and the anthropological view of human culture are in the saddle. One set of standards or norms is no better or worse than the next and, paradoxically, it wrong to think otherwise. There being no moral standards and with the influence of religion waning, the race is full on to the bottom of the gutter and new frontiers of depravity. The result can be seen best in the black community with all its path0logies and furies, but the rotten fruits of promiscuity are spreading everywhere. It is so bad that two federal agencies are proposing to become “equal partners” with parents in raising their children. As tempting as it might sound to single mothers, once that camel gets its nose under the tent a politically correct totalitarianism that will spread is not far behind. The village that the left said it takes to raise a child will become a far-off bureaucracy with iron rules and the power to enforce them.

This entry was posted in The literary life, Writing on February 13, 2016. Edit

Bambi be damned

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The political clans that have ruled as long as any Latin American oligarchy you can name took it on the chin Monday in Iowa. Jeb Bush barely doubled the vote of an individual named Gilmore, the former governor of the State of Obscurity, who, unbeknownst to the nation, was also seeking the Republican nomination until he peeled off with Hucklebee and one or two other nuisance candidates at the midnight hour on Monday. Hillary Clinton, the Evita Peron of North America, squeezed out a win with some help from coin tossing in a few of the caucuses. The Iowa outcome was a start to proving to the world that we are not yet a banana republic, but the proof will be in the pudding some months hence, to mix food groups. Meanwhile, does anyone still trust polling? It is clear that cell phone and the reluctance of its owners to answer tedious questions from strangers has brought a crisis of confidence to the opinion-surveying community. This is doubly bad for politicians because polls are how they decide what to say and pretend to believe. If hiring a pollster is no better than wetting a finger and holding it to the wind, why spend all that money? You might as well go with what your heart and mind says before pollsters were invested with the authority of the soothsayers of old.

I was reminded again this week of why pick-and-shovel work has such a bad reputation. I had to move several plants to ground that gets more sun, a job requiring those tools because the rocky Arkansas soil is why settlers in the 19th Century continued on westward, no doubt leaving a string of curses behind. Oh, my aching back. Remember Peter Pain, the little demon in print ads who plunged his pitchfork into the stress-bearing parts of the human anatomy? I think Ben-Gay was the product Peter was pushing.

These are not fruitful grounds for gardening for another reason. I chased off a herd of twenty deer the other day, something I do every week or so. Bow hunters pick off a hundred or so during the season, but that doesn’t seem to do anything to lessen herd fecundity. They devour nearly everything a naïve gardner puts in the ground. We lived in Montana before moving here, which offered elk as a bonus nuisance, but I never saw deer in such numbers. Apart from the bow hunters, the automobile is their only threat and they give as good as they get, according to the police log which documents such encounters. They bounce up after most collisions and disappear into the woods. We had one ourself that resulted in $5000 damage to the car, the deer showing not even a limp as it disappeared into the forest, and there have been several near misses. Most people are not aware deer are the most dangerous animals in North America. Drivers veer to avoid them and run off the road or into a tree. Two hundred people die a year and the property damage runs around $4 billion annually. Without the wolves, panthers, bears and other predators to thin the ranks, there are more deer now than when the Pilgrims landed.


Jerry Jay Carroll

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Published on April 01, 2016 16:49

January 27, 2016

Anybody figured Trump out yet?

Everybody is talking about Donald Trump, the master of political jujutsu. At this point he seems to the deeply-entrenched political and media classes like Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. All of their givens and conventional wisdoms are being cast to the winds. Trump doesn’t play by their rules and is prospering as a result. At least so far.

You have to go back to Huey Long and his share-the-wealth populist movement in the 1930s to find a figure that has so spurred party establishments into opposition. FDR considered Long a rival to General Douglas MacArthur as the most dangerous man in the country. MacArthur was beloved by conservatives, less so by the party machinery. If he hadn’t been amassing a huge fortune advising the Philippines government on military matters, he could have done the kind of conventional horse-trading and politicking back home needed to climb the ladder. He had a Trump-size ego that led him to believe God meant him not just to lead a great army but the nation itself. American Caesar is what William Manchester called him in the biography he wrote. Dwight Eisenhower said the lofty MacArthur did not have a staff so much as a court of lackeys. The people of Louisiana were freed from the long rule of an aristocratic elite by the election of Long, a man of the people whose political appeal to the rest of the country worried Roosevelt because he was out-promising the Democrats. He wanted a cap on personal wealth with the surplus going to public works and public welfare, a limit on incomes, free college education and a number of other modern-sounding reforms. If you think today’s politics are hardball, look at the Depression era. FDR survived an assasination attempt that killed the mayor of Chicago. A couple of years later, political opponents succeeded in killing Long.

It has been a long time since an attempt has been made on the life of a political leader, but they are recurrent earthquakes in American history, and today’s atmosphere has been made more poisonous by Barack Obama and his all too obvious disdain and contempt for Republicans and others who challenge his ideas. Obama has done his damage and it is unlikely he will be the target of some deranged crackpot. In any event, Democrats are responsible for almost all of the political violence in this country:

Trump is another question, a deeply polarizing figure who represents the super-wealthy in the minds of the left, the crass embodiment of an economic system that sees ever greater wealth consolidated in the hands of a very few. Yet the disappearing middle class, the Silent Majority that Nixon was so successful in mobilizing, sees Trump as their champion. He will arrest the decline in their fortunes, make America stand tall again, and end the Obama vision of a Uriah Heep nation that must always be dry-washing its hands and begging your pardon. We wouldn’t see a President Trump bowing to foreign potentates as Obama did on the Apology Tour . You wouldn’t see a President Cruz or a President Marcos abasing themselves on our behalf either. But neither are quite the showman that Trump is. You have to go back to P.T. Barnum (“There’s a sucker born every minute”) to find his equivalent.

To continue my account of our house repair misfortunes, the new copper pipe the plumber installed leaks and the guys who got the dryer going again—the grounding wire in the attic had popped loose or something—damaged the threshold of the door wrestling it back inside and it will need repairing. There is something very disheartening about seeing a pickup truck in the driveway.
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Published on January 27, 2016 15:56

January 26, 2016

Hello again

I see I haven’t posted here since last May. I will spare you my ruminations about how time passes. Even those I consider young remark on it, often in sort of a vague panic. Where does all the time go, they ask. Those few people following this poor blog back then have probably pushed on to more rewarding wells in the internet desert without end. My excuse is I have been working on a book with the working title “End Times: the Novel.” It is about the period all the great religions mention when good and evil have a final reckoning and scores are settled up. They all agree good wins in the end, proving they were optimists. To judge from the great wave of dystopia in the popular culture faith in that outcome may be wavering. (Should there be a comma after “culture” like there is after “end” in the previous sentence?). I never learned grammar and wish I had. Something in me has always rebelled against authority and there was no greater authoritarian than the school teacher who diagrammed sentences in our, yes, grammar school. It only became elementary school some time after I passed on to junior high school, not middle school as it is now called. Such rules of grammar that I know I picked on an ad hoc basis. After you’ve put in four or five hours of writing, to return to the subject, you don’t feel like writing more on a blog that is one of millions and is probably thought to be abandoned as millions of others are. Writers need audiences, as is well known, and the only way you build one is by the regular creation of content for a readership that is only notional at best and might be altogether non-existent. It’s the tree falling in the forest unheard thing—why bother? Because writing muscles need regular exercise otherwise they atrophy; and there is always the chance someone will pass by to lap from your small pool and go away the better for it or at least no worse off. Writers are a strange breed. A surprising percentage are quite nasty as John Sutherland documented in his “Lives of the Writers” published a few years back by the Yale Press. The majority appear to have been unhappy, which is commonly understood to be a stimulant to literary productivity, particularly if it begins in childhood. It is not impossible to have a sunny, well-balanced childhood and become an author, but it seems to be rare. Writers seek alleviation from their unhappiness through drink, drugs, sexual immorality and other means. They are treacherous and deceitful to an uncommon degree. Fiction is their revenge on life or their way of imposing order on chaos. Successful writers are often arrogant. A couple of biographies have appeared about Gore Vidal since his unmourned death at the age of 81. He urged his friend Jay Parini to pull no punches in his book and Parini took him at his word. In his review of “Empire of Self,” Danny Heitman picked pages at random and everywhere his finger lighted Vidal was knocked, often in his own words. “I am treacherous in all things,” he says on page 117 in a letter to a friend. “I sign contracts I have no intention of fulfilling.” He was a vicious drunk and because he drank so much the result was he was cruel and venomous a good part of the day and night. His idea of conversation was a series of often witty pronouncements of a lofty sort delivered in a deep and modulated voice. I liked some of his historical novels, however, and his essays on just about anything were among the best of his time. He believed that FDR connived with Churchill to get the U.S. into World War II, a belief in a conspiracy that damaged Vidal’s reputation but one that I happen to share with a good many others. A lot of crucial evidence has been lifted from government archives. See “Day of Deceit” by Robert Stinnett for more. Speaking of chaos, a pipe in our attic sprung a leak – about the third or fourth in the past couple of years—and two holes had to be cut in walls by a plumber to find it. Then another “pinhole” leak appeared and also had to be patched. And then the dryer went out, possibly because of one of the leaks. An electrician is coming back for a look and a drywall man will be needed for the holes in the wall. And it looks like the skylight in the storeroom needs replacing. Time goes on.
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Published on January 26, 2016 11:06 Tags: day-of-deceit, gore-vidal, time, writers

February 22, 2015

And the Oscar goes to ...

If you go by the cognoscenti, “Birdman” will win the Oscar for best picture tonight. Apart from wasting diseases or the descent into pitiful senility, things that will take us all in time if we are not murdered or die in accidents, there is nothing that warms Hollywood’s heart more than than an informed exploration of the neuroses, narcissism, deceit, betrayals, and insecurities of the industry. From “Sunset Boulevard” to “The Players,” “Ed Wood,” and now “Birdman,” the industry rises to its feet on Oscar night to acclaim the latest light shown on how selfish and rotten things are below that glittering surface. “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you find the real tinsel underneath,” someone said, an arrow to the bull’s-eye so perfect it has been attributed to more than one wit, including Oscar Levant, the Oscar Wilde of his time, and the radio humorist Henry Morgan. Both are now forgotten, but their truth lives on.

“Birdman” is about a has-been Hollywood actor played by Michael Keaton trying to revive his career with a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story that was probably as good as it was – brooding and angry enough to lower your spirts a good while after you put it down – because of tightening by the famous editor Gordon Lish. Yet there has been controversy and nastiness in the literary community over his pencil work. Why didn’t he leave well enough alone, one camp says. He made it better, the other answers. Broadway has always looked down its nose on Hollywood, so the movie-within-the-movie set up of “Birdman” has an extra helping of hostility and contempt. There is also divorce, drugs, bad parenting, F-bombs aplenty, and what is called virtuoso drumming to concentrate the mind at points in the story arc. Not a day in the park, movie-wise. My wife left the room after three minutes and wished it had been sooner. She didn’t care for the drunken bickering of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe,” either. There is no pleasing some people. On the other hand, as is often pointed out, books, movies, plays, operas and so on about happy people are boring because they lack vivid incidents and so yield meager returns at the box office. Nothing happens in happy lives to warrant outbursts of virtuoso drumming and they seem to like it that way. And apparently they are disinclined to see movies about unhappy people. The Hollywood Reporter had a story the other day saying movie attendance is at an all-time low, but then they seem to say that every year.

The better movie to my admittedly old-fashioned taste is “American Sniper,” which begins with an acknowledgement of infidelity as a commonplace of modern life, but then moves on to celebrate the virtues of honor, duty, patriotism, piety (now a bad word) selflessness, and heroism. Good collides with evil and as is so often the case it ends up as a draw. You have to go back to the French impressionist painters and Picasso to find someone as old as Clint Eastwood producing such good work. More people have seen this movie than all of the others on the Academy’s top ten list put together. But no one in it plays an aging actor frantic to recover youthful fame, so it wasn’t even nominated for best picture. It’s a rawer deal than when the slight romantic comedy “Shakespeare in Love,” also about the acting trade, beat the powerful and moving “Saving Private Ryan ” for the Oscar. The Machiavellian behind-the-scenes maneuverings of Harvey Weinstein caught the complacent Steven Spielberg napping.
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Published on February 22, 2015 07:22 Tags: american-sniper, birdman, hollywood, michael-keaton, movies, oscars, raymond-carver

February 11, 2015

Richard Price's new novel

I see that the very gifted Richard Price has a new book out, The Whites, about cop life in New York City. He says he meant in the beginning to knock it out under what used to be called a nom de plume to make a few bucks – hack work, in short. Not that he needs the money. He’s made a mint off of The Wire, other TV series and movie work, and owns a five-story brownstone in the Big Apple. Instead, he ended up devoting years to it, nearly as much time as on Lush Life, an acclaimed 2009 novel that took five years, and it has both his real name and the pseudonym on the cover.

I’d rank Price in the Top Ten of American novelists today. It is clear he couldn’t write a second-rate book if they waterboarded him. Cop fiction is a genre and the high priests and priestesses of culture can’t hide their preference for that other, less popular genre, the literary novel. If it needed proving – it doesn’t any more – Price shows that a talented artist compels admiration in whatever form he chooses. If he were turn his hand to romances, the one genre still shivering out in the cold with the critical community, he would produce another NYT notable book of the year.

I used to interview visiting authors back in my newspaper days in San Francisco. Price came through town one day promoting one of his novels, and we had the usual guarded chat in his hotel room as a photographer maneuvered for good angles. He had just come back with an armload of science fiction from a used bookstore. It was his favorite reading, he said. I asked a few perfunctory questions about his background as the interview wound up and he suddenly was agitated. I had noticed one of his hands was deformed, but didn’t plan to mention it in my story and didn’t. It turned out it was a birth injury and he blamed his mother, spitting out what seemed to be boiling hatred for her. I didn’t mention that, either. “Whoa,” the photographer said as we went to the car. Is there a writer who came from a well-ordered, secure home full of love and encouragement? I’m not seeing it, but don’t rule out the possibility.

Price’s hand reminds me of Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary under Neville Chamberlain who was first offered the premiership that Winston Churchill accepted to the endless gratitude of posterity. Halifax was born without a hand, I forget which, and went through life wearing a glove stuffed to simulate fingers. His career as a diplomat was largely confined to managing the peril posed by a Germany determined to avenge its defeat in World War I. Kaiser Wilhelm, whose vanity and grandiosity coupled with a block-headed stupidity notable even for a royal, caused that war. He also had a physical deformity, a withered arm. (So did Hitler, come to think of it). The Kaiser’s uniforms – how he loved wearing them ablaze with all his decorations – were tailored to de-emphasis the handicap. As a further means of distracting attention, he grew a lavish moustache that required the full-time attention of a member of his official entourage. The man went everywhere with Kaiser Bill. The Queen of England laughed about it.

I don’t think historians have paid enough attention to the effects of their physical appearance on the great men of history, many of whom were short and strove to compensate. Stalin’s teeth were rotten from childhood, and you can imagine his breath. Putin is another short man, I read an analysis of his baffling behavior, so like Kaiser Wilhelm in a queer way, that suggests he suffers from Asperger syndrome.
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Published on February 11, 2015 07:02 Tags: kaiser-wilhem, literary, novels, richard-price, vanity, writing

January 31, 2015

The Thorn Birds

The NYT obit on Colleen McCullough, author of “The Thorn Birds,” this week was little short of brutal. It stopped short of calling her a hack, though we can be forgiven for thinking if positions were reversed she would not have hesitated.

McCullough wrote great bricks of escapist prose, one topping 900 pages. “Thorn Birds,” the Times wrote, had a “mixed” critical reception. “Reviewers took the author to task for sins ranging from stilted dialogue to the profligate use of exclamation points.” It sold more than three million copies, allowing her to give the back of her hand to them .

“I think in their heart of hearts all these people know that I’m more secure than they are, more confident than they are and smarter than they are,” she said in a 2007 interview on Australian television. Because it was TV, McCullough didn’t use the rough edge of her tongue. “In her nearly four decades in the limelight, it was one of her few printable replies on the subject,” according to the Times.

She was a writing machine on the order of Joyce Carol Oates. On a typical day, McCullough might pound out 15,000 words — double that on a very good day. On a typewriter yet. She had a lousy childhood, which seems a prerequisite for successful writers. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” her memoir quotes her father’s telling her. “Get out and get a job as a mangle hand in a laundry. That’s all you’re good for — you’ll never get a husband, you’re too big and fat and ugly.” Her mother was so cold and withholding that when McCullough returned to her native Australia she settled on a small island off the coast so as not to be on the same continent as her mother.

She got the idea of being a writer when she was studying science at Yale where Erich Segal scored a spectacular success with his inspid novel “Love Story.” McCullough interviewed Yale students to discover what they liked about it. Their answers — romance, characters, plot — resulted in “The Thorn Birds.” They’ll laugh you out of MFA programs for that.

“I loved being a neurophysiologist, but I didn’t want to be a 70-year old spinster in a cold-water walk-up flat with one 60-watt light bulb, which is what I could see as my future.” It must have taken an optimism as great as her girth to assume writing was a more secure path.

As tough as the Times was on McCullough’s work, it doesn’t compare with a book just out by a friend of Gore Vidal — I guess friend is the right word — detailing what a swine he was. I spent a day in Vidal’s company many years ago when he ran for the Senate from California. Cold, insufferable snob sums him up pretty well. Meanwhile, another new book about Leo Tolstoy’s long-suffering wife (she wrote out by hand seven drafts of War and Peace) says that the literary titan, father of eight children, had “a physical relationship” with a male member of the cult that grew up around him in his later years. This follower assumed a Rasputin-like control over Tolstoy, even telling him what to write. It reminded me of the great Dirk Bogarde movie The Servant. While on the subject, we all know now what a bastard Dickens was in private life. His wife bore him ten children, none of whom he liked, and he literally divided his house when he took a lover and forbade her to trespass on his side. In other news, John Bayley, who wrote a couple of best sellers about the decline into senile dementia of his wife the novelist Iris Murdoch, died this week at the age of 89. He had remarried and had three homes.
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Published on January 31, 2015 16:10 Tags: carol-joyce-oates, gore-vidal, hack, literary, obituary, thorn-birds, writing-machine

The Man Himself

Jerry Jay Carroll
The mighty oak or the bamboo, which would you rather be in a high wind?
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