Thursday, January 20, 2005
Inauguration Day: The Echo Chamber
Every so often something comes along that really gets to me. Little things that make me aware how screwy America has become. I read the other day about a guy who returned to the U.S. after seven years and could no longer recognize the place he'd left. The entire country had been dumbed down. It was like, though he wouldn't necessarily know this, the U.S. had uniformly adopted the science fiction story "The Marching Morons" as a guide to thought and behavior.
As Frank Rich points out in his New York Times column to be published on January 23rd, what can you say about a country that spends an election year while we're at war obsessing about Scott Peterson to the detriment of everything else?
But the big news for me remains the Echo Chamber. This is the way in which a single idea, usually a piece of garbage disseminated by one of the right-wing talking points generators like Fox News finds its way throughout the media, first on Fox, then in the columns of other Republican bloviators, and finally into the mainstream as it if's fact.
Case in point:
Bush Administration opponents have been appalled at the cost and the pomp of the 2nd Inaugural, happening at a time of enormous budget defiicts and a dismal war of its own device in Iraq, a war in which Americans are dying daily. The right-wing needed to respond, and respond they did. The answer they devised concerned the fact that Democrats themselves didn't complain in 1992 during the Clinton Administration when U.S. troops were in Somalia. Now, if this stayed on Fox News, it wouldn't matter. It's propaganda . However, it doesn't stay there.
Instead, it's picked up by the mainstream, to wit, Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, who states the Talking Point as if it's his own, to paraphrase: "I don't remember the Democrats complaining when American troops were in Somalia:"
How do we know it's a right-wing talking point? Well, because this same complaint has popped up a lot over the course of the past few days. Today, it showed up in Debra Saunders' column in the Chronicle.
Kurtz is not really a media critic. He's part of a Beltway echo-chamber and he doesn't even know it. The story is NOT the criticism of Bush, but these right wing talking points that rocket all over Washington and into the mainstream as fact.
So let's look at the Talking Point. Bush Sr. sent troops to Mogadishu in December 1992 in order to ensure that food was distributed during a drought. It was essentially a humanitarian exercise (a failed one, to be sure, and one that should not have been attempted). The low point was the Black Hawk Down affair in October 1993, which resulted in the death of 19 U.S. troops and helped push the United States out of the conflict. THE UNITED STATES WAS NOT AT WAR! The effort could be compared more to American efforts after the recent tsunami, and no one is claiming the
Bush Administration shouldn't celebrate because people are dying in Sri
Lanka. So that's ridiculous. In addition, the amount of money spent in Somalia was tiny compared to the daily cost of Iraq. No matter the cost of Clinton's first inauguration, by the time Clinton left office, the U.S. Treasury was left with a
surplus, so in the end, the money spent on the inauguration was more
than replenished. This is not the case with the deficit-ridden George W.
Administration, nor with the fact that the Bush Administration is profligate at a time when a war of its own making is murdering American soldiers and Iraqi citizens right and left, and costing the taxpayers a billion dollars a day.
The Marching Morons, indeed, with people like Howard Kurtz in the first battalion.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
WHY AMY GOODMAN DESERVES A TELEVISION SHOW, AND WON'T GET ONE. --- Part two
I think there's a direct connection between the lack of liberal and leftist pundits and the general rightward trend in our country. Sitting around, wringing your hands about how those Democrats have blown it again completely bypasses the idea that it's the lack of Cavetts, Snyders and Donahues that is preventing reasonable, intelligent liberal or leftist points of view from coming into the consciousnesses of mainstream America.
Phil Donahue returned to television after a long haitus, and he was dumped even though he was achieving the highest ratings on MSNBC, most likely because MSNBC at the time was positioning itself as a right-wing alternative to Fox. That failed strategy might have shifted in the intervening period.
The lack of liberal commentators and pundits on television was more acute in 2000 than it is today, so much so that Roger Ebert was pressed into service to argue the Democrats' point of view during the November-December interregnum. But it remains acute today, and simply saying that "well, gee, there just AREN'T people like that out there" or that "they don't reflect the zeitgeist" belies the point that people like that are out there (such as Amy Goodman or Randi Rhodes or Janeanne Garofolo, who by the way has a hell of a better visibility and intelligence than, say, Dan Abrams). As for reflecting the zeitgeist itself, how do you think that happened? Was there some kind of vacuum and the right wing just swooped in and gobbled these people up?
The media is both cause and effect. During the late '90s, the pundits may have been right-wing but the administration was not, so there was a balance of sort. But from January, 2001 until the 2004 presidential election began to get hot, the right wing had a virtual television monopoly. Rush Limbaugh as a football commentator? Who would come up with such an idea?
So during those 2 1/2 years, the right-wing ran unchecked all through the media, so much so that several newspapers including the New York Times eventually apologized for their flag-waving coverage of the lead-up and early days of the Iraq War. The totals in the 2004 election were, in part, a direct result of this ropagandistic onslaught that most people saw in those days.
Just as it's no accident that American views on gays and lesbians shifted (and continue to shift: a majority of Americans either support gay marriage or civil unions for gays) because of the high visibility of programs like "Will and Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" or earlier films like "In and Out" and "Interview with the Vampire", so general views of Americans shifted to the right with this preponderance of right-wing thought from 2001-2003.
We're in this position right now NOT because our side fucked up, as the right wing would have us believe, but because they're running the show, in our media and in our
government, and they're making damn sure we can't get a word in edgewise.
Thursday November 18, 2004
WHY AMY GOODMAN DESERVES A TELEVISION SHOW, AND WON'T GET ONE. --- Part one
Even though Tucker Carlson already can be seen on CNN, this right-wing pundit who once said that he hoped Bush would cheat to get into office the first time, now can be seen on PBS. He had Amy Goodman as his guest, which prompts me to wonder why the ubiquitous Carlson can get a TV show to argue views you can find everywhere on the dial, but Amy Goodman can't.
Amy Goodman's radio show is heard on over 250 radio and television stations nationwide. Her book, "Exception to the Rulers" is a national best-seller.
Besides, what kind of audience did Ann Coulter have before she popped up on MSNBC? Or Carlson, the son of some right-wing poo-bah? Many of the pundits had no national standing when they popped up on television. Bill O'Reilly was a so-called newsman whose previous experience was as a host on an entertainment magazine. Laura Ingraham did not get her gig because of her intelligence or erudition. Hardly any of the John McLaughlin group had television experience before their selection. Larry King got on television because he'd been on radio for years, and built up a large audience. The fact that he looks like a toad no princess would ever kiss is irrelevant to his popularity. Amy Goodman is EXTREMELY popular amongst a particular audience, many of whom voted for John Kerry. The reason why Goodman is not getting her own show is because she's too far to the left for the television executives. Period.
Right-wingers get programs all the time. Rush Limbaugh had his own television show, which at the time he used as an adjunct to his radio The show bombed and was removed. Still, he was then hired briefly to be a commentator on "ABC Monday Night Football". Dennis Miller, who has steadily been moving to the right, and these days sounds drug-addled and incoherent, remains with his own program on CNBC. Joe Scarborough, a rightwing former congressman, has his own show on MSNBC. We won't even talk about the slew of extreme right-wing hosts over on Fox News, from Sean Hannity to John Kasich, and so on. Nor can we talk about the large number of extreme right-wing pundits who pop up on so many programs on the news stations that it's as if they had their own show. Even if Goodman didn't get her own show, she could at least get more than a single drop-in on PBS.
I'm not claiming that non-Fox TV executives base their programming decisions solely on a conservative ideological bias. I am claiming that they do discriminate against leftist commentators, pundits and talk show hosts, and don't make the same discrimination against folks from the right, or the extreme right.
Monday, November 15, 2004
REVIEW: White Christmas, at the Curran Theatre
As a Best of Broadway subscriber, I got a chance to see "White Christmas" last Wednesday night, which was either the opening night, or the night after the opening night. Gotta get this out of my system, so bear with me.
I think it's safe to say that nobody has been dreaming of a stage "White Christmas." A mediocre 1950s retread of Irving Berlin's 1940s "Holiday Inn," the original starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as a pair of World War II hoofer buddies who, ten years later after having achieved success, put on a show in Vermont to help their old general pal, and along the way have romantic complications with a sister act. Not exactly the stuff of legend.
Add to that the tired idea of transferring film musicals to the stage itself, which has only worked four times ---- the poorly reviewed but family friendly "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" with Julie Taymor's spectacular staging, "42nd Street" with Gower Champion's spectacular staging, and the less successful "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which managed through youthful drive and enthusiasm to stick around for a couple of years. That's it. The rest ("Singing in the Rain," "High Society," "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Gigi," Calamity Jane," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," etc) either bombed on Broadway or never actually made it there.
What we have here, then, is a tired property, a tired concept, and, in the end, a tired show, despite what the Chron's Robert Hurwitt may have to say. After it runs here, it closes down for eight or ten months, then goes to Los Angeles, and eventually to New York
In order for a show like this to work, you need over-sized star performers in the leads, because really, there's nothing else there. The performers here are all talented, but none of them stand out. Maybe charisma-challenged is a bit harsh, but there's nothing to indicate that another performer couldn't have done the same role in the same way, just as well. That includes not only the four leads but also the secondary roles. There are the types: the outgoing sister, the shy one, the outgoing hoofer, the shy one, the crusty but lovable old guy, the brassy know-it-all older woman. Nothing. The last, played by Susan Mansur, is supposed to have Ethel Merman pipes, but she isn't given an Ethel Merman song to sing. There's also a little girl, who sings and dances up a storm, but garbles half her dialogue.
Everything else follows suit. The original material by Irving Berlin is enhanced with other chestnuts from the same composer, mostly performed in out-of-book (i.e. show within a show) settings. Two set pieces ("Blue Skie" and "I Love a Piano") are spectacular. Others are boring. None further the plot in any way, which means that this show doesn't hearken back to Broadway's Golden Age of the '50s. It hearkens back much further. This is pre-Oklahoma! Broadway, and that's not a good thing.
"White Christmas" is not director Walter Bobbie's shining moment. The acting is rote, the staging is fitfully creative, taking a few too many nods from Champion's "42nd Street" for comfort. He isn't helped by Randy Skinner's choreography, which shines in the tap numbers but otherwise appears to be stuck in a fifties television holding pattern, as if the June Taylor Dancers were the only artistic muses available.
So we're left with the technical stuff, the sets, costumes and lighting. And that part of the show is gorgeous, though the technology is put to use to create flashier versions of what was standard in the '50s. The Ethel Merman "Annie Get Your Gun" certainly didn't look this good.
If this "White Christmas" had opened on Broadway in 1955, it wouldn't have lasted. Shows during the Golden Age required edge. This has none. They required character. This has none. They required some kind of oomph. This has none.
The audience of mostly white-hairs enjoyed itself though didn't give the usual over-the-top San Francisco standing ovation. I think I'd seen most of them before anyhow, down at the Eureka Theatre watching the concert stagings of ancient musicals put on by the 42nd Street Moon Company. In fact, one of the most distracting elements of "White Christmas" was a chorus boy, a snaggle-toothed blond refugee from 42nd Street Moon, who mugged his way across the stage at every opportunity, looking like a high school boy who'd somehow managed to hit the big time but really belonged back on the high school stage.
I think it can all be summed up by a brief conversation I had waiting for MUNI afterward. A man claiming to be 92 years old came up to me and asked if I'd just come from the show, and told me how much he enjoyed it. I think that's right. If "White Christmas" can find enough 92 year olds to fill its seats, then I'm sure it will run forever.
Monday, November 7, 2004
Comments on the Presidential Election: A Week-Long Diary
Monday November 1, 2004, 1:00 pm
The final day before the 2004 Presidential election. The polls are mostly tied, or at least within the so-called margin of error, though more of them call Bush the victor than Kerry. Zogby's poll of 650 or thereabouts gives Bush a 1% lead, indicating a shift of six respondees total from the last poll the day before, an insignificant number.
The tension among friends on-line is palpable. Frank Robinson is talking about the coup four years ago, and why should we expect anything different tomorrow. Dick Lupoff is looking for sunshine amidst the clouds. Nobody wants a nail-biter, and nobody wants a scenario wherein either Bush wins outright --- in which case we're in for a right-wing backlash of epic proportions, probably resulting in severe curtailment of free speech and assembly rights, political prisoners, the shutdown of avenues of dissent like KPFA, and more, though not until the next national crisis, be it a terrorist attack or draft riots or whatever.
A nail-biter might even be worse. Then the Republicans can come along and steal yet another election.
What astonishes me today is the failure of the media and its pundits to even acknowledge what's going on in this election. John McLaughlin, a sputtering old windbag with pretentions of knowledge, wonders why folks are on edge, why they think this election is somehow special. Chris Matthews, after spending six months trashing Bush, suddenly pulls back and becomes effusive toward the Administration. Whore. Pat Buchanan, a notorious fascist and anti-Semite, is given hours of speaking time all across the television dials.
In Florida, Jeb Bush has issued a proclamation stating that no one can take pictures of, nor ask questions to, prospective voters, which not only limits network exit polling, but also means that any untoward behavior at the polls by Republicans will go undocumented. In Michigan, some Bush supporters have been phoning voters saying that Kerry is strongly in favor of gay marriage. Over in Ohio, on the other hand, a judge has refused to let Republicans intimidate new voters and blacks at the polling places, saying that the freedom to vote trumps any possibility of voter fraud. Sadly, this is not the case in Iowa, where (thus far Democratic) absentee ballots are being put on hold, pending vetting.
As for me, I head out to KPFA this afternoon to discuss all this shit on the air with Denny Smithson, Dick Lupoff, Susan Stone, Jennifer Stone and Jack Foley. I've been obsessing on this race, spending hours on line instead of getting my head in order; racing to the Yahoo news pages to see if anything has broken Kerry's way. Over on the Well Engaged, a chat site that's been around since the days of Ronald Reagan, when the internet was a collection of sex clubs and user groups, talk has been raging furiously, with the few Bush supporters poorly defending their man and themselves against a barrage of attacks. If Republicans were ugly toward liberals and Democrats from the birth of Fox News until last year, Democrats have made up for it recently. I cannot recall an uglier time in America, at least of this sort. Back in the '60s, things were ugly as well, but then at least it was somewhat generational. Today it is not only geographical, but religious and socio-economic.
It's a little hard to see it all sitting here in El Cerrito. When I went for lunch today, the only buttons I saw were Kerry buttons. Most of the bumper stickers I've seen in the past few weeks are for Kerry. The few Bush cars are filled with ugly-souled people, or at least that's how it appears to me. Thick-necked lumpy and blotchy male drivers, accompanied by sour faced women sporting teased hennaed hair, both cheesy and blowsy, as if they'd spent too much of their lives in front of beer mugs at downtrodden taverns on San Pablo Avenue.
So what's next if Bush wins? A barbed-wire fence around Berkeley? John Ashcroft creating an army of jack-booted thugs moving around the country, a no-fly list for registered Democrats? The demagogic voices of Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter calling for mass arrents, detentions, and work farms? How do we spend four more years changing the minds of the American people when we couldn't do it with the most incompetent and corrupt administration in America's history?
And if Kerry wins? Will the Bush people cede power gracefully? How will the next few months play out? That's the point of this diary, and I hope to talk about the large and small of it in the coming days and weeks.
Tuesday, November 2, 2004 12:25 pm
A beautiful day in El Cerrito. I slept badly last night, once again. Woke up very early to the sound of what appeared to be a radio buzzing an old Beatles tune. I walked around the house and found nothing. Wandering from room to room, I began ti realize it was playing in my head. The noise was just beyond my ability to make out which tune it was. It was as if someone or something was trying to contact me, or as if I was still asleep and out there in the real world a radio was playing. Maybe I was, but I don't think so. I suddenly understood the paranoia of people who think aliens are contacting them, or the government has set up some kind of electronic radio that intersects with peoples' minds, causing them to act in a particular way. Getting back into bed and pulling the covers over my head, I hoped the radio would stop by the time I woke up.
Which it did. Getting on line after I finished my coffee, I checked out all the polls. Everything and nothing had changed. Pennsylvania was back in the toss-up column. New Jersey had gone from solid Kerry to 50-50; Virginia from solid Bush to 50-50. Lines at polling places across the midwest stretched down the block. My stomach began to rumble, anxious bile gave me heartburn. The Well wasn't much better. Maybe I'm exaggerating the importance of this election.
After obsessing on-line for a while, I headed out to my polling place at the El Cerrito Community Center. On the way, I met a neighbor from three doors down who'd just voted. A mildly retarded woman with a young child, she'd been unable to handle Starbucks and was now working out of a local Subway franchise. I wonder what her politics were, understanding she and I cancelled each other out if she'd voted for Bush. Scary thought, this woman who's incapable of preparing a latte, voting for how our nation will be run. But that's what democracy is. Hell, maybe she voted for Kerry.
Returning home and back on line with nothing new to report, other than a slew of headlines about massive voter turnout, and possible voter fraud. Four years ago, we were all confident in our democracy. The Supreme Court coup, which is what it was, threw out equilibrium off. Maybe I'd been naïve all my life, but it was then I fully came to the realization that it isn't about democracy, it's about power. It isn't about principle. It's about power. Scalia and Thomas both had nuclear family members who would benefit personally from a Bush victory, but they did not recuse themselves. Those two, plus Rehnquist, talked a good game about states' rights and decried an activist court, yet they threw out a Florida Supreme Court decision on flimsy and foolish grounds, arguing that the winner's legitimacy would be called into question unless Bush was declared a winner there and then. Who would call a recount into question? Republicans supporting Bush, and only Republicans supporting Bush. During the interregnum, when conservative pundit Tucker Carlson publicly called for the Republicans to steal the election any way they could, it reinforced the suspicion that these folks did not believe in anything except their own power.
So now we're at it again. Zogby calls it a tie, with Pennsylvania and Virginia tossups. Another site says it's 269-269 and doomed to the House of Representatives. Rehnquist is in the hospital on chemo; he'll still participate in a Supreme Court vote. If he dies, the vote shifts to 4-4 because Bush wouldn't be able to nominate and elect a new Justice before a December vote. I'm steeling myself for another four years with Bush but keeping my fingers crossed.
Wednesday, November 3, 11 am
I woke up depressed very early this morning, read the paper, and slept for another hour. During that time, I had a dream that the van I was riding in, steered by the crazy guy brother of Susan Stone (the guy looked like the nutty brother in the film "Star Maps"), had driven onto a pier the guy thought was a wooden bridge, and sunk in a harbor. Soon the three of us were on the bottom of the harbor, wondering what to do. My friend found a wrench and began hitting one of the van windows. It didn't break. But another window suddenly developed a leak, and blew open. The three of us took deep breaths, and helping each other, went through the window and up to the surface of the water. We were almost hit by a ferry's propeller, but survived and made our way to land. Nobody in this very busy harbor noticed us. But we were alive.
That's pretty much how I feel now. We're all still alive. The Bush Administration has a lot of problems on its hands, one of the biggest is the feelings of the blue states, who can only at this point resist whenever possible.
Insofar as the Democrats are concerned, I am not convinced ANY Democrat could have won this thing given the existence of a news source (Fox) that's pure Republican propaganda and is watched by most Bush supporters. I think, more than ever, we need to fight back by supporting places like Air America and Pacifica, and try to expand that grouping, using the full resources of places like New York and Hollywood and the entertainment industry to ensure other voices are heard. The Bush folks may have a couple of svengalis in their midst, Ailes and Rove, but underneath it all, they're unimaginative thugs. They could have tempered some of their more outrageous political efforts and kept the country united, but they chose not to.
It may not be a question of winning anything, just blocking their worst when we can. Recriminations are foolish. I don't think Dean could have beaten Bush; possibly Gore could have, but he chose not to run. Maybe Edwards' Southern heritage could have helped him. But maybe not. I really think Kerry was the strongest of the people running, and it wasn't enough. They still have Fox News, and its long and dark shadow, including all the pundits. But hey, you fight on.
Thursday November 4, 9:45 am
Today, the Chronicle listed those issues that caused Bush voters to vote for Bush. Number one was Terrorism. Number two was Moral Values. Nowhere on the list was the Economy. Kerry had three forums to come at Bush, those three debates. In several cases, though Bush came across personally poorly, he followed a very specific Rove script: when any subject for which you have no answer, or which is a hot-button topic that will clearly motivate your opposition comes up, IGNORE IT.
Thus, all questions regarding the economy were ducked. Since Kerry didn't bring it up, and it only came up once, Bush never had to defend his environmental policies. Bush ignored the crony capitalism of Halliburton. Bush ignored specifics of the Iraq disaster. On the other side, Kerry should have ignored gay marriage beyond a simple "I think it's not a choice" and let it go at that. The Mary Cheney comment moved gay issues to the fore in middle America. It's not what he said, but that he suddenly became pro-gay. Kerry should have gone directly after the fundamentalists: talking about an American Taliban and how Bush policies go to the root of fundamentalism, instead of trying to appeal to moderate fundamentalists. He could have hammered on environmental issues. As for gay issues, he should have said his piece, and ducked. Gay supporters were all going to vote for him, including many gay Republicans. No need to remind the opposition.
Kerry is a decent man, but he made far more mistakes than Al Gore. In fact, I think Gore could have beaten Bush this time around if he'd chosen to run.
Friday, November 5, 4:30 pm
I keep coming back to something I said to friends as a throwaway, halfheartedly not wanting to believe it, in the weeks leading up to the election. To start, I'd talk about Kerry's possible numbers, the misleading polls, the direction things were going toward in Iraq, and the huge potential youth vote. And then I'd say, almost under my breath, that I suspected there were several pro-Kerry voters who, at the ballot box, at the last minute, would switch back to Bush over the terror issue. I still think that's what happened, and that coupled with the enormous evangelical turn-out and minimal youth increase, is what cost Kerry the popular vote.
I think Bush's main booster, and the most important elephant in the room, as it turns out, is and was Osama bin Laden. And there's very little Kerry or any other candidate could have done about it.
It's hard not to feel depressed politically and personally. We get really tied up into this, look at the dismal future and shudder. But on the other hand, the America the fundamentalists want isn't a fascist America; it's the America of the 1950s. That won't happen because the fundamentalists themselves go to modern movies, watch television. They watch "Will and Grace." They turn out in droves for sly films like "Shrek 2" where slyness has become traditional entertainment.
Yesterday, on the air, when Jennifer Stone and Dick Lupoff talked about morality, and how morality for these people means S-E-X, I pointed out that of course parents in the midwest are scared. The ultimate sexual object for the past few years has been a nymphet named Britany Spears. Sure, she may be a Republican, and a stupid one at that. But she's also a multi-married slut, and that's what John Kerry represents. It's curious. The ultimate result of the marketplace in action, the pornography of violence and sex, somehow becomes its opposite. The pornographer joins the right-winger in pushing and decrying itself. Hypocrisy as a mirror-image.
Saturday, November 6, 2:10 pm
So discussion is shifting toward whether this was a stolen election, with blogs all reporting that exit polls tended to line up with final results whenever there were paper ballots, and that Bush creamed Kerry in final results (compared to exit polls) in states with electronic balloting.
Is it possible that the election was stolen? Of course. When you think of how these people refuse to give up power, and have done all they could over the past fifty years to overthrow democratically elected regimes around the world, it becomes likely that they would at least try.
The election doesn't make sense. According to people like David Brooks, evangelicals did NOT come out in greater numbers to vote for Bush. Young people did come out to vote for Kerry however. But if there was a conspiracy, it's likely that conspiracy will come to light. Too many people who have had to have been involved for a story like this not to see the light of day.
Insofar as I know, the next elections will require some kind of paper trail, and we're likely to see at least one or more candidates calling for hand recounts if exit polls don't conform to final results. So maybe the future is brighter than the present. It's also true that change is sometimes good, and eight years of this shit will hopefully be enough for whoever is really running this country.
Sunday November 7, 2004 8:45 pm
I was informed from the Well today that all the talking heads were speaking about how the election was about a return to traditional values, that the nation is a lot slower along than progressives would like it to be.
Which means they're scared shitless of fundamentalists taking charge, and trying to sugar-coat the whole Christian thing. Fucking hypocrites.
In other news, more articles are surfacing about possible mass scale fraud in the election. Like, anyone will prove it?????:
Monday November 27, 2003
More Questions and Answers
Here ere are answers to a few commonly asked questions about this site and the radio show.
What is Cover to Cover?
Cover to Cover was originally set up as a weekday Monday through Friday book slot on KPFA-FM in Berkeley. Over the years it has changed a bit, and changed times as well. These days, the show is heard 3:30-4 pm, Monday thru Thursday. The "Bookwaves" edition is heard every Thursday on KPFA-FM and on the web at www.kpfa.org, and every other Thursday on KFCF- FM in Fresno. Monday's edition hosted by Denny Smithson features live interviews with authors; Tuesday consists of arts commentary with Jennifer Stone; Wednesday focuses on poetry and other art forms and is a taped interview show with Jack Foley
Whatever happened to Richard A. Lupoff?
Dick Lupoff is alive and well and living in Berkeley. During the latter days of 2000, when it came time from a creative viewpoint to split up the partnership, Dick was offered a chance to host a weekly or monthly solo show, but he chose not to pursue that option. He still comes on the "Bookwaves" edition from time to time to review books or discuss elements of the publishing industry. In early 2004, he'll return as special co-host for a show about the early days of publishing in California. Dick's health problems of earlier this year (pancreatitis caused apparently by reaction to blood pressure medications) are finally over, and he's going to the gym regularly and getting stronger and healthier. These days, his writing consists mostly of short stories and non-fiction pieces.
Why do you limit the number of interviews on your website?
This website is created out-of-pocket. If someone wishes to donate a few hunded megabytes of storage space, more interviews will appear on-line. In the meantime, KPFA is still working to create an archive of programs on its website, www.kpfa.org. When that happens, "Bookwaves" programs aired after that time will be permanently on-line, and this site can devote itself to a quarter century of great archived shows.
Is it true you have an unaired Philip K. Dick interview in those archives?
Yes. Back in 1977, Dick Lupoff recorded one with the late great science fiction writer about Phil Dick's Berkeley days before becoming a published author. I spent hours trying to get the quality to a point where we could air it on KPFA, but had little success. I also tried to compress it into a RealAudio file to put it up on this website, but the deterioration of sound was too great. I'll keep trying. The interview is about 17 minutes long and hopefully will eventually see the light of day.
Any new publications on the horizon?
Brick, Michael Ondaatje's acclaimed literary journal, has contracted to publish the 1981 Probabilities interview (hosted by Dick Lupoff, Lawrence Davidson and Richard Wolinsky) with Walter Tevis, author of such novels as "The Hustler" and "The Man Who Fell To Earth." The magazine may well be out by the time you read this answer.
Tuesday May 13
Political Musings: Incipient Fascism
Ever since I asked a conservative acquaintance if pundit Ann Coulter was a fascist, and he said he didn't believe so, I decided to do some work and find out exactly what a fascist believes, that is,. remove the idea that "fascist" is an insult and return it to its proper place as a description.
Viewing the two, it becomes pretty clear that:
(1) Coulter's beliefs are fascistic in nature.
(2) This Administration's way of doing business borders on fascistic.
The primary place where Britt's definition in Free Inquiry and Lyons' in The Progressive diverge is that the latter appears to be a checklist for a fascist party per se, which the Republican Party is not, nor is the GOP a single-minded belief center (which would not allow for this Administration's pluralistic nature, a melting pot of Jews, Catholics and Fundamentalist Christians). That's why I am careful to use the words "fascistic" rather than "fascist," and why I think Britt is defining fascistic themes, rather than fascism in a narrowly defined sense.
One of the reasons this keeps coming up for me concerns interviews and conversations I've had with a variety of writers as diverse as Dennis Lehane, Fenton Johnson, Louise Erdrich, Erik Larson, Steven Saylor and Robert Stone, along with various discussions with publicists and folks in New York publishing --- and what I'm hearing across the board are the same fears I'm having, mirror images of my own.
It's easy to be paranoid when you're a liberal, particularly when a right-wing administration is in power. The question is whether the paranoia is justified.
When I see the civilian President of the United States strutting around in military garb, and all the pundits oohing and aahing over his machismo and his "sexiness," I get a real pain in my gut. There's a lot of things the President should be doing. Preening like a tin pot dictator is not one of them. When I see business cronies of the President, and the Vice-President himself, acting as war profiteers, I get a second spasm. When most of the media doesn't report this activity, or ignores it, it's even worse.
This Administration is unable to actively scapegoat (as fascist governments do), but its mouthpieces like Coulter can.
This country is not a fascist state, and several of the definitional specifics fall short of what's going on here. We cannot lose sight of that fact. But what we don't know is whether efforts could be made down the road to limit freedom of speech or assembly in the manner of a fascist government, or violently scapegoat outsiders, another fascist trait.
The real question is whether conservatives who are not fascistic in their beliefs can draw that line in the sand sufficiently early --- before they are suddenly standing up, alone, attempting to speak out, wondering what happened to this great country of theirs.
Tuesday April 15
Political Musings: This and That
Not many folks noticed, but a report came out last week stating that a sufficient number of diplomats had recently chosen to leave the diplomatic corps that the State Department is having trouble filling the shortage. Most of the diplomats have been from Asia, and the reasons, according to official spokespersons, were twofold: Arab countries no longer felt safe because of the Iraq War, and the spread of SARS was putting too many families at risk.
Both explanations have validity, but there could be a third reason, one neither mentioned nor speculated upon: that diplomats are so infuriated with the aggressive and obnoxious foreign policy of the Bush Administration that they're quitting out of disgust. We have seen two such letters to that effect in the past few months, with statements made at the time that such resignations could quickly become more commonplace.
Well, resignations have become more commonplace. Hmmm.
In other fun news, CBS just fired the producer of a documentary on Adolf Hitler because he made comparisons in an interview between the early days of the Nazis in Germany and trends involving the Bush Administration. Now he didn't say the two were the same, or that Bush was another Hitler. What he said was that when a population feels terrorized, as Germany did in the early 1930s, it is often willing to sacrifice its own civil liberties at the behest of its government, and that this is occurring in the United States. That's all he said. He was fired. Is this a great country, or what?
Then we've got the business of the former Reagan functionary who now runs the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelling a "Bull Durham" anniversary celebration because two of the stars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, are anti-war. This hack, whose name is Dale Petroskey, claimed that anti-war statements put our troops overseas in danger.
A lot of people are pooh-poohing this kind of censorship on a variety of grounds, ranging from the fact that anti-war statements and comparisons between Bush and the Nazis make people uncomfortable, to the suggestion corporations have the right to fire anyone they wish, or cancel any event, because these are private concerns and the companies don't want to jeopardize their profits.
America is now reaching a point where any statement or comment against the government is being viewed as some kind of verbal felony by somebody, and actions are being taken to shut down the speakers. Thus not only the two above incidents, but also the attacks on Senator Kerry for saying (and what presidential candidate of any party wouldn't say this?) that this country needs a regime change. To play along and give all kinds of rationalizations or justifications is indeed to fall into the same trap as those Germans in 1933 who said it couldn't happen there. It happened there, and it could happen here. All the elements are in place: the state-supported propaganda machine, the calls for dissidents' heads, the foreign adventures, the ethnic and religious scapegoating.
The best case scenario is that we're entering a new phase of McCarthyism. Let's try not to contemplate the worst.
Monday, April 7
Literary Profile: Bill Pronzini
On his recent book tour, novelist Peter Lefcourt announced he was the perfect embodiment of an endangered species, the midlist author, and joked therefore that his books should be tax-deductible. While Lefcourt may fit the bill somewhat (he really makes a living working for television and chooses to write novels when the mood hits), Bill Pronzini fits it perfectly. Over the course of the last 32 years, the prolific Pronzini has written well over 60 novels, most of them in the "Nameless Detective" series, garnering praise from critics and mystery readers alike, yet never developing a sufficient following to become anything remotely like a household name.
So who is this guy, and why should we care? Since 1971, when the first Nameless novel, "The Snatch," appeared, Bill Pronzini has been writing superior work in all genres. Not only does his series continue to be one of the best, tidiest and freshest out there in the book world, but he's equally adept writing thrillers, westerns, science fiction, and whatever strikes his fancy. His often stark prose seems to eliminate him from consideration by the literary world, and today, with his books coming out from bottom-feeder publishers like Carroll & Graff and Walker, the general public as well.
But make no mistake. Pronzini is worth it. His series, one of the best examples of the hard-boiled detective genre, is set in San Francisco and environs. Nameless (the books are written in the first person so we never learn his name) is a man in late middle-age --over the course of all those years he's aged from around 56 to 60, though the world around him has changed in real time --,addicted to old pulp magazines, and slightly angry at the heartlessness of the universe he lives in. Along the way, he's lost his best friend and later business partner, picked up a wife and an adopted daughter, and now has a new partner-in-crime solving. Earlier books in the series, the first five or six, tend to be overwritten, but when Pronzini finally matured, somewhere around Blowback (1978), the fourth Nameless, his character took off. Today most of the thirty (thirty!) Nameless books are out of print, and the most recent ones, published by the aforementioned Carroll & Graff, are not readily available. Few ever make it to paperback. Best in the series is probably "Shackles" (1988) and the five or six books that followed. Recent Nameless novels don't quite match the energy of those, though they're certainly superior to a lot of what is being pushed by the larger publishing houses today. His most recent, "Spook," just hit the bookstores a few weeks ago. I recently read his 2002 edition, 'Bleeders," which was a welcome relief from much of the turgid prose I slog through preparing for interviews.
Most of Pronzini's other recent work consists of compact professionally written thrillers, also a cut above similar books published by larger presses.
His non-fiction work, some written with his wife, mystery writer Marcia Muller, such as the guide to the best mystery novels, "1001 Midnights," is also superb. My favorite work of his is titled "Gun in Cheek," and is a compendium of excerpts from some of the worst mysteries ever written, with sparkling commentary by Pronzini himself. The sequel, "More Gun in Cheek," gave promise of later works: "Six-Gun in Cheek" and "Raygun in Cheek" but these books never emerged, unless they slipped by without my noticing.
Pronzini is also one of the world's greatest experts on genre fiction, past and present, a collector of old books by writers known and unknown. Nothing slips by the guy.
Recommendation: Seek out books by Pronzini if you can, mostly by rummaging through genre and used bookstores. If you're somewhere in the San Francisco area and the store contains enough old and obscure volumes hidden in the back stacks, you might run into Pronzini himself, scouring the shelves for first editions of long-forgotten classics.
Friday March 28
Political Musings: Perles Before Swine
That Richard Perle sure gets around. First, Seymour Hersh n the New Yorker reports that Perle is pitching Trireme to get in on the Iraq spoils. Then we find out from the Guardian that the ubiquitous Mr. Perle is director of the Autonomy Corporation, a company specializing in electronic eavesdropping, with an option on 75,000 of the company's shares. Now we discover that Perle has been using his position as Chair of the Defense Policy Board, which works with the Pentagon to script the current war and its aftermath, to hawk the bankrupt telecommunications company, Global Crossing.
As for Perle resigning as chair of the Defense Policy Board -- Well, yeah, he resigned as chair. But he remains on the Board, which means his resignation is meaningless. In regard to his dealings with Global Crossing, he was forced to withdraw from that, to be sure, and will not receive his scheduled $600,000 compensation package, though he will keep the original $125,000 retainer which he plans to donate to the families of Americans killed in this war (as if anyone will check to see if he did). But let's think about this for a second. This guy is directly involved in planning for a post-war Iraq, and he's being directly paid by a company attempting to be part of the festivities. If that's not conflict of interest, what is?
Besides, Global Crossing?? This is the company that, according to Arianna Huffington, "wiped out $57 billion of shareholder equity and destroyed 9,000 jobs." Investors were bombed into the stone age to the tune of $180 billion. And Richard Perle finds nothing wrong with pimping for them --- with the Chinese, of all people, through a Hong Kong billionaire named Li Ka-Shing. The same Chinese who have been designated America's real global economic competition, and the same Chinese who are the ones some say are being sent a message by America's military might in Iraq.
Donald Rumsfeld gave Perle high praise, saying he "has an abiding interest in preserving America's strength and freedom." He's an honorable man, as are they all honorable men.
If you've ever spent any time around crooks and liars, you know that the one thing they can't abide is being discovered for the creeps that they are. They yell and bluster and scream, and go on and on and on, as if merely mentioning there might be something peculiar happening is akin to rape and murder. So how did Perle respond to all this? With a measured response, saying "I see how one can form the wrong impression" or some such? Not on your life. When Wolf Blitzer asked him about Hersh on CNN, he answered that Hersh was "a terrorist" and plans to sue him for libel in the British courts (not the American ones because our libel laws would require a different set of proofs). When the NY Times called him about the Global Crossing story, he angrily slammed down the phone
All this would boggle the mind except that what Perle is doing for several companies, the Vice President is doing for one. And Perle is only getting six figures for his work. The Veep is getting seven.
If Whitewater was a small rapids, this stuff is Niagara Falls.
Monday March 24, 2003
I loved Michael Moore at the Oscars. Not because he was particularly articulate, because he wasn't, but because he was obnoxious in laying out opinions nobody is allowed to express on network or cable TV.
Bush IS the fictional president brought to power in a fictional election. There IS NO connection between Iraq and the events of 9/11. Bush IS presenting fictional excuses for a war that is unnecessary and at least through the rest of the civilized world, is unwanted.
Some could claim that Moore found an inappropriate venue. Fine. Then where's the appropriate one? Broadcast media has no outlets for such statements. Not on talk radio. Not on the cable news stations. Not even on David Letterman. Bill Maher was dumped for even presuming to counter Bush propaganda. Even though a sizeable percentage of the American population feels this way, we can't hear these words anywhere on television, not amongst the pundits, nor amongst the so-called journalists covering this lousy and murderous war. Except for Michael Moore.
Today, editing my interview with Eric Alterman, author of "What Liberal Media?" for possible airplay as pre-recorded KPFA Morning Show filler during the next week or two, I once again became angry and offended by the way the American public has been misled by what they see and hear on television and on commercial radio. Alterman quotes one pundit who told him she was the perfect commentator because of her ignorance. She could talk about any subject, and reality would never get in the way of her opinion. Alterman also tells of his early days as an MSNBC pundit, when he was excoriated by his bosses for asking Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham if they had any facts to back up their opinions. "You're being obnoxious," they told him. Like Michael Moore.
We don't need to go into the hypocrisy of the pundits who trashed Clinton for Kosovo but call those who disagree with Bush "traitors." The evidence is there, but nobody in the media is calling them on it. That would be obnoxious, like Michael Moore.
It really doesn't matter if this is a short war, or a long one. It's insane to think the Iraqi people, whatever their feelings about Saddam Hussein, would be interested in a puppet regime run by a fundamentalist Christian American government, their oil fields administered by American corporations, their culture decimated by North American values. That George W. Bush, a man who has barely been off this continent, who doesn't know the difference between a Shi'ite and a Sunni, who last year asked the President of Brazil if his country had any black people --- that this ignoramus somehow has a bead on what the Iraqis might be thinking, or how this war plays into history, is ludicrous.
But you can't say that on television. You can't even hint it. You have to pretend to see the invisible clothing, to admire the colors, to read the designer labels. Maybe, just maybe, you can hint the shoes are not Prada, or the suit Armani. You can come out against the war in a tasteful way, like Adrien Brody, or Susan Sarandon. But anything else, and you'd better be quiet.
Unless you're really obnoxious.
Unless you're Michael Moore.
Wednesday March 19, 2003
As we sit on the brink of war, I keep coming up with different thoughts, ideas, perceptions on what's going on. The press, particularly the New York Times as well as several columnists, have actually been pretty good in the past couple of months, though some, like Thomas Friedman, have spent so much time and energy backtracking that the soles of their feet must be bleeding. I haven't watched FoxNews, so I don't know what the propaganda wing of the Republican Party is reporting.
War as Scam: Both Arianna Huffington and Molly Ivins reported today that five companies, all huge contributors to the Republican Party, have been given the sweetheart deal of a lifetime, rebuilding Iraq after war engines built by some of those same companies have demolished it. Those companies are Bechtel, Halliburton (through its subsidiary, Brown & Root --- VP Cheney remains on the company payroll and will now be officially a war profiteer), Parsons Corp., and the team of the Louis Berger Group and Fluor Corp. Because this is an "emergency situation," there was no open bidding. Combined, these companies poured $2.8 million into Republican coffers, and now stand to bring in $5 billion according to Huffington, and a more modest $900 million according to Ivins.
Bechtel is a privately owned company that had spent $1.3 million on the GOP cause in the past three years. The only name I recognize on its Board of Directors is former Secretary of State George Schultz. He'll do all right by the invasion, I guess. The list of Board members can be found at http://www.bechtel.com/officers.html
Halliburton, we know, lost its company president when Dick Cheney chose himself to run as Vice President. He is still receiving, according to some reports, a million dollars a year, which is either a retirement bonus, a deferred salary, or a retainer, take your pick. Among the names on its Board of Directors are Lawrence Eagleburger, one of the slimier members of the Reagan/Bush team, and former and current officers of such companies as Philips Petroleum, San Diego Gas & Electric, Hermes Consolidated (a petroleum refining company), NL Industries (titanium company), Pizza Hut (!) --- makes you wonder about franchises in the new Baghdad, Hunt Oil, J.C. Penney --- new school uniforms, anyone?, Chevron and American Airlines.
Parsons Corp. is a giant conglomerate that includes Sunkist, PepsiCo, California Dairies, and several construction offshoots. Their website doesn't appear to have a Board of Directors list. A former PepsiCo executive sits on Halliburton's board.
Louis Berger Group is an enormous construction company, "involved in the planning, design and construction management of over 100,000 miles of highway; 2,000 miles of railroad; 3,000 bridges; 100 airfields, seaports, dams, water supply systems; numerous environmental mitigation projects; and diverse cultural preservation projects throughout the United States and in 140 countries." I was not able to find a company officer or Board of Directors list.
Fluor Corp. is an engineering firm. The Board of Directors (from its 2001 annual report) includes retired Admiral Bobby Inman, Carroll Campbell (two-term governor of South Carolina) and a bunch of folks from the energy industry.
I didn't see Trireme, Richard Perle's company, on any of these lists, so I guess his meeting with Kashoggi didn't bear fruit.
Thursday March 13, 2003
Review: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Melding the story of the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, the first American World's Fair, with the tale of H.H. Holmes, America's first urban serial killer, is no easy task. While the two events occurred simultaneously, in the same place, there is really little overlap.
However, there is a context: the change in America from the horse-and-buggy era to that of electricity, and from a semi-rural lifestyle to a primarily urban culture. It is through that context that Larson, the author of "Isaac's Storm," a non-fiction narrative of the great Galveston Flood of 1900, brings his two protagonists, Exposition architect Daniel Burnham, and Holmes, together, though they never met.
Both stories are, in themselves, stunning, and as Larson pointed out in the interview we taped yesterday, no fiction writer could get away with the coincidences, nor with the sheer outrageousness of the events.
Holmes, who named himself after the Doyle protagonist (his real name was Mudgett) ran a hotel and pharmacy virtually within earshot of the Fair's environs. Because it was still a time when people could reinvent themselves with new names and pasts, or disappear without a trace to Europe or California, Holmes was able not only to bamboozle all his creditors (he was a pathological liar) but also explain away the mysterious disappearances of his employees, tenants, girlfriends, and their children, all of whom he gleefully murdered.
Burnham, in contrast, was one of Chicago's most respected architects, builder of some of America's earliest skyscrapers. It was his job to pull the Fair together in record time, and make it a single-season money-maker. The bulk of the book deals with Burnham's efforts, all of which are well-documented, and of the Fair itself, a seminal event in American history (though not, as one booster argued, the most important occurance since the Civil War) in which such items as shredded wheat, zippers, Crackerjacks, Pabst Blue Ribbion Beer, the Ferris Wheel, and belly dancing first came to this continent's attention. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show sat just outside Jackson Park. Nikola Tesla put on an exhibit. Various members of European royalty were courted by Chicago's moneyed elite. And not far away from the glitter and splendor of Burnham's White City sat Holmes' little Hotel of Murder.
Larson himself puts on quite a show. He brings the era to life, and the fair to such life that it becomes a shame his book does not have an accompanying photo album.
"Devil in the White City" has its flaws. Larson's reconstructions of events in Holmes' career often cross into the gray area of fact-based fiction. Sometimes you wish he'd give you more of a tour through the fair rather than focus on series after series of dull conferences with dull people.
But his narrative of Burnham himself is gripping, and his concluding tale of how a grieving Philadelphia detective's obsession with the case of two missing children is a riveting example of the best kind of non-fiction narrative. Worth checking out.
Tuesday March 11, 2003
Been noticing something lately as I peruse newspapers and television. The first wave of pro-war propaganda emphasized how Saddam Hussein might give weapons of mass destruction to al-Queda, or that he was greatest enemy of the Iraqi people and we would save them. This shifted a bit as folks learned that the secular Saddam Hussein and the Islamist al-Queda were not exactly pals and there was no connection between the two, and that a tremendous tonnage of bombs would fall on Iraq, so it's not clear the Iraqi people would exactly welcome America's invading army with rose petals and parades.
So the propagandists moved on to the next level, torturing logic everywhere they went. We have initiate a war with Saddam Hussein because, he might, at some future date, create weapons of mass destruction which he will use on the United States. This argument, of course, doesn't take into account that the U.S. would retaliate. Anyone ever hear of "mutually assured destruction," the reason the Cold War never turned hot?
For those who thought that argument reeked, we're now seeing the next, most bizarre level. This one comes from the fence-sitters like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times (who is pro-war but not if Bush is in charge) and traditional Republicans like Alan Simpson. "The Bush Administration," they argue, "is not doing this because of oil, but because they're idealists," and "These are honorable men, working honorably, even if you disagree with them."
Rot. This is self-protection from toadies who haven't the gumption to state the obvious: these are not honorable men; these are liars and thugs.
First, they subverted the American democratic process in the 2000 election. Everyone in Washington knows this, whether they like that fact or not. Bush lost. He should not be in the White House.
Second, this entire war was devised as a Pax America strategy by Rumsfeld, Cheney, Pearle, et al back in 1997 in order to control the oil producing Middle East, and keep it away from the grubby hands of Russia and China. It has nothing to do with 9/11 or al Queda. It has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein's refusal to disarm. It's part of a political doctrine and foreign policy that assumes America has the right to invade and control anything it wants, a radical right-wing philosophy at odds with America's history and tradition.
Third, these men are not honorable. Perle and Cheney will personally financially benefit from such a war and subsequent occupation. Perle called reporter Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker a "terrorist" when Hersh made this common knowledge. George W. Bush had no scruples when he made part of his fortune breaking insider trading laws with Harken Oil. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are just plain nuts, which is why George H.W. Bush ignored their calls to obliterate Baghdad back in 1991. John Ashcroft is a born-again theocrat who would like nothing better than to tear up the constitution, as witness the semi-totalitarian nature of the Patriot Act, and the fully totalitarian nature of the devised Patriot Act II. That an American attorney general would even create a document like Patriot Act II should be enough to get him impeached.
It's imperative for all Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, to ensure that fanatics like Bush and company are tossed out on their butts in 2004. It will be hard enough afterward to clean up their mess, economically, environmentally, and in terms of their anti-diplomatic foreign policy as it is. If they stay in office another four years, I'd lay odds there will be no election in 2008.
Sunday, March 9, 2003
Review: Eleven Karens by Peter Lefcourt
I first became aware of Lefcourt's work a few years back when I received a galley of a novel called "The Deal," a brilliant satire of Hollywood deal-making. Lefcourt then went on to write "The Dreyfuss Affair," a novel in which a Major League shortstop falls in love with his team's second baseman (the author himself is straight). Later Lefcourt novels include "Di and I," a now-dated satire on celebrity, "The Woody," which takes off on Bob Packwood's sex scandal, and the current "Eleven Karens," an autobiography disguised as a novel, Paul Theroux Lite.
Lefcourt also works in television, most recently as writer/creator (show runner) for a now-defunct Showtime series, "Beggars and Choosers," a superb though little-seen satire of life at a TV network.
In the wake of the changes in the publishing industry and the focus on best-sellerdom and making the quick buck, it's nice that a mid-list writer, ANY mid-list writer like Lefcourt can still get published.
"Eleven Karens" is an oddity, quirky and personal, not geared toward gangbuster sales, and the kind rarely published today. Using his penchant for having affairs, almost-affairs and one-night stands with women all named Karen, Lefcourt tells the story of his own life, including time spent in Africa, Europe, New York, and Canada. He's a funny writer, not ha-ha funny (there are far too few of those), but chuckle-funny, fast moving and filled with surprising insight. It's not a great book by any means, but it's a solid little piece of work, with the kind of professional sheen so often missing from the long, lugubrious novels that pass as early 21st Century literature. That's one of the reasons it's a pleasure to read Lefcourt, just as it's a pleasure to peruse such disparate authors as Donald Westlake, or Elmore Leonard, or John Le Carre, or Margaret Atwood. These people know craft. Better yet, they know how to tell a story.
It's hard to figure out to whom "Eleven Karens" would appeal. It's too straight for Lefcourt's gay readership, too light for readers of biography or autobiography, not quite funny enough for readers of comic fiction, too male-oriented for readers of similarly-inclined fiction by women. It will never win any awards, nor would it ever become a film. It won't pop up on "Recommended Reading" lists (this website included). It's just a nice, fun read. Which could be recommendation enough.
Barring pre-emption for the Bush Administration's war, the interview with Peter Lefcourt will run on March 27th at 3:30 pm on KPFA, and will pop up on this website some time after, along with a short interview containing Lefcourt's views and opinions on entertainment television today, which may or may not air on KPFA's Morning Show.
Friday March 7, 2003
Several people have urged me to start a weblog where I can talk about whatever my interests are, and review books and interviews in greater depth. So this is the start. I would love some kind of feedback to see if I'm on the right track, or to answer any questions or comments.
I'll start by answering a few questions that come up frequently about the Cover to Cover program.
How do you choose your interview subjects?
Several ways. Because the program is only on once a week, and because I really don't like telephone interviews, I insist on face-to-face meetings with authors. So I must be aware of authors coming through the San Francisco Bay Area. I find out about them through company publicists, though staying on the proper lists is a difficult task and it's hard to know about everyone coming through. That's why I also rely on the monthly calendars from Cody's and Black Oak Books in Berkeley, and Book Passage in Corte Madera. My assistant, Dawn Nagengast, also helps keep me informed. If you're a book publicist and I'm not on your lists, please e-mail me at the above address.
I read the books as preparation. In over twenty years of interviews, there have only been a handful of times when circumstances prevented me from reading the books --- in the most recent case fantasy writer Robert Jordan's 10th volume of a long fantasy series. I have stamina, but 7,000 pages is a bit too much, even for me.
Reading the books also means that I have to be sufficiently drawn to them to allow myself the time and space to read from cover to cover. If a book doesn't grab me, and the author and/or book is unknown to me, I won't do the interview. I've often been stuck with mediocre or bad books by authors worth talking with, or books with megabuzz that turn out to be duds, but those are the risks one takes setting up an interview and then reading the book. I don't have the time to read the book and then determine whether I want to do the interview.
Will you interview any author of a book?
No. Fiction is a pretty broad area, and if the author and/or book interests me, anything is up for grabs. I'm less likely to interview a first-time author than someone with a track record. I will also leave small press local authors in the capable hands of either of my two Cover to Cover cohorts, Denny Smithson or Jack Foley. Jack also covers poetry, so I tend to give that art form a wide berth (with a couple of exceptions, such as the great Mark Doty).
Non-fiction is a different matter. I avoid self-help books, new age. spiritual, or religiou books (unless the author is known for other kinds of work), finance books better suited to MBA types, right-wing authors who can find their best venue on FoxNews and other places (though I have made exceptions, such as William Safire), cookbooks, crafts books, and the like. Hardcore self-promoters make me dizzy.
Do you have any non-fiction preference?
History is fun, so is biography. I'm drawn to film and theater, so I like to interview folks who are involved with either. Politics, particularly in the anti-Bush realm, interests me, though I stay away from many authors who would generally appear on KPFA's Morning Program, Living Room at noon, or Flashpoints. I have no interest in self-published books about flying saucers, conspiracy theory, astrology, et al. I'm a baseball fan, and like to read books on baseball, though most other sports leave me cold.