Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Let the Devil Speak by Steven Hart

Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and IncitementsLet the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements by Steven Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Smart, witty, acerbic essays about American culture, literature, and music. The book's real tour de force is the first  chapter, "He May Be a Fool, But He's Our Fool", which proceeds from a curious juxtaposition between two cultural events: racist Georgia Governor Lester Maddox' contentious appearance on the "Dick Cavett Show" and Randy Newman's seminal 1974 album "Good Old Boys." Newman had often said that the Maddox appearance, where Newman felt the Governor was treated unfairly, was the inspiration for the album's opening track "Rednecks." Steven Hart uses that connection to trace not only the divergent careers of Newman and Maddox, but the thread of bitter, corrosive resentment, inevitably tinged with racism, which runs through right wing politics to this day.

My favorite passage is the one about Pat Buchanan's "culture war" speech at the 1992 Republican convention. Hart writes: "the imperturbably sunny face of the Reagan Presidency had been replaced by a frothing troglodyte with an anti-tax pledge in one paw and a picture of a bloody fetus in the other." That passage perfectly sums up the moment when I got off the moderate fence I'd been sitting on during the first George H.W. Bush term and threw in with the liberals.

It's not all politics, however: "The Ents From The Orcs" provides a fascinating glimpse of another particular moment in time that left an indelible mark on our culture: a night-long conversation in 1931 between three Oxford University academics (Henry Victor Dyson, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien) that led to the writing of Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" and Tolkien's Middle Earth series. "Bruno" is an appreciation of the life and work of the late Jacob Bronowski (of "Ascent of Man" fame). All of the essays share the same insight and sharp, incisive, sometimes cutting prose. I found myself nodding along in some places, laughing out loud in others. Great book, and highly recommended.

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Review: 212 by Alafair Burke

212 (Ellie Hatcher #3)212 by Alafair Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alafair Burke is an incredibly talented writer. One of her many strengths is the ability to use just the right detail (the unmatched desks in a detective squad room, the contrast between a DA's cheap Bic pen and a defense lawyer's expensive one) to make the reader feel that they're right there in the scene. The plotting is tight and just twisty enough to keep the reader guessing without going so over the top as to elicit eye rolling. And her characters are very well drawn. For instance, I love how Burke portrays Ellie Hatcher, the protagonist of 212. She's certainly less than perfect, but without so much baggage that it weighs down the story. This is police procedural done right. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

2015: The Year In Preview

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Once again, we look into our slightly cracked crystal ball for our annual tradition of fearless predictions for the year to come. Without further ado, we bring you 2015 in preview:

JANUARY: Sony finally allows the wide release of the Seth Rogen/James Franco film “The Interview.” North Korea immediately issues a public statement: “We threatened the U.S. over THIS piece of crap? Man, do we feel stupid. This is more embarrassing than the time we invited Dennis Rodman to dinner because we thought he was LeBron James. Face it, as a government, we’re just not that bright.”
FEBRUARY: Following the lead of the right wing’s insistence on calling torture “enhanced interrogation,” the Mafia announces that it has hired a PR agency to rebrand “armed robbery” as “enhanced wealth acquisition.” Not to be outdone, the National Football League announces that its new behavior policy reframes “domestic abuse” as “enhanced spousal negotiation.”
MARCH: North Korea unleashes its long-dreaded retaliation for the Sony film “The Interview” in the form of a 90-minute feature film called “Obama Is a Big Doo-Doo Head.” At the film’s premiere in Pyongyang, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Sen. Ted Cruz appear as guests of the North Korean government, but strongly deny serving as technical advisers on the picture.
APRIL: A new hacking scandal erupts when a group calling itself “The Sons of the Big Easy” breaks into CBS’s computer network and releases thousands of embarrassing emails and digital copies of unreleased shows. The group claims that the attack is retribution for Scott Bakula’s awful attempt at a Louisiana accent in “NCIS: New Orleans.”
MAY: Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that he’s formed an “exploratory committee” to consider a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. “Republicans say nice things about me,” Putin says. “Rudy Giuliani is talking about how I ‘make decision and execute quickly,’ and Sarah Palin likes the idea of me ‘wrestling bears.’ They want leadership? Putin give them a bellyful of it.”
JUNE: Republican lawmakers, who hold a majority in the House and Senate, announce a major policy initiative. “We’ve decided to change our practice of not doing anything and blaming it all on President Obama,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells “Meet the Press.” “After the summer break, we’re going to start doing nothing and blaming it all on Hillary Clinton.”
JULY: Christmas decorations and promotions appear in stores, as Christmas-themed commercials begin running on TV. Everyone complains, but they buy the stuff anyway.
AUGUST: First lady Michelle Obama rolls out a new campaign to promote the eating of junk food. “Candy, sugary sodas, Twinkies three times a day, and lots of Mickey D’s,” the First Lady says. “That’s the secret to a healthy, happy life.” Congressional Republicans and Fox News immediately go on an outraged crusade against the movement, which they call “yet another attempt by the Imperial Obama Presidency to control every aspect of our lives.” Fox begins promoting salads, low-fat foods, and drinking lots of water, while the Republican caucus gives up sugar, white bread and potatoes. Waistlines shrink across the nation, and obesity-related illnesses take a prodigious drop. “I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out,” the first lady says.
SEPTEMBER: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush formally announces his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination. Bush vows not to back down on his support for immigration reform and the federal Common Core standards, even though those issues are unpopular with conservatives. “I’m willing to lose the primary to win the general,” a defiant Bush says, repeating earlier statement he made to the online magazine Politico.
OCTOBER: The Jeb Bush campaign issues a retraction of his “willing to lose the primary to win the general” promise when someone explains to him how the primary system works.
NOVEMBER: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz attempts to stop President Obama from pardoning the White House turkey by going to the Senate floor for a marathon reading of the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asks the office of senate legal counsel for an opinion on whether the Senate can involuntarily commit one of its own members.
DECEMBER: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat all experience a massive decline in users after Santa announces he’s going to start using social media to help compile the “naughty” and “nice” lists. A young woman identified only as “@SexyAllie 999” explains to The New York Times why she deleted her Snapchat account: “Like, I don’t know if sending some random guy a picture of my, y’know, breasts is, like, something that will get me on, like, the naughty list? But, I mean, I’m not, y’know, taking any chances.”
As we like to say at this season (with a hat tip to poet Ogden Nash): Duck! Here comes another year!