February 11, 2017

The H-word

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 9:13 am by chuckredman

Never has one man been called so many names by so many people. Never before has any man deserved to be called so many names by so many people. Demagogue, bully, fascist, misogynist, lummox. Lummox?

I have called him quite a few myself. I think I’ve finally decided which one is the most fitting. But nevermind that.

Here’s what’s bothering me: Doesn’t it feel good to attach colorful epithets to someone we consider so malicious? Why is that? Why do we enjoy making it personal? The question I’m really asking is: Is it OK to attack hateful ideas or hurtful rhetoric with hurt and hate? Is it OK to hate hate?

That’s a moral question, or maybe psychological. I’m not sure I want to know the answer, even if there is one. I sort of hope it is OK, because I can’t help it. I do hate hate. But only hateful hate, not the unhateful hate that only hates hateful hate.

Maybe the best we can ask of ourselves is that we keep careful track of our emotions and our reasons. Why we do or say the things we do. And judge ourselves as we do the people we call names. It’s a work in progress. Kind of like democracy.

 

December 24, 2016

It Can’t Happen Here — Sinclair Lewis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:46 pm by chuckredman

“Aw, shoot, Dad—and you too, Julian, you young paranoiac—you’re monomaniacs! Dictatorship? Better come into the office and let me examine your heads! Why, America’s the only free nation on earth. Besides! Country’s too big for a revolution. No, no! Couldn’t happen here!”

I just read the most amazing book I’ve read since 1984 (the book, not the year). Possibly the most amazing since 1973 (the year, not the book). Actually, Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here, which was published in 1935, predated 1984 (the book, not the year) by fourteen years. Which means that Lewis did not have the benefit of hindsight when he recognized what too few people seemed to recognize around the middle of the Great Depression. Sinclair Lewis saw what was happening in Europe. He also heard frighteningly similar rumblings in this country. His book, written half a decade before the true magnitude of European fascism could be witnessed and understood, was a chillingly accurate forecast.

So did Lewis also predict what we in the U.S. have just witnessed and are struggling to understand: the election as President of a populist demagogue, in the mold of Senator Buzz Windrip in the novel? Well, Lewis’s protagonist, liberal journalist Doremus Jessup, listens only half-concerned to the national radio broadcast of the nominating convention, but the similarity is striking:

. . . every delegate knew that Mr. Roosevelt and Miss Perkins were far too lacking in circus tinsel and general clownishness to succeed at this critical hour of the nation’s hysteria, when the electorate wanted a ringmaster-revolutionist like Senator Windrip.

Though Lewis begins his book in satirical tone, we’re not too many chapters in before we realize, along with Doremus, that this story—the rise of a political movement based on anger, hate and false rhetoric—is no joke. It is nearly, in fact, as powerful and sobering as Orwell’s 1984. Here is how Doremus saw Senator/President Windrip’s quasi-official partisans, the “Minute Men”, or “M.M.”, which protected Windrip’s surging popularity by terrorizing the general population and appealing to its basest impulses:

They had the Jews and the Negroes to look down on, more and more. The M.M.’s saw to that. Every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on. . . . Their mutter became louder, less human, more like the snap of burning rafters. Their glances joined in one. He was, frankly, scared.

Could Lewis have had the Nazi SS in mind? Seems likely.

I just realized that, for better or for worse, many of my favorite books are about the oppression of large segments of society by vindictive, self-righteous governments or ruling classes. A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath, In Dubious Battle, Mother, Doctor Zhivago, Homage To Catalonia, Fahrenheit 451, and the two brave books discussed above. You should probably read these books, all of these books, while they’re still on our shelves. Before they start hurling them into big piles in our city squares and torching them. Which is what happened to Doremus Jessup’s personal collection of books. Which could happen here.

 

November 30, 2016

Oh say can you see . . . ?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:22 pm by chuckredman

It’s one thing to burn the flag with a cigarette lighter. That’s a sad thing to see, but it illuminates the fact that someone feels very desperate about the choices our country seems to be making.

But to burn the flag with hateful rhetoric, personal attacks on anyone with opposing views, and Presidential threats which would shred the Bill of Rights: that’s a real act of destruction. That’s the kind of burning that actually hurts people, scars them, chars our society.

If there’s any kind of flag-burning that needs to be punished, it’s that kind.

 

Oh say can you see . . . ?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:13 pm by chuckredman

It’s one thing to burn the flag with a cigarette lighter. That’s a sad thing to see, but it illuminates the fact that someone feels very desperate about the choices our country seems to be making.

But to burn the flag with hateful rhetoric, personal attacks on anyone with opposing views, and Presidential threats which would shred the Bill of Rights: that’s a real act of destruction. That’s the kind of burning that actually hurts people, scars them, chars our society.

If there’s any kind of flag-burning that needs to be punished, it’s that kind.

 

November 12, 2016

Bow-Wow

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 7:55 am by chuckredman

I have decided to be a dog. Dogs don’t have a President. And they do just fine without one. Well, they could use a few more parks and a few less kennels.

Or a bird. Even better. Birds can fly above all this nonsense. They can fly to lakes or forests, over mountains or almost as high as the sun. Donald Trump cannot control the sunshine, or the land, or the oceans. Except for global warming, that is, which he won’t lift a finger for.

Our mistake is confusing reality with our society. You won’t find reality in this so-called world that we’ve created. Reality is in nature. It’s in the deserts and canyons and jungles and rivers. It’s in all the beautiful species who cohabitate. Go out and take a hike today, explore the hills, trees, whatever you can find. Be a dog. Chase a rabbit. Howl at the moon.

Ruff, ruff.

November 9, 2016

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. . .

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:36 am by chuckredman

I’m still waiting to wake up from this awful dream. . .

November 3, 2016

The Thinking to Talking Ratio

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 6:31 pm by chuckredman

Recent years have seen world records smashed for both the highest and the lowest Thinking to Talking Ratio. For the highest Thinking to Talking Ratio, it is no contest: Stephen Hawking walks away with the title—not literally, of course, but morally. With a ratio of 936 to 1, there is no one even in his league.

Likewise, the new record-holder for the lowest Thinking to Talking Ratio is also a runaway. No one else comes close. But Mr. Trump is quite humble about having set this impressive record: an astounding 1 to 1,876. “Even though the media tried to rig the whole thing,” says Mr. Trump, “this world record is mine, and I’m keeping it. It’s not for sale.”

Hillary, by the way, has a ratio of 23.4 to 1, which, for a politician, is really pretty good.

October 28, 2016

How proud we must be . . .

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 2:01 pm by chuckredman

Americans are the most open-minded people in the world. Look at all those overworked and underpaid reactionaries across the country who are willing to give a clueless, overbearing New York billionaire a chance to be their President.

Some minds are so open that everything has fallen out.

October 23, 2016

Could they be confusing him with Dylan Thomas?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:36 pm by chuckredman

What were they thinking? Did they know nothing about the man, as opposed to his lyrics? And what about writers like Philip Roth, Amy Tan, Stephen King? Don’t each of these writers—and there are many others you could name—deserve a Nobel Prize a little more than Bob Dylan?

Well, the Nobel Prize committee is understandably embarrassed by the honoree’s rude ingratitude, and the Prize itself is slightly tarnished.

October 15, 2016

The Donald J. Trump Presidential Library

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 9:31 am by chuckredman

“Welcome to the Trump Library. Are you here for the Survivors’ Conference?”

“No. Cancer Survivors?”

“Not really. Just anyone who’s still alive five years after the North Korean attack. You know—mostly rich people who bought one of the Trump Designer Fallout Shelters from his offshore holding company.”

“I see. It’s too bad Mr. Trump had to tweet those insults about Kim Jong Un’s haircut.”

“Yes. And calling him a putz in his inaugural address probably didn’t help either. How did you folks survive?”

“Oh, we were out of the country, visiting relatives in the Islamic Caliphate. Things are relatively peaceful there.”

“I was in Moscow. Any friend of Donald Trump’s is a friend of Putin, you know.”

“Why are there so many Secret Service people here? To maintain security at the conference?”

“Actually, they’re always here. We need them here to keep Mr. Trump out. He tends to wander down from the penthouse in his pajamas and annoy and molest young women here in the Library.”

“My stars! Are we the type he would, uh—?”

“No. I don’t think you ladies have anything to worry about. By the way, what were you interested in seeing on your visit today?”

“The books, mostly.”

“Books? Oh. Well, on the right you’ll find the Fifty Shades of Grey Room. We have over eight hundred first edition copies. And on your left is the Machiavelli Room, with ten thousand copies of The Prince. Enjoy your visit!”

September 6, 2016

Follow-up to preceding post re: The Help

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 7:25 pm by chuckredman

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help seems to provoke thought by those who read the book and even those who don’t. On my bus ride home tonight, about the time we got to Ventura County, the fellow sitting behind me leaned forward and apologized if his brief phone call had bothered me. It hadn’t. I’d apparently been engrossed in the book. I’m almost finished. We talked about the book and the movie, and he was very familiar with both, despite having personally perused neither. “I don’t wanna read anything about those times. I lived through it, that was enough.”

He’d grown up in Memphis, Tennessee and, being about the color of Minny in The Help, had experienced Jim Crow first hand. “I read Tom Clancy,” he told me. He loves the action and geopolitical intrigue.

I hinted at the irony that he could read about war and the world on the brink of destruction but not about the plight of maids in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi. He shrugged, and I assured him that I understand completely.

August 24, 2016

Book, film, life

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:21 pm by chuckredman

Last week at the Los Angeles Central Library, as I entered the Literature department I saw that their monthly display was books that had been adapted for film. Traditionally I don’t like to read the book if I’ve already seen the movie, but lately I’ve changed. I’ve seen too many films based on books well worth reading but that haven’t been read by me. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is one of those that has been in my mind, and there it was on the display shelf. A minute later there was an empty spot in that display.

I’m more than halfway now and it didn’t take many chapters for the book to garner a solid place on my short list of best American novels of the past 25 years. What a remarkable book, on a human level and societal level. It’s as funny as it is thematically groundbreaking. Stockett blends her fictional characters so seamlessly with the historical events of that time and place, and the result is chilling. Besides its insights into Southern society and race relations, the novel is worth the read simply for its exploration of family relationships and child development.

I’m spending this week at a big suburban house. The owner is at work all day and I’m reading The Help. It’s the day that the cleaning lady comes. She’s a petite Salvadorean woman who cleans the huge upstairs while I read downstairs. She seems very sweet and refined. Her English is limited. When she comes down to do the kitchen and family room, I evacuate to the large backyard where the waterfall splashes into the pool. I catch glimpses of her mopping the hardwood kitchen floor. My mind is wandering and I’m stalled on a page of dialogue between Aibileen and Skeeter. I don’t feel much like petting the little dog of the house while she cleans because she might see and taste the irony.

May 30, 2016

The difference between money and Gold

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , at 7:58 pm by chuckredman

“No one can go through the shame and humiliation of the job-hunt without being marked for life. I hated my first experience at it, and have hated every other since. There can be no freedom in the world while men must beg for jobs.”

Perhaps it’s a novel in the very strictest technical sense, but you will find Jews Without Money, by Mike Gold (published 1930), to be pure memoir. And that is fine, because the book is a valuable and unusual piece of memoir that everyone really ought to read, regardless of your religion or ethnic background. The book is not about a particular race or religion. It is about poverty, and all the various immigrant groups that were squeezed onto New York’s Lower East Side shared equally in that tale of misery. In fact, Gold’s overriding philosophy throughout his life as a socialist/Marxist journalist was simply that poverty is the root of all evil, and that its scars never heal. The corollary proven by his book was that money is the root of all poverty. (**My blog entries for April 6, 2014 and January 11, 2015 discuss other fine works of fiction dramatizing the plight of the American working class in the early 1900’s.)

Besides the gritty, unadorned frankness with which Gold told the story of his childhood, all its squalor and heartbreak, there is also artistic value to the book. Gold’s writing style is not just journalistic narrative. He puts things so succinctly and stunningly that his book reminds me more of Walt Whitman than any writer of prose from Gold’s era. Alfred Kazin’s introduction to Jews Without Money admires the book and its effective style greatly, but takes a dim view of Gold’s native intellect, reluctantly calling the author “not very bright”. I disagree: it takes a special type of genius to write something so powerful with such spare language. I think the book was a pioneering achievement, as a piece of history and a literary groundbreaker.

January 13, 2016

Shakespeare for President

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 8:55 pm by chuckredman

Shakespeare apparently knew exactly what the political climate would be in our 2016 election:

“The dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits.”

As You Like It, Act I, Scene 2

December 27, 2015

What books will they write?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:04 pm by chuckredman

I do not want a future generation of world scholars to have to write books with titles like “The Rise of Fascism in America”. But the subject matter for such books is happening before our eyes, and such history cannot be unwritten.

If a major political party cannot manage its own organization, how can it expect to manage the country? If that party allows a dangerous fascist (dangerous because of his money and his cult following) to run for office under its banner, then that party may someday become a party of armbands.

The Republican Party needs to oust Mr. Trump from its membership list, and bar him from its primaries. I don’t believe there is any legal reason why it cannot do exactly that. He can run independently, if he wishes. This is America.

If the Republican Party does not expel Mr. Trump, I don’t see how it can be respected or taken seriously, let alone continue as a part of our central government.

Perhaps this is a good time to think about whether we want to begin moving away from partisan politics altogether. Maybe our system of government would function better if there were no parties or labels, only ideas and individuals. Could such a change be the silver lining of this whole scary episode? Could such a lovely reform be the final, happier chapter of those books that a future generation of scholars will be writing?

December 25, 2015

In Dublin’s Fair City

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 9:31 pm by chuckredman

“Mollycewels an’ atoms! D’ye think I’m goin’ to listen to you thryin’ to juggle Fluther’s mind with complicated cunundhrums of mollycewels an’ atoms?”

Is there just something naturally poetic about the speech, and the lives, of the people of Dublin? To my untrained American ears, it seems that there is indeed. I know I’m not the first to ponder the inordinate number of amazing writers who passed through Dublin’s “streets broad and narrow”: Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Lever, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Christy Brown, Maeve Binchy. Oh, and a clever lad named James Joyce. They were born with extraordinary talent, no question, but the alleys and shops of their youth may have added that extra flavor and color to their work.

One of the great poets of Dublin was playwright Sean O’Casey. I chose to read a three-play collection, comprised of Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. In this trio of powerful plays, O’Casey managed to create characters who waxed poetic in both mundane and life-changing situations and yet retained their earthiness and authenticity. A well-honed gift of gab is almost universal among his casts of characters, but seems entirely appropriate and natural in them.

There are certain allusions and issues in O’Casey’s plays that I might have better understood if I knew more about the politics of Ireland in the 1920’s, the turbulent era depicted. But the power and poetic sensibility of his characters as they face violence, deprivation and loss are absolutely clear and universal. O’Casey told stories that needed to be told during those tragic years, and the spirit of Dublin that flowed through his veins enriched the pages of his plays for the generations of drama-lovers that came after.

But—who is Charles Lever, you ask? I’ll have more to say about that prolific Dubliner in an upcoming blog.

 

December 13, 2015

Mr. Trump Latches the Gate

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:23 am by chuckredman

“What’s your name?”

“Ouseph Al-Sabbagh.”

“I’m Donald Trump.”

“Yes, I—”

“Is it the hair?”

“It looks more natural on television.”

“Where are you from?”

“Syria.”

“So you’re a Muslim.”

“No, I’m Christian.”

“How do I know that?”

“Half my village was murdered by ISIS.”

“You might be a terrorist pretending to be a refugee. There’s something about your eyes that I don’t like.”

“I haven’t eaten or slept in days.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to try some other country. Maybe Texas.”

“I think Syria might be safer.”

“Boy you get all kinds. What’s your name?”

“Ismail Habib.”

“From?”

“Israel.”

“You gotta be Muslim with a name like that.”

“I’m Jewish.”

“You look more Middle Eastern than the last guy.”

“I am Middle Eastern. So what?”

“So you’re not coming in.”

“Mr. Trump, are you familiar with Crimes Against Humanity?”

“Is that that new reality show?”

“No it’s—oh nevermind. Jerusalem suddenly sounds very peaceful to me.”

“Next? Stand up please. Oh, you are standing up. How old are you?”

“Nine.”

“Do you have a name?”

“Mina.”

“And you’re from Iraq?”

“I think so.”

“And you’re a Muslim little girl, aren’t you? Don’t just shake your head, sweetie, I need an answer.”

“I’m Yazidi.”

“That some kind of Islam thing, right? Well, you can’t come here, sweetie. You might grow up to be a terrorist. You don’t know what that is? Guns. Killing. Bang, bang.”

“I’m afraid of guns.”

“I’m not. You should see my collection.”

“Please don’t send me back, mister. Those bad men took me and, and—. Please don’t make me go back there.”

“Now, now. This is a very expensive suit, sweetie, I can’t have it water-spotted. Somebody take this little girl to the return line. Name, sir?”

“Mohammad Mohammad.”

“From?”

“Cleveland.”

“So why are you coming from Istanbul?”

“International human rights conference. I’m a U.S. District Court Judge.”

“You’re Muslim, and this time I’m not listening to any alibis.”

“I am Muslim. Non-practicing. But I’ve been thinking about becoming more observant.”

“Yeah, yeah. Tell it to the bleeding hearts back in Istanbul.”

“Hey, you can’t—I have a full docket tomorrow, I have to pick my robe up at the cleaners!”

“Get him outa here, boys. One less troublemaker. OK. Let’s have the name.”

“Johnny Jones.”

“British passport, Mr. Jones?”

“Righto.”

“Let’s see. You’ve just come from Pakistan.”

“Indeed.”

“With a stopover in Libya.”

“Quite.”

“I trust you had a pleasant holiday.”

“Splendid, actually. Business and pleasure, you know.”

“Wonderful. What business, may I ask?”

“Oh, I’m a group organizer, also an internet strategist. And I do a little munitions acquisition as well.”

“Ah, a man after my own heart. Now, please forgive me, Mr. Jones, but I have to ask this question, purely routine: are you now or have you ever been a person of the Muslim persuasion?”

“Mr. Trump. Do I look like a Muslim?”

“That’s the answer I was looking for! Welcome to the U.S., Mr. Jones.”

“Thank you awfully. Say, I wonder if you might help me. I would love to find the nearest wholesale/retail weapons emporium. Would you by any chance—”

“Mr. Jones, there’s a wonderful outlet not three blocks from my penthouse. Here, take one of my cards. You tell em Donald sent you. They’ll give you 15% off. Plus free delivery within a ten mile radius.”

 Chuck Redman

 

December 6, 2015

More from Tom Robbins . . .

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:10 pm by chuckredman

     In truth, the entire winter passed as peacefully and leisurely as a python digesting a Valium addict. — Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

 

November 29, 2015

Farsightedness

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 7:45 pm by chuckredman

What ISIS is is the world’s largest street gang: made up, like all street gangs, of wayward and disaffected youth exploited by a handful of megalomaniacs. ISIS is simply the 18th Street gang gone viral; the Mara Salvatrucha with a Middle Eastern flavor.

Where there is poverty, there will be fertile ground for the cultivation of such groups. Where feudalism or unbridled capitalism create such disparities between rich and poor, haves and have nots, a violent discontent is often the chief economic product. As long as poverty rampages, so will its youth.

This concept may not provide much insight for dealing with ISIS in the short term, but is it possible we might want to use a little foresight as well? When ISIS is old news, who will be the new bully on the block? Who will be the new boyz in the hood?

November 28, 2015

A way with words

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 2:37 pm by chuckredman

Buddy Winkler was a preacher who needed a regular pulpit the way a toilet needed a regular flush. — Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

In lieu of writing complete blog posts at this busy time, I’m going to just post occasional snippets from Tom Robbins. My daughter loaned me the above book, and I am still chuckling over his amazing wordplay. . . More soon.

 

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