Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BEST SHORT STORY IN 100 YEARS

Today I read the best short story I have read in a 100 years: Steve Almond’s “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched” in The Best American Short Stories, 2010.

It's about a shrink who is a compulsive and addicted gambler, a poker player. I could not believe how good it is. It has everything: internal and external conflict, writing style, mixed and complex sympathies, insight into characters and the world and human nature, rising tension, great climax.

Wow. I am always looking for good writing, and it is hard to come by. This one is a winner, at least for me. If the rest of the stories in this collection are as good, I will buy this book. And that is really rare.

More later, as I read along.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  

Friday, December 23, 2011

CRAP ART

I read in Newsweek the other day (Dec. 12, Page 54) that the so-called artist Paul McCarthy "sold three copies of White Snow Dwarf (Bashful) at this year's Art Basel Miami Beach for $950,000--each."
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/04/why-is-art-so-damned-expensive.html

My God! How stupid can you get? Why would anyone make this crap? And why would anyone buy it, let alone pay nearly a million dollars for such junk?

I try not to use the word stupid when it comes to other people's creative work.

But this takes the cake. It is off the charts.

These figures are not remotely original, and originality is one of the hallmarks of anything creative. Look at the great artists, musicians and writers: Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Mozart, Bach, Goya, Georgia O'Keefe, and on and on.
http://totallyhistory.com/art-history/famous-artists/

Their work is original and meaningful, not derivative and meaningless.

My God. What a bunch of crap. Makes me sick.

-- Roger

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

HOW WE CREATE DRUG VIOLENCE

Yesterday on KPCC-FM radio I heard one of my favorite hosts, Madeleine Brand, say "even pot is subject to the laws of supply and demand."

I was shocked. Even pot? I think pot and other illegal drugs are even more subject to supply and demand than legal commodities. I thought that comment showed a fundamental lack of understanding of economics and of the illegal drug market.

It seems obvious that the law of supply and demand is why there is so much violence in Mexico and the rest of Latin America around illegal drugs. 

The more we crack down, in the "War On Drugs," the more we drive the supply down and the price up, and the more the drug cartels fight over distribution channels, and the more people die.

This is simple Econ. 101: If demand stays the same (people love to get high, and they think it's hip), and you force the supply down (by burning pot farms and impounding drug shipments), price will go up. And up. And if the commodity is illegal, the people who get into this business are not gonna be your average member of the Rotary Club. They are going to be violent criminals.

I suggest we take a look at what happened in other countries such as Portugal, where drug laws have been modified:
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5g9C6x99EnFVdFuXw_B8pvDRzLqcA?docId=CNG.e740b6d0077ba8c28f6d1dd931c6f679.5e1

And this in my favorite magazine, The New Yorker:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/17/111017fa_fact_specter

Take a look at The Drug Policy Alliance:
http://www.drugpolicy.org/

Our drug policies are counter-productive. We have not reduced drug use or drug-related crime. We have seen a huge increase in violence. We have spent billions of dollars. These policies have failed. Let's change them.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  


Monday, December 12, 2011

ARE WE THE GOOD GUYS?

When I was a kid, I believed the good old USA was always in the right. We were the good guys, for sure.

I saw in the NY Times today that President Obama met with the prime minister of Iraq to chart the future. Obama said "the American-led invasion had created a beacon of democracy in the Arab world," to quote the Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/13/world/middleeast/obama-meets-maliki-to-chart-broad-shifts-in-iraq.html?_r=1&hp

Meanwhile, Newsweek had a different take:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/12/04/sunnis-and-shiites-head-toward-a-showdown-in-iraq.html

According to Newsweek:
"With the remaining 20,000 American troops in Iraq set to depart by Jan. 1, the United States—despite a war that has cost roughly $1 trillion and taken the lives of close to 4,500 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis—is set to leave behind a country still on the brink of chaos."

What a colossal disaster, President George W. Bush's folly. How could we, the good guys, commit such a crime against humanity? And against our selves? Against all reason and all logic? And against our own morals and values?

It is weird that we, who saved democracy in WWII, have had such a mixed record since then. I believe we did the right thing in Libya. But Iraq and Afghanistan? I don't think so.

Are we getting better? During the Eisenhower administration, we had a terrible policy towards Latin America. Vietnam was a disaster in every way. And I think Nixon ordered the CIA to kill Salvador Allende.

So I don't know. I wish we were the good guys. But we are not always. It is weird how we continue to believe we are. I guess I continue to hope we will be again.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A WRITER'S CURSE

I am still trying to find motivation to do my work, my writing.

I realized something the last day or two: If I’m going to finish any of these projects, I am going to have to work at it. The stuff is not going to write itself. I’ve been waiting, and it ain’t happenin’, folks.

I hate that. I never used to work at it. I just did it, because I enjoyed it, because I had to do it, for some reason, and the work swept me away. I got lost in it.

Sometimes these days I get lost in it. But not often, not every day. The work has become work, for some reason.

I'm gonna have to put my shoulder to the wheel, my nose to the grindstone, my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

Damn, it has come to this. I hate that. I want it to be fun, like it used to be.

As William Faulkner said: 

“It's a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can't eat for eight hours; he can't drink for eight hours; he can't make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.”

And this from William Butler Yeats:

"A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world."

Amen to that, brothers.  

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  




Thursday, December 8, 2011

HORNY NEWT: TONGUE OF DOG

This is old news, but it has come up again in Iowa, because the caucuses are slated for January. It is still the funniest thing I have ever heard: Newt Gingrich, who was having an affair while his wife was in the hospital, at the same time he was condemning Bill Clinton for having an affair, blamed his adultery on his patriotism:
http://theweek.com/article/index/212956/newt-gingrichs-horny-patriot-infidelity-excuse-will-voters-accept-it

He was working so hard for this country that he couldn't control his libido. Ha! How stupid does he think we are? Don't answer that, Newt. Actually, you already have.

What are the lines from Shakespeare?
"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing --
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."


Yep, that sounds like Newt. I hereby nominate him for the biggest horse's ass who ever ran for president. Of course, there are others in that running.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2ND EARTH AWAITS

Hurray! Scientists have discovered an earth-like planet that we can escape to after we have polluted our biosphere to death and we can no longer live here:

http://theweek.com/article/index/222150/discovered-the-first-habitable-earth-like-planet

We can go there and pollute the hell out of that one, too.

Let's us hope the crazy right-wing climate deniers don't get to go there with us.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DOES WORK INSPIRE YOU?

First quote of the day:

"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work."
— Chuck Close

That is especially meaningful to me, since I have been lolly-gagging around, waiting for inspiration to strike before getting off my keister and getting down to work.

My own work is something I choose to do, my writing. Currently, I am working on five different projects: a novel, a short story, a screenplay, a memoir, and a self-help joke book.

But lately I have been waiting for inspiration, which comes seldom enough. I’m starting to realize that my work is just that, work, and I need it. I need something meaningful and challenging to do every day, and not just when I feel like it.

Part of the challenge and the benefit of work is doing it when you don’t feel like it. So yesterday I just worked, regardless of inspiration, whether I wanted to or not. It was a good feeling. Inspiration comes more often when you concentrate on the work, more than when you fart around.

I used to have unlimited energy for my work. Lately, not so much. I used to believe it was going to change my life (for the better, ha-ha-ha). Now I know you can't count on that.

As Gertrude Stein said,  “An audience is always warming but it must never be necessary to your work.” 

Gotta go. Back to work. 

-- Roger


Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BEST SHOW ON TV HAS LOW RATINGS

There is no doubt in my mind that "Prime Suspect" with Maria Bello is the best show on TV.
You know why I say that? Because it's not stupid.

It is so much better than "NCIS," the top rated drama on TV, that it isn't funny.

Yet, "Prime Suspect" is number 79 in the overall ratings, while "NCIS" is number 2.

Why is that? Is everyone stupid? Or have they just not heard about "Prime Suspect"?

I don't know, but it sure is a shame. Below is a link. I believe you can watch full episodes online:  
http://www.nbc.com/prime-suspect/

Catch it before it goes away.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

'ONE IDEA IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER'

Yesterday, in the NY Review of Books, I read the following startling quote from the famous artist Willem de Kooning:

“In art one idea is as good as another.”

Hmmm. Let us think about that. What difference does it make whether a painting is figurative or abstract? A nude or a flower?

There are great paintings of all types, of all subjects, from flowers to protraits to the horrors of war (at least great drawings).

Now, does his startling revelation apply to works of literary art? What is the weight or importance of theme in literature?

Let us examine some of the great works.

"Hamlet" in my opinion is the greatest of Shakespeare's plays. It is about a young man, college age, who comes home from abroad to find that, apparently, his father's brother has murdered his father the king and married his mother the queen.

Who, baby. Incest. Fratricide. Regime change. It seems the stuff of soap opera or telenovela. What is the theme of "Hamlet"? Ambition destroys both family and kingdom? Perhaps.

What is the theme of "Moby Dick"? Madness kills? Obsession destroys?

OK, but so what? We writers need themes on which to build our stories. But does it matter which theme?

What is the theme of "Macbeth"? According to Lajos Egri, the famous dramatic theorist, ruthless ambition leads to death and destruction.

What is the theme of James Joyce's "Ulysses"? Perhaps that one man's journey of one day in one city is equal somehow to another man's journey of thousands of miles over the seas and through dangerous adventures.

My argument is that you have to have a theme, but that it doesn't much matter which theme you choose. It just has to make sense.

Theme is just one element. All the other things matter just as much or more: good writing, interesting characters, the exploration of the human condition and human consciousness, a story problem or difficulty that raises a strong dramatic question, the experience of reading or hearing or seeing the work of art.

Theme? Anything of import will do. One idea is as good as another.

What do you think?

(Of course, like any other subject, I reserve the right to change my mind.)

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle


Saturday, November 26, 2011

QUOTIN' JOE

Here is a quote from Smokin' Joe Frazier, who died Nov. 7:

“You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re going to get found out now, under the bright lights.”  -- Joe Frazier

I'll drink to that, Joe.

He was one of the best who ever stepped into the ring.

-- Roger


Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

HAWAII DUMB-0

I am getting more and more disappointed with "Hawaii Five-0," the new remake of the old TV cop show that I never saw. When a friend first said, "Book 'em, Danno," I had to ask what that meant.

The new show has gotten more cartoony and more nonsensical. The plot-lines are goofy as hell. If you think about them, they fall apart, like wet newspapers in the rain.

Last night, I watched the show that ran Monday, Nov. 21. It was so goofy that I turned if off in the middle and almost didn't watch the rest. I canceled my scheduled recording of the series and then later reinstated it. This episode had some good moments in spite of the silly plot. But it barely redeemed itself.

Here are some of my notes, about two of the episodes: 

11/8/2011

I really enjoyed last night’s episode until the climax, when the explanation made absolutely no sense. The guy who was dying of cancer killed the lovely young Customs investigator why, again? I even rewound and watched the explanation scene again. Cuckoo. I never could figure it out. It had something to do with smuggling exotic animals.

But why go to all the trouble to kill her and then put her in a plane and fly her halfway to somewhere and bail out of the plane?

And how would you make sure to hit the spot where you left your motorcycle in the jungle? Huh? Let’s try that again. I think the jungle looks pretty much the same from the air, and why go to all that trouble?

The writers set up all these fascinating mysteries without giving any thought to their solutions, hoping that we don’t care.

Good luck with that. 

11/26/2011

        Just watched Monday night’s episode. It was goofy and cartoony and over-the-top. The not-hot woman worked for the CIA and she’s trying to find her fianc√©, but the CIA won’t help her, right? Huh? Is that a spy thriller convention, or does the CIA really abandon its people? Somehow, I doubt that they do that.

        She’s gone three months, pretending to be in D.C., but she is really hiding here in Hawaii. Huh? Why? None of this makes any sense. Then McGarrett flies with her to North Korea, with a bunch of off-duty Navy SEALs on their own hook. Say what?

        And she finds her fianc√© and I guess he is dead, although I couldn't tell. She digs into his flesh and pulls a pin out of his knee. Say what? How the hell does that work? Sweet Jesus, doesn’t anyone think about these scripts? Cuckoo-cuckoo. Realism is not one of their concerns, I guess.

        I don’t find these stories believable. And it’s hard to care about these characters, they are so cartoony.

        I wish I could find something better on TV to watch.

        Good luck with that.

        I don't know how much longer I can keep watching this show. I wonder how other people feel. Hmmm. Why do people watch this stuff?

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, November 21, 2011

TAY-TAY AND THE OLD GEEZER

Last night, Taylor Swift won a swift-boat load of awards in music:

http://www.kens5.com/news/American-Music-Awards-2011-Taylor-Swift-wins-artist-of-the-year-134243198.html

I think my granddaughter Bippy likes Tay-Tay, as she calls her.

So I went on YouTube and tried to listen to some of her music:

https://www.google.com/search?q=youtube+taylor+swift&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=&oe=&rlz=

Good God, am I an old geezer or what? I found it so boring! Yargh! I couldn't stand it. I tried two songs and that was enough for me. Nyet. Nein. Non. No. I could wait to hit the pause button.

I find a lot of so-called art sucks these days. Why is that? Is the work crap, or is it me?

I can't stand most pop novels and most so-called literary novels and most mystery novels and most literary short stories and most popular music and most new visual art.

Is it me, or is the culture drowning in crap?

You decide. And let me know what you think.

(Don't disappoint me now. You know the right answer.)

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WALKING WITH THE DEVIL

Quote for the day:

“It is permitted, in a time of great danger, to walk with the devil for awhile, until you have crossed the bridge.” – Balkan proverb, quoted by FDR during WWII.

I think FDR was talking about his alliance with Stalin.

Don't know how this applies to our situation today, but it must.

Maybe it's Obama and the Republicans.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

THANKS FOR THE SNOW

When you get to be an old geezer like I am -- 73 at last count -- you look back on your life with mixed feelings. 

I have some regrets, sure. But one thing I am really glad about is all the outdoor physical stuff I have done. I am so glad I skied the mountains, raced motorcycles with my buddies, rode mountain bikes, took whitewater kayak lessons, hiked and camped and traveled and swam in the ocean and bodysurfed and scuba dived and all the rest.

I mountainbiked El Moro Canyon a thousand times, up and down and crossways. It was a blast. One time, I looked down, and there was a Mojave Green rattlesnake about two feet from my right boot, pulling back to strike, and I was going uphill in gravel and dirt. I could have gotten scared and panicked. But I just kept on cranking and moved on past him, without losing my cool. Eeee-haw!

I remember coming down the south side of El Moro Canyon on a steep little narrow trail about six inches wide, with a gully on one side and cactus and rocks on the other. One mistake and you're in a world of hurt. I got in the zone and concentrated so the rest of the world faded away, and I made it down without a fall. Eeee-haw! Another peak experience. What a blast. Overcoming your fear.

I like those high-concentration moments.

I remember kayaking out in the ocean with my instructor, and he said, "Come here," and I paddled over next to him. He pushed me over, and I did the Eskimo roll, fast and easy and came up clean and dripping wet and feeling fine. I knew I had passed the test.

Those peak experiences are unforgettable, some of the things that make life worthwhile. (Along with love and work and family.)

I am so glad I traveled and hitchhiked and camped and saw the sun rise in the mountains and swam in ice-cold mountain streams.

I have all those great memories, many with friends and family.

Now my knees are all messed up -- I have runner's knees from many years of running for exercise (a bad idea, BTW) -- and my hiking days are probably over. Maybe even my mountain biking days. Probably no more skiing.

Well, I hate to say it, but that happens to us all. My advice to young people: do the things you love while you can. Make hay while the sun shines, as they say in Kansas.

Do what you love while you can.

I'm sure glad I did.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, November 14, 2011

MOVIES? WHO CARES?

I was listening to a radio show today, on KCRW, the local NPR station, about Hollywood and the movies.

They were talking about the Academy Awards and various gossip around town.

My thought was, who cares? Honestly, does anyone even go to the movies anymore? I sure don't. Haven't for years.

When I was a kid, I loved the movies. They were my escape from my unhappy family. I learned how to be a grown-up from watching the movies. Silly, I know.

Even 12 or 15 years ago, I went to two or three new movies a week in the theater.

Then, for several years, I watched two or three movies a week from Netflix.

Now I just don't care. I'd rather read.

How long has it been since you saw a movie you loved? One that transported you and changed the way you see the world?

I used to come out of a movie with new eyes, as if looking through that filmmaker's camera lens.

Not anymore. I find the movies so boring and so badly done, I just don't care. The movies have lost me, I think forever.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, November 12, 2011

BIG HYPE, BORING FIGHT

Like a lot of other poor misguided morons, I watched the big UFC heavyweight championship fight earlier tonight between challenger Junior Dos Santos and champion Cain Velasquez on Fox Sports.

After all that hype, the fight lasted one minute and four seconds. It was the lamest fight I can remember. It's too bad, too, because both these guys have had great fights before.

Junior hit Cain with a roundhouse right and landed not as a full fist, but on the middle knuckles on his hand. It didn't even look like a real punch. It caught Cain above the ear on his left side. He said later he lost his equilibrium. I guess so, but it sure wasn't pretty.

Cain fell on his back, and Junior swarmed him and threw a flurry of heavy punches. Cain apparently could not defend himself and turned over, a bad mistake. The referee stopped the fight.

I was really disappointed. I didn't go out on the town with a friend tonight, so I could stay home and watch the fight live, in real time.

Too much hype, too big a letdown. Makes the UFC look bad.

I am sure it will recover. But I won't go out of my way to watch another big fight live soon. I usually record them and fast-forward through the boring parts.

This fight was all boring parts.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, November 5, 2011

BEST NON-FICTION BOOK I'VE EVER READ: 'EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON' by S.C. Gwynne

I just finished reading "EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON" by S.C. Gwynne, the best non-fiction book I have ever read.

This book is to non-fiction what Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" is to fiction. It's big, glorious, and compelling, a hell of a read. It covers everything.

It doesn't oversimplify anything, not the characters, not the events, not the sweep of history. The trouble with many N-F books is that the authors don't respect the readers. They assume we are children and can't handle complexity.

Gwynne, a former reporter and editor for Time Magazine and Texas Monthly, doesn't skimp on the details or the moral ambiguities.

I got so excited I looked up some Comanche songs on the web. Here is a good one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nqq0l5NNhkI

And I plan  to read more books on Native Americans.

I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, but I didn't learn much about the true history of the Old West. Also, I went away to Camp Rio Vista, near San Antonio, Texas, for two summers when I was a kid, so I am somewhat familiar with the Comanche hunting grounds.

The Commanche were truly the lords of the Great Plains. Their history is a great, sad, tragic story. Their fate, at the hands of the white man, makes me sad, but I recommend this book highly. I couldn't put it down.

This is not only the best non-fiction book I've ever read, it is one of the best books I've ever read.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

END OF WHITE AMERICA? I HOPE SO.

According to Credo, the activist cell-phone network:
Pat Buchanan recently published a book that argues that racial diversity marks the "End of White America."

I hope so. White America has a long and ugly history of violence against people of color, from the way we treated Native Americans, to slavery, to the Ku Klux Klan, to lynchings in the south, to the Vietnam War, to the irrational bombing and invasion of Iraq, to racism that persists today.

What we need is a country based on intelligence, ability and values, not on color.

Let us no longer have a white America, but an American America.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, October 21, 2011

'BEANBAG' - BASEBALL THRILLER?

I just had the weirdest experience reading a short story. It was wonderful at first. Then it went from being great baseball fiction to really bad thriller writing.

The story is "Beanball" by Ron Carlson. I think he heads the MFA fiction program at UCI, where I got my MFA years ago.

"Beanball" was first published in One Story, a literary magazine that puts out one story per issue and never publishes the same writer twice, according to its website: http://www.one-story.com/

I read "Beanball" in "The Best American Mystery Stories" of 2009. At first, it didn't seem like a mystery at all.   

Our hero, Driscoll, travels all over the world scouting for talented young pitchers for a major league team, a job I've always thought would be great.

The fictional Driscoll used to be a catcher in the majors, but he was hit in the head by a pitch and almost died. So now he is a scout. OK. So far, so good.  

He finds a talented kid in Guatemala, and the kid goes to the majors and is hugely successful, until he beans a batter who dies. At that point, the story still had me.  

Then it turns out that things are not as they seem. A kidnapping. A girl's finger is cut off. Money exchanges hands. Dirty work. Huh? WTF?

I don't want to give away too much of the plot. But Driscoll goes back to Guatemala, buys a gun and stalks the bad guys. 

Turns out, the bad guys forced Alberto, the young pitcher, to kill the batter on purpose. But why? I never figured that out. Apparently, it’s not just for money. That would make too much sense.

The thriller stuff here didn't make any sense to me.

Why does Alberto show up at the end at just the right time? Apparently, just for the convenience of the plot. Did Driscoll set this up? Beats me.

And then Driscoll's old coach, mentor and good friend turns out to be another bad guy. WTF? This is like a bad Hollywood ending to a bad movie.

There are too many convenient details. The second driver in Guatemala just happens to have a gun that he is willing to sell. How does Driscoll know the gun works? He doesn't. I would not trust that gun. And it is way too convenient for the plot.

Suddenly Driscoll goes from being a baseball pitching scout to a black ops killer. He kills a man in cold blood and has no reaction. Huh? Where did that come from? Again, too convenient for the plot.

This could have been a great story. It is a good idea to have a story about the corrupting influence of money. But is that true in baseball? I have no idea. I would believe it. Unfortunately, that is not what this story is about.

What is it about? I don't know. It seems to be a weird hybrid of baseball fiction and bad thriller writing. Maybe a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

My verdict? A good story gone horribly wrong.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, October 20, 2011

EDWARD ABBEY, MEET LEO TOLSTOY

I recently finished reading "Hayduke Lives!" -- Edward Abbey's sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang."

It's another rompin', stompin' hell of a good ride. I loved it. (I recommend reading "The Monkey Wrench Gang" first, to get the continuity and the whole picture.)

For me, the first issue these two novels raise is values. What do these two writers care about, and what role do their values play in their fiction?

If we take these writers seriously, what do they tell us about how we should live our lives?

I realized, several years ago, when I read "Anna Karenina" by Count Leo Tolstoy, that people like to read about characters like themselves.

In other words, readers like to identify with the characters and the way they live, their issues, problems, and values, the things they care about. I think the same thing is true today in popular culture: TV, the movies, fiction.

"Anna Karenina" is a huge sprawling portait of Russian life in the 1870s. Tolstoy covers the peasants, the aristocracy, the bureaucrats, the armed forces, the land-owning farmers. He even does a scene from the point of view of the family dog. There is something for everyone.

One theme is the contrast between a healthy relationship (Levin and Kitty) and an unhealthy one (Count Vronsky and Anna Karenina).

Anna and Vronsky, a dashing young cavalry officer, have an affair outside her marriage and outside society. They can't hobknob with other artistrocrats in Russia, so they go to Italy, where they find themselves even more isolated. They never recover their social bearings, and finally Anna commits suicide, throwing herself under a train.

In contrast, Levin and Kitty fall in love, get married, have children and live a gregarious social life, in symbol the very center of Russian society. They have dinner parties, have friends over, run a farm, raise their kids, fulfill their responsibilities to society and keep things running among their employees and families. Theirs is a full, rich, enviable life. 

In these Edward Abbey novels, there are also two kinds of people, those who love the Earth and want to protect it (Earth First! Earth--Love It Or Leave It), and those vicious, careless developers, cattle ranchers, mine owners, and politicians who exploit the Earth for profit and care nothing about nature.

The people with bad values don't come to a bad end, but they do have their defeats. This is a constant battle, worth doing, and worth reading about. Bishop Love, a total horse's ass, and his ilk are mostly clueless. They ride roughshod over the Earth and over the decent people who want to defend it. They are fools.

I enjoyed both Tolstoy and Abbey, partly for their values, but also for the good writing and their story telling abilities.

Their values are the same as my own: family, healthy society, healthy planet.

Abbey is still important now, although he died in 1989. His villains (developers and those who would destroy the biosphere) are much like the Tea Party extremists of today who want to dismantle the federal Environmental Protection Agency and make unlimited money while destroying the envirnoment that sustains us all.

I say let us read Leo Tolstoy (also spelled Tolstoi) and Edward Abbey, and learn something of their values. They each have something to teach us.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, October 10, 2011

MORE BAD WRITING

The Los Angeles Times published a letter to the editor of mine yesterday:

     I got all excited, at first, when I saw a novel excerpt on Page E9, in Oct. 2's Book Review.   

     Then I started to read it. What bad writing. Most of it is clunky exposition and awkward back-story. The rest is lame story and poorly done description.  

     Why should we care if Richard wears boots or cross-trainers, or if anyone would notice?     

     Shotguns don't "stomp" people. That is ridiculous.

     I wish you would look for better writing to reprint. 

     If this book is a bestseller, that's sad. 

     As Flannery O'Connor said, “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

     This one should have been prevented. 

     Roger Angle
     Culver City


It referred to a novel excerpt that they had printed:

What do you think? Is that stuff crap or what?
-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

CLASS WARFARE? BRING IT ON.

Every time Democrats or Progressives suggest that rich people should pay their fair share of taxes, for a change, the Republicans whine about "class warfare." They are very clever with words, these shills for the rich.

Oh, no, we can't have the rich pay more taxes. The top 1% of the wealthy in the good old USA own something like 40% of the wealth. But the good old GOP will do anything and say anything to keep the rich from paying more taxes.

Do the rich work for this money? No.

Do they get up every morning and go to a job and work 8-5:00? Do they put on overalls and work in the fields, from dawn till dark? Do they put on work clothes and make cars? Do they work on factory floors, helping to build anything?

Do they teach in our schools? Do they put out our fires? Do they arrest our felons? Do they guard our borders? Fight our wars? Make our subways and trucks and buses and trains run? Build our highways and bridges?

No. They sit on their fannies, and the money rolls in. They make money off their money. Let your money work for you.

OK, nothing wrong with that. Let the fat cats earn money off their money. But they should pay equal taxes.

Who does the work that produces that wealth? Who puts on work clothes and turns the gears that creates that wealth?

Guess who. The middle class and the working class.

But do the rest of us get any of that wealth? As little as possible. Too often, we get the minimum wage, which is not a living wage. Not even close. The rich get rich by screwing the poor.

When we suggest equal taxes, their lackeys in Congress whine about class warfare. But we have always had class warfare, since the days of the robber barons in the 19th century.

And guess who has been winning.

The rich have been screwing the rest of us for generations, more and more since the decline of unions, and since the rich have been shipping jobs overseas.

Class warfare? I say bring it on. They started it.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, October 6, 2011

KILLING THE KILLERS

I have been reading a special section on capital punishment in Newsweek:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/ordering-death-in-georgia-prisons.html

I used to believe in putting vicious killers to death. The men who dragged that black man to death in Texas. The man who chopped off that girl's arms years ago in California. Ted Bundy, who killed some 160 young women.

Those horrible crimes seemed to deserve a firm response. The death penalty seemed to say: We won't allow this. We will stop you from killing again. You don't deserve to live. You are no longer welcome on this Earth. We need to protect innocent people from you. Some crimes are too horrible to bear.

And in some cases, executing the murderers seemed the only remedy. A few years ago, a group of Aryan Brotherhood leaders were on trial for ordering murders from behind bars:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/29/us/29aryan.html

They were in maximum security prisons, yet still ordering death. Killing them seemed like the only way to stop them.

But I have changed my mind. I still have a strong emotional attraction to the death penalty. My blood boils when I read about certain crimes. I have thought about it long and hard.

The death penalty seems like a good idea in the abstract. Like going to war. Like wrestling Ken Kesey when he was alive, if you were a horse's ass literary critic or editor. Like shooting Pablo Escobar, famous South American drug kingpin.

Yet the death penalty exacts its own price on those who carry it out. Ever seen the "thousand-yard stare" of men who return from war? Ever seen the ragged, desolate look of a homeless Vietnam vet? Read in Newsweek about those who have carried out society's most gruesome task.

Executioners and our military personnel have killed for abstract ideas. On our orders. And look where it got them. Look where it got us. Death is no deterrent.

What would it be like if each one of us had to pull the lever, at least once, to kill a man or a woman? I believe that would change the whole picture.

I say, let the killing stop. It doesn't do what we want it to do. It doesn't accomplish what we want it to accomplish. It doesn't say what we want it to say.

It is an exercise in futility. And barbarity.

Enough. Let it stop.

Join Amnesty International and others in their crusade to stop the death penalty:
http://www.amnestyusa.org/

-- Roger

NOTE: I have since changed my mind, yet again.

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, October 1, 2011

MYSTERY WRITING VS. REAL WRITING

I've been hoping to get published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, so I've been trying to read some stories published there.

You know, get the lay of the land.

I got, from the library, a book called "The Cutting Edge," a collection of short mysteries published in EQMM.

The first one is by Lawrence Block. In "Looking For David" a retired detective is on vacation in Florence, Italy, and runs into an old criminal he arrested for murder years ago. The bad guy tells him why he killed and carved up his gay lover.

As I read it, I got the feeling that Block didn't care about any of this. He didn't seem to care about the characters or the story or the writing. The whole thing is lackluster. No oomph. No pizazz. No jazz. No music. No depth. No energy.

So when I read it, I didn't care either. I quit about halfway through and skipped forward to the end. I cared even less when I finished.

On the other hand, I just started reading "Hayduke Lives!" by Edward Abbey, a sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang," one of my favorite novels.  

The writing is completely different. I get the feeling that Abbey cared about everything: every line, every description, every cactus, every blade of wild ricegrass, even an old turtle, every word, every character.

The writing is full and rich. Full of imagery and detail and insight. Full of energy. The prose dances, and rocks and rolls, and puts the pedal to the metal and drives ahead. It illuminates the characters and brings the story to life.

It's a treat to read, and a startling contrast to the dull, lackluster writing of the genre mystery.

I think caring is part of the game. Like any art form, or any profession, if you don't care, it shows.

One time I went to a doctor who told he had been retired in his mind for ten years. The work just didn't interest him anymore. Boy, I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

That's how I felt about this mystery story by Lawrence Block.

My advice: Whatever you do, especially if want to get paid for it, and if you want other people to participate, you better damn well care about it, and you better do your best.

Otherwise, your work will be dead, and that will show.

-- Roger


Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

PROTECTING BIKE RIDERS

It is hard to find things that go right these days in public affairs.

But last night I saw about 200 bicycle riders across the street in the Ralphs/Best Buy parking lot, along with lots of cops.

At first, I thought the police were arresting the bicyclists, but no, it turns out they were protecting them.

Amazing.

I talked to my neighbor Ed, who said he had talked to several of the cops. Word had come down from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who was injured on his bicycle last year) that the police were to protect these mass bicycle rides that I think are called "Critical Mass."

I thought it was wonderful.

Ed said the cops were riding along on motorcycles and blocking off the intersections to let the riders go through and protect them from angry motorists, who sometimes get so mad they crash into the bike riders on purpose.

Good for you, mister mayor. Good for you.

Bike riders need all the help and protection they can get. Why should one person on a bike have fewer rights that one person in a car?

There have been several cases where crazy-mad drivers in cars have injured bike riders on purpose. Insane.

Thank you, mister mayor.

-- Roger

HOW TO STOP GANG VIOLENCE

I am reading an article in Newsweek about "Ceasefire," a program that has been successful in some cities to stop gang violence:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/god-it-s-got-to-stop.html

It's a way of getting gang members together with citizens and rival gangs, to develop some empathy--feeling for others--and a sense of responsibility. You are hurting innocent people who don't deserve this pain. You do this again, and you are going straight to jail.

Of course it has to be done consistently. If you let it drop, the violence comes back.

I think this might help in Laredo and its sister city across the border, Nueva Laredo.

My own belief is that not all gang members and drug cartel members are bad. I think they get caught up in a cycle of violence and give in to peer pressure. Violence begets violence, drug profits are high, the drug gangs fight for distribution channels, and the massive hunger for drugs keeps increasing in the dysfunctional USA.

I think we should legalize drugs, to reduce the profit and the violence, turn our resources to drug treatment and education, and institute programs like Ceasefire.

Certainly, something has to be done. (See the previous post, below.)

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

TWO WOMEN KIDNAPPED BY POLICE

Last night, on the History Channel, I saw an episode of "Gangland" that made my blood boil.

Two young women (one was 27 and very beautiful) from Laredo, Texas, went to a concert across the border in Nueva Laredo and didn't come back.

(People in their family had been going back and forth across the border for more than a generation, with no problems.)

One woman's stepfather went across the border looking for them and found their car in an impound lot owned by a federal judge.

The stepfather asked the local police to help find them. But the police were no help. He kept asking on the streets and found someone who said the two women were pulled over by the police, who gave them as a gift to the Zetas, a drug gang that rules Nueva Laredo.

The stepfather put flyers all over Nueva Laredo and called "America's Most Wanted," the TV show. They aired a segment, and 30 minutes later a DEA agent called their house to say that a hit squad was on its way from Mexico to kill the whole family.

The police and DEA stopped the hit squad, but now the family lives in fear.

Wait a minute, this family has been wronged. Where is justice? What about decency? The Zetas want to kill them for being decent? For doing what is right?

Are these Zetas animals? Have they no decency? No shame? I thought they were supposed to be decent people who cared for ordinary people and didn't abuse "civilians."

I would like to appeal to their sense of decency. What if this happened in your family? Please, Zetas, tell us, what happened to those two women?

Do we in the USA have to live in fear of these gangs? Is this Somalia?

Where are the Navy SEALs when we need them? Makes you want to send in the Marines, doesn't it?

What an outrage.

And we, the most powerful nation on earth, supposedly, sit by and do nothing.

(Of course, with the government cutbacks, the DEA, the local police and the Border Patrol do not have the manpower they need to stop this kind of thing. This is the world the Tea Party wants to bring us. That would be a shame.)

My advice: Don't let your daughters go to Mexico by themselves.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, September 30, 2011

MY VISIT TO A TV TALK SHOW

Why do millions of people watch TV talk shows? Most of the conversations are trivial, banal, and mundane.

The guests talk about what other shows they are on or movies they are in (show biz feeding itself), where they were born and to whom they are married or whom they are dating (gossip), when they started doing whatever they are famous for, and other topics that are trivial to the rest of us.

It's all very narcissistic. They are promoting themselves and the shows they are in, or on, or directing.

These topics are not in themselves compelling or fascinating or even remotely interesting. Yet people watch. By the millions. Why?

Where do these people on TV get all that power, to command all that attention?

My theory is that the power comes from the attention itself. It's like being at a dinner party. Notice the way the center of attention moves around the room, one person telling a story, another complaining about politics, another chatting about their husband or wife or child.

We all watch and listen, and we are not just being polite. We are genuinely interested. At the moment. Why? Just because we are all paying attention. It's some kind of basic human need, to pay attention and be paid attention to.

And of course TV concentrates that power and gives the people onscreen the added aura of celebrity, even if we have never heard of them before and will probably never see them again. Just being on TV is a big deal. All those eyes on me, or you, or them. A sense of heightened awareness. A feeding frenzy of attention. We do love it, don't we, as a culture?

These TV talk shows take the place of real conversations, I think. No matter how mundane and banal they are.  

I sat for more than two hours Thursday night in a TV studio audience and watched four people have a boring, trivial, inane conversation. I laughed and applauded when I was told to, like a trained seal. I didn't eat or drink or talk when I was not supposed to.

I made nice, like everyone else. All for a TV show.

My new friend Cathy B, who likes this kind of thing, and I went to CBS Television City in LA for the taping of "Rove LA." The host is an Aussie, Rove McManus, apparently a TV star and comedian in Australia.

About a hundred people sat in the studio from about 6:30 till almost 9:00 p.m. and applauded and laughed on command (belly laugh, chuckles, louder, softer, longer) and watched a trivial conversation that was to last about an hour on the air.

There must've been a dozen staff members there, working the four or five cameras, directing the audience and the camera people, doing makeup and tending to the needs of the host and his guests.

Rove's guests were Kevin Smith, (director of "Clerks" and "Red State"), Anna Faris, cute young actress (three Scary Movies, among many, many others), and Daniel McPhereson ("Wild Boys" and several others).

We learned that Kevin Smith does a podcast every morning with his wife. Anna Faris has worn see-through panties on the sets of movies. Daniel McPhereson has worn a "cock-sock" for sex scenes, and one time the sock came off.

Oh boy, fascinating stuff. 

Frankly, my friends are more interesting. Maybe the people who watch these shows don't have any friends. Or maybe their friends are very, very dull.

I don't have the answer. But it is a strange world we live in. Attention itself confers a certain power and fulfills a certain need. Maybe we all need it, and maybe that is what this is all about.

I must admit I had a good time, like going to the zoo, to see what strange things people do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ROUNDUP: BULLS AND B.S.

WALL OFF ALABAMA

Alabama has recently proved itself the dumbest state in the nation, with its extreme anti-immigration bill.

It is now basically against the law to be an undocumented immigrant in that state. Schools have to check your child's legal status, for example.

I think we should build a wall around Alabama and give everyone 30 days to get in or out. If you're in, you can never get out. And vice versa.

Let them stew in their own juices and rot in 'Bama hell.

Let them feel what it's like to be an outcast.

VIVA BULL FIGHTS

Part of Spain--Catalonia, my favorite part--has banned bullfights, and this past Sunday the last bullfight took place in Barcelona, my favorite city in Spain.

I loved the bullfights when I was there. I went every Sunday for about six weeks, in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville.

The first Spanish corrida I saw was in Barcelona, and it was amazing.

Before the first bull came out, the matador walked to the center of the ring and spread his cape on the ground, about 20 yards from the gate, and then he knelt down behind the cape, facing the gate.

The crowd held its breath.

The gate opened, and the bull--a huge black beast looking as big as a freight train--came charging out at full gallop, probably a thousand pounds of charging bull, with wide sharp horns.

The crowd gasped.

The matador faced the bull on his knees and didn't move until the last possible split-second. Then he swept his cape around in a swirl of red, and the bull followed the cape with his horns and swerved on by, missing the matador by about a foot.

The crowd leaped to its feet and cheered. It was ecstatic.

It was the most dramatic thing I had ever seen. The rest of that fight was just as wonderful. So were the other fights.

I feel sorry for people who haven't seen great bullfights and yet condemn it, out of ignorance, it seems to me.

It is the only art form where a man risks his life for the sake of drama and to prove his courage.

The writer Ernest Hemingway said bullfighters were "the only people who live their lives all the way up." 

Bullfighting is still popular in the rest of Spain, thank God.
http://www.npr.org/2011/09/28/140889324/bullfighting-in-spain-stays-alive-despite-regional-ban

I know that the economics of bullfighting is changing, and sometimes the bulls are not good, and sometimes the men are not brave. Then, I suppose, it can be unpleasant. I hear that it is harder now to find good bullfights in Spain. And I think that spells the beginning of the end.

That's too bad. I hate to see those traditions fade out.

Maybe we can send some of the politicians from Alabama to Spain and see how they would do facing the bulls. I'd like to see how courageous they would be then.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

'I THINK I CAN'

I hate to admit it, but I've been watching "Hawaii Five-0," an action-adventure cop show on CBS.
http://www.cbs.com/shows/hawaii_five_0/

In a lot of ways it's typical network stuff. Formulaic but attractive. Pretty girls and handsome guys who can kick ass and think, too.

One thing I like about the show, and what sticks with me, is the underlying attitude of the characters. I don't know what this is called. Theme? Meta-communication? Psychological underpinnings? Symbolic action? Whatever. It's definitely part of the audience appeal.

No matter what horrendous problem the 5-0 team faces--and some of them are extreme--the team girds up its loins and tackles the problem with all biceps flexing, pretty girls narrowing their eyes and frowning, everyone kicking ass, and all technology blazing.

The story problems--essential to any show like this--include one of our heroes in prison on wrong charges, a mysterious and deadly villain named Wo Fat, plus typical cop-show cases like kidnappings and witness protection.  

I love Wo Fat as a villain. You want to say, Whoa, Fat! Reminds me of Chow Yun Fat, the famous Hong Kong action star.

This Wo Fat bad dude is handsome and seems to have his finger in every possible evil pie you can think of and some you can't.

The thing I like best about the show is the attitude of the characters. Reminds me of that kid's story "The Little Engine That Could."

No matter how big and hairy the barriers, these people think they can overcome them. You can almost hear them chanting "I think I can, I think I can" as they get shot at and knifed in the belly and misunderstood and lose their badges and girlfriends and wives and get them back.

I guess the reason this idea is so popular in pop-lit is that it makes us feel that we can overcome our problems, too. Not a bad thing in life.

Cartoonish? Maybe. But well done. The show could be called Well-Done Fun, a new Chinese name.

Should I be ashamed? Maybe, but we all have our guilty pleasures. I sure do.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BORGES MAKES GENIUSES OF US ALL

I was just reading a story by Jorge Luis Borges, "A Survey Of The Works Of Herbert Quain."

The writer Herbert Quain is totally fictional, as far I can determine. I love it when Borges messes with your mind. In another story, he claims that a writer named Pierre Menard wrote the story of Don Quixote. Line by line, word for word. Yet original. How funny. Hilarious.

Borges reminds me of John Cage, the late avant garde composer and performer. Years ago, at UC Irvine, I saw Cage with his collaborator, the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham.

When the show started, we wandered into a small theater on the campus, a theater-in-the-round, with steps leading up to a low stage. Music playing, very low, as I recall. As if in the background.

As we were sitting there, one by one apparent members of the audience got up from their seats, strolled casually up onto the stage, and began to dance.

It was wonderful. It messed with your mind, violating your expectations. Who was next? Was I expected to get up and dance? Is that woman next to me a secret dancer? Were we all secret dancers?

I loved it.

At one point, Cage was writing things down as he was playing the piano. He invited questions from the audience. Someone said, "What are you doing?"

Cage said, "I'm giving myself instructions and following them."

People laughed. He was making fun of the whole set-up, the audience, the third-wall convention, the act of performing, the status of being either a performer or audience member, the very act of creation.

I told my friend Tim about this, and he said, "I hate that kind of thing." Of course, as he told me one time, he was missing the point.

Watching was part of the art. The audience was part of the piece, as it always is, I believe.

Borges does the same kind of thing, making fun of the whole transaction, the whole creative process of writing, imagining, reading, recreating what is imagined.

By doing that, he sets us all above it somehow, so we can laugh at it and enjoy it and admire it, all at once.

Borges makes geniuses of us all.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, September 26, 2011

THE AGE OF CRAP: GOOD VS. BAD FICTION

What do we want from fiction? Do you read novels and short stories? I do. If so, why? What do you get from that? What do you want?

I myself want several things:
  1. I want first of all to be transported out of my own body and away from my own surroundings. I want to live in a fictional world for awhile. I want to escape the bounds of boring reality and live in a more interesting, more exciting and more meaningful world. I want to go somewhere I have never been and experience something I have never experienced. The word novel after all means something new.
  2. I want to learn something about human nature, to gain some insight or series of insights into the human condition, to learn something about myself that I didn't know. To come away feeling like I know myself better. This is what it is like to be me. Now I know. This is what happens to people like me if we do that.
  3. I want to learn something about the world at large, to gain some insight into a place and a people that are new to me. A new vision that is meaningful. Not mere escape.
  4. I want to have an aesthetic experience while I'm doing all this. To revel in the use of language, to read exciting and perhaps deathless prose.
  5. I want to feel comfortable in the hands of this creator, this writer, this author, who knows his world and perhaps loves it.
  6. Last but not least, I want to come away feeling like a better person, uplifted, full of knowledge and insight and purpose. I want to feel good about being human.
Is that too much to ask? It may seem like a lot, but I don't think it is.

The great writers do this: Shakespeare, Faulkner, Melville, Tolstoi, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges.

But alas, the vast majority of modern American writers seem to have no clue. Someone, I think it was a NY Times drama critic, said most of the plays you see on the stage today are junk.

The same thing is probably true of most art, most cinema, most novels, most poetry, almost any art form. It is certainly true of most published fiction, at least the stuff I see reviewed and recommended.

This long rant was prompted by a little one-paragraph blurb in Parade Magazine (9-25-11, Pg 7) recommending "A Trick of the Light" (nice title) by Louise Penny.

I went to Amazon and read the first few pages.
(Link:) http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_5_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=louise+penny+a+trick+of+the+light&sprefix=Louise+Pe

My God. It's not even clear. I was not transported, I was appalled. What a mess. This is a bestseller? Lord save us.

As Flannery O'Connor said, “There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

Do we live in age where junk is praised? Is that the best we can do? If so, that is very sad.

As Ezra Pound said, “In the end, the age was handed / the sort of shit that it demanded.”

-- Roger

Copyright © 2011, Roger R. Angle