Monday, April 25, 2011


Today, I heard a story on NPR about product placement and "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

The funny thing is, this guy Morgan Spurlock is making money, hand over fist, by making fun of making money, hand over fist. 

His movie is about product placement in movies.

He filled his movie with products -- 15 company sponsors, plus promotional sponsors -- and exposed the practice at the same time.

So he is both whistle blower and hustler, in one.

I think we should all do this.

I'll put, "This novel brought to you by Pepsi Cola," inside the front cover of my next blockbuster, if Pepsi will give me a million dollars to support me while I write it.

How's that for a deal? Are you listening, Pepsi?

All artists should do this. Painters could sneak in corporate logos. Or they could paint cans of Campbell's soup. Wait, that's already been done, by Andy Warhol. Musicians could quote ad jingles in their compositions.

Sexy women could sell ad space on their underwear. Whoa, there's an idea. Studly men could sell ad space on their U-know-what. Hell, I could do that.

Everything is for sale, ladies and gentlemen. You, me, everyone.

Step right up. And bend over.

We are about to drive you home.

-- Roger

(Brought to you by Trader Joe's green tea, Dos Equis beer, and Full Sail beer, by turns.)
© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


This morning, I was sitting by the front window, in the sun, enjoying the greenhouse effect, and reading Cormac McCarthy. 

Ah, old age. When would you ever take the time to relax before?  

Almost never. I've never been the relax type. I've always heard the clock ticking in the back of my head. Don't unwind for a minute, or you might lose out. You might not get everything done. You might not get that story written, or that novel, or get your kid to school on time.

But now, in your old-fartage, you have a little time to unwind.

You appreciate more and more the little things in life. I was looking at the blue sky speckled with white clouds and thinking how beautiful it is.

The muscles in my back were tight and achy, so I lay down and massaged my back on a foam roll on the floor. Then I did my neck exercises.

Boring to read about, but wonderful to do.

When you're young, you never think you are going to get old. You look at successful writers, or businessmen, or whatever your field is, and you want to be like them, or kick their ass.

But you never look at a white-haired old fart, hard of hearing, with wrinkles and jowls and a turkey-wattle neck, and say to yourself, you know, I'm going be just like that some day.

Nobody does that. No one wants to face it or imagine it. And yet that is exactly what happens.

There are good things about old age: lower expectations, fewer things to prove, fewer women to chase (wait, is that good?), fewer jobs to look for, fewer asses to kiss. 

Most of our trials and struggles are behind us old farts. 

So enjoy it while you can. Make hay while the sun shines, as we used to say in Kansas.

There is just one more challenge to face, after you finish your novels, or whatever your life's work is, and you do what you can to make sure your kids are going to be OK:

You get ready for the great beyond, the great mystery. To go where every man or woman goes, sooner or later, rich or poor, stupid or wise, healthy or infirm.

I don't know what's out there, none of us do. I'm not happy about it. I used to think I was OK with it, but not these days. I have more things I want do. A million more.

And I don't want to give up any of them. I don't want to miss a thing.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I just finished reading an article in Newsweek -- which is getting better, by the way -- about the famed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, (which I guess is pronounced "Eye Way-way," rather than "I Wee-wee"):

Here is a photo of Ai Weiwei, from the AP:

Weiwei says his political actions are works of art. Reminds me of my old argument over whether serving a bowl of soup is a work of art. Well, I just made a work of "art" in the bathroom, if you get my drift. Getting my drift is another work of art, BTW. 

Anyway, my question is this: Which is worse, the brutal repression the Communists do in China or the ruthless capitalism the Tea Party wants to effect in the good old USA? 

Both are forms of social engineering, and I think they are both pretty bad.

It seems to me the Communists and the Tea Party are a lot alike. Both care more about their ideology than they do about people.

Both want to protect their own interests. In China, those are the Party leaders and apparatchiks. In the USA, the Tea Party wants to protect the rich.

Is either one good for their country? No.

Political activists in the USA divide themselves into two camps: those who care more about people, and those who care more about money. In this country, the USA, the former are liberals and the latter are conservatives. 

Pretty neat division, huh? That's so you can tell the good guys from the bad guys. Obviously, the good guys want to help people, more or less unselfishly, and the bad guys want to screw poor people out of their money and help the rich get richer.

In the USA, our right wingers think it's OK to screw the poor, but they don't want to screw the rich, who they think are more valuable, for some reason that I can't fathom.

In China, there are those who follow the party line and those who want to speak for themselves. The Communists think it's OK to screw anyone whom they can't control or who won't kow-tow to the party line.

Communism was supposed to help the poor, but it doesn't really do that. What it has done, in China and in the former Soviet Union, is create a social system that is just as bad as rampant capitalism. Those who rise to the top screw those on the bottom, in both systems.

So there are bad guys on both sides. Which kind of bad guy do you prefer? 

But I think both sides need reform. We need to do more to help the working poor rise up out of poverty. The Chinese need to level their playing field, too, I think.

In this country, the poor carry the capitalists on their backs, it seems to me. I wouldn't mind screwing the rich a little bit; that would help the poor a lot.

In China, the working people carry the apparatus of the state on their backs. Both systems are equally at fault, I think.

I prefer this country, of course, because we can speak our mind. Now if we could just get rid of those Tea Party jerks.

Weiwei's family was repressed, in 1958, because of his father, a poet. Today, Weiwei is similarly treated. 

Meanwhile, Weiwei is nowhere to be found. We don't know if he is in prison or what. Here is a recent update:

About China, there are two issues here:
  1. Are Weiwei's political statements art? No, they are not.
  2. Is the Chinese government in the right to suppress Weiwei and people like him? No, it is not.
So what should we do about all this? We should do whatever we can, short of going to war, to support Weiwei and his "art." It's about freedom of speech. We should always support that.

What should we do about the Tea Party people? Maybe if we ignore them long enough, they will go away. Or grow up.  

-- Roger


I finally watched the Facebook movie -- "The Social Network" -- last night.

I found it trivial and superficial. The only issues are who is going to get the money and who is the biggest asshole, i.e., the most self-centered, self-aggrandizing and most obnoxious person in the movie. I didn't care about either question.

The flick is well done -- well acted, well filmed, and well edited. I loved the opening scene and liked the first half, more or less. But as the story developed I got less and less interested. There is nothing meaningful at stake. It reminds me of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" I don't care.

And I still don't know how Facebook makes all its money, or why people think it is a big deal. Maybe it is a big deal just because it makes a lot of money.

Ho-hum. Wake me when it's over, when the country matures a little and stops worshipping money.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Saturday, April 23, 2011


The other day, in the L.A. Times, I saw a story that chilled me down to my bones:,0,1399043.story

Here is the photo that first caught my attention:

Look at this kid. Anthony Garcia. Look at his eyes, how innocent he looks. He doesn't look like he has done anything wrong. He doesn't look angry or hostile or guilty or worried or haunted by his past.

Then look at the tattoos across his chest and shoulders. This week, he was convicted of killing a man in front of that liquor store, in those tattoos.

He was carrying around his confession on his chest, only in his case he seems to have been bragging. I guess he killed a man and had the tattoo put on his chest to brag about it.

Good God. Who are these people? What is the world coming to?

This kid looks a lot like the students I was teaching for the last five years, in an adult school in L.A.

One day, I saw a couple young guys who looked like gangbangers on the campus, and I asked them if they were looking for someone. They turned their backs and walked away, as if they had been caught doing something wrong.

I told my students about the two guys, and they said, "Stay away from those people, Mr. Angle."

They were right. We should all stay away from those people. If we can. Thank God for the police, and for this one cop, who figured out what those tattoos meant, and for the others who got him to confess.

But I have to add that I've had former gang members in class who were the most polite, reserved, disciplined and well behaved students you could ever want.

One guy had a tattoo of a teardrop below the corner of one eye. And other tattoos on his arms and hands. I never asked him what they meant. Figured it was none of my business.

But he was a good student. Came to class on time, always did his work on time, did the rewrites and the reading, and did everything I asked him to do. He was always polite. He finished the class, and I think he got a "B."

I don't know what that means. But I'm glad he was in class.

I feel sorry for Anthony Garcia. I wish he'd been in school instead of in the gang.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I started reading "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy again this morning. Oh, God, what a bleak vision, but finely rendered. The language is magical. This writer knows his craft, and his art.

After all, he is America's greatest living novelist. (By America, I mean the English-speaking USA.) His greatest books are "Blood Meridian" and "Suttree." His worst book is of course his most commercially succesful, "No Country For Old Men," a bad book made into a good movie, typical of Hollywood.

I started re-reading "The Road," an horrific nightmare of a story, because my friend Joy said she wanted to discuss it, and I hadn't read the whole thing. I had put it down after 25 pages the first time; it was too depressing.

This is adapted from an e-mail I sent to Joy:

Before, I thought the book was self indulgent. By that, I mean he sits in his plush armchair in Santa Fe, NM, where he hangs out at The Santa Fe Institute, a place where famous scientists, et al, gather, and he creates an unbearably bleak world for us to live in, as we read.

You know, we use our imaginations when we read. We re-create the world of the story in our minds. Reading is a powerful experience. The most powerful of the arts, it seems to me.

Creating such a horrific world is self-indulgent, like a kind of torture porn. He may have enjoyed writing it, and it may have been fulfilling for him, but it is a hellish world to live in. He can get away with it, because he is our greatest living American writer.

But he is not being kind to his readers. I think as a writer you have an obligation to your readers not to put them through hell unless there is a good reason.

I don't know yet what that reason is. I haven't read the whole thing.

We'll see how far I get this time.  

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, April 22, 2011


I saw the old movie "Network" on cable last night. It's about how TV news has been co-opted by corporations and big business interests, and how TV trivializes everything in life.

It's also about how this corruption affects the people who report the news and those who run these organizations. Both the talent and the suits are demoralized and destroyed.

The first half of the movie is really good, I think, but the second half isn't very well worked out. News anchor Howard Beale goes nuts, and the network exploits him, and it hires some black militants so it can exploit them, too, for higher and higher ratings. 

The ruthless TV people exploit anyone with a soul.  

It's kind of like "The Truman Show," in which the TV people are ruthless. Both these movies foreshadow the rise of reality TV in our own time.

But the end of "Network" didn't work for me. They set up a killing on their own TV show, supposedly to fight back against the big corporation. Huh? Whose ox is getting gored here? Strong message, weak drama.

I thought "The Truman Show" was better.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


We live in such a modern age--computers and movies and iPhones, etc.--and yet many superstitions persist, apparently held over from Medieval times, before the rigorous logic and methods of science were widely known.

At times, we are not very different from primitive people.

One tribe in Africa, as I recall, believed that if a woman walked by a certain river on the night of the full moon, she would get pregnant. Those primitive tribesmen figured out the reason: The moon did it.

Now, of course, we modern people know better. We know she must have had a lover there, a vigorous young man who supplied the necessary ingredients.

But we don't always know better.

Today, I heard a story on NPR (my favorite news source) about a boy in Ferndale, Washington, who got a flesh-eating bacteria that seemed to be killing him.  

The boy underwent a dozen surgeries, and the doctors thought he was going to die.

Thousands of people around the world prayed for him, his mother prayed to the Pope, and the bacteria stopped. He didn't die and is alive today. A lot of people thought this was a miracle, that God intervened to save the boy.

Was it a miracle? Did God intervene? Is there anyway to know for sure? I don't understand why people jump to that conclusion. They don't understand it, therefore it has be God.

I think this is a good example of the post hoc fallacy, the idea that because one event follows another in time, the first one caused the second one.I forget to shave, then I stub my toe and fall. Did one thing cause the other? I walk outside and scratch myself, then a plane crashes in Nigeria. What power I must have.

Let's talk about causation. I forget to eat breakfast, then I get hungry. Did one thing cause the other? Yes. That is causation.

Why can't people tell the difference?

Here is a Wikipedia explanation:

Why do people believe in miracles? Are people that uncomfortable with not knowing? Are they unwilling or unable to live with an unsolved mystery?

Is everything we don't understand a miracle?

I was at a dinner party in Orange County some years ago, where a student in physics held up a candle and said of the flame, "This is not well understood."

Is the flame a miracle?

I don't understand why certain women I have known have fallen in love with me, or I with them. Is that a miracle? Sometimes it seems like it.

Once in a while, I have wonderful dreams and awake feeling inexplicably happy. Is that a miracle?

Sometimes, my car develops odd little problems, and those problems seem to fix themselves. Are those miracles?

I am so glad this boy survived. I think that is wonderful. Doctors don't understand the biological mechanism that saved him. They don't always understand everything that goes on in the human body.

But was it a miracle? Sweet Jesus. Why does anyone think that?

Maybe the moon did it.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This morning, I took a break from my own writing and picked up "Three Seconds," the "award-winning" Swedish crime novel.

I opened it arbitrarily somewhere in the middle (Page 174, by chance) and read a paragraph at random. The writing was so clunky that I burst out laughing. So bad, yet so funny.

Here's why: It was exposition thinly disguised as dialogue. People don't talk like this, in real life or in good fiction. Nobody ever says this stuff.

Here is the graf:

"I love you. I love Hugo. I love Rasmus. I love this house. I love knowing that there's someone who calls me my husband and someone else who calls me Daddy. I didn't know it was possible. I've gotten used to it. I'm completely dependent on it now."  

It sounds like complete and utter horseshit. Like what some horse's ass would say on the Oprah show, a festival of bullshit if there ever was one.

The problem is, these people don't know bad writing when they see it. They probably don't know good writing when they see it. That's too bad. It's sad.

But anyway, it handed me a good laugh.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Recently, I watched a very credible documentary called "The Trials of Henry Kissinger," about Nixon's secretary of state. Kissinger is probably the most famous diplomat in U.S. history. The film was based partly on a Christopher Hitchens book with a similar title.

According to this film, and I have no reason to doubt it, Nixon and Kissinger were responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Viet Nam and Cambodia and later in East Timor that had nothing to do with U.S. national security. 

They also ordered the CIA to get rid of a general in Chile, who was upholding that country's constitution, and to eliminate Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile. Both men were murdered by the CIA.

These actions were illegal and outside the bounds of normal U.S. policy. Of course, Kissinger never admitted them and has fixed it so his relevant papers remain secret until five years after his death.

I believe that Kissinger was reacting to the Holocaust deaths of his family members. Unconsciously, I think, his whole life is based on his attitude, you want death, I'll give you death. Power through brutality, that was his motto. He was brilliant and masterful at it.

We in this country think of ourselves as the good guys. We won WWII and stopped the Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese. Yes, we were the good guys, back then.

But since then? Not always. Take a look at this and decide for yourself. This documentary is shocking, because it shakes to the core our belief that we are the good guys.

Individually, we may be. But not our government. Certainly not Nixon and Kissinger. Take a look and decide for yourself.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Today, two photojournalists were killed in Libya, and the U.S. stock market was up 186 points.

Are these two events connected?

You tell me. Libya, I understand, is our biggest source of "light sweet crude," which is the cheapest to refine and the easiest to turn into gasoline.

Maybe we are just there to rescue people. Maybe.

And the U.S. economy runs on what? Oil? 

Hmm. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Oilman George W. Bush invaded Iraq, and oilman Dick Cheney said oil from there would pay for the invasion and reconstruction.

Did it? You tell me.


-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Years ago, I belonged to a writer's group in Orange County, CA, and they were a good bunch. Lots of serious and successful writers. One of them was making a million dollars a book, and that was 20 years ago.

But every time I would criticize the chapter or scene we were discussing, it seemed, someone would say, "Yes, but that's what you have to do for this kind of book."

I got so sick of hearing that. I wanted to hear what you had to do to write a good book, not "this kind of book," which usually meant a mystery.

To me, that is what's wrong with publishing. Too many people writing "this kind of book."

It used to be, someone estimated, there were about 200 mystery writers across the country writing basically the same book over and over.

The L.A. Times Book Review published an article, some years ago, about mysteries. They are so formulaic. On Page 65, the hero gets hit on the head and knocked unconscious. On Page 95, there's a sex scene. One Page 200, the bad guy is revealed. You get the idea.

To me, that isn't writing, it's filling in the blanks. It's a paint-by-numbers kit. No, thanks, either as reader or writer.

I think a writer should always be after some kind of truth, and reading it should be fun, exciting, and aesthetic. I want to learn something about myself, have some insight into human nature, learn something about the world, enjoy good writing, and have a good time doing it.

Is that too much to ask?

If you can't do that, don't do it at all. I don't want to read your stuff. That's my opinion. For what it's worth. I'll just stick to Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I guess politics, sadly enough, always boils down to rich vs. poor, the haves vs. the have-nots.

The poor are always with us, as the Bible says. Over the ages, people have devised various systems to deal with this problem, which seems to take place no matter what political or economic system you live with.

Currently, on the far right, the Tea Party morons want to take from the poor and give to the rich endlessly, like Robin Hood in reverse.

On the extreme left, in some other countries, communists want to level the playing field and level the dining table as well.

In the good old USA, we have a perennial struggle. We want to motivate people to work hard, keep their noses clean (not commit crimes), and try to create a good country to live in.

The question isn't so much what our goals are as how we get there.

I hate the sanctimonious attitude of the right, who believe that poor people and rich people deserve equally what they get.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What we need is more empathy, more understanding, more caring. To walk some miles in each other's shoes. To realize that we are all in this together, and we need to support each other.

If we don't value each other, what the hell do we have?

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Last night, I tried to read a "winner of the best Swedish crime novel," it said on the cover, THREE SECONDS, by Roslund & Hellstrom, whoever the hell they are. 

Honestly, it didn't work for me. I found the writing clunky and expository and not very clear, and it seemed to be trying way too hard, not to tell a story or create a world, but to jack up the reader. Snore.

I spent the first three or four pages trying to figure out who the hell the two characters in the story were and what they were up to. Not a good way to begin a novel.

I always told my students, back when I used to teach this stuff, that you have to orient the reader first.

We want to know who the characters are, where they are, why they are there, what they are trying to do, and what their problem is.

You know, in journalism they call it the five W's and the H: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

In fiction, you should show the characters in action and imply who they are and what they are up to. You should show enough evidence, or tell enough, that the reader's question is, how can they do that? Or, will they survive? Or, will they reach their goal?

The questions should not be, who the hell is this, and what the hell are they doing? To me, those are the wrong questions. That is confusion, not suspense.

I suppose some people might enjoy being confused, and I guess there is a fine line between confusion and suspense, although it seems obvious to me.

Anyway, this book starts out with a drug "mule" on a boat, but we don't know anything else about him. He has swallowed drugs and he is scared shitless. Then the narrative cuts to some mysterious character at some government training center with guns going off and a mock kidnapping attempt.

Who cares? Snore.

If you want crime suspense, I recommend James Lee Burke. His novels always keep me spell-bound. I also liked early Patricia Cornwell, before she got too successful. And early Thomas Harris.

I liked Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, and their series of comic crime novels about Max Fisher, the most egotistical and self-centered "hero" who ever "lived."

It's hard to find good fiction of any kind. I don't believe in the usual genre distinctions. To me, a good novel is a good novel. Period. And they are damned hard to find.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


There is a good opinion piece by David Brooks in the NY Times today, about Donald Trump:

Trump is a certifiable horse's ass. You can think of that hair that hangs over his forehead as a horse's tail.

It is amazing to me that people in the good old USA think that just because a person is rich, that means he (or she) would make a good president. Some rich people have been good leaders. FDR. JFK. Teddy Roosevelt. But others have been terrible. Bush2, for example.  

Americans don't always elect the rich. John Kerry and his wife are rich, and he didn't win the presidency, in 2004. Of course, he was running against another rich man.

Maybe you have to be both rich and a horse's ass, to be as popular as Donald Trump.

Most Democrats wouldn't qualify.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I just read, today, that after helping to lead and win the revolutionary war in Cuba, in 1959, Ernesto "Che" Guevara got sick with a lung infection and moved with his girlfriend and some aides into a luxurious villa by the sea.

There, he worked on the new concepts and details of agrarian reform, which he considered the cornerstone of the revolution.

Che was criticized by a magazine, or rather the magazine pointed out that he was living in confiscated luxury. He was outraged, published a rebuttal, and as soon as he was better, moved into a more modest house.

Amazing. Here was a man who had risked everything. Put his life on the line a thousand times for the poor people of Cuba, and he didn't want the spoils of war. He didn't want anything for himself, and he didn't want to be seen as self-aggrandizing.

To me, he deserved as much luxury as he could get, at least for awhile. But not Che. He didn't want anything that ordinary people couldn't have. That is one of the things that made him such a hero to his people, I think.

His intelligence, his bravery, his commitment to the cause, all these things made him admirable. Of course, he was a complex man who had decided to devote his life and sacrifice himself for his ideals.

Obviously, there were good things and bad things about him. He was a committed communist, for one thing. And he believed that violence was necessary.

Was he wrong? It's hard for me to judge, at this distance in time and place.

But at the same time that Che was plotting agrarian reform, to help the poor peasants, the good old USA was plotting to either "handle" or overthrow Fidel Castro and the revolution.

Apparently, we didn't give a damn about the peasants. What we cared about was the big sugar business.

How arrogant were we, to think that we knew better than the Cubanos how they should live and how they should be governed, and that they didn't have the right to govern themselves.

I think the way the USA behaved was abominable. Capitalism may be better, and democracy may be better, but I think we had no right to interfere.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


(I know that title is snarky, but bear with me.)

Lately, Marcia Clark, who led the OJ Simpson prosecution team into the swamp of defeat and set a murderer free, has been getting a lot of publicity.

There was a story about her in the L.A. Times yesterday (18 April 2011) and one on NPR this morning. She has written a mystery novel. 

I hope it's better than her prosecution of the OJ case. She made so many errors it's hard to remember them all.

Her biggest mistake: Ms. Clark and her boss, Gil Garcetti, moved the trial from Santa Monica, where it would have had a mostly white jury, to downtown, where it had a mostly black jury.

It looked like this jury would have acquitted The Juice even if they had seen him do it. They seemed to be taking revenge on the criminal justice system for decades of discrimination.

Ms. Clark did a focus group with potential jury members, or people who fit their demographic, and found they had no respect for her. Yet, she went ahead to lead the team anyway, knowing the jury was biased against her. I guess she couldn't resist the call of fame.

At one point, she got caught at the Burbank airport with a gun in her purse, when she should have known better. 

Obviously, she was in over her head.  

She and her team spent months presenting the DNA evidence, when it should have been done in an afternoon. That arcane mumbo-jumbo would put anyone to sleep, and the more they went on about it, the more the jury thought they were trying to hide something. They dug a hole for themselves and kept on digging.

Ms. Clark allowed Chris Darden to use the shrunken leather glove, which in turn gave a huge gift to defense attorney Johnny Cochran: "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." The jury understood that, where they didn't understand the DNA evidence.

Cochran told OJ not to take his arthritis meds, so it would be even harder to get his big hand into the skin-tight leather glove, which had gotten soaked with blood during the murder. When leather dries, it hardens and shrinks. So did the prosecution's case.

I recommend Vincent Bugliosi's writing on the subject. Prosecutor Bugliosi famously put away Charlie Manson for life, even though Manson was not at the scene of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

That was a masterful prosecution. Oh, what he could have done with more concrete evidence.

In the OJ case, police found Nicole Simpson's blood in OJ's shower drain at his house, and they found OJ's blood on Nicole's dead body.

It was a slam-dunk case, or should have been. It took a series of colossal errors to set that killer free.

So Marcia Clark is famous for all the wrong reasons. She keeps coming back, like the Swamp Thing in the old horror movie.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Monday, April 18, 2011


I have a beautiful and wonderful friend named Harley. She is tall and talented and smart. When we discuss Obama, she says, "Obama forever, buddy."

OK, I see the appeal. We don't want the crazy right-wing Tea Party types taking over the country and ruining it. (Of course, they think we are ruining it, or would, if Progressives were really in power.)

My question is, should we support Obama in the coming election?

Or should we threaten to boycott him unless he gets some heuvos and does the things we want him to, like cut defense spending; protect Medicare and Social Security; help immigrants find work and stay in this country, to strengthen it, as they have always done; and institute an intelligent single-payer healthcare system, like every other civilized country? (I have a much longer list.)

I heard a pundit on the radio the other day say we should "hold Obama's feet to the fire," to get him to be more Progressive.

Hmm. I wish I knew how to do that. I'd light the match.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I don't know how much danger we need in life. I think a certain amount of risk keeps our blood pumping. I knew a cop one time who said when he arrests people, "I don't like 'em to go too easy."

I get the point. I used to race motorcycles off-road and cars on the street, and for years I rode mountain bikes. I especially liked the tricky downhill stuff where there were rocks and cactuses and you really didn't want to fall.

On the other hand, I didn't like riding next to a 200-foot dropoff over a lake. A little risk was fun, but a big risk was not.

We need a certain degree of risk in fiction, too. For women, I think, they mostly want emotional risk. Will Martha fall in love with Sam, even though Sam is married to her best friend Jill? For men, we need physical risk to keep our yah-yahs up. Will the cop stop the man who killed his partner before he kills again?

For the writer, the question in fiction is how much risk and when. You don't want it to be too outrageous. Fiction has to be more believable than life, as Borges says (in a book called "Borges On Writing").  

In the novel I'm writing now, my main character is going up against a very scary guy, the scariest character I've ever invented. So just being in the same room with the guy is a risk. The trick is playing it out in the scenes so the reader feels it.

This scary guy, I suppose, represents an aspect of myself. I think all the characters we create are aspects of ourselves. We like to see them play out their anger, their obsessions, their madness, to "murder and create," as T.S. Eliot said.

We just don't want them to murder us, unless it's on the page.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I think I've said this before: Writing is a series of problems that you try to solve the best way you can.

Hemingway said you never really master the craft of writing. You are always up against new problems.

My current perceived problem, which may or may not be the real problem, is keeping track of what is at stake and constantly raising the stakes, so the story builds.

In many of my favorite stories, the main character gets himself or herself into trouble trying to do the right thing. As he or she struggles to get out of trouble, they get in deeper and deeper.

An example might be a man in a rowboat who goes to rescue a pretty girl from sharks in the water. He gets there, but she is so scared she turns the boat over trying to get in.

Dum-dee-dum-dum. More danger, for them both. This is a story hook, a melodramatic example, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I felt bad writing so much about Che Guevara and thought I'd do a post on my novel, which is going well. I'm on Page 183 of "The Prince of Newport," and I'm pretty happy with it. But I haven't gotten to the hard part yet. I'm not sure what to do with a character named Isabella. Hmm.

Another problem I've had is deciding how much to show of the main character's inner thoughts. My favorite writers do a seamless job of presenting both the external and internal world at the same time. It isn't easy.  

Anyway, back to work. Next, Chapter 12, where I bring in a new character, Derek. 

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

RED vs. BLUE -- BUSH2 vs. CHE

I think it's interesting and instructive to think about the differences between left wingers and right wingers.

I am not biased. Of course not. Hell, no. But I do have more sympathy for the right than some lefties I know.

Let's contrast George W. Bush and Che Guevara. They are good examples and embodiments of right-wing and left-wing beliefs, attitudes, and ideals.

I am about halfway through a bio of Che Guevara, and of course I lived through eight years of GWB as U.S. prez.

Who was more successful, more influential, more intelligent, more widely admired, and more deserving of admiration? Who accomplished more? Who was the better human being? Who cared more about people?

Who did the better job instituting regime change in a foreign country?

Gee, I don't know. Are these questions loaded, toward one side? Probably.

Who made more money for fewer people? Who improved the lives of the rich? Who lied more often? Who killed more people?

Hmm. This doesn't seem fair, does it?

Who was the braver man? Who risked his life more times for what he believed? No, this question is not fair. Bush weasled his way out of combat during the war in Viet Nam, while Che risked his life in his every battle in Cuba and was wounded twice.

OK, let's just admit that Bush2 was a bastard, except for his AIDS policy in Africa. That's the only good thing I remember about him.

Let's compare two facts: Bush caused the deaths of more than 100,000 innocent people in Iraq and made a terrible mess of regime change.

Che caused the deaths of fewer than 2,000 people, I'd estimate, during and after regime change in Cuba. And the regime change was masterful, although communism didn't work out so well in the long run.

How you feel about these two political leaders depends more on your biases than on the facts, it seems to me.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Last night, I read the chapters, in Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che, where he and Fidel's rag-tag, tattered, bloodied, out-manned, out-gunned band of rebels won the revolutionary war in Cuba, against Batista's brutal dictatorship.

I cheered, and I almost wept. Stunning. Unbelievable.

I don't know about you, but when I read a book like this, I feel like I live in that world. So the experience is profoundly moving, in a different way from real life, of course. Perhaps, in a way, you understand it better, because you aren't so close to it.

But I don't understand how those small bands of guerrillas won all those dozens or even maybe hundreds of battles against superior forces. They started out with 22 men, for Christ's sake. Often they would be out-numbered ten to one, or a hundred to one.

There isn't enough detail in the book, except for the taking of the armored train in Santa Clara, where they threw Molotov cocktails and the train got too hot for the soldiers inside.

When Che entered one city, I think it was Santa Clara, with 350 men, one of his lieutenants asked a supporter how many soldiers the Army had waiting to fight them. About 5,000, the supporter said. Oh, good, Che's man said, with our jefe, that's no problem.

I thought, holy Christ. What confidence, what audacity. But he was right. They won. 

I imagine that Batista's Army had never fought a war like this. They were used to brutalizing and terrorizing the people, so I imagine they were unprepared to face such intelligent and dedicated guerrillas. Also, I doubt the Army soldiers were willing to die for their cause, which the rebels were.

I was amazed at the amount of thought that Che and Fidel put into preparing to rebuild the country after they won. As they were fighting, against tremendous odds, they planned their new world.

They hit the ground running and began on day one to create a whole new society, a whole new economy, and a whole new government, in all its complexity, from the military to the schools to the infrastructure to the tax system. 

No vacations here. These men knew how to fight, how to work, and how to plan. They were amazingly intelligent in their forethought. 

Then came the bloodbath. Apparently, Raul was the worst, but Che and Fidel did it, too. I'm not sure they needed to kill so many. The firing squads were brutal. Trials lasted a few hours, and then, boom, you were dead.

Che and Fidel claimed it was necessary to kill the men who had tortured and killed thousands of innocent citizens under Batista. But the top dogs got away, many of them. Che said he had seen the government in Guatemala collapse because the president didn't eliminate his enemies.

How many were killed? Several hundred, in the first few months. Maybe that is not terrible, given the numbers of citizens who had been tortured and killed.

The Cuban revolution was bloody, that's for sure. But they won, they got rid of a brutal dictatorship, and they reformed Cuba, which had been known, under Batista, as "the whorehouse of the Caribbean."

Not any more.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Friday, April 15, 2011


Those great House Republicans, defenders of the faith and supporters of the Pentagon, today passed their draconian cuts to the federal budget.

They want to lower the maximum tax rate from 35% to 28%. Oh my God, big corporations and rich people shouldn't have to pay taxes like the rest of us. What were we thinking? We should just all gather around and kiss their collective ass.

Give me a break. 

I read in Newsweek that Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), of the House, is a big believer in the foolish and discredited ideas of the late Ayn Rand, who believed that those who own businesses create wealth and deserve to keep all of it. The rest of us should subsist on crumbs that fall from their tables.

Basically these right wing Republicans and Tea Party types believe in a feudal society. They want to turn the clock back. Way back.

So let's all sing together: Screw oh screw the poor, and kiss the asses of the rich.

Who wants to be a millionaire? We do! Who wants to screw the poor? Hurray!

Reminds me of lines from a poem by Charles Baudelaire, "Litany to Satan":
         Thy awful name is written as with pitch
         On the unrelenting foreheads of the rich.

But, ah, what can we do? The rich are always with us. A burden we all carry.

I say, if you want to pay less taxes and have a smaller government, go live in Somalia. Let me know how you like it.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


As you may know, I have been reading Jon Lee Anderson's excellent biography of Che Guevara, and now I am up to Page 290, and they have been in the Cuban jungles and mountains fighting for about a year, supported by peasants and by sympathetic people in the cities and in the USA.

(At about this time, 1957 or so, it was my first or second year in college, and I remember seeing some Hollywood actor, I think it was Errol Flynn, on TV, I think it was The Jack Parr Show, talking about Fidel and the revolution. He made it sound romantic, glamorous and wonderful.)

Now, as I read the details of the fighting, I am appalled by the brutality, both by the revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and by the government of Fulgencio Batista.

Batista was a bastard. He and his men butchered thousands of people. They tortured people, executed people in the streets, and set fire to peasant villages. (Sound familiar? Much like the USA did in Viet Nam.)

But Che and Fidel summarily executed their own men if they deserted or if they disobeyed orders. On the good side, they dismissed volunteers who were not brave enough or committed enough, even if they wanted to say and fight.

And often, before a dangerous mission, they would let anyone go home who wanted to quit. But if any man betrayed the cause or was a spy or was suspected of treason, he was shot. Boom, dead. On the spot.

Che personally shot men in the head, maybe a dozen of them, up to this point in the book. It didn't seem to bother him. The brutality is horrific. I don't think I would have the stomach for it. You don't know what you would do, until you are there, with the gun in the your hand and the traitor at your feet.

You have to believe in the cause, I think, to kill anyone. Maybe that is the trouble. It wasn't my cause. Maybe you have to fight fire with fire. I don't know. But all this violence turns my stomach. Maybe that is what separates the men from the boys. If so, I am definitely one of the boys.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Have you seen the photos of Barry Bonds, before and after he took steroids? They are amazing. Take a look:

He must have gained 100 pounds of muscle. I know a guy at the gym who went from 160 lbs to 260 as a body builder. Did he take steroids? What do you think? Did Barry Bonds?

Come on. You don't get results like that by eating your Wheaties. When I started lifting weights, I gained 30 pounds of muscle and changed my body shape. But not 100 pounds.

The question is, should all athletes be allowed to use them? If you had a choice between making $10-million a year and making $30,000, would you take them? A lot of people would.

So what should we do? Let the jocks run wild? Or test everyone all the time? I doubt if there is a pro sport that doesn't have some kind of drug use.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


Dear Sir:

We are so sorry to interrupt your peaceful solitude, but we regret to inform you that your great aunt Gertrude Finsterbottom, who lived here in Nigeria for 91 of her 92 years, died last year.

That's the bad news. Sorry, sir. Tough luck, I know.

But the good news comes later: Old Gert, as we knew her, left a fortune in oil wells, stocks, bonds, diamonds and cash.

We are steeply aware that you hardly knew Old Gert, but she remembered you from your childhood and before you were born.

So in her will, she left you $18.9B -- that's billion -- in U.S. dollars, and $43.2B pounds sterling.

The only catch is, you have to learn to ride a camel and come to the Nigeria desert to pick up your funds. Be careful when you are riding the camel, sir. We'd hate to see you get hurt.

Failing that -- if you are too busy -- just send me $156,221.15, and I will arrange for transportation, sending all your wealth to you via NigerEx, our version of FedEx.

Please send all your information so we can proceed forthwith. We need your Social Security number, all your back account numbers, and your signature authorization so we can deposit the funds in your accounts.

Wishing you loads of happiness at your new-found treasure, I am your humble servant,
Ali Bin Ali Bin Wahli
President, Forty-First National Bank of Nigeria.

Good day to you, sir.
Ali Bin Ali Bin Wahli


I don't understand why the Republicans have their one-and-only policy and one-and-only goal: to help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Really, I wish someone could explain it to me.

All they care about is the rich. But why? They act like they are suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, where people who are being held hostage by criminals come to identify with and support their captors. Maybe they want to live so badly that they give up themselves and effect a kind of psychological transference.

The Republicans are like that with the federal budget. They want to cut taxes for the rich, screw the poor and the middle class, and maybe some day some of that money will trickle down to you poor suckers living out there in stupid-voter land.

I suppose the Republicans get all their campaign finance money from the rich, but don't they care anything about the rest of us?

I guess not. It is appalling.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle


I have to admit that I didn't admire Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the man he followed into battle, Fidel Castro, when they were training in Mexico, preparing for their invasion of Cuba.

They seemed grandiose and self-absorbed, a little nuts, and taking themselves too seriously.

But as I continue to read on, in Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che, and as I learn more about the struggles they had in Cuba and the violence and viciousness of the Batista regime, I grow to admire Che and Fidel more and more.

It wasn't easy, what they did. Sure, they had big visions at first, and small capabilities. But they stuck to their guns, in more ways than one.

I don't agree with every action they took, especially some of the bloodshed. But by God they did it. And they overcame tremendous obstacles. And their cause was just.

They have won my respect and my grudging admiration. Say what else you will, these were men. And they put their lives on the line for what they believed was right.

I don't think I could have done it. Not many men could have.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I started reading Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara to find out if Che was a good guy or a bad guy.

Of course, it was a lot more complicated than that. Reading about Che and Fidel Castro training some 40 volunteers on a ranch outside Mexico City, in preparation for their invasion of Cuba, I am reminded more of "Lord of the Flies" than I am of King Arthur's roundtable.

Che would lead these all-day marches around the ranch, sometimes with little water and no food, to get the troops ready for the rigors of war, and one guy sat down in the trail and said, screw this. I'm not gonna do this crap.

Then they had a big debate about whether to execute him for insubordination. They had a court martial.

Hey, I want to say, give these guys a break. They are only volunteers. Fidel and his brother Raul voted to kill him, but Che talked them out of it. Later, supposedly, they did find a spy and kill him and bury him out there, on the ranch.

These guys remind me of children playing cowboys and Indians, only with real guns.

I suppose, since they won, a lot of people admire Che and Fidel. And history is written by the winners. But I didn't find these guys admirable. At first.

I do think the Latin American dictators, like Batista and Trujillo, created these revolutionaries, through their brutal and repressive policies. They tortured people and locked up anybody who didn't agree with them. 

So in a way, Batista brought about his own downfall. 

I'm glad I wasn't there. I don't think I would have joined either side. 

And the USA? What a joke. We were on the wrong side, protecting our business interests and those of the United Fruit Company. 

We were not heroic either.

-- Roger 

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle

If you want to read more, here is a good article:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Now for the first time, Che is signing his letters "El Che," having adopted the nickname given by his Cuban comrades. The year is 1956.

He says he has given up his concept of self to become part of the group. He writes to his mother that he hates moderation and self-interest. He talks now about dying for the cause, an idea that he seems to find glorious.

Not me. Maybe because I have never been there, never walked in those revolutionary shoes. It always seems to me that there is good and bad in everyone, and in most political systems. I can't imagine dying for Che's ideals. Or dying for Fidel Castro.

Maybe I am too old to feel the way Che felt at 24 or 25. I am on Page 204 of Jon Lee Anderson's bio of Che. And 1956 is the year I graduated from high school. Che was ten years older than me.

I am not him, and he is not me. If I was there, then, with what I know now, and I had to choose a side, I think I'd go to New York and become a poet.

If I had to choose an Argentine to admire, I'd choose Jorge Luis Borges, a writer, not a fighter, as far as I know.

But I didn't see the things that Che saw. I have never seen brutal injustice up close. So I don't condemn him or vilify him. All I can say is that he isn't me, and I am not him.

-- Roger

© Copyright 2011, Roger R. Angle