Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 5 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is now available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Meursault Investigation (preview) … The Ring Cycle … Shady Brady … the Great Debate … Psycho Rhetoric …

Amici:
The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud … all I can say thus far about this book I’m reading a second time now (immediately after the first reading) is that it is absolutely brilliant … in fact, it is my favorite read of the year thus far (and that’s saying a lot) … you should be familiar with Camus’ The Stranger before taking on The Meursault Investigation, but understand that even being familiar with the existential classic (I’ve read it several times), I will be going back to read it again after my second read of what is essentially a response to The Stranger and a statement that helps explain why Arab/black/etc. lives matter.
 
I’m taking my highlighting pen to the second read and will have to constrain myself (there are that many wonderful passages).
 
So, as a prequel to the review, freshen up on The Stranger … especially the murder Meursault commits – when he shoots and kills “an Arab.”
 
The Ring Cycle Oy vey, vey iz mir … where’s Saul Bellow when I need him most? Okay, so as much as I am enthralled (seriously so) with much of Richard Wagner’s works, his ring cycle is as appealing to me as a Marvel Comics movie (i.e., NOT). Yes, there are some brilliant moments throughout the Ring Cycle, but this is my second listening of the entire cycle, one after another. It's a tough go ... Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is. Ask my wife (or kids), I don’t like Hobbits, Harry Potter, Superman, Ant Man, The Hulk or any other fucking cartoon turned movie.  I didn’t like comics as a kid and I don’t like them now (except a few from The New Yorker and/or Playboy) … yes, I’m a cultural enigma (and/or moron).
 
The four operas that constitute the Ring cycle are, in sequence:
 
Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold) ... Hotties and dwarfs, Gods and Giants, oh my!
 
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie) ... Wotan's infidelity come home to roost.
 
Siegfried ... Greed, manipulation, singing birds, a dragon/giant (dopey Wotan) and hope ...
 
Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) ... the immolation scene (all it needed)
 
Now, my wife perhaps put it best, at least as regards the times we’re living in … to quote her: “Apocalypse Now did more for that music than anything else.”  I was blasting the Flight of the Valkyries scene at the time, but let’s face it, she has a point. To be fair, I’m not a fan of Gods vs. humans, or humans vs. Giants, or birds singing/talking/giving counsel, etc., etc., etc. I can put up with Game of Thrones because there’s enough of politics involved to keep my interest, but when it doesn’t work for me is when the zombies come out to play (the white walkers).  Phooey!
 
But I digress. The music of the cycle has some beautiful and incredible moments, but they are too few and far between. The wife bought me tickets some dozen or so years ago to Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), a 2+ hour one act (no intermission) at the MET. I watched transfixed (I loved it) while my wife watched (and listened) in horror. She is not a fan of German opera.
 
Imagine trying all four operas of the Ring Cycle back to back to back to back?
 
Oy vey …
 
Much of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde remains (for me) the most beautiful music on the planet. The opera itself ranks very high on my list of favorite operas (a top 3 pick—the other two are Mozart operas—Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).
 
I’ll eventually actually see the entire ring cycle performed, but it won’t be in succession. Most likely, especially due to pricing and my having become a legitimate tax paying citizen of the United State of America for more than 15 years now, I’ll see the cycle, opera by opera, over a four to six year period (assuming I’m still around). It's a challenge to watch it all in four days. Anything more than one a day might damage brain cells, but it's far more pleasant than a challenge I once took from some conservative friends, to read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I did read it ... and shortly thereafter upchucked my last several meals ... in succession.
 
 Tom “Shady” Brady and Hillary Clinton … one destroys cellphones upon learning there will be an investigation and the other scrubs a server upon learning there will be an investigation. Massachusetts sees what it wants to see: Nothing wrong here. Meantime, the rest of the country sees what is obvious: Brady was destroying evidence that would bury him.
 
Now, what about Hillary? Her campaign sees what it wants: Nothing wrong here. Meantime, the rest of the country sees what is obvious: Clinton destroyed evidence that would bury her.
 
What happens next? Frankly, I’ve lost too much interest in NFL football to care, but I’m enjoying watching Hillary’s numbers dwindle so fast, the party of coronations is egging Joe Biden and John Kerry to get involved. No matter which issue is of more concern to you, at least in these two cases, schadenfreude rocks.

 
The Great Debate … I know it’ll be popcorn night at Casa Stella … we’re just as anxious for this fiasco as the rest of the country … will it be reality TV or will it wind up being a disappointment (i.e., will The Donald behave himself?) … it’s usually the audience in wingnut debates that does the most outrageous shit (like booing a gay serviceman, applauding Rick Perry’s lead in convicts put to death (whether they were actually guilty or not) etc.) … it’s a bacchanal of moronic delights and maybe a guilty pleasure we all can’t wait to observe.
 
Will The Donald say: “Don’t worry how I’ll do it, I’ll get it done. You couldn’t do it. I can. I can build walls like nobody else. You wouldn’t believe the walls I can build.”
 
Will he say: “Mike is right, this President is feckless. He’s leading Jews to the doors of the ovens. You wanna talk about ovens. You should see the ovens I can build.”
 
Will he say: “You wanna get rid of ISIS? Bomb the oilfields. Take away their money. I’ll bomb the oilfields. You won’t believe how I’ll bomb the oilfields.”
 
And so on …

 
Psycho Rhetoric … a sub-species of human beings hungry for pats on the back about their utter lack of intelligence has reared its ugly head again and again of late … they are morons calling for the end of the Muslim race, the end of social welfare, and a fascist police state (to name a few things) … I’d suggest they read The Meursault Investigation, but that might be asking for too much--an overly enthusiastic assumption they can read.
To be fair, I suspect they can actually read (at least some of them), but the process of reading an entire book, no matter its length, might be too painstaking a chore; an endeavor that would take way too much effort and focus. Attention spans amongst this sub-species doesn’t last very long. They speak and think in bumper sticker logic (why they so LOVED St. Ronald Reagan). What they’ve become, and proudly so, is a new KKK. I’ll leave it for them to guess the acronym.
They’re great defenders of the nation (whether they served it or not). They claim: it is just fine and dandy when a cop (or cops) go to work on someone for non-compliance during traffic stops (or any other stops). Question a cop (What are you stopping me for?) and you get two choices … 1) a long vicious beating, whether you’re a woman or not, and/or 2) you die.
This same brand of moronic logic gets to complain about immigrants receiving social welfare because they get to see it firsthand--immigrants using food stamps, etc., but they ignore the fact that the same taxes they complain about paying (whether actually pay them or not) finds its way to corporations in a far greater amount than to those on social welfare. Here’s a news flash: It’s not even close. Corporations pay their investors, boards of directors and CEO’s hundreds of millions of dollars that come with the blessing of government welfare. Far more than the kid foregoing a meal or two (something the moronic geniuses don’t see) so he can wear a pair of Nikes.
 
Mostly, the new KKK are misinformed and/or willfully ignorant, but it doesn’t help when conservative politicians champion their cause with equally absurd claims (Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, The Donald, et al). Fortunately, at least for the rest of us, the ranks of conservatives willfully following the rhetoric of hate is miniscule by comparison to beings with a functioning thought process. Let’s face it, the Pols (Trump, Cruz, Walker, Huckabee, et al), they don’t believe a word of it. They’re playing their new KKK rank and file like violins. They feed the fires of hatred, then sit back and collect their benefits in the forms of donations from the same corporations receiving government welfare. Or, in the case of The Donald, the deals he gets to make with pols over taxes he won’t have to pay when he builds something.
What I always find amusing is the pride behind the rhetoric of hatred. It’s almost always flown with pride, egging on a following of equally-minded morons chanting/typing: “You tell them!”
Of course the mother tongue they insist everyone speak in their schools, they don’t seem familiar with themselves. How it offends them so much to hear a language other than English is perplexing, since someone somewhere down their ancestral line mostly likely also spoke a foreign language. But why quibble with facts?
 
To be fair, I’ll never be accused of winning a grammar and/or spelling contest, but if you’re going to flaunt a sign in a public setting, at least ask your mother (or somebody) if you spelled the thing right.
 
 

—Knucks
 

 
Make no mistake, that scene from the movie is terrorism, whether you can digest it or not.
 
And here’s the actual opera version …
 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Jill Stein/Bernie … where Bernie may fail, he doesn’t fail, and Jill gains … Sandra Bland: comply or die? … Shawn Milnes: keeping opera alive, bless him …

Amici:

I recently had a Facebook debate with some Green Party Jill Stein supporters. Most liked (“like”) the fact that I pledged my allegiance/support/future votes for Ms. Stein and her party if and when Bernie Sanders loses the Democratic nomination (a ticket I would never support without a Democratic Socialist on it). They see it as future support for a third party that speaks to a truly progressive political movement. A few, however, weren’t pleased with my decision to support a candidate that would run as a Democrat. They believe, and I agree, that there is no substantial difference between the two parties; that our military complex and corporate economics are embraced by both parties equally.

To be fair, their argument is a just one when I evaluate it from their perspective. I have long ago lost faith in the Democratic Party. I no longer pay much attention to a party that says one thing and does the exact opposite. There’s a terrific Salon interview with Bernie Sanders wherein he expresses his discontent with the Democratic Party and their acquiescence to greed (the repeal of Glass-Steagall, NAFTA, CAFTA and now TPP), and how economics are sidetracked for abortion and gun control issues, etc., but then Bernie claims they (the Democratic Party) are far better than the Republican Party.

I cannot agree.

Until the recent decisions by the Supreme Court supporting the Affordable Care Act (which doesn’t go nearly far enough) and Marriage Equality, the best argument for supporting the Democratic Party was the more liberal appointees to the bench they’re expected to make. Both those decisions came from a Republican majority bench (oops). The most significantly damaging SCOTUS decision made in recent times is the horrific Citizens United case that has legalized bribing politicians with big money. Do we really think Hillary Clinton (who has been amassing a great financial war chest for her 2016 presidential run for several years now) will seek to overturn Citizen United? Sorry, but there’s no trust here for Hillary Clinton to do anything she claims she’ll do for the left and/or the middle class and/or the poor, not after she’s taken hundreds of thousands of dollars reassuring Goldman Sachs that she won’t break up the big banks. She’s been a corporate shill since her Goldwater Girl days and she hasn’t changed an iota.
It’s where Bernie loses me and where Jill Stein supporters arguing against my support of Bernie make a valid point; if all Bernie is going to do is stir up the left before he throws his support behind Hillary’s coronation (with the hope she will somehow include concessions to the left), then what’s the point?

Like I said, it’s a valid point, and thus far it’s cost me $105.00 in support for Bernie.

On the other hand, where Bernie doesn’t fail is his introduction to the concept of democratic socialism. Conservatives will pull muscles sprinting toward the Stalin and Mao models of socialism/communism (the millions killed, etc.) and remind us of all the propaganda we’ve swallowed since childhood about the wonder of so-called free markets and the American dream. It’s not even a clever fantasy anymore. The anachronistic arguments against socialism, no matter how strong the push from conservatives, is being washed away daily by nation states practicing democratic socialism throughout Europe. It’s all about a quality of life, not whether or not one person/family can come to gain so much wealth (off the backs of others) that they can own an entire government—what we’ve become in America over the past few decades. The Citizens United decision cemented our oligarchic status.

So, my point to the Jill Stein supporters was this: be grateful that Bernie Sanders is introducing the concept of socialism to America in a way that is energizing people who’ve taken the time to read and pay attention to what’s happening to this country via its oligarchic economic system. We are all better for it. And when (and if) Bernie does the traditional Michael Moore/liberal democratic sell-out at the last minute, and he supports Hillary Clinton, myself and many more who supported Bernie will join team Stein and support the Green Party, no matter the cost.

Our reasoning is simple: We won’t reward a corporate shill and military hawk with a record so deceitful, her own supporters can’t deny it. Nor will we reward a party that assumes we’ll be there in the end for them no matter what; a party that can ignore the left without a concern. We blame the Democratic left for allowing itself to become blind faith lemmings anxious to fall into lock-step with a party that continues to devastate the middle class with legislation that permitted banks to become too big to fail (Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall), or supported sending manufacturing jobs to Mexico for the sake of greater profit (Clinton’s NAFTA), or Obam’s TPP, which was authored by corporate execs for the sake of even greater profit at the middle class expense.

The other thing Jill Stein supporters have to look forward to from many (not all) Bernie supporters is the following: We’ll never fall for it again. From 2016 on, we’ll vote Green Party across the board.

Unless, of course, when/if Bernie loses, he throws his support behind Jill Stein (where it belongs).

So, hear what Jill has to say about the state of our country under its oligarchic structure.



Sandra Bland ... comply or die?

The video below is obvious enough. The cop started off fine. The woman was upset at getting a ticket for changing lanes without signaling. The cop didn’t appreciate her being upset and considered it a challenge to his ego/gun toting/badge wearing self-righteousness. He demanded she put out her cigarette and when she explained it was her right to smoke in her car (which it was/is), he went Rambo and threatened to “light you (her) up.”



What happened next was off screen so we’ll never know what really happened, except Ms. Bland did express very clearly that someone had banged her head on the ground. The fact she spent 3 days in lockup for a traffic ticket defies logic.

What we do know very clearly is that the officer in question (Little Rambo) lied on his police report. So, one has to wonder whether or not falsifying a police report (how many times a day do you think that’s done across America?) is grounds for dismissal?

He was assaulted? Really?

Some supportive of the police (no matter what they do) claim the following: if you don’t comply, you get to die. It’s an extreme form of simple-mindedness that overlooks what is obvious on the above video and then compounded by falsified police reports. Defenders of the police no matter what they do tend to be super-conservative and suffer from an extreme form of confused ideology. They’re the first to complain about the loss of liberty, while they simultaneously (and arrogantly) support a police state. It seems they would have thoroughly enjoyed life in Hitler’s Nazi Germany … at least until someone knocked on their door.

This following video surfaced some time ago, but it’s been appearing again with the ever increasing new videos of an out of control American police force. Police brutality is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around forever, except now there’s video catching some in the act.

Here a cop repeatedly punches a homeless WOMAN in the face for her "non-compliance"? Again, defenders of police claim it’s her non-compliance that affords the policeman the right to viciously beat her in the face with his fists.



 
Again, if you’re fine with what the cop in the video does, you’d probably be fine with Kristallnacht (when Nazi Party SA paramilitary forces conducted a series of coordinated attacks against Jews).
 



Shawn Milnes writing about Opera ...

 
An article by Shawn in the Daily Beast: How Composer Ethel Smyth Made Opera History. She was a militant suffragette and lesbian, and to this day is the only female composer to have had a work performed at New York’s Met Opera. Inside her amazing life.
 

Shawn is the son of the famous Sherill Milnes … one of the greatest baritones in the history of opera. A master of Verdi roles … no better Rigoletto on the planet.
 
Here’s Shawn’s dad singing one of his most famous roles—the one that made me name our pup Rigoletto … if you haven’t listened (or attended) an opera before, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND listening to the Milnes, Pavarotti, Sutherland recording of Rigoletto: and if you haven’t attended an opera before, Rigoletto is the one to begin with.
 



—Knucks

How do you listen to this beautiful music and not be moved to listen again and again?
 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Man in the Window (Review) … Snow Angels … Movie and Series Reviews … Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Jill Stein … and Eric Fucking Holder …

Amici:

The Man In The Window, by Dana King. Nick Forte, the cynical, self-deprecating, witty, former cop, finds himself in a P.I. case that involves professional musicians, a lethal wannabe gangster who oversteps his abilities (as such types are wont to do), the Chicago outfit, and Homeland Security. The principal viola in the Chicago Symphony is suspicious of wife’s extracurricular activities. He hired Nick for a basic tail.

“I want you to follow my wife.”

What happens when Nick takes on the case quickly escalates into murders pretty foul, albeit accidentally. I’m no great fan of the P.I. novel in general, with the well written, humorous, educational exceptions (i.e., Ed Gorman, Bill Crider, Craig McDonald, et al). I love historical novels of all types. I enjoy being educated as I read. I’m a classical music lover (opera and symphonies) … so when Dana King’s Nick Forte character investigates members of the Chicago Symphony, it’s Christmas in July.

Mentions of Solti, Karajan, Mahler and others I’ve never heard of (but am anxious now to learn more about) abound in Forte’s quest to find out why his client is gunned down, along with two others. Like the author, Nick is a former trumpet player … his best friend is a brilliant trumpet player for the same orchestra … he’s also equally as witty as Forte. The dialogue between these two is humorous and superbly penned. There is so much to admire in King’s skill. I’ve read the other Forte novels and loved them. This one, probably because of the musical education it provides, was extra fascinating for me.

No spoilers here, but if you enjoy great writing, similes that will make you smile from ear to ear, the heartwarming camaraderie between musicians and friends, and a plot that twists and turns enough to keep you anxiously focused, The Man In The Window is a summer read for you.

VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
 
 
Snow Angels, by Mitch Wieland … an absolutely brilliant short story (plucked from a brilliant novel) is featured in the next Missouri Review (no small potatoes) … an American family down on its luck relocates in Japan. Their youngest son befriends a Japanese girl and the magic happens. We’ll do a proper review once the story is available, but above is the cover.

Movies/Series reviews …
 
The Gambler … the remake isn’t close to the original, not by a longshot, but there are a few good performances that stood out. Both John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams, as always, did a fine job with their roles. Mark Wahlberg did his best. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t nearly as compelling as James Caan’s English Professor/inveterate gambler. Wahlberg’s gambler was way too overstatedly dark to empathize with, and his hysterical tension (when his voice goes breathy and way up) just doesn’t work for me. That said, I really like Wahlberg in some other roles. This seemed like an honest attempt to existentialize (my word) Caan’s character to a fare-thee-well. I still think his best performance was in The Departed.

Although they kind of danced around the original storyline, this fell so far short of engaging, I had to force myself to sit through the basketball sequence on to the end.

If you want to see the same dark subject matter handled absolutely brilliantly (by the director, the cast and the writers), see the original with James Caan and Paul Sorvino. You like dialogue? This is the one you want. Trailer below.


The original (speaking of Mahler) …

“Forty-four dimes. That’s six Eldorados. Forty-four thousand dollars, Axel. It ain’t just numbers.”

Luther … oy vey, talk about silly television. Everybody loves Idis Elba (my wife especially) and Ruth Wilson, and several of the other actors/actresses who appear in this BBC series … but let’s face it, a paycheck is a paycheck. A serial killer helps a detective capture and/or kill the bad guys. Well, why not? In the good old US&A, that dopey series about a serial killer killing bad guys is/was a smash hit.

I watched all three seasons (mercifully, the 2nd and 3rd seasons were only 4 episodes long) … the relentless and never-ending internal affairs (or its equivalent) attempts to bring down Luther become so boring and predictable, I just let the stupid thing run while I worked on the screenplay and/or read.

I also have to wonder if the actors/actresses portraying the police ever feel as silly as they look walking up and down stairs in a firing position (arms outstretched, weapon in hand, etc.) … I mean, I feel silly watching them.

Luther is one really terrible show unless you’re willing to suspend reality to the point of the absurd and/or stupid. And if you are willing to suspend reality (etc., etc.), then Idris Elba does a fine job portraying the ultimate tortured cop (his wife left him for another man, he’s ALWAYS faced with a moral dilemma regarding criminals, and he’s ALWAYS facing more life and death situations week to week than most lawmen face in six lifetimes).

In the last episode of season 3, the serial killer is also a McGiver/Moriarity mix. I only know about McGiver (that silly show) from Saturday Night Live skits, so I’m still cool.

Oy vey …
 
 
Trump/Hillary/Bernie … Trump gathers the darker side of the GOP voters behind a return to ugly racism … the clown car has been adjusted to seat 16 (or so) … he threatens to run as an independent if the GOP isn’t nice to him … this is the state of our political system, an absolute and total joke.

And while Trump destroys the GOP presidential chances in 2016, the coronation starts to feel the pressure of hiding behind her Queendom … the corporate shill Hillary has been and will continue to be is being threatened by the upstart Jewish kid from Brooklyn … Bernie Sanders hasn’t floundered in forty years and people are starting to appreciate integrity. Whether it can survive the onslaught of Hillary’s very deep pockets (supplied by Corporations, banks and Super PACs—none of which Bernie will take a dime from), is another story. She doesn’t acknowledge Bernie’s surge or the fact that 57% of Democratic voters don’t trust her. The corporate owned media continues to call Bernie’s run a joke. Gee, I wonder why.

Here’s why.
The wife and myself have volunteered to campaign for Bernie. I consider this my last attempt to participate in the joke our political system/elections have become. And if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination and Hillary achieves her coronation, I’ll be voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party, because I refuse to reward the hypocrisy and deception that is Hillary (Goldman Sachs) Clinton.


No Bernie, then it's Jill Stein.


 
So, my loyal mainstream, lesser of two evils, ready to capitulate in a moment’s notice, can’t believe Obama turned out to be just another bought and paid for Pol after all, friends. Care to explain to us Utopia seeking MF’ers on the left how the two major parties are so vastly different you can’t believe we’d toss our votes away on candidates who can’t win?

Not only did this piece of shit not even attempt to prosecute the banks that robbed us all and sent millions of families into debts they can never climb out of, he’s now taken a position with a law firm that defends banks. Wow, what a progressive appointment he turned out to be! That Mr.TPP/Obama, he sure fooled you, didn’t he?

CLEAR THE COBWEBS … HILLARY’S A BIGGER CORPORATE SHILL THAN OBAMA … BERNIE IN 2016!

—Knucks


Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Sister and Marriage Equality …

Amici:
My sister was gay. She came out around age 16 or 17. I remember her telling me she was gay shortly after catching me in bed with my first girlfriend. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d literally caught her in bed with her girlfriend. We had a great conversation that day. Although it was loaded with back and forth insults and sarcasm, it was genuinely witty and heartfelt. That day we loved each other again.

Unfortunately, we didn’t always get along. In fact, our relationship was pretty estranged for most of our adult lives, but the conversations we had over her being gay and how she was going to tell our father, etc., those were some of our better days—the days I like to think about most when thinking about my sister.

Adele died a few years ago from cancer, so she never had the good fortune of experiencing yesterday’s Supreme Court decision. I’ve known a lot of friends who were cheated and died way too young from one illness or another. I knew several people, friends mostly, who died of AIDS when I was still in my 20's. My next crime novel is dedicated to a childhood friend who died way too young from a brain tumor. Marriage equality is a big deal, something that has taken way too long, and my sister would’ve been ecstatic had it happened while she was alive.
We were a pretty liberal family growing up, but perhaps more by circumstance than intent. Our father ran off with his first cousin’s wife, and later married her. It was a family scandal that cost my mother, sister and myself a lot, but not nearly as much as it would cost my father. Although I’d visit him from time to time before he died, our estranged fate had been sealed years before. None of us attended his funeral.

The day my sister came out to my father was a classic Stella moment. The old man was a hustler back in the day; a very hard working guy, but with very selfish priorities. He wasn’t necessarily liberal or conservative, although he verbally supported the Democrats when he was a union lithographer. Once he owned his own business, I suspect his politics might have changed. I clearly remember the time he went off on me for talking about socialism after my honeymoon in Europe. By then he was mostly legit and owned headshops in Brooklyn and New Rochelle. My father wasn’t always legit.

He was living on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village the day my sister told him she was gay. We used to go there to meet him every few weeks for breakfast, a short lecture injected with insults about our weight, clothes, hair, you name it. We’d also get a five or ten spot, depending on his mood. That day, a Sunday, we met him at Miteras diner on the corner of West 3rd and McDougal. He was standing at the counter with his friend, Joe Mara, a sort of village icon back in the day who owned the Night Owl café before it became a headshop. Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan used to play there, but Joe became famous for refusing to allow the police to fingerprint him after being arrested. He spent thousands on lawyers and then had my father create a poster of his prints. Joe then gave the posters out for free in his store. Yes, Joe was nuts, but he was one of my first employers. I rolled posters in the back of the Night Owl for a time while in high school.

That Sunday visit, Joe and my father were shooting the shit while Adele and I sat in a booth to wait for him to join us. Just before Joe left, we heard him crack a gay joke and I cringed as our father laughed. “Uh-oh,” I thought, here it comes.

My father then slid into the booth with us and was about to signal to the waitress when my sister turned to him and said, “Daddy, didn’t you know I was gay?”

I watched the color drain from his face as he swallowed hard, and then timidly shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “I didn’t know.”

“I’m gonna go get the Times,” Adele said, giving him time, I suspect, to get over his shock.

She went around the corner to a kiosk near café Reggio, one of her favorite places in the Village. My father waited until she was outside the diner, then turned to me and said, “That was like a kick in the balls.”

“Don’t say that,” I said. “She’s your daughter.”

“You’re too young to understand,” he said. “The shit those people go through.”

In retrospect, I want to believe that my father was being considerate with that last comment. What I believed then, however, and what I still believe, is that he was probably more embarrassed than considerate. If our father was proud of either of his kids, he never showed us. My sister was a brilliant student and would eventually become a teacher in a public high school where they named the school library after her. On the other hand, I spent way too much of my life seeking his acceptance. I don’t blame him for the choices I made. I blame myself for thinking they would ever make a difference.

I’m not sure if our father had genuine issues with homosexuality. We didn’t have another discussion about it until many years later when his wife had a huge argument with my sister, called her a fat dyke, and threatened to leave my father if he didn’t fire his daughter (Adele managed his store in the mall at the time). My father’s parting words to her that day, after handing off some hidden cash, were: “Please don’t tell your crazy brother.”

It took her several weeks to do so, but she eventually did tell me. I reacted like the crazy fucking brother I was, and it pretty much ended my relationship with my father. I couldn’t understand then, nor can I understand now, how he could let what happened happen.

So it goes.

I turned a bad corner for a number of years after that. I lost contact with both my father and my sister, and what I was engaged in may have widened the gap between brother and sister. I’ll never know. What I do know for a fact is that my mother, whatever her crazy Catholic beliefs at the time, supported my sister’s sexuality with all her heart. That said, I don’t know if my sister ever got over my father’s inaction the day of her argument with his wife.

I’m sure my sister suffered some idiotic slings and arrows from homophobes everywhere during her life. People say stupid shit, usually because they’re ignorant, and sometimes they’re just cruel. I know homophobic comments had to bother her, but she was strong and independent and confident. Ultimately, I suspect, the slings and arrows faded to the irrelevance they deserved.

They probably bothered me more than her. After all, I was the crazy brother.

Adele had a few long-term relationships over the course of her short life. She was three years older than me and died at 55 years of age. She lived with a few of her partners, and managed to buy a house in a very small gay section of Brooklyn on Fenimore Street. She also lived in Chelsea in Manhattan, and eventually she bought a condo in Jackson Heights, Queens. Adele worked as an accountant for Yankee pitcher of Ball Four fame, Jim Bouton (and said he was a brilliant guy—a big deal because my sister didn’t hurl many compliments in the direction of male athletes). She also became a tax accountant for gay businesses and then settled on teaching, her first love, later in life.

As I said, whatever the bad chemistry between us, our better sibling years occurred when we were young. For whatever reason, they didn’t last, but she was an incredible aunt to all three of my kids, and an incredible teacher to her students, most of them students of English as a second language. I remember several of her students attending her memorial held in the high school in Manhattan. During that same memorial, I was seated next to my mother thinking I had to be there for her when they started showing pictures, or Momma Stella would lose it and maybe suffer a heart attack.

Never underestimate the strength of a mother. It was me who broke down when I saw a picture of my sister and myself as very young kids sitting on some kind of toy train. My head dropped into my mother’s lap and I lost it.

I’ve been very lucky my entire life. Things always happened at just the right time to keep me from the kind of self-destruction that lasts. Teachers always seemed to bail me out, whether in the form of coaches, education, writing, music or street rabbis. And there was my sister who encouraged me to step off a window cleaning scaffold and dare to find the bigger wide world.

I would take a few dozen detours, make a hundred more mistakes, breakup my own family, leap into a street life, replace love with greed, get myself in trouble, and eventually meet the right woman at the right time to find some measure of redemption. I never thought much about marriage, not enough to take it seriously until meeting the woman who would become my fourth wife.
I wish my sister had the same options, to marry whomever she loved. To divorce when a relationship soured, or to just choose to live as partners knowing the choice to marry was hers to make. Yesterday the Supreme Court permitted us to take a defining step toward the democracy all of us are meant to have. My sister would’ve been very proud of the decision. If the heaven she told me she believed in shortly before she passed exists, hopefully she’s partying with friends, drinking champagne with one hand and raising her other in a fist of gay pride.

—Charlie

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

Marriage is a “keystone of our social order,” Justice Kennedy said, adding that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

So it goes …

Amici:
We’ve all wondered how and why voters would support politicians and/or political parties that work against their interests. For most of my life, based on economics alone, I wondered how anyone from the middle class could vote for a Republican candidate. Given the GOP’s dedication to “bigger is better” business, middleclass families supporting big business didn’t make sense. Conservatives claim a free market buffered by competition is the answer, yet our government has always supported the economic system we like to believe is Laissez-faire, and is actually government sponsored through and through.

From Forbes: The Fortune 500 corporations alone accounted for more than 16,000 subsidy awards, worth $63 billion – mostly in the form of tax breaks. 

Never mind government bailouts to big banks, when socialism is not only tolerated, it is applauded. Forget the “saving of the auto industry” bailout. In our capitalist economy, wherein corporations and banks not only fight against regulation, they set policy through the votes they purchase via unrestricted campaign financing (i.e., Citizens United), corruption rules the day. No doubt to Mr. Lincoln’s dismay, the concept of government of the people, by the people, for the people, has in fact perished. Citizens United, the legislative legalization of government bribery, can still be overturned, but until voters acknowledge the two party system is working toward the same corporate goal, it isn’t likely to happen. Until it is overturned, we have to live with the disastrous effects of a capitalist system run amok.
When I was a young idealist, and a lot more naïve than I am today, I believed the bullet points about the Democratic Party. It represented the working class. It believed in civil rights. It championed the little guy. The Republican Party was the champion of big business, the wealthy class, and opposed change on all fronts. In fact, it seemed as though the GOP existed to stall change.

Back then it seemed like such simple math: the underdog vs. the greedy, and I always chose the underdog.

I voted for Jimmy Carter and believed in his honesty and best intentions. I still think the man was a good person with a good heart struggling against the poison of American politics. Then came the man who defeated him, Ronald Reagan, and like most liberals, I couldn’t believe our country could elect a B movie actor to the presidency. His national cheerleading style baffled me. How could we as a nation fall for such simpleton logic. His trickle down economic theory, especially after doing his best to eradicate unions, proved more disastrous then his Vice President, George H. Bush, described it. Reaganomics, would prove to be what Bush had called it: “voo-doo” economics. Twenty-six years later, Reagonimcs has proved trickledown economics is voo-doo economics on steroids.
George H. Bush followed Reagan into the oval office for just one term, but he started a free trade policy that Bill Clinton would embrace and enact. Clinton’s hard turn to the right before his second term proved a disaster to the long term health of American workers and the middle class. Although he brought the deficit down somewhat (some claim it was a surplus), it was at the expense of the middle and poor classes. Repealing Glass-Steagall (a law that separated commercial and investment banking for seven decades) is considered to be the reason behind the financial crisis of 2007-8. In 1993, Clinton managed to pass a free-trade agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico, Canada and the U.S. It too was originally penned by his predecessor, George H. Bush (a big business Republican), and it would cost the United States millions of jobs (700,000 labor union jobs to Mexico alone). Free trade agreements benefit everyone except the United States workforce. They are an incentive to move manufacturing businesses out of the country for the sake of cheap labor. It is one of the main reasons United States workers are producing more while earning less (a decline documented year after year). 
 
 
From the same linked article: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of full-time jobs last month was still 2.3 million below where it was back at its peak in 2007. Here’s another harsh fact that justifies the gloom: The positions now being created have pay levels that are 23 percent lower than the jobs that have disappeared, according to an August study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and IHS Global Insight. Quite simply, in many cases low-wage and often part-time jobs are replacing high-wage full-time jobs in sectors like technology, manufacturing, and construction. Respectively, they pay, on average, $87,000, $63,000 and $58,000. Quite a difference from the $21,000 to $47,000 earned by workers in low-wage jobs in hospitality health care, and administrative support.
George W. Bush proved another disaster, the likes of which we’ll never forget. His wars based on false pretenses, and then paying for them with credit cards continues to devastate our economy. His “tax cuts” for the rich once again proved his daddy was right regarding “trickle down/voo-doo” economics. The inevitable financial crisis born of Glass-Steagall occurred under W’s watch, and his exit from the White House couldn’t come fast enough.

ENTER President Barry. Taking W’s initial bailout of AIG a few steps further, Obama followed through with further carte blanche bailouts. Excuses about expediency were thrust down our throats by a corporate media anxious for the first bi-racial President to be successful. Let’s face it, most of us fell for his charisma, good looks, his attractive family, and his ability to change his voice from Harvard Professor to Sunday Preacher (depending on which crowd he was appealing to at the time) at a moment’s notice. We sat back and defended his absolute corporate giveaway to Wall Street during the fiscal crisis. There were barely any complaints when Obama allowed the same corporate executives who engineered the mortgage disaster to reward themselves with record bonuses. Nobody demanded the banks be required to hire back the middle-income staff they jettisoned at the first signs of bankruptcy. Executives rewarded themselves for making the mess and workers paid for their mistakes.

And then there was the clemency given to taxes owed by Citibank, et al … to the tune of $38 billion dollars, completely excused by the Obama administration. Read about it here:  Again, from the linked article: the bank's TARP payback agreement, it's quietly been given a $38 billion tax break by the IRS. Seriously.

Was it a sign that Obama was in bed with big money? The first hint came prior to his winning the election in 2008, when it was disclosed that he’d been given the largest donations to a presidential campaign by Wall Street in history. Big Banks were surely hedging their bets. An educated guess demanded the banks support a democratic nominee post-Bush, and banks put their money behind Obama … and they have been reaping their rewards ever since. The banks are now bigger and more consolidated than in 2008. For all his talk about regulating them, Obama has made them bigger and stronger than ever.

Of course none of the culprits ever went to jail. It was a bust-out of epic proportion, verifying the ironic statement of a famed American Gangster, Alfonse Capone, when he stated: “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”
So here we are, just two more years before the end of a Democratic administration that has further eroded labor unions and the middle class while expanding American poverty. Completely ignoring the plight of union workers in Wisconsin during Scott Walker’s dismantling of public unions there, Obama reneged on his promise to put on a pair of comfortable shoes and join the picket line.



 
Blind faith democratic loyalists immediately defended their president by looking ahead to his next election and how publicly supporting labor was just bad timing. One can only assume they were thinking: imagine if he loses his second term?

Dios Mio!

TPP is another Obama legacy achievement, as we’ve been told by MSNBC and the rest of the corporate controlled media. It is also the corporate authored agreement Obama attempted to pass behind the public and Congress’s backs. For six years now we’ve had to endure the Republican Party’s refusal to work with this president. They stopped him at every turn, determined to achieve what their Senate minority leader (at the time), Mitch McConnell, proclaimed: to make sure Obama is a one-term president.
All was lost in the progressive cause, it seemed. Until yesterday that is. Yesterday the big breakthrough between the right and President Obama occurred when the two men most responsible for Obama’s stalled presidency joined hands and served up another reward to Wall Street and the rest of corporate America. Yesterday progressives took a knife in their backs.

His one big accomplishment until yesterday was the Affordable Care Act, which was fumbled from the start. Hiring a Canadian website developer (his wife’s college friend) while millions of Americans remained unemployed was yet another insult completely ignored by Democratic blind faithers. The result was stalled insurance enrollment for several months. The fact it wasn’t single payer/universal health care was ignored because as many as 12,000,000 people now have insurance. Of course, those same 12,000,000 are now insurance company customers, but why would taxpayers complain about insuring people when we’ve maintained wars in the Middle East since 2003 on the same credit card?

And speaking of wars … was it bad timing or did Mr. Obama misspeak when he claimed Iraq was “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy(?)” Last week he sent 450 new troops back to Iraq.

So, is it just Republican supporters from the middle and lower classes who are voting against their self-interests? What about Democrats? What about union members? What about minorities? How do we continue to support a party that thinks nothing of giving the store away time after time?
I’m all for Vietnamese workers earning $56.00 an hour, never mind $.56 cents, but not at the expense of American workers, not while corporations reap record profits. And does anyone really believe working conditions overseas are going to improve? Seriously? Third World countries thrive on capitalism. We’re learning that here now, how profit over people is the methodology at each and every step of the business model. American workforce production continues to rise with the advance of technology, yet our incomes continue to shrink and corporate profits reach new records.

This president has sponsored TPP with the blessing of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, the Koch brothers, Goldman Sachs, and everyone else in the corporate world? How does that fit with a so-called progressive President? International Business Times has just published a new report examining the known text of the TPP treaty that shows it would provide special legal rights to corporations that it denies to unions, small businesses and other public interest, environmental and civic groups. Specifically, while President Obama keeps repeating the misleading promise that the deal would "level the playing field," instead, the TPP would let corporations sue in international tribunals to try to overturn labor, environmental and human rights laws while prohibiting public-interest groups from suing in the same tribunals. How's that for a "level playing field?" Please, Mr. President, how about you leveling with us?


Liberals across the board wanted Obama to win and to be successful. Some whites voted for him because he seemed the best choice: a smart Harvard Professor with a heart. Some whites voted for him from a sense of guilt over the crime of slavery. Some voted against him because of his bi-racial makeup. Some voted against him because he was perceived as too liberal. African-Americans wanted him to represent their interests and highlight their collective struggles. Most minorities voted for him because of the connection they felt with his underprivileged roots. Obama was voted into office with a surge of optimism that just might’ve achieved Hope and Change had he bothered to act presidential and wield the power of a bully pulpit. The people gave him that power, but instead of taking his stated cause back to the people, he turned his back and repaid his campaign debts to those who wrote the biggest checks.
What happened is unfortunate and disappointing, yes, but it’s also scandalous, and something that shouldn’t be rewarded with yet another vote for the so-called “lesser of two evils.” It has been that same lesser of two evil philosophy that ushered both NAFTA and now TPP into our lives at our expense and for the benefit of those who paid for legislation through campaign donations. It is the lesser of two evils that has and will continue to hurt and haunt minorities so desperate for employment.

In 2000, I was so frustrated by Bill Clinton’s hard veer right, I abandoned my better angels and supported George W. Bush for President. I made the same mistake when he ran for a second term. It wasn’t until 2006 when I admitted my mistakes and vowed to never vote for either major party again. I did not vote for Barrack Obama in 2008. Not because I’m some kind of working class Nostradamus, but because I saw the hype for what it was. He had charisma, he was handsome, he was bi-racial, he had an attractive family, and he could speak in complete sentences. Obama was a pre-packaged dream for an American public desperate to convince itself it was doing right by electing a bi-racial person to the presidency. The fact a self-proclaimed rogue, John McCain, was forced to bow to a conservative base and then chose an embarrassment for his running mate, assured Obama’s victory. And let’s face it, being the guy after Bush didn’t hurt either.

According to many on the left, voting for Bush meant you were stupid. They ignored in the past and continue to ignore today the fact that the economic devastation hurled at the working class has come from Democratic presidents who opted to side with their alleged political enemies. It wasn’t a Bush or even a Reagan who facilitated the outsourcing of American jobs. The facts are, it was a Clinton and an Obama. One has to wonder if Democrats feel stupid for the votes they delivered their party. If union officials can’t own up to their misguided support of democratic presidents who betray them at every turn, then rank and filers returning the same union leadership to power certainly qualify as a “less than intelligent class of worker.” That isn’t to say they should support the GOP, but there are alternatives to progressive voters, and until the Democratic party feels the wrath of the people it has abandoned, it’ll be business as usual (i.e., the coronation of another Clinton).
Yesterday the media did its job and mentioned the “big victory for President Obama,” never mentioning once how he walked hand-in-hand down the aisle with his so-called political enemies (McConnell and Boehner). Blind faith Democratic Party supporters will continue to ignore this latest back-handed insult (TPP) to American workers. Blind faith supporters will try to convince the most liberal of us (socialists and democratic socialists) to give up when Bernie Sanders gives up, and to do as he has already proclaimed he will do, which is to endorse Hillary Clinton for President.

I love the potential of a Bernie Sanders. I love everything about the man, but mostly I love and applaud his integrity. He refuses corporate coin. Most likely that same refusal will be his undoing. Most believe he can never defeat the treasure chest of “the one whose turn has come.” If by some miracle Bernie wins the nomination, I will volunteer to work for his presidential campaign. If he doesn’t win the nomination, I will turn my back once again on a party that has consistently turned its back on me. I will vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party. I don’t believe there’s a lesser of two evils in American politics, not anymore. Both parties owe their existence to corporate interests, and neither party cares a hoot about those who elect them.

Sometimes things really do have to bottom out before they get better. I fear where at that point in history now. A political revolution would be a beautiful thing. I fear it won’t be long before a violent one takes its place.

And to that, I say: “So it goes, amici. So it goes.”

—Knucks


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reviews: Choice Cuts … Tartan Noir … Charleston, S.C. … Barry Graham!

Amici:
Booksellers delineate all forms of literature for the purpose of organizing their sales shelves. So be it. I’ve always stuck to the theory that a good read is a good read, regardless of its so-called genre. I’ve always preferred dark over light, but not nearly exclusively. There was a good discussion about the classification of literature on author, Ben Whitmer’s, FB page a week or two ago (click on link here). Ben stated the following: I can have all the theories about noir that I want, but for most people it just means kinda darkish crime fiction. I’m one of those who believe that’s what noir essentially is (darkish crime fiction, sometimes minus the crime) … for me it’s a protagonist caught in a downward spiral that spins faster and darker with every attempt to extricate him or herself from it) … some might think Nabokov’s Lolita is more noir than straight literature. I don’t, but I sure can see why one might view it that way. Can it get darker than Crime and Punishment? Dostoyevsky certainly wrote dark enough to label his works Noir. I’d say, hell yeah, but there’s no denying the upside of Raskolnikov’s eventual atonement. For this reader, what counts (regarding a good read), no matter the classification, is whether or not I’m interested enough to keep reading; whether or not I’m engaged enough to want more. Although the NHL playoffs took a lot of time from my daily reading and I haven’t jumped back in with both feet, mostly because I’ve been in a writing frenzy since the finals ended), I do read a lot.

The last two books I read, somewhat simultaneously, were Joe Clifford’s very dark and wonderful collection of short stories called Choice Cuts, and Len Wanner’s incredibly interesting (and well researched), Tartan Noir.

Choice Cuts … there are 16 Choice Cuts in Clifford’s collection, a few of which are classic tales of irony and/or the darkest of crime fiction--noir, if you will. These tales of human angst are told from different locations, to include Hollywood, the edge of the Arctic Circle, the Bowery, Florida, etc. I was seeing Rod Serling throughout my reads of these stories, especially Tripping for Biscuits (a story about a story (literally) of a guy so enamored with the hardboiled film genre, he had the ability to see color blanched from his eyes) … in The Meat, three prisoners escape the joint and have to traverse the frozen tundra with very little in their bellies until survival kicks in … The Exterminator features bug man whose best intentions will leave one remembering the often told (rarely adhered to) parental advice we’ve no doubt heard while growing up—to mind our own business. An Iraqi war veteran hooked on model railroading (his therapist’s idea) deals with PTSD in Nix Verrida, my favorite until a reread had me thinking: “Yeah, this is fucking inevitable someday.” I speak of Rags to Riches, a reality television show about the homeless vs. the homeless doing battle over a fat cash prize. Let’s face it, it’s only a matter of time before that’s another reality nightmare come true.

There’s even an MFA nightmare tale in the collection called Red Pistachios that made me smile despite the dark ending. Choice Cuts left me interested in the author’s novels, which I’ll be reading in the near future. There’s no skimping on irony in this collection, no matter the best intentions and/or pursuit of goals. Like I said, Rod Serling would’ve had a blast putting these babies to screen. Very Highly Recommended.


Tartan Noir … I highlighted so many passages in Tartan Noir (things I wanted to reproduce here on the blog), I’d come close to reproducing the entire book. Want an idea of how well-researched this expose was? How about 464 ENDNOTES. Wanner has produced an authoritative academic study of Scottish crime novels. His study is broken into four themes: The Detective Novel, The Police Novel, The Serial Killer Novel, and the Noir Novel. Wanner examines a virtual who’s who of Scottish crime authors (bestsellers and otherwise) to both document and challenge the preconceived notions as to what Tartan Noir may be. Ascribed the title by bestselling author, Ian Rankin, in his introduction, Wanner asks why Rankin chose a word (noir) which initially described stylized, black and white melodramas in American fiction and film of the 1940s, but as a literary term soon took on dark shades of meaning such as ‘working class tragedy,’ ‘transgressor fiction,’ and ‘psycho thriller’?

Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam made an appearance in Wanner’s brilliant study. So did one of my contemporary favorite, Barry Graham.

And then there’s Lee Horsley’s The Noir Thriller, Wanner references often. “Likewise, as Lee Horsley points out … the predicament of the noir narrative typically has ‘less to do with a desperate search for some way out of an economic impasse than with an irremediable sense of exclusion.’ … Paraphrasing Horsley, Wanner states: “ … what the suspense of most noir narratives comes down to is just how alone the protagonist can bear to feel – how lonely in love, how disconnected from work, how separate from the social order, how out of touch economic prosperity which seems to work so well for a privileged class which is ever so tantalizingly beyond his grasp, but not beyond his sight …”

As I stated earlier, I could go on quoting from the book itself, but you’re all much better served reading it. Incredibly interesting, with a reading list I’ll be delving into big time over the next year or so--books I can’t wait to read--Tartan Noir is a must read for writers and readers alike.

Very Highly Recommended … I had to wait for it to come from amazon UK …yous can get Tartan Noir here:

Charleston, S.C. … some conservatives, but especially GOP presidential hopefuls, have the gaul to suggest this slaughter of African-Americans cannot be described as the most extreme form of racism. Hell, they don’t want the word racism used at all. Now that the killer’s racist manifesto has been found, I can’t even bother to hear (or learn) if GOP types will walk back their purposeful shit stirring. Let’s face it, they were appealing to our worst (and most ignorant) selves … you don’t think the killings in South Carolina were racist based? Well, sorry then, you’re a moron ... do not pass Go or collect $200 ... and whatever the fuck you do, do not breed.
 
If the picture above didn’t move the GOP, one wonders how they feel about this picture …
 
 
The fact the state of South Carolina continues to fly the Confederate flag is pretty telling. Watching their Governor, Nikki Haley, cry about the killings a few days ago, she then permitted her ass-backwards state to continue flying the Confederate flag. I call bullshit ... on her crying.

Yeah, the confederate flag has to do with the history of South Carolina (as well as American history) … and it's a history of racism.

South Carolinians defending that piece of cloth toilet paper they take so much pride in (i.e., the confederate flag) … need to get over it. They lost.
 
Two more Political Pictures of the sad times we survive ... the first has to do with one myth.
 
 
And this picture has to do with another, even more dangerous myth (about fracking) ...
 
 
The only problem with the above poster isn't in the text ... Mr. Obama and Madame Hillary are all for fracking as well. ONLY Bernie Sanders stopped oil companies from fracking inside his home state ... and he'll do his best to put an end to it if elected President.  Unless you're into earth quakes, you might want to consider the alternatives ...
 
—Knucks

Speaking of Barry Graham, I love this interview Keith Rawson gave the Scottish author and zen master … truth to power: