Na Na Na Na Na Na…Hamlet

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Title: Bat-Hamlet

Rating: 5 Stars

I was randomly looking for things to do and I came across this play that re-imagines Hamlet if the protagonist was Batman. This I had to see.

It’s playing at the Slate Theater, which I’d never even heard of. It’s at an awkward location kind of between the International District and the Stadium District. It’s housed in a large building that previously was the immigration building for Seattle. It’s now known as INScape Arts, a rental space for artists.

To give you an idea of how small budget this theater is, the person that collected my ticket later turned out to be the founder of the company, the director of the play, and played Hamlet. The theater had maybe 40 seats or so, and was probably a little bit more than halfway full. The entire cast was I think around eight people.

Here’s the setting. The last King, Police Commissioner Gordrick, has recently died mysteriously. He was a father figure to Hamlet. Quickly upon that, the Jester has married Hamlet’s sister, Barbara.

Hamlet is left desolate and is moping around the Castle Gothic. However, the ghost of Gordrick has now been recently seen wandering the halls. Hamlet’s good friend Horatio convinces Hamlet to talk to the ghost. The apparition tells Hamlet that he’s been murdered and needs to be avenged.

Hamlet quickly zeroes in on The Jester as a suspect and swears vengeance. Hamlet tries to trick The Jester into showing his guilt by holding a play within a play. Hamlet misses several opportunities to kill The Jester for various reasons. Hamlet does a soliloquy while holding a skull. Hamlet engages in a fencing contest. Everyone but Horatio dies. Fortinbras comes in, takes a look around, and says thank you very much, it looks like I’m in charge now.

Does any of this sound familiar? It is definitely the play Hamlet.

Now imagine that Hamlet is an idiot. He decides that he needs to put on a disguise to solve this mystery. The disguise is a Halloween bat mask. Everyone recognizes him and his disguise is not helped by the fact that he calls himself Bat-Hamlet (his first name choice was Rabies Man). He makes Horatio put on a disguise too and names her (it is a woman playing the role) Songbird Boy.

The Jester’s elder foolish councilor (otherwise possibly known as Polonius) is a bird like quacking man named The Puffin. Another of her advisers is named Lord Riddles.

Ophelia, Hamlet’s love, is vacuous and loves cats. When she goes mad (as she does in the real play), she becomes O-Feline and comes riding in on a wheeled cat scratch post. Her brother, Laertes, who swears to revenge on Hamlet for the death of his father and sister, is actually Green Laertes.

And, oh yeah, Hamlet’s sister, Barbara, later is revealed to be Bat-Hamlet Girl. At various points Mr Freeze, Harlequin, Poison Ivy, and Scarecrow all make appearances.

The play is silly and slapstick but is just a tremendous amount of fun. The audience is directly on the floor with the players, and the players do interact in various minimal ways with the audience. There were many laugh out loud moments.

It makes fun of Christopher Nolan’s Batman (Bat-Hamlet starts off speaking in a deep guttural voice even though everyone knows it’s Hamlet). It makes fun of the 1960’s television Batman (cliffhangers, references to old chum, the silly fights, and the campy villains). It makes fun of Hamlet (why does it take so long for Hamlet to kill Claudius?). The scene where Bat-Hamlet kills The Puffin (ie Polonius) behind the curtain is hilarious as the corpse refuses to stay hidden.

It was an absolutely great time. I have no idea what the budget was for this show, but I’d imagine that, not counting the players, it was possibly a couple of hundred dollars. This shows the power of theater and committed actors. The costumes were simple. The props looked like they came from the dollar store.

This reminds me of a version of Titus Andronicus that I saw many years ago. It was a similarly small obscure theater. When the Roman centurions came marching out, they were wearing football helmets spray painted gray. I’m like, what am I getting myself into? It turned out to be one of my favorite play experiences. Like here, they made their simplicity a strength.

When I go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the production is usually out of this world. I saw a version of Macbeth that re-created WWII battle scenes, complete with intense action and loud explosions.  They are a world class organization and it shows.

The thing is, I get a great deal out of enjoyment out of both. I like the shock and awe spectacle of world class scenery, directing, and acting of the OSF. However, I also like the immediacy of a simple production where magic is made out of nothing and I’m sitting less than five feet from the action.

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How Eccentric Amateurs Beat The Nazis

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Title: Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Rating: 4 Stars

At the start of WWII, most of the British military believed only in conventional warfare. Two armies would meet on the field of battle and may the best one win.

There were a couple of people that had other ideas. Especially considering the fact that Germany had effectively run over most of Europe and was occupying hostile territory, there would be ample opportunity for guerrilla actions that could at least slow down the Nazi war machine. The British military was appalled and seemed to think that such tactics were not fair. Churchill overruled it and strongly encouraged so-called ‘dirty’ fighting.

This is that story. It’s a very British story. The main men leading this guerrilla action were, by and large, eccentric, erratic, and brilliant. Many men leading commando missions were aristocrats trained on the playing fields of Eton. This mix of pragmatic lower class and elites somehow created a uniquely British fighting force that was singularly successful.

To give an example of some of the uniqueness, there was a man who volunteered to take part in a dangerous commando mission to Greece for the most part as a great opportunity to actually use the classical Greek that he learned during his university education.

The pictures included in the book are useful as well. It includes photos of Bill Sykes and William Fairbairn. The photos show two elderly, modest, quiet men, which, as a matter of fact, they were. They also happened to be experts with long applied practice in silent killing. They would quietly and calmly explain in graphic detail how to snap an opponent’s spine or his trachea.

The main explosive expert was a man named Cecil Clarke, who, before he was found and recruited for duty, had a business building and selling car camping trailers.

From this modest start, several innovative weapons were created specifically designed for sabotage. By the end of the war, literally millions of the weapons were built and sent out to guerrillas behind enemy lines. Not only that, but training camps were built that churned out large numbers of British, Polish, Czech, and French commandos highly trained in the arts of guerrilla warfare. The American training camps were pretty much exactly patterned after the British.

Probably their most famous mission was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The British trained the Czech commandos and provided them with the weapons.

The Germans were planning on dramatically increasing their production of heavy water to advance their atomic program. The single source for production of this was in a very isolated part of Norway built on top of a sheer granite cliff. The British trained the Norwegians and again provided them with the material. They were parachuted in and immediately almost died in a multi-day blizzard. Ultimately, they were able to sneak up to the granite wall, scale it, sneak into the factory, plant bombs, and escape before the bombs went off. It rendered the factory unusable. Even better, a while later, remnants of that same crew discovered that the remaining heavy water was being moved to Germany. They were able to sneak onto the ferry that was transporting the water and sunk it. That effectively ended any hope for the Nazi atomic program.

Finally, in preparation for D-Day, many groups of commandos parachuted into France. In particular, there was a dreaded SS Panzer unit that was relatively close by and was called into to knock the invasion force into the sea. Through acts of sabotage all along the route, the normal 3 days that it should have taken instead took 17 days. That delay was long enough to allow the Allies to secure the beachhead.

This is not a serious history. Don’t look for deep, insightful analysis. This is a book of heroes and villains. It is the story of individuals over bureaucracy. It is a series of real life derring-do adventures populated by interesting and eccentric individuals. As such, it was an enjoyable read.

Something Is Rotten In The State Of Rome

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Title: A Killing For Christ

Rating: 2 Stars

The basic plot is that some rich and powerful elite have hired someone to assassinate the pope. The deeper hidden plot is that those same people want the sniper to become a fall guy so that they can blame it on the Jews, so that, um…I’m not sure, start a second Holocaust? I literally just finished it less than an hour ago and I’m still not sure what the actual end game was.

This was written in 1968 and it clearly shows it. By this time in history, JFK has been assassinated, MLK has been assassinated, RFK has been assassinated, commies are in Cuba, there are dope smoking hippies everywhere, and the Vietnam War is in full swing. Whatever self satisfaction that America felt upon the successful conclusion of WWII, the re-making of the world in its own image via the Marshall Plan, and its comfortable role as the good guys in history has been pretty much shattered.

This lack of faith and belief that the world is irrevocably in a state of despair is in full bloom here. The story itself is at best slow paced and predictable (hence its low rating). What interest I found while reading it lies in the utter lack of faith or belief in what were previously considered institutional bulwarks.

First of all, you have the protagonist, Father Malloy. He’s an American priest living in Rome. He apparently served in Vietnam in some capacity and ended run running away in a firefight, much to his disgust. This lack of courage in a cause that he doesn’t believe in anyway has led him to a loss of faith. He is working at the Vatican as basically a paper pusher. At night, he goes to the beach house that he shares with a prostitute.

One of the leaders of the plot is Rail, an immensely fat man living the life of a libertine. As the plot unfolds, he loses his joy of life. Food no longer appeals to him. Women no longer appeal to him. He begins to fear death. He attempts to confess to Father Malloy, who in his own state of despair refuses to hear it.

The actual assassin is Harwell. Harwell is a fanatical bigot that actually hates himself. He is Jewish but follows a white supremacist. He’s attracted to men but sublimates that by sexually abusing women.

Malloy tries to stop the plot by enlisting his friends Richards. Richards is a journalist. But even here, Richards is an unsuccessful hack that has moved from job to job, from country to country, before landing here in Rome. In his past are wife and children that he never sees. He cranks out 1500 word pieces of journalism as if working on an assembly line.

The power behind the plot is Count Rienzi. He’s urbane, aristocratic and rich. As a member of the elite, he is plotting assassinations and his house and the boat are the scene of orgies.

Even minor characters, like the innkeeper Fuente, is viewed through a prism of degeneracy. He’s Cuban whose heart was with Castro but whose wife was aligned with Batista. He ends up losing everything in the revolution. Living in exile, he performed illegal abortions. He too has now somehow washed up in Rome, full of regrets and dreaming of an earlier better time.

All of the characters seem to be living in the worst of their times. They are disillusioned and disappointed.

It doesn’t make for happy reading but it does give a bit of insight to how journalists (Pete Hamill was a New York journalist) were feeling in 1968.

History As Postmodern Literature

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Title: Libra

Rating: 4 Stars

Now that it’s been 55 years since the JFK assassination, the mystique that it held over America for several decades has kind of been forgotten. The assassination could be the event that marked the end of one America and the start of another.

Think about it. First of all, the confusion of it all. It all seems so simple. Shots are fired from a building. An employee working at the building was seen at the building. Shortly after the assassination, that same person shoots dead a police officer. Later, the greatest, most respected, and leading members of our establishment (including the then current chief justice of the Supreme Court and a future president) got together, conducted an exhaustive investigation, and concluded that that person was solely responsible for the crime.

What’s confusing about that? However, by the time the dust settled, more than half of the American population believed that he did not act alone.

And there were oh so many conspiracies. The Cubans did it to get back at the JFK ordered CIA attempts to assassinate Castro. The Soviets did it to avenge the Cuban Missile Crisis. The expat Cubans (or maybe even the CIA!) did it as revenge for JFK not providing full support to the Bay of Pigs invasion. Mobsters did it to avenge themselves and to threaten the organized crime obsessed Robert Kennedy. Or, according to Oliver Stone, the deep state did it to preserve the military industrial complex.

And what about Lee Harvey Oswald? Who was he? Was he an expert marksman? Why did he really defect to the Soviet Union? Why did he come back? Was he truly a Cuban sympathizer? Or was he just trying to infiltrate the pro-Castro movement under the employ of Guy Bannister? Did he really try to shoot the right wingnut Edwin Walker?Why does he use aliases? Is there only the one Oswald or was the CIA or other such parties sending false Oswalds all over?

And what about all of the coincidences? How is it that Oswald got a job at the Book Depository that just happened to have a perfect sniper shot on a presidential route chosen months after he’d gotten the job? And what was happening in New Orleans when the pro-Castro and anti-Castro organizations are literally in the same building? How did David Ferrie, a pilot who knew Oswald back in the 1950s, work with Guy Bannister years later in the same building as Oswald?

And why is it ever more confusing the more information that you receive? It used to be that you could carefully gather all of the information, make an assessment, and render a clear opinion. In the current age, information is no longer used to inform but to sow confusion.

Given all of that, a credible argument can be made that the assassination is the first example of a postmodern historical act.

It seems clear that DeLillo certainly seems so. Think of the hallmarks that come to mind that signify postmodernist literature. There are deep conspiracy theories. There are mind bending coincidences.  Multiple characters are paranoid. You are, like the CIA analyst Nicholas Branch (a stand-in for the reader), literally buried in information, an avalanche of data that leaves you feeling ever more lost.

At the center of it all stands Oswald. The book covers his time in the military in Japan, his defection and living in the Soviet Union, coming back to the United States, time spent in New Orleans and Dallas. You are even there as he pulls the trigger. Yet, in the middle of it all, he’s still a cipher. His life is fully described but his motivation is never really known.

DeLillo buries you in the flotsam of that time. He puts you into, what one postmodernist called, ‘the immediate now’. Before you read, you better bone up a little on your 1960s JFK trivia. Here you’ll read about Guy Bannister, David Ferrie, Clay Shaw, Jack Ruby, Edwin Walker, and others.

As with many classic postmodernist novels, after reading this, I am left with a question…will this even be readable a century from now? Or will the immersion into the arcana of the time render this work to be completely inaccessible to all but the most dedicated scholars of the genre?

Also, one more question as I was reading it. How much did the JFK assassination and the successive unmooring it did of what was conventional actually inspire the flowering of postmodernist literature in the 1960s and 1970s?

Nobody Does Rockabilly Like The … Swiss?

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Title: Hillbilly Moon Explosion

It’s really all my mom’s fault. My mom grew up in a conservative small town in the Midwest. I grew up in a low rent suburb of Seattle and am now firmly part of the liberal coastal elite.

Therefore, she and I don’t have a lot in common. Her television is locked onto the Fox Channel. I don’t have a television. She abandoned the Methodist church and is attending a nondenominational one because the Methodists ordained gay clergy. I haven’t set foot in a place of worship (other than weddings) for many decades and have friends and co-workers that are gay and I support gay marriage (after all, gay couples can scarcely do worse than hetero couples on that score).

But…she did grow up in the 50s. Even growing up where she did, Elvis was huge and she was a fan. Even while I was growing up in the 60s and the 70s, she would regularly play rockabilly.

Somehow that took. To this day, I love the sound and the rhythm of rockabilly. Given that it is decades after its emergence, the sound has morphed over time. So, instead of listening to the rockabilly of Elvis (although I do have some of his songs on my playlist), I listen to the psychobilly of The Cramps, The Reverend Horton Heat, The Legendary Shack Shakers, The Termites, Guana Batz, and many others.

Somehow, probably through the magic of iTunes, I stumbled some years ago upon the Hillbilly Moon Explosion.

They’re hard to categorize. They play pretty conventional rockabilly. Many of their songs feature a female singer (Emmanuela Hutter). Her voice just somehow lyrically floats in an ethereal manner above the steady rockabilly beat. For some odd reason, the songs that feature her seem to be those that would belong in a song track of a David Lynch film. The music is traditional but has some edge of abnormality to it that is somehow compelling.

The fact that the group is based in Switzerland makes it even more mysterious. How does a Swiss band decide to form a rockabilly band? How do they come up with such a unique sound? Is it because of the remoteness of being Swiss that they were able to experiment with the form and come up with something new?

They’re kind of a niche band, and being located in Europe, I really had little hope of ever seeing them live, so I was much shocked to learn that they would be appearing at the Funhouse.

I’ve written about this a couple of times before, so I won’t belabor the point. I’d just like to reiterate that the Funhouse has a capacity of at most a couple of hundred people. I think my ticket was $15. I checked their tour schedule. Their US schedule is about a dozen dates starting at Nashville, heading to the West Coast, going up the coast, and then heading back down. If all of the venues are about the size of the Funhouse, how is this an economically viable proposition for them to come all the way from Europe for?

Regardless, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

When Hutter was singing, they were exciting to listen to. Even live, her voice floats. Live, she puts more energy into her singing. She screams, groans, and moans.

Those songs where she doesn’t sing are not as strong live. At that point, they become a pretty typical nondescript rockabilly band.

Also, they are much stronger when the lead guitarist plays with a heavier sound (think Link Wray). Sometimes he switches to a gentler sound, and when he does, they veer into almost a conventional country territory.

In the studio, they occasionally collaborate with Sparky from Demented Are Go. His grounded gravelly voice contrasts sharply with Hutter’s ethereal in a pretty awesome way. Considering Sparky’s …um…legal troubles… in the US, I will probably never see the two bands tour together. My loss.

It was definitely a pretty awesome night to watch one of my favorite bands in the close confines of a small club.

Forget it, Harry. It’s Glasgow

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Title: Bloody January

Rating: 4 Stars

For long term readers, you’ll recognize that I used almost this exact same title for an earlier post about a Swedish noir novel called Clinch. In theme, they are both similar, and in both cases the protagonist detective is named Harry.

So sue me.

This one is set in Glasgow Scotland, in 1973. Harry McCoy, a police detective, is warned by a prison inmate that a woman is about to be murdered. McCoy and his partner, Wattie, try to track her down. Just as they find her, right in front of them, she is gunned down and then her murderer turns the gun on himself.

They try to figure out what happens, and in so doing, go down a rabbit hole of intrigue, violence, and privilege of the extremely wealthy.

So, yes, it’s a very typical noir-ish novel. McCoy is the dogged detective. He’s had a rough childhood that’s left him indebted to the local crime lord. That makes him in turn ever so slightly dirty himself. He drinks too much, he womanizes too much, and is impertinent to authority. He asks too many questions and when he steps on the wrong toes, he is beaten. He steps on many wrong toes. By the end of the novel, it’s a wonder that he can walk. So, basically like every noir detective ever invented.

His partner, Wattie, is new to being a detective and is new to Glasgow. He’s eager, friendly, and looks askance at McCoy’s behavior. He plays the role of naive foil to McCoy’s world weariness. So, basically like every noir detective sidekick ever invented.

Murray, McCoy’s boss, is impatient of McCoy’s behavior but respects his results. Murray yells at McCoy but also respects him and ultimately stands by him and protects him. So, basically like every noir police boss ever invented.

McCoy’s Moby Dick is the Dunlop family. Obscenely rich and powerful, they stand above the law. Worse yet is that McCoy has had previous run-ins with them that nearly ended with McCoy being fired. It appears that the murder might have some connection to the Dunlop family. Will McCoy be able to finally bring the Dunlop’s to justice? If you’ve ever watched Chinatown, you’ll probably know the answer to this.

As with the Swedish novel, Clinch, the city is front and center here. Glasgow in 1973 is in a bad state. What was charming about Glasgow has been torn down and replaced with what passed for architecture in the 1970s. McCoy, a native, can barely recognize the city that he grew up in. Drugs and crime are running rampant. Parts of the city aren’t safe for even police to go into. Also, this takes place in January, so the sky is dark, the weather is bitter cold, and the snow is blowing sideways. So, basically the perfect setting for a noir novel.

You probably get the idea. If you’re looking for some new innovation to the noir crime genre, you probably won’t find it here. If you’re looking for a well executed example of the noir crime genre in a new time and setting, then this could very well be exactly what you’re looking for.

Invasion Of The Marvel Snatchers

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Title: Deadpool 2

Rating: 3 Stars

I bowed down to the inevitable and watched Deadpool 2. It met expectations. Not a great work of art, but fairly mindless entertainment that made me laugh out loud several times.

This is the franchise that Ryan Reynolds was created for. It is snark in all of its dimensions. Examples include:

  • Homage to those silly Bond intros
  • Deadpool forms X-Force, which is apparently a real thing in the X-Men universe; but here, it’s a motley collection of people with odd superpowers (or no superpowers) that almost all die immediately
  • Plenty of inside jokes about Marvel and DC
  • Several jokes about Ryan Reynolds and his lamented film Green Lantern
  • There is a death scene that is quite humorous; the person dies with touching last words, and then comes back to life, and then dies with more touching last words, and so on

I enjoyed the introduction of the new character Domino, a woman of color that kicks ass and whose super power is, amusingly enough, being lucky. That might sound strange, but it really does work out for her.

So, it lived up to its potential. Why the three stars?

Well, first of all, it really is just more of the same from the first Deadpool. This was clearly the case of Marvel running out a sequel since the first one was so successful. There was no other point to the movie besides making more money. Since we live in a capitalist society, this is certainly no crime, but I still have to ding it a bit for just comfortably staying in its swim lane.

Without going into too many details, this film has sparked a conversation regarding the concept of Fridging. This is a comic book reference to, of all superheroes, Green Lantern, where he gets motivation when he finds his girlfriend dead in the refrigerator. It turns out that this is a major thing in the comics. Obviously, this is not just limited to comics. This theme up all of the time in movies. Think about such movies as The Bourne Supremacy, Superman (Christopher Reeves version), Casino Royale, Gladiator, and of course the ultimate, Death Wish.

This really does seem to be pretty lazy screen writing because it solves two problems in the most simple, trite way possible. First of all, it gives the male character motivation for vengeance. Secondly, no longer having a female character attached to the male hero frees up movement for the protagonist. He no longer has to check in for dinner or get eggs at the store or whatever it is that the screenwriters think that having a romantic partner holds the protagonist back from fulfilling his mission.

It’s been done so much that this is a trope that needs to be retired. But then again, expecting creativity like that from a film called Deadpool 2, is almost without a doubt an unreasonable expectation.

My second issue with it is time travel. Now, I know that this is a Marvel universe where crazy nonsense happens. I’m OK with suspending belief in superpowers and the protagonist evading certain death over and over and over again.

Why introduce time travel? Especially a time traveler traveling from the future to the present to alter events now to change the future? Do people not get that that’s not the way that it works? Especially the idea of carrying some talisman from the future and then watching it change state in the present as some kind of signal that the future has changed. You cannot travel from the future to change the past to change the future because if the future has changed then you no longer have a need to travel from the future, which caused the change in the future. It’s a paradox!

Whew…sorry, kind of a pet peeve of mine. Again, it’s a sign of lazy screen writing.

Anyway, even though I enjoyed it, but a film that includes both fridging and time travel will probably never warrant more than three stars from me.

Several new X-Men were introduced, including Domino, Juggernaut, Firefist, and Yukio. This is in addition to the aforementioned X-Force. In the previous Deadpool, we met Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus. Of course, there’s an entire whole series of X-Men movies with their own characters.

These characters are all authentic X-Men characters culled from the original comics. I checked, and holy crap, there are a lot of X-Men characters. Literally hundreds. For the fanboys, this is not news, but to me it was kind of amazing. I checked the Marvel character list. Same deal. The question is: are we going to end up in some movie dystopia where all movies are either going to be Marvel or X-Men? And yes, I know that Marvel comics produce the X-Men comics as well. I’m just making the point that, if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with films like Driving Ms Marvel.

What is the saturation point?

 

How I Single-Handedly Destroyed America

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Title: A Generation Of Sociopaths

Rating: 3 Stars

This book has a very simple theme. There was an entire generation of Americans, born roughly between 1940 to 1965, that were raised in such a way that they felt themselves to be the center of the universe. As they aged, this was reflected in their politics and in their approach to government. Now, as they are fading from the scene, the country lies in ruins for future generations to clean up.

And…I was born on the very tail end of that date range, so I guess that I owe…um…an apology?

He first tries to figure out why this birth cadre are a bunch of sociopaths. This is all the fault of, wait for it…Dr Spock (the pediatrician, not the Vulcan), bottle feeding, and television. Apparently the relative permissiveness of child raising advocated by Dr Spock created an entire generation that was left feeling somewhat unconstrained by rules and discipline.  The bottle feeding instead of breast milk led to lower cognitive development and a loss of emotional bonding. The many, many hours of television that the boomer kids were subjected to led to a general mental laziness and attention deficit.

As the boomers aged, the laws and culture of the country changed accordingly. For instance, as the boomers entered prime home buying age, home capital gains were no longer taxed and the mortgage interest deduction was introduced. As the boomers entered their prime wage earning years, the taxes were reduced. As the boomers’ parents were hitting the years were they were most likely to die, inheritance taxes were dramatically reduced (actually removed for the vast majority of estates). And so on…

The end result is that, by the year 2030, potentially America will be in a state in which: social security will be drained, medicare will be drained, the infrastructure will be in a nearly hopeless state of disrepair, global warming will be irreversible, and the military will be second rate. But it will be OK, because most of the boomers will be dead and so it’s not their problem to worry about!

The only way to get out of this very near term dystopia is to start dramatically increasing spending now to deal with these problems. This would be many trillions of dollars. If we do it right now, with the economy relatively strong and with borrowing costs so low, that will give us enough time to right the ship again.

What do I think about the book? Eh, it’s OK. I don’t have a huge quibble with his arguments. Especially if you look at our country since 1980, there have been several decades where the country went deeply into debt really for no reason at all. Tax cuts were handed out with little thought to whether or not they make financial sense or the impact that the cuts could have on the government. Certainly, boomers who were historically such a large presence in our country bear a commiserate amount of responsibility over that mess. Many of the policies of the recent past were biased towards the boomer generation.

However…

The style of the book wasn’t great. He was clearly trying to be humorous, but instead ended up being shrill. He was kind of like your friend at the bar that gets a little too drunk and makes ugly jokes about his/her spouse.

Gibney seems to think that American history only started in 1950. This is where he picks up the narrative. So, in effect, he’s really only comparing the boomer generation to the WWII generation, a generation, for right or wrong, that is considered to be a paragon of virtue. If he’d gone a little further back, would he have found a generation of sociopaths in, oh, I don’t know, the generation that first started the slave trade? Or maybe the generation that decided to split itself into another country because of slavery?

Next, he actually does elude to this a bit, but comparing our current state to post WWII is unfair. In 1950, quite literally the entire industrial world, except for the United States, was in a state of collapse. People in Europe were literally starving to death while the continental United States was left at least one if not two orders of magnitude stronger than before the war. The world we live in today is much different than then.

Also, how about the next generation of politicians? Ted Cruz is not a boomer. Paul Ryan is not a boomer. Marco Rubio is not a boomer. Sociopaths all.

Finally, the solution presented is laughable in its naivete. It reminded me of Piketty’s book, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. It’s a compelling, cogently argued work that makes the case that since investments (ie rents) historically rise faster than wages, that, short of a disaster, it is inevitable that wealth disparity will grow over time. It makes perfect sense. However, his remedy is a globally administered wealth tax. There doesn’t exist a bizarre enough alternate universe in which that will happen. Offering an impossible solution is offering no solution at all. So it is here.

So, to sum up, it was an interesting read. However, it was a pretty depressing because he saw only one way out and that one way out looks to be pretty impossible.

Goes Straight Into the Bin

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Event: The Bugle Live

The Bugle is my favorite podcast. I first started listening to it around five years ago or so. At the time, it starred John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman.

For obvious reasons, I started listening to it for John Oliver, who was probably still on The Daily Show at that time. The two of them started the podcast back in 2007. By the time that I started listening, John was in the US, but was still pretty diligent about participating in the weekly broadcast.

It was interesting to hear topical humor from a British perspective.  I still remember how upset the two of them would get about the shenanigans of FIFA and they were positively apoplectic when David Cameron won reelection.

Once John got his HBO show, the frequency of The Bugle began to taper off, until finally, there was an episode in which John basically came on to announce that he just couldn’t do it anymore. I thought that that was the death of The Bugle, but I was premature.

Andy resurrected it with a rotating cast of co-hosts. He’s had several, but the most regular ones are Nish Kumar, a British comedian, Hari Kondabolu, an American comedian, Anuvab Pal, an Indian comedian, Alice Fraser, an Australian comedian, and Helen Zaltzman, Andy’s sister and herself a podcaster.

Even if you don’t recognize the names, it should be obvious that it’s a pretty diverse crew, which adds a lot to the podcast. For instance, when India banned large denominations of its currency, the humor of the resulting chaos was directly reported by Anuvab Pal. Nish Kumar regularly talks about the perils of being a brown skilled Englishman in these terrorist suspicious times. Alice Fraser, with a rapier wit, is a strong feminist presence whenever she appears.

So, even though the star of the podcast is gone, it still continues on, and even though certainly different, it is still a strong podcast that makes me laugh.

Given that, I was excited to see that Andy Zaltzman was doing a very quick West Coast tour (San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, in case there was any doubts at all what the politics of the show are).

It’s an interesting concept. A podcast by its nature is an aural medium, so going to see it live seemed to be a questionable choice. Andy apparently, quite recently, has become somewhat proficient at Powerpoint, so he did have a presentation to go along with the materials, but still, everyone pretty much had a script (or at least extensive notes). They didn’t follow it exactly, but there was certainly structure to the show.

The Bugle’s co-hosts were his sister Helen, who was with Andy in Seattle, and Alice, who was live back in England in Andy’s studio. Being brother and sister, Helen and Andy do have an interesting dynamic, but of the regulars, she’s probably my least favorite co-host (I’m guessing that I have a preference for comedians). Alice, who is usually laser fast on the draw, was somewhat slowed by her virtual presence. I probably would have enjoyed it much more if either Nish or Alice had been there in person.

As usual, there were a collection of very topical subjects. At the time of this writing, the woman that took a dump at a Tim Hortons and then flung it at the employees was going viral, so they had fun with that. The wedding of Harry and Meghan was fodder. Andy has an obsession with sports, much to Helen’s and Alice’s disgust, so there was considerable joking about English football and cricket. Andy is infamous for making series of incredibly painful puns. He concluded the show with a pun run of Northwest mountain peaks.

It was amusing, even if not quite up to the par of a more typical Bugle. I can only hope that if he comes around again, that he’ll bring along Nish and/or Alice.

One Man’s Search For Hidden Truths

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Title: The Secret Parts Of Fortune

Rating: 5 Stars

I think that this is the third time that I’ve read this collection. It was first published in 2001, so the the essays are by now somewhat dated, but even so, I find the large majority of them to be entertaining and interesting.

Ron Rosenbaum had a long career writing articles for such magazines as Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and Esquire. This is a collection of such articles. And what a collection! There must be over fifty articles and columns included here, dating from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

He has a couple of journalistic subjects that seem to drive him. First of all, he is somewhat obsessed with conspiracies. He’s too logical and cerebral to be a believer, so he always approaches the subject with a certain detachment. On the other hand, he is empathetic to the conspiracy believers. These two tendencies lead to skeptical but open articles on sensitive subjects.

It was first here that I read about Danny Casolaro’s Octopus. This is an incredibly complex theory trying to link together everything from Iran-Contra to the October Surprise. Here also is the unsolved murder of one of JFK’s mistresses. Who killed her? Where is her secret diary? How does both Ben Bradlee and James Jesus Angleton get involved? Speaking of JFK, he goes deep with the group of people, over a decade later, still trying to prove that Oswald was just a patsy to some deep conspiracy.

Adjacent to conspiracy theory are another group of people seeking and/or offering alternate truths. This includes the alternative medicine people. And by alternative, I mean very alternative. He goes on a journey with cancer patients as they venture into Tijuana in a desperate search for a cure. For those old enough to remember Laetrile, this resonates. He found an evangelist miracle worker (and I’m not joking here) who claims that, by laying hands upon you, he can cure your dental woes. He doesn’t claim anything else. Don’t come to him with your arthritis or back pain. The good lord only works through him to cure teeth problems.

Here also is the fascinating story of Henry Lee Lucas, who for a moment in time was notorious. He was arrested for a couple of murders.  He soon realized that he could get out of his cell and get some decent food if he started to confessing to murders. Again, I’m not joking here when I say this because I remember it, police from all over the country came to him with their unsolved murders and with just a little prompting to understand basic facts, Lucas would willingly confess to them. He ended up confessing to over two hundred murders and claimed to have killed something like 3000. The lawmen were happy because he was clearing up their cold cases, so they didn’t push him too hard. It wasn’t until a journalist came along and actually started checking out his known movements and comparing them to his confessions that it all fell apart. Even knowing that, many police refused to reopen their previously closed cases, thus allowing some unknown number of murderers to remain free.

For those of who were conscious during all of this time, reading these articles bring back memories. There is an article about being an officer buried deep in a nuclear bomb site and determining their willingness to actual turn the key to end the world. There’s an article about twin gynecologists that ended up dying within days of each other, surrounded by their own filth (this was made into a movie starring Jeremy Irons as the twins). There’s an article about the first hackers who broke into Ma Bell’s (anyone remember Ma Bell?) network. It was based upon very precise sounds and clicks. A surprisingly large number of these original hackers were blind.

He wrote an article on Robin Leach, the frenetic voice behind the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. He wrote another one on Mr Whipple, the sexually repressed grocer who yelled at women for squeezing the Charmin. He wrote about Kim Philby, that in turned inspired me to write a post on this blog about whether or not Kim Philby should be voted the man of the last century.

And I’ve not even really scratched the surface. There is so much more here. If you find yourself drawn to an intelligent man writing long form articles about borderline culturally significant subjects from decades past, this is the book for you.