Monday, June 24, 2013

Film Pairings — Ripped From The Headlines

Edward Snowden, Benedict Arnold or Paul Revere?
These films are so fresh, they haven’t been made yet.  But the plots are so cinematically fat, they will be made.  The first is the Edward Snowden Affair. A young man (think Justin Timberlake) brazenly reveals state secrets, packs up five laptops and finds his way to Hong Kong.  The problem is that while there are those who believe he is Benedict Arnold, others believe he is Paul Revere.  Both government officials and the established press found happiness together as they demonized young Mr. Snowden without telling us how he did “great wrong” to his country. 

Meanwhile, one has the notion that our national security is being run by Wile E. Coyote and we are being informed about it by dinner party journalists like Charlie Rose who seemed more concerned that Snowden was a college drop-out than the possibility that Snowden’s motives, however illegal, might possibly be honorable.  Politicians, many of whom I have supported, are standing in line, not to tell us what the hell is going on, but that Snowden is public enemy number one.  During the pile on, one prominent official said that Snowden’s decision not to go a country friendly to the U.S. is somehow proof of his villainy. Right.  A man charged with one count of theft AND two counts of espionage is going to hide out in Banff?  Or maybe Cancun? And really, is the country of Ecuador, his stated destination, trying to bring us down? 

It’s quite likely Snowden is in over his head.  How could he not be? In fact, that’s the real danger.  But the college drop-out — for a good or an evil we cannot possibly know yet — has already shown us that private, global corporations are trusted with secrets the American public knows nothing about.  He retrieved the secrets out of a system set up for maximum security, avoided capture and appears to be on his way to protected exile. 

The drama is set against a monumental, Bondesque background.  We even have a Dr. No with comic dictator Vladimir Putin, the super macho Stalin wannabe.  Throw in a pinch of Cuba.  And China — all of China, including spy-film friendly Hong Kong.

The second film is about journalist Michael Hastings, who wrote a story for Rolling Stone that tripped up super hero General Stanley McChrystal.  Unfortunately, we know how Hastings and the story ends — a high-speed fiery crash in L.A. at 4:30 a.m. not too long after he sent the following e-mail to cohorts and a blind-copy to an old friend:

Subject: FBI Investigation, re: NSA
Hey (redacted names) -- the Feds are interviewing my "close friends and associates." Perhaps if the authorities arrive "BuzzFeed GQ," er HQ, may be wise to immediately request legal counsel before any conversations or interviews about our newsgathering practices or related journalism issues.
Also: I'm onto a big story, and need to go off the rada(r) for a bit.
All the best, and hope to see you all soon.

Hastings was not universally appreciated.  New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan countered her own paper’s unflattering obituary, offering a partial defense of his take-no-prisoners approach to a story.

… he was a fearless disturber of the peace who believed not in playing along with those in power, but in radical truth–telling.

Michael Hastings:  Did He Know Too Much?
The L.A. Times has suggested that Hastings was working on a story about another popular general, and still another embarrassment to the administration — this time David Petraeus.  Was this the big story?

Both generals were deeply involved in the fight against terrorists and no doubt had considerable access to and influence on Intelligence, including what the U.S. is doing.

Set against the constant news about the gathering of meta data on everyone who uses a computer or phone, alleged spying of foreign governments and whatever else might be on Snowden’s laptops, Hastings story already has more depth than most crime or spy movies.  (From personal tragedy — his fiancée was killed in an ambush while riding with a convoy in Iraq as she returned from a teaching gig — to great success in book publishing.) His star, however controversial, was on the rise.

His last email is a key to the story.  Some might see it as paranoid and make the argument that his excessive speed was a reaction to an erroneous perception of persecution.  Those less trusting of folks like the LAPD and the FBI might think someone other than the 33-year-old Hastings, himself, held the smoking gun.  He was an experienced war correspondent.  If he was paranoid, there might be good reason.

Probably the most disturbing element in the story to surface so far is that a video exists of Hastings’ Mercedes speeding through an intersection moments before the crash.  Apparently someone happened to be recording that particular L.A.  Intersection at 4:30 that particular morning, capturing the lone speeder, actually the only thing moving at all.  The point of the video seems to be that for as long as 34 seconds after Hastings went out of the frame, there were no cars in his wake.  No one was chasing him is the conclusion we are supposed to draw. Or should we? Why was this guy there?  And what was he videotaping in the dead of night?  His presence to dot the “i”, so to speak, is more disturbing than if there was no one to prove he wasn’t being chased.  And these days, chasing is passé.  If someone engineered Hastings’ dramatic death, one would expect use of more sophisticated technology.

According to reports, the FBI said they were not investigating Hastings.  The LAPD, who investigated the crash, said there was no evidence of foul play.

But back to the movies.  We are faced with Smiley’s people and the hall of mirrors.  Certainly this is the stuff of conspiracy.  But we have to admit that the timing of events and all these connections, and the desperate huffing and puffing of our celebrity senators create a fascinating if not frightening premise for drama.

As you create your own movie and choose your own the villains and heroes, you might want to sit back with a whiskey on the rocks and consider such things as Booz Allen being hired by our government to run our security systems and companies such as Black Water, a private military company, to handle what we don’t want our own military to do, or perhaps know about.  And given the damning rush to judgment against Snowden by the media, we might want to rethink the notion of journalists as “media watchdogs,” but rather “hello kitties.”  Hastings, no matter how he died, remained a watch dog. The story on Snowden is still unfolding.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Ultimate Independent Bookstore — Happy 60th Birthday

When I was in high school I discovered the Beats — Corso, Ginsberg and a whole slew of writers and poets that were unlike any I had read in literature class. In fact, these writers who were obviously treading on the established views of everything, weren’t even mentioned in the classroom. However, because of a smart, brave and progressive librarian — thank you Ms. Cohen wherever you are — I found them.

Coney Island of the Mind, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, more than any other book, set my mind on fire. So years later, many years, when I learned that St. Martin’s Press was going to publish my first novel, The Stone Veil, I was thrilled. But for some reason I hadn’t grasped the notion that I had actually become a writer. The New York Times gave the first book a short, but generally favorable review and that too made me feel good. Borders had my books on the shelves in my hometown and I was even nominated for a prize. But the feeling of legitimacy didn’t arrive until I found a copy of my third novel, Eclipse of the Heart, in the downstairs mystery section of City Lights Bookstore in the Italian San Francisco neighborhood of North Beach.

Though I was never to be on the cutting edge of much of anything, let alone literature, I had long admired those who were. And those who were riding that sharp edge had roots in that specific bookstore. Perhaps even more important to me was the fact that City Lights published Ginsberg’s Howl and fought against attempts to ban it all the way up to the Supreme Court where the bookstore’s fight helped preserve freedom of the press for all of us.

City Lights is still publishing books others might consider too controversial or not commercial enough for mass distribution. The second floor is dedicated entirely to poetry. The main floor shelves are full of fine, timeless literature from around the world. There is also a section of limited distribution, hand-made independent magazines and collections of prose and poems. Down a narrow stairway, into the cellar, are mysteries and science fiction as well as the best picks of books on a wide range of subjects.

The North Beach bookstore is a San Francisco historic landmark, anchoring a neighborhood full of historic landmarks. It should be designated a national treasure.While most of the City Lights authors — Rexroth, Burroughs, Bukowski, Shepard and Bowles to name a few — are gone, the poet and painter Ferlinghetti, born in 1919, can still be seen bicycling on Columbus and Grant.

(first posted June 29, 2011)

261 Columbus Avenue (415) 362-8193

Friday, June 21, 2013

Commercial Four

Young Luke Lindstrom was an all-star high school basketball player. So were his brothers. But something strange was happening. One brother committed suicide, another suffered a near fatal accident. When the third met his death, Shanahan knew there was more going on than a string of bad luck. Even though the last thing Shanahan wanted to do was work for a heroin addict, there was something likable about Luke and something absolutely weird happening to his family.
"Tierney fleshes out his characters well, with the curmudgeonly Shanahan at the fore. The author has a knack for the cleverly turned phrase and deft imagery." — The Indianapolis Star
Tierney writes with great skill and compassion. Five Stars — Deadly Pleasures
Interesting people, a solid mystery, and poignantly loopy domestic complications. — Kirkus Reviews

Life Death & Fog Books, has been established to bring the first four Shanahan novels to paperback and a variety of e-book formats. After more than 10 years, friends of Deets can now conveniently catch up with the early days of the aging PI's career. Paperback editions are from Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. E-books are available for Kindle and Nook. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Notes — Perilous Times

When the military showed up for the Congressional Sexual Assault hearings in Washington, I nearly fell out of my chair.  This is hard to do because I have a considerable center of gravity these days.  But there it was: they were there to give evidence that after decades of failure to control assault crimes, after their proven inequity and ineffectiveness to protect victims, mostly women, from reprisal for even making a complaint and having self-serving resolution handed down by the male commanding officer, the military wanted to conduct business as usual.  There they were.  The military, a wall —  seriously a wall, half a dozen deep — of full-dress uniformed male officers, each wearing a comedy of medals on their chests that would make the most fanciful Pope blush.  What they seemed to be saying is that “they will look after the little lady.”

Last month, an eight-man panel began work on a new GOP federal anti-abortion bill for the U.S. House.

Also, last month, a jury in Texas found a man who shot an escort “not guilty of murder” because he had understood she was to perform more than a lap dance for what he paid and therefore she was in possession of property that belonged to him. He shot her. His action was determined legal. 

Few of us are unaware of what many of our Republican representatives have said about rape, even the biological consequences of rape — one goofy, nearly obscene comment after another.  Their understanding of science hasn’t reached rudimentary. Their understanding of the human condition is mind-numbingly nil. Yet they make laws that have to do with the survival of the species.

Also, I understand how two thoughtful, well-intentioned people can have seriously conflicting opinions on important issues.  But the discussion of such subjects as Roe vs. Wade is owed informed debate as well as a sense of perspective  — historic and personal. 

This is where Perilous Times comes in.  The full title includes the sub heading An Inside Look at Abortion Before — And After — Roe vs Wade.  The author is journalist Fran Moreland Johns who also wrote about important end-of-life issues in Dying Unafraid.   The perspective, or perhaps context, necessary to understand the issue, relates directly to the historic social domination by men and the roles society expected women to play — for the most part — essentially as property.  This is a political, therefore politically correctable, condition that was addressed by the top court, but as Johns points out, the details of interpretation were continually corrupted, usually by state legislatures, to deny women as much control over their own bodies as they could by slipping restrictions into a midnight amendment.

Johns tells real stories in a fair-minded minded manner.  She recreates the time before there were alternatives to “back-alley” butchers.  You’ll meet all sorts of folks along the way, none a stock character.  Quite possibly the girl who lived down the street when you were a kid scooted into the back seat of an old Buick late one morning, and was returned that afternoon all bundled up, missing only a couple of days of school — if things went well. The court decision went a long way to end the quiet and dangerous desperation.

But the news tells us everyday, this story is not over.  For example, Planned Parenthood, an organization that does far more to prevent unwanted pregnancies and create healthy families than the loudest of the anti-choice brigades, is under constant, massive attack from well-funded, highly passionate fundamentalist groups.  One would think the arguments they propose would stem from a debate about when life begins. That’s a damned good question, for which no current answer satisfies all the messy philosophy and science the question unearths.  However, the underlying fundamentalist message isn’t about what they say it is: It is not about life.  If so there would be greater emphasis on adoption and family planning. Instead, the incessant Roe v Wade challenge is to reestablish “traditional” male head of household status and relegate the wife-mother as someone who belongs to him as God’s will would have it — and if they have their way — as U.S. law will demand it.

John’s new book puts the past U.S. chapters in perspective and provides an important perspective on what is happening now, here and elsewhere.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Commercial Three

The naked lady wasn't your average floater. She was the wife of an Indiana senator and half of Washington's Golden Couple. Within hours of finding her body in a canal, police arrest a young Latino boxer believed to be her lover. He has the motive, means and opportunity. Another dead body later — along with some answers that seem too pat for the P.I. — Shanahan dives into the dirty side of politics, the dark side of passion, and the hideous secrets the killer is desperate to hide.
"Tierney's 'Deets' Shanahan series offers characters of depth and sensuality, and well-placed swipes of razor-sharp humor." — Publishers Weekly starred review
"A series packed with new angles and delights." — Booklist
"Keeps the reader intrigued with (Shanahan's) cogent observations of human nature and his interaction with police officers, his mistress and the various other characters Tierney draws so well." — Indianapolis Star

Life Death & Fog Books, has been established to bring the first four Shanahan novels to paperback and a variety of e-book formats. After more than 10 years, friends of Deets can now conveniently catch up with the early days of the aging PI's career. Paperback editions are from Amazon as well as Barnes & Noble. E-books are available for Kindle and Nook.  Available Here.

Note:  Writers, much like parents, aren’t supposed to have favorites.  But I must confess that among the early Shanahans, this is my favorite.  Reviewers and the people at Goodreads seem to share the feeling. There is Indianapolis history here as well as a mystery about as tightly told as I could tell it. Older readers will recognize a time and a place, much of it having slipped away. Younger readers can view a city that lies just beneath today’s surface.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rant — Even In The Smaller Histories, We Tend To Honor The Male

I love Wikipedia, fallible, as it has to be simply because of its democratic nature.  Time also makes it favorable to fresher information readily available digitally or the already ensconced subject is followed faithfully by legions devoted to established icons.  This is true of Google as well.

I had occasion to look up the entry about the family business in Indianapolis — Laughner’s Cafeterias, the birth of which is fixed at 1888.  It continued well into my lifetime as well as into my life.  I marvel at the history, which is far richer than the entry.  The Laughners were candy makers — chocolate, taffy, peanut brittle, hard-ribbon candy.  And while there are other claims, it’s quite possible that the Laughners invented the “cafeteria” when they opened the Dairy Bar with a tray rail and a steam table in the 19th Century and smoothing out the wrinkles in the 1920s. The family also sold food and fruit drinks at fairs, carnivals, Riverside Amusement Park and the Indianapolis 500. Generations were involved. The family was embedded in the work and play of the city.  Me too, later.  One couldn’t escape it.  It was the family business and if the family needed you, you went

Flora May Laughner-Brock, Claude F. Laughner
Claude Laughner, the founder’s son, was the dreamer, schemer, entrepreneur.  He didn’t get much credit for his participation in the city’s restaurant history. And we will always regret his answer to an invitation to invest in Coca Cola.  He spit it out and said, ”this stuff will never sell.” I could be writing this from my private deck on the Riviera. However, he kept things going, and pretty well at that, until bankers started jumping out of windows.

What bothered me most when I read the Wiki entry was that one of the most important contributors to the legend, such as it is, or to its longevity, which is at least notable, was a woman, though like most such histories, we are exposed to the noble lineage of the male children.  What happened was the Depression destroyed everything. The restaurants fell on hard times. The family could barely scrape by. The Laughner heritage was about to be shattered.  Claude’s wife, a smart, determined, hard-working person ended up starting three cafeterias on her own, when not only were the times not favorable for business in general, but when most women would simply not have undertaken the challenge because they were women.

It is true these were not cutting-edge destinations.  They were essential bridges in the legacy only she could manage. And it is true that there was an exciting (The story of which merited a long New Yorker piece) renaissance for Laughners that was built on the foundation she put back in place, admittedly inspired by more than a little creative genius from the next generation. But Flora May Laughner-Brock is a key figure largely ignored by those who benefitted by her business savvy and her desire to support her family.  Without her, the Laughner history would have ended earlier and, quite possibly, with far less accomplishment, certainly without the continuity.  Bless them all, but it wasn’t all about the boys.

Sadly, much of it is lost now.  Harold’ Steer-In, originally Laughner’s Steer-Inn, is a hot spot on the city’s East Side.  Down the street from the seedy, legendary Al Green’s Drive-In on Washington Street, was the slicker, but far less scandalous Laughner’s Double L.  The super deluxe Laughner cafeterias are all gone now, as is Jonathans, a fine dining restaurant named after the founder.  MCL, which possesses a snippet of Laughner DNA from the 1950s, still exists.