Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I See Hawks in L.A.

As usual, my Lo-Cal swing produced some unexpected benefits. One was appearing in Marina Del Rey with I See Hawks in L.A.

Dave Alvin (whom my daughters and I saw at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year) describes the band as "a talented, literate bunch of soulful musicians" creating "honest and wise roots music for the ages."

Before Bob Scheer and I went on with Jay Levin, founder of LA Weekly, we had a chance to visit with Paul Lacques. In the pic, he's second from the left. Later, I swapped a copy of the Ramparts book and an undisclosed sum of cash for four CDs. Then I listened to them on the drive up I-5. Good driving music, and many superb tunes.

I especially like "Good and Foolish Times" from the "Hallowed Ground" CD. First rate, as fine as anything I've heard recently. (It moved me off my obsession with Neil Young's "Down by the River.") But there are other catchy ones, too, including "Carbon Dated Love," "Hallowed Ground," "Raised by Hippies," etc.

Bonnie Simmons, are you listening? Please consider giving these guys some KPFA air time and inviting them to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass next year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The New Dust Bowl?

You've probably seen these signs, too. My father told me about them after a drive up I-5 months ago. I saw them more recently while returning from Los Angeles.

Congress created a dust bowl? My father accepted the claim on its face. I figured it had something to do with the attempt to balance the health of the Delta with agribusiness's insatiable thirst for cheap water.

According to Josh Harkinson's piece in the current issue of Mother Jones, the situation is a bit more complicated. (Sorry, can't seem to link to the story.) Yes, the feds have cut water deliveries and are trying to protect the delta smelt. But the valley is suffering for other reasons as well. The economy has been decimated by the housing bust and the recession more generally. Bankruptcy filings are double the national average. And there's a prolonged drought in progress: thus, less water to go around. Since agribusiness consumes something like 80 percent of California's water, it was bound to feel the effects. It takes a little doing to pin a drought on Congress, but there you have it.

CSA's own Dick Walker is quoted in the piece on the farmers' refusal to acknowledge the long-term water supply problems. "The dollar signs overwhelmed the warning signs," Dick said. He knows a little bit about the subject; his book, The Conquest of Bread, surveys 150 years of agribusiness in California.

While you're visiting the Mother Jones website, don't forget the Ramparts book excerpts.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Trumbo: The Movie

I rented Trumbo last night. Yes, I realize I'm a bit late to this party. I didn't see the play, which might have prepared me better for this film. In particular, I didn't realize how much of it would consist of dramatic readings of Trumbo's writings, especially his correspondence.

That approach certainly features the power of his prose. A withering letter to his daughter's school principal, for example, is a tour de force. (Apparently Mitzi was ostracized for her father's political views.) The film also includes a poem composed to his son Christopher on his tenth birthday, which Trumbo evidently spent in federal prison for contempt of Congress. (He did indeed have contempt for that Congress.)

But I admit to some slight disappointment that the film didn't hew to the conventions of straight documentary filmmaking. The dramatic readings by Hollywood celebrities probably raised the project's profile, but they make the film less useful for me and my purposes at San Francisco State. I've been looking for a film to replace Hollywood on Trial, which also contains remarkable footage of Trumbo but is in poor condition and expensive to replace. This one offers far less historical detail about HUAC, Hollywood, McCarthyism, etc.

I doubt the filmmaker's will be crestfallen by this verdict. Just as well.

Not surprisingly, the film passes over a remarkable detail in the Trumbo family history: namely, that Mitzi dated Steve Martin while they were in college. Martin's exposure to the family was something of an eye-opener for him. Check out Born Standing Up and consider the serendipities of American popular culture.

David Kipen, now at the National Endowment for the Arts, alerted me to another remarkable detail this week. Trumbo, John Fante, and Carey McWilliams all left Colorado at approximately the same time, bound for Los Angeles to cut a swath. There were giants in the earth in those days.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Time Magazine: The Dream Endures

Time magazine takes a bit of a drubbing in the Ramparts book, but at least it has the good sense to quote Carey McWilliams in its current piece, "The End of California: Dream On!"

Michael Grunwald's article falls back on the (seemingly) ancient tension between utopian and dystopian representations of the state. In the popular imagination, California is either heaven on earth or an apocalyptic mess.

Sometimes the reality is more prosaic: for example, the predictable volatility that results from relying on sales and income taxes to fund public services. (Texas, which doesn't tax income but manages to collect sensible property taxes, seems to be doing better.)

Sorry, did I kill your buzz?

I'll probably get plenty of the prosaic version today when I attend a UC Berkeley event called "What Ails California?" It's a mini-conference hosted by the Institute of Governmental Studies and Department of Political Science.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ramparts Dispatch

Many thanks to everyone who came out for the Los Angeles and Bay Area events. Special thanks to Bob Scheer, who went out of his way to recommend the book to various live and radio audiences. All props to Michael Sexton, who shot this photograph of Warren Hinckle at Vesuvio Cafe.

Here's an incomplete roundup of the lit, media, events, etc.

Reviews:

*Jack Shafer's New York Times piece
*Dwight Garner's New York Times article
*Erik Himmelsbach's review in the Los Angeles Times
*Peter Collier's take in the New Criterion
*Sol Stern's piece in City Journal
*Daniel McCarthy's essay in the American Conservative
*Elbert Ventura's insightful review in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas
*Robert Fulford's denunciation of the magazine and its legacy in the National Post
*Patrick Ward's generous assessment in Socialist Review
*Frances Dinkelspiel's SFGate (and Ghost Word) piece
*Randy Shaw's review on Beyond Chron
*Ron Jacobs's take on CounterPunch
*Rick Kleffel's piece (and podcast) for "The Agony Column" on bookotron.com
*Jonah Raskin's article for the San Francisco Chronicle
*Randy Michael Signor's review, Chicago Sun-Times
*John Lombardi's freewheeling essay in Las Vegas Weekly
*Jane Isay's endorsement on Huffington Post
*Clint Hendler's take in the Columbia Journalism Review
*Karl Whitney's review in 3:AM Magazine, based in Paris
*Tom Gallagher's review on his blog, Demockracy
*Bill Castanier's essay in City Pulse
*Treehugger pulled together a cross-section of related articles and selected quotes about Ramparts and the book.

Interviews:

*Andy Ross for Ask the Agent
*Asawin Suebsaeng for College Reporter
*Jamie Glazov for FrontPage
*Marty Flynn on Hunter S. Thompson Books
*Robert Newman on Dugald Stermer for the Society of Publication Designers
*Aaron Leonard for History News Network
*Jim Welte for the Marin Independent-Journal.

Excerpts and Related Articles:

*Chapter 1 is on the New York Times website
*An adaptation of Chapter 3 appeared in California History
*Truthdig posted an essay adapted from Chapter 5
*An essay based on Chapter 6 appears on ColdType
*Mother Jones assembled some key passage for its website
*California magazine has a piece in the Fall issue called "Radical Slick."

Media Appearances:

July 29, "Politics with Norman Solomon," KWMR.
Aug. 19, "This Is America" with Jon Elliott, San Diego 1700 AM.
Aug. 23, "Sunday Sedition" with Andrea Lewis, KPFA.
Sept. 15, "America Offline," KWMR, 90.5 FM.
Sept. 15, "The John Rothmann Show", KGO AM 810.
Sept. 26, "Edge of Sports" with Dave Zirin. XM Channel 167.
Oct. 11, "The Agony Column" with Rick Kleffel, KUSP (Santa Cruz).
Oct. 12, "A Public Affair" with Norman Stockwell, WORT (Madison).
Oct. 12, "Connect the Dots" with Lila Garrett, KPFK.
Oct. 13, "Uprising" with Sonali Kolhatkar, KPFK.
Oct. 14, "Four O'Clock with Jon Wiener," KPFK.
Oct. 16-22, "CounterSpin," 150 stations nationally.
Oct. 22, Truthdig interview (video) with Kasia Anderson and Robert Scheer.
Nov. 10, "The Politics of Culture" with Will Lewis, KCRW.
Nov. 29, "Media Matters with Bob McChesney," WILL-AM 580.
Dec. 9, "No Alibis" with Elizabeth Robertson, KCSB.
Jan. 7, "Your Call" with Rose Aguilar, KALW.

Bay Area Events:

Sept. 16, California Studies Dinner Seminar, 2521 Channing Way, Berkeley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21,Peninsula Peace and Justice Center with Steve Keating, First Presbyterian Church, 1140 Cowper St., Palo Alto, noon and 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23, City Lights book party with Warren Hinckle and Larry Bensky, Vesuvio Cafe, 255 Columbus, San Francisco, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24, Berkeley Arts & Letters with Robert Scheer, introduction by Susan Griffin, First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 25, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, with Robert Scheer, at Lowell Bergman's master's project seminar.
Sept. 25, Book Passage with Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29, Capitola Book Cafe, 1475 41st Avenue, Capitola, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22, San Francisco State University (Yumi Wilson's journalism class, Humanities 312), 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 3, Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley, 7 p.m.
Jan. 23, San Francisco Main Public Library, 100 Larkin St., Latino/Hispanic Meeting Rooms A+B, Lower level, San Francisco, 11 a.m.

Los Angeles Events:

Oct. 5, Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., W. Hollywood, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, noon.
Oct. 6, USC with Robert Scheer's class
Oct. 7, USC with Robert Scheer's class
Oct. 9, Village Books with Derek Shearer, 1049 Swarthmore Avenue, Pacific Palisades, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10, "The State and Future of Journalism in America" with Robert Scheer and Jay Levin, founder of LA Weekly. Music by I See Hawks in L.A. Hosted by Jeff Norman, The Warehouse, 4499 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, 5 p.m.
Dec. 5, "War, Media, and the Plight of Veterans," with Scott Ritter, Robert Scheer, and Georg-Andreas Pogany. Venice United Methodist Church, 2210 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, 2 p.m. Also Dec. 6 at the Woman's Club of South Pasadena, 1424 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena, 2 p.m.
Dec. 6, Rector's Forum with Robert Scheer, All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid, Pasadena, 10 a.m.

I'll use this space to keep the calendar and article news up to date. If you have ideas for events--campus and bookstore talks, etc.--please pass them along.

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