Friday, February 09, 2018

Six Degrees to the Steele Memo

Reading the Sunday paper is now one of the lost pleasures of American life.  As an only child, I didn't have to fight over who got to read the comics page first, but once finished, I would sometimes have to wait for my father to finish the sports and editorial pages.  While waiting, I often found myself reading Parade Magazine, a Sunday supplement that came with virtually every metropolitan daily's Sunday edition.  The articles in Parade were generally this weird mixture of Reader's Digest fare, celebrity puff profiles, and less than profound world events.  The heart of reading Parade was really the inner cover that had a bunch of photos and celebrity gossip, which was attributed to Water Scott.  The Walter Scott thing was a precursor to both People Magazine and TMZ, though far gentler than the latter.

Before my sophomore year of college, I took a cross country car trip with a good friend in my family's Mazda RX4 rotary engined station wagon. We stayed in campgrounds and more frequently at the homes of people who we barely knew or whom our parents barely knew. When we got to Washington D.C. , Richard Nixon was on the brink of resigning.  We stayed in Georgetown in the apartment of the son of a friend of my friend's father who lived in Pacific Palisades.  My friend told me that they sometimes played tennis at their house.  I mostly remember that the son of the friend of the friend's father knew a lot about what was happening with these last stages of Watergate that wasn't in the papers.  In addition, it turned out that his family ran Parade Magazine and, much to my delight, I discovered that while his father usually wrote under the pseudonym, the son of the friend of the friend's father sometimes was Walter Scott.  Mostly though, he was a very gracious host who patiently helped us figure out our route to Charleston, South Carolina. Our host was Cody Shearer.

I hadn't thought much about Cody Shearer for 40+ years until his name popped up in the news as the author of a second "dossier" that brought up some of the same concerns about Donald Trump as the far more prominent Steele dossier.  Since that time, Shearer's name has been showing up in the right wing press a lot, where he's being accused of being a hatchet man for the Clintons who both nearly re-ignited hostilities in Bosnia and  either dug  up dirt on various Bill Clinton alleged paramours or threatened them in ways you only see in bad spy movies.  It also struck me that Cody Shearer is now around 70 years old and this is the only time I've, personally, seen his name bubble up into news.

I think back about Walter Scott and Parade which both live on. The celebrity/news mix of the Walter Scott items were more or less the stem cells for what is today's blend of infotainment and fake news.  It's just that back then, most of us treated it as a guilty Sunday morning pleasure, rather than something that would inform our votes about matters of global importance.  We understood that they were meant to be "filler" for the Sunday paper hour, the alternative to church for non-religious households like mine. 

What I also remember about Cody Shearer was that he was clearly a very bright man who seemed preternaturally well informed.  He was a young guy  then -- though a few years older than two sophomores to be at the time -- who seemed to be looking forward to a more serious career in journalism than Parade and Walter Scott; none of us have any control over what our parent's business either public or private turns out to be.  Depending on one's political perspective, he may be one of the heroes who may yet save us from Donald Trump and the Russians, a kind of Paul Revere in secret memo form or some sort of Gringott's troll for the Clintons' nefarious scheme to control the world by getting people to donate to their foundation while personally enriching themselves. 

I don't know which of these two poles is closer to the truth.  I'm not a great judge of character, even when it comes to judging my own.  Still my memory of my host in Washington D.C. that summer of 1974 (strange how there's both a Watergate connection and a Trump-Russia tie running through this) was that this was a very earnest guy who was less into the gossip than he was into ensuring that our system ran right.  If I had to guess, Cody Shearer's memo, the one that even journalists don't seem to have seen, is based on real sources.  Oddly, I also think he might have been uniquely qualified to ferret some of these things out. 

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Donald Trump as Andrew Jackson

192 years ago, the U.S. elected a President who opposed the economic plans of the Eastern bankers, rejected the benefits of education in favor of belief in the wisdom of the "common man", and who wanted to drive the indians out of the United States while favoring the expansion of black slavery.  link to article

The President was Andew Jackson .  I suppose the good news was that Jacksonian democracy didn't destroy the United States, but I'm not so sure that would be true in 2016.

We have an Alexander Hamilton with a black Hamilton and black versions of America's first Presidents.  I wonder if there will be an Andrew Jackson musical.  Jackson did have red hair.  

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lochte for President?

Timing is such an odd thing.  In the same week, Donald Trump and Ryan Lochte expressed public regrets without actually apologizing or specifying what they did wrong.  In Lochte's case, he's persisting with a story that someone who was not a police officer pointed a gun at him and demanded money.  He neglects to mention what came before: a drunken Lochte and his younger swim friends were urinating on a gas station wall, committed some level of vandalism (It's not clear how far it went), and then told police they'd been "robbed".  While Lochte's hair is more Guy Fieri than orange chaos and he actually does appear to be in better physical health than anyone who's ever served as President of the United States, the behavior is peculiarly Trumptastic.

TMZ had a mini-article that Ryan Locthe's home, somehow he made it home before a couple of his comrades, was being guarded by police who were keeping a 99 yard perimeter between America's second biggest medal winning swimmer and most famous public urinator and any angry mobs of outraged citizens.  TMZ    didn't specify whether the Charlotte taxpayers are subsidizing  his protection.  If so, I suspect they're doing it because Lochte had piloted a solution to North Carolina's transgender-bathroom dilemma.  Given the number of cross dressers and transgender said to wander through Rio, I suspect Lochte and friends were afraid to use a gender-designated bathroom.  In the meantime, I credit the police for protecting someone who basically is calling their Brazilian brother and sister officers 'liars', now that he's several thousand miles away.  I also probably shouldn't comment abou thte Black LIves Matter juxtaposition of the whole thing.

I doubt that I'll be around in 24 years when Ryan Lochte runs for President, but I'd love to see how they find a way to spin his adventure in Rio.                                                                         .                                                           

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Mr. Trump Regrets

After re-arranging deck chairs with his campaign staff and seemingly heading towards an even deeper "let Trump be Trump" direction by bringing Steve Bannon of Breitbart on board, Donald Trump did a mildly unexpected thing: he publicly said that he regretted some of the things he'd said. This-coming from a candidate who never apologizes-was quite a departure for someone who was expected to double down on the Attila the Trump persona.

Here's my stray thought.  There's a fingerprint here and it's not Bannon's.  Trump's softening reminds me of the "kinder-gentler nation candidate" from 16 years ago.  More significant, candidate Trump has started repeating a curious mantra about Hillary Clinton taking the black vote for granted. Some estimates have Trump's share of the black vote at 1%.  It's a bit of a leap, but it reminds me of the Swiftboating of John Kerry in 2004 when Roger Ailes, through Fox News, took a candidate's strength and turned it into a weakness by relentlessly attacking it with marginal information.

Is it possible that the recently disgraced Roger Ailes who some sources say has been advising the campaign is really the one calling the shots for the Trump Campaign now?  Kellyanne Conway's promotion to campaign manager may just be cover for Ailes's own enhanced role in the shadows where he can hide the incredibly bad optics of having a serial sexual harasser work for a candidate who suggested that women who get abortions face punishment.   Consider this.  Of the three, Bannon, Conway, and Ailes, only one has any experience running a campaign.  Like him or not, Ailes was very effective at it.   

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Next Big Thing

A couple weeks ago, my friend May-Lan Tan , a wonderful writer, asked me if I wanted to participate in a project called the Next Big Thing.  May-Lan's also a very talented artist, so my interview page is going to look pitiful by comparison.  Here goes.

What is the working title of the book?

The Fortress of Light is a novel whose plot explores the power of the movies as a storytelling device. The story alternates between a current day digital special effects studio and Mongol China, though it’s a Mongol China that already has the movie projector.

 Early movie film stock was celluloid which was flexible but also perishable, because it was highly flammable.  In order to show movies safely in a crowded public space, they had to develop projection booths with fireproof, usually concrete, walls. In the novel, the title refers to both the projection booth and the human imagination.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

About three years ago my wife and I went to a Silk Road exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  Being Chinese-American and old enough to remember a time when multi-culturalism wasn’t a word used by ordinary people, I was fascinated to see how much mixing of cultures took place under Kublai Khan centuries before public service announcements. It’s no accident that Marco Polo might be  the most famous individual from the 13th century.  I not only share a name with him (more or less), I made him a character in my book.

Into which genre does your book fall?
I call it ‘Silk Road Punk’. Steam Punk is a science fiction/alternate history genre where modern devices are re-imagined as creations of the Victorian era, so flying machines might be powered by steam engines and computers might be mechanical instead of electronic.The Chinese already
knew about the camera obscura and the zoetrope. The Persians had Greek fire.
It also has bits of romance, ghost story, and what they used to call the ‘novel of ideas’.  There’s a lot of stuff in it about the nature of storytelling that threatens to push the book towards the “L” word, though not the L from the TV series.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
 It’s a ghost story in part, so I guess it’s fair to use actors who are dead. I’d love to have Sessue Hayakawa, who played Hollywood romantic leads in the silent era and Anna May Wong, the Chinese-American actress who couldn’t get the lead in the Good Earth over a Caucasian actress.  I’d also want John Cho (Harold and Kumar), Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern), and Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Two teenagers make romantic comedy movies in Mongol China.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The main character is a ghost with an eight-hundred-year-old case of writer’s block.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My father loved to read.  I’d give him books for birthdays and Christmas. We’d both read them and talk about them. He died when I was twenty-two.  I’ve often thought about how stories and storytelling connect us to people who are no longer with us.    

Six writers  I'm tagging
Wendy Fleet
Myra Sherman
Sarah Amador
Patrick Fanning
Shirley Kwan
L. McKenna Donovan

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The Haircut Lady

 For the last eleven years, I've gotten my hair cut by the same woman. My wife, who's not Asian, was convinced that most people who work in those ten dollar haircut places have no idea how to cut Asian hair. My guess is that it might have more to do with their working in ten dollar haircut shops. We happened upon this one woman who happens to be a Cambodian immigrant and my wife decreed that I should always go to her to get my hair cut.

I've since followed her to three different salons. Somewhere around year eight after talking about Asian restaurants, vacations, learning that she never learned to swim because she almost drowned in the river as a child when her family was trying to leave Cambodia,her family's real estate misadventure (they bought 6 rental houses at exactly the wrong time, for about a year I kept wondering why a woman who owned 7 houses was cutting my hair). I eventually learned that she sings in Cambodian and performs for weddings, birthday parties, and other gatherings. Most recently someone she didn't really know asked her to sing at her daughter's sixteenth birthday party. 

First I was surprised thata sixteen year old living in Santa Clara county would want Cambodian singers at her birthday party. When I was that age, the last thing I wanted was any hints of being that different. Times change and people get smarter I think. I then asked the inevitable American question. "Are they paying you to sing?"  link to Khmer singer not my haircut lady

She looked at me, "No, I coldn't charge for singing. I do it because it's fun."

"I'm sure they'd be happy to pay a little bit." She was driving across a couple counties, spending hours at strangers' parties, etc. Surely these people were taking advantage of her.

"They probably would, but I couldn't do that."

But why? I thought. Obviously after going through 6 foreclusures, having to sell your hair salon, etc., she could clearly use a little extra cash. 

"I just couldn't charge people. It would change things."

Here I was getting my hair cut by a female-Cambodian vesion of Searchiing for Sugarman

Somewhere between the time she was aksing me for the 200th time if I wanted gel in my hair (yikes!) and my saying "No, not this time." It struck me that she's maybe saner about what she does than I am about what I do (the writing thing). 

She sings because she loves to sing. She only sings in Cambodian. She loves knowing that people appreciate her singing and ask her to share it. She simply doesn't want to equate it with money. I'ts not about that and it's not for that. It's sane, admirable, quite beautiful in a way that I can't quite grasp because I'm maybe too American except for my hair. 

I've asked her if she had a CD, Mp3, or something, but maybe it's almost better that I have no idea what her singing sounds like. 

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Wordrunner e-Chapbook is proud to announce the publication of "Our Place", excerpts from Atar Hadari's novel. It's a fascinating multi-layered look at kibbutzes c. 1938.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cirque in Atticus Review

I'm pleased that the Atticus Review has published my story, "Cirque". link to Atticus Review

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