The New Jim Crow/The Millions

I tend not to include political broadsides here (and this really isn’t one), but it’s hard these days to ignore the increasing-although-somewhat-subtle racial-moves-of-resistance in the U.S. as the nation slowly morphs from a WASP-populated and controlled nation to a truly diverse one. The book profiled in this link might be a good one to read in order to come to grips with such things.



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The Wacky World of the San Francisco Giants

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For someone who as a kid loved the Yankees, and who after growing up a bit, moved to Atlanta  and began a difficult love-hate relationship with Los Bravos there, it’s always been a ho-hum thing for me to acknowledge the San Francisco’s Giants’ presence. But in recent years, writer pal Dave Frauenfelder kept talking them up, and then the Giants started winning, and well, curiosity crept in like the bay fog.

So with that we skip ahead to this year’s World Series (S.F. vs. the Detroit Tigers, for the uninitiated or the disinterested). The Giants reached the Series with difficulty, something Detroit didn’t; the Tigers polished off the fabled but fading Yankees in four straight games.

The first thing I noticed about the Giants before each game was Hunter Pence, a wild-eyed Woody Harrelson clone, leading a hopping-up-and-down cheerleading session in the dugout, something that seemed to befuddle even some of his teammates. On the field the seemed like a bunch of young barrio guys beginning a pick-up game, not some of baseball’s finest:

Brandon Crawford and his long, curly hair and self-absorbed disposition.

Angel Pagan and his “gonna wipe the floor with you” glare.

Brian Wilson, with his painted fingernails and more-than-bushy beard.

Pablo Sandoval and his red mohawk.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Once the games began, though, these off-worlder-looking guys were consummate baseball professionals, executing their game as a lock-step team. Still, who would have thought they’d win in four games? After all, Detroit had the first Triple Crown winner since ’67 in Miguel Cabrera, and a host of hot bats surrounding him.

Did I mention the Giants pitching? Their staff quieted those Tiger bats to a total of six runs over the four games, the Tigers failing to score at all in games 2 and 3.

The Tigers awoke for game 4, though, aided by a strong right field wind. Cabrera, virtually a non-entity in the first three games, took his star turn in the third inning with a wind-aided homer to right. Giants catcher Buster Posey, who led the National League in hitting (also anemic at bat in the series), took his with a towering shot to left field in the sixth.

And so the game went into extra innings tied 3-3. Would the Giants whisper, “Ah, well, there’s always tomorrow?” No way, dude(s). Designated hitter Ryan Theriot dropped a blooper into right field, and with Theriot on second, aging Marco Scutaro sent him home with a single.

Then it was up to the Giants’ foppish closer, Sergio Romo. He struck out the first two Tigers on an assortment of fastballs and sliders, and that set up a World Series moment, the diminutive Romo facing gargantuan Cabrera. Was Romo intimidated? No way, dude(s). He put a fastball over the middle of the plate as Cabrera watched, blinking and unbelieving.

Giants win, 4-3, as Romo strikes out the side.


But baseball polish can only last so long, and after the first round of celebratory whoops and hugs, Hunter Pence led something that looked like a Deadhead dance circle between the pitcher’s mound and second base.

The Dawn of Barzun’s Decadence

I came across Jacques Barzun (see link below) in the late nineties as his book, From Dawn to Decadence – 1500 to the Present – 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, began to gain traction. I was still bogged down in an engineering career then, had divorced my first wife and 2.4 kids, and was in the early stages of re-marriage, but I felt compelled by the idea of this book and began to read it in what spare time I could summon.

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What a book! And what a mind. Barzun was in his mid-nineties then, an age in which you – stereotypically – expect to listen to addled, semi-remembered stories from these elderlies and watch them hobble from bed to bathroom on a rickety walker. Not so with Barzun, as this book attests.

He had and eye on the past, to be sure, and he wasn’t about to be ensnared by the candy floss of modern culture. We in our age tend to dismiss the elderly, but in previous eras, younger folk sought out these aged ones, simply because they’d seen so much of life and consequently were expected to have a broader vision of where their society had come from, where it was going. Sometimes such views were a tad jaundiced, but it has always been hard to dismiss the views of someone who has seen so much of life.

Barzun’s book, Dawn to Decadence, gives us both ends of this personal spectrum. In it he traces western society’s evolution from its Greek and Roman roots, in which our understanding of the world we live in  – and of ourselves – began to develop from the minds and experiences of a few. Subsequent cultures built on the ideas of these few individuals, then more collective ideas wrung from cities, then nations, each differing to a great degree in its approaches to life and culture based on what each had to work with, geographically and ethnically.

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What seems to have troubled Barzun was the ephemeralization of culture as it began to manifest in the late 1800 and as it reached a crescendo in our modern times. Art, literature, philosophy, politics – all these and more – began to reach deep within the global hodgepodge to find some common, abstracted ground. This is where we seem logjammed today with our postmodern sensibilities (note that postmodernism isn’t a what-is; instead it’s a what-is-not), and this is where Barzun began to wring his hands. As tribal, national, and regional cultures interacted more and more, there were bound to be conflicts in habits and beliefs, and this has led to all of today’s “isms,” (Pick one or a pair: socialism, fascism, communism, Catholicism, Mormonism, evangelism, modernism, postmodernism…on and on).

A great deal of our current social angst has its roots in our clinging belief in practices that led to many of western society’s earlier stages: conflict, violence, war. These now are cultural norms – from the push-pull of regional conflicts to man-woman interactions – and Barzun was right to point this out. And he was also right in another thing: our urge for some abstract common ground begat superficiality: fashion, political correctness, compounding fantasies in politics and religion, and even science.

But is Barzun right? Will we look over our shoulders, just before we see the dark side of the sod, and see western society fallen to a smoldering piles of ashes? We can’t know, of course, because there are too many steps yet to take, too many possibilities yet unborn. All we can know is that we’re on the cusp of something. We at least owe Jacques Barzun  a tip of the hat for bringing us up to speed on this realization.

Jacques Barzun Dies at 104; Cultural Critic Saw the Sun Setting on the West

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Amazon Good, Amazon Bad

image via has its benefits, particularly for struggling writers, but is it good for the book biz in general? The UK would likely say no for the moment. It has a near-monopoly over the e-book biz in Europe at the moment, and monopolies quickly find ways to act in high-handed fashion, as the article linked below tells us.

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A Work (Almost) Done

This week I finished writing and editing a historical novel set in Europe immediately preceding the year 1000. It’s in good enough shape for Lyn, my “second set of eyes.” She’s an excellent editor as well as a gifted writer, so it’s in her hands now.

Sylvester II

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I always feel I’ve done a near-perfect job when I get to this point, and I’m often fooled by such high-flown thinking. Of course, there’s always another perspective to be had, and I trust Lyn to give me that.

So. While I’m waiting for her to work through her many other responsibilities toward my novel, I’ll see if I can come up with a good query letter. Anyone know an indie publisher for thoughtful historical fiction?

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Books Redux

I’ve been grazing through a list of indie publishers this morning, seeing what they’re about, what they want in the way of manuscripts. All, it seems, are looking for the odd manuscript – the one you wrote just for the hell of it, saying, “I don’t give a damn whether it’s marketable or not – I’m gonna write it.”

Two Dollar Radio

Along the way, I discovered Two Dollar Radio Press(sorry not accepting submissions at the moment), and within their “About” link I found something that should encourage all writers frustrated by the lamestream pub biz:

It’s depressing: our cultural beacons have been hijacked and transformed and de-valued. Their light is diminished, their currency is no longer valid. We live in an inspiring age. The corporate ideology has run its course in book publishing, which spells the death of print to many. But as evidenced by the bevy of awards (including Nobels, National Book Awards, and Pulitzers), the best-sellers, and the critical acclaim of the work being done consistently by independent presses, literature can succeed in the digital age on a responsible scale. The idea is to restore literature’s standing in today’s culture. It’s possible. See Barney Rosset at Grove. See John Martin at Black Sparrow Press. There was the belief that literature could inspire and inform and sway culture. Our hope is to do our part in reaffirming the cultural and artistic spirit of literary culture.

Okay, let’s get to work.

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