a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Issue #38 (March 24, 2010)

Glendale and Los Angeles

Photo by Chris Collins

Dark Buddha - Charles Bronson
by Joe Carducci

Charles Buchinsky was following his brothers and father down the coalmine when WWII drafted him out from under the company town of Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania. After the war he drifted and found pickup work to avoid getting locked down into the life of his family, and to protect and pursue his interest in painting. A job painting sets for a theater led to acting and marriage to actress Harriet Tendler. By 1949 he’d done bit parts on New York stages, and they moved to L.A. where he trained at the Pasadena Playhouse, which led to his first bit part in a Gary Cooper film, You’re in the Navy Now (1951).

Buchinsky (often Buchinski), with his stocky thirties action-style body and toughguy face, was first just another uglyman character actor -- not as mean as Neville Brand, not as nice as Ernest Borgnine. American film audiences after the war were no longer obsessed with pretty boy leads, but it was older actors who took advantage of this new appetite for realism -- Robert Taylor, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda -- many of whom in fact had been those slim, unmarked romantic leads of twenty years earlier. Others who got the interesting B film leads were actors like Aldo Ray, Rod Steiger, Broderick Crawford; Buchinsky coveted these roles. He changed his name to Bronson in 1954 to sound less Russian during the Hollywood red scare -- his parents were both Lithuanian.

He was in the Hollywood system though not as a contract player with a studio. Still, he was soon getting third or fourth billed roles in westerns such as Apache (1954), Drum Beat (1954), Jubal (1956), and Run of the Arrow (1957). But he was ambitious and remained frustrated. He got his first lead roles in three great 1958 B-films; Showdown at Boot Hill and Gang War were directed by Gene Fowler Jr., and he told Ronald Davis that Regal Pictures head Robert Lippert asked in exasperation at his lead choice, “Who the hell wants to see that ugly son-of-a-bitch?” (SMU Oral History Project) These were followed by Machine Gun Kelly for Roger Corman.

Bronson also did dozens of television one-off roles from 1953 to 1967, and starred in a cheapjack series, "Man with a Camera" (1958-60). A-films in the sixties for Bronson meant playing in the action ensembles of Never So Few (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). It was progress, a career, but he needed more. He was driven by having been the eleventh of fifteen children of an immigrant who was dead of black lung disease by the time Charles was twelve. Several of his siblings died young. Once out of Ehrenfeld he’d been taken for an immigrant himself and he worked hard to leave his accent and naiveté behind. (Bronson used this accent for the character Velinski in The Great Escape.)

He bounced from agent to agent, divorced his wife, fell in love with his best friend’s wife and found himself ready for lightning to strike. Bronson turned down a script from Italy called “The Magnificent Stranger.” Richard Harrison, an American actor who had found work and fame in Europe, was busy and told Sergio Leone about Clint Eastwood. The idea was to have an American star in a German-financed Italian-directed western based on a Japanese film (Yojimbo) inspired by a Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott western (Buchanan Rides Alone); it would be shot in Spain. Eastwood was younger, and had less to lose; he was looking forward to the end of the TV series "Rawhide" wherein he’d played a character he’s referred to as ‘trail flunky.’ Eastwood simply threw out his character’s and most of the others’ dialogue and as luck had it Leone had an eye for the rest; the film was released here as A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Bronson then rejected For a Few Dollars More (1965) and that part went to Lee Van Cleef, a marginal heavy in lots of westerns through the fifties. Van Cleef became an overseas star too; he looked great but never threw out enough of his dialogue. Bronson would have done The Good, the Bad and the Ugly because by then he’d seen Fistful, but he was committed to The Dirty Dozen (1967).

Meanwhile, Bronson was getting his own international action. He had married the English actress Jill Ireland after she’d divorced actor David McCallum. McCallum, who was quite a pop star due to his role in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", had turned his agent Paul Kohner onto Bronson, and Ireland pushed him to France to do Adieu L’Ami (a.k.a., Farewell Friend, or Honor Among Thieves, 1968), and Rider on the Rain (1970). These arty messes were huge hits throughout Europe and Asia but are most interesting for being the first to really frame and linger on Bronson’s potential for violence in its cool, calm potential phase. Following such stillness with his natural aptitude with guns and fists became his formula. Bronson made ten films in five years for European production companies. And Leone finally got Bronson for Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) where he played opposite Henry Fonda.

After five years dominating the overseas box office, Bronson returned to Hollywood, though by now the studios were mere distributors of the productions of smaller, hipper companies – companies who knew the value of Charles Bronson. Dino De Laurentiis Productions signed him for three pictures at a million dollars each. The third of these was Death Wish, a film that became the zeitgeist’s skyrocket in the summer of 1974. And so, as the sixties youth culture crested and curdled in 1974, a deeply scarred fifty-two year old immigrant’s son found himself the number one box office attraction in America, and the world.

Producer-Director Michael Winner who worked with Bronson in this period said, “He had a chance when he could have broken through, and I know the pictures he didn’t do and it’s a pity.” But when the personal and professional pressures finally let up on Bronson, film had become to him merely a professional means to personal ends. He always knew his lines and hit his marks on the set. More often in Hollywood, actors were contemptuous of their craft and so drank or whored or subverted characterizations as written with a kind of performance striptease often hinting at closeted homosexuality. Bronson respected the work, but from hereon he considered himself a family man first, a painter second, and only then an actor. Bronson, the Dark Buddha, had reached his personal-professional Dharma and it earned him the following or Sangha that further freed him.

He loved Jill Ireland; they were a Beauty and the Beast couple. She loved children as he did; more so perhaps for enduring repeated miscarriages to have them. His and her children from both previous marriages as well as their daughter were often together in the rural Vermont Bronson household and after Death Wish’s success Bronson and Ireland made films together. He gladly forced her on producers, and snubbed Hollywood by working primarily with Brit directors (Michael Winner, J. Lee Thompson, Peter Hunt). The best of these films are Chato’s Land (1971), Stone Killer (1973), Death Wish (1974), Death Hunt (1981), and maybe even Murphy’s Law (1986).

Three fortunate exceptions to this Brit preference are among the best films of Bronson in his prime: Mr. Majestyk (1974) directed by Hollywood veteran Richard Fleischer from a script by Elmore Leonard, Breakout (1975) directed by Tom Gries, and Hard Times (1975), Walter Hill’s directorial debut. Telefon (1977), though directed by Don Siegel and written by Stirling Silliphant, is less than it ought to be (see Siegel’s funny chapter on the film in his autobiography).

Late Bronson deteriorates but remains interesting. The Death Wish series (five in all; the last direct-to-video), 10 to Midnight (1983), The Evil That Men Do (1984), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) are lurid collisions of an aging puritan-avenger Bronson with some of the sleaziest settings any box office champ ever got near. Here the sexual neuroses and Fleet Street cynicism of the Brits and Bronson’s professional detachment yielded strikingly perverse films. Bronson’s Beauty was dying of cancer through these years and when she succumbed in 1990 his career changed as well. He did one last great support role (fifth billed and without hairpiece) in Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner (1991) and then moved to network television where he did some good wholesome work that was likely closer to his true taste: Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991), The Sea Wolf (1993), Donato and Daughter (1993), and the three Family of Cops films (1995, 1997, 1999).

Today, Bronson’s catalog has drifted off of the shelves of videostores with the phasing out of videotape, and interest hasn’t yet demanded restocking in the DVD format. A failed career then, one might say, but surely a successful life -- a complete kalpa. In Hollywood the reverse is more often true, though it’s generally work from failed careers that endures. A Buchinsky autobiography is to be published.


The most frustrating element is to try to protect the performance you know you gave, to get it up on the screen. This is the most difficult thing when you are a supporting actor, because the leading credits get all of the consideration. . . . You’ve got to work, you’ve got to live. I’m in a supporting category right now. The only solution is to get the hell out of this category, and prove that you can draw the box office as well as anybody else.

(to Curtis Lee Hanson, Cinema, Vol. 3, No. 1, December 1965)

Brando’s walking around dressed like a bum and telling how tough life is. How does he know? It was never tough for him. And it wasn’t tough for most of those ‘angry’ guys. What have any of them got to be ‘angry’ about?

(from Bronson!, W.A. Harbinson, Pinnacle Books, New York)

I listen to the first question. If it’s something like ‘What is your philosophy of acting?’ I get mad and say, ‘I don’t know anything about the bleeping philosophy of acting. I just learn my lines and get up there and do it. If you want to know about the bleeping philosophy of acting, go ask the bleeping director.’ Next time I meet that guy, I’m going to kick him in the stomach.


(This essay of mine is reworked from a forthcoming book, Stone Male - Requiem for a Style; a version was published after the death of Bronson in Arthur magazine No. 7 in 2003, still available here; my “Life Against Dementia”, published in Arthur No. 1, is also still available and well worth the price; it is the title essay in my forthcoming collection.)

[Charles Bronson portrait by Jim Blanchard]

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the steel desk of Joe Carducci…

Obituaries of the Week

Fess Parker

The 1950s was a good decade to be a film actor what with post-war America’s greater tolerance for realism, but with the studio system beginning to crack up it was also a frustrating time for even those who would be the new stars of the next decades (McQueen, Bronson, Eastwood…). It could be worse still if you were a contract player for the quaint sub-major studio, Disney, and you got the lead in what was unexpectedly the first massive television-phono-radio-retail phenomenon.

Fess Parker sat for a lengthy career interview in July 2000; in part 2 he discusses the early work in television, but the entire thing is very interesting. He had a small part in the film Them! (1954) and when Disney screened the film to consider James Arness for the lead in “Davy Crockett” (1954-55) it was that scene by Parker that got him the role. Woe would be upon him. In Sunday’s NYT, Bob Greene compared the impact of Parker’s Crockett to Elvis a year later. Disney shot three one-hour episodes that took Crockett to his death at the Alamo before the first episode aired on Dec. 15, 1954, and to such acclaim of every little boy and many girls of the baby boom that they brought him back from the dead for two fanciful river adventures. Worse than the coon-skin hat kidstuff was Walt Disney himself turning down John Ford’s offer of Jeffrey Hunter’s part in The Searchers (1956). Parker said Ford never forgave him. That was how Disney looked out for their family friendly phenom. Of his work there, only Old Yeller (1957) is a good film and makes something significant out of Parker’s natural rural Texas presence, though he’s gone for most of the adventure. His personal quality is there in his TV stuff too, but that’s often all there is. Elsewhere in the Emmy interview he answers that he considered writer-director Burt Kennedy a mentor for describing in words what Parker’s acting effect should be -- the two of them were part of a group that met for breakfast over the trades through their early formative years.

Once free of Disney he made his only great film, Hell Is for Heroes (1962). It had a cast of TV stars, essentially, including Steve McQueen, Fess Parker, Bobby Darin, Nick Adams, Harry Guardino, James Coburn, Mike Kellin, and Bob Newhart, but it also had a tough-minded script by producer Robert Pirosh and a director, Don Siegel, who could see that through. Siegel describes being under pressure on the budget, very small for what he got on film, and Darin blowing the first take of the big, expensive pyrotechnic action climax. He writes of take two, “Bobby fell down again, but Fess Parker grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and rushed him out of sight. Nobody got hurt and the action looked sensational.” (A Siegel Film) The Emmy interview does not mention this film in part because its focused on television, but Parker does name Siegel’s The Shootist (1976) as his favorite John Wayne film so it’s a shame it isn’t covered. Parker became a producing partner for his subsequent acting work. He played “Daniel Boone” (1964-70) which was another success, and then focused on real estate and his winery. He did one nice mature star-turn in a made-for-television movie, Climb an Angry Mountain (1972). But his career overall demonstrates foremost the strange incompetence of Hollywood even when it recognizes correctly a natural.

[Images: Parker in Hell Is for Heroes, Parker in Them!]

Charlie Gillett

Gillett wrote the first good book about rock and roll, The Sound of the City - The Rise of Rock and Roll, and because he was a Brit and the book was published there first in 1970 he really shamed music writers and publishers here then. Perhaps the distance led him to listen more closely to the music itself. He begs off the racial implications of “the rise of rock and roll” in his introduction as being unknowable and beyond the scope of his book in any case. He did get to see Buddy Holly early enough, but writing the book in the late sixties he should probably be forgiven for concluding:

Absorbing this music without necessarily thinking much about it, the generations of popular music audiences since 1956 have formed quite different sensibilities from the preceding generations which were raised on sentiment and melodrama. Members of these preceding generations were in charge of most of the record companies, and tried hard to reinstate the music they preferred. Now, more than ten years later, these men are giving way in the record companies to younger people who were raised on rock ‘n’ roll and whose influence, in all likelihood, is responsible for the rapid acceptance of radically new styles by companies that once adamantly resisted the novelty of rock ‘n’ roll.

After all, Hendrix was still alive and on the radio then. But we soon found that the new hip regimes of company heads had somehow recuperated the worst pre-rock “sentiment and melodrama” within the new emptied out form of “rock ‘n’ roll”. The American problem was perhaps that much of this false music was actually no worse than mediocre if only because here the musical race-mixing was hundreds of years on. From England the division would have been absolutely planetary. However, the book is titled wrong because rock and roll was not the sound of the city. Like most important music it was rural music. The best of it often migrated to cities, but usually for business purposes. And in my day it was surely the sound of the suburbs at that.


Armond White in the NYPress blowing his cool all over the place, excellently. Heat and Light. About the new movie, Greenberg. All this might have been avoided if only Joel Silver hadn’t produced a mumble-core movie. It’s being advertised as heart-warming; White thinks the heat is coming from the compost heap of corruption.


Eli Sanders in The Stranger on NewTimes/Village Voice Media’s Michael Lacey vs. San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Bruce Brugmann.

Brugmann has denounced the ‘leering neoconism’ that he sees at the heart of Lacey's politics, which he derides as ‘frat-boy libertarian.’ Lacey has called Brugmann a "bull-goose loony" and likened talking to him to engaging ‘a homeless paranoid in conversation about the contents of his shopping cart.’ (That was from a more-than-4,000-word screed—Lacey's word—that he published in 2005.) Brugmann has printed bumper stickers that say ‘Corporate Weeklies Still Suck,’ and to this day hands them out to visitors. Lacey has noted that Brugmann, for all his independent talk, once had among the investors in his paper Donald Werby, a billionaire real-estate mogul who bankrolled the Church of Satan (‘No, really,’ Lacey wrote) and was indicted for paying off underage prostitutes with cocaine before dying in 2002. (‘I missed the Bay Guardian's coverage of their investor's indictment on child prostitution charges,’ Lacey added.) This January, when the SF Weekly accused Brugmann of ‘celling out’ his anticorporate principles by preparing to rent space on the roof of his paper's building to some T-Mobile cellular towers, Brugmann retorted that the story's reporter was simply ‘a Mike Lacey protégé.’ The feud goes on and on, leading even Lacey's and Brugmann's respective underlings to detest each other.


Bob the Zimmerman; Ron Rosenbaum on Seth Rogovoy’s book, Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, in the Jewish Review of Books.

He was the chosen one for the secular Jewish folkies who saw him as able to bring the messianic, if not Marxist, social gospel to the gentiles in his protest songs. While some kvetched about his name change, realistically ‘Zimmerman’ wouldn’t have served the Woody Guthrie persona he crafted. And the Woody Guthrie act worked. It worked so well that this middle-class Jewish boy from Hibbing, Minnesota, passed as a kind of Okie hobo. Of course, talent played a part: Dylan’s ‘Song to Woody,’ really the first sign he was capable of conjuring up transcendent beauty, decisively signaled his difference from all of the other Greenwich Village faux Okies. That is, until he got tired of that act and caught fire with electric rock and roll, leading to cries of betrayal and ‘Judas!’ That famous cry of ‘Judas!’ was heard as Dylan launched into an electric guitar set in his 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert (now available as Live 1966 and arguably the best of the live Dylan albums). And when you think about it, it was an accusation that he was being Judas to his own Jesus.

-- Except that there was time before that Woody Guthrie act, though after his Hibbing childhood, and those were years Bob spent trying to figure out how to be a rock and roller if you weren’t southern at least, black if possible. In this regard I would respectfully suggest that Dylan is first not a folkie but one of the early northern rockers and might best be bracketed with Jack Scott, Johnny & the Hurricanes, Paul Revere, Dick Dale, or any of those greaseballs -- there were a million of them. And they selflessly proved one needn’t be black or at least southern to rock out, though while they did this cultural heavy lifting, Dylan was selling out to New York folkie sentiment so as to get onto Columbia Records. Years later, he was getting back to his righteous self when he went electric, though Dylan never risked losing his solo artist prerogatives to any band he put together thereafter whether that hurt his discographical rock and roll rep or not -- surely not, by the lights of Rosenbaum’s so-called “Bobolators“. But by my expertise in this area not many Dylan recordings are as good as, say, Jack Scott’s work.


All points on the NYT political compass seem unable to comprehend the decades-long provocation project that would cause the lesser folks of the country -- religious localists of many types -- to choose their own ignorance to their betters’ wisdom. They really assume the right to dictate the parameters of a just life. And as slavery was what left the door open to the anti-federalist centralizing project of the left and elites generally, any resistance is rewritten as revanchist racism for convenience of argument, something I’d file as suspected proof the elite is not fully meritocratic. These, the quality inbred of the Ivy League may not know that most extended families out across the country have crossed the race lines in the past few decades because people move around a lot and you know, they all live together in one big jumble out there.

•Sam Tanenhaus - “Identity Politics Leans Right”

•David Brooks - “The Broken Society”

•Lawrence Downes - signed editorial “Two Rallies”

•Bob Herbert’s column “An Absence of Class”


At least J. Wes Ulm in Democracy, attacks something foundationally relevant in “Cachet of the Cutthroat”, and that is are non-churchgoing liberals really Darwin-deniers?


James Bowman - Avatar and the Flight from Reality”

Avatar’s combination of the anti-mimetic and the politically progressive could be seen as being indebted to contemporary aesthetic criticism like that of Michael Taussig in Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (1993), a book that identifies the Western mimetic tradition with colonialism and the construct of ‘savages’ that supposedly made possible Western oppression of indigenous peoples. Similarly, Kelly Dennis’s Art/Porn: A History of Seeing and Touching (2009) exposes ‘the seductions of illusionism,’ by which she appears to mean traditional notions of representational art. ‘Illusionism’ as an oppressor’s doctrine and self-justification for his oppression thus becomes the aesthetic or art-historical equivalent of ‘capitalism,’ ‘imperialism,’ ‘sexism,’ and so on — a name given by utopians to the world as they find it in order to suggest, precisely, its unreality, its own merely contingent and conventional nature — just like that of the various manufactured utopias they propose to put in its place.


Artforum seems worth buying about once a year. In late '08 I bought it for Luc Sante’s Manny Farber appreciation on his death. The current March issue is another one to buy, mostly for James Quandt’s piece on filmmaker-critic Eric Rohmer who died in January. That piece isn’t available online but you can read John Kelsey’s review of The Runaways, and Greil Marcus on Malcolm McLaren’s Paris fixation, which I do intend to get to someday, both are posted online. Here’s a bit from the Rohmer piece:

'The color picture is ugly, I agree,’ Rohmer wrote in an early essay, a comment as ironic as this most loquacious of directors’ persistent yearning for the silent era… For few directors equaled Rohmer’s expressive use of color, with Mondrian-style primaries deployed to hint at complexities of character.


Nigel Andrews on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in the FT has it as post-Hiroshima in its revolutionary breakthrough that showed up critics as it found its audience and changed film. Well yes but it's also so radically conservative as to be Catholic. Hitchcock (like Rohmer) was also simply drawing from a tradition most of their contemporaries and successors struggle mightily and ridiculously to do without, as if they, geniuses that they supposed themselves to be, might simply conjure up a metaphysics as rich and deep. Horror films are usually best left Catholic in their perspective, spoken or un-spoken. Only Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974) seemed to successfully reconfigure the premise itself. Hitchcock, Rohmer, any director contrives jeopardy for his characters. The art of film historically was built by placing young women and children in jeopardy for the vicarious concern of the audience; better make them orphans as well and tie them to the railroad track to make sure we get the message. Much sexual jeopardy in films has been a more playful tease that begins precisely with the “occasion of sin” the Church obsesses over. Movies are vicarious occasions of sin which was why the Catholic press’s ratings for films were always so harsh. What Warhol and his writer-director Paul Morrissey did in their Drac film was have the Count specifically require the blood of virgin females. Handyman Joe Dallesandro thus dutifully runs around defending all the fair damsels of the village by deflowering them just before Udo Kier shows up and sinks his teeth into their necks; his eyes then bug out and he is retching up more soiled blood before he knows it. Dracula post-sexual revolution! Dracula, motor for the sexual revolution! I’ve mentioned it before but E. Michael Jones’ book, Monsters From The Id - The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film, is the best thing I’ve read about things gothic. But back to Alfred, what gave Psycho the power it had and has was his turning all of the formula of Hollywood history into foreplay for not another occasion-of-sin sex tease, but murder -- abrupt and insane as if landing from some other movie, but in Hitchcock’s one true narrative a perfect realization of all the thousands of the Legion of Decency’s “condemned” ratings for what Hollywood offered as light romantic farce. Jones uses James for his frontispiece:

Everyone who is tempted is attracted and seduced by his own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown it too has a child, and the child is death.

And the Jones I quoted in Enter Naomi is from his chapter, “Hollywood and Death”:

To recapitulate the past forty years of film history, which was in its way a recapitulation of the past two hundred and fifty years of the Enlightenment: they wanted sex but got horror instead.


Stephanie Simon in WSJ sketches out Denver’s culture war within “the pothead community” (my epithet). It helps to recall that the boring drone of NORML-types is fully bourgeois in the greater Denver area, which includes important high-rent cultural sub-centers like Boulder and various mountain towns (Nederland, Aspen, Telluride…). But Denver is also a very lively center of fully committed post-punk neo-redneck PBR-America where every tattooed meth-cook crashes through his trailer-trash theme-park nightlife, stripper-girlfriend in hand. Both groups seek to groundfloor the new Gold-rush, which in any case the Democrats both these groups vote for are soon to move marijuana behind the pharmacist counter at Walgreens and Rite-Aid. In either case, just say no.


Matt Coker interviews Nick Schou of the OC Weekly for the OCW about his book, Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World.

NS: Basically, we ran a story in 1999 or 2000, ‘Laguna on Acid’ by Bob Emmers, about a big Christmas concert, and deep in the article it mentioned this little-known group of surfers dropped acid onto the show from a plane. That led to the idea to track those people down for a feature story. But no one from the Brotherhood talked to me until I was writing the book. This solves one of the last remaining mysteries of the 1960s: Who were they, and what were they trying to do?


Edwin Heathcoate in the FT on Peter Saville, ex of Factory Records now branding municipal Manchester itself.


Tony Judt is dying slowly; the memoirs he is dictating are more interesting than his political essays have been. This one on the fifties/sixties sexual revo, “Girls! Girls! Girls!” is at the New York Review of Books blog.

Within a matter of months, a generation of young women abandoned a century of lingerie and adopted the miniskirt with (or without) tights. Few men of my acquaintance born later than 1952 have even heard of -- much less encountered -- most of the undergarments listed above… In theory we prided ourselves on being the cutting edge. But in practice we were a conformist cohort: shaped more by our ‘50s youth than our ‘60s adolescence. A surprising number of us married young… Championing the inalienable right of everyone to do anything, we had scant occasion to do much ourselves. Our predecessors had grown up in the claustrophobic world of Lord Jim and Look Back in Anger… they did not expect to live out their fantasies. We, by contrast, had trouble distinguishing our fantasies from everyday life… Our successors -- liberated from old-style constraints -- have imposed new restrictions upon themselves.


Eamonn Butler in the FT, “We should not be saved from our stupidity”. I can think of two reasons: 1. Darwin’s natural selection, 2. The maintenance of Freedom.


Barney Jopson in the FT has an excellent piece, “The road to independence” which describes the coming vote to release black Christian south Sudan from the Arab-run Muslim north. Sudan refers to the blacks so perhaps the slavers of the north will leave the name to the south. But does the fact that the blacks in the south are Christian count against them in the UN? Does brown trump black when it is Muslim vs. Christian? And wither Darfur? According to Scott Baldauf’s report in the CSM, it's feared the money the Organization of Islamic Conference just pledged to Darfur will reward the Arab nomads that were deputized for the driving out of non-Arab civilians when they couldn’t engage the rebel groups who’d flee to Chad. Here’s hoping the international do-gooders are capable of imagining what is taking place as Khartoum faces the loss of oil revenue from the south and the halting of their jihad, and the end of slave labor.


Daniel Martin Varisco’s book Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid is taken apart by A.J. Caschetta in the Middle East Quarterly.


Novelist Andrew Roberts on Miranda Carter’s book, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm in the WSJ.

Miranda Carter's ‘George, Nicholas and Wilhelm,’ about the interaction between three imperial cousins of 1914—Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Czar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V of Britain—is entertaining and well-researched, with acute pen portraits of the major players. But it all too often falls for the ‘if only’ myth, whereby peace could have been kept if only wiser men had been in charge of their countries instead of these intellectually limited royal relatives. There are elephantine holes in the theory, not least the playing down of France's central role in the geopolitics of the day, presumably because, as a republic, France doesn't fit the competitive cousins storyline. Any book with the names of three emperors in its title is bound to place the monarchs on center-stage more than their actual involvement merits. George V of Britain, who emerges as a completely second-rate human being in Ms. Carter's telling but who was in fact one of the finest and most dutiful monarchs of the 20th century (or any other), wielded very little political power in foreign affairs… Even in the authoritarian German monarchy, Kaiser Wilhelm II's actions were narrowly circumscribed by his own parliament and by the military; he could not have launched the war on his own. In absolutist Russia, Nicholas II had the power but not the will to take center-stage. A key figure who doesn't get enough attention in this book is Franz Josef, the long-serving emperor of Austria-Hungary… One suspects that Ms. Carter skimps on her discussion of Franz Josef because he was only distantly related to the book's ‘cousinhood.’


Margaret Coker in the WSJ's “Iranian Details Crackdown” nails down for the first time that I’m aware of the election theft everyone sort of assumed had taken place in Iran until this diplomat based in Oslo defected.


(thanks to Mike Watt)

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  1. It seems to me that the major function of both the SF Weekly and the Bay Guardian is as blanketing material for the ever-growing homeless population of SF. I see whole beds made up of their pages, just about every morning....

  2. hey joe, just noticed a copy of 'sound of the city' at this local little cafe here in bed-stuy, had never looked at it before...it's quite interesting how similar the layout/fonts/b&w photo section in the middle are to yr Rock and the Pop. it's obvious u modeled yrs after his, right?(no disrespect intended here)it was just funny to come across the proto-type of the great Pop Narco. saw 'the runaways' flick the other day, those two lead chicks just cldn't act for shit...all one has to do is look at the old footage from youtube to see how much more personality/fun the real girls had back then...such the lazy cliche of modern, hack, put-together-by-committee hollywood 'product': to portray rock n'rollers as always in a constant state of sullenness, and/or drugged-out inarticulateness. so simple and boring.