Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Editors are wacky people, and they have been, since time immemorial, or 1863, whichever is more your cup of tea.

I have edited Kyle Minor's list below to acknowledge what I have knocked off already, and plan to read the rest by the middle of next year. Thankfully I've got a healthy start on the McCarthy, and planned to polish off his bibliography by the thaw regardless. 2666 is a another I am glad is out of the way (for immensity's sake). I've also read a lot of Tolstoy and most of Tolkien, so there's that.

I have comics I have to review and no fucking time to review them, hence why I am blogging right?

Trying to deduce, over the next few weeks, how to make AWP conference a reality. Anyone who wants to help out, let me know.

Does this seem true to you:
"You have to let the people surround you, and you have to listen, because you’ll never be able to hear the sound of your voice until you can pick it out of the crowd. They will temper your heart because you will never burn as brightly for yourself as you will for them."

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Suggested Reading List

Posted in its entirety for sheer, overwhelming awesomeness from Kyle Minor's post on HTML Giant

Suggested Reading List for My Spring 2011 Fiction Workshop

(Because if you’re going to make a writer of yourself, you must read your brains out.) * (Updated: to note what has been read, and what remains to be read)

All Things, All at Once, Lee K. Abbott
The Box Man, Kobo Abe
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
The Children’s Hospital, Chris Adrian
A Death in the Family, James Agee
Man In His Time, Brian W. Aldiss
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
My Life in Heavy Metal, Steve Almond
Telegrams of the Soul, Peter Altenburg
Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Dora Flor and Her Two Husbands, Jorge Amado
Elect Mr Robinson for a Better World, Donald Antrim
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Rector of Justin, Louis Auchincloss
Obabakoak, Bernardo Axtaga
The Music of Chance, Paul Auster
Red Cavalry Stories, Isaac Babel
The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker
Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin
The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks
The Smallest People in the World, Keith Banner
Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
A History of the World in 8 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes
60 Stories, Donald Barthelme
The Lives of Rocks, Rick Bass
The Stories of Richard Bausch
First Light, Charles Baxter
The Lost Ones, Samuel Beckett
The Collectors, Matt Bell
Mr Sammler’s Planet, Saul Bellow
Town Smokes, Pinckney Benedict
25th Hour, David Benioff
Correction, Thomas Bernhard
2666, Roberto Bolano
Labyrinths, Borges
The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
After the Plague, TC Boyle
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
On the Yard, Malcolm Braly
Rumors of Rain, Andre Brink
Things That Fall from the Sky, Kevin Brockmeier
Fay, Larry Brown
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Scorch Atlas, Blake Butler
The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M Cain
Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell
The Palace Thief, Ethan Canin
Hard Rain Falling, Don Carpenter
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver
Spartina, John Casey
The Professor’s House, Willa Cather
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
The Big SLeep, Raymond Chandler
Collected Stories, Eileen Chang
Among the Missing, Dan Chaon
Farewell I’m Bound to Leave You, Fred Chappell
The Stories of John Cheever
Falconer, John Cheever
Awakening, Kate Chopin
“Gusev,” Anton Chekhov
Oh Baby, Kim Chinquee
House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
We’re in Trouble, Christopher Coake
Disgrace, J M Coetzee
Witz, Joshua Cohen
Diary of a Rapist, Evan S Connell
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar
Bargains in the Real World, Elizabeth Cox
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
A Feast of Snakes, Harry Crews
The Passage, Justin Cronin
Flesh and Blood, Michael Cunningham
The Green Age of Asher Witherow, M Allen Cunningham
House of Leaves, Mark Danieliewski
The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat
In the Gloaming, Alice Elliott Dark
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
The Circus in Winter, Cathy Day
Great Jones Street, Don DeLillo
Mao II, Don DeLillo
Underworld, Don DeLillo
Drown, Junot Diaz
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Interstate, Stephen Dixon
I. and End of I., Stephen Dixon
City of God, E L Doctorow
The Shell Collector, Anthony Doerr
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Clown Girl, Monica Drake
Selected Stories, Andre Dubus
House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III
Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
The Lover, Marguerite Duras
Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
Permutation City, Greg Egan
How the Water Feels, Paul Eggers
The Magic Kingdom, Stanley Elkin
Happy Baby, Stephen Elliott
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
Silence, Shusaku Endo
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander
The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich
Altmann’s Tongue, Brian Evenson
The Wavering Knife, Brian Evenson
Erasure, Percival Everett
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley
Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha, Edward Falco
As I Lay Dying, Faulkner
Absalom! Absalom!, Faulkner
The Short Stories of F Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
Independence Day, Richard Ford
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
Poachers, Tom Franklin
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
The Recognitions, Wm. Gaddis
Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
The Stories of Mavis Gallant
as much Gabriel Garcia-Marquez as possible, starting with Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Grendel, John Gardner
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, Wm Gass
Welding with Children, Tim Gautreaux
I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, Wm. Gay
Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
The House of Breath, Wm Goyen
Museum of the Weird, Amelia Gray
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
Hunger, Knut Hamsun
Adverbs, Daniel Handler
Airships, Barry Hannah
Bats Out of Hell, Barry Hannah
Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison
“Rollerball Murder,” Wm Harrison
The Lime Twig, John Hawkes
The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne
Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein
The Pacific, Mark Helprin
some stories from Hemingway
The Complete Works of Marvin K Mooney, Christopher Higgs
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
The Cider House Rules, John Irving
The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
All Aunt Hagar’s Children, Edward P Jones
all of Kafka
The Master of Go, Yasunari Kawabata
The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis
all of Imre Kertesz’s novellas
Pacazo, Roy Kesey
Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid
Different Seasons, Stephen King
Carrie, Stephen King
Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King
The Stand, Stephen King
The Shining, Stephen King
Steps, Jerzy Koszinski
The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Kundera
From Old Notebooks, Evan Lavender-Smith
Independent People, Halldor Laxness
Mystic River, Dennis Lehane
Rum Punch, Elmore Leonard
a couple of J T LeRoy books
The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing
The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
The Year of A Thousand Good Prayers, Yiyun Li
Richard Yates, Tao Lin
Stories in the Worst Way, Gary Lutz
Cairo Trilogy, Naghub Mahfouz
some Bernard Malamud novels
A Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
In Country, Bobbie Ann Mason
My Life in CIA, Harry Mathews
All of Cormac McCarthy, starting with Child of God
The Cement Garden, Ian McEwan
The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels
at least one novel from James A. Michener
“Lust,” Susan Minot
about three weeks in Mishima
Hue and Cry, James Alan McPherson
The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, Rick Moody
“People Like That,” Lorrie Moore
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro
Open Secrets, Alice Munro
Hateship, Loveship, Alice Munro
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil
A House for Mr Biswas, Naipaul
Pale Fire, Nabokov
Lolita, Nabokov
The Assignation, Joyce Carol Oates
In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien
The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor
Kentucky Straight, Chris Offutt
“I Stand Here Ironing,” Tillie Olsen
The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
The Collected Stories of Grace Paley
The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake
Refresh, Refresh, Benjamin Percy
The Devil in the Hills, Cesare Pevase
Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter
at least one Charles Portis novel [3]
Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock
The Collected Stories of J F Powers
Clockers, Richard Price
Close Range, Annie Proulx
Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
An Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
Charity, Mark Richard
Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
American Pastoral, Philip Roth
Mating, Norman Rush
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
some Salinger
A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
some Saramago
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, George Saunders
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
all of Christine Schutt except the newest novel
a couple of Sebald novels
Collected Stories, Isaac Bashevis Singer
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn
Sophie’s Choice, Wm. Styron
“The Old Forest,” Peter Taylor
Girls in the Grass, Melanie Rae Thon
some Tolstoy and Tolkien
A Bit on the Side, Wm Trevor
at least one Anne Tyler novel, swear to god
Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall
some Deb Olin Unferth stories
Rabbit Tetralogy, John Updike
What the World . . ., Laura van den Berg
The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, Brad Vice
The William T. Vollman Reader
Oblivion, David Foster Wallace
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David Foster Wallace
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
“Against Specificity,” Douglas Watson
some Eudora Welty stories
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead
Exciteability, Diane Williams
The Quick & the Dead, Joy Williams
Stoner, John Williams
“The Farmer’s Daughters,” Wm Carlos Williams
“Bullet in the Brain, ” Tobias Wolff
some Virginia Woolf novels
some Daniel Woodrell
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
*I’ve left out 98% of the important books you should read, but this should get you started on the fiction.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

fence books reading at The Kitchen twitter review

So Fence Books, evermore publishers of always the most amazing, most interesting work, held a reading last night showcasing their fall catalog authors: Nick Demske, Martin Corless-Smith, and Jena Osman. Martin I've seen read before, though I forget where. Jena was/is co-publisher of Chain/Chain Links. Nick's name I'd seen here and there, but I'd not run up on his work before.

Here is my condensed soup of a review of the reading via twitter:
The Fence Books reading at the Kitchen was quite spectacular. Jena Osman had an awesome, Flash (the superhero) infused go along with her reading of the poem "Mercury Rising".

I really hope she finds a way to post that online someplace. Martin Corless-Smith remains one of the best reading poets I've seen.

And Nick Demske's reading seems a little much at first, but he wins you over with sincerity, humor, and energy.

Bought all three books. I never buy all three books.

If any of you are thinking, "hey, I just don't have enough BOOK on my holiday gift list":

Not my past glory of Year of the Hug reviews (The Year of the Hug was dedicated to reviews of live poetry readings), which maybe I'll just try to import all over here at some point, but still something, and the reading was a good place to extricate some peace after what was, in many way, a BIT of a day.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Shades of Howard Zinn: It's Okay If It's Impossible

Reposting this from It's long, but every word here is pristine, transformative, and it will have made you a better person by the time you are done.

It's Okay If It's Impossible

By Bill Moyers

The following remarks were prepared for delivery on October 29, 2010
as part of the Howard Zinn Lecture Series at Boston University:

I was honored when you asked me to join in celebrating Howard Zinn's
life and legacy. I was also surprised. I am a journalist, not a
historian. The difference between a journalist and an historian is
that the historian knows the difference. George Bernard Shaw once
complained that journalists are seemingly unable to discriminate
between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization. In fact,
some epic history can start out as a minor incident. A young man named
Paris ran off with a beautiful woman who was married to someone else,
and the civilization of Troy began to unwind. A middle-aged black
seamstress, riding in a Montgomery bus, had tired feet, and an ugly
social order began to collapse. A night guard at an office complex in
Washington D.C. found masking tape on a doorjamb, and the presidency
of Richard Nixon began to unwind. What journalist, writing on
deadline, could have imagined the walloping kick that Rosa Park's
tired feet would give to Jim Crow? What pundit could have fantasized
that a third-rate burglary on a dark night could change the course of
politics? The historian's work is to help us disentangle the wreck of
the Schwinn from cataclysm. Howard famously helped us see how big
change can start with small acts.

We honor his memory. We honor him, for Howard championed grassroots
social change and famously chronicled its story as played out over the
course of our nation's history. More, those stirring sagas have
inspired and continue to inspire countless people to go out and make a
difference. The last time we met, I told him that the stories in A
People's History of the United States remind me of the fellow who
turned the corner just as a big fight broke out down the block.
Rushing up to an onlooker he shouted, "Is this a private fight, or can
anyone get in it?" For Howard, democracy was one big public fight and
everyone should plunge into it. That's the only way, he said, for
everyday folks to get justice - by fighting for it.

I have in my desk at home a copy of the commencement address Howard
gave at Spelman College in 2005. He was chairman of the history
department there when he was fired in 1963 over his involvement in
civil rights. He had not been back for 43 years, and he seemed
delighted to return for commencement. He spoke poignantly of his
friendship with one of his former students, Alice Walker, the daughter
of tenant farmers in Georgia who made her way to Spelman and went on
to become the famous writer. Howard delighted in quoting one of her
first published poems that had touched his own life:

It is true
I've always loved
the daring ones
like the black young man
who tried to crash
all barriers
at once,
wanted to swim
at a white beach (in Alabama)

That was Howard Zinn; he loved the daring ones, and was daring himself.

One month before his death he finished his last book, "The Bomb." Once
again he was wrestling with his experience as a B-17 bombardier during
World War II, especially his last mission in 1945 on a raid to take
out German garrisons in the French town of Royan. For the first time
the Eighth Air Force used napalm, which burst into liquid fire on the
ground, killing hundreds of civilians. He wrote, "I remember
distinctly seeing the bombs explode in the town, flaring like matches
struck in the fog. I was completely unaware of the human chaos below."
Twenty years later he returned to Royan to study the effects of the
raid and concluded there had been no military necessity for the
bombing; everyone knew the war was almost over (it ended three weeks
later) and this attack did nothing to affect the outcome. He wrote
"The Bomb" to remind himself and us that sometimes we have to throw a
wrench into the machine.

He believed in small acts of rebellion, as his long-time friend and
colleague Gregg Ruggerio recalls, which means - and these are Howard's
final words in the book, "acting on what we feel and think, here, now,
for human flesh and sense, against the abstractions of duty and

Howard never forget what it was like growing up poor in a working
class immigrant family, which is probably why, as Gregg Ruggerio also
reminds us, "Shifting historical focus from the wealthy and powerful
to the ordinary person was perhaps his greatest act of rebellion and
incitement." Let's begin, then, with some everyday people.


When she heard the news, Connie Brasel cried like a baby.

For years she had worked at minimum-wage jobs, until 17 years ago,
when she was hired by the Whirlpool refrigerator factory in
Evansville, Indiana. She was making $ 18.44 an hour when Whirlpool
announced earlier this year that it was closing the operation and
moving it to Mexico. She wept. I'm sure many of the other eleven
hundred workers who lost their jobs wept too; they had seen their
ticket to the middle class snatched from their hands. The company
defended its decision by claiming high costs, underused capacity, and
the need to stay competitive. Those excuses didn't console Connie
Brasel. "I was becoming part of something bigger than me," she told
Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times. "Whirlpool was the best thing
that ever happened to me."

She was not only sad, she was mad. "They didn't get world-class
quality because they had the best managers. They got world-class
quality because of the United States and because of their workers."

Among those workers were Natalie Ford, her husband and her son; all
three lost their jobs. "It's devastating," she told the Times. Her
father had worked at Whirlpool before them. Now, "There aren't any
jobs here. How is this community going to survive?"

And what about the country? Between 2001 and 2008, about 40,000 US
manufacturing plants closed. Six million factory jobs have disappeared
over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing
jobs. Natalie Ford said to theTimes what many of us are wondering: "I
don't know how without any good-paying jobs here in the United States
people are going to pay for their health care, put their children
through school."

Now, if Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford lived in South Carolina, they
might have been lucky enough to get a job with the new BMW plant that
recently opened there and advertised that the company would hire one
thousand workers. Among the applicants? According to the Washington
Post; "a former manager of a major distribution center for Target; a
consultant who oversaw construction projects in four western states; a
supervisor at a plastics recycling firm. Some held college degrees and
resumes in other fields where they made more money." They will be paid
$15 an hour - about half of what BMW workers earn in Germany

In polite circles, among our political and financial classes, this is
known as "the free market at work." No, it's "wage repression," and
it's been happening in our country since around 1980. I must invoke
some statistics here, knowing that statistics can glaze the eyes; but
if indeed it's the mark of a truly educated person to be deeply moved
by statistics, as I once read, this truly educated audience, then I am
sure you will be moved by the recent analysis of tax data by the
economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950
through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but
the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation's
economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0
Americans was growing, too - from $17,719 to $30,941. That's a 75
percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow
handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line
flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from
that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average
income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

That's wage repression.

Another story in the Times caught my eye a few weeks after the one
about Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford. The headline read: "Industries
Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts." Nelson Schwartz reported that
despite falling motorcycle sales, Harley-Davidson profits are soaring
- with a second quarter profit of $71 million, more than triple what
it earned the previous year. Yet Harley-Davidson has announced plans
to cut fourteen hundred to sixteen hundred more jobs by the end of
next year; this on top of the 2000 job cut last year.

The story noted: "This seeming contradiction - falling sales and
rising profits - is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more
buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and unemployment
shows few signs of easing."

There you see the two Americas. A buoyant Wall Street; a doleful Main
Street. The Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords - left to sink or swim on
their own. There were no bailouts for them.

Meanwhile, Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that "Cash is gushing into
company's coffers as they report what's shaping up to be a
third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of
spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people,
companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their
mattresses." And what are their plans for this money? Again,
theWashington Post

.... Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are
buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have
announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more
than five times as much compared with this time last year... But the
rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to
spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce
economic growth.

That's how "capitalism" works today: Conserving cash rather than
bolstering hiring and production. Investing in their own shares to
prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to
Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Hear the chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Ethan
Harris, who told the Times: "There's no question that there is an
income shift going on in the economy. Companies are squeezing their
labor costs to build profits."

Or the chief economist for Credit Suisse in New York, Neal Soss: As
companies have wrung more savings out of their work forces, causing
wages and salaries barely to budge from recession lows, "profits have
staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and
the first quarter of 2010."

Just this morning the New York Times reports that the private equity
business is roaring back: "While it remains difficult to get a
mortgage to buy a home or to get a loan to fund a small business,
yield-starved investors are creating a robust market for corporate
bonds and loans."

You get that, I'm sure: Capitalism should be helping everyday
Americans and businesses get the mortgages and loans - the capital -
they need to keep going; they're not, even as the financiers are
reaping robust awards.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But he's run off with all the toys.

Late in August I clipped another story from the Wall Street Journal.
Above an op-ed piece by Robert Frank the headline asked: "Do the Rich
Need the Rest of America?" The author didn't seem ambivalent about the
answer. He wrote that as stocks have boomed,

"the wealthy bounced back. And while the Main Street economy" [where
the Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords and most Americans live] "was
wracked by high unemployment and the real-estate crash, the wealthy -
whose financial fates were more tied to capital markets than jobs and
houses - picked themselves up, brushed themselves off, and started
buying luxury goods again."

Citing the work of Michael Lind, at the Economic Growth Program of the
New American Foundation, the article went on to describe how the
super-rich earn their fortunes with overseas labor, selling to
overseas consumers and managing financial transactions that have
little to do with the rest of America, "while relying entirely or
almost entirely on immigrant servants at one of several homes around
the country."

Right at that point I remembered another story I had filed away, also
from the Wall Street Journal, from three years ago. The reporter
Ianthe Jeanne Dugan described how the private equity firm Blackstone
Group swooped down on a travel reservation company in Colorado, bought
it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just
seven months, one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a
deal. Blackstone made a killing while those workers were left to sift
through the debris. They sold their homes, took part-time jobs making
sandwiches and coffee, and lost their health insurance.

That fall, Blackstone's chief executive, Stephen Schwarzman,
reportedly worth over $5 billion, rented a luxurious resort in Jamaica
to celebrate the marriage of his son. According to the Guardian News,
the Montego Bay facility alone cost $50,000, plus thousands more to
sleep 130 guests. There were drinks on the beach, dancers and a steel
band, marshmallows around the fire, and then, the following day, an
opulent wedding banquet with champagne and a jazz band and fireworks
display that alone cost $12,500. Earlier in the year Schwarzman had
rented out the Park Avenue Armory in New York (near his 35-room
apartment) to celebrate his 60th birthday at a cost of $3 million. So?
It's his money, isn't it? Yes, but consider this: The stratospheric
income of private-equity partners is taxed at only 15 percent - less
than the rate paid, say, by a middle class family. When Congress
considered raising the rate on their Midas-like compensation, the
financial titans flooded Washington with armed mercenaries - armed,
that is, with hard, cold cash - and brought the "debate" to an end
faster than it had taken Schwartzman to fire 841 workers. The
financial class had won another round in the exploitation of working
people who, if they are lucky enough to have jobs, are paying a higher
tax rate than the super-rich.

So the answer to the question: "Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?"
is as stark as it is ominous: Many don't. As they form their own
financial culture increasingly separated from the fate of everyone
else, "it is hardly surprising," as Frank and Lind concluded, "that so
many of them should be so hostile to paying taxes to support the
infrastructure and the social programs that help the majority of the
American people."

You would think the rich might care, if not from empathy, then from
reading history. Ultimately gross inequality can be fatal to
civilization. In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or
Succeed, the Pulitzer Prize-winning anthropologist Jared Diamond
writes about how governing elites throughout history isolate and
delude themselves until it is too late. He reminds us that the change
people inflict on their environment is one of the main factors in the
decline of earlier societies. For example: the Mayan natives on the
Yucatan peninsula who suffered as their forest disappeared, their soil
eroded, and their water supply deteriorated. Chronic warfare further
exhausted dwindling resources. Although Mayan kings could see their
forests vanishing and their hills eroding, they were able to insulate
themselves from the rest of society. By extracting wealth from
commoners, they could remain well-fed while everyone else was slowly
starving. Realizing too late that they could not reverse their
deteriorating environment, they became casualties of their own
privilege. Any society contains a built-in blueprint for failure,
Diamond warns, if elites insulate themselves from the consequences of
their decisions, separated from the common life of the country.

They seem to relish the separation. When Howard came down to New York
last December for what would be my last interview with him, I showed
him this document published in the spring of 2005 by the Wall Street
giant Citigroup, setting forth an "Equity Strategy" under the title
(I'm not making this up) "Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting

Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich,
political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an
American word and wasn't meant to become an American phenomenon - some
of our founders deplored what they called "the veneration of wealth."
But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of
coining a variation on the word- "plutonomy", which describes an
economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer
and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided
the time had come to "bang the drum on plutonomy."

And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document
"Revisiting Plutonomy;"

"Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by
market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper... [and]
take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years."

"...the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States - the
plutonomists in our parlance - have benefitted disproportionately from
the recent productivity surged in the US... [and] from globalization
and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor."

"... [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years.
Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact."

I'll repeat that: "The dynamics of plutonomy are still intact." That
was the casebefore the Great Collapse of 2008, and it's the case
today, two years after the catastrophe. But the plutonomists are doing
just fine. Even better in some cases, thanks to our bailout of the big

As for the rest of the country: Listen to this summary in The Economist

- no Marxist journal but one of the most influential business
publications in the world - of a study by Pew Research:

More than half of all workers today have experienced a spell of
unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours or been forced to go
part-time. The typical unemployed worker has been jobless for nearly
six months. Collapsing share and house prices have destroyed a fifth
of the wealth of the average household. Nearly six in ten Americans
have cancelled or cut back on holidays. About a fifth say their
mortgages are underwater. One in four of those between 18 and 29 have
moved back in with their parents. Fewer than half of all adults expect
their children to have a higher standard of living than theirs, and
more than a quarter say it will be lower. For many Americans the great
recession has been the sharpest trauma since The Second World War,
wiping out jobs, wealth and hope itself.

Hold on that for a minute. Let it sink in: For millions of
garden-variety Americans, the audacity of hope has been replaced by a
paucity of hope.

Time for a confession. The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow
told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you
don't try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don't
mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction
block, subject to the highest bidder.

Socrates said to understand a thing you must first name it. The name
for what's happening to our political system is corruption - a deep,
systemic corruption. I urge you this weekend to read the recent
edition of Harper's Magazine. The former editor Roger D. Hodge

brilliantly dissects how democracy has gone on sale in America.
Ideally, he writes, our ballots purport to be expressions of political
will, which we hope and pray will be translated into legislative and
executive action by our pretended representatives. But voting is the
beginning of civil virtue, not its end, and the focus of real power is
elsewhere. Voters still "matter" of course, but only as raw material
to be shaped by the actual form of political influence - money.

The article is excerpted from Hodge's new book, "The Mendacity of
Hope." In it he describes how America's founding generation feared
this kind of corruption - the kind that occurs when the private ends
of a narrow faction succeed in capturing the engines of government.
James Madison and many of his contemporaries knew this to be the
corruption that could consume the republic. Looking at history through
a tragic lens, they thought the life cycle of republics - their
degeneration into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy - was inescapable.
And they attempted to erect safeguards against it, hoping to prevent
private and narrow personal interests from overriding those of the
general public.

They failed. Hardly a century passed after the ringing propositions of
1776 when America was engulfed in the gross materialism and political
corruption of the First Gilded Age, when Big Money bought the
government right out from under the voters. In their magisterial work
on The Growth of the American Republic, the historians Morison,
Commager, and Leuchtenberg describe how in that era "privilege
controlled politics," and "the purchase of votes, the corruption of
election officials, the bribing of legislatures, the lobbying of
special bills, and the flagrant disregard of laws" threatened the very
foundations of the country.

I doubt you'll be surprised to learn that this "degenerate and
unlovely age" - as one historian described it - served to inspire Karl
Rove, the man said to be George W. Bush's brain and now a mover and
shaker of the money tree for the corporate-conservative complex (more
on that later.) The extraordinary coupling of private and political
power toward the close of the 19th century - the First Gilded Age -
captured Rove's interest, especially the role of Mark Hanna, the Ohio
operative who became the first modern political fund-raiser. "There
are two things that are important in politics," Hanna said. "The first
is money and I can't remember what the second one is."

He didn't need to remember. Hanna tapped the banks, the insurance
companies, the railroads and the other industrial trusts of the late
1800s for all the money it took to make William McKinley governor of
Ohio and then President of the United States. McKinley was the perfect
conduit for Hanna's connivance and their largesse - one of those
politicians with a talent for emitting banalities as though they were
recently discovered truth. His opponent in the 1896 election was the
Democrat-Populist candidate, William Jennings Bryan, whose base
consisted of aroused populists - the remnant of the People's Party -
who outraged at the rapacity and shenanigans of the monopolies,
trusts, and corporations that were running roughshod over ordinary
Americans. Because Bryan threatened those big economic interests he
was able to raise only one-tenth the money that Mark Hanna raised for
McKinley, and he lost: Money in politics is an old story.

Karl Rove would have learned from his study of Hanna the principles of
plutonomy. For Hanna believed "the state of Ohio existed for property.
It had no other function...Great wealth was to be gained through
monopoly, through using the State for private ends; it was axiomatic
therefore that businessmen should run the government and run it for
personal profit."

He and McKinley therefore saw to it that first Ohio and then
Washington were "ruled by bankers, railroads, and public
utility corporations." The United States Senate was infamous as "a
millionaire's club." City halls, state houses and even courtrooms were
bought and sold like baubles. Instead of enforcing the rules of fair
play, government served as valet to the plutocrats. The young
journalist Henry George had written that "an immense wedge" was being
forced through American society by "the maldistribution of wealth,
status, and opportunity." Now inequality exploded into what the
historian Clinton Rossiter described as "the great train robbery of
American intellectual history." Conservatives of the day -
pro-corporate apologists - hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian
liberalism and turned words like "progress," "opportunity,"

and "individualism" into tools for making the plunder of America sound
like divine right. Laissez faire ideologues and neo-cons of the day -
lovers of empire even then - hijacked Charles Darwin's theory of
evolution and so distorted it that politicians, judges, and publicists
gleefully embraced the notion that progress emerges from the
elimination of the weak and the "survival of the fittest." As one of
the plutocrats crowed: "We are rich. We own America. We got it, God
knows how, but we intend to keep it."

And they have never given up. Today the Gilded Age has returned with a
vengeance. It slipped in quietly at first, back in the early 1980s,
when Ronald Reagan began a "massive decades-long transfer of national
wealth to the rich." As Roger Hodge makes clear, under Bill Clinton
the transfer was even more dramatic, as the top 10 percent captured an
ever-growing share of national income. The trend continued under
George W. Bush - those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are
now about to be extended because both parties have been bought off by
the wealthy - and by 2007 the wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking
in 50% of the national income. Today, a fraction of people at the top
today earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.

You will hear it said, "Come on, this is the way the world works." No,
it's the way the world is made to work. This vast inequality is not
the result of Adam Smith's invisible hand; it did not just happen; it
was no accident. As Hodge drives home, it is the result of a long
series of policy decisions "about industry and trade, taxation and
military spending, by flesh-and-blood humans sitting in
concrete-and-steel buildings." And those policy decisions were paid
for by the less than one percent who participate in our capitalist
democracy political contributions. Over the past 30 years, with the
complicity of Republicans and Democrats alike, the plutocrats, or
plutonomists (choose your own poison) have used their vastly increased
wealth to assure that government does their bidding. Remember that
grateful reference in the Citigroup's document to "market-friendly
governments" on the side of plutonomy? We had a story down in Texas
for that, about the poker game in which the dealer says, "Now play the
cards fairly, Reuben; I know what I dealt you."(To see just how our
system was rigged by the financial and political class and how that
collusion produced the Great Collapse of 2008, run, don't walk, this
weekend to the theatre nearest you showing Charles Ferguson's new
film, "Inside Job." Take a handkerchief because you'll weep for the

Looking back, it all seems so clear that we wonder how we could have
ignored the warning signs at the time. One of the few journalists who
did see it coming - Thomas Edsall of the Washington Post - reported
that "business refined its ability to act as a class, submerging
competitive instincts in favour of joint, cooperative action in the
legislative arena." Big business political action committees flooded
the political arena with a deluge of dollars. They funded think tanks
that churned out study after study with results skewed to their
ideology and interests. And their political allies in the conservative
movement cleverly built alliances with the religious right - Jerry
Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition - who
zealously waged a cultural holy war that camouflaged the economic
assault on working people and the middle class.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan also tried to warn us. He said
President Reagan's real strategy was to force the government to cut
domestic social programs by fostering federal deficits of historic
dimensions. Senator Moynihan was gone before the financial catastrophe
that occurred on George W. Bush's watch that paradoxically could yet
fulfill Reagan's dream. The plutocrats who soaked up all the money now
say the deficits require putting Social Security and other public
services on the chopping block. You might think that Mr. Bush today
would regret having invaded Iraq on false pretences at a cost of more
than a trillion dollars and counting, but no, just last week he said
that his biggest regret was his failure to privatize Social Security.
With over l00 Republicans of the House having signed a pledge to do
just that when the new Congress convenes, Mr. Bush's dream may yet be

Daniel Altman also saw what was coming. In his book Neoconomy he
described a place without taxes or a social safety net, where rich and
poor live in different financial worlds. "It's coming to America," he
wrote. Most likely he would not have been surprised when recently
firefighters in rural Tennessee would let a home burn to the ground
because the homeowner hadn't paid a $75 fee.

That's the kind of world our prevailing ideology is producing.


Here we are now, on the verge of the biggest commercial transaction in
the history of American elections. Once again the plutocracy is buying
off the system. Nearly $4 billion is being spent on the congressional
races that will be decided next week, much of it coming from secret
slush funds. The organization Public Citizen reports that just 10
groups are responsible for the bulk of the spending by independent
groups: "A tiny number of organizations, relying on a tiny number of
corporate and fat cat contributors, are spending most of the money on
the vicious attack ads dominating the airwaves" - those are the words
of Public Citizen's president, Robert Wiessman. The Federal Election
Commission says that two years ago 97% of groups paying for election
ads disclosed the names of their donors. This year it's only 32%.

Donors are laundering their cash through front groups with
high-falutin' names like American Crossroads. That's one of the two
slush funds controlled by Karl Rove in his ambition to revive the era
of the robber barons. Promise me you won't laugh when I tell you that
although Rove and the powerful Washington lobbyist who is his
accomplice described the first organization as "grassroots," 97% of
its initial contributions came from four billionaires. Yes: The grass
grows mighty high when the roots are fertilized with gold.

Rove, other conservative groups and the Chamber of Commerce have in
fact created a "shadow party" determined to be the real power in
Washington just like Rome's Opus Dei in Dan Brown's "The DaVinci
Code." In this "shadow party" the plutocrats reign. We have reached
what the new chairman of Common Cause and former Labor Secretary
Robert Reich calls "the perfect storm that threatens American
democracy: an unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the
top; a record amount of secret money, flooding our democracy; and a
public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government
that's raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it
back to work. We're losing our democracy to a different system. It's
called plutocracy."

That word again. But Reich is right. That fraction of one percent of
Americans who now earn as much as the bottom 120 million Americans
includes the top executives of giant corporations and those Wall
Street hedge funds and private equity managers who constitute
Citigroup's "plutonomy" are buying our democracy and they're doing it
in secret.

That's because early this year the five reactionary members of the
Supreme Court ruled that corporations are "persons" with the right to
speak during elections by funding ads like those now flooding the
airwaves. It's hard for patriots to admit it, but the United States
Supreme Court has promulgated a Big Lie: Corporations are not people;
they are legal fictions, creatures of the state, born not of the womb,
of flesh and blood, but of the imagination of fabulists. They're not
permitted to vote. They don't bear arms (except for the nuclear bombs
they can now drop on a congressional race without anyone knowing where
it came from.) Yet five men in black robes have bestowed on them the
privilege of "personhood" to speak - and not in their own voice, mind
you, but as ventriloquists, through hired puppets.

Does anyone - even them - really think that's what the authors of the
First Amendment had in mind? Horrified by such a profound perversion
of the First Amendment, the editor of the spunky Texas Observer, Bob
Moser, got it right with his headline: "So long, Democracy, it's been
good to know you."

This is the work of fabulists or dupes. You'll remember that soon
after the Court's decision President Obama raised the matter during
his State of the Union speech in January. He said the decision would
unleash a torrent of corrupting corporate money into our political
system. Sitting a few feet in front of the president, Associate
Justice Samuel Alito defiantly mouthed the words: "Not true." It was a
remarkable revelation of the majority's mindset on the court. Alito
was either disingenuous, naïve, or deluded. He can't be in this world
without knowing he and his four fellow corporatists were giving big
donors the one thing they most want in their campaign against working
people: an unfair advantage.

Alan Grayson, for one, got it. He's a member of Congress and knows how
the world is made to work. He recently said: "We're now in a situation
where a lobbyist can walk into my office...and say, "I've got five
million dollars to spend and I can spend it for you or against you.
Which do you prefer?"

Just the other day my friend and colleague Michael Winship, the
columnist, told a story that illuminates the Court's coup de grace
against democracy. It seems the incorrigible George Bernard Shaw once
propositioned a fellow dinner guest, asking if she would go to bed
with him for a million pounds (today around $1,580,178 US dollars).
She agreed. Shaw then asked if she would do the same for ten

"What do you take me for?" she asked angrily. "A prostitute?" Shaw
responded: "We've established the principle, Madam. Now we're just
haggling over the price."

With this one decision, the Supreme Court established once and for all
that Shaw's is the only principle left in politics, as long as the
price is right.

Come now and let's visit Washington's red light district, the
headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the front group for the
plutocracy's prostitution of politics. The Chamber boasts it
represents more than three million businesses and approximately
300,000 members. But in reality it has almost nothing to do with the
shops and stores along your local streets. The Chamber's branding, as
the economics journalist Zach Carter recently wrote, "allows them to
disguise their political agenda as a coalition of local businesses
while it does dirty work for corporate titans." Carter found that when
the Supreme Court came down with its infamous ruling earlier this
year, the Chamber responded by announcing a 40% boost in its political
spending operations. After the money started flowing in, the Chamber
boosted its budget again by 50%.

After digging into corporate foundation tax filings and other public
records, theNew York Times found that the Chamber of Commerce has
"increasingly relied on a relatively small collection of big corporate
donors" - the plutocracy's senior ranks - "to finance much of its
legislative and political agenda." Furthermore, the chamber

"makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors."
Indeed, "It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would
require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when
they spend money on campaign ads."

Now connect some dots: When the House of Representatives recently
passed a bill that would require that the names of all such donors be
publicly disclosed, every Republican in the Senate opposed it, and
there it died. This, despite the fact that Senate Republican Leader
Mitch McConnell had actually claimed that "sunshine" laws would make
everything okay by letting people see who was buying their elections.
Hardly had the public begun to sing "Let the Sunshine In" than
McConnell lined up every Republican in the Senate to black out the
windows. When the chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce was asked
by an interviewer, "Are you guys eventually going to disclose?" the
answer was a brisk: "No." Together, the chamber and the Republicans in
the Senate are determined not to reveal the corporate sources of their
slush funds. Why? Because those very corporations are afraid of a
public backlash. Doesn't that tell us something about the nature of
what they're doing? In the words of one of the characters in Tom
Stoppard's play Night and Day:"People do terrible things to each
other, but it's worse in places where everything is kept in the dark."

That's true in politics, too. Thus it turns out that many of the ads
being paid for secretly by anonymous donors are "false, grossly
misleading, or marred with distortions," as Greg Sargent reports in
his website The Plum Line. Go there and you'll see a partial list of
ads that illustrate the scope of the intellectual and political fraud
being perpetrated in front of our eyes. Money from secret sources is
poisoning the public mind with toxic information in order to dupe
voters into giving even more power to the powerful.

On another site - you can find out how the
multibillionaire Koch brothers - also big oil polluters and Tea Party
supporters - are recruiting "captains of industry" to fund the
right-wing infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think
tanks and media outlets. Now, hold on to your seats, because this just
might blow you away: Among the right-wing luminaries who showed up
among Koch's ‘secretive network of Republican donors' were two Supreme
Court Justices, both right-wingers: Antonin Scalia and Clarence
Thomas. That's right: 2 of the 5 votes for corporate slush funds came
from justices who were present as members of the plutocracy schemed to
take over our government.

Something else is going on here, too. The Koch brothers have
contributed significantly to efforts to stop the Affordable Care Act -
the health care reforms - from taking effect. Justice Clarence
Thomas's wife Virginia claims those reforms are "unconstitutional,"
and has founded an organization to fight to repeal them. Think about
it: Her own husband on the Supreme Court may one day be ruling on
whether she's right or not ("Play the cards fair, Reuben; I know what
I dealt you.") There's more: The organization Virginia Thomas founded
to kill those health care reforms, also a goal of the Koch brothers,
got its start with a gift of half a million dollars from an unnamed
source. It's still being funded from secret sources. You have to
wonder if some of them are corporations that stand to benefit from
favorable decisions by the Supreme Court.

This truly puzzles me. It's what I can't figure out about the
conservative mindset. The Kochs I can understand: messianic Daddy
Warbucks who can't imagine what life is like for people who aren't
worth 21 billion dollars. But whatever happened to "compassionate
conservatism?" I mean, the Affordable Care Act - whatever its flaws -
extends health care coverage to over 40 million deprived Americans who
would otherwise be uncovered? What is it about these people - the
Clarence and Virginia Thomases, the secret donors, the privileged
plutocrats on their side - that they can't embrace a little social
justice where it counts - among everyday people struggling to get by
in a dog-eat-dog world? Mrs. Thomas is obviously doing okay; she no
doubts takes at least a modest salary from that private slush fund
working to undermine the health care reforms; her own husband is a
government employee covered by a federal plan. Why wouldn't she want
people less fortunate than her to have a little security, too? She
based her organization at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, a
reportedly Christian school aligned with Falwell's Moral Majority. How
is it she's only about "Live and Let Live?" Have they never heard
there the Old Time Religion of "Live and help live?" Why would this
cushioned, comfortable crowd resort to such despicable tactics as
using secret money to try to turn public policy against their less
fortunate neighbors, and in the promise compromise the already
tattered integrity of the United States Supreme Court?

Time to close the circle: Everyone knows millions of Americans are in
trouble. As Robert Reich recently summed it up: They've lost their
jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved
back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers
and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count
on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and
public libraries are being shut.

Why isn't government working for them? Because it's been bought off.
It's as simple as that. And until we get clean money we're not going
to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss
goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the

Obviously Howard Zinn would not have us leave it there. Defeat was
never his counsel. Look at this headline above one of his essays
published posthumously this fall by The Progressive magazine: DON'T
DESPAIR ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT. The Court was lost long ago, he said
- don't go there looking for justice. "The Constitution gave no rights
to working people; no right to work less than l2 hours a day, no right
to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to
organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a
great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion
that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social
Security, and unemployment insurance....Those rights only come alive
when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel
and violate the law in order to uphold justice."

So what are we to do about Big Money in politics buying off democracy?
I can almost hear him throwing that question back at us: "What are we
to do? ORGANIZE! Yes, organize-and don't count the costs."

Some people already are. They're mobilizing. There's a rumbling in the
land. The corporate media may not pick it up, but despite the odds,
folks are organizing, on various fronts, against money in politics and
the secrecy that surrounds it. Veteran public interest groups like
Common Cause and Public Citizen are aroused. There are the rising
voices, from web-based initiatives such as to
grassroots initiatives such as "Democracy Matters" on campuses across
the country, including a chapter here at BU. is looking for
a million people to fight back in a variety of ways against the
Supreme Court decision.

What's promising in all this is that in taking on Big Money we're
talking about something more than a single issue. We're talking about
a broad-based coalition to restore American democracy. There's plenty
of outrage to fuel it. Fed-up Democrats. Disillusioned Republicans.
Independents. Greens. Even Tea Partiers, once they wake up and realize
they've been sucker punched by the very people who are bankrolling

We should be smart about the nuts-and-bolts of building a coalition,
remembering that it has a lot to do with human nature. Some will want
to march. Some will want to petition. Some will want to engage through
the Web. Some will want to go door-to-door: many gifts, but the same
spirit. A fighting spirit. As Howard Zinn would tell us, no fight, no
fun, no results. But here's the key: If you're fighting for a living
wage, or peace, or immigration reform, or gender equality, or the
environment, or a safe neighborhood, you are, of necessity, strongly
opposed to a handful of moneyed-interests controlling how decisions
get made and policy set. All across the spectrum people oppose the
escalating power of money in politics. It's because most Americans are
attuned to the issue of fair play, of not favoring Big Money at the
expense of the little guy - at the expense of the country they love.
The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the
"power to protect what we value." That's what we want for Americans -
the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf
of our democracy.

But let's be clear: Even with most Americans on our side, the odds are
long. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty. Think Rove. The Chamber.
The Kochs. We may lose. It all may be impossible. But it's OK if it's
impossible. You heard me right. I've learned something about this from
the former farmworker and labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez. The
members of his Farm Labor Organizing Committee are a long way from the
world of K Street lobbyists. But they took on the Campbell Soup
Company - and won. They took on North Carolina growers - and won,
using transnational organizing tactics that helped win Velasquez a
"genius" award from the MacArthur Foundation. And now they're taking
on no less than R. J. Reynolds Tobacco and one of its principle
financial sponsors, JPMorgan-Chase. Some people question the wisdom of
taking on such powerful interests, but here's what Velasquez says:
"It's OK if it's impossible; it's OK! Now I'm going to speak to you as
organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That's not the
objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide
not to do anything, because it's too hard or too impossible, then
nothing will be done, and when you're on your death bed, you're gonna
say, ‘I wish I had done something.' But if you go and do the right
thing NOW, and you do it long enough good things will
happen-something's gonna happen."

Shades of Howard Zinn!


Bill Moyers is managing editor of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local
airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Herein I Give You a History of New York Comic Con

Its the history as I see it. Its the history as you love it.

The first NYCC isn't really even comparable. The show was limited to a single hall, with exhibitors lining the central area and artist alley encircling them. You didn't even have the dignity of choosing not to dry-hump the cosplayers. It happened and there was nothing you could do about it. If you were talking with Colleen Doran while she was awesomely sketching a bust of Morpheus in your book, and you tried to get over to talk with Peter David, you were gonna get real personal with an Earth X Wolverine (who is not the best at what he does, and doesn't shampoo well).

'07 was for me the best so far. Crowd size had grown by almost 60%, but Reed suddenly had 2/3 of Javits. Loads of fun, tons of room, no con crud. I know Artist Alley was relegated to a sort of backwater that year, something which got repeated this year, but that is both good and bad. I like to talk to people about their work, about my work, about the need for free floating jello cups. Possibly free floating Jello shots!

Interveeners '08 and '09 were steadily sweatier, rotundier variations. '08 was a lovely spring con, but that meant it was hotter than many people reasonably plan for when packing for New York, and instead of bringing an extra t-shirt instead of the thermal they just bring an extra 100 count box of comics for Bendis to sign.

96K this year? Largest year over year (well, logistically speaking anyway it was 20 months) increase, quite possibly tipping 100k. I've vowed to stop the three day pedestrian excursions once it tips 100K. Next year I might be looking at a Friday only dash into Artist Alley, a single joint through Sensory Assault Land, and the Weepy World of Empty Party Dance-card.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I Will Never Watch Pirahna 3D

Ever. Nothing could ever make me watch that movie. I would drive a flaming shard of welding slag into my eyes if I had to choose between that or watching Pirahna 3D. But in light of this choice, my Top 10 Movies.

The favorites, the 1-10, committed to the intractable impermanence of the internet:

Sans Soleil
Kill Bill
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fight Club
The Royal Tenenbaums
In Bruges
Empire Strikes Back
Grosse Point Blank

And a few honorable mentions: Being There, A Life Less Ordinary, Five Easy Pieces, Groundhog Day, and Apocalypse Now

Also vaguely topical (actually just nominal), go read Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon's Top 10, and the miniseries Smax (from Moore and Cannon).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Who and The What

Did anyone ever see the old Ghostbusters cartoon, which had to be called The Real Ghostbusters because there was this weird ass cartoon already called Ghost Busters? Anyway, there was an episode where this little old woman was actually a demon named What, and confusion did ensue.

Hence, this. My name is William Owen, and you are reading the Angry Hug. There is spewing fiction here, and some ranting. I am not the 17th Century Welsh pirate. I vaguely resemble a yeti.

Shot Stars is the other places where I try or have tried to build artifacts on the web. Postcard Fiction Collaborative was started by a fellow classmate from Goddard and features monthly short writings derived from contemplations of an image. I need to add in another item here soon for links to the stories I've published as I have been lax.

Brain Churner is a handy way for me to keep links and people whose work I frequently enjoy and want to know more about what they are doing since I am lost in the sea of NYC and don't mingle well without alcohol. Everything else is fairly self-explanatory.

Friday, September 03, 2010

It Took Me 30 Years to Realize

Senate Legal now. I plan on building my campaign platform as a thinly veiled allusion to Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon's The Winter Men.

I'm fairly pleased with being on Stay-cation this week. It is a glorious endeavor. I am typing this from the kitchen table, since it offers a modicum of coolness and hosts a fan. I moved in a bin and put it on the table so that I am typing all Stan Lee style (there is a picture of him standing in a backyard way back when he was doing the plotting on all the Marvel books and the story went he typed standing up). Also, standing while you work burns more calories, not the least of which is due my pull-up breaks in between bits and pieces.

It takes a little getting used to, but so far I dig it. I have my coffee. I have bagel. I have bananas. I am writing. 30 is the new 11. Double down.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What Old Tamber Had to Say

“They say she lives alone out there.”

“What, like out in the woods?”

“Not like way back in a cabin or anything, but in a little house out there off the road. I'm not even sure she has a car.”

“What, does she walk in here every day? Seems a long way. And not really safe is it, or doesn't seem safe. Anyone come along on someone looks like her, well if they ain't a good sort that'd turn around pretty bad.”

“They say she speaks in a funny tongue, some weird, old accent. Old Tamber said she spoke with all manner of things too. That when you'd go up by the place she'd be outside, out in back of the place or over on the side nearer to the stream and the marsh near that fork in the road.”

“The one that leads over to Dalton.”

“Or over towards Hume yeah.”

“Hm, didn't realize the place was up that far. I'm not out that way too much.”

“Tamber says she'll be out there talking with the plants, sometimes treating them to a congregation.”

“The hell does that mean?”

“A sermon.”

“Like a preacher?”

“Yeah. Holding forth on all those plants and anything else there she might be seeing. What kind of virtue to you suppose you'd extol to a plant.”

“Hahaha, hmm. Constancy.”

“How about a venus fly trap?”

“Sort of have to condone murder on that one don't you.”

“Either that, or you and Tamber just having on, right?”

“I'm not, I'm telling you what Tamber said.”

“That old broad knows just about everyone, and doesn't strike me as to like to make up a story like that.”

“No, s'why I kind of went on with it. It's out there sure, but don't fall off the edge.”

“Still, even if she is sort of odd, she's still a beauty and there are still all kinds out there up on the hills. That one guy, the one they say takes off anytime he gets wind of the FBI after him, he lives out there. He's not someone I'd put anything past. Even if I didn't know him twice as well as I'd like to I'd've heard in a year more than half what I need to know he isn't any sort.”

“Yeah. I don't know. Makes a mystery though doesn't it. She's only lived here for what, five years. Opens this little store, always standing there in the doorway. But it's gotta be good for the town, having a curio shop that sells flowers.”

“Sure. You think you're ever gonna talk to her.”

“Me? No.”

“Why not?”

“I get tongue tied and stammerin' just thinking about talking to her.”

“You'd maybe do alright.”

“No, carpenters don't talk to pretty florists.”

-One of the 10% Stories I wrote during the triathlon. Got too caught up at the end with training to post this properly out side of its home at Fictionaut.

We're sitting a coffee shop now, trying to see if there isn't more to say upstairs in the old idea box at the moment. Re-reading Grendel at the moment, and have an idea for a thing and the artist I wouldn't mind talking to about it, so that might be a thing in and of itself. Fun, sort of.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Horn to Lips


Elegiac sense, the voice quivering near the clearest pitch touching near to monday hearts, lolling head on the shoulder. A son born late into the light. No more impression gongs sounding, weighing down the air, keeping it close to the mouths. Calling back to a dead line to fall down through that empty-tone pit at the bottom of it all, crawling up into the middle of it imaging the silence in its place like darkness, not void of light, but hoarding the images of everything that can be seen. The quiet where you can hear every sound.


No actual sex, but lots of amoramity. Not a place for dreams. Instead she sits against the railing on the steps of the gazebo in the center of the park. She feels protected by the topiary of a dog behind her. The heat drags her out and maybe she'll sleep on a bench near the fountain tonight, not far from the leafy mutt.


Lingering voices in the sun, awaiting a reason to stand up and walk away from the park in the bright and heat, staring like the lost at boys dressed in the bodies of men coming home from their lives to homes full of steam. Your juice for free. Nothing devoured like the mind dejected. Lost song lyrics locked away, replaced people looking, unheard and unregistered.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Charybdis - The Death Spiral

Now the destroyer of the establishment in me used to read revelatory and go rampaging on into the night on the wings of furious indignation, upbraiding the lords of culture, power and influence for their callousness, for their machinations, for their inhumanity. I wanted to infiltrate Wal-Mart and expose anti-union activity. Break into nursing homes and expose abuse.

Because that is what you have to do right, you fight back? Because at the heart of every Complex - military, education, fast food - is a blackened heart of avarice and greed, of the kind Steve Albini was talking about when he told us about The Problem with Music. We must battle with that and overcome. Right?

So too then must it be with publishing books, an aged, long-toothed institution older and even more nefarious than brash young corporate music. And so we have our enemy now, and it is the The Death Spiral! *Cue ominous bum bum baaaa music*

*deep sigh*


Sorry, knee-jerk reaction to seeing the word "death" associated with "publishing". So let's read,
How, you may well ask, can these buyers read and pass judgement on, for example, the over 1000 SF titles published in a year?

Of course the answer is they can’t. Instead, an equation makes the buys of most of the books on the racks or blackballs the ones that don’t make it that far. It’s called “order to net.”
Oh. Really!? That does sound less than good. Personally, as a bibliophile, I think books should be valued more highly than anything (I didn't say cost!), I think librarians and teachers should make six-figures. Publishing is a business, though I think at end of day a business where you have a lot of underpaid people working passionately on making available something they really believe in: books. Onward Norman,
Let’s say that some chain has ordered 10,000 copies of a novel, sold 8000 copies, and returned 2000, a really excellent sell-through of 80%. So they order to net on the author’s next novel, meaning 8000 copies. And let’s even say they still have an 80% sell-through of 6400 books, so they order 6400 copies of the next book, and sell 5120....
You see where this mathematical regression is going, don’t you? Sooner or later right down the willy-hole to an unpublishablity that has nothing at all to do with the literary quality of a writer’s work, or the loyalty of a reasonable body of would-be readers, or even the passionate support of an editor below the very top of the corporate pyramid.
That sucks. It really does. It is a terrible way for the efforts of a person seeking to create and tell stories to end up, but I really just don't get it. Something is missing here. These numbers cannot just fall precipitously unchecked can they? Why are only 6400 people buying the second book? Shouldn't the second book do better than the first? What happened to all that editorial passion? Where was that editor when the promo-person from B&N came in to talk about tabling and end-caps for the next season when the book was coming out? Was she out sick that day? Did he sleep with promo-person's sister and never called? Did the ARCs going out to the bloggers and the indie store owners fall in the river? What happened?

Where are the fans in all of this, the people who fucking loved the first book? How come only a fraction of the people who found the first book find the second? What happened to the channels whereby the first book was found? Why were those channels not functioning on the second book? What happens when the second book wins an award?

Where is the demand?

WHY can't the voice of a passionate editor overcome the mechanical deliberations of publishing's Livia, spiteful grandmother that she is to our poor Claudius? WHY can't the desire of devoted fans overcome?

Now maybe this is me being a sort of devotee of Richard Nash - I count myself in his debt for publishing books on Bill Hicks and Martin Millar's Good Fairies of New York - but demand is key, demand is word of mouth and it takes a lot of forms. I myself have induced the sale of Good Fairies, The Name of the Wind, and Wolf Hall because I cannot shut up about those books. I have easily driven 10 sales for each of those books just being a schmo. This happens because a great book makes a fan of its readers, and fans are crazy. Being nearly driven doubly insane waiting or the sequel to Name of the Wind (March 2011 by the gods!), I can vouch that this is true.

Now an editor, they can be dangerous. This is someone who thinks an author's second book is catnip growing in a cat-quarium (like an aquarium, but for cats), can put on the working cap, show up at that tabling meeting, and fight tooth and nail to get that book on endcaps on both coasts. How many copies does that sell? How much higher does that fight raise the pre-orders for the title?

Wait, maybe Norman and I missed a step here. He's going on about supply. I'm railing about demand.

Maybe this is my false assumption: that the editor loves the book enough to be willing to fight for it. That the second book got published because the editor thought it was in fact better than the first book?

Is the problem here really that the editor DOESN'T love the book? Doesn't LIKE the book?

Let's reexamine this. The second book comes out, without the love of an editor, without crazy-ass fans like me rooting for it, without the love a couple independent bookstore owners who blog and can chat up a couple hundred other indie stores at BEA. Why? Well, hard fact...

...the first book just wasn't that good.

The second book isn't any better. Maybe #2 was published because it would do well enough to just about break even, and offer up a couple of paychecks along the way. Is that maybe what Normie and I missed, that maybe the 2nd or 3rd doesn't deserve to be published? The first book was the editor taking a chance after having a surprise hit in quarter-life memoir "Spitting in the Wind", but it failed to light a fire among the readers.

If you follow Norman's example of the spiral, the hard fact becomes a hard lesson: that long-term success for a writer remains tied to the quality of their books and their appeal in the market.

What Norman's article inadvertantly demonstrates is not the cruel grinding up of a writer in the gears of commerce. Instead it reveals the hidden truth that authors will not continue in perpetuity, once they have published, to receive all the blessings of the system and the fruits of the institution of publishing. They must remain viable in order to bask in the light of Zeus's favor. They must push themselves forward, their writing forward, and skate the ever narrowing razor's edge of being critically objective of their work while letting loose the energies of their imagining every time they push themselves out into the market.

Writers can get published writing a book that is just good enough can get a writer inside of the wall, but like most things, being "just good enough" isn't enough to keep you there.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lights Outside

Stay out of the light. Keep your distance as if this were a bear that had no form. Ursus, which means destroyer – the shapeless, indescribable doom peoples would not name and called only bruin, the brown, the beast left untraceable, its edges incomprehensible. It assassinates inside the captivating hugeness of its body. Its shadow was sorrow, and there are many shadows here. Perhaps they are sure lights. Maybe you want to call them that and let all of that pale, wavering immateria spill over your face. Maybe.

There are some who would want the lights to be brighter, but they stay were they are, their intensity unmoved, unafflicted by your glowing emotions. The light shining around you, circumscribing your body reflecting on the surfaces in the center of everyone around you. These two come up together, dueling, charged and seconded, your glow by the perceptions of your heart and the light by the grid. The light wins out. It sorry, weak light remains ceaseless, inexhaustible, so long as its filamental gases hold out. It awards its prize, casting a pallor on the bare skin of a coughing chest waiting to come to rest forever. Pinpointing for us where weakness has developed.

Who knows, maybe it’s a paling in the end. Maybe it keeps us aware of what’s going to happen when we look at the bed. Giving us a chance, a moment or two more to adjust our senses instead of coming in here with some kind of unknowing, or at the outside worst, false hope. Perhaps they are sure lights outside room 317, knowing that they are at least honest.

The gidget below is my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training fundraising widget. I am competing in the NYC Triathlon this year to raise money for LLS research and patient services charity. Last year a friend, classmate, and fellow writer, Honest Jon Harding, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

For every 10% of my goal that I raise, I will post a new story here or someplace else on the internet. If you want more fiction, or if you want to donate to this wonderful cause, just click below. This weeks story riffed off of this image at Elephant Words.

Update The Fundraising widget doesn't seem to be working right now, so until then, here is a link to my donations page. Anything you can give goes to a great cause, and all donations are tax deductible.

Get Adobe Flash player

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Just for the sake of saying, for the sake of expunging some pent up frustration and grief, I have to say for the foreseeable future, I will continue to refer to this strange and vocal movement for ostensibly smaller government and lower taxes as Teabaggers.

Mostly, my reasons are twofold personal grievances. The first is the abhorrent rendition of history the attempted adoption of the Tea-Party moniker represents. The Boston Tea Party was a movement by the American Colonials to foment support and demonstrate to the British Crown that taxation without representation, that unfair and excessive taxation which did not serve to redress the needs of local constituents, could not be quietly and demurely enacted. The current Teabagger movement claims to use that base as the springboard for their fervor, but their argument rings hollow. They have represenation, and the taxation they protest, on issues like health care and global warming, redress some of the gravest and most serious issues facing each and every American today.

The fact that most Americans have never, and will never, see a terrorist in their entire lives does not lead them to believe that the tax dollars spent on defense and military spending is going toward some fruitless cause, but most Americans are guaranteed to seek out medical coverage at some point in their lives, and anyone who lives through the next 30 years will certainly experience some effect of global warming due to our wasteful energy habits and dependence on archaic, unclean fuels.

My second reason for continuing to brand this group with the Teabagger moniker is due to the groups own use of language. Not so much the unfortunate self-referential signage that appeared early on, but the not-infrequent ridiculous, often-times slanderous, offensive, racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic comments made by Teabagger movement supporters.

This is a fairly tame example. While I am sure most of the people in this movement are not outwardly racist, or misogynistic, or so on, the amount of this kind of language, expressions of the most brutally racist sort directed at the duly elected President of the United States is at once ignorant, un-American, and worthy of the utmost contempt.

I do not expect America to be a perfect place, and there are certainly many areas in which this country can improve, but the utter LACK of response and denunciation by the wider elements of this movement to curb this kind of hate-mongering, to distance and disassociate from the troubling attitudes and beliefs hidden within itself is as great if not greater offense. This guy might not know any better,, but Newt Gingrich, and Fox News, and the other leaders of this movement should. They remain silent, and therefore they remain Teabaggers.