Humanist on the Bridge

Pierre Ryckmans (1935 – 2014), who also used the pen-name Simon Leys, is best known for his trilogy of truth attacks on the Cultural Revolution in China and the mindlessness of Maoism—Les Habits neufs du président Mao (1971), Ombres chinoises (1974) and Images brisées (1976). Ryckmans came to be known as the Orwell of the East and the revelations of Ombres chinoises  (Chinese Shadows), in particular, are worthy of Homage to Catalonia.

Ryckmans’ mind was as rangy as Orwell’s.  His variousness and lucidity are on display in his ABC Boyer lectures, which he gave in Australia back in 1996.  What follows is a transcript of his opening talk on “Learning.”

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Twenty-Something(s)

Charles O’Brien helps launch the new First Choice section focusing on our writers’ favorite things. 

“Twenty-Something” is the third track on Pet Shop Boys’ latest cd, Super. You can find it on YouTube in a few different versions. The two most obvious go-to versions are the “official video” and one remix. The “official video” is a b&w short about a gangbanger in San Diego, fresh out of the joint and trying desperately to adjust to the world. It’s about as efficient a short narrative as you’re likely to see, and as an illustration of these lyrics, not what you’d be likely to expect.

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Warriors’ Way

Everyone was nervous, and everyone was watching. At the half I drove quickly down to get my wife a burger. There was no one on the road, just after 6 PM on a Sunday. It usually takes me 25-30 minutes round trip, but on Sunday I was back in 15 minutes. I thought, they’re up by 7. Is that really it?  Will there really be a parade?

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Trump and the “Mexican”

First off, it’s, no surprise, an ad-hominem attack. Before you tell me why the other guy’s wrong, you should show me that he’s wrong. Is Curiel ese making bum calls? Who knows? I wouldn’t take Trump’s word for it. But let’s say he is. Where does “Mexican” come into it? He is an American, certainly, whatever Trump says. But he is connected to some Chicano law associations. If his connections are pro forma, just social niceties, they’re all irrelevant. But if he’s very active, holds high positions, or has an interesting paper trail, it starts to matter.

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Why the Verizon Strike Matters

I’m a 1946 baby boomer. As a birthday present a friend once gave me a copy of LIFE magazine published the week I was born, a peek into the new world of post-war prosperity I would grow up in. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby dance across the cover, while inside Winston Churchill ponders and Rita Hayworth lounges amidst the ads for whiskey, toothpaste, gas stoves and a full page promise from the Bell Telephone System:  “We are short of Long Distance telephone circuits now but we plan to add 2,100,000 miles of them to the Bell System in the next twelve months.”

And one surprise: a seven page section titled The Great Steel Strike Begins with a full page profiling the strikers, including the president of Local 1397 and his retired steelworker immigrant father across from a full page photo of a surviving participant in the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike at “the monument to his old friends who lost their lives.” No pictures of frustrated managers, no pictures of angry consumers, no pictures of resolute right-wing politicians. All this in LIFE magazine, the network news of ‘46.

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Sixties Trips II

Part two of an essay that begins here.

Richard Goldstein’s approach to the sixties was shaped by his sense “race was at the core of nearly everything.” But his lucidity about race matters is most evident when he’s writing about “revolution.” As rock ‘n’ roll turned into rock, Goldstein’s pop life got whiter.

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The Message

Some months ago, the way others take up double-crossticks, I decided to figure out who killed Kennedy. My approach was to take the arguments in two books which believed his murder resulted from a vast, insidious conspiracy and compare them with the arguments in two books which believed a solitary madman responsible. 

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Connections: America’s First Mass Killer

The horror in the Orlando night club brought to mind when I was 11 years old in the leafy Camden suburb of Collingswood, New Jersey. It was September 6, 1949, and in the Cramer Hill section of Camden a World War Two vet, Howard Unruh, 28, left his house at 9:20 in the morning for what became known as “The Walk of Death,” a stroll of 12 minutes during which he killed 13 people – three of them children – with a souvenir Luger.

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Albuquerque Girl (Show Me All Around the World)

The author of the following sweet treatment of an anti-Trump protestor realized she needed to fill in the surreal background  from which a very real girl had emerged: 

Black night in the city and police water hoses and smoke backlit.  But almost lazily done by cops, just as any breakage by bare chest kids was momentary and quick.  But it was a funny setting for her, so lively so in her life…

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