Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

April 30, 2007

George Tenet: Sorry…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:44 am

… I know everyone in the world has commented on his “60 Minutes ” appearance by now. But I just can’t help it.

Can this incompetent clueless braggart who admits to endorsing torture (“waterboarding”) and claims results from it that have no corroboration, but won’t call it torture, this idiot who is repsonsible for the greatest intelligence failures in the history of our nation, actually be serious in his attempt to parse his infamous “slam dunk” comment? As if his personal image were the most important issue in this tragedy.

Here’s what he said in his interview with Scott Pelley:

What did you mean by slam dunk?” Pelley asks.

“I guess I meant that we could do better,” Tenet says.

“Do better?” Pelley asks.

“We can put a better case together for a public case, that’s what I meant. That’s what this was about,” Tenet explains.

Tenet says the president wasn’t happy with the presentation. So he was telling Mr. Bush that improving the presentation would be a slam dunk. But Tenet says the leak to Woodward made the remark look like the decisive moment in the decision to go to war.

“I’ll never believe that what happened that day informed the president’s view or belief in the legitimacy of this war. Never,” Tenet insists.

And this is the guy who got the Presidential Medal for freedom for his achievements in “intelligence;” who got a four million dollar book contract to promote this self serving transparent idiocy.

Saying that making a “presentation” for the war would be a slam dunk, is SO totally different from saying that the case for war is a “slam dunk”, right? It couldn’t possibly have had an influence on the subsequent policy decision, this statement from the head of the CIA. What if he’d said what he says he said this way: the case for WMD’s is shaky but I can make a “slam dunk” presentation that will fool the American people into believing it boss? THAT would be okay? That would be honorable? The “context” he gives his betrayal of his trust is worse than the original “misinterpretation” of the quote he’s so upset about. (It’s all about him, not thoe who died because ofhis incompetence). The original interpretaion of “slam dunk” merely makes himlook like an incompetent fool, the former, his new spin makes it sound like he wants us to believe he was willing to be a venal liar to suck up to his boss.

What if he had told the truth or what he now maintains he believes was the truth–that the WMD aspect of the case for the war was not strong on the basis of the intelligence he was aware of? Therefore any slam dunk “presentation” would be a fraud. And yet he considers it a great betrayal that he’s tagged with that damning “slam dunk” idiocy.

How stupid does he think we are? Don’t answer that. The big question is: how stupid or devious can a human being be? I think George Tenet has given us an answer.

Give the medal back George. Give the money back too. There’s no way you’re going to get your honor back with your sniveling weasel words.

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"Folding-in":The sad disappearance of Book Review sections

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:50 am

So I’m out in L.A. at the L.A. Times Book Festival. it’s an impressively massive affair,: they estimate that over the course of two days upwards of 100,000 people came to the UCLA campus headquarters to visit vast acreage of tents featuring author panels, poetry readings, book signings, specialty bookstore venues.

I was invited there to be on a panel entitled “Biography: Icons on the Page”, even though my books, Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars aren’t conventional biographies, but rather (in part) critiques of biographical myths (the Shakespeare book is not about Shakespeare’s body but about the body of his work). I wasn’t sure I belonged but since the L.A. Times had named my Shakespeare book one of the “best books of the year”, when they called I wasn’t going to say no.

And I was honored to be on the same panel as Taylor Branch, an old acquaintance and author of the amazing three volume biographical history of Martin Luther King and the America he transformed.

I’ll never forget reading the first volume of Taylor’s monumental work on King when it first came out. I’d read a portion every morning and find myself literally weeping at the depiction of the possibility of goodness in human nature, a possibility I’d largely given up on, a possibility reading about King restored my faith in.

It was, as they say, usually in other contexts, “read it and weep.”

And speaking of “read it and weep” in other contexts, it seemed so ironic to me and some other writers sitting around the green room at the L.A. Times Book Festival that the very newspaper sponsoring this remarkable annual event had recently declared plans to “fold in” its respected stand-alone Book Review section into some “Outlook” style general cultural section.

However they rationalize it it’s a loss, it’s diminishment, it’s an insult to the people of L.A. who turned out in such great numbers for the festival to disprove the cliche that L.A. is a city full of non reading airheads. It’s such an act of disrespect for the impassioned readers of L.A. that confirms a false stereotype about the paper’s customers and will inevitably diminish the role of books in West Coast and–because the L.A. Times Sunday book section had a national reputation and respect–diminish our national culture as well.

And The Chicago Tribune is about to do the same with their book section. Same owners, same stupid anti-intellectual idea. Done out of a bungling bottom line misguided, consultant-driven cost saving strategy that’s part of national trend. A trend that ignores the fact that a Sunday newspaper is mor than the sum of its parts and if you start lopping off its parts or “folding them in” you get less than the sum of its parts and readers know it and it just accelerates the decline of what was once a valuable product.

I say bungling and misguided because it has almost always been my experience in working for a good number of print publications that the business side of these places was full of incompetents who didn’t know how to do their job and when a their bungling inadequacy produced a fiscal crisis they’d always blame it on failure of the editorial side, people who worked their hearts and brains out to produce a great product that the business side “wizards” for all their MBAs couldn’t figure out.

They never understood the value of the real connection with readers (because they rarely read it or anything else) and how to use that powerful connection to sell ads. Instead they’d waste tons of money hiring even dumber “media consultants” who give advice like the foolish “fold-ins”. A strategy which is guaranteed to diminish the market further. Brilliant!

Alas it’s so often true that the people who go to work on the business side of Old Media were never the sharpest knives in the drawer. If they were out to make money they should have gone to work for investment banks, or become entrepreneurs, but frankly they demonstrate time and again they’re not bright enought to cut it there and so they make editors and writers the fall guys for their culturally destructive on the failures.

Shame on them.

April 29, 2007

The Damage Done (2): Postmodern Ignorance Afflicts Physics as Well as Literature

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:01 am

I thought it would be valuable to share with you the full text of a comment to my recent post on academia’s discredited postmodern fear of literature. It comes from one of the the world’s leading physicists, Professor Frank Tipler of Tulane, most well known for his role in the development of the “anthropic” cosmological principle and for his provocative book The Physics of Immortality which I highly recommend.

I was fortunate some years ago to have dinner with Prof. Tipler in New Orleans and found him to be one of those scientists with an impressively wide range of interests and an eagerness to engage in intellectual discussion outside his particular field of study. I was also impressed recently by an email from him on the subject of my book The Shakespeare Wars in which he made a fascinating link between my discussion of multiple ambiguities in Shakespeare’s sonnets as adumbrated by critics such as William Empson and Stephen Booth and the “many worlds” theories of contemporary cosmology. Shakespeare the cosmologist? Yes!

In any case Professor Tipler was moved by my post on the pathetic postmodern English professor I dubbed “The Relic”, a sad cult worshipper of Nazi-friendly postmodern theorist Paul de Man whom I encountered at a lecture I gave at the University of Chicago. In the post I lamented the disappearance of the study of Shakespeare from the teaching of literature in American universities (due largely, I believe, to the repellant force of the addled, jargon-ridden rhetoric of antiquated postmodernists of The Relic’s ilk).

Professor Tipler responded with an impassioned lament about a parallel depressing development in the teaching of physics. I reprint his comment in full:

Ron Rosenbaum (http://ronrosenbaum.pajamasmedia.com/2007/04/21/the_relic.php) recently wrote, commenting on the fact that Shakespeare was no longer a required course for English majors at the overwhelming majority of American elite universities: “It’s like studying physics while denying the existence, or at least the importance, of gravity.”

Actually, the situation is just as bad in physics departments. At the overwhelming majority of physics departments at American elite universities, the importance of gravity is denied. I am aware of no American university that requires, for an undergraduate degree in physics, a course in general relativity, which is Einstein’s theory of gravity. At the overwhelming majority of American elite universities, one is not even required to take a course in general relativity even to get a Ph.D. in physics! As a consequence, the overwhelming majority of American Ph.D.’s in physics do not understand general relativity. If a problem arises that requires knowledge of Einstein’s theory of gravity, almost all American physicists can only look blank. This is in spite of the fact that general relativity has been known to be the correct theory of gravity for almost a century.

And it gets worse. The greatest achievement of physics since the Second World War has been the discovery of the Standard Model of particle physics, a unified theory of all forces and matter not including gravity. The Standard Model has been experimentally confirmed, and some dozen and more Nobel Prizes in physics have been awarded for the discovery and experimental confirmation of the Standard Model. Yet I am aware of no physics department in the United States that requires a course in the Standard Model for an undergraduate degree in physics. Very few, if any, require a course in the Standard Model even for a Ph.D. in physics.

So one can get an undergraduate degree in physics and even a Ph.D. in physics, without knowing anything at all about the fundamental forces that control the universe at the most basic level. Since our entire civilization requires at least somebody knows basic physics, requires that at least people who have Ph.D.’s in physics know basic physics, this is a disaster.

Every undergraduate in physics, or at the very least, every graduate student in physics, should be required to take a two-semester sequence, one semester on general relativity, and one semester on the Standard Model. The mathematics required for these courses, multivariable calculus (partial derivatives) is now taught in most elite high schools. Furthermore, all mathematics and physics majors have had the basic mathematics required for these two courses by the end of their freshman year. Both courses have been taught for decades to physics undergraduates (alas, only to a small minority, as an elective), and there are plenty of textbooks available. But no physics department will require these courses.

I happen to be a professor of physics at Tulane University. Long ago I introduced an undergraduate/graduate course on the Standard Model, and a similar course on general relativity. But I have never even taught the Standard Model course, and I teach the general relativity course only every half-decade. No one else at Tulane University has ever taught either course in the quarter century I have been a physics professor at Tulane. Once, on my own initiative, I forced a required course on the Standard Model at the graduate level, since I believed and continue to believe that knowledge of the Standard Model should be required of all Ph.D.’s in physics. I achieved this by changing a required two-semester graduate course in electromagnetism into a one-semester course in electromagnetism (something that is now standard at most universities, but not at Tulane, which has retained the two-semester E&M course that was standard 70 years ago), and a one-semester course on the Standard Model. I used an undergraduate textbook for the Standard Model course.

The students violently objected. They didn’t see any reason for them to learn the Standard Model. They saw no reason why they should know any basic physics beyond what was standard 50 years ago. The other faculty backed them up, and I was never asked to teach the E&M course again. This occurred more than 10 years ago, and since then not one Ph.D. at Tulane has been taught the Standard Model.

The reason the physics faculty backed the graduate students up — supported them in their desire to remain ignorant of the central fundamental theory of physics — is that they themselves were never taught the Standard Model when they were graduate students, and thus they saw no reason to require their own students to be taught it. I wasn’t taught the Standard Model either when I was a graduate student — it was in the process of being discovered when I was a graduate student — but it was obviously something every physicist should know, so I taught myself the theory. These same physics faculty were never taught general relativity either (I was; and in fact my Ph.D. thesis was on a problem in general relativity), so they see no reason why physics Ph.D.’s should be taught general relativity. They explicitly deny the importance of gravity.

The reason for this denial of the importance of gravity and the Standard Model is that the vast majority of physics faculty would prefer to teach courses in their own narrow areas of expertise rather than teach the general physics which forms the foundation of these areas of physics. It is the same reason why Shakespeare is no longer a required course for English majors at most American elite universities. If Shakespeare were a required course, then faculty who actually understood Shakespeare would have to be hired to teach him and his works. But since there are fewer and fewer required courses in Shakespeare there are necessarily fewer and fewer Ph.D.’s in English who understand Shakespeare. And even more important is the drive of the English faculty to hire people who will support their desire to teach something other than great literature. A similar dynamic is occurring in physics departments in the United States. There is a push to hire only faculty who will teach courses only in very narrow areas of physics, faculty who will support the existing bias of the faculty.

Increasingly, a degree in physics from an elite American university is no guarantee that the student with this degree has any knowledge of basic physics. Unfortunately, the future faculty in physics will be selected from this uneducated population, unless we make hires entirely from people with degrees from foreign universities, and I suspect that since often the faculty of these foreign universities will have been trained in American universities, the physics faculty of the entire world will know no basic physics.

In this eventuality, education in physics will have to be obtained from some source other than a university. Judging from the disappearance of Shakespeare from the English departments at American universities (Tulane does not require a course in Shakespeare for an undergraduate degree in English) this corruption of education is probably universal across all disciplines. If so, then all advanced education will have to be obtained outside of the university. If this is the case, then why should universities exist at all?

April 25, 2007

The Sorrow of History: Boris Yeltsin and the Death…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:52 am

…of hope.

Boris Yeltsin’s death has affected me more than I might have imagined.

Once I thought that moment captured on CNN of Yeltsin standing on top of a tank proclaiming defiance of the sordid coup attempt by the worst of the old Soviet regime, was one of the great moments of my life.

To see in real time one man stand up for liberty in a land ravaged by a mass murdering tyranny–and win–was unbelievably thrilling and beautiful. And, yet as it turned out if it wasn’t unbelievable, it was just unsustainable.

It’s now hard to remember, hard to conceive of what the world seemed like between Yeltsin’s stand and the Towers fall. One decade in which a regime that had , in one way or another caused the death of 50 million people, imprisoned poets and dissidents in mental institutions the better to subject them to chemical torture, was finally gone. The nations it enslaved in eastern Europe were free. A product of 60s idealism was American president. (Whatever you think about Bill Clinton–and I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about him in the end–his core belief, his allegiance to the highest strain of Sixties activism, the Civil Rights Movement is undeniable.

It wasn’t all roses. One only has to utter the name Rwanda to dispel false illusions. But everyone said we would learn from Rwanda, that we wouldn’t let something like that happen again. Right. And it may have led to false illusions. that one man can make a difference when the default positin of human nature as a whole has not, perhaps cannot, be reset from cruelty to tolerance.

Still we didn’t realize how brief a time was allotted to us for optimism did we? I know I didn’t. What was I doing all that time. Oh right, I was writing a book that critiqued post war explanations of Hitler. I suppose it could have suggested tome, that immersion in Hitler’s world, that there was something irredeemably flawed about human nature.

But there was two chapters about doomed heroes in my book. The journalists of the anti-Hitler newspaper The Munich Post who were the first to investigate Hitler and warn the world about they evil they found. They did important, impressive aggressive work–as did the crusading independent journalists Karl Heiden and Fritz Gerlich, but they didn’t stop Hitler from coming to power and shutting them down, killing Gerlich, driving Heiden into exile.

Boris Yeltsin performed a singular act of courage, but he didn’t stop Russia from sliding back into a thug ruled state, one that murders journalists and dissidents. Not as bad as Soviet regime, autocratic rather than (as yet) fully totalitarian. But nothing like what we envisioned when Boris Yeltsin stood up to tyranny and gave us that decade, the one we’ll never likely to get back.

April 21, 2007

The Relic and the Damage Done

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:12 am

U.S.A. Today recently reported deeply depressing news on the study of Shakespeare in U. S. colleges. With one exception (Harvard) no study of Shakespeare, the greatest artist of the English language is required in any U.S. college, and indeed even by most English major programs at those colleges.

It’s like studying physics while denying the existence, or at least the importance, of gravity. I tend to agree with those who oppose the proliferation of the use of he word “denial” to define that which they disagree with. It defines denial down. And yet I certainly am tempted to call this “Shakespeare Denial

It’s sad, but it’s certainly true that students are being denied something powerful and beautiful, when for one reason or the other they refuse or are not required to read Shakespeare in college. One reason or another: I came across one reason recently.

An encounter I had recently with a contemporary English professor at a major university who was ostensibly teaching Shakespeare to at least one class, made Shakespeare aversion by students explicable considering what’s on offer by whom.

I’ll call him The Relic. It’s not about him, but about a sadly obsolete, discredited vision of literature he shares with all too many in academia who committed to it without much skepticism when they were graduate students and lack the intellectual independence to question it now.

The Relic was the embodiment of two generations of pseudo-scientific sophistry that gave itself the shorthand name Theory in literary studies. It was based on the work of a French theorists, notably Foucault, Derrida and Lacan, whose transmittal by gullible relics continues. Continues even despite the recent revelation that Foucault had, in his recently translated late works, repudiated the sophistry upon which most academic literary criticism is founded (I wrote about this in an earlier blog post citing the distinguished philosopher Richard Wolin writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education last fall).

Yes, Foucault renounced as foolish the foundations of most literary theory U.S. academics base their entire intellectual vision upon. Completely pulled the rug out from those antiquarians who still quote Foucault as if they knew what they were talking about.

Sad because The Relic had been left behind by the smarter of one-time theory devotees, who have awoken in horror to see the clone army of jargon-parroting cultists they have helped spawn. Sad because, although the gullible relics of the clone army may not evince much intellectual sophistication in their undeviating devotion to discredited Theory, they do have one thing on their side: tenure. They will be there spreading their literature-averse nonsense and hiring pathetic suck-up acolytes to clone their theory theses and impose them on vulnerable students for generations to come. Let’s face it, it’s a form of abuse.

And yet like the proverbial Japanese soldiers who used to be said to be “holding out” on isolated Pacific islands unaware the war had been lost, you still run into them even in good universities, clinging like barnacles there with their tenure, still clutching to their antiquated post-modern icons for dear life, pathetically convinced that the “truth” they’d adopted as naive grad students was a truth for all time.

In any case I encountered one of these relics recently after giving a lecture at University of Chicago. The lecture was entitled “Shakespeare and the Terror of Pleasure” and sought, among other things to describe the origin of these relics, the origins of the post-modernist theory bubble that still clings to life among the intellectually gullible in academia.

It is my Theory of Theory which I adumbrate in The Shakespeare Wars: that the so called New Critical revolution in reading, “close reading”, attentiveness to Empsonian ambiguity, had brought those who embraced its attentiveness to poetry such as Shakespeare’s to an almost dangerously disturbing closeness to the generative power of the language, to the virtually radioactive beauty of the words.

And had caused an abreaction in certain of those exposed to it: the terror of pleasure. A terror that had led them to flee to, to fabricate, elaborate scaffoldings of French literary theory to shield themselves from having to stare into the abyss of pleasure close reading opened up, to give themselves an illusion of control over, indeed superiority to the literature. (They know what’s really going on, although never in a million years could they replicate the beauty of a single iambic pentameter line. Which is why they like to imagine the “author” didn’t exist because it allows them to believe it isn’t their lack of talent that is responsible for their failure to create anything other than opaque jargon-clotted journal articles. No human beings actually “author” great works, they are the product of the historical “power relations”, alternatively of the culture of the time, not of any single human being. And besides they are unable to mean anything because language itself is inherently incoherent.

It allowed them to disbelieve in the notion of individual literary genius (who could be smarter than they were?) Or indeed even of literary value itself. (Just because it’s hard to define it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist–but their Theory gives them no reason to “privilege” a Shakespearean sonnet over the prose on the back of a cereal box).

I was pleased that among those in attendance at my lecture was the distinguished scholar David Bevington an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago and editor of one of the great collected editions of Shakespeare, almost universally known as “The Bevington edition”. He’s one of the scholars who could acknowledge the occasional virtues of postmodernism, particularly its feminism and skepticism, yet not give himself over to its sophistry. Probably because as a textual editor he was immersed in Shakespeare’s language at close, closest hand, didn’t fear it, relished it, and realized on some deep level how irrelevant most Theory was. In any case the fact he had kind words for my lecture and for The Shakespeare Wars at the reception afterward made writing the book worthwhile.

But then there was The Relic, who at the close of the lecture both in bombastic and misguided questions, and in post-lecture badgering, made it clear that he believed he knew The Truth.

And The Truth for this particular relic, the true source of the truest Truth that ever was writ was–I’m not making this up– to be found in the works of Paul de Man, the literary theorist whose most well know legacy was his cover up of his pro Nazi propogandist past. Yes, de Man, the former champion of Hitler’s rule, who hid his past collaboration with the Nazi regime in wartime Belgium from everyone in America and managed to mesmerize a particularly gullible segment of now-antiquated post-modernists with his version of deconstruction. Talk about a pathetic discredited relic for our poor befuddled Relic to cling to for The Truth.

I’m not arguing that his Nazi-friendly past had anything to do with the follies of de Man’s literary theory. Although some of his followers seemed to be, inadvertently, making the case for the connection when they tried to defend de Man’s silence on his pro Nazi anti-semitic propaganda (European literature would be better off without Jews, he maintained, when he enjoyed the privileges of a pro-Nazi lickspittle during the war).

His supporters (some of them anyway) claimed that de Man kept silent about his Nazi friendly past because de Man’s entire literary theory was based on denying the truth value or stability of words and meaning, so anything he said –in words of course–honestly and apologetically about his shameful past could not possibly convey the truth of the experience. (more likely wouldn’t convey the truth of his feelings which he never renounced). Thus de Man’s shameful silence about his shameful past was not convenient but principled. And this is the literary Theory icon the relic adhered to.

Anyway one has to imagine that the Shakespeare taught by The Relic could not help but be infused by his slavish uncritical devotion to de Man. Poor Shakespeare, poor students. I foresee a lifelong Shakespeare aversion in reaction to such exposure, if they get Shakespeare through the lens of de Man or a de Manian. (de Maniac?)

The USA Today survey reflects the generation of destruction deconstruction and the rival schools of sophistry have wrought. Weep for those who have Shakespeare ruined by these people.

April 18, 2007

THE BRITISH JOURNALISTS' BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL: Why Aren't American Journalistic Outlets….

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:05 am

…responding to the astonishing decision by the British Journalists ‘ Union to boycott Israeli goods? I’m surprised there hasn’t been more coverage of this remarkable matter. Having declared unequivocally their official bias in this contentious situation, can any report on the Middle East from a British reporter be accepted as “journalism” by any American journalistic outlet?

I don’t propose a boycott in response to a boycott, just–as a kind of full-disclosure measure–here’s a modest proposal: a little footnote appended to every Mideast report of a British journalist who voted for the boycott, that notes that “the reporter of this piece voted to boycott Israeli goods and the reader may judge his reporting on Israeli affairs accordingly.” I don’t see how the reporters would object since they must be proud of their vote and not displeased to have their views showcased.

I should note that all British journalists have not endorsed this vicious folly. It was recently denounced by the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger. And I don’t think this should apply to to opinion journalists, just to those who purport to report news objectively.

Wouldn’t disclosure be the appropriate response for all concerned? Have U.S. networks which recently demonstrated sensitivity to racial and gender slurs, ignore baldly-stated prejudice such as this? By a self-declared advocacy group. Like accepting “reporting” on racial matters from Strom Thurmond? (yes, i know he’s dead). Someone should put the question to them. Or consider it put, here.

On the other hand perhaps no action is necessary at all because the obvious prejudices of so many British journalists has been so amply documented by observers such as Tom Gross, as in the case of the proven, uncorrected inflammatory falsehoods about the events in Jenin in 2002 which one still hears repeated because of the failure of British journalists to acknowledge their monumental errors in that case. (See Tom Gross’ articles on that journalistic fraud reprinted in my anthology on contemporary anti-semitism Those Who Forget the Past) The disregard of truth in favor of prejudice in the case of Jenin is unforgettable, but alas, not unrepeatable. This shameful boycott proves it.

April 15, 2007

Surprising Roth Revelation

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:30 am

I enjoyed my two hour conversation with Milt Rosenberg on WGN, the classic Chicago radio station which is located in the Tribune Building.

I was reminded of one of the Tribune Building features I’d forgotten about. That it features a piece of stolen from Hamle’t castle. Or so it’s labelled. Not just Hamlet’s castle but the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Alamo, the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, Fort Sumter, The Colisseum, St.Peter’s, the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Alegedly. It seems that eccentric Tribune founder Col. Robert McCormick ordered his far flung world wide correspondents, to carve pieces out of the world’s great landmarks–global vandalism in effect–to bring back these pieces of stone embedded in the facade of the Tribune Building. There are also reports that some of the lazier or more honorable of the reporters just shipped in random blacks of rock labeled as pieces of famous places like “Hamlet’s castle”.

We’ll probably never know. But it’s a kind of prescient warning to be skeptical about what newspapers present as history.

Anyway inside the Tribune Tower Milt Rosenberg, a U. of Chicago emeritus professor, and certainly the most erudite talk radio host I’ve encountered, has presided over an increasingly influential and uniquely thoughtful two hour block of talk for more than a quarter century (he played a clip of a multiply intoxicated Don Imus appearing on his show back in 1981!). And book publicists all say his audience are intense book-buyers.

Our conversation ranged from Shakespeare to Hitler to the question of a Second Holocaust. In connection with this latter grim subject I made reference to Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock a reading of which had first set me thinking, back in 2002, about the potential for a second Holocaust. Thinking and writing and setting off a fierce controversy.

Milt Rosenberg remembered something about Operation Shylock I’d forgotten: that Roth maintained it wasn’t a novel. That this insanely complicated tale of Rothian doppelgangers, Israeli and Arab espionage agents and a secret Mossad misssion Roth purportedly engaged in was all true.

And that in an interview on Milt’s show when the novel came out inthe mid 90s, Roth maintained an absolutely straight face about this claim. Insisted it was a memoir not a novel. It demosntrates how the climate has changed that I don’t recall much controversy over this, perhpas because no body beleived such a wild tale could be true and Roth had played with fiction and non fiction before. I’m not sure what to make of this, what it says about Roth about the boundaries between fiction and non fiction, whether we look at it through the lense of fiction or memoir makes a difference. Is it like one of the sphinx like fake-or-real stones in the Tribune Tower facade ? Now I want to know. Will somebody please ask Philip Roth what the deal is?

April 13, 2007

Chicago alert…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:20 pm

I’ll be appearing on Chicago’s WGN, on Milt Rosenberg’s “Extension 720” show talking about all manner of things tonight April 13, from 9-11 CST (I think it’s streamed online)

I’ll also be giving a lecture at the University of Chicago on Tuesday April 17, open to the public at the Social Sciences Building 122, 1126 E. 59th St. (reception to follow). The lecture title, “Shakespeare: The Terror of Pleasure”, refers to my theory of academic literary theory, a theory that drives the theorists crazy.

April 11, 2007

In the Air Tonight–and it won't go away…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:30 pm

Back in New York last weekend I was privileged to catch another bizarro thought-provoking disquisition on the power of popular music by Brooklyn-based performance artist Neil Medlyn. I’d last gone to his tour de force loving/mocking deconstruction of the R. Kelly oeuvre and he was back at Galapagos, the Williamsburg bar/performance space, with his kabuki-karaoke meditative-freak outs. This time centering around the songs of the utterly unhip, but sometimes mesmerizing musician around, Phil Collins.

What Neil does–defamiliarize and recontextualize iconic pop music–is something art aspires to, which is to make us see the radical strangeness of the cultural landscape we dismissively take for granted.

I was particularly pleased that he’d chosen to center this performance around the melodramatic Phil Collins anthem “In the Air Tonight” because of a discussion I’d had with Neil a couple months ago. (I know him casually because his wife is my girlfriend’s best friend). He was talking about planning his next show around Genesis. After I realized he meant the rock group not the Bible chapter, I started praising the weird, haunting power of “In the Air Tonight” which, for me, retains its power despite subsequent Phil Collins embarrassment.

And in fact Neil’s Galapagos show was entitled “Neil Medlyn: Coming in the Air Tonight” and opened and closed with that melodramatic, charismatic pop concoction.

Where do songs like that get their peculiar staying power. Why is “cheap music” so potent as someone (Noel Coward?) said. These are the questions that in his own comic, idiosyncratic way Neil Medlyn seems to be getting at in his performances which have attracted a loyal cult following.

The problem of course with some of these songs is that once you’re reminded of them on a loud speaker system or a car radio you can’t get them out of your head. Now I can’t get “In the Air Tonight” out of my head.

Several days later I had dinner with my friend Jamie Danehey and her husband Willie (named after Willie Nelson) in Chicago and we were talking about the way U-2 has gone downhill as epitomized by their horrible simpering, shamefully saccharine, sell out Grammy-winning “It’s a Beautiful Day”. A betrayal of all that was dark and truly beautiful in “Pride”, “Where the Streets have No Name”, “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Angels of Harlem”, and the transcendently beautiful, and carnal and spiritual fusion of “One”.

I’m sure U.N. Secretary General Bono has done much good for the world in his travels, but I think it’s time he paused long enough to pen something as powerful as “In the Air Tonight”. Or maybe “One” was enough.

Readers: tell me your guilty Phil Collins type favorites or your true-blue Bono type anthems.

April 8, 2007

A Sick Hostility to Animals…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:37 am

… by cowards is, alas, one revelation in the comments to my previous posts on the pet food scandal. I say cowards because the ones who mock the feeling of pet owners whose companion animals were threatened by the criminally inept pet food industry, was their almost universal scaredy-cat (to use an animal metaphor) unwillingness to attach their name to their posts. I wonder why, I wonder what they’re afraid of. Especially since they’re so profoundly courageous in their attacks on the feelings of other human beings, what scares them about putting their names on their attacks on pets?

Some of them may have missed my previous month’s discussion of commenter anonymity in which I stated the default position of this blog which was that, in general I would not post anonymous comments, and particulalry anonymous comments that were egregiously stupid, hateful or bigoted. So I’ll spare you their subhuman bile since most of these pet haters fit all three categories, the bigotry being against people who dare to feel more than apparently they are allowed to feel about their pets by people who have “actual children” as one smugly creepy (and of course cowardly anonymous) commenter put it.

Frankly to call these people despicable is give to them more dignity than they deserve, they’re merely pathetic. I’m tempted to say such cowardly responders make me rethink my skepticism about the standard profile of serial killers: that they begin their careers by injuring small animals (in addition to setting fires). That’s unfair (to serial killers). No, seriously, I’m not making an analogy between serial killers and pet haters, but I do think the pet hater commenters may reveal something unexamined and ugly in the culture, something that may have a causal connection to the pet food scandal.

The open sore of pet hatred they reveal may have been, in a way the source of the predisposition that licensed the callous irrespsonsibility of the pet food makers: who cares, they’re just animals. Why bother taking any special care with their lives when compared with the importance of exalted human beings.

In fact the comments of the pet haters suggest just the opposite: they seem to think they’re superior by virtue of the accident of their (nominally human) birth. But their cowardly viciousness suggests that, in fact, these people are lower than animals.

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