Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 31, 2009

The Best Steak I've Ever Had

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:21 pm

Just flew back from Omaha and are my taste buds tired. I was there for a (non food-related) conference, but that didn’t prevent me from sampling some great slabs of beef. And the blue ribbon goes to: the ribeye at The Chophouse. So sensationally flavorful I get shivers thinking back on it. And believe me I’ve been to all the big name steakhouses on New York.

I wouldn’t say it’s worth a trip to Omaha just for that. But almost. (And don’t waste your money on those overrated Omaha steaks-by-mail). My flight back was delayed for five hours and almost “timed out” the pilots (a horror you don’t want to know about if you haven’t had it happen to you). Maybe the solution is to move to Omaha so you’ll never be deprived of The Chohouse ribeye.

Anybody want to challenge my choice with a steak they think is better?

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Another Don't-Miss Flick You Probably Missed

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:11 pm

Knowing with Nic Cage. Scary and profound. It poses the question quantum physicists debated endlessly—and still unresolvedly–with Einstein: whether the universe is deterministic, we just can’t determine what the “hidden variables” within subatomic articles are. Or whether it’s radically random, there’s NO exlanation beyond probablistic statistics (which really isn’t an explanation but a description) why one atom of U-235 distintegrates “spontaneously” and another doesn’t.

No, it’s not a physics lesson on film. It’s a totally absorbing apocalpytic horror movie that film critics just didn’t get. Don’t let their lack of intellectual curiosity prevent you from catching it on DVD.

July 28, 2009

Contrary to The Hurt Locker Cereals Are Not Whats Wrong With America

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:50 am

I have conflicted feelings about The Hurt Locker. It’s brilliant in so many ways. And yet…is it brilliant as entertainment that exploits politics, or as politics that exploits entertainment or somehow, adeptly, both. What are it’s politics anyway?

You know the basic subject right? A squad of soldier in Iraq whose main duty is to defuse IEDs (Imrovised Explosive Devices) roadside bombs mainly designed to blow up U.S. soldiers (it’s set in 2004).. It’s insanely suspenseful, often gruesome film, and yet–this may be a virtue or a vice I’m not sure–it’s really hard to figure out what the political context is. Yes these are brave, even heroic sodiers, but why did we put them there, why are Iraquis trying to blow them up? Maybe the fact that the film doesn’t pretend to offer answers, just traces of answer that you can project your own politics onto is fascinating for its subtlety.

But then at the very end of the film [spoiler alert] it seems to abandon subtlety. It shows one of the bomb squad soldiers, shopping with his wife at a giant supermarket back home after his year of duty ends. It spends several minutes showing him paralyzed by the cereal aisles of the mega mart. Long floor-to-ceiling aisles of sugary oat crips and crunchy flakes of a million different varieties.

He stands there obviously reflecting on the carnage he’s come from and the paralyzing abundance he’s facing and you can’t help feeling the point is being made that here at last we’ve found the real enemy: American materialist abundance which we destroy nations to maintain. The cereals weren’t even organic! They were killer cereals. IEDs (Iniquitous eatin devices).

I don’t think so. I think the war was a tragedy whether you think it was justified or not and the depiction of the bloody carnage is enough to make that point. I;m sure there’s a lot of blame to go around, but you don’t have to blame “Honey Bunch of O’s”.

I’d be interestedin hearing from those hwo have seen it what they think about that scne, and about the whole movie. I urge those of you who haven’t yet to go. It’s the rare movie that allows you to think for yourself.

Oh, no: Did I Kill Norman Mailer?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:24 am

Got a really nice note from the distinguished former editor of Texas Monthly Greg Curtis who’s been doing work for the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown Mailer’s hoe base (when not in Brooklyn) and which seems to be agoing concern, gviing grants and advice to promising young writers.

Greg told me that Mailer’s writing area in his Provincetown place had been kept exactly as he left it when he had to break off writing and succumbed to his final fatal illness. And according to Greg, there in the middle of Mailer’s writing desk is a copy of my book Explaining Hitler.

I’d heard this before. Mailer and I had shared a gifted editor at Random House David Ebershoff and he’d been up to Mailer’s place shortly after he died and seen my book there on that desk. But I didn’t realize they were going to preserve things, well, forever, just as they’d been left. It’s not suprizing he was reading the Hitler book. Or re-reading it. One of the things he was working on, he’d told me in an interview I did, one of his last,, was that he was working on the second volume of what he meant to be a trilogy of Hitler novels, this one to get deeper into the mystery of Hitler’s relationship to his putative “mistress” (and half-niece), Geli Raubal, and her mysterious gunshot death in 1931, in Hitler’s apartment house, shortly before Hitler first ran for chancellor.

Conspiracy theorists (inaccurately I believe) have tried to pin the blame, put the gun in Hitler’s hand. In my book I argue that Hitler’s creepy attentions and possessiveness may have driven Geli to suicide, but Hitler didn’t fire the gun that put a bullet in her lung.

In fact when I learned that Mailer was writing about Hitler and Geli Raubal I even wrote a column warning Mailer not to go down that dead end road which all too many had sought to travel to the interior of Hitler’s mind, using his alleged deviant sexuality as a vehicle. Too easy! Plus it exculpates us: Hitler wasn’t “normal” in every way, therefore “normal” human beings such as us didn’t have the potential for evil he represented.

So you think I might be proud that my book was on his desk, on his mind, when the often brilliant writer, one of the most distinctive American voices in the past century, died. But there’s another interpretation. He was already ill, in his eighties and this Hitler trilogy was to be his last masterpiece. He’d been proceding along a Geli Raubal explanation of Hitler’s psychology–after all Mailer loved nothing more than the conjunction of sex, death and evil. And then he read my column refuting the Geli Raubal theory, went back to my book, which refuted it in depth, and hated so much my contradiction of the juicy possiilities of the story that…well, who knows?

I plead innocent. I dont think he’d allow my version of history to block his version of fiction. I’d feel terrible if it’s true. Hearing from Greg Curtis revived my feelings of guilt about something you would think I should feel gratifed about.

I didn’t know him well; there were some old Village Voice connections (his best friend Dan Wolf, founding editor of the Voice was my first editor/mentor), and we’d run into each other at political conventions and other public spectactles. He always had a kind word and we were obsessed with similar questions such as Oswald and Hitler. So Norman, if you’re listening somewhere, forgive me, dude, if my speculations–or my admonitory column–caused you pain.

I don’t believee that’s really the case but one thing that is true is that, in a sense we’re all trying to figure out the nature and source of evil, we’re all “explaining Hitler”, or at least trying. It’s a killer question. Maybe he thought he’d at last found the answer and then…

July 27, 2009

A Vindication of the Term "Islamofascist" From….

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:44 pm

…believe it or not Slavoj Zizek. Yes, the postmodern Marxist sophist (he believes Stalin’s mass murders are to be preferred when compared to Hitler’s because the intentions of Marxism were better than those of Nazism). Zizek wrote an uncharacteristically sensible and persuasive essay on the Iranian situationin the London Review of Books (h/t The Awl) in which he tells us “Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a corrupt Islamofascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi…”

This is important. Because sophist though he is, he’s attracted a large bloc of unsophisticated sophists (so to speak) mainly on campuses, who should be suporting the Iranian revoultion but are afraid for unsophisticated mulitculti reasons from doing so.

Setting aside whether “islamofascist” takes the full measure of the holocaust-denying A’jad, Zizek’s casual use of “Islamaofascist” as a legitmate term of political abuse for the vicious creep, is a significant development, a great advance for the truth among his fashionable postmodern followers. It will at least stem the temptation for the ignorant to favor him as an Iranian Castro just because he’s anti-American.

And as for “Islamofascism”, as I’ve had occcasion to point out here, those who attack the use of that phrase are hung up on the minor differences a theocratic police/terror state has with fascism–and not the major similarities.

It’s a way for them to hide from the ugly realities of Islamofascism, ignoring the westernization of Islamic anti-semitism (holocaust denial, for instance), so it won’t divert their narrative of self-blame for eveything wrong in the world: every culture in the world, including one that rapes and murders women and hangs gays is deserving of respect. Human rights is an orientalizing imposition.

Tell us again now how strongly you feel it’s a misrepresentation of the Iranian regime to associate it with fascism? You shouldn’t need Slavoj Zizek, but if the terror in Terhan didn’t convince you maybe you need help.

Prediction: conservatives on this site will try to use this to score points off an Obama supporter (me) because he’s wanted dialogue with Iran. But you know, I think Obama is a true Machiavellian. By abandoning “axis of evil” rhetoric, and by making that Cairo speech, however anodyne it was, and by not jumping in too soon, he turned the Iranian revolution into a pro America phenomenon, rather than allow the fascist mullahs to smear it as a pawn-of-America phenomenon. Not bad for a rookie.

"Don't Die Until You Read The Dog of the South"

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:46 am

I guess I should try to be more humble about this, so excuse me for bragging but it’s one of the things I’m most proud of: I got the works of Charles Portis back into print. Yes, I know, surgeons, firemen, first responders have a lot more tangible things to be proud of. They rescue people, but at least I can say I rescued some books from near oblivion, and maybe got an author a small portion of the recognition he was due. I still owe him more than he owes me–his books have given me so much pleasure, but at least I can say I’ve done some payback.

And besides, blogging about it may bring rewards to both Charles Portis and anyone who picks up his novels. As Roy Blount Jr. has said “Don’t die until you’ve read The Dog of the South. So this blog post could save you from living a deeply deprived life. That’s pretty unselfish, right?

Why tell you now? It happened first ten years ago, when Peter Mayer, publisher of Overlook Press read an encomium I wrote about Portis in Esquire (“Our Least Known Great Novelist”) lamenting the fact that all but one of Portis’s works were out of print–and calling on some publisher to bring them out. And bless him, he did! He answered the call and brought four of Portis’ novels back into print.

That was ten years ago and I hadn’t thought about it for a while, except to give people I really respect and like a copy of The Dog of the South–or hector them into buying it–always getting much gratitude in return. You can read my further thoughts on that book here.

But anyway, yesterday I was looking for something in the Barnes&Noble fiction section and happened to notice a new edition of Portis’s Dog of the South. And this one featured, on its striking new cover, the words “With an Afterword by Ron Rosenbaum”.

I’d forgotten this was in the works, but Overlook had contacted me a while ago asking for permission to use my original Esquire essay as an Afterword. So satisfying! (It’s not online from Esquire but it can be found in my collection The Secret Parts of Fortune and now in the book itself with an “Editor’s Note” giving me credit for insiring the Portis revival).

But you have to read the novel to understand why I’m so proud of this. And then read Masters of Atlantis and then Gringos and you’ll understand. And you’ll understand why I feel so shamelessly proud: one of the great underrated American novels, one of my favorite novels with my name on the front cover. They can’t take that away from me.

July 25, 2009

Moonwalk Reflections (3): Best, Well, Strangest, Novel You've Never Heard Of

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:04 am

Or maybe you have. I ran across it in a stripmall on Cape Canaveral when I was down on “the Space Coast” ( as the liked to call it) covering the first space shuttle launch.

The stripmall featured both an actual strip joint (featuring strippers who started out wearing space suits–I swear!) and a used bookstore. Anyhow, while spending some time in the used book store I came upon a dustty copy of a novel called The Martian Inca by the English sci-fi writer Ian Watson.

I’d stoped reading sci-fi for the most part, because of the heavy handed profoundity that so many of its writers overlarded their fantasies with, most likelyin an effort to escae the aura of literary unseriousness that–for better or worse–hung over the genre. But this novel blew me away.

It was about (on a basic plot level) Mars missions, one returning,one arriving on the red planet. But it was about much more, the nature of conciousness, the evolution of consicousness, the interpenetration of time, space and consicousness. It ultimately had the effect of what I imagine a yage vision might be like. And wow, what a surprize to find it on a strip mall with a strip joint with space suited strippers.

It stayed in my imagination for a long time, but got lost, probably in one of my storage spaces until 2005, nearly a quarter century later, I tracked it down through Amazon/Abebooks. (Now I see through his website Watson has become an established figure in advanced sci-fi circles. (read his memoir of working with Kubrick on the site).

Dicscovering The Martian Inca made the whole disappointing space-shuttle launch experience more worth while. It’s far more thought- provoking than those lumbering science fair vehicles (which, in their killer flaws and constant failures and short-sighted ambitions did more to disrupt planetary exploration than anyhthing else). The Watson novel is a more profound exploration of inner space than those tin cans could ever hope to offer.

Check it out, I won’t spoil it by trying to explain it further, I’m not sure I even understand it, but I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s read it.

July 23, 2009

Moonwalk Reflections (2): The Best Short Story Is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:04 am

…”Just Back From the Coast” by Bruce Jay Friedman. It’s from his collection About Harry Towns brilliant short stories, feturing the hilariously self-lacerating title character that have been newly repurposed as a novel. (I dont have a problem with that.)

You really should read Friedman whose recurrent subject, the temptation and guilt of Urban Man has had no better expositor over the years.

In this one he’s having a fab trip to Beverly Hills; his marriage has broken up, his son’s lonely at sumer camp, but he’s staying at the pink palace of the Beverly Hills hotel on some movie producer’s dime and he’s finally breaking through to ” a special tribe of long legged golden women” who have haunted his El Lay dreams on past trips. While meanwhile Apollo 11 has taken off, and his son wants him to be back in New York for him and…

No spoilers, just that Friedman captures the contrast between the petty longings of the earthbound and the allegedly heroic dream the astronauts are fulfilling. It finds a new way of asking the ancient questions of literature and philosophy: why can’t we be better than we are? What does it mean to be a hero.

Another movie recommendation: the original Elaine May adaptation of Friedman’s short story “The Heartbreak Kid”. That’s Friedman’s theme: the advances of modern life are just new pathways to old heartaches. Did walking on the moon do anything to answer those ancient questions, soothe those heartaches? Hey, they played golf! Mailer captured the profound boredom of it long ago in Of a Fire on the Moon.

July 21, 2009

Moonwalk Reflections: Science Fiction Ruined Space Travel

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:33 am

At least for me. By the time Neil Armstrong mangled his lame prepared statement (As you all know it should have been “one small step for A man…” not “…for man”–otherwise it’s a redundancy), a moon voyage it wasn’t a “giant leap” for mankind anyway. Not if, like me and many others you’d read all of science fiction by then, a pre adolescent boy’s habit.

We’d already been to the stars, explored Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson and A.E. Van Vogt’s galactic federations. We’d been to the moons of hundreds of planets. Guy walks on this moon? Big deal. About as thrilling as a trip to Costco after the wonders of sci fi warp-sped the imagination to the farthest nebulae in the furthest future. Trip to Mars? Been there, done that. (Of course I stopped reading sci-fi after puberty. Wonder why?)

Star Wars and Star Trek just put nails in the NASA coffin. (I’m no Trekie but mention is obligatory. I’ll take Galaxy Quest over any Star Trek anytime. Get it from Netflix and see why).

I actually went down to the Cape to report on the first shuttle launch and couldn’t have been more bored for the most part. I think that a large segment of the nation felt that way. Like the launch of an advanced garbage skow mainly used to do junior high science-fair projects in low gravity.

It’s so annoying to hear all the gung ho, rah-rah, “we need to get back into space again” hype. Our imaginaton and impatience made exploration of frozen gasball planets a big bore. Don’t waste the billions and trillions. Use the money to subsidize a new generation of sci fi writers. Or physicists who can answer the truly interesting questions about the universe: what happpened before the Big Bang and (related) why is there Something rather than Nothing in the universe? Why is there a universe in the first place? No tin can rocket is gonna help us with that.

July 19, 2009

Road Dogs: Elmore Leonard's Still Got It and It's Getting Better

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:10 am

It’s really pretty amazing after 40 or so novels the guy still writes such sharply honed intelligent sentences and such baroquely coplex (not just complicated) plots that remind me of no one else but…Jane Austen.

I’m serious: he has a loving comic microscopic interest in the subtle nuances of relationships and the norms of behavior and their potential violations as Jane at her best. This new one puts you in the midst of a intricate triangulat relationship between two prison “road dogs” (although they define the phrase in subtly different ways), one a bank robber (the return of the George Clooney character from Out of Sight, the other a Cuban killer who got rich in Venice, California real estate, and the third a vamp of Venice who seeems to have psychic powers.

Now usually I can’t stand novels with recurring characters, and I rarely read mysteries with recurring characters unless they’re written by Kerr or LeCarre, which are not really mysteries, though Leonard’s aren’t either, are they? I see “A Hercule Poirot Novel” type line on a cover in a bookstore (i.e. another in a series with the same quirky detective and I’m outta there. I can’t stand quirky detectives. It ususally means everything else in it is going to be a quirky bore.

But Leonard can do it, bring a character back, because the guy is so smart about reltionships particularly among men, the poisonous jealousy and intimacy of macho and male bonding–he does for men what Jane Austen does for women.

Sometimes it misfires. But not here. I’m only half way through and loving Road Dogs so much, it’s so refreshing to find something I know I’ll finish that I want to tell you about it now. Maybe I’ll have more to say later. It’s just out in hardcover, but thirty budks dosesn’ buy you much more in the way of pleasure. In any form.

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