William Souder’s “On a Farther Shore” Scores NYTimes Nod

Congratulations to our very Rowdy William Souder whose biography of Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore, has been named to the “100 Notable Books of 2012” by the New York Times.

What a nice acknowledgment for our friend of a job well done.

Author and reviewer Elizabeth Royte calls Williams’s writing “absorbing.” Here’s part of her summary:

In Souder’s telling, almost every aspect of Carson’s life and times becomes captivating: her difficult personal circumstances (she grew up in rural poverty, was the sole breadwinner in her family and battled breast cancer while writing and then defending “Silent Spring”); the publishing milieu; and the continuing friction between those who would preserve nature versus those who would bend it to provide utility for man.

Sources also tell me Bill will be on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” this Saturday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. our time. (And, no, I am not his press agent.)

How cool is this all? Way cool. Nicely played, Master Souder.

I Didn’t Much Feel Like Working Today, So…

…band mashups I’d like to see/hear. I’m sure someone has already done this somewhere, so I purposely didn’t do a search. I prefer to be an ignorant pioneer than an informed follower. There seems an infinite number of these, so a free copy of Joe Loveland’s new book titled Wry Not: a collection of blog posts in printed form requiring no additional work to anyone that adds to this list. As always, no rules.

Young MC5



Barry White Stripes

Young MC5

De La Soul Asylum

Three Dog Night Ranger

Average White Band of Skulls

Luscious Jackson Browne

QuietDrive by Truckers

Sammy HaGarbage

LuLucinda Williams

Duran DuRancid

Rolling Stones Temple Pilots

Color Me Baddfinger

The English Beatles

The Big Wu Tang Clan

No Doubtlaws

The Blind Boys of Alabama Shakes

Electric Light Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (ELOMD)

Lil Bow Wow Wow

Mary Chapin Carpenters

James Taylor Swift

Buddy Guy Lombardo

Fleetwood Mac Davis

Megadeth Cab for Cutie

Buddy Hollies

Megadeth Cab for Cutie

Steely Danzig

Grateful Dead Kennedys

Dead MilkMen at Work

Minnie Pearl Jam

Flaming Lipps Inc

LL Cool J Geils Band

The YardByrds

Kenny G. Love & Special Sauce

Grant Lee Buffalo Springfield

Kings of Leon Russell

Frank Black Sabbath

Lloyd Cole Porter

The James Gang of Four

Tower of Power Station


John MellenCamper Van Beethoven

The Dirty Three Dog NightRanger (a triple)

Prince and the New Power Generation X

Bing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The Top 5 Best and Worst Things About the Blogosphere

People either love or hate blogs, with little in between. When I first started writing this one, I was definitely a hater. In fact, these were the first words I ever uttered in the bloguverse:

“Blah, blah, blog.  I hate blogs.  Self-centered, self-righteous, self-reinforcing, self-gratification.  Seldom right, but never in doubt.”

Thus began my self-loathing career as a person who writes blogs, but most assuredly is not a “blogger.”  (Those people are pathetic, don’t you think?)

But almost six years later, my take on blogs is a bit more nuanced and ambivalent.  Upon further reflection, this is how the pros and cons of the blogosphere net out for me.

The Worst

Anonymous contributors and the vitriol that brings.  Where blog participants are allowed to be anonymous, conversations get juvenile and shallow in a hurry.   That says a lot about human nature, and it limits the promise of blogs.  For me, this is the worst part of hanging around blogs.

The lack of fact-checking.  When it comes to truthiness, you can trust mainstream news outlets much more than blogs, because there are accountability rules and editors at the ready at mainstream news outlets.  Lots of bloggers don’t care about accuracy, and their readers take them at face value and get deceived.  Even bloggers who care about accuracy make bad mistakes when they are blogging on the fly in the middle of a work day, with no support staff to save them.  All of the inaccuracy in blogs is bad for blog readers, and for the credibility of the medium.

The overwhelming volume of information.  The Google machine tells me that there are currently more than 180 million blogs in existence.  The sheer volume of blogs makes it very difficult to find the worthwhile needles in this cyber-haystack.  That limits the promise of blogs. The “drinking from a firehose” cliche is inadequate here.  Drinking from Niagra Falls?

The echo chamberiszation of the planet.   In the blogosphere, most of us seek out voices that support our preconceived notions.  That balkanizes opinion, insulates us from true contemplation and make us all boorish.

The rush to judgement.  Unlike traditional publications, blogs can be published in the time it takes to click a mouse.  This makes the world move a lot faster.  If bloggers don’t post on breaking news now, they feel like the post will be stale.  As a result, bloggers often bypass education and deliberation, and go straight to pontification.  The world needs more education and deliberation, and less instant pontification, and breakneck speed of blogging aggravates the situation.

The Best

The lack of information gatekeepers.  Pre-Internet, very few of us had the money to start a publication to share our own thoughts.  Very few of us were talented enough to get published.   Even among professional writers, very few were allowed to write whatever they wanted.  Bankers, publishers, and copy editors have historically been among the many powerful barriers to mass unfiltered self-expression.  But free services like WordPress allow anyone to say whatever they want whenever they want.    If their mutterings are interesting or provocative enough, they will get spread around to others, for free.  Blogs have made free speech a little more free.

The lack of money influencing publishing decisions.  Almost no blogger makes money blogging.  That means that blog writing is less likely than mainstream media reporting and commentary to be influenced by commercial considerations, such as “what will the advertisers do if I write that.”   For this reason, there often is more speaking truth to power on blogs than there is in the mainstream news media.

The focus on connecting the dots of the daily news.  Only a relative few bloggers uncover actual news.  The rest of us merely connect the dots of news that is reported by mainstrain news reporters.  What mainstream reporters do is more important than what we do here, because it is a necessary prerequisite of what we do here. But connecting the dots is not unimportant.  News events are not stand alone entities unto themselves.  The interplay of news events matters.  These are  important things for citizens in a democracy to be discussing, and more of that type of discussion is happening because of blogs.

The coverage of previously ignored niches.  Mainstream news reporters necessarily can’t cover every societal niche.  But 180 million bloggers can come pretty close.  For people like me with nichey minds, that’s a good thing.

The lack of editing and style guides.  Many of my English major friends who cuddle up with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and my journalism and PR friends who are slaves to the AP Stylebook, can’t abide the no holds barred nature of blog prose.  They mourn the fact that no editor is used by bloggers to spare readers from the ravages of cliches, clunky phrasing, inconsistent usage, misused-hyphens,  and unconventional word choices (e.g. see “bloguverse,” “nichey,” “The Google machine,” “truthiness”) .  But the raw semantic and syntax anarchy you find in blogs also brings much color, fun, creativity, risk-taking and spontaneity to the conversations.   It makes information exchange a little less stuffy and controlled.  Sorry, Strunk, but I love all of that unsanitized prose.

– Loveland

Bad info-tainment begets low information voters.

Ever since the right-wing entertainment bubble began expanding back in the early 1990s, I’ve wondered what it would take to pop it. Despite sharp, specific criticism from apostates like David Frum and others, I doubt this year’s ass-kicking will flush the misbegotten authority of self-interested hucksters from modern conservatives’ primary information conduits. The world outside the bubble of crazy-assed nonsense doesn’t have enough martial conflict.

The phenomena of “the conservative entertainment complex” has fascinated/obsessed me for years. Locally, I covered, got to know (and on some levels enjoyed) people like Jason Lewis and Bob Davis. And hell, “RINO” Sarah Janecek and I were, briefly, placeholders at a Bain Capital-owned Clear Channel station while it tried to lure Lewis back to town. (Officially we were there to offer a “new balance in political talk radio”, unofficially it was understood from the get-go we were toast as soon as Lewis signed.)

I’ve been face to face with national consultants explaining how the talk radio game works, ratings-wise. (Essentially; feed your average 40-something male just enough to let them have an opinion in an argument at work.) I’ve listened to station managers encouraging me to, “play back” and “let them win”, in terms of an ideal commercial model for a left v. right radio “debate”. I fielded hundreds of calls from obsessive, low-information listeners absolutely convinced of everything Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the usual characters had told them — about WMDs in Iraq, about “overtopped” levees in New Orleans, about … well, you get the idea.

Point being, I get the knucklehead factor. There are plenty of people out there who either don’t know much, or who desperately want people around them to believe they know a lot more than they actually do. Those people — predominantly white, male and middle-age to elderly  — are a highly exploitable demographic. By themselves they are enough to keep the hosts — the entertainers — in a nice living, even if, they add up to barely 10% of the population. More to the point, the hosts of these anger-stoking shows are actually in a better position in defeat, when they can level the full force of their invective at the opponents in the White House. Their message is founded on victimhood.

Post-election, what is astonishing — even to me — is that by all reports very highly paid operatives and consultants … and … the GOP’s two top candidates were also huffing the very thin air on “Bullshit Mountain”, as Jon Stewart calls it.

Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan claim to have been gobsmacked by the results. Are you kidding me?

The only way that happens is if they too dialed out “the reality based” world and invested their grandest ambitions and hundreds of millions in wealthy donor money in the alternate universe of conservative entertainment logic. That universe is a zone out beyond the Oort Cloud where among other things, Donald Trump was briefly a viable presidential contender, where anything Sarah Palin says is worth hearing, where women who want birth control through their health plans are “sluts”, where Barack Obama is still a Muslim, where Dick Morris has a regular audience, where “death panels” will decide Grandma’s fate, where Socialism is swamping capitalism in 21st century America, where climate change is a liberal hoax, where the simple math of poll aggregation matters less than anything cherry-picked off Rasmussen or phoned in to Laura Ingraham’s radio show and where the attack on the consulate Benghazi has spawned a cover-up as big as Watergate.

It’s a message that appeals most to an aging, anachronistic slice of the population … that happens to sustain a small class of entertainers (and their corporate shareholders).

At the moment it appears the conventional wisdom among the modern GOP’s intelligentsia is that every office seeker in the next election cycle must wear a sombrero and mutter a few lines of Spanish. Never mind creating substantially improved policies instead of vague verbiage. Such a revolution — which is what is needed —  would require risking the wrath of the lords of the entertainment complex. Almost no one has shown the guts to do that. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, currently refuting Romney’s claim that “gifts” to minorities swayed the election, will be an interesting test case for whether any Republican can maintain viability while out of step with Rush Limbaugh.

I meant to post a couple of post-election appearances — by yours truly —  before this.

Here’s your fourth-favorite Rowdy on Fox 9. And here’s the same seer on Christopher Gabriel’s show on WDAY radio up in Fargo. Bon appetit.

I’m not sure what went on with the Tea Party this campaign season. I think I’ve said before that if that “movement” had any true ideological fervor beyond beating the illegitimate black guy in the White House it would have parted ways with the GOP establishment the minute Rick Santorum conceded the last primary. Lovers of good conspiracy theories would like to know if any SuperPAC money was sprinkled around to the myriad Tea Party insurgencies to shut up and play along with Romney’s adventure? How else do they explain not exploiting their moment in the (pale) sunlight and running their own candidate?

But, bottom line, I fail to see how the GOP — truly, a “Mad Men” party in a “Modern Family” world — reestablishes broad-based appeal to minorities of any kind and women under the age of 65, not to mention people young enough to regard Jay-Z as a role model and not Ted Nugent or Pat Boone.

For those groups and everyone who has come to regard the party’s supplicant status to the “entertainment complex” as a kind of pathetic, sick joke there simply is no “there” to the much-parroted modern conservative message.

What does “limited government” mean in, you know, the real world?

What are you actually talking about when you campaign on “economic freedom” Who doesn’t want that?

Ditto “respect for social institutions” like the family. Does anyone believe the average Democrat is trying to undermine Mom, Dad and Thanksgiving dinner?

And “respect for national defense and law enforcement”? Just because your average wild-eyed liberal thinks the Pentagon is a sacred cow never to be challenged on waste, fraud and cronyism doesn’t mean we’re in favor of letting terrorists take over the New York Stock Exchange. (Hell, most of the worst economic terrorists are already working a couple blocks away.)

This election tore back the curtain on the buffoonery of the modern conservative information machine. But until the movement’s high priests on radio and TV — the crowd motivating their caucus and primary-goers —  are cancelled for lousy ratings, I don’t see any way the party can change.

Not that I’m complaining, you understand.

What Would Nixon Do?

In light of the discussions about fiscal cliffs, spendthrift Democrats and plutocratic Republicans who never met a tax cut for the rich they didn’t like comes this video I stumbled across. Richard M. Nixon explaining that it’s not how much government spends that matters; it’s what they spend it on. This man had a heart, people.

So what would Nixon make of all of our squabbling? I think he’d be a centrist, someone you could meet in the middle and do business with. Too bad we’ve lost that.

VIDEO: From the History Channel

Neighborhoods the Romneys Don’t Know

“And it comes from neighborhoods we have yet to even discover,” Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former head of the Republican National Committee, said Wednesday on MSNBC about the America that re-elected President Obama and that his party does not know. Steele, who’s black, was talking to host Alex Wagner, who is female and Asian-American. His party no longer looks like America, he said. America looks like you, it looks like me, he told Wagner. His party “has to take its head out of its you-know-what and understand exactly what’s going on in this country,” and realize we don’t represent all of America. “And don’t just put Marco Rubio out there and say ‘We got one.'”

Here’s the link to Steele:
In 1968 Senator Robert Kennedy toured poor parts of Kentucky to help focus the nation’s attention on poverty. The trip was part of RFK’s transformation from knife-edged politician to compassionate crusader. He went to neighborhoods the majority of people in American hadn’t ever seen. Couldn’t believe existed. Didn’t want to believe existed in America.

My dear partner Lisa has said from the beginning of the presidential campaign that Mitt and Ann Romney should come to Pasco County, where we live north of Tampa, to see what the real America is like. Unemployment, 12 percent. Poverty level, 12 percent. Median household income, $44,000. Eighty percent non-Hispanic white, 12 percent Hispanic, 5 percent black. Certainly not Appalachia, but a place that’s hit hard times.

Lisa and I walked a few blocks of Port Richey on election day to get out the vote for the Obama campaign. We saw a part of our town, our state, that Romney doesn’t know. Hasn’t ever seen. Can’t comprehend. Middle America. Hurting. Small houses, many rented after the real estate crash. But many people in homes that they own. Hurting. One woman we drove to the polls had no car, no job, and a boyfriend suffering from ALS that they attribute to chemicals he was exposed to in the Gulf War. Lisa helped her decide on Obama — she voted for the first time in decades. My point to her, as we talked about her vote, was that Romney has no idea what life is like in this Port Richey neighborhood. Lisa asked the woman if she considered herself middle class. Yes, just barely, she said. Lisa asked what she thought Romney said when he was asked what a middle-class income was. Fifty thousand, the woman said. Lisa told her that Romney’s answer was $250,000. The woman was stunned. Another woman, a grandmother, whom we drove to the polls was part of five generations living in a small house. Her daughter has a good business — bail bonding. No other jobs in the house. They have a car and own the house. But they’re hurting. Struggling. This is one of the neighborhoods the GOP hasn’t even discovered yet, in Steele’s terms — and it’s far from the poorest neighborhood in our town, let alone in America.

Mitt and Ann Romney would have had their eyes opened if they’d walked with Lisa and me. But they — and too many in their party — don’t know this neighborhood, and seem not to care. Even though there were a few Romney signs in the neighborhood we walked, and we got a door slammed in our face by a Romney voter, this is the America that pays the price for Republican policies. Masquerading behind concern for the deficit, which is a huge threat to us all, Republican policies hurt these barely-middle-class people. Cuts in cops, schools, libraries, bus service, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, college loans, social services, emergency services. The Romney Ryan platform.

I’ve said many times on this blog that the real cost of No New Taxes is payed by average Americans. A recent New York Times story said crime is up in Sacramento due to deep cuts in police budgets and personnel. What a surprise.

Republicans lost the national election, although Florida’s legislature, like most in the country, stayed Republican. But the party will continue to shrink if it pays attention only to the neighborhoods where Mitt and Ann and their big contributors live. Most in Congress no longer know what the real America is like. Most people like me — privileged, white, educated, well off — don’t know the fraying neighborhoods and lives of people falling from the middle class.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly said, right after Obama’s win, with a shocked voice. Hello, welcome to the 21st Century. But Obama’s re-election is not just about majorities and minorities. It’s about the increasing disparity between rich and poor, between Republicans like Mitt Romney and the rest of America.

Policies that continue to favor those who already have it made, at the expense of those who don’t, can’t continue. That’s part of what people said with their votes on Tuesday. And Michael Steele may have gotten the message.

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from LATimes.com)

In the Light of the Morning After …

A few comments and questions on the morning after …

A: The “fight for the soul of the Republican party” requires that sober-minded pragmatists within the party have the guts to stand up to their radical, alienating insurgent wing. With two more Tea Party-driven losses in the Senate, (in Indiana and Missouri), common sense would suggest that the far … far … right should instantly and wholly lose credibility among the party’s “more moderate” leadership and major donors. But … unless the party somehow reworks its primary system and simultaneously de-legitimizes the influence of that wing’s primary thought-shapers — rich-as-Croesus evangelical ministries, talk radio and FoxNews — what few moderates there are will continue to live in fear of torpedoing their own careers if they don’t continue to pander to their party’s least-productive elements. Hell, even Mitch McConnell is worrying about a primary challenge from someone far to the right of him. Even this morning I’m getting e-mail from Tea Party groups arguing — predictably — that Romney, like Bob Dole and John McCain lost because “only real conservatives get elected”.

B: This fundamental strategic problem is umbilically-linked to the party’s lack of appeal among women and minorities, especially “illegals” as so many of them like to describe Hispanics, a group closing in on 20% of the population. What “soul-saver” among viable Republicans dares run with a message of protecting a woman’s individual rights AND compassionate immigration reform? Maybe Marco Rubio on the latter. (A favorite factoid from the last days of the campaign: Had Romney drawn George W. Bush’s numbers among Latinos, he’d have won several swing states.)

C: Barack Obama’s support among white women was the mirror image of his (lack of) support among white men. To which I ask, “How has the experience of white women been so much different/better with Obama — or black men — than that of white males?” My wife argues it’s because women, despite being 52% of the electorate still regard themselves as a minority, certainly in terms of holding political power. I suspect women are far less threatened by a black leader than white men.

D: The Catholic church did itself serious moral damage with its medieval-zealot push on the gay marriage amendment here and around the country. Coupled with the taint of evangelical “craziness” throughout the GOP primaries — and that irrationality’s effect on Romney’s credibility — the drift away from organized religion in this country will probably accelerate.

E:  In terms of 11th hour factors, Romney’s flagrant lies about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China had far more impact on “freezing his momentum” than superstorm Sandy. Moreover, had he wanted to counter the President’s leaderly posture overseeing disaster relief he could have written a personal check of several million dollars to the Red Cross, or coordinated with Karl Rove and other allies to do the same, rather than burning off excess cash on advertising in states where he had no chance in hell — like Minnesota. If you are as rich as Romney, the average guy/gal assumes you’ll step up when things get really bad. I doubt it even crossed his mind.

F: We have entered a new era in political polling, or at least the aggregation/collated end of polling. It is eery how accurate the “Nate Silver model” was last night. And this will only improve.

G: Post-victory and across the pundit spectrum this morning the sage counsel is that “the President must reach across the aisle”. As though he and he alone must “seek compromise”. Recognition of the 1000-pound gorilla presence of the GOP’s far-right insurgency is still not considered “balanced” among the vast majority of mainstream commentators. Good luck accurately reporting the story of the next two months if that’s your default ethic.

H: Finally — for now — the public appetite for a female presidential candidate in 2016 is palpable. I somehow doubt the GOP’s highest profile women — Michele Bachmann — have anything remotely approaching the broad-based appeal of Hillary Clinton (whose popularity has never been as high, but who may decide her time has passed) or freshly-elected Elizabeth Warren.

That said, I’m one happy guy today. And my prediction of a 1.5% popular/ “just under 300” electoral vote win for Obama was a pretty good B+ as calls go.