Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's Going to Happen Here?

Yesterday, I listened to Bruce Judson discuss his book, It Could Happen Here on the Leonard Lopate Show on WQXR (NY's NPR station). Judson's book theorizes that America's growing income disparity (the cancerous democracy-killer that no one in our nation wants to talk about), could bring about an environment of extreme political instability. Layer in the toxic anti-government discourse that is so prevalent today, and Judson claims that revolution and / or secession are not outside the realm of possibility.

I have long been troubled by America's growing income disparity. Did you know that during the Reagan years....the Gordon Gecko years, mind you, - the average CEO made about 50 times the compensation that the average worker earned? Do you know what that ratio is now? About 450 to 1. I realize this is an isolated metric but I think it is fair to say that such a measure is indicative of what has become a self-congratulatory culture within corporate America. Maybe the Apocalypse presented by Judson is unrealistic but when we discuss the root cause of our culture wars and tenuous economic prospects, why is no one discussing income disparity?

In the 1930's, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can't Happen Here. I first read this about six years ago when we were in the heart of the Bush Years. In this novel, reason and democracy have been commandeered by a megalomaniac populist who arrives under the guise of folksy small-town patriotism but eventually gravitates towards totalitarianism (PALIN!....sorry all - just slipped out). Why did I read this book during Dubya's reign? Because sometimes it feels good to feel bad. We were heading into a disastrous war and voices of dissent were being dismissed (at best) and at worst, being shouted down as unpatriotic.

America has an obsession with the end of times. We love to watch the train smash into the unsuspecting parked car. It's a kind of disaster porn, for a lack of a better phrase. Now when I go on, the rave reviews of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here come from right wing voices claiming Lewis' anti-tyranny message speaks for them. After all, under the Obama administration, they now feel as though they are living under an oppressive regime.

I'll say this - I was wrong if I ever said, during the Bush years, that I lived under tyranny. The past year has made me realize that Americans are ignorantly culpable of claiming tyranny while we live in the freest, most fortunate nation on the planet. No matter what we think of what's happening in Washington, we should get down on our knees every day and thank our Creator that we are Americans. A dangerous vein has entered our national discourse, fueled by millionaires who sit in little boxes broadcasting venom on AM radio. Such porn gets further bolstered by that blubbering, nonsensical fat man on Fox News who inconceivably has captivated an immeasurable amount of attention this past year.

Americans have become careless with the word 'tyranny'. Richard Ford put it best in the Times opinion pages last Sunday. We have become "dangerously ambivalent and inattentive. We define life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as our right to bury our noses hubristically in our personal lives and public irrelevance."

I don't believe that any of the dire predictions of Lewis or Judson loom in our horizon. But never in my lifetime have words like 'secession' been used so casually in this country.

A word about the new Slimbo's Shelf banner...

You notice a new title for Slimbo's Shelf. This is a screen grab from Google Maps, taken on the corner of Winchester Road and Kirby Parkway in Memphis, Tennessee. I spend a lot of time on Google Map's street views in Memphis. I'm writing a novel about Memphis right now and when I get stalled (which is often), I go to Google's street views and essentially let my mind meander.

This view shocked me as the rather extraordinary statue you see on the right was not there when I lived there (granted that was almost two decades ago). This statue is on the grounds of an enormous arena of a mega-church. The statue is (from the photo) about sixty feet high. On the base of the statue an inscription reads: "America, turn back to God".

But does that mean you can still turn into the Shoney's across the street?

Some housekeeping

The Federal Trade Commission has established new rules for bloggers. Essentially, what this means is that I need to disclose if Slimbo is compensated whenever I discuss any book, film or product of any kind.

Here's the deal folks. I don't get jack from anybody. Even when I get published in newspapers, I don't get a dime. In fact, I've never, never, ever been compensated for writing anything, anywhere, anytime. Bodes well for the novel I'm writing doesn't it?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brad Van Pelt

This Christmas, I got my son an Eli Manning #10 jersey and it appears he plans to wear it until he leaves for college. But it also made me take a moment and remember Brad Van Pelt who passed away earlier this year. With all due respects to Manning, the Giants should have retired #10 a long time ago.

In the 1970's the New York Giants were a complete disaster. Van Pelt was the stepping stone between 15 years of misery and the foundation of success that they've tenuously sustained since the mid-80's. I started to love the team in the late 70's, a dark time for Big Blue. Van Pelt was their lone superstar, a label I'm not sure he liked as he seemed a humble hard-working grunt. Van Pelt also changed the character of the team. They were once the Madison Avenue marquees of the Gifford Fifties. But with Van Pelt the team began to morph into blue collar tough guys bellied in the swamps of Jersey. I suppose he was the first sports hero I called my own and along with Harry Carson, my favorite all-time Giant.
Thanks goes out to The True Blue Review for the photo.

Giants Stadium

Today is the last regular season game that the New York Giants are going to play at Giants Stadium. The way the season has been going, if they make the playoffs at all, I doubt they'd play any games at home. So today is it.

I spent perhaps too much time on this blog dwelling on the demise of Shea Stadium and when I did, I was too swayed by the voices who found it easy to trash Shea's ugliness and quickly sing Citi Field's praises. The truth is, that the new Meadowlands stadium, which will also house the New York Jets, embodies all that I've now come to dislike about Citi Field.

The beauty of Shea and Giants Stadium was in their egalitarian treatment of the fan. Whether you were a banker or a teacher, whether you were a conductor of a symphony or a subway, Shea treated everyone the same. The same holds true for Giants Stadium and unlike Shea's questionable viewing inconveniences, Giants Stadium was a wonderful place to see a game. I have sat in its best seats and I have sat in its worst seats. There is not one bad seat in the house.

Like Citi Field, this new stadium will feature dozens of segmented seating options. These are meant to cater to the corporate ticket holder who is most likely in attendance thanks to the large TARP-recipiant financial services firm that employs him. The common man who is looking to take his kid to a game has been left behind. Stadia now prioritize seating to accommodate sections with leather seats, a wait staff and sushi. Our grandfathers would laugh themselves silly at what we have become.

And of course there are the personal seat licenses. (For those of you who do not follow the NFL and the godless entity it's become, I ask you to sit down. In order to have the opportunity to purchase season tickets, fans must pay a personal seat license. Oh, it costs about $25,000.00 or so)

Goodbye old friend. You will be missed. I'd hoped I wouldn't have had to write such a bitter farewell.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays

Slimbo's Shelf wishes you and yours a happy and safe holiday season. Talk to you soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Isles Beat Rangers, 2-1!

I quote Herman Blume from Rushmore: "...take dead aim on the rich ones. Get them in the crosshairs ...and take them down."

Sleepless Days

It's hard to find any information about Jurek Becker's Sleepless Days. Usually, a Google through the interwebs on any book of choice will yield a good deal of information, some good, some...not so good. But this is not the case when I was looking to get some background on Sleepless Days.

This story chronicles a crisis in the life of an East German schoolteacher. An unidentifiable health episode descends Karl Simlock into a kind of life-upending transformation. He quits his job, his family and everything that anchors his daily routine: "I have led my whole life so far as if the genuinely important things were still to come. I have been waiting for the door to be opened behind which the action is taking place. I never asked myself whose hand is supposed to turn the doorknob."

Becker's Simlock is experiencing a crisis anyone in middle age can relate to. Yet, because Simlock's episode is partly caused by the restrictive world of East Germany, I found it difficult to pinpoint Becker's motives behind Sleepless Days. Was Becker trying to portray the existential trauma of one man (any man) or was the screaming desperation laid out by Simlock, a metaphor for the frustrations all East Germans felt living in the GDR's crushing banality and marginalized anonymity?

Either way, this is a beautiful book and I am shocked that it flies so far below the radar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Second Favorite Brendan


Today, while visiting the city of Philadelphia before his team, the New York Islanders, were to take on the Philadelphia Flyers, Islanders defender Brendan Witt was hit by a truck. After this transgression occurred, Witt got up, dusted himself off and headed back to the arena to get ready for the game.

Of course, as I write this post the Islanders are losing 6-2 to the Flyers, so perhaps Witt should have sought medical assistance. Still, that's a man who's got a pair of stones, my friends.


In other sporting news, it would appear that the United States' first game in the 2010 World Cup will be against Her Majesty's Collection of Dysfunctional Overpaid Footballers. Here's the bracket for Group C:

Of course, the British press is salivating over the prospects that their nation's team is a shoe-in to advance to the second round, lumping a victory over us as trying a task as defeating Algeria and Slovenia. Keep talking chaps...keep talking. Their boisterous posturing at the expense of my home nation's dignity has really gotten my Irish up. As you faithful of Slimbo's Shelf know, I am not one to submit to moronic American jingoism, but until our beloved Screaming Eagles lay the three lionesses to rest in South Africa, I am considering a boycott of all things English (and you Shelf readers ALSO know that I am an unrepentant Anglophile).

Boycott list includes:
  1. Tea
  2. Bass Ale
  3. Kingsley Amis and Nick Hornby
  4. Beatles, Stones and the Kinks
  5. Rachel Weisz (and this one hurts!)
  6. English Premier League (will only watch Tim Howard, Everton Keeper, only the greatest on the planet!)
  7. Monty Python
  8. Granta Literary Magazine
  9. Nigella Lawson (see lament re: Rachel Weisz above)
  10. BBC World News at 9am
  11. When Saturday Comes (footie magazine)
  12. Being polite and ironic

Lastly, the Giants beat the monkey out of the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday....ah, that felt good.