The Young Lords: A Radical History, Part 1

In her fascinating new book, The Young Lords, Professor Johanna Fernández makes a compelling case that the Young Lords were one of the most important revolutionary groups of the late 60s and early 70s. They won lasting victories by coupling street smarts, sophisticated organizing techniques, and intense political analyses. There’s much to be learned from their story, both successes and failures, which is cogently and lovingly told by the author.

Click on the triangle or image above to hear my interview with Johanna Fernández, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program, heard on WBAI NYC and Pacifica stations across the nation.

I’ll post Part 2 next week.

Diana Rigg, 1938-2020

Diana Rigg died this week. A fine actress, the clip above shows her in a few of her famous roles.

But my favorite thing that Diana Rigg ever did as an artist was to write a book called No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews. Stung by unkind reviews that she had received over the years, to cheer herself up, Rigg compiled a book of horrendous reviews that other celebrated actors had received over the years. If you can get a hold of a copy, it’s a fun read.

Thank you, Mrs. Peel.

Thanks to YouTuber Guardian News

Bully For You

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As children are getting ready to go back to school this month,–either online or in person–one thing has not changed: some students are still subject to bullying, both online and off. What can be done to prevent bullying and how should parents and teachers handle it? I recently spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Englander, Professor of Psychology, whose research focuses on bullying. Her most recent book is titled 25 Myths of Bullying and Cyberbullying.

Click on the triangle or link above to hear my interview with Dr. Englander as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio show on WBAI NY, WBAI.org and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

The Bird Way

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Who has not looked up in the sky at birds and wished they could fly? Jennifer Ackerman has spent a good part of her adult life thinking about and writing about birds and the natural world.  She is the author of eight books including a favorite of mine, The Genius of Birds.  Her latest book is called The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. I was pleased to talk with her on Arts Express and learn some startling stories about birds .

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my interview with Ms. Ackerman, as broadcast today on radio station WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

Charles Bukowski: “Don’t Try”

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It’s August and that’s the month poet Charles Bukowski was born in 1920. With over 5000 poems and six novels and hundreds of short stories to his name, he’s become a kind of cult figure over the last decades. While his writings have stamped him with the indelible persona of an alcoholic anti-social misanthropic and misogynistic git, yet there’s also a gentler humanness in Bukowski.

He died at the age of 74. On his gravestone the epitaph reads, “Don’t Try.”

Come with us now as we go out to our favorite virtual watering hole, knock down a couple of drinks, and listen to a performance of some of Bukowski’s poems as broadcast today on Arts Express radio on Pacifica stations across the nation.

Click on the grey triangle or mp3 link above to listen.

How To Drag A Body, And Other Safety Tips You Hope To Never Need

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Illustrations by Sharon Levy

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When your job entails strolling through mine fields, dodging snipers, reporting on seven civil wars, rogue militias, vigilantes, and drug cartels, you might become a bit picky about your personal security. Veteran Reuters correspondent and safety consultant Judith Matloff talks about how to keep safe through disasters, both natural and manmade, from tear gas and batons to tornadoes and hurricanes.

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above in order to hear my interview with Judith Matloff, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI NY, WBAI.org and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

“I Owe So Much To Those I Don’t Love”: Wisława Szymborska

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This month we celebrate the birthday of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, born July 2, 1923. Her experience of the German occupation of Poland during WWII was the backdrop to some of her most famous poems, but she was also a keen observer of everyday domestic life as well.

I recently had the pleasure of performing a selection of her poems along with Mary Murphy for the Arts Express radio program. All of the poems are from Szymborska’s recently published collection of works called MAP.

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above in order to hear the poems as broadcast today on  Pacifica affiliates across the nation.

Many thanks for permission to publicly broadcast the poems granted by the Wisława Symborkska Foundation and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers, the publishers of MAP, excellently translated by Clare Cavanagh and Staislav Baranczak.

 

“Coming To You With A Sad Glass Of Soda And A Vague Sense That The World Was Coming To An End”: Peter Davis

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I first encountered Indiana poet/musician Peter Davis’s work only a few months ago, but his laconic slacker sensibility, quirky playful sense of humor and self-deprecation immediately appealed to me.

His poems start off ordinarily enough, and then often veer into strange territory, defying expectation. Underlying much of it, the poems are about self-justification and what we say to ourselves and others in order to get us out of the existential jam that we have no idea what we’re doing, even as we proceed with bluff assurance.

Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear my reading of some of Peter Davis’s poems as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI NY, WBAI.org, and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

You can catch up with Peter Davis’s work  at artisnecessary.com

STRIKE!

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Jeremy Brecher has just come out with a revised and updated  50th anniversary edition of his brilliantly readable book called STRIKE! about the history of strikes in the United States. It’s an eye-opening history in so many ways, but for now, I’d just like to excerpt from the book an editorial that was published in the Seattle Union Record concerning the general strike that had taken hold in Seattle in 1919. The general strike involved shipbuilders, dockworkers, laundry workers, restaurant workers, milk-wagon drivers, and many more trades who brought the city to a standstill. If this rings a bell for you today, it’s not a coincidence.

There will be many cheering, and there will be some who fear.
Both these emotions are useful, but not too much of either.

We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR 
in this country, a move which will lead—NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!

We do not need hysteria.

We need the iron march of labor.

LABOR WILL FEED THE PEOPLE.

Twelve great kitchens have been offered, and from them food 
will be distributed by the provision trades at low cost to all.

LABOR WILL CARE FOR THE BABIES AND THE SICK.

The milk-wagon drivers and the laundry drivers are arranging plans 
for supplying milk to babies, invalids and hospitals and taking care 
of the cleaning of linen for hospitals.

LABOR WILL PRESERVE ORDER.

The strike committee is arranging for guards and it is expected that 
the stopping of the cars will keep people at home..

A few hot-headed enthusiasts have complained that strikers-only 
should be fed, and the general public left to endure severe 
discomfort. Aside from the inhumanitarian character of such 
suggestions, let them get this straight—

NOT THE WITHDRAWAL OF LABOR POWER, 
BUT THE POWER OF THE STRIKERS TO MANAGE WILL WIN THIS STRIKE.

What does Mr. Piez of the Shipping Board care about the 
closing down of Seattle’s shipyards, or even of all of the 
industries of the northwest? Will it not merely strengthen the 
yards at Hog Island, in which he is more interested?

When the shipyard owners of Seattle were on the point of agreeing 
with the workers, It was Mr. Piez who wired them that, if they so 
agreed—

HE WOULD STILL NOT LET THEM HAVE STEEL.

Whether this is camouflage we have no means of knowing. 
But we do know that the great eastern combinations of capitalists 
COULD AFFORD to offer privately to Mr. Skinner, Mr. Ames and 
Mr. Duthie a few millions apiece in eastern shipyard stock.

RATHER THAN LET THE WORKERS WIN.

The closing down of Seattle’s industries, as a MERE SHUTDOWN, 
will not affect these eastern gentlemen much. They could let the 
whole northwest go to pieces, as far as money alone is concerned.

BUT, the closing down of the capitalistically controlled industries 
of Seattle, while the WORKERS ORGANIZE to feed the people, 
to care for the babies and the sick, to preserve order—
THIS will move them, for this looks too much like the taking over 
of the POWER of the workers.

Labor will not only SHUT DOWN the industries, 
but Labor will REOPEN, under the management of the appropriate trades, 
such activities as are needed to preserve public health 
and public peace. If the strike continues, Labor may feel led 
to avoid public suffering by reopening more and more activities.

UNDER ITS OWN MANAGEMENT

And that is why we say that we are starting on a road that leads—
NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!

					

Comrade: Jodi Dean, Part Two

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Last week I posted Part One of my interview with Jodi Dean, author of the new book, Comrade. In that part of the interview, she talked about the origin and unique importance of the word, “comrade,” and how it differs from other terms like friend or ally.

This week we continue with Part Two of that conversation as we talk about what happens when comrades and party part company, and what the opening for a real politics might be in the time of pandemic. As events occur at lightening speed, her point of view becomes more important than ever.

Click on the triangle or the mp3 link above to hear the interview as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

You can listen to Part One, here.

Comrade: Jodi Dean, Part One

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In Jodi Dean’s  provocative new book called Comrade, she argues that the word “comrade” is an indispensable one that describes a unique political relationship not captured by words like citizen, colleague, friend, brother/sister, or even ally. If the future of revolutionary change is through the vehicle of the revolutionary political party, she says, then the understanding of what “comrade” really means is vital.

I was happy to interview Jodi Dean on the Arts Express radio program. To hear Part One as broadcast today on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC and Pacifica radio affiliates across the country, click on the triangle or mp3 link above.

You can hear Part Two here

Stamped: The Remix

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In 2016 Ibram X. Kendi wrote an acclaimed book called Stamped from the Beginning, The National Book Award winning history of how racist ideas were created, spread, and deeply rooted in American society. Now that book has been adapted by Kendi and Jason Reynolds in what they call a remix for young audiences.

You can listen to my interview with Ibram Kendi and Jason Reynolds as broadcast today on the Arts Express program on WBAI 99.5FM NYC, WBAI.org, and Pacifica stations across the country by clicking on the triangle or mp3 link above to listen.

Bedlam: Part Two

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Last week , I posted Part One of an interview with Dr Ken Paul Rosenberg, the creator of the book and film documentary, Bedlam. He talked about the present crisis state of  mental health care in the US. This week we continue with the final part of that conversation as we talk about political considerations —-and Dr. Rosenberg’s personal stake in the story.

Click on the triangle above to hear the conversation as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

Bedlam: Serious Mental Illness in America

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In his new documentary film and accompanying book, Bedlam, Dr. Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, presents a moving portrait of what it means to be a person living with mental illness in America today. And in his quest to find the truth about others, he had to confront difficult aspects of his own history, and America’s history, of dealing with people diagnosed with serious mental illness.

You can hear part one of my interview with the fascinating Dr. Rosenberg, as broadcast yesterday on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI NYC and Pacifica Radio affiliates across the country, by clicking on the triangle above.

Part two is here: https://jackshalom.net/2020/04/14/bedlam-part-two/

BEDLAM will premiere on Independent Lens Monday, April 13 at 10pmET on PBS

“Queen Bee” Cavity: The Poetry of Camryn Bruno

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Our newest Arts Express contributor, KeShaun Luckie, put together this audio segment highlighting the wonderful poems of Camryn “Queen Bee” Bruno, performed by the author. It was a pleasure to have two such talented artists over here recording.

You can listen to Queen Bee’s reading, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, by clicking on the triangle above.

The Book Nook, Magic Edition (4)

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Here’s an update on three magic books I’ve received recently, each of which I can recommend to aficionados.

First, The Top Change by Magic Christian. Christian, a seasoned performer and recognized expert on 19th century card magic history (he wrote the massive two volume work on his Viennese forerunner, J. N. Hofzinser: Non Plus Ultra) has written a monograph on the top change and its variants, illustrated with over 200 sharp black & white photographs, and includes an extensive bibliography from Denis Behr. It begins with a chapter on the history of the sleights, then gets down to basics teaching them.

The section describing the basic top change that Christian prefers is actually fairly brief—four pages of Christian’s general philosophy about the top change, and then about ten pages of photos and text  breaking down the move, step by step. Those familiar with the description of the move in Expert Card Technique or Giobbi’s Card College may be surprised by some of Christian’s recommendations. He prefers a subtle, subdued approach: he does not try to cover the move with wide sweeping arm movements, and he prefers not to move both hands.

The top change is one of those sleights which is extremely useful in card magic—Christian calls it “the most useful, the most regal sleight” in all of card magic. I have to admit that while technically it’s a much easier move than palming or doing a classic pass, I feel much more comfortable with the latter sleights than doing a top change. Like many, I am afraid of being caught out because of the boldness of the move. But I can say that with some study of the book and practice, I have been gaining in confidence, and my current efforts, as recorded on video, are not too awful. So thank you, Magic Christian.

Next up is David Regal’s new book, Interpreting Magic. It’s a big book, with the usual kind of Regal attention to close-up card and coin magic. Regal is a guy whose roots are in improv and scripting (no, not mutually exclusive at all!) and his focus is always on presenting an entertaining story and premise for his audience.  If you’ve seen any of Regal’s other books, you know he’s got literally scores of such workable effects. But curiously, my favorite part of the book was not the close-up magic, but rather the platform magic section. His imagination really lets loose with the larger effects.  He’s got very original, ingenious premises and presentations with props that are more unexpected and amusing than the usual card or coin routines. Also, scattered throughout the book, he has some great interviews and essays. There’s not a whole lot of organization to this huge book, so at 500+ pages it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, but I really like dipping into it at random. Definitely recommended.

And finally, there’s Thinking Of You, the latest annual offering from Andy of the magic website, The Jerx.  The previous book from The Jerx, Magic for Young Lovers, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. The current book is also quite good, though unsurprisingly, not in the same league as its predecessor.  MFYL set a high bar to reach and Andy seems to be aware of that. While the earlier book was conceived as a whole philosophy and approach to amateur magic—and largely succeeded—this one is much more modest in its aims. Thinking Of You is mainly concerned with the performance of mentalism in an amateur social context, and as such it’s more of a toolkit—okay, a bag of tricks—rather than some overarching vision, despite some valuable advice on how to approach social mentalism. That said, many of the individual ideas and effects are quite strong and without the comparison to the other book, it’s quite a respectable piece of work. The book is physically similar to the last two Jerx books, though there are no illustrated endpages as the previous books had. However, for those complaining about the high price of subscribing to the site and receiving the book, here’s a hot tip: some of the best ideas and effects in the book are already on the Jerx site for free, if you comb through the site. Either way, Andy has a ton of great advice for those performing in an amateur social context.

And upcoming: the gambling subset of magic fans has been eagerly awaiting Steve Forte’s new double volume opus on gambling sleights i.e. false deals, shuffles, switches, and so on. It’s Forte’s name that’s the draw here, as his status as a card worker is legendary, and his knowledge and invention of gambling sleights is second to none. In any reasoned list of the best living card workers, Forte’s name is probably going to be right at the top. Forte printed up a first run of 1000 copies, and by the time you read this, it probably will be all sold out, despite the fact that it won’t even be published for another few weeks. A special section on Erdnase’s Expert At The Card Table in the book promises to be a paradigm-breaking re-imagining of the old master. It will be interesting to see if Forte’s book, called Gambling Sleight of Hand, lives up to its high expectations.

All of the books are very good. Depending on your taste in magic, at least one of these books will make a worthwhile read for you.

“How I Became A Socialist”: Jack London

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This month we celebrate the birthday of author Jack London, born January 12, 1876. London wrote the great nature novels Call of the Wild and White Fang, but he was also a committed socialist who wrote two volumes of essays about socialism called The War of the Classes and Revolution and other essays.

I performed a reading of London’s “How I Became A Socialist” for the Arts Express radio program. Click on the triangle above to hear it as broadcast today on WBAI 99.5 FM radio and Pacifica affiliates cross the country.

 

War Is Kind

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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Had enough of that old-time military jingoism? Stephen Crane’s your man. The Red Badge of Courage author penned a series of poems called War is Kind that taken together are devastating reading. You can listen to my performance of a selection of those poems as performed today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC.

Click on the triangle above to hear.

Permanent Record: Edward Snowden

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“My name is Edward Joseph Snowden, I used to work for the government but now I work for the public. It took me nearly three decades to recognize that there was a distinction, and when I did it got me into a bit of trouble at the office.”

That’s the opening to Edward Snowden’s thrilling new memoir. You can listen here to my commentary on the book, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC, by clicking on the triangle above.

High Times With Steve Spill

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Steve Spill is at it again—writing that is, and his books just keep getting better and better. It’s a shame that the title Lost Inner Secrets is taken, because this book is that. No, it’s not going to tell you where to put your left pinky when (at least not too much), but it’s a book that could supercharge a performance from just competent to extra special. I can’t imagine a better investment of your magic time than reading this book.

Steve’s recent retirement from daily performance at his Magicopolis venue, interestingly, has put Steve in a different frame of mind; you can feel it in his writing. There’s still the same love of humor, magic, and people—still plenty of funny jokes—but there’s something else this time around, something deeper, more philosophical…wiser.  With his new perspective,  he gets at what the real essentials are in this performing art.

To my knowledge, what Steve talks about here just isn’t available in magic writing anywhere else: the information within comes only with the repetition of thousands of performances. It’s about hard-won expertise that is deep in the performer’s bones. And it’s not easy to articulate it without a lot of self-awareness and self-reflection. Reading, I felt I had a privileged view watching from the backstage wings, thinking: Oh, that’s what he’s doing, that’s how he’s getting that laugh. that’s how he’s making rapport with the audience, that’s why he does that move then.  If you’re reading this, you probably have shelves of magic books with tricks and sleights; you likely have near warehouses full of magic equipment. Those are not going to make you a better magician at this point. Leave them alone for now. Pick up this book.  It will tell you what you don’t know about performing, and will never know, unless you’ve performed as many times as Steve Spill has.

Steve starts off with persona. A magician, he explains, doesn’t have to be relaxed and carefree—but s/he has to give that impression. Magic is an aggressive art at bottom; there’s always the iron fist in the velvet glove. It takes a lot of time to find the right balance of mystery and playfulness to keep an audience from feeling abused. “It’s important,” says Spill, that magicians “not take themselves so seriously that audiences feel beaten over the head by the performer. I think a cultivated casualness is an antidote to the oft-perceived pomposity that comes with fooling people, and that can help whatever you do become more viewer-friendly.” And, a bonus of such apparent casualness: “Performing without a lot of affectation can conceal methods, and presents everything that’s said and done as something brought about without laboriousness.”

“Cultivated casualness” is a wonderful phrase and Spill goes on to explain exactly how to cultivate that casualness and how to use it to the performer’s advantage. First, there is a terrific section on improvising, which is unlike any other advice on improv that I’ve seen. As Steve points out, the improvisation techniques that a comedy magician needs to learn (and really the techniques here are good for all magicians, not just those committed to comedy) are different from the techniques that one learns in a theater improv class. Simply put, an actor works with other trained improv actors, but a magician is largely exchanging banter with audience members who are untrained.  Steve gives you techniques that make those interactions wittier, funnier and more engaging. I practiced his exercises for a single day, and I was already faster on my feet with other people. This chapter alone will improve performances greatly. It’s a real gift.

Then there’s a whole chapter devoted to comedy tags. Wait, I know—Dammit, Jim, I’m a magician, not a comedian! Okay, okay. But you know what?—Steve is giving you ready-made callbacks here, and if you play your comedic cards right, four or five-time callbacks. Even if you’re not a comedy magician, only the most dour of performance personas would find these suggestions out of character. Short of some Bizarre Magic approach (and maybe even then) humor almost always lifts a performance.

On to a chapter about doing magic for teens. As someone who’s worked with teens as an educator for many decades, I’ll tell you this: Steve Spill understands and appreciates the way teens think and act. He is exactly right about how to approach them. He gives not only a general approach, but also some very specific bits that work and carry him through a show. I like that Steve Spill likes teens. And oh yeah, if you don’t know how to deal with teens who love their cellphones—and they all do—once again, Steve comes to the rescue with both general and very specific advice.

Steve ends this section with some disarmingly frank advice about playing the long game:

Being a pro may be a labor of love, but is labor nonetheless. It is a job. Usually it is a fun job, but not always…Very few in our craft are ever in the position to turn down work. Some jobs are ones you desperately want—others you don’t want, but take just for the payday. In my lifetime I’ve given tens of thousands of performances. Some were great. Most were good. Some were bad. A few were really bad.

And then Steve goes on to say how he saves himself when things go South.

I really should stop the review here, because the book I’ve described so far is worth every penny to a person who repeatedly gets onstage for a living.

But duty says, continue. And it’s not really a duty, it’s a pleasure. Because the second half of the book consists of some wonderful unpublished routines from Steve’s repertoire, with their full scripts. It includes “The Mindreading Goose”—“Not bad for a goose!”; and “Broken Mirror,” a spirit slate routine done without slates, suitable for your favorite spooky holiday; then a lovely sleight of hand interlude done with a Cub Scout neckerchief slide; and a brilliant Torn and Restored routine that can be customized for special occasions. They are all effects that although not overly elaborate can play big and funny for a large audience.

But my favorite routine here is Steve’s version of the Slydini “Paper Balls Over The Head.”  The piece should win some kind of award for the most brilliant comedy magic script of the decade. This thing is a comic masterpiece. This is one to bring down the house. Okay, remember what I said about the first half of the book being worth every penny? Forget that. Because for the right person, this script alone is worth every penny. Seriously. It could be a reputation maker.

Overall, the book is bursting at the seams with fantastic performance advice and magic routines. I can’t recommend it highly enough. The icing on the cake is a back cover photo of Dai Vernon that I assure you, will have you laughing out loud.

You’ve got an uncle in the business. His name is Steve Spill, and he’s telling you everything he knows. Thank you, Steve, for one of the most entertaining and useful books of magic I’ve ever read.

You can order it at https://stevespill.com/products/magic-is-my-weed

The Power Of Satire

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Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about parody and satire. A poster on one of the magic boards I follow declared that he doesn’t like satire; and he mentioned that Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller magic fame also felt this way.  Penn wants a comedian to just “Come out and say it,” comparing Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal unfavorably to George Carlin’s comedy. Penn feels they make similar points but Carlin is more direct. Well, of course historically, unfortunately, people have paid a heavy price to just “Come out and say it” directly. Now, why Penn, a very intelligent man, would gloss over that point is interesting, but I don’t want to get into that in this essay (maybe I’ll expand on this in the comments area). Instead, I want to share some thoughts I’ve been kicking around concerning how parody and satire actually work.

Satire is often conflated with its humorous kin, parody, but I don’t consider them synonymous.  I’m not that interested in making a semantic argument, scolding for misuse—use the words as you wish—but I do want to distinguish between two distinct categories of comedy, no matter what one calls them. And so for convenience, I’ll refer to the two categories as parody and satire. Though they are both categories of humorous critique, there are some important differences.

Oddly, it might be easier to understand my definition of satire, if I first begin talking about parody. Both parody and satire embody a subject of humorous critique presented in a given form. In parody, however, the subject of the critique is the form itself.  Let me give a few examples here: Mel Brooks is well appreciated for film parodies such as Young Frankenstein. The pleasure we get from watching Young Frankenstein is in how Brooks takes the tropes of the classic horror movies of the 30s and pokes fun at them: there’s the hunchback, the inarticulate monster, the creepy castle, and so on, which all trigger memories of what we loved about those kinds of films. We laugh because these are familiar elements, but in addition, Brooks jokes with the form by unexpectedly breaking with its conventions: the inarticulate monster, out of genre, puts on a top hat and grabs a cane, performs a Broadway soft shoe dance, and so on. The subject, then, of Brooks’s horror movie is the form of horror movies. We see a similar dynamic occurring in other Mel Brooks movies, such as High Anxiety, Spaceballs, and Blazing Saddles. The subject of each of these movies is a critique of their particular forms—the thriller, the sci-fi movie, the western, respectively—the target being the absurd aspects of their forms.

One more parody example: the current wave of literature parodies which somehow manage to shoehorn zombies into them. So, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example, takes the form of a nineteenth-century Jane Austen novel of manners, but subverts the form by importing characters from a completely different kind of genre. The humor is in the discordant clash of forms. Again the subject of the parody in this case is of the form itself. It’s not “about” anything other than the comedies of manners and the tropes of zombie tales.

But satire works differently. While satire takes a form of an already recognized genre, its subject is not solely about the features of that form. The subject of satire is something apart from its form, but talks about the relationship of the subject to the form; and in the best satire, the form indicates how the subject uses elements of that form to gain, consolidate, or maintain power.

To clarify, let’s begin with Penn’s example, Jonathan Swift’s classic satire, A Modest Proposal. The writer proposes that the solution to starvation and poverty among the Irish poor is to let Irish parents sell their children to the rich as a source of food. Now the subject of the piece is clearly the exploitation of the poor by the rich; but the form of that satirical piece is the political statement of a rational man serving the people. Here Swift takes that form and shows how the form of rational political discourse is used to advance monstrous conclusions by proceeding from unjust premises. So the essay is not just a critique of the position of the Irish poor in Swift’s time, but it’s also an illustration of the forms of discourse that had helped to maintain such an unjust power relationship. In other words, in A Modest Proposal, Swift is in effect saying, “This is how rich people think and act. And these are the forms of twisted rationality they use to advance their cruel arguments to make them seem less self-serving.”

Or let’s take another, milder, satirical example, an excerpt from a recent article from the satirical online newspaper, The Onion:

2020 Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Announces Bold Plan For 2,500-Mile Intercontinental Riverwalk

SOUTH BEND, IN—Touting the benefits in tourism and business revenue that such a project had already brought to his hometown, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, IN mayor Pete Buttigieg announced Thursday a bold plan for a 2,500-mile intercontinental riverwalk. “At a time when Americans are more divided than ever, what this country needs is a riverwalk that will provide people from all strata of society with continuous strolling, dining, and festival opportunities,” said Buttigieg, gesturing to a watercolor architectural rendering of the Intercontinental Riverwalk that he described as his “core campaign plank,” which would revitalize the country’s heartlands by attracting sorely needed coffee shops, clothing boutiques, and artisanal cocktail bars in riverside locations stretching from coast to coast. […] At press time, the Indiana mayor went on to unveil diplomatic plans to broker a pact between Mexico, Canada, and the United States for a Transnational Farmer’s Market on Saturday afternoons.”

https://politics.theonion.com/2020-presidential-candidate-pete-buttigieg-announces-bo-1833302082

The Onion is not as sharp as it used to be, having to constantly churn out humor online, but this is a nice low-key satirical example. The subject of the satire is Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign bid. The form is the inbred local newspaper or Pennysaver giveaway press release article.  The piece is not just making fun of smalltown papers and Buttigieg’s campaign. What it also does is show how Buttigieg’s campaign (the subject of the critique) deliberately uses the tropes of the SmallTown America® press (the form) as branding to push its candidate forward. In an actual Buttigieg press conference or debate, South Bend, Indiana becomes the center of the civilized world; all knowledge, wisdom, and experience flows from there. Plain old front-porch common sense in partnership with local business leaders will solve all the world’s problems. The Onion piece catches the flavor of the campaign perfectly—by utilizing the form that it does.

Analyzing the differences between parody and satire in this way is useful in that it also allows us to see what factors might make for a stronger piece in both categories. Because in parody the object of humor is the form itself, the best parody tends to exaggerate features of the form, like a caricaturist might do with a person’s features in a cartoon.  But satire, on the other hand, works much better when the form is left alone; indeed when the form is a pitch-perfect imitation, but filled with the content of the subject of critique. That way, one can see how the subject uses the form to its own advantage.

So, while like Penn, I much admire the direct form of comedy as exemplified by George Carlin’s work, it’s important to understand that parody and satire allow for other kinds of humorous critique and observation to come into play. Parody and satire allow us not only to understand the subject of its critique, but also to understand the power that form, less visible and apparent,  holds over us as well.

 

From The Ear To The Page: Nuclear Activist Helen Caldicott

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Photo by hitesh choudhary on Pexels.com

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Recently I’ve been playing around with making hard copy transcriptions of some of the radio interviews I’ve done, and I’m happy to report that I’ve discovered an Internet browser-based transcription service that I can highly recommend. It’s called Transcribe and can be found here:

https://transcribe.wreally.com/

The versatile service allows you to upload an audio file, which then returns a written file in a short time.  I would say the accuracy is above 90% if the sound is clear. It also allows you to correct and make additions to the written file by providing various tools including an audio player that can play the audio at a slower speed while you make corrections in an integrated word processing window. You can then export the completed file into Word (docx) or txt formats.

You can also dictate in real time directly into the service, although I haven’t tried that.

The price is quite reasonable, based on the length of the recording and a yearly sign up fee. Below is an example based on a 15 minute radio interview; it took me about an extra 20 minutes of formatting to get it into shape after using Transcribe. It would have taken me hours and hours without the service, so it was definitely worth it to me.

On this month’s anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the recent Skyfall nuclear explosions in Russia, I thought re-visiting this interview with nuclear activist Helen Caldicott would be particularly timely and relevant.

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JACK SHALOM: With tensions between nuclear nations ratcheted up to levels not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the necessity of world action to ban such weapons is more important than ever.

Our guest, Dr. Helen Caldicott, has been a tireless anti-nuclear activist for over 40 years. She’s the co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, author of several groundbreaking books including If You Love Your Planet, and was named by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the most influential women of the 20th century. She’s also the editor of a new book Sleepwalking to Armageddon, a wake-up call collection of essays about stopping the nuclear madness.

I’m happy to welcome Dr. Helen Caldicott. Hi, Dr. Caldicott.

HELEN CALDICOTT: Thank you, Jack.

JACK: Dr. Caldicott, in 1982 over one million people including myself gathered in New York City angrily proclaiming “No Nukes!” But now, thirty years later, the on-the-ground anti-nuke movement seems to have almost disappeared. What happened?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, what happened was that all of us together helped to bring the Cold War to an end, and finally Reagan and Gorbachev got together in Reykjavik and almost decided actually to abolish nuclear weapons in 1987. And when the Berlin Wall came down, all of us I think thought, thank God it’s over, we were so tired and exhausted, and we thought well, they’ll do the right thing and they’ll start getting rid of nuclear weapons.

And people and politicians starting talking about the peace dividend, but that was not good for the prevailing corporations of the time, the military industrial complex. They need wars to keep going and actually to steal the American taxpayers’ dollars to the tune of one trillion dollars a year. And unfortunately, because of that, and because of the power of the Pentagon, and because of the politicians and presidents who didn’t follow up on what the people desired, the weapons still stayed in place. True, many of them were decommissioned, but of a 16,400 nuclear weapons in the world today, Russia and America own 94% of them. So we’re still in a very invidious position where the whole of life on Earth could be destroyed with a decision by one man who is not entirely stable.

JACK: Do you think that we’re more in danger now that Trump is president, or is there an internal logic independent of any particular president?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, I’m not the only one who thinks that we’re more in danger. William Perry former secretary of defense is terribly concerned; General Cartwright, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is deeply concerned; many people in Congress are, so yes, we’ve got a man who many psychiatrists have written about, saying that he is volatile, mentally unstable, impetuous, narcissistic, childlike. Really, I mean, Dr. Strangelove has nothing on this. This is a most extraordinary situation and yet we’re treating it with a kind of psychic numbing and manic denial. We’re not facing reality. The Earth is in the Intensive Care Unit and we’re sort of walking away and pretending everything’s okay.

JACK: Talk a little bit about launch on warning and how subject to human error these systems are.

HELEN CALDICOTT: Yes, well, the man who writes very well about this is Bruce Blair who used to be a missle-ier himself. He was a Minuteman, and they’re called Minutemen in the silos because they have three minutes in which to get themselves organized to launch their missiles. There are hundreds of silos in the midwest; in each silo is a missile with up to three hydrogen bombs on it. There are two men in each missile silo, each armed with a pistol, one to shoot the other if one shows signs of deviant behavior. So suppose the deviant one shot the other one? The missles are operated with floppy disks. They have telephones which often do not work. In the last couple of years about seventy-eight men of those of Minutemen have been dismissed because they’ve cheated on exams, taken drugs, gone to sleep down in the silos. The way it works is that a nuclear war would be initiated if satellites picked up missiles coming from Russia, but this can be misinterpreted—so, once a flock of geese alerted the early warning system.

JACK: One of the essays in the book quotes Los Alamos director Harold Agnew as saying he would require every world leader to witness an atomic blast every five years, because we’re approaching an era where there aren’t any of us left to have ever seen the Megaton bomb go off, and it’s it’s all computer simulated now. Could you speak to that a bit?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Yes. I think that most people now don’t understand what a hydrogen bomb means. And so I’m going to just describe a hydrogen bomb exploding over New York City.

Mind you, you have at least 12, but maybe 40, Russian, very large hydrogen bombs targeted on New York City alone. Each port is targeted, each tunnel, each bridge, and it goes on and on and on. Universities are targeted, and every town and city with a population of 50,000 or more is targeted with at least one hydrogen bomb.

Okay. So the bomb — the missile—takes half an hour from launch to land, and it will explode with I think it six times the heat inside the center of the sun, digging a hole three quarters of a mile wide and eight hundred feet deep, turning the dirt below the buildings and the people into radioactive fallout, shot up in a mushroom cloud. Five miles from the epicenter in all directions, everyone is vaporized, turned into gas as they were in Hiroshima; twenty miles out, everyone is lethally injured or burnt. People are turned into missiles, sucked out of buildings, traveling at a hundred miles an hour.  Shards of glass, popcorn from windows are traveling at a hundred miles an hour, decapitating people; and then the whole area would eventually be engulfed in a firestorm 3,000 square miles where everything and everyone would burn. Even concrete will burn; steel, aluminium and the like will melt. People in fallout shelters would be asphyxiated and pressure-cooked as the fire uses up all the oxygen in the shelter as happened in the Dresden firestorm.

Now that’s just one bomb, but consider that all cities across America and Canada are targeted and that the fire will spread even in the middle of winter. They will coalesce from north to south, east to west, and the whole of the US and in fact much of North America will be engulfed in fire. And it’s interesting that when the Pentagon calculates the damage that nuclear weapons produce, they only think about blast effects and calculate blast. They never talk about fire. It’s totally ignored which is fascinating in that in itself, but very, very dangerous. So it’s just one bomb on New York City. You’ve got at least 12, but some people say 40.

JACK: Extraordinary. You know, some of the younger generation of environmental activists in their zeal to ban fossil fuels have actually advocated for nuclear power. Could you talk about the relationship of the nuclear weapons industry to the nuclear power industry? And is it possible to be against one and for the other?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, not if you’re scientifically literate.

The main thing, I think about nuclear power plants and meltdowns at Fukushima and Chernobyl and epidemics of cancer, leukemia, genetic disease, congenital deformities and the like is the nuclear waste. Nuclear waste according to the EPA must be isolated from the ecosphere for a million years, because some of the isotopes last very very long, some of the radioactive elements. These elements will leak in whatever you put them in: concrete, steel, whatever, within a hundred years and it doesn’t matter how deep you bury them or what. They’ll leak and they will eventually enter the water and then they will enter into the food chains.

And when you’re eating a fish with cesium in it from Fukushima that swam across the Pacific, you don’t taste the cesium. You can’t smell it and you can’t see it. These radioactive elements are invisible to human senses. So what we’re leaving to our descendants is a heritage of epidemics of cancer, leukemia, genetic diseases, because these elements concentrate in testicles and ovaries and can damage the genes of future generations. There are over 2600 genetic diseases now described. My specialty is one of the most common, cystic fibrosis, which is a fatal genetic disease. Those diseases will increase in frequency not just in humans, but in all species. Plutonium, which is a potent carcinogen which lasts a quarter of a million years, crosses the placenta because it’s an iron analog. The body thinks it’s iron and then the first trimester of intrauterine life it can do what thalidomide did, deform the right half of the brain or the left arm.

JACK: And the plutonium, of course, that is created by the nuclear power industry is used for the nuclear weapons?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Yes, it takes ten pounds of plutonium to make a nuclear weapon. That’s the fuel and each reactor makes 500 pounds of plutonium a year, and it’s absolutely deadly. One millionth of a gram will cause cancer. So any country that has a nuclear reactor of course can make bombs like India did and Pakistan did and France did, and the like. In fact your reactors were based in Hanford, Washington, which is just a cocktail of radioactive waste leaking into the Columbia River which in the past has been the most radioactive river in the world.

JACK: So what can we do, or is it too late? What can be done?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, I mean, we should close down every single reactor right now and not make any more of this stuff.

JACK: But through what mechanism? I mean, how can this be done? How can–how can people on the ground effect the situation?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Oh, well, it’s through politics. You know, if enough people care and they’re potent enough, the politicians react; if the people don’t care, don’t know—the politicians, you know, are in the hands of the corporations and the nuclear companies and they’re in essence corporate prostitutes. I think people have to understand that the people in Congress are your representatives and you are their leaders.

JACK: As far as I know, there’s nobody from any of the major parties that I had a chance to vote for who called for the dismantling of nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.

HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, then you must educate your representatives. If they don’t understand, you must go in with some doctors, physicians, and make an appointment, have an hour with them, and then educate them just as I’ve been talking tonight, so that they know what you’re dealing with, and what you demand. And then you must keep the pressure on and say, if you don’t do this, you know, we’ll make sure you’re not elected next time. And then you will door knock and write letters to the paper and get on television and get on talkback radio. As Jefferson said, an informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion.

JACK: I wish we did have one. I think you might be overestimating the level of democracy in this country.

HELEN CALDICOTT: Potentially, you’ve got a democracy, potentially and it’s not being used, it’s being wasted. It’s a democratic vacuum at the moment because you know, people are into buying stuff and drinking their lattes and manic denial and displacement activity.

JACK: Is there anything to feel optimistic about?

HELEN CALDICOTT: Yes, yourself. Think of what I did. I mean I turned up in America in 1978. I was on the faculty at Harvard, but you know, I was an alien, I was a young doctor, I was a woman, and yet because of my deep concern I revived Physicians for Social Responsibility. We recruited 23,000 doctors and I became one of the leaders of the nuclear weapons freeze, just because I was well informed and I was deeply concerned. Anybody can be a leader if they decide to do the right thing. After all, why are we here?

JACK: Well, thanks so much, Dr. Caldicott. I wish we had another half hour to talk. I know we’ve only scratched the surface here, and I would have liked to have gotten more into what everyday people can do, and what the limits are of the system we’re working under, but we’ll have to wait for another time.

HELEN CALDICOTT: Well, I don’t think there are any limits. I mean to my experience there aren’t, you just have to become a Joan of Arc or a John of Arc and get on and be determined and really look in the mirror every morning and decide what you’re going to do to help save the planet. We can do it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even be talking. Well, thank you Jack. Thank you so much.

JACK: I’ve been speaking with Dr. Helen Caldicott, editor of the new collection of essays about stopping the nuclear madness called Sleepwalking to Armageddon. This has been Jack Shalom for Arts Express with host Prairie Miller.

“I Would . . . Prefer . . . Not To . . .”

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This month we celebrate the birthday of Herman Melville. He’s best known for his epic Moby Dick, but Melville’s short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” about a strangely resistant office worker, is a favorite of ours. Though academics have long argued about Bartleby’s meaning, and we could outline our own point of view…we would…prefer…not to.

We hope you enjoy our adaptation and performance, as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC.

Click on the triangle above to listen.