Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Truth About Elite Universities

UNIVERSITIES AS ISLANDS OF WEALTH

Seeing the world as it is means viewing it without preconceptions but with a fresh eye. As if seeing it for the first time.

When you apply this attitude to elite universities across the country, you discover they’re not at all what they represent themselves to be—places of social justice and equality. They’re in fact among the most hierarchical institutions in America, along with the Roman Catholic Church and the military, except without similar truth-in-advertising.

When you look at universities objectively you notice something even more curious—that they exist as protected islands of wealth amid the bleakness of the rest of the country.

Plenty of examples abound. Yale, the campus a secure fortress against the poverty of New Haven. Columbia in New York City, whose campus spreads ever more each year, chasing residents out of their neighborhoods. Princeton, a bucolic Gothic-spired dreamland safely nestled between Philadelphia and New York City. The University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, which I lived near for a year. Throughout much of the rest of the city is extreme poverty—including blocks away from campus—but the privileged on campus are untouched. Or the University of Michigan, whose base of Ann Arbor has a downtown business district overflowing with affluence—far more thriving and valuable than downtown Detroit a mere thirty minutes away.

When you step back and look at them, these environments are like spots on the landscape which suck up wealth. The inhabitants are almost invariably (not 100%) from affluent backgrounds. This applies most to foreign students, who come from the wealthiest families in their home country, whether that country be France or Nigeria or China or India. (These students just as arrogant as the American-born variety.)

The students may protest against police—but they themselves are well-protected by a strong local police presence combined with the university’s own private police force. Outrages which take place blocks away from campus must not be allowed inside the ring of security! The students, after all, are the elite.

The islands are always building and expanding. Continual building programs; new halls, research labs, ultramodern student housing, administration complexes, constant construction, as if the islands have no other way to expend their excess funds. Anyway, it’s an indication the universities HAVE excess funds, a lot of it. The flow of wealth and improvement is always one way. These places only get richer, year by year; day by day.

Where does all the money come from?

First, the tuition is too high. In part, “What the market will bear” philosophy. If there aren’t enough wealthy parents to send Binky and Brett to school at the particular institution, there are other wealthy parents overseas who can pay, whether Chinese Communist overlords or Mideast oil sheiks or leftovers from European aristocracies. Other students have to go into enormous debt to meet the high tuition rates.

Second, the American taxpayer subsidizes these places in a number of ways. They’re tax shelters for hyperwealthy donors. Many of the not-quite-as-privileged students are government subsidized via grants and scholarships. Loans to students are government backed. If the schools are public/state universities, they’re subsidized by taxpayers directly.

A layer removed is the enormous investment made into universities by government agencies. The CIA and the Defense Department have long had a symbiotic relationship with elite universities. This is a topic that once was looked into by writers, but not lately. Research on new weapons systems, or cyber technology, or genetic engineering, you name it, the U.S. government utilizes universities as Research and Development facilities—which means they pump billions if not trillions into them to get from them what they need.

Private business such as new technology startups—or more established corporations—also enter into generous partnerships with universities.

Which means there’s nothing independent about the contemporary university. They’re an arm of the government and a partner with business. They’re part of what is really one vast system; one unthinking institutional beast with many arms and legs.

BUBBLES

Such are the bubbles the top universities have become that their privileged students are able to imagine themselves social justice warriors, even though they live in the most UNegalitarian of environments. They care, you see. About the outrages they see on their TV screens or smartphones pumped at them by establishment media. Or about the workers serving them in their college cafeterias, or cleaning their classrooms and dormitories. Not that they want to switch places with the workers. They just want to know those who serve them are paid properly. Not by them, but by the same money tree which funds the rest of the operation.

The students have to believe in social justice, as an institutional necessity, because then they’ll support more efforts to solve the ills of society, which means ever more institutions, programs, apparatchiks, bureaucracies. Which means the money just has to keep flowing.

This may be why college towns like Ann Arbor are among the most segregated places, by class, in America; among the most affluent; and at the same time the most liberal in ideology. It’s not a contradiction if you think about it.

THE BERNIE PLAN

This is where the Bernie Sanders plan for free tuition (an apt plan from a long-time professional student, before he became a professional politician) goes off the rails. It shows the Bern as a Leftist strictly of the Pseudo kind. You’d end up with the 70% of Americans who don’t receive a college degree even further subsidizing higher education than they do already—including ultra-privileged places like Stanford and the Ivy League. It’d mean even more money flowing indirectly into the wealth islands; even less fiscal discipline and financial accountability from school administrations. More defense research, perhaps. More technology for the NSA. More building programs. More expanding into urban neighborhoods. Higher administration salaries. More chic high-priced campus restaurants and clothing shops to properly cater to burgeoning high-priced tastes. (The inevitable end result of all gentrification—beer and burger prices double overnight.)

University folks truly will have found a neverending money tree.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Winter Reading

O. Henry and Ernest Hemingway were two very different kinds of writers. One wrote in a populist style, the other a modernist one. They did happen to write two similar stories, whose similarities only enhance their difference in style.

Both stories are about a person dangerously sick in bed in the bad winter weather season. Apt reading at the moment when we’ve been hit with a nationwide blizzard. When it’s a perfect time of year to remain indoors, cozy and snug, reading.

O. Henry’s story is one of his masterpieces, “The Last Leaf.” It’s set in Greenwich Village bohemia not long after the turn of the century. The lead characters, Sue and Johnsy, are a pair of young starving artists, both women. Transparently a couple. They remind me of young DIY artists of now. If they were around today they’d be creating zines.

Johnsy becomes sick with pneumonia, and loses her will to live.

In Hemingway’s short tale, “A Day’s Wait,” the bedridden person is a young boy, nine years old, being taken care of and worried over by his father.

You’d have to read both stories to recognize the similarities in plot. Both have endings which are something of a surprise—each in ways that are a reflection of the author’s worldview and literary style.

As in so many of his stories, O. Henry buries a Christian message at the bottom of his story. In this instance, the theme of sacrifice. There’s a sense of an overarching universe at play, not exactly karmic, but a place where goodness is rewarded by changed outcomes.

Hemingway’s worldview, like his writing style, is starker than O. Henry’s. His a more hard-edged, matter-of-fact view of reality, but not without sympathy and emotion—and a profound understanding of people and life.

Both stories have a kick. The contrast makes them worth reading together. Either is worth reading by itself as a winter weather story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Contradictions of the Pseudo-Left

ABOUT THE AMERICAN PSEUDO-LEFT

1.) Most of their leaders are superwealthy capitalists, such as George Soros, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and Arianna Huffington.

2.) They don’t realize that the idea of the all-powerful administrative state stems not from Marx, but Bismarck.

3.) They’re ostensibly against caste and hierarchy, yet eager to put themselves at the top of that hierarchy via degrees from Ivy League universities.

4.) They don’t want industry in America, and so have rejected the industrial working class.

5.) Their only remaining connection to the working class is via union leaders, who are, fittingly, bureaucrats—apparatchiks—not workers.

6.) Their chief concern isn’t class, but gender and race. Which sometimes results in strange permutations. For instance, children of the 1% in China or India, now studying in America, are considered by the Pseudo-Left to be “oppressed.” Poor whites whose parents and grandparents worked in dungeon-like steel mills and coal mines are designated by the Pseudo-Left as “privileged.”

7.) The Pseudo-Left aren’t Marxists so much as pre-civilization Nietzscheans. Man—or Superman—as the center of the universe. And so they believe climate is created not by the sun, upon which all life is 100% dependent, but man. Which is 100% narcissism.

8.) The Pseudo-Left vision of America:

A.) Half the population not working, but dependent upon the state.

B.) A large army of administrative government bureaucrats processing that dependency.

C.) Most of the rest of the population working low value-added service jobs at McDonald’s or WalMart, albeit with a high minimum wage.

D.) A certain percentage of subservient non-English-speaking illegal immigrants needed as low-cost gardeners and nannies for the elites.

E.) The Elite—the Pseudo-Left—at the top of the hierarchy guiding things.

***

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shock Marketing

HOW DONALD TRUMP WON

I like to think I spotted early on what Donald Trump was up to from a marketing standpoint. I’d followed a similar strategy—on a vastly smaller scale—when I was running the Underground Literary Alliance ten-to-fifteen years ago. The idea was to use shock tactics—outrageous stunts and statements—designed to create instant buzz. To have everyone in a targeted area (for us, New York City) talking about us, generating free media coverage in the process.

What’s indisputable is that Donald J. Trump has confounded the experts, taking on first in the primaries Jeb Bush and the Bush family machine, which outspent him ten-to-one. Then the massively funded Clinton machine in the general election, along with 95% of establishment media, and much of the establishments of both major U.S. political parties. Trump won with a relatively small, cost-effective organization.

What’s indisputable is that Donald J. Trump has studied marketing, messaging, PR, branding et.al. his entire life. Is it possible he was five steps ahead of the crowd all the time? That, contrary to the media image of Trump as a buffoon, he knows exactly what he’s doing?

I’ve engaged in old-fashioned P.T. Barnum American ballyhoo myself, and saw Trump from the beginning as THE master of hype and promotion. I put those thoughts into an ebook I wrote this past May:

Trump and the Populist Revolt 

THE OVERREACTORS

Those who dismiss Donald J. Trump, a cosmopolitan New Yorker, as insane, Hitler, racist, boob etc. aren’t even trying to understand what happened in the election. They’re emotion run amok. Much of their reaction was caused by Trump’s deliberately polarizing tactics, as I explained six months ago in my ebook. The overreactors will be the last ones of course to figure it out.

The Underground Literary Alliance faced overreactors to our street theater and promises to clean up rampant corruption in the literary world. Whatever we said or did was magnified 100 times over, until we were depicted, even in major articles in credible publications like The Believer, as raving revolutionary lunatics, or even “terrorists.” Our provocative actions were a bit too successful. When opponents actually met us, they were stunned at how normal, even civil, we were in person. They remarked on the discrepancy, but never figured out what we were doing.

FLAT SCREEN THINKING

Which leads us to the conclusion that this nation’s best and brightest are in fact not very sharp. The inevitable question: Why not?

I attribute it to what I call Flat Screen Thinking. Millennials in particular are raised looking at flat surfaces—on their televisions, computers, and smartphones. The world become two-dimensional. Never do they question what’s behind the surface. As they read chiefly only those sources they already agree with, which follow the acceptable politically correct line, they never question the truth of their own beliefs and premises.

The media creates distorted narratives at will—then believes rigidly in their own narratives as if they were religious doctrine. They’re true believers in their cause—not intellectuals.

The educational system hasn’t trained them to study other sides of a question—to look at ideas three-dimensionally. Our schools today, including elite universities (especially elite universities!) are little more than indoctrination factories.

The protestors and rioters in cities like Portland fear Donald Trump. I fear them—because I recognize them as evidence of a pre-totalitarian mindset created in our educational system, in the colleges and high schools. Young people intolerant of disagreement now raging wildly at evidence of that disagreement.

THE EXPERTS

What’s indisputable about Campaign 2016 is that the designated experts in think tanks, the universities and the media were indisputably wrong—wrong every step of the way.

Which brings us to a final question: Why would anyone today listen to anything these people have to say?

*******

Upcoming at this blog: Examining America’s Pseudo-Left.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Poetry Now!

Poetic things are happening! More to follow. Read our report, "Poetry Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" in which we comment on Sylvia Plath, Bob Dylan, Liverpool, and much more.

Included in the report is a link to our thoroughly scientific analysis of the National Book Award finalists in the poetry category.

All-in-all, a discussion not to be missed.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pop Poetry Today

Check out the report at the New Pop Lit News page about happenings in the world of pop poetry:

https://newpoplitnews.wordpress.com/2016/09/21/tarzana-joe-at-new-pop-lit/

While we give Tarzana Joe pride of place in our pop poet run-down, you might just find the poetry of some of his challengers more challenging. Is our goal to knock him from his top spot?

Stay tuned as the genre advances.

Friday, September 16, 2016

“Hip-Hop Pop”

Mo-fo poems blasting off the page

Kind of rhymin’ that is all the rage

Other kind of poems, put you to sleep

Tryin’ hard to be cute, tryin’ to be deep

Go for the good shit, go for the best

If it make you smile is the only test

New Pop Lit is the place to be

When you reading Fun Pop Poetry!

***

Hey, at least it’s better than the anti-poetry coming out of the academy Smile

Join the fun: Fun Pop Poetry

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

New Literary Modernism?

For literary modernism to work with the reader, the writing itself needs to be clear, objective, and “pop.”

Ernest Hemingway was a modernist, but the only work in which he played with structure, with montage, was In Our Time. Afterward he wrote everything in strict linear fashion: “straight.”

What’s artistic modernism? Think of Picasso’s “Guernica.” It’s a fragmented view of the world—an attempt to portray the chaos of the actual world.

The most modernistic art form is cinema, because it consists of fragments of reality artfully put together. It’s fitting that motion pictures would be a modernist art—it was created during, sprung from, and reached popularity during the era of modernist artistic ideas—roughly from 1900 to 1930. All its techniques were learned during that period—the most important of which was the theory and practice of montage.

I attempted to use literary montage in my ebook novella, Assassination of X. Not really successfully, because I made the fragments too short; the pace too quick. I overdid it. (As with current fast-paced big budget movies, which are so hyperedited they become meaningless blurs.)

Which simply means more experimentation needs to be done. The writer can’t lose sight of the importance of the continuous narrative line—hooking the reader and keeping the reader hooked.

Are the two elements—montage and narrative line—contradictory?

They aren’t when used together properly in the movies.

Friday, August 19, 2016

New Poetry Ideas

ON FLARF, FLUFF AND OTHER THINGS

In looking into new trends in poetry, I encountered the so-called flarf poetry movement, much of it centered around the Philadelphia-based website www.jacket2.org. While I applaud the idea behind flarf poetry—attempting to shake up a dead poetry scene—the execution is flawed. If anything, flarf doubles down on the failings of academy-based poetry.

That is, poetry which is wordy, pretentious, a pose—and dull. Their supposedly new techniques are little more than William Burroughs’ “cut-up” methods applied to poetry.

Or: it’s not just that it’s awful poetry as poetry. It’s poetry that no one outside their insular flarf-poetry academy clique would enjoy reading. Their chief idea is: being a bad poet merely for the sake of being a bad poet.

We’re going in the opposite direction. We start with simplicity and entertainment. FIRST. To achieve this we’re willing to go back to past formulas (cadence; rhyme), tweaking them, reviving them, reinventing them. Structure works. Form is essential to art. Formulas are fine. Sonnets are a formula. 1960’s Motown music was a formula. The question isn’t using a formula, but what you do with it. There is no end to the amount of meaning and art which can be added to simple, memorable, easily recited verse.

As we intend to show.

Read our efforts at www.newpoplitinteractive.wordpress.com. We invite any and all poets including flarf poets to drop their serious facades and give Fun Pop Poetry a go. (Submissions to funpoppoetry@gmail.com.)

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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

This Is Poetry?

Recently the arts/news site Buzzfeed published three poems by Nick Flynn.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/nickflynn/three-new-poems-by-nick-flynn?utm_term=.dt4DPp3Pl#.aqanQOjQP

What’s noteworthy about the poems isn’t their utter mediocrity—I receive better submissions nearly every day for the New Pop Lit website (www.newpoplit.com)— but the way their author has been rewarded for his modest talent by the literary establishment. Simply scroll down from the poems to Nick Flynn’s biographical information. Read the list of plaudits and prizes.

***

This tells me the world of establishment poetry is in bad shape. Little is risked by approved poets—and little is achieved.

Why do I care? Not just because I co-edit a literary site, but also because I love to recite poetry. Today there’s little worth reciting.

I can’t help thinking that poetry has been trapped of late on two poles.  One is hip-hop based street poetry dependent on sing-song rhythmn and rhyming. It’s made to be read aloud. More, to be performed in front of the audience. The style has become predictable and is seldom artistically challenging.

The other pole is academic poetry. I can’t claim to understand the thinking behind it—I just know it reads like bad prose, looks bland on the page and puts audiences who dare listen to it read aloud to sleep. Contemporary academic poetry is sure proof of how institutionalizing an art form kills it.

***

The above thoughts are the reason for this post at New Pop Lit.

We’re looking for visually and aurally striking poetry which stands between the poles. A splash of color combined with a sense of music. The equivalent of a punchy pop song or a fun pop painting-- with a large dollop of wit and intelligence thrown into the mix.

Can anyone write that?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tribute to Hemingway

Much “Hemingway Day” activity taking place as I type this.

First, our continuing celebration at the New Pop Lit home page.

Second, a truly fantastic discussion of the man and his work, in which we enlisted the aid of leading critics and writers. The result is a three-dimensional view of the state of his reputation today, with opinions given from all sides.

We think you’ll find it stimulating.

(See also the many tweets on Ernest Hemingway at our main twitter account, @NewPopLit.)

Thanks!

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Friday, July 01, 2016

Who’s Afraid of Ernest Hemingway?

WHERE ARE THE FEMINIST WRITERS?

We’re asking ourselves that question as we look for diverse replies to NEW POP LIT’s current Big Lit Question:

“What’s your opinion of Ernest Hemingway circa 2016? Is he still relevant?”

Hemingway is the white whale of white male writers. Of dead white males, period. Aggressively macho; hunter; gun nut. Patriarchal, sexist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, etc. etc.; all the current politically correct designations readily apply. Ernest Hemingway embodies everything the academy hates.

Yet when it comes to getting a frank comment on the Hem from a feminist perspective, it’s not easily come by. The editors of NEW POP LIT have sent out requests for answers to our question, one word to 150, to a score of leading feminist writers. To date we’ve heard nary a peep.

We HAVE received excellent answers to our question. None, however, from a full-blown anti-Hemingway viewpoint. While we’re big Hemingway fans—we love his attitude and his writing—we also seek true diversity of ideas. So we ask again: Where are the feminist writers?

***

Two dynamics may be at play.

1.) After the many revisionist biographies and critical essays, the embarrassing posthumous “books” of wastebasket writings, academics may feel that Hemingway has been properly tamed. After all, he was actually and secretly gay and feminist himself—wasn’t he?

2.) More likely, the god of political correctness has bumped against the built-in institutional intellectual inertia of the intelligentsia. Once designated a great writer, always a great writer. In the pantheon. Beyond criticism. (I have no desire to throw rocks at this particular iconic statue myself—but come on, people! Will anybody? How timid ARE the nation’s approved literary writers, anyway?)

A related question: Could a young Hemingway with the Hemingway mindset be published today?

***

Send your Answers to our Big Lit Question to newpoplit2@gmail.com. They’ll be posted at a NEW POP LIT blog in three weeks!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Elitists on Populism

NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

To understand why a huge portion of the American public is in open revolt against elites of all kinds, all one need do is read the June 26th issue of the New York Times Book Review, whose cover blares, “Why Populism Now?” The issue contains article after article pushing the narrative of populists as racists and xenophobes. The choice offered the American people: either accept unlimited immigration and “free” trade with slave states like China, with accompanying lower wages and vanishing jobs—or you’re a xenophobe.

In the entire issue there’s not one opinion NOT from a tops-down viewpoint. This includes the cover story essay by Sam Tanenhaus. Tanenhaus reviews nearly a dozen new books on the topic of populism—all written by elitist Insiders of one persuasion or other. Not one is from a populist perspective. The publishers of these books are either part of the “Big Five” book conglomerates, or are elite-oriented tax shelter nonprofits.

In his essay, Tanenhaus speaks of “the threat Trump poses to democracy.” But so far Trump’s been a threat to aristocracy—to an entrenched class of business-as-usual consultants, pundits, and go-along-to-get-along politicians. Donald Trump’s win in the primaries has been a unique expression of small-d democracy—he defeated the powerful Bush family and many other well-funded establishment candidates. Jeb Bush alone was backed by $200 million from PACs and big-money donors. Trump won with a few million dollars of his own.

The NYTBR issue, in short, is a hatchet job against populist politics and also populist art. Insider writers Pankaj Mishra and Rivka Galchen are  asked to comment on the topic of “art for art’s sake”—the essence of the elitist variety of dead literary product. The two writers must be considered safe bets by the New York Times. Paid pets. Mishra talks of how a “vast infrastructure of grants, awards and fellowships has turned artistic endeavor into democratic opportunity: art for artists’, if not art’s, sake.” Yet it’s been well documented that the well connected and privileged are best positioned to take advantage of that “opportunity.” The largesse comes from tax shelter foundations which cater to the richest members of society. There’s nothing democratic about it. Again, it’s aristocracy, not democracy.

It’s as if Pankaj Mishra doesn’t know how the game works. Or maybe he does.

In the issue the New York Times Book Review gives us a single viewpoint, which happens to be their viewpoint. A writer is allowed to take any position he wants, as long as it’s their position. As we see in essay after essay; article after article. The bias is palpable.

Which means we’re dealing with yet another rigged game. A “debate” that’s not a debate, but yet another pro wrestling show with outcome prearranged. The populist villains (“Boo! Hiss!”) are tossed around by the Times good guys, and those in the expensive seats leave happy.

Those in the cheap seats think other things. . . .

******

I may send a shortened version of this post to NYTBR as a letter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Encounter with a Climate Scientist

OR, THE NEW RELIGIONISTS

Who else could get into a debate with a climate scientist over climate change, in a rigged set-up designed to make him look bad—and hold his own? Or at least get a few shots in that weren’t part of the initial script.

Such was the case when I became part of sportswriter Jeff Pearlman’s “Quaz” feature recently. See this.

THE CONTEST

After my encounter with Professor Gleick, am I less skeptical about the theory of man-made climate change? More a believer?

No way! The presentation itself gave away the game—that we’re dealing with true-believing partisans.

Jeff Pearlman presents the Quaz as a match between Peter Gleick and myself—but gives all the cred and respect to the credentialed scientist. (As maybe he should.) I’m there as designated punching bag.

Gleick is called a “mastermind,” while I’m introduced as an ignorant Trump supporter. (In the eyes of status quo writers, anyone who says a few nice things about Donald Trump is ignorant by definition.)

If I’m Michael Spinks, I’m Spinks with his arms tied behind his back. Or a drugged Maximus near the end of the movie “Gladiator.” The Quaz is designed to have the reader accept a predetermined conclusion.

It’s like a bad pro wrestling show, with me in role of hapless opponent there only to be thrown around. Which is what happens in the Peter Gleick interview itself.

I am allowed however to take a few shots in the Comments section.

THE SCIENTIST

Science is only as sound as the scientist promoting it. Can we trust Peter Gleick to give us the unbiased truth? Does he play fair? Or does he have an agenda to pursue?

Two points stood out to me in his interview and comments.

1.) Gleick misread my question about computer predictions, bringing “weather” into it. My question didn’t mention weather.

2.) Peter Gleick misread my anecdote about Michigan winters, putting into quotes a word I didn’t use—“feel”—then mocking me and the word! So much for accuracy.

(If Peter Gleick misreads science data as easily as he misread my brief comments, his theory’s in real trouble.)

“DENIERS”

Another troubling aspect of Peter Gleick’s presentation was his use of the word “denier” in reference to me. It’s Orwellian use of language, and shows the extent to which our professor has been politicized. Using the word equates the theory of man-made climate change with a well-known, thoroughly documented historical event which occurred in the lifetimes of many people still alive now, and for which a mountain of eyewitness testimony—from survivors, guards, and soldiers—is available. For the Holocaust we’re not going back 800,000 years, or digging for proof in Antarctica.

The use of the word “denier” for the issue of climate change has one purpose—to shut down debate on the issue. Skeptics are discredited at the outset.

WHAT GLEICK DIDN’T DO

In his comments, Professor Gleick went after my little personal history anecdote about moving back to Detroit—in which I did indeed experience a very cold winter—but avoided the relevant points I made.

DSC06359

He didn’t acknowledge that there are huge gaps in the science of climate change—or that the use of ice cores is an attempt by scientists to fill in one of the gaps. He didn’t acknowledge that there are disagreements among scientists about exactly what ice cores tell us. He didn’t (can’t?) say what causes warming on other planets. He wouldn’t admit that life on this planet is totally, 100% dependent on the sun for its very existence. (We never got into fine-tuned universe theory, which tells us how precarious our situation in the solar system is.) Gleick discussed the motivations of skeptics—but never addressed his own built-in bias. Given that he’s devoted his life and career to the cause of science, he can hardly be objective about its effectiveness—especially where his own projects are concerned. In other words, he’s emotionally invested in his pet issue—his cause.

THE PSYCHOLOGY

Rather than directly address my points, Peter Gleick was more about assurances. All questions have already been answered, he tells us—while simultaneously closing other arguments off from view, like a stage director pulling curtains across sections of the stage. “Don’t read those ideas on the Internet!” he cautions. “They’re just the Internet. They’re not valid.”

Instead he emphasizes the supposed overwhelming consensus. “97% consensus”—hitting us over the head with it. We’re being stampeded as if by an aggressive time-share salesman. “Sign here! Don’t question. Just sign.”

Argument from consensus. Of what does this remind me?

Of Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. But also of sports.

The Ali-Foreman fight, for example. The apparent evidence, in the person of George Foreman, was overwhelming. He’d destroyed other opponents—good ones like Joe Frazier, who’d defeated Ali. Watch Foreman destroy the heavy bag! How could anyone bet against him?

The experts predicted doom for Ali. Yet once the fight itself began, it became unpredictable. It became a live interaction between two elements of nature. The unpredictability came not from them being human, but from being part of nature. From being “live.” Every second there were a hundred variables for the two men. Possible moves. A dropped shoulder here or thrown punch there. Many, many seconds in a controlled encounter.

Expand that one controlled fight in a twelve-foot square ring over the entire planet—then plunge that planet into a vast universe. A universe that on a computer screen looks flat and predictable, but isn’t.

In his little office, Peter Gleick is able to isolate what he thinks are the relevant variables, break them down, analyze them—then assure us he has it all figured out! He and his 97% colleagues. They know. They carry with them “the truth” in the form of their scrolls of computer printouts. It’s right there, in data and numbers. Black and white. Irrefutable.

(I go back to my analogy of commodity futures trading—all variables assessed by experts upon experts, but with more urgency than science, as real money’s at stake.)

The studies are done. Then the bell goes off—whether for the commodity futures markets in Chicago, or a Las Vegas fight, and all bets are off. Things become “live.” A minute happening in round one—a small cut—can throw off all lines of probabilities and possibilities. All predictabilities.

As with the recent Republican party primary election campaign—the minute the candidates began interacting with one another in the first debate, all analyses and predictions fell apart.

This is what the psychology of the herd overlooks. A psychology trapped in an echo chamber where everyone thinks alike. A psychology that feeds on itself and steamrolls all before it. A mild form of mass hysteria. Like the sports fan he is, Jeff Pearlman is swept up in it.

ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY

Peter Gleick’s argument is that the authorities are on his side. The credible institutions and experts.

Gleick assures us we’re dependent upon experts—he states that no one questions their plumber or auto mechanic.

Really? I’ve always tried to have a working knowledge of both fields, lest the expert take advantage. Anyone who walks blindly into an auto repair shop is going to end up with a much larger bill than otherwise. No one knows what the mechanics’ internal needs are—the needs of the shop where the mechanic works. I don’t trust auto mechanics anymore than I do Peter Gleick!

THE PRIESTS

Can one have a working knowledge of science?

It’s interesting that we’re told we can’t. It’s like the old-style version of the Roman Catholic Church, where only the priest understood Latin. Only the priest could read and interpret the Bible for us.

This is how the attitude today toward science is supposed to work. We close our minds and leave science to the scientists. The designated experts, like “mastermind” Peter Gleick. To do this puts you at the whim not of science, but of the flawed human who interprets it.

As a thinking person, I’ve tried to read the relevant texts on the topic of climate—the books of James Hansen for instance, who developed the theory. As well as the counter-arguments. I’d rather not be completely dependent for my beliefs on the assurances of others.

ADVOCACY

Finally, the question has to be asked whether Peter Gleick has slipped from the role of scientist into that of advocate. Has he become like environmental groups who see their role as being anything BUT objective, because their task is to alert the world about what’s happening—through any means possible?

This stance might be laudable. It might be called for. It might not be called for. But in either case, objective science has been tossed out the window. Advocates like Gleick best admit that from the outset.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Seven Questions for “Writers on Trump”

Love or hate Donald Trump, he has single-handedly busted the bounds of political correctness. Whether acknowledged or not, this is a healthy event for all writers.

Political correctness smacks too much of the “crimethink” of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The corrective in that fictional totalitarian society was “crimestop,” or self-editing. Self-censorship. One suspects too many writers today engage in this—which leaves us with a bland, uncontentious literature.

The noteworthy aspect of the Trump candidacy IS his outspoken speech. He’s a politician who’s almost completely uninhibited; his words unfiltered. Often outrageous; sometimes offensive. This is the main reason Trump has generated extreme partisanship both for and against him. In other words, we have an election which in a large way is about speech.

Lining up against The Donald, predictably, is the status quo literary scene, as shown in the "Writers on Trump" petition. This is the voice of the apparatus—of writers of the academy, of “Big 5” New York conglomerate publishing; of their followers and fans.

Do the petitioners believe what they say about “principled disagreement” and “reasoned debate”? As a test, I’ve sent seven questions to the group’s general email, and to the two individuals who began the petition, Mark Slouka and Andrew Altschul. I’ll notify readers of this blog if I receive a response.

SEVEN QUESTIONS

1.) Are there any valid reasons-- trade, jobs, wages-- for working people including some writers to support Donald Trump?

2.) Is Donald Trump's perspective at all a valid viewpoint-- or are his ideas unacceptable?

3.) Isn't the chief problem petitioners have with Donald Trump his words and language?

4.) Should Trump supporters be labelled as racists, sexists, and xenophobes?

5.) Is your petition an expression of a herd mentality? Isn't that its intent?

6.) Given the cumulative influence and power of the writers on your list, wouldn't it be difficult for any ambitious writer to publicly oppose the petition viewpoint?

7.) In your minds, is the issue closed-- or should the matter be open to debate?

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Free Speech Turning Point?

SOME YEARS AGO I traded commodity futures with a buddy of mine, for our own accounts. Fast-speed high stakes gambling. We quickly learned that understanding market turning points is crucial. You can never accurately predict them—many traders have gone broke trying—but you can recognize them after they occur.

We had a free speech turning point over the last couple weeks, signified by two events:

1.) A panel of conservatives versus anti-speech totalitarians at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

See this.

Has the “Right” become cooler than the “Left”?

2.) Michael Bloomberg’s pro-free speech commencement address at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

See this.

Suppressing speech, whatever the justification, isn’t cool.

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(As a DIY zinester, I’ve fought for free speech, and against authoritarian elites, most of my life. Today the main threat to speech is coming from the so-called Left.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Shocking!

Caesar or Savior?

I’ve long been a chronicler of hysteria. The hysteria pro and con over the Donald Trump candidacy became an irresistible topic to write about. So I have, in a new e-book called Trump and the Populist Revolt.

Is the book fair? Objective? You’ll have to judge that for yourself. I do bring to the matter a populist perspective. Buy it at

Amazon and at

Barnes and Noble.

Comments welcomed!

trump b w titled 

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Poetry and Other Things

What have I been up to?

For one thing, keeping the NEW POP LIT project going. At the moment we feature four poems by John Grochalski. Worth checking out.

For another I’m working furiously to complete an e-book on the current campaign season. It will also be about many other things—including a chapter about populist literature and art, which has been one of my pet themes on this blog.

The book will be titled Trump and the Populist Revolt. Due out shortly. Packed with ideas. Controversial topics. Please watch for it!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Misunderstanding “Ben Hur”

With Easter just past us, this seems a timely topic.

The trailer for a new movie version of “Ben Hur” is out there:

http://teaser-trailer.com/movie/ben-hur/

After browsing the comments sections of several sites to see what viewers think, I’m amazed by the lack of knowledge of many of them about their history—the background of ideas which form our civilization.

For instance, many commenters mention the previous (1959) version, usually favorably—but they describe the religious theme of that work as “tacked on.”

Tacked on? Really?

Religion—the battle of religions—is steeped through every frame of that film. The character Ben-Hur is caught between two opposing forces.

On one side, paganism—as represented by the words of his childhood friend Messala, by consul Quintus Arrius, and by Judean governor Pontius Pilate. It’s a world focused on control of the physical world. An ethos of beauty, power, violence, and sensuality. The scenes in Rome are filled with parties and parades. The chief physical conflict is a chariot race, after which Ben-Hur becomes for the populace, in Pilate’s phrase, “their one god.”

Throughout is a display of pagan gods, and pagan ideals, focused on the here and now.

On the other side, as counter-argument, is Ben-Hur’s own religion, but also the message of love and peace offered by a young rabbi, who before the flick ends will be crucified by the all-powerful Roman state.

To miss fhe battle of religions is a display of anti-religious smugness and staggering ignorance not just of history, but of themselves and their own civilization. After all, don’t we live in a thoroughly pagan time, with our own fake gods of celebrities, athletes, wealth and power? With Christianity living for the most part on the fringe. Religion, for today’s pagans, is something to be mocked, not taken seriously—a complex theology like Christianity seen through sound-bite stereotypes, easily dismissed with a phrase.

For comparison of movies, here’s a trailer for the 1959 version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hrbRDAOF4k

Needless to say, a masterpiece. If you can see the 1959 version on a real movie screen, do so, to get the full, overwhelming movie experience.

As for the new version, it’s up to you to judge whether it’s worth seeing!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Cycles or Progression?

There are two ways of viewing history.

One is the progressive, linear view, which assumes anything today is better than anything in the past.

The other sees history going in waves or cycles—matching the rhythmns of nature and the universe.

If everything today is better, than why has literature regressed from past peaks?

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I thought this as I was memorizing a poem today. My fiancee’s mother is impressed when I recite poetry. Hey, whatever works. I decided to recite some Dylan Thomas:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

Note the euphony—age, rage, day—which adds to the emotion of the piece.

Here’s the question: Why were poets of the 1950’s so much better than those today? Why has the art deteriorated? I can think of two other poems off the top of my head from that era which could easily be classified as masterpieces: “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” by Kenneth Rexroth, and “Daddy,” (too obvious) by Sylvia Plath. Incidentally, Plath more than lives up to her giant reputation, once you read her poetry—or more, hear her voice reading it!

But, the question is out there. What happened to poetry?

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Fighting Against Establishments

As an objective, non-partisan observer (I loathe both political parties) with no dog in the fight, I find interesting the goings-on of the political race. Especially now, the panic and hysteria in the Republican Party created by Donald Trump’s victories. Because someone’s power and turf are at stake, party Insiders will fight ruthlessly to protect their petty fiefdoms against change. As they’re currently doing.

I know this well, because I faced the same thing—on a vastly smaller scale—during my days last decade leading the notorious Underground Literary Alliance. Our lit-establishment opponents proved capable of virtually anything. The lies and distortions made about us and our ideas were amazing. Shocking assertions were manufactured out of nothing. (I notice Trump’s opponents doing this over his not disowning someone fast enough, or enough times—accusing him of thus holding the person’s ideology.)

Part of what’s going on is Trump’s personality. Yes, he’s a bit of a barbarian, but is also too strong and assured for the weaselly puppets he’s facing. In any field, the go-along-to-get-along crowd are most comfortable with mediocrity—because they themselves are mediocrities. Many people hate anyone who stands out—who by force of personality can’t help but stand out. I found this myself within the ULA itself at times; at least, once a number of petty egos entered the gang. For Trump, he might be a very bad President or a great one—but he will not be boring. He won’t be a mediocrity.

The same thing, incidentally, would or will happen with the Democrats if Bernie Sanders shows signs of being able to actually win the thing. Apparatchiks of any variety fear change.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Best Literary Discussion Ever?

Maybe not, but it’s a good one. See our discussion on the short story at the New Pop Lit Interactive blog here.

The question asked concerns whether or not the short story should be revamped in order to reach a broader audience. We found surprising hesitation at the question—some questioned whether writers should even want a broader audience.

The trick of course isn’t to talk of revamping the story but to do it. We sparked the discussion as a way to introduce a collection of writing—which includes stories that in various ways point toward the new. The reinvention of the short story form is beginning to happen. Organic, natural, intentional—does it matter? What matters is the result.

NPL Cover 2 Hi

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Smashing the Rules?

Why has NEW POP LIT published surfer girl Jess Mize’s short story “Valentine's Day”? Beyond the reasons given in our Intro (), we want to push the short story form beyond the genteel bounds within which it’s been trapped.

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What’s the real America?

The notion of 1% versus 99% is misleading. A PR gimmick. A theory which fits the need of affluent Leftists to identify themselves with “the people.”

The real divisions in America are more like this:

Top 20%: well-educated and comfortable. Call them the Affluent. Or, Aristocrats.

After them come a 40% who could be called Strivers. Those who seek to be in the top level. “Middle class,” or really, middle-class wannabes, consciously or instinctively trying to live “The American Dream.”

The remaining 40% are the underclass. Many are people of color, but there’s a huge white element as well.

This bottom 40% is seldom depicted in literature, and when it is, almost never in an accurate way. Sorry folks, but Ray Carver-style “K-Mart Realism” was always a stripped-down sham, full of lethargic, inarticulate zombies who could barely mumble, much less speak.

In her story “Valentine’s Day” jess Mize gives voice to that underclass. The story takes for granted the infidelities, vulgarities, and violences of those who in crude hyper-Zola fashion try to find skewed versions of love at the same time they’re trying to survive.

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Am I rationalizing why we accepted the story? Maybe. It’s clearly NOT written by Alice Munro, or even Mary Gaitskill. The art of those writers has seen its day. The Jess Mize story isn’t genteel, and its rough edges haven’t been sanded away.

Regarding the short story, at the NEW POP LIT Interactive blog we ask the question, “Should the contemporary short story be radically revamped in order to reach a broader audience?”

We wouldn’t have asked the question if we didn’t have answers for it, in the form of stories unlike those which exist today. We want to provide the shock of change. We seek writers who haven’t had mental barriers thrown around their minds signaling what they’re allowed or not allowed to say. Universities right now with their indoctrinations and speech codes are the worst possible training ground for creative writers. In addition to their restrictive give-no-offense outlook, there’s their institutional complacency. An attitude which says, “all is fine”; no need to change anything.

(A few of the answers we’ve received reflect that mindset—or even show hysteria at the very notion of change.)

All is NOT okay with the short story today. It reaches relatively few people in this society, when it should reach everybody.

We are going to produce short stories which reach everybody. The Jess Mize story “Valentine’s Day” is a first strike. A deliberate punch in the face. A rock thrown through a gray pane of glass. Ms. Mize will only get better as a writer, as long as she doesn’t lose the strength and freedom of her voice.

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My co-editor, Detroit-area writer Kathleen Crane, has written a story which more fully fits our guidelines. The story’s attributes are simplicity and compassion. It’ll be ready in a few weeks. Watch for it! Then tell us whether or not the short story can be better; whether or not it can be consciously changed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reinventing Literary Criticism

THINK OF the lauded American novels of the past as placed in a box. A relatively small box, when it comes down to it. Imagine that box hanging alone in space—against the vastness of space.

Inside the box will be the usual suspects. I note that the Guardian came out recently with one of their “100 best” lists—in this instance supposedly the best novels written in the English language, as selected by a Robert McCrum. Prominently displayed among the titles were American novels such as The Great Gatsby, Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye, and Lolita. One can assume the list also includes works by Harper Lee, John Updike, and Carson McCullers. Maybe even duds from Sinclair Lewis and John Dos Passos. What can be said about most of these titles is that they’re minor works.

Minor, when compared with the immensely complex civilization they represent and are ostensibly about.

What are the aesthetic standards of critics like McCrum? They never give them. Their lists invariably are a mish-mash of opinions handed down to them—taught to them in school—and their own unexplained personal tastes; with a heavy dash of political correctness thrown in. Are all their selected novels really the best? Are they the best we can come up with?

My stance is that the small box full of the “best” isn’t good enough. The world we live in becomes every day more complicated, heavy, and chaotic. Yes, a novel that provides a simple escape from the noise and complexity can be a relief—but in no way should we designate that small, polite read a “great” novel. The only designated great American novel which lives up to the critical billing in scope, excitement, and meaning is Melville’s Moby Dick.

A novel which should be near the top of every list is Frank Norris’s The Octopus. Its relevance continues to this day—as we can see with the rancher standoff in Oregon. The novel contains sweeping narrative movements, compelling characters, strong emotion and at times tremendous excitement. It carries great meaning, but is also a terrific reading experience.

Shouldn’t that be the chief criterion when judging works of art—the artistic experience they provide? Combine this with form, influence, and meaning and you have the beginnings of a more true assessment.

One American novel which never makes establishment “best” lists is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. This exposes the narrow viewpoint, the constricted personalities, of these critics. Politically the book is beyond the pale—it gives much for almost any reader to disagree with. That’s what I liked about the book—that along with its relentless narrative force, it’s full of ideas. Unfamiliar ideas. Ayn Rand presents the reader with a radically different way of viewing our world; providing the “shock of the new.” Apparently too shocking for our official not-very-confident-in-their-own-ideas literary critics. Love it or hate it, the novel provides an amazing read—and is truly “novel” when compared with the same-old same-old.

(Another highly intelligent American novel which never makes the lists, and should, is Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens.)

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Are we still looking at our small box of musty books hanging in space? The task of writers and critics alike is to operate in the space outside the box—to have the ambition to move swiftly beyond that box. To create or discover novels truly large enough in relevance and meaning to match the world we live in now.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Honest Criticism

What’s honest criticism?

Engaging in honest criticism means assessing an artwork without prejudices and preconceptions. It means rejecting accepted narratives and looking at the work in question with new eyes and a fresh mind.

An example of this can be found in the world of classical (symphonic) music. Those whose task is to fill seats for venues know there is one classical work more than any other guaranteed to sell tickets—and more, to overwhelmingly please those who attend the concert, even if (or especially if) the audience does not consist of classical music aficionados.

The piece I’m thinking of is not by one of the usual names—Mozart, Bach, Beethoven. It’s not Handel’s “Messiah” or Beethoven’s Ninth. The composer is relatively obscure. He composed the work in a very questionable society with reprehensible ideals. He followed none of the acceptable musical trends of his time.

The work?

“Carmina Burana,” by Carl Orff.

As no other musical work does, the piece combines power and beauty. It’s awe-inspiring. At moments it sounds like the voice of God. To the listener new to the composition, every minute is unpredictable. The music is passionate; uplifting; overwhelming—a tremendous crowd pleaser.

Would any serious music critic proclaim “Carmina Burana” the greatest musical work of them all? Or would they point out what it does not do—that it doesn’t follow their own rules?

When one considers the pure listening experience—which hits the audience member on a variety of aesthetic levels—there may be no musical work which tops “Carmina Burana.”

Which means, if “Carmina Burana” doesn’t meet all the accepted standards, it’s time to rethink the standards.

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The question: does a similar situation apply in the similarly marginalized world of books and literature? Do we judge literary works on the total reading experience?

Should we?

Stay tuned for Part II of this essay.

 

Monday, January 04, 2016

Renewing Literature

AN ART FORM becomes exciting when a handful of practitioners push beyond the bounds of what’s being done—sometimes to move in an entirely new direction. To be alive, to be noticed, to be relevant within a culture, an art HAS to reinvent itself. Current literature is stagnant. New York-approved establishment writers merely go through the motions of creating art—while the mass of new self-publishing authors don’t even try to; instead imitating bad best-selling genre fiction. All ends of the spectrum engage in “paint-by-the-numbers”: taking no risks; providing the intelligent reader no discoveries or surprises.

Which is where NEW POP LIT (www.newpoplit.com) comes in. We won’t settle for the same-old same-old. We’ll push for nothing less than the complete artistic overhaul of the literary art. First, the short story. Next, the poem. Then the novel.

From writers, we want you to give us examples of renewal and change. Stories so striking and tight as to stand out to the entire world. Why not? If you can imagine it you can accomplish it.

Create the new—and send us the result.