Ask Roger Anything, especially this

blogging on a pizza

Yeah, I’m asking you to Ask Roger Anything because I do. But I’m seeking, especially this particular wrinkle. I would like you to list the names of bands or solo musicians, as many as you like. And I must name the ONE or maybe two or three favorite songs from the artist or group, and why.

I hope that your choices include folks from whom I know more than one song. Don’t ask me about Dexys Midnight Runners because I don’t know any other tunes, though I have heard some in the past.

It’s interesting to me that music, most of which I have heard before, is now more likely to make me emotional. Sometimes, it’s sadness but more often, it’s joy. One example is the end section of Surf’s Up by the Beach Boys, originally scheduled for the Smile album, but which appeared at the end of the Surf’s Up album.

Books

I linked to a meme on Facebook. “Umberto Eco, who owned 50,000 books, had this to say about home libraries: ‘It is foolish to think that you have to read all the books you buy, as it is foolish to criticize those who buy more books than they will ever be able to read. It would be like saying that you should use all the cutlery or glasses or screwdrivers or drill bits you bought before buying new ones…

“‘If, for example, we consider books as medicine, we understand that it is good to have many at home rather than a few: when you want to feel better, then you go to the ‘medicine closet’ and choose a book. Not a random one, but the right book for that moment. That’s why you should always have a nutrition choice!'”
So you could make me cut my 2,000 or 3,000 books – I didn’t count them –  down to (ouch!) 100. What would I keep? You could ask that.
Or whatever 

There was an item on Quora recently. “Can you answer this question: ‘Can you explain the process of blogging on a pizza?'” I was tempted to respond that I tend to blog on media slightly more permanent than a pizza, but I didn’t know how helpful that would be.

But you can ask anything else as well. I will answer, more or less truthfully, in the next month.  Please make your requests in the comments section of this post, email me at rogerogreen (AT) Gmail (DOT) com, or contact me on Facebook. Heck, I’m still on Twitter as ersie, more out of inertia. (This is why I don’t call it whatever.) Always look for the duck.

ALA: record number of unique book titles challenged in 2023

joy in diversity

In March 2024, the American Library Association reported a record number of unique book titles challenged in 2023.

“The number of titles targeted for censorship surged 65 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching the highest levels ever documented by the…ALA.” The numbers “show efforts to censor 4,240 unique book titles in schools and libraries. This tops the previous high from 2022 when 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship.”

My irritation with this trend should be no secret to anyone who knows me or has read this blog for a while. Public libraries are, and I’m going to use some highly technical language here, “really cool.”

The Binghamton (NY) Public Library embedded in Daniel S. Dickinson School in Binghamton, NY had, at some point, the Dylan poster by  Milton Glaser on the wall. So THAT’s how you spell Dylan!

That branch and the main library downtown each had librarians from my church, strong black women. I worked downtown for about seven months, learning about Psychology Today and Billboard magazines, which I DEVOURED before putting them away.

When I lived at my grandmother’s shack in 1975, listening to LPs at the downtown branch was my refuge. In 1977, my go-to places were my downtown library in Charlotte, NC, and then the New York Public Library.

At FantaCo, I would go to the Washington Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library and look up publishers in Books In Print, which is how we ended up selling a bunch of Creepshow graphic novels.

I’ve never worked as a librarian in a public library. However, I’ve been what someone calls an advocate, participating with the Friends of the Albany Public Library and then its successor, the FFAPL.

So libraries have long been my third place. “The only real requirement is that nobody is forcing you to show up.”

Censorship

The challenges to libraries, then, make me cranky publicly, and frankly livid in private. From the ALA:

“Key trends emerged from the data gathered from 2023 censorship reports:

  • Pressure groups in 2023 focused on public libraries in addition to targeting school libraries. The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92 percent over the previous year; school libraries saw an 11 percent increase.
  • Groups and individuals demanding the censorship of multiple titles, often dozens or hundreds at a time, drove this surge.
  • Titles representing the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47 percent of those targeted in censorship attempts.”

People in library districts have the right to pick for themselves what they choose not to read for themselves and their minor children. But some folks want to have OTHER PEOPLE climb under their rocks.

“Oh, no, black people are represented in books,” such as the Amanda Gorman inaugural poem.  “And homosexuals,” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. At the very moment, at least SOME of the nation is recognizing the joy of its diversity.

Libraries and librarians are free-speech heroes.

I recommend John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on why public libraries are under attack, and where those challenges are coming from.

One commenter quotes a source I’m unfamiliar with, but it tracks as true. “When they start firing librarians and banning books, you’re in the beginning of a dictatorship. Librarians are the guardians of free speech and the first lines of defense against a dictator.”

Book review: Prequel by Rachel Maddow

pro-Nazi, isolationist literature

You will probably remember reading about the fear of Communism in the 1950s United States, with Senator Joe McCarthy leading the way. But there was also a Red Scare in the 1930s.

This led some folks, including within the US government, to lean into the leadership of that dynamic leader in Germany, Adolf Hitler. The Germans were happy to provide Americans with the needed propaganda.

This is the takeaway after reading Rachel Maddow’s new book, Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism, inspired by her work for the Ultra podcast.  While there were many villains in the narrative, there were also several heroes. She talked with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell about how she discovered the largely forgotten threat to American democracy revealed in the podcast.

The book has so many characters that she spends three pages briefly describing 30 people who will appear. The book is not in strict chronological order, though the info after the US entered WWII in 1941 is mostly so.

Loyalty to his homeland

The first is George Viereck, a Munich-born who immigrated to the US with his parents to America when he was eleven. The writer distinguished himself as “an advocate to the American public for his beloved fatherland,” starting with World War I.

After the War, he cultivated relationships with more celebrated men”: Kaiser Wilhelm II, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, Benito Mussolini, Albert Einstein, and others. Dr. Sigmund Freud suggested that he sought a father figure, and Vierick found him in a man five years his junior, Adolf Hitler.

Another character was Philip Johnson, who had lots of family money and would become a significant architect.  He helped form the Gray Shirts in the US, inspired by the Brownshirts.

Meanwhile, in 1933, the German Foreign Office “dispatched a young man named Heinrich Krieger to the University of Arkansas School of Law.” [He learned all about “race law” in the United States, how Jim Crow laws “were… just one of many bulwarks in American law constructed for the protection of white people from the “lower races” Germany used it as a blueprint for an ethnic hierarchy.

Yellow journalism

Some of these names are unfamiliar. Here’s one you’ll know: Henry Ford, whose antisemitism was “rank, and it was unchecked.” One of the staffers of the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper owned by Ford, recommended a sensationalist approach. The paper came across the “newly translated edition” of “Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion.” It was “the work of rabidly antisemitic Russian fabulists furious at the Bolsheviks’ toppling of the old tsarist aristocracy.’ In Mein Kampf, published Hitler lifted ideas from Ford’s writings and namechecked him.

By the 1930s, Nazism had become normalized in large swaths of the United States. The situation is described in the book, but you should note The Nazis of New York from Now I Know.

There were several plots to sabotage the US in several ways. Leon Lewis, an “antifascist spymaster of Southern California, and his agents provided evidence of sedition, but the FBI was not initially interested.

There were Congressional hearings. Witnesses such as General George Van Horn, who wanted to be the American fuhrer “but was unwilling to risk his U.S. Army pension to do so,” were allowed to drop astonishingly antisemitic diatribes into his prepared testimony.

Hollywood!

Among the films released in 1939, such as Stagecoach, Gone With The Wind, and The Wizard Of Oz, here’s the most unlikely. Warner Brothers put out a film in 1939 called Confessions Of A Nazi Spy, a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about four German-Americans were charged with spying on U.S. military installations… The espionage plot went all the way to the Nazi-led government in Germany, implicating Göring (president of the Reichstag), Goebbels (minister of propaganda), and even Adolf Hitler himself.”

The movie was very controversial because cinema was supposed to be entertainment. Louis B. Meyer held a party for Lionel Barrymore “on the eve of his 61st birthday” to keep his MGM actors and staff far from the Nazi Spy opening.

“During filming, a sixty-pound piece of equipment fell… and barely missed the film’s biggest name, Edward G. Robinson.” It was a clear case of sabotage.

The Production Code Administration, the industry censor that looked for “swearing, drugs, nudity, sex, gore, religion, and racial controversy,” also enforced a “subjective, amorphous sort of ban on political proselytizing. So the PCA, which had been lobbied by the German consulate in Los Angeles, to be “on the lookout for anti-Nazi sentiment in American movies.” The movie was made, miraculously, but mentions of antisemitism, and even the words Jew or Jewish, were scrubbed.

Propagandist

Still, Goebbels is quoted in the film. “From now on, National Socialism in the United States must wrap itself in the American flag. It must appear to be a defense of Americanism. But at the same time, our aim must always be to discredit conditions there in the United States. And in this way, make life in Germany admired and wished for. Racial and religious hatred must be fostered on the basis of American-Aryanism. Classism must be encouraged in a way that the labor and the middle classes will become confused and antagonistic. In the ensuing chaos, we will be able to take control.”

Religion

Father Charles Coughlin was the “antisemitic ‘Radio Priest’ with an audience in the tens of millions. His sermon after Kristallnacht in November 1938 “conveyed that Jews of Germany had brought this violence upon themselves by their ‘aggressiveness and initiative’…There was a lot more to worry about in the commies killing Christians than there was in Germans (or anyone else)killing Jews.”

The paramilitary Christian Front, under the leadership of John F. Cassidy, Coughlin’s handpicked appointee, trained to shoot at targets of FDR. They were armed with weapons of war, such as automatic rifles.

Historian Charles Gallagher began obtaining the FBI files about the Christian Front in 2010. “Not only were these religious crusaders determined to carry out their mission, but they also had real support inside the National Guard and the New York City Police Department.” Yet the group, even after the FBI arrested several members, was widely perceived  as “more frightened than revolutionary.”

“Promiscuous Use of His Frank”

Henry Hoke, “direct market guru,” had uncovered a Nazi plot inside Congress. He collected a vast amount of sophisticated “pro-Nazi, isolationist literature that was being mailed to citizens across the country for free.

He eventually ascertained that 20 members of Congress were “inserting propaganda into the Congressional Record and letting pro-Nazi groups use their franking privileges.

Nazi propagandist George Viereck was writing articles for Senator Lundeen (R-MN) in several magazines, which was lucrative for both. Viereck set up a Make Europe Pay War Debts Committee with Lundeen as chair so the mailings could be sent nationwide.

Eventually, 30 defendants, none of them members of Congress, were indicted on sedition charges, but the trial was repeatedly undermined and ended up being suspended.

The question I wonder about is whether we have learned anything from the past. Or are we doomed to echo it?

Sunday Stealing – Identity

hot under the collar

mytrueidentityThe Sunday Stealing this week is about identity, an intriguing topic.

1. if someone wanted to really understand you, what would they read, watch, and listen to?
Read: see #8 below
Watch TV- JEOPARDY, 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mission: Impossible until Landau and Bain left. See movies: Young Frankenstein, Annie Hall, Casablanca, West Side Story, 13th.
Listen to: see #4 below

2. have you ever found a writer who thinks just like you? if so, who?
He is not exactly like me – he is far more technologically knowledgeable, e.g. But Arthur is a political science guy, sometimes activist, and is open to stealing ideas from me. In fact, he’s doing his Ask Arthur Anything event, which he admittedly purloined from me.

3. do you care about your ethnicity?
Yes, and yes. Yes, it still seems to matter to others; we aren’t in that post-racial society yet. And yes, because it’s interesting to me. Ancestry occasionally recalibrates my DNA percentages. Presently:
Mister Music
4. what musical artists have you most felt connected to over your lifetime?
In response to blog posts J. Eric Smith shared, I wrote a series of pieces that featured Prince, the Temptations, Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Harry Belafonte, plus a bunch of people also mentioned in the previous links. If I HAD to pick three, it’d be The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, and Paul Simon.

5. are you an artist?
Suppose art is drawing, painting, or sculpting; then absolutely not. If art includes singing, then arguably yes.

6. dog person or cat person?
I had cats from when I grew up until 40 years ago. Then, a decade ago, there were two cats, one of whom was certified demented by his vet. The one dog we had when I was a kid bit me; we got rid of that dog when he also bit the minister’s daughters. There are a handful of dogs I’ve liked, especially Random.

7. inside or outdoors?
I like the outdoors when it’s temperate. I like April, May, and September. But I hate heat and fear burning. My tolerance for the cold has diminished with age.
Literature
8. five most influential books over your lifetime
I dunno. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi regarding how I see inequity. Life Itself by Roger Ebert is about how I see movies. The Sweeter The Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip is about how we’re the same. The Good Book by Peter J. Gomes is a philosophical treatise. One of those Joel Whitburn books about music – Top Pop Singles – is about how music rules.

.
9. would you rather be in Middle Earth, Narnia, Hogwarts, or somewhere else?
By default, Hogwarts. I’ve never read any of the books, but I’ve seen all the movies.

10. list the top five things you spend the most time doing, in order.
Sleeping, reading, sorting through stuff, blogging, eating (including food prep or purchase)

11. have you ever felt like you had a “mind-meld” with someone?
Yes, at random times. A few times on the Amtrak.

12. could you live as a hermit?
That’s what COVID felt like. If I had a phone, Internet, a source of food delivery, maybe for a year before I started going bonkers.

13. do you feel like your outside appearance is a fair representation of the “real you”?
Most people who know me well recognize that my outside appearance is not particularly a high priority for me. So I haven’t a clue.

14. three songs that you connect with right now.
Here are songs by artists who have birthdays in December: Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor, who died in July 2023;  Something So Right– Annie Lennox from her all-covers album, where she reorders the Paul Simon lyrics;  Love and Affection– Joan Armatrading, which has one of my favorite first lines:  “I am not in love. But I’m open to persuasion.”
made into a PBS series
15. pick one of your favorite quotes.
When I get this question, I pull a book off the shelf and randomly pick something. From The Story of English by McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil: “Phrases like hot under the collar and bite the dust are an everyday reminder of the powerful influence the cowboy has had on the English language. Perhaps this is because, of all of the frontier heroes, the cowboy was the beneficiary of nineteenth-century technology. The camera and the railroad exported the cowboy lifestyle and language back to the east so vividly that a New York dentist, Zane Gray, who was virtually ignorant of the real West, could create a believable picture of cowboy society from the information available to him in New York, thousands of miles from the range.”

The Anthropocene Reviewed, reviewed

Essays on a Human-Centered Planet

I agreed to review The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green on September 12 at the Albany Public Library, mainly for selfish reasons.

I’ve been having a terrible time reading books this year. I’ve attended many book reviews and author talks this year and have even bought several books from the authors.

So if I agree to review the book, which I bought when it was brand new in 2021, read about 50 pages, then never got back to it, I MUST finish it. I completed it the day before the review.

Next issue: how to present the review. The first thing, I suppose, is to explain the title.  What the heck is the Anthropocene? According to the video The Anthropocene and the Near Future: Crash Course Big History #9, the Anthropocene is “an unofficial geologic era where humans have an immense influence over the biosphere.”

Then, I needed to explain what Crash Course, started by John Green and his brother Hank, is.  “At Crash Course, we believe that high-quality educational videos should be available to everyone for free. The Crash Course team has produced more than 45 courses to date, and these videos accompany high school and college level classes ranging from the humanities to the sciences.

“Crash Course transforms the traditional textbook model by presenting information in a fast-paced format, enhancing the learning experience.” I learned. I discovered that my daughter had looked at several videos for her Advanced Placement history course, notably on the French Revolution.

JEOPARDY

And, of course, I needed to introduce them to John Green. Fortunately, on the 20 February 2023 episode of  JEOPARDY, episode  #8811, there was a category called A CRASH COURSE IN JOHN GREEN. One clue mentioned his book The Fault in Our Stars,  which was “largely inspired by a young friend, Esther Earl, who died of cancer at 16″  in 2010.

I noted that the earlier book had been banned or challenged in certain schools and libraries, much to John’s dismay.

The answer (or question) of one J clue was, “What is  Nerdfighteria?” How do I explain that?!  It is the mainly online-based community subculture that originated around Vlogbrothers videos, to “get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck.”

This led to the DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome) store and other activities. They’ve raised about $5 million to help fight maternal mortality in Sierra Leone. The Awesome Coffee Club, Awesome Socks Club, Pizzamas, and other endeavors have funded this.

Back to the book!

But what do I want to say about The Anthropocene Reviewed itself? In a Vlogbrothers post from 2021, What is my new book about, John admitted that it was difficult to describe. It’s an adaption of 2018-2021 essays, plus others going back to 2008. It’s a memoir.

Answers from some Nerdfighters: “The Anthropocene Reviewed attempts to capture what it means to be human. It is both joyful and terribly sad, filled with light and darkness, levity and grief. “

“It’s essays that “review facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.”

“It is about honoring your lenses from which you see the world, letting yourself wonder and wander, but never forgetting that your lenses are not the full picture, and they depend on who moves them.”

John reviewed the reviews of his book.

Ultimately, I spent most of my time reading from the book. The only section I shared in its entirety is the section about the movie Harvey.

I did NOT play these videos. But if YOU want to get a sense of The Anthropocene Reviewed, check out these three, at least the first one.

Introduction

Auld Lang Syne

The Sycamore Tree

I liked the book a lot. Moreover, I loved the integration of self and the stuff around self. My audience seemed to appreciate the artfulness of the duality of the form in the book.

 

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