Hey, Abbott

Always nice to discover a good new writer, especially in the crime field.  I just read Megan Abbott’s The Song is You and liked it so much I immediately went on to another of hers, Bury Me Deep, which I’m likewise liking.

The Song is You is inspired by the 1949 real-life disappearance of bit-part actress Jean Spangler.  It follows the exploits of guilt-ridden studio flack Gil Hopkins, a fictional character who helped kill the Spangler story in the press at the time it happened.  Now it’s a couple of years later and Hopkins isn’t sure whether he’s trying to keep the story buried or dig it up himself to get at the truth.

It’s immensely smart, entertaining stuff.  Abbott is apparently something of a film noir expert and she skates very close to the edge of pastiche without ever quite falling in.  She gives you the snappy dialogue, tough guys and sassy dames you might find in an old Dana Andrews picture, but she makes all of it seem real and alive.  Plus – unlike almost every other female writer who tries it – she writes her man very, very well and describes his feelings toward women in a thoroughly realistic way without being judgmental or condescending.

Hilariously, a lot of politically correct reviewers describe Abbott as a feminist writing about the unfair treatment of women back in the evil old past.  This strikes me as dumb.  I’ve no idea what Abbott’s politics are, sexual or otherwise, but the books as I read them are simply trying to recapture an America that lives half in history and  half in our collective imagination.   Her books are like a really good night watching Turner Classic Movies – only better… because they’re, you know, books.

Agents of Treachery Set For June

Random House’s Vintage Press has set June 2 as the pub date for Agents of Treachery, Otto Penzler’s collection of espionage stories by today’s top suspense writers.  It will include Andrew’s story “Sleeping With My Assassin” about a Soviet sleeper cell mysteriously re-activated long after the Soviet Union itself is gone.

“Mario’s Number One!”

I can remember falling in love at first sight only three times in my life: with my wife, the city of London and Super Mario Brothers. I’m a man who knows what will last, you’ve got to say that for me. I just finished playing Super Mario Brothers Wii for the second time since I got it for Christmas and in the immortal words of Mario himself:  “Wuh-hooo!”  The new game is as good as that first NES version that stole my heart so long ago. I remember playing that one back in the 80’s and thinking: Italian plumbers stomping on evil mushrooms and turtles? Who comes up with stuff like that? It’s like an acid trip.

But it’s better than acid. More creative, plus your brain doesn’t come dripping out of your ear afterward. Plus, when you think about it, an Italian plumber going on adventures to rescue the pink Princess Peach from an evil whatever-Bowser-is is kind of a metaphor for assimilation and the American dream. You don’t have to be born to nobility to participate in the knightly quest here. Even an immigrant working stiff can be a hero—is in fact the hero of the American narrative. Or was, before the current crop of elites got a-hold of it.

Now if I were a grad student, I could write a PHD thesis on that, get tenure, and then, from my safe position surrounded by like thinkers, declare myself a brave radical deconstructing the American dream.

But then I would be an intellectual fraud. Or an American academic. But I repeat myself.

Tea for Two

Because of our startling resemblance to one another, many people refuse to believe that PJTV’s Bill Whittle and I are actually two separate people. To prove it, we sat down together late last week to discuss the Tea Party convention down in Nashville. It’s a conversation that raises some fascinating questions. For instance, why is it Whittle dresses so much better than I do? And if he’s so smart, how come he didn’t notice I stole his watch? Anyway, it’s an interesting conversation:

Obama: Ideologue or Empty Man?

Because of the mainstream news media’s scandalous abandonment of their responsibilities during the last election, Barack Obama took the highest office in the land as a largely unexamined man,  little more than a hologram onto which our press, corrupted by political conformity, projected its hopes and dreams.  Since then, those of us whose national pooch he is screwing have tried to assess Obama’s personality from a distance.  Among those whose opinion is worth considering, there seem to be two possibilities:  either he is a left-wing ideologue or an empty man.

The mighty Rush Limbaugh, for instance, has consistently portrayed Obama as an ideologue, an Alinskyite purposely set upon destroying the economy in order to introduce socialism by stealth.  El Rushbo, as we listeners know, is correct 99.5 percent of the time so, mathematically speaking, contradicting him is a fool’s game.  And yet no less a personage than the truly brilliant Hoover Institute fellow Shelby Steele says, no, the O-man is too empty for ideology.

Here’s Steele, via Tanya Davis over at the Huffington Post: “You know one of my criticisms of Barack Obama all along has been that he’s unlike, just for an example, say a president like Reagan or the great presidents Lincoln and so forth, or even someone like Truman, who came into office as very well-defined men. They knew who they were; they knew what they stood for; they knew the direction they wanted to take the country in. Barack Obama seems to me to be without that. There’s almost this kind of inner emptiness there, but not because he’s incompetent. That’s just been his bargain, sort of, all his life – certainly his political life – is to be kind of an invisible man.”

Normally, a disagreement between two titans like Rush and Steele would make it impossible for ordinary mortals to take sides.  But in this case, I, as Barack Obama himself is always saying, refuse to accept a false dichotomy.  It seems to me that a man may become an ideologue because he’s empty inside, that he may use ideology to fill the void the rest of us fill with self-awareness, conscience, principle, and wisdom gained through experience.  The signature of such an empty ideologue would be his complete unawareness that he was an ideologue.  He would believe his ideology to be mere pragmatism because ideology would be all he had inside instead of that experience processed by personality from which true pragmatism arises.  He would have no means to assess himself and would simply take his learned philosophy as given.

This would explain the rather pitiful moment when the President told House Republicans last week, “I am not an ideologue,” and then, in response to their titters, reared back, surprised and defensive, and said, “I’m not!”  He really doesn’t know because, aside from ideology, there’s nothing else there.

It would also explain why, even when his ideology clearly isn’t working, he hasn’t the required wherewithal to change his mind.

When Rush and Steele disagree, only both can be correct.