Hits: 223
May 1, 2013 · Posted in Commentary · Comments Off on LIONEL’S LAMENT 

Lionel holding forth at the Griffith Park Observatory--photo by Kurt Olerud




As bombs were blowing up in Boston, I was sitting in my doctor’s office in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and he was telling me that he had no medicines to deal with my painful swollen legs, knees and feet.


Now I know that human misery is a constant, but when you’re experiencing it personally, so is the world. Bombers in Boston, sinkholes, tsunamis, wars, nuclear accidents, meteors hurling toward cities, earthquakes, mad cops running amok, ships crashing into shore as they navigate into port, all somehow equate with my increasingly wobbly legs.


Now I’ll grant there is no apparent connection between a major American city being under siege by a couple of mad bombers and the pain in my body. But it feels as if the world and the lives of all of us in it, are going bonkers in droves. The news is becoming madder by the day. Nothing is left to shock. Read more


Hits: 1004
May 1, 2013 · Posted in Miscellany · Comments Off on THE LONG WINDING ROAD FROM LUBBOCK TO TINSEL TOWN 

Lubbock In My Rear View Mirror

By Bob Vickrey


The two tall handsome gray-haired gentlemen stood staring each other down across the bookstore counter as if they were about to break out in a classic Burr and Hamilton duel.


Former Texas Governor John B. Connally and local Houston bookseller, Ted Brown, were trading sardonic barbs in their ongoing colossal battle of giant egos. They were both elegantly attired in expensive pin-striped suits and each represented that era of the male-dominated, testosterone-driven business world of the 1970s. Governor Connally was a regular customer at Brown’s Bookshop, the best-known bookstore in Houston at that time, and seemed to truly relish his encounters with the feisty Brown. Read more

The California Road Scholar Talks About Noir!

Hits: 357
May 1, 2013 · Posted in California Roads Scholar · Comments Off on The California Road Scholar Talks About Noir! 

Photo is of 1825 N. Kingsley, the apartment building where Walter Neff in Double Indemnity lived. Photographer is Jodi Siegner.


Lo!  Death has reared himself a throne

In a strange city lying alone

Far down within the dim West

Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best Have gone to their eternal rest.       

There shrines and palaces and towers (Time-eaten towers that tremble not) Resemble nothing that is ours.

Around, by lifting winds forgot, Resignedly beneath the sky 

The melancholy waters lie.” 

(Edgar Allan Poe, “The City in the Sea,”  1845 but an earlier version was published as “The Doomed City” in 1831)


By Phyl Van Ammers



Scary literature is not new. Even the Old Testament is pretty creepy.   The Book of Job could be the first noir story except that it ends too well, and Job was probably the oldest-written book of the Bible —  written about events that took place before the flood, around 1270 BC. Read more

The Literary Cookbook: The Day of the Locust

Hits: 497
May 1, 2013 · Posted in Miscellany · Comments Off on The Literary Cookbook: The Day of the Locust 

By Lynn Bronstein


In the 1930s, America was trying to pull its way out of a depression that had devastated the lives of millions. From the slums of eastern cities to the Dust Bowl, people looked to the West, to California, and especially to that place, originally a highly religious little village near Los Angeles, that had become synonymous with the American concept of glamour and magic: Hollywood.

Not all of the people who relocated to this special land found the gold at the end of the rainbow. Those who did not make money right away, and those who never would make money or be discovered for their talent and beauty, would live out their lives in tiny bungalows or seedy apartment houses, working as extras, waiting on tables, selling dubious products door to door or surviving through shadowy activities. These were the people whose lives interested 1930s writer Nathanael West and it was these souls, “the cheated,” who were the subject of his bittersweet 1939 short novel The Day of the Locust. Read more

The Hip Dictator and His Opponents

Hits: 265
May 1, 2013 · Posted in Commentary · Comments Off on The Hip Dictator and His Opponents 

Leslie Evans

 The Dictator’ Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy. William J. Dobson. New York: Doubleday, 2012. 341 pp.

Former Foreign Affairs editor William J. Dobson has been making the rounds of dictatorial states for the last half decade, interviewing the autocrats’ top functionaries as well as leaders of their democratic opposition. From Putin’s Russia to Mubarak’s Egypt, Mahathir Mohamad’s Malaysia, Chavez’s Venezuela, and, of course, the very model of the modern authoritarian state, China. He concludes that dictators have smartened up since the heavy handed days of yore, when they had to give themselves 99 percent in every election and sealed their borders, preventing people from leaving and trying to prevent information about the outside world from getting in.

The totalitarian regimes of the far right – National Socialism and fascism – were destroyed in World War II. Those of the left – the Soviet Union and its East European client states, Maoist China – collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s, or in the case of China, underwent major reforms. This has left North Korea as the sole indisputable exemplar of the totalitarian model.  Cuba stands somewhere between there and the states labeled authoritarian. Read more


Hits: 1615
May 1, 2013 · Posted in Miscellany · Comments Off on A LIFE SPENT AWAKENING THE IMAGINATION OF CHILDREN 

Young Bill Peet at his desk at Disney Studios

By Bob Vickrey



From my perch on the mezzanine level of festively decorated Santa Monica Place, I had a birds-eye view of the scene playing out below me as a forlorn-looking Santa Claus sat by himself watching scores of admiring children mob the famous children’s author at the opposite end of the mall.


With only two weeks left before Christmas, one would have assumed that Santa would have little problem commanding attention amidst the spirit of holiday revelry. However, poor Santa had met his match the day he competed with heralded children’s author, Bill Peet.


After having accompanied the former Disney artist and storybook mastermind in his many Southern California appearances, his winning the face-off with Kris Kringle was no great surprise to me. Mr. Peet’s unique storytelling skills and compelling artwork had connected powerfully with children for several generations—both on the big silver screen, as well as in his many picture books. Read more

Honey thinks about dragons

Hits: 170
May 1, 2013 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground · Comments Off on Honey thinks about dragons 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

I bought a bronze turtle good luck totem in Chinatown in San Francisco.  The totem is comprised of a large turtle, and on her back is a little turtle.   The big turtle has a dragon’s head and delightfully awful dragon feet stepping on coins.  The totem will bring me prosperity and prestige.

A placard elsewhere in the store for a dragon said that in China, a dragon symbolizes good fortune.   Dragons come from the sky.  They make the rules.

Animal signs in Chinese astrology include the dragon along with the rabbit, rat, ox, tiger, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

If the Chinese animal signs were an IQ test, which one does not belong?

The English word “dragon” derives from Greek δράκων (drákōn), “dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake.”  Dragons feature in European, Australian and Asian myths.  The word “dragon” (Hebrew: tannin) is used throughout the Old Testament, and most directly translates as “sea or land monsters.” In the Book of Job, the author describes great creatures likes the mega fauna that used to roam the earth. Read more