Thomas Frank looks at what John Podesta's hacked emails reveal about the liberal elite. It's no surprise, Frank says, that they take care of themselves and their own. So if you don't belong to the meritocracy, then you're out of luck.
I've long been an admirer of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. The good folks at The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society have shown themselves to be reliable stewards of Lovecraft's legacy, and their audio versions of HPL's tales have always been excellent. After a while, though, I began to wonder what they would do once they ran out of Lovecraft stories amenable to radio-style dramatic adaptation. Fortunately, though, the HPLHS have been giving some thought to the very same issue, and they've proven themselves up to the challenge.
The two previous DART episodes, Dagon: War of Worlds and A Solstice Carol, took a Lovecraft tale (or three, as was the case with the latter adaptation) and spun out a new story inspired by his type of weird fiction. I'm especially fond of DWoW, since it blended Lovecraft with H. G. Wells and Orson Welles, but I have to admit that the idea of combining Lovecraft and Dickens in ASC was also inspired. I've listened to both episodes many times with great enjoyment.
The latest episode, The White Tree: A Tale of Inspector Legrasse, is a new departure for DART. In TWT, the element drawn from Lovecraft's fiction is restricted to a character from a famous tale. Inspector John Raymond Legrasse, who first appeared in "The Call of Cthulhu," heads back to the Louisiana bayou to tangle with a new Lovecraftian menace. The rest of the story is the original work of the HPLHS. According to the credits, Sean Branney, wrote the story and the audio play. He did a bangup job, as far as I'm concerned.
Lovecraft's stories frequently involve someone who is professionally drawn to mystery. Usually, these protagonists are scholars, but others with a personally perilous sense of curiosity show up from time to time. Because Inspector Legrasse is a veteran of weird happenings, it makes sense for him to be keeping a weather eye on the local criminal scene for any re-appearance of the Cthulhu cult (or some other equally disturbing occult danger). Also, because he is a police officer, he can believably swing into action and can do so more believably than many of Lovecraft's rather anemic scholarly protagonists. And, finally, he can be thrust into a historical context that includes voodoo and the Ku Klux Klan. So Branney's choice of Legrasse is an especially good one.
I heartily recommend "The White Tree" to you. I don't want to spoil the plot, so I won't give away any of the details. Just be assured that, as is always the case with DART, you're in good Lovecraftian hands from beginning to end. Here's a new twist: TWT contains significant characters drawn from the ranks of people who usually have only tiny roles in HPL's tales. Women and minorities, that is. Sadly, HPL wasn't good about this sort of thing. Modern listeners will welcome this development.
I'm eagerly looking forward to more new stories from the HPLHS and DART.
I developed a soft spot in my political heart for Thomas Frank after he published What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America in 2004. It seemed to me that he correctly identified how the Republican party uses culture-war politics to stir up white working-class voters, and that such support usually comes at the expense of their economic well-being. True, I was rather critical of Mr. Frank's handling of the importance of religious conviction, but there is much in his book that I still find convincing. Be that as it may, I take his views seriously, and so I'm always happy to come across new work from him.
In that spirit, then, I recommend that you read this article on the role that the rejection of trade agreements plays in generating white working-class support for Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It's not the whole story, of course, and Mr. Frank knows as much, but he is clearly correct to pay attention to what Trump is actually saying on the campaign trail, and if you look at videos or read speeches, you'll see that Trump spends a lot of time denouncing trade agreements that he and his supporters hold responsible for gutting American manufacturing.
By the way, just so you know, both of my parents were born and raised in Kansas. I too was born there, but I grew up in Texas.
Senator Elizabeth Warren just released a report (PDF, 1.2 MB) that discusses twenty civil and criminal cases from 2015 in which, according to the executive summary, "the federal government failed to require meaningful accountability from either large corporations or their executives involved in wrongdoing."
If that little snippet isn't enough for you, then here's an eye-opening paragraph:
Under the current approach to enforcement, corporate criminals routinely escape meaningful prosecution for their misconduct. This is so despite the fact that the law is unambiguous: if a corporation has violated the law, individuals within the corporation must also have violated the law. If the corporation is subject to charges of wrongdoing, so are those in the corporation who planned, authorized or took the actions. But even in cases of flagrant corporate law breaking, federal law enforcement agencies – and particularly the Department of Justice (DOJ) – rarely seek prosecution of individuals. In fact, federal agencies rarely pursue convictions of either large corporations or their executives in a court of law. Instead, they agree to criminal and civil settlements with corporations that rarely require any admission of wrongdoing and they let the executives go free without any individual accountability.
Just more evidence for the proposition that we are currently living in a plutocracy.
While you're pondering all of this, take a look at Senator Warren's op-ed in The New York Times.
Despite my interest in horror fiction and film, I've never been an admirer of the work of Stephen King. Years ago I read a few of the stories in Night Shift, but since I found them rather derivative of H. P. Lovecraft, I didn't feel any need to read the whole book. Maybe that was a mistake on my part, but that's how I felt at the time. The many movies adapted from Mr. King's books have also never inspired me to read any of his works. Of course, that's not the best way to select what to read, but, once again, that's how I've felt about the movies and their source material. So, for good or bad reasons, I'm rather ignorant when it comes to Mr. King.
I've mentioned in some of my posts of the past couple of years that I've been reading a lot about crime, both fictional and non-fictional. For quite a while, though, I've been aware of a series of crime novels called Hard Case Crime. I read a handful of HCC books before I started my crime jag. Because I've enjoyed what I've read, I've continued with the series as time has allowed.
Mr. King has published two books with HCC. Because HCC hasn't let me down so far, I figured that I should give his work another chance, and so I recently read Joyland. To my surprise, I wasn't disappointed. Consequently, I've decided to devote one of my book notes to Joyland.
I've posted a photo of the cover of the first edition of the paperback edition of the book. My copy was from my local public library, and so it was a bit worn. In case you're wondering, the cover painting doesn't give anything away, since it doesn't depict an actual scene from the book, although it does nicely represent some of the amusement park atmosphere in which much of the dramatic action in Joyland takes place.
The protagonist of the book is Devin Jones, a college student who in 1973 takes a summer job at a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. But the voice of the narrator, which is that of the older Mr. Jones as he recalls this time in his life forty years later, informs us as the book begins that it's now September, which means, of course, that he stayed on at Joyland after his summer job ended. The reader will eventually learn why he chose not to go back to college in the fall. This part of the novel turns out to be an affecting coming-of-age story.
As you would expect, though, there's more to Joyland than the story of a young man who graduates from immaturity to maturity. Along the way, Devon has to deal with an unsolved crime—after all, this book is an entry in the HCC series—filtered somewhat fitfully through Mr. King's penchant for the supernatural. A young woman named Linda Gray was murdered in the Joyland funhouse a few years before Devon arrived for his summer job. Her death is still unsolved, and she is said to haunt the funhouse. By the end of Joyland we learn the identity of the killer as well as the answer to the question of whether or not the funhouse is really haunted.
It's a convention of a murder mystery that the perpetrator of the crime is introduced to the reader at some point but in a way that deflects suspicion until the plot reaches its climax. Unfortunately, there's really only one plausible suspect, and so it comes as no surprise when this character's guilt is finally confirmed, but Mr. King never gives the reader any reason for suspecting this individual except for the narrative convention that someone in the story has to be the guilty party. That is, it's the mechanics of murder mysteries that drives the reader's suspicions, not the dramatic details of the plot. Consequently, the solution of the mystery is a disappointment.
The supernatural element is rather tangential to the plot. Throughout the book we are told that one of the characters is psychic. This claim is confirmed for us when we learn that the requisite confrontation with the killer reaches its final outcome by means of a supernatural twist. There's a nice surprise here that I won't spoil, but the book as a whole would not have been much different if the entire supernatural aspect had been omitted.
Overall, I should say that the atmosphere of the amusement park was what I liked most about the book. The coming-of-age story was just a little less enjoyable, since it was predictable at times. (How Devon is going to lose his virginity, that is, with which woman, is completely obvious. I'm not spoiling anything here, since Devon is constantly thinking about sex. As readers we know that some sort of resolution is in the offing.) The pursuit of the mystery is generally well handled (except that, as I noted above, its solution is disappointing), and the supernatural element is largely superfluous. In short, the positive qualities of the book outweigh its negative ones. I think that fans of Mr. King's work will like the book much more than I did, but, as I hope to have shown you, you don't have to be a fan to enjoy Joyland.
I'll soon read Mr. King's earlier contribution to HCC. It's called The Colorado Kid. I'm looking forward to it.