Friday, October 14, 2011

Spies and spirits haunt Gibson's 'Spook Country'

Spies and spirits haunt Gibson's 'Spook Country' Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer 
Spook Country
By William Gibson
G.P. Putnam's Sons
384 pp, 25.95 dollars  
Both spies and the spirits of the dead are thick on the ground in William Gibson's latest novel, Spook Country. While the novel has no literal supernatural element, its protagonists spend much of their time chasing spooks of one sort or another.
Gibson, who made his bones as a science fiction writer in the 1980s and '90s--he virtually invented the cyberpunk subgenre and famously coined the term "cyberspace"--has moved away from the genre's focus on the future, but keeps technology in the forefront in this, his ninth novel, while also weaving in some subtle satirical commentary on the post-9/11 national security state and the U.S. "cold civil war."  
Set in February 2006, the story follows an outline familiar to readers of Gibson's previous works such as Pattern Recognition and Neuromancer: A specialist is set on a quest to find some sort of mysterious technological grail unrelated to their area of expertise by shadowy, powerful figures while in a parallel plotline other shadowy figures set other specialists on a collision course.  
In Spook Country, rock-singer-turned-journalist Hollis Henry has been hired by Node, a magazine touted as "a European version of Wired, it seemed, though of course they never put it that way." The magazine may or may not actually exist, though it apparently has big money behind it.
Her assignment is to write a feature on the new field of locative art--virtual reality (VR) installations tied to particular locations via GPS coordinates. After interviewing a locative artist in Los Angeles who specializes in celebrity death scenes--a VR rendering of River Phoenix dying outside the Viper Room, a virtual shrine to Helmut Newton at the scene of his fatal crash outside the Chateau Marmont--Henry is told to track down the artist's technical advisor, a slightly paranoid GPS whiz kid who refuses to sleep in the same place twice.
The journalist is also told to pay special attention if anything involving global shipping or iPods comes up. Unsurprisingly, both the artist and his technical adviser just happen to be big fans of Henry's old band. On an unannounced visit to the techie's workspace, she catches a glimpse of a VR rendering of a shipping container that the GPS expert definitely did not mean for her to see, and the chase is on.  
Meanwhile, Gibson introduces us to Tito, a Chinese-Cuban from Havana whose entire family has relocated to United States where they have continued the family espionage business on a freelance basis. Tito has been delivering iPods full of data to an old man in New York's Washington Square and communicating with his extended family of spies in Volapuk, a Russian-based "universal language" that uses Western keyboard characters to mimic the cyrillic alphabet. He is being watched by Brown, another spy who may or may not work for the U.S. government. Brown has abducted Milgrim, a hapless Ativan junkie and Russian scholar, to translate intercepted text messages.  
Clearly, those aforementioned collision courses are full of twists and turns. Spook Country has fewer straight lines than a spilled bowl of ramen. The plot tends to be a bit baffling for the first part of the book, but when the pieces start to fit together Spook Country draws the reader in like a black hole.  
Gibson provides plenty of spooks of both sorts. In addition to the VR ghosts of the locative artists, Henry is haunted in her own mind by the memory of her former band's bassist, dead of a heroin overdose. Tito is consumed with questions about the death of his father and constantly influenced by the spirits that make up his deeply held belief in Santeria.  
On the more corporeal side of the coin are Tito's clan of clandestine operatives; the clearly-connected-but-not-necessarily-legitimate Brown, who is occasionally cartoonishly right-wing and not quite as capable as he thinks he is; and the nameless old man from Washington Square, a former senior U.S. intelligence agent with a serious hate of the neo-conservatives and war profiteers who have taken over the U.S. government and its agencies. Somewhere between the two lies the unorthodox billionaire Belgian advertising genius Hubertus Bigend, and his minions, who first appeared in Pattern Recognition.  
Gibson uses the various secret agents and operatives both to poke fun at America's obsession with security and to ask some pertinent questions about the country that has, as one character puts it, "developed Stockholm syndrome toward its own government, post 9/11." 
After ratcheting up the tension as the competing factions seek out the mysterious shipping container, Gibson's climax turns out to be more of an elaborate practical joke than an epoch-making transformation, though it is hardly a letdown.  
In addition to a familiar plot structure, Gibson also leans on some his favorite themes, including the notion of subcultures and smaller social groups serving as tribes and substitute families. Locative artists, Bigend and his employees, and fans of Henry's indie rock band are all discrete, self-sustaining phylums of humanity with their own social rules and goals. 
Henry never mentions her biological family, but her ex-bandmates behave like siblings despite their acrimonious break-up, willing to advise her, admonish her and bail her out of trouble with an axe handle as needed. 
In his early work, one of Gibson's stylistic touchstones was the use of familiar brand names for futuristic, far-fetched or ironic products he invented for the sake of the story. The future has now caught up with the futurist and left him behind. What is the use of inventing ironic or iconic brand-name gadgets in world where magnetic levitation beds exist and Adidas really does make a boot named after a German antiterrorist squad?  
As always, Gibson's greatest strengths as a writer remain his ability to conjure up realistic, gritty, urban settings and create an atmosphere from subtle changes in tone. His previously muted dry humor is more in evidence here, but his tight prose still sings like a high-tension wire and his characterization is as original and exact as ever. (The Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 18, 2007)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cops and kids share storytime at east end school

By Kevin Wood, News Staff
  Parents and passers-by could be forgiven for being a little concerned when they saw four police cars parked in front of Hillcrest Public School in the Oriole Crescent- Melvin Avenue neighbourhood in East Hamilton on the morning of Dec. 9.
Inside the school library, five Hamilton police officers planned their next move and checked their gear to be sure that in addition to the usual sidearms, body armor, handcuffs, batons, tasers and radios they had the special equipment needed for that morning’s assignment: Pictures books and candy canes. 
The officers of C squad at the Hamilton Police Service’s Division 2 station weren’t there to read anyone their rights, they were there to read stories to the students.
Since February 2007, subject to the need for their services elsewhere on more serious matters, police officers from the King Street East station have been coming to the school twice a month in groups of up to eight to spend some time reading to students in kindergarten through Grade 3.
Study after study has shown that reading to children at a young age helps them learn to read, but Constable Ryan Clarke says encouraging literacy is secondary; the main point of the program is to build a positive relationship with the children. Clarke organizes the reading program in cooperation with Hillcrest School l e a r n i n g  r e s o u r c e teacher Cynthia Dobrik.
The program was begun by Hillcrest principal Chuck Buttle, who has since retired, and his friend Glen Bullock, staff sergeant for C squad at Division 2. It has proved popular with both students and police officers.
“Ryan always takes the first graders, they’re his buddies,” says Dobrik, discussing class assignments with the officers before morning bell rings.
“We want them to learn that they don’t have to be in trouble to talk to a police officer, that there doesn’t have to be something bad happening for them to talk to a cop,” said Clarke.
Officers usually read to the students in their classrooms for about 20 minutes and then hold a brief question and answer session or talk to the kids about police related topics such as how and when to call 911 and how to stay safe.
Sgt. Lynda Sohal said it’s about establishing a rapport with the kids.
“It’s all about building relationships and breaking down barriers.
This gives the kids a chance to see police in a positive light,” said Sohal.
“It’s good. When you give a presentation later on, they know you and they’re comfortable with you,” said Const. Michelle Kwok.
Several of the officers mentioned having had kids they had read to at the school stop to say hello to them by name on the street.
C l a r k e acknowledges that presenting this kind of program is challenging in a higher crime area like Hamilton’s east end, where contact with the police isn’t always positive, but says that is what makes it so important and rewarding.
“We’re teaching them not to fear cops, that we’re their friends,” said Clarke.

Local photographer finds inspiration among the hopeless in Haiti

Arts & Entertainment
Jan 12, 2011, Stoney Creek News

It is not a place anyone would choose for a pleasure trip, but Stoney Creek resident Jay Perry says his recent visit to Haiti was the best experience of his life.
The unhappy history of Haiti begins in 1492 with its discovery by Christopher Columbus and the rapid near extermination of its original inhabitants by conquering Spaniards and goes downhill from there. The island has remained mired in poverty since a slave rebellion drove the French from the island in 1804, with violent political instability interrupted only by a harsh and exploitive 17- year U.S. occupation in the early part of the 20th century and the brutal reign of terror and corruption under the Duvaliers from 1957 to 1986.
The country is by far the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.  United Nations troops, including Canadian soldiers, have been trying to keep order in the country since 2004 as it struggles to establish an effective and democratic government. In January 2010, the capital of Port-au-Prince was leveled by a massive earthquake that caused heavy damage and killed tens of thousands of people throughout the country. A subsequent ongoing cholera epidemic has killed thousands more.
Given all that, one can understand Perry’s surprise at the joy he found manifested in the people he met when he traveled to Haiti in November with a relief organization.
“We take so much for granted here that they don’t take for granted – people there are happy just to be alive, just to have their families…I saw more happy people in Haiti than I have in Canada.”
A photographer by trade, Perry, 28, had signed up with a Hamilton-based Christian missionary relief organization, The Joy and Hope of Haiti, to go to the impoverished nation and help build schools. Initially, he had no intention of even bringing his cameras with him, wanting to devote his time to helping out, but when trip organizers found out how he made his living, they convinced him to take some pictures on their behalf.
Joy and Hope of Haiti works with Starfish Kids, an evangelical Christian charity group that is part of the One Mission Society. Perry spent much of his time in Haiti visiting most of the 40 schools in which the group has a role, taking photos of the students and helping out. Starfish Kids is involved with about 40 religious schools in Haiti, paying a portion of sponsored students’ tuition and providing them with shoes, school books, and breakfast.
Perry believes a lack of education is chief among the root causes of poverty in Haiti.  He said he and his fellow Canadian aid workers were met with a mixed reaction at first. While some greeted them with smiles and waves, other shouted obscenities at them, believing that because they were Caucasian, they were with the United Nations, which many Haitians hold responsible for the cholera outbreak that began last year.
Despite such suspicion, Perry said as soon as his camera came out he was instantly the most popular person around. At all of the schools he visited, he was mobbed by children wanting to be photographed. 
“The most rewarding part was seeing the expression on the kids’ faces when I showed them their photo in the viewfinder. They absolutely loved it…After numerous school visits and showing the kids their photos, I finally asked someone why the kids got so excited to see their photo. They told me that it was probably the first time they had ever seen themselves. That they don’t own a mirror and the only image they have ever caught of them selves was a faint reflection in a dirty window. Can you imagine? Not knowing what you look like until you’re five or six?”
In some of the schools the floor was gravel and the roof was a tarp with chalkboards to separate the classes. Perry said the way the Haitians lived happily without material possessions was inspirational to him. 
“We visited this place called Happiness Alley – it’s one of the poorest places in the country and I got some of my best pictures there. The houses were just sort of put together with whatever people could find, bamboo, tarps. There was garbage everywhere.  Kids were running barefoot through the garbage and there were wild goats, pigs and dogs eating the garbage, awful smell and yet the one thing that will stick in my head forever are the smiles on the kids faces.  They had nothing. They were playing in garbage.  They were dressed in the only dirty clothes they had and somehow managed not to care. They knew no different and were just happy to be alive. It was one of the most moving experiences for me.”
Visits to the schools became impossible a few days after Perry arrived due to rioting and roving gangs angry about the cholera outbreak and blaming the UN.  Perry said they couldn’t leave their lodgings in Cap-Haiten after dark, but that he didn’t find it any scarier than downtown Hamilton. The only time he was scared was when he and his colleagues were confronted by a group carrying machetes that screamed obscenities at them believing that they were with the UN. Thankfully, their Haitian guide and a local pastor were able to talk them out of their trouble. 
As the Nov. 28 election drew closer, the riots got worse and even leaving the country became difficult.  As travel arrangements changed constantly, Perry and the rest of his contingent worked at painting a technical school with local workers until they could get a plane out of Cap-Haiten to Port-au- Prince and then to the United States. Perry said they rode in the back of a covered truck to the airport and did their best to stay out of sight as they passed cars burning on the roadside.
While he has plenty of photos that show the desperate situation in Haiti, Perry said that there is more than enough negative stories in the press about the country and he wanted to capture the smiles and kids having fun.
“The problems there are so severe compared to the life we have, but they don’t know our life, so these severe problems are just everyday life for them and somehow they find joy in it, “ said Perry.
An exhibit of some of the 1,500 photos Perry shot in Haiti will be on display for the month of February at 220, a clothing store at King and Caroline streets. and the store will also be selling limited edition Tshirts with one of his photographs on them to help raise money for Starfish Kids.  In March, Perry will be posting many of his photos on his website at
“It was by far the greatest experience I’ve ever had and I’d go back in a second,” said Perry, who hopes to return to Haiti someday soon with prints of his photos to distribute to the subjects.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Record of a community destroyed

Book review and author interview from The Daily Yomiuri,  October 23, 2005

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Dec. 7, 1941, is a day that will live in infamy for more than just the attack on Pearl Harbor. The events of that day, coupled with racist sentiments long existing in U.S. society, led to a dark chapter in that nation's history: The internment of an entire community of U.S. citizens for no other reason than their ancestry.

David Neiwert's Strawberry Days (Palgrave Macmillan, 280 pp, 29.95 dollars) is an examination of the internment of Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent on the U.S. West Coast. In the book, Neiwert combines extensive historical research--hundreds of primary and secondary source documents and broad-ranging interviews with numerous internees--to trace the history of the Japanese-American community in the town of Bellevue, Wash., a former farming community that is now a suburb of Seattle.

In an e-mail exchange with The Daily Yomiuri, Neiwert explained that Strawberry Days grew out a series of articles he wrote as news editor of the Bellevue Journal-American on the long-term effects of the internment on the local Japanese community.

Strawberry Days is really three books in one: A detailed historical chronicle of the whos, whats, wheres, whens and hows of the internment and the events leading up to it; a series of personal anecdotes and emotional reminiscences from internees and those who knew them; and an insightful, well-reasoned analysis of why the internment happened and what its ramifications are.

Neiwert tracks the history of Japanese immigration to the United States beginning in 1884, just two years after Chinese immigrants had been barred. The first came mostly to work in the Hawaiian sugar industry, later moving to work on rail gangs and in sawmills and canneries in places like Washington. The number of Japanese living in the United States swelled rapidly from about 2,000 in 1890 to more than 24,000 in 1910, according to census figures quoted in the book.

Most of the Japanese immigrants came from rural prefectures, and by the turn of the century many were working in local farm fields. In some areas, including Bellevue, issei and nisei leased or even bought land that they cleared and started truck farms on.

Just as with the Chinese decades earlier, the Japanese immigrants became the target of racist campaigns up and down the coast, led in the Seattle area by Miller Freeman, a publisher and businessman who later became a key figure in Bellevue. Neiwert catalogues various anti-Japanese campaigns including a 1906 move by the San Francisco school board which, under pressure from the Asiatic Exclusion League, ordered all Japanese students to attend the city's Chinese-only school, a slight that led to U.S.-Japanese saber-rattling that resulted in a de facto ban on immigration from Japan.

Miller's role in whipping up anti-Japanese sentiment dated back to as early as 1904 as a proponent of the "Yellow Peril" conspiracy theory, which held that Japanese immigrants had been sent to the United States as secret shock troops and spies for a coming invasion, a theory that was given much credence by those calling for internment years later. Miller continued to lead his Anti-Japanese League, wielding significant political clout in Seattle and pressing successfully for anti-Japanese legislation.

"These groups were really as mainstream as could be. White supremacism was part of the cultural air that Americans breathed back then. The campaigns emanated from the core of power politics, i.e., both the moneyed and the working classes. And there was a clear connection between those campaigns and the internment; many of the same figures emerged to promote internment--Miller Freeman being a classic case--and nearly identical arguments were heard throughout, especially those that painted a portrait of Japanese-Americans as likely traitors," Neiwert told The Daily Yomiuri.

Despite all this, Bellevue's Japanese community thrived. Specializing in strawberries, they were so successful that by the 1930s Bellevue's annual June strawberry festival was attracting 15,000 visitors to the town of fewer than 2,000 residents. The Japanese truck farmers there formed a very successful farming cooperative and community association and their berries were shipped all over the country from their own rail siding. Times were good.

With the coming of war, all this changed. Japanese-Americans were hounded from jobs and constantly suspected of espionage in the wave of hysteria following Pearl Harbor. Worse followed in the actions and attitude of Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, commander of the West Coast defenses who called for Japanese, citizens and immigrants alike, to be removed from the region. In May 1942, Bellevue's entire Japanese population--about 60 families comprising more than 300 people--were evacuated and interned along with about 120,000 other nisei, more than two-thirds of them U.S. citizens by birth. Most lost any personal possessions they couldn't carry.

Strawberry Days most harrowing chapters deal with internees' personal experiences of the evacuation and early period of internment. The most heartbreaking deal with their return after the war to find the farms they had been forced to abandon overgrown or sold for development. In Bellevue, one of the major developers was Freeman.

In one wrenching anecdote, Neiwert relates the story of Kiyo Yabuki, a Bellevue native who volunteered for the U.S. Army while interned and was badly wounded in France serving with the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team during the nisei unit's famous rescue of the so-called Lost Battalion. After spending most of a year in Vancouver, Wash., hospital, Yabuki took his army uniform to a Bellevue laundry for dry-cleaning. The shop refused to serve him because he was Japanese.

To Neiwert, the historical issue is still a timely one for a number of reasons: "First is the overarching lesson of the internment: That Americans, in times of great national stress, were willing to completely discard the rights of our fellow citizens--so long as it wasn't us. We also were willing to assume that race or ethnicity itself was cause to suspect others of treason. I don't think these propensities have gone away; in fact, they've been resurfacing a lot since 9/11...[the internment] gave the military the precedent it sought to enable it to arrest and detain civilians in a non-battlefield situation without any recourse to the courts. That precedent has come back to us in the form of military tribunals and 'enemy combatant status' instituted by the Bush administration since 9/11."

When the U.S. Supreme Court gave the constitutional seal of approval to the internment in its notorious Korematsu vs United States decision (in which U.S. citizen Fred Korematsu unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for the "crime" of refusing to leave his home), Justice Robert Jackson wrote in dissent that the precedent was "a loaded gun" that could be turned on the rest of the populace at any time.

"That warning, " says Neiwert, "has now come home to roost."

Steely Dan do it again for opening

Feature from The Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 11, 2007

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

To mark the opening of the their chain of clubs, the bookers for Billboard have scored something of a coup: a series of club dates by Steely Dan. The original hypercool jazzy rockers have already sold out their opening week at the Tokyo venue and tickets for their multinight stands in Osaka and Fukuoka are going fast as Daniacs rush to take advantage of the chance to revel in the smooth, sharp sounds of Steely Dan in such an intimate setting.
The 2007 Heavy Rollers tour--the band's most extensive ever--features Steely Dan's original creative locus of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen backed by a 10-piece band, including a full horn section. Set lists on the tour thus far have reportedly leaned on material from their best-known album, 1977's Aja, and its 1980 follow-up, Gaucho, with a smattering of earlier hits and songs from their most recent two albums.
Reports from the road have it that Fagen is in excellent voice and is performing early hits, such as "Chain Lighting" and "Bad Sneakers," with polish and verve. Becker has shouldered the bulk of the guitar duties, with the aid of the formidable Everything Must Go and Two Against Nature contributor Jon Hernington. Uncharacteristically, Becker also has been seen singing often on the tour.
In their original heyday in the 1970s, Steely Dan rarely played live. The technology available at the time simply could not do the band justice in a live setting and Becker and Fagen were more interested in practicing their studio wizardry than performing in front of an audience. Nor was Steely Dan a band in the traditional sense. The lineup of performers varied widely after the first few years, not only from album to album, but from song to song.
Keyboard player and later singer Fagen and bassist/guitarist Becker, the creative bright lights around which the original band clustered, had originally met in 1967 at Bard College in New York. United by their love of black humor and soul music, the two played in various pickup bands in New York before joining established mainstream pop band Jay and the Americans in 1970. Their brief tenure with the band, which had scored a few hits in the early '60s but were clearly on their way out, resulted in a job as contract songwriters for ABC records.
Becker and Fagen saved their best songs for themselves, rehearsing the original band in their office after working hours. Naming themselves after a sexual prosthesis from William Burroughs' controversial novel Naked Lunch, their 1972 debut Can't Buy A Thrill established the band's reputation for top-notch musicianship, subversive sardonic humor and intelligent jazz-tinged rock.
Breaking up the original group after 1974, Becker and Fagen parked themselves in the studio for the rest of the decade, earning a reputation for being incredibly choosy about sound and performances. They were notorious for trying out as many as 20 guitar players from among the cream of the crop of Los Angeles' studio jazz and rock aces for a single guitar solo and recording over 50 snare drum sounds before settling on one for a single track. They also pioneered the use of digital technology in recording.
Their discerning perseverance paid off with seven platinum albums between 1972 and 1980. After a 10-year hiatus in the '80s, sound technology had caught up, and Becker and Fagan assembled a touring company that circled the globe repeatedly in the '90s. Inspired and creatively reinvigorated by the the live experience, they returned to the studio late in the decade, eventually emerging with 2000's Two Against Nature, that year's Grammy winner for album of the year. Their 2003 follow up Everything Must Go also earned critical praise.

Long live the Queen

Feature interview from The Daily Yomiuri Jul. 14, 2007

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Her Majesty refuses to act her age.

Now nearly 80, an age when most people slow down if they haven't stopped altogether, Koko Taylor, the undisputed Queen of the Blues, still performs more than 100 shows a year.

She has just released a new record, aptly titled Old School, that some critics are calling her best work ever. Chatting over the phone from her home in Chicago, her regal poise notwithstanding, she sounds as energetic, playful and almost flirtatious as a woman a third her age.

This week, fresh from tour stops in Quebec and Albany, N.Y., she will be playing shows in Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo with fellow Chicagoan Lurrie Bell, the guitarist son of blues harp great Carey Bell. Their Japan tour culminates in the Japan Blues and Soul Carnival at Hibiya Yagai Ongakudo in Tokyo's Hibiya Park. Then she's off to Spain to play another music festival at the end of the month.

"Well, I don't play Japan every day, but I've been there a couple of times and I always enjoy every moment of it," Taylor says . "The only difference is I can't speak their language, but the people there seem to understand me fine when I'm singing."

It's all a long way from the little town outside of Memphis where she was born and grew up.

Taylor is one of the last of the old school of blues musicians, people such as Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Guy, who grew up poor in the rural South before the civil rights movement and came to Chicago to find a new life and eventually a new career in music.

Taylor talks fondly about the trip north with her late husband, guitarist Robert "Pops" Taylor in 1951, famously arriving in the Windy City "with 35 cents in our pockets and a box of Ritz crackers" according to her official bio.

Her husband drove a truck and Koko found work as domestic servant for 5 dollars a day. It wasn't easy, but it was better than sharecropping with her family back on the farm. Recalls Taylor: "It was tough down there when I was young...we used to cut on the farm...we didn't have nothing."

On Saturday nights, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor would make the rounds of the blues clubs on the South and West side of town. In the liner notes from Old School Taylor recalls: "We didn't go to no clubs playing that fancy music. Everywhere we went was a blues club. Nothing fancy, nothing beautiful. It was just a hole in the wall where a bunch of us was in there listening to the blues, dancing, drinking, talking loud, doing everything else. It wasn't a place you had to sit up and look pretty, be cute and use a certain language and say something a certain way."

It wasn't long before both Pops and Koko were sitting in with the bands and eventually Koko caught the attention of the legendary bluesman Willie Dixon, who helped her land a recording contract at Chess Records. She had her biggest hit in 1966 with Dixon's song "Wang Dang Doodle"--still her signature tune.

"We used to practice in [Willie Dixon's] basement...we'd play for hours, sometimes all night... with his wife bringing us down food," she remembers.

Taylor says the constant travel is a bit wearing after 40 years, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

"My favorite place in the world is where the people is there and enjoying what I do. It don't matter where you go, people is people and I love people."

She's performed almost everywhere, been on television and in movies, won Grammys and has more Blues Music Awards (25) than any other performer has ever won. Asked if she had any professional ambitions still left unfulfilled, she laughs.

"Nothing but to keep on singing the blues. I've gone too far to turn around now. I'm 79 years old--Why would I try to turn around now and try to do something new?"

Old School, released last month in Japan by P-Vine Records, shows the Queen in peak form. Even after all these years, her voice still has enough raw power to knock down a wall. While she admits it is a chore, she is still writing songs too, having penned five of the dozen tracks. Old School is hardcore blues that sounds like it could have been recorded back in her days at Chess. There are no jazz arrangements or pop orchestration to smooth the rough edges and sharp corners, just power, warmth and foot-stomping shake-your-moneymaker beats. Taylor's authoritative voice reaches out and grabs you and doesn't let go. Her passion and genuine joy in what she is doing shine through in every note.

"God has been good to me. I'm doing what I love to do most of all," she says, before summing up hercareer: "I just do what I do and hope people like it."

Long may she reign.

Koko Taylor will play the Japan Blues and Soul Carnival along with Lurrie Bell, Mitsuyoshi Azuma and the Swinging Boppers, Jun Nagami and others on July 22, 3:45 p.m. at Hibiya Yagai Ongakudo in Tokyo, (03) 5453-8899. Taylor will also play with Bell on July 18, 7 p.m. at Namba Hatch in Osaka, (06) 6362-7301; July 19, 7 p.m. at Bottom Line in Nagoya. (052) 741-1620; and without Bell on July 20, 7 p.m. at Duo Music Exchange in Shibuya, Tokyo. (03) 5453-8899; Bell will play on July 21, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Blues Alley in Meguro, Tokyo, (03) 5740-6041.

(The Daily Yomiuri Jul. 14, 2007)

Murder among the Frozen Chosen

Book review from The Daily Yomiuri, July 16, 2007

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
By Michael Chabon
HarperCollins, 411 pages, 26.95 dollars

A hard-drinking, broken-down-but-tough-as-nails detective investigating the murder of a junkie in a fleabag hotel soon finds there is more to the case than meets the eye. With just his .45, a few wisecracks and lot of stubbornness, the tarnished hero unravels a conspiracy that reaches from the mean streets to the corridors of power.

Michael Chabon's latest novel has everything a good hard-boiled detective story needs, right down to the sexy redheaded dame, the loyal sidekick and sinister crime lord. Except the soundtrack is klezmer instead of smoky jazz, the dame is the detective's ex-wife and boss, the sidekick is a Jewish Tlingit Indian, the crime lord is a Hasidic rabbi and the seedy, sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles have been replaced by the icy snow-covered sidewalks of the soon-to-be-defunct Jewish enclave of Sitka, Alaska.

Homicide cop Meyer Landsman has "the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket."

Landsman's beat is the Yiddish-speaking patch of frigid coast that the Alaskan Settlement Act of 1940 opened up to Europe's persecuted Jews. (On top of being a classic detective tale, this is also a work of alternate history.) The demise of the state of Israel after only three months in 1948 sent another wave of Jews to Sitka, already jammed with war refugees, and the U.S. Congress decided to limit their tenancy of "Jewlaska" to 60 years.

Now the 3.5 million "Frozen Chosen" are facing eviction, and everyone is scrambling to find a safe haven of their own, all except the Hasidic Verbovers, a closed sect that controls most of the crime in the enclave.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union marks the latest step in Chabon's journey from critically esteemed author of literary fiction such as The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and Wonder Boys to a teller of two-fisted tales of adventure.

In addition to editing McSweeny's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales and McSweeny's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, Chabon helped write the script for the film Spider-Man 2, and authored a series of comic books based on characters from his 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

This latest novel, with its oddball premise and use of genre conventions, seems more in the latter camp, but the quality of Chabon's prose makes genre irrelevant--whether one prefers The New Yorker or comic books, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is an engrossing and original story told with craft, verve and style, to say nothing of the percussive poetry of the Alaskan shtetl.
Chabon captures the cadences and richness of Yiddish, with the Jewish lingua franca spread as thick as a schmear of sour cream on a latke.

In fact, the biggest speculation here is not historical, but literary, as Chabon seems to have asked himself, "What if Sam Spade had been created by Jackie Mason?"

The steady stream of Yiddish is a little arresting at first, but like any work written in a particular vernacular--think of Roddy Doyle or Irvine Welsh--once your mental ear becomes accustomed, it transports you into the world of the novel.

Not to be a noodge, but you'd have to be meshuga not to enjoy this book--it is so good, you'll plotz.
(The Daily Yomiuri Jul. 14, 2007)

Suburban thriller worth more than 'Just One Look'

Book review from The Daily Yomiuri, July 27, 2004

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer 

Just One Look
By Harlen Coben
Dutton, 384 pp, 25.95 dollars

It is said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but what about amnesiacs?
The protagonist of Harlan Coben's Just One Look, suburban soccer mom and painter Grace Lawson, has been missing a small chunk of her memory since she was trampled nearly to death in a rock concert stampede 15 years ago. In addition to the small hole in her past, the horrifying experience has left her with a permanent limp and the friendship of a mob boss whose son was killed in the concert crush.
When a strange photo of a group of people turns up in a packet of newly developed pictures, Grace doesn't give it much thought, but her husband Jack disappears with it after just one look. Grace's search for him takes her down a spiraling path crossed by an former football player, a sociopathic bleach-blond North Korean assassin, a fading Indian femme fatale, an exhibitionist neighbor, her husband's estranged family, a former rock star and the man who started the deadly stampede at his concert.
Thrillers and mystery novels tend to fall into obvious categories: Agatha Christie-style locked room murders; hard-boiled detective stories; police procedurals; suspenseful espionage capers; hunts for psychopathic serial killers; thinly disguised action movie scripts and many others. The worst are formulaic cliche-ridden trash, the best, like the work of Raymond Chandler, rise above genre to become great literature.
Trying to pigeonhole Harlan Coben within the thriller genre is like trying to pick up a blob of mercury. In terms of subgenre, file Just One Look under "other." In terms of quality, Coben may not have reached the literary peaks, but he is certainly blazing a trail up from the foothills.
Despite a plot that seems to stagger in six different directions at once and surprise the reader at every turn, Coben never once resorts to stereotypes or shallow characters. He spends a considerable number of words, often pages, breathing life into the most minor characters. His suburban New Jersey setting is realistic and populated with bored, uncooperative cops, frustrated housewives and nosy neighbors.
One of the keys to Coben's appeal is that his characters are believable, often unremarkable, people who act in believable ways when confronted with remarkable situations. One character outwits a professional killer by respecting her own limitations and purposely doing the exact opposite of what the standard brainless movie heroine would. These are not the usual hard-boiled heroes with nothing to lose, these are people with kids, mortgages and minivans who get scared, hurt and lonesome.
The downside of all this character development is that Coben provides much of it by telling us directly about characters rather than letting their actions and thoughts show their motivations and personality quirks. Whenever a character is introduced the reader knows a detailed biography is soon to follow.
Throughout the novel's many twists, turns and numerous false endings, Coben does an excellent job of pacing and captures Grace Lawson's growing, barely contained sense of panic in a variety of subtle ways. He has the ability to surprise with the familiar and add unexpected, but perfectly reasonable boomerang curves to the storyline.
Coben's novel is worth more attention than its title suggests.
Copyright 2004 The Yomiuri Shimbun

'The Meaning of Ichiro' and the meanness of yakyu

Book review from The Daily Yomiuri, July 18, 2004

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer 

The Meaning of Ichiro
By Robert Whiting
Warner Books, 318 pp, 25.95 dollars 

A new star rose in the east in 2000. New at least to North American fans of major league baseball.
In his first year in the majors, this virtual unknown won the American League batting title by hitting .350, with a league-leading 242 hits, 59 of them infield trips to first. He led the league in runs scored with 127 and bases stolen with 56 and pushed his team to a league record for victories, earning Gold Glove, rookie of the year and most valuable player honors along the way.
Most Japanese had certainly heard of Ichiro Suzuki, even if the Giants-centric television coverage of Japanese pro baseball meant most fans rarely got to see him play. While he had won seven batting titles in a row in Japan, the appearance of such a phenomenon took most MLB fans by complete surprise.
Fans of America's national pastime wondering how to make sense of this sudden domination of their game by a player who is the product of what was long supposed to be an inferior game would do well to pick up Robert Whiting's The Meaning of Ichiro.
Whiting is the premier English-language writer on Japanese baseball. His first two books, The Chrysanthemum and the Bat (1977) and You Gotta Have Wa (1989), are considered the standard texts on the subject and the latter is often found on reading lists for courses on Japanese culture.
While these books, along with a third, Slugging It Out in Japan (1991), cowritten with Major League Baseball and Yomiuri Giants slugger Warren Cromartie, focus on the experiences of foreign players in Japan, The Meaning of Ichiro chronicles the impact and adventures of Japanese players in MLB.
Written with a North American audience in mind, The Meaning of Ichiro, in part, recaps the history of besuboru from the 1880s advent of seishin yakyu or spiritual baseball at The First Higher School of Tokyo, known in Japanese as Ichiko, up to the present day. In particular, Whiting traces the Japanese approach to baseball as an extension of martial arts that stresses endless repetition to achieve perfection of form and emphasis on building fighting spirit and mental toughness. "A team motto urged participants to practice so hard that they urinated blood, while another team rule forbade complaining of injury or pain," writes Whiting of Ichiko.
From such roots comes the more modern 1,000-fungo drill, 200-pitch practice sessions and year-round training techniques employed by Japanese professional baseball.
Whiting's examination of the institutionalized harshness of yakyu may help to explain players' willingness to put up with the conditions of indentured servitude that go hand in hand with a pro career. A major part of the book deals with the efforts of team owners and management to discourage players from jumping leagues.
Much credit is given here to pitcher Hideo Nomo, the second Japanese major leaguer, and the first in more than 30 years, for his courage in standing up to an unfair system. Credit also goes to "the most hated man in Japanese baseball," Don Nomura, who found the contract loophole that allowed Nomo to begin the exodus of stars to MLB. Whiting shines a light into the dark corners of the Japanese game with his descriptions of the selfish and often sinister machinations of team owners.
Biographical sketches of Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Kazuhiro Sasaki and others illustrate Whiting's case that while Japanese players are more disciplined and more highly trained than MLB players, it takes a sort of personality rarely found in the pro yakyu ranks to make the leap to the majors.
The discipline and devotion to the game evidenced in the early years of Ichiro's life are unparalleled in MLB. From the age of 3, he trained six or more hours a day with the focus of a Zen acolyte. Whiting quotes a passage from a school essay the future star wrote when he was 12 years old:
"My dream when I grow up is to be a first-class professional baseball player...I have the confidence necessary to reach that goal. I started practicing from age 3. From the age of 9 I have practiced 360 out of 365 days a year and I practice hard. I only had five or six hours (in a year) to play with my friends. That's how much I practiced. So I think I can surely become a pro."
The constant thread in The Meaning of Ichiro, aside from Whiting's clean, straightforward, anecdotal style, is that Japanese pro baseball and Japanese players, while different in many important respects from their North American MLB counterparts, are by no means inferior. Whiting presents a persuasive case for the need for both baseball cultures to learn from each other.
Whiting's contention seems to be the Japanese game needs to respect individual players more and leave the "practice until you collapse and then practice more" approach in the 19th century where it belongs and loosen up a little. MLB, on the other hand, had better learn to expect a little competition, shape up, and remember the hit-and-run days before steroid-enhanced power hitters and pampered superstars.

In your ear - Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, Doc and Merle Watson,

Music review column from The Daily Yomiuri,  May 27, 2004

In Your Ear

By Kevin Wood/Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman
Been All Around This World
Vivid, 2,625 yen

When people talk about Jerry Garcia it is usually in the context of the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene and his long strange trip with the Grateful Dead. He's probably more famous as a countercultural icon than as a musician. But forget everything you think you know about Garcia and lend an ear to Been All Around This World and you will hear a master folk singer and acoustic guitar picker par excellence.

The king of the 20-minute psychedelic electric guitar solo got his start playing the squarest of traditional folk and bluegrass songs on banjo and guitar in the very early 1960s and never really left it behind, working on and off over the years with his longtime partner in acoustic wizardry, mandolin virtuoso David Grisman.

In the end it's Grisman we have to thank for Been All Around This World. The creator of the bluegrass-jazz fusion dubbed "dawg music" had the presence of mind to insist on recording hours of his informal jams with Garcia in the early '90s, resulting in a number of brilliant collaborative albums that include So What, Shady Grove and The Pizza Tapes (with guitarist Tony Rice). Grisman hints in the liner notes that Been All Around This World is likely to be the last in the series, but it is hardly the bottom of the barrel.

The disc leans heavily on country and bluegrass repertoire with songs by Merle Travis, Mel Tillis, George Jones, and Jimmie Rogers, with a few odd digressions--notably Jimmie Cliff's "Sitting Here in Limbo" and James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy." The performances are built around Garcia's heartfelt, rough-hewn tenor and Grisman's expressive mandolin breaks and fills. The tempos are mostly relaxed, and the two talented players stretch out for long, melodic solos that lack the demonic intensity of some of their other duets, but are no less tasty for the laid-back, sunny, Sunday afternoon feel. The sessions were some of Garcia's last, and while he strains to pull off the vocals on the aforementioned James Brown number, he's at his plaintive best on "Limbo" and Travis's "Dark as a Dungeon."

All in all an excellent introduction for those new to bluegrass and the acoustic phenomenon of Garcia and Grisman.

Doc and Merle Watson
Sittin' Here Pickin' the Blues
Rounder, 2,519 yen

A remastered reissue of Doc and Merle's 1985 album Pickin' the Blues with an additional eight tracks from their early '80s recordings for Flying Fish Records. Arthel "Doc" Watson and Merle Watson were undeniably the finest father-son team in music--bluegrass or otherwise. Doc's high-speed flatpicking and unadorned, warm baritone paired with son Merle's fluid slide and finger-style guitar were a potent combination unmatched since Merle's 1985 death in a tractor accident.

Even for folk and bluegrass, this music is so down-from-the-mountains square it has corners. However, even as cornpone as some of the songs may be, these performances by two monster guitarists render them indisputably hip. Merle's slide playing on "Taking to Casey" will make any rock fan forget Duane Allman's name.

In addition to the guitar pyrotechnics, the other real joy on this album is Doc Watson's simple, straightahead singing. His cover of "Stormy Weather" is the perfect antidote for the stale vocal gymnastics of the so-called pop divas, and his "How Long Blues" and "Honey Babe Blues" prove that a white man can sing the blues without trying to sound black and still have plenty of soul. Guest appearances by the likes of star blues harp player Charlie Musselwhite and bluegrass stringman Sam Bush provide the last unneeded push into the stratosphere of must-have recordings.

Bad boy novel rings true

Book review from The Daily Yomiuri, May 26, 2004

The Very Man
By Chris Binchy
Pan MacMillan
361 Pages

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Chris Binchy's sharply written story of a young man on a downward spiral in Dublin on some level has the same appeal as those trash television programs with titles like "America's Most Horrific Power Tool Accidents" and "Grizzly Bear Attacks Caught On Video." You know something bloody and awful is going to happen to someone, but you just can't look away.

In Binchy's perceptive first novel, we see everything through the eyes of Rory, a 30-year-old who has clawed his way up the advertising ladder in New York over the last half-dozen years and has now returned to his native Dublin to attend his mother's funeral. Reacquainting himself with friends and family underscores the emptiness of his New York life, and he decides to stay.

The flash New York job has left him with the money for a fancy apartment in the city's Temple Bar neighborhood and the credentials to land a good job in his field at the height of the Celtic Tiger economic boom. His new girlfriend moves in with him a few months later and it looks like Rory has the world by the tail.

But looks can be deceiving. Rory's center cannot hold and things fall apart. Rory can't seem to decide if he loves or hates Dublin for not being like New York. Sure the pace is slower, the people more genuine and the city has become more modern, but after working in Manhattan, the Dublin advertising scene seems like the bush leagues to him and the restaurants and clubs are painfully out of style. Alternately cocky and insecure, Rory leads himself astray through an inability to be satisfied with his life. He drinks too much, lies too much, starts to cheat on his girlfriend and deceive his boss. It bring to mind the scene in every cheesy, gory slasher movie where one of the minor characters hears a noise and tells his friends to wait while goes to investigate.

The reader watches while Rory loads the gun, cocks it, aims it at his foot, pulls the trigger and then blames everyone around him for the results. We want to tell Rory to get out of the way of the train of consequences that is rushing down the track of his selfish irresponsibility. His lack of empathy, his self-centeredness and his utter inability to take responsibility for his actions should make Rory an unsympathetic character, but aside from wanting to give him swift kick, ultimately we feel sorry him as he loses his job, his girlfriend, his apartment, and finally his dignity.

Binchy has been likened by more than one critic to Nick Hornby, but a more apt comparison might be Tony Parsons. Like Parsons' Man and Boy, and its sequel Man and Wife, The Very Man has the confessional, moralistic ring of a cautionary tale. This mini-genre seems to be intended to warn men that it's time to grow up and learn to appreciate what you have, and that living out your fantasy of picking up that hot young thing in the bar will only screw up your life and turn your happy home into a smoking crater.

Though the ending seems a bit abrupt, The Very Man is a promising piece of writing from a new author with a flair for realistic dialogue and a clear, flowing style.

'Bad Business' a good read

Book review from The Daily Yomiuri,  April 12, 2004

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Bad Business
By Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 320 pp, 24.95 dollars

Readers still don't know his first name, but after 29 books we know just about everything else we need to know about Robert B. Parker's private eye hero Spenser.

The latest installment in the Spenser saga, Bad Business, sees the Boston sleuth take on wife-swapping corporate scammers. He is aided, as usual, by his psychologist soul mate Susan Silverman; Hawk, the world's most honorable thug; and the usual cast of trustworthy cops, charming criminal defense lawyers and friendly hit men.

Approached by the annoying Marlene Rowley to get the goods on her cheating executive husband Trent, Spenser keeps tripping over other private eyes tailing everyone connected to the Rowleys and Trent's energy trading firm, Kinergy. When Trent is murdered at his desk, Spenser suspects more than infidelity is involved.

While Parker is very good at painting detailed portraits of even the most minor characters, they tend to be strictly friends or enemies. Those who are Spenser's friends are willing to do almost anything for him and rarely have anything but the most minor of character flaws or weaknesses. The criminal careers of Hawk and hit man Vinnie Morris seem like minor eccentricities, while the vulgar yuppies central to the case seem like the worst people in the world every time they open their mouths.

The humor of Spenser's smart-aleck streak and his banter with Hawk have always helped put the series a cut above the average hard-boiled detective hero, and Parker manages enough levity to keep the story entertaining.

Sadly, after a long run of Spenser books, Parker seems to be doing a lot of this by rote. We have the stock scenes of Spenser with Susan, Spenser being romantic yet manly and Susan drinking her glass of wine a milliliter at a time while delivering a detailed psychological analysis of all the players in the case, including Spenser. After using such set pieces in almost every Spenser novel, they begin to have the ring of formula.

Despite this, Parker continues to demonstrate his gift for creating crackling dialog and believable characters. He captures the archetype of the corporate good-ol'-boy in Kinergy CEO Bob Cooper and the radio talk show host and "corporate pimp" Darrin O'Mara is superbly smarmy and fluent in psychobabble.

While action takes a back seat to investigation this time around, Bad Business is still among the better installments in the series

Would you both just shut up and think?

Book review from The Daily Yomiuri, March 21, 2004

Kevin Wood Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Dude, Where's My Country?
By Michael Moore
Warner Books, 249 pp, 24.95 dollars


Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America
By Laura Ingraham
Regnery Publishing, 342 pp, 27.95 dollars

Liberal satirist and documentarian Michael Moore's Dude, Where's My Country? and conservative talk radio attack blonde Laura Ingraham's Shut Up & Sing are the literary equivalent of the sort of smug, self-satisfied invective and creative misinterpretation of the facts one would be disappointed to hear in a "did not!--did too!" argument between 7-year-olds. Taken together they are a one-two punch that make the reader long for the gentlemanly rhetoric and Wildean wit of pro wrestlers' pre-bout trash talk.

Ingraham graduated from the Ivy League bastion of Dartmouth, worked as a speechwriter in the final years of the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and as law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, became a defense attorney for white-collar criminals and finally a political commentator for NBC. She currently hosts a popular syndicated radio talk show in the United States.

Michael Moore, a college dropout, magazine editor, writer and activist, made his first film,"Roger and Me" (1989) about his unsuccessful efforts to confront General Motors Chairman Roger Smith. In terms of objective journalism, it was one-sided, shallow, manipulative and unfair. As a satirical documentary, it was brilliantly funny, razor sharp and original. It won numerous awards and its rags-to-riches success story (Moore maxed out numerous credit cards and even organized bingo games to raise the money needed to make the film) made the director a progressive populist hero to many and launched his career as a professional gadfly.

"Roger and Me" and the recent Oscar-winner "Bowling for Columbine" are Moore at his funniest--shining his klieg lights on absurdity and hypocrisy in U.S. society by playing the bewildered everyman and bushwhacking corporate sleazeballs, gun nuts and assorted conservative ne'er-do-wells.

Dude is Moore preaching to the choir. He lists all the faults, real and imagined, of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush in an outraged rush. Unsurprisingly, Moore does not like or trust Bush, and considers him a lying weasel and corporate shill. Moore goes on to illustrate why he thinks this by quoting Bush and his inner circle and pointing to his well-known connections to the oil industry. Its all meticulously footnoted, but there is nothing new or especially interesting here, just Moore working himself into a frenzy of righteous indignation.

Humor, normally Moore's strong suit, gets short shrift, though his chapter on "How to Talk to Your Conservative Brother-in-Law" has a few good laughs and some sensible arguments and suggestions for helping convert orthodox Republicans back to the middle of the road. More strained however are his rhetorical questions for "George of Arabia" and his hinting at some sort of dark conspiracy between the Bush and bin Laden families.

Moore would be better advised to stick to comedy and leave the journalistic heavy lifting to guys like Greg Palast (The Best Democracy Money Can Buy), who are better equipped to handle it.

He makes a number of factual errors regarding the departure of bin Laden family members from the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, U.S. aid to the Taliban, and the long since debunked myth about Wesley Clark being asked by the White House to use his position as a commentator on CNN to connect former Iraqi President Saddam Hussien to the 9/11 attacks.

While Moore is no poet and might make a better comedian than a journalist, Laura Ingraham makes him look like Edward R. Murrow, H. L. Mencken and Shakespeare rolled into one. Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics and the UN Are Subverting America is not a book, but 339 pages of incoherent paranoid ranting between hard covers.

Like most of her U.S. talk radio siblings, Ingraham is outraged about just about everything. In this instance she is writing to warn us all of a terrifying threat to the United States: celebrities. Ingraham says that the elites that make up the entertainment industry, the "ivory tower" of academe, the business world, the media, politics and international organization are poised to destroy the United States. Aiding them are miscellaneous elites including, but not limited to: "trial lawyers, multiculturalists, God-haters, and the race-relations mafia," college-educated professionals, feminists, city dwellers--essentially everyone but the banjo-playing inbred hillbilly kid in Deliverance. It's surprising she leaves the Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission and the Elders of Zion off the list.

"Elites are defined not so much by class or wealth or position as they are by a general outlook. Their core belief--embraced with a fervor that does not allow for rational debate--is that they are superior to We the People. They know better."

So does Ingraham. She tells us exactly how all elites think: "They hate America" and "They think we're stupid."

Ingraham takes Bush's "You're either with us or with the terrorists" rhetorical excess a step further--you are either with her or you probably have fangs, three eyes and eat babies

As opposed to Moore's relatively careful footnoting, Ingraham rarely backs up her claims with any sort of evidence or logic, instead engaging in obvious sophistry: For example, she claims H.G. Wells believed patriotism and religious belief caused war and was a "burning" anti-Semite and cites a passage from George Bernard Shaw that appears to favor scientific extermination of "the sort of people who do not fit in," and then goes on to try to tar all liberal intellectuals with the same brush.

Particular venom is reserved for entertainers who dare to comment on politics, especially Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Barbara Striesand--who should "shut up and sing." Most of a chapter is taken up attacking Michael Moore for making money and being fat. Moore may occasionally try to make two and two add up to five, but Ingraham seems more inclined to insist two is a million and that anyone who adds two and two and gets four is an "elite" who thinks they are smarter than everyone else.

A similar mixture of false logic, specious argument and misinformation that would make Joseph Goebbels turn green with envy is used to attack anyone opposing the mixing of church and state as being on a crusade against religion, and to prove that "Antiwar rallies are really hate rallies. Hate-America rallies, that is." Ingraham attacks the United Nations for trying to "control America" and opposing capital punishment; nongovernmental organizations for being "undemocratic"; Europe and especially France for disliking Bush.

It seems like Ingraham made a bet with fellow conservative pin-up and talk show rottweiller Ann Coulter (Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism) to see who could make the most outrageous claims and still get into print. So far it's a close race.

Dude may not be Moore's best effort, but its main sin is not being funny enough. Ingraham's poisonous diatribe makes it look like Pulitzer material. Shut Up & Sing is the kind of book critics read so that you won't have to.

Copyright 2004 The Yomiuri Shimbun