Great Gatsby Coming To the Silver Screen

1925 jacket cover for The Great Gatsby

The original book cover for The Great Gatsby was done by Francis Cugat

The Great Gatsby

First published in 1925, the Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is now considered to be one of the more important American works of literature, written during the twentieth century. Taking place on upscale Long Island, this dark story of love, wealth and death centers on a small click of well-to-do young couples living the good life during the prosperous 20s. The story features drinking and partying during Prohibition with hints that one or more of the major characters might be involved  in bootlegging, one means of supplying the general public with illegal liquor. In many ways, this novel is the quintessential look into the “good life” of those wild and fabulous post WWI years that centered on speak-easys, bathtub gin and stylish dressed young ladies and men.

Trailer Released

The trailer for the movie, The Great Gatsby, has been out for several weeks now and can be viewed online. First indications seem to indicate a visually stunning film that delves into the high life of the nouveau riche, living in the NY metro area during the “Roaring 20s”. The film stars Leornardo Dicaprio  and Carey Mulligan and is due to be released in the US on Christmas Day. The classic Fitzgerald novel has long been celebrated as a “Great American Novel” and should provide good holiday entertainment for a large number of moviegoers. I guess you can say that Hollywood is taking a lesson from American professional sports and offering a holiday venue that is sure to entertain millions, while bringing in a whole bunch of loot for the movie industry.

Have a Very, Mery, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

winter picture
Hats off from the snowman

Hats Off from Frosty

 There’s not much snow in Albuquerque this December, even though the surrounding foothils and mountains are packed full of the white stuff. As a result, Frosty has transformed himself into a being, created totally from strings of artificial lights. Nonetheless, the snowman gets around pretty well considering he has no snow. In fact, here it appears that Frosty is now much more mobile, due primarily to the complete absense of any frozen percipitation of any kind. Fortunately, he was able to take a few moments out from his night ramble to wish me and anybody else a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

In Depth Analysis

I happened across this fellow a few nights ago near Old Town, but who knows where he may be for Christmas Eve. Word on the street says that Frosty drinks a wee bit and can sometimes be found in one of the many local watering holes found throughout the city. Since he no longer has to worry about melting when at room temperature, I find this explanation to be very plausible.

“Severe and Profound Loss of Hearing from Years of Playing Country Music”

19th century cartoon caricature

19th century cartoon caricature by Udo J. Keppler

David Allan’s Defense

David Allan Coe, a noted country & western singer and songwriter, had his case against the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino thrown out of court this week by an Iowa judge. The case revolved around an incident that occurred in June 2008, when Coe was visiting the casino and tackled by Polk County sheriif’s deputies because he disobeyed an order from the same deputies. Coe’s reason for not responding to the order is reprinted as the title of this post.

As a response to the incident, Coe had sued the casino operators, but the case was thrown out of court because the judge ruled that the deputies were acting under orders from the deputy’s office and there fore not under control of the casino and racetrack.

Who Is David Allan Coe?

David Allan Coe, now 72 years of age, perhaps achieved his greatest fame as author of “Take This Job and Shove It“, a smash hit made popular by Johny Paycheck. However, Coe is long-standing C & W performer, who has been around the performing circuit for awhile.

Waylon, Willie & Me

Mr. Coe obtained some crossover country-rock attention with a song entitled Waylon, Willie and Me“, a clever tune that equated the creative value of the Texas “outlaw” music of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson with the lesser known singer and songwriter, David Allan Coe. At the time this and other popular tunes provided the Texas singer with a midling recording and performing career, though he never obtained the fame and notoriety of the his two “outlaw” comrades.

C & W “Bad Boy”

Despite his solid reputation as an excellent songwriter, Coe has never received the attention that other singers and songwriters have achieved. This kind of story is always open to speculation, as to why this has happened, and Coe’s trail to fame is no exception. Most likely, it is the singers irascible nature along with his frank exploration of such contemporary issues as drug use, prison time, sexual exploitation and the dark side of rural life that have kept him on the fringes of popular music. Coe was once described by Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic magazine, as such; ” he may not be the most original outlaw, but there’s none more outlaw than him.”

David Allan Coe in concert

David Allan Coe performing in 2009

A Tale of Two Firebrands

Christopher Hitchens in 2007
Christopher Hitchens in 2007
Russell Means

Russell Means

Two Public Figures Share A Common Fate

Despite the fact that they come from countries and continents separated by a large ocean, Christopher Hitchens and Russell Means share a common dilemma. They both have been recently diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, a potentially fatal ailment that has necessitated sophisticated medical treatment.  Born ten years apart in Great Britain and the United States,  Hitchens and Means have responded to their life-threatening cancers in different ways. In fact, how they have responded to the cancer,  reflects not only on the lands where they dwell, but on their outlook and philosophy towards life.

The Cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs in the esophagus, a long tube that connects the back of your mouth with your stomach. This internal structure is the organ, which transfers food from the back of your mouth to your stomach. According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of cancer often occurs where smoking, heavy alcohol use and obesity are present. Treatment and cure for this type of cancer is not always successful, especially when the disease is not diagnosed in its beginning stages.

Hitchens and Means

Even though these two men have derived from differing backgrounds and countries, they have come to represent strong viewpoints that are often at odds with the dominant way of thinking in each country. Russell Means background is Oglala Sioux and he has become a fixture of the American public scene that dates back to the early 70s, when he was part of a highly visible confrontation between American Indians and the US government. Since that time, Russell has been much sought-after as a public speaker, writer and movie actor, who starred in ‘Last of the Mohicans’.

On the other hand, Hitchens grew up as the oldest son of two parents, who served long careers with the British military. As a young man, Mr. Hitchens moved from base to base with his parents before attending a prestigious boarding school and college (Oxford). From his well-educated background Hitchens went on to become a controversial, but widely read author and public speaker. Perhaps the most common traits the two men share is the controversial nature of their public speaking and writing.

Bad News Arrives

Hitchens received his serious diagnosis in 2010, just as he was about to undertake a speaking tour to promote his new book, “Hitch 22″. Since that time Christopher has been forced to cancel many speaking obligations because of his inability to talk. He is also undergoing cancer treatment in Great Britain. For Means, the bad news did not show up until July 2011, when he was diagnosed with an advanced stage of esophagus cancer.  At the time Means said that he would seek Native remedies and that he was prepared to die, if these efforts failed.

Means Does A 180

Despite his original proclamation, Means did seek out professional help from the mainstream American medical community and did receive sophisticated tomo therapy at the Sunridge Medical Wellness Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. As of late September (2011) Means claimed that his tumor is significantly diminished and that he can now swallow and talk. In regards to his big turn around, the noted activist stated “Pete Catches, a strong spiritual Oglala Medicine Man told us in AIM back in the 1970s that there will be times when we have to use the white man to fight his diseases”.

Recent picture of Russell Means

Recent picture of Russell Means

Hitchens Struggles

Unfortunately, the struggle of Christopher Hitchens in his cancer battle has not followed a parallel course. After a prolonged chemotherapy treatment and loss of his gall bladder, Christopher still struggles with daily life and maintaining at least a partial writing schedule. Still, his fight with cancer has drawn much attention and best wishes from around the globe and his occasional appearances on video tape have gained quite a following, plus his new book, “Hitch 22″ is selling very well.

Hitchens during cancer in 2010

Hitchens during cancer in 2010

In Conclusion

Hopefully both men will recover from their ordeals and enjoy some more time on the planet, but no matter how well you say it, this type of cancer is difficult to survive.

The Armchair Traveler

Woman Who Fell From The Sky by Jennifer Steil

Woman Who Fell From The Sky by Jennifer Steil

The Premise

This summer I got a chance to be an armchair traveler and visit the ancient city of Sana’a, Yemen. The journey was relatively cheap, for all I had to do was purchase the book and soon I was transported to place on the Arabian Peninsula that was billed as the oldest inhabited city on earth. This trip was courtesy of a young woman, who went there as a newspaper editor and ending up staying much longer in an event that she describes as the most challenging year of her life.

The Book

In the capitol of Yemen, Ms. Steil was asked to help coach a young group of Yemeni English language reporters into a professional cadre of journalists. Against very overwhelming odds, the writer tackles the tough assignment, learning a lot about herself, the Yemeni culture and language in the process. Her ability to bond with the woman reporters and lift the veil off of this section of the Muslim world is remarkable. It drives story and helps turn the book into a very remarkable read.

Recent History

Jennifer just happens to be in Sana’a, when events surrounding the Danish cartoon depiction of Allah broke. The newspaper and reporters all survived in tact, but one poor soul ended up in jail, just for reporting on the story. Despite this unfortunate event, the book is about undertaking a big challenge and trying to make things happen. The writing also reveals a stunning portrait of an old, old city and a beautiful and surreal landscape of an arid country. Check out the book, you’ll enjoy it; but be warned it may ignite a hidden desire to travel to strange, foreign lands. However, the story does not deal with current events that began this year in Caro and quickly spread throughout the region. But the book might provide a few insights into why this is going on today.

Are We Doomed?

asteroid Stereo Itokawa

asteroid Stereo Itokawa, Credit: ISAS, JAXA; Stereo Image by Patrick Vantuyne

Asteroid Approaches Planet Earth

An asteroid is headed our way. It’s name is Asteroid 2005 YU55 and according to space scientists, the space rock will make a close pass to our planet on November 8 and 9, 2011. This extra-terrestrial mass of rock has drawn the attention of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, due to the fact that this asteroid will come within one lunar distance (0.85 to be exact) of home. However, since the size of the this rock is only slightly larger than a football field (400 meters), the chances of it having a gravitational effect on earth is just about nil.

Asteroids In Literature

Every since their discovery in 1801, asteroids have fueled the imagination of the scientific and intellectual community including writers. Perhaps, the most notable example comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella, The Little Prince. In this children’s story, the “little prince” lives on an asteroid, called B612, but decides to visit planet earth mostly out of boredom. Since its publication in France during WWII (1943), the book has been printed in over 190 languages and sold approximately 180 million copies, not to mention the numerous stage, music and film spinoffs. The famed French aviator and author has even had a asteroid-moon named in his honor( Le Petit-Prince), as well as a foundation (the B612 Foundation), which honors  the fictional asteroid and is devoted to tracking asteroids that may pose a threat to our planet.

Visiting Asteroids

In June 2010, an unmanned Japanese space probe (Hayabusa) to the asteroid 25143 Itokawa, which is located near the planet Mars, returned to earth and made a successful landing in the vast outback of western Australia. Its contents included a sealed container, which remarkably made it back with a small sample of particles from the small extra-terrestrial body. No evidence of  royalty or any other human habitation was found, but researchers did obtain some valuable scientific. information by examining the tiny grains of asteroid dust. Presently, the Japanese are busy planning to send Hayabusa 2 to another nearby asteroid for more detailed sampling and a planned return to earth. By studying these unusual space bodies, space researchers hope to learn more about the origin of the solar system and even the universe along with some vital clues to how these space bodies can interact with other planets, especially earth.

Tainted Cup of Tea

K2 is a mountain on the China-Pakistan border, from Wkikpedia

K2 is a mountain on the China-Pakistan border, from Wikipedia

Fiction Or Non-fiction

As of late, 60 minutes is becoming a regular visitor on the literary scene. Their latest excursion into the literary world occurred this Sunday night and concerned one of the best-selling non-fiction writers in the English language.  The writer of concern is Greg Mortenson who has written the best-seller, Three Cups of Tea. If just some of the things that Mortenson’s critics claim are true, Mortenson might have to re-classify his popular travel and humanitarian story as fiction. Does anybody remember James Fry and the controversy that erupted over A Million Little Pieces? Seems that Greg Mortenson might have problems of a similar nature.

Add Fraud

Unfortunately, Mortenson’s problem may not be limited to telling a few tall tales in a non-fiction venue. You see Mortenson has developed a whole network of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan that are operated from funds provided by philanthropists from around the world. Some of the more notable benefactors include Jon Krakauer and Barrack Obama, both of whom are successful authors in their own right. According to the reporters at CBS 60 minutes, Mortenson has participated in several questionable practices with his fundraising activities. These include misuse of non-profit status to promote a private enterprise, funding schools that don’t exist or are no longer in service and fabricating facts.

Deeper Problems

Just for stretching the facts in his memoir,  James Fry in conjunction with his publisher had to refund dissatisfied customers, plus give large sums of money to several deserving charities. Still, Fry was able to complete and sell a follow-up novel that has enjoyed good sales. So when all is said and done, the inaccuracies in “Million Pieces” may boil down to some very expensive advertising for the next novel. Events may not turn out so well for the author of “Three Cups of Tea”.For even if only half of what 60 Minutes reports is true, Mortenson could be in much deeper trouble.

Solidarity And Larsson

 

Reflections on Water

Reflections on Water

Reg Keeland, who goes by the pen name of Steven T. Murray, has a blog that is entitled “Stieg Larsson’s English Translator“.  Larsson is pretty big right now, especially with the American release of the Hollywood version of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” scheduled for the near future. However, only a small bit of Larsson’s fame has been directed towards the busy translator, who is also capable of translating German, Danish and Norwegian into English. Still, Steven Murray manages to keep busy with his translation work and his blog is always a good source of information on Scandinavian writers, who are doing book tours in America.

Lately, a different type of story appeared on Murray’s blog. It was a link to a website publication of a Swedish Organization called Solidarity and an article detailing Larsson’s past and his political activities around the world. The writer, Hakan Blomqvist, was a good friend of Stieg Larsson and knew the writer well. The article makes for an interesting exploration of Larsson’s background.

Life On the Mississippi; Mark Twain Without Huck Finn

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis photo by David Hinkson from Wikipedia

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis photo by David Hinkson from Wikipedia

Since I last posted about the New South publication of Huckleberry Finn without the N-word, I have done a lot of thinking about the influence this book has generated. Maybe some historical context might help illuminate the situation.

Before Mark Twain became a successful novelists he was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi and then a rounder and newspaper reporter in the western territories.  From these experiences he put together a humorous account  of riveting of life in 19th century America. Such books as “Life On the Mississippi”, “Roughing It” and “Tom Sawyer” helped make Mark Twain a household word in mid-century US. His ability to capture the dialogue, conflicts and attitudes of the times, especially since the American man of letters never attended college, is quite remarkable. Perhaps, it was his early experience working in his father’s print shop that gave the young Sam Clemens his love of words, but no matter how you look at it Twain was the least likely candidate to become one of the nations leading writers.

Regardless of how good his “slice of life” and travel writing was, Mark Twain would have had a different impact on American readers without a view of life from the son of a river rat, named Huck. Twain’s classic does several things throughout the course of Huck’s journey down the Mississippi. Most importantly he humanizes the struggle of Huck to deal with slavery. Even though this book was written after the civil War had ended, it clearly deals with the aftermath of issues that resulted from the centuries, when slavery was legal.

 

The Mississippi River near New Orleans, from Wikipedia

The Mississippi River near New Orleans, from Wikipedia

60 Minutes and the N-word

Book Cover for first edition of Huckleberry Finn

Book Cover for first edition of Huckleberry Finn

I have a confession to make. I am not very comfortable using the N-word. I have heard the word all my life, used in all types of situation that vary from a Richard Pryor stand-up routine to the other end of spectrum, where the six-letter noun is used to put somebody down. And yes the word (at least in my experience) can be applied to anybody, though the most common usage might still occur, when it is directed towards black people from other races. Now that I have gotten this matter off my typing fingers, I can address the issue that 60 minutes raised. And that is the publication of a new version of Mark Twain’s classic, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, where the word, “nigger” has been changed to slave throughout the text.

The publisher for the “new” edition is called New South and the  book is now available and selling well. New South is a book publisher located in Montgomery, Alabama and the reason for changing the offensive language was to make the book for available for classroom usage, especially in pre-college situations. I do not have a problem with this alternative version, as long as readers are aware that the language has been changed. However, if this new edition were to become the norm, and the original version were to become the exception, more would be lost than gained. 60 Minutes did a nice job of airing the debate including interviews with proponents, opponents and high school English teachers, who teach the book in their American literature classes.