wernerherzog7

I’ve been reading The Count of Monte Cristo this week. I could’ve sworn I’d read it already, but when a nearly 1200 page book showed up at my house, I realized I hadn’t. It’s immense and the first hundred pages are slow going, but when it picks up, it becomes totally immersive.

One of the reason I like reading older classics is that you see that the world really is the same as it has always been. Despots rise and fall. Families experience tragedies that alter their histories. Men and women from humble beginnings do extraordinarily great things.

For the past ten years or so fiction has been a low percentage of the books I’ve read. I like history and biography best, but lately I’ve wanted to read more fiction, especially the kind of stuff yo have to read as an English major. Fiction can unburden the reader of concerns about historicity. When you read non-fiction, you should always be on guard for the agenda of the writer. As Howard Zinn, says, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

With fiction, you can lower your guard and open yourself up to the beauty (or lack of) in the writing. You can identify with the heroes or villains with greater ease because you don’t have to keep their real heroics and crimes tallied as you read. Fiction allows you to guiltlessly experience the world. In the current climate of “alternative facts” and weaponized discourse, I’ve found it very centering to think about the lives and actions of characters.

Another benefit of all the reading I’ve been doing is an increased attention span. I set myself a fairly aggressive reading goal this year (100 books) and to do it I’ve had to give up throwing time away on internet browsing and Netflix shows. I still don’t think there’s anything necessarily bad about enjoying an interesting show or website, but the more of that stuff I consume, the more scattered my thoughts become. It also becomes ore difficult to stay on task. Even as much as I read, it can be hard for me to stay on task and read without interruption. Often the need to look up a word or something like that tricks me into a quick browse through my Facebook or Instagram feed. At that point I’m vulnerable to losing considerable time responding to my friends’ nonsense.

Werner Herzog was recently on a podcast I enjoy called Entitled Opinions. It’s a pretty highbrow listen put out by Stanford University. Herzog was on to discuss a book he and the host, Robert P. Harrison, love: The Peregrine. Herzog is, as you might imagine, a reader of great and unusual books. He actually prefers reading to watching films. In the conversation he says he only watched four or five movies a year and spends no time online. I’m not surprised he skips the internet, but initially I would’ve thought a great film maker would spend more time with movies. But as I thought more, it made sense. Of all the films I watched last year, I probably only really loved two or three.

 

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fieri

I spent the morning at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and it was actually pretty good this year. Last year I didn’t see much different than the prior year and quite a few of the new brands were boring.

This year I had a bunch of really nice tasting foods. And marketing seems to be focusing back in on actual taste. In short, flavor is in, questionable health claims are out.

None of the following is heavily researched, but I’m pretty good at picking trends (shockingly accurate, actually). Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

1. Non-GMO Labelling Everywhere. I get why a brand would do this, but proudly slapping a non-GMO label on something that has never and will never be genetically modified is super lame. No one is making GMO salt. When you put the Non-GMO label on your salt, you’re implying there is GMO salt. Fucking stop.

What I’d like to see? Companies going a step further and explaining why they are trying to stay Non-GMO.  Tell me what customer benefit, beyond questionable safety concerns, the use of Non-GMOs promote in your product.

You might just like supporting old fashioned farming. That’s a great reason. You might want older, more flavorful crop varietals. That’s the best reason of all. You might be into transparency for philosophical reasons. Great.

A buddy of mine that sells pork chooses Non-GMO feed because he believes the quality of the GMO feed is lower, which effects the flavor of his pork. His products are excellent and definitely have something extra going on, so maybe he’s on to something.

2. Less Function/More Flavor. A few years ago you couldn’t throw a rock like gluten-free pastry without hitting a product that was jammed with superfoods and goofy ingredients promising to make you thinner or smarter. It looks like the false promises of the body-hacking industry have finally lost their hold on the public’s imagination.

The best products I saw were simple and delicious. Great peanut snacks. Well roasted coffee. Fun chips. Even the copy on the marketing materials have shifted towards flavor descriptions. This is a great development.

3. Exception to the Previous, Functional Dairy. There were a lot of dairy companies with language about protein and probiotics on their labels. While I’m kind of down on ruining a recipe with an ingredient from the supplement aisle, I am very much in favor of educating customers on the nutritional value of actual food. Please, tell me how much protein is in your mango lassi drink. Does it have gut-health benefits naturally without dumping some questionable homeopathic ingredient in there? Awesome.

4. Candy is Dandy. There looks to be something of a good-old fashioned candy renaissance, especially chocolate. One of the best things I ate today was a simple caramel from a company that’s been making them since 1973 in Park City, Utah (forgot the name). It didn’t have chia seeds in it, or beef tallow, or vegan protein, or probiotics. It was simply a good piece of candy.

The packaging for a lot of these snack and candy companies is pretty good. It looks like folks are moving past the “make everything look like it was made from hemp and printed with vegetable dye” design ethic. The labels were way more Willie Wonka and less People’s Republic of Berkeley this year.

5. Single Origin is Still Interesting. While the whole bucolic farm thing is well past its retirement date, I think single origin ingredients will remain important for a while because it’s something you can actually taste. Coffee, tea, chocolate, wine, and even dairy can exhibit terroir. This is cool and I’d like to see more of it.

6. Big, Bold Flavor. A lot of the brands I was familiar with already have new, fun flavors. Most of them aren’t boring, either. There’s a lot of spice and a lot of heat. I think this is more of the kind of kid-flavor nostalgia I’ve been noticing in food writing. For example, Lucky Peach’s recent article about Hot Cheetos.

The hipster food writers have really started to plant their flag in junk food territory. I’m curious to see how long this lasts. My theory is it’s a direct and predictable pendulum swing from the juice craze.

7. Smoked Everything. Smoked maple syrup was a product I thought was corny, but ended up being really good. Smoking things always adds an interesting flavor layer, provided it’s done with actual smoke. I’m sure someone will come along and try to make cheap smoked maple syrup by adding smoke flavor and it will suck. I’m in favor of smoking everything. Provided there is actual combustion involved.

8. Juice is Over. We’ve reached peak juice. No one is doing it better than what’s already out there. I hoped that companies would get more into peak-seasonality and start introducing products like “late season orange juice.” However, I think it’s just too hard to coordinate outside of a juice bar.

9. Fake CBD Products. I didn’t see much of this today, but there are an enormous amount of completely useless products coming to market made with cheap, ineffective CBD. I’ll shoot you straight here: if you didn’t need a Dr. rec to get your CBD product, it isn’t going to do a god damned thing for you.

If you want to experience the relief a good CBD product can bring, go get yourself a cannabis recommendation from HelloMD.com and ask the Dr. helping you (it’s actually a real deal MD) to guide you. Then, take that info and go to a dispensary.

hopkins
Anthony Hopkins in mild(?) blackface(!) as Othello. Bob Hopkins is Iago on the right.

I don’t have much a theme for this week, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Anthony Hopkins and the rest of the actors from his theater days who made it big in Hollywood: Bob Hoskins, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellan, to name the big guys.

Hopkins is deservedly praised for his recent run in HBO’s Westworld. Stewart looks like he’s dialing up the pathos on his Professor X performance to 11 in the Logan trailer. Unfortunately, Bob Hoskins is dead, but he was awesome in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The true hero of this venerable crew of salty old thespians is undoubtedly Ian McKellan, who rocked the greatest sign of all at the Women’s March:

mckellan

In anyone else’s hands, with the possible exception of Patrick Stewart himself, this sign would’ve just been pretty good. With Stewart’s best friend Gandolf/Magneto hoisting it high, it wins all. Just take it in. It’s better than watching that white power Pepe cultist get the limp beta leftist Antifa-administered sucker punch to the side of his ludicrously coiffed dome.

Don’t think we’re not going to talk about Hopkins in blackface. Shakespearian actors have long been true artists willing to make interesting choices to bring the Bard’s words to life. In the olden days, all the performers in his troupes were male. Think about that. The first run of Romeo and Juliet had two grown men portraying the most angsty teen romance of all time.

Hopkins is so good as Othello, I think his “Moorish” makeup probably gets a pass from most people. It’s not exactly the super racist American/French style blackface, but it’s certainly a white guy getting darkened up for a role. This was a while back, but it’s hard to imagine this being Kosher today.

On to your questions.

What is a good song that you never get tired of hearing?

I never get tired of hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son.

What term, phrase, or saying do you hate to hear?

I hate it when people start a sentence with “actually” because you know they’re about to barf some boring NPR facts on your half informed hot-take. BORING!

In which movies did the villain actually have a point?

bodhi

fight

hadley

If you could re-elect one living ex-US president back to the white house, who would it be? 

George Washington.

What is the worst damage that Trump could do to U.S. democracy and its Constitution in 4 years?

If all of our celebrities moved to Canada, that would be a great tragedy.

Legit massive crowds at the women’s march.
I’m old enough to remember a few months ago when a lot of my friends were sharing a picture of enormous crowds at Woodstock. It’s an impressive picture. The only problem with it was it was supposed to represent the assembled protesters at Standing Rock. 

People shared this around without even doing a basic Google image check. 

Yesterday I saw pictures showing extremely thin crowds at Trump’s inauguration. The most commonly distributed meme showed the massive crowds at Obama’s inauguration compared to Trump’s. As I predicted, these small crowd shots ended up being inaccurate. If you watched the live feed that day, you would’ve seen proof with your own eyes. People showed up. 

However, I also watched Obama’s inauguration and the crowds were fucking insanely huge. His election was historical and deeply inspiring to young people. A lot of people showed up. 

Trump’s election has been…well…something people disagree about. Trump’s reign started with massive protests. The black bloc, who simultaneously want you to believe that they are badasses who will do whatever it takes to shut shit down and that all the vandalism is done my undercover government agents, were out in force. Some are suggesting they were successful in keeping the crowds away. 

I think a lot of Trump’s votes were more about sticking it to Hillary. Those voters aren’t coming out to kiss the ring. 

Trump’s Press Secretary laid into the media today for what he calls unfair reporting about the size of the crowds. I think he has a point about the media manipulating the truth here, but there is no way anyone could possibly believe Trump had more people out than Obama did. The Press Secretary is claiming Trump had the biggest crowd ever. 

Come on man, we know you’re supposed to be the Presidential Liar, but a whopper this big on the first day is really pushing it. The pictures of the Obama inauguration show beyond capacity crowds, and even the most pro-Trump pictures don’t show anything like that.

Today’s women marches are perhaps even larger than Obama’s crowd. People are fired up and out in force. If there’s a story about crowd size that’s worth telling, it’s that one. 

Trump and his people seem to be incapable of saying something positive or unifying. He should’ve said something like:

“We had a lovely event and a lot of people came out. We might not have pulled in Obama’s numbers, but hey, we didn’t have Bon Jovi performing, either. 

The real crowd to pay attention to is today’s women’s march. It’s hyuge. The biggest crowd of women ever. It shows what badasses American women are and we look forward to doing a great job on their behalf and hope they make it to the next inauguration.” 

That’s it. Easy. No defensive nonsense about crowd size. He could still attack the press for unfair reporting, but in a way that highlights the women’s march. We all know politicians are full of crap when they say this kind of shit, but it’s kind of the proper thing to do. Bush 1, Clinton, W, and Obama all at least pretended to like everyone. 

However, logic, reason, and kindness are out of fashion. Instead, we get this goofball coming out and telling everyone Trump was the best. 

If I was the dictator in charge of the country I would immediately fire all the senators and congressmen and replace them with NASA employees and CPAs. You want nerds running things. And not those Silicon Valley fake nerds with their Betabrand sweatsuit pants, either. Real number-crunching-could-not-be-cool-no-matter-what-nerds. 

Throw a few former soldiers in for good measure, and we’d be on the right track. 

But I’m not in charge, so we will have to have more bad reporting and thin skinned leadership. And that is deeply lame. 


I’m currently reading Valley of the Dolls. The version I have has a cover with photographs of actresses from the movie. I haven’t seen the film, but I plan to watch it after I finish the book.

Sharon Tate was a perfect 10 in my eyes. That era of Hollywood still had glamour, but the curtain was lifted a bit, allowing darkness to creep out. I agree with a lot of historians who say the Manson murders ended a kind of era of innocence in America.

I have never understood people’s veneration of Manson. His music was shit. His ideas were shit. Everything about him was shit. How the fuck do you still have fans 50+ years after trying to start a race war by killing a pregnant woman?

Truman Capote maintained that the real ring leader was Bobby Beausoleil. He made a decent case for that, but I think it’s fair to lay the blame on Manson.

He was back in the news recently because he’s dying. Good. Hopefully we don’t have to endure too many of his loser fans in the news when it happens.

hitch

Other than food and motorcycles, I think the most money I’ve spent on any single category of purchases is books. Even with a pretty good library and friends to borrow from, I still prefer to own the books I read.

I’m not even that precious with them. I only have two or three books I wouldn’t lend out, and even those aren’t exactly in the best shape. I write in the margins, dog ear pages, use them as coasters, and leave them open with the pages down all over my loft. I am about as hard on book as I am on most of my possessions. Which is borderline abusive.

One of the nice things about Amazon is, unlike snooty Bay Area bookstores, you can purchase slightly marred books for extremely cheap prices, even with shipping included. For some reason I always get a huge kick out of receiving ex-library books. I like to imagine who might have read this book, what kind of people they were. I wonder if it influenced their lives in any way.

I also love when a book has an inscription from when it was given as a gift. I recently finished reading The Millionaire Next Door and someone wrote: “to help with your financial dreams” on the inside title page. I wish I could know if it helped. I know I learned a few useful things from it.

I don’t really like getting a highlighted or heavily underlined book. Marginalia can be interesting, but more often than not, highlighting breaks up the reading experience for me. Every once in a while a sparse underlining can be interesting. In the Truman Capote book I’m reading right now there are just three sentences underlined including these: “Never complain. Never explain.” What kind of person was this? Did they find the inspiration they were looking for?

I read a few books on the Kindle app for my iPhone throughout the year. I took all the games off my phone with the idea that if I was just burning up time looking for a distraction, I may as well do it productively. This isn’t much fun for novels because I like to be immersed for at least 15-20 minutes at a time (preferably hours) with those. The Kindle app seems tolerable for non-fiction political rants and such. You should only absorb a few moments of that at a time, sort of like dental radiation.

I do like the ability to quickly highlight something and look up words with just a touch. I think if I was more of a research oriented writer, I’d be more into a Kindle. However, I still prefer paper. It’s not out of any sort of  nostalgic bibliophilia or luddism. I just like the way a book feels in my hands and I like that a book doesn’t do anything else. When I’m reading on my phone, the temptation to check email or look something up and go down an internet rabbit hole is intense. I suspect I have become a sad addict of digitally administered dopamine. The black mirror has a strong grip.

This month I’ve purchased about a dozen books I’m very excited to read. They’re mostly about war and food. Many are biographies. I’m making an effort to read more fiction as well. The focus is on Pulitzer winners and classics. My goal is to read 100 books this year.

The only way to really get not-just-good-but-great at writing is to read excellent writers. I noticed a sharp decline in my own creativity while I was reading a lot of shit by business gurus and self help charlatans. The only two book in that genre that are worth the time are Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Neither are written particularly well, but the information within is unbelievably valuable, particularly Ramsey’s book. If you’re not much of  a reader, just listen to his podcast.

The danger with most of these trite best-seller list lifehacker hacks is that they do a pretty decent job at sounding smart, but all they’re doing is creating junk info. It’s easily digestible pablum and once you’ve read a few, you’ll begin to notice how many stories these goons steal from each other. The first of this genre was probably Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. In my opinion, no one has improved on the form.

If you have writerly aspirations, throw all of the books about writing and time management and all that other productivity trash out the window and get Stephen King’s On Writing. It contains the only pieces of writing advice you need:

  1. If you want to be a great writer you have to read and write every single day. King recommends four hours of each. I think he’s write.
  2. If you’re wondering if you’re a real writer he has this test: if you wrote something and someone paid you for it, then you paid a bill with that money, you’re officially a writer.

If you’re a real sad sack and you have writer’s block,  grab The Artist’s Way and actually do the program. Just owning it isn’t going to do a god damned thing for you. I suspect this book will do more for you than any MFA program will.

Even The Artist’s Way should take a backseat to reading, though. Get more books and make time for them.

studs

The kind of stories I love best are about ordinary people who become heroic when put into extraordinary situations. It’s why I read so many books about war and business. With violence and money, there is no room for excuses or feeling sorry for yourself, even when it makes sense. You have to step up to hard challenges and do more than you thought you could. Some people luck out and have it easy, but we don’t remember them.

Unless they get elected president. Then we have to.

Studs Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He’s best known for his oral histories, including the Pulitzer Prize winning The Good War, which I will be finally reading next week when it arrives in the mail.

I have his book Working. Each chapter is about a different person who does a different kind of job in America. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I did read the chapters about the kinds of jobs I’ve held myself. It’s remarkable how little has changed in these careers in the decades since the book was written. Sure, computers made a lot of noise, but the way people feel about these jobs isn’t really much different. I’m reminded again of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and its grandchild, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. 

Terkel was a master of conversation and always managed to get people to go into engaging personal detail. He asked about and wrote about things people thought about. In one interview someone asked him about what men cared about and he said something like “women and dogs.” He might not speak for everyone in this age of fractured gender politics, but he certainly sums my interests up here.

In my writing and copywriting I aspire to venerate the working men and women who excel at what they do. This doesn’t mean everyone who punches a clock deserves consideration, though. People just going through the motions in between episodes of Seinfeld and trips to Carl’s Jr. can be forgotten. It’s cruel, but that’s just the way it is. Not everyone is important.

What Studs Terkel shows is this: not everyone might be important, but everyone has a story to tell and can achieve excellence if they answer the call to do so. Terkel shows America’s scars and foibles, but he also illuminates the glory of the average citizens who quietly go about their business, being good and kind to each other.

After this year of blog writing is complete, I have two projects I’ll be shifting my time towards. The first is a young adult book in the fantasy genre I’ve been scribbling on for years. I want to get it done and see what it can do. The kind of book it’s going to be will either flop or make be undeservedly rich. I’m hoping for the latter so Mrs. Lott will finally leave me alone.

The second project is a podcast or writing series that’s very much inspired by Studs Terkel, but oriented towards food. I don’t want to hear much from celebrity chefs (as if they’d take my call anyway). I want to hear hair raising stories about sous chefs who escaped Cartels and work 120 hours a week to send money home. I want to interview cowboys and slaughterhouse workers. There is an army of interesting weirdos that help fill your belly.

For the most part, their stories are either ignored or crafted into sad stories for liberal foodies who think even the most useless member of a kitchen deserves $15 and hour, but scoff at the prices at Whole Foods.

This is a long winded way of saying I want to be Studs Terkel when my career grows up. Hopefully you’ll keep reading and listening.