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Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Blog, Book Reviews, Politics | 0 comments

Why Mao Tse-tung Still Matters




Admittedly, I’m attracted to historical biographies.  Perhaps it’s an inherent sense of curiosity combined with obligation to spend at least some measure of time reading the works of dedicated authors who in rare instances spent not merely years, but decades conducting extensive research and ultimately giving new life to people and subjects we thought we already knew well, but may have misunderstood.

Such is the definitely the case with one of my favorite books, The Power Broker:  Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winner for non-fiction.  Such is the case for any of the four other Robert A. Caro books on Lyndon B. Johnson, clearly the most thorough research and writing exercise ever conducted on a U.S President by one man.  Such is also the case with John Adams by David McCullough, arguably our most noted historian.  I could go on and on.

Such is also the case with “Mao:  The Untold Story,” written by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.  A historical watershed that began way back in 1986 ultimately came to fruition a few years back with this long-awaited release, a predictbly controversial narrative and what’s been called the most definitive biography ever written on one of the most ruthless, yet most powerful people in history.  His story and the era when he ruled begs for our attention.

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Posted by on Aug 14, 2013 in Blog, Book Reviews | 4 comments

50 Shades of Lunacy




So, I’m sitting in a strange airport reading the New York Post, a ludicrous enough notion without divulging the contents of an article which left me aghast.

According to the news story, at this very moment the world’s best selling author is someone named “E.L. James.”  For those of you still pretending not to know who this cretin is, she’s the reigning queen of smut, the author of a series of best-selling books which all began with something called “50 Shades of Grey.”  Think of a Harlequin romance novel, only sloppily written and with bondage.

Her trilogy of books are rip-your-hair-out dreadful, a twisted cauldron of old Penthouse letters and contrived sadomasochism illuminated by the narrative style one might expect from a Monday Night Football broadcast.  The basic storyline is some lonely woman falling for a rich guy (why is the prince of the story always rich — why not a truck driver?  Can’t truck drivers be sexy, too?).  Their sexual trysts gradually become more intense to the point where she’s pretty much reduced to wearing a collar, getting whipped by a riding crop, and barking like a dog.

Ruff stuff.

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Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 in Blog, Facing the Firing Squad | 0 comments

Facing the Firing Squad: Brad Willis


Brad Willis Writer (2) (305x306)


Brad Willis (a.k.a. “Otis”)

Brad Willis is popular writer and blogger from Greenville, South Carolina. 

He’s a former award-winning television reporter who now spends most of his time writing fiction and non-fiction.  His articles and essays on numerous subjects — from poker to poker to philosophy to being a dad — have been widely published in various newspapers, magazines, and websites. 

Within the poker world, he’s best known as the official blogger for the PokerStars.  Brad spends much of his time writing from home and occasionally traveling the world writing about poker events, where he’s one of the most respected voices in the business.

Willis grew up near the Ozark Mountains.  He earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism from one of the best schools in the country in that field — the University of Missouri.  Willis spent the next few years working as a reporter in the Midwest.  He eventually moved on to South Carolina where he landed a job with the news department of a television station.  He covered crime and politics, which led to a breakthrough career progression.  From Willis’ official website comes the following: 

“He covered one of the first notable school shootings and the decades late conviction of Ku Klux Klansman Samuel Bowers.  He reported from the South Carolina State Capitol building as the Confederate Flag was lowered from its dome for the last time.  Willis also created a series of reports that held politicians accountable for the truthfulness in their advertising, a formula that has been oft repeated in the years since.  That series won the National Headliner Award Best of Show.  Willis’ investigative reporting received several awards from the Associated Press, Southeast Regional Emmy Awards, South Carolina Broadcasters Association, and the National Headliner Awards.”

In 2005, Willis ventured off in a totally different direction.  He joined as their lead blogger.  In the years since then, Willis has written thousands of blogs and articles not only about poker but about the people in the game and the many issues and controversies that have been a part of poker’s growth.  He also continues to freelance write on a variety of subjects (readers are encouraged to read his essays and works of fiction).  His official website contains many of his best writings and can be found here:  BRADWILLIS.NET

Willis’ level of respect from his readers is surpassed only by the esteem he enjoys within the inner circle of the poker press.  He’s a consistent voice of reason, optimism, and enlightenment.  Today, Willis resides in Greenville, along with his wife and two sons.

If you’d like to get in touch with Brad Willis, and I urge you to do so, you can reach him in the following ways:

TWITTER:  @BradWillis
FACEBOOK:  bradwillis
KLOUT:  BradWillis
INSTAGRAM:  brad_willis
GOOGLE+:  Brad Willis


What are some of the things you stand for?

Altruism, honesty, dangerously hot showers, relentless curiosity, a well-crafted cocktail, indiscriminate hugging, tolerance, loyalty, and the Oxford comma


What are some of the things you stand against?

Well-done beef, disingenuous discourse, impatience, deep-dish pizza, blind allegiance, and fear mongering


What living person do you admire the most, and why?

My mother, a woman whose only fault is that she never thinks of herself first. Or second. Or third.


What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?

Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), a man who with words alone could skewer and char the worst of American culture, politics, and religion. His legacy of decency and cleverly-cloaked activism make him an American hero.


What living person do you despise?

I feel like I need to know a person to despise him, and I don’t despise anyone I know. But I despise what Reverend Fred Phelps, the Koch Brothers, Glenn Beck, and their supporters–tacit and otherwise–represent. They are America’s cultural cancer.


If money were not an object, what profession would you chose?

I would be a writer moonlighting as a guy who’s sings cover songs to open-air beach bar tourists in St. John.


What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?

Against all odds, I have a family and friends who tell me they love me and seem to mean it. Also, I make a mean gumbo.


What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?

I wish I were an extrovert instead of an introvert posing as an extrovert. I could also do with a smaller nose and a better hairline.


What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?

I’ve been the first to hear a murderer’s confession. I’ve been (lightly) assaulted by another murderer. I’ve chased a bank robber and had him insult my mother. I’ve taken cover during a firefight between cops and cop killers. But my heart has never beaten faster than when my kids were born.


What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?

Though I’ve traveled the world and seen much, it was covering the fifth trial (the first four resulted in mistrials) of Samuel Bowers (White Knights of the KKK co-founder) for the murder of Vernon Dahmer. It transported me from 1998 to one of America’s most shameful and horrific periods.


Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.

I need to spend some time in Australia and New Zealand.


Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.

Oddly, this question makes me more uncomfortable than the rest. Books, movies, and films are like children. I can’t play favorites. In books, I’ve recently I’ve loved Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Super Sad True Love Story. My iTunes account is overrun with Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons, The Wood Brothers, and the Black Crowes. I’m inordinately excited about seeing John Fogerty this summer. And I’ve seen Goodfellas and Fargo more times than any reasonable person should.


What upsets you the most?

A child’s suffering, pain, fear, or death and those people who can easily ignore it or consider it collateral damage if it counters their belief system.


What bores you?

Small talk, rice pilaf, foolish consistency, sports trivia, scripted reality television, know-it-alls, green tea, Kansas (the state, not the band)


Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?

The answer to this question often conjures (often incorrect) presumptions about a person’s belief system, which is why I think it’s more interesting and instructive to measure a man and the strength of his character by whether he could act morally today without the promise of everlasting life or punishment of eternal hellfire. Or better put, how would you conduct your life if you knew there was no afterlife?


Brad Willis Writer (1) (387x376)



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Posted by on Aug 2, 2013 in Blog, Book Reviews, Facing the Firing Squad | 0 comments

Facing the Firing Squad: Tony Holden




Tony Holden

British author Anthony Holden has long been one of my very favorite dining and drinking companions — which is really saying something given the royal court of personalities who have shared my table.  For instance, I rarely drink Merlot.  However, since Holden inexplicably prefers Merlot, I will drink Merlot only in his presence (especially when he’s picking up the tab).  Such is the totality of my respect for this 66-year-old wordsmith from Oxford.  

Alas, Holden’s extraordinary gift for creating non-fiction narrative is exceeded only by his unrivaled diversity of personal interests, partially reflected in the three dozen books he’s written.

To most poker players, Holden is probably best known for his watershed creation titled, “Big Deal:  A Year as a Professional Poker Player,” one of the first-ever insider accounts of what the offbeat poker scene was like during the formative period before what later became the boom era.  While creating “Big Deal,” Holden enjoyed one of the most unique experiences imaginable for a writer normally accustomed to interviewing people with “Sir” as a salutation.  The book turned into an international best-seller that captured many larger then life personalities and the true essence of the game during the late 1980’s.  Twenty years later, he created an experienced a redux of sorts, known as “Bigger Deal:  A Year on the Poker Circuit.”

But poker only scratches the surface of what’s been a busy literary workshop spanning four decades featuring biographies of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Lady Diana — to name just a few.  In fact, Holden has authored 13 books in all on English royalty, earning him the trademark throughout the U.K. as the (unofficial) “royal biographer.”  Consider just a few of his adventures, which includes earning the ire of the Prince of Wales for his account of events.  In typical Holden fashion, just as with poker sometime later, he once went behind the scenes to capture the real story behind the illusion known as the monarchy.  That became “A Week in the Life of the Royal Family,” published in 1983.

As if royalty and poker weren’t enough to keep him writing full-time, Holden has also penned four books relating to William Shakespeare, two on Sir Laurence Olivier, one more on Tchaikovsky, as well as several other fascinating people and subjects.  Holden’s latest literary project — expected to be published next year — is a collection of poetry hand-selected by many of the world’s most famous people, with these guest authors revealing to readers why certain poems and lietary passages held special meaning in their lives. 

As for biography, Holden has previously lived and worked in both Washington, DC and New York City, but now once again calls his native England home.  He lives and does most his writing from a breathtaking flat overlooking the Thames River in central London.  No doubt, that’s from where the following answers came, marinated by a bottle of Holden’s favorite Merlot.

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Posted by on Jul 20, 2013 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, Politics | 9 comments

Thoughts on the Controversial Rolling Stone Cover




Rolling Stone magazine isn’t what it used to be.

But it tries to remain relevant.  And it occasionally still is.  Like this current month.

Forty years ago, Rolling Stone was the voice of a generation.  Now, it’s yet another print journal living on what seems to be borrowed time, a musty antique with a dwindling readership in an age gone completely digital.  It doesn’t help matters that the “brand” is stamped with an outdated masthead with a clear inference to classic rock.

No doubt, Rolling Stone makes a noble effort to stay germane in these changing musical and cultural times — and has actually made exemplary efforts to appeal to a much wider demographic than what was initially envisioned by its creators nearly 50 years ago when John Lennon made the very first cover.

The best illustration of this is Rolling Stone’s political and social commentary, which is consistently first rate.  Ever since Hunter S. Thompson’s opiate-laced musings graced its pages decades ago, the monthly magazine has provided its readers with a steady pipeline of alternative perspectives of current events.  Two of the very best writers doing this (anywhere) today are Matt Taibbi and Michael Hastings, whose full-length features appear regularly in Rolling Stone.  Whenever something new appears by either of these two writers, that becomes mandatory reading.

True to its original mission as an edgy alternative to the mainstream, the magazine’s most recent issue features a cover story on the infamous Boston Marathon bomber/murderer.  Excuse the cringe-worthy bon mot here, but the article has ignited a national firestorm.  Apparently, many good citizens of the republic were so offended by the article — particularly throughout the New England region — that major retailers all across the United States are currently refusing to carry this month’s issue of Rolling Stone.

According to reports and corporate pronouncements, chain stores including CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, 7-11, and K-Mart will not be selling this month’s issue.

Which begs the real question:  Who in the fuck buys Rolling Stone at K-Mart?

But I digress.

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