Publications
The Self-Reliant Classicist: An Introduction to the Art of John Abel Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

war-criminals(San Diego Art Institute Press December 2008)

Finally, at what may be the early late middle stage of John Abel’s career, we have, with his show at Earl & Birdie Taylor Library in Pacific Beach, thirty years’ worth of the fifty-three-year-old’s paintings, drawings, and graphics. And what a magnificent catalog of Abel’s oeuvre the San Diego Art Institute press has published—the incisive work of a caricaturist, draftsman, and painter whose discipline is classical, expressionistic, and pugnaciously self-confident.

At UC Riverside in the 1970s, one professor’s masturbatory mania for conceptual art made him angry and quit. (Abel still disdains any art that avoids the time-tested strategies of beauty, composition, and meaning.) Wandering out of academe for good and rediscovering Drucker, he found his calling as a commercial illustrator. From 1984 to 1994, he did hundreds of assignments for weekly rags among them the San Diego Reader. Until one day the phone rang and he was told his skill was passe: they were going digital.

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Beguiled By Mozart's Image Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Krafft(Cadillac Cicatrix Issue 2.0, Winter, 2008)

In 1819, an unknown artist, Barbara Krafft, painted what has become the most recognizable and beloved image of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that exists. Commissioned by Joseph Sonnleithner to hang in the newly opened Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society for the Friends of Music), a conservatory in Vienna, Krafft's posthumous oil painting is based on (some say plagiarized from) another painting, The Mozart Family, by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, a work in possession of Mozart's sister, Nannerl. (Among the other few renderings are Mozart at seven and fourteen, in which he's portrayed as a pasty aristocrat; there are facial profiles as a boxwood medallion and a silhouette.) In the Croce work, dated 1780-81, Nannerl and Wolfgang are playing, perhaps improvising, a duet at the piano; the father, Leopold, is holding a violin and looking on; and the scene is countenanced by a trophy-head-like portrait of the composer's mother, Anna Maria, who died in 1778. In 1781, Mozart would have been 25; he would have just married Constanze and premiered his first opera seria, Idomeneo.

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Go Directly To Jail . . . And Die Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20081210(San Diego Reader December 10, 2008)

Francisco Castaneda came to the United States from El Salvador during its civil war of the 1980s. Fleeing the violence, his mother crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 1982 with Francisco, aged 10, and his three siblings. Her husband had died of a heart attack just before they left. For years, she did odd jobs and sewing in and around Los Angeles. But she died of cancer before turning 40 and before she secured legal status for her children.

After her death, Castaneda, by then in his late teens, was on his own. For a time he had a work permit and did construction. But then he got involved in drugs. In 2005, he was convicted of methamphetamine possession with intent to sell, a felony, and was sent to prison for three and a half months. Upon his release, federal authorities immediately detained him as an illegal immigrant. Pending deportation, he was transferred to a detention center in San Diego operated under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency newly organized under the Department of Homeland Security.

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Review: Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller by Steve Weinberg Print E-mail
Criticism

Taking_on_the_Trust(Contrary Magazine Autumn 2008)

A Reporter Reviews a David's Coverage of a Goliath

What we may not remember in a world saturated with a media hell-bent on outing every celebrity’s secret (Goodbye, John Edwards) is that serious investigative reporting about the money and influence of the privileged and powerful has an American Eve. Her name was Ida M. Tarbell, and she invented muckraking, a form of reportage marked by moral outrage, stringent research, and reformist zeal. Tarbell, who died in 1944 at 86, had one of the most successful careers in magazine journalism. She was the sort of writer for whom Pulitzer prizes were made to honor. As writer and editor, she blazed the trail for those rare authentic journalists, crusaders like Ray Stannard Baker and Lincoln Steffens in her time and Seymour Hersh, Robert Caro, and Jane Mayer in our own.

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Intimate Murder Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20080702(San Diego Reader July 2, 2008)

In each of the last three years, there were roughly 17,000 murders in the United States. Of these, about 11 percent were committed by women. In most cases women kill to defend themselves during a confrontation: It’s her life or his. Women seldom murder other women and almost never kill strangers. That’s what men do. When a woman kills her husband, boyfriend, or lover, the crime is called “intimate murder”; because the victim is known, and because a confrontation is usually the source of her rage (almost all female killings are unplanned), the charge is usually manslaughter. Once a woman enters the criminal justice system, her fate may be eased by chivalrous public defenders, judges, and juries, who sometimes buy into gender stereotypes of women as nonviolent and passive, relational victims who deserve to be punished but not severely. At trial, a woman may generate sympathy via honest or well-played emotional displays. Is crazy-in-love a special requisite for intimate female murder? Or is there something more to the story than ruined innocence? To illustrate, here are three local cases, a consideration of contestable intentions that led to the violent end of a woman’s love.

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Review: What Is Life? by Ed Regis Print E-mail
Criticism

9780374288518(Contrary Magazine Summer 2008)

A Fine Question Remains Unanswered

It’s a funny title—What is Life? Investigating the Nature of Life in the Age of Synthetic Biology—the grandest question of all followed by a rather nerdy limitation on it. And yet Regis is too smart an author (with several provocative science books in his oeuvre) not to know that the philosophic query predates and dominates the biological one. We get a bit of the former and a lot of the latter, mostly pendulous drops into the pit of defining life biologically. Such a tack is possible only because of our recent far-reaching knowledge of DNA, RNA, and ATP, chemicals whose nano-engineering, billion years’ adaptation, and relational diversity among creatures great and small have riddled the earth with species only a few of which survive.

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Mrs. Wright's Bookshop Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

bookshop(New Letters Volume 74, No. 3. Summer 2008. First-place tie with Kim Addonizio in New Letters’ Readers Award for the Essay, 2007-2008.)

It was over, Mrs. Wright’s reign. I heard the bell clang above the front door, just before Mrs. Auburn, the principled clerk, called my name at the top of the stairs. In the basement, I’d been unpacking boxes, Bantam paperbacks, this batch, the four J. D. Salinger books, two covers white, one gold, and one that dark existential red, the title in gold letters, our big seller. I hurried up the steps from paperbacks to hardbacks, and there was Mrs. Wright, earlier than usual, keeping her word. The windowed door was shut, and the sign’s OPEN side now faced in. Her Chrysler idled out front. It must have been late morning, and late in the summer, too, near Labor Day.

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