FRIDAY: My Book World | Albert Camus's The Plague
My Book World
Obama, Barack. A Promised Land. New York: Crown, 2020.
Having read President Obama’s 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father a number of years ago, I pre-ordered this book and anxiously awaited its arrival from Amazon on November 17, 2020. Dreams had revealed to me a skilled and sensitive writer. The scene in which Mr. Obama kneels at his father’s grave in Kenya is deeply moving and serves as the striking climax. It remains fresh in my memory.
A Promised Land is a title that resonates in a global way. However, Mr. Obama transforms it a bit to reveal how the United States of America has functioned as a promised land for him, for his life. The book seems to possess a unique structure. The former president limns in this the first volume of his long-awaited memoir his political life. Yet he does not hesitate to return readers by way of carefully selected flashbacks to his humble beginnings: we learn things about his family that we perhaps did not know before, the boldly liberal nature of his Kansas-born grandparents who flee to Hawaii to live a freer life; their daughter who marries a Kenyan man and gives birth to Barack Hussein Obama.
At the same time, this memoir develops a strand of history focused as readers would expect to see through the eyes of the person to whom it happened, the one who witnessed first-hand his several political campaigns, his earthy language in dealing with staff who have displeased him or fallen short of their expected performance. In spite of the subjectivity of such a view, one senses that Mr. Obama is being fair, that not many can argue with his point of view, his memory, his own fact-checking.
But finally, this book is silver-lined with personal and moving vignettes the president experiences throughout his first term: campaign events, public and private; White House anecdotes (he gives an inviting description of the contemporary White House); the relationships he develops with everyday WH employees, the large majority of whom are African-American, one essentially declaring, “You’re one of us.” At the same time, though he avoids making too much of the issue, Mr. Obama sets the record straight on the political evils he must endure: Donald Trump’s birtherism campaign; the media’s daily tearing at his flesh even though he is far more transparent and open than the previous administration’s leader; obstructionist Republicans who wish to thwart the President’s agenda, not because they so much disagree with him ideologically (which they do) but because they object so blatantly to him. Mr. Obama very elegantly portrays their vitriol without saying what I have no problem stating: Republicans regularly respond with a latent but powerful sense of White person’s entitlement, racism, and bigotry that have laced our American life since before its formation. That the man continues to rule with great dignity is a tribute to his stature as an adult who wishes to build on our democracy, not destroy it.
Mr. Obama relates the night at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in which he takes stand-up potshots at a seated and furious Donald Trump. I think Mr. Obama must later realize how much this roasting inspires DT to run for president. Finally, skillfully building toward the narrative arc’s fine climax, Mr. Obama relates the fulsome scenario by which Osama bin Laden is assassinated and buried at sea. Though at times the reading is a slog, because the former prez wishes to be thorough and exact (a quality I appreciate), the book is well worth the time. And that infamous date, May 2, 2011, is where the first half of this memoir ends.
NEXT FRIDAY: My Book World | Steven Millhauser's The Knife Thrower and Other Stories
My Book World
Edwards, George C. with a foreword by Neal R. Peirce. Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America. New Haven, Yale UP, 2004.
For years the electoral college mystified me, but it seemed like a concept that worked because more or less the right candidate always won both the popular vote and the electoral college vote. Then came the 2000 election, a bizarre turn of events by which five people on the Supreme Court would, through their action/inaction allow the candidate with fewer popular votes to win. And one of those justices would tell the rest of us to get over it—instead of taking the time, like a reasoned person, to explain to us why we should get over it, why their decision was such a wise one. Another justice, years later, before her death, would confess that she regretted her vote. Nice. I hope it made her feel better. The electoral college is a roulette wheel that is loaded. Rigged. Like any roulette wheel, we don’t really know until the last second which way the falseness is going to lie.
Author Edwards logically and factually proves his thesis as to why the electoral college ought to be drummed out of existence. Interestingly, instead of beginning with the historical context of its origins, he begins with how the electoral college works, how it among other things, cheats the voters in a particular state who vote for the “losing” candidate who may actually have more popular votes. Most important in his discussions may be the idea of political equality or more important the political inequity that the electoral college tends to foster. The biggest takeaway from Edwards’s chapter on history is the recorded fact that the electoral college was not a well-thought-out concept that received rigorous attention from its founders. No, Philadelphia was hot that summer, and men [and I mean only men] formed the electoral college in a hurry, so that they could find cooler places in which to spend the rest of their summer vacations. At every turn, Edwards has an answer for those who would retain the electoral college, especially by noting when the proponents begin with false premises. The e.c. does not protect the smaller states, as some claim. It does not maintain cohesion and harmony among citizens. Candidates are not more attentive to small states with a low number of electors nor to large states that are entrenched in one party or another.
In the book’s foreword, scholar Neal R. Peirce sums up what is most flawed about the electoral college: “The electoral college process, Edwards reminds us, doesn’t simply aggregate or reflect popular votes; it consistently distorts and often directly misrepresents the votes citizens have cast. Indeed, the unit vote actually takes votes of the minority in individual states and awards those votes, in the national count, to the candidate they opposed” (x).
Don’t worry that Edwards’s tome was published in 2004; nothing much has changed concerning the institution. Author Edwards’s study is prescient in that he states emphatically that what happened in 2000 with Bush v. Gore will happen again. Voilà, 2016! The United States must abolish the electoral college when it comes to voting for the office of the president. The time to do so has past.
[This book published by Yale University Press has, by my count, five typographical errors derived mainly from a lack of close reading by copy editors—rather egregious for an Ivy League press, eh?]
NEXT FRIDAY: My Book World | Oscar Lewis's Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty
My Book World
Hill, Fiona and Clifford G. Gaddy. Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. New and
Expanded. Washington: Brookings, 2015.
When I tuned in to President Trump’s impeachment trial at the end of 2019, I was impressed with the testimony of Fiona Hill, at that time former Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council. Her credentials seemed impeccable, and I told myself I would read the book she co-authors with Mr. Gaddy.
The Hill/Gaddy team paint a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin that is not personal. They do not delve much into his upbringing or family life, only as those elements may apply to his long political life. They formulate what they refer to as Putin’s six identities, by which the book is structured: “the Statist, the History Man, the Survivalist, the Outsider, the Free Marketeer, and the (KGB) Case Officer (18).” The man manipulates or exploits each one of these identities in order to further his own career, his own strategies, and each study is an eye-opening view into the life of the real Mr. Putin.
Mr. Putin declares himself to be a gosudarstvennik, “a builder of the state, a servant of the state . . . a person who believes that Russia must be and must have a strong state” (40). The State is of ultimate importance, not the individual. Hill/Gaddy claim that “Putin continued with an analysis that echoed the language of the tsarist statist school, noting that Russia will ‘muscle up’ by ‘being open to change’ through state-sanctioned procedures and rules’” (55). The authors reinforce what President Obama once said of Putin, that Putin still maintains a nineteenth-century view of the world. He may utilize some of the tactics he learns while serving in the KGB, but his worldview is rooted in a glorified, pre-Soviet past: he aspires to be a tsar.
To summarize most of the other five areas, Putin manipulates history to strengthen his power. He is a survivalist who will do anything to get what he wants. Ultimately, his sense of strategy (over tactics, which only serve to fulfill his overarching set of goals) is one of his greatest strengths, one that Hill/Gaddy claim the West underestimates at its own peril. A man who creates a long-term strategy for the success of his State and is willing to do anything to see that it succeeds is to be to watched very carefully, something that the authors indicate the West has failed to do thus far. The West must see clearly how the man views himself, and the West, while not forfeiting its own values, must develop strategies for dealing with him, ones that realistically exploit his perceived strengths and weaknesses. Until the man is taken seriously, the rest of the world cannot deal with him in a realistic manner, and such a stance is not good for that world.
NEXT FRIDAY: My Book World | George C. Edwards's Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America.
My Book World
Waldman, Michael. The Fight to Vote. New York: Simon, 2016.
I wish I had read this book when it came out during the run-up to the 2016 election—when I bought it. Even though the last chapters seem dated now, considering what the country has been through, the early chapters give an excellent historical account of how this country has ALWAYS been divided into two camps: those who would like to allow everyone to vote and those who would only have so-called elites vote. White (heterosexual, one assumes) male landowners comprised that group in colonial times:
“And there were men who worked as hard to restrict the vote as others did to expand it, such as John Randolph of Roanoke, who fought to deny the franchise to men without property, declaring, ‘I am an aristocrat. I love liberty. I hate equality;’” (xi)
Slowly, and only through arduous struggles, did other groups gain traction over great spans of time: African-American males, white women, African-American women and other minority groups (including the young). Still, the fight to vote has wavered back and forth, according to the whims of the SCOTUS and voter suppression activities. One group rises up and gains three feet, and another group grabs power and sends progress back two feet. And tragically . . . the struggle still continues. If readers have time, they should consider devouring this informative and at times humorous book. If you’re undecided about voting in 2020, perhaps its contents may sway you to get registered and do so now!
NEXT FRIDAY: My Book World | Fiona Hill's Mr. Putin
TOMORROW: My Book World | Blake Bailey's A Tragic Honesty
TOMORROW: My Book World: Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki
My Book World
Tribe, Laurence, and Joshua Matz. To
End a Presidency: The Power of
Impeachment. New York, Basic,
This eminently readable book explicates a complex subject, one worthy of study during a period when the term “impeachment” is bandied about in the media with incredible ease. The authors do a commendable job of, first of all, discussing the laws governing impeachment of a president and how they sprang to life in the first place as part of the US Constitution.
On the other hand, Tribe and Matz help readers to understand that nothing about impeachment is simple. They limn the intricacies of the laws, how the proceedings must begin in the House of Representatives and can conclude only in the Senate. They tell us about how difficult it is to obtain a two-thirds majority vote (under normal times, let alone now with such great partisan divides) in either house to advance impeachment. They explain which offenses are impeachable and which are not and why, that it is not a matter of removing a president from office because he is a boor. He must have committed a crime or misdemeanor. Even with those parameters, it is never a simple matter for Congress to decide.
Ultimately, the authors rule against impeaching our current president, largely because of the disruption it would cause in our society. Under normal circumstances, the executive and judicial branches of the government would help to reign in the abuses of a president. Even now, during times that do not seem normal to those of us of a certain age, the other two branches are doing their job. The House will be governed, beginning in January, 2019, by Democrats, who can begin to call the actions of President 45 into question. Even the Supreme Court, which has now been loaded with conservatives, could surprise the president. The two men whom he seated owe him absolutely nothing. The president cannot remove them from their seats if they should rule against him. And if they do favor him in ways that are questionable, they themselves could be subject to impeachment . . . theoretically. As the authors say in conclusion:
“We must abandon fantasies that the impeachment power will swoop in and save us from destruction. It can’t and it won’t. When our democracy is threatened from within, we must save it ourselves. Maybe impeachment should play a role in that process; maybe it will only make things worse. Either way, reversing the rot in our political system will require creative and heroic efforts throughout American life. And at the heart of those efforts will be the struggle to transcend our deepest divisions in search of common purpose and mutual understanding” (240-1).
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-36 Vermont
My Book World
Anderson, Carol. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of
Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.
Unspoken indeed. Professor Anderson takes readers through the long yet decisive history of White Rage. It is a history that has lain directly beneath the noses of all Americans but one that has been covered up, ignored, or outright distorted, as well. Anderson revives for readers the five primary events in US history which incite and keep alive White Rage.
First, following the Civil War, former Confederates refuse actually to take Reconstruction seriously, and the North ignores the South’s refusal. Two, as a direct result of this action, freed African-Americans migrate north, only to find they are no more welcome there than they have been in the South. In places, rejection is even more hostile, more vitriolic. Three, White Rage is incited with the Brown vs. Topekadecision to integrate American schools, and at least two decades are spent in fighting or rolling back provisions of this decision—making most school districts as segregated as they ever were. Four, the author delineates how Ronald Reagan’s white-rage leadership reverses, insidiously, the Civil Rights gains of the 1960s and 1970s. And last, Anderson reiterates what contemporary readers have witnessed for themselves, how the election of an African-American president, Barack Obama, once again incites White Rage, a backlash that results in the questionable election of Donald Trump.
Anderson’s book reinforces the recent writings of other black authors, Ta-Nehisi Coates, for one. She doesn’t mention reparations, but my thinking is that our country will never be at rest, can never truly hold its head up among nations until it has, in more than a symbolic manner, attempted to make reparations to the descendants of slavery. It won’t be difficult to determine who qualifies. The government will be able to use the same visible trait it used to discriminate, and that is the color of one’s skin. Anyone with African-American lineage should qualify for funding for free education, help with daily living expenses until one is independent. Not only that, but the trillions of dollars that were accrued by this nation during slavery off the backs of black men and women, should be multiplied to, in some manner, make it up to our dark-skinned brethren. Their ancestors were captured on their native soil, mauled, maligned—treated more harshly than work animals—and the surviving generations of victims of White Rage deserve recompense. The one percent will have to pay their fair share to ensure that this happens, along with the rest of us, but it must be done. And it must be done with an amount of good will and love. The fires of White Rage must be quelled forever. Only then can we heal.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-32 North Carolina
My Book World
Clements, Brian, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader, eds., with an introduction by Colum McCann. Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. Boston: Beacon, 2017.
There would nothing wrong with presenting a book-length collection of anti-gun poetry by itself, but Bullets into Bells increases its power by pairing each poem with a response written by a person who has been deeply affected by such violence. Note the eloquence of these lines from “Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World,” by poet, Martín Espada.
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
There are too many fine poems and too many strong responses to them to list here. Just buy the book and READ them for yourselves. Words alone may not solve this problem of gun violence but they can certainly articulate its many problems.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-25 Michigan — October 17, 2018
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-22 New Mexico
My Book World
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. We Were Eight Years
in Power: An American Tragedy. New
York:One World, 2017.
Of necessity this book is a sad one. It tells a truth, or many truths, really, that white people in our country must come to grips with—namely that our white ancestors committed crimes against black slaves and that, as descendants, we have failed and continue to fail to atone for their sins.
“If you see black identity as you see southern identity, or Irish identity, or Italian identity—not as a separate trunk, but as a branch of the American tree, with roots in the broader experience—then you understand that the particulars of black culture are inseparable from the particulars of the country” (54).
One point, among many, that Coates makes resoundingly is that the great wealth that has been with this country from the beginning was made off the backs of black slaves, free labor. If poor white families had had to harvest all that cotton themselves such wealth would never have been accumulated. And that’s why some citizens of places like Mississippi are still embittered today: “In 1860 there were more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the country” (183). Those individuals may feel that their legacy was stolen from them, but they fail to think of the legacy stolen from black slaves: their lives and the lives of their descendants.
Whites could do with a healthy dose of walk-a-mile-in-my-shoes kind of empathy. Coates quotes one man: “‘When they tore down the projects here, they left the high-rises and came to the neighborhood with that gang mentality. You don’t have nothing, so you going to take something, even if it’s not real. You don’t have no street, but in your mind it’s yours’” (195).
In Coates’s introduction he makes clear that the eight years he is talking about—Obama’s eight years in power—are shadowed or echoed by an earlier period in the late nineteenth century, when black citizens, as part of Reconstruction, ran the state of South Carolina. Eight years only because whites took that away from them. Each of the eight essays in this book is a championing statement that clarifies the history of African-Americans: “The Legacy of Malcolm X,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” “My President Was Black” concludes this book which must be required reading for all Americans.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-18 Arkansas
This past week, I came to a decision I had been mulling over for at least eighteen months, when a foreign nation used Facebook to try and skew the election of 2016. I deleted my Facebook account. It was a decision I did not arrive at easily. After all, I had established lines of communications with high school, college, and childhood friends, as well as former students of mine, and contemporary acquaintances of all kinds.
However, I believe until Facebook cleans up its act and can secure our personal data in the way that our credit card companies and banks do, I'm wary of participating. I also believe FB must shore up its advertising scheme. When I was attempting to sell my book with ads on FB, I figured into their algorithms every English-speaking country in the world. Mistake. It invited all kinds of mayhem—people around the world desperate for attention—and virtually no sales. Many of the parties who searched me had a "ru" following the dot in their URL.
There are also practices of FB that I could no longer tolerate. The idea of establishing algorithms that prey on our buying patterns, our political choices, and a host of other preferences, appalls me. Algorithms dictating that we only see the posts of a certain twenty-five friends! Why? It is the epitome of Big Brother watching us every minute, and it is intolerable. And get this, Instagram and other apps are owned by FB, so I shall never be using their services, either. I am considering dropping my Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google + accounts, as well because they have many of the same problems as FB.
Sooooo . . . until FB can get its sh** together, I choose not to participate. I will miss seeing what's happening with my friends, both close ones, and those whom I confirmed because we happened to know someone in common or because we met a long, long time ago. I am certain I do NOT have over 250 friends in my non-cyber life. If you do, congratulations. And if in the future FB, or some emerging social media outlet, should be able to set up a platform that is safe and secure, I'll see you there!
Until then, reach me here at my Web site on my Home page where there is a contact box. And I'll gladly respond. That's what friends do.
NEXT TIME: Defeating A Fib at Last-4 (final installment)
My Book World
Corn, David and Michael Isikoff. Russian
Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s
War on America and the Election of
Donald Trump. New York: Hachette,
This book is a hot read, mostly because these two journalists have taken the patchwork of daily news that we all read every day and transformed all that information into a seamless narrative that is easy to understand. And important, easy to appreciate. If Americans aren’t concerned about the Russia investigation, they aren’t very concerned about the survival of their country.
“Putin had once called the collapse of the Soviet Union the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ He was a Russian nationalist to his core. H wanted to extend Russian power, restoring its spheres of influence. He was an autocrat in the long tradition of Russian strongmen and had little interest in joining the club of Western liberal democracies—or winning its approval” (31).
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-12 Virginia
My Book World
Tur, Katy. Unbelievable: My Front-Row
Seat to the Craziest Campaign in
American History. New York: Morrow,
This engrossing book seems to be made up of at least three strands: 1) MSNBC reporter Katy Tur’s narrative of her assignment to follow then candidate Donald Trump throughout the entirety of the 2016 presidential campaign. 2) In doing so she shares a great deal about what it’s like to be a reporter placed in such a position, the great moments, the uncomfortable moments, the shortchanging of her personal life. 3) And speaking of that, Tur interweaves bits of her personal life—including her childhood and youth, her love life, and her travels—into the weft of her fascinating storytelling.
With regard to 1) she has mixed feelings about leaving her assignment which places her in London, England. Accepting it means moving to New York, giving up her flat in London, her friends there, a boyfriend in Paris, I believe. Turning it down would mean giving up the opportunity to cover one of the most controversial presidential candidates in history, and might also mean squelching her career by not playing ball with the producers at MSNBC.
Katy Tur shares with the reader the details of her travels with DT: flying coach, packing economically yet in a way that allows her to appear fresh on camera (dry shampoo?); a significant lack of sleep because she can be wakened at any moment to be given an assignment; keeping up with tens of thousands of work-related emails, many of which she winds up dumping. Sad, sad meals grabbed here and there, the lack of exercise on any given day or week. But most of all, we see what it feels like to be on camera nation-wide:
“Hardball wants me live. I take a deep breath, stand up, put in my earpiece, and hook back into MSNBC’s live coverage.
Finally, Tur’s personal history adds a tantalizing touch to her career. It seems that her parents, Bob and Marika Tur begin in the 1970s a helicopter service in which they cover in Los Angeles such happenings as “fires, shootings, and most unforgettably, police pursuits. Their first big get was Madonna’s 1985 wedding to Sean Penn” (108).
From her parents, especially, father, she learns the thrill of the hunt. As a child, she goes up with her dad in his ‘copter, and one point she, without benefit of a harness, hangs out the cockpit a bit too far. Her dad says little but apparently turns white. At thirty-two or -three Tur must feel jaded in some sense, as anyone who’s been in a business for a decade must, but she’s got a long career ahead of her if she can sustain this kind of reporting and writing—if she can continue to hang out there without a harness.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-6 Illinois
My Book World
Andreas, Peter. Rebel Mother: My
Childhood Chasing the Revolution. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 2017.
This book is one of those that drew me in and would not let me go until I had finished it. I made not a single annotation or underline because the narrative was so compelling that I didn’t wish to stop and write.
Carol Andreas is raised as a Mennonite in North Newton, Kansas, and in the 1950s she marries another Mennonite seven years her elder. From this marriage she gives birth to three sons, one of whom is author, Peter Andreas, the youngest. As the Andreas family lives in suburban Detroit, Michigan, Carol eventually earns a PhD and radicalizes her political thinking. Against her husband’s wishes (he refuses to grant her a divorce), she packs up all three sons and moves to Berkeley, California, the epicenter of 1960s and 1970s radical politics.
As part of her radicalization, Carol Andreas abdicates her traditional role as mother and allows her three sons to make many of their own decisions, for example, whether they want to attend school on a particular day. However, when she decides to move to South America to aid the revolution there, she takes eight-year-old Peter with her—partly to spite her husband, partly because the child is too young to care for himself, but mostly so that she can mold his socio-political views. The other two sons prefer to remain in California and reside in the commune where they’ve all been living.
The heart of the book is about the years that Carol and Peter spend in three different South American countries. Instead thriving in the warmth of a middle-class Michigan home, Peter lives a rather deprived life. He is subject to the harshest living conditions as his mother does what is necessary to aid others in their political goals. He witnesses her many different boyfriends, sometimes having to sleep in the same room with them as they make love.
In one situation, his hair is infested with head lice. Worse yet, his mother places him in adult situations, “assignments” he accepts because they make him feel grown up. He even participates in his own kidnappings from Michigan schools, after his father has been awarded custody so that he can live with his mother in South America. His allegiances to each parent are probably stretched even tighter than most children of divorce, because his parents represent two different extremes and because both are set on having their way.
However, the narrative illustrates the strength of a love that can develop between parent and child. Carol Andreas makes many mistakes, yet even so, son Peter never stops loving his mother. At one point, as he reaches college, he does realize he will never be like his mother, nor like his father. He must become his own person, and he informs each parent of his desires. If Peter has learned anything from his mother it is that he is responsible for his own life, his own happiness, and as he matures he begins to pursue the one he wants. Today, he is the author of ten books and John Hay Professor of International Studies at Brown University. His childhood must in no small way inform his adult life.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
My Book World
Each weekend I try to view selected portions of C-SPAN’s Book-TV, forty-eight hours of recorded author readings of nonfiction now hitting the shelves, and sometimes six-hour segments covering book festivals around the U.S. C-SPAN is supported by most cable and satellite TV providers, so check your listings. You can view any reading at Book-TV’s Web site. And if you do wish to tune in, you can download and print a copy of the weekend’s schedule off the Web site. Below I profile an August 7, 2017 presentation I found very compelling.
Eisinger, Jesse. The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives. New York: Simon, 2017.
I’m always a sucker for a provocative title, but I’m particularly drawn in when the content of the book delivers on the title’s punch. In a recent C-SPAN Book-TV presentation of his Chickenshit Club, Eisinger takes readers into the bowels of the 2008 financial meltdown and explains why neither the CEOs nor the corporations they headed were ever prosecuted, why individuals responsible for such bad deeds never went to prison. Not to give away too much, Eisinger’s explanation is at once simple and complex.
Simply, Department of Justice officials are afraid of certain aspects, for example, so-called collateral consequences, in which innocent employees lose their jobs when a corporation is put out of business. To explore the complexities, Eisenger lays out the history of why our country has arrived at this point where the financial-sector tail is wagging the law. He concludes that without individual accountability reforms are meaningless. Hedge fund managers and CEOs continue their heinous practices knowing they have an excellent chance of not going to prision.
In a perfect world the author would recommend, one, paying prosecutors much more money so they will have the incentive to work as hard as they would for private law firms that can pay more. Two, he recommends diversity in hiring, not merely more women and persons of color, but individuals from different parts of the country, who have graduated from a variety of law schools, not just the elite ones. Also, he would hire older, esteemed attorneys with a track record and a wider vision of the world, as well as those who have experience in consumer protections. Eisinger’s book expounds on what Matt Taibbi introduces in his excellent book, The Divide. Read both if you’re concerned about the fragile yet powerful world of finance.
NEXT TIME: My Book World
My Book World
Frank, Barney. Frank: A Life in Politics
from the Great Society to Same-
SexMarriage. New York: Farrar, 2015.
In this tersely written memoir (yet verbose in places), Frank memorializes his forty years of public service. Though I find the word “service” can have a false ring with people in the US Congress who, over time, increase their wealth considerably, such a word rings strong and true with regard to Barney Frank. For four decades he serves, in one capacity or another, the people of Boston, Massachusetts—but also many citizens from coast to coast. During his tenure as congress member, he evolves into an ace legislator who is instrumental in getting landmark legislation through Congress: undoing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, strengthening laws that govern Wall Street (Dodd-Frank) after 2008, and any number of LGBTQ issues. He has a way of stating the truth that only stings if you are the guilty party:
“If every issue is always on the active agenda, if an issue that was already disposed of by a majority can be reopened whenever the side that lost regains an advantage, instability infects not just the body that made that decision but also the society that it is governed by. It is the explicit rejection of that principle by the Tea Party Republicans that contributes heavily to political gridlock. A representative or senator’s effectiveness thus is based on his or her ability to deal with a very wide range of issues, with never enough time, and with little guidance from others” (73).
Frank is able to articulate the why and wherefores of legislation and government, as in this statement justifying taxation:
“In a civilized society that needs a profit-driven private sector and a tax-funded public sector, it is all the people’s money. The task facing sensible people is to distinguish between the personal or family needs and wants best fulfilled by individual spending choices and those societal goals that can be achieved only if we pool our resources to buy collective goods” (171-2).
Frank speaks to how our country can dovetail capitalism with democracy:
“Representative government in a capitalist society involves the coexistence of two systems—an economic one, in which a person’s influence necessarily increases with his or her wealth, and a political one, in which every citizen is supposed to have an equal say. If the mechanisms of the free market are going to work, that is, if they are going to increase productivity through incentives and allocate resources efficiently, money must drive decisions. For democracy to fulfill its moral promise, everyone’s vote should have the same weight in making the rules by which we govern ourselves” (183). Hallelujah, he should be teaching civics in high school!
Frank is blunt about the issues that Democrats face:
“Democrats will regain a fighting chance to win majority support among working- and middle-class white men only when we demonstrate the will—and capacity—to respond to the economic distress inflicted on them” (187).
One only hopes that new Democrats now filling slots in Congress are half as dedicated, knowledgeable, honest, and generous as Barney Frank. In the coming months and years we’re going to need such people to face the issues that plague citizens across this country.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
My Book World
Each weekend I try to view selected portions of C-SPAN’s Book-TV, forty-eight straight hours of recorded author readings of nonfiction now hitting the shelves, and sometimes six- or eight-hour segments covering book festivals around the US. C-SPAN, by the way, is supported by most cable and satellite TV providers, so check your listings. You can also view at any time any reading at Book-TV’s Web site. And if you do wish to tune in, you can view, download, and print a copy of the weekend’s schedule off the Web site. Please find below a presentation I believe to be of interest to a broad audience.
Dean Baker. Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the
Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer.
Washington DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research,
In this book Baker “argues that government policies, not globalization or the natural workings of the free market, have led to the upward redistribution of wealth seen around the world over the past four decades.” His logical and comprehensive lecture offers one of the most compelling arguments I’ve ever heard on the subject. First aired January 17, 2107.
Click here to view Baker's presentation at C-SPAN's Book-TV.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
Packing It Out is Good
I get aggravated enough when I’m in urban areas and see trash strewn all over the place. With the winds we have in West Texas, a piece of trash always seems to be lodged in our bushes. You don’t know whether to leave it there and let the wind blow . . . I’m kidding. I usually can’t stand it and do a trash run to the dumpster. I’ve picked up Sonic cups, KFC boxes, some kid’s schoolwork, plastic grocery sacks (one hung up high in our cherry laurel tree until it finally disappeared), even an individual’s county HIV test results (negative, thankfully). But when I’m out hiking in nature, I especially loathe seeing someone else’s trash.
In perusing the March/April issue of Sierra Magazine, I see that I’m not alone. I’ve attached the short feature so you can read it for yourselves, but the gist of it is that hiker Seth Orme has formed an organization called Packing It Out, in which he and his friends might hike for miles, and on their way they pick up trash and haul it out of the park or whatever wilderness they happen to be in. The story should inspire all of us to pack it out: not just our own debris, but a piece or twenty that someone else has left behind. Maybe the action would inspire others. We can only hope. According to Sierra, “Each U.S. resident generates an average of 4.4 pounds of trash a day; all together that’s 728,000 tons, or enough to fill 63,000 garbage trucks” (25). To state the obvious: that’s too much!
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
My Book World
Each weekend I try to view selected portions of C-SPAN’s Book-TV, forty-eight straight hours of recorded author readings of nonfiction now hitting the shelves, and sometimes six- or eight-hour segments covering book festivals around the US. C-SPAN, by the way, is supported by most cable and satellite TV providers, so check your listings. You can also view at any time any reading at Book-TV’s Web site. And if you do wish to tune in, you can view, download, and print a copy of the weekend’s schedule off the Web site. Please find below one presentation that recently piqued my interest.
Daniel Connolly. The Book of Isaias: A Child of Hispanic Immigrants Seeks His Own America. New York: St. Martin's, 2016.
This panel presentation was part of the Tucson Festival of Books, in which author Connolly speaks of the status of children of undocumented immigrants. In the book that takes five years to research and write, he says that the vast majority of these children are citizens, yet they are often not only mistreated but when their parents are deported they have no lifeline. He states that enforcement of immigration laws varies from region to region. For example, in Arizona there are guards and walls. In Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives, the workforce depends heavily on immigrants, and the laws are not always adhered to. A fascinating discussion, and it looks like a fine read—on my wish list, for sure. He shares the stage with Julissa Arce, author of My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive.
Daniel Connolly's Book-TV Presentation
NEXT TIME: Earth Day 2017
My Book World
Each weekend I try to view selected portions of C-SPAN’s Book-TV, forty-eight straight hours of recorded author readings of nonfiction now hitting the shelves, and sometimes six- or eight-hour segments covering book festivals around the US. C-SPAN, by the way, is supported by most cable and satellite TV providers, so check your listings. You can also view at any time any reading at Book-TV’s Web site. And if you do wish to tune in, you can view, download, and print a copy of the weekend’s schedule off the Web site. Please find below two presentations that recently piqued my interest.
Maureen Dowd. The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics. New York: Twelve, 2016.
I’ve viewed both of these presentations, one held at the Miami Book Fair and the other at the Tucson Festival of Books. In the first one, shortly after the 2016 election of our forty-fifth president, she speaks directly to her book, how, after covering 45 for over thirty years, she’s arrived at some conclusions as to how he won the election. In the second video, she is questioned by host, Peter Slen, of C-SPAN’s Book-TV, a fine interviewer, who speaks to her about not only the book but her entire career. In both events the New York Times columnist from Washington, DC, is quite candid and astute in her assessment of President 45. She says we’re in for quite a ride. Tune into to one or both talks to find out why!
Maureen Dowd at the Miami Book Fair
Maureen Dowd at the Tucson Festival of Books
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
My Book World
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four.
New York: Harcourt, 1949.
For summer reading in 1966, I was required to peruse Nineteen Eighty-Four for my first college humanities class, along with Huxley’s Brave New World and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Sometimes a book begs to be re-read because it whispers to you. Yes, as I pass by my bookshelf words like HATE WEEK (two minutes of hate is rather like 140 characters of venom) and BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU carry a familiar ring, yet as if for the first time making sense. Other Orwellian terms spring from this novel: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, a language called NEWSPEAK in which words are deliberately manipulated by the government to control people’s thoughts. When I first read this book at eighteen, I did not stop to realize that the character Winston Smith, by Orwell’s own calendar, was born in 1945, a few years before me, his girlfriend Julia, in 1957. At the time, 1984 didn’t seem like eighteen years away; it seemed like FOREVER.
Now one has to wonder. Like citizens of Orwell’s London with telescreens in every room (two-way cameras), we can be hunted down at any moment by way of our cell phones, the GPS systems in our cars, the fact that a certain G entity has photographed every one of our houses and connected them to our addresses so that anyone in the world—whether a relative or an assassin—can locate us within minutes. That the government can record our telephone calls at will or monitor our Internet use are ubiquitous realities that have become invisible to us. And how much does Orwell’s term DOUBLETHINK smack of 45’s ALTERNATE FACTS, DUCKSPEAK OF #TRUMPSPEAK?
“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy” (80).
And how is this for Orwell’s prescient definition of DOUBLETHINK:
“the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”? (214).
Upon my first reading years ago, I rather shrugged off Orwell’s dystopian depiction of life in the future. I wasn’t overly upset by Winston Smith’s treatment in the end, where he is severely punished physically and mentally for not believing in Big Brother because, to Smith, it is all make believe. Yet, in spite of the novel’s ugliness, Orwell does manage to limn the purity of human love, how Winston and Julia fall for one another but must hide their love, how the glass paperweight with a colorful piece of coral embedded inside is an extended metaphor for their hidden relationship, how in the end the paperweight is shattered like their love is shattered once they are discovered. In spite of the State’s efforts to “change” the two individuals, to erase their thoughts and make them party members, the State really doesn’t quite succeed, for in the end Winston sheds tears of love for who else, but Big Brother himself.
I purposely omit plot elements because many of you will already have read the novel, and if you haven’t, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. It would not be a waste of time to work it into your schedule at some point. If around today, characters Winston and Julia would be about seventy-one and sixty, yet it's hard to believe, given their plight in the novel, that they would be much more than folds of skin with hair.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
My Book World
Each weekend I try to view selected portions of C-SPAN’s Book-TV, forty-eight straight hours of recorded author readings of nonfiction now hitting the shelves, and sometimes six-hour segments covering book festivals around the US. C-SPAN, by the way, is supported by most all cable and satellite TV providers, so check your listings. You can also view at any time any reading at Book-TV’s Web site. And if you do wish to tune in, you can view, download, and print a copy of the weekend’s schedule off the Web site. Below I list a presentation I recently found interesting.
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney. People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy. New York: Nation Books, 2016.
In spite of the apocalyptic title, authors McChesney and Nichols lay out for the reader what to expect in the future and perhaps ways to deal with it. From Amazon’s blurb: “The consequences of the technological revolution are about to hit hard: unemployment will spike as new technologies replace labor in the manufacturing, service, and professional sectors of an economy that is already struggling. The end of work as we know it will hit at the worst moment imaginable: as capitalism fosters permanent stagnation, when the labor market is in decrepit shape, with declining wages, expanding poverty, and scorching inequality. Only the dramatic democratization of our economy can address the existential challenges we now face. Yet, the US political process is so dominated by billionaires and corporate special interests, by corruption and monopoly, that it stymies not just democracy but progress.”
In his portion of this discussion held at the Tucson Festival of Books, John Nichols gives everyone a reason to grasp where we are in history and come to grips with it. Click on this link to view the entire presentation, about an hour in length.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2017
Something to Think About on Presidents' Day
For more than five years I have blogged mostly about literary issues because I find the act pleasing—from time to time veering over to other subjects that interest me, travel and the like. Today's post is decidedly political, but it is straight from the heart. On this Presidents' Day I ask you to think about #45.
First 45 comes for the women because they are the many (51%) and vocal and on the right side of history, and we do not speak out because many of us are not women and some who are women also have good reason to be afraid.
Then 45 and his followers come for the Muslims because they are easy prey, and we do not speak out because many of us are not Muslim.
Then 45 and his followers come for the Mexicans because they have little power and must hide, and we do not speak out because many of us are not Mexican.
Then 45 and his followers come for black people because these descendants of slaves are ready for the fight; will we not join that fight because we are not African-American?
Then 45 and his followers come for the LGBTQs by way of the rest room issue—and do we not speak out because a large majority of us are not Lesbian or Gay or Bisexual or Transgendered or Queer?
Finally, will we believe 45 and his followers when they say they are in support of Israel, or are the Jews safe because surely no one would come after them again?
My thoughts are adapted from the words of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a Protestant minister who openly criticized Hitler and spent many years in concentration camps for speaking out. Consider his writing:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Niemöller’s style, not to mention that last line, is more eloquent than mine, but nonetheless the gigantic slice of history to which he refers is one we cannot afford to repeat. In fact, the parallels to events and peoples in our time are chilling.
We must speak out in a variety of ways, even if we’re afraid, even if we’re persecuted for doing so.
All who are NOT in support of 45 (56% disapproval rate) have an opportunity, perhaps an obligation, to help.
What We Can Do:
Select one group or one cause and support it with small monthly donations—I’m talking $5 to $25 a month. Look at what such a practice did for the Bernie Sanders campaign; there is great power in the many consolidating resources.
Or short on money? Let's give of our talents (verbal, physical, philosophical, musical, artistic).
A social person? Let's go to the local office of our favorite political party and donate our time working for a cause we believe in. Demonstrate. Act up. Occupy.
Most of all, old or young, let's speak out! Today, with social media outlets, we have the same opportunity as Mr. 45 to put out a message and engage in dialogue.
Now that I’ve dismounted my high horse, I shall return to my study and write, but forget me, and just do something.
NEXT TIME: NEW YORKER FICTION 2017
Richard Jespers is a writer living in Lubbock, Texas, USA.
See my profile at Author Central: