I’m against tyranny. This is a popular political position. Americans pride ourselves on defending liberty from the machinations of malevolent power all over the world. It is our heritage, beginning with the Boston Tea Party, to demand that government be held accountable to the governed. Our ancestors answered the call of resolute and courageous leaders to fight the tyranny of their own government, and won. There were many, especially among the ruling class, who sided with the tyrant, did his bidding, and betrayed their fellow human beings for personal gain. Ultimately, they lost, despite all their money, connections, and cunning deceptions. This demonstrated one of the axioms on which America is founded, that the right of self-governance is a fundamental and inalterable component of human existence.
In our last discussion of the dangers posed by the current round of free trade deals under consideration in the US, Europe and Asia a while back, we noted (as have others) the potential of these deals to undermine domestic legislation if that legislation negatively affects the potential profitability of a company. Both NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have this sort of mechanism, wherein a company affected by domestic legislation can appeal to the WTO to be compensated for the potential financial impact, or ask for fines against the country found guilty of trade agreement violations. This mechanism of trade agreements is clearly financial blackmail, designed by multinational corporations (mostly American, but a fair number of European and Asian companies as well) to prevent domestic legislation covering stuff like pesky environmental regulations, or recurring European attempts to ban beef hormones. This sounds very bizarre, of course—who in their right mind would tolerate this? But the US does, as do all signatories to the agreements that created the WTO and NAFTA. As we have just been reminded. Continue reading
Those who read know what I am speaking of when I say a book has sneaked into my heart…those who do not read…have my sympathies….
I read -rather, I reread – a book over the holiday break. It is a book that I mentioned in conjunction with an essay on a much more successful book, a book that I found a combination of pretentiousness and mediocre writing. As a contrast to that book, the much ballyhooed dreck Cold Mountain, I used the book, a historical novel about colonial New Hampshire called Rivers Parting as an example of a historical novel that is both well written and that does not pretend to false grandeur.
I first read the novel about 40 years ago ( I have shared the background about how I came to possess a copy of this work in the Cold Mountain essay linked above) and I have read it a half dozen times since. What brings me back to this novel, that even I would grudgingly admit is a typical example of the middle-brow literature that enjoyed great popularity through the middle third of the last century? The same things that attract me so often to the highest brow literature: engrossing characterization and memorable writing. Continue reading
The Democratic Party needs more attractive candidates—and they need young ones, to match the youth of the GOP.
So the Democratic nominating process this year has three candidates if one includes Martin O’Malley, whose chance of the nomination is not yet a negative number, but may as well be. O’Malley is 54, which makes him a spring chicken compared with the rest of the Democratic field. Chafee dropped out, not that anyone noticed he was in, and he’s 63. Jim Webb is 70, and he’s gone too. Biden does not appear to be a candidate at this point, but he’s 74. The main combatants at this point, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are 69 and 75, respectively.
On the other side, the ten thousand candidates vying for the Republican nomination are all over the place—Bush is 63, Kasich is 64, Fiorina is 62, and Trump is 70. Other 60+ candidates are (or were) Huckabee, Carson, Perry , Graham and Huckabee. But then there’s the other contingent—Jindal (gone) is 45, Walker (also gone) is 49. Of the remaining bunch, Cruz is 46, Rubio 45, Paul 54, Christie 54, and Santorum 58. Continue reading
Hypothetically, let’s say you lost the Nevada primary because of your failed efforts to suppress the vote in 2008. Specifically, you attempted to suppress the vote of a particularly powerful union, the Culinary Workers Union, namely women, minorities, and working people, who caucus on Saturday, on their lunch break, on the Vegas strip, because their jobs do not allow them to go to the polls when everyone else does. Let’s say this union chose to endorse the other fellow, and you filed a lawsuit that amounted to disenfranchisement of their entire population and denial of the validity of their way of life. Let’s say the lawsuit was so abysmally unpopular that you had to politically and personally distance yourself from it, and force a smile when all the Nevada delegates ultimately voted for the other fellow. Continue reading
Jane Kirkpatrick’s historical novel A Sweetness to the Soul does a fine job of giving the reader historical information about Oregon pioneers in the second half of the 20th century; it struggles, however, with whether it wants to be a novel or history….
The first book from the 2016 reading list is a historical novel from one of our many bookshelves, a book that my Carol asked me to read. A Sweetness to the Soul details the lives of an Oregon pioneer couple during the latter half of the 19th century. As with most historical novels it is long (though it covers only the lifetime of one generation) and it offers a mix of historical fact and fiction. As one would expect with a novel set in the 19th century West, Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Hispanics play significant roles in the narrative. Interestingly, since this novel relies on historical accuracy, there is almost none of the “traditional” sort of violence one associates with Westerns. There are, however, the sorts of natural disasters one expects for pioneers living in a wilderness: forest fires, floods, and blizzards.
If one were looking for an apt metaphor to reflect the state of modern America, which would you choose: the surprising success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, or the deliberate poisoning of the entire city of Flint Michigan? I’d opt for the latter. Yes, the Trump candidacy is perhaps a milestone of something or other in recent politics, but America has always had political hucksters, and some of them have done quite well. This is a country that at one point had an important “Know-Nothing” political party in the 1840s and 1850s (a central plank of which was fierce opposition to immigration, interestingly enough.) So while the sakes might be higher these days—Mr Trump looks like he has a real shot at the Republican Presidential nomination, and a surprising number of voters appear to be uninformed, or misinformed, about lots of stuff—I would still argue that this is one of the swings in American politics that one sees from time to time.
Flint is another story entirely. Continue reading
Dear Ta-Nehisi Coates: Senator Bernie Sanders is an honest man.
If you ask him a direct question, he will answer. If he doesn’t know, he will admit that he doesn’t know. He will tell you he wants to raise taxes. He will tell you he does not want to fight a war in the middle east. These are things other politicians will never admit, even if they are true, because in modern American political culture, the prevailing wisdom is that it is better to lie to the voters and win under false pretenses than to speak an unpopular truth and lose. Continue reading
At the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist, in the Mission District of San Francisco, we share communion standing in a circle, the homeless, the transvestites, the breastfeeding mothers, the white guys in bow ties, a family gathered around a table, celebrating the unbreakable love that holds us together. My Baptist roots pray that Jesus returns, right here, right now, sees us like this, shoulder to shoulder, taking care of each other, sees that we will be alright, that we are going to make it. Continue reading
An old PSA from the sixties told us that reading was “fun!-damental” – for me, despite whatever other demands tug at my time, reading is absolute necessity….
As I have written recently, my reading time has been somewhat curtailed. I have some new administrative responsibilities with the university where I teach (and my latest book to finish) and so have made the decision to shorten my reading list. I suspect I have cut the list too drastically, but better to be cautious than to overreach, I think. I also want to leave plenty of space for books I am asked to review. Then, too, I hope that I’ll be asked to review some books. :-)
So here in all its glorious brevity is a kinda sorta eclectic list of books I’ll be reading this year. As you’d expect and despite my best intentions, it’s literary fiction heavy. But it has some variety – and as the year goes on, there’ll likely be some additions. Stay tuned… Continue reading
We have a problem. No doubt about it. Women were raped in Cologne, Germany and the police tried to sweep it under the rug. It’s the same problem we’ve been having forever, in the colleges, in the military, and in society at large. Now we’re paying attention to it because the rapists are foreigners. When men of a different race or different religion act the same way our men act, suddenly it’s a problem. Because the violence wasn’t hidden in a fraternity house, because the violence wasn’t facilitated by quaaludes, suddenly it’s a problem. Not to go all feminist on y’all, but I warned you about this.
The “Arson Rebellion”: justice and due process matters whether you’re rural and white or urban and black
Let me tell you a story about Teddy Roosevelt. As a young man, he lived in the Dakota territory, hunting, ranching, watching the American bison disappear, and resolving to preserve the land and its bounty from a “class that always holds sway during the raw youth of a frontier community, and the putting down of which is the first step toward decent government.” One day, three such men stole his boat, the only one on the river, while he was hunting mountain lions. He and his two companions built another boat, pursued the thieves downriver, captured them, and then marched them three hundred miles to Dickinson and turned them over to the sheriff. During this pursuit of justice, he also managed to read Anna Karenina, musing in his 1888 book Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail that “my surroundings were quite gray enough to harmonize well with Tolstoy.”
It’s good to be a white domestic terrorist in the United States.
Armed self-proclaimed “militia members” have seized control of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Gun-toting individuals from a dozen or more states have been showing up in the small town since November, when two convicted arsonists had their too-lenient sentences revoked in favor of federally-mandated longer minimums.
patriots terrorists, whose leaders include Ryan and Ammon Bundy, sons of scofflaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, and internet media producer Pete Santilli, claim to have 100-150 followers (although that number is heavily disputed and may be only 10% of what is claimed). Continue reading
Noted sociopath and PharmaDoucheBro Shkreli spent 2015 redefining what it means to be an asshole, upsets GOP presidential frontrunner Trump.
You’ve all known an asshole — a rude, arrogant, contemptuous person. Assholes are irritating. Assholes are the bad breath of personalities. A reasonable person’s reaction to the presence of an asshole is Get the fuck away from me, asshole.
How, then, to select an Asshole of the Year? Continue reading
The New Southern Gentleman tries to use the methods of what is called “dirty realism” to examine a very different sort of character: the privileged upper class Southerner. It succeeds in doing that – it fails in igniting a meaningful discussion about how little difference there is between lower class Southerners and those whom those Southerners see as their “Betters.”
As we end 2015 – and as I prepare to change my approach to my infamous reading lists project (mainly due to circumstances beyond my control) – I have decided to indulge myself by writing an essay about my first book – the novel The New Southern Gentleman. I have wanted to write about NSG for a long time (the novel appeared in 2002), but two factors have deterred me:
1) I am terrible at that thing so valued on the Interwebs called self-promotion. Publicly discussing my work is uncomfortable for me unless I am in a forum to which I have been invited for that express purpose. I am happy to discuss the works of others, reluctant to discuss my own. This is not the path to fame and fortune, dear reader. Avoid it if you can.
2) In the Age of Social Media, I doubt seriously that anything I have to say will make any impression on anyone other than family, friends, and my colleagues at the blogs (here and here) where I write about books and writing. This is the truth about social media: social media are primarily vehicles for those who crave and demand attention for – well, sometimes it seems for every act they engage in, every belief they hold dear, every idea they agree/disagree with. They are more like party conversations than anything else.
Again, as you may have discerned from #1, that is not I.
Still, the urge to discuss my work has welled up within me strongly enough to make me write this essay. I ask your indulgence. I’ll get back to touting other writers in my next outing. Continue reading
Racism is the single most defining political issue in the history of America, after all.
Jamelle Bouie, Slate’s chief political correspondent, has penned an analysis of the role racism plays in the success of the Donald Trump campaign – and just in time, as the latest CNN poll shows Trump surging to a 21 percentage point lead over his closest competition (39% to Ted Cruz’s 18%).
Nothing wrong with analyses of voter racism. Nothing at all. But, check the subhed:
Ummm. I mean, isn’t this sort of like asking if you’re a little warm because the house is on fire? I’m not being snarky here. Seriously, is there anybody out there for whom this isn’t about the most obvious observation of the whole election season? Continue reading
Why someone who is 8 years old still believes in this claptrap is something you should take up with your pediatric psychiatrist. Maybe he needs to switch up your meds.
I’m pretty sure you wrote to me because you were hoping I’d say Santa exists, just like the editor of the New York Sun told you. Let’s get one thing straight: That guy’s a drunk and his paper’s a rag. We sell a hundred times as many papers in this town as he does.
He says, “Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.” (Remember, this guy has a Little Bo Peep desk ornament.) Continue reading
Pssst — have I got a few sweetheart jobs for you.
In one, you’ll only have to work 111 days in 2016. You’ll be off — yep, off! — for 150 days. There’s this job, too: You’ll only have to work for 149 days and get 112 days off.
I know — it sounds too good to be true, right? Well, get this: In either job, you’ll be paid at least $174,000. You’ll be able to earn about 15 percent more in “outside income,” too.
You’ll get an allowance of almost $950,000 to hire staff to help you cope with your arduous schedule. You’ll get money for office expenses and have postage for your official mail paid for you, too. You’ll get great health benefits (including an “attending physician” in case you need emergency care), a gym and workout facilities, and a terrific retirement plan.
And more perks: Free parking at D.C. airports. Your staff will have dedicated phone lines to airlines to make reservations for you. You won’t have to publicly disclosure your stock trades and any insider knowledge, too. Wow! You’ll get to fly back and forth for D.C. to your home state, paid for by taxpayers!
Recently, the private company that manages data for the DNC suspended the Sanders campaign’s access to their own voter data. Ostensibly, this is because the Sanders campaign accessed data exclusively owned by the Clinton campaign, even though the Sanders campaign notified the private company that proprietary data was accessible in October, and recommended that this problem be rectified expeditiously. Continue reading
In my favorite bad movie, The American President, Michael Douglas as the fictional President Andrew Shepherd confronts his Republican challenger’s claims about Shepherd’s character.
We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.
You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. … You scream about patriotism and tell them [who’s] to blame for their lot in life … [emphasis added]
Now remove Bob Rumson’s name and insert the name of any of the recent CNN main stage GOP presidential candidates (or even Wolf Blitzer, as he goaded them into ISIS hysteria). Continue reading