|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
I'm fairly certain that Mom asked me to buy this book for her, because I'm not really a caffeine person the way she is. I have to admit after reading this book, however, that maybe I am and didn't realize it? I'm still unsure about that statement.
One of the unfortunate features of this book is that it isn't available in print, it is an audio book only. It listens more like a conversation with Pollan, who is sitting next to you at a little cafe, casually telling you about all these things that he has learned about caffeine, and isn't that just so interesting?
Yes, yes it is.
As such, I'd recommend giving this book a listen.
The book being an audiobook, I grabbed the bookmarks I had in the book and used some Google Docs transcription process. You can see that, well, it rather sucks, despite a fast internet connection and a slower, book-reading speaking pace. I don't understand why either.
What I do understand is that caffeine is out of my daily activities after noon, and I likely have more caffeine in my white tea than I think I do.
According to the researchers I’d interviewed, the process of withdrawal had actually begun overnight while I was sleeping, during the trough in the graph of caffeine’s diurnal effects. The day's first cup of tea or coffee acquires most of its power, its joy, not so much from its euphoric stimulating properties, so much from the fact it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal. This is part of the insidiousness of caffeine. Its mode of action, or pharmacodynamics, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of our body so that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday's cup of coffee. Daily caffeine proposes itself is the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates. How brilliant.
For some reason, we never make coffee at home.
This cracked me up, mostly because Jonathan switched to making coffee only at home after he bought his espresso machine.
Humboldt had a parrot named Jacob who could say only one thing, "More coffee."
Over the course of the next few days I definitely began to feel better. The veil lifted, yet I was still not quite myself and neither, quite, was the world. By the end of the week I had gotten to the point where I didn't think I could fairly blame caffeine withdrawal for my mental state and disappointing output. And yet in this new normal the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after fraying of consciousness during sleep, that reconsolidation of self, the daily sharpening of the mental pencil, took much longer than usual and never felt quite complete.
I love this description of waking up.
Coffee and tea have their own reasons for producing the caffeine molecule and as is often the case for the so-called secondary metabolites produced by plants, this is for defense against predators. At high doses caffeine is lethal to Insects. Its bitter flavor may also discourage them from chewing on the plants. Caffeine also appears to have herbicidal properties, and may inhibit the germination of competing plants that attempt to grow in the zone where seedlings have taken route, or later drop their leaves. Many of the psychoactive molecules plants produce are toxic, but as Paracelsus famously said, "The dose makes the poison."
What kills at one dose may do something more subtle and interesting at another. The interesting question is why so many of the defense chemicals produced by plants are psychoactive in animals at less than lethal doses. One theory holds that the plant doesn't necessarily want to kill its predator, only disarm it. As the long history of the plant defense chemical vs. insect arms race demonstrates, killing your predator outright isn't necessarily the best move, since it will quickly select for pesticide resistant members of that species, eventually rendering the toxin harmless. Whereas if you succeed in merely discombobulating your enemy, distracting him from his dinner, say, or ruining his appetite, as many psychoactive compounds will do, you might be better off since you will save yourself while preserving the power of your defense toxin. Caffeine does in fact shrink the appetite and discombobulate insect brains.
A Venetian traveler to Constantinople in 1585 noted that the locals quote, "are in the habit of drinking in public, in shops, and in the streets, a black liquid boiling as they can stand it, which is extracted from the seed they called ka-vay, and is said to have the property of keeping a man awake."
The notion of drinking any beverage piping hot was itself exotic, and in fact this proved to be one of the most important gifts of both coffee and tea to humanity. The fact that you needed to boil water to make them, meant that they were the safest thing a person could drink. Before that, it has been alcohol, which was more sanitary than water but not as safe as tea or coffee. The tannins in all these beverages also have antimicrobial properties. The contribution of coffee and tea to public health might help explain why societies that embraced the new hot drinks tended to thrive, as microbial diseases declined.
I gave up editing Google's transcriptions here.
Vibrant meeting places for the news of the day political financial and cultural Pizzazz much the drawers the coffee coffee houses became uniquely Democratic Publix in England they were the only such spaces were men of different classes could met anyone who said anywhere but only men at least in England the fact that led one wag to warn that the popularity of coffee quote put the whole race in danger of extinction women were welcome in French coffee houses compared to taverns coffee houses were also notably civil places where if you started an argument you were expected to buy a round for everyone to call the English coffeehouse a new kind of public space doesn't quite do it justice represented a new kind of communications medium one that just happened to be made of brick and mortar rather than electricity and wires these rooms served as the internet of their time londoners went to share and consume news and information as well as rumor and gossip you paid a penny for the coffee but the information in the form of newspapers books magazines in conversation was free coffee houses were often referred to as Penny University's after visiting London coffee houses are French writer wrote that quote you have all manner of news there you have a good firewood you may sit by as long as you please you have a dish of coffee you meet your friends for the transaction of business and all for a penny if you don't care to spend more
You will have it from St James Coffee House Coffee or the coffee house debated the beverages helpfulness fever tracks and women objected to the amount of time and we're spending and coffee houses in a pamphlet titled the
Alpha lesson fever tracks and women objected to the amount of time and we're spending and coffee houses in a pamphlet titled the women's petition against coffee the author's suggested that the end stiebeling liquor robbed men of their sexual energies making them quote as unfruitful as those deserts when's that on happyberry is said to be brought the conversation in London's coffee house is frequently turn to politics in vigorous exercise is a free speech that Disturbed the government especially after the monarchy was restored Charles the second worried plots were being hatched in coffee houses
it's hard to imagine that this sort of political cultural and intellectual ferment that bubbled up in the coffeehouses about France and England if alcohol fuels are Dionysus and tendencies coffee nurtures the apollonian early on people recognize the link between the rising tide of rationalism and the fashionable new beverage Chalet Road bring it to the new kinds of thinking that caffeine help to Foster
Balzac Wrote one of the all-time best descriptions of how it feels to be over caffeinated estate when she said quot produces a kind of Animation that looks like anger one's voice Rises once gestures suggest unhealthy and patience one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas one becomes Brusque ill-tempered about nothing seems that everyone else is equally Lucid a man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public it is one thing to live in a shared culture of caffeine
There are some compensatory benefits I'm sleeping like a teenager again and wake feeling actually refreshed there's an explanation for that I will get to I've discovered an odd and unexpected social benefit as well when I turned down offers of coffee and explain my experiment and abstention I find the people are keenly interested and probably sort of impressed it's a storm not some kind of achievement I could never do that a friend will say or I should really try that I know it would help me sleep but I can't imagine getting through the morning naturally these reactions make me feel as though I've actually done something worthy of admiration I suspect on benefiting from The Echoes of puritanism still reverberating in our culture which Awards points for self discipline and overcoming desire addiction even to a relatively harmless and easily procure drug like caffeine is seen as evidence of weakness of character quote I realized my life was being controlled by caffeine a sleep researcher and caffeine abstainer that I interviewed told me traveling I find myself in an unfamiliar City and could not turn in for bed until I had scoped out where I was going to get my fix in the morning I like to feel in control and realized I wasn't caffeine was controlling me
I recognize drug-seeking behavior when I see it. "Yeah," he agreed that there's "nothing inherently wrong with an addiction if you have a secure supply, no known health risks, and you're not offended by the idea that many of us can't help moralizing addiction." I will confess to indulging in the occasional paying of righteousness through the airport during my months of abstention .
And the freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought how did a psychologist sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of Consciousness Spotlight consciousness
The freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought cognitive psychologist sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of Consciousness Spotlight Consciousness which illuminates a single focal point of attention making it very good for reasoning and Lantern Consciousness in which has less focused too many people on psychedelics
Making it very good for reasoning and Lantern Consciousness in which attention is less focused it illuminates a broader field of attention young children tend to exhibit Lantern Consciousness so do many people on psychedelics this more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind-wandering free association in the making of Novel connections, all of which can nurture creativity
Songs for caffeine's mood enhancing qualities the cup of optimism as well as the fact that it is habit-forming
the direct effect of caffeine on the brain the chemical also has several indirect effects including increases and adrenaline serotonin and dopamine the release of dopamine is typical of drugs of abuse and probably accounts for caffeine's mood enhancing qualities the cup of optimism as well as the fact that it is habit-forming caffeine is also a vasodilator and can be mildly diuretic it temporarily raise his blood pressure and relaxes the body smooth muscles which may account for coffee as laxative effect this could explain much of coffees early popularity constipation was a serious matter in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe but what is unique about caffeine is the targeted way in which it interferes with one of the most important of all biological functions sleep everlife of caffeine prove prostate
at the time of our lunch I hadn't yet begun my abstinence experimenting Walker inquired about my caffeine use a cup of 1/2 Caff first thing green tea through the morning and sometimes if I'm swaggin a cappuccino after lunch Walker explained that for most people, the quarter life of is usually about 12 hours meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight.
this is an acquired condition used for an association indeed
Let's face it we've erected a top does psychoactive molecules are just cultures way of dressing up our desire to change Consciousness in the finery of metaphor and Association indeed what really commends these beverages to us is there a sociation now we would smoke or stone fruit but with the experience of well-being of euphoria they reliably kill us it is this experience known as reinforcement which practically guarantees we will
Turn to tea or coffee or wine it also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors people are badly deceived when it comes to taste Roland Griffiths the Johns Hopkins drug researcher explain it's like saying I like the taste of scotch no, this is an acquired condition taste preference
Tea or coffee or wine it also has the power to alter our perception of their flavors people are badly deceived when it comes to taste Roland Griffiths Johns Hopkins drug researcher explain it's like saying I like the taste of scotch, no, this is an
Acquired condition taste preference when you pair a taste for the reinforcer like alcohol or caffeine you will confer specific preference for that taste caffeine is naturally present in coffee and tea but typically is added two sodas so why would
I had zero expectation of liking this book. It came to me recommended by Melissa Urban, of Whole30 fame, on her Instagram account. Not usually one to take a book recommendation from a celebrity, I checked this book out of the library none-the-less. I appreciate Melissa's no-nonsense approach to Whole30 ("drinking your coffee black is. not. hard."), which meant I would give her book recommendations a cautious try. I vaguely recall Melissa recommending another book that I had read and like, so, okay, let's read this one.
This book comes with a giant caveat labelled, "SOME MIGHT FIND THE SCENES IN THIS BOOK DIFFICULT TO READ." Like the ones of people roasting alive (they came back later). Or the various scenes of mental abuse, or the casual killing of a person, or the stealing of a persons mind. Yes, if you have a vivid imagination and active empathy, these are horrific scenes. If you are able to read a book of fiction as a book of fiction, this is a surprising fast, engaging read.
The book follows Carolyn, as we try to figure out what the situation is (her father has disappeared) and how this world operates (not quite like ours, not quite not like ours). Imagine a family outside of time (if they learn the secret to longevity), able to learn the most intricate knowledge (coming back from death, how to communicate with animals, every warfare strategy ever considered or acted upon and which to use when), give them a history that is shrouded in mystery, and a burning hatred for the current situation. Add in someone who can plan for decades, and you'll have this book.
I enjoyed this book, and while I wouldn't "recommend" it (see the caveat above), I can say I was hooked and read this book very quickly. It was puzzling and gross and beautiful and thought-provoking, and really, that's what any reader could want.
“We should do something,” Carolyn said. Her right index finger trembled, just the tiniest bit. “Rachel could find her son. Even if he’s dead, you could—” Jennifer looked at her, surprised. “That’s kind of you, Carolyn.” She shook her head. “It wouldn’t help, though. It never works out the way you would think. The problem with a heart coal is that the memory always diverges from the actual thing. She remembers an idealized version of her son. She’s forgotten that he was selfish, that he enjoyed giving little offenses.
Erwin heard gunfire, then screams, then a deep, booming laugh. He felt alive in a way he hadn’t since Afghanistan. His veins were thrumming with energy. He got up and went looking for a gun.
“Are you seeing this?” Erwin asked softly. “I think so,” Steve said. “Are you sure about the time?” Ignoring the evidence before his eyes, he was clinging to the notion that maybe this was just a normal sunset.
The cogs of her plan were ticking into final alignment. At first she had rejected this approach out of hand. It was too obviously a ploy. Only after deep study had she considered the idea seriously. Father’s texts were adamant about its effectiveness. As illustrated in any number of footnotes, men are almost always 50 to 60 percent dumber in matters involving their crotch. Close proximity enhances the effect. Now, with clinical approval, she saw that something stirred in the depths of David’s tutu.
Father’s notes were clear on this topic as well—there were several ways to incapacitate men instantly, but striking them in the crotch was not one of them. It would take a second or two before the real pain hit.
“They did experiments,” Erwin said. “Cheney’s guys, trying to figure out what to do with bin Laden. I heard stories. You give somebody a shock like that, it’d be the sum of—well not just every pain you felt, but every pain you possibly could feel. All at once, like.” “Yes.” “And then you froze him? In that moment, exactly?” Steve thought about it for a second, then gave a low whistle. “Why?” Carolyn remembered how the rain ran warm, remembered the salty, coppery taste of Asha’s blood. “Because wazin nyata isn’t enough. Not for him. This, though…I’m pretty sure that it’s the worst thing that ever happened to anyone, anywhere. Ever. I think it’s the worst thing that can happen, the theoretical upper limit of suffering. Despair and agony,” she said. “Absolute. Unending.” “Damn,” Erwin said. “That’s some fucked-up shit.”
“That’s the risk in working to be a dangerous person,” she said. “There’s always the chance you’ll run into someone who’s better at it than you.”
“Exactly. But here’s the difference. Suffering—normal suffering—is transient. What we perceive as emotion is just a quick connection between three-dimensional space and one of the higher physical planes—rage, joy, pleasure, whatever. The repercussions can echo for years, but the actual link usually only lasts for a fraction of a second.”
This is book 8 of the Peter Grant series, and I'm once again only pretty sure I have that order correct.
I have to say, the opening of this book was REALLY confusing, along with the first couple chapters. After the background started filling in, with conversations and flashbacks, the book began to make more sense, and my general discomfort of being confused dissipated.
Here we start out with Peter, having gotten in a row with the uppers at work, starting off as a security inspector for an interesting computer company working on AI. Not out of the realm of possibility, unusual, but not unreasonable as a character development. Then backstory and flashbacks and, oh, okay.
I really enjoyed how much of the computer stuff was accurate. None of the "hook up a small LED monitor to two wires outside of a bank vault pin-pad, and let them cycle until they have the password" kind of BS one normally sees in computer portrayals. I mean, if I'm already suspending disbelief with the whole magic thing, don't jar me out of reality with bad computer talk. Turns out, Aaronovitch didn't, and I appreciate it.
The storyline had a nice balance between home life, current plot, flashbacks, and history.
I recommend reading the books in order, definitely worth reading if you're committed to the series already. I don't recommend starting with this one. It wouldn't be as delightful as an introduction to Peter Grant.
"Nobody’s going to fall for this," I said.
"Of course they will," said Silver. "They fall for Nigerian princes all the time."
"Stupid people do," I said.
"Wrong," said Silver. "It doesn’t matter if you’re a leading astrophysicist or thicker than a bag full of bricks. Whether the mark falls for a scam depends on experience, knowledge and how much they want it to be true."
"I’ve got to ask," said Stacy. "Peter’s a nice enough lad. But, be honest, what is it in him that attracts you?"
Beverley gave me a sly smile. "He’s a world - class shagger," she said. Stacy grinned and Oliver looked at me wide-eyed. "No, I mean it," said Beverley. "Olympic standard shagging. Morning, noon and night. I knew it as soon as I saw him the first time. That man, I thought, will go like a dredger at high tide."
"Is he hung?" asked Keira.
"Like a —"
"Hey," I said quickly.
I giggled at this exchange.
As the one whose delicate brown body was in the firing line, I was a little bit more cautious. People are often short-sighted and stupid, right up to the point where they’re fucking perceptive — that point usually being the most inconvenient moment possible. And people don’t like to think they’ve been taken — and they tend to express their displeasure forcibly.
"He quoted Vasily Zhukovsky at me," said Beverley.
"Who’s he?" I asked.
"Russian Romantic poet," she said, and admitted that she’d had to look him up afterward. He’d quoted in Russian, too, but Beverley reckoned she’d got the gist. "Something about accepting your destiny."
"Do you love me?" she asked, and I felt a sudden unexpected rush of panic at the question.
It took me so by surprise that I practically stuttered the answer. "Yes," I managed.
Because pheromones, because beauty, because laughter and joy when she was near and loss and emptiness when she was gone. Because of shouting at unicorns and braving faeries. The way her brow furrowed when she was reading something tricky in a textbook. The smell and feel of her skin. The warmth of her body, the sunshine of her smile and the thrilling depths of her eyes.
Sunday morning by instant tradition was study morning so, after I’d oiled the Bulge — which always made Beverley giggle — I cracked open my Blackstone’s manuals, bought second - hand for economy, while she lay on her back in the living room and read papers off her Kindle. Every so often, one or other of us would sigh and decide it was time for yet another cup of coffee.
Yes, a delightful morning.
There were no council CCTV cameras covering the High Street and, quelle surprise, all of the privately owned cameras that might have had the Print Shop in view were inoperable or didn’t keep their image data for more than a week.
Having confirmed the presence of the Mary Engine and the Rose Jars, it was time for my sudden but inevitable betrayal.
Oh, so giggling at the Firefly reference! Joy!
I paused to make sure she was following my logic. You can be too clever during an interview and a common tactic for interviewees is to zone out and stop listening.
The other day, Kris and I were watching Free Solo, a movie that Mom and Eric STRONGLY recommended I watch after I gushed about my first rock climbing class back in January. In the movie, Alex Honnold is signing books in a bookstore. The book he is signing is this one. So, here we are, reading Alone on the Wall.
The book is written in two voices, Alex's and, one presumes, David's, first and third person respectively. The book is Alex's story, how he became interested in climbing, how he became interested in free soloing (an amusing tale, he was shy), and his biography nominally up to 2014.
The book was a delightful read. It tells much of Alex's story that was told in Free Solo. Similar to when I watched the movie, many times my thoughts were, "Nope. Nope nope nope," with some of the things he does. I am grateful for Alex and his adventures, even if I never meet him. I enjoyed the book a lot, worth reading.
Again and again, whenever he speaks in public, Alex is asked the same two questions by everyone from little kids to graybeards. Indeed, they are the fundamental questions about what he’s doing on rock. They are: Aren’t you afraid you’re going to die? Why do you do this?
In a sense, those questions are unanswerable. They lie in the realm of George Leigh Mallory’s throwaway response in 1923 to the umpteenth journalist who asked him why he wanted to climb Everest: "Because it is there." (Though intended as an irritable jab by a man fed up with the question, Mallory’s quip has become the most famous quotation in mountaineering history.)
But then I had to shift from stemming to liebacking. Now I grabbed the edge of the crack with both hands, leaned back to the left, and walked my feet up the opposite wall till the soles of my shoes were only two feet below my lower hand. Liebacking feels somewhat unnatural.
"Somewhat unnatural" Uh huh.
It’s bad form to brag about a climb before you do it. And I didn’t want my good buddies to get too alarmed — then I might start worrying about them worrying about me ! I guess I was just trying to reassure them: Hey, guys, I think I can handle this. I’ll be safe.
A lot of the Stonemasters, though, were into drugs. Some of them even bragged about doing serious climbs in Yosemite while they were tripping their brains out on LSD. Their style was part of the counterculture movement of the day, but I just couldn’t relate to it. I’ve never done drugs, and though I’ve tasted alcohol, I’ve never had a whole drink. I don’t even drink coffee. I had a small cup once — it was like drinking battery acid. I had to poop all morning. I once had a sniff of Scotch. I thought, I should be cleaning my sink with this stuff. It’s not some moral objection — drugs and booze and caffeine just have no appeal to me.
Yeaaaaaaaah, I can understand this.
He was asked, "If you don’t believe in God or an after - life, doesn’t that make this life all the more precious?"
Alex responded: "I suppose so, but just because something is precious doesn’t mean you have to baby it. Just like suburbanites who have a shiny new SUV that they are afraid to dent. What’s the point in having an amazing vehicle if you’re afraid to drive it? " I’m trying to take my vehicle to new and interesting places. And I try my very best not to crash, but at least I take it out."
I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me, the crucial question is not how to climb without fear — that’s impossible — but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings.
It’s not necessarily suicidal. It’s about a guy suddenly losing the love of his life, caring a little less about danger, and so finally doing something that he’s always kept tucked in the back of his mind.
For example, I can’t tell you how many people over the years have pressured me to drink alcohol. We’ll be at a party, and somebody will taunt me, "Alex, just try this beer, it’s not gonna hurt you to take a sip." I’ve never given in. Booze doesn’t interest me.
This delights me so much. I am grateful that the pressure for me to drink alcohol disappeared the first time I said no in college. Thus far, when I drink, it has been of my choice. I am lucky.
Climbing in the dark is quieter and lonelier than in the daylight. In some ways, there’s no exposure. You’re inside this little bubble with your headlamp. A fifteen - foot beam of light is the whole universe. There was no danger I’d get off - route, since I knew the sequences so well by now. And yet, you still sense that there’s this void below you, somewhere in the darkness. It’s like swimming in the ocean and realizing there’s a bottomless abyss below you.
That abyss is terrifying when it is in the Southern Ocean, btw.
One of my favorite aspects of soloing is the way that pain ceases to exist.
I’ve tried to approach environmentalism the same way I do my climbing: by setting small, concrete goals that build on each other.
Logan asks, "Do you get an adreneline rush?"
Alex responds, "There is no adreneline rush. If I get an adreneline rush, it means something has gone horribly wrong."
The piece uses John Long as the Yosemite veteran and talking head. Logan asks long what he considers Alex's greatest achievement. Long answers, "That he's still alive."
So, there is talk about the Post Office going private. This is a horrible idea, put forth by Cheetoh, who has it out for Bezos and Amazon. The Post Office gives Amazon a sweet deal for delivering the last mile of many Amazon deliveries, so Cheetoh wants to privatize the Post Office to ruin this sweetheart deal. There's a hope the man could not be in power much longer (God, let that happen), but in the meantime, privatizing the United States Postal Service is a terrible idea.
But don't take my word for it. Read this book.
Recommended in the XOXOfest slack by Andy McMillian, who has read this book three times already, How the Post Office Created America is a history of the Postal Service, its origins, its stumbles, its glories, and its part in creating what America is today. We, as United States citizens, take much for granted. The post office is, alas, one very big part of what we take for granted. And this is a very very sad thing.
A large number of people who complain about big government are benefactors of said government, but don't realize or won't recognize it. Would be great if said people actually understand how functioning societies work. Alas.
This is a great history book, a small segment of the times that begat and shaped America. I feel this book would make a fantastic high school history book, take two weeks to read and discuss the book, and maybe everyone in the class would have a better connection to the roots of America.
The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647, wonderfully known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” made the case for education on moral grounds: It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures . . . It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read.
As much as he loved London’s social and intellectual tumult, however, he had grown increasingly disenchanted with Britain’s corrupt politics and egregious socioeconomic inequities.
Like France, England intercepted mail and searched it for seditious content; indeed, surveillance had been one of Henry VIII’s motivations for establishing a state-run post in the first place.
Indeed, until the Civil War officially settled the matter, many Americans would say “the United States are” rather than “is.” (For the same reason, many modern historians prefer to speak of the “union” or “republic” rather than the “nation” when referring to the country during the antebellum era, on the grounds that although America was a state, a self-governing political entity, it was not yet a nation, a tightly knit people who embrace a common culture.)
For thousands of years, both knowledge of state affairs and mail networks had been privileges of a chosen few. The infant United States, however, was based on an idea that was anathema to history’s great powers: if a people’s republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on.
If service was deemed warranted, he authorized a new post office, and Congress, responding to the direct will of the local people, determined the route by which the mail would reach it.
Nevertheless, Americans had objective proof of their national government’s responsiveness to their direct input, which not only brought them mail but also turned clusters of cabins in the middle of nowhere into villages with names, and rutted trails through dense forests into roads on a map.
Just seventeen years after Benjamin Franklin became America’s first postmaster general, the Post Office Act utterly transformed his modest mail network. He would have been flabbergasted by the speed at which the post would become the federal government’s biggest, most important department and prime the United States to become the world’s most literate, best-informed country within two generations—surely one of the most significant, least appreciated developments in American history.
Worse, they routinely tweaked the mail coaches’ schedules to please their passengers, who liked to depart in the morning and arrive in the evening—the opposite of the timing preferred by the post’s lucrative business customers. The highly principled, devoutly Presbyterian Hazard was outraged by the crafty proprietors’ unpatriotic duplicity. If the post were to subsidize the stage system, he reasoned, the department had the right to make the rules and set the schedules for mail coaches.
The government, like any buyer, wanted to pay less for more service than the seller had in mind, particularly considering that the transportation in question was underwritten by passengers’ fares. The post also wanted to control the scheduling of mail trains, as it had finally been able to do with mail coaches.
In a typical observation, Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville’s traveling companion, wrote of their trip from Louisville to Memphis: “Frightful roads. Perpendicular descents. Way not banked; the route is but a passage made through the forest. The trunks of badly cut trees form as it were so many guard-stones against which one is always bumping. Only ten leagues a day.” The Frenchmen were ruefully amused by Americans’ seeming indifference to such conditions. Beaumont recounts one example of the natives’ sangfroid: “‘You have some very bad roads in France, haven’t you?’ an American says to me. ‘Yes, Sir, and you have some really fine ones in America, haven’t you?’ He doesn’t understand me. American conceit.”
Speed is the hallmark of good postal service, and McLean was remarkably successful in accelerating the mail. Indeed, he even foresaw that the telegraph, although then only the optical sort employed in France and Sweden, was a logical extension of paper mail: “If it were possible to communicate by telegraph all articles of intelligence to every neighborhood in the Union,” it would be “proper to do so.”
For nearly a century and a half, the government would effectively underwrite much of the country’s politics by enabling the camp that won the White House to reward tens of thousands of its supporters with postal jobs (although, as Lincoln would later observe, there were always too many pigs for the tits).
An early abolitionist, Benjamin Rush surely would have experienced mixed emotions had he lived to see the information network meant to unite Americans across borders also become the means of publicizing the political divide that would tear the United States apart.
Congress’s bias toward smaller newspapers was not just a benign effort to help the little guy. The official explanation was that a robust civic life required the circulation of local as well as national and international news and opinions. That sounds reasonable enough, as does the desire to help small enterprises stay competitive. However, the rural papers were often highly partisan supporters of the local congressmen, who could be counted on to represent in Washington their constituents’ deep suspicion of city slickers and their supposedly radical politics and immoral ways.
(That said, precocious fifteen-year-old Carrie Deppen, who worked as a telegrapher, was neither windy nor sentimental. A collection of her correspondence includes flirtatious notes that she mailed to male colleagues down the line and a letter to her supervisor asking for a raise on the grounds that she was paid less than other workers, particularly the men. Her boss responded that Deppen was lucky to have a job at all and that she received a modest salary because she still lived at home.)
Middle- and upper-class Victorian women were in most ways far more restricted than their mothers and grandmothers had been in terms of the freedom to choose their own pursuits and move about in the world. Particularly in big cities, architects struggled to find ways for women to appear in public places without impropriety—an effort that among other things popularized the new department stores, which offered ladies’ restrooms and restaurants for dainty luncheons safe from the male gaze.
The San Francisco post office took delicacy to the nth degree by installing a separate window for men who were picking up mail addressed to women—an “amenity” that also encouraged keeping them sequestered at home and their correspondence under male supervision.
Many were simply mean or sarcastic: Hey, Lover Boy, the place for you Is home upon the shelf ’Cause the only one who’d kiss you Is a jackass like yourself!
Country people generally bought only what they couldn’t grow, shoot, catch, or make themselves, so the shelves of the Headsville store would have been stocked with coffee, spices, and tobacco, as well as boots, patent medicines, tools, and sewing notions.
Despite the barriers, a few other women managed to become postmasters during the Early Republic. Feisty Sarah Decrow, who was appointed to serve in Hertford, North Carolina, in 1792, was reprimanded for daring to protest her inadequate salary. As Assistant Postmaster General Charles Burrall put it: “I am sensible that the emolument of the office cannot be much inducement to you to keep it [the postmastership], nor to any Gentleman to accept of it, yet I flatter myself some one may be found willing to do the business, rather than the town and its neighbourhood should be deprived of the business of a Post Office.” Decrow’s position was soon filled by such a gentleman.
He replied that it “has not been the practice of the Department to appoint females . . . at the larger offices; the duties required of them are many and important and often of a character that ladies could not be expected to perform.” Johnson took pains to point out that his opposition was by no means personal but extended to all women.
Some were driven by the exigencies imposed by the great financial Panic of 1837, others by the American tradition of moving on if life in one place fails to meet expectations, and still others by the stirring rhetoric of the imprecise, emotionally charged principle of Manifest Destiny. This theory of American exceptionalism proposed that the United States was a unique, divinely favored country that had a moral duty to spread its enlightened values and government from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The prospect of getting rich quick caused thousands of Americans to mortgage their homes or spend their life savings to try their luck in the Sacramento Valley’s streams.
Creswell’s view reflected his larger conviction that certain resources belonged to the people and should not be privatized. In one memorable example, he described electricity as “that most subtle and universal of God’s mysterious agents”; as to using it to generate private profit, he said, “As well might a charter be granted for the exclusive use of air, light, or water.”
Thus, the hardheaded merchant whose government office had a direct telegraph line to his business headquarters nevertheless insisted that the post office had a higher purpose than merely making money: “I do not think it essential, and do not know why we should be self-supporting any more than the Interior and other Departments.”
They would have insisted that the mandate to bind the nation was as readily adaptable to passwords and PINs as it had been to physical addresses, and that the post must take the lead in connecting Americans with electronic media, just as it had done with the delivery of newspapers, market data, affordable personal correspondence, and consumer goods. They would have marshaled the arguments once made for a postal telegraph on behalf of a postal Internet, maintaining that the obligation to unite the people with information and communications required making the new resource a public service rather than ceding it to private companies for their own profit.
A private company would simply close the unprofitable retail facilities—a logical move for any revenue-driven enterprise. Indeed, the USPS management has already shut down half of its major distribution centers, with consequent delays in mail delivery that are particularly noticeable in rural states.
Those who dispute the government’s right to monopolize a service that business could provide want to privatize it. They observe that the nation is increasingly bound by commercially supplied electronic communications, and they assert that the post should simply close down and cede any traditional mail operations that can turn a profit to the independent carriers.
The national delivery system has evolved over time, and though it might not be the Platonic ideal, it works pretty well. The independent carriers and the post both benefit from their symbiotic relationship, as do consumers, because the post’s lower rates keep the private companies’ prices in check.
The book, from 2007 so I'm quite late to reading it, follows Clarissa Iverton, whose father has just died, on her journey to find her biological father. Said journey started after Clarissa discovers the man who just died, Richard, is not actually her father as she was led to believe her entire life. When she finds out her fiancé knew that Richard wasn't her father, Clarissa table flips her life and does a runner, just as her mother had done fourteen years before.
I enjoyed the realism of Clarissa's actions, I know of few people who haven't wanted to walk away from everything during incredibly stressful times, even as the serendipity of the plot was a bit too neat. The book reads like a verbal montage of the let-me-track-down-my-dad adventure, which is an interesting writing style that works very well.
I enjoyed the book. It's a fast read, even if the subject isn't light.
Recently, everything around me felt familiar yet amiss, like the first time you ride in the back seat of your own car.
The cold on my ears was sudden and burning. I pulled up the hood of my parka. It was, like all hats and hoods, too big for my small head. I had no peripheral vision.
Two young women without coats ran out of a parked car and into a bar. Their arms were crossed over their chests, at nipple line.
Travel is made for liars. Or liars are made by travel. I had
I’m sorry for you,” Eero said. I studied his face. I was unaccustomed to sympathy without judgment, sympathy without condescension.
“So what’s your number?” he said.
“Yeah, how many countries have you been to?”
I tried to suppress a laugh. “Counting America, one.” He had asked me the question so I would ask him. He was waiting. “And you?” I said. “What’s your—” I paused—“number?”
“Sixteen,” he said. “But I’ve only been to four continents. So far.”
21 and 7.
Whom did Henrik remind me of? No one. He seemed familiar because I wanted to know him.
I wanted, I wanted, I wanted. I wanted so much that what I wanted most was not to want.
"Okay,” Henrik said. “Why don’t you come to the bar tonight with me and my friends. Everyone in the town will be there.”
I read this and thought, "Nooooooooooooo! Cooooovid!" before realizing, wait, no, 2007, it's fine.
Seeing men’s wallets made me sad. They were either too thick or too thin, too old or too new. They always looked wrong.
I put everything in my suitcase and sat on it to close it. I wanted it to break. To be angry about it breaking. To be angry about something small and ultimately fixable.
After lamenting I wasn't going to be able to achieve my year goal of "read 100 books" if I also go for my goal of "read the entire Wheel of Time" (14 books that are the equivalent of 36+ "normal" books, given the length of each WoT book), Kris said, "Read a bunch of short books!" While, yes, that would work, reading short books for the sake of achieving a "read 100 books this year" goal feels somewhat like cheating. Book length is typically not a factor in my book selection process. I hemmed for a bit, causing Kris to jump up, and grab this book from his shelf. "Here, I think you'll like this one. You can read it in an evening."
Which was mostly accurate, I could have read it in an evening. I had another two (okay, four) books going, so it actually took me two treadmill walks and a curl in my reading chair to finish it, so maybe a 3 hour read? Which is to say, this is a fun, cute, fast read.
The book opens with Meg Finn making a choice, which pretty much sets the theme for the book: choices have consequences. Some choices, while not bad, don't results in a life we want. Some choices made in fear set the tone for a life.
Meg's initial choice cascades into her dying (in the first chapter of the book, so not much of a spoiler). Her soul is exactly neutral between good and evil, so she is sent back to mend the last wrong she committed before she died, which was also helping the last person she harmed before she died. Enter Lowrie.
Lowrie's been lonely for the last few years, after his alcoholic, abusive wife died. In his isolation, he made a Wish List, tasks to do before he died to correct the choices he made that lead to his disappointing life. The rest of the story is about the four items on his Wish List, Meg's helping Lowrie complete the list, and how sometimes the choices we make don't have the consequences we thought they might.
It was a fun, easy, fast read. If you are an Artemis Fowl fan, definitely worth reading.
Meg bristled. "I'm not afraid of anything, Belch Brennan!"
Belch chuckled nastily. "Prove it."
He was manipulating her, and she knew it. But Meg Finn could never resist a dare.
This wasn't real. It couldn't be happending to her. Fourteen-year-olds didn't die; they went through a troublesome phase and grew out of it.
Lowrie had spent so much time mulling over these particular questions that he had managed to isolate a few key moments in his past. Ones where he had a choice to make, and made the wrong one. A litany of mistakes . A list of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves. Not that there was any point in thinking about it. It wasn't as if he could change anything now.
"No, You're right. What life? What's what I've been trying to tell you." Lowrie's eyes were lost in past memories. "If only..."
He shook himself back to the present. "To late for if onlys. Time to do something about it."
"But these? I mean, what's the point? It's crazy."
Lowrie nodded. "To you, maybe. To everyone else on the planet. But these were my greatest failures . Now I have a chance to put them right, even if no one cares but me."
Meg was running out of arguments. "But what will it chance, running around the country like a crazy man?"
"Nothing," Lowrie admitted. "Except my opinion of myself. And that, young Meg, becomes very important to a person as they grow older."
"Lowrie, you should be in a hospital," she said gently, alighting from the fence top.
"No," snapped the old man, a sheen of cold sweat shining on his forehead. "What can I do in a bed? The same as I've done all my life. Nothing! Now are you going to help me or not?"
Like all intellectuals, he could nto resist the impulse to explain the procedure.
I laughed out loud at that line.
"This is your last chance, too, Myishi. You do know that, don't you?"
Myishi nodded weakly. Funny how a man's smugness deserts him in a face of oblivion.
Twelve months a year, the small town was hopping with Americans looking for their roots, Dutch tourists looking for hills, and New Age mystics searching for leprechauns. In this company a man talking to himself seemed the epitome of normality.
Except during a worldwide lockdown.
Every breath could be his last. It felt worse now, somehow. Now that he had rediscovered himself. There was more to lose.
Everyone deserved an equal shot at redemption. Even the Man Himself agreed with that.
This book wasn't recommended, per se, by MNS, but it was his current read, and I appreciated his recommendation of Call Sign Chaos, so picked up the book.
The one sentence summary of the book, "It is a history of the CIA," sums up the book perfectly.
Is it an impartial history of the CIA? No idea.
Is it a complete history of the CIA? Not by a long shot.
Is it a good read? Absolutely.
I enjoyed reading the book, cringed at parts of history where the CIA either chose or executed poorly, and appreciated the parts where the CIA did well. Many parts of the book were annoying in the arrogance of the agents, and frustrating in the need for the agency's actions. People. Here we are.
I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history books. This appears to be a good overview of its history (again, it can't be a complete history, just a public one). One can appreciate modern history books, given most high school history education ends sometime around World War Two.
Killing a leader or prominent person at the behest of the president is legal under Title 50 of the U.S. Code.
The CIA did not create the Latin American propensity for assassination. Long before the Central Intelligence Agency existed, targeting killing was a well-established political tool throughout the region. These were the rules of the game for authoritarian regimes that ruled by force and corruption, not laws.
Those pronounced guilty were lined up against the prison wall and executed by firing squad. In the days that followed the revolution, more than one hundred and fifty pro-Batista Cubans were shot dead. When asked by the foreign press about the summary executions, Che fired back, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary.” Besides, he said, the concept of justice was a hypocritical creation of Western capitalists. “These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail,” Che insisted, “this is a revolution.… A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine, motivated by pure hate.”
Further news was repressed, not surprising given Che Guevara’s views of the press. “Newspapers are instruments of the oligarchy,” he told the Cuban people. “We must eliminate all newspapers; we cannot make a revolution with free press.”
The flight attendants began to serve lunch, Merletti recalls. “They put a meal in front of me and then they said to Mike, ‘We’ll get you a meal in a minute.’” Five or so minutes passed before the flight attendant returned. “She says, ‘We’re really sorry, but we don’t have any meals left. But here’s a little voucher so the next time you fly, you’ll get an upgrade or something like that.’” Mike Kuropas looked at the voucher. “He looks at me,” remembers Merletti, “and he says, ‘You know this is a bad omen,’ and I say, ‘What do you mean?’ He says, ‘I’m not coming back.’ I say, ‘Mike, don’t say that. Don’t say that at all.’ I said, ‘You know, we all have those thoughts, but don’t go there, just don’t do it.’” Mike Kuropas looked squarely at Lew Merletti and said, “No, I know I’m not coming back.
“Standing there, I became overwhelmed with emotion,” he recalls. “The reality set in. I thought about Mike and I still think about all the guys who died in Vietnam. Each one of them. They were alive one moment and then they got shot. There’s no anesthesia on the battlefield. You get shot. It’s incredibly painful to get shot. You bleed out before you die,” Merletti says. Standing in front of Mike Kuropas’s name, Merletti made a vow. “I wanted to try to live up to certain expectations of myself, for him. For Mike.” Merletti vowed that moving forward in his life, were he to perceive something in front of himself as difficult, he would stop and think of Mike Kuropas. He would acknowledge that whatever problem he was having, he was having the problem because he was alive. Mike Kuropas would not have the luxury of problems. Mike Kuropas, age just twenty-two, was dead.
When, in 1973, Qaddafi learned of a coup being plotted against him, his grip tightened. He created a militia “to protect the revolution” and began a systematic purge of the educated class. Death squads terrorized the population. Political parties were outlawed. Under the draconian Law 75, dissent became illegal. The state took control of the press. There were no legal codes or a legal system; justice was arbitrary.
In the early days of the Iran-Iraq war, thousands of these young children were sent to their deaths by the ayatollah as suicide bombers—ordered to clear land mines with their own bodies so as to make way for Iranian infantry troops and advance Iran’s front line into Iraq. Years later, New York Times reporter Terence Smith interviewed survivors of these human-wave assaults, and learned of frightened Iranian children being drugged with an opiate drink called “martyr’s syrup,” bound together in groups of twenty with machine guns at their back, ordered to keep moving forward, to walk to their deaths. Across their child-sized uniforms a message had been stenciled: “I have the special permission of the Imam to enter heaven.
With bin Laden were a group of friends and colleagues, Afghan mujahedin. This group had spent the past decade fighting Russian infantry forces following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It was a classic irregular-warfare scenario. A much smaller rebel force, the mujahedin, had managed to defeat one of the largest armies in the world, the Russians, using guerrilla warfare tactics. Training, weapons, and funding for the mujahedin came from the United States, Saudi Arabia, England, Pakistan, and China. In 1989 the Russians left, defeated. At the CIA, analysts called it Russia’s Vietnam.
To Lew Merletti’s eye, presidential protection was contingent on three fundamentals that never changed. The world is a dangerous place; it doesn’t matter who’s to blame, only that you defend against it; the U.S. Secret Service must never appear weak. An attack could come from anywhere, including a lone wolf, a terrorist organization, or a foreign government.
The pretense of virtue attached to killing someone from a distance is curious. Perhaps dangerous as well. The current laws of war prohibit treacherous killing, and that includes assassination. It is also considered treacherous to shoot the enemy while he is taking a bath. But covert action occurs in the in-between, governed by Title 50 of the national-security code. It is undertaken at the behest of the president and is to remain hidden from the public eye. Do the laws of war need to be updated for guerrilla warfare, seeing as it is the only kind of war America has engaged in since World War II? Can terrorism be defeated by gentleman’s rules? War is wicked, violent, and treacherous. A horror of chaos, anarchy, and revenge.
talented and courageous.” The discrepancy in opinion between the covert-action operators on the ground and the top brass at the CIA is puzzling. According to Faddis, “Washington wanted the Iraqi Jedburgh story.” What they got “was an unmitigated disaster.
“Assassination,” said Hayden, is defined as forbidden lethal acts “against political enemies.” Terrorists are not political leaders. They do not run sovereign states. “U. S. targeted killings against Al-Qaeda are against members of an opposing armed enemy force,” Hayden clarified. “This is war. This [targeted killing of Mugniyah] is under the laws of armed conflict.”
The Taliban government that boasted piety, incorruptibility, and bravery left behind in its wake one of the most immoral, corrupt, criminal, debauched societies the modern world has ever
known. Civil order had been destroyed. “Adults [left] traumatized and brutalized,” writes Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, in Taliban. “Children rootless without identity or reason to live except to fight.” In the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, a former United Nations diplomat, “We are dealing with a failed state which looks like an infected wound. You don’t even know where to begin cleaning it.”
Just war theory tells us not to rejoice in the battlefield deaths of others; that there is no place for vengeance or bloodlust. But what is man, if not flawed?
Obama succeeded in making Americans comfortable with drone strikes,” says former administration official and drone scholar Micah Zenko, “as they are generally supported by the American public and wildly popular in Congress.” There is subtext here: if Congress can’t fight a battle on political lines, it acts as if it is not a battle worth fighting for. How did we end up here, with assassination—but not called assassination—normalized, mechanized, and industrialized?
One day in the summer of 1928, war became outlawed. Representatives of fifteen nations led by the United States and France gathered inside the French Foreign Ministry in Paris and signed a pact declaring war illegal. The General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, or the Kellogg-Briand Pact, came a decade after World War I, considered the war to end all wars.
To wage war was now a crime.
The closest the world ever came to nuclear war was during the Cuban missile crisis. It was Che Guevara, more so than Fidel Castro, who advocated for nuclear war. “If the people [of Cuba] should disappear from the face of the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names,” Che told the First Latin American Youth Congress in 1960, “they will feel completely happy and fulfilled.” This rhetoric likely contributed to President Johnson’s granting the CIA the authority to oversee Che’s killing.
This book was recommended by Dave Pell at The Next Draft. I have yet to read a Pell recommendation that wasn't fantastic, including this book, which tells of the London Cholera outbreak of the 1840s and 1850s, along with the scientific investigation by John Snow (who, in this case, does know something), and Henry Whitehead.
I enjoyed this book and, given the current pandemic, strongly recommend it. In it, we learn about the cholera epidemic, about just how grateful we should be for and how amazing is indoor plumbing with modern sewer systems that take human excrement away from us for processing (household cesspools and cellars with foot deep shit in them were the norm back in Victorian England and wow, ugh, no thank you). We learn about how short of a time we have had the germ theory of illness (hello, 1850s), and how our biases adversely affect our thinking when confronted with overwhelming evidence our beliefs are inaccurate (hello incredible denyings, ignorings, and twisting of facts to fit our views). We learn about inadvertent consequences of mundane actions (hello tea as the culturally predominant drink, which incidentally boils water and kills bacteria that cause illnesses, there by reducing infection rates). And we learn about how knowing community means more than power when fixing said communities.
I did so much enjoy this book. It is a quick read. The conclusion and epilogue seemed out of place, like a story continuing after the denouement, but are still interesting - read them as two separate essays included after the cholera tale told.
For the record, the way to survive cholera is lots of clean water, don't over do it, boil the crap out of it first.
WASTE RECYCLING IS USUALLY ASSUMED TO BE AN INVENTION of the environmental movement, as modern as the blue plastic bags we now fill with detergent bottles and soda cans. But it is an ancient art. Composting pits were used by the citizens of Knossos in Crete four thousand years ago. Much of medieval Rome was built out of materials pilfered from the crumbling ruins of the imperial city. (Before it was a tourist landmark, the Colosseum served as a de facto quarry.)
Of course we think we're special. All of this has happened before.
There is something remarkable about the minutiae of all these ordinary lives in a seemingly ordinary week persisting in the human record for almost two centuries.
Sometime on Wednesday, it’s likely that the tailor at 40 Broad, Mr. G, began to feel an odd sense of unease, accompanied by a slightly upset stomach. The initial symptoms themselves would be entirely indistinguishable from a mild case of food poisoning. But layered over those physical symptoms would be a deeper sense of foreboding. Imagine if every time you experienced a slight upset stomach you knew that there was an entirely reasonable chance you’d be dead in forty-eight hours. Remember, too, that the diet and sanitary conditions of the day—no refrigeration; impure water supplies; excessive consumption of beer, spirits, and coffee—created a breeding ground for digestive ailments, even when they didn’t lead to cholera.
Imagine living with that sword of Damocles hovering above your head—every stomach pain or watery stool a potential harbinger of imminent doom.
One of cholera’s distinctive curses is that its sufferers remain mentally alert until the very last stages of the disease, fully conscious both of the pain that the disease has brought them and the sudden, shocking contraction of their life expectancy.
Good lord, horrible.
Dying of dehydration is, in a sense, an abomination against the very origins of life on earth. Our ancestors evolved first in the oceans of the young planet, and while some organisms managed to adapt to life on the land, our bodies retain a genetic memory of their watery origin. Fertilization for all animals takes place in some form of water; embryos float in the womb; human blood has almost the same concentration of salts as seawater.
When Prince Albert first announced his idea for a Great Exhibition, his speech included these utopian lines: “We are living at a period of most wonderful transition, which tends rapidly to accomplish that great era to which, indeed, all history points: the realisation of the unity of mankind.” Mankind was no doubt becoming more unified, but the results were often far from wonderful. The sanitary conditions of Delhi could directly affect the conditions of London and Paris. It wasn’t just mankind that was being unified; it was also mankind’s small intestine.
But not all the locals had succumbed to abject fear. As he made his rounds, Whitehead found himself musing on an old saying that invariably surfaced during plague times: “Whilst pestilence slays its thousands, fear slays its tens of thousands.”
But if cowardice somehow made one more vulnerable to the ravages of the disease, Whitehead had seen no evidence of it. “The brave and the timid [were] indiscriminately dying and indiscriminately surviving,” he would later write. For every terrified soul who fell victim to the cholera, there was another equally frightened survivor.
From our vantage point, more than a century later, it is hard to tell how heavily that fear weighed upon the minds of individual Victorians. As a matter of practical reality, the threat of sudden devastation—your entire extended family wiped out in a matter of days—was far more immediate than the terror threats of today. At the height of a nineteenth-century cholera outbreak, a thousand Londoners would often die of the disease in a matter of weeks—out of a population that was a quarter the size of modern New York. Imagine the terror and panic if a biological attack killed four thousand otherwise healthy New Yorkers over a twenty-day period. Living amid cholera in 1854 was like living in a world where urban tragedies on that scale happened week after week, year after year. A world where it was not at all out of the ordinary for an entire family to die in the space of forty-eight hours, children suffering alone in the arsenic-lit dark next to the corpses of their parents.
The literature—both public and private—of the nineteenth century is filled with many dark emotions: misery, humiliation, drudgery, rage. But terror does not quite play the role that one might expect, given the body count. Far more prevalent was another feeling: that things could not continue at this pace for long. The city was headed toward some kind of climactic breaking point that would likely undo the tremendous growth of the preceding century.
I'm not sure that feeling has ever really disappeared.
Most of us accept without debate the long-term viability of human settlements with populations in the millions, or tens of millions. We know it can be done. We just haven’t figured out how to ensure that it is done well.
There is a lovely symmetry that comes from telling the story this way, because a city and a bacterium are each situated at the very extreme boundaries of the shapes that life takes on earth. Viewed from space, the only recurring evidence of man’s presence on this planet are the cities we build. And in the night view of the planet, cities are the only thing going at all, geologic or biologic. (Think of those pulsing clusters of streetlights, arranged in the chaotic, but still recognizable patterns of real human settlement patterns, and not the clean, imperial geometry of political borders.) With the exception of the earth’s atmosphere, the city is life’s largest footprint. And microbes are its smallest. As you zoom in past the scale of the bacterium and the virus, you travel from the regime of biology to the regime of chemistry: from organisms with a pattern of growth and development, life and death, to mere molecules. It is a great testimony to the connectedness of life on earth that the fates of the largest and the tiniest life should be so closely dependent on each other.
The scientific establishment was equally anchored in the miasma theory. In September 1849, the Times ran a series of articles that surveyed the existing theories about cholera: “How is the cholera generated?—how spread? what is its modus operandi on the human frame? These questions are in every mouth,” the paper observed, before taking a decidedly pessimistic stance on the question of whether they would ever be answered:
These problems are, and will probably ever remain, among the
inscrutable secrets of nature. They belong to a class of questions
radically inaccessible to the human intelligence. What the forces
are which generate phenomena we cannot tell. We know as little
of the vital force itself as of the poison-forces which have the
power to disturb or suppress it.
So often what is lacking in many of these explanations and prescriptions is some measure of humility, some sense that the theory being put forward is still unproven. It’s not just that the authorities of the day were wrong about miasma; it’s the tenacious, unquestioning way they went about being wrong. An investigator looking for holes in the theory could find them everywhere, even in the writings of the miasmatists themselves. The canary in the miasma coal mine should have been the sewer-hunters, who spent their waking hours exposed to the most noxious—sometimes even explosive—air imaginable. And yet, bizarrely, the canary seemed to be doing just fine, and Mayhew admits as much in one slightly puzzled passage in London Labour and the London Poor.
All of which begs the central question: Why was the miasma theory so persuasive? Why did so many brilliant minds cling to it, despite the mounting evidence that suggested it was false? This kind of question leads one to a kind of mirror-image version of intellectual history: not the history of breakthroughs and eureka moments, but instead the history of canards and false leads, the history of being wrong. Whenever smart people cling to an outlandishly incorrect idea despite substantial evidence to the contrary, something interesting is at work.
Miasma theories were eminently compatible with religious tradition as well. As one might expect from a man of the cloth, Henry Whitehead believed that the Golden Square outbreak was God’s will, but he supplemented his theological explanation with a miasmatic one; he believed that “the atmosphere, all over the world, is at this time favourable to the production of a most formidable plague.” To reconcile this hideous reality with the idea of a beneficent Creator, Whitehead had settled on what might later have been termed an ingeniously Darwinian explanation: that plagues were God’s way of adapting the human body to global changes in the atmosphere, killing off thousands or millions, but in the process creating generations that could thrive in the new environment.
The sense of smell is often described as the most primitive of the senses, provoking powerful feelings of lust or repulsion, triggering mémoires involontaires.
And not having a sense of smell sucks.
Modern brain-imaging technology has revealed the intimate physiological connection between the olfactory system and the brain’s emotional centers.
So went Thomas Sydenham’s internal-constitution theory of the epidemic, an eccentric hybrid of weather forecasting and medieval humorology. Certain atmospheric conditions were likely to spawn epidemic disease, but the nature of the diseases that emerged depended partly on a kind of preexisting condition, a constitutional susceptibility to smallpox, or influenza, or cholera. The distinction was often defined as one between exciting and predisposing causes. The exciting cause was the atmospheric condition that encouraged a certain kind of disease: a specific weather pattern that might lead to yellow fever, or cholera. The predisposing cause lay in the bodies of the sufferers themselves. That constitutional failing was invariably linked to moral or social failing: poverty, alcohol abuse, unsanitary living.
HEY! Blame the victims! A millennial old tradition.
People were more likely to die of cholera at lower elevations, but not for the reasons Farr imagined. And the poor did have higher rates of contagion than the well-to-do, but not because they were morally debauched.
Chadwick and Nightingale and Dickens were hardly bigots where the working classes were concerned. Miasma, for them, was not a public sign of the underclasses’ moral failing; it was a sign of the deplorable conditions in which the underclasses had been forced to live. It seemed only logical that subjecting such an immense number of people to such deplorable living environments would have a detrimental effect on their health, and of course, the liberal miasmatists were entirely right in those basic assumptions. Where they went wrong was in assuming that the primary culprit lay in the air.
Yes, the path of science works within regimes of agreement and convention, and history is littered with past regimes that were overthrown. But some regimes are better than others, and the general tendency in science is for explanatory models to be overthrown in the name of better models. Oftentimes because their success sows the seeds of their destruction.
Jane Jacobs observed many years ago that one of the paradoxical effects of metropolitan life is that huge cities create environments where small niches can flourish. A store sellin nothing but buttons most likely won’t be able to find a market in a town of 50,000 people, but in New York City, there’s an entire button-store district. Subcultures thrive in big cities for this reason as well: if you have idiosyncratic tastes, you’re much more likely to find someone who shares those tastes in a city of 9 million.
Increase the knowledge that the government has of its constituents’ problems, and increase the constituents’ knowledge of the solutions offered for those problems, and you have a recipe for civic health that goes far beyond the superficial appeal of “quality of life” campaigns.
The most profound impact may be closer to home: keeping a neighborhood safe and clean and quiet, connecting city dwellers to the immense array of programs offered by their government, creating a sense that individuals can contribute to their community’s overall health, just by dialing three numbers on a phone.
Indeed, it is the peculiar nature of epidemic disease to create terrible urban carnage and leave almost no trace in the infrastructure of the city. The other great catastrophes that afflict cities—fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, bombs—almost invariably inflict vast architectural damage alongside the human body count. In fact, that’s how they tend to do their killing: by destroying human shelter. Plagues are more insidious. The microbes don’t care about buildings, because the buildings don’t help them reproduce. So the buildings get to continue standing. It’s the bodies that fall.
So why are health officials in London and Washington and Rome worried about poultry workers in Thailand? Why, indeed, are these officials worried about avian flu in the first place? Because microbial life has an uncanny knack for mutation and innovation. All the world needs is for a single strain of H5N1 to somehow mutate into a form that is transmissible between humans, and that virus could unleash a pandemic that could easily rival the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed as many as 100 million people worldwide.
Right now we’re in an arms race with the microbes, because, effectively, we’re operating on the same scale that they are. The viruses are both our enemy and our arms manufacturer.
Right. At this point, I should be on book four or so of this series,, but I am not. This bingo square is guaranteed to thwart my other bingo square of 100 books read this year.
Okay, so, the book starts where The Eye of the World left off, with our merry band of Emmoners near the Blight. Along comes the Amyrlin Seat (the head of the Aes Sedai), who tells Rand, hey, she knows his secret, we're good, we've been looking for you. While this is happening, no one figures out the grumpiness from the cellar prison is from Fain, so along comes a herd of trollocs to break Fain out of prison, taking the Horn of Valere and Mat's dagger with him. Well, there we go, Rand needs to head off with his buds to find the horn and the dagger. Off they go.
Rand disappears from the merry band, traveling via other worlds accidentally in his sleep, fortunately with Loial and Hurin, The two of them find the Horn and the dagger, head to find Lanfear, er, Selene, who has been quite stunningly hitting on Rand, duh, but manage to lose both the Horn and the dagger to Fain again. Nynaeve and Egwene head off to Tar Valon, where Nynaeve goes through the Accepted initiation. They don't stay there long as they are lured away by Liandrin, a two-dimensional Red, but clearly Black. Fortunately, Elayne and Min come, too.
Meanwhile, the Seanchan are invading Toman's Head, which is where everyone ends up, as Liandrin dumps the four girls there, with the intention of handing all four of them over to be damane, or enslaved women channelers. Rand and his group are forced to Toman's Head by Fain, who took the Horn and dagger there. Hilarity ensues, much death, some destruction, all our heroes survive, one bit of "wait, what? no!"
I really like this series, as much as I have read of it. Given the series is going to be another epic saga via some paid television channel, sorta makes sense to read them. I strongly recommend the series if you enjoy sf/fantasy novels.
"Darkfriends multiply, and what we called evil but ten years ago seems almost caprice compared with what now is done every day.”
Well, that rather sounds like our last three years of the United States, now doesn't it?
"Whatever else I am, I’m a shepherd and a farmer. That’s all.”
“Well, the sword that could not be broken was shattered in the end, sheepherder, but it fought the Shadow to the last. There is one rule, above all others, for being a man. Whatever comes, face it on your feet. Now, are you ready?"
Nynaeve touched her cheek. She could still feel where he had touched her. Mashiara. Beloved of heart and soul, it meant, but a love lost, too. Lost beyond regaining.
There were only two things wolves hated. All else they merely endured, but fire and Trollocs they hated, and they would go through fire to kill Trollocs.
“That should shield us from it.” He hoped it would. Lan said the time to sound most sure was when you were least certain.
Or, I don't know, be realistic and let others know that you're full of it?
“I’m sorry you had to do it, Loial, but it would have killed both of us, or worse.”
“I know. But I cannot like it. Even a Trolloc.”
"People see what they expect to see. Beyond that, look them in the eye and speak firmly."
She found it hard to think that there had been a time when she had been eager to have an adventure, to do something dangerous and exciting like the people in stories. Now she thought the exciting part was what you remembered when you looked back, and the stories left out a good deal of unpleasantness.
Like pooping. What adventure ever talks about pooping?
She sniffed. “If I were being held prisoner, I would not help my captors find other women to enslave. Although, the way these Falmen behave, you would think they were lifelong servants of those who should be their enemies to the death.” She looked around, openly contemptuous, at the people hurrying by; it was possible to follow the path of any Seanchan, even common soldiers and even at a distance, by the ripples of bowing.
“They should resist. They should fight back.”
“How? Against... that.”
How easy it is to declare what someone else should do when you haven't had the same experiences, endured the same hardships, seen the same events.
This is madness. There can’t be grolm here. Thinking it did not make the beasts disappear, though.
Cracked me up.
“Rand would kill someone who did a thing like that,” Elayne said. She seemed to be steeling herself. “I am sure he would.”
“Perhaps they do,” Nynaeve said, “and perhaps he would. But men often mistake revenge and killing for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice.”
I don't recall where this book was recommended to me, or by whom. It continues my reading of World War Two survivor accounts, however. I do know know if I am reading more about World War Two because there is more to read, or because when you start to read about the horrors, more of the stories surface. I have no idea the source, but I'm reading more, and none of them lessen my horror of that time.
Code Name: Lise tells the story of Odette Sansom, a French woman who married an English man, moved to England, and became part of England's Special Operations Executive during World War Two. Her accent and knowledge of France made her well-suited for the role. She originally came on a courier for messages from the actual spies, but "courier" or "spy" is still the enemy in Nazi Germany during World War Two, and so, when caught, she was treated as if she were the spy.
Odette's story is fascinating and interesting and well worth a read. Loftis' telling isn't as horrific as a number of the other Holocaust books I've read, but that doesn't lessen the horror or tension.
The surprise I had from the book was the references to the German police force that pretty much despised the Gestapo. I considered the Nazis to be all of one mind, but, hello, even a 5 second consideration would have had me reconsidering that thought. There are people involved, so of course there would be those in the system who opposed the Nazis. It wasn't a consideration I previously had. I suspect had I studied the era more, I would have come to this realization much sooner than I had. People.
Lest Odette despair or feel sorry for herself, her grandfather encouraged her not to use blindness or pain as an excuse or handicap, but to be as clever as possible; there were many things she could do, and she should focus on those. Odette heeded the instruction and, as Hemingway put it, became strong in the broken places.
The quaint village was a haven and refuge but had a surprising disadvantage: the countryside and rolling hills—fresh with apple orchards, blackberries, and dahlias—were so enjoyable that Odette began to feel guilty. Countless others, she knew, were sacrificing greatly for the war.
He asked her how she felt about the Germans, and she said, “I hate them. I mean that I hate Nazis. For the Germans, oddly enough, I have pity.” “I thought you might separate Germans and Nazis. It was not the Nazis but the Germans who killed your father.” Odette blinked. Jepson had done his homework. She looked at the captain. “Yes, but they were driven then as they are driven now. I think the Germans are very obedient and very gullible. Their tragedy—and Europe’s—is that they gladly allow themselves to be hoodwinked into believing evil to be good. Last October a German major was shot in Bordeaux. You know that?” Jepson nodded. “The Nazis took one hundred hostages and shot fifty of them. You know that too?” He nodded again. “Well, it’s not only because of that that I hate Nazis. It’s because theirs is a humorless creed and a damned creed, and because they make men despoil other people’s fields and carry misery and fear wherever they go.”
Odette struggled with the decision for months. “If everybody thinks my way,” she asked herself, “what is the future going to be for all of those children everywhere? If I were in France, with children, I could be like some of other people who’ve already been captured, even with their children in concentration camps. No, because I’m here, I have a great excuse for not doing anything more than staying put with my children.”
“In many ways it’s a beastly life,” he told her. “It will be physically hard. More than that, it will be mentally exhausting, for you will be living a gigantic lie, or series of lies, for months on end. And if you slip up and get caught, we can do little to save you.” “To save me from what?” Odette asked. Buckmaster shrugged. “Oh, from the usual sickening sort of thing; prison, the firing squad, the rope, the crematorium; from whatever happens to amuse the Gestapo.” As one agent put it, what Buckmaster offered was quite simple: death. But a useful, heroic death.
Was he a soldier or a policeman? he wondered. He had no qualifications for the duties and enjoyed no aspect of the work. But what else was he to do? It was wartime and he had to obey.
Hugo would be undertaking a new, broader assignment, Reile told him, arresting British spies and Resistance saboteurs throughout the country. “We are fighting against bitter enemies who do us immense damage,” he said. “It is our duty to fight them with every available weapon, but I want our methods to remain clean; for our coat must remain clean, too. No violence in interrogations, no third degree, which does not really produce good results. No threats, please, and above all no promises that cannot be kept.” Hugo was fully aware that the instruction was to operate in a fashion exactly the opposite of the hated Gestapo, filled as it was with thugs and criminals. The Abwehr, as a military organization, expected discipline, civility, and professionalism.
Some returned; some didn’t. Of those who did, some retained a dram of dignity; others came back a shell of their former selves—physically, mentally, emotionally. Everyone has a breaking point and the Gestapo were professionals. The weak could be broken through hunger, hence the Fresnes starvation. Simpletons could be broken psychologically, repetition-to-attrition the favored technique.
Extended torture is a journey through a long, dark tunnel. When the agony reaches its apex—the black hollow—the body’s survival mechanism kicks in and the victim blacks out. The more skilled the torturer, the closer he brings his subject to unconsciousness without triggering the reaction. The Commissar was an expert.
It was by design; the Nazis preferred to torture using locals so that no one could say they were mistreated by a German.
Her warders weren’t especially vile or sordid, she replied; prison simply revealed and accentuated character—the strong became stronger; the weak, weaker. She bid Henri good-bye.
After three weeks Hugo’s local captain called him in, saying that they had negotiated a capitulation to the Canadians and that everyone would go to a prisoner of war camp as one body. Hugo refused. “You are a soldier and must obey,” the captain said. “I can obey no order that obliges me to be taken prisoner.”
Like many Germans, he hated the Nazis and had been involved with the Kreisau Circle in the thirties.
Okay, here we have a biography of a woman who signed up to be and was an undercover operative for the CIA. As far as nail biters go, this is a good one.
We know the ending, we know the heroine lives, as she lived long enough to write this book (which is great to realize for people who don't like too much tension in their books).
I recommend this book if you enjoy personal reflections and words that ask you to reflect on your own personal choices. I think the book is worth reading.
Terrorism is a psychological game of escalation. It’s not the last attack that scares people. It’s the next one.
Dad comes with us on outings now and then, but mainly we see him back at home in his flat in the evenings. He moved into the place when he got tired of staying in a hotel, but he hasn’t done much with it except line every wall with books
The sting begins to fade from my idea of him. Would I stand up to the military in my own country? Or would I go along to survive, once they proved beyond sufficient doubt that resistance meant death or worse for my mother, my sisters, my father, my brother? I realize in the dimness of the compartment that I have no way to answer. We talk with certainty while our lungs are filled with freedom, but it’s harder here, in this suffocating place, to be sure we’d all fight back. At the beginning, maybe, when victory seems possible and it’s only our own skin we risk. But after the claw has closed tight around the throats of those we love? Of that I can’t be sure. And in the staleness, I feel the minder’s despair, choosing between slavery and death.
When the minder is with us, the threat has a form. Without him, it becomes a nebulous, all-powerful force. Empty doorways and shapes among the shadows.
Ants flee the stomping boot of power. Until, one day, they don’t.
I’ve started playing a game with myself to see how long I can go without lying to a target. Withholding information is unavoidable—for their security as well as mine—but I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding outright falsehoods. In part, it’s just the challenge of it that appeals to me—the wordplay involved. But increasingly, I’ve found that it forces me to search for some shred of shareable truth instead of settling for a convenient story. Truth casts a powerful spell, cements a bond between speaker and recipient that holds us somehow, one to the other, as we wade into deeper water
Like anyone else, assets want to be a part of something important, want their lives to have meant something, want to build some legacy, secret or not, to keep the terrors of mortality and insignificance at bay. That’s a vulnerability all humans share. And it’s the one I’ve found propels some of the most courageous and significant work any asset—or person—can do.
And all the people you know back home—the ones who are just holding on—they’re going to get taken to the woodshed. People will be jobless. People will be homeless. People will be desperate And desperate people make violent choices.
In the midst of the dust and heat and noise, there are the recognizable patterns of everyday existence. The unremarkable passing of a day that makes life everywhere so beautiful.
And I remember the little sign in my neighbor’s front yard when I was a kid. It said, “Planting a garden is the ultimate act of faith in tomorrow.”
As operations ramp back up, Dean senses the shift in me, bristles at my quiet mention that a situation might be more complicated than it seems. Drone killings and enhanced interrogation become subjects of dread on the operations we plan in tandem. Each time I opt for a different choice, he takes it personally, a critique of his tradecraft, a rebuttal to his way of life, an abandonment of him. I find that building trust simply works better than exerting force. Detention simply works better than assassination. They are pragmatic decisions, the fastest, cheapest, most reliable way to save lives and prevent attacks.
People pretend in the real world just as much as in the spy world, she says. They pretend because the stakes are the same—the stakes are not getting hurt. Sure, in my old world the harm was a suitcase nuke in Times Square, but who’s to say the scorn of a lover isn’t as powerful a weapon? Problem is, she points out, the cost of the armor is the same, too
I think of my old boss and his Mideast negotiations—remember asking him how our allies can give us something we won’t tell them we lack. Turns out, the same goes for friends. And spouses. And moms.
Jonathan recommended this book to me. He had watched the movie and, since it had an Antarctica connection, and suggested I read it. Well, he might have suggested the movie, but I read the book. Then watched the movie.
You know those annoying people who say, "The book is better!"? Yeah, I'm one of those. The book was better.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is the (fictional) tale of Bernadette, a reclusive Seattle mother who, through mishap, miscommunication, and misadventure, ends up traveling to Antarctica without her family. Bernadette's daughter is the one who wanted to go to Antarctica, and one can't blame her for that desire. Both parents are skeptical, but agree. Thus begins the miscommunication part of the story, as Bernadette tries to deal with her social anxieties, her husband misinterprets pretty much everything, the neighbor has to come to terms with her own family's issues.
The whole story is told through various documents, which is what makes the story delightful, and the movie okay. We read emails, transcripts, police reports, newspaper articles, and report cards. The tale is delightfully woven, a fun read.
A guy named the Tuba Man, a beloved institution who’d play his tuba at Mariners games, was brutally murdered by a street gang near the Gates Foundation. The response? Not to crack down on gangs or anything. That wouldn’t be compassionate. Instead, the people in the neighborhood redoubled their efforts to “get to the root of gang violence.” They arranged a “Race for the Root,” to raise money for this dunderheaded effort. Of course, the “Race for the Root” was a triathlon, because God forbid you should ask one of these athletic do-gooders to partake in only one sport per Sunday.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in the middle of a perfunctory conversation, and someone will say, “Tell us what you really think.” Or “Maybe you should switch to decaf.” I blame the proximity to Canada. Let’s leave it at that; otherwise I’ll get onto the subject of Canadians, and that’s something you seriously don’t have time for.
This cracked me up.
Pretty soon, I stopped thinking about home, and my friends, because when you’re on a boat in Antarctica and there’s no night, who are you? I guess what I’m saying is, I was a ghost on a ghost ship in a ghost land.
“Wait, weren’t you at the recap?” I asked.
“Didn’t you hear—”
“Yes! And this is Nick, who’s studying the penguin colonies. He was telling me he always needs helpers to count penguin chicks.”
We were quiet for a while, and then I said, “I think my favorite part of Antarctica is just looking out.”
“You know why?” Dad asked. “When your eyes are softly focused on the horizon for sustained periods, your brain releases endorphins. It’s the same as a runner’s high. These days, we all spend our lives staring at screens twelve inches in front of us. It’s a nice change.”
Here’s what surprised me about penguins: their chests aren’t pure white but have patches of peach and green, which is partially digested krill and algae vomit, which splatters on them when they feed their chicks. Another thing is penguins stink! And they’re loud. They coo sometimes, which is very soothing, but mostly they screech. The penguins I watched spent most of their time waddling over and stealing rocks from one another, then having vicious fights where they’d peck each other until they bled.
My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like, I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.
I had to go. If for no other reason than to be able to put my hand on the South Pole marker and declare that the world literally revolved around me.
I was turned over to Mike, a former state senator from Boston who had wanted so badly to spend time in Antarctica that he had trained to become a diesel mechanic.
I strongly recommend this book. It might not be life-changing, but I will buy you a copy for you to read, I recommend it that much. The experience of reading the book is significantly different than listening to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and veers into some church-preaching styles. I am not a fan of that particular style of speaking to start. I also tend to avoid author-narrations in general, as most are meh given most authors are not voice professionals. In general, I VERY MUCH prefer reading over audiobooks, so sticking with the book didn't bother me. YMWV.
The book is Kendi's personal journey through racism and his own work in overcoming his own biases. Along the way, we learn about his lessons, along with a commentary about what being an antiracist means. There are a number of maxims about being antiracist in the book, all of which can be applied to pretty much everyone. I appreciate how the lessons are taught as part of Kendi's story (and good lord what a story, why does this family have so much cancer in it, and all at such young ages, argh!), making the stories more relatable.
The one lesson I would ask anyone who read this book to come away with is this:
Making individuals responsible for the perceived behavior of racial groups and making whole racial groups responsible for the behavior of individuals are the two ways that behavioral racism infects our perception of the world. In other words, when we believe that a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea. Likewise, when we believe that an individual’s seeming success or failure redounds to an entire group, we’ve accepted a racist idea.
Each person must be judged on their own merits. One person is not the representative for their gender, age-group, race, species. If this were the case, all white men are terrorist serial killer rapists. We have many examples of this not being the case. One bad meal does not make all restaurants awful, why would one bad day make all women bitchy, or all black men thugs (answer: it doesn't, they aren't). If we can keep this in mind, we have a chance.
Let me buy you a copy.
Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.
My parents followed Norton’s directive: They fed me the mantra that education and hard work would uplift me, just as it had uplifted them, and would, in the end, uplift all Black people. My parents—even from within their racial consciousness—were susceptible to the racist idea that it was laziness that kept Black people down, so they paid more attention to chastising Black people than to Reagan’s policies, which were chopping the ladder they climbed up and then punishing people for falling.
Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.
Black self-reliance was a double-edged sword. One side was an abhorrence of White supremacy and White paternalism, White rulers and White saviors. On the other, a love of Black rulers and Black saviors, of Black paternalism. On one side was the antiracist belief that Black people were entirely capable of ruling themselves, of relying on themselves. On the other, the assimilationist idea that Black people should focus on pulling themselves up by their baggy jeans and tight halter tops, getting off crack, street corners, and government “handouts,” as if those were the things partially holding their incomes down.
Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.
David Hume declared that all races are created unequal, but Thomas Jefferson seemed to disagree in 1776 when he declared “all men are created equal.” But Thomas Jefferson never made the antiracist declaration: All racial groups are equals.
We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.
Assimilationists believe in the post-racial myth that talking about race constitutes racism, or that if we stop identifying by race, then racism will miraculously go away. They fail to realize that if we stop using racial categories, then we will not be able to identify racial inequity. If we cannot identify racial inequity, then we will not be able to identify racist policies. If we cannot identify racist policies, then we cannot challenge racist policies. If we cannot challenge racist policies, then racist power’s final solution will be achieved: a world of inequity none of us can see, let alone resist. Terminating racial categories is potentially the last, not the first, step in the antiracist struggle.
In fact, immigrants and migrants of all races tend to be more resilient and resourceful when compared with the natives of their own countries and the natives of their new countries. Sociologists call this the “migrant advantage.” As sociologist Suzanne Model explained in her book on West Indian immigrants, “West Indians are not a black success story but an immigrant success story.”
With ethnic racism, no one wins, except the racist power at the top. As with all racism, that is the entire point.
It makes racist sense to talk about personal irresponsibility as it applies to an entire racial group. Racial-group behavior is a figment of the racist’s imagination. Individual behaviors can shape the success of individuals. But policies determine the success of groups. And it is racist power that creates the policies that cause racial inequities.
Racist ideas often lead to this silly psychological inversion, where we blame the victimized race for their own victimization.
To be antiracist is to never conflate racist people with White people, knowing there are antiracist Whites and racist non-Whites.
We must discern the difference between racist power (racist policymakers) and White people.
Of course, ordinary White people benefit from racist policies, though not nearly as much as racist power and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society, one where the average White voter could have as much power as superrich White men to decide elections and shape policy.
Racist power, hoarding wealth and resources, has the most to lose in the building of an equitable society.
How we frame the problem—and who we frame as the problem—shapes the answers we find.
The saying “Black people can’t be racist” reproduces the false duality of racist and not-racist promoted by White racists to deny their racism.
To say Black people can’t be racist is to say all Black people are being antiracist at all times. My own story tells me that is not true. History agrees.
It is best to challenge ourselves by dragging ourselves before people who intimidate us with their brilliance and constructive criticism. I didn’t think about that. I wanted to run away. They did not let me run away, and I am grateful now because of it.
Okay, at the funeral of Bosch's mentor, he is handed a murder book by the mentor's widow. Bosch is confused why, after illegally removing the unsolved murder murder book, his mentor didn't actually do anything with the case. Puzzling indeed, until plot twist at the end, when we realize the mentor didn't want anyone to investigate the murder. So there we go.
Given the events at the end of the previous Bosch/Ballard book, Bosch isn't a cop any more. The need for justice is strong in this one, however, so he keeps at the investigations as an investigator for his half brother (yeaaaaaaah, I'm not a big fan of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, and tend to avoid those books as a general rule). A simple confession isn't, and, hey, what do you know solving the one murder with the bogus confession leads to solving the "accidental" death that Ballard was investigating. Talk about a win-win!
I like Bosch books. He is, however, a 69 year old retired cop without a badge. There are only so many more books in the old guy. Ballard may be the way of the future, but I'm reading for the Bosch references.
If you're a Bosch completionist or fan, keep reading. If not, eh, they are reasonably good to read.
Domestic disputes were tricky. Calming anger, settling nerves, and then simply backing away might seem to be the most judicious path, but if an hour or a week or a year later the same relationship ends in a killing, the neighbors talk to the news cameras and say the police came out before and did nothing. Better safe now than sorry later. That was the rule and that was why the patrol officers wanted no part of the decision.
"We’re not calling ICE. If you have a problem with that, Shuman, you can get back in your car and go back out on patrol. I’ll handle it from here.”
Shuman averted his eyes and shook his head.
“We call ICE, they get sent back and then they do it again,” Ballard said. “They go through all the rape and horrors they went through getting here the first time.”
“That’s not our concern,” Shuman said.
“Maybe it should be,” Ballard said.
This is book 24 in the Jack Reacher series.
Book starts out with Reacher on a bus. In his usual way, he notices things. In particular, he notices both an old guy with a wad of cash in his pocket, and a younger guy who also notices the old guy with a wad of cash in his pocket. Reacher follows the young guy, who follows the old guy, off the bus, and thwarts the young guy's mugging of the old guy. Reacher then helps the old guy walk to his destination, which, unsurprisingly, is to pay off a loan shark.
Except, the payoff doesn't exactly happen as expected. Reacher, with nothing particularly planned, stays to help the old guy and his wife (and, inadvertently, their stricken daughter). Along the way, Reacher returns to form. There's the girl (nearly always the girl he bops then leaves). There's the violence with many deaths. There's the repetition of some theme (several in this book, something about 10000 generations and another one I didn't note except when reading). There's the impossible situations that Reacher survives. And there's suspension of disbelief required to keep reading about non-trained individuals being able to handle situations that are difficult for even the most highly trained individuals. You know, Classic Reacher™.
I enjoyed the book. This one is non-stop action, with some strategy in the middle. Fun read. If you're a Reacher fan, read this one. If you're not, you'll miss much of the history and nuances of the story, possibly some of the humour by repetition, but will likely still enjoy the book if you enjoy absurd action novels.
“It’s something they teach you in the army. The only thing under your direct control is how hard you work. In other words, if you really, really buckle down today, and you get the intelligence, the planning, and the execution each a hundred percent exactly correct, then you are bound to prevail.”
“It’s the army. What they really mean is, if you fail today, it’s completely your own fault.”
Okay, so, Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Old Man's War. Classics in the citizenship / military commentary through science fiction genre. There are others in this genre, but these are the ones that come to mind. There is a strong likelihood that in upcoming years, The Light Brigade will be in that short list of classics in the genre.
Similar to The Three, this book follows a newly enlisted grunt, Dietz in this case, through basic training and the first hit of war, all while describing the world, the history, the conflict. Of course, we learn more of the motivations and history and dystopian nature of the world as the book progresses. Despite the grim beginning, the book has a "happy" ending (as well as a book about war can be "happy"), which I understand, even if most of my recent readings have far less ... uh, happy endings. Natch.
What we do have in this book is the commentary on the military, citizenship, human nature, war, corporations, capitalism, power, and, sure, socialism. Even Frank Herbert and Ayn Rand make entrances.
Several things make Hurley's world building so compelling in this book: the complete and total mis-visualization of who Dietz is (brilliantly done), the mind-f--- that the plot twists and turns through, and the way the story telling weaves with the commentary so subtly that you forget the philosophical commentary parts of the book (yes, yes, except for the three pages of in-your-face philosophy dump that pales in comparison with Galt's 50 page radio speech (which can be totally skipped if you ever do read that book)).
Enjoyed the book. Will gladly read more of Hurley's books, looking forward to them also. Recommended.
It happens sometimes; they can’t all agree on reality. Listening to the Big Six—when you’re allowed to get media outside your corp at all—is like listening to a bunch of nattering old people at a dinner party trying to remember some esoteric event from when they were kids. Everybody has a different memory. When they get frustrated, they start talking real loud, like that will make their memory more true.
There’s a fascinating course of study on the rise of fascist states that posits that they become more popular the more people fear death. And really, most corporate states are fascist, though they would have you believe they’re oligarchies, ruled by tables full of rich old people with humanity’s best interests at heart. The more fearful and out of control we feel, the more we look to some big man on a horse or a tank or a beam of light to save us. The survival of truly egalitarian societies requires—if not an absence of fear—then a harnessing of it.
There’s something that happens to you when you’ve been through the most grueling ordeal of your life with somebody. It’s like you’re closer than blood, after. Closer than family. There’s nothing else like it.
I kept my mouth shut and listened. Another good tip from my mom. People are always looking for reasons to imprison or kill ghouls. Stay quiet. Keep your head down. Be polite. They may still kill you anyway, but maybe they’ll kill the other guy first.
Darkness. It’s more comforting than you think, to be alone in the dark.
Kid I knew once called it the agony box. The Bene Gesserit. He was a funny kid, quoted a lot of Herbert. You know Frank Herbert? The litany against fear? I always found the litany more helpful than any meditation.
Yes, in the virtual box you know the torture will end at some point. Easier when you know it’s constructed. Easier to fight a constructed thing, especially if you’ve been taught how to survive real torture. No matter how real it all feels, you know that you will wake up from that nightmare and be whole again. You may have terrors, the shakes, after, sure. You might have to go through aversion therapy so you can function again in the real world. But you come out alive and intact. That’s how you can endure it. You know it ends. There’s a huge mental release in knowing there is an end to pain. A human being with hope can continue on far longer than one without. Did you know those who are mildly depressed see the world more accurately? Yet they don’t live as long as optimists. Aren’t as successful. It turns out that being able to perceive actual reality has very little long-term benefit. It’s those who believe in something larger than themselves who thrive. We all seem to need a little bit of delusion to function in the world. That belief can be about anything, too.
It’s important that we tell ourselves stories, Private Dietz. There’s a theory that consciousness itself begins with story. Stories are how we make sense of the world. All of us have an internal story that we have told ourselves from the time we were very young. We constantly revise this story as we get older, honing and sharpening it to a fine point. Sometimes, when we encounter something in our lives, or do something that does not match up with that story, we may experience a great sense of dissonance. It can feel as if you’ve lost a piece of yourself. It can feel like an attack on who you are, when the real world doesn’t match your story.
He reminded me of my brother, too handsome for his own good, bighearted, constantly trying to be a better human. There was no malice in how he spoke, just honest interest.
Everyone is owned by someone else. The resistance here wants to unshackle you, but that’s too frightening for most people. So what does that leave us? Free people who believe they are already free? They think they have chosen their servitude, and that makes them individuals, powerful. Freedom to work? Ha! Freedom to die on the factory floor, behind a desk, pissing in place because they don’t get bathroom breaks. Freedom to be fired at the whim of a boss bleeding you dry on stagnant wages you can only spend at the company store. But the choice of the whip or the chain is a false choice. Sometimes you have to leave people behind. They’re part of the old world. They aren’t capable of building something new. To build something new is to admit that the lives they lead aren’t what they believed. And to lose that belief . . . threatens their sense of themselves. The annihilation of beliefs is the annihilation of the self.
“You all right?” I asked Omalas, which was a dumb question. None of us were all right, but the silence frightened me. The silence invited me to think.
say? I have been fighting this war a long time. Once you begin to drop, time becomes a luxury, an outdated thing, like the idea of voting or equality or freedom that meant anything but freedom for the rich from the burdens they force the poor to carry for them.” It was the most I’d ever heard her speak. “Is that a quote from something?” She smiled without showing her teeth; a sad smile that never reached her flat black eyes. “No. Only a statement of truth.”
it. It’s funny, how sometimes you run so hard away from something that you find yourself exactly where you started.
What makes people believe this shit? I thought as I lay there listening. But it was easy, wasn’t it, when people were isolated. When information was scarce or siloed. People would believe whatever you put in front of them, if it fit their understanding of the world.
“Yeah. You sign up to fight a war. You keep fighting the war for the people next to you.
Corporations had been chipping away at the authority of governments for a century before the Seed Wars. They experimented with company towns, and then outrageous benefits for employees. As health care became more expensive, one didn’t even have to offer private transport and free meals. Simply helping pay the cost to cure grandma’s cancer was enough to ensure blind obedience. That’s how you keep them loyal. Foster distrust in the democratic governments that are actually accountable to them. Show them that only the corporations can save them from themselves.
“That’s the shit thing about systems. They get so ingrained . . . they can putter on awhile longer, even when you chop the head off. You don’t know you’re dead until six more steps down the road.”
Are you as old as your physical body, or as old as your memories?
When you are under the thumb of a corp, they own you. They say you have freedoms, choices. When your choice is to work or to die, that is not a choice. But São Paulo was no choice, either. It was a bad death, when this world was more than rich enough to ensure we could all eat, that no one needed to die of the flu or gangrene or cancer. The corps were rich enough to provide for everyone. They chose not to, because the existence of places like the labor camps outside São Paulo ensured there was a life worse than the one they offered. If you gave people mashed protein cakes when their only other option was to eat horseshit, they would call you a hero and happily eat your tasteless mash. They would throw down their lives for you. Give up their souls.
They made sure we had no good choices.
Why does anyone defect? Some defect for financial or personal freedom, certainly. For enough wealth, people will do anything. Others defect, simply, because they discover the world they believed they lived in proved to be false.
It was a small enough country that it was easy to restrict everything, to a far greater extent than any of the corps do now, even with our advanced surveillance and tracking systems. They were raised to believe their tiny spit of land ruled over by some doddering dictator was the center of the world. And you know what? It worked, mostly. For a long time. The war there was entirely a war of propaganda. The rest of the world worked to let the north know that there was another life beyond the one they knew. But there are always people who are more comfortable with what is certain and known than what is just . . . a promise. A what-if. The tipping point comes when you have nothing to lose. When you can’t stand it anymore. If your life is in danger, or your future is grim, then shit, why not defect? There’s nothing to lose. That’s the trouble with regimes that get too cruel. People need to feel like they have free will. They want to believe that nobody else is as free or happy as they are. If they aren’t citizens yet, well, shit, that’s their fault. They aren’t working hard enough. People disappear in the night, and you think, of course they must have done something wrong. Good people are rewarded. Bad people are punished. Many fought hard to get messages into the north, to share their own propaganda, and people defected, certainly. But only the very daring or the very desperate. The rest did not want to believe. This is something we don’t talk about . . . what happens when you are presented with a truth that contradicts everything you believe in? The widespread proliferation of information in the early days of the open knu, back when it was the wild net, should have made truth easier to find. But it turns out most of us don’t want truth. We want stories that back up our existing beliefs. Flood the world enough with information, and I will pick out only those bits that uphold the virtue and rightness of whatever corp I’ve been taught to love.
Sometimes, to save the world, you have to let it break. You let it break because even as it breaks, there will still be those who believe its demise impossible, even as they watch it disintegrate. Monsters do not die quietly, not the corporations, not the corrupt democracies and kleptocracies before them, and certainly not the monarchies, the feudal lords, the god-emperors, and the oligarchies. Most…
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Don’t tell me every revolution is peaceful. Revolutions rely on the tireless work of faceless masses whose lives mean so little individually that their names weren’t known to their movements even when alive. There is no bloodless revolution, only necessary revolution, when a system becomes so deeply broken you can’t affect change from the inside. When the system itself has become calcified so permanently that change is not possible . . . that is when the knives come out. I used to believe, as others did, that we could work within the existing system, that moderate change was possible. But when you take away the ability of the people to effect change within the rules of the system, those people become desperate. And it is desperate people who overthrow their governments. The corps tell us each individual should reap the profits of “their” hard work. But the reality is the corps made their fortunes on the backs of laborers and soldiers paid just enough to keep them alive. The…
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Any human power can be changed by human beings. That is a truth, a constant. Humans can’t build power structures that cannot be…
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They did not simply wait around for their governments to give them rights and freedoms. They demanded them. People should not be afraid of the corporations.…
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You’re a communist then. S: Let’s say I’m old enough not to be…
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Truth is a point of view. S: So says every…
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I pulled Prakash into my arms. Her eyes were already distant, the far-off look of someone retreating into death.
I backed out of the room. When I got into the hall, I realized my hands were shaking. When was the last time I tried to change anything in my life instead of just reacting to it?
Ordinary people would do anything for authority figures, as long as they could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
could be insulated from the blame. But they would do anything for the people they loved, too. Even if it meant disobeying orders. Why didn’t anyone do an experiment like that?
Maybe I’d wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe the Martians destroyed the whole city, from here to the sea, because it made it easier to sign up. Made it easier to follow orders. Believing lies just makes everything . . . easier, when those lies prop up your worldview.
There’s a tremendous moment of dissonance, like leaving your body, when you discover that one of the core defining moments of your life is mostly a lie.
“It means we clear the area around the crater,” Andria said, “by any means necessary.” I had my rifle over my knees. I had just finished cleaning it and putting it back together. “Sir, does that mean lethal force? On our own people?” “They aren’t our people,” Andria said, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Most are paid protestors. We’re doing a job, just like they are. They were told to disperse or face force. They know what’s coming.” “They aren’t even armed,” Omalas said. “Some may be,” Andria said. “That’s why we have to clear them.
She’d put it on Captain V. Captain V would blame the lieutenant colonel of the battalion, who would blame the colonel of the regiment, who would blame the major general of the brigade, and up and up, until what happened tonight rested on the peacefully sleeping head of some CEO who would never get her hands dirty. Never see the blood pumping from a mortally wounded friend. Never watch the life leave the face of some poor dumb kid who believed the world could be a better place.
But the protestors had decent defensive tactics. They were not complete fools. They came equipped with homemade power-nullifying vests, pepper-spray triage kits, and they had painted their faces to evade the face recognition software in our heads-up displays. Drones surged through the sky, ours and theirs. I admired the janky little craft they employed against us.
They had made a beautiful world from the over-heated toxic desert we’d created, and we hated them for it, because they were free to create a better world. No one owned them.
They had made the land grow things again, but that was all they were supposed to do. They weren’t supposed to be free because no one is free, and they weren’t supposed to be able to defend themselves because no one can, not from the corps. The corps won’t allow it. The corps take care of you, as long as you give them everything.
“Do you think a lot about mortality?” she said. I had no idea where that had come from. “Now? Sure.” “What are your thoughts on it?” “I never thought much about dying when I first signed up,” I said carefully. It was a relief, I realized, to sit here with someone who believed me, even if I was just some test subject to her. But I wasn’t a thing. I was alive. “Nobody really does,” I continued, “even when you see your friends stuck inside walls, or watch their torsos bust open, or hold their guts in your hands. It takes a while to really get that it could
happen to you. You’re the hero of your own story. The hero doesn’t die, can’t die, because then the story ends.
“Even if you take an oath of vengeance. But you’re committing to fight the greater evil. It doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes do some evil yourself. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t sometimes fighting for the empire. It just means that in the end, you do the right thing.”
“All the claims you make follow a logical path,” I said. “It’s ‘I won’t, I can’t,’ but you have to make it to ‘I will. I will. I do.’ It’s powerful. That’s the power of volition. That’s the power we can tap into when we jump. When we become the light. What directs us, always, is volition.”
“Life is a grind,” she said. “Your best bet is to find people who will endure it with you.” I fist-bumped her. “Here’s to endurance.”
She was going to die. I was going to die. Tanaka was going to die. But until then—we’d live.
What is it with people’s memories? It has to be in their face constantly before they get it. Before they realize they can’t just look away and expect it to all be fine.
We forget that people are power. It’s why they work so hard to control us.
Your socialist democracy can’t survive on Mars. They never do. People succumb to fear, no matter the government. The everyday person doesn’t want war, but it’s remarkably easy to convince them. It’s the government that determines political priorities, and it’s easy to drag people along with you by tapping into that fear.
People can always be convinced to turn on one another. All you have to do is convince them that their way of life is being attacked. Denounce all the pacifist liberal bleeding hearts and feel-good
heretics, the social outcasts, the educated. Call them elites and snobs. Say they’re out of touch with real patriots. Call these rabble-rousers terrorists. Say their very existence weakens the state. In the end, the government need not do anything to silence dissent. Their neighbors will do it for them.
Ours. I suppose it’s an old story, isn’t it? The oldest story. It’s the dark against the light. The dark is always the easier path. Power. Domination. Blind obedience. Fear always works to build order, in the short term. But it can’t last. Fear doesn’t inspire anything like love does.
That’s what it is, with bullies. The things they do to you shape your life profoundly. But they often don’t even recall your face, let alone your name.
“Whatever’s busted in your life—you can use its pieces to make the life you want.” —Warren Ellis
I still believe in the military. I believe there’s sometimes a greater evil that must be vanquished. But more often than we’d like to admit, there is no greater evil, just an exchange of one set of oppressive horrors with another. Wars are for old people. For rich people. For people protected by the perpetuation of horrors on others.
The heroes were always the ordinary people who pursued extraordinary change. The power of the corrupt governments and entrenched corporations feels inevitable. No doubt so did the rule of the kings and landowners before them.
Okay, to say I don't understand many of the vitriol that comes out of my dad's mouth is an understatement. A couple years ago, he was going off on how public schools should be shut down, the government has no right telling parents how to educate their kids, public schools are a farce. I had to remind him that I was a product of public education, and that he would have been incapable of teaching me, had it been upon his shoulders to do so. He might have paused at my response, but he continued to spout garbage that were clearly someone else's words.
This book helped me understand the source of those words. The book helped me understand the cult my dad is caught in, where his thinking originates, and just how horribly dangerous it is. My dad is on the side of authoritarianism, fighting for his own chains, as he yells "Freedom!" all the way down.
The strength and momentum of the masses brainwashing comes from the "capitalist radical right" James McGill Buchanan's ideas (which are really bad ideas for a healthy, thriving society) coupling with the Koch brother money, and a long con. The end result is a country with a system like Chile's broken system, with RWA in power. It's not a pretty thought.
This book is pretty incredible. I strongly (like STRONGLY STRONGLY) recommend this book to anyone who will read it. While it may not change your life, I will buy you a copy if you'll read it. Hell, I might start buying Dad many copies until he reads it.
Northern liberals—the very people who looked down upon southern whites like him, he was sure—were now going to tell his people how to run their society. And to add insult to injury, he and people like him with property were no doubt going to be taxed more to pay for all the improvements that were now deemed necessary and proper for the state to make. What about his rights? Where did the federal government get the authority to engineer society to its liking and then send him and those like him the bill?
It would be an academic center, rigorously so, but one with a quiet political agenda: to defeat the “perverted form” of liberalism that sought to destroy their way of life, “a social order,” as he described it, “built on individual liberty,” a term with its own coded meaning but one that Darden surely understood.
Buchanan fully understood the scale of the challenge he was undertaking and promised no immediate results.
The goal of the cause, Buchanan announced to his associates, should no longer be to influence who makes the rules, to vest hopes in one party or candidate. The focus must shift from who rules to changing the rules.
For liberty to thrive, Buchanan now argued, the cause must figure out how to put legal—indeed, constitutional—shackles on public officials, shackles so powerful that no matter how sympathetic these officials might be to the will of majorities, no matter how concerned they were with their own reelections, they would no longer have the ability to respond to those who used their numbers to get government to do their bidding.
Once these shackles were put in place, they had to be binding and permanent. The only way to ensure that the will of the majority could no longer influence representative government on core matters of political economy was through what he called “constitutional revolution.”
while criticizing government action that threatened his own liberty as a property owner, Calhoun saw nothing untoward in calling on the federal government to use its police powers to help his class stifle debate about its practices. That sleight of hand—denying the legitimacy of government power to act for the common good while using government power to suppress others—appears repeatedly in the pages that follow.
Hayek took pains to persuade readers that the free market was not simply an efficient way of producing economic progress. Rather, the price signals of supply and demand provided the only means yet discovered of coordinating the desires and actions of millions of freely acting individuals, without government compulsion, in what Hayek called a “spontaneous order.”
Hayek’s book, not surprisingly, spoke powerfully to right-wing American businessmen still smarting from the loss of time-honored prerogatives of the propertied class, who now were told that they had to negotiate with unions and meet new regulatory agency rules and standards.
at this point he maintained that a return to Gilded Age laissez-faire was undesirable.
He chose to build a career by turning a critical eye the other way: identifying and analyzing perceived “government failure,” so as to make the case that it should not be relied on by default without a sophisticated evaluation of its drawbacks. That was an innovative approach at the time and, on the face of it, a sensible one. Why simply assume government could do better?
Buchanan found a half-century-old dissertation written in German by a nineteenth-century Swedish political economist named Knut Wicksell. Economists, Wicksell argued, should stop offering up policy advice to leaders they imagined as “benevolent despots” who could act on behalf of the public good. Instead, scholars should assume that public officials had the same self-interested motives as other economic actors and go on to scrutinize the actual operational rules, practices, and incentives that created the framework of government and bureaucratic decision-making.
He had found theoretical anchors for both sides of his fiscal inclinations: to curtail taxation and contain government spending. “Pay as you go” was both economically wise and morally just, Buchanan concluded in his first book. He took his stand alongside “the much-maligned man in the street,” who compared national budgets to household ledgers and abhorred red ink in either. A government forced to balance its books every year, he believed, would act more like the nineteenth-century federal government and the southern states whose ongoing tightfisted policies he equated with economic liberty.
Left unspoken was how that framework appealed to the more right-wing members of the propertied class by keeping their taxes low and denying basic services—schools, roads, and sanitation—to those who could not pay for them.
In Byrd’s view, government must defer entirely to business owners to run the economy while balancing its own budgets like a prudent household. His mantra was “pay as you go”: no public investments that would incur debt, no matter how great the promised payoff might be.
And then he admitted that he “would go much farther than you [have]. . . . In principle the full burden of education should be borne by the parents of children,” not paid by the state. Why, you may wonder, did Friedman want the government out of schooling? That would promote personal responsibility—through birth control. If parents had to bear the full cost of educating their children, he believed they would have “the appropriate number of children.”
“No nation,” he said in reference to compulsory high school, “has ever attempted to keep so many children in school so long.” It was an excess of democracy to try to educate so many, he suggested, and it would cost taxpayers too much money. 29
For example, he acknowledged that he had “neither taken nor taught an elementary economics course.” But precisely because of that, he believed himself to be “in a completely unbiased position” to determine “that they are taught wrong.” 6
Interestingly, these conclusions issued from purely abstract thought experiments, not from any research on political practice. Indeed, even a sympathetic economist soon cited as “the major deficiency” of the Virginia school “the failure to search for empirical tests of the new theories.” 13 The lack of proof, however, did not stop Buchanan and Tullock from offering what they considered the only right solution: to stanch the flow of money, change the incentives. Majority rule ought not to be treated as a sacred cow. It was merely one decision-making rule among many possibilities, and rarely ideal. It tended to violate the liberty of the minority, because it yoked some citizens unwillingly to others’ goals.
give each individual the capacity to veto the schemes of others so that the many could not impose on the few. Only if a measure gained unanimous consent, they argued, could it honestly be depicted as “in the public interest.”
As one-sided as the political decisions of their own era seemed to Buchanan and Tullock, they never acknowledged that the system of rules they favored, the one that struck down labor and market regulations along with civil rights and voting rights protections, was just as one-sided. The power of the most propertied to constrain representative government through the courts not only allowed states to legislate racial segregation while keeping wage-earning Americans from effectively advancing their interests, but also hobbled the growing number of middle-class reformers who hoped to steer between what they often viewed as greed on one side and grabbiness on the other in an era marked by veritable rolling wars between corporations and workers.
Today Goldwater is best remembered for one line in his acceptance speech,
“I would remind you,” the nominee announced in his climax, “that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”
In June 1963, the dean of the faculty alerted the president to “a condition in the Department of Economics that has worried me for quite a while. Doctrinalism tends to breed authoritarianism,” he warned. “And absolute doctrinalism breeds absolute authoritarianism absolutely.” 37
Instead, they should adopt his radical methodological individualism in all that they studied, and assume that individuals always sought personal gain, whether in the economy or in politics. But, he opined, markets were good, whereas politics was bad. In
What Buchanan was doing was leveraging the prestige of economic “science” to reject what several generations of scholarship in the social sciences, humanities, and law had exposed: that the late-nineteenth-century notion of a pure market was a fiction. That fiction helped emerging corporate elites to shape law and governance to their advantage while devastating the societies over which they held sway by virtue of their wealth and the control over others it could purchase.
Take, for example, one of the central concepts of public choice analysis: “rent-seeking.” Mainstream economists enlisted the concept of “rents” to describe the additional profits a firm might secure without creating additional value for the economy by productive activity—say, by lobbying to extend the patent on an existing product.
They depicted as “rent-seeking” any collective efforts by citizens or public servants to prompt government action that involved tax revenues. And, in their assumption that individuals always acted to advance their personal economic self-interest rather than collective goals or the common good, Buchanan’s school went further, projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew nothing.
The scholars were conducting, in effect, thought experiments, or hypothetical scenarios with no true research—no facts—to support them, while the very terms of their analysis denied such motives as compassion, fairness, solidarity, generosity, justice, and sustainability. 42
Researchers in history and sociology, for example, including some emerging leaders in UVA’s own history department, such as the southern historian Paul M. Gaston, were reaching conclusions that, in effect, echoed the teachings of Martin Luther King and civil rights activists: that radical restructuring would be required to include all Americans in the promise of opportunity, and that for this, federal intervention was essential. It was needed for a simple reason, they showed: because only the federal government had the power to end the long train of damaging injustices shielded by undemocratic state governments. 45
Buchanan’s telling distorted the reality in at least two ways. The administration was not, in fact, liberal, let alone hostile to right-wing ideas. Its members were pragmatic conservatives; Buchanan’s men were zealous libertarians. And the administrators had realized that the difference mattered.
He never acknowledged any fault on his or his fellows’ part for their fall from grace. In his telling of his life story, the campus donnybrook took its place alongside the alleged discrimination he had suffered in the Navy, where he had felt the sting of Ivy League northerners’ snobbery about Middle Tennessee State Teachers College. He was the victim of mistreatment; he was sure of it.
It also bears noting that, for a thinker who professed devotion to liberty, Buchanan showed a marked enthusiasm for the armed suppression of rebellion, both at home and abroad. Indeed, he never questioned the rightness of American military policy in Vietnam—except to say that it should be more aggressive. 16 His reductionist analysis turned young Americans with a passion to live up to their nation’s stated ideals into menaces who misrepresented their purposes for personal gain and the pure pleasure of disruption. Viewing the protesters, white and black, as spoiled work shirkers who lived off illegitimate extractions from taxpayers, he found it easy to call for the use of clubs to subdue them.
The self-styled libertarian went further in outlining “a counterstrategy,” one he honed and shared with powerful donors, think tank staff, and like-minded public officials over the ensuing decades, for it had application far beyond the campus. The president should play “a simple tit-for-tat game” with the “undesirables.” The students who caused trouble should “be subjected to explicit harassment by the administration,” a kind of hounding “always within rules but explicitly designed to keep them busy and off balance.” There should also be a new “reward-punishment structure for faculty.”
The original Populists had extolled the ordinary men and women who produced needed goods by the sweat of their brows and reviled as “parasites” the mortgage bankers, furnishing merchants, and robber barons who lived in luxury by exploiting them. The People’s Party called on the federal government to intervene, as the only conceivable counterweight to the vast corporate power altering their society. Because that government was representative of the people (or could be made so, through organizing), they saw it as wholly legitimate to endow Congress with new powers that the people believed it needed to ensure justice in a land changed by concentrated corporate power. 10
By contrast, the twentieth-century libertarian directed hostility toward college students, public employees, recipients of any kind of government assistance, and liberal intellectuals.
Remaining were such strategic questions as “How is respectability to be established and maintained? How much hypocrisy is necessary? How much internal criticism is to be allowed?”)
Universal Oil Products engaged in what Buchanan’s coauthor Gordon Tullock would later define as (and an adult Charles Koch would revile as) “rent-seeking behavior.” It referred to all attempts to extract benefits (financial or otherwise) through manipulation of the political or legal system that exceeded what those seeking these advantages would have been able to earn through their own productive activity. 4 Of course, what happened to Fred Koch wasn’t rent-seeking behavior; it was criminal behavior. If Universal’s lawyers felt confident that the courts would have sustained their claims, then Universal would not have resorted to bribery.
One can only wonder if the course of both Fred’s and Charles’s lives might have been somehow different had the judge in the case refused the bribe and heard the case on its merits.
For in his own mind his success confirmed the quality of his intelligence and his fitness as a leader.
The devil is in the details, goes the old adage, and it is true: the wicked genius of Buchanan’s approach to binding popular self-government was that he did it with detailed rules that made most people’s eyes glaze over. In the boring fine print, he understood, transformations can be achieved by increments that few will notice, because most people have no patience for minutiae. But the kind of people he was advising can hire others to make sure that the fine print gets them what they want.
What’s perplexing is how a man whose life’s mission was the promotion of what he and his fellow Mont Pelerin Society members called the free society reconciled himself, with such seeming ease, to what a military junta was doing to the people of Chile.
But perhaps above all, for Buchanan, the end justified the means: Chile emerged with a set of rules closer to his ideal than any in existence, built to repel future popular pressure for change. It was “a virtually unamendable charter,” in that no constitutional amendment could be added without endorsement by supermajorities in two successive sessions of the National Congress, a body radically skewed by the overrepresentation of the wealthy, the military, and the less popular political parties associated with them.
As they set about devising binding rules to limit what other political agents could do, would he have seen that they might be using the rule-writing process to keep themselves in power?
From this we can only conclude that he was well aware of the Pandora’s box he had helped open in Chile for the genuine, not merely metaphorical, corruption of politics, but he valued economic liberty so much more than political freedom that he simply did not care about the invitation to abuse inherent in giving nearly unchecked power to an alliance of capital and the armed forces. His silence, it must be said, safeguarded his reputation.
The novel labor “flexibility” heralded by the regime’s enthusiasts had taken away protections that working people won over generations of organizing and political action. “Precarious and low-income work [became] the staple for over 40 percent of the Chilean labor force,” a marginality compounded by the fact that individuals were now forced to save the full cost of their retirement pensions, with no contribution by their employers, and pay for other goods that had previously come with citizenship. Not to mention those who had dutifully put away money only to have it lost in the downturn.
The young people demanded the end of “profiteering” in schooling and a free education system with quality and opportunity for all. What they were asking for “is that the state take a different role,” said one leader, Camila Vallejo. “People are not tolerating the way a small number of economic groups benefit from the system.” 47
But durable locks and bolts were exactly what James Buchanan had urged and what his Chilean hosts relied on to ensure that their will would still prevail after the dictator stepped down. And today the effectiveness of those locks and bolts is undermining hope among citizens that political participation can make a difference in their quality of life. Frustrated by how the junta’s economic model remains so entrenched nearly three decades after Pinochet was voted out, many are disengaging from politics, particularly the young, who have never known any other system. Some legal scholars fear for the legitimacy of representative government in Chile as disgust spreads with a system that is so beholden to corporate power, so impermeable to deep change, and so inimical to majority interests.
These libertarians seemed to have determined that what was needed to achieve their ends was to stop being honest with the public. Instead of advocating for them frontally, they needed to engage in a kind of crab walk, even if it required advancing misleading claims in order to take terrain bit by bit, in a manner that cumulatively, yet quietly, could begin to radically alter the power relations of American society.
If you have ever seen a television ad showing older people with worried faces wondering if Social Security will be around when they need it, or heard a politician you think is opposed to the retirement program suddenly fretting about whether it will be there for you and others, listen more carefully the next time for a possible subliminal message. Is the speaker really in favor of preserving the system as we know it? Or is he or she trying to diminish the reputation of the system with the public, so that when the right time comes to make changes to it, even small ones that in fact reduce benefits or change the rules for beneficiaries, those affected will be less likely to feel that something good is being taken away from them? While step one would soften public support for the system by making it seem unreliable, step two would apply a classic strategy of divide and conquer. Recipients could be split apart in this way.
In other words, the revolutionaries must find the people who would gain from the end of Social Security and draw them into the battle alongside the cadre.
In the case of Social Security, the answer was clear: the financial sector. The right was not against people putting away for their retirements. To the contrary, they wanted people to save, early and actively, for their own retirements as part of their philosophy of personal responsibility. They just wanted those savings taken out of the hands of the federal government and put into the hands of capitalists, just as was done in Chile. And to end employer contributions as Chile had.
For the libertarian right, Social Security privatization meant a savvy triple win, in which ideological triumph over the most successful and popular federal program was the least of the gains. First, it would break down citizens’ lived connection to government, their habit of believing it offered them something of value in navigating their lives. Second, it would weaken the appeal of collective organization by inducing fracture among groups that had looked to government for solutions to their common problems. But third and just as important, by putting a vast pool of money into the hands of capitalists, enriching them, it would both make them eager to lobby for further change and willing to shell out dollars to the advocacy groups leading the charge for change.
Buchanan never lost sight of the fact that such rearguard assaults on the welfare state would take the movement only so far. What was needed was a way to amend the Constitution so that public officials would be legally constrained from offering new social programs to the public or engaging in regulation on their behalf even when vast constituencies were demanding them.
The project must aim toward the practical “removal of the sacrosanct status assigned to majority rule.” 53
Like Buchanan, Manne rejected the idea of open searches for the best talent, in favor of hiring kindred thinkers, all white men who felt “underappreciated” at other schools.
As chairman of the Rules Committee, Smith became a legendary tactician of the manipulation of legislative rules to prevent the majority from achieving its will.
Operationally, as Buchanan had repeatedly explained, such a program must ultimately change the rules, not simply who rules. In the near term, it had to have two components. First, it had to create a pathway from here to there that could be executed in small, piecemeal steps that on their own polled well enough with the American people that they could win passage without raising the public’s ire. But each step had to connect back to the previous step and forward to the next one so that when the entire path was laid, all the pieces would reinforce the route to the ultimate destination. By then it would be too late for the American public to cry foul.
Second, and as important, because some of those piecemeal steps, no matter how prettified, could not be fully disguised, where necessary they had to be presented to the American public as the opposite of what they really were—as attempts to shore up rather than ultimately destroy—what the majority of Americans wanted, such as sound Medicare and Social Security programs. For such programs, the framing should be one of the right’s concern to “reform” the programs, to protect them, because without such change they would go bankrupt—even though the real goal was to destroy them. For both men, the ends justified whatever means seemed necessary, although those means should remain technically within the law.
Because environmentalists were, in the eyes of Manne and Buchanan, on a “quest for control over industry,” they had to be not merely defeated, but defamed, with their personal “hidden agenda” exposed.
“Any modern democracy’s tax policy” was likewise trouble, because the voters’ “inevitable egalitarian instincts” would lead them, if unobstructed, to “redistribution.”
As “the most socialized industry in the world,” the GMU team complained, public schools, from kindergarten through university, nurtured “community values, many of which are inimical to a free society.”
Finally, the golden anniversary discussions should also figure out how to deal with feminism, which the men found to be “heavily socialistic for no apparent reason.” 24 A kind of cultural war was therefore in order against this movement that relied so heavily on government action.
Socialism, as the Mont Pelerin Society members defined the term, was synonymous with any effort by citizens to get their government to act in ways that either cost money to support anything other than police and military functions or encroached on private property rights.
“We are increasingly enfranchising the illiterate,” grumbled Jim Buchanan, “moving rapidly toward electoral reform that will not expect voters to be able to read or follow instructions.”
Although far more politically engaged throughout his entire academic career than he ever publicly admitted, he chose to tell himself that this debacle was all the fault of others.
By self-description autistic and an “upper-middle-class white male who all his life felt like he belonged to the dominant group,” Cowen was not inclined to sentimentality or solidarity.
The core claim of this movement—certainly Buchanan’s core claim going all the way back to Brown—was that government did not have the right to “coerce” the individual, beyond the basic level of the rule of law and public order. If liberty, as Buchanan and others in the movement would use that term, had any hard and fast meaning, it lay in the conviction that every person, up to the very wealthiest among us, had the same right to control the earnings of his own labor as he saw fit, even when the majority thought that this money might be put to better use serving the public interest.
But what Rowley saw—up close—was two equally troubling patterns that did not square with that way of thinking. First, the sheer scale of the riches the “wealthy individuals” brought to bear turned out to have subtle, even seductive, power. And second, under the influence of one wealthy individual in particular, the movement was turning to an equally troubling form of coercion: achieving its ends essentially through trickery, through deceiving trusting people about its real intentions in order to take them to a place where, on their own, given complete information, they probably would not go.
He saw, too, that Koch had “no scruples concerning the manipulation of scholarship”; he wanted Cato’s output to aid his cause, period.
The acclaimed jurist Louis Brandeis, who over the course of his lifetime amassed considerable wealth, once warned the American people that as a nation, “we must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
I suspect, however, that even Brandeis (who also spoke of the need for unions, and for social justice and wise regulation in an earlier age when capital ran amok) never imagined that enough wealth could be concentrated in the hands of a few to launch such an audacious stealth attack on the foundational notion of government being of, by, and for the people. 10
But Brandeis also bequeathed us the maxim “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
“If you tell a great lie and repeat it often enough, the people will eventually come to believe it,” Joseph Goebbels, a particularly ruthless, yet shrewd, propagandist, is said to have remarked.
People who failed to foresee and save money for their future needs, Buchanan wrote in 2005, “are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to . . . animals who are dependent.” 15
And because “worthy individuals” will manage to climb their way out of poverty, “that will make it easier to ignore those who are left behind.”
Cowen foresees that “we will cut Medicaid for the poor.” Also, “the fiscal shortfall will come out of real wages as various cost burdens are shifted to workers” from employers and a government that does less.
For example, the economist prophesies lower-income parts of America “recreating a Mexico-like or Brazil-like environment” complete with favelas like those in Rio de Janeiro. The “quality of water” might not be what U.S. citizens are used to, but “partial shantytowns” would satisfy the need for cheaper housing as “wage polarization” grows and government shrinks.
Less well known is that these zealots do not believe that the government should be involved in trying to promote public health, period. We are not talking about subsidized hip replacements and birth control. We are talking about things like basic sanitation, something governments have committed to since the Progressive Era as the single most important measure to stop waterborne epidemics such as cholera and typhoid.
Thom Tillis, a North Carolina state senator elevated to the U.S. Senate in 2014 with backing from the Koch apparatus, has said that restaurants should be able “to opt out of” laws requiring employees to wash their hands after using the toilet, “as long as they post a sign that says, ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom.’ The market will take care of that.” 20
What happened in Flint was not a natural disaster. Nor a case of governmental incompetence. What happened there was directly attributable to the prodding of the Mackinac Center, one of the first Koch-funded—and in this case, Koch-staffed—state-level “think and do” tanks that now exist in all fifty states and are affiliated with the State Policy Network (SPN), also Koch-concocted, to coordinate efforts to prevent state governments from responding to the demands of the “takers.”
The Koch team, led by Cato, continues to push the Pinochet model of individual investment accounts, a model for which they have won the support of many Republican elected officials. But in reality, that model proved so disastrous that after the dictatorship ended, a nearly universal consensus emerged on bringing back key elements of social insurance. The system of individual accounts proved a huge boon to the financial corporations that received the automatic deductions from workers’ paychecks. The companies exploited that access mercilessly, achieving an average annual profit rate of more than 50 percent over a five-year period, thanks, not least, to their taking between a quarter and a third of workers’ contributions as fees.
What did Cowen discover? One key finding was that by the 1920s, in both Europe and the United States, “the expansion of the voter franchise” beyond “wealthy male landowners” had produced the unfortunate result of enlarged public sectors. Alas, “the elimination of poll taxes and literacy tests leads to higher turnout and higher welfare spending.” 61
We can see the toll of these constraints by looking at the problem of economic inequality. As it has swelled in the United States to a degree not seen in any comparable nation, intergenerational mobility—the ability of young people to move up the economic ladder to achieve a social and financial status better than that of their parents, which was once the source of America’s greatest promise and pride—has plummeted below that of all peer nations, with the possible exception of the United Kingdom.
But two of the country’s most distinguished comparative political scientists, Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, recently approached the puzzle of U.S. singularity in another way: they compared the number of stumbling blocks that advanced industrial democracies put in the way of their citizens’ ability to achieve their collective will through the legislative process. Calling these inbuilt “majority constraining” obstacles “veto players,” the two scholars found a striking correlation: the nations with the fewest veto players have the least inequality, and those with the most veto players have the greatest inequality. Only the United States has four such veto players.
In the dream vision of the apparatus Charles Koch has funded to carry out Buchanan’s call for constitutional revolution, it would be all but impossible for government to respond to the will of the majority unless the very wealthiest Americans agree fully with every measure.
the interpretation of the Constitution the cadre seeks to impose would give federal courts vast new powers to strike down measures desired by voters and passed by their duly elected representatives at all levels—and would require greatly expanded police powers to control the resultant popular anger.
One North Carolina insider summarized the danger bluntly: “Lose the courts, lose the war.” 79
As the push for aggressive judicial activism on behalf of economic liberty illustrates, for all the small-government rhetoric, the cadre actually wants a very strong government—but a government that acts only in a way they deem appropriate. It wants our democracy to be curbed as Chile’s was, with locks and bolts on what the majority can do.
One is a power grab by affiliated state legislators reaching down to deny municipal governments the right to make their own policies on matters hitherto within their purview, not least local election rules.
A case in point: when Jane Mayer began to expose the operations of the Koch brothers and their network, they dispatched private investigators in a fruitless quest to find dirt with which to discredit her and tried to convince her employer to fire her. Anyone who tries to expose what this cause is up to thus must ask herself: Will I become the target of a similar scurrilous attack? Wouldn’t it be wiser to keep quiet? The cadre even has an economics euphemism for harassment designed to intimidate—they call it “upping the transaction costs for the other side.”
“Democracy,” the towering African American historian John Hope Franklin observed in the midst of World War II, “is essentially an act of faith.” 96 When that faith is willfully exterminated, we should not be surprised that we reap the whirlwind.
The public choice way of thinking, one sage critic warned at the time James Buchanan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, is not simply “descriptively inaccurate”—indeed, “a terrible caricature” of how the political process works. It also constitutes an insidious attack on the very “norm of public spiritedness” so crucial to shaping good government policy and ethical conduct in civic life. That is to say, public choice theory was wrong in its explanations, and would be toxic if believed by the public or its representatives. We have seen the truth of that prediction.
To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.
But nearly all else about the political economy of midcentury Virginia enacts their dream: the uncontested sway of the wealthiest citizens; the use of right-to-work laws and other ploys to keep working people powerless; the ability to fire dissenting public employees at will, targeting educators in particular; the use of voting-rights restrictions to keep those unlikely to agree with the elite from the polls; the deployment of states’ rights to deter the federal government from promoting equal treatment; the hostility to public education; the regressive tax system; the opposition to Social Security and Medicare; and the parsimonious response to public needs of all kinds—not just the decent schools sought by aspiring teenagers like Barbara Rose Johns and John Stokes but also the care and shelter of the elderly poor, the mentally ill, and others in whose names Dr. Louise Wensel ran her 1959 Senate campaign against Old Harry.
If we delay much longer, those who are imposing their stark utopia will choose for us. One of them has announced flatly: “America will soon make a decision about its future. It will be a permanent decision. There will be no going back.” As we consider the future of our democracy in light of all that has happened already, we may take heed of a Koch maxim: “Playing it safe is slow suicide.” 99
Okay, this book wasn't really recommended per se, at least not for its contents. It was referenced in a Daily Stoic newsletter for its providence in ending up as the 1962 National Book Award winner, even though the publisher's president didn't like the book, and didn't promote the book, etc. The book was handed, very late in the process, to one of the award judges, who read it and nudged enough of the other readers to read it, and oh, hey, look it won. None of the process of winning the award, after writing and submitting whatever revisions Percy needed to do, was in Percy's control. Hence, the story's story in the newsletter.
I'm rather with the publishing house's president on this one, I'm very meh about it, winner or not. There are some books of earlier eras that stand up to the test of time. This is not one of them. Lots of negro this, and sexism that, and oh, I don't know what the hell I'm doing so I'll drift through life and use movie locations to define my existence.
Ahead of myself there.
Here we have Binx Bolling, a stockbroker in the early sixties. He hires women to work for him so that he can date them. He comes from a family well off enough that he doesn't seem to need to work. He has a lost cousin whose mental health is questionable after her fiancé died in a car crash days before their wedding. His aunt, the cousin's step mother, looks out for the cousin, thinks our protagonist is a charming young man (at 30) who just hasn't found his way in life.
Let me help: "Dear Auntie, Found my way, I'm going to be a slacker the rest of my life. Please send money. Love, Binx."
The main character lets others define his world (you aren't anywhere until a movie has been filmed in your neighborhood), and goes through life detached while observing, not a participant in life.
Meh, not a fan. Unless you need to read the book for class, don't.
Telephone conversation could take place at all hours of the night, conversations made up mostly of long silences during which I would rack my brain for something to say while on the other end you could hear little else but breathing and sighs. When these long telephone silences come, it is a sure sign that love is over. No, they were not conquests. For in the end my Lindas and I were so sick of each other that we were delighted to say good-bye.
Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics - which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.
He has thick lips, cropped reddish hair and skin to match. She is mousy. They are not really happy. He is afraid their honeymoon is too conventional, that they are just another honeymoon couple. No doubt he figured it would be fun to drive down the Shenandoah Valley to New Orleans and escape the honeymooners at Niagara Falls and Saratoga. Now fifteen hundred miles from home they find themselves surrounded by couples from Memphis and Chicago. He is anxious; he is threatened from every side. Each stranger he passes is a reproach to him, every doorway a threat. What is wrong? he wonders. She is unhappy but for a different reason, because he is unhappy and she knows it but doesn't know why.
"A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man."
Kate gives me a look -- it is understood that we do not speak during the movie.
Although she has been working for me two weeks, I have not asked her for a date nor spoken of anything other than business. Yet the fact is
that for weeks I have thought of little else.
Wow, this is so completely rage-inducing. Hiring someone so that you can date her? Right, early sixties, women just coming into the workforce, sure. Whatever. Hate. It.
I seem to recall an article about a subway breaking down in New York. The passengers who had their noses buried in newspapers began to talk to each other.
I was laughing at this. Noses in newspapers. We are even less social in common spaces now.
He made a mistake. He was trying to sleep. He thought he had to sleep a certain number of hours every night...
Not in a thousand years could I explain it to Uncle Jules, but it is no small thing for me to make a trip, travel hundreds of miles across the country by night to a strange place and come out where there is a different smell in the air and people have a different way of sticking themselves into the world. It is a small thing to him but not to me. It is nothing to him to close his eyes in New Orleans and wake up in San Francisco and think the same thoughts on Telegraph Hill that he thought on Carondelet Street. Me, it is my fortune and misfortune to know how the spirit-presence of a strange place can enrich man or rob a man but never leave him alone, how, if a man travels lightly to a hundred strange cities and cares nothing ing for the risk he takes, he may find himself No one and Nowhere.
Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upside down: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive.
"Do you think it is possible for a person to make a single mistake -- not do something wrong, you understand, but make a miscalculation - and ruin his life?"
"I mean after all. Couldn't a person be miserable because he got one thing wrong and never learned otherwise - because the thing he got wrong was of such a nature that he could not be told because the telling iteslf got it wrong - just as if you had landed on Mars and therefore had no way of knowing that a Martian is mortally offended by a question and so every time you asked what was wrong, it ony grew worse for you?"
You say it is a simple thing surely, all gain and no loss, to pick up a good-looking woman and head for the beach on the first fine day of the year. So say the newspaper poets. Well it is not such simple thing and if you have ever done it, you know it isn't -- unless, of course, the woman happens to be your wife or some other everyday creature so familiar to you that she is as invisible as yourself. Where there is chance of gain, there is also chance of loss. Whenever one courts great happiness, one also risks malaise.
We swim and lie down together. The remarkable discovery forces itself upon me that I do not love her so wildly as I loved her last night.
But, good as it is, my old place is used up (places get used up by rotatory and repetitive use) and when I awake, I awake in the grip of everydayness. Everydayness is the enemy. No search is possible. Perhaps there was a time when everydayness was not too strong and one could break its grip by brute strength. Now nothing breaks it - but disaster
"Losing hope is not so bad. There's something worse: losing hope and hiding it from yourself."
Money is a good counterpoise to beauty. Beauty, the quest of beauty alone, is a whoredom.