Mitt Romney – A New Book “Romney A Reckoning” by McKay Coppins – A Review and Quotes

I checked out Romney A Reckoning from the San Francisco Public Library having heard McKay Coppins, the author, in an interview on public radio. Both Romney and Coppins are Mormon.  Romney gave Coppins access to his personal journals, texts and emails and they had weekly interviews while he was a U.S. Senator so that Coppins could write the book. The agreement was that Coppins would be the author and Romney would not have any influence over the final product.

While most politicians these days are extremely careful with their exposure to journalists, media and the spin, this relationship does speak to Romney’s candor and the notion that he has nothing to hide.  While Romney became a very wealthy man starting and running Bain Capital, the book focuses primarily on his personal and recent political life.  Often quite goofy and more humorous than expected, Romney predictably comes off as someone of character and courage. We get brief excerpts of his private journals, the assessment of the people around him, the turmoil of January 6th., his meetings with Trump. Romney A Reckoning is an interesting, entertaining, alarming, fun and fast read and an important view into our tumultuous political times.

At an event in New Hampshire a man confronted him with an accusatory question. “Are you going to compromise? the voter asked. “I don’t want to vote for anyone who’s going to compromise.” Romney, unable to restrain himself, replied, “Are you married, sir?”
Romney A Reckoning

I have never voted for Mitt Romney but gained much respect for him when he was the only Republican to both impeach and convict Donald Trump. Like his father George Romney, Mitt Romney did believe in civil rights and he is documented as marching with Black Lives Matters protesters after the murder of George Floyd. He is a rational person, believes in science and the notion that the planet is warming and climate change is real. But in many ways he is a throwback to an earlier type of Republican – a buttoned-down, well-mannered conservative capitalist who really does have an insane amount of money.

The quote below will always be a political liability no matter how you spin it. The visual of Mitt Romney at a rest stop hosing dog shit off of the family station wagon is simply too funny.

One prolonged subplot of the campaign had to do with a decades-old anecdote about Romney strapping the family dog, Seamus, to the roof of their station wagon during a road trip. One of Romney’s sons had shared the story with a newspaper reporter as a funny demonstration of this dad’s organizational skills: when Seamus experienced a bout of diarrhea, Romney moved quickly to find a rest stop, hose down the dog and car, and get back on the road without losing much time.
Romney A Reckoning

According to the book, Mitt Romney is a man who enjoys managing and solving problems whether they mean packing the family station wagon roof rack or working in the private or public sectors.  Unlike, Reagan and current Republicans, he does not think that government is the problem, he thinks government just needs to be better managed. Indeed, it was Massachusetts health care plan while Romney was governor that was in many was the blueprint for the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Perhaps one of his shortcomings as a politician is that he does not actually care for the theater that so often goes along with politics and is motivated by his technocratic, problem-solving impulses. Mitt Romney surely finds reality television shows ridiculous.

I really do believe if you’re not being booed, if people aren’t angry at you, you really haven’t done anything in public life.
Mitt Romney

A theme that is persistent in the book is how his Mormon faith often became a political liability.  Mormonism for many Americans is and has always been a bit strange. This modern offshoot of Christianity and its Zionism finding a home in  isolated Utah seems to often make other Christians uncomfortable. There is a chapter in the book about how Romney realized the existence of extremists in parts of Utah while on the campaign trail. What is odd is that the new Republican Tea Party Evangelicals are more comfortable with a vile, dishonest, racist, misogynist non-religious  con-man than a morally upstanding character like Mitt Romney.

Near the end of the book, you get this very chilling realization that the violence unleashed by Trump has really made it into the highest halls of government.

When one senator, a member of leadership, said he was leaning toward voting to convict, the other urgently encouraged him to reconsider. You can’t do that, one said, think of your personal safety, said another, think of your children. The senator eventually decided they were right. There were to many Trump supporters with guns in his state, he explained to Romney. His wife wouldn’t feel safe going out in public.

Senators voting a certain way because they fear assassinations? Sounds like fascism not the home of the free and the brave. Romney A Reckoning . A fun read. You will find this book at a garage sale in a few years. Buy it. Read it. Hopefully the world will be a bit saner by then.

Discovering Blindness “Ensaio sobre a cegueira” by José Saramago

Blindness (Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness) is a 1995 novel by the Portuguese author José Saramago. It is one of Saramago’s most famous novels, along with The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Baltasar and Blimunda. In 1998, Saramago received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Blindness was one of his works noted by the committee when announcing the award.[1]
Wikipedia

A few weeks ago I was in Mexico City when I had run out of reading material. When in a country where English is not the first language, it is often very difficult to find books in English. We went to a bookstore and though the possibilities were a bit limiting, I picked up Blindness by José Saramago. It sucked me in and I finished the novel by the time we left Mexico.

But I almost put the book down after the first few chapters. The English translation was so horrible I wondered if I could make it through. When I figured out that the translator had died midway through the work I realized that what I was reading was not really a finished piece but a draft. The translator was Giovanni Pontiero who passed away. Margaret Jill Costa finished the work. I soon realized that they had seemingly worked backwards and as the novel progressed, the writing got better. The story is so good and captivating, the writing can lean on the narrative.

You can read about the plot in Wikipedia so I will not rehash the story. There are so many angles from which to interpreting and understand this novel and that is what makes it so intriguing – the symbolism of blindness, the fragility of society, the psychology of power, the psychology of interpersonal relationships, violence, the act of forgiveness, the power and responsibilities of those that can see, vengeance. All of these themes and others are somewhere inside this captivating novel.

Of course where you read a book like this you cannot help but imagine it as a movie. After finishing Blindness, I discovered and watched the movie. I had reservations about how would you even make a movie from the novel but was surprised at how good the movie is. It brings together all the important themes and in many ways does not stray too far from the novel. Of course, the movie did not do well at the box office as dystopian nightmares are not what people desire in the theaters these days.

I am not usually one for books that are thrillers and on the macabre side, but Blindness is highly recommended reading. Probably best to start with the book.

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist – Great Summer Reading

The book In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordon is featured in a very entertaining 99% Invisible episode De Fiets is Niets/.

In the City of Bikes is a fast read about both the twists and turns of both Amsterdam and Jordon’s  journal with the bicycle. It is well-researched and the quotes about and from the various characters integral to the story make it a light read. Perfect for the beach or nearby lake.

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist
By Pete Jordan
Publisher: ‎ Harper Perennial; 0 edition (April 16, 2013)
Language: ‎English
Paperback: ‎448 pages
ISBN-10: ‎0061995207
ISBN-13: ‎978-0061995200

Reflections on Thomas Szasz and The Manufacture of Madness

Thomas Szasz’s The Manufacture of Madness –  A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement was published in 1970. The gist of the book is that the Inquisition that persecuted witches, heretics, Jews and homosexuals and a variety of “others” is similar to modern psychiatry and the Mental Health Movement that diagnoses people for their insanity and locks them up, against their will in institutions for safekeeping and treatments.

That was 1970. I am sure there is still the practice of putting people with schizophrenia and other diagnoses against their will into institutions and it may be good to remember that The Manufacture of Madness was written in the time of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Additionally it was a time when homosexuality and masturbation were often considered diseases that needed to be cured. I will refrain from the gory details of the treatments.

Of course, comparing the Mental Health Movement to the Inquisition made Dr. Szasz a very controversial academic and he surely had many enemies.  In effect he was declaring that mental illness is a myth and the profession of psychiatry a hoax and the people who practice it immoral and dense – not a good way to make friends. Szasz’s thesis surely has merit and it is odd that people then and today dismiss his theories simply because it makes them uncomfortable and they do not like them. In every era we think we become more noble and advanced but time and time again it turns out that more often than not the same dynamics are in play; it is only the words, players and titles that change.

What one thinks of Rush’s tactics depends, of course , on what one thinks of the ideology of psychiatric imperialism and its attendant quasi-medical sanctions.

The chapter The New Manufacturers – Benjamin Rush, The Father of American Psychiatry is an eye-opening account of how Benjamin Rush thought that criminals had mental diseases that needed to be “cured” and that Black people suffered a “disease” from the color of their skin

More surprising than Rush’s self-proclaimed love for the Negro is his theory of Negritude. Rush does not believe that God created the Negro black; nor that a Negro is black in nature…  About 1792, white spots began to appear on the body of a Negro slave named Henry Moss. In three years he was almost entirely white. Moss had the symptoms of an hereditary disease we now know as vitiligo. The condition, characterized by loss of skin pigmentation, occurs in both white and colored people… The gist of Rush’s theory was that the Negro suffered from congenital leprosy which “… appeared so mild a form that excess pigmentation was its only symptom.”

By inventing his theory of Negritude, Rush solved the issue of racial  segregation. Whites and Blacks could not have sexual contact and God-forbid marry as it would propagate this dreaded disease of being Black.  By conflating race with a disease, he was promoting a concept that humans could be cured of their race – or in more modern terms, they would then be cured by becoming  transracial. Race (as gender is today) was considered a preexisting medical condition. In the 18th and 19ths centuries, it is clear that unless you were a white male, you had some sort of disease that needed a medical remedy.  Women suffered from hysteria and pregnancy was a disease. Black people had the disease of Negritude. It is a sobering fact that this is the basis of psychiatry in America  as conjured up by Benjamin Rush, the preeminent doctor and a man who signed the Declaration of Independence.

All students of psychology and psychiatry would do well to read the work of Thomas Szasz as he was a very influential person, intelligently questioning the status quo and his work goes deep into the history of psychiatry. That he is fading into the background of history is predictable. People in the field of medicine that question the profit sector of the industry will always get pushed aside. That the last forty years has seen huge profits in the mental health pharmaceutical industry speaks to this conundrum.

What is interesting is how much has changed in the Mental Health Movement in the last fifty years. Homosexuality and masturbation are no longer considered diseases. Since President Ronald Reagan helped to defund mental health services in the 1980s we see plenty of people that are mentally imbalanced on the streets. If mental illness is a myth, tell that to the homeless person screaming at the moon at 3 AM in the middle of the night.  Their condition may go beyond just the cardboard box they sleep in. Indeed. they may have a “problem with living” and a warm, clean safe bed, a toilet and shower is surely part of the remedy, but years of abuse, living on the edge and poverty has its toll. People are complicated. Simple solutions are often overly simplistic.

But then again, as Szasz pointed out, the Mental Health Movement is always manufacturing new diseases. Here are just some of the the latest disorders that people are diagnosed with.

The DSM-5 (2013)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals around the world. The manual is the guide by which mental health professionals base their diagnosis. Below is a list in alphabetical order of the 15 new disorders added to the DSM-5.

  1. Binge Eating Disorder
  2. Caffeine Withdrawal
  3. Cannabis Withdrawal
  4. Central Sleep Apnoea
  5. Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder
  6. Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder- DMDD
  7. Excoriation (Skin-picking) Disorder
  8. Hoarding Disorder
  9. Hypersexual Disorder
  10. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – PMDD
  11. Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behaviour Disorder
  12. Restless Legs Syndrome
  13. Sleep-related Hypoventilation
  14. Social (Pragmatic) Communication Withdrawal

From https://www.aifc.com.au/14-new-disorders-in-the-dsm-5/

The list above is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Thomas Szasz was definitely on to something no one wants discuss. I highly doubt he is required reading in university programs. Need I say more?

You can hear an amazing Studs Terkel sixty minute interview of Dr. Szasz from 1970.

The Manufacture of Madness
by Thomas S Szasz
ASIN ‏ : ‎ B000GJVK5E
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Paladin; 1st Edition, 5th Printing (January 1, 1970)
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 383 pages

Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings – A Review

Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings is a book by Bill Morgan soon to be released by BEATDOM BOOKS. While the book is rather short, about a 100 pages, it is one of those “pandemic projects” that creative people were taking on in 2020 and 2021.  We are all the wiser for the fascinating story of two men, from very different circles, both “yearning to discover a spiritual basis for life” and their correspondences while Ferlinghetti attempted to publish a journal for City Lights Books called  Journal for the Protection Of All Beings.

Thomas Merton had a best selling book The Seven Story Mountain which sold over a million copies.  After writing that book Merton went on to pursue spirituality in the Catholic tradition, eventually becoming a Trappist Monk in a monastery in Kentucky. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, on the other hand, was a founding partner in City Lights Books in San Francisco and wrote such classics as A Coney Island of the Mind. One would think that these two men would be very different, however they became pen-pals and had a lot of mutual respect for one another.  They both became bound by their pacifism and spiritualism and a searching for a deeper meaning to life.

Poets come out of your closets,
Open your windows, open you doors,
You have been holed up too long
in your closed worlds.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The concept behind Journal for the Protection Of All Beings was to have contemporary writers submit essays and poems to shed light on the current situation in the world. Of course, the existential threat at the time was the atomic bomb and the constant threat of nuclear war.  Thomas Merton had recently written a poem  Original Child Bomb, written in a sort of detached objective style which  called for pacifism. In the Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings, there is much back and forth about including Original Child Bomb in the Journal for the Protection Of All Beings. Merton had to get all his published writings approved by the Catholic church which was often tentative about Merton being associated with the Beats. In the end, it was published in the journal along side a wide range of submissions. Such was the travails of publishing something from authors in different circles in 1961.

If you are visiting San Francisco, and want to get a sense of who the Beats were and a feeling for how San Francisco was in the 1950s and 60s Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings is a great start. So often the Beats are seen only from the anarchistic, bleary-eyed, drug crazed, sometimes homosexual counter-culture lens, but they were of course much deeper. Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings gives you a view into this world of people who were deep readers, writers and thinkers.

Merton underwent a similar type of visionary experience on a street corner in Louisville Kentucky. On March 18, 1958, as he was walking through the downtown shopping district, he stopped at the corner of Walnut and Fourth Streets, where he was “overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another though we were total strangers.” “If only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. They were all walking around shining like the sun,” he later explained. He saw that everyone was sacred, just as Ginsberg had declared that everyone was “holy.”
Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings

Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg all looked upon industrialized civilization and hoped for its demise. They saw all humans as “sacred” or “holy.” Some went on a spiritual path through Catholicism others through Zen Buddhism. One opened a bookstore and lived to be over one hundred.

What is interesting to this reader is the idealism of those times. San Francisco was much more bohemian than it is today. There must have been a sense that publishing poems and short essays could actually do something to bring about world peace. Having Original Child Bomb in the journal would somehow aid in nuclear disarmament. Reading a poem could not only change one person but the entire planet. Poems and literature actually mattered. What rose-colored glasses!

What a different world that was and how the city of San Francisco has changed. You got a little sense of that idealism in the early days of the internet but that period is long gone. San Francisco is primarily about digital technology and now more often about libertarian get rich schemes, venture capital, startups and a sort of selfish individualism.  Automated driverless car technology and mining people’s personal data for profit. Individuals are no longer “sacred” or “holy” but a mass of data points. Surely, there is still a creative vibrancy, but the rents are high and the parking tickets and bridge tolls steep. Everyone needs a day job to make rent. There are surely no poets today in San Francisco that have the delusion that their poems are going to change the world. Sorry for the buzz-kill folks.

While reading Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, And The Protection Of All Beings I could not help but imagine a screenplay of this book. It could be  a low budget film with historic photos and videos of San Francisco. The notion that these two men, in very different places had such a deep literary and philosophical relationship, simply draws you in. You can almost hear the fog horns, seagulls and a typewriter tapping away from a little apartment in North Beach. I am still undecided if I would have the tragic, accidental death of Thomas Merton, electrocuted in a bathtub in Thailand at the beginning or the end. Perhaps both.

DISCLAIMER:  This book reviewer received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher.

Barbara Ehrenreich – Legacies and Book Recommendations

I never think delusion is ok.
Barbara Ehrenreich in an interview with Jon Stewart

Barbara Ehrenreich died on September 1, 2022 at the age of 81. She was a modern-day muckraker who’s books exposed sexism and rampant capitalism  in the health care system, wage inequalities, the latest silly fads in psychology and the challenges of living in our modern capitalist America. Her best selling  2001 book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is a memoir of her three-month experiment surviving on a series of minimum wage jobs. It is an easy read, a bit of a “one hit wonder” and ironically gave her some financial freedom to continue to write on topics of her choosing. You can read the New York Times obit which seems to have been picked up by other papers and is  the only obit of Barbara Ehrenreich that I could find.

I have three of Barbara Ehrenreich’s books.  It has baffled me how of all her books Nickel and Dimed was so successful.  People did not know that living off of a minimum wage job is next to impossible? But then again Nickel and Dimed was written as gonzo journalism and hit right when reality television shows were coming of age. People often read to confirm their beliefs not to challenge them. Many of Ehrenreich’s books were written in this first person, lived confessional style. However, to this reader, if you want to read some of her most interesting and powerful works, read the books she co-wrote with Diedre English, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (1972). and For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women (1978) were she writes as a researcher and scholar about the disenfranchisement of women and  the transformation of healthcare over the last 200 years. This is a story that our present medical model and especially the AMA (American Medical Association) does not want the public to know.

Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers ( For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women  are both books written in the 1970s at the height of Second-wave feminism.  Both books look at the history of medicine and how the role women as healers and experts was usurped  by the emergence of a medical “profession.”  The overriding theme is how this new male dominated profession dealt with what was called the “Woman Problem.”

For decades into the twentieth century doctors would continue to view menstruation, pregnancy and menopause as physical diseases and intellectual liabilities. Adolescent girls would still be advised to study less, and mature would be treated indiscriminately to hysterectomies, the modern substitution for ovariotomies. The female reproductive organs would continue to be viewed as a kind of frontier for chemical and surgical expansionism, untested drugs, and reckless experimentation.
For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women

In many ways this sort of medical arrogance has continued. For years women who went through menopause would be prescribed hormone replacement therapy to deal with their “Woman Problem,” as though nature needed help with the natural process of life and aging. It was later found that hormone replacement therapy created risks including heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer.

And as of 2014, gender is now considered a pre-existing medical condition where God often seems to makes “mistakes.” In many ways, if you connect the dots, the “Woman Problem” has not ended – it just has been repackaged.

Hopefully, someone will take up the torch of critical thinking that Barbara Ehrenreich lit and continue on with her early style of research and questioning the medical establishment and the powers that be. An interesting study would be how the profession has changed now that women are entering the field of medicine at about the same rate as men.

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer – A Review

I found the first novel by Dalia Sofer The Septembers of Shiraz  for one dollar while looking through books at a Goodwill store in Minneapolis. The shelves were in no particular order, so the same books promoted by the big publishing houses  could be found ever fifty or so books –  volume printing now on sale. While The Septembers of Shiraz, according to the cover,  was a national bestseller, it was the only copy on the shelf and I had not heard of the novel. Lucky me. I found the book to be quite a page turner.

What makes the novel so compelling is how it weaves together multiple stories seamlessly. For Sofer, while the world is turned upside down, the one constant is time. Tehran and New York City may not see the sun rise and set at the same time,  but they eventually do. While someone is in prison in solitary, someone else is taking in laundry. This contemporaneousness and  universality seems to bring the characters hope and the ability to persevere against the odds . She writes about these and many other themes with a poignant restrained lyricism. Her depictions of Tehran and Iran are so vivid you can almost hear and smell the streets.

Iran will be in the news for years to come and the years following the 1979 revolution will always be a pivotal time in history. While I will do the best to not spoil the story, the novel is in many ways autobiographical. Dalia and her family did attempt to leave Iran and unlike the movie Argo they did not pose as a Canadian film crew. I will leave it at that.

This reviewer gives The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer 5 stars. Feel free to pay the full price at your local book seller.

 

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – 90 Years Later

“Lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society”
– Banned Books Week: Banned BOOKS in the Library

It is remarkable how the novels of the 20th century have often predicted the 21st with amazing accuracy. So many of the novels of Orwell, Bradbury, Vonnegut and Huxley were spot on.  While the exact details may differ the general concepts are so often clairvoyant to the point of being spooky.  I reread Brave New World by Aldous Huxley having maybe read it a long time ago.  So many of the predictions have become reality. The social engineering, the control of people through pharmaceuticals, the engineering of humans, the disdain for truth and history, the censorship, the obsession with consumerism, the obsession with sex –  the list is long.

Of course the novel is not Disney-approved so has been banned at times mostly for the notion of unlimited sex and the concept of a sort of “free-love” with an advocacy of people having many partners. No doubt that would wake up many boys in tenth grade English class but there is absolutely nothing graphic in the novel and that is maybe the one thing that has not become a reality – at least not in my circles. And everyone please remember: this is a novel and not a manual for how to live life.

While sex with many partners is perhaps not common today the pharmaceuticals are everywhere. The line below seems like it could be the marketing material for Prozac.

“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should happen, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts.”

And then there is this concept of “universal happiness” at the expense of truth and beauty so necessary for our present consumerist society.

“Our Ford did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness. Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t.”

Of course if your comfort is beginning to wane in Brave New World there was a sort of virtual world called the Feelies. Here people could go just to get back to this sort of duped sense of happiness, perhaps a little bit like the new Metaverse.

“A lot of people think that the metaverse is about a place, but one definition of this is it’s about a time when basically immersive digital worlds become the primary way that we live our lives and spend our time,” Zuckerberg told Fridman. “I think that’s a reasonable construct.” – Mark Zuckerberg from businessinsider.com

The notion that the 1932 Brave New Worldlacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society” is a pretty odd critique. I have a hard time thinking of themes and topics in the novel that are not relevant.  Perhaps, this is why the brave schools have kids read and discuss  this work. The main problem with having to write a paper on Brave New World is that there are too many relevant contemporary themes.

Kurt Vonnegut – A Man Without a Country – The Review

If you live in San Francisco, check out Bird and Beckett Books. A great place to buy books and listen to live music.

Bird and Beckett Books

Remember, before you buy a book from Jeff Bezos consider supporting your local bookstore. You get that warm fuzzy feeling just thinking that you may have kept a local business alive and you may even make some real friends.


When I was a younger man, but decades after the bombing of Dresden, Kurt Vonnegut was an author that people took seriously, but he was never taught in your  English class. Too modern. Too rock-an-roll. Far too funny. It was just assumed that everyone read Vonnegut.  The language was crisp, often ironic, sometimes funny as hell and always profound. The chapters always short, you could often finish a book in a day.

I finally got around to reading A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. It was a gift from a dear friend and in the end it it made me reread Slaughter House Five and God Bless You Mr. Rosewater; I just needed more Vonnegut. I realized that all Vonnegut’s work is worth rereading. Slaughter House Five should be required reading in high school.

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.
– Kurt Vonnegut

A Man Without a Country is unlike any of Vonnegut’s books. He wrote it later in life when in his 80s. It is confessional and in many ways but a brief autobiography – a great place to get to know some of the core values that undermine much of Vonnegut’s work. Early on he recommends everyone read what he believes to be the greatest short story in American literature –  An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. You can download it as a pdf.

Do you think Arabs are dumb? They gave us our numbers. Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
– Kurt Vonnegut

One of the reoccurring themes of Vonnegut’s life of course is World War II and the realization that World War II was fought, like all wars, by children. This is why Slaughter House Five has a subtitle of The Children’s Crusade. 

Reading A Man Without a Country, it is interesting to get Vonnegut’s take on drinking and smoking. I never really knew that he smoked two packs of Pall Malls, unfiltered every day. Incredible, that he lived into his 80s. Born in 1924, He was a man of his times.  Most everyone in his generation smoked like chimneys at one point or another.

He was a humanist, pacifist, a stealth stoic, an environmentalist who believed strongly in the notion of community. One of his guiding moral principals was kindness.

And when he reflects back on America he signals out African Americans.

…the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when they were in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues.
– Kurt Vonnegut

Experiencing the fire-bombing of Dresden made him a pacifist. He also sees that all wars and the destructive nature of capitalism (he was a huge fan of Eugene Debs) will do us in in the end. The quote below is from almost twenty years ago.

That’s the end of the good news about anything. Our planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of people. This is sure the way to do that.
KV, 6AM 11/3/2004

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. I am giving it 5 stars as just being in the presence of Kurt Vonnegut’s wit is 5 stars. You can read A Man Without a Country in an afternoon.

“Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” – The Definitive Review

While “Stamped from the Beginning: A Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” is a welcome addition to the scholarship of U.S. history the title is a bit misleading. It is not a “definitive history” as that is impossible. Rather it is a long rant on who is in what bucket: racists, assimilationist or anti-racist. Kendi’s thesis is that assimilation in the end is simply just a facet of racism as it does nothing for justice and systemic racism in society. He pleads for an anti-racist world from all segments of society. Fair enough.

One thing I take issue with in the book is the naive notion of racism having no historical context. That David Hume, the philosopher of the Enlightenment is taken to task about his polygenisist beliefs is silly. Most white people at the time, including scientific organizations, thought humans were many species. (This is probably, though rarely mentioned, the root of modern racism) Throwing Hume under the bus makes it so people do not actually read Hume and dismiss his many brilliant ideas because it is so unfashionable to read the works of a “racist.” Kids these days have not a clue what the Enlightenment was and is. The same can be said for pretty much everyone in the 19th century. John Muir, of course the racist, who just happened to be a naturalist and wanted to “save the planet’ before it was fashionable, and who talked on some mountain top to another racist, Theodore Roosevelt. The list is long.

The other issue I have is that Fred Hampton, the Black Panther murdered by the FBI, who’s politics were far beyond the identity politics of race and terrified the FBI as he spoke of economic injustice beyond the systemic racism is not even mentioned. Harry Belafonte, who was a major figure in the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s is left out as well.

This is but a brief review. Read the book.

Definitive. I think not.

Review of Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

in 2014 when I read that Scott Timberg was writing a book about the modern perils of people in the arts I got a bit excited. The topic of how the internet and digital economies had laid waste to many traditional arts forms, trades and professions, has been a story that is not told very often and rarely very well. While everything in Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class is pretty much depressingly true, it fails to address the most important question. Why and how is the creative class being killed?

A few of the professions that have been lost or are under stress are book, record and video store clerks, writers and in particular journalists, of course all performing artists such as musicians and dancers, architects – the list is long and pretty much everyone I know is well aware of the lower pay for creative work – people being paid ridiculously low wages to write, musician playing bars and restaurants for just tips..  Timberg seems to have had a soft place in his heart for the book and record store clerk as being a sort of cultural ambassador for the towns and neighborhoods where they live. Think of one of those cool small record stores you rarely see these days. Every employee has a strong personality, unique wardrobe and an expertise in a certain genre. Often such places would have favorite playlists of the week written on a chalkboard behind the register and it would range from thrasher metal to perhaps a new Brahms recording. Cool places no doubt. Hard to find these days save for a few stores in larger metropolitan areas.

The money being spent on music is not ending up in the hands of musicians, or even labels, or members of the creative class, from the record store clerk to  a label president. It’s going to Apple – which thanks to iTunes, could buy every surviving label with pocket change – and other gargantuan technology companies.
– Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

The first few chapters “When Culture Works” and “Disappearing Clerks and the Lost Sense of Space” muse nostalgically about this bygone era. “Back in the day” reminisces. Local mid-level working bands with a full calendar of gigs, paying not much but a living wage. Entry level journalists doing beat writing. Those were the days.

San Francisco and New York are becoming cities without middle classes: writers and musician lacking trust funds are being replaced by investment bankers and software jockeys, as well as a large servant class that commutes into town from poor precincts to clean their lavish kitchens and watch the children.
– Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg

I have never heard the term “software jockeys.” Software programmer, UI designer, web programmer but not “jockey.” Indeed, the world changes and one thing that Timberg seems unaware of is that people graduate from art school and then get a job at Apple or a large construction firm designing marketing materials and email headers. Musicians often have day jobs creating “apps” or programming websites. Being flexible and learning new skills has always been the forte of studying the liberal arts. Writing the great American novel has always been a luxury afforded to only the wealthy or the scrappy staving poor.

There is a chapter where Timberg throws the  critic Pauline Kael under the bus for making fun of serious art and preferring popular trash. He also laments the avant-garde that pushed people away from the concert halls and museums. Indeed it seems that Timberg would prefer a well-attended Mozart festival to an auditorium a quarter-full of people trying to get their heads around some experimental modern piece.

The chapter near the end of the book entitled “Lost in the Supermarket – Winner Take All” is interesting as the book was published over five years ago, at a time when the monopolies of Amazon, Google and Facebook were solidifying and further buying out their competition. All books written that mention technology seem like dinosaurs by the time they are printed as the landscape does change.  The tech monopolies in 2020 are even more entrench than ever.

By the end of the book, the hope is that somehow we need to regain the middle again where instead of a anti-intellectualism so prevalent in society, ordinary people go to art museums and local jazz shows.  People read serious novels and discuss poetry. The gist of the book is a plea for the “middle-brow” world where culture is consumed by all. “Good luck” is all I can say. It’s a brave new world we live in with people mesmerized by social media, stupid YouTube videos and their cellphones.

Which gets me to my conclusion. What Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class leaves out is the”how” and  the “why. ”  Why is the creative class being killed? There is one mention of Telecommunications Act of 1996 which was like a wrecking ball for many artistic environments. Shrouded in the guise of fair competition, Clear Channel went into every market and bought out smaller players.  This ruined local radio, local music scenes, weekly papers and eventual laid waste to print journalism.

But the law that has done the most damage, and that was surprisingly never mentioned in Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class  is the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Just two years after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the DMCA was signed by President Bill Clinton, with every member of congress voting “yes” and cheering the law on like a high school pep-rally. Neo-liberalism ( a truly misleading term) was all in vogue with the silly notion that free competition, while never really free as the big players have teams of lobbyists in Washington, will solve every problem. As pointed out many times on this website, the 1998 DMCA was a massive gift from the creative class to the tech class.  It is a major reason “why” the creative class has been “killed.” It is odd that no one saw it coming. The internet has the potential to be a fair platform for publishing. The rules of “safe-harbor” have been so stretched and bent that for years technology companies’ revenue strategies are often a slimy exercise in cultural thievery – all perfectly legal. In 2020, it has gone a step further, as money is made off of peoples’ personal data, well-named as “surveillance capitalism.” But I digress. The DMCA is a failed law that needs revision every five years.  I have pointed this out since 2015.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act 18 Year Anniversary

Unfortunately, far too young,  in December of 2019, Scott Timberg passed away. A very good writer, a brilliant thinker, an idealist and surely a great guy. We need more people like Scott.

 

Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (January 13, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780300195880
ISBN-13: 978-0300195880

Harry Belafonte – My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance – A Review

A good friend recommended Harry Belafonte’s  My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance. Knowing little about Belafonte beyond songs like Jamaica’s Farewell and Day-0.,  I bought it online for around five bucks with free shipping – basically I got the book for free. It is a hard cover version on that luxurious linen paper with wide margins –  a library discard from the Southwood Library in Calgary Canada.  That a book from 2012 is so soon discarded seems odd. That it is a memoir of Harry Belafonte, one of the most successful entertainers of the 20th century with an incredible life of civil rights work and activism, adds to the mystery. Everyone, including the dear Canadians – slow down. Indeed, value has been turned upside down. In the end, it was my gain and Calgary’s loss.

It is possible to learn a great deal about the civil rights era simply through the lens of My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance.  It is safe to say that Harry Belafonte not only was in the middle of the civil rights movement, he was a key historical figure and instrumental in the struggle for justice and equality. The book begins in 1964 like a screenplay.  Harry Belafonte  is attempting to convince his long time friend Sidney Poitier to help him on an unusual mission. He has $70,000 in cash in a leather doctor’s bag that he has raised and needs to deliver the money in person to the  SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) who at the time where doing lunch counter sit-ins and other non-violent acts of civil disobedience. The money was to help the SNCC in many ways but most  often for legal support and bail.  It was not the first time that Harry Belafonte had financially supported people and organizations in the “movement” during the civil rights era.  It would not be his last.

The beginning of the book is meant to draw you in to a defining moment in Harry’s life. This dramatic start of the book helps pull the reader in and is effective, but many other moments and amazing happenstances fill the pages.  When people live to be over ninety, often their lives take on an unreal, mythical,  Forrest Gump-type of narrative. Their lives become like historical fiction, similar to an E.L. Doctorow novel, where meetings and scenarios seem made up and impossible. These unbelievable scenes fill the pages. Not to spoil the book, let me recount a few in the remarkable life of Harry Belafonte.


Late 1940’s – Early 1950’s

After returning from his deployment in World War II, Harry studied acting in New York City on the GI Bill. In his class were Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Tony Curtis to name a few.  Pretty fine acting company. He then would go on to be friends with this group for his entire life.

At the same time, when he was but twenty years old, Harry would hang out at the Royal Roost in Harlem with the likes of Lester Young and other be-bop legends who encouraged his talents. Harry Belafonte was crazy about Lester Young. According to the memoir, the first time that Harry sang on stage, which happened to be an intermission gig at the Royal Roost, the entire Charlie Parker band, Tommy Potter, Al Haig and Max Roach got up on stage and backed him up.  You cannot make this stuff up. The musicians did it just to help the new kid out.

Early 1960’s

In little time his singing career took off and Harry was a leading voice in the folk revival of the early sixties.  It was a dynamic time when folk music had made its way into all parts of society.  In Vegas you could get the whole room to join you in Pete Seeger songs like If I Had a Hammer.  The next week Harry would be speaking at a demonstration,  on the street perhaps leading a song. The idealism must have been intoxicating.

Soon you learn that Harry’s hero is Paul Robeson, the great singer and political activist. He learns a lot from Robeson and is moved to activism by his spirit. Major figures of the 1960’s are his close friends.  Harry becomes the conduit between his good friend Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, oddly bridging the racial and cultural divide between a Southern Baptist preacher and a blue-blooded northern Irish Catholic. He also talked regularly with Bobby Kennedy, then the Attorney General.

Another, interesting week is when he was asked to host the Tonight Show in the early 1970’s for and entire week  Harry was allowed to have control of the guests. He had Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Paul Newman and many others on. A week of interviews that would be interesting to revisit.

Beyond

There are many other interesting turns during this memoir, including all the work Harry did in Africa, his visits to Cuba and his relationship with Fidel Castro. The last fifty pages become less compelling reading, but you do learn that Harry Belafonte regards George W. Bush as a terrorist for invading Iraq – as always a pretty accurate assessment of the facts. Harry Belafonte – committed, intelligent and honest to the very end.

The memoir is a modern vehicle for story telling. With every memoir there is a natural tendency to tell the story from the most forgiving and perhaps self-serving perspective. Surely, history is part what actually happened but also the lens through which it is retold. His voice, now gone after decades of work as an entertainer, actor and singer, Harry Belafonte as of this writing is still alive, fighting the good fight. A remarkable life and a book well worth the read. It is almost 500 pages long, and when the book finishes you do not want it to end. Excellent story telling from the source.

FIVE STARS!


MY SONG : A Memoir
By Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson
2012 – Knopf. 469 pp

 

Thoughts on the New APA Guidelines for Men

Recently the American Psychological Association (A.P.A.) published their new guidelines entitled the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys . Writing and publishing something like the guidelines for practice with men and boys is a strange and ill-advised project. Creating guidelines for protologists on the use of the FOS-425 for colonoscopies on men over fifty seems like a good idea, but men are far too  varied and complex to create generalizations and guidelines.

Before you read further, I highly recommend that you read the actual paper. It is rather odd that like Moses’ 10 Commandments there are 10 A.P.A. guidelines for practice with boys and men. But perhaps it is more like an A.P.A. awards document as I am sure that of all the researchers and contributors who’s studies are cited celebrated this career triumph with a lot of wine and champagne to fortify their narcissistic egos. I believe the  guidelines will be viewed as a curious historic document, similar to writings and guidelines for women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when doctors and the medical scientists viewed woman as having the “woman problem.”  This is clearly outlined in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Now that Western medicine has terrorized woman for over 200 years, for some reason they now have moved on to men. In fifty years, the  American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys will be embarrassing evidence on just how absolutely naive, cult-like, dangerous and  ignorant the A.P.A. is to history, philosophy, language and actual science.

Indeed, after the American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys were released it created a bit of a firestorm. People on the conservative right and academics of all walks often criticized the paper as either being an attack on men and traditional morals or simply inaccurate and absolute intellectual self-deception. The New York Times ran an opinion piece that basically side-stepped the issue and did a report of how various people and authorities on the subject responded to the “guidelines.” However, the critique I found most perceptive was by Jacob Falkovich and his essay Curing the World of Men

Curing the World of Men

This is, after all, the same organization that classified homosexuality as a mental disorder until the seventies, and whose members were not discouraged from recommending conversion therapy until 2009. You’d think being wrong about gays for a century may teach the APA some humility. –Jacob Falkovich

What I find alarming about the A.P.A. is the fabric of the organization. To me it has characteristics more in keeping with a cult or a religious organization than a scientific organization.  If you simply start with the “definitions” at the beginning  (gender, cisgender, gender bias, gender role strain, etc.)  you can see right away they are laying the ground work for current fashionable cultural assumptions and not science.   For example, the term “gender non-conforming,”  which is so in fashion in psychology these days, rarely gets scrutinized. “Gender non-conforming” – based on what? Is the A.P.A. now determining the “style” of a certain gender. Is a gender “style” for some reason now an important part of psychotherapy and also a subject of science? From the very introduction, the paper begins with some pretty shallow assumptions.

Boys and men are diverse with respect to their race, ethnicity, culture, migration status, age, socioeconomic status, ability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious affiliation.

Seeing as men make up about half of the 7.5 billion humans on the planet, this statement seems accurate.  However, how can boys and men be diverse with regards to gender identity? They are both male. Last time I bought airline tickets I had to choose between either male or female in the gender dropdown. If the A.P.A. has discovered additional genders they perhaps should inform United Airlines. I do hear of non-binary as being another gender and there is of course intersex or hermaphrodite people but this paper and guidelines are for men. Then the next sentence gets to the core of how the A.P.A. defines gender.

Each of these social identities contributes uniquely and in intersecting ways to shape how men experience and perform their masculinities – Introduction to A.P.A. guidelines

“… how men experience and perform their masculinities.” What a strange notion that a man simply performs “masculinities” as though a gender has no biological basis and is simply a “performance.”  This notion perhaps comes from the psychologist Judith Butler and her notion that gender is defined by “gender performativity.”  That the A.P.A. adopts this theory as being a scientific fact is rather odd. This is why the A.P.A. is more akin to say the Catholic Church. Indeed if you create a study that is peer reviewed and published that challenges another prominent researchers’ work, you immediately get called out for not towing the accepted line. This is exactly what happened to Lisa Littman when her paper Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports when data challenged the  assumptions of other scientists currently in fashion. That people like Diane Ehrensaf, PhD from UCSF dismissed the study outright just shows how political and cult-like is the field of psychology and the APA. As a scientist, you would think Ehrensaf would be curious. “Interesting. You are taking a different angle than I did and found that kids with Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria seemed to be due to environmental factors and a common feature was an addiction to the internet.”  Instead, Ehrensaf dismissed the findings outright even though her work is often based on studies that have yet to be replicated.  This is but one example of how the APA is not really interested in science but ideological conformity. Often, in the end they become the unknowing henchmen of the pharmaceutical industry.


 

Not related to men specifically, Drug Dealer, MD is an insightful look how the medicine in the United States is the cause of the opiod crisis.  That “pain” is now considered a vital sign has profound influence on the prescribing of narcotics and other prescription drugs.

 

 


While reading the comments from the New York Times article it was interesting to read that the guidelines use of the word “stoic” is actually inaccurate, shallow and lacking of historical perspective. It is almost as though the modern psychologist notions of the topic of men was informed only by time spent reading the latest studies, watching beer and truck commercials, John Wayne movies and never bothered to learn some of the fundamentals.  Three times in the paper it discusses how stoicism in men is a bad thing, that “not showing vulnerability, self-reliance, and competitiveness might deter them from forming close relationships with male peers.” A rather odd statement for anyone who has ever participated in athletics and formed bonds with teammates and opponents. Online, in the comments, someone pointed out that “Stoicism” as a ancient philosophy of life is very different than what perhaps how the APA defines stoicism.  Recommended reading was the book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Irvine, William B.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Irvine, William B.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy Irvine, William B.

It is good read and what you learn is that Stoicism as an ancient philosophy of life has more in common with Zen Buddhism than emotional repression and asceticism. I am certain learning about Stoicism is much more worthwhile than reading the APA guidelines. For when after the APA psychologist, who is having therapy session with your anxiety-prone child, decides “maybe its time to start medication or hormones” and suggests Prozac or Ritalin, you will need to consult some of the practical advice from the ancient philosophy of Stoicism in order to come to terms with your life’s turn of events.  But now I am going to stop writing, and as my father did before me, a very stoic creature,perform one of my many “masculinities” and do the dishes and clean the house.

Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population,
including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology

– From American Psychological Association’s guidelines for practice with men and boys.

What a strange definition of something the APA calls “traditional masculinities.” Of all the thousands upon thousands of men I have known, I have yet to know any who embrace that list. To stereotype people is a sign of a shallow intellect and for health care providers a dangerous path.

“The Knowledge Illusion” – Some Quotes

We live in a community of knowledge, and unfortunately communities sometimes get the science wrong. Attempts to foster science literacy cannot be effective if they don’t either change the consensus of the community or associate the learner to a different community.

People tend to have limited understanding of complex issues and they have trouble absorbing complex details (like answering factual answers to factual questions). They also tend not to have a good sense of how much they know and they lean heavily on their community of knowledge as a basis for their beliefs. The outcome is passionate, polarized attitudes that are hard to change.

…shattering people’s understanding by asking them to generate a detailed causal explanation also makes them less extreme.

From The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman (Author) & Philip Fernbach
Riverhead Books (March 14, 2017)

John O. Lyons (3 September 1927 – 7 September 2003) – The Wiki

“The self, as Hume saw, cannot be aware of itself, and as soon as it is it ceases to be a self because it is lost in the seas of influences upon it. Boswell begins his journal with the observation that the discipline of recording his experiences and emotions will lead him to an understanding of himself. No doubt the process of composition assist his memory of his life, and yet it also distorts that life.”
The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century, Southern Illinois University Press (1978)

Wikipedia submission – January 2018

John O, Lyons was a professor emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin from 1960 to 1993. Previously he taught briefly at Bowdoin and Dartmouth. He received a B.A from Kenyon College in 1951, an M.A from Columbia University in 1952 and a Ph.D from the University of Florida in 1960.

He received two Fulbright-Hays Fellowships, one to the University of Baghdad (1964-1965) and another to the University of Tehran (1970-1972). Before entering Kenyon, he served in both the U.S. Army and Coast Guard.

Bibliography
The College Novel in America, Southern Illinois University Press (1962)

Studying Poetry: A Critical Anthology of English and American Poems, Southern Illinois University Press (1965)

The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century, Southern Illinois University Press (1978)

References
The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century [1] [2]has been referenced in numerous papers and articles ranging from history, philosophy to psychology.

Martin, Professor Jack; McLellan, Professor Ann-Marie (2013). The Education of Selves: How Psychology Transformed Students (1st Edition ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0199913676.
Martin, Professor Jack. “A Case against Heightened Self-Esteem as an Educational Aim” (PDF). Journal of Thought. vol 42 issue 34 (Fall/Winter 2007): 16.


Above is my Wikipedia submission

Above is my Wikipedia submission that still is awaiting approval.  For some reason there are not enough references. I have not time to dally in the bureaucracy of Wikipedia. I have the ability to add something to the internets. I thought it fitting that I post it here.

John O. Lyons was my father. He lived an incredible life. His book The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century is amazing for its insight and depth. Like many books written in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s by the “Greatest Generation” that are now out of print, the authors were not out to make a buck. Instead, they were were scholars in order to uncover the truth no matter where it lead.  By the time John O. Lyons was 21, he had read extensively as during his tours of the Pacific during World War II in the Navy and Merchant Marine, he had absolutely no distractions and spent the entire time reading. There are few scholars today who are in that situation. If you are interested in his reading list at that time send me an email. This  reading list will give you an understanding as to the breadth of knowledge that was the foundation of his writings.

Below are some quotes for the book.

“The problem is perhaps most succinctly posed by Lichtenberg who goes back to Descartes and says that he should have said “It thinks,” not “I think” – which moots the whole question of personal identity.”

“My message is, put baldy, that the self, which modern doomsayers accuse of being invisible, was a fiction in the first place. This may not ease the pain and feeling of the loss, for a hypochondriac suffers just as grievously as the truly sick, but it may help us understand the illness.”

“The invention and spread of movable type is probably the most important mechanical contribution to the idea of the unique self, but other forces – religious and political revolutions, the rediscovery of the admiration for classical models of being – retarded the assertion of the self. The intimacy between the writer and the “dear reader,” which we tend to think of as beginning in the eighteenth century, assumes a situation that was rarely assumed before that time.”

Quotes from The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century.

If you care to post here on this website and add to the knowledge base (that is essentially the concept of Wikipedia – a common accepted notion of facts and the truth), feel free to comment.

Where is Janice Raymond?

The Internet has a strange way of broadcasting value and worth. A forty-year-old book about transgender issues can be a cornerstone of critical thought at the time but then gets misquoted and passed off as old fashion. Today the book is out-of-print but fetches around $100 used on Amazon for a used hard cover edition. You have to wonder why the publisher does not make another printing? Modern books read like pop self-help books, quoting daytime TV shows and sourcing checklists of acceptable pronouns. The Transgender Empire written by a “radical lesbian feminist” (how did she ever get that label?) is both academic, historical and cuts to the chase and journeys deep into the topic. Below is just a short quote from the 1994 reprinting.

The medical model is also a disease model. And here exactly is the rub. If transsexualism is treated as a disease, then does desire qualify as disease? As Thomas Szasz asked in his New York Times review of The Transsexual Empire, does an old person who wants to be young suffer from the “disease” of being a “transchronological, ” or does a poor person who wants to be rich suffer from the “disease” of being a “transeconomical”? Does a Black person who wants to be white suffer from the “disease” of being a “transracial”?

All these questions, of course, raise larger social and political issues and remove these conjectural “diseases” from the medical/psychiatric framework.

From The Transgender Empire – Janice Raymond
Reprinted in 1994 by Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
Originally published in 1979 by Beacon Press
Copyright © 1994 by Janice G. Raymond

Download the pdf

Gloria Steinem Quotes – From My Life on the Road (2015)

Also, one of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak”

“More reliable than anything else on earth, the road will force you to live in the present.”

I asked her how she has remained herself all these years. She looks at me as if at a slow pupil. “You’re  always the person you were when you were born” she says impatiently. “You just keep finding new ways to express it.
Gloria Steinem in conversation with ninety-eight year old former Ziegfeld Woman

All of my life campaigning have given me one clear message. Voting isn’t the most we can do, but it is the least.

All quotes by Gloria Steinem – from My Life on the Road (2015)
Available at your local bookstore.

“Saving Capitalism” – Robert Reich is Looking Up

It is a bit odd that when you search for “Robert Reich” on Google you find this.

robertr

The fact that Robert Reich is a man who is perhaps often looking up should probably not be the first thing on his list of accomplishments or even personality traits. For Robert Reich, I would probably just pull this line from John Taylor that begins his latest book Saving Capitalism. This pretty much sums it up.


“There are two modes of invading private property; the first by which the poor plunder the rich… sudden and violent; the second, by which the rich plunder the poor, slow and legal.”

JOHN TAYLOR, An inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (1814)


But with Google, perception is a bit slow and plodding. Just a bunch of numbers banging their heads against one another. On that same page, a bit further down, you see a post by his son who is announcing to the world that his lawyer mom and his professor dad Robert, former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, have legally separated. His mom left law, I suppose, and is now a license acupuncturist. No, I did not make that up and that news did not make it onto the front page of the Enquirer so it did not register for Google I guess. His son, in order to clear up and confusing had to write a blog post about it, so that Google could index the information. Bizarre.

Robert Reich “Saving Capitalism”
Available at your local bookstore

Reich_SavingCapitalism_Book_v3

A Call for Observations

Some other people in the news. Bernie Sanders seems to rarely get mentioned in the media though his following seems to be growing daily. Any ideas what to make of this stuff? It seems like an odd way to present this content. Google is a private company with interests. I wonder what sort if editorial goes into this stuff. Any observations?

bernie

donaldt

The first thing that seems really strange, is that Robert Reich and the guy on the bottom were born just 10 days apart, not to far from each other. Something to ponder.

Cuba and its Music – Thoughts on Ned Sublette’s Amazing Book about American Music

“So imagine the Zarabanda, the Congo god of iron – the cutting edge, if you will – traveled on a slave ship with his magic, his mambo, and his machete as soon as the New World was open for business. Then he went back through Havana, across the ocean again, where he got all of Spain dancing, then covertly crept upward through Europe – through the servant’s entrance, of course – and became part of what we now call classical music. In the process, his name was frenchified, he lost his drum and his voice, and his tempo slowed way down. All that remained was the distillation of his dance onto the lute and the guitar, with only the barest trace of the original flavor remaining. Today we call that process going mainstream.”

Ned Sublette Cuba and its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004)

In December, my brother-in-law, Ted “Banjo” Kuster gave me Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo by Ned Sublette. It is five hundred and eighty pages long and I thought that it would take me until the following December to finish the book, but it was a page turner, at least for any musician who plays American music. In 1998 I wrote a book called Arranging for Salsa Bands – The Doctor Big Ears Essay were I stated – “Let us look deeply into music and explain why things are the way they are.” Ned Sublette goes very deep.

There are many fascinating ideas in the book. One of the main ideas is that African music has had a much larger effect on Western classical music than we realize as the quote above illustrates. The Zarabanda is the grandmother as the Sarabande which composers like J.S. Bach used in pieces like his Bach Cello Suites. And as has been duly noted in many books, the influence of Cuban music on North American music is often ignored and unacknowledged.

The Elephant in the Room – Ned Sublette on the Spectrum of American Music

“If you ever heard an America sax player fail to lock in while jamming with a salsa band, or heard a Cuban band take on a bluesy jazz tune that doesn’t feel right, you know for all that Afro Cuban and African American music might have in common, they’re also very different than each other.

Why? Because essential elements of these two musics came from different parts of Africa, entering the New World by different routes, at different times, into different structured societies.

Ned Sublette Cuba and its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004)

Here Sublette points out how the differences between the Muslim influenced sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to the forests of the Congo. It is the thesis of the book and he convincingly states the case. This concept alone is worth the price of the book.

Ninth Voluntary Infantry Immune Band from New Orleans

During the time of the Spanish-American war, 1898, the US Army sent a band from New Orleans to Cuba. At the time they thought that black people were immune to yellow fever. Unfortunately they were not. Just imagine the mind set of the military. “Let’s get those jammin’ horn players from New Orleans and send them into war in Cuba. They will do anything!” Anyway, the Ninth Voluntary Infantry Immune Band from New Orleans went down to Cuba for about a year.

“There is no documentation of the Immune Band having performed in Cuba, and it is impossible to say whether their stay in Cuba affected the course of New Orleans music or not. But if a band of the best horn players could stay in Cuba for nine months without absorbing something, at a time when the oquestas typicas were all the rage in Cuba, they would be unlike any musicians this writer has ever known.

Ned Sublette Cuba and its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004)

As in many places in the book, the scenes seem almost like historical fiction. It would have been fun to hear this band and if they make a movie, just think of coveted gig of being the costume designer for this epic Hollywood blockbuster! Sublette, of course, points out that Havana and New Orleans were were like cousins both being important and vibrant port towns. Wild and crazy places. The Immune Band was just one of many cultural exchanges.


Puerto Rican’s in New York – The Jones Act

The 1917 Jones Act gave Puerto Ricans U.S citizenship. This enable Uncle Sam to fortify the army for the nastiness of World War I. But the Jones Act would also change the cultural and musical landscape in New York in very interesting ways. Most folks just think of West Side Story but of course much more was going on in the art and music worlds.

Any history of jazz that doesn’t mention Puerto Ricans, is leaving something out.

Ned Sublette Cuba and its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004)

Modernism

Then Sublette presents this heavy concept about modernism that probably makes many academics roll their eyes, but which is an interesting perspective. They did not teach this point of view, in terms of African influence of European music when I was in school, that is certain. Part of the concept has to do with the looting and display of African art around 1900, and that this art was being influential to the abstract artists in Europe such as Picasso and his “Africa period,” but it also has to do with the empowerment of black artists no longer in Africa.

It would later become academic common practice to speak of modernism as being a move toward abstraction and stylization and away from representation and realism, it could perhaps be better explained as the consequence of the liberation of black creativity – which to many white people was an abstract concept.

Ned Sublette Cuba and its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004)


Conclusion

These are all the quotes I will pull from Ned Sublette Cuba and its Music – From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004). There are many more but at this point you’ll just have to buy the book. The book finishes with a few sections about the Mambo and explores briefly the beginning of television, Desi Arnaz and Perez Prado. It is curious to think that Prado and his dissonant, in your face music, was banned from writing in Cuba and had to go off to Mexico where he eventually became an international sensation. There is mention of many Mexican movies that feature his music that I am really interested in checking out. Prado’s music introduced an adventurous dissonance, resolutions to a dominant 7 #11 b9 chord for example, that now we associate with Mambo, but it was very disturbing for many. I have a feeling that this adventurousness then helped propel some of the more interesting work of later “salsa” artists, like Eddie and Charlie Palmeri, Willie Rosario, Ray Barreto and many of the Fania record label.

This era, from about 1970 to 1990, when the urban music of the Harlem Renaissance known as “be-bop,” a music that signaled the end of jazz as dance music, a harmonically and rhythmically rich music that was pushing the status quo, completely fused with the Cuban son and other rhythms in such a way that made both musics even more vital – and people danced. That is not in the book but is my thesis, and I am standing by it!


If you are interested in actually writing for Latin music groups and want to explore more some of the basics of clave, orchestration and arranging, I would seriously recommend the book below. I reread it last week, and I still think it fills a void in the published material in this field. Below is a link to the first chapter which is pretty silly but actually very important. A lot of people from France seem to be buying it.

THE ART OF CUING A SALSA BAND – THE SPONTANEOUS ARRANGER

salsa-bands-book

Feel free to comment on any of the quotes above with the discussion below.

“Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer – Alexander Supertramp – The Real Deal

 

I was flying back from Mexico and the plane was delayed a few hours. By the time I landed in San Francisco I had finished the entire book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. This “coming of age” book traces the journeys of Chris McCandless and others including the author. They are all gripping tales and the book is extremely well written. Of course the main story is about Chris McCandless and his American odyssey, hitchin, hopping trains and floating around the west that he undertook after graduating from college. Every so often a character like McCandless comes along, influences people in very positive ways, travels far and wide and then dies tragically. At this point they enter the public conscience and become a sort of symbol for approaches to life, spiritual values, materialism and the meaning of existence.  Of course, how this enters into the public dialog is often just as much about the art that then is created around the person.

Jon Krakuer’s book “Into the Wild” captures the spirit of the topic extremely well. It is seemingly well researched and the inclusion of chapters about various other young explorers and free thinkers, including Karkuer, make it even more profound. One sees the yearning of McCandlesss as not a freak sort of occurrence but as something that is universal and timeless. People have often left civilization behind, with a head full of ideals to live an acetic life enjoying only the simple pleasures. It has an appeal to most everyone on some level.  Krakauer intersperses quotes of various transcendental writers, Thoreau, Stegner, Muir, Tolstoy among others that McCandless was reading that influenced his thinking during the trip. These quotes begin the chapters and give the book a sort of depth and gravity.

On the other hand, the movie “Into the Wild” directed by Sean Penn is but an admirable attempt to take on the subject. The casting is brilliant; the cinematography is spot on, the dialog adequate. Where it falters is that it tries to be too much like the book. For example, quotes of the same transcendental writers flash across the screen but this never has the effect as it does in print. Irritatingly, some of the quotes do not even credit sources.  Furthermore, the sound track is a scrapbook with bits from a Canadian film score guitarist, pedestrian tunes from Pearl Jam and generally a lot of music that does not add to the film. The American West is about open spaces and great silence. The movie could have used this sparseness. Instead, it feels a bit like we are on a high school field trip bus  and it is noisy and rushed.  To be fair, the one piece I liked was some transition music by Kiki King. Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie immensely, it is just that taken as a whole the book, as often is the case, is better.

So if you have already seen the movie, try to forget what you saw and read the book. If you have read the book, read it again. By the end you may want to figure out where your old backpack is in the dusty basement.