I am not a fan of the addiction memoir: tell-alls, by celebrities and nobodies alike, that reveal each stage of the descent into the author's vice ofI am not a fan of the addiction memoir: tell-alls, by celebrities and nobodies alike, that reveal each stage of the descent into the author's vice of choice like a striptease before a prurient audience and end with the inevitable sermon about the meaning of life. I'm no angel. I have my little indulgences. However, without any other unique subject matter, reading about others' misuse is rarely interesting. After reading author Steven Martin's interview on The Awl, though, I was intrigued. Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction instantly sucked me in for a few reasons.
First, who the hell has this habit in this day and age? Just learning how someone gets hooked on such an archaic drug, and how all the paraphernalia we've seen in movies and books over the last century actually works, raises Steven Martin's tale of addiction above the usual self-absorbed redemption stories. Secondly, this book is a must-read for other history geeks like me--and Martin, which makes him a very sympathetic narrator. A sensitive child, his obsession with history, art, and collecting led straight to Asia and opium in later life. Those of us who stared for hours at the images in a stamp collection, or checked out every book on Native American tribes or horror film poster art from the public library can relate to the deep and lasting influences early preoccupations have on our adult lives. Martin seamlessly weaves his daily pipes with a history of opium's long-hidden influence on popular culture in Asia, America, and Europe. Next, thanks to his engaging writing style and those little indulgences mentioned above, he made me feel each step in his growing addiction. By the time he's unable to leave his apartment for any length of time, I could feel the anxiety and paranoia building in my chest too. Finally, and fittingly for a Lonely Planet and Rough Guide contributor, Opium Fiend is an excellent travelogue of Southeast Asia. In addition to smelling the opium on your clothes and feeling its oily sheen on your skin, you can sense the everyday rhythms of modern life in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Go ahead, don't be afraid. Lie back, put your head on a pillow, and drift off into some smoke dreams with Steven Martin. It's one hell of a trip.
"I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn't easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. I dunno. They say he's a decent man, so maybe"I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn't easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. I dunno. They say he's a decent man, so maybe his advisors are confused."
--H.I. McDonnough, Raising Arizona
With all due respect to H.I., Ronald Reagan was not a decent man. Seth Rosenfeld's Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power begins with J. Edgar Hoover and his obsession with the supposed Communist infiltration of America, stretching from the Palmer Raids of 1919 until his death in 1972. Hoover saw the Reds everywhere, from union strikes to civil rights, university administrators and scientists ambivalent about national moral crusades to middle class college kids just looking to pass out pamphlets on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Along the way, we meet a B movie star with a career on the decline, eager to use this powerful, paranoid, and corrupt government official to move out of Hollywood and on to something larger in life.
As a politically-aware adolescent in the 1980s, I knew Ronald Reagan was a sumbitch. There was his tacit support for death squads in El Salvador and apartheid in South Africa; the appointment of corrupt officials to head nearly every cabinet department, from James Watt to Ed Meese; the coddling of the Moral Majority; hell, Iran-Contra should have been reason enough to bury his administration (which holds a dubious distinction, 138 of his officials were indicted and convicted for various crimes, the most of any in our history). Later in life, I learned despite his Congressional testimony at the time, Ronnie eagerly named names to Joe McCarthy's HUAC while head of the Screen Actors Guild.
With Subversives, Rosenfeld exposes the depths to which Ronald Reagan sunk in his pursuit of power: he was one of J. Edgar Hoover's top snitches from the late 1940s until the latter's death. In exchange for Reagan's inside information (most of which was lies and innuendo anyway), Hoover gave the right-wing celebrity guidance, support, access to classified files on his political opponents, and ginned-up films, pamphlets, and reports on the leading figures of the American left in the 1960s, with an emphasis on the student "subversives" at U.C. Berkeley. Berkeley's unrest during this decade was egged on by Hoover's spies and informers, who provided false information about their activities to local and state law enforcement and media. Hoover's man in the California governor's mansion, Reagan, used this misinformation to divide and brutalize students, faculty, staff, and nearby residents, which lead to more unrest and on and on and on. The situation was an ouroboros of government corruption at the highest levels; at its head were Hoover and Reagan. The cooperation between those men in the 1960s led straight to a presidency unparalleled in deception and chaos around the world. At least until that of the 43rd President.
Thanks to Seth Rosenfeld's thirty years of research and FOIA lawsuits against the FBI, we're getting a clearer picture of Reagan the man, not Reagan the myth. And it's this deeply amoral man we should stop venerating as a nation.