While the book that David Chappell is best known for, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, seems as though it could be taugh...moreWhile the book that David Chappell is best known for, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, seems as though it could be taught in philosophy or religion classes as well as history classes, his latest book is a different species. Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King Jr., is pure history and political science. Depending upon your inclinations, that might make it a more difficult or less difficult book to love. Stone of Hope, with its discussions of Reinhold Neiburh and Arthur Schlesinger, sometimes necessitates breaks to digest the philosophy. Even so, Stone of Hope had a simple message at its heart: there was passion and conviction preached from the pulpits of African-American churches during the “third American revolution,” (for Civil Rights) about justice that was, unsurprisingly, missing from the pulpits of white churches. Indeed, the Southern Baptists (created back in the 19th century because Baptist preachers and congregations in the South supported slavery, in opposition to Northern Baptists) and Methodists came out in tepid favor of Civil Rights. Whether you believe in grace, Christ, God, or not, it’s demonstrable that faith played a role in filling African Americans with faith and determination that their cause would prevail. Their opponents, in contrast, were filled with pessimism, hatred, fear, and uncertainty. Waking from the Dream is harder to pin down. Chappell is a marvelous historian and a good writer, something that is obvious just by his ability to keep readers turning the pages on what is actually the rather dry topic of process, meetings, planning, and politics – in contrast to the sweeping drama of Civil Rights marches in the face of violence and hatred. He divides the book into six chapters: 1) the Civil Rights Act of 1968; 2) the National Black Political Conventions of 1972 and 1974; 3) the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978; 4) the battle to create a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan; 5) Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988; and 6) what Chappell describes as the “public reckonings” with King’s character. Each chapter offers insights into the American story of its people respecting one another as legitimate, worthy of being called Americans. Chappell is an inveterately honest historian, unable to keep back tidbits of information that don’t fit a triumphal American story of redemption and progress. It’s hard to quantify, for instance, what came of those conventions. The MLK holiday was in some ways a marker of defeat as it became clear that larger societal goals of protecting the middle class (both black and white) were not going to be prioritized any time soon, even though the Humphrey-Hawkins bill passed. Jesse Jackson may have lied about how close he was to King at the time of the assassination, although there’s no evidence other than the say-so of at least one other King aide. And, finally, the chapter on J. Edgar Hoover’s evidence regarding King’s sex life discusses evidence rarely used against King because it revealed too the FBI’s illegal and immoral surveillance of him. Chappell has said that he doesn’t want people to finish his book thinking that his message was that there was continuity after King’s murder, that the journey for Civil Rights continued and that the story of those years should also be included. I’m not sure what’s wrong with that message – which is indeed one of my major take-aways. The difference was that after King’s death was that there was no beloved, charismatic figure (at least in comparison with King), and that the gains were more often made through legislative process born of the power of the ballot box rather than of blood spilled on bridges or motel balconies. Perhaps the message of this sobering book is that politics are messy, and that African-Americans are simply people. Many African-American leaders are extraordinary people, but they’re also simply Americans, as likely to be misguided, angry, divided, and racist as any other American. Despite that, despite “waking from the dream,” it’s incumbent upon all of us to keep battling for a better, fairer system. Chappell finished Stone of Hope with one of King’s favorite quotes. It’s a quote that reflects King’s understanding that people need prodding and inspiration in equal measures. This book could have used that same quote at its end, for surely there is continuity at least is this, the basic human condition (if viewed through optimistic eyes): “Lord, we ain’t what we want to be; we ain’t what we ought to be; we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God! We ain’t what we was.” (less)
Historian David Eisenbach and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt teamed up to catalog what most of us already knew - men ambitious enough to make it to the...moreHistorian David Eisenbach and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt teamed up to catalog what most of us already knew - men ambitious enough to make it to the presidency most likely have powerful sex drives too. Put that together with the fact that power is attractive to a lot of women, and it becomes clear that faithfulness, as seemingly found with W and Obama, is the presidential exception rather than the rule.
So now that Eisenbach and Flynt have made it abundantly clear that founding fathers, presidents, and other politicians have sex, from Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, James Buchanan, FDR, both JFK AND Jackie, and, of course, Bill Clinton, no doubt we'll be able to set aside the whole issue, along with the gotcha journalism and partisan attacks that helped derail the country in the otherwise glorious 90s.
What? You don't think so? Then what's the point of this book? Just titillation? Ya think?
Well, Flynt does go into a bit of a tub-thumping attack on the hypocrisy of it all, but the truth is, that's the least enjoyable part of this easy-to-read history. Nothing wrong with a little titillation with your history, after all. Might get more kids to pay attention.
I read most of the first and last chapters last night - easy reading, but with a lot of memorable information.
Hayes, who is editor of The Nation and a...moreI read most of the first and last chapters last night - easy reading, but with a lot of memorable information.
Hayes, who is editor of The Nation and a friend of my hero Ezra Klein, is concerned with the worrying decline in trust in our society, specifically trust in the maligned elites who, in a meritocracy, are the folks who supposedly are the cream of the crop.
We've all heard the sneering references to the elites from the right-wing, an ironic reality since it's the right-wing who go to the mat for the elites when it comes to money.
Hayes writes about how all the institutions of our society, with the exception of the military and perhaps the police, have lost credibility with the American people - although the left still has a residual faith in government and the right still has a residual faith in corporations and business.
He writes about how in the 1950s, corporate CEOs made 25 times what entry-level workers made, and today they make 185 times what the janitor makes. He writes about how progressive the tax code was in the 1950s - with that last bit, the part over $1 million that someone made, being taxed at 90 percent. The estate tax was 50 percent in those days too.
And yet those were the bad old days of patriarchy and homophobia.
He quoted someone saying that the right wants to go home to the 1950s, while the left wants to go to work there [or be taxed there!].
So there were two great equalizations in the last 70 years: the first, that equalization of income, which just happened to coincide with a huge economic expansion (which the right likes to think was purely coincidental, despite its predictability at different times around the world); and the second, the result of the tumult of the 1960s, the overturning of old patriarchal and homophobic assumptions.
The irony, he points out, is the fact that meritocracies need levelings in order to actually work. Yes, people should be rewarded on outcome, but in order to have a level playing field, you need some redistribution. Arrgh!
He includes one of my favorite surveys (one that Chris Mooney also includes in The Republican Brain,) that asked people what would be the best society: 1) Where the top 20 percent of earners earned 20 percent of GDP; 2) Where the top 20 percent of earners earned 35 percent of GDP (leaving 65 percent to be split amongst the bottom 80 percent); or 3) Where the top 20 percent earned 80 percent of GDP (leaving 20 percent to be split amongst the bottom 80 percent).
Even most Republicans chose #2. And even most Dems had no idea that the situation in the United States is #3 - winner take most all. And, of course, #2 is the case in Denmark.
He also opens one of his chapter with this great quote: "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."
A quote from... Marx? Lenin? Try Plutarch.
Also a good quote from Churchill, who argued that an estate tax provided "a certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich."
...and it was out of an ideological commitment to a kind of protomeritocratic vision of equality of opportunity that robber baron Andrew Carnegie, opponent of income and property taxes, argued for a steep and confiscatory tax on inheritance: 'As a rule, a self-made millionaire is not an extravagant man himself...But as far as sons and children, they are not so constituted. They have never known what it was to figure means to the end, to live frugal lives, or to do any useful work... And I say these men, when the time comes that they must die... I say the community fails in its duty, and our legislators fail in their duty, if they do not exact a tremendous share.'
Alma Guillermoprieto is both an excellent writer, easy to read and often heart-grabbing, but also an excellent thinker. This book is coming up on bein...moreAlma Guillermoprieto is both an excellent writer, easy to read and often heart-grabbing, but also an excellent thinker. This book is coming up on being a couple decades old, but her insights are still relevant. This is great background for anyone wishing to better understand Latin America. (less)
A review of this adaptation of The Prince should begin with a caveat. You can take a semester-worth of reading Machiavelli's The Prince in college. Th...moreA review of this adaptation of The Prince should begin with a caveat. You can take a semester-worth of reading Machiavelli's The Prince in college. Thinking you've read and grasped Machiavelli via a 62-page comic is pretty unrealistic. What's more, Machiavelli's understanding of power is something that I suspect either comes naturally to people or not... and if not, they'll have a difficult time retaining power. (As Machiavelli points out. Do I know that because I just read this SmarterComic? Hmmm.)
SmarterComics takes Machiavelli's aphorisms and wove them throughout the story of a young computer genius and her older friend who supported her college education. He goes to jail without implicating her -- and it was a computer hacking that she was actually guilty of. She starts up a do-good business, goes public, and when he is released from jail he joins the outfit... along with the the new ways he's learned in prison. Prison values dovetail pretty closely with Machiavelli's observations.
We think of Machiavelli as an immoral or amoral philosopher, unconcerned with God or goodness. I'm no expert (didn't take the whole semester -- just read him in a survey class), but recall that in fact he actually had a lot of ambivalence about power, and included that in his pages. That comes through in this adaptation.
Both this book and The Book of Five Rings left me intrigued and edified. Intrigued enough to think that I'd like to take another look at the original The Prince (and that's surely one of the goals of these comics); edified because the SmarterComics version does deliver Machiavelli's point -- that arriving at power and keeping it is (for those who want to play) a game with skill sets to be learned.
The SmarterComics books have references and a quiz at the end, plus an invitation to visit their website for answers to the quiz and more information. The graphics for The Prince are stylish and sharp. This series is a great idea and well executed.
This book was a happy win from the Firstreads giveaway.(less)
I love to read historical novels - often the fictionalized stories of women engaging with power and wealth. While a few of the best writers can take c...moreI love to read historical novels - often the fictionalized stories of women engaging with power and wealth. While a few of the best writers can take commoners and produce gripping tales, most writers tell the dramatic stories of princesses, or perhaps the beautiful but impoverished aristocrat or actress who catches the king's eye.
(As a liberal with absolute belief in the goodness of fairness, solidarity, and the importance of the middle class and safety nets, I can't explain why I and so many like me love the royalty so much!)
Joanne King Herring is the modern-day equivalent of those princesses and impoverished aristocrats. She caught the eye of several kings - and counts, dukes, CEOs, presidents - and she impacted world history. Julia Roberts played Herring in Charlie Wilson's War, and a better title for that might have been Joanne Herring's War. Herring was the impetus behind that story, just as Helen was the impetus behind the Trojan war - except far better, because Herring was master of her own fate; she believed in arming the Afghans, and made it happen.
She's not only smart but also beautiful, caring, and able to pass along some of her values and tactics. She's savvy enough to have written her memoir with a co-writer, probably part of why it's so well done. Diplomacy and Diamonds and Herring are both winners - this reader was left thinking how great it would be to be counted among her friends and fantasizing about living her life - despite disagreeing with much of what she did politically (I disagree with arming the Afghan rebels back during the 1980s) and knowing that my values wouldn't play with either the high society or the Texas oil Republicans she hobnobs with. That hasn't taken away one whit from my enjoying this book. Her story is worth reading.(less)
The Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits> is a marvelous book. It often confirmed what I'd already thought and sometimes ga...moreThe Myth of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits> is a marvelous book. It often confirmed what I'd already thought and sometimes gave me ah-hah! moments, revealing what I hadn't guessed.
Greenfield offers up studies and anecdotes to give shape to what we already know or suspect - for instance, that if you're trying to move $279 food processors off the shelf but people keep buy the cheaper ones, start stocking a $479 food processor. Now the $279 one doesn't look as expensive, and people buy it with abandon.
Or how about the idea we have that if something is good, more of it must be better - including choice. So now there's the table of jams for sale. With a few selections, people taste, choose, and buy. With more selection, people taste, get frustrated, and don't buy.
At a casino table, are you more likely to put down $25 in cash or a plastic chip worth $25? Are you more likely to buy the product at eye level or the one by the floor?
Greenfield builds a coherent case that there's a balance involved regarding personal responsibility. Yes, he writes, we're personally responsible - for our weight, for example. But when our government subsidizes corn syrup, when advertising is so effective, when we plan (or don't plan) so that our communities require a car for getting around and there are no safe bike paths - you get the picture. My personal responsibility actually extends beyond whether I've got extra pounds or not. I do bear some responsibility for your extra weight, if I haven't spoken up about what's right. We have a shared responsibility for one another.
It's like a beginning-of-the-school-year lecture I once heard at a Jesuit high school. The teacher explained to her class that how much they learned in the coming months depended not only on her but also on them. If they were respectful, didn't waste class time, and offered good insights, their classmates would learn more.
Greenfield writes, "Too often the rhetoric of personal responsibility essentially urges the rest of us not to care about our fellow citizens. It avoids any sense of shared concern, of shared responsibility for others. That's why I'm against it."
Greenfield also lays out the case that people don't change much. If at all. Our environments shape us, sure, but the older we get, the more we're who we already are, and the less likely we are to do something unpredictable.
In the end, does it help us to know hat we are more easily manipulated and our brains more hard-wired than we would like? Greenfield says yes. Knowing that there's quicksand in the field up ahead does indeed help us avoid getting caught in it.
He offers more advice as well. "We tend to live better if we choose our lives than if they are given to or imposed on us." We need to exercise our choice muscles, so that they don't get flabby. For me, this means don't be a sidekick. Greenfield also gives the advice of a friend who says his secret to discipline and integrity is to not put himself in situations where he might be tempted.
There's a lot to this book - it's one I'm going to keep on my shelf and refer to. Recommended. (Disclaimer - I received the book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.)(less)