If there’s one thing that all the reviewers here can agree upon. This book reads like a bad acid trip.
But I would define it simply as a surreal child...moreIf there’s one thing that all the reviewers here can agree upon. This book reads like a bad acid trip.
But I would define it simply as a surreal children’s horror story.
Or not simply. I shouldn’t say simply. It’s very complex and mired in an insanity akin to a nightmare.
The descriptions are very psychedelic, and I don’t mean that stupid concept of hallucinating laughing gnomes or whatever. It’s like when you see something, it registers falsely in your mind (the way a shadow sometimes looks like a figure in the shadows) and your mind registers the mistake as reality. So you have these scenes that sound like that kind of paranoia:
General Hook (who now resembled both our fathers), the red-and- black-striped creature, and Jeremy are waiting in the elevator when the doors open. The woman’s hair gets caught in an elevator button, but we manage to disentangle it before she is beheaded. The black and red striped creature holds his knife aloft for the remainder of the ride, poised and ready to decapitate.
There is a visceral feel to his disgust, which leaks out of the narrator in very obtuse metaphors, the crawling nastiness of Burroughs or Bataille; but there’s this other quality too. It’s whimsical. It has the panache of Lewis Carroll, the non-stop flurry of strange, faintly threatening, insidious dream characters; the weird contrast of playful details amongst grisly images:
The creature looked to the thick, thick forest. Then he removed one stick at a time from the forest wall. After a half- hour he had barely made a dent. He motioned General Hook over, grabbed his hooks, and struck them together like flint. Then he signaled you over and mimed how blood came out of your mouth before and asked you to spit some more on the hooks. An explosion went off when you did it. A deep hole was burned through the thick, thick forest. There was now a crawlspace...like a tunnel. The man from the pricker bush was covered in soot from head to toe. The ants were blackened too and appeared dead.
There’s that faint rhythm, the tempo of a fairy tale that implies panic, craziness, or a deadline. You can hear it drumming through:
that the walls were closing in, I said, and I was beginning to have the feeling way too often of having been here before or being already dead. She agreed but tears fell as she said the films were like a balm or a tranquilizer from all the pain. Everyone needs a medicine or a gas mask to make it through this holocaust. My blood in the sky, my blood in the sea: carry me beyond the black mirror so that I may reach thee.
And it’s sometimes funny:
The creature has slaughtered six women dressed like princesses. Severed legs and arms flop on the floor and hang on the railing. He holds the head of one in his furry hand and eats her face. He eats with his mouth opened. He has the worst table manners in all the world.
There is a kind of grim, semi-antisocial craziness and desperation in the narrator. The surreal brevity of each little section makes me think of Max Ernst’s “Une Semaine de Bonte” which features Victorian clothed dilettantes with bird-heads performing intrigues, sadism and conspiracy on one another. There’s something fitting in this comparison, I think.
The obsession for Karen, the longing and entrenched sorrow that the book seems to be so strongly dramatized by, it’s sick. This is in a strong way a book about mental sickness, or craziness. A drive to craziness.
The misery of Karen is one that is not experienced emotionally, but lived through viscerally, empirically. He is her companion, her friend. She is the naive beauty who is descending into ghost-hood, and he is seeing her go like a bad acid trip:
Her white curtains fell behind her hot red gums. Her unused organs beckoned me to come. My mind was burning. My teeth were falling out in curtains.
But what the fuck is this really? An allegory? I don’t know. To me the whole thing sounds like an allegory to guilt, a slaying of innocence via the curious kid who witnessed mortality and the sorrow thereof in the same bleeding instant, in the guise of this Karen. She is a symbol throughout the story of both death and of beauty. And there’s something to that, to that patronage of the young corpse whom he still adores, whom he makes love to, who he attempts to hide, protect and love:
Every boy and man she’d ever slept with was with us tonight too. Not just the boys and men but the way her parents saw these boys and men—the hyperbolic Halloween mask versions of these boys and men who stole their daughter’s heart and mind; and I am just another one too, perching over her in my carrion deathskin deathmask. I see the shadow of the horns upon her wall. I know she will remain true to her word: this is the last time we will ever sleep together.
And while all the stories of maggots, of ghosts, of blood and decapitation are creepy; it’s really hard to keep track of what’s going on. I appreciate the discombobulated feel that is supposed to come with a surreal nightmare, but as a reader I felt no visceral experience myself: no fear, no worry, no disgust, no pity. I was so busy trying to figure out what was going on in this bizarre other world. And maybe there shouldn’t be empathy. Maybe it’s just supposed to be a flipbook of psychotic imagery. I dunno. I would have like to have been more closely connected to the narrator, though. He’s lacking some detail that really take away from my being in his shoes. I suppose he’s a teenager, because he works at a surfboard shop. I assume he’s healthy externally and haunted within. But I have no idea who he is what to picture him as and because we are behind his eyes I feel so lost in identifying his world, his relation to his world and the conflicts therein. It’s confusing.
The pictures more than anything harken to the Alice in Wonderland imagery, where in the original version it was illustrated by Sir John Tenniel. A lot of them are funny. They are all comical and strange, a bit too crude. The crudeness adds to them, makes them ilicit a sort of demented appeal, but a lot of the figures are too hard to identify and piece with the story. I guess I just wish they were a little bit better done.
The book is good for the snippets of madness. It's the kind of book that i love to find at thrift stores, garage sales or lying on the street. The irksome madness really comes out when you are suddenly given into this world. It's the kind of book i would love to cut up and put on collages, the misnomer of a phrase out of context, just the little bit of crazy, is good enough to really put some invective onto an envelope or postcard. It's full of random shocking playful phrases. (less)
When I think of Darrow, the phrase that springs to me is ‘hero for the downtrodden, hero for the downtrodden…’ Sometimes he harkens an image like Chri...more When I think of Darrow, the phrase that springs to me is ‘hero for the downtrodden, hero for the downtrodden…’ Sometimes he harkens an image like Christ or an image of Lincoln or Socrates or Emerson or whomever's life is denoted upon a crusade for humble truth. And by god, that’s what makes him a hero, the simplicity of his fight. As a friend of his explained him:
Freedom is a favorite word with Darrow. When he wished to express a favorable opinion of someone he would start by saying, ‘He is for freedom.’
His logic was controversial, but honest and challenging. His condemnation of the state, absolutely liberal in the sense that it purports absolute equal justice:
if the state saw fit to incarcerate the breadwinner to protect itself, then it was also the duty of the state to support the man’s family, clothe and feed the children, keep them in school. For no unorthodox theory was more derisive laughter brought down upon him that for this last.
He had progressed from the role of the gadfly, which stung people into thinking, to the point where he was now one of the coutnry’s most effective antidotes, an antidote on the points of stuffiness, moralism, lethargy. Watching his audiences, even as he had watched the expressions of his Kinsman, OH audiences, he found that he had to transpose his adage of “The truth shall make you free” to read, “The truth shall make you mad.” But he did not mind making people mad; he was not afraid of their anger, resentment, hatred. He enjoyed wading in where the going was the thickest. Perhaps if he could make them mad enough he might make them mad enough to start thinking for themselves.
He would have liked to write across the sky, in black ink for the daytime and white ink for the night, “Difference of opinion doesn’t make the other fellow wrong.”
This book is great at letting on to the impeccable character of Clarence Darrow. Darrow was such a significant part of so many crucial trials of the last century: The indictment of Eugene Debs, the Bill Haywood trial, the Scopes-Monkey trial, The Leopold and Loeb trial and even the pushing of the National Recovery Act through legislation in the 1930’s.
What makes Darrow so incendiary, so brilliant and wonderful is his ability to impress sound morality into his quizzical rhetoric. He constantly questions the status quo be it fierce criticism of the judicial system or apostasy towards the interpretations of religion. He was a white man who fought for blacks, a lawyer who fought against corporations, a purveyor of justice who fought for life imprisonment over the death penalty, and an agnostic who crusaded for sense over dictation. He was to the utmost: a hero for the downtrodden.
What makes this book so good, like Team of Rivals, is it follows the mode of autobiography but at the same time succintly lays down a moral philosophy which the man followed throughout his course in law. Darrow was a man shaped by the plight of humanity and the injustice of the world. With brilliant rhetoric that indeed did free innocent people from biased executions all over the country.
A notable chapter is called “Who will Prosecute the Prosecution?” It is an account of Darrow’s defense of members of the Western Federation of Miners in Idaho, including Big Bill Haywood. The prejudice that these radicals faced put in line with their quality of life being put on the table by Darrow is a mesmerizing portrayal of where the psychology of radicals comes from, and a plea to make some kind of redemptive movement to fix it. Here are some excerpts from the trial
Darrow had a very specific way of winding through the idea of guilt, presenting it as a facet of the conditions of life. In an article called “Darrow at the Defense Table” a Chicago lawyer who had watched him in action writes: “In a tight place Darrow would shrug his shoulders and talk to the jury somewhat like this:
“ ‘Maybe. Perhaps. You can’t tell. It all depends. Neither you nor I know. Why take a chance? Give the accused the benefit of the doubt.
“ ‘Suppose the defendant did err. What could you expect rom the environment he grew up in? Was he really responsible?
“ ‘Would you have acted differently that the defendant under the circumstances? Is he to be imprisoned because he did the natural thing you would have done, were you in his place?
“ ‘The question is not how the provocation would affect you or how it would affect someone else. The question for you to determine is “How did it affect the defendant with his particular mental, moral and physical make-up?” Nobody is all good or all bad. Criminal! That word is loosely used. Many are out of jail who should be in it, and many imprisoned should be on the street.’
“The state was interested in only the bad things the accused had done. Darrow would ask, ‘What about the good deeds?’ The state would dwell upon the victim of the crime. Darrow would draw a picture of the members of the defendant’s family affected by the verdict. The state would emphasize the jury’s sworn duty to convict if the facts proved guilt. Darrow would stress the jury’s solemn duty to understand the defender.”
“Maybe. Perhaps. You can’t tell. It all depends. Why take a chance?”
I have been giving accolades to this brilliant thinker when really my best advice is to just pick up the book. If nothing else, it gives you an insight to someone who really used the initiative of a trial by jury to exemplify a morality that was (and is) being built in precedence by every case declared “guilty” or “not guilty.” Darrow understood that each criminal case is not just for the individuals currently being tried, but for a whole mess of individuals who have the potential to be in the same shoes as these unlucky defendants. His cross-examination was expert, due to his prescience, his sixth sense, by means of which he divined those things the witness so determinedly was concelaing behind his words.
His talent in finding a liar was what made him such a good lawyer. It was said he “stunned the judge, the jury, the press and the spectators. He left the witness in a state of panic, little short of hysteria, with a cross-examination which satisfied the people that [the] prosecution was political in origin.”
It all relates to his quest for truth though, his siphoning of the corruption inherent in our legal system which lives until today. He was one of those few quixotic soldiers for the law who wanted simply to make things right for people, to make things fair and equal; and thus, beautiful…
“As a propagandist, I see no chance to grow weary of life. I am interested in too many questions that concern the existence and activity of the human race. I have more and more come to the firm conviction that each life is simply a short indivdual expression and that it soon sinks back into the great reservoir of force, where memory and the individual consciousness are at an end. I am not troubled by hopes and still less by fears. I have taken life as it came, doing the best I could with its manifold phases, and feel sure that I shall meet final dissolution without fear or serious regret.”(less)
I believe that to be a good organizer there are two things that you have to not only do well but be comfortable with. One is you have to have a strong...moreI believe that to be a good organizer there are two things that you have to not only do well but be comfortable with. One is you have to have a strong, comfortable sense of yourself, and if you don’t have that, your organizing will always be tainted. The other piece of it is connected to that. It is emotionally draining work. You have to be like an athlete in terms of your ability to not only know yourself but to empathize with somebody else. It’s like the ability that writers talk about to become the object that you write about, to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes that Shakespeare, for example, valued so highly—‘where the bee sucks there suck I.’ Organizers have to be able to feel what somebody else feels in order to be really good at it, and it’s not simple, it’s not simple at all, to have to be on their toes all the time. I think you have to have a belief in happiness. You wouldn’t ever, I think, become a union organizer if you didn’t believe that there was a potential for happiness. --Kris Rondeau HUCTW (314)
This book has a very straightforward antidote towards restoring the power of unions: the comprehensive campaign. This means not just telling workers to unionize and not just organizing the workers to strike, but engaging workers to really take power in the company they are working for. And furthermore, to effect the company in such a way that they will respect the workers as a force which contends with those who run things. Workers do the work, investors and owners get all the profit, make all the rules and control every aspect of the way the workplace is run. A real organized union gives the workers a leverage in the way that the company is run; which is not something most corporations necessarily want.
What makes it difficult to come about is a mired history of unions in general, but specifically the unions this book studies mostly, Unite! and HERE; the legislation that has been passed in the past and that is coming up in the future, specifically the Employee Free Choice Act; and the dedication that organizers need to have to really building solid, real relationships with workers to amend their identity as the working class.
A lot of what the comprehensive campaign’s intentions are is a smarter way of thinking in the language that corporations speak, which is basically money. Whether that be damages to their stream of revenue, or it may possibly even be helping it. A case that’s talked about is helping Nevada and New Jersey lobby against federal tax initiatives for their casinos(they have a combined total of four senators) in exchange for negotiations. The union is widespread, so where it can sway political opinion elsewhere helps to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship.(85)
Mostly the comprehensive campaign focuses on costing the company some form of profit. Its an exertion of democracy, in that it attempts to make public the abuses of the company so that there can be a judgment-call on fairness by both its investors and customers.
A few examples would include Yale clerical workers wearing buttons that say “65 cents” to denote sex discrimination amongst female clerical workers, making 65 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts. Or Connecticut State Police doing an action in where all the troopers would pull over speeding motorists and only give them warnings, thus doing their jobs appropriately but costing revenue for the agency.
When Robert Maxey, a notoriously anti-union businessman, became president and CEO of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the union reacted by exposing his loose wheelings and dealings:
The union produced literature that prominently highlighted operating losses in the millions at three separate casinos which Maxey had previously headed…The report was circulated among stockholders, potential investors, lenders… The union also intervened in the MGM’s efforts to expand…The union used its institutional relationships with central labor councils, state federations and other union bodies to help mount opposition to MGM expansion.
Maxey stepped down. The union got a contract.
The same sort of thing happened when the hero of the comprehensive campaign, Vincent Sirabella, attempted to organize the steadfastly anti-union Fremont hotel.
I said to Rich McCracken [a lawyer for both HERE and FAST], ‘I want to send letters to these four hundred people we know that he owes money to. Can I call this thing a creditors’ committee even though we’re not in bankruptcy?’
McCracken said, yeah, sure. And I sent a letter out. I said, ‘Hey, look, he owes you, he owes us, why don’t we get together and get our money?’
My staff does these four hundred envelopes, and then a couple weeks later they say ‘Jeff, did you get any answers?’ I say no.
‘So it failed.’ I said no.
‘What do you mean?’
I said, “You think anyone wants to settle on ten cents on the dollar with us? They are all going after him for 100 percent of their money.”
John Coleman then declared bankruptcy with $180 million in bills and $400 million of assets, none of which were liquid. He calls up Vincent and says, ‘I’m fucking done.’
And Vincent and I go over to the Jockey Club in New York and negotiate the contract. And I’ll never forget this as long as I live. Coleman turns to me and says to me—and says, ‘You’re a goddamn terrorist!’
I said, ‘No, John, you just thought we were stupid.’
The current process for unionizing is going through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s election process. This is coming from the 1938 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which sanctioned the NLRB to govern union election processes. But these processes are slighted towards the company. Tom Woodruff an SEIU organizer explains it like this:
Now we’re getting ready to elect a president for 2008. Let’s assume this. Candidate A has a list of all the voters, names and addresses, Social Security numbers, everything about them, and has it years in advance of the election. Candidate B gets a list 30 days before the election and half the addresses are wrong. Candidate A get to appear in all the debates, but gets to decide when the debate is, gets to make an opening statement and a closing statement, and there are no questions allowed. And Candidate B can’t even appear in the debate.
The entire election process is fertile for manipulation and deception; one example is highlighted by the Supreme Court case NLRB v. Kentucky River Community Care, Inc, which was a case where nurses who wanted to be a part of the union could not do so based on supervisory status. A supervisor isn’t part of the bargaining unit of a union, thus excluding them from the election. The point of contention is: what makes a supervisor? The Bush administration’s NLRB board “ignored the fact that an expansive reading had the capacity to remove most of the nursing profession from the scope of the act.” Not to mention employees that fall under the category of supervisor in other professions, making it so that…“today’s decision threatens to create a new class of workers under Federal labor law; workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees…That category…by 2012 could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent of the work force.” (187)
The current legislation that is trying to be passed to help declining union membership is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). This is an Act which makes a card-check (or employees signing cards given to the union organizer, rather than voting in an election) the deciding force in whether a union is accepted in a shop. There are many problems inherent in this as well, for instance “the EFCA would likely lead to earlier and perhaps more militant employer anti-union campaigns….If employers start early, they can mobilize fear and make arguments against unions before card signing begins.” (265)
Where card check has been achieved, organizing success has followed. Some may assume that giving all unions the benefit of card check would give them the same advantages that unions get from persuading employers to sign them. The problem with this reasoning is that it is not the card-check agreement but the card-check agreement plus neutrality after a comprehensive campaign that has proved so effective. The organizing approach adopted by HERE and other unions achieves card check through combination of negotiation pressure and worker solidarity. By the time card check is achieved, the employer has concluded that it is in its interest not to battle further against the union. But the EFCA cannot legislate this employer conclusion. The passage of the EFCA could lead employers to conclude that they need to battle harder, and they would retain all the advantages that they currently have under the NLRB’s election process.(267)
The book’s point is the EFCA is going to end up being a pretty impotent force really and to really effect change they need to revoke parts of current legislation including the prohibition of secondary strikes, the permanent hiring of replacement workers and maybe some cleaner provisions made about whether a “supervisor” can be within the bargaining unit. They have made it so hard for workers to get the point across that they want to represent themselves as a pertinent force within the place they are working.
What these faults in legislation really come down to though is a negative consciousness about what unions are:
Anti-union opinions are rooted in much more stable concepts—the importance of private property, the interests of shareholders, and the widely shared view that society works best when government lets the free market alone. As long as those attitudes are powerful in society generally, and predominate in the judiciary, it would be foolish to expect the Court to overturn the Mackay doctrine [(or the legislation that allows for permanent replacements during a strike)], which [is used as the] example of the havoc wrought by the judiciary on the basic ideas of the NLRA. (279)
What it comes down to though is where this country stands and the future of the workers within it. People seem to have an idea that they will be allotted a fair treatment because of whatever sake they have in this country fulfilling its dream for the people who are trying to work hard and make that dream possible. The truth is, people with capital are not concerned with the sake of those who help them and will, unfortunately, defy them if necessity leers itself at a given time.
A perfect example of this is the Stations Casino, one of the last casinos in Las Vegas to be holding out on giving the union a contract. And the situation for the workers was pretty commendable as far as positive reinforcement geos, until the recession made it not worthwhile to do so:
They have about 14,000 workers in the classifications that we traditionally represent in Las Vegas: they are all nonunion; they are aggressively anti-union. So two things happened. One, they were bought out. There was a private-equity buyout by a company called Colony Capital, which is a Los Angeles-based private-equity firm which has been especially interested in the hospitality industry. And as is typical with those transactions, they loaded the company up with an extraordinary amount of debt. Had the business continued to boom, they could pay that debt, but the intersection of the enormous debt load and the resulting interest requirement and the collapse of the economy—the local casino business has been way down in Las Vegas just because of the overall economic crisis there—and so they now have come after the workforce with a vengeance. They have reduced benefits; they basically totally abandoned the carrot program. And if an employer never had a carrot program, no one ever noticed, but if you built a whole identity with your workforce on the carrot, and then you take the carrot away, that produces quite a reaction. The workforce is now very disillusioned with the company, and the company’s debt load is staggering in relation to their business, and they are not as strong as they were…
It sounds like a bummer. But thankfully, there are organizers, with a platform for the comprehensive campaign, from Unite Here, who are trying to help the situation.
…Now I don’t underestimate them, I don’t mean to sound cocky about this, but that is the flip side of the negatives of the economic crisis in my view in respect to organizing prospects. (137)
When the company falls back on false promises, there is no greater protective force for the workers than a well-organized and involved union.