14 December 2013

The Opposite of Fate, by Amy Tan

An audio book.

This is non-fiction, a collection of essays and short works by Amy Tan.

“Thanks to my mother, I was raised to have a morbid imagination. When I was a child, she often talked about death as warning, as an unavoidable matter of fact. Little Debbie's mom down the block might say, 'Honey, look both ways before crossing the street.' My mother's version: 'You don't look, you get smash flat like sand dab.' (Sand dabs were the cheap fish we bought live in the market, distinguished in my mind by their two eyes affixed on one side of their woebegone cartoon faces.)

The warnings grew worse, depending on the danger at hand. Sex education, for example, consisted of the following advice: 'Don't ever let boy kiss you. You do, you can't stop. Then you have baby. You put baby in garbage can. Police find you, put you in jail, then you life over, better just kill youself.” 

At one point, the author discovers herself in Cliff Notes.

The last essay relates the author's battle with Lyme Disease. It's interestingly written, and probably should be required reading for all medical people, as well as anyone likely to become exposed to the right kind of tick.

The Death of the Liberal Class, by Chris Hedges

An electronic book, borrowed from the PC Library.

Inverted totalitarianism.

From The Death of the Liberal Class, by Chris Hedges, Ch. II, “Permanent War.”

There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as democratic.  Citizens, rather than authentically participating in power, are [sic] have only virtual opinions, in what Charlotte Twight calls “participatory fascism.” They are reduced to expressing themselves on issues that are meaningless, voting on American Idol or in polls conducted by the power elite. The citizens of Rome, stripped of political power, are allowed to vote to spare or kill a gladiator in the arean, a similar form of hollow public choice.

“Inverted totalitarianism reverses things,” Wolin writes…

How does this compare to or work with McLuhan’s laws of media, where a medium reverses?

Reversal: Every form, pushed to the limit of its potential, reverses its characteristics.

Hedges on Chomsky: 
Chomsky is one fo the few intellectuals who challenges the structure and inequity of corporate capitalism and our state of permanent war...Chomsky is deeply reviled by the liberal class...combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail, and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state...

"It is very similar to late Weimar Germany," Chomsky said when I spoke with him. [footnote to Noam Chomsky, Interview, New York]..."tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system..."
"The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen..."
"...There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegla immigrants and the blacks...We will be told we have to defend ourselves...And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany...the right-wing Republicans...will sweep the [November 2010] election."
Hedges: "[Chomsky] reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive."

Liberal class has supported war, in this way remaining in the "circle of the power elite." Viz: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq -- all supported by liberals as necessary. The argument against Vietnam was not so much that it was wrong, but that we were losing. Warning about Iran, same BS being peddled.

Michael Moore's speech when he accepted Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine" in which he shamed Bush and characterized both the war and the presidency as "fictitious." "Moore was portrayed as a 'far-left' radical who needed to be escorted off the premises."

"...America's liberal armchair warriors are the 'useful idiots' of the War on Terror." [footnote to Tony Judt, "Bush's Useful Idiots," London Review of Books 28:18 (September 21, 2006), 3-5]


$345B approved for Afg. war
foreign aid to Afg since 2002 total $17B

WWI: rise of mass propaganda, defeat of populism
Socialist Mayor of Milwaukee & Schenectady before war

Freud: emotions are not subject to reason

"The great muckraking journalists, artists, and progressives, who had used their talents to expose abuses of the working classes joined the [WWI] war effort."

Espionage Act, Sedition Act

Eugene Debs imprisoned after making anti-war speech in 1918.

"Vigilante groups, roused by the enflamed war propaganda and nationalist call to arms, physically attacked and at times lynched war opponents."

"The former socialists and activists were, perhaps, the most susceptible to Wilson's utopian dreams...their combined effort to sell the war corrupted the liberal class."

Propaganda did not stop with the end of the war. Techniques learned and acquired were quickly adopted for other uses by government and business interests.

Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew, 1928. Father of modern PR. "It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace." (Quoted by Hedges from Bernay's 1928 book Propaganda)

"The Hun...was supplanted by the Bolshevik...it was corporate advertising, rather than government witch hunts, which would prove the most deadly. News had to do battle with huge, sophisticated and well-funded propaganda campaigns. It would also be denied the tools of emotional persuasion perfected by mass propaganda. News would be restricted to fact, to balance and objectivity. The powerful techniques of appealing to emotion, of creating pseudo-events that a public could confuse with reality, of constantly taking the pulse of the public through surveys and opinion polls to appear to give people what they desired, would be left in the hands of the enemies of truth. The public would be trained, as Bourne wrote, to communicated in a language in which 'simple syllogisms are substituted for analysis, things are known by their labels, [and] our heart's desire dictates what we shall see.'"

"...Civil and political discourse became poisoned by loyalty oaths, spy paranoia, and distrust of dissent. This manufactured fear...[persuaded] the country [to] devote...half of all government spending to defense following World War II, and ... billions more into its intelligence service..."

"...corporate and government propaganda sharply narrowed the parameters of acceptable debate..."

"...nearly everything...disseminated from ...corporations such as Viacom, Disney, General Electric, and Murdoch's News Corporation..."

Dwight Macdonald: "American radicalism was making great strides right up to 1914; the war was the rock on which it shattered."

re-interpretation of reality: propaganda, mass culture

Embrace of simplification: Macdonald warns against slogans, clichés. (Sound bites)

The Dies Committee, root of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

Federal Theatre Project (WPA) suppressed

The disappointment of the Beat Generation -- quote from Malcolm Cowley:
Whatever course they followed, almost all the radicals of 1917 were defeated by events. ...talk about revolution gave way to psychoanalysis. 
In truth: I ran out of gas and didn't finish this book. It's quite a sermon, and I suppose I grew weary of that. Nonetheless, a great summary that tells very well the story of how we got to where we are in the First World today.

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

Alfred A. Knopf 2011

An electronic book, from the Pierce County Library.

An unusual story, narrated by a character named Tony Webster. It begins when he is an adolescent, becomes friends with a young man named Adrian, and falls in love with a young woman named Veronica. The story is told from Tony's old age. He is retired, perhaps seventy years old. He tells how he fell out with Veronica, who went on to form a partnership with Adrian, which he very much resented.

This is a story about consequences, remorse, and regret, but it is not a depressing novel.

Life does not reward merit, Tony Webster tells us.

13 December 2013

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

Dedicated to Christopher Hitchens.

An e-book, from the PC Library.

copyright 2012

"My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, though he certainly had a hand in his own undoing."

These are the first two sentences of the novel.

This took me less than two days to read. It was entertaining, and quite clever. My only criticism is that it might just be a bit too clever: I'm not sure that the "trick" of this work doesn't overshadow the rest of it.

But I don't regret reading it, and may try McEwan again, just to see what else he does, if he does indeed do anything else?

10 December 2013

Body of Evidence, by Patricia Cornwell

An audio book.

Kay Scarpetta is the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Virginia. In this novel, Scarpetta is drawn into the case of the murder of a young novelist and her mentor. The setting is mostly the Richmond VA area, and some in Key West.

Good commuting entertainment.

The time setting is approximately late 80s. It's interesting to note the lack of cell phones, and the non-ubiquity of computers, although computers are used to some degree by the law enforcement agencies. The FBI is involved.

07 December 2013

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt; by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco illustrates and enhances this book with graphic storytelling.

Native Americans in Pine Ridge, SD. Prisoner of War camp. Alcoholism, deprivation, destruction of a civilization.

Camden, NJ: a sacrifice zone.

Florida: slavery persists.

We...have undergone a coup d'etat ... by our largely anonymous corporate overlords... We have now entered the era of naked force. The internal security and surveillance state, justified in the name of the war on terror, will be the instrument used against us. ...[W]e can all be denied habeas corpus. The warrantless wiretapping, eavesdropping, and monitoring of tens of millions of citizens, once illegal, is now legal. The state has given itself the power to unilaterally declare U. S. citizens as enemy combatants and torture or assassinate them, as Barack Obama did when he in September 2011 ordered the killing of the American-born Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. [footnote] The state can deny U. S. citizens suspected of what it vaguely defines as 'terrorist' activities the right to a trial. It can turn these citizens over to the military, which can hold them without charges indefinitely. ...[The U. S.] will be no different from other totalitarian regimes throughout history. Police forces ... have been transformed into paramilitary units ...[I]f the pressure mounts...these...forces will become ubiquitous and people will be killed.  (Page 240)

Hedges & Sacco have written an effective and inspiring indictment of the current socioeconomic repression in the "First World."