We lost Milo this year but I'm going to start reading books to dedicate these pages to him. Miss you, feller.
“American Gods” Neil Gaiman
“This is a roadside attraction,” said Wednesday. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”
“It’s perfectly simple,” said Wednesday. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”
“There are churches all across the states, though,” said Shadow.
“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves being pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.”
“In the field of funeral homes, however, things are, perforce, different. You need to feel that you are getting small-town personal service from someone who has a calling to the profession. You want personal attention to you and your loved one in a time of great loss. You wish to know that your grief is happening on a local level, not on a national one. But in all branches of industry—and death is an industry, my young friend, make no mistake about that—one makes one’s money from operating in bulk, from buying in quantity, from centralizing one’s operations. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. Trouble is, no one wants to know that their loved ones are traveling in a cooler-van to some big old converted warehouse where they may have twenty, fifty, a hundred cadavers on the go. No, sir. Folks want to think they’re going to a family concern, somewhere they’ll be treated with respect by someone who’ll tip his hat to them if he sees them in the street.” “It’s like the idiots who figure that hummingbirds worry about their weight or tooth decay or some such nonsense, maybe they just want to spare hummingbirds the evils of sugar,” explained Wednesday. “So they fill the hummingbird feeders with fucking NutraSweet. The birds come to the feeders and they drink it. Then they die, because their food contains no calories even though their little tummies are full. That’s Paul Bunyan for you. Nobody ever told Paul Bunyan stories. Nobody ever believed in Paul Bunyan. He came staggering out of a New York ad agency in 1910 and filled the nation’s myth stomach with empty calories.”
“The Runaway” Nick Petrie
“The Night Fire” Michael Connelly
“Dead of Winter” Stephen Mack Jones
I’ve given up in football.
Not just the Lions (who perpetually break my heart) but the NFL in general: Millionaire babies taking to the field to shuck, jive and juke for elderly billionaire plantation masters. The players who do take a stand bu kneeling are vilified, nullified, and ostracized. And fans continue to subsidize this cirque du soulless in some publicly funded, corporate-owned stadium with the audacity to charge ten dollars for a cup of warm beer, eight dollars for cold hot dogs, and ninety dollars for jerseys bearing terminally concussed gridiron legends’ names and numbers.
Never mind the fact that the rules of a once-simple sport have become so complicated that it takes a team of Harvard Law professors to unravel them during a two-minute time-out or a video penalty challenge.
Football’s not a game anymore.
It’s two-hours of Wall Street traders, stock analysts, happy-ending-massage-parlor escapades, drug addicts, and wife-beaters bashing helmets.
It’s Spartacus without the honor of drama.
“Recollections of My Nonexistence” Rebecca Solnit
I loved the physical objects that are books too and still do. The codex, the box that is a bird, the door into a world, still seems magical to me, and I still walk into a bookstore or a library convinced that I might be on the threshold that will open up onto what I most need or desire, and sometimes that doorway appears. When it does, there are epiphanies and raptures in seeing the world in new ways, in finding patterns previously unsuspected, in being handed unimagined equipment to address what arises, in the beauty and power of words.
The sheer pleasure of meeting new voices and ideas and possibilities, having the world become more coherent in some subtle or enormous way, extending or filling in your map of the universe, is not nearly celebrated enough, nor is the beauty in finding pattern and meaning. But these awakenings recur, and every time they do there’s joy.
The voice that came out of me when I spoke in social settings and often even to a single friend wore a thousand pounds of armor and was incapable of saying anything direct about emotions, which I was barely feeling or feeling through so many filters I hardly knew what was spinning me around. But the voice: it was a voice I’d grown up around and learned to emulate and then to promulgate, a voice that strove to be clever, cool, sharp, and amused, to shoot arrows with precision and duck the arrows that came back or pretend they hadn’t stung. It relied on jokes and quips that were often cruel in a game where anyone who was hurt or offended by those jabs was supposed to be lacking in humor or strength or other admirable qualities. I didn’t understand what I was doing, because I didn’t understand that there were other ways to do it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t mean-spirited at times. (Later, I discovered that scathing and mocking reviews were the easiest and most fun to write, but I tried to write them only about much-lauded successes.)
There was another kind of humor, or rather a ponderous wit, that was convoluted, full of citations and puns and plays on existing phrases, of circling around, far around, what was happening and what you were feeling. It was as though the more indirect and referential your statement, the further away from your immediate and authentic reaction, the better. It would take me a long time to understand what a limitation cleverness can be, and to understand how much unkindness damaged not just the other person but the possibilities for you yourself, the speaker, and what courage it took to speak from the heart. What I had then was a voice that leaned hard on irony, on saying the opposite of what I meant, a voice in which I often said things to one person to impress other people, a voice in which I didn’t really know much about what I thought and felt because the logic of the game determined the moves. It was a hard hard voice on a short leash.
It was a lovely goal or rather orientation when it was far away throughout my childhood and teens and collage years, but when it came time to do it—well, the mountain is beautiful in the distance and steep when you’re on it. Becoming a writer formalizes something essential about becoming a human: the task of figuring out what stories to tell and how to tell them and who you are in relation to them, which you choose or which choose you, and what the people around you desire and how much to listen to them and how much to listen to other things, deeper and farther away. But also, you have to write. I had published a lot of essays and reviews by that time, but a book—it was like going from building toolsheds to a palace.
My university interlocutor had accused me of offering palliatives for marketing reasons, but what I’d wanted to offer is encouragement, a word that, though it carries the stigma of niceness, literally means to instill courage. Encouragement not to make people feel good, but to make them feel powerful. I’d eventually realize that what I was doing could equally be characterized as stealing away the best excuse for doing nothing: that you have no power and nothing you do matters. It was nurture of people’s sense of possibility, and it was dissent from a lot of the most familiar narratives to which despair and cynicism—that weird formula in which overconfidence about outcome undermines one’s will to play a role—justify non participation. Something profound had shifted for me to feel capable of changing minds and responsible for tending to hearts. A sense of powerlessness and disconnectedness had faded away and sense of possibility had replaced it, about my own capacity and role as well as about the way that change itself works.
“The Blacktongue Thief” Christopher Buehlman
“The Shadow Catcher” Marianne Wiggins
How do you make the life you want? she wondered. Talent, her father used to say, is more abundant than you think. You have to have the temperament to tolerate hard work. You have to flirt with luck. You have to take the chances that most people wouldn’t take.
The scary thing about this woman and others who talk about celebrities as if they know them personally is that the exercise squanders civic involvement. Unlike voting in a real election, voting in a People poll accomplishes absolutely nothing , but we’re still encouraged to believe in celebrities as modern mythic gods. Modern-day heroic fallacies. Zeus screwing around behind Hera’s back. Icarus getting high on too much ego. Innocent Ledas losing their cherries on the casting couch.
Nevada is the state that owns the trademark Ground Zero , for good reason. Between 1962 and 1992 eight hundred nuclear devices were detonated here, in the atmo, before they started “testing” underground. To the north, northeast, and the northwest of the city, tracts of land larger than Rhode Island and Delaware are owned and operated by the Feds. Nellis Air Force Base, the National Atomic Test Site, Area 51—our federal government owns more land in Nevada than in any other state—nearly eighty percent of it. So as Las Vegas tourism expands, so does the need to house its service community—the croupiers, and waitresses, the spa receptionists, the nurses, palm readers, the cosmeticians—and you can see the spill of endless stucco homes and red-roofed planned communities flooding across the valley, threatening the boundaries and the no-go zones of the bomb and gunnery ranges.
Like Los Angeles, Las Vegas is a horizontal construct, but Clark County (named for William Clark, another railroad mogul) has knocked against Uncle Sam’s wall on all four sides and has nowhere to go in this new century but up. Adapt or die. The existence of the military in Nevada proscribes how the state can manage its expansion and construction which in turn is in demand because of tourism. Which has its roots in the dirt of gaming. No wonder people come—it’s all so freaking improbable. Triple-digit temperatures are not uncommon five months of the year and yet this is the city that fills sixteen of the twenty largest hotels in the world each season. The city where New York and Napa Valley celebrity chefs come to clone their branded brandades and boudins . Come to test their bombes. Growth fuels growth, that’s what this city tells you from afar. If I can do it, against these dry as bonefuck desert odds, then imagine what you can do inside my magic circle.
“Mexican Hat” Michael McGarrity
“Massacre Pond” Paul Doiron
Billy Cronk understood that nature was as indifferent to the moral sensibilities of twenty-first-century human beings as humans themselves were.
“Blue Moon” Lee Child
“The Last Resort” Alison Lurie
“Another customer who wants me to guarantee sunshine,” she said, and laughed. “See, the problem is most people can’t admit that they want to do nothing on vacation. That’s because according to the moral system most Americans but into, it’s sin: the sin of laziness and sloth. But at a resort the rules are changed. As long as it’s hot and sunny, especially if you’re near water, you can take off most of your clothes and lie around doing nothing for hours at a time, and it doesn’t count. Sloth is redefined as ’sunbathing,’ even if you put a towel over your face and slather yourself with total sunblock. So naturally if it’s cloudy, they complain.”
There was always a potential conflict of interest in any charity, since its director and employees depended on their livelihood on a continued supply of the unfortunate individuals it was supposed to help. Social agencies need clients; drug counselors need drug addicts, and and it was the same with animal rescue enterprises. If dolphins were banned from commercial aquariums and all nets were biodegradable, the sanctuary they had visited this morning might have to close. Meanwhile, when the supply of damaged individuals fell off, there would be a natural tendency to keep them in care as long as possible, to sentimentalize them and treat them as pets.
Animals are lucky, he thought, not for the first time. Places like that dolphin sanctuary, at the most, maintain only a few individuals past their natural life span. But with humans, in the so-called civilized countries, the old, sick, injured, and incompetent are preserved. As a result the world is burdened with a population that in an earlier, more natural age would have ceased to exist years ago. Miserable, senile, ailing individuals are made to survive past their natural life span in some pathetic institution like the home for the bony, sick old cows he had seen in India.
“Border Districts” Gerald MurnaneDry as a bone, I managed reading 55 pages out of 135. He calls his memoir writing reporting, and it reads as such. Not for me.
“Second Place” Rachel Cusk
“No Plan B” Lee Child with Andrew Child
“A Great Reckoning” Louise Penny
“Shadow Woman” Thomas Perry
“American Tabloid” James EllroyI managed to read to page 216 in this 576 page tiresome tale before I said fuck it. I hate these people. If any of the characters have the ability to reflect on their actions or have any consciousness whatsoever, Ellroy has chosen to leave out any humanity. This includes the Kennedy clan. This came out to high acclaim but for the love of Gawd, why anyone would ‘enjoy’ reading what these con men do, that actually changes the course of this semi-fictional history, is anyone’s guess.
“Vivian Maier Developed” Ann Marks
“Paths of Dissent” Edited by Andrew Bacevich with Daniel A. SjursenBy Eric Edstrom—As American as It Gets:
It’s one of America’s darkest ironies: in efforts to “prevent terrorism” in our country, we commit far larger acts of terrorism elsewhere. Terrorism—and the images that some with it: targeted assassinations, bombings, drone strikes, secret black site prisons, torture, and wanton civilian murder—is precisely what we inflict on others. Particularly galling is America’s arrogance in expecting that this won’t come back to haunt us, even when we’ve historically proved that we ourselves will destroy far more for far less. We Americans are truly raised to believe that terrorism isn’t a crime—when America does it. If General McChrystal’s “insurgent math”—for every innocent person you kill, you create ten new enemies correct, the raid that killed Andy created another 330 insurgents. This 10:1 ratio means that just to keep an insurgency from growing, the American military needs to kill more than ten insurgents without a single civilian death, a seemingly impossible task in modern warfare. Grégoire Chamayou’s book Drone Theory puts it well: “Caught upon in an endless spiral, the eradication strategy is, paradoxically, destined never to eradicate.” Individuals—young men and women looking to prove their worth to society—must not be misled by the Disneyfication of military service. At the first sniff of adulthood, the military bamboozles children into one of the largest commitments ever conceived: to leave your life, be issued a new identity, and be sent across the world to inflict violence on people you don’t know, for political reasons you’re not meant to understand. I believe in informed consent, and I’m no longer sure that’s what happens when a military commitment is pitched to teenagers too young even to be allowed to drink alcohol or buy a ticket for an R-rated movie depicting gory military combat.
The American public has been complicit in allowing our troops to be sent into a series of wars that everyone knew to be costly and self-defeating, while simultaneously maintaining the audacious idea that, in doing so, we “support the troops.” That is not patriotism; that is betrayal. By Daniel L. Davis—Going Public with the Truth:
If nothing else, America needed to know what was really happening on the ground in Afghanistan. The soldiers who had died there for no gain to our country were forever silenced: they could never again speak for themselves. Thousands of other troopers who knew the truth only too well also had no voice, because they had no access to publications and no reason to believe anyone would listen. The only messages that America did hear were the perpetually optimistic—and frequently outright false—reports from the senior leaders. By Jonathan W. Hutto Sr.—A Sailor’s Story:
I found that despite the military’s supposed inclusivity today, it offers no escape from racism and nationalism. And this racism is directly connected to the acts of aggression and even war crimes committed by the US military overseas. By Matthew P. How—Reclaiming My Morality:
The entire US government, including our military, intelligence, and diplomatic corps, was—and is—full of people who don’t believe in America’s endless wars, don’t believe in our supposed reasons for fighting them, and don’t believe that the sacrifices and costs are worthwhile. The extent of their lying, to themselves and to the public, has been well documented, not only for Iraq and Afghanistan but for all American wars of this century, and most wars of previous centuries as well.
In 2019, the Washington Post reported on the Afghanistan Papers, a confidential trove of interviews conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction with more than six hundred US officials, both military and civilian. The report laid bare the systemic lying of the entire US government regarding the Afghan War, just as the New York Times unveiling the Pentagon Papers in 1971 revealed the systemic lying of the US government regarding the war in Vietnam. Yet our elected officials have made no attempts to address the unmitigated mendacity. Britain’s Parliament, to its credit, has held formal inquiries regarding the wars in Iraq and Libya, confirming that those wars were started and sustained upon lies. In the United States, we have not had justice or truth-telling from our leaders. By Kevin Tillman (brother of Pat Tillman)—Truth, Lies, and Propaganda
Like many others, I hoped—or, rather, felt certain—that the country’s first Black president would promptly rein in America’s belligerent foreign policy. By most accounts, Obama is a kind, smart, reasonable, hardworking, and thoughtful person. Even so, it wasn’t long before he escalated the war in Afghanistan, expanded our global drone campaign, recolonized Africa with US troops, not-so-secretly helped turn Syria into an apocalyptic wasteland, and extended America’s economic warfare against countries like Venezuela. This, from a Nobel Peace Prize laureate! My disappointment with Obama’s foreign policy proved yet another reminder that the problems we face are structural and systemic—wired into the national DNA. I had counted on Obama’s election engendering a paradigm shift. Instead, he continued nearly all the Bush administration’s policies, only with far more sophistication. For both presidents, the main concern was expanding the American empire, or what US officials term “advancing American interests.” By Elliot Woods—From Soldier to Witness:
Somewhere along the way, I encountered the phrase fraud, waste, and abuse, and that seemed to fit the grotesque outlay of resources on the large bases where I spent time. As much as I appreciated our air-conditioned chow hall, and the steak and the crab legs and the Mongolian stir-fry, I couldn’t help thinking that it was all a bit much. Sometimes it felt less like a war than a giant boondoggle to benefit the big contracting companies like Kellogg Brown & Root. I thought it was peculiar that we had Sri Lankans working in our chow hall, Filipinas doing our laundry, and Turks handing out basketballs in the recreation center. It all seemed colonial and corporate. And I definitely found it repulsive that the American KBR employees were making five to ten times my salary.
It was only after I got home that I began to learn about the multibillion-dollar no-bid contracts that companies like KBR received to provide logistics and construction services in Iraq. The debate back home about whether the war was just about capturing Iraqi oil was still simmering when I returned to college in 2005, but as far as I could see, any future oil contracts for American companies would be icing on the cake. The money was already in the bank from the logistical operations before the first boots even hit the ground. And it kept flowing for years, while more American died and got critically wounded, and Iraq was torn to shreds in the security vacuum created by Saddam’s removal. By Andrew Bacevich—The Price of Free Pizza:
“You did not return from hell with empty hands.” So wrote a French intellectual to an American journalist who had served as a Soviet agent during the 1930s. Even allowing for Gallic hyperbole, a similar judgement pertains to the writers whose essays appear in Paths of Dissent. They have not returned to civilian life with empty hands. In sharing what they experienced in uniform and in charting their individual journeys to dissent, they offer their fellow citizens an invaluable opportunity to learn from and reflect on the last twenty years of disastrous military misadventures.
What we Americans owe vets is not free pizza but the decency to hear them out and ponder what they have learned. There is value in their testimony. To listen attentively is the least the rest of us can do. It just may be that as citizens we do have an obligation after all.
“The Precipice” Paul Doiron
“Sometimes David Wins: Organizing to Overcome “Fated Outcomes”” Frank C. Pierson, Jr.My approach, doing face-to-face relational work looking for leaders and exploring power relationships, was modeled after earlier IAF organizing drives around the country like FIGHT in Rochester, BUILD in Baltimore, EBC in East Brooklyn, and COPS in San Antonio. All of the organizers and leaders responsible for these success stories first and foremost practiced the AIF “Iron Rule.” The Iron Rule is a deceptively simple practice that has guided and held accountable IAF organizing everywhere, from start-ups like I was trying to launch in Tucson to decades-old people’s organizations like COPS (Communities Organized for Public Services). I say “deceptively simple” because it’s a moving standard of behavior that requires subtle judgements based on personalities and circumstances. Nobody knows just who coined the term, but by the time I had connected with IAF the first time it was enshrined in the heart of the work: “Never Do for People What They Can Do for Themselves.” Arizona leaders institutionalized the statewide network by creating the Arizona Interfaith Network (AIN), a 501-c-4 corporation, and an education arm, the Arizona Institute for Public Life (AIPL), a 501-c-3. Both blossomed, with strong boards of directors attracting state and national money and cementing relationships with leaders from far-flung communities. In 2007, Arizona Interfaith Network joined the national movement fighting to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform in Congress. AIN and John McCain played an important role, holding media events together and pressing reform forward from the grassroots while meeting the political establishment at the staff level wherever possible. Industrial Areas Foundation (AIF) organizations around the country pitched in on the national fight, but through it all what mattered most to the IAF in Arizona and elsewhere was long haul local organizing, to be sustained after the movement waned on battles that continued and continue to this day–win, lose, draw–at the national level. In Goliath’s company towns everywhere, a small group at the top is always doing what the gaming, copper, coal, and steel moguls have always done: Their power position is buttressed by the narratives of dominance they write. Saul Alinsky and Silas Pierson both recognized that in company towns, small and large, narratives matter. Though differing in detail, power relationships are reinforced by narrative control. When rising civic sector organizing begins to threaten big power’s hammerlock on narrative authorship, a range of new possibilities may open up. Unions like the Meatpackers, United Mine Workers, USWA 937, and HERE/Culinary 226 seek to disorganize and reorganize company town dominance narratives–fueling resistance to market/government power plays, while enabling their own. The best community-based citizens organizations do the same.
“The Topeka School” Ben LernerThe spread was controversial; if it happened in front of lay judges, there was shock, complaints. More than one highly ranked team had misjudged its judges and been eliminated in early rounds for speaking drivel. Old-timer coaches longed for the days when debate was debate. The most common criticism of the spread was that it detached policy debate from the real world, that nobody used language the way these debaters did, save perhaps for auctioneers. But even the adolescents knew this wasn’t true, that corporate persons deployed a version of the spread all the time: for they heard the spoken warnings at the end of the increasingly common television commercials for prescription drugs, when risk information was disclosed at a speed designed to make it difficult to comprehend; they heard the list of rules and caveats read rapid-fire at the end of promotions on the radio; they were at least vaguely familiar with the “fine print” one received from financial institutions and health-insurance companies; the last thing one was supposed to do with those thousands of words was comprehend them. These types of disclosure were designed to conceal; they exposed you to information that, should you challenge the institution in question, would be treated like a “dropped argument” in a fast round of debate–you have already conceded the validity of the point by failing to address it when it was presented. It’s no excuse that you didn’t have the time. Even before the twenty-four-hour news cycle, Twitter storms, algorithmic trading, spreadsheets, the DDoS attack, Americans were getting “spread” in their daily lives; meanwhile, their politicians went on speaking slowly, slowly about values utterly disconnected from their policies. …if I was impatient about something, it was because I’d changed as a result of everybody telling me how great I was, even though I was also being told I was a man-hater or an intellectual sellout. He was tired of being asked what it was like to be “Mr. Jane Gordon” or being praised for “being a mom.” People say of a person that “fame has changed her,” or praise her by saying that it hasn’t, but the trouble with that formulation is that fame or notoriety of whatever sort changes everything around the person, every relationship in which she is embedded, no matter what the person in question does. You can do a better or worse job of navigating your new reality, of course. And thank God my fame, such as it was, peaked before the internet existed so I didn’t sit around Googling myself or reading tweets and comment fields–which are infested with the Men. The opposite might also be true: that they were viciously punishing Darren for what he represented, the bad surplus. The man-child, descendent of the jester and village idiot and John Clare, the poet roaming the countryside after enclosure. The persistence of the mind of childhood–its plentitude and purposelessness–into the sexually mature body, which has succumbed to historical time, must log its hours. The Man-child represented a farcical form of freedom, magical thinking against the increasingly administered life of the young adult. A teller of fantastic stories. Almost every object in the man-child’s world reflected this suspension between realms: his alcohol that was also soda, his weapons what were toys, how he might trade you two paper dollars for one of silver, valuing not credit so much as shine. He had trouble managing his height or facial hair and when he injured actual children while demonstrating a wrestling move (clothesline, face hammer, DDT), it was a case of his “not knowing his own strength.” He must, to fit the type, be not only male, but also white and able-bodied: the perverted form of the empire’s privileged subject. If he were a woman or radicalized or otherwise othered body, he would be in immediate mortal danger from sexual predators and police. It was his similarity to the dominant that rendered him pathetic and a provocation: the man-child was almost fit for school or work or service, could almost get his license, finally discard the dirt bike: too close to the norms to prove them by his difference, the real men–who are themselves in fact perpetual boys, since America is adolescence without end–had to differentiate themselves with violence, Klaus’s voice. Soon this one is explains the peril of paying ransom to a paramilitary force, how it only leads to more kidnappings and hostage situations, but perhaps the young speaker is, with his theatrically raised eyebrows, trying subtly to signal his own captivity–a cry for help directed to the grown-ups in the audience? But there are no grown-ups, that’s what you must grow up to know fully; your parents were just two more bodies experiencing landscape and weather, trying to make sense by vibrating columns of air, redescribing contingency as necessity with religion or World Ice Theory or the Jewish science, cutting profound truths with their opposites as the regimes of meaning collapse into the spread.
“The Bone Orchard” Paul DoironI drove southeast along the Caribou Road. It had been named for an animal that hunters had eradicated from these parts generations ago. Human beings love to commemorate the things they destroy. Building memorials to the dead and naming places in their honor is our way of recasting the past in terms that don’t hold us accountable.
“Rise the Dark” Michael Koryta
“Dark Times In the City” Gene KerriganAt home that afternoon Novak’s father spent an hour in the front garden, on his knees, using a shears to trim the grass, the repetitive labour helping the anger seep away. Sitting at the kitchen table, he poured Novak a glass of Taylor-Keith. ‘Arogancki bestie.’ His tone was mild. ‘That’s how I think of such people––arrogant beasts. The strength of the beast and the arrogance of the man. People with position, people with guns, people with the power of the state behind them, people who wield power over others––in business, in war, in the home, wherever. They feel the strength of the beast, they taste the arrogance of the man, and the sickness takes them. All my life I’ve seen it, everywhere I’ve been.’
“Death With Interruptions” José Saramago
“The Sun Down Motel” Simone St. James
“The Late Show” Michael Connelly
“Homage To John Evans” Leslie Caldera
“The Ministry For the Future” Kim Stanley RobinsonPossibly some of the richest two percent of the world’s population have decided to give up on the pretense that “progress” or “development” or “prosperity” can be achieved for all eight billion of the world’s people. For quite a long time, a century or two, this “prosperity for all” goal had been the line taken: that although there was inequality now, if everyone just stuck to the program and did not rock the boat, the rising tide would eventually float even the most high-and-dry among them. But early in the twenty-first century it became clear that the planet was incapable of sustaining everyone alive at Western levels, and at that point the richest pulled away into their fortress mansions, bought the governments or disabled the, from action against them, and bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized better time, which really came down to just the remainder of their lives, and perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling optimistic––beyond that, aprés moi le deluge. (after us, the flood)
A rational response to an intractable problem. But not really. There was scientifically supported evidence to show that if Earth’s available resources were divided up equally among all eight billion humans, everyone would be fine. They would all be at adequacy, and the scientific evidence very robustly supported the contention that people living at adequacy, and confident they would stay there (a crucial point), were healthier and thus happier than rich people. So the upshot of that equal division would be an improvement for all.
Rich people would often snort at this last study, then go off and lose sleep over their bodyguards, tax lawyers, legal risks––children crazy with arrogance, love not at all fungible––over-eating and over-indulgence generally, resulting health problems, ennui and existential angst––in short, an insomniac faceplate into the realization that science was once again right, that money couldn’t buy health or love or happiness. Although it has to be added that a reliable sufficiency of money is indeed necessary to scaffold the possibility of those good things. The happy medium, the Goldilocks zone in terms of personal income, according to sociological analyses, seemed to rest at around 100,000 US dollars a year, or about the same amount of money that most working scientists made, which was a little suspicious in several senses, but there it stood: data.
So, is there energy enough for all? Yes. Is there food enough for all? Yes. Is there housing enough for all? There could be, there is no real problem there. Same for clothing. Is there health care enough for all? Not yet, but there could be; it’s a matter of training people and making small technological objects, there is no planetary constraint on that one. Same with education. So all the necessities for a good life are abundant enough that everyone alive could have them. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health care, education.
Is there enough security for all? Security is the feeling that results from being confident that you will have all the things listed above, and your children will have them, too. So it is a derivative effect. There can be enough security for all; but only if all have security.
If one percent of the humans alive controlled everyone’s work, and took far more than their share of the benefits of that work, while also blocking the project of equality and sustainability however they could, the project would become more difficult. This would go without saying, except that it needs saying.
To be clear, concluding in brief: there is enough for all. So there should be no more people living in poverty. And there should be no more billionaires. Enough should be a human right, a floor below which no one can fall; also a ceiling above which no one can rise. Enough is as good as a feat––or better.
Arranging this situation is left as an exercise for the reader. Recall that GDP, gross domestic product, the dominant metric in economics for the last century, consists of a combination of consumption, plus private investments, plus government spending, plus exports-minus-imports. Criticisms of GDP are many, as it includes destructive activities as positive economic numbers, and excludes many kinds of negative externalities, as well as issues of health, social reproduction, citizen satisfaction, and so on.
Alternative measures that compensate for these deficiencies include:
the Genuine Progress Indicator, which uses twenty-six different variables to determine its single index number;
the UN’s Human Development Index, developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1990, which combines life expectancy, education levels, and gross national income per capita (later the UN introduced the inequality-adjusted HDI);
the UN’s Inclusive Wealth Report, which combines manufactured capital, human capital, natural capital, adjusted by factors including carbon emissions;
the Happy Planet Index, created by the New Economic Forum, which combines well-being as reported by citizens, life expectancy, and inequality of outcomes, divided by ecological footprint (by this rubric the US scores 20.1 out of 100, and comes in 108th out of 140 countries rated);
the Food Sustainability Index, formulated by Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, which uses fifty-eight metrics to measure food security, welfare, and ecological sustainability;
the Ecological Footprint, as developed by the Global Footprint Network, which estimates how much land it would take to sustainably support the lifestyle of a town or country, an amount always larger by considerable margins than the political entities being evaluated, except for Cuba and few other countries;
and Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness, which uses thirty-three metrics to measure the titular quality in quantitative terms.
All of these indexes are attempts to portray civilization in our time using the terms of the hegemonic discourse, which is to say economics, often in the attempt to make a judo-like transformation of the discipline of economics itself, altering it o make it more human, more adjusted to the biosphere, and so on. Not a bad impulse!
But it’s important also to take this whole question back out of the realm of quantification, sometimes, to the realm of the human and the social. To ask what it all means, what it’s all for. To consider the axioms we are agreeing to live by. To acknowledge the reality of other people, and of the planet itself. To see other people’s faces. To walk outdoors and look around. What we do now creates damage that hits decades later, so we don’t charge ourselves for it, and the standard approach has been that future generations will be richer and stronger than us, and they’ll find solutions to their problems. But by the time they get here, these problems will have become too big to solve.That’s the tragedy of the time horizon, that we don’t look more than a few years ahead, or even in many cases, as with high-speed trading, a few micro-seconds ahead. And the tragedy of the time horizon is a true tragedy, because many of the worst climate impacts will be irreversible. Extinctions and ocean warming can’t be fixed no matter how much money future people have, so economics as practice misses a fundamental aspect of reality. Everyone knows me but no one can tell me. No one knows me even though everyone has heard my name. Everyone talking together makes something that seems like me but is not me. Everyone doing things in the world makes me. I am blood in the streets, the catastrophe you can never forget. I am the tide running under the world that no one sees or feels. I happen in the present but am told only in the future, and then they think they speak of the past, but really they are always speaking about the present. I do not exist and yet I am everything.
You know what I am. I am History. Now make me good. What was it? Big parts of it have been there all along: it’s called socialism. Or, for those who freak out at the word, like Americans or international capitalist success stories reacting allergically to that word, call is public utility districts. They are almost the same thing. Public ownership of the necessities, so that these are provided as human rights and as public goods, in a not-for-profit way. The necessities are food, water, shelter, all are public goods, all are never to be subjected to appropriation, exploitation, and profit. It’s as simple as that.
Democracy is also good, but again, for those who think this word is just a cover for oligarchy and Western imperialism, let’s call is real political representation. Do you feel you have real political representation? Probably not, but even if you feel you have some, it’s probably feeling pretty compromised at best. So: public ownership of the necessities, and real political representation.
“The Poacher’s Son” Paul Doiron
“Say You’re Sorry” Melinda Leigh1st in the Morgan Dane series but a bit too mystery/romance for my taste.
“Darkside” Belinda BauerI hated every character in this book.
“Tularosa” Michael McGarrity
“The Collective” Alison Gaylin
“Stonemouth” Iain BanksFrankle is more or less a straight synonym of tangle, but it sounds better somehow. Particularly as applied to a fishing line that’s got itself into a terrible, un-sort-outable mess, the level of shambles so extreme all you can really do is take a knife to it and throw it away. That’s a frankle. Applies to lives too, obviously, though the knife approach usually makes things worse. Alan laughed indulgently. ‘Oh, I’m just a humble MEP. My hands are tied. In case you hadn’t noticed, my constituents choose me; I don’t choose them.’ He pauses, smiled, as though waiting for the applause to die down. ‘I’d have to wait for a sea-change back here in dear old Blighty before I could join any consensus in Brussels. Sticking your head above the parapet on drugs just gets it blown off, then you’re no good to anyone.’
‘So we’re waiting for Rupert Murdoch’s heirs to take over, or Lord Rothmere’s, before it’s safe? Assuming they have a more rational set of views.’
Alan laughed quietly. ‘Well, if it was even that simple…The thing is, rationality is like probity, incorruptibility: awfully desirable in theory, but you’ll waste your life if you wait for it to become…the default, as it were. The kind of papers and attitudes we’re talking about might seem full of transparent nonsense to you and me, but they work, they sell, they’re popular, and when it comes to how people vote…’ He drew in a deep, dearie-me-type breath through his teeth. ‘Well, either the masses are as conservative and right-wing as they vote, if you see what I mean, or they’re terribly easily fooled and deserve what they get for being that gullible, frankly. Neither speaks very well of them, or us as a species, you could argue, but there we are, that’s what we’re faced with.’ He sipped from his drink. ‘Bankers’ bonuses all round, eh?’ He nodded as his gaze wandered round the others in the room. ‘I think you’ll find that same attitude, with a leaning towards the not-conservative-just-fools choice, is shared by pretty much everybody in this room. Doesn’t make us bad people, Stewart, just makes us smart and rest not. But, yes, you obviously appreciate the problem.’
I leaned in a bit closer. So did he. ‘Yeah,’ I said quietly, ‘but it’s still all a load of shite, thought, isn’t it?’
He smiled. ‘I’m afraid it is, Stewart,’ he said, and sighed. ‘I’m afraid it is.’ He inspected his glass. ‘We all start out as idealists. I certainly did. I hope I still am, deep down. But idealism meets the real world sooner or later, and then you just have to…’
‘I hope you’re not one of those people who thinks that’s a dirty word,’ Alan said, with a forgiving, understanding expression. (I just smiled.) ‘Marriage is about composing,’ he told me. ‘Families are about compromising, being anything other than a hermit is about compromising. Parliamentary democracy certainly is.’ He snorted. ‘Nothing but.’ He drained his glass. ‘You either learn to compromise or you resign yourself to shouting from the sidelines for the rest of your life.’ He looked thoughtful. ‘Or you arrange to become a dictator. There’s always that. I suppose.’ He shrugged. ‘Not a great set of choices, really, but that’s the price we pay for living together. And it’s that or solitude. Then you really do become a wanker. Another drink?’
“Murder On the Old Bog Road” David Pearson
“The Devil’s Star” Jo Nesbø
“Fitting Ends” Dan Chaon
“A Good Kill” John McMahon
“City On Fire” Don Winslow
“Prime” Poppy Z. Brite
“Five Decembers” James Kestrel
“Long Man” Amy Greene
The boy needed to believe that Harville was a decent man, that the Tennessee Valley Authority was trying to save the people of Yuneetah. But Ellard had come to the conclusion after twenty years that there was no saving his people. Sometimes he thought they didn’t want to be saved. He’d had many rows with his neighbors on the porch of Joe Dixon’s. For all their common sense they’s rather starve than take what they called handouts. They voted Republican or Democrat according to what side their grandfathers had picked before they were born. They said there had always been a Depression going on around here. It was hard to get much poorer than they had been. But to Ellard it seemed foolish for any but the wealthy to back a man like Herbert Hoover, giving aid to banks and railroads and corporations instead of workingmen with families.
Regardless of what Washburn wanted Ellard to believe, Harville was no better than the politicians in Washington claiming it wasn’t their place to provide relief, passing the responsibility off to charities and churches. Ellard thought the government that got them into this mess sought to get them out of it. But he’d do what he could for the Dodsons, as he had done what he could for his own kin when the banks began to take their farms.
“Blacklands” Belinda Bauer
Bodies were as much a mineral wealth of Britain as gold was in Africa. The declined empire, shrunk to tiny pink pinpricks, had become withdrawn and introspective–tired and surrendered in conquest, now discovering itself like an old man who sits alone in a crumbling mansion and starts to call numbers in a tattered address book, his thoughts turning from a short future to a long and neglected past.
Britain was built on those bodies of the conquered and the conquerors. Steven could feel them right now in the earth beneath the foundations beneath the school beneath the classroom floor, beneath his chair legs and rubber soles of his trainers.
“The Singer’s Gun” Emily St. John Mandel
“He Who Fears the Wolf” Karin Fossum
“The Cartel” Don Winslow
“The Dry” Jane Harper
“Heartsick” Chelsea Cain
“Going To Meet the Man” James Baldwin
This book contains eight short stories.
As the sun began preparing for her exit, and he sensed the waiting night, Eric, blond and eight years old and dirty and tired, started homeward across the fields. Eric lived with his father, who was a farmer and the son of a farmer, and his mother, who had been captured by his father on some far-off, unblessed, unbelievable night, who had never since burst her chains. She did not know that she was chained anymore than she knew that she lived in terror of the night. One child was in the churchyard, it would have been Eric’s little sister and her name would have been Sophie: for a long time, then, his mother had been very sick and pale. It was said that she would never, really, be better, that she would never again be as she had been. Then, not long ago, there had begun to be a pounding in his mother’s belly. Eric had sometimes been able to hear it when he lay against her breast. His father had been pleased. I did that, said his father, big, laughing, dreadful, and red, and Eric knew how it was done, he had seen the horses and the blind and dreadful bulls. But then, again, his mother had been sick, she had had to be sent away, and when she came back the pounding was not there anymore, nothing was there anymore. His father laughed less, something in his mother’s face seemed to have gone to sleep forever. – from The Man Child
The street lights of Paris click on and turn all the green leaves silver. “Or to go along with the ways they dream up. And they’ll do anything, anything at all, to prove that you’re no better than a dog and to make you feel like one. And they hated me because I’d been North and I’d been to Europe. People kept saying, I hope you didn’t bring no foreign notions back here with you, boy. And I’d say, ‘No sir,’ or No Ma’am,’ but I never said it right. And there was a time, all of them remembered it, when I had said it right. But now they could tell that I despised them–I guess, no matter what, I wanted them to know that I despised them. Bit I didn’t despise them any more than everyone else did, only the others never let it show. They knew how to keep the white folks happy, and it was easy–you just had to keep them feeling like they were God’s favor to the universe. They’d walk around with great, big, foolish grins on their faces and the colored folks loved to see this, because they hated them so much. ‘Just look at So-and-So,’ somebody’d say. ‘His white is on him today.’ And when we didn’t hate them, we pitied them. In America, that’s usually what it means to have a white friend. You pity the poor bastard because he was born believing the world’s a great place to be, and you know it’s not, and you can see that he’s going to have a terrible time getting used to the idea, if he ever gets used to it.”
“Harlem Shuffle” Colson Whitehead
Bella Fontaine’s Monte Carlo Collection gently twirled on the rotating platform, the birch finish of the dining-room set aglow under the fluorescent tubes. The sleek drop-leaf table; the roomy, multi-door sideboard; the slim hutch with the beveled edges and hidden cocktail station––they subverted notions vis-à-vis domestic entertaining. The company tagline was a lullaby from a kingdom of luxury: Furniture that looks beautiful, feels beautiful, stays beautiful––furniture for a whole new way of life. Carney whispered those words into May’s ear when she was a baby, to calm her colic. Start with two pieces and add on later. It usually worked.
“And She Was” Alison Gaylin
“The Risen” Ron Rash
“Those We Left Behind” Stuart Neville
“Knots and Crosses” Ian Rankin
“A Taste for Vengeance” Martin WalkerThe food preparation sections of Walker’s books are the highlights. Here is Bruno, chief of police in St. Denis, in his role as a chef for a friend’s cooking class:
“We start with the Bouillon,” he said and smashed a kitchen chopper down to flatten the skeleton. He covered the bones with cold water and added a chopped carrot, a celery stalk, and two peeled cloves of garlic, which he flattened with the side of the chopper. He tossed in a coffee spoon of slat and half a dozen crushed black peppercorns and turned on the heat beneath the pan.
“We bring this gently to simmer and leave it for a couple of hours. strain it, and then reduce by about two-thirds at a fast boil. Then I always add a hachis. Do you know what that is? I chop very finely two garlic cloves, a bunch of parsley, and two slices of dry, cured bacon. I throw that into the stock, add a glass of cheap red wine, and let it cook together, barely simmering, for another hour and it will reduce even further. I strain it once more, let it cool, and then pour the liquid into a tray for ice cubes and put it in the freezer so I always have stock when I need it. In the old days, the farmers would bury the softened bones deep in the potager, the vegetable garden. But my dog likes to dig for bones so I don’t do that.”
“Vanishing Act” Thomas Perry
Like the Marc Cameron book below, Vanishing Act is the first book in a series featuring Jane Whitefield, a Native American woman who specializes in making people disappear. We stumbled across his latest in the series (of nine), Left-Handed Twin, on the library shelf so felt compelled to go back to book one, published in 1995.
“Open Carry” Marc CameronThis is the first in the U.S. Marshal Arliss Cutter series. An enjoyable, mindless ride.
“The Child Finder” Rene Denfield
“Help Me, Jacques Cousteau” Gil Adamson
The best thing is when people go down the alleyway and I can drop pebbles. They look at the ground for a while, cogs turning in their heads; finally, they look up. I have to laugh. I see people walking along below, swinging their arms. My father passes down the alleyway with the lawn mower, and he tells me to cut it out, without looking up, without stopping.
But Dad doesn’t really care. And there’s the porch roof one story down, so why worry about me falling? But a kid on the roof is the worst thing for Mrs. Baze. I feed her the idea that young people are wild. For example, she’s convinced that hippies congregate in the park out back and throw their empty bottles of hooch over her fence. It might have happened once, but in her mind, the debris is always flying––it’s a neighborhood emergency. The world worries Mrs. Baze: she sees trouble and inconvenience everywhere. She takes her worries to the police, the firemen, the hydro guys, door-to-door salesmen, her vet, any neighbor who stands still too long. I’ve seen her in the Safeway, bending over the bags of sugar, saying, “This can’t be the price!” Boys in red aprons just stamp the goods and shuffle along the floor away from her; they keep stamping, keep shuffling.
“The Lincoln Highway” Amor Towles
–– Questions can be so tricky, he said, like forks in the road. You can be having such a nice conversation and someone will raise a question, and the next thing you know you’re headed off in a whole new direction. In all probability, this new road will lead you to places that are perfectly agreeable, but sometimes you just want to go in the direction you were already headed.
They were both silent for a second. Then Woolly squeezed his sister’s arm from the excitement of an additional thought.
–– Have you ever noticed, he said, have you ever noticed how so many questions begin with the letter W?
He counted them off on his fingers.
–– Who. What. Why. When. Where. Which.
He could see his sister’s concern and uncertainty lifting for a moment as she smiled at this fascinating little fact.
–– Isn’t that interesting? he continued. I mean, how do you think that happened? All those centuries ago when words were first being coined, what was it about the sound of the W that made the word coiners use it for all the questions? As opposed to, say, the T or the P? It makes you feel sorry for W, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a pretty big burden to carry. Especially since half the time when someone asks you a question with a W, they aren’t really asking you a question. They’re making a statement in disguise. Like, like…
Woolly adopted the posture and tone of their mother.
–– When are you going to grow up? And Why would you do such a thing? And What in God’s name were you thinking?
(in response to Zeno’s paradox that argued to get from point A to point B, one had to go halfway there first. But to get from the halfway mark to point B, one would have to cross half that distance, then halfway again, and so on, with the conclusion that you’d never arrive)
–– It seemed to me a long a complicated way of proving something that my six-year-old brother could disprove in a matter of seconds with his own two feet.
But as Emmett said this Nr. Nickerson didn’t seem the least put out. Rather, he nodded his head with enthusiasm, as if Emmett was on the verge of making a discovery as important as Zeno’s.
–– What you’re saying, Emmett, if I understand you, is that Zeno appears to have pursued his proof for argument’s sake rather than for its practical value. And you’re not alone in making the observation. In fact, we have a word for the practice, which is almost as old as Zeno: Sophistry. From the Greek sophistes––those teachers of philosophy and rhetoric who gave their students the skills to make arguments that could be clever or persuasive but which weren’t necessarily grounded in reality. Mr. Nickerson even wrote the word out on the chalkboard right below his diagram of the infinitely bisected journey from A to B. Isn’t that just perfect, thought Emmett. In addition to handing down the lessons of Zeno, scholars have handed down a specialized word, the sole purpose of which is to identify the practice of teaching nonsense as sense.
At least that’s what Emmett had thought while standing in Mr. Nickerson’s classroom. What he was thinking as he walked along a winding, tree-lined street in the town of Hastings-on-Hudson was maybe Zeno hadn’t been so crazy after all.
“Just Thieves” Gregory Galloway
Businessmen, inventors, and artists steal anything and everything. Filmmakers, painters, writers, most of them wouldn’t have created anything without ripping off someone else. Musicians have stolen from each other probably as far back as the muses–Elvis and Led Zeppelin would never have amounted to anything if they hadn’t been blatant thieves–and writers take what they need (“immature poets imitate; mature poets steal”). And governments, well, you know they take whatever they want. I always thought it was Dylan who said that if you steal a little they put you in jail, but if you steal a lot they make you a king, but Frank says it was Eugene O’Neill. Maybe Dylan stole it from Gene and he stole it from someone else. Nothing belongs to anyone; it all just gets passed around from hand to hand, and keeps going long after we’re gone. It’s the theft of the thing that keeps it going, gives it value and history, and lasts.
We all steal something; it’s the way we are. My father was a thief, I guess, but more of a crook. He worked at a desk in City Hall as a building inspector. He took kickbacks and bribes and took what he could out of the budget, a little here and there, enough to raise suspicions but never enough to get caught outright. He was investigated twice, but nothing ever came of it. He was dirty, and didn’t mind people knowing, as long as they couldn’t prove it. “You can’t get greedy,” he said. “Take a little but still do your job and nobody cares. It’s the guys who take too much that get themselves into trouble.”
“It’s designed to make you miserable,” Frank had said. “Capitalism only works if everyone’s unhappy. And they think they have to buy their way to happiness. It’s a fool’s pursuit, but that’s the way it’s supposed to work. The only way it can work. Everybody has to chase after something, and then be dissatisfied once they’ve got it and go chase after something else. We’re trapped by the pursuit of happiness, but it would all come crashing down if we were actually happy.”
“Bone Rattle” Marc Cameron
“Better Off Dead” Lee Child with Andrew Child
“A Small Town” Thomas Perry
“Voodoo River” Robert Crais
“Elmer Gantry” Sinclair Louis
“Left-Handed Twin” Thomas Perry
“The Homeplace” Kevin Wolf
“November Road” Lou Berney
“Lullaby Town” Robert Crais