Book Reviews: Fall 2016

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Chinese Women’s Fight to Stay Unmarried and Rich

 

Leta Hong Fincher. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. London: Zed Books, September 2016. ISBN: 978-1-78360-789-1. Current Affairs. 215pp. $15.95.

 

****

 

When I asked my students this semester who had experienced sexist discrimination in the workplace, the only student to volunteer her own experience was a student who finished a degree and worked as a nurse in China before moving to the States to re-start her education at URGV. She explained that all of the female nurses were paid less than the male nurses in her ER unit. Managers told her that the pay difference was due to the strength of the men, which allowed them to lift patients more easily and to perform other physical tasks. She said that there was a woman in charge of the nurses, but that the order to vary the pay ranges for the genders came from the top administrators, wherein the female manager was only there to make it seem as if there was a chance for progress. This inequality was one of the reasons she chose the harder road of moving the to the US, marrying here, and re-starting her education from scratch. This was the reason this book about sexism in China struck me as very true. As China is a bigger economy than the US, the discrimination there affects a lot more women and hits their wallets harder, so it is definitely a problem that all feminists around the world should be concerned about.

The main areas discussed are the discrimination against women in the real-estate market, the gender wealth gap, and abuse of wives. The “Introduction” explains that the term “leftover” in the title refers to women who might be 31 and an “executive at a multinational company” but who still have not married and do not have children, and therefore are shunned and denigrated by Chinese society (2). This term is used in nationally sponsored propagandistic campaigns that work to stress the importance of marriage and family for women (6). Women are discriminated against in the real-estate front because houses are written in the name of the husband, even if the wife or her side of the family paid the bulk of the price, so the husband gets the real-estate in a divorce.

In the “Acknowledgments,” Fincher mentions that she is bilingual and finished a PhD in Chinese in Beijing, and this explains the book to me. Her biography from the press release mentions that she is an established New York Times journalist, but it does not mention this Chinese background. She book was released from Zed Books, but it differs in style from their other releases. Everything from the line spacing, to the font, to the short spaces after quotation marks, to word-choice and the general style feels like the Chinese textbooks I used when I was teaching at Shantou University in China. Fincher definitely based her research on a thorough survey of actual women living in China today, and her understanding of the influence the media and government have on gender bias in China comes from first-hand knowledge.

This is a needed book on a subject that has not been studied because of the censorship boundaries in China, and yet China would be first to benefit from giving women their rights back. One of the biggest problems in China is overpopulation, so why would China seriously support women becoming breeders instead of focusing on their careers and enrichment? This is a book that can best benefit politicians and economists in China. The study is also likely to benefit feminists elsewhere that want to see problems women face from a foreign perspective that might really say a great deal about various other cultures because of the similar (even if exaggerated) strands.

 

 

Multiple Perspectives on the Honourable Duel

 

Victor Kiernan. The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy, New Editioin. London: Zed Books, September 2016. ISBN: 978-1-78360-838-6. History. 348pp. $22.95.

 

*****

 

Some of the first book-length works I read included duels. These were the novels of Alexander Dumas and works by lesser-known authors that wrote about pirates and aristocrats alike engaging in duels for honor, for country, and for love. As a writer, I have ventured into the times when duels were popular. So, I had to ask for a book about the history of the duel, as it is a topic I should know more about. For example, I recently researched an American author who was an editor and engaged in a duel for which he was kicked out of a western state because duels had just been outlawed there. The concept of fighting to the death being legal is one that clashes with the basics of modern law, wherein any attempt on somebody else’s life unless it is in self-defense is illegal, but then again is one defending one’s life when one answers the threat proposed in a duel?

Curiously, there is only one chapter in this book dedicated to a single person and it is, “Walter Scott and Honour.” I have been studying Scott a great deal, and duels are not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about his historical novels, publishing efforts, judgeship… So, I’ll start the examination here. As I started reading this chapter, the meaning became clear, Scott’s contribution to the duel was more in the passages he wrote that glorified the honour of dueling rather than in his own attempts with this art. Kiernan explains, justly, that Scott yearned to become an aristocrat out of his humble beginnings (his father was a common lawyer that never rose above his humble law practice). Scott achieved this goal when the King knighted him and added Sir to his title. He and a couple of his publishers (with whom he partnered) also went bankrupt trying to buy extremely luxurious castles or mansions that rivaled the aristocracy’s abodes. Kiernan also explains that Scott was personally affected by duels when his own relative, John Scott was killed in 1821 after a magazine journalism quarrel (227). The discussion also made me recall the threat of a duel that was proposed to Scott by General Gourgaud, who complained that he was libeled by Scott in his Napoleon biography (228). Libel and political disagreements in print were life-threatening offenses back then even if the censors did not press charges for treason against the crown. These details show that Kiernan researched Scott extremely closely and found intricate biographical and fictional appearances of duels that are hidden from a casual reader.

This is a thoroughly researched study on the history of dueling in Europe and beyond. The key term that keeps reappearing is “honour,” as Kiernan explains why men chose to fight to the death to defend this delicate concept. Any author that plans on including a duel in the narrative of a historical novel should read the corresponding section that addresses their particular period. I surely will refer back to this book if I ever attempt to include a duel. Kiernan writes that Scott contributed to ending the popularity of duels in Europe while he encouraged its continuance in southern United States. The rules and motivations for duels changed over the centuries, and writing a narrative of a duel using only military movements instead of being sensitive to these cultural changes would be a literary guffaw.

One objection I have is that the font is small and the letters occasionally blur, making them tougher to read; I believe this is the result of the formatter using a font style that was popular in the nineteenth century to make it look like a historical artifact.

 

 

A Brief Biography of a Colorblind Revolutionary

 

Bill V. Mullen. W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Lines. London: Pluto Press, October 2016. ISBN: 978-0-7453-3505-6. Biography. 240pp. $20.

 

*****

 

This book is advertised, justly for its dimensions, as being a brief introductory biography of W.E.B. Du Bois. While I have read some bits by and about Du Bois before, I did not know that he was the “first black man to earn a PhD from Harvard” nor that he co-founded NAACP. Mullen stresses that civil rights of African Americans were far from the only struggle Du Bois supported, as he also spoke on behalf of international socialism and the plight of poverty for all people, rather than just for black people. Out of the book’s three parts, two of them are about communism, rather than about racism: Part I: Racial Uplift and the Reform Era; Part II: From Moscow to Manchester, 1917-45; Part III: Revolution and the Cold War, 1945-63. The “Introduction” begins with Du Bois signing his name and offering his opinion of the unfair killings by police of African Americans that echoes the Black Lives Matter movement today, only Du Bois made his argument before the United Nations and asked them to acknowledge such crimes as “Genocide” similar to the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Mullen argues that Du Bois applied his Marxist ideals to his books about how the lives of African Americans could be bettered by changing power-dynamics in the country. The “Introduction” stresses that De Bois’ revolutionary ideas are particularly relevant today amidst the failed Arab Spring Revolutions.

The first chapter begins at Du Bois’ birth as any general biography would. His early life and family history is briefly explained, before the story jumps to 1892 when he received the Slater Fund fellowship to attend the University of Berlin. The second chapter begins long after he has attained a Harvard PhD, when he now faces the problem of racism in academia and only applies to historically black colleges, winning a job in the Classics Department at Wilberforce University in Ohio. He was immediately disappointed with the low funding and limited opportunities at the school and switched to working for the University of Pennsylvania. Still miserable, Du Bois co-founded the American Negro Academy in the following year, thus striking out on an independent path that allowed him to become the free thinker he is known for being. If he had remained at that first school, he certainly would not have ventured out to Russia nor argued for communism openly to avoid stirring the waters of a conservative tenure-track appointment. The rest of the book proves in stages how Du Bois grew even more radicalized over the years and the evolution of his scholarly ideas.

This is a great study for anybody that wants to understand Du Bois’ socialist leanings and the socialist roots in much of the Civil Rights movement. The book should be helpful for graduate students focusing on Du Bois’ leftist leanings, as well as for undergraduate students who are more generally interested in Du Bois. The subtitle, “Revolutionary Across the Color Line” does a good job of summarizes the book, as this is a story about a man who supported revolutions that helped the common men gain a footing in this unfair world.

 

 

The History of Book Burning for Young Readers

 

Kenneth Baker. On the Burning of Books: How Flames Fail to Destroy the Written Word. London: Unicorn Publishing Group LLP, October 2016. ISBN: 978-1-910787-11-3. History. 60 color plates. 256pp. Cloth: $40.

 

***

 

This study is close to my own current research as I just completed a book on author-publishers or authors who had to start their own publishing ventures because they were unhappy with their corrupted, money-grabbing publishers, or were facing censorship due to the radicalism of their ideas. In this project, Baker looks at the history of book burning since before the invention of the printing press in the 16th century. The press release indicates that central times and places studied include China, the Nazis, as well as individual authors and books, like Animal Farm and The Satanic Verses, or Aztec artifacts. This promises to be a very ambitious project, as it attempts to also look at accidental and personal book burnings, and there surely have been nearly as many tossed out and discarded books as there have been books printed. The book is separated into chapters called: Political Burning, Religious Burning, War Burning, Personal Burning, Accidental Burning, Royal Burning and Lucky Escapes.

The cover is not exactly appealing as it shows an artistic rendering of a book after it was tossed into a fire but only had its edges burned off. I thought that it might have been damaged in the shipment when I first looked at it. There is an edge at the start of the spine that looks like a line of black dirt, rather than like a book that has been burning, and I tried dusting this off upon taking it out of the box… only to figure out that this was an intentional design. But, then, in an odd contrast, the interior of the book is printed on high-quality color pages. The photos in the book have been oddly edited in Painter or photoshop, so that the color flames look like they come from a science fiction pop film, while the people appear to be colored in low-quality photographs from the Nazi etc. periods. The first of these images on page vi shows a half of poorly cut in Photoshop page of a burning or stained in brown blank book page in the middle of which the fire and Nazi officers are engaging in the burning. Another oddity is that some of the text is in red. For example, on page 6, the second sentence after a quote on burning from Orwell is in red, but it starts with a simple, “But it didn’t stop there…” and ends with the threat of the burning of human beings. While burning people is a dramatic moment, this is not a key phrase or a key definition in the text, so it is odd that this bit is stressed with the red text color. Later in the book there are also some problems with reproductions of articles that are so blurry that the text is unreadable, as in “The Shells Scandal: Lord Kitchener’s Tragic Blunder: Our Terrible Casualty Lists: Cause of the Cabinet Crisis,” which begins with “the two things that have precipitated the Cabinet crisis are the quarrel between Lord Fisher and Mr. Winston Churchill and the revolution of a serious shortage of high-explosive shells.” While this might be interesting, the rest of the article needs a magnifying glass and a detective to interpret the text. This image should have been corrected or omitted (48). There’s also a giant red swastika in the background as a decoration on page 50… behind a table that offers the chronology of the early rise of the Nazi party… If the symbol was on a flag in a photo, it might make sense as a historical fact, but it is used as a background page decoration… There are some good reproductions such as that of one of my favorite authors, Lord Byron (161) and some funny original book covers such as that of Sine’s Massacre, which includes a green, fat best on the cover who is sinking his teeth into the body of a half-naked woman in a faint (200).

The book is made up of short page or two segments on various people, including Thomas Carlyle and R. L. Stevenson… It’s odd that Stevenson is abbreviated thus, and then his full name is given in the first sentence, Robert Louis Stevenson; I have not seen this abbreviation much if ever before. Either way, covering the censorship of Franz Kafka in two pages does a disservice to the power of his message. The message in the end is that the author doubts censorship will stop being a problem in the future.

I wish this was a better book, as it would have helped me in my own research, but this project is written for kids who are curious which books have been burned before rather than for scholars who need in-depth information on each of these cases. Still, it is wonderful that an attempt has been made to look at the absurdity of censorship from the wide perspective of thousands of years. It seems innocent enough when the news reports of the burning of an isolated book that seems peculiar in content, but when it is seen in this avalanche of suppression, it is easier to understand new incidents’ significance.

 

 

Are Billionaires Stupid or are They Pretending?

 

Jonathan A. Knee. Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education. New York: Columbia University Press: Columbia Business School Publishing, November 2016. ISBN: 978-1-78360-789-1. Business. 288pp. Cloth: $29.95.

 

***

 

There was a movement to create the public education system that would provide a free primary and then frequently secondary education for all in many countries around the world. This success has spread knowledge and wealth to many, but sadly it has also created a new problem, wherein those who do not want to be educated are forced to stay in schools until they are eighteen or so. The presence of these malcontents creates a volatile tension in these public schools that makes the environment extremely painful for those who genuinely want the education. Thus, intellectuals that come out of this broken system to make billions, frequently have a sense of responsibility in fixing whatever it is that caused them so much pain early in life. This is the phenomenon that Knee examines in this book. He calls these bright-eyed billionaires “class clowns” for failing to zoom out to see the avalanche of problems that the international education system has generated. He focuses on a few outlier cases. The first is Rupert Murdoch’s “billion-dollar” investment in changing elementary education through technology. Then, there is “hedge fund titan John Paulson—who lost billions in textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin.” Now I could’ve told Paulson that textbooks are more of a charity project from doing the math on how many of my own students have actually purchased the assigned texts. The industries that are really succeeding in education are the paper mills that are selling the papers that make reading textbooks obsolete. The other venture is Michael Milken’s collapse of the Knowledge universe. Then there’s Chris Whittle’s EdisonLearning and the pit of those who lost in investing in education with him. The Edison Schools started the trend towards private education back on November 11, 1999, when they made their initial public offering. The idea was similar to the private prison system, or that a private school could do better with the funds dedicated to education than the public system is doing, but apparently, this turned out to be a false assumption. I taught briefly as a substitute at Los Angeles County’s juvenile detention centers, and quickly learned that most of those guys are illiterate and high on drugs. Keeping them fed and clothed in a uniform is one thing, managing to educate them is another… The Edison experiment flopped in 2004, with shareholders selling the company “for less than a tenth of the $18 per share paid in the IPO four years earlier,” and still investment in this venture continued beyond this point (2).

Each of the sections details the biographies of these powerful men and their failures and successes before and after they ventured into the education sector. The accounting irregularities and shady dealings are stressed because they played a role in the downfall of their ed attempts. The book is written with humor. The sub-sections are titled with phrases such as, “Pay no attention the man behind the curtain!” These are cheerful, but make it difficult for a researcher to find content relevant to a narrower investigation. In other words, what do you think is included in a section with the above name? It begins with an explanation that Whittle stopped being employed with Edison. So, there really isn’t an opening sentence either that explains to readers where the section is going. There are many facts, statistics, names and other details offered in this section, before the next section is titled, “The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends.” Well, you catch my drift. I wish I could read and digest the reasons the private education sector is failing, but I would not succeed in learning much from a quick digestion of this book. It does not invite a slow reading either despite the occasional jokes because it simply jumps around too much between different points while following a dull chronological order for each of these ventures. Then, the concluding sentence of the book argues that the real problem is a lack of a “sustainable business model.” Is this really the problem or all the plagiarism, corruption, mismanagement etc.? He suggests that the problem is the grandness of ideas, and that the educational businesses should instead have narrow geographic and customer markets. Other sentences are misleading. When talking about Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools, and the catastrophic failure of the effort, Knee argues that the problem was that money was entrusted “to true believers who did not have the required skills” (230-1). I doubt that they were innocent believers who asked for $100 million and blew it all. It takes a great deal of crooked skill to waste this much money. Imagine if you tried to spend $100 million this coming year… could you waste it all on staplers… no, you’d have to send the bulk to a Swiss bank account and then blame your cluelessness about how the money might have disappeared. No, they had to have had plenty of “skills” to mismanage this fortune. False idealism is the problem. Giving money to somebody that does not have the skills to make such a project happen, when there are thousands of people who are capable who are refused these funds suggests complicity and deliberate mismanagement on the part of the donors, unless Knee is arguing that they are really so gullible and incompetent with their humanitarian investments.

 

 

The Strange Economic Policies of an Oil Paradise

 

Raul Gallegos. Crude Nation: How Oil Riches Ruined Venezuela. Lincoln: Potomac Books: University of Nebraska Press, October 2016. ISBN: 978-1-61234-770-7. Current Affairs. 256pp. 9 photographs, 1 map. Cloth: $34.95.

 

*****

 

The cover of this book is very high in contrast with a black blob against a bright yellow background, so I almost chose this book twice as I was looking through Nebraska’s catalog on two separate seasons. This is a study of how Venezuela’s largest oil reserve in the world has been mismanaged leading the country further into disrepute instead of into wealth (as has been the case for the oil-rich countries in the Middle East). The problem, according to Gallegos, an oil reporter, is that Venezuela’s government is subsidizing the country’s cost of oil at the pump, while it has failed to assure the availability of basic foodstuffs, such as sugar and milk.

Unlike in Dimitrijevic’s case (reviewed below), because Gallegos perspective on Venezuela was negative, he begins his “Acknowledgments” by stressing that writing this critical book was a “challenge” because “government officials refused to return calls, cancelled appointments, and ignored questions” (xi). Some business leaders and economists did speak up, though occasionally anonymously. He then begins the “Prologue: The World’s Craziest Economy” by confessing that on his first flight into Venezuela in 2004, he smuggled in $9,000 in a “hidden… money belt” (1). He explains that this was necessary because it was difficult to convert a reporter salary in the US into money he could use in Caracas without some illegal wiring, or other shady deals. Apparently banks there refuse to take US dollars. He also had problems with most other daily transactions, including the fact that new cars were impossible to find and used cars were priced much higher than they were worth. He stresses the willingness of the people to take on bankrupting loans for anything from plastic surgery to DirecTV. He saw the same poor money management habits among the country’s rulers, and these are the problems he then explores with a bit more detachment in the rest of the book. One curious point is that the price of a Renaissance Caracas La Castellana room in January 2015 varied between $1,503 per night to $190 per night depending on which of the three conflicting exchange rates one used. There apparently is also an even lower black market exchange rate that would cut the lowest price in half. So, there is a high motivation for average people to seek out black markets unless they want to pay dozens of times more for the same goods and services.

The photos in the middle of the book are very telling. One is of Rosa Meza, who does not have to make another mortgage payment on her apartment because they were suspended after the Chavista revolution (Fig. 8). The “Chronology” at the back of the book is also helpful for seeing the history of the country across its turbulent past century. The events in this section of history begin when Vice President Juan Vicente Gomez “takes power by force while the president is on a medical trip to Paris” in 1908. The final date is from 2016, the current year, wherein “Maduro devalues the main currency exchange rate 37 percent and eliminates one of the three official exchange rates. Maduro increases gasoline prices sixty-fold, the first gasoline price hike in almost twenty years” (191-4).

This is a great source for anybody who wants to learn something new about our southern neighbor. There are many different economic arrangements around the world, and only by living within the system, as Gellegos has done, can somebody figure out how the system is broken. If he did not sneak in $9,000, he might not have found an apartment, and he might have been forced to write a glossed over book that relies on official accounts from the safety of a US residence. It’s a great service that reporters who take on risks like this are doing to the rest of us. Those who buy Venezuela’s oil or otherwise do business or engage in political negotiations with it should understand this system. The problem with oil reserves is likely to escalate in the coming decades, and this book will only gain significance as this trend continues.

 

 

Timely Source for Serious Global Investors

 

Marko Dimitrijevic with Timothy Mistele. Frontier Investor: How to Prosper in the Next Emerging Markets. New York: Columbia University Press: Columbia Business School Publishing, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-23117-044-4. Business. 259pp. $15.95.

 

*****

 

Back in college, my Marist economics professor at UMass, Richard Wolff, who was just put on the ProfessorWatchList.org for his Marxist teachings (now at the New School), had me do a bit of research for his book on Russian businesses. This concept reminded me of that project. Back then, I browsed websites for annual reports and other publicly available information on the top Russian businesses, aiming to find those that could be trusted with western investments. My Russian politics and literature professors were stressing that there was rampant business corruption, but I was hoping to find that businesses were as dishonorable as they were in the US. A frontier or an emerging market business is a high-risk enterprise, as the situation in a rapidly climbing country can suddenly destabilize with loss of currency value, or with a new war, or with a negative change of regime. Investing in specific businesses in these countries is frightening, even if their books are wide open on their websites. There is risk of book-cooking, or that the business might take investments and run with them. On the other hand, if I had invested in the dozen businesses that I found back in 2001 to be trustworthy and rapidly growing, I might have turned a $1,000 into significantly more by the present day. I am extremely conservative, and it might be another decade or more before I invest any money in a business, but I am curious regarding how the rich manage to maintain their wealth solely through investments in businesses, and how high-risk businesses can be separated into groups of those that are likely to reap rewards from those that will shortly fail. To this end, this is a curious book for investors and economists alike.

Curiously, this book is blurbed on the back cover by two former presidents of the countries he is applauding as investable: Aleksander Kwasniewski (Poland) and Alvaro Uribe (Colombia). The book starts just as I started this review with an explanation of volatile markets and how he was born in Switzerland, but spent his early summers back in his parents’ homeland of Yugoslavia, a place that was different from the perspective of it offered in the news. He also explains that back in college he lost money on an investment he made in a volatile Argentine oil company, Astra, and this encouraged him to major in business to figure out how he could improve as an investor (1-3). He then describes how after college as a junior Swiss banker he was sent to the Congo to make a loan to the government, and how he warned the bank he had misgivings about the deal due to Congo’s unstable climate, and was later proven right when the People’s Republic of the Congo defaulted on their loans years later in 1986 (4). He realized he needed to learn more after this experience and finished an MBA at Stanford, then going to work as an investment banker on Wall Street. He went on have a career elsewhere, including Everest Capital, but the bulk of his investments have been in what he calls “frontier” markets, saying that 151 of the world’s main 193(-5) countries that are part of the United Nations. Some of these are wealthy, but simply do not have tradable securities. He focuses on these markets because he argues that the countries that are still labeled as “emerging” have already emerged, including the success of China and Korea. He also stresses something that I have been thinking about recently or that China and other countries deliberately undervalue their currency to make their goods competitive on the international market. Dimitrijevic proposes using the purchasing power parity (PPP) instead, “where one ‘international dollar’ purchases the same quantity of goods and services in all countries” (17). This would shift the purchasing power of many “emerging markets,” including China to represent a larger share of the world’s market calculation and would reflect the state of affairs more truthfully. According to an IMF PPP graph from 2014, China is actually ahead of the US in PPP by a trillion or so, with India coming as a distant third, followed by Japan, Germany, Russia and then Brazil, ahead of Indonesia, and only the France and UK… and then Mexico, ahead of Italy… This is a very different perspective on the international marketplace. The markets that were emerging have leveled off in growth to a rate similar to the developed markets, while the frontier markets are now in the same high growth rates that the emerging markets were in decades ago. He explains that urbanization, economic stability due to enrichment, improved infrastructure, rising middle class and positive market performance have all contributed to making the frontier markets into safe and enriching places to invest in. From these introductions, he uses several case studies to demonstrate the positive results he and others have had in investing in these markets.

Overall, this is a fantastic book that every MBA and BA business student should read. Professors of economics, finance and business also should read this book because they are likely to still be teaching the old “emerging” markets model, which Dimitrijevic proves to be outmoded. There is a reason presidents endorsed this book, and the presidents that did not endorse it and have not read it yet (in all types of markets) should read this book to check their policies against the reality of the world market today.

 

 

Did the Great Plains Indians Kill the Giant Sloths?

 

David J. Wishart. Great Plains Indians: Discover the Great Plains. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, September 2016. ISBN: 978-0-8032-6962-0. Western History. 5X8”. 168pp, 12 illustrations, 8 maps, 1 graph. $14.95.

 

*****

 

A brief, condensed version of thirteen thousand years of the history of Great Plains Indians. It looks at the cultural shifts in their lives after colonialization in terms of their religion, heritage, as well as warfare and their own health and the health of the land of the Great Plains. I reviewed a thick volume on Native American people across North American in the last round, but this study only looks at a portion of this landmass, so it might really look more closely at the culture of these particular people. Culture is best studied regionally, as generalizing or grouping all Native American people into a single identity is likely to be a disservice to their individual traditions. Though the Great Plains take up a fourth of America’s landmass, but it’s a section that is less populated by non-native Americans. The map Wishart presents shows the distribution of Native Americans across America, and I was surprised to discover that they are actually even more numerous in the south-western edge of the country, whereas I assumed the Great Plains was the area with the biggest reservations. Another interesting fact, .9% of the US is Indian; while this isn’t high, it is interesting to consider that around 1 in 100 people in America have a culture that dates back to before Europeans’ arrival.

While this is a short book, it refrains from the standard go-to of books for youths that attempt to simplify histories to known facts. Instead, in the chapter on the origins of the native people of the Great Plains, Wishart digresses into the various disproven theories about how these people came to live in this region and the impact they had. He mentions the legends the Great Plains Indians tell about how they think they came into the land. He mentions the archeological evidence of tools found that seem to suggest that they were big game hunters, and that there seemed to have been a massive extinction event around the time of their migration from Asia onto the North American continent. But, then he proposes that these giant sloths and beavers that went extinct might have done so before humans arrived for another environmental reason. There are few certainties other than that the people who lived in the Great Plains left few written or drawn records of their experiences and beliefs. Dates and names of both native and European chiefs and generals start to appear once the Europeans begin an invasion of this region. Then, Wishart freezes the history in 1803 and describes the condition of “Land and Life” of the Plains Indians in this moment of early colonialization. A map of the region shows that the land was split into territories, some the size of states, that belonged to different native tribes, with the bigger chunks belonging to the Comanche, Arapaho, Crow, Mescalero, Assiniboin and Pawnee. I recall reading only about the Pawnee and Comanche previously, so the history related here shows a much more complex political grouping than what is depicted in school textbooks. Curiously, Wishart also spends more time focusing on these more known tribes, perhaps because they left a stronger record of evidence. He explains that the Pawnee were grouped into large villages, so that a single Pawnee village in this year had more people than St. Louis, “the largest western town” (34). He also explains that in contrast to Pawnee’s set villages, the Comanches “moved their camps every few days in an unceasing search for pasture and water for their innumerable horses” (37). Each of the tribes had their own “annual cycles” that were based on the part of America that they inhabited. If the land was dryer, they might have needed to move more frequently to find good pasture, while if they land was fertile, they might have been motivated to stay and defend their spot against any invaders with fortifications. Then, Wishart describes the “century of dispossession,” a time when the reservations were formed and the native people were forced to move into unnatural for them areas that did not inherently belong to each of the tribes, as there were fewer reservations than the number of tribes that previously settled the region. The land disputes, sales, treatise, and constant re-shifting are detailed with great precision. Then he moves into the present and explains the current high unemployment rates and low incomes across the reservations. The final chapter offers some hope as the Indian population is growing as is the revenues in reservations that have opened casinos.

This is probably not a great book for high school students or college students, as the long chapters of conflicting evidence is likely to confuse them and make it difficult for them to stay with the book. This is really a book written for the Great Plains Indians, intended as a manual to incite rebellion or rather peaceful protest among them, with the hope of regaining their rightful power in the region. Graduate classes on Native American history and some undergraduate students writing research papers in this area should benefit from the complex explanations in this study. This book is also helpful to academics like me who are teaching Writing Cultural Studies or other classes that touch on the culture of the Americas, and have to explain what American culture is in its essence… and certainly this explanation has to include the native American culture.

 

 

On How Not to Die in the Wilderness

 

Bruce L. Smith. Stories from Afield: Adventures with Wild Things in Wild Places. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, October 2016. ISBN: 978-0-8032-8816-4. Outdoor Adventure. 210pp. 5X8”. $18.95.

 

*****

 

This is a nature narrative from a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager and scientist, who has been fighting for conservation in Wyoming and winning awards for these efforts. The story also takes Smith to western Montana and South Africa’s temperate forest. The stories branch away from conservationism to other adventures Smith has had in the wild, including surviving a helicopter crash, and his somewhat contradictory hunting tales. The bit about Smith’s willingness to hunt and kill some species while he conserves others stands out from the description. Are rare species more deserving of life? But, then again, if I eat meat, I might be doing the meat I eat a service if I hunt it down in a forest rather than contributing to the success of the farm poultry industry which is putting the animals in restraints.

Chapter “One: Snowbound” opens with an explanation that he was surveying “elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep in the Owl Creek Mountains of Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming” in January 1980 (1), when he experienced the helicopter crash that’s stressed in the back-cover blurb. He gives a very detailed description of the unique helicopter, giving its year of creation and the fact that it appeared in M.A.S.H. After the crash, Smith details the worry they felt as they were trying to strategies if they would manage to finish the survey or if they might parish where they crashed without a speedy rescue (8). Basically, the narrative reminds me of Jack London’s stories that are based on London’s own experiences in the wild. Since these are less fictional than London’s, they have fewer horrific details about how a man freezes to death and more practical details about everything somebody has to know to actually survive the wilderness. For example, as the team is debating digging out their radio from the snow, John points out that “digging was just a good way to get soaked and then good and cold—a surefire formula for hypothermia” (9).

Later in the book he describes being on the side of a mountain and doing his best to avoid a massive snowslide only to actually fall victim of “an accelerating slow slide” that thankfully knocked him into a tree, which prevented him from tumbling with the slide all the way down the mountain (100-1). Later still, he describes taking “sheep remains” that he found with him to show his wife, without knowing that there was a “law that required someone finding sheep remains on public land to turn them in” (127).

Anybody that makes a living from conservation, travel, hunting and the like should really enjoy casually reading through this book cover-to-cover. It just calls to the reader’s sense of adventure. Unlike some nature stories that are slow in the wrong parts, have too much unessential dialogue or describe a single tree for pages, this narrative moves rapidly, while also managing to include some beautiful succinct descriptions of the wilderness that allows readers to visualize the beautiful landscape.

 

 

If You Are a Victim of Online Sexism: Don’t Read This Book

 

Bailey Poland. Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online. Lincoln: Potomac Books: University of Nebraska Press, November 2016. ISBN: 978-1-61234-766-0. Current & Political Affairs. 312pp. 6X9”. $19.95.

 

***

 

While the title does not include the terms gender, sex or women, the back cover explains that this is primarily a book about the harassment women face when they enter the online world. Over the past year, I have received dozens of emails from random men that seem to be trolls in my Facebook account. They are not screened out as spam, as similar nonsensical content if it’s sent to my WordPress website. Instead the messages pop up as I’m trying to use Facebook. The first twenty times I answered the notes, which were greeting me with “hello, how are you doing?” or “hey beautiful,” with explanations that this was my business Facebook account and that I was not interested in any “friendship” or “relationship” that they were proposing. In turn, they always disregarded these notes, and proceeded with their initial line of harassing “flirtations.” The point, was not to attract interest from me, but rather to make me feel like a piece of meat, and helpless to block this onslaught of messages. There were linguistic similarities to the messages that suggested the same guy might have been sending many of these. I eventually stopped replying; this was against my natural instinct as I have a habit of replying to every meaningful email I receive, and I receive on average a hundred emails daily. I faced similar harassments when I was a teenager and first tried using IM to meet people in online chat rooms. There, I could not say a word without a dozen men starting private chats and attempting to sext me. Each of them was committing an offense against a minor, as I wasn’t of age. I haven’t visited a chat room since 1998 or so as a result. And now, these mentally challenged trolls are sexting random Facebook accounts without even waiting for women to enter their rooms online?

If women are not visiting these and other shady environments online, it is thanks to books like this one that have brought the problem of online sexual harassment of women into the mainstream media. “Hate mobs like those associated with Gamergate and individual abusers and stalkers have proliferated online in recent years, causing women to fear going online at all” (1). As we know all know, some women are led to suicide, depression, and other desperate acts by this culture of abuse. This book looks at several perspectives a girl who is being harassed is unlikely to consider during an incident. Poland examines the roots of misogyny online, its varied forms, its effects, and the “misogynist movements” that actually propagate for the other side.

Poland examines the psychology and structure of online sexist abuse. She explains the categories of strategies trolls, stalkers and others take to make women feel small and vulnerable online. Poland argues that instead of the common call to avoid feeding the trolls, women should acknowledge the harassment if it is bothering them to take back the power over the discussion. However, this discussion is frustrating because Poland goes on with the description of what women should not do rather than really offering practical advice on what they should be doing. Surely, repeatedly saying that the troll is being harassing will not solve the problem. Filing a police report or complaining to the supervisor of the chatroom or another online environment surely is a better strategy to actively help end online sexist harassment. Eventually, after many paragraphs of desperate and confused complaints, Poland finally explains how she handled her own harassment case by filing a police report and asking the young officer to file Twitter’s law enforcement form. The result of this complaint was the take down of the troll’s “latest account” (64-6). Herein lies the problem with this book. Poland is too emotional about this topic. Sure, I started this review by relating my own problems with sexism online, but I have not sat down to write a study of this problem. As a scholar on this topic, Poland should have contacted Twitter to obtain the statistics on their response to the police reports they receive. How many do they process? What about contacting several police departments and asking them if they are truly confused and uncertain about how they should handle online harassment, as Poland suggests? Surely, knowing how many calls these departments have received about online harassment and how they handled these would have made a stronger argument than her assumptions about how this system works outside of her own experience.

Near the end of the book, when seeming to give practical advice on how to halt this problem, Poland suggests that one of the best movements towards this end is Men Can Stop Rape, which lectures men about not raping women (242). This is troubling… Sure, if there are men out there who are otherwise ambivalent about if rape is OK or not, they might benefit from these classes… But, surely the problem is the culture of harassment, and if a man is willing to harass women online, he is unlikely to be the type to take one of these sensitivity classes. And men who have common decency and sense don’t need such training.

There is probably a good deal of practical and theoretical advice in this book, but I doubt anybody suffering from harassment will be able to read through it all to find these bits. This book is too emotionally charged and too full of stream-of-consciousness digressions about what it all feels like and repetitions of clichés on the subject that anybody that has been exposed to the problem already knows. So, I wish this was a great book, but it just isn’t. Only women who are stable and detached from the emotional abuse of the web can even attempt to turn its pages because sensitive women who read through these roar words are likely to feel their hearts exposed as if it’s happening to them all over again. At the same time, psychologists and psychiatrists will be frustrated with this book because it does not give them guidelines on how to counsel troubled women, instead putting the chaos of the sexist web before them like a Millie Brown vomit painting.

 

 

Apollo Astronaut’s Sarcastic Tale of Space Food, Probing and Other Commonalities

 

 

Donn Eisele. Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele. Francis French, Ed. Lincoln: Potomac Books: University of Nebraska Press, January 2017. ISBN: 978-0-8032-6283-6. Current Affairs. 184pp. 6X9”. 37 photographs. $24.95.

 

*****

 

A memoir on the selection and training for, and flight on the Apollo 7 mission into orbit (which later developed into a flight to the moon), with a realistic look at the details of life within the 1960s-NASA. This was the first manned flight and particularly risky because three astronauts died in the preceding attempt. He worked as a technical assistant for manned spaceflight at NASA until retiring in 1972. Eisele wrote this account shortly after this breach, but it remained hidden until it was recently rediscovered and edited for publication. The story is intensified by the fact that Eisele was not allowed to fly on any future missions because of the disagreements he had with mission control and perhaps due to his divorce from Harriet and subsequent speedy remarriage, which “broke an unspoken code about the all-American, apple-pie image that astronauts were supposed to portray” (xiii). These problems were stressed by the management, while his thorough testing of equipment that uncovered many problems that allowed for later successful trips to the moon were ignored. The editor, Francis French, was already researching the other two comparatively famous men that went on the 7th mission with Eisele, and during a meeting with his second wife and widow, Susie Eisele Black, he found “a number of typewritten drafts… of an unpublished memoir. There were at least five different drafts, written in differing styles. Some stopped abruptly in mid-sentence…” (xiv). The editor stresses that the original drafts did not only have a lot of missing gaps, but also recordings of “illicit activities of his colleagues” and some errors in the recording of conversations on the mission wherein they differ from the official transcripts. I can imagine, and in fact I have previously found similar chaotic collections of confused thoughts and trying to work out how to do a heavy enough edit to make a comprehensible book out of it without completely fictionalizing the work and tossing aside what the writer is really saying. Despite his doubts, French decided to work through it and has done a comprehensive job of polishing Eisele’s words and providing the introductory materials to make the book digestible.

While the editor strikes a scholarly rhythm, Eisele’s recollections begin with a meditation on the beauty and complexity of the wildlife on the Cape, as he reflects on how good the “warm sun” must feel on the “contented alligators’” backs (1). Then the first chapter takes readers through the step-by-step back up to the spaceship, the prep work and the countdown to the launch. Then, the book jumps back to how Eisele started in the space program, though since the pages were disjointed, it is likely that French reversed the order to start at the climax of the launch, while Eisele’s account probably originally progressed chronologically. The criticisms of the space program that French warns readers about in the Foreword begin early on, as for example Eisele describes: “The barium milk shake, a tumbler of thick tasteless milky glop, chalkier and more disgusting than milk of magnesia, had to be gumped down to render the gut more amenable to x-ray examination” (16). Thus, the tortures started in training even before Eisele was selected to fly. Eisele uses sarcasm, calling this and other problems “treats.” He really does not hold back, even describing an examination by an internist, who said to him, “Your bowel is superb. Clean as a whistle!” Eisele follows this with his internal response: “When he had finished I was most relieved to get my superb clean ass the hell out of there” (16-7).

Well, that says it. If enjoy a story about space food, probing and other commonalities told with dark sarcasm, this is the book for you. It is cheerful to read a memoir by an astronaut who is as human and frustrated as the rest of us, and I think if NASA publicized this version of events, it might have stretched the moon program by another decade, as they would’ve had far more interested applicants who did not think the all-American heroic astronaut image was out of their reach.

 

 

Digressions on Cooking, Farming and Selling from Colonial Times Onwards

 

David S. Shields. Southern Provisions: The Creation & Revival of a Cuisine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-226-42202-2. Cooking. 401pp. $19.00.

 

****

 

I assumed that this was going to be a cookbook from the cover and brief description in the catalog. In fact, this is a scholarly examination of not only the methods of southern cooking, but also how southern food was sold and planted from before 1795 through the nineteenth century and beyond. The chapters are divided into regions, some focusing on Maryland, others on Charleston, others on the origins of some southern food in the New York market and other oddities. Even one of the reviewers, from Choice, calls this a “rambling volume,” and clearly with titles that jump between states and cities and do not even manage to remain in the region after which the book is titled, it contains a great deal of rambling about. Shields explains that this project began because he has been a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which has sponsored “film, oral history, and events” that promoted southern cooking across the last couple of decades (ix). SFA’s previous ventures were lighter on research, so Shields set out to write a “large-scale history” of a series of southern locales that looks at the available archival materials from “fields, gardens, and cookhouses from colonial times to the present” (x).

Shields begins by defining what the South is, and how it formed as a geographic separate region with an identity stamped into the nation’s mind after the Civil War because of the split between slave-holding and free states in this period. He questions the assumption that southern food is distinctive and then sets out to explain the split that actually made it “edibly distinctive” (28). He then gives a review of the literature previously published on the subject of southern cooking to stress the gap that he is filling. Such scholarly elements are always helpful in a history or a literary study, but these digressions really complicated the digestion of this book for a general reader. In addition, before jumping into any sub-topic, Shields asks questions that make his quest seem quixotic. For example, as be begins talking about “garden vegetables,” he explains that the “normal practice of kitchen gardening in the South” cannot be easily surmised from the available sources, and asks: “How then to get at an understanding of what was grown, when, and where?” He considers and discards archaeology as too costly, and then proposes studying seeds and their growers instead. Then he lists and details archival findings on the recorded history of seed growing (36). He even includes a ten-page “Table I. South Caroline Garden Seed Sources,” wherein he lists various types of vegetables (artichoke, asparagus, beans), the year when they were acquired, the broker that sold them and their original location (London, NY-NE, SC, PA) (41-49). Later in the book, he includes the full listing of items on sale at the 148 Meeting Street, Guilleaume storehouse: “500 Barrels B. Sugar, 100 Barrels AA Sugar…” This list takes up more than half of the page, and does not only include foods, but also twine, rope and other random bits (260). There are only a few beginning-of-chapters pen-and-ink drawings—too few for what initially promised to be a cookbook.

To sum it up, this book is not for anybody that wants to learn a bit about Southern cooking. It is only fit for very serious scholars who are already familiar with the basics and want a source that questions what other Southern cooking histories might have gotten wrong. It includes countless surprising revelations, but each is buried in piles of other curious and random bits. It’s an expedition to read a chapter out of this book, and plowing through all of its 401 pages might be a lifetime effort. On the other hand, if somebody wants to follow this book up with a lighter and more succinct description of the history of Southern food, they would be spared all the archival research Shields undertook as they could just re-cite his sources and findings. It is admirable that scholars are able and willing to take on a feat such as this in our speed-knowledge culture.

 

 

The LA Homeless and the Cops That Arrest Them

 

Forrest Stuart. Down, Out & Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-226-37081-1. Sociology. Cloth. 333pp.

 

*****

 

Thousands of people move to Los Angeles every year hoping to make it big in the film industry. Meanwhile, only a few hundred actors and as many writers, directors etc. “make it” and obtain the coveted jobs. While many leave LA after a failure, or find work as waiters, cleaners and the like, those who cannot leave nor find any work are likely to become homeless. In 2015, there were 44,359 homeless people in Los Angeles County and only 13,341 of them were sheltered, with the rest living in the streets mostly without any welfare benefits. These numbers are only comparable to New York City’s homeless population of 75,323, which LA surpassed back in 2005, when NYC’s rate was half its current total and LA’s was 1/3 higher. The downtown area that houses the biggest shelters in LA is called Skid Row, and this region was the focus of this study.

Forrest Stuart did not simply evaluate the demographics of this population, but rather focused on how they are treated by police. Even if Stuart set out to study something else, he explains that he was stopped by police fourteen times just for standing around and investigating this crisis in his first year, and thus had to admit that harassment by police was a major concern for the homeless and had to become a concern for his readers. He explains that sitting on the sidewalk is an arrestable offense in LA for which week-long jail sentences are common, as he cites the case of Juliette, who was arrested nearly sixty times on these grounds.

Stuart personalizes many other stories of Skid Row residents, focusing on the fluidity between living in the street, in the shelters or in the cheap, trashy SRO hotels. Another one of these residents is the ever-smiling Darryl that had to move into this area after he lost a part-time job that supplemented his veteran general relief check of $221. On top of his daily struggles to find cans or otherwise scavenge for food and items to trade, Darryl was repeatedly harassed by police that forced him to take Union Rescue Mission’s twenty-one-day residential rehabilitation program, which consisted of job counseling and bible classes to cancel the fines they were levying on him. Darryl described that the problems with early lights-out caused his PTSD to amplify as he couldn’t sleep and had panic attacks. He also could not leave the facility for more than four hours, so that he could no longer engage in his recycling work. The classes included drug counseling and random drug testing. Darryl finally broke down when URM asked him to “hand over his monthly General Relief check, insisting that doing so would teach him the merits of saving” (4). After this break, Darryl refused to return to URM even for four hours to cancel a $174 loitering fine, so the unpaid fine grew to “over $500, his driver’s license was suspended, and a warrant was issued for his arrest” (5). This is only a brief story out of this collection and it really demonstrates a problem that those who have not been in similar circumstances can hardly imagine. The homeless being constantly hassled might see like a distant problem until somebody loses a job and then feels as if they are the only person unjustly suffering these outlandish circumstances. So, anybody in American can benefit from reading these accounts to really understand the hurdles poor Americans face and how to avoid these bumps.

The book explains everything from the failing welfare system, to the laws and rules that force even the best-intentioned police officers to levy fines on the homeless. Stuart supplements his researched with “over fifteen thousand pages of LAPD records obtained under the California Public Records Act,” including records from meetings, emails and financial records from the Skid Row or Central Division LAPD branch (30). The book is split into two halves: the first from the perspective of the police, and the second from the POV of the homeless, the latter attempting to help them become “copwise” and avoid arrests and fines.

This is a necessary study today for anybody interested in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, or just anybody that cares about the poor and homeless in America. The problem of poverty, homelessness and unjustified arrests strikes more Americans than we might care to admit at some desperate points. Solving their plight is likely to echo into enrichment for America as a whole. If the homeless could make a living from recycling un-harassed perhaps they would not be driven to burglary and other crimes that result from a sense of hopelessness and entrapment. Graduate sociology classes should benefit from this book in the syllabus. Researchers in this field definitely need to dissect it for evidence and proposals on what laws and regulations might help Americans rise out of poverty and imprisonment.

 

 

A Memoir from a General in the Indonesian Revolution

 

Suhario Padmodiwiryo. Revolution in the City of Heroes: A Memoir of the Battle that Sparked Indonesia’s National Revolution. Frank Palmos, Tr. Art Link: Ridge Books: NUS Press: National University of Singapore, 2016. ISBN: 978-9971-69-844-7. Memoir. 204pp.

 

*****

 

This is a diary of a 24-year-old Indonesian medical student, Suhario Padmodiwiryo, who became the Deputy Commander of the forces fighting for Indonesian independence from the Dutch (and British) forces after his city, Surabaya, was occupied for nearly four years by the Japanese up through 1945. The initial push failed, but Padmodiwiryo stayed in the military and became a general, and the Indonesian National Revolution finally succeeded in 1949. He wrote this book while under house arrest in 1995. He was placed under arrest by President Suharto, who caused popular protest by this and other actions so that he had to resign in 1998. The reason for the arrest went back to 1968-70 when he took a “military training course in Communist USSR,” and allegiance with communist ideas for traitorous in Indonesia (x).

The translator’s Preface applauds the book as the only reliable first-person account of an expert at the heart of the early fighting on the Indonesian side. Frank Palmos discovered to his delight that the author of a classical memoir he admired was still alive and well in 2010, and worked with him in personal interviews and via email to add content to the initially published memoir and translation. The Preface ends on Suhario’s deathbed in 2014, wherein he “told his loyal wife Dewi that he would now die in peace, knowing that NUS Press… would publish his book in English for a wider audience” (xvi). This is certainly a powerful start to any book.

The narrative begins in the middle of WWII as Suhario struggled to stay in school and had to switch between veterinary and other specialties and school locations and the Japanese were closing schools or raiding their funds. Various indignities are described, such as the shaving of the students’ heads by force by the Japanese. The occupation had an intense impact of the people of Indonesian, as many starved, suffered from malnutrition and became homeless. As a medical student, Suhario faced these problems personally as he was assisting and living in the hospital complexes while studying. Amidst his studies and marriage at twenty-two, Suhario started receiving military training during “term breaks in 1944… from a senior officer in the PETA auxiliary forces” (11).

The details in this book are outstanding. Any revolutionary who is fighting against an oppressive regime today should read this book as part of his military training. The strategies the troops utilized to win against the odds are explained philosophically, politically and strategically by an intellectual who was forced into violence by the violence of the occupations that he was forced into despite all of his efforts to follow the peaceful path of medicine. Those who enjoy reading military history stories for fun should also enjoy reading it leisurely. It should add to any public or academic library collection. And a class on Asian history might be both lightened and enlightened with the addition of this memoir to the syllabus.

 

 

A Long-Overdue Manifesto Against Tax Havens

 

Gabriel Zucman. The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens. Teresa Lavender Fagan, Tr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-226-42264-0. Economics. $16.00.

 

*****

 

I quoted Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in a textbook I wrote for my Writing Cultural Studies class this past semester at UTRGV. So, the title stood out as intriguing. The subtitle was also curious because I have been reflecting about the significance of zero-taxes when I worked abroad in China for Shantou University and the impact of different currency values on the international market. Gabriel Zucman proposes that tax havens are the major problem that have created the international spike in country-bankruptcies and other financial failures. He explains that this conflict has been brewing for nearly a century before coming to a climatic collapse in the last couple of decades. He goes beyond the doom-and-gloom, and proposes some strategies for positive changes. Tax havens are behind the zero-percent tax rates that so many American corporations are paying, and this inspired the Occupy Wall Street and some other reactionary movements. Why should lower class Americans pay the bulk of the country’s tax burden while the billion-dollar companies come up with financial tricks to bypass the hurdle of taxation. Of course, if the law says tax havens are legal, any company that does not follow the rest abroad is unlikely to be able to match their prices as they have the extra 1-30%+ to spend on price-slashing.

In between the economic theory and philosophy, Zucman bases his study on a statistical analysis of “the international investments of countries, the balances of payments, the on- and off-balance sheet positions of banks, the wealth and income of nations, the accounts of multinational companies, and the archives of Swiss banks” (3). Zucman proposes the following actions as needed to resolve the crisis: “create a worldwide register of financial wealth, recording who owns which stocks and bonds” (4), “levy sanctions proportional to the costs that tax havens impose on other countries” (5), and “rethink the taxation of companies” so that it derives from “from their worldwide consolidated profits, and not… from their country-by-country profits, because those are routinely manipulated by armies of accountants” (5). I have been the problem of tax miscalculations first hand when I did an internship in the accounting department of a major bank back in college, and I think if I was exposed to it every serious accountant is exposed to this tide and knows the system is corrupt and that the above proposal should help to fix the bulk of the conundrum.

It helps to see this accounting industry from a distant perspective as Zucman explains that the industry of tax evasion was born around the time the 1924 “to marginal income tax rate rose to” 72%, as this was a rapid spike up from a 4% tax rate in France before World War I. High tax rates elsewhere were contrasted with the extremely low tax rates and banking secrecy in Geneva, Zurich and Basel, because they did not suffer serious losses in the War. He also explains that tax havens became profitable because the center of wealth shifted in this period from land ownership to stocks and bonds in corporations, which could be more easily manipulated in accounting tricks (8-10).

Politicians should read this book before setting new tax laws or as they consider revising the current laws. It seems America is about to put a president in office who is the only one in its long history to refuse to share his tax records, and there are numerous questions about if he’s a billionaire or a multi-bankrupt who is gaming the financial system… So, somebody on the democrats’ side really needs to read this book to voice a coherent objection to allowing a president with potential tax haven and other accounting problems to take the helm. He surely will not be motivated to take Zucman’s advice and instead he will act in self-interest to swing the pendulum further towards tax-avoidance for the hyper-rich. Either way, it’s cheerful to read that there are some economists who are alert to this problem, and are working to stress the possibility for positive change.

 

 

A Digressive Assault on the Faults of the Czar of the War on Drugs

 

Alexandra Chasin. Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger’s War on Drugs. Chicago: University Press of Chicago, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-226-27697-7. Current Affairs. 346pp. Cloth: $35.00.

 

****

 

This is a biographic account of Harry J. Anslinger’s architecture of America’s War on Drugs. Anslinger stood in the shadows, while J. Edgar Hoover took the credit for its inception. The back cover and press release anticipate a “weird” book shaped like a “kaleidoscope” as it digresses into several different perspectives of the man, as well as the various other historical fragments that have been essential points in the War from 1820 to 2015. The author of the book, Alexandra Chasin teaches nonfiction at the New School, and thus the press introduces it as more of a “creative nonfiction” than a “straight history.” Well, if I’m warned in advance, I tend to appreciate the weirdness.

The creative nature of the book is apparent from the long Contents list, which includes this title: “14. A High-Priced Man: So Stupid That the Word ‘Percentage’ Has No Meaning to Him,” referring vaguely to Anslinger’s intelligence, as it begins by stating that Harry completed an associate’s degree from the Altoona Business College (hardly worthy of an American czar) (73). He then worked for a few years at places such as the Intelligence Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company before becoming a Fed in 1918. The author frequently objects to what Anslinger wrote about his own life in his autobiography by offering evidence that he was hardly bright or high-achieving in his duties, and instead merely scraped by on appointments that kept coming. Another chapter is titled with a misspelling from Anslinger’s diary to stress further his incompetence: “21. I Would Not Endeavor to Descrive.” The title of the book comes from one of the stories Anslinger published in American Magazine in 1937, “Marijuana: Assassin of Youth,” which began: “The sprawled body of a young girl lay crushed on the sidewalk the other day after a plunge from the fifth story of a Chicago apartment house. Everyone called it suicide, but actually it was murder. The killer was a narcotic known to America as marijuana, and to history as hashish…” (185). Chasin argues that the real assassin of youths was Anslinger and his War on Drugs, because it has sent innocent young people of color to jail and thus making it impossible for them to move away from a life of crime stamped on their records. He became the Czar of drugs in part thanks to publications in this and other magazines.

The book includes scans of government documents, articles, employment records, and various other key sources that help to document the controversial argument Chasin succeeds in making. She does not shy away from referring to “ghostwriters” as she does not stop before calling Anslinger stupid, xenophobic, and the like. The design and formatting of this book are vary original: the combination of unusual fonts to bold long quotes to the deliberately left-in linguistic errors. As a work of creative nonfiction, it fully succeeds: it’s creatively composed and decorated, and the nonfiction is thoroughly researched and diligently presented. Biographers will have a tough time digging through this book for content for a new biography of Anslinger, and teachers of courses in this area probably should not attempt to assign this book to undergraduates. But, anybody that enjoys leisurely reading creative nonfiction or cares about the origins of the War on Drugs, should enjoy reading the curious content of this kaleidoscope.

 

 

A Retrospective on a Monumental Gallery

 

James Meyer. Dwan Gallery: Los Angeles to New York, 1959-1971. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-226-42510-8. Current Affairs. 408pp. Cloth: $60.00.

 

*****

 

The first thing I noticed was that this book was printed in Italy unlike many of the other art gallery collections I reviewed previously. The quality difference is apparent from the inside flap which includes a simple pencil drawing of a face through a kind of a broken mirror with multiple repetitions. It’s smudged and I hesitated to touch the page out of a subconscious fear that the remains of the graphite will rub off on it. Another detail that stands out is the inclusion of dates for upcoming National Gallery of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibitions in 2016-17, which are essential because the book is an invitation to honor the contributions of Virginia Dwan’s personal collection that sponsored the great American and European artists that she featured. The press release summarizes this collection as containing: “abstract expressionism, neo-Dada, and pop,” as well as “minimalism and conceptualism,” and “earthworks.” The book does not simply reproduce the works Dwan championed, but rather details the story and significance of her life and achievements beyond the peak decades of her galleries. The book is written by the deputy director and chief curator of the Dia Art Foundation, so it shows sympathy and a deep understand of the craft of art curation. The book was prompted by Dwan’s gift of 250 works from this collection to the publisher, National Gallery of Art, in 2013. Curiously, the book also includes a 44-page memoir by Virginia Dwan, called, “Writings.” The biography and collection history is accompanied with an extremely detailed chronology of curator and the history of all major works and places that the gallery touched. It would be difficult to imagine a more scholarly representation of the history of a gallery.

Dwan started the gallery at twenty-eight after inheriting a fortune at twenty-one from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, and married a medical student whose mother owned a gallery in Long Island. She ran it for over a decade before closing it to public viewing.

The book strays into the history of art in general when it explains Dwan’s inspirations and sources for her artistic decisions. For example, Fig. 10 is of a series of giant, wall-sized black canvas paintings, “Installation View” by Ad Reinhardt, at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles from February 1962, and Fig. 11, under it, is “Suprematist Works” by Kazimir Malevich, Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10, Petrograd, from 1915. Malevich did a variation of black rectangular shape combinations, including only one main black square with a white outline in the center of the room, the Black Square, “the first black painting in the annals of twentieth-century art” (36-7). Then on the next page, in Yves Klein’s “Performance of Anthropometries of the Blue Period” from March, 1960, in contrast with the black rectangles, there is a photo of a woman dragging another nude woman across a giant canvass, with an orchestra playing in the in background as elderly society people observe with stoic curiosity (38), the results were then hung next to the black rectangles.

An artist thinking about selling their work to a museum or somebody who is considering starting a gallery will surely find a great deal to learn from in these pages. There are no omissions, and the researchers describe exactly how the gallery came together, how the decisions were made and how the art was publicized and sold. High art was mixed with pop performances to mesmerize audiences with both high and low brow delights.

One drawback is that some of the art is just too lowbrow for my taste. For example, Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Tyrannousaurus Rex Entrangle Par un Cobra” from 1963 really looks like it was doodled by a kindergartener while sketching down notes in class: “Dear Virginia Thank you for your letter. It came the right day I was very depressed…” There’s a picture of the author crying. Actually, now that I am studying the doodle more closely, I guess it was included because of this personal note addressing Dwan and explaining the close relationship between the artist and the curator (134-5). Other drawings mimic classical art, but in a way that just traces over the lines and fills them with flat colors, as in Martial Raysse’s “Made in Japan” (1964) (138-9).

Virginia explains in the memoir that her decisions were influenced by her sense of these artists’ “integrity,” and their ability to absorb her, while themselves being “on fire with” their “vision” (244). Reading that she was consumed and aflame troubles me because I believe art should be philosophical and purposeful rather than inspired and chaotic, so it’s good to read that she simply had a different philosophy from my own.

This is a great book I would recommend to any general or art library, as well as to scholars of American art history and curation.

 

 

How Three Americans Prevented an ISIS Train Shooting

 

 

Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, and Jeffrey E. Stern. The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes. New York: PublicAffairs, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-61039-733-9. $25.99. 6.125X9.25”. 272pp.

 

****

 

This is a unique book about terrorism. I have never read about this incident before, so clearly it needs to be better publicized. The events unraveled on August 21, 2015 on train #9364 bound from Brussels to Paris. Ayoub El-Khazzani was armed with an AK-47, a pistol, a box cutter, and ammunition and he planned on massacring many aboard the train. However, just as he made his initial threat, three army-trained men attacked him and eventually disarmed him, so that nobody on the train was killed, and an ISIS plot was averted. The back cover shows a photo of the three of them with President Obama, who as I’m writing this is leaving the White House (on December 19, 2016). These three guys are Anthony Sadler (senior at Sacramento State University), Alek Skarlatos (specialist in the Oregon National Guard), and Spencer Stone (staff sergeant in the US Air Force). The author of the book is an established reporter that took down their story. I believe I obtained this copy at ALA, and for some reason it is signed by three people and incudes this note: “To Sara Jaffa, thank you for your support!” Well, either way.

The book opens at the climax: “Spencer is holding two fingers against a pulsing wound in Mark’s neck. As the train races through the countryside at over 150 miles per hour, he’s trying to plug the carotid artery because if he doesn’t, Mark dies…” (5). This is a good example of the style that dominates the book. This is a thriller that is based on research of the events. Since the three men are young and athletically minded, their narrative focuses on the actions, the blood, and what was said, rather than a deeper philosophical and historical account of events of international importance. Because the events in the conflict were so fleeing, the bulk of the book touches on their hostel hopping European travels, as well as on what happened after their successful encounter with a terrorist. The concluding chapter explains the photograph on the back cover, as they received the Airman’s Medal, Purple Heart, and Solder’s Medal between them at the White House on this occasion (230).

As a critic, I wish there was more history and detail to this book. On the other hand, this is not a scholarly project, but rather a snapshot of a moment in world culture that shows how three men heroically reacted to terrorism. If the author set this reality aside to write about the problems that the fleeing action represents it would not have represented the simple reality that reacting to terrorism can be this kind of a split-second set of decisions by average men who do not want to be victims.

 

 

A First-Person Fictional Memoir… of Crash Survival in Alaska

 

 

Brian Murphy with Toula Vlahou. 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness. Boston: Da Capo Press: Perseus Books Group, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-306-82452-4. $15.99. 6X9”. 238pp.

 

***

 

This is the dramatic adventure story of five Army aviators that went on a simple mission to test their B-24 Liberator plane in December of 1943 only to crash in Alaska’s unforgiving wilderness. Only Leon Crane survived the crash. Unlike another author that I’m reviewing in this set, Bruce L. Smith, who had plenty of survival training in other harsh conditions before his helicopter crashed, Crane had no wilderness experience, having grown up in urban Philadelphia. With only a “parachute for cover and an old Boy Scout knife in his pocket,” Crane managed to survive a twelve-week journey to rescue himself. Sadly, Crane did not write this but, but rather it was written by two researchers after his death. The “Preface” explains that the inner dialogue included in the narrative is their invention based on what they believe Crane might have been thinking. This scares me away from the book because it promises to be a sentimental novel rather than an honest portrayal of this adventure. Then the map before the opening chapter furthers my suspicion that this is primarily a fiction as it’s made in the style of a Lord of the Rings map with old-English style lettering and children’s book style drawings of huts, sleds, and a tiny airplane. And yet, despite the obvious, the narrative is written in first-person. It’s very odd that the author did not simply write this book in third person, presenting the evidence of what is factually known about this survival story. I wrote a novel from the perspective of George Sand and I received a lot of criticism because I was trying to make it sound like a memoir. Well, at least there are already plenty of great biographies of George Sand, and I doubt there has been a major biography of poor Leon Crane, so fictionalizing this account abstracts the significance of his actual achievements behind the author’s imaginings.

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