September 13, 2020

Review of Don't Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason by Dave Rubin

Our review of Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason by Dave Rubin started off in an unexpected manner when within the first four minutes of listening to the audio book (I purchased the Audible version) Rubin mentions in a totally offhanded manner that he was gay.

That shouldn’t matter, and apparently doesn’t given I had no idea.  But in our current environment with half the country embracing identity politics and intersectionality, it is, at least in a societal sense, still important and worthy of mention.

In fact, it is part of the argument Rubin makes in that as a conservative gay man, he runs counter to the entire narrative of identity politics that holds that your identity determines your politics. Given that this is the second book, however unintentionally, that I am reviewing about a gay man coming out as a conservative in as many months (Always a Soldier by Rob Smith was the first), this apparently is a thing.

The troubling ascent of the LGBT right wing

Okay, it’s definitely a thing.

And “troublesome” even.

This is, in part, what Rubin is talking about.

In the book he details the ways in which his preconceived notions about the left gave way to reality such as when he witnessed how allegedly open-minded progressives would savagely attack conservative African-Americans as “Uncle Toms,” or the time he interviewed Larry Elder and in the course of spouting standard liberal talking points that he took for granted as being true, ended up being very publicly schooled with actual facts from the always-informed Elder.

The character assassination he was witnessing up close and personal on the part of his leftist colleagues and friends, the false narratives, the growing cancel culture, and the hostility towards free speech if that speech does not fit the woke agenda, became increasingly clear. Rubin was going through this realization and ultimate transformation pretty much on screen as he hosted “The Rubin Report,” which I guiltily admit increased the entertainment value of his story immensely. (To his lasting credit, Rubin readily concedes this, a sign of a man truly comfortable in his own skin and genuinely interested in personal growth no matter how painful.)

Throughout the book he discusses this transformation, the slow realization that he was more conservative and libertarian than he was progressive, his difficult decision to “come out” as a conservative particularly given that people whom he had considered personal friends turned on him, wishing to never speak to him again.

He also goes through a number of issues, from drug legalization to gun control to women’s rights and so on detailing why he believes what he believes and suggesting that if you agree or find his arguments compelling, if only in part, you might not be the progressive you thought you were. While there is no question this book will be picked up primarily by preexisting fans with conservative and libertarian-leaning views, it clearly is also targeting people who are on the fence or who have started to question preconceived notions, and provides a detailed road map and motivation to explore such feelings further.

The entire tale is at once cautionary and inspirational, outlining the professional and personal hazards of embracing a more conservative view while providing motivation and counseling on how to do so.

Rubin self-narrates the audio book (always my preference for those competent to do so), and comes across as truly genuine, affable, open minded, and always open to being proven wrong.

Definitely worth a read. Or a listen!

J.

If you are thinking about purchasing Don’t Burn This Book, please consider using one of our many links! it costs you nothing but helps support our work here. "Work" might not be the right word. "Frustrated cries into an uncaring void," might capture it better but didn't test well with focus groups. (More about affiliate marketing links at the bottom of the right side bar.)

September 13, 2020 at 03:00 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 31, 2020

Review of The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray

The Madness of Crowds” by Douglas Murray was published nearly a year ago and yet could not be more timely. Like The China Syndrome-Three Mile Island timely. Like, the film industry is finally making great comic-book movies before I die timely. And while it was not exactly the book I thought it was, it was anything but a disappointment.

Rather than being a deep dive into the psychology of mob behavior as I had assumed, The Madness of Crowds is instead a kind of detailed travelogue of the madness that has gripped our current culture, and in the end offers a possible explanation for why people seem to be going nuts all around us.

A handful of examples:

At a panel discussion at Rutgers university on identity politics, Kmele Foster, an African-American libertarian and entrepreneur, was making a purely reasonable defense for free speech when a portion of the crowd turned on him chanting “black lives matter.” At one point, one of the African Americans who had been shouting at him was asked by Foster:

“Do facts matter?”

His response?

“Don’t tell me about facts. I don’t need no facts.”

Well, that certainly does explain a lot!

It is also worth pondering that this excerpt is not from the chapter titled “Crazy Sh*t.” It doesn’t quite make the cut.

What does?

Upon the upcoming release of the movie Black Panther, a senior editor of The Planetary Society named Emily Lackdawalla asked Twitter “When would be the appropriate moment for a white woman such as herself to go to see Black Panther?”

Emily Lackdawalla

Keep in mind that Lackdawalla is a grown woman, a respected individual with a masters degree in planetary geology.

And yet she appears to believe that her skin color holds the power to rob black people of joy by her mere presence.

Infantilizing an entire race is apparently a new way to show them respect. Or perhaps she’s just floating ideas for the next MCU super-villain. Working titles: “Karen the Conqueror” and “Captain Supremacy.” Vote for your favorite in the comments.

In a later chapter Murray recounts the trouble National Geographic got into a few years back for an article it had published with a photo caption of Aboriginal Australians that read:

"South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings."

In 1916.

I think we can all agree that that was an awful thing to write. (Besides, Antifa members hold that crown.)

But we can also all agree that it was over 100 years ago.

National Geographic effusively apologized of course for these terrible statements made by people who aren’t them, but in the age of catastrophizing everything, it turns out little has changed.

Eight months after that confession, Vox noticed that the magazine had not learned its lesson after all. Writer Kainaz Amaria wrote a piece about National Geographic’s latest issue that included a cowboy sitting on a horse on an open plain juxtaposed with a photo of a native American protesting in full headdress and other accoutrements and noted that:

“This visual framing — the heroic white savior versus the savage native — is not new to the American imagination or to the magazine.”

We would argue that such visual framing had faded into obscurity from the American imagination quite a long time ago, but apparently not to the imagination of Amaria.

And that says so much more about her than about the rest of us.

It should also probably be noted that the native American protesting chose to dress the way he did of his own accord, perhaps forgetting he should have first sought the permission of Amaria.

These handful of anecdotes can not do justice to an Audible book that clocks in just under 12 hours, but it does give you a flavor, and after a bit you start understanding what Murray really means about the “madness of crowds.” It’s not always a momentary thing, a mob overcome with the emotion of the moment that settles down hours later. He’s also talking about societal madness, movements that endure over years to the point that a well-meaning professional woman feels the need to ask permission to see a movie featuring African Americans or a centuries-old institution feeling the need to start apologizing for statements made by people long dead.

More than that, Murray builds the case that the madness does have a purpose, that purpose being to divide us, to make us believe that life is so intolerable that we must tear it all down and start over.

Murray’s argument rests on the social justice warriors choosing transgender issues as their point of the spear for change. Not transsex or intersex, which are, or can be made to be, actual physical changes, but a movement that requires you to accept someone is of another gender simply because he or she asserts it without any other evidence needed.

As Murray points out, this naturally results in absurdities such as the convicted male rapist insisting he is a transgender women, getting placed in a woman’s prison, and then proceeding to rape four women.

A few additional observations.

Murray narrates the book himself, which is always  welcomed by me if they are any good at it. He is. He is a Brit and has that classic wry delivery you would expect. I could see some people finding it annoying after a bit, but I enjoyed it.

Murray is gay. This should not be important, and maybe some day it won’t be, but his observations regarding the LGBTQ community (namely that there really is no such thing in that the components of the abbreviation don’t really form an actual community) is informed by more personal experience than a straight person could bring to such a subject.

If you are interested in purchasing the book (available in various formats including hard cover, paperback, Audible, and Kindle, please consider using one of our links here (such as this one!). It is an affiliate link (explained towards the bottom of the column on the right) and costs you nothing extra but can help us out.

Of all the books we’ve reviewed this year, this one might be the most urgent. If only by a little.

J.

August 31, 2020 at 12:23 PM in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 13, 2020

Review of Always a Soldier by Rob Smith

Always a Soldier” by Rob Smith has one of the best tag lines in publishing history.

“Service, Sacrifice, and Coming Out as America’s Favorite Black, Gay Republican”

Clickbait?

Transparent attempt at personal branding?

Blatant marketing ploy?

Sure, all of those.

But also accurate.

Okay, it’s not as if I did a poll or anything, but I imagine Smith’s claim is valid in part because while I can think of quite a few gay Republicans, and quite a few black Republicans, thinking of a gay, black, Republican leaves me thinking of, well, Rob Smith.

He OWNS the demo.

When you purchase Always a soldier, you are essentially getting two very different books in one.

Fortunately, both are excellent in their own way.

The first three quarters or so is a stunningly honest recounting of his life as an awkward overweight teen struggling with his sexuality and the challenges of a broken home. He joins the United States army, infantry, when he was still just 17.

Part gay coming-of-age story, part eyewitness recounting of what it’s really like to be in the army, particularly during a war (he served in Iraq), makes it fascinating for those of us personally unfamiliar with either, and yet Smith makes it entirely relatable. 

That would be the “service and sacrifice” part.

The last quarter of the book is the “coming out as America’s favorite black, gay Republican” part. Here he notes how he was at first your typical progressive, pursuing many issues, such as ending the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that was in effect when he was in the army (and a position he still supports) and then slowly becoming disenchanted with many of the positions he was expected to hold as a gay black man.

While the first part was very somber, almost melancholy (I got the Audible version and you can hear it in his voice), the second part is all confidence and bravado; it’s the Rob Smith you know from his television appearances, and serves as a triumph of sorts given the many challenges of his early life.

Smith is upfront about the two very different stories. He notes that a lot of people who would never consider reading about the life of a young gay man will pick this book up for the red meat he feeds them in the second part. He makes note of the responsibility that suggests.

He delivers on all counts. The book is authentic throughout. No punch is pulled, whether he’s describing what he thought of his fellow soldiers (good and bad both) to his personal encounters with both racism and homophobia (sometimes combined), to his early relationships with men (both romantic and and sexual), to his dressing down of the “LGBTQ cult” to discussing how illegal immigration hurts lower income blacks to how it was more difficult in many ways coming out as a Republican than coming out as gay.

But in the end, Rob Smith’s story isn’t just a story about a gay man or a story about the military or a story about a political transformation. For all that, it’s an old-fashioned American story in which perseverance triumphs over hardship.

Let's have more of that.

J.

August 13, 2020 at 05:57 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 05, 2020

Review of White Fragility Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

 “White Fragility Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” is both good and bad.

The Good:

  • Competent punctuation.
  • Vast majority of words spelled correctly.
  • Clever jacket design.

The Bad:

  • Explicitly racist.
  • Dehumanizing.
  • Reductionist.
  • Condescending to both whites and blacks alike.
  • Lays bare deeply held self-hatred of author leaving reader feeling awkward and not knowing what to say.

I guess we’ll just call that a toss up.

According to author Robin DiAngelo, the problem with racial relations in this country is that apparently when white people are forced by their employer to sit in a room so that a complete stranger can call them all racists, they greet this revelation without so much as a word of thanks.

As DiAngelo put it:

“I assumed that in these circumstances, an educational workshop on racism would be appreciated.”

And yet it wasn’t.

Weird, right?

“I couldn’t understand their resentment or disinterest in learning more about such a complex social dynamic as racism.”

Why people might react poorly to being called racist could have remained a mystery for the ages, and yet DiAngelo somehow decoded this Rubik’s cube of a problem.

She recognized:

“…In light of so many expressions of resentment towards people of color I realized we see ourselves as deserving, and entitled to, more than people of color deserve.”

I don’t know why anyone would take offense at that.

“We are taught to think about racism only as discrete acts committed by individual people rather than a complex interconnected system.”

She found that if she could:

“Understand racism as a system into which I was socialized I can receive feedback on my problematic racial patterns as a helpful way to support my learning and growth.”

Which doesn’t at all sound like a reeducation camp.

So, basically, the solution is for white people to stop being so sensitive and simply admit they are horrible people and are responsible for widespread oppression and subjugation.

Ah, but here I am responding predictably with the false dichotomy of “good” and “bad.” That’s not it at all.

“I could see the power of the belief that only bad people were racist, as well as how individualism allowed white people to exempt themselves from the forces of socialization.”

Silly individual, you think have free will. How cute!

As DiAngelo noted in an NPR interview:

"In that way, we can say that nice white people who do nothing further to challenge racism are racist."

You see, it’s not that you aren’t nice. Don’t be so touchy!

It’s just that you are a racist.

Feel better?

“Individualism,” you see, is a social construct of Western thought. It blinds you to the fact that you are but a pawn of your culture, incapable of objectively (another Western social construct) recognizing your racism.

Don’t feel badly, that’s only because you aren’t an academic steeped in Marxist ideology.

“We must be willing to consider that unless we have devoted intention and ongoing study, our opinions are necessarily uninformed, even ignorant.”

Hurling insults at your audience is one of Dale Carnegie’s lesser known secrets of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

“How can I say that if you are white, your opinions on racism are most likely ignorant, when I don’t even know you?”

She argues that she can say so because nothing in mainstream culture gives us the information we need to have the “nuanced understanding” of arguably the “most complex and enduring social dynamic of the last several hundred years.”

She’s here to help us, an academic “white savior,” of whites, if you will.

She goes one better:

“Ideologies that obscure racism as a system of inequality are perhaps the most powerful racial forces because once we accept our positions within racial hierarchies, these positions seem natural and difficult to question, even when we are disadvantaged by them.” (Italics mine.)

That last line makes it clear that she also hopes to help “Uncle Toms,” blacks who dare stray from the opinions prescribed to them by their social construct.

That makes DiAngelo a more traditional “great white savior,” only this time rescuing black conservatives from the sin of wrongthink.

You know what you’re in for with White Fragility from the beginning with a forward by Georgetown University Sociology Professor, Michael Eric Dyson:

“Straight white men have been involved in a witness protection program that guards their identities and absolves them of their crimes while offering them a future to see past encumbrances and sins.”

It’s not clear why he thought it was important to bring sexuality up in a book that is about race, but if you’re going to start checking boxes, might as well check them all.

“In truth, suffering comes from recognizing that they are white—that their whiteness has given them a big leg up in life while crushing others’ dreams, that their whiteness is harmful to the nation,…”

It would probably be useful here to remind readers that “White Fragility” is intended to serve as an outreach to white Americans in an effort to persuade them towards a point of view.

DiAngelo picks up where Dyson leaves off:

“I am mainly writing to a white audience; when I use the terms us and we, I am referring to the white collective. This usage may be jarring to white readers because we are so rarely asked to think about ourselves or fellow whites in racial terms.”

Just so you don’t miss the point: NOT thinking about your race is what makes you racist.

Try to keep up, okay?

Before we go any further, we should point out that the functioning assumption is that only whites can be racist, so when we, and DiAngelo, talk about racists, we are both of course addressing white people only:

“When I say that only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States, only whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color.”

“As with prejudice and discrimination, we can remove the qualifier “reverse” from any discussion of racism. By definition, racism is a deeply embedded historical system of institutional power. It is not fluid and does not change direction simply because a few individuals of color manage to excel.”

In case you’re wondering when the definition of racism changed, it didn’t.  DiAngelo (among others) have decided it’s helpful to simply say it means something else because making genuine arguments using regular definitions is really hard.

According to DiAngelo, we are:

“Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race.”

You’re “fragile,” that is, react ungratefully about being called a racist, not because it is inherently insulting, arrogant, and presumptuous, but because you just don’t know you’re a racist.

But you are.

In fact:

“This book does not… attempt to prove that [systemic] racism exists; I start from that premise.”

So, you know, shut up about it already.

How do we know that all white people are racists and such racism is systemic?

“Race will influence whether we will survive our birth, where we’re most likely to live, which schools we will attend, who our friends and partners will be, what careers we will have, how much money we will earn, how healthy we will be and even how long we can expect to live.”

Sure, all those outcomes can be explained by socioeconomic circumstances instead of race not the least of which is the high proportion of fatherless homes in the black community. And yes, that could be a fruitful conversation and lead to genuine insights that could address the issue.

But let’s just call all white people racists instead.

That will sell a lot more books.

DiAngelo uses a baseball story to drive home her point:

“The story of Jackie Robinson is a classic example of how whiteness obscures racism.”

Robinson is celebrated as having broken the race barrier, however, according to DiAngelo:

“While Robinson was certainly an amazing baseball player, this story line depicts him as racially special, a black man who broke the color line himself. The subtext is that Robinson finally had what it took to pay with whites.”

Sure, nobody believes that or was taught it. I'm white and I wasn't. But hey, she's on a roll.

“Imagine if instead, the story went something like this: ‘Jackie Robinson, the first black man whites allowed to play major-league baseball.’”

That's pretty much what we have all been taught. You do have to wonder who raised this woman.

“I am a white American raised in the United States. I have a white frame of reference and a white worldview, and I move through the world with a white experience.”

Okay, that helps. Throw a white hood on her, and you’ve got yourself the opening remarks of a Ku Klux Klan chapter meeting.

In support of her theory, DiAngelo pulls in Carol Anderson, Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation's Divide:

“The trigger for white rage, inevitability, is black advancement. It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. The truth is, a black man was elected president of the United States: the ultimate advancement, and thus the ultimate affront. Perhaps not surprisingly voting rights were severely curtailed, the federal government was shut down, and more than once the Office of the President was shockingly, openly, and publicly disrespected by other elected officials.”

Not knowing Carol Anderson, we were not aware of the coma she must have gone into in 1992 which would explain her not knowing that turnout among non-hispanic black voters somehow increased by 11 points in 2018, that the government was shut down in the ‘90s, or that more than once, the Office of the President was shockingly, openly, and publicly disrespected by other elected officials throughout the 2000s.

We are glad to she has recovered and wish her well.

Let’s sum up:

It’s not that you are awful, it’s that you are a racist in a racist system and everything you’ve accomplished is a product of that.

Having robbed everyone of agency, that is, the ability to make your own decisions, DiAngelo dehumanizes everyone, white, black, brown, every human being, and suggests black success can only come from the acquiescence of whites, making all of us potential “great white saviors.” This works to disempower blacks and encourages a sense of victimhood and helplessness absent the intervention of white people. This is presented as progress in case you missed that part.

The notions of “individualism,” “merit,” “objectivity,” and such are not universal concepts but mere social constructs. This is the language of Marx. (Karl, not Groucho, although it is kind of comical in a  sense.)

These are not opinions subject to critique or debate. She is right and you are wrong because you are uninformed and ignorant and until you agree with her you have no basis with which to disagree with her.

Sign us up!

What would DiAngelo think of this critique?

“When I talk to white people about racism, their responses are so predictable I sometimes feel as though we are all reciting lines from a shared script.”

If I went out in the street and started randomly accusing every passerby of racism, I could probably right that script, too. And yet:

“In fact, when we try to talk openly and honestly about race, white fragility quickly emerges as we are so often met with silence, defensiveness, argumentation, certitude, and other forms of pushback. These are not natural responses…”

One can’t help but believe DiAngelo’s version of a “natural response” would be more along these lines:

If, after reading this book you feel like you need an antidote, I encourage you to follow the following people on Twitter.

Rob Smith

Larry Elder

Bryson Gray

Melissa Tate

Shekina

David J. Harris Jr.

Tell them Planet Moron sent you.

J.

August 5, 2020 at 03:18 PM in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 29, 2020

Book Review How To Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro speaks in a kind of staccato rat-a-tat-tat, like he’s machine gunning you with his ideas. Consider it a simultaneous exercise of both his first and second amendment rights.

Since he narrates this, his latest book, How To Destroy America in Three Easy Steps, this style of delivery is a consideration if you’re listening to the audio version, as I did, less so if you happen to be literate and are reading it instead.

That said, while I thought the delivery style might grow tiresome, it doesn’t. I’m a bit of a fast talker myself, and when listening to a slow talker find myself wanting to reach down his or her throat and yank the words out.

Do that with Ben Shapiro, and you lose a hand.

Most authors benefit from having a professional narrator read their book for them. It is a separate skill set after all. (Although not foolproof, I have passed on certain audiobooks because I did not like the narrator.)  But Shapiro is an accomplished speaker and so it works just fine here.

Enough about style, what about the content?

I didn’t know a ton about Shapiro before reading this book, and really still don’t much beyond the confines of its pages (okay, kilobytes), but I have been lectured to by my betters in the media that he is VERY CONTROVERSIAL, which I suppose he is, if by “very controversial” you mean, “considers America to be not a particularly terrible place.”

Great, I think I need a safe space now.  And counseling.  Counseling in a safe space would be perfect. And have all my student loans paid off.  And a pony.

But I digress.

America being something other than awful, and that we are better off moving forward together guided by the country's founding principles, is essentially his message. He does not sugarcoat the past, in fact he recites it in brutal fashion, but he rejects the notion that the country was built on racism or white supremacy or any of the other charges made by revisionist historians, but rather makes the argument that the country was founded on enduring principles of freedom and equality, and it has been those very principles that have provided the moral foundation for an enslaved people to be freed, for a civil rights movement to have been embraced by both black and white alike, indeed, for every good thing this country has produced.

He has consistently held this view for many years, however it is recast in this book pitting what he calls the “Unionists” vs. the “Disintegrationists,” the latter of which seek to tear down the country and split it along racial and other lines familiar with those who peddle in identity politics. He proceeds to outline the “three easy steps” the disintegrationists are using to accomplish their aims.

You could dismiss this as basically the publishing version of clickbait, and it is an undeniably catchy headline, but it creates a workable framework to discuss the subject and works just fine in this book.

I will note I’m not fond of the term, “disintegrationist," which I believe he coined. First, it’s really a pain to type. Second, it’s just an ugly word. It makes sense for what he’s trying to say, but it’s almost the kind of thing you use early in a draft because you can’t think of anything better and then you forget to go back and change it. (BTDT)

That’s a nit, but really, I hate the word. Do I have a better word? No. No I do not. 

Splitter-Upperer?

Okay, no, definitely not.

My weird obsession with the word “disintegrationist” aside (gah, had to type it again!) the book is well written and well argued. Ben Shapiro has considered these matters at length and presents a cogent and documented argument.  You don’t need to agree with every point in the book (or every statement he has ever made on Twitter) to profit from reading this book.

One final note for those of you who get the audio version. Shapiro does impressions for some of the politicians he quotes. I had not expected it, so I at first thought it was just unnecessary mockery, but he’s actually pretty good and does a decent Clinton and Obama. My favorite though is his surfer dude take on Beto O’Rourke, ending every quote with “brah.”  In the end I thought it was fine and actually helps distinguish these quotes from the text of the book, not always obvious when you’re listening instead of reading.

All said and done, I recommend this book highly to any free thinker. Yes, America has problems, always did and always will, and yes, it has a blemished and at times deeply disturbing past, but it is not unique among countries in that respect. It is, after all, populated by humans. But its uniqueness is grounded in its founding principles, which animates its onward march, winding though it may be at times, towards the creation of “a more perfect union.”

J.

You can purchase the book, in multiple formats, right here (or through the graphic above) if you like. This is an affiliate link, costs you nothing but helps us out (and thank you for that). Full explanation of affiliate links can be round in the right sidebar towards the bottom.

July 29, 2020 at 09:52 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 17, 2020

Book Review I’m Your Emotional Support Animal by Adam Carolla

There are seven things you need to know about Adam Carolla’s latest book, “I’m Your Emotional Support Animal. Navigating Our All Woke, No Joke Culture.”

  1. It is hilarious.
  2. It is profane.
  3. It is politically incorrect.
  4. It is profane
  5. It is insightful.
  6. Did I mention it’s profane? It’s really profane.
  7. No, seriously. If you get the audio book, you don’t want your kids in the car when you listen to it, unless your kids are at least 35.

Prior to this book I was familiar with Adam Carolla only through his appearances on television and did not appreciate his talent for profanity. And I do mean talent.  The profanity is used to great comic effect.

And like all truly great humor, the book addresses serious issues and provides useful life lessons delivered with belly laughs, from proper risk assessment to how such risk assessment plays into the Covid pandemic (and the ensuing hysteria) to safe spaces and much more including, yes, the excessive reliance on, and over-indulgence of, emotional support animals, particularly on airlines.

Speaking of which, a short excerpt: 

It’d be interesting to get a time machine and talk to a farmer from 1870 and say, “One hundred and fifty hears from now, we’ll still be using service animals, but not for plowing fields and turning a grindstone.”

“Oh, so it will just be oxen pulling a wagon across the Great Plains?”

“Well, it will be for travel but not quite. You know those hysterical women you give laudanum and lock in the sanitarium? In the future we give them turkeys, pigs, and miniature horses to make them feel better and let them roam about the country in magical flying machines.”

His head would explode.

(For the record, I’m pretty sure I’m my dog’s emotional support animal.) Screen Shot 2020-07-17 at 1.21.29 PM

Incidentally, that excerpt is from the preface, the first part of which you can read using the “look inside” feature at Amazon.

None of that, nor his regular appearances on Fox News, makes him a conservative or a MAGA guy.  He is definitely his own guy. Which is all the better.

He is not into guns but supports others right to own them. (And there is a riff, revisited more than once, regarding his disdain for “gun nuts” who constantly correct his misuse of the term “clip” when he means magazine.  “Get over it gun nuts,” he says. I laugh every time because yeah, I’ve been that gun nut.)

He is not necessarily a Trump supporter either but can appreciate some of his qualities, particularly his refusal to ever apologize. In fact, that’s how he starts out the book, telling readers up front that he will not apologize for anything in the book.

Nor should he. If you are an independent thinker, are impossible or at least difficult to offend, and can laugh at anything so long as it is genuinely funny and not the virtue signaling that has corrupted so much of what passes for humor these days, this book is definitely for you.

In other words, it’s for the Planet Moron reader looking to see how a real pro does it!

One final point: I purchased the audio book as I typically do these days so I can listen to it while I drive. (I have found reading books while you drive to be way too dangerous. The paper cuts alone are enough, and in any case, how can you be expected to drive and read while juggling a coffee, taking Instagram selfies, and eating a breakfast burrito. It’s just not safe, particularly if you are wearing white.)  Therefore, I can’t compare it to reading the book, but Carolla is a performer, and having him read his own material (along with some bonus ad-libs and occasional contributions from his podcast partner) might very well be the way to go. Besides, at this writing it’s the cheapest option, more so if you do Audible by subscription.

But by all means, if you truly must show off all your fancy school-bought literacy, buy the book.

If you’d like to do either, there are links throughout this piece. (And right here.) These are affiliate links meaning we get a small percentage of the purchase price (very, very, small, enough for the lid that goes on the cup of coffee we can’t afford) that supports our work here, however that percentage does not come out of your pocket, it comes out of Jeff Bezos’ pocket.

Consider that a bonus benefit.

J.

July 17, 2020 at 01:34 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 19, 2011

Never Judge a Book by its Wireless Connection

The Los Angeles Times takes its op-eds seriously and doesn’t allow just anyone to write them. So when it came time to publish an opinion piece regarding how the Kindle measures up in comparison to printed books, they turned to an expert:

Sara Barbour.

Sara Barbour describes her credentials early in the article:

“I've never used a Kindle.”

This could explain a lot about Los Angeles Times op-ed pieces.

This is a little unfair to Ms. Barbour as she did do some research on the Kindle:

“I've seen them in an over-the-shoulder sort of way”

Well, if that’s good enough for the Los Angeles Times, it’s good enough for us, although you might want to check the next time you read an LA Times piece on the war in Afghanistan that the correspondent didn’t base the story on something he saw on CNN “in an over-the-shoulder sort of way.”

The thrust of Ms. Barbour’s argument for the superiority of printed books is the fact that they are printed books. Coincidentally, this is the exact same argument we used in favor of the Kindle when we wrote our own review a couple of years ago. However, we made the amateurish error of actually purchasing and using a Kindle first.

But then, what can you expect? Planet Moron is just a blog. We never went to J-school and simply don’t understand the important role ignorance plays in informing the public.

Regardless, she makes a strong case for printed books:

“And then there is my childhood habit of making books into companions"

This is starting to sound less like an op-ed and more like a DSM entry.

"It isn't just about reading 'A Wrinkle in Time' — it's about my copy of the novel, with its cover appropriately wrinkled from hours of bathtub steam. I delight in the number of cracks on a spine.”

For the record, my own Kindle has a stain where I spilled a Jack Daniels on it as I passed out trying to make my way through a David Kessler book.  Ah, the memories…

“In eliminating a book's physical existence, something crucial is lost forever. Trapped in a Kindle, the story remains but the book can no longer be scribbled in, hoarded, burned, given or received. We may be able to read it, but we can't share it with others in the same way, and its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that much less powerful.”

She does have a point. By trapping a book in a Kindle, what with its Internet connection, social networking capabilities, capacity to display within the text how many times other people have highlighted and saved certain passages, and ability to access your entire collection through any wireless connection, its ability to connect us to people, places and ideas is that less much powerful than the printed book, what with its ability to become cracked, wrinkled and steamed.

For Ms. Barbour, printed books set her on her journey:

“If it weren't for the signature in that stolen copy of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ I wouldn't have felt a personal responsibility for books and their authors, a conviction that led me to New York to study at the only university with a great books curriculum.”

See, a single book established a conviction within her and set her on her life’s journey.

If it weren't for the gift of that galley of "The United States of Arugula," I wouldn't have developed the friendship with my boss, a food editor, and that was what made me realize that exploring the place of food in our lives was what I really wanted to do.”

You know that first book that established a conviction within her and sent her on her life’s journey? Yeah, never mind. Now this book, this one really established a conviction within her, one totally unrelated to that first conviction on which she spent four years of her life and tens of thousands of dollars. 

If we were her father, we’d have taken away her books.

“But once we all power up our Kindles something will be gone, a kind of language. Books communicate with us as readers — but as important, we communicate with each other through books themselves. When that connection is lost, the experience of reading — and our lives — will be forever altered.”

Imagine if the Kindle had been invented first, that you could have immediate access to all the world’s great written works through a small, portable device. One that allowed you to take notes, highlight passages, and tweet or otherwise share those passages with your friends in an instant. And one that allowed you access to your entire collection through a variety of electronic devices, even your phone.

Now imagine that after centuries of that, someone invented the “printed book.” What might a Sara Barbour op-ed look like in this alternate reality?

“But once we crack open our printed books, something will be gone, a kind of language.  Kindles communicate with us as readers—but as important, we communicate with each other through the Kindle’s social networking options. When that wireless connection is lost, the experience of downloading – and our lives – will be forever altered.”

You know how our life has been forever altered?

We’re going to stop reading the Los Angeles Times.

J.

June 19, 2011 at 09:32 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 08, 2010

The Commerce Clause: Is There Anything It Can’t Do? (Plus Book Excerpt!)

Yesterday a federal judge in Michigan, in a ruling finding federal health care mandates constitutional, took an expansive view of the powers granted the government under “the commerce clause,” and by “expansive view,” we mean “they can do anything they want.”

What do you know, Congressman Pete Stark was right after all!

Out: Commerce Clause.
In: Everything Clause!

I thought this might be an appropriate time for a book excerpt from the upcoming, “Planet Moron, How Faux Intellectuals, Hubris, and A Fear of Freedom Mongering Threaten Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Martini,” that addresses the magical mystical commerce clause. 

This is from Chapter 12, “Fabricated Complexity,” the premise of which is that one way to keep the masses in line is to make them believe they couldn’t possibly understand things that are in fact easily understood:

Chapter 12 (Excerpt)

Fabricated Complexity

…As I have already readily conceded, none of this is to suggest that when it comes to interpreting the Constitution you don’t want to hire people with a superior talent to do so on your behalf, but it is quite a leap from there to this:

 “Justice Holmes explained that when it came to ‘the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters.’ (“Master, it’s alive!”) Holmes decided that the decision had to be made ‘in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what said a hundred years ago.’”3

The notion that the meaning of the Constitution should be what the Founding Fathers would have meant had they been as smart as modern lawyers really gained traction during The Great Depression.

A book co-written in 2009 by Goodwin Liu, (as of this writing, a nominee for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals), notes that:

“Until 1937, two lines of judicial doctrine often prevented government from responding to pressing economic problems.”4

This “judicial doctrine,” was, of course, based on the old-fashioned notion that easily understood words were easily understood:

“Before 1937, the Supreme Court often applied the federalism principle by adhering to the eighteenth-century understanding of the term ‘commerce.’ As Justice Thomas has explained, ‘[a]t the time the original Constitution was ratified, ‘commerce’ consisted of selling, buying, and bartering, as well as transporting for these purposes. . . . [T]he term ‘commerce’ was used in contradistinction to productive activities such as manufacturing and agriculture.’ Applying this definition, the Court repeatedly struck down federal regulation of manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and other ‘local’ activities on the ground that they occurred “prior to” commerce and affected commerce only ‘indirectly.’”5

That antiquated eighteenth-century understanding of the term “commerce” also happens to be the very modern twenty-first-century dictionary understanding:

The exchange or buying and selling of commodities on a large scale involving transportation from place to place.”6

But that’s too straightforward for Mr. Liu.  It’s better if we have lawyers make up new, improved definitions that only apply to them and that only they can understand.

And while Mr. Liu may have slept through his Early American History classes, it should be noted that “manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and other “local activities” existed in the eighteenth century and so were not new and alien concepts wholly unfamiliar to the people who wrote the Constitution.

So what was the problem? According Liu and his co-authors:

“Under this reading of the Commerce Clause, the federal government could not enact laws to address labor inequities or to establish minimum wages or maximum hours in vast parts of the American economy.”7

Hey, that is a problem!

“Just as narrow construction of the commerce and spending powers limited Congress’s ability to regulate the economy, so too did the Court’s construction of Fourteenth Amendment ‘liberty’ to encompass ‘freedom of contract’ disable state governments from enacting various labor laws, price regulations, maximum hours and minimum wage laws, and other economic Promoting the General Welfare regulations.”8

Wow, this freedom thing sure was gumming up the works. It’s almost as if the Constitution was designed to limit the powers of the government.

From a now-antiquated 1936 Court ruling:

“The right to make contracts about one’s affairs is a part of the liberty protected by the due process clause. Within this liberty are provisions of contracts between employer and employee fixing the wages to be paid. In making contracts of employment, generally speaking, the parties have equal right to obtain from each other the best terms they can by private bargaining. Legislative abridgement of that freedom can only be justified by the existence of exceptional circumstances. Freedom of contract is the general rule and restraint the exception. 9

As Liu explains:

“In these and other ways, the Supreme Court articulated a restrictive view of federal and state authority that blocked measures to reduce some of the inequities, hardships, and economically harmful conditions that accompanied the industrialization and urbanization of the economy.” 10

That damn Constitution was ruining all the fun.

There are two approaches the President and Congress could have taken to address the situation:

They could have gone through the laborious process of amending the Constitution, which would involve the messy and distasteful process of securing the consent of the governed.

Or…

They could just decide that the Constitution is in fact so impossibly complex that it doesn’t say what it says at all, but rather, says something else entirely different and no, there really isn’t any reason to trouble yourself with why, just leave that to the experts.  They went to college!

Of course, they first had to get the Supreme Court to go along, so in 1937, President Roosevelt tried to do what anyone would had they sworn a sacred oath to uphold the Constitution and its tradition of ensuring there were adequate checks and balances in place to guarantee that no single branch of government could intrude upon the liberty of its citizens.

He tried to pack the court with political hacks. 11

But, as Liu explains:

“…before its validity could be tested legally or politically, the Supreme Court handed down a remarkable series of decisions dismantling the jurisprudence that had stymied federal and state legislative action. “ 12

Hey, that is remarkable.  Not to mention wholly coincidental with presidential threats to undermine the sitting justices' authority.

Liu notes that “one leading theorist [argued] that the 1937 change was an unorthodox but valid amendment of the Constitution outside of the Article V process.” 13

You know, “unorthodox,” the way Jeffrey Dahmer had an “unorthodox” approach to menu planning.

But as Liu explains:

“Far from requiring a formal amendment to the Constitution, the legitimacy of such government action rests comfortably on a proper reading of the Constitution as written—that is, as a declaration of general principles ‘intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.’14

Adapted not by you, of course.  Because once you stop seeing the Constitution as “a set of narrow legalisms”15 and instead as “an interpretation… that adapts its words and principles to the actual experiences and changing conditions facing the American people,”16 you need to hand over the work to someone else.

Of course, some sections of the Constitution were purposely left open to interpretation, such as the prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment,” which the authors clearly preferred to leave undefined.  Other sections were much more specific and closed off (or attempted to) the kind of manufactured complexity of “interpretations” that have been forced upon it in the past 73 years.  For example, the stipulation that in order to be eligible for the Office of President, individuals must be at least 35 years old really doesn’t leave itself open to an extended debate over what the authors meant by “year.”

All of which makes the Constitution not so much a “living document,” as perhaps an undead one.

So, yes, under a proper modern interpretation, the United States of America is now governed by:

“Zombie Constitution.”

(I’m thinking George Romero to produce given his extensive experience with zombies and Scarlett Johansson in the leading role given her extensive experience being Scarlett Johansson.)

Incidentally, the reason FDR went through extraordinary measures to bend the court, and through it the Constitution, to his will was due to the fact that he:

“…saw the prospect of amending the Constitution as remote if not impossible.”17

In other words, the way in which the intellectual elite wanted to govern is something the governed would never have consented to, and in fact did not consent to over the first 148 years of the Constitution’s existence.

So the next time someone points out that your restrictive interpretation (as in restricted to the actual definition) of the commerce clause flies in the face of 73 years of Supreme Court precedent, just tell them you’ll see their 73, and raise them another 75.

J.

October 8, 2010 at 12:54 PM in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 30, 2010

Update 7: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Section 1 Chapter Outline and Excerpt From Chapter 3

You thought I stopped working on the book didn’t you?  You thought I was just sitting around drinking lime daiquiris all day?

Lime Daiquiri

Okay, so one out of two ain’t bad.

Regardless, below is the chapter outline for Section 1 followed by an excerpt from Chapter 3.  I’ve got all of Section 1 done, most of Section 2, some of Section 3 and pretty much none of Section 4.  But it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Okay, it’s as bad as it sounds…

SECTION 1

Why They Think You’re A Moron (And Why They Think They’re Not)

Chapter 1
Shut Up, That’s Why

Chapter 2
You Are Ignorant

Chapter 3
You Are Stupid

Chapter 4
You Just Don’t Understand

Chapter 5
You Are A Religious Nut

Chapter 6
You Are A Nut, Period
No, Seriously, You’re Insane

Chapter 7
You Are A Subhuman Fiend And/Or Nazi Appeasing Ghoul

Chapter 8
Your Dry Cleaner Is Not As Good

 

Chapter 3

You Are Stupid

“It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you're a nation of dodos.” – Joe Klein, Time Magazine.

In a piece titled, “Too Dumb To Thrive,”1 Joe Klein, a political columnist at Time Magazine noted with exasperation that nearly three out of four Americans thought the Stimulus package was a waste of money, observing that, “they may be right: it's been wasted on them.”

Like a parent who has lost patience with his children’s lack of appreciation for all he’s done for them, Klein points out that $288 billion of stimulus spending went to tax relief for 95% of the American public and $275 billion went to their state and local governments.

In other words, you should be grateful you got a pair of socks and underwear for Christmas. Now shut up and eat your broccoli.

Klein has two explanations for this “dodo” -like behavior on the part of Americans. (Other Americans.  Not him. )

First:

“The Obama Administration has done a terrible job explaining the stimulus package to the American people...especially since there have been very few documented cases of waste so far.”

Naturally, the only possible explanation for why regular people would disagree with smart people is that the smart people just haven’t explained it well enough. They just need to dumb it down a bit more, perhaps with a puppet show, or coloring book with family fun activities to ensure that the gape-jawed masses are able to understand it.  (This is a common theme to which we will return in Chapter 4.)

What of his point that there have been, “very few documented cases of waste so far?”

That’s “waste,” as far as Joe Klein is concerned.

$6 billion for “wellness preservation?” Unquestionably essential for job growth. $200 million for birth control? How can you have an economic recovery without it?  Millions for new government cars and digital TV coupons?  That’s like a job-generating machine on steroids.2

How about $427,824 to study the unique game-play needs of senior citizens?  $54 million to relocate the Napa Valley Wine Train? $389,357 to compare outcomes of the concurrent and separate use of malt liquor and marijuana? $168,300 for an SBA loan to the Escape Massage parlor in Midlothian, VA?3

You might think these qualify as “documented cases of waste” but then you don’t have a degree from The University of Pennsylvania in “American Civilization,” now do you?4

Mr. Klein’s second point is that:

“This is yet further evidence that Americans are flagrantly ill-informed...and, for those watching Fox News, misinformed.”

Such ill- and misinformed Americans would include Allan Meltzer, an economist at Carnegie Mellon, and former Treasury Department official under John F. Kennedy, and former member of Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors, who says of the Obama Administration’s stimulus spending:

My advice on the stimulus plan was, don't do it. Let's look at the plan. First, a lot of the money was used to reduce the deficits of state and local governments by increasing the federal debt. It was simply money transferred from the federal government. The economic multiplier effect was zero. Second, the temporary tax cuts went to paying off credit cards and other debts, not spending that would have increased economic growth. “5

Those dumb uneducated Americans, where do they get their crazy ideas that the stimulus money was “wasted?”  Did they sleep through their American Civilization classes?...

J.

August 30, 2010 at 11:00 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 06, 2010

Update 6: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt From Chapter 2

As promised, below is another excerpt, this time from Chapter 2. I’m hoping to post an earlier promised chapter outline in the next few days, mainly because I really need to do a chapter outline.  You’d be surprised how important organization is when you’re writing something longer than a snarky five-paragraph blog post. 

Okay, I was surprised. Be that as it may:

Chapter 2

You Are Ignorant

“You Idiots!” – Cover of Rolling Stone1

Bill Maher, former comedian turned acerbic commentator on the human condition for HBO, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post entitled, “New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart Country,”2 in which he calls America a “stupid country.”

Of course, he doesn’t mean to imply that all Americans are stupid, just the ones who aren’t him. 

By way of evidence he offers up polling data that found that two thirds of those surveyed lacked sufficient familiarity with Roe vs. Wade, seven in ten couldn’t properly identify the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and two-thirds could not accurately describe the functions of the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Morons.

These are things Bill Maher, knows of course.  That would be the same Bill Maher whose job it is to make witty observations on current affairs, public policy, and politics, and so (and I’m just winging it here) would probably benefit from being thoroughly conversant on subjects that include abortion rights, Janet Napolitano, and the FDA.

By Bill Maher’s standard “Joe the plumber” could just as easily note a survey in which two thirds of Americans lack sufficient familiarity with pipe brazing, seven in ten can’t identify a flaring tool, and two-thirds can’t accurately describe the functions of a spiral ratchet pipe reamer and similarly conclude that aside from himself, the country is full of drooling imbeciles.

Now, I would not mind it if more people took a greater interest in the political process and the functions of their government.  But then, I also wouldn’t mind if more people took a greater interest in bringing back “Xena, Warrior Princess,” but that might just be me.

And while there is no question that as the size and scope of government has grown, it has become increasingly important that people follow public policy more closely, we should appreciate that people who earn their living doing something other than critiquing American public policy initiatives might devote their limited time to honing skills and accumulating knowledge that is relevant to their line of work (never mind spending more time with their family or pursuing other hobbies and interests) as opposed to carefully reading the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

That’s my job.3

And it shouldn’t mean that people less familiar with the minutia of public policy don’t get a say.  Or, as Maher says towards the end of his piece, “And these are the idiots we want to weigh in on the minutia of health care policy?”

Apparently Bill Maher doesn’t want common people on the street carelessly passing judgment on a bill they haven’t read and don’t understand. He finds it far more preferable to have educated elites carelessly passing judgment on a bill they haven’t read and don’t understand.4

After all, who is better equipped to decide whether or not comprehensive health care reform is a good idea?  The people who will be most affected by it, or the people who know how to spell J-A-N-E-T N-A-P-O-L-I-T-A-N-O?...

J.

August 6, 2010 at 01:02 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack