much is being said about the state of the RUSSIAN government under VLADIMIR PUTIN's regime, especially in the wake of his recent invasion of neighboring UKRAINE and the senseless barbarism that has unfolded within public view. and rightfully so.
but what about the RUSSIAN people? what are their lives like under his regime? the recent book BETWEEN TWO FIRES: TRUTH, AMBITION AND COMPROMISE IN PUTIN'S RUSSIA (CROWN, 2020) by MOSCOW correspondent for THE NEW YORKER, JOSHUA YAFFA, delves deep into this question and exposes a compromised CIVIL SOCIETY whose participants are rendered complicit by their involvement with an ever more authoritarian state apparatus. specifically YAFFA reports on the coercive political squeeze rendered on RUSSIAN television producers, orthodox priests, humanitarian workers, CRIMEAN zookeepers, artists and historians under PUTIN's reign. within all these aspects of RUSSIAN life, their is a FAUSTIAN BARGAIN that pits ACCESS and INFLUNCE against OSTRACIZATION ostracized and EXILE. seemingly the most corrosive aspect of this state of affairs is how this bunker mentality fixes itself in the wider population, in which CYNICISM and a certain brand of NIHILISM takes root whereby you question the motives of all successful people, both domestic and foreign. when you have a population that has lost its sense of national cohesion, you have a weakened political construct that is easier to be controlled by an authoritarian like PUTIN.
which gets at the subtext i inferred through this book. to me this community corroding mentality and its related strategic breakdown of national identity seems eerily MAGA-esque. just reading about in detail about these various compromised aspects of RUSSIAN CIVIL SOCIETY and the corrupting influence of PUTIN's regime made me consider a future DYSTOPIA where DONALD TRUMP and his acolytes have dominated all manner of national discourse. where one is in a constant internal discussion of how to satiate an ever-shifting party line that has no rhyme or reason. where subservience and loyalty to the state is the only currency that matters.
i feel like i have lived this before in theocratic regimes in MYANMAR and KUWAIT as well as outright military dictatorships like VENEZUELA and NIGERIA. but these corrosive systems have known, discernible boundaries with philosophical underpinnings (all of which i disagree with). in RUSSIA and TRUMP NATION, its a lot more vague and mercurial in nature with the potential to morph the identity and moral compass of its population. to my ears this sounds like elderly ALBANIANS i met during my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer, who wished for the return of an ENVER HOXHA-like regime to return and provide a sense of NATIONALISTIC pride and IDENTITY that a weakened CAPITALIST economy in a post-COMMUNIST world order couldnt provide.
i hear desperation.
and it is that sense of desperation that rings more true today given current events in EASTERN EUROPE. BETWEEN TWO FIRES is a deeply compelling book that i am not remotely doing justice and is well worth investigation for anyone compelled to consider the extent to which genuinely authoritarian governments corrode their populations sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY. i know i will return to this book in the future. highly recommended.
when the COLONIES were established, particularly MASSACHUSETTS, there was a lot of inter-religious bickering and "dialogue" between JOHN WINTHROP and his PURITAN subjects. what THE WORDY SHIPMATES (RIVERHEAD, 2008) by SARAH VOWELL presents is how much of our nation's values and identity is formulated in this heated and highly idiosyncratic discussion amongst newly migrated uppity JESUS FREAKS that were too moralistic and strident to find a home in ANGLICAN ENGLAND.
these arent the founding fathers as the CONSTITUTION was still more than a century in the future, this was literally one of the first proto-AMERICAN communities. and already their discussions about, for instance, the role of the state in religious affairs was of paramount concern and would shape a nation and a national discussion that continues to this day. and that is of interest due to the fact that in current AMERICAN politics there is this quixotic notion/fantasy that the farther back you go, the more CIVILITY reigned. this is of course not true. RHODE ISLAND was founded ROGER WILLIAMS, a religious refugee from the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, due to his incompatibility with their less conservative CALVINIST government. all these people left for the NEW WORLD in the hopes of establishing a new CHRISTIAN UTOPIA, its just there was a fierce debate and disagreement about which UTOPIA to strive after.
there is also the dynamic brought up by VOWELL that with the democratization of political power came a parallel democratization of RELIGION. as CHRISTIANITY fragmented from CATHOLICISM into various PROTESTANT sects, there inevitably followed further splintering therein in the NEW WORLD. this schism at the micro level accounts somewhat for the modern AMERICAN phenomena of being suspicious of those with power, intellect or both. enter the figure of ANNE HUTCHINSON who because of her gender was effectively routed out of the MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY for exhibiting all the skills, knowledge and charisma needer of a religious leader. HARVARD COLLEGE in fact was essentially created to train male. clergy in response to HUTCHINSON. again its interesting that the table for these series of unfortunate cultural dynamics were set by the mid 17th century, well before insurrections, tea parties and talk revolution.
if anything, that sense of MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS (along with the political malleability of the bible) would see itself manifest in, funny enough, the doctrine of MANIFEST DESTINY and the effective rationalization of the genocide of native peoples that survives to this date.
THE WORDY SHIPMATES is a very interesting book that really gets at the root of the peculiar values found in the greater AMERICAN consciousness. well worth reading for all HISTORY buffs and those curious about our cultural and sociopolitical origins.
inspired by the political repercussions (and widespread FRANCOPHOBIA) that followed FRANCE's refusal to participate in AMERICA's fraudulent military misadventures in IRAQ in the wake of 9/11 (and the all-too predictable moronic backlash by AMURRICANS thereafter), LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES (RIVERHEAD, 2015) by SARAH VOWELL is a compelling examination of the FRANCO-AMERICAN relationship during the REVOLUTIONARY WAR through the journey of noted patriot, GILBERT DU MOTIER, the MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE.
what i love about VOWELL's writing style is her way of balancing the charm of an attentive first-person TRAVELOGUE with the well-researched heft of an almost academic piece of NONFICTION and HISTORY writing. her narrative voice is nuanced, commanding and (quite often) sardonic which allows her to tackle something as seemingly dry and quotidian as the REVOLUTIONARY WAR period and make it intriguing.
as ive mentioned before, i took AP UNITED STATES HISTORY in high school and i was wholly unaware of how mistaken i was about the facts of that war. for instance, i never realized how malnourished, undertrained, unarmed and unsupported that CONTINENTAL ARMY actually was. essentially the individual colonies didnt see the need to adequately raise a decent military, which is maddening and counter to the narrative i was familiar with. case in point was the debacle of VALLEY FORGE which saw thousands of AMERICAN soldiers perish from exposure to the elements during a harsh PENNSYLVANIA winter.
another example was the lengths to which the FRENCH NAVY essentially secured our victory at YORKTOWN after an offshore entanglement with the BRITISH NAVY. yes, the most crucial battle of the AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR had, you guessed it, zero AMERICANS involved. just incredible. this providing of FRENCH capital in terms of its LABOR, ARMS, GOLD and BLOOD is best personified in that of LAFAYETTE, a FRENCH teenage aristocrat who volunteered by his own expense because of his love of freedom (and hatred of the BRITISH), who proved himself a capable leader and essential partner in the war effort that birth this new nation. he risked life, limb and status in pursuit of the idea of this yet-to-be-realized nation. some (like me) would argue that the dude was an overzealous, bloodthirsty fanatic, but hey, he's arguably one of the greatest AMERICANS ever, and he's not even AMERICAN!
so in essence i am thankful to VOWELL for writing this book so that i can sigh and cringe in an ever-more-annoyed state the next time i hear mention FREEDOM FRIES or the questioning of foreign allies. its so laughable it is quite depressing.
and that is where im at. thats where ive been since the BUSH JR era.
LAFAYETTE IN THE SOMEWHAT UNITED STATES is a great book on an oddly important subject that every AMERICAN should be better versed in (but wont, you know, because we dont read - or think critically).
generally whenever the topic of MANIFEST DESTINY is broached in history classes or public discourse, there always seems to be this subtext that everything worked out for the better. that the AMERICAN way of life is good and therefore the relocated native inhabitants benefited in the long run. for a country that broadly boasts and self-identifies with ideals such as LIBERTY and FREEDOM, the question always comes back to exactly whose LIBERTY and whose FREEDOM is being forwarded. definitely not members of the CHEROKEE, WEST AFRICAN or PUERTO RICAN nations among many many others.
UNFAMILIAR FISHES (RIVERHEAD, 2012) by SARAH VOWELL focuses its attention on the annexation of HAWAI'I and the gradual integration of outside RELIGIOUS, COMMERCIAL and MILITARY interests over generations that ultimately supplanted economic and power structures and effectively desecrated their culture and eviscerated their way of life. this is a case study in AMERICAN EXPANSIONISM and how our unchecked IMPERIALIST IMPULSE to satiate our domestic economy is paid in the loss of LIBERTY and FREEDOM of nameless, forgotten others from far reaches of the globe. a legacy that continues to this day in the exploitation of resources and labor by weak foreign governments, who effectively act as complicit lackeys in our global supply chain. the title comes from scholar DAVID MALO who warned that after a big wave, foreign unfamiliar fish come and effect the ecosystem by eating the domestic population. this being a metaphor for allowing foreign influence on the island. unfortunately that prophecy materialized.
before we sold unadulterated CAPITALISM to the natives of HAWAII, we sold them CHRISTIANITY. VOWELL goes to great lengths to showcase how NEW ENGLAND RELIGIOUS and COMMERCIAL (initially WHALING) interests first brought people from the UNITED STATES over to HAWAI'I. it is easy to knock these early PURITAN missionaries. i want to be upfront. i despise missionaries. i loathed them as a PEACE CORPS volunteer in ALBANIA, where they often deliberately conflated being CHRISTIAN with being AMERICAN to the locals. i found myself constantly confronting their ideas in my students at the university as well as locals i tutored. in my mind, all missionaries in general are the height of EGOTISM and XENOPHOBIA since their charter is to change foreign belief structures, not learn from them. i could go on but i wont. just suffice to say that despite all these qualities, the missionaries in HAWAI'I were successful in spreading literacy among all classes of native society and even codified their language with a modified latin alphabet. so i will give them that.
but with those early RELIGIOUS communities came close behind with commercial BUSINESS interests that over time saw the un-utilized land as perfect for the development and exploitation of sugar. with those interests came the imported notion of PROPERTY RIGHTS and a likewise transplanted JUDICIAL SYSTEM to oversee them with foreign lawyers and the like. basically a CIVIL SOCIETY sprung up and within a few generations ultimately outmaneuvered the existing monarchy. as is the case with AMERICAN history, issues regarding COMMERCE and PROPERTY RIGHTS supersede that of HUMAN RIGHTS, or at worse the latter is always contextualized by the former.
it is ever maddening and deeply troubling.
but that is the gift this book provides about a forgotten segment of our history. it seems even more tragic that the annexation was an afterthought during the manufactured SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR. it was a land grab that didnt even need a formal treaty of annexation. within the new context of the UNITED STATES as an imperial power that stretched as far as the PHILIPPINES, for the powers in WASHINGTON DC it was a forgone conclusion. at the expense of the natives, much like those that came before.
this book is thoroughly researched and well-written. it is worthy of investigation of anyone interested in the annexation of HAWAI'I and the distinctly AMERICAN theology of MANIFEST DESTINY that continues unabated to this day.
written in the intervening years after GEORGE W. BUSH's disastrously incompetent and misguided (to put it diplomatically) decision to lead AMERICA into war with IRAQ, ASSASSINATION VACATION (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2006) by SARAH VOWELL is a memoir about her pilgrimage to sites associated with the murders of past presidents ABRAHAM LINCOLN, JAMES A. GARFIELD, WILLIAM MCKINLEY and their assassins.
yes the premise of this book is all a bit morbid, but her humor and enthusiasm for the subject is what makes this book ironically so pleasant and enjoyable. learning about MARYLAND's racist state song or VIRGINIA's often quoted state motto (by JOHN WILKES BOOTH and TIMOTHY MCVEIGH alike) makes you question the sanity of our system of government all over again. or at least have some respect for how the rancid sausage is made. furthermore, learning about the entrenched corruption and incompetence between government and business during the GILDED AGE of the late 19th century, it is difficult if not impossible not to make the connection to the BUSH ERA. furthermore having read this in 2021, from my vantage point GEORGE W. BUSH comes off as child's play next to the malice and fear-mongering that defined the recent DONALD TRUMP era (and still does to present). the real star of the show seems to be how far the party of LINCOLN has fallen. getting acquainted with GARFIELD and MCKINLEY makes you appreciate the machinations and swell of corporate interests that swayed foreign and domestic policy back then. its beyond depressing.
this is also the type of book that i found myself constantly googling photographs, statues, tombs and historical markers related to obscure figures lost to history like EDWIN BOOTH (legendary SHAKESPEAREAN actor and older brother of JOHN WILKES), ROBERT TODD LINCOLN (eldest son of ABRAHAM), ROSCOE CONKLING (REPUBLICAN NEW YORK SENATOR) and MARCUS HANNA (REPUBLICAN campaign manager). what stood out to me was the section about GARFIELD's passing at the JERSEY SHORE. being a resident of the area, i knew about SEVEN PRESIDENTS BEACH but had no idea that presidents vacationed in LONG BRANCH multiple times. to me that fact was a bit of a shock. to learn that a church ive passed numerous times was where a president was aheld before transport back to WASHINGTON D.C. is pretty interesting and something i feel cheated in not knowing earlier. not since reading BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's BORN TO RUN (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2016) have i found myself getting out and finding local spots of historic significance. i was also relieved to learn that GARFIELD wasnt shot in NEW JERSEY, that happened in D.C. he just came north to convalesce and take in the warm climate. at least he passed in pretty area.
definitely an idiosyncratic, personal and thoroughly enjoyable book that makes investigating history both humorous and absolutely devastating. highly recommended.
i sought out and first read COMANDANTE: HUGO CHAVEZ'S VENEZUELA (PENGUIN, 2013) by GUARDIAN journalist RORY CARROLL shortly after learning i would be teaching in VENEZUELA while still a PEACE CORPS volunteer stationed in ALBANIA. it was an intriguing historical moment because by the time i arrived in august of 2013, former president HUGO CHAVEZ had only been dead for a least 6 months. over the next two years i bore witness to a country in sharp economic decline.
more like free fall.
i lived in MATURIN in the east where most of the oil fields are. as an oil brat that grew up in NIGERIA an KUWAIT, i have some familiarity with the sometimes complicated nature of AMERICAN industry in foreign countries. CHAVEZ of course famously nationalized their oil industry and largely banished most oil companies from their reserves. this was seen domestically as a powerful move but crippled their prospects longterm as outside advice regarding technical expertise was now abandoned. when the price of oil dipped during my tenure out there, the effects were quick and painful and VENEZUELA has yet to rebound. in fact they are still in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that is largely the result of such shortsighted policies.
but how did he come to rule? the book presents CHAVEZ as a figure whose power was seen in his braggadocious, confident demeanor, his military background and especially the fact that he was the very physical embodiment of the underclass of VENEZUELAN society, having originated in the rural LLANOS region. VENZUELA, much like the rest of SOUTH AMERICA, has a population that has its origins in EUROPEAN, NATIVE and AFRICAN bloodlines. this being the result of SPANISH conquest in the new world (PORTUGUESE with obvious respect to BRASIL). cultural, religious and linguistic traditions of the continent are profoundly influenced by centuries of EUROPEAN colonization, so unfortunately one carryover is preference for all things EUROPEAN. the experience of watching television in VENEZUELA is where you would be hard pressed to identify people of non-EUROPEAN descent shown in beauty pageants, soap operas, game shows or even news broadcasts. like many others in the region (COLOMBIA, BRASIL, etc.), the media is effectively white-washed. much like BARACK OBAMA (although diametrically dissimilar in terms of their politics), the power of CHAVEZ is in part inseparable from his being the physical embodiment of the unprivileged and underrepresented classes in society.
reading this book i became aware of the narrative of his rise to power, which includes his imprisonment, election, attempted coup and reinstatement. i also grew to be aware of how he structured his public persona and cult of personality that still survives today. in essence he hitched his own to that of a tailored fiction surrounding that of SIMON BOLIVAR, by promoting one he promoted the other. CHAVEZ also create a new layer of bureaucracy between himself and powerful regional governors, whom he could scold and fire at will on his own television show ALO PRESIDENTE ("HELLO, MR. PRESIDENT"). in many ways he was like TRUMP before TRUMP. in essence this added layer of bureaucracy (more democracy!) allowed him to secure a buffer from any and all political fallout that resulted from his disastrous policies.
luckily, i made friends that allowed me to stay in CARACAS and visit many of the landmarks mentioned in this book. in this sense it was infinitely helpful in giving me an understanding of the political climate and recent history i was now entering. where i thought it lacked was in how uncritical CARROLL presents the regime at times. maybe that is an unfair critique, but after living there and witnessing the toll bore on the people of VENEZUELA (whom i found generous, vivacious, energetic, resourceful, selfless and beautiful) in the wake of his death makes me most likely not the most objective observer in that respect.
BOOK REVIEW | "THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: THE KLU KLUX KLAN OF THE 1920s AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION" BY LINDA GORDON
this book is concerned with the resurgence of the KLU KLUX KLAN in the 1920s, not to be confused with the original iteration which itself was a response to the emancipation of slaves by order of then-president ABRAHAM LINCOLN. that organization petered out in influence during the RECONSTRUCTION period after successfully economically and legally limiting the new rights afforded the newly freed black slaves in the AMERICAN SOUTH.
what i would consider the most shocking insight of NYU history professor LINDA GORDON's book THE SECOND COMING OF THE KKK: THE KLU KLUX KLAN OF THE 1920s AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION (LIVERIGHT, 2018) is how mainstream this second iteration proved to be at the time. during that period a plurality of AMERICANS seemingly shared or sympathized with their extreme nativist, right-wing populist dogma that promoted an anti-intellectual, anti-cosmopolitan and anti-scientific belief system, not to mention the explicit call for the subjugation and ouster of JEWS and CATHOLICS.
its hard to believe but the KLU KLUX KLAN did not stand out in the least. they were very much consider just another male social club like your average local ELKS, LIONS or ROTARY club. they even made a point when entering a new area to seek out FREEMASONS to join their ranks. apparently this even included future president HARRY S TRUMAN who "joined when he though it was 'just' a patriotic group." in terms of its political sway in the 1920s, the KLAN had in its ranks two SUPREME COURT justices (HUGO BLACK and EDWARD DOUGLASS WHITE), "eleven of the thirteen men elected to the US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES" in INDIANA as well as "the majority of TEXAS and COLORADO congressmen." They also helped flex their political muscle by "electing governors in INDIANA, OKLAHOMA, OREGON, COLORADO and TEXAS."
reading this book is very much like witnessing an OBAMA-era TEA PARTY convention or a present-day TRUMP rally. indeed that is probably the point. echos of SARAH PALIN populist assertions of promoting "real AMERICANS" can be seen in the KLAN's promotion of what they deemed to be "100% AMERICANS" (i.e. white PROTESTANTS). the amount of nativist and racist MISINFORMATION, PROPAGANDA spewed at the time initially had a hard time being countered due in part to the sympathies of the public at the time, as well as BRANDOLINI'S LAW which is basically that "the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order or magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it." its a scenario that is even more relevant today than at any point in the past due to the sophistication of modern online communication and networking technologies.
ultimately internal corruption and hypocrisy destroyed the organization, which rose again in another iteration during the civil rights movement a generation later, but that is besides the point. the compelling nature of this book is the fact that our real national legacy is one of exclusion and violence. the culprits are numerous and plentiful make up a wide swath of AMERICAN religious, political and business leadership. for example, collusion by local "ministers struggling to keep their churches in repair, rarely refused to cooperate" with the KLAN as they offered funds and congregates. it is this type of corrosive and transactional dealmaking that insidiously made the KLAN part of the landscape of the period. their later economic boycotting of JEWISH and CATHOLIC stores and the building of political machines pushing for reduced immigration from non "NORDIC" countries (successfully i may add) worked because of how well they implanted themselves into AMERICAN daily life, especially in the MIDWEST, PLAINS and SOUTHWEST.
long story short, the methods and rhetoric used to ingratiate themselves with a sympathizing public in both tone and tenor is remarkably similar to that of the currently outgoing TRUMP ADMINISTRATION. maybe most startling of all is how much such doesnt shock me in the least. TRUMP is a truly horrendous person who like the KLU KLUX KLAN made visible an undercurrent of RACIST and NATIVIST attitudes and opinions that has always colored our political discourse from inception.
this book is pretty depressing but reveals quite a bit i didnt know about how mainstream and explicitly public HATE has been in our politics, even ironically outside of the KLU KLUX KLAN itself. such an environment only made their racist belief structures insidious by degree, which is beyond distressing. makes me pause to consider of what else we have shoved under the carpet, even today in a soon-to-be post-TRUMP AMERICA.
as i've mentioned before at length, i used to live in KUWAIT, ALBANIA and NIGERIA. i have been to EGYPT, JORDAN and PALESTINE. i also attended a NEW ENGLAND boarding school that taught COMPARATIVE RELIGION as a core subject. so i have had some exposure to the precepts and culture surrounding ISLAM and the MUSLIM world in general.
but i knew i did not have a basic understanding of the history of the religion and its evolution over time, like i have gained over the years regarding CHRISTIANITY and BUDDHISM. i knew it was a gap in my knowledge.
NO GOD BUT GOD: THE ORIGINS, EVOLUTION AND FUTURE OF ISLAM (RANDOM HOUSE, 2005) by AMERICAN-IRANIAN religious scholar REZA ASLAN is thorough introduction to the often misunderstood history of ISLAM. originally published in the first few years after the 9/11 attacks, his book can be interpreted as an attempt at defining for a western audience what the faith is actually about.
for that matter the book provides a captivating summation of the life of the prophet, with asides taken during relevant moments in the narrative to both foreshadow later chapters as well as outline how interpretations have shifted over time. i am not a scholar on the subject so i wont go into detail, but what struck me was how revolutionary and progressive the original community in MEDINA was relative to my experience living in KUWAIT, which was a very culturally and socially conservative community. that distance is the story of the book, how the SOCIAL EGALITARIANISM of the original UMMAH (MUSLIM community) in MEDINA has shifted based on later innovations and scaffolding that were constructed by later community leaders seeking their own agenda. its a story that has more than a few parallels in the development of CHRISTIANITY.
after the description of the life of the prophet is complete, the next section dealt with the SUNNI, SHI'ITE and SUFI sects developed and diverged from each other with their own corresponding rituals, institutions and belief structures. again, i was aware that they existed but the history and the development of their rituals i was utterly naive about. in particular i was aware of the SUFI rituals found in parts of ALBANIA, specifically the southern city of BERAT, but was unaware of how these rituals were meant as a means of dissolving the ego to commune with God. in particular learning about the mysticism and experiential bent of the SUFI sect really opened my eyes to the diversity of thought and interpretation within the larger community.
attending a year of high school in KUWAIT the idea of religion seemed even like an even more draconian ideal than what i witnessed in CATHOLIC SCHOOL growing up in CALIFORNIA. there were in-country news reports of HONOR KILLINGS and the general abuse and exploitation of nameless workers from countries like NEPAL, INDONESIA, SRI LANKA, BANGLADESH and INDIA. it was beyond depressing to watch and experience and it is still something i grapple with. i always assumed that the political structure there was hopelessly corrupt and morally bankrupt and never associated such with the religion. greed is a god we can all agree on and the UNITED STATES is no stranger to such. our hands are not clean either. this book further reinforced that opinion.
the later chapters deal with how the MUSLIM community has dealt with COLONIALISM and modernity to date. its a complicated issue that ASLAN covers very efficiently and thoroughly and which i cannot due justice succinctly. what i can say is that the concept of nation states and the DAR-AL-ISLAM (community of believers) do not co-align perfectly to traditional precepts of MUSLIM identity. to which group does one's loyalty supersede: their religion or country? modernity has only further put into focus core issues regarding who defines and controls the faith. is it the scholars or the population that define what constitutes ISLAM? due to the democratization of the internet, this is still an evolving and highly dynamic issue. ASLAN argues that due to such transformative communication technology, we are very much living in the midst of a reformation right now. the traditional guardrails and institutions are being displaced by more tech savvy upstarts re-contextualizing and reinterpreting the QUARAN for a new generation. whether such moves forward or is caught up in back-currents with a counterreformation is to be determined.
and for me that is the big takeaway of NO GOD BUT GOD, that ISLAM is a dynamic faith with a diverse population of believers that are still in pursuit of a more perfect expression of that ideal MEDINA community fourteen hundred years ago. it is an ongoing dynamic and nothing about it is simple, which counters the western depiction of such that is unabashedly through the prism of colonialism.
i thoroughly enjoyed this book and will likely reference it for a long time coming. i am almost certain i will read this posting at a future moment and realize how much understanding i have gained in the meantime. i will be processing this information no doubt for some time coming.
i am continually amazed by how little i know about the history of my country. and i took and excelled in my AP US HISTORY class in high school. ask me about the native population in the UNITED STATES and i am clueless.
thus i was particularly motivated to read S.C. GWYNNE's intense EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON: QUANAH PARKER AND THE RISE AND FALL OF THE COMANCHES, THE MOST POWERFUL INDIAN TRIBE IN AMERICAN HISTORY (SCRIBNER, 2011), which as its title suggests explores the trajectory of the COMANCHES, but also serves as a reminder of our own sordid involvement in the tragedy that was the wholesale destruction of the PLAIN INDIANS in the late 19th century.
i want to say at the beginning that the sheer scope of this book is quite an achievement. the central narrative is that of a family, the PARKER CLAN, whose experiences over three generations serve brilliantly as a metaphor for the emerging friction and destructive convergence of two peoples, two cultures and two economies that would not and could not sustain itself. one had to give. by the time of their waining power in the 1870s, GWYNNE states that "the once glorious Comanches were really nothing more than a tiny population of overmatched and outgunned aboriginals who happened to occupy an absurdly large chunk of the nation's midsection." previously they served as an indomitable force along the plains that reached north to NEBRASKA and down well into MEXICO, which basically bisected the UNITED STATES. their presence stopped the onward advance of SPAIN, FRANCE, MEXICO, THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS and later the UNITED STATES to the extent that both tribes and regional governments sought to buffer their enemies into COMANCHERIA and face certain doom. the COMANCHES were a decentralized, militaristic people who dominated and terrorized the region, INDIAN and EUROPEAN alike.
the brutality and sheer carnage that they brought on their enemies is beyond description. the closest i've thing come across regarding the inventive means of torture of which they contrived and implemented was POL POT in CAMBODIA with his school-based facilities. such was the norm along the plains against rival tribes and encroaching settlers alike. the emerging pioneer populations effectively displaced the tribe, killing the buffalo herds they followed and effectively dismantled their society over time.
this book follows that trajectory, but the fact that they were such an impenetrable force of nature for nearly 200 years is incredible, or as GWYNNE puts it: "that they were able to do so in an era of steam engines, transcontinental railroads, nation-spanning telegraph lines, and armies capable of greater destruction than the world had ever witnessed, was inconceivable."
one of the greater gifts rendered in this book is a GWYNNE's ability to showcase both sides with empathy. you really get a sense of how both sides initially misconstrued the threat of their adversary. the figure of QUANAH PARKER, the last major COMANCHE war chief, whose mother CYNTHIA ANN PARKER was a captive of the aforementioned PARKER CLAN of influential TEXAS pioneers and later prominent statesman. CYNTHIA ANN was captured at twelve and effectively was raised a COMANCHE. when recaptured later in life she wanted desperately to go back to the plains. she died socially isolated and heartbroken at the loss of her family. her son was a brilliant and fearless war chief but ultimately was no match for a war machine headed by the brilliant RANALD S. MCKENZIE who adopted COMANCHE tactics in the field and had superior weapons and munitions as well as a never-ending supply train.
it was no match.
QUANAH ultimately died on his parcel of land in a reservation in OKLAHOMA, but made a go at living according to the ways of his captors. that he was able to do so successfully, looking out for the interests of his people (even when they were ignorant of these centralized bureaucratic systems themselves) while retaining a certain dignity is heartening to consider. you get the sense that in one lifetime he felt the full swing of history drop on his broad shoulders. he never stood a chance, which is largely the story of so many of his native brethren across the continent.
'progress' is a word people tend to throw around quite a bit, even today. it is utilized to justify past decisions and even manipulate future ambitions. for me this book is a comprehensive look at the cost of said progress.
i dont know the solution or right answer to this quandary. for me, that is what makes this such a compelling story. how much richer would our story be if these societies were still intact? is that even impossible or was this genocide and land-grab an inevitability?
this is a great book that corrects historical fabrications taught over the past few generations in TEXAS and is worthy of investigation by anyone interested in AMERICAN HISTORY.
i was suggested this book by a history teacher in high school. it was the end of my sophomore year at a NEW ENGLAND boarding school and i had made the decision to join my parents the next year in KUWAIT. i had previously attended middle school in NIGERIA and had some familiarity with PAN-AFRICAN politics but none of that prepared me for THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X: AS TOLD TO ALEX HALEY (GROVE PRESS, 1965).
this was a book that pulled no punches and described an upbringing spent in the midwest under the thumb of segregation and overt racism. MALCOLM X, so self-monikered later in life from his birth-name MALCOLM LITTLE as a means of denying the name imposed on his family by a past slave master, was a man constantly in search of an identity which mirrored that of his following and really, AMERICA writ large. this book describes a leader and intellectual with a singular gift for oration and a sense of well-placed fiery righteous indignation. he is an interesting counterpoint to MARTIN LUTHER KING JR in his pre-HAJJ period in that he called for revolution. with a more than a hint of MARCUS GARVEY, he called for using all available instruments of persuasion and even coercion, a fight fire with fire strategy to ensure political rights. to some he is a patriot and others an insurrectionist. i side with the former.
again, for me the context of reading this book was my move to a MUSLIM country for the first time. whats interesting about MALCOLM X is that he belonged to the NATION OF ISLAM, an ISLAMIC-adjacent religious community that followed the controversial teachings of ELIJAH MUHAMMAD. given his background it makes sense that MALCOLM X would find a home within a community that promoted BLACK NATIONALISM and the political, economic and cultural empowerment of such therein. now the NATION OF ISLAM is well outside of the mainstream of modern ISLAM, and this book gets into that friction which to me was the most interesting aspect of his life's trajectory.
when i arrived in KUWAIT in the late summer of 2000, it was around the same time i got to the part of the book when MALCOLM X goes on his HAJJ to MECCA. for those that are not familiar, a pilgrimage to the holy city of MECCA in SAUDI ARABIA and bearing witness to the KAABA, or "The House of God," is mandatory religious duty of all MUSLIMS that have means and are physically able to do so at least once in a lifetime. for MALCOLM X this journey was a revelation. his religious and political belief system was very much intertwined with perceptions rooted in internal AMERICAN politics, attitudes and deep-seated beliefs regarding RACE. on pilgrimage he was stunned to see MUSLIMS of all ethnicities joining together as one religious community. like i said, this was a revelation and changed the tone of his politics until his death. it also marked his second conversion, this time to SUNNI ISLAM. with that conversion came a more muted political outlook that sought nonviolent means of persuasion in the pursuit of personal and political freedoms which found him more in line with the teachings of KING. this was his evolution.
for me this book was an introduction to the politics with ISLAM, something that provide a point of empathy in the post 9-11 period as well as my later time spent in MUSLIM-majority communities in ALBANIA and KOSOVO as a PEACE CORPS volunteer. this book gave me some sense of how religion cane be a deeply unifying and positive force fo connecting with others, even those that wish you harm. religion cane be a base of empathy. my time visiting SARAJEVO (BOSNIA) as well as KUKES (ALBANIA), PRIZREN and GJAKOVA (KOSOVO) taught me that in spades. this book only becomes more prescient and relevant as AMERICA continues to navigate and negotiate a tension within ourselves and our body politic to come to terms with our RACIST and SEGREGATIONIST past. to me MALCOLM X is a manifestation of that tension and his evolution serves as a reminder of what we can accomplish with a collective sense of moral strength and personal courage to evolve together.
i recommend this book to anyone interested in history that is complicated, counter-intuitive, entangled, passionately debated and highly instructive. could not recommend it any more strongly.
BOOK REVIEW | "TOO SOON AND NEVER ENOUGH: HOW MY FAMILY CREATED THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS MAN" BY MARY L. TRUMP, PH.D.
my first teaching job was at my old high school in KUWAIT. while there i taught expatriate kids associated with foreign political, military and petrolemum industries, as well as well-connected and extravagantly wealthy KUWAITIS. how rich? like FORBES 100 rich. but it was interesting because depending on the birth order of the KUWAITIS, you either had kids that were model students or absolute disasters. it was a total either/or situation. i remember introducing myself to the kids, telling them that i had previously lived and taught in NYC and one freshman student took me aside later after class and confided in me that she had been to NYC twice, for rehab. at 14 she was battling a heroin addiction.
what i realized about many of the KUWAIT children was that they were often severely neglected, being raised by nannies, having to live up to the name of absentee parents. they were in essence traumatized victims.
it was those former KUWAITI students that came to mind repeatedly when reading TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) by clinical psychologist MARY L. TRUMP about the developmental psychology associated with her uncle and the current UNITED STATES PRESIDENT, DONALD TRUMP. it is an incredible perspective she brings as both member of the TRUMP clan (who obviously is knowledgeable of his personal and family history) and that of a trained expert in identifying psychological disorders and psychoses, for which she has taught and collaborated in the writing of textbooks on.
as you may expect, TRUMP's diminished empathy and cognitive deficiencies trace back to his childhood, where like his four siblings he was neglected by his parents. the TRUMP household in QUEENS was one were FRED was the undisputed patriarch and his hostility towards his family and own children knew no bounds. his needs and his ego was what need to be satiated and he had no use for his family. MARY is the daughter of FREDDY, the eldest son of FRED, and he serves as the example of what happens when you don't live up to the expectations of the father. essentially you are wiped out and forgotten. his untimely death in his early 40s from the effects of acute alcoholism brought shame on himself and eventually his children being written out of the family will.
it's a merciless, zero-sum, dog-eat-dog world within that household where empathy, love and basic decency are devalued and wealth and greed are conflating with having value.
younger brother DONALD was profoundly affected by these family dynamics and learned never to capitulate or admit you were wrong in anything, as being vulnerable had no use to FRED. he only respected "killers." as MARY argues, FRED in essence "short-circuited Donald's ability to develop and experience the entire spectrum of human emotion" leaving him in a state "today [that] is much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his emotions, or take in and synthesize information." quite literally his need for affirmation is insatiable and such a personality trait leaves us all vulnerable to bad actors manipulating him with false praise and flattery. for him it doesn't even matter where it comes from, it is "so great that he doesn't seem to notice that the largest group of his supporters are people he wouldn't condescend to be[ing] seen with outside a rally" as MARY astutely points out.
and that is the problem we all face now as the whole national apparatus has enabled him, essentially "the government as it is currently constituted, including the executive branch, half of Congress, and the majority in the Supreme Court, is entirely in the service of protecting Donald's ego." this is our collective reality now. we are all in essence the pawns in his attempts to demonstrate value to his long dead father. to show that he is worthy of his admiration and love.
yes, DONALD is a victim of his father, FRED. along with his siblings he was the victim of child abuse, especially neglect. he was raised in a household that traded in sadistic humiliation and soul-crushing isolation. MARY is not advocating for sympathy on his behalf from the reader, far from it. she is placing his behavior and histrionics within a psychological and family context as only she can to help inform voters for the upcoming 2020 election. god bless her for that.
with 200,000 AMERICANS having perished from this EARTH as a result of his daddy issues, it is incumbent on all of us to heed that warning.
go out and vote.
note: for the record i bought this book at a used bookstore, so no funds went to the TRUMP klan, even though MARY L TRUMP seems to be a more reputable and savory member of that extended family. still i think it is important for people to know that i acquired this in a way that provided funds only to the reseller.
much like its predecessor FEAR (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018), legendary WASHINGTON POST journalist BOB WOODWARD's second book on the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION entitled RAGE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) provides a third-person perspective of events within the WHITE HOUSE based on deep background interviews. what separates this book from its predecessor, aside from its timeline (as this book covers time up until SUMMER 2020), is the actual participation of PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP himself. not liking how he was depicted in the first book and confident of his persuasive abilities, TRUMP spoke with WOODWARD seventeen times from DECEMBER 2019 through JULY 2020, many off the cuff with the president initiating the call himself. it was unprecedented opportunity for both.
that is not to say i learned anything per se reading his words. as WOODWARD states of his experience, "at times, talking to him meant being talked at." that comes across in spades throughout the conversations. WOODWARD asks carefully constructed questions crafted intently for the sake of posterity and TRUMP repeatedly offers a world salad of ramblings and half truths. it isn't shocking, you just get the sense that he doesn't care about facts or information. makes perfect sense when you learn that ANTHONY FAUCI, the director of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES once stated that "his attention span is like a minus number." it seems that WOODWARD has infinite patience and endurance throughout the proceedings as he often rephrases his questions multiple times in order to draw out some semblance of a coherent thought from TRUMP, most often to no avail. in the end he felt that they were essentially "speaking past each other, almost from other universes."
this tic seems to be a rhetorical device aimed at wearing down his perceived adversaries with brute repetition. it is essentially GASLIGHTING. and it works. in FEAR there is a constant theme of TRUMP impulsively and maybe even obsessively bringing up the same topics over and over again with his secretaries. the repetition of having the same discussion multiple times most definitely word down former cabinet secretaries like GARY COHN, JAMES MATTIS, DAN COATS and REX TILLERSON as well as former CHIEFS OF STAFF REINCE PRIEBUS and JOHN KELLY. this book showcases how that same tactic plagued his administration into further mismanagement with the rise of CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC and the NATIONAL PROTESTS that erupted in the aftermath of the senseless killing by MINNEAPOLIS police of an innocent unarmed black man, GEORGE FLOYD. it would be an interesting aside if its consequences were not so dire.
as i write this our national death toll in the UNITTED STATES from COVID-19 is at 204,000 and continuing unabated. as WOODWARD soberly states near the end of his interviews in a first-person aside to the reader, "Trump never did seem willing to mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced."
it is hard for me to read this book with the proper distance and perspective as its events are still fresh in my mind. i appreciate the fact that WOODWARD is able to present the administration's perspective effectively, while choosing to interject only when facts run counter to the narrative being presented by such. in this manner both books are great tools for gaining insight into their process or lack thereof when creating policy and making important decisions. i only wish the credo that TRUMP's senior aide and son-in-law JARED KUSHNER presents that "controversy elevates message" wasnt true. fact-checking means nothing in this post-truth digital hell-scape where social media platforms essentially incentivize disseminating disinformation.
the moral failures of this administration will stain us long after he departs the WHITE HOUSE, whenever that may be. as SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM is reported to have said to TRUMP in the aftermath of his photo op at the nearby ST. JOHN's CHURCH, the president had the opportunity in the wake of the wave of protests to react in the mold of either "George Wallace, Robert Kennedy or Richard Nixon."
it is to what will be our eternal dismay that he chose GEORGE WALLACE.
RAGE is an incredible book that is quite harrowing to read but well worth the effort. this book will prove to be important for people to read down the road for insight into the mind of our current fearless leader and how we collectively lost our way as a nation.
where to begin.
i guess i should start off by stating that the timeline of events in FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018) take place from the beginnings of his first ideations of running for president in the 1980s to SPRING 2018 of his first term.
reading any book by legendary journalist BOB WOODWARD is the nonfiction equivalent of watching a movie. his books are written in third-person for the most part in direct, unadorned prose that allows the reader to achieve a sense of clarity and understanding about the multiple discussions and plot points at hand and ultimately their real-world consequences. it should be said that rarely chooses to break into first person, and when he does it is usually to present anecdotal evidence or reasons why he omitted specific details for national security reasons.
what is interesting about reading FEAR is that the confusion experienced is not based in his writing style or handle on the relevant facts, but rather the convoluted subject that is the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and how chaotic and unorganized it is. many things are happening concurrently and largely secretly in what can only be described as an administration whose organizing principle is that of a free-for-all.
internally domestic and foreign policy decisions are discussed and litigated (and often relegated ad nauseam) by an ever-changing cast of officials and secretaries with no protocols or scheduling adhered to by anyone. this seems to be by design from TRUMP himself who sees such a pugilistic bloodbath as a way of discerning which agendas are worth pursuing by how much advocates for such are willing to carpet-bomb their rivals in order to promote. and even then he doesnt take ownership. TRUMP even states to his aides that the only real power is fear. which makes sense both in what he wishes to project and what his antiquated worldview entails regarding modernity.
former REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE chairman and first TRUMP chief of staff REINCE PRIEBUS has a colorful quote describing this melee as "when you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody." it comes as no suprise that this bloodsport has resulted in policies that are often extremist and morally reprehensible. a related insight was the fact that the most powerful set of advisors in his orbit where those slightly outside of the ring. in economic terms the people who served as the opportunity cost: those he could have chosen to be officials and secretaries but didnt. in TRUMP's mind it was never his fault that he fostered a chaotic, unproductive, hellish work environment. it was always everyone else that was under scrutiny. it was them that failed him. its a shockingly naive and juvenile psychology at play. again in his mind there was always someone out there with better insights, that was better prepared and more cutthroat, ruthless and unencumbered by morality or common decency that could possibly utilize and discard to his own end.
if you are looking for an author here that ascribes an explicit sense of moral indignation at the subject, this is not that book (for the most part). largely it is written from the macro perspective of those who collectively participated in the WHITE HOUSE discussions and events related in the book. the value of such is that you get a useful sense of how TRUMP and his supplicants and web of cronies viewed world events. anyone paying attention to such over the past few years will know all these events, such as the 2016 ELECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, and THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION. noticeably at the end when his lawyer JOHN DOWD departs his legal team after TRUMP doesnt heed his advice regarding ROBERT MUELLER's investigation, WOODWARD does concede the book's overall thesis that much of the chaos and ensuing acrimony caused by this administration is based on a series of people who couldn't call him out for being he is: a liar.
and we all pay for it.
i recommend this book for all concerned citizenry of the UNITED STATES and the world.
the word fascist is an oddly mercurial term. it can mean anything in modern-day parlance from a demanding authority figure (boss, parent, teacher) to just someone you vehemently disagree with.
in her book FASCISM: A WARNING (HARPER, 2018), former CLINTON ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT sets the task of defining and articulating what the term means and how it used to describe the philosophies, behaviors and techniques of regressive regimes from the early 20th century to present day. this is not some high-minded academic thought experiment for her as her family were refugees twice having fled CZECHOSLAVAKIA during WWII and during its post-war COMMUNINIST takeover. she intimately understands scope and dangers of the rising tide of fascism worldwide. she knows the plight of those under its thumb.
but she is also careful to explain that the term does not denote a particular ideology but rather "someone that who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence or whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have." in essence this cancer can happen anywhere. and does.
leaders she profiles in this book include that of textbook examples like BENITO MUSSOLINI (ITALY), ADOLF HITLER (GERMANY), JOSEPH STALIN (USSR) and the KIM JONG-UN/KIM JONG-IL/KIM IL-SUNG lineage (NORTH KOREA) as well as recent examples that exhibit fascist tendencies such as NICOLAS MADURO/HUGO CHAVEZ (VENEZUELA), SLOBODON MILOSEVIC (SERBIA), RECEP ERDOGAN (TURKEY), ROBERT MUGABE (ZIMBABWE), GURBANGULY BERDIMUHAMEDOW (TURKMENISTAN), VICTOR ORBAN (HUNGARY), ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI (EGYPT), HUN SEN (CAMBODIA), JAROSLAW KACZYNSKI (POLAND), VLADIMIR PUTIN (RUSSIA), YOWERI MUSEVENI (UGANDA), ILHAM ALIYEV (AZERBAIJAN), DANIEL ORTEGA (NICARAGUA), RODRIGO DUTERTE (PHILIPPINES), ROBERT KAGAME (RWANDA) and, yes, DONALD TRUMP (UNITED STATES), the first "anti-democratic President in modern U.S. history."
what comes across forcefully is that term fascism covers a wide spectrum of socioeconomic, religious and political philosophies, yet its effect of limiting individual expression is the same.
part of the book addresses the set of circumstances that led to societies being susceptible to the message of despots and totalitarians. ultimately week economies where major short-term challenges and long-term structural issues went unaddressed by an inept system flooded with incompetent politicians led to an opportunity for the public to seek alternatives. also, often issues regarding immigration and national identity, as most countries are based initially on the bonds ethnic groups, come to further heighten an already explosive political environment. NATIONALISM here is not the cause but rather a tool used to manipulate.
essentially the mass psychology involved in supporting fascism is pretty straightforward: this leader will do what needs to be done. in a democracy there is a deliberate effort to guard and protect the interests of the political minority, which often is forgotten by most. it is this key constituency that is lost in the shuffle when the masses make the turn towards a dictatorship. the process is often gradual and similar to that of plucking a duck as MUSSOLINI once explained. unfortunately i have seen such a process in progress during my stints in NIGERIA under SANI ABACHA, VENEZUELA under NICOLAS MADURO, ALBANIA under SANI BERISHA and now the UNITED STATES under DONALD TRUMP.
for me it is easy to pass judgements on pat and current supporters of these movements, especially the ones i have encountered during my lifetime, whether they be CHAVISTAS or TRUMPISTAS. what is more difficult is to look inside and consider how i am adding to the situation. for me this is the most damning anecdote in the whole book: ALBRIGHT makes the argument that our modern digital on-demand culture has created a situation where we expect more from our government than at any point in the past. we expect results without paying the cost. locally-sourced food produced cheaply and ethically. security without loss of privacy. government services without taxation. essentially we are spoiled. we expect simple answers to complicated questions. and that tendency leads us to become cynical and ultimately disengage. this disengagement is an opportunity for change. and change can go both ways.
the path to fighting fascism, especially here in AMERICA is being mindful of others and becoming active in CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: VOTING, VOLUNTEERING, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS and INVESTING in our communities. complacency and adopting a myopic mindset focused on your self-interest is what will collectively do us in as a nation. we need to reestablish our sense of mutual connection and responsibility to each other as AMERICANS.
if you don't know how to get engaged look here for ways:
FASCISM: A WARNING is definitely a worthwhile read and an excellent introduction to the topic that is straightforward with unadorned language that is easily understood and deftly constructed for maximum impact.