you think you know how bad things are with nature, and then you read THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY (PICADOR, 2014) by ELIZABETH KOLBERT, WILLIAMS COLLEGE fellow and staff writer on environment for THE NEW YORKER. and now you are officially overwhelmed and depressed.
where KOLBERT excels is in her ability to provide context to the geological time scale involved in any discussions surrounding the evolution of life and extinctions. the problem is not that change hasn't happened in the past that has resulted in mass extinction, it has. the problem currently is the rate of change. life in this context does not have the time to evolve or adjust to new parameters and the implications are disastrous. it is as if the rules of nature have been one way for millions of years and then humans post-INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION have shifted the climate and environment to the point that old rules dont apply. this emerging geological age we live in now is called the ANTHROPOCENE and it is marked by GLOBAL WARMING, OCEAN ACIDIFICATION, HABITAT FRAGMENTATION, the flattening of global biodiversity through the creation of a NEW PANGEA where foreign predators are introduced via international trade and commerce among other mechanism. in the end they all result in human initiated incursions that are projected to result in an historic sixth mass extinction that will be visible for millions of years via the geological record.
that is not to say that the world wont continue. it will. new speciation and relations between organisms will emerge and continue to run unabated in a future post-human era. it is just that our presence and the collective choices of mankind have resulted, from our inception, in the death of countless species. it is really quite remarkable and it is a testament to her ability as a writer to paint these problems with such crushing force. these mechanism of extinction are all introduced with her describing a visit to a relevant locale (PERU, ICELAND, WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, BRASIL etc.) and elaborating for us about what is special about the plant and animal residents of this era and the unique parameters that brought on their evolution and specialized rituals and adaptations to the area. and then we learn how humans, usually unintentionally, have affected their ability to live. each time in a uniquely destructive manner.
arguably the most depressing thing about this book is that it isnt empowering. it is not about our individual choices that have gotten us here. this destruction is all seemingly hardwired and inevitable. it is essentially part of our nature as humans. as long as we prosper we will continue to impact the planet and these irreversible mechanism will continue to run unabated, destroying life and leaving our world that much less diverse and rich to leave to future generations. it is our creativity and ability to pass on knowledge via communication systems that have led us to live apart from nature, apart from evolution. it is our ability to innovate that led us here. in 500 million years since complex organisms rose up, this is the first mass extinction of geological scale predicated on the influence of a single species.
and that is our true legacy as humans. not art. not technology. just death.
this is an incredible book that i could not recommend any more passionately. it presents deeply disturbing and affecting ideas that linger and claw at you long after finishing the book.
i think for a lot of AMERICANS, myself included, there has been a desire to understand what happened on election day in 2016 and what led our country to such a precipice that a troglodyte like DONALD TRUMP could even come within striking distance of the reigns of power.
WHY WE'RE POLARIZED (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) is an attempt by former WASHINGTON POST columnist and VOX founder/editor-at-large EZRA KLEIN, utilizing copious published studies, opinion pieces, political science treatises and statistical and behavioral analysis to answer the basic conceit of what forces have led to our current state as a society and a democracy that appears to be in a state of rapidly unraveling. it is a multi-pronged analysis but essentially there are two basic ideas that buttress his whole argument.
the first is the concept that we all have multiple identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, geography, education, occupation, sports team preference, etc) that can be activated in order for us to respond in defense. a benign example is the abuse i get from RED SOX fans who are friends of mine every time the YANKEES lose a consequential game (and oh they know how that irks me). what is interesting is that many of these identities are stacked with regards to a particular political party. this wasn't always the case.
pre-CIVIL RIGHTS ACT the AMERICAN electorate was not "sorted" as it is now with regards to these stacked identities. it used to be that people voted split tickets, meaning that they would vote a REPUBLICAN for senator and a DEMOCRAT for president, or mayor/education board/dogcatcher. it used to be that some DEMOCRATS were more conservative than some REPUBLICANS and vice versa, the political affiliation not being specific to a set of policy preferences. in a sense, local concerns ruled their priorities.
while we were not divided as now, this was due largely to the fact that the DEMOCRATIC party allowed the DIXIECRATS to rule unabated with their draconian and racist methods of suppressing the BLACK vote through intimidation and state-sanctioned violence. the modern era of polarization happened as a result of this agreement ending with the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 and the basic handing of the south to the REPUBLICANS.
ok, enough history. so what?
basically with the advent of television, then cable news and later the internet and all its omnipresent mobile apps and social media and associated flood of voter information, we are now living an age were the business models of technology promote and actively seek out to activate these stacked identities and manipulate us collectively at scale. its quite remarkable.
we are essentially polarized by interests that seek to manipulate us for financial and political advantage and the mechanism are these deeply rooted identities that create an atmosphere where you are no longer voting policy, you are voting identity.
he makes other points about structural issues surrounding our democracy that relate to various outmoded parliamentary processes that diminish our ability to compromise and promote instability, but i will save that for interested readers.
needless to say this is a wonky book that i did not do just but recommend fiercely to anyone interested in the mechanisms of government and how they affect how we self-identify as AMERICANS. this should be required reading in high schools.
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.
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.