Monthly Archives: May 2014

Review: The Shriver Report

The Shriver Report

The Shriver Report

When I saw a chance or review Maria Shriver’s new book, The Shriver report : a woman’s nation pushes back from the brink : a study I jumped at the chance. I also seem to have set my expectations about what the book would be like. My disappointment with the work is based more on its failure to meet my expectations than any failure of the book or it’s many contributors. There was nothing in the book that I disagreed with. There was some information that was new to me. The Shriver Report is a good safe study of the state of affairs women face in the United States today.
That all could be part of my disappointment. I pay attention to current events and politics but I am not a student of feminism. I expected to learn much more. I expected well reasoned and well researched essays. There were several of those but they were far outnumbered by 2, 4, and 6 page essays. Forgive me for saying it but essays that short, especially when the ratio of word to illustration is considered, cannot possibly achieve the depth required to impart understanding. They seemed to simply be shouts of “Amen!” following the longer more detailed pieces.
It surprised me that there was nothing I disagreed with. I am a male approaching sixty years old and I was raised in a conservative rural section of the country. I may be a liberal but I expect that a study like this should come up with ideas that would at least make me uncomfortable. My lack of discomfort is why I think the report was too safe. With all the discussion of pay inequality there was no mention of the historical American quest for cheap labor. Unions were only mentioned in the past tense. Why? I have seen “Norma Rae” and “The Pajama Game”, women and unions do mix.

In spited of the fact the my inflated expectations were not totally met this is an interesting work. It gives a realistic view of the economic cliff that many families today teeter on and is worth the time to read.

 

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Review: With liberty and justice for some

Book Cover

cover, With liberty and justice for some

I originally reviewed this book in November of 2011 for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. Now that Glenn Greenwald has a new book out, No Place to Hide, I thought I would take another look at this. To be completely honest I am also falling behind on my reading and redoing this was the best way to make my self imposed deadline.

We screwed up with Bernie Madoff. Instead of looking backward, wasting our time with vengeance we should have been looking forward, striving to fix whatever problems existed. That was the argument used against prosecuting the banking executives who brought on the financial meltdown of 2008. If the argument is not BS, nothing is.

According to Glenn Greenwald in his book “With liberty and justice for some : how the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful“ that is exactly what we have been doing for the most powerful American criminals. Bernie Madoff is not in prison because he is a thief. Dozens of bank and mortgage company executives are also thieves. They are not in prison, even though they deserve it as much as Madoff does. Madoff was prosecuted because he stole from his fellow elites and not from powerless citizen homeowners.

Greenwald explains in detail the unraveling of the rule of law in the United States. Beginning with Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon up to, and including, President Obama Greenwald details forty years of executive and corporate lawlessness. Interspersed in his story is several historical examples that show it does not need to be this way. Samuel J.Tilden brought down his own political party’s most powerful machine, Tammany Hall, and went on win the 1876 Presidential Election (only to loose the office in a backroom deal). To stop Governor Theodore Roosevelt, reforms he was picked to run as Garfield’s vice president. Progressive Party member Senator Robert La Follette, a former Republican, helped expose the Teapot Dome Scandal.

The final section of the book covers the flip side of a lawless elite, the persecution of the common man. I knew that we have a lot of Americans in prison but I had no idea just how many, not aware of how far we are from the international norm, nor how quickly it became this bad.

The introduction and afterword are the most powerful parts of the book. Here Greenwald looks at what the Founding Fathers had to say about the importance of the Rule of Law and how we have failed them, ourselves, and our descendants. I follow the news, I was aware of most of the incidents Greenwald discusses but, not being a lawyer or intimately familiar with the Anti-Torture Treaty that President Reagan signed into law or, I am ashamed to say, as familiar with the Constitution as I would like, I failed to see the big picture. This book is an eye opener.

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Review: Behind the Lines by Peter Bronson

Behind the Lines

Peter Bronson’s Behind the Line

Peter Bronson’s “Behind the lines : behind the lines of action, between the lines of truth, the untold stories of the Cincinnati riots” presents itself as a history of the April 2001 riots in Cincinnati. Bronson wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer as a columnist and served as editor of the editorial pages. Journalists can write some exceptional works of history. Alan Moorehead’s The March To Tunis The North African War 1940-1943, is a product of his time covering the war for Australian newspapers. Cornealis Ryan, a journalist by trade, is best known for several histories he wrote after interviewing combatants from the European theater, The Longest Day, A Bridge too Far, and others. Barbara Tuchman was a journalist before writing The Guns of August. Unfortunately Bronson is not even close to writing this caliber of history.

While reading the book I took notes on all the rules on writing history that Bronson broke. Objectivity, fairness, logic, research, documentation are all missing. Bronson flips fairness on its head to support his bias. The match that lit the riot’s fuse was the shooting death of 19 year old Timothy Thomas. As early as the introduction Bronson is telling the readers that Thomas had “more than a dozen” warrants and begins to explain away the riot with, “The cop was white. Thomas was black and unarmed”. (pg 3) Just seven pages later Bronson repeats “…Timothy Thomas, 19, wanted on more than a dozen warrants…” and describes the location of the shooting this way. “On a police map that marked shootings with black pins, the alley where Thomas was shot, at Republic and 13th, would be marked by a dark cluster of pins like feeding flies. Cops called it a shooting gallery, one of the most dangerous streets in the city, behind enemy lines where drug gangs ruled at night and only the brave, stupid, lost or heavily armed wondered during the daylight.” (pg 10) Not bad prose for a mystery novel but in non-fiction it only serves to damn Thomas for being in that location.

One of the most powerful complaints voiced by the community after the Thomas shooting was that Cincinnati police had killed 15 African American men. To debunk this claim Bronson details each killing and gives evidence to justify each death.
“#5 Daniel Williams flagged down police officer Kathleen Conway in 1998, slugged her in the face and shot her four times in the legs and abdomen. … Conway shot him twice in the head in self defense.” (pg 83) “ #10 Adam Wheeler was fresh out of prison in 2001, wanted on three felony warrants when he had a shootout with police… He fired six times at the police. They shot back and killed him.” (pg 83) Bronson even explains less cut and dried shootings in detail until “#15 Timothy Thomas resisted arrest and fled in 2001. He was shot as he came around a corner in a dark alley.” (pg 85). Why no details? Not even a mention of “over a dozen warrants”?

It is not until later we learn that “Police acknowledge there is no proof he was involved in the drug trade.” (pg 106) And that the warrants 14 total, 3 for expired
driver’s license, 4 seat belt violations, 5 for driving without a license, and 2 for obstruction of official business. (ibid.) Is it fair to the reader, or to Timothy Thomas, to leave the impression that Bronson painted of Thomas as a violent drug criminal? The image Bronson painted that image in the first ten pages of the book. He leaves it stand ⅔ of the way through the book before he shares that Thomas did not have any record of drug crimes or of violence.

Is it fair to the reader that Bronson makes us wait to hear that Cincinnati Police Chief Streicher said “I was frankly flabbergasted that he was found not guilty” when asked about the trial of the police officer that shot Thomas. (pg 136) I will try to be fair to Chief Streicher, there were hints in the narrative that he questioned the legality of the shooting. I cannot be so generous with Bronson . His prejudices shine through the pages. He describes a man protesting at a city council meeting as wearing “a garish yellow and black robe with matching pillbox hat”. (pg 23) There is one other mention of clothing, the mayor’s olive green shirt, was noted without judgement. When introducing Assistant Police Chief Ron Twitty the idea that he attained his rank only through affirmative action is repeated with no evidence. It is a fact that there was an order to hire African American officers. Only 7% of the city’s police force was African American even though they made up 40% of the population. In another open demonstration of bias, the chapter titled “Lawless in Cincinnati” Branson gives his account of the problem in the City Council, democrats.

Somehow the author also managed to include comments on slavery and a chapter on the history of riots. His digression into slave history was both misplaced and wrong. He wrote that the opening of the Suspension Bridge in 1866 connected a free and a slave state. The 13th Amendment was ratified December 18, 1865. The new bridge connected two free states in a slave free nation. His trip into the history of riots is even more “riotous”. To support his thesis that riots are only caused by the rioters he invokes colonial protests of the Stamp Act, the 1778 Doctor’s Riot, the Zoot Suit Riot and others. He wrote, “After the Irish churches and schools were burned in Boston in 1844, Philadelphia decided to blame the primary victims – Catholics – for the riots. In 1871 California decided to blame the Chinese who were lynched by a mob shouting “Burn the Chinks”. … More recently the Los Angeles Police were blamed for the 1991 Rodney King riots, and in Cincinnati, the police were blamed for the race riots of 2001, although they never fired a shot of live ammunition and, amazingly, nobody was killed.” Nobody, I have to add, except Timothy Thomas. Bronson seems to have forgotten him.

There was one more sentence in Bronson’s assessment of blame. “And even the trampled mayor of New York City quickly moved to appease the mob and blame the medical student victims for the Doctor’s Riot of 1788.” At the time there was no law against stealing a human body. Grave robbers stripped the body then left the clothes and other grave goods behind to avoid prosecution. Minority cemeteries and paupers graves were most often targeted. There was fear that stealing the bodies of propertied whites could bring legislation making the entire practice illegal and subject to a worse punishment. As it was, a good beating by family of the departed was all they needed to worry about. Dissection was illegal. The medical students waving the severed arm from the second floor window of their medical school were breaking the law. And they were flaunting it. They had the, lets say misfortune, to taunt a young man whose mother had just died with “I have your mother’s arm.” The boy went home to his father and uncles and together with their neighbors they went to retrieve the women’s desecrated corpse from the medical school. How was it not the medical students, and their anatomy professor’s fault? Where except from the vaulted throne of privilege can it be seen any other way?

There are many more points in this book that I want to rant about. This is already my longest review so I will try to show some restraint. Don’t read this book. Don’t read Bronson’s other books. Life is too short to waste time reading bad history.

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Book Review: Keeping Time the history and theory of preservation in America

Keeping Time: the history and theory of preservation in America

Keeping Time: the history and theory of preservation in America

“Keeping time: the history and theory of preservation in America” is a book that I had my eye on for years. When I finally found a copy i was still interested enough to put it at that head of my ‘to read’ pile. It is not a book that I expect most people rush to read even though I found it to be well written, interesting and informative. Unless you have a “thing” for old buildings you are not likely to spend your time reading it. I do have a “thing” for old buildings, old by American standards that is. I grew up in a house 100 years older than I am*. My father grew up in National Register of Historic Places’ largest neighborhood, Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine. I come by it honestly.

William Murtach, the author was the first Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. He starts the book in the most useful way I can imagine, defining terms. Preservation, restoration, reconstruction, and rehabilitation are all technical terms. Anyone discussing the preservation of our historic environment should know these terms. They are not interchangeable. By explaining these terms Murtach taught me why when I visited Benjamin Franklin’s home in Philadelphia all I saw was a metal frame outline of the building. I learned how Faneuil Hall in Boston can be both a historic site and a modern money making concern.

The book takes us through the history of America’s preservation efforts. We start by looking at the earliest patriotic efforts to reconstruct Independence Hall and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association’s efforts to save Washington’s home. Murtagh covers the history of house museums, outdoor museums, and historic districts. There were several topics discussed I did not expect to see. Landscape preservation and the difficulty inherent in maintaining an unchanged collection of living things. Urban sprawl and the consolidation of small farms present a unique set of problems for rural preservation. Murtagh explains what rescue archeology is but if you want a real world example look at the book “Bones in the Basement”.

The book’s epilogue attempts to look into the future by looking at what other nations are doing. There are also several valuable appendices, selected federal legislation dealing with preservation, the National Register’s evaluation criteria, and the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation. This book a treasure of information on the preservation of man made environments.

* Judging by a date found on a door hinge.

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