Friday morning Donna said she needed a magnetized bowl to keep sewing machine screws and needles in. You get those at Harbor Freight, and since I love tools I went along. I came home with a breaker bar and 19mm socket to carry in one of the Goldwing’s saddlebags, in case I ever have to change a rear tire on the road (in which case I’m really in trouble, unless there’s a friend nearby who can bring me a fresh tire already mounted on a replacement wheel).
I bought a few additional tools to replace lost and loaned items (essentially one & the same), and that gave me an excuse to clean up the storage area and workbench in the garage.
I didn’t do a first-class job, but at least now I can see the surface of the workbench, and if only I can remember where everything is I’m in business. Before you start picturing me as any kind of handyman, though, check this out:
That’s Donna holding a broken faucet. The shadow is me taking a photo for the plumber. After working in the garage I decided to unwrap the outdoor pipes and reattach the garden hoses. When I started to tighten this hose, the faucet snapped off the pipe. There was no shutoff valve so I had to turn off water to the entire house. Luckily for us the third plumber we called said he could come that day, and we had running water just in time for dinner. It’s always nice to have running water when you’re cooking.
Tool-related, sort of: I read an article about fancy wristwatches in The New Yorker. One of my prizes is the Breitling Chronomat I bought in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, my fighter pilot watch. I wore it every day for years, but now take it out only on special occasions. A couple of years ago Donna bought me a self-winding Seiko for daily wear, though I confess my real daily watch is a cheap Casio digital (digitals are so easy: they never need winding and they keep nearly perfect time, unlike even the most expensive mechanical watches).
From the article I learned Seiko makes a high-end mechanical called the Grand Seiko. In price, it’s right up there with Breitling and Junghans, though not quite in Rolex territory. My Seiko is not one of those, but it’s a handsome piece, and I decided to take it out and wear it daily for a while. There’s something about a mechanical watch that just appeals to me. Schatzi too.
Speaking of tools, I’ve been thinking about our “leaders” and the corporate interests they serve. Many of us are celebrating this past week’s healthcare news, but I can’t work up much enthusiasm. Trump said he was done with healthcare for now, but he’s already backtracking, and you’re crazy if you think Republicans in Congress are going to quit going after Obama’s Affordable Care Act. If they thought they could get away with it they’d repeal Obamacare with no replacement, and Trump would probably go along.
At least we know public pressure works. That’s one thing we can celebrate. Speaking out to our representatives—in letters and phone calls and town hall meetings—has been effective in terms of scaring them away from the idea of repeal alone. They know they have to come up with something to replace Obamacare. Factional fighting in the Republican Party makes that impossible for now, so the status quo prevails.
Not that the status quo is all that great. Obamacare is at best a half-step toward affordable health care, at worst a giveaway to the American Medical Association, drug manufacturers, and the insurance industry. Worse still, at some point soon we’ll need to increase taxes to pay for it. I can’t see a Republican-majority Congress ever being willing to do that. Can you? Trump and his minions say Obamacare will “explode.” I think “starve to death” is what they actually have in mind for it.
A friend sent me a link to this New York Times “Granny was a Nazi” story. Two lines seem especially relevant to our current reality:
- My grandmother would shrug and answer something like, “He said a lot of things—I didn’t listen to all of them.”
- My grandmother heard what she wanted from a leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to.
Yeah, I know … but Godwin’s Law was written before we had Steve Bannon, an actual anti-Semite and white nationalist, in the White House, serving as the president’s senior adviser.
I’ll close with a hot take from G.K. Chesterson: “It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.”
You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book news and reviews.
Display for the times at San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore
A Texas congressman says “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” A San Antonio PBS talk show host records a rebuttal but the station CEO pulls it, citing fears of retribution through cuts to federal funding. Turns out the CEO has ties to the congressman. Although the rebuttal eventually airs, self-censorship by public media is a huge concern under the current administration.
At last, a new Philip Pullman trilogy is in the works (I’ve already pre-ordered the first book, due out in October). Pullman’s infamous His Dark Materials trilogy consistently ranks high on the American Library Association’s annual list of banned & challenged books.
“At Colby College, a student was reported for saying ‘on the other hand,’ which was perceived as ableist by another student.” This has to be The Onion, right? Sadly, no.
The hyperbolic headline says “Read these 10 Books Before They’re Banned in the U.S.” Well, no, but they’re certainly the kind of books that will be challenged, should any high school teacher dare to assign them.
Diversity posters have been taken down by Maryland school administers because, apparently, celebrating diversity is an anti-Trump political stance. It probably didn’t help that the artist, Shephard Fairey, created the Obama “Hope” poster from 2008.
Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye,” and Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” have been removed from a Nome, Alaska high school substitute reading list after a group of parents complained about “large amounts of profanity, sex, violence, abuse, rape, and incest.” As if any of these parents have actually read these books, and not gotten their information from Christianist book-banning sites.
Google alerts me to stories of book challenges and bannings. These links often lead to religious and anti-abortion sites complaining about libraries refusing to stock religious, racist, and anti-semitic tracts. Such organizations call their pamphlets literature in order to make specious claims about “liberal book-banning.” Sometimes, though, claims are more nuanced: in this case, a university library pulling a biography of Winston Churchill from public display because the author is a Holocaust denier.
When young adult books with racially and sexually diverse characters are assigned as student reading, parental challenges are sure to follow. But if you want to publish a truly subversive novel, have a main character who’s fat.
Speaking of diversity in YA literature, here’s an author who went along with a request to self-censor a talk to students and wishes she hadn’t. I wish she hadn’t, too.
You can bet I clicked on this story: Florida Fire Started by Book Burning Destroys at Least 10 Homes.
Uh oh. “Much like Virginia, the state of Florida now has its own set of ‘zombie bills’ that have returned to the legislature for the second year running, in an attempt to weaken education standards and allow any taxpayer—not just parents—to raise objections to instructional materials.”
Shortly after historian Howard Zinn’s death in 2010, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels wrote: “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away. The obits and commentaries mentioned his book ‘A People’s History of the United States’ is the ‘textbook of choice in high schools and colleges around the country.’ It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?”
Now it is 2017, and an Arkansas state legislator has introduced a bill to “halt the use of any book or other material authored by Zinn between the years of 1959 and 2010 in public schools and open-enrollment public charter schools.”
With this new attempt to ban Howard Zinn’s works from public schools, I think it’s time to repost my 2014 review of his most controversial work.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
A People’s History of the United States
Read a representative sample of reviews on Goodreads and you’ll appreciate how polarizing “A People’s History of the United States” is. Readers tend to fall into two exclusionary camps: violent opposition or adulatory praise. Zinn’s history has been the target of censors and book banners from its publication in 1980 to the present day. The ongoing controversy over “A People’s History” is what motivated me to read it.
As a child I believed my country was exceptional. That’s what I was taught; that’s what the adults I looked up to believed. Victory in WWII was still fresh and the economy was booming under Eisenhower, at least for families like mine. When I was still very young my father joined the US Air Force. We began to move around the country. I came to realize that many Americans were not like the white families I saw on TV, and that their experience of America was quite different from mine. At an age when I was politically aware enough to know segregation was wrong and could not last, my father was stationed in Virginia and I had to attend a whites-only school. I gave up believing in fairy tales and god. I started reading on my own, a habit I never successfully broke. I protested our early involvement in Vietnam, packed clothes and food for the Freedom Riders, helped a friend obtain conscientious objector status, and became a member of SNCC. American history, to me, had begun to look not all that different from the history of any other country.
Which is to explain that I knew at least some of the untaught history of the USA before I ever picked up Howard Zinn’s book. Nevertheless, the factual information collected here is shocking. Even for an old cynic like me, the accumulation of sordid details is depressing. On and on Howard Zinn goes, relentlessly rubbing our noses in American history as it was experienced by the Indians, indentured servants, black slaves and freemen, the poor, the landless, the unprivileged, women, child laborers, the bottom 50%. Zinn is frank in stating that this was his express purpose in researching and writing “A People’s History”; if you accept his premise—that it is just as important to study history from the point of view of the oppressed as it is from the point of view of the oppressors—then everything he relates in this book follows. But damn, it’s depressing to try to digest it all at once, even if you appreciate the importance of what Zinn was trying to accomplish.
It’s no wonder an entire political camp—the American right—rejects Zinn’s book. The history it recounts, starting with the very first chapter (“Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress,” a chapter so shocking and disturbing I suspect few conservative readers ever progress beyond it) is incompatible with a belief in American exceptionalism. Or fairies. Nor is it a wonder many on the American right would attempt to suppress this book, purge it from schools and colleges, and call for it to be banned outright. The attack on Zinn and his book follows familiar lines: the author is an America-hater and a Marxist; “A People’s History” is praised by Hollywood celebrities, championed by leftists, and taught by subversives; Zinn’s interpretation of history is meant to weaken American minds and pave the way for implementation of United Nations Agenda 21.
In 2009 at North Safford High School in Virginia, “A People’s History of the United States” was challenged as “un-American, leftist propaganda,“ even though it was not the primary textbook in that school’s AP history class and was taught alongside an article titled “Howard Zinn’s Disappointing History of the United States,” critical of Zinn’s book.
When Howard Zinn died in 2010, Indiana’s then-Governor Mitch Daniels emailed the state’s top education official. “This terrible anti-American academic has finally passed away,” he began. He went on to demand that “A People’s History” be hunted down in Indiana schools and suppressed: “It is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page. Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?” In 2013, Daniels, now president of Purdue University, defended his earlier attempt to ban Zinn’s book from Indiana schools: “We must not falsely teach American history in our schools.”
In 2012, the Tucson Unified School District banned several books from local high schools. Prominent on the list of banned textbooks (still banned as I write this review) is “A People’s History.”
Just this year, in 2014, conservative school board members in Jefferson County, Colorado, proposed sweeping changes to the AP history curriculum. I do not know if Zinn’s book, or parts of it, is being studied by AP history students in Jefferson County, but the statements of the conservative school board members make me think Zinn’s book is on their target list: “Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials, and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority, and respect for individual rights,” reads the proposal, presented by conservative board member Julie Williams. “Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”
Needless to say, I do not adhere to the conservative camp when it comes to the suppression of thought or the denial of historical fact. Zinn’s history helps fill in the gaps in our education and gives us a necessary insight on American exceptionalism as it was experienced by the people we’d just as soon forget. I think it makes the thoughtful student a better and more patriotic American, able to appreciate how much we have actually done to wrest control of our country, and our history, from the one percent who would otherwise be totally in charge. But that’s just me.
With all that said, Zinn’s history, though well-written and researched, is a tough one to read, and might overwhelm people reading about the less savory parts of our nation’s history for the first time. It’s hard not to say to yourself, once or twice per chapter, “Gee, Zinn, would you lighten up a little?”
Here are a few links relevant to the banning and suppression of “A People’s History of the United States”:
From a blog post I wrote on November 15th, one week after the election:
“To the conspiracy theorists: I never thought I’d join you, but something about this election stinks. Along with GOP redistricting, gerrymandering, and voter suppression, there’s more than a whiff of Russian manipulation of electronic vote results in a few key states. I’m not saying Putin had his thumb on the scale, but I can’t help thinking he might have. I’ll just leave that there for now.”
Okay, I was wrong about electronic vote manipulation, but I was right about Putin. Russian involvement has grown from a worrisome whiff to an overpowering stench.
With confirmation that the FBI is investigating collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians (and has been since at least last summer), this election is irrevocably tainted. Trump will never be a real president. At best, he’s the wrongfully-elected and temporary occupant of the White House … the more temporary the better. At worst, he’s a traitor.
And the people who knew better but voted for him anyway? I’m still struggling with the fact that people I care about voted for this smirking Elmer Gantry, this utter fraud.
Speaking of the FBI and Director James Comey’s testimony, I watched some of it on the news last night and was struck by the similarity between Comey’s smile and and that of the Stan Beeman character on The Americans, also an FBI man. This is not good, because it makes me want to like Comey, a snake in the grass if ever there was one, the man who torpedoed Hillary Clinton a few days before the election (while saying nothing about the ongoing and far more serious investigation of her rival).
Here’s another selfie for you, taken yesterday at Pima Air & Space Museum.
The backdrop is a postage stamp commemorating the US Air Force’s 50th anniversary in 1997. For that anniversary, rather than have several base open houses and air shows around the country, the USAF decided to have one big blowout at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, where I was then stationed. One of my last active duty assignments was to help organize the event; I retired a couple of weeks after it was over.
And damn, I turn around and here it is 2017, and the USAF will soon be celebrating its 70th. Another sobering thought: the entire lifetime of the Air Force fits inside mine: I’m one year older. We all can rest assured, though, that it’ll still be around after I’m gone.
Let’s hope the current occupant of the White House is not.
Donna and I are once again scheduling separate spring vacations. She’s going to California in April to visit aunts & uncles, attend the annual Giustina family reunion, and see some friends. Her destinations are all in northern California, from the Bay Area north to Chico. Meanwhile I’m planning a May motorcycle trip with our son Gregory. We were originally going to ride from Las Vegas to South Lake Tahoe and back. But I want to see friends in the Sacramento area, which is just downhill from Lake Tahoe, and Gregory thinks he can do some work with one of his casino accounts near Coulterville, so now we’re planning to hit NorCal too. Heading back to Las Vegas from Coulterville gives us an opportunity to cross the Sierras through Yosemite National Park, something we’ve both long wanted to do (weather permitting … late May can still surprise).
Donna and I have lots of friends in California, south and north, friends we’d like to visit as a couple, not separately. I’m thinking it’ll soon be time for another long car vacation together, later this year or maybe in the spring of 2018. Our kitchen counters are going fast and the house needs repainting and repair, so financing a road trip on top of home maintenance might get tricky. Will be tricky. Might be too hard to do. So no promises on when we’re coming, friends!
Back to the here & now: the issue of the day is dog diarrhea. Poor Schatzi has the runs. I’m looking up home remedies and will try those first. Tell you what, weekly poop patrol is an order of magnitude more unpleasant when you’re faced with raking up loosies.
So let’s move on. Both our kids were born in March, Gregory in 1966 and Polly in 1975. He turned 51 on the 10th and Polly turned 42 on the 16th. Damn, where does the time go? Polly came over on her birthday and we took a selfie under the palo verde tree out front.
She looks much younger, I think. I too look younger than I am, or so everyone says. Donna and Gregory as well. Sometimes I’m shocked to learn some of the really-old-looking people we meet are our own age, or even a few years younger. We need to learn to count our blessings.
The exterminator was here yesterday, poisoning ground squirrel burrows and pack rat nests. At this moment a healthy-looking ground squirrel is sitting on its haunches just outside our home office window. Maybe it’s a slow-acting poison? Normally I’d say live and let live, but ground squirrels chew the siding on our house and a few years ago pack rats gnawed through all the wiring under the hood of our old T-bird. Too bad we can’t all just get along, though.
I can hardly believe it myself, but I watched the first episode of Iron Fist on Netflix and liked it. I like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, too, and I have a hard time saying why. I’m not a comic book or superhero fan, but the writers of these shows inject enough real life to make them interesting. Polly was asking me what else we watch on streaming TV; when I mentioned how much I’m enjoying Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I missed when it was first on TV, she said no wonder, Joss Whedon produced it … I hadn’t made that connection before, but she’s right. Not saying he has anything to do with the Marvel shows, but someone with similar sensibilities must be involved in those.
Well, I needed a Trump break and I hope you did too. Saturday chores beckon. More soon.
I quit drinking ten years ago this month. I wasn’t convinced I really meant it or how long it would last, so I didn’t mark the calendar. Every year I pull an anniversary date out of the air and tell myself not to celebrate until then. This year I picked the 17th, at the time not noticing it was also Saint Patrick’s Day. Is that ironic or what?
Anyway, whatever the exact date, I’ve arrived at the ten-year mark. If I was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous I’d be pinning on my ten year chip. Tee effing total. How dry I am. On the wagon so long my butt’s molded to the seat.
And I don’t miss it. I love waking up feeling good and being clear-headed. I like myself better; I’m better to be around. There’s no need to avoid bars and parties; hasn’t been since the first year. Once the temptation’s gone the presence of alcohol isn’t a problem. That scene in Flight where Denzel Washington empties the mini-bar in the unlocked hotel room next to his? That wouldn’t be a problem with me. Unless the mini-bar was stocked with chocolate.
Being around drunks is another thing, though. Not drinkers, drunks. I stay away from that scene, not because drunks are contagious (quite the opposite) but because they remind me of a former self, one I’m ashamed of. I stay away from the kind of activities where people intentionally get wasted. One of the benefits of getting older is that most people my age drink far less than they used to, and some, like me, don’t drink at all any more. These are the people I hang with, mostly.
Yeah, I know my transition to sobriety has been comparatively easy, and for that I’m thankful. I’ve been around drinkers all my life and know first-hand how hard it can be to quit. I’m also aware that drinkers don’t like it when non-drinkers start going on and on, and I’ve gone on way too long already.
Corned beef and cabbage tonight, and maybe a good movie on Netflix. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone!
If we keep funding Social Security and Medicare at present levels, America will be broke in eight years. So said a Republican congressman on NPR. It’s ooga-booga, no different than stirring up poor whites with lies about inner-city blacks coming for their women.
You know how Republicans always say we shouldn’t enact new programs without making sure they’re paid for first? That’s exactly how Social Security and Medicare were set up, with a trust fund paid for with FICA payroll taxes levied on workers and employers. Oh yeah, America spends more than it takes in, but Social Security and Medicare aren’t the culprits. If the deficit’s keeping you up nights, you might want to take a look at wars and military spending.
Hard-core conservatives don’t want taxes at all. They don’t want any government spending other than national defense. They say if we eliminate taxes along with government programs and regulations, business will thrive. Business will build and maintain the roads, rails, and airports it needs. Workers will be free to take care of their own medical needs. Fire departments will be privatized, along with education. The free hand of the market! They say the reason it’s never worked is because it’s never really been tried … just give them a few years under a conservative president and congress and they’ll prove it really works.
All the proof anyone needs is Somalia (where I sincerely hope the soul of Ayn Rand has been reincarnated). Deficit ooga-booga tries to obscure the basic truth that money for government spending comes from taxes, and if you need more money you raise taxes. How did raising additional tax revenue become a taboo topic? Why can’t we lift the income cap on FICA taxes? Why can’t we add a two- or three-cent infrastructure rebuilding tax to fuel purchases? Why can’t we add a tax to food purchases to fund food stamps? Why can’t we impose a higher tax rate on corporations and the wealthy? Because Grover Norquist says we can’t? Let him move to Somalia!
A couple of days ago Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he doesn’t understand why healthy people should subsidize medical care for the sick. Dude, the Trumpcare plan you’re pushing, like Obamacare, is health insurance, and the healthy subsidizing the sick is how health insurance works. People pool their money in a fund to help folks out in emergencies. Most of them will never need help, which ensures there’ll be enough money in the fund to cover those emergencies. That’s the very definition of insurance. The fuck is wrong with your brain? Oh, right … you’re a Republican.
And really, all government assistance programs are based on the insurance model, designed to ensure help will be there when it’s needed. I’m happy to kick into the pool. There’s no way I could have paid for that knee replacement on my own, and I hate to think what life would be like from the seat of a Rascal scooter (which I couldn’t afford on my own either). I’m happy to kick in for good roads, clean air and water, public libraries, health care, and a basic level of retirement income for the elderly … even if it does mean blah people will enjoy the same benefits (and that, I believe, is the real beef Republicans have with taxes). I’m willing to contribute my share, so long as corporations and the wealthy do too.
And if we need to increase taxes to European levels, so be it. As long as we all pay our share and the money doesn’t go straight into the kleptocrats’ pockets.
Now: Rachel Maddow and Trump’s tax return. Turns out that in 2005 Trump paid taxes of $36.6 million on an income of $153 million, a tax rate of approximately 24%. When Rachel Maddow tweeted she had a Trump tax return and would disclose the details on last night’s show, I thought she might be over-selling what she had. When the show started and she went into her standard 20-minute buildup, not holding up the tax return until the 20th minute and then breaking for a commercial, I knew she didn’t have much.
During her 20-minute buildup, she rehashed the main points of every Trump/Russia connection she’s discussed over the past few days, and I wondered what the tie-in would be with a single Trump tax return from 2005. Well, guess what … there was no tie-in. She over-sold the story bigly. Sad!
But I’m not going to join the anti-Maddow chorus. Rachel’s been digging deep into Trump’s Russian business and campaign connections, night after night getting closer to unraveling how Putin helped Trump and why, and meanwhile everyone else is still breathlessly reporting on Trump’s days-old tweet accusing Obama of tapping his phones. She’s doing real work, work Congress or the FBI should be doing. Even if Trump himself leaked this 2005 tax return in order to make himself look good, even if Rachel got played this time, she’s still digging … and it’s likely this first trickle of Trump tax information has primed the pump for more. Go, Rachel.
This morning, anti-tax deficit ooga-booga types are trying to put a positive spin on Maddow’s story. They’re pointing out that Trump’s 2005 24% tax rate is higher than the rates paid by other business tycoons and corporations. This is why so many assume Trump leaked his own tax return: in comparison to the rates paid by other wealthy individuals and businesses, Trump’s 2005 tax return makes him look like Robin Hood.
I doubt Trump’s newly-gained virtue will survive the disclosure of additional tax returns, returns that are surely coming now. And let’s talk about tax rates: Eisenhower’s idea of a tax cut was to lower the top income tax rate paid by the wealthy from 92% to 91%, and the corporate tax rate in those days was 50%, not the 34-35% it is today.
You want universal health care and high-speed rail? Stop being distracted by deficit ooga-booga and start thinking about higher tax rates.