“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” ― Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

First, let me be clear I am aware this book was written in the mid-1980s. However, that doesnamusing‘t mitigate the opinion I developed after the first chapter, and didn’t change after reading the rest of the book, that this is a prime example of upper-middle class WASP academic male privilege in action. The author’s vision of the past he finds so glorious is colored by that privilege, and it’s that vision he holds up as the preferred lifestyle we are all being deprived of by the evils of television.

It also, one suspects, is the basis for his inability to consider that the evils that so horrify him aren’t a natural outcome of the medium he detests but rather a carefully designed propaganda machine utilized by a government-corporate oligarchy to cause the very “dumbing down” of the general population he insists television creates.

To refute all of the holes I found in his presentation would require another book. His alleged conclusions are often based on his personal, unsupported interpretation of another author’s commentary, which are presented with weasel-words like “we can assume” and “I feel justified in concluding.” For example, on page 71, he includes a quote by Daguerre defining the photograph then proceeds to tell the reader “what Daguerre meant.”

That’s not how an attack on an entire medium of communication is supposed to be done, and doing so flies in the face of his own oft-stated yearning for a return to the carefully designed discussions of yesteryear is ironic. His conclusion is further undermined by the 30 years that have passed since he wrote his book, especially his attack on Sesame Street as having no educational value and, in fact, being dangerous to the development of young minds.

In short, Mr. Postman’s argument, which is apparently revered by those like him as a dire warning that we’ve become (or at the very least are becoming) like the mind-numbed denizens of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, reveals to someone not of his world a great many gaping holes through which his conclusions sink. The condescending tone that escapes into his prose doesn’t help. In the end, though, my problem with the book is that Mr. Postman is blaming the tool for the problem instead of the wielder—blaming the hammer that’s been thrown through the window, if you will. Any medium, be it print or photography or TV or the internet, is constructive or destructive based on the intentions of those who are using it.

So, with shameless hindsight, I’ve only given this book three stars, because I’ve had those 30 years I mentioned to study television and so can fault some of the conclusions offered. However, I do recommend anyone interested in the effect a medium as pervasive as TV is can have on the population in general, and to initiate consideration of just how easily it has been used to channel narratives in directions other than might be good for us, read it and ponder.

I went looking for a good book on John Quincy Adams after reading about various points in his history here and there. His unique position as the only US president to have continued his political career in Congress struck me as fascinating, and the fact that most of the positiadamsons he took during that career were extremely progressive, not just for his time but in ours, made him seem to me someone worth knowing more about.

Since I had absolutely no other guide, I relied on the reviews to select this particular biography. Well, that in the fact that the author based it mainly on an in-depth analysis of Mr. Adams’s own journals sounded like an excellent choice. I wasn’t disappointed. For any reader looking for an insightful and easy-to-read biography of one of our least known presidents, this is definitely the book to choose.

Perhaps the greatest irony in the career of this talented man is that despite spending his entire life from early adolescence on in politics he refused to be a politician. It was his firm belief that elected officials should become so only if they are the choice of the people they are to represent, and that therefore running for public office was dishonest. In other words, he abhorred political campaigns and refused to engage in them. If the voters wanted him, was his position, they would elect him without his having to ask.

Here is a man who was attacked by his fellow members of Congress for refusing to stay silent on the subject of slavery, and who for much of his career there cleverly managed to bypass their efforts to mute his voice using the one weapon he was willing to apply—the rules. He deserves to be brought out of the dismissive obscurity into which he’s been tossed and held up as the model to which all those seeking or planning to seek public office should aspire.

You can’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV or even log into Facebook these days without having Donald Trump rubbed in your face. Not that what’s reported is really anything of substance. It’s mostly “Ohmigod, can you believe what he just said”?-type stuff. It’s a very effective way of keeping his opponent, whose family foundation has been the recipient of big donations from the media/communications industry, from having to publicly address the issues of relevance to the majority of voters, but that’s a rant for another time.
     However, it happens there are more than a few people, most of them those who voted for Bernie Sanders, who find Trump’s opponent so unpalatable they will go so far as to say they can live with his being elected. What this position mostly reveals is just how ignorant too many voters are of the reality of our republic, mostly because they’re painfully new to the subject and have been poorly educated in the fields of history and civics. I don’t say that to be snarky. I find the situation appalling, the clear result of forty years of federal meddling with public education; but that, too, is a rant for another time.
     So, in the interest of making clear just what a disaster a Trump victory would be, let’s ignore the rhetoric and look at the facts.
     If the GOP is given full control of all three branches of government, which is exactly what will happen if Trump is elected, how much damage can they do in the two years we would have to wait to try to take back Congress?
     Well, for starters, they’ll kill Social Security, because that’s what they’ve wanted to do from the moment it was established. They’ve hated it since FDR signed it into law. So, the trust fund will be handed over to Wall Street for “investment,” because that worked so well for all the people who lost their 401(k)s and IRAs in the Crash of ’08, or whose pensions have been cut to the bone, ditto. Instead of Medicare, those old enough will receive “vouchers” to pay for their medical care, and if the voucher runs out—well, tough, that. Paul Ryan’s had the plan on his desk for ages, so it’s a given it will be on the floor of the House the day after Trump’s in the Oval Office. Indeed, they’ve already started chewing on the edges.
     They will proceed as well with selling the USPS to FedEx and UPS and any other shipping company with the right price in mind. Since they’ve already made it impossible for the service to break even, they’ll have a “reasonable” excuse for doing that. If you pay your bills by check, keep that in mind, because there’s no telling how much FedEx will have to charge to keep those profits up.
     Oh, and if you’re thinking the USPS isn’t working, that’s another Republican lie. Indeed, it was showing a profit before Congress decided to make it pre-pay 75% of its pension funds not just for actual employees but for any future ones. Which no other company or entity does or has ever been required to do. So, if your local branch of the post office closed, or you no longer get your mail on Saturday, and your Congress critter is Republican or one of the corporate-sponsored Democrats, you be sure to send them a thank-you note.
     They’ll probably have time to also eliminate free public education by revising the most recent monstrosity of an education plan to allow vouchers, which means public funds will be made available for people to send their kids to private schools, religious-based schools, and charter schools. The schools will likely also then find it necessary to start charging some fees, since they’re mainly set up to make a profit for somebody and with states and the feds cutting education budgets to the bone there likely won’t be enough tax money to go around.
     Of course, the free public schools most kids go to won’t be able to stay open because there’s not enough money, what with what little funding remains is going to be spread out over all the redundant “educational facilities.” Granted, that will mainly effect poor kids and special ed kids and any other group that might need a little more attention, so maybe not a real problem.
     If you think I’m making that up, you’d be wrong. I didn’t realize just how bad things have gotten in the last 3-4 decades until I began re-educating myself. Plus, I live in Texas, where we’ve had a Trump-like government for the last two decades, and where our legislature is planning to establish just the kind of education system I described. They already have it in a couple of other states (cf. New Orleans post-Katrina).
     The GOP also wants to had over public lands now protected by the federal government to the states. If that sounds harmless, just ask the people of Colorado who are fighting for their right to clean air and water as their governor and legislature give the fracking industry carte blanche. There are already 300,000 fracking wells polluting our air and water with little to no oversight because that came to an end in ’05 under the last GOP regime. As a side note, it’s likely they’ll at least try to get rid of the EPA.
     Of course, you aren’t going to learn any of that from our “unbiased” media, because it’s not in the best interests of the plutocrats who currently own Congress for us to know about it. Fortunately, we live in an information age where there are still people brave enough to dig out the truth. It’s getting it in front of the people who need to know it that’s hard. And, given just how blatant the sellout is, convincing people we aren’t just making this stuff up.
     If it helps, for the last forty years, I was like the majority. I had a life to live and work to do and kids to raise and whatnot, and I grew up when the New Deal was young, and everyone mostly thought it was a great idea. I did see some cracks forming, but they didn’t really have a big impact on me personally (at least, I didn’t think so). Fortunately, I was kicked awake in time.
     I’ve reviewed several books here that are a good place to start if you want to join me in helping take back our country. Because we’re going to have to do that if we want to have not just a country but a planet left for our children and grandchildren and those who are born after them. It’s that bad, and if we behave like a bunch of sore losers and let the foxes into the henhouse, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when we’re starving.

frackopoly“The road to a sustainable future is clear,” writes Ms. Hauter at the conclusion of her superb history of the fracking industry, “and the technologies are ready and cost efficient. The only thing holding us back is the lack of political will.…We must move forward fearlessly to build a mass movement with the political power necessary to crate a truly sustainable energy future. We must do this—it’s a matter of life and death.”

If you’re still wondering why so many people are opposed to fracking—hydraulic fracturing, a method used to extract oil and natural gas using high-pressure liquid injection—you need to read this book. And then you need to find a copy of Josh Fox’s 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, because that film provides a visual rendering of the life-threatening pollution fossil fuel companies are spewing into our water and our air.

And those whom they’re poisoning have no recourse, because the fracking industry was completely exempted from all three clean air-and-water laws in 2005.

This is not a book full of technical jargon, because it’s not about the process. It’s about what the process is doing to the resources we literally can’t live without, and the history of how the fossil-fuel corporations have, in fact, bought the government so as to have free rein to pursue their greed. I had no idea just how totally our federal and state governments have surrendered to their demands—and I’ve spent the last nearly two decades in Texas, where that concept is an accepted part of the culture.

The worst part of the book for me personally was learning how the major environmental organization in the US have collaborated with the industry on the grounds that natural gas, which is no better for the environment than any other fossil fuel, can be a “bridge” to more sustainable and less polluting fuels. Maybe they inhaled too much methane fumes.

If we don’t fight back, the dire consequences of climate change won’t matter, because there won’t be a potable drop of water anywhere. Period. If you think that’s an exaggeration, watch Mr. Fox’s film; and if the sight of people’s kitchen faucets catching fire doesn’t make the danger clear, bless your heart.

Manufacturing Consent isManufacturing a classic in the area of media bias. Almost thirty years ago, Chomsky and Herbert identified, and then found ample evidence to support, a clear pattern of biased reporting in the US mainstream media. Step by step, they reveal how the media and the US government carefully limited and/or slanted information released to the public to ensure a specific narrative.

This isn’t news to me (wordplay intended), so I really didn’t feel the need to finish this particular book. However, for those still under the misapprehension they can trust what passes for news in the US these days, it is a must-read. The “did not finish” rating is simply to ensure those reading this review are aware of the above.

We are being lied to. We are being manipulated. It isn’t an accident. That Donald Trump received more than 20 times the amount of news coverage as Bernie Sanders is indicative of just how pathetically the “news media” have become purveyors of “infotainment.” That Sen. Sanders’s opponent in the Democratic race received ten times as much as he did is media manipulation.

At the time this book was written, and even when it was updated, there was no social media. The mainstream media were able to brainwash—and there is no other word for it—with impunity in 1988; in 2016, there are literally millions of people ready to call them out.

That doesn’t mean we can relax. There are as many people online who have an agenda as there are in the media, and there are far too many people who lack the necessary level of professional journalism skills purporting to report the news. The important lesson to take away from this book is that we need to be aware there are powerful interests who want their message to govern what we think and how we act. It’s up to us to develop the necessary critical thinking skills to keep it from working.

Headlines Lie

When I worked at a flagship daily for a major media conglomerate, I covered the story of how one of the businesses on my beat managed to overcome a huge operating debt and become profitable. My city editor, however, had a personal grudge against that particular form of business; and when the story broke,  not only did the headline make it sound as if the business were still deeply in debt but he had rewritten the lede paragraph to support the misleading headline.

In these days when independent blogs and aggregator sites vie with the mainstream media for attention, one of the major elements used to try to trigger a viral response is to use a provocative headline. That’s because it’s an established that 40% of readers never make it past that headline. Another 20-30% may go so far as to read the first three paragraphs. If you want the reason why bad information gets spread so quickly, that’s it.

As an example, let’s take a story that broke on 5 May in Los Angeles. Democratic primary candidate Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak at a small college. Prior to her speech, a fair-sized crowd made up of local Latino organizations and activists and Bernie Sanders supporters arrived to demonstrate. There was some shouting back and forth, but the protest was otherwise peaceful. In other words, it was a simple exercise of the right to assemble and of free speech.

TV station KNBC had a reporter on the ground and put the story on its website with the following headline at 5 p.m PDT.:

Protesters Gather Outside Hillary Clinton Rally

The following day, the internet news site Raw Story launched their version of the article, and for reasons I’m sure I don’t have to explain, the headline not only quickly had it circulating on social media but was rousing a slew of anti-Sanders and anti-protestor comment:

Hordes of Sanders supporters shut down Clinton event in LA: ‘She’s not with us!’

There’s only one thing wrong with that: it didn’t happen, as the video clip and the report on KNBC’s website make perfectly clear. Ms. Clinton’s speech went on as planned, and the demonstration was a bit too peaceful for the crowd to describe it as a “horde,” which carries a very warlike connotation.

To make matters worse, the author of the story said:

“The Democratic presidential frontrunner was repeatedly interrupted Thursday as she spoke to a largely Latino crowd in Monterey Park, where Union del Barrio organized a protest against Clinton over her immigration policies and opposition to a national $15 hourly minimum wage, reported KNBC-TV.”

In other words, the article at Raw Story is a hit piece in which the author took facts from the original story, embellished it with allegations for which no support is offered, then topped it with a misleading headline. I mean, does anyone seriously believe KNBC wouldn’t have mentioned if those protestors had forced Ms. Clinton to “cut short her scheduled speech,” as the story claims?

Still, anyone predisposed to be upset had already expressed outrage and passed the link along.

By Saturday, 7 May, at least one other clickbait site had embraced the shut-down fiction, which also showed up on social media. By then, even people highly favorable to Sen. Sanders were in speaking against the demonstrators over their alleged lack of respect for his opponent. The name “Trump,” of course, was quickly dredged up.

Why did so many otherwise thoughtful people believe a crowd of Sanders supporters had shouted down Ms. Clinton? Because none of them did what I did, something so simple it should be standard procedure whenever something with a provocative headline springs forth on Twitter or Facebook.

They didn’t click on the link to the original story.

One of the major problems for internet reporting is that, like their print and broadcast cousins, the media have to be self-supporting. Most of the time, that’s done by selling advertising, and for it to work requires getting as many clicks bringing readers to their sites as possible. Hence, the term clickbait. It’s often used in a derogatory sense, but it’s simply fact. If you can’t afford to pay the bills, you’re done; and if paying the bills means getting eyes on your site for your advertisers, any business is going to do whatever they can to ensure that happens.

People have been conditioned to react with outrage before they check on the facts. And some just don’t want to be bothered, especially if the bait suits their own opinions or prejudices. It’s time-consuming, because sometimes the sad fact is a provocative story may have been spun from milkweed and dewdrops. Worse, since Google is set up to show us search results based on our interests, as stored in their databases from our online activity, we may have to dig through a slew of results pages to confirm the facts.

Still, in this era of corporate-owned media, where the only news we get is what the people in charge have decided is what we need to know, falling for a headline specifically designed to trigger our reflex reactions means something important may be missed. And while there are plenty of reliable alternate sources for news, we must still be wary of believing everything we read.

Guise_coverFans of Dan Brown will probably find a lot to like about this novel. Those who prefer realistic characters probably not so much.

The first problem I had was identifying the main character. We start off with one who seems to fill that capacity but may not be, and the one who may be shows up about three chapters in. It’s a telling point that it’s all but impossible to critique said original main character without spoilers, which I will not do. Suffice to say I didn’t care for the way he was used.

Then there’s the villain, who is an Eastern European cliché straight out of every cop show in movies or TV. Ditto for the underlying villainous corporation for whom he works. Within two or three chapters, his behavior becomes so predictable the plot becomes a matter of waiting to see how his opposition responds.

What put me off most, though, was an underlying thread of misogyny wherein women are either cheating spouses, manipulative gold diggers, or impending murder victims. Again, one can’t go into detail without spoilers, and I know that’s frustrating. It’s also possible no one else will concur, but I tend to see patterns. The one I saw here was off-putting. I’ll also note in passing Mr. Eskens seems to have an aversion to pronouns.

All that said, the plot isn’t bad, with lots of twists and turns that may or may not have been intentional, as after the first few I couldn’t help feeling the author may have, from time to time, gotten bored with the way things were going and gone looking for something new to play with.

Think “action movie,” and you may find this book to your liking. If you like a bit more depth of character, this may not be as entertaining.