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review 2017-11-04 02:14
I had hoped for a broader, more unbiased explanation.
Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency - Joshua Green

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Joshua Green, author; Fred Sanders, narrator This was a difficult book to focus on because the message seemed preplanned simply to demonize the current President, Donald Trump, using Steve Bannon as the means to that end. In addition, as Bannon’s background and life wre explored, the author seemed intent on creating an evil human being, ignoring the positive side of his life. He is presented as ever eager to hurt and bully anyone with whom he came in contact, ruthless in his tactics and oblivious to the ordinary rules of decent conduct in his pursuits. The book is entitled, The Devil’s Bargain, and the author set out to make Steve Bannon the devil incarnate. I had hoped he would present a fairer picture of an election gone awry, but, instead, I was overwhelmed by the heavy-handed hit piece presented. It was filled with propaganda provided by the left leaning pundits and many innuendos that seemed to come from half- truths in order to present the progressive in a more positive light, ignoring their many conflicts, and corrupt behavior. He was intent on making the right seem deplorable in the way they were depicted by someone he respects highly, Hillary Clinton. When describing the activities of Breitbart and Bannon, he used a term coined by Hillary Clinton which became popular. Suddenly, the left was populated by a group called the alt-right, but those on the right had no idea what that term actually meant. Clinton succeeded in hijacking the term and making it stick while she ignored what could be called the alt-left which represented her side of the aisle, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, the undocumented who have committed a crime to get into this country. Joshua Green was only too happy to point fingers at the right while disregarding the heinous behavior of the left. Calling the alt-right white supremacists, religious zealots, and members of the rich and elite, he advanced the progressive rhetoric as if it was actual fact, much to the consternation of those conservatives who did not consider themselves a part of that group, and yet they represented Clinton’s opposition, in essence, her enemies. When describing the right he used negative terms, but when describing the left and their tactics he described them in a positive way. So Hillary was being clever and Obama was logical, but Bannon grinned wickedly and Trump was unhinged. Even though it is now even more broadly known that the Democrats used underhanded tactics in the campaign, cheated and lied, he glossed over their misdeeds and their illegal behavior. Instead he used highly charged descriptions of anything representing conservatives in what seemed like an attempt to make the reader fear and dislike them. He used terms that the left used frequently to defame those they didn’t like. They call comments dog whistles and the GOP racist so often that they risk reducing the impact of the words with overuse. Green referred to the “fringe” element that has taken over the GOP, but never spoke negatively about the “fringe” element of the left that has infiltrated and changed the progressive agenda and the Democrat’s focus, that has caused chaos in their party. To be fair, the book is not about Clinton and her dishonest cohorts, but it is hard to believe that a book concerned with the participants on the right, in the 2016 Presidential campaign, would so briefly mention the concerns about the opposing party on the left, even if only to compare them justly to make an honest point. It felt like fake news even when the truth was presented because of the obvious biased slant of the presentation of “the facts”. Oddly, at one point, the author even seemed to be praising Paul Manafort, recently indicted, for his effort to try to tame Donald Trump’s behavior. The author seemed to grasp at any straw to defame the current President and his supporters, and I fear that many of his accusations will not prove out, but the damage will be done because it is now in print. People do not often check the facts presented if they agree with the point that is made. It seemed odd to me that he went after the wealthy Mercers, suggesting nefarious circumstances in their support of Trump, but Green never went after George Soros who may have used nefarious methods to invest vast sums of money into the DNC, using a multitude of groups associated with him, creating a maze which makes it difficult to trace the origin of the donations. He poured money into the DNC in support of Clinton, even as the left complained about the money poured into the coffers of the GOP. He painted Bannon’s methods as ruthless but glossed over the fact that the left actually incited the violence at Trump rallies and worked actively to defeat Sanders and prop up Clinton who was even provided some debate questions, in advance, to enable her to perform better than her opposition on the stage. I deduced that this was basically nothing more than a “trash trump” exercise in book form. In the attempt to make Hillary a saint and Donald a devil, the left worked hard, but failed to secure the election. Although they demonized Trump for some classless comments, they forgave Clinton for his actual classless behavior against women. The electorate rejected the hypocrisy. They condemned Trump for anything they could think of; he is a germophobe, he is wily and a product of a racist upbringing, he is guilty of sexually harassing women. He is a loose cannon and an anti-semite given to hyperbole. These are just some of the names he has been called while the sins of his opposition were either ignored or not hammered day after day into the public arena. Obama, is described as measured, logical and sophisticated even as he interfered in a Presidential campaign which former Presidents are loath to do; and Hillary was presented as a champion of progressive causes, neither a liar nor a schemer. The message from the author is so full of propaganda and the agenda of the left that the book, which could have been informative seemed to simply be a hit piece with the sole purpose of destroying the sitting President and those that associate with him. The author is very guilty of presenting a partisan view which I found to be extremely unfair and prejudicial. The left’s attempt to explain why Hillary lost is getting to be a very tired subject. She lost because Americans didn’t want her to win!

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review 2017-10-10 16:40
Historical anachronism happens fast
This is the Way the World Ends: An Oral ... This is the Way the World Ends: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Keith Taylor

This poor novel had the bad sense to be published in August, this year of our Lord 2017, though, presumably, it was written earlier. EVEN SO, at the very moment of publication, it was already woefully historically anachronistic. I'm going to blame this, like so much else, on the Trump administration, and the unbelievable chaos and unprecedented violation of governmental, social, and ethical norms that we've seen in this fine country, the US of A, since then. Writing near future science fiction is an unbelievable bitch.

 

This is what got me. So, This is the Way it Ends is avowedly a love letter and a riff on Max Brooks' World War Z, which is also glossed with the subtitle An Oral History of the Zombie Wars. The writer here, Keith Taylor, notes in his introduction how taken he was by the retrospective and documentary feel of World War Z, and how, after expecting a raft of novelists to take up the style, he decided to fill the gap when no one did. This is the Way it Ends is successful in this Brooksian ventriloquism for the most part, and it you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you'll like. (Well, other than a metatextual spin wherein Keith Taylor, current novelist, inserts himself inside this fictional narrative as "Keith Taylor," the documentarian for the novel. His intro dragging on fictional zombie narratives was way too clever-clever. It's the kind of thing that's fun to read to your wife after you write it, but shouldn't make it into the final draft.)

 

Like Brooks' novel, this one takes place a dozen odd years after the initial zombie outbreaks, after humanity has gone through the meat grinder of a full on zombie apocalypse and come out on the other side, shaky, diminished, but still standing. This is the section that got me: a centrist Republican, one who shepherded the US through the zombie wars, tells a story from mid-2019. Apparently, there are outbreaks happening all over Europe, and there's more and more worry about the zombie threat. At a bipartisan meeting, a reporter asks if maybe the US should close its borders. A democrat steps up, and in an act of partisan showboating, begins reciting the Emma Lazarus sonnet that is carved into the statue of liberty. "Give us your tired" etc. At this point everyone goes nuts, freaking that closing the borders is evil, and certainly no sane (or not evil) person would suggest such a thing. The Republican president is rueful: if only those stupid liberals knew better. 

 

So here's the problem with this. First, let me tell a joke: at an intersection with four corners, on each corner stands an individual: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, a centrist Republican, and an alt-right nutjob. Someone drops a case of money into the center of the intersection. Which individual gets it? The alt-right nutjob, because the rest of these beings are purely fictional. Second, Trump already tried, and has been moderately successful, in implementing his Muslim ban, just recently adding to the seven Muslim-majority countries he's put on the shit list. Though the courts have put on the brakes a little, public outcry was nowhere near uniform. In fact, I think I was in a minority for thinking that was self-defeating and cruel, in addition to racist. The Trump administration is working hard at curtailing literally all immigration, legal and illegal, and we don't have anything near a zombie fucking outbreak to point at, though you wouldn't know it from some Brietbart articles, boy howdy. No one reads sonnets anymore; those are for effete liberals and they are decidedly not in charge. Third, what is this word, "bipartisan"? I do not understand this strange concept. 

 

In some ways, this anachronism is adorable, and it dovetails into some blindspots Brooks had in WWZ. The farther Brooks gets from his worldview, the less compelling his narratives get -- the American housewife one is a big fucking mess, but then I have a whole thing about the housewife in fiction. Ditto with Taylor. As a native Brit with a Mongolian wife who spends a lot of time in Mongolia and Thailand, his grasp on pan-Asian politics is pretty great. Americans? Yeah, not so much. I'm not picking on him here though. I'm not sure I understood (even as someone who purported to at least a modicum of wokeness) how unbelievably racist and isolationist the United States is until the last election. And that election technically didn't involve zombies! 

 

Except it totally did and we're all going to die. The horror of reading horror fiction for me these days is in how unscary it all is. It's nowhere near as terrifying as considering a malignant narcissist who considers Nazis "fine people" starting World War 3, the one that will kill us all, while tweeting on the shitter one Sunday morning. In the words of Mira Grant, rise up while you can. 

 

 

 

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review 2017-07-04 19:46
A rallying cry towards unity, care, and humanism.
No Is Not Enough - Naomi Klein

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher, Penguin Books UK-Allen Lane, for providing me with an ARC e-copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have a long list of books to read and I am trying to organise it somehow, mostly in order of acquisition, but this book arrived just as I had finished reading another book and it stuck in my mind. It is a very current and momentous book, so it was for the best that I read it promptly.

I am familiar with the name of Naomi Klein and I have seen many of her books and read about her and her ideas, but this is the first book I have read by her (I have read some short articles but although I kept seeing books by her that sounded interesting, it was usually when I was doing research on an unrelated topic or at a time when I could not read them and this time I grabbed the opportunity).

The book builds on much of her previous work, particularly on the issue of brands and how they have come to dominate our lives (the subject of No Logo) and also how politics and politicians exploit any disasters and shocks to impose ever harsher neo-liberal economic policies (that she discusses in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism) and applies it to the current situation, particularly to Trump’s election and his policies since.

I started highlighting text through the book, to the point that sometimes I would be doing something and listening to the text to speech version and would have to stop to highlight something. This happened very often and I realised Klein was saying many of the things I had been thinking and some that I had not thought of but I recognised and agreed with as I read them. Her reflections about Trump as a brand and his presidency as the latest feather to add to this brand made sense (I learned new things about him and was reminded of others that had long forgotten but helped to build up a clear picture). It was curious that she referred to his time in the Apprentice and his appearances in WWE (televised professional wrestling) as (in a certain way) training for what was to come. She noted that some of his behaviours during the campaign were very similar to those of the fighters in WWE. And lo and behold, a few hours after I had read that part of the book, Trump tweeted the doctored video of one of his appearances in the WWE putting the CNN logo instead of the head of Vince McMahon, whom he was pretending to punch. And if I had already thought that was a very convincing comparison when I read it, even more so now.

The book is well-written, easy to read (well, or not, depending on what your point of view and your political leanings are), and develops the thesis that although many are shocked by Trump’s rise to power (and Brexit), it was not a total surprise, and there are people, organisations, and even whole countries who have resisted the move towards materialism and brands where only things, money, and profits matter, and where fingers are pointed at sectors of the population (immigrants, asylum seekers, ethnic minorities, women, environmentalists…)  who become the scapegoats for a situation they are the victims of. Klein looks at many of these groups and populations and how they have resisted the situation and taken a stand but she also notes that something else is required. Resisting and saying no is important, and it does not matter how big or small we are, we can all do it, but we need to find something to aim for, something that can unite us and something we can fight together for.

She discusses in detail the importance of trying to find common ground, rather than working for small goals, and states that the way the political centre has tried to introduce minor changes will not suffice. As an example of what could be done she focuses on the meeting that took place in Canada, bringing many groups together (unions, environmentalists, indigenous people, women’s groups, groups working towards racial equality…) and that produced the Leap Manifesto, because they think a leap is required to truly change things. We must leap towards hope and dare to embrace a revolutionary way of changing the world.

She notices the rise of dystopian fiction (and films) and the ever growing popularity of some classics (Orwell’s 1984) that she observes are a warning (not necessarily a prediction) and says we need more utopias; we need to be able to think of a better future. And she writes (and as she quotes a big favourite of mine, Oscar Wilde, I could not resist sharing it):

Because, as Oscar Wilde wrote in 1891, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”

I read some of the comments on the book, and they are separated along ideological lines. I agree that perhaps she uses examples that might not be as simply black or white as she makes them sound, and I also agree (and thought the same as I read it), that perhaps the Leap Manifesto falls short of going as far as it should (as it offers and statement of good intentions but not much in the way of implementation) although it is an attempt at reaching an agreement and a compromise between very different groups, so it is not surprising that it is not all that radical. I must clarify that I read an ARC copy and therefore did not have access to what I have read are very extensive notes at the end of the final version of the book. Without the notes, it is not a very long book.

The book made me think of an essay we had to write, when I was studying American Literature at the University of Sussex, discussing what could have been done, or rather, what could be done in the present, to somehow repair the gap between whites and African Americans in the US that comes from the time of slavery and was discussed after the Civil War and the freeing of all slaves, a gap that has never been fully resolved (as we all know). At the time of the Reconstruction, the suggestion had been that each freed slave be given 40 acres of land (therefore redistributing the slave owners’ property) and a mule (if you’ve ever wondered why Spike Lee’s production company is called that and never checked, now you know) so they could build up a life for themselves. Of course, that did not happen (or only in few cases) but I remember that after talking to the professor I did write a somewhat utopic essay that he could not fault for its reach, although he could not see how any government would go down that route. (I’ve been looking for it but I think it must have been in one of the floppy disks that disintegrated, although I might have a paper copy. I’ll investigate).  It also made me think about how much emphasis on brands is made, even in the world of writing, and how a lot of the advice to sell anything (a physical product or anything else) is to create a brand and market yourself (rather than the product). As she notes, if you are swimming in the world of media, in whatever capacity, it is very difficult not to be swamped by the allure of branding and its fraught logic. This is something that I have been thinking more and more about recently, and something that I care for less and less. Yes, perhaps this book arrives at the right moment, at least for me, but hopefully for many others too.

As I said, I highlighted a lot of content, and of course, I cannot share it all. But I could not resist and had to share a few bits.

First, one that shows her wit (and that made me write: olé! as a comment)

The truth, which doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous, is that the Trump brand stands for wealth itself or, to put it more crassly, money. That’s why its aesthetics are Dynasty-meets-Louis XIV. It’s why Trump’s relationship to gold is the inverse of Superman’s relationship to kryptonite: Trump crumples when he is more than three feet away from something big and shiny.

This one I think will give you an idea of what the book is about, in her own words:

We have to question not only Trump but the stories that ineluctably produced him. It’s not enough to superficially challenge him as an individual, foul and alarmingly ignorant though he may be. We have to confront the deep-seated trends that rewarded him and exalted him until he became the most powerful person in the world.  The values that have been sold to us through reality TV, get-rich-quick books, billionaire saviors, philanthrocapitalists. The same values that have been playing out in destroyed safety nets, exploding prison numbers, normalized rape culture, democracy-destroying trade deals, rising seas and privatized disaster response, and in a world of Green Zones and Red Zones.

And I love the way she ends the book (do not worry, it is not a spoiler):

 My deepest thanks are for patient little Toma, who missed his mom over these last months, but feels strongly that, “Donald Trump is too rude to be president.

This book is not for everybody and if you really like Trump and what he stands for, or do not care about climate change and other issues such as the rights of women, equality, diversity, the rights of indigenous people… I’d advise you not to read it. If you don’t, I’d recommend you check a sample of the writing and see if it speaks to you. I now know why she is so well-known and respected. A compelling writer, whatever one’s political views.

 

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review 2017-05-13 04:30
A piece of trash, like its subject
Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success - Ivanka Trump

No word. Horrible book. Wasted trees. 

 

For more details. Read Moonlight Reader's post. 

 

http://moonlightreader.booklikes.com/post/1562234/who-spends-their-days-white-knighting-ivanka-trump 

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review 2017-04-17 01:42
This is truly an important book to read
Trump and Me - Mark Singer

Much as Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump felt important, so too does this book.   Assholes felt a little more gleefully malicious in its humor: the argument, for example, about whether he was an asshole or an assclown.   Don't get me wrong: the author nailed Trump, and did so backing up his argument with facts and clear definitions of the two words.   But again, as much as he protested that he wanted to bring people together, well, it felt too happy to viciously mock Trump to be that kind of book.   (It was, in fact, a book I would consider for anyone who doesn't like Trump.   If they do, this book will only make them this the author is a hater and that he had a grudge against Trump and all those ways that Trump gaslights people into living in his own alternate reality full of alternative facts.)

 

This book feels a little more even handed.   Yes, the author is wary of - and weary of - Trump, and a little bit of cynicism  seeps through.   Yes, he does make fun of Trump.   Yes, he's disgusted by Trump's attitude towards women and minorities.   However, what Mark Singer has done is spend time with Trump and then researched Trump, and then written a book about Trump.   He's seen it firsthand, read it and believed all these things to be true based on his own experiences with Trump.   Trump would argue, and have you believe, that Mark Singer is out to make him look bad.   Instead, it is Trump that makes himself look bad.   Mark Singer is a believer in truth, and yes, of skewering the rich and powerful who are full of themselves.   What I mean is: he'd be far less successful in his skewering of Trump had The Donald not given him so much rich material to work with.    I can't help but being reminded of the Saturday Night Live skit in which Alex Baldwin's Trump pouts that the media is making him look bad.   (He's in a debate with Kate McKinnon's Clinton.)   When the moderator asks him how they're doing this, he retorts that it's by taking the things he does and says and putting them on TV and in the newspapers.   Singer does just this: he simply reports what is.   His bias is clear, and he does poke at Trump throughout the book.   He doesn't seem to take the same glee that James does in adding to the walking dumpster fire that is Trump, however.  

 

And I don't want you to get me wrong: I did like Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump very much.  I was feeling more vicious then myself, my pain at Trump's presidency too raw to do anything but snicker at James' clever barbs.   I wasn't in the mood this time, though, and so this book just hit the spot.   Much like Assholes, this book is small, and not just in page size.   It's more of a hardcover in a mass market size, which means it's not only slim, it's extremely short on word count.   (Possibly one of the things that keeps them from being malicious.   Assholes, as I remember, was slightly longer.)  I wanted facts.  I wanted to read something that I knew Trump disapproved of, because I have not only free speech, but the freedom to read what I want.   (With some exceptions in both case: as Trump is finding out, free speech doesn't mean the right to incite violence at, say, rallies.  In much the same way, the written word shouldn't incite violence or place people in danger.)   It was a balm, a reminder of how many people are out there, who put themselves in danger by speaking out against Trump.   (Singer recounts one woman reporter who calls him a thousandaire, and in response Trump sent back one of her columns, having scrawled Face of a Dog across her photograph.   Another estimated his worth  - and it did not please Trump that he felt lowballed by this guess.   He sued the author of that book.)

 

It was a quick read, well written, plainly spoken, and all the more starkly honest in the way that it exposed Trump's lies.   I wouldn't so much call it a pleasant read as one necessary for me: I was feeling a little depressed, and I wanted to read something of great import.   This fit that bill.   And it has motivated me to be more active, reading, instead of playing games and feeling crappy about not doing much today.  I did my makeup, cut my nails, and painted them.  (I have Mystique themed nail polish by my favorite person who does fandom and Jewish related polishes.   I love FedoraHarp so much, and after half of this book and her nail polish, I was feeling far, far more chipper!)

 

This is the good thing I did for myself today: I read this book.  I fought against Trump by becoming more knowledgeable about how works, and how he thinks, and I fought against him by not allowing him to gaslight me because I know now.   This was a must read - for me.   I would never suggest that anyone who is against Trump must read any books about him.   For me, knowledge is one of my main ways to fight against something sometimes, and in this case, it's one of the ways that I've chosen to fight his brand of fascism.   I needed to do something about it today and I did.   Yay me!  (Partly for all those reasons, partly for recognizing what I needed and giving myself what I needed to feel better about myself.  It's not something I'm normally good at.)

 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some Aquaman and the first in Danielewski's The Familiars series.  I think I'm gonna indulge me some in that.

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