A Blockbuster’s Blockbuster?

Sales totals continue to explode for Mary L. Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough.

CNN has reported: “A tell-all memoir by President Donald Trump’s niece — who claims he has world-endangering emotional problems stemming from childhood trauma inflicted by his parents — has sold 1.35 million copies in its first week, according to publisher Simon & Schuster.”

On Twitter, @KaivanShroff has noted that “@MaryLTrump‘s book has already sold more copies in one week than @realDonaldTrump’s ‘Art of the Deal’ sold over 3 decades.”

If you haven’t read it yet, the book should be easily located on websites that handle new and used books (yes, used copies already are becoming available). Too Much and Never Enough is available in hardcover, ebook, audio CD, and audiobook formats, according to Amazon.

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Book Reflections: 07/2020

Recently, I’ve reviewed several new books for Lone Star Literary Life and for this book review blog. And I keep looking guiltily at the other books I’ve gathered over the months and years before the pandemic hit. I want to be reading them, too. Yet, even when much of life is shut down and “house arrest” is beginning to feel “normal,” I still can’t find enough time to go back and read the books I stacked up in preparation for blizzards that never came, beach holidays that never happened, and those lazy, carefree afternoons that are just an urban myth. Meanwhile, enticing new books keep appearing in droves.

The Only Good Indians by the prolific Stephen Graham Jones is an offbeat and truly horrifying horror tale set on a Blackfeet Indian reservation. Suffice it to say, bad things can happen if you try to ignore, go against, or forget your culture and heritage. You can get the book here if you don’t mind shopping on Amazon.

Jessica Goudeau‘s compelling nonfiction work, After the Last Border, follows two immigrants on their difficult journey through America’s politically imperiled refugee resettlement program. The author convincingly makes the case that the program needs to be saved and rebooted under new and better national leadership. More information about the book is available here.

Poetry is almost always a hard sell in the book market. (For example, it has taken me more than 40 years to get my inventory down to the last ten copies — from a press run of 500 — of my first book of poetry, Waiting for Water. Most of them I’ve simply given away.) Anyway, I recently reviewed Variations of Labor: Stories and Poems by “writer and labor organizer” Alex Gallo-Brown, who has been called “the poet of the service economy” by other reviewers. It’s an entertaining and intriguing collection of short works, all related in some way to “the way work happens in our lives.” (My review is here.)

Meanwhile, stay safe, keep reading, continue holding writers and poets in your thoughts and prayers, and buy somebody’s new or old book soon, if you can. We’re all in this global tragicomedy together.

Si Dunn

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Bolting Through the Bolton Book

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir
John Bolton
Simon & Schuster

I confess. I haven’t read all of John Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened. And I likely won’t read all of it, to be honest. I’d rather page through John Milton before I’ve had my morning caffeine than wade through John Bolton.

However, until just a few minutes ago as I write this, I was sloshing around in The Room Where It Happened and stopping to read occasional paragraphs. I also was looking at news headlines saying the Trump Administration wants to block the book’s publication on grounds it contains classified information.

Then, suddenly, my screen went dark and a message popped up:

We’re sorry. You can’t access this item because it is in violation of our Terms of Service.

Likely, many others saw that message at about the same.

Until then, I had been thinking: if I see anything in this book that appears to be classified, I will close my eyes tightly and quickly page forward. Scout’s honor. Of course, I also was wondering if the Top Secret clearance I held while in the Vietnam War is still valid, just in case I accidentally glanced at something Trump’s lawyers didn’t want me to see?

To mis-summarize the ruling of Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court of Columbia regarding the publication of this work, Bolton’s book–the “horse” (or “horse manure,” depending on your political persuasion)–already is out of the proverbial barn. Indeed, it was available just about anywhere on the planet for a while if you had the right web links or other book review connections.  And it’s scheduled to be released June 23, 2020, according to Amazon. It was difficult to see how or why the Trump Administration was still expecting the bolted horse to be rounded up and led back to its barn.

I magically had received access to an ebook copy of The Room Where It Happened. I honestly cannot tell you from whom I got it, because I don’t know. Things like this occasionally happen when people review books online or in print. For books to sell, they must be publicized. Names make news, the old saying goes. And news headlines can help a book hit best-sellers lists even before it’s released. I had requested a review copy from Simon & Schuster and got zero response. Then, suddenly, a stray horse fleeing its barn bolted past and dropped something where I could find it (without stepping in it).

I did get to read quite a few pages before the link went dark. Bolton,  in the book, says he held some strong sympathies and hopes for Donald Trump’s now-bedraggled presidency in its early days. But an “axis of adults” surged into the Oval Office and surrounded Trump right after the inauguration. They mostly impeded him and did what they could to help themselves, rather than help shape and promote his political agenda.

“They didn’t do nearly enough,” Bolton charges, “to establish order, and what they did do was so transparently self-serving and so publicly dismissive of many of Trump’s very clear goals (whether worthy or unworthy) that they fed Trump’s already-suspicious mind-set, making it harder for those who came later to have legitimate policy exchanges
with the President.”

Of course, Trump himself receives plenty of criticism, too, in the book. Ambassador Bolton says that when he joined the Trump Administration, he had long believed “that the role of the National Security Advisor was to ensure that a President understood what options were open to him for any given decision he needed to make, and then to ensure that this decision was carried out by the pertinent bureaucracies. The National Security Council process was certain to be different for different Presidents, but these were the critical objectives the process should achieve.”

But the “axis of adults” (not all specifically named in the portions I read) kept getting in the way. And Trump’s own personality kept tripping him up, as well, Bolton states.

Because…the axis of adults had served Trump so poorly, he second-guessed people’s motives, saw conspiracies behind rocks, and remained stunningly uninformed on how to run the White House, let alone the huge federal government,” he writes. “The axis of adults is not entirely responsible for this mind-set. Trump is Trump. I came to understand that he believed he could run the Executive Branch and establish national-security policies on instinct, relying on personal relationships with foreign leaders, and with made-for-television showmanship always top of mind.”

Many on social media previously objected to the publication of this book and vowed to not help Bolton profit from it. But many also are now referring to it and quoting from it as they express their outrage toward the Trump White House. After watching the Trump impeachment hearings gavel to gavel and wishing John Bolton had been a brave patriot who showed up voluntarily to testify, I have understood the misgivings. Nonetheless, historians, presidential scholars, Trump biographers (there will be Trump biographers), screenwriters, numerous pundits, and others will have a field day digging through this book and harvesting eye-opening nuggets of ineptitude, opportunism, favoritism, and more.

As a book reviewer, I have to give The Room Where It Happened some credit for being useful to readers in those categories. I also can see it serving as one of the textbooks in a graduate-level course on how not to run an American presidency.

Bottom line, we’ve known things definitely have been bad inside the White House between January 2017 and now. Bolton’s White House memoir shows how some things actually have been worse than many of us imagined. Even a cursory look, a quick bolt through Bolton’s book, is enough to make anyone who cares for two-party democracy in America, and the rule of law, wince and wish tomorrow was Election Day.

Si Dunn

Hard Lessons Learned Inside a Steel Union’s Battles to Save Jobs and Benefits

Homestead Steel Mill: The Final Ten Years

USWA 1397 and the Fight for Union Democracy

Mike Stout

PM Press

Now more than ever, with some 40 million Americans unemployed, the nation’s economy stalled by protests and a deadly pandemic, and federal leadership failing, we need to review and draw again from hard lessons learned during major events in our nation’s labor history.

Mike Stout’s well-written new memoir, Homestead Steel Mill: The Final Ten Years, should be a must-read for labor leaders, labor activists, labor academics, labor lawyers, and labor specialists at all levels of local, state, and federal government. It deserves attention as well from libraries and general readers interested in American labor history, how unions operate, and what roles unions will play in the nation’s difficult economic recovery.

The author has walked the walk of a Pittsburgh area blue-collar steelworker and union leader. Stout’s credits are too numerous to summarize here, but include writing for and editing an influential union newspaper, helping found one of the first and largest union food banks, and organizing several community coalitions aimed at trying to help save steel mill jobs. He also is known internationally as a labor and social activist, as well as singer-songwriter.

The Homestead steelworks already had earned a prominent and disturbing place in American labor history when Mike Stout began working there for U.S. Steel in 1978 as a utility crane operator. Indeed, as one of his well-researched book’s sources, Brett Reigh, has noted in a master’s thesis: “In its 106 years of operation, the Homestead Works [had] witnessed some of the greatest battles ever waged between labor and capital in the United States.”

In 1892, for example, disputes between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company exploded into a lockout and then the infamous “Homestead Massacre” that claimed at numerous lives. In an attempt to break the union, Carnegie’s leaders had brought in some 300 Pinkerton guards to try to overwhelm the strikers. A violent battle ensued, and some strikers and Pinkerton guards died. The Pinkertons eventually surrendered, but the strike ended after 6,000 troops from Pennsylvania’s state militia arrived, sided with the mill’s management, and stood guard while strikebreakers were brought in to replace union workers.  

Working at Homestead

Mike Stout was one of some 7,000 employees at Homestead and believed he had found a job for life in one of America’s most essential industries. His area also had several other U.S. Steel mills and a total of about 30,000 steelworkers.

In a chapter titled “Homestead–Forge of the Universe, Heart of Industrial Unionism,” Stout recounts some of the Homestead mill’s historical significance:

“Homestead, Pennsylvania, has been synonymous with steelmaking since 1880. For over one hundred years, the Homestead mill, seven miles southeast of downtown Pittsburgh on the south side of the Monongahela River, made the steel that helped shape the Industrial Revolution in America, producing armor plate during America’s involvement in both world wars, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It made structural beams for skyscrapers, including the St. Louis Arch, the Home Life Insurance Building in Chicago, the Pan Am, Empire State, Rockefeller Center, and United Nations Buildings in New York City, and the shafting for the power plant at the Hoover Dam. It made the steel for every major bridge and waterway back in the day, from the Panama Canal through the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay Bridges in San Francisco out west to the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges back east.”

During Stout’s times at Homestead, however, steel mill owners were refusing to modernize and increasingly sending jobs and steel investments to cheaper sites overseas. Many workers, including Stout, were laid off repeatedly and not all were called back to work. As Homestead’s workforce shrank, union leaders and union members continued battling to maintain jobs and benefits and to keep employees as safe as possible in dangerous working conditions.

How dangerous? According to Stout:

“Working in a steel mill was dangerous beyond description. You worked in extreme temperatures. Heavy equipment and machinery were flying all about you. You could be working in front of rolling red hot steel where the temperature in the front of your body was 2,300 degrees, but your back would be freezing. You worked a different time shift every week, working 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., then 4:00 p.m. to midnight the following week, then midnight to 8:00 a.m. the third week. Also, every week your two days off would change; you’d be off Sunday and Monday, then the next week Monday and Tuesday, etc. Your entire life outside of work was determined by your life in the mill. There wasn’t much time or energy for anything else.” 

Union members and leaders also fought among themselves over what was the right balance of “union democracy,”  how trade unions are governed–an important focus in Stout’s new book.  A key concern of the rank and file (the union members) was that union executives would accurately represent the members’ interests when dealing with, and negotiating with, mills’ executives. Much of Stout’s memoir is devoted to his time navigating and leading some of the inner workings of union activities, politics, and activism. Many readers who have no experience with unions may find these chapters both eye-opening and surprisingly engrossing.

After the plant was shut down in 1987, a shopping mall was built on its site. In a review of Stout’s book, written by a former steelworker at a nearby mill, Mark Fallon recalls: “The union at the Homestead mill, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1397 and its Rank and File Caucus, was an ‘insurgent’ local that often took vigorous issue with the policies not only of U.S. Steel, but those of its parent United Steelworkers of America International union.”

Fallon adds that while Stout served as the union’s “Grievance Chair for the entire mill between 1981-1987,” he won a significant victory for more than 3,000 former workers: more than $12 million in back pay, severance pay, pensions, and unemployment benefits. “He was the last union official out the door when the mill closed and stayed on for another four years fighting for workers’ pay and rights without receiving a dime from the union.”

After Homestead, What Lies Ahead?

The future of work in America is frighteningly uncertain as this review is being written. In the ongoing pandemic, millions have lost their jobs, businesses, and even careers, while millions of others are now working from home with no certainty that they will have workplaces, positions, or employers to return to in the future. 

As Charles McCollester emphasizes in the foreword to Stout’s book: “The coming generation of workers faces a radically changing world of artificial intelligence, robots, drones, pervasive surveillance, genetic engineering, insidious pollution, and accelerating climate change. Mike’s account of a grassroots democratic labor insurgency fighting for economic survival remains relevant, even as the nature of work changes.” (McCollester is former chief steward, UE Local 610, Switch and Signal plant and former professor of Labor Relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.)

Stout hopes to see a future where disparate groups unite and create a larger and more powerful social and political force. He urges: “There is commonality in all movements out there—be it Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo women’s movement, health care, immigration rights, worker rights, the environmental movement, or the movements against the many unjust wars our government is waging. Everyone needs a decent job, reasonable benefits, a democratic voice, a healthy environment, equal treatment, dignity, and a peaceful life. Until organized labor joins in a sustained coalition with these movements as one voice, as well as with our elected representatives, we will remain isolated, picked off one by one.”

How to Get the Book

To purchase the book, contact: PM Press, Oakland, CA. www.pmpress.org
$24.95 (paperback), $60 (hard cover), $8.95 (ebook) + shipping & handling.
For a signed, First Edition copy at a discount price, contact the author at:
miststout629@gmail.com
$25 (soft cover) including shipping and handling
$40 (hard cover) including shipping and handling.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, nonfiction author, poet, photojournalist, screenwriter, and book reviewer in Austin, Texas. His books include Dark SignalsJumpand Erwin’s LawSee also his credits in the Internet Movie Database.

 

 

Wise words from ‘the poet of the service economy’

Variations of Labor
Stories & Poems
Alex Gallo-Brown
Chin Music Press

On Twitter, Seattle poet Alex Gallo-Brown (@AlextheGB) modestly calls himself simply a “writer and labor organizer.” But he’s more than that. He has been hailed as “the poet of the service economy” by Valerie Trueblood, a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review. And Washington State Poet Laureate Caudia Castro Luna has declared that “Alex Gallo-Brown’s first collection…reminds us of the myriad ways, beyond physical exertion, that work happens in our daily lives.”

Mike Elk, founder and senior labor reporter at PayDay Report, adds that he is “a big fan of Alex Gallo-Brown’s ‘Variations on Labor.’ It’s a mix of poetry, prose, and critical analysis. Really unique as far as labor books go.”

Indeed, it is a unique book, with stories, poems, critical analysis, and illustrations (by Seattle visual artist Devon Midori Hale) that seem startingly timed to speak to the loss, confusion, and desperation now felt by untold millions of people thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gallo-Brown also offers words that speak to the disruption and uncertainty felt by those laboring for free to take care of their children, meals, household cleaning, or aging or disable relatives. Even the efforts required to grow into adulthood or to mourn the loss of a loved one are among the many “variations” of labor in our world, he contends.

Some of the titles within the book are almost short poems in themselves, especially when contemplated against a backdrop of the Great Depression-level unemployment that’s still rising: “He Was a Worker”; “The Job at the Technology Company Cafe”; “Relief”; “The Union Organizer”; “In the Trader Joe’s Parking Lot.”

The opening stanza to one poem, “Before Charlottesville,” contains prescient words applicable to the unsettled way many of us might feel right now:

Days pass and the self
grows louder than before,
slumps, sinks, rises
again like a dog
irritated by an instinct
something has gone wrong.

Just three years ago, according to The Atlantic, “the services sector—a broad category of the economy that now includes financial services, media, transportation and technology—accounted for 67 percent of GDP in the United States.”

Today, only the consortiums of gods know exactly where America’s Gross Domestic Product currently stands. The service sector itself is in deep excrement, and much of its gains and positions likely have been flushed down the economic drain. The biggest question now likely is not “Will there be wage gains?” It’s “Will there be wages again–and when?”

Those who previously worked, or still work, in America’s and the world’s service sectors now need all of the voices they can gather on their side: economists, politicians, diplomats, social scientists, philanthropists–the list is long and grows distressingly longer with each job lost in the pandemic crisis.

To help add one more essential voice to the panel of experts lofting prayers and recommendations for recovery, I hereby second the nomination of Alex Gallo-Brown to be “Poet of the Service Economy.”

Si Dunn

Other Books to Consider

If you like humor with a heart and a message, check out The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey. I reviewed it here in April, 2020: https://www.lonestarliterary.com/content/lone-star-review-big-finish

The tones and the messages are much different in Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town. This is an eye-opening, investigative look into the causes, effects, and aftermaths of one of America’s most devastating mass shootings. I reviewed Pulitizer Prize-nominee Joe Holley’s excellent book in a March, 2020, issue of Lone Star Literary Life.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, nonfiction author, poet, photojournalist, screenwriter, and book reviewer in Austin, Texas. His books include Dark SignalsJumpand Erwin’s LawSee also his credits in the Internet Movie Database.

Political intrigue, a land fight, clashing agendas, and unearthed bones all propel new suspense novel ‘Trust Me’ by Richard Z. Santos

ISBN 978-1-55885-904-3

Trust Me
Richard Z. Santos
Arte Publico Press

This well-crafted suspense tale provides a nice debut for first-time novelist Richard Z. Santos. Trust Me also has a real-life tale of perseverance behind its fiction. Indeed, many writers can identify with Santos’s long struggle to get his first book finished and published. And that may inspire new hope and momentum for their own unfinished projects.

First, to the fiction. What can happen when your political-campaign career, your marriage, and your bank account all hit bottom at the same time, and then a job appears, and you think you’ve just caught a lucky bounce out of the blue? Sure, you’ll have to leave Washington, D.C. — and your wife — behind, move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with no money, and eat peanut butter sandwiches until your first paycheck appears. Instead of doing familiar labors for yet another losing political campaign, this time you’ll be doing public relations for “a corporate labyrinth” and its new airport scheduled to be built in the desert near Santa Fe.

Oh, and right after you get there, things will turn out to be worse than you’ve expected. You’ll meet people who don’t like you and say you’re not up to the job. And then you’ll wade into competing agendas, shady money games, love turmoil, political intrigues, class conflicts–and the fallout from a suddenly unearthed skeleton. Just another day at the office, right?

Richard Santos’s Trust Me has been inspired by his real-life experience as a political campaign staffer in Washington, D.C., and New Mexico. He now lives in Austin, Texas. He teaches English and is a board member of the National Book Critics Circle, as well as conference director for the Writers’ League of Texas. His fiction, essays, and book reviews have appeared in numerous publications. Nonetheless, it took him some 13 years to get Trust Me from the germ of an idea in 2007 to his first published novel in 2020.

“The novel has gone through countless drafts, starts, false starts, deep revisions, and it has also been put away ‘For good!’ several times,” he said in an interview for Arte Publico. Santos’s MFA committee and a novelist friend, Tim O’Brien, provided feedback for some of its drafts. Santos adds: “I sent it out about 50 times and got tons of encouraging rejections but no takers. At the 50th rejection I decided to shelve the book. But then I saw that Arte Publico had open submissions and I told myself I’d send it out one more time.”

Working faster this time, Santos already has a second novel pending: Every Family is a Conspiracy Theory. Bottom line, it’s about “what happens to society after the rug gets pulled out from under our feet” in the aftermath of a devastating global conspiracy, he says.

Sounds timely, considering what’s currently happening to the world during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Other Books to Consider

If you like humor with a heart and a message, check out The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey. I reviewed it in April, 2020, for Lone Star Literary Life: https://www.lonestarliterary.com/content/lone-star-review-big-finish

The tones and the messages are much different in Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town. This is an eye-opening, investigative look into the causes, effects, and aftermaths of one of America’s most devastating mass shootings. I reviewed Pulitizer Prize-nominee Joe Holley’s excellent book in a March, 2020, issue of Lone Star Literary Life.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, nonfiction author, photojournalist, screenwriter, and book reviewer in Austin, Texas. His books include Dark Signals, Jump, and Erwin’s Law. See also his credits in the Internet Movie Database.

Worst of Times, Best of Times

Staying Sane & Entertained While Forced to Hide from the Coronavirus

Charles Dickens likely did not have a deadly global pandemic in mind when he wrote the “best of times, worst of times” opening for his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. He was contrasting life in profitable, peaceful London with grim life in revolution-torn Paris at the end of the 18th century.

With most Americans now being told to stay away from their jobs and remain sheltered for weeks in their homes or apartments, people are coming face-to-face with a harsh reality: How do we keep ourselves sane and entertained while contained within four walls almost around the clock?

What follows are short reports from five people in different parts of the United States. They describe how they have responded thus far to being confined to quarters. They have not complained of feeling like people under house arrest or like space passengers practicing for a long, mundane cruise to Mars.

For some, at least, the pandemic response has been a time for reflection and reinvention, as well as frequently seeking and needing entertainment.

“Shadow Horse” – Photo by Si Dunn, sidunn@sagecreekproductions.com

Erin J., a Boston college student, is still recovering from coronavirus-like symptoms. She has been staying in a small living space for several weeks since her university closed and put its classes online.

“Well, I wasn’t tested for it, but I can say that the first week I slept for 16 hours a day and didn’t care much for entertainment. I’d put on anything to have noise. The second week was a little better, but I still slept most of the day and night but had midterm exams to prepare for. Took me four days to write a paragraph. I started consuming more media as a means to stay distracted and try to figure out what was going on. I found movies that were like comfort food and almost played them on loop. By about the end of the second week I started feeling human [again] and was more interested in doing schoolwork, and became more aware that I was stuck inside.

“I’ve stayed entertained by trying to find comfort in media that reminds me of the world I knew.”

***

Terry P., a writer and entertainer in Long Island, N.Y., has chosen a positive and pragmatic approach to coping with the current economic and health disaster:

“Planted a bunch of seeds and ordered a compost bin, planning a vegetable garden. Also taking piano lessons and writing a book for self-employed entertainers about how to kick start their businesses when this all ends. And watching Netflix, of course.”

***

Linda B. is a PRN (pro re nata – “as the situation demands”) worker in Austin, Texas, who currently is not doing much work, but filling time with many other activities.

“Slowly reading a serious book, What the Eyes Don’t See, about the Flint water crisis, by the pediatrician and activist who didn’t stop until the story was told and changes made. Making bread for my neighbors. Cooking new recipes. Using FaceTime, learning Zoom and What’sApp to see and talk to people I love. Staying up-to-date on happenings for my work which doesn’t need an ‘as needed’ PRN employee right now. Walking with another neighbor or [doing] something for exercise most days. Learning what it feels like to see the world “non-24″ by going to bed when I feel like it and staying there 7-8 hours no matter what hour that is. Today, 6 am – 3 pm. Recording the local news in case I’m doing something more fulfilling at the time; then watching without ads. Doing the same with movies and documentaries so that when I choose to watch TV, I can see interesting things or delete it. Learning after three weeks that I can live without touch for today. I may crack tomorrow, but for today, I’m at peace working on the ‘Mindboggler 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Carpathian Mountains’ I picked up on a whim at Half Price Books months ago.”

***

Musician and retired teacher Pamela F. lives in a small-ish town north of Austin, Texas, and avoids boredom by staying active on several fronts:

“Walking twice a day. Sometimes walking with the seven-year-old son of my next-door, single-parent neighbor. Trying to learn Zoom. Writing music. Using FaceTime and Facebook Messenger to see friends and relatives. Eating, and then eating some more. Small projects like cleaning out a drawer or a closet. Napping. Continuing my physical therapy regimen. Playing piano and accordion. Keeping up with friends on Facebook. Reading. Quiet time.”

***

Joe S., a Dallas-area journalist, is taking a more focused approach to using his sheltering-at-home time:

“Reading The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.”

That’s a 547-page work of history subtitled “A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz.” Sounds appropriate and inspiring for coping with current times.

***

Catherine B., an Austin, Texas, university librarian (her school has gone to online classes) also is focusing on a central task, but is taking breaks to pursue other, more entertaining activities:

“I have been reading manuals and a glossary for a new integrated library system, the thing behind the scene that runs the online catalog. In my free time, I am sewing quilt blocks. I got excited when I found the perfect elastic for making masks. [And] Tom and I watched ‘Downton Abbey,’ the series and the movie, on DVD. We started that in early March before the social distancing. I have also made 20-second videos of rain and birds singing.”

***

Many things can be done while stuck indoors, including taking online classes, watching yoga or tai chi how-to videos, reading books previously ignored on your bookshelves, starting a home-based business, baking bread, or taking up new or lapsed hobbies. The possibilities are vast, and the time to get started currently is abundant.

Thanks for reading this effort to make creative use of some of my own inside time. And please feel free to add comments. Something posted here may someday end up in somebody’s sociology book, history book, graduate thesis, movie, or novel about these treacherous times. Who knows?

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Si Dunn is an Austin, Texas, novelist, screenwriter, book reviewer, and journalist. His books include Dark Signals, Jump, and Erwin’s Law.

Joe Biden’s ‘Promise Me, Dad’ #bookreview #2020Election

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

Joe Biden

Flatiron Books

If you are leaning toward Joe Biden and wondering if you will want to back him in the 2020 presidential election, Biden’s 2017 book, Promise Me, Dad, can give you some good insights into his character, values, and long record of service in American government.

Promise Me, Dad is Biden’s first-person story of family life: losing his oldest son, Beau, to cancer; serving as an active and engaged Vice President in the Obama Administration; and juggling several international crises, all while trying to decide if he would run for President, against Hillary Clinton, in 2016.

Wikipedia:Featured picture candidates/File:Joe Biden official ...
Former Vice President Joe Biden

“Nobody ever told me a life in politics and public service would be easy; like life, I never expected politics to be free of disappointment or heartache,” Biden writes. “But I have always believed it was worth the effort.”

When the deadline arrived for him to choose whether or not to run for President in 2016, he was dealing with Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, with ongoing U.S. investments into “the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” and with trying to help hold together and provide support to a coalition of Shia and Sunni fighters battling ISIL in Iraq.

At the same time, he says, he had “learned first hand, the hardest way possible, that facing down cancer is a frightening and costly ordeal in the best of circumstances, for the strongest of families.”

Beau Biden’s death had left Joe Biden deeply grieved. And, no matter how hard he tried, he could not bury his sorrow beneath the duties of state and the myriad necessities of political campaigning. Grief’s cycles would not be denied; they would have to be allowed to run their course. The presidency would have to wait.

As fall 2019 approaches, we are already in the midst of what is shaping up to be one of the most important, contentious, and acrimonious presidential elections in American history. As this sentence is written, Joe Biden is holding onto a double-digit lead in early Democratic polling. However, the field of candidates remains large at this point, and many unexpected things can happen between now and November, 2020.

Nonethess, Joe Biden currently is on track to become the Democratic nominee for the 2020 ticket. And, like any other veteran politician, he will bring a wide array of experiences, qualifications, sensitivities, talents, supporters and funding sources to the race, along with baggage, detractors, and lingering questions.

A fair reading of Promise Me, Dad can provide more insights into Biden’s character, qualities, quirks, and question marks than you likely will encounter by using social media to try to figure out whom to support.

Si Dunn

A Noteworthy Book for Learning Python 3.X – #bookreview

Python Crash Course

A Hands-On, Project-Based Introduction to Programming

Eric Matthes

No Starch Press

Python has long been considered a programming language for beginners, a gentle steppingstone to other, more challenging languages such as JavaScript, Java or C++.

But, in 2018, a Stack Overflow survey found that Python apparently has become the world’s fastest-growing programming language in popularity. Some surveys have even ranked it in the top five, and up to number two, behind JavaScript. (You are free to question the accuracy of the various surveys, but Python has become a lot more popular in the past few years.)

Why? The rapid growth of data science has much to do with it. Many college students studying data science now must learn how to work with Python. Meanwhile, numerous companies employ data scientists to extract, analyze, interpret, and display data, using Python and statistical and machine learning techniques. Python is an important tool in some web development projects. And, author Eric Matthes points out, “Python is also used heavily in scientific fields for academic research and applied work.”

If you are wanting to learn Python, definitely check out Python Crash Course, 2nd Edition . Matthes’s updated book (released in May 2019) is a well-written, well-structured how-to guide, significantly revised in its latest release to focus on Python 3,X. (Python 3.7.2 is used in the code examples.)

The book is organized into two main parts: the basics and projects. In part one, the author provides extensive coverage of basic programming concepts using Python, including how to test code. Using numerous code examples, he dwells at helpful length on lists, if statements, dictionaries, user input, while loops, functions, classes, files, exceptions, plus other topics. In part two, the reader is offered three different programming projects, including a video game, a data visualization project, and a Web application that uses the Django framework.

Given Python’s burgeoning popularity, Python Crash Course, 2nd Edition is a good book to have on hand even if you already work with other programming languages.

Si Dunn

‘The Meanest Man in Congress’ – #bookreview

The Meanest Man in Congress

Jack Brooks and the Making of an American Century

Timothy McNulty and Brendan McNulty
New South Books

The Meanest Man in Congress should be essential reading for anyone interested in U.S. national politics and 20th-century American history. The book is a richly detailed, solidly researched, well-written biography focusing on the life, public-service career, and key achievements of a Democratic Congressman who served under ten presidents while representing Texas’s Ninth Congressional District for 42 years, until 2004.

Brooks, a World War II Marine combat veteran, played noteworthy roles in the passage of some of LBJ’s landmark Great Society legislation, as well as in Richard Nixon’s impeachment (Nixon called Brooks his “executioner”), plus the investigation of Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal.

The Southeast Texan avoided running for higher office. But, capping his Congressional career, he served for six years as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. Along the way, Brooks also became “a guide and a friend” to a newly elected Californian, Nancy Pelosi, plus some other politicians still prominent today.

Despite being a staunch fiscal conservative, Brooks helped keep the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) alive at critical funding junctures and singlehandedly saved the International Space Station program from being defunded.

U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks (D-TX) spent 42 years in Congress including six as head of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. He also championed NASA and the International Space Station.

The authors write that “Brooks’s legislative productivity was without parallel. Whereas many senior members might settle into a rhythm of what could be passed without much fuss, Brooks took on bigger and bigger legislative fights, going directly after lobbies that had successfully stalled reform in Congress for decades.”

While reading this intelligent, enlightening portrait of Brooks amid twentieth-century Washington politics, it is easy–and unnerving–to see what, and just how much, has been lost during our current era of Congressional rancor, suspicion, and deep partisanship. It is also easy to see where the bitter turmoil began and why it led Jack Brooks to later call Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich “scum.”

Si Dunn

P.S.–My thanks to New South Books for sending an advance reading copy for review.

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