Texas writer Mark David Albertson’s new novel, Steaming: A Sea Story, is an entertaining tale of naval service in the Western Pacific (Westpac) and South China Sea and naval action near the coasts of Vietnam and Cambodia in the last days of the Vietnam War.
This book is aimed at fans of military fiction. And it should have special appeal for former sailors who served in the U.S. Seventh Fleet during the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them still remember what life was like aboard destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers, and other ships that steamed back and forth for weeks and months, patrolling off the coasts of North and South Vietnam, plus near Thailand and Cambodia. Part of this book also takes place in the Philippines, at the Subic Bay naval base and the sex-charged “liberty” town, Olongapo, right outside the main gate.
Almost anyone who has served aboard a ship in the U.S. Navy comes home with a variety of “sea stories” to tell. And these stories can take on lives of their own as they are told, retold, and inevitably, embellished. Steaming simultaneously offers elements of truth and imagination. And even those of us who served in Westpac, in the 7th Fleet, and held high security clearances during parts of the Vietnam War, may not be able to separate the facts from the entertaining fictions in Mark David Albertson’s new book.
Matthew McConaughey’s autobiography Greenlights is due to be released Oct. 20, 2020, by Crown Publishing. I doubt I’ll be receiving a copy to review in this backwater book blog. But the Sunday (Oct. 18, 2020) New York Times has published an enticing spread in its Culture section focusing on McConaughey and his new book. Greenlights promises to be interesting and informative reading and perhaps inspiring, as well.
The first (and almost only) time I’ve met Matthew McConaughey was a few years ago in Austin. I was in a buffet line at a school event, loading up my free plate of food. McConaughey was behind me. He looked very skinny and in dire need of sustanance. I kept encouraging him to put more food on his tray. He had, at best, a barely visible lettuce-and-tomato salad and nothing else. He just grinned and said politely, “No thank you. I’m good.” When I went back for seconds, I caught his eye and pointed again insistently toward the buffet line. He grinned again and again shook his head no. “I’m good,” he assured me. I already knew that, of course. I’d seen him in several movies and enjoyed his performances.
At that same school event, while McConaughey and his young son were playing football together outside, I had entertaining conversations with the Austin actor’s wife and his mother. We talked about many things, including East Texas, South America, and McConaughey’s high school days. Neither his mother nor his wife expressed any concerns about how skinny I thought McConaughey looked.
What I didn’t know then (and they were keeping secret from me) was that he was getting in shape to be the emaciated and clever AIDS patient Ron Woodroof in the movie “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he would win a 2014 Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.”
I’m glad now that I didn’t attempt any force-feeding interventions, beyond saying “Well, at least have few more tomatoes.”
You can get “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey here.
Design and implement production-grade Node.js applications using proven patterns and techniques, 3rd Edition
Mario Casciaro and Luciano Mammino
In their view, “the most important aspect of Node.js lies in its ecosystem: the npm package manager, its constantly growing database of modules, its enthusiastic and helpful community, and most importantly, its very own culture based on simplicity, pragmatism, and extreme modularity.”
Along with clear descriptions of how Node.js works, their updated and expanded third edition (paid link) offers “proven patterns and techniques” for designing and implementing production-grade applications using Node.js.
They delve into Node’s single-threaded programming model, its asynchronous architecture, and its deliberate emphasis on creating modules that do one thing well. And they describe how these approaches provide important benefits and advantages to developers who need to design applications that can be developed, tested, scaled, and maintained more easily.
Yes, when it comes to Bob Woodward’s Rage, (paid link) there are matters to be mad about, such as why didn’t Woodward let us know what he knew regarding Trump downplaying COVID-19’s dangers when he first knew it? And there are basic questions to be asked, such as: why has Woodward’s book been timed for release on roughly the same schedule as several other new books exposing aspects of Trump and his grifts-a-minute administration?
For example, (paid links follow) there’s Michael Cohen’s Disloyal. And there’s Peter Strzok’s Compromised. Or, how about Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s Melania and Me, etc. Indeed, a long list of tell-mostly-all books has emerged and will keep emerging between now and November and beyond.
Bottom line:Everyone wants to (and will try) make money off the presidential election. Including those who write, publish, and sell books.
One does not write a controversial book overnight and get it past all of the requiste lawyers in a hurry. And publishers, not writers, play most of the key roles in how, where, and when a book gets published and becomes available for distribution. (paid link below)
Another bottom line: What if the combined impact of these books, including (paid link) Rage, helps limit the Trump presidency to one term–or less?
If Woodward had released his information a lot earlier, what if it had gotten lost under six or ten other controversies and banner headlines regard the Trump Administration and COVID-19? Republicans would have done a full-court press on damage control and offered full-throated denials. How many lives would have been saved by a squashed disclosure buried under their avalanche of disinformation and what-about-isms? Yes, many lives needlessly have been lost, and Trump deserves much of the blame–him, the Republican Party, and all of Trump’s mask-rejecting, social-distance-rejecting, vaccine-disparging cult followers. Meanwhile, our political attention spans are on full alert now. We are angry and ready to act.
You’re free to rage at Bob Woodward’s Rage. (Yep, another paid link). But rage also that our entire political system is now drowning 20,000 leagues deep under a sea of dark money, and just about everyone (in power or not) is wanting to reach into that vast money bag and grab a few coins.
NOTE: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Guess which book, as yet unreleased, is pre-selling at #1 in Amazon’s “Corruption & Misconduct in Politics” category?
P.S., I possibly may earn a few helpful cents as an Amazon affiliate bookseller if you follow this link to the book. But only if you actually buy it or something else. Otherwise, bupkis. No soup for me. Thanks for considering.
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 (paid link) is available in hardcover, ebook, audio CD, and audiobook formats, according to Amazon.
— Si Dunn
NOTE:As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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 hereif 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.
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.
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: email@example.com $25 (soft cover) including shipping and handling $40 (hard cover) including shipping and handling.
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.”