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.

 

 

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.

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

THE MILLI VANILLI CONDITION: Faking it, without much consequence, in the 21st century – #bookreview

 

 

The Milli Vanilli Condition

Essays on Culture in the New Millennium

Eduardo Espina

Arté Publico – paperback

 

“When we see Justin Bieber, we do not see a person. We see a haircut,” says Uruguayan poet and writer Eduardo Espina in this insightful and entertaining collection of 13 essays that delve into various aspects of pretending, faking, plagiarizing and even committing serial falsification of events, credentials or objects.

“The same [haircut] thing happens when we come across photographs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, two of the best paid and most famous soccer players in the world. Or the unmistakable image of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, whose haircut completely characterizes the isolated nation and its ideology, at least regarding its male population.”

With the right haircut, Espina contends, you can fake inclusion in, or affiliation with, a certain trend or movement in society and even get others to follow you.

The Milli Vanilli Condition gets its title from the infamous German pop duo that won a 1990 Grammy for “Best New Artist” and had it taken away a few months later after investigative reporter Charles Alan “Chuck” Phillips uncovered that the two singers merely had lip-synched their song. Other vocalists had recorded the lead tracks.

Eduardo Espina, author of numerous other books, now lives in College Station, Texas. With help from the book’s English translator, Travis Sorenson, Espina brings a refreshing South American and particularly Uruguayan perspective to his observations of modern-day life in the United States and elsewhere and the apparently fading consequences for pretending to be someone or something you are not.

Si Dunn

 

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable – Eugene G. Windchy’s new book is a true “must read” – #bookreview

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable

Eugene G. Windchy

(iUniverse – paperback, Kindle)

You may not agree with every opinion, conclusion or finding expressed in this book, but it is a remarkable work that definitely should be read and given thoughtful consideration.

Twelve American Wars: Nine of Them Avoidable offers eye-opening looks at how the United States has blundered, pushed itself or gotten itself dragged into a dozen different wars between the late 1700s and today and how three-fourths of those wars could have been avoided.

Eugene G. Windchy is a superb researcher, and his well-known book Tonkin Gulf has long had special meaning for me. I spent nearly a year in the South China Sea and Tonkin Gulf aboard a destroyer, starting three days after the still-controversial Tonkin Gulf incidents in 1964. I was amazed at what Windchy was able to dig up about those “attacks” and what they ultimately helped trigger: massive expansion of the Vietnam War. Much of what he reported jibed strongly with what I knew and had experienced, but I was forbidden, for many years, to discuss my involvement because of secrecy restrictions.

Windchy’s new book quickly digs beneath the short, glossy, generally laudatory paragraphs we have read in American history textbooks. Indeed, you may be both amazed and distressed when you ponder his descriptions of how and why a dozen significant wars involving the United States actually got started and how at least nine of the wars realistically could have been avoided.

Si Dunn

Lunch with Buddha – An entertaining, engrossing, thought-provoking American road-trip novel – #bookreview

Lunch with Buddha
Roland Merullo
(PFP/Ajar, Kindle, paperback)

To be honest, I was not really aware of Roland Merullo until his publisher contacted me offering a review copy of an enticingly titled new novel, Lunch with Buddha.

I could blame my “Who?” reaction on my intense focus toward reviewing technology books over the past two years. And I could blame it on empirical evidence that it’s really tough to sell works of fiction these days.

Indeed, several writers of novels and short story collections have told me they don’t get much publicity help from their publishers. Some also have declared they were taking up self-publishing so they could (a) get their books into print (or its digital equivalent), (b) keep more of their paltry earnings, and (c) try their hand at book promotion. Furthermore, I have data — very hard data — showing that virtually no one on Planet Earth has yet read my novel, Erwin’s Law, nor my experimental novella, Jump.

Thus, bottom line, I have not been paying very close attention to the world of fiction lately.

Immediately, I was impressed  (and jarred) to learn that (1) Roland Merullo’s seventh novel, Breakfast with Buddha, is now in its 14th printing; (2) Lunch with Buddha, published late last year, is his eleventh novel and already in its second printing; AND (3) Lunch with Buddha’s completion and publication was funded, at least in part, with significant Kickstarter contributions from Merullo fans.

Intriguingly, Roland Merullo turned down a six-figure advance from a major publishing house and chose a small, independent publisher to bring out his new book.

So he must be good, right?

He’s better than good, actually. Roland Merullo is one of the best, most entertaining writers I’ve encountered in a long time. Seldom am I hooked by a book’s first few paragraphs. But, in Lunch with Buddha, Merullo blends verbal calmness, clarity, wit and depth to create an engaging, absorbing story that flows smoothly from darkly humorous opening to meaningful end.

His new tale is a road-trip novel that covers an odd, yet very American, route: from Seattle to North Dakota, in a borrowed, battered pickup truck nicknamed “Uma.”

Otto Ringling, a New York editor of culinary books and recent widower, is taking the journey with reluctance, while searching for peace of mind and new meanings for his suddenly altered life.

His traveling companion on the drive is his sister’s former guru, “His Holiness” Volya Rinpoche, a Siberian “semi-Buddhist” who now is the sister’s husband and father of their young daughter, Shelsa. Volya still has many questions and misconceptions about life in these not-so-United States. But he also has an infectious spirit, an unshakable spirituality, and plenty of confidence that all will be well and work out in the end.

Otto, meanwhile, is just trying to get a renewed grip on existence. “One of the side effects of losing a spouse–at least for me–had been a peculiar inability to perform the most mundane tasks,” he says in the book, adding:

“Making plane and hotel reservations, shopping for food, setting out the trash on time–these duties, which ordinarily I would have completed with a practiced ease, now seemed as daunting as the learning of a Chinese dialect. I let things slide. For the first time in family history, bills were paid late. The dry cleaners had to call three times to remind me to pick up my shirts. My children could be harsh with me about these failings, but I took their casual criticisms like a battered old fighter takes punches. I would stand. I was determined to stand. I was determined to stay sane, and love them, and help them envision a new life after our old one had been ripped to pieces.”

While Otto and Volya drive across Washington state, Idaho, Montana, and into North Dakota, Otto’s sister, Cecelia, her young daughter Shelsa, and Otto’s children Anthony (20) and Natasha (22), are all riding Amtrak, taking a separate route. They’ve been to Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington state, to witness Otto scattering his wife’s ashes. Now they are heading for Dickinson, North Dakota, where Celia and Volya live — in Otto’s view — “on the far side of some line that marked the boundary of ordinary American reality.”

Along the way, Otto and Volya have several humorous–and sometimes troubling–encounters with contemporary American culture and values. Otto, for example, tries to explain to Volya the meanings of some strange signs they see along the highway, such as “REPTILE ZOO AND EXPRESSO” and “EAT BIG FOOD.”

Otto and Volya also have debates over religion and spirituality as the widower seeks understandable meanings he can attach to life, death, and whatever lies beyond our mystery-shrouded finality. For example:

 “What is the goal?” I asked, trying to slip away from it. “What’s the whole point? Enlightenment? Eternal life? What?”

He patted me on the shoulder for the millionth time, and said, “You purify. You go and go. Life cuts you and you try and try and try and pretty soon–”

“You become beautiful.”

“Yes. Good.”

“But toward what are we going and going? What does the beauty look like?”

He shrugged almost helplessly, and for a moment I was gripped hard by the hand of doubt. He seemed only an ordinary man then, and I wanted more than that from him, more than cryptic answers and shrugs. A small inner voice suggested he’d been fooling us all these years, playing a role, maybe even working a scam.

“I can show you,” he said. “I can’t tell you.”

“All right. Please show me, then. I’m having a crisis of faith. I’m a little bit lost.”

He nodded sympathetically. “We find you,” he said. “Don’t worry too much….”

Lunch with Buddha has the same key characters as Roland Merullo’s best-selling Breakfast with Buddha. And a third book, aptly titled Dinner with Buddha, is said to be in the works.

Fortunately, Lunch is written so it can be picked up and immediately enjoyed by those who have not previously read Breakfast. Indeed, Lunch with Buddha will make many readers go back and devour Breakfast, then eagerly anticipate Dinner–and check out some of Roland Merullo’s other works of fiction and nonfiction while waiting for the next serving.

Geoffrey Chaucer and Jack Kerouac are the two names that  pop most quickly to mind when the debate topic is “classic road-trip novels.”  I move that we now add Roland Merullo to that short, but esteemed, list.

Si Dunn

Five Dark Riders – A novel rich with history, intrigue, action & romance – #fiction #bookreview

Five Dark Riders
Bill Sloan
(Zipp City Press, paperback, Kindle)

Bill Sloan is an acclaimed historian and veteran newspaper journalist previously nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also is one of America’s best writers of World War II Pacific-theater combat narratives. (His latest, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor, was published in April.)

With Five Dark Riders, his new “fact-based novel,” Sloan demonstrates that he can write engrossing, entertaining historical thrillers, as well.

Drawing upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s real-life 1936 trip to Dallas, Texas, Sloan has concocted an absorbing tale built around American domestic political intrigue, international espionage and an unfolding assassination plot.

In Sloan’s novel, Nazi agents have infiltrated a rural area of Texas where German immigrants first arrived in the 19th century, and pro-German culture and sympathies remain strong as Adolph Hitler continues to gain power. The agents’ goal is to assassinate FDR in Dallas, so Vice President John Nance Garner, an avowed isolationist, will take over the White House and keep the United States from going to war with Germany.

The only people who can stop the plot are two South Texans who don’t seem to stand much of a chance: Adam Wagner, a mildly disabled World War I combat veteran who now tends to his father’s sheep and goat farm in South Texas, and Elena Velasco, the beautiful and Anglo-distrusting daughter of an Hispanic family that operates a drugstore in a small Texas town.

Adam and Elena decipher the plot while trying to figure out who killed Elena’s cousin, Julio, who Adam had known since Julio was a baby. The local sheriff, an Anglo of German descent, has done little to investigate the young Mexican’s death, and now he has been duped by a close friend who secretly is at the center of the assassination plot. The sheriff has come to believe Adam may be Julio’s killer and may be involved in other crimes, as well. In reality, one of the Nazi agents killed Julio, and Adam and Elena have figured out how and why.

No one in authority, however, will listen to, nor believe, Adam and Elena and relay what they have discovered to the Secret Service. So, in desperation and with very few resources, the two South Texans begin a journey to Dallas to try to stop the plot themselves.

It’s a dangerous gamble. The Nazis want them dead. And the Secret Service has become aware that there may be some kind of plot against FDR and is trying to maintain very tight security in Texas. Meanwhile, the president’s protectors also are having trouble keeping track of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who keeps slipping away from them. And now they have been alerted to the movements of a suspicious, dangerous couple – Adam and Elena – who seem to keep trying to get close to the president, most likely to harm him.

It’s an excellent setup for a thrill-ride finish that’s full of history, intrigue, action, and romance.

Si Dunn

Mitt Romney, Secret Keynesian? Read Paul Krugman’s ‘End This Depression Now!’ – #bookreview #in #economics #politics

End This Depression Now!
Paul Krugman
(Norton, hardback, list price $24.95; Kindle edition, list price $24.95)

If you’d like to watch some ultra-right conservatives break out in hives, do a St. Vitus Dance or just spontaneously combust, ask them to read End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman.

Most of them won’t read it, of course. They will cast it aside or maybe even set it on fire. Their hearts and minds are firmly set in ideology and rhetoric concrete. No matter what Krugman says or writes, they will remain firmly convinced he is a spawn of the Devil or, at the very least, some kind of Communist-Socialist-Liberal-Radical Raider of the Lost Tax Cut.

Actually, Paul Krugman is one of America’s smartest economic smart guys, and he has some very good ideas about how to help America pick itself up–and stay standing–after getting knocked down, hard, and robbed of its wallet by the Great Recession and depression that followed.

I am an unabashed fan of Krugman, winner of a well-deserved Nobel Prize in economics. He makes clear and steady good sense in his New York Times columns, and he makes damned good sense throughout his new book.

“In the Great Depression,” he writes, “leaders had an excuse: nobody really understood what was happening or how to fix it. Today’s leaders don’t have that excuse. We have both the knowledge and the tools to end this suffering.”

We do, indeed, as he demonstrates convincingly in his book. But we also have seemingly intractable political polarization at the very time when our leaders should be gathered in the middle, rapidly hammering out compromises, and actually doing something to help the nation, not just their financial backers and parties.

Krugman lays out many solid strategies, most of them built around growth, not European-style fiscal austerity, particularly in a time of lingering high unemployment, stagnant or falling wages, and tepid consumer spending. And he looks toward the November election with at least a token effort to appear independent and bipartisan. He has, in fact, strongly criticized economic mistakes made by both sides.

If Obama wins, Krugman writes, “obviously it makes it easiest to imagine America doing what it takes to restore full employment. In effect, the Obama administration would get an opportunity at a do-over, taking strong steps it failed to take in 2009. Since Obama is unlikely to have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, taking these strong steps would require making use of reconciliation, the procedure that Democrats used to pass health care reform and that Bush used to pass both of his tax cuts. So be it. If nervous advisors warn about the political fallout, Obama should remember the hard-learned lesson of his first term: the best economic strategy from a political point of view is the one that delivers tangible progress.”

On the other hand: “A Romney victory would naturally create a very different situation; if Romney adhered to Republican orthodoxy, he would of course reject any action along the lines I’ve advocated.”

But that’s not all. In Krugman’s view: “It’s not clear, however, whether Romney believes any of the things he is currently saying. His two chief economic advisors, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw and Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard, are committed Republicans but also quite Keynesian in their views about macroeconomics. Indeed, early in the crisis, Mankiw argued for a sharp rise in the Fed’s inflation target, a proposal that was and is anathema to most of his party. His proposal caused the predictable uproar, and he went silent on the issue. But we can at least hope Romney’s inner circle holds views that are much more realistic than anything the candidate says in his speeches, and that once in office he would rip off his mask, revealing his true pragmatic/Keynesian nature.”

To which Krugman adds: “I know, I know, hoping that a politician is in fact a complete fraud who doesn’t believe any of the things he claims to believe is no way to run a great nation. And it’s certainly not reason to vote for that politician!”

The upcoming election is still just a distracting sideshow to what America needs now. We need jobs, spending, revenue, investments in education, and re-training for the long-term unemployed. And, yes, we need for a lot of Krugman-style clear-thinking and common sense to miraculously infect the brains of our economic and political leaders.

Get, read, and heed this book.

Si Dunn

Privacy and Big Data – #bookreview #nonfiction

Privacy and Big Data
By Terence Craig and Mary E. Ludloff
(O’Reilly Media, $19.99, paperback; $16.99, Kindle)

Worried about the safety of your personal data?

That genie, unfortunately is long out of the bottle—and very likely spread all over the planet now.

In Privacy and Big Data, authors Terence Craig and Mary E. Ludloff provide an eye-opening examination of “how the digital footprints we leave in our daily lives can be easily mashed up and, through expertise and technology, deliver startling accurate pictures of our behavior as well as increasingly accurate predictions of our future actions.”

Those digital pictures of who we are, who we vote for, what we buy and where we go can be worth a great deal of money and/or power to those who collect them. Indeed, they constitute “big data” and can be worth much more than gold, Craig and Ludloff contend.

“Far more is known today about us as individuals than ever before. How organizations, businesses, and government agencies use this information to track and predict our behavior is becoming one of the fundamental issues of the 21st century,” they state.

Privacy and Big Data is not a lengthy book, just 106 pages. Yet it packs plenty of punch in the form of useful, unsettling and sometimes surprising information, as well as thought-provoking examples, discussions and questions. The two writers – “executives from a growing startup in the big data and analytics industry” – draw upon extensive experience “deal[ing] with the issues of privacy every day as we support industries like financial services, retail, health care, and social media.”

Their well-written work is organized into five chapters and an appendix. Each chapter, meanwhile, has its own bibliography with links to additional materials and information.

Chapter 1, “The Perfect Storm,” looks at what has happened to privacy in the digital age and how we got to this point, starting with ARPANET (the “(Advanced Research Projects Agency Network”) in 1969, which later gave rise to the Internet. In the authors’ view: “There is a perfect storm brewing; a storm fueled by innovations that have altered how we talk and communicate with each other. Who could have predicted 20 years ago that the Internet would have an all-encompassing effect on our lives? Outside of sleeping, we are connected to the Web 24/7, using our laptops, phones, or iPads to check our email, read our favorite blogs, look for restaurants and jobs, read our friends’ Facebook walls, buy books, transfer money, get directions, tweet and foursquare our locations, and organize protests against dictatorships from anywhere in the world. Welcome to the digital age.”

Chapter 2, “The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age,” focuses on “what privacy encompasses, how our privacy norms have been shaped in the U.S. and abroad, the tension between privacy and other freedoms (or lack thereof), and how, for those of us who fully participate in all the digital age has to offer, it may very well be the end of privacy as we know it.”

Chapter 3, “The Regulators,” explores how the world has many geographical boundaries, from national borders down to city limits and even smaller demarcations, including individual agencies, departments and committees. Businesses large and small also operate within specific structural boundaries. Yet the Internet, the authors point out, recognizes no such limits. they examine “how…countries regulate the collection, use, and protection of their citizen’s personal information,” amid countless competing governmental and business agendas.

In Chapter 4, “The Players,” the authors warn: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, anywhere in this world, some ‘thing’ is tracking you. Your laptop, and other personal devices, like an iPad, Smartphone, or Blackberry, all play a role, and contribute to building a very detailed dossier of your likes, concerns, preferred airlines, favorite vacation spots, how much money you spend, political affiliations, who you’re friends with, the magazines you subscribe to, the make and model of the car you drive, the kinds of foods you buy, the list goes on.” The writers identify four broad categories of data grabbers and note that “while the[se] players are playing, consumer privacy continues to erode.” They discuss some specific things you can do to try to reduce your exposure. But, they caution, “What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet forever.”

Finally, in Chapter 5, “Making Sense of It All,” the authors pose several challenging questions and offer their views on possible answers. The questions include: “In the digital world we now inhabit, is privacy outmoded or even possible? Should we just get over it and move on? Should we embrace transparency and its many benefits and disadvantages? And if we do, or have it forced upon us, can we expect the same from our governments, our corporations, and powerful individuals? Will they be held to the same standard? If not, since information is power, what will our world look like?”

Two writers seldom agree on everything, and that is true in this book. In their Appendix titled “Afterword,” Craig and Ludloff state that they have tried to present a wide range of views on important questions, yet sometimes differ in their personal views regarding privacy and big data. They offer brief summaries of where they came from and how their viewpoints have been shaped by life events.

In a world where computers, phones, cars, cameras and many other household, work and public devices gather, store and disseminate data about us, this book can help readers think harder about what information — and freedoms — we may be giving up, willingly and unwittingly, in the name of convenience and connectivity.

Si Dunn

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