Friday, December 11, 2015

Booknote: The Rude Pundit's Almanack

Lee Papa, The Rude Pundit's Almanack. New York: OR Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-935928423.

If you want to find it in a library (not many have it), you can do so via WorldCat
If you wish to purchase, you can go to the publisher. Note that he did do an update for 2012, available now. Or I guess you can try your favorite online bookseller.

Genre; Nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, humor, personal essay, current events, US history
Format: paperback
Source: I borrowed it via Interlibrary Loan at my work library. The book came from King County Library System in Issaquah, Washington.

The book really packs a lot from memoir to humor to political forecasts and even some wisdom. Though the book was published in 2011, much of it remains very relevant today. In addition, his writing on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is very moving, and it is a serious indictment of how the U.S. abandoned an entire city to die under G.W. Bush's watch. Rude Pundit's writing on Katrina should be required reading in courses on contemporary U.S. History.

The book is arranged into sections, and each section features a series of short pieces on various topics. As the book's description states, the book features charming anecdotes, twisted poems, gonzo reportage, tragic photographs, meaningless charts, founding fathers in compromising positions, and much more. This is definitely a must-read, and it remains very relevant now, especially for me in light of this year's regressive electoral results in Kentucky. The only thing I would wish for is for the author to do an updated edition in light of the upcoming 2016 elections. Yes, the book has profanity, but if you let that stop you from reading it, then you are just not paying attention.

I definitely recommend this.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

In his introduction, he right away establishes some non-negotiable ground rules. These should be common sense and are fact-based, but as I have often said, you could never go broke underestimating the stupidity and short memory of the U.S. voter:

  • "Abortion should be safe and legal. The only regulations should be those that keep it safe and legal, like other legal medical procedures. 
  • Global warming is real and happening because of human beings.
  • Gay people should be allowed to get married because, really, nothing is going to stop it from happening. In fact, whatever the country deems legal for straight people to do, that's gotta be legal for the GLBT community. 
  • Barack Obama was born in the United States. 
  • The Presidency of George W. Bush (with the aid of Congress) is the reason why the nation is in its current dire straits. The greatest success of the right has been to pin the failures of the Bush administration on Barack Obama.
  • Fox 'news' is biased in a way that the New York Times or CNN or even MSNBC could never hope to be" (3). 
On that last point, as librarian and educator who knows how to vet sources, if your source is Fox "News" (or Hannity, Rush, or deity of choice help you InfoWars), I know you are pretty hopeless at that point. I may try to point you to better sources (it's my job and duty as librarian), but if you still persist, well, that is where I dust my feet and keep on walking.

The Rude Pundit is a man of the people who moves among the people armed with his PhD, a fierce wit, and an ability to read the world around him. As he notes, his doctorate is in English (not Political Science or History, for instance), and he does give a shout out to English majors because:

"Majoring in English in the late 20th century meant you learned how to interpret a text and how to 'read' the world around, say a poem or novel. When you apply those skills to the speeches of Sarah Palin, the cognitive dissonance would make a robot go on a city-burning rampage" (2).

As a disclosure, I should say that I am also an English major; my other masters degree is in English (and my undergrad was in English Education; yes, I am a teacher). I am also an academic librarian now, which means not only do I know how to 'read' the world around me, I am pretty good at finding, using, and evaluating all kinds of sources and information, and I am also very good at detecting bullshit. There are times I wish I could get hired as a fact checker for some reputable place, but hey, a librarian can dream. In the meantime, I am thankful for guys like the Rude Pundit calling out the bullshit and showing no compassion in doing so.

The Rude Pundit certainly has no use for religion, and when he speaks on "Among the Christians," he is using some stories to illustrate some important ideas. The fourth story out of the five in that section caught my eye. He writes,

"Let's just say that when you're fourteen and a friend's cousin tells you how he was molested by a priest at his house in Abbeville, Louisiana, you pretty much write off the entire Catholic Church as a worthless force of destruction" (42). 

I can certainly concur with that feeling as I've pretty much written off the Roman Catholic Church as well and went the heathen way. I should disclose that I was raised as a "craddle" Catholic, with all that implies, so making the break was not clean nor easy. After years, I am finally feeling free. There were early signs even back then that not all was perfect in paradise, hushed talk here or there of "stuff going on," but what did it for me was the pedophile scandals breaking out and the bishops protecting those monsters. That arrogance of being against prosecuting their own criminals was the final straw that brought the whole house of cards down. Then again, reading the expose from The Boston Globe, the book Betrayal: Crisis in the Catholic Church (link goes to my review of the book) did not help their cause neither. That I now work for a Christian college, albeit a very liberal one and nondenominational with a strong social justice history, may well be a conundrum to those who know me.

As for the Hell House, which he tells about, I would certainly prefer to do as he did and take off "into the graveyard, laughing among the dead" (44).

Sticking with religion a bit more, his story that takes place in a small two-lane county road in Tennessee certainly has more insight on the few true Christians in the U.S. than books I've recently read such as The Evangelicals You Don't Know (link to my review). Pilgrim George is a simple man who. . .

". . .can put on tire-tread-bottomed sandals and wander the earth in order to ask us to be better people" (46). 

Honestly, what is more humble and simple than that?

Rude Pundit's story of attending an Oliver North speech reminded me of my experience attending a John Bolton lecture at my previous workplace where Bolton was basically hailed as a hero. Like Rude Pundit with North, I bit my tongue at the tie to not "tell everyone around me that they were tools of empire" (63). As Rude Pundit writes,

"Free speech man, it ain't pretty. But it's all we got" (63). 

And I can sympathize, for like the Rude Pundit,

"My inability to clap for criminals has really stymied my ability to make friends" (63).

That ability has been stymied for me as well, especially in recent times when I am just not willing to tolerate stupidity, bigotry, and other ills that should not be tolerated. Now I am not as vocal about my politics as the author is, but I also do not hide them. It has cost me a friend or two, but in the end, if they think criminals like North, Bolton, and so many others are heroes, they are not friends (or family members) I need in my life. Life is too short for bullshit.

On a side note, he wrote about a pitch he had for a book about Ann Coulter. It is a true pity he decided against it.

On his writings about New Orleans and Katrina, I already mentioned they should be required readings. He also urges us to go see for ourselves:

"If you ever doubted the ability of this nation to do anything great anymore, walk the Lower Ninth. As I said before, it was an awful place, rank with poverty and crime. It was an exemplar of social neglect. Now, it stands (barely) as a demonstration of our American paralysis, of our failure to even take care of ourselves" (156).

And at times I wonder why expose myself to evil. Why listen to the likes of Bolton or rabid evangelicals, or other assorted right wing bigots/ I've always said that to fight an enemy you have to know that enemy. You have to know evil and the tools it uses in order to fight it and offer better tools and sources. For decent librarians, that means that in order to offer a counter to Ann Coulter, for example, I have to read some of her stuff now (or listen to her) and then. See the things I do so you do not have to? The Rude Pundit expands on that:

"You see, you have to go to where evil is to know what it's truly like. You have to be willing to put your ass on the line and not just stay tucked away in your little liberal lives, only seeing the people you love and admire, getting patted on the head and told your beliefs are right and good. I've done that, too, and it's like going to church. But it's when you hang out with the devil worshipers, the places where people are throwing themselves on the ground and sacrificing puppies to mad gods, that you really learn to confront the faithful" (168). 

To be honest, these days I would rather take my chances with the devil worshipers than most church folk.

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This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

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