Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Booknote: Tastes Like Chicken

Emelyn Rude, Tastes Like Chicken: a History of America's Favorite Bird. New York: Pegasus Books, 2016. ISBN: 9781681771632.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: chickens, poultry, history, foodie
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

I tend to like microhistories, so I thought this book would be a good selection. The book looks at the chicken from domestication ten thousand years ago or so to today's popularity. It was not always the case that chicken was popular. For instance, in America's colonial days, chickens were not  seen as valuable, and farmers rarely bothered to pen them in.

The book is well researched, but it is a slogging and slow read, especially the early chapters where the author basically drowns the reader in minutiae. If you are expecting an interesting narrative with an engaging reading pace, then this book is not for you. I barely managed to finish it in order to write this short review.

If I have to recommend the book, I'd do so for academic libraries where the school has a strong culinary sciences program or maybe strength in food history and/or agricultural sciences. For my library, I would only order this if it was requested. This is not a book for popular readers. The description of the book says this is in the spirit of Mark Kurlansky's Cod. I'd say skip this book and go read one of Kurlansky's books instead.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:




Friday, November 25, 2016

Booknote: The Mastery of Self

Miguel Ruiz, Jr, The Mastery of Self: a Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom. San Antonio, TX: Hierophant Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-938289-53-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: spirituality, self-help
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

I have read the father's book, The Four Agreements. I initially thought the book was written by that same author due to the very similar cover styles, but it turns out the son writes too, and he has written two other books.

The main idea of The Mastery of Self is to help readers let of of past beliefs and restraints, created by  domestication, so you can make choices that reflect who you truly are thus creating harmony withing yourself and the world around you. That is a tall order, but the author leads you through it step by  step. The author argues that we are architects of of our reality, of our personal dream, which we can change if we so choose. If you've read other books in this series, you'll know the idea of the personal dream is very important. Ruiz Sr. and Ruiz Jr. are not the only ones who use this theme. You can also find it in the writings of Paulo Coelho.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • a short message from the publisher
  • an explanation of key terms. This is basically a small glossary
  • a short introduction from the author
  • nine chapters that have the lessons
  • his wish for readers, where he summarizes and concludes the book

While I do like the concepts presented in the book, my main issue with  the book is that the author may seem way too optimistic for the world we live in. I'll admit that part of it may be me living in the U.S. during the lousiest election season ever combined with the fact that I've met and/or witnessed one idiot too many. For those folks, I cannot help but wonder what kind of personal nightmare they are living in. So, based on that, the author comes across as either way too optimistic or outright naive.

Yet, for those who want to change and make things better for themselves, you can find some good advice in this book. His analogy of the dinner party is a  good teaching tool. Though he can also be repetitive at times, he does take you step by step to build the mastery of self in order to have a better life. At the end of the day, much of the lesson boils down to the only one you control is yourself, so work on yourself and gradually make the world around you better. It's not a new lesson; I've read it before, but I will grant for some readers this could be the book to help learn it.

To aid with learning, in addition to his short stories and commentaries, the author offers specific exercises you can try out to put theory into practice. These exercises can range from a simple meditation to short writing exercises to help with reflection. If readers have the time, these may be the best part of the book.

For me, the book was just OK. The pace could be slow at times, and the content can be a bit repetitive. But the exercises are worth trying out. For other readers, I think their mileage may vary. If you have read Ruiz Sr.'s books, this can be a good follow-up. Personally, I liked The Four Agreements better.

2 out of 5 stars.


* * * 

Additional reading notes:

The author assumes that you do go out and about in the world. Solitude is good, but we thrive with others:

"Since you are reading this book, it's likely that you don't live in a cloistered monastery or ashram, or all alone high atop a mountain. You have chosen to engage in the world, and you want to enjoy yourself in the process. Solitude can be a great tool for healing and communion with oneself, but it is our interactions with others that will allow us to thrive and enjoy an active life. If life is like a carnival, you have come to ride the rides" (3). 

As a highly functioning introvert, I treasure and appreciate my solitude. I also live and work in the world as librarian and educator, my work in helping others, so I appreciate the point he makes.

Defining domestication. This is a concept I appreciate and makes sense to me. As I've grown over time, especially as I came to my heathen path, I've found the need to be aware of ways in which adults in my life domesticated me. I need that awareness in order to let go of those restraints so I can live a better and happier life. It is an ongoing journey. The author defines the term as follows:

"Domestication is the system of control in the Dream of the Planet; it is the way we learn conditional love. Starting when we are very young, we are presented with either a reward or punishment for adopting the beliefs and behaviors of  others in the Dream. This system of reward and punishment, or domestication, is used to control our behavior. The result of domestication is that many of us give up who we really are in exchange for who we think we should be, and consequently we end up living a life that is not our own. Learning how to spot and release our domestication, and reclaiming who we really are in the process, is a hallmark of a Master of Self" (5). 

The author goes on to point out that in the Toltec tradition two powerful forces, types of love, shape our agreements, attachments, and domestication. These are unconditional love and conditional love. We need to seek living with  unconditional love for ourselves and others. Unconditional love is defined:

"When unconditional love flows from our hearts, we move through life and engage other living beings with compassion. Unconditional love is recognizing the divinity in every human being we meet, regardless of his or her role in life or agreement with our particular way of thinking. A Master of Self sees all beings through the eyes of unconditional love, without any projected image or distortion" (32).

I will be the first to admit that seeing the divinity in certain people can be extremely hard. You honestly wonder if some folks even have any to start with.

You are responsible for having integrity in what you say, not for how others take it. This is not a new maxim, but it is an important one to remember: 

"Thus, I am only responsible for the clarity and integrity of what I say-- not what others hear and feel-- because I don't control others' perception" (40). 

However,

"Of course, this truth is not meant to be a license to say or do something is unkind or intentionally hurtful (to be considerate of others is a also a choice we have), but we understand that when we break the chains of our domestication, this news can be hard for our domesticators and those trying to domesticate us to handle, especially at first" (55-56). 

A most dangerous idea is that of scarcity and the illusion that you are deficient or not good enough. It is an ancient idea; religion has often imposed it; for example, the Christian myth of Eden and Original Sin. It has domesticated so many into believing they have an inherent internal deficiency, causing all sorts of grief and damage in the process. It was something even I had to let go, and once I did, became a heathen, and learned to love myself, a bit of liberation came. It's still a work in progress. The author writes on this, and this I believe is important, especially if you want a more peaceful, harmonious life:

"Of all the false ideas that you have been domesticated to, the idea that  you are not enough may be the most damaging, so let me be absolutely clear on this matter: You are more than enough. You are perfect and complete as you are. You are not flawed, damaged, or irredeemable. Much of the suffering you experience is self-inflicted, and it can be traced back to believing this untruth. This feeling of unworthiness is the primary reason you withhold unconditional love for yourself. The most effective thing you can do to bring about change in your life is to let this flawed idea go. Once this false belief is replaced with unconditional self-love and self-acceptance, the myth of scarcity crumbles, and comparison and competition with others in its wake" (146).


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This book qualifies for the these 2016 Reading Challenges:




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Some treats for Thanksgiving 2016

Before I take some time with The Better Half and our daughter for Turkey Day (a.k.a. Thanksgiving Day), allow me a moment to wish all four of my readers a happy and safe holiday. If you are traveling, please be careful and safe; put the cellphone down while you drive, and for the love of  your deity of choice, please drive sober. Given that this year has been a tense one, including the 2016 elections in the United States, I am including some articles on how to cope and survive in case politics decide to rear out its head.

Here are then a few links to articles and posts with some trivia and information I hope you find interesting and/or useful with some comments from me. As always comments from you are always welcomed within reason.

  • I usually start posts like this with  the fun stuff. As I mentioned though, things could get ugly during the family gathering. This has been a seriously tense year, and a lot of people feel hurt, afraid, angry, so on. As much as possible, you want  to avoid an emotional explosion during the dinner. This is a big reason why I am glad we are not traveling anywhere nor having anyone over for the holiday. I appreciate having some peace and quiet. However, I have noticed that quite a few articles on how to survive the dinner are making the rounds in the press. I have selected some examples. If you have to be with  family, I hope you find them useful if you need to use the advice: 
  •  Did you know there are 7 "places and townships in the United States named Cranberry, a popular side dish at Thanksgiving"? You can find neat trivia about the holiday and more in the 2016 Fact for Features piece for Thanksgiving from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • A little humor from Bad Postcards. If you do not want to cook, going out for the meal could be an option as there are places that open for you to have a meal. On a side note, many moons ago when I was a waiter, I did in fact have to work at a hotel that served a Thanksgiving buffet. 
  • Are you cooking a turkey? If you bought it frozen, you probably should be thawing it out by now to have it done in time. Anyhow, here are some tips on how to cook the turkey so you do not give your guests food poisoning. Via USA Today. 
  • On a positive note, the overall cost of the typical Thanksgiving dinner seems to have gone down a little bit. This is based on a meal for 10 people. Story via The Rural Blog
  • However, a lower cost can still mean that people may overspend or make other money mistakes during their holiday shopping. Via Wise Bread, here are "10 Things You'll Waste Money on this Thanksgiving." Hopefully you read this beforehand so you can avoid the mistakes. I can certainly agree on  the tip about serving food no one really likes. For the love of cripe, can you all stop serving the same mediocre green bean casserole or whatever other hideous side no one wants to eat? Maybe it is time to break it to Aunt Bertha who keeps bringing it that no one eats it, and it ends up in the trash after the dinner.
  • Apparently mistakes to avoid is a theme in the press this year for Thanksgiving. Via BuzzFeed, here are "17 Thanksgiving Mistakes Everybody Makes." Actually, make that almost everybody else. In our house, we really minimize or avoid these altogether. For example, we do not eat a turkey in our house, the issues with  turkeys are happily avoided. The article does include some information links to avoid the mistakes. 
  • Mental Floss has a nice infographic on "7 Common Thanksgiving Hazards and How to Avoid Them."
  • One of the things I find pretty dreadful about Thanksgiving are the leftovers. Why the heck people see a need to cook a ton of food they are not able to finish in a sitting, then end up eating (or attempting to eat) the leftovers for the next month  or so is beyond me. Especially so when if you are still stuck with  Aunt Bertha's hideous side casserole (see link above) a couple of weeks later. So here are "Seven tips for a waste-free Thanksgiving." Story via The Christian Science Monitor
  • Are you one of those people who has an eternal guilt trip because, oh holy shit, you ate a second piece  of pie during the Turkey Day dinner? Dude or dudette, just chill and "eat your damn pie." As long as you take care of yourself the rest of the year, a little indulgence is fine, and you will feel better. Story via Vox
  • But if you must serve healthy food at the dinner, well, here are some recipe ideas for "25 Healthyish Thanksgiving Dishes You'll Actually Want to Eat" from BuzzFeed.
  • Or you can go the opposite direction away from healthy and for fun have an all-candy Thanksgiving dinner that includes a gummy turkey. See story at Foodiggity
 Bonus Black Friday links: Once you all have slept off the turkey induced coma and maybe had a good night's sleep, some of you might be going out for Black Friday.
  •  Just for fun, here are some vintage Black Friday ads, from the Library of Congress. You thought the aggressive early shopping advertising was just a problem now?  Check it out back in 1918. 
  • And as you head out for Black Friday, here are "8 Frugal Skills You Need to Survive Black Friday" via Wise Bread. Good luck out there. If you do Black Friday, have fun, but try to keep the stress low and not to spend too much.






Booknote: Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump

G.B. Trudeau, Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-4494-8133-9.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: humor, political humor
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

Note: I read this shortly before the 2016 elections in the United States.

Doonesbury has been warning us about Donald Trump for a while now. This compilation is divided by decades: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, which brings us pretty close to today. The last comic in the collection is dated April 24, 2016.

What I really found amusing about this collection was not so much Trump himself, but how he touches the lives of the other characters in the comic. From Duke getting hired as captain of Trump's giant yacht to Boopsie working as hired eye candy, their misadventures and situations make the comic work as political commentary and humor. Very often Trump is in  the background, but his huge presence can be felt. As for Trump himself, he is larger than life in the book.

Unlike a lot of people in the United States, the author has been paying attention. The comic is actually a pretty good document of Trump's bad business deals, his womanizing, and  his other terrible traits. Trump did not just emerge out of the ether; he blustered and bullied his way to his presidential run (and as of this post, President-Elect of the United States). You may laugh at some of his antics, because some are ridiculous, but then you realize the guy was serious.

The volume makes for good timely reading in the election season. This is one public libraries, and some academic libraries, need to pick up for their collections.

4 out of 5 stars

This  book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:



Monday, November 21, 2016

Booknote: Cats in Sweaters

Jonah Stern, Cats in Sweaters: Flaunting Their Tiny Sweaters and Trademark Attitudes. New York: Rock Point Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-63106-232-2.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: photography, humor, cats
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison  County Public Library

I took a kitty break and read this book. The book is pretty much what the title says: it's a collection of photos of cats wearing sweaters. In what has proven to be a seriously shitty 2016, grab this book to take a nice break. The book is organized into four short chapters:

  • Kitties getting snuggly
  • Divas: Ladylike Sweeties
  • Silly Sweaters
  • Holiday Sweaters
Each chapter has an introductory page, and then you get the cat photos. Each cat gets a two-page layout that includes cat name, a cute saying from the cat, and a cute fun fact along with a large photo plus some smaller photos of the cat in a sweater. You get a good variety of cats in the book. All photos are in full color, making this book a nice treat for readers of all ages. It is definitely a cute break from the world out there. It is a book that will bring you a smile.

5 out of 5 stars

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:



Friday, November 18, 2016

Booknote: Monsters! and Other Stories

Gustavo Duarte, Monster! & Other Stories. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-61655-309-8.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: horror, humor
Format; Trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library  


This book collects the title story and two other stories. In "Monsters!", giant monsters invade a city and begin to cause mayhem. It seems to be your typical giant monster story until you get to the twist. In "Cรณ!", a farmer experiences a UFO abduction. In "Birds", two business partners find colleagues in the office dying and the Grim Reaper at their window. Will they be able to stay alive?

The great thing about these stories is the combination of horror and humor. These stories are well within anthology traditions like The Twilight Zone, plus charms and twists that will stay with you well after you are done reading the book. Perhaps I should say looking through the book given the stories are wordless. However, his evocative and charming art tell you all you need. The art is rich and detailed, filled with humor, making this book a pleasure to read. And then you get the story twists that leave you pondering well after the stories are done. Duarte does a great job with story twists. 

Though wordless, this is not a book for children; it does have horror elements. Adults who enjoy some horror blended with humor will definitely enjoy this. I enjoyed  it very much, and I highly recommend it. It is one I would add to my personal collection. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: 




 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Booknote: How the Post Office Created America

Winifred Gallagher, How the Post Office Created America. New York: Penguin Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781594205002.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history, United States, government agencies
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley


This book shows how the agency that went on to become the U.S. Postal Service truly served to unify and to help grow the nation. It also embodied the debate of what is a public good or not, and at its best it showed what a service for the public good run by the government of the people can do to keep people informed and unified. It was a service that over time Americans have taken for granted, and now in a time when Americans are more selfish and materialistic, the postal service may not survive. Through it all, the service had its ups and downs, brilliant moments, and missed opportunities, but it has always managed to serve the nation faithfully.

The author offers a pretty comprehensive history of the postal services from colonial America to the 21st century. In fact, at times it may be a bit too much in terms of minutiae and detail. There were some passages that bogged down the narrative a bit and slowed down my reading experience. There are also some very interesting parts to the story. However, this was a book I liked, and it is an important book on a part of U.S. history that not many people think about today. The book is not just a history of the post office; it is a history of the nation.

After a short introduction, the book is arranged in 16 chapters. It ends with an afterword. The book includes notes on sources and also a list of suggested readings for those who wish to learn more.

I  would say this  is a must have for public and academic libraries. For academic libraries, this is an important selection for U.S. history programs. For public libraries, this may be the new definitive history on the postal service. This is a book that people need to be reading to be informed and understand the importance of the USPS and why it needs to be preserved. I will certainly  order a copy for my library. Although it was not always a smooth read, I still liked it, and it is one I would recommend.

3 out of 5 stars.


* * * * *

Additional reading notes:

The Founders had a new idea in their desire to keep the common man informed and knowledgeable of public affairs:

"Their novel, uniquely American post didn't just carry letters for a few; it also subsidized the delivery of newspapers to the entire population, which created an informed electorate, spurred the fledgling market economy, and bound thirteen colonies into the United States" (1).

Why this book is significant:

"The people and their elected representatives, who must soon decide the post's future, now know very little about the institution, past or present. Indeed, the most widely read academic history was published in 1972, and the best popular one, in 1893. Most of the scholarly literature focuses on the nineteenth century, and there has been very little study of the period after the 1930s. It is time for Americans to learn more, particularly about the post's modern history, which this book bases on extensive primary research, including interviews with scholars, and postal professionals as well as explorations of libraries, museums, and archives" (5). 

Unlike other history books, this one looks at the nation's history through the lens of  its communications network.

The  early United States was founded on the idea that its citizens needed to be informed:

"The infant United States, however, was based on an idea that was anathema to history's great powers: if a people's republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on" (31).

That is an idea that is clearly lost today given how poorly informed Americans are today. Notice the irony of this in a time where there is more access to more communication channels than ever.

Today, many Americans take for granted that the post office will offer universal service to all in the nation, and that it is a right. That principle, in reality, was not the case. In fact, it was a modern concept:

"Modern Americans take for granted the so-called universal-service mandate, which says that all citizens everywhere are entitled to mail access for the same price, but this principle was rarely discussed in such absolute terms until the twentieth century. The act didn't make it a basic right, like freedom of speech or religion, but it fostered the idea that if a group of citizens could establish their need for postal service, they could reasonably hope that the government would provide it" (35). 

In the book, I also got to learn more about Benjamin Rush. I knew little of him prior to reading this book, and I had no idea of his role in promoting the postal service. I may seek out a good book or two on him later. This went along with his advocacy for newspapers as necessary tools to educate citizens. This led to, in the early days, to strongly subsidizing newspaper delivery via mail. On this, the author writes,

"Rush's advocacy for newspapers as egalitarian educational tools that were 'absolutely necessary' to adapt the 'principles, morals, and manners of our citizens to our republican forms of government' is writ large in the Post Office Act's remarkable provisions for the circulation of information. The law essentially subsidized the growth of America's struggling press by recognizing all newspapers as patriotic enterprises that, for the first time, qualified as official mail-- a marked contrast to the policy in Great Britain. As much, papers were now entitled to a place in the sacrosanct portmanteaux and the same secure handling as letters-- and at a very low postage rate meant to encourage the development of an informed citizenry" (38).

However, just as today, just because Americans  have access to more information, it does not follow they will be smarter or better informed. Sure, the political scene may be more vital, but it also gets rowdy, messy, and often argumentative. It was a risk the Founders chose to take in favor of an uncensored press.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Americans could write and send letters with ease. These have become great primary documents for historians:

"That nearly all Americans could now both write letters and afford to mail them would prove to be an enormous gift to historians, because their correspondence provided personal information from all social strata, not just the elite" (92). 

Another addition to mail of the 19th century was the greeting card:

"America began to manufacture cards in the mid-nineteenth-century, the first of which celebrated Christmas and the New Year (as well as Jewish versions of the latter), soon followed by St. Valentine's Day" (96). 

After the Progressive Era, you could see things began to turn bad for the postal service (and other social services too) as the business mentality and worship of the private sector and profit took over in the 1920s, just as the Great Depression was about to hit. This mentality of making money and profits over people continues to plague the U.S. today. So, what happened then?

"In a momentous if little remarked upon change, some legislators and even some of the department's own managers began to drift away from the broad historical understanding of the post as an almost open-ended public service and began to recast it as a business instead. Instead of thinking in terms of what the post could next do for people, officials grew preoccupied with  increasing its revenue and reducing its deficits" (220). 

That may well be the turning point towards the downward spiral. Here is one vision of what we could have had if public interest was kept as main motivation instead of greed and special interests:

"The postal visionaries of the past would have tried to provide Americans with cheap, secure broadband access and email accounts that protect them from hackers and hucksters. They would have moved to capitalize on the post's great brand for security and privacy by offering safe ways to transact business online, including a legally binding digital signature service, secure cards for paying bills and authenticating identity, and safe digital storage" (266). 

Alas, we will likely never see any of the above. Like previous failures to seize opportunity, the digital revolution was missed. But it was not so much the fault of the USPS:

"That the USPS and a Congress beset with lobbyists from special interest groups didn't foresee or respond to the digital revolution's impact on the post's traditional operations and seize upon its positive potential was a monumental failure" (266). 

In the end, very few Americans really appreciated the postal service, especially in the late 20th century into the 21st century, yet many Americans still take it for granted (even as they vote for politicians more than willing to dismantle it):

"Very few appreciated that between the early 1980s and 2007, the USPS supported itself without any tax dollars while continuing to provide universal service at reasonable rates-- an achievement that would have impressed Benjamin Franklin and every postmaster since" (273). 

And while fans of privatization gloat, the reality is they leave a very inconvenient reality out of their narrative, a truth that shows precisely why we need a government-run universal public service:

"However, privatizers gloss over the major reason for the different bottom lines of businesses and public services, even a hybrid like the USPS: public services do the difficult, unprofitable work that businesses eschew, such  as providing universal mail service to every American everywhere for the same low price" (280).



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Book qualifies for these 2016 Reading Challenges:



Friday, November 11, 2016

Booknote: The Beginning of the American Fall

Stephanie McMillan, The Beginning of the American Fall: a Comics Journalist Inside the Occupy Wall Street Movement. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012.  ISBN: 978-1-60980-452-7.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: nonfiction, politics, current affairs, protest movements
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

This graphic novel is a brief history of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The movement started in 2011, and by now it seems to be mostly a note in history. McMillan is a comics journalist who was involved in the movement. Her book came out in 2013; by then the movement was already in decline. Much  of it, as we learn from reading the comic, was due to lack of unity. Too many radicals with too many ideas, many of them dense, who could not agree on how to move forward and do something more than protests. I say that because at various points even the author questions if protests accomplish anything or not. On reading the book, I see its timeliness; it caught the movement as it rose and as it fizzled out. There have been other books on the topic, but for folks who may know little of the movement and its background, this book makes an accessible entry point.

The author works her way up from October 2010 to the time the movement fizzles out about a year later or so. McMillan combines her comics art with a good amount of theory. This theory is interspersed throughout the book at various points to illustrate or expand on events or to explain rationales. You also get theory in a series of appendices at the end of the book. These appendices include a list of groups discussed in the book, notes on the concept of organizing, and notes on how to organize. In the appendices, the author also discusses her method in creating the book:

"I participate in political activity. I also draw cartoons and write. This book is a mix of all those, which I would not be able to keep separate even if I wanted to. I don't claim that this account encompasses 'the whole truth,' but that it is my interpretation of events, one of many fragments of a broad spectrum of analysis and observations about the movement--all shaped by personal idiosyncrasy, experience, and outlook" (122). 

That is one detail that struck me. This movement was very fragmented. All sorts of leftists briefly came together, but their differences, some significant and some petty, kept them from doing nothing more than camp protests and some noise. One does have to ask where are they now? Mostly gone their separate ways and back to their small niches it seems. There in lies the problem: as long as they keep simply talking theory, not really agreeing on anything, any form of revolution, which is sorely needed, will not get anywhere.

McMillan emphasizes the need for analysis and understanding how movements work, goals, philosophies, so on. This is why  she includes so much material within the comic. But after a while, it's time to stop sitting around sipping lattes and whatever organic food while talking theory and doing something, something other than yet another bunch of signs and a protest within the oppressive structures.

As a snapshot of a historical yet brief moment, the book works. As inspiration, not so much. When one character in the comic says she is tired of all the consensus b.s., I admit part of me felt the same. It's all talk, and talk, and then talk some more, and no matter how democratic and inclusive they try to be, a lot of it is b.s. I have studied theory; I've had the privilege (at a high cost to myself in various ways I'll add), and after a while you get to the point where you ask, if you believe in action as well, is this all there is? This comic in the end, for all its strengths, just left me like that, asking if that is all there is.

Book won the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights 2016 Journalism Award.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * *

Additional reading notes:

Possible book to read mentioned: Aric McBay, et.al., Deep Green Resistance.

Arundhati Roy on protests as being allowed, which basically then disarms them. This I found honestly depressing even as I see it to be true:

"I don't think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination. I don't think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost" (qtd. in 70). 

The author calls for anti-capitalist organizations, and she also points out how many activists lack knowledge of how capitalism functions. As I often say, you need to know your enemy:

"Many activists don't know how capitalism actually functions. We have to understand why the system is structurally impossible to reform, so that we can deal with the necessity-- and our responsibility-- not to fix it (because oppression is built into it from the start) but to do away with  it, and figure out all that will entail. We may in fact be the last generation with the opportunity to do this" (100). 

If she is hoping for today's generation, which is more interested in Pokemon GO! than politics, we may as well give it up now. As good as the above sounds, by now people are too brainwashed to not just support the selfish capitalist system but to actually like it and perhaps even worship it. Just look at the two choices the corporate parties in the United States are offering in the 2016 presidential election cycle. Do we need anti-capitalist organizations to bring down the current oppressive system? Yes. Is it going to happen any time soon? Not by a long shot. Americans more often than not are too stupid and docile for their own good. They fought a revolution (of privileged white men) to get rid of the British, but that spirit is long gone and given way to complacency, arrogance, and just plain idiocy.

So, you say let's have a protest. That's just fine with the powers that be, for the real owners. To them, that is just you letting off a little steam so you'll go back to work and worrying about the Kardashians:

"The system has many methods of dealing with dissent. One is open repression. But before they resort to that, they try everything else, including co-opting it. They draw it into dead ends it creates for this purpose: pressuring public officials, working with corporate and state funded non-profits, exercising formal civil rights such as free speech-- as long as we don't threaten the actual relationship of power, we have all these means of dissent that we're permitted to exercise. And because the system has ideological hegemony (in other words, brainwashing), most people can't conceptualize resistance outside of this framework allowed by the system itself. Spontaneously, they follow the paths that have been laid out for them" (100-101).

Sounds  pretty depressing  and hopeless,  but it's pretty accurate. Heck, the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. may  have been the last with enough will and clout to move the powers that be. Today, movements just come and go as the next shiny thing-- a new iPhone, Pokemon GO!, another celebrity-- comes along. This is the reason the creator of the film Idiocracy recently lamented his film had become a documentary. It's one serious  uphill struggle. And considering that even the few who might get it can't even agree on "the difference between bright green and deep green" (106), the powers that  be will just keep on oppressing. The real owners know they are perfectly safe from any revolutionaries who'd rather split hairs over theory and minutiae than make a unified front. It will stay  business as usual.

In  the end, the author tried to end on a positive note, but the writing is on the wall, and it is clear. It does not look good. That boot stomping on someone's face remains strong. However, the real owners simply exploiting any movements' weaknesses and constant bickering and internal contradictions then watching them fizzle out demoralized is more insidious and effective  for the real owners. And as long as people keep falling for it, it's just another day in paradise.


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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:





Friday, November 04, 2016

Booknote: True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen

Sarah A. Chrisman and Thomas E. Hill, True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen: Victorian Etiquette for Modern-Day Mothers and Fathers, Husbands and Wives, Teachers and Students and More. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-63220-582-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: etiquette and manners, Victoriana
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library


This is basically a compilation of Victorian-era etiquette rules, tips, and advice. The author seeks to show how much of those rules is still relevant  and applicable to this day. After reading the book, I agree that the Victorians still have much to offer us in terms of etiquette and social behavior. Many of the rules they had back then are still with us today, plus there are a few that would be very applicable in today's lax and often rude society.

The book is arranged in ten chapters covering topics from romance and courting to health to table etiquette and behavior on the street. Each chapter features a list of rules and advice plus some kind of  fiction piece from the time to illustrate the rules of behavior. The fiction pieces felt more like filler. After reading the first fiction piece, I just skimmed or skipped the others as they were not as interesting. I felt those pieces detracted from the rest of the book. As for the rules, they vary. Some are still good and relevant. A few may strike some readers as odd or quirky, and they may be glad those rules are gone. Overall, we get a good picture of rules and behavior in Victorian times.

Keep in mind, these rules are mostly for the privileged and those of means. Those who aspired to move up also read them and tried to follow them. Even though the author draws much material from Hill's Manual, an 1873 etiquette book aimed at the American middle class, the material is mainly to help the upwardly mobile so they knew how to behave among the rich and privileged. In the late 19th century United States, social mobility upwards seemed very possible (very unlike today), so etiquette manuals were written with  that in mind:

"Class status was a more malleable  idea than it had ever been before-- after all, both President Lincoln and President Garfield had been born in log cabins. In an era when it seemed a very definite possibility that the person who served as a waiter in a fine restaurant one day might well be an honored guest at the same table a week later, one of the most important things people could learn was the right way to treat each other" (viii). 

As I mentioned, there is a lot of privilege here. The Victorian era in  the United States was also its Gilded Age, the era of robber barons. A popular narrative of the time were the Horatio Alger myths and his (mostly unrealistic but very popular) tales of Ragged Dick.

I liked the book, but it did have hits and misses. Still, it is worth a look, and it does have a few lessons for folks today.

3 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

Some advice for  husbands and wives:

"Never deceive; confidence, once lost, can never be wholly regained" (39).

"Always leave home with a tender goodbye and loving words. They may be the last" (39). 

Advice for parents:

"Teach your children those things which they will need when they become men and women. Think what a man and woman need to know in order to be healthy, happy, prosperous and successful, and teach them that" (91).

A pity this is not done in schools anymore, teaching etiquette. Parents these days certainly do not bother teaching it to their kids anymore, and it shows. So, on classrooms and etiquette:

"At least a portion of each day should be set apart by the teacher to impart to the pupils a knowledge of etiquette. Students should be trained to enter the room quietly, to always close without noise the door through which they pass, to make introductions gracefully, to bow with ease and dignity, to shake hands properly, to address others courteously, to make a polite reply when spoken to, to sit and stand gracefully, to do the right thing in the right place, and thus, upon all occasions, to appear to advantage" (102). 

There is a reason why  many colleges and universities, including mine, have career workshops on topics like how to dress and how to behave at a business dinner. Otherwise, a lot of those graduates would have no clue.

Hey, even then, the Victorians said to shop local:

"Purchasers should, as far as possible, patronize the merchants of their own town. It is poor policy to send money  abroad for articles which can be bought as cheaply at home" (111).

Some things to avoid in social conversation, still very applicable today:

"Do not engage in argument" (127).

"Do not interrupt another when speaking" (127).

"Do not talk of your private, personal, and family matters" (127).

"Do not make a pretense of gentility, nor parade the fact that you are a descendant of any notable family. You must pass for just what you are, and must stand on your own merit" (130).

"Do not discuss politics or religion in general company. You probably would not convert your opponent, and he will not convert you. To discuss these topics is to arouse feeling without any  good result" (130-131). 

This next piece goes to certain people who just love to brag and showoff. These days, they are the ones who constantly fill our social media  feeds with unwanted photos of expensive trips, etc. This also applies to various snooty academics:

"Do not make a parade of being acquainted with distinguished or wealthy people, of having been to college, or of having visited foreign lands. All this is no evidence of any real genuine worth on your part" (131). 

And finally, once more on keeping religion out of polite company:

"Do not take it upon yourself to admonish comparative strangers on religious topics; the persons to whom you speak may have decided convictions of their own in opposition to yours, and your over-zeal may seem to them an impertinence" (132). 



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This book qualifies for these 2016 Reading Challenges: