web stats

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

5 quick book reviews

I've been reading a lot of books lately. I don't have time to write full length book reviews on each one, so I thought I'd just do quick summaries.

Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean

Excellent book. Demonstrates how the Republican party has been taken over by a bunch of amoral, power-hungry, bigotted, fear-mongering authoritarians and that they plan to continue to destroy our country from the inside. A self-described "Goldwater Republican", Dean is vicious in his attack on today's Republican leaders:

"What has driven this book is the realization that our government has become largely authoritarian. It is run by an array of authoritarian personalities, leaders who display all those traits I have listed -- dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power, amoral, intimidating, and bullying; some are hedonistic, most are vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheaters, prejudiced, mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, and two-faced. Because of our system of government, these dominators are still confronted with any number of obstacles, fortunately. Yet authoritarians seek to remove those complications whenever they can." (p 183)

I will say that I think Dean lets Bush off the hook just a little. Dean tends to view Bush as merely a dim-witted puppet controlled by Cheney and Rove, more of a follower than an actual leader, which implies that Bush is somewhat a victim of these authoritarians himself. While all of this may be true, I just have a hard time finding even an ounce of sympathy for Bush. But a main thesis in Dean's book is that there are followers (those who score high on the Right-Wing Authoritarian Survey) and there are leaders (those who score high on the Social Dominance Orientation Survey) and then there are those who score high on both ("Double Highs") who are the biggest threat to our country. These Double Highs include Rove and Cheney but not Bush. Since Dean's book focuses mainly on the Double Highs, Bush does not get the scrutiny that Rove and Cheney receive. Whether Bush is merely a follower or leader or both, I guess history will have the final word.

One last thing that I just cannot let slide. Dean writes about the use of fear-mongering:

"Among the most troubling of the authoritarian and radical tactics being employed by Bush and Cheney are their politics of fear. A favorite gambit of Latin American dictators who run sham democracies, fear-mongering has generally been frowned upon by in American politics. Think of modern presidents who have governed our nation -- Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton --- and the various crises they confronted -- the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean war, the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, the war in Vietnam, Iran's taking of American hostages, the danger to American students in Grenada, Saddams's invasion of Kuwait, the terrorist bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, and Timothy McVeighs's 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. None of these presidents resorted to fear in dealing with these situations. None of these presidents made the use of fear a standard procedure or a means of governing (or pursuing office or political goals). To the contrary, all of these presidents sought to avoid preying on the fears of Americans." (p 171)

Wasn't it Reagan who coined the phrase "Evil Empire"? Wasn't it Reagan who warned us that Nicaragua was only a two days drive from Texas? Wasn't the whole premise of the Cold War that the evil atheist Communists were intent on destroying our American way of life? No sir, no fear there. Dean seems to have forgotten that for the majority of the Cold War, Americans were constantly being reminded that we were one Central American Socialist Democracy away from turning Red. My guess is that the Cold War Presidents didn't have to work as hard as Bush does to convince people to be afraid. But that doesn't mean they didn't take advantage of Cold War fear for their own political agendas. Dean of course is a product of the Cold War, so he may have trouble recognizing his generation's own fear-mongering. Such fear may have appeared legitimate, but that doesn't mean it wasn't used to pursue office and political goals.

Destined for Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush

I really wanted to laugh, laugh out loud, while I read this book. It had so much promise. But you can only take so much of a bit before you get tired of it. I liken this book to one of the various movies made for an SNL character who had a few funny idiosyncrasies but really can't carry a 90 minute movie by constantly bobbing your head to the same song. The book is written in the voice of George W Bush. Literally in the voice of George W Bush, with all his tortured usage of the English language, his dim-witted thought process and his own, twisted version of reality. There are some laughs, especially the first few chapters. And the pictures in middle of the book are hilarious. But just as with the real Bush, you will laugh at some of the stupid things he says and does, and then after a while, it just isn't funny anymore because you remember that he is actually our president. And that is ultimately why this book loses its appeal. Even a fictitious book written to mock the President gradually becomes humorless as you realize that the truth is a lot closer to the fiction than you want it to be.

The Worst Person in the World: And 202 Strong Contenders by Keith Olbermann

I love Keith Olbermann. I love Countdown on MSNBC. Olbermann is surely one of the most honest and outspoken media personalities today in the mainstream media. Which is why I regret that I cannot recommend his new book. First, the book is merely a collection of transcripts from his "Worse Person in the World" segment on Countdown. Other than a brief introduction about why he decided to create the "Worse Person in the World" award, there are no extra insights from Olbermann about his awards, it is straight transcription from TV to book. Now, to be fair, if you do not watch the show or watch it infrequently, then most of these awards will be new to you, so this particular criticism does not apply in all cases. But even if you have never seen the show, my second criticism applies to everyone equally: the "Worse Person in the World" segment does not make interesting reading.

I love Keith's "Worse Person in the World" segment. A lot of times, even if I can't watch the whole Countdown, I'll tune in toward the end just to catch the award ceremonies. But what makes the "Worse Person in the World" so great is the presentation. Keith is a great TV personality and he delivers the awards with the perfect amount of humor, sarcasm, disbelief and outrage. Unfortunately, it just doesn't translate to the writen word. Each chapter of the book represents a month and within each month we are given between 5-10 days worth of transcripts. Because the TV segment is usually just a few minutes long, and there are three recipients for each segment, each recipient ends up getting just a few sentences (each daily segment generally fills up only half to two-thirds of the page). With such little real estate to work with, you really need to make a big impression in a few sentences. And to be sure, some of them do (such as the Bill O'Reilly smack downs, see next review for more on Bill). But overall, most are missing the key ingredient that make them interesting: Keith Olbermann. Imagine reading Seinfeld transcripts having never actually seen the show. Sure, there are laughs here or there, but without Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine, you are missing the best part of the show.

Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly by Joseph Minton Amann and Tom Breuer

This book had one mission, to make a mockery of Bill O'Reilly, and it succeeds. Granted, this is like shooting fish in a barrel. But Amann and Breuer take ridicule to new heights. The reviews of O'Reilly's various books are particulary funny. There is also a musical at the end that you should not miss. If you want to laugh and you can't stand Bill O'Reilly, this book is for you.

With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military by Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay

A good exposé on how Christian Conservatives are attempting to take over the military leadership in our country. After Mikey Weinstein's son, who was attending the Air Force academy in Colorado at the time, confided to his father that he was being harrassed by Christians for being Jewish, Weinstein, himself a former Air Force cadet, decides to get to the bottom of things and uncovers an evangelical coup within the academy hierarchy. Weinstein ends up suing the academy after repeated attempts to work for change through the academy power structure in which he ultimately ends up stonewalled by the very evangelical Christians he is fighting against.

Mikey Weinstein may not be the perfect role model. His language is often harsh and injected with expletives. He admits that he is often too impulsive and abrasive and that this has probably cost him some support. His personality has made it somewhat easier for his critics to smear him. But he may also be the only type of person who can really go up against the military power structure and actually make a difference. Sometimes the messenger has to kick a little ass to get his message across. And this makes Weinstein an immensely interesting character as well.

The only disappointing thing about this book has nothing to do with the book whatsoever. Even after the lawsuit and all the publicity Weinstein was able to generate, it appears that little has been done at the academy to address the problem. Although promises have been made and programs have been drawn up to deal with the problem, because the evangelicals in charge do not consider this to be a problem in the first place (their main argument is that proselytizing is a significant part of their religious calling and thus by not allowing them to take advantage of their absolute authority over the cadets in order to force the cadets to endure various forms of religious indoctrination and humiliation, their first amendment rights are being violated), very little has changed. It is going to take a real Commander-in-Chief, one who really values religious freedom and the Constitution, to initiate changes from the top.


Post a Comment

<< Home