Book Review: Under the Affluence-Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America by Tim Wise

under the affluenceEvery once in while there comes a book that makes me want to shout from the roof tops, “Everybody, please read this book if you truly care about humanity and society!” Tim Wise’s book Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America, is one such book. And though it may sound melodramatic, I truly think Mr. Wise’s book is an excellent primer on exactly why our nation seems so skewed, confused and messed-up, especially during one of our most scary, yet important presidential election years ever.

Scholar, activist and writer, the aptly named Tim Wise, has focused on societal issues since college and one of his first jobs was working against former KKK grand wizard, David Duke’s presidential bid. Since then Wise has worked on behalf of many progressive causes and has written several books, Under the Affluence being his latest.

In 2016 Wise wonders why do we (as a nation and a society) shame the poor (and let’s face it, anyone who isn’t mega wealthy) while praising the super-rich? And what does that say about us and what impact is this having on society?

Wise calls this detestable movement “Scroogism,” and, yes, based on Ebenezer Scrooge from the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. And it is a theme that has shaped our thinking about the haves vs. the have-nots and have-lessers, much of it encouraged by big business, Wall Street, billionaires and millionaires, CEOs, the radical right political pundits, the current state of the GOP, conservative Christianity, mainstream media and often, ourselves. And yes, that includes the have-nots and have-lessers. And Wise offers evidence through nearly 40 pages of end notes to give gravitas to Under the Affluence.

Under the Affluence and its theme of Scroogism is divided into three well-researched, scholarly, yet audience friendly, maddening, heartbreaking and in the end, cautiously hopeful chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Pulling Apart-The State of Disunited America
  2. Resurrecting Scrooge-Rhetoric and Policy in a Culture of Cruelty
  3. Redeeming Scrooge-Fostering a Culture of CompassionIn Resurrecting Scrooge,

Wise carefully researches how in the 21st century the United States is a society that bashes the poor, blames victims, the unemployed and underemployed, embraces a serious lack of compassion and celebrates cruelty while putting the wealthy and the powerful on a pedestal. And Wise examines the origins of class and cruelty in the United States, the ideas of the Social Gospel and FDR’s New Deal, the myths and realities of the War on Poverty from its inception to Reaganism (and how liberals responded), and the concept how culture of cruelty affects who receives justice and who receives nothing at all except horrifically de-humanizing insults, both in rhetoric and reality. It is probably these two chapters that truly stirred my rage, and at times, I had to put Under the Affluence down and take a few deep breaths.But just as I was about to chuck Under the Affluence across the room and spend a week in the corner rocking back and forth, I read the final chapter, and felt a bit of hope. Perhaps, as nation things aren’t as bleak as they seem. In this chapter, Wise reminds us to look for possible roadblocks on the way of redemption. He also mentions that besides facts, use storytelling because behind every fact there is a very human face with a story that must be heard. He behooves us to create “a vision of a culture of a compassion” and how we can help communities to control their destiny.

Now, I am a realist. I know for the most part Under the Affluence is a book that preaches to the choir, especially in 2016. But maybe, just maybe, Under the Affluence will open minds, soften hearts and act an agent for, as Elvis Costello so aptly put it, “peace, love and understanding.” Under the Affluence is not only one of the most important books to come out in 2016; it is one of the most important books to come out in the 21st century.

Wise also takes a look at the world of the working poor and the non-working rich, the myth of meritocracy, horribly mean-spirited remarks, much of it coming from the radical right, including pundits and politicians, excessive CEO and big business pay, the devaluing of work that truly benefits all of society-nursing, teaching social work, protecting the public, improving our infrastructure, creating art, taking care of the elderly and disabled, and so on. And let’s not forget the very valuable work that doesn’t pay-parenting, eldercare, volunteering, etc.

In Pulling Apart, Wise takes a hardcore look at our current state of joblessness, wage stagnation, underemployment and how they affect us in this stage of “post-recession recovering” America. He investigates today’s realities and the long-term effects of income and wealth inequality. Wise contemplates who and what caused these problems and how race, class and economics are involved.

Book Review: Girls and Sex-Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

girlsexWriter, author and all-around cultural critic, Peggy Orenstein, has pretty much focused her career on the complex worlds of girls and women. She wrote about adopting her daughter Daisy in her memoir Waiting for Daisy. She wrote about the girls and their sense of self-confidence in Schoolgirls and the current state of women’s lives in Flux. And her last book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Orenstein took a hard look at the marketing of “Princess Culture” and how it affects little girls.

Now we are at the next phase, and it is a doozy, Girls and Sex. Our little girls are now in high school and college and they are dressing provocatively, waxing their nether regions, hooking up, having sex and doing all kinds of titillating things. But are they actually experiencing any joy, any pleasure? Are they having orgasms? In Girls and Sex, Orenstein does her homework, and what she finds out is at turns shocking, depressing, intriguing, heartbreaking, but in the end proves there is hope.

Girls and Sex is divided into several well-researched and well-written chapters. In the first chapter, Orenstein examines how girls willingly choose to be sex objects, often via their outfits, instead of being fully-actualized sexual individuals. In chapter two Orenstein asks if girls are enjoying sex as much as they should. Sadly, the answer is no, not exactly. But they make sure the boys are enjoying themselves. Chapter three wonders “what exactly is a virgin these days?” The answers the girls give you will surprise you…or maybe not. Chapter four examines the world of hook ups and hang ups. Chapter five takes a look at sex and all of its complexities especially when it comes to girls and boys, both online and in real life. Chapter six tackles the thorny topics of drugs, alcohol and rape, especially on school campuses. And finally, in chapter seven, things get real when girls and boys are finally given the straight dope on sex and can fully embrace who they are as sexual beings.

Orenstein interviewed over 70 girls and women about their hopes and dreams, and about their sex lives, both literally and figuratively. A majority of these young women are bright, educated, have promising futures and often consider themselves to be strong feminists (or at least, feminist-minded). Some are virgins, some are not, and some are everything but “that kind of virgin” (I think you get the gist). Most of them are straight, but a few identify as lesbians or question their sexual preferences.

A majority of these young women want to look sexually alluring, which includes provocative outfits, plastic surgery and waxing one’s private parts. Yes, today, young women feel the pressure to look like porn stars. Unlike ages ago, porn easily invades our lives via the Internet. And though there is some women-positive porn out there, most of porn found on-line is very exploitive of women (Orenstein describes certain acts that nearly made me sick to my stomach, and I am no prude). And it is the latter porn that shapes both young women and men and how they should be sexually.

At the same time, the abstinence-only educational curriculum, which includes purity balls and shaming seminars, gives our young people mostly false information when it comes to sex. This false information does nothing to deter sexual activity. And it often leads people to make bad sexual choices, which leads to unintended pregnancies and STDs.

In other words, thanks to both porn culture and abstinence, girls are either seen as “sluts” or “prudes,” and neither words are very apt descriptions to describe the intricate landscape of female desire.

What’s that, female desire? Sadly, so many of our young women feel it is necessary to be sexually desirable but feel no sexual desire. Many women admitted to never masturbating or being strangers with their clits, a fact I find hugely depressing. Ladies, you have this wonderful bundle of nerves between your legs that is made solely for pleasure. Embrace it!!!

But I digress…

Orenstein also goes into length about everything from casual (and often unsatisfying) sexual hook ups. She examines the culture of rape on our college campuses and on how alcohol abuse often leaves both boys and girls at horrific sexual risk. She is also quick to point out, how far too many girls think if they are raped or sexually assaulted they asked for it and how young men often find these sexual violations entertaining, using social media to further exploit the violation of these women. It is these passages that truly made my blood boil.

However, not is all lost for our nation’s young women, and this is explored in the final chapter. Fortunately, there are educators who want to tell our young people the truth when it comes to sex, and their lessons are done with wisdom, compassion, the facts and a dose of good humor. In this chapter, girls realize it is okay, in fact, it is wonderful to both feel and fulfill one’s sexual desire. And many boys realize it is okay not to treat girls as sexual objects and it is also okay to want to find meaning in sex, not be the mindless horndogs they are often encouraged to be. I believe this chapter will be of comfort to girls, boys, parents, and educators. I know I found it comforting, and though I’m not a mom, I’m glad this book was written.

Bookmarks

Get them while they’re hot! Tickets to Ted Nugent’s concerts going for five bucks!

Help Wanted. How to get a job at an independent book store.Austin Kleon read a book

Lois Duncan, author of the YA classic I Know What You Did Last Summer, dead at 82

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, celebrates young introverts in her new book, Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts.

Eleven books to read during LGBTQ Month.

 

Book Review: The Other Woman by Therese Bohman (Translated by Marlaine Delargy)

the other womanEvery once in a while, I come across a novel that stays with me long after I finish reading it, one that I makes me wonder how the main character’s life will play out after the initial story reaches its denouement. The Other Woman by Swedish writer Therese Bohman (translated by Marlaine Delargy) is such a book, and possibly one of the best books I have read even though 2016 is only half over.

The protagonist of The Other Woman is nameless and faceless. She is fairly young, has some college education, and desires to be a writer. However, she works at a hospital cafeteria and her so-called writing seems to be limited to thinking about it, not exactly doing it.

Feeling at loose ends, and desiring some excitement in her predictable life, our protagonist develops a crush on a much older, successful doctor named Carl Malmberg. Dr. Malmberg is on his second marriage and has children with both is first and second wife. It isn’t long before our protagonist starts an affair with the doctor. She is attracted to his success and maturity and he is attracted to her youth and how she seems to put him on pedestal, obeying his every lead.
It is there I should have closed the book in disgust. I’ve been cheated on and it isn’t a picnic. It hurts. However, I was so compelled by this woman’s story that I couldn’t stop reading it like her story was a literary drug.

The protagonist isn’t just the “other woman” in the literal sense, the mistress sense. She is the other woman in how she relates to her co-workers who entertain themselves with idle chatter and gossip, her friendships with people vastly more educated and successful than her, and yes, with her lover, Dr. Malmberg. She willingly shares her body with him, but she doesn’t share her life. Though she desires more, she knows exactly what she is to Dr. Malmberg, an escape from the day to day life of being a doctor, husband and father.

It at this time our protagonist sparks up a friendship with a young woman named Alex. Alex is confident and magnetic, and the protagonist can’t help but get caught up in Alex’s intoxicating allure. Their relationship borders on the erotic. I must say the reason made sense to me but also made me gasp out loud once I found out why. Blackmail, trickery, betrayal all play a part in the lives of our protagonist, Dr. Malmberg and Alex. And once these elements play out, the reader doesn’t clutch the pearls in disgust. Instead, instead one might think, “Well, sometimes you have to be a less than a good person to get things done and certain things out of the way.”

Or as our protagonist states,” “Morals are for those who can afford them.” And in a world where being a less than ethical is rewarded or at least ignored, can any of anybody afford morals?

The Other Woman is written with a bittersweet pathos, our protagonist both wise and at times, infuriating. You relate to her longing and her loneliness. You relate to her desire to belong and her feelings of being above it all. You relate to her longing to have connections that are both carnal and cultural. But perhaps most of all, you want the protagonist to learn to develop a stronger sense of self in a confusing world that denies those things, especially for women. I’m older than the protagonist and I’m still struggling with this.

But not all is lost. There are layers of hope in The Other Woman as it draws to its close. Our protagonist starts a new journey, one that you wish is more fulfilling and where every wish she desires comes true, and perhaps one where she will learn to like herself just a bit more. Maybe Bohman will write a sequel, but I don’t exactly want her to at this point. For now let’s keep The Other Woman’s next step be a mystery and left up to the reader’s imagination.

Book Review: Trust Me, PR is Dead by Robert Phillips

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PR is Dead; long live PR could be an alternative title to Robert Phillips’ book. Trust Me, PR is Dead is a book I felt compelled to read because I have spent some time in the trenches of public relations. But as someone who has also done some time in the journalistic trenches, I also look at PR with some very jaded baby blues.

And apparently Phillips is also a bit jaded when it comes to PR because he has been a PR professional for most of his working life, most notably with the PR powerhouse, Edelman. He knows the world of PR—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute! Phillips worked in PR and is now telling us PR is dead? Is he biting the hand that fed him (and fed him very well)? Or has he learned a few things on his PR journey and now realizes PR is dead (or at least on life support), and seriously needs to change…or else?”

Well, after reading Trust Me, PR is Dead, I can safely say Phillips’ is definitely in the latter camp; and his book is a treasure trove on how PR has made major missteps and how it can change in a time where people are developing finely tuned BS detectors when it comes to media, politics, business and entertainment.

In other words, PR peeps—You can’t crap on a cone and expect people to call it ice cream.

In Trust Me, PR is Dead each chapter is dedicated on how  PR has to change as society changes, using key components of evidence such as quotes from PR professionals, business leaders, advertisements, journalists, social media and various PR tools of the trade like press releases, professional profiles and interviews. Some of the names of various parties Phillips uses in this book have been redacted using heavy black bars. Phillips probably did this to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent. And perhaps to cover his bum so he doesn’t get pulled into court for possible “libel” charges.

For the longest time PR has been about making an organization look good to outside parties. In theory, this sounds good so—put your best foot forward, stamp out a great impression, and make the most of what you got. We often do this as individuals when we do our very own personal PR, right? But often organizations slip up. Instead of traditional PR owning up and taking responsibility for an organization’s missteps and misdeeds, some which are harmful and often lead to death and destruction, PR ignores them or tries to cover them up with a lot of PR glitter and gloss. This glitter and gloss does nothing to rectify the situation. And this is in a time where the public is becoming more educated on organizational BS (or at least should) and wants solutions and carefully chosen actions, not meaningless words.

Today’s PR professionals must realize the most important component in PR is trust. The public wants to trust a company or organization and the products and/or services they provide. Not only does the public require trust, the public also requires authenticity, engagement and honesty. Or what Phillips calls public leadership.

Now how have we come to this point? Simple, in the past few years we have experienced an economic meltdown, the worst since the Great Depression, one that still affects us today. We have dealt with Wall Street greed, corporate malfeasance in the forms of Lehman Brothers, Worldcom and Enron, political misbehavior and other forms of detestable conduct. People are fed up! And many of them are learning about this not just through traditional media, but also through social and alternative media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

To rectify this PR professionals must now employ several key strategies to gain the public’s trust. Among them include the following.

1) Embrace data and specialists
2) Focus on different skillsets and talents to better serve clients and the public
3) Look at the general public as citizens, not merely as consumers
4) Strive for excellence and eschew bureaucracy
5) Advertising is one thing; it is not the whole thing

Trust Me, PR is dead is well-written in an audience-friendly way that even non-PR types will find valuable. I hope it finds a wide audience and is embraced in a time when politics, media, business, entertainment, sports, charities and other organizations need to keep it real. Believe me, we as a society not only want this; we demand it!

I have to give a shout out to Jeff Abraham, a wonderful PR professional from Jonas PR. Jeff has been instrumental in sending me galleys and advanced copies of books for me to review including In the Company of Legends by award-winning documentary filmmakers Joan Kramer and David Heeley and Kelly Carlin’s memoir A Carlin Home Companion-Life With George. Jeff’s work has always been professional and without hype. He respects my work and never pressures me to write positive reviews. He truly values my input. Jeff is a total mensch and is what PR should be. Thanks Jeff!

Book Review: Poor Man’s Feast –A Story of Love, Desire and the Simple Art of Cooking by Elissa Altman

Poor Man's FeastI’m a big lover of food, finding great joy just puttering in my kitchen with a pot roast in my slow cooker and making and baking a couple dozen of my buttermilk cheesy biscuits.

I’m also a big lover of memoirs of all kinds, thoroughly enjoying the stories of people from all walks of life with interesting stories to tell.

So I was pretty thrilled to find Poor Man’s Feast by food blogger Elissa Altman. Would Poor Man’s Feast be a fully-satisfying literary meal or would it leave me hungry for more?

The answer? Well, both.

Altman is a native New Yorker, and throughout Poor Man’s Feast she never lets you forget it. Her love of food is something she shared with her father, and it was how these two bonded as parent and child.

On the other hand, there was Altman’s mother, a total glamour puss who didn’t just disdain food and refrain from eating; she actually seemed to fear food and her own appetite.

Once Altman got older she refines her love of food by working at Dean and Deluca (hmm, just like Felicity), working throughout various departments and spending a big part of her paycheck on Dean and Deluca’s culinary delights. Dean and Deluca is a touchstone for Altman, one she harkens back to throughout Poor Man’s Feast.

Altman also comes to terms with being a lesbian and Poor Man’s Feast focuses a great deal on her relationship with Susan, a woman who would become the love her life.

On paper, Altman and Susan couldn’t seem more different. Whereas Altman is a sophisticated city slicker, with a finely-tuned taste and palate only a place like New York City could offer (yeah, right—Milwaukee has just been named a great food town), Susan is a small-town gal whose love of food is too low class for the likes of Altman.

And it was these aspects of Poor Man’s Feast that left me unsatisfied. Though Altman tells us of her love for Susan, she never really seems to show it. Altman, at turns, is dismissive of Susan and her family, and their less sophisticated lives and food choices. Perhaps, Altman’s dryer than baking powder humor was supposed to be witty but I found it way too sarcastic and not funny at all. Only as Poor Man’s Feast come to a close did I truly feel Altman’s love for Susan and her growing acceptance of Susan’s family and their plebian taste in food.

Perhaps I would have liked Poor Man’s Feast better if Altman would have focused more on her relationship with her father and how they bonded over their love of all things food. It was these lovingly-written passages that truly touched my heart and made my mouth water with beautifully written