Book Review: Voices From the Rust Belt – Edited by Anne Trubek

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Just what is the Rust Belt? In simple terms it stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo with cities like Chicago, Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh inbetween, cities that were once known as vibrant communities of manufacturing that have fallen on hard times but are trying to recapture their former glory. The Rust Belt is also a place I call home.

Sometimes romanticized,sometimes looked down upon, and often ignored, the Rust Belt is a place rich in history and tales so I was only to happy to find Voices from the Rust Belt, a collection of essays by people of all kinds who deftly write about what it is like to live in the Rust Belt.

After a brief introduction, which describes what is the Rust Belt and why it matters, Voices from the Rust Belt is divided into four parts.

1. Growing Up
2. Day to Day in the Rust Belt
3. Geography of the Heartland
4. Leaving and Staying

I pretty much loved all the essays written by talented women and men of all kinds. Some stories I could relate and others opened my eyes to experiences completely foreign to me. These stories are written by journalists, immigrants, students, artists, business owners, activists and working stiffs of all kinds who call the Rust Belt home. Nearly every one of theses writers impressed me and I was thrilled to find brief bios of the writers, which gave me further insight to these people beyond their written words. I also pondered what it would be like to see a well-made documentary on the Rust Belt – Ken Burns, I’m looking in your direction.

If I have any quibbles with Voices from the Rust Belt it is there is no voice from Milwaukee. Hmm, maybe in the sequel.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran

It’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of British pop culture critic, author, feminist and all-around cool British bird Caitlin Moran. Ms. Moran began writing about pop music when she was still a teenager growing up in a struggling family that lived in a council house and later hosted a TV show. Later Moran proved her feminist street cred via her funny, soul-searching, thought-provoking columns on everything from her budding sexuality as a teenager to her challenges combing marriage, child rearing and writing. She also writes about serious issues that affect women (and the men who love them) with the same aplomb she writes about pop culture. I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I picked up to of her earlier books Moranthology and How to Be a Woman. And her novel How to Build a Girl is a must read if you’ve ever been a teen-age girl (or, just human).

So when I found out Moran had released another book of essays, Moranifesto, I did a little jig in my leopard-spot flats and got myself a copy, which I can safely say is another feather in marvelous Ms. Moran’s chapeau! And it’s the perfect feminist elixir in a time of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, #marketplacefeminism, Brexit, the sad loss of pop culture icons like Bowie, and a host of other issues that affect women across the big pond and women who live in your neighborhood.

Moranifesto is divided into four distinct parts:

  1. The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live
  2. The Feminisms
  3. The Future
  4. Epilogue

In The Twenty-first Century—Where We Live, Moran examines why her utter disdain for the late Margaret Thatcher to her despair over the death of David Bowie. She muses the hatred of her printer (always a letdown for writers on a strict deadline), famous people she has annoyed and taking a rather unpleasant ride through the streets of New York City. Her chapter on her love of bacon will resonate with anyone who thinks bacon is the food of the Gods. And I adored her essay on smells that remind us of childhood—our mother’s perfume, pencil shavings, calamine lotion, puppies, lilac trees—scents that make us a wee bit nostalgic for perceived simpler times when anything and everything seemed possible.

In Feminisms Moran pokes fun at her face, which she describes part potato, part thumb and asks why we have to make everything “sexy?” She implores us to find another word for rape, her support of Hillary Clinton, giving up high heels, the most sexist TV show called “Blachman,” the type of show I hope never makes our shores, and speaking of TV, spends a day with Lena Dunham on the set of “Girls.”

And in part three, Moran looks into her crystal ball to figure out the future. In this batch of musings she claims reading is fierce yet she thinks it’s okay if her children aren’t big readers. She validates the importance of libraries. She also gets serious discussing Syria and refugees. And when she muses about women who mess things up things for the rest of us you might find yourself nodding your head in agreement.

The fourth part of Moranifesto, the epilogue, is brief, yet probably the most important part of the book. The epilogue is a letter to Moran’s daughter Lizzie. In this letter, Moran is dead (yes, a wee bit morbid). Lizzie is about the turn 13 and Moran want to share some advice Lizzie might find useful. Moran tells Lizzie “try to be nice.” Niceness will always shine and bring people to you. Also, keep in mind that when you think you are on the verge of a nervous breakdown have a cup of tea and a biscuit (British term for cookie).

Other sage wisdom, choose friends in which you can be your true self and avoid trying to fix someone or avoid someone who thinks you need fixing. Though it may difficult in our shallow culture with its fixation on women’s outer shell, make peace with your body. Make people think you are amazing conversationalist by asking them questions; what they say might prove useful one day.

And probably the most powerful piece of Moran’s letter to Lizzie can be summed up in the following sentence.

“…life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLINGEXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES.”

True…so true.

Throughout Moranifesto, there are essays that really got under my skin, but I can’t really share why because they are way too personal; and at times, I need to keep certain experiences close to my vest. But to give you a sneak peak, these chapters include:

  1. The Rich are Blithe
  2. Poor People are Clever
  3. Two Things Men Need to Understand About Women
  4. How I Learned About Sex
  5. Let Us Find Another Find Another Word For Rape

And some other interesting chapters I think a lot of women will find fascinating include:

  1. The Real Equality Checklist
  2. What Really Gives Me Confidence
  3. All the Lists of My Life

So my lads and lasses, grab a cuppa (cup of tea), enjoy some fish and chips (or as we call it here in Wisconsin a Friday night fish fry with French fries), ring up your mates (call your besties), and keep calm and carry on (Netflix and chill). Caitlin Moran is back and better than ever!

P.S. Moran’s sister works at a perfume shop and she let Moran smell the fragrance David Bowie wore and Moran claimed it smelled of pineapple and platinum. Well, I know what pineapple smells like, but what about platinum? What does platinum smell like? I suppose it smells cool and metallic. But this Bowie were talking about. I bet it smells warm and ever ch, ch, ch, changing to whatever we desire. For me this would smell of a special amber oil in my possession, vanilla as I pour it into some cookie batter, a match after I blow it out, the lavender growing in a mug on my window sill, freshly made bread, the pages within a book, my mother’s chicken soup, and yes, bacon.

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 Marks

bookmarks obamaLovely tributes to Alison Parker, reporter and Adam Ward, photojournalist.

Author Joseph Stiglitz discusses growing income inequality issues.

Yes, please do this. Oh, wait. Don’t.

Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Wrote a Book. Hmm, Morrissey is writing a novel.

Just what is JK Rowling’s favorite Harry Potter fan theory? She’s happy to tell us!

Male writers hide their gender to gain female readers.

Beyond the standard book shelf. Really cool and unique ways to store your books!

Toronto Libraries lets patrons check-out humans as well as books. I love this idea, so clever!

Words of wisdom from Judy Blume.

Librarians on bicycles are bringing books to under-served children.

Writer’s Block

Writer's Block PhotoWell, it’s been one crazy week. We started a new project at work and had a bunch of ducks to get in a row before we could proceed with the project. I had a meeting after work Monday night. And tomorrow I start my work as a teaching assistant for my church’s religious education classes (I’m going to be working with 3rd and 4th graders).

And beyond the personal, this past week we observed the 13th anniversary of 9/11 (seems like yesterday, yet longer than 13 years). President Obama gave a speech on ISIS. We discussed Ray and Janay Rice and the complex and thorny issue of domestic abuse.

Apple released several new technological products, including the Apple Watch. Guardians of the Galaxy continues to dominate the box office. And a little girl was bummed because President and Mrs. Obama visited her school, not Beyonce.

And because I hate Sarah Palin with the fiery intensity of ten thousand suns, I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off when I found out she and her family were involved in a huge brawl at a party. In fact this one of my reactions. And here is another:
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Once again, I want to congratulate Lisa Brown for winning the This Is Where I Leave You giveaway and thank my readers for their participation in the giveaway. Speaking of This Is Where I Leave You, the movie’s star Jason Bateman showed up on David Letterman this past week. Here is a clip of Mr. Bateman discussing how his Kristy McNichol hair got him some tail. Millennials, ask your parents about Kristy McNichol.

And though insomnia sucks, I was able to catch a rerun of Charlie Rose featuring Jonathan Tropper, the author of This Is Where I Leave You, the film’s director, Shawn Levy, and two members of the cast, Jason Bateman and Tina Fey. Sadly, at this moment Lord Google isn’t very helpful in finding me a clip. I’ll update once I find one.

Have a great week-end!

Your Country Is Just Not That Into You: How the Media, Wall Street, and Both Political Parties Keep on Screwing You—Even After You’ve Moved On by Jimmy Dore

Your Country_Meet Jimmy Dore. He’s a Midwestern boy, born and raised in Chicago, a recovering Roman Catholic, a very funny guy, a writer with a gifted way with words, and a proud member of the progressive left. In other words, my kind of guy!

Dore makes his living as a stand-up comic. He’s appeared on Comedy Central in his one-man show “Citizen Jimmy,” Last Comic Standing, Live with Jimmy Kimmel and the Late, Late Show. He has his own podcast, The Jimmy Dore Show and brings the funny to the political talk show The Young Turks.

Since the death of the wonderful George Carlin, I’ve often wondered if there is comedian who can discuss our current political state that is both side-splitting funny and thought-provoking (I can only imagine what the late Mr. Carlin would think of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, John “The Weeping Cheeto” Boehner, our corporate-bought politicians and our corporate-owned media). Well, I think I found this person in Jimmy Dore. And now Dore brings his sharply focused wit to his book Your Country Is Just Not That Into You: How the Media, Wall Street, and Both Political Parties Keep on Screwing You—Even After You’ve Moved On.

In this very funny book, Dore skewers the media, religion, Wall Street and corporate America, Republicans and Democrats.

In the introduction of Your Country Is Just Not Into You Dore asks, “Do You pay attention to your fucking life?!” This rather profane question was initially aimed at Dore’s friend Greg who had lost his job, was looking for work and was worrying about taking care of himself and his family. When Dore asked Greg whom he was voting for in the 2008 Presidential election, Greg answered, “Oh, I don’t pay attention to politics.” Hence, Dore’s potty-mouthed response.

In other words, the personal is political.

After the introduction, Dore takes a hard-hitting look at what’s wrong with our media, or as Sarah Palin likes to call it, “the lame stream media, you betcha.” A lot of people think the mainstream media is liberal. Yea, right. Dore comments how hard it is for the media to be liberal when so much of it is owned by corporate overlords like Disney, Time Warner, General Electric, and an Australian guy you may have heard of named Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch owns several newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Post, and get this…The Village Voice. The Village Voice?

And when it comes to the medium of TV and film, Murdoch owns Fox News, Direct TV, and Twentieth-Century Fox. He even owns the Dow Jones!!!! Dore envisions a scary moment when Murdoch decides to buy the alphabet, even that pesky letter Q.

Sure, it’s common knowledge that Fox News is very conservative, but Dore also convincingly mentions how CNN and MSNBC aren’t exactly as lefty as we may think.

Dore also doesn’t waste time skewering such media super stars like Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, and that member of the lucky sperm club, Luke Russert. Dore is also fearless when discussing David Gregory (recently let go from “Meet the Press”), various Fox News fembots, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews.

After ripping apart the media, Dore rips up the current state of the Republican Party. When writing about the GOP in the 21st century, Dore doesn’t fail to call out the usual suspects—George W. Bush, John Boehner, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Sarah Palin, New Gingrich-and their policies, ideas and concepts on what’s wrong with this country and how they make things “right.” Many of these issues include race, women’s rights, the environment, the economy, the military, and big business. Dore isn’t also afraid to call out the Tea Party for their bigoted shit. And he wonders how so many people can vote for a party that doesn’t have their best interests at heart. I found myself both nodding my head and holding my sides in from all my giggling. His “phone call” from Rick Santorum’s sweater vest had me reeling.

However, despite being a commie pinko homo who probably eats babies, Dore isn’t afraid to take on his fellow Democrats, also known as, “Republican Lite.” Dore mentions his disappointment with President Barack Obama and laments how the liberal, populist candidate Obama got replaced by a more conservative, Wall Street-owned President Obama. Dore calls out other disappointing Democrats like Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. He gets us to admit the Democratic donkey looks oddly like an elephant these days. And let’s be honest; the Democrats are owned by big business as much as the Republicans.

Dore also shares this wonderful quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of the private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group.”

Can you imagine any modern day Democrat saying that in 2014? Well, maybe my girl crush, Elizabeth Warren.

Further along in Your Country Is Just Not That Into You, Dore targets Wall Street, religion and everything else under the sun, which includes the evisceration of the poor and the struggling, Occupy Wall Street, school teachers, unions, common sense gun control and Edward Snowden.

Dore is one very pissed off man, granted a very humorous pissed off man. But he proves that not is all lost in his final chapter “P.S. America, I Love You.” In this chapter, Dore proudly mentions what is right about the United States. We created the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We are a nation of immigrants who continue to shape this nation in so many positive ways. We gave the world rock and roll, jazz, the blues, and hip hop. Justin Bieber? Nope, you can blame our friends to the north, Canada, for that little punk ass.

And Dore proudly states it is right here in the USA where stand-up comedy was born. Thank goodness, or else Dore might be asking, “You want fries with that?” I kid, I kid.

Our country produced the likes of Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, whose technological genius revolutionized the globe (and yes, sometimes bug us, but you’ll get my smart phone out of my cold, dead hands).

In two generations we went from bombing black churches to electing a black man as president. And my grandmothers were born in a time when women couldn’t vote and now our next president just might be a woman.

Dore proudly mentions our country is becoming more progressive all the time, and you know what? He’s right. Less than fifty years ago, homosexuality was seen as a psychiatric disorder and now several states have legalized same sex marriage. A few years ago I interviewed a young woman who formed a gay/straight alliance at her high school. There is no way we would have formed a gay/straight alliance at my high school. Well, actually we did have a gay/straight alliance; it was called forensics.

America is a nation of people who are willing to stick their necks out and fight for what we believe in and will do whatever we can to make this a better place for everyone.

Your Country Is Just Not That Into You is a must-read for every liberal, and I think even some conservatives folks out there will find something valuable between its covers. I’m really glad I chanced upon Dore’s book and I recommend it to everyone who cares about this little patch on the planet call the United States of America.