Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Eight Pieces of Empire

Eight Pieces of Empire: a 20-year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse, by Lawrence Scott Sheets

I finally made it to the 90s in my quest through Soviet history!  I've had this book on my TBR pile since late last year, but I wanted to read more about the USSR itself before I read about its collapse.  This memoir contains some things that I remember--but mostly makes it clear just how much I was not paying attention to world news, at all, in the 1990s (during which I went to college, mostly did not have a TV, got married, and went to grad school; lots of studying and working, not a whole lot else).

Lawrence Scott Sheets, on the other hand, spent the 90s and 00s working as a reporter in the former USSR.  He sort of defaulted to being a war reporter, despite not actually planning to specialize in war.  Here he writes about what he saw and experienced during those years.

We start in 1989, with a student Sheets trekking to Russia to work on his language skills.  And gets questioned by a KGB agent who sort of offers him a job, maybe?  Memoirs of the USSR by Westerners usually seem to have this atmosphere that is a mixture of the awful and the absurd, and that's certainly happening here as Sheets wanders around, befriending everyone from shady watch dealers to elderly survivors of Leningrad.

After the USSR gives way to...some republics, Sheets heads to Georgia, which is (or was) a beautiful tiny country famed for resorts, wine, and hospitality.  It accidentally falls into civil war as ethnic groups clash and warlords emerge.  This will be a theme of the whole memoir.  (Sheets notes that one major leader is popular largely because of his father, a renowned Georgian writer.  Now I've got the only novel I could find in English.  Georgians, like Russians, are really invested in their literature.)

We spend some time in Azerbaijan and Armenia--also at war, partly civilly and partly with each other.  Then it's Chechnya, which is easily the most depressing and awful part.  It lurches from a secular independence movement into Islamist terrorism, partly thanks to the Russian determination to bungle everything as badly as possible.  After that, there's some really fascinating stuff about the Orthodox Church, so now I'd like to investigate that.

Sheets also goes to Central Asia, but is mostly focused on the US invasion of Afghanistan.  He talks about Uzbekistan, but is unable to really see the other Central Asian countries.  He finishes off with a visit to the area around Chernobyl--another intriguing interlude.

So this is not a description or history of what happened in each former Soviet republic.  Some places barely get a mention.  It's a personal travel/reporting memoir, and a very good one.  I'll be reading more about the Soviet collapse, and this is a pretty reasonable place to start.

A sample bit:
The Chechen government television station blared from a screen plopped onto the bar, offering a wild mix of local music videos, self-help programming, and battle cries.  One segment featured a commander in fatigues giving lessons, using a poiting stick and a diagram of a tank, calmly instructing fighters-to-be about the most vulnerable places on a tank's armor for an RPG or grenade launcher and how to go about this very possibly suicidal mission.
Later in the broadcasting evening were battle scenes of a Russian-language version of the Peter O'Toole classic Lawrence of Arabia.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Three Plays by Karel Čapek

Three Plays by Karel Čapek

I read R. U. R. a while back, and I wanted to read the other three plays in the book, but I didn't get around to it for quite a while.  Silly, because they are pretty neat.

The Insect Play: an entomologist observes several different kinds of insects, who illustrate types of humanity.  Butterflies are flirtatious Bright Young Things with just one thing on their minds; dung-beetles only think about gathering wealth, while crickets are all about family, and ants have a fascist war-machine going.

The Makropulos Case: a lovely singer captivates everyone she meets.  Men all want her; women all want to be her, but she is incredibly cold and unfeeling.  It's about mortality and the necessity of death.

The White Plague: a new illness, which looks like leprosy but only attacks those over fifty, is becoming an epidemic.  No-one can escape, and it's always fatal.  A young slum-clinic doctor develops a cure, but he will only give it to the poor; the powerful may only have it if they cease a run-up to a devastating war.  It's a savage criticism of the fascist regimes Čapek saw destroying Europe.

Interesting plays all.  Very worth reading.  I'll be looking to read some of Čapek's other works sometime. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

AusReading in November

Brona is hosting her annual AusReading event in November and this time I'm going to join.  I've wanted to the last couple of years.  Brona says:
November is AusReading Month - a month long celebration of all things Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. 
Join us as we read, review and blog about all things Australian - classic books, contemporary stories, children's books, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, popular, literary, award-winning - whatever.
The only stipulation is that it has to be written by an Australian based author or predominantly set in Australia. 
The rules are simple: read one, two or more Australian books throughout the month of November. Write a review on your blog and link it back here. 
Visit and comment on your fellow bloggers posts to build up our growing community of Aussie book lovers.
Visit Brona's post to sign up and find links to suggestions!

It seems to me that it can be a bit tricky to find much Australian literature in the US.*  Back when I was constructing my CC list, a couple of people suggested titles to me, but I've sort of put off reading them because I would have to hunt them down.  Happily, one of them--My Brilliant Career--is at my friendly neighborhood public library, and I've been looking for more Australian literature to purchase at work.  Australian literature is not going to just appear in front of me, but pretty soon I'll have a bit of a selection.

So I might as well start with My Brilliant Career, right?  I'll read that.  I'll probably have to stick with just one title, because by November my unfinished challenges will be LOOMING at me in a menacing fashion.  But I'm glad to finally be participating in AusReading November!

*There's Colleen McCullough, and A Town Like Alice.  That's about it for easy access.  McCullough is not really my style--although how would I know, because the only one I've read is The Ladies of Missalonghi, which is totally lifted from L. M. Montgomery's Blue Castle--and I ought to get around to reading A Town Like Alice sometime. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RIP X: The Secret of the Underground Room

The Secret of the Underground Room, by John Bellairs

I just had to include a John Bellairs title, and it's been a long time since I read this one.

Johnny and the Professor's friend Father Higgins finds a talisman of stained glass that might be able to raise the dead.  When Father Higgins disappears, they realize he's been taken captive by an evil spirit, and they have to travel to England to try to save their friend.

Bellairs uses the island of Lundy in the Bristol channel as his backdrop, riffing on the island's history with the Marisco family and piracy.  So  Johnny and company go to Bristol!  Include Johnny and company on the list of characters who have something important happen on the Clifton Bridge.  I'll have to visit it someday!

Oh, and Kate Beaton of Hark! A Vagrant! included this cover as one of her comics featuring Gorey book covers.  Take a look...

Clifton Bridge, Bristol

Lundy, otherwise known as Puffin Island

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Tyranny of Silence

The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, by Flemming Rose

Guess what next week is?  That's right, Banned Books Week is coming up, and you know I love me some free speech melodrama.  I've been working on displays and a giveaway and all sorts of stuff.  I can't wait to go into work tomorrow, because the posters and whatnot have come in, and PLUS I am teaching a library skills class where BBW and global free speech issues will be the focus.  Woohoo!  So it is quite timely that I just finished The Tyranny of Silence, a fascinating book.

Remember just about ten years ago, there was a big kerfuffle in Europe over some editorial cartoons?   Flemming Rose, a new editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, was hearing more and more that people were self-censoring on the subject of Islam.  An illustrator asked to work on a children's biography of Muhammad said that he would do the work, as long as his name did not appear on the book.  Well, Rose thought that was maybe not so good and everybody should start talking, so he asked a whole lot of cartoonists to submit portraits of Muhammad.  Twelve ran, and pretty soon there was a mess.  Death threats, murder attempts, incitements to riot in Islamic countries, and a lot of yelling ensued.  Rose (who had actually spent most of his career in Russia) was both taken aback by the reaction, and upset to find that an awful lot of people thought that censorship of one kind or another would have been better than running the cartoons.

Here, Rose talks in some detail about the whole incident, and then moves into a wider context, giving his arguments against the idea that only "punching up" is acceptable (power dynamics are a lot more complex than that) or that minorities ought to be protected by legislation.  He gives his thoughts about European worries about free speech over the past 70 years or so.  He also talks about his time in Russia and the severe curtailment of free speech that has been habitual there.  Finally, he gives some specific incidents from Islamic countries showing that anti-blasphemy laws are mostly used to oppress, not to protect vulnerable minorities.

It's all quite fascinating and very worth reading; a valuable addition to the ongoing discussion of what free speech means and how far it can or should be taken.  I had so many pages tagged that my book bristled, and I'm just going to throw some quotations at you all at once:
Certain regimes, including Russia, China, some former Soviet republics, and numerous Islamic governments, agitate in the United Nations and other international forums for laws banning offensive speech.  Perversely, although such laws are often put forward in the name of minorities, in practice, they are used to silence critics and persecute minorities...(p 9)
(From Amos Oz' book How to Cure a Fanatic) The essence of fanaticism lies in the desire to force other people to change: the common inclination to improve your neighbor, mend your spouse, engineer your child, or straighten up your brother, rather than let them be...he wants to save your soul, he wants to redeem you, he wants to liberate you from sin, from error, from smoking, from your faith or from your faithlessness, he wants to improve your eating habits, or to cure you of your drinking or your voting habits. (p 25)
...[in the US] after they won the right to demonstrate, the Nazis failed to gain much attention and the movement died soon afterward....the most effective means of combating Nazism was to defend the freedom of speech of the Nazis themselves...(p 61)
Agnes Callamard...pointed out that constraints imposed on free speech with the intention of safeguarding minorities against hatred more often than not resulted in the most controversial voices of the minority being either silenced or imprisoned.  "Experience shows that restrictions on freedom of expression rarely protect us from abuses, extremism, or racism...they are usually and effectively used to muzzle opposition and dissenting voices, silence minorities, and reinforce the dominant political, social, and moral discourse and ideology." (p 62)
...deliberate cultivation of the role of victim is part of a contemporary grievance culture that I feels is poisonous to integration and equality in a democratic society. (p 66)
When we focus on nondiscrimination and equality, and aim to empower the aggrieved, tolerance is no longer about the ability to tolerate things that we don't like; it becomes the ability to keep quiet and refrain from saying things that others may dislike.  That is the basic, and very flawed, premise underlying the much-touted phrase "Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom to offend." (p 115)
"In a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended.  That principle is of particular importance in a country that strives for racial or ethnic fairness." [Law professor Ronald Dworkin, p 117]
As societies become increasingly multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious, if we accept the idea that people have a right not to be offended, we will end up with a tyranny of silence, for almost any speech may be deemed offensive.  (p 204)
...when words run out, violence begins.  If we forbid offensive speech, individuals will resort to direct action. (p 207)
So--read this book!  Or another book about free speech!  And be sure to grab yourself a banned or challenged book for next week!

The True Deceiver

The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson is always worth reading, and this is an intriguing short novel that I think is also her darkest.

In a remote village that is nearly cut off by winter snows, Katri Kling is an outsider.  She lives with her simple brother Mats and her menacing, unnamed dog, and she's been planning for a long time.  Mats' security is her goal; her method will be to take over the life of Anna Aemelin, an artist. 

I enjoy Jansson's prose a lot, with its extreme particularity and focus on certain things.  I think a lot of her own thoughts about art and questions about what obligations the artist has to the audience show up in Anna's character, which is neat.  The main theme, though, is deception: what constitutes honesty or deception?  Each woman considers herself to be honest, but that doesn't mean that they always tell the truth.

Excellent short novel--pick it up if you can.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

RIP X: The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My first RIP title!  Considering that it's a Hawthorne title, I was surprised at how fast it went--time-wise, that is.  It's not terribly long.  I did feel like not all that much happened, though, and that it's crammed with a little too much excessive verbiage.  So it felt a bit slower than it was.

The Pyncheon mansion is famous in town for being large and fancy--seven gables!--and for having a family curse.  Way back in Puritan times, old Pyncheon accused one Matthew Maule of wizardry in order to get his land, and the house was built on the site of the swindle.  Maule cursed the whole Pyncheon family, and the old man died in a sudden and gruesome manner.

Moving up to the present--1850 or so--the house is mouldering away with only one inhabitant: the destitute but genteel Hepzibah, who is forced to open a little shop in order to support herself.  She is terrible at shopkeeping, but luckily for her a young cousin, Phoebe, arrives and whips the shop and the house into shape.  Just in time too, for Hepzibah's brother Clifford is finally released from thirty years imprisonment, and he needs help.  But what did Clifford do, and what old secrets are yet to be divulged?

There are some hints of witchcraft and other supernatural events, but they are more suggestions than anything else.  Everything could have a perfectly natural explanation.  Or perhaps not.

Hawthorne's story was based on a fanciful rendition of his own family's curse.  He was himself descended from a judge of the Salem witch trials, and that came with both guilt and a story about a curse.  The house was loosely based on a real Pynchon mansion as well (author Thomas P. being descended from them).

The novel made a hit, causing sensation on both the US and England.  H. P. Lovecraft used it as inspiration and called it the best of New England Gothic literature.

It's not my favorite Gothic novel ever written, but it's not bad either.  There's not quite as much plot as I'd like, and more extravagant descriptions of nothing much.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Iron Curtain

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944 - 1956, by Anne Applebaum

In my ongoing quest to learn everything about the awful things done to Eastern Europe in the 20th century, I've read the third book in a non-series that I think makes an excellent trilogy anyway.  First we have Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder, and then Savage Continent, by Keith Lowe, and now I've got Iron Curtain under my belt as well.  All three of these draw on information that has only recently become available to the West.

Appelbaum decided to write about Eastern Europe as a group of countries because she felt that although the various countries had differences in how they became part of the Communist bloc, they also had a lot in common, and looking at them together could reveal patterns and insights that might go unnoticed when considering each country individually.  So she divides her book into themes, such as violence, youth groups, socialist realism in art, religion, media, and so on.

It is remarkable to see how the USSR manipulated and forced each country into communism.  Applebaum describes how they pretended to welcome diverse political groups into the government, while making sure that Russian-trained communists were always in the most influential spots--especially in the police.  Then they would quickly force others out.  At first, they were happy to hold elections, because they were truly convinced that the people would choose communism.  When that didn't happen, they simply falsified the results, or forced their own people into power.

Pretty soon, the communists held total power, and started getting rid of anything that wasn't part of the communist state.  They truly believed in Mussolini's maxim of  "all within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."  Scout troops, women's organizations, men's clubs--no group not sponsored by the Party was allowed, and so they either were absorbed or destroyed.  (No book clubs or sewing circles!)  The churches were persecuted, of course. 

It soon becomes apparent that a communist state "for the workers" is not for the workers at all--or for anybody except those in power.  If workers in factories were not satisfied with their conditions or the high quotas imposed on them, and they protested or even struck, they were treated as not just workers on strike, but as treasonous. 

Just as in the USSR, Eastern Europeans were subjected to ever-increasing paranoia and the personality cult of Stalin.  Each country developed its own prison camp system, though they frequently sent prisoners to Russia as well.  The parts about shutting East Germany down were particularly interesting, since they were dealing with a divided Berlin and cutting a country in two.  This meant that the German borders were always more porous than others, although the DDR certainly tried hard to stop any exchanges.  

There is just so much material here that it's hard for me to give a good summary.  But it's great historical information and, in my opinion, important for us to understand.  We seem to be forgetting so much--and just when we have access to incredible new knowledge.

Some quotations I found interesting:
Since Stalin had little faith in Polish communists in general, he might well have preferred a possible [Nazi] collaborator like Bierut to a true believer like Ulbricht.  Anyone can lose their faith in communism, but blackmail is forever. (p. 47)

To a Soviet officer, educated in Bolshevik schools and trained in the Red Army or the NKVD, an active participant in any political group other than the communist party was a suspicious figure by definition, and probably a saboteur or spy.  Politburo members in Moscow could speak in theory about the creation of "socialist democracies," but Soviet administrators on the ground were often unable to tolerate anything other than a totalitarian state.  They reacted with instinctive horror when newly liberated citizens began to exercise the freedom of speech, press, and association that the new regimes' rhetoric appeared to promise. (p.90)

The Polish secret police...rummaged through their files and identified twenty-five categories of "enemies."  These included anyone who had been in the Home Army, anyone who had been at all active in the pre-war social democratic movement or any other political party, and anyone who had served in the Polish armed forces abroad.  Many who had been released from prison in 1947 or had accepted amnesty after the war immediately fell under new suspicion too.  Eventually, this list grew to forty-three categories. (p.276)
I particularly appreciated Applebaum's conclusion, which offered up some great insights and was not just a re-summary of what had gone before. 
...none of the regimes ever seemed to realize that they were unstable by definition.  They lurched from crisis to crisis, not because they were unable to fine-tune their policies but because the communist project itself was flawed. By trying to control every aspect of society, the regimes had turned every aspect of society into a potential form of protest.  The state had dictated high daily quotas for the workers--and so the East German workers' strike against high daily quotas mushroomed quickly into a protest against the state.  The state had dictated what artists could paint or writers could write--and so an artist or writer who painted or wrote something different became a political dissident too.  The state had dictated that no one could form independent organizations--and so anyone who founded one, however anodyne, became an opponent of the regime... (p.464-5)
 Great book.  Read it!  This is one of my best of the year.

By seeking comprehensive control, the regimes had turned every aspect of society into a potential form of protest. - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/basicpage/iron-curtain-rust-or-rupture/#.VfnsD5eE7So
By seeking comprehensive control, the regimes had turned every aspect of society into a potential form of protest. - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/basicpage/iron-curtain-rust-or-rupture/#.VfnsD5eE7So
By seeking comprehensive control, the regimes had turned every aspect of society into a potential form of protest. - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/basicpage/iron-curtain-rust-or-rupture/#.VfnsD5eE7So
By seeking comprehensive control, the regimes had turned every aspect of society into a potential form of protest. - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/basicpage/iron-curtain-rust-or-rupture/#.VfnsD5eE7So

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tevye the Dairyman

This new edition has two books
Tevye the Dairyman, by Sholem Aleichem

I was excited to read these Yiddish short stories, published over 20 years (1895 - 1915), by the great Jewish writer and humorist Sholem Aleichem.  (That's a funny pseudonym that means, pretty much, "hello how are you" -- his real name was Sholem Rabinovitch.)  These are the stories that Fiddler on the Roof is based on.  So, excitement! 

Except then I realized that Fiddler on the Roof always makes me cry.  And the stories, of course, are more realistic and rougher and more tragic and do not have fun songs.  They are still done in this humorous Tevye style, but oh boy.  So--be prepared.

The musical writers did stick fairly close to the main events over several stories, so you'll see a lot of familiar points.  Tevye's "dream" really is in the Tzeitl story, so that made me happy.  The stories give us two more daughters (Tevye says he has seven, but one or two disappear without comment), each with their own tale to tell, and eventually the Jews are run out of their village.

Tevye is an oddball character, not easy for me to understand.  He loves to talk--he will hardly let others get a word in--and he's always spouting cockeyed midrashim and bits of Torah.  In fact he can't just say anything straightforwardly at all.  Underneath all his bluster, we catch glimpses of his true feelings.

Excellent short stories and very funny, but be prepared for a large dose of tragedy.  Someday maybe I will get the courage to read another collection, Motl the Cantor's Son.  Motl is a little boy who travels from the Russian shtetl to New York City. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Witch Week is Coming!

Guess what, Witch Week is happening!  Lory at Emerald City Book Review is hosting again, and this year the theme is "New Tales From Old," so we'll be reading retellings of folktales and mythology.  Fun!

There will be discussions and a readalong.  Head on over to Lory's blog to catch the early news so you can vote on what to read!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lucky Jim

Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis

I've never read Kingsley Amis before!  Somebody (Lory?) reviewed Lucky Jim several months ago, and I've meant to read it ever since.  I found an old copy with an Edward Gorey cover at work and have been saving it for a treat!

From what I can tell, Lucky Jim set a fashion for 'campus' novels--probably usually "novels about angry young men at newly-founded universities," as Diana Wynne Jones once commented.  Lucky Jim is indeed set in a "red-brick university" in the Midlands, which would make it newly-founded by British standards, because those mostly date from around 1900 or so.

James Dixon is a lecturer in medieval English history--it's his first year and he's on probation for the job.  While he desperately needs to hang on to his employment, he hates everything about it.  He hates medieval history, and his head of department, and all the other academics, and his sort-of girlfriend Margaret, and especially his head's son, the bearded and artistic Bertrand.   Of course he keeps these feelings to himself and only lets them go in his head or in private, with the result that he sounds very much like an English George Costanza for most of the novel.

Amis is very funny.  I laughed out loud a lot and insisted on reading bits out to my husband, like:
It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article's niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.
Those who professed themselves unable to believe in the reality of human progress ought to cheer themselves up . . . by a short study of the Middle Ages. The hydrogen bomb, the South African Government, Chiang Kai-shek, Senator McCarthy himself, would then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the Middle Ages. Had people ever been as nasty, as self-indulgent, as dull, as miserable, as cocksure, as bad at art, as dismally ludicrous, or as wrong as they'd been in . . . the Middle Ages?
 James meets Christine, the horrible Bertrand's girlfriend, and realizes that he likes her much better than anyone else he knows.  But perhaps by now he is trapped in this self-induced academic hell, and he'll go on to marry the manipulative Margaret and continue sucking up to Professor Welch and giving prissy talks about Merrie England for the rest of his life.  Or maybe...he'll get lucky.

The writing is wonderful and I loved reading Amis' sour observations about what life in academia can become.  This was a great read.

It also counts for the West Midlands in the Reading England challenge!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Silencing

The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech, by Kirsten Powers

You know if a book comes out about free speech, I've got to read it.  (I'm into another one now!)  Kirsten Powers is a lifelong lefty liberal who is currently a commentator at Fox News, and she is watching in dismay as illiberal leftists use silencing tactics to shut down debate and smear people they disapprove of--left or right.  Practice saying "illiberal left" ten times fast, because the phrase shows up a lot in this book! 

Powers goes over several recent cases you've probably heard about if you've been paying attention--the UCSB professor who assaulted a teenage girl participating in an anti-abortion demonstration, and then claimed to be the victim; the ousting of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla; the way California (and other) universities pushed the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship groups out, and so on.  She uses these and many other examples to list the tactics we see used all the time and describe them in detail.

She is particularly careful to note that the people using these tactics very often use jaw-droppingly racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive speech that they claim to oppose--and she admits to having bought into it herself once.  Sarah Palin, for example, along with many other women, has been derided as somehow not actually a woman because she is conservative--or else derided as a brainless bimbo, as if it's OK to call women bimbos as long as they have the wrong beliefs.  That was so common that people barely thought about it.  Any black person with conservative beliefs can expect to be subjected to a fairly endless stream of racist insults from some leftists who are perfectly willing to say things like "Uncle Tom" or much worse.  It's not only conservatives who get it, though; plenty of devoted liberals have come under fire for stepping out of line--for example Wendy Kaminer, of whom I am a fan.

Indeed, to read this book is to see a lot of ad hominem attacks described and called out.   The ad hominem is not only a favorite tactic, it's often the only tactic; people willing to demonize and smear those they disagree with rarely actually engage in a debate, or try to use reason to refute an argument.  They're trying to shut down opposition instead of dealing with it, which doesn't speak well for the strength of their ideas.

Powers talks a lot about the state of journalism and news, which was probably one of my favorite sections.  I already know about famous cases, but I'm a lot less clear on exactly how the Obama administration has treated the press corps compared to previous administrations.  Powers really calls the White House out, reminding us that Obama promised to be the most transparent administration in history, and then bringing out a long list of exactly how the opposite has mostly been the case.  (And she doesn't even bring up the NSA!)  She also talks about what it's like to work at Fox News and criticizes the popular meme that Fox is evil--with a bunch of statistics to back up her statements.  She is annoyed by the catch-22 where people claim that Fox never has liberal commentators, and then criticize her for being a liberal who appears on Fox.  (Also Brit Hume gets a good story, which made me happy because I like him.)

The point is that ad hominem attacks, smearing, and silencing tactics are not one bit liberal, befitting free citizens of an open society.  They're authoritarian tactics that exert power over others to oppress.  And so:
The more success the illiberal left has in terrorizing people who express dissenting views, the fewer objections there will be. Most people understandably just want to do their jobs and support their families. Given the choice between being shunned by their peers or losing their job for a personal view, they will almost always choose silence over confrontation.  Because of this, society should always err on the side of respecting people’s right to determine their own beliefs and express them without fear of official or unofficial retribution. Debate and persuasion should be the reflexive response to disagreement and even harmful propositions, not an authoritarian impulse to silence. It should be so not only because it is just, but because no society can flourish without the clash of ideas.
This is not a deep or difficult book; it is in fact a fairly quick read.  Powers does not delve into history or complex philosophical questions.  She is interesting and gives the reader some good stuff to think about, and this would serve as a reasonable introduction to deeper reading such as Jonathan Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors or my current read, Flemming Rose's Tyranny of Silence.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Phinnea at Ravenscroftcloud clued me in to a readalong at the fabulously-named Rambo Reader of Matthew Lewis' The Monk.  It's a Monkalong!  I've been meaning to re-read that for a while now and RIP is a good time to do it, so what the heck.  Rambo Reader says:
It's not very good! We've been threatening to read it for years! Here it is. October, 2015. It's Matthew Lewis's The Monk Readalong Time.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS RIGHT NOW, for I have the readalong schedule, and chapters 1 and 2 are to be done on the FIRST of October. That's right, we're posting on Thursdays this year, so when you've forgotten to do the reading over the weekend, you still have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to get it done. What a relief. How great. Good planning, Alice.

October 1st Vol. I Chapters 1-2
October 8th  Vol. I Chapters 3, Vol. II Chapters 1-2
October 15th Vol II, ch. 3-4
October 22nd Vol. III ch. 1-3
October 29th Vol III, ch. 4-5

Well, I can do that!  So here we go.  Want to join up and read a not-terribly-good-but-really-grody Gothic novel?  This one is by a man, so we can argue about the difference between men and women writing Gothic!  (Somebody did a whole long article about that.  Now I can't remember who.  Help me, people.)  The book is free on Kindle if you have an e-reader, or you can track down a paper copy.  I have the Oxford World's Classics edition on my shelf, so I'll be reading that.  According to the envelope stuck in the pages, I last read it around early 1996.