Saturday, 14 October 2014 – The Atlantic takes on College Fraternities & Two Books Arrive by Mail

IMG_0579While we were over @ Bibi and Pop’s (my parents’) house, I read an article in their copy of The Atlantic. It was by Caitlin Flanagan and concerned the January death of Tim Piazza a fraternity pledge @ Penn State.

The article is very anti-Greek and made me realize the extent to which the national media has become opposed to the Greek system. Still, the fraternities have failed to police themselves and I suspect that there will be big changes in the system in the future.

The article is here –

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/a-death-at-penn-state/540657/

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IMG_0571Two books from my online order arrived in the mail. I got Derek Rowntree’s Probability Without Tears and Robert K. Merton, Marjorie Fiske, & Patricia L. Kendall’s The Focused Interview. Happy Day!

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I read Rowntree’s Statistics Without Tears last summer and enjoyed it. So, I look forward to reading his take on probability. As for the Merton book, I have become interested in using interviews for my scholarly work, so I’m trying to up my skills.

The best news is that I have many more books in the mail.

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Friday, 13 October 2017 – Finishing Paul Clemens’ Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant (pages 100-271).

Friday I was wrung out from the week. I had some down time and sat in my green easy chair in the bonus room and finished Paul Clemens’s Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. I wanted to like Punching Out and occasionally, Clemens hit his stride and the book moved me. But, on the whole, it just doesn’t work.

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Synopsis

Clemens, who wrote the excellent Made in Detroit, spent a year at Detroit’s Budd stamping plant as it shut down and its assets were sent around the world. Clemens has some insightful remarks about the fact that the changing economy has destroyed the prospects of America’s working class.

Misses

As I read, the better book that kept coming to mind was Ben Hamper’s Rivethead. Hamper worked for General Motors in Flint, Michigan, and wrote about his experiences in his wonderful book. Lo and behold, Clemens makes reference to the fact that he is a huge fan of the book (pp. 190-191).

One of my frustrations with Punching Out is that Clemens shows flashes of brilliance. There are some great scenes, such as one where Clemens meets some of the workers who are disassembling the Budd plant at a local dive called the Texas Bar. Near the bar’s front door is a handwritten cardboard sign that reads –

“No Public Restroom or Telephone’s

No – Bum’s

No – Hooker’s

No – Thieve’s,

No – Selling of Anything,

We Do Call the Police” (pp. 176-177)

The Texas Bar offers a lunch special of cheeseburger, fries, and a beer for $5.50. Clemens strips the gears by asking for a Coke instead of the beer. It’s great local color that brings gritty Detroit alive for the reader.

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For a great book about life in the auto plants, try Ben Hamper’s Rivethead

Unfortunately, Clemens can never maintain the momentum. He delves too far into the technical details of tearing down the plant and shipping the equipment elsewhere. Also, he makes some literary references – among them, to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and to Thoreau’s Walden – that just don’t work.

Closing Shop

For me, Punching Out is like a recipe that has all the right ingredients, but just doesn’t turn out that well. More than once, Clemens alludes to the fact that he had trouble deciding what the real story was for the book. Unfortunately, the reader feels some of that drift.

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Author Paul Clemens

It’s easy to be a critic, but I think that Clemens would have found richer material if he’d looked deeper into the lives of some of the people he met at Budd. The reader likes these people – UAW rep Ray Dishman, the philosophical Eddie Stanford, Bosnian immigrant Nedzad, and the tough-but-talented Arkansas Boys. They’re plucky working-class people who make a living in the ruins. Their stories would have helped explain how American workers have coped with the collapse of our industrial base.

As is, Punching Out’s a near miss. I don’t regret reading it, but I can’t give it more than 4.5 out of 10.

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Thursday, 12 October 2017 – Reading the first 100 pages of Paul Clemens’ Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant

Yesterday, I got the first book in my big Amazon order of used books. The first to arrive was Paul Clemens’ Punching Out – One Year in a Closing Auto Plant (2011). Clemens previously wrote the terrific Made in Detroit, about his experiences as a white person growing up in The Motor City. Punching Out is also nonfiction about Detroit, so my hopes were high.

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Front cover – photographed from my trusty, 1999 La-Z-Boy, which was made in Monroe, Michigan.

Unfortunately, as tends to happen with high hopes, I feel let down. After reading the first 100 pages, I can’t give Punching Out more than a 4 out of 10. The idea is terrific – back in 2006 Clemens found out that the Budd stamping plant (founded 1919) was closing. A union representative helped him gain access to the plant on the sly and Clemens reported on what he saw.

But the execution just isn’t there – at least not in the first 100 pages. On pages 14-15 Clemens alludes to the fact that he had trouble finding the story that he wanted to tell in Budd’s closing. Indeed, too often, Clemens digresses into unrewarding tangents.

For instance, he recounts the history of Budd in numbing detail. (If Clemens had used family histories of the many 2nd- and 3rd-generation workers on the Budd payroll, the material would have been much better). Also, Clemens includes excruciating detail on the manufacturing processes at Budd. Sometimes you feel as though you are reading the operating manuals for the machines.

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Back cover – also shot while reclining

There’s enough good in the book to keep me from quitting it. (I think). The stories of the plant’s workers are terrific. These are the hardworking people often described as the backbone of the U.S. Also, Clemens shines a light into an unknown corner of the economy when he describes the industry that has emerged to deal with Budd’s unwanted assets. Last, as with Made in Detroit, Clemens’ knowledge of (and ambivalent affection for) Detroit bring it to life.

But after 100 pages of Punching Out, I’m let down.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2017 – Finishing The Double Life of Fidel Castro by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

Tuesday I finished The Double Life of Fidel Castro. The book grew on me as I read it. The title of the book could be Castro and Me. It’s not the definitive biography of Castro, instead, it’s a series of anecdotes about Sanchez’s life with the dictator.

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Though Sanchez broke with Castro, it’s clear that he’s ambivalent about his experiences. On the one hand, as the title suggests, Sanchez sees Castro as a hypocritical tyrant who acts just like all other dictators. On the other hand, it’s clear that the  being in Castro’s orbit was something that Sanchez loved.

In many way, Sanchez’s years with Castro seem to have been the best years of his life. He traveled the world and got to be on the inside, watching as Castro ran Cuba. One of the best anecdotes occurs at a summit of “non-aligned” leaders in Zimbabwe in 1986. Sanchez tells of the bizarre behavior of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. According to Sanchez, Gaddafi was crazy to the point that one could not hold a conversation with him. Even more bizarre, Gaddafi traveled with a security detail that was exclusively made up of young women who were known to the world as his “Amazons.”

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Gaddafi with his  “Amazons”

The Double Life of Fidel Castro is an entertaining read. It’d give it 8/10.

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Monday, 9 October 2017 – reading pages 81-161 in The Double Life of Fidel Castro

I continue to work on the Fidel Castro book. It’s a series of vignettes about the author’s life with Fidel; the title could have been Castro and Me. On the whole, the book is pretty good so far.

One of the more-interesting sections concerned Castro’s involvement in the overthrow of Nicaragua’s dictator, Anastasio Somoza, in 1979. Castro worked hard to export his revolution to the rest of Latin America and Nicaragua was a major triumph.

In the book, Sanchez has just begun to detail his growing doubts about Castro and communism. During a visit to the Soviet Union, author Sanchez sees the poverty and wonders if the USSR has any answers to the world’s problems. Also, he sees Castro and his cronies living the high life while the Cuban masses suffer.

The Double Life of Fidel Castro is good. I’d still give it a 7/10.

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Sunday, 8 October 2017 – Finishing a Professor’s Rage and Reading The Double Life of Fidel Castro

Sunday I finished the Amy Bishop book, going from page 116 to the end. The section that I read was not as impressive as what had come before, though I still enjoyed it. A Professor’s Rage ended with the State of Alabama preparing to bring Bishop to trial.

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Besides the premature finish, there were a number of issues with the book. For one, author Michele McPhee padded out the book with many long transcriptions of newspaper articles, police reports, etc. Also, the book needed editing, as McPhee repeatedly includes the same details.

Still, A Professor’s Rage was worth reading. On the whole, I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

***

Due to the storm, we hadn’t gotten much sleep. I was too tired to do anything outside, so – after finishing Amy Bishop – I read another book, The Double Life of Fidel Castro by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez. I got The Double Life from Edward R. Hamilton in May.

I’d read a few pages of the book a week or so ago, and I’ve made it up to page 80. The Double Life is one of those books that shows you a strange world – that of an all-powerful dictator. Sanchez served as one of Castro’s bodyguards from 1977 to 1994; after that, he landed in a prison and then defected to the U.S. In 2008.

IMG_0563The main takeaways from the first 80 pages are 1) Castro was a total hypocrite who loved “stuff” just as much as the greediest capitalist, 2) power thoroughly corrupted Castro, who could bear not even a hint of disagreement with his pronouncements, and 3) Castro managed to hide his private life (the money grubbing & serial womanizing) from the world to an amazingly-successful degree.

The prose in The Double Life isn’t great, but the story holds your attention. I’d give that book a 7/10 so far.

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Saturday, 7 October 2017 – Ordering Books & Reading pages 1-116 of Michelle R. McPhee’s A Professor’s Rage

During the a.m., I put in book orders to both Edward R Hamilton & to Amazon. My “book greed” (as my late sister used to call it) was pretty extreme. I got nine books from Amazon and ordered eleven from Edward R.

From Amazon, I ordered –

1) Running in Place: A Campaign Journal by Bruce E. Altschuler,

2) Somewhere in America: Under the Radar with Chicken Warriors, Left-Wing Patriots, Angry Nudists, and Others by Mark Singer,

3) They All Laughed… From Light Bulbs to Lasers: The Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives by Ira Flatow,

4) Joe Namath and the Other Guys by Rick Telander,

5) Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant by Paul Clemens,

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Amazon might be The Evil Empire, but I’ll never turn down one of their gift cards.

6) The Road he Travelled: The Revealing Biography of M Scott Peck by Arthur Jones,

7) The Focused Interview: A Manual of Problems and Procedures by Robert K. Merton,

8) Probability Without Tears – Primer For Non-mathematicians by Derek Rowntree, and

9) Beyond Anthropology by Bernard McGrane.

The cool thing about the Amazon order was that I had a $50 gift card and got these nine books for just $5 (including shipping).

***

From Edward R., I ordered the following —

1) A VERY PRINCIPLED BOY: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior –
2) MURDER IN GROSSE POINTE PARK: Privilege, Adultery, and the Killing of Jane Bashara –
3) A NATION OF OUTSIDERS: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America

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For rock-bottom remainders, you can’t beat Edward R.

4) THE GREENWASH EFFECT: Corporate Deception, Celebrity Environmentalists, and What Big Business Isn’t Telling You About Their Green Products and Brands
5) THE INFLUENCE MACHINE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life –
6) ADVENTURES OF AN ACCIDENTAL SOCIOLOGIST: How to Explain the World Without Becoming a Bore –

7) A PECULIAR TRIBE OF PEOPLE: Murder and Madness in the Heart of Georgia –
8) SNOB ZONES: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate –
9) SUPERFORECASTING: The Art and Science of Prediction –

10) THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PAUL DE MAN –
11) ALL YOU CAN PAY: How Companies Use Our Data to Empty Our Wallets –

***

I need to do better with my reading, get into some deeper stuff. Oh well. I tell myself that I don’t spend much time watching TV.

***

Hurricane Nate was rambling around out in the Gulf Saturday. My wife loves meteorology and she followed the updates, reporting to the family as Nate upgraded from a Category I to a II and as the forecasters shifted the “cone” (projected path) to the east – closer to our home.

Facing the possibility of a power outage, I needed a book. My mother had given me her copy of Michele McPhee’s A Professor’s Rage. The book is about Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama-Huntsville professor who murdered three colleagues in 2010.

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Mom warned me that the book is a quickly-published account of the Bishop saga. But she also said that the story is so good that she had enjoyed reading it. After reading the first 116 pages, I concur.

Amy Bishop is a true kook. Author McPhee focuses on Amy’s killing/murder of her brother Seth in December 1986. Bishop’s family had political connections in Massachusetts and – in McPhee’s account – used those connections to get Amy out of a murder charge.

Mom told me that the book heavily focuses on Amy’s life before she moved to Alabama and that the story ends before the resolution of Amy’s legal case. Of course, I was interested in the Alabama connection to the story. Her husband James (née Jimmy) was from Alabama. Jimmy’s family moved to Massachusetts for the father’s job at Honeywell. To me, one thing that was interesting was that the people in Massachusetts regarded the Andersons the way that people from Alabama always suspect that they are regarded outside of the South. The Andersons didn’t receive a warm welcome from their neighbors.

Grading on a curve (against other true-crime paperbacks,) I’d give A Professor’s Rage 8 out of 10 for its first 116 pages.

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