Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is a choice with which no one with decent taste in books could disagree. She’s deserved it for years. It’s also nice to see the Nobel committee pick someone who has so focused on the inner lives of her characters trying to succeed in the reality of messy divorces, early pregnancy, homesickness, etc. Great writer, so well-deserved.
Who needs some reading material? Horny Ghost of Osama Bin Laden: Rise of the Ghost has been published.
When an American diver goes in the search of the body of Osama bin Laden, he’s surprised to find not only the body,but also Bin Laden’s terrifying and horny ghost. Raped by the ghost and forced to sail to America, the duo arrive in Miami where Bin Laden is overwhelmed by the sexy American women. Discovering that his power increases by having sex with young women, Bin Laden sets out to get as many women as possible in effort to become the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. With the American government unable to stop him because weapons have no effect on his ghostly body, all hope seems lost. As politicians leave the White House to operate from top secret locations, Janet a young psychic, convinces the leaders to employ help from the ghosts of dead Americans to combat the most unimaginable terror ever unleashed on American soil. But as Bin Laden’s powers begin to grow, he sets out to take all that he sees. With the fate of the world in the hands of a sex-crazed terrorist. it’s up to an influential figure from our past to save America from this bleak, sexual future. An entertaining mix of horror and comedy, this thrilling novel keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Filled with twists and turns that will keep readers guessing until the final page, this exhilarating book takes terrorism to a whole new level.
I’m hoping the influential figure from the past is 1884 Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine.
Time to make an announcement that’s been in the works for awhile.
Today, I signed a contract with The New Press. The book is tentatively titled “Out of Sight: A Century of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe” and is a history of American corporate mobility that builds connections between current labor conditions in the developing world and corporations avoiding labor and environmental regulations by moving their sites of production around the planet. Bridging the 102 years between the Triangle Fire of 1911 and the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the book examines how corporations responded to effective regulations that made American workplaces safer and American air and water cleaner not by becoming good corporate citizens, but instead by moving production to recreate the dangerous work and unregulated pollution of the Gilded Age.
Hiding industrial production from American consumers has proven an incredibly effective corporate strategy. Citizens are no longer galvanized by the Triangle Fire to create reforms and corporations work with government officials to suppress the unions in overseas plants that could publicize the conditions of work. Clothes appear on hangers and meat in nicely wrapped packages without most Americans giving a second thought to how those products arrived at their fingertips. Chapters examine the history of exploiting female labor in the textile industry, strategies to hide meat production from consumers, the outsourcing of pollution to the world’s poor, and the effects of outsourcing on the long-term stability of the American working class. Finally it suggests ways American consumers and activists can work to ensure products are produced in environmentally sustainable and dignified conditions, using examples ranging from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which set minimum standards for working conditions aboard ships bringing goods to the United States, effectively creating a race to the top in that industry, to suggest workable paths to a better future for the planet and the global working class. Ultimately, we need internationally enforceable labor and environmental standards that allow workers to sue corporations in the corporate nation or origin or in international courts. Without making labor and environmental regulations as mobile as capital investment, we cannot stop the scourge of capital mobility’s exploitation of labor and nature.
I always said my hatred of capitalism should make me some money. And amazingly, it now has.
I have a piece up at David Axe’s joint on military institutions and the USAF:
With the Iraq War over and the fighting in Afghanistan winding down, why does the United States need to maintain two large land armies, the Army and Marine Corps? The question seems perfectly reasonable given the apparent absence of large terrestrial threats, but it leads us down the wrong path.
The United States military is all about redundancy; in addition to two armies, it also fields two navies — the Navy and the Coast Guard — and five or six air forces, depending on how you count the aerial arms of the various branches.
The real problem isn’t that the Army is marginally more or less useful that it was 10 years ago, but rather that the institutions that were designed in 1947, when the Army and Air Force split, are insufficiently flexible to negotiate the modern security landscape.
This also serves as a backdoor announcement that the book (Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force) will be published by University Press of Kentucky this spring.
I’d like to take this opportunity to promise that this site will not become a platform for nearly constant book promotion. I’d genuinely like to take that opportunity.
I just finished re-reading Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio for the first time in many years. While I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve reacquainted myself with the literature of the Gilded Age, largely because I am using the Kindle feature on my ipad for the first time and so I didn’t want to invest in newer books until I knew I liked it. It’s been a useful exercise. Read Great Expectations for the first time since high school. Read A Doll’s House for the first time. Same with Wister’s The Virginian (a very silly novel but useful for me as a teacher of the period). Found Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham fascinating in the first time I’ve read it since college. Total Gilded Age fantasy that capitalists wanted to tell themselves about making moral decisions when everyone else (including themselves) were swindling as many people as they could. Some other good stuff as well. So it’s been great. But reading Winesburg, Ohio again was like a slap in the face. What a brilliant piece of literature. So true and direct. Talking about sex and loneliness and obsession in a real, straightforward way that previous American authors really couldn’t do.
Anderson died on March 8, 1941, at the age of 64, taken ill during a cruise to South America. He had been feeling abdominal discomfort for a few days, which was later diagnosed as peritonitis. Anderson and his wife disembarked from the cruise liner Santa Lucia and went to the hospital in Colón, Panama, where he died on March 8. An autopsy revealed he had accidentally swallowed a toothpick, which had damaged his internal organs and promoted infection. He was thought to have swallowed it in the course of eating the olive of a martini or hors d’oeuvres.
I’m not sure how one swallows the toothpick off a martini olive unless you were very drunk, which is always possible. That’s a pretty tough way to go. I mean, I don’t mind too many martinis killing me, but I’d prefer the slow death of liver destruction to puncturing my innards with a bloody toothpick. Let’s at least hope the olive was good.
Also, I feel there’s a non-zero chance that this is the way Farley will go out.
And by this travesty I mean the threat of Steven Spielberg directing a remake of The Grapes of Wrath, a movie I would like to think exactly 0 people would find necessary or interesting, but then again Esther Zuckerman seems excited about it in the linked article so I just don’t know what’s wrong with people.
I mean really, a Grapes of Wrath distanced from the political connotations but wrapped in more sentiment? Gross.
In less disturbing artistic news, here we have a list of the 100 greatest American novels written between 1893 and 1993, with a limit of one book per author. Good for argumentation. I’d question the inclusion of Goodbye Columbus as the Philip Roth entry over Portnoy’s Complaint. Or about 7 or 8 others actually, though I have nothing negative to say about the book. Some of the more recent books feel a bit questionable to me. Is Roots that great of a novel? Or is it just very important? Of course, given that The Fountainhead is on here, it’s clear the list is emphasizing important above good. Or readable.
I found this interesting.
1. Susann, The Love Machine
2. Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint
3. Puzo, The Godfather
4. Nabokov, Ada
5. Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
6. Davis, The Pretenders
7. Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
8. Macdonald, The Goodbye Look
9. Woiwode, What I’m Going to Do, I Think
10. West, Except for Me and Thee
1. Peter and Hull, The Peter Principle
2. Talese, The Kingdom and the Power
3. White, The Making of the President ’68
4. Hellman, An Unfinished Woman
5. Ginott, Between Parent and Teenager
6. Baker, Ernest Hemingway
7. Martin, Jennie
8. Salisbury, The 900 Days
9. Guiles, Norma Jean
10. Craig, Miss Craig’s 21 Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women
Given the cultural importance of so many of these authors, titles, or at least subject matter, I thought it was worth reprinting. It’s also remarkable that Vladimir Nabokov had the #4 book on the best-seller list. And it’s not like Ada is a light beach read either.
Got this from Time Magazine.
[ERIK SAYS] This podcast discusses Ari Kelman’s new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. It explores how different groups contest the historical meanings of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. We then go on to talk about the contested memory of Howard Zinn and the contentiousness within discussions of his famous A People’s History of the United States.
[SEK SAYS] There is an outtake at 1:12:00 and that is all.
….EL–The Zinn stuff starts at about 45 minutes if anyone is interested.
Dan Hampton, author of Viper Pilot, doesn’t sound like a pleasant man. This requires qualification; I suspect he’d be a lot of fun for a night of drinking, but he doesn’t sound pleasant to work with for a prolonged period of time. It’s not just that Hampton has contempt for people who aren’t pilots; he has contempt for just about everyone who doesn’t fly an advanced, single seat fighter-bomber specializing in “Wild Weasel” or SEAD missions. The reviews over at Amazon are interesting to read; some of the one stars seem to be written by people who disliked Hampton personally. If you’re fine with this (and frankly, the arrogance is mildly charming) then Viper Pilot is a pretty interesting read. Hampton is convincing on the point that it is extremely, extremely difficult to become a single-seat fighter pilot in the United States Air Force today. As simple arithmetic this isn’t surprising, but Hampton explains how he made it through ever cull along the way, and explains why it was necessary to use such a fine toothed comb.
The Wild Weasel plays one of the most critical roles in modern airpower operations, the defeat of enemy air defenses. In context of a balance of technology and military power that heavily favors modern Western airpower, advanced air defense systems, most often purchased from Russia or China, represent the only effective defense for second-tier states. The most important enabler for modern airpower operations isn’t the air superiority fighter, because modern Western air forces rarely have to fight air-to-air combat. Rather, it’s the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) team, which kicks the door open and holds it open long enough for all the other elements of an air operation to do their jobs.
Hampton’s battle accounts are genuinely gripping. He never becomes involved in actual air-to-air combat, but he’s very convincing on the danger and excitement of the Wild Weasel mission, not to mention the close air support runs he occasionally has to make. Moreover, Hampton’s battle accounts connect well with his earlier discussion of training. An F-16 pilot needs to be able to conduct an enormous number of intellectual tasks simultaneously, from managing his fuel to assessing threats to organizing her command to paying attention to where all the weapons are going, all while flying an aircraft that, aerodynamically, would prefer to be on or in the ground. Hampton suggests that flying an F-16 under combat conditions is akin to playing several musical instruments at the same time, which sounds about right. Hampton’s accounts of non-combat missions (coordinating the landing of a squadron during a sandstorm, test-piloting a poorly maintained Egyptian F-16) are equally compelling.
At the same time, Hampton admits not the faintest grasp of or interest in grand strategy or international politics. He only occasionally comments on the geopolitical realities of the wars that he fights in, and then usually without much insight. In this he fits the stereotype of the Air Force fighter pilot who is interested, above all, in flying fighter aircraft in wartime conditions. The rest (why he’s there, what he’s doing) is relatively incidental. He enjoys utilizing the killing power of the F-16, even on missions (such as close air support) that the Air Force as a whole is altogether unenthusiastic about.
Viper Pilot is a quick read; Hampton is a good writer, with a sound grasp of what should and shouldn’t become part of the narrative. He knows that no one has bought Viper Pilot to read about family. There’s a fair amount of interesting trivia about the Air Force and about F-16s; I’ll confess that I had never quite understood the Viper vs. Fighting Falcon debate, or the role that the original Battlestar Galactica plays in that conversation, but it makes sense in context. If you like fighter pilot narratives, you’ll probably like this book. If you don’t, you won’t.
In the end, this might be a good thing, assuming he really retires. While his 90s and early 2000s resurgence was brilliant, his last novels were, uh, not very good. I had a couple of hours to kill in a library this summer and so I grabbed The Humbling off the shelves. To say the least, it was the worst Roth I’ve ever read. I mean, it’s one thing to be a misogynist in a brilliant novel. But in a bad novel, the misogyny is just unacceptable. That doesn’t take anyway from his 10-15 very good to amazing books. But maybe it is time.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is correct. The attacks on Lena Dunham as the ultimate purveyor of white privilege in the arts are utterly bizarre. This isn’t to say Dunham doesn’t benefit from white privilege or shouldn’t think of casting non-whites in her show, but she hardly benefits more than anyone else and is hardly more guilty than anyone else.