Non-Fiction: “Incendiary” by Michael Cannell

IncendiaryHere it is, friends: the beginning of the end (of 2017). I have six books (including this one) to get through and then I’ve got the 2017 recap to get done. If I can keep my head down and power through, I’ll be able to post the recap before September, and therefore be better than I was last year.

The last six books of 2017 were also all library books. This title was on the “new and notable non-fiction” shelf, and I’ll be very honest: when I read the subtitle (“The Psychiatrist, The Mad Bomber, and The Invention of Criminal Profiling”), I picked up the book and checked to see if there were any references to Hannibal Lecter or Thomas Harris in the index.

Reader, there were.

The plot – such as it is, for a non-fiction book – covers the story of the Mad Bomber in New York City. Beginning in 1940 and continuing over the course of 16 years, the Bomber planted pipe bombs all over the city, mostly focusing in movie theaters, train and bus stations, and Radio City Music Hall. The police force struggled to determine the culprit – not only were forensics still fairly primitive compared to today, but the Bomber was extremely careful with his fingerprints. The Bomber would either write letters to the newspaper or the police station, I can’t remember which, but the police were aware that the bombs were placed in retaliation against Con Edison, a huge electricity public utility in New York State.

Around 1956, New York Police Capt. Howard Finney decided to visit a psychiatrist, Dr. James A. Brussel, who was the deputy commissioner of the New York State Dept. of Mental Hygiene. On a whim, Capt. Finney asked Dr. Brussel to try and give a psychoanalysis of the Mad Bomber.

This had never been done before. Psychiatrists would only analyze people in their presence. So, based on what evidence Capt. Finney could give Dr. Brussel, the doctor created the first criminal profile.

In addition to the anger the Bomber felt toward Con Edison, Dr. Brussel gave the following additional insight:

Male, as historically most bombers were male. Well proportioned and of average build, based on studies of hospitalized mental patients. Forty to fifty years old, as paranoia develops slowly. Precise, neat and tidy, based on his letters and the workmanship of his bombs. An exemplary employee, on time and well-behaved. A Slav, because bombs were favored in Middle Europe. A Catholic, because most Slavs were Catholic. Courteous but not friendly.

Has a good education but probably not college. Foreign-born or living in a community of the foreign-born – the formal tone and old-fashioned phrasing of the letters sounded to Brussel as if they had been written or thought out in a foreign language and then translated into English. Based on the rounded letter “w’s” of the handwriting, believed to represent breasts, and the slashing and stuffing of theater seats, Brussel thought something about sex was troubling the bomber, possible an oedipus complex – loving his mother and hating his father and other authority figures.

A loner, no friends, little interest in women, possibly a virgin. Unmarried, perhaps living with an older female relative. Probably lives in Connecticut, as Connecticut has high concentrations of Slavs, and many of the bomber’s letters were posted in Westchester County, midway between Connecticut and New York City.  [Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Metesky)]

And as Capt. Finney was leaving with the profile, Dr. Brussel added this:

In the parting moment Dr. Brussel closed his eyes. An image of the bomber came to him with cinematic clarity. He wore outdated clothes since his contempt for others would prevent him from holding steady jobs. His attire was old-fashioned, but clean and meticulous. It would be prim, perhaps with an enveloping, protective aspect.

“Captain, one more thing. When you catch him,” Dr. Brussel said, “and I have no doubt you will, he’ll be wearing a double-breasted suit.”

Dr. Brussel added, “And it will be buttoned.”  [p. 107-108]

From there, Capt. Finney went to Seymour Berkson, the publisher of the New York Journal-American, and published a letter to the Mad Bomber, asking him to give himself up.

AN OPEN LETTER
To The Mad Bomber
(Prepared in Co-operation with the Police Dept.)

Give yourself up.

For your own welfare and for that of the community, the time has come for you to reveal your identity.

The N.Y. Journal-American guarantees that you will be protected from any illegal action and that you will get a fair trial.

This newspaper is also willing to help you in two other ways.

It will publish all the essential parts of your story as you may choose to make it public.

It will give you the full chance to air whatever grievances you may have as the motive of your acts.

We urge you to accept this offer now not only for your own sake but for the sake of the community.

Time is running out on your prospects of remaining unapprehended.

You can telephone the City Editor of this newspaper at Cortland 7-1212, or you can go to any police station or even the policeman on the street and tell him who you are.

In all cases you will be given the benefits of our American system of justice.

Give yourself up now.  [p. 127]

The Mad Bomber began a correspondence with the Journal-American, and that led to confirming some of Dr. Brussels’ theories about the Bomber.

Eventually, a secretary at Con Edison found a worker’s comp document dating back to 1931, wherein an employee had been injured at work and found to have a permanent disability, and therefore fired. She found similar phrases used in the Mad Bomber’s letters and responses published in the Journal-American, and notified the police. The lead paid off: the culprit was George Metesky.

(Fun fact!: Con Edison also potentially delayed the investigation by claiming that all worker’s comp records dated prior to 1940 had been destroyed, when actually, they hadn’t. Capitalism!)

Metesky was arrested and indicted on 47 charges, including attempted murder and damaging a building by explosion. And yes, when he was arrested, he was wearing a buttoned double-breasted suit. Metesky was interviewed by numerous psychiatrists, and a judge determined him to be a paranoid schizophrenic; Metesky was declared legally insane and incompetent to stand trial. He was committed to Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

He was eventually released when the Supreme Court found that one cannot commit someone to a hospital unless a jury finds that person dangerous. Since Metesky was committed without a jury trial – and by that time, he’d served two-thirds of a maximum 25-year sentence – he was released. He died in 1993, at the age of 90.

So now that I’ve got that out of the way, here’s the part of the book that talked about Hannibal:

Today profiling plays a prominent role in the pursuit of all serial offenders. It has also become a preoccupation of popular culture. In the late 1970s a quiet, bearded former Associated Press editor named Thomas Harris audited classes and met with FBI agents at Quantico, Virginia, where he learned about the agency’s semisecret efforts to profile killers and sex offenders. “What I try to do with a case is to take in all the evidence I have to work with … and then put myself mentally and emotionally in the head of the offender,” said John Douglas, one of the profilers Harris consulted over the years. “I try to think as he does. Exactly how this happens, I’m not sure …. If there’s a psychic component to this, I won’t run from it.”

Harris applied what he had learned at Quantico to his writings. His bestselling 1981 novel, Red Dragon, and its sequel Silence of the Lambs[*], introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist and homicidal cannibal, and Will Graham, the profiler who tracked him. Like Dr. Brussel, Graham succeeded because he could get inside the mind of a madman and follow his logic.

“It’s the way you think,” Graham’s FBI supervisor[**] tells him in Red Dragon.

“I think there’s a lot of bullshit about the way I think,” Graham replies.

“You made some jumps you never explained.”

Harris almost single-handedly created a profiling genre that stormed the bestseller lists and commands prime-time programming. [p. 244-245]

[*] It’s The Silence of the Lambs, dammit!

[**] Will’s “FBI supervisor” is JACK CRAWFORD, MUTHAFUCKA!

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I liked the book. I thought Mr. Cannell did a good job with going between viewpoints: that of the NYPD, Mr. Metesky, and Dr. Brussells. He explained a lot of the forensics without being overly technical, which I appreciated. The plot – such as it is – moved along. If you’re interested in this type of topic, I’d recommend it. The Hannibal stuff was just a bonus.

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Grade for Incendiary: 2.5 stars

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Non-Fiction: “A Colony In A Nation” by Chris Hayes

colony nationI’m gonna warn all y’all right up front: this is political. If you don’t want to read about politics, Black Lives Matter, police-as-military force, and other horrible horrible things in our society, wait until my next review – it’ll be a silly little romance novel, with no politics or angst whatsoever.

Now that that’s outta the way…

Chris Hayes is a MSNBC host, the lead-in to Rachel Maddow’s show. I don’t watch MSNBC. In fact, the only time I watched MSNBC in the past umpty-million years was when Maddow claimed she had Drumpf’s tax return. (Spoiler alert!: she didn’t. She had two pieces of paper that showed a small portion of his tax return but didn’t really have any detail. Wake me up when you find the kompromat, Rach.) But I saw Chris Hayes when he was on my news broadcast, The Daily Show, talking to Trevor Noah about this book.

Here’s where I’d link to the interview clip, but the Comedy Central website wants me to log in with my cable provider account and password?! Fuck offffffff, Comedy Central!

ANYWAY. I liked his interview, and I remembered that I liked the interview and the premise of the book when I saw it on the “New and Notable” shelf at the library.

The book is less than 200 pages long, and it’s very well-written. So well-written, I ended up quoting a shit-ton of the book. Soooo, if you don’t feel like either watching an interview (if you can find it on the interwebs) or finding the book yourself, good news! This is practically a Cliffs Notes version.

(Here’s where I normally apologize to the kids who are googling the book title and “cliffs notes” and tell them they’re going to be very disappointed in this, try again, but honestly? This might get your essay done. Please send $35 in a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Alaina c/o That’s What She Read for all your essay-writing needs.)

A Colony In A Nation proposes that there are two justice systems in the United States: one for the wealthy and the white, and a second one for the poor and the black. The book is broken out into five or six parts, each a thesis on its own.

The first section sets up the premise with a real-world experience. Mr. Hayes tells us about the time he accidentally smuggled some pot into the 2000 Republican National Convention.

[…] the police officer who’d found the drugs put my bag on a table and looked at me, as if to say Go ahead and take it.

I figured as soon as I reached out and acknowledged the bag was mine, they’d slap the cuffs on. But when I went to grab the bag … nothing happened. I picked it up.

Kate [his girlfriend], her dad, and I walked into the convention center together. Her father said, amusedly, “You probably shouldn’t do that tomorrow.” [p. 18]

Compare that story to that of Dayvon Love of Baltimore, a high school debater who narrowly escaped being thrown in jail for being in the wrong place at the wrong time:

“I was seventeen years old, it was the day of a debate tournament. I’d won first place, and that night I was catching a bus to go to New York to see a friend.” On his way to the bus station in the wee hours of the morning, Love and his father were pulled over by police. “They say I match the description of someone who stole a woman’s purse.”

The police began to search the car. More cruisers pulled up with their lights flashing. They took Love out of the car and had him stand in the middle of the street. At one point, one shined his police light right into the teenager’s face. “And you heard them ask the woman, you know, ‘Is this him?’ And she says, ‘I don’t know.’ And so luckily I had the presence of mind to think, ‘We had just stopped at the ATM to get the money I needed for my ticket.’ So I explained to them, I said I had just got the money that I needed to pay for my ticket.” Love happened to have the receipt from the ATM; the time stamp corroborated his story. “And luckily they let me get away, but that easily could have went in an entirely different way.”

By “entirely different way,” Love meant being swept into the vortex of a penal system that captures more than half the black men his age in his neighborhood. By “entirely different way,” he meant an adulthood marked by prison, probation, and dismal job prospects rather than debate coaching and activism. If he hadn’t been so quick on his feet, if the woman hadn’t been unsure the police had the right person, everything might have been different. [p. 20-21]

Here’s the premise of the entire book, in four block paragraphs:

There are fundamentally two ways you can experience the police in America: as the people you call when there’s a problem, the nice man in uniform who pats a toddler’s head and has an easy smile for the old lady as she buys her coffee. For others, the police are the people who are called on them. They are the ominous knock on the door, the sudden flashlight in the face, the barked orders. Depending on who you are, the sight of an officer can produce either a warm sense of safety and contentment or a plummeting feeling of terror. [p. 16]

This book makes a simple argument: that American criminal justice isn’t one system with massive racial disparities but two distinct regimes. One (the Nation) is the kind of policing regime you expect in a democracy; the other (the Colony) is the kind you expect in an occupied land. Policing is a uniquely important and uniquely dangerous function of the state. Dictatorships and totalitarian regimes use the police in horrifying ways; we call them “police states” for a reason. But the terrifying truth is that we as a people have created the Colony through democratic means. We have voted to subdue our fellow citizens; we have rushed to the polls to elect people promising to bar others from enjoying the fruits of liberty. A majority of Americans have put a minority under lock and key. [p. 32]

If you live in the Nation, the criminal justice system functions like your laptop’s operating system, quietly humming in the background, doing what it needs to do to allow you to be your most efficient, functional self. In the Colony, the system functions like a computer virus: it intrudes constantly, it interrupts your life at the most inconvenient times, and it does this as a matter of course. The disruption itself is normal. [p. 37]

In the Nation, you are innocent until proven guilty; in the Colony, you are born guilty. Police officers tasked with keeping these two realms separate intuitively grasp of the contours of this divide: as one Baltimore police sergeant instructed his officers, “Do not treat criminals like citizens.” [p. 38]

Part II brings the discussion to a natural starting point: Ferguson, Missouri, and Michael Brown. He cites a handful of actual Ferguson ordinances related to policing, including this one:

[…] None of this would have happened if she’d just listened.

Section 29-16(1) of the municipal code of the city of Ferguson, Missouri, codifies this principle. It is a crime to “[f]ail to comply with the lawful order or request of a police officer in the discharge of the officer’s official duties.” As the Department of Justice would later show, the police much abuse this statute. Ferguson cops routinely issue orders that have no legal basis and then arrest citizens who refuse those orders for “failure to comply.” It’s a neat little circular bit of authoritarian reasoning. [p. 46-47]

But the bigger point Mr. Hayes makes in this section is that this need for obedience to the police state is anathema to our history. As a colony, America proudly resisted being told what to do by Britain.

But as a principle of self-governance, particularly of American self-governance, “do what the cops say” is a pretty strange unofficial motto. This great land of ours, this exceptional beacon of liberty, was founded by men who, to borrow a phrase, refused to comply. Who not only resisted lawful orders but rebelled against the government that issued them. Colonists chased the king’s officers through the streets, caught them, beat them, tarred and feathered them, and wheeled them through town for all to mock and shame. As distant as it may seem now, that’s our national heritage when it comes to “lawful orders.” [p. 49]

Back in the day (i.e., America’s days as a colony), power was held by the pirates and the smugglers who snuck product to the colonists under the nose of Britain’s port authority.

During the pre-Revolutionary era, smugglers created economic activity that caused huge knock-off effects: a cascade of subsidiary industries and cash flow that kept a whole lot of people in the colonies (not to mention lots of business back in merry old England) in the money. The same goes for dealers in, say, Westside Baltimore or the South Side of Chicago or the South Bronx, or northern Maine or eastern Kentucky or South Central Los Angeles. Sure, the drug trade is illegal, reckless, and destructive, but it encourages commerce in places where the legitimate economy produces few jobs. While dealers and “the street” are viewed skeptically, often angrily, they also command status. Dealers, like smugglers, become institutions – the way, say, New Englanders viewed John Hancock in the years leading to the revolution. [p. 53]

(John Hancock was a smuggler prior to signing the Declaration of Independence with the largest pen.)

But that talk about the drug trade in northern Maine – seriously. The second district of Maine is still horribly economically depressed, and so many people are turning to the drug trade. And as much as Governor LePage would want us to believe that the majority of drug dealers in Maine are not white (“guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty … half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave”) – from other states (“black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx, and Brooklyn”) – i.e., The Colonies — the majority of arrests have been white, native Mainers – The Nation.

*checks watch* 29 more weeks until the next Inauguration Day for Maine. *taps watch, wills it to tick faster goddammit*

Something else Ferguson had going for the it, regarding its racial inequality towards justice: the fact that the City of Ferguson was more concerned about raising revenue by municipal violations than focusing on actual public safety needs. Y’know: quotas.

Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. [p. 62, quoting directly from the DOJ’s report on the patterns and practices of the Ferguson, MO police department]

I grew up in a relatively sleepy suburban, college town. As of the 2010 census, Maine was 94% white. Brunswick – my hometown – may have been slightly less white when I was in school, but only because the Brunswick Naval Air Base was still active at that time. I grew up in a middle-class family: we struggled at times, but we had a house, two cars, food on the table, and cable TV.

But the Brunswick cops – I don’t know what it was, but Brunswick cops (with a few exceptions) were the worst.

The first time I got pulled over, I was 19 years old. I had just bought my first car – Max, a cherry red 1994 Plymouth Acclaim – and I was driving down Maine Street, heading for Topsham. A car tried to cut me off coming out of a side street, and in my attempt to avoid being hit, I drove through a crosswalk where a pedestrian had just entered my lane. A cop was in the other lane. He pulled a U-ey and followed me, siren blaring. When I pulled over and rolled my window down, I was shaking – from almost being hit, and not knowing for sure why I was in trouble.

The cop – Ray-Bans down, practically chewing on a toothpick and waving his Maglite in my eyes in broad fucking daylight – intimidated the fuck out of me. Gave me a ticket, and because I’d only had my full license less than two years, told me my license would be suspended.

I had just gotten a job in the next town over. There was no way for me to walk to work, so not being able to drive for the entire summer would have ruined me. So I went to court to contest, and in order to get out of the suspension, had to go to the same “defensive driving” course that people with DUIs have to take to get the points taken off my record.

For failure to yield to a pedestrian. All so the cop with the fucking Napoleonic complex (I distinctly remember towering over him when he showed up to court) could fulfill his quota.

QUOTAS, MAN. FUCKING QUOTAS.

*sigh* If you want to hear more about municipal violations and how they can escalate into some high grade, life-ruining bullshit, check out my Pretend Second British Boyfriend John Oliver from three years ago.

For subjects of authoritarian rule, humiliation is the permanent state of existence. “There is the man at the top,” Frantz Fanon wrote of his native Martinique, “and there are his courtiers, the indifferent (who are waiting), and the humiliated.” That’s it. In a colonial system, you can have power and be close to those with power, or you can be humiliated.

Cops – Brunswick cops in particular (and I know I’m probably gonna get some flak for this, but Sharon*, your husband wasn’t a Brunswick cop back in 2002, I’m not counting him) – wield what power they’re given in order to humiliate the governed.

*name changed to protect the innocent

And to bring it all back to Mr. Hayes’s thesis:

But Ferguson’s practices were hiding in plain sight for all to see for years. And in fact, when I talked to people in Ferguson, they didn’t think there was much that special about it. Go to any of the surrounding little municipalities around Ferguson in St. Louis County: Jennings, Florissant, Kinloch. A Washington Post investigation of the municipal court system in the surrounding towns found identical violations across the board.

This is what “the law” looks like in the Colony, where real democratic accountability is lacking, when the consent of the governed is absent or forsaken or betrayed, and when the purpose of policing and courts isn’t the maintenance of safety and provision of justice but rather some other aim. In north St. Louis County that aim is to produce revenue, the same aim of the British Empire’s customs regime in the American colonies. [p. 75]

And here’s what happens when the authoritarian “status quo” gets challenged: the police fight back against the uprising Colonists:

In response to the outrage that poured forth on that summer afternoon, the police of Ferguson and St. Louis County mobilized as if for war: flak jackets, masks, helmets, camouflage, assault weapons, and armored vehicles. Men pointed their long guns at civilians who assembled for peaceful protest. Cops arrested and detained journalists who were charging their phones in a McDonald’s. They fired tear gas canisters indiscriminately. Bands of armed cops in full combat gear chased unarmed, peaceful protesters through the streets with guns raised. [p. 67]

Part III begins with a reminder of the Tamir Rice tragedy – where a twelve-year-old boy was killed by police officers who were dispatched to a public park where report of a black male pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing at people was made, and then killing that twelve-year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun. This leads Mr. Hayes to discuss, in part, the notion that the Nation clings to its weaponry in order to maintain order in the Colony.

Today Americans still rely on the gun, the power to kill or injure, to preserve the social order in the most fraught and dire moments. Police know their weapon is by their side if the situation they encounter spins too far out of control and they find themselves threatened. [p. 88]

But he also makes a good, if often-missed point: too often people call the police to handle situations that really shouldn’t be their purview. And, additionally, police officers are not given the appropriate training to be truly effective in those situations.

For instance: you’re a police officer, fresh out of the academy. Let’s say you’re between the ages of 25 and 30. You get a call to a residence because the resident of the house – who is suffering from severe developmental disorders – has found a weapon and is threatening another resident. What’s your training? What should you do as a policeman? The resident hasn’t done anything illegal, but you were called to respond, and you can’t just leave.

We ask police to be social workers, addiction counselors, mental health workers, and community mediators. We wouldn’t hand a social worker a gun and have them go out into the streets to apprehend criminals, but we do the opposite every day. [p. 95-96]

And then, there’s the topic of White Fear. Ah, that fear of the unknown and distrust of people that don’t look like us; the fear that causes people to lock their car doors when they drive through a city, or causes those same people to call the cops when they see a black man in their neighborhood. Or causes a white lady to call the cops on two Native American teens who were merely taking a college tour.

Despite the fact that nonwhite people are disproportionately the victims of crime, the criminal justice system as a whole is disproportionately built on the emotional foundation of white fear. But then, that isn’t surprising. American history is the story of white fear, of the constant violent impulses it produces and the management and ordering of those impulses. White fear keeps the citizens of the Nation wary of the Colony, and fuels their desire to keep it separate. [p. 109]

Also in Part IV, Mr. Hayes discusses in depth the racial bias of the justice system, especially when it comes to the War on Drugs. And here is where I am going to go all capslocky, and I want y’all to know, I DO NOT APOLOGIZE.

So, here’s the thing: in 2016, the State of Maine legalized recreational marijuana by referendum. It allows possession and personal cultivation of the plant – with limits – and sets up regulation for the sale of marijuana to recreational users. Now, here’s the downside: the way the referendum was written, and the way it was put into the law books, practically all the nitty-gritty stuff about licensing, and background checks, and all that shit that we need to ensure it stays legal? I think if the law writers were allowed to enter the *shrug emoticon* for all that stuff, they could have. Everything – and I mean everything – is pretty much TBD.

Enter the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee in the Maine Legislature. For almost 18 months, these seventeen elected officials did a lot of hard work – going to Colorado and Washington, learning how other states worked within the lines to ensure there were safeguards in place to allow medicinal marijuana and recreational marijuana to coexist. They labored over just the right type of taxation scheme to ensure that the State benefits from this. (And in the middle of this, Jeff Beauregard Sessions threw a monkey wrench into the whole affair because he thinks it smells bad, but also, he’s racist, and yes, I’m getting to that).

Flash forward to two weeks ago, when the final version of the bill the MLI Committee wrote – which is 80 pages long, containing numerous regulations for cultivators, products manufacturers, retailers, and testing facilities, and licensing, and reports and studies and DUDES, lemme tell ya, I have read that bill backwards and frontwards about sixty times until Sunday, how did this pot virgin become an expert on pot?! – came up in the House for voting.

And at least three Republican representatives stood up and said that they can’t vote on it, because legalizing marijuana is a bad thing to do, and if we (the people) can legalize marijuana by referendum vote, *gasp* what’s next? Voting to legalize heroin?

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And then they threw out the fact that marijuana is a Schedule One narcotic on the Controlled Substances Act.

Which caused me to run away from my computer (where I was watching the livestream at work) and into the stairwell and post to Facebook the following:

nixon was racist

Because guess what, folks? RICHARD NIXON WAS RACIST AND PRO-VIETNAM WAR AND THIS WAS HOW HE WAS GOING TO CONTROL HIS ENEMIES:

The number of people [over the decades of the DEA] in state and federal prisons serving drug sentences increased nearly 1,270 percent, from 24,000 inmates in 1980 to 304,500 in 2014. Years later Nixon aide John Ehrlichman seemed to offer up a smoking gun when he told a reporter:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. [p. 111]

MARIJUANA IS ONLY A SCHEDULE ONE DRUG BECAUSE RICHARD MILHOUSE NIXON WAS RACIST

But what happened over the years? Even though studies have shown that black people and white people use marijuana at the same rates, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession and/or use over white people.

EVEN CYNTHIA MILHOUSE NIXON KNOWS WHAT’S UP

[NOTE FROM THE PAST: And now the Maine Legislature is all fucked up, and I’m waiting for veto day to see if the marijuana bill even gets un-vetoed [[because LePage is going to veto it, like an asshole]], and if I have to listen to another twelve months of my friend whose name I am not going to post on the internet for privacy reasons bitching about the fact that he can’t go into a store and buy pot I will LOSE MY MIND.]

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[Note From the Future: holy shit, the pot bill survived the veto.]

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[oh shit, now what do I do?]

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Getting back to White Fear: it’s also known as “unconscious bias” which, thanks to Starbucks, hopefully a lot more people will realize this is an endemic problem in society? [In a way, it’s a good thing it’s taken me forever to get caught up on my blog reviews – look at all the real-world examples I’m able to throw in now!] But what do we do with White Fear – and is there a way to train it out of us?

[…] Imagine that this particular officer, not through conscious racism but through deep unconscious bias, finds himself only in fear of black citizens. […] He is not faking his fear; he is not being disingenuous. But something is deeply amiss.

What is the moral status of that fear? What is its legal status? In the case of a police officer, the practical effect of our collective conception of fear is its transcendent ability to exculpate. If a cop shoots someone because he is angry, he is a murderer. But if he shoots a suspect because he is afraid, he is innocent. Can the law second-guess that subconscious impulse, which the shooter cannot control any more than he can keep his leg from kicking out when a doctor strikes a hammer against his knee? [p. 117]

I mean, probably not. This is America. [Mom, you’re not gonna want to watch that link, okay? Seriously, I mean it, don’t click it.]

Over the decades, communities have tried to make themselves safer and better protected from drugs and crime. Whites and minorities alike have petitioned to have better policing, better programs and more resources to keep people from getting involved with crime.

How’d that go over?

Because control over the machinery of the state in almost all places remained in the hands of an overwhelmingly white elite, a perverse form of “half-a-loaf” legislative compromise emerged during this period. Yes, black citizens, leaders, clergy, activists, and politicians in predominantly black neighborhoods recognized a crisis, and yes, they were demanding solutions. But the solutions they were demanding were full spectrum – more police and more jobs – while the solutions they got were entirely punitive.

In the fight over the 1994 crime bill, the NAACP excoriated the initial draft for its lack of investment in urban communities. The Congressional Black Caucus proposed its own alternative, with $5 billion more in funding for drug treatment and early intervention programs. But Republicans demagogued on the small amount of social spending in the Senate Democrats’ version of the bill, railing against midnight basketball programs as a government subsidy for hooligans. The bill then lost an additional $2.5 billion in social spending, but left in place billions for prisons and a long list of punitive measures.

This process was repeated in statehouses and city halls across the country: black people asked for social investment and got SWAT teams, asked for full employment and got gang units, asked for protection and got “stop and frisk.” White fear absorbed and appropriated black fear. Thanks to what scholars call “selective hearing,” black fear, combined with white political power, produced a state committed to managing and punishing black and brown subjects rather than empowering and protecting them. [p. 124-125]

Real-world example: the marijuana legalization bill I was talking about? If we wanted to truly make it egalitarian, there should have been a provision to expunge the records of all possession and use crimes for those who have been convicted of them, now that possession is partly legal. “Oh, you got busted in 2012 for holding two ounces of pot? Well, now you can hold two and a half ounces of pot legally, bye-bye criminal record!”

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The best the bill does is allow those applying for marijuana establishment licenses to still be considered if the individual does have a conviction “for an offense that consisted of conduct that is authorized under chapter 3 [possession and use].”

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So let’s say you were convicted of possession of marijuana, but don’t want to get into the marijuana biz. That conviction is going to remain on your record, and you will continue to be required to disclose that conviction on employment applications. So essentially, if you have a conviction and you have to get a new job, the only job where that marijuana conviction will not count against you is one in the marijuana industry. How is that fair!? Thanks, half-loaf legislature!

Here’s another example of how tone-deaf people in power are:

[Chris Hayes] asked [the mayor of Ferguson, MO] what he thought was the big takeaway from the death of Michael Brown and the protests for racial justice that had brought hundreds of reporters from around the world to his city.

The mayor didn’t hesitate. “We have to find a way to stabilize housing. There is, all across north St. Louis County, a problem with housing where people only live for a few years. They switch school districts, you know, every year. They move houses every year, every six months. They never really set down roots. We have to find a way to do that.”

I was a bit incredulous: “So you think that is sort of the – that is your takeaway from this?”

“Yeah, the takeaway is we have to find a way to stabilize them here in the community and make them part of it.”

Ah yes, stabilize housing – that phrase was familiar to me, like concerns about vagrants and seediness and orderliness. Stability is one of the things that, in the minds of those within the Nation, define it, compared to the transience of the Colony. I’m sure the mayor really was concerned with making sure his constituents had a stake in the city and felt part of it for the long term. But the subtext was present, too: that it was the denizens of the Colony who were causing problems, and things would be fine if Ferguson could get rid of this disorderly class of squatters who had infiltrated their town. [p. 150]

The above is a good example of “broken windows” policing: broken windows or squalor in a community is apparently an indicator of crime going on in the area. This leads to “community policing,” where the police force in the area are more present so as to build up the safety of the community. However:

The problem with “community policing,” then and now, is that so often the cops being called to enforce community norms are not part of the community. [p. 157]

In a perfect world, the police officers who police your community would be made up of people in your community. But how many times do you see primarily-white officers and policemen responsible for policing primarily-minority areas? Those officers are not part of the community they are policing.

The final part of the book (yes, I’ve finally reached the end) discusses the punitive nature of America’s justice system.

America is a wrathful land. Americans like to humiliate wrongdoers. We like to heap marks of shame upon them, to watch them groan and write beneath their sins, as far back as the scarlet letter and the stocks. We like, in short, to punish. It makes us feel good. By every conceivable metric – prosecutions, duration of sentences, conditions of imprisonment – the United States is by far the most punitive rich democracy. No one else really comes close. [p. 181]

Mr. Hayes goes further, discussing a study made by law professor James Whitman:

In 2003 law professor James Whitman laid out an argument for why the U.S. criminal justice system compares so poorly to those of continental Europe – France and Germany specifically.  […] He comes to a surprising and compelling conclusion: that it is the strong anti-aristocratic strain in the American legal tradition that has made our punishment system so remorseless and harsh.

In the German and French systems, he explains, punishment long existed along two separate tracks: degradation and humiliation for low-status prisoners and relative comfort and hospitality for high-status ones. The United States, on the other hand. maintained a more egalitarian ethos of punishment (for white people, anyway). Since the American Revolution, we viewed punishment as a great equalizer; no special kinds of punishment was reserved for lords and for peasants. Thus the system of punishment that developed found equality in a race to the bottom: everyone got punished harshly as an expression of a core belief that no man stands above another. [p. 183]

There’s a lot in this short book. There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ve taken up enough of your time, and I’m also probably not the person to say it. Here’s what I can say: the book opened my eyes on a lot of things that I was probably blind to, and it certainly doesn’t help that I live in the whitest state in the country (aside from possibly Vermont; I can’t remember which one of us is on top right now). But I promise to do my best to use my white privilege to effect better change, and I encourage anyone who wants to make this country better to read this book.

Grade for A Colony In A Nation: 5 stars

Non-Fiction: “All The President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

all the president's menThis was the title that originally brought me to the library for the first time in 2017. I mean, gee, I wonder why I’d want to learn more about Watergate? That time when the United States had a President that was actively encouraging crime and misdemeanors? The second-to-last time a President was impeached? (Some would argue, the last time a President was impeached for good reason?) The last time in history when elections were so blatantly manipulated? GEE, I WONDER WHY

I mean, there are other reasons. But the primary reason I decided to read All The President’s Men was because the DVD wasn’t available, and I couldn’t stream it on any of my platforms. The secondary reason is, much like Jake Tapper said recently on Late Night With Stephen Colbert, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it [often] rhymes.” (This quote, according to Google, has been attributed to Mark Twain.) So while Russiagate certainly may look like Watergate, it isn’t exactly the same thing.

(One could argue that Russiagate is inherently worse, and I would be one of those doing the arguing on that side, but again, I try very hard, you guys to keep politics out of this blog as much as possible. Having said that, this entry is going to be one of those times I try not so hard.)

Here’s another reason I was drawn to All The President’s Men: it is, at its heart, a story about reporting. And before I get into some key quotes, let me tell y’all about Spotlight.

Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars back in 2016, which, thank God, y’all, because its main contender that year was The fucking Revenant, and it has been almost three years but I am still fucking mad at that movie’s existence. Thankfully, I watched Spotlight first, and I loved it. But not for reasons you may think.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Spotlight, a brief overview: the movie talks about the Spotlight team of reporters, working for the Boston Globe. A team of four to five reporters with an editor in charge, they dig deep into investigative reporting: chase down leads, interview people, do research, the whole thing. It takes this team months to develop a story, and they do not publish anything until the information has been verified by multiple sources and the editor knows it is worthy of print. The story the team is working on in the movie is the bombshell that dropped in Boston back in 2001, about the massive coverup employed by the Catholic clergy in protecting priests who had molested children in their parish.

Boston is hugely Catholic. It shook the entire city. But additionally, victims came pouring out of the woodwork and the impact reverberated all the way back to the Vatican. It was a huge discovery. And it was accomplished by the sheer doggedness of the reporting team.

When I originally went to college, I wanted to go into communications: I wanted to be a journalist. I imagined myself reading the news (by the way, this is before Anchorman came out, so I can’t even say I was inspired by Veronica Corningstone). But I started college in September of 2001. Eleven days in, the entire face of news reporting changed overnight. News became 24-hour driven, and everything was breaking news. And I’m not talking about just the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. Even today, everything becomes breaking news. And the praise for long-form reporting is practically gone: if you don’t have a story right now goddammit, you don’t have a story. The news can’t wait for facts to be confirmed, and the news can’t wait for an entire story to be revealed before go time. Look at the unfortunate reporting circumstances around the death of Tom Petty; I saw on Twitter that he was dead, but when I checked the Washington Post, they stated he was in critical condition. But people can’t wait to fact-check anymore.

People also have a much shorter attention span nowadays, but that’s a different story altogether.

So I loved Spotlight because I really tuned into the love of the reporting that went into that story. I admit, I was one of the very lucky individuals who was far enough removed from the Church that I don’t have a personal story about a priest. But many of my friends did. Maybe not to them, but they heard about a thing happening and then a priest moving away and no one ever talking about the thing ever again. It was a hard film to watch for someone with those circumstances, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them. So when I say “oh my god, I loved Spotlight,” please know I’m coming at it from a much different angle than you may originally think.

Taking that into consideration, I was intrigued on what All The President’s Men would look like. Was it just reprints of the articles? Or was it the story behind the stories? (It was the latter.)

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were junior Metro reporters who happened to get assigned the story of a “third-rate burglary” that occurred on June 17, 1972. Woodward got the call at 9 a.m. that morning and was asked to cover it, and his first thought was that he was being returned to piddly-assed stories he used to cover. Little did he know what would unravel.

I’m not going to get into a lot of the plot (mainly because I copied some quotes almost seven months ago, and I can’t really recall a lot of the context); the book actually ends before Nixon’s resignation. Eventually, I’ll rent the DVD and do a tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen (I’d check to see if it’s on my List, but I’m writing this in a Word doc because I’m still without power following the massive wind storm from earlier this week) (Note From the Future: I just checked; it’s not on the list). But here are some quotes that really stuck with me, for one reason or another.

Early in the investigation, Woodward contacted Ken W. Clawson, deputy director of White House communications (Sam Seaborn on The West Wing) to discuss the address book in police inventory following the arrest of the Watergate burglars, which contained the name of Howard Hunt.

An hour later, Clawson called back to say that [Howard] Hunt had worked as a White House consultant on declassification of the Pentagon Papers and, more recently, on a narcotics intelligence project. Hunt had last been paid as a consultant on March 29, he said, and had not done any work for the White House since.

“I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee,” Clawson said.

The comment was unsolicited. [p. 24-25]

Seems innocuous, right? But when you’re a reporter and the person you’re asking information for just volunteers information like that (“Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the [DNC]”), chances are there’s a shade of someone protesting too much, methinks.

(“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”)

Woodward and Bernstein investigated the burglars, and learned that one of them had a neat sum of $89,000 deposited into one of his bank accounts. They found other checks, one written out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg. Bernstein went to Miami to view the cashier’s check, and asked about the check.

The president knew Dahlberg only slightly as the owner of a winter home in Boca Raton, and as a director of a bank in Fort Lauderdale. That bank’s president was James Collins.

Yes, Collins said, Dahlberg was a director of the bank. As he was describing Dahlberg’s business interests, Collins paused and said, “I don’t know his exact title, but he headed the Midwestern campaign for President Nixon in 1968, that was my understanding.”

Bernstein asked him to please repeat the last statement. [p. 42]

Now, Bernstein’s on the phone at that point; but can’t you just see him sit up in his chair at the mention of the Nixon campaign, and ask disbelievingly, “Say that again”?

This is one of my favorite passages, because it gets to the heart of one of my favorite things: editing:

At about 11:00 p.m., he got another call from [Powell] Moore [Deputy press director of the Committee to Re-elect the President {CRP}, former White House aide], who had talked to John Mitchell [campaign director CRP, former Attorney General] and had a new statement:

There is absolutely no truth to the charges in the Post story. Neither Mr. Mitchell nor Mr. [Maurice H.] Stans [Finance Chairman, CRP; former Secretary of Commerce] has any knowledge of any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.

Bernstein studied the statement and underlined the soft spots. The charges in the Post story. What charges? Disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post. There was no denial of the fund’s existence, or that money had been disbursed, only of the way it was described. Neither of them controlled any committee expenditures. Technically correct. [Hugh W.] Sloan [Treasurer, CRP; former aide to H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff] had controlled the expenditures, Mitchell and Stans had only approved them.

It was the cleverest denial yet, Bernstein told Moore and tried to go over it with him. Moore wouldn’t play. [p. 104]

I know, there’s a lot of names in that paragraph. But look at the way Bernstein parses the White House’s denial of the story, and how much more the White House gives away in its denial! I would say that a certain White House could learn from such a response, but I don’t want them to learn how to be professional; it would almost make things that much worse.

(“If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”)

Oh, gee, I wonder why I decided to copy the entirety of this next quote, back in March, months before the Nazi uprising in Charlottesville, and also, the first proclamation of fake news, no, Donny, you didn’t make up the term, that was Clark McGregor, you asshole:

[[The following is all taken from a speech Clark MacGregor, John Mitchell’s successor as director of the Nixon campaign, makes at a press conference, trying to steer the tide from George McGovern, Democratic nominee for the President:]]

Lashing out wildly, George McGovern has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler, the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan, and the United States Government to the Third Reich of Nazi Germany . . . .

[…]
Using innuendo, third-person hearsay, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous sources and huge scare headlines, the Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate – a charge which the Post knows and half a dozen investigations have found to be false.

The hallmark of the Post’s campaign is hypocrisy – and its celebrated “double standard” is today visible for all to see.

Unproven charges by McGovern aides, or Senator Muskie [he was from Maine!], about alleged campaign disruptions that occurred more than six months ago are invariably given treatment normally accorded to declarations of war – while proven facts of opposition-incited disruptions of the President’s campaign are buried deep inside the paper. [p. 164]

Guys – history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.

Oh, hey, speaking of fake news – this is from one of the conversations Woodward had with Deep Throat, and this is Deep Throat talking about Nixon:

“Nixon was wild, shouting and hollering that ‘we can’t have it and we’re going to stop it, I don’t care how much it costs.’ His theory is that the news media have gone way too far and the trend has to be stopped – almost like he was talking about federal spending. He’s fixed on the subject and doesn’t care how much time it takes; he wants it done. To him, the question is no less than the very integrity of government and basic loyalty. He thinks the press is out to get him and therefore is disloyal; people who talk to the press are even worse – the enemies within, or something like that.” [p. 269]

Man … like, I don’t really have a pithy remark right here. I’m just going to play The Propellerhead’s “History Repeating” over and over again and cry into my bottle of water (it’s after 10 p.m. and I’m taking a short sabbatical from booze for no reason other than I want to).

This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should —

Okay, you want to know something sad? I was going to say “common sense should trump all else,” but I didn’t want to write the word ‘trump’. It’s a perfectly cromulent word*, but it fills me with such distaste to use it as it should.

Fuck you, Donny, for forcing a perfectly good word out of my vocabulary.

*Before I get back into the introduction for this next quote, I should remind you that I’m writing this in Word because I have no internet, but guys – Word recognizes ‘cromulent’ as a word! It’s not misspelled! HOLY SHIT, you guys, ‘cromulent’ has become cromulent!!

ANYWAY. This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should always come first:

[Woodward] recalled a lesson he had learned in his freshman year at Yale. The instructor had assigned the students to read some medieval documents that gave somewhat conflicting accounts of Henry IV’s famous visit to Canossa in 1077 to seek Pope Gregory’s forgiveness. According to all of them, the King had waited barefoot in the snow outside the Vatican for days. Woodward had pored over the documents, made notes and based his paper on the facts on which most accounts agreed. All the witnesses had Henry IV out there in the snow for days with his feet bare. The instructor had failed Woodward because he had not used common sense. No human being could stand for days barefoot in the snow and not have his feet freeze off, the instructor said. “The divine right of kings did not extend to overturning the laws of nature and common sense.” [p. 230-231]

The divine right of kings – or given rights of elected officials – should not extend to overturning laws of nature or common sense.

(“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”)

In conversation with an associate of John W. Dean III (Counsel to the President, and if you haven’t seen him recently on Full Frontal, you should), Bernstein learned that John D. Ehrlichman (Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs) wanted to have some files “deep sixed”.

Bernstein was more shaken by all of this than by anything since June 17. It was the language and the context of Ehrlichman’s remark to Dean that troubled him. Just as if they were a couple of Mafiosi talking to each other in a restaurant, the President’s number-two assistant had said to the President’s consigliere: Hey, Joe, we gotta dump this stuff in the river before the boss gets hurt.

Howard Simons [managing editor of the Post] slouched in a chair, drawing deeply on a cigarette, the color gone from his face. “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen,” he said quietly. [p. 306-307]

HEY HOWARD – would you believe that an FBI director could be fired without notice and then that same FBI director would leak his unclassified memos to a friend so as to install a Special Counsel? Is that believable?!

This quote is how the book ends (and remember, this book was originally published on June 15, 1974; Nixon wouldn’t resign until August 9 of that year):

To those who will decide if he [Nixon] should be tried for “high crimes and misdemeanors” – the House of Representatives –
And to those who would sit in judgment at such a trial if the House impeaches – the Senate –
And to the man who would preside at such an impeachment trial – the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger –
And to the nation …
The President said, “I want you to know that I have no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the American people elected me to do for the people of the United States.” [p. 336]

I meant to point out something before I talked about this last quote … OH. So, the version of the book I read back in March was probably originally published in 1974 – it was one of those library books with the generic cover, all one color, and the spine had the title printed on it but there was no imagery or dust jacket. It reminded me of every book I ever took out of the USM library, because the USM library probably hadn’t had any new purchases for it after the year I was born. But between then and now (probably some time in May, because I felt I’d need it again after the Fucktard’s first version of his own Saturday Night Massacre), I ordered a paperback copy off of Amazon. The version that came to me is the 40th Anniversary Edition, and it includes a short afterward written by Bernstein and Woodward. I’m not going to get into it fully, but the Afterward brings up the question posed by Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the Senate Watergate committee: “What was Watergate?”

Bernstein and Woodward attempt to answer that question here, albeit briefly. It wasn’t merely the burglary that occurred on June 17, 1972. And it wasn’t merely the cover-up and obstruction of justice the White House engaged in following the burglary. Bernstein and Woodward posit that Watergate consisted of the five wars Nixon waged while in office:

The war against the anti-war movement;
The war on the news media;
The war against the Democrats;
The war on the justice system;
and the war on history.

And without getting too deep into discussing the Afterward (which is well-written, and definitely worth your time), I leave you with this last quote from a well-placed CRP official, talking to Woodward:

The man seemed disaffected, disgusted with the White House and the tactics that had been used to re-elect the President. “If there was an honest and a dishonest way to do something,” he said, “and if both ways would get the same results, we picked the dishonest way … Now, tell me why anyone would do that.” [p. 265]

History doesn’t repeat itself, but by god, does it fucking rhyme.

Grade for All The President’s Men: 3.5 stars

Non-Fiction: “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis

moneyballHi. My name is Alaina Patterson; and I love baseball.

**Note From the Future: Okay, so – this entry was going to be a review of Moneyball, but the first near-2,500 words are actually two stories: The Story Of How Alaina Came To Love Baseball, followed by The Story Of How The 2016 World Series Almost Killed Alaina. If you don’t enjoy learning about somewhat obscure baseball movies from the 1990s (no, the movie is not Field of Dreams, please check out my list at moviesalainasneverseen.com to verify that I’ve never seen it) or why I love the Cubs or a play-by-tweet of that fateful Game 7, I suggest you scroll down until you see a picture of the Fenway scoreboard – I begin talking about the book at that point. You can also save yourself the trouble and read the first (and better) review of Moneyball from when I watched the movie during Oscar!Watch.

Regardless of what you choose, thank you for choosing That’s What She Read for all of your least-effective book review needs.**

I love baseball. I love it! It’s a great game to watch! Some people complain that it’s too slow, to which I counter: It can take Tom fucking Brady eighteen minutes to advance ten yards. (I watch football, but I don’t enjoy it.) (Please, Patriots fans, don’t post statistics to counter that statement I obviously made up. I do not care.) (Yes, I know football quarters are 15 minutes long, what I’m saying is that between all the stopped clocks and interceptions and tackles and shit that 15-minute quarter drags for a fucking hour, don’t @ me.)

The rules of baseball are simple! Hit the ball, advance to base, four bases makes a run. Each run is a point. Three strikes and you’re out. Three outs end an inning. Nine innings to a game. Math!! Learning football was the worst – and a former coworker, Ken, can attest to this, as he thought it would be a good idea to try and teach me football. He learned you shouldn’t teach Alaina lessons the hard way:

Alaina: Wait, okay, so they’re on the fourth down on the goal line, and instead of trying to run it, they’re going to go for a three-point conversion?
Ken: No, Alaina, it’s a two-point conversion.
Alaina: Isn’t that a slam dunk?
Ken: That’s basketball.
Alaina: Why do we hate the San Francisco Giants again?
Ken: No, Alaina, we hate the New York Giants. The San Francisco Giants is a baseball team.
Alaina: Did you know you have a vein in your forehead that gets extra-throbby when I ask stupid questions?

So when did I first fall in love with baseball? Believe it or not, 1994 – when my dad taped Rookie of the Year off of HBO. I must have watched that movie a hundred times. And the team that young Thomas Ian Nicholas (who went on to star in the American Pie movies) and the relatively-sane-back-then Gary Busey (I know, you guys; I’m so ashamed of myself) played for?

The Chicago Cubs.

I also grew up loving Back to the Future. And in BTTF:II, Marty goes to 2015, to learn that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. And I vaguely remember learning of the Curse of the Goat – either my Dad told me, or I read about it somewhere. And I think, partly because I grew up a superstitious child — coupled with my love of David and Goliath stories — I kept the Cubbies close to my heart in valiant hope, and, above all, put a pin in 2015 in the hopes that Robert Zemeckis was psychic.

In the meantime, I watched and followed the Red Sox – because living in Maine, you’re not typically going to be able to watch Cubs games, unless they’re part of ESPN’s rotation. And believe me, if you even mentioned the Cubs not winning a World Series within hearing distance of a Red Sox fan, it would be a Pavlovian trigger to for them to start bitching about the Curse of the Bambino and Bill Buckner and even Bucky Fucking Dent and guys, we get it, your life sucks too, jeez.

But I still remember the elation I felt when the Sox beat the Yankees in the seventh game of the ALCS back in 2004, among other highs – Johnny Damon’s grand slam! Man, I loved Johnny Damon back then. I was so pissed when he went to the Yankees. I would yell “Noommaaaarr!” along with the televised crowd when Garciaparra would come up to the plate. Crying on my bedroom floor when the Idiots crushed the Cardinals. Oh, it was amazing.

I was at a Red Sox game where the Sox were playing the A’s – another team I used to follow, which I’ll get into in a minute, when I finally start talking about Moneyball – and Garciaparra was batting for the A’s, but Fenway, God bless ’em – all of Fenway Park stood up and gave him an ovation. Say what you will about Red Sox fans – and they are some of the worst, and I say that as someone who counts herself among them – they will cheer any one of the old-timers, so long as they don’t go play for the Yankees, Damon.

So the Red Sox win the Series three times, and in the meantime, Theo Epstein – the manager who brought the Sox to their curse-breaking win – has moved to Chicago to work with the Cubbies.

2015 comes along, and the Cubs move to the Wild Card slot. And every day, I’m posting on Facebook my glee (and also asking #WhereIsMyHoverboard). Because it’s 2015! It’s the year Marty goes to the future! It’s the year where the Cubs win the World Series! It was their density. 

Hashtag #ItsYourDensity.

In a horrible twist of fate, the Cubs lose the NLCS to the Mets — the same team they battled in Rookie of the Year! — on October 21, 2015.

The day Marty McFly arrives in the future.

Well – I guess we never realized, on all of this, that the timeline must have adjusted when Biff stole Gray’s Almanac and then Marty and Doc had to set things right again.

We’ve been in 1985-C’s future all along, guys. It just stings a bit.

(If it was any other year, I’d be rooting for the Mets equally. But this is 2015; it was supposed to be the future.)

Good game, Cubbies. And hey – maybe Marty was off a year. #ItsYourDensity
[My Facebook post on October 21, 2015.]

[Why would I be rooting for the Mets? Well, when my team goes out, I go and root for the team where I have the next-best feelings for. For instance, I will root for the San Francisco Giants, because they’re a good team, and also, Emily is from San Francisco. When it comes to the Mets, someone I follow on Tumblr is a huge Mets fan, as well as Alaina’s Eternal Forever Pretend Husband, Jon Stewart.

2015 was also the year that many Things happened: Jon Stewart left The Daily ShowHannibal was canceled; and I learned that Eddie Vedder, scourge of my soul, is apparently the third-biggest Cubs fan, after Bill Murray and Bob Newhart. I was quite torn during that NLCS: Obviously I was going to root for the Cubs, Team o’ my Heart, but it was weird rooting for a team loved by the same dude who had caused a lot of heartache for me over the years, over the favorite team of my Forever Pretend Husband.

2015 was weird.]

Fast-forward to 2016. Amongst all the terrible, heartbreaking celebrity deaths, TV show cancellations, and the horrifying shitshow that was the national election, one of the only things giving me solace was following the Cubbies. Watching Anthony Rizzo’s face when he scored runs! (He also started off playing for the Portland Seadogs – I may have watched him play in Portland and not know it!) Rizzo’s friendship with David Ross, and the stellar pitching/catching team-up that was Jon Lester and Ross! Kris Bryant’s unfairly pretty smile! JAVY BAEZ, being a FUCKING BEAST!

baez 1.gif

And then – they made it to the Division series! Beating the Giants handily, they quickly moved onto the Dodgers in the NLCS. That was an interesting week – My Dear Friend Sarah’s wedding was on the same night of the sixth game, so I again apologize for checking my MLB At Bat app every five minutes. IT WAS IMPORTANT! And hey, your wedding was good luck, because they won!

The World Series started the week Emily and I were in Florida. #EmilysDisneyDay, I ran out the battery on my phone twice refreshing my At Bat app, to learn that the Cubs had won Game 2.

This was me watching Game 3, on the road in Virginia:

(Why yes, I did splurge and get a hotel room with a soaking tub. Because I’m an adult who deserves nice things!)

I spent Game 4 on the road, driving home. My mother, bless her heart, texted me updates, which Blanche the Rental Car would read aloud to me.

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And then, Game 5. The Cubs were in the hole 3 games to 1. They needed to sweep or we’d be lost. I was home for that, and the Cubs managed to eke out a win.

Game 6, third inning. I was on my way to the fridge for a beer when I heard the dulcet tones of one of the most well-known sounds of the 1980s, and I remembered –

I have a t-shirt with “Save Ferris” on it. (Which scene, of course, took place at Wrigley Field, home of — the Cubs.) I go put it on, and IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING ME PUTTING THE SHIRT ON, Addison Russell hits a motherfucking grand slam! and the Cubs win!

And now, we’re at the big game. My Dear Friend Sarah is in on the action (at least, on Twitter), and she and I are live-tweeting the shit out of it. And holy shit – I still – anyway.

(Trust me – I would have worn it to work, but -)

So through five innings, the Save Ferris tee – and beers – are doing their job. The Cubs are CRUSHING IT! 3 to 1! 4 to 1! 5 to 1! I mean, it’s golden, guys. It’s so pretty. It’s so great.

And then, bottom of the fifth – and the Indians, god bless ’em, score. And they score HARD.

Fox had catcher David “Grandpa” Ross mic’d in the bullpen, and his buddy Anthony Rizzo goes over, and the following exchange happens:

Rizzo: I can’t control myself right now. I’m an emotional wreck.
Ross: It’s only gonna get worse.
Rizzo: I’m in a glass case of emotion right now.

Then, this happened:

(“Mizumono” is the second season finale of Hannibal, where everything goes to shit and everything is terrible and everything hurts. But in that moment, I swear to God, it would have been the balm of Gilead for me, the game was stressing me out so bad.)

Joe Maddon takes Hendricks out in the fifth inning, and brings in Jon Lester and catcher David “Grandpa Rossy” Ross in as relief. And in the top of the sixth, Ross hits a home run – his last home run, because he was retiring at the end of the season. And I cried.

Score is 6-3 Cubs for the next couple of innings. Then, at the 8th inning stretch, I post this:

And in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Indians fucking rally. RBI! Rajai Davis hits a two-run homer! Joe Madden doesn’t pull Aroldis Chapman from the inning!

I have gone completely Twitter-silent. I’m sitting on the edge of my love seat, trembling and muttering because seriously, I was almost insane.

The game is tied at the end of the 9th inning, 6 to 6. And then – the fucking rains came.

The teams go into their respective dugouts, and the tarp comes out.

In my desperation, I even offered this:

It was bleak, you guys. I had watched my team – my team! – make it to a goddamned tenth fucking inning in Game 7 of their first World Series appearance since 19-goddamned-45. I sucked down a third beer – on a Wednesday (at that time, technically, Thursday morning), which I shouldn’t have done, but oh well, who knows when this was going to happen again – and I was pretty much dying.

Unbeknownst to us at-home viewers, outfielder Jason Heyward took the opportunity during the rain delay to rally the troops. And when they came back to the plate, it was an entirely different team.

Schwarber hits a single! Rizzo got walked, sending Schwarber to second! And then Zobrist singled, driving Schwarber home! 7-6 Cubs!

Then Miggy Montero singled, driving Rizzo home! 8-6 Cubs! HOLY SHIT!

Then the Indians came back. They just needed to hold the line for three more outs. I am on the floor in between my love seat and TV, rocking myself and fervently praying to an angry god. The Indians score another run, and I am dying.

And then:

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SO. MUCH. CRYING.

I cried for half an hour straight. I was inconsolable in my joy. I am crying again right now.

You guys – you don’t even know. It was fucking amazing. I couldn’t – I can’t put it into words. How wonderful it was. How wonderful it is.

Do you want to experience joy? Watch this:

SO MANY HAPPY PEOPLE.

SPOILER ALERT!: I did not call in sick the next day. I should have, but I did not.

So. Hopefully that clears up why and how much I love the Cubs and how much the World Series meant to me.

If you would like to see an accurate representation in video form of How Alaina Watched Game Seven of the 2016 World Series, go ahead and watch this gem:

And please enjoy – and sing along – with the happiest song on earth.

And by now, those of you who have put up with my rambling, you can probably appreciate how how proud I am that I didn’t outright punch the Lids dudebro in the face when he tried to mansplain my own goddamned love of the Cubs back to me when I bought my hat back in April this year:

Dudebro: What’s your favorite team?
Alaina: The Chicago Cubs.
Dudebro: Oh really? Why, because you like Back to the Future?
Alaina: Uh, no … I like the team. I like rooting for underdogs.
Dudebro: Oh, so you rooted for the Red Sox until 2004?
Alaina:
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hanni jumpy
Missy: HEY ALAINA LET’S GO GET SOME CUPCAKES

I was so angry, I bought four cupcakes instead of one. NO REGRETS, MOTHERFUCKER!

But at least I was able to represent my team when I went to see the Cubs play the Red Sox at Fenway this year.

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Also, I was wearing the Save Ferris shirt that day, and when the Cubs won (GO CUBS GO!), it was determined that the Save Ferris shirt is actually Magic.

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(Also, Eddie Vedder was at the same game and NO ONE DIED. And in case anyone’s wondering, I can almost confirm: the Cubs winning the World Series may have ended the Curse of Eddie Vedder. Because I haven’t heard “betterman” hardly AT ALL since the Cubs won, and nothing monumentally bad has happened.)

OKAY. SO. WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MONEYBALL

Moneyball is written by the same person who wrote The Big Short. Michael Lewis has a financial background, and in this book, he applies that not just to baseball, but to one of the most unlikely seasons seen in recent baseball history: the 2002 Oakland Athletics.

The Oakland A’s – one of the first teams I rooted for, because a) they weren’t the Red Sox, but b) were in the same league as the Red Sox, and c) were geographically close enough to the San Francisco Giants that I could almost still use my friend Emily as an excuse. The A’s were managed by Billy Beane, who was driving internal baseball experts crazy with his draft picks and managing style. At this time in the early 2000s, the era of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, every team was looking for their Big Hitter. The Red Sox had just signed (or were about to sign) Manny Ramirez and David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Jeter was starting to make a name for himself. And the A’s had just lost Johnny Damon to the Red Sox; Jason Giambi went to the Yankees.

Instead of going after other big arms, Beane focused on players who played positions well and got to first base. This thought was anathema to traditional baseball thoughts:

For Billy and Paul and, to a slightly lesser extent, Erik and Chris, a young player is not what he looks like, or what he might become, but what he has done. As elementary as that might sound to someone who knew nothing about professional baseball, it counts as heresy here. [p. 38]

Most scouts would look at a high school or college player and say, “he plays okay now, but as he grows and trains, imagine what he’ll do”. Beane was saying, “look at his stats, and pick people on what they have proven to do well”. This was practically heresy for baseball.

Beane practiced sabermetrics, which took a statistical look at baseball and tried to apply it to being able to win more games. And Beane’s devotion to his craft led to the Oakland A’s winning 20 games in a row in 2002 – the fourth-longest winning streak in major league history, and the best since 1935 (who had the longest streak in that year, with 21? The Chicago Cubs).

One of my favorite things about baseball is how overjoyed everyone gets when they seriously win. The World Series, or the 20th game in a winning streak, breaking an American League record – the happiness that comes from that type of event is so heartwarming.

This is the story of Beane’s draft pick, Scott Hatteburg (“Hatty”), driving in the winning home run in the 20th game:

The second pitch is another fastball, but it’s high in the strike zone. Hatty takes his short swing; the ball finds the barrel of his bat, and rockets into deep right center field.

He leaves the batter’s box in a crouching run. He’s moving just as fast as he does when he hits a slow roller to the third baseman. He doesn’t see Grimsley [the pitcher] raging. He doesn’t hear fifty-five thousand fans erupting. He doesn’t notice the first baseman turning to leave the field. He doesn’t know that there’s a fellow from Cooperstown following him around the bases, picking them up, and will soon come looking for his bat. The only one in the entire Coliseum who does not know where the ball is going is the man who hit it. Scott Hatteberg alone watches the ball soar through the late night air with something like detachment.

The ball doesn’t just leave the park; it lands high up in the stands, fifty feet or so beyond the 362 sign in deep right center field. When he’s finally certain that the ball is gone for good, Scott Hatteberg raises both hands over his head, less in triumph than disbelief. Rounding first, he looks into the Oakland dugout. But there’s no one left inside – the players are all rushing onto the field. Elation transforms him. He shouts at his teammates. He’s not saying: Look what I just did. He’s saying: Look what we just did! We won! As he runs, he sheds years at the rate of about one every twenty feet. By the time he reaches home plate, he’s less man than boy.

And, not five minutes later, Billy Beane was able to look me in the eye and say that it was just another win. [p. 261-262]

oprah_happy_tears

Now, I’ve talked a lot about what I love about baseball. But before I close, I have to mention one thing I hate: the broadcasters who call baseball games, and of those, Joe Fucking Buck.

(I do not know why I hate Joe Buck so …. much… I …

flames

I JUST DO. GOD, he bugs the everloving fuck out of me. ALSO, HE SAID ‘IRREGARDLESS’ ON A NATIONAL BROADCAST, AND WE ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT ‘IRREGARDLESS’)

Ahem.

Joe Buck aside, my LEAST FAVORITE THING is when people say “the tying run is on deck.”

Art Howe virtually leaps out of the dugout to yank Chad from the game. On his way to his seat on the bench Chad stares at the ground, and works to remain expressionless. He came in with a six-run lead. He leaves with the tying run in the on-deck circle.  [p. 256]

And it’s not just the “tying run” bullshit – broadcasters love to assign meaning to shit. Here’s an example from Moneyball, where Joe Morgan assigned cause to the absolute wrong action on the field. Twice.

Down 5-4 in the eighth inning, Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano had gotten himself on base and stolen second. Derek Jeter then walked, and Jason Giambi singled in Soriano. Bernie Williams then hit a three-run homer. A reasonable person, examining that sequence of events, says, “Whew, thank God Soriano didn’t get caught stealing; it was, in retrospect, a stupid risk that could have killed the whole rally.” Joe Morgan looked at it and announced that Soriano stealing second, the only bit of “manufacturing” in the production line, was the cause. Amazingly, Morgan concluded that day’s lesson about baseball strategy by saying, “You sit and wait for a three-run homer, you’re still going to be sitting there.”

But the wonderful thing about this little lecture was what happened right under Joe Morgan’s nose, as he was giving it. Ray Durham led off the game for Oakland with a walk. He didn’t attempt to steal, as Morgan would have him do. Scott Hatteberg followed Durham and he didn’t bunt, as Morgan would have him do. He smashed a double. A few moments later, Eric Chavez hit a three-run homer. And Joe Morgan’s lecture on the need to avoid playing for the three-run homer just rolled right along, as if the play on the field had not dramatically contradicted every word that had just come out of his mouth.  That day the A’s walked and swatted their way to nine runs, and a win … Two days later in Minnesota, before the third game, Joe Morgan made the same speech all over again.  [p. 271-272]

Like playwrights, all national baseball broadcasters should be dead for three hundred years.

Anyway. Let me tie this all back to the Cubs, because I’ve written entirely too much about baseball and not enough about the book. At the end of the A’s season that year, Billy Beane is offered the general manager job of the Boston Red Sox.

All that remained was for Billy to sign the Red Sox contract. And he couldn’t do it.

**The job went to Theo Epstein, the twenty-eight-year-old Yale graduate with no experience playing professional baseball. [p. 279 & footnote]

Theo Epstein. The sabermetrics wunderkind who went on to lead the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series win after 84 years in 2004. Twelve years later, he’d do the same for the Cubs.

Grade for Moneyball: 4 stars
Grade for the 2016 Chicago Cubs: eleventy million hearts

Non-Fiction: “The Witches: Salem, 1692” by Stacy Schiff

the WitchesMerry Christmas Eve! Let’s spend the time between now and the annual live-tweet of Alaina Watches Die Hard, The Best Christmas Movie In History, No I’m Serious, Don’t @ Me, by discussing a) a book I finished reading six months ago, b) about witches. So, completely the wrong holiday. Whatever; deal with it.

As you can tell from the title of the book, Ms. Schiff’s research attempts to find out what exactly led to the events of the Salem Witch Trials. She goes through the years 1690 through 1694 in deep detail, focusing on each family of Salem and their interactions, and discussed how political and interpersonal relationships could have led to exacerbating the situation with the witches.

The first quote I dogeared (and then transcribed into a Word document, because this was a library book and I didn’t want to incur six months’ of overdue fees just to be able to quote things afterwards) speaks to the mystery still attached to Salem:

Nearly as many theories have been advanced to explain the Salem witch trials as the Kennedy assassination. Our [nation’s] first true-crime story has been attributed to generational, sexual, economic, ecclesiastical, and class tensions; regional hostilities imported from England; food poisoning; a hothouse religion in a cold climate; teenage hysteria; fraud, taxes, conspiracy; political instability; trauma induced by Indian attacks; and to witchcraft itself, among the more reasonable theories. [p. 4-5]

For as many details there are in the book – and there are plenty – there are no true, definitive answers. The source materials Ms. Schiff draws from are incredibly deficient – family diaries, incomplete court testimonies, and the biased opinion essays of pastors and preachers related to the trials.

While the bewitched commanded a rapt audience for much of a year, their voices are lost to us. Their words come to us exclusively from men who were far from thorough, seldom impartial, and not always transcribing in the room in which they heard those statements. They mangle and strangle the voices of the accused; they are equally inattentive to the accusers, not all of whose statements they committed to paper. [p. 12]

I think everyone here must be aware of the basic plotline of the Salem Witch Trials: young girls start acting weird and accusing other women in town of being witches and using their witchcraft against them, everyone believes them, and at the end of it all, nearly twenty residents were executed after being found guilty of witchcraft. In fact, everything the collective consciousness knows about the Salem Witch Trials most likely comes from our reading of The Crucible when we were in high school. But The Crucible was a parable Arthur Miller used to expose the hypocrisy and hysteria surrounding McCarthyism, and should not be considered a historical artifact, regardless of the fact that Mr. Miller used the names of actual Salem residents for his characters.

Ms. Schiff attributes the cause of the Salem Witch Hysteria to many things, including a general distrust of women, an incredibly oppressive religious atmosphere, and a contagious psychological disorder. Sadly, we will never know the true root of the issue, as that is lost to history. Thanks, Puritan judges and other people back then who didn’t realize they should really WRITE THINGS DOWN.

Relatively early in her narrative, Ms. Schiff discusses the attitudes towards the women involved in the Witch Trials. She points out that this is one of the few times in history where the actions are directly related to the actions of women:

History is not rich in unruly young women; with the exception of Joan of Arc and a few underage sovereigns, it would be difficult to name another historical moment so dominated by teenage virgins, traditionally a vulnerable, mute, and disenfranchised cohort. [p. 131]

Additionally, she discusses the power surrounding these women, and how the mysticism of witchcraft increased that power:

The wrinkle with Salem’s infernal onslaught of 1692 was that both the spirited victims and their oppressors were predominantly female. And in a New England first, women’s voices proved so commanding that the spectral testimony of two dead wives could prevail in court against an articulate, Harvard-educated minister. [p. 145]

Think about that: this is a period of time before the United States Consitutiton was even a thought. Alexander Hamilton and George Washington hadn’t even been born. The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” hadn’t been put forth yet. So our modern concept of a “trial” is not even closely related to what occurred in Salem. In Salem in 1692, a judge could accept the “testimony” of deceased women over that of a minister who had graduated from Harvard. That is a crazy concept to wrap one’s head around.

The accusations of witchcraft and witchery flew throughout the town, and created an oppressive atmosphere that centered on a form of gaslighting: fingers pointing at nearly every citizen of Salem, accusing them of witchcraft, and using previous actions as specious proof of interacting with the Devil:

For weeks the women had been stretched on the most pernicious of psychological racks: You are not what you think you are, they were hectored; you are what we think you are. [p. 235]

The biggest piece of new information regarding the Salem Witch Trials was actually a supposition or extrapolation: Ms. Schiff proposes that the cause was a form of mass hysteria, known as conversion disorder, where physical symptoms can arise following an emotional or mental crisis:

Where the seventeenth-century authority saw the devil, we tend to recognize an overtaxed nervous system; what an earlier age called hysteria we term conversion disorder, the body literally translating emotions into symptoms. [p. 386]

The witch hysteria began in the house of Samuel Parris, with his daughter Betty and her cousin Abigail Williams. Samuel Parris was the pastor of the town, and one of the more religious ones they’d had in town for a while. (Which is hard to believe, seeing as how Puritan the whole area was.) As Ms. Schiff states,

Hysteria prefers decorous, sober households, where tensions puddle more deeply; it made sense that the Salem minister wound up with more witchcraft victims under his roof than anyone else. [p. 387]

So what would have been the inciting event that caused the mass hysteria? Possibly puberty – I mean, think about it. The two girls in Parris’s household that started the whole thing? Were 9 and 11. And in that type of oppressive religious atmosphere, who’s to say what emotional trauma may have been caused by a religious interpretation of changing bodies? Or even having a thought that went against what had been taught for years upon years? After all,

It would have been easier at the parsonage to have a vision than an opinion. [p. 388]

We will never know what really happened with the Salem Witch Trials – the causes of that trauma have been lost to history. We can only make assumptions and attempt to decipher the few documents from that era that still exist, and recognize that whatever was written down, was written from the points of view of extremely religious views and interpretations. But we can’t forget the Salem Witch Trials, or even attempt to ignore it. While the cause may have been conversion disorder, the unfounded persecution against a minority that led to the deaths of innocents was still the result.

The Salem Witch Trials endure in American history “not only as a metaphor but as a vaccine and a taunt” [p. 413]. We as a people use the Witch Trials any time someone feels unjustly persecuted. But instead of using it as a label, or a crutch, we should use it as a reminder: we have done this before. We have pointed our fingers, as a society, at fellow citizens and deemed them guilty of crimes that were not proven. We killed innocents out of fear of the unknown. That era is not a time we should hope to return to. We should look to that era as a warning of where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come, so as to not slide.

Grade for The Witches: Salem, 1692: 2 stars

Non-Fiction: “Bonk” by Mary Roach

bonkOkay, I’m going to try and bang this one right out. (thematically-appropriate puns for the win!)

Picture it: I’m getting ready to drive to D.C. for Operation: Pick Up My Dear Friend Sarah In D.C. So She Can Photograph My Sister’s Wedding. And I know I’m going to stop occasionally for food, and since I’m going to be alone, I intend to bring a book with me to read at the table. I don’t want to bring Alexander Hamilton – it’s way too big. The other book I was currently reading at time was What a Pirate Desires, and that cover would have surely inspired conversations that I didn’t want to have. Namely, I was using the drive as an escape from talking to people.

So I wanted a book that a) I owned, because I have previously left library books at someone’s house accidentally, which then caused that person to mail my library book back to me so I could return it (thanks Sarah!), b) was small enough to fit in my purse without weighing a metric ton, and c) interesting enough that I would actually read it on the road.

And Bonk was what I found. I know I bought it a while ago because of its subtitle: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. But I definitely brought it with me on my trip this year because the cover was innocuous enough that no one would give it a second thought:

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No one said a word to me aside from “More coffee, dear?” The answer to which was, “Can I get it to go? Thanks!”

Oh, I know why I bought this – I just looked through the book to find Mary Roach’s credentials, and I saw via the hand-written “$7.50” on the inside cover that I bought this at one of my trips to the Harvard bookstore – probably my first trip, where I bought Mildred Pierce. And that would have timed when I had Showtime and was into watching Masters of Sex, the story of Masters and Johnson and their human sexuality study. See? I’m not a pervert, I’m just curious!

And Mary Roach is, above all, curious. Other books she’s written before and since Bonk include: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen on My Dear Friend Emily’s bookshelf, seeing as how she originally went to school to become a medical examiner); Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal; and her most recent, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans At War.

Additionally, Ms. Roach does not describe herself as a scientist: I just perused her website and her list of credentials are all her published books and magazine articles; not a single doctorate among them. As a writer who is immersed in her subject the same way I immersed myself in Hannibal – I know the subject inside and out, but I was not one of the creators of Hannibal, just an observer – she is able to write about these subjects in an amazingly accessible way.

Look, I read a lot of books – my book blog backlog as proof positive of that. And of those books, a fair amount end up being non-fiction. And there have been some non-fiction books which were written by people within that field, and the communication tends to get murky because I think the author doesn’t realize s/he should be writing for outside the industry. A perfect example of this is Michael Lewis and The Big Short: Mr. Lewis worked on Wall Street. He dealt with stocks and bonds routinely. So when he went to talk about the housing market crash, he knew what all of those terms meant, because he was within the industry. And while he made valiant attempts to explain those terms within the book, it wasn’t until Adam McKay and the movie did it visually that I was able to say, Yes, I kind of get this now. (I still don’t, and would direct anyone who wants to understand that subject to the film, because it did a really great job.)

But when I read Mr. Lewis’s Moneyball (sidenote, I’m rereading it now – GO CUBS GO oh my god they won the World Series I am still in shock and crying about it), you can tell he is using his statistical background and applying it to baseball, and he doesn’t have the language of baseball because he wasn’t in baseball. Therefore, I find Moneyball more accessible and understandable than I did The Big Short.

For Ms. Roach, as the only industry she is in is writing, any topic she puts her mind to will be like when Mr. Lewis tackles baseball: she’s not in the industry, she doesn’t have the language; therefore, she will make every attempt to explain the terms and concepts to make the concept accessible not only to her, but to her readers as well.

And I appreciated that, reading about Masters & Johnson’s penis camera while eating Momma’s French Toast Breakfast at the Tewksbury, Massachusetts Cracker Barrel.

NOTE FROM THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE: Hi, Readers! Thanks for sticking with me through my digressions. Now, look: this book is not a how-to book on sex; it gets into some serious sciencey discussions.  And I’m going to talk about the book now, and that is going to include some strong language: I’m going to be bringing up female genitalia, orgasms, and all sorts of stuff that you may not feel comfortable reading about in a Cracker Barrel. So if you don’t want to know about this or feel that it’s inappropriate to talk about, go ahead and skip to the last paragraph. It’s cool. But I wanted to warn you before you were knee-deep in a paragraph about female masturbation without notice. Cheers!

Masters and Johnson is where Ms. Roach begins, which is an excellent starting point: Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson began their research on human sexuality in the 1950s; prior to that, sex and the science behind it was definitely not an appropriate topic of study. The first season of Masters of Sex attempts to show the difficulties Bill Masters had in getting his study off the ground, but then the show veers into interpersonal relationships and while the show is good, don’t watch it for science, okay? In order to study what actually happens, physiologically, to a woman when she orgasms, they patented a penis-camera: essentially, a vibrator with a camera in it. That discussion leads Ms. Roach into the sex machine industry, where she ends up at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco:

The Center for Sex and Culture does not court the curious passerby. No sign is posted on the outside of the building or inside the entryway. It is a nonprofit in a plain brown wrapper. Eventually, you notice the street number, 298, on a window near the door. There is an intercom with a buzzer labeled CSC. When you ring it, a voice says simply, “Hello?” forcing you to announce that you are HERE FOR THE SEX-MACHINE EVENT. [p. 54]

Ms. Roach’s curiosity leads her through a number of topics: Does the distance between the clitoris and vagina affect the strength of a woman’s orgasm? Does orgasm increase fertility? Is surgery the answer to impotence? How can we diagnose and help low female libido issues?

What fascinates me is how the stigma of talking about sex – even in purely scientific terms – has caused our complete lack of education on these points. And I’m not even talking about abstinence-only programs and how we educate our teenagers on sex directly influences how they will approach sex when they’re old enough and how belief structures fit into all of that. I’m saying, we were able to put a man on the moon within ten years of Jack Kennedy saying we should do that, but we have yet to know definitively how a woman approaches sexual arousal, because we think it’s private and shouldn’t be studied, and who knows how many women could have benefited from that study?

Here’s an example: in Chapter 10, “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator,” Ms. Roach meets with doctors who are trying to find solutions for so-called “sexually dysfunctional women.” I say “so-called” because I don’t want a man to tell me what’s considered sexually dysfunctional to me as a woman; I am not discounting a woman’s sense of being dysfunctional in that department. But she brings up a theory: if a physical symptom of arousal is increased blood flow to the clitoris, and increased blood flow can also be caused by manual stimulation, would increased masturbation lead to increased arousal for a woman during intercourse? Ms. Roach emails this question to a professor of gynecologic oncology, who then refers her to Maryann Schroder, a licensed sexology at the University of Chicago.

“You have posed a very interesting question,” she said. “It hasn’t been studied, if you can believe.” She reminded me of what happened to the last person who got involved with masturbation as a beneficial activity: Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. Former President Bill Clinton dismissed Elders after she suggested, in a World AIDS Day speech, that masturbation was something that “should perhaps be taught.”

“Can you imagine if I tried to get funding for a study that had masturbation in the title?” And then, quite unintentionally, Dr. Schroder delivered the ultimate masturbation-research sound bite. “Masturbation,” she said, “is a touchy area.” [p. 209]

WELCOME BACK, Readers who skipped the sex talk but also missed the best pun I’ve ever seen in print!

I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Roach is a wonderful writer, who does not shy away from stigmatized topics, and infuses her research with humor. She’s incredibly welcoming and accessible in her writing, and in non-fiction, that is a huge bonus factor. I highly recommend this book – even if you’re not going to ironically read it in a stereotypical Southern breakfast environment, while escaping from a family wedding (NOTE: I went back, I have the pictures to prove it) – and look forward to reading the rest of Ms. Roach’s back catalogue.

Grade for Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex: 5 stars

The Collaborators!: “The Witches” by Stacy Schiff

Hopefully, this will be the push I need to get back into the swing of a whole bunch of things. Because true confessions, I have a review of Pride & Prejudice languishing in my drafts folder here – mostly because I know I couldn’t possibly add anything to any sort of Pride & Prejudice conversation – and I can’t seem to bust through it. So, thank you to Erica for hopefully being the kick in the pants my blogging life so desperately needs.

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Because yes, after a year-long hiatus (mostly brought on by my complete inability to post a Gee Dee review on time – seriously, I know I keep saying I’m going to get better, but I don’t think I am, you guys. I’m back to being eight reviews behind, and I haven’t even finished reading Alexander Hamilton yet!), The Collaborators! are back! And this time, it’s not the latest Gregory Maguire novel (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but change is good!)

the Witches

(We did consider After Alice, but my Local Library pulled through.)

Erica had given me a few choices via Twitter on what our first Collaboration for 2016 should be, including After Alice by Gregory Maguire, this book, The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, John Cleese’s autobiography, and a title by Stephen King which escapes me currently, and I can’t go look it up because apparently Twitter is down.

I said that I would read After Alice if that’s all we had, but of the 7 books we’ve collaborated on, two have been by Mr. Maguire. I thought a change would be nice.

I eliminated the Stephen King title because I am a bad Mainer. That’s right, folks: I have lived in Maine my entire life and I love my state — I even work in state government! — but I am not a fan of Stephen King. The only book by him I’ve read is The Dead Zone, and the only reason I read that was because the adaptation was on USA at the time, and Sean Patrick Flanery starred in it as the bad guy, and Sean Patrick Flanery is one of the stars of one of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints. I wasn’t impressed with the book, and to be honest, I never actually watched the series.

Also, please: do not. fucking get me started. on the goddamned Shawshank Redemption.

I also don’t like Moxie.

ANYWAY. Bad Mainer, no Stephen King. My Local Library did not own a copy of John Cleese’s autobiography – what the fuck, Yarmouth? – so that left The Taming of the Queen and The WitchesThe Witches was the first one of the two to be returned so I could pick it up.

So. What’s The Witches about?

I just spent about a minute trying to come up with a jackass retort, but I should have been in bed an hour ago. But I’m going to finish this tonight, dammit! So I’m going to move on and actually say what the book is about, and it’s about witches.

Guys, the subtitle is “Salem, 1692.” It’s about the Salem Witch Trials, okay? Okay, I’m done trying to be funny. It’s too late at night for me to try and be an asshole.

So this book is about the Salem Witch Trials. This book is also non-fiction: a first for The Collaborators! I’ve read a book here before about this time period – Susannah Morrow – but I’m very interested to learn more about this period. As I said in my review for Susannah Morrow, all I know about the Salem Witch Trials is what I’ve learned from The CrucibleSusannah Morrow, and the trip my sister and I took last October where we watched a film at the Salem Museum that had the worst actors I have ever seen on film in my entire life. And yes, that does include the porn we used to play drinking games to in college.

I’m very interested to see what new information is uncovered, and I’m looking forward to the discussion Erica and I will have when we finish the book. I only hope I read it quickly, and that I have at least three actual book reviews posted before then.