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Rachel Manija Brown has started a campaign called Pull the Football, which in essence is a grassroots effort to get Congress to take the nuclear football (the ability to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on his own recognizance) away from Trump.

I think Gen X in particular (although hardly exclusively) grew up with a sort of fatalism about nuclear war. It was probably going to happen and because we were kids, there was nothing we could do about it. It became reified (thing-ified), turned from a series of decisions made by human beings into something like the monolith from 2001, unknowable and impervious to anything human beings could do. Many of us were shocked to reach 25, and we've never quite been sure about what to do with the fact that we have survived into adulthood. It would be horribly easy for us to slide back into that same fatalism, to go back to living with one shoulder unconsciously hunched against the monolith just outside our range of vision.

But we aren't kids any longer and there is something we can do. There is specific legislation already proposed in both the House (HR 669) and the Senate (S 200) that would take away the "nuclear football" that gives Trump the power 24/7 to launch a nuclear strike without consulting anybody. (It would take him about five minutes.)

Nobody should have this power. Nobody.

I think it's a sign of how sick the Cold War made all of us, not only that the President was given this power in the first place, but that it's never been rescinded, even though it's been 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down. The cure is simple, and that's the point of Rachel's Pull the Football campaign.

I don't agree with everything Rachel says--I don't think it's worth trying to persuade congresspeople who aren't YOUR congresspeople to do anything because all the staffers I've seen say anything say that non-constituents will be disregarded--but I am in 100% agreement with her goal and in 100% agreement that, while one person pushing gets nowhere, if we all push together, we can effect change.

So, yes. Please call--and keep calling--your congresspeople. If they are already co-sponsoring either HR 669 or S 200 tell them you support them and ask them to speak out publicly about it. (It is SUPER IMPORTANT to tell your representatives when you support what they're doing. They need that data.) If they aren't co-sponsoring their respective bill, ask them to get in the game. AND KEEP ASKING. A lot of people have spent a lot of time this year repeatedly calling their representatives about saving the ACA and that is in no small part why Congress has been unable to pass a repeal bill.

The Congressional switchboard is 202-224-3121. The voicemail system is extremely polite and easy to navigate (and has the only robot voice in America that I actually find pleasant to listen to). If you can't face the idea of talking to a real person, believe me I sympathize. You call call at night, in the early morning, on the weekends, and leave a voicemail. VOICEMAIL COUNTS.

Use Resistbot. Text resist to 50409, and it will help you write faxes or letters to your representatives.

Send email. Your representatives will have contact forms on their websites. Even unresponsive representatives like Senator Ron Johnson are marginally more responsive to email. You at least get a form letter telling you all the reasons why the thing you oppose is a good idea.

Send letters to your local paper. Congresspeople have staffers who compile press cuttings, and they are keenly interested in what shows up about them in public fora. Being a politician is largely about PR, so anything you can do that shows up IN PUBLIC will at least get their attention.

And when you call your reps or send an email, tweet about it or post about it on Facebook or whatever social media platform you favor. Show people that it's easy to make themselves heard. Remind them that their congresspeople are their elected representatives. It is their job to listen to their constituents. Even if you've got nothing but Republican apparatchiks, it is still worth telling them what you think and what you want.

My philosophy about representatives like Johnson, who seem to have been expressly created to embody everything I hate, is that even if I can't teach the pig to sing, I can annoy the snot out of him. I won't change his mind, and don't expect to, but I can make him less willing to, for example, vote yes on repealing the ACA. That's what killed it this last time in the Senate; McConnell decided he couldn't be sure of getting the votes he needed. Too many Republican senators were getting too much pushback.

Pull the Football is a little different, since the goal is to gain co-sponsors and yes votes, but the same principle applies. They're going to bend in the direction popular opinion is blowing, and what we want is to escalate popular opinion from a breeze to a gale. (If you like the image of congresspeople falling over like bowling pins, that's okay, too.)

I don't want nuclear war. I don't think anyone wants nuclear war (except maybe Trump). The nuclear football is a sick hangover from the Cold War, and honestly no president needs or should have the ability to pre-emptively (i.e., without provocation) nuke anyone.

So by whatever method you favor, please apply pressure to your elected representatives. Pull the football away from Trump.
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The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders: The Story of a Town in TerrorThe Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders: The Story of a Town in Terror by James Presley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



[library]

This is another excellent book like The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer, equally local history & true crime. This time, the location is Texarkana (TX/AR) and the true crime is the so-called Phantom Killer of 1946.

I first learned about the Phantom Killer through an indie documentary called Killer Legends, which is about four urban legends & the real life crimes that might have inspired them. (Zeman and Mills investigate the Phantom Killer and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which really was, for some benighted reason, remade in 2014; the babysitter as target of psychopath (Halloween, Scream, etc.) & a serial killer in Missouri who actually did target babysitters (otherwise, they find, babysitting is a remarkably safe occupation); poisoned Halloween candy and the vile Ronald Clark O'Bryan; and the epidemic of clown sightings in Chicago (which apparently hit again in 2016, after Killer Legends) and John Wayne Gacy.) This documentary is a follow-up to Cropsey (2009), which Zeman and a different research partner filmed about the same idea on their native Staten Island: the link between the urban legends they grew up on and the crimes of Andre Rand.) Presley is interviewed in Killer Legends.

Presley patiently untangles a snarl of personal histories: the victims, the investigators, the panicked people of Texarkana, and Presley's choice for the killer, Youell Swinney. Swinney was never tried for the murders (nor was anyone else), which is why they're still considered unsolved, but Presley's research (including interviews with cops who survived long enough to talk to Presley as very old men but were dead before he wrote the book) presents a compelling case for why Youell Swinney wasn't tried for murder; they chose to try him for something they knew they could make stick instead of relying on a witness who they knew equally was telling the truth and not telling the whole truth, which is just asking for disaster in cross-examination, reasoning that the important thing was to stop him. Presley goes back and forth between theory (FBI profiling developed in the years since Swinney's murders) and practice (what Swinney did) to try to tease out his motives. While I'm becoming increasingly dubious of the FBI's organized/disorganized schema, their theories about what sorts of things you see in the early childhood of signature killers does seem to hold up pretty well across the cases I've read about. In this case, Presley does a good job of lining up the reasons why Swinney would go after couples and what was at the root of his overpowering rage.
This was charming as a history of Texarkana and fascinating as criminology.



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Dear Senator Johnson:

You have been saying terrible things about people with "pre-existing" conditions for all of 2017, comparing us to cars, saying that we should pay more for our healthcare, even though most "pre-existing" conditions are not caused by anything a person does or by bad choices they make. In fact, since pregnancy is a "pre-existing condition," you are actively punishing people for having families--which seems to run counter to the agenda the Republican Party has been pushing for years The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal, which callously strips all protections from people like me (and which makes it entirely possible that a premature baby will hit his or her lifetime cap before leaving the hospital for the first time), makes it clear that in fact you have no idea of what it's like not to be able to afford healthcare, or to have a chronic, incurable condition, and that you don't even have enough imagination to be able to empathize with the people whose lives you are destroying.

Moreover, given that there is astonishing unity among healthcare professionals, patients' interest groups, and major insurers (plus all fifty Medicaid administrators and a current count of eighteen governors), it is quite clear that you aren't doing this because it's a good idea. You don't care whether it will be good or bad for your constituents. All you care about--and more than one of your Republican colleagues have admitted as much--is repealing "Obamacare." You're doing this because you made a campaign promise, and you're too blindly self-centered to see that this is a promise that would be better honored in the breach than in the observance. You and your colleagues are behaving childishly, destroying something only because you hate the person who built it. The ACA is not failing, as you keep claiming it is, Senator. It is suffering mightily from obstructionism and deliberate sabotage from you and your colleagues, and, yes, it does need reform. But your proposal isn't reform. It's wanton demolition of legislation that is working, legislation that is succeeding in making the lives of Americans better, demolition which you are pushing without the slightest consideration of its effects on the people you claim you serve.

I'm not writing this letter because I expect you will change your mind--or, frankly, even read it. I'm writing this letter because I'm angry and scared and unbelievably frustrated with your deliberately cruel and blindly stupid determination to do something that no one in this country wants. You won't change your mind, but you can't say you didn't know there was opposition.

P.S. I'd still really like to see you denounce white supremacism, Senator. Because right now, I unwillingly believe you don't think there's anything wrong with it.

***

Dear Ms. DeVos:

I am appalled at your decision to roll back the protections given to sexual assault survivors by Title IX. I'm not surprised, because it's perfectly in line with the other cruel, short-sighted, and bigoted decisions you've made since being appointed Secretary of Education, but I honestly wonder (and I wonder this about a number of Trump appointees, so you needn't think you're alone) how you live with yourself. How do you justify, even if only to yourself, the damage you're doing? Do you believe the lies you tell?

I'm not going to quote statistics, because I'm sure they've been shown to you. I'm not going to try to change your mind with personal stories. I am going to ask, futilely, that you stop and truly think about the young women whose college careers, already catastrophically imperiled by the sexual assault they have survived, may be destroyed because of the policies you're implementing. And I'm going to ask how on earth you think this destruction is part of your mandate as Secretary of Education?

Everyone's civil rights need to be respected. I believe this strongly enough to belong to the ACLU. But victims' rights are historically ignored, trampled on, and outright broken, especially in cases of sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is white and male. I also strongly believe that the purpose of government should be to ensure that privilege is not used to skew justice. It was already crushingly difficult for sexual assault survivors to report their assailants. You have made it that much harder, and that much more likely that they will simply remain silent. I cannot help thinking that that silence is your goal, and that, Ms. DeVos, is truly shameful.
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Not about books, but definitely a review.

Hulu has episodes from 3 seasons of A Crime to Remember, which is an Investigation Discovery show. In my ongoing love/hate relationship with true crime media, ID stands out for their high production values and for about as unexploitative an attitude as you can have. (I wonder, perhaps unworthily, if part of what makes ACtR seem thoughtful rather than vulture-like is that the executive producer and a bunch of the writers & directors are women.) I have also been very fond of Homicide Hunter, partly because the show does not try to sugarcoat Lt. Joe Kenda at all. He's very good at his job, and he is a ruthless avenging angel, but he is not a nice man. I kind of adore him. (I'm pretty sure he'd hate me, but that's okay.)

But ACtR. All the episodes are period pieces. (I joked to my therapist that they must have come up with the idea because they wanted everyone to be able to smoke on camera.) I'm not super fond of the gimmick, in which every episode has a narrator who is a minor fictional character in the real crime being portrayed, but most of the time it works okay. (It works extremely well--give credit where it's due--in "The 28th Floor" (2.4).) The actors--"character" actors all--are excellent, and most of the time they even get the accents matched up to the region. (There are exceptions.) And the producers have interview clips with true crime writers who have written about the cases; with people who investigated the cases (when those people are still alive); with Mary Ellen O'Toole and other experts in various fields; with friends and family of murderers and victims alike. They frequently featured Michelle MacNamara before her death in April 2016--pretty obviously because she was very good at conveying information clearly but without sounding scripted. And, again, because they seem to look for women. They also have gotten Catherine Pelonero more than once. (I actually haven't been able to bring myself to watch the episode about Kitty Genovese, but Pelonero does a great job in the other episodes I have watched her in.)

My true, serious beef with ACtR is its insistent trope of the loss of American innocence. Almost every case is framed as something that destroyed a piece of American innocence, and this is infuriating to me for several reasons:

1. America has never been innocent.

2. The idea of the Golden Age, the before time just out of reach in which everything was perfect, is a very, very old fallacy. (The Romans were all over it.) I think it is pernicious, because it validates reactionary attempts to return to "the good old days," which are "good" (in 20th century America) only if you are white, middle-class or above, and it helps if you're male. ACtR does deal with racism, sexism, and classism, but it doesn't seem to recognize the contradictory position it puts itself in thereby.

3. Casting these crimes as destroyers of American innocence erases crimes that went before. I can give one very specific example: "Baby Come Home" (2.8) about the 1953 kidnapping and murder of Bobby Greenlease, who was murdered before his kidnappers ever tried to extort ransom from his parents. Now I am not at all denying that what happened to Bobby Greenlease is vile and horrible and an expression of the worst part of human nature, but claiming that Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Heady somehow invented kidnapping children for ransom--or even just the worst and most cruel of bad faith negotiations after the child was already dead--erases what happened to, for one example, Charles Lindbergh, Jr. Or, for another example, Charley Ross. If there was any innocence to be lost in this particular genre of crime, it was lost in 1874, 79 years before Bobby Greenlease's death.

So, yeah. That's the one thing that I really think they get wrong. Otherwise, they do a lovely job, and they have taught me about murders I'd never heard of but I think should not be forgotten: the terrible deaths of Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife Marjorie in West Palm Beach in 1955; Charles Whitman's sniper assault on the students, faculty, and staff of the University of Texas in 1966 (which I knew about, but knew kind of wrongly); the bizarre murder of Betty Williams in Odessa, Texas, in 1961; the murder of Veronica Gedeon in New York in 1937, and how the case was largely solved by the editors of the true crime magazines she was a cover model for; the murder of Roseann Quinn in New York in 1973, which was the inspiration for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and I deeply appreciate the way ACtR questions the LfMG myth and suggests that Theresa Dunn is a cruel travesty of the real Roseann Quinn and the reality of her death. If you are interested in criminology or American history (because nothing tells you more about a culture than its cause celebre murders), I commend this series to your attention.
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Dear Senator Johnson:

I have been reading about the Graham-Cassidy ACA repeal bill, and the more I read, the more horrified I am. The premium hikes it allows for "pre-existing conditions" are unconscionable, and if you don't think Wisconsin will exploit those hikes, you have no understanding of your state's governor. Moreover, it's estimated that 32 million people will lose coverage within 10 years. Remember when you were arguing that 16 million was "better" than 22 million? Because I remember that very clearly.

Senator, this bill is a DISASTER. I am forced to choose between believing that you did not read or understand the bill that you have co-sponsored and believing that you understand it perfectly and just care that little about the well-being of your constituents and the rest of the American people.

Your party's obsession with repealing the ACA has been wasting time, energy, money, and other resources since the beginning of 2017--not to mention the resources and opportunities wasted by your party's childish obstructionism throughout the Obama administration, in which you are fully implicated. Repealing the ACA is fantastically unpopular and has failed repeatedly. And, honestly, the worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party is for this repeal bill to succeed. If it weren't for the catastrophe that would be brought down upon millions of people, I would almost want to let you have this monkey's paw. By all means, Senator. GET WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

However, I would much prefer it if you would join those of your colleagues who are trying to REFORM the ACA, even if you won't go so far as endorsing Medicare for all. In fact, I thought you HAD joined them, since you were participating in hearings about healthcare reform, and I am bitterly disappointed in you (yet again) by your co-sponsorship of the Graham-Cassidy bill.

I know nothing I say will change your mind, and certainly nothing I say will convince you to vote against your own bill. But I cannot remain silent and allow my silence to be counted as consent for this abhorrent, inhumane, and unethical bill. You cannot say you did not know that there was vehement opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill among your own constituents, to whom, in theory, you are supposed to listen and whose interests, in theory, you are supposed to represent.

I am frankly ashamed to have you as my senator.

Sincerely,
Sarah Monette
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Dear Senator Johnson:

Today you unveiled your proposed health care legislation. I am not impressed by it, especially in comparison to the health care legislation of Senator Sanders and Senator Baldwin. I know I cannot change your mind, or convince you that removing federal regulations is a catastrophe, not a solution, or that block grants to states, while perhaps a workable solution in some states, will be misused in every way possible in others to ensure that the money does not go where it is most needed. I count Wisconsin as one of those states. I do not believe the state government has its citizens' best interests at heart any more than I believe you do.

Republican senators have been trying and failing to repeal the ACA for all of 2017, despite intense opposition from their constituencies, while Senator Sanders' Medicare for All plan creates the reform you claim to want. You are wasting time, energy, money, and other resources that would be better spent on almost anything else--perhaps the opioid crisis you also claim to be concerned about.

I am disappointed and angry. You have betrayed your constituents again, Senator. And although this is just one more chapter in a book you are making longer by the day, I am still appalled by the stupidity and cruelty you continue to endorse. Even though Wisconsin is not my native state, I have lived and voted here for more than twenty years. I am ashamed that one of my senators has put his name on this bill.


P.S. You still have not made a public statement denouncing fascism, either.
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The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous CrimesThe Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


[library]

Up the close & down the stair / But & ben wi' Burke & Hare / Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief / And Knox the boy that buys the beef.
--Anonymous doggerel

Read more... )

PATREON

Sep. 5th, 2017 06:58 am
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MY PATREON IS LIVE.

As other people have said, do not think that $1 is an insignificant contribution. Dollars add up, and more than that, every person who makes that donation is telling me that they want me to keep telling stories. That's incredibly important.
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I am launching a Patreon on Tuesday. If you have suggestions about patron rewards, I would love to hear them.

(N.b., my book reviews will still go up at Goodreads and here, all content currently in the dreamwidth archive will stay there, and I will not be abandoning this blog, although the content may be mostly political for a while fuck you 2017.)
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The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


[library]

Okay, so I'm going to start with something catty, for which I apologize, but it also serves as a pretty good tl;dr:

This book would be greatly improved by about 80% less Douglas Preston and a concomitant 80% more Mario Spezi.

I am NOT INTERESTED in Preston's story of the American naif whose romantic vision of Florence is ripped apart by his investigation of the Monster of Florence. This is a tired old plot--John Clute dissects it in The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror--and I don't think it works very well in nonfiction. It's so obviously a story about the blindness of privilege and Preston so completely fails to come to grips with the way he forces his friends into the roles he imagines their identities to be that I find it mostly a frustrating scaffold around the actual story. I am especially not interested in all the name-dropping and subtextual bragging about his obvious wealth. (Dude can afford to drop everything and move to Florence with his wife and two children on (a) a whim and (b) a moment's notice. This is a guy who is not worrying about his car payments, let's just leave it at that.) But ultimately, I just DON'T CARE about the perspective of a wealthy American bourgeois who waltzes into the story 40 years after its murky beginnings and foregrounds HIS anagnoresis & collateral angst over the story of either (a) Il Mostro & his victims or (b) the story of Mario Spezi, the Italian journalist who has been writing about Il Mostro since 1974, and who was actually arrested and imprisoned for his pursuit of the truth. (Preston was interrogated & threatened ... and allowed to leave Italy. Not quite the same.) I would be much more interested in a translation of Spezi's collected writings about Il Mostro, or even in a translation of the book Preston & Spezi wrote in Italian, Dolci colline di sangue--it's not the same as The Monster of Florence, since part of TMoF takes place around the publication of Dcds--possibly TMoF is just an expansion/translation of Dcds, but since Spezi gets equal billing in Dcds & is only a "with" for TMoF, I have some doubts. If Preston clarified this point in TMoF, I missed it.

LEAVING THAT ASIDE (and again I apologize for being catty), the story of Il Mostro di Fiorenze is trainwreck-fascinating, both the brutal unsolved murders and the absolutely lunatic theories of the official investigations and the terrible terrible damage they have done and continue to do to innocent people. Preston says, both in the book and in the vapid interview that was a bonus feature at the end of the audiobook, that he doesn't think the case will ever be solved, and I understand that belief. Unless Il Mostro himself confesses (and by now he may very well be dead), the truth may be hopelessly buried beneath conspiracy theories about organ-harvesting Satanists.

As I'm sure you're learning to expect from my reviews of audiobooks, I once again was driven nearly to distraction by the reader. He was so excellent for the most part that I was stupidly surprised that that's not what Douglas Preston actually sounds like, but whenever he was reading quotes (in English) from Italian speakers, whether they were speaking English to Americans, speaking Italian to Americans, or speaking Italian to other Italians, he used an Italian accent, complete with nasal sing-song, that was distracting as all fuck and just NOT NECESSARY. It's not like we're going to forget that the story is set in Florence or that everyone except Preston is Italian.



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Dear Senator Johnson:

I am very disturbed by your reaction to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, August 11-12. You made a statement condemning "hate and violence" initially, but since then, you seem determined to make everyone forget that the rally ever happened, that white men carrying Nazi flags, making Nazi salutes, and chanting Nazi slogans marched through an American city--and that a woman is dead because one of them thought he could get away with ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters in broad daylight.

What's even worse is your reaction to President Trump's appalling speech. You have said you "don't think" Trump is a racist, although you can't offer any reasons for that belief, and the most negative thing you have yet said about his speech is that "it didn't move us closer. It certainly didn't put the issue behind us."

Senator, it's not clear to me what you think the "issue" is.

You have not spoken out against the racism of the rally. You have not condemned the white nationalist principles of its organizers. You haven't even gone so far as to say that you are anti-fascist. This isn't hard, Senator. "Nazis are evil" is not a complicated or difficult concept. And yet it's one you don't seem to grasp.

You want us to "put the divisive issues off to the side" and "accentuate the positive." By which you mean, you want there to be no consequences of this Nazi terrorist action. You want those of us who are not white men to, once again, swallow the insult and injury offered to us because we are being "divisive" by pointing out that these alt-right Nazis want us dead and are demonstrably ready and willing to kill us themselves.

That's what the fuss is about, Senator. That's why some of us are so unreasonable as to not yet be ready to "put the issue behind us."

Moreover, your call for unity is alarming. I'm willing to extend you the benefit of the doubt--perhaps you genuinely don't know this--but the root of the word fascism, and the concept at the movement's core, is the fasces, the bundle of sticks that is stronger together than any one stick would be by itself. Fascists are all about unity, and when you call for "unity" in the wake of a fascist attack, and when it is clear that by "unity" what you mean is that non-whites and non-males need to sit down, shut up, and stop rocking the boat, I think a person is justified in wondering what you, yourself, think about fascism.

So that's my question to you, Senator. Are you pro- or anti-fascist? It's a very simple question, requiring only a one sentence answer.

I eagerly await your public response.



[ETA: I have emailed this letter to Senator Johnson, and will send a hard copy tomorrow. Plus I have sent a shortened version of this letter both to my tiny local paper and to the Capital Times.]
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The Witches: Salem, 1692The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


[library]

To get it out of the way, I hated the audio book reader. HATED. She sounded like a local TV news reporter doing a "human interest" story (smugly supercilious, like she finds it all too precious for words), and she had this way of pronouncing sixteen ninety-two that drove me UP THE WALL ("Sixteen ninedy-twoo" is the best rendering I can give; it made me understand why non-Americans can find American accents grating.) When quoting anyone's testimony, she over-emphasized and poured sincerity over the words like maple syrup over pancakes, making everyone sound like Gertrude, who doth protest too much. And The Witches is a VERY LONG book, so I was trapped with this woman's voice for a VERY LONG TIME. (I would have stopped, except that I sincerely wanted to hear the book, moreso than I wanted to get away from ther reader's voice, but it was sometimes a very close call.)

Okay. Aside from that.

This is really an excellent book on the Salem witchcraft-crisis. I don't agree with Schiff at all points (e.g., she's clearly following Breslaw in her assessment of Tituba's testimony, and I don't agree that that's the tipping point of the crisis), but she has done something that no one else writing on Salem has done, and it's something that needed doing. Schiff traces the relationships between the participants and she traces the history of those relationships back from the 1690s to the 1680s to the 1670s. Boyer and Nussbaum made a start at this sort of analysis in Salem:Possessed, but Schiff demonstrates how limited their analysis was, as she examines the web of relationships between afflicted persons, accused witches, judges, ministers, all the way up and down the social ladder from the indigent Sarah Good to the governor of the colony, Sir William Phips. This is a researcher's tour de force, and Schiff is a good, clear writer whose explanations are easy to follow, even when heard instead of read.

My biggest quibble with her is the same quibble I have with almost all scholars who write about Salem. She ends up making it sound like the entire thing was a series of nested frauds rather than the result of anyone's genuine belief in witches and witchcraft. I've talked about this in other reviews, how to a modern reader, it seems almost impossible that it could be anything but fraud and how hard-bordering-on-impossible it is for us to understand, much less enter into, the Puritan worldview, their sincere belief that they were at the center of the cosmic struggle between Go(o)d and (D)evil (sorry, can't resist the wordplay) and their sincere belief that the Devil was real and walking in New England. Puritanism was a culture that enshrined delusions of persecution/grandeur and in that culture witchcraft made sense in a literal way it doesn't in ours. And some of it was fraud. Some of the afflicted persons confessed as much. But fraud alone did not kill twenty-five people (19 were hanged, 1 pressed to death, 5 died in prison, 2 of them infants), and that's the weak spot in Schiff's otherwise excellent book.



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In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


[library]

This was extremely entertaining, and taught me a great deal about the WACKED-OUT science of the late 19th century, with its paleocrystic seas and thermal gateways. It also provides excellent competence porn, as George De Long, his chief engineer George Melville, and the ship's doctor James Ambler were all insanely good at their jobs, and had plenty of opportunities to show it in the two years the U.S.S. Jeannette was trapped in the Arctic pack ice. (There's a fabulous piece of CSI: Jeannette as Dr. Ambler tracked down the cause of the lead poisoning that was slowly killing the crew.) 20 of the 33 members of the crew, including De Long, died in Siberia after exhibiting more epic heroism than should have been allowed to end in failure (but history, unlike fiction, does not care about your heroism), and the Jeannette's voyage remains eclipsed by the Erebus and the Terror

Trigger warning: aside from the ghastly deaths of De Long, Ambler, and most of the crew, horrible and cruel things happen to sled dogs, polar bears, and innumerable Arctic birds.

The audio book reader was competent and mostly a pleasure to listen to, except for his habit of raising the pitch of his voice when quoting women's writing and lowering the pitch of his voice when quoting men. This makes all the men sound excessively MANLY, and makes Emma De Long sound like a simpering idiot, when it's clear she was anything but.



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