“McNamara’s Folly”: How LBJ’s administration drafted low-IQ and other disabled men to protect student deferments, during the Vietnam War

Much of my own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (1997) played off the moral dichotomy of the Vietnam era draft, where college students by and large could be deferred (until 1969), with the particularly iconoclastic arguments of those who objected to allowing gays to serve in the military when President Bill Clinton proposed to do so in 1993. Much of Chapter 2 had dealt with the male-only conscription of the time, as did a fiction “story” (actually a chapter from an unpublished early novel “The Proles”, actually cursively handwritten as I lived in the barracks in 1969) in DADT III (2014).

Now there is a book by former Associated Press writer, Hamilton Gregory, with a very long title and subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low -IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Induction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”.

The narrative components include a summary of what the Folly was, with analysis of the moral dilemmas, many specific case histories, and, in the opening chapters, Gregory’s own experience when “enlisting” in 1967.  As a reviewer, I need to compare this with my own experiences.

The backcover of the paperback (e-book is also available) summarizes the Folly.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson and his dapper smart boy Robert McNamara, realized they could not draft enough men to support the war in Vietnam, without ending college deferments.  They had already ended most marriage and family-based deferments at one time proposed by Kennedy. They feared loss of popularity with middle class voters (and we can look ahead to see that Nixon actually took some credit for stopping the draft in 1973).  So McNamara came up with Project 100,000, implemented October 1, 1966, allowing the induction of lower-IQ men.  These men were given the uncomplementary group name “McNamara’s Morons”.   They also allowed the induction of men with various other quasi-medical problems and sometimes criminal histories.

Complicating this setup was the reality that many men enlisted to avoid exposure to combat arms and get an MOS of their choice, in exchange for longer enlistment terms.   Gregory himself went into military intelligence (as did a chess playing friend of mine at GWU, who wrote often after he joined in 1967). But low-IQ men often flunked the AIT and would wind up in infantry anyway. And Gregory analyzes many situations where lack of mental ability exposed men to increased risk of death and maiming on the battlefield, as well as endangering others in their unit. (Nevertheless one such man won a silver star for saving his lieutenant’s life by hovering over him in battle after leg wounding.)  Gregory gives particularly graphic explanations of “walking point” when on infantry patrols, usually every third night.

Obviously, as I argued in my own book, this poses multiple moral problems. The worst seems to be that, barely twenty years after defeating Hitler, we were implementing an Orwellian system that declared that some men’s lives were more valuable to protect than others.  Indeed, McNamara was said to be committing a crime against the intellectually disabled.  We also have the karma of some men living off the sacrifices of others, if you accept the Domino Theory that ground troops in SE Asia were necessary to halt Communism and eventual nuclear threat (all of this got covered in Ken Burns’s series “The Vietnam War” on PBS).

A flip side of the argument was that McNamara and his Nightbreed minions argued that military service would be a way to give the less well-off skills they could use in civilian life later (if they only could survive combat). McNamara even said that intellectual skills could be raised with “video tapes”.

The book starts with Hamilton’s own experience in Basic Combat Training. When he was going through processing in Tennessee, a sergeant asked for all the college grads to speak up.  He wound up being responsible for one of McNamara’s Morons through training, which was, obviously, very difficult. He would eventually collapse from heat stroke on a march, and wind up being recycled through Special Training Company.  This is the first time I’ve encountered Special Training Company mentioned in a book or movie, other than my own book(s).

At this point, a comparison with my own experience at Fort Jackson, SC starting in February 1968 is in order.  First, I had failed the physical twice (4-F in 1964, 1-Y in 1966) as a result of my own pseudo-psychiatric history over “latent homosexuality”. According to my own DADT-1 book (pp 66-67) the Armed Forces questionnaire had asked about “homosexual tendencies” in 1964 but had dropped the question in 1966.  So, in a sense, an informal “don’t ask don’t tell” was in effect because the Army needed the   I note that I didn’t see any discussion of gays in the military in the book;  I would have expected to find it.

I had requested retesting twice because, according to the values of the time, my own reputation had been damaged.  In August 1967 I was retested and found to be 1-A.  Very few people had gone from 4-F to 1-A (although J. D. Salinger – “The Catcher in the Rye”, had). By 1967, as Gregory notes, the Army (and even Marine Corps, which was drafting) seemed to be trying to take everyone.

I did answer an affirmative on a request for college grads when I arrived at the Fort Jackson Reception Station, but the only consequence was my supervising a printing operation for about 30 minutes before we were sent through chow.  That’s ironic, that 30 years later I’d be printing my own book. Later the subject came up favorably in the MOS interview.  I had enlisted for two years (“RA11937256”) two weeks before my induction date (very few people knew you could do that) and it seemed to work.

I failed the PCPT in the second week of BCT (the fireman’s carry had replaced the grenade throw), with a score of 190.  I was too thin and “weak” (although thin people can be very strong;  a quick look at some Major League Baseball, and basketball, players shows that).  I caught the flu during the end of the third week (on the first day of rifle range), and spend four days in the infirmary. When I came back, I was told I would be shipped to Special Training Company in a private meeting with the Captain after chow.

I spent three weeks there, but passed the PCPT with a 318 on the third try. The first week was actually “G-3” stuff, but I went into PT platoon the second week.  We were housed in tents, but the training was not as bad as in Gregory’s book (there were no log carries). While I was there, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and we were supposedly on “red alert”.  I would pass the PCPT with a 357 on the final with my second company, and I believe I scored near 100% on the G-3, which was graded very easy.   I then was safely assigned to the Pentagon as an “01E20” (mathematician) and was shielded from combat because of my graduate degree in math.  The rest of my story is in my books and blogs.

Conditions at Fort Jackson were not quite as brutal as at Benning (I remember many trainees from the Reception Station went to Gordon).  Lights out was at 9:30 PM and reveille was a 5:30. It’s true, on Sundays (unless you had KP) the chapel was a bit of the sanctuary. I played the organ (some music from the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony) by ear as a postlude for a service.

Gregory mentions another book: On p. 129, “Moron Corps“, by John L. Ward (Strategic Book Publishing), which I have just ordered on Amazon.

I tried the AFQT test in the appendix and actually missed the last spatial question (I got 10/11 or 91%).

This book appears to be self-published, but it sounds like something that today Milo Yiannopoulos with his “Dangerous” books might have considered.

I think this material lends itself to documentary film, like a PBS Independent Lens piece.  There is an hour long “amateur” video film, “McNamara’s Morons”  by Bill Dixon on YouTube which I reviewed here.

I would mention here a rather obscure Supreme Court ruling from 1981, Rostker v Goldberg (after the draft had ended, but was threatened again by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), accepting the constitutionality of the male-only draft. However, there have been some bills in Congress requiring women to register for Selective Service, just as there are others seeking to abolish registration.  See the table here after note 48b on the history of Selective Service deferments (Kennedy fathers, etc) from the notes on my own DADT-1 book.

Hamilton Gregory has an interview on “History Net” where he says he is working on a book asking whether we should bring back the military draft. (Again: “Milo-Dangerous”).  Right after 9/11, Northwestern University’s Charles Moskos, an “author” of Clinton’s “don’t ask don’t tell” wrote in favor of resuming the draft and dropping his own DADT.  Gregory also notes that the “Stop-Loss” policy in the Bush years with the volunteer military in Iraq amounted to a backdoor draft of less able men.

The author offers a note in the beginning about the use of certain terms common in previous generations but now seen as denigrating (or “dangerous”) to some people with disabilities, as Trump is finding out.

Author: Hamilton Gregory
Title, Subtitle: “McNamara’s Folly: The Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War, plus the Introduction of Unfit Men, Criminals, and Misfits”
publication date 2015
ISBN 978-1-4958-0548-6
Publication: Infinity Publishing (appears to be self), paper, 251 pages, six parts, 41 short chapters, indexed, prologue (roman)
Link: another review

(Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 11:30 AM)

“This Dangerous Book”: by the founders of the Museum of the Bible

I visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC near Federal Center SW on the first day of Winter, Dec. 21, and after the visit noticed the book by Steve and Jackie Green, founders of the museum, in the museum gift shop. The title, on a brown dust jacket, caught my attention. That is, “This Dangerous Book: How the BIBLE Has Shaped our World, and Why It Still Matters Today”.

My first thought was that Milo Yiannopoulos titled his book “Dangerous” and names his own publishing company that (he has published Pam Geller), and now his own main website, that.  In terms of world history, the Bible is a lot more dangerous than Milo’s work!  I really wondered if this title duplication was more than a coincidence.  As a matter of law, titles cannot be copyrighted, and normally they only become trademarked if they become a series.  (That raises a question about my own “Do Ask, Do Tell”). Business company names (like publishing companies) normally can be trademarked.  So sometimes their accompanying domain names are, too.

Steve and Jackie are part of a larger family, David’s, that founded the Hobby Lobby, which became controversial in refusing to cover the “morning-after pill” for employees claiming it was an abortifacient. So here we go, into the area of how much religious beliefs should affect your treatment of other people (like employees) on their private decisions.

The Museum is quite objective and neutral, covering both Judaism and Christianity well, but Islam much less because Islam has its own texts.

The book is partly about the history of Biblical codices and manuscripts (through the significance of the innovation of the printing press), and partly about the Green family’s own journey of faith and perspective on it.  The Green’s talk about their early life expenses of debt, and how it is hard to avoid when you have five children. (Note: single people, and in the past, many gays, tended to taken on fewer responsibilities for others that can lead to debt.  That’s changing with longer life spans, demographics, eldercare, and marriage law.)  Later they talk about prayer in whether to adopt a child from China, which turned out to be tricky legally.  The oldest natural sibling seemed to think that the parents were morally obliged to try to do so.  This is emotionally a close-knit family, in a way that I haven’t experienced.

I recall a particular moment, the first time I entered my tenth grade English classroom in September 1958, and saw a lot of classic books on a shelf, with a young adult male teacher. (Yes, he had played football but he was academically very well prepared.  This reminds me of a college athlete I met on a Metro in 2014 as he read a philosophy text.  Yup, a lot of “jocks” really are smart, too.  And that happened about the time of GWU’s annual Day of Service.  A lot flashes through the mind.)  Ever since then, I’ve wondered if some books deserve to be thought of as “good” and having more credibility to be believed by the public than others.  I can wonder that about my own “Do Ask Do Tell” series.

I can recall a 90’s book, “The Good Book” (legacy review), by African-American Harvard religion professor Peter Gomes, who also describes his coming out as gay.  I remember reading this book when I wrote my own first DADT book.

So then, I ponder, as the Green book explores, do you look at the Bible as a source of authority on moral judgements?  The Greens get into that, and try to maintain some flexibility.  The assorted literary forms in the Bible (especially New Testament letters) add to the authority.  (The remarks about John’s account of the Revelations seem particularly challenging.)  But for Christians this comes down to a personal “relationship” with and faith in “Him”.

Consider this: for most of my life, Jesus has usually been depicted visually as a slender, physically fit young adult white male.  As a gay white male myself, that image is what I would tend to want “upward affiliation” (to borrow a term from George Gilder) with. Suppose I encounter a young adult white male somewhat like an extension of the teenage Clark Kent in the WB “Smallville” series.  What if the individual shows “powers”.  Actually, I can think of two such persons now.   No, I won’t identify them (and, Milo, sorry, he’s not you). I am very careful about my connection to such a person, not wanting to blow it.  For example, nothing gets carried out on social media (so far). (As far as I’m concerned, we don’t know that “Smallville”, with the help of a nearby wormhole to deal with the speed of light, is impossible.  The legal rights of personhood for an “alien” like Clark Kent would an interesting question for the courts, and challenging to Donald Trump.  We have not treated orcas well.)  But a “Clark Kent” would never ask anyone to drop everything an “follow me”.

For someone who lived and experienced his own personhood at the time of Christ however, the miracles, including resurrection and ascension, would seem to be unchallenged and ultimate factual truths. There would be no other frame of reference for knowledge, like modern physics and cosmology. And there could be no nuclear weapons. No dependence on technology to be wiped away by an enemy with some unprecedented act.

I want to note with some interest that the authors consider the course of American history as underlined by the contents of the Bible, from the American revolution (they even make observations about the end of the French and Indian Wars) to the story of Amistad (the book and 1997 film by Steven Spielberg, legacy review), two decades before the War Between the States.

Here is my legacy review of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002). The problem is, sometimes, it really needs to be “about me.”

Author: Steve and Jackie Green, with Bill High; Foreword by Rick Warren
Title, Subtitle: “This Dangerous Book: How the BIBLE Has Shaped our World and Why It Still Matters Today”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-310-35147-4
Publication: Zonervan (Harper Collins); 5 Parts, 18 Chapters, 251 pages, hardcover (also audio and ebook); many color photos and color maps.
Link: publisher 

(Posted: Friday, January 5, 2018 at 1:34 PM EST)

“Journey from Invisibility to Visibility” covers a lot more than women over 60

The book “Journey from Invisibility to Visibility: A Guide for Women 60 and Beyond”, by Gail K. Harris, Marilyn C. Lesser, and Cynthia T. Soloway, turns out to be a broad discussion of family values and roles as they pertain to individual identity at all stages of life, not just “the afternoon” of life, where 60 is the new 40.

The book is filled with very long quoted inserts of personal accounts, and with spaces for note taking and review, like a guide or handbook.  That isn’t my own particular interest in the way I write my own books.  But at a certain level I can see how some people believe they would help the books to sell.

The book presents Erikson’s “phases” in the growth of individual identity as they emerge in childhood and go into adolescence and adulthood.  These might be compared to other books that examine how consciousness emerges (“I Am a Strange Loop”). As life progresses, new stages emerge, along with the ability to recall earlier formations of the self right out of space-time.

The book also pays a lot of heed to the way gender roles have evolved over the past fifty years.  It is quite frank about the fact that women (and men) generally didn’t get to choose their missions in life the way millennials insist on today.  The fact that women – and men – find independent meaning out of family is seen as a challenge to those who are more vertically socialized. The authors give an anecdote of a woman who was shocked at the success of her middle-aged son without marriage, and without concern over who would take care of him in old age.

Old social norms then meant channeling sexuality to become attached to adaptive family roles.

The book starts with a long rhymed poem in 4-line verse “A Woman’s Perspective”, by GW.

Author: Harris, Lesse, Soloway
Title, Subtitle: “Journey from Invisibility to Visibility: A Guide for Women over 60 and Beyond”
publication date 2017.  I received a review copy
ISBN 978-1534751897
Publication: Amazon Create Space (N. Charleston, SC) 373 pages, 9 chapters, paper, endnotes
Link: see Amazon   Or review site.

(Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 1 AM EST)

Pamela Geller’s book “Fatwa” published by Milo

Most trade publishers declined to offer Pamela Geller’s brazen book, “Fatwa: Hunted in America”, and I rather agree, there may have been an element of fear in their declinations. So Milo Yiannopoulos made his little publishing company called “Dangerous Books” (founded after his own fallout with Simon and Schuster over the bad “rumors” about his own supposed advocacies last February) a multiple author one, and took up the project himself, publishing (Miami) her 251-page epistle, which includes endnotes but no index.

The book is not particularly polished and tends to be a bit repetitious, sometimes screed-like; Milo’s own writing skills seem superior to Pamela’s.  But she hits hard the point of drowning free speech with tribalism and intimidation, and the book needs attention.  The book includes a foreword by Geert Wilders, “the Dutch Donald Trump”, who, like Geller, was banned (in his case temporarily) from entering the UK purely out of fear that his presence would agitate violence.  Wilders writes quite succinctly that the Left has turned its head on its traditional causes (especially gay rights) to defend Muslims as a minority.

Pamela Geller is probably best known for her May 2015 “draw the prophet” contest, which was attempted at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.  Having lived in Dallas myself from 1979-1988, I am familiar with the area, on the northeast side of the city, just north of I-635, to the east of the wealthier Richardson and Plano suburbs along 175.  Two extremists attempted to attack the gathering and were shot by security and police, and later killed by a swat team.  Geller only briefly mentions the 2010 “Everybody draw Muhammad Day” organized by Molly Norris, which resulted in her disappearance into hiding in something like a witness-protection program (CNN).  The Norris narrative really would justify the title of the book (as well as reminding me of the 2006 Lifetime movie “Family in Hiding”).  Of course, Norris followed on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy in Denmark .  That would culminate in the terror attack and assassinations at Charlie Heebdo in January 2015 in Paris (and generate the documentary film “Je Suis Charlie”).   The book includes an inset of colored photos, including a copyrighted image of Bosch Fawstin’s winning cartoon in the “AFDI Muhammed Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest”.  The Danish controversy has inspired other books, such as Flemming Rose (now at Cato), “The Tyranny of Silence“, which examine the problem of religious combativeness to silence speech. Let us also remember Bruce Bawer’s earlier “While Europe Slept“, which had covered the assassination in Amsterdam of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh for the short film “Submission“.

Geller does cover in detail the radical Islamist idea that non-Muslims cannot be allowed to draw the Prophet (as Muslims cannot) and points out that no other major religion enforces this kind of idea.  The Mormon church did not react violently to the popular Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”.  Judeo-Chrisitianity has never embraced such demands even though the Old Testament is filled with concerns over “idol worship” which seemed quite important to me as a child.  Geller sometimes tries to have it both ways, seeming to imply that she sees all Islam as a political entity (seeking political control “for its own sake” of the world, like fascism and communism) rather than just a religious movement. In other places she faults moderate Muslims who simply practice a “personal” faith as not calling out the extremists in the faith (and evangelical Christianity has its own share of violent extremists – in the US sometimes connected to White supremacists, as we all learned from Charlottesville).

But it is the free speech idea toward the end of the book that hits the hardest.  Her writing comes to a head at the top of p. 126 when she (in a section about the cartoon ads), writes, “We cannot submit to the assassin’s veto”.  Indeed. If a person gives in to that, he is nothing (other than someone else’s pawn or prole) and becomes personally dishonored.  But then what about his family?  This is “alternative morality”, like “alternative facts”?  A lot of people don’t get the fracture in our culture over individualism v. tribal loyalty.

Later she will describe the DDOS attack on her own original blog (“Atlas Shrugs”) so severe that her hosting provider dropped her. She reinvented her web presence with the “Pam Geller Report” (link in table below).  Geller accuses big tech companies of colluding to protect themselves from radical vetoes by taking down hate speech – and indeed we saw this with the way Daily Stormer (however extreme in the white supremacy area) got knocked off the web by private companies, as did some Airbnb accounts, after the Charlottesville riots – but this had little or nothing to do with Islam.  She then presents her lawsuit attacking Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (the so-called “Communications Decency Act”, the censorship portions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997). She complains that Section 230 allows big private tech companies to censor (anti-Islamist) content out of fear and intimidation. But in a broader view, Section 230 is part of the legal landscape that allows user generated content on the Internet to flourish because by and large, hosting companies and service providers are protected from most downstream liability for what users do. (The Backpage (sex trafficking) controversy and proposed legislation could present a serious challenge to 230’s effectiveness, but the whole idea of “knowingly”, as with child pornography, would seem to be a critical concept).   Section 230 does allow service providers some discretion in monitoring content to comply with their own terms of service.

Geller is right, however, that the Left as a whole is becoming strident in shutting down speech that the Left believes “legitimizes” certain groups, like neo-Nazis, on the theory that even “meta-speech” from those not directly affected becomes viewed as a kind of incitement (related to what I have called “The Privilege of Being Listened to” elsewhere).  I am concerned myself about this idea.  Could “community engagement” be required to accompany the speech?

Geller covers a lot of other issues, including the banning of “all political ads” by transit systems supposedly because of protests of hers.  That’s true:  I can’t buy an ad for “Do Ask Do Tell” on the DC Metro because it would be viewed as “political advocacy”.  She covers her battles in San Francisco and New York.  San Francisco is particularly in a bind as a “ gay” city.  She points out that in Iran, homosexuals are required to go trans and have sexual reassignment surgery (I had never heard that before).  She is critical of some well-known organizations (CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations, not to be confused with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. . She describes her opposition to the Park51 Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site in New York.  She claims that stores enforce Halal standards for meat against non-Muslims.

She also promotes her American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI)   At the end of the book, she makes a plea to join her cause collectively. She ends with “I am one person. So are you. Together we are an army”.

Wiki picture of Chris Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.

Author: Pamela Geller
Title, Subtitle: “Fatwa: Hunted in America”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1947979000
Publication: Dangerous Books (Miami), 251 pages, endnotes, hardcover, 11 Chapters, color photos, Foreword by Geert Wilders
Link: Author

(Posted: Wednesday, December 6 at 2 PM EST)

“Our Name Be Witness”, poetry collection by Marvin K. White

I picked up “Our Name Be Witness”, by Marvin K. White, at a “Small Business Saturday” booth at the DC Center for the LGBT Community, on that day (Nov. 25), and got to talk to the owner of the small press,  Lisa Moore.

This book is not self-published, but it is offered by a small press that offers specific sub-genres.  I doubt mine would fit because I’m more on the conservative-libertarian-individualistic (perhaps Log Cabin) side of the LGBT area, and I pay attention to global issues a lot (like North Korea right now).  But I had an interesting conversation with her on how she works with independent bookstores, which are in almost every smaller city or college town (not to mention the antique shops and used book stores, and the kind that have store cats to greet customers).  A small press has to be run as a business, and that takes a lot of time away from developing content.

The book is a set of free-form prose-poems.  Each poem is untitled and one paragraph long, with some spanning two or three pages, others just two lines.  Each poem starts on a new page.  There is no TOC, but it looks like there are about 80 poems.

I recall when I was staying at the Westin on the Fort Lauderdale Beach two weekends ago (sorry, folks, I have not been invited to Mar a Lago)  that there was a hypermodern lobby with antique bookcases containing some textbooks, one of them an earlier edition of “British Poetry and Prose” as I had read in the early 1960s as an undergraduate at GWU.  Oh, I remember those pop card quizzes, and the concern about being able to identify quotes on a final exam. A typical homework assignment for the next class would be to read about 40 pages of poetry. We had to get used to Old English and to the idea that not all poems rhyme, and that some (as in this book) don’t have identifiable verses.  Then we were amazed that creative writing could be done within the discipline of iambic pentameter. And that some authors (Thomas Carlyle) indeed experimented with a “new kind of book” (“Sartor Resartus”).  So did I, with my own DADT-III book, with non-fiction and then fiction sections, a kind of “meta-book”.  So maybe I can call White’s effort “meta-poems”.

The poems do reflect a stream of consciousness, rather like the marginal alternate reality of dreams.  Sometimes there is alliteration, onomatopoeia, and clever use of homonyms. A couple of the strophes that I live the most appear on p. 70, when he talks about naming names (Randy Shilts knew what that meant in the military a few decades ago – the anti-gay witchhunts), or p. 136 that equates a prime number with solidarity. P. 14 talks about shame (its masculine counterpart in the Rosenfels world is “guilt”) and p. 15 talks about cooking and fixing your own stuff, like you were a doomsday prepper (“The Survival Mom”).

Author: Marvin K. White
Title, Subtitle: Our Name Be Witness
publication date 2011
ISBN 978-09786251-5-3
Publication: Washington DC, RedBone Press, 140 pages, paper (authors)
Link: author, Lambda Literary

(Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 3 PM EST)

Beau Biden’s tragic death of cancer and Joe Biden’s “Promise Me, Dad”

Joe Biden’s memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” intermixes the most productive years of Biden’s vice-presidency under Obama, with the tragic loss of his son Beau Biden in 2015 to an aggressive brain tumor.

The book narrative is often out of sequence, starting out on vacation and then shifting to his vice-presidential home near the Naval Observatory, before taking off with competing narratives.

Beau had served as Delaware attorney general, and had been quite supportive of progressive causes, including LGBT marriage equality. The family’s Catholic upbringing did not lead to any personal moralizing on the social issues.

Biden first notice symptoms around 2010, which went away until about 2013 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma. His genetics made the cell type particularly aggressive.  The physicians (including MD Anderson in Houston) tried a novel approach of engineering a live virus that would attach itself to the tumor cells and stimulate an immune response.  In the end, it seemed promising for a while but Biden suddenly deteriorated and died with family present on May 30, 2015.

I had an uncle who apparently died at age 60 of a similar tumor in 1976.  Even with genetic causes, its actual appearance is unpredictable.

Biden discusses his foreign policy work, especially with regard to ISIS, Russia, and Central America. He covers the second Obama term well, a history that took a shocking deadend with the election of Trump. He wrote the book just before we have a real understanding of the Russian “fake news” campaign and of the way Trump would be able to resurrect tribalism within “the proles”.  Biden is quite specific in his account of Putin’s cruelty with rebels in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

He also talks about infrastructure, and his work on improving natural gas lines and other critical infrastructure, some of which he says is made of wood. He does not seem to particularly oppose pipeline developments and on may economic and industrial policies he may have been more conservative than Obama.  But he would have supported aggressive policy on climate change (picture above: damage in Florida keys from hurricane Irma, my visit).

But he also talks about the depth of the financial crisis of 2008, and of the need to make work pay better in relation to capital.

Toward the end, he talks about the sudden decision not to run against Hillary Clinton, and about his reservations about superfund money in the Democratic Party primaries.

Beau’s story also reminds me of the narrative of Lee Atwater, who collapsed at a speech in 1989.

Somehow, I wonder about the “originality” of books by established politicians, who have made their names for themselves before taking up the pen.  Echo Hillary’s book.

Author: Joe Biden (Beau Biden)
Title, Subtitle: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose
publication date 2016
ISBN  1250171679
Publication: Flatiron books, hardcover (airport purchase) also Kindle, 264 pages
Link: official

(Posted: Monday, November 20, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)

“After Piketty”: compendium about wealth and income inequality mixes mathematics with challenges to personal morality

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality”, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, for Harvard University Press, is a gigantic compendium of academic reaction to Thomas Piketty’s 2014 missive, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (“C21”).

The book comprises four sections (“Reception”, “Conceptions of Capital”, “Dimensions of Inequality”, and “The Political Economy of Capital and Capitalism”), splitting into twenty-one chapters, after which Piketty responds with a Chapter 22, “Toward a Reconciliation between Economics and the Social Sciences”.

You really need the physical hardcover to follow this book; it’s a bit overwhelming on Kindle.

The editors start with an Introduction where they summarize Piketty’s basic claims:  social democracy became more generous with the disadvantaged right after the Great Depression and WWII, but generally the trend is toward greater inequality as was the case in the “Gilded Age”. Underneath income inequality lies wealth inequality, which tends to drive divergence in incomes.

A Chapter One by Arthur Goldhammer, “The Piketty Phenomenon” notes that Piketty’s book sold unusually well to the general public for a non-fiction academic text. Maybe this would become a lesson for me on how to sell my own authored books!

The various chapters often refer to actuarial calculus (reproducing some mathematical derivations (even partial differential equations) and proofs) and refer to the basic inequality  “ r > g” (average return on capital exceeds growth rate).  At then Piketty himself refers specifically to David Gerwal’s chapters and the “two fundamental laws of captitalism”, regarding the derivation of capital share, and the way the capital / income ratio follows the savings rate over growth rate.

But it is the socially descriptive material, and the bearings of such on personal morality, that occasionally grab attention. Piketty, some authors say, has no explicit theory of human capital (or social capital the way Charles Murray would talk about it).  But generational wealth gives some kids advantages, including those who (like me) grow up childless.  The advantages include greater financial stability when young (less need to go into debt), and very likely parents who have helped train them in the abstract thinking that is necessary for personal success in modern civilization. The quality of public education associated with class and particularly race becomes relevant.

Capitalism, by definition, implies that wealth accumulates on its own beyond the actual work done by the asset owner, so it implies also using (or “exploiting”) the labor of others.  That implies also rent seeking, which tends to impose rules on workers who haven’t accumulated enough of their own capital to own their own lives. No wonder, various forms of socialism and communism developed (even ideas about the moral nature of some kind of “New Man”) evolved over decades in the past two centuries especially.  I can remember the angry rhetoric, especially from women, when spying on meetings of the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in the early 1970s., like “why do we have to have capitalism”, along with proposals to limit maximum income to $50000 a year (income equality by racing to the bottom).   Sometimes threats of expropriation by force would evolve, as with the Patty Hearst case (Jeffrey Toobin’s book, Nov. 9, 2016, ironically reviewed by me right after Trump’s election).  Left wing terror preceded and sometimes went along with radical Islamic terror.

The book does get into sensitive ideas like personal complacency, along the lines of the usual rationalization (short of a canard) that ego-related inequality is necessary for innovation, even if it can undermine sustainability and stability. Indeed, lifelong accumulated savings (and some of it inherited) allowed me to become an independent journalist without the need for my own writing to pay its own way, which others may see as destructive or unfair.  I consistently refused to become someone else’s huckster, even as I understand the pressure on many people to join up and recruit others to buy from them.

Likewise the authors take up the issue of voice. Wealthier people are able to influence politicians to meet their needs, whereas the less well-off are recruited into solidarity by others who do not respect their ability to think for themselves.  Even Donald Trump bragged to his base, “I am your voice.”  I resent the idea that anyone else claims to be my voice.

Editors: Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum
Title, Subtitle: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-06745-0477-6  hardcover and Kindle
Publication: Cambdrige and London; Harvard University Press, Introduction and 21 chapters in 4 sections, with a Chapter 22 reply by Piketty
Link:  Publisher’s

(Posted: Saturday, October 28, 2017, at 6 PM EDT)

“Stronger”: the Boston Marathon aftermath from an author who lost both legs

Stronger”, directed by David Gordon Green and based on the autobiographical book by Jeff Bauman, with Bret Witter and Josh Haner, who lost both legs to a pressure cooker bomb placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev (the first of two) at the Boston Marathon Bombings on Monday, April 15, 2013, is the fourth major film that I have seen on this terror attack.  Bauman was waiting for his girlfriend Erin Hurley to finish the face.  After a stormy and challenging relationship pictured in the film, but leading to a child, he would marry Erin and throw out the fist pitch for the Boston Red Sox season in 2014.  Bauman’s description of Tamerlan helped narrow down the suspect list and lead to his eventually being cornered three days later, when Tamerlan died in a shootout with police. The fact that the bomb was placed so close to Bauman raises disturbing questions as to whether he or some other nearby person could have attracted Tamerlan’s sights as an individual target in the crowd.  The film doesn’t show the physical carnage of the victims until a flashback near the very end.

I approached this film with a little personal moral trepidation, which I’ll come back to.  But I can recall similar comments by other moviegoers before “128 Hours” came out, about the hiker who had to amputate his own arm to free himself.

Bauman is played by the versatile and peripatetic Jake Gyllenhaal.  I have no idea how they managed to set up the scenes with the stumps for his thighs, and the eventual prosthetics.  (An apt comparison could come from the 1993 film “Boxing Helena”.) The film is shot in full anamorphic wide screen, when a standard aspect might have contributed to making the closeups even more brutal to watch (Hitchcock’s theory).   Gyllenhaal’s chest is shaved for scenes like the bathtub tantrums, but that might have happened from all the hospital gear.  Gyllenhaal is unusually willing to loan his body to special effects, as I have noted here before. Erin is played by Tatiana Maslaney.

Bauman starts out the film as a working class “prole” working for Cosco. The company is later shown as fully behind supporting his health insurance needs and keeping his job, Wikipedia lists Bauman now as an “author” as if there will be more books.  The early scenes show some stereotyped working class bar banter (including some mention of gay people and lesbianism).

The film also shows Bauman’s road to recovery as difficult and sometimes ugly.  The film, admirably, avoids overplaying the idea of Bauman as a national hero to be pimped as a symbol of national resilience, the Red Sox notwithstanding. There is a scene near the end in a miniature Fenway Park, before the final home opener climax for “Boston Strong” with the Green Monster covered with an American flag.  I guess it was removed for the actual game.  I’ll add that I’ve had one serious injury my own life, an acetabular hip fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in 1998.  I was back to work in three weeks. But I had a week in rehab, and I saw a man with a leg prosthesis (the loss was to bone cancer, I think) take his first steps on parallel bars in the gym rehab room, literally overlooking the Mississippi River.

Now I come to the more personal part.  I’ve never seen victimhood as particularly honorable, and recovery from a violent or perpetrated by another, perhaps a politically motivated enemy (terrorist), starts with the “victim”.  But the film stays with that viewpoint.  I’ve been particularly sensitive sometimes about being expected to sell the idea of disability as somehow pretty.  I have internally resisted the idea of continuing an intimate relationship with someone who become disfigured by a violent incident or illness – yet I know intellectually that family resilience depends on this openness (in the film, Erin is indeed open to sex and pregnancy, and Jeff’s attitude is transformed by prospective fatherhood).  I can remember back in graduate school, before facing my own conscription, saying myself and hearing other students say they would not come back from a war maimed and disfigured, as if thet had a real choice.  (The 2008 film “Fighting for Life” about war injuries from Iraq gets into this.) Right now, at age 74, it seems as thought that sort of event is pretty unlikely. I thought about the EKG I had a few days ago in a doctor’s office, when he put the pad on my leg, bald with age to the extent that wearing shorts seems indecent.  Body shame has always been potentially important to me. But shame-retention can become a very personal target for terrorists.

I suppose this kind of film will come out of the Pulse attack in Orlando.  And I could imagine working on making it.   Would I ever do something like a special Olympics?  I’ve never wanted to make something like that my own cause.

But there are many examples of people making athletic accomplishments after amputation, such as Andrew Montgomery in Las Vegas as in this CNN story.  Another example is Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, an accomplished runner but convicted In a tragic shooting.

Wiki of area of first bombing.

Wiki of Jeff Bauman and Jake Gyllenhaal (with gams).

Name:  “Stronger”
Director, writer:  David Gordon Green, Jeff Bauman
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/9/23, small audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Bold, Mandeville
Link:  official 

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017, at 10 PM EDT)

Hillary Rodham Clinton tells “What Happened”

I can remember when reading the little stories in “Fun with Dick and Jane” in grade school, we waited to read “What Happened”.  So I chuckled just a little that Hillary Clinton named her autobiographical analysis of the 2016 election that.

The book does pay heed to women in politics, but the elements of the 2016 election leading to her defeat do lead themselves to functional decomposition, the way a systems analyst would see things. These components include Trump’s own behavior during the campaign and debates (including the second debate where she wanted to yell “You creep”), Russian hacking and disinformation with fake news, and most of all “those damn emails” leading to the notorious Oct. 28 Comey Letter, as well as the painful Election Night with the slow motion acceptance of electoral college defeat.

Clinton’s perceptions should indeed alarm us.  The idea of blatant racism and “whitelash” played a much bigger role in the behavior of the electorate than many of us could have expected (although Michael Moore had been warning about it). Clinton often mentions the “zero sum game” thinking of the alt right, where the economic losses of less educated working class heterosexual whites are seen as the result of gains by “others” (blacks, gays, and especially immigrants).

Russian meddling, leading to the fake news manipulation of social media (and the ultimate “Comet Pinc Pong” incident) shows a serious social problem among the nation’s professional “elite” class (including black and gay professionals).  I saw relatively little of the “fake news” in my own social media feeds because my online behavior normally connects me with people in a more intellectual mainstream.  I have contact with Hollywood, with the book world, academics, and with some pundits on both right and left, and including some doomsday preppers (normally on the right).  So I see some material at the margins (Breitbart on the right, and Truthout on the Left), I see very little material that is patently outrageous.  But it seems like a lot of people did.  It is rather scary that Putin saw the insularity of America’s privileged intellectual class and realized that a campaign of disinformation leveraging resentment and fear could really work.

I’m a bit perturbed to see her name Sinclair Broadcasting in Baltimore as one of the participants in his whole mess (p. 361).  Sinclair owns WJLA7 in Washington, and tried to bring to light the threats to the power grid in some reports in the summer of 2016 that got suppressed.

Clinton talks about Putin’s macho values (I think its ironic that he likes to bare a completely hairless chest when riding horseback) and the way they put individuals in their “rightful” place in a system where fascism is returning to replace communism.

The Russian hacking also connected to various schemes to make it harder for certain minorities to vote.  Black and Latino turnout in key states was considerably less than had been expected.

On the email scandal, Clinton pleads that she did not starting using computers at work herself until the middle 2000’s, and that she started in a world where it was still normal to use one’s own personal computers and servers even for sensitive work.

Indeed, in the 1990s in the mainframe computer world in which I worked, it was normal and acceptable to use personal laptops in fixing production problems, which could lead to exposure of consumer PII, but at the time (pre Y2K and just as the Internet was heating up) it was seen as much less of a risk than it would be now.  It was also acceptable to take listings home that had production consumer data printed.

Clinton does think that the Comey letter did provide Trump with his ninth inning rally, and maybe a couple of unearned runs, by baseball analogy.  Remember, the whole incident could not have happened if Anthony Weiner had not committed a sex offense, an observation that provides an ironic comparison to a bizarre incident that happened in 2005 when I was substitute teaching that I have discussed here before – apparently I had not seen the end of it, but I never thought this sort of thing could throw and election. Also ironic were Trump’s self-incriminating comments overheard on Access Hollywood.

On p. 465, the last chapter “Onward Together”, one of her supporters, a history teacher, offers some partisan moralizing.  “Privilege” alone makes that teacher’s students responsible for others.  It doesn’t wait for marriage and having babies.

Author: Hillary Clinton
Title, Subtitle: What Happened
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7556-5
Publication: New York, Simon and Schuster, 18 chapters unnumbered. 494 pages, hardcover, e-book
Link: publisher

(Posted: Friday, September 15, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” (1960 Disney film)

I think I read a young person’s illustrated version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “boys’ life” Alan novel “Kidnapped” (written in first person) in tenth grade, in the spring of 1958, about the time certain other interests were developing in my mind.  I remember typing the book report at home.  A lot of other book reports with this teacher were “in class”, but this one I remember doing at home.  We had recently read George Eliot’s “Silas Marner” and been tested on it.  That’s what sophomore English was like: grammar and literature, in alternation.

Note the original long title of the book: “Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.”

The Walt Disney Technicolor 1960 film (“Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped”) is ironically directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation) and aired on Turner TCM on September 11.  The plot is a picaresque adventure, as was common for some English novels of the time(1886).  An appealing 16 year old boy David Balfour (James MacArthur) is beckoned to a gothic estate when his father dies, but quickly finds his uncle is conniving (there is a scene inspired by Vertigo).  He is then drawn to a ship voyage, where he is shanghaied (essentially kidnapped) into servitude, and threatened with slavery.  He soon meets up with a Jacobite, Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch) and go on a long adventure together, after both are falsely accused of murder. Alan is a Jacobite rebel in Scotland, as both escape the British redcoats about the time of the American French and Indian Wars (and the James Fenimore Cooper novels).  Eventually they get back to David’s uncle and David gets his inheritance with a trick and his friend’s witness.

I do recall that the enduring idea of the novel, especially in its later passages, is “friendship”.  Having read this book may have helped inspire my controversial first theme in English at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, which would help precipitate the ironic events that would later lead to my expulsion in November 1961 (as in my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book).

MacArthur (who was 23 when this film was shot) seems quite mature and handles himself so well, as in that fight with the Gaelic highlander and other foes.  He seems like a low-keyed predictor of the superhero movies to follow a half century later. How many role model teenage boys like this do you meet in a lifetime?  I can think of a few.

Jacobite painting wiki.

The broadcast also included the 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lonesome Ghosts”, with “personal animation”.

Name:  Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”
Director, writer:  Robert Stevenson
Released:  1960
Format:  1.37:1 now 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  TCM 2017/9/11
Length:  97
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  TCM

(Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)