Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Time" publishes a survey of the 2016 candidates, "The New Revolutionaries"

Time has a supermarket gloss booklet, “The New Revolutionaries” with subtitle “An Inside Look at the Rebels and Reformers Running for the White House” plus “The Establishment Strikes Back”, edited by Nancy Gibbs. The book includes candidates who have dropped out of the race. Each candidate gets a QA page. ,

The contents start with an Introduction, “Year of the Outsider”, by Michael Scherer.
The “Republican Rebels” start with Donald Trump (Scherer), Ben Carson  (Philip Elliot and Teresa Berenson), Ted Cruz (Alex Altman), Carly Fiorina (Elliott), Rand Paul (Scherer), and Mike Huckabee (Scherer), as well as a piece by the controversial energy barons, the Koch Brothers (Elliott).

The “Democratic Insurgents” are Bernie Sanders (Sam Frizell) and Elizabeth Warren (Scherer).
“The Establishment Fights Back” with Hillary Clinton (Sam Frizell),  Jeb Bush (Zeke J. Miller), Marco Rubio (Scherer), and John Kasich (Zeke J. Miller).

There is a History page of Third Party Mavericks, from James Birney through Gus Hall, Lyndon LaRouche, Ralph Nader, and H. Ross Perot. But where was Harry Browne of the Libertarian Party, or Jesse Ventura, of the Reform Party and actually an independent governor of Minnesota while I lived there.

With Trump, well, we all know about his reckless statements.  Yes, I’m concerned about his promise to commit war crimes, and I’m concerned about his authoritarian manner, which could be a real problem in the Internet.  But his behavior on “The Apprentice” suggests he may be better on gay issues than expected, and better on health care. Omarosa won’t be his running mate, but I wonder about Troy McClain. (Taking one for the team, even your legs, could pay off.)

Carson’s gentle manner is disarming, as there is some poison in his statements (homosexuality as a choice, and aggression in vigilante action with guns) and his na├»ve faith.

Cruz sounds scary, but he may be more libertarian than we think.  He has no clue on what to replace Obamacare with, and I don’t think he cares.

I liked the idea of a Silicon Valley executive running for president.  Fiorina might have been good for the country.  Mark Zuckerberg will be old enough to run in 2020. Investment guru Peter Thiel is ideal (quite libertarian), but was born in Germany.

Rand Paul is respected for his libertarian leanings (“Get a warrant”), although his father seems to be following the ideas of Porter Stansberry.  Mike Huckabee is a little scary.  The Koch Brothers can defend themselves.

Bernie Sanders is too socialistic, and promises things without any idea how to pay for them (soaking the rich doesn’t raise enough money).  Elizabeth Warren is interesting and has a lot to say about inequality, reminding me of Barbara Ehrenreich.

Hillary Clinton, of all the candidates, fits the idea of becoming “progressively less bad”.

“Little Rubio” doesn’t show up for work enough (Trump), but looks wonderful on stage.  He probably would be moderate.  I admire someone who is the son of two undocumented immigrants able to become a US Senator.  But on p. 86,  a family picture betrays a pot belly (last review), maybe now gone. So that’s what marriage does to a lot of “men”.

Jeb Bush has dirty (unclean) hands from the housing scandal in Florida contributing to the 2008 collapse.  But Kasich (Ohio) sounds pragmatic and reasonable.

Could an openly gay candidate run for president?  How about Tim Cook?  Anderson Cooper?  Lance Bass, just barely old enough, could be interesting (he talks on Meredith like somebody contemplating running for something).  Too bad we don’t have Rosie O’Donnell in the race against Trump.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Nicole Taylor: "Schooled on Fat" looks at body image, diet, physical and mental well being in high school students

Author: Nicole Taylor

Title: “Schooled on Fat: What Teens Tell Us About Gender, Body Image, and Obesity

Publication: Routledge: New York, 2016.  ISBN 978-1-138-92421-5 paper, also hardcover and e-book; 183 pages, 6 chapters, indexed

Publisher site  in the “Innovative Ethnographies” series.  The books was sent to me as complementary for review.

The author conducted her study at a high school near Tucson, AZ;  She and her husband also work as (or have worked as) high school English teachers in Texas.

It is no surprise that teenagers have body image issues.  Girls, at first, seem more affected than most boys; but in time boys become concerned about who is the strongest and most competitive (although the issue of looks can vary a lot). And boys may wonder why, at first, and ironically, they aren't "allowed" to think about the vanity of body image the way girls do.  Many boys still are intimidated by athletic girls.  The book has many scripted interviews demonstrating the various attitudes.

It isn’t hard to speculate on reasons for the focus on appearance, which may have gotten more marked since my own high school days.  Especially in the era of social media, kids see the social world as competitive, and it is important to prevail to have a legitimate place in the world.  And kids may see those with weight or fitness problems as morally deficient and deserving to be dominated.

 Over time, in higher income communities, views have improved somewhat, as geeks and nerds are useful and  appreciated in many (but not all) communities.

The authors also talk about diet, and the rather poor quality of school lunches, as well as availability of processed, fast food, as undermining teen diets.  The handling of physical education, and whether it should focus more on fitness goals rather than teaching sports, has become controversial.  In some districts, for example, swimming is required now;  it was not when I was growing up.

I worked as a substitute teacher in the middle 2000’s in northern Virginia myself.  To be honest, obesity seemed to be a bigger problem in minority, especially Latino populations, and in females more than males.  Genetics may play a role;  native populations lived on what they could hunt and catch before being settled by Europeans (which explains diabetes in native populations).  I didn’t really see a lot of focus on the most competitive aspects of some sports (for example leg shaving for competitive swimming) very much.

Generally, fitness does help with academic performance.  Individual sports like track that emphasize aerobic fitness seem to be beneficial.  And today, given the latest research on concussions (not covered in the book), we have to wonder about football (maybe some other activities, like boxing, required in some military schools) and overall student performance and well being.
I can recall, even when I grew up in the 1950s, that women were much more concerned about appearance than men.  But my own father would make snide or snarky remarks at home about people he had seen, like “pot belly, no ambition”, as if to convey a moral judgment.   (I would say, "hanging over the belt", as if to invite "that machete", no joke today but sometimes said in the 1970s when you could "talk about fat", other people's, that is.) It was a popular belief in the 60s and 70s that it was expected for young men to gain weight after they got married;  not so much the case today, with the commercialization of fitness (which took off in the 1970s).

I think that gay men, in their twenties and thirties, are probably slightly less likely to have obesity issues, because of additional cultural pressures (“body fascism”).  Go to any gay disco, and the slender build is obviously in fashion, and (to borrow a term from my own Army barracks in 1969), “desirable”.

The book barely mentions eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, or emotional prob lems like body dysmorphia (in “attractive” people).

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"Hoover's War on Gays", by Douglas Charles, is a shocking, detailed read

Author: Douglas M. Charles

Title: “Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s ‘Sex Deviates’ Program

Publication: 2015, University Press of Kansas (Lawrence), ISBN 978-0-7006-2119-4 hardcover (alsoe-book), 453 pages (plus 15 roman); 8 long chapters, with Prologue, Epilogue, endnotes, and bibliography

Amazon link
I actually purchased this book in a Barnes and Noble store at Tysons, VA, from the (not too conspicuous) “Current Affairs” counter.

It’s interesting that the book is published by the University of Kansas Press.  I went to graduate school at KU and earned my MA in Math in 1968 just before being “drafted”.  That is itself an interesting narrative. The author is a history professor at Penn State.

The book mentions Hoover’s connection to George Washington University, where I attended and graduated “living from home” in the early 1960s after my William and Mary “expulsion” (below). Hoover’s interest in Comstock would certainly be reflected later in his attacking gay organizations and publications.

Of course, it is now “common knowledge” that J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI from 1935 until his death at 77  in 1972 (a special dispensation by LBJ – the president who called homosexuality “the thing you just couldn’t tell” – preventing from retiring at 70) was “gay” (indeed, a lifelong bachelor who willed his house to his partner) and that his witch-hunts were nothing more than hypocrisy to cover up his own life. But as this monumental book shows, there really is a long, detailed and painful history for all of this. The first chapter is “Was J. Edgar Hoover Gay? Does It Matter?”

The symptoms of the homophobia at its height are alarming today indeed, and protracted.  Sometimes undercover agents would initiate contacts (or follow home) in men’s rooms in order to make arrests.  (Some approached me in 1972 in a Washington hotel at a chess tournament, and I ran out fast enough to avoid anything; the only time this has happened.)  The FBI tried to ban the mailing of gay literature (through postal regulations) and have it declared obscene, in order to prevent the dissemination of gay “ideas”.  Numerous government employees were fired, even before Eisenhower’s XO in 1953.  Homosexuality was illogically tied to communism, leading to harassment of Hollywood and smaller film businesses, especially of Andy Warhol.  (The book mentions “Lonesome Cowboys”, which I think I saw around Times Square in the mid 1970s.)  This would lead to my own William and Mary expulsion in the fall of 1961 and “treatment” at NIH in 1962. On p. 230, Douglas discusses a comparable sequence with the narrative of pre-Mattachine organizer Huggins, who was expelled from the University of Illinois but avoided the draft with a 4F.
Douglas gives a detailed history of Frank Kameny (whom I met numerous times before his passing, and with whom I’ve discussed my own books over the phone).  It seems Kameny was targeted for a false arrest in San Francisco, and had he not mentioned it equivocally on his job application, be might never have been “discovered” by the Army Map Service. 

I can recall my father's warnings in the early 70s that "they'll have you followed" just going into NYC for "social life",  I thought this was dumb and irrational.  Judging from this book, maybe there was something to this.
Douglas gives a detailed history of “gay” FBI agent Frank Buttino (author of “A Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI”, William Morrow, 1993, reviewed on my legacy “doaskdotell” site), at a time when the FBI had evolved a “don’t ask don’t tell” culture predicting the military policy under Clinton.  In fact, Buttino had a sailor for a lover.  He doesn’t mention David Mixner (“Stranger Among Friends”. Bantam, 1996), who was actually set up by an FBI “sting” in 1969, according to his own book.

Douglas’s coverage is comparable in amount of historical detail to that of Randy Shilts in his 1996 book “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military”. 

All of this leads us, of course, to “ask why”.  It’s true that people in the US frontier culture had developed a notion of gender “essentialism”.  But for a long time, homosexuality stayed off the radar screen as a public issue (despite a minor scandal in the Navy during WWI, covered by Shilts).  The Leopold-Loeb case in Chicago in the1920s (dramatized in the play “Never the Sinner” by John Logan, which I saw in Minneapolis in 2001) was viewed as more as matter of corruption of the rich than as a sexual matter.  But another case in 1937, the kidnapping and murder of Charles Mattson, would catch the public attention on “gays” and catalyze Hoover’s attention to the problem. Douglas brings in the role of the Great Depression, where “essentialist” men lost their ability to provide for their families (dependent wives and children), as leading to the need for political scapegoats.  Of course, the Depression was related to inadequate financial regulation and arguably clumsy policies that followed, not to sexual morality. It is true that public confusion could conflate sexual orientation with pedophilia (an idea that Russia exploits today), even though logically this makes no sense:  a heterosexual of bad "character" could desire an underage partner just as easily, out of a fantasy of bearing children by younger "nubile" women (even conservative writer George Gilder has admitted this). 
The connection of homosexuality with Communism also seems obviously intellectually sloppy for a modern person.  Douglas gives a lot of attention to the life of Harry Hay, while explaining that Hay tried to keep these areas of activism largely separate. On the surface, the idea that homosexual men are typically less interested in their own procreative potential could seem as antithetical to the role of the extended family (in preserving generational wealth and inequality) could make some sense to some people.  That could morph into grouping the homosexual with “the enemy” who is likely to go on future rampages of revolutionary expropriation. I worked for the National Bureau of Standards from 1963-1964, and recall the Civil Service Questions about “sexual perversion” as well as membership in the Communist Party, and most of all, “notoriously disgraceful conduct”, which Douglas says could include membership in homophile organizations (I was not aware of that interpretation at the time).

In modern times, since the 1990s especially, a libertarian view of sexual orientation could connect it to the opposite – to hyper-individualism, and to the idea that the formation of personal intimate relationships has an expressive function relating one’s own value judgments about what matters in other people. But even that observation helps explain the “homophobia” of earlier generations.  In closed environments like some college dorms and the military, the presence of openly gay men could put “heterosexual” men on notice that their “potential” was being observed and assessed, and could make them feel uneasy about their own heterosexual future.  This is related to the military arguments about privacy and unit cohesion in the early days of the debate about Bill Clinton’s attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military (the Nunn-Moskos ideas that led to “don’t ask don’t tell”). But it is also an idea that becomes less relevant in wealthier or better-off populations.  I caught a lot of this in dorm life at William and Mary (much less so at KU a few years later).  I can say that insecure heterosexual males feel better about themselves when they witness other non-competitive men like me scoring with women rather than watching and gawking, kibitzing, and mentally keeping score.  It’s about having your own skin in the game, and playing if you show up.
There’s something about all of this that is disturbing.  I was teased, and pressured to conform, and yet I internalized the norms of a sexist or “essentialist” value system as if intrinsically connected to virtue, and would “retaliate” to the teasing by making others feel they could well be less adequate than I was, and potentially more expendable.  And when I was coming of age, we had just fought a war against fascism fifteen years before.  It’s a circle of ironies.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Publishers of tabloid books in Hong Kong seem to be kidnapped by Chinese authorities; business model used to be common in the US

The New York Times, in a detailed “Sunday Business” article by Michael Forsythe and Andrew Jacobs, “The Disappearing Publishers” (online, “In China, Books that Make Money, and Enemies”) explains the business of several publishers who seem to have been kidnapped from Hong Kong, Thailand, and possibly Vietnam.  Their operation was to hire writers to mass produce articles ad narratives that sound comparable to US supermarket tabloids, many of them ridiculing Chinese political or corporate leadershhip.  They would be sold mainly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, and then often physically carried back to mainland China by consumers.  
What caught my eye was that in the US, in the past, “pornography” novels were often mass produced in “shops” of hired writers, especially in New York and LA, in the days that print pornography on some newsstands was popular, before the Internet.  The companies tended to hire people in the cities struggling to meet ends meet (especially in the Village, in the early days after Stonewall as gay rights still had a long way to go).  

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Amazon will open (more) physical bookstores, competing with itself as well as with BN, bringing back the interest in physical hardcopy books

Amazon is getting into the business of running physical bookstores, in a move that surprises many observers of online and physical retail.  CNBC has a typical story here. It may open up to 400 stores.
It has already opened a store in University Village in Seattle, according to a local story.

It appears that Amazon plans to carry only the best ranking titles (and this could include DVD’s and CD’s as well as books).  But the question would remain whether small presses would be welcome to submit books (as they can with Barnes and Noble) and whether bookstore returnability would be relevant.

Of course, it’s ironic that Amazon is “accused” of driving smaller independent bookstores out of business, and maybe even some larger chains (like Borders).  It would be competing with itself on Kindle sales, but that’s true now with Barnes and Noble and Nook.

Will there be cafes (like Starbucks) and booksigning parties?

Monday, February 01, 2016

CNN's Tom Foreman: "My Year of Running Dangerously": a veteran reporter trains for ultra marathons

Author: Tom Foreman

Title: “My Year of Running Dangerously

Subtitle: “A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan

Publication: New York: Blue Rider Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-399-17547-3, 271 pages, hardcover, 26 chapters. Also, Kindle, Audible, and CD

Amazon link.

I bought this book at the NBC4 Washington Health Fair and met the author, who autographed the copy, on January 10. I discussed the meeting and the mini book fair here Jan. 10. So now, just the book.

Recall, Tom Foreman is a regular CNN journalist, who often covers major stories, including storms, political campaigns and serious issues overseas.

So he goes for a light touch, and writes about his misadventures when his 18-year-old daughter Ronnie asks, how would he like to train with her for a marathon, 16 weeks away.  Foreman was 51 then (in 2011), and had not run one since he was 21.  In fact, the book offers a striking BW picture of him at that younger age on p. 112.

He would wind up running four half-marathons and three full marathons (including the Marine Corps), and the Stone Mill 50 miler in Maryland between Washington and Frederick.  He would become an “ultra runner”.  He and his daughter would train every morning three hours before breakfast and before his full day of work (sometimes cut short by work).  That meant getting up at 4:30 AM, like the Army (or maybe as in a surgeon's life.) Foreman gives many accounts of the physical dangers, injuries and hardships ultra-runners face.

He also gives a history of running back to ancient Greece, and describes some extreme races around the world, some in very high altitudes.

Foreman also describes working at CNN, particularly with Wolf Blitzer, who calls other journalists by their full names.

Update:  Feb. 23

The New York Times describes conditions and required preparations for an extreme cross country race in the Arrowhead country of Minnesota, here