The Fox in the Henhouse

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Johnny had become chairman of the Committee on Federal Operations and chairman of its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, with a budget of two hundred thousand dollars a year and an inculcating staff of investigators. He grew sly, in the way he worked that staff. He would sidle up to a fellow senator or another member of the government placed as high and mention the name and habits of some young lady for whom the senator might be paying the necessities, or perhaps an abortion here, or a folly-of-youth police record there. It worked wonders. He had only to drop this kind of talk upon five or six of them and at once they became his missionaries to intimidate others who might seek to block his ways in government.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

Prophetic Fiction

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Nonetheless, her Johnny had become the only American in the country’s history of political villains, studding folk song and story, to inspire concomitant fear and hatred in foreigners, resident in their native countries. He blew his nose in the Constitution, he thumbed his nose at the party system or any other version of governmental chain of command. He personally charted the zigs and zags of American foreign policy at a time when the American policy was a monstrously heavy weight upon world history. To the people of Iceland, Peru, France, and Pitcairn Island the label of Iselinism stood for anything and everything that was dirty, backward, ignorant, repressive, offensive, anti-progressive, or rotten, and all of those adjectives must ultimately be seen as sincere tributes to any demagogue of any country on any planet.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

Choose Your Leaders

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“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents

Please Use Mute

The country would be better served if we allow both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you to do that.

Chris Wallace, Moderator 2020 Presidential Debate, 9/29/2020
USA Presidential Debate, 9/29/2020

The problem with the first presidential debate can be solved with technology. This is a rare moment when a distinctly human communication problem can be effectively solved through technological solutions.

The problem: Constant interruptions of both the moderator and the opponent during a live broadcast debate.

The solution:

Step 1: Place candidates in separate rooms or in clear glass, soundproof boxes on the same physical stage. Separate rooms requires reliable video and audio and clear boxes require reliable audio, thereby allowing the participants to hear both questions and responses.

Step 2: Make it clear at the outset that microphones will be muted when questions are asked and when the opponent has the floor.

Step 3: When it is their turn to speak open the microphone. When they are out of time mute them.

Step 4: If a live mic is in the room recording everything said but not broadcast during the debate, then those recordings may be released and commented on the following day. It must not be made available during the debate itself.

Bitter Necessary Lies

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“I can tell you that it was a very clear action for a night action, Mrs. Mavole,” Raymond said. Mr. Mavole sat on the other side of the bed and stared at the floor, his eyes feverish captives in black circles, his lower lip caught between his teeth, his hands clasped in prayer as he hoped he would not begin to cry again and start her crying. “You see, Captain Marco had sent up some low flares because we had to know where the enemy was. They knew where we were. Eddie, well—”

He paused, only infinitesimally, to try not to weep at the thought of how bitter, bitter, bitter it was to have to lie at a time like this, but she had sold the boy to the recruiters for this moment, so he would have to throw the truth away and pay her off. They never told The Folks Back Home about the filthy deaths—the grotesque, debasing deaths which were almost all the deaths in war.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

Irish Democrat

Uncle Steve was an esteemed member of the Democratic Party and held numerous political offices in Lafayette . His saloon , conveniently located across the street from the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, was his bailiwick for the various offices that he held. Many children of Irish immigrants, like Uncle Steve, climbed the ladder of success within the friendly climes and ward healing of the Democratic Party. The party helped these descendants of Ireland escape the anti – Irish prejudice that had confined the hated “ Micks ” to Irish ghettos like Bloody Plank Road. The Democratic Party granted the perquisites of political power to Irish-Americans because the close-knit Irish families reliably delivered the necessary votes keeping the party in power. As a favored member of the party , Uncle Steve found jobs for his family and their children, giving them a lift up the ladder. In one instance , Uncle Steve arranged for his nephew Harry Hannagan, blind since childhood, to hold the job of supervisor of weights and measures for the city. Sometimes in politics , the holding of the job was more important than doing the job!

Steve Hannagan: Prince of the Press Agents and Titan of Modern Public Relations by Michael K. Townsley

 

Earthy Dictators

Constantly, in the Informer, he criticized the government but not too acidly. The hysteria can’t last; be patient, and wait and see, he counseled his readers. It was not that he was afraid of the authorities. He simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure. It can’t happen here, said even Doremus—even now.

The one thing that most perplexed him was that there could be a dictator seemingly so different from the fervent Hitlers and gesticulating Fascists and the Cæsars with laurels round bald domes; a dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain, a George Ade, a Will Rogers, an Artemus Ward. Windrip could be ever so funny about solemn jaw-drooping opponents, and about the best method of training what he called “a Siamese flea  hound.” Did that, puzzled Doremus, make him less or more dangerous?

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

 

Your Game, My Life

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Amazon.com

“I can see,” Miss Emily said, “that it might look as though you were simply pawns in a game. It can certainly be looked at like that. But think of it. You were lucky pawns. There was a certain climate and now it’s gone. You have to accept that sometimes that’s how things happen in this world. People’s opinions, their feelings, they go one way, then the other. It just so happens you grew up at a certain point in this process.”

“It might be just some trend that came and went,” I said. “But for us, it’s our life.”

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

Comfortable Ignorance

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Amazon.com

Morningdale. There were other things at that time. That awful television series, for instance. All these things contributed, contributed to the turning of the tide. But I suppose when it comes down to it, the central flaw was this. Our little movement, we were always too fragile, always too dependent on the whims of our supporters. So long as the climate was in our favour, so long as a corporation or a politician could see a benefit in supporting us, then we were able to keep afloat. But it had always been a struggle, and after Morningdale, after the climate changed, we had no chance. The world didn’t want to be reminded how the donation programme really worked. They didn’t want to think about you students, or about the conditions you were brought up in. In other words, my dears, they wanted you back in the shadows. Back in the shadows where you’d been before the likes of Marie-Claude and myself ever came along. And all those influential people who’d once been so keen to help us, well of course, they all vanished.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

Book Review: Trump Is a Nasty Knight

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Nick and the Nasty Knight by Ute Krause was published in 2012. The book is not anti-Trump protest literature. It’s just a story about a boy who lives in an impoverished town where the political power (the nasty knight) uses taxes, sleazy political (legal) maneuvers and physical violence to drain every last penny out of the residents.

This knight lives in an enormous castle where he keeps all of the gold locked up, forces people to carry him around because he will not be bothered with walking and…get this…he uses a golden toilet.

Much like Maurizio Cattelan’s “America“, the similarities and political applicability are almost eerie. While it’s important to note that Trump’s golden toilet is an internet myth, it’s symbolism is very much a political reality.

When I first read this book to the children in my life, I was hoping for an anti-bullying or a problem solving story. Every once in a while I will come across a kids book with excellent pictures and some good hard advice for dealing with people – this is not that book.

The story is about Nick, a child who is taken from his family, by the nasty knight, as a slave (yes, he is actually taken as a slave) because his family is poor and had no more money to give to the knight when he came pounding on their door during one of the all-to-frequent tax-collecting tours. Nick is trapped in a never-ending cycle of work, the reality of which is well illustrated without being excessively scary.

He decides to escape his indentured bondage by climbing out a castle window and accidentally stumbles across the knight’s secret room full of (stolen) gold. Nick steals one coin and successfully escapes. Once in the woods beyond the city, he encounters a group of bandits and thieves who are just as horrible as the nasty knight – possibly worse.

At this point in the story I’m feeling both impressed by the realism and a bit disappointed in the lack of proactive resolution. The main character just can’t get a break.

The bandits find the single gold coin and Nick tricks them into returning to the castle. He leads them to the secret room filled with gold and sounds the alarm, causing an enormous brawl between the knight, his soldiers and all of the bandits.

Side note: the knight won’t walk to his golden toilet but he’ll jump into a potential bloodbath of a battle to protect his gold…interesting.

Ok, that was pretty good. Tricking bad guys into fighting bad guys is an impressive maneuver.

But then it turns out that the coin the boy stole was a magic coin, which ultimately transforms all of the bad guys into alligators. This saves the town and returns peace and prosperity to all. Here’s a quote:

When the people up in the castle saw what had happened, they began to cheer. Without the Nasty Knight, they were once again free!…From that day on, Nick made sure that at last his poor mother and his family had enough to eat every day.”

(sigh)

It’s a good story for kids. The ending to the plot is pretty standard in literature and film but…

I really wish the resolution hadn’t been reliant on a magic coin or the elimination of a handful of bad guys. Neither scenario is real and there are other ways to resolve the story.

Even so, this book remains on the family bookshelf and is pulled out from time to time because acts of bravery and defiance in the face of corrupt powers and politicians is a good place to begin. It’s an excellent story to enjoy and to talk about; because, sometimes, the flaws in stories lay the groundwork for excellent discussions about what is fun fiction vs effective in real life.

In this case, the symbolism is fitting and powerful: It’s a story about using money to take down a corrupt politician with a golden toilet.

There may be a few adults in your life who would appreciate listening to this story over the holiday break.