Archive for Books

True Believers…

In 1951 Eric Hoffer, a San Francisco longshoreman, wrote The True Believer, one of the seminal works of 20th century political philosophy. In 1964, he left the docks to become a “research” professor at UC Berkeley. I was there, and by then he and the book were legendary.

The book analyzes historical mass movements, including Christianity, Communism, and National Socialism–their causes, how they arise, who joins, and the social psychology of their challenge to the status quo.

This morning I thought of Hoffer and The True Believer as I watched a CBS reporter interview Pennsylvanians waiting to cast their vote for Donald Trump. read more

Edgar Allan Poe’s Playbook…

As November 3, 2020 approaches, I’m reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s horror story The Cask of Amontillado in which one character exacts revenge on another by enticing him into a wine cellar chaining him to the wall and then bricking up the entrance. I feel like the guy chained to the wall with William Barr, Louis DeJoy, and Mitch McConnell wielding the trowels and mortar.

Morbidly, I think Poe is the perfect author for this election, and whether it’s The Cask of AmontilladoThe Pit and the Pendulum where the prison walls close in on the helpless victim, or The Masque of the Red Death in which a plague (the Red Death) visits Prince Prospero’s masquerade ball there are a series of doomsday scenarios. Think Rose Garden super spreader! read more

A Faustian Bargain…

I’m both fascinated and repulsed by Donald Trump, and since 2016 I’ve been looking for a character in literature to use as a metaphor for his rise and fall. 

In the beginning I thought his affection for golden toilets and chandeliers made Jay Gatsby a comparable figure, and I wrote an essay making the case. Both are criminal pretenders, but Jay Gatsby operated behind a quiet, tasteful, polished persona. Trump could never pull that off. 

Then, his penchant for lying brought Pinocchio to mind. Imagine the image of that nose based on the number of lies told during his term? Enticing as that is it’s not a fair comparison. Pinocchio was kinda cute, but Donald is anything but cute. Still, the little puppet being manipulated is tempting. read more

Supreme Hypocrisy…

I went to law school during the era of the Earl Warren Supreme Court (1953 to 1969). So did Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She graduated from Columbia in 1959. I graduated from Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley in 1965. That’s about as close as I ever came to being on the same playing field as RBG.

Her death last week brought both grief and controversy. Her passing was not unexpected but it was politically untimely and has inflamed passions on both sides. Someone will be appointed to succeed her, but no one can replace her. She was one of a kind, and when she lies in state in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol on Friday, she will notch another first… the first woman ever to be accorded the honor. read more

Welcome to the Inferno…

“And he replied: You should already see

across the filthy waves what has been summoned,

unless the marsh’s vapors hide it from you.”

(The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto VIII)

The vapors have not hidden it. At this point in the Trump presidency filthy waves and catastrophic fires are devastating America. With only 50 days until the second reckoning on November 3, 2020 the swamp creatures have risen to the surface.

“Many in life esteem themselves great men

who then will wallow like pigs in mud,

leaving behind them their repulsive fame.” read more