Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Dark Money" by Jane Mayer

After reading "All the President's Men," I was still feeling in a political mood, so I decided to tackle a book that's been in my TBR (to be read) pile for a while now:  "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right" by Jane Mayer.

As I said in an earlier post, while I was still reading the book:
"it is extremely well-researched and well-written. It's also infuriating, terrifying and downright depressing. But don't let that deter you from reading it. This is a book that NEEDS to be read. RIGHT NOW."   
The paperback version I was reading includes a new preface that discusses the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. Despite Donald Trump's populist schtick and lone wolf/beholden-to-nobody appeal, the overall results were a huge victory for the multi-billionaires who have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into influencing the last several elections (at all levels of government), as well as the policies those governments pursue -- policies which, of course, benefit them and their interests.

Mayer delves into the history of the key players behind the "dark money" that's been pouring into the system: the Koch brothers, the DeVos family (yet, THAT DeVos family!), the Bradleys, Richard Mellon Scaife, John Olin, Art Pope and others. She shows in detail how they have spent the past 30+ years pooling their money to systematically build an interlocking network of think tanks, academic institutions, media groups, courthouses and government allies that has fundamentally altered the American political system, overshadowed the official Republican Party, and undermined American democracy.

In particular, she shows how these billionaires have taken advantage of tax loopholes to fund their pet causes through donations to their own private foundations, and to nonprofit organizations that -- on the surface -- appear to be populist and grassroots-driven, with names such as Americans for Prosperity, Citizens for a Sound Economy and Center for Patients' Rights. In reality, most of these groups were manufactured and funded by corporate interests -- "astroturf" organizations, as opposed to truly organic grassroots movements.

"Astroturf" organizations exploded after the election of Barack Obama, and even more so with the ruling on the Citizens United case by the Supreme Court, which removed limits on corporate campaign funding and made it much easier for donations to be made anonymously. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to identify where the hundreds of million of dollars flowing through the system are coming from.

There are dozens of revealing anecdotes (sample quote from Charles Koch: "I just want my fair share -- which is all of it"), including some unsettling personal stories from people who have challenged the billionaires -- or just gotten in their way. This includes Mayer herself. After The New Yorker published a story she wrote about the Kochs, she discovered a private investigator had been poking into her personal life. When they found nothing unsavoury there, Mayer was accused of plagiarism (charges that she quickly disproved, with full support from the writers she was accused of plagiarizing).

There is so, so much more to be said about this book, but I hardly know where to begin.

I consider myself fairly well read & informed about politics, in the United States as well as Canada. I had heard about many of these people before. I knew they were using their wealth and influence to try to sway public opinion and votes toward the causes they favoured.

But I didn't know the half of it. Reading this book is an eye-opener. The scope and impact of what the Kochs and their allies have achieved over the past few decades is truly stunning. And frightening.

To summarize:  this is a very important book, and the kind of book that we (a) need more of, and (b) need to read, NOW.

It may already be too late. (I hope not.)

This was book #12 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 50% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am currently 3 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p  ;)  

Monday, August 21, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: A few annoying things

(An occasional series, inspired by Mali!)
  • One rainy day after another, over the summer generally, and recently. :p  Enough, already!! 
  • Standing in a long lineup for one of the two cashiers open at the local mega-bookstore, while the rest of the staff stood nearby, oohing & ahhhing over the adorable baby that a former coworker had brought in for them all to admire... and then, when I finally reached the front of the line, the mom brought the baby over to the open cashier for HER to admire -- thus making me wait even longer to pay for my book & leave. :p  (I will admit I smiled at the baby, because he WAS cute, but it was still annoying...!)
  • Back to school photos on social media -- ALREADY!! They began coming from my friends & family members in the States directly after the August long weekend (and Katie's birthday) this year -- way, WAY too early, IMHO...!!  And I expect they will continue through mid-September. Most schools here don't start until after the September Labour Day long weekend. 
  • The glass walls/door of the shower cubicle in our ensuite bathroom. Looks fabulous, but a b*tch to clean...!  :p  (Which is why I procrastinate endlessly over doing it, lol.)
  • Rabidly pro-Trump posts on my social media feeds from some of my American relatives. :p 
  • The fact that summer is almost over, when I feel like it's just barely started...   :( 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Out of the closet: Postscript

Scrolling back through some recent posts, I came across my review of "All the President's Men," where I noted:
It all climaxed on the night of August 8, 1974, when President Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon announced his resignation, in the face of almost certain impeachment... The next day, we left on a road trip to visit my uncle in Minneapolis, and everywhere we stopped along the way, the newspapers had huge headlines, the likes of which I had maybe only ever seen once before (when the astronauts landed on the moon), "President resigns."  I still have a copy, somewhere in the depths of my parents' basement.
It wasn't in the basement... it was in the closet of my old bedroom. ;)



(And now it's in a recycling bin.)  ;)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Out of the closet

During my recent visit with my parents, I helped my mother clean out a closet. Not just any closet, though -- MY closet, in the room that was once, briefly, my room, in the year between when my parents moved to this town & house and I finished graduate/journalism school, and when I got married, some 33 years ago now. (My sister usually stays there now, when all of us are home.)  It wasn't ALL my stuff in there, of course -- my mother had added & subtracted items in the years since then, and I hadn't really looked at anything in it in a good 30 years -- but I knew what was there.

Sort of. I thought.

What I thought would be there: a brown cardboard carton, containing my childhood/teenaged journals, which I was really hoping to find and take home with me. For whatever reason, it wasn't there. (Perhaps it's been moved to some dark corner of the basement crawl space...??).

But I did find lots of other stuff -- some I remembered, some I didn't.

Among the items I found:
  • all my old childhood/teenaged scrapbooks, from which I plucked a few special theatre programs and newspaper clippings to save for posterity. 
  • a box full of complete issues and clippings from the weekly newspaper I worked on as a reporter, in the year before I got married. I tossed the full issues and kept the clippings for my portfolio. I don't think I'll be returning to work anytime soon, if ever, but just in case... 
  • cards -- Christmas, birthday, Valentine -- mostly from my university years, from friends, dorm floormates, aunts & uncles, grandparents, even my sister (!!). 
  • a huge box stuffed full of letters from friends and penpals. I think I kept every one I ever got. Oh my gosh, people, we used to WRITE LETTERS. Long, fat, letters, written BY HAND... my ones to my penpal in New Zealand (who sometimes comments here) sometimes ran as long as 100 pages or more, as were hers to me. I shredded some and threw out most of the rest, but kept a few.   
    • Among the letters were a surprising number (more than I remembered) from boys: old boy friends and boyfriends/love interests, including friends/band buddies I hung out with at school (lost touch with most of them; miss them & wonder what they're up to now??);  the first boy who kissed me, when I was 15 (I Googled him and he now has a fairly high-ranking job with the United Nations...!), my Grade 12 Ottawa trip crush from British Columbia (who wrote to me through my first year of university before our correspondence fizzled out), and my pre-dh boyfriend (who wound up marrying my next-door residence neighbour from that time :p and, I think, now resides in B.C. ).  
Most of the paper stuff (and there was a LOT of paper...) went into the recycling bin. Well, pile. (Well, pileS, plural.)  There was way too much to fit into the bin for the weekly recycling pickup, so we had to load everything into my dad's car, drive it to the local recycling depot and unload it there. It was hard to get rid of so much of my past -- especially all the letters -- but (as with our move to the condo last year) I knew it had to be done. My parents may be downsizing themselves, sooner than later, and won't have room to keep all this stuff for us anymore. Heck, *I* don't have the room to keep all this stuff anymore either. And I don't have any kids of my own to eventually unload it on either. Not that they would have been interested in it...

So I took a fond last look through things (yes, I hadn't looked at it in 30 years, but I still knew it was there, you know??), took a few photos of some of the more amusing/special items, gritted my teeth -- and then out it went. I whittled everything down to two smallish boxes (think the size of a large Christmas gift box from the Gap) & a bag of letters. It was too much/too heavy to take everything home on the plane with us this time (besides, my minimalist dh would have had a fit...!) so I took a few things home with me now and will bring a few more home with me at Christmastime.  Beyond my own things, I helped my mother go through the stuff that was hers (toss/donate/garage sale). The stuff we went through was previous crammed onto two shelves above the clothes on the rod;  we cleared out the top shelf entirely and you can actually see bare space on the bottom shelf now. ;)

Box of old letters, sitting on top of carton of old newspapers & clippings.
It's partly empty in this photo, but was packed full when I opened it.
These all got sent to the recycling depot. 

All this paper -- newspapers, scrapbooks, old cards & letters
(plus the empty boxes they were stored in)-- went to the recycling depot. 

The stuff on the left is all that remained after the purge.
(The stuff on the right either got put inside one of these boxes, or thrown out too.)
I took the pile of letters and some items from the two boxes home with me.
The rest went back into the closet to be retrieved at a future date (when I have more luggage capacity).
*** *** ***

There was one particular box I held off opening until near the end, because I knew (more or less) what it contained. First of all, if you have no idea who the Bay City Rollers were...don't tell me, I don't want to know, lol. (I feel old enough already!!)  They were not the "new Beatles" (as some optimistically proclaimed them -- although they inspired similar hysteria to the early Fab Four) -- but I would certainly say they were the Backstreet Boys/New Kids on the Block/'NSync/One Direction/(you get the idea) of their day -- which was MY day, when I was in my mid-teens in the mid/late-1970s.

I distinctly remember packing my "Roller gear"/paraphernalia away in that box, & thinking that someday, I would have a teenaged daughter who was equally crazy about some boy band and who would tearfully accuse me (as I once accused my own mother) that I JUST DIDN'T UNDERSTAND how she felt. And voila!!  I would produce The Box, and show her that, oh yes, I most certainly did. :)

It was a fun fantasy while it lasted...

Although I tossed the majority of the box's contents, I still wound up keeping:
  • a fan fiction story (although the term didn't exist back then) that I wrote (in longhand, having not yet learned to type and word processors not invented yet). (I haven't re-read it -- yet?? -- and I'm sure it's embarrassing as hell -- but I can't bear the idea of shredding it yet either...)
  • a huge, rather risque (especially for a teenaged girl in 1978!) fold-out poster that once hung over my bed, sent to me by a British penpal (believe me, we didn't see this kind of stuff in the pages of Tiger Beat or 16 Magazine back then, lol), of my favourite Roller (Woody, the bass player, who usually wore yellow Macleod tartan and was barely out of his teens himself), wearing nothing but a smile and a very long, strategically placed tartan scarf. ;)  (Similar to this one -- but mine was b&w.) 
  • the stub of my BCR concert ticket -- the very first concert I ever attended, at the Winnipeg Arena on August 15, 1976 -- exactly 41 years ago today!! (15th row on the floor, $6.50) -- framed on a tartan background, along with a half-inch snippet of Woody's shoelace, which a Roller friend had clawed from his running shoe while he stood onstage. :)  The frame sat on my dresser beside my bed, along with a favourite framed photo of Woody, during the years of my Rollermania.   
  • two favourite buttons -- one bought and one homemade (scotch-tape a favourite photo over an existing button & then cover it with tightly stretched plastic wrap for that glossy finish, & scotch tape THAT on the back...). (I had an entire container full of buttons, a small tartan-patterned cookie tin that had once contained shortbread... I think it came from Marks & Spencer, when we had M&S stores in Canada...)
  • and my Roller jeans (which I wore to the concert) -- a pair of jeans with the cuffs rolled up, mid-calf, trimmed down the sides and on the cuffs with Woody's favourite yellow Macleod tartan. I actually tossed them into the garbage bag at first -- but then I talked to my usually unsentimental sister who said, "Oh, I saved mine. No way I was throwing them out -- I HANDSEWED that stuff on!!"  I promptly went out to the garage, opened the garbage bag, & fished mine out, lol.  Not only did I also handsew on all that trim too, I made a pocket patch out of a scrap of material that I embroidered with a heart & Woody's name.)  
"The Box," opened for the first time in 30+ years! 

View of the side trim & personalized pocket patch,
all hand stitched by yours truly. 

Framed concert ticket stub & treasured snippet of shoelace. ;)   
Writing this post has made me nostalgic. So now, for your viewing/listening pleasure/amusement ;) here they are, direct from the Seventies, a couple of songs (not necessarily their biggest hits or best-known, but the ones I thought were most apropos for this post) from... (you guessed it)...





(Previous posts about cleaning out my parents' crawl space in the summer of 2009, here and here.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: "You really need a daughter..."

Yesterday, SIL & I joined the female cousins/cousins' wives on his mom's side of the family (our travel companions to New York City four years ago)(FOUR YEARS AGO??!!) for brunch at a (relatively) new bakery cafe, about a 20-minute drive from where we live. It's located in an old house that has been completely overhauled by some wealthy investors into an exquisitely, elegantly decorated little gem that would not be out of place in New York City or perhaps even Paris. No detail has been overlooked. More importantly, perhaps (especially for some), the food is entirely gluten/nut/dairy/preservative free, etc., a welcome treat for several members of our family who have celiac issues and other allergies. Aside from my weird allergy to tomatos, I am fortunately not affected by these issues, but the food was nevertheless pretty good too. We started with something savoury, followed by a sweet treat, along with coffee & tea, and many of our group left with boxes of goodies to take home to their families.

The cousin who organized the gathering brought along her 14-year-old daughter and a friend, who declined to join us in the private room we'd booked, preferring to sit by themselves in the general dining room (although not opposed, of course, to having Mom foot their bill, lol).  I was the only childless adult woman there (as I almost always am in these situations). Several of the women with daughters commented that this would be the perfect place for a mother-daughter outing, and the women with only sons nodded, agreeing that "You really need a daughter to bring to places like this." Or maybe, eventually, a daughter-in-law.

19 years ago, a comment like that would have sent me running for the privacy of the washroom, fighting back tears. I guess I've developed the hide of a rhinoceros when it comes to these things. because I barely flinched. Internally, I still winced, of course.  I was relieved when the conversation moved on to a different subject.

But yes. It would have been nice.






You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Current

(An occasional meme, alternating from time to time with "Right Now.") 

Current Book(s) -- On the last 100 pages of "Dark Money" by Jane Mayer (review to come), and trying to decide what to read next. I have a lot of similar political-related books in my To Be Read pile -- but I think maybe something lighter and less depressing would be a good idea, lol.  ;)  

Current Playlist -- While I was visiting my parents, my sister gave me a memory stick/thumb drive/whatever you want to call it, containing part of her vast mp3 collection, acquired during the days of Napster. The files included songs from all the big Canadian rock bands of our day, as well as other bands that were in our childhood/teenaged vinyl collection. I've owned music on vinyl, cassette and, most recently, CDs, but this was my first foray into digital music (yes, I'm a dinosaur...!).  Her techno-wizard boyfriend showed me how to load the files from my laptop to my cellphone for my portable listening pleasure. I have a lot of apps and (especially) photos on my phone, so there's not a lot of room for music -- I can only load a certain number of files at a time, and will have to rotate files in & out. I've never really been in the habit of carrying my music with me anyway -- Walkmans didn't come into being until I was in university. (I;m really dating myself here, aren't I??)  But it's nice to have some of these songs back again. :)  I gave my vinyl collection to Oldest Nephew before we moved, and I don't own all of the same titles on CD, so this will help to fill some of those gaps. 

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure -- Cheap T-shirts at Old Navy. I already have a closet full of T-shirts, but I can't seem to leave the store without a bag. (I wear holes into them almost as fast as I buy them... :p ) 

Current Color -- Aqua/turquoise, and coral red/pink -- it's summer! (And I usually do well with jewel tones.)  ;) 

Current Drink -- Surprisingly fewer iced beverages than usual this summer -- but then, it's been cooler & rain-ier outside, too. So, I continue to order my favourite tea lattes (tall non-fat Royal English Breakfast) at Starbucks. :) 

Current Food -- We're back at home, so we're back eating lots of dh's favourite beans & lentils. Missing the new potatos and yellow wax beans, fresh from my dad's garden! (There is a farmer's market nearby, but it's on Saturday mornings, and we usually don't get out of the house that early on weekends.)  

Current Favorite Show -- I don't really have one at the moment. Waiting for the new fall shows to start, or old favourites to return! (Obviously, I need to get back to Netflix, lol.) 

Current Wishlist -- Still haven't put up the rest of our artwork/framed photos -- erk!  (Although I did find a couple of collage frames on sale at Michaels a few weeks ago.)  I am thinking of asking Santa to bring me a new Kobo e-reader for Christmas -- the one is have is not one of the originals, but close to it...! (probably about 7 years old).  Still works fine, but it would be nice to have something with a few more bells & whistles. Plus -- tickets to "Springsteen on Broadway" would be nice. ;) Would love to see Bruce again, and it would be a great excuse to see NYC again, this time with dh, who has never been there... 

Current Needs -- Still need to get new window coverings for the living room/main living area windows. And I need a new cutting board for the kitchen. In the grand scheme of things, that's pretty good "needs." huh? (First world problems, etc...)  

Current Triumphs -- Getting rid of a ton of stuff that had been sitting in a closet at my parents' house for 30+ years... no small victory for a self-confessed packrat!  

Current Bane of my Existence -- The endless construction on the highway/main road that runs directly in front of our condo building. :p They are widening the road to accommodate a new dedicated rapid bus transit lane, which (when built) will hook up with the new subway line that's due to open at the end of this year. I'm sure it will be great when it's all done, but for now...!  Traffic here is already a nightmare, and this doesn't help. :p  

Current Celebrity Crush -- Mourning the loss of one of my favourites, Sam Shepard. :(  Adored him in movies like "The Right Stuff" and "Baby Boom" (although the plot of that movie WAS ridiculous...). 

Current Indulgence -- Besides Old Navy T-shirts?  ;)  Sleeping in. Because I can!  lol  ;)  

Current #1 Blessing -- Air conditioning!!  (It's generally been a cooler & rain-ier summer -- but when it's hot, it's hot, lol!).   

Current Slang or Saying -- Hmmm, not sure I have one. 

Current Outfit -- Around the hoiuse: denim shorts from Reitmans and Old Navy T-shirt or tank top. When we go out: denim capris (also from Reitmans) and a dressier T-shirt -- probably from the Gap or Lucky Brand. 

Current Excitement -- Busy weekend ahead! -- barbecue on Saturday;  get-together with dh's girl cousins (the ones I went to New York with a few years ago) for Sunday brunch. And I'm planning a little road trip for dh & me, BIL & SIL for the early fall. :)  

Current Mood -- Disbelief that it is already mid-August. Some of my friends & relatives in the States are ALREADY posting back-to-school photos of their kids!!  Where has the summer gone?? 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Samantha's Secret Room" by Lyn Cook

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, in the early 1970s, I read a book (first published in 1963) called "Samantha's Secret Room" by Lyn Cook.  It was a favourite of mine, for many reasons:  the heroine was about the same age I was, she feels lonely and misunderstood (as I often did). And it was set in Canada.

The plot: Samantha lives with her parents, brothers & great-grandmother in a big old house near Penetanguishine, Ontario, on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay.  There's a secret cellar where Samantha goes to write in her diary and vent her frustrations. But changes are coming for Samantha & her family: first, there's Samantha's new friend Kim, who answers a note that Sam ties to a shipment of Christmas trees bound for the cities further south.  Then there's older cousin Josh, an archaeology student who forms a bond with Samantha during a visit, and connects her to the history that's all around her -- including within her own family. The story culminates with a family reunion to celebrate Great-Gran's 90th birthday, and some important revelations that bring Samantha & her family closer together.

I loved this book & have thought about it on & off over the years. Samantha was one of the names we seriously considered for a baby girl -- Daughter #2 (or #3), of course, because Katie was our #1 choice for a girl's name right from the start...!

And then one of dh's cousins' wives had a little girl (in her 40s, after more than 10 years of marriage and much speculation in the family... hmmm...) -- and named her Samantha.

I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to give this little Samantha for her first birthday. :) (Believe me, I always wished there was a book with "Lori" in the title,  lol.)  I did an online search, and (yay!) a paperback version of "Samantha's Secret Room" was available on good old Amazon. :)  I knew she wouldn't be old enough to read it for many years, but that was OK.  I ordered two copies (one for her, one for me ;)  )  wrote an inscription on the inside front cover, wrapped it up and gave it to her for her first birthday.

We don't see a lot of Samantha & her brother -- she's about 10 now herself -- and I'd kind of forgotten about the book. And then, out of the blue last week, I got an email from her mom. (She & I have always gotten along well -- perhaps because of the unspoken bond we know we share...!) (Even though she was ultimately successful in having a family, and I was not.)  She wrote:
I just wanted to tell you.  When I picked up the kids from camp today - Samantha mentioned that she started a new book and she held up "Samantha's Secret Room"  - I just smiled because I knew it was from you.  We then read the inscription you had made. 
She does love to read!
Needless to say, that put a huge smile on my face for the rest of the day...!  :)  Being able to share a book that was special to me as a little girl with another little girl -- passing on a little piece of myself into the future -- was so gratifying -- even if it wasn't (as I had once hoped) my own daughter.  Small victories...! :)