April 15, 2010


Appleby, Joyce, The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (New York: Norton, 2010) ("Teaching is a great revealer of one's ignorance. Everything seems to fit together while one is taking notes from someone else's lecture. When the task of making sense of the past falls on you, gaps and non sequiturs stand out like hazard lights." Id. at 19. "The quest for acknowledgment of labor has been made more difficult by the language of economic analysis that depersonalizes workers. Labor is bundled with land and capital as the principal components of enterprise. In a subtle way, this has a dehumanizing effect, for it obscures the enormous difference between the human and material elements in production. We might consider the capitalist perspective that dominates public discourse as another perk for business. A recent New York Times headline announced, LABOR COSTS SOAR IN CHINA. Why not say, WORKERS' WAGES HAVE RISEN IN CHINA? Even liberal institutions like universities act like hard-nosed employers when it comes to their own labor relations. In economic analysis, gains to labor can be still be labeled 'expropriation of profits by trade unions' and linked analytically to 'extortion by organized crime.' From an ideological perspective, organized labor started with a deficit, relying, as it must, on collective action in a nation that celebrates the individual, even though it was the giant corporations that did most of the employing." Id. at 322 (citations omitted). Also see Stephen Mihm's review, "Capitalist Chameleon," NYT Sunday Book Review, 1/24/10.).

Ballard, J. G., The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard with an Introduction by Martin Amis (New York: Norton, 2009) (Ballard: "The only truly alien planet is Earth." Also see Jonathan Lethem's essay, "Poet of Desolate Landscapes," NYT Sunday Book Review, 9/13/09.).

Catton, Bruce, The War Lords of Washington (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948) (From the jacket cover: "This is an account of how we lost a fight for democracy at home while winning a victory over fascism on the battlefields of Europe and Asia. The fight we lost was fought in Washington, and the issue was how American business and the American people were to be organized for the super-human production effort that was required for victory. The fight was between those who believed that a democracy at war should be a cooperative effort of all the people, of big and little business and labor alike, and those who wanted a limited war to be fought in such a way as not to threaten any vested interest of big business or any privilege of the War or State Departments." This fight for democracy continues, and it has expanded to the so-called War of Terror and to proposed reform of social programs (e.g., healthcare reform). "The simple and unalterable fact, of course, is that no government agency whatever, at any time or under any circumstances, has any business even having a public relations program--except for the unadorned policy of making just as many of the facts public as the good Lord will permit. Our whole form of government is based on the idea that the people call the shots. In the long run a public agency gets good public relations only by deserving them, and if it even tries to get them in any other way it is attempting to commit fraud upon democracy. You can put it down as Rule One: Whenever you find a government department, bureau, or commission beginning to shape its words or its deeds so as to create a desired public reaction, you have found an agency which is right on the verge of stepping on its own tail feathers." "Rule Two, unfortunately, reads out of Rule One, viz.: When the heat is on, the temptation to try to create a desired public reaction becomes almost irresistible. The people may be a faceless multitude, but in the end what the people says goes. The very fact that their reaction can't be ignored is what sets up the tendency to monkey with it. The more important that reaction is, the greater the desire to get it under control. And besides, it is so much easier to lay out propaganda campaign than it is to do the hard, uninspiring work that will eventually win public support on its own merits." Id. at 76. "That was the whole trouble. . . . The things that would have to be done to bring an emotionally integrated people through the years of fire were not done; therefore, it was necessary to fall back on words. This whole concern over what was to be said and who was to say it is important only because it reflects a fundamental failure in the field of action. The story of the government's informational activities during the war is really the story of that failure. Fighting for its life, democracy drew its war cries from the philosophy of the salesman." Id. at 80. Sounds very contemporary, doesn’t it?).

Dershowitz, Alan M., Is There a Right to Remain Silent?: Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11 (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2008) ("But do Americans actually have the right that police officers are constitutionally obliged to tell them they have? Not according to a recent Supreme Court decision [Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003)], largely unnoticed not only by the general public but by the academy as well. . . . This case . . . can be seen as a bellwether for the rise of what I call 'the preventive state,' namely, a government that seeks to head off harmful conduct--in order to deter others--until after it has taken place. . . ." Id. at xviii. "Pursuant to the Supreme Court's holding and reasoning in Martinez, the privilege against self-incrimination now has nothing to say about coercive interrogation, even that which entails torturous methods, so long as its fruits are not introduced into evidence at the criminal trial of the coerced person. The privilege, as interpreted by the Court, gives a green light to all preventive intelligence interrogation methods. The due process clause may impose some constraints on the most extreme forms of coercion, but even that is uncertain, especially in the context of preventing mass-casualty terrorist attacks." Id. at 174. "The disparity between what Americans reasonably believe is a broad, universal right to remain silent and the narrow, technical, conditional, and limited trial remedy a small number of criminal defendants actually have in practice, is far too great for a health democracy. Citizens should know their rights and there should be a close, if imperfect, fit between the hortatory and the enforceable." Id. at 175. This is an important short read.).

Dow, David R., The Autobiography of an Execution (New York & Boston: Twelve, 2010) (One of the many reasons why most lawyers (including law professors) are real bores has to do with their obsession with telling war stories in which they are always the heroes, always the smartest kid on their block, and always the ones who win (except when some gross injustice has occurred due to the blindness of the system). Dow appears to be an exception to, and a relief from, that general trend. "Stories of executions are not about attorneys. They're about the victims of murder, and sometimes their killers. I know death-penalty lawyers who are at the movies when their clients get executed. I know one who found out on Thursday that his client had been executed on Monday. He'd been scuba diving in Aruba. I understand that. It's possible to care without seeming to. It's also possible to care too much. You can think of yourself as the last person between your client and the lethal injection, or you can see your client as the person who put himself on the rail to that inevitability. One is healthier than the other." Id. at 6-7. Read this short book.).

Gooding-Williams, Robert, In the Shadow of Du Bois: Afro-Modern Political Thought (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard U. Press, 2009).

Jacques, Martin, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009) (See Joseph Kahn, "Waking Dragon," NYT Sunday Book Review, 1/3/10; and Michiko Kakutani, "Will the Dragon Swat the Eagle?", NYT, 12/30/2009.).

McCarthy, Tom, Remainder: A Novel (New York: Vintage Books, 2005) (What is normal/authentic? What is fake/inauthentic? What if the normal is inauthentic and fake. What if the fake becomes real? See Liesl Schillinger's review, "Play It Again," NYT, 2/25/07.).

Natapoff, Alexandra, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (New York: NYU Press, 2009) ("[I]nformant use creates a unique zone in the criminal system with its own rules, dynamics, and significance." "[T]his zone exerts a strong influence on the rest of the system while revealing many of the system’s core features. Snitching is paradigmatic of the American criminal process because it embodies three of its distinctive characteristics: secrecy, discretion, and the dominance of plea bargaining. Informant deals are most confidential; they are crafted at the sole discretion of police and prosecutors; and they resolve criminal liability through private negotiations largely without rules, trials, or judicial or public scrutiny. The increasing use of such deals has transformed key aspects of the adversarial process, including the roles of defense counsel, disclosure, plea bargaining, and trial. It also drives the entire system further underground. Unearthing the full story of criminal informant use is thus revelatory precisely because it uncovers significant features of the legal process that usually remain hidden. By understanding snitching, we can learn deep truths about how our entire penal system really functions." Id. at 6.).

Riley-Smith, Tristram, The Cracked Bell: America and the Afflictions of Liberty (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010) ("This book--The Cracked Bell-- is essentially a survey of the gap between the American Crisis and the American Dream. It began as a dispassionate attempt to review the state of America at the advent of the twenty-first century, employing the tools and techniques of social anthropology. It has found a country suffering from an array of conflicted conditions, where questions about the essence of the American Way--profound questions about identity, security, power and opportunity--reveal rich and confusing patterns of paradox. . . ." "The US seems to be suffering from the afflictions of liberty--a conditioned emblemized for me by the fractured Liberty Bell in Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park." Id. at 2-3. "The image of the Liberty Bell--with that deep fault in its side--acts as a Rosetta Stone for me, making sense of those riddles and conundrums encountered in the course of my research. It reminds me that America, early in its prehistory, imported an English ideal of freedom that was tempered and contained by the moral sensibility of the Scottish Enlightenment. . . . However, in the pressured atmosphere of America's 'Liberty Hall', this ideal has been inflated and distorted by a radical form of individualism: it is cracked, liked the Liberty Bell, and is now undermining and afflicting the very society that it was intended to underpin." Id. at 4. "This conclusion has taken me by surprise. Like most Britons, I have developed a Pavlovian response to the word 'freedom' and spring unthinkingly to its defence. But in The Cracked Bell I find myself challenging the place of freedom in society that attaches the highest premium to this ideal. I argue that there is something almost pathological about a national narrative that is intoxicated by the spirit of freedom while failing to pay sufficient attention to its meaning. And so this attempt at a measured, objective survey has ended with the butchery of a 'sacred cow'." Id. at 4-5. A surprisingly interesting read. What Britons are too polite to say about Americans and American can: We Americans are a rather shallow lot, and avoid reflection at just about any price.).

Skloot, Rebecca, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown, 2010) (This book is about many things: race, class, ethics, science, medicine, commercialism. However, what I find most interesting about the whole subject of this book is the problem of rationalization: the gross tendency we have to rationalize (i.e., falsely justify) acts, policies, narratives, propositions, etc., which we know are wrong or questionable because these advance our own selfish, often professional, interests. "But in the meantime two scientists had developed a theory about HeLa that sounded far more like science fiction than anything Rifkin had come up with: HeLa, they said, was no longer human." "Cells change while growing in culture, just as they change in a human body. They're exposed to chemicals, sunlight, and different environments, all of which can cause DNA changes. Then they pass those changes on to each new generation of cells through cell division, a random process that produces even more changes. Like humans, they evolve." "All of this happened to Henrieta's cells once they were placed in culture. And they passed those changes on to their daughter cells, creating new families of HeLa cells that differed from one another in the same way that second, third, and fourth cousin differ, though they share a common ancestor." "By the early nineties, the little sample of Henrietta's cervix that Mary had put into culture in the Gey lab had given rise to many tons of other cells--all still known as HeLa, but all slightly different from one another, and from Henrietta. Because of this, Leigh Van Valen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, wrote, 'we here propose, in all seriousness, that [HeLa cells] have become a separate species.' . . . ." "No one challenged this idea, but no one acted on it either, so Henrietta's cells remained classified as human. But even today some scientists argue that it's factually incorrect to say that HeLa cells are related to Henrietta, since their DNA is no longer genetically identical to hers." "Robert Stevenson, one of the researchers who devoted much of his career to straightening out the HeLa contamination mess, laughed when he heard that argument." 'It's just ridiculous'. . . . 'Scientists don't like to think of HeLa cells as being little bits of Henrietta because it's much easier to do science when you disassociate your materials from the people they come from. But if you could get a sample from Henrietta's body today and do DNA fingerprinting on it, her DNA would match the DNA in HeLa cells.'" Id. at 215-216. Also see Dwight Garner, "A Woman's Undying Gift To Science," NYT , Wednesday, 2/3/10.).

Slauter, Eric, The State as a Work of Art: The Cultural Origins of the Constitution (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2009) ("This books explores the vibrant political culture of the American Revolution, attending to both its unifying themes and its tensions and limits, and in doing so offers a new account of the origins of the Constitution. . . . Readers will find an examination of the revolutionary call for a government of laws and not of men in the context of a larger transformation in conceptions of statehood; a sketch of the simultaneous and linked rise of political science and philosophical aesthetics; an analysis of the objects and practices that informed competing ideas about political representation; a narrative about the role of antislavery agitation in transforming the revolutionary language of rights; a study of the cultural fascination, during a moment obsessed with the fiction of the social contract, with literary figures who left society; and a consideration of the rise of political secularization during an age in which many commentators came to describe the rights of man as sacred. . . ." "The 'state as a work of art' and the 'cultural origins of the Constitution' are the central topics of this book. These topics dominated the constitutionalism of the early United States, and they hold the seemingly disparate strands of my argument together. Politicians and ordinary people in the early United States considered the state as a work of art. They believed that governments were fashioned by humans and subject to their control. They also believed that successful politicians should emerge from the manners, customs, tastes, and genius of the people being constituted. . . . At a certain level, the revolutionary beliefs in the state as a work of art and the cultural origins of constitutions sat in tension with each other. How could law be both an artificial imposition on and a natural outgrowth of society? But, at a deeper level, it was exactly this tension that made the task of the legislator so difficult and the process of constitution-making so important, for the task as many saw it was for humans to organize politics in such a way that the state would both reflect the population and reform it." Id. at 8-9. Query: In looking at the current state of American politics, has it been organized in such a way that the United States both reflect the American people and reform the American people? If it does reflect us, what does the quagmire at both the federal and state levels of government say about the American people? And if it reforms us, how are the American people being reformed? Are we being reformed? Or, perhaps, are we being deformed? Inquiring minds want to know. Anyway, Slauter has provided an interesting and worthwhile read.).

Vedantam, Shankar, The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives ((New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2010) (Susan Pinker, "The Out-of-Sight Mind, NYT Sunday Book Review, 1/17/10, writes: "But the evidence Vedantam offers for his claims is often too scant or streamlined, with contradictory or ambiguous results and dissenting interpretations left out. Meanwhile, the biggest bias of all — confirmation bias, which makes us notice only what supports our own opinions and tune out everything else — hardly gets a mention. All this secret stuff can be very disconcerting. But we need more than we get here to know if it is true." Still, the book is worth reading, if only to remind those of us who insist that we are absolutely good decision makers that we are rather clueless about how we actually go about making decision.).

Wagner, Bryan, Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power After Slavery (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Zelizer, Julian E., Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security--From World War II to the War on Terrorism (New York: Basic Books, 2010) ("Four central questions about national security and American politics have kept recurring since World War II. They have never been definitively answered, nor is it likely they will" "Does Congress or the President drive national security policy? . . ." "Do democrats or republicans hold the national security advantage? . . ." "How big do we want our government to be? . . ." "Should the United States go it alone? . . ." Id. at 3-8. Once moving away from isolationism as American involvement in World War II approached, the contest was one between 'liberal internationalism' and 'conservative internationalism.' That is what this book is really about, the ongoing debate between these two, not completely coherent, approaches to international relations by the United States. The book is balanced toward both approaches. However, "Bush's war in Iraq and Afghanistan and his war on terrorism had exposed weaknesses and contradictions inherent in conservative internationalism. They showed that it is nearly impossible to achieve security without significant physical or financial costs to the nation. Advanced weapons technology and the professional military have not been able to achieve the objectives required to fully combat international terrorism. Making decisions without international cooperation has caused problems once the United States needed more assistance when conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan became worse. At the same time, the experience in Iraq raised questions about the belief among conservatives that militarism--rather than the doubts and fears born out of Vietnam--defined mainstream American culture after the 1960s." "The anxieties that mounted over a prolonged ground war suggested there was still a deep-rooted resistance within the public toward militarism. . . ." Id. at 501. "The present book argues that domestic politics mattered very much throughout the period in American history when the nation developed a permanent national security state, with a series of fundamental questions each period of that history." "But this book provides a more dynamic and complex definition of politics than the previous interpretations have offered--one that is less instrumental or predictable, one that is more varied and robust. There is no single model that explains how this relationship works over time. As this history shows, domestic politics has included a variety of pressures: electoral, ideological, partisan, and when institutional. . . ." Id. at 506. I highly recommend this book.).