No Is Not Enough

noisnotenough

I finally finished this book, published as a response to Donald Trump winning the last presidential election.

It wasn’t easy going, because there’s so much information to take in. And the disturbing nature of a lot of that information made it  a book to tackle bit by bit rather than a book that could be raced through.

Parts of it have quickly become outdated, but instead of undermining Klein’s message, that actually makes it more relevant. Those parts are outdated because of who Trump is, and how he operates. It is outdated because so many of Trump’s appointed staff referred to in the book have all been fired; as if his Presidency has been a continuation of his career as The Apprentice host. A reality TV presidency.

A major point that Klein makes is that Trump is all about Trump. That his presidency has become an extension, and the ultimate expression, of his brand. A  “property developer” who develops no property. Others pay him millions of dollars for the right to affix his name to their buildings. The presidency increases the “value” of that brand.
That has also been one of the issues raised by Michael Cohen’s recent testimony (see below) *

This book  synthesizes the content of her previous major publications: No Logo, The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything,  showing how Trump’s electoral win ought not to have been unexpected. Instead a Trump presidency  is the logical culmination of the kind of political, social and cultural paths that Klein has been studying and writing about for more than two decades.

No Is Not Enough also lives up to its own title. It does not merely point to problems but leads to a discussion of positive action to bring the change needed to turn us towards a more equitable and sustainable future.

…a plan for tangible improvements in daily life, unafraid of powerful words such as redistribution and reparation, and intent on challenging Western culture’s equation  of a “good life” with ever-escalating creature comforts inside ever-more-isolated consumer cocoons, never mind what the planet can take or whatever leads to our deepest fulfillment”

 

 

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* Article with related content, from Gary Younge, a Guardian columnist:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/28/donald-trump-michael-cohen-racist-conman-america

“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great … He would often say this campaign was going to be the greatest infomercial in political history.”

The presidency was never the point. He had no idea that the political establishment would be so craven and career politicians be so inept that he might prevail. “He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity.”

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Now, about that wall…

An interesting point made in Naomi Klein’s book No Is Not Enough (see previous  post).noisnotenough

A 2017 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that Mexico’s poverty rate has risen since the 1994 implementation of NAFTA, with 20 million additional people now living in poverty – a major factor pushing Mexican migration to the United States.

Reading Slowdown

I have three books under the heading “Reading Now” on my current “Reading List” page:

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein

sidney chambers.jpgThe James Runcie book has been there for several months. It’s a book of short stories and so far I’ve only read the first and wasn’t engaged enough to want to rush on to the next one. I leave it on my list because I’ll get a round to the next story eventually.

I got the book because I heard an interview with the author who is the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. The stories feature a C of E minister as the main character, who finds himself investigating suspicious deaths. The books were adapted into a TV series Grantchester,  which apparently takes a lot of liberties with the main character. The author mentioned in the interview, something along the lines that a real priest would have been thrown out of the church if he’d acted the way of the televised version.

Green MarsGreen Mars is the sequel to Red Mars, and continues the story of colonists on Mars.

In the series so far there have been some allusions to early America, leading up to the war of Independence; with the colonists growing to feel exploited by their home land (home planet) and developing a growing passion for an independent, self sufficient  new home, free of the exploitation of a distant colonial power.

I started this one several days ago, but have been distracted too much by other (non-reading) things to get far into the book yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked this one up straight after reading the first three volumes of the Dune series. Something a little less bulky may have been a better reading option than a 550+ page book midway through another sizable trilogy

noisnotenoughI started on Naomi Klein’s  No Is Not Enough because of some of those (political) distractions. I can only shake my head in disbelief at what has been going on in Australian politics, and I spent far too much time trying to keep up with the last few sitting days of parliament.  The cost of that has been my usual lunch-hour reading time.

Klein’s book shines a light on a lot of what is behind that current political situation from a North American viewpoint. Problems that aren’t restricted one particular nation, but are evident throughout the “western” world.

This book draws together the issues she’s written about in earlier books in greater detail. No Is Not Enough shows how all of those issues have become focused into a single point in the person and Presidency of Donald Trump.

However rather than merely add a negative voice of despair and opposition, Klein wants to look at positive answers to turn around the political and cultural systems that led to Trump’s political rise.

None of these books have maintained my interest enough to make me want to keep reading, so my progress through them has been slow, and my attention has been drifting towards other books. I suspect I’ll be finishing another book or two before I get to the end of any of these three. I’m already approaching the end of one about the manned Apollo missions of the late 60s – early 70s and have tentatively started another about the retrieval of the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia after it broke up on re-entry in February 2003 (so long ago, how time flies!)

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Forty Signs of Rain

forty_signs_of_rain(cover)If not for my commitment to finish every book I start, I think I would have given up on this one.

So what was the problem I had with it?

Firstly, there was an extensive early section of scientific jargon, something seemingly about genetics and proteins and immunology, that might make sense to someone with insider knowledge, but I couldn’t follow what it was all about. A more concise usage could have given the required flavour, without completely dulling the overall  effect.

I have nothing against the use of scientific discussion within a book when used to enlighten, or to add a sense of authenticity to the story. I recently read and enjoyed the author’s  much larger book Red Mars, and wasn’t put off by the technical/scientific content that often went way over my head. That book engaged me through character and landscape and its overall sense of wonder. I could accept it’s technical elements as  texture to the story and not a distracting, unfathomable  intrusion.

In contrast to the “hard science”, there was a section about a stay-at-home dad working part time work for a senator, and struggling to balance the work and child-raising. While giving a more human, domestic aspect to the story, the early sections of this narrative thread didn’t engage or maintain my interest, and again I had to push myself to keep reading.

Other parts of the story were about the political and commercial wrangling required by scientists to carry out their work – influences and hindrances that may even prevent worthwhile science from progressing. Commercial interests pick up and discard according to perceived profitable outcomes with years of research and slow progress being cast aside to pursue more immediate possibilities of financial gain.

What has been reluctantly tolerated as  frustrating bureaucratic reality, in the day to day politics of practicing science,  inevitably becomes crippling when science is faced with a crisis that  has no regard for political or commercial ideologies. *

I’d read through a lot of the book before I found that it was part of a trilogy and that all three parts have been compiled into a single volume (updated and abridged) under the title Green Earth.

Before I bought this single volume of the first book, I already had Green Earth on my “wishlist” with an online book seller and didn’t realise that Forty Signs was part of it, otherwise I would have bought the compilation and not this first book.

I bought Forty Signs of Rain because it was supposed to be about climate change.  Disappointingly, climate change seemed at best a peripheral issue through most of it, only becoming more important towards the end.  But now, knowing it is the first part of a trilogy, I can see the book as an introduction or a prelude instead of a novel in its own right. It also helps me make sense of a relatively short book’s apparently slow narrative progress.  That same pace in a larger book could be more acceptable.

Above I mention the heavy loading of scientific jargon in a section referring to “genetics and proteins and immunology”. Within this book that section seemed to have no narrative purpose and to me it seemed like padding – or as if the author was feeling his way along a path that he decided to abandon.

Could that episode have later relevance in the later parts of the trilogy? That’s a question I could ask about several other loose threads in the book that don’t seem to have purpose or lead anywhere.

Now the questions I need to ask are – should I treat this as a one-off, mostly disappointing novel and forget the rest? Or should I take the chance and carry on with the rest of the trilogy with the expectation of it all working better as a longer story ?

If the latter, do I turn to the newer abridged compilation (which may have removed some of the more tedious aspects) or do I try to find the original editions of the remaining two separate books?

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*        Note, this book addressing climate change was published in 2004 – and today, 15 years later, ideology is still trampling over scientific reality when it comes to climate science.

 

Rusted Off by Gabrielle Chan

rusted-offGabrielle Chan is a writer for the Guardian who used to maintain the live political blog reporting the daily happenings in the Australian parliament.

In her book Rusted Off, she looks at the way Australian politics affects the people of her community, and by extension other country communities within Australia.

City based politics easily overlooks or misunderstands the needs of regional areas in communities that have a different life experience to the larger (majority) populations of the major cities.

As someone who moved to a country town about 12 years ago, I’ve seen both sides of the picture and from the moment I heard about this book I was interested in reading what Chan had to say. She also moved from city to country, but about a decade before my move, and as a political correspondent reporting directly from parliament, her personal and work experience give her a broad insight into the political process and it’s relationship with rural Australia.

My desire to read her book increased when I found out she lives on a farm outside the small country town(s) of Harden-Murrumburrah in Western New South Wales.

It’s a place I know quite well. I drive through it regularly and I’ve stopped off on many occasions for coffee, to view it’s Australian Light Horse Memorials, and to look through the shelves of a second hand book shop (now unfortunately closed).

One particular issue that hit a personal chord of recognition related to the availability of opportunity. It’s not something restricted to regional Australia, but away from cities the logistical practicalities prevent many opportunities from being accessible. For example, in a country High School with a senior year of 10 or less students, there won’t be the same subject options available to a city school with a final year of 100.
That restriction of opportunity isn’t then limited to the practical. Chan writes of a family’s support for their son. They did what they could to aid his success, but

“They had no lived experience of what he would be facing, or the opportunities that may present, so while they were proud, they didn’t know what to do with it. ‘It’s very hard to have aspirations for your child if you yourself don’t know that part of the world'”.

That is something I can relate to myself. My family was shaped by a background of mining in a semi-rural area of England. While we moved to an Australian city just as I entered my teens, that family experience and background continued to have its effect. No one in my wider family had ever been to university, and possibly because of that the idea of further study after High School was never considered. Instead the goal was to get a job, find a wife, have a family, and repeat the path taken by my parents, grand parents, and aunts and uncles. There was no thought of “career paths” or aiming for work that meant more than merely earning a livable wage to buy a house and support a wife and kids.

It was a decade or so later, after that family dream hadn’t worked out as planned, that the possibility of other opportunities arose and I eventually thought of University, an option that was more viable at the time because I lived in a city with a significant University presence (and it’s major employer at the time).

But what about those communities that don’t have such easy access to a University Campus where tertiary education requires moving away from home and family?

Chan  addresses  many other issues differentiating country from city and that seeing those differences through ill-informed stereotypes is counterproductive.
A case in point is perceiving country people as one particular type, overlooking the variety of people groups that make up a regional community; that not everyone’s concerns and interests are the same. Country communities are made up of people across a wide spectrum, including wealthy (and not so wealthy) landowners, business people, labourers, tradies, and the unemployed. The question is, to what extent does the political system give representation to that wide cross section of people.

She writes of a “neglected class”, a group she identifies as comprising of:

the people who service the farms, look after the very young and the very old, keep the schools going, keep the hospitals running, do the council work (in the streets as opposed to sitting as councillors), stock the supermarket shelves. The neglected class are the very foundation of country towns, and you don’t hear about them from most rural MPs.

The neglected class feel they have no sway over governments or politicians, and they feel inadequately represented by the media…

… if you consider the agenda of the major parties, the neglected class are mostly disregarded…

The neglected class are breaking away from the majors because they feel taken for granted by the conservatives and ignored by Labor.

I regularly follow the political commentary on the Guardian news website, and there are common reader comments criticising farmers and country residents for voting in National Party MPs who represent a party that has often supported policies and philosophies (eg climate change denial) contrary to the interests of rural areas.
However as a resident of a country town I recognise the dilemma faced when voting.
Do you vote for the known, respected, local person standing for a party that is not as representative as it ought to be?

Or do you vote for an unknown candidate about whom you know nothing, put forward as a token representative with little publicity, representing a party who ought to be a better political fit?

The option increasingly taken is to look elsewhere, and the outcome is an increased vote for independents and minor parties, as seen in recent State by-elections.

2 + 2 = Variety

Two books plus two films, a diversity of genres and forms, with little in common: all in a weekend’s “work”.

caedmonOn Saturday I finished the last 30 or 40 pages of Peter Robinson’s Caedmon’s Song.
Kirsten is making her way home after celebrating the completion of her studies at a northern university. She wakes in hospital after suffering a horrific attack.
As the months pass, during her slow recovery, several young students are murdered, presumably by the same attacker.
There is pressure to break through the suppression of her memories of her own attack, in the hope of identifying the man and bring his killing to an end.

Alongside Kirsten’s story the book also follows Martha Browne, visiting the northern coastal town of Whitby, claiming to be researching a book, but keen to keep to herself as she plans for some kind of mission aided by her “spirit guides”.

Robinson said that the book was partly inspired by the case of the Yorkshire Ripper, and the question of how a surviving victim of a serial killer might respond to their survival and recovery.

lady Later on Saturday I started reading Lady in Waiting another book that alternates between two stories. In the present day Jane Lindsay is struggling with the seeming breakdown of her marriage, when her husband takes a job in a another city.
In the past there is the story of Lucy Day, a young seamstress working for Lady Jane Grey.

The two stories are brought together by the discovery of a ring hidden in the spine of a centuries old prayer book bought as stock for Jane’s antique shop.
The title “Lady in Waiting”, could be applied to Jane Lindsay, waiting for her husband’s return to the marriage; to Lucy Day, waiting on her Lady Jane; or to Lady Jane herself, waiting to find out the future planned for her by her family.

I’ve had a five decade interest in Lady Jane Grey since I read or heard about her as a pre-teen in the late 1960s. She is the forgotten first Queen of England, whose reign lasted just over a week.
She was the chosen successor of the Protestant Edward VI who wanted to deny his Roman Catholic sister Mary from taking the throne after his death. Jane, Edward’s cousin, was an educated and devout Christian in regular correspondence with leading protestant theologians in Europe.

Mary’s military support made Jane’s position untenable and Jane was executed on Mary’s orders early the following year, at the age of 16.

Swallows_and_Amazons_(2016_film)Swallows and Amazons is a classic children’s book that I’ve never had the opportunity to read.
A year or two ago I started to watch an old film version of the story, but lost interest only half an hour in.

On Saturday Gloria bought this new version on DVD, A wonderful film in which the Walker children face dangers, imagined and real, during a holiday in the Lake District of northern England.
They sail their boat “Swallow” to a an island to camp out for the night, but find the island has already been claimed by the “Amazons”, a group of locals.

As the rivalry between the Swallows and the Amazons intensifies, they find themselves being drawn to work together to face a more serious, common enemy.

Set in the 1930s, it s story that wouldn’t translate to a present day setting, where children would be discouraged from pursuing risky outdoor adventure, even if they could be torn away from the digital adventures pursued in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

 

downsizingDownsizing is another film Gloria found on Saturday morning.
I wasn’t really interested in seeing it, and almost halfway into the film I was wondering why I’d bothered.

As the human population increases the harm it does to the planet, scientists discover a way to “downsize” people and animals – basically shrink them to a fraction of their natural size.
This is seen as a potential life-saver for the planet. Reduce the population in size and reduce the consumption of resources as well as reduce the resulting waste footprint.

The major enticement to encourage potential recruits for the project is the promise of more affluent lives in custom made small communities. Current basic finances convert to the equivalent of millions of dollars in a community where a few metres of land are the equivalent of several acres when the scale difference is taken into account and the “downsized” people can live in mansions that would previously been the size of a doll house.

The first part of the film concentrates on the wonders associated with the downsizing opportunities, using some interesting special effects to show the interaction between people of vastly different scales. Downsizing is presented as a favourable option with no down-side; apart from one or two hints that its outcome may not fully be what it is presented to be.

There are occasional hints of political unrest – with questions being raised about the legal rights of downsized people. They consume so little, and therefore contribute so much less to a consumer driven society, so should they have equal voting rights?
And it becomes clear that downsizing can be misused and abused by Governments as well as by less than honourable corporate groups.

Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, who, along with his wife, choose to downsize. Safranek soon finds that he may have made a mistake in making that irreversible choice.

As I said, after half of the film I was wondering about the point of it all, but then the film took a significant turn. That change came about with the introduction of a Vietnamese character, Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau.
She gives the film a spark it was lacking and brings it to life, a Jesus worshipping woman devoted to serving the less fortunate.
Through her Safranek starts to see another side to the downsizing programme. Alongside the advertised affluence, there is a hidden world of poverty, making their new world no different to the one they’d chosen to leave behind, where affluence is enjoyed at the expense of many who are usually unnoticed.

It is a clear film of two halves. The second part turned it from something self-indulgently forgettable into something thought provokingly memorable. It’s something that has stayed with me since I saw it on Saturday evening.

Rebel With A Cause, Jacqui Lambie

Jacqui Lambie made a name for herself in Australian politics, sometimes for the wrong reasons. She stormed into the senate as part of a new political party and soon afterwards left that party.

She added to her notoriety when she described her ideal man in an interview, in sexually straight forward terms.

rebelShe has also gained attention for some of her outspoken views on Sharia Law and the dress codes of Muslim women.

And yet despite the controversy and the teething problems experienced by someone new to politics, Lambie has an authenticity lacking in the career politicians taking up the majority of places within the Australian parliament.

She was someone willing to put in the time to learn how to get things done, and was not afraid to confront difficult issues, especially those things she knew from personal experience.

Prior to entering politics Lambie had served in the Australian Army, until her medical discharge just short of ten years service. A back injury sustained during that time put an end to her military career and started a decade long struggle with bureaucracy to be awarded due compensation and ongoing help.

A large portion of her autobiography/memoir details that struggle and how it eventually led to her considering a political career – to fight for the rights of similar casualties of the military bureaucratic system.

She writers:

The army is one big family, and you are trained to believe that your life depends on it. When you leave the army, you leave the family, and it is a process of bereavement. Why is leaving the army like mourning a death? You don’t belong to anything or anyone anymore.

Not only had she lost her career, but the very “family” she was required to leave seemed to fight against her afterwards, through the political institution that supposedly helped ex-servicemen and women to move on after their time of service ended.

The part of the book I had most difficulty with was a long section detailing her struggles with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the majority of which consisted of copies of the ongoing correspondence between medical specialists, legal representatioves and the DVA.
I think that section would have been much more effective if it had been summarised by Lambie across a few pages, with the actual documentation being provided later as appendixes.

One of the other issues she addressed in the Senate was the very personal struggle she had with her younger son, revealing his addiction to ice in a one of her senate speeches. She wants to introduce the right for parents to enforce some kind of rehab upon drug affected children who are in no fit mental state to seek help for themselves.

Over time Lambie’s son did seek help. The source of that help was of particular interest to me. He turned to Teen Challenge, an organisation set up decades ago by well-known Christian minister David Wilkerson, subject of the 1960s book and 1970s film, The Cross and the Switchblade.

In the early 1980s I spent some time with Teen Challenge in the red light district of Sydney, reaching out to drug addicts and prostitutes. Later a friend and his family went to work fulltime at Teen Challenge’s rehabilitation centre in NSW.

Late last year Lambie lost her position in the Senate due to an archaic constitutional technicality after finding she had dual Australian, British citizenship through her Scottish father. That dual citizenship allegedly creates a conflict of national interest.  She was one of several victims of that out-dated clause in a constitution created when Australians were still considered British citizens and there was no difference between being Australian and being British.

She intends to stand again at the next election, hoping to win back her seat in the Senate. I hope she does well.
Despite disagreeing with some of her views, I think Australia needs down to earth, motivated, every day people as representatives in all tiers of government, as opposed to “career politicians” who’ve never had a real job outside of the political system.

Details at the publisher’s website:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/academic-professional/politics-government/Rebel-with-a-Cause-Jacqui-Lambie-9781760293598