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Book Shelf Quickie – Play it as It Lays

October 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Feminine. Masculine. Sparse. Loaded.

Terrifying.

What Pinter’s silences are to theatre, Didion’s unwrittens are to the page.

One of my Top 10.

Play It As It Lays (fist Edition)

Play It As It Lays (fist Edition)

Categories: Book Shelf

War Against the Weak


Edwin Black’s exhaustively researched book War Against The Weak deserves all the praise its received. It traces the pseudo-scientific field of eugenics from its inception by Francis Galton–cousin of Darwin–through the groundbreaking work done at Cold Spring Harbor with the blessing of America’s leading academic and scientific minds (including Alexander Graham Bell), and funding provided by the country’s leading philanthropists and industrialists (including The Rockefeller & Carnegie Foundations, the Kellogg family, and Mary Harriman), and political support from Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.

Black’s main argument about American eugenics (the forerunner of Nazi eugenics; which would ultimately lead to the formulation of the Final Solution) is that it was a systemic movement organized and implemented by the highest societal forces (the powerful and rich) to eradicate the lower classes. While it’s certainly an interesting argument and Black aggregates an impressive amount of circumstantial evidence, on the whole, it seemed as if he was overreaching in selling this particular argument.

Yes, there were some frighteningly closed-minded folks in positions of power doing everything they could to help cleanse society of its lowest elements, pushing for a societal survival of the fittest (as espoused by Thomas Malthus), but you can make the same argument for members of certain ideological stripes and political persuasions even now.

Where the book excels is getting into the weeds of how this movement led to the persecution of countless Americans and the sterilization of approximately 60,000 from the 1910’s to the 1960’s. The treatment of such clans as the Jukes, the Kallikak Family, or the “Tribe of Ishmael” is nearly impossible to comprehend today; much less the horrifying stories of the Mallory family (sterilized by Albert Priddy) and Carrie Buck.

In fact, Buck’s case eventually reached the Supreme Court, where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes penned his infamous words by concluding his argument with “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Even though Buck VS Bell provided the legal groundwork for the passage of state sterilization laws, by this time the eugenics movement had already peaked and was on the decline in the USA, following its wan in continental Europe in practically all countries except Nazi Germany and some of the Nordic lands.

Following The Holocaust, which effectively served as the final nail in the coffin of eugenics, Black picks up his examination with a broad look at a variety of areas including artificial insemination, genetically-modified organisms, genomics and proteomics, and other applied sciences that fall under the aegis of “newgenics.” Even though good science is driving many of these developing fields of research, Black makes the point that to forget the lessons of the past as we delve into these strange new worlds would be pure folly.

Even today, discussion of eugenics can lead to a heated debate and the internet is full of theories linking it to freemasonry and other New World Order conspiracry theories. But if you’re interested in footage of it and can take a grain of salt when considering who produced the following, I recommend:

Categories: Book Shelf

Frankenstein Re-Visited


Favorites and superlatives aren’t really my style, I’ve never been able to say “____ is my favorite film,” “______ is my favorite band”–mainly because there’s a range of styles and approaches to all things that I think have their own inherent quality (e.g. I try to appreciate the genius of Bill Monroe as much as I do the genius of Q-Tip).

But there are some pieces of work that I consistently rank among my Top 10 for different media, one of them being Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

A new book, Laurie Sheck’s “A Monster’s Notes,” breathes new life into this classic. After reading the write-up in today’s Washington Post, I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Categories: Book Shelf

Black Hole (Charles Burns)

I’m about four years behind the curve on this one (nothing new there), but I just finished Charles Burns’ Black Hole, an excellent graphic novel that depicts teenage alienation and ennui in literal terms. Check it out.

http://www.time.com/time/columnist/arnold/article/0,9565,1121476,00.html

Categories: Book Shelf