Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Wild Inside by Jamey Bradbury

book cover

I learned in school that blood has a memory. It carries information that makes you who you are. That’s how my brother and me ended up with so much in common, we both carried inside us the things our parents’ blood remembered. Sharing what’s in the blood, that’s as close as you can be to another person.

…I spent as much time as I could in the woods. To look at me, you might of thought, But you are only seventeen, and a girl, you have got no business being off in the wild by yourself where a bear could maul you or a moose trample you. But the fact is, if they put me and anyone else in the wilderness and left us there, you just see which one of us come out a week later, unharmed and even thriving

In the great north, snow and isolation can hide a world of secrets, but some will still bleed through.

Being a badass has certain advantages, particularly when one spends so much time in the Alaskan woods. It’s maybe not always an advantage in places with fewer trees, like school. Tracy Sue Petricoff is seventeen. She can handle herself in the wild. But she is not yet able to handle the wild in herself. You might even see her as half-feral. Her latest attack on a classmate, however justified it might have been, has resulted in her being cast out of the more structured world of public education, and left her to the somewhat less restrictive environment of home. Of course, home has not been an entirely safe place for her either.

description
Jamey Bradbury – from her site

Her mother had died when Tracy was fifteen, hit by a car while walking on the side of the road near their home. This left a huge gap in Tracy’s upbringing, as mom was the person who knew her best, who had taught her to recognize animal tracks, who had taught her to identify plants and their uses, and who truly understood her innermost self, an unspoken family legacy that is both a gift and a curse. Her father, Bill, a good man, a regular contender in the annual Iditarod, was rocked by his wife’s death, lost his focus, struggled to cope, but is trying his best to be mother and father to Tracy and her younger brother, Scott. This includes rules, but Tracy reacts to rules like a bear might to a trap. Her mother gave her one cardinal rule. Never make another person bleed. Sorry, Mom.

Returning home from the woods one night a large man slams into her. In the ensuing tussle, she is tossed hard enough against a tree that she loses consciousness. On waking she finds there is blood on her knife, and a trail where the man had gone. Her memory of the event is fuzzy. Did she cut the man? Why had they crossed paths? She tries to put it out of her mind, but when neighbors report an intruder having stayed in their cabin, and her father comes to the aid of a bleeding man emerging from the woods, she wonders if this is the man she had encountered, and will he be coming back, for her.

I felt the trail tugging at me, every acre of land behind the house yearning for me to roam its familiar hills and hollows. Any other evening, I might of stole away for a few more minutes, long enough to satisfy the craving in me.


But underneath that pang was my heart, stuttering, and my skin prickling. A pair of eyes, a hunched shadow, hidden by the night and waiting. Thoughts of the stranger made my breath stop, and it wasn’t a feeling I enjoyed. I wouldn’t feel settled, I realized, till I knew he was no longer a threat.

The Wild Inside is a riveting, genre-bending coming-of-age/thriller/mystery/horror novel with a dose of fantasy and a touch of romance. Tracy would like nothing more than to be left to her devices, hunting, setting traps, retrieving what she catches for food and fur and racing with her dogs. Her personal receiver is tuned to the call of the wild, as she feels a particular affinity with the animals of the forest, can perceive and interpret sounds, smells, and sights that most will overlook. She is as much a creature of the woods as she is a civilized human being. I was very much reminded of the character Turtle from My Absolute Darling, in her toughness and feel for the natural, not that other stuff. She is a woodland detective, as skilled as Sherlock Holmes at spotting clues, but with the nose of a hound and the night vision of an owl. And she is determined to unravel the mystery of her forest fracas. For reasons of her own, Tracy does not tell her father about her unfortunate encounter. (What a tangled web we weave) The secrets involved with that event lock her into a series of lies that make her life much more complicated than it needs to be, with tragic results.

description
Image is from the author’s site

More complications ensue when dad hires a young drifter to help out. Bill trains dogs, has forty doghouses and a kennel on the property. That is a lot of shoveling, and other chores as well. As he takes on outside work in addition to bring in enough to provide for his family, Bill could sure use the help. How much do they really know about Jesse Goodwin, who seems to be particularly adept at gaining Bill’s trust? Can Jesse be trusted? There is something off about the new hired hand, an odd sort, whose CV does not always hold up to close, or even routine scrutiny. Trying to figure out the mystery of Jesse is part of the fun of the book. The tension of wondering if/when the mysterious man from the forest will return and wondering what he will want is another. The boogeyman just outside the frame is a device that works well to sustain the tension level.

The Iditarod features large in this landscape, Dad having been a regular contestant, Tracy having competed in the Junior Iditarod, with her final Junior race and the full-on Mush-mania, for which she will be eligible for the first time, both on a near horizon. Tracy loves to race dogs as much as she loves to run, to hunt, and to breathe in the fullness of the woods. It provides motivation for some of her decision-making, both the good and bad sorts. Although she is basically a good person, she is no paragon. In fact, she can be a pretty self-involved teenager and if you count on her to always do the right thing, your totals will be off. There is a dramatic, dark twist near the end that some readers will find discomfiting. I thought it made sense under the circumstances, and how Tracy handles it is consistent with what we have seen of her up to then. It’s a pretty daring move by Bradbury to steer her tale in that direction. Whether you approve or not, it will definitely jangle your senses, and makes for an outside-the-box ending.

There was one item in the story that jangled my senses a bit. I did not understand how Tracy thought she could get away with paying substantial entry fees for races without having a well-prepared explanation for how she got the money. A solution is found later but Tracy’s presumption seemed a bit much, even for a teenager. In another instance. I thought it a stretch that one character was far too ready to try talking with another who had already confessed to some pretty dire deeds. A more reasonable range of choices would seem to be either lock and load or stay the hell away.

description
Image is from the author’s site

Bradbury’s love for the landscape comes through loud and clear (and, I expect, played a role in her decision to live in Anchorage for the last fifteen years, having been born and raised in Illinois) in her lyrical, beautiful writing. The cold, the woods, the severe beauty of the landscape all serve as a wonderful backdrop for and echo of the harsh challenges Tracy faces.

Tracy Sue Petricoff’s physical DNA is known, but if I were checking her literary DNA markers, I would be looking for signs of Mowgli, John Clayton, and Katniss Everdeen. Jamey Bradbury’s freshman novel is a triumph, a coming of age tale set in the borderlands, interior and exterior, where the wild meets the world. Her struggle to understand and gain some control over the urges she experiences makes her relatable, even though our adjustments might not have been so daunting. It is riveting, tear-inducing, and jolts through such sudden turns that you will need to make sure your feet are firmly planted on your sled, and your team is exceptionally well-trained. You would hate to tumble and be left behind. This is one ride you will want to mush through to the end.

Review posted – January 26, 2018

Published – March 20, 2018

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram and FB pages

Here is extra material that did not make it into the final version of the book A Dead Darling– from Bradbury’s site

Bradbury works as a freelance writer. Here is a stack of her writings for the Anchorage Daily News

The author reading an early excerpt from the book at a Gathering of the Tribes on May 15th 2011

Quiet Works, a collection of short stories, was submitted as Bradbury’s 2009 MFA thesis

=========================================INTERVIEW

I sent Jamey Bradbury a message inquiring into whether she would be up for answering a few questions. She was extremely gracious, and, as you will see, very forthcoming.

On Writing Process
Was the structure of the book the same from the time you first decided to write it to the point of times up, fingers-off-the-keyboard? If it changed, what was removed, added?

JB – The biggest change between early drafts of the book and what readers will see was the structure of the book. The Wild Inside was inspired, in part, by a 1961 horror novel by Theodore Sturgeon called Some of Your Blood; the book is told piecemeal by a colonel, a military psychiatrist, and their patient, called George, who writes his own story in the form of a journal. I structured The Wild Inside similarly, with early chapters dedicated to a grown-up Scott seeing some of his sister, Tracy’s, behavior playing out in his own daughter. I threw in some epistolary storytelling in the form of letters between Bill and Scott. And finally, Tracy got her say in the form of her own journal, which she wrote at the encouragement of a school guidance counselor.

Ultimately, though, after feedback from some early readers and after getting to know Tracy—who says things in her own very distinctive and determined way—I realized this was a girl who didn’t need any help telling her own story. Her story was hers, and everything was someone else’s interpretation. So I let Tracy take the reins.

How is your writing time structured? Do you have a set number of hours a day, or per week, that you devote to book writing, to other writing? Maybe a target of a number of pages or words per day?

JB – In addition to being a fiction writer, I also have a full-time job:  I write copy and do storytelling for an Alaska Native nonprofit social services organization. That means, in order to get any fiction done, I have to deliberately set aside time for it—and it can’t just be any old time because after spending eight hours of my day at a computer, the last thing I want to do when I come home is stare at a glowing screen for another couple hours. So I get my fiction writing done first thing. I keep what my friends lovingly refer to as “grandma Jamey hours”—I often go to bed around 8:00, 8:30 so I can get up around five a.m., guzzle some coffee, squint at my email, then get writing. I don’t have a target number of words or pages; some days I struggle to get through a single scene, others I fly through a dozen pages of revision. But I work a pretty solid two hours more most mornings before it’s time to shower and join the world.

I often have ideas pop into my head about a review I am working on at times that are not conducive, such as when I am just about to drift off to sleep and if I stay up to write the thing down in my bedside notebook, I won’t be able to get back to sleep for an hour. Grrrrrr. How do you record the random thoughts that pop to mind when you are away from the desktop, say, while running? 

JB – All I can say is thank Our Lord Steve Jobs for the iPhone, which I started taking with me when I was training for my first marathon and realized it might be nice to be able to listen to music, not to mention be able to call for help if I twisted an ankle or got mugged. The added bonus is that whenever I get those random ideas and have those “aha!” moments—which always seem to come as soon as I hit my stride—I can text myself. Usually I’ll stop to stretch and type out a text, but sometimes I use the voice function and get texts from myself that look like, “Railroad GASP getaway WHEEZE car…”

Was there any one scene in particular that was the most difficult to write?

JB – How to say this without spoiling things? There’s a particular mistake Tracy makes at one point that I didn’t see coming for a long time. Once I realized that she was going to make this mistake, though, my heart broke. I didn’t want to write the scene, I didn’t want to go through the fallout the characters would experience afterward. Some scenes are technically hard; it’s difficult to get the mechanics of the plot working. Others are hard because you can’t find the right words. But this one was emotionally hard:  I was wrecked, working on it. But it also afforded me an opportunity to write what would become one of my favorite parts of the book—a glimpse into the life and history of a character readers wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know in that particular way.

Was there one particular plot element that gave you the most grief?

JB – Figuring out what, exactly, the history of two characters was before they appear in the book was one of the more irksome elements I had to work through. Partly because the relationship had to be both loving and antagonistic, and also because that part of the relationship would be revealed by a third party, in an unconventional way. Boy, trying not to spoil things has me feeling like Tracy!—as she says, some things you just don’t talk about, except to talk around them.

Was the ending you chose always the way you wanted to go, or did you consider other endings before settling on the one in the book?

JB – By the time I got to the ending, it kind of wrote itself. The way I write, I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite the first part of the book, gradually getting to know my characters as I rework the same material over and over. By the time I get to the last third or quarter of the book, the writing actually gets easier—and, with this book, the momentum of the plot, and the way Tracy’s mind works, kind of pointed the way toward the ending.

Sources and influences
How long did you work for John Irving? How did you get the gig? What can you tell us about the experience? What did you learn from him? Did he offer useful advice, support, connections?

JB – At a post-reading party at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where I got my MFA, my workshop teacher, Craig Nova, came up to me and said, “My friend John Irving is looking for a new assistant. He lives in Vermont. I thought you’d be a good candidate, since you’ve lived in Alaska and you know how to drive in the snow.” A few weeks later, I flew to Vermont from Greensboro to interview with John and his wife, Janet. And at the end of that summer, I moved to Vermont to be John Irving’s assistant.

Working for John was a little like winning a spot at a very exclusive writing fellowship. I worked at an office in his home, and I did a good amount of your typical office work—answering phones, talking to his publisher, opening mail, filing contracts. But the bulk of my day was dedicated to typing up the pages of the manuscript he was working on at the time, the novel that would be titled In One Person. John still writes mostly by hand, so I would update a computer file on my Mac every day with his new pages.

It was a firsthand look at the daily life of a working writer, his habits, and his way of writing a first draft and revising. One writer’s method doesn’t necessarily work for another, but I learned a lot watching him work through plot and character development. Plus, I got great insight into the process of publishing a book, thanks to working with John’s editor, copyeditor, publicist, and others.

The other part of the experience that was incredibly valuable was my own writing time. Whenever I didn’t have stuff to do from John, I was able to work on my own fiction; in fact, I started The Wild Inside while still working for him. Once I got a first draft done, John was gracious enough to take a look and give me feedback that helped me tremendously (as did Craig, the teacher who referred me).

Was there a specific seed or seeds from which The Wild Inside sprouted?  An image, a phrase, a news article? An experience? Several?

JB – The earliest idea for The Wild Inside was an image:  a house, its windows lit against the heart of Alaska’s winter darkness, at the edge of a wood. I knew that inside that house, there were two men—brothers? a father and a son?—waiting for a third person to come home. Whoever that third person was, though, I knew she wasn’t coming home soon. How did I know this? Why wasn’t she coming back? I had no idea, but the image intrigued me enough that my mind kept chewing on it for months—more than a year—before I finally sat down to write what would eventually become Tracy’s story.

What were your sources for character and pooch names?

JB – I don’t have a pooch, so I named a lot of the dogs after my friends’ dogs. Zip and Stella are named after two real-life pooches I regularly dog-sat for (the real Zip, sadly, died a few years ago; the real Stella is my dog soulmate and if I could steal her from her owners, I would). I went on a sailing trip with the real-life Homer and Canyon and their owners. I had a lot of fun just coming up with other dog names. Here’s a fun fact:  Some mushers will give litters of dogs theme names, so they’ll have the “famous authors” litter, or like musher and writer Blair Braverman, the “bean” litter (including dogs named Fava, Hari(cot), and Refried). So Tracy’s dogs include a “bear” litter (Panda, Grizzly, Teddy) and a “words that convey movement” litter (Chug, Zip, Flash, Pogo). Old Susitna, though, is named for my favorite mountain visible from Anchorage:  Susitna, the “Sleeping Lady.”

Was there a specific seed or seeds from which The Wild Inside sprouted?  An image, a phrase, a news article? An experience? Several?

JB – The earliest idea for The Wild Inside was an image:  a house, its windows lit against the heart of Alaska’s winter darkness, at the edge of a wood. I knew that inside that house, there were two men—brothers? a father and a son?—waiting for a third person to come home. Whoever that third person was, though, I knew she wasn’t coming home soon. How did I know this? Why wasn’t she coming back? I had no idea, but the image intrigued me enough that my mind kept chewing on it for months—more than a year—before I finally sat down to write what would eventually become Tracy’s story.

What were your sources for character and pooch names?

JB – I don’t have a pooch, so I named a lot of the dogs after my friends’ dogs. Zip and Stella are named after two real-life pooches I regularly dog-sat for (the real Zip, sadly, died a few years ago; the real Stella is my dog soulmate and if I could steal her from her owners, I would). I went on a sailing trip with the real-life Homer and Canyon and their owners. I had a lot of fun just coming up with other dog names. Here’s a fun fact:  Some mushers will give litters of dogs theme names, so they’ll have the “famous authors” litter, or like musher and writer Blair Braverman, the “bean” litter (including dogs named Fava, Hari(cot), and Refried). So Tracy’s dogs include a “bear” litter (Panda, Grizzly, Teddy) and a “words that convey movement” litter (Chug, Zip, Flash, Pogo). Old Susitna, though, is named for my favorite mountain visible from Anchorage:  Susitna, the “Sleeping Lady.”

How much of your characters, or elements of characters, is based on people you know or have known?

JB – These characters really aren’t based on people I know, but Tracy’s voice—her particular vernacular—sort of came from a combination of the way my dad (who is from small town Ohio) and my grandma (who grew up in the rural Midwest) talk.

Other
What drew you to move to and remain in Alaska?

JB – I came to Alaska thinking it would be a temporary gig. I was an AmeriCorps volunteer who landed a position working with the American Red Cross doing disaster relief—I’d done one year in my home state, Illinois, then came north to do an additional year in Anchorage. And, what can I say, I fell in love. Not with a person, but with the state:  After more than 15 years living in Alaska on and off (I left to do the Peace Corps, then left again to do my MFA and work for John), I still don’t get tired of watching the Chugach Mountains change with the seasons, the weather, and the way the light hits them. I love all the different ways snow tumbles out of the sky. I love the endless, languid days of summer and coming home pink-cheeked from a winter run on the Coastal Trail along the Cook Inlet. For the first time, I traveled to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and my breath was snatched from my lungs, the beauty was so overwhelming—yet you don’t even have to travel that far in Alaska to find that kind of awe-inspiring landscape. It’s in my back yard, too. Maybe I’ll get tired of all the trees, bears, mountains, beaches, moose, and aurora and head south one day. But I don’t see it happening soon.

Why was the title changed from The Killing Drink, and were you ok with that?

JB – I hate coming up with titles. In high school, I used to turn in essays and short stories for College Prep English with titles like, “This Is Where the Title Goes When I Think of One.” My autobiography will probably be called, “No Title: The Jamey Bradbury Story.”

So I was pretty pleased with myself when, in the middle of a run (which is always when I do my best thinking), not only did the understanding of what would happen when Tracy used her unique gift at the time of a person (or animal’s) death occur to me, but the title of the book came to me, too. I like The Killing Drink well enough to slap it on the first pages of the file when I started shopping around for an agent, but I also wondered:  Did “The Killing Drink” sound too much like the title of a pamphlet for Alcoholics Anonymous?

No one else seemed to think so, but when the marketing folks at HarperCollins/William Morrow said they thought the title skewed a little to thriller/horror and that the book might appeal to a broader audience with a different title, I was simultaneously cool with it, and bummed:  I didn’t wanna come up with another title! Fortunately, my editor, Kate Nintzel, and my agent, Michelle Brower, tossed around a few ideas before landing on The Wild Inside, which I think beautifully reflects Tracy’s struggle with her feral impulses and her devotion to her family and home versus her need to run wild in the forest.

If you were a DC or Marvel character what would be your superpower, and why?

JB – Is sloth a superpower? My ability to do absolutely nothing sometimes astounds me. The other Avengers might not be too impressed with Super Sloth, but at least I’d provide snacks while we all sat around doing nothing…

What are your all-time favorite books, and/or faves from the last year or so, and why?

JB – There are two books that I’ve recently read that I cannot shut up about:  The first is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. Recently, I was talking to a friend about this book, and we focused a lot on the effortlessness of Ng’s writing—that is, reading the book, you simply do not feel Ng working hard; her prose seems to have materialized on the page, exactly as it needed to appear, stunning, whole, flawless. But, especially as a writer, I know getting the prose to seem like that did take effort. That’s the beauty of really great writing, though:  You don’t see Ng sweat. You just see her gorgeous writing and storytelling. And what a story! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone conveys the paradox and pain of parenthood in such a moving and accurate way—Ng completely gets how even as you are working to raise a child, you are simultaneously always letting her go, bit by bit.

The other book I can’t stop talking about is Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, an in-the-not-too-distant-future dystopian-ish novel in which abortion is illegal in America, in vitro fertilization is banned, and the stories of four different women affected by these laws intersect in a remote Pacific Northwest town. The novel is gorgeously written and finely crafted and incredibly timely.

My wife and I have a herd of cats, but I doubt they would take well to being harnessed. How many cats do you have and have you tried mushing with them? Just kidding. 

JB – Fifteen cats! My dream! A friend of mine thinks it’s hilarious to joke about mushing with an entire team of Shih-Tzus. I think if you tried it with 16 cats, you’d end up with 16 piles of snoring fur and get nowhere pretty fast, if my two cats are any indication. I have a twelve-year-old ball of fluff named Dr. Noisewater who likes to sit on my lap and keep me writing (I should probably dedicate my next book to her), and I’ve got an eight-year-old Manx named Pill, after a character in David Schickler’s short story “Wes Amerigo’s Giant Fear.”

What are you working on now?

JB – I’m deep in the sludge of the first draft of my second novel, which is inspired by two things:  the Winchester Mystery House, and Homer, Alaska, a small fishing town located at the literal end of the road—Homer is famous in Alaska for being home to the Homer Spit, which features the longest road into ocean waters in the world. In my book, at the end of this road, a woman has built a massive house with doors in every surface—large doors, tiny doors, doors within doors, doors in ceilings, doors in floors. Every door she opens gives her access to a different point in her own life—and, possibly, to points in alternate versions of her life. It’s a book about memory, time travel, history, dementia, and family.

Wow, sounds like a fun book. I can’t wait to read it.

Thanks so much, Jamey, for being so generous with your time in answering all these questions. It is very much appreciated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Interview attached, Reviews

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

book cover

MUELLER IS COMING!
Da-ta da-da-dah-ta da-da-dah-ta da-da-dah-ta
da-da-dah-ta da-da-dah-ta da-da-dah-ta da-da-dah-ta da-da
Daaaa da dadada dah da-dudaaaah
Daaaa da dadada dah dududaaaah

Michael Wolff has given us a drone’s (dragon’s?) eye view of the competing centers vying to be the power behind the throne, with some looking, in the longer term, at carving paths for their own succession to the highest position in the realm. There is a mad king who needs to be handled. Centers of power arise, morph, wage battles both silent and overt, succeed and fail, rise, die, and sometimes rise again. What we see in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Ice Fury, from our lofty perch, is the geography of chaos in the known world of the White House. Games will be played. Backs will be stabbed. Sadly, there is no magic, only sleight of hand. And it remains to be seen if nuclear dragons will be unleashed.

The juicy bits of this book have been everywhere for the last few weeks. It is highly quotable, and the publisher, Holt, the author, their PR people, and the major news outlets have been flooding the zone. Whether on-line or in print, over airwaves on TV or radio, through cable, and probably via the deep-state-news (WDSN?) that beams directly into peoples’ minds, all media have been all agog with the many looks at this elephant to which they have been privy.

With so much blanket coverage coming at you, one might be forgiven for wondering whether you first saw the item you just read in the book, or came across it somewhere else. It is a little bit unnerving. I will spare you the further confusion of adding all those bits here. I really have to put some in, though. I mean you know them already, right? How many synonyms can you find for idiot?

Fire and Fury is the biggest book of the moment, the Wall Street Journal reporting that it had sold a million copies as of Monday, January 8, 2018, a day earlier than its scheduled release. Remains to be seen, of course, with a steady stream of books on Trump being published, how long this frenzy will persist. But the last time I was aware of people standing on line for hours to get a book, it included the words Harry and Potter. This book, in the words of our former vice president, is a big fucking deal.

description
Michael Wolff – image from Mediaite.com

The bottom line of Fire and Fury is that it presents Donald Trump as unfit to serve as president, based not on the dark view and negative press of his opposition, but the been-there-OMG-did-you-see-that experience of his own staff and supporters.

Almost all the professionals who were now set to join him were coming face to face with the fact that it appeared he knew nothing. There was simply no subject, other than perhaps building construction, that he had substantially mastered.

Wolff uses named and unnamed sources. It seems clear that his primary go-to was one Steve Bannon, a weaver of webs, a bomb-thrower, a snake in the grass, a back-stabber, a manipulator, a white supremacist, a gifted media manipulator, and a pretty bright and articulate, if sartorially challenged guy. One might be tempted to dismiss Wolff’s book based on this reliance. Don’t. There are plenty of other sources feeding the narrative. The question is whether the image Wolff generates by making a composite of the incoming bits makes sense. Is it plausible? Is it correct? Having seen Wolff interviewed on multiple news and entertainment shows, and attending to the back-and-forths between him and knowledgeable news people, it seems eminently clear that he got it right. There are probably some details that err a bit here and there. Maybe this person was not at that meeting, or a date may be off. I expect that the only inaccuracies to be found here will be of that sort. Niggling, beside the point. And blown way out of proportion by those with an interest in distracting you from the core content of the book. That the president attempted to stop its publication should tell you something.

What was, to many of the people who knew Trump well, much more confounding was that he had managed to win this election, and arrive at this ultimate accomplishment, wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function. He had somehow won the race for president, but his brain seemed incapable of performing what would be essential tasks in his new job. He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect.

Michael Wolff is a veteran author and journalist, with seven prior books to his credit. He has been nominated for the National Magazine Award three times, and accused by people he has written about of fabricating. The absence of actual lawsuits against him suggests that complaints were less than firmly grounded. He is a serious writer and should be taken seriously. It is a bit mind-boggling the access he had to the actual White House, but he lays it out. He hung out in the WH, with a huge degree of access and was able to get input from the people working or passing through there, for months. Was the administration insane for allowing this? You betcha. But they did, another sign of their unpreparedness.

Inauguration day offered a look at what was to come.

Much of the sixteen-minute speech was part of Bannon’s daily joie de guerre patter—his take-back-the-country America-first, carnage-everywhere vision for the country. But it actually became darker and more forceful when filtered through Trump’s disappointment and delivered with his golf face. The administration purposely began on a tone of menace—a Bannon-driven message to the other side that the country was about to undergo profound change. Trump’s wounded feelings—his sense of being shunned and unloved on the very day he became president—helped send that message. When he came off the podium after delivering his address, he kept repeating, “Nobody will forget this speech.”
George W. Bush, on the dais, supplied what seemed likely to become the historic footnote to the Trump address: “That’s some weird shit.”

As noted above, the geography through which Wolff’s tale travels is one of sundry kingdoms. I could not help but imagine the opening credits of Game of Thrones as we approach each power center, the models for each of the city-states animating, offering moving, 3-D representations of each kingdom’s imagery and motifs. The three (sadly, not seven) are the alt-right of Bannon and his allies (clearly White Walkers), the mainstream GOP crowd epitomized by Reince Preibus, and the family wing, considered by Bannon to be of a liberal-democratic bent, in the person of Jared Kushner and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, aka Jarvanka. (Cersei and Jamie?).

description
Swamp Thing as Joffrey Baratheon– image from DesignCrowd.com, by way of Huff-Po

The forward motion of the story is the events of Trump’s campaign, but mostly presidency up to October, 2017. I know, I know. One of the problems with political books is that they can often be outdated in fairly short order. The several months between October and the book’s publication is a lifetime in Trump years. It is impressive, given the daily churning of personnel and events in the DC universe (not the multiverse) these days that any book on Trumplandia still has relevance by the time ink on paper makes its way to readers. And yet, the issues raised here, the main issue, is momentous, and sticks.

Wolff has offered a host of quotes from his sources, many named, that question Swamp Thing’s competence, not just to function as president, but to function as a human being. His own staff frequently mention the applicability of the 25th amendment (although in the real world that is a total fantasy) and the likelihood of impeachment. The sound of Robert Mueller’s approaching steps echoes throughout the work, clearly feeding Trump’s paranoia about being treated unfairly, and boosting his fear of being found out, labeled a squatter or deadbeat, and evicted.

In most White Houses, policy and action flow down, with staff trying to implement what the president wants—or, at the very least, what the chief of staff says the president wants. In the Trump White House, policy making, from the very first instance of Bannon’s immigration EO, [executive order] flowed up. It was a process of suggesting, in throw-it-against-the-wall style, what the president might want, and hoping he might then think that he had thought of this himself (a result that was often helped along with the suggestion that he had in fact already had the thought).

Wolff, with his title, and content, offers a wonderful Game of Thrones image. But there are plenty more that could easily apply. The Producers is one that he mentions, a particularly apt metaphor, given that it seemed clear to many of us, even during the campaign, that Trump, like Bialystock and Bloom, got into the presidential race for the money, and never really intended to win. This is confirmed in the book. Personally, I think Max Bialystock would have made a better president. Another scenario that Wolff mentions is the relationship of Thomas Cromwell to Henry VIII, wonderfully portrayed in the novel Wolf Hall (no relation), with Steve Bannon in the Cromwell role and you-know-who as the guy who made such a gigantic mess, because he simply had to have things his way. One could also consider House of Cards (the original), with all the plotting, back-stabbing, and hunger for power that made that series such fun to watch, although, after Bannon as Francis Urquart, the personnel parallels fade a bit. Alice in Wonderland gives us Trump as the single-minded Queen of Hearts. The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight might offer an image of ineptitude, if one ignores the fact that Trump has overseen the greatest looting by criminals of the national treasury in the nation’s history. For all his intellectual challenges Swamp Thing is a larger than life character with very little core, a made-for-Television president.

description
Swamp Thing and Bannon as Henry VIII and T. Cromwell – image from NY Magazine

One of the things I most enjoyed was Wolff’s take on The Mooch. Anthony Scaramucci is the sort of Damon Runyon hanger-on one might expect to see in Guys and Dolls, or maybe a Batman flick, all puffery and attitude smeared over a core of ignorance, inflated by cartoonishly excessive self-confidence and corruption. From the description in Fire and Fury, it is not hard to imagine him in a too-wide pin-striped suit, shoulder-padded, sporting excessive pancake makeup, swinging a pocket watch from a chain, and laughing uncontrollably as he kicks some poor shmo that his minions are holding down for him, because he was a few dollars short on his protection payment.

There are some things missing from the book, of course. There is not the sort of detailed biographical material better found in an actual biography. Forget seeing an autobiography. Anything Trump truly wrote would probably be close to an actual choose-your-own-adventure kid book, given his inability to remain focused for more than a few minutes. There is not a lot about serious international threats, with one exception. In a press conference at his Bedminster, NJ property:

“His staff had not prepared him for this, but, in apparent relief that he could digress from the opioid discussion, as well as sudden satisfaction at the opportunity to address this nagging problem, he ventured out, in language that he’d repeated often in private—as he repeated everything often—to the precipice of an international crisis.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. Thank you.”

Thus an increased concern about the danger of someone implementing the launch codes in a fit of pique or confusion. A fair bit of that intercontinental exchange of verbal ordnance occurred after the book was written, most notably the “My Button is bigger than your Button” lunacy. There is little discussion, although it gets a mention, of the potential implications of Trump’s autocratic leanings. The telling of the tale is much more about what has already happened as opposed to what might.

It was during Trump’s early intelligence briefings, held soon after he captured the nomination, that alarm signals first went off among his new campaign staff: he seemed to lack the ability to take in third-party information. Or maybe he lacked the interest; whichever, he seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention. He stonewalled every written page and balked at every explanation. “He’s a guy who really hated school,” said Bannon. “And he’s not going to start liking it now.”

This is not a book about policy. It is portrait of a White House as a theater of political warfare, a candidate who never really wanted or expected to be president and a president who is not only completely out of his depth, but who shows not only no capacity, but no interest in learning to swim. Even the people who work for him see him as unintelligent, narcissistic, incurious, and lazy. They even suggest he is losing his grip on reality, presuming he ever had one. It is certainly entertaining, the bits about Trump’s TV addiction, how he manages to cover his bald pate, and his pettiness about not wanting the cleaning staff to pick up his clothes from the floor. I mean, really, is he ashamed of being seen as a slob? Eating burgers in bed in front of the TV will probably gain him more support than criticism. I mean, even I can get on board with that, and I do not have a kind view of the man. But the more serious element is his mental fitness, and the danger this presents to us all.

description
image from Wolff’s Twitter feed, citing the Hollywood Reporter

There is zero chance that the Republican Party will allow their sitting president, however damaged or corrupt he is, to be removed from office under the 25th Amendment. The best chance for his leaving office is for him to suffer a serious physical health crisis, which might force him to resign. As an older, overweight, out of shape man, this is not far-fetched. Even with a Democratically controlled Congress in January 2019, there is no guarantee that the Senate would come up with the sixty-seven votes needed to convict. The significance of this is that until Donald John Trump is removed from the presidency, by impeachment, ill-health, death, or being voted out of office in 2020, we are all at risk.

Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is an air-raid siren warning us all of peril, real and potential. It is must-read material for every American. When the GOP stands in the way of investigations into the administration, they are supporting a president who is unable to function at the needed level, a president who is uninterested in the details of governance, a president who is not in control of himself, a president who places not only himself, but the nation, and the entire world at risk. You need to know what they are protecting. It doesn’t take a stable genius to know that you should be afraid, very afraid. As Dubyah said, “That’s some weird shit.”

Published – January 9, 2018

Review first Posted – January 12, 2018

>

This review has been cross-posted on GoodReads

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s Twitter page

Here’s a book that might come in handy – The Case for Impeachment

I came across this Huff-Po piece in my travels, after I had written the body of my review, buh-leev me. I was looking for images of the rulers of Trumpistan as GoT characters, when I came across this wonderful article by David Moye. I disagree with most of the assignments he shows, (for example, DJT is nowhere smart enough to be The Night King, or Tyrion Lanister) but had to pinch his Joffrey/Trump image for my central trope. I came up with DJT as JB on my own, before reading this, really, really. I swear. Check out the article. Donald Trump is America’s Joffrey Baratheon

The Trump as a Super-Villain trope brought this fun series of faux comic book covers – Trump battles Marvel and DC superheroes on Looper.com

Just in case you missed the link in the body of the review, you ABSOLUTELY MUST SEE this video, from The Jimmy Kimmel ShowTrumped

A response from The Author’s Guild to Trump’s attempt to stop publication of Fire and Fury

On Thursday, January 11, 2018, as I was preparing this review, the Washington Post printed a story that was alarming in the usual way, Trump attacks protections for immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries. Even if a person thinks in such an ignorant and bigoted way, and Swamp Thing clearly does, how addled do you have to be to allow yourself to speak such a thing aloud in a quotable venue? It is amazing he has any toes left given how many times he has shot himself in the foot. And tomorrow it will be another daily outrage.

1/13/18 – NY Times – Mr. President, Your Toga Is Showing – Christopher Buckley’s delicious comparison of Swamp Thing with a Roman Emperor of low repute – Can Incitatus be far behind?

1/17/18 – NY Magazine – Fire and Fury Began After Trump Saw Wolff Ripping Media on CNN – by Adam K. Raymond

—–March 30, 2018 – New York Magazine – a catalog (partial, for sure) of the conflicts of interest and downright corruption of this administration – 501 Days in Swampland – by Joy Crane and Nick Tabor – Introduction by David Cay Johnston

description
Gotta love the illustration that accompanies the above piece

—–Madeline Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning, is definitely worth a look

—– July 19, 2018 – From Greatist, The Best Way to Identify a Narcissist (and How to Handle Them) – by Sabrina Weiss – relevant not just for those who have to cope with the giant ego in the Oval

—–July 3, 2020 – Independent – Trump has a plan to stay in the White House if he loses election, former senator says by Graig Graziosi – details of one way he might try to do this

—–January 6, 2021 – The Lincoln Project – Bloodlines

Leave a comment

Filed under American history, History, Non-fiction, Public policy

Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks

book cover

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ – (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

The law, it its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. — Anatole France

The poorhouse. These days, it’s common parlance for extreme financial misfortune. Someone who has had a particularly bad fiscal spell could be said to be heading to the poorhouse. These days, we do not have literal, brick and mortar poorhouses. Those were usually fetid places, ill-maintained, offering meager shelter and food to the detritus of society, the poor, ill, elderly, and disabled, often requiring labor in return. These days, we have something new.

America’s poor and working-class people have long been subject to invasive surveillance, midnight raids, and punitive public policy that increase the stigma and hardship of poverty. During the nineteenth century, they were quarantined in county poorhouses. During the twentieth century they were investigated by caseworkers, treated like criminals on trial. Today we have forged a digital poorhouse from databases, matched algorithms and statistical risk models. It promises to eclipse the reach and repercussions of everything that came before.

The most famous poorhouse resident in literature is one Oliver Twist. In the novel of that name, Dickens intended to highlight the inhumanity of the Poor Law Act of 1834. The world of poverty he described was, while literarily thrilling, a horrifying exposé of man’s cruelty to man. Poorhouses found a home in the USA as well. The first poorhouse in the city of my current residence was established in 1863. In my erstwhile lifelong home, New York, an 1824 law directed the counties of the state to erect poorhouses. Residents could be required to do whatever work the superintendent demanded. Any resistance resulted in being kicked out. Among other sources for the poorhouse population, children younger than 15 caught begging could be legally remanded there until the person in charge of the poorhouse let them out. There were certainly poorhouses in NY earlier than that. The first poorhouse in the USA was in Boston, in 1662.

description
Virginia Eubanks – from her Twitter page

Virginia Eubanks has been involved with economic justice movements for over twenty years. She is an associate Prof of Poli Sci at the SUNY Albany campus. Her writing about tech in social justice has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Harper’s and Wired. She is a founding member of the Our Data Bodies project, which looks at how the gathering and use of digital info by government impacts our rights. In Automating Inequality, Eubanks offers a bit of history on the poorhouse, noting, with particular relevance for the operation of today’s prisons, and other bits of outsourcing of government welfare responsibilities, that privately run poorhouses led to the residents being particularly exploited and deprived of necessities in order to increase profits for the owners, not that the publicly run ones were any great shakes. Her central notion is that the physical poorhouse of the past has been replaced in the 21st century by a modern version.

For all their high-tech polish, our modern systems of poverty management—automated decision-making, data mining, and predictive analytics—retain a remarkable kinship with the poorhouses of the past. Our new digital tools spring from punitive, moralistic views of poverty and create a system of high-tech containment and investigation that I call the digital poorhouse. The digital poorhouse deters the poor from accessing public resources; polices their labor, spending, sexuality, and parenting; tries to predict their future behavior; and punishes and criminalizes those who do not comply with its dictates. In the process, it creates ever-finer moral distinctions between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, categorizations that rationalize our national failure to care for one another.

She takes two approaches. First is tracking the history of how the poor have been treated, noting the Dickensian era preference for punishing the poor overtly, by shunting them into miserable institutions, if providing any aid at all, then a revolutionary approach called Scientific Charity, which employed caseworkers applying the methodology of police work in examining the merits of a person’s application for aid,

As Mary Richmond wrote in Social Diagnosis, her 1917 textbook on casework procedures, “the reliability of the evidence on which [caseworkers] base their decisions should be no less rigidly scrutinized than is that of legal evidence by opposing counsel.” Scientific charity treated the poor as criminal defendants by default.

the reversal of reliance on private charity with the New Deal, the paring back of benefits in the 1970s, beginning the use of computer technology to exclude applicants, and sundry mechanisms being used today.

The second is to offer case studies, on-site looks at three locations. Homelessness is the focus in Los Angeles, the outsourcing of welfare systems in Indiana, and child custody issues at the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) in Pittsburgh.

In short, Eubanks offers a history of US public policy on poverty, along with the mechanisms employed in various eras to manage, and limit public outlays to address it, a look at the mechanisms now in use that serve to exclude applicants rather than enhance service, and an analysis of how those systems impact people today. She very successfully bridges the gap between theory and reality with her field studies. This is what’s going on. This is how it affects people.

Instead of being shunted to three-dimensional concrete buildings, today’s poor are far too frequently denied public services, while the state, in addition, often erects barricades to the poor finding a way out of their situation by making it more difficult for them to get a job. Apparently biblical predictions were not considered adequate to the task, so we appear to be committed, as a society, to keeping the poor poor. We apparently prefer for them to remain that way. Hating the poor has been a national addiction since the invasion of North America by religious extremists. We are so addicted to hating on the poor that we have managed, with very few exceptions in our national history, to define poverty at such an insanely low level of income that the majority of poor people are denied even the dubious comfort of fitting the official definition. For example, the US Census Bureau defines its poverty threshold as $12,331 for a single person. So, if you are a single person, earning, say, $12,500 a year, you are not considered poor. Congratulations! And if you are over 65, that line drops to $11,367. I guess we seniors must eat less. Right, whatever.

I am no stranger to such topics, and while the broad strokes of her Bruegelesque depiction of our welfare system might not be all that surprising, as with the painting, there is much to be appreciated by looking at the details. There were pieces of information in here that were surprising. Did you know that the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal era) imposed a cap of 10% black recruits during the Depression, despite the dramatically higher unemployment rate they experienced? Or that half of us spend at least some portion of our lives in poverty?

Eubanks offers many instances of Kafkaesque, sometimes deadly results of how people are treated by welfare systems. It is amazing to me that there have not been thousands of incidents of people so frustrated by this mean-spirited, cruel system that they go postal on social service agencies across the nation. Probably because they can’t afford the hardware. God knows it’s easy enough to buy.

When you are poor you surrender your rights as a citizen, hell, as a human being. Innocent until proven guilty? Not once you apply for any sort of public assistance. The right to parent your own child? The right to confront your accusers? Not if a hostile neighbor calls in an anonymous false report accusing you of neglecting your kid. The right to choose your sexual partners? Not if the welfare agency deems that person inappropriate. The right to counsel? Nope. You are on your own, with the entire resources of the state aligned against you. Offer any resistance to or question the caseworkers who are assigned your case and you are denied benefits. It’s yes, Massa, no, Massa, or you are out on the street, and in many places you can be fined and/or put in jail for being homeless.

While I am a senior citizen, retired, with only Social Security for my personal income, I am blessed with a spouse who remains employed full time. But I have had my share of interactions with the welfare and legal systems. When I was 18 years old, I had my own apartment. But after a significant industrial accident, (I was working at a large Postal Service facility in Manhattan) I was unable to work for a long time, several months of which was spent in hospitals. I was covered by worker’s comp, but it took so long for benefits to begin that I lost my apartment. Thanks, guys. At least I had a fallback, however unpleasant that may have seemed at the time. I have had just loads of fun dealing with unemployment, having endured that most American of experiences, the layoff, more than once. After one particularly frustrating interaction at an unemployment office, I ripped a large piece of hardware off the wall of the men’s bathroom. (Statute of limitations is passed for that one, right?) In another I was denied benefits, because I made a typo (press 1 to be insulted, press 2 to be denied, press 3 to be put on permanent hold) in an interactive system that would not allow human contact. While out of work for most of four years, and being held responsible for child support (while having joint custody) based on what I had earned in my highest earnings year ever, I had my driver’s license suspended by the state of New York, because I was unable, not unwilling, unable to pay the considerable monthly sum. Not a small thing, as many of the companies that hired people with my skill set were located in suburbia. Way to help. It took several years before the court accepted the fact (helped along by the reams of documentation I produced) that I had been unable to get work in systems, and had taken a shit-paying job as a security guard because it was the only thing I could get. The support arrears that accumulated during this period helped force me into dire financial straits. So, while I am decidedly middle-class by education and inclination, I have first-hand knowledge of how systems that at least purport to be helpful can do their best to make a bad situation worse, permanent even. I live in dread of the day when I have to face these systems again. (It will almost certainly come) And I am doing ok. The people Eubanks writes of are, mostly, not.

Dealing with welfare agencies, with or without their associated, gun-toting uniformed sorts, or their legal enforcers, is horrifying enough. With the expansion of data collection, and monitoring, real and potential, with the widespread sharing of collected information (privacy rights? You’re kidding, right?) with a vast array of other government entities (and private entities too, where service provision or data collection is outsourced) as well as any law enforcement agency that asks for it, Big Brother has become more like the entire Manson Family. They are watching, and any mis-step, real or imagined, any spark of resistance, real or imagined, any error on your part, real or imagined, can get you cut off whatever public benefit you are on, thus increasing your poverty, reducing your life expectancy and increasing your risk of being incarcerated in what has become that contemporary replacement for the poorhouse of old, jail. There are even systems in place that look at projected behavior, that put one darkly in mind of the film (and story) Minority Report.

Virginia Eubanks has written a piercing appraisal of how the new technology of the digital age has given the state unimaginable power over the lives of any who are forced into contact with it. The needs of the poor are not different from the needs of the middle class. But the latter, with the means to take care of those needs in the private market, can minimize contact with the beast that is the welfare/legal system. Once one comes into contact with that beast, a person is marked, indelibly, for decades or forever.

What can be done? As is often the case, big problems do not lend themselves to simple fixes. Eubanks offers an array of actions that might be taken to help in the Dismantling of the Data Poorhouse. She has highlighted truths we should be aware of, and notes groups that should be targeted for a bit of consciousness raising. Mostly the proposed remedies sound sane, but unlikely, not a rare thing in books about sociopolitical ills.

The strengths of this book are many. I was reminded very much of Barbara Ehrenreich’s perceptive writings on diverse important matters of public policy. Eubanks has dug deeply into the underlying realities of being poor in America and filled in a lot of the blanks. (BTW, it make a perfect companion to the excellent book White Trash), and should find a natural home in college and graduate school classes on poverty and public policy. People who are poor already know a lot of what is in here, although even the reader of meager means will still find fascinating information. The middle class, or wealthy reader will, hopefully, have their eyes opened (dare we say their consciousness raised?), finding serial unsuspected revelations in Automating Inequality. But the most significant group of readers who should read this are those who, like me, have lived at least a bit in both worlds, particularly those who, currently not a part of the public welfare/legal system, expect they never will be, and disparage those who are as lazy or morally suspect.

poverty is not an island; it is a borderland. There’s quite a lot of movement in the economic fringes, especially across the fuzzy boundary between the poor and the working class. Those who live in the economic borderlands are pitted against one another by policy that squeezes every possible dime from the wallets of the working class at the same time that it cuts social programs for the poor and absolves the professional middle class and wealthy of their social obligations. – [see recent tax cuts for the 1%]

As the powers in Washington, and in many of our states, seek to dim the lights of our shining city on a hill, it will be up to those who are not wealthy or connected, those who work for low wages, those who are jobless, those who earn, while knowing that a layoff could happen any day, those who can see through the porous barriers between the middle class, the working poor, and the distraught, to comprehend and act on the need to join forces in order to rekindle that flame. As Eubanks points out, and as you probably already know, in your heart of hearts

…systems designed for the poor will eventually be used on everyone.

It’s enough to enrage and/or depress Dickens.

Review first posted – January 19, 2018

Publication date – January 16, 2018

This review has been cross-posted on GoodReads

=======================================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, and Twitter pages

A sample of the book

The Our Data Bodies project

Based in marginalized neighborhoods in Charlotte, North Carolina, Detroit, Michigan, and Los Angeles, California, we look at digital data collection and our human rights, work with local communities, community organizations, and social support networks, and show how different data systems impact re-entry, fair housing, public assistance, and community development.

HISTORY OF 19th CENTURY AMERICAN POORHOUSES

Poorhouse records by state

January 1, 2018 – NY Times – A.I. and Big Data Could Power a New War on Poverty – by Elisabeth A. Mason
This piece posits that AI could better match people with jobs, and improve computer-based education. In the article, she cites the creation of a Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making, from legislation sponsored by Dem Patty Murray and Rep Paul Ryan. The commission expired in September 2017, but made recommendations

This provides one more indication of the promise of A.I. and big data in the service of positive, purposeful public good. Before we dismiss these new technologies as nothing more than agents of chaos and disruption, we ought to consider their potential to work to society’s advantage.

Yeah, sure. Or another tool the state can use to exclude assistance applicants. Well, you didn’t take that job 150 miles from home that our system indicated would be a perfect fit, so sorry, your application is rejected. Don’t blame me, blame the computer.

December 12, 2017 – The Business Insider – on another automated approach to poverty – Robots are being used to deter the homeless from setting up camp in San Francisco – by Melia Robinson

description

February 3, 2018 – NY Times – Who’s Able-Bodied Anyway? by Emily Badger and Margot Sanger-Katz – a familiar extra-legal method for keeping people from getting needed benefits

In case you missed the link in the review, White Trash

A report by the AI Now Institute of New York University – AI Now 2017 Report

Recommendation #1
Core public agencies, such as those responsible for criminal justice, healthcare, welfare, and education (e.g. “high stakes” domains) should no longer use “black box” AI and algorithmic systems.
this includes the unreviewed or unvalidated use of pre-trained models, AI systems licensed from third party vendors, and algorithmic processes created in-house. The use of such systems by public agencies raises serious due process concerns, and at a minimum they should be available for public auditing, testing, and review, and subject to accountability standards.

January 16, 2018 – Interview with the author on PBS – The Open Mind – well worth catching – 28 minutes

Items Worth Reading
—–February 10, 2018 – NY Times – New research on how single-mother families are treated by different societies can impact poverty levels – pretty interesting material – Single Mothers Are Not the Problem – by David Brady, Ryan M. Finnigan and Sabine Huben
—–February 13, 2018 – NY Magazine – a very perceptive piece on the how the right seeks to control and infantilize the poor in direct contradiction to their stated values – Trump Wants Big Government to Decide What Poor People Get to Eat – by Eric Levitz
—–April 22, 2018 – NY Times – Public Servants Are Losing Their Foothold in the Middle Class – public jobs used to mean security, and decent pay. Today, not so much.
—–April 23, 2018 – NY Times – Paul Krugman on the Republican war on teachers – We Don’t Need No Education
—–April 27, 2018 – NY Times – Paul Krugman on – Trump’s War on the Poor
—–May 20, 2018 – NY Times – A chilling article on how unscrupulous landlords abuse the housing court system in NYC to push poor and working class people out of their apartments, so they can jack rents up to astronomical amounts – Unsheltered: The Eviction Machine Churning
 Through New York City – by Kim Barker, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Grace Ashford and Sarah Cohen
—–May 30, 2018 – Southern Poverty Law Center – SPLC sues North Carolina DMV for revoking licenses of people who cannot pay traffic tickets
—–June 22, 2018 – NY Times – The Worrisome Future of Policing Technology – by Barry Friedman

Some of the technology has racial injustice baked into it. Algorithms don’t have to look at race to be racist. Whether written by humans or a product of machine learning, algorithms take past facts and magnify them into future police actions. They rely heavily on criminal records. Much of street policing in recent years — stop and frisk, marijuana enforcement, catching fare-beaters — has been deployed disproportionately against minorities and in poor neighborhoods. Police may “go where the crime is,” but because so much focus has been on low-level offenses in disadvantaged areas that are ignored elsewhere, these algorithms make it inevitable that the police will return to these places time and again.

—–November 8, 2018 – Center for Media Justice – No More Shackles – on the growth in use of and profitabiity from electronic monitoring for parolees, and its tilt against minority communities
—–January 9, 2019- NY Times – How Cities Make Money by Fining the Poor – Eye-opening, but not surprising
—–July 3, 2019 – NY Times Magazine – Digital Jail: How Electronic Monitoring Drives Defendants Into Debt – by Ava Kofman – the endless horror continues
—–October 16, 2019 – Propublica – When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested – by Lizzie Presser – an eye-opening, if depressing, heart-breaking, and enraging piece about how the courts are being used by lawyers and creditors as collection agencies, with jail on their list of options. Makes a pretty strong case for MFA, certainly for extending health insurance coverage into many of the crannies in which it currently vanishes.
—-January 3, 2020 – Vox – New food stamp rules won’t just hurt my clients. They’ll hurt struggling social workers like me – by Elena Gormley – even those who work to help the poor are being driven into poverty
—-January 27, 2020 – Washington Post – Supreme Court allows Trump administration to proceed with immigration rules – by Robert Barnes – any contact with public services can now result in deportation
—-February 6, 2020 – NY Times – An Algorithm That Grants Freedom, or Takes It Away – By Cade Metz and Adam Satariano
—–June 24, 2020 – NY Times – Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm by Kashmir Hill
—–December 4, 2020 – MIT Technology Review – The coming war on the hidden algorithms that trap people in poverty by Karen Hao – PLEASE READ THIS ARTICLE!!! – it explains a lot

Credit-scoring algorithms are not the only ones that affect people’s economic well-being and access to basic services. Algorithms now decide which children enter foster care, which patients receive medical care, which families get access to stable housing. Those of us with means can pass our lives unaware of any of this. But for low-income individuals, the rapid growth and adoption of automated decision-making systems has created a hidden web of interlocking traps.

—–February 16, 2021 – NY Times – The New Debt Prisons by Gene B. Sperling – on how our criminal justice system is financed by fees and fines levied on those charged with crimes, seriously impairing their ability to ever escape an endless burden of debt. This is a shocking, and important piece. Read it. Please.
—–July 28, 2021 – The Guardian – ‘We don’t deserve this’: new app places US caregivers under digital surveillance by Virginia Eubanks and Alexandra Mateescu – Per usual, fraud and abuse are the lies being used as excuses for implementing increased burdens on people in need and the workers who care for them.

Leave a comment

Filed under American history, History, Non-fiction, Public policy, World History