A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership by James Comey

Extraordinarily compelling.  Not a bunch of scandal-sheet material,  but rather a thoughtful examination of the major national issues which involved the FBI during James Comey’s tenure as chief as well as his prior life – as much as is appropriate.

I had to finish a couple books prior to settling in with this one,  but I got it just as soon as I could.   It’s good,  it’s well-written,  it’s personal – everything the hype has said.   And it’s not full of scandal-sheet gossip – which is a good thing in my mind.   It’s a book about what good leadership is – and isn’t – especially in regards to Comey’s experience, both private and career,  and in particular his close connections with three presidents,  GW Bush,  Barak Obama and Donald Trump.

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*******
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership
by James Comey
2018 / 304 pages
read by James Comey –  9h 4m
rating: 9.5    /  current events –
*******

First,  Comey reads his own work and although  it’s not often a good idea for an author to narrate – it works nicely here.

Okay – I’m a fan already (although not blind)  as I think Comey is a man of honor who values his own personal sense of  right and wrong more than he does accolades, power, and glory.  He tries to do the “right” thing – a bit naively perhaps,  with a sense of arrogance perhaps – but he follows his own truth.   I’ve felt that way since Obama chose him, a Republican, to stay on as head of the FBI.

Although I’m a fairly liberal and solid Democrat,  I have some respect for few of the Republicans I see around,  and have little use for a few of the Democrats as well – but no one is completely “good” or “evil.”    I even feel somewhat sympathetic toward G.W. Bush these days.

But I didn’t “follow” Comey’s career so a lot of this was a huge refresher on some of the big events which came down in Washington during those years.

The book opens with a life-changing incident which happened to him in his senior year in high school a wee bit of college years and then he skips to his working  life – first to pick up a kind of role-model in Wisconsin and then on to the New York offices and the anti-Cosa Nostra and Gambino family cases and then there’s Martha Stewart –  hmmm….

Some parts of the book were obviously difficult, painful, for Comey to write,  but other parts seemed like they must have been very enjoyable because they’re personal and funny – like when he met GW Bush while hiding his newly bleeding forehead (the result of a run-in with a low ceiling) or using a very mild epithet in the presence of the puritanical John Ashcroft.

That said,  there is a lot of serious stuff in the book –  Comey worked as US Attorney General for the Southern District of New York and then as  US Deputy Attorney General under GW Bush after which he was employed in the private sector for awhile followed by serving as the (Republican) Director of the FBI as appointed by Obama  and then under the Republican President Trump,  who fired him.  He’s kind of non-partisan, but rather looks at other issues and we see the problems through his eyes, his values.

And because that’s been his life,  he reviews case after old case from the times of the GW Bush administration with the names of Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove as well as the John Ashcroft hospital-bed thing  and his problems with after 9/11 with Alberto Gonzalez and – um –   what was it Condi Rice was doing/not doing?     Comey was right there and it makes for fascinating reading.   As we have seen for years,  Republicans are totally opposed to “obstruction of justice”  – by Democrats who are deeply opposed to the “obstruction of justice” by Republicans –  and all for the sake of the Republic,  of course,  ya’ know.

And he explains why he did what he did with the Hillary Clinton email issue –  in his mind,  it was a matter of “speak or conceal”  two weeks before the election and I agree with Chuck Schumer’s comments to Comey,   “You were in an impossible situation,  John.”

And then, of course, he was fired rather abruptly.

Comey has come to value doing the “right” thing for his country and the people much more highly than being “in” with the bosses.  He’s smart and funny and loyal, as the title says, to something greater than any one person or party.

Go read it.

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The Painted Queen ~ by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

I read the first few (4?) of the long running Amanda Peabody books and enjoyed them,  but haven’t had time to continue the series.   Elizabeth Peters (the pen name of Barbara Mertz)  died a couple years ago and her friend and co-author,  Joan Hess,  was kind enough to, at the request of Peters’ family,  finish the last book in the series which Peters had been working on at the time of her death.  This book, the title had already been selected,  is the result –  #20.   It was chosen as the discussion book for the 4-Mystery Addicts reading group and so I bravely skipped ahead and read it.   I’m generally glad I did but …

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*******
The Painted Queen 
by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
2017/ 355 pages
read by Barbara Rosenblatt –  13h 17m
rating:   A+  /  crime – historical (Egypt in   1922 or so)
*******

The thing is I haven’t been following the series so I wasn’t sure about some of the characters and they got mixed up for me.
Also the plot is pretty complex and overall there are a lot of characters as well as the job of finishing things up for the whole series.

Ratcliffe and Amelia are getting ready to do their excavating thing when Amelia is attacked in her Cairo hotel room but the attacker collapses on the floor before he can put a knife in her.  He has a knife in his own back.  He manages to say “Murder!” before he dies and he’s holding a paper with Amelia’s information on it.   He also has a little calling card type thing with the word “Judas” on it.   He wears a monocle – a kind of theme.

Sethos, the couple’s nemesis and arch criminal, is on the scene,  but Ratcliffe and Amelia go off to the site at Amarna  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amarna.  And the adventure continues.

I honestly think I’d like to read this again because I was interrupted and got distracted too often for the understanding I’d like to have.   I can’t do it now but … next time I need a good crime book I’ve got one.

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Little Novels of Sicily: by Giovanni Verga

I think I was expecting something like James Joyce’s Dubliners but this is certainly not that!    Verga was a good socialist who wrote about the lives of the common people in the style of Zola –  realistically – even if some of them are pretty funny.   Also,  Verga wrote a good 30 years prior to the time Joyce wrote his novels and Verga was describing the Sicily of his youth and the days of revolution,   the 1860s.

Furthermore,  the styles are completely different – Joyce is Joyce,  even in Dubliners.   And all I can say is Verga is Verga and shows us a kind of bird’s eye view of the lives and land in the real life in Sicily which Verga knew in his youth.  There is a distinct emphsis on the class strtuggle.  Although Verga was of the upper classes, he wrote about the people in the villages and farms  near where he was born,  which he left for his middle years,  and to which he returned in his later years.  But Verga loved Sicily as Joyce loved Ireland – and they both supported overturns of the status quo.

And Verga just whisks us through the land and the lives of his characters in the realism he adapted under the influence of Zola.  What the title refers to as “Novels” Lawrence in his introduction calls “sketches” and that’s a much better word I think,  although the word “novels” keeps them really separated and they do come together in the end – in a way.

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*******
Little Novels of Sicily:
“Novelle Rusticane” 
by Giovanni Verga
translated by D.H. Lawrence
1883 / 156 pages
rating:  10/  classic short stories 
*******

I gave it a 10 because although it’s difficult to get into,  if the reader takes the time and makes the effort,  this is a really incredible volume.  Besides,  it’s stood the test of time so that’s a point or two.

The stories:

HIs Reverence:   The story of a very secular and what happens to him during the wars of revolution and unification.

So Much for the King – about a litter-driver who has to drive the king and his little queen (historical) through the crowds knowing that the king could have his head cut off for any infraction.

Don Licciu Papa:  An old woman will be taxed for allowing her pig to be in the road and caught by the town pig-snatcher.  That starts the story of how law works in the village with pigs in its streets until they’re not.  And the Reverend from story one has a little piece, too.

The Mystery Play:   The village puts on a play about a Bible story and props are confiscated,  actors selected,  Mishaps happen and the audience has its own issues to say nothing of the author who is trying to calm everyone but it only makes things worse.

Malaria  – very touching story of a town which  is stricken with malaria and people die – lots of people.  Only a few don’t.

The Orphans – the mother of a small girl dies and the neighbors gossip and try to hook her father up with another wife.  The two are both orphans of a sort.

Property –  Mazarro owns a LOT of land now,  but it wasn’t always this way.  Born poor,  he worked very hard (he slaved),  did some shrewd bargaining (cons), and  lived a prudent life  (miserly)  focused entirely on getting more property and growing more crops and making more money – in pieces not paper.  But you can’t take it with you …  (very short)

Story of Saint Joseph’s Ass – the story of the life of a donkey from it’s first sale as a foal to it’s demise as it is owned by various peasants to do various things.

Blackbread – love stories and the hard work of the really poor peasants –  Santo loves Nena but Nena has no dowry and Santo is poor.  They marry anyway but his sister, Lucia, lives with them along with his mother.  There are lots of inlaw problems as well as Lucia’s plans and getting money by prostitution (implied).

The Gentry-  A rich man is not charitable toward the poor or the church and the fathers kind of pay him back. Then the mountain explodes and the lava flows down on everyone and he gets his pay back.

Liberty –  when Garibaldi and the liberation arrived and there was chaos,  but the consequences as usual after that.

Across the Sea –  The rich can escape by ship and fall in love etc.   The poverty the reader has witnessed is left behind by two travelers,  a man and a woman.   The stories are briefed over but the new lovers get separated and wish they could be permanent like the lovers who wrote their names in stone.

 

http://www.socialiststories.com/writers/giovanni-verga/

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An afterthought on the Pinker and Gordon books:

(all links to my reviews)

I finished the Robert J. Gordon book,  The Rise and Fall of American Growth:  (2015) and it is superb.  Yes!    And I reread quite a lot of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now:   and again,  excellent – for what it is.   And I just have to write up the comparison because they certainly are different.

In a somewhat ironic note,   Pinker refers to the Gordon book in Enlightenment Now and Gordon refers to Pinker’s 2011 work,  The Better Angels of Our Natures  in hisBN-LZ627_Gordon_FR_20160106185410enlightenment

book.   And the reason they refer to each other is that they both look at the past in order to understand today and how we got here  – also,  possibly, in the case of Gordon to predict and suggest, or with Pinker, to show cause for outright optimism.
But where Pinker tries to convince his readers not to give up hope,  Gordon is a realist and harbors no illusions.  but isn’t predicting a crash or anything – just “more of the same”  as has been for 40+ years, for the US and from here on out – the good old boom times are NOT coming back.   (This is pretty much straight economics,  not psychology or philosophy.)

Gordon has some policy proposals at the tail end of his work while Pinker barely admits there are problems.   Bill Gates loves the Pinker book,  but only the first 80% of Gordon’s.   LOL!  Pinker and Gates take a world view that life as we know it is improving.   Meanwhile,  Gordon’s book is concerned with the US only –  and it is an economics book by an important economist.

Gordon looks at both today and the last 150 years with eyes open.  His conclusion is that 1870 – 1970 was a time of exceptional progress in the US for several reasons:  1.  the actual inventions and immigration of the late 19th century;  2. the innovations of the early 20th century;  3. WWII boom;  and 4. the Baby Boomer generation with more and better education,  equality,  and opportunity available than ever prior.  This is all backed up in many ways and with some serious stats.

But!   It’s gone. And that kind of boom time won’t happen again.  (Gordon’s nay-sayers are primarily Silicon Valley enthusiasts like Bill Gates.)

I’m not recommending this here because it’s really long and kind of boring if you’re not interested because all that detail gets a bit tedious.  Plus he kind of goes on and on and then reviews – heh.   But if there are some things you’d like to check out I’d say go get the book from the library and take a peek especially at Part 3 – where he gets into the issues facing the economy today.  –  His policy proposals include immigration (yes!),  education (yes!),  incarceration rate (yes!),  drug legalization (yes to his ideas),  minimum wage changes (yes!),   changes to the tax structure (yes!), changes to the regulations on business (yes! – to his ideas),  using gas instead of oil due to carbon emissions (yes but I’d like more solar and wind!).    And even if all his proposals were somehow put into action it would still not bring about the conditions which resulted in the boom years of 1870-1970.  Those days are gone.  This is the new normal.

Back to Pinker:  I still like him and his book because without some kind of hope that we can improve things  (like with Gordon’s policy ideas) then who cares?  Just abandon all hope?  –  No – because we need hope in the form of Enlightenment Now:  Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress to just deal with the issues we have even if the results are not as splendid as we would like.  (And climate change is a whole ‘nother issue along with capitalism –  see This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate  by Naomi Klein and Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty. (my reviews)

And re Pinker,  I hope my happiness quotient isn’t completely dependent on my standard of living (given a reasonable bottom $$ level) and more on my quality of life – which has to do with so many things outside of the almighty dollar.

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The Rise and Fall of American Growth:  ~ by Robert J. Gordon

I started reading this in Kindle format about a year ago and got 1/3 of the way through.  It’s a macro-economics book and very, very detailed in the telling of the progress of the US between 1870 and 1970 (not as absolute cut-off dates but very convenient).   It was fascinating but i had other books to read and put this one aside.

But my more recent read,  Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (my review),  refers to Gordon and Pinker seemed to Gordon’s information quite a lot, so … I kind of skimmed the first third again of The Rise and Fall… nd kept going.   I think Pinker either misses the point of the Gordon book (the decline of American growth in the last 40+  years) or he’s got his own point really skewed by over-emphasizing the rosy view of the “miracle century” (Gordon’s phrase) and neglecting the very real problems we need ” Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress” right now (!) because it seems to be disappearing in skeptics, young people and the media. (See the review of my second reading of Enlightenment Now.)

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*******
The Rise and Fall of American Growth:  The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War
by Robert J. Gordon
2016 /  764 pages 
read by Michael Butler Murray – 30h 18m
rating –  10   /nonfiction- economics
(read and listened)
*******

Anyway,  in general,  what Gordon has done is specifically outline and describe the progress in the standard of living witnessed by the United States between the Civil War and 1970 and how that progress has slowed a lot since then – especially since 1970.  –   And he really sees no way of that kind of growth ever returning – although he has some policy suggestions which *might* mitigate the problems.

There are a LOT of details – graphs and tables, facts and figures,  with the sources to match.  It’s great – and it’s wonderfully well organized.  (Whew!  What a job.)  And it’s nicely written managing to avoid the dryness of factual, quantitative statements of fact piled on one on top of another (although that’s close in some places).   The reader – Michael Butler Murray,  helps keep the pace up.

Following a Preface and Introduction to the whole book, there are three main Parts – Part 1 examines the remarkable progress which took place from 1870 to 1940.  Part 2 looks at the years 1940-2015 which includes a Golden Age as well as the  beginnings of  a slow-down.  And Part 3 analyses “The Sources of Faster and Slower Growth.”   The first two parts are considerably longer than Part 3.  The Parts are separated by “Entr’actes” explaining what happens in the transitions.  Each Part has an introductory paragraph or couple pages,  then each Chapter (9 in Part 1,  6 in Part 2 and 3 in Part 3) has its own little section of  introductory comments.   Also,  each Part and Chapter has it’s own Conclusion and the book ends with a Postscript.  (Whew!)

But yes,   you can dip into chapters which are more interesting to you,  or you can skim pretty effectively paying attention to introductions,  conclusions,  first sentences,  and intermissions.

“Part 1 –  1870-1940”:   My mom and I had a few good chuckles while remembering  canning and washing clothes on the farm – both of  my grandmothers were full-time farm wives and I very much remember my mom’s mother.  She lived in North Dakota wheat farm from her birth in 1893 to her death in 1986 – (she lived in town the last several years).   She saw a huge change in the face of America,  in her standard of living and the quality of her life.   This Part is basically how Americans lived after the Civil War with emphasis on the cities and northern farms.  Then there are chapters about how that life changed between 1870 or so and WWII.  “What They Ate and Wore,”  “The American Home,”  “Motors Overtake Horses and Rail,”  “From Telegraph to Talkies”  ” Illness and Early Death,” “Working Conditions”  and finally “Consumer Risks.”   –  This Part is about 300 pages long.

“Part 2 – 1940 to 2015:  The Golden Age and the Early Warnings of Slower Growth” is equally well organized,  well written and full of fully “footnoted” data.   Now we’ve got chapters on Food,  Clothing and Housing;  Cars and Planes; Entertainment and Communications; Computers and the Internet;  Medicine;  and finally,   Work, Youth and Retirement.”   This Part is a little less than 200 pages.

Finally in Part 3 we get to the analysis –  the causes of the great leap forward;  “Innovation” and what comes next;  along with “Inequality” and other “Headwind” issues.   This section has fewer than 100 pages.

And then, finally, a 10-page Postscript deals with an overall discussion of the problems ahead and policy suggestions.

Bill Gates on Gordon’s book:  (He likes the first 80%):

https://qz.com/742686/bill-gates-recommends-this-economics-book-so-long-as-you-skip-the-last-two-chapters/

But it’s the last two chapters which have the real meat for the future –  Gates is a serious optimist and he takes a world view.

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The Red-Haired Woman ~ by Orhan Pamuk

Oh I do so love the way Pamuk writes –  I just get sucked into his books because it seems there’s always an underlying  meaning to the words which comes together in layer after layer along with the complexities of the plots.   It takes thinking for me to read something by Pamuk.

The Red-Haired Woman reminds me a bit of Pamuk’s earlier tales,  Snow especially perhaps.  There’s a mystical,  mythical quality even if the story takes place in the contemporary world.  And they’re often about Turkey (with Pamuk’s beloved Istanbul) and the clash between East and West along with old and new and other issues.

This is probably a minor work from a Nobel Award winner.   His best,  imo, is My Name is Red which I read long ago and I’ve read most of his other novels.  I’m only missing the novels Silent House and A Strangeness in My Mind which I WILL get to.    I’ve also read the nonfiction Istanbul: Memories and the City.  

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*******
The Red-Haired Woman
by Orhan Pamuk
2017/ 254 pages
read by John Lee 7h 22m
rating 9.25  /  contemp fiction
(read and listened) 
*******

So in The Red-Haired Woman we have a 16-year old boy,  Cem Celik,  who was abandoned by his father at a fairly young age. When he got to high school he was apprenticed for a summer to a professional well-digger.  This is not at all what Cem is suited for,  but it pays well and Cem is a good kid,  saving for college.  He wants to be a writer,  but eventually becomes an engineer (revealed at the outset and pertinent to the story). His boss, Master Mahmut,  an unmarried middle-aged man,  takes the place of a father in many ways.

The book is divided into three Parts – the first of which sets up the whole rest of the book – his well-digging teenage summer when he met a red-haired woman and got involved with some very old myths.  In Part 2 Cem is a middle-age man dealing with life as he’s lived it but plagued by the ideas of father-son relationships – due in part to the conse-quences of that long-ago summer.  To reveal any of Part 3 would be a spoiler.

The main theme of this book is right up front there in Part 1  –  father-son relationships – ala Oedipus for the Greeks but Rostam and Suhrah for the Muslim Turks.  –

On a trip to the nearest city our hero sees a young woman with red hair who fascinates him and with whom he becomes obsessed.   Meanwhile, Mahmut is obsessed with finding water.

So the story of Oedipus, which Cem tells his boss one night,  hangs in the background – along with Master Mahmut’s own story of prophesy, or maybe fate.

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Rostam and Sohrab

Hopes and dreams and prophesies and stories as well as the related issues of what is real and what is not.

The sensual nature of Pamuk’s descriptions and metaphors in Part 1 are so delicious – they aren’t so apparent in Part 2 probably in part because the desert is gone after 30 years.

I had to look some things up  – either because I had no idea or to refresh my memory:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rostam_and_Sohrab

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahnameh

 

 

 

 

 

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Poison ~ by John Lescroart

The plot is great, an old fashioned murder by poison –  in the tea – makes a death look like a heart attack.  And the characters are right up there with the best Lescroart has written – family issues and a lot of money involved plus Dismas’ wife and son and good old Abe Glitzky from the prior books in the series.   San Francisco is still  … of course … San Francisco,  right down to Market Street and China Town.   But …  there’s something different.   The reader is kind of mellow –   it’s not David Collacci.   Oh well,  it’s not Robert Lawrence either so …

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*******
Poison
by John Lescroart
2018 / 304 pages
read by Jacques Roy  – 9h 9m 
rating:   B+ /  crime -legal thriller 
*******

By the time Dismas Hardy finds out that Abby Jarvis, an old client,  needs a lawyer on murder charge,  she’s already been arrested and arraigned for the murder of Grant Wagner.   But Dismas,  still feeling the pains of a past gunshot injury, gets down to the jail house anyway.

Wagner was the owner of a manufacturing company and the patriarch of a family of four children,  his wife is deceased.  It looked like he’d had a heart attack but after a second autopsy,  insisted on by one of his daughters,  it was found he’d been poisoned.

The clincher of the evidence against Abby,  to the police anyway,  was that she had spent a year in jail for vehicular manslaughter – while drunk.  But as the whole story unfolds it turns out there was also an affair,  embezzling,  a million-dollar inclusion in a will,  and more.   There certainly seems to be plenty of evidence against her.   But she insists she didn’t do it and for a variety of reasons,  Dismas’  believes she’s innocent.

Also,  Wagner’s children cannot believe that Abby,  a devoted employee of many years, would kill their father.   They don’t like any part of it actually,  because they were getting ready to cash in on a big deal by selling the company.   There’s plenty of motive to go around.

Also,  Wyatt Hunt,  Dismas’ cousin who has his own series,  joins Dismas in this book – nice.

Fuzi – tea aka Aconite   /  https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/21/health/poisoned-herbal-tea-death-san-francisco/index.html

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