Evolution of a reading obsession.

I'm still reading everything I can find about whistleblowers.

When I finally finished every Agatha Raisin cozy mystery I could get (yes, the whole series, 31 titles, although I see there's a new one expected at the end of next year*) over the holiday season, I celebrated by going back to my typical fare: books that Mr. CR calls "depressing nonfiction."

BolkovacThe depressing book in question is The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman's Fight for Justice, by Kathryn Bolkovac, with Cari Lynn.

Former Nebraska police officer Bolkovac details her time spent in war-torn Bosnia at the end of the 1990s and early years of the 2000s, after she applied to and went to work for a private military contractor. She thought she would be spending her time helping support a UN peacekeeping mission in the region, but that turned out not to be the case, particularly when she began filing reports about how women were being trafficked into and out of Bosnia, and, more importantly, who was paying to use those victims.

Mr. CR was right. It was depressing.

Particularly when Bolkovac tells one story of how she started to realize that many members of the international forces (including her co-workers) were not so much helping in an already bad situation as they were taking advantage of it. Consider her tale about "Carl":

"That evening, as [Carl] drove me home, he was not his normal, happy self. He told me his girlfriend had left him. I figured he had been trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with a woman back home and she just grew tired of being so far apart. But then he sighed and said, 'Yep, she ran away.'

I did not understand. 'She's a local girl,' he explained.

'Did she go back to live with her family?' I asked, still confused, but thinking she was probably a language assistant or secretary who worked in our offices.

'Well, she's not exactly from Bosnia. I think her passport says Romania or Moldova or something...' His voice trailed off, and he looked helpless.

I could not believe what I was hearing. I looked straight at him. 'Carl, where did you meet her?'

'At the Como Bar.'

My eyes narrowed. 'Is it possible she'd been trafficked into Bosnia?'

'Oh, I don't know about that, Kathy,' he said dubiously. 'I bought her from Tanjo, he's the owner of the Como.'

I clutched my armrest, digging in my nails. I knew of Tanjo--he was one of the most notorious traffickers in the region. The Human Rights Office had been after this elusive man for several years--and all the while DynCorp's very own Carl had been having up-close-and-personal dealings with him?

'Tanjo gave her to me for 6,000 Deutsch Marks,' Carl continued as if he were talking about a puppy. 'I kept her in my apartment, and I wanted to marry her and brig her back to the States. But she ran away yesterday, and she took my mobile phone. I'd at least like my phone back.'" (pp. 148-149.)

Sigh.

Bolkovac's story followed the standard whistleblower plot: She noticed the problem, she tried to report the problem, her reports were covered up, she kept pushing because she didn't understand why her reports weren't being filed, and then she started to be retaliated against by her employer. It never fails to strike me as a really disheartening narrative, but she was (unlike many whistleblowers) vindicated in the end, although vindication did not really make up for her eventually losing the DynCorp job or the accusations she withstood during the entire process.

It was an interesting read, but dry at times. If you don't have the time to give to the book, it was also made into a movie starring Rachel Weisz; you might want to try that.

*The last Agatha Raisin I read was noted to be co-written by M.C. Beaton (the original author) and somebody named R.W. Green, and was published after Beaton's death in 2019. I stuck with it, but it sucked, and I can't say I'm too hopeful about the next installment, which I'm guessing will also be written by Green.


Everything you ever wanted to know about running for local political office.

Back in 2019, when I was young and still had energy for such things, I ran for local political office, also known as a spot on my city's governing Council.

Spoiler alert: I lost.

But that turned out to be an okay thing, considering the fact that in 2019 my mom had a stroke and my husband had a heart attack, and in 2020 the whole world went down the shitter and I became a full-time homeschooler. I've really had enough to do without keeping on top of what the powers that be in my municipality are doing.

Okay, I lied. I still watch a little bit what my city powers that be are doing. As far as I can tell, they're continuing to subsidize already wealthy developers to build luxury apartment buildings (except they call it "workforce housing" to act like there's an altruistic method to their madness) and talking a good game about "sustainability" while spending a lot of money on amenities for rich people, which seems like an unsustainable system to me, but that's okay. It's just the way of the world.

But in a weird sort of way I really enjoyed running for local office, not least because I did a lot of walking around my neighborhood in the company of the youngest CRjr, who wasn't yet in school then. Those are good memories and will always be so.

But! I'm writing today to share the very exciting news that I wrote an article about HOW to run for local office, and it's been published by something called Better Humans at the Medium platform.* Here it is, if you'd like to peruse it: How and Why You Should Run for Local Political Office.

*Medium is a writing platform that will let you read some stories for free, but if you want to read more than just a sampling, you have to subscribe for $5 a month. I subscribed because I was finding some good stuff to read there, and it turns out you can also write stuff there and sometimes get paid for it, which is nice also. Anyone out there a subscriber or writer on Medium? Let me know in the comments and I would love to follow you on that platform.


What a very strange year.

I gotta be honest with you--2019 wore me out, and I was SO HOPEFUL that 2020 would be easier and more peaceful.

Or not.

Let's be clear: the virus is awful and I feel very badly for anyone who has had it, because a. feeling sick is terrible, and b. interacting with our health "care" system is a nightmare even if you have time and health insurance. I also know it is a nightmare for the service industry and as a former waitress, I feel deep-body sympathy for anyone caught in that shitstorm of a sector this year. On the other hand? If you could work at home and homeschool your kids, as we are lucky enough to be able to do in ChezCitizenReader?

Well, then, I'm not proud to admit it, but it's been my least anxious year ever. Mainly because it has removed interactions with other people and (mostly) with systems with which I don't agree and hate being a part of. If you think I missed social functions at the school of the CRjrs, you are way, way wrong.

If you think I missed any social functions at all, you are way, way wrong.

Are other anxious introverts feeling this way? I hesitate to even admit it because I know how tough and how ugly 2020 has been for many, many people worldwide.

No year-end round-up, because, truthfully, I hate those things. But I WOULD very much like to hear what you read and loved this year and why. Or just pop in and say hi and tell me how you're doing. Either way, and whatever havoc COVID-19 has wreaked in your life, I wish you and yours all the very best in 2021.


Ellen Ullman's "Life in Code."

This is now the third time I've had Ellen Ullman's book Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology, home from the library, and once again, I'm not going to finish it.

Life in codeThis is not because it's a bad book. I think it's actually a very good book. Unlike the last two times I've checked it out, this time I got through about 100 pages of it, and now it is overdue. (And it's perpetually on hold, so it's a popular book as well.)

Ullman (according to the book jacket), began her twenty-year programming career in the late-1970s/early-1980s. Evidently she is also the author of several novels and another well-known memoir, titled Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents, which I'd never heard of. That makes sense, though; in 1997 I was still reading fantasy and studying film history, so the only nonfiction I read was biographies of James Dean and Montgomery Clift.

This book is a collection of pieces that have been written at various points in time; at the head of each chapter she tells you the year or the years when she first wrote it. This makes it a rather disjointed read (for me, anyway), but there's a lot here that made me go, "Oh, of course." A lot of things that bother me about our techie world, she talks about. She describes (in the 1994 chapter) how all programmers want to go "low," or "closer to the machine," so they can avoid the ridiculous work of creating systems for actual human users. She also describes a lunchroom conversation where all the techies try to figure out how long it would take to "wipe out a disease inherited recessively on the X chromosome." Eventually they get around to just killing every carrier. When she points out that that's what the Nazis did:

"They all look at me in disgust. It's the look boys give a girl who has interrupted a burping contest. One says, 'This is something my wife would say.'

When he says 'wife,' there is no love, warmth, or goodness in it. In this engineer's mouth, 'wife' means wet diapers and dirty dishes. It means someone angry with you for losing track of time and missing dinner. Someone sentimental. In his mind (for the moment), 'wife' signifies all programming-party-pooping, illogical things in the universe." (pp. 9-10.)

God. It's a good book. But you know the real reason I couldn't finish it? It made me so depressed I didn't think I could go on.

So I put it down and spent the rest of the weekend reading Agatha Raisin mysteries. I slept a lot better after those.


Great News!

Whistleblower Edward Snowden and his wife Lindsay Mills are having a baby!

Yes, I know you probably thought I was talking about something else, but let's face it, unless it pertains to whistleblowers, I don't follow political news at all anymore. I don't want to get into a whole big thing about it, but I might just caution against thinking rural voters are a completely different species than anyone else. For a truly eye-opening look at the cultures, economics, and politics of living in rural America, I would highly suggest reading Paula vW. Dáil's excellent Hard Living in America's Heartland: Rural Poverty in the 21st Century Midwest.

But: that is all neither here nor there.

Moral mazesThis week I'd like to tell you about this SUPER book I've been reading all summer long: Robert Jackall's Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers. It was first published in 1988, and I'm reading the twentieth anniversary edition from 2008, but I'm telling you, it reads like it was written this morning. Anyone who is feeling grossed out by our world of corporations and groupthink and organizational behavior (three things which all gross me out A LOT), is going to find a lot to read about in this book.

Ostensibly the book is about the "occupational ethics of corporate managers," and can also be considered a "sociology of the peculiar form of bureaucracy dominant in American business."

Now that makes it sound dry as hell, and I'm not going to lie to you, this is an academic book. It requires slow reading and attention, which is why I can only get through about 1.5 pages every day, in between yelling at the CRjrs to stop hitting each other so hard (I've given up on telling them to stop hitting each other full-stop). But if you put in the work, I think you'll be rewarded, because here is a quote from an actual manager that REALLY tells you what the book is about:

"As a former vice-president of a large firm says: 'What is right in the corporation is not what is right in a man's home or in his church. What is right in the corporation is what the guy above you wants from you. That's what morality is in the corporation.'" (p. 4.)

And if that doesn't explain a lot of what is going wrong in the world today, I don't know what does.

More to come. Have a good week, all.


Happy COVID Autumn.

I used to enjoy living in Wisconsin. But it's not been the most peaceful of places just now.

I don't have any answers or any ideas and I'm actually kind of tired of listening to people who think they do. So, it's back to avoidance of life through reading, and friends, I EXCEL at that sport.

So what I have been reading?

First up: the Agatha Raisin cozy mystery series by M.C. Beaton. I was never really into Beaton before now, but then I watched the fantastic series Agatha Raisin, starring the always-underappreciated Ashley Jensen.

The mysteries are terrible, beyond simplistic, but I LOVE Ashley Jensen as Agatha Raisin, and it turns out in the books that I just love Agatha Raisin for all her middle-aged prickliness (which hides a soft gooey center of kindness and insecurity). I'm in the early part of the series still, before Beaton started to phone them in (I've read a few later entries and yes, they get a little more slapdash), so that's good stuff.

I also polished off a few illustrated biographies/histories by an author named Ted Rall, who I really enjoy. Previously I have read his biography of Edward Snowden*, titled simply Snowden, but this month I tackled Francis: The People's Pope and Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party, which was a fantastic American history book no matter what your politics.** I would highly recommend Ted Rall, and, as a special treat for these troubled, disjointed times, they are very quick reads.

Last but not least, for most of the summer I dipped into and out of Paula vW. Dáil's superlative Hard Living in America's Heartland: Rural Poverty in the 21st Century Midwest, which, no kidding, is a meaty buy for your library or for you at $29.95. If you are at all confused about what it's like living in rural America today, this book will lay it out for you with research, personal interviews, and economic numbers that will make a lot of things very, very clear. I'm from the rural Midwest, and I loved this book for the many ways it was right on, and for the many ways it pointed out how rural people who know things are continually screwed in our country, and also the pros and cons of their rural communities (and how they live within them). It's not easy to find a scholarly book that isn't condescending, but this one isn't, and I was endlessly grateful for that. I won't lie--it can get dry--but wow, I sure kept reading it. I would highly recommend it.

So. What have YOU been reading?

*The only piece of news I've seen for months that really made me happy was this one: Edward Snowden has been given permanent residency in Russia. I'm sad because this means I'll probably never be able to vote for him for president, but I can also stop worrying every three years (that was how often they had been renewing his visa or whatever he had for staying there) that he'll be returned to this country and executed just for being a decent, thinking human being.

**Okay, Republicans probably won't like it, but I'm a Nothing (politically, socially, professionally) and I enjoyed it.


Your Friday Giggle: Welcome to the Future.

Elon muskMy most fervent desire for Elon Musk is that he eventually shoots himself into space and we never have to hear about him ever again.

Seriously, I hate him. And all his kind.

So when I saw there was an entire parody book titled Welcome to the Future: Which Is Mine, by "Not Elon Musk," well, you know I had to look into that.

And yes, it's funny. I can't read a whole lot of satire, or parodies, but when I flipped through this one there was lots to enjoy. Most notably the Foreword, by (Not) Mark Zuckerberg:

"To get the most out of reading this book, you will need to give me your personal information: A foreword by Mark Zuckerberg.

Hello!

Elon Musk, my close personal acquaintance/colleague, asked me to write this foreword...Before you start the exciting process of opening this book and looking at the thrilling words and fun images on its pages, I need you to take a brief moment of your time and give me all of your personal information.

This is a very important step in the partaking of this book, and it cannot be skipped. If you attempt to skip it, you will receive an error message and you will not be granted access.

Specifically, what I am asking you to do, before you flip to the next page or browse this book in any way, is to provide me with your email address, your work history, a street address where you can be reached at any hour of the day or night, and access to the camera on your phone.

This information will never be shared with advertisers or third-party app developers. You have the Mark Zuckerberg promise on that!" (p. 1.)

And it goes on that way for quite some time, getting steadily more hilarious and ridiculous. There's chapters headed with titles like "I Enjoy Normal Human Activities The Same As You" (he doesn't) and, my favorite, "Is It Weird That I Get a Little Jealous When Another Car Maker's Autonomous Vehicle Kills Someone?"

I enjoyed it, and it's nice to laugh at anything these days. Even though I don't think Elon Musk is any laughing matter. Seriously. The guy has made $20 million dollars EACH AND EVERY HOUR since January 1. That isn't right.

I also got a new essay published at Medium, and it's an ode to Mr. CR: "Famous Romantic Lines, If They'd Been Said By My Accountant Husband."He's a romantic fool, our Mr. CR.

Now: Happy weekend to all of you. Don't buy a Tesla.


Re-reading while older.

It's not as dangerous as driving while drunk, but re-reading books that I read as a young person, now that I am an old person, is turning out to be a bittersweet journey.

And yes, I know 46 is a little young to be feeling as old as I am. But frankly, the last few years BEFORE 2020 had aged me, and I think 2020 has aged us all. I think it's safe to say I feel about 84. On a good day. At least I don't have macular degeneration (yet). Kitchen

The other day I was reading something about Anthony Bourdain (how I miss him) and I thought, I'd like to re-read Kitchen Confidential. So I did; but only in parts. This is what I found out:

  • I really miss Anthony Bourdain. I didn't re-read Kitchen Confidential all the way through, but I read it in little bits here and there and every single page I flipped to sucked me in immediately. And what a memoir. I'd forgotten just how meaty it was--literally and figuratively (the paperback copy I've got is slightly over 300 pages). He really had a way of making everything that he talked about interesting (even the parts that weren't that interesting to me, including some of his harder-living days). I usually don't have a lot of patience for "bad boys" describing their hijinks, but I have patience for Bourdain, mostly because when he's acting like a jerk he clearly knows he's acting like a jerk, and sometimes you can hear him striving for a more perfect state of being, through food or perhaps his skill with food. It's inspiring.
  • He was just 44 or so when this, one of his biggest and bestselling books, was published, it is shocking to me how old Bourdain used to seem (when I first read this book I would have been in my late 20s or 30) to me, and now that I'm 46, he seems ridiculously young. How can sixteen years or so make that big a difference in perspective? (And of course he died much too young.)
  • I just really liked this book. Take the chapter where Bourdain describes being the chef in a restaurant that the mob set up to give to a compatriot who had spent time in prison for not ratting them out. Although the man was not really fit to be in charge of a restaurant, Bourdain describes how many of the wise guys really tried to help him make it:

"When we finally opened, we were packed from the first minute. Orders flooded in over the phone and at the counter and at the tables. We were unprepared and understaffed, so the Italian contingent--including various visiting dignitaires, all with oddly anglicized names ('This is Mr. Dee, Tony, and meet a friend, Mr. Brown...This is Mr. Lang'), all of them overweight, cigar-chomping middle-aged guys with bodyguards and ten thousand-dollar watches--pitched in to help out with deliveries and at the counter. Gusy I'd read about later in the papers as running construction in the outer boroughs, purported killers, made men, who lived in concrete piles on Staten Island and Long Beach and security-fenced estates in Jersey, carried brown paper bags of chicken sandwiches up three flights of stairs to Greenwich Village walk-up apartments to make deliveries; they slathered mayo and avocado slices on pita bread behind the counter, and bused tables in the dining room. I have to say I liked them for that." p. 148.)

It remains a classic memoir. And even though it made me feel old to re-read it, it was worth it.


Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio.

This week I got the best thing ever in the mail: a book present from a friend.*

The book in question is Derf Backderf's new book Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, and it is a nonfiction graphic novel about the events of May 4, 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio. That was when the National Guard was called in to restore order to the campus in the face of protests, and ended up firing into the crowd and killing four people (and injuring nine more). To this day nobody knows who gave the order to fire or why, and nobody knows who specifically did the shooting. If you don't know the story, you should immediately read this book, or read this to start with.

Kent stateAs my friend said, she hoped I enjoyed the book, although she felt that "enjoy" (considering the subject matter) was not really the right word to use.

The book is unbelievable. I'm not a huge graphic novel reader, but I find I enjoy graphic novel nonfiction in graphic form, particularly for historical or science stories that are interesting to me but on which I don't have the time to read a regular nonfiction book. What is perhaps the most stunning is the section of notes and bibliographical material; Backderf provides sources and information for every picture and page he draws, and it is fascinating to learn just how difficult it is to find the truth of this one story. History is anything but dry; excavating the layers upon layers of trying to find the facts of this story in different accounts and photos must have been quite a job.

I read the book in one breathless run (yes, I ignored the children, and the meals, and the house, and other work--you just have to do that sometimes). It also led me to do a little bit of poking around on YouTube to see what else I can find, and one thing I found was Glenn Frank's impassioned plea to the students to just leave the protest so they all wouldn't get shot. Frank was a professor at Kent State and you have got to go watch this recording of his scream. I've thought about this book (and that clip) a lot, this week.

This is what everyone should scream in the face of any violence: "Jesus Christ, I don't want to be a part of this."

Buy, and read, this book.

And thank you to my friend who sent it. You're right, "enjoy" was the wrong word. But it was the right book for me at the right time.

*Okay, we all know the best things to get in the mail are checks. Preferably large ones. But that doesn't happen very often, and actually, book gifts are so FUN they might even beat checks.


Citizen Reader at The Progressive.

As previously noted: I love whistleblowers.

I have now taken my fan girl behavior up a notch, and moved from reading about whistleblowers, to writing about whistleblowers, with this article I just got published at The Progressive magazine:

"How a U.S. Army Whistleblower Revealed 'The Apparatus of a Police State.'"

Earlier this year I was able to interview Christopher Pyle, the whistleblower in question, who was a longtime professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. He's a fascinating guy, just fascinating. I know this is going to be a hard sell, but really, consider watching this half-hour talk with him and another author about surveillance and privacy issues. Or you can read his defense of Edward Snowden.

Have a good Monday, everyone.