Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake – TwoMorePages Book Review

Conscience of a Conservative by Jeff Flake – TwoMorePages Book Review

{Edited Preface: Like The Words of Radiance review, this one has two voices. This time, I read the book along with my good friend Rachel, and she’s shared her thoughts below in blue.

Funnily enough, Jeff Flake had an unexpected announcement while we were coming up with our thoughts. I wrote all of my thoughts *before* his announcement and Rachel wrote all of them *after*, so there will be a slightly interesting dichotomy in timing and verb tenses. Enjoy!}


So I’ve been reading a lot of political books lately given our…unique political climate. Senator Bernie Sanders’s book was cool, if a bit preachy. Senator Al Franken’s book was hilariously entertaining, while also being on point with his messaging.

But in order to prevent myself from living in an echo chamber, I thought it important to read something from a conservative viewpoint. On a recommendation from my buddy, Eric Kuhle, on our Acadia National Park trip, I picked up Jeff Flake’s book, “Conscience of a Conservative.”

It was way better than I thought it would be. And, surprisingly, it read *really* similarly to Al Franken’s “Giant of the Senate book.” The main difference wasn’t one of topics, but of tone. Whereas Franken’s book carried a mostly comedic tone, Flake’s come off in a very serious manner. The only time he really tries to be funny is when he points out the absurdity of some of the situations he has been faced with as a US Senator.

Hi! Rachel here. I picked up this book on a recommendation from Edmund and, I have to admit, I honestly enjoyed it. It was short, witty, to-the-point and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise very smothering political atmosphere. Was it a little preachy? Yeah, of course, it’s a book written by a politician. Was it necessary? Absolutely. 

On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy

For instance, the third chapter of Flake’s book is titled “On Bad Information and the Threat to Democracy”. Compare that with Franken’s chapter “Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them”. You could have dropped one persons’s chapter into the other verbatim and aside from a slight change in tone, I would never have noticed. For instance, compare the following statements from each of their books:

Whatever the source, a steady diet of bad information, conveyed in bad faith, can over time become a serious threat to democracy. Over time, a determined effort to undermine the very idea of truth softens the ground for anti-democratic impulses.

-Jeff Flake

I know I’m sort of farting into the wind on this. But I hope you’ll fart along with me. I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t.

-Al Franken

or these statements from each of their books:

There was once a time in politics, as well as in journalism, when in order to be serious and credible, you had to observe a baseline fidelity to empirical truth. And if you made mistakes – or worse, if you were a bad actor and got things wrong on purpose – you suffered real consequences. Violate the public trust, and you paid a steep price. The higher up the food chain you went, the more serious and credible you were expected to be.

That order seems to have vanished.

-Jeff Flake

All of this to say that I care a lot about people in politics telling the truth. And even considering all the horrible things Trump got away with during the campaign – mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Gold Star family, referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” calling for Muslims to be banned from our country – I still can’t believe he got away with lying so much.

Frankly, it made me wonder whether, sadly, the war was over and the liars had won.

-Al Franken

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Flake is an eloquent writer. While his prose is more fancy than Franken’s, they basically had the exact same message. And remember that they are on pretty staunchly opposite sides of the political aisle.

THE TRUTH MATTERS. AND AGREEING ON WHAT IS PROVABLY TRUE OR FALSE MATTERS.

Look on my facebook wall and you’ll see that I don’t shy away from political debate. But you’ll notice that until someone tries to use “#FakeNews” to discredit something that they disagree with, I try to be relatively cordial, trying to address the specific points that we are disagreeing on vs assuming that they are dumb.

Just because we disagree doesn’t make either one of us stupid. I fully agree with Day[9] when it comes to internet arguments, and try to approach discussions that way.

But try to discredit anything you disagree with as “fake” not because it’s actually fake, but because it disagrees with you? Now I’ll treat you like an idiot child.

If you treat everything that you disagree with as “fake” and then ignore it, how are we supposed to have a reasonable discussion? Your mind can’t be changed, and you can’t support your argument with provable facts. Why are we even talking?

It was very heartening to see Senator Flake, a staunchly Republican Senator, agree that facts are important.

Perhaps most destructive of all, we haven’t ever had an occupant of the White House who so routinely calls true reports that irk him “fake news” while giving his seal of approval to fake reports that happen to support his position.

It is madness to turn ourselves inside out in an attempt to make reality comport with an alternate reality, just because someone in power would like us to.

It was further heartening to see him call out Trump specifically for what infuriates me about him – calling everything that disagrees with him “fake” while automatically praising anything that agrees with him, regardless of its validity.

I’d go further down this rabbit hole, but I already did in my review for Franken’s book, so no need to rehash that here.

Only in anti-democratic propaganda states do we see “alternate facts” successfully compete with the truth for primacy. Only in such states do we see a sustained program of bad information emanate from the highest levels of the government. This, as I will continue to point out in the course of this book, is not a conservative value. And as conservatives, we simply cannot carry on as if it is not happening.

As someone who grew up staunchly conservative and who has become sickened at what now passes as conservative, it’s nice to know that there’s still someone home who has the ability to think critically. And that if Flake thinks this, surely other Republican Senators and House Representatives do as well.

I wholeheartedly agree with Edmund’s analysis above. While always a liberal, I too grew up in a pretty conservative extended family and I have watched the Republican party and its conservative affiliates leap to the right and leave my family behind, bewildered and all of a sudden pretty liberal. (Shout out to all the Southern Baptist conservative Texan families out there who have rejected this administration as well…oh wait, no one else? Ah well.) Senator Flake analyzed the situation fairly aptly: The Republican Party, “following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying ‘problems,’ if not for solving them…lurched like a tranquilized elephant…” with no solution or moral code in sight.  That’s a pretty damning indictment of someone who will continue to work on behalf of the Republican Party for another year and a half. 

On Fox News

I fully expected to receive the “Do you believe the President is a citizen?” question, and sure enough, when the question came, I said that if we wanted to be taken seriously, we had to stop indulging in ugly conspiracy theories. Those words were met with a choros of boos.

When a conspiracy theory becomes litmus-test orthodoxy, objective reality is at risk.

The truth is the truth, and anything else is a waste of time. Still, to be booed because I didn’t subscribe to a right-wing conspiracist fantasy about our first African American president is a sobering experience indeed.

The impact of the support of the absurd birther theory regularly received on certain shows on Fox News cannot be overstated. In fact, the impact of the conditioning that the minds of American conservatives receive on some of these Fox shows cannot be overstated.

That last paragraph was something I had not expected to read AT ALL in a book written by a conservative senator. That was an amazingly pleasant surprise.

So kudos to Jeff Flake, calling out bullshit where he sees it.

I know that one of the big hullabaloos about him writing this book at all was that he put himself in danger of losing re-election, not from a democratic challenger, but from a primary challenger. And I think that danger is very real, given that he calls out the idiotic ideas that galvanized the extremes of his party’s own base (who are the ones who usually vote in primaries). So again, major props to Jeff Flake.

Way to stick to your principles, Flake. I really hope you’re not punished for it from within your own party, that smart conservatives actually read your book and show up to the Primary voting booths.

So I’m adding to this review a few days late and it looks like my prediction that Flake would drop out has come true. I haven’t quite come to terms yet with how I feel about that. This is a man with whose policies and voting records I vehemently disagree.  This is a man who voted 91% of the time with the Trump Administration’s policies. But as much as I disagree with this, I can’t really blame him – Flake is a staunch conservative who borders on libertarianism, of course he would vote this way. 

However. This is also a man who wrote in his condemnation of the modern Republican party, “We hold out our hand, expecting our share of nonwhite votes, and yet we give these Americans too few reasons to come our way. Instead, we demonized them, marginalized them, blamed them for our country’s problems…” That statement right there? Incredible. A member of the modern Republican party being able to critically diagnose his party’s failings in this regard is almost unprecedented. 

On Globalism and Free Trade

Seemingly overnight, the word globalist became a grave insult among people in my party who also called themselves “conservative.” I remember a right-wing blog post during my election t the Senate that said I had “been seen in the company of globalists in Paris, France.”

Quel scandale! Globalist as opposed to what, exactly? A provincialist? A parochialist? A localist?

In this country, we are less than 5% of the world’s population. We are 20% of the world’s economic output. And if we don’t trade, we don’t grow. Given the alternatives, I’ll take the globalist moniker, thank you.

One of my favorite snippets of the book came in his chapter about Free Trade. It’s one of the few times that he comes off as comedic and, imo, the perfect amount of snarky.

Yes, Flake! This is something that has been driving me up a wall for years. When on earth did we decide that being a “globalist” or internationalist was such a bad thing? Did we learn nothing from World War 1 or World War 2? Let’s just set this straight. No, the U.N. is not out to take over the world and ruin American lives. No, isolationism is not the best way to solve problems. No, understanding other cultures is not going to undermine your own. No, attempting to make peace through treaties and diplomacy is not a symbol of a country’s weakness. And no, globalization and trade and international relations ARE NOT A ZERO SUM GAME. They’re just not. 

As someone who grew up with the notion that free trade makes everyone richer and better off, the whole “protectionism” vibe that we’ve been seeing with the election of Trump, the potential election of Marie LePen in France, and the whole BrExit fiasco has been super puzzling for me. Who votes to cut off their nose to spite their face? Well, a lot of people apparently.

Free trade is a lift-all-boats phenomenon, and that is precisely what free-market economics is all about. It provides for the most efficient use of capital…It is precisely because we have taken advantage of globalization that we have the standard of living that we have.

In America, it’s even weirder, because, to me, the party that is about hands-off government and laissez-faire economics should be the party that is all about open borders and free trade. IT MAKES EVERYONE RICHER, so why wouldn’t the pro-business party be all for it?

His condescension at the idiot members of the Republican party that seem to be for protectionism, those idiot members who use globalist with a negative connotation perfectly encapsulates how I feel about them. DO YOU NOT LIKE MONEY? WHY WOULD YOU BE FOR TRADE WARS?

On Thinking About What You Say

In politics, it is difficult to win an argument with complexity and facts when the other side offers easy answers and free stuff without worrying about the details. This is largely how Donald Trump vanquished the Republican field in 2016.

Candidate Trump was giving – and we, the Republican electorate, bought – the late-night infomercial: “Health Care for Everybody! Much Better, at a Fraction of the Cost! Free Border Wall! Super-Colossal Trade Deals! But Wait! There’s More!!”

This doesn’t need much commentary by me. It is just straight up funny, while being OH-SO-TRUE.

Trump promised his electorate the world, and those of us who questioned how the fuck he was going to do things that seemed mutually exclusive like make health care better while simultaneously making it cheaper while simultaneously covering more people were brushed off. And then of course, when push came to shove, came “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Yeah, “nobody.” /s

Exactly. As a Political Science major a little piece of me dies inside any time a politician or layman tries to say that a policy is bad because it is too long or complicated. There really isn’t ever such a thing in politics as an easy solution. In fact, there is a whole branch of political science devoted to something called Wicked Problems: problems that have incomplete or contradictory information, a plethora of people and interest groups involved, a large economic burden, and interconnections with other problems and policy areas. So yeah, the legislation that is the most detailed, comprehensive, thought-out, and analyzed is probably going to be the best legislation to pass. And yeah, we all knew health care (and literally any other policy arena) was going to be complicated. 

On Checking the Powers of the Executive Branch

I was puzzled when the new president’s senior adviser Stephen Miller – who was also credited with a principal role in the development of the travel ban – appeared on national television and announced that “our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” Will not by questioned? Really?

Presidential power should be questioned, continually. That’s what our system of government, defined by the separation of powers, is all about. It shouldn’t matter whether the president belongs to my party or to another one.

Besides, I’m from the West. Questioning power is what we do.

Aside from entertaining Jeff Flake’s mic drop there at the end (Woooh! West USA!), I was very happy to see that Senator Flake understands that the legislative branch is there not to serve at the leisure of the President, but to work alongside him/her, and to provide a check on executive power when it is over-reaching.

Contrast that other Republican lawmakers literally saying that our representatives “work for the President” instead of their own constituents.

Once again, a little piece of me dies every time I hear a politician – on either side of the aisle – say they serve the interests of the President. No you don’t. Please, just read the Constitution once. That’s all I ask. And while Flake has voted incredibly frequently for the President’s agenda, and while I disagree with most of it, I believe that *he* believes he is voting in the best interest of those who elected him, not the President. 

The Senate must be the saucer that cools the coffee, as George Washington is said to have told Thomas Jefferson.

A case in point early in the new presidency was President Trump’s increasing pressure on the Senate to dispense with the filibuster for legislation so that he might be able to get his program through the Senate without concern about achieving consensus.  Such a move would turn the Senate into just another majoritarian body just like the House of Representatives, thus forfeiting its reputation as a deliberative body at all, much less the world’s greatest. At that point, it might be fair to ask: Why have a Senate at all?

That is not how constitutional democracy works. And it’s not how the United States Senate works, either.

How willing would the Republicans be to go along with the President? Would we be willing to change the institution for short-term gain? We all consider ourselves institutionalists, but what will we do when the President starts tweeting, scolding us for obstructing his agenda?

What happens if there is a tax bill which isn’t getting any Democratic support? Will we stand up and say no, we’ve got to be bipartisan, we’ve got to work for it and pick up the necessary votes? Or will we scrap the rules?

I will not support any such effort to harm the Senate. It is a line I cannot cross.

 

I was pretty pumped when I read the above section in his book. And then I went to google and found out that he did indeed vote on completely partisan things like removing the filibuster to put Gorsich on the Supreme Court. And he voted for the terrible Republican health care bill. And he voted to put Devos as Secretary of Education.

So…partial credit. Good rhetoric, no matching action. :/

But maybe he’ll be better going forward? I hope so.

Maybe. I’ve probably studied politicians and Congress too much to have much faith in them but maybe now that Flake has completely severed his ties with the President and the scary wing of his party he’ll be more inclined to buck them. 

On Conviction of Conservative Beliefs

Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign. And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything – or maybe nothing at all.

Why did we do that/ And how did it happen? How did conservatives betray conservatism? Or worse: how did we embrace incoherence?

The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

His introspection into what has happened to the Republican party over the past decade, but ESPECIALLY in the 2016 election was especially poignant in my opinion.

It is a testament to just how far we fell in 2016 that to resist the fever and stand up for conservatism seemed a radical act.

I often wonder what Barry Goldwater would make of the current state of his party and of American politics more generally. I am confident that he would not be pleased or amused.

The party of Lincoln would now likely be unrecognizable to the Great Emancipator.

I don’t even recognize the current Republican party. It’s not the same party that I grew up with, *that I was a part of* in my younger years. It’s funny now to me that I’m considered “so liberal” when I don’t feel like I’ve really changed that much. didn’t change – the party did, bringing the needle *so far to the right* that apparently now I’m liberal?

When did it become a conservative value to place party over country?

When did it become a conservative value for your elected official to do/say something because he has an R next to his name, but not okay for someone else to do/say a similar thing because he as a D next to his name?

When did it become a conservative value to turn a blind eye towards lies and misinformation?

When did it become a conservative value to be okay with consorting with foreign powers during an election?

So it’s refreshing to see that at least one (and hopefully more) Republican lawmakers feel the same way, that their party has changed, and not for the better. They may not all have the courage of conviction that Jeff Flake has, who may or may not be committing career suicide by breaking ranks and publishing this book; but I want to believe that some at least are smart enough (and sane enough) to realize what is happening to the Republican party.

It’d be nice to be able to “come home again” and be able to agree with a Republican on political topics without having to believe such silly things as “Obama wasn’t a US citizen” or “Climate change isn’t real”.

When your raison d’etre stops being How can we hold to the principles of limited government and economic freedom? and becomes How can we hold on to this majority for one more cycle? then you’ve become the very thing that you’re supposed to be against.

In this era of dysfunction and collapsed principle, our only accomplishment is painstakingly constructing the argument that we’re not to blame and hoping that we’ve gerrymandered ourselves well enough to be safe in the next election.

We decided that it was better to build and maintain a majority by using the levers of power rather than the art of persuasion and the battle of ideas. And we have decided that getting nothing done is okay.

There are many on both sides who like this outcome so much that they think it’s a good model on which to build a whole career. (Edmund insertion: *Cough Ted Cruz*) Far too often, we come to destroy, not to build.

Moreover, I like how he spends entire chapters talking about the foundations of good governing, and how poisonous the current Republican party’s stance on governing is for the country.

TARP was actually a modest price to pay to forestall a global depression. My vote against the bill is a vote that I still regret.

Here’s what mattered: At a moment of national and global crisis, that vote was an abdication of my responsibility as a member of Congress.

For instance, he goes into detail about how stupid it is to “Vote No, but hope yes” (on the TARP bill), and about how he is ashamed to have done so in the past.

He talks at length about how bipartisan legislation used to be passed, and about how wholly partisan victories are shallow, because they’re just as easily overturned in the next election cycle without bipartisan support. He uses specific examples of attempts at good, enduring legislation, successful or otherwise, and it’s not all to make himself look good – some of his examples he isn’t even involved in.

I have to agree with everything above. I think it is remarkable that a sitting politician could come out with such a damning expose of his entire party and I admire him for that. It was interesting that he agreed with Franken when he traced part of the start of the Republican Party’s decline to Newt Gingrich. Both Flake and Franken wholeheartedly condemned Gingrich for bringing to light the vicious underbelly of the Republican Party. Flake’s condemnation of Gingrich echoes my concerns with many of today’s politicians: “Newt, whose talents for politics exceeded his interest in governing…” This is extremely on point. As someone who one day would like to enter the world of politics, it worries me that many politicians seem to prize their ruthlessness and cunning over their concern and care for their constituents. 

Conclusion

I am a proud conservative and a lifelong Republican. That does not make the Democrats my enemies. America has too many real enemies to indulge such nonsense.

It’s good to not demonize the people on the other side of the political aisle, and this book helped me a ton in that respect. The similarities between Jeff Flake’s book and Al Franken’s book were eye opening to me. If two senators that are that different from one another politically can agree on things like that, it gives me hope for the future.

This book helped me greatly in that respect. It’s good to know that not all Republicans are Trump supporters who are ignorant to logic.

It’s great to know that not all Republican lawmakers have abdicated their responsibility in understanding that the legislative branch doesn’t work as an arm of the executive branch.

It’s fantastic to know that some of them like Jeff Flake have such strong conservative convictions that they’re willing to put themselves out there and risk their own re-election to help lead their party’s return to sanity.

I think it’s really interesting that once Republican legislatures are free from the shackles of worrying about re-election, they say and do sane things. Like Bob Corker. or John McCain.

Of course, relying on Senators not worrying about re-election to keep Trump in check is not sustainable. So I do hope that Jeff Flake, like his idol Goldwater (whose book Flake based his own book on), sparks a conservative revolution, one that affects the ranks of normal congressmen and women that *are* seeking re-election.

Now, more than ever, America’s separation of powers is what is keeping her afloat. But that requires legislators like Jeff Flake to have the conviction to stand up for their conservative ideals rather than act as servants for Trump.

And maybe more than that, I hope it helps spark activism amongst more moderate conservatives, ones who look around and see that things ARE INDEED NOT NORMAL AND NOT OKAY. I plan on giving this book to some of my more conservative, older friends. They’d be much more likely to read a book by the Republican Senator from Arizona than the Democratic Senator from Minnesota. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I sure hope it does.

I could not agree more. The only way to escape our political malaise is to educate ourselves. Jeff Flake’s book is a good first step in this direction. I can only hope that his actions support his words. 

 

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Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – TwoMorePages Book Review

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – TwoMorePages Book Review

Kudos to Rachel, who turned me onto this book. I wouldn’t have read this without her recommendation, and my life would have been much less rich for it.

Al Franken is hilariously insightful. It’s like one of the correspondents from the Daily Show became a Senator. I really enjoyed his insights into the workings of the Senate, complete with plenty of tangible real world examples.

For instance, I always felt like this Congress was more obstructionist, but I was never quantified it. I didn’t realize that 40% of all cloture votes in US Senate History were called by Mitch McConnell alone, just to delay progress so that Obama couldn’t get credit for things. McConnell called for cloture votes on some things that would eventually pass 98-0! He called cloture on bills that he himself ended up voting yes on! HOW STUPID IS THAT?

But more than that, his take on the difference between Congressional behavior just a few decades ago compared to Congressional behavior now was interesting, specifically his take on the specific drivers that caused that change in behavior.

His discussion of various facets of policy was passionate. It was like he took the words and arguments straight from my head, replete with the righteous anger of being lied to over and over again.

One of the tenets of his book is that a strong failing of Democrats is messaging. This book? Definitely the antithesis of that. Strong, direct, entertaining, and to the point.

 

Operation Curdle

“On this day,” Obama declared in his inaugural address, “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

To which Mitch McConnell basically responded, “Oh yeah? Well, screw you, buddy!”

The way I see it, Republicans had three options for how to deal with the new political reality they faced in January 2009.

Option 1: Recognize that the new President was hugely popular and had a mandate from the American people to deal with a series of pressing crises, and ask, ‘How can we help?’

Option 2: Recognize that the new President was hugely popular and had a mandate from the American people to deal with a series of pressing crises, and say, ‘Congratulations, but we have some political standing too, and we’re going to make you come to the table and negotiate. So let’s sit down and work out something we can all live with.’

Option 3: Focus on reducing his popularity, refuse to respect his mandate, and as for those pressing crises? Not only are we not going to help him solve them, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent him from solving them, and then we’re going to blame him for failing to solve them. In fact, after a while, we’re going to start blaming him for creating the problems in the first place!

Democrats and Republicans had faced this dilemma many times before, but never before had anyone ever chosen Door Number 3.

And then, having enjoyed making a big show out of refusing to help the President succeed, Republicans then turned to making a big show out of complaining that he had failed.

In reality, he hadn’t. The stimulus kept us from falling into another Great Depression, and created millions of jobs. But it took awhile to kick in, and it wasn’t as strong as President Obama and Democrats wanted (or as economists had called for). It’s hard to get people excited about avoiding a hypothetical depression when you’re slowly muddling through a huge recession.

Let’s just start off with the meat of things, shall we? I really liked Al Franken’s perspective as a Democratic Senator in the midst of Obama’s first term, a term that brought with it the Great Recession.

More than any other subject I ever studied, I loved economics. One of these days, I want to teach economics. It’s fun; it affects people; and it makes sense. One of the basic tenets of basic macroeconomic theory is that that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) = C (consumer spending) + G (government spending) + I (investment spending) + nX (net exports). (I still remember that Mr. Santucci!)

Going into 2009, C in that formula was falling off of a cliff. People were scared. They were losing their jobs, and so were spending less, making industry stall and making more people…lose their jobs. See how that’s a shitty cycle?

In Econ 201, you learn that the total monetary supply = M (Total amount of money in circulation) * V (velocity of money, how often money changes hands). Going into 2009, the value of V was dropping *so much* that the US economy was experiencing deflation *despite* printing trillions of dollars and increasing the value of M. The only realistic way to stop that is with a strong increase in overall spending. Well, as we just learned before, consumer spending wasn’t going to do that (and in fact was falling as a result of the falling total monetary supply), so you have to get *government* spending to pull us out of that hole. You increase G in C + G + I + nX.

I remember being livid at the time at people saying “We should have just let all the banks fail.” No, that’s how you decrease the velocity of money EVEN MORE and make the economy EVEN MORE DEFLATIONARY, putting us into an even DEEPER RECESSION.

And I remember having to politely say “A statement like that shows a profound misunderstanding of basic economic theory” instead of what I wanted to say: “Are you insane?! Have you even seen the rate at which the velocity of money is declining?! Do you even understand the implications a drop in velocity of that magnitude? No, of fucking course not, because you’re too stupid to understand what that even means. All you know is that ‘Government intervention = bad, herp derp.’ ”

I will defend to my last days the necessity of government intervention in 2009. Anyone in their late 20s or early 30s was a direct recipient of that government intervention. Our thriving economy now is a direct result of that aid. So if you’re someone like me, who is doing relatively well now, and you want to complain that “the government should not have intervened in 2009”, know that deep down, I truly want to punch you in the face and make you retake economics, you ungrateful imbecile.

So to read about Al Franken’s experience in the Senate itself trying to get that through was interesting. He could have been the 60th vote to help push through a better, $1 trillion dollar stimulus (instead of a $.7 trillion one that took longer to work), but his election was held up because of a recount. It still boggles my mind that he won by less than 200 votes. That’s insane.

The stimulus had been a successful test run of the Republican strategy: Abdicate their responsibility to govern, obstruct the President’s agenda, complain that things weren’t getting better, and wait for Americans to get fed up so they could profit politically as his expense. Operation Curdle was well under way.

And that brings us to what Al Franken so affectionately refers to as “Operation Curdle”, an unfortunately very successful political maneuver. Fuck things up, blame it on the guy in charge even though you’re the reason it’s fucked up, and then somehow score political points with it.

In a rational world, this would never work. It 100% relies on the stupidity of the governed to be too dumb to see through your charade. The fact that it *does* work, and works *so well* makes me question my faith in the intelligence of people.

On hundreds of occasions, the minority would use a parliamentary procedure called “forcing a cloture vote” simply to waste everyone’s time. They did it more than ever before in history; in fact four out of every ten cloture votes in the history of the United States Senate up to 2014 came in the eight years that Mitch McConnell served as minority leader.

In most of the situations there wasn’t actually anything to debate. McConnell would force cloture votes on ridiculously noncontroversial stuff.

So it was not uncommon for us to file a cloture motion on a Monday for a vote on say, a noncontroversial district court nominee, only to have the nominee confirmed with an overwhelming majority (in one case by a 98-0 vote) late on Thursday evening. That’s right – Republicans would routinely filibuster things that they’d then turn around and vote for.

What made it worse that McConnell had made his intentions clear by actually saying, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Not making sure that kids get a great education, not creating millions of good jobs, not even getting our deficit under control. No, his first priority was about Republicans winning the next presidential election. I wasn’t shocked that he thought that. I was just appalled that he actually said it.

Like how is this okay? Congress had been around for more than 225 years through 2014. And Mitch McConell, by himself has 40% of the cloture votes under him? That is brazen obstruction.

Which brings us to…

 

“But that’s Washington for you” – Politiphobia

And the thing was, ordinary Americans who weren’t themselves rabid partisans saw all this happening and blamed both sides. I was always amazed when I would go around Minnesota and meet people who didn’t follow national politics that closely but who knew that Republicans had been extremely uncooperative during the Obama administration. “I know,” I’d say, “it’s awful.”

“Yeah,” these people would often respond. “But that’s Washington for you.”

These folks didn’t reach that conclusion without some help. Many political reporters can’t seem to write a sentence about a problem without casting at least some blame onto both sides. Congressional Republicans knew that, and made hay with it. McConnell and his friends consistently blamed Obama for the partisanship of the Obama years, managing to suppress their giggles all the while.

After eight years of refusing to help the President govern – in fact either years of actively trying to make the country ungovernable – Republicans hadn’t just created a monster within their own ranks. All that inaction and gridlock helped to create a nation of politiphobes, people who (correctly) felt like they were being left behind in the economy and (correctly) felt that the political system was broken and rigged against people like them and (extremely incorrectly) felt that everyone who had anything to do with politics was more or less equally to blame.

But perhaps the worst side effect of Operation Curdle isn’t from people who refuse to believe that anything is wrong. It’s from people that agree with Franken and me that something is wrong but that blame both sides for it.

Even today, I’ll hear people say “Oh, well they all suck, what are you going to do?” or “I think politics has always been like this. It’s just being reported more now.”

WAIT. FULL STOP. WHAT?! NO.

There is quantifiable evidence of specific and malicious wrongdoing by one party over and over again. Gerrymandering is how Republicans control 2/3’s of seats in state and national legislatures despite consistently only garnering just south of 50% of the popular vote. Mitch McConnell led 40% of all cloture votes IN US SENATE HISTORY.

Trump, our idiot Republican President, consistently lies to our face over and over and over again. In the same amount of time that Trump was under investigation for possible collusion with Russia AND had fired Comey to obstruct said investigation, literally the only thing that Fox News could come up with to discredit Obama was that he liked to eat his burgers with fancy mustard.

But you want to blame *both sides*? How in the wut…? How are these things even remotely equal?

I know Democrats aren’t perfect. No party or person ever was or ever will be. But if you’re going to paint all politicians from both parties with that broad of a brush, you’ve created a perverse incentive for politicians to just go balls to the wall with unethical obstruction.

It’s like if the penalties for murder or speeding in your car were the same. Well, I’m already speeding, so I may as well go murder that guy I really hate? It doesn’t make sense.

Why is this worse? Because the people that are die hard party line people are basically always going to vote Republican no matter what. This last Presidential election proved that the Republican party could basically put up a completely unqualified candidate, one who routinely lies, who had no experience in government, who is openly prejudiced, and those people would still vote for him.

Look no further than the millions of people who didn’t think Trump was a particularly good candidate, but *still* voted Trump because he had an (R) next to his name. Nothing is ever going to change those minds or votes.

But other people, smarter people, people with the ability to think critically and see when they’re being lied to? If they become politiphobes and distance themselves from politics altogether because “both sides are bad”, this only amplifies the voices of the aforementioned.

Republicans tend to do *much* better in low turnout elections. They have a motivated base that consistently votes Republican basically no matter what. Not voting is like a Republican half-vote.

So it’s a Republican victory if they can obstruct everything, and then have people blame BOTH parties for it.

It’s frustrating for me, as someone who pays attention and doesn’t like getting lied to; but it’s got to be *mind-blowingly frustrating* as a sitting Senator like Al Franken, trying to do your best despite the gridlock, and STILL getting the blame for said gridlock.

Several of my good friends seem to have fallen into this politiphobe mindset, and hey – at least it’s better than being a die hard party line person no matter what. But I really do wish they’d look into things some more and see that one party seems to consistently be on the wrong side of things more than the other. Please don’t paint both sides with the same brush.

 

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

The distinctly antigovernment Limbaugh / Gingrich agenda swept in a significant number of radical Republicans and with them a partisan enmity that has just grown even worse over the past two decades. In addition to the nastiness, there seemed to be a new willingness to lie about the basic facts.

Even after the Rush book came out, I kept noticing conservatives in the media saying things that were recklessly, provably false. And every time I noticed it, it would drive me bananas. No matter how many times it would happen, it would engender the same visceral reaction every time. “You can’t just lie!” I would yell, to no one in particular. “You can’t!” But they did.

I’ve struggled sometimes to succinctly define why I’ve turned so anti-Republican as I’ve grown older. It should be the opposite, right? I mean, I grew up Republican in a conservative suburb of Houston; several of my friends and their families are conservative; I honestly don’t feel like I’ve changed *that much* from my childhood. So what happened?

Al Franken helped me put my finger on it. I hate being lied to.

All of this to say that I care a lot about people in politics telling the truth. And even considering all the horrible things Trump got away with during the campaign – mocking a disabled reporter, attacking a Gold Star family, referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” calling for Muslims to be banned from our country – I still can’t believe he got away with lying so much.

Frankly, it made me wonder whether, sadly, the war was over and the liars had won.

And one party seems to consistently lie over and over. This is the party that put Trump into office AND CONTINUES TO DEFEND HIM; all he ever seems to do is lie, from stupidly petty ones like “I had the biggest inauguration crowd ever” to more serious ones like “I didn’t have any contact with Russia” when it is so provably true that he had business dealings there.

This is the same party that blamed Obama for the partisan atmosphere in Washington that they themselves created; the same party who said  “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices.” when it came to Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, but then turned around and used the nuclear option to push through their own nominee in Gorsuch; the same party that said the Affordable Care Act would have “Death Panels”.

Lies. The Republican party and Trump specifically have normalized them, and that is maddening to me. His election was 100% verifiable proof that you could be caught lying “with your pants on fire”, and somehow it doesn’t matter?

Trump has deployed a variety of methods to debunk debunkings that have proven startlingly effective. The first and most common is to simply ignore the correction even when confronted with it.

This is why he’s continually planting the seed that the media is dishonest. It renders statements of contrary fact highly suspect, because you tend to hear those via the media:

Trump: The US murder rate is at a 45 year high.

You: That’s wrong. The FBI says that it’s at a 50 year low.

Trump Supporter: Uh-huh, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Where’d you hear that?

You: CNN

Trump Supporter (sarcastic): Ah, okay. CNN, right. And they always tell the truth. Come on, man! Wake up!

I have no problem having political discussions with my conservative friends. Discussions are healthy – it’s how viewpoints change and new information is presented. Not living in an echo chamber is important.

I *do* have a problem when the crux of their defense is calling anything they disagree with #FakeNews.

That’s not a freaking discussion. That’s the equivalent of a person plugging their ears and going “LALALA. If I can’t hear you, it’s not true.” How are we supposed to discuss things if literally everything you disagree with is “fake”? if we can’t agree on basic facts like the DoJ saying that the murder rate is at a 50 year low? Or that Comey straight up said he thought he was fired because of the FBIs investigation into possible Russian ties to Trump’s campaign?

If you reply saying something factual is #FakeNews just because you don’t like it or because it disagrees with you, that is infuriating. And I very much think less of you for it.

But I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.

I know I’m sort of farting into the wind on this. But I hope you’ll fart along with me. I’ve always believed that it’s possible to discern true statements from false statements, and that it’s critically important to do so, and that we put our entire democratic experiment in peril when we don’t.

I firmly believe that you can draw a straight line from Rush Limbaugh through Fox News through present-day websites like Breitbart and the explosion in “fake news” that played such a big role in the 2016 campaign. And that’s how someone like Trump can wind up in the Oval office.

I love that Al Franken went into detail about how frustrating it was that it seemed (seems?) like the truth doesn’t matter anymore.

I love how he explored how Trump isn’t a one off aberration, but a culmination of the result of Republican support tactics over the last two years, specifically the last 8 years under Obama. How lying about things that were 100% false (like Obama not being born here) somehow increased their own support base, and that after being proven wrong, nothing bad happened to them.

I found his insights into how this endangers our entire democracy especially poignant. If we can’t agree on what is provably true or false, how are we ever going to agree on anything? For that matter, how will we ever govern?

 

Pivoting

Probably the most ridiculous political skill I had to learn was how to “pivot,” a term which basically means “not answer questions.”

His chapters describing how he had to change his behaviors as he became a politician were really interesting, both in contrast to how little President Trump has done in that regard, and in just straight up spelling out in what ways he had to act differently.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could ever learn how to “pivot” as he described above, or just straight up not answer questions asked of me. It seems so counter intuitive, and yet his stories of how he got misquoted and burned when he tried directly answering baiting questions showed how necessary it was.

So kudos to him.

 

Ted Cruz

Here’s the thing you have to understand about Ted Cruz. I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.

Rachel mentioned that the chapter devoted to shitting on Ted Cruz was her favorite. And I can easily see why. It’s amazingly funny.

The problem with Ted isn’t that he’s humorless. It isn’t even his truly reprehensible far-right politics. No, the problem with Ted – and the reason so many senators have a problem with Ted – is simply that he is an absolutely toxic coworker. He is the Dwight Schrute of the Senate.

“Clinton’s own Department of Justice did a study of the assault weapons ban and concluded that it doesn’t work.” -Ted Cruz

“No it didn’t. Actually, what the report said was there wasn’t enough data to reach a conclusion, because the study was conducted only two years after the ban was implemented.” – Al Franken

“Just go read the report.” – Ted Cruz

…later, after looking up the report

“Our best estimate is that the ban contributed to a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders between 1994 and 1995, beyond what would have been expected in view of ongoing crime, demographic, and economic trends. However, with only one year of post-ban data, we cannot rule out the possibility that this decrease (in gun murders) reflects chance year-to-year variation rather than a true effect of the ban.” -Justice Department Report

“Well, I guess you owe me an apology.” -Al Franken

“Why?” – Ted Cruz

“Well, the last time we spoke, you said that anybody who is for the assault weapons ban is engaged in sophistry.” -Al Franken

“No I didn’t” -Ted Cruz

And that’s when I realized that Ted Cruz was really something special.

It’s hilarious that Ted Cruz has an entire section devoted to how shitty of a person he is. Not just how shitty of a Senator he is, but specifically how terrible of a person he is.

If nothing else, this book is worth reading specifically for the Ted Cruz chapter.

Ted Cruz isn’t just wrong about almost everything. He’s impossible to work with. And he doesn’t care that he’s impossible to work with. And that’s why, even when the choice was between Ted Cruz (who was a sitting member of the United States Senate) and Donald Trump (who was Donald Trump), establishment Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to rally behind Cruz.

Hahahaha.

 

Conclusion

My story, the one you’ve just finished reading, is a small part of a bigger story – the story of how progressives picked themselves up off the mat and made an epic comeback.

And now we have to do it again. This comeback starts with standing up for our values and making it clear that no president has a mandate to spread bigotry or roll back the clock on progress. It continues through next year, when we have a chance to punish Republicans for enabling this disaster and take back governorships and state legislatures all across the country.

Meanwhile, we can hold President Trump accountable for everything he does – and not just that, we can hold accountable every single Republican who enables him, so that when we kick him out, we can kick them out too.

There’s a part for you to play in the next great progressive comeback story. But only if you can keep from losing your mind or getting so discouraged that you quit before the comeback even begins.

Al Franken’s final chapter is fantastic. It’s uplifting, motivational, and channels all of the anger and frustration that we as readers just experienced in the preceding chapters into something positive.

In the beginning months of Trump’s Presidency, I read about (and experienced) “outrage fatigue.” Every week, Trump would find some new way to make a mockery of the office, the rule of law, or the country. Hosts like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah all made the joke that the first couple of months of Trump’s Presidency felt like years and that we had all aged rapidly for it.

I worried that this fatigue would eventually spread. By the time the 2018 mid terms rolled around, would people be so tired they wouldn’t bother caring anymore? Would this all be a new normal? And that was terrifying…but I was so tired.

Books like this give me hope, inspire me to do more. So Kudos to you, Al Franken. Between you, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, I have Senators and leaders that I can look up to, especially since my own (Ted Cruz (ugh) and John Cornyn) suck so much.

Thank you Al. And thanks again, Rachel, for being my inspiration to read this book. You rock.

The Way of Kings – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Way of Kings – TwoMorePages Book Review

Well, shit. I had just crowned another series as “The Best I’ve Read in 2017”, and yet here I stand, having read 1000 pages in two weeks. That’s the same rate that I read The Expanse books, and we all know how much I *LOVE* the Expanse. I learned too late that Kathleen lead me down the voyage of the damned, since this series has no conclusion and won’t have a conclusion for decades, doh haha.

But it was so worth it. I regret nothing!

My third foray into fantasy was easily my best so far. With Kvoth’s stories in The Kingkiller Chronicles, it took me a bit before I was really immersed in the story, though once immersed, it was super fun. With The Sword of Shannara, halfway in, I still found myself not caring about the characters, and I may have stopped reading halfway through…

With The Way of Kings, I was immersed almost immediately. Usually, I struggle with books that don’t define a clear protagonist at the very start, jumping around from character to character to set up context for the world. But I loved the world that was built from the perspectives of side characters to start, and the introduction of Kaladin, Shallan, and Dalinar as protagonists was seamless.

More than that, one thing this story did an exceptionally good job of was in being unpredictable while still making sense. Every unpredictable story turn or character action made sense in the context of the story, but there was enough mystery there to make it unexpected.

Kaladin is easily the one I identified most with, but then again I’m pretty sure I was the intended audience for his story. I immensely enjoyed his interactions with Syl, and the way his story unfolded kept me guessing the whole way. I guess incorrectly…a lot haha.

Shallan’s story was interesting in her own right, providing a very different perspective from what felt like across the world. I liked how the story set up her character one way in the beginning, only for her to show very different traits as her character grew.

And Dalinar’s story of political intrigue, military maneuvering, and the struggle to do what is right was a very refreshing change of pace. Whereas Kaladin and Shallan had underdog type stories (especially Kaladin), we saw Dalinar’s story unfold from the perspective of a highprince. More than that, we saw it unfold from the perspective of arguably the only “good” highprince, who voluntarily holds himself to a higher standard than his peers.

Okay, so onwards to the section with spoilers! Let’s talk about cool shit that went down in the book!

 

Kaladin

“You used to be vibrant. So many looked up to you, Kaladin. Your squad of soldiers. The enemies you fought. The other slaves. Even some lighteyes.” -Syl

I loved almost everything about Kaladin’s story. But most of all, I loved the pacing of it; you start off with the story of Kaladin the Spearman, revered by his troops, renowned for his fighting skills, but more importantly at his skill in keeping his men alive. And then…the next thing you know, he’s a depressed slave and you have no idea what happened in between.

There are some random hints about him killing someone, and about how much he hates lighteyes, and about how he might possible have won a fight with a shardbearer, but you don’t actually figure out what happened to him in Amaram’s army for about ¾’s of the book. My personal theory, which ended up being wrong, was that he had attacked and killed Prince Amaram for…reasons, and that’s why he ended up being labeled a deserter and thus became a slave. The real story was *oh so much worse*.

“Each lighteyes Kaladin had known, whether as a slave or a free man, had shown himself to be corrupt to the core, for all his outward poise and beauty. They were like rotting corpses clothed in beautiful silk.”

One thing we do know about Kaladin as the story progresses is that he is *majorly* prejudiced against lighteyes, and for the longest time, we don’t know why. His flashback chapters are really well written. In them, we see his childhood relationships shape his view on life. He tries to protect the weak as a product of his relationship with his brother Tien. He tries to do the right thing, even when it won’t benefit him because of his father. He hates lighteyes because of the shitty way that Rochone treated his family, but more importantly, because of the betrayal of Amaram.

“It’s all an act?” Kaladin asked. “The honorable brightlord who cares about his men? Lies? All of it?”

Amaram hesitated by the door, resting the blunt edge of the stolen Shardblade on his shoulder. The guilt was still there in his eyes, but he grew hard, covering it. “You are being discharged as a deserter and branded as a slave. But you are spared death by my mercy.”

Brightlord Amaram, one of the only lighteyes that Kaladin looked up to and trusted. Kaladin’s descent into utter racism comes from Brightlord Amaram’s betrayal on two fronts. First, that he put Tien in a position to die when Kaladin only joined to keep his brother safe.

But second, and more importantly, when Kaladin kills a shardbearer and saves Amaram’s life, something that is almost impossible to do, losing 17 of his 22 member spearman group in the process, Amaram…murders Kaladin’s remaining spearmen, brands Kaladin a deserter and slave, and takes the shards and shardblade that were rightfully Kaladin’s. WHAT THE FUCK.

I killed a Shardbearer, he thought again. And then I gave away the Blade and Plate. That single event had to be the most monumentally stupid thing anyone, in any kingdom, in any era, had ever done.

Now, granted, Kaladin had initially refused the shards and shardblade at the battle that ostensibly belonged to him. And I can debate all day about how that was a really piss poor decision, regardless of how he felt about the blade or about lighteyes. So yes, Kaladin, that was monumentally stupid. You could have done a LOT of good with that Shardblade.

But bajeezus, that is exceptionally dark.

“SEE? I TOLD YOU I WAS REALLY SAD” -Kathleen, who introduced me to this book, about learning about Amaram’s betrayal

Well, thanks for bringing me down this journey of sadness Kathleen! 😛 I couldn’t even move on to the next section for half a day. I just kept re-reading the betrayal chapter over and over. 😥

 

Kaladin’s Relationship with Syl

Syl! She’s my favorite! Mere words cannot describe how much I love Syl’s character. Probably not surprising, since I most easily identify with Kaladin, and she helps him more than anyone else, but nevertheless.

Her interactions with Kaladin are preciously heartwarming:

(paraphrased)

“Here, I brought you this (poisonous) leaf. You were so sad when you lost them last time. I hope you like it; it was so heavy. Will this make you happier?” -Syl

—> later

“ZOMG , I BROUGHT YOU POISON?!?!” -Syl

—> even later

“I don’t like that you lied to me.” -Syl
“That’s how I am. Bringing death and lies wherever I go. Me and the Nightwatcher” -Kaladin
“That was…sarcasm. I know what sarcasm is!” – Syl
Stormfather, Kaladin thought, looking into those gleeful little eyes. *That strikes me as ominous*

This was the first time I fell in love with Syl and Kaladin’s relationship. I knew the chapters would be nonstop fun. Their banter was a breath of fresh air in the most depressing parts of Kaladin’s story:

“You know, talking to you probably doesn’t do anything for my reputation of being insane.” -Kaladin

“I’ll do my best to stop being so interesting.” -Syl

“I feel like I’m remembering things I once knew.” -Syl

“Soon you’ll hardly be a spren at all. You’ll be a little translucent philosopher. We’ll have to send you off to a monastery to spend your time in deep, important thoughts.” -Kaladin

“Yes, like how to best get the ardents there to accidentally drink a mixture that will turn their mouths blue!” -Syl

“I don’t think you’re ready for that yet. Don’t be so risky. If you die, I go stupid again, you know.” -Syl

“I’ll try to keep that in mind. Maybe I’ll remove dying from my list of tasks to do this week.” -Kaladin

How can you NOT love these interactions? They’re so wholesome and cute. Plus, her development from a mindless spren who can’t remember anything to gradually take on more individuality is cool:

“I guess it makes sense to revere the spren. You are kind of odd and magical.” -Kaladin

“I’m not odd!” she said, standing up. “I’m beautiful and articulate.” She planed her hands on her hips, but he could see in her expression that she wasn’t really mad. She seemed to be changing by the hour, growing more and more…

More and more what? Not exactly humanlike. More individual. Smarter.”

While it’s often fun and games with Syl, she also serves as an important guardian angel for Kaladin as well. I loved the description of how she was fighting off the deathspren, and of how she seemed to part the winds when he was exposed to the highstorm:

In those brief moments of light when he dared to look, he thought he saw Syl standing in front of him, her face to the wind, tiny hands forward. As if she were trying to hold back the storm and split the winds as a stone divided the waters of a swift stream.

Standing before the deathspren was a tiny figure of light. Not translucent, as she had always appeared before, but of pure white light. That soft, feminine face had a nobler, more angular cast to it now, like a warrior from a forgotten time. Not childlike at all. She stood guard on his chest, holding a sword made of light.

She’s more than just a funny little tinkerbell sidekick, someone for Kaladin to talk to to keep him sane and bring him back from the brink of despair. Seeing her abilities grow was wonderful to read, and the descriptions of the way she was able to influence the world were beautiful.

Not to mention that…

“You’re not a windspren, are you?”
She hesitated, then shook her head. “No.”
“What are you, then?”
“I don’t know. I bind things.”

—-> Later

“Are windspren attracted to wind? or do they make it? I’ve remembered what kind of Spren I am. I bind things, Kaladin. I am honorspren. Spirit of oaths. Of promises. And of nobility.” -Syl

I wonder where this is going to go. The book doesn’t really mention it much after she reveals this. What’s the difference between honorspren and windspren? Plus, didn’t she say that she binds things? So honorspren bind things? What does honor have to do with binding?

I love everything about this relationship. And yes, of course I wish I had my own little Spren like Syl hanging out with me.

 

Kaladin’s experience with trying to help people

There isn’t ever anything I can do. Stormfather, why can’t I save them? -Kaladin

“If I’m not cursed,” Kaladin said softly, “Then why do I live when others die?”
“Because of us,” Syl said. “This bond. It makes you stronger, Kaladin.”
“Then why can’t it make me strong enough to help the others?”
“I don’t know,” Syl said. Maybe it can.”

One of the things the book did best was in sharing the emotions of the protagonists with us. With Kaladin, the most heartbreaking part was in watching him try to help people, and then have those people always die at the end, despite his efforts.

You’re introduced to it first when he tries to help one of the sickly slaves on the wagon, and you’re given glimpses into how traumatic it was for him in the past. One thing the book constantly referenced, but didn’t talk about for awhile was how his brother Tien died, despite Kaladin’s best efforts. It’s why he tries to look after people like Cenn in the opening chapters, trying to atone for his initial failure. It’s why it hurts so much for him when Dallet is cut down, and then even more than that when his spearmen group are cut down in front of his eyes.

“Kaladin?” a voice whispered. He blinked. Syl was hovering in front of him. “Do you know the Words?”
“All I wanted to do was protect them,” he whispered.
“That’s why I’ve come. The Words, Kaladin.”
“They’re going to die. I can’t save them. I-”
Amaram slaughtered his men in front of him.
A nameless Shardbearer killed Dallet.
A lighteyes killed Tien.
No.

Kaladin tried to squelch the feeling of despair inside him. This Dalinar Kholin was probably just like the others. Like Roschone, like Sadeas, like any number of other lighteyes. Pretending virtue but corrupted inside.

In the climactic battle on the plateau, Kaladin’s thoughts are especially poignant. When I first read the book, I didn’t know if this was a tragedy or not, especially since Kathleen had said that Kaladin’s story was a sad one.

“Something just changed,” Moash whispered, hand up. “Something important.”

Kaladin raised his spear. The powerful light began to subside, retreating. A more subdued glow began to steam off his body. Radiant, like smoke from an ethereal fire.

I was so happy to see that this story was in fact, NOT a tragedy. It’s a testament to the writing that I empathized so well with Kaladin’s emotions in thinking he’d failed his men. Again. That everyone that he cared about would die except him. AGAIN.

I legit texted Kathleen being like “His entire squad is going to die again, aren’t they?”

He promised, Kaladin thought. He promised he would free us from Sadeas.
And yet, where had the promises of lighteyes gotten him in the past?

And another promise dies, Kaladin thought, turning away. In the end, for all his good intentions, this Dalinar Kholin was the same as the others.

“What is a man’s life worth?”-Dalinar
“A life is priceless” – Kaladin
“Coincidentally, that is the exact value of a Shardblade. so today, you and your men sacrificed to buy me 2600 priceless lives. And all I had to repay you with was a single priceless sword. I call that a bargain.” -Dalinar
“You really think it was a good trade, don’t you?” Kaladin said, amazed.

His redemption ark was especially satisfying, where his trust in someone is finally rewarded in Dalinar. I’m intruiged to see where the next book brings his story, assuming this isn’t one of those series that has different protagonists from book to book.

Presumably, the men in Dalinar’s camp shouldn’t be giant sacks of shit like in Sadeas’s, so he shouldn’t have as many problems with lighteyes anymore, right? Perhaps his lighteyes-darkeyes struggle will center on him assuming the worst of the lighteyes around him in Dalinar’s camp, and that impeding how his men fit in. Or perhaps he’ll have to interact with the shitty Lighteyes from the other camps, especially Sadeas’s. Will we get the Amaram – Kaladin reunion / hate fest that I thought would happen in this book but didn’t?

Shallan’s Story

“I have weighed the facts, child, and I cannot accept you. I’m sorry.”

Six months of chasing, for this. She gripped the rag in frustration, squeezing sooty water between her fingers. She wanted to cry. That was what she probably would have done if she’d been that same child she had been six months ago.

—> later

Was she weak because confrontation unsettled her so? She felt that she was.

Foolish, idiot girl, she thought, a few painspren crawling out of hte wall near her head. What made you think you could do this? You’ve only set foot off your family grounds a half-dozen times during your life. Idiot, idiot, idiot!

I *really* enjoyed how Brandon Sanderson’s writing style conveys the emotions of his protagonists. I could feel Shallan’s desperation in trying to persuade Jasnah to be her ward in the beginning of her story; I could feel her panic when her solutions came up short due to her inexperience.

“It wasn’t an admonition. Simply an observation. I make them on occasion: Those books are musty. The sky is blue today. My ward is a smart-lipped reprobate.” -Jasnah

Her banter with Jasnah was pretty entertaining too. Not cute like Syl and Kaladin’s, but more quippy. Plus, I liked how Shallan grew more and more bold as her confidence increased under Jasnah’s tutelage.

“She’d come to Kharbranth to steal the fabrial, then use it to save her brothers and their house from massive debt and destruction. Yet in the end, this wasn’t why Shallan had stolen the Soulcaster. She’d taken it because she was angry with Jasnah.”

Besides the character development, the thing I enjoyed immensely with Shallan’s story were twists and turns in her story. I remember texting Kathleen immediately when Shallan got Jasnah’s fabrial, being like WHAAAAT?! SHE GOT THE FABRIAL! I was so sure that she would try and then have Jasnah be like “I knew you were going to do that” and stop her, but it was so easy. I wondered where the conflict was going to come from, since she accomplished her goal so early in the story?

“Nobody quite remembers where this ‘Kabsal’ came from…He was playing you, child. The whole time, he was using you to get to me. To spy on what I was doing, to kill me if he could.”

Someone had almost killed her. Not someone, Kabsal. No wonder he’d been so eager to get her to taste the jam!

Just like Shallan, I was blindsided when Kabsal died. I actually really liked the chapters with them flirting. The writing really encapsulated the fun feelings in the beginning of a relationship. It was so innocent and genuine, something that’s often sorely missing in real life.

So for him to end up being A) dead and B) an assassin left me like this O.o

And then for Jasnah to find out that Shallan stole the fabrial because of Kabsal’s actions! And for *that* not even to be the final twist in the story! Whaaaaat?

But the best part is that the clues were all inset in the story along the way. The bread was poison, but jam was the antidote; that way, Kabsal wouldn’t accidentally murder Shallan, but could hurt Jasnah, since Jasnah doesn’t like jam. Jasnah didn’t notice that her fabrial didn’t work for several weeks because she doesn’t need a fabrial to soulcast.

Shallan met her former mistress’s eyes. Was it the fatigue that made her so indifferent to the consequences of confronting this woman? Or was it her knowledge of the truth? “You did all that, Jasnah,” Shallan finished, “with a fake Soulcaster.”

The contrast between Shallan’s last chapters and first chapters is enormous. Her story is one of building confidence in herself, and I love that she had the intelligence, wherewithal, and courage to both put everything together and confront Jasnah at the end. It wasn’t a deus ex machina ending that saves her from her situation – it’s her solving a puzzle at the end that does it. She saves herself.

 

Dalinar’s Story

Unlike Kaladin and Shallan, Dalinar is not some underdog who overcomes things to grow. He is already a highprince, and has very different problems to solve. He has the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, and of trying to reign in his inexperienced nephew king, and of trying to save the kingdom.

Arguably, his storyline progresses the overarching storyline for *the world* the most. Whereas Kaladin and Shallan have their own personal struggles, Dalinar’s problems are global. He’s the one seeing visions of the past during highstorms; he’s the one being told to unite Alekthar so that everyone doesn’t die.

His struggle with whether or not to believe those visions is intriguing to read. His struggle of whether or not to step down when everyone else thinks he’s crazy is one that’s heartbreaking, but understandable. When everyone else seems wrong except you…are you truly the one that’s right? I struggle with that question/kanundrum from time to time in real life. It’s interesting to see something similar play out in what is now one of my favorite novels.

Ahead, Dalinar was speaking quietly with Sadeas. Both men wore frowns. They barely tolerated one another, though they had once been friends. That had also changed the night of Gavliar’s death.

But the best part of his story to me was his struggle with Sadeas. Like the other two storylines, this had its fair share of unpredictable twists and turns as well. Like Adolin, I thought *for sure* that Sadeas was making a powerplay when he became the High Prince of Information, that he would implicate Dalinar in Elkohar’s paranoid delusions, and cause Dalinar’s house to fall.

“I had hoped to make this presentation after I’d discovered more concrete proof that you weren’t involved. Unfortunately, pressed as I was, the best I could do was to indicate that it was unlikely you were involved. There will still be rumors, I’m afraid.” -Sadeas

“Wait. You wanted to prove me innocent?” -Dalinar

“Yes, I asked Elkohar for this position to prove you innocent. Is it so storming difficult for you to believe someone else in this army might do something honest?” -Sadeas

I was as confused as Adolin was when Sadeas announced that Dalinar was 100% innocent in that, and when Sadeas told Dalinar that he took the High Prince of Information post to prove Dalinar innocent. Like what? Hmm, okay, maybe everything was overblown, and we’re all just too suspicious of one another. After all, Dalinar and Sadeas used to be friends…

“Well, you do provoke them. Take, for example, the way you refuse to rise to their arguments or insults.” -Sadeas

“Protesting simply draws attention to the issue. The finest defense of character is correct action. Acquaint yourself with virtue, and you can expect proper treatment from those around you.” -Dalinar

“You see, there. Who talks like that?” -Sadeas

But the chapters that brought Dalinar and Sadeas closer together after that were also well written, showing Dalinar trusting his old friend again more and more. You only poke fun at your friends, doubly so if you’re doing it so that way they change a behavior of theirs.

Between the joint assaults, Dalinar saving Sadeas’s life, and the two hanging out together more, I thought a genuine bro-mance was re-forming.

Had it all been an act? Could he really have misjudged Sadeas so completely? What of the investigation clearing Dalinar? What of their plans and reminiscences? All lies?

I saved your life, Sadeas.

Whatever the visions were, they had misled Dalinar in at least one respect. Trusting Sadeas had brought them to doom.

…which made Sadeas’s betrayal all the worse. This book did an amazing job of having the reader experience the same emotions as the protagonists. Absolutely AMAZING.

Like wtf?!?! Who leaves his friend and his army out there to die? Especially when said friend had risked his own life to save yours just a few chapters (weeks in the book?) before! If nothing else, reciprocity should make you not abandon your friend at the first available opportunity, much less set him up to die.

I was so upset at the end when Sadeas basically had nothing bad happen to him as a result of his actions. Who gives a shit if Dalinar’s forces are now outnumbered by Sadeas’s? You have TWO Shardbearers, both with blades and armor, and Sadeas only has armor, so he’s like half a shardbearer. The book has already established that a Shardbearer is basically as good as an entire batallion, so despite your man-disadvantage, you should be at least on even ground. And you’ve already established that Dalinar’s men are better trained and stronger than Sadeas’s!

Plus, why even go to Sadeas’s camp in the first place? Go to Elkohar; explain what happened. Strip Sadeas of his troops and his money. After your troops recuperate / your shardplate is mended, MURDER/DUEL HIM; Take his Shardplate; Give it to Renarim to fulfill your promise.

Anything except what you did, which is march to his camp with your tired army and broken shardplate, say “oh, well shit happens” and give him your shardblade in trade for all the bridgemen. FFS, you could have just taken Kaladin back to your camp so Sadeas couldn’t demand a ransom to get him back. Just dare him to come into your camp to get his bridgemen. No need to give up the Shardblade!

Bah. I surely do hope I get a revenge arc in the next book. This was most unsatisfying.

Final Thoughts and Unresolved Questions

“They watch me. Always. Waiting. I see their faces in mirrors. Symbols, twisted, inhuman…” -Elkohar

Hey wait, is Elkohar seeing the same things that Shallan sees when she draws? This was a passage that was said once, and not referenced again. They definitely sound like the strange shapes that Shallan was seeing. Is he seeing them too?

“Considering what I’ve done before, this is nothing. It wouldn’t be the first time she betrayed someone who trusted her.”

I must know something true about you. Tell me. The stronger the truth, the more hidden it is, the more powerful the bond. Tell me. Tell me. What are you?

“What am I?: Shallan whispered. “Truthfully?” It was a day for confrontation. She felt strangely strong, steady. Time to speak it. “I’m a murderer. I killed my father.”

Ah, the voice whispered. A powerful truth indeed…

Um, did we just gloss over the fact that Shallan said she killed her father…and never talk about it again? The first quote was waaaay back earlier in the book, and I’d actually forgotten about it until I was reviewing my highlights for this book.

It makes much more sense in the context of the second quote, which we find at the very end of the book. You know, just a casual mention of her having killed her dad. No big deal, right?

WAIT. WHAT?!

Life before Death. I’ve failed so often. I’ve been knocked to the ground and trod upon.

Strength before Weakness. This would be death I’d lead my friends to…

Journey before Destination. …death, and what is right.

I loved the words of the Knights Radiant. They were short, but meaningful, and fit within the context of Kaladin’s story very well. Since the next book is called The Words of Radiance, I imagine we’ll learn the others that were referenced, but not specifically said in this one.

Somebody has to start, son. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow. – Kaladin’s dad

I didn’t talk about Kaladin’s relationship with his dad much in this review, even though it was a large part of what shaped his character. It was an unexpected twist that Kaladin’s dad *did indeed* steal the spheres, justifying his behavior as something that should have happened anyway / would have happened if Wistiow was lucid.

Kaladin never did go back to see his parents. To them, he’s been gone what…10 years now? I imagine the books will revisit this subject in the future, but will it be in the next book? or one of the ones that won’t come out until I’m closer to retirement age? (Thanks Kathleen 😛 )

 

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival – TwoMorePages Book Review

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival – TwoMorePages Book Review

“TIL that tigers can, and will, take revenge on those who have wronged them. They are one of the most vengeful animals on the planet.”

I was browsing reddit one day and came across the headline above. In the Chinese Zodiac, I *am* a tiger, and I consider myself more vengeful than most people, so I was super amused.

Apparently, in the 90s, there was a vengeful man eating tiger lurking around East Russia in Primorye. The comments in the thread, along with the linked article itself, mentioned that there was a book all about what happened, so of course I bought it!

This book was a cool mixture of half documentary, half story, with the narration constantly going into asides to help give more context to the situation.

I expected to learn plenty about tigers, but what I ended up learning even more about was Russia, specifically East Russia which is very different from Moscow and traditional Russian stereotypes. I learned about the history of Primorye, how it came to be Russian instead of Chinese; how the people that lived there had their lives changed from Russian perestroika; how those people dealt with the tigers that lived in the Taiga forests that their towns were in.

 

About Primorye

“Protruding conspicuously from Russia’s vast bulk, Primorye is embedded in China’s eastern flank like a claw or a fang, and it remains a sore spot to this day. The territory is an embodiment of the tension between proximity and possession: the capital, Vladivostok, which is home to more than half a million people, is just a two-day train journey from Beijing. The trip to Moscow, on the other hand, is a week-long…even Australia is closer”

So I’ll admit that I a stereotypical American sometimes and don’t know a ton of geography. I literally had to look up the Russian/Chinese border to see this for myself when I read the above statement. I didn’t know that part of Russia just jutted down along the East and into China. Whaaat?

The book taught me a lot about Russian-Chinese relations in the past. It was really interesting how Russia basically tricked China into a trade for the region; it was even more interesting to learn that in the late 1960s, the two countries had heightened tensions and had military conflicts. My dad was alive during that time, albeit far removed since he was waaaay south in Hong Kong.

“Though it was hailed as a positive development in the West, few Westerners fully grasp the toll perestroika took and continues to take on the country. Among Russians, it has since earned the ignominious nickname “Katastroika.” Proof of this abounds in Sobolonye, a place where civilization as most of us understand it has effectively collapsed.”

But more than that, a huge portion of the book was devoted to the life of people in Primorye, people who lived among the Taiga. It spent a lot of time in asides, telling the stories of people’s lives, both before, during, and after perestroika. I remember reading about perestroika in the history books of school, but tbh, I only kind of glanced through it, since I was here in the US, far away from it. It was shocking to learn about the incredible drop in quality of life for Russians, especially out in the fringes of Primorye.

 

About the Tiger

“As Trush and his team pieced the evidence together, they came to understand that this tiger was not hunting for animals, or even for humans; he was hunting for Markov”

I also very much enjoyed the anthropomorphism of the Tiger’s actions in this book. While the above stuff about the people played out like a documentary, everything about the Tiger played out like a story. Makes sense, since the you can’t talk to a tiger.

The author, given what facts he knew about the tiger, gave backstory and reason to the tiger’s actions. It had been shot, so it was weakened, and couldn’t quite catch the prey it used to and was hungry.

It had been shot by Markov specifically, and evidence at the scene suggested that it had spent days tracking Markov and systematically destroying everything with his scent on it before killing him, so it was vengeful.

The anthropomorphism helped flesh out the story *really* well.

 

Conclusions

The half documentary, half story nature of this book was a nice change of pace for me, both from the non-fiction political books I’d been reading and the sci-fi books that are my bread and butter. I learned a lot about a region of the world that I typically ignore, and about the people that live there.

All in all, totally worth the read!

Black Ops (Expeditionary Force Book 4) – TwoMorePages Book Review

Black Ops (Expeditionary Force Book 4) – TwoMorePages Book Review

The best Skippy Adventure yet by far!

 

I’ll admit. It’s been a little while since I was really, truly excited about a book. Between the Stanley Cup Playoffs reducing my available reading time, and me reading some books that I struggled to get through, reading was starting to become a chore instead of something that I really enjoyed.

BUT YAY SKIPPY’S BACK. AND I LOVE READING AGAIN!

While Book 3 of the Expeditionary Force series kind of felt like the recurring adventures of “Oshit. We’re in trouble. Oh, well that’s fine, because Skippy’s going to save the day”, Book 4 was great in that it relied a lot less on Skippy’s Awesomeness, and more on human ingenuity. Maybe part of it was just that it’s been awhile since I read an Expeditionary Force book, and I had like no gap between books 2 and 3, but I REALLY enjoyed Book 4.

One other thing I loved about this book was the anthropomorphism of inanimate objects. For instance, these thoughts from a missile:

WTF, I’m launching while the ship is inside a freaking wormhole? Of all the stupid-Unbelievable, I survived. Great. Where is the target? It’s – Holy shit, I’m right on top of the damned thing! No shields in my way? Uh, I am programmed to expect strong defensive shields. And defensive fire from maser turrets. None of that going on here. Ok, what should I – Oh. Hmm.There is a nice big smoking hole in the enemy’s hull. Maybe I’ll go in there. Yeah, that’s a great idea. Hey, it’s cozy in here, although the Thuranin really could use some help tidying up the place. Well, this has been nice, but a missile has got to do what a missile has got to do, right? I can set the warhead for wide dispersal, now that I’m inside the enemy’s hull.

Can’t really talk about more without spoiling stuff, so from here on out SPOILERS BE HERE:

Spoiler-y discussion begins here

Two facets I really liked the introduction of were (1) Skippy is not immortal and (2) Skippy might not have always been sentient.

The first point of course, was a major plot point in the book. Seeing our merry band of pirates deal with his absence not once, but twice, shows just how vulnerable our protagonists are. The book ends on quite the melancholy note because of it.

The second point though wasn’t revisited again, and I suspect will be a major point of the next book? I wonder how that will weave into the story. It doesn’t really matter to Joe whether or not Skippy used to be sentient, right? Only that he’s sentient *now*

The Jeraptha

We got to see our first look at the Jeraptha in this book! I actually loved the scenes on the Jeraptha ships, seeing their culture of gambling meshed with their military. The depiction of receiving Skippy’s Intel, along with the description of the ensuing battle, were honestly some of my most favorite chapters in the book, especially given how brief they were.

Conclusion

I love that Craig Alanson is keeping to a publishing schedule. The next book is out in Nov? YES! And I loved this book. It was my oasis in a sea of…less than stellar books lately.

The Expeditionary Force series always has a distinctly fun tone in it, and I’m a big fan of that. The story isn’t usually predictable, and the ways that our protagonists get out of them are fun to read. It’s a great escape from life. 🙂

Forging Zero – TwoMorePages Book Review

Forging Zero – TwoMorePages Book Review

Well this is interesting. I simultaneously love and hate this book. Why love? Because the main character was well written – the way he reacted to the things that happened to him were believable, and well described, and I felt very invested in his character.

Why hate? At the end, THE STORY DIDN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. FORMER ENEMIES ARE NOW FRIENDS. AND FRIENDS ARE NOW ENEMIES (SOMETIMES). AND I DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THE MOTIVATIONS OF SEVERAL CHARACTERS.. And to be honest, a lot of the conflict at the end was a pure idiot plot – a plot that only occurred because everyone involved is an idiot. The problems created could have been solved with a simple conversation, but noooo, lots of people had to die instead.

So um, yeah, let’s dissect this book.

Choe

So, the positives – the protagonist, Joe, is very, very well written. If you read reviews about Sara King’s books, you’ll find this is common praise. She writes character driven books very well.

Her descriptions of how he tried to deal with his claustrophobia, of how he felt about taking his brother’s place in the draft, of how he felt about taking care of his groundteam – they were all wonderfully written. I was heavily invested in his growth. When he was anxious, I was anxious. When he was angry at something unjust happening to him, I was angry. When he was horrified about some of his friends getting killed (oftentimes in very gruesome or surprising ways), I was horrified.

His internal struggle about him being “the chosen one” to bring down Congress, and whether he wants it or not was interesting as well, albeit also a little frustrating. He starts off understandably very upset at Congress since they’re kidnapping every 5-12 year old on Earth and forcibly drafting them. Many of these kids end up dead, some in horrifying ways (getting eaten, getting shot in the head), so it’s easy to empathize why he would want to bring Congress down. While I personally don’t *really* understand how his feelings on this change through the story, it’s an interesting journey for him as the book goes on.

Idiot Plot (Things that don’t make sense)

So that all being said, I was very much enjoying this book right up until the last 10-20% of the book, where for me, shit fell off the rails and stopped making sense.

SO MANY QUESTIONS. NOBODY TO ASK. SO MUCH SHIT THAT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE.

Na’Aleen

So okay, there’s this guy, Na’Aleen. Up until now he’s very much acted like a bad guy. He’s one of the most powerful members of Congress, generally acts like a dick, and has been no friend to our protagonist, Joe. But wait, at the end, he’s leading the rebellion? How? What?

But okay, let’s just kind of go with it and assume he has his own reasons for hating Congress. (Btw, if everyone hates Congress, WHO LIKES IT AND WHY IS IT SO POWERFUL?!) In that case, why was he such a giant dick to Joe. He doesn’t ask for Joe’s help until he’s basically killed all of Joe’s friends. Yeah, that might disincent someone from helping you, especially that person who is supposed to…by himself…destroy Congress. You two probably have the same goals. When you first meet Joe, all he wants is to go home and he hates Congress. You could have just had a simple conversation with him and solved everything without murdering all his friends and turning him against you. Blah. Idiot plot.

Yuil and the Resistance

Speaking of Na’Aleen, so if he’s part of the resistance, then that means that anyone working under him is also part of the resistance. Which means that his assassin, the one who morphed into an Oorekei to hang out with Joe and try and sway him, works for him. Why not treat Joe better after knowing that Joe is trustworthy through this way? Why not clue him into the plan?

Nope, let’s definitely just wait until he kills several of our soldiers trying to break into a place *that we told him about*. And why did we tell him about it again? I don’t get it. NOTHING THE REBELS DO MAKES ANY SENSE. ALL YOU HAD TO DO IS TALK TO JOE.

Maggie

And okay, let’s talk about Maggie at the end, the only one of his ground team to survive. She’s been the 6 year old girl that he’s been protecting this entire time. Yeah, she’s artificially grown up now since the food they’ve been feeding the humans ages them to their prime more quickly, but she’s still basically his tiny little sister. And at the end, she hates him?

Idiot plot again. I get the misunderstanding that could happen – from her perspective, it looks like he didn’t help Libby and so got her killed. Then, weird aliens start shouting about how the prophecy says that Joe is the chosen one who will bring down Congress, and so she starts questioning his loyalty. Then, she freaks out and gets shot, presumably killed.

But since by a stroke of luck she’s alive, why doesn’t just GO TALK TO JOE afterwards instead of transferring from his ground team and hating him forever? Seems super stupid.

Alien fighting scale doesn’t stay constant

So let me get this straight. One Dasha can kill 8,000 Oorekei. One Oorekei is strong enough to probably kill 3-5 humans. The Jreet are the only species that can kill a Dasha one on one. But a Jreet can get killed by a human?

That shouldn’t be possible at all. They’re 40 feet tall and invisible, and based on the aforementioned power scale, it should take like 20,000 people to kill one Jreet since it would take about that many people to kill one Dasha.

But at the end, we’re mowing down Jreet like it’s going out of style. Invisible 40 foot reptile pteranodons and we’re killing them? What? How? Yes, lots of the kids are dying, but if the scale held true, ALL THE KIDS SHOULD BE DEAD. And the Jreet should be laughing.

Wait, I thought they were my friends/enemies?

Speaking of consistency, I can’t figure out who my friends are supposed to be or not. Khgil was my friend – he died because of some prophecy to save Joe*because he wants to bring down Congress*.

Nebil was his friend, and so I guess is Joe’s friend now? He treats Joe and his batallion very well, and is obviously the most competent battlemaster. He dies at the end PROTECTING CONGRESS???!!?! How in the…what? Shouldn’t we be on the same side as the resistance? Couldn’t we have just chatted and prevented this?

Tril has been an asshole this entire story to Joe the entire time. He keeps Joe from getting battlemaster for forever, is shown to be woefully incompetent at leading and seems to not care about getting his recruits killed for the sake of his pride. But at the end, he’s shown to be protecting Joe from people that want to arrest him? Kerswut?

NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

Conclusion

So yeah, I’m pretty frustrated. It’s not like the book was straight up bad. I was captivated, and very invested in the fate of Joe and his groundteam. So, great character writing there.

But the story goes so far off the rails at the end. And since I was expecting an awesome ending, I find myself extremely frustrated. NOTHING MAKES SENSE.

I’m very on the fence as to whether or not I’ll read the next book in the series. It looks like the story still centers around Joe (Zero), but 50 years into the future. I’m leaning no, but maybe I’ll calm down and give it a try. I’m already invested in this world anyway…? It took forever to learn all the different species names haha.

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – TwoMorePages Book Review

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – TwoMorePages Book Review

If you ask questions you are either a traitor, an infidel, or both. Fact checking authorities is looked upon as a form of mutiny against the country or against God. If you challenge those claims, you don’t like the country or you are misinformed by “mainstream media”, which is not telling you the “truth.”

Quick sanity check – do you think that the quote above references the current Egyptian dictatorship under Sissi or the current US government under Trump’s administration?

The correct answer is actually Egypt, but isn’t it weird that you have to think about it? Bassem Youssef’s book chronicling his adventures and experiences through not one BUT TWO revolutions in Egypt is a fantastic read. His insights into the kind of populism that led to a religious dictatorship, followed by the (totally not a coup?) military dictatorship are extremely intelligent and thought provoking.

He had to literally leave his country because he was going to get arrested and probably jailed forever (maybe executed?) for hosting an Arab version of the Daily Show that didn’t always show the Egyptian government in great light. It was literally the most popular show in Egypt at one point.

You know, after having read Trevor Noah’s book about growing up in Africa and then this book, I’m liking this whole “expand your horizons by reading about people who grew up in elsewhere in the world” thing.

I didn’t know that much about the Arab Spring when it happened, and I got really confused when I tried to learn more about it at the time. This is a fantastic recollection of how it went down in Egypt – first, describing the revolution that overthrew the existing 30 year dictatorship of Mubarak; then, describing how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, two very different Islamic groups that hated each other, somehow came together to create a religious majority that made a government based on Sharia law under Morsi; then, describing how the military seized power from Morsi and instituted a fascist military dictatorship that entirely censored free speech afterwards.

I remember reading about the conundrum that the US faced at the time: if you don’t call it a coup, then you still have to give Egypt $1.5 billion in aid. If you call it a coup, well…then you have to recognize the not-peaceful seizure of power from what you considered the legitimate Egyptian government. And if that’s the case, how do you want to handle this on an international stage?

For the first time we didn’t make fun of the Islamists. I directed my sarcasm at the ”liberal” media now. I always felt it was my job to keep whoever was in power in check – and even though these people used to root for me and against the Islamists back in the day, they were now the ones fueling hate and racism.

Reading about Youssef’s struggles under both governments was eye opening. People that supported him when he was speaking out against the religious majority of Morsi’s government then turned around and attacked him when he pointed out the same inconsistencies of Sissi’s military government.

The same people who were attacking him under Morsi’s government and accusing him of being a “secret Christian traitor” were singing his praises under Sissi’s government. He was the same person criticizing the same things, but suddenly those people were 100% A-okay with him when the government they supported was gone. How weird is that?

Moreover, reading about how much worse Sissi’s militaristic regime was was crazy. He went into detail about how the government came out and said they had created a machine that could cure Hepatitis C, AIDS, and cancer. The machine would “take the virus away from the patient and return it to him in the form of a kabab sandwich.” Dude’s a heart surgeon; he knows that’s total bullshit, and yet when he says there’s no way that machine works, he’s called out as being a liar and that his information is fake. Sound familiar?

Obviously that machine didn’t work. Here was the climate in Egypt:

A 22 year old college student was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail for photoshopping Mickey Mouse ears onto Sissi’s head.

An Egyptian judge sentenced FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE TO DEATH for killing ONE police officer. All of them were convicted of the same crime!

A British couple was captured and delivered to the police by “concerned citizens” in the subway who’d overheard the two talking in their own language, you know, English.

“The country is in a critical condition now and I can’t allow my channel to be part of this. We are thankful for what you have done in teh past; your contribution to enlighten people against Islamic fascism will not be forgotten. But Egypt doesn’t need you now.”

– Station Owner, shutting down Youssef’s show

He only got a few episodes into his show under the new Regime before the government *forced it off the air*, and he had to flee the country soon afterwards to prevent himself from “disappearing.”

In a time when I worry about whether or not free speech will truly remain free here in America, it’s sobering to think that free speech is not a given in lots of places in the world.

This is the road that I fear we’re going down here in the US currently. Hearing Sean Spicer literally say “We have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from. I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship” , and then turn around as White House Press Secretary a few months later and ban CNN from a white house press meeting is insane.

The parallels with what Youssef’s stories in Egypt and what we saw here in the US are frightening. Who supported Morsi and Sissi in Egypt? Older, less educated people, who were easily manipulated and lied to because they are afraid of people different than them. Who supported/supports Trump? Pretty much the same demographic, except white and Christian this time instead of brown and Islamic. Facts need not enter the discussion – it’s all based on *feelings*.

It’s the same side of the same coin.

“Whenever his supporters were faced with facts and reality they would simply tell you that this is the talk of liberal media who hate Trump and who hate America.”

“But as I was inside the Republican convention it was deja vu for me…I would sometimes translate parts of their speeches in my head and they would sound exactly the same as the ones I heard back home. The fear, the xenophobia, the hate, they all came in different shapes and forms; only, they were wearing more expensive suits and had much pastier skin.”

“The (Egyptian) military supporters still lack any thoughts resembling logic. They are part of the same echo chamber you’d find yourself in if you attended a Trump rally: “Everyone is conspiring against us. They are out to get us, they hate us for our freedoms.”

So, reading this book was a little surreal for me. The same sense of awe that Youssef had regarding how he couldn’t believe the way the people around him were acting and voting is pretty much the same sense of awe that I have regarding people continue to support Trump.

The one perhaps positive difference? Trump’s approval ratings are historically low for a sitting US President in his first 100 days, so maybe people are coming around and thinking for themselves. They may be quiet about it (nobody likes admitting they were wrong), but that’s better than nothing. In comparison, all the Egyptian leaders were apparently extremely popular.

This was a really good read, and I’m glad that Youssef didn’t “disappear” back in Egypt, which looks like it could have been a distinct possibility *several* times.  I’ll definitely keep an eye out in the future for books like this that help give me more of a global perspective of the world.