Watch Out Trump – Shakespearean Scholar All Up Your Ass!

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Title: Tyrant – Shakespeare on Politics

Rating: 4 Stars

The genesis of this book is pretty hilarious. Stephen Greenblatt is a respected Shakespearean historian. Many years ago, I read his Will in the World, which I remember being impressed by. He’s introduced a new concept into his field called New Historicism. Truly he’s an academic literary / history heavyweight.

Well, he’s apparently a bit disgruntled by the results of the last presidential election. He voiced his displeasure loudly to family and friends, to the point where they basically asked him, well, what are you going to do about it?

Well, he only has one sword in his scabbard, and that is literary analysis with a historical emphasis.

So, he wrote a take down of Trump, in the form of a book that analyzes the tyrants in Shakespeare’s works and what properties they might be sharing with tyrants of the current day. You can guess that this current day tyrant possesses a certain orange hue.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s fucking brilliant.

He starts off with the historical environment in which Shakespeare was writing. He was active during the reign of Elizabeth I and James I. It was at best a perilous time in English history and to be a playwright. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had broken from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England. The pope immediately named Henry as a heretic and excommunicated all followers of the Church of England. There were Catholic kingdoms that were actively trying to bring down the English government. There were rumors of assassins that were targeting Elizabeth I. There were still large numbers of Catholics in England secretly practicing their religion. Underground Catholic priests were tortured and executed.

Elizabeth I had no heir, so there was crazy jockeying for position for her succession during this time of tumult. Depending upon the successor, England might rejoin the Catholic Church, so there was much plotting around this.

And, oh yeah, there was a law on the books that made calling the English head of state a tyrant a capital offense.

So, into this political chaos, Shakespeare proceeded to write a number of histories and tragedies that had a not so subtle political backdrop. How did he do this? Mostly by setting his plays in far off locales or a long ago time. As long as he could reasonably point at a historical source that kinda / sorta backed up his play, the censors left him alone.

Basically Shakespeare used the past to make political commentary upon his present, and by discussing Shakespeare’s plays here, Greenblatt does the same thing. He uses Shakespeare’s plays to highlight the tyranny that he sees today.

The plays that he discusses are the three parts of Henry VI, Richard III, Othello, MacBeth, King Lear, and Coriolanus.

I have to emphasize that I think he does this in a hilarious fashion. He wields his literary analysis with the subtly of a wood chipper.

What are the properties of a tyrant? Well, they are narcissist to an amazing degree. They surround themselves with craven sycophants interested in nothing more than licking their boots. Truth tellers are destroyed. Those in their circle that are truly public servants are falsely charged and removed. The acquiring of power is all that they seek, once they have the power they prove themselves to be utterly incompetent to govern. They hold their subjects in contempt. Intellectuals are to be ignored if not actually destroyed.

Does that sound like anyone we know?

I really, truly, in the deepest part of my heart, hope that Donald Trump somehow picks up this book, reads it, and has a lightning bolt of self realization. Of all of the criticism that he receives from news outlets, late night comedy hosts, sketch comedy shows,  Never Trump Republicans, Twitter trolls, bemused world leaders, and everyone else, I want THIS book to be the vehicle that drops him to his knees in repentance, admit to the world that yes, I am an incompetent asshole, and resigns in disgrace.

I want so bad for Donald Trump to be laid low by a Shakespearean scholar writing a primal scream screed (as of this moment, with 375 ratings and 114 reviews on Goodreads).

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Shakespeare Torn From Today’s Headlines

I’ve been listening to kind of an amazing podcast called Lend Me Your Ears. It releases a new episode every month or so. It takes a different Shakespearean play and analyzes it with an eye towards how it applies to the current news. I find it fascinating that a play written over four hundred years ago informs our world today.

This past week the play discussed was Measure For Measure. This is certainly considered a somewhat minor play in the canon. It falls into the category of a problem play, one which can’t really be considered comedy, tragedy, or history.

It also suffers from what can best be construed, using a modern eye, as a problematic plot. The Duke of Vienna leaves Angelo, a moral purist, in charge. Angelo arrests Claudio for fornication for making his fiance Julia pregnant. Claudio is sentenced to death. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, a novice nun, tries to intervene with Angelo to spare her brother. Angelo agrees on the condition that Isabella has sex with him. She refuses. The Duke, who is now in disguise, convinces Isabella to trick Angelo by substituting herself with Mariana, Angelo’s spurned fiance. Angelo thinks he has sex with Isabella, but instead of freeing Claudio, orders his head to be delivered to him. Again the Duke intervenes by finding a recently deceased man that resembles Claudio and delivering his head instead. The Duke finally throws off his disguise and comes back to court. In the climax, Angelo is discredited and the Duke orders Claudio and Julia to be married, Angelo and Mariana to be married, and betroths himself to Isabella.

Got all of that? And if so, how does that mess somehow relate to the present?

First of all, there is the #meToo aspect. Angelo makes his lewd proposition to Isabella. Isabella not only angrily refuses but says that she will tell everyone how vile Angelo is. Angelo smoothly says go ahead, who will believe you? This is the essence of the #meToo movement. Men in power use women sexually with no fear of consequences. The women have nowhere to turn. Even here, it’s only the fact that the Duke has been in disguise and saw first hand Angelo’s actions that brings about his downfall. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a he said / she said and in all probability Angelo would have remained in power.

Angelo is basically a puritan. He believes that moral laws (like fornication) should be interpreted strictly and punishment applied without fail. In this, he resembles the Taliban and all of those other religions (which also exist in the US) that believes that religious laws should deeply inform civil laws.

Also, Angelo represents the abuse of power. It turns out that if you give a morally rigorous person something approaching absolute power that in many cases that power will be abused. There are any number of powerful religious figures that can be substituted here.

Isabella doesn’t come off scot free either.  Her own rigid religious beliefs does not even give her the option of saving her brother. Not willing to pay the price, she willingly allows her brother to be executed, and in fact, encourages him to face his death with good will. Also, apparently her passionate religious beliefs has no problem encouraging another woman to commit fornication.

Claudio is the hedonist. He lives for joy in the here and now. He is honestly perplexed by Isabella’s refusal to sacrifice her innocence to save his life. He doesn’t understand why you would be willing to sacrifice the pleasures of this life for the uncertain payment of the next.

There’s a character that I haven’t mentioned yet named Escalus. He is the voice of reason trying to come up with a rational solution. It goes without saying that all characters pretty much just ignore him. Much like rational leaders today…

And finally, somehow it’s a good idea using a conventional custom like marriage to cut this Gordian plot mess? Sure this works for Claudio and Julia, who are unabashedly in love. Angelo and Mariana are at best a shaky match and exactly how does the Duke justify his marriage of Isabella? Remember that Isabella is a novice nun and was willing to let her brother die to protect her virginity. Exactly how is this exactly a happy ending for Isabella? The fact that the previously verbally loquacious Isabella doesn’t say anything for most of the last act speaks volumes. This does speak to how society today tries to overlay conventional solutions on top of a world gone increasingly complex.

Wow! All of this from a play that most people have never heard of and even those in the know consider to be not one of Shakespeare’s major works.

 

An Ancient Code Of Honor

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Title: Winter’s Bone

Rating: 5 Stars

This was one of those rare cases where I watched a film and enjoyed it so much that it inspired me to seek out the book that it was based upon.

The film follows very closely the plot of the novel. A 16 year old woman named Ree is living in the Ozarks. She has two younger brothers, a mother that has gone quietly insane, and her meth cook father has vanished, so she’s taking care of everything all by herself.

She learns that her father has put up their house and land as bail collateral and his trial date is coming due soon. If she doesn’t find her father and convince him to come to trial, her family will become homeless. There is no one else to help, so she resolutely starts her search. Along the way she encounters many tough, independent, and violent people, but she refuses to give up.

Plot wise, the novel offers no surprises. Given its relative short length (< 250 pages), I didn’t expect much more than the enjoyment that I received from the film. However, even if no new themes emerged as I read, several of the themes were amplified.

The novel emphasizes the bleakness of the locale. This is first represented by the weather. It’s set during the winter and the weather is blistering cold. Due to the fact that Ree does not have access to a vehicle, the weather plays a major role in Ree’s search. Even trips of a couple of miles become lessons in endurance.

In addition to the weather, the houses that they all live in are desolate. They are beat up and decades old. Additions have been built on haphazardly. There are leaks in roofs. Stoves are used to generate heat. It is rough living, even among those in the community that are the most respected / feared.

The characters seem even more dangerous here. Ree’s Uncle Teardrop, who ultimately does help her, is clearly a dangerous man that other tough men are scared of.  It appears that another man, Thump Milton, a leader over in the next town, does know what happened to Ree’s father, but even Uncle Teardrop doesn’t want to mess with Thump.

All of the male characters in the novel have an air of menace to them. The women are, by the natural order of things here, subservient to their men. However, the women themselves are tough and resolute. When Ree refuses to back off, she is brutally kicked and beaten by three of the women. The fact that Ree takes the beating, doesn’t go to the authorities, and still refuses to give up her search ultimately raises the community’s opinion of her and some begin to help her.

The clannish nature of the community is also highlighted in the novel. Essentially, everyone is related to everyone. To maximize confusion to outside law enforcement, all of the men are given a relatively few names (there are a dozen characters named Milton). As Ree goes around trying to find her father, she always starts off by explaining her lineage to establish her bona fides. All of the characters start by chasing her off, but once they understand how they are related, then the discussion can start.

The community is so insulated that they are bound by a code that has apparently been passed down for centuries, going all the way back to their pre America homelands. Some of these rules almost have a folklore feel to them. Given the setting of the novel and the historical migrations, I’d guess that these are ancient Scots-Irish rules that, in isolation, hundreds of years later, is what keeps this desperately poor community functioning.

You see this not only in Ree’s struggles trying to find her father, but also now, as head of the household, firmly teaching this code to her two younger brothers (eg “I don’t want either of you to fight, but if one of you gets in a fight, you both better come home bloody”).

The novel ends with a note of hope and tragedy. Ree’s father is dead, murdered because he became a police informant (a huge code violation). However, since he’s dead, his bail collateral is returned, along with a mysterious sum of money that can allow Ree and her family to climb a little bit out of their hole.

Even though Ree’s father was murdered for justifiable reasons that he understands and agrees with, once Uncle Teardrop figures out who killed him, he feels code bound to avenge his brother’s murder. The novel closes with his determination to avenge it, even though he knows that it will lead to his own death.

The code gives him no other choice.

Man Of The Century Or Monster Of The Century?

In two separate situations in the span of a week, I’ve encountered Fritz Haber, a man that I’d never heard of before. His story is so interesting that I felt obligated to write about it.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the world faced a problem. The world population was growing and needed to be fed. The problem was that farming crops takes away nutrients from the soil. Farmers discovered early that fertilizer can replenish the soil for the next crop season. However, there is only so much…um…shit in the world. In fact, guano (in essence, bird shit) is the best natural fertilizer. There was a global competition amongst countries to make sure that they had their supply of guano to meet their farmers’ needs. It sounds odd, but this could be the thing that was going to prove Malthus right. Humans were going to consume their resources and then die off.

Into the breach stepped Fritz Haber, a German Jew. He was a chemist by trade. He knew that fertilizer is ammonium nitrate. Using high pressure and high temperature, he developed a process to form ammonium from hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen. Working with another guy named Carl Bosch, they developed the Haber-Bosch process, which allowed synthetic fertilizer to be produced at a mass scale.

Today, the food production for nearly half of the world’s population depends upon this process. Yes, one guy can be said to have allowed literally billions of people to have been born and lived. It’s a mind boggling accomplishment that should cement his standing as one of the century’s greatest minds.

And then…

When WWI started, Haber was an avid supporter of Germany. He was German after all, so not totally surprising. What’s a bit more surprising is that he saw another solution to a problem using chemicals. In this case, I’m talking weapons. He led the teams that developed chlorine gas and other chemical weapons. And he was not just a man of science but a man of deeds. He was at the Second Battle of Ypres, the site of the first gas attack. There is actually something called Haber’s Rule, which is a mathematical expression relating gas concentration and time of exposure.

Yes, he is known for the Haber-Bosch process, which enabled billions of lives, and Haber’s Rule, which murdered soldiers by poisoning them.

His wife was so upset at his actions during WWI that she killed herself with his service revolver. Days after her death, he departed to the Eastern front to initiate gas attacks on the Russians.

Here we have the duality of being human. How can we reconcile ourselves to this great humanitarian and great monster? In fact, if you live in the tech world, it’s not that difficult. He, at the end of the day, is an engineer. Engineers solve problems. That single mindedness is the great gift and curse of engineers. Engineers can solve the thorniest of problems but often don’t ask themselves if they should.

As a final footnote, after the war he continued to work as a chemist. During that time his team developed an insecticide in grain stores.

By 1931, even though a war hero personally awarded a medal by the Kaiser, he was concerned about his Jewish status in Nazi Germany. He ended up fleeing the country. Ironically enough, he ended up in England, the nation whose army he gassed at Ypres. There he died in 1934.

Back in Germany, that insecticide that his team developed had an unpleasant odor that was used to warn people that it was in use. The Nazis requested that an odorless variant be created. That first insecticide was named Zyklon A. The variant that the Nazis commissioned was named Zyklon B.

So yes, The German Jew Fritz Haber led a team that developed the gas that served as the precursor for a gas that was used to kill over a million people, predominantly Jews, in various extermination camps during WWII.

Hero or monster?

Telemarketers Of The World, Unite!

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Title: Sorry To Bother You

Rating: 5 Stars

One of my favorite things when I see a film is to be surprised. Especially during the last third of it, this film certainly let me surprised.

Without major spoilers, this is the story of Cassius Green. He’s broke and living in Oakland, desperately trying to get a job and to find his way.

He manages to get a job in telemarketing at a company named RegalView. It’s as awful as you’d think such a job is. He hates it and he’s not good at it. He meets a guy named Squeeze who has started working at the same job but is actually a union organizer trying to get a union started there. Cassius is not good at his job and finds the work depressing.

An older, more experienced worker sees his struggles, takes him aside, and tells him to start using his white voice when talking to his customers. He is dubious, but tries it, and finds that he has a white voice natural gift, and when using it, instantly becomes successful.

In fact, he becomes so successful that he’s promoted to a power caller, in which he can use his magic voice to make ever more expensive, if morally dubious, sales.

As a result, he becomes much successful, even as his friends still on the entry telemarketing floor continue to fight for union recognition.

I pretty much have to stop there to avoid serious spoilers. That’s the nuts and bolts of the plot but let’s just say that some shit happens in the last part of the film.

This is one of those films that is just brimming with ideas. I basically raced home just to be able get these thoughts down. Here are some of them:

An obvious theme is code switching. An interesting idea expressed here isn’t just the fact that a black man is more successful by switching to his ‘white’ voice. It’s actually more than his white voice, it’s an aspirational white voice. It’s a white voice that even white people use. It’s the white voice that white people use to code switch when they deal with the true masters of the universe.

There’s a corporation in this film named WorryFree that is successful because it offers its employees a lifetime employment contract. The employees have a job for life and for their labor receive free room and board. Since they receive free room and board, there is no salary. In other words, slavery. However, many people are in such desperate situations with their current lives that corporate slavery actually is a compelling option.

When Cassius’ gift is recognized by the corporation, he is promoted.  He is given more money and prestige. The price for those gains is that he has to use his gift to generate even more money for the corporation and sacrifice whatever morals and values that he has. I’m sure that this resonates with many people as they move up the rungs of the corporate hierarchy.

Now that he’s making more money and is in a much more upscale work area, he feels disconnected from his previous telemarketing friends. Although he still has sympathy with their aspirations to unionize, he no longer shares the struggle with them. This is  analogous to the separation that is actively promoted between the white collar and blue collar workers in a large manufacturing corporation.

Corporations are relentless in reducing costs and increasing their bottom lines. Being by their nature amoral, they are willing to cross pretty much any scientific and ethical barriers to achieving this. The WorryFree corporation demonstrates this to excessive lengths.

There’s even a part of the film that deals with how the forces of establishment work to infiltrate insurgent movements with false leaders as a form of control.

At the end of the day, there is hope. People can organize. People can demonstrate. People can fight, and don’t be fooled, it will require a fight, but the fight can be won.

The Bohemian Private Schools The Elites

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Title: The Death of Democracy

Rating: 4 Stars

With the current news, I kind of ended up in a dark place reading about the rise of tyranny in history. I read The Storm Before The Storm, which is about the century before Caesar crossed the Rubicon and replaced the Roman Republic with the Roman Empire. I’ve also read Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. This was about how, between active censorship and the perils of enjoying royal patronage, Shakespeare was able to make comments upon tyranny taking place in his time in his plays by framing the message into plots from the distant past. I enjoyed both books but since I read them while I was on vacation, I did not have the opportunity to post my thoughts while they were still fresh, so I may not get around to it.

The Death of Democracy is about the Weimar Republic, how / why it failed, and how Hitler arose even though he never had a majority mandate. To a large extent, Hett blames the conservatives that were so intent upon protecting their reputations and upon their own complex Machiavellian machinations that they totally missed Hitler simply bulldozing his way to power.

It starts at the conclusion of WWI. Even though no Allied forces were actually on German territory and German armies still held wide swaths of Allied territory, the German army was on the edge of collapse. The two German military leaders, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, went to the civilian leadership and said that the army can no longer defend Germany.

Usually at the end of the war, the military generals surrender to their counterpart (think Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomattox). In this case, to protect their own reputations, the two generals convinced the government civilian leaders, social democrats, to actually sue for an armistice. In fact, they appealed to their patriotism to do it to save Germany.  One of the politicians, who had lost two sons in the war, with tears in his eyes, agreed to do this for Germany.

This seems like a small thing but this set up the famous “stab in the back”. During the armistice, the German army was nearly stripped of its fighting power, so peace terms that were dictated were draconian (although Hett argues that they weren’t unusually so). The German army leaders could then claim that the civilian government sold out the military and the German people (hence the stab in the back). For the German people, who actually never saw Allied forces on their soil, this was a compelling argument.

Hence, to a large extent, the social democrats were tainted from the start. The communists, who were basically taking orders directly from Stalin at that point, were also not particularly strategically strong.

This left an opening to the conservative parties. By pointing to the war spirit of 1914 and comparing that to the liberal surrender of 1918, they could claim that they were just restoring Germany’s original spirit.

Into this steps Hitler. While the conservatives were still primarily interested in keeping power among themselves, Hitler’s national socialist party was creating a groundswell of angry citizens that felt betrayed by everything that has happened since 1918 and want to bring back what they remember as their storied past. They see Jewish immigrants and communists as those that are ruining their worlds and see no problem wreaking violence upon them.

Although the conservative leaders are horrified at the nazi’s thuggish behavior and consider Hitler to be an uncouth and uneducated clown (Hindenburg up to the last claims that he will never shake hands with that “Bohemian Private”), they’ve come to realize that they can assume power if they make common cause with Hitler.

When they do, they assume that of course, being sophisticated, cosmopolitan elites, that they will have no trouble managing Hitler. Of course they are wrong, and in fact, some of them will be murdered during the Night of the Long Knives.

Does this mean anything to our current day? Well, it does kind of remind me of the deal with the devil that the establishment conservative Republican leadership has made with Trump. Clearly some of them are horrified at the antics and incompetence of Trump but have kept mum so that they can get their tax breaks and their judges. If Trump’s actions continue on their current trajectory, these leaders will have to decide how long they will continue to stand by him.

History will judge them accordingly.

Now that I’ve read these books, I have decided that I now need a dose of optimism. Therefore, I’m now reading Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now.

Mission Impossible: Max Gross

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Title: Mission Impossible Fallout

Rating: 2 Stars

To be fair, it’s probably actually much closer to 3 stars, but given my propensity to lean away from giving a bland middle of the road rating, I dropped it down to 2 stars.

Actually, it’s a fine movie. It’s very well made. The action sequences are intense. The interplay, when it occurs, between the members of the Mission Impossible team is warm and humorous. You see the budget on the screen.

I probably ended up leaving with a more negative impression because of the early reviews that I read. It gets a 98 for top critics from Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve read several articles contending that the Mission Impossible franchise is the best action franchise going and how this one specifically is a continuing step forward from the previous Rogue Nation.

Coming in with higher expectations…it was fine.

A lot of the early reviews seems to be centered around the fact that, over 20 years after the first installment and now in his mid-50’s, Tom Cruise still does predominantly his own stunts. I’m almost exactly his age, so I can attest to the fact that that is very impressive, but should the film value really somehow be dependent on the fact that a centi-millionaire movie star willingly risks his life for our entertainment?

The plot, as is typical of spy type films, is almost insanely nonsensical and complex so that as many exotic film locations as possible can be utilized. And, oh my god, the exposition.  So much of the plot had to be explained by having characters having nonsense conversations with each other for no other purpose than to advance the plot. At times, it seemed like a book on tape.

And then, at the end of the day, the plot ended up being a crazy guy with a nuclear weapon and a timer; otherwise known as the go to plot device of every two-bit pulp fiction spy story ever told. OK, this time, the crazy guy has…wait for it…two nuclear weapons that are in close proximity to each other and are programmed to go off at the exact same moment, thus giving it about the same impact as one nucl…oh, never mind.

And I realized that JJ Abrams is only producing it this time, but seriously, what’s going on with all of the lens flares? Does Abrams somewhere have it in his contract that every movie that he’s involved with has to have a certain minimum number of them?

Henry Cavill makes his first appearance in the series. He seems kind of wasted here. He’s just a stolid, stiff, emotionless cipher. Granted, I think that’s kind of the point, but it’d be nice to have a little something extra going on there.

One thing that I did find interesting is that the Mission Impossible franchise is truly global in its audience appeal. Settings in both Europe and Asia are featured predominantly. There are no Russian or Chinese or even Middle Eastern bad guys here. I’m guessing that could negatively affect its gross. Instead, we have a generic terrorist organization that’s not even political in nature. The crazy guy is a white dude with a beard. Apparently, the terrorists are just a very expanded version of Fight Club’s Project Mayhem. They just want to cause suffering because apparently, the greater the suffering, the greater the peace? Um, yeah, that sounds like a really great terrorist organization. Sign me up. I’m legitimately happy that the terrorists were not stereotypical Middle Easterners shouting Allalu Akbar.

So, I know that seems like a lot of negative. Again, I want to stress that it’s a well made action spy movie that was fun to watch. Given the hype, I was expecting just a bit less paint by the numbers type of film.

Not Drinking The Kool-Aid

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Title: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Rating: 3 Stars

I definitely have mixed emotions about this book. Usually when I rate a book three stars, it really does mean meh. I didn’t dislike reading it, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it either. I don’t have feelings for it that push it one way or another.

This three star rating is different. It inspired several strong thoughts and feelings in me. However, these responses were all over the chart. There were things about it that I really enjoyed and things that really annoyed me. Somehow the pro’s and con’s perfectly averaged out.

The things that annoyed me:

I don’t think that Tom Wolfe’s voice matches the subject. The world of new journalists range from Gay Talese to Hunter S Thompson. Talese seems to write from a remove, writing about people as if they were specimens that he was observing. Obviously, Thompson completely immerses himself and injects himself into whatever he in writing about.

If you consider that universe, Wolfe seems, by nature, to be much closer to Talese than to Thompson. However, recording the excesses of the Merry Pranksters would seem to call for a more Thompsonesque approach. He tries, but still there seems to be that distance which, considering the subject, does not seem fitting.

I also have an issue with Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and their philosophy. I just read the book Fantasyland, which discusses the several hundred year love affair that America has had with irrational thought. Kurt Andersen discusses the 1960s counterculture. It was during that time, in university academic settings, that the concept of reality was seriously questioned. Tenured respectable professors talk about the illusion of reality and that we all all live in our own unique world. This idea of finding your  own individual centered reality is a common thread here. Kesey seems to be actively trying to found some non-religious religion, with himself as some non-navigator leader.

Forty-five years later, this find your own reality and fundamental distrust of establishment concepts such as science has led us to where we are now: where anti-vaxxers withhold innoculations from their children with literally no science backing them, where school shootings are assumed to be false flag operations, and where over ninety percent of the Republicans believe Trump’s obvious lies and only ten percent believe the media. Abandoning objective reality while participating in a large social culture now seems actively dangerous.

Finally, I can’t get past the privilege. Here are people throwing off the trappings of capitalism and consumerism because they can afford to. A good number of the Merry Pranksters come from at least a middle class background with indulgent parents. A number of them are dropouts from small private liberal arts universities. One of them suffers a mental breakdown and his brother flies out from New York, gathers him up, takes him back to New York, and then checks him into a sanitarium. Most of their adventures are funded by Kesey’s book and theater sales. With a few exceptions, they are all white. Embracing poverty as a lifestyle choice knowing that you can always escape from it seems insulting to those truly in poverty.

So, what was the good?

Before reading this, I honestly didn’t understand the central role that Kesey and the Merry Pranksters played in the forming of the West Coast counterculture. They truly are ground zero. They basically gave The Grateful Dead their start. Their early acid tests are the starting point for the Haight-Ashbury district. Kesey started using LSD at such an early point that it was still legal. He meets up early with Owsley Stanley, one of the first mass producers of LSD. Kesey was the first one of the drug counterculture to establish a relationship with the Hell’s Angels, so you can draw a pretty straight line from Kesey to Altamont.

I also didn’t understand that Kesey served as the bridge between the beat generation and the hippies. I found it fascinating that Neal Cassady played such a central position in Kesey’s world. Having read On The Road, getting a more intimate look at Cassady himself in the flesh was enlightening.

Although reading the book was occasionally annoying to me, being able to make those historical connections that I hadn’t made before made reading it worthwhile.