Friday, March 29, 2013

The Howard Zinn Reader

The Zinn Reader

Howard Zinn

Book Review

Richard Edward Noble

Howard Zinn has been around for a long, long time. But I was exposed to him just a few years back. I picked up a copy of his big seller "A People's History of the United States."

Despite rumors to the contrary every historian puts his own personal slant on his interpretations of historical events. Some add more personality than others. Howard Zinn puts his heart and soul into everything he writes. He makes very involved and intimate reading.

After reading his "A People's History," I wanted to know more about the man, Howard Zinn.
This Book, "The Howard Zinn Reader" was perfect.

Howard Zinn hails from the tenement slums and blue collar shipyards of Brooklyn as do many other famous radicals.

Howard, though serving as a bombardier during World War II, evolved into the quintessential war resister.

I am very surprised that more veterans do not turn into war resisters. I should think they all would. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Howard, besides being an historian, is also a moral philosopher, I would say. Not everyone has a moral conscience but Howard has a big one. His guilt over what he did personally during World War II, as a bombardier, has been the curse of his life. He has given his all to compensate for those actions ever since.

The Zinn Reader approaches 700 pages and contains a variety of essays on most everything he has written throughout his career.

Howard denounces all wars past and future. He is what I would call a secular pacifist. In other words, he does not invoke religion or God in his analysis of why war should never, ever be engaged in.

He does not support the notion of a just war. All wars are atrocities. They are atrocities on the part of all the participating entities. In one essay, he uses World War II as his example and makes a case against both the allies and the axis.

The first 120 pages of the book outline his participation in the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's. Reading it is an education. I thought that I was already overexposed to the Civil Rights Movement since I lived through it and have since read about it. But, after reading Howard Zinn's, close up and personal experiences in Alabama, Mississippi, Boston and elsewhere, I realize I have just scratched the surface. Unfortunately, it was even worse than I had been aware.

Howard brings the reader into the heart of it all. Into the kitchens and crowded floor spaces of the various participants. In this section the reader is exposed to the heroism of, not only the big names, but common folk not mentioned in other history books.

I thought I was beyond shock but the brutal actions of many of my white countrymen are frightening. I could only wish that I was reading about another country and not my own. On the other hand, all of this makes what is happening today, with president Obama and other domestic legislation much clearer. We may have come a long way but we have a long way to go. Unfortunately, we have many who are now attempting to turn the country around and drive us back into our past. This is sad but reading the essays of Professor Zinn in this area make it all too clear why we all should not want to return to that era. Our present, as bad as it may be, is a world ahead of what we once were.

A few of the essays get a little academic and intellectual but the greater portion are very simple and deal directly with the events as they happened. His explanations always deal with the moral rationale. My interest in philosophy is not wasted with Mr. Zinn.

He is an extremely well read man. I have even highlighted books in his suggested reading at the end of the book.

All through the book he quotes from and cites other books and authors.

When one considers all the books this man has read, he must also wonder how this man did anything but read. But his life has been jam packed with personal adventures and experiences all dealing with social justice and things and events of moral consequence. He is a true activist, agitator and radical. The world has too few of his kind and type.

Howard has very little faith in governments. All governments will eventually be corrupted by the rich and powerful no matter how well intentioned they may begin, he proclaims. But he does not look upon this as reason to despair. He puts his faith, as many radicals do, in the dominant spirit of the good in all of us - or, at least, the good among all of us.

He has seen and met many of those good, brave hearts and he introduces us to them all.

This is his goal. To show to us, those like us who have risen to the occasion and have been frightened but stood their ground.

If you are like me and you want to know who this Zinn guy was, what he stood for, the kind of man he was, what he believed and how he acted on those beliefs, this is your book.

The Hobo Philosopher - Richard Edward Noble - is a writer and author of "America On Strike." A survey of Labor strikes from the colonial period to the Traffic Controllers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Movie - Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

By Richard E. Noble

This movie is touted as “the feel good movie of the year.” Anybody who watched this movie and left feeling good about it, in my opinion, is lacking in something vital to their social conscience.

I don’t know what the creators’ intentions were with this film but I will certainly not be planning my next getaway vacation to India.

After watching this movie, I am left feeling much as I did after watching the movie, “Midnight Express.” I was happy for the man’s release from the Turkish prison in Midnight Express, just as I am happy for the two slumdogs who are the protagonists in this movie.

I definitely think this movie warrants praise and it deserves any awards that have been accorded to it but it certainly didn’t make me feel good. It made me feel very, very bad.

A slumdog appears to be India’s modern day equivalent to what was once referred to in that culture as “Untouchables.” The word “slumdog” is, of course, meant to be derogatory. An English equivalent might be dirtbag or scumbag.

India once suffered under what was called a caste system and it appears from this movie that they still do.

Supposedly this caste system belief is a part of the Hindu religion and its notion of reincarnation and Karma. It is a system of social stratification and a person’s karma, his behavior in his previous lives, determines his position in his present life.

The karma of certain people is so bad that they are placed in a caste not included in even the lowest caste of the caste system.

They are the Untouchables or the Dolits.

I remember reading about the horrid lives of these poor Untouchables decades ago.

I thought Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” was a horror story until I began reading about the real lives of the Untouchables in the non-fiction Indian culture.

These people lived in garbage dumps and scavenged and begged for their survival. The parents in these families would cripple, maim and blind their children so as to make them better beggars and increase their beggary dividends.

If I can believe this movie, it does not appear that much has changed in the Indian culture of today. I think it was George Orwell who stated, in his trekking India travelogue, that India would never become a great country because of its Hindu beliefs and the Hindu acceptance of fate and destiny and consequently poverty and social injustice and inequality. Considering the impressions left by this movie, I think he makes a good point.

This movie undermines all that I have been reading lately about the new India and the social progress it has been making over the past few decades.

That there are people living in India today who are boasting that they will soon be the leading economic culture in the world boggles my imagination. Much worse than that is the notion that if this actually were to be the case, the picture of the future that this film paints for the world is bleak indeed.

On the surface this is a love story. But unfortunately the moral, only revealed at the conclusion of the movie is one from that old time religion based on the Hindu notion of karma, destiny and fate.

So it seems that the Hindu caste system and the faith that spawned it are still alive and well in modern day India – at least according to this movie.

The male hero’s mother is murdered as she washes her clothes in some filthy pool of water. Her murder is not explained other than it had something to do with rivaling religious fanatics.

The two sons are now orphaned slumdogs. They are captured by a Faganesque, drug dealing gangster. He tortures, maims and brutalizes his captives to keep them in line and enhance their beggary. The two brothers and the younger brother’s little girlfriend attempt an escape before the younger boy is blinded by his tortures.

The boys escape but the little girl does not catch the train and remains with the drug dealing gangster and his gang of cutthroats. The remainder of this tale centers on this couple’s reunification.

Somehow mixed in here in this slum ridden, horror show of a country, a modern day TV program is incorporated into the film. As hard as it is to believe, the younger brother has matured and is a contestant on the TV show, an Indian version of “Who wants to be a millionaire.”

The show ends in a Michael Jackson type dance celebration and production extravaganza.

As I said in the beginning of this review, I do not know the real intentions of the creators of this film but they left a huge impression on me.

Unfortunately that impression is extremely negative.

At one point in the movie, one of the characters says to somebody,
“Well, you wanted to see a true picture of the real India, didn’t you?”

My god! Thank-you very much but I’ve seen enough of the “real” India to last me a good while.

Movie - Reds




By Richard E. Noble

Reds is a combination documentary and romance film.

John Reed is a famous/infamous American, radical, historical figure. He was an aspiring journalist, writer and poet during one of the most explosive, revolutionary periods in American history.

He was an avid Communist and active in the U.S. for many years. He was in my hometown of Lawrence, MA in 1912 along with Big Bill Haywood and the IWW for the well documented Bread and Roses Strike.

He was in Paterson, New Jersey, for the silk strike in 1913 and was a major influence in “The Pageant of the Paterson Strike,” a radical union play put on to help raise money for the strikers and their families and promote worldwide attention to the cause of labor struggles throughout the world.

He wrote about the Ludlow Massacre and other American Labor conflicts.

He is most famous as an American journalist and writer for his book “Ten Days That Shook the World.” He travelled to Russia after the Russian Army had walked off the battlefields of Europe in 1917 during the First World War. The entire Russian Army quit the “Capitalist” conflict and went home to take care of business. They would kill Czar Nicolas II, topple the centuries old regime and attempt by way of armed and violent revolution to establish a new democratic government. And John Reed was there to record the event.

He was a Harvard graduate.

The study of the Union Movement here in the U.S. and consequently the American Communist and Socialist parties, has been purposely neglected and even hidden from the American people.

Yet the battle over workers’ rights, social justice and human equality brought this nation to the brink of a second Civil War.

The battle rages on today in our present political system. Hatred for the American worker and his right to earn a living wage is still prevalent in our political system and throughout the populace.

The film story centers on the love story between John Reed and Louise Bryant. I was not aware of the extent of this gripping romance until seeing this movie. It was quite an outstanding love affair and Beatty does a fantastic job in documenting and recording it. It is definitely on the Doctor Zhivago level in story and film making.

I bought the film because of its documentary significance and my interest in the American Labor Movement.

There are interviews with famous radicals, writers, American Communist and Socialists.

Despite all the negative propaganda the American Communists and Socialists and their political parties and organizations did more to promote fair pay, the elimination and exploitation of child labor, good working conditions, sexual equality and free speech here at home than all other groups, parties, armies and social movement combined.

I feel that from an historical point of view knowing more about this time period and these famous radicals is crucial to a proper understanding of American history.

Our present overall understanding of this time and these people and their movements is convoluted and distorted to say the least.

This movie, besides its obvious Russian historical value, is American History.
Watch what happened then and get a better understanding of what is happening around you here in America today.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Where the Money Was - Willie Sutton

Where the Money Was

By Willie Sutton with Ed Linn

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

This is a fascinating tale. But even before I get into the story of Willie, I must pay tribute to Ed Linn. The influences of a professional writer are all over this book – and I say that in a positive way. The story line, the editing, the sentence structure, the characterization, the plot development, the embodiment of the image, the conscious manipulation of the reader – obviously undetected by the other reviewers who all feel as though they were sitting in Willie’s lap all through the book. A great job that I must credit Mr. Linn for, even understanding Willie’s potential for genius. This is Willie’s only book. If Willie had gone on to write several other books, I may not have been so bold as to credit Mr. Linn so lavishly. But this book is too good to have been written by a one time writer who has expressed nowhere to have had an interest in writing.

Ed Linn gets no credits in this book other than the three words … with Ed Linn printed on the cover. Mr. Linn assisted other greats like Leo Durocher and Bill Veeck in the same type “autobiography.” He has also written a biography of one of my favorite sports greats, Ted Williams, The Hitter. Ed was also a very successful sports writer and journalist. So giving Ed Linn his due, I will move along to Willie Sutton.

Despite the heroic nature of the book Willie Sutton was an admitted professional criminal. He loved robbing banks. “Why did I rob banks? Because I enjoyed it. I loved it. I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life. I enjoyed everything about it so much that one or two weeks later I’d be out looking for the next job. But to me the money was the chips, that’s all.”

Willie admitted that he was never responsible for the famous quote that is the title of this book. His supposed answer to the question of why he robbed banks … because it was Where the Money Was. He credits that infamous quote to some unknown creative journalist.

Willie spent the majority of his life breaking into or out of someplace. He was a thief. He is credited with being the greatest bank robber in American history – but yet he spent over half his life in prison. He spent all of World War II trying to tunnel his way out of one prison. Willie may have won each individual battle but he certainly lost the war.

There is something psychologically strange in the accolade that Willie was the greatest bank robber ever. I would suggest that the greatest bank robbers in all of American History are more prominent characters who never set a foot inside a prison. J.P. Morgan, for example, or John D. Rockefeller Jr. or a long list of many of the prominent heads of our present collapsed banking system who are still knocking down millions in bonuses and paychecks. Willie’s whole career only grossed him 2 million. That is peanuts in today’s world of professional white collar bank robbers. I suppose that I could qualify that boast by saying that Willie Sutton was the greatest, modern day, blue collar bank robber in American history.

Willie expresses much this same attitude regarding the reciprocal justice of his craft. He said that he felt no guilt in robbing banks because banks robbed people all the time. This is true but in our present “no fault” banking system if Willie were robbing banks today, he would still be robbing us and not “them.” But back in the good old days he was probably getting more from “them” than from us. So we will bow to that old time wisdom.

Willie’s story is like a reverse Buddha. The Buddha left his castle and saw poverty and suffering and felt the need to lie down in the middle of it and feel the pain. Willie was born into poverty and the hard times of the twenties and thirties and saw wealth and good fortune and wanted to relax in the middle of it all and feel the joy.

It didn’t seem to work out all that well for the Buddha or for Willie. Both of these heroes traveled a bitter road of self abuse in the name of enlightenment.

There was something flagrantly lacking in Willie’s criminal nature. He really didn’t get away with anything. He robbed and paid for it. Willie didn’t want to be rich and famous it seems to me. He wanted to be infamous and notable. And so he was.

He was a tough little cookie who had the desire to show those who controlled things that he understood their game and was capable of sticking it all in their face. Whether he was successful or not, is difficult to determine.

Willie paid for his stance and his crimes but he won the respect of the bad guys and the good guys alike. Willie took the road less traveled, there is no doubt. And in a strange backasswards way he won the respect and admiration of the public audience. This book does a great job in painting that picture. He is made out to be a Robin Hood. But, as he says, he stole from the rich and kept it. Well, not exactly … he stole from the rich and spent it.

There is a lot to learn from reading this book. We learn about crime, prisons, criminals, murderers, petty crooks, cops – crooked and dedicated, and the system. But we learn even more about the human condition. Willie was a thinker and much of his angst comes through to the reader in the pages of this book.

The book has a happy ending. Willie makes his final break and busts out of Attica via hard earned legal expertise gained from reading law books while in prison, coupled with his hard earned street smarts and with a lot of help from his friends and admirers. One can also not discount Willie’s luck and as he boasts on the final page – his craft in devising a plan. Willie lives happily ever after – for eleven years anyway. He finds work helping banks with their security and touting for a credit card company. He also becomes an advocate for prison reform.

I don’t know if this book is still in print, but it is worth the hunt to find a copy. I feel like I know Willie and he is a confused but treasured buddy from my past.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Come Home America - William Greider

Come Home, America

By William Greider

I have made it a point to read all of Mr. Greider’s Books. I find him to be an honest interpreter of current events. I consider him my civics teacher. He has been all over the world and has a big overview of what is happening. He knows banking. He knows economics. He knows Washington politics. He knows world trade. He knows people. And he knows and respects all of us “little” regular folks. Most important of all he has and is concerned with moral character – right and wrong; fair and unfair – what the old school once called “Social Justice.”

I was very surprised to read in this book that Mr. Greider was a product of a Republican upbringing. He states that if his back was put to the wall he would choose Democrat over Republican. I don’t have to have my back to the wall to make the same choice. Yet I find myself often as critical of both sides as Mr. Greider.

I think Mr. Greider has come to the age where he feels any beating around the bush to be a waste of his valuable time. In this book he is very open with regards to his motivation, his goals and his dreams for America.

He has covered the Washington political scene and found our elected representatives less than inspiring. He has covered lobbying and the moneyed interests and their hold on our system. He has written an exhausting book on the Federal Reserve. He has been hired to speak to bankers by the bankers. He has been warning of this economic and financial disaster for years. He has challenged the top economists on their principles – especially Free Trade and the Global Economy. He has found little hope anywhere in the established system but yet he remains strong to his commitment to a personal optimism. He compares his long and frustrating career to that of a bag lady standing on a corner somewhere in America, screeching to a crowd as they zoom by, unaware and unconcerned.

But who does he place his trust in if not the Fed, the president, the Senate, the Congress, the bankers, the CEOs and CFOs, the corporate giants, the international conglomerates, the boldest and brightest, the movers and shakers? Who is there left?

Mr. Greider places his faith in “we” the people – all the people and democracy. Democracy doesn’t scare him. He loves it – the more the better. He compares “we, the people” to an underground river, a river that rolls along beneath the surface. A river that is sometimes dry and sometimes a raging torrent. A river of people’s varying opinions and ideas, a river of support, outrage and often society changing currents. Mr. Greider sees that river rising in America today. He wants to see it flood its caverns and fill our country with hope, change and, most of all, action.

In this book Mr. Greider cheers for an American Democracy of the people, by the people and for the people. He doesn’t know how the people will do it. He doesn’t know what they will actually do but in true optimist tradition he is hoping that today’s underground river will swell into a deluge of change and moral economic character, true patriotism and social justice.

He wants to see a new focus on America and its people. Not isolationist but realistic and sensible – sensible to all of its citizens and not just the wealthy, the bankers, the stock brokers and all the pointy-headed intellectuals and international investors.

When Mr. Greider says “Come Home, America” that is exactly what he means – Come Home America! Come home all of you Americans and bring your ingenuity, your inventive spirit, your investment capital, your love of your own, and let’s rebuild this country into something that we all can be proud of as Americans.