Monthly Archives: September 2013

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Ralph Nader Joins the Others Who Agree With My Stand on Single-Payer Medicare for All

  • By David M. Kinchen 
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader
I thought I was done with my series of pleas for single-payer Medicare for all — the way it’s done in Canada — but none other than consumer activist Ralph Nader has come out for it. Yes, the very same Ralph Nader who not only killed G.M.’s Corvair, a car I admired,  but by running for President in 2000 saddled us with eight long years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Link: recall asking Nader about the 2000 election on May 5, 2005 when he spoke in the Lee Chapel at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA. The question got a rise out of the Connecticut-born Nader, who vehemently denied that being on the ballot in Florida cost the election for Gore-Lieberman. Of course it did! He drained away liberal votes that would otherwise have gone to Al Gore and Joe Lieberman that would have given Gore-Lieberman the state and the election.

 My most recent plea for a simple option that would have avoided the mind-numbing complexities of Obamacare was last year, when I cited LBJ advisor and PBS commentator Bill Moyer who supported Medicare for all:

That column was my last on the subject; I figured the country was hell-bent on creating another health-care Frankenstein monster. Congress and Obama could have hammered out a cost-controlled single-payer plan that would emulate Canada’s — but they didn’t.

One of the commenters to Nader’s piece said that Canada’s medicare meant that his only out-of-pocket expenses when his son was hospitalized for a heart operation and his father was hospitalized for a stroke were the parking fees.

From the Nader piece: 

  Onterryo 2013-09-27 11:55 I live in Canada. My son had a 12 hour heart operation 7 years ago. The cost to me? About $60 worth of parking lot fees plus some pain pills for him after he was discharged. It’s time for America to realize they are being lied to by the Republicans and their supporters who will continue to rake in huge profits at the expense of the American taxpayer. I am 62, my mom is 81 and you will never hear us complain about our system. Last year at the age of 82 my dad passed away from a stroke. He was in the hospital for more than a week before he died. Again, the cost was parking fees. For all of that time but two days he was in a private room. For his last two days he was in another private room where my mom could sleep in a convertible chair beside him until he breathed his last breath. There was no “death panel”, just professional and loving care. Not only did the staff take care of him but also my mother while she stayed at his bedside more than 16 hours a day. Yes, sometimes things do not go perfectly but I would be willing to compare our clinics, emergency clinics and hospitals to those the US. We may not win every comparison but I believe we would win the vast majority. Contrast that with our Medicare, which infamously covers only 80 percent of Part B charges. I know first hand because my wife and I both are on Medicare. AARP runs round-the-clock ads for Medicare supplement insurance. I asked a local insurance agent about the cost of this insurance and he flat out told me: “Dave, you can’t afford the premiums!”

Nader surprised me by agreeing with my senator, Ted Cruz, R-TX, about the complexities of Obamacare:

“The other reaction to Senator Cruz was that many of his more specific objections to Obamacare — its mind-numbing complexity, opposition by formerly supportive labor unions, and employers reacting by reducing worker hours below 30 hours a week to escape some of the law’s requirements — are well-taken and completely correctible by single-payer health insurance, as provided in Canada. Single-payer, or full Medicare for all, with free choice of physician and hospital has been the majority choice of Americans for decades. Even a majority of doctors and nurses favor it.”I was delighted to see that Nader cited two hard-headed Canadian capitalists in his piece:

“For those who prefer to believe hard-bitten businesspeople, Matt Miller, writing yesterday in The Washington Post, interviewed big business executives — David Beatty who ran the giant Weston Foods and Roger Martin long-time consultant to large U.S. companies in Canada. They were highly approving of the Canadian system and are baffled at the way the U.S. has twisted itself in such a wasteful, harmful and discriminatory system.”
I’ve often said to myself and others that Canada is like the U.S. only smarter: Beatty and Martin confirm this view by their remarks. In the WAPO piece cited by Nader, Martin called Canadian Medicare “incredibly hassle-free,” by comparison [with our system]. (In Canada, single-payer means government insurance and private delivery of healthcare under cost controls). Now Dean of the business school at the University of Toronto, Mr. Martin told Washington Post reporter Miller: ‘I literally have a hard time thinking of what would be better than a single-payer system’.”

Also in the Washington Post piece cited by Nader, “Beatty wondered why U.S. companies ‘want to be in the business of providing health care anyway’ (‘that’s a government function,’ he says simply).”

As long as the insurance companies maintain their stranglehold on legislation through their lobbying efforts, we probably won’t achieve the simplicity of single-payer Medicare for all that would widen the risk pool and make health care simple. The problem is the U.S. doesn’t do simple!


PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Dumb and Dumberer: Too Many of Today’s High School Students

  • By David M. Kinchen 
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Dumb and Dumberer: Too Many of Today's High School Students
I had a “driveway moment” Thursday afternoon, Sept. 26, 2013: That’s what the NPR people call the situation when you pull up to your destination — often a driveway — and you sit in the car until the program segment you’re listening to is complete.

In this case it was NPR’s “All Things Considered”, with Claudio Sanchez reporting that the College Board — which developed and owns the SAT (link: —  is lamenting that SAT test scores show that that “roughly 6 in 10 college-bound high school students who took the test were so lacking in their reading, writing and math skills, they were unprepared for college-level work.”

From the program, which didn’t surprise me one bit because I believe that today’s students are far dumber than high schoolers in the 1950s, when I attended Rochelle Township High School in Rochelle, IL:

 “The average SAT score this year was 1498 out of a possible 2400. It’s been roughly the same for the past five years.

“‘And we at the College Board are concerned,’ says David Coleman, the board’s president.

“In a conference call with reporters, Coleman said his biggest concern is the widening gap in scores along racial and ethnic lines. This year Asian students had the highest overall average scores in reading, writing and math, followed by whites, and then Latinos. Black students had the lowest average scores. Coleman said it’s time to do something about it, not just sit back and report how poorly prepared students are for college and career.

“Simply put, the College Board will go beyond simply delivering assessments to actually transforming the daily work that students are doing,” Coleman says.

“Coleman wants to work with schools to make coursework tougher and ensure that students have access to more demanding honors and Advanced Placement courses, because right now, most students don’t. Most worrisome of all, Coleman says, ‘minority students, underrepresented students, have less access’.”

I’m painting a target on my back with the following statement — which some would say is simplistic: I believe that much of the blame for the poor results should be placed on parents — parents who don’t have books in their homes. We were dirt poor but, thanks in large part to my mother, reading was an ever-present activity in our house. We had books in our home and we were regular visitors to our excellent Carnegie Library. My mother was an omnivorous reader of books and newspapers (she favored the  Chicago Daily News — lamentably long gone —  and hated the then right-wing Chicago Tribune) and my two brothers and two sisters followed suit in varying degrees.

Reading and writing are the keys to learning and I wasn’t surprised that the Asian-American students — raised by the proverbial “Tiger Mothers” — are at the top of the SAT heap. That’s why they’re so good at learning. Yes, I know all about how Asian-Americans hate the “model minority” stereotype, but they should realize that behind every stereotype there’s more than a little truth.

Much of what Sanchez reports is true, including the need for more rigorous classes. History, for instance, is poorly taught. It should be a separate subject, not taught as part of a catch-all course called “social studies.” I know this may sound like the rantings of an old guy who remembers the past with rose- colored glasses, but I’m convinced that books and reading and library cards for all are vital elements of the learning process.

Show me a house with books and readers and I’ll show you a nurturing environment for good students.

 * * *

Note: The wonderful Flagg Township Public Library in Rochelle, IL, about 80 miles west of Chicago,  is pictured in winter. It celebrated its centennial last year.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Empty Mansions’ : Fascinating, Readable Account of Eccentric Heiress Who Lived More Than Two Decades in Hospital Rooms While Owning Five Empty Luxury Residences

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

Pour vivre heureux, vivons caché. (To live happily, live hidden). — Saying from French fable poem “Le Grillon” (The Cricket) by Jean-Pierre  Claris de Florian, late 1700s

BOOK REVIEW: 'Empty Mansions' :  Fascinating, Readable Account of Eccentric Heiress Who Lived More Than Two Decades  in Hospital Rooms While Owning Five Empty Luxury Residences

Francophile American heiress Huguette Marcelle Clark (1906-2010) knew that poem by heart and practiced it in her long life, writes Bill Dedman in “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune” (Ballantine Books, 496 pages, more than 70 photographs, notes, index, $28.00) written with the collaboration of Huguette’s cousin Paul Clark Newell Jr.

If you are fascinated by the stories of Grey Gardens, filmed in 1975 as a documentary and remade as an HBO movie in 2009 about relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy living in a rundown mansion in the Hamptons (;  the story of the famous New York City hoarders the Collyer Brothers, transformed into a novel “Homer &Langley” by E.L. Doctorow (my review:…) or the saga of  miserly Hetty Green, you’ll love this enthralling account of Huguette,  her mother, Anna, her older sister Andrée  and her father, today an almost unknown copper king named William Andrew Clark Sr. (1839-1925).

W.A.Clark and his daughters Andrée, left, and Huguette

W.A.Clark and his daughters Andrée, left, and Huguette

In his prime Clark rivaled John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie for the size of his fortune, based on copper mining in Montana and Arizona.  Clark was a controversial senator from Montana, built his own railroad from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and founded Las Vegas, Nevada as a watering stop on the line. Clark County (Las Vegas) NV today is one of his few enduring monuments. His son from his first marriage, William A. Clark Jr. founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra.

Huguette Clark, heiress to a fortune of more than $300 million, was so secretive that no photograph of her had been seen in decades, at least since the time of her marriage to Bill Gower in 1928. The marriage was short-lived, but she stayed friends with Gower, who lived on the French Rivera, and through the years gave him substantial amounts of money. She gave more than $10 million to her nurse, Hadassah Peri , who served her full time while she lived in New York City hospital rooms, and also gave apartments and cars and money to her and Daniel Peri, Hadassah’s Orthodox Jewish husband.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dedman became interested in the saga of the reclusive heiress when he noticed in 2009 that an estate in New Canaan, CT was on the market. It was a gigantic castle-like house called Le Beau Chateau (the beautiful castle) with more than 14,000 square feet and 22 rooms on 52 acres in one of the most expensive communities in the country. Neighbors include  singer  Harry Connick Jr. , NBC anchor Brian Williams and singer-songwriter Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame.

Built in 1938 by David Aiken Reed —  the Republican Pennsylvania senator who sponsored the racist  Immigration Act of 1924, designed to keep Jews, Asians and other “undesirables” out of the U.S. — Le Beau Chateau had never been occupied by Huguette. As with her luxury co-op apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York and the magnificent estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a mesa in Santa Barbara, CA, Bellosguardo, built by her mother Anna Clark and completed in 1936, the New Canaan estate was maintained in her absence by hired caretakers, well compensated and most of them also beneficiaries of Huguette’s largess.

Following “Sixty Minutes” producer Don Hewitt’s admonition: “Tell Me A Story”, Dedman chronicles the Gilded Age excesses of the 19th Century, combined with an ongoing battle over Huguette’s wills. The New York Observer recently wrote about the battle of the wills:…).

Dedman comes to the conclusion that while Huguette Clark may have been eccentric in the extreme, she was not mentally ill. The challenges by more than 20 Clark relatives are based on allegations that Huguette was swayed by Nurse Peri, her various lawyers and her accountant, a convicted felon and registered sex offender.

Dedman covers such issues as why did Huguette continue to live in hospital rooms following successful cancer surgery in the 1990s; why were her valuables being sold off by such allegedly reputable institutions as Citibank; was she being coerced by the hospital to donate her fortune to it; was it a conflict of interest for her lawyers and accountants to receive gifts from her, etc.

She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a illustrated on the dust jacket, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. After W.A. Clark’s death in 1925, the house was destroyed because nobody could possibly keep it up. Anna and Huguette moved south on Fifth Avenue to luxury co-op apartments.

She was a talented painter, using oils at a time when most amateurs — especially women — used pastels. Huguette owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. She devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.

She could have been the butterfly in the fable “Le Grillon” but instead she followed the advice of the cricket, who escapes the fate of the beautiful butterfly: Pour vivre heureux, vivons caché. (To live happily, live hidden).

Dedman writes: “Like her attention-grabbing father and her music-loving mother, both strong-willed in their own ways, Huguette was a formidable personality who lived her life as she wanted, always on her own terms. Far from being controlled by her money men, she drove them to frustration. Though she was firm, she was always kind. It would have been easy for anyone born into her cosseted circumstances to have abused her power. Yet in all the testimony by fifty witnesses in the battle for her fortune, there is not a single indication that Huguette ever used her wealth to hurt anyone. That wasn’t her way.”

Anyone would be delighted  to have an obituary/eulogy like that!

My assessment of “Empty Mansions”: a marvelous, entertaining, moving, educational and very readable account of an era and a woman who did it her way.

About the Authors

Bill Dedman introduced the public to heiress Huguette Clark and her empty mansions through his compelling series of narratives for NBC, which became the most popular feature in the history of the news website, topping 110 million page views. He received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting while writing for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post,and The Boston Globe.

Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of Huguette Clark, has researched the Clark family history for twenty years, sharing many conversations with Huguette about her life and family. He once received a rare private tour of Bellosguardo, her mysterious estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA.


CENSUS BUREAU: Real Median Income Stays Flat in 2012 Over 2011

  • By David M. Kinchen 
CENSUS BUREAU: Real Median Income Stays Flat in 2012 Over 2011

The U.S. Census Bureau announced on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013  that in 2012, real median household income and the poverty rate were not statistically different from the previous year, while the percentage of people without health insurance coverage decreased.

Median household income in the United States in 2012 was $51,017, not statistically different in real terms from the 2011 median of $51,100. This followed two consecutive annual declines.

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. This marked the second consecutive year that neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates. The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the economic downturn.

The percentage of people without health insurance coverage declined to 15.4 percent in 2012 ─ from 15.7 percent in 2011. However, the 48.0 million people without coverage in 2012 was not statistically different from the 48.6 million in 2011.

These findings are contained in the report Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012. The following results for the nation were compiled from information collected in the 2013 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). The CPS-ASEC was conducted between February-April 2013 and collected information about income and health insurance coverage during the 2012 calendar year. However, the information on shared households pertains to the circumstances at the time of the survey. The CPS-based report includes comparisons with one year earlier. State and local results will be available on Thursday from the American Community Survey.

  • Real median incomes in 2012 for family households ($64,053) and nonfamily households ($30,880) were not statistically different from the levels in 2011.
  • A comparison of real household income over the past five years shows an 8.3 percent decline since 2007, the year before the nation entered an economic recession.

Race and Hispanic Origin 
(Race data refer to people reporting a single race only; Hispanics can be of any race)

  • Changes in real median household income were not statistically significant for race and Hispanic-origin groups between 2011 and 2012. (See Table A.)


  • The West experienced an increase of 3.2 percent in real median household income between 2011 and 2012, while the changes for the remaining regions were not statistically significant. In 2012, households with the highest median incomes were in the West and the Northeast (with medians that were not statistically different from each other), followed by the Midwest and the South. (See Table A.)


  • In 2012, households maintained by a naturalized citizen or a native-born citizen had higher median incomes than households maintained by a noncitizen. The real median incomes of households maintained by a native- or foreign-born person, regardless of citizenship status, in 2012 were not statistically different from their respective 2011 medians. (See Table A.)


  • The changes in the real median earnings of men and women who worked full time, year- round between 2011 and 2012 were not statistically significant. In 2012, the median earnings of women who worked full time, year-round ($37,791) was 77 percent of that for men working full time, year-round ($49,398) ─ not statistically different from the 2011 ratio. The female-to-male earnings ratio has not experienced a statistically significant annual increase since 2007.
  • The number of men working full time, year-round with earnings increased by 1.0 million between 2011 and 2012; the change for women was not statistically significant.

Income Inequality

  • The Gini index was 0.477 in 2012, not statistically different from 2011. Since 1993, the earliest year available for comparable measures of income inequality, the Gini index has increased 5.2 percent. (The Gini index is a measure of household income inequality across the nation, with zero representing total income equality and one equivalent to total inequality.)
  • Changes in income inequality between 2011 and 2012 were not statistically significant as measured by the shares of aggregate household income that each quintile received.


  • In 2012, the family poverty rate and the number of families in poverty were 11.8 percent and 9.5 million. Neither level was statistically different from the 2011 estimates.
  • In 2012, 6.3 percent of married-couple families, 30.9 percent of families with a female householder and 16.4 percent of families with a male householder lived in poverty. Neither the poverty rates nor the estimates of the number of families in poverty for these three family types showed any statistically significant change between 2011 and 2012.


  • As defined by the Office of Management and Budget and updated for inflation using the consumer price index, the weighted average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2012 was $23,492.

(See <> for the complete set of dollar value thresholds that vary by family size and composition.)


  • In 2012, 13.6 percent of males and 16.3 percent of females were in poverty. Neither poverty rate showed a statistically significant change from its 2011 estimate.

Race and Hispanic Origin 
(Race data refer to people reporting a single race only; Hispanics can be of any race)

  • The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites was lower in 2012 than it was for other racial  groups. Table B details 2012 poverty rates and numbers in poverty, as well as changes since 2011 in these measures, for race groups and Hispanics. None of these groups experienced a statistically significant change in their poverty rate between 2011 and 2012.


  • In 2012, 13.7 percent of people 18 to 64 (26.5 million) were in poverty compared with 9.1 percent of people 65 and older (3.9 million) and 21.8 percent of children under 18 (16.1 million).
  • No age group experienced a statistically significant change in the number or rates of people in poverty between 2011 and 2012, with one exception: the number of people 65 and older in poverty rose between 2011 and 2012.


  • The 2012 poverty rate was not statistically different from 2011 for either the native-born, naturalized citizens, noncitizens, or the foreign-born in general. Table B details 2012 poverty rates and the numbers in poverty, as well as changes since 2011 in these measures, by nativity.


  • The West was the only region to show a statistically significant change in its poverty rate, which declined from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 15.1 percent in 2012. The South was the only region in which the number in poverty changed, rising from 18.4 million in 2011 to 19.1 million in 2012. (See Table B.)

Shared Households

Shared households are defined as households that include at least one “additional” adult: a person 18 or older who is not enrolled in school and is not the householder, spouse or cohabiting partner of the householder.

  • In spring 2007, prior to the recession, there were 19.7 million shared households. By spring 2013, the number had increased to 23.2 million and their percentage of all households rose by 1.9 percentage points from 17.0 percent to 19.0 percent. Between 2012 and 2013, the number and percentage of shared households increased.
  • In spring 2013, 10.1 million young adults age 25-34 (24.1 percent) were additional adults in someone else’s household. Neither of these were statistically different from 2012.
  • It is difficult to precisely assess the impact of household sharing on overall poverty rates. Young adults age 25-34, living with their parents, had an official poverty rate of 9.7 percent, but if their poverty status were determined using only their own income, 43.3 percent had an income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65.

Health Insurance Coverage

  • The number of people with health insurance increased to 263.2 million in 2012 from 260.2 million in 2011, as did the percentage of people with health insurance (84.6 percent in 2012, 84.3 percent in 2011).
  • The percentage of people covered by private health insurance in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 63.9 percent. This was the second consecutive year that the percentage of people covered by private health insurance coverage was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimate. The percentage covered by employment-based health insurance in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 54.9 percent.
  • The percentage of people covered by government health insurance increased to 32.6 percent in 2012, from 32.2 percent. The percentage covered by Medicaid in 2012 was not statistically different from 2011, at 16.4 percent. The percentage covered by Medicare rose over the period, from 15.2 percent in 2011 to 15.7 percent in 2012. Since 2009, Medicaid has covered more people than Medicare (50.9 million compared with 48.9 million in 2012).
  • The percent of children younger than 18 without health insurance declined to 8.9 percent (6.6 million) in 2012 from 9.4 percent (7.0 million) in 2011. The uninsured rates did not show a statistical change for all other age groups: 19 to 25, 26 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 64 and people 65 and older.
  • The uninsured rate for children in poverty (12.9 percent) was higher than the rate for children not in poverty (7.7 percent).
  • In 2012, the uninsured rates decreased as household income increased from 24.9 percent for those in households with annual income less than $25,000 to 7.9 percent in households with income of $75,000 or more.

Race and Hispanic Origin 
(Race data refer to those reporting a single race only; Hispanics can be of any race)

  • The uninsured rate for Asians and Hispanics declined between 2011 and 2012, while the number of uninsured did not change significantly. For non-Hispanic whites and blacks, both measures in 2012 were not statistically different from 2011. (See Table C.)


  • The proportion of the foreign-born population without health insurance in 2012 was about two-and-a-half times that of the native-born population. The uninsured rate declined for the foreign-born population between 2011 and 2012, while the 2012 rate was not statistically different from the 2011 rate for naturalized citizens and noncitizens. Table C details the 2012 uninsured rate and the number of uninsured, as well as changes since 2011 in these measures, by nativity.


  • The Northeast had the lowest uninsured rate in 2012. Between 2011 and 2012, the uninsured rate decreased for the Midwest and the West, while there were no statistically significant differences for the remaining two regions. Similarly, the number of uninsured people declined in the Midwest and the West, while there were no statistically significant changes for the other two regions. (See Table C.)

Supplemental Poverty Measure

The poverty statistics released today compare the official poverty thresholds to money income before taxes, not including the value of noncash benefits. The Census Bureau’s statistical experts, with assistance from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and in consultation with other appropriate agencies and outside experts, have developed a supplemental poverty measure to serve as an additional indicator of economic well-being by incorporating additional items such as tax payments and work expenses in its family resource estimates. It does not replace the official poverty measure and will not be used to determine eligibility for government programs.

Both the Census Bureau and the interagency technical working group that helped develop the supplemental poverty measure consider it to be a work in progress and expect that there will be improvements to the statistic over time. See Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012 for more information. The Census Bureau published preliminary poverty estimates using this supplemental measure in November 2011 and November 2012. Supplemental poverty estimates for 2012 will be published in fall 2013.

State and Local Estimates from the American Community Survey

On Thursday, the Census Bureau will release single-year estimates for 2012 of median household income, poverty and health insurance coverage for all states, counties, places and other geographic units with populations of 65,000 or more from the American Community Survey. These statistics will include numerous social, economic and housing characteristics, such as language, education, the commute to work, employment, mortgage status and rent. Later today, subscribers will be able to access these estimates on an embargoed basis.

The American Community Survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders. The survey is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers for even the smallest communities.

The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement is subject to sampling and nonsampling errors. All comparisons made in the report have been tested and found to be statistically significant at the 90 percent confidence level, unless otherwise noted.

For additional information on the source of the data and accuracy of the estimates for the CPS, visit <>.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Smoke’: Continuation of Ellen Hopkins Best-Selling Y.A. Novel ‘Burned’: What Happens to Pattyn Von Stratten and Her Family

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Young adult fans of Ellen Hopkins — and there are millions — who read her novel in verse “Burned” (2006) will finally discover the fates of Pattyn and Jackie Von Stratten  of northern Nevada in the follow-up novel “Smoke” (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster,  560 pages, $19.99).
I haven’t read “Burned” so I have to rely on the publisher’s description:

BOOK REVIEW: 'Smoke': Continuation of Ellen Hopkins Best-Selling Y.A. Novel 'Burned': What Happens to Pattyn Von Stratten and Her Family

“Pattyn is seventeen years old and is the oldest of seven girls in a  Mormon household. Her father is an alcoholic who beats her mother, believing a wife must succumb to her husband’s actions. Her mother believes her duty is to make as many children as possible, especially a boy to carry on the family name, just as her husband wishes.

“But Pattyn’s mother only conceived seven girls, named after famous generals: (youngest to oldest) Georgia (George Patton), Roberta (Robert E. Lee), Davie (Jefferson Davis), Teddie (Theodore Roosevelt), Ulyssa (Ulysses S. Grant), Jackie (Jack Pershing), and Pattyn (George Patton). It is hinted that Pattyn deeply disagrees with the strict Mormon lifestyle she’s lived throughout her childhood, as well as the expectations that will be held of her as a woman according to her Mormon community, and wishes to break free and gain the freedom to become her own person with her own take on life. She appears to also hold a resentment of her alcoholic father and oppressed, submissive mother, and having to care for her six younger sisters during their father’s alcohol-induced rages.”

Last year was a busy one for me: I reviewed three of the Carson City, Nev.-based author’s novels, also in verse. Here’s a link to my Nov. 25, 2012 review of “Collateral,” which  includes links to my reviews of her novels in verse:  adult “Triangles” and Young Adult  “Tilt”

Pattyn and Jackie and the entire family have been terrorized for years by their alcoholic father, Stephen Paul Von Stratten,  and his death doesn’t stop the terror.  Pattyn flees to California from Nevada  and secures a job as maid for Craig and Diane Jorgensen, who “own five hundred prime California acres, many of them growing walnuts, plus peaches and cherries.” She gains a friend and ally in Angel, a  Mexican-American farm worker on the Jorgensen spread to whom she tells an invented story of why she’s on the run.

Meanwhile back in Nevada, her younger sister Jackie, a high school sophomore, has to deal with the fallout from the death of her father, including the disapproval of the Mormon community. She’s a pariah. They move out of their old house and into a newer, larger one, but memories don’t die as easily as people. And the memories aren’t confined to the shed where death came for the head of the Von Patten family.

About that use of Mormons as enabling dysfunction:  Hopkins was slammed by a Jewish novelist and stage/film/television writer, Jeff Gottesfeld, who criticized  “Burned” for its portrayal of Mormonism as a “stern, abusive and misogynistic faith”. Gottesfeld characterized the book in an op-ed piece as “literary group character assassination” of Mormonism, and that the church is “unrelentingly bashed” in the novel. Link to his op-ed in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City — full disclosure: owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (L.D.S):’m sure that Gottesfeld and other critics will do the same with “Smoke,” which is more of a continuation of “Burned” than a sequel. He and others who say Hopkins unfairly picks on the paternalistic religion (aren’t they all??) probably won’t be satisfied as Hopkins (spoiler alert) shows the LDS folk in this novel softening their stand toward Jackie somewhat when they learn of the pure evil of Stephen Paul Von Stratten.

Here’s how he is described early in the novel by Pattyn: “The bastard who beat my mother. Beat my sister [Jackie]. Beat me. The son of a bitch who was responsible for the accident that claimed my Ethan….”Kudos to Hopkins for getting teens to read books; this novel — like the above cited adult novels — can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I enjoyed it and the use of verse only enhanced the novel. (But I’m an English major, not easily frightened by verse!)

Hopkins covers a lot of dysfunction in the book, including, but not limited to:  bullying of gays and lesbians, mistreatment of migrant workers, and the radical militia movement that attracts Deirdre,  the sullen teen-age daughter of the Jorgensens and — of course — the kind of physical and mental violence that Hopkins herself endured.

Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins


About the Author    Ellen Louise Hopkins (born March 26, 1955) is a novelist who has published several New York Timesbestselling novels that are popular among the teenage and young adult audienceHopkins began her writing career in 1990. She started with nonfiction books for children, including Air Devilsand Orcas: High Seas Supermen.

Hopkins has since written several verse novels exposing teenage struggles such as drug addiction, mental illness,and prostitution.

Here’s how Hopkins describes herself on
“I was adopted at birth and raised by a great, loving older couple. I grew up in Palm Springs CA, although we summered in Napa and Lake Tahoe, to avoid those 120 degree summers. After my adopted parents died, I did find my birth mother, who lives in Michigan with my half sister.

“I studied journalism in college, but left school to marry, raise kids and start my own business–a video store, before the mega-chains were out there. After a divorce, I met my current husband and we moved to Tahoe to become ski bums and otherwise try to find our dreams. At that time, I went to work for a small alternative press, writing stories and eventually editing.

“When we moved down the mountain to the Reno area, I started writing nonfiction books….  I also continued to freelance articles for newspapers and magazines.

“All that … changed, with the publication of my novel, “Crank”, which has led to a valued career writing YA novels in verse, all of which explore the more difficult situations young adults often find themselves in. Will I ever write one in prose? No doubt! But, for the moment, writing novels in verse fulfills two needs: writing poetry and writing fiction. The combination is so interesting!”

Her website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Songs of Willow Frost’: Worthy Successor to Jamie Ford’s Debut Novel ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

Has it really been that long between Jamie Ford’s debut novel “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” — which I raved about on Jan. 27, 2009 ( and which became a monster bestseller — and his new novel “Songs of Willow Frost” (Ballantine, 352 pages, Readers Guide, $26.00)?


BOOK REVIEW: 'Songs of Willow Frost': Worthy Successor to Jamie Ford's Debut Novel 'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet'

His first novel sold  more than 1.3 million copies  and was widely honored. I was surprised that there was no movie,  as there was for another novel set in the Pacific Northwest,   “Snow Falling on Cedars,” but “Hotel” was transformed into a stage play. If Jamie Ford’s fans are any indication, “Songs of Willow Frost” should do equally well. I believe that the included Readers Guide will convince book group people that this is an ideal book for their purposes.

“Songs of Willow Bay” is a remarkable achievement that will entertain and educate. If you have any feelings at all, the scenes between protagonist William Eng, 12, and his friend and fellow orphanage inmate Charlotte Rigg, a blind girl,  will make you cry and laugh — sometimes at the same time!

I didn’t know the third largest movie studio in terms of square feet in the 1920s was in Tacoma, Washington, did you? It was the H.C. Weaver studio, now long gone from the city south of Seattle.  The top two were in Hollywood.

I did know that Chicago in that era was a major motion picture production center, with the Essanay Film Studio  one of the largest in the industry. Essanay, on Argyle Avenue in Uptown, introduced the cowboy hero in the form of Broncho Billy Anderson. For more about Anderson, born Maxwell Henry Aronson (1880-1971) and one of the founders of Essanay:

The original “Hollywood” was in northern New Jersey, near the site of Thomas Edison’s laboratories.

I’m going to avoid giving away much of the plot in this review, as I always do, because the joy of reading is the sudden shock of discovery, producing “Aha!” moments.

The novel toggles between the 1920s and 1934, when William Eng, a Chinese American boy, who has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage  for the past  five years, since 1929,  begins his search for his mother. William and the other orphans are taken on a field trip to the historical Moore Theatre, where William sees a Chinese-American actress on the  screen with the name “Willow Frost”.   William is convinced that the movie star is his mother,  Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, who is in Seattle for a live appearance with other actors, Will escapes from the orphanage with  Charlotte, who has her own reasons to leave: She’s about the be reunited with her father, just released from prison, and doesn’t look forward to this outcome.

Spoiler alert, you’ll get a kick out of how they elude the vigilant eyes of Sister Briganti, an earthy Italian woman who loves her cigarettes — and keeping her charges in the dark.

Charlotte and Will have a special, touching relationship that’s one of the best elements of the novel. The laugh and cry elements come to the fore as the two navigate the streets of Seattle, a city that plays its own important role in the novel. I’ve been to many of the places Ford cites in the novel, including the International District (Chinatown), where Liu Song (Willow) lives for a time in the Bush Fireproof Hotel on Jackson Street;  First Hill;  Pioneer Square  and Union Station near the International District.

By now you should be able to get an idea of how I feel about “Songs of Willow Frost”.  It’s a worthy follow-up love story to “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” and will, as I said at the beginning, entertain and educate. Seattle and the rest of the West Coast  in the 1920s and ’30s were a long way from being the progressive places they are are perceived as today.  Bigotry in the U.S. in that era  was not by any description limited to the deep South.


Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford


About the Author

The son of a Chinese American father and a Caucasian mother, Jamie Ford is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”, which won the Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature. He grew  up in Seattle, and now lives in Montana with his wife and children. His website:

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If you’re in Portland OR next month, be sure and visit one of the treasures of the city, Powell’s City of Books on Burnside downtown,  to see Jamie Ford talk about his novel. I’ve bought books at Powell’s and it’s as great as advertised, as the world’s largest book store. The event will be Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Tenth Witness’: Outstanding Prequel Thriller to Len Rosen’s ‘All Cry Chaos’

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
 What does a writer do when his debut mystery novel is praised to the skies, nominated for almost all the awards and loved by the critics? In the case of Leonard Rosen, whose 2011 mystery “All Cry Chaos,” featuring engineer turned Interpol agent Henri Poincaré, did all that, you turn around and write a prequel, “The Tenth Witness” (Permanent Press, 288 pages, $29.00, also Kindle edition) showing how it all began.
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Tenth Witness': Outstanding Prequel Thriller to Len Rosen's 'All Cry Chaos'

It’s the late spring of 1978.  Poincaré is a brilliant mechanical engineer, only 28 years old, who has designed a steel platform enabling divers to retrieve treasure buried at sea. Born in 1950 to a family who fought in the French Resistance against the Germans, Poincaré has no memories of the war, other than what he’s learned from survivors and read.

Two centuries before, in 1799,  Lloyd’s of London insured an English frigate, the H.M.S. Lutine that sank off the Dutch coast with a cargo of a thousand gold bars;  in 1977 Lloyd’s hires Poincaré and his partner Alec Chin and their fledgling firm to build a platform to try to recoup their loss.

Poincaré falls in love with Liesel Kraus, who, with her brother Anselm,  runs a huge Munich steel company founded by their father, Otto Kraus. Like other industrialists, Kraus was arrested for investigation of war crimes at the end of World War II. Krupp, Bayer, Siemens, I.G. Farben — as well as the operators of American companies like General Motors and Ford — were all investigated by so-called deNazification organizations.

Unlike some of the others, Kraus, a member of the Nazi party,  had what could be called a “Schindler Defense”; Like the famous Oskar Schindler, Kraus was said to have protected the workers at his plant from the Nazi killing machine. Kraus had obtained an affidavit from ten Jewish workers at the steel plant attesting to his fair treatment of workers — slave laborers, to be blunt — at the plant. Kraus, according to the ten witnesses, did everything he could to make life easier for the residents of the adjacent concentration camp who walked to work at the plant.

The steel for the diving platform comes from the postwar re-creation of Kraus’ steel mill, financed mysteriously (the financing of the new plant is a spoiler, so I won’t go into it). The involvement of  the Kraus company leads to Henri meeting and falling in love with beautiful (naturally!), smart and capable 30-year old Liesel.

When Henri’s uncle dies, Poincaré discovers he was one of the laborers in Kraus’ steel mill, which leads him to probe into the past. Anselm Kraus and a mysterious group of Germans, some of who live in Argentina, don’t like this probing and they set about tracking Poincaré’s movements. The plot thickens when he travels to Argentina at the invitation of the government with plans for  a platform similar to the one in Holland, to rescue treasure from a sunken ship in the treacherous Rio de La Plata.

Sickened by what he sees in Argentina, run by the generals conducting the “Dirty War” after the death of Peron, Henri tells the government officials that the plans he drew for the platform in Europe won’t work in the river. He pays off the government official and goes back to Europe to tell Alec Chin. Fortunately, the thriving firm of Poincaré & Chin Consulting  Engineers doesn’t need the relatively small fee that would have come from selling the blueprints to the Argentines.

In the manner of Alan Furst and Martin Cruz Smith, Rosen is expert in recreating the WWII period and explaining the involvement of Americans, in the form of Operation Paperclip, which brought a user of slave labor named Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) to the U.S., along with dozens of German scientists, as well as the machinations of the O.S.S., the predecessor of the C.I.A.

The skirts of the Roman Catholic Church, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are far from clean, Rosen writes, describing how both organizations formed “ratlines” to facilitate the escape of the Nazis to the Arab countries and South America. Of course, the reality of the times — the Cold War — led to most of the war criminals continuing to live prosperous, Mercedes-Benz driving lives in West Germany. Rosen deals deftly with the children of the war criminals and how they live with themselves and their knowledge of the crimes committed by their relatives.

Combining history and suspense, “The Tenth Witness” is an outstanding novel that will provide revelations of monstrous crimes against humanity committed by people who mostly got away with it, along with their American corporate partners in murder. Guess who sought reparations after the war from the U.S. government for bomb damage to their German operations, Opel and Ford Werke: You guessed it, G.M. and Ford respectively. Now that’s what I call chutzpah! For more on this sordid (and largely unknown) part of our history:

Leonard Rosen

Leonard Rosen

About the Author
Translated into ten languages, Leonard Rosen’s “All Cry Chaos” (Permanent Press, 2011) won the Macavity Award from Mystery Readers International for the best debut; was selected ForeWord Magazine’s best work of fiction by an independent American press, earned an Edgar nomination for best debut, and earned finalist recognition for the Chautauqua Literary Prize and the Anthony Award. Len has contributed radio commentaries to Boston’s NPR station, written best-selling textbooks on writing, and taught writing at Harvard University. A native of Baltimore, Rosen and his family live in Brookline, MA.
Publisher’s website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Evil Eye’: Who’s Afraid of Joyce Carol Oates?

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 
BOOK REVIEW: 'Evil Eye': Who's Afraid of Joyce Carol Oates?
Once you’ve read the latest book from the nation’s — perhaps the world’s — most prolific writer — “Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong” (Mysterious Press, 224 pages, $23.00) you might answer that question in the above headline: “I am!
Yes, it would be in the italics that Oates is so fond of using — often to the point of distraction to many readers, including the reviewer. If you’re afraid to delve into the deepest, darkest recesses of your soul, you should be afraid of Joyce Carol Oates. She’s the ultimate horror writer (life is often a series of horrors) because she knows what’s in there and she’s fearless in writing about it. She’s the equal of Cornell Woolrich (“Rear Window”, “La Mariée était en noir” — “The Bride Wore Black” –made into outstanding films by,  respectively, Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut) or Patricia Highsmith (“Strangers on a Train” and the Ripley novels).

In the title novella, “Evil Eye”,  we meet Mariana, the young, fourth wife, of a prominent public intellectual, and a woman who has much in common with with Cecilia, the protagonist in the fourth story, “The Flatbed.”

Both Marianna and Cecilia are attractive, well educated women who are dominated by the men in their lives: Austin Mohr  in “Evil Eye” and a man in his 40s designated as  “N” in “The Flatbed.”
Men — including but not limited to Mohr and “N” —  are guilty of “mansplaining” both Marianna and Cecilia. What’s that? It’s a word — a neologism — that I came across for the first time in a piece in The New Republic by Russia expert Julia Ioffe, who accused MSNBC personality Lawrence O’Donnell of condescending to her  — “mansplaining” — in a discussion of Edward Snowden:

Ioffe, a native of Russia who left the country for the U.S.  as a child with her Jewish parents, is a native Russian speaker who’s been stationed in Moscow as a journalist, said that:
“Tonight, I went on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show, and Lawrence O’Donnell yelled at me. Or, rather, he O’Reilly’d at me. That O’Donnell interrupted and harangued and mansplained and was generally an angry grandpa at me is not what I take issue with, however. What bothers me is that, look: your producers take the time to find experts to come on the show, answer your questions, and, hopefully, clarify the issue at hand. 

“I was invited on the show to talk about Obama’s (very wise) decision to cancel his Moscow summit with Putin, about which I wrote here. I am an expert on Russia. In fact, it is how you introduced me: “Previously, she was a Moscow-based correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker.” I’m not going to toot my own horn here, but I was there for three years, I’m a fluent, native speaker of Russian, and, god damn it, I know my shit.”  

Julia: Meet Mariana and Cecilia, two women who’ve been mansplained repeatedly!

In “Evil Eye,” we meet Mariana, the young 4th wife of a prominent intellectual. When her husband’s first wife visits one night, Mariana is shocked to see an older, still glamorous woman with one eye. Austin insists to her later that she was mistaken, that Ines, his first wife, has both her eyes. Is her husband trying to drive her crazy, the way Charles Boyer was doing to Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 George Cukor-helmed movie “Gaslight”?

In “The Flatbed” Cecilia is a 29-year-old woman in a relationship with “N”, a man similar to Austin Mohr in “Evil Eye” in that they’re both highly regarded public intellectuals. Cecilia confides to “N” that a man named “G” (how like Kafka is Oates behaving with all these “N”s and “G”s! And why am I using parentheses the way Oates uses italics?) sexually molested her when she was nine years old. That’s why Cecilia is so sexually repressed, or so she believes. Cecilia and “N” meet “G”, a man who’s now 72, but who is still handsome and well-preserved in a cemetery. No, I’m not going to say any more to spoil this story.

Now for the other two novellas:

In “So Near   Anytime    Always,” shy teenager Lizbeth March meets Desmond Parrish, a charming boy who offers this introverted girl in western New York state  the first sparks of young romance.  Just as their relationship begins to blossom, Lizbeth realizes that beneath Desmond’s perfect façade lies a dark soul that could wreak havoc on Lizbeth and her loved ones.

In “The Execution,” spoiled college student Bart Hansen has planned the perfect, brutal crime to get back at his parents for their years of condescension. What he didn’t plan for is a mother whose love is more resilent than he could have ever imagined, who threatens to derail his carefully plans.

People often ask me why I like the writing of my contemporary (we were both born in 1938) Joyce Carol Oates so much. To some I say she rivals Dostoevsky in her understanding of the darkest elements of ordinary people. To others I say she’s a damn fine writer who’s very entertaining (if you don’t mind an occasional Oates-induced nightmare!). You either like her writing — so many people do! — or don’t.

I also say, facetiously (I think) that reading Oates is cheaper than going to a shrink and I learn just as much. 

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates


About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates, born in Lockport, NY in 1938, is the author of more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers “We Were the Mulvaneys” and “Blonde”. Among her many honors are the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and the National Book Award. Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. For my Jan. 3, 2013 review of her novel “Daddy Love”:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Flight of the Eagle’: U.S. Not Exceptional Any More, But Still Capable of Finding Leadership When It’s Needed

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen 

“God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”–Otto von Bismarck….this is disputed by some historians, although Walter Russell Mead used part of it, “Special Providence,” for the title of a book.

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else” — Winston S. Churchill (1874-1965) British prime minister, journalist, historian and American on his mother’s side.

Conrad Black’s “Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership” (Encounter Books, 760 pages {press material says 834, but I counted 760}, with an introductory note by Henry A. Kissinger, $35.99,  discounted by Encounter and is a sprawling, often unruly book –like the writer himself — but one which begs to be read by anyone who wants a candid — dare I say warts and all  —  look at U.S. history.

It’s a fast-forward look at the nation’s history, from colonial beginnings to the present day. Through his analysis of the strategic development of the United States, from 1754-1992, the Canadian-born   former newspaper baron describes the nine “phases” of the strategic rise of the nation, in which it progressed through grave challenges, civil and foreign wars, and secured a place for itself under the title of “Superpower.” He addresses the present times and America’s future in the hopes that it will return to the dynamism of great leadership and pre-eminence in the world, which it richly earned and still shows signs of today.

The nine “phases” are not specifically outlined in the book — as they should have been — but are outlined below in an email sent to the present reviewer by the publisher:

  1. Collaborating with the British in the eviction of the French from America. (Franklin, Washington)
  2. Inducing the French to help evict the British from America. (Franklin, Washington)
  3. Setting up workable republican institutions with a leader who set the example of avoiding recourse to military intervention in government and voluntary withdrawal from the highest office, and recognizing the potential for economic growth. (Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Jay)
  4. Balancing the continued existence of slavery with refusal to tolerate secession until the North grew strong enough to be able to suppress the insurrection when it came. (Jackson, Polk)
  5. Waging the Civil War to suppress the insurrection and tucking emancipation of the slaves into it as an ostensible furtherance of the chief war aim, as well as for moral reasons. (Lincoln)
  6. Allowing America to be America and grow rapidly and freely in population and economic productivity with a strong currency and no foreign distractions. (Grant, Cleveland, McKinley et al.)
  7. Taking its place among the Great Powers with both the sinews of national strength and an uplifting moral purpose. (Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson)
  8. Restoring prosperity and an equitable distribution of it, setting aside isolationism, helping vitally to keep Britain and Canada and Russia in the war, engineering an entry into WWII with a united national opinion, conducting the war brilliantly so that the West retrieved Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, but Russia took 95% of the casualties fighting the Germans, and recognizing the strategic necessity of American involvement with Western Europe and East Asia. (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
  9. The containment strategy of deterring international Communism and inducing its gradual decay and collapse without a general war. (Truman, Marshall, Acheson, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Kennan, Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan)

From the front flap of the dust jacket: “Like an eagle  American colonists ascended from the gulley of British dependence to the position of sovereign world power in a period of merely two centuries. Seizing territory in Canada and representation in Britain; expelling the French, and even their British forefathers, American leaders George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson paved their nation’s way to independence. With the first buds of public relation techniques—of communication, dramatization, and propaganda—America flourished into a vision of freedom, of enterprise, and of unalienable human rights.”

In the warts department — the reference is to British 17th Century leader Oliver Cromwell,  who instructed his portrait painter to not make him flawless — Black describes slavery, from the start of the nation perhaps the biggest wart of all. He deals with the hypocrisy of slaveowners talking about liberty; about presidents like Jefferson and Jackson and their contempt for Native Americans, our seemingly endless land grabs that drastically reduced the land area of Mexico; our flimsy excuses for the Spanish-American War and the non-existent “Gulf of Tonkin” incident in 1964 that fueled the needless Vietnam War. Etc., Etc. Etc. Those et ceteras  include the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that led us into another useless “search of monsters to destroy” in Iraq, Black notes, adding that our biggest mistake in the 2003 invasion, aside from the invasion itself, was disbanding the almost 500,000 strong Iraq army and letting the nation descend into chaos.

In the passage “Seeing America Plain,” beginning on Page 697, Black writes that the U.S. (in 2012) was in “full decline by all normal measurements. Its economy was sluggish, misprinted to discarded criteria of mindless consumption, low investment, and no savings; its justice system was corrupt and oppressive….” (in a footnote on page 698 Black describes his own conviction and incarceration in a federal fraud trial; I’ve reprinted that note below the “About the Author).

While I was preparing to write this review, I came across a fascinating essay by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in New York magazine (July 21, 2013)  headlined “The Blip” that poses the question: “What if everything we’ve come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course?” Here’s the link to this essay:

Black, the author of critically acclaimed biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, is kind to those two outsized, immensely talented and often flawed leaders. I agree with him that both men, all aspects consideredl, are far superior to our recent run of presidents, including Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama. Those who base their view of Nixon on the tawdry but minor Watergate burglary shouldn’t forget that Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and — with the superb diplomacy of Kissinger — established diplomatic relations with Communist China and paved the way for the destruction of the Soviet Union as a competing superpower.

FDR was the indispensable president, Black says, even though it’s pretty clear that he provoked Japan into its horribly misguided attack on Pearl Harbor through oil and scrap metal embargoes.

Truman gets his due for the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in a part of the book that will not sit well with a fair amount of readers. Black describes the battle of the “almost” Home Island  of Okinawa in early 1945 and says that the actual Home Islands of Japan would be defended to the death, resulting in horrendous American casualties and the virtual destruction of Japan.

Any book of this size is bound to have some errors, but considering the relatively poor state of book copy editing these days, “Flight of the Eagle” had relatively few. Here are two that I found:

1.) Henry Gassaway Davis, the vice presidential choice of Democratic Party presidential nominee Alton Parker in the 1904 election, was a West Virginia coal baron, not a Virginia one (Page 291).

2) The WWI German foreign secretary behind a purported telegram that precipitated the U.S.’s entry into that unnecessary war (most are) was Arthur Zimmermann, not Zimmerman as Black spells it (Page 317).

My final grading of this idiosyncratic, high opinionated work of history: I liked it. Black’s assessments and summings up probably won’t satisfy either liberals or conservatives — whatever they are these days — but Black’s views agree with mine so many times, I couldn’t help smiling as I read on. We’re both pre-boomers, so that might have influenced me. I was born in a border state — Michigan — that is always aware of Black’s native Canada and has today a good relationship with Ontario, in particular. Michigan recently had a Canadian-born governor — an outstanding one, in my opinion — Jennifer Granholm.

Conrad Black

Conrad Black

About the author

Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of CrossharbourPCOCKSG, born August 25, 1944 in Montreal,  wrote acclaimed biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. He was the chairman of the Telegraphnewspapers in Britain, 1987-2003, and founded the National Post in Canada, where he remains a columnist. He also writes in the National Review OnlineThe New Criterion, and the Huffington Post. He has been a member of the British House of Lords since 2001. He lives in Canada.

He graduated from Carlton University with a bachelor’s degree in History in 1965 and completed his law degree in 1970 at Université Laval. He completed a master’s degree in history in 1973 at McGill University.

* * *

Here’s that Page 698 footnote about Black’s conviction and incarceration:

“Disclosure: I was charged with 17 counts of financial and related crimes in 2003, of which four were abandoned, nine rejected by juries, four unanimously  vacated by the Supreme Court of the U.S.  and two spuriously and self-servingly retrieved by a lower-court judge whom the high court had excoriated but to whom it remanded the four counts for assessment of the gravity of his own errors. I was sent to prison for three years and two weeks, where I was a tutor and teacher [Black has an undergraduate degree in history and a law degree], able to help over a hundred fellow inmates to matriculate. The chance that I would eve5r have committed a crime have always been less than zero, and I was able to assess the terrible imbalances and excess of contemporary U.S. justice.”

BOOK REVIEW: Shooter’s Bible: The World’s Bestselling Firearms Reference (105th Edition): You Need This Book!

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: Shooter's Bible: The World's Bestselling Firearms Reference (105th Edition): You Need This Book!

 In my review of “Gun Trader’s Guide” (link: I said that this reference book from Skyhorse Publishing is one book every gun owner should have.

The other must-have book  is “Shooter’s Bible: The World’s Bestselling Firearms Reference, 105th Edition (Skyhorse, 608 pages, $29.95)   by Jay Cassell.

 The numbers speak for themselves: With more than seven million copies sold, this is the must-have reference book for gun collectors and firearm enthusiasts of all ages.

It’s a comprehensive guide to currently available firearms — as well as for guns no longer made but still available. With 275 color photos and 1,000 black and white photos, it deserves that subtitle. Gun owners and users should be grateful to Tony Lyons of Skyhorse Publishing for continuing to publish this book after Stoeger decided to stop publishing after it was acquired by Beretta of Italy.

Published annually for more than eighty years, the Shooter’s Bible is the most comprehensive and sought-after reference guide for new firearms and their specifications, as well as for thousands of guns that have been in production and are currently on the market. Nearly every firearms manufacturer in the world is included in this renowned compendium. The 105th edition also contains new and existing product sections on ammunition, optics, and accessories, plus newly updated handgun and rifle ballistic tables along with extensive charts of currently available bullets and projectiles for handloading.

Along with the traditional feature on the newest products on the market, readers of “Shooter’s Bible” get full coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the iconic Remington Model 1100 and the 140th anniversary of the Winchester Model 1873, one of the most significant firearms ever introduced. With  color and black-and-white photographs featuring various makes and models of firearms and equipment, the Shooter’s Bible is an essential authority for any beginner or experienced hunter, firearm collector, or gun enthusiast.

I use both books regularly and cannot recommend them too highly. You must have both of these books!  

About the Author

Jay Cassell, editorial director at Skyhorse Publishing and the editor of this compendium, has hunted all over North America. He has written for Field & StreamSports AfieldOutdoor Life, Petersen’s HuntingTime, and many other publications, and has published eight books. He lives in Katonah, New York.