Sunday, April 29, 2007

Things We Have All Known

Three things, this week—a television show, a newspaper article, and a book—have brought home to me once again just how appalling the U.S. failure in Iraq has been, how duplicitous, how poorly planned, and how ignorant.


Incredibly, there are still those who support U.S. presence in Iraq, even going so far as to argue the absurd position that the U.S. has to stay—and that some good can still come of this. Some of these, emotionally unable to recognize the extent of the failure, just babble inanities about “supporting the troops” (when all else fails… ).


Like so many others last Wednesday, I watched Bill Moyers’ Buying the War with incredible frustration. There was nothing new there—like the Knight Ridder Washington bureau, one of the only groups in the commercial and professional Washington news media not drawn in, and like millions of other Americans, I knew the war was entered on trumped-up grounds even before it started. Though it’s nice to get a little confirmation after the horror and frustration of those days in 2003, the show added nothing to my knowledge—unless it was a confirmation that the press still hasn’t learned anything, for all the people who perpetuated this hoax on us are still being used as reporters and experts.


What’s worse than a mistake is compounding it, is not recognizing that something really wrong was done and that we who made the mistake (taking the “we” as the U.S. as a nation) cannot be part of the solution. We blew it; it is time to get someone a little more competent (right now, the argument could be made that that could be anyone) to step in.


On so many level, we have shown that we cannot handle the needs of Iraq. There’s an article in todays’s The New York Times by James Glanz entitled “Rebuild Iraq Projects Found Crumbling.” In in, Glanz writes:

Exactly who is to blame for the poor record on sustainment for the first sample of eight projects was not laid out in the report, but the American reconstruction program has been repeatedly criticized for not including in its rebuilding budget enough of the costs for spare parts, training, stronger construction and other elements that would enable projects continue to function once they have been built.
Apparently, we have learned no lessons from the years of development and rebuilding projects we’ve been involved in over the past fifty years and more. You don’t drop something off, start it up, and leave—and expect to return anytime later and find it still running. Either you build the thing using local resources (both goods and people) or you make sure you train local people in repair and maintenance and make sure they have an affordable and reliable venue for parts.


In terms of the needs of Iraq, we are incompetent. We can’t provide security, we can’t build infrastructure, we can’t install an effective government (the Maliki government we created is really no government at all, as Frank Rich points out today).


And we don’t think.


Last night, before going to sleep, I picked up a slim volume of selections from Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History called War and Civilization. One of the chapters is called “The Failure of the Saviour with the Sword.”


It made me want to cry.


The sword is only wielded in the hope of being about to use it to such good purpose that it may eventually have no more work to do; but this is an illusion; for it is only in fairyland that swords cut Gordian knows which cannot be untied by fingers. ‘All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’ is the inexorable law of real life; and the swordsman’s belief in a conclusive victory is an illusion.
Yet we are still acting as though we believe in the sword—saying all we really have needed is a bigger sword.


Why is it that a disintegrating society cannot, after all, be saved by the sword even when the swordsman is genuinely eager to return the weapon to its scabbard at the earliest possible moment and to keep it there—unused and unseen—for the longest possible period of time? Is not this twofold action of drawing and sheathing again a sign of grace which ought to have its reward? The warrior who is willing to renounce, at the first opportunity, the use of an instrument which he is only able now to lay aside because he has just used it so successfully must be a victor who is also a statesman, and a statesman who is something of a sage. He must have a large measure of saving common sense and at least a grain of the more ethereal virtue of self-control. The renunciation of War as an instrument of policy is a resolution which promised to me as fruitful as it is noble and wise; and, whenever it is taken with sincerity, it always arouses high hopes.

Why are these seemingly legitimate expectations doomed to be disappointed[…]. The answer to this agonizing question has been given in an Horatian ode by an English poet[…]. A poem which purports to be a paean in honor of a particular victory sounds the knell of all Militarism in its last two stanzas:


But thou, the War’s and Fortune’s son,
March indefatigably on;
And, for the last effect,
Still keep the sword erect.

Besides the force it has to fright
The spirits of the shady night,
The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain. [Andrew Marvell]

The only success we can find in Iraq through our military force is a continuation of our use of force.


To me, that very idea that we are doing just so is an abomination.


An instrument that has once been used to destroy life cannot then be used to preserve life at the user’s convenience. The function of weapons is to kill; and a ruler who has not scrupled to ‘wade through slaughter to a throne’ will find—if he tries to maintain his power thereafter without further recourse to the grim arts which have gained it—that sooner or later he will be confronted with a choice between letting the power slip through his fingers or else renewing his lease of it by means of another bout of bloodshed. The man of violence cannot both genuinely repent of his violence and permanently profit by it. The law of karma is not evaded so easily as that. The saviour with the sword may perhaps build a house upon the sand but never the house upon a rock. [my emphasis]


Our Congress, of course, is likely to cave in to the administration this week and continue funding of this occupation without real string. Its leaders will proclaim success, a move towards ending this fiasco.



But even that will be no success at all, but a continuation of the failure that is pulling our nation and our culture into a hell of its own creation.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Song Parody: Pack Up You Dollars

Many on the right say that they want smaller government, but their politicians have yet to prove that they agree. When they get in, the government grows and spends.


And what does it do with the money it takes in as it grows? It provides it to the rich (or spends it on them). As any good Neo-Con knows, the rich are rich because they know more, and are abler than the rest of us—so it’s only natural that government money goes to them, and not to the rest of us, who might just waste it.


Oh, and at the same time (and for the same reason) the tax burden on the rich is eased, and passed along to the rest of us.


PACK UP YOUR DOLLARS (The Neo-Con Philosophy)


No use crying, talking ‘bout a stranger
taking the money you've seen:
Too many bad times, too many sad times;
Nobody cares what you mean.

Chorus:
But now somehow you must pack up your dollars
and give them all to me.
You would lose them, I know how to use them;
Give them all to me.

No use complaining, talking in the shadows,
wailing at just how things are:
No one beside you, no one to hide you,
and nobody cares what you are.

(Chorus)

No use gambling, running in the darkness,
Looking for an income that's free:
Too many wrong times, too many long times,
Nobody cares what you see.

(Chorus)
No use moaning, crying ‘bout supply side,
Seeking an equitable kind:
Too many my-ways, too many sly ways,
and the tax man is walking behind.

(Chorus)

With abject apologies to Richard Fariña, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

When You Are Wrong, Attack!

Debbie Schlussel, who describes herself as a “Conservative political commentator, radio talk show host, columnist, and attorney,” got caught out by Media Matters posting remarks about the Virginia Tech killer in which she speculated that the shooter could be a “Paki” and an Islamic terrorist. (Daisy Cutter also caught Schlussel out on The Daily Kos).



It was a dumb thing to write, and Schlussel did recognize that and took down the post. However, rather than taking responsibility for her own words, she replaced it with this:

I've removed this entry, mostly because I am spending too much time monitoring the slimy comments from the Nazi-infested Media Matters for America cretins.

Yesterday, she stepped up the attack with a new post entitled, “Mein Fuhrer, Media Matters: Thanks, Keith Olbermann and Nazi George Soros.” She writes:
And a-day-and-a-half after I speculated who the VTU massacre perpetrator might be--a full day after I corrected the info with updated links and new reports that it was a South Korean student, Media Matters was on my case about that, too. And, in fact, they claimed I reported that the shooter was a Chinese national on a student visa. Uh, no, I didn't report that--I linked to a Chicago Sun-Times report which reported that. Did Media Matters mention that or condemn the Sun-Times or any of the many mainstream media outlets that picked up on that report? Of course, not. It wouldn't fit into their agenda of sliming conservatives.

Nowhere does she mention the heart of the matter, that she speculated that the killer was probably a Pakistani Moslem bent on terrorism—on the basis of a simple suggestion that the killer was “Asian.”


At the end of the post, she reproduces a few emails she received, linking them with Media Matters, under this comment: “Not only are the sponsors of Media Matters Nazi collaborators, but the followers of this "liberal, open-minded" organization are also.” The first of the emails is obvious snark, the second may be, the third one is clearly anti-Semitic, and the fourth one invites Schlussel to visit Pakistan to learn a little more about it.


If these are all the “slimy comments” Schlussel can come up with, she really got very few. One, by my count.


Her response to the invitation to Pakistan is interesting:

Don't need to go there to know all about it. Daniel Pearl already went to Pakistan for me.

Liviu Librescu, the heroic Holocaust survivor who sacrificed his life this last Monday at Virginia Tech so that others could survive, came to this country and died. Does that mean others can now be assured that coming to America is deadly?


Schlussel’s narrow-minded parochial view of Pakistan speaks volumes about the breadth of her opinions on other topics.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

It's All Over Now, Alberto, You

OK, OK. I'll admit it: Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is a beautiful song. But does that stop me from parodying it?

Not on your life!




It's All Over Now, Alberto, You
You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands our congress with its gun,
Subpoenas gonna get to everyone.
Look out, the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, Alberto, you.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.
Take what you have gathered of Bush’s cents.
The empty-headed lawyers from Regent
Are making lazy deals of consent.
The sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, Alberto, you.

All your neo-con attorneys, they are running home.
All your rightwing armies, are all going home.
The lawyer who just walked out your door
Has taken all his emails from fourth floor.
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it's all over now, Alberto, you.

Leave all your documents behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you.
The congressman who's rapping at your door
Is demanding all the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, Alberto, you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blogging America: The New Public Sphere

Praeger has sent me the cover art for my next book, due out in December. Right now, I am in the midst of writing it, producing what I hope will be the natural companion to The Rise of the Blogosphere: American Backgrounds, which appeared last month (and can be ordered here).


Chapter One will be an introduction to the world of the blogs, with particular emphasis on American culture.


Chapter Two will provide a look at the blogs from outside, from the vantage point of the wider culture.


Chapter Three will present the blogs as seen from within, from the Internet looking out, so to speak.


Chapter Four will examine that most high-profile type of blog, the political one.


Chapter Five will chronicle the move move online by "traditional" news entities.


Chapter Six will show a little bit of the extent of religion in the blogs, concentrating on Christian blogs.


Chapter Seven will focus on the ways blogging is changing popular culture itself.


Chapter Eight will explore the ways that businesses are now using the blogs.


Chapter Nine will delve into the breaking down of barriers through the blogs, especially between professionals and amateurs in a number of fields, including the news media and academia.


I expect to complete the book by the middle of June.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Right?

Can academic freedom be understood as part of the rights enunciated by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution? Making it so is attractive; without a firm basis in law, academic freedom can seem ephemeral. But could it stand up to a serious challenge?


No, it could not. In fact, trying to couch academic freedom in First Amendment terms seriously weakens the underpinnings of the compact.


How so?


It’s actually quite simple: a right has to apply to everyone, or to all and, by extension, to clearly delineated groups representing individuals in ways directly relating to the right. Freedom of religion, for example, applies to both the individual and his or her decisions about faith and to the religious institutions that represent that faith. However, question of who the individual is never causes much problem (it is everyone), but question of what makes the institution coverable is much more complex. What makes a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple a legitimate religious institution? Sometimes, it is quite difficult to distinguish between an organization bent on fraud and a “real” church (the Church of Scientology comes to mind). But one never finds a church that wants to opt out of freedom of religion.


Similarly, freedom of the press, originally seen as a right of the individual, also extends to the institutions through which it is practiced. Special governmental consideration is given to news venues because they allow utilization of the right expressed through the First Amendment. Here, again, the right applies to all individuals—but gets a little sticky when government entities try to decide which institutions should be recognized as embodiments of that right (in determining who should get press passes, for example). However, no news organization would decide to give up its freedom.


The same is not true of academic freedom. Unlike churches and newspapers, colleges are not individuals writ large—and many of them, as institutions, would gladly give up academic freedom.


The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Those who argue for the inclusion of academic freedom under the First Amendment place it within the right of “freedom of speech.” As in all of the rights covered by the Amendment, this one starts with the individual. As with freedom of the press (unlike freedom of religion, where the institution is specifically mentioned), any extension of the right to a class of institution can only be implied.


To fit within the context of the First Amendment, academic freedom would have to apply to everyone, extension (or lack of it) to institutions notwithstanding. That is, all citizens would have the right of academic freedom—and this right would be carried through to the institutions which aided in utilization of that right. There’s no problem here, and this is the basis of the idea that academic freedom is covered by the First Amendment.


Such an assertion, however, ignores the fact that academic freedom, by definition, applies to institutions of a specific nature—and here’s where we get into trouble when trying to use the First Amendment to justify academic freedom. For, as I have said, universities are not amplifications of individuals.


All religious and news entities want the privileges extended to them either directly through the First Amendment or by implication. At least, they are never in conflict with individual rights in these areas, for their purposes are exclusively extensions of those individual rights.


Again, such is not necessarily the case of academic institutions. They do not always act as extenders or amplifiers of an individual right to academic freedom. The authors of the 1915 American Association of University Professors “Declaration of Principles” recognized this, and deliberately excluded a certain class of academic institutions from academic freedom:

The simplest case is that of the proprietary school or college designed for the propagation of specific doctrines prescribed by those who have furnished its endowment. It is evident that in such cases the trustees are bound by the deed of gift, and, whatever be their own views, are obligated to carry out the terms of the trust. If a church or religious denomination established a college to be governed by a board of trustees, with the express understanding that the college will be used as an instrument of propaganda in the interests of the religious faith professed by the church or denomination creating it, the trustees have a right to demand that everything be subordinated to that end. If, again, as has happened in this country, a wealthy manufacturer establishes a special school in a university in order to teach, among other things, the advantages of a protective tariff, or if, as is also the case, an institution has been endowed for the purpose of propagating the doctrines of socialism, the situation is analogous. All of these are essentially proprietary institutions, in the moral sense. They do not, at least as regards on particular subject, accept the principles of freedom of inquiry, of opinion, and of teaching; and their purpose is not to advance knowledge by the unrestricted research and unfettered discussion of impartial investigators, but rather to subsidize the promotion of the opinions held by the persons, usually not of the scholar's calling, who provide the funds for their maintenance. Concerning the desirability of the existence of such institutions, the committee does not desire to express any opinion. But it is manifestly important that they should not be permitted to sail under false colors. Genuine boldness and thoroughness of inquiry, and freedom of speech, are scarcely reconcilable with the prescribed inculcation of a particular opinion upon a controverted question. Such institutions are rare, however, and are becoming ever more rare.

Rare or not (and they may be becoming more common today, as new religion-based colleges and universities appear along with the growing number of for-profit academic institutions), such institutions do exist. Yet, as the “Statement” says, they cannot be (and should not be) forced to conform to the precepts of academic freedom.


Unlike a situation with religion or the press, where there is no problem if an institution wishes to opt out (for the right rests with the individual anyway), academic freedom is, by its very nature, institutional and not individual. Here, the right is meaningless without the institution. In the other two instances, the right remains, institutional presence (or lack of it) notwithstanding. Therefore, in the case of academic freedom, definition of just what an academic institution is remains critical to any promotion of the right.


If a religion desires to start a university, is it required, under the First Amendment, to let its faculty make all decisions concerning situations that might be covered under academic freedom? Is a for-profit college required to make academic freedom part of its operating principles? No, according to the “Statement.” Only those institutions which “accept the principles of freedom of inquiry, of opinion, and of teaching” are.


And this is the crux of the problem with placing academic freedom under the First Amendment. If it does not extend to all, it is no right.


If a professor at a religious institution or at one of the for-profit colleges that has never accepted the principles of academic freedom tries to claim that right for himself or herself as an individual, the entire “right” of academic freedom threatens to collapse as completely as a house of cards. The United States has never established a sweeping right of this sort. Attempting to read academic freedom into the First Amendment will only lead to its eventual collapse, no matter that the Supreme Court has made passing reference to academic freedom as a right. Furthermore, what we have seen so far in court treatment of academic freedom is little more than a conflict between individual and institutional rights.


Taken out of an institutional context, academic freedom is nothing more than freedom of speech. Left inside, but retaining a special First Amendment prerogative, however, it threatens institutional rights in ways that will never happen with religion or the press.


Again, unlike religious and news-media entities, academic institutions are not simply extenders and enablers of individual rights. They do not exist as institutional amplifiers of individuals. They have a variety of purposes, many of which that can be at odds with those of the individuals who compose them. In addition, the rights of the individuals, in institutions of religion and the press, do not extend into the institution. Academic freedom does. In fact, it rests there.


An individual, if he or she does not like the way a church is manifesting belief, cannot force that church to change—at least, not through law. The right to believe as one chooses does not extend to forcing a church to change to accommodate the individual, or even to allow the individual to worship differently within that church. Similarly, the right of freedom of the press does not guarantee that what an individual reporter writes will be published. These are internal matters and not generally the concern of law.


Academic freedom, always an internal matter (again, outside of the related freedom-of-speech protections that are the rights of all individuals), is also no concern of law, but is a compact within the institution. To argue otherwise is akin to arguing that a church must continue to accept a member who has decided upon a radically different way of belief, or of arguing that a newspaper must print whatever its journalists present to their editors. In neither of these latter two situations would the individual’s rights under law be compromised if she or he were expelled from the congregation or the stories spiked. Just so, if academic freedom falls under the umbrella of freedom of speech, no rights have been violated if a professor is told what to teach. And this is the problem. In each instance, the individual right—to worship as one pleases, to write what one pleases, to teach how one pleases—still exists… just not in this particular institution. One is welcome to go elsewhere and do what one wants. The government isn’t involved one way or another—and neither are the rights it guarantees. And that, of course, would make real academic freedom within the institution impossible. Thus, by turning academic freedom into a personal right divorced from the institution, we make it meaningless within the institution.


Religious institutions and news-media entities are, of course, private. The same cannot always be said for academic institutions. So, if First Amendment rights stop at the door of private institutions like synagogues and newspapers, does that mean that academic freedom, even if it is also no internal right of private academic institutions, can be argued as a right within our public universities—salvaging at least a little of the right?


Yes, it could be. But would that really be helpful to academic freedom, or might it be harmful?


If we are to argue that private academic institutions, like all other private institutions, can do what they will (within certain limits), then academic freedom is effectively emasculated. Public universities cannot carry it alone (and it becomes meaningless as a right). If, on the other hand, academic freedom is forced upon private institutions as well (as a First Amendment right), then our purpose-driven institutions from religious colleges on will be seriously weakened or destroyed—and institutional rights of all sorts will be called into question in ways making “government intrusion” much more a reality than ever before. And, the optimism of the “Statement” notwithstanding, purpose-driven academic institutions (let alone the vast number of other private ones) are neither rare nor likely to become extinct.


The conundrum this creates is the core reason that academic freedom has to exist outside of legal structures and only within the cultures of academic institutions.


In the United States, academic freedom is at the heart of the culture of most of our colleges and universities, both private and public—but not all. It exists through explicit definition in union contracts, university bylaws, operating guidelines, and other documents, but it is not mandated by law.


Though well-intentioned, the arguments for placing academic freedom under the First Amendment will ultimately weaken it when challenged by those institutions (such as religious colleges) which would see its instantiation in particular situations threats to their very missions. The courts will have to decide that, for a religious college, academic freedom is trumped by freedom of religion, for the latter is explicit in the First Amendment while the former is not. And academic freedom as a First Amendment right will, effectively die—and will be weakened as a compact because of its perception as a debunked “right.”


Protection of academic freedom, then, cannot be effected through law, but must continue as a negotiated compact between faculties and administrations. Anything else will lead to its weakening.

Ick-o Tourism

Last week, on a visit to friends in Senegal, we stopped for lunch at Bandia, a private animal reserve of ten square kilometers or so where, since 1990, species that have become somewhat rare in the country are being re-introduced.


On our way elsewhere, we hadn’t time to take the tour of the park, but the restaurant is outdoors and next to a stream inhabited by crocodiles. Monkeys stare from the trees by the tables and, across the way, antelopes and warthogs slip down to the water for a drink or a wade.


Lunch was fine, and we were quietly enjoying the view when people at the tables on either side of us noticed a croc right below us (the bank is a steep ten feet, so there was no danger). People at the table on one side immediately started throwing pieces of bread to the reptile—which snapped them up (this had obviously happened before). My friends chastised these tourists, but to no effect.


To less than no effect.


For, as soon as they were finished with their meat, the people on the other side started throwing their bones down, the croc snapping them up. They loved it when the beast seemed to perform for them, opening its large mouth to engulf the remains of human lunch.


What were these people thinking? I don’t really know, of course, but I can guess.


They seemed to see the park as a playpen for themselves, and the animals as clowns sent out for their pleasure. They had no sense of the invasive nature of their action, or of its inappropriate nature in a place attempting to restore a bit of the old equilibrium to Senegal’s landscape. As tourists, they want the places they go to amuse them; after all, they pay good money—they deserve to see the animals perform.


The staff of the place, all Africans, weren’t ready to challenge the white visitors (even after nearly half a century of independence, colonialism is still vital in its influence). My friends asked if someone could speak to them, explaining to the tourists that such actions intrude on the very purpose of the park. The staff agreed that it was wrong, but they were shy to try to explain (and we already knew these other tourists were never going to listen to us), which is understandable, given the impact an irate tourist could have on their jobs.



The idea that the world is for us, that everything is there just to keep us amused, is an unconscious burden that Europeans and Americans have been carrying with them when traveling abroad these past couple of centuries. It weighs us down as surely as our over-stuffed luggage.


[These photos, by the way, were all taken at that lunch.]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Marred By Attitude

P.T. Deutermann, his most recent novel Spider Mountain shows, carries a hatred for a certain class of people. He is completely upfront about it in this book, his latest tale of detective Cam Richter. The question is, does his attitude have an impact on the value of the work?


To me, it does. After all, it opens with a dedication making clear that the attitude shown within is also the author's:


This book is dedicated to all the seemingly anonymous folks, government, faith-based, or just plain charitable, who work out in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, tending to the people and their children who only think they can take care of themselves.

Say what?


OK, negative attitudes towards Appalachians are pretty much a given in America -- "hillbillies" are the one group it's fine for even a liberal to hate -- but that doesn't mean it should be acceptable to cast off an entire group of people as incompetent -- or worse. Deutermann's words resonate antebellum attitudes towards African-Americans by their owners: "Why, we're doing our slaves a favor. They could never survive on their own." Deutermann, of course, certainly would not make such a statement about blacks (our culture now makes people mask such feelings) -- but he's blithely and openly willing to denigrate another whole section of the American population, and on as flimsy and sickening a basis.


Deutermann peppers his books with denigrations of Appalachians, each one a slap on the face:

"... All my guys have most of their teeth and can speak using the occasional two-syllable word." [16]

His accent was mountain, but not tree-stump ignorant. [47]

"Because the children have little value to a certain stratum of the population. As in, she was a' lookin' pretty damn good for thirteen, but then she done got her a damn kid hung on her. And if it was her daddy who did the hanging on, then the child become disposable." [188]

This much is true: there's a great deal of snobbery towards Appalachians, especially among those who have moved to the mountains from elsewhere (and there are many of those, these days). Ignoring it in a book set up in the hills of western North Carolina would be as bad as ignoring the racism that, even today, permeates American society. But Deutermann is not simply presenting the attitudes he finds; he is actively promoting his own.


The question remains, however: do Deutermann's (or any author's, for that matter) attitudes have an impact on the value of the book as a work of art? Personally, I would like to be able to answer, "No." But I am as human as Deutermann, and I bring my own prejudices into my reading, just as he does into his writing. As a child of Appalachia, I cannot honestly remove myself from reaction to the author's attitudes any more than an African can to Joseph Conrad's when reading Heart of Darkness.


The plot of Spider Mountain revolves around the nefarious activities of one "Grinny" Creigh, matriarch of a nasty clan in a remote North Carolina county adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Detective Richter's attempts to shed light on her activities are complicated by the fact that the local sheriff is also her brother and that state and federal authorities are reluctant to get too involved in local affairs. There are plenty of vicious dogs, fires, shootings -- and even a lynching and an attack by a wild boar. This is a suspense novel of the James Lee Burke variety: tough, tough characters facing down enemies of equal strength and greater nastiness. It lacks the sadness about violence and the recognition of its consequences, however, that raises Burke above so many others of the genre.

Read the rest of Marred by Attitude and decide for yourself, is Deutermann guilty only of elitism, or is there a tinge of tribal / racial smugness here as well?