Queering Marriage: Challenging Family Formation in the United States (Families in Focus)
The definition of marriage has gone through many definitions over the centuries; not until more recent times, the Eighteenth Century, did the State become actively involved in the definition of marriage, mostly relating to property and economic rights. Since then people who have professed a lifestyle that is different from the definition of marriage have been looked down upon as second-class citizens, without the ability to claim many, if any, of the benefits of people who follow the normal definition of marriage. In this book Katrina Kimport examines San Francisco’s decision to allow gay marriage in the city, how it affected gay and lesbian couples, and how it impacted how the rest of society looks at gay rights.
This book follows many sociological books in similar veins: it relies on interviews, polls, and a close reading of the literature. What we get is a well written, and easy to understand, look at how this Winter of Love affected the conversation on gay rights, and the progress that has been made since. Even though this is considered a scholarly work, even the general reader will be able to enjoy this path-breaking book.
Rutgers University Press
College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons
In this book, author Christopher Zoukis, a leading expert in correctional education, lays out a convincing case for providing post-secondary education for our incarcerated population. The statistics are well-known: a huge per-capita prison population in the nation, many prisoners serving sentences on nonviolent drug and immigration violations, the financial and human costs of a huge prison population, and the high rate of recidivism, all of which drain our society of valuable human and monetary resources. Zoukis builds a strong argument of why and how we should address the problem of our overcrowded prisons through college and vocational training behind bars. The author addresses the background and history of prison education in the United States, while also recognizing the validity of the opposing side of the argument, that offenders deserve to be punished, rather than rewarded through valuable education resources. This broad perspective gives credence to Zoukis’s argument that depriving prisoners of educational resources is counter-productive for both the individual and society as a whole.
This is an amazing work in many ways. Its author is, himself, incarcerated, but this book goes beyond the personal argument for prison education, so much so that I was unaware of the author’s background until reading his biography. His perspective is based on research in advancing the case for prison education, that providing for the education of prisoners is important for not only humanitarian, but also financial reasons. The financial and human cost of a large incarcerated prison population with a high degree of recidivism is much larger than educating and returning the population to the larger society. As an addendum, the reviewer, having taught this population, finds it is invariably made up of motivated students who deserve a second chance and return to society, for the sake of the individual as well as the society as a whole.
Frantz Fanon: The Militant Philosopher of Third World Revolution
Even though he died at a young age, in his 30s, the work of Frantz Fanon had a big impact in the revolutions that ended colonialism; and is still cited and referred to by radicals and leftists against modern day neo-imperialism and other forms of struggle. While this is not just a strict biography, his short life would work against that, this book is more of looking at how his life and his writings intersected and influenced each other. It also examines the impact he had on other’s thinking in the immediate years after his death. The organizations that rose in Algeria to overthrow the French show how far his thinking and influence went for someone who died from cancer at such a young age.
This is an interesting work in that the author puts Frantz Fanon into his context of his time and place. From the experience of racism in France as a student, to trying to help the people of Algeria against that same racism and how it came to define him and his writings. While mostly known to academics, hopefully this book will keep his memory alive.
The Beltway Beast
According to a Gallup poll in October 2013, only 26% believe that two major parties adequately represent Americans, and 60% of Americans think a third party is needed. This book is designed to be a platform for the 74% of Americans who are yearning for an option outside of the two-party monopoly.
And so, Munir Moon succinctly states the purpose for his excellent, thoughtful book. There is a bit of a trend recently in books that look to re-invent the clearly flawed political systems in the Western democracies. (You may disagree with that statement, or at least the latter part of it, but do keep reading.) As I write this review, the number one best-seller in the UK is Russell Brand’s Revolution. Brand calls for a boycott of all established institutions, including a refusal to cast votes in elections contested among elite parties. So in many ways, both Moon and Brand are coming from the same place while heading in only slightly different directions.
Let’s get back to that flawed political system. Writing before the 2014 mid-term elections, Moon notes the following:
– Women represent 51% of the population but made up only 20% of the Senate and 18% of the House in 2013.
– African-Americans comprise 15% of the population, but there was only one black elected US senator in 2013, and only five African-Americans have been elected to the US Senate since this country was founded.
– There were only three Latino senators in 2013, all of them men.
– Sixty-seven percent of senators are millionaires.
– The average age of a senator is sixty-two years, while the median age in America is only thirty-seven.
– Seven of the top ten counties with the nation’s highest household incomes are located in the Washington Beltway.
I’d call that flawed. How about you? Furthermore, Moon brings this to our attention:
“Then there is the issue of overseas military bases that we maintain at a cost of about $102 billion annually, or about $1 trillion over 10 years. Germany alone has 227 US bases, which may have been justified during the Cold War, but why now?”
I cannot over-stress the quality of Moon’s research. To cite just one example, he takes apart Obamacare for being what it is: a giant transfer of capital from the public sector (that would be the American taxpayer) to the already wealthy insurance companies. Moon instead advocates for an idea called the Smart Patient Credit, which would empower consumers by giving them all price options and rewarding them for making the most economical choice. To be frank, I am still an advocate for the Single Payer system, however Moon must be applauded for at the very least provoking discussion.
This book needs to be not just read, not just shared, but acted upon immediately. The Beltway Beast is vital in these times.
Save Them All
Save Them All by Wendy Green is an eye-opening memoir about the school system in the Bay Area of northern California where Green worked with underprivileged and troubled youth for many years. Clearly, this book was written from the heart and Green’s deep personal commitment to children and education shines through.
During her many years of teaching, Green, along with her students, has experienced first-hand the fallout of gang violence, drug use, peer pressure, and absent parents. In addition, she has done her best to contend with school and justice systems which are ill-equipped to do much about it. The many stories of schoolchildren told in this book are gut-wrenching and unfortunately all too real. While reading this novel, I felt as if I were watching the worst of the 5 o’clock news stories.
A dedicated teacher, Green’s mission was to teach the children “to want to learn” while at the same time, trying to maintain order in chaotic classrooms filled with the kids society had given up on. All too often, her creative ideas met with resistance from school superiors, but Green did not quit, she kept on trying due to her firmly held belief in the potential of every child to be reached and to learn.
As I read this book, I was able to relate to Green’s philosophy on education as it is one I share. Far too many kids fall through the cracks in an antiquated educational system and no amount of glue will fix it. Based on her experiences, Green’s suggestions for school reform are interesting and hopeful. After reading about Green’s many troubled students, I felt connected to her and to them. I turned the final pages of this book with hope and a renewed interest in educational reform.
The Annoyed Voter’s Guide to 2014 & 2015
The Annoyed Voter’s to 2014 & 2015 speaks for itself. One of a handful of voter guides available for American voters, Wilcox’s concise handbook goes beyond the essential electoral politics leading up to the 2016 presidential election by addressing the concern of many Americans who wonder “where this country is heading in the near-and-also-distant future.”
Political blogger (FairPayNow.org) Anthony Wilcox may consider himself “both a humble fellow citizen and a concerned American voter.” But Wilcox, who holds a M.A. in Political Science, has a way with words that are reminiscent of something one would hear on the Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert shows. Barring vulgarity, Wilcox is, in his own right, a pundit whose political analyses and predictions not only speak to older voters, but also to disheartened college students who have been waiting for their turn to make a difference in Washington, only to observe complete chaos among the nation’s leaders.
Wilcox’s approach is a bit different from a lot of analysts who look to 2010 “as a sign of things to come for Democrats in 2014.” And although he doesn’t disagree with their results, Wilcox chooses to focus on 2006 (the final midterm before the end of George W. Bush’s Presidency) and 1998 (during Bill Clinton’s administration). Wilcox sees these years as “true equivalents to 2014. As he states, “after six years in power, even popular Presidents have faded often into becoming ‘just another one of those guys…'” But added to the national mood that seems to be going against President Obama and his Party, Wilcox doesn’t anticipate districts shifting over to the Democrats anytime soon.
While covering a detailed alphabetical 2014 state-by-state election analysis, Wilcox saves the most critical state, Illinois, for last. Not that political corruption isn’t existent elsewhere in the U. S. of A., Illinois is known for being a hotbed for dirty business – thus its nickname, The Windy City. This segues nicely into gubernatorial races and mayoral and municipal elections in a handful of states and cities, respectively. His predictions, unsurprisingly, do not paint a stunning picture for those rooting for the Democrats. Nonetheless, Wilcox keeps his narrative flowing by including his list of potential presidential candidates and possible contenders for both parties. Indeed, an interesting mix of both men and women!
Wilcox winds down his guidebook by taking a stark look at the issues that have been and will continue to affect the American people. Current issues include same-sex marriage, Edward Snowden and national privacy, income inequality, gun control, Ferguson and other race relations, the recent immigration trends, global warming, campaign finance reform, and voter suppression. Older issues that just keep evolving year after year include foreign policy, religion and violence – particularly with Islam (which is ironic since most Muslims are peaceful people), marijuana legalization (which seems to have been going on forever), and a real oldie – one that would make Susan B. Anthony turn in her grave – women and minorities in American politics.
In closing, Wilcox includes open letters to both the Democratic and Republican parties. He not only reminds them of their incredible and invaluable history in this country, but also challenges them (especially to John Boehner) to take a good look at their present images and turn their lack of effectiveness back into a strong and vital operational component that supports the American people. Most importantly, Wilcox suggests to voter readers that while the world is constantly changing, they need to do more than just show up at the polls every few years. He includes a slew of activities to keep them from becoming cynical and dropping out of the voting arena altogether.
A great resource, The Annoyed Voter’s Guide to 2014 & 2015 can offer positive direction and a bit of hope for young and seasoned voters during these trying times.