Sunday, April 15, 2007

1 Book, 5 Minutes


Jim: We're doing a book discussion again. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and me, Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, and Wally of The Daily Jot. We're pressed for time more than usual but we wanted to note Laura Flanders's Blue Grit. Mike, set us up.

Mike: Laura Flanders' is the host of RadioNation with Laura Flanders which airs from seven to ten p.m. eastern time, Saturdays and Sundays on Air America Radio. She's a journalist and broadcaster. In the past, she worked for FAIR. She hosted Your Call on an NPR outlet, she's written at least two other books and edited The W Effect. She is one of the few hosts of an early Air America program to still have that show. In fact, she and Randi Rhodes may be the only ones. Eddie will be thrilled I worked in a plug for Randi Rhodes. The book just came out, her new book, Blue Grit. It's 210 pages of text that retails for $24.95 and you can find it at bookstores, including Borders as Kayla noted, and look for it at your libraries as well, as Marcus noted. And I'll toss to Kat for an overview of the book.

Kat: Anyone who's familiar with Laura's work knows she's not about the beltway. There was some concern among the community that, due to the title, Blue Grit was going to focus on our brave "Blue" elected leaders. I can't imagine anything more boring and, fortunately, Laura's not really interested in it either. What is she interested in? What happened on the ground, who drove issues, who drove turnout? This is a book, one I would say was written with love, to celebrate the people in various communities who work for change, day after day, with or without support from a national party structure, with or without encouragement.

Jim: Thank you both. Ty had three possible excerpts to use and is picking one based on the intro.

Ty: This is from pages 171 and 172 and it's chosen (a) because it will appeal to our intended readers and (b) because it will lead to a conversation:

When the Right's Paul Weyrich, Patrick Buchanan, and Grover Norquist took aim at the Republican Party's elite, it was to skewer its weakness and firm up its principles. The Democratic insurgents aspire to do the same, but so far they have prioritized electing Democrats generally and beating up on media that mistreats Democrats. When a current event threatens to reveal or expand a fissure among Demoncrats over policy, the most influential blogs tend to become awfully quiet awfully fast. When Israeli warplanes were destroying Lebanon's civilian infrastructure in response to the kidnapping of two soldiers and the killing of three others in 2006, Daily Kos and MyDD weren't talking about it; nor was MoveOn. The bloggers were as shamefully silent as the Democratic leadership itself. (Some bloggers said they didn't know enough about the topic, but a lack of information has not typically held bloggers back.) When tens of thousands of immigrants marched in the streets of Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, New York, and California, they dominated the local TV news but not the liberal websites. (In Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other cities, these protests were the largest in the cities' history.)

Ty (Con't): I'm guessing Rebecca wants to start.

Rebecca: Right. I'll disagree with the use of "kidnapping." Soldiers aren't kidnapped. Otherwise? I was on my honeymoon during that period and not blogging. Everyone was kind enough to fill in for me and, thank you, for that. So I was off on in the tropics [on her honeymoon], I'm referring to Lebanon, by the way, that's what I'm grabbing. The Wall St. Journal was readily available, but I wasn't going to read that. So I was getting the majority of my news by booting up my laptop. Kat and I cover the issue from time to time at our blogs. And let me state that I will be following the Gonzales scandal at my site until I give birth. If I'm lucky, it will continue through the early months of my child being born. I started that while on the road with limited access and it's become an easy story to follow and, as I expand more and more and my back hurts more and more and the baby kicks more and more and I try to get the nursery ready, the clothes and junk purchased, the Lamaze class out of the way, I really do not have time to grab another issue. But the issue of the Israeli government is an important one to me. So I was going all over and I was very disappointed. Sites that are supposedly left repeated talking points that came out of the Bully Boy's mouth. You'd think they'd never heard Phyllis Bennis speak on the topic the way they spat out talking points. I do want to note Elaine and C.I. I knew Elaine would grab some of it because I was on my honeymoon and, boy, did she step up to the plate. She got a ton of hate mails during that period including from AlterPunk. I was really surprised that C.I. did because this has been a big issue of mine since college and The Common Ills' focus is Iraq but C.I. stepped up as well. I do understand the excuse of "I don't know anything about it." I understand that if we're speaking of Mike, for instance. Mike truly did not know anything about until that summer. It wasn't an issue he'd studied. He's young and I wouldn't slam him or anyone else who was truly unfamiliar with it. But I think a lot of the silence had a little to do with not wanting to touch it and I do consider that shameful. That was one of my favorite parts of the book, by the way.

Elaine: Mike did cover it some. Mainly by noting Dalia Hashad's, covering Dalia Hashad's comments on Law and Disorder.

Rebecca: I must have missed that and I do apologize.

Mike: Not a problem. When Rebecca got back from her honeymoon, one of the first things I asked her to do was make time to walk me through that history because I did not know anything about it. I was happy to mention what Dalia said and I could follow what she was talking about. But it really had not been an area I had followed. I knew it was one of Rebecca's biggest things so I went to her the way I'd go to Jim for baseball or C.I. for Iraq.

Ava: I'm not doubting Flanders, regarding the immigration issue, but that does sadden me. Now we were involved [in] that and between that and classes, I wouldn't have had time to check out the Democratic sites, and I do consider most of them to be Democratic and not left. But, out here, in California, that was such a huge issue and it just surprises me and saddens me that there was silence on it. It was a huge issue in other areas as well. When a dopey, dumb ass went on Democracy Now! to piss on what went down in Dallas, Diana, a community member in Dallas, wrote up her response to that, to what the guest said and to what she saw with her own eyes as a participant in the Dallas protest -- which saw at least one million people participating. It was the largest protest Dallas ever had. I think, and obviously, I'm a Latina, that the silence sends a message of who is invited to the table and who isn't. This goes to what I enjoyed the most about the book. I follow the news, we listen to Flanders each Saturday while we're writing, I read several local papers, listen to KPFA, blah, blah, blah. A lot of books covering the time period she's covering would find me thinking, "Yeah, I remember that." And not much else. This isn't a rehash and it's not a clip job. This is a real book that deserves to be called a "book" and you'll learn something from it.

Betty: And you'll often laugh while you do. I marked page 90 and I know time is tight so I'll just read a bit of one paragraph where she's commenting on the emergence of the 527s and the decrease in donations to the Democratic party:

That's the American way, especially if you're affluent. For every pang there is relief. The promise of a rescue-remedy is as American as apple pie or as snake oil.

Betty (Con't): I think it's very important to note that there's humor in the book. It's not a humor book. But there are stories and observations that will bother you, Ava just noted one, and there are moments that will cheer you. I think there's a lot of emotion and heart in the book and I hate the cover but I know C.I.'s going to address that.

Wally: Cedric and I do joint-posts so I probably talk to him more each week than anyone else except C.I. -- who I run every post by. And the point we kept making was this book doesn't pull punches. It names names. This isn't a book that's probably going to see Flanders invited to the chat & chews on Sundays.

Cedric: That was the thing that surprised me and Wally and I kept talking about that over and over last week. Now she does that on her program too. So we probably shouldn't have been surprised. But each day when we'd be looking at the news and trying to figure out what would make for a funny post, we'd be talking about where we were in the book and what had been said and we were always noting the fact that she was as independent in the book as she is on her show.

Wally: Right. And we should probably define "independent" because some are going to think, "Oh, she's a swing voter." I have no idea if she belongs to a party or not. I know she's left. But if you read these books, books in this genre, often, you end up finding a lot of cheerleaders and a lot of hype.

Cedric: Right. I looked at the cover and thought, "Oh no, she's written a James Carville book." But she hasn't. And by "independent" we mean she's not looking, or I'm guessing she's not, for MoveOn or any website to promote the book. It wasn't written with an eye towards that.

Elaine: Rebecca's dying to speak but Dona's asked us to limit our responses so I'll say what I know she wants to say because she just whispered, "Elton John." "Your Song." Just as "Your Song" is grabbed and embraced by many, this book could open with "This is your book." The focus is not on the rare air inhaled in the Beltway. This is the grassroots, the people on the ground. This is their story and she's going to tell it which means some groups won't come off very well because they've worked overtime to undercut popular movements.

Jess: That point's clear throughout but especially in terms of advertising -- both, as on page 160, who made the effective ads that never made it to TV and in terms of where the ad money went -- to network TV with a healthy cut for consultants. Rolling Stone recently did a much praised article on that topic and anyone thinking she's copied that story would do well to remember the lag time in book publishing.

Dona: Okay, I'm sorry to be the bad guy here but we have had technical problems, including all being able to speak during this writing edition, so I did ask everyone to be brief. Mike said only if C.I. went last and was give "ample time." C.I. was going to address the cover of the book because there were complaints to The Common Ills and this site about the cover and also a wrong impression about the book.

C.I.: Cedric mentioned already the James Carville similarity of the cover and he's not the only one who made that comparison. I think the cover is a huge mistake. As I understand, the point of the cover, by the publishers, was to get across the point that (a) Flanders is of the left, (b) that this is tale told in black and white a la a newspaper and (c) [it is] for all in the country, hence the red, white and blue colors. Flanders looks fine in the photo but it's too far to the left. I understand the point of having her on the left but the eye reads left to right in this country and most Western ones. She's on a white background and having used that someone should have grasped that, once you use white as a background, the more colors you add, the more details, the more you clutter up. Ali MacGraw's autobiography made a good use of a white background with their cover. When you use white as the background, you really need to go for simplicity. The blue rectangle at the bottom, with the subtitle of the book, is so much clutter and having gone with a white background, the author's name in simple black font, to then muck it up with the title in blue trimmed in red, in what can best be termed "jumbo" letters, was a mistake on the part of Penguin Press. I've read e-mail after e-mail about how people passed the book on a table display because they didn't register it. I think it's equally true that they did register the visual "noise" and turned from it. An older community member, with bad legs, walked upstairs at her bookstore to get the book. She found it easily on the shelf -- by the spine [of the book]. When she got downstairs, she suggested that they move the book to the displays on the first floor and the clerk pointed to show her that it was on the first floor. In fact, it was right by the staircase. This is a thoughtful book and there's nothing on the cover, other than Flanders herself, to suggest that. She's about a third of the cover lengthwise and height wise. And she's on the left side when, again, the eye goes to the right. I understand the various concepts involved in the design but it is a really bad design and hopefully they will simplify it for the softcover edition. Unless the cover of Naomi Klein's upcoming book has changed, they're using a white background there as well. But they go with simplicity not splashes of different type and color and there's no little blue rectangle on the bottom. Had they just reversed the white and the blue, the cover would have been easier on their eye but when white is the predominate color, and it is the background, the cover is just too much.

Jim: But you liked the book.

C.I.: Oh, I loved the book. But I was trying to get that out as quickly as possible before Dona called time.

Jim: Okay, so the book is strongly recommended by all. If you're among the ones who wrote us about the cover making you think it was a book by James Carville, Paul Begala was also cited in some e-mails, it's nothing like a PowerPoint presentation. It's a real book and one you should read.

A visual for those wanting a simpler version of the cover:

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