links and books

Good article on continuing corruption in our corporations and government:

Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy –

Retired Justice Stevens reveals his reasoning behind changing his mind about capital punishment

On the Death Sentence by John Paul Stevens | The New York Review of Books

A more calm assessment of the recent trial and conviction of a terrorist.

The Verdict on Ghailani—By Scott Horton (Harper’s Magazine)

Finished reading this book yesterday.  It is a book written by a co-worker of my daughter, Elizabeth. It is a bit of an uneven read. The author decides to go undercover in jobs that are stereotypically worked by immigrants and migrants. He begins in the lettuce fields of Arizona which is one of the two well written sections of the book.

He speaks Spanish fluently which is a great help in getting past his obvious non-immigrant status as a white guy.  His portraits of his coworkers and his description of his interaction are engaging. His descriptions of his own difficulties in learning the skill of lettuce “cutting” as it is called is vivid.

The other section that engaged me was his time in Alabama working in a chicken packing plant. He manages to write not only about the work but about people in the area both repelling (racist politicians) and charming (co-workers and his landlady).

The book slows down a bit when he returns to New York and attempts to get some kind of similar work. It lacks cohesion as he obviously settles back into a more familiar life and tries to get work that will finish off his book and research.

However, his descriptions of the work sites and activities he experiences are the strongest section of the book, including his last jobs in New York. Here he spends some time working for some insane bosses who sell branches and flowers to New Yorkers.

I found his description of their inexplicable behavior not only believable but sadly recognizable.  They scream at him and give him inexplicable criticisms and directions. I guess my experience as a bar musician and a church musician confirms the portrait of people in charge who are a mess.

I felt the weakest section was about the last job which was working as a delivery person for a Mexican style restaurant.  Thompson’s expertise as a union activist and research into lettuce cutting and chicken packing is obvious and helpful. Equally obvious to me is that he skims the surface a bit around the fascinating life of the delivery person in New York.  Just how it hits me.

Thompson’s book is a  solid argument for the good that unions can do. Unions get very bad press these days and have for decades. But there is no denying how they could help with the abuses that Thompson witnesses and experiences first hand.

I enjoyed the book.  I didn’t really learn about injustice. Here in Holland I personally knew a farm worker whose hand was chopped off by a machine. He was a musician I knew who spoke only Spanish and obviously wasn’t trained properly to run the machine he was assigned to work. There was not a wisp of reporting around this in the local press. They did report when a couple of workers were killed in an accident at local business. But locals seemed to be more sympathetic to the business owners than the families of the dead. Could it have been because they had Hispanic backgrounds?

I also witnessed coyotes who herded blueberry workers to Mass at the church I worked. It was obvious who the boss was.

I did learn about the on the ground aspects of lettuce “cutting” and chicken packing.

Elizabeth accidentally left another Thompson title behind when she returned to New York.

Not convinced I will read it after reading “Working in the Shadows.” I admire the work this man and my daughter do in union organizing. Not sure I need to read about about it. We’ll see.

This book was sitting on my wife’s desk at the library one day. It is a graphic novel and looked kind of interesting so I interlibrary loaned a copy. My first reaction seems to hold true: this book is strongly influenced by my hero R. Crumb. Almost to the point that I’m not that engaged since I’m not experiencing stuff for the first time.

The only interesting part so far is the appearance of robots and space suits. I will probably keep trying it, though.


I have been reading in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. This is subtitled a “Play for voices.” I am enjoying it immensely. I am finding Thomas an antidote to the banality of church. He strikes just the right note with his lovely images that sometimes refer obtusely to biblical passages.

Here’s a quote from a poem I have been thinking about. It’s the last bit.

Now I am a man no more no more
And a black reward for a roaring life,
(Sighed the old ram rod, dying of strangers),
Tidy and cursed  in my dove cooed room
I lies down thin and hear the good bells jaw—
For, oh, my soul found a sunday wife
In the coal black sky and she bore angels!
Harpies around me out of her womb!
Chastity prays for me, piety sings,
Innocence sweetens my last black breath,
Modesty hides my thighs in her wings,
And all the deadly virtues plague my death!

from “Lament” by Dylan Thomas

and see religion from a unique honest perspective:

I could see the lights in the windows in all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness. Then I fell asleep.
from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”  by Dylan Thomas

I love this from “Under Milk Wood”:

Beynon, in butcher’s bloodied apron, spring heels down Coronation Street, a finger not his own, in his mouth.

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