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James

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Woodward struggles to make sense of Trump

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-12-2020

A lot of this is old territory, since I guess some of it hadn't happened in time to make it into Woodward's previous book, or he hadn't had the participation of certain interviewees. A lot of the rest of it is reputation rehabilitation for those interviewees, like Tillerson, Mattis, Graham, Kushner, et al., and those parts are mostly pretty grating. But when the narrative pushes further into the term, the book gets a bit more novel. It was already public knowledge that Kim Jong Un utterly played Trump with the flattery of summits and love letters, but seeing the syrupy contents of those letters does show vividly just the extent to which Trump was played. It's not surprising, but it still is just a little shocking. And then, of course, the pandemic hits. Woodward runs parallel narratives for a little while, showing the secret goings on in the administration early in the pandemic, in tandem with the mostly-unrelated topics he had been interviewing the president about at the same time. Eventually the threads converge, and the conversations with Trump become all about the rolling 2020 nightmare. Woodward clearly struggled with how to present the interviews; Trump is such a hopeless interviewee that accurately representing his statements in anything other than direct quotation is basically impossible, and when he is directly quoted, he's so incoherent, repetitive, and mendacious as to make the resulting passages practically unreadable. Woodward pitches him softball after softball, and Trump consistently flubs. He has to be asked the same question half a dozen times or more before he gives an answer approaching any sort of relevance. Late in their interviews, to a question about how Trump would speak to the feelings of those impacted by racial injustice, Trump (eventually) responds with at least some self-awareness, saying that he's a doer, not a talker. As a "talker" might put it: you may not be able to expect him to give RFK-esque speeches that salve the nation's wounds of racial division, but at least you can rely on him to do what he can to fix the problem. That would almost be a good pitch for his alternate version of the presidency, if only it had been borne out by, you know, him actually doing something. ("But the First Step Act!" one might protest. Yeah, Trump signed it, but he had no role in drafting it, and he only came to support it because Kushner lobbied him, and Kushner only lobbied him because of his ex-con dad. "But opportunity zones!" "But record money for black colleges!" Etc. Woodward addresses each of these with the fact checks that litter the book, and suffice to say, none of these measures seem to have convinced anyone who wasn't already convinced. And this is to say nothing of, you know, the global pandemic.) In both this book and Woodward's previous, Trump sometimes comes off a little differently than a partisan like me might have thought he would. This Trump, while still plainly incompetent and way out of his depth, occasionally seems well-meaning and almost innocent. It's not enough to make one want to vote for him, but it does occasionally spark a glimmer of sympathy. I mean, can you imagine having to be the president when you have no idea what you're doing? It sounds like a waking nightmare. Fortunately, we'll all be waking up pretty soon.

I often found myself wishing that Robert Petkoff would have somehow distinguished the voices of Trump and Woodward in their dialogues. As I've mentioned, Trump is utterly incoherent, so it's not always clear when he's stopped speaking, and when he's just dropped a thought mid-sentence and started to say something else. I recognise that having Petkoff do a Trump impression would have the unfortunate effect of making the book sound like a parody, but you kind of need something to make sense of the mess.

2 people found this helpful

Wow remember how the president was impeached

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 30-08-2020

I sure am glad congress united to perform its duty and removed him from office.

2 people found this helpful

A good but lesser follow-up

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 28-08-2020

Much more sprawling and unfocused than 'It Burns', though this is perhaps appropriate given that the topic is the logistics industry, which sprawls across the globe and—so we learn—is unfocused among a multitude of independent trucking contractors. But whether that parallel was deliberate or not, this podcast lacked narrative cohesion. Fennell is still an engaging host, and he still brings personal angles into the story (this time through his young son). All the individual pieces of information he presents are interesting (I found the episode with Marion Nestle to be particularly illuminating). But he doesn't tie them together and doesn't draw much of a conclusion, to say nothing of solving the titular mystery (he gets no more specific than "probably the Armenian Mafia").

3 people found this helpful

Men really are the worst, huh

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 25-08-2020

I went into this more or less blind, not knowing anything of the plot, having somehow managed to avoid spoilers for the last two hundred years. Thus I was genuinely somewhat surprised when the plot took its first Gothic left turn, and I was especially shocked and dismayed at Jane's ultimate decision to marry Mr Rochester, who is a total prick and utterly undeserving of her. I think Jane had him pegged when she listened to him speak disrespectfully of his former mistresses and wondered if he'd ever speak of her that way. Though she remains in love with him even after learning how he mistreated his first wife, I figured this was just a way for Brontë to portray Jane's purity and devotion or something, and that other factors would prevent her from getting back with Mr Rochester, so that her belonging and happy ending would instead be achieved living with her new sisters in the house they owned together. At least she had financial independence when she made the decision to marry, so she wasn't constrained into it for that particular reason. Jane is a formidable heroine, and though I really wanted better for her, I suppose the ultimate respect I can pay her is to accept her choices. So, look, Jane, if all you want is to nurse a cranky blind man who ruins everything he touches for the rest of your days, more power to you. May you have every happiness.

Thandie Newton does a great job with the narration; I'm not familiar with her work outside of film, but I'm assuming she must have theatre background or RADA training or something, because there's clearly a lot of technical craft on display in a sustained performance of this length, with character voices being very skilfully delineated, etc. I will say that a lot of her servant woman voices seem pretty much identical, but there are a lot of servant characters in this novel and distinguishing them doesn't seem very important (I think servant voices are mostly dictated by the way Brontë wrote their accents, too). Overall it's an excellent reading that enhances the text.

5 people found this helpful

Disney please send help

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 29-12-2019

Would Hans Christian Andersen have benefitted from the intervention of some Disney script doctors? Look, maybe. I certainly prefer the core metaphor of Frozen (the triumph of womanhood and sisterly love over patriarchal violence) to the metaphor here, which seems to be the vanquishing of paganism by Christian purity. Yikes.

I actually listened to this while travelling in Sweden, which was nicely serendipitous, though it made the story's outdated and culturally-insensitive use of the term "Lapp" all the more uncomfortable.

2 people found this helpful

Everyone loves Jizz!

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-12-2019

Cute little noir pastiche, perhaps most notorious for possibly introducing the unfortunate term "jizz" into Star Wars' canon. Where most of the franchise's audio productions get by with John Williams' music, this production includes original music for the band to play. It's clearly not the London Symphony Orchestra, but it's neat. The story somewhat needlessly confuses the cantina band with Jabba's palace band, but it all sort of slots together in-universe if you squint a bit.

2 people found this helpful

A brief but nice episode

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 13-12-2019

It's short and cryptic, and sort of deliberately unsatisfying in that regard, but it's still a bit more time to spend with a beloved character in a beloved world. The story still manages to squeeze in some suggestion of the lofty themes that were present in the main books, and it hints at a larger plot that presumably will get underway in earnest in The Secret Commonwealth. As with the other full cast His Dark Materials readings, it's wonderful to have Pullman read his own work, and the rest of the cast are excellent.

I re-read this after having finished La Belle Sauvage, in the hope that it might make a little more sense, but no such luck; really the only tie-in is Malcolm's cameo.

2 people found this helpful

Is it really the end?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-12-2019

The title of 'The End of Policing' poses quite a stark hypothetical. Is Vitale really suggesting that there should be no more police, that society would be better off if they weren't there at all? The actual argument isn't quite as radical as the provocative title, though it is still profound in its implications and sweeping in its scope. Vitale is not saying that there is no legitimate function whatsoever to the police, but instead that police have been asked to perform social functions far beyond the scope of their expertise and the suitability of their methods, filling the gaps left by neglect of non-punitive social programs, and resulting in profound systemic injustices. Vitale takes a very broad-ranging view of his subject, frequently indulging in what could uncharitably be called tangents, concerning matters that are not narrowly related to policing—homelessness, mental health, sex work, immigration policy, etc—but give some view of how policing influences and is influenced by larger societal structures. These things are all connected, and the argument is necessarily broad, so the eclecticism is arguably justified. Vitale's recommendations are as sweeping as his diagnosis, basically amounting to the pursuit of the progressive political project in all its various facets, in addition to the incremental reforms that are often proposed (which he views as insufficient on their own). There are some quick solutions offered, like the appointment of dedicated prosecutors for police abuses, but Vitale recognises that structural problems can only be solved with structural change, and that's no easy fix.

All of this will probably come without much surprise to anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject, so on that front this book probably serves more as a place to round up the various arguments for reference purposes rather than as a place to learn new arguments. What I found the most novel were the historical background sections, which were filled with jaw-dropping details about the founding and early histories of police forces like the London Metropolitan Police and the Pennsylvania State Police (the former seems to have had its roots in oppression of the Irish, while the latter was explicitly formed to break strikes). The revelations about early policing cast modern policing in a very harsh light and made me all the more receptive to Vitale's criticisms.

It is clear that there is a slant to this book, and it probably elides many rebuttals that would be offered by police apologists, but Vitale makes a very articulate and forceful case, and if he's in any way correct then the urgency of reform cannot be overstated.

3 people found this helpful

Retreading McNamara, but with some new material

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-2019

Evil Has a Name comes hot on the heels of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, and about half of its runtime covers the same territory. You do get to hear the victims describe their experiences in their own actual voices, which is something Michelle McNamara's book didn't have, but aside from that there is little novelty until we move beyond the point in the investigation where McNamara passes away and her book ends. Anyone who read the news coverage will also already know the broad strokes of how the Golden State Killer was caught—DNA, genealogy databases, etc—so the true novelty here is mostly in hearing Paul Holes speak about the investigative red herrings and blind alleys he ran into along the way, of which there seem to have been quite a few.

It's funny: when you think of true crime classics like I'll Be Gone in the Dark and Robert Graysmith's Zodiac, they're often not written with closure in mind, since an amateur investigator, no matter how dedicated and astute, usually cannot hope to solve a cold case on their own, lacking the resources of the FBI or a DNA lab. Evil Has a Name of course does have that closure, so you might think that would make it a more satisfying work, but I don't think that's really the case. It is satisfying, of course, it's just maybe not quite as engrossing as those other books. I'd like to say that what makes the others so compelling is the passion of their authors, who pour decades of their lives into the pursuit of their subjects, but of course that's also true here: Paul Holes spent twenty-four years of his life on this case, and was as dedicated as any Zodiac killer obsessive. The most relevant point is probably just that Evil Has a Name is mostly retreading territory that has already been covered well elsewhere. As a result, it's probably not a classic, but it's perfectly serviceable as a true crime podcast-style audio production.

2 people found this helpful

A compelling biography of a reprehensible man

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-10-2019

Marr has written an engrossing political biography of one of my least-favourite public figures. I didn't know many of the details from earlier in Abbott's life, like the child he and his girlfriend gave up for adoption, or his university crusade to crush student unions, or his unabashed, explicit homophobia during those university days, so my mouth was frequently agape at learning another horrific detail.

Marr did take one cheap shot which annoyed me, at Abbott's propensity for cycling lycra and budgie smugglers, culminating in a barely-veiled joke about the size of his penis. I think dick-measuring should be beneath the scope of a quarterly essay, and I'm furthermore generally irritated by the popular ridicule of this aspect of Abbott's persona. The fact that he is comfortable with (even, god forbid, proud of) his body is in my opinion the least objectionable thing about him, and the fact that people fixated on it just shows the discomfort society holds for body positivity. Anyway, I know this shouldn't be the main takeaway, and I've probably already written too much about it, but it's something that has long irked me. That, and when people tore into him for biting that raw onion, which I always thought was clearly a joke on his part and was pretty funny.

The one most alarming pattern that became clear to me from this essay is that nothing seems to enrage and galvanise Abbott more than being beaten by a woman. This is what provoked the incident where he punched the wall beside his female opponent's head in his student politics days, and this is what presaged his relentless opposition to the Gillard government, which ravaged the Australian public's faith in politics and made the formerly bipartisan policy of pricing carbon emissions into a political third rail (most gallingly, Marr suggests that Abbott's reasons for throwing climate policy under the bus were entirely expedient, and that he had no particular personal conviction on the issue). Now that Abbott has been toppled from his former seat by Zali Steggall, I shudder to imagine what future plans he might have. Though he presently seems quarantined to a relatively safe position kissing up to defence contractors at the Australian War Memorial, the threat that he may be plotting some manner of comeback ever looms.

4 people found this helpful