Keep Calm and – – -?

Jack is doing the Monday book this week –

Crime Control as Industry – Nils Christie

Regular readers of this blog will probably know that I visit inmates at our local Federal prison each month, and I’ve been doing that for over four years. It’s against that background and in that context that I’m reviewing this book – – –

One thing I had inevitably learned in my conversations with inmates was that there seemed to be an enormous economy surrounding prisons in the US, then research showed me there was a very disproportionately high number of African-American prisoners, and the overall percentage of the population behind bars in this country was among the highest in the world (the three highest are China, Russia and the US).

Christie’s book is mainly concerned with western European countries and the US, and focuses on the very different attitudes and approaches to crime and punishment in them.

Nils Christie is a Norwegian criminologist, and his world-view is naturally affected by where he is based and grew up. The first thing that caught my attention in this book was that (at the time it was written – 1998) there was a waiting list in Norway for folk to serve their prison sentences! The number of prisons was small and there was a consensus that people shouldn’t be crammed in, so folk carried on with their lives and waited to be told when there was a space for them. The sentences were fairly short in most cases and only the most serious actually received prison time at all. Despite this, crime figures were low compared to other countries.

What on earth was going on here?!

What Christie goes on to unravel is the very definition of crime, the need for ruling elites to create and then control a ‘surplus population’ and the market led industry that operates that control. At its crudest (which is always), the market needs a level of unemployment in order to suppress wages and allow the economy to compete with others around the world (this is exactly the thinking of the recent winner of a certain Presidential election). That ‘surplus population’ in the US has historically been mainly black, so there are residual racist reasons feeding into the equation as well.

So, where are we now?

Christie is/was tentatively optimistic that reason would prevail and that his Norwegian model would set an example, however, other more recent research suggests otherwise. The growth of private prisons, the economic market surrounding State, Federal and private prisons, the increase in the ‘surplus population’ and the demonization of anyone who isn’t a WASP.

Maybe the fact that I’m a WASP and can write this is a good sign? There again, maybe an algorithm has already identified me as part of the ‘surplus population’?

 

 

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Nothing is Scarier than a Blank Page -except maybe an Untold Story

blank-page1Jack and I are holed up at the cabin this weekend so I can get back to my book. It’s been so long, it feels like starting over in some ways. And it’s true, there is nothing scarier than a blank page.

The good thing about the cabin is, no Internet. Which means I don’t fritter time “checking facts” and otherwise pretending to write when I’m really online. The only way to get online is to drive five miles down the road to the Lonesome Pine Grill, buy a cup of coffee, and piggieback on their wireless. Which we do once per weekend only.

Now is a good time to be off the Net anyway, as post-election vitriol turns into fingers that point, names that fly, and tit for tat that makes kindergarteners look mature. It’s all over but the shouting used to mean something was finished; now it’s just descriptive.

Never mind. I’ve gone back to writing. The world may or may not be going crazy. Books to sell, cats to rescue, safety pins to wear, life goes on. What’s scaring me is that damn blank page.

I’m trying not to  make it a metaphor for America. For all the people who felt they weren’t listened to before the election, for all the people who fear their voices may be drowned out after.

There’s just this blank page in front of me, one I need to write on, to tell my story. That’s what comes next. Tell my small, sweet, simple story: cats, books, Jack, life.

Because we’ve all seen the power a good story wields. And what happens when stories go untold for too long. Tell yours. Nothing is scarier than a blank page. Fill it.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Fewer Words, and Older

Medicine wheel 114The Internet is blowing up with words. People who love each other are getting mad at each other.

I love quotes, so let me offer here, without commentary, eight of my favorites that may or may not be relevant:

“Realize that your inner sight is blind and try to see a treasure in everyone.” –Jalaluddin Rumi

I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better. – Plutarch

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble do not let your heart rejoice. –Proverbs 24:17

Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up. –Veronica Roth

“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you–
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”–Langston Hughes

Winning and losing are both very temporary things. Having done one or the other, you move ahead. Gloating over a victory or sulking over a loss is a good way to stand still. –Chuck Knox

I know that my unity with all people cannot be destroyed by national boundaries and government orders. — Leo Tolstoy

So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost –Avicii

 

 

 

 

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Be Sure your Sins will – – -?

Jack gets to do the Monday book this week –

The Big Short –  Michael Lewis

Of course, the movie is probably just as famous as the book and I’ll have something to say about that later.

Our good friend and financial guru David recommended this to us because he reckoned it was one of the most eye-opening books he’d ever read about the financial shenanigans that led to the great meltdown of 2008. He described it as “really, really frightening” and he should know!

He also said that he saw no evidence that any lessons had been learned since then (except perhaps in Iceland, where they jailed the bankers, changed the banking regulations and turned around their economy in record time).

The book follows the experiences of a number of people who separately stumbled across an enormous flaw in the mortgage market based on a complete lack of oversight by the rating agencies. The folk involved had different motives for pursuing this: some realized they could make enormous amounts of money by betting that the market would crash, while others were more interested in exposing the crooks and getting the banking regulations changed. The book follows these characters as their paths cross and they become aware of each other, ultimately more or less working together. As they variously stumble across ever more blatant disregard for financial common sense among financial professionals who should also have seen what was wrong, they begin to home in on the rating agencies. That’s when they discover that these agencies, supposedly holding the banks to account, are actually in their pockets.

So, what of the movie?

I actually enjoyed it just as much as the book but for different reasons. Of course the movie has to be much shorter and that’s hard to pull off. You need to keep the essentials and be careful what gets cut out. I think, in this case, it was a good idea to not have the author of the book write the screenplay (in fact I think it almost always is.) I recently watched a film that was directed and cast by the author of the book it was based on, and who also wrote the screenplay – it went straight from a limited theater run to the Netflix ‘B list’ with barely a pause.

So, what’s the ‘take away’ from the book? In the case of this reader, a profound belief that human greed will always manage to dress itself in respectable clothes, attend the right Church, give to the most fashionable charities (or start one) and find the most influential politicians to bribe.

Something else I took away – potential move to Iceland – – –

 

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Stand and Deliver!

 Jack’s Wednesday guest post –

Tricking, treating or guising?

We had three hundred kids plus their supervising adults through the bookstore last Saturday. They were ‘trick or treating’ as these Americans say. They filed in over three hours, snaking through the place to the kids’ room to choose a free book, getting handed a cafe cookie and having a photo taken of them in costume before leaving for the next port of call.

trick-treat-crowd

A small number of the 300 waiting to enter

I wondered about that American tradition so I did some investigating – it turns out that it means “give me a treat or I will play a trick on you”. So, in other words, what would be described in an English or Scottish court as ‘demanding with menaces’!

There’s been a fair bit of discussion on facebook over the last few days about the different Halloween traditions on the opposing sides of the Atlantic, and even about the various names for the vegetable that gets carved into a lantern for the occasion.  I was forced to take part, if only to promote the correct name for the said vegetable.

In Scotland the festival was, for me, always ‘Guising’ (dressing in disguise) and the lantern was carved from a tumshie (a large turnip) and the kids had to perform a poem, song or joke in return for their gift. It was always a family event too, with games – dookin for aipples or trying to snare a treacly scone dangling from a string by mouth with your hands behind your back.

The name of the vegetable? I’ve heard Turnip, Swede, Neep and Tumshie (rutabaga over here) . It was always a tumshie in my youth. But when I grew up and became a responsible adult I was once asked to join an EU funded international environmental education project led by a Danish organization that had a license to grow hemp (don’t ask!). They suggested various Acronyms for the shared undertaking and one of them was NEEPS! I immediately agreed – of such is inter-cultural understanding achieved, although no-one understood why we’d agreed so quickly and enthusiastically.

Long may these weird things continue to confound us, and I can still remember the smell of a candle burning inside a hollowed out tumshie or neep!

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The Monday TV adaptation of a book: JOHNATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke

Eddie MarsanSo when this book came to me as a pre-publication edition, sent to several bookstore, I couldn’t get into it. Timing probably had a lot to do with this, but I didn’t give the fantasy novel a second shot.

The other night, in a weird frame of mind, I was looking for something to crochet by on Netflix and saw “Season 1” of the BBC adaptation. And thought, “Why not?”

It’s so much fun, watching this. I’m sure the special effects of written magic have something to do with it – reading about sand horses and ships made of rain only works in some writing styles, but watching them appear? Oh yes, very nice.

For those unfamiliar (the book was a bestseller, after all) this is a novel about two magicians bringing magic back to England during the Georgian era. They play fast and loose with history timelines, but oh they’ve got the fops and pageantry down. The series is a visual feast with lots of cultural insider jokes and brilliant acting moments. The story that I found clunky on the page comes alive in cinematography.

Not that Clarke doesn’t write well, just to each their own. The plot is character-driven. Mr. Norrell is afraid of his own shadow. Johnathon Strange is two degrees off a nitwit. And all their supporters and detractors are very well drawn. There aren’t any paper thin people in this production.

So if you are inclined, pick up the book or tune into the series, whichever suits you better. Read about the King of Lost Hope, the would-be musicians who decide to open a lunatic asylum and wind up with more than they bargained for, the enigmatic Childermass, and the other unexplained mysteries of a world bound by rules that suddenly gets to break them all.

It’s fun.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Wendy Welch, writing

Delight is Not Happy

delightOkay, you people, listen up because I have just about had it, do you hear me?

I came here as a kitten with my brother Oreo after my mom died, and a week later he disappeared. They told me he’d been “adopted.” Sure. They killed him and stuffed his body somewhere.

So time goes by – I don’t know how much, okay? I’m a cat; it’s not like we wear watches or anything – and they’re feeding me wet stuff and there’s lots of cats here to talk to, although none of them knows where my brother is beyond that “gone to his forever home” thing, which sounds ominous to me. Still, being here, it’s not all bad, is what I’m saying. Or it wasn’t.

They kept trying to touch me. Some weird human fetish, I guess, they wanted to “pet” me, which means they bothered me when I was eating. Although I admit that spinal swipe thing feels kinda nice.

Anyway, one day they put down the wet food like always, and I start in, and suddenly the chick is behind me – there’s two chicks and a guy do most of the cat stuff here; don’t ask me about the relationships; humans are weird – and she grabs me. Hard. Tight. Scary.

I scream and struggle but she stuffs me in this box, and then we’re moving, and then I’m in this place full of barking dogs and this other lady has this needle – like two feet long, I’m telling you – and she STICKS IT IN ME!!!!

Next thing I know they’re all dancing around saying “she tested negative” and telling me how great this is, but I’m back in the see-through box with the hard sides, and my leg is killing me, and I’m just plotting how I can take them all down in one good karate bite-kick-chop. I’ve got moves these girls haven’t seen yet.

But I let it go, because they take me back to the place with all the wet food and cats, and the other cats, some of them got stuck too, so we’re all limping around trading war stories, and I’m a little more careful after that. No more unexpected grabbing.

And then….. and then…..

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, right? This morning when the chick puts down wet food and gets all sweet and sneaky standing nearby, I know something’s up. I don’t bite. Literally. No wet food for me. And I think that’s the end of it.

Do you know what that bi–chick did? She waited until I was IN THE LITTER BOX. Is NOTHING private any more in this hellhole?

She grabs me – mid-stream, mind you – and I’m fighting for all I’m worth but the other chick appears from nowhere, and it’s back in the hard box with the see-through sides, and we’re moving again, and I think I’m going back to the barking dogs and scary smells place but after a LONG time (and I can hear other cats as we’re moving, but none of us know where we’re going) suddenly we’re in this bright room, and it’s again with the needle, but instead of it hurting the room starts spinning, and then it’s dark…

..and I wake up on this soft mattress and this lady with red hair is saying I was “so brave” and “everything’s fine” and I’m thinking “you don’t know for fine, bitch, just put your face a little closer to those bars.”

The other girls who came here with me, they’re all waking up too, and we’re exchanging notes, and we’ve all got sore tummies and little scars, and one of ’em, she heard from her mom, this is called “spraying.” We’ve all been sprayed.

I did not sign a consent form. That said, I don’t object to the idea I’ll never have to worry about raising kids. I saw how Mom struggled with Oreo and me before she got sick, how she worried about us as she was dying. All she wanted was for us to have it better, so no, I don’t want that responsibility. Still and all, it would have been nice to be asked. And that litter box scoop? No. Just, no.

Goes to show, you can’t trust anyone. Think I’ll be letting my guard down, that human hands will ever touch me again? Ha. No. Nyet. Not this little tuxedo cat. Nope.

I’ve got my eye on you, people.

Editor’s note: it is assumed by the staff cats and humans of the Little Bookstore that Miss, ehm, “Delight” will be staying with us indefinitely. While we welcome inquiries into her adoption, we recognize that it would be difficult to catch her in pursuit of such an option. Also, her personality is… challenging. Thus she may spend her days in our basement, eating, sleeping, and coming and going as she pleases. We have been advised by Owen Meany, esquire, that she has sought his legal counsel and an injunction has been filed against further caressing, touching, or medical procedures.

Good thing we got her spayed. That’s all that matters.

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