La Place de la Corcorde Suisse – 3/5 Stars
This is an odd little book. Over all, I liked it, but it’s limited in its scope and appeal. John McPhee has written a long profile (likely an extension of a long-form essay/reportage) on the Swiss Army. He begins with the same kinds of assumptions probably most non-Swiss people have about the Army, that there’s a kind of in born joke to the whole thing, but then goes from there.
The most important thing to say is that the Swiss, at least according to the book here, are very very serious about their army. It’s not just about the knives, even though it’s definitely also about the knives. Here we learn that the Swiss army is one of the most representative armies in the world, meaning that they represent a high proportion of the citizenry there and that their enlistment lasts for decades. It’s also an incredibly well-armed country. The interview subjects here show a real zeal for home defense, and while it doesn’t come up in the book, I imagine this comes with a lot of white Swiss nationalism these days. The interviews show that while the Swiss Army feels a little like a joke, there’s the implication in the book that regardless of who might have invaded them in WWII, they would have fought tooth and nail to defend their borders, whether it was France and Allies from the West or South, Germans from the North, or Russians from the East. Politics are a side issues to the stance of neutrality, which I guess is their politics.
The Ivankiad – 4/5 Stars
There was a stupid re:re:re:re:re:re:re:re:re:re:re:re: kind of email that came out a few years ago about an elder Muslim man who was unable to plow his garden and he emailed his son about it. The son, knowing he could not go there to help his father, replied in vague terms about worrying about whether or not digging up the garden would unveil or uncover the “hidden” thing they shared there. Because of email monitoring, the federal government showed up and looked for whatever hidden there and since there was nothing there, they left the yard that way. The father then emailed his son thanking for helping with the garden.
This book takes places in the early 1970s in Soviet Russia, and like the above story takes place within a heavily surveiled society. Unless the above story, this one is true. Vladimir Voinovich is a well-known Soviet satirist most famous for his novel Ivan Chonkin. Living in government housing for writers in a one room apartment with his pregnant wife, he finds out there’s a two room apartment opening up and he applies for it. It becomes clear that a hack history writer who already have a four room apartment has eyes on this room, and more tied to the Soviet party begins pulling strings to get it. The result is a long battle that both mocks the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet bureaucracy. So Voinovich is limited in his recourse because he doesn’t have a good reputation with the party, but at the same time, he’s able to exploit the rules as they are intended. It’s a kind of satire that’s funny because it’s not expressly critical of the system as a whole, but shows the cracks within. It’s a satire that isn’t automatically assuming a world after Soviet Russia, because even though we’re there, he still have 15 years to go.
Black Klansman – 2/5 Stars
This is a very interesting story that’s told in perfectly adequate storytelling and narrative conventions. As far as memoirs go, it’s entertaining and engaging. Its politics, though, are fucked.
While Ron Stalworth spends some energy deciding what role racism plays in his early days as a Colorado Springs Police Department, there’s such willful blindness in the role of white supremicism in the role of policing, despite what his specific experience is, an experience that he provides some reason to call into question. The fact that the book has allowed Spike Lee to turn into an interesting and good movie is credit to Spike Lee’s ability as a filmmaker, something I rarely doubt, as opposed to the strengths of this book.
Like I said, this is a book that’s interesting and adequately written, and despite some other reviews’ claims, I didn’t find it boring.
However, it should never be forgotten or missed that this book is written by a cop, using cop language, cop mindset, and a cop’s worldview. This means that while the politics of the Klan is abhorrent, it’s only the abhorrence of those politics to this reader that make what this book is basically about ok, had this same book been written as it took down one of the many righteous organizations the author also espouses his dislike for or disrespect for, it’s be fucked up.
He tells in no uncertain terms throughout that his loyalty is to policework and “rule of law” in the broadest ways possible, and there’s a narrowing of what racism is, the words and actions of people like the Klan. When it’s his own fellow officers, it’s met with indignation, not an understanding that white supremacy is the underpinning of all law enforcement in this country. That white supremacists become avowed supporters of their local sheriff’s office is something the author recognizes, but that he joins and then spends all his resources helping the same kinds of energy spent in the local PD is not. And the worst part is he tells a story of telling truth to Ralph Abernathy based on the “lies” of the local Black church protesting the charging of as an adult of a Black teenager. That anybody can support a Black teenager (15 yo) being charged as an adult, something that absolutely was used by the Klan and other white supremacy-aligned police forces for more than a century, is messed up. So all the sounding off about the efforts made here, which are real and helpful, is spent and lost by the need to make sure white people also felt that the author still believes in the harsh punishment of Black teenagers, just in case.