Recent book reviews

The Brain Defense

Two recent book reviews I have written:

Book Review: Kevin Davis, The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms (Penguin Press 2017) in The Champion (June 2018) [link].

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Book Review: Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro, eds., Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William (Front Porch Republic 2018) in The Englewood Review of Books (Sept. 20, 2018) [link].

Always nice to get an interesting book for free, even if you need to do a little work for it.

A “sneaking suspicion of our own badness”

Claire Dederer
from clairedederer.com

current reading 2Not everyone will like (or should like) this fascinating piece by Claire Dederer (@ClaireDederer) in The Paris Review: “What Do We Do With The Art of Monstrous Men?” [link] She begins by contemplating the unassailable fact that many people who have created great art have also done monstrous acts (think of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen).

How do we deal with what they have made after we know what they have done?

As such, it is an interesting piece. What makes it more than another of the many think-pieces about the Trump-Weinstein-Spacey storyline is the fact that she becomes introspective about it without letting go of her appropriate moral outrage:

When you’re having a moral feeling, self-congratulation is never far behind. You are setting your emotion in a bed of ethical language, and you are admiring yourself doing it. We are governed by emotion, emotion around which we arrange language. The transmission of our virtue feels extremely important, and weirdly exciting.

Reminder: not “you,” not “we,” but “I.” Stop side-stepping ownership. I am the audience. And I can sense there’s something entirely unacceptable lurking inside me. Even in the midst of my righteous indignation when I bitch about Woody and Soon-Yi, I know that, on some level, I’m not an entirely upstanding citizen myself. Sure, I’m attuned to my children and thoughtful with my friends; I keep a cozy house, listen to my husband, and am reasonably kind to my parents. In everyday deed and thought, I’m a decent-enough human. But I’m something else as well, something vaguely resembling a, well, monster. The Victorians understood this feeling; it’s why they gave us the stark bifurcations of Dorian Gray, of Jekyll and Hyde. I suppose this is the human condition, this sneaking suspicion of our own badness. It lies at the heart of our fascination with people who do awful things. Something in us—in me—chimes to that awfulness, recognizes it in myself, is horrified by that recognition, and then thrills to the drama of loudly denouncing the monster in question.

In the end, she properly calls attention to the fact that even in the midst of doing something apparently praiseworthy — finishing her writing project — she may do (does do!) some “little savageries” to come to the end of her work.

Either way, the questions remain:

What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters? Tiny voice: [Am I a monster?]

And the question is a fair one, not just about art, but about all accomplishment.

It is not a comfortable question, and the answer is not that their/your/my monstrosity is a fair trade for the art or the accomplishment, never that. The answer must include the incredible fact of the monstrosity in all of us.

Still, there is a grace that comes in the introspection itself. It is not the final grace, but it is an elegant beginning.

Thank you, Ms. Dederer.

Worth reading

Three stimulating articles, without any obvious common theme except the most common of all — a fallen world with fallen people in it:

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“Ultimately, God is still good. And he is still enough.”  Bekah Mason, “Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].

“I am capable of any sin. And God loves me in spite of my sinful nature.”  Sanya Richards-Ross, “My Abortion Broke Me, God Redeemed Me,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].

“What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right?”  Malcolm Gladwell, “Thresholds of Violence,” gladwell.com (October 19, 2015) [link].

But still, there is always the offer of God’s grace.

“Unshackled”

ScreenShot164I understand that this is long, but there may not be anything better you can do with the next five minutes of your life.  You can read the commentaries later.  Remember that this man is writing out of the context of just being fired from a job he held for twenty years.


Open Letter from Zachary Fardon, March 13, 2017

Today I submitted my resignation, effective immediately, as United States Attorney in Chicago. As I walk out the door, there are a few things I’d like to say.

I am not a political person. I belong to no political party; never have. I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not a liberal. I am not a conservative. I never found a need or interest in associating myself politically. I have no interest in political office.

For the past three and a half years, I’ve been lucky to be in a position of power as the US Attorney in Chicago. That means I’ve gotten to lead what I think is the best prosecutors’ office and maybe the best public office this country has to offer.

During those three and a half years, by my own choice, I focused my greatest attention on violent crime. I came into office in 2013 not long after Hadiya Pendleton was killed by an errant bullet in a public park. Like most folks, I was horrified and confused by Hadiya’s death and the constant drumbeat of seemingly random deaths of so many others, including kids, on the south and west sides of Chicago.

Continue reading “Unshackled”

Stealing “white”

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“This is theft. And this — stealing the color white — is a very good example of the problem. It’s not a national security secret. It’s about stealing something you can make a buck off of. It’s part of a strategy to profit off what American ingenuity creates.”

John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice (National Security Division.  Del Quentin Wilber, “Stealing White: How a corporate spy swiped plans for DuPont’s billion-dollar color formula” Bloomberg Businessweek (Feb. 4, 2016)[link]

This story has everything—simple chemistry, industrial espionage, criminal prosecution, and international travel!  The details seem criminal—hacking private computers, bribing disgruntled ex-employees, secret safe-deposit boxes, lying to federal agents—but there is something about the basic chemistry which seems like it should not be protectable.  So simple: Ti + O + O.  But like many things it is more complicated than that.

Further reading: FBI press release: “Walter Liew Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Economic Espionage” (7/11/2014) [link]; “U.S. v. Liew: Opening Statements and FBI Testimony Kick Off Seven-Week Industrial Espionage Trial” Orrick (1/8/2014) [link].