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A significant day

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Over the last week I've been re-reading The Final Days, the old Bob Woodward-Carl Bernstein book about the closing months of the Nixon Administration. So much of it rings bells in our present day.

The ringing got all the louder Tuesday with the conviction in one case and guilty pleas in another of two of this current president's once top men: his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his (until recently) main personal counsel, Michael Cohen.

During the time stretch in Final Days, several of President Richard Nixon's former aides ere going through criminal trials, in some cases acquitted but in others convicted. The book did not much focus on them directly but rather on the Nixon White House, as it dealt with the fallout of the decisions made when Nixon, Haldeman, Erlichman, Dean and others all were still in place, and still a team.

But there was definite White House fallout from their legal troubles.

For one thing, Nixon himself was at least somewhat distraught. That's not hard to understand. He had hired these people, in a number of cases friends of his, to work in positions of high responsibility, and now directly as a result of choosing to go to work for and with him, they were being jump-suited and packed off to prison. Whatever else Nixon did or didn't feel guilty about, he surely felt some guilt over that, over bringing such a result to his friends and allies. Who wouldn't?

Which raises the question of, does Donald Trump? Does he feel what Nixon did?

We can ask that question in no less a serious way about everyone else working in and around the White House. Imagine this: You've gone to work for an important organization, doing important work, and then you discover that your predecessors, at least a whole bunch of them, are being laid law and slapped behind bars. Not just one or two, but a lot of them - and for reasons that stem directly from having worked for, and taken orders from and tried to please, the same boss you're now working for.

That might make me spooked enough to have, well, unfortunate side effects. It certainly wouldn't make me a more useful or helpful part of the organization, not when some significant part of the day is spent wondering if someone will be coming for me next, for having done something I didn't even quite see coming until it was too late.

Cohen and Manafort are two of the most important figures so far to be dragged in, but they're not the first and they won't be the last. Don't imagine this won't have a big effect on the White House. It may even have some effect on the elections now not much more than a couple of months away.
 

Review: Vanishing Neighbor

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When we dig down into the substrata underlying our civic problems - our deep divisions, unwillingness to compromise, the too-deep untrustfulness and cynicism - we can see a range of prospective "root causes". For those of us around for enough years to recall a different kind of American society, one of the biggest of these is the loss of social ties and connections.

In a rough sense, that's the subject of The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc Dunkelman, a book that relies more on anecdote than statistics and wanders well afield in places. It does usefully highlight the need for careful parsing in this area, though, and teases out what we have and haven't lost.

Over the period since World War II, which roughly is the time frame Dunkelman scans, some types of contact and community have been lost, and others have not. Dunkelman sketches out three concentric circles of contact between people, and describes how each have changed. And each have, but in different ways, and one of them more dramatically than the others.

The inside, tightest, ring, of family members and closest friends, has changed but not drastically. Families are much more varied now than they once were, and divorce is certainly much more common now than in the immediate post-war period. That said, most of still are close to family and our closest associates. The arrival of digital communications has in some ways even enhanced some of that (parents tracking children via smartphone, for example).

The outer ring too has changed but in fewer sweeping ways than many people may think. Back then, most of us had networks and contacts, and we still do. More of those connections now may be of the digital variety, through social media and other connections, but the relatively far-flung links of yesteryear weren't necessarily a lot more solid. The ranging of networks may even be expanding.

It's the ring in the middle that's been changing a lot. These are the people who aren't in the category of our closest contacts, but they are personal - these are people we know face to face, come into regular contact with, influence and are influenced by. They might be the casual friends met for an after-work drink, or someone in the union hall (when there were such things), or someone in a local pickup sports activity. The book Bowling Alone focused on these kind of connections: People who are just far enough from us, in economic status or occupational interest or religious or political background, that we aren't tight with them; but just close enough that we learn how to socialize and connect with them, with - in other words - people who are a little different from us.

That puts a finer point on the increasing solidity of the bubbles so many of us now live within, the echo chambers so many experience when the only voices heard are of those who think like us.

The step between the formation of those bubbles and the walls between, for example, the reds and the blues, is short and obvious. The inner circle a group of people we do not choose lightly (or in the case of family may not have chosen at all) tends not to piece the bubble much, except in the case of things like family argument blowups at Thanksgiving. The outer circle, our network of loose connections, is too easily replaceable, with names dropping and out, or too focused on a narrow area of interest or commonality, to force us to communicate much with people who are not exactly like us.

We're missing that middle range, that middle circle, that helps us more than the inner or outer layers, to navigate a society where we're not all the same.

It's a useful point, and The Vanishing Neighbor makes it usefully.

Notes . . .

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It's been a long time since I've a full biography of Abraham Lincoln - much less can I be sure which one that was, there being so many of them - but A. Lincoln by Ronald White now repays the read quite well.

It wasn't a perfect or ideal Lincoln bio, but it puts the pieces together nicely. Maybe reading it in our present situation gives it some extra flavor.

It seemed to me the second-best White biography of the period; I preferred the too-overlooked U.S. Grant life American Ulysses for its finer-grain detail and willingness to stretch. (I even prefer it over the more recent and hotly acclaimed Chernow book, though that's no criticism of it, either.)

If I have some quibbles with this Lincoln book, it's in two areas. White skims over some areas and subjects that, a number of other writers probably would argue, merit a little closer look. (The Ann Rutledge aftermath and Lincoln's bouts of depression come to mind.) In some other places, White seems to be a little too determined on agenda, notably in the area of Lincoln and religion, which is an ambiguous area where some ambiguity is best probably let alone.

It's a recommended read, though, for putting Lincoln into context in his time. The political and military context is neatly lined out, in some cases in ways I'd not seen before. The story of his first run for the U.S. Senate is more neatly told than usual, and his relationship with the emerging Republican Party, from which he at first wanted to keep at arm's length, is nicely clarified.

It is not an emotional work, and the writing is direct rather than overwrought (something easily done in Lincoln's case). If you've not read a full biography of Lincoln or done so in a long time, the time may be right, and A. Lincoln would be a sound choice. - rs
 

Beware the boom

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The last few months have seen headlines about the possibility of another oil renewal in the Bakken Formation, the massive oil shale field in western North Dakota and eastern Montana (extending across the border into Canada). Oil development there, which boomed a decade ago, crashed with lower oil prices about three years ago. Now it might be coming back.

A lot of people in that area are praying it happens. The better advice would be: Be careful what you wish for.

The area has had fluctuations of oil development, wavelets of varying sizes and intensities, for more than a century. Long-timers in the area, those who are left, have come to know the drill, and some are wary of it. But probably more common is the attitude reflected on a popular t-shirt in the area a few years ago: "Please, God, give me one more oil boom. This time I promise not to piss it away."

Problem is, it' always pissed away. There have been no exceptions. For a short time, the money flows like flood water. Overwhelmingly, it is wasted, and lives, communities and landscapes are wrecked beyond recognition in the process.

If that sounds a tad theoretical, I refer you to the recent book The New Wild West by Blaire Briody, Who spent many months around the Williston, North Dakota area during the last great (and to date, greatest) oil boom in the area. With fine-grain detail, focusing on the lives of many of the people who came to participate in or were caught up in the development, Briody fills in a clear sense of what actual life is like in such a place.

It is a hell hole. At best, it can mean significant money; a relative handful of people from and around the area do emerge as millionaires, and some others - oil field workers, a significant number of them - do earn incomes in the low six figures. That's pretty the extent of the upside. The bulk of the 300 pages of careful description of western North Dakota during the boom, however, runs through the other side of the story: Wreckage of all kinds of lives - in personal, medical, social, educational and even business aspects - organizations and environments. The human society of the area is trashed - the ability of people to basically get along. Almost every negative indicator you can think of shoots through the roof. Very little positive results, and that includes economic results for most people. The great bulk of the immense number of dollars flowing through the area winds up in very few hands.

I've heard some people pointing to an economic boom and low unemployment in North Dakota as representing an example to emulate. I have a book I want them to read.
 

New at RP: Idaho’s 200 Cities

Three new books arriving this week: The series of Idaho's 200 Cities, with one title each focused on the norther, southwestern and eastern parts of the state.

And more than that too: There are also three books of Idaho trivia, a challenge for anyone who thinks they know the state.

The books are the culmination of a decade of work by the Association of Idaho Cities, spearheaded by former legislator Hal Bunderson. The books were written in part by Bunderson and in part by people all over Idaho, in cities from Moyie Springs to St. Charles.

The detail is startling, and the insights often surprising - there's a lot more to these communities than almost anyone but locals know (and not all of them). One of the most useful parts of the books is the section on turning points, describing the developments and events that caused the city to grow and change, for better or worse, the way it has. A of lessons can be found there.

If Idaho is of interest - and if you live there it ought to be - then these books belong on your bookshelf. They're available now, and in both paperback and full color hardbound flavors. You can find out more about them, and order them, here. (They're also available at Amazon.com).

A Greenbelt tour

We're only a few days away from publishing David Proctor's new book on the history and development of the Boise Greenbelt, Pathway of Dreams. But first we wanted to give a taste of what's coming.


This is On the Greenbelt, a short historically-based tour by David Proctor of the gem of the Boise recreation system. It has material drawn from Pathway and a walking tour of the whole, long route.

It's available for free in just about every e-book format. Click on the button above and download a copy with our complements. And check back in a few days for Pathway of Dreams.

The Stuck Pendulum

We've made a few low-key mentions about it, but now we're running it out formally - our new eBook, The Stuck Pendulum, about Idaho's political history over the last quarter-century.

And it's free, as you can see from this visual. Best place to immediately grab a copy for your e-reader - pretty much any e-reader - is at Smashwords.com. It'll be up on Amazon.com too, soon, but Smashwords allows access to all readers. And the book is, for now at least, free.

A quick notes about what it is and isn't. Although it works as a standalone book, it's aimed mainly at readers of Paradox Politics by Randy Stapilus, a book about Idaho politics published in 1988 and covering several decades of history leading up to that point. Things have changed a lot since, and copies of Paradox continue to sell, so this book was intended to bring the story up to present. It isn't hugely detailed or a source for a whole lot of new information for people who have been tracking the state closely in the last couple of decades; for those who have, much of what's here will be familiar. For those who haven't, but are interested in the subject, we think it may be helpful.

And it is, after all, free. At least for a while.

The Stuck Pendulum

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The Stuck Pendulum page

The book Paradox Politics was written in 1987 and 1988, and published in that latter year - which, as this is written, was 27 years ago. Considering that it was intended as a current, up to the minute, review of Idaho politics and how it had gotten that way, that makes it heavily out of date now.

It's been out a long time, but it's not entirely forgotten. While most of its sales came in the 80s, it has sold copies ever since; Amazon has moved copies this year. That's nice to see. What's less easy to contemplate is that some of those people may think that Idaho politics in this new century is anything like what it was in the last one, and that would be a problem, because it isn't. I think, generally, it holds up as a good review of the subject as of the time it was written. And I think it may have helped prompt a spate of Idaho political memoirs and biographies that cropped up in the years following.

But since then, much has changed.

Hence, The Stuck Pendulum. It's a standalone book that also functions as an afterword - even a coda - for that earlier one, intended to bring up to date people who may have relied on Paradox for a look at Idaho politics. It doesn't unearth a lot of secrets and not much in it will come a a big surprise to people who have followed Idaho politics in the last quarter-century or so. But for those new to the subject, or who may have wondered what has happened since 1988, I think it can be useful.

I have gotten requests from time to time for a sequel for Paradox, and it's not just the passage of time that has increasingly made the point compelling. As the title suggests, Idaho politics, which once wandered across the political spectrum, driven by an electorate often willing to take a flyer on something different and didn't trust anyone too damn much, has changed, locked in place, adjusting if at all only to whatever seems to be the hardest right alternative at hand.

How it got there, and especially after how it changed so drastically right after the best Idaho Democratic election year in a generation (1990), is much of the subject of The Stuck Pendulum. But there are overviews of more, of the Larry Craig incident, the fierce battles in the first congressional district and the recent splinters in the Republican Party.

For the moment, it's priced for free, so get your copy if this sounds like your area of interest. We'll attach a price (not a hefty one, though) a little later.

Self-publishing someone else’s materials

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About Books and Publishing

A column for BookWorks by Randy Stapilus.

A while back I worked with a writer who had written a good memoir, but it was riddled with issues about words he didn’t write.

This wasn’t plagiarism. He wanted to quote from popular songs that related to his story. The lyrics would have helped his narrative. But I told him he either had to get written permission to use the lyrics, or drop them. The permissions process proved cumbersome, and soon the lyrics were out.

I’ve advised writers to cut all sorts of material that wasn’t theirs from their manuscripts. In each case they intended to acknowledge the original sources, but that wasn’t enough: They needed to get written permission. Before you consider sending your book out to the world, think carefully about anything in it you didn’t write yourself, or get specific permission to use that material.

Earlier this year, working with a traditional publisher, I submitted pictures, with a variety of ownership backgrounds, for a book. Two of those photos were taken by friends who encouraged me through Facebook communication to use their photos in the book. I cut and pasted that dialogue, but by the publisher’s legal standards that wasn’t enough: The publisher required signatures from the photographers on their in-house permission forms (which I then obtained) before the pictures could be used.

This is not a matter of ethics: It’s a matter of protecting yourself legally. The Internet makes cutting and pasting easy, but it makes exposure of copying simple as well.

Some people make a living from finding copies of words or pictures reproduced without permission. Certain law firms in recent years have made a specialty of patrolling the web looking for duplicates of copyrighted material (often from newspapers and magazines), and filing or threatening to file lawsuits when they find them. You don’t want to be on the expensive receiving end of that action.

Your best defense: Stick to publishing that which you produce yourself.

This doesn’t mean you can’t reference (delete) what other people say. You simply have to be cautious about it.

Short quotes, a sentence or so in length, usually are not a problem, though reproducing even a single lyric line of a popular song can be a problem. Any recent copyrighted picture, without some indication permission, can be an issue.

Remember that copyright doesn’t have to be registered to be legally effective. My original copyright to these words, for example, became effective the moment I typed them on my computer.

The good news is that lots of online material now requires no permission at all. (more…)