Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Friday, April 10, 2009

Unfeeling GOP, sappy Tuesdays

“This Land Is Their Land.” By Barbara Ehrenreich (Metropolitan Books, 235 pp., 2008).

Any sensitive soul who reads this book will never vote Republican again. But perhaps that is an oxymoron. No Republican is sensitive.

“The Republicans’ most reliable trick, distraction, is beginning to wear thin,” Ehrenreich writes. “Distraction was the way to get people to vote against their own economic self-interest…The real threats to well-being, people were told, are abortionists, stem cell researchers and matrimonially minded gays.”

She enumerates many of the sins of capitalism: privatizing and profiteering, taking away workers’ pensions and benefits, downsizing workforces, refusing to insure those who might ever make a claim, falsifying records to avoid paying overtime, using child labor and Veblen’s conspicuous consumption.

She deplores “the upward distribution of wealth” built on the low-wage labor of the poor.” She cites the despicable Wal-Mart, “a union-busting, low-wage retail empire” with a $65 billion family fortune.

Ehrenreich rightly decries the fact that health insurance companies are running businesses, “the purpose of which is not to make people healthy but to make money.” They are doing that exceedingly well.

One rebarbative physician, Dr. Prem Reddy, owns eight hospitals in southern California so he naturally disdains the medical needs of the poor. He says patients “may simply deserve only the amount of care they can afford.” He “dismisses as ‘an entitlement mentality’ the idea that everyone should be getting the same high quality care.”

Indeed, Ehrenreich correctly writes that “economic issues are moral issues. Poverty is a moral issue. Forty-seven million Americans without health insurance is a moral issue.”

America remains an immoral nation while so many of its citizens mutter about God and are “noisely committed to Christian values.”

“Tuesdays with Morrie.” By Mitch Albom (Broadway Books, republished with an afterword, 199 pp., 2007).

I have read tons of books over the course of my long life but I do not believe I have ever read a worse book.

The hero, Professor Morrie Schwartz, is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Death is no laughing matter. But the book grows so wearisome that you wonder if Schwartz is worth venerating.

Moreover, you begin to think that Albom, a sports columnist at the Detroit Free Press, has a third-rate mind. (Schwartz was Albom’s professor at Brandeis.)

The author never makes a contradictory point, never even questions “the Great Man’s wisdom.” He is an excellent stenographer.

Originally published in 1997, the book was “a runaway best seller.” It was proclaimed a book that “touched millions of lives.” Well, if the masses applaud it must be bad.

The book is syrupy, sappy and cloying. It belabors the obvious, offers nonsense and repeats that nonsense.

Some of the nonsense uttered by Schwartz: “No one really believes they’re going to die.” Untrue. Schwartz says men are not supposed to cry. Untrue.

“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Please. If you don’t learn how to live until you are dying, you have wasted your life. “Love always wins.” Not when a loved one dies.

Schwartz, who couldn’t understand why labor disputes aren’t settled by communication, revealed a woeful lack of understanding that working people cannot communicate with money-mad fiends. Even Albom doesn’t realize that scabs are a subhuman species.

Schwartz talks about the fear of aging. No one fears aging. Aging people just lament that their vigor is fading.

Schwartz on God: “This is too harmonious, grand and overwhelming a universe to believe it’s all an accident.” The professor knew little history and nothing about the world and human nature. Reincarnation? The professor said it was possible.

He says it’s a wonderful thing to see his “body slowly wilt away to nothing” because it gives him long goodbyes. Oh, for a Dylan Thomas to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Why did I persist in reading such a wretched book? Because it was recommended to me by a former student and longtime friend.

The reason he was so enthusiastic about the book was that it made him realize that his frantic 15-hour-a-day pursuit of money was a terrible mistake.

One other truth in the book is a quote from Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”

But overall, “Morrie” is merely one of those self-help, feel-good books. It is not fetching but retching.


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