The Book of the Week is “Justice Brennan, Liberal Champion” by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel, published in 2010. As can be surmised from the title, this book is about Supreme Court Justice William Brennan’s life and liberalism.
When Brennan was first appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower in the mid 1950’s, the United States Supreme Court was ruling on cases dealing with integration, Communism and censorship of pornography. “Brennan and his allies on the Court were being attacked by the mid 1960’s for encouraging racial mixing, coddling Communists and trying to drive God out of public life.”
The Court turned very conservative after Richard Nixon was elected president. Conservative politicians secretly investigated liberals for any conflicts of interest, or worse sins, to force the liberal justices off the Court. Brennan quit all teaching and lecturing to eliminate all of his own conflicts of interest and divested himself of real estate interests and stock. No other liberal justices took such precautions.
Although principled, legally obedient and even supportive of several women’s rights issues, ironically, Brennan refused to hire females as clerks in his own chambers. It was only after an aide wrote to him in strong language in the early 1970’s– that sooner or later, someone would sue a Supreme Court Justice alleging gender discrimination in clerk selection. Besides, Brennan would want his own daughter to be hired, if she were in a position to apply.
The Court stayed conservative for the rest of Brennan’s tenure. Read the book to learn the impact Brennan made on the Court nevertheless.
The Book of the Week is “Among the Thugs” by Bill Buford, published in 1992. The author describes how the herd mentality in humans can start a riot.
Buford provides the example of European football supporters (who would be called soccer fans in the United States). Most of them work at blue-collar jobs during the week, and on the weekend– attend a pro football game at the stadium. Prior to and during the game, they drink a vast quantity of alcohol. The situation often turns violent after the game. Most people do not conceive of themselves as susceptible to the herd mentality– it is those hot-tempered people who cause all the trouble.
Read the book to see how people who are usually rational can get emotionally pulled into exhibiting extreme behavior, becoming a danger to themselves and others.
The Book of the Week is “Audition” by Barbara Walters, published in 2008. This is Walters’ autobiography, a detailed account of her personal and professional life. She had a long, illustrious career in TV News. She started out as a behind-the-scenes writer for the “Today Show” on NBC in the early 1960’s, when there was still a lot of discrimination against women. Nevertheless, her hard work at, talent and suitability for her job, over the course of decades, afforded her the opportunity to interview countless famous people; some, multiple times.
There were occasions when Walters received special treatment by her interviewees. In the spring of 1977, she was personally driven for six hours around the Bay of Pigs vicinity by none other than Fidel Castro. Later that year, she witnessed multiple Middle Eastern politicians gather all in one place when Egypt’s Anwar Sadat made (momentary) peace with Israel’s Menachim Begin. ABC interrupted a college football game with the “breaking news.” Viewers telephoned the network to express their displeasure, and after seven minutes of complaining, the viewers got their game back.
Walters was lucky to have helped pioneer the art of the TV interview and enjoyed its best years. She asked hard-hitting, sometimes personal questions that hosts do not ask anymore. She writes that nowadays, TV ratings rise with guests who are attention whores or criminals– whose stories are tabloid articles. Political leaders or celebrities with substance have become a rarity. “We really seem to care only if they are outrageous and call our president a devil or declare that the Holocaust never existed. Stand up and scream and we will interview you, or be reasonable and unheard.” Fortunately, the internet has become a source of intelligent discussion in some quarters– a source that is not under pressure to generate ratings.
The Book of the Week is “Fateful Harvest” by Duff Wilson, published in 2002. Here is yet another book that describes one of the countless ways humans are destroying the earth and themselves.
Wilson, a journalist, revealed an environmental problem (and by natural extension, health hazard) perpetrated by large corporations on people in a small town in Washington State. It is unknown how many people elsewhere are affected, since it is extremely difficult to prove proximate cause when it comes to cancer in people who have had unmeasured exposure to countless carcinogens throughout their lives. The story was reminiscent of the book and movie “A Civil Action.” However, in Quincy, Washington, there has yet to be a class action suit.
In recent decades, companies have found a way to save millions of dollars disposing of toxic wastes they generate. In the 1990’s, they paid $50-$100 a ton to have fertilizer companies use those wastes in fertilizer, which was then sold to farmers. They would have paid $200 or $300 a ton to dump the wastes in a landfill instead. The fertilizer companies take advantage of a loophole in the law, which regulates “wastes,” not “products.” Fertilizer is a “product” even when it contains fly ash, contaminated phosphoric acid, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and other toxins from automakers, zinc smelters, copper recycling plants and steel mills.
Food becomes contaminated when grown in contaminated fertilizer. The farmers grow the potatoes, corn and beans, etc., sold to food processing plants that make and sell French fries and other edible products.
Read the book to learn how this serious environmental threat was discovered, and the various reasons why outspoken farmers, a horse breeder and the mayor, among other adversely affected Quincy residents, could not acquire sufficient power and influence to close the loophole in the law.