Rothman At-Large

Want Kent State II? Then Pander to The Donald

May 4, 2016

Ohio National Guardsmen killed Bill Schroeder, an ex-Eagle Scout, 46 years ago this week at Kent State University. As a reporter for The Lorain Journal, his hometown daily, I covered the death of this ROTC cadet


Do you realize what America was like back then? 


People actually phoned up our factory-town newspaper and praised the guardsmen for killing young Schroeder? 


The then-governor of Ohio, Jim Rhodes, might as well have pulled a trigger. It wasn't just his mishandling of the Ohio National Guard.  "They’re worse than the Brownshirts, and the Communist element, and also the Night Riders, and the vigilantes," Rhodes said of the Kent State anti-war protesters. "They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America."


Rhodes himself is dead now, but Donald Trump is very much alive, and, in fact, yesterday, he won the Republican primary in Indiana, causing Ted Cruz to drop out, and I can't help but wonder about Kent State had The Donald been governor on May 4, 1970. 


The death toll, for all we know, might have been 14 or even 40, not four. Before the killings, protesters had burned down the ROTC building. Bill Schroeder hadn't a thing to do with this despicable act. Still, what of even the student who did? Of course arson deserves harsh punishment. But should property in this case---or at least the sentiments associated with its protection---have come before life? 


I haven't the slightest doubt that President Trump, the billionaire developer, would be a lot more trigger-happy in these situations than would President Clinton or President Sanders. What more need we know about Trump and his famous "toxic temperament"? Not to mention his offer to pay the legal bills of a thuggish supporter who sucker-punched a foe. If you love the image of wrestling fans smashing chairs over each other's heads in a bloody free-for-all---I'm not the first to conjure this up---then Donald Trump is your man.


You can imagine, then, how I feel when I read of journalists and politicians pandering to Trump or even thinking about it. I can understand opportunistic politicians like New York Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doing so. But journalists?  How could you? I quote BuzzFeed's Kyle Blaine:


"Staffers at the five major television networks are grappling with what role their organizations may have played in amplifying Donald Trump’s successful campaign of insults, generalizations about minority groups, and at times flat-out lies.


"Conversations with more than a dozen reporters, producers, and executives across the major networks reveal internal tensions about the wall-to-wall coverage Trump has received and the degree to which the Republican frontrunner has--or hasn’t--been challenged on their air."


For now, it looks as if the Democrats will win in November, but who'd have thought Trump would get this far? We may yet see another Kent State--in fact, a slew of them. Elections don't just have consequences. They can have lethal ones.


The word is that Trump is pretty chummy with regulars at Morning Joe. I won't prejudge here, but perhaps Joe and Mika, whose interviewing skills I admire even if I don't necessarily feel the same about all their guests, can ask The Donald for his take on Kent State. Trump may well go mainstream and try to ward off the critics with a bland answer. But just for the record, I'd love to know how he says he would have acted in Jim Rhodes's place.

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Valentine’s Day Question: Should Writers Marry Other Writers?

February 14, 2016

Should writers marry other writers, as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her poet husband did? We know about "literary power couples." Me, I’m different. I don’t want to be a “power” (with a few worthy exceptions, such as seeing if I can’t make Amazon’s Kindle designers care more about the elderly, K-12 kids and others with vision impairments). I just want to get on with my work.

I don’t need my wife to bolster my writerly identity. No, I value Carly for her general intelligence and her ability to be compatible with me, in mood and in many other ways (she, too, loves gadgets and reads digital books almost exclusively, for health-related reasons). We’ve been married close to a quarter of a century, but sometimes in the presence of strangers, we’ll hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes and say: “Forgive us, we’ve only been married two days.” In my novel I knocked myself out to get my characters yelling at each other. Same in a spec screenplay I’m working on. In real life, Carly and I prefer to discuss and analyze. We save our wrath for a stuffed dog, an ever-handy target in place of each other. Similarly, Joanna Cabot, one of the writers working for my TeleRead e-book news site, has written how happy she is with her Beloved, who isn’t really into reading novels, much less writing them.

We’ve got company in our belief that writers needn’t marry other writers. Consider George Gissing’s New Grub Street, the ultimate novel about the writerly life. Edwin Reardon, the art-for-art’s-sake novelist, dies in poverty. His problem, as explained by Jasper Milvain (the self-promotional literary critic who would fare so well as an entrepreneur today)? Reardon married a not-so-frugal literary lady. Jasper says Reardon would have been better off with “a decent little dressmaker” so he could focus more on his art and worry less about the material. In a similar vein, I’m reminded of Joanna’s essay about female novelists living off rich husbands.

I can anticipate the response. This is the era of equality. Men don’t have to worry as much as before about supporting women. I acknowledge that. In fact, I’m just saying what was right for Joanna and me, not saying that everyone should do the same. I haven’t researched how happy Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was with her poet husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. But they stuck together through more than a few obstacles until her young husband drowned. Not every writerly match is as ill-fated as the one between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, whom feminists blame for his wife’s suicide (I won’t pass judgment here). If nothing else, a literary spouse may excel as a reader of first drafts and as a picker of the right parties to go to.

So what’s your take on this issue? Should writers marry other writers? Are you an author? Have you yourself married another? Or set out not to marry a writer and maybe not even date one? Or been married and divorced from a writer? Along the way, keep in mind that not all writers have the same temperament, and that the kind of writing might count. Typically—exceptions abound—nonfiction writers might lack the passions of playwrights and poets. But who says the rules and stereotypes need always apply? Now, let’s hear from you, and meanwhile, happy V Day!

This essay appeared in a slightly different form on the TeleRead e-book news site. 

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Winter Storm Jonas: The E-Book Angle

January 24, 2016

First things, first—when Jonas-style blizzards hit us. The shovel. The heater. The pipes. The insulation. The windshield scraper. Whatever your priorities would be in the wintertime version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

In Northern Virginia, where I live, some feared it might take several days for the power to return if it went off—due to the high winds that could imperil workers repairing the lines. The worst probably won't happen. But if it did? What to do for entertainment? Of course you could talk to family or friends if the power failed during the night—not such a bad idea—but here's another one. E-books.

To prepare for Jonas, Carly and I charged up all our e-readers and phones. If the power had gone off during Snowmageddon II, I  finally would have gotten a chance to finish The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government on my Kindle Paperwhite. I had been reading it on my iPad and Nexus 6 cell phone, but with power a little iffy, backlit E Ink might be more fitting, especially at night. No flashlight needed—a limitation of paper books. And a muchlonger battery life.

So what e-books can we rely on to get through Winter Storm Jonas, from commercial e-book stores or the D.C. Public Library? Of course, The Dish is reachable anywhere in the world by way of the Web, and you’re still free to share your enthusiasms even if you’re in the tropics. But I’ll be especially curious what others in Snowmageddon country are reading. And don’t just give titles. Tell why you like such-and-such book. In the case of The Devil’s Chessboard, I’ll spell out my thoughts in a future review.

If you’re a bit of a contrarian and can’t get enough snow and ice, you can always revisit Jack London’s Call of the Wild (free Project Gutenberg text here, free LibriVox audiobook here). Or read Jules Verne’s An Antartic Mystery (text here, audio here). Speaking of the M word, a page from Cozy Mysteries Unlimited focuses on “books that revolve around snow storms.”Horror fan? Keep in mind the fearsome winter that set the mood for Mary Shelley when she was writing Frankenstein (text here,audio here). Or how about H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness? As for winter romances, check out a 2014 list from Bookish. For the ultimate winter novel, at least in spirit, consider Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome (text here, audio here).

Or, yes, you could read up on climate change. Um, the phrase “global warming” just doesn’t say it all.

An earlier version of this post appeared on David Rothman's TeleRead site devoted to news and commentary on e-books and related topics.

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