The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker. Novel set in immigrant communities in New York City at the end of the 19th century, about two supernatural beings who strike up an unlikely relationship. Good book that sets up its characters well and explores its premise nicely.
However the communities do seem to be treated in a slightly rose-tinted way though there is some exploration of problems, and it doesn't do too much with the obvious muslim/Jewish element. Evokes the environment well. Worth a read if you don't mind a bit of sentimentality.
What I'm Reading 2
Trigger Warnings: political correctness and the rise of the right by Jeff Sparrow. Fascinating book taking a broad view of left-of-centre politics over the last few decades, with examples from the US, UK and Australia. He points out that after the energy of popular left-wing causes of the sixties drained away, progressive activists found themselves gradually rising in academic hierarchies. This led to a growing faith in top-down policies, where the masses were seen as intrinsically regressive.
The right wing siezed advantage of this to portray the masses as also intrinsically right wing, depicting leftists as a politically correct elite trying to force ideas on them. That led to the left falling into the trap of "smug politics" where they basically accept the notion.
Sparrow says the answer has to be that the left must rediscover how to work to actively persuade the masses to believe in progressive causes. He gives hopeful examples, for instance from equal marriage movement, that this can be done.
He draws a distinction between "delegated politics" where politicians impose change from above and "direct politics" where people organise from below. He thinks the left badly need to move towards direct politics instead of putting faith in liberal beliefs.
On "political correctness" itself he makes a good point that language used to be seen as just part of a unified political agenda that included economic and political change, but that the right language now seems to have become almost a goal in itself. Excellent book, well worth reading.
What I'm Reading 3
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris is his novelisation of the Dreyfuss affair of the late Nineteenth century. This is a more difficult bit of history to fictionalise than his Cicero trilogy, as the various court cases dragged out over many years.
The actual full story is a lot more shocking than I was aware of. I knew the basic facts: when the French army found secrets being sold to the Germans, they made a scapegoat of a young Jewish officer Dreyfuss, exaggerating the solidity of the case and breaking evidence rules. But I didn't realise the extent to which they doubled down again and again: they manufactured fake evidence. When a new chief of the secret service Georges Picquart started to investigate, they expelled him and started a new hate campaign against him. They even made the genuine traitor into a hero to help the cover-up. Multiple trials reaffirmed the original verdict: it was government intervention which eventually freed Dreyfuss and reinstated Picquart.
The book is disturbingly topical as the Dreyfuss Affair set off what is basically a contemporary culture war between "Dreyfussards" and the right wing.
The book is a bit slow in places, but it's a thoughtful and tens read.
What I'm Watching
Saw BlacKkKlansman at home. Movie about a black police detective in the 1970s infiltrating the local branch of the Klu Kluk Klan by phone and mail.
Good film with a great period feel, plausible characters and a good level of tension. Worth a look.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw The Lego Movie 2 at the cinema. Not quite as good as the first one but still has some decent asides for the grown-ups, and the kid seemed to like it as well.
Socioeconomics. The privatisation of capitalism.
Politics. Why do citizens' assemblies work, New permanent sortition assembly in Belgium. We’re imprisoning homeless people for 'annoying' crimes – then giving them a tent on release. Labour and antisemitism. Yanis Varoufakis: the European Spring (big PDF) holds the answer to the fragmenting EU's plight.
Video. Atom bomb damage.
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