Tuesday, October 11, 2016

O'Reilly's "Killing" Series

I have read most of the Killing series of books and know that O’Reilly and Dugard can put together compelling stories. I did find a few questionable assertions in the other books (like putting Lincoln in the Oval Office before it existed), but I was disappointed to find many in this one. 

Although it has been said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts, I suppose everyone is entitled to their own version of the facts. My version differs with the authors’ on at least ten occasions. Others have found at least thirty factual errors.

What disturbed me more than factual errors was the obvious negative slant to both opinion and fact in this book. The writers savage Nancy Reagan and attack Ronald Reagan unmercifully long after he is able to defend himself. Bill O’Reilly professes to be a conservative, so I was more than a little surprised that he turned left in this book about one of the greatest conservative leaders of the last century.

Anyone who has heard Bill on television or radio knows that he is egocentric. He doesn’t try to hide it. He knows a lot and is extremely popular and successful, and has come to the conclusion that he knows a lot about almost everything. With that level of narcissism, it is easy to see how he could conflate rumors and unverified sources into facts in his own mind. I.e. “It’s true because it is in my book.” Well no, not really.

Reagan himself said, “It’s not that our liberal friends are ignorant, it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” Ironically, Reagan’s statement applies to the authors of a book about him.

I really had a hard time with the inclusion of salacious and unproven rumors. For what purpose?  One tells of then Governor Reagan sitting next to an attractive eighteen-year-old at poolside. Years later, the young lady “suggested that intimacy soon followed.” In the next sentence the authors admit that “his personal behavior as governor was so exemplary that few questioned his clearly stated traditional values”. So why even mention an unfounded, malicious rumor?  

I found examples like this one throughout when the authors used terms like “it was widely known” when describing a negative trait or behavior of Reagan or Nancy. Widely known by whom?  They also attribute thoughts and feelings (mostly negative) to the First Couple that could only be known by them.

When George Will questioned Bill’s facts and research in a column and on television, O’Reilly turned red in the face and his hands shook as he called Will a hack. I thought of one word—caught. When Will asked why he did not ask some of Reagan’s closest advisors about some of his assertions, he said it was because “they had skin in the game”. Seriously? How is it then that O’Reilly used sources not only with skin in the game, but with axes to grind? 

If they insisted on putting in the unproven negatives, why not balance it out with a few unproven positives?  Although there is no bibliography, the authors did list sources in the back of the book. Of the fifteen magazines and newspapers listed, twelve are either left or hard left. 

As a writer, I do understand narrative non-fiction and how authors insert the gist of conversations and conditions (which flowers were blooming as the protagonists take a walk) that could not possibly be known. They do this to advance the story. But this is only ethical when such additions are not clear distortions of facts or rumors designed only to titillate readers.  Otherwise, call your work a novel.

Why did they do it? Because the book is called Killing Reagan, so the authors made a decision that the assassination attempt on his life would be the key element. Therefore, the attempt had to be the focus  all the way through his term as president and to the end of his days. And it had to have a major impact on his health, his psychology and his mental capabilities. To hell with whether it did or not. 

I understand that such events can cause severe traumatic stress. Events like that can permanently affect a life. Other people, however, recover to lead normal lives. The evidence is overwhelming that Reagan fit into the latter category. 

O’Reilly and Dugard do give grudging credit to Reagan for bringing the Soviet Union to its knees, but little mention is made of his successes with the economy, major tax reform, and other significant achievements. Why? Because this totally conflicts with the person they portray as a severely damaged, barely competent person who stays in The White House personal residence and watches reruns on television. They seem to imply that Reagan’s achievements were made possible by his wife or by his staff without his leadership. This does not pass the credulity test. 

It also conflicts with the other books written by and about Reagan. Did he suffer from the early stages of Alzheimer’s while president? Nobody really knows. If he did, the symptoms were late in his last term and were minor. Did he suffer some of the normal maladies of aging? Probably, but less so than the general population. And occasional short term memory loss was more than offset by the wisdom of his years. 

Were any mental problems caused by the shooting? Possibly, but again, nothing that can be proven. Reagan’s diaries were clearly written by a lucid man in complete control of all his faculties. O’Reilly’s book devotes one sentence to the journal he kept as president.

As a writer who wrote books while writing a weekly column, I know the time constraints in trying to do both. Bill does radio and television shows every weekday while maintaining a heavy schedule of personal appearances across the country. It is hard to see how it is humanly possible for him to do this while writing a series of books for adults as well as children.  I always assumed he lent his name and celebrity to the covers while Martin Dugard and his staff did the research and writing. I don’t know that to be the case, but common sense says it is.

I am okay with that, I suppose. Many famous folks do the same. However, Bill did write at least one page in the book called The Last Word where he reveals a letter Reagan wrote to close friend and advisor John Koehler. Bill says he includes it to “give Ronald Reagan the last word. He deserves it.” But Reagan’s letter pretty much refutes most of the assertions in this book.

Bill seems to fail to see the irony in that. Reading that part and hearing Bill defend the indefensible assertions in this book while maintaining the book is laudatory of Reagan causes one to wonder if he read the book at all.

I discussed this on KETR.  Listen here

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Narcissism Epidemic

I read this book because of the subtitle, Living in the Age of Entitlement. It seems a lot more folks feel entitled to a lot more things than they used to.

The authors go into detail about helicopter parents who raise their children to believe they are not just queens and kings for a day, but for a lifetime. They book doesn’t deeply examine why this phenomenon came about or how to reverse it. The book's solution: Don't tell your children they are special. I think it could have been said better. 

How about telling them they are special to you, but are still children and must know and understand obedience and effort is necessary for achievement. Or how about, never reward bad behavior. Neither kids nor adults are entitled to everything they want.

The authors deplore the pervasive and silly attitude that everybody gets a trophy whether they achieved anything or not. Awards, money and privileges must be earned. Otherwise, they have no value.

Not all narcissists are psychopaths, but most serial killers are narcissists. Dr. Harold Shipman is known to have killed at least a dozen and is strongly suspected of killing as many as 260. Yet, he remained arrogant even when imprisoned. How dare anyone question him? Did you see the smug smile of the butcher Dr. Kermit Gosnell while he was being led away in cuffs for multiple murders? 
Narcissists seldom apologize or express shame or humiliation for anything. Even when they admit mistakes, they wear their past misdeeds as a badge of honor. 

Take these incidents:  Dennis Rodman stated that he should be on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his befriending and hugging of a North Korean despot. Is that narcissism or just stupidity?
Anthony Weiner continued to publicly display his perversion even after resigning from Congress in disgrace and launching a campaign for Mayor of New York. Then there is Elliot Spitzer. 

At 70, Geraldo Rivera tweeted a photo of himself (a selfie) in his bathroom nude from the waist up. 

How about the legions of sports athletes who think they can commit crimes and get away with it?  664 arrests from 2000 to 2012 in the NFL. Why do we idolize narcissistic criminals? 

The book delves into the "look at me" involved with Facebook and other social media avenues, but it offers little in the way of explanation or solution.

Is social media just narcissism on a grand scale? Am I a narcissist because I use it to try to get more people to read what I write by using social media? My writing colleague Christina Carson recently blogged, “A fine question at this point in human history is, why are we so needful of diversion, of places to hide out? We shouldn’t kid ourselves that just because we see the world and its happenings many times a day and interface with people all over the globe, we are engaged with life. I think we are more afraid, emptier, and unhappier than ever. I love this earth. Its order, its harmony, its beauty astound me. I love human nature and all the amazing stories it can engender through its sometimes hapless, sometimes crazy, sometimes endearing, and always compelling choices it makes. But I’m troubled that we don’t stop enough to examine where, lemming-like, we seem to be headed.”

The authors drift when they get into social security and a few aspects of the economy where they are clearly out of their element and seriously misinformed. They also seem to posit that driving an SUV may be narcissistic, in a stumbling attempt to state one author’s alarmist and inaccurate views on global warming. Even if she were right (which she isn’t), what has that got to do with narcissism? 

They expose what they call myths about narcissists. Myth 1: Narcissists have really high self esteem. In the second sentence debunking this myth, they say and I quote, “Narcissists do have really high self-esteem.” That’s on page 24, so I my antenna went up early. Is it a myth or not? (They say it is; I say it’s not.) They try to explain their own contradiction, but fail.

Myth 2: Narcissists are insecure and have low self-esteem i.e. . . . they use bluster to cover up for deep self-hate and inadequacy. There are a lot of other studies out there that say this is not a myth and this book failed to convince me that it is. If narcissists aren’t just covering up for insecurities, why would they resent and demean other’s accomplishments?   

What is missing from this book is research that has shown that type 1’s seem to all share the same problem—problems with a parent when they were small children (usually abandonment or rejection of another type). The narcissists I worked with all had deeply rooted problems with one parent.

Another myth about narcissists is that they almost never succeed. Unfortunately, sometimes they do, but usually at dire cost to the people (and businesses, cities, counties, states and countries) they leave in their destructive wake. 
I really wanted this book to explore how the epidemic is affecting our nation and how most politicians suffer from some level of narcissism. When two people run for political office, I usually vote for the one who wants it (or needs it) the least, because he/she is always the best qualified. Wanting it or needing the office and the power that goes with it badly always makes for a terrible politician who abuses power because of concern for a personal legacy, not the future of the country (and yes, those two can be in direct conflict).

Why? Many reasons, but one example is that narcissists can take directly opposite (and mutually exclusive) positions on the same issue and feel that both of their opinions are correct and anyone who challenges them is stupid. I suppose anyone who runs for political office has to have a healthy ego, but many, if not most of the bozos who run our country think they’re brilliant. That’s dangerous.

The authors, to their credit, do make several references to the appalling lack of personal responsibility in this country (the heart of free enterprise), but then suggest more regulations and solutions involving collectivism and larger bureaucracies as the answer.  The obvious battle between the authors and the compromise turns the book into illogical conclusions in an attempt to satisfy their opposite political persuasions. 

The psychologist authors of this book said that it would offer solutions to the epidemic. Maybe. Readers will have to judge.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I reviewed this book some time ago here and was recently interviewed on KETR. Listen here.

See more of author Susan Cain's comments below and the test to see if you are an introvert.  

 Susan Cain's Opinion Piece In 'The New York Times'

On the value of working alone
"None of this is to say that it would be a good thing to get rid of teamwork and get rid of group work altogether. It's more just to say that we're at a point in our culture, and in our workplace culture, where we've gotten too lopsided. We tend to believe that all creativity and all productivity comes from the group, when in fact, there really is a benefit to solitude and to being able to go off and focus and put your head down."
On whether extroverts should be offended by 'Quiet'
"My criticism in the book is not of extroverts at all, but rather of the extrovert ideal. I actually find extroversion to be a really appealing personality style. ... Many of my best friends truly are extroverts, including my beloved husband."

Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?
Excerpted from: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
To find out where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, answer each question True or False, choosing the one that applies to you more often than not.
1. ______ I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
2. ______ I often prefer to express myself in writing.
3. ______ I enjoy solitude.
4. ______ I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than my peers.
5. ______ I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
6. ______ People tell me that I'm a good listener.
7. ______ I'm not a big risk-taker.
8. ______ I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
9. ______ I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.
10. ______ People describe me as "soft-spoken" or "mellow."
11. ______ I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it's finished.
12. ______ I dislike conflict.
13. ______ I do my best work on my own.
14. ______I tend to think before I speak.
15.______ I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
16. ______I often let calls go through to voice mail.
17. ______If you had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
18. ______ I don't enjoy multitasking.
19. ______ I can concentrate easily
20. ______ In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.
The more often you answered True, the more introverted you are. This is an informal quiz, not a scientifically validated personality test. The questions were formulated based on characteristics of introversion often accepted by contemporary researchers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Little Sister Death

Little Sister Death
William Gay

I hate giving any work by Gay (one of my favorite authors) only three stars, but this one was published after his death and is obviously an unfinished manuscript. It’s the story of a writer who comes to live in Tennessee to write about a haunting known as the queen of the haunted dell--a legend or story famous to most Tennesseans and others across the country. But the writer’s complete story is never told. 

The title comes from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Editors worked from Gay’s hand-written and typed notes and filled in a history of the story, but although Gay’s lyrical prose is present, the book seemed not ready for publication. And the Gothic tale is very, very gloomy and features macabre violence.  

But the introduction by Tom Franklin, a friend of Gay’s and a fellow writer, was worth the price of the book. I spent a day in William Gay’s home three years prior to his passing and found him just as Tom described. He showed me his book and music collection and one of his paintings. He also told me about his completed manuscript The Lost Country, which still remains unpublished. Guess Dzanc (publisher of this one)decided to go with this one first. 

Gay told me of his troubles with his publisher at the time (not Dzanc) on The Lost Country, but he did not mention this manuscript. I don’t think he would have wanted it published in this form, because he was a perfectionist.  His haunting prose and descriptions are here, but it is just not his best work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Some Kind Words from one of America's best and most prolific writers

Why do we even go to the trouble of writing?

THERE’S ONE GOOD THING about being a writer.
We hang around with a lot of writers.
I was with one of the best recently at the Silver Leos Writing Conference at Texas A&M Commerce.
I’ve known him for years.
And I’ve always been fascinated at Jim Ainsworth’s lyrical and literary way of stringing words together to tell a compelling story.
Pound for pound, inch for inch, and word for word, he is as good as any writer I have ever read.
His stories are mesmerizing.
He’s a poet writing prose.
Just read a passage from his novel, Firstborn Son:
But the auction and the deaths of his brothers and father had changed Ben Tom. Always upbeat and positive, he now seemed morose, often secluded himself for days at a time to grieve over his failures and losses. The regal house on the river mocked him as it deteriorated daily. He had let his lovely wife down, disappointed his children. He spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about how the people who depended on him would fare if he departed this life.
Joe Henry and Tee still sought out their old friend, sat down with him for coffee and bagels or a platter of Ben Tom’s homemade biscuits, usually at the old bank in Mesa, but sometimes on Ben Tom’s small farm. His back troubles were compounded with a variety of other ailments that he tried to conceal, but could not. His eyes revealed constant pain. His posture revealed a broken spirit. But his voice still expressed unbridled optimism and the confidence of better days ahead.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Jim H. Ainsworth
Jim H. Ainsworth
As far as I’m concerned, Jim Ainsworth should be one of the best-known, best-read, and most popular novelists in America.
Sure he tells stories.
But his words paint pictures of life as it was and as it is on the Great American Southwestern landscape.
This is Jim’s land.
These are his people.
They may be fiction.
He knows them like family.
In real life, somewhere out there in the hinterland, they exist.
On the pages of Jim’s novels, they will always exist.
But, as a writer, Jim has a problem, and he knows it.
He knows what’s wrong.
He doesn’t care.
The books of Jim Ainsworth can’t be neatly classified or packaged in a particular genre that’s acceptable to powers who run the publishing world.
He says he writes Texas Fiction.
And that’s good enough for me.
He and I have spent many hours talking about the plight of authors as they confront today’s publishing world.
So many great writers.
So many great novels.
But who buys them?
Who discovers them?
A novel no one finds, a novel no one reads, is a novel that, in reality, never been written.
At least, it feels that way.
So often it seem we spend months weaving a story together only to throw it off a cliff and into a black abyss of lost and abandoned words.
Several months ago, Jim’s frustration boiled over.
He was tired of beating his head against the wall.
He was tired of writing books that didn’t sell.
He was tired of it all.
Jim Ainsworth was getting out of the writing game.
And good riddance.
He rode away into the sunset.
Now he has ridden back, and it’s about time.
“I’m writing again,” he told me at Silver Leos.
“What made you change your mind?”
“It’s a letter I received a month or so ago.”
He did not know the lady who wrote the letter.
Maybe he had met her.
Maybe not.
But she told him she had gone through one of the darkest periods of her life.
She was down.
She was depressed.
But she had read one of his books, and it touched her.
It had eased the pain and turmoil that was troubling her life.
She could face tomorrow with a renewed spirit.
“That’s why I’m writing again,” Jim said. “I figured out why we do what we do as writers.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“We’re not here to sell a million books, although it would be nice.” He shrugged. “If our words reach out and positively touch one person,” Jim said, “then writing the book has been worth the effort.”
Why are we here, he wonders, if not to help someone else?
Sometimes a story is all it takes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

KETR Podcast   

Giving kids (and adults) an allowance. Also, a simple index card for financial planning.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Why Are Some Evangelical Leaders Supporting Trump?

Why do evangelical pastors like Robert Jeffress, a Fox News contributor and pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, support Trump? He made headlines during the 2012 presidential election when he described The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a "cult" and said evangelicals should not vote for then-candidate Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon.

Gordon B. Hinckley, prior President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1995-2008), said: “We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Members of our church pray and worship in the name of Jesus Christ. He is the center of our faith and the Head of our Church.”

Jeffress later conceded, “It is better to vote for a non-Christian (Romney, I presume) who supports biblical principles like life and marriage than voting for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who absolutely repudiates what Jesus Christ said about some key issues.”  

But the damage was done. Jeffress did not seem to realize that not voting for Romney was the same as voting for Obama. A small increase in the Christian vote would have defeated Obama in 2012.

In 2014, Jeffress released a book claiming that Obama’s re-election was paving the way for the Antichrist foretold in Scripture. Maybe he was promoting this future book when he helped with his reelection. 

The good pastor is back for the 2016 election. He appeared on Fox’s Lou Dobbs recently to again express his support for the Donald, saying that he is the only real “outsider” (which indicates a disturbing level of naiveté). He went on to say that after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriages, evangelicals seem more open to a secular candidate, that they have decided to allow the government to solve “practical problems” and let the church solve Biblical problems. This was in answer to a question by Dobbs wherein he described Trump as a “very religious man—a Protestant . . . a Presbyterian”. 

So is Trump secular or Christian? Which is it, Dr. Jeffress? And are you seriously suggesting that Christians “give up” and vote for a candidate that does not reflect Christian values? What kind of twisted logic is that? 

How about that book of yours in 2014? Do you not realize that Trump’s values align almost perfectly with Obama’s?

Trump took deep offense when it appeared that the Pope was questioning his faith, but he has questioned the faith of at least three other candidates for the nomination many times. Maybe Jeffress is supporting Trump because they share a common personality trait of narcissists. They seem able to hold opposing ideas in their heads at the same time, to change positions regularly, and yet believe all positions held are exactly right. 

“The notion that the church, the press, and the universities should serve the state is essentially a Communist notion. In a free society these institutions must be wholly free — which is to say that their function is to serve as checks upon the state." —Alan Barth (1906-1979)

Food for thought: "Just how much must evangelicals and conservatives compromise themselves to support Trump? That is the ultimate problem. Every person supporting Trump has not just compromised on a candidate, but compromised their core values. ... These people are compromising their integrity for a presidential candidate willing to use profane language on the campaign trail and bombast to overcome a lack of knowledge of details. 'For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?'" —Erick Erickson