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Posts tagged ‘Book Reviews’

Book Review: Titanic Survivor


Jessop circa 1916, in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform. A larger, uncropped version of this photograph appears in the book. The writing that is cut off at the bottom says “Your loving sister, Violet”.

Titanic Survivor: The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters (Sheridan House 1997) is the memoir of ocean liner stewardess Violet Jessop (pictured), for whom ending up where the action was was a major constant in the first part of her life. The book is edited and annotated by maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham. The book covers the first part of Jessop’s life, from her childhood in Argentina until the 1930s. It includes brief eyewitness accounts of the sinkings of the RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic. However, despite being aboard when the incident took place, Jessop makes no mention of the RMS Olympic‘s collision withe the HMS Hawke.* The book also includes several rare photographs and appendixes, one of which lists the ships Jessop served on, dates included.

Frankly, if you are a Titanic buff or are looking for detailed book about that ship, then this is probably not the book for you. Jessop does not go into much detail in her accounts, which only occupy three short chapters in the book. Furthermore, she refers to most of her shipmates using pseudonyms. Hence, the only new thing you’re likely to learn is that the ship’s cat was named Jenny.

Likewise, Jessop’s account of her very dramatic escape from the Britannic is also brief.

However, if you are looking for an account of what it is like to be an ocean liner stewardess, then this is the book for you. She talks of the complaints (passengers who want too many flowers to be arranged, one woman who wanted new furniture in her stateroom, the low wages, being away from home a lot). She provides unusual anecdotes and mariners’ yarns.

The annotations by Maxtone-Graham are very helpful, providing the context and background necessary to understand Jessop’s memoirs. For the most part they are not at all intrusive.

Certain episodes related in the book might be triggering for some people: Three times, during the first half Jessop implies that someone raped (without ever using that term) her or attempted to do so (specifically during her childhood in Argentina, while a governess, and while on a ship for the Royal Mail Line). Be aware of this if you read the book.

Additionally, Jessop mentions that she had difficulty first becoming a stewardess because she was “too pretty”. This and the above are examples of why feminism was necessary a century ago. And since they still happen, they are one of the reasons why feminism is still necessary.

So long as the qualifications above are taken into account, I recommend this book.

*The eighteenth chapter of Jessop’s manuscript is missing. Since the memoir is roughly chronological, an account of the collision could have been there, as that is where it would be chronologically.

Picture via the Wikimedia Commons.


Book Review: World on Fire

Book coverRecently, I picked up World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (Doubleday 2003) by Yale law professor Amy Chua for a reread.

Chua’s basic thesis is that the sort of austere economic policy (such as no safety net, etc.) promoted by certain organizations and entities (free markets), in conjunctions with democracy (universal suffrage), when certain conditions arise, leads to a situation similar to a powder keg ready to blow up. The certain conditions are the presence of an ethnic minority that is disproportionately wealthy and economically successful. Chua calls them “market–dominant minorities”. When the previously–mentioned economic policies are implemented, any economic benefits that arise flow exclusively to the market–dominant minority. In a democracy, a demagogue arises and riles up the poor majority against the minority, using this to come to power. The result can therefore be a backlash against the democracy (where the minority takes over, sometimes with the help of a majority dictator), a backlash against capitalism/markets (nationalization, expropriation, and so on), or a backlash against the market–dominant minority itself (leading to genocide and the like).

Chua provides several examples to support her thesis. Some examples seem more supported by her evidence than others. For example, she uses the example of her own people (ethnic Chinese in the Philippines), including a discussion of a relative’s murder that was motivated by ethnic resentment. On the other hand, several examples seem like she is stretching her thesis. One example she used was the Russian oligarchs. As a number of them were Jewish, she attributes (qualifying her conclusion that it is only a partial explanation) anti–Semitism in Russia to resentment of the oligarchs. But anti–Semitism in Russia goes back way before the oligarchs arose, and it remains after many oligarchs have been weakened. For example, in the nineteenth century, members of the intellectual class routinely used anti–Semitic terms in correspondence, and agents in the czarist secret police plagiarized a novel to create that hoax, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For those and analogous reasons, I did not find all of her examples convincing.

To the extent to which Chua’s thesis holds, she suggests mitigating both halves of the causation equation; more redistribution and social safety net, a slower democratization process. I’m not sure a slower democratization process is necessarily the best way to go. Democracies are more peaceful than non–democracies, and hybrid (between autocratic and democratic) regimes are the least peaceful of all. Hence, there could well be a possibility of a long period of democratic transition blowing up spectacularly. And if that happens no one will be better off.

And I am not sure that demagogic backlashes even require there to be a wealthy, market–dominant minority. (Although Chua pretty conclusively demonstrates that they certainly help cause them, at least). For example, consider the United States in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. One of the challengers to Roosevelt was Louisiana Senator and Governor Huey “Kingfish” Long. He came up with the political platform of “Share Our Wealth”. As its name implies, it was an explicitly redistributionist movement. This was popular enough that, if Long ran in the 1936 election, he would have split enough votes to swing the election to the Republicans. And what did Roosevelt do in response to this left–wing threat? He adopted some of their rhetoric and co–opted enough of their leaders to defuse the threat enough so that he would win the election. The net result of this was that there was no socialist of communist revolution. In other words, FDR saved capitalism.

The key point to draw from the above is that it is entirely possible to have a (nascent) backlash against capitalism, where there is no group that can be considered a market–dominant minority. And another conclusion to draw from this is that the typical wingnut response of “resort to private charity” does not work. In many of the countries where such backlashes have occurred, private charity has been ineffective at preventing backlashes. The fact that several international organizations (in some cases, used to) be against almost any sort of social programs will inevitably lead to the backlashes Chua describes. Hence, actual government programs ought to be tried. Even if it fails to result in some sort of egalitarian utopia it would likely do enough to allay resentment and kill any backlashes. Chua provides examples to support this. And anyone who advocates policies like no safety nets, no redistribution etc. is only asking for trouble and is taking a step on the royal road to socialism (or worse). It’s a complete fantasy that people will continually cheer on their plutocratic overlords and gleefully accept forever having no future. Eventually something will give.

I explicitly decline to firmly recommend or not recommend this book. World on Fire is a much better and more impactful book if the qualifications I mentioned above are kept in mind. If that is done so it will be a good read.

Cover picture from Wikipedia. This post is based in part on a comment I made at Dead Wild Roses.

Book Review: Quiverfull – Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Before my previous computer died, I arranged an inter–library loan for a book I had been badly wanting to read. The book is Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by American journalist Kathryn Joyce. The book is available from Beacon Press. I promised a review and a summary of its contents, and here they are.

The book is divided into three sections. The first part of the book isn’t really about Quiverfull specifically, so much as conservative and fundamentalist Christianity. It covers women in various churches and denominations. This part in no way distracts from the rest of the book, as it provides a necessary background and context. The second and third sections cover Quiverfull and other natalist movements more specifically. Throughout the book, Joyce focuses on specific people/organizations within the QF/P movements, such as Vision Forum or the Botkin sisters. She also covers several people who escaped from Quiverfull. Some Lastly, a few parts of the book began as magazine articles, and can be found online.

Being a journalist, Joyce sticks only to objective language and point–of–view, and avoids judging the people she discusses, even though she strongly disagrees with the QF lifestyle. In some sense, this sticking only to reportage detracts from the book, as more analysis and discussion would have been better. Another issue is the lack of footnotes or endnotes. Although Joyce mentions sources inline, it is easier to find the exact spot of a quotation with a note rather than something like “said X, in their book____”. This prevents having to read straight through some other book until the fact or quotation is found.

The is well–written, and excellently researched. There is no need for the book to tell how bad the QF/P subculture is, as it does an excellent job showing it instead. The followers and adherents of this disturbing lifestyle chillingly speak in their own words. Being a long–time lurker and reader of anti–QF/P blogs, and having read some of the online excerpts, I already knew the general gist about Quiverfull, so the book was less informative than it will be for someone who knows nothing about QF/P.

Overall, this was a really necessary and eye–opening book. I recommend it.

As for Quiverfull, it is inextricably connected with the movements called Biblical Patriarchy or Biblical Family Values. These are all movements within Protestant Christianity. One does not need have all of the characteristics of QF/P, or meet them completely, to be a Quiverfuller, so the following characteristics should be interpreted as indicative of a spectrum stretching from ordinary conservative Christianity at one end, through fundamentalism, with QF/P at the other end.

The traits of Quiverfull/Biblical Patriarchy are (sources are the Joyce book and various websites and blogs by those who left QF/P):

  • Abstaining from all forms of birth control and contraception, including natural family planning and fertility awareness. Frequently, followers forgo maternal health or the services of an ob–gyn. The end result is that women are expected to bear children until they keel over and expire.
  • Restricted gender roles, or “Biblical manhood and womanhood”. Men are providers, breadwinners, and always in charge. Women are submissive doormats and helpmeets, doing housework and homemaking. If the position of a marriage is not going well or if troubles and difficulties happen to a family, then it is blamed on the woman. Her marriage advice is mostly summed up by the sentence, “Shut up and submit more.”
  • Isolationism. QF/P families often live in rural areas. They often reject any form of government assistance, even it if means living in appalling, over–crowded or substandard conditions. Parents restrict access to outside or “worldly” influences. This usually leads to home–churching and homeschooling, as well as claiming total owner over one’s children, under the guise of “parental rights”. In the context of QF/P, “parental rights” usually means some combination of: (1) the right to beat the shit out of your kid; (2) the right to deny education; (3) the right to deny healthcare; and (4) the right to raise your daughter to be a doormat.
  • Treating women little better than chattel. Daughters are kept isolated, and are denied any chance to be able to support themselves should they leave, and are denied any real “control” over their own lives. Daughters are kept at home doing chores and housework (the “Stay–at–Home Daughters Movement”) as a helpmeet for their fathers and a future helpmeet for their husbands. They undergo “courtship” (instead of dating) and a given away (the same way you give away a coat) to men in what are essentially arranged marriages. In addition, this controlling treatment of women leads to an obsession with female sexuality and a focus on “purity” (leading to things like purity balls) and modesty rules (like dresses only).

Disturbingly, some of these sentiments (like purity balls) have become more mainstream amongst ordinary evangelical Christianity.

In any event, “patriarchy” seems to be the wrong word for this movement; “patriarchy” is too weak and certainly is not strong enough.

And lastly, a mini link farm to more sites providing additional information on QF/P:

  • No Longer Qivering is a blog run by QF/P escapee Vyckie Garrison. It tells the story of her escape from QF/P, and likewise for several other people, and also serves as an information source on QF/P movements.
  • A Quiver Full of Information is run by Hopewell, and serves a link directory to most websites/blogs concerning QF/P. Hopewell is a self–described “campaigner against abusive religion”, but her page links to QF/P sites in a neutral manner. It includes a page of links to survivor/escapee websites.
  • Rethinking Vision Forum by Libby Anne is a website compiling responses to and exposés of one of the biggest promoters of QF/P, Vision Forum.

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