Outside Reading — The Orr Stratagem

dunce

The cleverness of stupidity by Tom Whyman

Drawing a few sharp illustrative examples from classic literature (including a ruse that leads to escape from the military for Orr in Catch-22), Tom Whyman shows how defiant rejection of learning is a solid strategy for unscrupulous and unkind people amassing cultural clout. Politicians feigning ignorance when asked direct questions are rightly held up for scorn, but some of Whyman’s most compelling animosity is directed at journalists who, presumably in an attempt to project evenhandedness, don’t immediately challenge the pure nonsense coming out of the mouths of those they interview. Seeing Chuck Todd respond with a prompt reality check to Senator Ron Johnson’s crackpot fulminating on Meet the Press this past weekend was jarring because it offered a reminder of the rarity of such an occurrence.

 

Alan Dershowitz and the wheel of pain by Lyz Lenz

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In writing about Alan Dershowitz for the Columbia Journalism Review, Lyz Lenz is gifted with the perfect lede by the lawyer’s phone interview behavior, which pulls off the trick of being both boorish and childish. She could have made a tidy little article out of little more than his furious denials of accusations that he was an active participant in some of the vilest happenings orchestrated by Jeffrey Epstein. Instead, Lenz draws in a lot of research that provides understanding of how Dershowitz has gotten himself to this strange place where he disgraces his already mud-caked reputation a little more each day.

 

Trouble Boys: The True Adventures of the Replacements by Bob Mehr

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I previously read the oral history book about the Replacements, so I figured I didn’t need to push through this quite weighty tome, too. How wrong I was. Bob Mehr fleetly goes through the tumultuous career of the famously self-sabotaging Minneapolis band, taking care to make sure that every last figure who passes through the book comes across as a fully realized person. I can’t judge how engaging this book will be for a reader not already happily familiar with the Replacements’ music, but for those who have a few (or all) of the records on the shelf, Mehr’s attention to detail is an absolutely delight. If nothing else, I’m deeply grateful that the book confirms the accuracy of my unquestioned favorite story about the band, involving Bob Dylan helping himself to an item in the Replacements’ well-stocked beer fridge while hanging out during a recording session.

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