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The Knife Man – Wendy Moore


The Knife Man

Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery

Wendy Moore

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: September 13, 2005

Publisher: Crown/Archetype

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

The vivid, often gruesome portrait of the 18th-century pioneering surgeon and father of modern medicine, John Hunter. When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his gothic horror story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he based the house of the genial doctor-turned-fiend on the home of John Hunter. The choice was understandable, for Hunter was both widely acclaimed and greatly feared.   From humble origins, John Hunter rose to become the most famous anatomist and surgeon of the eighteenth century. In an age when operations were crude, extremely painful, and often fatal, he rejected medieval traditions to forge a revolution in surgery founded on pioneering scientific experiments. Using the knowledge he gained from countless human dissections, Hunter worked to improve medical care for both the poorest and the best-known figures of the era—including Sir Joshua Reynolds and the young Lord Byron.   An insatiable student of all life-forms, Hunter was also an expert naturalist. He kept exotic creatures in his country menagerie and dissected the first animals brought back by Captain Cook from Australia. Ultimately his research led him to expound highly controversial views on the age of the earth, as well as equally heretical beliefs on the origins of life more than sixty years before Darwin published his famous theory.   Although a central figure of the Enlightenment, Hunter’s tireless quest for human corpses immersed him deep in the sinister world of body snatching. He paid exorbitant sums for stolen cadavers and even plotted successfully to steal the body of Charles Byrne, famous in his day as the “Irish giant.”   In The Knife Man , Wendy Moore unveils John Hunter’s murky and macabre world—a world characterized by public hangings, secret expeditions to dank churchyards, and gruesome human dissections in pungent attic rooms. This is a fascinating portrait of a remarkable pioneer and his determined struggle to haul surgery out of the realms of meaningless superstitious ritual and into the dawn of modern medicine.

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The Knife Man – Wendy Moore

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What Killed Jane Austen? And other medical mysteries, marvels and – Jim Leavesley & George Biro


What Killed Jane Austen? And other medical mysteries, marvels and

Jim Leavesley & George Biro

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $0.99

Publish Date: November 1, 2010

Publisher: HarperCollins


Jane Austen, the much-loved author of Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility,was just 42 when she died. Do you know what killed her?the intriguing nature of Jane Austen's demise is just one of a series of sometimes famous, often bizarre and always memorable stories featured in What Killed Jane Austen? Why was Louis XVI embarrassed on his wedding night? What uncomfortable maladies plagued Napoleon during and after Waterloo? Did a standin take the rap for Rudolf Hess? Was Winston Churchill fit to rule? Why did Mary tudor have phantom pregnancies and a deep voice? Have you heard about the Alabama syphilis scandal? What did the autopsy reveal about Lenin's mental state? Why did Freud dabble with cocaine?Here is a collection of always fascinating and sometimes gory anecdotes about royalty, quacks, eccentrics, reformers and pioneers, together with some astonishing tales of discoveries, disasters, diseases, addictions and obsessions.

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What Killed Jane Austen? And other medical mysteries, marvels and – Jim Leavesley & George Biro

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Burger King’s ‘Impossible Whopper’ is 0% meat and 100% real

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Burger King, the fast-food giant known for meaty excess, has announced it intends to pilot a fully vegetarian, beef-free version of its classic Whopper.

The company announced on Monday that it will test out plant-based patties from startup Impossible Foods starting with stores in the St. Louis, Missouri area. And thank the flame-broiled Gods, this does not appear to be an April Fool’s Joke. The chain already offers a meatless patty in the form of the MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patty, which is made from vegetables and grains. But the more meat-like Impossible Whopper represents a promotion for vegetarian options from sub-in to front-of-brand star.

Fernando Machado, Burger King’s chief marketing officer, told the New York Times of the new Impossible Whopper that even fans who know the traditional beef Whopper inside and out “struggle to differentiate which one is which.”

Plant-based meat substitutes have been gaining popularity as people have become more aware and focused on the environmental woes associated with standard animal-based food systems. Plus, health-conscious customers may be drawn to plant-based options because of their lower cholesterol and calorie counts.

Burger King is the biggest fast-food company to launch a vegetarian-friendly burger option to date, but it’s far from the first. In January, Carl’s Jr. started offering a meatless “Beyond Meat” option at more than 1,000 locations. And the mostly Midwest-based chain White Castle (of Harold and Kumar fame) has been offering a meatless “Impossible Slider” at their nearly 380 locations since September of last year.

Burger King’s “whopper” of a contribution to the meatless fast food landscape is, at least for now, still theoretical. The Impossible Whopper will only be tested in 59 of the company’s approximately 7,200 locations, with plans for broader rollout in the future if the trial goes well.

One potential barrier to the Impossible Whopper’s success is its price tag: the meatless burger will cost about a dollar more than its meaty namesake. But according to Burger King’s North America president Christopher Finazzo, research shows consumers are willing to pay more for the plant-based burger.

And as Impossible Foods gets deeper into the fast food game, it’s possible prices for the popular, plant-based patties could drop.

“Burger King represents a different scale,” Impossible Foods COO and CFO David Lee told CNN. “The only thing we need to be affordable and at scale versus the incumbent commodity business is time and size.”

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Burger King’s ‘Impossible Whopper’ is 0% meat and 100% real

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Pruitt’s EPA tenure helped sharpen a Trump-era climate strategy

There’s no debating that President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, led until recently by the flagrantly corrupt Scott Pruitt, has dealt a series of woeful and lasting setbacks to our planet’s habitability.

With coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler stepping in as interim EPA administrator, things probably won’t get better for federal environmental policy anytime soon. There’s a good chance Wheeler’s EPA will have fewer soundproof booths, cheaper pens, and a less-massive security detail. But Wheeler is on record saying his agenda will be the same as Pruitt’s. And a less scandal-ridden EPA administrator could do even more damage.

With all three branches of government stacked against them, environmental advocates have to focus on geographically-targeted policy. Luckily, it is a strategy that most are already accustomed to. So beyond the smog at the federal level, you can make out a constellation of small, but still massively consequential, sub-national victories emerging for champions of clean air and a stable climate.

Julie Cerqueira, the director of U.S. Climate Alliance, an association of state governors, points to recent successes in improving energy-efficiency standards and coordinating to build out zero-emission vehicle infrastructure. “There are strategic opportunities for the states to work together in ways that can help shift the market towards lower carbon and more resilient solutions for the nation,” she says.

The rapid rise of renewable energy means that the transportation sector is now the leading source of emissions in the U.S. So two groups of states on the West Coast and in the Northeast are already working together to “rapidly accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles and reduce transportation related greenhouse gas emissions,” says Sarah McKearnan, a policy advisor for Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a group advocating for better air quality.

Working against them is that one of the Trump EPA’s main goals is to undo Obama-era vehicle emission standards, a fight that will center on California due to the state’s status as a testbed for stricter motor vehicle regulations. Environmental groups are ready for the fight, having become more litigious in defending these regulations and other policies already on the books.

Pruitt’s “success” at the EPA was mostly in decimating staffing and morale, as well as eliminating science. But with Trump’s recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, it’s likely the next Supreme Court won’t do much to stop the tearing down of regulations. To have any success, organizations suing on behalf of the environment will have to tailor their arguments to win over Chief Justice John Roberts, who now has the swing vote.

“We have sued Trump 77 times so far,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is so beholden to the polluters they are supposed to be regulating that they make a lot of mistakes in their headlong rush to gut protections for our air, water, and health. Because of that, we’ve had many victories in court, and we’ll have many more.”

Luckily for greens, the environment is inherently local — and cities and states aren’t just passing policies the feds won’t, they’re also setting ambitious targets to tackle climate change. (That, you’ll recall, is the phenomenon that’s no longer mentioned by executive branch agencies.)

Since Trump was elected, more than 1,400 mayors have agreed to shift their cities to 100-percent renewable energy by 2035, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Last fall, St. Louis became one of the biggest cities so far to set that lofty goal. The city of Berkeley, California, went even further recently, declaring an “existential climate emergency” and aiming for net-negative emissions by 2030.

It’s ambition like that, if realized, that will provide climate leadership for the rest of us in the Trump era. Meanwhile, Siegel, of the Center for Biological Diversity, is aiming her organization’s resources at least in part on making sure cities and states’ actions match their rhetoric.

“We are pushing the state of California, which is viewed as a model for climate leadership, to be a model worth following,” says Siegel. “In California, we have a moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing that has been in place since 2013, due to our litigation victories. We expect the Trump administration to try to restart leasing this summer. We will fight that in the street and in court.”

Sierra Club Legal Director Pat Gallagher says that both public opinion and the economics support his organization’s efforts to expand the use of renewable energy throughout the country.

“We’re using every means at our disposal to protect clean air, clean water, and healthy communities,” he explains. “We’re going to hold the line against rollbacks of environmental and public health protections by emphasizing that science and the law are on our side.”

The truth is, climate change is happening so fast that we can’t wait for a national-scale policy to slow it down. So rather, we should double down on this huge momentum throughout the country. We need bold, near-term leadership — and one good way to make that happen is with as many people in as many places as possible leading by example.

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Pruitt’s EPA tenure helped sharpen a Trump-era climate strategy

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The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution – Jonathan Eig


The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

Jonathan Eig

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 13, 2014

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W. W. Norton

A Chicago Tribune "Best Books of 2014" • A Slate "Best Books 2014: Staff Picks" • A St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Best Books of 2014" The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. We know it simply as "the pill," yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid. Spanning the years from Sanger’s heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.

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The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution – Jonathan Eig

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Trump Is Ready to Bless Monsanto and Bayer’s Massive Merger

Mother Jones

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Not even sworn in yet, President-elect Donald Trump is already negotiating the terms for green-lighting what Bloomberg News calls the globe’s “biggest-ever” merger of agribusiness companies—a move antitrust experts say is highly irregular.

US seed and pesticide giant Monsanto and its former German rival Bayer are in the midst of a $66 billion combination, one that immediately raised antitrust hackles because the resulting company would own around 29 percent of the global seed market, and 25 percent of the global pesticide market. Here in the United States, a combined Bayer-Monsanto would have nearly 60 percent of the US cottonseed market.

As I recently explained, such market power wielded by a single agribusiness company threatens to harm farmers and ultimately, consumers. The executive branch is required to vet massive combinations based on such concerns under the Sherman Act. But Trump’s talks with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer apparently had nothing to do with the deal’s impact on competition. On Tuesday, Fox Business News recently delivered Trump’s version of how the negotiation proceeded, quoting incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer from a press conference call:

After Trump’s meeting with Bayer and Monsanto CEOs, Bayer has committed to $8 billion in new U.S. research and development. Bayer will also keep 100% of Monsanto’s 9,000 plus U.S. workforce, and add 3,000 new U.S. high-tech jobs.

Bayer and Monsanto, for their part, on issued a joint statement describing their CEOs’ “very productive meeting last week with President-Elect Trump and his team.” They made no specific pledges on jobs, but did note that the “combined company expects to spend approximately $16 billion for R&D in agriculture over the next six years with at least half of this investment made in the United States,” an investment that “will create several thousand new high-tech, well-paying jobs after integration is complete.”

If Trump really does bless the merger based on a jobs pledge, dismissing antitrust concerns, it would “signal a fundamental disregard for the law and for due process,” Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, told me. “Antitrust enforcers play the important role of referee in protecting competition and our market system,” she added. “If Trump lets this deal through without any review, it would be unusual and would raise significant concerns.”

According to Barry Lynn, director of the Open Markets at the New America and author of Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, a combined Bayer-Monsanto would likely “pay for those jobs by ripping off American farmers, hence American eaters,” by leveraging their market power to raise prices. If the jobs deal pans out, he added, “Trump’s team is selling out the long term interests of the United States.”

And then there’s the whole question of what exactly Monsanto and Bayer are promising to deliver. As CNBC’s Meg Tirrell notes, the companies had already announced plans, way back when they agreed to merge in September, to keep the combined company’s Seeds & Traits division, as well as its main North American headquarters, in Monsanto’s hometown, St. Louis.

In that same September announcement, the two companies noted that the combined entity would maintain an annual R&D budget of 2.5 billion Euros, equal to about $2.66 billion. That amounts to about $16 billion over six years—exactly what Monsanto and Bayer said to expect in its recent joint statement.

Then there’s those jobs. Recall that Trump spokesman Spicer said on the press call to that the combined company had committed to “keep 100% of Monsanto’s 9,000 plus U.S. workforce, and add 3,000 new U.S. high-tech jobs.” But the joint statement from Monsanto and Bayer promised no such thing, only offering a vague reference to “several thousand new high-tech, well-paying jobs after integration is complete.”

It also bears noting that in the joint statement following the merger plan in September, Bayer and Monsanto promised their shareholders “total synergies of approximately USD 1.5 billion after year three, plus additional synergies from integrated solutions in future years.” In corporate-merger speak, “synergy” means cost savings from from combining operations and eliminating overlapping jobs: one of the major motivations for merging in the first place.

I asked a Monsanto spokeswoman whether the Trump team’s depiction of Bayer-Monsanto’s jobs commitment was accurate. She pointed me back to the joint Monsanto-Bayer statement, and declined to comment further.

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Trump Is Ready to Bless Monsanto and Bayer’s Massive Merger

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Was Emmett Till’s Father Lynched, Too?

Mother Jones

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The author John Edgar Wideman was 14 years old and living in Pittsburgh when a horrific photo began making the rounds back in 1955. It depicted the mangled corpse of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black kid from Chicago who was lynched—supposedly for flirting with a white woman—while visiting relatives down in Mississippi. Till was brutally beaten and shot. His partially decomposed body was recovered later from a nearby river, his face half bashed in. Till’s distraught mother famously insisted on an open-casket funeral, “so the world can see what they did to my boy.”

Wideman saw what they did. “It just scared the shit out of me,” he recalls.

Now 75, Wideman is a professor at Brown University. He’s built a distinguished career in academia and literature, with some 20 works of fiction and nonfiction under his belt. Among other honors, Wideman won the Pen/Falkner award in 1987 for the novel Sent for You Yesterday, and again in 1991 for Philadelphia Fire. His 1994 memoir, Fatheralong, was a National Book Award finalist. His trophy case also includes an O. Henry Award (for his short story “Weight”), a James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction (for his 1997 novel, The Cattle Killing), and a MacArthur Fellowship—a.k.a. “genius grant.”

But the Till photo remained with him all these years. His captivating new book, Writing to Save a Life, tackles the Till family saga—and Wideman’s own—through a lens of history, mystery, memoir, and fiction. In the book, which comes out next week, readers are introduced to different versions of Louis Till, Emmett’s father, who was charged with rape and murder while stationed in Italy during World War II, and then court-martialed and hanged by the US military. Wideman struggles to make sense of old documents from the proceedings (obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request), as well as the parallels between the Till family and his own.

In the process, Wideman revives an incredibly disturbing but largely forgotten detail from the Emmett Till affair. After the white racists accused of killing Till were acquitted of murder in a farcical trial, a grand jury was convened to consider kidnapping charges against the men. That’s when portions of Louis Till’s military file were abruptly declassified and leaked to the local press. The victim’s family was thus sullied, and the kidnapping charges, for whatever reason, never came to pass.

John Edgar Wideman Jean-Christian Bourcart

Mother Jones: I’ll begin with a not-so-serious question. Why don’t you use question marks?

John Edgar Wideman: I’ll give you a serious answer. I don’t like the way they look. They’re really ugly. They look like blots. At some other point in my life, I might have disliked them because I never knew how to properly apply them. Also commas, and whether they were outside the quote or inside the quote—that all seemed like an unnecessary pain in the ass.

I really love James Joyce, Dubliners and other work. And I was interested in the way the dash was used in English topography—in his work particularly—and I realized there was no compulsion to use those ugly dot-dot curlicues all over the place to designate dialogue. I began to look around, and found writers who could make transitions quite clear by the language itself. I’m a bit of a maverick now. I’m always trying to push the medium.

MJ: As a reader, I particularly enjoy the way you get distracted in the telling of one story, and suddenly we’re off in some other direction—it’s Joycean, I suppose, like we’re riding your daydreams. Louis Till’s military file finally comes in the mail, you put it aside, and a few minutes later you start thinking about turkey. Before long, we’re back at your family Thanksgiving table.

JW: Remember that a book is many drafts—mine certainly are. It’s improvisation. It’s as much jazz and the way we talk and the way I heard people preach coming up as it is writing. When you’re at the basketball court watching a game, one person may be talking about a fight he had with his wife, another is talking about the last hard-on he got, someone else is talking about the presidential election. The language and the tone and the voice—I’d love to be able to capture that spontaneity.

MJ: There’s a fine line with the improvisation, though. I mean, there were definitely places I had to work hard to puzzle out who’s talking, or from whose perspective a particular passage is written.

JW: I don’t mind that. As a reader, Mike, I do not like to have everything handed to me. Because after a while it gets formulaic and I’m thinking, “If this is so thought through, then why do I need to read it. It’s done!” It becomes a beach book at a certain point.

MJ: Writing to Save a Life is stylistically unusual. It’s often hard to tell what’s real and what’s made up. Is there a precedent?

JW: There are plenty. I read all the time, and lots of European fiction. Sometimes it’s not a question of reading contemporaries: You read Moby-Dick again, Melville again, and it had those same kinds of issues with style, trying to accommodate this new American language with traditional style. I really dislike it when people talk about “experimental,” because any good writer is experimental. As a writer, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. You’re just doing it. You hope it works out well. I’ve been experimenting with these things myself in my own books.

MJ: At one point you put yourself and Louis Till in a boat full of slaves and Confederate officers—back in 1861!

JW: You think that’s fiction? Laughs.

MJ: Until I read your book, I was unaware that Emmett Till’s killers had escaped kidnapping charges after details from Louis Till’s military trial were leaked. It made the news back in 1955. But have Americans of your generation buried that part of the Emmett Till story?

JW: I’m almost positive they have. Christopher Hitchens, who died a few years back, and who was a radical journalist in certain ways and kind of a pain in the ass in other ways, was a tremendously well-read guy who liked to be ahead of everybody else. He included an essay I wrote about Till “Fatheralong” in The Best American Essays 2010 and he said he could not believe that he’d never heard this story. I’ve had that response many times from individuals.

MJ: Now, you’d originally planned to write a fictional work about Emmett Till. What happened?

JW: It got put on the back burner. I got very interested in Frantz Fanon and Martinique. And I wanted to write stories about my own family and background. I started to do research in South Carolina on our family history. All that stuff, without my knowing it, kept leading back to Emmett Till. But I had to do something about him, because I never got over seeing that photo.

MJ: Tell me more about your reaction to seeing Emmett Till’s corpse.

JW: It was incomprehensible. I could not understand what had happened to this kid. It was too horrible. I literally could not look at it. I had a young person’s ambitions and dreams. I thought, “Hell, I’m going to play pro basketball. I’m going to maybe be famous. I’m going to write books.” And then this face is looking at me: Here’s another thing that could happen to you, son.

My grandfather had asked me many times whether I’d like to come to South Carolina with him. He wanted to introduce me to our people down there and I didn’t want to go. In those days, the South was still a place where black kids were lynched. Something horrible could happen to you. I’ve had that feeling my whole life. Even in my adult years, when I heard a white person speaking in a Southern accent I was initially suspicious. So I had a deep prejudice against the South. It’s taken me many years to get over that, be more open and thoughtful. The Till stuff brought all that up.

MJ: There’s a parallel to all of this in the book. Mamie Till is nostalgic about the South while her husband, from Missouri, is scornful of the South. I don’t know how much of that is real.

JW: Louis Till’s internal monologues are my invention. But he is based on many people I knew, including my father, who shared that deep ambivalence about the South and their own identity. And this goes along with color. You know, Michael Jordan was a hero of mine. But what nobody ever talked about at the time he was becoming world-famous, and it always struck me, is that in many circles of black people he wouldn’t have been acceptable. He was too dark. He had that Southern look. He was from the Deep South, and even for African Americans in the North, the South still represented something vestigial, something primitive, and Jordan was the wrong color. There were fraternities and sororities where he wouldn’t be all that welcome. Some of us have transitioned out of that kind of stuff, but my grandmother, if Jordan had walked in the door, she wouldn’t have been impolite, but she would have treated him like she treated my other grandfather, whom she always called “Mr. Wideman” and kept her distance from him because he was Deep South and she was very fair-skinned.

MJ: In what ways were your father and Emmett Till’s father alike?

JW: Well, they both liked to box. And they were both survivors. To be a survivor as an African American man—maybe any man—you have to be pretty tough. Or at least that’s what we all understand. You have to be a minor superhero just to get to be a dignified man, and that’s kind of exacerbated for men of color.

My father was also quite patriotic—he rooted for the Yankees when no one else did because they were “America’s team.” He made us stand up when the national anthem was on when there was a ball game on the radio, and later TV—you couldn’t sit! My father was also a loner, like Till. He could be very loving, but he was also capable of looking out for himself, for doing what he wanted to do. He combined many of the elements that were feared in the culture, but also he was a warm figure, a figure we needed. We depended on him to give us a little bit of strength and courage. My mother loved my father. From my view, she let him get away with too much. It broke my heart to see him in an old people’s home and stop being strong and lose his voice. He was a very articulate guy and he told good stories. Much of what I think about in Louis Till I project from my own father.

MJ: Your dad related to you how his own black military regiment in the South would get hauled out on Sunday mornings and made to do hard labor. Yet he remained a patriot?

JW: Oh, yes. That split is inside all Americans. There are contradictions inside all of us about color and race. We’ve learned to cover them up and live with them and pretend that deep cleavage is not there. We all bear that illness.

MJ: The file on Louis Till’s court-martial is a central character in the book, and one with which you have a tortured interaction. When it arrives, you are filled with fear and suspicion. What were you were afraid of?

JW: I’m not a fearful person, but I’m a pretty pessimistic person. So some of my best times are waiting, anticipating. That’s the way it always has been with me, whether anticipating a ball game, anticipating a relationship. Things seem to fall apart inevitably. I get off on anticipating and waiting much more than I get off on the actual event. When I’m writing, I’m thinking, “Well, this might be a book that I’ll always be happy with, and certainly readers will be happy with.” But another part of me knows that when I’m past the stage of writing, the book is gonna have good things about it, bad things about it—probably more bad than good. I just know that. That’s who I am.

MJ: My sense is that you had hoped to find yet another moral outrage in that file, another lynching, but it turned out to be complicated.

JW: I didn’t find an open-and-shut case. I didn’t find one more lynch-law shooting in the street, and villains—good guys, bad guys. Reading the Till file, I hoped, would clarify some of my pessimism about my country, about myself, about my family, about the Tills. But in another way I knew it wouldn’t. So the file sat there as a sort of challenge before I even opened it.

MJ: Like a forensic defense attorney, you interrogated the file from every possible angle: the questions not asked, the abridged statements and translations, the mystery of Louis Till’s silence about his own guilt or innocence.

JW: I started out to solve a puzzle that bothered me very deeply. The file was what I thought might be my means for solving it, but I was asking an awful lot of a bunch of old papers. I found not the solution to a puzzle, but many puzzles. There was the old paper, the file itself, which was a couple hundred pages, but then there were files inside of files inside of files, and the process never ended. It still hasn’t.

MJ: What’s your theory about why Louis Till never gave a statement to his accusers?

JW: Well, he sort of understood the way things worked. He came into the world an orphan, and when you’re an orphan you don’t have a daddy to appeal to. I guess maybe you could become religious and have a Heavenly Father to appeal to, but he had to learn to find the answers to problems and issues on his own. That’s quite a burden.

MJ: You write, “Not even truth is close to truth. So we create fiction.” Talk about that.

JW: Our thoughts, our language, are always at a distance from whatever they’re trying to describe. We have other kinds of languages, like mathematics, like music, like art, but there’s always that gap. We’re dreamers and—since we only have one life, and if we screw up we can get in a world of trouble—we’re very intense dreamers. That’s the beauty and the terror of being human beings: We just have these symbolic languages, these dreams, and that’s all it ever is. There is no American history. There is no French history. There is no John Wideman. There are all these dreams that are floating around. People construct them and fight with them and criticize them, and the world goes on. I don’t think the stars pay much attention.

MJ: I sense that this book was a struggle for you.

JW: Yes, absolutely. To write a story about Louis Till puts me on trial. If I have objections to the way that he was treated, I certainly don’t want the way I treat him, or the way I treat myself in this book, to mirror what I think of as unfair or unjust. I want to give the evidence in a way that is convincing, but I don’t want to cheat. You can say, “Has this guy done a Till story any justice? Has he done America any justice?” You can make your own choice.

MJ: Shame comes up a lot in this book—for making a scene at your first haircut, for being caught spying on your mom in the bath, for your tryst with Latreesha. These little moments from the past still haunt you. Where did this deep propensity for shame come from?

JW: I have continued, throughout my life, to commit the same kinds of transgressions. I’m still vulnerable and still weak. I’m still divided in my principles and what I think is right and what I’m actually able to do, whether talking about writing or being a citizen or being a husband or being a father. And I’m trying to get better. I can’t pretend that I did one really awful thing—I took a bite out of the apple but now I’m never going to sin again. I believe—what did Faulkner say? “The past is not even past.”

JW: I’m really struck by your willingness to put your vulnerabilities on paper, even when they might be embarrassing or politically incorrect. Do you feel any qualms about sharing so much of your internal life?

JW: If I felt too apprehensive, I would declare the Fifth. I don’t tell everything. I want the reader to have the feeling that maybe they know the whole truth, but they don’t.

MJ: In Brothers and Keepers, you wrote of being the academic success while your kid brother went to prison as an accomplice to murder. Today you have a daughter playing pro basketball while your son has been incarcerated for a killing. I don’t quite know how to put this, but the irony of that situation…

JW: I don’t know how to put it either. Maybe that’s why I write books. Books are an attempt to control something that’s uncontrollable. That’s one of the beauties, I think, of African American life. There was this thing called slavery and adjustments were made. It literally destroyed millions, but it didn’t destroy everybody and it didn’t destroy the inner lives of all the people who experienced it. There are still horrible things that go on because of the myth of race, but we don’t have to succumb totally. If I had only a negative side of things to present, I think I would have much less of a drive to do it. Because what would be the point?

MJ: You visited a cemetery plot in Italy where the US military buried in numbered graves the remains of 96 American soldiers executed during World War II—83 of them were black men. Louis Till was number 73. What did you hope to find there?

JW: I wasn’t sure. I was just amazed that this history that had preoccupied me for so many years actually had a kind of physical environment that I could touch and see. That was the attraction.

MJ: The fact that 86 percent of those executed were black, at a time and place where blacks made up less than 10 percent of American soldiers: That alone seems to cast doubt on the fairness of Louis Till’s prosecution.

JW: Well, clearly his prosecution did not begin after the alleged crime of murder and rape. The persecution and prosecution of Till began a long time before that, and I really want the book to point that out. There’s a kind of a puzzle at the end: Well, did he do it or didn’t he? I was more interested in the long view. What is all this? What’s happened to cause this situation? What happened to make this cemetery real?

Continued here: 

Was Emmett Till’s Father Lynched, Too?

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Louis C.K. Just Gave The Most Perfect Rant About Liberals Who Are Refusing to Vote For Hillary

Mother Jones

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When it comes to voting, comedian Louis C.K. minces no words. “I don’t have any quarrel with somebody who votes for Trump if that’s what they feel they want,” C.K. told Conan O’Brien last night, “but if you’re a liberal who’s not going to vote, you’re a piece of shit.”

C.K. went on to criticize liberals who weren’t going to vote because they didn’t know how they felt about Hillary Clinton or because they didn’t like her voice. “Grow the fuck up! Are you kidding me?” He railed. “If you vote for Hillary, you’re a grown up, if you vote for Trump, you’re a sucker, if you don’t vote for anybody, you’re an asshole.” Watch the full clip above.

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Louis C.K. Just Gave The Most Perfect Rant About Liberals Who Are Refusing to Vote For Hillary

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Here’s How Ferguson Has Kept Blacks off the Local School Board

Mother Jones

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Black students make up more than 75 percent of students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri, but only three of the seven school board members are black. On Monday, a federal district judge in the state ruled that the at-large election system used to choose the school board representatives violated the Voting Rights Act.

“It is my finding that the cumulative effects of historical discrimination, current political practices, and the socioeconomic conditions present in the District impact the ability of African Americans in Ferguson-Florissant School District to participate equally in Board elections,” District Judge Rodney Sippel wrote in an opinion. He added that the process “deprives African American voters of an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice” and that no elections could be conducted until a new system was put in place.

Voters in Ferguson had elected school board representatives every year in two or three at-large races, instead of voting for candidates representing specific subdistricts. The case, filed in December 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, alleged that this practice diluted black voter strength, leaving them “all but locked out of the political process.”

ACLU attorney Julie Ebenstein explained in April 2015 that since black voters in the district as a whole made up less than half the voting-age population, they were “systematically unable to elect” board members of their choice when casting ballots across all board seats. In 12 elections that took place between 2000 and 2015, five black candidates won school board seats out of 24 potential candidates, the judge noted in his opinion. Over that period, 22 white candidates won seats out of 37 potential contenders.

Cindy Ormsby, the school district’s attorney, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the district was “very disappointed in the court’s decision.”

You can read the opinion below:

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NAACP vs Fegurson Florissant Voting Rights Decision (PDF)

NAACP vs Fegurson Florissant Voting Rights Decision (Text)

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Here’s How Ferguson Has Kept Blacks off the Local School Board

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Monsanto Just Made a Massive Mistake

Mother Jones

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A couple of weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it had gotten an “unusually high number of reports of crop damage that appear related to misuse of herbicides containing the active ingredient dicamba.” Complaints of drooping and often dead crops appeared in no fewer than 10 states, the EPA reports. In Missouri alone, the agency says it has gotten 117 complaints “alleging misuse of pesticide products containing dicamba,” affecting more than 42,000 acres of crops, including peaches, tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, rice, peas, peanuts, alfalfa, cotton, and soybeans.

The state’s largest peach farm, which lies near soybean-and-cotton country, has suffered massive and potentially permanent damage this year—and suspects dicamba drift as the culprit, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

What gives?

The trouble appears to stem from decisions made by the Missouri-based seed and pesticide giant Monsanto. Back in April, the company bet big on dicamba, announcing a $975 million expansion of its production facility in Luling, Louisiana. The chemical is the reason the company launched its new Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds, genetically engineered to withstand both dicamba and Monsanto’s old flagship herbicide, glyphosate (brand name: Roundup). Within a decade, the company wrote, the new GM crops will proliferate from the US Midwest all the way to Brazil and points south, covering as much as 250 million acres of farmland (a combined land mass equal to about two and a half times the acreage of California)—and moving lots of dicamba.

The plan is off to a rough start—which brings us back to those drooping crops in soybean and cotton country. The company elected to release Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds this spring, even though the EPA has not yet signed off on a new herbicide product that combines glyphosate and a new dicamba formulation. That was a momentous decision, because the dicamba products currently on the market are highly volatile—that is, they have a well-documented tendency to vaporize in the air and drift far away from the land they’re applied on, killing other crops. Monsanto’s new dicamba, tweaked with what the company calls “VaporGrip” technology, is supposedly much less volatile.

The trouble is that farmers have been planting glyphosate-tolerant cotton and soybeans for years, and as a result, are dealing with a mounting tide of weeds that have evolved to resist that ubiquitous weed killer. So they jumped at the new seeds, and evidently began dousing crops with old dicamba formulations as a way to knock out those glyphosate-tolerant weeds. Oops.

For its part, Monsanto says it expects the EPA to approve the new, improved dicamba formulation in time for the 2017 growing season, and that it never expected farmers to use old dicamba formulations on the dicamba-tolerant crops it released this year. If the VaporGrip formulation does indeed control volatization as promised, the drift incidents of 2016 will likely soon just be a painful memory for affected farmers. If not, they portend yet more trouble ahead for the PR-challenged ag giant.


Monsanto Just Made a Massive Mistake

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