Issues/Addresses for May 20, 2018

Below you’ll find this week’s issues and addresses. As usual:

If you aren’t from my particular part of the country, you can find contact information for your Senators here. You can find contact information for your Representative here.

As always

• Feel free to share/distribute.

• The list is long. Skim it and choose the items that speak to you.

• Please leave me a note in the comments section if you use this. It keeps my spirits up.

2018.05.20 Issues:Addresses

Comprehending Genocide

Journey through Genocide, by Raffy Boudjikanian, Dundurn, 192 pages, release date 15 May, 2018

The author of Journey through Genocide, Raffy Boudjikanian, is a product of genocide himself—from an Armenian family, some of whom were able to escape Turkey, most of whom were not, moving first to Iran, later to Canada. Given this history, he feels compelled to bear witness to contemporary genocides, as he works to understand his family’s experience.

Boudjikanian travels to Chad and Dafur, interviewing genocide survivors. He attempts to let them speak for themselves, including significant passages in their own words, which is a wise choice. He also reflects on the meaning of their experiences—what they tell us about the human capacity for evil, for survival, for simple decency, and for forgiveness.

On the heels of his African travels, he journeys to Turkey, seeking his family history. The official silencing of any discussion of the Armenian genocide makes this a difficult task, and Boudjikanian is on edge—with cause—as he digs through this obscured past.

My experience reading this book was mixed. I learned a good bit about events I’d only known of before in outline. Like Boudjikanian, I was particularly moved by the capacity for forgiveness he finds when genocide is discussed openly. However, because this book recounts a personal jounery, it is sometimes limited in what it can communicate, since we experience all it relates through Boudjikanian’s personal perspective. This is a book that will leave you wanting more, and that’s not a bad thing. The 20th Centuries genocides deserve a firmer, better-informed place in the public consciousness than they currently have.

Issues/Addresses for May 11, 2018

Here are this week’s issues/addresses write ups. Please use/share as you see fit.

2018.05.11 Issues and Addresses

The usual reminders—

• This list is long. Skim it and choose what speaks to you.

• I write these up based on my location in California. If you’re elsewhere, you can find a Senate directory here:

• You can find a House directory here:



My Favorite Detective Series

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, by Steve Burrows, Oneworld Publications, 368 pages, Release date 8 May, 2017.

There’s a new edition of A Shimmer of Hummingbirds out, and if you haven’t read it yet, this is the time to grab a copy and get reading. This is the fourth title in the “Birder Murder” series featuring Inspector Domenic Jejeune—and if you’re thinking a little old man with binoculars who watches the bird feeders in his backyard, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Jejeune, a Canadian relocated to Norfolk, England, solved a highly publicized case a few years ago, and since then the eyes of the press have been on him and he’s expected to work miracles when investigating. He’s the kind of birder who is happy poking about the local salt march, but he’s also traveled globally looking for birds. A quiet, intensely private man, with reasoning always several steps ahead of those around him,  Jejeune is a Holmesian figure. He’s tacturn and socially awkward, but he’s also a man of action.

Part of what makes Jejeune such a wonderful character is the intensity and complexity of his inner life. Readers see a bit more of him than his colleagues do, but we still have to work to fill in gaps. I love the time I get to spend with him. In fact, for several years now, this has been my favorite detective series by far—and I do a good bit of reading.

Volume five in this series, A Tiding of Magpies, is coming out in June. Because Hummingbirds is a pivotal book in the series, I highly recommend reading it before you start Magpies. Better yet, start with the first book in the series, A Siege of Bitterns.

Tyrant for These Times

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton and Company, 224 pages, release date 8 May, 2018

Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant is an absolute must-read—and I don’t say that lightly. Yes, I can find something worthwhile in a great range of books of varying style and qualities. But Tyrant is a must read. Must. Read.

Greenblatt examines the characters of Shakespeare’s tyrants, developing a sort of evolution of tyranny—one that speaks to current-day America. Tyrant is less a book for literary types and more a guidebook for the resistance. In the acknowledgements, Greenblatt explains this book’s origins: “Not so very long ago, though it feels like a century has passed, I sat in a verdant garden in Sardinia and expressed my growing apprehensions about the possible outcome of an upcoming election. My historian friend Bernhard Jussen asked me what I was going to do about it. ‘What can I do?’ I asked. ‘You can write something,’ he said. And so I did.” Indeed.

Greenblatt opens by observing, “Shakespeare grapples again and again with a deeply unsettling question: how is it possible for a whole country to fall into the hands of a tyrant?” Tyrant‘s chapter titles give us a sense of the answers Greenblatt finds as he pursues this question alongside Shakespeare: These include “Party Politics,” “Fraudulent Populism,” “A Matter of Character,” “Enablers,” “Madness in Great Ones,” and “Resistable Rise.”

Though Greenblatt is writing about 16th and 17th Century fictions, I felt as if I was reading a history of my own times. Shakespeare, he tells us, recognized the reality of class warfare: “Shakespeare carefully  noted the strong current of contempt among the landed classes of his time for the the masses and for democracy as a viable political possibility. Populism looked like an embrace of the have-nots, but it was in reality a form of cynical exploitation.” Sound familiar?

John Cade, a populist rabble-rouser, not just in the plays, but also in real life during the 15th Century. And the distance between the 15th and the 21st (2016 in particular) Centuries seems like the blink of an eye. Cade’s promises to his followers are clearly absurd, but “The absurdity of these campaign promises is not an impediment to their effectiveness. On the contrary, Cade keeps producing demonstrable falsehoods about his origins and making wild claims about the great things he will do, and the crowds eagerly swallow them”—much as a swathe of the U.S. electorate cheered and embraced the idea of a cost-free wall separating two nations.

Greenblatt observes that under Cade’s regime the fact that “the common people would lose even the very limited power they possess—the power expressed when they voted…—does not matter. For Cade’s ardent supporters, the time-honored institutional system of representation is worthless. It has, they feel, never represented them. Their inchoate wish is to tear up all the agreements, cancel all the debts, and wreck all the existing institutions.”

I could write about and quote from this title endlessly, but you’ll be best served if you pick it up and read it for yourself. Don’t let the “Shakespeare bit” intimidate you. While Greenblatt is perfectly capable of writing dense, theoretical prose, in Tyrant his voice is straightforward and lucid. This book will give you a framework for understanding the times we live in and will help you think of ways to resist these times.