Professor Wellstone Goes to Washington: The Inside Story of a Grassroots U.S. Senate Campaign by Dennis J. McGrath and Dane Smith (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1995) is the inspiring tale of how an unknown professor with an unapologetically liberal agenda beat out a wealthy, popular, incumbent Republican senator in Minnesota's 1990 race. Feisty, irreverent, highly principled, and often impolitic, Paul Wellstone was dubbed by Mother Jones "the first 1960s radical elected to the U.S. Senate," and the book's authors were with him every dizzying step of the way.
While Bill Clinton mumbles unconvincingly about feeling people's pain, Barbara Ehrenreich's robust and witty prose in The Snarling Citizen (N.Y.: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995) reminds us why we voted Democrat in the first place. Her lucid offerings on everything from housework to Somalia, the fitness craze to the religious right, amuse and refresh even while they (invariably) make us think. We especially like her arresting one-liners; the opener to an essay on raising the minimum wage declares simply, "Put another wienie on the fire for the working class." Mother Jones couldn't have said it better herself.
Contrary to what you might have heard, the police are our friends. After all, who else would agree to stop by your house to do a free safety inspection, pointing out the weaknesses (typically certain types of doors, locks, etc.) that might make you easy prey for an intruder? Most police departments have a crime prevention department, or at least an individual, whose duties include doing home safety inspections on request.
While we're exploding myths: Not all personal safety classes involve kickboxing. Your local YMCA, community college, or women's resource center may offer a course in "assault prevention," which typically focuses on observation and awareness training and, secondarily, teaches basic (read: nonacrobatic) self-defense.
Pick and choose from 88 strategies for reducing community violence in What Works in Preventing Rural Violence: Strategies, Risk Factors, and Assessment Tools (St. Paul, Minn.: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 1995). This grassroots guide offers information on how to prevent assault, child abuse, rape, domestic violence, elder abuse, suicide, and hate crimes from occurring. Based on a comprehensive review of the violence prevention literature, the book boasts several activism-oriented features, such as step-by-step instructions on how to create a community report card to track local violence, and provides an extensive bibliography for further research.
In his powerful new book, Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1995), Michael Tonry asserts that America's lock-'em-up approach to crime not only fails to increase public safety, but has largely caused the current devastation of urban black communities. While politicians scrabble to enact even harsher crime-control legislation, Tonry draws compelling evidence from the latest statistical, legal, and social research to show that "by removing so many young black men from their families and communities, [these] policies undermine efforts to ameliorate the conditions of life of the black urban underclass," thereby creating more problems than they could ever hope to solve.
It's nice to know that even Rush has done some good in this world, causing a certain intelligent, semireasonable conservative to re-examine his position in light of Rush's bombastic rantings. The Great Limbaugh Con and Other Right-Wing Assaults on Common Sense by Charles M. Kelly (California: Fithian Press, 1994) has three sections: deconstructing Limbaugh's favorite sound bites (or, "scams"); calmly explaining liberals' and conservatives' true philosophical differences; and placing Limbaugh in the context of 20th-century politics. A smart, rational book that still manages to drip with contempt for the big R; all in all, an encouraging portrait of a mind shocked into sanity.
For the virulently anti-Rush, the Flush Rush Quarterly is a seasonal newsletter devoted to dismantling the Great White One's more egregious idiocies--not a difficult task, since merely quoting Rush usually serves to discredit him--but the editors have so much fun doing it, it's a pleasure to behold. (Editor Brian Keliher has recently put out a book by the same name, culling choice tidbits from two years of cheerful Limbaugh-bashing.) Every issue is peppered with the season's best anti-Rush cartoons, and there's always the Flush Rush logo, depicting the boorish Missourian either slipping down the toilet or emerging from it like a great, jabbering sewer-beast. To subscribe to FRQ (one year for $13.95), write to The Flush Rush Quarterly, P.O. Box 270525, San Diego, CA 92198; or call (619) 599-7805.
Or, get it straight from the (quadruped of your choice)'s mouth. In The Way Things Ought to Be (N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1993) and smug follow-up, See, I Told You So (N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1994), you'll learn Limbaugh's edifying opinion on everything from the national mascot ("We need to replace the eagle with a huge sow that has a lot of nipples and a bunch of fat little piglets hanging on them") to women in the military ("We [should] have a combat-ready battalion of Amazons with PMS"). Aside from the predictable jeers, buffooneries, and cheap shots, Rush actually tries to make an intelligent case for his Reaganophilic ("the man should be carved into Mount Rushmore") politics of demeaning. Recommended reading in the "know thine enemy" category.
Can't we all just not get along? Apparently, it's too much to hope for, according to Thieves' World: The Threat of the New Global Network of Organized Crime by Claire Sterling (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1994). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, contends Sterling, a "planet-wide criminal consortium" has come into being, a Pax Mafiosa in which the American and European mafias, Russian organized crime, Chinese triads, and Colombian drug cartels are linking together, put simply, to take over the world. Sterling focuses on the Russian mafiya, which has achieved dizzying power in an incredibly short time, and one of whose top leaders has been recently "given" America, whatever that means. Probably nothing good.
Before he crossed over to become one of history's key mafia pentiti (repentants), Antonio Calderone was the hulking, formidable boss of one of Europe's most powerful "families." In secret meetings arranged by the Italian police in the late 1980s, he shared his 25-year odyssey with renowned mafia expert Pino Arlacchi, resulting in an engrossing blend of personal and historical drama in Men of Dishonor: Inside the Sicilian Mafia (N.Y.: William Morrow, 1992). While Arlacchi's book eschews the sensationalism of most mafia exposes, it nevertheless contains several mug shots of various (and fascinatingly evil) Cosa Nostra thugs. Darts, anyone?
Longtime mafia chef (and later, FBI informant) Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi shares the dishes that sustained the Gambino family through its little ups and downs in The Mafia Cookbook (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1993). From the predictable (chicken cacciatore) to the surprising (Mandarin pork roast), these world-class recipes serve as artful pauses in Iannuzzi's first-person narrative, which tells of a brusque, tough-talking, crowbar-wielding world, stunning insofar as one marvels that the movies got it exactly right.
Like Helms, author Ernest B. Furgurson is the product of a strict Baptist upbringing in a small Southern town, and throughout Hard Right: The Rise of Jesse Helms (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1986) he describes the right-wing demagogue with the strange mixture of empathy and revulsion you might feel for an evil twin. The book chronicles the transformation of a shy, "unbookish youngster who never finished college" into a fearsome monolith of puritanism, with fascinating glimpses into Helms' Carolina boyhood under the thumb of his "six-foot, 200-pound gorilla" of a father, his stint as a member of the dreaded media, and the development of his unique Bible-thumping, commie-hating, art-censoring conservatism that we've all come to know and loathe so well.
Jesse, Jesse, Jesse. How can you expect the nice people of North Carolina to vote for you if you keep making these nasty little remarks, as showcased in "A Lot of Human Beings Have Been Born Bums": 20 Years of the Words of Senator No (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Independent Publications, 1984). Edited by Grace Nordhoff, this little paperback catalogs two decades of Helms' stinging and mean-spirited quips ("The more we remove penalties for being a bum, the more bumism is going to blossom"), weirdly interspersed with pseudo-pieties ("The only thing I know I'm running for, as of this day, is the kingdom of heaven"). The tally of funny-if-they-weren't-coming-from-the-current-chair-of-the-Senate-Foreign-Relations-Committee quotes ends in the '80s, but you get the idea. A light-hearted look at a hard-hearted SOB.