Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
Sheri Fink, MD, PhD, published "The Deadly Choices at Memorial" in the New York Times on August 30, 2009. I read it on line, and, when I found an abandoned copy at a Starbucks, I read it again. It was a great article, and I wished for more details - why did the hospitals generators fail? - why didn't the hospital's emergency plan have procedures in place for a catastrophic failure? - why didn't the doctors who administered fatal injections wait for rescue that, in hindsight, was just hours away? That article won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting; and this lengthy book (576 pages on paper) answers those questions, and more.
Fink has the rare gift of understanding how complex systems work and fail, and the ability to explain them in a lively, intriguing narrative that weaves history, culture, engineering, medicine, medical ethics and people and companies together into a compelling story. She doesn't draw conclusions: she gives the conclusions reached by the government; the American Medical Association; the people that survived Memorial and the family members of those who didn't; law enforcement; expert witnesses; criminal attorneys and civil attorneys; and ethicists.
As a reader/listener, I reached my own conclusions about why Memorial failed as a physical building, and how and why Dr. Anna Pou, did what she did - she apparently euthanized patients, and was arrested for second degree murder. A grand jury declined to indict Dr. Pou or the two nurses that helped her, years after Katrina.
Would I have made the same kind of decision in an analogous situation? It's easy to pass moral judgment sitting in my comfortable backyard, well rested, enjoying a Sunday croissant and strong, black coffee. I don't think I would have, especially as to patient Emmett Everett, Sr., but I really don't know.
Fink's epilogue makes a strong recommendation: guidelines need to be in place for medical priorities when medical resources are short, and those decisions need to be made well before natural or man made mass casualty events happen, not in the middle of a catastrophe.
The book was so well narrated, I realized I was up at 1 a.m., after repeatedly setting the Audible sleep timer, listening. I had to switch to a book I'd already heard so I could sleep.
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In Afghanistan, the fighting season starts in the spring and lasts until the winter snows freezes the land. The Taliban stages firefights, tries to assassinate its enemies, lays Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and sends suicide bombers to crowded marketplaces. US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates' fighting season started on December 18, 2006, with George W. Bush as his Commander-in-Chief, and ended, at Gates' firm insistence, with his long planned retirement from the cabinet of President Barack Obama on July 1, 2011.
Bush 43 (as Gates referred to in his book, to distinguish him from his father, George H.W. Bush, Bush 41) was the 7th president Gates worked for. Bush 43 dragged Gates from his well loved job as president of Texas A&M, convincing Gates his duty to the country he loves was not finished. Gates was there for the wars in Iraq (2003-2011) and Afghanistan (2001-present); the January 12, 2010 Haitian Earthquake relief effort; the July 2010 Pakistan floods; and the Arab Spring, which began December 18, 2010. These events, and so many others that occurred during his tenure were tumultuous and Gates had to carefully balance resources to succeed with demanding missions.
Gates was also fighting other battles, particularly against a Congress that was, and remains, indifferent, muddled and sometimes hostile to military needs. Yes, it's great to fund all of those cargo planes that the Air Force didn't ask for and can't even find a place to put, but what the troops really needed in 2007 was Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs). Gates pushed that through, and they saved countless lives. And how about decent hospitals and care for wounded warriors? Canceling boondoggle projects and investing the money to help them heal should been something Congress leapt at, but Gates had to jump so many hurdles he could have qualified for an Olympic track team.
Gates had a particular dislike for some people he dealt with on a regular basis. I think he would have been grateful if Nancy Pelosi retired and took a vow of silence. He is a firm supporter of Israel, but Benjamin Netanyahu really bugs the hell out of him. George Newbern, the narrator, conveys Gates' unwritten glee when Obama, apparently no fan either, left Netanyahu cooling his heels in the White House while Obama had dinner with his family. Afghan president Hamid Karzai was another issue. Gates didn't particularly like him, but he understood him better than anyone else in either the Bush or Obama administrations.
Although Gates never had a winter break from his wars, he had strong allies, ardent supporters, and dedicated support from military and civilian Department of Defense employees. His relationship with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was remarkable. They did not always agree, but he admired and respected her statesmanship, and she changed his mind from time to time.
Gates gratefully acknowledges the Washington Post for exposing deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital that he fought hard to start to fix. He also mentions many, many people, from enlisted soldiers to heads of state, that made what he did possible. "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War" (2014) was a "Yes, I was in charge, but hundreds of people were key and this is who they are and what they did" book, not an ego trip.
Gates has Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral Degrees in History, and "Memoirs of a Secretary at War" (2014) was written with a historian's eye for complex detail and accuracy. The differences between Bush 43 and Obama as president are stark. Gates got along better with Bush 43, whose previous military service - although limited - made him innately comfortable with the military mindset. Taking an oath to protect and defend your country, knowing that your oath may lead to your death, and then learning how to accomplish that duty in extensive military training fundamentally changes a person, in part, because you learn you must trust your noncommissioned and commissioned officers with your life. Obama is not a veteran, and inherently distrusts senior military officers. Both men are decisive and made decisions Gates didn't always agree with. Obama is analytical and deliberative, where Bush 43 shot from the hip and was too easily influenced by his advisors, including a hawkish Dick Cheney. Obama considers other opinions, but isn't unreasonably swayed by them - which, considering Joe Biden's unique way of seeing the world, is a good thing. Gates opposed Obama's decision to send Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, but applauded both the courageous decision and its results, comparing it to some of the hardest and loneliest decisions made by Abraham Lincoln.
Gates memoir isn't remotely introspective, but it is clear that by the time he was at the end of his service, he was about to lose it. He cared more personally for the troops than perhaps anyone in a similar position since Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. Writing this memoir expressed the frustration and anguish he felt, but couldn't say, as SecDef.
"Memoirs of a Secretary at War" is 600 pages long, and almost overwhelming in scope. Gates writing style, after 40 years in government, is dry. He jumps from topic to topic, but to be fair, Gates was always jumping from crises to crises. The audio narration was good at differentiating the change in topics. This is a book that I wouldn't have had time to read on text for a very long time, and I'm glad it was available on Audible.
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When you live through history, the big picture - if you think of it at all - is elusive. There are parts of the illustrated history you can imagine but can't see because you're painted in another perspective. NPR, FoxNews, Slate, evangelical Christians, liberal pundits and conservative wonks add pieces to a puzzle scattered across a vast nation.
I was part of the 48% in California who voted 'no' on Prop 8 - which means I supported marriage equality. I mourned for friends who'd married and had their civil rights taken from them. I listened to the live webcast of "8", with so many people Internet traffic slowed down even crashed in a few places. In June of 2013, I changed my Facebook picture and pretty soon, every Facebook friend I had looked the same: = Our avatars stayed that way until DOMA and Prop 8 were overturned.
And talk about real excitement: SCOTUSBlog! No waiting for NPR's Nina Totenberg to come out of the Courthouse to explain the decisions. I posted SCOTUSBlog's report to FB, and the virtual celebration was on. Not that I didn't make it a special point to listen to Totenberg's reports later: no one explains the Supreme Court better.
So, I was and am definitely a supporter of same sex marriage, but other than being one of more than 50 million? 100 million now? that support it, I really only had the most rudimentary idea of how it went from whispers to dreams to possibility to reality.
I understood how and why United States v. Windsor (2013) 570 US 12 ended up in front of the US Supreme Court: that was a federal tax (IRS) question arising out of a federal law - the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
But Hollingsworth v Perry (2013) 133 S.Ct. 2652? Why wasn't that a California case? Did Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and later, Jerry Brown have the state constitutional authority to refuse to defend a proposition voted on by a majority of the voters, or even an affirmative obligation not to defend Prop 8? How were the Plaintiffs selected? And why now, not later when more people might have accepted the idea? And, just what was actor/director/civil rights activist Rob Reiner's part in this anyway? And why was there a trial, rather than a Motion for Summary Judgment?
I already had a pretty good idea of why the conservative Theodore Olson and the liberal David Boies were working together: human rights are human rights, not 'isms'. And - especially for us 'Street Lawyers' (as John Grisham might call us), there's no more idealistic attorney than a constitutional law attorney. Unless, of course, it's the President.
What fascinated me especially is learning how Olson and Boies worked together to map out a plan, from selecting resilient, optimistic Plaintiffs; identifying qualified experts; taking depositions; opening and closing statements; and establishing a strong record for appeal. Their system of constant balances and critical feedback in preparing questions and arguments - well - it was clearly invaluable and crucial to their preparation.
"Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality" (2014) by David Boies and Theodore Olson answers the procedural (how it got to the Courts it went to) and substantive (what law was used, and why). Absolutely fascinating. And - as someone who aced constitutional law in law school and has hundreds of hours of training in the same, and is admitted to practice before the US Supreme Court - if I were doing law school again, I'd read "Redeeming the Dream" first and last.
That being said - as a reader/listener Olson and Boies sounded like lawyers who'd swallowed Black's Law Dictionary and were slowly regurgitating it. That's a good thing for the US Supreme Court and law students, but not so good for folks who didn't find Cliff Sloan and David McKean's "The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall and the Battle for the Supreme Court" (2009) edge-of-your-seat fascinating. (That's the history of Marbury v. Madison (1803) 5 U.S. 137.)
So, my recommendation if the paragraph above doesn't apply to you: start from Chapter 8 on Audible - 7 on paper, and listen to the rest after if you are so inclined. And get "8" on Audible, because it's just that d***ed good.
I was so tempted - and so wanted - to give this book 5's across the board, because 'What a Great Story!' It's just not that well written or narrated - Rob Reiner, where are you?
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SciFi/Fantasy and Classics to History, Adventure and Memoirs to Social Commentary—I love and listen to it all!
I'd just listened to a heavy work, over 24 hours, and wanted something short and engaging. When I found this, I figured it would do well for my mood.
What I got was a punch in the gut.
Looking back, I went in god-awfully glib: This is short! This is, even better, free! This is perfect!
It was a descent into the madness and memories of that horrific day and the days that followed. I was suddenly transported back to days of weeping and stuffing Oreos into my mouth, all in an attempt to release the terrible grief and fear of all that I (and most of the country) was feeling.
The tapes start with people simply living their lives, going through their day, with a blip or two occurring on the radars of their awareness. It grows into a gnawing fear and dread. We get to experience things just as they do, hearing oddities from cockpits, trying to understand, then trying to take actions to control what they soon start figuring out is a completely out of control situation. The line, "Does anybody know why there's smoke in lower Manhattan?" about killed me. Follow up with, in trying to get a bead on lost planes, someone saying, "Look out the window. Do you see it flying low?" and then "Yeah, it just dropped like 800 feet!" with the second plane going into the WTC, and I was flat-out sick.
There is some misinformation that the controllers deal with; there is audio from NORAD and the "This is real world, not exercise!"; there is horror, dread, and some extraordinarily calm people doing the impossible.
There were plenty of times that I wanted to shout at them to just get the planes out of the air, but who knew then what we know now? The fact that decisions were made so quickly and with such finality is mind-blowing, especially when so many different towers were involved. And though the last four minutes of the recording are tinny and difficult to understand, they're worth listening to. They pretty much sum up everything that became part of our American culture.
It's strange. I work with teen-aged girls who were only toddlers when 9-11 happened. These tapes would mean nothing to them. But for anybody who watched their television sets in a trance-like horror on that day, I strongly suggest the quick listen. Warning, though: if you felt even an iota of anything that remotely suggests your humanity back then, you will most likely, even now at this late date, feel something pretty powerful.
Personally, I'm going to sit and stare at the wall for a while, wipe some tears away...