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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The book is about the author's investigation into writing a Rolling Stone article (June 2010) on Gen. Stanley McChrystal who was in charge of the war in Afghanistan as well as the fallout after publication of the article.
Now that I have finished the book, I'm dying to read the RS article. The author never realized what a sh*tstorm the article would create - and it did.
The middle part of the book is a little boring but stick with it. The end where the sh*t hits the fan and the fallout at the White House is fantastic.
The story is also interesting knowing about Gen Petraeus' recent scandal in Florida.
The sad part about the book is that you realize we have no business in the war. We aren't winning, they don't want us there, they don't even want democracy and our soldiers are risking the lives for nothing. It's time to bring our troops home.