Have you ever had a friend who nurtured a vice to the level of art form? Maybe he's always got a story about the times he's gotten royally wasted -- the one where he passed out naked on the steps of the fraternity house with all of his body hair shaved off and a dozen penises drawn on him in Sharpie. Maybe she's the party animal who breathlessly tells you about the time she was tripping so hard she saw Jesus riding a unicorn while Bob Marley played a funky reggae rendition of "Ride of the Valkyries". Maybe he's the guy with a hundred stories of nearly getting shot, stabbed or pummeled by jealous lovers as he escaped from some late-night tryst with yet another pretty face. Whatever the misdeeds, they'll finish their story by shaking their head and saying, "I've gotta stop doing this" -- but you see that glint in their eyes, the grin they can't quite wipe off their face, and you know they love it way too much to give it up.
That's the feeling I get from listening to This Town.Mark Leibovich describes the antics of the DC crowd -- variously called "This Town," "The Club", "The Gang of Five Hundred", or most blandly, "The Establishment" -- with the same rueful glee as your friend with the unhealthy love of the bottle, the pill, or the conquest. Leibovich is self-aware enough to realize that his community is ethically bankrupt, outrageously out of touch with reality, and contemptibly self-involved ... but his Serious Face keeps slipping, and he can never muster the outrage that is an outsider's only rational response to his exposé. The most he can manage is to paint a picture, sardonically, of what DC people actually think about the events that surround them, when all of the spin and "messaging" are stripped away. The end result is plenty outrageous and disgusting without him even needing to layer on any moralizing commentary. Ironically, by presenting himself as a near-totally unapologetic insider to the world he uncovers, he ends up coming off as a lot more credible and authentic than the hordes of writers and pundits who wax holier-than-thou about the way business is done in Washington.
The Washington elite inhabit hypocrisy like a fish inhabits water, so surrounded by it that they are rarely even conscious of its existence. This astonishing cognitive dissonance is what Leibovich portrays the most vividly and effectively. It's not that these people are bad, at least not in the sense of being ill-intentioned; they're just so monumentally self-absorbed, so trapped in their bubble of self-congratulation and mutual admiration, that every aspect of their lives has become hollow and inauthentic. Leibovich shows how even the supremely well-intentioned get waylaid, co-opted and subverted by the Washington machine; the Obama people, fresh from the 2008 campaign with big plans about how they're going to "change the game in Washington", illustrate this especially well. Nobody inside the Beltway lost much sleep about the Obama Change Brigade, because they knew from the start what the Obamas didn't discover until too late: You don't change Washington. Washington changes you.
Special props go to the narrator for this production, Joe Barrett. He perfectly conveys the sardonic, self-aware tone of Leibovich's book, as well as the genuine pleasure that he feels in the company of these people whom we, the audience, are so ready to be disgusted by. It would have been easy to get the feel wrong on this book, but Barrett nails it.
Hearing Rachel read it herself. She was a little stiff in the first chapter, but she soon warmed up and the rest of the book flowed with her usual verve and wit.
The chapter on America's decaying nuclear arsenal is arresting. Rachel lays out the "facts on the ground" in their simple and damning simplicity: $8 trillion worth of nuclear weapons, 20-30 years past their projected shelf life, falling apart in their bunkers, each of them a plutonium-laden accident waiting to happen, while the airmen assigned to guard them have become lazy, sloppy and demoralized from the little-regarded nature of their assignment. The situation has gotten so bad that six nuclear missiles were shipped from North Dakota to Alabama for decommissioning WITHOUT removing their live warheads first! Rachel elegantly and gently lays out the argument for unilateral disarmament, not out of leftist idealism but simply to prevent a statistically-inevitable disaster.
i listen to Rachel's show regularly on Stitcher, and I love the energy she brings to the news. She excels at taking potentially-dry topics and making them engaging. Listening to her read her own words brings them to vivid life.
The real foreign policy history of the Reagan administration, with the nostalgic gloss taken off of it. Rachel does a great job of showing how Reagan developed his views of the military, how they influenced his behavior while in office, and how his actions in the first three years of his presidency scared the bejesus out of the Russians. The near-apocalyptic screw-up of Able Archer '83 (which Rachel doesn't talk about, but which I knew about from other sources) makes a lot more sense with this additional context.
Rachel needs to write more books. :)
Rob reads his book in the warm, engaging and energetic style that is characteristic of his sermons. He draws in the listener and gives you the sense that he's sitting down to chat with you in a homey, informal setting. This is good, because the things he's asking Christians to wrestle with are serious, meaty business.
When Rob tells the story of the Prodigal Son and then analyzes it from the perspectives of the three characters: the wicked son who thinks that his badness keeps him from the father's love, the self-righteous son who thinks that his goodness should have earned him favored status, and the father who loves both of them unconditionally. Rob shows how the issue here is the conflicting stories each character has about themselves and each other, and how the sons' only route to abundant life is to believe the story their father is telling about them. It's an electrifying and emotional moment that, I hope, will bring comfort and encouragement to many.
Not applicable, since this is a nonfiction text and Rob is narrating it only as himself.
There were many such parts. One was the story of the prodigal son, as described above. Another was when Rob was talking about judgment: people often say that they don't believe in a God of judgment, when the truth is that we crave it -- we long for someone to reach down, to stop the evil surrounding us, to bring justice and set right the harm that has been done. We look at the suffering and misdeeds all around us and cry out in our hearts,
This is a much-needed resurfacing of doctrinal ideas that go back to the earliest days of the church, but have largely been lost in mainstream Christianity -- especially in the evangelical churches of the United States, with their
I was absolutely appalled at the way Tantor Media handled this recording after their excellent treatment of the first two books in the series. Dufris just does not have the voice for a noir thriller, and his ignorance of how to pronounce Kovacs' name was as grating as nails on a blackboard. By all means, if you have any love of sci-fi or noir (and can stomach some extreme violence and a bit of sex), be sure to get the first two books in the series, "Altered Carbon" and "Broken Angels", but stay away from this recording. The only way Tantor Media will realize how much they screwed up is if people don't buy it. As for me, I'm going to pick up the "dead-tree edition" of this one; it's not worth my time to suffer through 22 hours of a bad narrator butchering one of my favorite authors.
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