Monthly Archives: December 2020

My Year in Books 2020

Nothing we write about 2020 can start without the caveat that it has been a strange year. In a normal year, I average about two books per/month and generally reach around 24 books for the year. This year I struggled to hit 19.

The year started off pretty routine. I completed my last book of 2019 – Samantha Power’s memoir (coincidentally I am ending this year with Obama’s memoir) — and then did what I normally do, I turned to a George Pelecanos staple to pick up the pace. One day on my bus commute back from work (when no one thought twice about taking public transportation), I was listening to a podcast with an old interview of Mario Puzo where he talks about how his magnum opus was The Fortunate Pilgrim, not any of his mafia stories. So I read that, and then a variety of other books (including re-reading Dance Dance Dance) until finally Covid hit and the lockdown began.

During lockdown, I read the very appropriate The Plague, but also spent many nights reading about the virus. I didn’t touch Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime until the Fall. Instead I tried my hand at the Ken Follet Kingsbridge novels. At the end of the summer, I finally caved to the easy thrills of The Mandalorian, Cobra Kai, and then Seinfeld re-runs for lots of late 90s nostalgia.

So to make a long story short, there were lots of distractions from my normal reading pace, yet I was still able to get in some very good books. Here’s what I read this year:

  • How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices by Annie Duke (currently reading)
  • The Promise Land by Barack Obama (currently reading)
  • A Column of Fire by Ken Follet
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
  • World Without End by Ken Follet
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet
  • Deacon King Kong by James McBride
  • Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East by Kim Ghattas
  • Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (a re-read)
  • Shame the Devil by George Pelecanos
  • True Grit by Charles Portis
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • The Sweet Forever by George Pelecanos
  • Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
  • The Fortunate Pilgrim by Mario Puzzo
  • Warrior of the Light by Paolo Coelho
  • In the Woods by Tana French
  • King Suckerman by George Pelecanos

The Kingsbridge series pretty much dominated my year. Of the three, A World Without End was my favorite as it takes place during the Black Death (which felt very timely). Kim Ghattas history of the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran to dominate the Muslim world by competing to push the extremist ideologies across the region was incredibly informative, as was Jeff Chang’s history of Hip-Hop culture. Dance Dance Dance like almost all of the Murakami novels I have re-read seemed much more flat and repetitive the second time around (which always breaks my heart because he has been one of my all time favorites). I loved The Fortunate Pilgrim which is an Italian immigrant family struggling to make it in Hell’s Kitchen during the Depression. I could imagine the characters as my grandmother and her brothers who suffered through the same time period and circumstances just a dozen blocks away. Butler’s excellent Parable of the Sower about an unraveled and dystopian American society felt all too possible. And of course, for a DC boy like me, anything by George Pelecanos is always enjoyable. All in all, though, I will go with A World Without End as my favorite read of the 2020, with Parable of the Sower coming in second.


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The United States of Suckers (or how Trump got blown-out by Biden but still made a killing)
Suckers !

It’s hard to find words to express just what Donald Trump has pulled off.

By all accounts, Trump lost in a historic blow out. Forty days after the election with all 50 states having certified, Biden won with 306 electoral votes and defeated Trump by some 7 million popular votes. Trump lost 57 times at court, including twice at the Supreme Court. Judges across the country, including many Republican judges and one appointed by Trump himself laughed him out of court. Regardless of all of his screaming and yelling about fraud, Trump failed to present any evidence of fraud at court (contrary to his stump speeches, many of Trump’s suits weren’t even alleging fraud). During Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation proceedings, Trump stated that getting her on the Court would secure his ability to win the election, as if he expected to lose all along but hoped to prevail by stacking the Court in his favor. Nevertheless, all of his appointees ruled against him (twice).

All of this would mean a humiliating defeat for Trump. But not so fast. Since election day, we kept hearing Trump surrogates saying that the president deserved his day in court and that he had every right to exhaust his legal remedies. As any lawyer will tell you, the decision to litigate is essentially a business decision: is the risk of losing worth the financial investment? If a litigant has no money to put up but has a strong case, then he’ll have no problem finding a competent lawyer to do the work on a contingency fee basis, meaning the litigant only pays the lawyer if his wins the case. Furthermore, a reputable lawyer won’t put his name on a case that is doomed to failure, even if the client is paying big bucks. This is how the American free market manages frivolous lawsuits.

So step into Trump’s world. Trump puts up no money at all. None of the leading Republican election lawyers want anything to do with the case, and instead of agreeing to take the case on contingency, Rudy Giuliani increases his fees to the astronomical amount of $20,000/day regardless of having no expertise in election law. In other words, neither Trump or anyone around him actually believes that he will prevail.

But who cares, right? Trump is America’s greatest conman. One of the keys to being absolutely convincing is to show absolute conviction to your target audience (and that your audience wants more than anything to believe the con you are selling, like a make-it-rich-quick university degree). And that is exactly what Trump did and continues to do.

After collecting over $200 million in donations for his legal defense, of which Trump is only required to allocate 15% to the actual legal defense, Giuliani has lost those 57 cases I have mentioned. But again, who cares? Trump keeps screaming and yelling and people keep handing him over their hard-earned cash. Fifteen percent goes to Giuliani at a rate of $20,000/day and Trump gets to keep the rest for whatever yes whatever he wants. When you are racking in hundreds of a millions of dollars without having to win a single lawsuit, losing is a pretty lucrative business model. In fact, why would you ever want to win if the suckers keep paying you to lose?

But this is what confuses me: does Trump truly, honestly and sincerely believe that he is the biggest victim in American history — the victim of a conspiracy so wide, so vast and so deep that the entire American eco-system and all of its players, including Republican election officials, attorney generals, secretaries of states, and Republican appointed judges at all levels have conspired against him – or whether this is just Trump using his unique skills to pull off one final con job before leaving office? Either way, it is absolutely, undeniably pathological. Worse are all those suckers who keep falling for another classic Trump swindle.

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