Recommended diversions

The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism

Haynes Johnson’s 2005 book isn’t frightening, but it should at least make thinking people think about some fundamental issues facing Americans. How, he asks, can we “safeguard the nation’s security without jeopardizing its liberties.” The parallels between the Red scare of the 1950s and now are a “... terrible, and terribly familiar, story: how fear can produce abuses that damage individuals and dishonor America in the name of making both safer.” The majority of the book — more than 400 of its 600 pages — are dedicated to a re-telling of McCarthy’s quick rise and fall and how he mastered the politics of scare tactics, secrecy and outright deception to get what he wanted.

Then in the end the parallels are drawn to the use of similar tactics by the Bush White House, whether it was linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11, the detaining of Muslim men with little or no evidence, planting favorable stories in Arab newspapers, suggesting that terrorists want Democrats to win election, treating dissent and criticism as treason, and more. This book, at the very least, should make citizens aware of how elected officials can and will manipulate the system for political gain while at the same time assaulting our civil liberties.

Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has covered national politics since the early 1960s, so he backs up his analysis with loads of evidence. He’s also the author of more than 15 books and teaches journalism at the University of Maryland.

Non-fiction reading

2005’s New Year’s resolutions went out in a whimper, none of them lasting more than a month or so. This year I wanted to succeed, so this was it: read almost only non-fiction for an entire year. I’ve always been a sucker for a good yarn, and for years it’s been mostly novels and short story collections on my reading list. This year I want social and political commentary, history and whatever else comes along. Next up are News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (about kidnappings by Colombian drug dealers), The Negro President by historian Garry Wills (about, as one reviewer puts it, Thomas Jefferson and the “tragic constitutional bargain with slavery”), and whatever else comes along. I’m looking for suggestions.

Snow and spring

Daffodils and snow, a weeping cherry in bud with a couple inches of wet white stuff piled on its canopy, rime on the mountain and green grass in the meadow — spring snow is as good as it gets. In winter there’s the anxiety of dealing with months of cold weather, the fear of getting stuck on the mountain and buried in ice. This past week’s cold snap, we know, is temporary, a last hurrah before spring erupts. No worries, just fun.

— By Scott McLeod

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