Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

Get Informed, Take Action: The CT State Budget


It’s no secret that our country has seen a surge in political awareness and activism after the last election, and we’ve been getting reference questions about how to get more involved on national, state, and local issues. Some of the biggest rumblings lately deal with Governor Dannel Malloy’s state budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which is under review right now and contains millions of dollars’ worth of cuts for many municipalities, local and state agencies, and state-funded programs. If you’d like to get informed and take some action on the proposed budget, read on!


If you only have time to read one article on the new budget, though, the CT Mirror wrote an informative overview last month that hits some of the big parts of the budget.


You can also send letters to the editors of local newspapers like the New Haven Register, Cheshire Herald, Hartford Courant, and Meriden’s Record-Journal.

Susan Reads: Nothing to Envy

Rarely have I come across a book so haunting.

If you Google Earth for North Korea at night, you will see South Korea as brightly lit as a coast of the US. Above it is a greatC0044096-Korea_at_night,_satellite_image-SPL big blackness. This is North Korea. It is not black because they block out satellites, or by treaty.

It’s because there is no electricity.

In an entire country.

Author Barbara Dimick’s book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea won the 2010 Samuel Booker prize, with good reason. Dimick has seen the “official” places of North Korea, but moreso spent years tracking down people who managed to escape the deadly iron fist of North Korea and interviewing them extensively. She follows several families, some of them die-hard party loyalists, through their unwavering patriotism, their questioning, their suffering, to their desperate do or die escape.

indexDimick traces some of the history, from World War II, when things started to go flaky, through the Korean conflict, when things got really wacky, to the insane tyranny of Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un. North Korea, until the 1960’s, actually had a better standard of living than South Korea, but began to fall apart in the 70’s. But, unlike Russian Communism, instead of saving itself, North Korea became even more hard-nosed, more dictatorial, more insane. By the 90’s, there were no jobs, no wages, no food, no manufacturing. People began starving to death in great masses, with children so stunted by malnutrition they barely topped 4’7” as adults. Trees died, because people stripped the bark to eat.  As many as three million people died, and there were many reports of cannibalism.

Imagine a place where radios and televisions are set by the government to one single official channel. Where the government doles out the very food you are allowed to eat, and the quantity, and the clothes you wear. Where everything is in black and white except the propaganda posters, which are in red, the only color people can look to with cheer. Where every home must display a photo of the dictator, and clean it daily with a special cloth, where the picture can be inspected at any time and you can be sent to the Gulag for disrespect. North Koreans are so isolated, so indoctrinated, so starved, so cowed, that they are not only  utterly brainwashed against the outside world, but cannot imagine what the outside world is like. After three generations of this, they’ve never known anything else.

Perhaps the saddest, most poignant moment is when the once-loyal mother makes a desperate swim across the river into China,article-north-korea-hunger crawls to the first house she sees, starved, frozen, exhausted, desperate, pushes open the garden gate, and discovers a bowl of meat and rice and  vegetables set outside waiting for her, and she is utterly amazed, not having seen meat or even rice in months. Then the family’s dog comes around the corner of the house, and the woman realizes that in China, even dogs eat better than North Koreans.

Read this. Really, read this book. It’s short. It will painlessly explain so much of the insanity, the politics, the danger that is North Korea, and will help you separate the Korean government from the Korean people, who have as much control over their situation as an ant has over an elephant. You will not forget it.

BOOK REVIEW: The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

We’re all familiar with the story of Charles Lindbergh and his place in history, but what of his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh?  We can barely recall her accomplishments in aviation history, as those accomplishments were overshadowed by her husband and Amelia Earhart.  Many people don’t know Anne was the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license, or that without Anne, Charles would not have been able to achieve all his successes.

Author Melanie Benjamin takes us on a journey through the incredible life of Anne Morrow, using her imagination to weave a riveting story blending fact with fiction.  From Anne’s early days as the daughter of an Ambassador and student at Smith College, to wife, mother, aviator, writer, and person living in the shadow of a famous man, the author does a wonderful job of peeling back the layers of this complex and talented woman.  We also learn that Charles Lindbergh really wasn’t the hero everyone thought he was.

This is a well written, well researched book that keeps your attention.  I couldn’t put it down and read it in one sitting!  It also would be an excellent book club selection.