Category Archives: Books & Book Reviews

Michael Cohen: A Reckoning, Perhaps a Renewal, and After

Near the climax of his book Disloyal, Michael Cohen writes:

In the summer before the [2016] election, I told a reporter for Vanity Fair, Emily Jane Fox, that I’d take a bullet for Trump, and I meant it.

But not if Donald Trump pulled the trigger. . . .

Which of course, Trump did, in 2018. In May 2019, the betrayal landed Cohen in the federal prison at Otisville, New York..

Cohen, like most cons, thought his prison sentence was grossly unfair. He only pled guilty to tax evasion, he says, to prevent his wife from being indicted as well.

The real Stormy Daniels mugs with a fake Trump (Alec Baldwin) on Saturday Night Live.

That showed personal love and nobility; but Cohen had also lied to his wife about the money he took from their joint account to pay off pornstar Stormy Daniels for Trump; and it was his wife’s name on the account that made her vulnerable to indictment once the feds traced the money.

Besides, Cohen had also spent ten years aiding and abetting Trump in frauds and crimes too numerous to mention. Ten times his three year sentence would have been amply justified by the record he himself discloses. Continue reading Michael Cohen: A Reckoning, Perhaps a Renewal, and After

Michael Cohen: From the White House to the Sewage Plant

I’ve finished Michael Cohen’s book, Disloyal, but I’m not through with it.

In part that’s because the book itself isn’t finished.

Not that Cohen has shortchanged readers. He simply ran out of time to get the book out in the market before the coming election, and I don’t fault him for that. Nor has he, as far as I can see, skimped on damning details, especially about himself and the unbelievable journey to the dark side he was on for so long.

No, Cohen’s book isn’t finished because the story it tells is not finished. It charts his rise, and the wild, destructive, ego-tripping ride with Trump into the White House, and his sudden fall, when the feds collared him and Trump coldly dumped him.

After the fall came a dramatic personal turn. But we don’t yet know where that turn will lead Cohen. Perhaps he doesn’t know yet either.

In any event, the fall happened abruptly: on April 9, 2018, Cohen  woke up in his luxurious Manhattan digs, had coffee and oatmeal, and saw his son off to school.

Then there was a knock at the door. Peeping into the hallway, he saw a crowd of men in suits, some holding up badges, and heard a line From so many mob movies:

“FBI, Mr. Cohen. Please open the door.” Continue reading Michael Cohen: From the White House to the Sewage Plant

Michael Cohen & Trump: Something a Bit Lighter

Michael Cohen accompanied Trump on a number of trips to Las Vegas.  A snippet from one such journey, from Disloyal:

Checking into the Vegas Trump Tower, I was summoned up to his suite to discuss the day’s events. Trump was in his underwear, white Hanes briefs, and a white short-sleeve undershirt, watching cable news on television. He barely seemed to register that it was unusual for a grown man to be in a state of undress in front of an employee, but there it was.

On this occasion, Trump was fresh from the shower and he hadn’t done his hair yet, as it was still air-drying. When his hair wasn’t done, his strands of dyed-golden hair reached below his shoulders along the right side of his head and on his back, like a balding Allman Brother or strung out old ’60s hippie.

I called his plane Hair Force One, for good reason. Trump doesn’t have a simple combover.

Continue reading Michael Cohen & Trump: Something a Bit Lighter

Trump Meets Jesus, and other Chumps

Michael Cohen describes the kickoff of the mutually self-serving “courtship” Between Trump & prominent evangelicals, who became a central pillar of Trump’s political base. From Disloyal, with rough language:

“So how did the amoral Trump come to be beloved by evangelical voters, a question that remains one of the abiding mysteries to this day?

Begin with the premise that Donald Trump hadn’t darkened the door of a church or chapel since the age of seven, as he would openly admit in his past incarnation. Places of religious worship held absolutely no interest to him, and he possessed precisely zero personal piety in his life—but he knew the power of religion, and that was a language he could speak.

An abiding evangelical fantasy, to others a continuing mystery . . .

Continue reading Trump Meets Jesus, and other Chumps

Michael Cohen, Trump & the Right Price for Selling Your Soul

Almost by accident, in 1997 I became a crime reporter, specializing in church-related financial frauds.  My first major investigative report, called “Fleecing the Faithful,” is still online.

Michael Cohen’s book “Disloyal” brings back those years.

The crime schemes I covered were obscure, and often complicated to explain. Although they ruined many lives, they did so quietly. Cases typically lacked physical violence, dead bodies or sex. Hence few except the biggest ever got much media attention.

Yet religious based frauds were (& are) plentiful & destructive. And they didn’t have to directly involve “church” to be religious, at least for me. That’s because these crimes, like others, involve one of the central religious issues, namely the reality of evil. In fact, these cases’ lack of lurid melodrama made it easier for me to focus, at least In reflecting on them, on the underlying question:

Continue reading Michael Cohen, Trump & the Right Price for Selling Your Soul

Michael Cohen Thursday: Beginning Portrait of the Greatest Con Artist

Note: I have not read Woodward’s book. This post refers to it based on news reports, including excerpts of the taped interviews that Woodward conducted for it.

One of Cohen’s observations in his book Disloyal about Trump & his early political maneuvers was corroborated by today’s reports of Trump’s taped conversations with Bob Woodward:

Cohen: In those early manifestations of Trump’s aspirations, he revealed an uncanny knack for channeling the fears and resentments of the age . . . .

Just one example was Trump’s call in 1989 for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, a group of black kids convicted of the rape of a white female jogger in Manhattan’s famous park.

The fact that the kids were exonerated years later, when it was proven beyond doubt that they were not guilty, didn’t prompt Trump to back down or admit a mistake; he’d understood instinctively that the racial anxiety and resentments then gripping New York City would provide a potent symbol that he hoped to ride to power.

That was always Trump’s way, learned at the feet of Roy Cohn, his first attack-dog attorney: Never apologize, and never admit to error or weakness. Never. Ever. Not even in the time of Coronavirus, as the world would discover.

Continue reading Michael Cohen Thursday: Beginning Portrait of the Greatest Con Artist

Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

The work of bringing down Calhoun took all one night and most of the next day.

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So– the City of Charleston wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously this week to take down its landmark monument to John C. Calhoun, a crew swung into action, starting at near midnight.

It was no small task to pluck the figure from its 100-foot pedestal. It took the workers until late the next day to bring  Calhoun floating back down to earth, and ship him off to a future of obscurity.

I was as pleased as anyone to see Calhoun disappear, at  least from that exalted place of honor; but I hope he lives on as a shameful memory, of a sadder-but-wiser nation that let him look down on all since 1896, as what one historian called “the Marx of the master class.” Continue reading Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

Indiana Trainwreck: Trauma in Midwestern Quakerdom

 

It didn’t look or feel like lighting the fuse to a load of dynamite.

But that’s what West Richmond Friends Meeting in Indiana did in June 2008 when they added a minute to their website.

They placed the post without fanfare.  But the fuse, once lit, sputtered and flashed for several years, and the ultimate explosion blew up a yearly meeting that was nearing its 200th anniversary.

A new book, Indiana Trainwreck, is the first to tell the story. West Richmond’s 2008 minute announced that the group had “reached unity” on supporting full inclusion of LGBT persons, concluding to do so was in harmony with their best understanding of the Bible, the thrust of Quaker/Christian history & witness, and the will of God.

News of West Richmond’s minute soon reached the leadership of Indiana Yeatly Meeting, the regional association of which West Richmond was a member. And they soon sent word to the group that they wanted the minute removed from West Richmond’s website.

The meeting pondered this demand, prayed over it, and declined to comply; the minute stayed.

Indiana Yearly Meeting authorities said this was unacceptable. Continue reading Indiana Trainwreck: Trauma in Midwestern Quakerdom

Nuggets from a Mystery Reading Binge

Here are three  great snippets from Rain Dogs,the latest mystery by Adrian McKinty I just read, a terrific tale set in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles.” It’s Book #5 in a series I started just a week ago, and have binge read in seven days. Like I said in a blurb: Catholic & Protestant, war & peace: their yesterday (and our tomorrow?) —a fine writer spins compelling crime fiction from Northern Ireland’s time of “The Troubles.”

Yeah, they’re that good.

#1- Theology, in a Hibernian Nutshell Two northern Irish cops, Sean & McCrabbin, aka “Crabbie,” are on the way back to the station:

Heavy rain. Floods on the top road. Slow movement from the Seventh on the radio. 

“What’s it all about, Crabbie?” 

He stared at me with alarm. “What? Life, you mean?” 

“Aye.” 

“Endeavour to discover the will of God,” he said firmly. 

“And if there is no God?” 

“If there is no God, well, I don’t know, Sean. I just don’t know.” 

I looked at him. As stolid a Ballymena Presbyterian as you could ask for. He’d do the right thing even if you could prove to him that there was no yGod. While the rest of us gave in to the inevitable, he’d be the last good peeler attempting to impose a little bit of local order in a universe of chaos. 

Rain. Wind. The afternoon withering like a piece of fruit in an Ulster pantry. . . .”

 – – – – 

#2- Tickling the Ivories

Sean the cop visits his friend Patrick’s piano store, where he frequently browses, but never buys. This time he asks to see a smoke-damaged privately-discounted model:

Patrick eyed me suspiciously. “Are you sure this isn’t some sort of police investigation?” 

“I’m hurt, Patrick. Seriously. I thought we were friends.” 

“I’m sorry, Sean . . . of course you wouldn’t . . . look, come over here, out the back.” He took me to a storage room out the back and set me down in front of a gorgeous pre-war Bechstein. 

“Go on, then,” Patrick said. 

I played Liszt’s “La Campanella” and, just to annoy myself, Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in G Minor.” 

The piano had a beautiful tone and wasn’t damaged in the least. When I played the last bar of the “Prelude,” Patrick thought I was money in the bank. 

“You play very well, you know,” he said. 

“I’m rusty.” 

“No, Sean, you’re really good.” . . .

I looked at my watch. It was 11:45. 

“Well? Will I put it aside for you?” Pat asked. 

“Nah, I’ll have to think about it, mate,” I said. 

“I knew it!” Patrick groaned again. “I fall for it every bloody time.” 

I walked to the door. “Hey, Pat, why could Beethoven never find his music teacher?” 

“Why?” 

“Because he was Haydn.” 

“Get out of my shop!”

– – – – – 

#3- The Big Belly Laugh:

Beth, Sean’s ex-girlfriend comes back. She’s pregnant; his. She wants him to take her to an abortion clinic in Liverpool. Sean’s a (bad) Catholic who hates the idea, but he takes her anyway.  When she gets in his car:

She lit a cigarette. Camel. Unfiltered. Should you be smoking that? You know, what with you up the spout and everything, — that is a line I don’t use. This time tomorrow, it won’t make any difference. 

“Got one for you, Duffy,” she says.

“OK.” 

“Why do anarchists only drink herbal tea?” 

“I don’t know.” 

“Because all proper tea is theft.” 

“You should put your seat belt on.”

[TEASER: Does she go through with it? Do they have a future? Read the series.]


McKinty labored in productive but penurious obscurity for years, turning out novels that won numerous awards, while he scuffled at everything from Uber driving to teaching and went broke. Just this year he was “discovered” and hit the big-time. I hope he makes a bundle and keeps on turning out more new un-put-downable books.
And I also like his attitude, summed up here, From “”Why I Write,”  a post in his blog:

” .  . . Writers write. Writers sit down at the typewriter, legal pad or computer and they write. All the writers who are popular and successful see writing as a no nonsense job and they just bloody get on with it. I like these people and I like this school of thought. I’ve met a lot of these writers and they are cool.

But this is not my way.


I see things differently.


For me writing is nothing to do with deadlines and word counts and getting the job done. For me a writer is a shaman. A holy man. A holy woman. A witch. A writer has been given a staff made from meteor iron and with that stick she scratches a message into clay tablets and the tablets are baked and they are put in a library and the river moves and the city fails and the library’s pillars fall and the clay tablets lie buried in the sand for four thousand years until someone finds them and reads them and understands. You are telling them a story about life and death and the meaning of life. You are talking to them across the centuries.

. . . Look, look at this! The writer says. I am gone. We are gone. But we were here and we saw and we loved and laughed and we dreamed. We saw beauty and we experienced pain. And we were given a task by the ones who died next to us in the lifeboat: tell them about us.  

Yeah, I know, I just write hack crime novels who am I to talk? But that’s the whole point isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you write about, it’s your attitude. Your words could be smuggled on toilet paper out of prison to one old friend or they could be texted to a million followers as you ride the subway car. It’s what you think about the words that counts. An audience of one is still an audience.


So I don’t see writing as just another job. I don’t write to fill my word count. I am on a sacred fucking mission. I’m waiting for the goddess. Because I believe in the goddess. I believe in ghosts. The ghosts of the ones who went before and the ones who have not yet come. And I will witness against the beast. And I will defy the darkness and I will tell our story.“

 

 

 

 

“Passing The Torch” Authors Speak #3: “I utterly and humiliatingly lost my nerve. . . .”

Helena Cobban

I was born into a very traditional (Church of England, Conservative-voting) family of the British upper middle class.

Helena Cobban

I was 14 when the Israeli-Arab war of 1967 broke out. As I recall it, just about all the news coverage on our grainy black-and-white television and in the two newspapers my father took, the Times and The Daily Telegraph, was solidly pro-Israel. The British conservative elite was still smarting from the rise of that upstart, President Nasser, in Egypt, and was delighted to see him “taken down a notch.” Besides, the Israelis were “modern”. They were “like us”. They had “made the desert bloom”, etc. . . .

In fall 1970, I enrolled at Oxford. In the hurly-burly of the matriculation week, I connected with some intriguing student social-justice networks. One was a feminist group. A couple were leftist/Marxist. One was the Oxford University Arab Society. I established lasting connections with people in all three types of group. One ardent Trotskyist at Oxford with whom I worked closely was Alan Adler, who had earlier attended the most elite Jewish boarding school in Britain, Carmel College — a place from which he was notoriously expelled because he had tried to establish there a cell of the Palestinian liberation movement, Fateh. (Tragically, a few years later, Alan died by suicide.)

Many of the Oxford leftists at the time were Jewish, and most of the ones I knew shared the concern I was developing for the long-usurped rights of the Palestinians, including their right to return to the homes and farms from which they had been expelled in 1948. . . .

I graduated from Oxford in 1973, not brilliantly, and after a few months’ consideration I decided, yes, I really did want to become a foreign correspondent. I followed in the footsteps of many male British adventurers before me, picked up my notebook, and decamped to a foreign clime.

What better place to launch my career than Beirut? My friends from the Oxford University Arab Society had contacts and relatives there; and I was on my way.

My journalistic experience? At the elite girls’ boarding-school I attended I had hand-produced (and “published” in five blurry carbon copies) three issues of a small satirical magazine; and at Oxford I was on the editorial collective of a short-lived counter-culture magazine called the Oxford Strumpet. Ah well, chutzpah and ignorance stepped in to persuade me I had a career plan.

Beirut, pre-civil war – Wikimedia Commons

Beirut was then a bustling hub of commerce, with numerous banks and businesses working hard to provide services to the massively growing Middle Eastern oil industry.

I launched my career by working as a copywriter in a local high-end advertising agency, racing twice-daily from my desk there to attend immersion classes in modern standard Arabic that were held at the Jesuit university in another part of town. Eight months later, Lebanon’s civil war broke out, and I was ideally placed to turbo-charge my career in actual journalism.

By the time I was 23, I was regularly getting front-page stories about developments both in Lebanon and further afield published on the front page of the London Sunday Times and the Christian Science Monitor. The work was exhilarating, exacting, and sometimes fairly dangerous.

The work of a good reporter is also, I think, more than a little bit Quakerly. As a reporter, you need to look around you and listen very closely, and scrupulously record the truth as you see it. You need to be able to interact respectfully with people with whom you may (personally) disagree very strongly, both in order to record their sayings and their actions accurately and in order to be fair to them.

In doing this, you need to set your own emotions and judgments aside while you are “getting the story,” and try to stay pleasant and open. (I worked for a short while for the Reuters bureau there. They had a rule of thumb that, since their product gets used by newspapers in many other countries that have different needs, any story you write should be structured so that an editor using the story in any place could cut the story to the length he/she needed at the end of any paragraph, and be left with a journalistically “balanced” story. There’s discipline!)

Beirut, during the civil war.

So my journalism career was advancing very well until one day in 1981, when my then-husband was covering the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran from the Iranian side, I was covering it in Baghdad from the Iraqi side, and our two small children were home with their nanny in Beirut… and she contacted me in a panic to tell me one of the local Lebanese militias had put a sniper onto our roof, which of course made the whole building into a valid military target.

I utterly and humiliatingly lost my nerve. I took the first car I could back across the desert to Amman (a 17-hour drive), flew back to Beirut, scooped up the nanny and the children, and took them all out to the safety of London.

So that was the end of my burgeoning career as a Middle East correspondent. I was stranded in London with two small children, no career, and as it happened a broken marriage.

I turned to writing books, with the first two being on the PLO and on the history of modern Lebanon. To support myself and my kids while I wrote them, I had to come here to the United States where I got fellowships at well-heeled universities that allowed me to do the writing. . . .

When I went to Lebanon in 1974, I did not intend to become a war correspondent, but that is what I soon became, both there and in the early months of the massive war waged between Iran and Iraq from 1980 through 1988. My position as a Western correspondent in Lebanon was distinctive. The war erupted eight months after I arrived; and shortly after that I married a nice Lebanese man whom I had met there and had two children, born in the late 1970s. He also worked in the media, as a cameraman for international news agencies. . . .

All the other Western correspondents were males. They lived either in swanky hotels or in nice apartments where they and any family they had were cared for either by staff or by their wives. As for me, I was trying to run the household and look after the kids while also doing a job that involved crazy, irregular hours and often, a degree of danger.

Later, I came to see that many of the experiences I had had in Beirut gave me powerful insights into the nature of war. They underlined for me, above all, that wars inflict the greatest damage on women, children, and the vulnerable, and that most of this harm comes not from actual physical impacts of weapons but from the shattering of basic services.

I learned early on during the Lebanese civil war to manage when the electricity was cut off. We could gin up paraffin lanterns and cook over little paraffin stoves. But when the water was cut off, life was really, really hard. I would trudge down to the well in the basement of our building and haul jerrycans of water back up to our seventh-floor apartment. Every drop was so precious it would be used multiple times. Finally, after being used, say, to boil pasta and then wash the floor, the last remnants would get re-used to flush the toilet. . . .

And how does this experience of war, its human toll, personal turmoil and human rights work lead Helena Cobban to Quakers?

The answers are in these pages.

And don’t forget our Book Launch Party on Saturday Nov. 23, at Providence Friends Meeting, 105 N. Providence Rd. in Media PA, noon to 3PM. Free, with food, readings, authors to mingle with, and music from and about our generation.

You’re invited; more details here.

Previous Authors Speak posts:

1. Barbara Berntsen

2. Carter Nash