Give Me A Break by John Stossel (2004, HarperCollins)
Stossel’s autobiographical book follows his professional growth as a journalist, from his days as a stuttering 21 year old gofer at a television station through his position as co-anchor of 20/20 at ABC. He explains how he went from beloved consumer crusader to hated libertarian journalist.
According to him, it was because he never abandoned his principles.
His changes in political views amounted merely to him expanding his attitude about businesses to include government: that all people have the same fundamental rights; and to recognizing a basic truth of economics: that, given the opportunity of a free market, voluntary exchanges will result in a system that benefits everyone the most.
Stossel’s writing is simple and concise, reflecting his years in journalism. It is also reflective of his nature, written in a series of small segments grouped together under a single chapter heading. Each segment provides either an anecdote from his life or a point-by-point delineation of an argumentative position he’s explaining (often an economics-based position.) It is not particularly witty nor particularly esoteric; what it is, is eminently readable and engaging.
His book explains his philosophy by juxtaposing experiences from the decades of experience he had as an investigative journalist, and in so it works particularly well because it gives theory and practice side by side. It also provides entertainment as a historical document, if only for his questioning of a ruthless businessman in the chapter titled “Welfare for the Rich”. Confronting the man with his efforts to crush his opposition by coercing State regulatory agencies to act in ways that are off limits to the private sector, attempting to seize his opponent’s property and then sell it at a steep discount to the businessman. The businessman defended himself:
“Excuse me. Other people maybe use thugs today. I don’t. I’ve done this very nicely. If I wanted to use thugs, we wouldn’t have any problems. It would have been all taken care of many years ago. I don’t do business that way. We have been so nice to this woman.”
But Trump lost anyway, and Vera Coking kept her house.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (2014, Andrews McNeel) (compilation of the comic strip)
This is the first of what are now seven compilations of newspaper comic strips, focused on the story of a precocious fourth-grade girl and the vain unicorn who befriends her. The humor of the first book contains sarcasm with a bit more of a darker bite than the later strips, but it is both well-drawn and consistently entertaining, with a deft hand at the daily punchlines expected from a humor strip.
The girl’s nemesis is a popular child named Dakota, who starts the series as someone who barely wants to acknowledge Phoebe but develops into someone who is on friendly terms while never actually becoming a friend. Simpson has an excellent feel for the relationships of young girls.
Which leads me into one reason for the review. Simpson is to be particularly commended for the way she can relate to young girls, because up until a few years ago she was still a he. David Simpson, to be precise. The reason Phoebe is cleanly drawn and cleverly written from the beginning of the strip is because he’d had years as a successful webcomic creator, for the title Ozy & Millie.
With rare exceptions (it is revealed in one strip that a boy in her class has two mothers, which is addressed in passing a couple of other times) it is remarkably apolitical in both tone and subject matter. That is not accidental, and it is not the result of the syndicate’s demands (the same syndicate carries other strips which veer political far more often, like Pearls Before Swine).
Something like this demonstrates that not everything in the world has to be political, even when it can be so… and that that truth can be recognized on every side of the political spectrum.