A New Year’s Resolution I Might Actually Keep

I long ago gave up on the (foolishness of) making any New Year’s resolutions.

But I think I’ve got one that I can actually do and that will make my life a tad easier by the end of 2017.

As many of you know, I have just posted the list of Books Most Enjoyed in 2016 by MillersTime Readers. When I was working on the post, I noticed many of you indicated you couldn’t remember everything you read over the past year. I too had the same problem.

The answer to that problem, of course, came from Ellen Miller who (repeatedly) ‘suggested’ I keep track of the books I read on the website www.goodreads.com. I used to do that but somehow stopped.

So I just reactivated my account and have resolved to use the Goodreads site to keep track of everything I read in 2017.

Once a member, it’s very easy (at least once you get use to the site) to keep track of everything you read. Plus, you can rate each book you read, and you can even write a short review so you can recall the book at a later date. And there are lots of other features to the site. Probably more than you’ll ever need. It’s “the world’s largest community of readers,” and you can participate in as much or as little as you want. It’s a wonderful resource, but it can also just be a way to record what you’ve read quickly and retrievably.

And it’s free.

You can sign up easily:

www.goodreads,com/user/sign_up

The one ‘catch’ is that once you’ve signed up, in order to keep track of what you’ve read, you actually have to enter the title of the book in your My Books account.

That’s where the New Year’s resolution comes in.

(PS – If you missed the email about the posting of the 2016 Favorite Reads list, check it out. It’s a terrific resource, in my humble opinion.)

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2016

books1-539x303“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never read”- A. Lincoln

The MillersTime year-end “best books roundup” is my most visited post of the year. It’s a labor of love and is only possible because so many of you took the time to send in your favorite reads of the year. A sincere thanks to all of you

The funny thing is I didn’t read as much this year as in previous years, which was something a number of you said also. My major excuse was that I got ‘lost’ in baseball as my heroes the Red Sox were in the ‘hunt’ the entire 162 game season (not counting the disastrous playoffs). But I digress. Not sure about why others read less (though not my wife); some of you grumbled that you simply didn’t find as many memorable books or were having trouble remembering the titles you did read.

Nevertheless, 80 of you sent your lists and descriptions for a total of 380 books. Fiction lead the nonfiction 56% to 44%. Only a few books had much consensus (When Breathe Becomes Air, The Warmth of Other Suns, Hillbilly Elegy, Alexander Hamilton, The Nightingale, The Neapolitan Novels, The Sympathizer), and many of those were published prior to 2016.

Our youngest participant is almost 8 years old; the oldest is 95. (Maybe now that our children and grandchildren are reading we can have a special children’s subcategory next year?) The rest of you are mostly between the ages of 35- 75. Fifty-eight percent of you are women, 42% were men.

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Movie Roundup – 2016

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One of the (many) wonderful choices that being retired allows is the ability to see movies whenever you want — during the week, during the day, two in a row on the same day, or 15 over four days at a film festival.

And we’ve done all of the above.

Most of the end-of-the year lists of “Best” Films have been published already, and most come from critics who review films/books for a living.

I don’t have any special film knowledge and just tend to write about how much I liked various films for whatever reasons. Below is a list of many (tho not all) of the films Ellen and I saw in 2016, largely ones that I rated three stars or higher (out of a system of 1-5 stars). If Ellen had a different rating from mine, I have put her ratings in parentheses.

As I was constructing this post, I thought of adjusting a few of the ratings (up or down) but decided to leave the ratings the way I made them a day or two after seeing each film.

These starred categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three star ones were more problematic films for me but still may be worth checking out. Three starred ones were even more problematic. If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review (The Lobster, for example).

If you click on the linked titles below, you will get to my mini-review of that film on MillersTime. For four of the more recent ones, however, I have not yet written about them.

I have also attached a link to a listing of these films that you can print out in the event you like to do that sort of thing.

Five Stars  *****

Manchester by the Sea

Loving

Jackie

The Eagle Huntress

Frantz

OJ: Made in America

I, Daniel Blake

Ixcanul  (Ellen ****)

Four and a Half ****1/2

Queen of Katwe (Ellen *****)

Embrace of the Serpent

Son of Saul

20th Century Woman (Ellen *****)

Lion (Ellen ****)

Human Figures (Ellen *****)

Four Stars ****

La La Land (Ellen *****)

The Unknown Girl

The Oath (Ellen ****1/2)

Graduation

The Salesman

A Man Called Ove (Ellen ***)

Moonlight (Ellen ****1/2)

Sully

Indignation

Hell or High Water

Eye in the Sky (Ellen *****)

Sing Street

The Innocents (Ellen *****)

Viva (Ellen ***)

Dheepan

A War

Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

The Edge of Seventeen (Ellen ***)

Things to Come ***1/2 (Ellen ***)

I Am Not Your Negro (Ellen ***)

Elle (Ellen *****)

Three Stars ***

Tampopo (Ellen ****)

Toni Erdmann (Ellen *****)

Fire at Sea

Do Not Resist (Ellen ****)

To see the above films in a spread sheet for printing, Click Here.

Four More Films – Two Are Terrific

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We’re just about at the end of our ‘to see’ films for 2016, tho we have two remaining on our list (Elle and Lion) and one this Sunday in our film club.  After we see those, I’ll list all we saw in 2016, along with our ‘ratings’ for those of you who may be interested in keeping track of films you might want to see.

In the meantime, here are four more we saw recently. Don’t miss the first two.

Manchester by the Sea *****

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We’ve been wanting to see this one ever since we missed it at the recent Philadelphia Film Festival. When I saw the previews, I wasn’t sure I had missed much. How wrong I was.

There are so many good things about this film. The story is one that is told with an honesty and a realism that seem missing in many American films. It is about a man, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who has cut himself off from most of the world and reduced his life to the bare minimum. You eventually learn why as the film develops and as he is unexpectedly pulled into having to take care of his 16-year old nephew.

Both Affleck and Lucas Hodges (his nephew) don’t even seem as if they are acting. They simply have become the characters they portray. And the supporting cast, particularly Michelle Williams, is also wonderful.

The filmmaking is likewise terrific. Director Kenneth Lonergan lets the story develop in such a way that the audience is drawn in, not only by the story and the acting but also by the wonderful cinematography and his ability to capture a seaside town in Massachusetts.

In urging us to see it, SB wrote to say, “It’s a film about redemption and love, it’s subtle, it’s acted with restraint.  The camera loves the sense of place. Often the images of the characters interacting tell the message without words.  When you discuss it after it’s done, you see additional layers of meaning.”

It’s a good one, maybe one of the year’s best.

Loving *****

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This film also tells its story without attempting to pound the viewer or to be a polemic. It’s in some ways a small film about a big topic.

Based on a true story, Loving is about a quiet, unassuming rural Virginia couple (he is white, she is black) who are in love and marry in 1958. When the local authorities learn of the marriage, they arrest the couple and a judge gives them the choice of going to jail for violation of Virginia’s law against mixed race marriage or to leave the state for 25 years.

The couple (Richard and Mildred Loving) move to DC and try to continue their life there. Eventually, their rural roots bring them home, and a court battle ensues about their right to be married. It reaches the Supreme Court, and they prevail (1968) as Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law is struck down.

The Lovings’ struggle to live as they have chosen and to confront the racial prejudice and laws of Virginia is not told as a big civil rights battle but simply as a quiet story about two quite ordinary people who are in love. He is a quiet, shy person who can’t seem to understand what’s wrong with marrying the person he loves. She is more vocal and expressive and because of her quiet strength (and some outside help), they take on a law and a system that today may seem strange to people who have never known a time when it wasn’t possible for a mixed race couple to marry.

Ruth Negga is wonderful as Mildred, and Joel Edgerton captures who Richard must have been. Director Jeff Nichols has chosen to let the story of these two quiet, private people be told without hype or melodrama.

Quite unusual in this day and age.

Tampopo *** (Ellen – ****)

tampopo

I’d been wanting to see this film ever since I read its description in the Philly Film Festival catalogue: Learn the art of noodle-soup-making and much more in the brand new 4K restoration of Juro Itami’s classic ‘raman western’ comedy about two milk-truck drivers and a widowed restaurant owner’s quest to perfect the craft. (Ever since recent trips to Vietnam and Japan, Ellen and I have been ‘working’ at making the perfect Pho and a decent burnt miso soup.)

While there were insights to perfecting this kind of soup making and eating – “Savor the aroma. Poke the pork, Noodles first.” – I don’t think I can recommend this film. Despite whatever attempts were made to update it, it feels a bit old and moldy.

Tampopo is actually about the Japanese obsession with food and particularly with the making of noodle soup. It’s about two guys who take on the job of turning Tampopo (a widowed ‘restaurant’ owner) into the best raman noodle maker in the country. It’s a bit of a spaghetti western (sorry) mixed with slapstick, verbal and physical showdowns, and some tender relationships that build along the way.

Basically, my recommendation is to take a soup making course (we did just that in Vietnam) or find the best raman restaurant in your area rather than spend the two hours necessary to see this film.

And if anyone has a recipe or knows how to make a burnt miso soup, please get in touch with us immediately.

Toni Erdmann *** (Ellen – *****)

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This film has been highly praised by critics and audiences alike.

But not so much for me.

The premise, the distance between a father and his adult daughter and his/their attempt to bridge that distance, is intriguing. But the pranks and weirdness of the father and the coldness and personality of the daughter were too much of a hurdle for me.

Ellen, however, saw it differently (see ratings above). Her take: “An unusual mixture of hilarious interactions that portray a touching and difficult relationship between the two. Great acting, narrative, and direction. It might not appeal to everyone as it’s quirky, uncomfortable, and silly at times, but in the end, the more I think about it, the more I think about it.”

Update: 12/18 – From our our Sunday Cinema Club: 52% rated it Excellent or Good, a fairly low rating. However, 72% would recommend it to others.

“My President Was Black,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer for The Atlantic, author of Between the World and Me and The Beautiful Struggle, and someone who always seems to have something of value to teach, just wrote a lengthy (17,000 words) article in the upcoming Atlantic.

Entitled My President Was Black: A History Of The First African-American White House And Of What Came Next, it is, for me, the best article I’ve read about the Obama presidency and the 2016 election results. While it will certainly take years to fairly evaluate President Obama’s legacy and untangle the meaning of the 2016 election, Coates certainly opens the discussion.

Coming just after I finished Michelle Alexander’s superb 2010 book The New Jim Crow, which has opened my eyes in a way nothing else has in the last few years (more on this in a later post), Coates’ thoughts and views on the meaning of Obama’s presidency continue to instruct.

See what you think: My President Was Black.

“Now Is the Time…It Does Not Have to Be Like This”

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Sometimes it takes someone from outside our society to capture what our own reporters, columnists, and citizens are not saying so clearly.

Thus, a short piece in the New Yorker by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie*, Nigerian author of the wonderful novel Americanah, one of the NYTimes 10 best books of 2013 and also one highly touted by MillersTime readers.

I’ve hesitated to post something such as this, but I think it is time to do so.

Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New Yorker, Dec. 2.

(*Thirty-nine year old female novelist who divides her time between Nigeria and the US.)

Respectful Comments welcomed.

Robert Caro, The Art of Biography

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Long time MillersTime readers may remember that author Robert Caro is one of my favorite biographers. His first book, The Power Broker — about Robert Moses but really about NY and about how power really works — won a Pulitzer Prize for biography. He won a second Pulitzer for his Master of the Senate, the third volume in his five volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson. And he’s won virtually every other prize available to historians and biographers.

If you know of Robert Caro and his work, or even if you don’t, treat yourself to this recent interview with him in the Paris Review. It captures how he approaches his subject(s), and you will understand why his work is so powerful and so mesmerizing.

Robert Caro, The Art of Biography, No. 5, the Paris Review, by James Santel, Issue 216, Spring 2016

Dear Samantha.2

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fullsizerender2Samantha at 9 months, the morning of the Chiefs’ dramatic Sunday night win over the Broncos.

Dear Samantha,

It happened again.

(I say ‘again’ because as you may remember, I wrote to you when you were a mere 6 3/4 months old about a comeback win by my beloved Red Sox. They overcame enormous odds as they were one out away from defeat (5-2) by that ‘Evil Empire’ – the Yunkees – in the bottom of the ninth. Then, when most people had assumed the game was all but over, they rallied and won 7-5. See Dear Samantha.)

Last night in Denver it wasn’t baseball. It was football, which just happens to be your dad’s ‘life.’

Continue reading »

Three New Films to Consider

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Of these three films we have seen over the last couple of weeks, two we highly recommend. One is in the theaters now, and the other will be released Dec. 2.

Jackie ***** – (Ellen *****)

jackie

If you were alive and aware of the political scene when the Kennedys were in the White House, don’t miss this film. And if your knowledge of them, especially First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, came after the assassination of JFK, I suspect you will also find the film intriguing.

Just as Stephen Spielberg took a brief period in the life of Lincoln to give us a portrait of a man who was President, Chilean Director Pablo Larrain takes a ten day period to portray the most admired First Lady of the 20th century. The story takes place around JFK’s assassination and is interlaced with reported footage from the era.

No matter how much you may know or think you know about Jacqueline Kennedy, you will gain insights into her world as it comes crashing down. The film tells the story of how she deals with the grief of her husband’s unexpected death, of how she works to enhance his legacy, and, most fascinating of all, it explores in detail her often conflicting thoughts and feelings about her husband, his presidency, and her role as First Lady.

Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie is captivating. While neither she nor the other actors may closely physically resemble the characters they are representing, Portman’s performance is hypnotizing. She is on the screen virtually every moment of the film, and you feel almost as if you are inside her head the entire time. This is an award winning performance.

Jackie is scheduled for limited release on Dec. 2, but I’m sure that will be followed by wide availability. Put it on your ‘to see’ list.

The Eagle Huntress ***** (Ellen *****)

huntress

This documentary is worth seeing for the cinematography alone. It is filmed in the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia, and Simon Niblett’s photography is simply spectacular.

But the film is also enchanting for the true story that it tells. Aisholpan is a 13 year old girl who wants to follow in her Kazahk family’s tradition of becoming an eagle hunter. With the strong support of her father, who believes a girl can do anything a boy can, he helps her capture, train, and hunt with an eagle of her own.

The Eagle Huntress is an unusual film that successfully captures a way of life that is unfamiliar to most of us. You will not only be entertained by the story, but you will also learn about traditional Mongolian culture, landscape, and customs.

This film is currently in the theaters, tho I suspect it might not stay around too long. See it while you can.

The Edge of Seventeen *** 1/2 – (Ellen ***)

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While this coming of age movie has received quite favorable reviews from both critics and audiences, I can’t say I found much new or compelling.

It’s the story of a high school junior, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), who is kind of awkward, especially in relationship to her star older brother Darien. Things get difficult for Nadine when her best, and only, friend starts to date her brother. It’s a classic — and good — coming of age story with some contemporary twists, but it didn’t break new ground.

Woodey Harrelson is delightful in his role as Nadine’s main adult confidant and safety valve.

The Edge of Seventeen is in the theaters now.

**          **          **          **          **          **          **

If you missed my Fall Movie Reviews, a post about 15 films we’ve seen since summer, most at the Philadelphia Film Festival, check out those mini-reviews. Many of them are now out in the theaters or will be soon.

Calling for Your Most Favorite Reads in 2016

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

It’s that time of year again — when I request you share with other readers of MillersTime your most favorite books read over the past 12 months.

Here are a few guidelines that may help in drawing your list and in making my compilation easier:

*When I ask for your Most Favorite Reads of 2016, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?

* You are welcome to send just one title or up to a half dozen. (Please limit your contributions to six as it takes me many hours to compile the list. For some of you this request may be difficult, but remember the request — MOST Favorite Reads of 2016.)

* Update: At the request of some of you, I’m adding a new category this year. If you have listened to a book(s) in one of the various audio formats, Books on Tape, CDs, Audible, etc., you may add up to three of those if they meet your definition of books “you’ve enjoyed the most in 2016.” This is in addition to the six you (may) have listed. Be sure to identify which ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly.

* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).

* If you are willing, please write a sentence or two about why each particular book made it to your list for this year. If you prefer not to add this, no problem, but I’ve found readers enjoy the comments and use them in choosing books to read for the coming year.

* Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.

* Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2016, just ones that you read over the past year. If you participated this year in sending titles of books you enjoyed in the first half of 2016, feel free to include one or more of those if they make it to your list of most favorites in 2016.

* Send me your list in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) by Dec. 18th  so I will be able to post the entire list at the end of the year. (If you send me your list soon, you may be able to avoid my constant email reminders to do so.)

To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

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Final Two Baseball Contest Winners

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And the winner you have chosen for Contest #2 (Make a prediction about something that will happen during the 2016 MLB season) is:

“The Sox will sweep the Yankees in New York, and the Yankees will sweep the Sox in Boston.” (Ed. Sox took four straight in NY in Sept., and Yunkees returned the favor by taking three straight in Boston two weeks later.)

Steve Veltri submitted that prediction and his prize is to join me in DC in terrific seats for a Nats game of his choice. If Steve cannot make it to DC in the next year, he can negotiate with me for two tickets to a game he can attend elsewhere.

And the winner you have chosen for the Extra Credit question (Make up your own question and answer it) is:

“Who will win the NL MVP. Kris Bryant.”

Larry Longenecker submitted the question and answered it correctly. That question will appear in the 2017 MillersTime Baseball Contests, and Larry wins his choice of one of these books: The 20 Best Books Ever Written About Baseball.

Summary of 2016 Winners

Contest #1 – Dawn Wilson

Contest #2 – Steve Veltri

Contest #3 – Whitney Limm

Contest #4 – Dawn Wilson

Contest #5 – Chris Bourtourline

Contest #6 – Tie: Matt Wax-Krell and Nick Nyhart

Extra Credit: Larry Longenecker

All of the above win the ‘coveted MillersTime Basebal Contest Winner” T-shirt in addition to their individual contest prize.

If you won and have not sent me your T-shirt size and home address, please do so.

If your win calls for a choice of a book or a game for 2017, please be in touch with me so we can work out those details.

And finally, I’m always looking for feedback about these contests. Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

Just a bit Over Four Months until Opening Day!

 

Post Election Reading

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In previous posts, I indicated it was time to “listen” to what the election was telling us. Mostly, I have stopped spending so much time on social media (particularly Twitter and Facebook) and also have largely been staying away from some of the more mainstream media which was so inaccurate leading up to election.

I am posting below links to a number of articles of varying lengths and on various topics that have caught my attention and interest.

The End of Identity Liberalism, by Mark Lillanov, NYTimes, Nov. 18, 2016.  A short article that speaks to one area the Democrats need to consider. Bernie Sanders said something similar to this yesterday.

How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul, Matt Stoller, The Atlantic, Oct. 24, 2016. A lengthy article that I think Democrats need to read and discuss as they/we consider how to rebuild a party that has lost what it once stood for. (Stoller once worked with Ellen at the Sunlight Foundation, and I invariably find his thinking and writing thoughtful and valuable.)

Behind the “Make America Great” the Koch Agenda Returns with a Vengence, Nov. 21, 2016. Not as lengthy as the article above but useful in understanding that money did influence this election and that what is ahead is worrisome for those who have concerns about the Koch agendas.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance, 272 pages, Harper, June 28, 2016. This memoir has received a lot of attention as Vance writes from the “inside” about a part of our country that only now is getting significant attention. Vance grew up in the Middletown OH (the Rust Belt) and in Johnston, KY (an Appalachian town) and writes with intimate knowledge of one portion of America that has deservedly gained much attention in this election. Both Ellen and I found the book valuable.

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America, by Sarah Jones, New Republic, Nov. 17, 2016.  A very short article calling into question some of the conclusions Vance draws in the book mentioned above.

Revised 2016 Baseball Contest Result

Because of a mistake I made, as was pointed out to me by Matt Wax-Krell, I erred in saying that Nick Nyhart edged out Matt Wax-Krell* in Contest # 6.

Matt said the Cubs would beat the Red Sox (not the White Sox) in the WS. Thus, he ties with Nick who said the Cubs would beat the Rangers in the WS. I have corrected my earlier post on the results of the contests to reflect this change.

Thus, both Nick and Matt each will get one WS ticket for 2017.

In an ideal world, the Sox will be in that WS and Nick and Matt will sit together, and both root for the Sox.

*Matt is my cousin’s son and has been attending Sox games, sometimes with myself and my daughter, since they were both 7 years old. Family, however, had nothing to do with the ‘revised’ decision. A review of Matt’s emailed predictions clearly shows he said Red Sox, not White Sox.

PS – If you have not already voted in the two contests that are to be decided by the votes of all of you on this mailing list, please do so as currently the voting is very close in each contest.

See: Vote for the Best Predictions in These Two Contests.

Results of 2016 MillersTime Baseball Contests

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Two of the seven contests, Contest #2 and the ‘Extra Credit’ contest have yet to be decided as those winners are to be determined by the votes of contestants. If you have not yet voted, please do by Tuesday, Nov. 22. You can see the two contests’ finalists and vote HERE. Please vote in both those contests.

Contest #1: Pick your favorite MLB team (or team you know the most) and answer the following questions to prove whether you’re just a homer or whether you really know something about baseball.

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What Democrats Need to Hear

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The morning after the election I wrote, “The country spoke yesterday. And we must listen.”

For Democrats particularly, but also for some (many?) Republicans and Independents, the article below is one example of the thinking, understanding, and writing I meant when I said we need to listen. (Hat Tip to Richard Margolies for pointing out this article to me.)

Read: What So Many People Don’t Get About the White Working Class, by Joan C. Williams, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 10, 2016.

Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College in Law.

As always, please consider adding your thoughts in the Comment section of this post.