THE ABUSE EXCUSE

COP-OUTS, SOB STORIES AND OTHER EVASIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY

In this train-of-thought collection of short essays, all previously published in newspapers or in Penthouse, the bulldog lawyer (Contrary to Popular Opinion, 1992, etc.) attacks the seemingly endless litany of new defense excuses as destroyers of the basic tenets of democracy. Once individual responsibility and the rule of law begin to erode, Dershowitz rails, we are beginning the march towards anarchy. Some of these excuses—conveniently listed in a glossary- -are easy to shoot down, such as the PMS defense (raised by a surgeon charged with drunken driving), the Twinkie defense (used in the now-famous Harvey Milk killing), and the Super Bowl Sunday defense (perhaps this should be O.J. Simpson's approach). Although Dershowitz attacks all abuse excuses, he seems especially vituperative toward feminists such as Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. His argument against the controversial battered woman's syndrome resembles that of law professor Anne Coughlin (who goes unfootnoted) in arguing that despite its support by many feminist groups, this is actually a regressive approach that considers women unable to control their actions. Dershowitz claims that these abuse defenses actually stigmatize the defendant, implying that all women could become man-killers, or all urban blacks white-killers. He takes no note, however, of the fact that many women wait weeks or months before being accepted into a shelter, nor does he grapple with the problem that, although a sleeping husband may not seem to pose an imminent threat, since one-third of all women murdered in this country (as of 1992) are killed by their husbands and lovers, defining ``imminent threat'' can be tricky. Dershowitz sees a dangerous overall trend away from acknowledging responsibility evidenced in national policies on everything from Bosnia to the death sentence against Salman Rushdie. The general thesis is convincing, and these disparate essays make for interesting if sometimes redundant reading. Only his attack on feminism, however, reaches the level of provocation we expect from Dershowitz.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 1994

ISBN: 0-316-18135-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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