Blogroll

Book Review: The Trial of Prisoner 043 by Terry Jastrow

A popular bit of humor about Trump’s presidency is that George W. Bush is thrilled he’ll no longer be the worst president in U.S. history. Bush, in fact, was ranked the worst of our presidents by 61 percent of historians responding to a 2008 informal poll, in significant part because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. People who envision a comeuppance for Bush for the war and its consequences may find some comfort in Terry Jastrow’s first novel, The Trial of Prisoner 043.

Jastrow imagines Bush being put on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes in the Iraq War. In doing so, he shrewdly uses the treaty creating the court, the Rome Statute, as a means of sharpening the book’s core conflicts. It even sets the stage for the opening of the book.

Following an investigation by the ICC’s Office of Prosecutor, an arrest warrant is issued for Bush. Yet the ICC doesn’t have the power of arrest; a member state must actually make the arrest. The U.S. is not a member of the ICC. How then to get a former U.S. president before the court? British paramilitary commandos, assisted by the British government, snatch Bush on the 17th hole of St. Andrews Old Course in Scotland (a locale perhaps reflecting Jastrow’s lengthy experience producing or directing major golf championships for ABC and his 12 years as president of Jack Nicklaus Productions.) Perhaps aptly, Bush is hooded, shackled and handcuffed before being whisked away in a van, although the hood and restraints are removed as he is flown to ICC’s headquarters in The Hauge, Netherlands.

Given the political uproar Bush’s seizure creates, including the U.S. evaluating a variety of military options, elements of the ICC are conscious of public appearance. The prosecutor’s office had already picked two of its attorneys to handle the case: an American man and a woman born and raised in Fallujah, Iraq. They face off against a defense team made up of a lifelong Texas friend of Bush and two American lawyers expert in international criminal law.

After the ICC rejects challenges to its jurisdiction (in 2002 the prosecutor’s office declined to investigate alleged war crimes in Iraq because the ICC lacked jurisdiction over U.S. forces), the latest “trial of the century” begins. This is a different trial than Jastrow’s written about previously.  His play, The Trial of Jane Fonda, had Fonda defending her activities during the Vietnam war in a meeting with angry Vietnam veterans. The Bush trial, though, is in a courtroom and draws so much international attention that it is broadcast and live streamed worldwide

While the ICC’s formal procedures and rules play a role in the story, The Trial of Prisoner 043 greatly telescopes its core story. While readability requires some condensing, Jastrow’s tends toward the extreme. The trial begins within weeks of Bush’s arrest, not the months and years it actually takes. Likewise, the trial itself takes three months. Compare that to the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševic, where the prosecution took 294 days to present its case and called nearly 300 witnesses. Miloševic died before the trial ended.

Substantively, Jastrow admits that in creating the trial he is “more an aggregator of content than a writer.” Much of it is taken directly from published sources, sources he freely credits. Yet this also allows The Trial of Prisoner 043 to capsulize both sides of the debate over the beginning of the Iraq War.  Jastrow’s prosecutors pull no punches, including attempting to show Bush’s criminal intent by the lies told by his administration in the run-up to the war, 260 by Bush alone. The defense, meanwhile, challenges using such a trial to second-guess a president’s national security decisions.

At the same time, the need to compress the array of information and sources creates a foible common to trial-based tales. To keep the pace moving, the attorneys tend to launch into argumentative, opinion-laced discourses wedding a number of facts. If a soliloquy precedes a question to a witness, chances are the question itself wouldn’t be allowed by the rules of evidence. This may exasperate only those familiar with trials or the law but even we find it easier to overlook in light of Jastrow’s ingenious use of the law to untangle a knotty conflict between points of view and nations.

Realistically, George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq will never lead to a war crimes trial. Yet by exploring this provocative “what if” the considerably researched The Trial of Prisoner 043 is a thought-provoking read.


There were no winners in your war, Mr. Bush, only losers.

Terry Jastrow, The Trial of Prisoner 043

Book Review: Samaritans by Jonathan Lynn

Political satire has changed over the last 10 to 20 years thanks to programs like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Shows such as these go beyond amusing entertainment. They’ve become sources of news and information, vehicles that actually increase political knowledge. Jonathan Lynn’s book Samaritans does the same with America’s healthcare debate

The book is a biting takeoff on healthcare in America. More important, it conveys many of the ideas at the heart of the ongoing spectacle of the current farcical debate over the Affordable Care Act. In so doing, Lynn also weaves in plenty of real life facts and statistics that say much about the state of America’s healthcare system.

Lynn is perhaps best known as a television writer and film director (including one of my all-time favorites, My Cousin Vinny. Satire becomes a scalpel in his story of Max Green, head of hotel operations at a Las Vegas casino, who sees being CEO of a large hospital as the path to wealth. And few elements of the healthcare system are spared.

Green becomes head of Samaritans Medical Center in the Columbia Heights area of the nation’s capital. Obsessed with the bottom line, Green insists his contract include him getting “a fair slice of the profits” when he turns the hospital’s the red ink into black. The hospital board, chaired by the billionaire owner of a company that makes electronic components for weapons systems sold worldwide, decides to give Green a chance.

Green’s efforts include fairly common strategies — trying to build high profile practices by hiring renowned doctors, eliminating costly elements (even nurses, here many are replaced by janitors) to create profit centers, and buying outside service providers, such as temporary nursing and billing and collection agencies. These aren’t enough for Green. He implements numerous “innovations,” including cutting a deal with a celebrity lawyer who frequently sues Samaritans, that bring profit but also have dire ramifications for both he and the hospital.

It’s what motivates Green and his data-driven deputy, Blanche Nunn, that sharpens the book’s focus. They expound the free market and evangelical ideologies underlying much of today’s healthcare debate. Green tends to make Paul Ryan-like pronouncements, such as, “People can’t have what they can’t afford. That’s what got America into this economic mess — everybody wanting something for nothing.” If someone can’t afford health care, Green says it’s “TP,” their problem.

Green’s philosophy also lays out the Catch-22 in leaving people uninsured. “Prevention’s not profitable,” he observes. It’s better to shutter a diabetes center because treating the consequences of the disease is far more profitable. And when Andrew Sharp, the star cardiothoracic surgeon Green hired, suggests not everything can be decided by the marketplace, the CEO says that “sounds like communism.”

Blanche’s devotion to the free market is rooted in what she’s learned from her evangelical ministers, Pastors Spittle and Wallow. (The hospital’s Roman Catholic chaplain doesn’t express opinions he “can safely leave my theological thinking to my superiors.”) “Capitalism is God’s ordained economic system,” Blanche maintains, and because the free market is “divinely inspired,” government should not interfere. When it comes to medical needs, Spittle taught her that “God had prescribed the answer: unregulated, free-market corporate health care.” Thus, Medicare’s problem, she says, is that it was “set up to help patients, not profits.”

In lampooning these ideas, Samaritans shows how they are at work in the politics of healthcare. Dr. Sharp and other Samaritans physicians and employees provide the counterpoint, observing and experiencing the impact of Green’s and Nunn’s machinations. Ultimately, Green goes a step (or three) too far, resulting in inventive denouement. Lynn’s one page epilogue contains some of the book’s best humor but it would require an inexcusable spoiler to show why.

Samaritans is more insightful farce than laugh-out-loud funny and generally succinct and well written. It does, though, have its flaws. A couple characters seem unnecessary to advancing the story and feel more like walk-on extras. More disquieting is a tendency for some of the female characters to use sex as a tactic to achieve success. While Lynn uses this to further distinguish between the good guy and the bad guy, the frequency with which it appears collapses toward hackneyed trope.

Still, these blemishes are comparatively negligible compared to the book’s truth telling. In looking at America’s healthcare system, Samaritans both entertains and educates.


When did they change the start of the Hippocratic Oath from “First, do no harm” to “First get the check”?

Jonathan Lynn, Samaritans

Weekend Edition: 7-22

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


I can gather all the news I need on the weather report

Paul Simon, “The Only Living Boy in New York,”
Bridge Over Troubled Water

Book Review: Crowns in Conflict by Theo Aronson

While reading Theo Aronson’s Crowns in Conflict: The Triumph and Tragedy of European Monarchy 1910-1918, an essentially biographic approach to World War I’s effect on Europe’s monarchies, I often thought of another book I read years ago. The Fall of Eagles, C.L.Suzberger’s account of he fall of the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, and Romanov dynasties, was on my bookshelves for decades — until the Great Purge. I say decades because in checking I learned it was published exactly 40 years ago.

Aronson’s approach to this topic differs in two respects from Sulzberger’s. First, he takes a broader view, looking at roughly a dozen major and minor monarchs who sat on Europe’s thrones in the second decade of the 20th century. Second, as noted, Crowns in Conflict is biographic in nature, not surprising given that Aronson, who died in 2003, wrote nearly two dozen royal biographies. Rather than rehash how the Central and Entente Powers careened into war, the book looks at the history of each monarch and what the kings and queens did through the course of the war.

This approach works in large part because most of the royalty were related to each other. For example, Britain’s King George V, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the crown princesses of Romania and Greece were all first cousins. The kings of Belgium and Bulgaria were also cousins of King George. Aronson uses these connections to not only explore the relationships among the monarchs but how each monarchy was led into the war and its ultimate effect on them.

Originally released in 1986 but with a new imprint two years ago, Crowns in Conflict also recognizes and explores the impact the advent of constitutional monarchy on each monarch’s power. The monarchs were no longer the only voice or decision-maker. “When set against the forces of nationalism and militarism, these dynastic relationships counted for nothing,” Aronson observes. Instead, the monarchs’ loyalty was now “country before caste.”

Britain, Germany (ruled by the Hohenzollerns), Austria-Hungary (the Habsburg empire) and Russia (the Romanovs) were the powerhouses and the last three bore the most responsibility for World War I. Thus, George V, Tsar Nicholas II, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary are the main focus, Yet other monarchies, such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Serbia, also were buffeted by the war. Three such monarchs — King Albert of Belgium, Victor Emmanuel of Italy and Ferdinand of Bulgaria — also are looked at in detail.

Some may view Aronson’s approach as a bit superficial or perhaps even gossipy. I, though, found it an interesting version of an oft-told tale. Rather than simply being a diplomatic or military history, Crowns in Conflict uniquely personalizes World War I. It also helps place monarchies in a historic context.

In fact, the book may make the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica somewhat prescient. Its entry for monarchy said that while “it survives as a political force, more or less strongly, in most European countries, ‘monarchists,’ in the strict sense of the word, are everywhere a small and dwindling minority.” What the encyclopedia couldn’t or didn’t predict was what would succeed these hereditary autocracies. “Dictatorships of one sort or another shortly were established in almost any country over which the monarchs had once reigned,” Aronson observes.


Monarchs should not lie — or at least, should not be caught lying — to each other.

Theo Aronson, Crowns in Conflict

Weekend Edition: 7-15

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • All the President’s Lawyers (“For all the uncertainty about what a Trump presidency would bring, one thing should have been clear from the start: It was going to involve a lot of lawyers.”)
  • We Don’t Need No Education (“The notion that there was a golden age of conservative intellectuals is basically a myth. But there used to be at least some pretense of taking facts and hard thinking seriously.”)

Unique Government Crisis of the Week

Blog Headline of the Week

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


I’m someone who’s supposed to be me.

Don DeLillo, Zero K

Weekend Edition: 7-8

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubez

  • Junkie Running Dry (“Some people simply cannot handle the fact that Donald Trump was elected president. One of those people is Donald Trump.”)

Legal Idiocy of the Week

Blog Headline of the Week

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage


No art says “I want to live” better or more forcefully than jazz.

Stanley Crouch, Kansas City Lightning:
The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker