" /> I write: August 2005
Curmudgeonalia
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August 31, 2005

Tradegy and Looters

The cataclysm that is now the coastal gulf south is unimaginable!

That said, looting is absolutely unacceptable. I am reminded of a time in the '60's when Los Angeles and other cites around the country were "burning" as a result of the race riots.

A couple of blocks in urban Chicago were torched. Mayor Daley went on live T.V. and radio--and it was headlined in newspapers--that he had instructed his police officers to "SHOOT TO KILL!"

The looting and burning stopped. IMMEDIATELY!! Chicago was not burned because Daley was tough, and everyone knew he'd do what he said he would.

Time to get serious in New Orleans, Biloxi, and other places. SHOOT THE BASTARDS and the looting will stop. Believe me. They may be moral cretins, but they are not so stupid as to risk death for what they can steal. Assured that they WILL die, it'll be all over, and the inadequate police protection will suddenly become sufficiently adequate that the police can do what they ought to be doing . . . saving lives of the deserving.

Posted by respeto at 10:42 AM

August 27, 2005

The World of Yesterday

Stefan Zweig -0803252242

I was introduced to this book in rereading my copy of A Jacques Barzun Reader. Therein was a brief chapter on Zweig, mentioning his final book—an autobiography of sorts written just before he committed suicide in Brazil in 1942--published posthumously.

Having never heard of Zweig, the information about him, his life and works, was quite interesting. The book is his reflection of life in Europe, lovingly described as the fullness of advanced civilization in what was left of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: at that time consisting of little more than Austria. An empire severely compromised, but a civilization at its pinnacle.

His reflections make one aware of the richness of Europe (especially Vienna and Paris) during the decades prior to WWI, its marginalization between the world wars, and its total destruction by the Nazis. Indeed his forced exile from Vienna to Paris, thence to London, and finally to Brazil was the reason for his decision to end it all.

In commenting on Europe of the 30’s he observes that it’s “so bright horizon” was lost and “will not [for decades] be what it was before the First World War.” Unfortunately it still isn’t!

A Jew born into a successful mercantile family, he was amongst the privileged, left out of only a few activities because of his “heritage,” but left out of nothing that mattered to him personally. He was noted primarily as a biographer with sensitivity to the psychology of people. He was nevertheless productive as a poet, novelist, dramatist, and a writer of lyrics for operas—most famously for Wagner. Indeed, his observations of Wagner tend to refute the received wisdom that Wagner was a supporter of Hitler and the Nazis. He apparently was not, and was eventually sacked by Hitler when he refused to omit lyrics written for his last Opera by Zweig himself. (Hitler having by then forbidden all such activities by Jews.)

Zweig was friends with virtually all of the cognoscenti of the era, including such personages as Sigmund Freud. He makes quite a point of the fact that “the arts” in Vienna were supported almost exclusively by the Jewish community, and that much of the commerce depended upon that community as well. For centuries this had been a place wherein discrimination was unknown. Jews had become Austrian (and French, and German, and Lithuanian, etc.) completely unaffected by their association with the historic prejudice attached to Jews as a race, interacting and intermarrying with Gentiles on an equal basis, which lead to total confusion by the activities of Hitler’s “philosophy” (if that it be.)

At one point he describes his myriad encounters with Jews escaping from the continent, temporarily congregating in England, searching for places to immigrate. Anywhere where they would be accepted—even Mars, were it possible. He poignantly describes these folks as disenfranchised citizens of many countries who considered themselves to be such. They spoke different languages, practiced different customs, enjoyed different things, and had nothing in common but their Jewishness, and even that was strained by the fact that many were only partly Jews--some only had traces of that “heritage.” Yet they were uniformly despised and evicted from their homelands, and few places were anxious to accept them as immigrants because they were poor, having been dispossessed by the State of Germany—and perhaps by virtue of reinvigorated anti-Semitism.

He makes clear how full life can be in the tolerant society that was. He also delves into the attitudes which drive such a civilization to destruction when led by agendized and evil fanatics.

Thruout he uses himself as a foil. In that sense it is not truly an autobiography. He describes his many contacts with well known people, not as a name dropper, but as a communicator of the history and passions of the time.

This is a very good read, especially for people interested in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and about a truly advanced and tolerant civilization which was, and might be again if only we can contain the hatred and bigotry of the evil fanatics in our midst.

It also emphasizes the need for conviction on the part of those who can undertake such pre-emptory activities, as he discusses in some detail the Chamberlain era of “peace in our time.” This review of the attitudes and actions of the British and French in the 1930’s is a relevant discussion now in this decade of similarly sadistic madness which is fundamentalist, totalitarian Islam.

Posted by respeto at 3:24 PM

In Praise of Nepotism

(A history of Family Enterprise from King David to George W. Bush)
Adam Bellow – 0385493894

“Nepotism works, it feels good, and it is generally the right thing to do. It has its origins in nature, has played a vital role in human social life, and boasts a record of impressive contributions to the progress of civilization. Nor, despite our best efforts over hundreds of years, have we succeeded in stamping it out.”

As the subtitle informs, it is expository of nepotism from ancient Israel to modern America, exploring the subject in all permutations and discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each. It is everywhere balanced, revealing data without specifically passing judgment. The family anecdotes woven into the discussion make for interesting reading, and include stories about Pericles and Charlemagne, thru Napoleon and Lincoln to the Bush’s, while perusing subjects from monogamy to the Morrill Act.

This is a breezy work filled with nuggets of history mined from extensive research. His stated goal is to stimulate consideration and debate of this heretofore overlooked subject, as he justifies his summary statement that Western/European nepotism authored the modern world by effecting the substitution of related groups and national pluralism for rigid kinship, while maintaining effective families.

He discusses the good wrought thru nepotism--an activity frequently viewed as immoral or at least divisive—pointing out that the foundation of all civilization from time immemorial depended upon it as a default position. The right kind of nepotism is necessary to human progress and has its rightful place within civilization. “Nepotism is nothing if not an aspect of the family . . . and is not really a cultural construct, but a hardwired biological given—as basic as sex and aggression.”

“Nepotistic concern for the welfare of children is the engine of the capitalist system: take that away and you destroy the main incentives for innovation and the creation of wealth. . . . Meritocracy unleavened by personal ties is inhumane, as ample evidence [shows].”

His recurring reviews of elements of D.H. Fisher’s work Albion’s Seed (a phenomenal book, by the way) is especially interesting, as is his exploration of the Rothschild family’s creation of world banking and Teddy Roosevelt’s impact upon American civilization. His lengthy exposition of the Kennedy dynasty is absorbing, as is his discourse on the baby boom generation.

All in all, this is one of the most enjoyable books I have read recently. Try it. It’s worth the time.

Posted by respeto at 3:18 PM

August 17, 2005

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini – ISBN: 1594480001

A first time novelist--a California physician born in Afghanistan—writes one of the most unforgettable stories about his native land and a handful of fascinating personages.

In my review of The Bookseller of Kabul, you will find my comment that even this successful, well educated and informed “citizen” of Afghanistan is a somewhat sordid, nihilistic rube bent on preserving the dominance of the worst parts of Islam. In this book you will find the major characters to be all but completely opposite.

Tragic, engaging, and beautifully written; in the beginning one could be quite certain that it was written as an autobiography “in the second person.” His tale is so riveting that you believe it must have happened to Hosseini.

The plot twists are considerable, and just about the time you believe you have it figured out you find that you’re mistaken. It ranges from a time before the Russian invasion with the deposition of the king—enlightened ruler of a progressive country—and ends after many turns, with the immigration (as an adoptee) of the son of one of the protagonists who, executed by the Taliban.

The descriptions of Afghan civilization are enlightening, the title “kite runner” is elaborated upon, and the ultimate tie-in closes the book.

Gripping and sad, but engaging and enlightening as to the culture destroyed first by the Russians, and later by the Taliban. Some of his descriptions remind of another book I have reviewed: The Man Who Would Be King.

“A powerful book . . . no frills, no nonsense, just hard, spare prose . . . an intimate account of family, friendship, betrayal and salvation that requires no atlas or translation to engage and enlighten us. Parts of The Kite Runner are raw and excruciating to read, yet the book in its entirety is lovingly written.” (quote from the Washington Post Book World)

A very worthwhile read on any number of accounts.

Posted by respeto at 4:37 PM

The Final Solution

Michael Chabon – ISBN: 006076340X

This young man is an ingenious writer, having made his name with the Pulitzer Prize winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This book is both a murder mystery, and a quest for a missing bird, tied up nicely and succinctly.

In his new offering he is clever with his plot twists. More, he writes beautifully. The Readers Digest (back when it was worth reading) used to have a section titled “toward more picturesque speech.” In this Chabon qualifies . . . in spades. He is a delight to read by virtue of his presentation as well as the content of his fertile mind. Example:

“The old man had been stoking and sipping at his pipe . . . the smoke of his tobacco . . . hung in the room as thick as sheepshearing and made arabesques in the harsh slanting light from the window . . . the vines of smoke twisting in the sunlight.”

This tale is placed in England near the end of WWII. He weaves in a mute child with a number quoting pet parrot--stolen because British intelligence suspects that the numbers have serious import. The thief is murdered, and an ancient, long retired homicide detective (now a bee keeper) involves himself in the quest to find the parrot for the child (an escapee from a German death camp.)

Complicated by an obsequious minister, his unfaithful wife and a peculiarly nasty son, the yarn spins thru many cycles. Each is more twisted than the reader first thinks, and none of the suspicions pan out as one might anticipate.

It is great and quick read at only 130 pages.

You’ll love this guy. I have already ordered the rest of his books for my shelves.


Posted by respeto at 4:35 PM

August 10, 2005

The Death of Common Sense

(How law is suffocating America)
Philip K. Howard - ISBN: 0446672289

This is an appropriately detailed and informative book written by an attorney who makes sense out of what has become necessary: legal change to reestablish what used to be the American way.

Early on he discusses some of the insane rules which have recently prevailed. Mother Theresa, for example, attempted to renovate an abandoned building to open a homeless shelter. New York’s rules required that improvement include an elevator. Cost prohibitive, the plans were abandoned and no homeless shelter exists. Thus does legal rigidity preclude the exercise of judgment.

He enumerates the myriad mandates for special-ed and calculates that gifted students languishing in the classroom are given about one cent for every eleven dollars dedicated to special-ed. We have built an educational system “obsessed with its potential failures to the detriment of its potential successes. . . . It’s just dumb!” (Anna Quindlen)

By attempting to establish a “perfectly certain and self-regulating authority,” which admits to no judgment or discretion, we have created our own Tower of Babel. No one, at anytime, in any situation, should be permitted to exercise judgment. God forbid! The law must provide firm answers. Over-emphasis on certainty has led us to intolerable inflexibility.

I noted in an earlier review of a Tammy Bruce book that modern law has become a game. By parsing words and stimulating intrigue it is bent to extremes by clever lawyers looking for loop-holes. The role of counsel is no longer the search for truth, but the advance of a client’s cause by ethical--or unethical--means.

The law, like science, requires judgment. Mistakes will be made. Endless scrutiny doesn’t make for better judgment. Indeed, the loss of perspective may make things worse.

Plato commented that good people do not require law to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around it. What we have created is a process which succeeds in humiliating honest people while providing cover for the bad ones. This was not the intent, but it is the result. It hasn’t become so because of venality, but become so it has. Process is now a religion of sorts, which fails to recognize that responsibility is not a group concept. Friedrich Hayek observed that sharing responsibility widely, like sharing property widely, is like having no responsibility at all. Law must not attempt to purge men’s souls. It cannot.

Legally prescribed rights are not an instant method of reform, but the perfect method for tearing society apart; especially so for rights discovered by lifting rocks to discover “penumbras.” The right to life is unassailable, as is the right to freedom of choice. Philosophy, logic and debate can, over time, create change and resolution, but when law attempts to accelerate this natural pace it drives wedges and prohibits discussion and progress, and Roe v. Wade has left us with a civil war.

Having forgotten “to consult our operating manuals” he recalls Madison: “in forming a gov’t of men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this: . . . You must enable gov’t to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

“Law is hailed as the instrument of freedom because without law . . . we would eventually come under the thumb of whoever gets the power. Too much law [we discover, has] a comparable effect.”

By exiling judgment modern law has evolved from a useful tool to a brainless tyrant, little better than Soviet apparatus. Creating rules without flexibility is a version of central planning. We must once more offer an intelligent choice between open alternatives. Principles must again be put in control. What is right and reasonable ought to dominate the conversation. Law must again become law. It has not protected us from stupidity and caprice, but made them dominant features of our society. Decision making must be transferred back from words on a page back to people on the spot. And the law mustn’t involve itself in our daily affairs.

In our age of precision machinery, sophisticated computers, incredible medical techniques, and space exploration, it is not easy to accept the imperfections and asymmetries of human nature. Still, conquering human nature was not the idea of our founding fathers, and ought not now to be our goal. “Avoiding coercion by making law into a detailed manual only assures another form of coercion.”
Law cannot save us from ourselves. Energy and resourcefulness are what’s great about America . . . not acres of legal cubicles. Let us again use common sense.

Posted by respeto at 1:53 PM

August 8, 2005

Peace Kills

P.J. O’Rourke – ISBN – 0802141986

PJ’s recent books have been disappointing, at least to me. Not since Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance, has he been entertaining. In this epistle he explores America’s latest adventures in warfare, emphasizing the absurd in the unique manner that is his shtick. And He’s back . . . !
He is as clever and quotable now as in the far too distant past:

“America is not ‘globally conscious’ . . . [since] Americans didn’t come to America to be Limeys, Frog Eaters, . . . Micks, . . . or Wogs. If we wanted foreign entanglements, we would have stayed home.”

“Americans hate foreign policy because Americans hate foreigners.”

“Americans would like to ignore foreign policy. Our previous attempts at isolationism were successful. Unfortunately, they were successful for Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan.”

“A solitary bad person sitting alone . . . and wishing he ruled the world is not a problem, unless he lives next to us in the trailer park. In the big geopolitical trailer park that is the world today, he does.”

“I hoped that Osama bin Laden was discovering, amid smart bombs and Delta Forces in Afghanistan, that America isn’t scared, America is scary. The members of al Qaeda had gotten dressed up in their holy-warrior costumes and gone trick-or-treating at the wrong house!”

“The fighting in Afghanistan was so brief that CNN Headline News had to delete three bars from its ‘Target: Terror’ score to keep the theme music from outlasting the hostilities.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to our erstwhile allies. We should understand the white-feathered, clucking German response to the prospect of combat in Iraq—understand it for the good thing it is. Germans have turned into poultry with BMWs. What caused this is a mystery, but a splendid mystery given the behavior of Germany in the last century.”

“And France is a treasure to mankind. French ideas, French beliefs, and French actions form a sort of lodestone for humanity. A moral compass needle needs a butt end. Whatever direction France is pointing—toward collaboration with Nazis, accommodation with communists, existentialism, Jerry Lewis, or UN resolution veto—we can go the other way with a quiet conscience.”

But I don’t want to spoil all of the fun. Read it and enjoy it. If you are unfamiliar with PJ, get familiar. If you haven’t read the tomes mentioned above, read them . . . especially A Parliament of Whores.

Ciao.

Posted by respeto at 3:51 PM