" /> I write: November 2005
Curmudgeonalia
I see I taste I write Links What?
November 29, 2005

Because He Could
Dick Morris – ISBN 0060792138

As with his book redirecting and challenging Hillary’s book Living History, Morris undertakes to confront and correct Bill Clinton’s book My Life. I have enjoyed and recommend both because of his insights originating in his having advised the Clintons for two decades.

“Most political leaders draw on the reservoir of their own life experience to shape their understanding of problems and their ideas for solutions.” Bill Clinton has no experience in life outside of politics. He’s never owned a house, and has never been without the largess of his offices: chauffeurs, nannies, entertainment budgets, Air Force One, etc. He doesn’t understand what it is like to be responsible for those things we take for granted..

Clinton’s childhood is explained differently. It bears little resemblance to the reporting in either The Man from Hope, or My Life. He moved from Hope at age one, to a 400 acre farm and later to a two story, five bedroom house with a four stall garage on a hilltop in Hot Springs. The son of a successful nurse anesthetist, and step-son of a comfortably well off Buick dealer, he did not experience the difficulties implied in his descriptions of living in a place in the boon-docks with an outhouse.

“Factoids” aside, however, Morris discusses Clinton’s marital relationship, presidency, interactions with political cronies and adversaries in detail, giving credit where it is due and correcting the record when it is not. He offers detailed insights into how Clinton’s mind works, information I found both helpful and interesting.

He uses humor—or at least candor—as he observes that Bill Clinton “learns from his mistakes [while] Hillary doesn’t make any.”

I learned more about Clinton and his presidency from this book than all of the other things I have read on the subject, have a greater appreciation of it, and have altered my opinion more than a little. What he accomplished was overwritten by his personal gaffes and inadequacies . . . not to mention his prevarication and obfuscation.

I cannot improve on the summary on the back of the cover: “Full of compelling insider anecdotes . . . [this] is a probing portrait of one of the most fascinating and polarizing figures of our time.” Those who approve of Clinton will not be offended by this book. Indeed, they might learn something. And those who loathe him really ought to read it.

Posted by respeto at 9:53 AM

November 22, 2005

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Michael Chabon – ISBN 0312282990

Pulitzer Prize winning, this book is the fifth book by Chabon, and (in my opinion at least) his best except for his newest The Final Solution, which I reviewed earlier.

Kavalier and Clay, young Jewish cousins--one from Brooklyn and one a budding artist and recent immigrant from Hitler’s Europe (Prague)--who involve themselves in the comic book craze which began before WWII. It is based in the actual facts of the era, though the characters are fictionalized. It is a delightful read, and informative both on the subject, and on the difficulties of the Jews during the Holocaust. As well it is an absorbing and memorable story about America, its dreams and possibilities, trepidation, romance, tragedy and redemption.

Each chapter--many are only a page or two long--is a single adventure of one or both of the cousins. Some are funny, others poignant, still others deeply thought provoking.

As with his other books, his clear and colorful language, sharp wit, “inventiveness and ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.” (N Y Times Book Review)

Clay is the follower—the “Indian,” after a fashion--and Kavalier the dreamer, artist, escapist and victim of Nazi evil. Together they manage to create a variety of characters, stories and heroes, becoming successful if not wealthy in their endeavor.

While lengthy it is engaging and easy to read because of the regular “shifting of gears” which allow the book to be put down almost any time, and picked up again without losing the plot(s).

And as might be expected the plot twists and turns frequently, precluding certainty about how it will all end.

Posted by respeto at 1:44 PM

Galileo, Darwin and Hawking

(the interplay of science, reason and religion)
Phil Dowe – ISBN 0802826962

Written by an Australian philosopher, the book explores the tension between religion and science, reason and faith, the harmony and disharmony between these endeavors thruout history.

He expresses a subtle nihilism in dealing with the faith of religion, and is too optimistic in glossing over “faithful” positivity in science—which is always factual while religion is opinion. While often true it is not always so.

Religion and science are deemed complementary and perhaps interdependent, but I object to his minimization of faith in unresolved (and unresolvable!) science: creation and life itself come to mind.

Using the principals mentioned in the title, the broad (and many individual) fields of science and religion are carefully explored and explained in a fashion understandable and interesting to the average reader. Science, the exercise of reason and the scientific method, he believes (or implies) will eventually provide all answers. He tends, generally, to champion Hawking and Darwin, minimizing the deep Catholicism of Galileo.

I remain bemused by philosophers and scientists who walk us thru the rational human mind of quantum physics, mathematics, cosmology, randomization, etc., all the way back to “the big bang,” without allowing that some incomprehensible force or power just might (and in my opinion had to) have been involved in creating that unimaginably dense little golf-ball sized hunk of matter that went bang in the first place.

And why, with the myriad possible permutations of that explosion, did we end up with this perfectly balanced universe?

Hmmmmm! Still, an interesting read for content and explication.

Posted by respeto at 1:40 PM

November 16, 2005

Our Oldest Enemy

(a history of America’s disastrous relationship with France)
Miller & Molesky – 0767917553

I’m reminded of the tale about God after his remarkable first seven days. Gazing upon Earth He deemed the French countryside to be the most beautiful of his creations. This being unfair to the rest of humanity, to make amends he created Frenchmen!

If you wonder why the Gauls are so . . . well . . . galling; and if you wonder why they oppose us you need wonder no more! All of the answers are here, historically documented and explicated. It is a worthy companion to Jean Francois Revel’s Anti-Americanism which I reviewed in April, 2005.

Why have the Gauls iconized Napoleon (the Hitler of his era)? Why was the last truly noble French warrior the 15th century Joan d’Arc? A woman, at that! And why do they always forget about Eleanor of Aquitaine while they remain acolytes of Rousseau and Robespierre? How did the foremost military power on The Continent become such a sniveling, loathsome place, unwilling and unable to defend itself? And why do they feel superior when they are so pathetic?

• Begin with acts of piracy and colonial skirmishes while we were British . . .
• Progress to reasons they “helped us” during our revolutionary period (while ostracizing Frenchmen like Lafayette) . . .
• Cover our post-revolutionary period, including the French revolution—an unmitigated and distinctly undemocratic disaster . . .
• Elaborate upon French intellectuals (especially Rousseau) who expounded upon many of the world’s “liberal” attitudes which we—and they--still suffer . . .
• Review their performance in WW I. We rescued them. They authored WW II by insisting upon humiliating and bankrupting Germany . . .
• Explore how they “created” Ho Chi Minh and others who were educated in Communism by the “French Republic” . . .
• Delve into their cowardly non-resistance early in Hitler’s career when they had the most powerful army on the Continent and could have stopped Hitler . . . and prevented WW II . . .
• Explain how they joined the Nazis and became Vichy collaborators . . .
• Note the attack upon American soldiers during the initial invasion of Africa, ultimately to free Europe . . .
• Discuss their behavior post WWII, including Dien Bien Phu, where after they passed their colonial misadventures to us . . .
• Divulge their double-dealing behavior and coddling of the USSR during the cold war . . .
• Investigate their divisive, destructive and malicious role(s) in the middle east and the Gulf, including the present war . . . scandals and all . . .

These items are only the high spots! There’s much more. Overall this is a comprehensive expose of how miserable the French are, and have been, over centuries. You will be disabused of a lot of misinformation if you harbor the attitude that they are our friends.

Take away their countryside and their bacchanalia, and what remains is a howling pack of “Cheese-eating surrender-monkeys!” (Which term is explained.)

Posted by respeto at 3:33 PM

November 15, 2005

Several quotes to pass along--food for thought

In this morning's reading I came across several important quotes, apropos the forthcoming debate over judges. I only wish I had the facility to express such important things in such a wise yet succinct ways:

Do you believe it is possible for something to be constitutional, but wrong? Right but unconstitutional? This is what fundamentally separates the left and the right on judges. Either the constitution means something, or it doesn't. In a nation of laws, reasons--and rules--matter.

and:

If the Supreme Court is there to decide what's right or wrong rather than what's constitutional or unconstitutional, then we don't need lawyers on the bench at all. Surely if the questions before the court concern what's good and what's bad, there are people--priests, rabbis, truck drivers--more qualified to decide such things than a bunch of lawyers.

Think about it. How can you disagree?

Posted by respeto at 11:53 AM

November 13, 2005

With Charity Toward None

(a fond look at misanthropy)
Florence King – ISBN 0312071248

“Misanthropy is a realistic attitude toward human nature that falls short of the incontinent emotional dependency expressed by Barbara Streisand’s anthem to insecurity: ‘Peepul who need peepul are the luckiest peepul in the world.’”

No longer in print, but available used, it a witty and insightful book to read. She gleefully attacks joiners, sensitive souls, do-gooders, the young-at-heart and myriad others.

Some brand her a modern Mencken, others “the best since Wil Rogers,” and still more compare her to Ambrose Bierce. In fact she is better than any of them--indeed better than all of them. She not only is the best of the genre, she has one all to herself ! “Peerless” is a word which might have been invented for her.

A misanthropic curmudgeon of the highest order she explores the subject in detail, dissecting the feminization of America along with the “niceness” of this mind-set, which results in “a soft, sickly, helpless tolerance of everything.”

Special rancor is used as she reviews smoking: “the only evil that cannot be blamed on white males. Red men started it, but nobody will say so because that would be racist.”

“Tender misanthropes” despise men in general, but are always seeking real people. Finding none they fantasize the creation of these people through social and political programs of their design. Critical to this exercise is Rousseau’s sensibility. “Seeing how much American madness can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau is like seeing how many words can be formed from antidisestablishmentarianism. In both cases the answer is: a lot!”

Nothing, she notes (e.g. Richard Nixon) is more stressful than a misanthrope trying to be nice with no end in sight. She exposes the dirty little secret that most people harbor a “secret affection for anyone harboring a low opinion of humanity.”

She stands on its head the old axiom: “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Her analysis is as instructive as it is critical. Clinton claimed to “focus like a laser.” He should take lessons from King.

Extremists, right and left, are cut from the same cloth. She spares neither! “Don’t believe without evidence. . . . Do not trust humanity without collateral security.”

An informative exploration of the subject, even if you disagree with her—a difficult task since she is so explicit and well organized. You might find yourself changing your mind.

Other books by King:
Southern Ladies and Gentlemen
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
Florence King Reader
Lump it or Leave it
Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye
STET: Damnit
(All are still in print, her latest being STET, which is King at her final best. She's now retired, damnit!)


Posted by respeto at 3:36 PM

The Trial of Socrates

I. F. Stone – ISBN 0385260326

This is another reprint of a book originally written in 1988 by an auto-didact, of sorts (self-taught historian and Greek academic), who was otherwise a prolific WWII era correspondent and commentarian.

He explores the life, times and trial of Socrates with an unusual take, challenged by some and agreed upon by others. It is a very detailed discussion of the subject, bringing up varietal important historical aspects usually overlooked in the “average” study of the ancients, and always overlooked in recent times (see my review of Who Killed Homer?)

It complements the works by Hanson, which I have reviewed, reinforcing—historically—the fact that citizen armies differ from professional and/or slave armies in that they “stand and fight.” Socrates was, of course, a citizen soldier, and important founder and explicator of Greek wisdom. He was an irresponsible gadfly of sorts, but seriously considered what he thought, shared those thoughts, said exactly what he believed and got into big trouble because of it.

“Unfortunately, Socrates [in his defense] never invoked the principle of free speech. Perhaps one reason he held back from that line of defense is because his victory would also have been a victory for the democratic principles he scorned. An acquittal would have vindicated Athens.” Socrates, you’ll recall, was more attuned to the governmental style of Sparta, and [later] Rome, wherein only certain Elders and Magistrates could register opinions, speak to the assemblies, bypassing “ordinary voters.”

Socrates disliked democracy, would not demean himself to treat its principles seriously, would not defend himself in the only way that Athens might—indeed likely would have—freed him based upon its honored traditions.

He was the most famous victim in a wave of persecutions aimed at irreligious philosophers.


Posted by respeto at 3:34 PM