" /> I write: May 2007
Curmudgeonalia
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May 30, 2007

Deja Reviews

Florence King All Over Again
ISBN – 9781933859163

Another winner! Like STET Damnit, this is an anthology of King’s writings--most of them book reviews--most from National Review or the Spectator.

As with everything she writes, it is a joy to read: first because she writes so damned well, second because she is funny as hell, and third because she reviews the selection of books included with acerbicism and a scalding wit—her forte. Some she deems good, some bad, some mediocre, all handled with aplomb.

Her review entitled The Noble Whiteman, Mark Twain’s collected sketches, speeches and essays, is alone worth the price of admission. In the review she admits that she grew up with the opinion that Clemens wasn’t worth the trouble to read. She changed her mind overnight when she reviewed this collection. (No doubt she found that he was of like mind and every bit as good a writer as is she.)

She also reviews Brookhiser’s biography: Rediscovering George Washington, written when the left was making war upon this unconscionably amoral, Virginia slaveholder. She observes that this book succeeded in being superbly restorative while simultaneously annihilating Washington’s detractors. Imagine . . . the father of our country being a schmuck. Not so!

Another, Onward and Downward, deals with Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip-Mining of American Culture, which she remarks is “refreshingly cynical” in its assessment, “breaking the smile button” with its savagely witty essays; again, consistent with her take on the situation.

Her comments on the cell phone: “I talk, therefore I am.” Beautifully descriptive and right on (!) as she observes that (Andrew Ferguson observed in his book Fool’s Names, Fool’s Faces) “yuppies with portable phones attached to their ears, [are] stopping traffic, tripping over hydrants, bumping into lampposts.” My take exactly. And the wholly insane text messaging hadn’t yet been invented.

Needless to say she excoriates other books with characteristic candor: The Education of a Woman; the Life of Gloria Steinem, A Woman’s Place: the Freshmen Women Who Change the Face of Congress, and Bitch: in Praise of Difficult Women.

Like STET, this is what I refer to as a bathroom read; brief discussions without linear context, which can be read at random when you have a few minutes and are in the mood to be amused . . . and caused to think.

And this one, unlike STET, is available on line, or at your average local bookstore, though they may have to order it for you.

Publisher’s Weekly observed: “King expresses her opinions with the subtlety—and effectiveness—of a flamethrower . . . savagely funny.”

Laugh out loud funny! She sings . . . and it sounds awfully much like an aboriginal war chant.

Posted by respeto at 3:23 PM

May 27, 2007

Blood and Fire

Gettysburg
Joshua L. Chamberlain – ISBN – 1879664178

This little monograph (29 narrative pp and another 30 pp of pictures and copies of Chamberlain’s notes) is one of the best little-known “secrets” on the Civil War. For those who require a reminder, Chamberlain was the professor become soldier whose regiment, the 20th Maine, shouldered the defense of Little Round Top on the second day of the battle at Gettysburg.

He achieved the rank of General, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his activities there, and was at Appomattox to accept the surrender of the Southern Army under Robert E. Lee, in which situation he was both heroic and noble, having his troops salute those surrendering, while his band play “Dixie.” He encouraged the “Rebs” to maintain their dignity in defeat . . . and permitted it!

This is his description of the brilliant battle for Little Round Top, the indisputable turning point of the Civil War.

It is brief, gripping—indeed exhilarating—and well worth the few minutes it takes to read. For the buffs there is no need to describe the battle, though it is worth reading in the first person, and for the uninitiated it is a brief and definitive treatise on the subject. As such it ought to be read.

Read it!

Posted by respeto at 12:07 PM

May 26, 2007

My Battle of Algiers

Ted Morgan – ISBN 9780061205767

Ted Morgan is a noted historian, biographer and sometime journalist who, though an American, carries dual French citizenship and was drafted by the French to serve in the Algerian war (mid-1950’s). He also served in Viet Nam.

In this memoir he describes the brutal nature of wars, frequently comparing Viet Nam to Algiers, and emphasizing the more bitterly savage nature of the later. Included in his discussion is the character and use of torture, observing that the French learned from the Orientals and became as-- sometimes more--savage than their tutors. The legionnaires were “brutal killers.” Sometimes those subject to their inquisition experienced “mysterious suicides” under questioning.

He, himself, was involved in considerable activity he was shocked by, and the tenor of his reflection is how savage an otherwise “normal” individual can become when involved in war.

As in Vietnam, he—unlike many of his fellow combatants—understood that however peculiar it might seem, both were in fact wars of nationalism determined to throw off the yoke of colonial occupation, not just wars of Communism or Radical Islam. The appeal of both was the promise of independence for the oppressed. There is no doubt that, aside from his wish to present his recollections, the precipitant motivation was the Iraq war.

While I’m certainly in no position to challenge his experiences, I do believe that Iraq is different, in that “the coalition” did relieve a considerable majority of the population from the yoke of an oppressive dictatorship. I found his observations on Arabs to be particularly insightful, especially those on one of the Muslim combatants in the Algerian war who was similarly appalled by the violence, and indicated that he’d give up bombing if the French stop the guillotines.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the present day radical Islamists would give up suicide bombings if we left Iraq . . . or inundated Israel, returning it “to the Palestinians.” They seem bent on destruction of, or at least suzerainty over the West.

His comments on the “mystery” associated with the Algerian Casbah (the ancient center of Algiers) are particularly interesting. The Casbah serves as a metaphor for the Arab mind: “secretive, resilient, resistant to change, and teeming with a thousand twisting passages.”

This is a chilling and detailed record of the birth of Arab terrorism, and past methods used in the attempt to eradicate it. Unfortunately it hasn’t been overwhelmed, and will not be until the West becomes serious about the threats and does whatever is necessary to exterminate the thought—and when necessary, the radicals.

Ultimately, the French could not win for so long as the Algerians continued to fight. One wonders about the current parallels. The West can win, but only if we fight with determination.

As for the author: “The Algerian experience did not enrich me, it diminished me. Young men are sent out to fight wars and are placed in situations they are not prepared to deal with. I was deeply ashamed of what I had done . . . but at the same time I did not recognize the right to be criticized by those who had not been put in harm’s way. It’s a little too easy to sit in one’s living room and watch TV and be horrified by the reprehensible acts committed by men in combat. Only those who have been there have the right to do that, and I have been horrified at myself, and I have known myself to be morally compromised.”

“A nation at war is a nation in peril, not only of losing the war but also of internal cataclysms.” (Viet Nam unseated Johnson and Algeria toppled the Fourth Republic.)

“Ultimately [such events are] like a series of train wrecks caused by faulty track signals.”

This is a rewarding read which offers a step toward better comprehension, if no solutions.

Posted by respeto at 4:38 PM

May 19, 2007

A much overdue 5 minute rant

I haven't been on a rant for a while now. Maybe it's time.

The new immigration bill is disingenuous, at least. Keep in mind that just last year a bill was passed for a 700+ mile fence. This year congress refused to fund it. And recall that under Reagan we "solved the immigration situation for all time." Maybe that's why we have 12-15 million "undocumented workers" now??? Congress will not do as (apparently) most of us wish until we demand it!

No, we can't just deport 12 million people, but the truth of the matter is that many return home after a time, and if we stop illegals from entering, when they return home they will not be allowed here again. And we can deport anyone we find thru the legal process and deport them. Most of that element will be criminal in any event, and good riddance that cadre.

And who believes that we will suddenly identify and "integrate" 12 million people? Think of the bureaucracy needed to accomplish this? At that only with complaince of the illegals. There is no way in hell that if 12 million illegals showed up at the immigration office they could handle the mob. I've tried to determine the actual number of such offices and can't. But if we suppose there are 5000 of them (a number which is likely ten times the actual number) that would be nearly 2,500 descending on each office.

With a track record like congress has, who amongst you really believes that this bill will result in border enforcement and the termination of illegal immigration? Certainly I don't. Go to the following site and register your compliants and insistence if you agree with me:

http://www.grassfire.org/19042/offer.asp?Ref_ID=1721

And permit me to encourage to copy and paste this address into your google search bar as well. Carefully read the article. You may not want to believe it, but there isn't really much doubt about the data.

As I've repeatedly noted, you may be permitted to do with the facts what you wish, but you do not get your own facts!

http://www.stuff.co.nz/timaruherald/4064691a6571.html

Posted by respeto at 11:40 AM

May 14, 2007

The Last Apocalypse

Europe at the Year 1000 A.D.
James Reston, Jr. – ISBN – 9780385483360

After reading The Dogs of God my appetite for the reading of this book was whetted immensely (see my review of that book.) I was disappointed. Amazed and confused, to paraphrase Neil Diamond’s song.

Reston offers an absorbing discussion. Indeed it is exhausting because the subject is simply too complex for so short a treatise. The defeat and Christianization of the Vikings, the Magyars, and a small host of other “habitual invaders” is dealt with in a whirlwind sequence.

First the heathens are overrunning Europe. As they are beat back the Christians return the favor. Soon enough the bad guys are back (assuming you’re rooting for the Christians.) The names of all of the Vikings meld together in a blur . . . but never mind! Soon the names from the Central Steppes, along with the Hungarians and other nasty primitives overwhelm the text. So do the Christian defenders.

There’s Otto I, then Otto II, then Otto III. One is terribly confused—or at least I was—and the balloon of interest is deflated. I tried on at least half a dozen occasions to get into the book but simply couldn’t. I read portions of over half, just to get the “gist,” but finally gave up.

The sheer accretion of personal factoids makes this work read like a dictionary, or a biographical encyclopedia. There is far too much information, or too little. It should have been 1000 pages . . . or edited to 120, including only a quick review of the history of the era.

What I learned was that the world was a mess, from England to Jerusalem. Everyone was fighting everyone else, and finally the Christians prevailed, authoring (more or less) modern, Christian Europe.

Inasmuch as I would have been rooting for the Pope and his apostles, I’m happy with the outcome. I’ve long been aware of the barbarism of the era, and we’re all being reminded of that kind of barbarism with the current strife with the latter-day “heathens.” Again, the West is threatened. This time monotheism is certain to prevail. I can only hope that it’s the Christian version, and that it doesn’t take another century to determine the outcome.

This little volume is probably worthwhile for one who wants to read slowly, take notes, diagram the lineages involved and map the serial battles. But that isn’t my style.

Maybe I’m getting “old-timer’s disease?”

Posted by respeto at 2:08 PM

May 8, 2007

The River at the Center of the World

(A journey up the Yangtze and back)
Simon Winchester – ISBN – 9780312423377

Well researched and well written, as are all of Winchester’s books, I didn’t like it as well as Krakatoa. The narrative follows his trip from the mouth of the river nearly to its headwaters, with sketches and discussions of the towns, cities, natural and geological interstices along the way.

As with geologic considerations in Krakatoa, he explains why the Yangtze happens to drain as it does onto coastal China, instead of the Mekong Delta, and how important is that fact to the entire history of China. Indeed, his conjecture is that China would not be the China we know if it were not for the Yangtze.

Coursing West to East thru the entire breadth of China, falling from over 16,000 feet (in Tibet) to sea level, and navigable for almost half of its nearly 4000 mile length, it hosts about one twelfth of the world’s population, and half of China’s. These people live along the banks and cliffs which border it or within its 695 thousand square mile watershed. Five of her major cities are on or near the river.

It is the third largest/longest river in the world (Nile longer; Amazon greater watershed and volume) and delivers 244 cubic miles of water into the China Sea annually, along with 500 million tons of alluvium. A “planet of water,” and debris which adds 25 meters of tillable soil annually to its mouth as it gradually extends itself to the East. Even now, after centuries of exploration, there are regular arguments about which of the 300 tributaries actually begins this mighty river.

Along his course of travel Winchester reviews the history and development of the river and its people, discussing the varietal cultures and behaviors which characterize the half-billion people who depend upon the Yangtze in one way or another (excluding those of us who are unknowingly served by it.) Myriad anecdotes add interest to the account. In the remote reaches are village cultures of ancient origin, while cities are increasingly affluent and progressive . . . Shanghai being the largest, wealthiest and most sophisticated, and likely to replace Hong Kong in the near term as the premier commercial city in China; the former “China’s New York” and the latter her New Orleans.

A thousand vessels pass in and out daily, and an enormous trade volume is managed thereby. Ships from tiny junks and sampans to massive seagoing vessels and cargo container ships ply this dangerous area with numerous groundings and shipwrecks annually, despite the best efforts of skilled pilots. Hundreds of people die each year and are carried out to sea. Catastrophic floods occur nearly every decade, killing thousands with massive proper despoliation. Industrialization but adds to the risk.

The enormous Three Gorges dam now under construction (with its 610 ft. head and 1.3 mile breadth, is estimated to cost in excess of $36 billion) is described in detail, along with the preposterous cost of the electricity which will be generated. He posits that it is more of an exercise in Chinese arrogance than it is of value (one of the problems with dictatorship—and not all that dissimilar to Aswan, except for the relatively diminutive cost of Aswan.) Millions of people will be displaced and archaeological sites submerged in a vain and likely futile attempt to “permanently control” the river, create electricity and prove to the world that China is a world-class power. While disasters occur far too frequently it is unclear that the dam will much change that.

Overall it is a quite fascinating discussion of the history of China, ancient to present, and its progressive commercialization as she emerges as a world power; as well the problems attendant--predictable and unpredictable. The book does offer food for thought and analysis.

Recommended, if not a rave review.

Posted by respeto at 1:45 PM