" /> I write: February 2010
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February 27, 2010

Making Toast

A Family Story
Roger Rosenblatt - ISBN - 9780061825934

The author is an historic favorite of many of my generation, having regularly appeared on the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour, with beautiful, thoughtful essays on varietal subjects. He was also an essayist and editor of Time Magazine, as well having published several books, amongst them Rules for Aging, an interesting little book.

This is a memoir of incredible sensitivity and poignancy. His 38 year old daughter died several years ago, leaving behind a husband and three young children. Roger and his wife immediately moved in to assist, as grandparents and surrogate parents, to relieve their son-in-law, Harris--a busy hand surgeon at the peak of his demanding career.

With his usual sensitive touch, wry wit and self-deprecating air, Rosenblatt describes the family's "impossible" loss, the tribulations, the grief, and his and his wife's efforts to balance the scales. His modest claim is to be able to "make toast" each morning, precisely to the specifications of each of the individuals in the household. Hence the title.

It is one of the most profound memoirs you will read, right up there with Tuesdays with Morrie, and Have a Little Faith, and every bit as personal. He describes, in myriad reflections and incidental anecdotes, the quiet and largely unstated rage and bitterness, the familial love and sacrifices, the support for the children and each other, and the daily family interactions from study and play times to outings and conversations. Almost every page includes an insight, sometimes profound, and I defy anyone to read this brief memoir without tearing up. It is simple--almost lyrical--and elegant; a testimonial of love and friendship, reinforced by family values of an old fashioned kind.

It is, in part, a diary of events as interpreted by the family and their friends; as well a story of tenderness and patience, a tribute to survival, and at the same time a heartbreakingly beautiful eulogy to a beloved daughter.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:33 PM

February 23, 2010

The Empire of Lies

The Truth about China in the 21st Century
Guy Sorman - ISBN - 9781594032165

Sorman is a prominent French intellectual and a champion of democracy and free markets who has written some 20 books on various contemporary issues, many of them economic. In this lengthy essay he looks under the hood of the current Chinese bustle, glamour and shining achievements to expose the one billion who live in abject poverty, well beneath the world's radar. His conclusions are not dissimilar to The China Fantasy, reviewed here several years ago, but the text is much more detailed.

He exposes the disenchantment, human rights violations, governmental corruption, censorship, repression and propaganda. While 200 million subjects are relatively prosperous, even they are protesting, loudly in some cases, and frequently suppressed vigorously for so doing. None of this will you see in the popular media. Nor will you be apprised of the ignorance of the general public about the past, distant or recent. No one under forty has a clue about the reality of Mao, so complete is the control of history by the government. The current economic development plan, geared to the world--and especially the American--market is basically urban oriented as it exploits the rural population, and in any event is largely for the purpose of developing further the infrastructure to support massive military and related endeavors. "For the price of one rocket, hundreds of schools and hospitals could be built. There would be greater harmony, but the world might not be as impressed."

In Europe, the law preceded capitalism; in China the opposite is true. In China profit comes first. Respect for property and contractual obligations have yet to follow. The path is unpredictable and fraught with uncertainty. Still, China is an economic midget with a per-capita income 5% of that in Europe. Before the midget turns into a giant it has to overcome internal contradictions, unpredictable political institutions, the absence of the rule of law, mass poverty and an insufficient energy supply, with banks on the verge of ruin, the flight of national capital, and the risk of epidemics. (AIDs is rampant, along with other things which you haven't read about in the news recently.) "We in the West can only be threatened if we choose to sit back and do nothing."

Chinese laws exist only on paper. Those in command operate behind the scenes. Only the Party hierarchy matters, and most functionaries are faceless bureaucrats. Meetings are held in secret. No one permeates the top of the party. Local cadres terrorize the people daily. The Party crosses all bounds and has demonstrated its extraordinary capacity to kill, steal and lie; the so called Central Commission for Discipline is nothing like the name implies. It is not a watch-dog operation, but "searches out" corruption and imprisons or executes the perps for the purpose of eliminating fraud. Since the Party is in charge, corruption is worse than ever before. The whole point of Communist Party domination is to maintain its hold over society and ensure the prosperity of its members. (Gee, sounds a lot like modern Washington, doesn't it?)

The Party continues its search for legitimacy, but becomes slowly weaker over the years. Early on Mao promised democracy. Later it was felt that an authoritarian regime was necessary for modernization, but the Great Leap Forward was a disaster. To revamp the system Mao serially eliminated the old Chinese elite. The people have been lied to and used for years, and it would be a mistake to underestimate the desire of the people for freedom and justice. Note the rising number of religious protests, worker demonstrations, dispossessed peasants and petitions of intellectuals. Development alone will no longer satisfy the people, and the Party is looking for another reason to justify its existence. It could be nationalism and war. He explores, as he reminds that the yawning gap between what is said and what happens has, in the past, led to the fall of emperors. In 1912, he notes, the people got to elect their leaders--after 2200 years of imperial rule--and they elected the Republican Party.

Investment decisions are made on a political rather than an economic basis. Skilled university graduates cannot find jobs commensurate with their qualifications. The Chinese economy is based upon the massive deployment of unskilled labor rather than R & D, which is why so many of their graduates emigrate to the U.S. or Canada. Worse, purchasing power depends on proximity to the Party rather than education, enterprise or productivity. The way to wealth is by getting loans and not repaying them, which requires connections, and commissions must be paid to the bankers who then pocket the money. Those with connections get rich at twice the rate of their entrepreneurial counterparts in India, which embraced globalization at about the same time. The wealth of the fortunate fails to take into account the unequal distribution of income.

Some recall that Korea and Japan were once in identical circumstances, yet managed to prosper. China may, but she still lacks the innovative spirit because of her institutions. Simply exploiting the masses for instant profits will not suffice, and they cannot steal their way to prosperity for all. Shanghai, he observes, is "nothing but a fa├žade of modernity erected by the Party; the Chinese version of a Russian Potempkin Village. China is not a miracle but an illusion. Further, it has been observed that with the one child rule China will "get old long before it gets rich."

Its religions are ancient and universal, but are not really religions in the customary sense. The much touted Falun Gong along with Qigong, is probably less suited to a Chinese mien than is Christianity, which is making rapid headway there. At least, if properly taught, it might introduce tolerance, equanimity, morality etc., for which the Chinese were formerly quite famous (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc.), and which ancients are, according Sorman, already dead following their century-long struggle against communism. Chinese religions set little store in feelings, love or other ephemeral stuff. They abide by rules. In the West, to do good is to love. In China, to do good is to obey the rules. As a result the malice of communism has destroyed the rituals while the quality of love remains unvalued. Cruelty has come to dominate.

The myth that powerful China will submerge the rest of the world is just that. It is a poor, overpopulated nation with a GDP barely the size of the France. The mindlessness of the West is astounding, and reflects stage management by the government. It is no more "exotic" than India, and probably far less so, yet the fascination with the "slumbering giant" is unabated. Since the government ascribes the failure of communism to mere ineptness, the Party deludes itself into thinking it will go on forever.

The West, he notes, almost universally overlooked the weakening of the USSR. When Gorbachev balked at ordering demonstrators to be shot, he lost, and the Russian empire was finished. The Party works at convincing the West that it is supportive of the people and their desires--that they reflect the will of the population. They don't. The Chinese themselves are not deluded. China should be looked at not as a country of like people, but as Europe, with its many states, ethnicities, attitudes and religions. Getting them all to agree is all but impossible. It has been a country for millennia, but throughout its history there has never really been a unified whole, just a group of coexisting principalities under the rule of one Emperor.

In closing he argues for continued contact and trade because of the benefit to the peasant masses, and to maintain contacts which, however slowly, are infiltrating those masses with a yearning for more of the freedom they see in other parts of the world . . . especially the West. As a reminder recall Tiananmen, and 1989! These people can change their government when they get furious enough, and they are not happy, regardless of what the Party tells the world.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:49 PM

February 19, 2010

Red Coat

Bernard Cornwell - ISBN - 9780060512774

Deftly and elegantly Cornwell draws superb word pictures to explain attitudes of the British officers, the aristocratic architecture of command, and entertainment of and by the privileged at the time of the Revolutionary War. Equally evocatively he describes the signs, sounds and smells of battle; the tactics, turmoil, wounds, destruction, destitution, and death. He is clearly the master of the historic novel, especially so for the history of battle. He develops wonderful characters to provoke understanding of his plot(s).

The book achieves its goal in explaining the turning points of the Revolution: the abandonment of Boston, the British occupation of Philadelphia--as he describes its squalor--and its eventual abandonment after the first important British defeat at Saratoga.

He carefully explores the underlying sympathies of patriots and loyalists, and the apposition of love, hate, mercy, compassion, villainy and deceit, along with vivid descriptions of life and times as he speaks with clarity of the rigors of life in the 18th century. It is a greatly informative tract and a delightful read. With unparalleled eloquence he explains the now ancient and foreign idea of liberty and freedom. Sam, the "Redcoat," was a British soldier, a skilled caretaker of cavalry horses, who was torn over whether or not to desert. He had decided, but was hesitant after his American sweetheart decided to return to a former consort.

I pray that here in Obamaland, very soon, a majority will awaken to Cornwell's stirring thoughts, given voice by a patriot character in his novel as she encourages the Redcoat: "Liberty isn't heaven, Sam, it isn't a blessed reward. People will still die in sorrow and poverty when they have liberty. It's simply, only, the freedom to choose your own life, and no one promises you success. . . . I hate having some fat arrogant man in London telling me what I can or can't do. I'd rather the fat arrogant man was in Philadelphia, because at least then I could throw something at him. We don't need London any more. We're grown up. We want liberty. You grew up, Sam, and you didn't want your parents telling you what to do all the time. You wanted liberty, and you got it. You joined the army [and now you're here] . . . there's a river out there, and on its other side is liberty. All you have to do is cross the water. . . . There's a whole new world. There are more hills and valleys than you could dream of, and they're just waiting for the touch of a man's plough. There are rivers wider than your Thames and they still don't even have names. There are horses waiting to be bred, and there's grass to feed them. There's everything a man could want here, Sam, and if we win this fight, there'll even be liberty for everyone [to use or misuse, it is a citizen's choice.]"

As well he explores French rationale for entering the war in all of its complexity, dissects Clinton's initial command as he speaks of arrogance, pride, honor and dishonor, and as usual brings the plot to a roaring, exciting conclusion.

As with everything this man writes, I recommend it highly. No living writer is better than Bernard Cornwell! Nor are most of the dead ones.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:30 AM

February 16, 2010

Isaac's Storm

A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
Erik Larson - ISBN - 9780375708275

Rapt attentiveness will envelope you within a short period of exposure to this riveting tome on the 1900 Galveston hurricane--the worst natural disaster in American history. Isaac Monroe Cline was the bureau chief on station for the newly created U.S. Weather Bureau at the time, and Larson builds the story around this man. Smart, well informed, thoughtful, careful and hubristic; he considered himself expert on all matters concerning weather prediction, and exhibited the demeanor of much of the world at a time when man had concluded he could control most everything, overcome all hazards, and perhaps run the planet as he saw fit. Some similarly disposed man on the continent, he reminds, designed and built the "unsinkable" Titanic!

Exact measurement was not possible at the time, but the unnamed storm is felt to have been accompanied by winds in excess of 140 mph, with ocean swells in excess 30 feet, while the highest elevation on the island was but 15 feet. Thus Galveston Island became Atlantis, albeit for only a little while.

The understanding of hurricanes was primitive at the time, but weathermen weren't aware of how ignorant they were. Storms were known to follow nearly fixed courses after all! They originate deep in the Caribbean, hook east over Florida, and track up thru the Carolinas before turning back out to sea. Always! They just could not be expected to go west. While the Cubans staffing the American station in Havana counseled otherwise, the director of the American staff, and his superiors in Washington, were convinced that these were stupid, emotional people given to making all manner of inaccurate claims. The fact that they were more advanced than the U.S. never occurred to anyone up this-a-way. Americans simply wouldn't listen to the Cubans, and they "lost" the storm headed straight for Texas because they were looking for it around Tampa.

Without ship to shore radio, etc., there was no way for ships in the gulf to report the horrendous happenings encompassing their whereabouts. Larson has spent many days researching the data and reports interestingly on the anatomy of storms and the course and calamity of this particular one, eye-witness accounts from sea captains, notes from various government departments, and more. It's not unlike McCullough's book on the Johnstown flood, reviewed here years ago,
The storm brought death and incredible destruction, yet they are but half of the story. The fate of the people at the hands of nature brought out their heroism and determined response, as it had during and after the Johnstown Flood only 11 years before. 10-12,000 people died, 6,000 on the island alone; just under 20% of the population.

Larson has now "done it" for a third time. Devil in the White City is in the top 30 (or so) of my strongly recommended books. Thunderstruck and the current offering add to his successes. He always manages to take some "out of the mainstream" subject and render it as a very readable tract well worth the time to indulge in a good read. Skilled writer, he.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:32 PM

February 14, 2010

The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga - ISBN 9781416562603

This unique novel is a sleeper of sorts. A "first book," and the winner of the Man Booker Prize (a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English) and a wonderful explication of life in modern India. It was written by a native, educated at Columbia University, who has returned to India to live and work.

Charming is not a word one would use, since he exposes a lot of the intrigue, corruption, and conundrums of life in India, especially for the poor: i.e. most of the population. For those of us who saw the movie Slum Dog Millionaire, it isn't a total shock, but Adiga emphasizes that Bollywood isn't exactly representative of India.

The principal protagonist, Balram, is a poor, lower caste Indian whose father--a rickshaw man--wants his son to be more than he had the opportunity to be; to "live like a man, not a donkey." He contrives as best possible to get his son an education, but the conditions mitigate this goal, largely due to village corruption. Balram is forced to the city to look for work and becomes a driver for a wealthy business man; a lesser protagonist who is corrupt and unhappily married to a woman who wants money, leisure, and the things only available thru wealth in the new India. She's also a shrew.

The poor are used and treated like slaves, even by those "above them" amongst the household servants. Their betters vote for them and elections are rigged, capitalizing on the power pirated thereby. A little pamphlet, he explains, "will be given [to you] by the prime minister [which] will no doubt contain a very large section on the splendor of democracy in India--the awe-inspiring spectacle of one billion people casting their votes to determine their own future, in full freedom of franchise, and so on an so forth." It's a f***ing lie! Peasants are forbidden at the polls, and often beaten if they attempt to vote.

"Never before in human history have so few owed so much to so many. A handful of men in this country have trained the remaining 99.9 percent--as strong, as talented, as intelligent in every way--to exist in perpetual servitude; a servitude so strong that you can put the key to his emancipation in a man's hands and he will throw it back at you with a curse."

Balram finally determines how to use the corruption to benefit himself, and becomes a prosperous and wealthy man; a serious and successful entrepreneur who, by murdering his master and stealing his money is able to open one lucrative business after another, all the while hiding his actual identity in a distant large city. He left "the Darkness" of village life and succeeded.

The entire plot of the book is to explain his life; its origins and thru his various endeavors to success and wealth. It is a dark, shadowy tale, but apparently true of modern India. It's very well written, interesting, and quite worthwhile.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 9:52 AM

February 13, 2010

The Forsaken

An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia
Tim Tzouliadis - ISBN - 978-0143115427

This riveting tome is in the vein of Dancing Under the Red Star, reviewed here about a year ago. It is a well documented, heavily referenced book, whereas "Dancing" was a memoir in the third person, written by the son of the woman who endured the gulag and lived. "Forsaken" is about the revolution and early days of Stalin, presented in considerable detail. Both emphasize the hundreds of Americans (perhaps thousands--there is no documentation) who went to Russia during the depression. They were promised a future in a new and bright land with full employment, freedom and more, only to be disenchanted and disenfranchised before being imprisoned and destroyed. All of this was done without our government lifting a finger to rescue them; not even an acknowledgement. These unfortunates didn't emigrate to become "Reds," they moved for the promise of high paying jobs. Their passports were seized and sold by the Russian government, their meager funds were taken, and their pay was in rubles insufficient for sustenance.

Washington did know! The documentation herein is much more damning, and is backed up by references and quotations from original commentators, notably the disingenuous Walter Duranty and Paul Robeson, and the renowned Russian scholar and diplomat, George Kennan. Duranty (the Moscow bureau chief for the N.Y. Times) won a Pulitzer for reportage on, and denial of, the "alleged" Ukrainian holocaust, amongst other Stalinist horrors. Robeson (a very talented black entertainer and later recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) was virulently anti-fascist and anti-racist, yet embraced communism even after exposure to its duplicity and its murderous degradations. So Duranty lied, and Robeson caved. The soviets figured (correctly) that these folks would soon be forgotten; they couldn't allow the Americans to leave and tell the world how vile and bestial was the revolution. Kennan* and Ambassador Bullitt, the wealthy friend of the president, were unable to influence FDR to do anything; another event to tarnish his legacy. It was neither America's nor Roosevelt's "finest hour."

Few of the handful of survivors were available to Tzouliadis for interviews, hence there is great emphasis on specific gulags, most notably Kolyma. This was the gold mine which singularly financed Stalin's malevolent machine; a remote Siberian hell from which very few emerged. Thomas Sgovio, the only American survivor of this camp returned to the U.S. some 30 years later. He credited his survival to his promise to dead compatriots, and to his determination to live to tell the west what it did not know, thanks to our government, Duranty and his ilk. I should mention here that Hitler did get his nationals out, proving it could be done (though he executed them for treason.)

What makes it all worse was the fact that the U.S. government was supplying Stalin with machinery, tools--even shovels--all made in America, and ships on the "lend-lease" program (neither returned nor paid for) which made it possible for Russia to continue its operation of Kolyma. "We" knew it was a prison gulag, and that there were Americans there! Worse, after WW II hundreds (or more) of the American soldiers imprisoned by the Germans were simply transferred to the gulags. When it became known, Eisenhower eschewed the opportunity to comment, fearing that confrontation of the Soviets "could be disastrous." Even in the '50s, reports of Americans in gulags were ignored by our government, and undisclosed by the press.

Recorded for posterity, for anyone willing to expend the time to read it, is this astonishing exposition of Russian atrocities. The Gulag Archipelago was, and will remain the definitive text, but this book deals more fully with the American experience. This is up close and personal.

"In a totally fictitious world, failures need not be recorded, admitted or remembered. Factuality itself depends for its continued existence upon the existence of the non-totalitarian world." A quote from The Origins of Totalitarianism, by Hannah Arendt-c.1951

From Russia there emerged neither newsreels, nor photos; nothing but a few witness statements accompanied by drawings from memory by survivors. Few memoirs have ever been published. After the war, the audience had already grown weary of narratives of violence and human suffering. The existing horrors were more than enough--the clear confirmation that the Allied nations had been fighting a justified war against a manifest evil as represented by the verities of the black-and-white newsreels from the Nazi camps. "To add a concurrent notion of a Soviet genocide, and one from within the wartime alliance, was perhaps too much to bear. . . . Few had believed the scale of the reports from Poland or, in the early stages of the Holocaust, had dismissed them as 'atrocity tales.' How much more incomprehensible, then, that a society [ostensibly] predicated on the equality and fraternity of mankind could commit a crime even remotely equivalent?"

It is important to be apprised and to remember. The horror of Communism has been, and continues to be forgotten by the world. Evil is associated primarily with the Nazis. That is unfortunate. This book goes some distance to correcting that fact, but only if it is read; an undertaking which I strongly recommend.

*In fairness it must be observed that Kennan was the architect and fierce advocate of the containment strategy during the Truman administration--opposed vigorously by many on the left. It continued for virtually all of the "cold war." Thus he redeemed himself credibly, if belatedly.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:20 PM

February 5, 2010

Putin's Labyrinth

Spies, Murder and the Dark Heart of the New Russia
Steve LeVine - ISBN - 9780812978414

This is a gripping though bone-chilling little book which exposes "New Russia" as more corrupt than we might have hoped or expected. The author is a journalist who has lived in, and reported on Russia for more than a decade, and is thus clearly "in the know." It is a very readable account of his subject. Were it not true, one might conclude it is just one of those thrillers written by the likes of Berenson, Thor or Forsyth. It's not, which is why it is so frightening. The man and his cronies are every bit as vicious as Stalin, Beria and Yezov or Dzerzhinsky, promulgating murder and mayhem indistinguishable from the bad old days, except that on the modern stage they have to be a little more clever. More people are paying attention now, and there are few apologists like Walter Duranty, the NY Times reporter who won the Pulitzer in 1932 for his glorious reportage on Stalin's utopia (now thoroughly discredited before all but the most ardent believers, and everyone with an I.Q. above room temperature.)

The "dark side" of Russians is exposed as tolerant of these crimes, having been taught by history "to be indifferent toward the suffering of others at their death." They are used to it; it's a psychological defense toward death. After a brief respite in the early 90's, when democracy was tried (and abused), the old Russia is back with a new aspirant to Czardom. The Kremlin is again in full control. Resistance is punished by imprisonment or death, as reflected by the Gazprom billionaire, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now stripped of his wealth and serving a drummed up sentence, ostensibly for corruption. Actually, he financed opposition to Putin.

In recent years there have been many murders, most notably Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and human rights activist well known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict, and Alexander Litvinenko, whom you will recall was poisoned with polonium-120, and died a miserable and well publicized demise. This was a complicated and faultless assassination and P-120 is a rare agent virtually impossible to obtain without a deep governmental source. As well, recall the poisoning of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko with PCB in a failed assassination attempt.

The governmental collusion in these and myriad other attacks have been confirmed by Oleg Gordievsky, a colonel in the KGB, and Boris Berezovsky, a well connected expat business man (both of whom are themselves at risk)

Under Putin the apparatchiks have accumulated fortunes at the expense of the economy, stealing vast sums from Russian coffers; especially so with oil and gas now spinning off enormous profits at $80-150 per barrel. Putin himself--the richest man in Europe--is said to be worth 40 billion dollars.

Chechnya was/is a holocaust covered up by Putin. The Beslan school massacre was in response to Russia's invasion of Chechnya, as was the terrorist destruction at the Moscow opera--both of which we have heard much about, though what we hear is about these events as terror, not their cause, which is their response to Russian terror.

Putin has, by chance, gotten hold of enormous power and has used it to catastrophic effect. The new president, Dmitri Medvedev is but his lackey. Crime is rampant and goes unpunished. Twenty-six reporters were murdered in the former USSR in 2006 alone, and while these murders are not necessarily ordered by Putin, they result from the climate of impunity which he has created. He protects those inside the system, and at least accepts these acts. "Without the sanction of Putin, no one would touch someone of Politkovskaya's stature. She was their political enemy, and that's why they killed her." Politkovskaya once observed that "You could be shot because of a thousand-dollar debt. Think about it." Practically everyone is for sale in Russia, and everything has a price.

Putin has signed a law granting the Kremlin's intelligence the right, indeed the responsibility--with his approval--to assassinate Russia's enemies within or without the nation's borders. In 2009 jury trials for crimes against the state have been eliminated, as the definitions of treason have been loosened. The president's term has been advanced from 4 to 6 years, the better to keep Putin in power for decades.

The ways of power in Russia have always been invisible, but Putin would not be in power without the acquiescence of the Kremlin, the military and security services. It is clearly in their mutual interest, professionally and financially. Medvedev may claim otherwise, but 'taint so.

Putin claims his policies have rejuvenated Russia, but in fact it is oil prices. Russia is reverting to its past. Oil prices have again recovered and refill Russia's coffers, but the economic slump revealed the essential hollowness of Putin's economic boom. A sustainable economy does not exist outside of oil, and to some extent gold. Don't look for things to improve!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:15 PM

February 1, 2010

The Little Ice Age

How Climate Made History: 1300-1850
Brian Fagan - 9780465022724

A very interesting book, and since its subject is timeless, it can't be said to be dated; yet his agenda--and there is one--shows through. Throughout, he kept making the case for global warming, now called climate change, since it appears that we skeptics have been correct all along. He opines that the reconstruction of earlier climatic records "requires meticulous detective work, considerable ingenuity, and increasingly, the use of statistical methods." From the recent e-mail debacle, and the "discovery" that the melting glaciers in the Himalayas is a hoax, it would seem that ingenuity is the operational feature in such "reconstructional" endeavors. Why he uses the global deep-freeze as a springboard for global warming escapes me completely. If the globe is warming, it would seem clearly preferable to the cold of the era he is explaining.

Nevertheless it is a thoughtful and data filled recantation of climate cycles beginning with the immediate pre-renaissance period. He explains the mechanisms and, more interestingly, the impact upon life with the difficulties encountered by that ice age in its various stages.

For instance, he reviews the, devastating North Sea storms which excavated the Zuider Zee, known in Holland as the "Great Drowning of Men." At least 100,000 people were washed out to sea, along with their land. Not until the 20th century was the land reclaimed by Dutch dikes. The worst of these storms occurred in 1362 with hurricane-force winds which devastated large parts of England, Denmark, and Norway as well. For centuries the Basques experienced notable human loss attendant their cod fishing activities in the North Atlantic, their then secret fishing ground.

At other times crops failed and cattle perished as famine and epidemic diseases followed. Accusations of witchcraft abounded. Places where snow had historically been light were inundated with feet of snow, further compounding the calamitously low temperatures. It is not unreasonable to presume that the French Revolution was in part caused by the dire climate of the time--sufficient to marginalize further the already poor French farmers. The living standard of an average English farmer in 1800, he notes, was worse than that of many modern-day Third World subsistence farmers. "Tens of thousands of Englishmen" left for the U.S. from 1815-19.

Volcanic eruptions were productive of several depressions in global temperature, most notably the so-called "Year Without Summer." As well, he allows that diminished solar activity figured into this cooling. Ya think?

"Global mean surface temperatures have risen between 0.4 and 0.8 degrees Centigrade since 1860, and about 0.2- to 0.3 degrees since 1900." Just how and who determined this is left to the imagination. Of course we could just take his word for it, but even today there is serious debate over this kind of information and the means of properly assessing it. He infers that his models are the correct ones. I'd suggest that changes in temperature of a degree Centigrade, or under 2 degrees Fahrenheit over a century and a half are pretty unremarkable. More pleasant, anyone?

He acknowledges that The Little Ice Age is poorly explained and little understood, but certainly there have been similar changes over the eons. While we might expect recurrence in the natural cycle, he insists that there is "increasingly compelling evidence that humans have altered the climatic equation irrevocably (emphasis mine) through their promiscuous use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution." That, and the unprecedented land clearance which both increased the release of carbon dioxide and destroyed the forests which converted it back into oxygen. Our Bad!!

He omits, of course, that reforestation is occurring, and there are now more woodlands in Europe and the Americas than at the time of the ice age he is writing about.

He sums up that "mostly we know what to do but we lack the will to do it." We'd be wise to learn from the climatic lessons of history . . . blah, blah, blah.

Would that he'd bypassed his personal war on "global warming," and limited himself to his subject: "How Climate Made History: 1300-1850," and delivered a pleasant, informative dissertation on its origins as best understood today, and its impact upon civilization! With that caveat, it was a pretty good read.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:08 PM