" /> I write: May 2010
Curmudgeonalia
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May 22, 2010

The Five Thousand Year Leap

28 Great Ideas That Changed the World
W. Cleon Skousen - 9780981559667

This book was recently reprinted and touted as remarkable. It is. Skousen, now deceased, had previously written a number of books: The First 2000 Years, The Naked Capitalist and The Making of America amongst them. Some are still in print; most are not. He was a Canadian born Mormon who became an American capitalist and writer. He distinguished himself in all three venues. One might say that "5,000" was his magnum opus.

It is chockablock full of well organized information--some of it newsworthy even to a well informed reader. He reviews the origins and nature of worldly progress, American capitalism, the founding precepts leading to our constitution, etc. Ours was the first government of, by and for the people; the first republic embracing all of its citizens . . . though, however indefensibly, insisting that slaves counted for 3/5ths of a person but not citizens. (In this regard it must be emphasized that the founders were (contrary to modern received wisdom) uniformly opposed to slavery. They had to accommodate it for the purposes of union. Furthermore, none could conceive a good way to eliminate it overnight without a disaster . . . the Civil War, you'll recall, wasn't exactly a cakewalk, and it threatened the union despite its age of "four score and seven years." (Moreover, freeing 400,000 uneducated slaves would have had enormous sociologic impact, and returning them to Africa was out of the question. But I digress!)

His discussion of the origins of legal theory, based upon Mosaic Law, is particularly fascinating, as is his review of the Articles of Confederation and why they failed. Awkwardly amusing (especially today) is the founders' conviction (not their feeling) that confiscatory taxation and deficit spending were immoral; every generation was expected to pay off whatever debt it incurred, regardless of the rationale for the debt. They encouraged an educational system able to transmit the fundamental beliefs based upon the "self-evident truths." They did not assume that the value of a free, democratic republic was obtained by osmosis or heredity. It had to be taught to be appreciated and preserved, and the system had to secure "virtuous and morally stable people" as leaders. (Again, reflect upon the attitudes today, especially on the left which propagandizes for socialism and dances with fascism.)

"Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this."
Benjamin Franklin

"Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."
Samuel Adams

"Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions. . . . they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society."
Alexis de Tocqueville

"It is the responsibility of the minorities themselves to learn the language, seek needed education, become self-sustaining, and make themselves recognized as a genuine asset to the community."
Thomas Jefferson

"The strength and stability of the family is of such vital importance to the culture that any action by the government to debilitate or cause dislocation in the normal trilateral structure of the family becomes, not merely a threat to the family involved, but a menace to the very foundations of society itself."
Skousen (paraphrasing John Locke)

"The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture. The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a spaniel."

Thomas Paine (from Common Sense)

These and a host of other quotations forever put to rest the arguments against religion as the foundation for American society. As well they emphasize and define the founding attitudes and principles, and the resulting reality: the might, the right, the success and the practical outcome of the finest republic ever founded on planet earth. (Sorry, Emperor Obama, but it's all true!)

His review of the historic, usually written perspectives of the principles is fulsome and rewarding. Reading quotes from the likes of Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams (both) and their like is awe inspiring; he even throws in some relevant observations by Cicero and others of ancient moment. As he walks thru his 28 great ideas there is much to be considered and admired.

Along the way however, he becomes redundant in being explicit, and with time tiresome by virtue of his pedanticism. Still, it is a worthwhile read for everyone seeking knowledge of our origins, or interested in the re-establishment of the American republic which the founders intended--which prevailed more or less effectively for the first 125 years. Our downfall began with Teddy Roosevelt, the original "progressive" president, just over a century ago, and has been spiraling out of control with the acceleration of our free-fall since the departure of Ronald Reagan, who moved us back a little.

Good history, good philosophy, dynamic presentation!

At the end of the paperback edition the following are included for completeness and review:
The Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the United States
and
Common Sense, by Thomas Paine

Posted by Curmudgeon at 9:32 AM

May 16, 2010

Heroes

From Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Churchill and De Gaulle
Paul Johnson - 9780061143168

Johnson's prior works in this series are Intellectuals and Creators. Both are outstanding and informative. I'm a great fan, and in his newest work he does not disappoint.

He defines heroes and heroines as people who are independent of mind, and--having made up their mind--act consistently, with resolution; they ignore or reject what is thrown at them and hew to their course, finally acting with personal courage at all times, regardless of consequences. Tough list to make, that.

As usual he writes with an encyclopedic knowledge, distilled eloquently into brief essays which serve his purpose. His judgment of characters about whom to write is interesting. He picks--for the most part--prominent people from history: Sampson and David; Alexander and Caesar; Boudica and Joan of Arc; Thomas More, Lady Gray and Mary, Queen of Scots; on to Elizabeth I, Raleigh, Wellington, Nelson and Washington; he includes Byron, Dickinson then Lincoln and Lee, working toward his finale with Churchill, De Gaulle, adding last Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II. His essays are thought provoking, informative and a delight to read as he points out things of import which are well known and others which are not. Along the way he salts his stories with a lot of fringe characters who fit nicely into his narrative.

He observes that many are worshipped as gods by some, some by many; others are present in living memory, their future to be determined by unknown events; many are studied historically as still others are largely forgotten. He makes a point to include many who are neither politicians nor warriors, indicating that hero status must not be limited to those who compete only in those arenas; many, indeed, are not especially heroic because of their debauchery in said endeavors, even if they prevailed.

His characters are "creatures, recognizably human but of great capacity and accomplishment, who stood halfway between deities and the rest . . . people recognized as powerful individuals doing challenging things in difficult times."

Some characters, he opines, have improved with age, while others haven't weathered well. Genghis Khan was reviled for a millennium but is now resurrected in Central Asia; Lincoln was considered a bumpkin in his time, yet is now revered; Wilson was a hero in his time, but his image is currently under attack as he shrinks by the day. Clive of India, Cecil Rhodes and Lawrence of Arabia are also suspect. Such is the pantheon he portrays with his own special aura in Heroes.

As with the afore mentioned books in the series, his style is superb, his delivery variably hilarious or indignant as he lauds and dissects his subjects, pointing out pomposity, malice, hubris as well as competence, compassion, accomplishment and more. It is an informative, entertaining, insightful, and wholly delightful book . . . as you'd expect from this writer!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:21 AM

May 10, 2010

Midnight at the Dragon Café

Judy Fong Bates - ISBN - 9781582431895

Not so long ago I discovered the American Library Association's award winning list. I generally loathe the organization because it supports, encourages and defends unkempt, "dirty" old men who frequent public libraries to stink them up as they enjoy pornography on common computers visible to young people. "They have that right!" . . . . We're told that, but I forget just why.

Nevertheless, the list included a number of books with which I am familiar, and consider to be worthy, so I ordered half a dozen of their newer award winners. Finding them equally good I ordered the whole list for the past 10 years, and have found the vast majority of them to be outstanding. Even the ones I have not relished are considered by many to be great. One which I did not much like was Tinker, but it was just awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. (So much for my opinion !) And then there's No Country for Old Men, which I quit reading after 50 pages--all I ever give any book before reshelving it. Not my "cup of tea."

Which gets me to "midnight;" a provocative title and an incredibly good book, released in 2005 by the author of China Dog (which I have not read). Unfortunately she's published nothing more.

The book is set in the 60's, and features an immigrant Chinese family in a small town satellite of Toronto. Their business is the restaurant, and as is true in many small towns they are the only Chinese . . . isolated from the rest of the community, considered strange and often ridiculed. While their restaurant affords them a modest living they work all of the time and live above the business in a dismal and largely unfinished apartment. In simple, declarative sentences, quite beautifully crafted, Bates describes the challenges for a young girl, the daughter, adapting to her new home.

Bates is a writer whose work is just there: all the parts mesh like a fine machine. An immigrant herself, she describes things she has personally experienced. The story impacts upon life, including your own; something every writer attempts, though many do not succeed. Her characters are well crafted, interesting and intimately exposed.

Su-Jen (Annie being her adopted English name), is the little girl and principal protagonist, constantly reminded by her mother of the sacrifices made for her in moving from China to get away from "the communists," a concept Annie can hardly understand. Neither her father nor her mother is happy. Mother is depressed and deeply embittered; she misses the homeland immensely, and spares her daughter little of her anguish. She is beautiful, and much younger than her husband, whom she married--well below her station--as a result of circumstances over which she had little control. Dark family secrets emerge as Annie is exposed to her family history.

The plot is straightforward yet riveting. As the book evolves the family travails are incorporated into the problems of immigrants, especially those who are outside the "ordinary." People who migrate to better themselves and often do jobs which "proper" immigrants refuse to do, usually in challenging and frustrating situations. Annie is pushed to excel in school, which drags her further from the family as she becomes a "real Canadian;" something both parents wish for yet have difficulty accommodating as she gathers non-Asian friends and commands the new language. While useful as a translator for her parents, she is increasingly challenged linguistically in Chinese.

It is a wonderful read. A beautiful book. You'll find yourself disappointed that the book runs out of pages before you are fully satisfied, yet ending as it must.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:54 PM

May 7, 2010

Agincourt

Bernard Cornwell - 9780061578908

New in paper, the title announces quite well the subject: the surprising victory of Henry V of England over the French in 1415. It was one of the more important battles of the 100 year war because a substantial number of French aristocrats were killed or captured on the field even though the French outnumbered the English by as many as 4:1 on the field

The French had long memories of defeat by the long-bowmen beginning with Crecy in 1346. There, as at Agincourt, the English were outnumbered and the French lost miserably . . . attributable to the English long bow; likewise at Poitiers, ten years later, when the French king was captured. The "Frogs" were ready for a smashing victory over the "Goddamns"--the French epithet for the English. Still they feared them greatly . . . with cause.

Victory was due in large measure, again, to the English bowmen, though Henry's brilliant tactics and French hubris were important features. Further, the French King was marginal and probably insane, so the French were led by a committee of nobles; never a good plan. The English army had just finished a prolonged siege at Harfleur, was sick from weeks in back-country, tired from a long and tortuous march, short on food, and deprived of all physical comfort. The French force, estimated at 30,000 men, appeared certain to overwhelm their hungry, exhausted opponent fielding a piddling 7,000.

As anticipated, Cornwell's narrative is outstanding. As the "reigning king of historical fiction" he never disappoints. The history is accurate, the research in depth, and the descriptions of battle and interaction of the combatants are superb. One comes close to feeling present at the scene, which is always this author's forte. As a stand alone volume it is nice to be done with the story in one sitting. (It is frustrating to wait a year between volumes, especially so with his most recent series on Alfred the Great, a multi-volume series begun in 2004, now at volume five, and as yet incomplete. I'd rather wait until he finishes a series before I begin to read it.)

He tells the tale thru the experiences and the eyes of the archer. His principal protagonist is an extremely skilled peasant archer who moves up thru the ranks based upon that skill; a talented, muscular man whom you'd prefer to fight next to, rather than in opposition.

His after-word is unusually interesting this time because he includes a Q & A by a journalist regarding the book; especially so because of a discussion of the long bow. It took years to master the art of handling such a weapon, and most armies simply could not produce such yeoman archers in sufficient numbers to matter. The decline of the armored Knight is attributable in considerable measure to this formidable weapon. The bow was so powerful it could drive an arrow thru armor and/or unhorse the rider, putting him at an extreme disadvantage being on foot with 60 or more pounds of armor and fighting blinded by his visor.

Great read; interesting history; and we enter the book knowing who won, but the trip down history's lane is fascinating. Sehr Gut !!


Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:57 PM