" /> I write: March 2011
Curmudgeonalia
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March 23, 2011

Sarum: the novel of England

Edward Rutherford -
ISBN 0-517-56338-X

This expansive and fascinating novel pursues the 10,000 year history of England from its earliest occupation by primitive hunters, thru its varietal wars, the evolution of governments, and the industrial revolution, with coverage up to its publication in 1987. From the last ice age thru the time of Stonehenge there is no documentation, hence the events are a best guess manufacture, yet he does this intriguingly. From pre-Roman times, however, there is increasing legend and documentation; his exhaustive research shows, and the narrative is well constructed.

The area the Romans called Sarum is both title and site of the story: the Salisbury plain of south-central England, where ruins of ancient civilizations are most prominent and plentiful, beginning with Stonehenge.

Great changes were wrought by the serial invasions and occupations by Celts, Angles, Saxons, Romans and Vikings amongst others. He peruses families--five in particular--from their ancient roots to the present, and it is interesting to follow the tradesmen and nobility from these early times, observing how they preserve their familial characteristics over centuries. He explores the evolution and diversity of names, coats of arms, weapons, occupations, etc.

There is discussion the construction of Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, of epidemics of the Black Death, and wars from those of the earliest settlers thru the Reformation, the American Revolution, and the two World Wars. As well, the industrial age, Victorian reforms, government, up to and thru modern tracts on parliamentary government . . . all of those things which most impacted British civilization as it is today.

It is a wonderful novel, and well worth the time to read. It is available in a mass market paperback (978-0-8041-0298-8), but in that format it is difficult to read. I'd suggest purchase of a used copy of the original hardbound (0-517-56338-X). You'll find many copies from $2-$7 (and up $170 for signed, first editions.)

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:45 AM

March 16, 2011

The Forgotten Man

A New History of the Great Depression
Amity Shlaes - ISBN - 978-0060936426

George Will's one sentence comment was: "Americans just now need what Amity Shlaes has brilliantly supplied, a fresh appraisal of what the New Deal did and did not accomplish." And it just about summarizes the content of this magnificent 383 page treatise on the subject; exhaustive research and content makes clear that, with some minor exceptions:
• The New Deal was a complete failure--not to mention a fraud.
• The depression need not have been what it turned out to be.
• The 1920's were most definitely not a period of false growth and low morals.
• The depression inaugurated by the collapse in 1929 was not the result of a failure of capitalism.
• The New Deal did not teach that recovery required control and spending by the government

Frustratingly, we find ourselves today in a similar situation because government is doing again what it did for the decade of the 30's . . . and--surprise--it's not working this time, either.

There had been a similar "crash" a decade before during the Harding/Coolidge period. Government refused to intervene and the market recovered nicely without it. It was the New Deal approach to intervention that brought out the worst of the depression and fostered its continuation for over a decade. The big question is not whether WW II ended it--it did--but why the depression was so prolonged.

Obama recently reminded us--in his uniquely arrogant way--that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again, in the same way, and expecting a different result. Exactly so. Bush made mistakes; Obama is making them much worse. Look over your shoulder, Mr. President; you're repeating the errors of Roosevelt and cronies, and achieving the same result. Insanity, indeed!

Worse, Roosevelt won the elections because he created a new kind of interest-group politics . . . people who wanted something from government . . . the great public interest groups from labor to farm workers; senior citizens to union workers. (True, Republicans had courted big business, but the demands didn't rise to the cumulative levels that Roosevelt inculcated.) He also misconstrued the concept of the "forgotten man" to mean someone not intended by the originator of the phrase. The author uses the real forgotten man as the model for the book: the quiet, hard-working, obscure man who pays for it all, not the guy who ain't got nuttin' 'cause he don't do nuttin'.

During the Harding administration there was a serious recession in which unemployment quickly reached 10%; struggling firms cut costs by reducing wages and the country bounced back. In less than two years things were back to normal. Indeed, when Coolidge was inaugurated the unemployment rate was 5%, and within a year or so was down to 3%. Not so in 1929. Amongst other things, FDR forbade wage reductions, as he attempted to raise prices, especially for farmers, by paying them to leave their land fallow; he also destroyed crops and farm animals to create shortages, thus to increase prices. Needless to say, there was an increase hunger because there was less food.

Like--but in greater detail than--FDR's Folly reviewed here some months ago, Shlaes demonstrates how and why these progressive ideas were wrong and did much harm to the U.S. They still are.

She comments upon the exclusivity of the Intellectuals, captured in a novel entitled The Group. "Alone together," these dreamers reinforced one another; and did much to ruin America !

This ought to be required reading by all who vote, or plan to. FDR was neither a paragon nor a savior; he was a fraud . . . as was his New Deal. About this Shlaes leaves no doubt whatsoever.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:40 PM

March 14, 2011

We're back, and "well"

I apologize to those who visit my site with some regularity. For the past two years my wife has been quite ill, and my attention has been elsewhere. After many operations, months in the hospital, and nearly 2 years to recover she is finally back and in better condition than she has been in years.

I expect to be making regular entries from now on; at least that is my plan, though it has been my experience over the years that "life is what happens to you while you are making plans."

Thanx for your patience and loyalty.

RAM

Posted by Curmudgeon at 4:44 PM

One Second After

Wm. R. Forstchen - ISBN - 978-0765327253

This is a rather strained, surreal, philosophic (as noun) which entails the fatal incapacitation of much of the west and virtually all of the U.S. in an electromagnetic pulse attack; the result of a stratospheric nuclear explosion which totally destroys any and all electrical and/or computer faculty over the entire continent. A single nuclear explosion at that elevation presents no conventional risk of fallout, yet does more--though largely non-physical--damage to the country than half a dozen or more such ground level blasts.

This is the apocalyptic capacity which is, or is about to become, possible for nuclear capable terrorist nations: Pakistan, North Korea, and soon Iran; perhaps even China as aggressor or Russia as a last gasp.

It has long been known that such a risk exists, and that government really should undertake to "harden" against the risk. In the event as described, everything is shattered in an instant. Picture, if you can, every vehicle newer than 30 years, suddenly stalling, leaving highways as parking lots; every airplane in the air crashing, including Air Force One--and none will take off again for years; the entire electrical generating capacity of the U.S. is neutralized, along with the distribution grid networks; every computer is useless; the water supply, except where gravitational or artesian is rendered unavailable; food products are unavailable, though if available would be undeliverable. There is no refrigeration, so food preservation is rendered all but impossible. Within weeks mass starvation occurs. Since the disaster is long term, anyone requiring medicine dies within days or weeks; modern medicine is impossible. The money supply is quickly exhausted because our economy depends upon credit, and there are no faculties for its use; soon only precious metal or other valuables are acceptable, since there is no government to guarantee the value of paper money. The list goes on. The scenario is all but unimaginable!

The author lays out the plot lines very well, but as an historian his skill set is not suited to the construction of a novel, and in my opinion he never captures the reader with the gripping story he has to relate. It is fathomable because it requires only a rudimentary imagination. One of the first events to arise is the need to execute a young junkie and his companion for raiding a nursing home and stealing narcotics, making them unavailable to elderly persons in agony because of this theft; what should one do in that event? Having declared martial law, the only appropriate response is to instill fear in the rest of the population by public execution: "Beware, there are severe consequences" for actions which would be relatively minor felonies in other times,

It is an engrossing concept and a riveting tale, but poorly delivered. Furthermore, he takes much to long to make the point.

By the end of year one some of the remaining 10% of the U.S. population is improving its lot in life, and what's left of the military is beginning to visit, assess and unify the remaining outposts of what used to be civilization. Not a pretty sight.

I would strongly suggest another concern, however. The discussion of "hardening" against this capability is simply not possible. One might have hardened Air Force One, an aircraft carrier, or NORAD, the Pentagon, etc. But just how would you protect each and every computerized activity in the country, military and civilian, and at what expense might you harden all of the electric generation facilities, and secure the supply grid for the entire nation?

The point the author makes, without ever suggesting it, is the really serious case to be made against terrorists obtaining this awesome capability! It is the reason this must not be allowed to happen. Protection against such is essentially impossible, and considering alternatives is roughly akin to ducking under one's school desk, as we were all taught, in the 50's and 60's, should a nuclear attack occur.

It is chilling, indeed. And governments in the first world need become a hell of a lot more serious about preventing terrorists from acquiring this technology.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 4:38 PM