Curmudgeonalia
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October 24, 2007

The World is Flat
A Brief History of the 21st Century
Thomas L. Friedman – ISBN – 9780312425074

O.K. . . . I’m sorry !!! A customer recently made the innocent inquiry: “Have you read The World is Flat?” My rejoinder was a little surly, even for me. Ever since Friedman became a raving liberal lunatic I wouldn’t trust anything he said, so I had not read it, nor did I plan to. But a friend loaned me his copy and insisted that I at least skim it. I did, and I’m glad. It was worthwhile.

Being Friedman, he spends far too much time dropping names of his contacts around the planet to let us know how important he is and all of the places he’s been. Being a world recognized Pulitzer Prize winning journalist would have been sufficient for most of us.

He’s loquacious, and his style here reminds one of a conversation not a book. He does a first-rate job of documenting statistically what every reasonably well informed person already knows, and his “gotcha games” with the great powers were to me offensive.

A good editor—permitted--could eliminate half the book without omitting anything of importance. With those caveats, however, he is masterful in explaining his observations and conclusions.

My grandkids often use the button on the VCR to “fast forward thru the boring parts.” Do the same; it is a good book to skim.

He makes the point that recent technology has made it necessary to view the world as an integral unit. Flat is the term he uses; thus modern tools are flattening the world. (He reassures us that he doesn’t really believe the world is flat. Thanks, Tom, we were worried.)

Global crossing, while bankrupting itself laying cable all around the world, set the stage for universal digital communications at affordable prices. Consequentially the modern web is capable of incredible feats and has encouraged the genius of myriad individuals who have authored numberless programs to facilitate the organization and movement of the information which Google and Yahoo direct us to.

Entire libraries and archives are being digitized by high quality, low cost labor in India and other places which would be impossible without this technology. Banks, hospitals and others can outsource bookkeeping, data entry and management around the world, providing inexpensive services and lower prices while creating wealth in these developing countries.

Information on UPS services is fascinating, as are collaborative efforts of Papa John’s, Nike and Jockey. Large and small companies outsource to professionals whose primary function is niche management or marketing. “Smalls” can thus compete globally with “Bigs,” and nobody even knows.

He emphasizes that many jobs are not going “over there.” Rather, they are being eliminated by new technology. China, India and the Asian Tigers are not racing the U.S. and Europe to the bottom with low wage labor; they are racing us to the top with effort and ingenuity. Now even they are outsourcing to lower wage countries. If we don’t soon recognize and correct this they will win!

The U.S. still has many of the finest schools, but a majority of the relevant advanced degrees are being earned here by foreigners. Worse, technology now permits them to return home on completion to societies which they prefer. Immigration is no longer necessary. Further, some of their schools are improving such that they will soon be as good as ours. As a nation we are losing high-tech skills because of societal sloth. All of us are aware that our educational systems are bad. Learn here more about just how bad.

The man has a lot to say, and a lot of it is right, but he seems to ignore the politics of the situation. Sure it takes leadership, but the current environment has prevented handling social security, immigration, education, and more. He ends, as liberals always do, with a heaping portion of pious pabulum piled on a paper plate. We have to be nice, play fair, have dreams, eliminate fear, trust everyone, etc. Bah! Humbug.

Using the information provided, along with common sense, we have to get off our butts, discipline and educate our kids and encourage people to educate themselves in useful endeavors. For those incapable or uninterested in that life course we have to emphasize and provide training in manual jobs which cannot be outsourced, and control immigration so that the wages paid to those on the lower rungs are able to live well.

I well remember an old saw from my youth. There’s very little difference between people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude; the big difference is whether it’s good or bad. We currently have a bad attitude about lots of things, married to an over-aching sense of superiority and entitlement. For the past century we have been unchallenged. No longer, and we are increasingly behind the curve.

While this is a dissertation on business and globalization he does include some of the societal impact—good and bad. He also omits a number, a few of which I mentioned above.

He does point up many factors which are cogent, and a few are endearing. A selection of these:

• By furthering education we move a larger portion of the population up a notch into a higher wage group, which leaves fewer in the bottom portion, thus raising wages there as well, but only if we control immigration! (A liberal who supports immigration control . . . wow!)

• Leadership positions in China are primarily filled by engineers. In America "leadership" is overwhelmed by lawyers. That is a problem!

• Economic stability in this flat world is not going to happen. Get used to it.

• Everyone wants economic growth, but no one wants to change.

And my favorite:

• In China today Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America Britney is Britney Spears—that is a serious problem!

And finally he reminds that Will Rogers once said: “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Posted by respeto at 1:02 PM

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

January 7, 2007

1491

New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Charles C. Mann – ISBN – 9781400032051

This “sweeping portrait” of human life long before Columbus found (?) the New World catalogues and explores a wealth of information in one volume. For two or three decades I have been reading such materials, and most of that information is included in this volume. Twenty years ago some of these data were not accepted by archaeologists. Even now some of it is not, along with several (in my opinion) glaring omissions.

In 1491 the Incas ruled an empire far more vast than Ming China, Ivan’s Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Aztec empire which was itself larger than any European state: “a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade and culture.” All ended with Columbus, most without any contact with the old world invaders.

Over a thousand years ago there were cities in the Americas which dwarfed the population centers of Europe, and probably Asia. Very sophisticated cultures existed which often depended upon sciences and farming techniques which have yet to be explored, explained or understood. For instance, hundreds of thousands, and perhaps several million people lived in South America’s tropical rain forests, sustained by sophisticated agriculture in an area that now can barely support groups of 50 "aboriginals." These folk are obviously descended from them, but have no idea of prior cultures or their technologies. Neither do we!

It is estimated that at least 9 of 10 people in the Americas died within little more than a century of discovery . . . the vast majority from European diseases. Indeed, DeSoto described the Mississippi region as teeming with cities. A century later, with the first re-exploration by whites, they were met by . . . nothing! Only wilderness with a few scattered troops of natives.

I recommend this read because of its inclusion of volumes of information, well written and organized. However, I have several issues with the author.

• One is his fawning interpretation of the freedoms “learned” by the colonists, accustomed to the "overarching tyranny” of European elites—he alleges—which colonists were able to “get away” from their masters, having observed how liberated were the Amerinds. He appears to be one of those who honestly believe that American society was founded upon the principles of the Iroquois nation, overlooking English history from well before the Magna Carta, and totally eliminating the Celts from consideration.

• Another is his knee-jerk acceptance of the about to be overturned notion that the Amerinds all arrived via the Bering Strait, failing as it does to account for primitive remains in California, and even southern South America which predate the land route between the glaciers by 20,000 to as much as 100,000 years.

• As well, he avoids the suggestion that at least one ancient dig off the California coast is felt by some to exceed 500,000 years . . . and may even represent the site of origin of Homo Sapiens, rather than Africa. I find the latter issue particularly interesting, inasmuch as the so called "Clovis Points" found in New Mexico are not only identical to those found amongst the Cro-Magnons in Spain but predate them by over 25,000 years!! Cro-Magnon is considered to be the first modern homosapien to appear on the continent after the ice age, and no one knows where he came from!

I wonder . . . do you?

Posted by respeto at 1:01 PM

January 7, 2008

1776

David McCullough – ISBN – 9780743226721

This masterful book is by McCullough. What more needs be said? It chronicles the year 1776, detailing the initiation of the American Revolution with his expected, colorfully accurate and riveting descriptions of the times, the people and the events.

He deals adroitly with the principals: Washington, Greene, Knox, etal, as well as the British commanders. The drama unfolds with descriptions of the combatants: farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, ne’er-do-wells, and the “Red Coats,” of course. The events are graphically depicted, from the (sort of) battle for Fort Ticonderoga and subsequent movement of the cannon over impossible terrain, thru the evacuation of New York, to the brilliant battle for Trenton--the paramount victory of that year.

Trevelyan, a British Statesman, later wrote of the small band of men and their leader (at Trenton): “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.” In the end, while support from the French and the Dutch played a part in the outcome, it was Washington and the army that won the war for American independence.

His descriptions of George Washington are inspiring, and make the case that the battle could not have been enjoined, forget won, without this most important man of the era: first, best, and justifiably worshipped patriot; General, first President, . . . and honorable gentleman! What he and his followers endured is all but unimaginable. Yet they did, and they prevailed. Because of that we have a country!

Writes McCullough: “The Continental Army was the key to victory, and it was Washington who held the army together and gave it ‘spirit’ through the most desperate times. . . . Washington never forgot what was at stake, and he never gave up.”

I was especially struck by report of the handling of Lord Howe, commander of British forces. He had been dispatched by King George III to--and only to--grant pardons. Washington’s retorted that he had come to the wrong place. He had no faith in any peace overtures made by the British. And there is this memorable quote of July 2nd, 1776: “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.” Ahoy there unattached secularists and members of the ACLU, note and ponder that “under God” part!

The conundrum for the British is marvelously elaborated, with the factions detailed and explained: those who supported a separate peace and those who favored humiliating the Americans by defeating them. Recall that Ben Franklin wanted to be a part of the empire; he did not, initially, favor independence.

Even then, as with the world in modern times, the English were struck by the affluence of the colonies, which achievement they attributed to America’s parasitic existence at the expense of Great Britain. The old zero sum game has quite a lineage!

Fellow citizens, I encourage you to reflect upon that revolutionary time, inasmuch as it is unapparent for just how long we will have this wonderful country if we do not--and soon--seriously consider our present situation, its gravity, and our approach to it. As was WWII, this is another war for survival . . . and the independence we claim to value.

Posted by respeto at 3:08 PM

January 29, 2006

1968: The Year That Rocked the World

Mark Kurlansky - ISBN - 0345455827

Kurlansky, author of both Salt and Cod does it again, so to speak. He covers the year of 1968 in extraordinary detail, reminding of just how seminal that year was in the history of the 20th century. It was the year of the assassinations of MKL and Robert Kennedy, the Chicago Seven, Prague Spring, the founding of “Black Power” and a myriad other events.

Those of us who lived thru them will hark back to those times, and get a fresh new look thru the eyes of Kurlansky. Indeed, while he “files” an appropriate disclaimer in his introduction, his liberal bias (and distortion) of some of the events was a little over the top and off base. (Not least is his assertion that centralization results in the dictatorship of Communism, as capitalism is the dictatorship of the rich. Neither is reformable and both are evil—while he’s not quite so blunt.) Still the revisit is engaging and worthwhile.

He explores happenings from all over the globe, their short and long-term impact, and does so in spellbinding detail having researched the many events quite carefully. Included are a host of events from youth and music to politics and war, economics, the media, the Black Panthers and Richard Nixon.

Overall a good read for those of us old enough to remember and a good history for those who are not.

Posted by respeto at 2:53 PM

April 17, 2005

The Death of Right and Wrong

(An exposition of the Left’s chilling assault on our culture and values.)
Tammy Bruce - ISBN – 1400052947

(For those who do not know Tammy, she is a lesbian feminist, former director of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, who has come to understand the left, and now attacks its agenda. She is a lucid writer who is “right on.” She’s been there, done that, and understands the Left, its agenda, and how it all works.)

The thrust is the Left’s degeneracy and its absence of moral clarity. In an enlightened, self-deprecating, auto-analytic realization she notes that: “I created [for myself] a worldview replete with moral relativism, paranoia and cynicism which kept me from looking at politics, the people with whom I dealt, and other parts of life with no values-based perspective. When your life dos not incorporate these things . . . you do not seek them out or to expect them from others. I was forced to change.”

She uses the metaphor of Carroll’s “looking glass” (Alice in Wonderland) in exposing the warped world view of the Left, noting that their world is one “without judgment, conclusions, morality, rules or personal responsibility.” Neither guilt nor innocence exists. To achieve this draconian world, restriction of individual freedom of thought and deed is required, in order to destroy any concept of judgment, and to undermine near universal notions of right and wrong.

The left has been very successful in causing an acceptance of diversity, but--still unhappy--it continues to push on the boundaries of what is considered right . . . there are to be no boundaries at all. The result is a philosophy devoid of values, and since no one outside any specific interest group can understand or appreciate the specific dilemma there exists no right to judge.

“Murder, lying, cheating, betrayal—who can argue with the admonition that these things are bad? Yet we as a society are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with making judgments about issues as obvious as these. Everything, you see, is relative.” The commonly accepted cardinal virtues require effort beyond us and serious consideration of others. This aspect of reality threatens the concept which drives the left-wing “intellectuals.”

Using Serrano (the “artist” of “Piss Christ”) she exposes the “dead heart” of the Left Elite, emphasizing the moral vacuum in which they function. She catalogues the freedom enjoyed by women in America, noting that nowhere else on the planet, at this or any other time, have such freedoms existed. She adds a challenge: “How dare the so-called feminists still claim that ours is a ‘patriarchal, oppressive society’” when it is largely due to the actions of men that women have the freedom and equity women enjoy today.

She discusses the depravity of having gender altering surgery, noting that it simply victimizes the mentally ill. For this, she coins the expression “malignant narcissism.” She also relates an incident wherein AIDS-positive gay EMT volunteers lie about their HIV status. To admit HIV positivity would result in their being removed “unfairly,” and they cannot then continue their “good works.” Will they not understand the documented risk to the people they claim to wish to help? Can they really be that crass? YES!

Thru her looking glass Tammy notes that 97% of college students are confident that their college studies have prepared them to behave ethically in their lives, yet these same students believe that their professors are teaching that there are no real ethical standards. Still these same Leftist intellectuals make a plea for more money for better education, which they do not deliver. Almost nowhere in the academy are American history, values, or even the basics of judgment still taught: nothing of beneficence or iniquity. Compare Pol Pot to Winston Churchill and you can readily understand evil and good. But: “The complete picture of history obliterates the lies of the Left about the goodness, for all its flaws, of the Western world.” Hence it isn’t taught. “As long as the university is in the hands of the malignant narcissists of the Left, the truth of history will be the enemy, to be suppressed at all costs. History . . . rewritten, heroes . . . killed . . . the truth [is to be] kept dead.”

As for lawyers, “trials are no longer about freeing the innocent, punishing the guilty, and making restitution to the injured. They have devolved into a contest over who will win. The legal system is now filled with people who will not discriminate between right and wrong. “Vigorous defense” includes lying to, and deliberate misleading of, juries. For an attorney to deliberately go into a courtroom and lie to a jury to gain acquittal is quite simply and clearly wrong. Still, attorneys are rarely held personally responsible for their clearly unethical tactics. After all, they make the rules.

Finally, we have arrived at the point where we are discussing the permissibility, even the advantage, of inter-generational sex. This modern euphemism replaces terms like statutory rape, pedophilia and ephebophilia. Since other cultures think sex with kids is o.k., we are obliged to agree? Nothing good can come from this!

Is the legacy of the Left to be the right to molest children? And does the expectation of a modicum of decency and morality in one’s life really qualify someone as a Neanderthal remnant?

This is a challenging book—to all, and especially to the Left, which ought to be humbled and detached from its hubris. It should really be read in its entirety by anyone interested in civilization as we know it. It is a coherent, “pleasantly unpleasant” read which ought to challenge all who do care to get up off of their A—es and do something about it. The Left might learn just how damaging is their agenda--assuming that they care--and the rest of us might again recall that: The absence of righteous anger is devastating to our culture!

I also recommend her prior book, The New Thought Police. It is equally devastating in demonstrating the malignancy of the Leftist/Feminist movement. Both are available in paperback.

Posted by respeto at 10:54 AM

July 25, 2010

A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity

Bill O'Reilly - ISBN - 9780767928830

Just out in paper, O'Reilly's memoir is as anticipated: effusive, informative and helpful, on point and with the expected attempt to mask his hubris. He refers repeatedly and almost reverentially to his attempt not to appear, shall we say (to be nice), "self-indulgent." But he is. Will Rogers once commented that "if you're as good as you say you are it ain't braggin'." So, maybe it's O.K. for Bill to just belly-up to the truth, but he always offers the caveat that at heart he's really a humble person. Balderdash.

But the book is good. The man came from nowhere, and has achieved more than the vast majority of people ever do. He has done it honestly, with hard work and little grousing. He is amongst cable TV's most prominent figures, counsels wisely, contributes mightily to honest reportage along with the rectification of human error and evil, and he donates heavily to charity.

In this tome he relates how he did it, how he does it, and what he recommends to aspirants, but admirably shies away from virtually anything to do with his personal life. It is not a how-to manual. Rather, as in his book for kids, he uses himself as an example of what, and what not to do: his personal manifesto, chockablock full of relevant personal experiences, what he learned from them, what he might have done it differently, what he avoided and why.

Raised Catholic, he still adheres to the dogma of the church and does not apologize. He apologizes for little, and appears to have little need, in any event. He recommends a life of sobriety, hard work, felicity to one's origins and maintenance of contact with old friends this to keep you sane, humble and honest. And he seems to have achieved this . . . or at least two out of three, which ain't bad.

It's a worthwhile read for the interested, and maybe even for those who think they're uninterested; ya might actually learn sumthin'. His fans have no doubt read it in hardback. I waited for the issuance of the paperback . . . "cheeeap!"

Posted by Curmudgeon at 10:18 AM

April 12, 2008

A Bound Man

Why We Are Excited About Obama And Why He Can’t Win
Shelby Steele – ISBN – 9781416559177

This essay is in keeping with, and a specific expansion upon his book White Guilt (published in 2006, a review of which is available on this site.)

Here Steele elaborates upon those same observations, but applies them specifically to Barack Obama in his quest for “blackness” and the presidency. The pair might have been published together with the title “Black vs. White in America, Fostering Greater Understanding.”

He notes that in order to advantageously position themselves in America blacks have had two options: challenging (currently Jackson or Sharpton, and previously the Panthers: Newton, Carmichael & Brown), or bargaining (Winfrey or Obama, and previously Poitier or Cosby). With the former there are implicit threats to--and demands upon—whites; the latter accept and trust that fair treatment will be accorded in exchange for mutual pleasantries pursuant the negotiation. Challengers get no gratitude, but do achieve power and money; bargainers gain affection and love, and commonly money as well as power, albeit of a different sort. Moreover, they are likely to be acknowledged as equals. A person can be one or the other persona but not both.

As an example he observes that for years Cosby was a bargainer, but his recent change is viewed by other blacks as hostile. He has become a challenger, and worse, since he challenges blacks. He now voices the rational societal rules which require discipline and responsibility for success, insisting that blacks have to improve themselves instead of depending upon whites to alleviate their problems. Now he is seen as being in the enemy camp, no longer a hero to his race.

Obama risks black wrath when bargaining, which is necessary to gain white acceptance, as he risks white rejection if he challenges. He cannot do both. Like Prometheus he is bound (hence the title.)

Barack has largely rejected his manifest ability to join mainstream society in questing to be black, and seems to be attempting to be in both camps, as he attempts to be all to everyone.

Steele sights numerous quotations from Obama’s prior writing to support that observation. Amongst myriad others, an early love of his life, also of mixed race, challenged Barack to explain why she had to choose to be black, noting:

• “It’s not white people who are making me choose. Maybe it used to be that way, but now they’re willing to treat me like a person. No—it’s black people who always have to make everything racial. They’re the ones making me choose. They’re the ones who are telling me I can’t be who I am.”

• “The chance to be yourself, racial self-acceptance—is not with blackness; it is in the same American mainstream [from whence you came.]”

She emphasized her trust in mainstream America more than black America to respect her for who she is and wishes to be.

Barack, intent on establishing his black “credentials” has chosen to disassociate himself from this mainstream position, diligently working to fit within black society and radical bastions, making it virtually impossible for him to be a bridge candidate and a healer of divisions. He has become just another liberal politician. Indeed, the most liberal in the Senate. While potentially an Icon, he is squandering his real potential as a candidate, and denying himself the opportunity to be who he really is—or is capable of being.

The rest you’ll have to read . . . and you definitely should, since it is as much about the black dilemma in America as it is about Obama himself.

It is enlightening, expository, insightful, and extremely well written.


Posted by respeto at 4:13 PM

April 20, 2010

A Devil of a Whipping

The Battle of Cowpens
Lawrence E. Babits - ISBN - 9780807849262

As the second most important battle in the Revolutionary War, Cowpens deserved another look and a better book. This is the definitive volume, unlikely to be improved upon; sometimes a little too detailed for my taste, but complete and well written. Babits spent considerable time reviewing other writings, but offers for the first time the study of reports from the many minor participants in the battle.

In the 1830's, federal pensions were granted for living survivors of the war, amongst them hundreds of men who had fought at Cowpens. They were caused to record specific details to corroborate their participation, and Babits reviewed their interviews, commenting that they were surprisingly consistent when compared with each other. This permitted him to recreate the battle in far more detail than anyone has before--or is likely to again (a 158 page narrative with 58 more pages of notes!)

You'll recall that the American commander was the brilliant and battle tested Daniel Morgan His adversary was the ruthless Banastre Tarleton who, at the (nearby) battle of Waxhaws, had annihilated the continentals even as they surrendered. This led to the expression: Tarleton's quarter. He offered none. Not a few of the participants at Cowpens were amongst the survivors at Waxhaws, and far more had friends or relatives slaughtered there. They were out for revenge . . . and got it. "Tarleton's Quarter!"

Morgan was a tactical genius who picked the battle site and laid out a plan which anticipated the arrogance of Tarleton and his troops. Babits reviews it all in detail. As well he describes and explains contemporary weaponry utilized in the battle; interesting, indeed. Amongst the myths he explodes is the popular belief that the musketman of the era could not deliver fire accurately, nor could he fire rapidly . . . not true. Properly trained men could "hit a man-sized target eighty yards away with five out of six shots in one minute." Most of the Americans were expert hunters with experience; many of them were using their own, often customized weapons with which they were intimately familiar.

The withering fire of the irregular militia, compounded by the accuracy of the skirmishers took a heavy toll. Early in the battle up to "two-thirds of the British infantry officers had fallen, along with a like number of privates." As the British charged into the maw, the militiamen, by prior agreement, retreated rapidly to an area behind the regulars. As anticipated by Morgan, the Kings men assumed they were in a cowardly retreat and plunged headlong into the bloody fire of the massed Continentals lying prone amongst the tree cover atop the leading edge of a swale. The American cavalry support was outstanding, as Tarleton had unwisely left a number of his troops in reserve, including some of his best cavalry. The changing tactics amidst the battle, attested to by the archived interview materials, helped the author to better understand the flow of the battle.

"Mounted operations are a major key to understanding Morgan's victory, even though they were the least orchestrated by his tactical planning." While American mounted strength was less than half that of the British, they performed brilliantly. They were lead by another tactical genius, Lt. Col. Wm Washington, who judiciously selected when and where to use his dragoons.

Babits goes on to discuss wounds, management, survival, etc. It is interesting to see his assessment of how specific wounds lend themselves to determining how they were wrought, and where the combatants were at the time they were inflicted. He comments that most of the American officers were wounded or killed because they led their troops "from the front," while British officers, generally, were picked off by snipers.

It was a horrific battle with many casualties on both sides. Those trapped by the Continentals were slaughtered. The British survivors broke and ran; survivors were gathered after the battle, having been wounded or trapped by exhaustion, and ready pickings for American cavalry. Altogether it is a stirring report of one of the most important battles in American history.

The Continentals eventually won the war by staying on the field. "The British lost the south, and ultimately the Revolutionary War, largely because [the American combatants] never gave up. Most of their battles were lost, but not this one, which passed into legend and history along with Ticonderoga, Saratoga and the final British loss at Yorktown where the French were in critical support. If you like Revolutionary history, you'll like this book.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:08 PM

February 6, 2009

A Man in Full

Tom Wolfe – ISBN – 9780553381337

Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities; The Right Stuff) recently wrote what “critics” have deemed his masterpiece. That’s saying quite a bit, in that much of his work would so qualify. But it is indeed a beautifully written, powerful novel with a complex plot, which in a peculiar way is also humorous.

The multifaceted plot basically explores men; who they are, what they do, how they succeed and how they fail; their strengths and weaknesses. White and Black politicians, lawyers, business moguls, prime athletes and effete snobs are all welcome to a plot based in Atlanta, but involving characters from as far away as California; all brought together ingeniously by Wolfe, into the context of his aims. Every permutation of maleness is included amongst the characters: suave/slimy, brilliant/dull, naive/corrupt, sensitive/indifferent, tactful/thoughtless.

Cap’m Charlie Crocker is his “main man;” a flabby, overweight, over 60, former college football mega-star who has made it big in real estate development in Atlanta. He’s a boorish back-country “good-old-boy” who owns a magnificent home (having deeded millions of dollars and his first home to the wife he dumped for his trophy bride), a plantation—named Turp’m’tine, with a full staff of black folk--used as a hunting reserve, a national frozen food company, a pricey Gulfstream jet. His “baby,” however, is his namesake Crocker Center on the outskirts of town, which he conceived as becoming the premier business center of Greater Atlanta. Charlie has everything an aspirant to splendor might want . . . but his showpiece is over-built, over budget, over-extended, under-occupied, financed with a personal pledge of several hundred million of his own money. . . . and it is bankrupting him.

The book offers insights into people you’ve never known; in places you’ve never been, doing things of which you’d rather not be aware. Yet it is a gigantic slice of life in the fast lane and a colorful description of the ups and downs of power as it explores the panoply of human behavior in an environment where “your honor” is the things you own; where everything, and nothing, matters except $$$. He puts you “there,” be it in a warehouse, a conference room, at a glitzy museum fund raiser, the country club, or hunting at Turp’m’tine with the boys—even, for a spell, in prison. He manages to include a brief essay on the sick rationale of the 60’s hippies in their Haight-Asbury holes.

There’s testosterone a-plenty, chutzpah by the ton, weakness, lust, power, success, intimidation, failure, pomp, humility, even an exploration of the philosophy of the stoic, Epictetus.

Wow. “Ever-thin-ya-cuud-ass-fer, don-cha-no?” Good read. Fun analytic, declarative and informative at the same time.

Posted by respeto at 3:11 PM

March 15, 2006

A Question of Loyalty

(the court-martial of Billy Mitchell)
Douglas Wallar - ISBN # 0060505478

Published in late 2004, this book--as interesting as it might have been in 1923--is further enhanced by the predictions of this legendary figure. It is adequately comprehensive, entirely balanced, and a breezy read which never bores, and will captivate anyone interested in air power from the time of WW I to the present.

Thruout, Waller laces the narrative with “thumbnails” of Mitchell’s life outside of his military career, but dedicates most of the book to the court-martial itself.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gen’l Mitchell, he was a decorated combat pilot/leader in the early air services of the military who grated on the governmental powers of the era, both military and civilian, because he was dedicated to, and convinced that, air power was to be the principal determinant in future combat. Most notably, he proved that air-power could support ground troops, sink battleships (which brought the Admirals to tears, literally), and predicted that Pearl Harbor would be attacked from the air, by the Japanese (18 years before they did!), that planes would ferry men who would jump from them into combat. As well, that planes would fly trans-continentally, carry passengers and military ordinance across vast oceans—in mere hours--and fly faster than the speed of sound. All of this was considered irrational, at best, by most of the command structure of the military, and the public as well.

While his crystal ball wasn’t always as accurate or retrospectively intriguing, he has been proven forward-looking, if not comprehensively clairvoyant, by history, as we all know now.

The personalities of the participants of the court-martial are well described, as well as the attitudes of the prosecution, defense and the jury. Again, it is a completely fair appraisal of all sides and participants. The trial of nearly five weeks was riveting, involved the entire country, and was covered in detail by all of the newspapers of the era. The public was, with unusual exception, favorable to Billy, considered him a hero (which in fact he was), and respected his abrasive bravado as much as the military disdained it. Today he is as respected in most quarters, including the military, as he was at the time. The debate is about whether he assisted or retarded the recognition and implementation of the potential of aircraft.

“He deserves a place in history. [His personal flaws notwithstanding] he was a brilliant and innovative officer . . . a brave and daring commander . . . an inspiration to his men . . . [and] a visionary willing to challenge the status quo. [An opportunist, perhaps, but one who in the end, laid] his military career and his reputation on the line for what he believed in. He had the courage of his convictions.”

In the end he was judged guilty of insubordination, severely chastened, and resigned from the Army shortly after the court-martial. All were results which he anticipated, yet he proceeded in order to expose the dismal state of the aerial combat strength (or, rather, the lack thereof) of the U.S. military.

Posted by respeto at 12:28 PM

July 6, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini – 9781594489501

The long awaited second novel by the author of The Kite Runner is here; a year later than planned, it arrives to broad acclimation.

I admit that it is as beautifully crafted as was “Runner,” which I recommended as the best book of its kind which I had read in 5 years, but this one is so exhausting with its inexorable gloom that even the relatively--and implicitly transient--upbeat climax doesn’t rescue it.

It accurately portrays the horrors of Afghanistan (and for that matter the Middle East) almost from time immemorial, and especially since the Russian invasion and the takeover by the warlords, then displaced by the Taliban. It emphasizes some of the majesty of humanity, occasional reason, friendship and love in the face of absolute evil, but it is so-o-o-o raw that it remorselessly buries the reader. Whereas I could not put his first novel down, I had to force myself repeatedly to pick this one up! I kept hoping for a tiny flicker of redemption. It never arrived.

I am no apologist for radical Islam, or for Islam itself, as those of you who read my entries with any regularity. While often sordid and troublesome, even these people--most at least--have many redeeming qualities which are hardly mentioned. Maybe I missed it, but I don't think so. It seems that this obviously displaced, upper-class Afghani Muslim is on his own special rant.

The plot wanders thru a web of human sorrow and destruction, trust and friendship . . . with a certain grandeur in the face of overwhelming odds, yet each time there is an ephemeral flash of light or hope he promptly razes it with a sadistic or tragic event—sometimes both—which deflates the reader all over again. He’s basically observing that that’s the way it is in that part of the world! It brings to mind Thomas Hobbes memorable quote that "war of every man against every man [creates life which is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

What it demonstrates to this reader is the unrelenting savagery in the wholly irrational world of the murderous, patriarchal Middle East with its Muslim religion and its masochistic, misogynistic beliefs; a circumstance from which there is absolutely no deliverance without a total cultural change . . . one which at least approaches civilization as we in the West understand and define it.

If they just left the rest of the world alone--stayed miserable in their own place on earth--it would be insupportable and unacceptable, but not menacing. Since this is what they plan to impose on the rest of us it is objectionable in the extreme. It must be defeated, or at least humbled and pushed back into its own wretched corner of the planet.

For that reason alone I would recommend—nay, would oblige if I could--the tolerant and understanding multiculturalist souls amongst us read this manuscript, in concert with any three or four of the following: The Kite Runner, The Bookseller of Kabul, Infidel, Because They Hate, Why I Am Not a Muslim, The Rage and the Pride, Londonistan, The Sword of the Prophet, The Caged Virgin, and What Went Wrong, in no particular order.

Perhaps in the performance of this mission those who do not believe would finally and fully understand that this is not a war between civilizations. It is a war about civilization! They prefer the medieval, barbaric 7th century. We (at least I hope it is we) prefer the relatively enlightened 21st.

For those who do understand, and have already achieved a morally justifiable intellectual intolerance, I’d recommend spending your time and money reading one of the many (almost any) other book in print which you think you might enjoy.

Posted by respeto at 12:30 PM

April 26, 2011

A Treasury of Deception

Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers etc.
Michael Farquhar

Any tract which leads by wholly discrediting Nostradamus has my attention; he was, after all, the "master of avoiding specifics," and a still quoted fraud who has endured for the ages. His end of the world predictions first went awry in the 1800s, but they're renewable thru 7000 A.D.

This volume is one of four such written by Farquhar on related things; all are absorbing. In it he exposes and explains varietal "humbugs" and their equally varietal chicanery, some serious and some just April Fool's jokes.

Operation Mincemeat, one of the greatest deceptions of WW II is reviewed, balanced by the lies and fraud of the Third Reich. On a lighter note there is a description of the housewife who gave birth to bunnies. (Well, of course, not really.)

Snake-oil salesmen in the age of medical quackery? Included. Medieval hucksters selling pieces of "the true cross"?, yep. So's the shroud of Turin. Of course the Piltdown man receives an honorable mention.

There is an excellent discussion of the witch craze in Europe in which he observes that over half of all executions took place in Germany alone. One village was left with only one woman; another eliminated an entire family; still another burned forty-one children. Perhaps this was a dress rehearsal for the Nazis?

Then there's the lie's of Lenin (not Lennon folks) and his distrust of Stalin. Shame old Vlad didn't have "Uncle Joe" shot before he became the chief. There are mentions of creative escapes from military prisons in the age of the Greeks, from the Tower of London, and from the Nazi fortress of Colditz. All if them intriguing.

He wraps it up with a series of 10s.
• 10 "tricksters" from scripture
• 10 deceptions from Greek mythology
• 10 liars in literature
and lastly:
• 10 egregious examples of modern American doublespeak; this without even mentioning Nixon's "I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

Read it. It's a hoot. And informative, though more within the framework of Trivial Pursuit.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:26 PM

January 18, 2010

A Voyage Long and Strange

Rediscovering the New World
Tony Horwitz - ISBN - 9780805076035

As in his other books, he gives the subject a new and refreshing look, with his usual sense of excitement. He apologetically identifies himself as "expensively educated at a private school and university--a history major, no less!--[who had] matriculated to middle age with a third grader's grasp of early America." He stole the title from Columbus' original notes.

Like reading Mayflower (reviewed earlier on this site), you will likely feel the same. Most ever'thin' ya thought-cha knew ain't true. As well, there's a world of stuff out there that you didn't know; a veritable avalanche of facts and stories. It is informative, breezy, off beat, honest, critical and long on analysis. He compresses much history into a few pages without being flip, dry or equivocal, all the while making it delightfully readable while exhibiting verbal parsimony. His periodic levity in anecdotes is both interesting and charming.

He glides quickly thru the landing of the Vikings, which impacted the locals not at all, then begins with 1492. Columbus, a "knight-errant," sailed believing that Asia was about where he found America (though he was 8,000 miles off) and thereby changed the world because he was wrong. While recognized as the discoverer of the New World he neither knew nor accepted that he wasn't somewhere near China. Time is spent on Columbus, reviewing his other trips here before being wholly disgraced and lost to history.

We've been told that he had to repeatedly rag on the Spanish Crown to fund his expedition, when in fact it was for other reasons they'd refused. The cost of the eventual mission was but a thirteenth of what Ferdinand and Isabella spent on their daughter's wedding. And thus goes the remainder of this fascinating tale.

He begins with the Indian cultures of the Southwest, and emphasizes that the earliest exploratory efforts were made by Spaniards who are seldom mentioned. DeVaca sailed from Vera Cruz to Tampa Bay, hiked up and across the Florida panhandle, sailed west to Galveston, then marched again across nearly to the Gulf of California before returning south and east back to Vera Cruz; a thousand miles by water and thousands more on foot. Never heard of him, didja? Coronado similarly explored the desert southwest and Mexico nearly two centuries before an Englishman got anywhere near it. He found irrigation systems of immense complexity, and fertile land with crops he'd never seen. He brought horses, but the immense herds of buffalo had him "buffaloed."

The Spaniards kept very good records of their atrocities, thus establishing that while germs killed a lot of natives, thousands were murdered, too. They were nothing if not resilient: "Hunger, heat, harsh winters, a steady diet of buffalo meat--none of this deterred them from their mission. . . . I started to wonder if the Spaniards weren't so much dogged as possessed. Greed and desperation I could grasp . . . but [their recorded exploits are] evidence of a tenacity that bordered on derangement."

Some became very wealthy; DeSoto's share of Peru's gold and silver came to more than ten million dollars in today's currency, yet he blew it all on additional ventures. He financed a venture on foot from Tampa thru Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and down the Mississippi River to the Gulf, then back and around Texas; uncharted country, endless swamps, deserts and ordeals unimaginable. He left behind a devastated country with myriad destroyed cultures. The dead of the massacre at Mavila alone rivals Antietam as the deadliest day in combat on U.S. soil. The leftovers from these disintegrated city-states coalesced over time into the Creek and Choctaw tribes. Few have heard of DeSoto, but, then, he wasn't a Yankee. (Oh, yea, there was that Chrysler product some centuries later.)

Moving from the southwest back thru the southeast, then north along the Atlantic the author gives similar narratives of the discovery and destruction from St. Augustine to Plymouth. Along the way he does include discussions of the Huguenots--French Protestants--massacred in Jacksonville, FL by the Catholic Spaniards of St. Augustine; so it wasn't just the natives who "bought the farm."

The cold, stony, unforgiving region Sir Francis Drake hoped to sell to his countrymen he poetically named Nova Albion: New England. For centuries most every historian has bashed Roanoke as wholly failed and omitted discussion of Jamestown altogether, "eager to anoint Plymouth as the birthplace of America." He explains wryly that most historians from the 18th thru the early 20th century were historians from Massachusetts who held that the founder of Jamestown was a disgrace and a colossal liar. Actually, in Tony's 42 page discussion of Jamestown he says more, better than the entire book on Jamestown which I reviewed here some months ago. His canvas is not unlimited, but he paints well.

In one rather sad interview he discusses the disappearance of Indian ways; that with a modern Algonquian who really does want modernity, but with the serenity of Indian life. His discussion of Plymouth is short but interesting, and he ends with the observation that there is history and then there is myth (playing on the line from Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.")

He has corrected that. Good read.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:20 PM

January 5, 2007

A War Like No Other

How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War
Victor Davis Hanson – 9780812969702

In classical literature/history this is the most studied war of all time . . . not least because it is the oldest and most famous in the ancient Western world. Thucydides and others amongst the ancients, and Strauss and others amongst the current, have reported in detail on the war and/or individual battles therein, but in this narrative Dr. Hanson undertakes the discussion in an altogether new fashion, integrating the war as fought on sea and land, city and countryside noting, chronologically, the relevance (or lack there of) of various battles within the war and their impact upon Greek civilization of the era.

He describes the civilization of the time, the logic behind and the manner in which battles were fought, the changing alliances within the adversarial camps. As well, he integrates the impact of various concomitant occurrences such as the plague epidemic early in the war, why it happened, and the carnage it wrought. A Gestaltist approach, you might say.

Pericles died of the plague, which certainly affected the war’s outcome. Most of the noble families of Athens were devastated by the war, a majority of them perishing in combat or of the plague, leaving Athens without a ruling coterie, and which resulted in the ultimate destruction of Athens while setting the stage for conquest of all of Greece by Alexander.

Adjusting for population at the time, he observes that a similar ration of deaths would require that 40 million Americans perish in WWII, including the majority of its leaders and prominent citizens. In this vein he comments how different war is now than at the time, conceptually and destructively. He contemporizes that war with current war making.

This is a monumental and unique work which lends itself to a more comprehensive understanding of the West’s first battle of all against all, and well worth a read. Whatever you have read about this conflict . . . is different.

Posted by respeto at 3:24 PM

December 11, 2009

AMERICANISM

The Fourth Great Western Religion
David Gelernter 9780385513128

No matter how convinced you are about the secular foundation of America, if you still believe that on completion of this tome it will have been accomplished by willful misunderstanding of the facts as exposed by Gelernter!

Gelernter was one of the first victims of the Unabomber, and suffered grievous wounds which left him badly crippled, but he has resurrected himself from the awful consequences of that act to become a well recognized writer, as he continues to be a noteworthy professor of computer technology. This is one of his best books; clear, concise, well written and meaningful. He refuses to apologize for the America most of us love, which pleased me immensely.

This Jewish man begins with a message for the Christians of America: "You built America and Americanism. In so doing you gave mankind one of the greatest gifts it has ever received. Do not allow yourselves to be spiritually disposed in your own homes! This country will never have an established, official religion; it will never abandon religious freedom. But neither should it be allowed to abandon its history and origins, or lie about them. Christians are (rightly) prohibited to preach Christianity in public schools; secularists should be prohibited to preach secularism, too!" (Emphasis in the original)

While we are used to hearing that the basis of any Creed is philosophical, our creed is, at root, religious. "The intensity of belief in the [American] Creed among people who have never heard a philosophical argument in their lives belies the assertion that these ideas are 'philosophical.'" In his Gettysburg Address Lincoln "built out of words a sacred shrine" for our fundamental tenets, and it is "one of the most beautiful shrines mankind has ever seen, and one of the holiest."

Those of us who accept Americanism simply believe her principles to be true, not because anyone argued philosophically that this is so. He continues by showing how the Bible and Puritanism molded America, including the south--Anglicans notwithstanding. Indeed, as modern Puritan country becomes more liberal, the south stands strong. Further, contrary to received wisdom, America was founded by religious fanatics. The Puritans were zealously dedicated to their God, but quite different from modern Islamic fanatics who murder as they claim to be doing God's work--"a slander on every religious believer who ever lived."

Others are proud of their countries, but few are able to recite the principles upon which their nations were founded . . . because there are none. Other countries are based upon shared descent or ethnicity, or were cobbled together by conquest or decree. America is more, and she is a biblical, not secular republic.

Liberty, equality and democracy were ordained by God for all mankind; Americanism is humane in the best sense. While you can believe in Americanism without believing in God, you cannot, without believing in man. And you must not neglect the fact that America grew on "a strong Judeo-Christian stem, rooted in the rich, deep soil of the Bible."

These and other facts are argued persuasively between the covers of this brilliant book, emphasizing that one of the all-important missing ingredients in American intellectuals' worldview today--and far too many of our young--is chivalry (in its largest sense.) Chivalry itself is biblical and worthy of armed defense. Valor, honor, bravery and heroism are Godly causes, though most American intellectuals draw a blank when you mention these things." (See my relevant review of the book Honor, a History)

Traditional business, commerce and hard work are more reputable in America than in Europe--or in most of the rest of the world for that matter. Having learned at Plymouth Plantation that socialism didn't work, personal responsibility was found to encourage all hands to be industrious. Property, comfort, even honor were to be earned, not passed along by progenitors as was the case in Europe.

Most think the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution were rational, secular and "Enlightenment" in spirit. Not so. The cousins, Puritanism and American Zionism, were crucial. The first written constitution of modern democracy was inspired not by democratic Athens, or republican Rome, or Enlightenment philosophy or British commercial practice, but by a Puritan (Thomas Hooker of Hartford, CT in 1638) preacher's interpretation of a verse in the Hebrew Bible: "The choice of public magistrate belongs unto the people by God's own allowance . . . The foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people."

He lectures on the religion of the founders as well as Lincoln, indicating that Lincoln's second Inaugural Address is the incandescent core of the American Religion. Abe "transformed Americanism into a full-fledged, mature religion--not by causing America to embody its noble ideals, but by teaching the nation that it ought to embody them. "In the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, Lincoln produced the two greatest sacred narratives in the English language (outside of the English Bible itself.)" He was inspired by the Puritan message, and delivered it in the language of Americanism, marking the evolution of one to the other. Lincoln achieved the completion of the creation of Americanism which exceeds mere patriotism and philosophic doctrine. He didn't Christianize America; rather, he Americanized Christianity. His martyrdom was catastrophic, politically and in human terms, but in religions terms it sealed his achievement. He deserves to be remembered as the most important religions figure America has ever produced.

At Gettysburg he commented on the new birth of America. In actuality it was the third birth:
• The first was the arrival of Puritans in the new world
• The second was the revolution and independence
• The third was the freeing of the slaves
Each was a monumental event in world history, and illuminated the biblical text: let my people go.

Gelernter goes on to review in some detail subsequent history, noting that the First World War authored the modern world, as it cemented American dominance of the world thereafter. As well it confirmed modern Americanism and with it, modern anti-Americanism.

European nations tended to feel guilty, drifted toward pacifism and appeasement. They learned that war was unthinkably awful, pacifism was mandatory, nationalism was dangerous and that world organizations like the League of Nations and the UN were mankind's only hope. Americans had no such crisis of conscience--"a hugely important fact that continues to shape world politics to this day." America had done nothing to start or fuel the war and had not rejoiced when it started. We helped the Allies to win, then came home to forget about it. Most Americans, he comments, remember WW I -the "war to end all wars" -- only because there was a WW II.

And the end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the USSR, in fact, represented the long delayed end of WW II. That war was, in reality, the "semi-finals in a long match for world domination." While America and the allies contributed mightily to winning the war, it must be acknowledged that the USSR was the main player, and it transformed the USSR from a staggering ex-empire to a superpower with only one serious rival on earth.

"Europe today is essentially the Europe that emerged from the First World War." The similarity is amazing, with its love of self-determination and its loathing of imperialism and war; its liberal Germany and its weak, shrunken Russia; its map crammed with small states; its causal, endemic anti-Semitism; its politically, financially and masochistically rewarding fascination with Muslim states that despise it; its undertone of self hatred and guile, and of course its contempt for America.

Europe's passion for appeasement, born of WW I, is now back in vogue. Rather than challenge or defeat one's enemies, placate them and make them your friends. More than a little of their disdain for America is that the American mainstream, with equal passion, studiously--even contemptuously--rejects appeasement.

To understand the Vietnam War's effect on the U.S. one needs recognize that it was our WW I. American intellectuals responded by preaching appeasement and pacifism. They still do. Conservative Americans still believe in Americanism. Liberals do not. Their attitudes are dominated by four falsehoods

• We were wrong to fight the communists in the first place since they only wanted what was best for their country
• The war was unwinnable and we had no business sending our men to a war they were bound to lose.
• As the people learned the facts they turned against the war and forced our withdrawal from Vietnam
• The real heroes of Vietnam were the protesters and draft resisters who forced America to give up a disastrously wrong policy

He deals with each of these "falsehoods" in sufficient detail to justify the fact that they are false, as he emphasizes that they weren't necessarily wrongheaded during the war, but it now requires a mighty act of will to maintain such pristine ignorance.

Americans continue overwhelmingly to believe in God, much to the bemusement and frustration of the intellectual and secular classes. The founders believed that a religious public was necessary for our way of government/life. Ultimately morality can get no purchase without religion. Without divinity to hold on to, morality is like a first-time roller skater trying but failing to avoid falling. Secularists have left morality behind. They foresee a society where human rights replace human duties, where only the state has obligations as the bovine citizenry relaxes and permits the government to take care of everything. Secular ethics suggests that we must be "careful, and mature, and imaginative, and fair and nice, and lucky." Nothing there is inspiring, noble or even difficult. Nothing exhorts us to be generous or just, decent, honest or kind; gracious or merciful, patriotic or brave; loving or good. All of that is biblical, and part of the American Creed

Someday soon someone will remind this whole nation that tolerance is American but secularism is not. Absolute religious freedom is American but contempt for religion is not. Religious doubt is American but religious indifference is not. Heated religious debate is American but cold academic disdain is not. Chivalry is American but complacency is not.

Six cheers and a 42 gun salute for and to "Americanism." This is a profoundly moving book which properly dispels any notion that America is wrong, or evil, or in need of the changes to be wrought by secularism and the modernity proposed by the left.

Read it. Enjoy it. Think on it. It is well worth the time, the effort and the indulgence. If you are not already so inclined you might even be moved to again love our country. And be willing to fight for it, by debate or by force of arms. America is indisputably worth it!

PS: sorry this review is so long, but it was necessary to properly address this masterpiece.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:47 PM

July 12, 2008

Adopted Son

Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution
David A. Clary – ISBN – 9780553383454

In reading this book I came to fully realize the difference between history written for historians and that read for the generally interested public—never mind the casually inclined. This is a thoroughgoing explication of a truly fascinating relationship which I had never undertaken to study. While engaging, it includes extravagant discussions of minutiae which are not necessarily unimportant, but are much more pointedly directed at the thoroughgoing academic. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, though I admit that I skimmed a lot of the middle of the book; even skipped pages from time to time. Too much detail for me.

Even so, the information supplied by Clary explores the enormous importance of Lafayette to Washington, and thus to all of us who benefited from his/their endeavor. As well it points up how very much Lafayette actually did for the Revolutionary War; things I had never realized, which further enhance the value of reading such a tome. He was truly a remarkable man and extremely important to our freedom.

Being one of the richest and most important French aristocrats, his very participation and influence were crucial to his country’s critical support of the Revolution. Further, Lafayette bankrupted himself paying his army’s expenses, and loaning our government money which he was never repaid. While the debt was eventually settled decades later thru land grants in the U.S., he went home almost pauperized.

The book deals with many of the battles and the details involved therein, and is especially clear on how important Lafayette—in command of his own army—was to final victory at Yorktown. It is, nonetheless, primarily about the relationship, communications, and deep emotional attachment which cemented the two principals throughout the war and subsequent presidency, and continued up until Washington’s death. Lafayette strove to pattern his life around Washington’s, which was critical to his impact on the French Revolution.

The book ends as the author explores how Lafayette shaped the French Revolution. He was imprisoned, and nearly executed by the Jacobins, which was likewise newsworthy to this reviewer. It makes the sad adventure of the French Revolution a more easily understood event, and sheds a little light on the current conundrum in the middle-east.

I recommend the book with those caveats. I believe my time to have been well spent, but cannot recommend it to the “casually interested.”

Posted by respeto at 2:17 PM

November 17, 2008

Agent Zigzag

A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal
Ben Macintyre – ISBN 9780307353412

This is the next to the best spy story ever written; next, that is, to A Man Called Intrepid. Newly issued in paperback, it is written by one of my recently discovered, most favored writers. My problem with him is that he hasn’t written enough. As with Intrepid, Zigzag is a true story, so bizarre that it could never be conceived as a fictional plot, and if written no one would consider it believable!

I’ve reviewed most of Macintyre’s books before on this site: The Englishman’s Daughter; The Napoleon of Crime, and The Man Who Would Be King. This book is every bit as good as any of them. You’ll recall that he is a journalist who, in his various travels and assignments, discovers unusual people, often largely unknown, and spends years researching them before writing some of the most riveting and perfect prose you will ever read . . . always biographic history.

Zigzag was one of the foremost British double agents of WWII, having infiltrated the upper levels of Nazi intelligence, and was trusted by all, including Hitler. Near the end of the war the Germans were giving him unbelievable assignments which clearly could not be accomplished, but they assigned them to him anyway, desperate as they were for success in the waning days of the Third Reich.

His British managers carefully arranged for some of his assignments to appear to have been completed successfully, adding to Zigzag’s credibility. Foremost of these was the sabotage of the “Mosquito” factory in Britain--the Mosquito being one of the most unusual and feared bombers of WWII. It wreaked havoc on the Germans, and they wanted it neutralized—removed from manufacture. An elaborate ruse was required in order to make it appear to Luftwaffe aerial reconnaissance that the factory had, indeed been “decommissioned,” which façade, itself, was an incredible achievement.

Moreover, Eddie Chapman—Zigzag—was a common criminal (actually a very uncommon one) who was attracted to risk, danger, notoriety and fame. He was fearless, and imagined himself going down in flames by assassinating Hitler. His most important asset was his ability to memorize most anything, and stick rigidly to any story concocted to “out him.” As well, he would explore military installations, memorize the layout, and then duplicate it accurately months later.

While in Norway, training for a Nazi spy mission, he so thoroughly managed the situation that he became a lifelong friend and admirer of his German manager/trainer. Indeed, on more than one occasion the man interceded to save him from undue harassment when the SS was trying to break him. Many years later—both presuming the other to be dead—they resurrected their friendship.

As an amorous and high testosterone male he had many affairs, not unlike 007. He was friends with the devilishly clever Baron Rothschild—British bomb maker and expert, who was the model for the creative genius “Q” in the James Bond genre. Fleming likely stole a little from Zigzag when modeling 007 himself.

Suffice it to say that this is one hell of a book; one noted by a reviewer for the Boston Globe to be “The best book ever written.” (I don’t agree with that bit of hyperbole, since Intrepid is at least as good, and there are others—The Odessa File comes to mind—as well as other genres between which there is intrinsically no way to compare.)

Nonetheless, it is sheer fun to read.

Posted by respeto at 10:45 AM

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

July 23, 2007

Alexander Hamilton, American

Richard Brookhiser – ISBN – 9780684839196

This book is a stunning achievement. In little more than 200 pages Brookhiser chronicles the life and contributions of Hamilton, ranking him amongst the most important of the founding fathers. Oft overlooked and unappreciated, the author undertakes to correct that, and does it very well.

More than any of his contemporaries Hamilton was responsible for the emergence of the country as the most important economic and military power on the globe. As well, he contributed to the abolition of slavery. Without a doubt his life’s contributions would have been greater had he not been killed in a duel, and perhaps his reputation and contributions would have been better recognized.

In recent years a number of biographies have been written. I believe this to be one of the best because it is succinct, well drawn, and complete with interpretations which help the reader to know and appreciate Hamilton.

His greatness was much related to the plainness of his ideation. He was, of course, brilliant. “Madison’s thoughts at their best [were] brilliant constructs. Jefferson’s [were] visions.” Madison was a well schooled man, Jefferson an autodidact. “Hamilton was driven by problems. Madison by theories.” Both were dazzling politicians and orators.

One of the better sections of the monograph is Brookhiser’s discussion of Hamilton’s brilliance exhibited in the founding of America’s first bank as well as the thoughtful construction managing the Revolutionary War’s debts. Functioning as the first Secretary of the Treasury these were his most important contributions.

Hamilton was adamant about honor (which is what got him killed), and of honoring debt fully. He almost single-handedly created modern entrepreneurial capitalism, though it was not then known as such. Being creative himself he recognized that in a community of individuals it was proper, possible and appropriate for each individual to find his element, and to “call into activity the whole vigor of his nature.” No one need necessarily be plugged into a trade or activity he loathed, or for which he was unsuited. Options were encouraged.

Though having grown up in one of the world’s most beautiful spots (the Island of Nevus in the Caribbean), Hamilton was surrounded by abject poverty. This caused him to seriously consider alternative approaches to prosperity. Having raised himself from poverty he never forgot that economies are about the people who work in them. Being the spawn of a ne’er do well he recognized that men were shaped by their environment and could easily drift into obscurity and mediocrity. This promulgated his thoughts about labor and industry which were more dynamic, detailed and creative.

His misgivings about the French Revolution are explored, along with his activities in our own revolution; especially interesting is how they demonstrate his character development. Principally, he was a successful lawyer who argued many important cases. Many helped shape the laws in this country. In these endeavors he was anything but moderate. He worked at being an American, and better defined what he thought that to be than many others, and throughout his life he remained an idealist.

Three cheers and twenty-one guns for Alex. I encourage you to read this rewarding and brief bio.

Posted by respeto at 1:07 PM

March 7, 2007

America Alone

The End of the World as We Know It
Mark Steyn – ISBN – 9780895260789

Perhaps the most telling comment about this book is that made by Prince Turki al-Faisal, long-time ambassador to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia: “The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds.”

Or perhaps you’d prefer Michelle Malkin: “His new book provides a powerful, abrasive, high-velocity assault on . . . the threat of Islamic imperialism. Do we in the West have the will to prevail? Steyn strips away intellectual rust and PC rot to uncover the writing on the wall. America Alone will open your eyes. You can’t afford to look away.” Hard improve on that!

Now the best known, busiest “conservative” commentator on the planet, writing for myriad sources, Steyn delivers a razor sharp commentary with a wit unequaled by anyone writing regularly today. The book is equal parts enlightening and frightening, with humor and horror; an oft anamnestic peroration on our cultural amnesia.

P.J. O’Rourke is similarly amusing, and Florence King equally lacerating, but Steyn combines the two in this often droll dissertation. It is the West’s wake-up call . . . is anyone listening? Matt Parris, writing for the (U.K.) Spectator, observed that, in the end it will be America against the rest of the world, then asked: “whose side will you be on?”

The U.S. is the “who’s on first” position. She’s vital. When the world has a problem it dials 1-800-UNCLESAM. Problems in Darfur? The Balkins? Kuwait, maybe? That’s the number. Problems in a hospital in Oakland? Call the CDC! (That would be the Centers for Disease Control, in Atlanta.) Same for hospitals in Toronto, Delhi, Beijing or Stockholm for that matter. Call the WHO (World Health Organization) and they fast forward the call to the CDC.

So, who will they call if we lose? And why are our compatriots not supportive—or even understanding—of the mistakenly named “War on Terror?” Most of the West demands that the U.S. “join the real world.” Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if they did?

Demographically he shows that Muslims are rapidly colonizing Europe. With them comes Islam--and with that, Wahhabist radical Islam. Remember the van Gogh murder a couple of years ago? And the Dutch cartoon brouhaha or the conflagrations in the bidonvilles of France last year? Here’s the partial answer:

While it may or may not be true that the Muslim population of France is “only 10%,” there are cities in France which are already 45% Muslim, and I’ve read that in Marseilles it is 75%. Further, in the under-20 subset of French residents over 30% are Muslim. The Europeans are under-breeding themselves out of existence with averages of 1.14 children per female in Italy to 1.89 in France, where 1/3 of them are Muslims, not Europeans. Every generation of continentals is little over half of the prior, with the Muslims nearly doubling their cadre. How long will this go on before they are the majority? And, do they really need to be the majority to sway the populations of Italy, Germany, France, Sweden and the low countries? Or England? Certainly they impacted Spain, Denmark and Holland where Muslim immigrants are less numerous.

While Europe decays Russia is dying at a much faster rate. There appears to be a question as to which Muslim country will be first to get the bomb? Will it be Iran? . . . or Russia? . . . or France? Muslims refuse to integrate, preferring their own to Western culture. Islam and Jihad are political forces in ways that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism never were. Denish D’Souza, an American conservative intellectual (from India) once observed that: “It is impossible to ‘practice’ Islam within a secular framework.” While the Inquisition wasn’t exactly a Christmas Party, it was responsible for fewer deaths in 150 years than Islamic Jihad is annually

There’s much, much more. All of it fascinating and well presented. I can only plead with you to read it. It isn’t about politics, per se. Liberal or conservative, left or right, it’s about learning that it won’t matter if we don’t survive. Some once thought it’d be better Red than Dead. It’s that kind of question. Western multiculturalists parrot that all cultures are equal, but find me one who would choose to live anywhere outside the West. When France falls some can move to Canada or the U.S. The Dutch are already moving to New Zealand and Australia or the U.S.

But where will they move if we fail? And where shall we in the U.S. move?

And we can fail !!

Posted by respeto at 1:40 PM

November 7, 2006

American Courage

(True stories of gallant people who have made this country great.)
Herbert W. Warden III – ISBN 9780060782405

An interesting book, this; what I generally refer to as a “bathroom read.” There are 46 stories, each a few pages long, each reported by participants and/or researched by the author, covering snapshots of our history from the Mayflower landing to the present.

All are about uncommon valor under trying--even devastating circumstances. All are well told. There are vignettes from King Phillips war and the carnage in little towns like Deerfield, MA; Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton (noted by Fredrick the Great as “the most brilliant campaign of the century”), Davy Crockett and the Alamo, the 49ers, Pickett’s Charge, the San Francisco Quake, Sergeant York, D-Day, Vietnam, Moon landings, and finally Flight 93 on 9/11.

I was not aware that the Boston Tea Party was a quite pacific affair, uneventful except for the outcome, and I was particularly taken by the loquacity, elegance and sophistication of the writings of Daniel Boone—always considered, by me at least, to be quite a rustic.

It is a remarkable and captivating book best read in short, quiet times to better absorb and enjoy the recanting of one or two of the events which helped make us who we are, and of the heroic people in our history.


Posted by respeto at 3:58 PM

April 18, 2006

American Genesis

Jeffrey Goodman, Ph.D. ISBN – 0425051730

It's time to review an old book again; one which might well interest you. This one is no longer in print, but can be found online for a dollar or two.

It is a seminal treatise, both concise and comprehensive in that Goodman discusses the subject in lay terms, with brevity and interest, without encumbering the dialog with myriad and confusing details.

His hypothesis, as well documented as possible, is that Homo sapiens sapiens actually evolved in the Americas—probably California—and spread around the globe from there. Further, he indicates that our species is much older than is generally supposed, and supports this conclusion by itemizing “digs” in the Americas which have been documented to be 40,000 to 150,000 years old, with some considered to be 250,000 years, and suspect of being as much as 500,000 years in age. All of which suggests that we may be over 1,000,000 years old as a species, not the 100,000 years or less which is commonly supposed. And we didn’t come from Africa. That seems certain.

This is breathtaking in light of the fact that man is “widely known” to have evolved in Africa and came here across the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago. He is bemused by how unrelenting the “experts” are in denying that man might have moved the other way across the Bering Strait. Apparently it was the world’s first one way street! It reminds of the now defeated argument that no European came to the Americas before Columbus . . . N(body)B(efore)C(olumbus) as the acronym reads. Now, of course, we know that Norsemen were here, and there is strong belief that others came in earlier times. But that’s another story.

His arguments are solid, and the “establishment” is reluctantly coming to agree that just maybe the old conclusions are wrong.

Most interesting is the datum offered that Cro-Magnon had very exquisite and distinctive flint points and other tools when they appeared suddenly, from nowhere, in Spain at the end of the last ice age. “No one knows from whence they came.” That’s gospel. Strange that points and tools have been found in the American Southwest which are identical to those of Cro-Magnon, and 35-70,000 years older. As well, Cro-Magnon skeletons look a lot like modern day Southwestern Indians!

Another fascinating discussion is Hopi Indian legend involving their three past worlds, destroyed first by fire (volcanos), they by ice (glaciers) and finally by water (flooding); strangely consistent with what now appears to be worth serious consideration. The scenario is, however, geologically impossible if their civilization is not at least 250,000 years old. Their legend also states that they came from afar, from a land in the Pacific which is now submerged. Huh?

The most interesting discussions by far deal with the domestication of animals, the development of agriculture, and their advanced medical skills. Much derided until recently, the Amerinds now appear clearly to have been grinding grain (which one presumes they cultivated) at least 100,000 years ago, hybridized maize (corn) so long ago that no natural related plant now exists, freeze dried vegetables tens of thousands of years before this was done in Eurasia, rode horses before they became extinct in the Americas (10,000 years ago,) and practiced holistic medicine which included antibiotics for infections, digitalis for heart disease, quinine for malaria, Vitamin C for scurvy, aspirin for pain, cocaine for hypesthesia, splinted fractures, performed trephination, removed cataracts, and even practiced psychiatry, after a fashion, by recognizing and treating psychosomatic illnesses.

I found especially remarkable the fact that they had hybridized amaranth, and grew it in sufficient quantities to feed hundreds of thousands of people before the Spanish made them quit. Recently we have rediscovered this cereal grain and it offers the possibility of resolving malnutrition worldwide. It is hardy, drought resistant, grows nearly everywhere, and has just about all of the things humans need to stay healthy. It is especially interesting to me because Indians in the South American rainforests are only recently known to have developed elevated farm plots in these miserable soils. They are not yet understood, but they involved "charcoaling" certain plants with fire, which, when mixed with the soils, retains nutrients for a century. These vast acreages also supported millions of people where only a few now eke out an existence--because it is a forgotten technology.

Apparently when the Conquistadors discovered these Amerinds, they annihilated them with battle, disease, etc., and their technological mastery disappeared with them. We are just about to learn how millions of “savages” worked out a survival plan for jungle life . . . perhaps tens of thousands of year ago!

Read the book . . . it is brief, captivating, informative, and well worth the time.

Posted by respeto at 3:00 PM

November 26, 2008

America’s Three Regimes

A New Political History
Morton Keller – ISBN – 9780195325027

A new approach to history, indeed. Keller neatly separates our political history into three categories, distinct from one another, and distinctly different. The founders were driven to avoid the imperialism of England, establishing a deferential-republican period, long on independence and short on central control. This prevailed until Andrew Jackson’s presidency, whence followed the party-democratic period from 1830-1930. Finally, the great depression and FDR authored the populist-bureaucratic period, which continues to the present day (and is about to be invigorated “in no-trump,” I suspect.)

Old world revolutions were bloody carnage, with religious intolerance, intrigue, poisonings, treason, and executions—even kings. The miserable life predicated upon this was amongst the important reasons the colonists came to America in the first place, to escape overpopulation, poverty, crowded cities, disease, aristocratic conspiracies, oppression and death for any number of reasons. America offered an opportunity for a new life to both rich and poor.

Over 175 years Englishmen (and others) became American, and a new world was founded upon freedom and responsible democracy. The contrast instructed our founding intellects what to avoid. The rational tumult was also informed by understandings of market economics--formalized by Adam Smith--and the recognition of the rights of man, by others. The U.S. was indeed unique. Sherman, of Connecticut, noted that the arguments over the constitution were not “what rights naturally belong to man, but how they may be most effectually guarded in society.” While parties were not initially very potent, the founders were nonetheless ferocious partisans. Jefferson and Adams were at sword’s point on many issues, and the Federalists and Republicans disagreed robustly.

He does, however, differentiate between early politics . . . men who did what they did from a sense of duty, obligation, and responsibility—people who’s public persona was an ideal of honor and dignity—distinct from “politicos” of the modern stripe. Further, he concludes that the power of the later party system, and the requirements of mass politics, mitigated against the selection of the best and the brightest for office (which is increasingly apparent in recent years!)

The history of each period is covered comprehensively. At the end of the first period Tocqueville spent several years observing and many more writing about the country, explaining to Europeans—and Americans—what had been wrought..

As the U.S. became more industrialized, populous and complex, “Jeffersonian Democracy” (which it seldom really was) evolved into the “Jacksonian” variety, with clearly defined ideas, platforms and rigorous voting blocks. He observes that by the middle of the 19th century the American character type was recognized internationally: brazen, assertive, individualistic, and defined by the vibrant present and not by an imagined past. Not incidentally, along the way the problem of slavery was confronted with a bloody if definitive resolution, yet it hardly impacted upon governance.

A century later we entered the “New Deal:” the answer to the presumed need for a powerful government to apply bureaucratic notions of solutions to the calamitous depression . . . though bureaucracy had been authored by Wilson during WW I (which shriveled thereafter until the 30’s.) The sheer scale of the financial, human, material, and organizational demands required at least some of this, though the battle between [real] conservatives and progressives remains, and isn’t likely to depart any time soon.

Throughout, there is a fulsome discussion of the body and tangents of these concepts and divisions. Nonetheless it is done in a non-academic and informative way which reads comfortably, without an overindulgence in esoteric facts. Still, it’s not a “leisure” read. It is history, after all, and worth the read for those inclined.

Posted by respeto at 1:07 PM

September 7, 2006

America’s Victories

(Why the U.S. wins wars and will win the war on terror)
Larry Schweikart – ISBN - 978-1595230218

Co-author of A Patriot’s History of the United States, Schweikart now explains his premise included in the title: historic review of activities and attitudes of the U.S. military thruout it’s 230 years. He, like many on the right, strongly favors the war in Iraq. His attitude might bother some, but it is not a reason to avoid this historically significant and interesting book, written for the average reader.

He begins by reviewing not only the attitudes of our military, but their origins, and further emphasizes that our armies have always reflected our population, as do its casualties. This is contrary to popular mythology and altogether unlike the rest of the world’s armies, past or present. Even Northeast sent its best to war until the 20th century, and Hollywood sent its best until Viet Nam.

Our military’s views are shaped by our Judeo-Christian heritage. Life, charity and human worth are represented differently than in most. We never trade the lives of our military for positive press. We do our best to avoid “collateral damage.” We never leave casualties behind on the battlefield. We rescue our POW’s when possible. Did you know (I didn’t!) that we invaded the Philippines solely free the Philippine and American prisoners--as a matter of honor? The Philippines were insignificant militarily.

He reviews the Vietnam and Iraq wars quite differently than you will read most places, and opines that we could, and should have won in Viet Nam. Even with our departure the South Vietnamese could have prevailed had congress not defunded them. That’s now worth remembering. That and what happened in Viet Nam and Cambodia after we abandoned them.

The despised and mistrusted “Military-Industrial Complex” is explored as he demonstrates the major role of the private sector in providing the physical means by which we win wars: R&D, high technology, with more and better weapons. The book is full of vignettes of battle which explain the value of our sophisticated weaponry as well as the training, skill and independence (private enterprise) of the men who use them.

He is harsh on the anti-war demonstrators, noting that their violence is hardly pacific, and observes that this carping drives our military to be even more cautious, more lethal, and more protective of ourselves and innocent life on the other side; precisely the opposite of the intention.

As for the “brutality” of the American troops, he compares ladies underpants on the head of a terrorist to videotaped beheadings. Of course there is some cruelty. It is, after all, war, and every war includes some. The difference is that we prosecute those who violate our rules while our adversaries don’t. In fact, they have no rules to break and are held to no visible standard. Barbarism is accepted. In the “shame and honor” culture of our current opponents, even simple supervision by a female is humiliating. Still, if you were a prisoner would you rather be beheaded, or held on a leash by a female Non-Com? Ironically it is apparent that they prefer beheading. Death before dishonor has a peculiar, non-Western ring amongst Muslims.

His critique of the opposition to the “Star Wars” missile defense is withering. He demolishes the Left by documenting that the Soviets feared it above all else. They were confident that we would succeed, and since the best weapon is the one you never have to use, Star Wars reigns supreme in that it was a technology which hadn’t even been deployed!

Determinate attitudes of Americans which prohibit losing wars are explicated. We abhor war, want it to be over quickly, value all human life, and are prepared to do what we must to win . . . as quickly as possible. Ernie Pyle wrote that “[most] of us wanted terribly, [if] only academically, for the war to be over. The front line soldier wanted it to be terminated by the physical process of his destroying enough Germans to end it. He was truly at war.”

“It took a warrior ethos of courage and decisiveness to invade Iraq . . . [and] it will take even greater heroism to defeat Iran and Syria and crush Islamofascist fundamentalism once and for all.” That comment will mystify some and anger others, but the military is ready and willing . . . and more than able! Are we?

Eisenhower once commented that Hitler should be wary of an enraged democracy. We did not muster a response to the bombings in Beirut, the Trade Center in 1993, the African embassies or the attack on the USS Cole. It took 9/11 to get our attention. Now we seem to have forgotten. He feels it will require another attack far more deadly than 9/11 to unleash our willingness and alloy it to our ability.

But, we will do it, and we will win, once we have decided we’ve had enough.

I sincerely hope that he is correct. I am not confident that the West has the will to validate itself, thus to prevail. The collective we is insufficiently vocal about the value of our culture, and increasingly irresolute recently. That has to change before we can rise to our defense.

Posted by respeto at 9:00 AM

April 4, 2005

Anti Americanism

Jean Francois Revel - ISBN # 1-893554-856

A wonderfully written (all of Revel’s works are) and enlightening book which all Americans, ought to read . . . and send copies to the Europeans in order that they might understand themselves. G-d it’s great to be an American. Don’t believe it, just ask Revel !

For those who question just how the French can “sometimes be so unreasonable,” I offer you this review . . . but highly recommend that you read the entire book. At a little over 150 pages, even a lengthy report would still fail to cover much of the ground. And who better to explain the French to an American than an enlightened Frenchman who loves America?

He begins: “The mystery of anti-Americanism is not the disinformation—reliable information on the United States has always been easy to obtain—but people’s willingness to be disinformed.” Europeans want to believe that the U.S. is vile and devious, so they do.

The continental conviction of inherent French (and European) sophistication and superiority is vigorously debunked as he emphasizes that the evil, criminal ideologies of the 20th century were all invented entirely within Europe, and required the U.S. to intervene twice in less than 40 years to stop the carnage. He reminds that: “America largely owes her unique superpower status today to Europe’s mistakes.”As Europeans recoil at America’s world markets and influence, they completely overlook the fact that European capital, technology, language (and people) spread over the entire globe long before America was a power. . . . Oh, well . . . !

French political activists have become: “Revolutionaries without a revolution. . . . By yelling slogans, they afford themselves the illusion of thought, and by trashing cities and striving to stymie international gatherings, they provide themselves with the illusion of action.” Long years ago French intellectuals were convinced that the U.S. was more dangerous than the Nazis or the Communists, and Revel emphasizes that such “clever minds” as these are the ones now advocating negotiation with Saddam and Bin Laden. Unfortunately, much of the American Left agrees!

A lengthy discussion of the situation with Islamic terror, and its relevance to his subject is included in this book. He summarizes the opinions of numerous authorities who repudiate the myth of moderate Islam, and goes on to point out that the bulk of Muslims approve of terrorism. Recall with him Salman Rushdie’s book and the furor in England over it. Muslim support for the fatwa was near universal, even in Britain and France.

The day after 9/11 all of the free world was “American”, which changed promptly, however, and especially in France. They believe, for the most part, that the attack was deserved because of America’s “unilateralism.” The relevant question ought to have been whether the destruction of the tallest American skyscrapers was the proper response to this allegation.

Also included is a rather amusing anecdotal discussion of how the French refuse to incorporate proven American methods to control crime because they don’t want to “act American.” To them it is unacceptable: “[the French] do well, it seems, in rejecting the American model, even if [the] choice leads to shipwreck.” While crime in France is “worse than in America,” the French are pleased above all that their approach isn’t American. Americans are well outside of their mainstream, but one might question how can anyone outside of al-Qa’ida can be that irrational?

In the 19th century “[the French] alternately described American society as a mass of rootless, isolated individuals struggling against each other in Darwinian competition . . . [and simultaneously] as a conformist, easily led herd, where the individual can neither think nor act for himself.” Notice any contradiction? They seem not to.

All cultures are equal, it seems, but France is the appropriate source and model for the world. As in The Animal Farm, they are more equal than others. (And anticipating becoming the pigs?)
The European inability to formulate a strategy to fight explains their attitudes about American unilateralism. They believe that democracies, rightfully, can neither criticize nor contain totalitarian regimes. These same sophists refuse to accept that this is a battle for civilization, and will not acknowledge the inherent superiority of Western civilization.

Pummeling the U.S. is a favorite sport of the French intelligentsia. As they identify America to be barbaric, they refuse to recognize billions of dollars spent on universities, research, libraries and other cultural entities, all the while vitriolic about American “cultural imperialism.” “Americans can never be right, no matter what they do.”

Revel offers a litany of “really nutty” French ideas and actions to reinforce his declaration that such attitudes disqualify them from serious geopolitical debate. By refusing to deal with reality the Continentals leave the U.S. with no choice but to undertake necessary actions unilaterally, and then grouse about our unilaterality.
Americans have been--and are today--useful to Europe as a calming explication of its failures. The belief that America always does less well than they do is comforting to them. And, of course, whatever goes wrong over there is America’s fault. Always!

Posted by respeto at 10:50 AM

December 13, 2010

At Home

A Short History of Private Life
Bill Bryson - ISBN - 9780767919388

As is his usual, this is a most readable book; clever, informed and interesting. Critics have observed that he often misses his own points and/or provides information not relative to the subject. Of that he is guilty--and misleading from time to time as well, but it is still a satisfying and knowledgeable tour.

The idea promulgated is that, as he walks thru his house--built in the early 19th century as a church rectory--he identifies each room and relates activities which occur therein. He offers historic facts and observations relevant to each room visited; trouble is, he often digresses into wildly tangential discussions which bear no relevance to the room being toured, and some are only vaguely concerned with the subject of home. Said disquisitions are, however, well researched and captivating, as is his exploration of the comforts of the rural pastorate at the time of construction of his home. One if his most interesting forays into the unrelated is the notation that ancient parish churches are often several feet below ambient ground level. Have they sunk? No, he muses. There have been many thousands of people buried in the same confined area over hundreds of years, and the cumulative detritus of these multiple burials has raised ground level.

In The Scullery and Larder he mentions that in addition to distilling spirits and brewing, most all of the household items were manufactured on site: inks, weed killers, soap, toothpaste, candles, waxes, vinegars, pickles, cold creams, cosmetics, poisons, flea powders, shampoos, medicines, starches, etc. It is hard to imagine an age when none of these were available commercially.

When discussing electricity he comments that it came to the rich much later than to the middling classes. (Incidentally, the middle classes did not exist until the mid-18th century.) The rich had servants to tend the lamps, trim the wicks and clean the chimneys, etc., so it didn't concern them. "Servants constituted a class of humans whose existences were fundamentally devoted to making certain that another class of humans would find everything they desired within arm's reach."

The Cellar necessarily (?) begins with a discussion of New York after the revolution, graduates too the movement of produce down the Mississippi to New Orleans, from whence to other ports; this as he works his way to the Erie Canal, where he opines on the American invention of hydraulic cement which made the canal possible. (Keep in mind he's discussing his home, located in Great Britain.) While not irrelevant--produce, that is--he omits any and all discussion the "cellaring" of root vegetables or the storage of other such items in the cellar. That along with most other things for which a cellar is used.

His discussion of stairs is fascinating, as is his diversion into the invention and uses of wallpaper at the time. Such papers contained significant quantities of arsenic, making manufacture and hanging of it an occupational hazard. The most expensive color was verdigris, "made by hanging copper strips over a vat of horse dung and vinegar and then scraping off the oxidized copper which resulted." (He also manages to expound upon Karl Scheele, discoverer of chlorine, fluorine, manganese, barium, molybdenum, tungsten, nitrogen and oxygen, all without crediting him.)

He quite often detours into the arcane: "Christianity" he opines "was always curiously ill at ease with cleanliness . . . and early on developed an odd tradition of equating holiness with dirtiness. When Thomas Becket . . . died in 1170, those who laid him out noted approvingly that his undergarments were 'seething with lice.'" He humorously recalls Thackeray's coined phrase which is not without cause: "the great unwashed."

Obviously, any discussion of The Attic would be incomplete without explaining estate and death taxes, which began at eight percent on estates valued at over one million pounds. By WW II they were up to sixty percent, which explains why there are few large estates remaining. At one time even Stonehenge was sold for 6600 British pounds (the equivalent of 300,000 pounds today, a century later; ouch, that's a 4500% devaluation.) Eventually Stonehenge was saved and preserved, but it was almost leveled for its rocks and surrounding fields. Imagine.

Discussions of The Bathroom and related hygienic topics are especially fruitful. "Washing for the sake merely of being clean and smelling nice was remarkably slow in coming." (John Wesley, in observing cleanliness as next to Godliness, was commenting upon clean clothing.) "What really got the Victorians to turn to bathing, however, was the realization that it could be gloriously punishing." (All that brush scrubbing could be quite arduous and uncomfortable.) In 1861 an English physician actually wrote a book on how to bathe. Even now the English--indeed Europeans--are not all that keen on bathing; their toilet paper is kin to pages of a Sears catalogue if not as slick and shiny. And he manages to get into an absorbing discussion of the invention of modern porcelain . . . itself a real feat.

The Dressing Room is introduced by a several page discussion of the famous 5000 year old, frozen corpse which emerged from a melting glacier and became famous as "The Iceman." It is intriguing, and does deal with his clothing, but seems a bit removed from this tour. Obviously the discussion brought up the subject of cotton and, thus, Whitney's gin which reinvigorated slavery in America's south, paving the way to the Civil War. Not much about wool, or moths, or styles, or means of storage/hanging, but, hey, what the hell? It's interesting nonetheless.

And so it goes; it's altogether fascinating if not always, or even commonly, on course.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 10:24 AM

June 20, 2007

Because They Hate

A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America
Brigitte Gabriel – ISBN – 9780312358372

This exquisitely compelling first person account is written by a Lebanese Christian whose country was overtaken by Islam when she was ten. She lived thru the Muslim conquest of her country . . . the first subjugated by Islam in modern history. After having been buried alive by the authoring shots of that war she and her family lived in a claustrophobic dugout bomb shelter with no amenities for 7 years, sometimes eating boiled grass to survive.

“As a Maronite [Christian] growing up in once predominantly Christian Lebanon, I witnessed the genocide of my people by the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim community, who came from all over the Muslim world to fight the Christians.”

Now she shares the experience . . . LISTEN UP !!

Lebanon, she reminds, was a beneficent and beautiful place; peaceful, westernized and multi-cultural with a well balanced democratic government divided between Christians and the several Islamic sects. Beirut was considered Paris in the Middle-East. Eventually, however, the Islamic sects joined together for their version of the holocaust. Those Christians who survived were driven to emigrate. What’s left is the disaster which represents “modern,” Islamic Lebanon, which is now broaching civil war between these several Islamic sects.

As an American, now, she points up the parallels and insists that it is clear that we are next . . . or at least high on the list. A commonly expressed Arabic adage: “First comes Saturday then comes Sunday;” Saturday being the Sabbath of Israel, and Sunday being that of the Christians—meaning us. They are aware than when America falls, so will the Western world.

Only the willfully blind can disagree. How can one be so sure? Just take them at their word. Disabuse yourself of logic and the liberal propensity to believe that no one can be that evil! They can . . . and they are.

She lists the areas of Islamic terror from “A-Z” (literally, Algeria to Zaire) and reviews the current activities around the world, all sponsored by Al Qaeda and its affiliates, financed primarily by Iran and the Saudis (Shias and Sunnis.) Once these enemies succeed they’ll have their own war for dominance! Iraq, anyone? Iran?

She documents the fact that CAIR (foremost amongst the American Muslim “civil rights” groups) vigorously supports and encourages terrorist activities. Their counter-claim is that they abhor violence, but when was the last CAIR sponsored million Muslim march to protest terror? And why does the chairman openly state that “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”

More curiously, why does he get by with this? Why is he never challenged; always excused and/or explained? Connecting the dots isn’t that difficult. (Maybe if Bush and the liberals read this book they’d change their mind? Doubt it, but maybe.)

A particularly intense chapter is that titled Societies are Not Created Equal. Here, and throughout the book, she goes to extraordinary lengths to emphasize reality.

• While much of the world advances, Arabic culture has been declining for centuries.
• While they have enormous wealth from oil, the GNP of all 22 Arabic countries (population over 300 million) is approximately that of Spain (population 40 million) and the GNP of the Muslim world (population 1 billion) is approximately half Germany’s 2.5 trillion (population 90 million.)
• If you eliminated oil--not incidentally discovered, developed and used primarily by the West--the major export of Arab countries is “grief, suicide bombers and terrorism”
• Illiteracy in the Arab world . . . is higher most developing countries. They invest little in real schools, and almost nothing into industry. Most of the money is in the hands of the royal families and their cronies. What they don’t squander they invest around the world, avoiding their own back yards, and their countrymen.
• “The Middle East is lagging behind not because Arab Muslims are not created equal as human beings . . . [but] because of social and religious values.”
• In her opinion (and mine, if it matters), the problem is Islam. It kills self-expression, self-improvement, and empowerment, eliminates 51% of the population from consideration, and demands that Islam be the center of one’s life and existence by dictating how to live . . . indeed how to be.
• As a result of lies, obtuse thinking (if it qualifies as thought), and repetitious anti-Jewish and anti-American diatribes, there exists “a generation of Arab youth incapable of thinking in a civilized manner.” A white lie to them is a permissible prevarication which fosters their ultimate goal of conquest, and terror a legitimate approach.
• Virtually all terror around the world in the past half-century has been perpetrated by Muslims.
• Wahhabi Islam is not the only extreme form of Islam. Suicide bombers include Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians. “The common thread [is the Koran]. They are simply practicing Muslims. They are not the extreme, they are the mainstream.” Gabriel shares Oriana Fallaci’s belief there is neither moderate nor radical Islam . . . there is only Islam!
• Finally, “if Muslims are unwilling to relinquish the right to lie and kill in the name of Allah, how can they be considered moderate?” By whom and for what reason?

The use of political correctness is now so abused that anyone expressing a contrary opinion is labeled as a racist and/or a bigot. “How handy for the Islamo-facists, the American-hating, Jew-killing, Israel-destroying, women-abusing, multi-religious-intolerant Muslims. Oh! Excuse me, did I say something not quite PC?”

And finally she notes that if Arabs would accept Israel’s right to exist, “Israel would help them make their deserts bloom. Instead, the Arab world has chosen to fertilize the land with the blood of Israeli children. Could anything be more barbaric and depraved?”

Well, as a matter of fact . . . yes !! “First the Palestinians gave their children stones to throw. Now they wrap their children in dynamite and nails and send them to blow themselves up.”

Why isn’t everyone in the West ready to say that enough is enough?

Read this book. In past years I have recommended The Sword of the Prophet as the single best book to read on the subject. With the appearance of this offering I have changed my recommendation.

As a foil I recommend Three Cups of Tea, recently reviewed. That book demonstrates that modern education is mandatory if the West is to survive and prevail. This book graphically demonstrates that we must first defeat, or at least severely compromise them before they can be meaningfully educated on a mass scale.

When I was in the army during the Viet Nam war, the 7th Psychological Operations Group motto was: “You can’t kill them all. You have to convert some of them.” In debates with its commander I usually insisted that you first had to kill a bunch of them, including their leaders, to get the attention of the rest. I still believe that!

Posted by respeto at 1:01 PM

November 20, 2010

Behind Enemy Lines

Civil War Spies, Raiders and Guerrillas
Wilmer L. Jones, PhD. - ISBN - 9780878331918

This is an interesting, "fun read," highlighting several well known Civil War combatants beside a larger group of lesser lights: people prominent locally or regionally perhaps, but people outside the purview of the average reader. Further, it deals with activities not widely reported. As such there is remarkable information which, while not trivial, is certainly beyond the awareness of most of us, and likely more than a few Civil War buffs.

It was curious to find chapters about the Southern cavalry greats Mosby and Stuart, and lesser knowns including Ashby and Gilmor, with nary a mention of Sheridan or any northern horsemen. Perhaps those Yankees never made it to the south? Or "behind enemy lines?"

Reminiscent of the New York Times in recent decades, Jones comments that "Had Confederate commanders placed spies on the staffs of their adversaries, they probably would not have had any better information than that supplied by the Northern press." (In fairness, the press at the time was not malicious. Rather, it just distributed news fit to print; comprehensively, albeit imprudently.) As well, he informs that early in that era spying was considered ungentlemanly and beneath the dignity of honest combatants, though that position changed later in the war. The first to implement "all out war" were the Confederates, having determined it would require this compromising step to have any chance of winning.

His discussions of the irregulars and the guerrillas emphasize that these combatants were incredibly vicious--well beyond the pale at times--and strenuously criticized by both Confederate and Union commanders. Indeed, many were derided and decommissioned, though they seldom quit fighting and couldn't really be disciplined.

Along the way there are discussions of support by the citizenry, many of whom suffered as a result of their support, though many were driven to it by the activities of the adversaries: burning and looting, even rape and murder of non-combatants, including women and children. Several chapters are devoted to the recantation of the activities of the most famous of these brigands.

Discussions of the Pinkertons--already prominent as a result of their railroad activities--are also of interest. They became quite famous as a result of their war contributions; even more so after the war with the blossoming of the Quantrill, James and Younger "gangs" of robbers. These, too, along with a few additional miscreants are discussed in interesting if abbreviated detail.

The book is well written and rather unusual. While it's not about seminal details, neither does it dabble in the arcane.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 4:06 PM

October 27, 2005

Benjamin Franklin (Bio.)

Edmund S. Morgan – 0300101627

This little book is brilliantly and lovingly written, and a light while informative work which everyone ought to read.

While biographical, it deals more heavily with the latter years of Dr. Franklin’s life: the period of decades when he was, in effect, ambassador to the European Western world, molder of opinions about America, and chief financier of the Revolutionary War. There is sufficient detail about his activities (pre-and post-revolutionary) to inform the reader of just how pivotal he was, and it offers sufficient personal information about him in order for the reader to become familiar with Franklin, the man: his nature, scientific proclivities, love of people and camaraderie, thoughts, concepts of the country he loved and served, and the evolution of his attitudes toward revolution.

I, for one, was not aware of how much Franklin believed in the British Empire, how much he felt himself to be a “British American”, and how hard he tried to influence the English parliament to accede to American requests for autonomy within the empire, before finally concluding that revolution was the only answer . . . at which time he worked mightily to support and finance it, and later to contribute to the founding of the American democratic republic. Also interesting are the unfulfilled ideas which Franklin had about how the union ought to be: a union of the people, not just of the states, and one more oriented to the general welfare, albeit within a capitalist system. (e.g.: he usually gave his inventions over to public domain, without patenting them, for their general use.)

I’m certain there are more voluminous and comprehensive biographies of Franklin—or at least tomes which are much longer--but it is difficult for me to imagine one which is more wonderfully crafted and pleasurable to read.

One of America’s most distinguished historians has indeed written one of the best books on the greatest statesman of his—or any--age.

“Superb. . . . The best short biography of Franklin ever written.” Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books.

‘Nough said. Read it!! It is well worth the several hours it will require.

Posted by respeto at 11:45 AM

July 31, 2006

Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Thomas Sowell – ISBN – 1594031436\

Sowell is beyond all doubt my favorite living philosopher/scholar/author/columnist. He is highly regarded by most everyone (except the Library Journal), including most of his adversaries. He writes knowledgeably, with incredible clarity—not to mention wisdom and wit.

This volume is a panoply of his breadth and skill, and recalls in part writings in others of his books. In the chapter “Are Jews Generic” one is reminded of portions of Migrations and Cultures wherein he describes varieties of culture and attitudes transplanted globally, noting that the middle-man culture is the same whether Chinese, Jewish, Ibo or Armenian. Identical approaches, which propel them to success in adopted cultures, make then anathema in all. It isn’t the race or culture, but the function and successes which others disapprove of and envy, even though the “others” would be unable to get along without them. Similarly so the chapter on “Germans and History.”

Another chapter, “Black Education,” recalls Education: Assumptions vs. History, in which he dispels the myth that black education is necessarily second rate. Numerous examples in historic times and places are recanted wherein blacks have not only succeeded but excelled in black schools--even in Washington D.C—but in another time (e.g.: Dunbar High School, then as now a ghetto school.) That was before liberals took over the establishment and began making damaging changes while offering ridiculous excuses. At one time Dunbar graduates were not required to take entrance examinations at Dartmouth, Harvard and other selective colleges.

A study done in 1970 demonstrated that of all PhD’s held by blacks at that time, more of them had graduated from Dunbar than any other black high school in the country. The first black graduate of Annapolis and the first black enlisted man to rise to a commissioned officer also came from Dunbar as did the first black female PhD, the first black full professor at a major American university, the first black federal judge, the first black general, the first black Cabinet member, the first black senator, the doctor who pioneered the use of plasma, historian Carter Woodson, author/poet Sterling Brown, musician Duke Ellington, etc. These are stunning data which liberals succeed in burying as information regarding the historic success of (some) black institutions. It can be done. It has been done! But the rules were “old fashioned” and quite different; values were instilled and success was expected, along with hard, disciplined work.

In “The Real History of Slavery” he dispels the notion that those nasty Southern gentlemen (Washington, Jefferson, etal.) were cavalier about it. In fact, they were opposed, and struggled with the conundrum of how to rid the U.S. of slavery without producing myriad other problems. What to do, for instance, with four million unemployed, illiterate blacks with few survival skills and nothing to sustain them if they were suddenly “free”? (overlooking homeless!) Should slave owners be compensated; if so, by whom? Could the two races live together compatibly? Emigration was a consideration but should it be voluntary or mandatory?

Slavery was a centuries old wrong which could not easily be righted. Numerous tangents are considered. He enquires into the rather bizarre fact that moral questions about slavery are almost exclusively Western moral questions, yet the West is always the one savaged because of their history of slavery. Non-Western societies had (and still have) little moral concern about slavery. He emphasizes that it was Western imperialism which suppressed slavery around the world.

“History vs. Visions” reminds of A Conflict of Visions, The Search for Cosmic Justice, and The Vision of the Anointed, in which he masterfully refutes the prevailing liberal myths. Things are not always as they seem, nor can they always be as you wish, and “visions” usually defy the facts on the ground. There are those omnipresent little problems, such as human nature . . . and reality; things which the liberally inclined always overlook whilst fantasizing and fashioning the “ideal society” of their visions.

Finally (best for last), the first chapter, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” attacks the myth of black culture, demonstrating that what we now consider black culture is the cracker culture. From time immemorial it has been backward, dismissive of education, prone to violence, sexually permissive, improvident, drunken, reckless and totally lacking in entrepreneurship. If you doubt, or offended by these observations, read the book! He confirms this in spades!

What liberals wish to encourage and sustain in modern blacks is, in fact, indigenous white culture imported into the South from Europe, and which had existed for centuries before their migration. Even the terms “redneck” and “cracker” came over on the boat. “The disparities found between Southern whites and Northern whites in the past are today taken as proof of racial discrimination. [These disparities are now] found between the black and white populations of the country. [Some] have taken such disparities as signs of genetic deficiencies. Yet clearly neither racial discrimination nor racial inferiority can explain similar differences between whites in the North and the South in earlier centuries . . . which should at least raise questions about such explanations when applied to blacks of a later era who inherited the culture of white Southerners.”

The questions are not raised, of course, since they would challenge the liberal vision.

This is a fascinating tome and a great introduction to Thomas Sowell for those of you unfamiliar with genius of this man (who, by the way, is black and completely self-made.)

Posted by respeto at 12:03 PM

June 24, 2007

Blink

The power of thinking without thinking.
Malcolm Gladwell – ISBN 9780316010665
(author of Tipping Point, previously reviewed.)

This is a particularly fascinating book; better, I think, and most certainly different from Tipping Point.

As the title suggests, he elaborates upon the things we do--in the blink of an eye, so to speak--which are based upon experience rather than thought. He calls those based upon thoughtful consideration paralysis by analysis. As a consequence of too much data we often confuse information with understanding. “The key to good decision making is not knowledge [or data] . . . but understanding.” There are times when haste does not make waste, when snap judgments and first impressions can offer a better means of making sense of the world. Judgment is often better than cautious deliberation. There are times when we demand an explanation when it really isn’t possible.

He reviews the activities of a brilliant General of the Marine Corps charged with leading the “Red Team” (always the adversary of the good guys on the “Blue Team.”) Ostensibly staged as a war game based in the Middle East, he went way outside what was expected by the Blue’s, and walloped them severely. As in an episode of JAG, and Kelsey Grammer’s movie spoof, those in command of the Pentagon demanded that the game be rerun because the Red leader hadn’t “played by the rules” (as if there are rules in war.) That it is precisely what got us into trouble in the Middle East!!!

For example: When you study a chessboard there isn’t anything you can’t see . . . except what the other guy is thinking! “More and more, commanders want to know everything and they get imprisoned by that idea. . . . [But] you can never know everything.” As in Gulliver’s Travels, the big guy gets tied down by the little rules and the little guys run around doing exactly as they wish.

I have had similar experiences in medicine, wherein too much information is brought to bear upon a problem. Confusion, indecision and error result. Frequently the true expert notices not just what is happening, but more importantly what is not! Been there too. Indeed, I was once derisively accused (I was flattered!) by an academic colleague of “being the most right, the most often, with the least amount of knowledge.” I was pleased to emphasize that being right is what matters.

He demonstrates that the true expert at reading body language can often determine things the subject is trying to hide. This section of the book is particularly absorbing. The expression on your face is more than a signal of what’s going in your mind. It is what is going on in your mind, and completely involuntary. “Whenever we experience a basic emotion, that emotion is automatically expressed by the muscles of the face.”

He reviews what is known of autism, noting that such individuals have no insight into themselves or others. To them everything is an object. In times of crisis normal people are programmed to objectify risks. He terms this “temporary autism,” and gives examples of how it works.

A truly brilliant discussion follows, using the Dialo case, in which the NYPD officers shot and killed an innocent black immigrant. He describes what a “heightened awareness of threat” does to the mind, which focuses only on those things necessary for survival and shuts out all other input. It fosters survival, but is dangerous if permitted to apply in situations where it shouldn’t. One can learn to avoid such errant, dangerous behavior.

He then reviews symphony orchestral auditions. In recent years the performer sits behind a screen, forcing the auditors to listen to the performance. Before this was instituted, fewer than 5% of orchestra members were women. (Male musicians just knew that women simply weren’t as good.) Now the distribution is 50/50!

I love his observations in that regard: Before screens, what might we have proposed for women in the musical world?

“I think we would have talked about awareness programs for gender bias, and how to teach female musicians to be more assertive in making the case for their own ability. We would have had long discussions about social discrimination. . . . Our suggestions for change would have been fairly global and long term. . . . [and] at the end of long days of meetings we would have thrown up our hands and said that we would just have to wait until the current generation of [irredeemably bigoted] maestros . . . was replaced by a younger and more open-minded set of conductors.” Instead, the context was examined; screens were put up and the problem was resolved then and there. Philosophy free!

In summary he observes that following the acquisitions of a lifetime of learning we acquire judgment. With the knowledge accrued, and knowing how the mind works, we should then be able to act responsibly. He heartily recommends that we do so.

If we combined all of the little things we know, making appropriate changes based upon knowledge and insight, the world would be different and better. He has a point, and makes it very well.

Posted by respeto at 10:07 AM

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

December 24, 2008

Boomsday

Christopher Buckley – ISBN – 9780446697972

As usual Buckley’s plot is zany and contorted, with more curves than a slalom course. But, also as usual, he is entertaining and savagely funny. This time he skewers politicians—justly deserved—with the primary plot involving the need to correct the bankrupting deficiencies of the Social Security system.

The principal protagonist is a smart, beautiful young woman who, after an early life of academic excellence is accepted into an Ivy League school, only to find that her father has raided her college fund “for business.” She is compelled to join the Army so that she can eventually get her education.

The other is a filthy rich “trust baby,” Ivy educated, and a cosmopolitan senator who has bought his seat, which he uses to attract attention and broads, with the ultimate goal of becoming president. To this end he manipulates every situation offered.

On a visit to “the troops” in the Middle-East, while hitting on the afore mentioned soldier, he manages to drive them into a mine-field where he totals a humvee he is not supposed to be driving, injures his companion and loses his leg in the explosion. She is “invited to resign” rather than face court martial, while the senator becomes a hero because of his sacrifice; this he plays to advantage.

He uses his influence to get her a job with a lobbyist, and she becomes an advocate for many things, principal amongst them the dissolution—or at least the alteration--of Social Security. Along the way she gives up further education as she begins an affair with him. So wends the tale, thru lobbying, politics, intrigue, skullduggery, manipulation, sabotage and the extramarital affair.

The only caveat I offer regarding this particular novel is that he seems unable to end the tome cleanly and interestingly as he usually does. In the final lines he simply “wraps it up” with an explanation of what happens to everyone. Not as satisfying as his usual fare, but funny nonetheless.

Posted by respeto at 2:50 PM

April 5, 2005

Born Fighting

(How the Scots-Irish shaped America)
James Webb – ISBN 0767916883

This is another fascinating, instructive and well written book. Webb is an author, filmmaker, journalist, professor, decorated Marine, former Ass’t Sec’y of Defense . . . and as you might surmise, a Scots-Irishman.

As much as I think I know about history, from Albion’s Seed to How the Irish Saved Civilization, I was unaware of just how much the Scots-Irish have defined what we all (or most all) think of ourselves as we pronounce ourselves “Americans.”

Beginning as “barbaric” Celts, driven from Europe by the Romans into what is now Scotland, then being driven about by the English--and finally out--to Ireland from whence they immigrated to what now is the U.S., they authored and represent a lot of what we honor in America—at least those of us who still love and honor America: dedication to the obligations of duty, an unforgiving code of honor and loyalty to country, all wrought within their native Celtic culture and refined by their acquired Christian beliefs.

These noble folk were encouraged to immigrate first into Northern Ireland, where they were detested by the Catholics (authoring the still raging conundrum there), and thereafter into the hills bordering the coastal settlements of “English civilization” in America. They claimed lands no Englishman wanted, and served as a buffer between the original settlers and the (understandably hostile) Indian population. Fiercely independent and deeply religious, they bent their knee and bowed their head to no one but their God. Unacceptable to settled America--the elites had and wanted little contact with this culture--they preferred to be isolated amongst their own kind (think Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett—and whilst thinking thus “remember the Alamo!”)

With a broad brush, often exquisitely detailing with one containing but a single hair, Webb paints the picture of the defining attitudes and values of the military and, more, of working-class America, including the “peculiarly populist form of American democracy itself.” It’s all here, elaborately spelled out, including brief discussions of the dozen or so presidents from this stock: notably Andrew Jackson, U.S. Grant and Ronald Reagan; and fierce warriors of the same breed: William Wallace (the “Braveheart” of history) and George Patton for those of us aware of the 20th century. Wallace, Jackson, Grant and Patton all earned renown by winning the allegiance of their countrymen thru their insistence upon unquestioned equality, loyalty and their leadership and performance on the battlefield.

The Abbot of Arbroath, Robert the Bruce’s chancellor, once wrote:
“For so long as one hundred of us shall remain alive we shall never in any wise consent to submit to the rule of the English. For it is not for glory we fight, for riches, or for honors, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but with his life.”

No review can do this book justice. To be sure there are and have been other notable personages, including Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, etal; Lincoln and FDR as well . . . and then there are those magnificent Celts who have done so much to forge the nobility and the steel that is America. Read it and you will better understand the origins of the humility of our seriously religious population, and the fierce American independence we cherish. It is a riveting and exciting book to read; one well worth the time. I have reread it already!

Posted by respeto at 10:59 AM

July 11, 2007

Brunellieschi’s Dome

How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
Ross King – ISBN – 9780142000151

This is an extremely interesting book of which I would have been unaware had it not been given to me by a customer and friend.

Filipo Brunellieschi was a 15th century goldsmith who invigorated architecture and almost single-handedly brought architects from the status of mere day-laborer to the level of respected artisan; indeed, the only European architect of his time to gain fame in his own lifetime, which fame has endured to the present because of his incredible genius. It was this recognition which permitted subsequent architects such as Christopher Wren to be honorable. Along the way this capomaestro rediscovered Roman mortar and recreated lost building techniques, while adding a host of his own creations to the craft.

The dome of the Florentine cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore (which you’ve seen if you saw the movie Room with a View) is the source of that fame, and he alone is honored by burial in that cathedral along with its Patron Saint Zenobius. In fact, his grave was lost beneath the paved central aisle for over 500 years until rediscovered in 1972.

A dreamer drew an idealized sketch for this almost impossible octagonal dome, and against all odds Filipo was able to render it buildable, and built it, taking over 25 years to do so, dying only a year or so before the cupola was completed.

In so doing he constructed the largest masonry dome of its--and all--time. It remains the largest free-span dome in the world. Only with modernity, new building materials, techniques and equipment has it been surpassed by the superdome(s). It is larger than St. Peter’s in Rome, larger than the Capitol Building in D.C.: a radius of 70+ feet at its base and but 10 ft. at its apex. At the top the angle is 30 degrees from perpendicular, despite which it was built without centering (scaffolding to support it while under construction.) This alone was ingenious . . . and necessary because it would have been all but impossible to construct scaffolding that high. Overall this was an achievement at least equal to Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge four centuries later, and at a time when far less was known about engineering.

When an elderly Michelangelo was designing the dome for St. Peters he carefully studied Filipo’s work and noted that he could equal this dome but never surpass it. Most don’t feel he even equaled it: it is narrower and, “arguably, much less graceful and striking” (there, Mike, take that!), while Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is smaller in diameter by 30 feet.

The base of Brunelleschi’s dome was 180 ft. off of the ground and over 300 ft. to its apex, with a 30 ft. cupola (also known as a lantern.) The dome is estimated to have taken 37,000 tons of stone, brick and mortar, and the lantern itself adds another 500 tons. Atop all of that was a huge bronze ball with a Christian cross. He had to revolutionize architecture to accomplish this. Furthermore, he had to design and build wooden machine cranes 300 ft. high to get the materials to the height needed; machines precise enough to seat them exactlywhere needed. Worse, this had to be done when navies were going abroad to find 120 ft. logs to be used as masts.

Masons had to climb 42 stories of steps just to get to work at the top! (Must have been in great shape.) And they took their lunch along with them in the morning—no great surprise there.

He forgot nothing. As he was building the dome he left iron rings in the mortar so that the fresco which he knew would follow had moorings for the scaffolding which would be required.

King laces the entire narrative with anecdotes about the builder and his friends (and enemies) which make the story more interesting, and he emphasizes that the height and openness of this magnificent dome were critical to the mathematical studies made by another sage in pursuit if improving the accuracy of determinations of longitude and latitude which made sailing in the open ocean safe, and indirectly resulted in the discovery of the (admittedly not lost) new world only a few years later.

For those with an interest in art or architecture this is a wonderful read.

Posted by respeto at 1:17 PM

July 10, 2010

Building a Bridge to the 18th Century

How the Past Can Improve Our Future
Neil Postman - ISBN - 9780375701276

Neil Postman was a humanist, professor, media theorist, cultural critic and dynamic author for over forty years, and most famous for Amusing Ourselves to Death--a critique of television. But he also wrote numerous other tracts, my favorite of which is here introduced. He adamantly observed in Technopoly, that "new technology can never substitute for human values." His most dynamic reinforcement of this belief, however, is in his study of how and why the 18th century was the pinnacle of achievement, and how it might guide us in the 21st century if we would but explore, understand and implement the wisdom of those who made it so.

He is certainly one of the most astute and knowledgeable social commentators of this or any era. I submit the following quotations from this man as evidence, and an entrée into this informative little tome:

• "We live in a world of too much information, confusing specialized knowledge and far too little wisdom."
• "Knowledge is organized information. Wisdom is the capacity to know what body of knowledge is relevant to the solution of significant problems."
• "Any fool can have an opinion; to know what one needs to know to have an opinion is wisdom."
• "The problem to be solved in the 21st century is how to transform information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom."

This is an example of my re-exploration of a book which I devoured a decade ago. I read it again recently, and recommend it highly. Brilliant and incisive, he is a critic in the best sense, and not one to grouse so much as to describe what he sees and convince the reader that it is so. I believe that his writings--all of them--should be required reading for everyone at the college level, and certainly by everyone who feels compelled to pursue any activity within the public sphere. I often treat myself to such a volume from the past which I remember as fulsome, if not why; to re-explore how my attitudes have been molded in ways which I cannot specifically recall. If you have read this tome in the past I encourage you to do so again. If you haven't, I'd like to introduce you to one of the most important people of the 20th century . . . in my never-to-be-humble opinion.

His opening quote is subtly savage: "Soon we will know everything the 18th century didn't know, and nothing it did, and it will be hard to live with us." We will, he emphasizes, overwhelm 18th century knowledge with new information about which we shall crow in insolent delight as we overlook the proverbial forest because the damned trees are in our way. On nearly every page is an observation, theorem, quote or statement sufficient to produce a gasp from the reader. One is often thunderstruck into silence and reflection.

History's purpose is "to remind us about our better dreams." It was in the 18th century we discovered a humane course into the future; "ideas [to be carried] with confidence and dignity across the bridge to the 21st century." Enlightenment: the provocateur of ideas of how to approach reality and to rediscover truth--even that there is such a thing as truth. He suggests not that we return to that century, but that we study and use it for "what it is worth and for all that it is worth." Adopt its principles, not its details.

To be sure, during the period known as the enlightenment--the age of reason--we were (especially early on) still burning witches, using torture, embracing slavery, oppressing women and benefiting from child labor . . . BUT the very idea that these things were wrong emerged during this period as well.

Contrary to received modern wisdom the rationalists of the era were not God haters; rather, they rightfully mistrusted organized religion because of what the churches had become. They stripped the world of superstition and were unafraid of the articles taught to be alien and dangerous. Christianity, they believed, offered valuable lessons, raised serious moral questions and delivered most of the answers! In this they represented nothing less than "radical reorientation" in the way we thought about the world. Still, they maintained their humanity. Shelley commented that "reason, unaided and untempered by poetic insight and humane feeling, turns ugly and dangerous."

We have become a people without Gods to serve . . . hollow, empty and anxious. We distrust language, are uncertain about the most obvious features of reality, and lack conviction as we doubt the existence of truth. We are so utterly lost that we lack even the suspicion that we might have gone astray. His attack on 20th century hacks who dissemble is scholarly but unrelenting and almost vicious as he quotes some humorous and wonderfully imbecilic paragraphs to make his point. He is not one to suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. In exposing modern deconstructionism for what it really is, Postman opines that, "Derrida, in defending deMan, is saying that telling the truth should be avoided because it is time consuming."

It is a thought provoking read; especially so in this current period of radical change . . . without much apparent hope, in my opinion. I encourage you to do so ASAP.

You're welcome !!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:46 PM

March 30, 2005

Carnage and Culture

Carnage & Culture
Victor Davis Hanson
ISBN – 0-385-72038-6 $16.00 (paperback)

Here, in a brilliant exposition of the inherent superiority of Western armies—and, not incidentally, the superiority of Western culture--you will read one of the best such discussions in print. The book is one which ought to be required reading of anyone interested in understanding survival in this, or any other world. In addition, those on the left might better appreciate our cultural heritage and be more active in protecting it.

Popular mythology has it that cultural--including military--dynamism is dictated by the availability of natural resources, not culture, per se. Were this so, the Aztecs, amongst others, who sat upon an entire subcontinent replete the raw materials of gunpowder, bronze and steel should have explored and conquered the world. It was the lack of a systematic approach to abstract learning and science, not the dearth of ores or minerals that doomed them. The Aztecs, indeed, were even without wheel-based vehicles and tools (except, interestingly, for toys).

Societies have always engaged in activity designed to improve their lives and to enhance warfare, but the Greeks were the first to debate knowledge in the abstract, and to devise ways of adapting theoretical breakthroughs for practical use. In total, these capacities explain the dominance of the West.

While courage on the battlefield is a human characteristic, the ability to craft weapons through mass production to offset such bravery is a cultural phenomenon. Since the Greeks, Western captains have usually annihilated their numerically superior foes, not because their soldiers were necessarily better, but because their traditions of free inquiry, rationalism, and science were. Further, the (cultural) value given the life of every Western soldier since Greece, is unheard of in the non-Western world.

Muslim intellectuals and mullahs did (and do) not see war as innately wrong. There is nothing at all comparable to the Western interest in pacifism or “just war” theory. No Islamic treatise or philosophy suggests that war itself is somehow intrinsically evil and ought to be waged under the narrowest moral circumstances. In a word, Islam is not a religion of peace. It is, and has always been a religion of war and conquest. Despite near constant internecine wars in Europe after the fall of Rome, there was unified Western resistance to Muslim incursions during their attempt at military hegemony.

Likewise, the Samurai traditions of the Japanese rendered them largely unable to wage battles of total annihilation and relentless war. Or even to understand it. They killed thousands on the battlefield and were willing to sacrifice even more of their own, but their ferocity was not the same as the Western ability to wage continual and sustained encounter until one was victorious or annihilated. In Japanese, as in the Islamic way of war, surprise, sudden attack, battlefield calamity and disgrace are presumed to force an opponent to the bargaining table to discuss concessions. (e.g.: the Pearl Harbor attack left America defenseless but they failed to follow thru. After the initial assault they promptly sailed home, leaving American to recover.)

Since Xerxe’s invasion of Greece, it has been the custom of non-Western armies to assume that democracies are timid. They fail to understand that, while slow to anger, the West, when forced into battle, fights wars of total annihilation. (Wiping the Melians off the map of the Aegean, sowing the ground of Carthage with salt, turning Ireland into a wasteland, leveling Jerusalem before reoccupying it, driving an entire culture of Native Americans onto reservations, firebombing Dresden, Berlin and Tokyo, and atomizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki are but a few examples.)

The root cause of Japan’s defeat lay deep in the Japanese national character: its irrationality and impulsiveness. The American faith in individuality rather than group consensus, spontaneity rather than rote, and informality rather than hierarchy provided decisive in Midway and thereafter. For example, after the Yorktown was disabled at Midway Admiral Fletcher transferred to Admiral Spruance key decisions for launching the fleet’s planes--an act of selfless integrity and patriotism in action. By contrast, the exalted warlord Yamamoto drew up his formal plan, ordered his subordinates to follow it, and then in relative isolation and silence cruised out to battle in the huge, ostentations and mostly irrelevant Yamato.

Western “pacifism”, and doubt about its cultural superiority make us unduly and unwisely sensitive. The great, unsung tragedy of the antiwar movement(s) have been its own lack of credibility and fairness, and a fondness for hyperbole. It impairs credible combat. “No American army in 1944 would have fought the Germans in France without permission to cross the Rhine or to bomb Berlin at will. Japan would have won WWII had the U.S. simply fought in the jungles and occupied towns of the Japanese empire, promising not to bomb Tokyo, mine its harbors, attack its sanctuaries, or invade its native possessions, while journalists and critics visited Tokyo and broadcast to American troops from Japanese radio stations. Neither Truman nor Roosevelt would have offered to negotiate with Hitler or Stalin after the successful Normandy landings or the devastating bombing campaign over Tokyo. GIs in WWII were killed in pursuit of victory, not in order to defeat or to pressure totalitarian governments to discuss armistice.” In war it is insane not to employ the full extent of one’s military power or to guarantee to the enemy that there are sanctuaries for retreat, targets that are off limits, and a willingness to cease operations at any time, even for the pretext of negotiations “to begin.”

“The freedom among citizens to criticize wars and warriors openly and profligately has no pedigree outside the European tradition. . . . Western civilization has given mankind the only economic system that works, a rationalist tradition that alone allows us material and technological progress, the sole political structure that ensures the freedom of the individual, a system of ethics and a religion that brings out the best in humankind—and the most lethal practice of arms conceivable.

“Let us hope that we at last understand this legacy. It is a weighty and sometimes ominous heritage that we must neither deny nor feel ashamed about—but insist that our deadly manner of war serves, rather than buries, our civilization.”

Posted by respeto at 2:22 PM

November 17, 2006

Cedar Key, Florida

An Illustrated History
Kevin M. McCarthy (Professor Emeritus, UF)

At last, a comprehensive history of Cedar Key. And well done, too. It is much better than any prior rendering, and a treasure trove of information. Overall it is detailed, if brief, and a “spot-on” history of the city and its environs, which has been very well researched. Other publications date from the early 1990’s, and while interesting they are considerably more limited than this new book.

The 280 pictures are wonderfully revealing, interesting in themselves and complimentary to the narrative. One is especially impressed by photos from Dock Street in the 1970’s, which demonstrate considerable development—and improvement—without becoming “South Florida” (or central, coastal or north!) The character of this tiny community has been preserved and enhanced, though its natives might not wholly agree. Change is difficult and poorly accepted, if nonetheless necessary.

One vignette dealing with the high school basketball championship won in 1965 by this small group of dedicated athletes was déjà vu for me, inasmuch as a tiny town in Illinois performed a similar feat at about the same time—a “dream team” from a school with but nine boys won The Sweet Sixteen, with the whole state rooting for them. I trust the State of Florida exhibited such enthusiasm.

The mention of the impact of Title IX upon sports at Cedar Key High School (which almost had to close!) was of interest to me as well, since I have opposed this particular bit of Government interference since its inception. That and the dedication of its alums when a fire again threatened the existence of CKHS, which also saved it from oblivion.

The highlighted comments of Lindon Lindsey, a native, add further. Since I introduced the two gentlemen I was particularly gratified that Lindon was so featured.

The only thing I found trying was the choppy read of the material, based upon the fact that the author chose to break the history down decade by decade, necessitating early references to “more on that later,” later references to “see page x for information,” and seemingly unnecessary repetitiveness as if expecting that one would read only small sections. (I can suggest no alternative approach and probably ought not complain, but I am a curmudgeon, after all.) There is also one mislabeled picture, but there is always an oversight.

Throughout its history Cedar Key as been repeatedly threatened with non-existence . . . annihilation, which has engendered a stoic “resiliency, adaptation to changing times, survival.” But the town is still here.

This is a fine addition to the history of small towns, seldom written because there is no market and the author has to undertake the task simply for love. Congratulations are due Dr. McCarthy for a great service to our community, and for providing this information to current residents and myriad, inquisitive visitors.

Well worth the read!

Posted by respeto at 3:52 PM

January 25, 2010

Churchill's Hour

A Novel of Defiance
Michael Dobbs - ISBN - 978-1402213922

Dobbs is nothing if not a fantastic writer. This is a novel, but only just. It is historic fiction at its best, and covers one of the darkest periods in 20th century history. Another reviewer described it as "Churchill as nature intended: Dobbs captures his famous subject with artistry. With every stroke of his brush, he etches the character deeper into the memory. It is beautifully done." Hard to improve upon that. I've read a lot about Churchill, but this gives one a real understanding of what motivated this historic giant.

The early chapters are about Winston's desperate attempts to rouse the Parliament to face Hitler, as he knew must be done. Later he was elected Prime Minister, whereafter he exercised comparable effort to motivate the U.S. to enter the conflict.

Along the way he remarkably observed to his daughter-in-law that "after the war is over, whoever holds the reins of authority, it will not be Britain." It would be a new world; a young world. Britain's days in command would be over. Pamela asks whom he would choose. His answer was "America." Better them than Russia or Germany. "Even though at times they [Americans] totter around like blind men . . . [and] they don't understand that all men are not as they are. Even when they stumble over the truth they pick themselves up and carry on as if nothing has happened." And they are optimists, believing they can achieve whatever they decide to undertake.

Dobbs explores the depths of Germany's depravity, with its declaration of war against their ally, Stalin. He describes the terror and destruction of England--especially London--by the Nazi bombers as he chronicles the stoic heroism of the English. All of this in real life terms with clarity that helps the uninitiated understand just how awful war is, and how it must be endured when necessary. Churchill, without doubt, was responsible for the sustenance which kept Britain and its people sane and engaged. The sacrifices were numerous, challenging and costly.

Aware that he must succeed, Winston posited that had he failed at Trafalgar, Nelson would have been tried and convicted. His future was no less at risk. So he involved Averill Harriman, sent by Roosevelt to work with him in the effort. Harriman became caught up in an affair with Pamela (who later became Pamela Harriman, you might recall) and Winston had the dilemma of using both, or perhaps losing the war. How much, and what would he sacrifice to save his country?

The "fiction" in this passionate work involves Dobbs' conjecture over events in life which go unmentioned; emotions, inspirations and ambitions; the "inner events" which motivate us all. It is in this area that Dobbs shines, writing a gripping narrative of events, conversations and encounters equal to those in Killer Angels, and most anything that Bernard Cornwell writes.

And it is fantastic history as well; far better than reading dry history books about the war. Enjoy!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:38 PM

June 29, 2005

Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?

Thomas Sowell – 0-688062695

This book is no less relevant today than when first published, and in some ways a little more prophetic than it was at the time.

Sowell emphasizes the history and explores the intentions of the original civil rights efforts, and what has transpired in the interval, with leaders of the movement now going off tangentially in the attempt to stay relevant, and in power. Written 20 years after the original Civil Rights Act (enacted-1964) he discusses in detail what was accomplished, and that civil rights, per se, have been achieved, i.e.: equality under the law is an established fact, and in large measure “equal opportunity” is a reality. He reminds that “while the Constitution prohibits segregation, it does not require integration.”

“[H]onest convictions of the initial civil rights advocates meant less in the long run than the implicit logic of the civil rights vision as it unfolded over time.” The altogether predictable offshoots of affirmative action: set asides, quotas, school bussing, and later the inclusion of other minorities into the ideation of civil rights—not excluding women, who aren’t even a minority—have entirely distorted the picture.

“[unasked is] whether assumptions are to be accepted for their plausibility and their conformity to a larger social vision, or whether even the most plausible and satisfying assumptions must nevertheless be forced to confront actual facts.” He discusses at some length Brown and Green in which the Supremes, for laudable reasons, so distorted logic and fact, that they were, in truth, quite erratic and inadvertently laid the groundwork for a number of subsequent decisions with which we now must all live.

Being a highly respected and productive economist, philosopher and author, he underpins all of his arguments with solid facts, often offering a global dimension. He points out the intentional imprecision of the agendized cognoscenti, and their ignorance and/or distortion of widely studied areas of human endeavor and interaction, while abominable, are generally accepted as fact. There is absolutely no corroboration of any of these theories, and some outcomes are inversely related to intentions. Those who benefit from being in charge of the civil rights activities, with the help of the press, prevail despite the reality that little of what they say is true . . . it is presumed “common knowledge.” Incorrect, and undebatably not knowledge, but accepted nonetheless. The powers that be simply have too much at stake to alter their approach, and they have nothing to do if civil rights, as it should, becomes a non-issue, hence searching for decisive factors in advancement is buried by “common belief.”

His wide-ranging experience and knowledge of planetary migrations and cultural history and attitudes assists in his explanations because he is able to decant into the discussion, for example, facts about the Chinese predominance in certain fields in all countries and Japanese dominance in others. He notes Jewish successes and those of Blacks as well . . . and he draws from information which separates the performance and successes of West Indian Blacks (of whom he is one) from American Blacks. “Cultural differences are real, and cannot be talked away by using pejorative terms such as ‘stereotypes’ or ‘racism.’”

Emphasizing the fact that none of his arguments necessarily disprove the existence of discrimination--not his purpose—he asks whether or not the statistical differences offered by the ideologues add up to discrimination, or “whether there are innumerable demographic, cultural and geographic differences that make [these] crucial automatic inference[s] highly questionable.” He also expounds upon the fact that within the minority communities it is the advantaged who have benefited from affirmative action, and the disadvantaged who are further disadvantaged, thus serving as a negative rather than a positive effect.

Of great interest is the discussion--and factual corroboration--that trends of normalization and inclusion of blacks long predate any of the civil rights activities of the 60’s, in nearly all parameters from education to employment. Significantly he observes that in South Africa apartheid had to be enforced by law to prevent whites from employing blacks.

Overall this is a quick, very informative and thought-provoking read and I recommend it highly. This review is based upon my third re-reading of this tract over 20 years.

Posted by respeto at 1:27 PM

July 25, 2008

Cod

A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
Mark Kurlansky – ISBN – 9780140275018

As usual, this elegantly crafted little treatise--on a very important fish--is readable, entertaining, and chock-a-block full of information and interesting asides, all of which are Kurlansky hallmarks. It marries the politics and economics of the subject, and is one of his earliest offerings (1998); likely the book which “put him on the map.” He has become one of my favorite writers. I’m working my way thru all of his books--having already reviewed on this site Salt, The Big Oyster, 1968. You may soon hear about some of t’others.

As with the narratives on salt and oysters, he travels the world to explain the importance of life altering/sustaining products. Into this maritime history he weaves facts about feeding Caribbean slaves, and the Yankee trading of their salted fish for the Caribbean molasses, from which New Englanders brewed the preferred drink of the era: rum. He slips in an aside about how George Washington, in his earliest campaign for the House of Burgesses, supplied gallons of rum and rum punch to a mere handful of voters. Along with this factoid he emphasizes that the hectoring by the British Crown--by forbidding the trade in molasses--one might conclude that the Brits were intentionally “trying to rally Massachusetts around its radicals.” The revolution wasn’t over just the Tea Tax, of which we were taught in grammar school (at least those of us who were actually educated in our government schools.)

He discloses the little known fact that Basque fishermen were fishing their own secret sea (off-shore Canada) for over 400 years before Columbus “found” America, suggesting that Columbus may have known more about where he was going than is commonly supposed. He elaborates on the dangers of fishing, leaning heavily on the history of Gloucester, MA (not incidentally the subject of his recent book, The Last Fish Tale, as previously he wrote The Basque History of the World.

Discussions of the technology of fishing are comprehensive, as he explains that these “improvements” have resulted in the disaster which over-fishing has become in the 20th century. Despite “expert” determinations that nature’s bounty could not be overcome, we’ve succeeded. While we wish to see nature and evolution as separate from human activities, the natural world encompasses all.

Brits have determined that 70% of species in their waters are over-fished. American Cod are all but extinct (at least in commercial quantities) and “substitute” species are now being harvested with abandon. We are encouraging a host of not-so-great, but more adaptable, species as nature “doggedly searches for something which works; but as the cockroach demonstrates, what works best in nature does not always appeal to us.”

As well, we are approaching a time when there will be little “natural food” available for consumption. Much of the fish we now consume is farmed as, increasingly, are shellfish. Cow hunting became ranching, as ranching evolved into feed-lot production for cattle, as well as pork and fowl.

“There is a big difference” he observes, “between living in a society that hunts whales, and living in one that views them. Nature is being reduced to precious demonstrations for entertainment and education. . . . Are we headed for a world where nothing is left of nature but parks?” Having over hunted mammals, we preserve wild ones as best we can, as we farm our food. While it is harder to kill off fish than mammals, after a millennium of hunting the Atlantic cod, we’ve done it.

Beyond the environmental issues, the book is a wonderful read from the standpoint of history and adventure. As he always does, Kurlansky the gourmand provides us with numerous recipes, historic and modern, for this tasty fish . . . should you be able to find one to cook.

Posted by respeto at 12:05 PM

April 1, 2006

Collapse

(how societies choose to fail or succeed)
Jared Diamond – ISBN 0143036556

This book is brilliant. Collapse is a comprehensive, provocative, well researched book, and very readable. Diamond reviews carefully selected cultures which best make the points he wishes to emphasize. Included are the ancient Mayans, the Greenland and Iceland Norse (and Inuits), the Easter and several other Pacific Islanders, the American desert southwest, and perhaps more interestingly, contemporary Australia, China and the Southeast Asians who are moving toward first world culture. Along the way he includes Rwanda, Hispaniola, and others as examples of specific problems.

Unlike Guns, Germs & Steel, he barely reveals his liberal, anti-capitalist, religion avoiding assessments wherein culture and nurture were largely eliminated from consideration. Collapse simply avoids these subjects: more easily done than in “Guns.”

He reviews in appropriate detail the failures and successes as measured by societal survival, and is specific about the causes of same, using voluminous data, much of it recently mined from historic and archaeologic materials, as well as in depth interviews on personal visits, which he has conducted over decades.

From deforestation to salinization of soils, thru over fishing and farming to ritual excesses he details the problems as best they are interpretable. He explores population density, population controls, necessary enlightenment as regards resource management and generally what it will take to achieve sustainability. In this he does a masterfully balanced job of presenting the facts, and in so doing is very persuasive as regards the difficulties, and is generally hopeful about the future.

I found his wide-ranging discussion of contemporary Australia to be of particular interest because it is contemporary, and Western as well. While time and space prevent encyclopedic dialogue, he does detail the environmental calamity which is modern Australia, and masterfully uses it as an example of its cultural values being opposed to environmental reality. In this, Australia is “the canary in the mine shaft” for Western culture, and in no small measure the emerging 1st world cultures of India, China and the Asian “tigers.”

Primitive “slash and burn” cultures, along with modern “rape and run” proclivities are appropriately discussed. Surprisingly, he emphasizes that only the people (meaning all of us) can exert controls and demand the change of attitudes. In this he is particular emphatic. Simply bemoaning the realities of modern environmental catastrophes is not enough. He gives numerous and explicit examples of how an environmental consciousness can be imposed upon industry thru public activism. What needs be done is to become informed and involved in these activities.

While one can’t materially influence the local lumber yard regarding poor harvesting and replenishing techniques, the “Big Guys”--Home Depot and Lowe’s--can be pressured into insisting that they will not market products cultivated in environmentally unfriendly ways. Whereas tuna fishermen formerly noted that it wasn’t possible to deliver the product without killing turtles, dolphins, and myriad other fish species, it is now established that they can and must, or “we” won’t buy their product. And so it goes with oil, coal, and increasingly with metals, by influencing corporations like DuPont. While not specifically mining the metals, DuPont provides them to industry and can ill afford to be tarred by the bad reputation of the “hard mining” industries.

People can make a difference. They must! Indeed it is the only practical answer. Interestingly, while discussing these factors he never uses the term “market forces,” presumably because it is a capitalist term. Capitalism works. The problem with it is selected “capitalists” (Ken Lay and his ilk come to mind.) They must be hoist on their own petard, avoided and/or disciplined by the market (and the courts.) Even Diamond disallows government as the answer . . . thus leaving only the market.

Churchill once observed: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. It is clear to me, if not to Diamond, that so it is with Capitalism. Hernando DeSoto stated that it is the only system capable of “providing us with the tools required to create massive surplus value.” Without that massive surplus one cannot hope to address environmental concerns, human welfare, and all the rest, not excluding human survival.

People need to get involved. The future is in our hands. With that I can agree!

Posted by respeto at 4:11 PM

February 3, 2008

Cool It !

The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming
Bjorn Lomborg - ISBN – 9780307266927

A decade ago Lomborg authored his first “attack” on environmentalism gone amok. Inasmuch as he was one of the founders of Green Peace it carried considerable weight. Predictably, the environmental wackos savaged him mercilessly.

Amongst other things, as I recall, he observed that he had himself been preaching for several decades that the rainforests were being diminished by 5-10% annually. In flying over them at the time he was struck by the fact that despite the alleged 100-200% destruction, 95% remained. How, he posited, could this possibly be correct? How could “they” have been so wrong? This began his quest, and I recommend reading the end result: his treatise on the subject, published as The Skeptical Environmentalist.

He returns now with a similarly bold and brilliant dissection of the recommendations of the wackos. Again, he is being attacked by establishment figures including, but by no means limited to Al Gore; no great surprise there.

While he is an acolyte of the man made global warming hypothesis—with which I vigorously disagree, as is advised by the vast majority of experts who are real climatologists, not just PhD’s, JD’s, MD’s, BA’s and even musicians and academic dropouts—he makes numerous incisive observations and recommendations which deserve serious consideration. Amongst them, addressing the economics of such insane notions as Kyoto and Carbon Credits, he observes that if we are indeed concerned with the earth’s population, instead of just making political points, there are myriad undertakings which would be immediately, as well as ultimately more beneficial at vastly lower costs.

He demonstrates that:

• more people die from cold than heat - so is warming really so bad?

• past centuries have already accommodated temperature increases which exceed those (realistically) predicted for the next.

• planting vegetation, increasing reflectivity, and creating “water features” in urban environments would dramatically decrease temperatures in cities; e.g., Los Angeles would experience a reduction of mean temperature of five degrees F. by planting 11 million trees, re-roofing and repaving in lighter colors, for a one time cost of $1 billion. L.A. would then reap annual savings of $170 million in air-conditioning expenditures and $360 million in smog-reduction costs, not to mention the aesthetic benefits. Oh, yea . . . the temperature in the city of angels is predicted to increase just five degrees over the next century without Kyoto and Carbon Credits, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Another oh, yea . . . it’ll happen anyway in spite of those programs!

• speaking of Kyoto, even the signatories haven’t even tried to accomplish what they promised. Rather, they pile up on the U.S. for not signing. It has “become the symbol of opposition to the United States!” The U.S. isn’t trying (nya-na-nya-na-nya-na.) I submit that the whole program is “trying,” a term my mother used to use when I was behaving like a snot.

• the poor die from floods in hugely disproportionate numbers because they are too poor to protect themselves - so why not encourage global economic growth so there is money enough to manage the problems? Kyoto and Carbon Credits will destroy the world’s economies.

• we have dealt with the addition of 12 inches of ocean water in the past century. Even the worst (and demonstrably overstated) rise now predicted is less than that.

• the Arctic is melting a little, but has done so in the recent past and rebounded. Meanwhile the Antarctic is adding considerably more ice, more than balancing the Arctic losses.

• polar bears are not becoming extinct. In one small, easily accessible Canadian colony the numbers have been reduced by 300 in the past 20 years, but 40 years ago the colony was half the size it is now. If the suggested programs work, there will be an increase in population by 0.06 bears per annum . . . extraordinary when one considers that 49 bears are killed annually by legal hunters. Everywhere else the colonies have doubled, or more!

• storms and flooding are not becoming worse; just more destructive because of what we have built in the way. In Florida’s Dade and Broward counties alone, the population now exceeds the coastal population from Brownsville, TX to Washington, D.C. 75 years ago. More and more expensive stuff, more people, more damage. Imagine that!

• after Katrina an insurance company found that where loss prevention methods had been properly implemented the losses were remarkably few. No surprise there either, but the numbers are flabbergasting: In one area, at a cost of $2.5 million, $500 million in damages was prevented! The costs of Kyoto, to reduce damage by 0.5 %, would run into the trillions “whereas the protective measures would be multiple orders of magnitude lower.” The real lesson of Katrina is that New Orleans wasn’t ready. Whodathunkit? Ya mean it wasn’t Bush’s fault? Nah!

• by reducing the farm subsidies in rich countries we could massively increase farming in poor ones, not to mention saving “rich countries” billions annually . . . the better to afford to help the poor, maybe?

• while true that in sub-Saharan Africa the predicted warming will desertify additional land, increased rain in other areas will considerably increase crop yields by producing more productive land in other places. The problem is getting people to go move to where it rains.

• if Kyoto were implemented—estimated cost, $180 billion annually--it would reduce malnutrition by 2 million persons by 2080. By investing in improved soil health, water management and technological research, coupled with school meals and nutrient fortification that number could be increased to 229 million by 2015. The cost? $10 billion a year. Lunch Money !!

• Kyoto is anticipated to reduce death from malaria by 140,000 by 2110. At 1/60th the cost we can tackle malaria directly and avoid 85,000,000 million deaths . . . a lot sooner.

I could go on . . . but I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that he totally annihilates the wacko/Gore scenarios, one and all, showing that they are exaggerations on stilts . . . and steroids too.

As I have for years, he emphasizes that the wackos are bent on feeling good, not doing good. They may be well intentioned, but they put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble. For many it “lifts them out of the tedious bickering of distributional politics and instead allows them to position themselves as humanitarians and statesmen concerned with the grandest issue of the planet’s survival.” (that’s Lomborg’s quote, not mine.)

Fortunately, climate change is not an imminent planetary emergency that will bring down civilization. It is but one of many problems, and not even the most important. There are no short term solutions to this problem. We need support “across parties, continents and generations.” We must cease with “debilitating scares and create a sensible and unbiased dialogue” over goals, means, costs and benefits to this and other of the world’s challenges.

“A world without fossil fuels [even in the midterm] is a world gone medieval.”

SO . . . COOL IT !

Posted by respeto at 11:26 AM

March 6, 2009

Crazies to the Left of Me; Wimps to the Right

How one side lost its mind and the other lost its nerve
Bernard Goldberg - ISBN - 9780061252570

As expected, Goldberg is diligent, insightful, humorous and acerbic as he nails the subjects of this tome to the wall. It's a rollicking good read! For this review I'll just itemize some of his best ruminations:

• "Anyone who can't decide between the liberal and the conservative a week before a presidential election, isn't a moderate. He's a clueless."

• "If people around the world think we're no different than our enemies, these are people who should not be taken seriously. . . . When I start worrying about what the French and other Western European wimps think, please shoot me!

• "Liberals have convinced themselves that all religions and cultures are of equal value--except maybe Christianity and the United States."

• "Muslims should march not to prove their innocence but to let the terrorists know that good Muslims will not support them--or even try to understand them--simply because they share the same religion." He then proceeds to the famous quote by Golda Meir: "There will be no peace in the Middle East until the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews."

• and, "If only we behaved differently, then they wouldn't want to kill us." Yeah . . . Right!

• "Being a liberal means never having to say you're sorry. It means you can slander Ronald Reagan as a crazy cowboy [but never mention that he won the cold war.] . . . You can fight welfare reform [but never acknowledge that it has restored the dignity of millions of poor Americans.] . . . You can not excuse, but actually embrace . . . Fidel Castro, then look the other way when he jails anyone who disagrees with him. . . . You can leave a whole lot of wreckage along the side of the road and never peek into the rear-view mirror because your intentions are good and your heart is in the right place"

• Bush, when addressing the NAACP, should have "taken pains" to remind them that for "life to come to fruition for black Americans, the black civil rights establishment needs to snap out of it, stop playing the victim card, and start living in the 21st century. That would have taken a certain amount of courage, and that is one thing that the Republicans seem to have lost."

• "So, in the wake of Katrina, while Jesse Jackson and his cronies are focusing on what the government did wrong, shouldn't we also ask a few uncomfortable questions about what the victims of the hurricane have been doing wrong for years, which left them so vulnerable? After all, it wasn't just rich white folks who made it out of town before Katrina hit. Middle-class blacks escaped, too."

• "Bush is caught in a kind of catch-22. If we are attacked, liberals will point to his 'reckless' policies in Iraq . . . which 'emboldened' the terrorists . . . and if we're not attacked . . . how dare that SOB spy on us and take away our civil liberties? . . . [and] if there is another 9/11 liberals will insist, 'we were just trying to protect everybody's constitutional rights.' Expect no mea culpas from the left . . . [they] are virtuous by definition."

• But: "If a liberal Democrat had taken us into war not just to find weapons of mass destruction, but also to create a democracy in a foreign country, and if that liberal Democrat had argued that all of this somehow would make Americans safer, Republicans would smack him silly."

• Rush Limbaugh has observed that "You can always count on the Democrats, at some point, to revive conservativism in this country by being who they are." He adds that "the real question is: Will Republicans get back to being who they're supposed to be--principled and conservative. . . . Ronald Reagan built a Republican coalition that lasted thirty years, until pandering became the party's guiding principle and the coalition unraveled."

• "Conservatives [as distinct from Republicans] aren't against immigration. They're against illegal immigration. And they're for assimilation. . . . [They want people to aspire] to become Americans and not just foreigners who are living here. That can't happen if we continue to let Mexico export its poverty to the United States."

• Goldberg reminds that in his inaugural address Kennedy said "Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Adding, then, "I cannot think of a single prominent Democrat today who would subscribe to a single word of that."

I do take serious issue with one chapter/theme of his book, however, and that is on teaching Darwinian evolutionary theory and not intelligent design. Creationism is not the same thing, and it is true that creationism "is not science." (In fact it is flatly counter-factual.) However, he displays his ignorance in using the terms interchangeably, and defines both as "divine magic, rather than empirically testable laws."

Unfortunately, as I have commented before on numerous occasions, it takes infinitely more faith to believe in Darwinian evolution than it does God, the Creator, the force; whatever you prefer to call it/Him(Her?) I prefer guided evolution, and it is scientific; fully supported by statistics in ways infinitely more important and significant than Darwin's hypothesis. Darwinism is statistically impossible. There is neither science nor paleontological evidence to corroborate inter-species evolution as advanced by Darwin, yet is taught as scientific fact. Children need to be taught both . . . and correctly! The valid concerns about Darwin's theory should be discussed, emphasizing it was and is a theory, now invalidated by fact,. It most certainly can't pretend to be "empirically testable."

With that caveat, it is a thought provoking evocation of what's wrong with America.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 10:40 AM

November 5, 2006

Culture Warrior

Bill O’Reilly – ISBN – 9780767920926

To those of you, few I hope, who can’t stand O’Reilly, there is nothing to say. But for the rational rest, this is another good book . . . possibly his best. Certainly if you exclude his book The O’Reilly Factor for Kids, it is his best, and that was an entirely different kind of book.

He describes the culture war which is going on, despite the denials of many. The “Secular-Progressives (S-P’s) drive on a one-way street all the time. If you don’t agree with them totally, you are the enemy.” They launch attack and smear those who disagree. This is a searing accusation which he sets out to prove. And prove it he does, to anyone inclined to listen (or to read.)

While traditionalists (a vast majority) reject the attitudes of the “S-P’s,” they do not understand, or do not wish to consider the situation. They stay on the sidelines, disengaged.

The S-P’s are completely laissez faire. Everything is relative, there is neither right nor wrong. Drugs, sex, abortion (even infanticide), euthanasia, etc. should be left unregulated. These are simply matters of personal choice. No system is better. Indeed, ours is worse (or worst.) They believe America is, and has been, an evil country. Consider the rantings of Ward Churchill, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin and George Clooney. Then there is George Lakoff and What’s the Matter with Kansas (a book I reviewed long ago.) A world run by Kofi Annan is their fallback position. They, of course, could do much better.

They are encouraged and represented by the ACLU, an organization supported in turn by millions in S-P contributions. (George Soros and Peter Lewis come to mind.) They are compromising our laws and traditions. Mull over the conflict about Christmas, the Ten Commandments, NAMBLA and the attacks on the Boy Scouts over their handing of gay scoutmasters.

Other aspects of their philosophy come in the form of ludicrous attitudes such as the failure to charge the co-conspirators in the events which led to the capture, rape and murder of a child in FL, or the sentence by the judge in VT who decided that a man convicted of raping a 10 year old girl multiple times over 4 years need spend only 60 days in jail. That is “Restorative Justice.” The fault lies somewhere within society, and needs to be addressed thru therapy, not punishment. “They’re sick.” (They sure as hell are—except for the evil ones--and all ought to be locked up . . . though I have no quarrel with therapy during their incarceration, however little good it does.)

The S-P’s are entrenched on college campuses, and making inroads into primary and secondary schools—with insufficient opposition. Witness conflicts over what will be taught and how, from sex-ed to evolution (or “inspired design.”) Their modus operandi is that practiced by totalitarian regimes throughout history: separate the children from their parents, then proselytize and “brain wash.” In this they are anything but subtle. Government schools are a disaster, but protected by the S-P’s and their minions.

They oppose ID’s at polling stations to enhance the “right” of ineligibles and illegals to vote. They impose their ideas of a education, whether or not we, the unwashed, agree with them. They oppose achievement standards, but having lost the battle over “no child left behind” they now engage in lowering those standards. They oppose proficiency tests for teachers. They oppose permitting poor children to attend private schools, even though their schools are deficient.

Children must be taught to perform, not coddled by “nurturing” environments. But, if impeded, how will they instill “progressive values?”

On their best days they feel that a controlling government ought to force society to be generous and fair, which vision would, of course, require totalitarianism, and that they claim to abhor. Are they that naïve, or do they think the rest of us are?

One can’t debate or reason with them. They are committed to living in a “no traditionalist zone.” A decision must be made by the majority American constituency. Will traditional society prevail or not? This battle must be engaged soon, before it is too late. The question is when, or whether, the great unwashed will finally become involved!

The S-P’s desire a huge government to dispense their ideas of “economic justice” and “nurturing:” the creation of total dependence, which utopian dream is both ridiculous and unattainable. Utopian warriors like Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi etal. are very engaged, but . . . “on the wrong side.”

“There is a right and a wrong in this world. There is justice and fairness. And, finally, there is a strong, binding tradition that has made America the most successful country the world has ever seen.”

There is an alternative to their “Brave New World.” You don’t have to agree with O’Reilly completely, but you simply must read his “rant” to understand the S-P agenda. And then become engaged in doing something about it! If you care.

Posted by respeto at 2:33 PM

July 30, 2008

Culture and Conflict in the Middle East

Philip Carl Salzman – ISBN – 9781591025870

This two-hundred page tome is worth far more its thirty-five dollar price. A Mideast scholar said it was one of the most important books of the last four decades. It is an easily read disquisition because of the author’s crisp style and avoidance of trivia which commonly bury the casual reader. Most of us know that something is wrong with Islam; he circumspectly explains what . . . and why.

Salzman is an anthropologist, but the text embraces history and psychology along with culture, and he contextualizes all of this as he outlines his unique explanation of Islam’s problems. It is Islam he discusses . . . in ways consistent with the facts as he emphasizes that he is not being judgmental. Rather, he delivers information as he interprets it, as did Bernard Lewis in What Went Wrong. The bibliography is long, and includes myriad expert tracts.

His section on the Rise of Islam (fewer than 50 pages) is stunning. Amongst the things he dispels forever is the much-touted maxim that Islam is a religion of peace. It is not, never has been . . . and he persuasively documents it using Muslim sources. During their conquests from the 7th to the 11th century, millions were slaughtered, more millions enslaved, and the survivors of their holocaust were reduced to dhimmitude: expropriated, suppressed and degraded. The hallmark of Arab Empires was the enslavement of conquered peoples—except for those murdered, of course. Even men who converted to Islam were stripped of their belongings, their wives and their children. In the era of Muslim dominance most of the world functioned the same way, but they were exceptional in that they were more cruel.

“We have repeatedly been told of the tolerance that existed in the Muslim world, and of the flourishing of minorities under the enlightened guidance of Islamic law and Muslim rulers. But the historical evidence for a darker picture is overwhelming and irrefutable.”

His critical observation is that Arabic—and therefore Islamic—culture is composed of balanced opposition between like groups, which served their early culture optimally. It established “a substantial degree of order and security” necessary for survival in their desert environment. Balanced opposition results in individual and group independence, encourages freedom and courage along with equality and responsibility, but it also lends itself to bellicosity and friction. It breeds specific loyalties and a rigid honor culture. We’ve all heard this described as my kin against yours, our tribe against others, Sunni against Shia, and all Muslims against the world (especially religions other than Islam.)

At each level of affiliation there is an enemy. For each act the relevant question is: who acted and who is closest to me? All parties agree about what they are against, but never upon what they are for. This negativity and rigid honor (see below) precludes the development of a state as the West understands it; one of law and order, objectified by things upon which we all agree and delegate to government. Thus we concede to the state those things which we cannot do, or do so well alone. They do not. They move thru a chain of affiliations seeking resolution. There is no law, per se, except that prescribed in the Koran . . . or by the sword (now the Kalashnikov or the homicide bomber.)

Huntington (in The Clash of Civilizations) observed that neither “rule of law” nor “constitutionalism” have ever existed in the Arab Mideast because of this commitment to the group. There is no recognizance of abstract, universally applicable rules, and law has never been a factor in political order. The ultimate goal is winning, not acceding to a rule.

In their world, state authorities have always used the peasantry to provide income. For 4,000 years of history the tax collectors, police and the army have been tools of population control. There is no beneficence. Urban areas produce little or nothing, as they depend on the hinterlands for those materials necessary for consumption and trade.

Remote tribes have always had the power to avoid many state sanctions, and have often warred against it. They war for independence and/or the purpose of becoming the state, so that their tribe controls the largess. There is the potential for a war of all against all, which is controlled in some measure by intra-family or tribal balance. This provides space to live with a level of security, predictability, and understanding.

One is honor bound to provide whatever is needed by the balanced group to which he belongs. In turn he lives with the assurance that if in need he will be assisted. Honor thus becomes all. It is earned by victory and lost in defeat. Victims are despised, not celebrated. Honor is more important than any measurable form of success; even life itself. Notwithstanding, success is sought and measured by how much chattel or territory is controlled. It is honorable to do whatever is necessary to prevail. “Winner-take-all” is the only rule: might makes right. Right and wrong are questions never considered. Morality demands that one strive, always, to advantage one’s own group and disadvantage the adversary. Nothing is more common in the history of tribes than battles between them over territory, livestock, watering holes and women. Even marriages arranged for the purpose of retaining asset control, and women, as chattel, are traded and assigned as such.

In the U.S. it has been sarcastically noted that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” We use that maxim in sports, but they honor it in all parameters at all times. They regularly lie, cheat and steal; they fight to the death rather than surrender, despite overwhelming odds. Islam teaches that surrender isn’t an option. Recall that before “Charlie Wilson’s War” Afghans fought Hind Helicopters with Enfield rifles while children threw rocks. A truce is allowable if it serves a purpose: recovery from battle, rearming, or reconnoitering, but resumption of conflict is required victory is assured. It is dishonorable and verboten to leave the field. Hence there is unending conflict, and this has prohibited progress in their societies for centuries. They are constantly at war with someone.

• In the world of the past half century or so, two-thirds of global conflicts involve Islamic countries, either against other Islamic countries or the rest of the world. Eighty 80 percent of those conflicts are violent, and half are full scale wars. Quietude exists only when it is imposed by a dominant regime (e.g. Hussein, Mubarak, or the Saudis)
• Illiteracy in the Muslim world is nearly 50%, and most of the educated are taught in the West. When they return home they seldom find employment outside government since there is no industry. Average output of the Arab world per million inhabitants is 2% of that in industrialized nations.
• The GNP of the entire Muslim Mideast is about equal to that of South Korea, and most of that is derived from oil, found by the West, processed by Western technology, and used in large measure by the West, with Western supervision. The incredible sums taken in by the sale of oil are used by the state to suppress the peasantry, reward the brethren, and make war on each other and the world.
• Rather than study and correct the problems, they seek someone to blame; usually the West.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not over land! Muslims believe Allah has ordained Islamic rule, and it is the duty of Muslims to enforce that principle. A secular, pragmatic solution has no appeal; similarly so with the rest of the world.

There have, indeed, been periods of European imperial disruption, but these have come and gone without displacing tribal society and its balanced opposition. “It is to the [culture] that we must look to understand the current circumstances and difficulties of the Arab Middle East. The lesson is that in the Arab world, [as everywhere else], culture matters” . . . multiculturalist beliefs notwithstanding.

I could go on, but ‘twould be more rewarding and informative if you just read the book. Highly recommended!

Posted by respeto at 12:13 PM

January 23, 2009

Dancing Under the Red Star

The Extraordinary Story of the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin's Gulag
Karl Tobien - ISBN - 9781400070787

This book is riveting as it simultaneously damns, appalls, inspires and enlightens one of the darker periods in U.S. and world history, exposing a chapter which is hardly known to us common folk. But, then, neither Ford nor the U.S. government really wants to discuss it. Tobien's book demonstrates why.

Margaret Werner (Tobein) went with her parents to Russia 1932. Her father Carl, a master mechanic and employee of the Ford Motor Company, was encouraged by Ford to move there, along with 450 others, to implement production in a factory sold to Stalin to produce automobiles. Carl, a true (if only transient) believer in communism, left America in the midst of the Depression to move his reluctant family to the USSR, believing he was entering the new, new world.

That it was a mistake was immediately apparent, but he could not admit it. The families were promptly disenfranchised and assigned to live in their own bleak American compound (read ghetto.) Carl labored under the dismal conditions with a reluctant Russian workforce, criticism of which was unacceptable. Stalin's five year plan proceeded despite dismal quality control and incompetent workmanship, about which Carl complained bitterly. This resulted in his arrest and incarceration as an "enemy of the state." He died in prison within a few years, unbeknownst to his wife and daughter. For those several years, and many following, his family was kept within their compound with little upon which to depend, and no knowledge of the disposition of Carl, though they had their suspicions. Their search for information was constant and unrewarding.

Margaret was a good athlete, bright student, and committed American who was nevertheless "invited" into the Communist Youth Organization, a requirement of which was to renounce her father for his "treason." This she vehemently refused to do. This was not the acceptable, and she was thereafter barred and ostracized. Her name, no doubt, was recorded in a little black book. Had she known that her father was dead her course of action might have been very different.

After WW II her "crime" was resurrected. She was framed, convicted and sent to a labor camp for ten years. Her mother was left alone in this strange and bitter land. By then most of the American labor force had simply disappeared. Mom survived doing menial labor, keeping in contact with her daughter as best she could. There were often years between visits, and she sometimes traveled hundreds of miles by primitive rail just to glimpse Margaret. They once met in a foul latrine in order not to be seen on what was a clandestine visit. Mom had to stay there for hours before and afterward, to avoid capture.

For part of her incarceration Margaret was invited to become a part of a camp dance troupe, which was led by a Russian ballerina, also a prisoner. The dancers entertained their captors, their families and sometimes the prisoners (and offered the title of the book.)

Upon her release she married a recently released German prisoner who fathered their son, Karl. In 1958, thru stealth and trickery, at enormous risk, she was able to escape to West Germany along with her husband, their son and her mother. There her husband abandoned them, and they were again trapped, this time in the West.

The horror of her experience notwithstanding, the American Embassy would not assist her in returning to the U.S. because she was now, against her wishes and express intent, a "citizen of the USSR." Thus she was "ineligible" to return to her homeland; likewise her mother and her son, born to a German in Russia. (Jeez, it makes one proud of our country's bureaucrats!)

Finally she made it, after waiting in West Germany for three long years--thirty years after the beginning of this ordeal. She made a new life in her native land, and survived there as she had in the Gulag, by personal integrity, grit, determination, and an unfailing faith in God.

Even more abysmal than the actions of our State Department was that of the Ford Motor Company. Ford denied the entire series of events. Neither it, nor Washington, ever made an attempt to assist these people, or even to admit complicity. Few made it back to the U.S., though it is doubtful that it was for lack of trying. One man who did make it attempted to obtain compensation from Ford and was denied. Ford would not--and was not compelled to--acknowledge its role in these events. It is difficult to imagine a time when such events could be swept away, discarded and kept from the public.

Margaret and her mother were amongst the very few Americans who ever made it back. Margaret was the only American woman imprisoned in the Gulag who lived to tell about it. And she didn't really do that; her son wrote the book some years after her death as a testament to his mother and grandmother, not incidentally indicting the American Government and the Ford Motor Company.

The book is well written. The story is compelling. The treachery, deceit and abandonment of those unfortunate people was a universe removed from being merely despicable. It is a triumphant and moving story--damning as well--and it needed to be told.

I have not read anything as gripping in a very long time. Read it and weep! I did.

Posted by respeto at 11:20 AM

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

April 5, 2010

Delta Force

The Army's Elite Counterterrorist Unit
Col. Charlie A. Beckwith (Ret.) - ISBN - 9780380809394

This book, by the founder and first commanding officer of Delta Force is quite interesting; not especially well written or edited, it is still worthwhile for those curious about Delta. His candor adds considerably to the book, and his honorable reportage is beyond reproach.

He covers a lot of territory, beginning with the Green Berets and his "learning tour of duty" with the precedent setting force, SAS (the British Special Air Service Regiment; the first dedicated counterterrorism unit in the world.) This is followed by his decade long effort to establish a comparable entity within the U.S. Army. The discussion wanders, and includes considerable activity, some of it trivial and of no particular interest to the average reader.

Still, he gives the complete story, including the disastrous Carter administration policy--implemented by retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, who, as director, gutted the CIA and in large measure authored the still extant problems we have with critical, foreign intelligence. He removed "spies" from the equation, and forbid dealing with "corrupt people." (Of course his program still permitted CIA agents to deal with honorable, pleasant, reliable, "nice" people amongst the cadre of leaders and acolytes of the most vile countries in the world.) Needless to say this led to the complete lack of accurate and timely intelligence for the entire U.S. military and foreign policy establishments. Brilliant ! Especially so when it came, not much later, to Operation Eagle Claw, which was designed to extract the embassy hostages from Iran. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After butting heads for a very long time he was finally permitted to begin the establishment of Delta, but was still stiff-armed by the other forces within the military, most notably the Navy Seals, the Army Rangers. They made the claim that Delta was a duplication of efforts within their purview, which was not true. Just a turf battle. When overruled they prevented any of the men within their units from applying for Delta. When overruled again they complied . . . but reluctantly.

Eventually, however, the force was established, trained and ready. Their first assignment was Eagle Claw, which was a catastrophic failure. Beckwith deals with the intricacies of the planning, practice and mis-execution of the mission. He discusses both the reasons for failure and the implementation of the correctives which followed. He retired shortly thereafter, ending a military career of over 30 years.

He did, however, go on to discuss the Mogadishu disaster, and provides a similarly informative postmortem. Unit function was superb, but a combination of intelligence failure and a chicken-s**t cop out by Bill Clinton authored tragic events reminiscent of Kennedy's failure to support the Bay of Pigs invasion decades before. This time there were 18 Americans dead (their corpses dragged thru the streets--on international T.V!), 84 wounded, and hundreds of Somalis killed; civilians and terrorists alike. This failure ignited even more terrorism, inasmuch as the U.S. appeared spineless and cowardly. (This was, you'll recall, the predecessor of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole--also on Clinton's watch--which emphasized our unwillingness to deal with terrorists.)

Finally, with problems ironed out, interagency dilemmas and disagreements resolved, Delta went on to become a cutting-edge organization; probably the best anti-terrorism unit in the world. Inasmuch as their "black-ops" are under everyone's radar, little additional information can be discussed, but his legacy (he died in 1994) lives on in the formidable force he shepherded into existence; a superlative force in the armamentarium of the United States military.

Unfortunately, the CIA situation hasn't improved very much. We still have huge holes in our intelligence network, thanks to reprehensibly cautious Washington liberals, and the continuing residuum of the disastrous Carter presidency . . . soon to be displaced as the worst in history by that of King Barack.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:39 PM

June 20, 2011

Devils Night

And other true tales of Detroit
Ze'ev Chafets - ISBN - 9780394585253

Given the world situation, from the Mid-East thru Greece and on to England, it seemed not inappropriate to reread this 20 year old book (long out of print but easily and cheaply available as a used book.) It was written by an Israeli journalist who spent his youth in Detroit, and revisited it in 1988-89, where he interviewed hundreds of residents. He renders reflections of their life and opinions in a failing city which is now an utter ruin. (Copy and paste this link and witness the disaster of present day Detroit. See where more of America is headed)

(http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=ruins+of+detroit+photos&aq=1&aqi=g10&aql=&oq=ruins+of+Detroi)

The book explores the downfall of Detroit, beginning with the riots of 1967-68, and progressing thru the time of its publication, when Halloween was ritually celebrated by torching buildings by the hundreds, leaving but a shell of the formerly famous and wealthy city. It's a wake-up call for those who will listen.

He begins by describing the macabre game called "King of the Corner:" stand on any downtown corner and look in every direction. Seeing no one qualified you as King of the only metropolis where one can walk a downtown block during business hours without passing anyone. Many of its suburbs are prosperous, but the cultural and emotional divide between them is "as wide as any which divides hostile nations." And that was 20 years ago. It's far worse now. Detroit has become a decrepit slum, 83% black, badly governed and dangerous.

Formerly dubbed the Arsenal of Democracy, its population has now shrunk from 1.8 million to just over 700 thousand, one third of whom live below the poverty line. For over 5 decades it has been governed by liberal Democrat administrations, using their "progressive" agenda. Coleman Young, the (first black) mayor at the time (1974-93) originally reined in the largely white police department, appropriately integrated it, then promptly lost control. With his ideologically "liberal principles" he intentionally authored "a gentle police force." Too placid. Robbery, a crime in most of the country, is an occupation in Detroit.

Ironically, race became more of a subject that it had ever been. One of Chafets' confidants explained to him that there were four types of blacks: Afro-Americans, blacks, colored folks and niggers. At vacation time an Afro goes to the Bahamas, a black to Harlem; the colored go south to visit kin folk, and the niggers don't go anywhere. They wait for the others to leave so their homes can be burglarized. "The longer I stayed in Detroit, the more accustomed I became to the local habit of immediately classifying everyone by color."

Schools, horrendous; drop out rates, catastrophic; illiteracy, near universal, even amongst those who graduate. Unwed motherhood is the rule and drugs are ubiquitous. One mother observed that while the children had more opportunity than before, "they've been raised without any values." Seems a rather hollow trade, but she was then certain that, while Detroit was the first to experience all of this, it would be the city to find the solutions for such problems. It has failed, and now there's no opportunity either. For most non-whites (and many blacks) the problem isn't racism, it's fear. "People don't see every black as bad. But the image of Detroit is of a decaying, crime-ridden city headed by a mayor who [made] racist remarks. . . . The values of people in Detroit are completely foreign. . . . The language is different and the way people think there is different . . . [the feeling is] that anybody coming from Detroit is going to cause problems."

Until the mid 60s "Detroit prided itself on being in the vanguard of American liberalism; today, the term has become an epithet." Now it's a poster child for how not to do things, while for the philosopher it demonstrates why that is so. "Young genuinely [saw] the world in racial terms. . . . [he didn't see] black folks as oppressive . . . so [he didn't] consider that blacks [were] capable of racism." Chafets' extended dissertation on Young masterfully explains how his level of corruption was worse than any before. Young was confident that blacks would solve their own problems--as well they might have with different leadership.

One of Young's entourage later observed that "we asked for control of this city. Well, now we're in control and everything is out of control. We don't build anything, not even a grocery store. The mayor has been in office fifteen years an only two blacks own anything downtown. Why? Because we don't hold [Young] accountable. What we have is a group of blacks running a black plantation."

He concludes that, by almost any measure, Young, Dinkins and Wilder (other historic black mayors) were "yesterday, not tomorrow." His wrap up is prophetic and alone worth the read. Though 20 years old, it is a picture of where we are headed if things do not change. Racism is sharply attenuated, but corruption is rampant. Blacks who listened to people like Young and Wilder are, more recently, conditioned to looking to the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and currently to academics like Cornell West. Even the media--even Fox--interviews these people as they enhance their celebrity. It isn't pretty. And it isn't wise.

But the book is a good read, and a reminder of the beginnings of American decline, and its likely end should we not heed the implicit warning.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 4:04 PM

December 5, 2008

Dewey

Vicki Myron – ISBN – 9780446407410

This is a fetching tale (and a current mega-best seller) about a tough little kitten, stuffed into the book return of a local library and rescued the following morning nearly frozen to death. He managed to survive and became the mascot of that library, surviving within its walls for 18 years. During that time Dewey became an inspiration to the library staff and patrons, a model of survival for the entire town of Spencer, Iowa, and world famous (though I dmit I’d never heard about him.)

Initially, one is drawn into the story by the very nature of survival (town and cat.) It is an interestingly told tale, written by Bret Witter as shared with him by Ms. Myron, the librarian who salvaged the kitten and became his best friend for life. As well there are poignant insights into small town and farm life . . . and death. "Corn country," especially, is being run over by commercial, mega-farms. Towns are being razed to expand farming. People are forced to move on, altering that life forever. (All that is left of the author's early life is "four feet of driveway" leading to a cornfield!)

Problem is that about a third of the way thru the book begins to die, and while it improves toward the end it never fully recovers.

I was reminded of a book, written in the mid ‘70’s by Robert Ardrey: The Hunting Hypothesis. He wove a really good tale, giving explicit examples of animal behavior corroborating his hypothesis, and then went on, and on . . . and on, example after example. He'd made his point, wrote a fascinating book, but he just couldn’t quit. As I’ve observed in other reviews, there are simply “too many notes.”

Same here. There are so many anecdotes, and there is so much about the librarian/rescuer and her life story that one begins to wonder whether the tract is about the the cat, or if it was also autobiographical of the savior . . . and how long it’ll be until it’s over. It drags.

For those interested it is really both soul snagging and informative. If inclined, I’d suggest that one read the first third or so, skim or skip the middle, and go to the end.

Being an inveterate capitalist, however, I just have to note that one of the side stories mentions—indeed emphasizes—a basic tenant of the capitalist system. When the town was dying, as have so many remote farming communities, Wal-Mart decided to rescue it. The townsfolk were up in arms, with the principal surviving retailers unwilling to “turn over what they had invested in . . . to a national competitor.”

A hired consultant advised that “Wal-Mart will be the best thing ever to happen to the businesses in Spencer. If you try to compete with them you will lose. But if you find a niche they aren’t serving . . . you will win. Why? Because Wal-Mart will bring many more customers to town. It’s that simple.”

It did. They did, and proved the consultant right. The downtown business increased exponentially, as Spencer became the regional retail town. So there!

Posted by respeto at 12:17 PM

November 10, 2006

Do As I Say (Not As I Do)

Peter Schweizer – ISBN – 9780767919029

This best seller exposes the hypocrisy of the political left, using examples of powerful and representative people. It catalogues events and attitudes while carefully avoiding ad hominem attacks (unlike those on the left!) For those on the left it ought to give at least some cause for pause--if only they’d read it.

If you think you know about liberal hypocrisy, wait until you read this!

“Do-as-I-say liberals don’t actually trust their ideas enough to apply them at home.”

Michael Moore, champion of black employment, for example, has hired 134 principals, of whom only 3 were black. The same applies in to many of the others. Al Franken: zero.

Conspicuous consumption is a problem which applies to other people. Streisand’s residence--for 2--includes 5 separate homes and a 12,000 sq. ft., air-conditioned barn for her business artifacts. But give Barbra her due . . . at least her charitable foundations actually give away 25% of the assets annually. The others run them as a personal bank.

Ted Kennedy and George Soros demand that the rich be heavily taxed, yet both (and most of the others) have instituted numerous trusts, private foundations and off shore accounts to avoid taxes. Kennedy “fights for the little guy’ and demands that the rich pay their fair share. Of course he avoids them himself.

Soros has made most of his money trading currencies, most of which currencies he influences to precipitate his profits. He has “no moral position” about destroying the British Pound, for instance: just business! “It is a sort of disease when you consider yourself some kind of God, the creator of everything, but I feel comfortable about it now since I began to live it out.” His penchant for “offshore accounts” authored the craze.

Hillary received over $300,000 worth of gifts before exiting the White House--all before she became a senator, thus to avoid rules which preclude this. Not content, she took $360,000 in White House property as well. And the Whitewater stuff you heard about is only a fraction of what they did to screw the “little folk.”

While Hillary sees herself as the liberator of children, Chelsea was rigidly supervised; not permitted what Hillary advocates for the rest of our children, who are supposed to become “masters of their own destiny.”

Nader is a creep. Much of what Schweizer has to say has been said before. But not all! He has millions in more or less secret accounts, and invests in most of the industries he condemns . . . sometimes just before he condemns them, the better to profit by selling short.

Pelosi is vocally supportive of unions and minimum wage, but in her far-flung empire (the wealthiest person in the House) she runs a totally union-free shop and seldom pays minimum wage to her hundreds of employees. She’s an acolyte of Hugo Chavez’s farm workers union, but employs only immigrant, non-union (legal and illegal) Mexican labor in her vineyards and hotels. To hell with “workers of the world unite.”

Chomsky? Well, he is confident that he has discovered the truth and expects us all to follow his precepts. The fact that he doesn’t seems not to concern him. He’s a genuine “capitalist pig.”

Steinem? After a lifetime of advising women to stay single she up and gets married. Great that she finally found love and commitment, but how about the thousands of young women who passed it up on her recommendation?

And the viciously anti-capitalist Cornell West, the race-baiting “Black Studies Professor?” Surprise: he makes a fortune in real estate, the markets, and by charging huge fees for his lectures. He capitalizes on his “blackness” and even makes rap records when he’s supposed to be teaching at Harvard . . . or Princeton . . . or wherever he has negotiated his most recent lucrative contract. But teach at a Black College . . . never. Pay’s too little.

In the left’s moral universe, their motives and intentions are always pure. Their adversaries, however, are always animated by greed: a conservative disease from which they are spared.

Like the conservatives they denounce, they hire only the best people to manage their affair, not those who confirm to some idyllic quota system. The ideas they profess to take seriously are not those by which they live.

So why can’t they stop affixing sinister labels—racist, greedy, polluter—to people who are doing exactly the same thing without the hypocrisy? Answer: Liberals enjoy the moral satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that they, unlike the rest of us, are committed to fighting racism, oppression, inequality and pollution.

“It’s time for the free ride to end.” It’d be nice if the next time one of them is interviewed the questioner would ask: “yes, but do you really live your life that way?”

Posted by respeto at 1:04 PM

December 16, 2006

Dogs of God

Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors
James Reston, Jr. – ISBN – 9781400031917

This is a truly enjoyable read, vividly written, factual to a fault--but brief--and productive of increased understanding of that era and its impact on the future of the world. Unless you viscerally hate history, this is unquestionably worth the time.

As the title states, the book covers a brief but critical period in Spanish—hence world—history. It begins with a very concise review of prior Spanish history, notably the historic Moorish (Muslim) culture. He then proceeds in relative depth to chronicle the period from about 1480 to 1500, during which time the Inquisition was begun, the Jews were forced to “convert or leave,” the Moors were finally defeated and driven from the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese rounded Africa and Columbus “discovered” the New World.

Ferdinand--one of the important “princes” described by Machiavelli—subjugated the minor royalty, regularized the laws and instituted controlled taxation, thus centralizing power in the crown. Spain thus became the first “modern” nation. Meanwhile Isabella, the esteemed queen, enhanced the arts, music and education. The first major university in the world, Salamanca (founded 20 years before Oxford) became a magnet for scholars from around the Mediterranean.

After 800 years of Muslim dominance, Ferdinand was the warrior who completed the 500 year Reconquista, in large measure thru the firepower of “modern” cannons—which, though primitive, were destructive. In so doing the age of the armored knight passed into history. Further, he set in motion the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition and the subsequent expulsions were opposed by Isabella inasmuch as religion was the cover for a vast land grab to enrich the crown and the church, and a violent means of political control (which Machiavelli thought brilliant.) Property was confiscated even when owners weren’t exiled or executed; an exercise ostensibly in the interest of “purifying” the “Christian country.”

The emigration of both Moors and Jews nearly ruined the economy. They had been counselors to the crown, the finest teachers and doctors, poets and philosophers, and the principal merchants and artisans. Much of Spain was owned by them, which explains Ferdinand’s interest in removing them. Overnight the principal cities became stagnant backwaters without intellectual energy or financial capability.

Reston discusses the recent deconstruction of the period, noting that the Inquisition and expulsions were “not really so bad.” They were, however, evil incarnate. In fact, the elevation of the totally corrupt Spanish Cardinal Borgia to the papacy precipitated the Reformation.

Still, the terror of the Inquisition was accompanied by an expanded sense of personal liberty in the intellectual classes at Salamanca’s University, which in turn authored the Spanish Renaissance, already blossoming in Italy.

The reconciliation of the Spanish/Portuguese conflict, the unification of the Spanish nation, the (Portuguese) establishment of sea passage to India, and the territorial expansion which Columbus’s discoveries provided, authored the era of colonialism--and colonial conflict.)

With the arrival of Jewish refugees in Italy the need for a form of political international law was more important than ever, and the only available authority was the Roman Catholic Church. This, in turn, ultimately led to the arguments over the “separation of the church and the state.”

Read it! Great book!

Posted by respeto at 11:21 AM

January 31, 2006

Dream Palace of the Arabs

Fouad Ajami – ISBN 0375704744

A well known writer/columnist/chronicler of Arab Politics, Ajami explores numerous avenues which afford considerable insight into the foundations and functioning of the Arab mind, including Arab politics. While the book dates from 1998 it is, if possible, more relevant now than when published. Certainly general interested should be greater.

He aptly explores the strengths and weaknesses of Arab civilization, noting that their old world was compromised in the 50’s, broken in the 70’s, all without a reestablishment of its ways and rhythms. Wealth shifted as their economies changed from 3rd world marginality to oil wealth, and their politics from tribal to (more) cosmopolitan, and local to regional and international.

He informs on the tribal loyalties and the rift between the sects of Islam, which are not all that different from those divisions in European Christendom when the Protestants and the Catholics were at each other’s throats, and each of the Protestant sects felt it had the proper information regarding the “right ways.”

The Arab/Palestinian/Israeli conflicts are used to note the continuing strife, and the damage done to Arab sense of security when they were wiped out by the 6 day war. Ist was to have pushed the Jews into the sea, but ended with Israel controlling Arab/Muslim territory.

“There was a time, in the high Middle Ages, when Persian civilization and language served as the elite culture of the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco, but in the modern world this is no longer the case.” As Iran tries to reassert its relevance and its right to guide the region it is no longer accepted.

Strong traditions and history continue to isolate them from the world, and to create angst over Western domination, which is especially relevant with the current Iranian crisis over nukes. The revolutionary spirit of Khomeini persists, yet the revolution has done naught for the stability of Iran or the Middle East. It was to have created a theocratic utopia, a paradise on earth, which dovetails with the fantasy of a “golden age” (which never existed) in the remote past. Indeed, during recent times the “Muslim sword” has beheaded far more Muslims than nonbelievers.

About the first Gulf War, he comments that: “On pain of extinction, cultures often stubbornly refuse to look into themselves. They retreat into the nooks and crannies of their history, fall back on the consolations they know.” The West destroyed the supposedly superb army of Hussein in less than a week, and the ripples continue . . . especially since Gulf War II.

Thus the disappointment, even rage, and the resolve to revisit that fair age. Persisting in societies--everywhere and in all ages--is the need to locate order and meaning in some lost, beloved past. “From the time of Alexander until the rule of Nasser, Egyptians lived on the dream of change and improvement.” Egypt is still waiting, having fruitlessly tried Egyptian nationalism, then pan-Arabism, followed by liberalism, military dictatorship, a multiparty system, one party rule, capitalism, socialism, and alliances with the East followed by alliances with the West. Nothing has been successful.

Political history is littered with unrealized dreams, and with pragmatists who appreciate the limits of what can be done. “Rational” intellectuals--advisors to Sadat who were ready to work with Israel for peace (at least after the ‘67 war)--are aged or gone. Their impact is minuscule, leaving the radicals in ascent. Thwarted plans generate hate and rage, and someone other than themselves must be blamed. Their old world is gone, yet they are not released from its grasp. The unbending politics of opposition to peace with Israel and the world prevents normal traffic with the 20th century, never mind the 21st.
A deep ailment afflicts Arab culture. Only Arabs/Muslims can address it, yet they seem unwilling to approach the problem. They can’t go back, and won’t go forward.

Posted by respeto at 12:27 PM

June 11, 2010

Driving Like Crazy

P.J. O'Rourke - ISBN - 9780802144799

I'm a great fan of this man; he's funny, witty, and on occasion flabbergasting. My favorite of his books, as I've noted previously, include A Parliament of Whores (his best by far), Give War a Chance, and Holidays in Hell.

His newest, "driving," is just out in paperback, and is a bit of a disappointment, though it is still quite funny on occasion. I suspect that if I had been a more typical young male during the era of America's preeminence in auto manufacture I might have liked it more. (Back then, like most American boys, I could identify virtually every American car: make, model and year--and the small handful of imports; but I was never a fanatic about it, and horsepower, stroke volume, cams, valves and mufflers interested me not at all. I found such data boring, which may be why I did not enjoy the book as much as many others will.)

For years he was a freelance correspondent, and one of his subjects was motor vehicles: cars, trucks and motorcycles. For 30 years he covered events from NASCAR to the Baja (California) road races. He has revisited many of his original articles, rewritten some and added modern commentary to the texts. An early chapter, in page after page of bi-polarism, reports a drive from Florida to L.A. in a '56 Buick, which escapade reminds one of Dean Martin's "Ain't it a kick in the head?" Another bears the title The Rolling Organ Donors Motorcycle Club. The chapter on NASCAR is alone worth the price of admission.

He inserts his signature cracks and witticisms, sometimes laugh out loud funny:

• On one adventure, driving thru a wilderness, he comments that "As dusk gathers, critters are everywhere . . . Mainly it's the moose and deer that kill you. The deer if you swerve to avoid hitting them and go into the ditch, the moose if you don't."

• "The motorcycle is a device created by a team of God and Darwin to rid the world of useless young males."

• "Reporters are famous instant experts. And with any ordinarily arcane sport a weekend would have sufficed for me to argue all the fine points of the game . . . but there was something about [a NASCAR mechanic's wise, comprehensive and informed] tutorial that made me think I wasn't anywhere near smart enough to play dumb."

• "[Watching] the pit crews . . . refueling the car and changing four tires in less than half a minute [is] like five hulking Baryshnikov's in fast forward. And the cars themselves: words flunk description." (He became and remains an ardent fan of the organization and its races.)

• On a remote Baja excursion, packing for every eventuality: "The Jeeps were so full that we had to leave a lot of things behind, but only the things we'd be needing."

• On another jaunt across Nevada: "Everywhere the trace of man was visible you wished it weren't. The entire state was obviously temporary. As soon as the locals got their cars fixed they'd be moving to California. Much as I love the roadside sprawl of freedom, Nevada was littered, ugly [and] vile." Obviously he wasn't a fan.

He gets in his political licks as well, lamenting the passage of the "car era" in America as he catalogues the calamity and causes thereof. In a rant about unions and car executives he comments:

• "They no more deserve our sympathy than the malevolent trolls under the Capitol dome. But pity the poor American car when Congress and the White House get through with it--a lightweight vehicle with a small carbon footprint, using alternative energy and renewable resources to operate in a sustainable way. When I was a kid we called it a Schwinn."

• "The only people that could possibly be worse at running a car company than the current crop of car executives--who have proven themselves to be plenty bad--would be politicians."

• "The problem with making a hybrid that works is, it's going to be a heavy vehicle, and it's going to be expensive to build, and is it gonna net out to be more efficient? It kinda depends upon how you do the math on making the batteries, and how much battery power it carries, [and] how you dispose of the batteries when done. It's tricky . . . [and] since Bolivia is the key source of Lithium . . . [can it be progress to] trade the Saudis for the Bolivians?"

So, P.J. with the future of cars and journalism both in doubt, where does that leave you? His answer: "Clint Eastwood has done it all with 'Gran Torino.' I've been channeling that character ever since I saw the movie. I've decided that my motto in life is 'Get off my lawn'. It's the right answer to everything."

After all, "I live in New Hampshire. . . . Eleven hundred more feet of sea-level rises [and] I've got beach front property. [You say' 'By the end of the century New York City could be underwater' and [I] say: 'your point is?'"

The feminists grabbed our women,
The liberals banned our guns.
The health cops snuffed our cigarettes,
The bailout has our funds.
The laws of Breathalyzing
Put an end to our roadside bars,
Circle the Fords and Chevys, boys
THEY'RE COMING TO TAKE OUR CARS!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:40 PM

September 20, 2007

Dumbing Down

Essays on the Strip-mining of American Culture
Washburn/Thornton, ed. – 9780393317237

This gem is no longer in print, but can be easily found (ABEBOOKS) used, for $4-8, and it’s very much worthwhile to purchase one. It is a reasoned and eloquent attack on the ferocious process of our cultural decline. Neil Postman’s assessment is that it provides “the best picture we have of the declining and embarrassing condition of discourse in America.”

There are 22 separate essays, all by sage and illuminating, critical commentators dealing with subjects for which they are noted. Amongst the essays are those on:

• education in its deteriorative state, and its cultural impact
• the dangerous change from written to aural culture
• the disappearance of “betters” (that is, true role models)
• the decline of the arts and science within the broader culture, with a discussion of the vanishing of high culture and meaningful museum displays, amongst other things
• the difficulties wrought by egalitarianism and diversity
• the “malling of America,” and what it is doing to our culture by eliminating the public square
• the universalization of fast and prepared foods as the ability and willingness to cook, or even to understand cooking, disappears, along with the appreciation of fine food
• the disappearance of the eros and mystique of sex

I ran across a review of this book in random reading and felt it appropriate to apprise you of its existence. I’ll leave the discoveries to you, but amongst the comments there are a few made which I found especially electric.

One realizes that there has been a collapse of the social pyramid in which high-brow condescended to low-brow, while the two joined hands in taking pot-shots at the middle.

• we end up with Madonna, Britney, Paris and Lindsay joining illiterate athletes in being today’s role models in our era of fame by notoriety
• movie moguls who used to control studios and offer an amalgam of talent and experience are now gone, along with most of the seriousness of times past; movies and TV. no longer reflect historic American values or those of the civilized world
• the desertion of authority—it’s no longer of consequence. Everyone is entitled his opinion about everything, while taste, decorum and value are trivialized, individualized and debauched
• museums dumb down exhibits so that those with a sound-bite mentality are not bored--not having fun--and worse, many scientists are now of the opinion that science is in fact opinion, not subject to reality checks; true science is disappearing, and what we consider science is often incoherent
• then there’s voodoo science: the social construction of reality
• the masses actually believe that pulp fiction and writers such as Maya Angelou are talented, and that rock groups produce fine music as commendable as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky
• social sciences are supporting ridiculous hypotheses based upon what they feel ought to be the case, the evidence be damned
• the misdirection of self-esteem from something earned to something simply awarded because you’ve been born, and its impact upon culture—nay, civilization
• gone is “the willingness to defer judgment until we had enough experience and breadth of knowledge to [actually] make a judgment.” Of course, that would be judgmental, and isn’t permitted
• somehow Andy Warhol’s art is equated to Michelangelo and Ruben
• NEA funding of “piss-Christ” and chocolate art is considered of value along with talentless poets and writers with anti-capitalist, anti-middle class, anti-American “whole-earth” cultural antinomianism; since they cannot survive within the honest market, yet they “want to seem cutting edge [and] insist the government they despise should pay for the scissors.”
• there is a dearth of critics, who are superfluous or unwelcome; who’s to judge in this era of no standards?
• there’s even a dissertation on the ubiquity of the “F” word which is quite reflective

The material included is best summarized by George F. Kennan, who “gives a spirited defense of why we must not let equality before the law be forcibly extended into arenas where a natural aristocracy of merit can produce far more creative governances than opinion polling of ‘the public.’” This comment is relevant to all of the subjects discussed.

Matthew Arnold once observed “a man’s life of each day depends for its solidity and value on whether he reads, and far more still on what he reads.” So read this book!

And reread it—reflect upon it and commiserate with the essayists included herein over the decline of the U.S., and of the West in general. I’m not sure what we can do about it, but if enough people try to figure it out someone might come up with a bright answer.

Posted by respeto at 3:34 PM

August 21, 2007

Economics in One Lesson

Henry Hazlitt – ISBN – 9780517548233

This is an accidental review . . . sort of. For several years I have been having ad hoc discussions—more correctly described as pleasant arguments—with a little old lady who frequents my shop. Sooner or later they revolve around economics, or rather her total ignorance of it. In her late 80’s she remains an inveterate if wholly uninformed altruist who makes decisions and forms opinions altogether without foundation. Woman’s intuition don-cha-no?

Hence I finally became frustrated enough to purchase the book as a gift for her with the proviso that she actually read it. Having not read it myself for at least two decades I decided to do that first.

It was then that I decided that all of you should be reminded to read it as well! Without doubt it is the best primer of economics ever written and remains in print 50 years after initial publication and 30 years after last updated. Adjust the dollar values of his examples and it remains a treatise which best explains the essence of economics to any lay reader with an I.Q. near ideal refrigerator temperature.

Throughout he challenges the willing role of government in areas it is neither needed nor has expertise. He explains that much of government means only increased taxes taken from more productive uses within the economy. The principal difficulty with individual understanding of this and other problems, he notes, is what is forgone . . . what is not done with the funds extorted by government for its own and usually unwise purposes.

His favorite all purpose example is the “broken window”: a shopkeeper with a window broken by a malefactor. While not good, per se, it is nevertheless results in economic activity for the sand pit operator, glass maker, transporter and glazier, all of whom profit by the replacement of the window. What is always overlooked is that the money spent to replace the window would not simply disappear. Had the shopkeeper the money he would have used it to buy a sweater. groceries, or something else of comparable value—perhaps even saved--thus providing profit for others. In the latter case(s) it would have been more productive than simply replacing what had already existed. Were the former case logical, then a state of perpetual destruction of the extant would provide wealth to all. Continuous wars, anyone?

Most all of his examples are that clear
, including positions against minimum wages, equal pay, credit, rent control, tariffs, governmentally fixed prices, etc. His arguments are devastatingly accurate and logically uninfringeable, which is why the book is so phenomenally caustic for received wisdom. He literally destroys the myths of “beneficial” government pensions, subsidies, make work projects, government welfare and monopolies, amongst many others.

He disputes the postulate that labor unions have raised wages, except perhaps temporarily for members, and insists and explains that the primary cause of increased wages and improved working conditions has been the creation of capital, and the increase in productivity. Even child labor was eliminated by the increased wages which permitted a man to support his family by himself. While he is not against unions, he rails against violence perpetrated by unions to enforce strikes or to intimidate employers and recalcitrant union members. To the extent that wages are increased they are cancelled out by the inflation they cause, inflation being just another form of taxation.

Only increased productivity increases wages. Profits are produced by the introduction of economies and efficiencies which reduce production costs and the largest profits inure to those firms which have achieved the lowest cost of production. Not incidentally they also pay the highest wages . . . without unions!

Virtually all of the wealth of the modern world, and everything that distinguishes it from the pre-industrial world of the 17th century consists of its accumulated capital. The steady reduction of unit costs of production by the addition of new capital reduces the costs of goods to consumers and/or increases the wages of the labor that employs the new equipment by increasing the productive power of that labor.

The section on governmental loans and subsidies emphasizes that government undertakes to support those activities “which private markets will not.” In so doing the government heavily taxes successful private businesses to support failing ones. Private capital is not nutty enough to risk these loans because of the all but certain loss of capital. As a result the country’s economy is lessened by that capital wasted by government risking the inane or the unproductive.

Another nugget is his clarification on saving, explained as just another format for spending. What is put in the bank or otherwise invested is used by others to generate additional capital (see above) and repaid with interest, providing ample passive return as profit to the investor. Spendthrifts, it’s true, provide employment and comfort for so long as their funds last, but savers provide ever increasing capital flows to the economy in perpetuity.

He offers clear explanations of profit margins as opposed to gross profit—currently a big debate with high oil prices—and indicates that the term profiteer is a pejorative term, but, has anyone ever heard of a wageer? In what way are they different? Somehow wages are acceptable but profits are not. Profits, after all, are the primary determining factor in guiding production: what and how much, indeed, even if! (Unless it is demanded by government.)

Government, he remarks, “always and everywhere tends to assume that production will go on automatically, no matter what is done to discourage it.” Untrue!

Would that he were still alive to dispute the current buzz encouraging “government investments” in the future, or mandates for health insurance which price it out of the reach of so many Americans. I’d find irresistible his predictably disparaging discussion of corn based ethanol and government support of this feeble-minded approach to our energy problems.

Arguments against governmental folly, no matter how logical, are derided because, as the old saw goes: My mind is made up. Don’t bother me with the facts.

Virtually all government attempts to redistribute wealth tend to smother productive incentives and lead toward general impoverishment. It is the proper sphere of government to create and enforce the framework of law which prohibits force and fraud, but it must refrain from specific economic intervention. The primary problem, he emphasizes, is not economic but political.

“When Alexander the Great visited the philosopher Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for him, Diogenes is said to have replied: ‘Yes, stand a little less between me and the sun.’ It is what every citizen is entitled to ask of his government.”

It is a breezy read, easily understood, and ought to be required reading for every high school student along with anyone else who hasn’t read it.

Posted by respeto at 11:23 AM

April 8, 2008

Empire of the Sun

J.G. Ballard – ISBN – 9780743265232

Immediately after Pearl Harbor the Japanese launched all out war in the Pacific, beginning in the Philippines and in Shanghai where Ballard’s family were English merchants. This novel encapsulates the experiences of its English author, an adolescent prisoner in a Japanese prison camp in China during WWII. It is a first person narrative embroidered with reliable hearsay into a metered exposition of the horrors of China itself, the war, the loss of fear in some situations, and the longing for death in other circumstances, when incarcerated and alone, as he was at the time.

He begins by describing the life of the expatriate communities (representing virtually all western countries), and does so largely in flash-backs. As well, he provides graphic descriptions of the ghastly life of the Chinese peasants of the era. This is an enlightening discussion of the “facts on the ground,” woven into a personal narrative of survival in an era and in a culture which most of us have never known much about, and never explored. It is informative, colorful, eloquent, fulsome, and engrossing. Much of the account describes the savage nature of Japanese occupation and the inherently punishing culture of the Chinese.

While not always an easy read, he explores the consequences of twentieth century technology in relating the flashes from the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as he lays the groundwork for an understanding of the fact that, co-extant with WW II was the internecine war amongst the Chinese. He explains that as WW II war ended, the Chinese immediately began their separate war between Mao Tse Tung’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.

It is a worthwhile read, and reminds of Give Us This Day (ISBN - 9780393319217), Sidney Stewart’s non-fiction account of experiences in Japanese camps and ships after his survival of the Bataan Death March.

Incidentally, I heartily endorse the latter book, the better to understand the horrifying experiences of American prisoners of Japan during that conflict. Reading both expands one’s historic appreciation of the grisly nature of the mid 20th century which is now being repeated in the Middle East. It is obligatory and productive to understand the nature of the enemy now as then.

Posted by respeto at 12:57 PM

December 22, 2008

English History

Made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable
Lacey Baldwin Smith – ISBN 9780897335478

A most apt title is this. It is, indeed, brief, irreverent and pleasurable. Its author clearly has a command of English history, else she could not summarize so readably and well. She canters through history with thumbnails of events, personages and periods with explanations sufficient to her intent. She disposes of minor—and not a few major—people and happenings in a paragraph or two. Nowhere does she dwell inordinately on anything. She is so skilled and concise, and so much fun to read that one overlooks what has to be missing in the sheer enjoyment of what is not. And she’s witty.

For instance, she initiates her brief discussion of the period from 410 to 1066 by observing that the Celts and Anglo-Saxons eventually “learned to tolerate, not exterminate, one another . . . [and though not certain they were a nation] they still liked to insult each other.” And James II is described as stodgy, stubborn and stupid; even his brother thought that James’s mistresses were so ugly and stultifying that they must have been assigned “by his priest for penance.”

She opines that the treasured American picture of God-fearing pilgrims “in black plug hats,” grimly determined to found a Puritan paradise is “not exactly true. . . . God’s people were clothed in the height of Stuart fashion” and came seeking profit as well as the welfare of their souls. Settlements were extremely expensive. For instance, Jamestown cost 100,000 pounds sterling in the first fifteen years. Not until the introduction of Indian tobacco, and the English acquisition of the habit of smoking it, did the colony become profitable.

The continental wars of 1739 and thereafter (the French and Indian War amongst them) were really conflicts between the English, Spanish and French, in which “the Frogs gravely miscalculated.” As a result France ceded Canada, Cape Breton, and her claims to lands between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River to Britain. She gave over New Orleans and the vast Louisiana territory to the Spanish, who, in turn, ceded Florida to England, leaving Britain the dominant power, leading eventually to her suzerainty over much of North America.

Enlightenment thoughts were spawned by Smith, Bentham, Ricardo, Malthus and others, which cascaded thru literate society, emerging from the old order of landed gentry, which led to vast changes in government. These changes resulted in the loss of wealth and power by said gentry. Contributing to this downfall was the growing “farm power” of the Americas from Canada to Argentina, which had become the breadbaskets of the world.

Franklin warned that obedience of the colonies “depended far less upon ‘forts, citadels, garrisons or armies’ than upon affection.” King and cabinet so scorned Franklin for this that he gave up on the empire and joined the revolutionary movement, whereupon he became the principal architect of its finance by France. Though having lost, Britain was shorn of responsibility for defending and administering the colonies. This facilitated the expansion of empire as England went on to “discover” Australia and New Zealand, firm her control of Canada and India, and promulgate the Industrial Revolution.

Her heady jaunt thru the industrial revolution notes that the “filthy sewers [where lived the peasants of the industrial centers] poured pure gold,” providing the wealth and power needed to finally defeat Napoleon, after which Britain was the unquestioned—and largely unchallenged--world power for the next century. The population grew immensely, providing the “new industrial slums,” which, in turn, transformed the spiritual landscape, brought hell-fire religion into these slums, and became the underpinnings for Victorian morality in the home, factories and in politics.

She gallops thru the African colonial endeavors: contests with France, Germany and Italy which efforts underpinned a European rush for allies. This promoted treaties and guarantees of support which set the stage for WW I. Having paid the price for the Industrial Revolution, Britain reaped its “dragon seeds.” Having financed the revolution the world over, she was now required to compete against those industrial giants—Germany, Japan the Americas, most notably the U.S.—which she had spawned. She lost her edge.

Reasons are not simple, but as “the U.S. leapt from the oil lamp to electricity, Britain remained with the gaslight age, largely because of the power of the gas companies.” Old habits and established powers assisted in her ruination. Coal mines became less productive, but failed to modernize; similarly so with other industries. As well there was a collective refusal to develop aggressive sales. English custom could not accommodate “cheek” (which Yanks referred to as their “can do spirit.”) And their industrial policy overlooked the fact that a ready supply of spare parts was just as important as the quality of the original equipment in keeping customers happy. They fell behind in the educational race, refusing to school her work force or maintain the connections between scientist and engineer. They bought into the concept of “effortless superiority;” they rested on their laurels and were overrun by the rest of the world.

The historic British social ideal was the landed country gentleman, never the engineer, scientist or industrialist. Gentlemen weren’t supposed to work. Rather, they dedicated themselves to the humanities, giving time to public service and ultimately authoring the socialist state. She thus became enamored of Empire, slipped into complacence and became second rate.

After the “war to end all wars” was over, the world advanced, but not so Britain; and after WW II technological improvements were rampant, but Britain was stuck in the past by attitude, proclivity, unions and state control. America, alone in having been undamaged by the war, had developed massive industrial capacity. Germany and Japan were destroyed, but offered a new beginning with wholly modern industry. England was hidebound, and intransigent.

“Deprived of its 19th century industrial head start and struggling to adjust to diminished world status, but still beset by out-of-date memories of Empire and economic hegemony, the Kingdom lurched from one humiliation and crisis to the next.”

She ends with a fair and balanced review of “Thatcherism,” with the resurrection of England, now in the process of failing again, it would seem. Too complacent? Who knows. But there are lessons for not only Britain but America and the world as well.

I strongly recommend a read. I expect to reread this little gem to further digest this phenomenal “outline of British history.”


Posted by respeto at 1:51 PM

January 3, 2008

Ever Wonder Why?

And Other Controversial Essays
Thomas Sowell – ISBN – 9780817947521

As one would suspect, this compendium of essays is luminous, insightful and damaging to those who do not consider the effects (often predictable) of societal policies regarding legal, social, racial, educational and economic issues reflected in the culture war now in progress in the U.S. It is a Philippic, of sorts, but Sowell does have the soul of Demosthenes.

For those unfamiliar with this scholar I encourage you to introduce yourself; for those already initiated you will have read some of these observations before. Both groups, however, will find this a brisk and challenging read. Thinking is required! I thought I’d found my new “bathroom read,” but I was mistaken. I read it thru from beginning to end with regret: at 460 I ran out of pages.

As before, I believe the best way to represent this kind of anthology is listing the better quotes within:

• The welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It’s about the egos of the elites.
• California has long had more than its share of busybodies with a vision of the world in which it is necessary for them to force other people to do Good Things . . . a very flattering vision which they are unlikely to give up for anything so mundane as facts or logic.
• Good Things have costs, often costs all out of proportion to whatever good they might do. But notions like trade-offs and diminishing returns seldom deter zealots, whose own egos are served by their zealotry in imposing their vision, however costly or counterproductive it may be for others.
• The vision of zealots is not just a vision of the world. It is a vision of themselves as special people in that world. (You’ll see the term zealot used frequently . . . and justifiably!)
• Someone once defined a social problem as a situation in which the real world differs from the theories of intellectuals. . . . the real world is wrong and needs to change.
• The U.S. has always been diverse [but] . . . it has always been understood by all that they came here to become Americans—not to remain foreign. . . . Today our “citizen of the world types” [so] all they can to keep foreigners foreign and domestic minorities riled up over grievances, past and present, real and imaginary.
• The free market is a daily assault on the vision of the anointed. Just think of all those millions of people out there buying whatever they want, whether or not the anointed think it is good for them. . . . People who decry the fact that businesses are in business “just to make money” [ignore the fact that] you make money by doing what other people want, not what you want.
• [Just imagine] people earning whatever incomes they get from producing goods or services for other people, with the anointed cut out of the loop, standing on the sidelines in helpless frustration, unable to impose their particular vision of “social justice.”
• Instead of trying to propagandize children to hug trees and recycle garbage, our schools would be put to better use teaching them how to analyze and test what is said by people who advocate tree hugging and recycling.
• Guns are completely inappropriate for the kind of sheep like people the anointed envision, or the orderly, prepackaged world in which they are to live. When you are in mortal danger you are supposed to dial 911, so that the police can arrive on the scene sometime later, identify your body and file reports in triplicate.
• In much of the liberal media, large-scale confrontations between police and people who are breaking the law are usually reported in one of two ways. Either the police “used excessive force” or they “let the situation get out of hand.” Any enforcement sufficient to prevent the situation from getting out of hand will be called “excessive,” and if the police arrive in large enough numbers to squelch disorder without having to use any force at all, then sending in so many cops will be called “over reacting.”
• Whether the one sided reporting of the war in Vietnam was a factor in defeat, there used to be a controversy, but in recent years high officials in the Communist government have themselves admitted they lost the war on the battlefields but won it in the U.S. media and on the streets of America, where political pressures from the anti-war movement threw away the victory for which thousands of American lives had been sacrificed.
• The realities of life force most of us to grow up, whether we want to or not. But for people unprotected from realities by being born rich, or by having lifetime tenure as academics or federal judges, maturity is optional. (One wishes he had added movie and pop stars who rake in zillions for little effort and simultaneously harbor both guilt and a sense of superiority; and do so within the free-market environment which permits this while they fail to understand, and visit it with limitless vitriol.)
• They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But maybe the old dog already knows about tricks that only seem new to the young—and doesn’t think much of those tricks.

Give or take a couple of quotes you are up to about page 50 !!

Posted by respeto at 1:46 PM

December 30, 2009

Extreme Measures

Vince Flynn - ISBN - 978-1416505044

I am generally disinclined to read books of this genre, and I never write reviews on them; at least until now. It is too often said "this is a page turner." I've said it myself. But after reading this book I will be more cautious with that observation. This really is a page turner.

Flynn's plot is elaborate but tight, and he really does keep you on the edge of your chair, figuratively, for the entire read. There is passion, threat, violence, profanity, all you'd expect--and a lot you wouldn't. There are no sex scenes. They're unnecessary.

This episode again involves Mitch Rapp, a 20 year veteran of the CIA. He's an unbelievably tough, dedicated, competent man involved with terrorists for much of his career. His second is Mike Nash, a former U.S. Marine and an agent for 10 years.

The CIA has begun surveillance of Muslim mosques in Washington, D.C. because the FBI will not. The CIA is forbidden to operate within the U.S., which invites trouble. They have discovered a terrorist plot, but haven't sufficient detail to act. One cell leads to a related second cell. Both have been wrapped up, but it is rumored that there is a third cell under the same al-Qaeda command.

The story begins at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, moves from remote training camps, thru Cuba and finally on to Washington. The well integrated sub-plot is the Washington establishment, which is out to get Rapp and others. They've been after him for years. Nasty senate hearings are proceeding in the attempt to crucify the recalcitrants since they don't play nice. They "torture" and violate the rules, including those of the Geneva Convention. (We hear it all the time.) But this time the Harry Reid of the Senate (a lady indistinguishable from Nancy Pelosi, except that she's smart) seems about to succeed. The judiciary committee is stacked with kindred souls who hate Rapp, the legend and the person. The long knives are unsheathed.

As now, 9/11 is all but forgotten. Back then anything done was o.k. Just gettum. But no longer. The fact that America treats terrorists better than its own citizens never seems to occur to them. Everyone gets a N.Y. trial, right? These disastrous "crimes" can be handled thru the courts. But terror attacks are not disasters. Hurricane, floods, and earthquakes are disasters. "You can't stop God or Mother Nature." But terrorists can be stopped, just not while playing by Mickey Mouse rules.

Rapp is finally adamant. He takes congress on. "We've spent the last six years avoiding this fight. I mean to end this s**t right here. . . . We've avoided the problem . . . We spend every day looking over our shoulders wondering if our government is going to ambush us." The fight is unavoidable, so he wants to pick the time and the place. He's convinced that an immediate strike is coming and observes that no senator has ever asked him why he would take gamble by running an illegal surveillance operation. Why would he risk losing his career, his pension, and risk spending decades in prison?

Rapp accepted long ago that most of the players intend no harm, but they downplay or ignore the threats. Most think the letter of the law is the most important thing; that we are a nation of laws and mustn't lower ourselves to "their" level. The first sentiment is naïve, the second is impractical. "Politicians are like parents." They adopt an issue--it's like their child--they lose all objectivity. Enough of this "we are a nation of laws." And "we can't just have the CIA running around doing whatever it wants." Just so!

Until the third cell strikes. Washington is devastated, important people are killed, the operations center is almost destroyed, panic and havoc reign. What went wrong? How did we not know? Who is to blame? Is there evidence of nuclear contamination? Will there be follow-up attacks? What's to be done?

What will Washington do? Will congress finally get the message? It is a riveting read and a far more than passable way to spend a few hours. It's entertainment, sure . . . but it's also very real, and likely a variant of what will happen after the next attack.


Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:52 PM

June 30, 2010

FDR's Folly

How Roosevelt and his New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression
Jim Powell - ISBN - 9781400054770

With the current administration this title becomes immensely relevant. All should read it; especially those on the left. The author begins with a memorable observation:

"It is remarkable [that] respected historians, writing about the most important economic event of 20th century American history, could disregard [all of the] economic literature which challenges their vision. . . . I believe the evidence is overwhelming that the Great Depression as we know it was avoidable."

He then follows up with Walter Lippman [a prominent, skeptical, moderate-left intellectual and newspaper columnist of the era] who opined that "New Deal reformers would rather not have recovery if the revival of private initiative means a resumption of private control in the management of corporate business."

Powell then opens this barnburner; brilliant, succinct, accurate and devastating. It is a deft rendering of FDR's plans and efforts to control, while obfuscating with bald faced lies . . . delivered with a smile. White House conversations often graduated to discussions of "how can we sell this to the public?" He meticulously debunks arguments presented by acolytes. It is a vigorous testament to the folly of anyone convinced that a government committee can somehow improve on "market forces."

New Dealers undertook to compare actual capitalism with idealizedgovernment and their own Utopian goals. Officials were certain that those serving the public interest were more pure than capitalists serving their private interest, and that the economy could be vastly improved upon by establishing bureaucracies and issuing commands. Never was it considered that more power might magnify the harm done by human error or corruption. But of course these sagacious public servants never erred, and corruption was a fault limited to capitalists.

He writes brief chapters with titles identifying what he plans to dismember:
• Why Was So Much New Deal Relief and Public Works Money Channeled Away from the Poorest People? (most notably black folks)
• Why did New Dealers Make Everything Cost More in the Depression?
• Why Did the New Dealers Destroy All That Food When People Were Hungry?

He asks not how, but why. Roosevelt is exposed for intentionally attacking capitalism to establish a progressive government responsible "for" the people rather than "to" them. It was all about governmental power. Few in his administration were well intentioned; fewer still understood economics. The authors of most of the programs were progressives, ill intended from the outset. They ardently pursued their goals, consequences be damned. (Sound familiar?)

Later he deals with
• How Did Social Security Contribute to Higher Unemployment?
• How Did FDR's Supreme Court Subvert Individual Liberty?
• How Did the Tennessee Valley Authority Depress the Tennessee Economy?

These mentions include but a few of the brief chapters in which he "smart-bombs" the New Deal, demonstrating that its policies were clearly deleterious to America's welfare, yet were continued despite their harmful fallout.

Much of the programming was conceived as symbolically important; gestures meant to confirm their noble intent. The left is always most concerned with image as it attempts good things; yet anyone who disagrees is thought to be insensitive, racist, greedy, stupid or worse. And, of course, facts and actual outcomes don't matter; only good intentions. Most of the New Dealers were lawyers, and few amongst them had any real world experience. Being arrogant and inexperienced they were certain that their superior intellect, when combined with political power, would facilitate their therapeutic plans for the world. They were convinced that by issuing executive orders, passing laws, raising taxes, and redistributing money, they could vastly improve society. FDR issued more executive orders than all subsequent presidents; more in a dozen years than did everyone else in the next 63!

This could have been just a diatribe on FDR (who deserves it), but it is not. Powell is clear, straightforward, and discusses not an agenda but how the New Deal was promulgated and why it failed. One will find more than a few comparables to the Obama administration--no surprise since they sing from the same hymnal! Obama has probably done more damage in 15 months than did Roosevelt in 13 years, but America is a very different place now, in considerable measure because of FDR, not to overlook LBJ.

Roosevelt was not a bad man, and did some necessary and honorable things in pursuit of the war against fascism, but his economic program was a disaster (and, itself fascistic), and set the stage for many of our current systemic problems. This little monograph puts to rest, forever, the debate over the New Deal. It was disastrous for the country.

In a better world the book would be required reading for all voters.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:08 PM

March 15, 2008

Fair Tax: The Truth

Answering the Critics
Neal Boortz & John Linder – ISBN - 9780061540462

This is the capstone to their prior book suggesting and explaining the Fair Tax. Ever since the release of that book there has been excessive controversy based upon ignorance of their carefully studied program. In this volume, as is suggested by the title, they take on the critics and explain the malaprops, misunderstandings, misrepresentations and outright lies of the opponents of this proposal . . . to the satisfaction of all but the committed opponents, most of whom willingly suspend logic in order to attack the Fair Tax.

Their proposal is so logical, so simple, so uncomplicated and so right that one has to wonder how there can be any logical opposition. A cadre of tax attorneys and accountants might oppose it because they might become unemployed. Politicians might oppose it because they see that such a tax will emasculate them in some considerable measure. With no tax code, per se, they will be unable to dole out favors to contributing constituents searching favors. Not a few businesses benefit from said favors, and might also be expected to oppose the tax for obvious reasons. But make no mistake, the opponents—almost without exception—are in dire opposition for specific, parochial self-interest.

Imagine eliminating the impact of the IRS and FICA from your life: no income or payroll taxes, no records to keep, no audits, no bank searches, no invasion of your life and privacy! No 1040’s, or short-forms either. No deductions because there are no taxes (of the historic kind.) Imagine receiving your full pay check at week's end. No deductions.

Instead you pay a one-time tax . . . a sales tax, more or less, which is applied only to new goods and services. Buy an old car, a “used” house, whatever: no tax. And for all citizens that tax which would be assessed to essentials up to the poverty limit will be pre-reimbursed so that the poor—and the rest of us—will pay no tax upon purchased goods up to, say, $30-40,000. And imagine no underground economy. All will pay the tax. Only citizens (and legal residents) will receive the reimbursement, know as a prebate. The primary investigations will involve those who try to avoid charging or paying the tax, but they will be few because the penalties are severe.

Since every product purchased already has imbedded taxes, the 20+% end-tax will be largely, and in most cases completely, offset by the elimination of the imbedded taxes. Thus the cost of goods and services will change little, or not at all.

Most rational, however, in addition to those facts mentioned above, the Fair Tax will eliminate over 300 billion dollars in compliance costs to industry and citizens. Imagine what that would do for the economy. That's a hell of a lot of "found money," even in an 11 trillion dollar economy. And even that doesn't include the endless hours of aggravation and pain, or the paper, ink, chemicals and trees spared.

It all sounds complicated, but it isn’t if you carefully read, or re-read the first book and follow-up with the second. I recommend both.

IMAGINE! NO APRIL 15TH !
The time has come!!

Posted by respeto at 4:19 PM

June 25, 2010

Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World

From Marathon to Waterloo
Edward Shepherd Creasy - ISBNs below

Beyond doubt, this is the most famous work of military history written in the nineteenth century (published in 1852.) My copy (ISBN - 0880291486) was a re-release by the Military Heritage Press years ago. It was republished in 2008 by Barnes and Noble (9780486461700) and by Nabu press (9781146922531) in 2010. (I'd encourage you to see if you can find a good copy, used, before you ante-up for the new versions, since the Nabu press version appears to be the best, and it is $33 in paperback! A quick "used" search yields at least 6 copies for $1-2 and a handful more for <$7.)

Creasy is a renowned military historian, and this particular work, his best, is diligently researched. His choice of battles upon which to report, and the strength of his narrative is what makes the book such a classic. I decided to reread it recently, and would encourage you to consider it the topic interests you. There is no finer work of this genre. It obviously omits important battles after Waterloo, though it would be interesting to know which battles, aside from Midway, he would choose as changing the course of more modern history, and what he might think of Reagan's "win" of the Cold War.

He is able to skillfully take you into the historic period, and forthwith into the battle details which make for such a wonderful read. Following each battle he gives a thumbnail sketch of happenings up until the next important encounter.

In retrospect, his introduction is unduly hopeful: "It is an honorable characteristic of the spirit of this age [Waterloo in 1815, to 1852] that projects of violence and warfare are regarded among civilized states with gradually increasing aversion." Oops! Me thinks he spoke too soon, maybe?

He describes human courage, honor and nobility along with the agony and destruction of war. As well, he reviews advances in military technology. Mostly, however, he gives the conflicts historic context, explaining who and how, and what impact these events had on the future history of the world.

What, for instance, would the world be like had the Greeks been strangled in their crib by the Persians--an incident prevented by the Greek victory at Marathon? And what of the German "barbarians"--Celts and Teutons who influenced the Saxons, and along with the Normandian Vikings became modern England--if Arminius (Herman the German) had not prevailed over the Romans in 9 A.D. Same so at Orleans, when St. Joan prevailed over the English; the British defeat of the Spanish Armada, and finally the several battles which "settled" the British Empire and set the stage for modern Europe. Granted there is an undercurrent of Britain, the victor, but Creasy was English, and from 1600 on, the Brits were the people to beat, notwithstanding their loss at Saratoga . . . without which, of course, the United States probably would not be.

Unlike more modern "What ifs," Creasy doesn't go too far into alternate realities. He simply reports upon what didn't take place, having set the stage for what might have.

Amongst my favorite passages of the book is his radical insight into "Oriental" (middle and far east) civilizations, which bears mightily upon our current conundrum: "A monotonous uniformity pervades the histories of nearly all Oriental empires. . . . They are characterized by the rapidity of their early conquests, by the immense extent of the dominions comprised in them, . . . by an invariable and speedy degeneracy in the princes of the royal house, the effeminate nurslings of the seraglio succeeding the warrior sovereigns reared in the camp, and by the internal anarchy and insurrections which indicate and accelerate the decline and fall of these unwieldy and ill-organized fabrics of power. It is also a striking fact that the governments of all the great Asiatic empires have in all ages been absolute despotisms. . . . the paternal government of every household was corrupted by polygamy . . . Fathers, being converted into domestic despots are ready to pay the same abject obedience to their sovereign which they exact from their family."

He goes on to opine that "Had Persia beaten Athens at Marathon . . . the infant energies of Europe would have been trodden out beneath universal conquest, and the history of the world, like the history of Asia, have become a mere record of the rise and fall of despotic dynasties, of the incursions of barbarous hordes, and of the mental and political prostration of millions beneath the diadem, the tiara, and the sword.

Keep that insight in mind when you consider the "unimportance" of modern Persia . . . Iran! They are capable of great menace . . . and malice. And they're back for another go-round in their ancient conflict. They haven't forgotten. Have we?

There is no such thing as compromise with these people!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:45 PM

January 29, 2010

Finn

Jon Clinch - ISBN - 9780812977141

Clinch undertakes the development of Huckleberry Finn's father, sketched only briefly by Twain in his 1884 classic. The book is fascinating, and could well stand alone, but is more interesting as a long awaited sequel. The language is elaborate and colorful, almost poetic. He paints "Finn" with infinite grace. I've never read a novel so well constructed and linguistically sophisticated, yet nothing is sacrificed by the erudition. Scarlett, it most definitely is not!

One becomes engrossed after but a page or two as he begins to draw his characters. The plot is wickedly serpentine, but easy to follow as he weaves thru numerous tangents, all in the furtherance of plot. Finn's grandfather and father were talented individuals, high up the regional pyramid, and respected, or at least feared. His brother is a wimp, but assists Finn in many ways, usually with neither knowledge nor consent of their bigoted, racist father, against whom Finn has rebelled his entire life.

He's a clever if cruel drunk; a tormented man who acquires what he possesses thru theft, manipulation, fraud and disingenuity. Amongst his chattels is a slave woman whom he acquires thru blackmail, and moves her to his horrible, previously abandoned riverside hovel. He provides for them as a "river man," largely by fishing, and collecting river-born debris to sell to interested locals. Most of his petty earnings are spent on whiskey.

Finn demonstrates occasional flourishes of hidden kindnesses, but even those are usually self-serving. By and large he is a nasty, irredeemable lout. With Mary, his captured "wife," he sires Huckleberry, who by fate or good fortune is born nearly white, and can "pass." Both mother and son are abused, Mary sometimes viciously. Huck disappears to places unknown.

When Huck and Tom Sawyer find a fortune in gold, Finn undertakes to claim "his" fortune to ease his life and provide himself with better whiskey. In this, as in all endeavors, he is truculent, shifty, and irremediably evil. He influences Huck to return, but eventually Mary and Huck leave. Finn eventually coerces her to return as a trade, of sorts--for leaving Huck alone.

Eventually he murders Mary and is in turn murdered. You'll recollect from the original story that Huck finds his dead father in the remnant of his house, floating down the Mississippi River. Clinch explains all.

The book explores familial damage done to the young by tyrannical fathers; as well the stain of slavery and color, even for freed blacks; and specifically the shame of several generations of the Finn family.

There are characters similar to Finn, along with noble personages and interesting people of all stripes between those poles. The women who undertakes to "mother" Huck--the widow Douglas, you'll remember--is considerate and compassionate, as is his mother Mary, despite her origins and travails.

The descriptions of life on the river in the era are fulsome, interesting, and as captivating as Clemens originals. It won't be confused with a "delightful" novel, but it is powerful, explosive, and memorable. Read it!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:22 PM

July 7, 2008

Fleeced

(about government, media, corporations, lobbyists and others scamming us)
Dick Morris – ISBN – 9780061547751

Close on the heels of Outrage comes a new offering, which is vaguely Naderesque, except that Morris--unlike Ralph Nader--is not a loose cannon with “tweaked” information and vendetta in mind.

The authors outline endemic corruption, elaborating upon the related issues and possible solutions. These are thoroughly researched, carefully thought thru, simply presented and on the mark. You may not agree with their corrective suggestions, but the expose is damning. As is common recently, he takes a few well deserved shots at the Clintons, which he painstakingly documents.

In the introduction, he reinforces that in our democracy one cannot make all people equal, but government should strain mightily to eliminate artificial inequalities. They explain by whom, and why, it is not being done.

Hedge fund managers are some of the wealthiest amongst us. They manipulate the system to pay only capital gains taxes on their labors (as opposed to their investments), while the rest of us pay ordinary income taxes on such earnings. Congress refuses to close this loophole because these folks donate huge sums of money to campaigns, especially to Democrats. The top 25 fund director’s incomes totaled $14 billion dollars last year, upon which they paid 15% taxes. Had they been properly taxed they would have paid more than twice that amount--for the mathematically challenged, that amounts to almost $300 million in tax savings for just 25 people!

He documents that Senator Schumer (D-N.Y.) raised $2 million from such executives in 2007. In turn, legislation to change the rules was sabotaged . . . by Schumer and associates.

Lobbying firms are multiplying like rats, influencing the legislature mightily, directing multi-billion dollar contracts to their clients and altering legislation in their favor. He names many and elaborates on their activities.

Recently, a $40-100 billion contract went to Airbus—a European company—instead of Boeing, thus sending jobs overseas along with our money. Since the contract is for refueling tankers for our military aircraft, we are outsourcing national security as well. Boeing was previously caught amidst corrupt practices, but the guilty have been punished and they’ve cleaned up their act. Need they suffer more? And why do we have to forgo jobs, send tax money to Europe, and risk national security? Because a few sanctimonious senators and a handful of lobbyists says so.

Numerous American companies work for/with Iran—declared a terrorist nation by our government—yet congress will do nothing to reproach these companies. (Morris recommends that all American investors divest themselves of stock, which will severely impact their stock prices. This was done with South Africa to force the end of apartheid, and it worked. Why not now?) Further, the World Bank, funded heavily by the U.S., continues to lend Iran enormous sums with no strings . . . our tax money going to a terrorist nation some feel we will attack soon, but nothing is done to pressure the bank to cease; at the U.N. it’s no different.

Foreign nationals and governments routinely employ “retired” high level U.S. government officials to plead their cases for special treatment from our government. Why do we permit lobbyists to represent foreign interests? Why do we allow former insiders to represent them in the halls of the bureaucracy with which they are so familiar? This revolving door policy has been discussed for decades, but nothing is ever done, because it involves people who feather their nests after their elected service is over. No one in Washington is going to interfere because it is their retirement plan as well . . . it’s something financially rewarding to do, to screw the public after their careers in government . . . screwing the public.

Being the cynic that I am, I’d suggest that many run for office primarily to get their pension on their way to becoming lobbyists. While President Truman retired to his rocker on a modest pension, Clinton has “earned” over $100 million he has acknowledged. But he has myriad irons in the fire around the globe, some of which activities Morris explores in depth, and a lot of it is sleazy and/or corrupt. Who’s surprised?

Colombia, Morris notes, employs Clinton-linked lobbyists, no doubt picked randomly from the yellow pages.?! After his recent visit to Taiwan they changed lobbyists . . . from Dole-linked to Clinton-linked. Happy accident, that? Note that both linkages relate to former high government officials. The incest is wide-spread, bipartisan, damaging, malicious and rampant.

Customer pillage by credit card companies comes in for special derision from Morris, who notes that despite verbiage to the contrary, nothing is ever done because of huge contributions to our legislators from these banks. Members of the House Financial Services Committee, alone, receive over $12 million annually. Of course there is no quid pro quo! They deny it, and why would you suggest such a thing?

Government subsidized flood insurance repeatedly pays out huge amounts for shorefront losses from predictable hurricanes, and in places with recurring floods. Those who benefit are frequently wealthy, since average folk rarely live in the high-rent districts. Why do middling taxpayers subsidize trophy house replacements on barrier islands and in flood plains? Because the government permits it. Then again, remember that many in government own these McMansions—most of them second homes--and they don’t want to pay the full freight to insure their properties. Better that we do it. It’s another benefit of making the rules.

Government is supposed to reward whistle-blowers who point out corrupt practices and wasteful spending . . . Right? Instead it demotes, hounds, replaces, and even prosecutes them. Why? And why are cinema and T.V.—even child oriented, G. and P.G. genre shows--presenting smokers again, after years in which smoking in film was discouraged? He explains.

These and many more areas are dissected, and I can assure you will be royally p-ss-d off as you read. But devour it; you should! It’s time for changes, and only public indignation will produce it.

Posted by respeto at 11:20 AM

December 3, 2008

Florence of Arabia

Christopher Buckley – ISBN – 9780812972269

This is yet another clever, intelligent, entertaining and madcap novel by one of the masters of the genre: a political satire on Saudi Arabia, the French and the Middle East, including not incidentally French Intelligence, clandestine U.S. organizations and venture capitalists.

Florence (or Flor-enzz) Farfalleti, a well intentioned, dedicated American of Italian extraction undertakes the emancipation of Muslim women with the help of “Uncle Sam”—an American whose identity is not revealed until the last page—and a handful of peculiarly brilliant if snarky and furtive Americans including a shady lobbyist, a defrocked CIA agent and a struggling public relations man.

The nation of Wasabi (not, of course, Wahhabi) is an oil rich country intentionally land-locked in 1922 by the order of Winston Churchill, to even a score with its Sheikh. All of its oil must be piped thru the small country of Matar (pronounced mutter—as in Qatar), which borders the Persian Gulf. Matar’s only source of revenue is the Churchill fee for said access.

Wasabi is a violent, radical Muslim nation noted for beheadings, caning, stoning, and otherwise intimidating its population, especially its women, while Matar is deemed the Switzerland of the Middle-East, where drinking, carousing, and gambling—to mention only a few vices—are encouraged, and whose Emir is a dedicated--actually pathologic--libertine.

The Sheika (Laila) is a beautiful Englishwoman, who had been a successful T.V. personality. They have one son, whom she insists become the Emir. She has required that her husband have no other wives, thus to avoid other legitimate heirs. Consequently he has a harem of lacivious and beautiful women in a separate palace where he spends most of his time doing . . . oh, well, you figure it out. Laila will no longer have relations unless he has a blood test, which he refuses to do, resulting in a stand-off.

Florence moves forth to interest Laila in a T.V. station with programming oriented toward the emancipation of women. They agree. The Emir reluctantly agrees because of the enormous revenue it generates. The target audience is the Muslim women, most specifically those from Wasabi, in order to destabilize it, which situation is desired by Uncle Sam and whomsoever he represents.

It works, of course. The Wasabi powers are enraged and, with French assistance stage a coup. The Emir “disappears” and is replaced by his dull-witted brother, permitting the Wasabi notables to take over effective governance. The support staff is secreted out of Matar and Laila is arrested. Florence is sought, but refuses to leave without freeing her friend.

She offers to exchange herself for the Sheika, but is not to be bamboozled, either. When the Wasabis, the French and the new Emir try to entrap her she goes underground and begins to photograph and report upon the new regime, sending video tapes of executions and the mayhem wrought by the administrative change, which infuriates (some of) the world.

Rather than be enraged, the Europeans—predictably—rail against the events being aired on TV.

As noted, it’s a madcap story, but it’s enormously creative and entertaining . . . and while I won’t give away the important stuff, it does end well, as do Buckley’s other novels.

Posted by respeto at 3:29 PM

August 31, 2007

Florida, a Short History

Michael Gannon – 9780813026800

What did you say? Four years after the re-release of this little volume you [meaning me] finally got around to reading it. Yep. Thaz-rite!

Now I know why . . . or at least I have an excuse. It is indeed short, but it is primarily a review of demographics and politics with a few little vignettes thrown in, such as orange grove freezes, hurricanes, etc. It occurs to me that the “Dean of Florida History” could have done considerably better.

Disappointing would be a kind word for this work. Further, for such a brief digest he manages to repeatedly mention how dismally blacks were treated without mentioning how much things have improved; how blacks were kept out of all save one college during a time when this was universal across the south; how they were re-enslaved in the turpentine camps and other trades and mentions the mini-pogrom in Rosewood in 1923, along with another.

Now, I have no objection to this history being revisited repeatedly to remind of how unjust the U.S. was prior to the peaceful, sensitizing mini-revolt led by Martin Luther King, but it seems to me over the top to dwell on this type of event to the exclusion of all others.

He minimizes some factoids regarding blacks, slipping them in between other data: e.g. over 50% of blacks owned their own farms beginning shortly after the civil war, and continuing thereafter. It seems fair to have been given a little more prominence, especially since the incidence of white ownership was only 10% higher.

I almost forget to mention--but then he did, too--the Seminole War(s). In what he describes as one of the “darkest chapters” of Florida history he recants the second war (no mention of the first and third). This war of genocide warrants two whole paragraphs, occupying nearly two-thirds of a page. In fairness, however, he did include a full page picture of Osceola!

Anyway, if you’re a political junkie it’s probably worth the hour or two it takes. But if you’re interested in more interesting historic vignettes I’d recommend the three volume series: Florida’s Past, by Gene Burnett. It is an anthology of his columns written over 30 years; a great bathroom read encompassing 500 word columns about the lumbering trades, crooked bankers and miscreant land developers, inventors and other noteworthy Floridians, making cigars in Tampa, hunting alligators in the swamp, etc. Put it down any time, pick it up again and open it anywhere. Continuity isn’t intended. It’s just fun to read, and especially for things about which you’d never willingly read more than 500 words, and it might suggest to you subjects you’d wish to explore in greater detail.

Equally good are Jeff Klinkenberg’s columns, also archived in three separate books over the years, the most recent being Seasons of Real Florida; and don’t forget Carl Hiaasen, whose most recent accrual is Kick Ass.


Posted by respeto at 10:49 AM

June 12, 2007

Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces

Andrew Ferguson – ISBN 0871136511

I would not have been aware of this book had I not read Deja Reviews, recently reviewed on this site. It is no longer in print, but I found several at ABEBOOKS.com for $2 plus postage, and it is very much worth the miniscule effort to get it.

Ferguson, like Florence King, is a pundit and “political assassin.” And, also like King, is an equal opportunity basher, lacerating grand poobahs from Nixon to Clinton, “the Donald” to Bill Moyers, Gennifer Flowers to Imus and Gorbachev to Newt Gingrich. Enjoy !!!

Ferguson is a master at dropping you to your knees in laughter as you wet your pants, as he inserts the unexpected or improbable into his commentary. By way of enticing you to read this book, my review will be limited to just a few such parts of his narrative.

Once, while sharing the stage with Gennifer Flowers during her 15 minutes of fame, the fact that Andrew was on her side in this encounter occasioned her remark: “Thank God. . . . I’ll tell you, whoever said the truth will set you free was full of shit.” Ferguson: “I think that was Jesus.”

While “Babs” was doing her encore: Somewhere, (“Hold my hand and I’ll take you there”) he comments: “Of course she will. . . . Artist as Artist: over the hill. Barbra isn’t merely the defender of modern liberalism. She is its symbol.”

After the Gingrich sweep in ’94: “This sudden turnabout hits the Democrats where they live. For the first time in fifty years they’re behind the curve. Gingrich and his colleagues have mastered the latest dance craze, slamming in the mosh pit to the hottest CDs. . . . And poor Gephardt and Bonior [are] off in the corner, in baggy lime-green leisure suits with lemon-yellow piping, fussing with the eight-track and trying to learn the Hustle.”

“The ultimate trophy is the fax machine [remember, this book is from 1995] . . . but the more commonplace [is the] cellular phone. You see [boomers] walking down the boulevards of every major city, these yuppies with the portable phones attached to their ears, stopping traffic, tripping over hydrants, bumping into lampposts. There are 25 million [of them, and they] display an infantile yearning for incessant stimulation, a pathetic play for self validation a quest for identity in quicksand: I talk on the phone, therefore I am.”

“. . . the central irony of the Information Age: As our means of communication accelerate there are fewer things of interest to talk about and fewer interesting people to talk about them with. . . . so little to say, so many ways to say it. See the businessman on the transatlantic flight with $4,000 of micro-cosmic hardware resting in his lap, plugging in his fax modem with trembling fingers so he can access . . . at the speed of light! In maxicolor liquid crystal display! . . . the New York Times op-ed page.”

“I remember the moment when my disenchantment with the Information Age became irreversible. I had flipped on AOL one night and joined a celebrity forum. The special guests were Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop. The questions from out in cyberspace came fast and furious, for both guests, and the reality of the thing hit me all at once: from coast to coast, people with the intelligence to operate computers were actually sitting at home and conversing with a hand puppet. . . . This is the revenge of the nerds!

“For years, commentators speculated on Gorbachev’s intellectual development, as he worked his way through the classics of Western political thought: from Aristotle to the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers, through Lincoln and even to Hayek. He has finally come to rest, on the Whole Earth Catalog.”

And my personal favorite: “At the kickoff dinner of the State of the World Forum [there was] a distinguished company including retired diplomats (George Shultz and Zbigniew Brzezinski), Nobel laureates (Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchu and the Bell Labs physicist Arno Penzias), science popularizers (Carl Sagan and Fritjof Capra), movie stars (Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine), rich guys (Ted Turner and David Packard), New Age gurus (Sam Keen and Deepak Chopra), and many more—five hundred in all, leading lights from business, politic, religion and the arts. Such an extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge and spiritual insight has not been seen in a single room since Bill Moyers dined alone.”

But I’ll leave some of the best for you to discover on your own, and encourage you mightily to do so . . . ASAP.

Posted by respeto at 1:38 PM

October 25, 2006

For One More Day

Mitch Albom – ISBN-13 – 978-1401303273

Again, the author of Tuesdays with Morrie, and The Five People You Meet in Heaven writes a poignant book. Pretty good, but it appears to me that after his blockbuster, and the (lesser) follow-on, he might consider going back to sports writing.

In this epistle he reviews the life of a washed-up, rather unsuccessful, alcoholic ex-minor league baseball player who attempts to commit suicide, only to reconnect with his deceased mother, a loving person and forgiving person who always set him straight. She does so—again, as it were--but the plot line too carefully follows that in “five people,” and is spotty and seemingly not as authentic as his two prior successes.

As is his forte, he plucks the heart-strings, and has occasions when he “gets you where you live,” but doesn't begin to achieve the effect he has had before.

Mom has had a hard life, filled with sacrifice, and has coped with it heroically. Sonny is, by almost any measure, a failure. Nonetheless he does recoup, sober up, reconnect with his estranged daughter and develop a tolerable relationship with his ex-wife.

Borrow it from a neighbor or the library and save your $22. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, or Never Let Me Go, while lengthier are not only better, but cheaper, inasmuch as they are now available in paperback.

Posted by respeto at 1:10 PM

October 18, 2008

For the Glory of God

How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts and the End of Slavery
Rodney Stark - ISBN – 9780691119502

Stark is well qualified as a sociologist (of religion) to discuss this subject, and this text is wonderfully complete, though his scientific style and turgid prose takes a little getting used to. (A collaborator might have been helpful.) Notwithstanding, it is worth the time . . . and it will take time, because one can only read 20-30 pages at a sitting, and the book weighs in at 375 pages (of 10 point TNR script with not a lot of white space for margins)

He is unforgiving of historians and scientists as a group, noting that they--habitually and by discipline--are reluctant to accept, let alone discuss how religion is responsible for anything good. They teach that Newton was much too sophisticated to believe in God, yet he was a devout Christian and the quintessential student of God’s handiwork. Enlightened, they say, are far above superstition and thus couldn’t possibly be religious. No one intelligent could be. Nonsense!

He reviews the history of religion(s), amplifying how people, acting “for the glory of God” have been responsible for their cultures from time long past, and that monotheism has set the course for modernity for Judeo-Christianity, but not for Islam. He explains that Islam is taught to accept the world is as it is and live in it under the dictates of an irrational, unpredictable, ruthless Allah. Contrariwise, Judeo-Christianity posits God as rational, responsive, dependable and predictable. His world is thus understandable, by applying reason, study and science. It awaits only human comprehension. Christianity developed science because there was belief that it could be done. In so doing birthed the university as an offshoot of the cathedral schools, peopled by speculative thinkers. Christian thinkers gained fame thru innovation, while other cultures teach only received knowledge—often adding to it in non-scientific ways.

While the ancient Greeks,and others, contributed mightily to the store of knowledge, they never created science. Likewise with the Chinese, Indians, Romans, and Muslims--the religion of each is explained in turn. All had highly developed alchemy, yet never developed chemistry as did Christian Europe; similarly so with astrology’s graduation to astronomy. “Christian theology was essential for the rise of science in the West, just as surely as non-Christian theologies stifled the scientific quest everywhere else.” Science is not an extension of classical learning. Rather, it is an outgrowth of Christian attitudes including the intelligent quest for God’s immutable principles.

Contrary to received wisdom Christianity didn’t “plunge” Europe into an era of ignorance. So much technical progress took place from the 6th century forward, that by 13th century European technology surpassed anything anywhere in the world. (It appears the “dark ages” weren’t so dark after all.) This was the result of speculative and innovative progress of quizzical and querulous minds. It is taught that a “scientific revolution” was possible due primarily to a weakening of Christian control, andthat this limitation resulted in the recovery of classical learning. This is as false as those certainties concerning Columbus and his courage in challenging the flat earth. It's all bunkum.

The Renaissance and the flowering of European science in the 1500’s was a direct consequence of the theology of the age, but it also led to witch-hunting by many otherwise sober people (who were not part of the middle-ages, but rather of the “Enlightenment.”) Similarly this concept of God resulted in the Christian denunciation of slavery as an abomination. Interestingly, some of the most notorious of the witch burners were vigorous participants in the abolition movements. It was the Christian Scholastics--not the Greeks, Romans, Muslims or Chinese--who based their studies upon science.

He does explore in detail the persisting arguments over Darwin’s hypothesis, quoting amongst others Richard Dawkins. He eviscerates the arguments against intelligent design as he observes that Dawkins “knows the many serious problems that beset purely materialistic evolutionary theory, but asserts that no one except true believers in evolution can be allowed into the discussion, [and that these discussions must] be held in secret.” As well, he emphasizes out that a majority of modern scientists in all disciplines consider themselves religious.

We all tend to refer to the Spanish inquisition and witch trials. In fact, Spain was far more quiescent than much of the rest of Europe, since it had a much stronger government than anywhere else, and governments generally suppressed these activities, unlike more remote villages in what is now France and Germany. Moderns, he notes with some amusement, tend to blame blind fanaticism of these ancient prosecutors for their failure to see that they were manufacturing accusations. Missing is their awareness of current prosecutors “rolling up” cases with much the same vigor (the Duke Lacrosse team comes to mind.)

Interestingly, witch-hunts did not occur in Islamic cultures, in part because magic is imbedded in Islam, and was not a threat to Islamic power structures.

Slavery has been an institution since the advent of civilization. Indeed is universal inasmuch as it is a function of human productivity. It is not intrinsic to more sophisticated cultures. The concept of owning someone to produce for you ain’t so bad . . . unless you’re the “ownee.” Stark first elaborates on the history of slavery, then delves into the morality, and the critical relevance of Christianity to the abolition of slavery. He observes that slavery was a Muslim business centuries before Europeans discovered the New World, and debunks the prevailing attitude that serfdom and slavery were much the same thing. Abolition, he emphasizes, is not inherent in Christian scripture, but was the only possible conclusion--ultimately reached under favorable circumstances, thru a long and complex series of political crises leading ultimately to the civil war in the U.S.

One could go on indefinitely, but this should be enough to interest (or disinterest) y’all.

Consider it. It’s worth the time to labor through it.


Posted by respeto at 1:52 PM

December 20, 2008

Forgotten Fatherland

The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche
Ben Macintyre – 9780060975616

This is the last of the Ben Macintyre books . . . actually, his first, but from the title the least interesting. But, surprise, it’s quite good; altogether is in keeping with my opinion of Macintyre’s talents.

Elisabeth Nietzsche was the sister of the philosopher who is credited with providing the basis of Nazism. In fact, not unlike Jackie Kennedy’s creation of Camelot, Elisabeth warped her brother’s philosophy to make it fit hers, with her nihilism, anti-Semitism, etc. Freidrich was way off the planet in many regards, and became insane at an early age, but a Nazi he was not! His sister took care of him during his last years, and misused his fame and notoriety to wholly mischaracterize his philosophy. This is Macintyre’s quest, and he deals with it quite satisfactorily, disabusing the reader of most everything “Nazish” we’ve learned about Nietzsche. His mini-bios of both characters and their supporting casts is interesting and informative of the individuals, and that period in German history.

What I found most interesting, however, was the back-story of the book; the founding of an obscure German colony in the Paraguayan jungle in the mid-1880’s. Known to most of us is the fact that Paraguay was a hotbed of Nazi sympathizers and Nazi war criminals after WW II, but the little known tale of Nueva Germania is fascinating.

That Elisabeth and her husband--a virulent anti-Semite--undertook to entice and partly subsidize a colony of “pure Germans” is fascinating in itself. The thrust of their effort was to isolate the most Germanic of those interested in participating in this endeavor, thus to breed a “Jew (and commerce) Free” colony of progressively more pure Aryans. At the time Germany was in a serious recession, and many of its peasants were leaving--amongst them my great-great-grandfather. Some emigrated to the United States; others to South America, and some to Paraguay, which had just experienced a depopulating civil war and was encouraging immigrants by selling land cheaply.

Nueva Germania was conceived and executed, but was immediately in trouble. Elisabeth and husband grossly mischaracterized the endeavor, presenting it as a Utopia. It was not, and as this became known subscription dwindled and settlers left, if not for the homeland, at least for the cities of Paraguay. Soon a departing soul wrote a book exposing the settlement as a complete fraud, which all but terminated what remained of interest in settling there.

In the summarizing chapter Macintyre describes in detail his rather harrowing search for the jungle colony in 1992, a century after its founding. He describes the colony in vivid detail and the saga is absorbing. There are a handful of pure Germans there, indeed. These were the struggling offspring of those from generations past who were too poor to emigrate even from their colony. Those who have isolated themselves from the native populations are increasingly physically irregular or mentally retarded because of five generations of inbreeding. Others have begun to integrate with the natives, such that there is a population of dark-skinned, blue-eyed people who care not at all about Germanic ideation or customs.

During the post-war period a few famous Nazis were thought to have spent time there because of its isolation; amongst them Joseph Mengele, though there is no hard proof.

It is a tale of hubris and the ultimate survival of a lost race, the result of near hysterically motivated insistence on purity which has culminated in a forlorn, unknown disaster, except where it is disappearing. An interesting read for those inclined toward such a subject.

Posted by respeto at 4:14 PM

June 13, 2011

Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries

Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology
Kenneth Feder - 9780072869484

Feder does a good job of discrediting myriad myths and mythmakers, from ancients to Erich von Daniken. The book is well researched and written to deliver a breezy read for the average layman, offering explanations which are logical and readily understood. He joyfully buries von Daniken's hypotheses in Chariots of the Gods, which is particularly offensive drivel, and his other writings which intend to make credible his theories about ancient visits from foreign astronauts who were seminal (literally) in fostering improved human evolution and culture. Nah!

He begins with the millennial Atlantis legends, and explores them sequentially thru the ages. As well he pursues biblical and other flood mythology, though I felt him inadequately laudatory of the works of Ryan and Pittman ( Noah's Flood ), and he didn't even mention Oppenheimer ( Eden in the East ) He discusses English stone circles (e.g. Stonehenge), the several Pharaoh's tomb curses, the Piltdown and Cardiff men, along with more recent hypotheses such as Barry Fell's tracts on the population of the Americas by Celts and others in antiquity; and he destroys "psychic archaeology." I admit to having been a fan of Fell since his book America B.C., published coincident with America's bicentennial. Feder finally convinced me that Fell was a fraud, despite what I feel was Fell's honest intent.

He does allow that some of the people pursuing these would be--and actual--myths are well intentioned, though many are intentionally deceptive, most commonly with a profit motive.

He explains the Viking episodes in "Vinland," and mentions that their sagas describe the availability of wine grapes, while allowing that the habitation sites which have been found are altogether too far north to accommodate the "Vin" part, so he accepts that it is likely that Vikings made it much further south, but won't draw any conclusion, since no artifacts have been found. Archaeology, he opines, is a fascinating field which has suffered because of its popularity, but is responsible to the same rules as other sciences.

He reviews the mound cultures, and explores Cahokia in some very interesting detail. I found it disappointing, however, that there was nary a mention of Koster--in southern Illinois, 70 miles away--which is arguably the most important treasure in North American archaeology, having been fully excavated, exposing 26 levels of habitation over a time period of nearly 10,000 years, with the discovery of myriad fascinating facts about life at the site, not to mention that the lead archaeologist, Stuart Struever, single handedly invented modern archaeology at that site. This is an unforgivable oversight ! Perhaps it is because there are no myths associated with the site, but, really, it deserved mention at least.

While I can hardly compare my working knowledge of many of these subjects to his, and while he is careful to acknowledge that accepted facts are constantly being updated and added, he too often pooh-poohs suggestions contrary to received wisdom within the community of dedicated archaeologists. For instance, he allows that the Vikings did, indeed, make it at least as far as Newfoundland, and probably Massachusetts, but he omits consideration of the fact that prior to the 1950s the community was adamant that there had been no one here--other than Indians--before Columbus. That is patently false, and archaeologists have reluctantly accepted that. But they are human, too, and have pegged their lives and reputations on their opinions. They are regularly obdurate when their theories are challenged, which leads to overlooking observations which challenge their own pet hypotheses.

There are evidences that man has been here since well before the trek across the Bering Strait from Asia during the recent ice age (if, in fact, they did get here that way, which in my opinion is still conjectural.) They have been in central and south America for as long as 40,000 years; and there are genetic and linguistic studies that suggest that man has arrived in the New World at various times, and by various means; that all of the Indians are not so neatly related as current "understandings" would suggest. The fact that the archaeological community is unwilling to accept that aboriginals may have arrived by boat as much as 20,000 years before they are presumed to have walked across the Bering Strait does not rule out that possibility, and especially since that community is confident that aboriginals hadn't the skills to so do, ignoring that the Australian aboriginals arrived there over 40,000 years ago, and were isolated until Cook "discovered" the place in 1770. They are similar to African blacks, but no one really knows from whence they came.

"But we've always known that . . . . fill in the blank." Archaeology as a science is not yet 200 years old; there is much we do not know, and while it is prudent not to get carried away with fanciful theories built upon bizarre dreams and opinions, it is likewise imprudent to determine that "such and such" is agreed upon fact, and settled science. There is no such thing. Not in any scientific field, so why should we worship at the shrine of some dead (or living) archaeologist? Having practiced medicine for years, I learned long ago that almost nothing is settled science, and new information always requires new, if tentative, conclusions and an altered modus operandi. A little humility is in order, me thinks. Damned little is certain.

It's well to keep in mind that famous old Keynesian quote: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Many, in any scientific community, doggedly resist a change of mind even when faced with irrefutable facts, because they have a lifetime investment in what they believe and don't want to have their pet theories overturned, or see their work devalued.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:15 PM

November 22, 2005

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

May 25, 2008

Good Germs, Bad Germs

Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
Jessica Snyder Sachs – ISBN – 9780809050635
(due out in paperback in September)

Sounds deep and dreary, but hers is an incredibly informative book written in such a manner that laymen can easily understand it. The operational observation is that this is, and has always been a bacterial world--they being the oldest inhabitants of the planet--while the rest of us have to deal with them.

Nonetheless, most bacteria “inhabiting” the human body are either of the saprophytic variety, or actually function in ways which are beneficial to us and to them. Man’s ancestors evolved with bacteria, as they in turn have evolved within required parameters for their own existence. Indeed, it is becoming very apparent that much of our RNA is viral particles incorporated into our genome millions of years ago.

An increasing number of microbiologists now appreciate the often profound importance of these facts, and studies are now in hot pursuit of finding other means of controlling the “bad germs” which get out of hand and produce severe illnesses: those debilitating—or even fatal.

By now we’ve all developed a conversational knowledge of bacterial resistance--immunity to newer, heavy-duty antibiotics colloquially known as gorillacillins. These agents, in addition to killing everything in reach, are noted to regularly have serious side effects, too. The time has come to seriously look for other approaches: re-colonization with beneficial bugs, developing “attack” bugs, implementing dietary augmentation and the like. Further, it is time to assess the net effect of raising our food stock (animals and some vegetables) by using antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, since this exposes us to the antibiotic as well as the more resistant microbes which are sub-cultured by such use.

In prior times we all lived in a more “dirty” environment, from which we acquired a resistance to various bugs in much the same way as vaccines produce immunity to minor variants of lethal bugs. Now, there is nothing wrong with cleanliness, but in our ever-so-clean modern environment we are depriving ourselves, and more importantly our children, of exposure to these bugs, which leaves us extremely vulnerable. Further, there is evidence that numerous allergies, asthma, diabetes, varietal inflammatory diseases, and a host of other ailments including Alzheimer’s are in part produced by this environmental manipulation. It is becoming more apparent that even anxiety and depression may be related to these same phenomena. It ain’t that good to kill all the bugs, a naïve concept in the first place, since we can’t! They have survived for billions of years in environments more hostile than any we can create. G-d has provided animals, including man, with the ability to cope with such exposure.

Sachs elaborates upon the immunological result of our “clean fetish,” and explains how this is seriously altering our quality of life. We need to begin paying serious attention. She delves into these varietal conundrums in such a way that she maintains interest as she patiently explains the problems.

“Since the dawn of civilization, the demon of pestilence has been a part of our lives and fears. Sanitation and antibiotics gave us our first powerful weapons against this great foe . . . [and] we have wielded them crudely, without appreciation either for the role that bacteria play in maintaining our health or for their infinite capacity to adapt to whatever poisons we throw at them.”

“As naïve as it may sound in a day when killer superbugs dominate our headlines, a growing scientific consensus is forming that it’s time to move beyond our escalating war on microbes and look for ways to foster a truce in what will always be a bacterial world.”

Posted by respeto at 11:33 AM

July 28, 2008

Good Night, Mr. Tom

Michelle Magorian – ISBN 9780064401746

This is not my usual fare. I stumbled on to it in random reading, and present it only because it is a wonderful book for adolescents, and interesting for adults. Published in 1982 by a “one book” author, it won a children’s book award in England. It is a classic of sorts, and still in print. Also a movie available from NetFlix.

The plot line is that of early WW II in England, and children were being evacuated to the countryside for their safety. Mr. Tom, a widower of many years, condescends to take in a young refugee—Willie—from the slums of London. Willie is a shy, abused, mousy little creature afraid of everything and convinced that he is worthless, friendless and irredeemable. Mr. Tom changes all of that, with a wonderful assist from the villagers of remote L’il Weirwold.

Willie becomes Will, has friends and a future, though he experiences a number of calamities along the way, including a brief return to his abusive mother.

The horrors of Will’s life are overwhelmed by the loving care of Mr. Tom and the Weirwoldians. Along the way Will learns many things about the world outside of the slums, and teaches many life lessons applicable to all young readers, as it reminds us old codgers of their continued importance.

This would be a wonderful gift for adolescent grandkids. Cheap, too.


Posted by respeto at 11:42 AM

January 12, 2007

Great American Scandals

Tantalizing, true tales of historic misbehavior by the Founding Fathers and others.
Michael Farquhar – ISBN – 9780142001929

This book has been a resident on my shelves since the store was opened, but only recently did I read it. It is pleasuresome, informative, often risqué, and sometimes downright awful in its revelations . . .and entertaining from page one to the end.

Farquhar chronicles the misadventures of a important people, malignant political campaigns, “sexocapades,” dueling, murder and mayhem, the “not so civil war,” alcoholism, notorious traitors, Dred Scott, Joe McCarthy, and assassins, as he reviews the Salem Witch Trials, Teapot Dome, the “adventures” of Meriwether Lewis and J. Edgar Hoover “in drag,” along with a hose of others.

Did you know that Lincoln was disinterred 12 times before his final resting place? Or that John Paul Jones was pickled in alcohol and disappeared beneath the streets of Paris for over a century before being rediscovered, entombed and deservedly honored at the Naval Academy at Annapolis—where the midshipman promptly identified him as the only one there who didn’t work? Or that Thomas Paine died in obscurity, was disinterred, sold in pieces, boiled to the bones . . . said bones having then disappeared without a trace? Buried nowhere. Neither did I.

Which Presidents were assassinated? Kennedy . . . and Lincoln . . . and, a . . . and, a . . . I forget! Remember ? . . . oh, yea . . . Garfield and McKinley. Who participated in the floor fights and canings in the House of Representatives? Who shot whom in duels?

You young whippersnappers won’t remember . . . and have almost certainly have not read about Althea Hall, Fannie Fox, the “Tidal Basin Bombshell” (and Wilbur Mills), or Elizabeth Ray (and Wayne Hays).

His end notes are interesting, as well. He lists all the Presidents from Washington to Bush 43, identifying birth date and place, death, election, terms served, and “distinctions.”
• Lincoln was the tallest and Madison the smallest, as well as being the longest surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
• Martin VanBuren was the first president born an American.
• William Howard Taft was the first to open baseball season by tossing the first pitch. As well he was the fattest.
• Hoover was the first to have a phone on his desk, the first to appear on T.V., and longest lived after his term ended.
• Truman was the first to travel in a submarine.
• Kennedy was the only Catholic president, the youngest ever elected, first to be born in the 20th century, and the only one survived by both parents.
• Reagan the first divorced president, the oldest elected to his first term, and the oldest at death (until Ford, last week.)

And, finally he reviews seminal, and some trivial events, year by year (skipping quite a few early years), from the landing of Leif Eriksson in 1000 A.D. to the Senate investigations of Billy Carter in 1980.

It’s a decent sourcebook for designing your own version of Trivial Pursuit

And he notes that in 1859, following a Washington scandal, Harpers Weekly asserted that “no capital in the world is more rotten than ours.” Sigh . . . The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Posted by respeto at 1:06 PM

October 29, 2008

Hell Hath No Fury

True Stories of Women at War from Antiquity to Iraq
Rosalind Miles and Robin Cross – ISBN 9780307346377

Ostensibly this book provides biographies of the most important “Battle Axes” in world history. Sounds like it’d be great fun. Unfortunately it wasn’t. It is poorly written, and is essentially synoptic of other writings, most of them of little consequence . . . rather like the Biography Channel using People Magazine as a source for their presentations. Indeed, a disproportionate number of the women included are gleaned from one other source, which original may or may not be better than is this book.

It also includes such entries as “Rosie the Riveter,” who wasn’t a warrior at all, and existed only as a fictional representative of women working in war time factories, and Helen Kirkpatrick and Christiane Amanpour were both war correspondents, and Tokyo Rose broadcast to American troops in the Pacific during WW II, etc.

I got bored and skimmed the last half of the first half, and flipped thru the remainder, reading at random.

Save your money, and spend your time reading something--anything--else.

Posted by respeto at 3:31 PM

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

March 30, 2010

Holidays in Hell

P. J. O'Rourke

If you've never read anything by this man you have missed a lot of humor, candor, and laugh-out-loud anecdotes accompanied by interpretations of them. For years he was a foreign correspondent, covering wars and disasters. In this tome he describes, chapter by chapter, some of the worst places on earth: Lebanon, Seoul, Panama, Warsaw, Russia (and Chernobyl), the Philippines, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, the Holy Land ("God's Monkey House"), and offers commentary on "Darkest American" sites: Epcot Center, Heritage America, a stint at the America's Cup yacht race, and Harvard's 350th Anniversary. It's a real hoot! Mayhem, riots and violence are graphically, yet wryly reported. The discussion of El Salvador (Christmas, 1985) is alone worth the price of the book. And Harvard's 350th is a howler. It's zany, but full of facts . . . many of them gut-wrenching.

He begins by emphasizing that "Civilization is an enormous improvement on the lack thereof;" then describes wildly corrupt and dangerous places to prove his point. "Western Civilization provides a bit of life, a pinch of liberty, and the occasional pursuance of happiness; it's also the only [society] that's ever tried to. . . . We are fools when we fail to defend [it]. . . . War will exist as long as there's a food chain. No amount of mushy essaying . . . and no number of noisy, ill-kempt women sitting in at Greenham Common will change this. . . . Better we study to conduct war as decently as possible and as little as necessary. . . . We think war is a John Wane movie. We think life is a John Wayne movie--with good guys and bad guys; as simple as that." After months of dealing with "Euro-Weenies:" Well, it is not, "Mister Limey Poofter," you say WE BE BAD. We don't all agree on that !! (Though far to many of us do!)

As for Central and South America . . . no one, least of all us, is wrecking them. They "came pre-wrecked." Why is Mexico so poor? C'mon, wake up! It isn't just squalid homes, but squalid industry, squalid infrastructure and squalid corporate poverty, intellectual and otherwise. "The whole country looks like it's run by slum lords. Especially the bathrooms."

At dawn in Jerusalem, "you could be in any century," but by mid-day you know exactly. You're in the twelfth, where "everybody is bashing everybody over the head about God." The universal hatred seems incredibly out of keeping in the Holy Land. It had never occurred to him that God, or hatred, could permeate (mostly Palestinian) people this way.

And after a night on the town (in Poland), including some nudity: "To grasp the true meaning of socialism, imagine a world where everything is designed by the post office, even the sleaze." The root of socialist problems is boredom, according to P.J. Our sixties generation (of which he's a member) rebelled against boring commercialism and boring materialism. The socialists rebel from the lack thereof. While the Evil Empire starves and executes people by the thousands, "mostly it bores them to death." (On the serious side, consider the incidence of alcoholism, etc.)

Suffice it to say that, while quite informative, and more than occasionally quite serious--sometimes gravely so--it is also a rollicking run thru chaotic parts of the world; good history, and immensely entertaining.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:39 PM

November 29, 2009

Honor, a History

James Bowman - ISBN - 978159401984

This is an elegant discussion of honor from the inception of civilization to the dawn of 20th century. From the outset, in virtually all cultures throughout the world, honor has been inseparable from the story of civilization. But it has now disappeared in the West.

The book is a bold and soul-searching. It is a serious indictment of progressivism in which self-esteem--awarded free, as a birthright--has been substituted with disastrous results for honor. Loyalty, honor and patriotism are being severely compromised by the left, and proving fatal to that which we used to hold dear. The deficit is destroying our civilization.

The appeal of the code of honor is precisely that it isn't about morality. Public business is not conducted by saints. A boundary must separate public from private life. The removal of honor results in merging of these spheres.

Instead we have a culture of celebrity. Those wishing to be "stars" are required to join in the "feelings derby," if only to reassure that they have no ambitions to the "greatness" associated with honor (in which culture celebrity is dishonorable.) Worse, absent an honor culture generations are now taught to be ashamed of whom they are. The self-hatred is consuming. It has not been long since the dawn of the era of myriad millionaire celebrities: news anchors, professional athletes, movie stars and businessmen; a culture in which there is no honor, only profit . . . that and being politically correct, multicultural and all that folderol.

"You could say that the most important survival of honor in the West--that by which we separate our intellectual, moral and social elites from the rest--lies in this sense of exclusivity on the part of the enlightened and progressive-minded honor group who regard themselves as being above the demands of honor."

Discussion follows the history of war, and many of his chapters discuss the implications of honor in that effort. Conceptually it is stark: fight or run; hero or coward; honor or dishonor. In this and other permutations, the concept is at odds with the spirit of our therapeutic age of analytical non-"judgmentalism." We are now "charmed" by nuance, irony and ambiguity.

At the time of WW I psychology wasn't established. There was no pernicious jargon to cloud simple issues. "Right was right and wrong was wrong and the Ten Commandments were an admirable guide. . . . Frugality, austerity and self-control were perfectly acceptable. We believed in honor, patriotism, self-sacrifice and duty and we clearly understood what was meant by a 'gentleman.'" (Whereas we now hear terrorists being referred to as gentlemen.)

Thereafter we initiated a process which, by century's end had made the "heroic sufferer" the only recognized form of hero, and the policy of appeasement in the 1930s came to accept war as avoidable simply by a refusal to fight.

Honor, word and concept, are arcane today except in situations where meaning is essentially stripped from the recitation (duty-honor-country; on my honor I will do my best.) Honor has become a dirty word. Those who lead us, informed by Wilsonian idealists and their radical successors, have come to regard all fighting--even fighting back--as deplorable and shameful. "There's a better way."

Yet the only rational response to war is war. The alternative simply encourages the adversary. A great many intelligent people believe that by behaving in a friendly and accommodating way we will show our attackers that they have nothing to fear from us. That such conduct is taken by a ruthless enemy as a sign of weakness is as foreign to progressives as is the idea of honor itself.

"The long view of human history suggests that our choice is eventually going to be not between the liberal, unisex, pacifistic society of the feminist ideal and some throwback to caveman honor, but between some throwback to caveman honor and some more civilized variant of the long-dormant Western variety. . . . The honor-crazed Muslim fanatics who are blowing up women and children along with themselves are . . . equally stark in the alternative they pose to Western ways. Unless those ways include and are understood by all to include, honorable ways of making war on that alternative, the alternative must triumph." (Please re-read this quotation again, carefully.)

Our culture has its own distinctive, idiosyncratic history. Western concepts of honor have always differed from the rest. Being informed by Judeo-Christian philosophy, it emphasizes individual morality, sincerity and authenticity in private as well as personal life. He frames the historic background which a proper understanding of the Clash of Civilizations requires.

It is a difficult book to review. It is of a piece from the front to the back cover, betwixt which are 324 pages (excluding end notes) of information and carefully reasoned explanations. It is a ponderous read, not because of inelegant prose, but because the data is so comprehensive and the analysis so tight that study and rumination are required, page by page. In the end, however, there is little more to be said. He adroitly makes his case, which is a damning one for the cultural trends of the West.

The book should be read by all. Weighty and demanding it is, but very much worth the time and challenge.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:09 PM

November 18, 2011

How Civilizations Die

(and why Islam is dying too)
David P. Goldman - ISBN - 9781596982734

This is one of the most challenging and seminal works of recent issue; the equal--or better--of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (reviewed on this site over five years ago.) He gives new meaning to critical events, ancient and recent. While primarily about the modern world, specifically Europe and Islam, he does delve into the history of most all "dead" civilizations of the past as exemplary of some aspect of his subject.

Explaining Europe's "Thirty Years War" (1618-1648)*, he renders the emigration of the pilgrims to the new world a more profound event.*** He also explains why this war began the descent of Christian European civilization, and its responsibility for the repeated wars which culminated in WW I and II (1914-1945), described by Churchill as the Second Thirty Years War. Bookends, they issued the death warrant to European civilization, which demise we are now witnessing. Europe as we have known it for the past 400 years will be gone within a century. It's not quite over, but the fat lady is in the wings.

He adds a different dimension to Mark Steyn's America Alone (reviewed several years ago.) Whereas Steyn's construal is that Muslim fecundity will overwhelm Europe in the next several generations, resulting in an Islamic "Eurabia," Goldman observes that Muslim fertility is dropping so dramatically that many of the most important Muslim countries are disappearing. While it may temporarily occupy, even rule Europe, Islam "cannot survive outside the cocoon of traditional society, which has led to despair resulting in Muslim society being on the brink of the fastest population decline in recorded history. . . . Muslim civilization is choosing decline and death," he ventures, as he cautions against being reassured, since it may take the world down with it. European culture has decided that no purpose is served by war, and so curls up to die; Islam has determined that there is nothing to lose by war, and will fight to the death.

In Iran, fewer than two percent of adults attend mosque services on Fridays; fertility, in one generation, has dropped to 1.3 per woman, the lowest in the world; prostitution and drug addiction are rampant, and far greater than in the West. He opines that a nation is never really beaten until it sells its women, and is truly damned when women sell themselves. 90% of Iranian prostitutes have passed college entrance exams, and 30% are active students; 80% of "sex workers" do so voluntarily, and girls as young as 12 are selling themselves. Things are not all that different in Turkey (now making common cause with Iran) and other Muslim states.

Illiteracy is rampant--well over 50% in Pakistan and Egypt; college degrees are awarded to people neither educated nor skilled at anything, and who are largely unemployable. Only Turkey has passable higher education, yet insufficient jobs are created to employ graduates. Egypt and other poor Muslim countries are on the brink of starvation, and will soon be driven over the edge as China and prosperous Asians drive the price of food beyond their reach. "Arab Spring" will prove to be a disaster. "There is no such thing as rational self-interest for people who believe that they have nothing to lose."

The recent great transformation has left the Muslim world almost untouched. Excepting fossil fuels, the total export of the Arab world is less than that of Finland, a nation of but five million people. Not a single scientific discovery of note, innovative firm of international importance, or contribution to universal culture has come from the Muslim world in the past century. During that period, only 133 patents were filed in Muslim-majority lands (a billion people), while Israel (7 million people) produced ten-fold more, which total also exceeds those of India, Russia and Singapore combined (another billion+ people.)

For the first time in recorded history, most of the world's peoples are forgoing their desire to live. America's most important allies--the European nations--will lose their importance as they wither away; not much later the Muslim nations will suffer the consequences of their demographic implosion, and the drastically shrunken generation that follows will prove too feeble to support the burden of elderly dependents.

The absence of the very concept of individual rights renders Islam incompatible with the legal principles of modern democracy, and Sharia cannot be adapted to western civilization. Wife beating--a pagan holdover--is a prominent issue in Muslim society; discussed in detail in the Koran. "Honor killings," while not mentioned therein, are honored within Sharia law. Neither is acceptable to the modern world, just as female genital mutilation and cousin marriages are rejected. The Koran is "frozen in time," and is open to neither debate nor interpretation. Islam is thereby forced to adopt an openly irrational stance as scholars are forbidden to search for truth.

The unique religious history and culture of America, he posits, exempts it from the life and death cycle of nations, as Islam's very different theology explains the Muslim world's extreme vulnerability to the demographic effects of modernization. (The Islamic Allah and the Judeo-Christian Yahweh/God are not at all the same. Again, he explains in detail, often using as his source the observations of modern Muslims.) The Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed that he/they would stand against the world: "either we all become free (i.e. Islamic), or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom."

Contrary to present operational strategy, the most likely way to avoid war in the Middle East is not to reach out to Iran but to humiliate it.**** We cannot engage it. "We shall have to ruin it."

In but two generations, our foreign policy has passed from adolescence--the Wilsonian misapprehension that America could remake the world in its own image--to senescent repudiation of world leadership, having omitted maturity. The Obama doctrine is the self-liquidation of American influence, an unprecedented and astonishing gesture from an American leader. America has neither the means nor the moral obligation to transform failing Muslim states into entities compatible with our civil preferences.

In 1948, Truman gambled American policy on his religious belief that the Jewish people had a sacred purpose in returning to their homeland, and allied us with what now is the most stable state in the Middle East. Obama now gambles American policy on support for inherently unstable and potentially hostile regimes: the most detrimental foreign policy decision taken by an American president in living memory.

America has the potential to be the last man standing for the Western world, though an alliance with India and other emerging democracies may rescue the driving forces of Christian, Western civilizations. At least we may pray so. Even Israel, he suggests, will likely survive.

Footnotes
* Rival versions of Christianity fought to the death in that war. But it was not, as we have been taught, a Catholic-Protestant war.** "It was a war between Christianity and neo-pagan national idolatry, and Christianity lost." WW II defeated national idolatry--the ongoing argument of which nation was the chosen replacement for Israel--thus destroying Europe's civilization (while it explains European anti-Semitism.)

** It was a Catholic war between France, Spain and the Hapsburgs battling, using Protestant allies as proxies. The Catholic Church--as Empire--lost.

*** A year after the Mayflower sailed, Spain invaded Holland. While ultimately defeated by the Dutch, Goldman emphasizes, had the Pilgrims stayed, and Spain prevailed, they almost certainly would have been burned at the stake as heretics. (Bet you didn't learn that in school!)

**** He takes to task American foreign policy, especially that of George W. Bush, noting that the naïve idea that America imposed democracy on the defeated countries after WW II, and should liberate free Muslim dictatorships in the same way for the same reason. The world and all its citizens hanker for democracy. It might appear "to be a positive outcome if not for one snag--the fact that all of the vanquished countries are dying."

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:33 PM

July 2, 2005

How Should We Then Live?

Francis A. Schaeffer – ISBN 158345364

This weighty tome assesses Christian impact on Western civilization and the subsequent decline of Western thought and culture. He treats his subject over amply in my judgment.

Early, he delves heavily—and seemingly inappropriately—into Christian art, and later music, making it seem his thrust is to display his knowledge. Later he ties it up, but his inclusion of near infinite details beclouds the point(s) he is making. The book could have been clarified and edited to half its length without compromising his goal: the elucidation of the importance of Christianity to the Western world, and how this has been jeopardized and diluted over the millennia. Nonetheless the book deserves to be read.

He emphasizes that Christian morals and beliefs are anathema to totalitarians. He explores Renaissance Humanism and what it did to compromise Western thought, “de-Deifying” religion and over-individualizing the concepts which originated in the “word of God;” and how during the Enlightenment intellectuals rationalized things in a way that left man starting from himself alone, which offers no final way of “saying [that] certain things are right and other things are wrong.” In this he is extremely effective.

DaVinci noted its coming centuries ago. Starting from man alone, he said, mathematics leads us to particulars, which lead only to mechanics. Humanism affords no way to the universal in areas of meaning and values. Rousseau, in contrast, advocated freedom from God--and all other restraints --and made man the center of the universe.

The Reformation removed the “humanistic distortions which had entered the church.” Erasmus, etal, were principally trying to reestablish authentic Catholicism, that is, a return to biblical teaching, restoration of freedom without chaos, eradication of corruption within the Church, and reestablishment of the concept that all individuals were answerable to God. Not incidentally, it authored the Protestantism of Luther and Calvin.

Early scientists were unsurprised to discover truisms about nature and the universe using reason. While not necessarily Christian, these scientists accepted the concept of God, which humanism undercuts. Darwin complicated the matter by describing the origins of life without even a hypothesis regarding how things actually work, or commenting upon how pure chance could result in ongoing and increasing complexity. (See my initial blog on Darwin vs. Intelligent Design.)

He quotes one George Wald who, in a serious lecture, noted that humanism insists that: “Four hundred years ago there was a collection of molecules named Shakespeare which produced Hamlet.” In making himself autonomous, then, man becomes nothing more than a collection of molecules. The final value, then, is continuity in the human race. The man actually believed this! The author asks: “If this is the only final value, one is left wondering why this then has importance.”

As for the search for a non-rational explanation of life--the very reason Eastern religions so captivate moderns—he notes that it was initiated by Goethe and Wagner, expounded by Huxley, and popularized by Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead . . . sex, drugs and rock and roll. I was perplexed that he omitted Scientism. As in (pantheistic) Hinduism, everything which exists is part of “God.” No morality or immorality, no cruel and non-cruel, no beginning, no end and no purpose. Don’t enquire into the big questions such as why things exist at all.

Having eliminated God, people have adopted the values of personal peace and affluence. There is no meaning for man, and no meaning for education, except that money enhances peace and prosperity. It comes as no surprise that much of the younger generation is apathetic, undereducated and narcissistic.

We are witnessing the morning (or ought it be mourning?) of a society in which crucial decisions are made by government, informed by the scientific community it funds. These decisions are increasingly sophisticated, requiring an elite technocracy to run the apparatus. These possess no transcendent ethic and are absent a moral belief system. “Men can be remade, their behavior conditioned, or their consciousness altered. [Past] constraints will vanish” . . . and Galbraith’s vision (or 1984) will become reality.

Frighteningly, it is predictable that the silent majority will remain silent despite their loss of liberty for so long as their life style is not challenged, and personal peace and prosperity are delivered. Politics is no longer a matter of ideals such as liberty and truth, simply serenity and affluence.

We are taught that man is little more than a machine, and PETA, amongst others believe he is immaterially different from the other animals.

We have come a long way since Rome. Now we are on the return trip to the specter described by Gibbon. Bread and circuses!

Crick (the man who identified DNA) felt that modern medicine was a menace since it left the weak alive to breed the next generation. A former governor of Colorado deemed it the responsibility of the old and the sick to die. We have recently executed a brain dead woman on no life support. We are on the edge of the abyss of genetic engineering and few—including none who are in charge--ask if there aren’t at least a few moral considerations.

So . . . who will control the controllers? What will happen in a society without absolutes? What happens when we are so in awe what can be done, that we fail to question whether it should to be done?

Not altogether unlike democracy, Christianity may or not be the only way to achieve goals, satisfy deep needs, and secure peace and dignity with or without a hereafter, but neither the West, nor any other society has found a better way to date. The West is, afterall, of Christian origin! We'd best get serious about considering that.


Posted by respeto at 4:50 PM

November 7, 2010

How the States Got Their Shapes

Mark Stein - 9780061431395

I originally shelved this book--carelessly it appears--because Mark Steyn wrote it . . . well . . . not really. Mark Stein wrote it! Reviews claimed it to be "splendid," "witty," etc. It is, sort of, but not so much as it would have been had it been done by Mark Steyn--still better: Bill Bryson.

Mark Stein is a "playwright and screen writer." I do hope he's better at that than he is at nonfiction. The work is rather sophomoric. Still, it is not uninteresting.

Having been an amateur geographer since early childhood, I found it remarkable in its bringing to the table factoids of which I've never been aware. The landscape is littered with jots and tittles heretofore overlooked by most all of us. Not the Oklahoma panhandle, the more miniscule Connecticut western extension or the vast extension of southern Alaska (none of which, according to Wikipedia, are "jots" or "tittles" in any event.) For example:

• The northern border of Delaware is a hemispheric line, not straight
• The border between Alabama and Mississippi angles a few degrees about half-way up (to make more equal the area of both states.)
• While Illinois is largely defined by river courses, the straight line separating it from Indiana is contrived to avoid isolated "river islands" on the wrong side of the border (when crossing a major river presented potential troubles with governance.)
• Michigan's upper peninsula was subtracted from what might have been Wisconsin because Michigan was deprived of Toledo when Ohio was politically bigger'n Michigan and Toledo was a valued port city. Wisconsin was deprived because it was littler'n Michigan when it came to a fight over the UP.

All manner of territorial disputes were settled in similarly arcane situations. Of course, many were not so esoteric when the decisions were made; a time when it mattered greatly on which side of the river or mountain range you were.

• Texas had to give up a lot of territory in its northern extremity in order to be admitted as a "slave" state. It would have been in the south's interest to divide Texas into 4 or 5 smaller states to balance the more numerous "free states," but Texas had been its own nation before it applied for statehood and would not make that concession. One huge state. No argument! Similarly so with California, though the rationale was different
• Several of the west-central states gave up valuable territories when gold was discovered within what had been their province. Not so smart-cha-say. Well, they gladly did so to get rid of the administrative headaches of the lawlessness of the inhabitants of those territories. The gold wasn't worth it, but California kept its gold, which explains the straight line which are its eastern border.
• The northern border separating us from Canada west of the great lakes was a concession to Britain before any of the area was officially incorporated; this to conserve the water front and harbor areas of south-western Canada for England's fur trade, making it clear to both French and Spanish that the area was British. Only later did it, and the border, become "American."

And so it goes; which is what makes it all rather interesting, though it makes a better "bathroom read." Leave it laying around and pick it up to read a chapter or two when you're killing time. Other than the introduction and some generalities, the book is divided into very brief chapters, state by state. If you have any interest in this sort of mysterious information it is a worthwhile read.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:00 PM

April 22, 2006

In Our Hands

Charles Murray – ISBN 0844742236

Murray has done it again: another wise and interesting exploration of our current welfare problem. Or, rather, the problem of our welfare! His solution is Alexandrian. Instead of trying to untie the Gordian knot, he cuts thru it! This time he has an historic and riveting conclusion, and recommendations. His first work, Losing Ground was published in 1984. In it he explored our welfare system, reviewed its history, and pointed out its faults and appropriate remedies. In the 10th anniversary edition he acknowledged that little progress had been made, but that some of his suggestions were at least being discussed. Not insignificant strides have been taken since, culminating in the recent (Clinton administration) welfare reform bill which has nearly halved the number of people receiving welfare.

In his newest rendering he expands to include Welfare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, health insurance, corporate welfare, etc. Essentially all government “wealth redistribution” programs would be eliminated and replaced by his plan. He explores all in relative depth considering the brevity of the book. He notes that government redistribution now approaches 1.5 trillion dollars annually; a staggering sum which is rising sharply, and will reach 2.6 trillion by 2020. That simply isn’t possible, even with our incredible economy. We are going bankrupt, and it’s time to actually do something about it. As before the current incentives are all wrong, except for a few recent changes which have impacted mightily. His plan outlines a near total renovation of incentives, and a creative approach to “redistribution.”

Debate has raged (literally) in the halls of congress over revamping Social Security and Medicare, and has now ceased because the parties will not agree. With leading Democrats in favor of continuing the same bankrupting program, and cowardly Republicans unwilling to bite the bullet, nothing will be done any time soon. The weakness is said to be that the government must guarantee ends, and not permit private investment. Most alternate calculations are made with the supposition that citizens will contribute like funds to private accounts, with yields calculated at 4% compound annually. This is neither good enough, nor safe enough, say the opponents. Murray points out, however, that if the stock market doesn’t yield the 4%, the government can’t meet the demand either. Thus to argue for “security” is a faux argument.

Instead, he suggests, explains and justifies “the plan,” which entails a distribution to every adult citizen (i.e. over 21) a sum of $10,000 per annum, in monthly aliquots deposited in their checking account, with the presumption that the first $3,000 will be set aside for health expenses, including insurance, which everyone will be required to have. And he has a revolutionary approach to insurance, as well.

Thus a minimum wage worker will have a take-home pay of at least $7,000 more than he would otherwise; a working couple would have twice that. For average working families, the plan would have a similar impact, since there is no adjustment to the $10,000 until each worker makes $25,000. Then it is incrementally adjusted by 20%. It never becomes less than a $5,000 distribution. (For many, the additional monies would permit one spouse to quit working, or work part time, thus augmenting child care and family time.)

You say that we can’t afford it? Look again. In less than four years the projected outlays of the current system will exceed those required for his plan. And the excess increases geometrically thereafter, while “the plan” is a near horizontal line with minimal incremental increases. The truth is that we can’t afford not to do it.

You’ll have to read the book to fully comprehend “the plan,” but I believe you will agree with it. Imagine this coupled with The Fair Tax!! Of course nothing will happen with either until a significant proportion of the voting public demands it. I’m not hopeful, though he is optimistic.

About the only counter-argument would be that free choice is involved, and its weakness is the governmental (yea, societal) tendency to cover the butts of even those who make dismal decisions and end up broke . . . still even then they would have $10,000 per year on which to exist, hopefully having learned a few lessons,

Chapter 8: “The Pursuit of Happiness in Advanced Societies,” is, alone, worth the purchase price of the book. Introducing the subject he notes that “The real problem advanced societies face has nothing to do with poverty, retirement, health care, or the underclass. . . . [it is] how to live a meaningful lives in an age of plenty and security."

For most all of man’s history just staying alive was the principal problem, followed by having and properly maintaining a family to, in turn, maintain you in your dotage. Sudden death was an all encompassing situation requiring attention to spiritual issues. Life now requires none of those things. This has left one with “a few friends, serial sex partners, earning a good living, having a good time, and dying in old age with no reason to think that one has done anything more significant than while away the time."

Small wonder that today the main question seems to be: "Is this all that there is?" He explores the importance of transcendental meaning in life, and its absence in the "advanced" European welfare states/societies. Brilliant! As is the next chapter wherein he gives voice to the importance of Vocation: the central satisfaction of doing something worthwhile . . . and well, and how nearly impossible that is in a European welfare state, questioning whether or not we really want to go there.

Posted by respeto at 12:17 PM

August 27, 2005

In Praise of Nepotism

(A history of Family Enterprise from King David to George W. Bush)
Adam Bellow – 0385493894

“Nepotism works, it feels good, and it is generally the right thing to do. It has its origins in nature, has played a vital role in human social life, and boasts a record of impressive contributions to the progress of civilization. Nor, despite our best efforts over hundreds of years, have we succeeded in stamping it out.”

As the subtitle informs, it is expository of nepotism from ancient Israel to modern America, exploring the subject in all permutations and discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each. It is everywhere balanced, revealing data without specifically passing judgment. The family anecdotes woven into the discussion make for interesting reading, and include stories about Pericles and Charlemagne, thru Napoleon and Lincoln to the Bush’s, while perusing subjects from monogamy to the Morrill Act.

This is a breezy work filled with nuggets of history mined from extensive research. His stated goal is to stimulate consideration and debate of this heretofore overlooked subject, as he justifies his summary statement that Western/European nepotism authored the modern world by effecting the substitution of related groups and national pluralism for rigid kinship, while maintaining effective families.

He discusses the good wrought thru nepotism--an activity frequently viewed as immoral or at least divisive—pointing out that the foundation of all civilization from time immemorial depended upon it as a default position. The right kind of nepotism is necessary to human progress and has its rightful place within civilization. “Nepotism is nothing if not an aspect of the family . . . and is not really a cultural construct, but a hardwired biological given—as basic as sex and aggression.”

“Nepotistic concern for the welfare of children is the engine of the capitalist system: take that away and you destroy the main incentives for innovation and the creation of wealth. . . . Meritocracy unleavened by personal ties is inhumane, as ample evidence [shows].”

His recurring reviews of elements of D.H. Fisher’s work Albion’s Seed (a phenomenal book, by the way) is especially interesting, as is his exploration of the Rothschild family’s creation of world banking and Teddy Roosevelt’s impact upon American civilization. His lengthy exposition of the Kennedy dynasty is absorbing, as is his discourse on the baby boom generation.

All in all, this is one of the most enjoyable books I have read recently. Try it. It’s worth the time.

Posted by respeto at 3:18 PM

January 12, 2008

In Praise of Prejudice

The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas
Theodore Dalrymple – ISBN - 9781594032028

“Americans are presently longing for high moral standards and the security they bestow, but our love affair with freedom and individualism gets in the way. We are unwilling or unable to see that such standards require a mentality that accepts and derives comfort from iron-clad rules that make no sense, and explanations like ‘just because.’”
Florence King

Right on . . . but explicative of many things which seem to “make no sense” is Dalrymple’s new treatise in which he delivers a brilliant, provocative tome-- a must read for everyone. Re-read and reflect, as well!

This manuscript is the epitome of reason and debate, though he leaves almost no room for the latter. He simply states his positions, demonstrates that they are true, and quietly defies anyone to logically refute them. He observes that discrimination was once a word associated with aestheticism, morality and pedagogy. The most important task of educators in times past was the quest to instill the ability to rationally discriminate. Now both discrimination and prejudice are pejorative terms: despicable, wicked and intolerable. Reason doesn’t enter the equation.

He uses the unstated logic of the hippies (something oxymoronic about that—maybe it’s just moronic) that since nothing from the past matters, and morality is individually decided, if it feels good, do it! He makes the case that this position was conceived in the 17th century by Descartes, nurtured for 200 years by the intelligentsia of Europe, enhanced (if unintentionally) by such luminaries as J.S. Mill, and later A.N. Whitehead, mid-wifed and delivered by the 60’s generation into our present, full blown Cartesian culture of radical individualism. More recently, these attitudes have been passed along, intentionally and illogically, by authors such as James Baldwin, and atheistic, scientific authoritarians like Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins, who often lace their prose with moral indignation and challenge the God--that would be the one they refuse to acknowledge--as capricious, arbitrary, unjust, bad-tempered and unreasonable.

“The popularity of the Cartesian method is not the consequence of a desire to remove metaphysical doubt and find certainty, but precisely the opposite: to cast doubt on everything, and thereby increase the scope of personal license by destroying in advance any philosophical basis for the limitation of our own appetites. . . . The radical skeptic, nowadays at least, is in search not so much of truth, as of liberty—that is to say, of liberty conceived of the largest field imaginable for the satisfaction of his whims.”

One of the great mistakes of contemporary social thought has been that the environment into which children are born, material & economic, is considered most important, while deprivation, moral squalor and emotional instability are attributed to material poverty alone. Indeed, if one is morally required to jettison nonsense from the past, he is then required to support the concept that nothing ought to be conveyed to one’s progeny. We thereby vest in children authority over their lives, and a child constantly catered to learns that life is to be ruled by his preferences and his prejudices which are in turn harmful to him and society.

He relates, anecdotally, having recently attended a comedy from the 50’s in which a middleclass male impregnated a working class female, whose father demanded justice. Justice/responsibility was accepted. He married the woman. The audience was consumed by laughter at the archaic suggestion that conception of a child created an obligation for the father, thus demonstrating that while we may rid society of a particular prejudice regarding a given question, it is impossible to have no prejudice.

It can be altered but never eliminated, so the relevant question is whether we are better off with the new than the old prejudice. No one seems to inquire any more, as motion/change is equated with progress. Indeed, the fact that prejudice is involved is usually denied.

Burke observed that the only thing necessary for evil triumph is for good men to do nothing. The idea was not that all men would become evil; rather, that the evil ones dominate the rest. Dalrymple interjects that Burke “might have added that evil would triumph if men ceased to believe in the distinction between good and evil,” then posits two parallel, opposing, syllogisms:
• All prejudice is wrong.
• The distinction between good and evil can be based only upon prejudice.
Therefore, distinguishing between good and evil is wrong.
• The distinction between good and evil is both inevitable and necessary for the exercise of virtue.
• The distinction between good and evil can be based only upon prejudice.
Therefore prejudice is necessary for the exercise of virtue.

Indeed . . . prejudice is necessary for the maintenance of elementary decency. It takes judgment to know which prejudice should be maintained and which abandoned. Prejudices, like friendships, should be kept in good repair; they are what give men character and hold them together. We cannot be without them.

At last he demonstrates how unguided, a-historic, radical individualism is paradoxical in that it begins as a search for total individualism yet ultimately defers to increased governmental power over individuals as it becomes the sole arbiter of what is acceptable and legal. Having eliminated history, family, church, social organizations, and culturally prescribed customs. there is no other authority to consult.

It isn’t reasonable, or even possible, to make everything up, daily, along the path of life. Radical individualism results in an omnipotent totalitarian government by eliminating logical and reasoned individual choice, which in turn determines the nature of culture.

Posted by respeto at 2:40 PM

July 21, 2006

In Praise of Slowness

Carl Honore – ISBN – 006054578X

This is a terrific book, and really ought to be read a chapter a day to allow for reflection on its content.

In our high speed, near apoplectic society—one in which instant gratification no longer seems fast enough—there is neither time to be nor time to enjoy. “Take time to smell the roses” as goes the old saw.

Honore, a (former) type A’ personality, who is a journalist by trade, was stimulated to reflect upon the conundrum and eventually write this book. What “stopped [him] in his tracks” was a book he saw rushing thru an airport store. The title: The One-Minute Bedtime Story (various authors having condensed classic fairy tales into sixty-second sound bites.) Tempting for the first minute or so, by which time he was brought up short in reflecting whether life was really that short, and time so valuable that you had to read to your kid, allowing only a minute at bedtime.

Thus he launches into (too) longwinded reviews of everything from working speeds, family time, cooking and eating—work and leisure in general, and makes some profound observations which are better when savored, as mentioned up front.

My problem with the book is that he reminds of Robert Ardrey (African Genesis, The Hunting Hypothesis, and The Social Contract, all published in the early to mid-1960’s.) He makes his point, and then makes it again and again . . . and again. A good editor could have made the book half the length without leaving out anything important. (But maybe my A’ personality should take a few lessons . . . that is a possibility.)

In any event, he does make his points well, ventures into much territory which he notes is being explored with increasing frequency in the West. More people are practicing “slowness” and finding life more precious and more satisfying.

Chapter titles include, among others: doctors and patience; the importance of being at rest, raising an unhurried child and slow is beautiful.

It really is a good read, and the concepts are more than worthy of consideration. I’d recommend it highly, though I found myself reading carefully for the first half of each chapter and skimming what remained up till the summary paragraph.

Posted by respeto at 4:38 PM

April 17, 2010

Incredible Victory

The Battle of Midway, June 4th, 1942
Walter Lord - ISBN - 9780060923600

(The ISBN given is for the paperback version. I purchased the original hardbound volume for $3.00. Neither is in print. It is well worth the time and minimal effort to purchase and read.)

By any standard, this is a marvelous book; the first and best recounting of the battle of Midway (1942). I found it exciting to read, though I've known much of the history of that day for most of my life. It was a spectacular victory. The Japanese plot was to lure the remaining vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet into a battle for supremacy, which logic dictated the Japanese would win; but it became America's Trafalgar. It remains the most decisive single naval battle in U.S. history. Even as I write this review I get a "tingle down my leg" (but over something magnificent, and incredibly important, unlike the infamous MSNBC commentator and recognized air-head who experienced his while listening to an oration by Emperor Obama.)

The book begins stirringly: "They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name--Midway--to that small list that inspires men by example . . . like Marathon, the Armada, the Marne [he might have noted the stunning clash of the 300 at Thermopylae in 480 BC]. Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit--a magic blend of skill, faith and valor--that can lift men from certain defeat to Incredible Victory."

Lord first explores the intelligence underlying the victory, without which the battle would have been lost. History lay in the hands of U.S. command. If they were able to keep secret their knowledge of the Japanese attack plan, and the location of the Pacific Fleet, a surprise attack might once more make the U.S. supreme in the Pacific; but if the plan became known, and/or the battle lost, the Japanese would "walk in to take Midway; Pearl [Harbor, Hawaii, would] be almost neutralized and in dire danger . . . the fate of our nation [was] in our hands."

The U.S. had no battleships, the Japanese eleven; we, eight cruisers, the enemy, twenty-three; we had three air-craft carriers--one crippled--they had eight; our shore defenses were composed largely of guns from the turn of the century manned by a relative handful of men, while their invasion force alone included many thousands of experienced soldiers with modern weapons. Our men were, almost without exception, new to war; theirs, experienced from many battles since the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. They had the most experienced pilots flying the best airplanes on the planet, while ours were just out of flight school, many flying planes made of wood with canvas coverings. Some of our "dive bombers" couldn't dive--the fabric came off of the wings. Our torpedoes were slow and unreliable, and the torpedo planes were even worse. Our military men were exhausted, theirs well rested. It is impossible to envisage worse odds.

Of our torpedo squadrons virtually all of the men were killed without inflicting damage on the Japanese. Our fighters did little better: one squadron lost 21 of 27 planes and crews. He details the events hour by hour, including many interesting asides. Under usual circumstances I might have commented that there was too much information, but somehow his expert synthesis kept the narrative fascinating. His colorful and exceptional descriptions of the pandemonium of combat are especially riveting.

He spent several years interviewing survivors of the battle on both sides of the Pacific. They are absorbing. As well there are a few previously unpublished pictures from the Japanese archives. He delves into the weaknesses of the Japanese plan, noting that they expected the Americans to respond in a given way, and when they did not they were flummoxed. Yamamoto, the Japanese commander, "frittered away" his incredible advantage by not properly concentrating his ships. Hubris and the overconfidence based upon prior battles resulted in "victory disease," and this was compromised further by their "dangerous contempt" for the enemy, whom they had presumed to be cowards. He mentions but fails to pursue another point about which I have read previously: when the commanding Admiral Fletcher found himself aboard the sinking carrier flagship Yorktown he immediately transferred command to Admiral Spruance aboard the carrier Enterprise, because Spruance was now in a better position to command. Neither power nor fame--let alone ego--mattered. Winning was the only consideration. That is something no Japanese admiral would ever do. As well he gives little attention to the fact that Yorktown was near mortally damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea only a month before. When she limped into Pearl it was determined that it would take months to repair the damage. It could not wait; time was of the essence, and while not up to par she was rendered combat ready within 72 hours. (Only In America!) She played a major role at Midway before finally being sunk by the Japanese.

Winston Churchill observed: "This memorable American victory was of cardinal importance, not only to the United States, but to the whole Allied cause. . . . At one stroke, the dominant position of Japan in the Pacific was reversed. . . . The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock . . . the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour."

As Lord reviews the history of the events he emphasizes that "In ticking off the things that weren't done, it is easy to forget the big thing that was done. . . . At 10:22 A.M. . . . the crack Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were heading proudly for the battle that was to finish the U.S. Pacific Fleet. By 10:28 A.M. all three were blazing wrecks." Yes, the Yorktown and a destroyer were sunk, but the Yanks won! They inflicted disastrous losses upon the Japanese navy and its empire, and reversed the momentum of the war "in one swell foop."

Wonderful read . . . makes everyone proud to be American (the execrable Tom Hanks and his ilk excepted--Hanks, you may not be aware, recently opined that our war with Japan was purely "racist.")

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:10 PM

November 15, 2009

Infamous Scribblers

The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism
Eric Burns - ISBN - 97815864883340

This tome is a revelatory treat; aucourant as well, with present attitudes of and about the press and its scoundrels. Doubt-cha knew the journalists of our early history put the present pack of miscreants to shame. Like today, these were people who ritually tilted the balance of truth toward their favored parties, and were proficient at prevarication when need arose. They were passionate and ferocious, even vulgar in print. They attacked each other viciously with ink and fists--even weapons on occasion. Sometimes partisans invaded shops, destroyed materials and occasionally the printing presses themselves.

The scarcity of both paper and ink added to expense; sometimes even prohibiting publication. Most were one man operations since few could employ help. Production was slow, hard work, and circulations were tiny by most any standard, but copy was read by myriad people, thus increasing their influence.

Burns is a graceful writer who delivers a narrative which is as agreeable as it is informative. He chronicles the important papers and emphasizes their serial ups and downs. He engagingly describes the era and its people--inclusive from 1710 thru the end of the Jefferson administration. The characters range from Ben Franklin's brother and grandson, to the Adamses, Jefferson, Paine, and Hamilton. Ben himself was one of the founding journalists in America, and was said to make his readers smile more than any other journalist at the time.

The early press was almost exclusively partisans, in large measure supported by politicians, parties and their myrmidons who had a message to deliver. Principals, often rendered in history as a unit of agreeable gentlemen, were in fact quite intolerant of each other. Hamilton and Jefferson were notoriously tireless adversaries, always at verbal fisticuffs.

His middle chapters give one a fulsome understanding of the times, attitudes and principals of that era. During, and particularly after the revolution the Federalists controlled 85% of the press, but by the end of the Jefferson administration the Republicans had reversed that equation, controlling over 60%, which reflected evolutionary governmental change. Following Hamilton's death there was a notable diminution in contentiousness, which attenuation persists to the present.

The era also resulted in the first use of jury nullification in a case tried, with Hamilton defending. The era promulgated the first sex scandal as well. This, too, involved Hamilton, who was humiliated and excoriated for his illicit affair. In addition it birthed the first political cartoon: a snake cut into sections to emphasize the colonies separated and dysfunctional, which threatened the ability to handle the adversary.

Over time "news" was introduced, but it was scarce and usually months late due to communications. Even within the continental area such intercourse was slow. In fact it was slower overland than by ship from either Europe or the Caribbean.

There was particular fire over the Stamp Act and other imposed taxes. Events such as the Boston Massacre and later the Tea Party were widely reported and largely misrepresented by people like Sam Adams--known as "the Grand Incendiary"-- was by far the most aggressive and vitriolic of his time. Paine's original missals were widely published, as were the Federalist Papers. Pseudonymous columns were popular, and while writers, though seldom unrecognized, tried to obfuscate their identities. Franklin often wrote to himself under a pseudonym in order to give pose situations and give answers which would increase his circulation, or permit him to comment upon an issue.

Burns elaborates upon the constitutional debates, covered in the papers only after the conferences, observing that the 1790's were passionate decades. The nation's journalism could not help but reflect that heat, and he emphasizes that when Americans ceased combat with the British they immediately started skirmishing with each other.

I sometimes comment that there are "too many notes;" that narratives are too long, or suggest that one might want to "fast forward thru the boring parts." In this book there are, at minimum, just the right number of notes, and probably too few. There are no parts one wishes to fast forward thru. It is an incandescent and lustrous tome which one hates to end. I highly recommended it!

(Footnote: As a physician I found it particularly interesting that Cotton Mather became aware of American Indians inoculating themselves for Smallpox in 1702; he published the facts and technique in 1720. Instead of being lauded he was ridiculed by contemporaries. A Boston physician inoculated his own son and 286 others, using trace amounts of fluid from the pox pustules. Of the thousands of other Bostonians who contracted smallpox during the next epidemic 14% died; of the vaccinated group only 2% did. Still, no one believed. This datum was overlooked until Jenner "discovered" vaccination almost a century later.)

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:25 PM

April 25, 2007

Infidel

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – ISBN - 9780743289689

By any standard this is a marvelous book: a well written autobiography of one of the leading Islamic writers of the present; a Somali Muslim who escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to Holland, lived and studied there for a decade and became a member of parliament before being forced to leave the country. She is now in New York at The American Enterprise Institute where she lives under constant death threats. She will not be dissuaded from exposing Islam to the world for what it is. This is a riveting read and ought to be studied by everyone . . . without exception.

Lots you ought to know about Islam—and a lot that some of you would rather not know—is here. She reviews its persecution of women, its bizarre fixation on sex, its pre-medieval philosophy, its vicious history and its current irrelevance to modernity . . . except as a threat to civilization. Not culture! Civilization!

She explores her gradually unfolding understanding of, and her incremental distancing from, the prescriptions of the Koran, indicating that those who consider Islam to be a “Religion of Peace” are ignoring what their holy book says in plain Arabic which is little understood by the masses—even the literate amongst them.

In studying the Koran “we didn’t understand more than the bare gist of it. Apparently, understanding wasn’t the point.” Those who practice Islam as a compassionate, rational religion have altered it to suit their needs or their personal philosophy. They are not following the specific dictates of the Koran. Frighteningly, the masses are being gradually infused with and frightened into what is referred to as “Radical Islam,” which is funded largely by Saudi Arabian money.

“The Koran lists Hell’s torments in vivid detail . . . [which] details overpower you, ensuring that you will obey . . . [even as a child] I could never comprehend the downright unfairness of the rules, especially for women. How could a just God—a God so just that almost every page of the Koran praises His fairness—desire that women be treated so unfairly? . . . Why, if God was merciful, did he demand that His creatures be hanged in public? If He was compassionate, why did unbelievers have to go to hell? If Allah was almighty and powerful, why didn’t He just make believers out of the unbelievers and have them all go to Paradise?”

Included, as well, are her initial—and ultimately more judgmental—impressions of the West. In Holland she initially lived with a number of other Somali immigrants. There she observed that the infidels somehow managed to have a country better led, better run, and, overall, provided a far superior place to live. Their system was more consistent and honest, gave more people more happiness than that in which the Somalis had been raised. A Somali friend commented that the “whole country is filthy.” In point of fact none of them had ever lived in a place so clean. It was just that the Dutch philosophy was incongruent with Islam . . . and therefore was rejected by those who had come to Holland to escape. Go figure !? (And ya better understand what’s behind this! Listen up!)

Unlike adherents to Islam, “People in Holland agree that violence is bad . . . and . . . teach their children to channel aggression and resolve disputes verbally.” Western culture is simply superior to Islamic culture! She offers the caveat, however, that Holland’s respect for Islam isn’t working. Being tolerant for the sake of consensus is empty because there is no cooperation on the part of Muslims.

She did comment upon the peculiar attitudes of her Dutch friends. When Ayaan was finally granted citizenship she had a party to celebrate. “I told everyone I’m Dutch!” No one reacted except to study her “strangely”--not because she was black, but because “being Dutch meant absolutely nothing to these people.” Nobody was proud of being Dutch.”

On her arrival in California she was shocked by her ludicrous preconceptions of America. “I was expecting rednecks and fat people, with lots of guns, very aggressive police, and overt racism—a caricature of a caricature. In reality, of course, I saw people living perfectly well-ordered lives, jogging and drinking coffee.”

Liberation of Muslims, and especially the women, must be preceded by liberation of the mind from this rigid, dogmatic obedience to Allah’s dictates. While Allah is constantly referred to as “the most compassionate, the most merciful,” He also says that he has given us a will of our own. If so, how could He mind a little debate? To accept subordination and abuse because Allah willed it is self-hatred. Compassion, tolerance and freedom are not the characteristics of Islam, whatever the (mis)representation. “I look at . . . real cultures and see that it simply isn’t so.” She also explains that people in the West do not examine the religions or cultures of minorities for fear of being called racist. Values matter! Amongst the premier ones is honesty.

As for Muslim’s adaptivity . . . “People who never sat on chairs before can learn to drive cars . . . they master skills quickly. Muslims don’t have to take six hundred years to go through a reformation in the way they think about equality and individual rights.

The film Submission (over which Van Gogh was murdered) was said to be too aggressive. “Tell me, how much more painful is it to be [this culture and] these women, trapped in that cage?”

About the only negative comment I have on this book is that the author seems to view everything with very prismatic vision. As a child she was rigidly Islamic. Now having reached enlightenment she is rigidly atheistic. She still has some need to grow, but she has come a long way in less than two decades, and exhibits a survivor’s flexibility. She is impacting the discussion on Islam, and will continue to do so. It is impossible not to hear. Just pray that we also listen carefully and do something about it.

Posted by respeto at 4:39 PM

May 11, 2011

Intellectuals and Society

Thomas Sowell - ISBN - 978-0465019489

"Intellect is not wisdom." Thus the master begins his latest tract on the deleterious effects of "intellectuals" on society. As in A Conflict of Visions, and The Vision of the Anointed, his lacerating observations are plainly explained in his characteristically acerbic style, and with such clarity that there can really be no argument with his conclusions--at least none that is rational.

He characterizes intellectuals (for the purposes of this book) as people whose work "begins and ends with ideas." Thus scientists, engineers, physicians, etc. are eliminated from the discussion: people who are subject to definitive proof of the effectiveness of their discipline and its facts. The principal difference is the intellectual's approach to virtually all problems. There are discussions of opinions, observations and feelings: conclusions are drawn from the groups of individuals who are privy to the determination. Scientific verification is never a consideration.

He discriminates between "notions" and facts; explains the necessity of studying the results of attitudes and policies in order to determine their impact, worth and relevance. Facts are determined by a scientific approach to problems, and are not subject to "feelings," "attitudes," or "hopes;" thus do they become notions. As well, these notions are oriented toward making the originator(s) seem more noble, moral, intelligent or creative. "The great problem . . . with purely internal criteria is that they can easily become sealed off from feedback from the external world of reality, and remain circular in their methods of validation. . . . If they are simply people who are like-minded . . . then the consensus of the group about a particular new idea depends on what that group already believes--and says nothing about the empirical validity of that idea in the external world."

People are considered knowledgeable when they have some special grasp of specific knowledge. More mundane crafts--auto repair, golf, plumbing--are not associated with knowledge by the intellectuals since what they don't know is not considered knowledge. Or even worthwhile. Yet there are many hidden truths in those things intellectuals cannot be bothered to know. And they impact in the real world. "The ignorance, prejudices and groupthink of an educated elite are still ignorance, prejudice and groupthink."

Intellectuals, having no other place to go and nothing else to do beyond creating ideas, are inclined toward careers in the media, academia and government, and not rarely in that order. Since they have few other skills, they are predisposed to rationalize that lack by delegitimizing, at least in their own minds, those without the facility to masterfully challenge such ideas with bonafide, real world experience. Worse, and unlike intelligent beings more fully engaged in their own particular professions (again, engineering, medicine, chemistry, etc.) they have no real world experience to prevent them from generalizing their knowledge of the arcane into a respect for those who do other things well. When a professional masters his real world craft he comes to understand how difficult it is to perform within his own sphere, and imputes to other specialists the knowledge they have accumulated to master their own field. This tends not to be so with intellectuals. They presume that their knowledge endows them with superior powers in all fields. Since their areas of expertise are rarely challenged by real world experience, they have nothing whatsoever to dissuade them from their presumed exactitude, even if they were so inclined.

With this background Sowell explores the reality of impact of the intellectuals upon government, war, philosophy, science (e.g. Gore on global warming), and a host of other spheres where their influence can be, and often is cataclysmic. Their "vision of society" is that there are many "problems" to be considered and "solved." This they do without the slightest nod to human nature, human experience, history or common sense. Those with the anointed visions simply declare how things are or ought to be, and prescribe the solution. They never inquire whether or not their ideas work. Consequently erroneous paths are repeated regularly, with the same results.

Take peace. It is presumed that war is the unspeakable atrocity. No one wants war! Hence we must just accept that we are to sit down and discuss our differences and work out a solution. Alternative opinions, even if supported by the facts, are not admitted into conversations. Worse, people who hold these positions are considered inferior, immoral, unfit, and even stupid.
• Bill Buckley opined decades ago that such people feel everyone has a right to his opinion, only to be shocked that there are opinions which differ from their own. Who knew ? !
• Several decades ago the New York Times headlined that even as crime in the city was declining, criminals continued to be incarcerated. Duh !
• One might now include the assassination of OBL in the discussion. It's altogether right and fitting that he was trapped and shot in the head: this is war! Yet water-boarding in the same endeavor is criminal and non-reflective of "our values." Go figure.

The book is a recitation of exactly where, when and why intellectuals have been wrong for decades--nay, centuries. They never consult history or common sense, and since the rest of the world is occupied with reality and survival, intellectuals have been left, unchallenged, to ponder what they will. They have taken over education at all levels and impact heavily on the media, government and politics, including intelligence agencies, police and prisons. Their nostrums survive by virtue of ineffective counter-forces, and the inherent willingness of many of the unwashed to accept and believe what they hope for, as wonderfully expressed by the anointed, rather than seeing things as they are. Worse, they've been "teaching" our young for several generations. As the world has become more prosperous there are more such intellectuals, and they are creating even more problems than they did in prior times.

It's not necessarily that the intelligentsia are mistaken or ill-informed on particular issues, though that is not unusually the case, but: "The more fundamental point is that, by thinking in terms of abstract people in an abstract world, intellectuals evade the responsibility and the arduous work of learning the real facts about real people in the real world--facts which often explain the discrepancies between what intellectuals see and what they would prefer to see." That is, their filtering and slanting can create fictitious facts and people, and when their story fits the vision, they do not always find it necessary to check whether it also fits the facts.

Read the book. It is fascinating as well as all-encompassing. Sowell is the greatest living philosopher-essayist; he writes with unsurpassed concision.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:34 PM

July 17, 2010

Interview with History

Oriana Fallaci - ISBN - 0395252237

Fallaci was, without doubt, the greatest political interviewer of modern times, and thought of as one of the most gifted, determined interviewers of all time.

She came of age working in the Italian resistance during WWII, an organization in which her parents were active. Thereafter she became a journalist. During her long career she is said to have interviewed anyone and everyone "who mattered." Because of her fame and uncanny abilities, she could--and did--approach the powerful and gain access to them. She was intrepid.

She was a fully emancipated and successful woman in the man's world of political journalism, and antagonized many feminists (my kind of woman) by her championship of motherhood and her idolization of heroic manhood. She was a believer in historic European civilization, and deeply moral, though a-religious (she referred to herself as an "Atheist Christian".)

Her critics felt that she outraged the conventions of interviewing and reporting; she didn't care. From her experiences she concluded: "Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon. I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born." She trusted no authority. She was most adept at influencing prominent people to say things during her interviews which they wished ever after they had not said. Many would plead with her to edit their statements, or forgo publication of them. She always refused. Hence she leaves a record of incredible interviews with the most important people in the world from the 60's into the 90's. So famous is she, that her writings have been translated into 21 languages.

She is particularly well known for an interview with Henry Kissinger in which he agreed that the Vietnam War was a "useless war" and compared himself to "the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse." He later grumbled that it was "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press."

The book, Interview with History, is an anthology of her best and most important interviews, led off with the infamous Kissinger tract. It is sensational both in style and content. She brings to the table, from preparatory research, a formidable knowledge of history, and demonstrates in classic fashion why the world is a mess, painting word portraits of famous people who have made it so. While no longer in print it is available, used, from $2-100. (Try ABE books)

The Islamic attack on the U.S. so enraged her that she emerged from retirement to write three books viciously critical of Islam and, most explicitly, Islamic extremists. The first--The Rage and The Pride--was written in 4 days, beginning on Sept. 11th, without a break; no sleep, just coffee and cigarettes. It is a masterpiece of both rage over wanton destruction by a barbaric culture, and pride in western civilization from the time of the Greeks to the 20th century. Not long after that, she completed The Force of Reason. Both became mega-best sellers and have been translated into many languages, including English. I'm still hoping for the third. The first two are indeed superb, and I have reviewed them on this site long ago.

I recommended, and still do, that those two books be read critically by all westerners who value civilization, and especially by those who cannot--or refuse to--discriminate between good and evil. I also recommend "Interview" for the sheer pleasure of reading an heroic journalist in her prime, insisting upon answers from the powerful, to critical questions most journalists would not have the cajones to ask . . . then or now.

She died several years ago from breast cancer. RIP !!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:56 PM

January 17, 2008

Jefferson’s War

America’s First War on Terror – 1801 – 1805
Joseph Wheelan - ISBN – 9780786714049

This new book revisits The Pirate Coast (see my review of Nov. 2006). Of a sudden the Barbary Wars are being re-explored. I have always wondered about them, but “pirates” didn’t get me there. Unfortunately this one isn’t a lot better. There’s less minutiae, but still too much. Whatever happened to great editing?

He does observe that Jefferson felt it better to “dictate peace thru the expedient of war,” unlike the sniveling continentals who bribed their way into safety for their shipping. Strangely, the Brits, with the most powerful navy in the world, wouldn’t take on the smarmy, corrupt Muslim pirates, but the Americans whupped them rather decisively in a couple of years with half a dozen ships. Like most American wars, the reason it took 4 years is the ineptitude and incompetence of the first pair of naval commodores. Jefferson finally found a leader who would do what was necessary, after which it was done quickly.

Amongst the things I find most frustrating in both books is that the essence of the conflict is lost within the smothering trivia. Lord Horatio Nelson—formidable English commander and victor at Trafalgar—stated that Stephen Decatur, in his (casualty free) attack upon Tripoli, had accomplished the most daring raid of the era. Still the author provides but a page and a half on the battle before plunging into a lengthy dissertation on Decatur’s welcome home as a hero.

He drones endlessly about Eaton’s capture of Derna, including the number the shots fired, the cannon used, the deployment of troops, the response of the Mustafa, and . . . and letters to and from commanders, presidents, representatives, pashas, envoys, dilettantes . . . and most everyone. As well he discloses minute details about individual ransom costs, numbers of captives, detail about the captivity and slavery imposed, etc. “Tedious” fails to cover it. Eventually he describes the results and implications in a couple of pages.

To Wheelan’s credit he eventually discusses the ultimate benefit to the American fleet. Government finally determined that we could not survive without competent blue-water power, and the Barbary Wars honed the navy to an effective fighting force.

The U.S. navy demonstrated that you buy trouble at considerable cost when menacing America. We were different from continentals. Still are, most of the time. America hadn’t paid obeisance to English kings, and it certainly wouldn’t bow to penny-ante Islamic pashas who extorted tribute and filled their dungeons with “Christian dogs” for slaves and ransom. Further, facing down terror worked.

While things were never fully and truly settled, the Barbary pirates left us alone and Europe respected us. We should remind ourselves of that. While the continentals aren’t impressed this time around, the terrorists will be if we prevail, as we did 200 years ago.

Posted by respeto at 1:42 PM

September 5, 2005

Just War Against Terror

Jean Bethke Elshtain ISBN - 0465019102
(Rockefeller professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago)

Martin Luther observed that,
On this earth, if the lion lies down with the lamb, the lamb must be replaced . . . . . frequently.

Elshtain observes that
“Peace should not be universally lauded even as war is universally condemned. Each must be evaluated critically.”

While herself an academic, Elshtain is devastating when exposing the academic left and its allies. There are worse things than war! Consider it demonstrated by the 20th century death camps and gulags. “For pacifists, the reigning word is peace. For realists, the reigning word is power. For just war thinkers, the reigning word is justice. Peace may be served by the just use of force, even as power is most certainly involved. (Power is also involved in peace politics in ways that many pacifists ignore.)” Just warriors consider both aims and means. The level of force must match the nature of the threat, and one must differentiate between combatants and noncombatants. Collateral damage is acceptable, but a necessary consideration.

In academia, she notes, it has become necessary to be against it, whatever it is; and “it is difficult to make a case that facts are being distorted if one’s opponent believes there is no such thing as facts.” According to many intellectuals, demonstrating that casualties in Afghanistan exceed the number who died in the atrocities of 9/11 proves the injustice of the war. There is a willful denial of the moral distinction between the intentional killing by the terrorists, and the unintended killing by the Americans. She reminds that Justice Robert Jackson noted: “the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact.”

Hannah Arendt sagely observed that to be a “citizen of the world” is to strip citizenship of any concrete meaning, and Niebuhr noted that “Christian moralism requires discriminate judgments between conflicting claims;” that Christian idealism admits that, “pure moral suasion” cannot solve every social problem. Are not Christians obliged to respond, even if they get their hands dirty?

“To suppose that Islamic faith, or Arab culture, or poverty and the experience of oppression somehow lead young men . . . [to] fly an airliner full of passengers into a building crowded with unsuspecting civilians is deeply denigrating to Muslims, to Arabs, and to the poor and oppressed . . . I would suggest that this is a dangerous line of thought, however humanely motivated it may initially be.”

The basic aspiration for peace is the absence of open warfare, which requires other ways of settling disputes offering legitimacy in the eyes of all persons and all states. In contrast moral restraint in the Islamic world is the warrior’s honor rather than to a soldier’s sense of justice. The intentional slaughter of civilians is dishonorable, but within Islamist fundamentalism, this slaughter is a noble act.

Europeans believe they have left behind their nationalism, but it has, in fact, been displaced by often virulent anti-Americanism! “Indeed, anti-Americanism is the form that nationalism takes in many European countries.”

“Whereas classic warfare is the continuation of politics by other means, terrorism is the destruction of politics by all possible means.

Without political accountability there is neither justice nor a legitimate structure of power, authority, and law. “True international justice is defined as the equal claim of all persons, whatever their political location or condition, to having coercive force deployed in their behalf if they are victims of one of the many horrors attendant upon radical political instability.”

Liberal and neo-liberal internationalist entities are unable to deal with these ruthless and determined forces, as Amnesty International can neither say nor condemn terrorism.

The time for serious, inventive thought is here. When folks in Afghanistan return to their homes, and civic peace is in the making, it cannot be overlooked that “floppy hatted” Americans or someone else must guarantee it. St. Augustine taught that evil is a turning of one’s back on the good. It is depletion and cannot generate. It can only destroy. Like a fungus spreading, it is going all over, but it has no depth. It must be stopped. Nothing cherished by humans can flourish absent societal peace and security.

While skyscrapers reflect power, they’re also about freedom, ingenuity, beauty, and reaching for the sky. They’re about cooperation between people and about reaching the stars. Totalitarians build squat prisons and block houses. They build execution walls. Their aim is low, and considerations of cooperation and common good are absent.

Philosophy matters. The animating philosophy of the radical Islamicist movement is its contempt for human life, and its view the world as a life-and-death struggle between believers and infidels denies the equal dignity of all, betrays religion and rejects the foundation of civilized life and the possibility of peace amongst nations.

Theoretically the required endeavor should, perhaps, involve the participation and/or supervision by some international body, but it is virtually impossible for such as the U.N. to be considered the best final judge of when and under what conditions a particular resort to arms is justified. Their situational incompetence has been repeatedly demonstrated, and the membership is in total disarray over the very principles of Just War.

“Just War Principles” include: It is debatable whether an international body such as the U.N. is in a position to be the best final judge of when, and under what conditions, a particular resort to arms is justified; or whether the attempt by that body to make and enforce such judgments would inevitably compromise its primary mission of humanitarian work.
 Violence that is free-lance . . . is never morally acceptable: In just war theory, the main goal of the legitimate authority requirement is to prevent the anarchy of private warfare and warlords—an anarchy that exists today I some parts of the world (notably those from which the attackers of 9/11 launched their attacks)
 Just war principles insist that legitimate warfare must be motivated by the intention of enhancing the likelihood of peace and reducing the likelihood of violence and destruction.
 In addition to murders of 9/11, those radical Islamicist organizations are responsible for numerous other attacks, using murder to advance their objectives.
 Pre-modern jihad and just war traditions could legitimate wars aimed at advancing religion, but in the modern world only jihad has retained its confessional component: protect and propagate Islam as a religion.
 As we confront the new millennium, the emerging crisis of “non-state terrorism,” made possible by the “privatization of the means of destruction,” . . . independent of public authorities . . . and demonstrating an increasing willingness to wreak “violence and wreckage anywhere on the globe,” puts the problem outside of any governmental agency, and any responsible authority with whom to deal.

The book is referenced, with a huge appendix and varietal sources for further suggested reading, and is a must read for anyone interested in a scholarly but approachable discussion of the subject.

Posted by respeto at 12:17 PM

March 21, 2010

Koster

Americans in Search of Their Prehistoric Past
Stuart Streuver, PhD

This book is long out of print, but if you're interested in North American Archaeology it is one of the most interesting books.

Koster is an ancient site in the lower Illinois River valley which was thoroughly excavated in the 1970s. It is the oldest and most complex excavation site in the entire U.S.; a site uniquely attractive to Amerinds over millennia. The dig ultimately involved sixteen identifiable levels. The lowest was 32 feet below present ground level (because of downwash over time), and has been dated at >7,500 B.C.; the most important site for research and development of what is now called "new archaeology."

Instead of treasure hunting, for which historic archaeology is noted, a variety of new modalities of study were invented, which permitted the acquisition of information which uncovered the life style of the various generations of ancients who had lived there thru the ages.

That is why the book is fascinating. With the techniques discovered, they found that when fish grow they add rings (like trees) to their scales, rather than adding more scales. The rings are laid down in a sufficiently unique fashion that it was possible to determine the age of the fish, and whether they were caught in the spring or fall. The natives ate only "keepers." Mussel shells gave them more useful information. The excavation collected huge quantities of pollen and charred nut shells--amazingly durable--from which they could not only determine what grew in the area over the millennia, but what the natives chose to gather as food.

"To our surprise, the Early Archaic people had learned how to exploit the wild-food resources in their environment so skillfully that they could go out and replenish their staples on a seasonal basis year in and year out with almost as much confidence as we drive to the super market for ours." Pollen from a large variety of medicinal plants was also found on site. The plethora of food was such that these folks rarely moved beyond a three-mile radius of their villages to find all they could want. Populations remained stable--and healthy--suggesting that there was sufficient space between settlements that the growing population voluntarily moved away to found other, similar sites removed enough to allow for their prosperity. There was no great flowering of culture. Abundance was such that it delayed the development of agriculture for thousands of years. The Amerinds lived in the area for over 12,000 years, but only in the last 1,000 years did they develop serious agriculture. Such was the bounty in their environment.

Bones could be studied, indicating which animals were hunted; other artifacts gave clues to how and with what they were hunted and butchered. The bones also indicated that they brought only the meaty portions of the game back from the hunt. Fragments of charred, woven clothing materials were found, which confirmed textile manufacture long before it had previously been recognized.

Astonishingly, it was discovered that they lived in substantial, permanent housing constructed of wattle and daub--with perimeter drainage ditches!--in 5,000 B.C., six thousand years before previously thought. They had substantial fire pits and large grinding stones hollowed out like modern pestles, further confirming their settled lifestyle.

Artifacts were found which confirmed trade with northern Michigan, over 500 miles away--before 6,000 B.C. Burials indicated that the early "primitives" weren't primitive at all. They didn't struggle to survive. Many lived into their 70's, most had perfect teeth and some were obviously severely crippled. These people lived a life of leisure and plenty, and were able to care for their compromised elders. Interestingly, it was determined that the dog was domesticated several thousand years before the widely accepted date.

The gospel of anthropology had been that settled communities permitted the development and arts, but it was clear that that was not true. These people spent their time in "the pursuit of happiness," rather than indulging in such activities. Competition seems to have favored the arts.

There was no habitation on site after about 1,000 A.D. since the site would have been indefensible against attacks from the warring cultures of that era, but the study of genetic traits established biological continuity in the region from ancient times. They evolved into the mound people of Cahokia (600-1400 A.D.), the most famous mound builders, and the most populous and successful North American culture. Monks Mound, alone, covers 14 acres, rises 100 feet, and was topped by a massive 5,000 square-foot building another 50 feet high. The population, at its peak, is estimated at 40,000, surrounded by more people living in outlying farming villages. In 1250, its population was larger than London.

Humorously he includes a report of a cadre of Japanese tourists who asked how much the young people (called "arkies") were paid for their intense excavating labor. When told that they paid for the opportunity they were flabbergasted. The man who owned the farm upon which the dig was proceeding ("Teed" Koster) observed: "No poor man's kid ever dug in that hole."

In closing the book Streuver commented: "There are no monumental ruins at Koster, no elaborate artifacts. . . . only the silent record, trampled into earth by feet, covered by soft dust, wind-blown or washed down the slope of the bluffs by rains over the centuries. In the ground are fragments of charred seeds, nutshells, pieces of animal and fish bones, mussel shells, and the tools of housewives, toolmakers, and hunters. In the small cemeteries people quietly sleep away the centuries. From these multitudinous fragments of evidence we are gaining an intimate glimpse of life as it was lived . . . over a period of more than eight thousand years . . . [giving] a new perspective on the America's first people."

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:36 AM

August 14, 2006

Lamb

Christopher Moore – ISBN-13 – 978-0380813810

This book is a laugh a minute, but only if your reading speed is slow.

Levi, also known as Biff, is Joshua’s childhood friend, and Joshua (Jehovah in Greek) is Jesus Christ. Biff is resurrected by the angel of death to return in the 21st century to reveal to the world the life of Josh in the 30 years between his birth and his ministry, and is accompanied by Maggie (Mary Magdalene), tasked the same, for another “take.”

Of course, the whole thing is a spoof, and I can imagine Jerry Falwell being incensed, but there is a chuckle on virtually every page and a guffaw on not a few.. For instance, he explains how Joshua practiced miracles. Resurrections were the most difficult and confusing: “To be fair, . . . resurrections weren’t that uncommon [then]. Jews were quick to get their dead into the ground, and with speed there’s bound to be errors. Occasionally some poor soul would fall unconscious during a fever and wake to find himself being wrapped in linen . . . but no one complained, except perhaps those people who didn’t wake before they were buried, and if they complained—well, I’m sure God heard them.”

And, who knew:
• That at age 13 Josh and Biff journeyed to the Afghani cave castle of Balthazar, a black African wizard (yes, he of the Myrrh), to study Confucius, Tao, Feng Shui, and other disciplines and philosophies?
• That Joshua challenged God when he first tasted bacon? Forbidding fornication, killing, stealing, coveting and all that made sense, but being deprived of bacon had to be a mistake!
• That after nine years they traveled to a mountain top in China were they sojourned with an Indian sage, Gaspar (yep, another Wiseman), where they studied Buddhism, Kung Fu and Jew-Do? Here Josh learned to “turn the other cheek” (from a Yeti, no less) and of the Golden Rule, etc., while Biff mastered the martial arts which would assist him in protecting Josh for the rest of his life. Josh, you’ll recall, was totally non-violent! Wouldn’t even protect himself.
• The ends to which Biff went to inform Josh of the carnal truths which he was to be deprived of for life?
• That after years with Gaspar they moved on to India to study with his brother—you guessed it, Melchior—where Joshua lived in a cave, practiced extreme asceticism, learned to turn water into wine and to multiply loaves and fishes, later “to feed the multitudes?” Biff learned little, but used Josh’s new found talents to support himself (selling the stuff) and “studying the Kama Sutra” with a sex worker.
• That there were really 13 disciples? “Thomas twin” was really two people: Thomas (a bit of a nut) and his imaginary, invisible twin who was always near.
• That the content of the sermon on the Beatitudes was debated amongst the disciples for weeks, determining who/what should be included, who inherited the earth, who went heaven, etc.?
• That the Sermon on the Mount didn’t happen quite as it is recorded?

And in the epilogue you will finally learn what the “H.” stands for in Jesus H. Christ.

There is, perhaps, a bit too much idle profanity and occasional scatological talk, and the book drags near the end, but it is quite an amusing read. For those who will not read it, there is little to say. For the doubters, you might wish to read the last chapter (pp 438-444) first. Here Moore explains the considerable research which he did before beginning the book.


Posted by respeto at 10:50 AM

September 25, 2007

Land Remembered

Patrick D. Smith – 9781561641161

After sitting on my shelves for four years I finally decided to read this Florida classic and found it better described as an American classic which just happens to occur in, and chronicle the lives of, frontier settlers in that state. With drought instead of hurricanes, skeeters replaced by locusts, greed for land rather than gold—Miami or Immokalee for California and Sutter’s Mill--it could have been another of myriad American stories.

It reflects courage, resilience, pride, intrepidity, will and determination in the face of overwhelming odds; family, love, friendship and loyalty; wanton greed and misplaced goals with the destruction of irreplaceable assets and natural (and retrospectively necessary and appropriate) landscapes and the displacement if indigenous cultures by that of the invaders.

In this case it is the chronicle of three generations of the fictitious MacIvey family; crackers who migrated from Georgia to Alachua just before the Civil War to escape abject poverty and to begin a new life. Hardships are many, but they survive and prosper to a wholly unexpected level because the founder of the dynasty preserved his hard earned cash. Believing that the land belonged to everyone, he stored his money for future security. His son saw the need to preserve the land, which required ownership, and he eventually purchased vast tracts of wilderness. He changed the cow hunting business into ranching, and cultivated enormous orange groves on hundreds of acres of his land.

In turn, with a prosperous cattle and orange business, his grandson again purchased even larger tracts of land, much further south, which he eventually developed into a garden vegetable empire, along with another land empire in the Miami environs.

There was no fourth generation. Sol, the last survivor of the clan died alone—by choice—reluctantly admitting that he had destroyed everything he touched, and reflected upon the destruction of the natural environment which had been Florida . . . forever and irrevocably authored something he despised.

Throughout this great yarn are multiple vignettes, many tragic, which cement the unified whole into a wonderfully readable tract reminiscent of The Yearling and Huckleberry Finn; a rich history of Florida’s pioneer spirit and the natural world in which they strove for survival to become land barons who participated in exploitation of the environment far beyond human need.

Posted by respeto at 5:24 PM

March 11, 2006

Legacy

(paying the price for the Clinton years)
Rich Lowry – ISBN 0-895260492

Not altogether unlike 1968 (reviewed in January), wherein Kurlansky resurrects the happenings of that year, Lowry reviews, and reminds us of the Clinton years. It is, indeed, the antidote to the misrepresentations and spin of that era. And it is much more!

A hard hitting, witty, acerbic and critical appraisal of the Clinton presidency, he offers the best yet summing of that period. History, while best studied some 50 years after the fact, is still based upon contemporary reports, and Lowry goes a long way into laying the groundwork for those who will use it as a source 50 years hence. Published in 2003, it was issued in paperback in 2005.

Thruout, I was reminded of the comment made early in the Clinton administration by the columnist George Will, that some seek the presidency to do something . . . others to be someone. Legacy speaks volumes about that, without ever mentioning it.

Lowry expands upon Morris’ Because He Could (reviewed in November.) His “take” on the subject is more comprehensive--and less complimentary--but Lowry does “allow” that Clinton was not a total disaster. He shares with Morris the sense that he could have been far better. Indeed, as a centrist Democrat Clinton could have made a very real difference if not for his character faults and his “mindless excesses” which compromised his effectiveness. Perhaps the most unfortunate fact, in the end, is that Clinton didn’t matter nearly as much as he might have. “He sought to bury his personal failings beneath his own inconsequence. Mission accomplished.”

Beyond his inability to achieve much domestically—and most of that forced upon him by Gingrich and the “94 Republicans”--his reluctance to seriously engage the foreign policy issues set the stage for the current problems with Iran, North Korea, and terrorism, to mention but a few. None, to be sure, were Clinton’s fault, but by kicking the can down the road he left us with the serious problems which we now face.

Lowry carefully reviews the details of myriad failings, including the first Twin Tower bombing, Rwanda, immigration control, airport security, etc. Nonetheless he gives credit where due, with Bosnia: dealt with belatedly, but at least dealt with. “Peace deals,” Arafat, missed opportunities to capture bin Laden, the “final days”, including pardons and the rest are dissected.

Of course he deals with Hillary, but beyond direct impact she is not the primary subject of the book. He does, however, emphasize the relevance of Clinton to the recent decade’s “feminization” of the military and America, and upon the rampant sexualization of our culture. Again, he is not the proximate cause, but is the near-perfect representative thereof.

“In December 1997 Clinton complained to the New York Times about how history seemed determined to rob him of a great crisis from which he could gain a great legacy. . . . [yet] A terrorist network had nearly leveled two American embassies simultaneously. He responded with a whimper.” As well, he was offered bin Laden by the Sudan, but couldn’t imagine a “legal way” to claim that capture, and the USS Cole was attacked on his watch, an act of war over which he did nothing. What Clinton accomplished is dwarfed by what he avoided.

Overall a good read, especially when paired with Morris. Good reportage by both.


Posted by respeto at 9:29 AM

December 31, 2008

Liar’s Poker

Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street
Michael Lewis – ISBN – uncertain: use only title and author and you will find it
(no longer in print, but thousands are available, used, on line, for as little as $3)

I owned it years ago but never read it; gave it away when I moved to Florida, and forgot about it. Recent events caused me to order a copy. Published in 1989, you will find it not only a fulsome, but a frightening read today--prescient as well. “Spot on” when undertaking to understand what has happened to Wall Street and to Investment Banks. I recommend it!

The author was employed for several years by Salomon Brothers in both New York and London. In his introduction he indicates that as a graduate of Princeton and the London School of Economics he was sought out by Salomon, went thru their training program and became a bond trader; an endeavor he knew absolutely nothing about, was never very good at, but still managed to earn a six figure income despite his inadequacies.

“Economic theory which is, after all, what economics students were supposed to know) serves almost no function in an investment bank.” Bankers simply use the degree to vet applicants for “general intelligence.” It showed!

He discusses why the Federal Reserve was greatly responsible for the Savings and Loan failure in the 80’s, as well as the present calamity. The present one has been in abirthing since the S&L collapse. He explains things in a fashion understandable to most readers, and he’s easy to read. For instance:
• “Why”, he asks, “did investment banking pay so many people with so little experience so much money? Answer: When attached to a telephone, they could produce even more money.
• How could they produce money without experience? Answer: Producing in an investment bank was less a matter of skill and more a matter of intangibles—flair, persistence and luck.”

The reader is, or at least ought to be, appalled by the cavalier approach to investment: the lies told, the absence of conscience in recommending to clients “issues” which management wanted sold, without concern for the buyer . . . only the commissions to the company. Virtually all of the salesmen worked exclusively for the money, and spent little time learning about their products. Sales techniques were all that mattered to them. What is exposed is abysmal, to say the least.

Midway thru he gets into a discussion of Michael Milken, junk bonds, and the origins of the mortgage disaster which now haunts us, and is almost singularly responsible for the Trillion Dollar Meltdown we are amidst. (That book, by Charles Morris, is also a great read.) Lewis explains in quite simple terms the evolution (up to 1989) of the marketing of mortgage portfolios as if they really were bonds. Prior to the S&L collapse mortgage loans had been local and well managed. Offered opportunity, Wall Street created new avenues of finance which were disingenuous and begged numerous intermediaries to lie, cheat and steal . . . for which we are now paying.

I won’t go into the details since I want to emphasize that in his memoir Lewis exposes the chicanery of these masters of manipulative investing, solely for their own profit. With rare exception they are all moral cretins. While he is dealing expressly with his own employer—Salomon Bros.—he includes the rest of the players, indicting them all for similar, reprehensible behavior which was at least negligent and at worst approached criminality.

While junk bonds originally made sense, and were singularly responsible for much of the financing of the information age and the Reagan economic boom. Milken understood that the market for finance was outmoded, even archaic, and devised a totally new means of raising capital: bonds, not loans. Thus he introduced a wholly new kind of finance. But eventually there were so many offerings, and so much money chasing them for their promised high yields, that greed overtook both sellers and buyers and “real junk” was sold to the unsuspecting, the naïve and the greedy—by people who knew it. Wall Street made outrageous profits thru misrepresentation.

Arbitrage, was a euphemism “for what we did with other people’s money.” It meant “trading risklessly for profit.” Riskless, that was, to the sellers, not to buyers. The banks would orchestrate an offering, make it look good, sell bonds out the whazoo, collect their commissions—often in the millions—and vamoose. The whole point of the activity was to sell to a public unable to assess the risk; dependent on the offering and rating agencies for advice, which was disingenuous and wholly directed at their profits.

He sagely observes that “when an investment banker starts talking about principles, he is usually defending his interests.” And later adds a note to members of all governments: “be wary of Wall Streeters threatening crashes. They are tempted to do this whenever you encroach on their turf. But they can’t cause a crash any more than they can prevent one.”

He also confirms a suspicion I have had for years, that “Most of the time when markets move, no one has any idea why. A man who can tell a goods story can make a good living as a broker. It was the job of people like me to make up reasons, to spin a plausible yarn. And it’s amazing what people will believe.”

He was fortunate to become good friends with several truly talented men who gave him (and his clients) good advice, but quit early--leaving his “surest way to becoming a millionaire”--because he could not endure the stench of the activities.

His father’s generation (mine!), he summarizes, “grew up with certain beliefs. One of those beliefs is that the amount of money one earns is a rough guide to one’s contribution to the welfare and prosperity of our society. . . . [I was close to, and learned from my father] . . . It took watching his son being paid 225 grand at the age of twenty-seven, after two years on the job, to shake his faith in money. He has only recently recovered from the shock.”

“I haven’t!” When you sit at the center of the most absurd money game ever, and benefit out of all proportion to your value to society, when myriad other equally undeserving people are raking it in faster than they can count, something happens to your money belief. . . . Or at least ought to. They take their funny money seriously and it becomes their “guiding light.” It is tempting to believe that they will get their comeuppance eventually, but they don’t. They just get richer and die fatter and happier.

He couldn’t do it, so he quit and wrote this riveting, expository memoir. Read and reflect upon the immorality of what has been begotten. It really is worth it to understand that capitalism works only when the capitalists are grounded in morality, honesty and fairness. It has been lost, and we’d best get together and organize a search party.

And while reflecting, read my quote dated Dec. 26th, 2008: The pope was right.

You might also want to link to this:
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/JL25Dj02.html

(you'll have to copy and paste) This man is absolutely brilliant, and I recommend you consult his primary site often:
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/others/spengler.html

Posted by respeto at 2:45 PM

July 3, 2008

Liberal Fascism

The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning
Jonah Goldberg – ISBN – 9780385511841

It is insufficient to say this incredible tome deserves to be read by people of all political persuasions. The title will offend Liberals, who should read it for historic information. Conservatives will be enamored by the title, but Goldberg will deflate them as well as he notes that while American fascism is best represented by liberal doctrine and practice, conservatives tolerate and often cooperate with its nostrums because they don’t fully consider what they mean. No one is spared. This inadequate review intends only to encourage you to read it . . . before the election this fall. As well, I’d recommend—and will review very soon—Dick Morris’ new book Fleeced. Though the choice is dismal, there is a choice. A very important one!

The book is so full of information that it is difficult to represent even a fraction of the content. It would be well for people to understand just who “progressives” really are in order to choose between the two lesser on the ballot.

The first revolution of a fascistic nature was authored by Rousseau and the French Jacobins. It wholly undercut the ancien regime and destroyed the country, ending with its principals dead and the Europe shattering folly of Napoleon. All totalitarianisms promise to create a new society from scratch, burying all that is past. In these societies one is promised achievement of life’s deepest meaning and destiny simply by living in them. It cannot be done, and were it possible it would be tyranny, however benign. It doesn’t work, because it can’t. Goldberg reminds that American founding documents touted the pursuit of happiness. We’ve evolved. We no longer pursue it, Goldberg observes. We expect it to be delivered, along with the pizza.

He begins by not equating fascism with “Hitlerism,” per se. While the 1000 Year Reich was indeed fascist, it was but one uniquely appalling permutation. Mussolini and Italy embraced fascism. Much of Europe was infatuated with the idea as the follow-on to capitalism, which all saw as a failure (which amongst other things had produced the depression.) Even the U.S. had its own variation known as The New Deal. Contrary to what you may think, fascism was the dominant inspiration of the world at the time, having begun with Otto von Bismarck in 1870’s Germany. It was Hitler’s Reich with its death-camps which so offended the world that the term has now become a synonym for the ultimate, failed, deteriorate state--a bastardized term that is now a simple pejorative signifying “something not desirable” (think Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.) In fact the term can be defined, and encompasses a host of characteristics, including environmental, cultural, societal, governmental, economic, attitudinal and moral.

Goldberg doesn’t describe fascism in order to fit the left, but defines it as it was understood at its inception. It was and remains “progressivism.” Many of Wilson’s and Roosevelt’s advisors were proud to embrace fascism--even calling it by its name--before Hitler altered perceptions. Recall that Mussolini was popular with American intellectuals. He had the answer for the ages, and not a few traveled to Italy to see for themselves how it worked (just as they did on subsequent trips to Moscow.)

Corporatism gives progressive government control of the economy and the nation, and is the operational theory of fascism. Goldberg demonstrates that its premises are derived from liberal, progressive concepts, and not from the right. (I’d mention that Lincoln initiated and/or represented not a few proto-fascistic activities.) He bolsters his arguments with myriad facts, recounting progressive eugenics, progressive attitudes toward education, multiculturalism, campus speech codes, muscular environmentalism, progressivism as religion, etc. are typical of Liberal Fascism. He refutes the notion that true conservatives—who have always fought against such ideas—were its authors.

Goldberg includes an elaborate discussion of large corporate business colluding with government by emphasizing that the American version was favored and pushed by F.D.R. and the New Deal. This culminated in a wholly organized industrial society which proved necessary for the promulgation of WW II, (though desired by the left) and has remained with us since. He also observes that it actually began with Wilson in WW I. Again, I’d remind that Teddy Roosevelt—not really a man of the right--was America’s original progressive, his trust-busting notwithstanding.

“If the collusion of big business and government is right wing, then FDR was a right-winger. If corporatism and propagandistic militarism are fascist, then Woodrow Wilson was a fascist as were the New Dealers. If you [properly] understand the right-wing or conservative position to be that of those who argue for free markets, competition, property rights, and the other political values inscribed in the original intent of the American founding fathers, then big business in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the New Deal America was not right-wing; it was left-wing, and it was fascistic. What’s more, it still is.” His quarrel with the right is over the [properly] I inserted above.

Modern American fascism is manifest in part by corporate jockeying for advantage thru myriad lobbyists, who have proliferated like wharf rats in recent decades. Microsoft and Wal-Mart first decided that the race could do with fewer rats, but are now amongst the largest and most effective lobbying corporations in the country. Why? Because survival required it; competitors who lobbied against them for advantage had to be answered in kind.

Camille Paglia, a progressive proponent and admitted atheist, has written on progressivism often and in depth. She has observed that “progressives must start recognizing the spiritual poverty of contemporary secular humanism and reexamine the way that liberalism, too often now, automatically defines human aspiration and human happiness in reductively economic terms. Without compromise, we are heading for a soulless future” (fascism has neither soul, nor heart.) In today’s world of corporate internationalism it isn’t surprising that our government is in bed with our corporations, nor is it surprising that the Democratic Party is receiving huge corporate contributions. Democrats tout that only Republicans get such donations. Don’t believe it! In his new book Morris reports that Democrats receive two-thirds of the political contributions from hedge-fund managers. They used to split 50/50 to cover themselves, except, of course, for George Soros who has been in bed with Democrates since forever!

Obama is invigorating the electorate by promising hope and change. I earnestly hope that changes--many necessary and appropriate--will not be those he proposes. This may be the most important election since 1860. We are required to reconsider where we are, who we are, and how we want to proceed. We will decide to follow our current path, seek an altered one, or resurrect the edited best of the past.

I’d remind that a revolution can be seen as a return to the beginning. Most of us can agree that where we started was a much better place than where we are (outdoor privies, cold water, and horse dung in the streets excepted.) Very little is wrong with what was intended by our founders. Refinement is clearly necessary, but progress toward fascism should not to be in the equation. There is nothing noteworthy or sophisticated about it, and it’s proven not to work, however bucolic and beneficent it sounds.

Read the book!

Posted by respeto at 1:24 PM

June 15, 2011

Life Without Lawyers

Liberating Americans from Too Much Law
Philip K. Howard - ISBN - 9780393338034

This is Howard's third book, and it is dynamite; a rather liberal lawyer, he is articulate, smart, rational and wise--something not commonly found in liberal or legal circles. This treatise reflects, above all, his common sense. (He has previously written two marvelous books: The Death of Common Sense - 9780446672283 and The Collapse of the Common Good - 9780345438713.)

"Civil libertarians are vigilant to keep government from abusing its authority. But freedom should also include the joy of spontaneity, the power of personal conviction, and the authority to use common sense--for example, to maintain order in the classroom, and to interact honestly with a patient or a co-worker." And with numerous other examples and coherent discussion he expands upon the disaster wrought, however unintentionally, by the contempt for authority and the worship of individualism introduced in the 60s in combination with the advent of the much needed civil rights movement.

Whereas such things as affirmative action were intended as group considerations, they morphed into individual rights to jobs and other considerations. Lost was the "coherent legal framework" of right and wrong. Judgment was essentially banned, and without it nothing works. It is a human characteristic for which law is not a substitute. Freedom requires its exercise, and that is precisely what has been sacrificed upon the altar of modern day hyper-legalism. The 60s activities resulted in this new idea of individual rights: "Let any individual who feels aggrieved bring a legal claim for almost anything." It was assumed that fairness would result; clearly it has not.

Modern law is the principal cause of the decline in our social order; "we" are falling apart because common sense and judgment are verboten. Nothing works. Politics are so polarized that everything in Washington is done for party advantage. Candidates rant about the need for change, as the congressional houses routinely fail to deliver; it is simply not possible when everything inside the beltway favors the status quo. Nothing can change within the system. Only organizing against it will work.

American exceptionalism is unique, and it is fading because of these newfound individual rights as they impact upon the scope of law. "The evil of present day American law" is not that it addresses the wrong goals, or that it us unforgivably dense (though it is), but that it "infects daily choices with a debilitating legal self-consciousness." We no longer feel free to do what we feel is right.

With this background development he begins to explore the end-product of this process, noting specifically:
• chaotic classrooms wherein teachers are threatened for imposing discipline results in police being called to handcuff and remove five year old children from the classroom
• murdering nurses are shunted from one facility to another because all are afraid of judging the suspect culprit and reporting suspicious events to police
• shootings like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech are perpetrated by people known to be "unbalanced," yet no one is comfortable stepping forward to have them removed from campus.
And so it goes. The "evil" of overly individual rights prevails; the common good be damned. Fairness requires balancing, which requires human judgment, which is forbidden.

Americans like the idea of jury trials, but no one is permitted to keep the claims and arguments within reasonable bounds. Judges are neutered, or frightened into maintaining "fairness," even if the proceedings are fallacious or overwrought. Prosecutors occasionally overstep (the Duke lacrosse player incident comes to mind), but they are slapped down. No one swings at the prosecutors in tort law. Lawyers like John Edwards are permitted to lie in court and to present testimony from fraudulent "experts," and the defense is often similarly culpable, even in murder trials (O.J. Simpson, anyone?)

Until 40-50 years ago culture accepted that people should judge others. Now it's practically criminal to do so. People whose gauge is "feelings" are unwilling to accept judgment.

At root is accountability. People are more comfortable without it; government functions wholly without it. One is accountable to following the law. If done precisely, regardless of impact, one is no further accountable, and with such accountability no one is really liberated (or accountable in historic context of that concept.).

The mechanism by which government has slipped away from democratic grasp is too much law. "The law" has replaced responsibility. Yet Washington loves the status quo. Nothing accomplished, nothing gained, but neither is anything lost. No risk. No offense. No mistakes. Trust the law.

The predicament is in the premise: that law should tell people how to do things. It cannot. Washington takes no responsibility for the future or the past. No longer is governing the point; only winning. Success is defined by how many political traps have been set and how many battles have been won.

Many Democratic politicians privately acknowledge that lawsuits are completely out of hand, but trial lawyers are the second-largest source of their campaign funds. Alternatively, the Republicans shamelessly support corn-alcohol subsidies and they trade votes with each other, and those of other dispositions, in order that they all survive and "win." Madison, he reminds, noted that government was a magnet for self-seekers, but presumed that the several "factions" would neutralize each other. Unfortunately Madison was wrong. There is no competition for the greater good; each group demands its pound of flesh from the common weal. Yet the harm caused by special interest is not mainly the pork; rather, it is the inability to govern.

It is necessary is to abandon the existing structure; create a new government focused on goals and personal responsibility. Many of these folks are good people; especially so most bureaucrats. They are simply overwhelmed by the system. Goals, not compliance must be the focus, though congress must be accountable for oversight and determination of how laws function in practice.

Nothing is more unpalatable to the modern mind than giving someone authority to make choices which affect other people. But it must be done. America lacks leaders because we have made leadership unlawful. The confusion of good judgment with legal proof is the most insidious fallacy of modern law. Decisions pressed thru a legal wringer are not better decisions. Right and wrong cannot be programmed, nor can they be legislated.

Individual judgment is unsatisfactory as an organizing legal principle because judgment varies widely, and reasonable people can approach the same problem differently. Florence King once observed, some things are right and others wrong "just because." We all know it. One can't think oneself into it. It is just so. Children sense right and wrong without instruction. Whitehead stated that "it is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing."

"Most adults of a certain age remember a time when teachers were role models, not just people on the clock. Unimaginable as it may seem today, lawyers were the aristocrats, respected for their integrity. Doctors cared for the indigent as well as those who could pay. Political leaders were at the top if the social order. Society was hardly perfect, but there was a sense that people were important to each other. Standing in the community meant something. We were all in it together."

Americans don't share values any longer. Indeed, the 60s was a time when values were overturned and replaced by . . . nothing, really. The cure to bad values--or no values--is good values, and these are not imposable by law. Squeezing them thru "a legal gauntlet" discourages people in authority from asserting any values.

America's greatest natural resource is--or has been, at least--a culture which unleashes the power of individuals, but that spirit erodes to nothing when people are forbidden to exercise it. Distrust has overpowered good sense. We all know it, but we must do something about it. And very soon.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:45 PM

October 15, 2008

Little Heathens

Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm during the Great Depression
Mildred Armstrong Kalish – ISBN 9780553384426

It does not do this superb memoir justice to say it is good. It is a veryveryvery good book; indeed one of the best you will read anytime soon (!) . . . beautifully crafted, clean and joyful in its descriptions of growing up on a self-sustaining farm in middle America during the depression (as the title indicates.)

Kalish composed this narrative primarily for her family--expressly for her grandchildren--but it is a wonderfully readable and entertaining chronicle of the pleasures of life, even during times of gritty hardship. It emphasizes the old epigram: “there is little difference between people, but that little difference makes a big difference; the little difference is attitude, the big difference is whether it is good or bad.”

She observes that: “I want my own family to be aware of the foods, the ingenuity, the knowledge, the skills and above all, the everlasting work that was required to survive when resources and supplies were limited. But most of all I want them to enjoy the kinship of souls that is created when everyone gathers in the kitchen to prepare a meal together. Although cooking today is vastly easier, there is still nothing like putting a good meal on the table to make people feel they have done something meaningful.”

Her family was—as were most at the time—resolutely opposed to displaying emotions. She tells us that when her brother came home from WW II a wounded hero, her grandfather quickly put his hand on “Jack’s” shoulder, but as quickly withdrew it, saying softly, “I’m glad you’re back. I never thought I’d ever see you again.” His eyes were misty but that was it. Emotions were to be kept private.

The family was also blessed with the usual compliment of “peculiar” people. Aunt Agnes, for instance, spent her time embroidering, and reading the Bible, and her sole link with the outside world was her sister. She was “half a bubble off plumb,” but everyone loved her. Any way, another Old Maid (which was the popular sobriquet of the day) once observed that she had no need for a man, inasmuch as she already had a dog that growled, a chimney that smoked, a parrot that swore and a cat that stayed out all night. “Why would I need a husband?”

By contrast, Aunt Belle was “tiny and energetic as a hummingbird, chirpy and happy as a wren [with a] wry sense of humor and a sharp wit.” She was popular with the kids who always “anticipated an evening spent [with her] eating candy and popcorn, telling riddles and singing hymns,” an unimaginable situation by anyone today.

Growing up in an environment where children were, of necessity, very responsible, they learned a lot from adults, who seldom taught intentionally; they mentioned and discussed things as they were, in context, and that was the lesson. Be it religion or sex, discussions were scanty or non-extant. Just follow the leader, sort of. And being sick could be, and often was, life-threatening. Challenging an adult was likewise treacherous.

She discusses an enormous variety of things: work (most of the time) to leisure activities, from gardening to milking and haying, gathering nuts and heavenly Morels to cooking (on which subject she offers quite numerous tips and tantalizing recipes as well as comments about how commercial food isn’t quite what she grew up on), literature to religion (and tent revival meetings), dangerous and cold winters to hot Iowa summers (in homes without central heat or air conditioning and horse-drawn snow plows), doing the weekly wash (by hand, without a machine, and the smells of fresh air, sun-dried clothing) to the daily trips to the outhouse.

On the last she reports a rib-splitting anecdote from Halloween, long years ago. The town curmudgeon, whose outhouse was upended the year before, observed to all that he was spending the night in his outhouse with his shotgun at the ready. The same pranksters took him at his word and rushed the structure from the rear, tipping it on to the door, thus trapping the old man inside until his morning rescue. The following year he repeated the threat. This time, however, the result was different: “How could they have known that the night before, the canny (pardon the pun) old guy had moved his outhouse three feet forward, so that when they rushed it, they would all drop into the smelly pit before they could accomplish their dirty deed?” The “old guy” was sitting in a tree nearby, the better to enjoy the show.

Of course there is much more, some of it amusing, all of it interesting, as a delightful chronicle of a life well lived, in a time long past, in a different country, with occurrences never to be repeated. And not unlike Bill Bryson’s memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a read to be savored . . . and likely reread sometime soon . . . by those of us who can actually remember similar experiences.

The young of today—and for that matter, their parents--simply cannot understand the simple joy of that kind of youth, what with their mall meetings, computer and arcade games, “face-booking” and text messaging. I, for one, don’t envy them a bit. Indeed I feel sorry for them.

Posted by respeto at 2:41 PM

September 15, 2007

Londonistan

Melanie Phillips – ISBN – 9781594031977

This is a truly stunning book, written by a prominent columnist for The London Daily Mail. She has produced a carefully chronicled history of the Islamic invasion of Britain, which the Brits have too casually watched and tolerated, and which she describes this as sleepwalking to Armageddon. She notes that Britain has, morally, legally and attitudinally “altered itself to indefensibility.”

Britain is ahead of the U.S. in its dangerous and cavalier attitudes, yet the parallels are alarming. She explains how, after WWII Britain was more or less homogeneous, with scattered, small groups of immigrants from similar cultures which subscribed to the same majoritarian Christian culture. They were expected to fit in, and did so because that is what they desired to do.

No more! There are well over 120,000 immigrants from foreign cultures, who have no interest in assimilating, and citizens who no longer know who they are--or care. They have abandoned and/or are embarrassed by being British. Multiculturalism is the driving force and is “ruthlessly policed” by the state; a doctrine of mandated virtue to promote racial, ethnic and cultural differences and stamp out majority values. She comments, sadly, that “at least in America they have culture wars.” Not so at home.

“Britain has become a . . . society where traditional morality has been . . . replaced by an ‘anything goes’ culture wherein autonomous decisions about codes of behavior have become unchallengeable rights.” Everyone’s boutique lifestyle is of equal value, morality is privatized and personal while norms are considered discriminatory and prejudicial. The authoring creeds of Western civilization have been pushed aside and replaced “by a plethora of paranormal activities and cults.”

The question what is right has been replaced by what is right for me? Moral restraint has been replaced by therapy, and therapists have ruled that restraint is unhealthy and repressive.

The outcome has been the creation of a disorderly, debauched culture of instant gratification, with disintegrating families, feral children, and violence, squalor and vulgarity on the streets. Moral relativism has destroyed the notion of objectivity. Truth is considered variable, optional, subjective or non-existent. Judges are out of control and have redefined values such that they are in opposition to traditional British beliefs. Multiculturalism has demonstrated that all cultures are indeed not equal, and indigenous British culture is considered the unequal. Children are no longer taught British culture or history. Worse, they are oft influenced to deride British tradition and accomplishments.

Britain’s society welcomes all, protects all . . . nonjudgmentally! . . . good guys and miscreants alike. It has become the destination of choice for hoards of misfits and radicals. Once in place courts forbid prosecution or even deportation. It has become the European Mecca for Islam, and Islamic radicals. To be sure the Islamic community is diverse, but frightful numbers are anti-British and pro-terror. Many of the middle-brow, who enjoy England and disfavor terrorism nonetheless support their brethren, or at least shelter them in the sea in which they all swim.

As with CAIR in the U.S., the Islamic foundations in Britain expound upon their intention of “struggling to change the existing society into an Islamic society” (The Koran, Sharia . . . their whole medieval culture.) Imams in most mosques preach intolerance, anti-Semitism, hate and jihad yet remain unchallenged by authorities. Indeed, they are protected by them. Courts forbid expatriation of the radicals . . . gotta be tolerant don-cha-no! There is even a Sharia Council which is “developing claims for parallel jurisprudence:” that is, fundamentalist Islamic Law for Muslims in Britain (and all of Britain if they achieve their goal.)

Because Brits are so ignorant of history they believe that Islamists are motivated by the foundation of Israel. They seem unconcerned by the growth of overt anti-Semitism in their own country. Comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany go unchallenged. A super-majority of Englishmen support Palestinians over Israelis, and even supporting homicide bombing as a tool. There is the sense of moral parity . . . indeed the Jews are reviled for responding to terror with force.

Phillips suggests that since the Mosaic code first gave the world the concept of morality, self-discipline and laws regulating behavior, the present culture has taken aim at that those principals and self-restraint. It presents a golden opportunity to pummel the people who invented rules in the first place. That is a startling thought.

In a sane world the tolerance of encroaching people who ought to be viewed as dangerous would compel caution, but the ignorance of the public at large in “ultra-tolerant” Britain--pushed over the edge by the war in Iraq and encouraged by Islamists--has resulted in denial of risk.

Even the Church of England is acquiescing to Islamists. It has lost its moral compass along with its faith. The doctrines of Christianity have been replaced by worship of social liberalism. Indeed, the archbishop of Canterbury has apologized for bringing Christianity to the world. Jeeeeez!

There is silence about Muslims persecuting Christians where Islam is dominant. There is no critique of Muslim suicide martyrdom which is peculiar to Islam. Both are condemnable, but no one does.

Muslim leaders have been successful in separating the tenets of Islam from the extremists, hence people say “I abhor an ideology which does such terrible things”, then add “of course these people are not doing it in the name of Islam, which is a tolerant faith.”

The intersection of an aggressive religious fanaticism with the multicultural ideology of victimhood has created a state of paralysis across British institutions. The refusal to admit the religious character of the threat means that Britain not only is failing to take action it should but is providing Islamist ideologues with an even more powerful platform from which to disseminate their anti-Western views.

The real threat is then not terrorism but the ideology that drives it. This is a battle of ideas, but the liberal West, dedicated to reason and intellect, has left this battleground totally undefended, “allowing the unhindered advance of falsehood and hatred.” Worse, the media and the intelligentsia of the left often act as an Islamist fifth column. They seem serious about everything except being serious.

“The West is under threat from an enemy that has shrewdly observed the decadence and disarray in Europe” . . . [most pronounced in Britain]. Whether [Britain] will finally pull itself together and stop sleepwalking into cultural oblivion is a question on which the future of the West may now depend.”

Posted by respeto at 12:07 PM

March 6, 2010

Longitude

Dava Sobel - ISBN - 978080271529X

The search for a means of determining longitude is a millennial quest which reached its culmination in 1759. This is a tour-de-force account of that quest and its solution. She suggests it is arguable that the British Empire owes its existence to the find. Without longitude, "dead reckoning" was the only possibility, and disastrous results awaited most miscalculations. Travel was done within pre-determined latitudes. "Aim here, stay on course and you'll run into something from whence you can determine which way you want to turn to arrive where you intended. This facilitated piracy and bounty hunting. One example offered was a captured Portuguese ship returning from the Americas with a cargo worth half of the net value of the entire English Exchequer at the time (that was millions upon millions of today's dollars.)

Sobel reviews the dilemma in general, and then explores the specifics. Latitude had been reasonably well mastered from before the time of the Phoenicians, but not longitude. Only two reasonable tracks could be pursued: the painfully slow endeavor of comprehensive mapping of the heavens in both hemispheres, and likewise the tracks of the moon (over its 18 year cycle), with complicated coordination of this data into useful equations which could be published in a source book--rather like logarithms in geometry; the other was the creation of a clock which would be accurate within few seconds per day over many months--a feat considered impossible.

The former method was eventually rendered possible on land, with considerable accuracy, but not at sea. On land it had to be determined only once, on a clear night, and recorded as a datum, while at sea there were days, even weeks, when visibility was limited or non-existent, and times when the seas were too rough to accomplish such metrics. Clocks, on the other hand, were then dependent upon pendulums, which for a variety of reasons were non-starters at sea.

From the outset it appears (to me, at least) that the chronograph, as the clock was to be called, was the best solution, but the astronomers were in charge, and did their very best to stay on top. The British Crown had declared a reward of 20,000 pounds--12 million dollars today--to the genius who figured it out. Hundreds of people sought the answer, most of them crackpots.

John Harrison, an autodidact and carpenter by trade, undertook the challenge by first developing a clock with a pendulum which didn't change its length with changes of temperature (which influenced its accuracy.) No mean trick, but it still had a pendulum. He then built a clock which required neither a pendulum nor lubrication, which eliminated the problems, including the viscosity changes of the lubricant, but it was made of wood and all but impossible to protect from humidity. Finally he created a metal clock of various metals whose temperature related characteristics offset each other, thus eliminating error, but it was huge--4x4 feet and weighed over 80 lbs. These efforts took him decades, and involved 3 separate clocks: H-1, H-2 and H-3. Two and three were smaller if not lighter, and the last met the requirements of the crown for accuracy, but Harrison was not satisfied.

Having commissioned the creation of a pocket watch for himself, designed by him, it occurred to him that such a device could be the answer, and using all of the now known facts might be more affordable and easier to manage, and would certainly be smaller. Eureka! Several years later he had a wonderfully accurate chronograph which was nonetheless still expensive. But it worked, and he was on his way to the prize worth millions. Unfortunately his hated adversary was the Royal Astronomer, and sabotaged both the clock and the endeavor, holding out for an astronomical answer which he and his predecessors had been working on for decades. Harrison stood alone against the vested interests of both scientists and admirals, and finally prevailed in 1759: the H-4 was a 3 pound mechanism only 5 inches in diameter and sealed completely from humidity, and it performed as well as the H-3 which had demonstrated an accuracy of but 3 seconds lost on an 81 day cruise to the Caribbean!

While it is clear that Ms. Sobel could have described, at length, the processes of both competing endeavors, she briefly reviews--bless her heart--the information while keeping the book short and interesting. In addition she is a gifted writer, reminding me of the now long gone section in the Readers Digest which was titled "toward more picturesque speech." A delightful read if you are interested in the quest for latitude; brief, but complete.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:41 PM

December 9, 2009

Love and Hate in Jamestown

John Smith . Pocahontas . and the Start of a New Nation
David A Price - ISBN - 9781400031726

For those of you who read Lee Miller's Roanoke (previously reviewed here), this is another of the same genre; but the history of the first durable English settlement in the New World.

Price is "heavy" into John Smith and his importance no only to Jamestown--without him the colony would surely have failed--but as well to the early English settlement of America. There is a mini-bio of Smith developed throughout the text. Little known is that Smith was in many respects responsible for the Puritan colonies of New England . . . he led a voyage in 1615 to establish a settlement there. A prior attempt had been made to settle in Maine. And the 1620 Plymouth pilgrims planned to settle much further south. They, too, were also sponsored by the Virginia Company of London.

Jamestown was first settled in 1607. Most of the immigrants died, but were replaced annually by new recruits. Good thing, since between famine, Indian skirmishes, individual disagreements and the composition of many of the groups the early attrition rate exceeded 80%. Most were unsuited for such crude living, and many were scions of wealth who expected others to care for them. They were both unaccustomed to, and too "important" to work.

Originally the indigenous population was reasonably acceptant of the settlement, but became disenchanted as the settlers moved up river establishing multiple sites of occupancy. The too frequent murder of an Indian, and the colony's perpetual need for food didn't help a lot, either. Especially when they stole food the Indians refused to sell them. (They refused because their stores were inadequate to sustain themselves. They later refused in order to starve out the interlopers, who still hadn't learned to be independent.)

One of the first natives to become infatuated was Pocahontas, favored daughter/princess of the "Injun in Chief," Powhatan. You'll find Price's history of Pocahontas considerably different than Disney's, and from most of whatever else you have read. She was, however, a very important figure. She seemed attracted to then contemporary English ways and saved Smith's life several times. You'll recall that she married an Englishman, moved to England with him, was "honored" by the Queen--whom she never met--and loved the high life of London. Several years later, however, she died of Tuberculosis.

Her husband, John Rolfe, was one of the original tobacco cultivators of the New World, and marketing of the product to the Old World, a venture he returned to upon the death of his wife.

For the most part, being aware of the riches of the Spanish settlements, the Jamestown settlers were interested in the quick riches of gold and silver. They were sponsored by the Virginia Company, which anticipated immediate returns on their investment. (Sorry guys, wrong place.) The settlement didn't become productive until tobacco became popular and profitable, several decades later.

There is a too detailed history of the trials of early settlement, including Indian trading, sporadic conflicts and the exploration of the extended area. Originally the exploration was a continuation of the search for gold, but there was also the incremental search for other settlement sites. Slaves were an early item in Jamestown. And, surprisingly, some were dealt with as indentured servants, able to purchase their freedom, as were the white Europeans.

Later the text explores other and more distant settlements, and becomes arduous to read. As I have said about several books in my reviews, there is really too much detail to be of great interest to the non-historian. I found myself fast-forwarding thru some of his meticulous recantations of how many bushels of corn were traded for how many knives and hatchets, guns, powder and beads; details of altercations, invasions, wars and executions. Too many "notes."

Of interest was his diversion into a discussion of Bermuda--then unoccupied--and how it figured into the Jamestown settlements. His dissertations on King James--a living pig--were interesting, even humorous. Seems he never changed clothes until they fell apart, and bathed so rarely that his odor was indescribable.

The arrogance of these early Englishmen was appalling. They seem to have misunderstood why the natives were not enamored of their endless acquisition of land. After all, there was plenty to go around, and settlements were rather sparse. What could be the harm? The 10,000 acres set aside for a college at the site of Pocahontas' conversion to Christianity didn't seem inappropriate to them. There was little recognition, even when territories were occupied by thousands of newcomers who viewed native territory as an English birth-right. Not surprisingly the interlopers eventually annihilated the inhabitants, which was, of course, what the natives had feared.

I'd give it a 6 on a scale of 10, unless one is very interested in minutiae.


Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:30 PM

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

October 1, 2007

Mayflower

Nathaniel Philbrick – ISBN – 9780143111979

This is a truly astounding book. Much as I (used to) think I knew about American history I found this enlightening far beyond my expectations.

We all know, and know we know, about the Puritans, the Mayflower and the Speedwell; Robinson, Bradford, Standish and the Pilgrims; Massasoit, Squanto and the Wampanoags; the Narragansetts, the Pokanockets and all the rest. Learned it way back in grammar school!!

Trust me . . . we don’t! Or at least won’t until this book is read. It is a wonderfully informative, well organized and written epistle about the settling of New England in the early 17th century. He amply describes the reasons for the voyage, how it ended up well north of intentions, the initial encounters with Native Americans, why some were (reluctantly) welcoming and others were not, and what in due course fomented the savage conflicts which ultimately occurred. As well he discusses the adversity faced by these folks, unaccustomed to the brutally cold climate and unaware of farming or fishing. Parts of this will be familiar to all, but there is fascinating information not generally shared amongst those of us educated in Pilgrim myth.

Philbrick answers questions we’ve never raised, explains why much of what we know is false or insufficient, offers an in depth recantation of that 60-70 year period from the Puritan exodus to Holland, thru and beyond King Philip’s war, and assists in the understanding of the founding of the New England colonies in a way which is as relaxed as it is absorbing. And he does it all with nary a mention of Priscilla Mullins famous quote: “why don’t you speak for yourself, John.”

With the exception of Dogs of God, I cannot recall a history book I have enjoyed more, or learned more from in the last 5 years. That would include 1776 and the several I have reviewed which were written by Mark Kurlansky.

But enough . . . I highly recommend a leisure and thoughtful read. It is destined to be as rewarding as anything you’ll spend several hours doing in the next little while.

Posted by respeto at 9:46 AM

June 30, 2008

Media Madness

The Corruption of Our Political Culture
James Bowman – ISBN – 9781594032127

“James Bowman compellingly argues that the contemporary reign of ‘media madness’ has been allowed to ‘grow and spread like some pest whose natural predators have been eliminated.’ This is a scathing, provocative, brilliant and useful book.” This jacket blurb is by a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, and the editor of the Huffington Post. This is not a conservative commenting. Both he and the writer are liberals nearing the outer reaches, while clearly remaining in touch with reality.

It is a fascinating read--brief, challenging and informative. My only complaint is that he too often writes like a professor entangled in Derridaesque deconstruction. He emphasizes that being a journalist does not implicitly endow one with capacity to transcend one’s point of view and the cachet of objectivity (brilliant) and then delivers a 145 word, circular sentence with almost no punctuation. Other times he is clumsy: “History shows us no way of choosing not to fight, so long as there is still fight in the enemy, except for surrender.” Why not simply, if the enemy chooses to fight, surrender is the only alternative its continuance?

Caveats excepted, he is adamant about the insistence of the media-mad press that difficult and complicated issues of the day—war, health care, social security, etc.—are moral rather than political . . . and they occupy the high ground. Those who disagree are uninformed, imbecilic, or evil. No possibility of honest disagreement. This leads them and the rest of us to ponderances with those who share our prejudices and world views, rather than productive debates with adversaries.

The media has taught its consumers that feelings are more important than facts. A sage observed years ago that you may interpret the facts as you will, but you not entitled your own facts. Some things are simply true; even “fair and balanced” doesn’t make the grade, since giving alternate interpretations of feelings is not the same as stating the facts.

On the more arcane side he reminds that when Elvis Presley died there was almost no reportage. Compare that with Anna Nicole Smith of recent vintage. When and why did this all change? Media and markets!

They seem always to insist that everything needs be public. But they make anything public, which quite different. If everything is divulged there is little difficulty determining what to think, but cherry picking the data to skew interpretation is illegitimate. Contrariwise, not everything should be made available to the public; for instance, the media’s announcement of how intelligence agencies were tracking Bin Laden with his satellite phone or the banking links used to determine their funding. The enemy promptly changed operations thanks to those “little details” which no one really needed to know. Imagine that the 1945 the invasion plans for D-Day had been announced to the Nazis! That would have resulted in propagators tried for treason. Why not now?

Further, based upon nothing, they have decided that “root causes” exist, and are solely relevant, they proceed to share this wisdom in varietal (usually circuitous) ways. To whit, crime cannot at once be the root cause of poverty while poverty is the root cause of crime. Unfortunately, a majority is now convinced of this, despite the illogic.

Since there exists no natural check on media, it’s easy to presume that politicians are out of touch . . . but out of touch with what, as determined by whom? The president has information unknown to the press, and: “It is [in] itself a sign of detachment from reality to suppose that . . . any President of the United State is clueless about the things that are so plain to his journalistic critics.” The default setting of the media in our psychotherapeutic world is often pop-psychologizing, and it is as dangerous as it is ill informed. It is neither the administration’s job to be out of touch with reality nor the media’s job to point it out.

Since Watergate the press has appointed itself to make judgments for us, and explain them for our benefit, since they are intellectually and morally superior to both us and our leaders. These things can only be unmasked with a sagacity and shrewdness they alone possess. This is considerably worsened by intellectual elites who have followed suit, taking their own cracks at “Bushite mendacity, viciousness, corruption, and, with luck, criminality.”

And, finally (from the review standpoint) he observes the incongruous attitude of the media that the need for millennial achievement of earthly perfection leads them to conclude that nothing can be done until everything can be done. Addressing failing schools must await the elimination of poverty and crime; the third world mess is the result of European colonialism, which left it miserable, so there isn’t much to be done until it is corrected culturally. Media multiculturalists are committed to assumptions of equality between cultures, thus never consider the consequences of cultural differences. Attitudes notwithstanding, things are not always in our control. Utopian ideation prevents accommodation of the fact that these challenging problems are not well served by a little wisdom--which in any event cannot be expected from the bungling boobs in power who lack the imagination or intellect to address root causes.

It has become a point of pride for the people of the media to see themselves as not only without a party but also without a country. Agenda free, of course. Fair minded and honest to a fault.

I part with a couple of quotes from famous American poets:

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information.”
T. S. Eliot

“A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.”
Robert Frost

Posted by respeto at 11:58 AM

January 26, 2010

Menace in Europe

Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, too
Claire Berlinski - 9781400097708

So impressive was the Thatcher bio by this writer that I had to try her older book (2006). It skims the war on terror, but explores in depth the reasons for Europe's refusal to engage, as its civilization declines. Berlinski is an American who has spent most of her adult life studying Europe and its history; living and reacting within its cultures from England, France and Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey where she currently resides. Her work is a treasure trove of information and memorable analysis.

She observes, strikingly, that Europeans are behaving as they always have. The seeming novel developments in politics and culture are not new--they have ancient roots. "From the sack of Rome to the Yalta Conference, that past has been one of nearly uninterrupted war and savagery." The most quiescent time in generations was after 1945 till the end of the Cold War, when their destiny was really controlled by the two superpowers. After the collapse of the Soviet empire Europe's history simply resumed its historic course. Then, as now, Europe was incapable of marshaling any effective, unified response. Not to Germany, nor to Communism, nor now to radical Islam. Its leaders lack the imaginative power to appreciate their adversary. They expect radicals to be like Europeans, amenable to reason and susceptible to bribery. They cannot appreciate that their posture engenders not reciprocal conciliation, but contempt. (Not unlike Obama and the left.)

Since the French revolution, and perhaps before, Europe has been gradually de-Christianizing. In recent years it is attempting to move from nation states to the mythical European Union without much success. It leaves behind little "beyond pleasure and personal relations, and these [are not] enough to keep hopelessness at bay." Without a common transcendental belief, this hopelessness universal.

Their anti-Americanism has been a theme of their tradition for 200 years. "They can exist without God, but fail without something to hate." Life is meaningless to them, and by their inclusion in the Western world their problem becomes ours. An unmoored, amoral Europe precludes our avoidance of them. Their combined economy and population exceeds ours, and it is imploding under the weight of social and economic pressures which neither the citizens nor the politicians will confront. Everything about their state of existence impacts us in some way; there is inchoate anti-Semitism, and a refusal to halt the advance of Islamic radicalism in their own spheres. Jewish pogroms have always been the canary in the coal mine, which bodes ill for yet more dissimilar immigrants. Europe--France especially--had enormously profitable relations with Iraq, which explains their vehement opposition to the overthrow of Saddam.

Liberal Americans are "besotted with Europe." They look to their cultures and institutions for inspiration, as they work to copy their welfare states. They wish "to learn of their family values," but there is no recognition that their low marriage rate, reduction in the establishment families, and catastrophically low birth rates are a problem. They are the lowest in the developed world, and well below replacement. Their native populations are shrinking. I immigration is required . . . most of it from wholly different cultures. To fund their welfare programs they are vigorously importing people to fill jobs and pay taxes, as they refuse to allow the integration of these foreigners into their societies. America attracts people who actually want to be here, to assimilate, and to intermarry.

Progressives style themselves as more sophisticated and politically mature, and believe Europe's antipathy is impartial, and a rational response to American failings. "I encourage them to feel uneasy in these sentiments."

She explores myriad avenues in exposing Europe for the "sick man" it is. She explains how America is better at almost everything of contemporary importance. Europe does have a remarkable history, but hasn't accomplished much since before Napoleon. It is strangely passive, vaguely coherent, and practices an odd sort of utilitarianism which avoids rule by divine right, yet offers nothing to replace it. Laws are obeyed because it's preferable to chaos. Things are done as they've always been done, and without belief or rationale. Rejection of moral absolutes is the source of a profound risk aversion. While amazingly tolerant of some things (terrorists?), they are intolerant of Jews, Americans, "Franken foods," and a variety of things which challenge their claim to tolerance.

She touches upon the electoral result of the Spanish train bombing, and the Dutch fears engendered by the Mohammed cartoons as well as the murders of Pim Fortuyn (a gay politician) and Theo Van Gogh (the producer of Submission.) European leaders demonstrate an unwillingness to comprehend the threat. They continue to insist that radical Islam is a problem of underdevelopment. The list of countries which spawn terrorists do have a common theme, but it is not underdevelopment. Most of the prime terrorists are from the middle and upper classes.

While it is possible to be European without abandoning Islam, it is impossible without abandoning its radical forms. Embracing a diluted Islam is little different than embracing diluted Christianity, which explains why immigrant Muslims feel no significant compulsion to integrate. Why integrate in a country which is decadent and without convictions?

For millennia there has been general agreement by cultures that certain things are deeply meaningful, while others are not consistent with a Good Life. Europe (and not a few Americans) has become fixated on money, sex and fame. Yet "religion, and the philosophical ideas of love, courage, integrity, dignity, respect, compassion, authenticity, genuineness--these are the things that will deliver the Good Life." Europeans are hungry for something no longer provided by their cultures. Conventional religion has been replaced by other "religions" like environmentalism.

The West devours religion by tempting the faithful with more immediate satisfactions: personal autonomy, sexual freedom, few rules, and neat things to buy. Europe has snuffed out Christianity, and may do so with Islam . . . hopefully before Islam snuffs out Europe. But it is far easier to destroy than to build.

"Of course it is true that military force is not the only solution. Overwhelming military force is the only solution." Her critics insist that she "keeps bringing up the Nazis." She challenges them to find a single situation where the analogy fails.

Profound instincts become sublimated when repressed. Religious instinct, and the nationalistic instinct, amongst others can be neither denied nor eradicated. We now have nature worshippers, global warming worshippers, faux religions like the Druids, Wiccans, etc. The most prominent rock group in Germany--Rammstein--is Naziesque, but the group and its followers deny this vigorously. She reviews many of their lyrics, however, and they are scary. If they represent the "normal way of being German" spare us the abnormal way. They claim to be "helping Germany to rediscover its identity," but she asks why Germany would want to rediscover that identity?

There is an ancient theme in German history, one of resentment when it does not occupy its "proper place." But the scariest feature is that they plainly have not learned from history. They feel oppressed by the world, and especially by America. Imagining that they could be brothers of the French, sisters to the Belgians or cousins to the British is at least laughable.

Comical--or not--she reviews the Laeken Declaration in which, "At long last Europe is on its way to becoming one big family," then lists a full page of wars--at least 70--beginning with the sack of Rome and ending with the Balkan Wars, with the caveat that "only the first wars that come to mind: I have probably forgotten quite a number. By way of contrast, the United States has fought one war, and that against itself."

"As someone who has spent time thinking about Europe . . . I do not prophesy [its demise] . . . nor do I predict catastrophe on [its] soil, [but] Europe's entitlement economy will collapse. Its demography will change. The European Union may unravel. [Terrorists] may succeed in taking out a city." And once again, the only people to whom this will come as a surprise are those how have not been paying attention." (emphasis in the original.)

European anti-Americanism is a cultist system of faith, rather than a set of rational beliefs, and as such is "impervious to revision upon confrontation with facts, logic, evidence, gestures of good will, public relations campaigns, or attempts on the part of [the Americans] to be better, more sensitive listeners." The bulk of the attitude, America's deficits notwithstanding, is exuberantly irrational. And it is neither improving, nor likely to.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 10:27 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

June 5, 2010

Muslim Mafia

Gaubatz and Sperry - ISBN - 9781935071105

Be prepared for a terrifying expose of what the Muslim world has in store for the rest of us. "Religion of Peace" be damned. This is the real scoop:

Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Quran should be the highest authority in America."
Omar Ahmad--founding chairman of CAIR

Now that the Counsel on American-Islamic Relations (the Islamic Society of North America, the full name substituted for by its acronym CAIR) has been deemed by all to be the enemy, first amongst principals in the war on the world by militant Islam, you'd think their discredit would make them impotent. And you'd be wrong. They are still active They still have access to the levers of our government from the Whitehouse to the Hill and on to the Military. It is the locus of political power for the secret Muslim Brotherhood in America, the founder of Hamas, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. It declares it will dominate the world, including the U.S., by 2050. It does so out loud, if in quiet quarters. It is known by our government, the FBI, the CIA, and the military. It is represented in our congress by people such as Congressman Ellison from Minnesota . . . yet we do nothing to impede it. Most of the handful of concerned people are either frightened away from encounter, or expressly forbidden to do so by their superiors. (Consider the recent murders at Fort Hood, currently being whitewashed by the base commander and the Whitehouse.) Many agents of our alphabet agencies have quit their jobs in protest over being hamstrung by the power structure.

CAIR is associated with convicted terrorists; has provided funds for their defense and adds accolades and support to government agencies in order to minimize damaging evidence. It insists that it is a passive force for the good of Muslims in the U.S. And it is all bullshit. They're neither passive nor good. They are masters at prevarication, and are supported by the ACLU--surprise? They've infiltrated the highest levels of security; they're present in force at Guantanamo; and they're principals in recommending Muslim clerics to counsel in prisons and in the military. They are active in recruiting converts and terrorists. They impact upon anti-terror training in our "hometown" police forces; they're effective not only by infiltration but by grousing until particularly valuable instructors are removed from those positions.

They represent the Muslim establishment in America, and its leaders have declared war on law enforcement; they threaten to--and do--withhold information from the Muslim communities, and intimidate persons in those environs into silence. "The FBI can't point to one time--not even one time--when the [Muslim] outreach program has produced any information that's of investigative value." (That from a senior FBI agent working counterterrorism out of the Washington D.C. field office.) They do this as they rage about "hate crimes" committed against Muslims or their institutions (which, not incidentally, amount to about 10% of those committed against Jews!)

They inflate the number of Muslims in the U.S.: their estimate is 8-10 million--whereas they actually number well below 2 million--thus to influence government of their power to counteract it and offer "voter support" by which congress and agencies are influenced. Official outreach creates discord at all levels of the FBI . . . "except the highest levels where top brass continue to be clueless about the nature of the enemy." (The latter escapes me completely. How do they remain clueless when their own declassified documents confirm CAIR's complicity, authorship and power? I'd submit that this is political correctness on steroids.)

So goes the narrative, page by page, chapter by chapter: 300 pages of expository narrative supported by another 100 pages of appendices and end notes. Gaubatz is a 20 year veteran of military service with another 12 years as a Special Agent with the OSI; a skilled Arabic linguist deployed to the Middle-East for years. He is now a counterterrorism researcher and consultant. Sperry is a media fellow at the Hoover Institute and has written books used by top law enforcement entities; a journalist who has broken numerous stories on the war on terror and its attendant major issues. They know whereof they speak, and what they have to say is frightening, damning and disgusting.

Our government knows all of this stuff, but is unwilling to do much about it. Instead we hear about meetings wherein all parties get together and sing kumbaya, share stories about mutual love, affection and being "people of the book." That and how we all loathe terror and terrorists. While convicting dozens of them we still carefully avoid making a judgment. After all, that would not fit within our official vision of the world. Besides, CAIR and its cronies are carefully cosseted by their religious veneer. Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Bahai, Confucianism, Taoism, even Wiccanism . . . all are the same . . . right? Well, as a matter of fact, no. 'Taint right, and most of us already understand that. Why not government?

Hey, this's me. Even I accept that it ain't just Barack, though he's the present prime prevaricator, and likely the most devious, but it's Bush, Clinton, both political parties, the agencies, the military, the ACLU, the council of churches, etc; everybody is so damned afraid of being insufficiently PC that they all just bend over before Muhammad and grab their ankles. This has got to stop! Last year!!

Continuing along:

• Both Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center have issued staff-wide memos imposing Orwellian speech codes.

• The Terms "Jihad", "Islamo-fascism" and "Caliphate" are out.

• The FBI is so bound to "diversity" that when hiring Arabic speakers, Jews are passé, but Muslims are PC . . . and preferentially hired.

• Agents complain the FBI is more worried about offending groups with proven ties to terror, than they are about infiltrating and investigating them.

• Washington politicians and Fortune 500 companies are routinely intimidated by CAIR, and so effectively they make Jesse Jackson look like a piker.

• Last fall's Democratic landslide was cheered by CAIR and other front groups.

• CAIR's boosters on the hill, three blocks from the Capitol, are not limited to Muslims; most of the non-Muslims are Democrats

• Some "forty-strong lawmakers" of both House and Senate continue to sing CAIR's praises.

• Vicious attacks on adversaries of CAIR are ritually launched and usually triumph, but Michael Savage (Savage Nation) stood up to them successfully, though he lost a number of his "lily-livered" sponsors. Paul Harvey caved; Laura Schlessinger did not. Glenn Beck was "encouraged" to leave CNN; Daniel Pipes was trashed by CAIR. The list goes on!

• Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was a party to the six-imam event on US Airways Flight 300, and he is likely to defend all Islamic radicals as "persecuted." Most of these events are staged in pursuit of ignoble goals.

• After 9/11 Washington allowed agents to start connecting dots . . . but only after . . . and you'll recall just how fast we identified people there-to-for prohibited from being identified. Now much of the PC crap has been reinstituted leading to departures of some of the best agents, departures often under duress.

• Documents uncovered by legal searches have led to mountains of data leading to many indictments, but the "unindicted co-conspirators" are still free to continue their activities unconstrained. They're known to number over 300, but granted immunity.

• There are at least 46 known members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood--which is illegal here--but they are left alone. No deportation, no charges, no nuttin'.

• The Muslim Brotherhood and CAIR behave as do the Cosa Nostra, but are less hampered because of their "religions protections." Their fundamental--and stated--goals (in discovered documents) include: supporting Palestinian terrorists; seeking Israel's destruction; gutting U.S. anti-terrorism laws; loosening Muslim immigration; converting Americans to Islam, with special focus on Hispanic immigrants, black inmates and soldiers, and especially white Christian women; infiltrating the government and institutionalizing Shariah law in America. The ultimate goal is to conquer the entire continent of North America for Islam, and fold it into the worldwide Caliphate.

• Members take an oath to the Brotherhood: "Allah is our God; the Prophet is our guide; the Quran is our constitution; Jihad is our way; and death for the glory of Allah is our greatest ambition."

• Unlike the mob, these people are impossible to "flip." Islamo-fascists would rather die serving Allah. Furthermore, the people in these organizations are not the usual [Sopranos] "goombas depicted on HBO." Rather, they are well-educated professionals: clerics, scholars, doctors and engineers. They hate the West and are dedicated to destroying it.

• Over 30 years ago a couple of Muslim students at Southern Illinois University founded ISNA (the Islamic Students of North America) and promptly purchased 124 acres in southern Indiana, where there were no other Muslims within hundreds of miles. Thereupon they erected a $3.5 million mosque and funded an 80 thousand volume library and a sprawling campus. Where did a couple of kids get that kind of money? "It came from overseas banks, and the FBI never [investigated, because] we're talking about 'religion' and bank records."

• They have established paramilitary camps in Oklahoma, Missouri and other states. They consider America a "pushover." "In America we have a legal slack, or an atmosphere of freedom." Does anyone ever ask why, how, or whether this attitude exists? NO! Or why it is not challenged? NO again!

• If (or as they believe, when) America falls, so goes the rest of the West and therefore the world. The implications are obvious.

• The current (suspected) "Godfather" of CAIR--head of the Washington-based American Muslim Council--regularly rubs elbows with presidents and their staffs (and congress) as he raises millions of dollars for al-Qaida. He has also infiltrated the State Department as goodwill ambassador to Muslim countries and the Pentagon where he created the Muslim chaplain corps for the Military.

• Meanwhile, counterintelligence efforts have been largely directed at old Cold War threats, Russia and China. Authorities have "recently realized" that the new (?) threat may be more dangerous and more insidious! Ya think?

• FBI officials refuse to believe that ISNA officials (see above) are nefarious because "I have lunch with [them] every week and they're nice guys."

• [These] "organizations now represent the entire Muslim establishment in America. And few in Washington have the political will to dismantle it." Are ya scared yet?

The Islamic threat is a many-headed Hydra. A frightening number of "ordinary" Muslims support CAIR's positions and attitudes. Over 25% of American Muslims support suicide murders, and a larger number support the imposition of Sharia, including "honor killings," female genital mutilation and death to homosexuals and Christian converts. Still more--perhaps most--go along passively.

Is there yet hope the official Washington will rise to the issue? Is "J***s Ch***t . . . what the f** k is going on here too outrageous a question?

"America's greatest challenge is in this ongoing national security threat is our reluctance to admit that our law enforcement agencies are some fifty years behind the intelligence gathering techniques of Islamic terrorist groups and their agents such as CAIR and ISNA." Indeed !!

Read this tome. Wake up and "smell the coffee." Maybe send a copy to your representative, or at least call the SOB.

Alternatively, if you want the short version, or to visually enhance the book, buy or rent the DVD, The Third Jihad, released to the public in March of 2010. It is frightening in its presentation, and pleads with "the powers" to wake up and deal with the problem. I'd suggest you see the flick, then read the book. They're "bookends" for the disaster impending if we continue to do nothing.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:44 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

November 15, 2008

My Cousin, My Husband

Clans and Kinship in Mediterranean Societies
Germaine Tillion – ISBN – 9780863566257

Tillion, a legendary French anthropologist, studied Mediterranean societies; largely those in Algeria and North Africa. She died this year, age 100, and I suspect this reissued book was an honorarium of sorts, though the subject is certainly aucourant. She argues that the phenomenon of men killing their daughters, sisters and wives over matters of sexual honor is not an aberration specific to Islam, but part of a pagan legacy of the area which still affects modern societies regardless of religion; more prevalent in Islam, to be sure, but not limited to it.

“My Cousin” was first published in 1963, and of special interest in that close familial marriages are exposed as Mediterranean customs which include virtually all of its cultures--and from prehistoric times. She posits: “Must we then attribute veil and harem to a specific climate, or race? [This is] inconsistent with everything we know from the past. So what is the reason for this stubborn survival, which to this day, wherever it flourishes, constitutes the most serious obstacle to progress?”

Long before Islam and Christianity, incest was a practice which hadn’t the sacrilegious character it carries today. Despite current religious prohibition, cousin marriages occur with regularity, within all religious communities. Endogamy is particularly prominent amongst Zoroastrian Persians.

Virginity is an important matter, but primarily to brothers and fathers. Seven year old boys are required to accompany their sisters about to “protect” them . . . occasionally aunts and even their mothers. Anything with sexual inference is a terrible shame to be protected against. This leads to family besmirchment—and in turn to honor killings--but the “snotty little kids” are honor bound to report what they are taught to be infractions. She eschews discussing the psychological traumas which may attendant this responsibility, but suggests that it authors the sexual obsessions of the men.

She explores Italian Catholicism, in which virginity is also important, noting that there is a sometimes “extreme archaism” when compared to prevailing mores. Contrariwise, Muslim society exhibits mores even more retrograde than their religion. This is the result of tribalism overriding religious dictate. In sophisticated, urban settings (as with original Moorish civilization) there were literates, subjects of compulsory education, who overwhelmed the “old peasant civilizations.” It is sometimes so now in large Muslim cities. Still, tradition prevails, “to the detriment of society.” For example, the veil rarely appears in rural tribes, being a feature of metropolitan living--and another means of separation of women from society. As well, this fosters cousin marriage by preventing the appearance of divergent social arrangements. The burkha is but an expansion on the veil.

Her discussions are replete with facts—some arcane--but she expounds prolifically. I found it very interesting, if a sometimes difficult read. Certainly it requires further reflection before damning Islam alone, and an explanation of the origins of these multiple societal problems assists in interpretation.

“All family situations, at all stages of life, now bristle with thorns, imposing on every man and every woman an obsession with flight, [forward and/or retrograde.] . . . [There is presumed to be a long past] haven of peace, understanding, virtue and happiness: a golden age. [A nice fantasy, that.] But it is not possible to go backward, and all the efforts expended in that direction have only one result: to halt progress, obstruct the future and hold society at the most painful and dangerous stage of its evolution.” This is one of the important dilemmas of “modern” Islam!

Posted by respeto at 12:14 PM

August 15, 2008

Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity

Get out the shovel-Why everything you know is wrong
John Stossel – ISBN – 9781401302542

Those familiar with Stossel know what to expect, and he delivers again. For the unfamiliar, it’s a great time to introduce yourself.

The man is a wonder. He began as a rather typical left-leaning commentator and consumer advocate, out to intimidate corporations and celebrate the role of government in regulating business. He discovered to his surprise and chagrin that he was 180 degrees wrong, and has become a stout, even rigid libertarian who touts the free markets at every turn. Bright man, that!

He destroys myriad myths with facts, comments on how wrong most are about most things. Even a “classic liberal” can learn something, such as the reason Helen Keller was a bad driver. It had nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman. Imagine! (He has a sense of humor, too.)

Amongst myriad things he observes that our “government has grown from the founders’ vision to a monster that sustains itself with constantly increasing taxes, endless meddling, and ever-greater intrusion into what was once private life.” He uses chapters of one to several page assaults to prove it, discussing Dems and Repubs . . . both bad; farm subsidies, PBS, “helping” the needy, “model” behavior of public officials, etc.

He destroys the concept of good public schools, noting that even at the obscene and ever-growing $10,000 per child—which is $250,000 per classroom—schools still fail to educate, and emphasizes the fact that “more money” was supposed to cure the problem . . . and that was before the spending level of $5,000 per child, which was long ago. He does observe that “underpaid” teachers earn an average of $60,000 per year, which is hardly a pittance, especially for a 9 month year, a 6-7 hour day with every week-end, holiday and teacher’s conference “off.” That said, good teachers are still underpaid, however few that might be.

The whole book is filled with such commentary. All of it is logical and corroborated by fact.

As I’ve noted before, many times, one can debate the implications and uses of the facts, but one is not entitled to his own facts. Stossel does a superb job of outlining the facts and offering his interpretations of them . . . and I do agree with him on most of his conclusions. So will you if you read this tome carefully.

Posted by respeto at 3:12 PM

December 5, 2007

Next

Michael Crichton - ISBN-9780060873165

After State of Fear, all I can say is WOW! He’s done it again.

As another well done tale about the currently troublesome biotech revolution, it is as entertaining as was the former, and cogent to a contemporaneous conundrum. As in the former he signs off with suggestions on a rational approach to the problems.

He uses numerous vignettes recurring throughout the book, each expanding the narratives in which he expounds on the nature and risks of gene splicing, gene therapy, the development of humanoids, smart African grey parrots, “curative” inhalation therapies, etc. These are situationally humorous but serious nonetheless.

He takes his deserved swipes at those who know it all (as was the Hollywood star eaten by cannibals in “Fear”), and exposes modern science for the fraud it has become. Science, in the past, was a noble calling (think Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Jonas Salk, the Curies, etc.), but it has be converted into nothing more than a career choice in recent decades and has become as corrupt as most every other human endeavor. “Practitioners lie, cheat, steal, sue, hide data, fake data, overstate their own importance, and denigrate opposing views unfairly.”

Universities do research for the money and drug companies fund research which leads to predetermined, or at least biased results which are not rarely known to be false. This in turn leads to dangerous and/or near useless drugs which cost a fortune . . . and it is getting much worse year by year. Many Universities own myriad patents. Some have holdings which dwarf the ownership of the biggest of industrial giants. And to what end? It prohibits meaningful research by others who have to pay huge sums to explore areas in any way related to these patents; a consequence avoidable only by avoiding such research, thus depriving humanity of who knows what in the way of serious progress.

One of the most critical issues is the patenting of genes, which he observes is not unlike patenting the nose. One cannot thereafter develop nasal spray, nasal trimmers, eyeglasses (which rest on the nose) or do reconstructive surgery without paying the patent holder a fortune. Insane you say? So is the patenting of genes.

Another issue is that of tissue ownership. Taken for one purpose it is being purloined for others without the knowledge or consent of the donors. Whole cell lines are thus established which enrich universities and research labs in millions—or billions—of dollars, all without consent of the donors, many of whom then have to pay whopping fees for therapies which would not exist without them. And, of course, they get nothing by way of compensation for their “donations.”

Only half in jest he notes that “ADULTS DON’T GROW UP ANYMORE.” Formal education requires child-like receptivity which compromises the psychological maturity which would normally occur in the late teens or early twenties. (I remember observing as a medical student that people in graduate school mature more slowly because of their sheltered environment—away from the “real world.”) This is increasingly true now, and frighteningly so! We have perpetual adolescents who take years or decades to complete education, and we have Bill Clinton--only too representative of the “boomer” generation--who is still adolescent in his sixties, as are many of them.

Good read, and entertaining, too. Thought provoking, it clearly defines some of the legislatives updating needed in the new modern era.

Posted by respeto at 4:00 PM

May 17, 2011

Nomad

From Islam to America
A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations
Ayaan Hirsi Ali - ISBN = 978-1439157329

Ayaan was the young Somali Muslim on her way to an arranged marriage in Canada when she defected to Holland. There she learned Dutch--her 4th language--acquired a Western education, became a translator between cultures, a Dutch citizen and member of the government. When she became a political risk Holland evicted her. Dutch Muslims were threatening to kill her as they had her counterpart, Theo Van Gogh, who produced her play: Submission. She immigrated to the U.S. where she is now productively ensconced in The American Enterprise Institute, albeit under heavy personal protection. As well, she has created her own AHA foundation. She is a brilliant, outspoken critic of Islam, and a convert to western philosophy. Nomad chronicles her travels and travails as it expounds upon her "journey through the clash of civilizations." It is every bit as good as The Caged Virgin, and Infidel which preceded it.

It is an opus to freedom in which, amongst other things, she discusses the "three obstacles to the integration of people like [her] own family [and by extension, most Muslims] in three words: sex, money and violence." These three traits embody the clash between the tribal culture of Islam and Western modernity. She is skeptical regarding Muslim integration into western societies, and spends little time searching for the near mythical moderate Muslim. It's not in the genes; it's in the religion, which she unsparingly dissects. "The West urgently needs to compete with the jihadis . . . for the hearts and minds of its own Muslim immigrant populations." These immigrants have left their own countries, but they did not, have not, and likely will not leave behind their cultures unless they are deliberately caused to. (Australian style eviction may be a viable option if they will not.) In America the radicalization of Muslim youth is still in the early stages, but the threats are real and need be addressed vigorously.

These immigrants have not been educated in the ways of the West; even those from large cities. They are not prepared for life as a modern, let alone a modern in the west. American liberals, she opines, are reluctant to acknowledge differences between cultures, and rarely register a preference for one over the other. She exposes differences in expectations of immigrants to European countries as opposed to America. American Muslims are more inclined to assimilate, while the European Muslims tend to remain foreigners for generations. American immigrants usually come for freedom; European immigrants usually come for welfare benefits. Her observations about the differences are both acute and fascinating. America is more different than most of us are aware.

She expounds on her family relationships, using them as examples of the world's problems with Muslim culture: the ruinous male vanity, the self delusion and escapist defense mechanisms as well as the oppression--even violent abuse--of women, all of which she insists to be cultural norms, not aberrations. Well-meaning Westerners promoting tolerance and respect ignore the practices of Islam, and in so harm the vulnerable--especially the females--whom they should be protecting.

It is difficult for Westerners, inheritors of the legacy of rational thought, to understand the phenomenon of group thinking; it is both primitive and controlling. Social workers incorrectly insist that immigrants need to maintain group cohesion for their mental health, but this maintenance creates victim groups which require accommodation, reinforcing demands for their own system of law and garb, separate from the adopted country. We must not support their insistence on maintaining diversity. It serves no one well.

All human beings may well be equal, but most certainly all cultures and religions are not.

Islam exhibits some noble traits, but it is a culture that mutilates girls' genitals* and confines them behind walls and veils or flogs them for falling in love; it justifies the oppression of women and supports all manner of violence; it encourages child marriage and condones marital rape. A culture which celebrates femininity and considers women to be masters of their own lives is superior. The West should legislate against these abominable practices from its own societies and move against them everywhere else, as it did with slavery. It cannot be done without first acknowledging that there is something within the religion which justifies such practices. Christianity in the West is more humane, more restrained, and more accepting of criticism and debate. The Christian concept of God today is more benign and more tolerant of dissent.

Still, the most important difference between the two cultures is the exit option. A person who chooses to opt out of Christianity may be excommunicated, but not harmed; a Muslim who leaves the faith is supposed to be killed. The Christian presumption that interfaith dialogue will magically bring Islam into the fold of Western civilization is mistaken. It will not happen.

In the real world, equal respect for all cultures doesn't translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaining a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance and abuse. She's lived it; she said it; she's right. Read the book. Listen up !

*The Quran does not mention such mutilation, but most of the 130 million women alive worldwide who have undergone this brutal ritual are Muslim women.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:43 PM

November 21, 2008

Nothing Like it in The World

The men who built the transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869
Stephen E. Ambrose – ISBN – 9780743203173

Indeed, there was not! Unlike several other Ambrose works this is quite well done. As is not uncommon with my critiques (to quote a onetime patron of Mozart), “it has too many notes.” That is, there is more information than I’d like to have available, but that is what comprehensive history is about. So, with that caveat . . . and advice to skim thru some of the wordy parts:

Herein is a clear and authentic picture of what it took for and from the dreamers, planners, sponsors, financiers and workmen who built this railroad. Actually, there were two: the Central Pacific Railroad (moving east from San Francisco) and the Union Pacific Railroad (moving west from Omaha.)

Over hill and dale, across grassy plains and deserts, thru and around mountains, over rivers and not a few creeks, using quite primitive mechanical devices a “first in the world” transcontinental railroad was fashioned out of steel and wood, with monumental engineering skill, physical risk, labor, and not a little blood, by Irish immigrants and imported Chinese labor (and in Utah, Mormons), much of it back breaking . . . even heroic, against heat and drought, snow and cold, sometimes removing snow in order to build it. When built it required many snow sheds over the tracks to keep them passable. One such shed became known as “the House Without End,” deservedly at twenty-nine miles, which required one hundred million board feet of lumber. One season it withstood sixty-five feet of snow load.

Grades were sometimes a hundred feet wide—all made with wheelbarrow delivered fill—to create wide avenues thru forests to avoid trees falling upon the completed rails. Thousands of laborers were needed, which necessitated housing, food, laundry facilities, etc. Of course there were camp followers to provide entertainment: alcohol, prostitutes, etc. Quartermaster duties, alone, were almost beyond comprehension, though the recent Civil War had taught many lessons.

Roadbeds were carved from mountain sides with near vertical drop-offs, the most dangerous of which was over three miles long. More than a dozen tunnels were driven thru mountains of rock by hammering star drills to chisel away small tracts in stone, packing them with powder, blasting away inches at a time a semi-circular hole 16 ft. in diameter. Working 24 hours a day, progress was painfully slow; only six to twelve inches per day. The rocky debris was hauled away—by hand, in wheelbarrows; hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of the stuff. The longest was the Summit Tunnel, 1,659 feet in length and 7,043 feet above sea level. It required a million dollars for the blasting powder, alone. It was “drilled” thru living rock, separately from each end, and when the two excavations were joined midway they were but two inches off!

Other physical obstacles were bridged with forests of wood for trestles and bridges, while additional forests were used for the railroad ties. All of the steel rails were made in the eastern U.S. and transported by ship to California, either around South America or thru the jungles of Columbia (now Panama). The engines were shipped, complete, in the same way, over a monumental distance of 6,000 miles, creating yet other problems and expenses. Needless to say there was the impediment of lawyers filing suits for whatever against whomsoever (can’t do without them, of course.)

Grading required armies of men, while the laying of ties, placement and securing the rails with spikes required platoons of disciplined workers. Anyone my age who has watched the roustabouts drive in tent stakes for the erection of the Circus Big-Tops of our youth can readily imagine the coordination required to drive steel spikes into the ties; this after the synchronization of previous teams handling the paired rails with similar aplomb, placing them exactly where necessary, upon ties carefully laid down beforehand. All of this was accomplished in a minute or so per rail; averaging about a mile per day. The sequence was repeated over a million times before the final spike was driven at Promontory Point, Utah (a place Ambrose notes had never been visited before—nor has it been since.)

Interest was international, and fed by regular reports “from the front” by telegraph. It was the world’s largest undertaking . . . ever. The two railroads were the first big businesses in America, raising and solving myriad complex problems as they opened up the west. The life of the country was changed immeasurably by the project, as it irreparably altered that of the Native Americans.

Being deemed “the most important event of modern times,” is hardly an exaggeration. “A man [born before 1869] had been born into a world in which President Andrew Jackson traveled no faster then Julius Caesar, [wherein] information could be transmitted no faster than in Alexander the Great’s time,” yet the railroad, paired with a telegraph line, permitted a man to move at 60 miles per hour and transmit information from coast to coast all but instantly. One could now go from New York to San Francisco in less than a week . . . and for as little as sixty-five dollars; saving months in a Conestoga wagon and over several thousand dollars in expense. Mail delivered to California cost dollars per ounce; by rail it cost pennies. It authored the standardization of time across the U.S., where before it had been determined by local needs.

Together, the transcontinental railroad and the telegraph made modern America possible. While hoped for trade with Asia didn’t deliver as expected, “the enormous development of local business surpassed anything . . . ever dreamed of.” The UP and CP were the largest corporations of their time, and the first to have extensive dealings with federal, state, county and local governments, originating much of the law required for such integration. Lavish riches were created and spent while facilitating other businesses creating like fortunes.

It is likewise cogent to note that at the time Washington was paying fifty cents per ton of supplies to remote outposts. Upon completion the railroads reduced this to less than ten cents, saving over two million dollars per year, not to mention delivery within days not weeks, with little risk of loss. The benefit to the country is virtually incalculable.

It was alleged by historians of the early 20th century that the lands granted the builders were alone worth more than the railroads, when built, which was typical of the “robber baron” mentality of the time. In fact, however, these grants never brought in enough money to pay the bills. It didn’t even come close. True, land could be sold for $2.50 per acre in town, but much of the remaining land was worthless. It is not altogether by accident that the government still owns vast tracts of land in the west.

The total value of the land, as determined by the Interior Department in 1880 was about $392,000,000. In that same year, total investment in the railroads in the U.S. was about $4,650,000,000, representing nearly a 12 fold difference! Furthermore--New Deal socialist representations notwithstanding--much of the land was secured by bonds, that is, debt which had to be repaid (and was!) In 1898-99, alone, the government collected $167,746,490 on an initial loan of $64,623,512; “financially not less than brilliant” according to Hugo Meyer, an economics professor at Harvard.

“An automatic reaction that big business is always on the wrong side, corrupt and untrustworthy, is too easy, and the error is compounded if we fail to distinguish between incentives, for example, and fraud.” Not a bad idea to keep in mind when hammering on corrupt corporations vs. the (ig?)noble congress.

Posted by respeto at 12:50 PM

June 21, 2008

Older Books are often worth reading

The Wolf of Masada (1978)
John Fredman

Voyage of the Damned (1974)
Gordon Thomas & Max Witts

Those familiar with my reviewing habits will recognize my penchant for reading/rereading out of print books. Recently I was reminded of two great books from the 70’s which are well worth the time. Both have multiple ISBN’s having been reissued over years.

Wolf” is historic fiction, but closely follows history known at the time of its original publication. It was precipitated by archaeological facts unearthed by a major, contemporaneous dig at Masada, and relied upon the only account of the fall of that historic site by Josephus—a Jewish commander who surrendered to and became a Roman in order to survive. He witnessed the event at the direction of the Emperor Vespasian, and wrote the history which touted Roman preeminence, manifest by the conquest of the Jews and Jerusalem (and honored by the construction of the Arch of Titus near the Forum in Rome.)

Yet, it was written with the spirit which made Masada the epic battle cherished by Jews for its intense symbolism. Simon ben Eleazar, the Wolf of Masada, had been many things over his eventful life: shepherd, slave, gladiator, centurion, and finally Roman general, fellow combatant, and friend of Vespasian before the latter became Emperor, and the former reclaimed and defended his Jewish lineage. No doubt much of that “history” is manufactured; still it is compatible of the few things known about Simon.

But, the history which matters most is the final chapter, the conquest of Herod’s impenetrable fortress at Masada by a determined Roman commander. He accomplished this only after construction of an enormous earthen ramp--which survives to this day--in order to overwhelm the fortress. On breaching the walls he found that the surviving Jews had sacrificed themselves rather than be taken prisoner to be enslaved and/or executed by the Romans. In so doing they authored the incredible event which was savored by, and which legacy sustained the Jews thru two millennia of exile from Jerusalem. Recall the lament of Jews: “next year in Jerusalem?” Herein is the origin of that sentimental promise.

It is one of the better books of its kind which you will find on this or any subject, and easily compares with the writings of the current best selling author, Bernard Cornwell.

Voyage” is an historic account of the S.S. St. Louis, a ship of the Hamburg-American Line, which carried nearly 1,000 forcefully expatriated Jews from Germany to Cuba to be relocated. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister correctly surmised that they would be refused entry, thus making German intention of “getting rid of these vermin” understandable and acceptable to—or at least not challenged by--the West. The refugees were rejected, by both the Cubans and the Americans-!! They were forced to return to Europe where the vast majority of them died or were exterminated in Nazi Death Camps. Neither Roosevelt’s nor America’s finest hour, to be sure. Perhaps worth recalling as the debate about Israel is discussed in the upcoming election.

Gustav Schroeder, captain of the ship on this voyage was more than displeased. First he was neither admirer nor member of the Nazi Reich, and was both sensitive to and supportive of the Jewish expats who were being humiliated and sacrificed by this endeavor. He was humbled as well by the fact that even in divestiture these Jews identified themselves as German. As a result of his endeavors he was “grounded” and lived out the remainder of his life in anonymity as an outcast in what became East Germany after the war. (He was interviewed for this book by an anonymous person to protect him.)

The book is a riveting account of the tribulations of those Jews on board, the efforts made on their behalf, and the machinations undertaken to foster their refusal by both the Nazi S.S. and principals of the several nations involved in their rejection . . . and return to all but certain death.

One is reminded—or informed—of the attitudes of the era, the anti-Semitism then and now, and the awesome evil that exists in the world, and has since at least the time of Eleazar.

In an epilog the authors recant the names of those interviewed, or at least contacted in their preparation of the account, and the fate of the passengers: those who lived and those who died . . . and the traumas experienced by the survivors.

Overall both are incredibly good reads, both for information, the humanity and inhumanity invoked in the narratives, and the history of Jews in the world.

Posted by respeto at 12:48 PM

June 18, 2010

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan - ISBN - 9780307386175

This wonderfully insightful book is written in breathtakingly beautiful prose which demonstrates McEwan's mastery of language as well as his comprehensive understanding of the human psyche.

It involves but two protagonists: a "peasant" man on the cusp of brilliant achievements in the field of his fascination--history--and his introverted fiancée, likewise on the cusp of a career in classical music. Both are somewhat withdrawn, introverted and naïve in their own ways; neither is able to accurately communicate their deep seated love, nor to deal with what, for most of us, would be fairly straightforward conflicts involved in daily life . . . and certainly interactions of a loving relationship.

He is passionate but tightly controlled; honoring her wishes to remain chaste, as she deeply fears the commitment to physical intimacy. She allows only limited contact beyond kissing, and sardonically eschews even his penetrating tongue as a disgusting invasion of her privacy.

Nonetheless, after a courtship during which he diligently works to earn the respect of his hard-driving, colossally successful, soon-to-be father-in-law, and the grudging acceptance of his aloof, academic mother-in-law, a tacit peace of understanding and acceptance is achieved, and the young couple marries and sets off for their honeymoon at an old inn on Chesil Beach.

Beneath it all is their disparate origins: one wealthy and urbane--after a fashion--the other primitive and "rural," slowly learning more genteel ways thru both his education and his contact with the love of his life.

Having carefully set the stage for the initial sexual encounter the author explores the inner workings of both of the parties. He deftly creates what might have been just another "sex scene," by poignantly describing the hopes, fears and inexperience of two virginal beings; one passionate and ready, though having no experience, the other terrified, but intensely working to allow said event, though overcoming her panic with faint attempts at composure, control having escaped her. She is aware of the expectations, but otherwise a victim of the situation and her predeterminations.

It is an engrossing epic, mordant, melancholy, haunting and absorbing, infused with the intense and powerful emotions wrought under the circumstances . . . and the outcome as it impacts the future decades of both of the young lovers as they move towards their distant futures.

The book is as wrenching as you are likely to read, ever, but so carefully drawn are the scenes and the dialogue that you share with the couple the humor and the scattered pleasures before the crucial debacle unfolds.

A wonderful read, and a little unusual, even for one by McEwan.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:05 PM

August 15, 2010

On Liberty

Liberty and Tyranny
A Conservative Manifesto
Mark R. Levin - ISBN - 9781416562856

Men in Black
How the Supreme Court is Destroying America
Mark R. Levin - ISBN - 9780895260505

This is quite a pair of books. I recommend both as informative and scholarly, yet readable. He intentionally expounds upon classic liberalism; liberalism in the mould of Adam Smith, whom our founders consulted as they wrote the constitution.

Modern "Progressives" appropriated the appellation "Liberal" in the early 20th century, having exposed progressivism for the disaster it actually was. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson soured the American public on the concept. Liberals represented themselves as being those who "liberated," as opposed to "conservatives" who, by default, were represented as those opposed to change. Neither, of course, was accurate, but we've been stuck with the names ever since. Hence our founding liberals would now be conservatives, and progressive-socialists are now liberals, who are again calling themselves progressives in the hope that Americans are short-sighted enough, and sufficiently ignorant of the facts to miss the parallels. Fortunately--for those paying attention--Obama is exposing progressivism/liberalism/socialism for what it has always been. The attempted name change is too contemporary to avoid recognition that they are interchangeable terms, and unattractive as a concept of governance, having been demonstrated to fail on numerous prior occasions.

Levin is a brilliant. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Temple University, and subsequently graduated with honors from Temple's law school. As young man he worked in the Reagan administration where he quickly worked his way up to Chief of Staff to Attorney General, Edwin Meese. Thereafter he entered private practice, and, in addition is now president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm. He also has his own conservative talk show about politics and culture. While dogged and dedicated, he carefully builds his case against modern government as he pushes to return to the original designs of the constitutional republic which our founders created. He is one of the preeminent conservative commentators and constitutional lawyers in the U.S.

Men in Black is a treatise on the Supreme Court; how far it has pushed beyond original intent. He demonstrates that the court is no longer one of the co-equal branches of government; rather, it now legislates from the bench. He provides appropriate examples, developing what is considered one of the finest books on the Constitution and the judiciary in many years. It combines history, law and current events into a simple whole which any interested reader can understand.

Levin emphasizes the progressive assault on our constitutional process by a power-hungry judiciary. In each selected example he reviews the constitution and the events which have been undertaken by the "men in black" to intentionally alter the clear meaning of the document. The courts, and especially the Supreme Court, represent the most potent threat to American freedom. They have reached the point where they actually dictate national policy. It is a compelling read.

Liberty and Tyranny
, similarly, explores the results of historic--and particularly recent--governmental directions and their disservice to liberty. He reminds that the Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis wrote "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies."

The Statist, he observes, seeks to impose on individuals a governmental and economic structure contrary to human nature, and attempts to control the individual by subverting his spirit and punishing his natural impulses. It never works, but those in power are trying again. The fact that the New Deal was a dismal failure seems not to be acceptable as fact to those in Washington.

He recalls that Edmund Burke famously asked "What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor of metaphysics." (Put the em-PHA-sis on the right syl-LA-ble, as it were.) This is always the problem with the Statist and his insistence upon positive rights as opposed to those negative rights provided for in our constitution. One cannot provide for the right to a good job without demanding that someone provide it; nor shelter, food or medicine without causing others to supply it, either directly or through taxes. All are contrary to the American ideas and ideals.

He works his way through education, energy, immigration, regulation (right down to CAFÉ standards), jurisdiction, foreign policy, and most every subject of moment, offering the existing situation as opposed to the original intent. Each topic is explored diligently, cogently and intelligently, and he totally debunks "global citizenship," the current goal of the Left is the idyllic European or the North American Union; agreement between friends. Won't work; can't work; is presently being shown not to work with the contraction of the European common currency, but he, amongst others predicted it. Imagine trying to get it to work, "globally" by including our friends in Iran, North Korea, China, etc.

If one goes beyond what "feels right," what "ought to be," and remains determined to consider what works, what does not . . . and why . . . it is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone reading these tracts could honestly disagree with Levin; unless, of course, one is a progressive with totally different ends in mind.

What the Left is doing to the country, assisted--or at least not opposed--by the Right, is frightening, dangerous, and amongst other things unconstitutional.

Read on. If you disagree I encourage you to justify the reasons you hold contrary opinions . . . at least to yourself, and HONESTLY!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:12 PM

March 9, 2010

One Minute to Midnight

Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
Michael Dobbs - ISBN - 9781400078912

Dobbs does his usual masterful job with the subject at hand. It's wonderfully informative and well worth the read.

It is a compelling assessment of both Kennedy and Khrushchev, and makes clear just how close we came to a nuclear conflict. As a result of the Bay of Pigs disaster Khrushchev determined that Kennedy was a man of mush and decided that the USSR could field missiles in Cuba. Fortunately it became a grown-up moment for JFK. His original miscalculation could not be compounded by yet another which was orders of magnitude more hazardous than trying to overthrow Castro.

He chronicles the minutes, hours and days of the confrontation. Too minutely, I think, since he eliminated only the potty breaks (though, on consideration, there must have been quite a few!). Virtually everything which happened over the frightful days is discussed, from the discovery of missile installation, thru the naval blockade, to the removal of the offending warheads from Cuba--at very little cost. The missiles in Turkey, dismantled in exchange for those in Cuba, were about to be removed in any event (though unbeknownst to the Turks.) Thru back channels he had promised Khrushchev they'd be removed 6 months later, and they were. As for the promise not to invade Cuba, another attempt is doubtful after the first fiasco.

When the counterrevolutionaries took over Hungary the USSR stood down for several days, waiting for Eisenhower to act. He did not--Eisenhower's mistake in my estimation--so Russia crushed the revolution. Khrushchev felt that the missiles would make Cuba invulnerable to American attack and equalize the balance of power. He understood that the missile placement represented something the U.S. could not permit, but he tried, hoping that Kennedy would back down as had Eisenhower. He couldn't, and didn't!

JFK calculated that whether blown up by a missile from Russia or from Cuba was ultimately not the issue. The decision was political. To do nothing was to submit to blackmail. He drew the proverbial "line in the sand" and stood by it, whatever the cost. And there very nearly was! So many variables, so many players and so much at risk. Castro wanted to "go for broke," prepared to risk being annihilated to make the point. Fortunately he was not in charge. Even Khrushchev was appalled by Castro's attitude. Khrushchev had seen much destruction in his time, and was reluctant to risk more. In the end his humanity is exposed. I, for one, have a more kindly view of the man after this book. He was a bully, but a brilliant politician-shoe banging and all. Here he is a sensate human.

"Despite their personal and ideological differences the two men had reached similar conclusions about the nature of nuclear war. They both understood that such a war would be far more terrible than anything mankind had known. Having witnessed war themselves, they also understood that a commander in chief was not always in control. They were awed, frightened, and sobered by their power to raze the world. The risks of modern war were unacceptably high, and it was necessary to intercede in whatever way possible.

"The history of the Cuban missile crisis is replete with accidental figures whose role in history is often overlooked: pilots and submariners, spies and missileers, bureaucrats and propagandists, radio operators and saboteurs," Dobbs observes. No longer. Every detail is included in this presentation.

It is the definitive volume on the crises, one never before carefully explored (and likely never again.)

Not incidentally he also discusses Kennedy's myriad and very serious illnesses, long kept secret from the public. He also lays the groundwork for Viet Nam, exposing the foibles and weaknesses of Kennedy's brain trust--especially McNamara. It is clear that if ever there was "the best and the brightest," or "the dream team," it was the brain trust created by Ronald Reagan. He assembled the best cabinet in 20th century history, one comparable to Lincoln's during the Civil War.

Even now, few will acknowledge that fact, but some of the best Washington minds of the era have certified it, including more than a handful important Democrats. Robert Strauss--long a power in Democrat party circles, and chairman of the DNC--described the cabinet as "simply spectacular. It's the best White House staff I've ever seen."

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:14 PM

December 26, 2006

One More Time

The Best of Mike Royko
Mike Royko – ISBN 9780226730721

This is a book worth rereading . . . or reading, if you have not. “Mike wasn’t just the best columnist Chicago ever produced, but makes the short list of Greatest American Newspapermen of all time.” He was expert at finding universal truths in parochial situations, simple and abrupt, and often quite humorous in his commentaries.

He was widely franchised, coast to coast, and while originally writing almost exclusively on Chicago politics (Boss:Richard J. Daley of Chicago), he graduated to more general and universal commentary after Daley’s death. This last book was put together posthumously by his wife and a cadre of other admirers, and it is fantastic; the best of 7500 columns over a near four decade career.

Subjects vary from Frank Sinatra to child welfare, political corruption, immigrants, and the purpose of neighborhood bars; his feet, Medicare, obituaries, the Chicago Bears and his personal afflictive disappointment, the Chicago Cubs. He discusses his youthful fear of the parachute drop at the Chicago’s Riverside Amusement Park when it was there. (I, for one, remember it well.)

He often featured people who “represent us . . . who do our work . . . those special few who do what they do for us, not for the paycheck:” cops, firemen, soldiers, astronauts, etc. Those with the brains, brawn, drive, vision . . . the “right stuff.” Those who “accomplish things the rest of us can only marvel at.”

There are tear jerkers, as when his first wife died . . . and John Belushi (a personal friend), and there are flattering interpretations of John Wayne, Fred Astaire, Curly/Larry/Moe, etc. In these he always manages to find the “right word,” not the most flowery, polysyllabic one which sends you to the dictionary for explication. His “pimping” of Prixe Fixe is uncannily humorous.

Humanity was his beat. Chicago was his town, and his masterful descriptions of life there—and in the U.S. in general--are riveting and thought provoking. Cause for reminiscence, as well. It is said that he could always find the “kernel of truth,” but, really, he had the knack of seeking and finding the truffle!

I recommend that you read it, again and again as I have; reflect, weep, chortle, laugh out loud, get angry . . . whatever! A great "bathroom read."


Posted by respeto at 11:20 AM

July 12, 2006

One Nation, Two Cultures

Gertrude Himmelfarb – ISBN 0375404554

In her usual lucid and scholarly fashion Himmelfarb dissects and explains the conundrum of the age: the cultural divide between liberals and conservatives.

The counterculture, in attempting to liberate all from the influence of “bourgeois values,” succeeded in separating most people from all those values which had a stabilizing, socializing and moralizing effect on society. This has lead to the rapid acceleration of crime, out-of-wedlock births, and welfare dependency. The sexual revolution was that! Indeed it was that, and much more.

The Victorian pooh-bahs, while not necessarily adhering to the rules they espoused, created a stable culture followed by the masses. The Great Awakening worked. Tragically, the cultural elites of the 60’s legitimized and glamorized the counterculture. This dislocated their own lives only temporarily, but affected the masses disastrously and perhaps permanently. Some progress is being made. Time will tell.

The appropriate function of civil society is to mediate between the individual and the state to restrain gross individualism and overweening design, and to socialize and educate the individual in the duties and responsibilities to, as well as rights and privileges of civilization. The counterculture destroyed this sense of community.

Even modern “communitarians”, while retaining some of the old romantic aspects of community have little of its substance. Self-help and support groups, youth and singles clubs, Bible and prayer fellowships, etc. are voluntary, transient, and encourage people to move in and out as the occasion requires. All this has little of the flavor of historic community.

Modern civil society is called upon to repair the moral fabric of democratic society but it simply isn’t up to the task. There is no realistic mediating structure between unrestrained individualism and an all-powerful government; between the unencumbered self and the nanny state.

Most institutions of civil society have been enervated and demoralized by intrusive government. Even private charities are, in many circumstances, conduits for government money. Governmental regulation has subverted the institutions and bourgeois ethos upon which capitalism once depended.

While modernity is happy to acclaim charity and compassion as virtues, it is resistant to stigmatizing egotism and hedonism as vices. Even those “civil revivalists” who support civic renewal are disinterested in moral revival.

It is not enough to restore civil society. It is also necessary to reform and remoralize its institutions. Modern democracies all face problems in education, welfare, crime, popular culture and family, and all of these must be reconstituted. These cannot be, approached thru government, per se, and cannot be done without moral revival and recovery of the old structures of community.

The much derided “Norman Rockwell” image of the ‘50’s family may have been romanticized, but most subscribed to it. The current vicious characterization of is inauthentic, and contemporary suggestions for its replacement are even further removed from reality.

It is said that “morality cannot be legislated,” yet civil rights were legislated in the 60’s with reasonable results. Thus it is clear that certain kinds of behavior can be legitimately legislated. Law changes incentives, and incentives shape behavior. Good laws and judicious government legitimize civil society itself. Properly conceived and executed, law serves as a reaffirmation of moral sense of society.

As for the recent “welfare crisis,” there was none--rather, it is a moral crisis. Bobby Kennedy sagely remarked that what is given can be taken, what is begged can be refused, but what is earned is kept and what is self-made is inalienable; what you do for yourself and for your children can never be taken away.

Just as 19th century reformers consciously sought to fashion social policies in accord with moral objectives, modern successors, just as consciously, tried to divorce social policies from morality. After decades of Nonjudgmentalism we find that all policies have moral consequences, and only with deliberate policies in accord with desirable ends can the good outweigh the bad.

Aristotle observed that only within the polis is man truly human, and thus different from other gregarious animals. Civic virtue—the self-control and self-discipline required for self-government—is an essential attribute both of those who govern and those governed. Madison added that “to suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.”

The West in general and America in particular was derived from religious convictions and experiences. Religious conservatives are obstinate not so much because they are religious, but because they are conservative. They do not subscribe to the conventional liberal positions on social and cultural issues, and deplore the fact that their culture is being debased by such attitudes and beliefs.

Secularists complain of the articulate, active religious movement while the religious groups feel beleaguered by the Supreme Court which has abandoned long-standing traditions and customs. But “pragmatic alliances,” across religious and political lines, are being formed with the traditionalists of all religious faiths, and many of no religious faith. They are joining to find common cause against these “progressive” attitudes.

A culture war can be adjudicated, and a reasonable accommodation reached. Persuasion is preferable to violence, and democratic etiquette, while not diluting or blunting differences of belief allows civil expression (i.e. “civility”.)

The cause of tolerance is poorly served by those who pride themselves on their tolerance while identifying religious conservatives as intolerant, and equating them to Puritans or fanatics as found in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

Some expect another Great Awakening, but Himmelfarb predicts the coming revival will become more moral rather than religious. There is a realization that people of all religious creeds—and none—recognize the need to arrest the moral decline in the culture, and that this revolution will embrace liberals and conservatives, religious and non-religious. No one any longer argues that there is pervasiveness--even glorification--of violence, vulgarity and promiscuity, all of which are degrading our youth and our culture. It is a remarkable achievement to have reached this point.

For now, however, the two cultures are living together despite a degree of tension and dissension, but without civil strife or anarchy. That is the strength of America.

Someday . . . .

Posted by respeto at 11:59 AM

March 14, 2011

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

December 6, 2006

Ordinary Heroes

Scott Turow – ISBN – 9781595230324

This is a blockbuster novel; probably Turow’s best, which says a lot. He explores the savagery of war, placing in its midst the humanity and heroism of many of its participants. Some human madness as well, precipitated by the encounters with death and destruction hourly—daily—for weeks on end, and in the case of one principal, for over a decade.

He possesses the gift of descriptive language, exquisitely fashioned into this narrative, making it easy to experience it as if you were there . . . without the fury or the fright. The account is written by the journalist son of a WWII veteran, based upon research precipitated by the father’s notes which were discovered after his death.

The principal protagonist is a JAG lawyer who is searching for a rogue OSS agent, and is temporarily injected into combat in the Argonne, during Europe’s coldest winter in half a century. At Bastogne his regiment of 5,000 experienced 4500 killed and wounded: 90%! They endured in the only ways they could, and Turow describes them in horrific detail.

The title originates in the ordinariness of the combatants, not excluding the German citizens in their destroyed villages, off put by both sides in the conflict. Their lives were shattered, as well.

He describes the disbelief of the staggering enormity . . . the magnitude of the cruelty and brutality of the death camps as he is party to the liberation of Balingen, where, ostensibly, his father meets his mother—a captive therein.

While the discussions of combat and death are gruesomely correct, the elaborate tale builds toward the end, culminating in the gripping discovery of the nobility and the simplicity of the total affection and commitment of his mother and father, who have kept unimaginable secrets from the family for fifty years.

It is quite a yarn, and grabs you from page one. It doesn’t let go till the end, which, at least in my case, leaves you tearful and glad you spent the time to read it. Not least it is a graphic reminder of the cataclysmic nature of war, and its effect upon people . . . for a lifetime.

Posted by respeto at 3:24 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

December 16, 2009

Patriot Pirates

The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune n the American Revolution
Robert H. Patton - ISBN 978-0375422843

As advertised, this tome explores the government sanctioned privateering during the Revolutionary War. And quite well, indeed. This is a subject seldom discussed except in passing, and a subject worth the exposition because it contributed mightily to the effort expended in our separation from the budding British Empire.

It proved a boon to the battered economy by employing shipbuilders, related workers and trades, and a network of agents and legal officials necessary to adjudicate the captured "prizes." It also employed thousands of seamen. As well, it provided government revenue for the prosecution of the war, as it enabled investors to create fortunes, some of which persist to this day. These men, of course, were amongst the many investors who fueled America's industries after the war.

Robert Morris was already wealthy, but became more so. Amongst the rest were men named Cabot, Peabody, and Lowell, now Boston Brahmin families all. The Browns of Newport deserve mention, honorable and otherwise. (The Browns became particularly wealthy as slavers after the war.) One cooper's apprentice in Beverly (Israel Thorndike) skippered a privateer at age 19 before going on to amass one of New England's largest fortunes in banking and textiles. Patton remarks that additional and important benefit from these endeavors was the effect on business practices, banking, finance, etc.

Government records reflect that 832 seamen died in Revolutionary combat, but there is no certain way to establish the number of death amongst the privateering navy. It is known that Newburyport listed 22 vessels destroyed with 1,000 men dead, while Salem lost a third of its registered 54 vessels and Gloucester lost all 24. The adult male populations in these communities were reduced by half during the period. A third of Marblehead women were widowed and a fourth of children were fatherless. Clearly the privateers contributed mightily to the war effort.

The cost to Britain was immense. Though fewer transports were lost, the greater wealth and breadth of British trade corresponded to a higher level of the individual cargoes--the difference was between American vessels carrying barrel staves while British vessels bore sugar, textiles or slaves. They simply had more property to lose.

The book explores the ships, their cargoes, their battles, the men and some of their biographies, and does so comprehensively. It is very interesting, but too much detail for my taste. However, if you enjoyed the Hornblower series, or Patrick O'Brian's works, you'll like this book as well.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:17 PM

August 8, 2005

Peace Kills

P.J. O’Rourke – ISBN – 0802141986

PJ’s recent books have been disappointing, at least to me. Not since Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance, has he been entertaining. In this epistle he explores America’s latest adventures in warfare, emphasizing the absurd in the unique manner that is his shtick. And He’s back . . . !
He is as clever and quotable now as in the far too distant past:

“America is not ‘globally conscious’ . . . [since] Americans didn’t come to America to be Limeys, Frog Eaters, . . . Micks, . . . or Wogs. If we wanted foreign entanglements, we would have stayed home.”

“Americans hate foreign policy because Americans hate foreigners.”

“Americans would like to ignore foreign policy. Our previous attempts at isolationism were successful. Unfortunately, they were successful for Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan.”

“A solitary bad person sitting alone . . . and wishing he ruled the world is not a problem, unless he lives next to us in the trailer park. In the big geopolitical trailer park that is the world today, he does.”

“I hoped that Osama bin Laden was discovering, amid smart bombs and Delta Forces in Afghanistan, that America isn’t scared, America is scary. The members of al Qaeda had gotten dressed up in their holy-warrior costumes and gone trick-or-treating at the wrong house!”

“The fighting in Afghanistan was so brief that CNN Headline News had to delete three bars from its ‘Target: Terror’ score to keep the theme music from outlasting the hostilities.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to our erstwhile allies. We should understand the white-feathered, clucking German response to the prospect of combat in Iraq—understand it for the good thing it is. Germans have turned into poultry with BMWs. What caused this is a mystery, but a splendid mystery given the behavior of Germany in the last century.”

“And France is a treasure to mankind. French ideas, French beliefs, and French actions form a sort of lodestone for humanity. A moral compass needle needs a butt end. Whatever direction France is pointing—toward collaboration with Nazis, accommodation with communists, existentialism, Jerry Lewis, or UN resolution veto—we can go the other way with a quiet conscience.”

But I don’t want to spoil all of the fun. Read it and enjoy it. If you are unfamiliar with PJ, get familiar. If you haven’t read the tomes mentioned above, read them . . . especially A Parliament of Whores.

Ciao.

Posted by respeto at 3:51 PM

September 2, 2008

Power, Faith, and Fantasy

America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present
Michael B. Oren – ISBN - 9780393330304

This title is derived from America’s attitudes informed by faith with its Abrahamic religions: fantasy of early adventurers and the narratives of Scheherazade: and power, which we have been caused to use following the departure of the European colonialists after WW II, which left us as the sole Western nation represented there. Before 1948 and the Balfour Declaration, encouraging European Jews to immigrate to Palestine, America’s interest in the Middle East was extremely limited.

It is an adroit accounting, and while lengthy it is well worth the read. Oren explores history in detail with an absence of tedium, and his coverage of the continuing Mid-East dilemma from Truman thru Bush is as instructive as it is comprehensive. He carefully avoids misleading conclusions, reminding of Gide’s old admonition to “believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.” He offers neither conclusions nor remedies,

The Barbary Wars are explained in sufficient detail to bring the unexposed “up to speed,” and he emphasizes that even then the public wasn’t, initially, much enamored of intervention. Jefferson had difficulty explaining to cohorts his study of the Koran and its implications. Then, as now, the United States was the only serious challenger to Muslim powers. Geo. Washington had emphasized his refusal to become “tributary to such banditti.” Pursuant the threat, Congress declared war, for which purpose our navy was built.* The deciding factor was neither economic nor political, but psychological and moral; the U.S. would not bear the disgrace of kowtowing to Pirates. The events “played a concrete role in creating a truly United States,” capable of defending the homeland and our economic interests abroad. Our victory earned our acceptance by Europeans; of equal import, it fostered national confidence. “Few events . . . had a more transformative impact on America than its war in the Middle East.” (*A great new book, Six Frigates, is now available and will be reviewed when I get around to it.)

Following this period, America sent numerous missionaries to “the Orient,” whose undertaking was conversion--which proved almost impossible--along with medical care and education. Schools and hospitals profoundly affected the milieu, and earned much gratitude from the natives, who saw that America was not there to conquer, but to assist. Inasmuch as the area had not been of interest to Europe, the evangelical mission excited the U.S. as no other place. The Ottoman Empire was considered an enemy by Europe, thus America—which had no dog in the fight—prevailed quite easily. She had come not for colonies or wealth, but for assistance, and many of the schools and hospitals are still in existence a century or more after their founding.

It was during these early times, with the exposure to travels or the reading of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and the like, that America became enamored of the Orient. This was followed by visits of illuminati such as Twain, who, in his own inimitable way, previsited “the Ugly American” with his unabashed savaging of the culture, reviewing his travels and travails. “Twain rarely [lauded] any ethnic or religions group, yet his disdain from Muslims was unrivaled.”

In reviewing WW I, which largely destroyed the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Dynasties, Oren walks the reader thru the Armenian holocaust, with the Turkish annihilation of upwards of 1.5 million Armenians, which even 100 years later, is still an important regional issue. Afterwards, still more schools and hospitals were sponsored by Americans.

With the discovery of oil, already becoming a world necessity, he reviews the dominance of Europeans. In this discussion he elaborates upon what a mess Europe made with artificial nations defined by a few natural boundaries and a lot of conveniently straight lines (see any map), which is responsible for many of the present day problems in the area. There were not, really, any nation states, per se, and the agglomeration of various tribes left, amongst other problems, the Kurds, distributed between three “nations.” They picked their favorite tribes for special consideration, and ostracized others, which lead to the dominance of the Sunni minority of Iraq, ultimately led by Saddam.

As well, he emphasizes the naiveté of President Wilson and others. Moving along he also exposes “Lawrence of Arabia” for the fraud he really was, as he demonstrates that the Jews were always outcasts, though many of the lineage of many predated the Arabs by a millennium or more.

There are sufficiently thorough discussions to explain WW II thru eyes of the West, the Arabs, and others of the indigenous tribes; not pretty, but productive of understanding for the careful reader, as he identifies the difficulties of Democracy, “a matter of faith—a faith in the soul of man, faith in human rights,” and the dilemma of reconciling its premises with people who have no such faith. It is totally foreign to their cultural milieu. He also reminds of a different America than that in which we now live, thanks to “enlightened(?)” attitudes and our own 5th column of “progressives” . . . and, of course, the altered attitudes of the West in general and middle east in particular, with the advent of its wealth, its nationalism, and the rise of militant Islam.

The last third of the book delves into the post WW II era. He explains it all with clarity I have never experienced, and imparts an understanding I have never had. He explores in historic order, which the list below is not:
• the foundation of Israel
• decolonization of the region, with appointments of European favored “leaders”
• the evolution of many militaristic, socialist, dictatorships (Egypt, Iraq, Syria and its suzerainty over Lebanon), and to a lesser extent Jordan . . . and of course the unrealized disaster of “Arab Palestine”
• the rise of Nasser and his hopes for resurrection of Arab glory (viewing himself as Saladin), which authored the Suez Crisis
• the threat of post-war communist influence of the USSR
• the “philosophic” expulsion of the USSR by Sadat, later resulting in accommodation between Egypt and Israel, authored by the two in secret conclave and hosted by Jimmy Carter . . . ultimately resulting in the assassination of Sadat
• the rise of the disingenuous “Orientalism” of Edward Said
• the continuing Palestinian conundrum and the Arab-Israeli wars, and the (later) overthrow of the Shah if Iran with its capture of the American Embassy with the Hostage Crisis of Carter
• the rise of militant Islam thru the expenditure of Saudi funds, and indirectly promulgated by the acquiescence of serial American administrations. The Saudis were important to the effort to keep the USSR out, and the main source of middle-east oil within our zone of influence. “Our S.O.B.”
• the necessarily increasing fusion of Israel and the U.S., with its predictable antagonism of the Arabs
• relatively total “dominion” of the area by the U.S., along with its responsibilities, real and implied, with the yawningly implicit and actual disasters at every turn . . . with little assistance (and common outright opposition) from Europe and many other of the world’s countries, which have has to, and augmented, the growing deterioration of the region
• the ultimate failures of every American administration from Eisenhower thru Clinton, and now Bush, despite monumental interventions, not all of them well—if honestly—conceived.
• a chronicle of the first Gulf War and its aftermath; the disaster of not “taking out” Saddam’s army, and his reprisals against rebelling Kurds and Shia, encouraged by Bush 1
• and much more. In essence, the Pax Americana wasn’t very successful (but, then, you knew that!)

No administration is exempt from its failures. Only the approaches to it were different. Democrats tended to favor carrots, Republicans sticks. Actually, the inconsistencies of foreign policy are as much at fault, since “the deciders” tend to change every 4-8 years, and attitudes change even within administrations. Hence there is no consistent policy.

Nonetheless, after completion of a serious read, you will come away with a much enhanced understanding of the situation . . . if not at all clear on solutions. Regretfully, there may not really be any, but it is well to acknowledge that the Middle Eastern mind understands only power and force; viewing everything else as weakness and opportunity.

Posted by respeto at 3:42 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 18, 2009

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Azar Nafisi – ISBN – 9780812979305

My contact with the Hollywood film version of Nabokov’s Lolita led to my disinclination to read this memoir the first time around. I recently discovered why it has become widely acclaimed. Sehr Gut! Its author is a western literature professor; an Iranian expatriate who now teaches in the U.S. where she is gaining repute as a mesmerizing professor.

Reading Nabokov is a metaphor for reading literature in a country where literature is without merit unless supportive of ideology. Iran’s liberalizing society was devastated by Khomeini, and it is this calamity which Nafisi skillfully explores. In so doing she reminds of why we read in the first place. As well, she reminds us of why we are—or at least ought to be (though sometimes I wonder about some people)—grateful to live in the West, especially in the U.S.

She shares perspectives on her Iranian students’ plight, the ongoing struggle of a citizenry which had become the most modern in the Muslim world, and her own travails with this violent, oppressive regime. Her description of the mind set acquired by living in such a place is riveting. She recalls a student who once shared with her “an illegal dream.” Imagine, if you can, an illegal dream. Abject fear has been so instilled that it even impacts the unconscious.

As well, she shares the differences between her generation and that of her young students, noting that while her generation rues the void in their lives, created when their past was stolen, while the young have no past to steal. They speak only of “stolen kisses, films they’ve never seen, and the wind they’ve never felt on their skin.” (Recall that they must wear burkhas when leaving home.) Again, imagine!

“The worst crime committed by the totalitarian mind-set,” she opines, “is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, is an act of utmost brutality.” All private space is invaded, and every gesture shaped as they endeavor to force everyone to be one of them. “Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with a man you loathe,” is one of her more graphic observations. Another is that “genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions.” In Iran, imagination is subversive. It is dangerous to the narrow minded, autocratic power structure. Everything is in black and white. There is no room for the “polyphony” of democratic thought or experience. The study of literature emancipates one for a while, at least, which is why it is so important.

The book primarily revolves around a class composed of a handful of earnest young women, conducted in clandestine fashion outside the university. “There, in [my] living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, we tried [as did] Lolita, to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom.” She used Lolita to emphasize that the truth of present day Iran could be temporally immaterial to those who appropriated Lolita’s attitudes about life. “A half-alive butterfly who can only come to life through her own prison bars.” (If you haven’t read Lolita, it’d help. I’d add that her “take” on the novel is nothing like the idea one gets from watching it tortured by Hollywood.)

Nabokov is not alone in her memoir. As well, she taught Fitzgerald, James and Austen with similar ease and effect, exposing her students to a world they would not otherwise know, and from which they profited despite their situation. She was explicit in adapting the discussions to how they might assist the students in coping with the reality of their situation. She uses the precarious situation of the students to help crystallize the reader’s understanding of the evil extant in Iran as it is comported today, while also addressing the basic humanity of the struggling Persian people.

This is an inspirational book, if not an uplifting situation. It exemplifies the triumph of normal people over oppression, if only in minor ways, but it humanizes them nevertheless.

Posted by respeto at 12:25 PM

April 10, 2010

Reagan's Secret War

The Untold Story of His Fight to Save the World from Nuclear Disaster
Martin and Annelise Anderson - 9780307238610

This new book opens still more doors into the mind of Ronald Reagan. It includes more exculpatory evidence that he was not the "amiable dunce" the left claims him to be; an attitude widely accepted, based upon personal prejudice and a deep seated, irrational hatred of the man. Would that a man of his character, conviction, grace and amiable steel were in the White House now. I'd even vote for JFK, the last courageous, well-grounded, patriotic American president from the left--which left was a hell of a lot further right than it is now. Indeed, JFK was well to the right of most every prominent Republican on the scene today. But I digress.

Declassification of documents made this book possible. "Reagan accomplished so much with such apparent ease that the casual observer often assumes he had nothing to do with it." The authors then chronicle what Reagan did, factually and in depth. Myriad documents were reviewed, portions of which are entered into the narrative. Amongst them are cabinet minutes, congressional records, and Reagan's own notes and diaries.

Those who believe Reagan to be a humorous, doddering old shit with stage presence, need be prepared to be surprised, even awed if approached with an open mind. After Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and the catastrophic Jimmie Carter it was felt by most that the presidency was unmanageable by any one. Reagan proved this conclusion false by commanding the resurrection of the economy and the restoration of our military might, while elevating our image in the world and authoring victory in the cold war. His simple--anything but simplistic--philosophy regarding communism? "We win, they lose!" He had help, but it was his passion an assurance which drove the efforts. His cabinet was widely accepted as the best in the 20th century, and contrary to popular opinion he made all of the decisions himself, often against the recommendations of his advisers.

Soviet "shopping" had always included theft--thru espionage. It had been widely recognized, but until Reagan, nothing was done to stop it. Their huge weapons build-up was fueled by pirated technology; Reagan reduced the theft and overwhelmed them with new technology. The Soviet economy was largely dependent on raw materials. They found that the price of wood, oil, gas, even (or especially) gold dropped to historic lows, which eliminated the flow of hard currency at a time they were ramping up production. This was a result of Reagan's plan and actions! In essence he said to hell with coexistence . . . you wanna rumble? Great! Have at it. We'll play the game to win--no quarter--and do whatever it takes to bury you (Khrushchev's line.)

Because of their financial difficulties the Soviets were themselves considering, or at least receptive to weapons reduction. Reagan played upon that. Depleting their revenues by reducing the price of raw materials helped immensely. He was the first to convince the Soviets to sign treaties reducing armaments . . . a complete contradiction of Kissinger's realpolitik and prevailing concepts of coexistence . . . of staying even . . . of MAD (mutual assured destruction.) Whole classes of weapons disappeared as a result of negotiated treaties.

Decades before his election he had asked in his diary, "How much is it worth to not fight World War III?" He dedicated his life to achieving that goal. The book chronicles his numerous and varietal efforts to reduce nuclear armament, open up trade and dialogue with the Soviet Union, and ultimately, bring it down. Gorbachev may have been a factor, but Reagan, Thatcher and the Pope were the architects of its demise. They didn't set a goal of keeping the Soviets at bay. Their goal was to defeat the U.S.S.R.

His personal correspondence with leaders, most notably with masters of the Kremlin (from Brezhnev to Gorbachev) is reviewed in detail. Much of it is fascinating; equally so in reportage of his "face-offs" with Soviet power. It necessarily includes discussion of his famous "tear down this wall" speech in Berlin, and there is considerable verbiage about the Reykjavik summit. Gorbachev came determined not to sign any document permitting the continuation of research into anti-missile defense. Reagan simply walked out. "With nothing!" The press, the state department, the left and Gorbachev were apoplectic. He'd ruined the summit . . . !! . . . well, maybe not. Gorbachev later returned, reluctantly, to sign on to the missile reduction without eliminating "Star Wars." The cold war was won. The Soviets could not create, and could no longer borrow, buy, steal (or even afford) the technology to keep up with the mighty economic and military engines Reagan had rebuilt. It took a while, but the gate was opened. The wall did come down. Germany was reunified, Poland and other satellites were free, and the U.S.S.R. did devolve; buried in the "ash heap" of history by its own inadequacies.

So, how did the old duffer accomplish so much? He had a clear vision of what he wished to do. He was a superb communicator, a skilled negotiator and the supreme "decider" (a familiar Bush term.) But even now, decades after his departure and a decade after his death he is not understood . . . in large measure because a considerable majority of the left is unwilling to acknowledge his accomplishments.

Shortly after his inauguration Reagan opined that he wanted to change the nation. Instead--with help from the Pope, Thatcher, and some from Gorbachev--he changed the world.

Read it. It is a masterfully done book, enlightening and heartening.

(I purchased this book "used" but unused. Inside was a library envelope dated May 28, 2009, indicating it had arrived on publication. It showed up as a used book only a few months later! Perhaps it was gifted to the library by a conservative? No library purchases and then divests itself of a $33 book a couple of months on, before it has even been checked out! The library clearly practiced censorship. How awful! How unforgivable! It's history, not pornography . . . er, sorry, I forgot . . . porn is permitted in libraries; just not stuff about conservatives.)


Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:02 AM

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

June 5, 2007

Reflections on a Ravaged Century

Robert Conquest – 9780393320862

First published in 2000, Reflections deals with the mental distortions of Marxism and Socialism, their impact upon the 20th century and emphasizes the “certain carry-over” into the 21st. He predicts, as is already being demonstrated by the European Union, that these misconceptions are pure folly and doomed to failure.

It is a ponderous tome, difficult to review and difficult to read because of the profundity of the information, interpretations and conclusions offered. Still it is well worth the read—or a reread, as sit was for me.

He is adamant in his critique of Marx and Lenin, whose intellectual efforts he deems less than mediocre. The very notion that human activity is totally predictable, or can be channeled within textual parameters by government is absurd. Many who espouse such ideologies are well intentioned (modern intellectuals and liberals), but their complicity with the evil regimes of the 20th century was responsible for their successes, such as they were: war, genocide, etc. He observes that “a hundred soft-porn products of Hollywood did less harm [to France] than a single French philosopher (Rousseau) has done in the United States.”

Liberals of the era willing overlooked Stalin’s murderous activities as they had ignored Hitler’s. These things, “rationally speaking” were impossible--and therefore didn’t happen. Just so with “Tamerlane [who] could not have erected a pyramid of 70,000 skulls at Isfahan [in his 16th century conquest of present day Iran] for it would obviously have been economically counterproductive.” And besides, nobody is that irrational

Yet reliance upon reason alone is, in itself, irrational. According to Chesterton a lunatic is one who has lost everything except his reason. “There are minds of apparently high IQ, people of apparently great experience, who are unable to conceive of minds and men markedly different from themselves.” Chamberlain and Roosevelt, unlike Churchill, simply “lacked the scope needed to envisage alien minds as they really were.”

Throughout, this arch-critic of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany offers stunning examples and analysis of what went wrong, and offers stunning insight into the culture wars now accelerating in the 21st century.

“We are . . . in a period of conflict between cultures—a conflict which finds older [mostly Western] cultures in a position of disadvantage from lack of confidence in themselves, from divisions both internal and between each other. . . . The liberal . . . assumes . . . that the cultural conflict is one which can [politically], be adjusted by compromise, or [“religiously”] resolved by tolerance. . . . The frantic attempt . . . to find a political solution to what is not merely a political problem can . . . only lead to temporary and illusory benefits unless the deeper problem is faced and pondered.”

The Cold War was not a conflict between two ideologies, as is gospel to some. The Western approach was not ideological at all. It is obligatory that this be understood. Litvinov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR, was once asked what would happen if the West gave in to all of Moscow’s demands. He replied “It would lead to the West being faced . . . with the next series of demands.” When Stalin was asked what could be done to satisfy him he answered: “Nothing.”

No political treaties or trade agreements can guarantee peace. Psychological disarmament must be made a bargaining object in future negotiations. The use of all levers of pressure, political and economical, is for once morally justified. When the reckless destruction of the human race in the name of “its greater happiness” is undertaken, one might find that he is both “Red and Dead,” to use a former allusion. Even the USSR, ostensibly too rational, was prepared to fight and win a nuclear war. How much more so radical Islam?

I have said for years, including on this website, that much of the world is invested in cultures of one kind or another, but few can be considered civilized as the West defines it. Conquest observes that we must begin to distinguish between uses of the word civilization inasmuch as there are countries (China and many of the Middle Eastern countries come to mind) which have been civilized for millennia, yet have never established a civic order.

As the sole super-power the U.S. neither has nor wishes an “Empire.” There is no more than an interest in foreign policy and commitments consistent with a peaceful world. She has no intent of subjecting the world to American power. “It implies the withdrawal of American power in favor of congeries of mutually friendly nations.” Sensitivity to the charge of imperialism has led to reluctance to become involved in affairs of the Third World, leaving it in the hands of “kleptocratic dictatorships,” and maniacal ones which hasn’t served the world well.

Evolution to a united and peaceful world cannot be undertaken in a theoretical way. His commanding suggestion is that the English-speaking countries can and ought to create a center of power attractive to other countries with democratic traditions, thus forming the basis for a yet broader political unity in the longer run.

And finally he reminds, with an onerous Churchillian quote: “All the great struggles of history have been won by superior will-power wresting victory in the teeth of odds or upon the narrowest of margins.”

Conquest observes that only with careful considerations of what needs to be learned and unlearned can the West prevail and achieve a peaceful world . . . and that not likely in our lifetimes.

You might want to copy and paste this address for an interesting, related commentary. http://www.steynonline.com:80/content/view/284/

Posted by respeto at 12:03 PM

March 23, 2010

Resistance

Owen Sheers - ISBN9780307385833

This subtle and emotionally charged book explores the give and take of humans in the venue of the hypothetical occupation of Great Britain after the failure of Operation Overlord--the D-Day invasion of Europe. Sheers describes a beautiful, serene, and sparsely inhabited Welsh valley not yet entered by the enemy. There are gorgeous descriptions of a fairy-tale-like remote countryside. Into this milieu comes a Nazi patrol on a mission. All of the men of the valley have disappeared to join the resistance movement, leaving behind the women and children now faced with the awesome task of enduring these difficult times without male participation, never mind security and companionship. In this hard-scrabble farming community all is left to the women, who must undertake tasks they are all but physically unable to do, added to their already consuming chores.

The patrol occupies a vacated farm, the former home of an old man and several sons gone to places unknown. The Germans are tasked to search for a map--an important English artifact the Nazis wish to discover. They are also to report on the regional resistance activities. Wearied by five years of uninterrupted combat they settle in, and with the ensuing, worst winter in living memory they are isolated from command. They blend into the situation, relieved to be left out of the war, however temporarily.

There is a gritty account of the women keeping up the home front, interacting with the patrol as required. Originally there is the anticipated hubris of the Germans, but over time the soldiers begin to assist the women in their endeavors. A wary cooperation is achieved. In so doing they rediscover an all but forgotten life where an absence fear marries a plentitude of meaningful activity assisting the women.

There are vivid descriptions of place, dialect, attitudes, and the interaction of the two cultures within easy walking distance of each other. There is a felt requirement to resist, but the women cannot fully do so since they desperately need the help. The necessity of survival and preservation of home and livelihood tempers their inclination to reject the men. The narrative explores the way of life in remote areas with few, but good and responsible friends and neighbors, which is no longer possible since existence is unimaginable without the help of the soldiers.

This interdependence results in some near-family types of interaction and several involving a reluctant physical attraction. The wounds, insecurities and tragedies of war are exposed. The well educated officer in charge of the patrol enjoys, with one of the women, discussions of the local myth: that of an ancient Welsh army "sleeping" about, to be wakened in the case of need, and another tale of an old "poet" who, in living memory, sought out the peace of the valley to established a redoubt for scholarly pursuits. The officer and the presumably widowed woman become emotionally involved, which leads to some difficulty with the others, and especially with the residents of the nearby village.

Eventually winter ends and the German occupation reasserts itself. The horrors of Nazi cruelty are brought to the fore, along with hostile native resistance, which complicates the situation for the couple, and leads to a wrenching dilemma for both. The plot ends with a not unexpected yet still unfulfilling climax which is altogether consistent with the primary plot thrust . . . the tragedies of war.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:15 PM

December 1, 2008

Revolutionary Characters

What Made the Founders Different
Gordon S. Wood – ISBN – 9781594200939
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, 2006

Here is a unique look at the founding fathers and what made them different. Foremost was character, not then understood as we do today. It was not the inner personality with its hidden contradictions and flaws (which accounts for the regular public bashing of the founders by current politicians and intellectuals.) The understanding was that of their public personae: their outer life. They endeavored to demonstrate that they lived up to the values and duties that the best of their culture imposed upon them. They did not see themselves separate from their world or the culture. Not, that is, in isolation. They were not individualists concerned with their social identities. They “performed” within society as civic minded people, by necessity; and hid their personal feelings for the sake of civility and public personae.

They sought, sometimes unsuccessfully but always sincerely, to play a part . . . to be natural aristocrats. They measured their status by enlightened values and benevolent behavior--in opposition to birth--which hereditary aristocrats from time immemorial had valued. After all, most founders were first generation gentlemen.

That understanding makes clear why the intellectuals of today, with their sense of standing against, and often deprecating the prevailing culture. Moderns delight in seeing themselves as adversaries. They strike out and judge because they do not understand, or perhaps just enjoy showing how noble they are in adjudicating the past by current values and attitudes. It is obvious they consider themselves superior, though I can’t think of one who equals of any of the founders.

The 18th century enlightenment represented roll-back of the boundaries of darkness and barbarism; the spreading light and knowledge. It encompassed science, religion, philosophy and politics as it struggled to address tyranny and ignorance in order to deliberately create civility and refinement. The concern was the imposition of order and reason on the world by “aesthetically contemplating” an ordered universe. Never before had this been done.

We often ponder why we can never replicate the extraordinary generation of the founders. Where are people those people now? The simple answer is that modern society values most its egalitarian democracy. In the early nineteenth century the voices of ordinary people began to be heard as never before, and soon overwhelmed the high-minded desires and aims of the revolutionary leaders who brought them into being. A society of equals in all parameters is a society of mediocrity. The founders succeeded far too well in promoting equality among ordinary people, and in so doing succeeded in preventing forever the duplication of themselves. (What we have achieved might more accurately, if provocatively, be described as demo-crazy.)

With these explanations and caveats he begins his discussion of the principal founders in a way which makes them understandable to anyone willing to listen. Noble persons these were. Slave owners . . . some of them. Opinionated . . . all of them, but their views were subject to change thru earnest debate. Unwilling to challenge certain norms of their society . . . some of them, but virtually all of them understood that it was impossible to become one nation by bickering over the basic tenets of their society.* Most of them, for instance, held that slavery would be eliminated over time. Moreover, they could not see how to terminate it by fiat. It was yet another of those basic inequalities suffered by many which they were endeavoring to handle, fairly, and ultimately overcome. They were, after all, undertaking to found a nation the likes of which had never existed in all of history. Nor had it been considered beyond a certain ethereal, philosophical mode. (This I believe to be the principal misunderstanding of moderns when dissecting the founders.*)

Indeed, America has been so successful that it no longer considers the presence of such heroes as essential to the workings of government, which is at root both saddening and destructive. Instead we have our culture of fame and/or notoriety: those celebrated for trivialities, or simply for being well-known.

His discussions are both profound and enlightening. It is impossible come away without a sense of awe of each of the founders as he explores their innermost workings, their foibles, weaknesses and strengths. It is a truly masterful work and ought to be required reading for anyone who chooses to have an opinion about America or its founders. Their interactions as they deliberated are discussed: their disagreements, their attitudes about everything from standing armies, national banks, judges, elected officials, political theory, etc. In context he goes into the relations of the original 20-30 years of existence of our republic.

Read it and weep for modern brigades of insipid politicos and legions of vapid intellectuals who make a mockery of history, too ignorant to recognize their ignorance and hypocrisy, usually pretending they are the equal of the founders when they’re not fit to service their chamber pots!
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

*What follows, while lengthy, adds meaningful depth to remind of the difficulties surrounding the formation of the United States. It is “lifted” completely, if not as quotations per se, from Bill Bryson’s Made in America (ISBN 9780380713813), another book very much worth reading . . . or rereading, as I find myself doing.)

The United States began as one of the largest countries in the world, with disparities in population, wealth and political outlook. This presented near insurmountable obstacles to finding common purpose. Proportional representation would give Virginia and Pennsylvania over a third of the nation’s political power while leaving Delaware one-ninetieth. Hence, little states feared big ones. Slave-owning states feared the others; Eastern states with fixed borders feared those of the West with a measureless continent as their back porch, with the potential of “rude frontiersmen in tasseled buckskins” controlling the destiny of all. All had distinct, two century histories of which they were quite proud, while none relished the dispensation of even the smallest measure of autonomy to unproven central authority. The challenge of the Constitutional Convention was not to give powers to the states, but to take powers away from them, and to do it in a way they would find palatable.

In less than four months, some thirty men created a framework for government that has lasted to this day. It was like nothing ever before seen. Page Smith (an recognized historian of the period) observed that this was “the most remarkable example of sustained intellectual discourse in history.” Never before or since, Bryson opines, “has any gathering of Americans shown a more dazzling array of talent and of preparedness.” To this effort they contributed, without compensation (or air conditioning), an entire summer of their lives, spending five hours six days a week, and countless additional hours before and after scheduled meetings researching, thinking and debating the various propositions and decisions before them: “Polybius, Demosthenes, Plutarch’s Lives, Fortune Barthelemy de Felice’s thirteen-volume Code de l’Humanite in the original French, and much more. In a single speech Alexander Hamilton referenced the Amphyctionic Councils of ancient Greece and the Delian Confederacy. These men "knew their stuff.” All were brilliant, thoughtful, provocative and profoundly well educated, and they were great enough to put aside their differences.

They debated and determined “the foundations of our government: the legislature, the presidency, the courts, the system of checks and balances, the whole intricate framework of American democracy—a legacy that is all the more arresting when you consider that almost to a man they were against democracy in anything like the modern sense.”

Most favored an America ruled by an informal aristocracy of propertied gentlemen like themselves. But James Wilson of Pennsylvania moved that the executive be chosen by popular vote, which “dumbfounded” the assemblage. In the end the election was given to the states by creating the Electoral College. They determined that the House of Representatives be elected by popular vote while the Senate was appointed by the individual states (the latter, quite unwisely in my opinion, overturned in 1912.)

While it is true that the preamble of the constitution was “pirated” from the Iroquois treaty of 1520, the Iroquois treaty had nothing more to do with their deliberations upon the Constitution itself.

Last, and exactly to the point, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania (best known for being the founder most often ignored) asked sarcastically during the debates over slavery: “Are they Men? Then make them Citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is there no other property included?” (This in reference to slaves counting for three-fifths of a person.) What self respecting man goes to the Coast of Africa, in defiance of the “sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondages [and then insists his state] shall have more votes in a Government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey who views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice.” In the end a difficult compromise was reached, slaves were included as fractional persons, and the word slavery was not used in the Constitution.

Posted by respeto at 2:11 PM

January 12, 2009

Roanoke

Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony
Lee Miller – ISBN – 9780142002285

How long have many of us—including scholars--wondered about the first American colony? Roanoke Island was laid out in 1585 as a military base on a well hidden island within the outer banks of the Carolinas. It was settled in 1587 and promptly vanished. No evidence exists but the remains of the primitive fort. Everything brought by the settlers disappeared, as did the settlers themselves. Not a temporary shelter, a shipping crate, not even a nail was found on later explorations, let alone graves or skeletal remains. Why? How? Whom? Where?

Miller undertakes an exhaustive review of the known facts and the implicit chicanery involving the sponsor, Sir Walter Raleigh, his enemies in high places, and the colonists--who were pawns in planned disaster followed by a gigantic cover-up. She uncovers the CABAL responsible. The colonists were intentionally abandoned. Subsequent attempts at rescue were prevented by powers within the English government.

She begins with a narrative about the disappearance, and promptly shifts to the mystery, writing the book as a murder investigation. She discovered the fact that investigations had been blocked or prevented. She found that members of the contemporary government knew. They’d planned the whole thing. The period and its actors are revealed in detail, and the plot identified. Raleigh, the handsome, brilliant “upstart” within the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and her most favored acolyte, was much loathed by people who had worked for years to gain her attention. He became a confidant, lover, and person of incredible influence—attended by wealth—much to the chagrin of others. Only four men could have sabotaged his endeavor. Which one, and why?

One at a time she explains how and why each of the four might have been involved, ultimately eliminating three, leaving one of the most powerful and devious men in the Elizabethan realm. He was the guilty party, and with his influence intimidated others to participate and/or cover it up. She studies it, exposes it, and leaves the reader with no doubt, noting that many years after the death of the prime conspirator, Raleigh was executed in the Tower of London after the death of Elizabeth, his prime protector.

There is an almost seamless segue from scene to scene. The story is electrifying as she exposes what never was a mystery, though it had been masked for 400 years by the plotting of those involved. Centuries were involved because no one ever took a hard look. Miller did.

She concludes--and proves--that the colonials did not simply disappear; most actually survived. She accounts for them. For those who like history and mystery, this is a fascinating book. Her endeavor exposes the corruption and venality of those involved, and the incredible misfortune of the victims who had been promised a colony in the Chesapeake Bay. They never arrived there, having been deposited—on purpose—on an island on which they were expected to perish.

(Incidentally, she provides the simplest explanation of the Puritan Revolution which I have ever read.)


Posted by respeto at 11:40 AM

July 27, 2011

Rule Number Two

Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital
Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft - ISBN - 9780316067904

(for those who have read this before, I have reworked it a little and, I believe, improved the review)

My daughter* sent me a copy of this book. It is a stunning book which, despite a caveat or two, I recommend highly to anyone interested in what it is like to work with wounded warriors in a combat zone; to endure with them the hardships, fears and labors of front line defense against those who wish us harm. Dr. Kraft is a PhD psychologist specially trained for supportive work in combat situations. Rule Number Two is a powerful firsthand account of providing consolation in the turmoil of war, and of what is required to endure it. It is impossible not to empathize with the participants, both combatant and counselor, and equally impossible to avoid choking up over some of the situations she describes.

Having been amongst the "first responders" who dealt with the wounded soldiers in the "Vietnam Conflict," I was reminded of some things which I had removed from active memory, though the reminder was not altogether unwelcome. I was faced with the opportunity to revisit some of the formative experiences of my life. Travails unfold as an endless parade of disasters close on the heels of each other, punctuated by activities associated with military life "behind the wire," where she relates the intense camaraderie between all in these situations.

The scenario is aptly articulated by the TV show M*A*S*H: "There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can't change rule number one." Some Marines, and even some of their doctors, are damaged by war in ways which cannot be fixed, and sometimes people are repaired in ways never considered.

Yet she makes clear, and wants us to share in the feminine perspective, that everyone should share in the agony--feel the pain--while the masculine version would be to avoid it as much as possible. War is not supposed to be painless. It's about breaking things, killing people, and moving on with the necessary task at hand. There is time for neither philosophy or reflection.

Caveat number one, then, is that much of the problem described is authored by 20th century, progressive arguments against the historic honor code of the west, instead favoring resistance to norms of behavior imbedded over millennia by experience. Exchange for a culture of nuance and relativity has greatly impacted, as has the modern attempt to feminize men in order that all may "feel" as good people should: become compassionate and understanding; be missionaries of peace and camaraderie in addition to being warriors. It has come to roost in a value free celebrity culture in which honor is trivialized, the military is feminized, and PSTD is rampant. (I refer to you a review of Honor, a History, posted in late November of 2009 on this site.)

Caveat number two--an extension of number one--is the role model invoked, though not identified: Hawkeye Pierce, also of M*A*S*H celebrity. Beyond him there is no back-up; either he can do it, or it cannot be done in time to make a difference. (I've been there and done that, too.) He is the characteristic feminized male: sensitive, caring, given to situational histrionics and loss of emotional control; he copes inadequately with his position as he ministers to the wounded.

More appropriate role models might be the role of Wilbur "Bull" Meechum (aka The Great Santini) or Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Top Gun); confident and secure, albeit with some flaws, and courageous, though some may be bluster. Don't like fiction? O.K.

Real life examples come to mind, including George Washington, Robert E. Lee, John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, and George S. "Blood and Guts" Patton. Earlier examples might include the Greeks, "Iron Gut" Epaminondas, and Alexander the Great; later examples, H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Raymond Odierno. Oppositional examples: George B. McClellan and Bernard Law Montgomery, who, while not patsies were given to hesitation and insecurity, along with Omar Bradley and Colin Powell.

These don't make the tome less worth a read, but if we're to resolve the riddle of doing what is necessary we must properly define the problem. There will be inadequate resolution without recognizance of the significance of the removal of honor and the modern requirement that combatants be more sensitive.

There has been "Battle Fatigue" or "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" on occasions throughout history, but its presence is orders of magnitude more prevalent now than before. Some of this is due to the constancy of threat in modern war, but as discussed in Honor, there is much more to it than that. Reconsideration and its reconstruction is required. Repeated here is a quote from my review of "Honor":

"The long view of human history suggests that our choice is eventually going to be not between the liberal, unisex, pacifistic society of the feminist ideal and some throwback to caveman honor, but between some throwback to caveman honor and some more civilized variant of the long-dormant Western variety. . . . The honor-crazed Muslim fanatics who are blowing up women and children along with themselves are . . . equally stark in the alternative they pose to Western ways. Unless those ways include and are understood by all to include, honorable ways of making war on that alternative, the alternative must triumph." (Please re-read this quotation again, carefully.)

* full disclosure: my daughter is founder and CEO of Homeward Deployed--web address: http://www.homewarddeployed.org/ an organization which deals with many of the situations which arise when snipers are reintegrated into society as salesmen, and the severely handicapped seek worthwhile employment and sustenance Families are assisted in coping with, and helping returning warriors. Log on. You might want to make a contribution to this necessary and worthwhile organization.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:31 PM

January 17, 2007

Salt

A World History
Mark Kurlansky – ISBN – 9780142001615

One would hardly believe that an entire volume could be written about the history of salt. After reading this, one reflects upon how hard it must have been to edit to avoid a 1,000 page tome. While true anywhere in the world:

• “Studying a road map of almost anywhere in North America, noting the whimsical non-geometric pattern of the [roads, one] could reasonably assume that the towns were placed and interconnected haphazardly without any scheme or design. [Not true] because the roads are simply widened footpaths and trails, and these trails were originally cut by animals looking for salt.”

• “The history of the Americas is one of constant warfare over salt. Whoever controlled salt was in power. This was true before Europeans arrived and it continued to be the reality until after the American Civil War.”

Throughout history salt has been a basis of considerable tax revenue since it is a commodity required by all. Empires have been built upon it, wars fought over it, and trade routes controlled to secure its supply. “He who controlled salt controlled regions. Jericho, the oldest city in the world was always a center of salt trade--for 10,000 years!

Venice flourished because of its dominance in salt distribution (50% of Venetian import tonnage was salt.) Venetians used the profits from salt to subsidize shipping of other commodities, thus undercutting competitors. In the Caribbean, shipped tonnage in salt exceeded that of sugar, molasses and rum. Indeed, the first patent in the new world was a ten year monopoly to the recipient “to employ his ideas on salt production.”

One of the most devastating losses from the American Revolution was, both during and after the war, the loss of the nation’s salt supply . . . it had depended on England, and was deprived. In the civil war, the south, having forgotten, experienced the same deprivation. Before the war salt was 0.25 cents per pound; near its end salt was over 3 cents . . . when you could get it.

While not the only issue, salt was the poster issue for the French revolution, and for India’s demand for independence. It was the primary reason that the Erie Canal was developed.

Salt concentrations are often near oil concentrations. Indeed oil was found in Texas when drilling for salt . . . while the Goderich Petroleum Company became the Goderich Salt Company when--drilling for oil--they found an enormous deposit of pure salt.

For much of history salt was a precious commodity, most commonly derived form the reduction of brine solutions with heat provided by the sun or fuel. The salt makers of Cheshire England deforested their entire area for fuel, blackened the skies with clouds of smoke, rendered pastureland barren from salt scale residue, while the earth was collapsing (from removal of the salt deposits) beneath the cities.

“The quest for salt turned unexpected corners and created dozens of industries” . . . including, importantly, better sources of salt, which made the product incredibly cheap. Once scarce, it is now one of the most widely available necessities on the planet. As it has been replaced as a preservative its use has been sought in other areas; over 50% of the salt used in the U.S. is for highway safety in winter; only eight percent is used for food production

Throughout the book Kurlansky cleverly, and interestingly, segues into regional peculiarities in cheese manufacture, offers recipes—ancient and modern—and discusses the importance of salt in western civilization. “Salt made it possible to get the rich bounty of northern seas to the poor people of Europe.” Salt cod and herring authored the doubling of protein intake for poor Europeans between the 16th and 18th centuries. The original British “katchup” was a salty anchovy sauce.

He also discusses the many kinds of salt and the various uses thereof, e.g., saltpeter in the manufacture of gun powder. Zillions of dollars and thousands of years have been spent improving the quality, purity and available of salts of all kinds.

Ironically, he notes: “after thousands of years of struggle to make salt white and even grained, affluent people now pay [a premium] for salts that are odd shapes and colors.”

Who says people don’t have too much money?


Posted by respeto at 4:10 PM

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

January 9, 2010

Several Particularly Pertinent "Oldies"

(A study of several of Obama's real advisors)

Rules for Radicals (c.1971)
A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
Saul Alinsky - ISBN - 9780679721130

Anyone paying attention has heard of this book. I've reread the two books reviewed, and suggest you might want to do so as well.

Saul advised college radicals, including the Weathermen (Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn) in the 1960s, and informed their strategies for organizing the disasters they promulgated. His recommended modus operandi is indistinguishable from Obama's, since Ayers is his advisor (who--not incidentally--also wrote large tracts of Obama's memoirs, though both deny both facts.)

Alinsky considered himself pure, insisting that communists are immoral; he denied being a socialist, though his goals were those of a radical collectivist. He described the means by which mass organizations seizing power should be structured: "Power to the people" rather than rule by an elite. What is most astounding is how he parsed everything, redefining as he elected. He preached the ethical, moral and practical life without fixed ethical or moral principles. He defined egotism as a defensive reaction to personal inadequacy while he exuded egotism from every pore. And he was an elitist.

Ethics is "doing what is best for the most." No absolutes! Goals and means are variable, dependent upon attitudes and desired ends. He confused morality with ethics. The ethical man knows what is moral but isn't necessarily bound by it. The moral man will not do what is immoral or unethical. This man recommended doing whatever was required to prevail. The end justifies the means.

My favorite of his edicts is that "the right to a man's job transcends the right of private property!" Really? How wonderfully democratic. Right out of Marx, though Marx isn't a fan of private property at all.

An organizer's duty is to bait the establishment into attacking him as "the enemy." (He's searching for enemies not political adversaries.) He claimed to be unconcerned with people who profess democratic faith but yearn for security and dependence where they can be spared the burden of decisions . . . while that is exactly the audience he solicited. "People do not know what they want" (so he told them.) Misinformation and disinformation were preferred when necessary. "It is just about impossible for people to fully understand--much less adhere to--a totally new idea" (so he guided them.) You can't negotiate without the power to compel conciliation; power comes from organization. People hunger for drama and adventure (so create them.)

"Freeze the target and carry out the attack." Disregard all except one, and blame it on him. Never dilute the attack by saying anything good. If the enemy is a racist bastard, avoid mentioning that he's a good husband. It's o.k. to threaten, insult and annoy the enemy, but to incite irrational anger, laugh at him. A belittling smirk might be better.

Does any of this seem familiar within the transparent, honest, inclusive, tolerant, considerate, government promised, along with that bipartisan "hope and change" stuff?

I'm reminded of Sun Tzu's observation: "Know thine enemy." Listen-up folks! They really aren't with us, or even for us. It's about them--the masters--and I don't believe they're well intentioned.

Destructive Generation (c.1989)
Second Thoughts About The '60s
Peter Collier & David Horowitz - ISBN - 9780671667521

"Red Diaper Babies," Collier and Horowitz were early followers and later editors of the radical Ramparts magazine in the 60s. They later woke to realize that they were wrong, as did several of the founders, themselves. Their book is comprehensive and factual in reporting on the era, but I'm commenting only on the section in which they discuss the Weathermen. These were radicals on steroids, who have been friends with, and advisors to Obama for years, his denials notwithstanding.

They are amoral, Marxist cretins who spent the 60s raising hell, high on illicit drugs while wallowing in sex--the characteristics of the era. Unlike Bill Clinton, however, they violently opposed the Vietnam War, staged riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, bombed buildings, robbed banks, killed people and encouraged thousands of collegians to revolt. They spent years hiding underground, yet avoided prosecution. Now they are Chicagoans in prominent positions, but wholly unrepentant of their activities. They're pillars of the Democratic machine politics, "dear" to the money-men, and openly working to destroy our country (they call it hope and change.) The authors remarked that they were "like those Japanese soldiers who wandered for years in the jungle, unaware that they had lost the war." Well, maybe not? This ain't 1989, and with Barack in charge (or not ?) they seem to be winning.

They were kin with SDS, Black Panthers, Symbionese Liberation Army and even found the Manson Family worthy. Dohrn used the Manson "3 fingered fork salute" as a symbol. Those my age remember the salute and its meaning. We also remember the explosion of their bomb making facility in New York, which killed some of their myrmidons. To honor them they made anniversary pilgrimages to the site for years afterward. Maybe they still do.

They spent most of their energy staying alive underground. Unlike their minions, however--and to the great distress of many of those grunts--they hung out with, and were funded by, Hollywood celebrities, radical lawyers and moneyed friends. Their compatriots did the dirty work while their masters lived a lot better. They even worked on the McGovern campaign in the hope that if he won they could "go home."

Subsequently they became traditional communists, though Dohrn was discredited and had to cop to her deficiencies in what a colleague described as a "narcissistic extravagance characteristic of the 'me decade' . . . bizarre . . . her self-conception was meshuga. . . . She had no great revolutionary ideas. None of us did. She was just the daughter of a credit manager of a Milwaukee furniture store."

Nonetheless they represent a modern Leftist Fifth Column (if not altogether clandestine), but now find themselves within the "reigning" government. They may not be as important as Soros, etal. but they matter immensely, having had a decade's long, advisory relationship with President Obama. They may be crazy--I think not--but they have infiltrated the power structure, and contribute mightily to the undermining of America's foundations.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:07 PM

February 14, 2009

Shakespeare

The World as Stage
Bill Bryson – ISBN – 9780061673696

Another book on Shakespeare was unnecessary, but the Eminent Lives series invited Bryson to do one for them. It’s great they asked. He’s created a succinct, humorous literary adventure for those who are “short on time.” Like his subject, he’s is a master wordsmith.

Throughout the book he reminds that astonishingly little is actually known about Shakespeare, considering that he is so famous, yet he then expounds on that little bit in his customary, delightful way. As usual he includes related but obscure history of the times which further enlivens the book.

Who knew that then contemporary St. Paul’s cathedral was an immense square covering 12 acres, including a cemetery and a market place. The latter included every conceivable type of merchant and craftsman. Its dry, covered space housed still more, not to mention providing a place of repose for the local drunks. Pedestrians traversed it in inclement weather, not rarely to protect their piccadill (the starched, ribbon like collar so often seen in portraits and the name source for the legendary Piccadilly Circus.)

Diets of the day, for people able to afford them, were as varied and as complex as they are today. Beer was drunk in copious amounts throughout the day, even by Puritans; a gallon per day being the traditional ration of monks. Even then English Ale was an acquired taste, he notes.

The history of important architectural features of London, including its theatres (the Rose, the Globe, and the Blackfriar amongst them) is reviewed, interestingly and briefly.

But I digress. The golden age of theatre “lasted only the length of a good human lifetime;” and even then was interrupted by occasional plague epidemics. Actors were required to memorize as many as fifteen thousand lines in a season--the equivalent to a 200 page book! Since groups included no more than a dozen actors, they played many roles. Though some characters had few or no lines, actors still had to memorize stage placement and cues for these parts in addition to their own primary roles. Shakespeare, the genius, was clearly a very busy man, since he acted, directed, scripted, and managed, in addition to being a theatre owner.

As to themes and plots, all writers “borrowed” from many sources, including contemporaries. No one objected, which probably accounts for the seeming breadth of Shakespeare’s knowledge. He, more than historian or polymath, was an incredibly gifted writer, who could elaborate upon history, or rework existing plays written by others into forms which were better received. He sometimes “lifted” whole paragraphs or scenes from others, as did they, from him. Occasionally he made huge errors which were generally overlooked. For example, “In The Taming of the Shrew, he put a sail maker in Bergamo . . . the most landlocked city in the whole of Italy.” Only a few of his works were truly original, and most of those were comedies.

He was a master phrasemaker who introduced hundreds of new phrases and words. Many are still in common use, amongst them, one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, salad days, tower of strength, foregone conclusion, and blinking idiot. In The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, fully one-tenth of the notations are Shakespeare’s creations!

In his time most important documents and text works were written in Latin. Curiously, the first textbook of the English language was written in Latin! Shakespeare’s birth was recorded in Latin, his death in English. It is no small tribute to the man that in his lifetime the official language of “cultured” England changed from Latin to English, and he was amongst the architects of that change.

In closing Bryson elaborates in detail the errors of “the Anti-Stratfordians.” These were people who strained to prove—based upon little or nothing—that Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare. The dispute rages even now, though it wasn’t raised until hundreds of years after his death. He defangs and/or dissects these “cases of proof” humorously, as one might expect. Most arguments are based upon, at best, “chains of hopeful suppositions.” Many people have expended—and still do--large portions of their lives trying to prove their point. He observes, amusingly, that amongst these confident anti-Stradfordians were men whose surnames were Looney, Battey and Silliman.

In this regard Bryson opines that “with a kind of selective squinting, to endow the alternative claimants with the necessary time, talent and motive for anonymity to write the plays of William Shakespeare, . . . [there has never been produced] the tiniest particle of evidence to suggest that they actually did so.”

The Earl of Oxford—the current favorite, and unskilled in his own right—would have to have been incredibly gifted “to create, in [his] spare time, the greatest literature ever produced in English, in voices patently not [his] own, in a manner so cunning that [he] fooled virtually everyone during [his] own lifetime and for four hundred years afterward.” How, he asks, would Oxford benefit from writing masterful plays anonymously while attaching his own name to mediocrities? Further, Oxford would have been required to anticipate his own death, “[leaving] a stock of work sufficient to keep the supply of new plays flowing at the same rate until Shakespeare himself was ready to die a decade or so later. Now that is genius;” or would be if true, when some of the plots were based upon historic events which occurred after Oxford’s death . . . e.g., The Tempest.

A delightful read and highly recommended. A similar book, Will in the World, is reviewed elsewhere on this site and is likewise worth a read.

Posted by respeto at 12:20 PM

October 29, 2008

Six Frigates

The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy
Ian W. Toll – ISBN 9780393330328

A wonderful book (presuming you’re interested in Naval History); sweeping in scope, and sufficiently comprehensive for the most discriminating professional, yet quite readable for those of us who dislike textbooks.

There was a rather non-professional navy during the American Revolution, including not a few contractually permitted raiders (better recognized as pirates) who were licensed to stalk British ships. The original six frigates were built in response to American harassment by the Barbary pirates. American shipping had been secure as a part of the British Empire, but that protection was withdrawn (with some glee, by the British) after independence.

Toll outlines the political machinations involved in the decision to build a navy There were those against (principally the Cavaliers in the South) and those in favor (the merchants of the North.) Jefferson was as adamant about not having a navy, as he was obstinate in his disapproval of a standing army. Washington, Adams and Hamilton eventually won over their adversaries as more and more piracy and kidnapping of American crews drove them to the obvious conclusion.

Of the planned six frigates only four were originally built. They were of unique native design. They were particularly effective, being larger than most warships then in existence, and could overpower any ship except the massive British battleships. Indeed, it could give them a pretty good run inasmuch as the American design allowed them to out maneuver the opponent. Structurally, they were fashioned of American live oak which made them sturdier and more durable. The main members were cut using the natural shape of the trees, which presented a monumental problem: these were huge trees in remote places, and whole trunk and branch sections had to be recovered and delivered to the coastal shipyards.

While the primary arguments offered were for protection there was also a certain amount of ego involved. Adams wanted the world to recognize that “we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of fear and a sense of inferiority, fitted to be the miserable instruments of foreign influence, and regardless of national honor, character, and interest.” This proved particularly cogent in the later War of 1812.

There is a good deal of history/biography involved herein, in explaining the personalities of the principal “founding fathers” and their peculiarities, all of which fed into the political resolution of the various problems attendant approval and construction of these vessels. The history and biography of some of America’s early combat captains are included as well. They performed heroically in both of these early wars. Toll covers these conflicts in some detail. All told, the peripheral history explains the 500 pages of the book.

“What is remembered and cherished about the War of 1812, above all, was the fact that America’s tiny fleet had shocked and humbled the mightiest navy the world had ever known. Decatur, Hull, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Perry and Macdonnough were among the most exalted heroes of 19th century America . . . Towns, cities and counties were named for them. . . . Staffordshire [decorated] ceramic pitchers and plates with scenes of American naval victories . . . Sailors kept fragments of wood said to have come from one of the navy’s victorious ships, as if they were relics of the true cross.” Etcetera!

And it must be emphasized that then, as now, the security of the nation depends mightily upon the dedication and prowess of the Navy. Then, it was primarily to protect shipping against piracy; now to project power and protect against attack, though it certainly discourages piracy, which remains a problem in certain parts of the world.

Overall a good read.

Posted by respeto at 3:40 PM

February 26, 2007

Somebody’s Gotta Say It

Neil Boortz – ISBN – 9780060878207

Boortz has done it again! A blisteringly brilliant book on what’s wrong with America, and how to repair it (though he’s not optimistic!) It ought to be required reading for everyone. Even if you don’t agree, it is worth the time and effort. Even he emphasizes that if two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.

Early on he observes that “most adults have no idea of how essential our system of economic liberty is to the standard of life we enjoy today.” Few people are aware that democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government; most think we live in a democracy . . . which we are, unfortunately, moving toward, and which wasn’t the idea of the founders. Later: “I have come to the reluctant but inescapable conclusion that roughly 50 percent of the adults in this country are simply too ignorant and functionally incompetent to be living in a free society.”

In a preciously alliterative quote: “You could stick what the average American knows about economic matters down an ant’s throat and it would rattle around like a BB in a boxcar.”

He levels the charge that the teachers unions are a more threatening group than radical Islamists. They are ruining entire generations with their mal-education. His lengthy discussion of the education is consistent with his conviction that it is the single most problematic crisis in America today. “We live and work in an economic system based on competitive free enterprise. . . . We compete for jobs . . . customers . . . clients . . . recognition . . . even mates. Then along comes this government school teacher to tell us that competition is ‘not for human beings.’” Blaaaah!

Who can trust, or live with Islamic fascism? He reminds that these people shoot children in the back.” He has a lot more to say on that subject.

The “Democrat party” (a term he uses constantly, and justifies the slur) wants most desperately to silence talk radio . . . with predictable devastating result for the country’s information cycle. He explains, as he destroys, Liberal Talk Radio, that those who listen to talk radio can identify “bullshit” when they hear it. While willing to consider any rational presentation, audiences are generally intolerant of irrational ones. They may even tolerate irrationality if the speaker does so with humor. “This means that liberals are pretty much screwed when it comes to success in talk radio.” The facts are against them, they can’t carry forth an argument using logic or reason, and “let me know how your search for a truly funny liberal turns out.” He explains why the demise of talk radio will be disastrous for the country. (Democrat destructiveness only begins with that! . . . not that the Republicans have been doing much right recently.)

The last chapter summarizes things he would do if elected President--a job he empathically does not want. This is where his radically rational suggestions flower into a format I seriously doubt anyone with a double digit IQ would not, in the main, favor once arguments are presented.

He brilliantly recommends and explains the loser-pays system for lawsuits, defenestrates state licensure of the professions, eliminates the dep’t of education, repeals the 16th and 17th amendments, enacts the fair tax, reforms health care, expedites executions for capital crimes, ends the war on drugs, and inaugurates a crash program for energy independence.

He implements term limits and replaces the electoral system, leaving the House of Representatives as the highest office for which citizens can vote. He places restrictions on voting since there is no constitutional right to vote! Eminent domain seizures would be severely restricted and he ends asset forfeitures without due process. The U.S. gets out of the U.N. and substitutes a “New League of Freedom” composed of only free nations. Social security would be privatized and border protections are strengthened. Government subsidized housing is replaced by providing it free to all those who want to move to the sites were it is provided.

There are more excitingly radical ideas which are implementable if only the citizens of this country would embrace freedom. We have become soft, irresponsible and dependent upon government for too many things which we should provide for ourselves, and supporting others who are wholly dependent and vote for even more assistance.

His “Dollar Bill Savings Program,” alone is worth the price of the book.

READ IT ! ! !


Posted by respeto at 3:09 PM

March 2, 2010

Soul of Battle

From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny
Victor Davis Hanson - ISBN - 9780385720595


"Democracies, I think--if the cause, if the commanding general, if the conditions of time and space take on their proper meaning--for a season can produce the most murderous armies from the most unlikely of men, and do so in the pursuit of something spiritual rather than the mere material. This book, devoted to infantry, not airpower, tries to learn why all that is so." Thus begins the discussion and exploration of The Soul of Battle, by Victor Davis Hanson, delving into, analyzing and expounding upon three of the most exemplary such battles of all time:

1. The battle surrounding the defeat of the hubristic and hated Spartans. At the time, Laconia, home territory of the Spartans, had not been attacked for nearly 600 years. An army of 70,000 Hoplites, commanded by Epaminondas, marched 180 miles from Thebes in the winter of 370-369 B.C. These Greek Yeoman--simple dirt farmers, voting citizens and volunteers all--over-ran Laconia and destroyed it, freeing its slaves, then moved on to neighboring Messenia, freeing forever Spartan Helots (serfs). They established several free, fortified Greek city-states governed by these freedmen. There were few casualties suffered by the invaders, and though the Spartans were slaughtered like cattle on the first day, subsequent losses were few, since they avoided further meetings with the Thebans on the field of battle. Instead, they left their women to pathetically plead for mercy. Epaminondas ("Iron Gut") and his democratic army accomplished in 60 days what imperial Athens had been unable to do in 27 years of the Peloponnesian War. Less than six months later his army returned home in time for spring planting, never to be assembled again. The Spartans, while still a nuisance for a time, were never again the Sparta of myth, legend, or prior reality as their army had been demonstrated to be a hollow and heartless shell.

2. For nearly 150 years we have studied Sherman's March to the Sea (Nov. 16 to Dec. 21, 1864) in which William Tecumseh ("Uncle Billy") Sherman led an army of Midwestern troops 62,000 strong--also mostly simple dirt farmers, voting citizens and volunteers--into and through the heart of the Confederacy, a slave based society similar to Sparta. There the Army of the West razed the property and freed the slaves of the arrogant plantation owners who had driven the south into the Civil War. When Sherman's army turned north five weeks later the Confederacy, and its ability to make war, had been thoroughly destroyed. While there were 30,000 Confederate troops "in his way," they never entered the field of battle in their own defense. They hid, leaving their women to plead for leniency and safety. Their safety was never in doubt, but leniency was denied. The Rebels, like the Spartans, were shown to be a hollow force. Little known is the fact that Sherman's army killed virtually no one and experienced only a handful of casualties--virtually none of these in combat--and did no direct harm to the poor. After the surrender at Appomattox four months later, the army was disbanded and never heard from again--and the Confederate slave state was no more.

3. The lightening attacks of George Patton's Third Army contributed mightily to the defeat of Germany in WWII, sweeping rapidly across Europe and into the German homeland (Aug. 1 to May 8, 1944/45). Had he not been halted for two months to permit Montgomery to pursue his failed operations, Patton would have been in Germany months before, the war shortened by six months, and the outcome entirely different. Almost certainly there would have been no Russian occupation, no Berlin wall, and just maybe no cold war. Certainly there would have been 500,000 fewer deaths (though some estimates of deaths potentially prevented run well into the millions.) In seven months--plus the two when Patton was sidelined--the Third Army, composed of raw recruits who for the most part had never been in battle, so completely overwhelmed the Germans that they lived in constant dread of the army of "Old Blood and Guts." He experienced fewer casualties than any other general, while inflicting more. Alone amongst Allied generals, Patton was feared. He struck terror in the hearts and minds of the Nazis--the master race--who never knew what he would do, where he would go, when he would attack . . . or how. They knew, only that he was lethal. As with the prior armies, Patton's half a million men was disbanded within months, vanishing into the U.S. landscape never to be heard from again, except in history. And the Nazis entered history in the 9th year of their much touted 1,000 year Reich. A third evil slave state destroyed by a murderous democratic army of "spiritual warriors."

Such is the soul of battle. Hanson observes that, and why, "Iron Gut", "Uncle Billy" and "Blood and Guts" were all respected, admired and even worshipped by the men they commanded. Yet, each maintained a certain distance from, and a subtle contempt for, the very masses they led. All spent their time at the front, where they could command and be seen by their troops. All kept moving, always taking new ground, never settling into fixed positions, "paying for the same territory twice," as Patton remarked. All were feared by their adversaries, but each exhibited a certain softness and consideration for their enemies, once defeated. All were intellectuals, far better read and educated than their armies and their contemporary commanders, especially in the literature and philosophy of war. All honored the warrior culture they labored mightily to destroy, and all followed an arcane honor code poorly suited for times of peace. They were ruthless and gifted men of little subsequent use. Neither the three, nor their armies, started the wars which they did not wish to begin. All led armies which fought with a terrible vengeance, as Spartan helotage, African slavery, and Nazism perished in their fearsome onslaught. All were despised by their opponents--Sherman is still hated in the South--and worshipped by those they commanded and those whose salvation they wrought . . . millions upon millions of people.

This book demonstrates that these commanders instilled in their men a zealous ethic, making them understand and believe they were morally superior to their undemocratic, slave-holding adversaries. It is more nearly an essay on the ethical nature of democracies at war than a pure history of epic military marches for freedom. In it, Hanson demonstrates that "on rare occasions throughout the ages there is a soul, not merely a spirit, in the way men battle."

It is a truly magnificent read, detailed and graphic, informative and wise. Read it and understand that, and why, an American army, deployed properly for the right reasons, led by stirring, competent and committed commanders, will never lose a war.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 10:35 AM

June 10, 2005

Soul of Battle

Victor Davis Hanson – ISBN – 0385720599

(Apologies for the length of this piece, but there is simply no way to fairly edit it further.)

“Democracies, I think . . . for a season can produce the most murderous armies from the most unlikely of men, and do so in the pursuit of something spiritual rather than the mere material. This book, devoted to infantry, not airpower, tries to learn why all that is so.” So begins a discussion of three of the most significant battles of all time:

First: the battle surrounding the defeat of the hubristic and hated Spartans. An army of 70,000 Hoplites marched 180 miles from Thebes to Laconia in the winter of 370-369 B.C. These Greek Yeoman—simple dirt farmers, voting citizens and volunteers all—over-ran and destroyed it freeing forever the Spartan slaves, and established free, fortified Greek city-states governed by these freedmen. The legendary Spartans avoided meetings with the Thebans on the field of battle, but left their women to pathetically plead for mercy. Epaminondas (“Iron Gut”) and his democratic army accomplished in just 60 days what imperial Athens had been unable to do in the 27 years of the Peloponnesian War. The Spartans had been demonstrated to be a hollow and heartless shell. The slave state was destroyed and the Theban army marched home to plant their crops, their army gone within 6 months.

Second: the March to the Sea, in which William Tecumseh (“Uncle Billy”) Sherman led an army of Midwestern troops 62,000 strong—also simple dirt farmers, voting citizens and volunteers—into and through the heart of the Confederacy, a slave based society similar to Sparta. There the Army of the West razed the property and freed the slaves of the arrogant plantation owners who had fueled the Civil War. When Sherman’s army turned north five weeks later the Confederacy had been thoroughly devastated. While there were 30,000 Confederate troops always nearby, they never came to their own defense. They hid, leaving their women to plead for leniency and safety. Leniency was denied. The Rebels, like the Spartans, were a hollow force. Little known is the fact that Sherman’s army killed virtually no one and did no direct harm to the poor. After the surrender at Appomattox only four months later, the army disbanded and was never heard from again--and the Confederate slave state was no more.

Third:
the lightening attacks of George Patton’s Third Army contributed mightily to the defeat of Germany in WWII, sweeping rapidly across Europe and into the German. Had he not (most unfortunately) been halted for two months to permit Montgomery to pursue his failed operations, Patton would have been in Germany months before, the war shortened by six months, and the outcome entirely different: no Russian occupation, no Berlin wall, and just maybe no cold war. Further, there would have been as many as two million fewer deaths. In seven months--plus the two when Patton was sidelined--the Third Army, also composed of raw recruits, so completely overwhelmed the Germans that they lived in constant dread of the army of “Old Blood and Guts.” Seldom recognized is that Patton experienced fewer casualties than any other general, while inflicting more. Alone amongst Allied generals he struck terror in the hearts and minds of the Nazis—the supposed master race--who never knew what he would do, where, when or how. Only, that he was lethal. Patton’s half a million man was disbanded within months, vanishing into the U.S. landscape never to be heard from again. And the Nazis entered history in the 9th year of their much touted 1,000 year Reich. A third evil slave state destroyed by a murderous democratic army of “spiritual warriors.”

Such is The Soul of Battle. All three generals were intellectuals, better educated than their armies and contemporary commanders, especially in the literature and philosophy of war. All honored the warrior culture they labored mightily to destroy. All followed an arcane honor code poorly suited for times of peace. All were ruthless and gifted men of little subsequent use. All led armies which fought with a terrible vengeance, and the Spartans, Confederates and Nazis perished at their hand. All were despised by their opponents and worshipped by those they commanded and whose salvation they wrought.

These commanders instilled in their men a zealous ethic, making them understand and believe they were morally superior to their undemocratic, slave-holding adversaries. The book is an essay on the ethical nature of democracies at war. Hanson demonstrates that “on rare occasions throughout the ages there is a soul, not merely a spirit, in the way men battle,” and that war is neither always evil nor always unnecessary.

We now live in an era of “conflict resolution” and “peace studies” in which moral guilt is equally assessed to those who kill to advance evil and those who kill to end it, and to the aggressive as well those who resist aggression. In the end we all become “victims”. “Evil” itself has become relative.

Historians often fail to see that “humane war” (the ultimate oxymoron) gives us someone like McClellan, whose battle incompetence prolonged the killing, and whose tolerance for slavery might--had Sherman not taken Atlanta--have allowed bondage to continue in North America—under a McClellan presidency. (In WWII, Omar Bradley favored “humane war.”)

It would be well for modern Liberals to keep in mind (as they chant their constant--and truly anti-liberal: “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture’s got to go”) that what they perceive and hate about the West is not what they represent it to be. While Spartan, Confederate and Nazi states all originated in the West, so too does the culture and tradition of civil rights, democracy and consensual government.

These are the things which we in America must fight to reclaim from our Hellenic legacy. All cultures are not equal! Indeed, most are not even in the running. This is not cultural arrogance, it is fact!! Despite our problems the West is the foremost culture ever visited upon this planet, and it must survive if the world is not to revivify the Dark Ages. If the U.S. fails, the West will disappear. About that there can be no question.

The depth and breadth of these convictions of freedom are succinctly expressed in the epitaph of Epaminondas:

By my plans was Sparta shorn of her glory,
And holy Messenia at last received back her children.
By the arms of Thebes was Megalopolis fortified
And all of Greece became independent and free
.

In a chapter ending narrative Hanson observes that “in my impotence, I [to] would hate the arrogant Eastern Americans (the North) who ruined a century of my family’s work, destroyed my community, and ended my viability as a farmer—and I would despise more the architect of that desolation, [the] heartless and crazy Bill Sherman. But I would also never again think that either my neighbors or I had the right—or power—to hold slaves, much less either the prerogative or ability to declare California (Hanson’s home) and the property of the federal government within it as our region’s own. We would have no doubts that we were defeated.” And mostly I would hope that the commander of such an army was not a man like Sherman, who would say: “those people made war on us, defied and dared us to come south to their country, where . . . they would kill us and do all manner of horrible things. We accepted their challenge, and now for them to whine and complain of the natural and necessary results is beneath contempt.”

A spellbinding book, full of history, some of it unknown to me before I read it (and I consider myself pretty well read.) More, it is a tome which ought to be relished by every American interested in the West, our origins, our historic beliefs and our “deportment” in times of conflict. And it will yield an understanding of why the West always wins--at least when it tries (and why it will win the war on terror—if it tries!!)

For Left Liberals (even centrist liberals), “peaceniks,” and others ignorant of the grandeur of the West, it should be required reading!

Also recommended are practically all of Hanson’s other books, in no particular order. Hang around since many of them will be reviewed, in time. But in keeping with my comments about our modern Liberal elite I would especially recommend: Who Killed Homer a lengthy and scholarly discussion of the disappearance of the proper historic study of the West in our current educational curricula, K thru 16 (or 20+.) It is appalling that so little is taught about our past and its implications, and that so much of what is, is garbage shoveled about under the pretense of being authentic information.

Posted by respeto at 1:41 PM

May 4, 2005

South Park Conservatives

(The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias)

Brian C. Anderson – ISBN 0895260190

Welcome to South Park, a comedy production of which I had never heard until I read this book. I watched the show for the first time last night; caustic is the word I’d use to describe it. Funny as hell too, yet Anderson notes that in his interviews with conservative college students he found them bemused by the fact that many of their liberal counterparts—who also love the show--completely miss the point: the “pimping” of what they believe, or at least espouse without questioning the concept(s).

When the writers were asked about the origins of the show one observed that he hates conservatives, but loathes elitism and hypocrisy, most of which is on the Left. It makes a great target for satire, and the show is popular for its transparent demonstration of duplicity and inanity in life.

In recent years the “Right” is beginning to impact seriously upon the “Left” media and culture. Anderson’s fact-rich little tome (165 pages) is a joy to read, especially for those who subscribe to conservative values which are, of course, the long ridiculed norms of Western and particularly American society. It follows the previous books by Bernard Goldberg: Bias and Arrogance, but is different, in that he covers more ground outside the media, per se. He notes, for instance, that WalMart refuses to stock any product which devalues conservative Western norms—and offends its shoppers.

He relates the burial by the Left of the concept of natural law, which is a subject I often debate. Also mentioned is the appearance--over the objections of, and sabotaging by, liberal academe--of conservative clubs and organizations which challenge the disinformation presented in the classrooms of our most institutions of “higher learning.”

The justification by the left of its shameless behavior is noted by quoting a political theorist--Peter Berkowitz: “If we don’t cheat, and steal, and lie, then George W. Bush and John Ashcroft are going to be running the country.” They really do believe that the end justifies the means. Imagine the reaction if a conservative uttered these words.

“Illiberal liberals,” as Anderson calls them, hide behind the charge of racism when questions are raised about the impact of racial preferences, and recalls the regular attacks on the Right for their “bigotry” and “insensitivity,” again in contradistinction to actually discussing the differing opinions and approaches. ‘Til recently the liberal media cocoon protected the Left from such challenges on their excesses . . . no longer.

Cataloguing facts and discussing them in clever and informative ways results in a book which is easy, quick and interesting to read. He discusses how the old Left simply avoids intelligent discussion of different approaches by inveighing against the Right, and describes how the “new media” have impacted upon these evasive devices. Talk radio, the internet and Fox News, to name the most prominent, now make it impossible to cover-up uncomfortable facts, and immediately destroy the misstatements of the Left (recall the Swift Boat Vets and “Rathergate.”)

“While the Right, broadly construed, may no longer be losing the culture wars, it certainly hasn’t won yet.” We can hope it will, eventually. When conservative-hating media elites join in the fun of exposing and bashing the Liberal agenda and its supporters, there may be a chance for Western culture to prevail . . . at least here in what’s left of the West. We need to seriously discuss everything from rabid environmentalism, the war on terrorism, infanticide and euthanasia, to the problems with over-taxation, social security and obscenity in the “media,” amongst other things. Our culture is being destroyed!

I’m reminded of a line from the movie The American President in which “the President” (the Liberal Democrat—in the movie as in life--Michael Douglas) noted that “these are serious times, and they require serious people.” Yea verily! I only wish that he and his ilk understood that they are the unserious, unscrupulous, brain-addled utopian clowns.

Posted by respeto at 3:04 PM

April 22, 2011

Spoiled Rotten

Affluence, Anxiety, and Social Decay in America
Brian Goff & Arthur Fleisher III - ISBN - 9780813397573

This pair of dedicated rationalists take on the prevailing "leftist" attitudes and statements that there have been no material improvements in the U.S. since the 70's (that's Jimmy Carter times, folks, for those not keeping track.) The insistence that personal incomes have stagnated, and that the middle and lower classes have "suffered" because of the advance of the wealthy is, for the most part, balderdash; and they set out to prove it with data.

The left isn't so much about facts; they don't want to debate outcomes or data; they just want to "feel better" about what they are doing and be "more moral" about the whole thing. Social justice, don't-cha-no? It's more correctly about "perceptions," or relating to the "dynamic" of the purported situation which matters and sets them apart from the documentable reality.

All of that said, this is neither a "rightist screed" nor a "hatchet job" on the left. It is a straightforward explication of a host of interrelated data which supports their contentions; amongst them that the "seeming imbalance between impressive gains in material wealth and widespread discontent is not a paradox but an irony--the same increases in economic well-being that have made American lives so comfortable in many ways have simultaneously helped to foment some of society's most dangerous dilemmas."

One desperately needs to avoid conclusions without precise interpretation of accurate data. What we commonly experience is politically colored--even twisted--information which is either incorrect or incorrectly interpreted (or reported) to satisfy the agendas of people with specific goals and a definitive rationale for representing what they do, as they do. Beware. Politically both sides are capable of distortion, but in the matter in question, it is the left which distorts.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:00 PM

May 1, 2005

State of Fear

Michael Crichton - ISBN 0-066214130

This is Crichton’s most exciting and provocative book in years. For those interested in a techno-thriller there is enough action and suspense for everyone. For those, like me, interested in the exposition and command of scientific detail, this is a stimulating excursion into the global warming conundrum. He makes the facts--scientific and political--of global warming entertaining while he informs on the true nature of the problem(s).

The intrepid protagonists (there are six) circumnavigate the globe, north to south and east to west in pursuit of malignant enviro-wacko-warriors bent on producing crises to substantiate their claims of “dangerous” warming. From icy Antarctica to the steaming tropics of the western Pacific, these wackos are unrelenting in their attempts to produce global calamities in order to get the attention of the dubious and the unconvinced: unexpected floods, quakes and tsunamis are included in their diabolical strategy.

And there are the “good guys” who chase these radicals to the ends of the earth. Now and again someone is exterminated, and a photogenic movie star is devoured by cannibals (sounds about right to me, since he’s a lot like Alec Baldwin.)

Along the way there are inclusions of the real facts of global warming, the environ-mental lobbyists and the political activities of all sides of the debate (or, more correctly, the argument/fight.) He describes the “State of Fear” which exists, thus explaining his title.

Amongst the engrossing details he offers are:
• 95% of glacial ice is in Antarctica.
• These critical glaciers are NOT melting, but increasing slightly in size.
• Those melting glaciers are NOT melting because of warming.
• Sea levels are NOT rising.
• Increasing carbon dioxide is actually GOOD for plant growth, and, therefore for harvests. No desertification or famine. Indeed the North African desert is shrinking in size.
• Schemes to improve the human condition have uniformly FAILED for lack of a true understanding of what to do.
• The imagined idyllic life of primitive cultures is NOT serene, but savage and not returning--were it possible--to such a “pristine” situation is in fact the justification for, and PURPOSE of, government!
• Avoiding change is impossible. The “third rock from the sun” has been in a state of dynamic alterations since its creation, and is little less active now than ever. (He offers a chronicle of the earth’s history which is fascinating.)

Crichton observes that: “We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it. In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty. . . . Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better.”

In the chapter he entitles “Author’s Message” he itemizes 25 provocative thoughts/suggestions for consideration if the powers that be are actually interested in confronting and resolving the problems which do exist. (He does not deny global warming (!), just its origins as a human phenomenon, and he discusses in detail the danger of politicized science.)

Posted by respeto at 12:30 PM

June 7, 2008

Survival of the Sickest

The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity
Dr. Sharon Moalem – ISBN – 9780060889661

Talk about fascinating! This work is at once deeply enlightening and a pleasure to read. He has a wholly unique manner of writing: refreshing, almost lilting, and in some ways similar to Bill Bryson in that it is entertaining while immensely informative. His creative metaphors clearly stem from a vast knowledge base outside of medicine. He makes clear—that is: MAKES CLEAR—that which he is explaining with a wry, inviting humor.

He begins by noting several well known and common genetic aberrations which, while they may kill, are proven to assist in survival. Examples are Hemochromatosis (an iron storage disease) common in European peoples, which provides protection against Plague, and Sickle Cell Anemia in blacks from Africa, as well as Thallasemia, a variant found in Mediterranean Europe, both of which protect against Malaria. Diabetes itself is demonstrably protective against cold (read ice-age.)

One might wonder why diseases which kill are so common. The answer: for the most part they do not kill the young. Rather, they defer their complications until individuals are past the reproductive period of early adulthood, thus assisting in the survival of the race.

When he has your undivided attention he proceeds to cholesterol, and its provision of the substrate for Vitamin D, noting (not so) humorously that when the Australians began a campaign to slather themselves with UV sun blocking creams, the incidence of Avitaminosis D skyrocketed. Less skin cancer, more rickets anyone? As well, he emphasizes that one’s ancestral climate is paramount. African Americans, for instance, are twenty to forty times less likely to develop melanomas. Where our ancestors came from, and how they adapted, is important to us; many of the current problems are related to the incredible mobility of moderns, appearing all over the planet in environments for which they are unsuited by genetics.

Further, regarding cholesterol, he observes that one might be able to reduce cholesterol by getting sufficient sunlight to covert the excess to Vitamin D. “Wouldn’t you rather hit the tanning salon before starting a lifetime of Lipitor? That’s food for thought.”

Researchers observe that we consume 5-10,000 natural toxins annually, and that 20 percent of cancer-related deaths are caused by ingredients commonly in our diet. So . . . why don’t we evolve mechanisms to ablate these toxins? The short answer is that we have, we do, and we will continue. He then explains.

He advances varietal discussions of infectious agents, embellishing some of the observations in Good Germs, Bad Germs, just reviewed. He concludes that if we worked at it we might just find ways for the good germs to survive in healthy individuals, protecting them against the bad guys.

The discussion of host/parasite relationships is expository and well done, emphasizing for instance, that malaria keeps one bedridden so that mosquitoes are able to feed easily, while the common cold permits you to go to work where you can more easily spread the goodies.

Finally, in later chapters, he notes that the genetic makeup affects an individual’s response to “a given drug” is now being recognized as demanding of “personalized medicine,” tailored to need and genome. He also emphasizes the “dangerous antibiotic arms race,” suggesting that, instead we should be looking at vectors which bring diseases and see how we can either avoid them or alter their behavior. While we may be outmatched by their ability to respond to varietal conditions, we are smarter.

I was especially fascinated by his discussion of DNA/RNA. For years we have “known” that only about 3% of our DNA matters, the rest is “junk stuff” carried over from the evolutionary process. Not so, it is now realized. Much of is not junk, but critical to our health, and much of it is now presumed to be viral materials incorporated in the evolutionary process millions of years ago, without which we could not survive. As well he delves into generational genomic discoveries which stand the world of genetics on its ear. The genome is not just passed along with rare change, but is dynamic, ongoing, and is even influenced by nurture.

He concludes: “I hope that you’ll come away from this book with an appreciation of three things. First, that life is in a constant state of creation. Evolution isn’t over—it’s all around you, changing as we go. Second, that nothing in our world exists in isolation. We—meaning humans and animals and plants and microbes and everything else—are all evolving together. Third, that our relationship with disease is often much more complex than we have previously realized.

Great Read!

Posted by respeto at 11:55 AM

February 11, 2009

Swamp Fox

The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion
Robert D. Bass – ISBN – 9780878440511

Marion was of French Huguenot lineage; a diminutive, wiry, diligent, courageous and brilliant commander in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War . . . much esteemed, then as now, and iconized in his home state. Like, but preceding the Gray Ghost (John Mosby) in the Civil War, Marion earned the sobriquet Swamp Fox because he would emerge from an impenetrable swamp, attack the British and disappear without a trace. He was, at once, everywhere and nowhere. With his minions he exploited the most minor of advantages, often turning encounters into major victories. Prominent Royal commanders from the vicious Ban Tarleton to General Cornwallis respected and feared him. Like George Washington his resume was further enhanced in the retelling by Parson Weems. The movie The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, was (very, very) loosely patterned on the life of this gallant figure.

Despite his wily aggressiveness he would never fight when the risk of defeat was obvious. He protected his men. They loved him, fought and died for him. He was free of rage and ambition, confident but never foolish, and rarely made unpredictable or erroneous judgments and never exhibited malice toward his enemies. Whilst the Royals, especially Tarlton—often cruel reckless--ritually burned homes and crops of the patriots (and Tories as well!), rendering women and children homeless and without sustenance, Marion never reciprocated in kind. He never attacked the Tory loyalists in that way, and forbid his troops to do so . . . indeed would punish them severely if they did so. Further, he forbid his troops to be cruel even in his absence. Because he was kindly to his adversaries he recruited many of them to the patriot side of the conflict.

He was hunted as prey, but never caught. Cornwallis once sent the arrogant Tarlton out to capture and kill Marion, but he failed. After days of search he turned to other more ready captures with some lame excuse. On other occasions Marion’s “simple countrymen in blue jeans, armed with squirrel rifles, fowling pieces and homemade swords [threw back] the finest regiments in the British Army.” The man was a tactical wizard who could motivate simple country folk to fight like demons to secure their freedom. One British commander bitterly stammered that Marion and his men “will not sleep and fight like gentlemen, . . . but like savages are eternally firing and whooping around us by night, and by day waylaying and popping at us from behind every tree!”

On his weary return from the war he found his plantation in ruins, ravaged by friend and foe alike. The British had used it as an object of plunder and the Americans as a source of supply. They had pilfered his goods, burned his home, barns and contents, driven off his cattle, confiscated his horses and kidnapped his slaves. Yet with his customary grace, faith, and daring which had served him so well in war, he resumed his life with neither hesitation nor remorse. Unpaid for his services in the militia, and never reimbursed for his losses, he borrowed to replace what he could, fed and clothed his remaining slaves, restored his home, and became in peace what he had been in war . . . a respected gentleman.

While he had been the scourge of Tory loyalists, no one more readily forgave their loyalty to their king. After the war, and at personal risk, he defended them in public, and sponsored legislation to provide them justice and equity. When chastised by peers his rejoinder was: “God has given us the victory; let us show our gratitude to heaven, which we shall not do by cruelty to man.”

Eventually, by act of the legislature, he was rewarded for his “eminent and conspicuous services to his country.” A few years later, in his mid 50’s, he finally married; less than a decade later he passed into history as a legend.

The book is an informative read, but spotty. The narrative, while sometimes well constructed, is elsewhere dull as dirt. Many noted quotes seem manufactured—reading like historic fiction rather than the history it is supposed to be, though they do humanize the account. There are an additional several major faults.

The first is his mention of countless names in his attempt to include all surnames possible, thus to sell more books to people looking for heroic relatives. A back cover reviewer observed that “almost all South Carolinians can read about an ancestor or two.” I found it a terrible interference with the fluidity of the story. Only when one decides “to hell with what private so-and-so is supposed to have said or done,” and passes over distracting names, does the flow improve.

The second is that Marion’s men, the Tory militias, the British and Continental Armies raced all over the Carolinas, and the author includes every creek, river, lake, marsh and swamp; every hillock, mountain, copse, and forest; every path, trail and road; every plantation, village and town—by name!—and does so without providing a single map. Not one. Another back cover reviewer lauds Bass for “locating” Marion at least every three days throughout all the years of conflict. The tale suffers greatly because he did.

With those caveats I recommend the book . . . but plan to check out a few others. Marion is a fascinating and heroic Revolutionary character. I found myself wanting to learn more about him.

Posted by respeto at 1:00 PM

August 11, 2006

Team of Rivals

(The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln)
Doris Kearns Goodwin – ISBN-13 – 978-0684824091

The book begins with the campaign of 1856 and ends with Lincoln’s assassination, with a brief epilogue explaining what happened to the principals following the war. It is brilliant, and should go a long way toward redeeming Goodwin’s reputation, recently sullied by allegations of plagiarism. Indeed, it deserves to win another Pulitzer! She demonstrates intense scholarship as she spins out this engaging narrative, as close to a page turner as any history book you will ever read . . . and read it you should.

To say that it is well written is akin to saying that Ruth was a pretty good ball player, Jordan a decent hoopster or Armstrong a respectable biker.

Author in the past of books on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (Pulitzer in History,) the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson, she here takes on the demanding task of multiple biographies: Lincoln and his Civil War cabinet, many of whom were rivals for the nomination of 1860, and others from the opposition. She amply demonstrates the incredible talents of Lincoln in forging this “team of rivals” into a cohesive band of advisors, all chosen because they were talented, wise, committed, reliable, trustworthy and potentially loyal. Bitter enemies became fast friends.

Especially his adversaries learned to love and respect his incredible talent, and well into the war acknowledged that they would not have performed as well, let alone better. He was the consummate political sage of the era. The average reader will come away with a still more exalted interpretation of Lincoln than he held before.

The book is full of factoids, vignettes and flashes of wit and humor which further flavor the stew (and she nicely puts the allegation of Lincoln’s homosexuality to bed.) One comes away with the understanding that Lincoln believed, and believed he was exemplary of the fact, that anyone could be successful in, even president of this nation. One is treated to numerous examples of his humor and stories used to ease tension and make points, not at all unlike Ronald Reagan. Also included are Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and portions of his second inaugural.

Over the oft debated cause of the war she leaves no doubt that it was, ultimately, about slavery. However, “Lincoln pointedly denied fundamental differences between Northerners and Southerners. He argued that ‘they are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. . . . I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself.’” He encouraged others to comprehend the position of Southerners thru empathy.

His uncanny political ability, repeatedly referenced, is best summarized by a quote from the Washington Daily Chronicle: “the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them.”

General William Tecumseh Sherman noted, years after Lincoln’s death: “Of all the men I ever met, he seemed to possess more of the elements of greatness, combined with goodness, than any other.”

While Tolstoy observed: “The name of Lincoln is worshipped thruout the world and [his personality has become legendary.] Now, why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skilful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”

And, so it remains today.

Posted by respeto at 11:48 AM

July 20, 2008

Thank You For Smoking

Christopher Buckley – ISBN – 9780812976526

This novel is a hoot . . . especially for those who enjoy witty, intelligent writing, absent gore with only peripheral references to sex.

The plot revolves around Washington lobbyists for lethal vices: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The principal protagonist and his two friends meet regularly for lunch, which meetings are for commiseration and brainstorming. They identify themselves as the MOD squad (Merchants of Death), and admit that what they do is morally obtuse; still, do it well and take peculiar pride in their achievements.

The serpingenous plot carries the reader thru numerous, often humorous, uncommonly well crafted and usually deceitful activities which the principals use to hawk and defend their products, which activities are not occasionally used against them. All can identify the disingenuity of the tobacco lobbyists who, to this day, deny the relationship of smoking to disease. Nick Naylor, chief lobbyist for the “Academy of Tobacco Studies” (as it is cunningly named), is the main character of the story. He is brilliant at what he does, and parries the most severe challenges with astute, devastatingly distracting arguments when confronted with facts.

For instance, a senator from Vermont has proposed a law to require the placement of a skull and cross-bones on cigarette packages. At a scheduled committee hearing the senator sears him with health facts from thousands of studies about the deleterious effects of tobacco. Nick simply turns the tables by commenting that many of the “so-called facts” are just that. In riposte he emphasizes that there is no disagreement that cholesterol is unchallengeably awful, and that Vermont cheddar cheeses are loaded with it. Unprepared, the senator is crushed by the deviation from his planned attack and is immediately put on the defensive.

Nick is thereafter treated like royalty by the MOD squad and the captains of the industries they represent, while most of congress, the media and HHS are apoplectic. (HSS, you’ll remember, is Health and Human Services, though the MODs refer to it Helpless, Hopeless and Stupid.)

In that context the author comments that “Nick graciously thanked Chairman [and the Senator] Finisterre for the opportunity to present his views before such a distinguished committee. How proud the founders would have been of the [committee’s] senators: over two thousand bounced checks between them, a seducer of underage Senate pages, three DUIs, one income-tax evader, a wife beater whose only defense was that she’d beat him up first, and a case of plagiarism, from, of all sources, a campaign speech of Benito Mussolini. . . . [He then] paused in his recitation long enough to reflect that it’s a sorry state when seducers of teenagers and Mussolini-quoters feel morally superior to [him].” This construction is exemplary of the writing skills of Buckley, who sent me to the dictionary several times over unfamiliar words (due in some measure to the fact that Chris is the son of William F.)

In a variety of situationally relevant asides, Buckley touches upon interesting ancient and contemporary historic factoids. King James, he notes, “was offended by Indians” brought from the Virginia colonies to demonstrate the “newfangled thing called smoking.” Offended, that is, until he reflected upon the tax revenues generated by the product. How very different from today, eh? I have no idea if these factoids are true, and no interest in pursuing them, but they are at least clever—and, I’d wager, accurate.

Eventually Naylor is kidnapped by “tobacco terrorists,” plastered with nicotine patches and left to die—which he nearly did. After a horrendous ordeal and recovery he is both hero and marked man, which Buckley blends into the final set-piece involving sophisticated revenge and, ultimately, Nick’s redemption.

The plot is a little zany, but always dazzling, and the “killer” ending is wonderfully wrought.

Posted by respeto at 11:44 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

January 17, 2009

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

Gordon S. Wood – ISBN – 9780143035282

This is a dazzling review of the portion of Franklin’s life surrounding the American Revolution. It details how this brilliant, loyal citizen of the British Empire became a committed American. The Crown demonized and humiliated him, thereby driving him to become a formidable opponent and devoted revolutionary who was easily as important as George Washington.

As with most such works it begins with an outline of his bio as a younger man, tracing the development of attributes he exemplified throughout life. Amongst them were his (and the era’s) attitude that a gentleman was free only when liberated from the necessity of labor. According to British custom labor was a demeaning necessity for the poor, while gentlemanly status was provided by inheritance or by past labor. Americans were amongst the worldly few offered opportunity to earn the status, yet those born to it still looked askance at those who had earned it. Many workmen became wealthy, but few made it to gentleman. Franklin, of course, was born to poverty, earned his “gentlemanly” status by age 42, and began the struggle to be accepted by “his betters.” He was confident that he was brighter and more successful, but the peers and nobility were reluctant to accept him as an equal, never mind their better.

He was a genius of the age--or any age! He contributed more than most, commonly eschewing authorship of his ideas and inventions. He was responsible for creating many societally important venues: volunteer firefighters, public libraries, scientific forums . . . along with the lightening rod and the Franklin stove. Where applicable he always declined patents which would have commanded royalty payments. He was, in fact, the quintessential American success. By the time he was in his sixties he was one of the most famous people in the world. Oh, did I mention his study of electricity?

While negotiating in England over the Stamp Act it was clear that the English didn’t consider the colonists their equal. Indeed, they used the term “American” as a pejorative. Himself a celebrity and recipient of British honorary degrees, he reacted with humor, reason, and grace . . . or at least colorful satire. Ultimately he experienced a sense of protective outrage. He posited that the colonists were prospering as providers of important exports to Britain, and were likewise an important market for British products. Equal, perhaps?

Parliament was insistent that it was in charge. Grumbling about the king might be acceptable, but challenging them was unconscionable. They wouldn’t accept that the colonists were as much freeborn Englishmen as were those in London. Americans were offended by this treatment. They understood that this relationship was beneficial bilaterally, and were not unwilling to tax themselves for the benefit of the English Crown, yet they were offended by Parliament’s imposition of “taxation without representation.” Parliament disagreed, mostly as a power play.

There were important men in Parliament who agreed with Franklin that “men of good will” might head off this crisis, but prevailing attitudes militated against that outcome. There had been varietal other “matters” which had riled the colonists (all are covered in detail), but the Stamp Act was a bridge too far.

Franklin held diplomatic status for several of the colonies for years whilst he lived in England, and he interacted with the French before he became the negotiator for the financing of the Revolution. When he was dressed down for hours by the Parliament it proved to be the last straw. Humiliated, he returned home and became an ardent supporter of the Revolution.

Despite American’s basic antipathy to the French, Franklin managed to avoid any hint of distrust. It helped that the French and English had no love for one another. Franklin was able to convince them to assist the colonies make war upon England, knowing that it was in French interests to weaken Britain. Without doubt the Revolution would not have succeeded absent French involvement and support. Thus was Franklin as important to the success of the Revolution as Washington.

No one better exemplified the uniqueness of Americans than Benjamin Franklin. Tocqueville later observed that Americans celebrated work as “the necessary, natural, and honest condition of all men.” He was astonished that Americans thought not only that work itself was “honorable” but that “work specifically to gain money” was also “honorable.” Europe, at the time, was still dominated by a contrite, settled (I’d add, lazy) aristocracy which saw labor as demeaning, and wholly scorned work for profit.

Generations after the Revolution he was recognized as the American who lit the way for thousands of admirers. History is at last resurrecting Ben as one of the most important Americans; an honor justly earned. “Franklin was symbolic of the bumptious capitalism of the early republic—the man who personifies the American dream—[and it is that] image which stays with us.” That and his masterful efforts in serving the new United States.

Posted by respeto at 3:52 PM

November 9, 2008

The Basque History of the World

Mark Kurlansky – ISBN 9780140298512

It is altogether probable that the Basques were the first modern humans on the continent of Europe, descendants of Cro-Magnon man who arrived perhaps 40,000 years ago, from who knows where and in the same general area which Basques still inhabit. Their language has no identifiable root, is altogether different than any other. Their ancient culture had little in common with any neighbor. Their speech was incomprehensible, which has kept them apart, and is probably the reason they remain united these millennia later. While from the time of the Romans they have acceded to “occupation” by others, it has always been with the understanding that they would rule themselves within their own domain, obey their own laws and follow their own customs.

Until about 175 years ago they succeeded, but more recent Spanish rulers have overturned this long tradition, explaining why there are now “Basque Terrorists” in Spain. They still want their limited independence! Not unlike the Kurds of the middle-east--who occupy portions of three countries--Basques occupy a small portion of two: southwestern France and the juxtaposed northwestern portion of Spain.

They were the first commercial whale hunters (in the 7th or 8th century), the most effective commercial fishermen not long after that, (as mentioned in Cod, also reviewed on this site) having discovered the Grand Banks nearly a thousand years ago, and at least 400 years before any other Europeans. They were probably the first to actually see “the New World,” though there is no record of it. Their salting process preserved fish better than Vikings, which permitted them to travel farther at a time when it was necessary to bring along all of your own food—or starve.

As a result of their seafaring ways—at least of the coastal populations—they were also responsible for the development of some of the finest ships of the time, and were amongst the most skilled and prolific ship builders on the continent. Further, with the development of iron and steel--because of their immense inland deposits of ore--they became the foremost makers of these products on the European continent. They mistakenly taught the English to make steel, sold them their fine ore, and were routed from that particular business.

They were also the inventors of beach resorts which, to their chagrin, have now taken over much of their coastal area, most notably within France. This is beginning to separate the French and the Spanish Basques, with the French Basque population assimilating and/or being overrun, and becoming lost, so to speak.

Not bad for a small population of industrious people! Kurlansky first became interested in them during a project some 30 years ago, and has returned to Basqueland annually ever since. One surmises he knows this rather small area of the world quite well, and while he doesn’t say so, one presumes that he probably speaks enough of their language (Euskera) to get along.

As is always the case with Kurlansky, he writes eloquently and comprehensively . . . being a little too comprehensive for my taste in this small book. Granted it is “the history” of the Basques, but he includes a little more than I really wanted to know. Nonetheless it is done well. He includes, as he always does, many Basque recipes, not a few of which appear to be quite delicate and appealing.

He pursues what there is available of their ancient history, but from the time of the Romans his coverage is increasingly wide-ranging; especially so from the Napoleonic and later industrial eras, thru the Spanish civil war and WW II to the present.

By far the most recognizable person of Basque ancestry is Inigo de Loyola, a renowned military commander who, having found Christ, became the man who established the Jesuit order of priests, later becoming St. Ignatius. The most important apparel item is the Beret, uniquely Basque until introduced to the world.

I think you will find this book interesting. Certainly the Basques are fascinating. You might want to skim thru some of the parts, but for those whose interest is piqued by this commentary, you’ll find it time well spent.

Posted by respeto at 11:05 AM

June 21, 2010

The Bible of Unspeakable Truths

Greg Gutfeld - 9780466552301

Gutfeld is rumored to be the funniest person on TV, but I'm never up late enough to see if I agree. So I bought the book as a personal adventure; to enjoy it, and see if I agree. I never watch political sarcasm or comedy on TV, so perhaps I'm not equipped to render an honest appraisal, but I have an opinion anyway.

If this guy IS the funniest guy on TV, heaven help us all. He is better than a "rubber crutch," or a "pooh-pooh" cushion, but not by much.

To be sure, he comes up with some wickedly funny one liners, and here and there he incorporates some wisdom along with his (brand of) humor, but some of his subject matter is beyond risqué, with some of it approaching offensive . . . (Gutfeld? Maybe there is a connection?) I've skipped comment on the off-color parts of the tome, but I offer:

• "President Obama doesn't think America needs a little fixing to get back on the right track. He thinks America has never been on the right track. His actions therefore are meant to correct a country he finds distasteful on many levels, permanently." Now, that's neither unwise nor incorrect, to be sure, but funny?

• [It's Mexican national policy to] "Help its citizens leave the place. . . . How bad must a country be when even the government acknowledges that busing tables in a Trenton truck stop is better than staying home?" Again, not inaccurate, but maybe I'm missing context.

• Or, God speaking to Muslim fanatics: "Sorry, guys, you're not getting seventy-two virgins. Instead it's seventy-two nights with Rosie O'Donnell." That'd be fair, and I'd like to be around when one of those fascist homicide bombers came face to face with that reality, but funny? Maybe so, actually.

• [ Hollywood celebrities] "Fear they are seen as intellectually vacuous and lacking in relevance. And they realize the quickest way to overcome this is to bash America, simply because it conveys a pseudointellectual vibe learned from greasy academics. To Europeans, being patriotic is a sign of idiocy, so to trick them into thinking you're smart, just insult your country. Sadly, for the most part it works." Hard to disagree, but harder to chuckle.

• [Being open minded means] "Allowing yourself to consider all options, [which means] you have no claim to the truth. Every avenue is equal, all thoughts relative, and therefore there can be no definitive judgment, even from a judge. . . . That's why being narrow-minded should be championed, saluted, revered. . . . [it means] you are operating with a backbone . . . you know the difference between right and wrong, and you aren't afraid to limit your options to the right one."

• "Deepak is no different from any other television evangelical huckster, but he gets a pass because he leans on the multicultural card. The same people who derided Jimmy Swaggart or even Billy Graham listen reverently to Chopra's pointless, useless and ultimately idiotic opinions. . . . [except that] Chopra likes to wear tacky robes."

• "'Addiction' is the most overused word in our language. . . . [It is] the only so-called 'affliction' where the actual 'disease' can be removed from your presence without surgery. You just throw the laptop out the window. This also works with cocaine, booze, tropical fish and opinionated authors."

You aren't laughing? Neither am I. Save $25, or purchase something else. This website alone offers over 250 book reviews, all but a few of which are a better use of your time and money.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:11 PM

February 9, 2007

The Big Oyster

History on the Half Shell
Mark Kurlansky – ISBN – 978-0345476395

A thoroughly delightful, entertaining and informative read! As with Salt and Cod, he brings to light the history of oystering, principally in New York and the surrounding area from colonization to exhaustion.

Along the way, as usual, he manages to sneak in snippets about Diamond Jim Brady, Lillian Russell and other New York City luminaries, necessarily including Delmonicos and Thomas Downing—interestingly a successful former slave—and Downing's, which had been the oyster house in the Oyster Capital of the World in the mid-19th century. Indeed, at about that time “oystering was the single most important economic activity on Staten Island.” He also reviews visits by Charles Dickens and others who came in part to enjoy New York’s oysters. So plentiful were they that they were eaten three meals a day by all classes of people . . . especially the poor, because they were so cheap.

He reviews Fulton’s and Livingston’s contribution of the Steam Engine and its impact on oystering as well as New York, with ferry services about town and to Connecticut and Rhode Island. Again he notes how important the Erie Canal was to the marketing of oysters to inland cities as far away as St. Louis, connecting the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. (Recall that in Salt he explained how important the construction of the canal was to the marketing of salt.)

He manages to cover everything from the technology of harvesting to those of environmental protection and aquaculture, which began very early in the waterways around New York before they became too polluted to sustain life. He also mentions Native American technology extant long before Europeans arrived. He even covers “the education of oysters!” It was interesting to learn that the Revolutionary War was a catastrophe for oystering, and the city itself. As well, to learn that there was a time, later, when New York supplied oysters to the world . . . after the Europeans had exhausted their oyster beds. Europeans, always suspicious of Americans and convinced that the product had to be inferior, came to prefer American oysters. In 1877 an entrepreneur sent 10 barrels of oysters to Liverpool and had “the greatest difficulty imaginable in disposing of them.” By 1882 5000 barrels per week were shipped and sold, “the English people [having] acquired a taste for American oysters and obliged to admit their superiority over their natives.”

He also recants the origins of the names for oysters: Blue Points, Rockaway, etc. and how they were used and misused to market the product.

And he manages to include numerous recipes for the preparation of oysters, as he previously has done for cod and for the uses of salt.

Posted by respeto at 5:18 PM

May 23, 2011

The Big Short

Inside the Doomsday Machine
Michael Lewis - ISBN-978-0383338829

Well, for those who haven't discovered yet, Lewis has done it again. He debuted on the scene ten years ago with Liars Poker, a sharp-edged tale of Wall Street greed and manipulation which he felt would pull back drapes and open windows for some fresh air and sunlight. It didn't work (though I strongly recommend the book, now re-issued in paperback.) Instead, according to the Wall Street tycoons, he became a pariah and a pusillanimous back-stabber. Not only did it not hurt them, it didn't even faze them. No one paid any attention save some of us flunkies.

In his new contribution, he delivers an astounding take on the 2007-08 credit crisis, and how a few fund managers masterfully discovered the mortgage bond bubble, and exploited it to the fullest, making themselves and their investors very rich. But he first exposes their incredulity that anyone in charge of this debacle could be that stupid; as well, he analyzes the mechanisms behind it. These are the same charges about which he wrote a decade ago: reckless greed, dishonesty, mindless ineptitude, and unquenchable hubris.

In simple terms he explores how the industry massaged and masked the credit risks by wrapping up low-quality subprime mortgages into complicated securities that could be manipulated to receive high credit ratings while burying the real risks involved.

As well, homeowners were encouraged with teaser rates to enter into mortgages far beyond their ability to repay. They were able, initially, to pay the 1-2% interest, and were later able to refinance before the larger interest rates kicked in. The brokers were able to sneak in another transaction or two and collect their commissions and/or refinance "costs and considerations." When someone defaulted, the built in property inflation permitted the home to be resold for what was owed. No one was hurt--well, at least not until it all came down like the house of cards that it always was. Some of the examples he gives are beyond comprehension: a Mexican lawn care guy with a push mower and a mortgage on a home bought for over a million dollars; then there was the nurse with four condo mortgages on properties "valued" in the millions.

"Short" is an mammoth don't say I didn't warn you, dealing with "the street" and exposing the fact that sleazy insiders knew damned well (or should have) what was going on with the mortgage markets and the inflation of real estate, and they knew (or should have) they would crash. Experience had taught them that Washington would bail them out. They were right. Now we see them profiting mightily as institutions and rewarding themselves with mammoth bonuses for their genius; back on top of the too big to fail game, when in fact anything too big to fail should be too big to exist! (And that, in my opinion, includes the government.) Frighteningly, the recent government bailouts simply made fewer of them bigger still (along with the government.)

He describes this alchemy as equivalent to turning lead into gold in the Middle Ages. (It didn't work then, either.) Incautious investors looked at little more than the ratings, which the authors of these scams controlled by "influencing" the bond raters. The whole scheme was "floated" on the backs of the rating agencies. S&P didn't complain to the bankers for fear that they would just take their business to Moody's. Lots of "Indians" didn't really understand the situation(s), but the chiefs really did; if they didn't, they shouldn't have been in charge. One presumes some only suspected, but didn't want to enquire, since they were profiting handsomely. Who wants to question the rewards when the dough is rolling in? (And of course one can rationalize that it is a consequence of one's brilliant money-managing talent on parade.)

When the scheme began to collapse, they all thought they'd get out before the structure burned down; only Goldman-Sachs made it, and "closed the door behind it." They, along with others, disdain regulation in good times, but demand to be rescued in bad ones. Thus, success is an individual achievement while failure is a social problem. Unfortunately, government agrees and acts accordingly. Goldman lies and cheats, along with others, and government bails them out. Worse, they were given money to buy up the cadaverized firms, and after resurrection was achieved they paid back the loans and came away bigger and more profitable than ever. Now, it seems, the few survivors are too-too big to fail. Bear-Sterns, Salomon Bros., Wachovia and Lehman Bros. are "all gone," but not really. They're just a part of Goldman and Wells-Fargo, courtesy of gummint loans. "Pretty much all the important people on both sides of the gamble left the table rich."

This is the stuff of viciously corrupt crony capitalism, and it has to stop. But it won't unless we demand that it stop. Somebody really oughta hang!

The people who could have prevented or cushioned these events were exactly the people who failed to see the train coming at them in the tunnel, conditioned as they were by hubris and prior successes; protected by Washington, which one could argue they own. (Virtually all of the big men in government funds advice and management are, and for years have been, Goldman graduates, or men swayed by Goldman.) They've proven themselves incapable of--or unwilling to--act upon the basic truths at the heart of the U.S. financial system. Lewis remarks that it is easy to understand why Goldman-Sachs would want to be included in the conversation about what to do about Wall Street, but it is impossible to get your mind around any reason anyone would want to listen to them.

In 2008 reality overwhelmed the perceptions (dreams? / hubris?) on Wall Street that everything was o.k. Every major firm was either bankrupted or fatally intertwined with the bankrupt system. Without government intervention every single one of the banks would have gone under; every single executive would have been discredited and lost his chair at the table, and probably a lot of their own money. Gordon Gekko famously announced that "greed is good." No one on Wall Street ought to have been trusted, nor should they be now--especially now. Had the problem been approached after the publication of Liar's Poker it likely would have been different. If it isn't approached now--and it probably will not be--we'll have the same thing again, and next time it'll be much worse. Even the 30s depression might look like a pauper's Christmas party!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:06 PM

March 8, 2005

The Bookseller of Kabul

Asne Seierstad – ISBN 0-316159417

The author is an experienced Norwegian war correspondent who spent months living with a successful bookseller in Kabul following the recent Afghan war against the Taliban. She took up this life, suffocating bhurka included, living with Sultan Khan and his extended family.

She describes in riveting detail the many features of daily life in “free” Afghanistan. The difficulties are enormous, overcoming decades of repression before and after the Russian war, and following the ultimate victory of the Taliban. Though now free to do more nearly what they wish, the women are still subjugated in an intensely chauvinistic, patriarchal society beholden to centuries of Islamic doctrine and belief. Life is still cruel in this divisive tribal culture. The recent wars have totally destroyed the physical, repressed the cultural, and altered the literary and metaphysical basis of this society. It has a long, long way to go to reassert itself as it was during the reign of its last monarch, who was a tolerant and benevolent man, and further still to enter the world community of the 20th century, never mind the 21st.

What she learned about middle-class life was that, after all, at all levels--even those of a relatively enlightened and successful bookseller--the repression was still stunning and omnipresent. Sultan is an autocratic and often vicious man to his core, and is, sadly, representative of the vast majority of men within that civilizational sphere. On the other hand he is also a brave and heroic figure who has endured persecution, imprisonment and threats of death because of his crusade to bring books into his country. History, art, poetry and the like have been prohibited for two decades, and he saw his store and its contents burned on several occasions during the Taliban rule.

Seierstad explores varietal subjects from shopping to weddings, education to religion, in chapter length discussions of the way things function—and are--in the Afghanistan of 2003: a snapshot of a country in flux, longing for peace, divided beyond western understanding, under pressure to resurrect itself and its traditions whilst modernizing and “democratizing” to the extent possible.

And she discusses the amazing beauty of what once was Afghanistan, and could be again, given the cooperation and conciliation of the varietal Afghani factions and the rest of the world.

It is a quick and engrossing read, and quite helpful if you wish to understand the Middle East a little better: especially so the plight of its women. For those of you Westerners who feel that it’s none of our business, you might just want to re-think that attitude after reading this--especially those who believe in the liberation of the female half of humanity, or that females are oppressed in America.

For those on the left it raises the not altogether unreasonable question of whether or not a Middle-Eastern culture can be “democratized.” For those on the right, it leaves no question that some effort must be made. For all, even those without an agenda—if such there be—it addresses the difficulties in a cultural milieu that is steeped in overbearing paternalism and underscores the need for this portion of the globe to consider and address “Western Values” . . . and, more, to adopt those proven to be worthy and successful.

Posted by respeto at 1:21 AM

August 26, 2006

The Caged Virgin

(An Emancipation Proclamation for the Women and Islam)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali – ISBN13 – 9780743288330

For those unaware, Ali is the Somali woman who wrote the script which Theo Van Gogh produced, and resulted in his assassination by a Muslim in Holland. She is a brilliant woman who escaped her suffocating family—and religion--immigrated to Holland, learned Dutch, achieved independence and a fine education, was elected to the Dutch parliament, and is a prime mover to reform Islam and inform the West. Recently challenged for “falsifying her entry documents” to gain citizenship in Holland, she has resigned parliament and is moving to the U.S. to accept a position with the American Enterprise Institute where, in my opinion, she will be more influential and more respected than in Holland.

I have previously recommended, and reviewed, What Went Wrong, Sword of the Prophet, and Why I Am Not a Muslim. This book is different. It is brief, to the point, and rendered from personal experience (including genital mutilation, the horrors of which she discusses fully.) It also provides answers to the questions it posits. One is simultaneously alarmed by the narrative and overwhelmed by her courage. She (more eloquently than I have in the past) makes the point that the problem isn’t, or isn’t only, radical Islam, but Islam itself! It is a pre-modern, unreformed religion based in Arab tribalism; a world inhabited by ghosts, spirits of the dead, invisible creatures, magic, seduction and belief that paradise can be achieved thru violence and martyrdom.

Islam is the only religion founded by a warrior; built using tactics including lying, torture, assassination, mass murder, and the destruction of goods and communities. While painful for Muslims to admit, these are historic facts.

The moral framework of Islam, unlike Christianity and Judaism, has not changed with the times, and will have to be forced to change, somehow. The fact that the majority of Muslims live in dire circumstances, with disease, overpopulation, starvation and unemployment has yet to cause them to reflect upon their plight in any constructive way.

• “We Muslims have completely lost sight of the balance between religion and reason.” (I would suggest, rather, that there has never been such a balance.)
• “The best way for Islamic culture to liberate itself from its backwardness is by ceasing to blame others.”
• “This personal suffering [primarily of women] is the inevitable result of the form Islam takes at home, at school, in everyday life, and in the media.”
• “The primary task of both Muslims and non-Muslims is to face the malicious extremism manifest in the attacks of September ll. Do not underestimate it. Fear of that kind of Islam is valid. Fanaticism in Islam . . . is growing steadily.”
• “We Muslims are inclined to view universal values, such as freedom of the individual and the equality of men and women, as exclusively Western values. This is wrong.”

Islam is a beautiful and tolerant religion, in theory. But it is submerged by Arabian cultural imperialism. No educated Muslim can raise issues of faith which deviate from the Koran; the uneducated masses never consider it. Most everything in the Koran is outdated, yet it cannot be challenged. Muhammad’s first victims are the minds of Muslims themselves, imprisoned as they are in the fear of hell and the natural pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Much of the trouble is the cult of virginity; hence the book’s title. Women are property. They cannot do anything without approval of the males of the family, must stay in the home, and are subject to cruelty, beatings, rape and humiliation. All of this social control results in Muslim women maintaining their own repression.

She describes the effect on the family structure as well. There is a harsh influence on children, especially young boys, who are raised by “caged” women who are ignorant, without experience or education. They have no self-image and no control over them. Little girls are unappreciated, dealt with as property, and little cared for. They grow into womanhood with built-in feelings of inferiority. They are made so! Nowhere in the world is the position of women as bad as in Islamic countries. When half of the population is not permitted to contribute, except as household and sexual slaves, it is small wonder there has been no progress in more than a millennium.

She elaborates succinctly on the errors of the West, and especially multiculturalists. Afraid to be called “Islamophobic," they refuse to criticize those viewed as “victims,” and encourage Muslims to maintain their culture. There is inflexible defense of Islamic education which perpetuates the poverty and alienation of Muslims, and permits the teaching of hate. This attitude, refusing to hold Muslims to the same standards as all others has resulted in gains by the reactionary forces. Moderates are being intimidated and forced into hiding, figuratively at least. The West is clearly afraid of Muslims, afraid to confront their illusions, and this fear of offending leads to the perpetuation of injustice and human suffering. This is dangerous and must be stopped.

A satanic pact has been forged between Westerners who make their living by representing Muslim interests . . . those who have a vested interest in maintaining the cage—a myopic, selfish, short-term interest (not at all unlike Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson do with black Americans.)

Waiting for enlightenment to take place within Islam is a mistake. It won’t happen. The West must help it to change—by opposing the radicals, supporting the moderates, and not tolerating the current activities and attitudes. “Tolerance” isn’t working. It is in the interest of the Islamic world and of the Western world to promote a flourishing culture of self-criticism among Muslims and support them whereever possible.

And it would help a lot if Western leaders weren’t always ruminating that Islam is a religion of peace, hijacked by the fascists! It isn’t so!

She notes that Bin Laden and his ilk have succeeded in achieving the exact opposite of what was intended. Things will no doubt get worse first—as they have since the book was written—but 9/11 was a mistake of horrendous proportions. It marks “the beginning of the end of Islam as we know it.”

I believe it will take an act which dwarfs 9/11 to finally get the West’s attention, but when that happens the gloves will come off and Islam will be dealt with as was Nazism. Unfortunately, it will take a more serious act of terrorism. Our generation’s “Pearl Harbor” has already been forgotten by most, and the current course of the Iraqi war is tiresome, so we want to quit. Can’t happen . . . won’t happen. They won’t let it. This is a battle between religions, and a battle about civilization.

If you have not yet been introduced, I’d suggest you go to memritv.org/ and click on favorites. Then choose the video of the interview with Waffa Sultan. You can read an abbreviated transcript of that interview at memritv.org/Transcript.asp?P1=1050. Sultan is another strident supporter of the westernization of Islam, and like Ali a convert to agnosticism. Also, like Ali she is now in the United States.

Posted by respeto at 12:51 PM

October 11, 2008

The Case Against Barack Obama

The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate
David Freddoso – ISBN – 9781596985667

If you read much, you’ve likely read at least one review of this book, excluding the mainstream media of course, so I shall be brief.

This is an extremely well researched book with pages and pages of end-notes so that you can check the references yourself. I have (done some) and they are unalterably accurate.

The author also gives a timeline of all of Obama’s activities, contributions and achievements . . . which is a rather short list if you exclude all of the bills his Illinois Senate mentor “let him” present as his (Barack’s) own during his last year in the state senate, thus to heavily pad his resume.

It is both a fascinating and frightening book. “The One” has done almost nothing outside of fostering his own career in politics, and much of that, while not specifically illegal is definitively crooked.

Obama’s several books are analyzed critically, and Freddoso makes pointed references to and analysis of this warped man, noting his exclusively left-wing education and mentors--not a few of them communists--and his immersion in the corrupt politics of Chicago. The author emphasizes that during the recent campaign Obama is refuting everything in his descriptions of himself in his books, “all the better, my pretty,” (my quote from the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz.)

Many of you have—I have—read these books. If read critically, which is assisted by Freddoso’s commentary, understanding this complex man is not so difficult. Whether or not you’ve read Obama’s books, you simply must read Freddoso’s before the election. It’ll surely give you cause for pause, and being informed is, on this occasion, more important than any election in my lifetime.

Do it!


Posted by respeto at 1:45 PM

July 3, 2006

The Case for Democracy

Natan Sharansky – ISBN 0892216441

For those who do not know--or remember--Sharansky was imprisoned in a Soviet Gulag for nine years as a “dissident” working for both the freedom of the Jews to emigrate, and for freedom for Soviet citizens. He was finally permitted to immigrate to Israel after years of effort by his wife and the United States, and now serves in the Israeli Knesset.

He presents potent arguments for the power of freedom, and the necessity of democracy. While “experts” doubt the success of democracy in the Middle East (never mind freedom), he brilliantly and unequivocally challenges the skeptics. The entire text is so laden with quotable material that I have to restrain myself from reviewing this magnificent treatise by quoting him. I can, however, recommend that you read it. Twice!

He divides the world into only two categories: free and fear societies, positing that there is nothing in between. A society which “does not protect dissent will inevitably be based upon fear. The mechanics of tyranny make this inescapable.”

Thus he describes the problems of all societies of fear, past and present. Freedom is a uniquely Western concept which is, under proper circumstances, applicable to all societies, albeit in unique ways for each. No culture is immune to Democracy.

He explores the origins of “doublethinkers” in fear societies, explaining that where no freedom of expression is permitted the thoughts of freedom are suppressed and the world sees what appears to be a society limited to “true believers.” Not the accurate picture, of course. And people terrorized over decades by the likes of Saddam Hussein are likewise not as content as they might seem; just afraid to register a complaint.

The intellectuals who were taken in by Stalin in the ‘30’s naively believed in communism’s alleged egalitarianism and were convinced that the Soviet’s were earnestly attempting to build their “new world” with its “new men.” Intellectuals refused to accept that reprehensible means were used to secure this hypothetical utopia, and “filtered their observations accordingly.” Amazingly, they still do!

“[A] country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors.” While the mechanics of a democracy makes it inherently peaceful, the mechanics of tyranny make nondemocracies inherently belligerent . . . often, to avoid collapse from within, fear societies maintain a state of conflict in perpetuity! There is implicit acceptance of the need for the dictator to protect. Ultimately, a democracy which hates you is far less dangerous than a dictator who loves you. It is the absence of democracy which is the real threat to peace.

Those fighting for human rights that do not distinguish between free and fear societies will be shorn of a moral compass. When the voice of the people can be heard, the chances of war are greatly diminished.

Too many in the West fail to acknowledge the moral difference between free and fear societies. Still, the free world cannot afford to await the spontaneous evolution of the dictatorial regimes. A “community of free nations will not emerge on its own.” Rather, it will take both the clarity of moral purpose, and the courage to confront fear societies everywhere . . . and only the United States can (and must) inspire this.

In the world of fear the challenge is finding the strength to confront evil. In the world of freedom the primary challenge is finding the moral clarity to see evil. Archimedes observed that those who wish to move the earth must first have a place to stand. Moral clarity provides that place.

There are people within the fear societies who would like change. The West must recognize, applaud and support them to help them prevail over their nondemocratic regimes. Not by choice will these cultures change. There is no end to history. Rather, the world’s diversity will continue and disagreements will always exist, but there can be an end to lasting tyranny, and we can live in a world where no regime which attempts to crush dissent will be tolerated. “Slavery has been all but wiped off the face of the earth, so too can government tyranny become a thing of the past.”

Posted by respeto at 3:50 PM

May 25, 2005

The Case for Sovereignty

Jeremy Rabkin – ISBN – 0844741833

Rabkin makes an eloquent case for the necessity of sovereignty. A case with which any honest broker of opinion must agree, and certainly anyone interested in statecraft. Sovereignty is not, and likely cannot be superseded by any other form of government. This book provides a solid defense of sovereignty, and simply cannot be reviewed in 500 words or less.

He begins with a brief discussion of a number of potential and actual problems stemming form European attitudes toward world governance, mentioning disagreements over the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto Protocols, amongst others. In so doing he points up the fact that differences essentially preclude agreement on many of the important issues of this (or any) day, noting that sovereignty is necessary to avoid powerful forces causing all to conform to “universal opinion.”

Worse, the project of global governance supposes that there is (or can be) an underlying consensus that makes force unnecessary and therefore irrelevant. Unfortunately, observation--and history--make clear that some individuals and some governments are unwilling to comply, absent threat or exercise of force, even, or especially, in the name of the “higher law of the international community.” The U.S. must not, and cannot, entrust its security to “authorities” that have no means of protecting the U.S., which the debate over Iraq made clear. Still Europeans remain deeply enthralled by the “new faith.” They remain attached to the notion that international cooperation can supersede the need for force, as well as questions about who gets to use force.

Sovereignty rests in the capacity to enforce! Global governance has, and proposes no such force, unless by compelling the U.S. to carry out its bidding. The alternative to sovereignty, historically, was a crusading faith demanding submission, whether Christianity, Islam, or Communism (amongst others.) The arguments for subordinating or denying sovereignty are generally made by those who champion collective responses to other problems (i.e., the political left.)

The moral argument for sovereignty is the argument for limited government. For a global authority to compel a national government to submit, it must summon overwhelming moral authority. Faced with obdurate resistance, the tendency of international organizations, and even of advocacy groups, is usually to temporize or compromise . . . or obfuscate.

Europeans have increasingly come to embrace a notion of constitutional government that is fundamentally at odds with Amercans’ understanding of the concept. Europeans have been unwilling to invest authority in a single leader, because cannot agree on a common approach to save Europe. They are not a genuine political community. They have strong political incentives to believe that a crisis can never emerge, and with no troops of its own, Europe finds it hard to confront security challenges that require decisive action.

Those who imagine world peace achieved thru international organization are bound to feel that the U.S must join in the project. The problem is that it runs against the whole grain of American history and is not likely to receive American approval.

The strongest argument for sovereignty is that no nation can trust others to care as much about its own security as it does itself! Faced with a genuine threat, no state would let its security be determined by a show of hands among others that have no commitment to protect it.

Without moral and political context, indictments are mere ideological assertions. The E.U. has conditioned Europeans to think power can be wielded safely by mysterious bureaucrats in small, low-lying countries in Northwest Europe. The idea of the court also echoes larger currents of opinion that appeal particularly to Europeans. The moral force of law can subdue even powerful governments. If it were not so, then how could the European Court of Justice (the so-called ICC) be trusted to provide impartial justice among the states of Europe? If it were not so, how could the institutions of the new Europe have succeeded in subduing the evil tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin? To question the court would be to risk opening too many awkward questions. To believe in the reign of justice is far more edifying.

Originally the U.N. was established with the traditional view that only states could be “subjects” of international law. Now we have the concept of Euro-government with its ICC which deny, or proclaim they will preclude states, per se.

Rabkin goes on to apply similar arguments to world trade, and other issues, indicating that sovereignty is the best and most likely way to indulge these differences for a variety of reasons.

Our Constitution forbids the delegation of treaty decisions to supranational institutions. Otherwise international obligations could be imposed on the U.S., not by consent of the President and Senate, but by an act of an international body unaccountable to the citizens of the U.S. We have, historically, lived within a structure in which Americans in all their diversity can live together in confidence, and with mutual respect. This is impossible with global governance.

What we Americans define as “self-evident truths” are not subscribed to even in Europe. The aim of government is to center our perspectives on American values which we believe—and history bears out—to be superior to all others in most dimensions. And when they are not we reserve the right to change our position. It cannot be because of some overbearing international court. Similarly so in matters of defense.

Fascism and Communism are evil and detestable, and what made them dangerous was their willingness to impose their principles upon others. Sovereignty permits defense against such impositions without international approval.

Europeans already live under a system in which sovereignty is pooled, and inquire why Americans “fuss over” their sovereignty any more than do the largest European states. They insist that they have fared quite well, overlooking of course that the U.S. provides for continental defense, amongst other things. We in the U.S. have no reason to believe that such a “European” scheme would actually provide security, and the European “take” on the war against terror only confirms this. We will not capitulate. They have, for the most part.

The American attitude begins with the premise that individuals have rights, as do nations, and all are bound to disagree some times. Our structure of government addresses these strictures. By contrast the E.U. advocates international governance. (International in the sense that the Commission on Human Rights is chaired by Libya, China has a veto over American action on the Security Council, along with Russia and France. And we are expected to be reassured?)

There is an inherent asymmetry in every American partnership. The U.S. has military capabilities that no country and no combination of countries can match. This means that the U.S. “figures in” to almost any conflict in the world, and certainly into any world conflict.

“The U.S. has not emerged as the world’s greatest power because North America happens to have a uniquely favorable climate or uniquely advantageous mineral deposits. American success reflects, in the main, the result of well-constructed political institutions, wisely maintained by a people that have not let themselves be overly distracted by the opinions of outsiders.”

The U.S. has no choice about responding to security challenges. It also makes a very important contribution by remaining what it is. Independence requires a degree of moral discipline, and Americans can take pride in having maintained it. We live by rules. Not rules endorsed by others, but rules laid down in our own Constitution. The U.S. offers the greatest service to the world by the power of its example, and by its unwillingness to bend before Europe’s insistence upon “world government.”


Posted by respeto at 3:46 PM

February 8, 2009

The Children of Men

P.D. James – ISBN – 9780307275431

Having never read James, I can only guess that her ability to engender suspense is based upon a lifetime of writing the gripping whodunits for which she is legendary. She is as gifted as Agatha Christie; maybe more so.

The plot, unlike her usual venue, is science fiction. It posits a time 30 years hence when the males of the human race have been sterile for reasons no medical scientist can determine. She engages in lively discourses full of tortuous asides which build to a powerful and a more-or-less unexpected climax. Observing the division into two “books,” the first Omega and the last Alpha, one is assured that it is possible to conclude the culmination with exactitude . . . one would be wrong. Close, perhaps, but no cigar.

English society has become more or less complacent; acceptant of the forthcoming extinction of Homo sapiens. As the population dwindles entire towns are abandoned; left to deteriorate. People get along, but with no particular relish. Society has created new rituals, including celebration of the birth and christening of cats. Minor crimes are punished by banishment to the isolated Isle of Man, where they are provided with shelter, superficial care, seeds and implements to grow food, but little else. They cannot return. The fiercest run the place as the weak are expunged. There is a new ceremony, Quietus, in which “volunteers” amongst the elderly are quietly euthanized, and their heirs paid a premium for their sacrifice. They are loaded upon barges, shackled to benches and launched into the ocean where the barges are simply sunk (saves bullets or IV drugs, I guess.)

The system is overtly if quietly cruel, but no one pays attention beyond their own particular needs, trusting the government to supervise it all. The new government isn’t “royal;” rather, a committee headed by a Warden who is nothing if not a dictator, who answers to no one beyond the committee. Said committee rarely challenges decisions, and no one in the diminishing population of England has a say about what transpires. The government is committed to maintaining civility, safety, and the orderly demise of society. Medical research is directed by the committee, and is expressly devoted to the prolongation of life, improvement of mental faculties, better health, etc . . . but for what? The committee determines when villages are to be abandoned, how services and food are to be provided, etc. It provides the money to fund Quietus, and most everything else. No one challenges or reports upon it.

Servants are imported from the still extant 3rd world, confined to life in compounds except when working, paid little, provided with no security, and sent back home when they are no longer useful. They have no right to remain, which would but add further to the burden of England.

The Warden, needless to say, is the antagonist, and his childhood friend, Theo, is the prime protagonist. He’s a detached, divorced Oxford professor of history who has no life outside of academia, no interest beyond the past; and a person of no conviction, including religion. Love is something strange to society at large, and most especially to Theo. Over the course of the tale he is humanized from a drone to one who finally experiences love and feels a responsibility for someone else.

There arises a band of revolutionaries which includes a budding dictator, a priest, and a pair of women who are opposed to the cruelty of the Isle of Man, the treatment of the imported serfs, the Quietude, and the general nature of the dictatorship. They attempt to alter it. They approach Theo to represent their ideas to the Warden. No one can gain audience, but they expect that Theo’s friendship will gain him a hearing. Theo agrees, and thus becomes a party to the insurrection. The plot, beyond the original framework, details the experiences of this band of malcontents.

It is suspenseful, fulsome, thought provoking and infinitely readable tract. In fact, I may even try a murder mystery or two . . . a genre which I never read. Her delivery is more akin to literature than it is to mayhem. She is good!

Posted by respeto at 11:26 AM

April 23, 2007

The China Fantasy

How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression
James Mann – 9780670038251

This interesting book, like so many others of this genre, is required reading for people who want to be informed, and search for well explored, tightly reasoned contrarian attitudes. Recognized facts and attitudes are interpreted at considerable variance from received wisdom.

His premise is that our China policy uses entirely the wrong paradigm. “He,” by the way, was a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times for years, living and working in China.

The exposition begins with Nixon/Kissinger “opening up” China, and reviews our policies thru the current administration . . . all of which have been exhibited cavalier and misinformed attitudes:

• That China will change with the introduction of world trade and responsibilities.
• That China wants to pursue a democratic pathway, eventually, at least
• That the West (and specifically the U.S.) must treat China cautiously so as not to offend
• That with a growing middle class there will be an increasing demand for freedom and equality

Mann chronicles the varying policies of serial administrations, demonstrating that while the names and descriptions were altered by the various authors, the policy has remained the same. A policy he refers to as “the Soothing Scenario.”

It all began with our need to cultivate China to offset the Soviet Union during the cold war. It evolved into a need to help them become modern by encouraging trade, albeit with carrots and sticks to ensure liberalization and improved treatment of their populace-- specifically to stop incarcerating, sometimes executing dissidents, which policy ended when Clinton separated trade from improved policies, promising that opening up the Chinese market would end our trade deficit with them. (In fact, our deficit at the time was 15 billion per year. It is now over 200 billion and climbing.) It has ended with Bush’s confidence that there can only be improvement within an unspecified time frame if we continue to buy their stuff and encourage a middle class which will demand democracy.

All the while we have refused to face the fact that China hasn’t changed a whit. Even as the Berlin wall came tumbling down the Chinese murdered (probably) thousands in Tiananmen Square. We complained a little, but over time debauched the process, ending with the captured plane incident early in the Bush II administration, since which time we continue to “avoid offending” the Chinese dictators . . . all in the interest improving trade and improving “investment opportunities, which has done little but make jobs disappear and permit trade deficits increase. Of course we are flooded with cheaper products.

This we do with the conviction that things will improve over time. Mann suggests that they will not, and may indeed get worse. Probably will. We confuse their embracing Big Macs and Starbucks, Levi’s and tank tops with “Westernization” and the adoption of Capitalism and Democracy. Integration is the current catchword, having replaced engagement. But the fundamental problem is our resistance to recognition of “who’s integrating whom?” Are the Chinese being integrated into a new international economic and democratic order, or is China integrating the U.S. into a new international political order where democracy is no longer favored and where a government’s continuing eradication of all organized political opposition is accepted or ignored?

China supports, invests in, encourages and trades with the worst dictatorships on the planet and will not only continue to do so, but increase these activities. Over time we may see, instead of a democratic China, a profusion of China supported dictators, juntas and other undemocratic governments throughout the world. Dictatorships from Burma to Zimbabwe are currently being supported, and China frequently flummoxes the West at the level of the Security Council of the U.N.

U.S. businesses, ostensibly encouraging openness, are subjected to restraints in order to operate in China (Think Google and Microsoft.) Whenever some major visitation takes place, suddenly there is a burst of positive press and the release of dissidents. When “the Summit” (or whatever) is over and the good guys have gone home there is a quiet Reconquista. The dissidents are imprisoned again and the press reverts to form. And we ignore it! After all, they’re making progress!

The Communist leaders don’t acknowledge their intention to maintain their monopoly, and the strategy is good for the elites in both China and the U.S. Further, and as importantly, it is equally good for the emergent middle class of cosmopolitan China. While the emerging middle class is larger than the population of any European country, insitu it represents only a tiny fraction of the 1.3 billion Chinese population; 80-90 million “comfortable” Chinese vs. 1,210 million peasants. Why would the fortunate support democracy when they have so much to lose (?) Mann asks.

America’s failure of imagination on China is comparable in some ways to its inability to come to grips with terrorism. In both instances, the main obstacle has been conceptual in nature. Rather than simply assume that “change is coming,” might we think about what it might mean for the U.S. and the world to have a repressive, one party state in China which supports and encourages similar, illiberal governments around the globe.

“It is a prospect that our paradigm of an inevitably changing China cannot seem to envision.” The belief that China will become like Taiwan or South Korea is a far remove from reality. It will not . . . and we can’t force it, as did we with these two; an “Asian Tiger,” to be sure, but do we really want to continue to encourage this beast?

Posted by respeto at 12:02 PM

June 10, 2005

The Clash of Civilizations (and the remaking of world order)

Samuel P. Huntington – ISBN - 0684844419

Not everyone agrees with Huntington’s “take” on this issue. By far and large I don’t, but it is a position well worth exploring. A complex read with a textbook flavor, it is nonetheless worth the time. What follows is but a sketch of this “lengthy and dense” book.

He begins: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

I take serious issue with the first part of that statement, considering that: a) much of the known world was Christian before the Muslims “converted” many of them, and, b) the Western way of war is founded upon the superiority of its scientific and philosophic approach to knowledge and ideas, (including weapons manufacture), and it represents our conviction (values and religion?) that every life is precious. The Western approach to war is ultimately about saving as many lives as possible by superior organization of the violence we visit on those who attack us. It is true that we fight wars of annihilation, but we do so to protect ourselves. Still, we are not guilty of gratuitous violence. Of course it is true that our adversaries don’t like it. Perhaps they should leave us alone? From the days of the Greek polis the West has generally fought in units, protecting one another, whereas the rest of the world fights as individuals. Not all warriors, however brave and fierce, are soldiers!

He importantly—and correctly--observes that we are mistaken to presume that because others wear jeans, drink coke and listen to rap, they are westernized. No more than as we drive Japanese-made cars, use Korean-made TV’s, wear Chinese-made clothing we become them. And he is correct in his notation that we see Western civilization as universal, as it offers an answer to the question: who am I? To the extent that Westerners see the world as one, the rest see us as a threat. At its root Western culture—and most, its American version--is optimistic. Others are not.

Not all cultures are modernizable to Western standards. He exposits on why Japanese and Hindu cultures more easily adapt than do Islamic or Confucian cultures. (While true, in the broadest sense, one wonders what he thinks now in observing the Afghanis and the Iraqis drink from the spring of liberty and self government.)

As Western power declines we can no longer impose our concepts of liberalism, democracy, human rights, etc. on other cultures. “People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity.” (This, of course, is the nature of most other cultures, and why the West is superior . . . and why we must try to encourage, not impose, democracy.)

“In its political manifestations, the Islamic resurgence bears some resemblance to Marxism (some?), with scriptural texts, a vision of the perfect society, commitment to fundamental change, rejection of the powers that be and the nation state, and doctrinal diversity ranging from moderate reformist (?!) to violent revolutionary.” The general failure in Muslim society of liberal democracy reflects the inhospitable nature of Islamic culture and society to Western liberal concepts.

Global politics is being reconfigured along cultural (i.e. religious) lines. Peoples with similar cultures are uniting, and those with dissimilar cultures are fragmenting, and political boundaries are being redrawn coincident with culture. “Civilizations are the ultimate human tribes, and the clash of civilizations is tribal conflict on a global scale.” As Cold War alliances evaporate, and inter-civilizational “partnerships” dictated by Russia or the U.S. fail to be realized, trust and friendship between civilizations will be rare, and if present, brief. Cold peace, cold war, trade war, arms races are but a few of the likely phases and stations in the “new world order. “The size of China’s displacement of the world is such that the world must find a new balance in 30-40 years. It’s not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of men.” (Lee Kuan Yew) China’s emergence will dwarf any comparable phenomena during the last half of the second millennium.

He notes, damagingly and correctly, that multi-culturalists challenge a central element of the American creed by substituting for individual rights, rights of groups defined in terms of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual preference, etc. Since Crevecoeur, Tocqueville and others long ago noted that the American Creed is the cement in the structure of this great nation, rejection of this Creed will not only end the U.S., but will effectively end Western civilization. The USSR is vanishing. We too can collapse and disappear if this concept of America and a common culture is disavowed by a substantial number of our citizens. Contrary to the ideation that with the collapse of communism the West will prevail, it is more likely that Western liberalism will simply be the next domino to fall. (With this it is impossible to disagree!)

“In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false, it is immoral, and it is dangerous.” Culture follows power, and if non-Western societies are once again to be shaped by Western culture it will be, essentially, at the point of a gun. (I disagree vigorously!) Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism (seen as he does and describes it.)

The West differs from other civilizations not alone in the way it has developed but in the distinctive character of its values and its institutions. Christianity, along with pluralism, individualism, and the rule of law made it possible for the West to invent modernity, expand thruout the world, and become the envy of most other societies. The West ought preserve, protect and renew these unique standards, not, impose them on others (by suasion, perhaps, but not by force, which is virtually impossible.)

Law and order are the primary concerns, and these are dissipating in the modern world, with anarchy widespread, failing states common, global crime, general weakening of families, and a decline in trust and social solidarity. Ethnic, religious and civilizational violence ruled by the gun are prevalent in much of the world.

Abstention from foreign conflicts will be one of the most important of rules in the forthcoming multi-civilizational, multi-polar world (assuming they permit us to do that.) The second important rule will be mediation with other core states, and we will have to seek a “commonalities rule,” with an attempt at expansion of the values, institutions and practices common with peoples of other civilizations.

Civilization depends on understanding and cooperation amongst the political, spiritual and intellectual leaders of the world’s major civilizations. An international order based on civilizations is the surest safeguard against world war.

In wars between cultures, culture loses.

Posted by respeto at 2:00 PM

June 29, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

Conn & Hal Iggulden - ISBN - 9780061234585

“In this age of video games and cell phones there must still be a place for knots, tree houses and stories of incredible courage. One thing that we always say about childhood is that we seemed to have more time back then. This book will help recapture those Sunday afternoons and long summers—because they’re still long if you know [what to do with] them.” So begins the foreword to this truly incredible book. One we wouldn’t have considered needing, if it hadn’t been written.

But I’d like to begin my review with the cover! This is one of the most attractive, well made books I have seen since I was a child. Hardbacks nowadays are cheap, flimsy and unapologetically trashy, yet priced at $26-30. This book is superbly done, and still sells for only $25. No cover-up to mask the s*** jackets are designed to hide. A colorful, masculine, hard-bound, canvas covered, heavily embossed book which is designed to be used over and over for a generation or two; a solid credit to those who published it. A dust jacket would spoil it!

Now, for what is between the covers. Myriad and varietal subjects are covered including the following few I’ve selected:
• useful knots
• paper airplane folding
• tree house construction
• skipping stones
• secret inks
• pen and paper games
• growing of flowers
• spiders and other critters
• fishing
• discovery and uses of longitude, latitude and navigation
• the seven wonders of both the ancient and the modern worlds
• the solar system
• valuable grammar lessons along with the origins and significance of words
• an introductory smattering of some of important authors of the past along with a selection of the finest world literature—selected for boys, of course.
• exciting and important stories of adventure and heroism

And that’s only a smattering of the nearly 100 indexed subject materials.

It is impossible not to recommend this book to grandfathers, fathers, sons, nephews and neighbors; as well to anyone who buys them gifts. Get up and away from the damned computer. Learn something. Get a little exercise. Do something to help you grow or learn something it’s interesting to know.

I grew up before computers--even television--but I still wish I’d had a book like this back then. Now someone has written it! Put it on your gift list for anyone and everyone of a male persuasion. It definitely ain’t for girls—at least not most of them.

Not altogether unlike Where Did You Go: Out, What Did You Do: Nothing, it brings back memories of times past when boys actually did things, and it suggests memories you might build along with a friend, or a father! But unlike that dear book, it tells you how to do things . . . including stuff you might never have thought about on your own. It makes history, literature, heroism and discovery important again; just what the world needs in the era of "fluffy," underexercised, disinterested kids. Fun, too.

Buy it for your “favorite son,” be he here or there, across town or half-way around the planet. You will not be disappointed, nor will he.

And it doesn’t matter if he is 8 or 80.

Posted by respeto at 3:29 PM

September 5, 2005

The Death of Common Sense

(How law is suffocating America)
Philip K. Howard

This is an appropriately detailed and informative book written by an attorney who makes sense out of what has become necessary: legal change to reestablish what used to be the American way.

Early on he discusses some of the insane rules which have recently prevailed. Mother Theresa, for example, attempted to renovate an abandoned building to open a homeless shelter. New York’s rules required that improvement include an elevator. Cost prohibitive, the plans were abandoned and no homeless shelter exists. Thus does legal rigidity preclude the exercise of judgment.

He enumerates the myriad mandates for special-ed and calculates that gifted students languishing in the classroom are given about one cent for every eleven dollars dedicated to special-ed. We have built an educational system “obsessed with its potential failures to the detriment of its potential successes. . . . It’s just dumb!” (Anna Quindlen)

By attempting to establish a “perfectly certain and self-regulating authority,” which admits to no judgment or discretion, we have created our own Tower of Babel. No one, at anytime, in any situation, should be permitted to exercise judgment. God forbid! The law must provide firm answers. Over-emphasis on certainty has led us to intolerable inflexibility.

I noted in an earlier review of a Tammy Bruce book that modern law has become a game. By parsing words and stimulating intrigue it is bent to extremes by clever lawyers looking for loop-holes. The role of counsel is no longer the search for truth, but the advance of a client’s cause by ethical--or unethical--means.

The law, like science, requires judgment. Mistakes will be made. Endless scrutiny doesn’t make for better judgment. Indeed, the loss of perspective may make things worse.

Plato commented that good people do not require law to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around it. What we have created is a process which succeeds in humiliating honest people while providing cover for the bad ones. This was not the intent, but it is the result. It hasn’t become so because of venality, but become so it has. Process is now a religion of sorts, which fails to recognize that responsibility is not a group concept. Friedrich Hayek observed that sharing responsibility widely, like sharing property widely, is like having no responsibility at all. Law must not attempt to purge men’s souls. It cannot.

Legally prescribed rights are not an instant method of reform, but the perfect method for tearing society apart; especially so for rights discovered by lifting rocks to discover “penumbras.” The right to life is unassailable, as is the right to freedom of choice. Philosophy, logic and debate can, over time, create change and resolution, but when law attempts to accelerate this natural pace it drives wedges and prohibits discussion and progress, and Roe v. Wade has left us with a civil war.

Having forgotten “to consult our operating manuals” he recalls Madison: “in forming a gov’t of men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this: . . . You must enable gov’t to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

“Law is hailed as the instrument of freedom because without law . . . we would eventually come under the thumb of whoever gets the power. Too much law [we discover, has] a comparable effect.”

By exiling judgment modern law has evolved from a useful tool to a brainless tyrant, little better than Soviet apparatus. Creating rules without flexibility is a version of central planning. We must once more offer an intelligent choice between open alternatives. Principles must again be put in control. What is right and reasonable ought to dominate the conversation. Law must again become law. It has not protected us from stupidity and caprice, but made them dominant features of our society. Decision making must be transferred back from words on a page back to people on the spot. And the law mustn’t involve itself in our daily affairs.

In our age of precision machinery, sophisticated computers, incredible medical techniques, and space exploration, it is not easy to accept the imperfections and asymmetries of human nature. Still, conquering human nature was not the idea of our founding fathers, and ought not now to be our goal. “Avoiding coercion by making law into a detailed manual only assures another form of coercion.”
Law cannot save us from ourselves. Energy and resourcefulness are what’s great about America . . . not acres of legal cubicles. Let us again use common sense.

Posted by respeto at 12:14 PM

August 10, 2005

The Death of Common Sense

(How law is suffocating America)
Philip K. Howard - ISBN: 0446672289

This is an appropriately detailed and informative book written by an attorney who makes sense out of what has become necessary: legal change to reestablish what used to be the American way.

Early on he discusses some of the insane rules which have recently prevailed. Mother Theresa, for example, attempted to renovate an abandoned building to open a homeless shelter. New York’s rules required that improvement include an elevator. Cost prohibitive, the plans were abandoned and no homeless shelter exists. Thus does legal rigidity preclude the exercise of judgment.

He enumerates the myriad mandates for special-ed and calculates that gifted students languishing in the classroom are given about one cent for every eleven dollars dedicated to special-ed. We have built an educational system “obsessed with its potential failures to the detriment of its potential successes. . . . It’s just dumb!” (Anna Quindlen)

By attempting to establish a “perfectly certain and self-regulating authority,” which admits to no judgment or discretion, we have created our own Tower of Babel. No one, at anytime, in any situation, should be permitted to exercise judgment. God forbid! The law must provide firm answers. Over-emphasis on certainty has led us to intolerable inflexibility.

I noted in an earlier review of a Tammy Bruce book that modern law has become a game. By parsing words and stimulating intrigue it is bent to extremes by clever lawyers looking for loop-holes. The role of counsel is no longer the search for truth, but the advance of a client’s cause by ethical--or unethical--means.

The law, like science, requires judgment. Mistakes will be made. Endless scrutiny doesn’t make for better judgment. Indeed, the loss of perspective may make things worse.

Plato commented that good people do not require law to act responsibly, while bad people will always find a way around it. What we have created is a process which succeeds in humiliating honest people while providing cover for the bad ones. This was not the intent, but it is the result. It hasn’t become so because of venality, but become so it has. Process is now a religion of sorts, which fails to recognize that responsibility is not a group concept. Friedrich Hayek observed that sharing responsibility widely, like sharing property widely, is like having no responsibility at all. Law must not attempt to purge men’s souls. It cannot.

Legally prescribed rights are not an instant method of reform, but the perfect method for tearing society apart; especially so for rights discovered by lifting rocks to discover “penumbras.” The right to life is unassailable, as is the right to freedom of choice. Philosophy, logic and debate can, over time, create change and resolution, but when law attempts to accelerate this natural pace it drives wedges and prohibits discussion and progress, and Roe v. Wade has left us with a civil war.

Having forgotten “to consult our operating manuals” he recalls Madison: “in forming a gov’t of men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this: . . . You must enable gov’t to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

“Law is hailed as the instrument of freedom because without law . . . we would eventually come under the thumb of whoever gets the power. Too much law [we discover, has] a comparable effect.”

By exiling judgment modern law has evolved from a useful tool to a brainless tyrant, little better than Soviet apparatus. Creating rules without flexibility is a version of central planning. We must once more offer an intelligent choice between open alternatives. Principles must again be put in control. What is right and reasonable ought to dominate the conversation. Law must again become law. It has not protected us from stupidity and caprice, but made them dominant features of our society. Decision making must be transferred back from words on a page back to people on the spot. And the law mustn’t involve itself in our daily affairs.

In our age of precision machinery, sophisticated computers, incredible medical techniques, and space exploration, it is not easy to accept the imperfections and asymmetries of human nature. Still, conquering human nature was not the idea of our founding fathers, and ought not now to be our goal. “Avoiding coercion by making law into a detailed manual only assures another form of coercion.”
Law cannot save us from ourselves. Energy and resourcefulness are what’s great about America . . . not acres of legal cubicles. Let us again use common sense.

Posted by respeto at 1:53 PM

November 18, 2011

The Disappearance of Childhood

Neil Postman - ISBN - 978-0679-751663

Originally published in 1982, this '94 reprint is still available. It has been recently released as an electronic book. Now deceased, he was a university professor, and one of America's leading social commentators. Looking for something to read t'other day, anticipating a long wait in the doctor's office, I picked up my old copy and took it along. It is a phenomenal book--one of Postman's best, which is saying a lot.

He posits that childhood is a creation of the post-Gutenberg era, wherein the oral culture was gradually replaced by the printed word. From time immemorial there was little to separate adults from children, since all information was available to all people. Only with the advent of mass print capability did the opportunity for first-hand information become available to the common man; scholarship advanced, and lines were drawn separating the informed from the uninformed. "Almost all of the characteristics we associate with adulthood are those that are (and were) either generated or amplified by the requirements of a fully literate culture: the capacity for self-restraint, a tolerance for delayed gratification, a sophisticated ability to think conceptually and sequentially, a pre-occupation with both historical continuity and the future, a high valuation of reason and hierarchical order." Childhood was born, and adulthood was advanced and redefined.

The word "child," had referred to offspring; only in modern times did it begin to adopt its present meaning. Up until medieval times, children as we define them, became adults with the mastery of language, usually about age 7. Few went to school; fewer still continued through advanced education. Virtually none were spared the secrets of the adult world and its harsh realities.

With the advent of printing, "secrets" could be limited to adults, and literacy was acquired thru years of training and education. School was designed for preparation for adulthood, and included not only literacy, but the disciplines needed for successful adulthood: personal restraint in matters of behavior, foul language, sexual appetites, etc. As well, a grasp of history, society, morality, logic, reason were associated. Children were protected from the challenges and vagaries of adulthood, which were introduced to them gradually, as they matured, and under specific, guided circumstances. Information was sequestered in places seldom explored by youth.

The electrical media, beginning with the telegraph and culminating in television, changed all of that as it resurrected the oral culture and is burying the literate culture. Television exposed the formerly private concerns, secrets and realities of adulthood. They were again dispensed, wholesale, as it became the dominant source if information. It requires no special talents or training to absorb; it confers no skills, and it "adultifies" content. Worse, it eroticizes children and infantilizes adults. Adulthood, as understood for centuries, is disappearing along with childhood.

Children, as in medieval times, know what everyone else knows. Nothing is mysterious or awesome, and nothing is held back from public view. When challenged, executives brag that today's children are better informed than any previous generation. TV is the "window to the world." While a correct statement, no one enquires why that should be taken as a sign of progress. Television erodes definitions because it requires no instruction to grasp its form, it makes no complex demands on mind or behavior, and it does not segregate its audience. "Having access to the previously hidden fruit of adult information, they are expelled from the garden of childhood."

For years, researchers have endeavored to determine TV's impact upon children. Vivid depictions of violence, sex and drugs are front and center, but no one asks to what extent the depiction of the world as it is undermines a child's belief in adult rationality, in the possibility of an ordered world, or in a hopeful future. To what extent does it undermine the child's confidence in his future capacity to control the impulse to violence?

Childhood crime is exponentially more common than before (11,000% increase between 1950 and 1979!) Sexuality and STDs, drug and alcohol abuse are rampant. Musical tastes, language, literature, movies, clothing styles and behavior are all shared with adults. Nothing is uniquely "childish." Even organized sports have replaced childhood play. Favorite programs are the same for little kids, adolescents and adults, and leveling is, as always, down.

"There is no turning back"--and he drew this conclusion before the Internet. "Resistance" he insists, "entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture."

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:59 AM

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 façade 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

June 1, 2008

The Englishman’s Daughter

Ben Macintyre - ISBN – 9781587242328 (2001)

As with The Napoleon of Crime, this book is no longer in print. As well, it is a superbly researched and fascinating book. One wonders just where Macintyre gets his leads and ideas, but this is now the third book I have read by the man, and they are all outstanding.

The Englishman’s Daughter is an interesting, true story of WW I vintage. A small contingent of English soldiers was trapped behind enemy lines in the small, remote, medieval French village of Villeret, and was hidden by the townsfolk for several years. During that time a few were out and about, some were confined to attics, etc., and one spent all of every day in a wardrobe!

They were a conundrum for the villagers, because the Tommies were allies, yet the penalty for hiding them was severe. The German occupiers were not at all kindly, and the officer in charge of their village was a particularly mean, treacherous and paranoid SOB.

As fate would have it, one of the “keenest” of the Englishmen, well educated, suave and persuasive—and an officer—fell in love with the most attractive young woman in the village, with whom he sired a baby: the Englishman’s daughter. Most of the villagers were unhappy to mortified, yet they did not—then-- reveal the soldiers to the German forces.

The tale chronicles the activities of the villagers: their history, tribal culture, details of their daily existence, even their smuggling and spying, which clandestine activities would be punishable by death if discovered. It lingers over intimate details of the relationships amongst principals, and gives one a feel for the period, for life in an ancient, isolated village, and for the horrors of war—especially WW I with its trenches, poisonous gasses, ritually destructive artillery shelling, etc. It emphasized the terrible destruction of the French countryside whereupon the entire conflict took place.

One comes away with a much better understanding of the toll taken on people, the land, and especially these rural French, whose lives were eviscerated by the war and occupation. German demands upon productivity, were all consuming, and their invasion and destruction of home life was complete. As well, combatants were regularly cycled thru the village for R&R, with no consideration at all for the people from whom all sustenance was demanded. Indeed, Villeret was razed to the ground eventually, ancient castles, churches, and dwellings from the grand to the lowliest hovel.

The English were eventually betrayed, and it is widely presumed that a villager was responsible, but no one has ever concretely determined who. Nearly a century afterward it matters to the villagers, who still honor the date of execution of the Tommies as spies, led by the (now octogenarian) Englishman’s daughter! Macintyre reviews all of the possible culprits, and identifies the surprising, probable miscreant.

For those who prefer “escape reading” which is informative as well as captivating, this fits the bill.

Posted by respeto at 10:40 AM

August 17, 2005

The Final Solution

Michael Chabon – ISBN: 006076340X

This young man is an ingenious writer, having made his name with the Pulitzer Prize winning Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. This book is both a murder mystery, and a quest for a missing bird, tied up nicely and succinctly.

In his new offering he is clever with his plot twists. More, he writes beautifully. The Readers Digest (back when it was worth reading) used to have a section titled “toward more picturesque speech.” In this Chabon qualifies . . . in spades. He is a delight to read by virtue of his presentation as well as the content of his fertile mind. Example:

“The old man had been stoking and sipping at his pipe . . . the smoke of his tobacco . . . hung in the room as thick as sheepshearing and made arabesques in the harsh slanting light from the window . . . the vines of smoke twisting in the sunlight.”

This tale is placed in England near the end of WWII. He weaves in a mute child with a number quoting pet parrot--stolen because British intelligence suspects that the numbers have serious import. The thief is murdered, and an ancient, long retired homicide detective (now a bee keeper) involves himself in the quest to find the parrot for the child (an escapee from a German death camp.)

Complicated by an obsequious minister, his unfaithful wife and a peculiarly nasty son, the yarn spins thru many cycles. Each is more twisted than the reader first thinks, and none of the suspicions pan out as one might anticipate.

It is great and quick read at only 130 pages.

You’ll love this guy. I have already ordered the rest of his books for my shelves.


Posted by respeto at 4:35 PM

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

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

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

January 19, 2010

The French Betrayal of America

Kenneth Timmerman - ISBN - 1400053676

This is a somewhat older book (2004) but one worth a peak. Timmerman reviews the French-American relationship from the Revolutionary War to the present, observing that in times past we were best of friends, sort of; well, periodically at least.

Throughout, and up to the Cold War there wasn't much bad blood; at least none which couldn't be explained by a variance of individual national interests. Europe remained key to the Western alliance as a bulwark against Soviet Expansionism. But from the time of the Balkan crisis the new Europe was "revealed in all its nakedness."

American strength confers a propensity to use strength when necessary, while Europe's weakness has resulted in an aversion to the exercise military power. It has intensified Europe's interest in a world where strength doesn't matter; a world where unilateral action by powerful nations is forbidden; a world where all nations are equally protected by commonly agreed-upon rules of behavior. If only it was so. American unilaterality is upsetting to Europe as it has become dependent on our use of military might to deter or defeat those who still believe in power politics--that is, of course, the rest of the world. This has been most pronounced in France since 1945, with occasional exception.

France's political system has a major impact on arms sales policy, and the government is in bed with industry in the interests of French prosperity, even when such action is adverse to the welfare of the free world. About this activity Timmerman goes into great detail; notably so with regard to the Middle East, and most especially with Saddam Hussein.

The French doubled down on Iraq's denial of the uranium yellowcake they'd been acquiring surreptitiously for years. They brought pressure in the UN to ease Iraqi sanctions since it forbid so much profitable French activity--they even cheated (who's surprised?) Throughout the 80's and 90's "France's petty sins were overlooked; her greater sins discussed but never punished." The Russians were guilty, too, but we knew they were the enemy.

The French did assist in some efforts in areas where their superiority was clear. It has been improving nuclear power technology while America has not, because the Left has blocked our pursuit of energy generation using nuclear power. As well, Mitterrand supported cruise and Pershing II deployment in Europe. These were their last cooperative activities. Sarkozy remains an uncertainty, but appears to be more attuned to reality, putting general security above national monetary interests, sometimes.

In the last half of the book he reviews, "chapter and verse," The French betrayal of America. It ain't pretty, but it is pretty well and fairly documented. Aside from France's latent anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, there is documentation of their specific and repeated activities--clandestine and otherwise--which have been detrimental to the West in general, and to America especially. Most of these activities stem from deep seated corruption of government in France, involving all of their leaders, all of their defense contractors, and most of the businessmen, Spying, bribing . . . you name it . . . they've done it. Corruption which would be unacceptable in the U.S. and most European countries is de rigueur in France.

Most of French policy was oriented to their economic interests in Iraq in the effort to secure the prime position in oil acquisition and building contracting when sanctions were lifted. They even voted against the first Gulf war when Saddam took over Kuwait (!), and were adamant about Gulf War, chapter two.

While the growing dispute between U.S. and France was an issue, it wasn't alone. In relations with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Iran, Chirac and his government were engaged in unrelenting efforts to undermine U.S. policies to position France as the alternative source of power and legitimacy in the Middle East. Chirac pushed hard to reorganize the procedures for getting exports to Iraq, approved and gutted the export control process, essentially lifting them. "Fly by night" and ghost corporations were established. Excessive fees were charged and paid by Saddam. Sometimes legitimate "oil money" was paid to French companies who shipped less than half of what had been paid for. Other times companies kept 40 percent commissions on goods never shipped. Then, as now, "French diplomacy continues to consider Iraq as a cake to be divided and not as a democracy to be constructed." While France has been of almost no help there, it still insists that Iraq not be under American control of its economy, but under the UN or France, or Europe--anyone but the U.S.

Oil is absolutely critical to understanding France's foreign policy. It is driven by a deep fear that it will be unable to adapt to the post-cold war world, or compete in the global market-place. In that world the advantages and subsidies granted by the state to French companies would be subjected to international scrutiny and likely banned. The battle of the present is not between freedom and tyranny, but between the French religion of the all-powerful state and the Anglo-American system of transparency with its checks and balances

The French do not understand the change in America since 9/11. They still believe they can do business around the globe with dictators they can bribe, without having to pay any serious price. September 11 put that argument to rest, at least in America.

At the 60th anniversary celebration of the D-Day landing, the U.S. media was full of accounts of heroic veterans who fought to survive the German machine gunners, scaled Pointe duHoc, etc. The French papers, in contrast, recounted the horror experienced by French civilians killed in Allied bombings of Normandy's towns. LeMonde even stated that when American soldiers arrived at Saint-Lo they were greeted by local résistance fighters with raised "clenched fists." The paper whined that 13,900 French civilians died in the 6 months surrounding the Normandy invasion, yet failed to mention that there were well over 10,000 Allied casualties--over 4,400 dead--on D-Day alone.

With friends like that . . . . . ?!

And as after thought, an observation by a French historian/intellectual who likes America

"If you take away anti-Americanism there is nothing left to French political thought."
Jean Francois Revel

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:02 PM

April 15, 2007

The Gate of Hell

Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863
Stephen R. Wise – ISBN – 9780872499850

For you Civil War buffs, this is a sleeper. Shortly after watching the movie Glory, for the umpteenth time, I was motivated to read more about that particular battle. Several reviews indicate that this is the best book on the subject. While little more than a minor skirmish during the war, it was important because of the participation of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment (though regiments from CT, NY and NH were also involved!).

The book is intensive and extensive, dealing with fortifications, the use of artillery, the construction of berms and battlements, the iron-clad battleships (the first of their kind) and of the strategy and uses of coastal warfare during the “War for Independence” of the South. This was a battle of engineering and tactics. Not incidentally, and despite heavy losses by the North, Wagner was never taken and Charleston Harbor was never subdued. The 54th alone lost more than forty percent of its men and fourteen of its twenty-two officers.

Well written, and impeccably researched and reported, it is worth the time to read if this falls within your interest genre. Specifically, it deals with the battle for “Fort” Wagner (actually only a battery). While hardly the first time that black soldiers were used in an initial assault, it is historically accepted as the time they proved themselves mightily. Not altogether unlike the Tuskegee Airmen—nearly 80 years later in another war.

The training, treatment, ultimate acceptance of the black soldier is chronicled well. Amongst the things I found most interesting, though of no historic significance, is the fact that most of the sandy island upon which Battery Wagner was situated has now been claimed by the sea, along with—one supposes—the graves of the combatants who were simply piled into mass graves.

The 54th Massachusetts, its commanding officers, and the line infantry acquitted themselves grandly, heroically, and a black soldier named Carney became the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor.

Posted by respeto at 11:59 AM

July 26, 2006

The Good War

Studs Terkel – ISBN – 1565843436

This book won the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1984 and is well worth the read. Especially so for modern liberals and all altruists!

For those unfamiliar with Terkel, he is famous for a number of books which are catalogs of interviews with individuals from the WW II era. He documents the experiences of hundreds of people from all ranks and all walks of life, but principally those who actually fought the war. Some of the tales are appalling (the taking of Dachau and Auschwitz) and others occasionally rather humorous.

Everyone knew what that war was about; everyone (or nearly so) was committed to victory, and everyone suffered in some way, varying from rationing, long work hours, worry over loved ones, to actual combat including death of friends and compatriots.

It is a stunningly vivid presentation the “facts of the day” and presents a riveting read for the modern generation, much of which doesn’t understand principle, commitment, honor or the horrors of engaging a savage, uncivilized opponent committed to victory. Neither do they understand that sometimes wars must be fought, nor that sometimes they are necessary—in extremis, “good wars.”

In an early review by Norman Corwin he noted the book to be the “essence and cumulative force of a hundred powerful war novels, without drawing on a single word of fiction.”

All encompassing in its reach, one simply can’t, or ought not be able to, read without being overwhelmed. Especially so today when we are, though many deny it, involved in a similar type of conflagration on its way to being consuming. There are numerous parallels: the “nuanced” avoidance of reality which was prevalent in Europe in the lead up to WW II, and the altruists who wanted then to “negotiate” with Hitler. Now these types want to negotiate with Osama or the Iranians. How do you negotiate with someone who is hell bent on killing you and destroying civilization?

In one small vignette he quotes a man who noted that the SS troops were impossible. “They acted as though nothing could hurt them . . . they sneered at you. They acted the super race . . . they thought they had won the war, even after we captured them.” (How unlike the present day Islamo-fascists!) We were committed then to destroying Hitler, his minions, and his “philosophy,” and the Axis powers along with him.

If you want a preview of the coming world war this is a good place to begin to understand the forces and the people who are instigating it. And if you don’t want, read it anyway.

Posted by respeto at 2:20 PM

January 21, 2006

The Grail Trilogy

Bernard Cornwell - The series includes:
The Archer’s Tale–ISBN-0060505257
The Vagabond–ISBN-0060532688
The Heretic-ISBN-006053284X

Cornwell, considered the best historical-adventure fiction writer currently active, proves it in this trilogy.

The history is carefully researched, and “reported” as factually as possible, allowing for the fictional nature of the work. As did Michael Shaara in Killer Angels, (and his son in the rest of their trilogy) Cornwell brings his characters to life, giving them depth, and rendering the stories far more interesting than reading about the events in a history book.

The principals are people who actually existed, and did the things of which he writes. The fiction is in side events, without which the actions might be drab, if not uneventful.

He writes of the few years following 1342, considered to be the inaugural conflicts of the “100 years war” between England and France. He describes major conflicts of that period in riveting detail, and includes much interesting information about life in those times.

The books surround the adventures of Thomas of Hookton, the fictional protagonist. He is an archer in the king's army and the bastard son of a mad priest exiled to a remote English village. His father, not incidentally, is the scion of a noble French family rumored to have once possessed the treasured, legendary Holy Grail. Needless to say, the companion issue is Thomas' search for the Grail, and myriad events along the way.

The serial adventures with Thomas are anchored by the battles between the French and their allies, and the English. Cornwell provides absorbingly vivid details of the weapons, tactics, and the incredible carnage and brutality of those conflicts.

It reminds that we in the Christian West are only about 800 years removed from the primitive attitudes of the Islamic fundamentalists. Indeed the parallels are sometimes quite striking. The viciousness of the Europeans, their wars, and the treatment of each other, not to mention their enemies, is sufficient exhilarating as to enrapture the most sadistic fundamentalists of the Arab world. Even, or perhaps especially, the behavior of the Catholic Church of the era (that of the inquisition) is not dissimilar to the rabid Muslims of today (a point I have made before when noting that the Muslims desperately need their own "reformation.")

Suffice it to say that this is an interesting series . . . and well worth the read both as entertainment, and an introduction to the history of the period.

Posted by respeto at 5:18 PM

December 28, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer – ISBN – 9780385340991

Books do not . . . simply cannot . . . get any more enjoyable than this. Unhappily, it ends too soon. It’s not that one cannot put it down, but one wishes not to have to. It is a joy to read.

It is based in Guernsey after WW II, a British channel isle occupied by the Germans for five years during that war--the only English territory to be so scourged. The protagonist, an author, has decided to write of the islanders’ experience, which is explored fully and rewards the reader with a wonderful recitation. The characters are carefully wrought; interesting, complex and delightful people, except for a nosy misanthrope or two.

The format is unusual—not to say peculiar--being entirely composed of letters between the corresponding characters. It takes only a dozen pages to get the hang of reading what at first seems clumsy, but Shaffer is so deft that a rhythm is soon established. The author exhibits wit and a wry sense of humor in developing the personalities, while reporting on the dreary hardships and desolation of the occupation. Real people are developed letter by letter. “Writing in all those different voices was a blast . . . like playing 20 different roles, each with his or her own voltage and excitement.”

The story begins with a few community members who formed a social group with the premise of reading and reporting on literature, and sharing food. Since all foodstuffs were in short supply one of the snacks provided was Potato Peel Pie, composed of a crust of potato peels (absent butter and flour), filled with mashed potatoes and flavored with beet juice (absent spices, herbs and sugar)--hence the name of the society .

They managed to endure the deprivation, formed many new friendships, reinforced older ones, and many of the expanding group of participants became involved in reading for the first time in their lives, which added immensely to their shared experiences, not to mention a greatly enhanced awareness of the world of literature.

The plot is honey-combed with side and back stories, expressed thru the many letters and voices. The tale is complex but well explored, and the end, while not really surprising is . . . well, surprising.

Sadly, this was the only book written by this elderly author; she died before its publication. She did have the satisfaction of knowing it was scheduled for printing, and in the experienced hands of her niece and co-author, Annie Barrows who saw it to completion.

Read it. You will not be disappointed.


Posted by respeto at 12:49 PM

September 28, 2007

The Johnstown Flood

David McCullough - ISBN – 9780671207144

This was the “maiden voyage” of a man who has become one of the best known and respected American historians of this era. His many books include biographies of Teddy Roosevelt (Mornings on Horseback) and Harry Truman (Truman), descriptions of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge (Great Bridge) and the Panama Canal (Path Between the Seas), and most recently 1776, best sellers all.

On May 31st, 1889 the steel town of Johnstown, PA, was obliterated by a local flood of almost biblical proportions. This book chronicles that event which was, for this boom town, the marriage of D-Day and Katrina. It is a riveting read encompassing the horror of the moment and the magnificence of American humanity, attesting to the grit, determination and endurance of people affected by such calamities.

In the mountains above the community was a manmade lake confined by an inadequate earthen dam. After a winter with unusual snow fall, and a spring of heavy rain the dam burst with little warning—and that not heeded—unleashing thousands of acre feet of water in only a few minutes. This resulted in a wall of water as much as 70 feet high which cleared the mountain trough thru which it raced, picking up whole trees, mammoth boulders, and the splintered homes of smaller upstream communities. Whole trains were tossed about like toys and steel mills crushed like orange crates. Stone churches were brushed out of the way. In only 10 minutes Johnstown went from a thriving community to a ruin clogged by building and railroad remains, thousands of dead animals and several thousand dead humans. Many bodies were never found and many more were so dismembered as to be unidentifiable.

The lake had been constructed originally by the state to maintain water levels in a regional canal, but with the advent of railroads the obsolete canal was abandoned. The lake and surrounding property was sold to a consortium of the wealthiest Americans who made the dam higher and the lake larger to create a week-end retreat. This made the disaster into a national scandal.

McCullough’s enormous writing skill creates a vivid, richly detailed, thoroughgoing description of the physical and emotional results of this catastrophe while creating an absorbing portrait of a thriving community which accurately reflected life in 19th century America.

Amongst interesting details were the original estimates of 10,000 dead, along with plunder, rape and murder. Rather like Katrina, but those ancient rumors were dispelled within 2-3 days. With Katrina, you'll recall, there are still festering rumors circulating 2 years later.

Money flowed in from every state and fourteen foreign countries totaling over four million dollars. In little more than a day the railroad bed was restored to service after having been severely damaged. In less than a week 200 carloads of donated provisions had been delivered and 7,000 workers showed up to assist. The Red Cross had its first real disaster mission as Clara Barton showed up with 50 doctors and nurses, along with hospital supplies in less than four days (remember this was a pretty remote area in the mountains of West-Central Pennsylvania, and the year was 1889.)

In less than 3 months steel was again being manufactured and the community restored, if incompletely. Shops were rebuilt, many were open and more were about to reopen. Band concerts and ball games were being held; and picnics with ice cream had again become regular week-end events.

This is a great and inspiring read, and a proper testimonial to American ingenuity and the vigor of democracy, capitalism and cooperating humanity under duress. As well, it raises questions about the tenacity of modern day Americans.


Posted by respeto at 12:27 PM

August 17, 2005

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini – ISBN: 1594480001

A first time novelist--a California physician born in Afghanistan—writes one of the most unforgettable stories about his native land and a handful of fascinating personages.

In my review of The Bookseller of Kabul, you will find my comment that even this successful, well educated and informed “citizen” of Afghanistan is a somewhat sordid, nihilistic rube bent on preserving the dominance of the worst parts of Islam. In this book you will find the major characters to be all but completely opposite.

Tragic, engaging, and beautifully written; in the beginning one could be quite certain that it was written as an autobiography “in the second person.” His tale is so riveting that you believe it must have happened to Hosseini.

The plot twists are considerable, and just about the time you believe you have it figured out you find that you’re mistaken. It ranges from a time before the Russian invasion with the deposition of the king—enlightened ruler of a progressive country—and ends after many turns, with the immigration (as an adoptee) of the son of one of the protagonists who, executed by the Taliban.

The descriptions of Afghan civilization are enlightening, the title “kite runner” is elaborated upon, and the ultimate tie-in closes the book.

Gripping and sad, but engaging and enlightening as to the culture destroyed first by the Russians, and later by the Taliban. Some of his descriptions remind of another book I have reviewed: The Man Who Would Be King.

“A powerful book . . . no frills, no nonsense, just hard, spare prose . . . an intimate account of family, friendship, betrayal and salvation that requires no atlas or translation to engage and enlighten us. Parts of The Kite Runner are raw and excruciating to read, yet the book in its entirety is lovingly written.” (quote from the Washington Post Book World)

A very worthwhile read on any number of accounts.

Posted by respeto at 4:37 PM

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

January 6, 2010

The Last Fish Tale

Mark Kurlansky - ISBN - 978-1594483745

Another good book by this writer, though not as good as Salt, or 1968. Attracted to Gloucester, MA when researching his treatise Cod, he now returns to investigate the culture of one of the oldest and most important fishing villages in America. He explores an occupation--fishing--which is vanishing, and a culture trying to adapt. He revisits the old Chinese proverb, and changes it: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him. If you teach a man to fish, he will starve." Sadly this is true, and he exposes the entire drama and course which has resulted in the demise of ocean fish, and fishing as a career choice. Ironically . . . or not . . . he insists that the fishermen have seen this coming but were unable to approach it because governments and politicians have been too busy trying to make it a political problem rather than an environmental one. Surprised? He drolly observes that fishery regulation is a growth industry while fishing is not.

He initiates the discussion by explaining how and why fishing in the New World arose, and how Gloucester was selected early as a port, with its proximity to three of the richest fishing grounds in the world. He explains the "banks" (Grand, George's, Stellwagen, etc.) As well he explores why fishermen prefer their way of life, why they take pride in it, and how very dangerous it is; far less so than in the era of sail, but still dangerous. Recall The Perfect Storm--the Clooney movie--and you will understand.

A dissertation on fishing methods and improvements follows, and terminates in the development of factory fishing which in large measure devastated commercial fishing. There follows a review of Birdseye, fishing gear and other interesting facets of development over the nearly 400 year history of Gloucester, and he delves into the crazy quota system, by-catches, and other "political solutions" to difficult problems.

There are loving descriptions of the landscape, the waters, the people and their culture, including the art colonies, along with the fishermen and their support industries.

In my opinion Kurlansky moves far into radical Liberal mode as he insists there is "a massive shifting in the natural order of the planet" with biological and social changes. Species are disappearing, land mammals are vanishing, etc. It has always been thus. To be sure the Indian tiger was hunted out of existence, along with a variety of other species, and man's invasion of living space has resulted in habitat change, but it seems indiscriminate to me to avoid all reason in protecting owls, tiny fish and creepy-crawleys simply because it's "nice." But he often segues into these arguments. Usually, I'd add, with no solutions suggested, just the observation/complaint/threat.

Replacement of some fishing harbors by recreational yachts and vacation colonies is just the way it is. The locals may be displaced, and they don't like it, but the world is becoming more crowded and more affluent, and it is not possible to fully alter its course. As it is in my dotage, "you can't go back."

He does have a point, however, when he discusses the appeal of seal colonies, which are attractive to tourists, while the seals eat a lot of fish, and their parasitic worms are hazardous to others. As well, they attract sharks, the predator responsible for control of the seal population, to the bathing beaches, making them unsafe.

But he closes with a warning that the destruction of ocean life is "terrifying," and as life disappears it becomes "increasingly difficult for the planet to sustain any life." On this score I believe he is vastly overstating reality, as I fear that he and his ilk actually believe it.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:21 PM

April 14, 2010

The Last Goodnights

Assisting My Parents with Their Suicides
John West

This book valiantly, at considerable personal risk, provides the essence of the argument for physician-assisted suicide. (There is, after all, no statute of limitations on the felony charge of murder, and Dr. Kevorkian's situation presents a frightening precedent.) It was written by a lawyer who knew exactly what he was doing. A decade later he shares his legal and emotional dilemma. It is highly recommended for "anyone who expects to die in the future, with or without help, and/or by his own hand . . . or not."

The situation is somewhat unique in that both of his parents were professionals. Both knew what they asked, and both understood the implications. His father, a psychiatrist, had a rapidly progressive, extremely painful terminal cancer. He discussed with his son the "psychology and autonomy of self-deTermination." His mother, a psychologist, was in rapid decline due to Alzheimer's. For neither was there an answer except to "suck it up." Mother, when alert, was in full possession of her faculties, and "would not allow herself to devolve into a walking broccoli, a drooling, diapered, disoriented 'non-creature.'"

West chronicles, "blow by blow" what he--and they--faced and experienced as he helped them consummate their deaths. He is candid, with a touch of irony, as he explores the problem, separating his problem within context, from theirs, making a compassionate plea for serious consideration of this ever-growing dilemma.

He asserts many valid points, and makes them well. Along the way he ruminates about the obscenely complicated rituals of hospitals, not a few of which I have experienced myself (e.g., getting prescriptions from the pharmacy at the time of the patient's discharge which is unconscionably difficult. His father was a renowned faculty member which, as with me, made absolutely no difference. All parties are equally abused.)

In a fugue of "black humor" he recites the "stock observations" about suicide's possibilities--tall buildings, arching bridges, railroad tracks, etc . . . all of which are predicated on an alert orientation, physical mobility, and a certain élan over doing yourself in.

After his first "assist," when he was required to force pills down his father's throat since he had begun to slumber before he had had sufficient medication, he observes: "Although I'd known it intellectually for months, I finally felt--viscerally--that this was precisely why assisted suicide should not be attempted by amateurs, and why it should be a legally accepted part of the doctor-patient relationship." The emotional impact was severe, and made his relationship with his parents difficult, even though he was "comfortable" with their decision to ask, and his decision to comply. "Emotions I had to hide [from others, including family, in whom he could not confide.] Emotions that kicked my ass."

Throughout the book, he maintains a wry sense of humor, bordering on the mordant from time to time, as he discusses the attendant anguish and personal pain, yet the recitation is seasoned with love and insight.

The situation is, compared to that described in Tuesday's with Morrie, exactly opposite. And "Morrie" is relevant because he chose to die differently; hence the dilemma.

My concerns, as a physician and amateur philosopher, is what happens if/when assisted suicide is sanctioned? We can all understand the spectrum and both poles. We may well acknowledge that people ought to be able to select their mode of demise, and yet the example of Holland bears heavily on my mind. A situation in which "the kids" are now free to "off Gramma" to relieve themselves of the burden and/or get at their inheritance a little early. One who understands human nature, and considers progressive, omni-tolerant government, must take into account what may--and likely will--become the standard should physician-assisted suicide become legal here. They're already there in Holland. It isn't pretty, and there is likely no turning back.

Rigorous caution, careful consideration and debate are necessary!

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:51 PM

March 24, 2007

The Last Kingdom

Bernard Cornwell - ISBN - 9780060887186

This is the first in his new Saxon Series, and the first of 3 books now in print.

In this saga of fidelity, rage, betrayal and gore he takes up the history of England at the time of Alfred; a time when England became England, in the 9th-10th centuries.

Alfred and his heirs were battling to rid their country of the ferocious Vikings who had been harassing and invading them for several centuries, and controlled three of England’s four kingdoms. Wessex was the last unconquered, hence the title: The Last Kingdom.

Uhtred, (the fictional character) and the young son of a minor nobleman—a father whom he despises--is captured and reared by his captor, a Danish noble who values him as a son; especially so when his own son is killed. As well, Uhtred comes to love Ragnar, who teaches him Viking ways of life and war. As a youngster with the Danes, Uhtred is involved in massacres of the English, yet struggles with his divided loyalties.

There are the usual graphic battles, the intrigue, etc. that not only festoon history, but are appropriately included in this (only slightly) fictional account of the period. Much can be learned about feudal England, its more rational (than the Danes) culture, and the barbarism of the period . . . and of the Vikings, especially. As with the three volumes of The Archer’s tale, Cornwell is able to truly involve the reader in the story.

Eventually Uhtred sides with the young King Alfred in defending the remaining English domain. He matures, is married, and becomes a loyal, ferocious and valuable warrior, who is a great hero in battling the Vikings. All this he does in spite of Alfred’s pious Christianity. Uhtred actually prefers the Norse Gods, considering them far more worldly wise and manly, and not that different from the English figures before Christianization.

In the second volume (which I have not read), The Pale Horseman, the saga continues and Uhtred is forever bound up with the English and English history. It, too, is said to be a masterwork, and just released in hardcover is volume #3, The Lords of the North, in which the Danes are finally seriously challenged. Without final resolution one presumes that other titles will follow.

It would be redundant of me to recommend this book and series, since I always recommend Cornwell. Nothing he writes has been less than an exciting adventure, and all are historically accurate.

Posted by respeto at 4:25 PM

April 8, 2006

The Last Lion

William Manchester
(a biography of Winston Churchill in two volumes)
ISBN – (I) – 0385313489 (II) 0385313314

This biography, upon its release in 1983/88 was described as “brilliant,” “bedazzling”, and “a triumph.” That, I’d say, is not hyperbolic. No exaggeration is possible over what is arguably Manchester’s most stunning work.

I chose to reread this tome after 15 years. It is particularly apropos “this season,” in light of the fact that we are again facing—though some refuse to acknowledge the fact—a most serious challenge to Western civilization. Indeed, to civilization itself. Not since WWII have we been so seriously challenged, and not unlike then, we can lose. If we do . . . civilization is all over for the next millennium.

Beyond doubt, Winston Spencer Churchill was the most important world figure in the 20th century. It can be fairly said that without him Western civilization would not exist as we know it, and it is virtually certain that we would be in the 7th decade of the 3rd Reich, speaking German—at least those of us still alive. Isaiah Berlin described Churchill as “the largest human being of our time.” Indeed! He is likely amongst the largest human beings of all time.

One can hardly imagine the immense amount of material Manchester had to command in order to write this 1600 page document, though it is readable to the last page. And riveting. For those too young to remember, and those otherwise unenlightened of history, Churchill was virtually alone in his battle over European appeasement of the Germans when they could have been stopped, thus avoiding WWII. He finally had the attention of the British after Chamberlain’s announcement that he had negotiated “peace in our time,” just before Germany’s massive attack upon the allies.

The story begins with Churchill as a child, reviewing this most unhappy state, follows thru his early military career, his first era of prominence, his subsequent slide into oblivion (after Gallipoli) and his recovery to lead the allies to victory in WWII.

Sheer grit, determination, and faith in his God and his country were all that Winston needed to believe that the battle for civilization could be won. A leader of his talent comes along only rarely, and, it seems to me serendipitously—or perhaps by an act of God.

In addition to all of that he was a masterful politician (though spottily so), a phenomenal historian and an eclectic writer who supported himself thruout his life with his writing skills. While of noble birth, he was sufficiently removed from it that he inherited nothing. Still he had the family history and pride in his predecessors.

Read it for information . . . for history . . . for insight into the sheer magnificence of the West—and Churchill, of course--and to be reminded of what we are, or ought to be fighting for at this time. You will not read a more comprehensive or moving biography anytime soon, which is why it is still in print!

Posted by respeto at 1:35 PM

February 20, 2008

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

A Memoir
Bill Bryson – ISBN 9780767919371

Bryson writes well in so many genres that “his best” would be misstatement, sort of. Nonetheless, I must note that this one hits the mark. A memoir of growing up in the best country in the world . . . when it was at its peak! For me it was an exhilarating trip down memory lane.

People of later generations will read his comic genius-laced anecdotal hyperbole with glee and admiration. Those of us who grew up during the period of the 40’s and 50’s will be regaled as well, but sadly recall the lost times and our long gone country, while being reminded of the sheer joy of being young during that time. The book is boundless in its production of rollicking laughter. Between guffaws, causes one is caused to fondly “remember when.” You’ll laugh till your belly hurts! Do not read this while drinking! It’ll jettison from your nose at the least expected moment.

He captures youth in general, and that period in particular, as he revisits everything from childhood fantasies (he was the “thunderbolt kid”), to Saturday morning cowboy flicks, elegant tea rooms in downtown department stores (back when there was a downtown), Bishop’s cafeterias with their “atomic” toilet seats, boys fixation on girls bodies, sneaking into “strip shows” at carnivals, blowing things up, sneaking beer and cigarettes, and being able to disappear—safely—for the entire day. As well; nutty toys from hula hoops and Mr. Potato Heads to silly putty and slinkys, Lincoln Logs to Erector Sets. His discussion of making models, and getting stuck to everything by the glues of the day, is hilarious.

He delves into the appearance of convenience foods in Supermarkets by noting that they usually contained some of the 2,000 available additives, including “nine emulsifiers, thirty-one stabilizers and thickeners, eighty-five surfactants, seven anti-caking agents, twenty-eight anti-oxidants and forty-four sequestrants.” Sometimes they even contained food.

It is impossible for subsequent generations to understand how enormous the world was then. Even nearby places seemed distant. Few privately owned vehicles meant that you traveled by trolley, bus or train to wherever they went, and no further; no freeways, even for those with cars, made drives infinitely longer. Most anything more than a couple of hundred miles away seemed alien. T.V. was new and seldom showed anything foreign. The occasional commercial aircraft had propellers. Air Mail was a big deal. The size of the universe, while incomprehensible, was likewise just another unknown to which we gave little thought until Sputnik, and “going to the moon.” Forty percent of people believed thought the world would end in global war, yet they were busy buying homes, digging swimming pools, starting pension plans, and investing in the future. Bryson observes: “I grew up in possibly the scariest period in American history and had no idea of it.”

By 1960 most people had “pretty much everything;” far more than expected. There wasn’t much to do with their wealth but buy more and larger versions of things they didn’t require: second homes, lawn tractors, double-wide refrigerators, intercoms, gas grills, extra phones or cars, bigger TV’s, etc. “Soon millions of people were caught in a spiral in which they worked harder and harder [graduating to two income families] in order to buy labor-saving devices they wouldn’t have needed if they hadn’t been working so hard in the first place.” Productivity was enormous, and in theory people could make more in two days than they had in five, but instead of opting for more leisure time they decided to work instead—to buy more stuff!

“The best I can say is that I saw the last of something really special; something I seem to say a lot these days.” That’s how it goes. Stuff gets thrown out. Life goes on. But: “Imagine those palatial downtown movie theaters with their vast screens and Egyptian décor, but thrillingly enlivened with Dolby sound and slick computer graphics. Now that would be magic. Imagine having all of public life—offices, stores, restaurants, entertainments—conveniently clustered in the heart of the city and experiencing fresh air and daylight each time you moved from one to another.”

“What a wonderful world it was. We won’t see its like again.”

He misses it. I miss it. As I write this I find myself a little melancholic. An ever diminishing few in the world miss it, but you can’t if you weren’t there. No one born after 1960 will ever experience it. That is unfortunate . . . 2,500 sq. ft. starter homes, 700 series Beemers, home-brewed lattes, gimongous flat-screen HDTV’s with surround sound, I-Pods and online gambling notwithstanding.

Read and enjoy this splendid memoir and tribute to America when it was the envy of the world. I consider myself exceedingly blessed to have been there, and wish I could share it with the kids—and theirs. But then, sadly, they hardly want to hear about it.

Posted by respeto at 8:47 AM

April 22, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

Michael Connelly - 9780446616454

It's no secret that Connelly is my favorite crime fiction writer. With this book he introduces a new character and a slightly altered genre. Written in 2005, it has drawn new interest because of the 2011 movie now in theatres. Instead of the usual detective, Mickey Haller is a criminal defense lawyer who practices at the margins of the law; aggressive, creative, cynical and tough. There is little Haller cherishes after 10 years of dealing with innumerable denizens of the planet, guiding their cases thru the miasma of present day law which long ago became a game having little to do with truth, justice, or even honesty; eroded "like the faces of statues from other civilizations." Law is now about manipulations, negotiations and the art of the deal. Avoid trial, especially if the client has little money; sell him a shorter sentence and count on an early out. Find a wealthy client and drag out the proceedings to create more billable hours; ride the gravy train. Cops and lawyers cheat, money is a principal driving force, even judges get paid for influencing trial outcomes. Wanna be a judge? Get a piece of paper from some law school, pass the bar, make the proper contributions to the right people and you might just be in. Ideals have been downgraded to notions, and notions themselves are frequently optional. Overall, it's an earthy, accurate and well deserved critique from the inside of contemporary law, from a man who knows; a little disparaging, perhaps, but not really that far off of the map.

What I find most interesting is that Connelly's writing keeps improving. Most writers get stale, formulaic and boring--even sloppy. Some prominent writers take in subordinate partners to do most of the writing which is then sold under their famous names. Not Connelly. This might just be his best novel, and he's passed 20 at last count.

Another reviewer commented that the plot has more curves than Mulholland drive (L.A.s famous serpentine.) He's right. It is a creative, artful plot by a talented, experienced writer. Mickey acquires a high profile, wealthy client facing a serious charge. He sees his chance to author a really big payday. Along the way, however, he discovers true evil and the purity of true innocence; he comes nose to nose with his legendary father's axiom that "there is no client as scary as an innocent man."

In order to free an innocent he risks his license, even his freedom by working behind the scenes to set up another client who personifies pure evil. Along the way, between the covers, is a satisfying page turner. It's not that you can't put it down; it's that you don't want to, and resist the urge except for otherwise unavoidable activities.


Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:03 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

March 27, 2010

The Lost City of Z

A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
David Grann - ISBN 978-1400078455

While not exactly a riveting read, "Z" is a very informative and interesting book about the life and quests of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. He was the most dedicated and famous archaeologist of crossover period of the 19th/20th century, and his final search was for the fabled city: the mythical El Dorado, which he referred to as "Z." It was first described by Carvajal, and the Spanish Conquistadores strove relentlessly in the 16th century to find it.

Fawcett was no less a fanatic than DeSoto and DeVaca, though his quest was for the satisfaction and the glory of (re?)discovery, not conquest or gold. He began as an officer in Britain's military, but quit to seek adventure as an archaeologist and surveyor. For the Royal Geographic Society of London he first went to South America to define the disputed and previously totally unexplored border regions between Brazil and Bolivia. Here he became enamored of the jungle, its terror, its predatory environment and its challenges. He always managed to emerge from his treks intact, surviving adventures which destroyed others who attempted such. He was unflappable and indestructible. Grann makes clear the heroic deeds of Fawcett: his almost inhuman endurance, his dedication, grit and determination . . . and his seeming resistance to virtually all of the health risks posed by this hostile environment.

He chronicles his numerous other adventures, as he pursues the man's biography and psyche in depth. In my opinion he pursued the latter--and some of the adventures as well--to a degree so extreme that it makes the text drag, and at times it's boring. Half-way through I found myself scanning whole pages, sometimes more, to get back into the flow of the interesting part of the narrative. Still, his descriptions of the jungle and its unknowns are fascinating. This is the most predatory environment in the world, with more poisonous plants, animals and bugs than can be imagined. The natives can be as dangerous as well It is a rainforest in which one cannot find potable water; neither can the amateur find food. The Amazon is the size of Continental United States, and includes an island the size of Switzerland. The outflow of the Amazon River is 60 times that of the Nile: 57 million gallons per second. It is 4,000 miles long with a delta 200 miles wide, with tidal variations up to 65 feet and waves which move at 15 mph. 200 miles in the Atlantic you still find fresh water.

The indigenous Indians are savvy beyond belief. They call into the "barren" jungle, and a deer, boar or a monkey answers the call . . . to become food. The average explorer has for centuries limited himself largely to water transport, so the inlands and uplands were, and to great extent still are unexplored. Fawcett went on foot, overland, and discovered things not seen by others, including isolated tribes with which he had a knack of establishing friendly relations. He worked diligently to become reasonably conversant in the native languages. On his last expedition he found and commented upon elevated flatlands where there were hundreds of artifacts--mostly potsherds--in the remotest of places. He had actually found what he was looking for, but didn't recognize it.

He disappeared, along with his son and another young friend; they were never seen again. Numerous search parties were launched over nearly a century. None were successful. The death toll of those adventurers is estimated at over 100. The author was successful! He discloses his own quest in some detail. Having arrived in the area his intensive research had determined to be the probably location of "Z," he encountered an American archaeologist who had lived and studied in the area for 13 years. He undertook to explain, in finality, that El Dorado wasn't and isn't about gold, but about the discovery of an enormous (perhaps a million people) settlement dating from pre-Columbian, and perhaps pre-Christian times, lost in the heart of the Amazon. This was discussed in the book 1491 (reviewed here a year or more ago) in some detail. Atop enormous filled land were circular mounds 3 miles in circumference and connected by roads to at least 20 others in the area. The fill has human fingerprints all over it. These were wholly manufactured fields in this most desolate, infertile "desert jungle." It is estimated to have supported a huge population, the likes of this were never before suspected. They do, however, confirm what the conquistadors reported--massive settlements which, when return expeditions were made a century later, could not be found. They'd been decimated by European diseases before being revisited . . . and in most cases before the Europeans ever arrived. The diseases preceded them.

So Fawcett's quest was in vain because he wasn't looking for what he was looking at! He hadn't correctly interpreted what he found. Not altogether unlike the accidental discovery of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. It was covered by jungle. Overlooked for centuries . . . and Angkor was constructed of stone. "Z" was constructed of perishables, on labor intensive mounds which escaped proper interpretation until the last decade or so.

The book is fascinating and I recommend it highly for those who are interested in Archaeology. Just "fast forward through the boring parts." And if you haven't, you should also read 1491.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 3:30 PM

March 8, 2005

The Man Who Would Be King

(the first American in Afghanistan)

Ben Macintyre – ISBN 0-374201781

This fascinating book is the result of inquiry by an experienced journalist/historian who delved into the almost legendary Josiah Harlan, who undertook to follow his hero, Alexander of Macedon, into and over the Hindu Kush to become ruler of a foreign principality. . . and actually did it. For those aware of this man it was never believed that he had done so, presuming that his stories were fabrication. Though he was the model personage for Rudyard Kipling’s book of the same title no one really thought that Harlan’s claim to have been anointed an Afghani Prince was true. The inquisitive and tenacious Macintyre, however, discovered a chest of Harlan’s memoirs tucked away in an obscure little museum in Pennsylvania, and in it the document which proved his claim.

Harlan’s life is traced from his Quaker origins, thru the documentable actualities of his quest as medicalist/physician, military commander, conquistador, counselor to sheiks, shahs and kings, to the lofty “Prince of Ghor [and] Paramount Chief of the Hazarajat.”

Throughout the book one is treated to detailed discussions of his adventures—the man kept extensive notes—and the outcomes of myriad encounters with the unknown and often the savage. It is interesting to read his discussions of his journey/quest thru India and the Sikh/Indus kingdom. As well, there is an extensive and captivating exposition of the physical beauty of Afghanistan, the lushness of the royal gardens—even the countryside--and the magnificence of its mud brick forts and dwellings. I, for one, had no idea that Afghanistan was ever a place one would wish to live . . . never mind conquer . . . but found mesmerizing his descriptions of this remote and unique place on earth.

This remarkable book is “colorful, exotic, and highly entertaining [from the book jacket].” I agree. It is also informative of the nature of Afghanistan, past and present, since the tribal society is little changed since the early 19th century and the time of Harlan’s “visit.” It is a cautionary tale, as well, and worthy of consideration of the ingrained nature of cultures and invaders . . . especially so Afghanistan.

Read it. You’ll like it. And be informed by it. Well worth the time, or I wouldn’t recommend (or read) it!

Posted by respeto at 1:18 AM

August 2, 2010

The Manchurian President

Barack Obama's Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists
Aaron Klein - ISBN - 9781935071877

This may sound like another rant by some nutty birther, convinced of some wild Russian conspiracy to take over America. It is not! It is written by a responsible, sober journalist in association with a "wicked smart" and effective blogger named Brenda Elliott.

The book is both fascinating and frightening, documenting that "Barack Obama is backed by and deeply tied to an anti-American fringe nexus that . . . was instrumental not only in mentoring Obama and helping him to build his political career, but essentially in overthrowing the moderate wing of the Democratic Party and in securing and powerfully influencing Obama's presidency." It isn't a work of opinion. Throughout it is documented and footnoted, confirming original source materials, and it plainly makes the case that the problem is the real reasons they do what they do: for power, pure and simple. And for all the problems with the Bush administration and evidences of corruption, the boys from Chicago could give anyone lessons in corruption. And cleverly hiding it from those who'd rather not find it (which does not include the authors of this tract.)

It is a critical indictment of Obama, his advisors and their quest to forever alter--ya know, fundamentally change--the American landscape, a goal they have pursued since the 60s. They plan to turn us into their version of what the Soviet Union was supposed to be, until it was taken over by . . . ah . . . well . . . er . . . people like them. Maybe the Russians were more vicious, but give it a while. Many of today's principals went underground for decades, shot cops, bombed public buildings, etc; a majority remains unrepentant, convinced of their wisdom and propriety. Obama's supporters are a Who's Who of radical (often rabid!), left-wing people and organizations, including but not limited to: Communists, communists, socialists, ACORN, the Tides Foundation, the Apollo Alliance, SEIU, MoveOn.org., Ayers, Dohrn, Stern, Soros, Ehrenreich, and Van Jones.

The authors document intimate contacts with Ayers (you remember, the guy from the neighborhood that Obama just happened to meet at a block party) as far back as 1988, and definitively rebut Barack's denials they'd worked closely together over decades. As well it has been confirmed, insofar as possible, that Ayers wrote Obama's memoir (that'd be the one which convinced the world that Barack was an eloquent and creative genius.) "Only in America could an America-hating terrorist [Ayers] conspire with an unskilled writer of uncertain origins [Obama] on an untruthful memoir and succeed in getting the man elected president. This plot is so absolutely rich, so thoroughly cinematic, that the literary gatekeepers refuse to believe it is true." (emphasis mine.)

A majority of leaders in today's non-profit world began in one of the Marxist sects of the 70s; many were trained in the methods of Saul Alinsky--mentor to and icon of left-wing radicals for decades, and the author of Rules for Radials. This is why the vast majority of foundations funded by prominent capitalists such as Rockefeller, Ford, etal. are now so left wing. These radicals have been quietly preparing, and waiting for decades for the emergence of a front man for their movement. Obama is that man. Surely you remember: "We are the people we've been waiting for." In 2008, L. David Alinsky, commented in a letter that "Obama learned his lesson well. . . . I am proud to see that my father's model for organizing is being applied successfully." Indeed. Obama was so effective he became a favorite instructor in Alinskyite tactics for other up-and-coming radicals.

The first time Obama ran for office he did so within the (socialist) New Party, which party was founded by radical Noam Chomsky, Marxist Carl Davidson, black activist Cornel West, Frances Piven, the theoretician behind ACORN, Maoist Bill Fletcher, and radical feminist Barbara Ehrenreich. Great company, right? And, of course, he was fronted and supported by Ayers.

An article in the Socialist Review (Dec 2008) observed: "A lot of the people working with [Obama] are, indeed socialists with backgrounds in the Communist Party, or as independent Marxists. . . . Obama is not a Marxist or a socialist--he is a progressive liberal." Makes me feel a lot better? How 'bout-chew?

Serial and long-term contacts with ACORN and SEIU are documented, as is the intent of that collaboration: to "take down capitalism." Project VOTE is touted as working "within the system" to register poor voters, but their true agenda is to "overwhelm, paralyze, and discredit the voting system through fraud, protests, propaganda and vexatious litigation."

There is considerable exploration aid exposure of Obama's numerous "Czars," along with their backgrounds and intended functions, not least to be able to "advise" (and act) without any scrutiny by Congress, and even less, it seems, by the press. The vast majority are extreme radicals, with most having involved themselves in Marxism and/or Socialism years ago; this while Barack and they deny in public that their agenda is socialist . . . they just want to make it right for all of us. Yep. Noble folk, they is. All of 'em.

Tax "plans" are explored along with "clean energy" and "green jobs;" fig leaves to conceal the far-reaching agenda of progressive social and economic "justice." An entire chapter is dedicated to the Apollo Alliance and the Tides Foundation. Tides is a "public charity" which launders money from people who contribute, but wish to remain separated from what their money actually does. Tides funds the (subsidiary) Tide Center, which in turn (probably) funds Apollo, though "it is nearly impossible to follow--or even find, if you knew where to look--the Apollo Alliance's money." Apollo is very powerful; its stated agenda is the environment, but it actually uses the environmental movement to advance its left-wing political and economic schemes. Several of its originators have been displaced by people more interested political control. We're talking heavy duty hanky-panky here; deeply corrupt and almost certainly illegal. One of its contemporary principals "watched [in horror] the Reagan revolution stall the march toward economic and social justice, and began to hatch sophisticated theories for 'reinvigorating American democracy'."

Needless to say, there is extensive discussion of the evolutionary planning of the Health Care take over recently engineered. That part of it is also scary. The book closes with a prominent "progressive" blogger who takes apart the healthcare bill, herself damning it as dangerous, expensive, and inadequate.

Within are many fascinating asides, some of which are just beginning to be circulated on the net. One which I received only last week appears as a sub-section of this work regarding Obama's invisibility. A fellow graduate from Columbia--same day, same major--insists that he never met Obama, and has never spoken "to a single former Columbia student or faculty member who remembered [him]." Barack claims to have holed up at the library, often missing classes, but no one, regulars or staff at the library, remembers him; there is not a single picture of Obama from that period, not even one where he is mentioned as absent. While he claims to have been active in the Black Student Organization, the former vice-president of that organization was "shocked to learn of his membership." Why all the mystery? Who is he? Obama's Columbia transcript is kept under tight wrap; perhaps he had a "less-than-stellar record, which might raise questions as to how Harvard Law accepted him." Anyone out there concerned about who Obama is or what he represents?

Posted by Curmudgeon at 2:08 PM

December 30, 2006

The March of Folly

From Troy to Vietnam
Barbara Tuchman – 0394527771

From time to time it is worthwhile rereading truly historic history books. This is one of them. Tuchman, one of the great historians of the 20th century, walks us thru governmental policy-making folly, described as “the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved,” compounded by the refusal to draw obvious conclusions from the evidence, with an “addiction to the counter-productive.”

It being appropriate to judge men of the past by their standards, Tuchman demonstrates that the follies she discusses were widely perceived to be so at the time. In this thoughtful exposition she begins with the prototypically folly Trojan horse. She proceeds thru the Renaissance Popes, who authored the Reformation, and Britain’s betrayal of its own beliefs which fomented the Revolutionary War. While mentioning other follies, she moves on to the French in Vietnam, and then to the U.S., which also betrayed its own beliefs in replacing the French to “protect” us all from S.E. Asian communism. It is the latter insurrection which makes this valuable book particularly cogent right now . . . and worthwhile rereading--or reading, if you have not.

She reviews the prodromal history, the pre-war colonial experiences—explicitly those of France in Southeast Asia--and the reasons for French and American failure to prevail . . . “predictable” in her view, if only those in power had bothered to consult with, and reflect upon, history.

She recants Truman’s refusal to answer appeals by Ho Chi Minh (eight times), the wasting of the postwar “goodwill” America had achieved by prevailing over Japan, and quotes General Leclerc, the French commander from 20 years prior, that “It would take 500,000 men to do it [prevail in Vietnam] and even then it could not be done.” We proved it! True . . . with caveats.

We could have, she posits, supported a “communist splinter,” but at the time Tito was a solo act, and no one considered another such deviation possible. That would have “required imagination . . . never a long suit with governments.” Thus we supported “Humpty-Dumpty . . . and all subsequent activity became an effort to justify it.”

Concern over Communism was rational, right and proper, but it was an extrapolation leading to folly that American security was threatened by Southeast Asia. In this I agree. (However, there is a difference between Viet Nam and Iraq, but the misunderstanding of indigenous culture and the blundering into a poorly conceived adventure is much the same.)

Eisenhower, she notes, stated that “the freedom we cherish and defend in Europe is no different than the freedom that is imperiled in Asia.” He was mistaken. As in Iraq—if differently so—there is no freedom, and their needs and aspirations vary considerably from our own. Worse, we simultaneously failed to confront Communism in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary where it probably would have made a difference to both those countries and the cold war.

Administrations from Truman to Johnson muddled along without clear plans until McNamara, the high priest of rational management, stepped into the breech . . . and promptly forgot about accounting for the adversary. Accustomed to playing the margins (as has another business man--Rumsfeld) he put the em-pha’sis on the wrong syl-la’ble. War is polarity, humanity is not rational, and the human factor was not McNamara’s long suit (nor Rumsfeld’s.) Further, we backed the wrong horse in Diem. He didn’t respond to American calls for reform because his interest was opposed. How different is this from the current conundrum in Iraq?

Both McNamara (and Rumsfeld) seemed to believe that “given the necessary material resources and equipment and the correct statistical analysis of relative factors, the job—any job—can be accomplished.” When apparent that isn’t incorrect, well, you stick with the plan because there is no going back. Johnson had to be strong, but “did not feel a comparable impulse to be wise.” There was the illusion of American invincibility; that American will could be made to prevail.

Major policy decisions, she emphasizes, depend more on judgment than simple facts, and policy-makers are no more endowed with that than the average citizen. Advisors find it hard to say no to the President, or to effectively dispute him. Facts are either interpreted to fit the plan or avoided because they do not.

I am hardly alone in disagreeing that Viet Nam was doomed to fail (while it probably was a badly chosen intervention.) All caveats notwithstanding, when Creighton Abrams took over command, and quit counting bodies as had McNamara and Westmoreland, and actually determined a plan for success based on the evidence, we began to make progress, and I believe would have prevailed had the congress not stopped the funding of the war effort. But it’s too late for that, though not too late to consider avoiding repetition.

And I feel we can prevail in Iraq if we change generals, change attitudes and adjust to reality. It appears that we are about to do that. Still, Tuchman’s makes the cogent observation that “absence of intelligent thinking in rulership is another of the universals and raises the question whether in modern states there is something about political bureaucratic life that subdues the functioning of intellect in favor of ‘working the levers’ without regard to rational expectations.”

Tuchman had no inkling of Iraq, but her insights favor repeating the conversation about “What Went Wrong?” It is not news to anyone old enough to read, but Mark Twain commented that while history may not repeat itself it often rhymes.

Overall this is a good and scholarly read . . . provocative, precautionary, cogent, and worth the time, both for history and for commentary on governmental weaknesses and SNAFUs.

Posted by respeto at 10:55 AM

October 27, 2005

The Mind of the Maker

Dorothy L. Sayers – ISBN 0060670770

A compelling and thoughtful book: the author was a mystery writer, a theologian, culture commentator, playwright, and critic of the (mis-)use of the written word. She explores free will, evil, the Christian creeds and the Trinity, amongst other subjects.

This reissued book (from 1941) is only 225 pages, but is a very intense read. Neither an apology for, or an expression of her personal religious beliefs, she does expound on the issues of that—and this—day “in light of specialized knowledge, on a particular set of statements made in the Christian creeds and their claim to be statements of fact.”

At the outset she attacks “illiteracy” (remember, this is 1941) resulting from the neglect by the public to understand the exact meanings of words, thereby missing what is being said . . . “inevitably imposing its own prejudices and questions upon that which it is reading.”

She covers:

Laws of nature and opinion, in which “natural law” as understood within the framework of religious conformity by which man enjoys “true freedom,” explaining how the laws of nature are determinable by experience.

The image of God is her interpretation of the expression “in his own image,” noting that “only the most simple-minded of people . . . have supposed the image to be a physical one.” While she doesn’t get into the accidental/cosmic vs. creationist arguments, her explanations of biblical metaphors used certainly impacts upon that (now) raging discussion.

“All language about everything is analogical; we think in a series of metaphors . . . and explain nothing in terms of itself, but only in terms of other things.” Complaining, then, that man measures God by his own experience is a waste of time inasmuch as man measures everything by his own experience . . . he has, after all, no other yardstick. An illuminating conversation, that!

In the energy revealed in creation, she explores the school of thought “which imagines that God, having created His universe, has now screwed the cap on His pen, put up His feet on the mantelpiece and left the work to get on with itself.” Having created His wonderful machine he now sits back waiting for it to run down for lack of fuel: which first ignores the fact that machines just go on doing the same things over again, and, as well, fails to account for human creativeness.

Free will and miracles, Maker of ill things, and The love of the creature are amongst the remaining subjects explored.

Overall a challenging and thought producing treatise, well worth the time, but be prepared to spend lots of it re-reading . . . and thinking!

Posted by respeto at 11:42 AM

May 30, 2011

The Myth of the Robber Barons

A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America
Burton W. Folsom, Jr. - ISBN - 978-0963020314

This book has been reissued from time to time over 25 years, and takes a look at the "Robber Baron" school of historians who, by and large, got some of the story right, and much of it wrong, but were never able to discriminate between the good guys and the bad. To be sure there were "robbers," but they did not include most of the people identified, as such: Carnegie, Rockefeller, Frick, Ford, Mellon, etal. Rather, Cunard and Collins (bad guys in boat-mail transport to California) used their government authorized monopolies to hamstring mail deliveries while Vanderbilt moved around them and beat them in their game despite their subsidies; he became the primary passenger line as well, beginning in New York. Vanderbilt (definitely one of the good guys) became the richest man in America, proving that federal aid was a curse which killed the competitive spirit. The book offers detailed information.

So it was with the transcontinental railroads. Some insisted that if such was to be, the government would have to subsidize it, or build it. The UP and the CP battled over subsidies and built a railroad full of errors and marked by substandard construction, which rail/bridges/etc. had to be rebuilt while lines were in service at a later date, costing still more money. There was, however, a man named James J. Hill who was building his transcontinental line from St. Paul to Seattle with no federal aid. His proved to be the best built and the least corrupt, not to mention the best run. After initial construction was completed, the UP and CP, even with 44 million acres of free land and over $61 million in loans were nearly bankrupt. Meanwhile Hill was chugging along quite profitably--with lower fares. The primary difference was that the UP and CP undertook to get over/thru hostile territory and environments rapidly (and at government expense); Hill expanded slowly and profitably, since he developed the areas along the way so that there was, at each new termination, a market for his service. He gave settlers free cattle so that he could later move the beef back East. He facilitated wheat farming in order to handle the product for export. As well, he was on site when routes were determined and construction being done. No poor choices of distance, curvatures or grade; no inferior materials or shoddy construction. (It was, after all, his and his investor's money.) In later years this added up to fewer repairs and delays; better service and more loyal customers. And he escaped the regulations which congress imposed upon the others using "government money,"


Political promotion of economic development is futile, for it invariably rewards incompetence. Adam Smith authored this concept over 200 years ago, and all one needs to do today to confirm it is to honestly view what government has subsidized in recent years. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mack brought the world economy low; wind power is enormously expensive and largely unproductive; Carter wasted billions on synfuels; solar power is a joke--it has almost single-handedly bankrupted Spain, etc. One does need to be honest, however !!

Read the book and be enlightened. Therein are multiple examples of why government is seldom the answer to questions beyond its ken, which doesn't include business.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:39 AM

May 21, 2008

The Napoleon of Crime

Ben Macintyre – ISBN – 9780374218994 (1997)

I have previously reviewed Macintyre’s most recent book: The Man Who Would be King (March, 2005). This fascinating book caused me to search for others he had written, and I discovered several which are no longer in print but well worth the trouble to purchase, used. I recommend both and will shortly review The Englishman’s Daughter.

As with “the man,” this book is extraordinarily well researched. It chronicles the life, times and activities of (probably) the most important, and clearly the cleverest thief of the late 19th century. This was an American who spent much of his time in Europe living “like a prince.” He orchestrated extraordinarily brilliant crimes from Turkey to London, and not occasionally in the U.S. Additionally it explores the ethics of the Victorian world, which is a subject worth revisiting.

I wholeheartedly agree with a reviewer quoted on the jacket: “I wish, from this day forward, that everything I learn about history could be channeled through Ben Macintyre’s brilliant sensibility and elegant voice. [His books are] a joy to read. Please, Mr. Macintyre, write more quickly.”

Adam Worth, master thief and the Napoleon of crime, was a gentleman of sorts--if a thief can be so considered; widely respected by law enforcement (including the Pinkertons and Scotland Yard) for his cunning and charity for his confederates and others. Mr. Pinkerton himself observed that “anybody with whom he had a speaking acquaintance could always come to him and receive assistance when he had the power to give it.”

He was almost never present at the scene, but planned robberies and employed diverse types of people for them. The yield over his life was multiple millions of dollars of “merchandise,” which he divided fairly, living profligately on his share.

He neither used, nor permitted to be used, weapons of any kind in the commission of the crimes he authored. The one which made him famous, and “most wanted,” was the theft of one of the more valuable paintings in the world: Gainsborough’s The Duchess of Devonshire; that from a heavily guarded gallery immediately prior to its pending sale to Pierpont Morgan. He kept the painting for decades, sequestered amongst his private things, furtively took it with him on occasion, and finally “surrendered it,” with the help of the Pinkertons, to the original buyer for a fee which was negotiated by them.

It is an engrossing story about the life and times of this man, the times in which he lived, the thrills and travails he experienced. Prophetically, he died penniless, but “what a ride” he had. That excursion is well and authentically told, and certainly worth the read for anyone interested.

Posted by respeto at 1:05 PM

August 28, 2011

The Old Limey

H.W. Crocker III - ISBN - 9780895261625

This historically praised comic novel comes highly recommended by, amongst many others, Christopher Buckley, whose comment was "Until I read The Old Limey, I had no idea that sex, drugs, booze and elderly British generals could be such fun."

It is a daft work in which British humor meets wacky American flair. Set in California, a retired British general arrives to rescue his goddaughter from uncertain harm, thought to have been kidnapped by a Mexican drug gang in order to secure a quarter-of-a-million British pounds previously stolen from a Caribbean drug gang operating in England. Just after he totals his rental car, he meets and teams up with her friends: a pair of typical valley girls, half-gainfully self-employed in an image consulting business, who speak in a vernacular he can hardly understand (ya know . . . like . . . and he goes . . . then she goes . . . etc.) one of whom is promptly kidnapped. Nigel (the general) promptly sets out with the other half of the pair to rescue the captive, which task he engineers by disarming his well armed foes with nothing but a taser gun, and leaves with both girls and a handful of captured weapons.

And that's only the beginning. Along the way, after being struck on the head, he fantasizes about converting Islam in order to justify the acquisition four wives (he's a lifelong bachelor), only to decide against it because Fergie (the former Duchess of York) is destined to be one of them. He has other equally wacky fantasies to embellish the story line, many dealing with various postings around the globe during his military career. And there's much adversity along with many challenging adventures.

After several more run-ins with the Los Angeles, San Diego and Mexican police, the FBI, the border patrol, several drug gangs and the wacked out (former Green Beret) father of one of the girls, he succeeds in accomplishing his original mission, as all ends happily, and wholly, unpredictably nutty.

It is, indeed, a fun read. I have to admit, however, that several of Buckley's books are better: Florence of Arabia, and Thank You for Smoking, as is Christopher Moore's Lamb.

Still, it's worth the price of admission if you're in the mood for diversion and a spate of laughs.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:40 PM

October 15, 2005

The Other Greeks

(The family farm and the agrarian roots of Western civilization)
Victor Davis Hanson – ISBN – 0029137519

Herein Hanson chronicles the little known history of the yeoman farmers. These were the original, independent land owners: people who seldom farmed more than 10 acres, but those few very intensively. They were free to implement new ideas and develop proven routines, take their own risks and profits . . . and they were the ones who actually established the city states of ancient Greece. The end of the Greek Dark Ages (1,000 BC) represented a rare time in history wherein, with the collapse of prior dynastic rule, men were judged by competence and work, not inherited wealth or birth. Economic success and independence were possibilities, based upon productivity alone.

Noting that we tend to think in terms of Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alcibiades, Aeschylus, etal, he informs that these were all “followers-on” to the original founders of the polis—simple and successful farmers, all. The glue holding this together seems to have been a common subscription to the simple values of the agrarian ideology, even by those of wealth, as well as the landless poor.

As he often does, the author laments and emphasizes the downfall of Western culture, including the educational vacuum surrounding history. (In that regard, I recommend his treatise: The Death of Homer, in which he explores in detail this threatening dilemma.)

“In the twilight of classical studies in this country [it should be better known] that the Greeks were not distant, unapproachable grandees, the property now of a few thousand well-educated Westerners (present day niche academics.) Instead, the Hellenes were resourceful farmers who devised their own society intended to protect and to advance their brand of agriculture. Their achievement was the precursor in the West of private ownership, free economic activity, constitutional government, social notions of equality, decisive battle, and civilian control over every facet of the military—practices that affect every one of us right now. In this light, Greek agriculture is not a different approach to the traditional questions of Western civilization but a topic now vital to the existence of our own culture.”

Four centuries before the appearance of Imperial Athens (about 800 BC), these yeomen worked out a system wherein small land owners banded together to provide for the common defense and promote their general welfare, thus to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. The accumulation of wealth and property appears to have been actively discouraged. This, in turn, led to peace and prosperity for the many. There is no prior record in history of such a development.

In the ensuing centuries they produced the abundance of food which enhanced the earliest cities in which other productive citizens, freed from the necessity of food production, were able to become craftsmen and merchants. Prolific production created plenty, and were able to export to regional neighbors, food and other products, creating the capital with which to improve and stabilize their cities--the “meeting places” wherein the problems and dilemmas of the day were discussed and voted upon.

Only the landowners were able to afford the armaments with which they protected themselves, and only those who farmed and fought were permitted to govern. Therein arose the original armies of democrats—the Greek citizen infantry--imbued with attitudes of cooperation and the value of individual life. They fought as a unit and were able to defend their own territories, saving lives and limiting military expenditures. Their primary philosophy was defensive, not offensive, and they valued protecting themselves from harm over inflicting casualties. Rarely did they go beyond the bordering lands, and felt they lost the moral high ground by invading the home territories of another clan/city state.

Only later did there develop “radical democracy” in which many of the citizens were permitted to vote, and much of this was attendant the growing wealth of the cities, with merchants and freed slaves who were included in the voting public. Still later the oarsmen of the Greek armadas were permitted the vote. Ultimately, the demands of the Peloponnesian wars and the Persian menace undercut the attitudes of the yeoman agriculturalist, and spelled the doom of Greece, classical and otherwise, permitting the rise of Philip, and Alexander, of Macedon.

“Many of the cherished ideals of Athenian culture and even some of its most exalted notions of Greek philosophy may owe their origins to the experience and aspirations of Attic peasantry.” Facts which ought to be taught, considered and understood!

So the origins of what we consider classical Greece were, in fact, the result of the labors and thoughts of the common man . . . the same sort as those who eventually built the United States. In searching for the genesis of our own culture we need look to the unique circumstances in the early Greek countryside, not simply to Imperial Athenian democracy. Look, that is, to individual effort and success, not the famous intellects of Imperial Athens.

Indeed, the subsequent development of large corporate farms, hired labor, mercenary service and sea power with their attendant horrendous expense, and participation of all citizens in politics regardless of property ownership was ultimately responsible for the erosion of the original concept of the polis and the eventual failure of Imperial Greece. Few now know that the lauded history of classical, antiquarian Athens lasted only a few of generations. Half of that life was under the rule of Pericles, and it began to fail immediately following his death in an epidemic of plague.

It is a fascinating read, and one which explores previously unplumbed depths.


Posted by respeto at 12:26 PM

August 27, 2011

The Panic Virus

A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear
Seth Mnookin - ISBN - 9781439158647

A perfect introduction to this missive would be Chris Mooney's observation that "Expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts."

It is an exceptionally well researched and plainly written book. He deals with vaccinology, law and precedent, psychology and fraud, as well as the politics and marketing of ideas and products, as he delves into the hysteria created by under-informed people who depend upon anecdotal information certified to be true by other under-informed people as they swarm about the internet; as well, the disastrous consequences of failing to educate the public regards risks and realities of infectious disease control. This fosters a too frequent, willing blindness to conflicts of interest of the profiteers in our midst, most of whom have specific agendas, and many are grotesque frauds.

Politicians and glitterati are easily convinced that there exists an institutional arrogance and power within the drug and vaccine industry. (Ted Kennedy was a poster boy for these kinds of conclusions, with Oprah, Morning Joe, Imus and others in the cheering section.) Winfrey, he opines, claims to be a neutral disseminator of information, "which dodge is offered so frequently as to easily overlook how absurd it really is."

Both reason and science are under siege today by groups of (not always) well intentioned folks, many of whose backgrounds have not prepared them to interpret relevant data. Mnookin, an accomplished investigative journalist, undertakes herein to look objectively at both sides of myriad concerns, including vaccine and/or mercury poisoning as linked to autism, and the recrudescence of dangerous, often lethal infectious diseases, controlled for years by vaccines, which modern parents lamentably prevent their children from receiving. Diseases formerly all but obliterated are now experiencing new life because parents do not have their children vaccinated--against the universal recommendations by experts. Rather, they depend on their ignorance, and the reassuring fact that "most other children will be vaccinated" so why expose their children to the remote risks of said vaccinations?

One can relate to the parental agony, and be put off by the wanton solicitations of "hope" (and litigation) of those who experience real complications of meaningful therapies and prevention; and by extension the agony of illnesses not otherwise explained, but one must not be caught up in the "straight lines" implied by those willfully offering hope and just restitution thru litigation, which fiascos are simultaneously humorous, farcical and sobering. Driven parents, assisted by self-interested lawyers and complicit "experts," such litigation is expensive and expansive. One can see--if not condone, or even understand--that many of those litigants actually believe in all of this, yet the ridiculousness of pseudo-sciences and public confusion of similar sounding situations is appalling. Hundreds of millions of kids have been vaccinated, and few have complications. Still, complications do occur, which is why there is reason for committees of experts to award legitimate claimants appropriate remuneration for their individual difficulties. In this context he reviews in detail the many, if rare, complications documented and carefully studied, and the incidences thereof.

A ponderous discussion surrounds the diagnosis of Autism. He explains the facts and the dangers of the diagnosis as follows: "clinicians are more likely to give a child a diagnosis which [is thought] to help the child receive the best services or school placement [rather than some other problem which] will not facilitate the best form of intervention." This contributes mightily to the fact that autism, once considered uncommon if not rare, is suddenly said to afflict 1/109 children. The situation is similar for ADHD, which is not to say that neither exists, but to state that neither is anywhere near as common as is implied by current statistics.

What he refers to as the hyper-democratization of data has unmoored information from the context required to understand it. Many people making comments are too ignorant of the subjects to hold reasoned opinions, as they insist their representations are factual. Feelings, personal experiences and intuition are far more important to these folks, and seriously impact the interpretation of information they find littering the information highway. A considerable number of these people are well educated, successful, and some occupy positions of power. When they opine, more than a few people listen. Their "pervasive manner of thinking [runs] counter to the principles of deductive reasoning that have been the foundation of rational society since the Enlightenment."

Why, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, do these people remain adamant in their beliefs? Only irrationality can explain it, and it is dangerous. Their trenchant if mistaken analyses tend to gain more comment from the press--bolstered by politicians and celebrities--than the reasoned approach of scientists. Contrary to some representations, not all perspectives are equal; nor are they all legitimate. Only by offering the correct information--which he herein tries to do--can these situations be improved; a situation in which academia, medical science and government ought to be more intelligently and rationally involved.

The book is a major contribution to righting the wrongs of the present conundrum, and well worth a read.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:49 PM

November 27, 2006

The Pirate Coast

Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805
Richard Zacks – ISBN – 9781401308490

This is a too comprehensive elaboration of the United States first over-seas intervention: the “take down” of the Barbary Pirates. For hundreds of years these Muslim raiders had been the scourge of Mediterranean shipping, extracting bribes from all of the countries of Europe to “permit” safe passage of their vessels. Under the aegis of England the U.S. had been spared, but as a free nation the Pirates began to attack American vessels, capturing them and their crews and demanding “tribute.”

The frigate USS Philadelphia was captured and its crew of 300+ was enslaved (which event authored the old saw: “Millions for defense, but not a Cent for tribute.”) Unhappy—but not altogether unwilling—to pay ransom for ship and crew, Jefferson agreed to a raid on the Libyan port of Tripoli. Here Stephen Decatur (Jr.) distinguished himself by leading an attack crew into the harbor, capturing the ship and burning it, in the process doing damage to the port and other ships. The event was accomplished with no casualties and was considered one of the most daring of undertakings of the era. It enshrined Decatur forever as an authentic American hero.

Since the crew was not freed another plan was advanced, encouraged by William Eaton, an intensely patriotic American citizen. He undertook to rally (and pay) many who had independent quarrels with the Tripolitans. His “army” included Muslims and Christians, Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Marmelukes, Tripolitans and even a Tyrolean, plus 8 U.S. Marines; hundreds in all, with 400 hundred of horses and 105 camels. They eventually crossed 500+ miles of desert from Egypt to Tripoli to unseat the ruling Pasha (this, without a map!—a feat not accomplished for over 1000 years)

And this is where the difficult arises. Zacks reviews every detail of the undertaking, missing only “potty breaks” by the warriors. He does, of course, give a detailed discussion of construction of latrines. Every quarrel, every rainstorm, every quest for water . . . it’s all there. It rapidly becomes a tiresome book crammed with far too much detail. And since it is dense, it is difficult to skim. Frankly, while I was very much looking forward to it, I finally gave up half way thru. It is impossible to scan the tome for fear of overlooking some important detail in the endeavor, and equally impossible to consider wading thru it for information.

Guess I’ll have to read about the Marines trip “to the shores of Tripoli” in some other format.

For those interested in a day by day exposition of events, down to the finest of detail, this is such a book. For others more interested in just what happened, a dedicated editor could have encouraged and developed a much better book.


Posted by respeto at 12:10 PM

March 1, 2008

The Professor and the Madman

A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Simon Winchester – ISBN – 9780060839789

This fascinating saga is well told by Winchester. The protagonists are Dr. James Murray, editor of the dictionary, and Dr. Wm. Minor, a crucial contributor: Yale graduate, American physician in the Civil War, and schizophrenic “madman” convicted of, and incarcerated for, a bizarre murder in the slums of London.

Murray’s mission was to replace the only dictionary of record: that of Dr. Samuel Johnson, whose rendering had been in existence for over 100 years, and was in its fourth edition.

The author reviews principal biographic details of Murray and Minor, while briefly mentioning others and their contributions to this monumental work. He describes in well selected detail the development of this mind-numbing project which involved 10 times the word count of Johnson’s, and required 10 times as long to complete. It required sorting thru 6 million word-slathered slips of paper compiled by hundreds of unpaid volunteers (over 10,000 from Minor, alone.) In so doing he delivers an absorbing story which otherwise would have been a boring dissertation on an arcane subject.

He deftly chronicles the adventure from initial miscalculations, thru ill suited editors, to reluctant publishers, and ends describing Minor’s exacting standards and methods which endeared him to Murray. Amongst myriad other contributors Murray valued Minor’s “astonishing accuracy and eye for detail.”

Over a period of 30 years Minor became the equivalent of “just in time” production, a century before it was adopted by manufacturers. Every time Murray was struggling over a difficult word-- be it the definition or examples--he contacted Minor, who invariably had it already prepared.

Only after years into the endeavor did Murray discover that Minor was confined to a prison for the criminally insane; and only after that meeting did they establish a friendship which lasted for decades. Murray was instrumental in having Minor released and returned to America in his dotage. Sadly, Minor died in obscurity and was buried in New Haven, CT, in an old cemetery near what now is a slum.

There is much to be discovered about the Victorian era, language, a peculiar friendship and an elaborate unfolding of the line between sanity and madness. It is eloquent testimony to Simon’s own exacting standards of research and his incredible writing skills.

This is my idea of something “light” to read in leisure time, as opposed to murder mysteries and most modern fiction.

Posted by respeto at 5:36 PM

April 3, 2007

The Revenge of Gaia

Earth’s Climate Crisis & the Fate of Humanity
James Lovelock – ISBN 9780465041688