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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thomas Jefferson - The Art Of Power

I liked Jon Meacham’s new biography, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.” It is a good book. It’s not as great as the authors American Lion, his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Andrew Jackson. While Meacham is a highly skilled wordsmith (he is one of those journalists turned historian) and his research is impeccable, he does tread the middle ground a bit too much in this book.  As you are probably are aware, Mr. Jefferson’s reputation has taken a beating in recent years. It’s all about hypocrisy. The man who brought us “all men are created equal” had slaves.  Considering the times though, while he made some motions early on towards eliminating slavery later he talked out of both sides of his mouth. Promising some he was against it and would work to end the institution and then continuing to live the live the life and do nothing about it. Meacham deftly avoids much of this subject, says little about his   black mistress and mother of many of his children.  Much of what Mr. Meacham has to say about Jefferson repeated frequently, is that he was both philosopher and politician but could be pragmatic when theory and reality were at odds. Though he was an idealist but was also able to be practical and could compromise in an burgeoning era of extreme partisanship. All and all in todays similar climate there were some good lessons  for today.  I’m sure the book will be very popular and will give it a B+.

 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Washington & Jefferson Go Fishing

Reading voraciously has been a lifelong habit for me.  For enjoyment, knowledge, and sometimes retreat from the cares of life and the world.  Thus appalled by the news of the slaughter of innocents in Connecticut on Friday, I fled to Jon Meacham’s wonderful new biography Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power. I was as far as Chapter 23 Page240.  Thus –
“There was a late snow in New York in the last week of April 1790. Not long afterward President Washington became so ill that he was thought to be dying. By early June, however, the president was well enough to take Jefferson along on a fishing trip off Sandy Hook. Jefferson, ever practical and optimistic, hoped any seasickness would ”carry off the remains of my headache.”

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people using guns. I wonder if these two founding fathers and the others who added the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution could see these massacres, in modern America,  would they say “this is what we had in mind when guaranteeing citizens right to keep and bear arms?”  Loading a black powder musket would likely not allow someone to kill dozens of children in minutes much less seconds…..   It’s time to move on into the 21st century and deal with the problems we face now.  Are you listening Judge Scalia?  Probably not

Monday, December 10, 2012

War by Sebastian Junger


War by Sebastian Junger author the Pulitzer Prize winning The Perfect Storm. 
Introduction  This book is not about the politics, cultural perspective nor the strategy of this war.  It is really about the nature of war itself and what is does to the very young Americans who mostly fight it.   I found it especially interesting because I had several high school students who came back from the country wounded in more ways than one....

Book 1  Fear
Korengal Valley, Afghanistan Spring 2007
By cowardice I do not mean fear. Cowardice… is a label we reserve for something a man does.  What passes through his mind is his own affair.
Lord Moran, The Anatomy of Courage
Book 2 Killing
We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
Winston Churchill (or George Orwell)

Book 3 Love
The coward’s fear of death stems in large part from his incapacity to love anything but his own body. The inability to participate in others’ lives stands in the way of his developing any inn resources sufficient to overcome the terror of death.
J Glenn Gary, The Warriors

 For five years American soldiers manned a series of outposts in the most godforsaken part of Afghanistan.  Near the border of Pakistan the tactical object was to interdict Taliban fighters and supplies crossing the border. Forty two American died in a tiny place where Junger spent part of a year living with the American troops in small outposts under siege. This is the story of those men.

For those interested in what the ground war in Afghanistan is really like at the tip of the spear, this is the book to read.  My summary of the book is from  William Tecumseh Sherman: "War is hell."

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Blood Of Free Men


In June and July of 1944  the Allies were bogged down in the hedgerows of Normady, and the fate of Paris hung in the balance.   Warsaw, Antwerp, and Monte Cassino—were, or would soon be, reduced to rubble as the Allies pushed on to defeat the Nazi monsters.  But Paris endured, thanks to a divided cast of characters, from Resistance cells and Free French to an unlikely assortment of diplomats, Allied generals, and governmental officials.  Popular perception in the long run coalesced on certain views of what happened. Some of it true. Other parts not….

In The Blood of Free Men,  historian Michael Neiberg  traces the forces vying for Paris, providing a revealing new look at the city’s dramatic and triumphant resistance against the Nazis. Saving Paris was not a sure thing that might have led to this beautiful city being utterly destroyed.  The Allies were intended to go aroun Paris focuses on trapping the German army west of the Rhine.   Many, but not all,  of Paris’s citizens had chosen to lay low and survive upon the Germans quick and surprising defeat of the French army in 1940    In August of 1944  they had to act as the Allied armies ever so slowly approached and the city was starving. Then the city rose and that along with clever diplomacy, and last-minute aid from the Allies, managed to save the City of Lights. An intriguing story for sure.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Teacher Man


Frank McCourt grew up in exceptionally unhappy circumstances. He was born in  America and then left for Ireland with his parents eventually moving back and forth several times. Then he became a teacher in New York City’s public schools. He retired after thirty years in the classroom and more than a decade ago Frank McCourt became an unlikely star when, at the age of sixty-six, he burst onto the literary scene with Angela's Ashes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his childhood in Limerick, Ireland. As a retired teacher myself, I read the story of his teaching career titled appropriately enough as Teacher Man. I was both intrigued and appalled. 

The book is both strong and irreverent.  For a reader grown increasingly tired of the barrage of criticism of public education Teacher Man comes across as a tribute to teachers everywhere. The book records the trials, triumphs and surprises of teaching in big city public high schools. Teacher Man shows the author building on his honesty, creativity and ability to tell a great story as, day after day, year after year, he worked to gain the attention and respect of eventually thousands of students. These were students who often presented more than the average share of adolescent problems and misbehavior.

I grew up in the Twin Cities but spent my teaching career in rural Minnesota. McCourts career in New York City was alien territory to me. He portrays himself as a really bad teacher. I  find this suspect as it seems unlikely that he would ever have been given the jobs he got, nor would he have been allowed to continue with his completely unorthodox teaching methods.  He survived and eventually students clamored to be in his classes….

I’d rate this book a really good read.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flight Behavior


Sometimes there are good fiction authors I've overlooked.  My excuses include my belief that American fiction hit a decline several decades ago to be surpassed by history and biography. Historical fiction did keep pace though. The name Barbara Kingsolver was not unknown to me because many of my friends, blogging and otherwise, had mentioned her.  I knew she was popular with many female readers and not favored by the elitist critics. The same type who don’t like historians who become wildly popular. Hmmm.

I read  my first and her latest,  Flight Behavior.  Her writing is full of striking analogies, glowing adjectives and is very  evocative. Yes, the book centers around the misunderstandings of social class , culture and the facts and the ignorance surrounding  climate change.  In other words,  it would get a bad review on cable if anybody on Fix News read anything other than Ayn Rand (assuming they read anything at all)
Kingsolver has a background in science which she seamlessly combines with wonderful prose. There aren’t many who can do that.  The story revolves  around the struggles  of a young Appalachian woman on the brink of fleeing from a unfulfilling marriage and the flight of Monarch butterflies. displaced from their winter home in Mexico by climate change. The flights, both personal and ecologically based, bring readable science and intriguing characters to the forefront.  This is a book with a good heart. I loved it….

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lincoln

Mrs. T , friends Steve, Jewel and I took in the much talked about Spielberg film Lincoln recently. Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and a host of other well known actors, the film focuses on the period shortly after Lincoln’s reelection in January 1865.   Lincoln  knows that the North is going to win the war and is already focusing on “binding up the nations wounds” and making sure slavery is no more forever and ever.   Three commissioners from the Confederacy head up to Washington City, and Lincoln is confident that he could have their surrender within a week. But before that can happen, he is driven to pass the 13th Amendment, which would outlaw slavery. The Democrats hate the amendment, and even Lincoln's  Republican comrades want him to delay the vote. Only Lincoln grasps the stakes: that once the Civil War is over, the amendment won't pass — it will be blocked by the Southern states. Winning the war could prove a Pyrrhic victory. Only by threading the amendment through the eye of a legislative needle can he alter the course of history. Thus the film is really the story of an often overlooked side of Lincoln – his political genius. For those who have read Doris Kearns Goodwins  wonderful book, A Team of Rivals  this is old news and the film is partly based on that book. 
Daniel Day Lewis was Lincoln just a Merly Streep could be Julia Childs or Margaret Thatcher. Oddly enough though, it was the old detective and hard boiled crime stopper Tommy Lee Jones who astonished me as abolishonist Thadeous Stevens . Sally Fields was also spot on as Mary Todd Lincoln.
This is a great film of ideas.  It clearly has current relevance given our presently divided nation and government. I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Setting The World Ablaze


Book Review: SETTING THE WORLD ABLAZE: WASHINGTON, ADAMS, AND JEFFERSON AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (by John Ferling).  Professor John Ferling is  considered one of the a top experts on the American Revolution. He  teaches at a college in Georgia. His account of that time naturally attracted my interest as I do love American History. 
John Ferling provides an  insightful portrait of three men who led the rebellion of the American colonies against Great Britain. Ferling compares and contrasts Washington with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, providing  an interesting case study of the factors that enabled a few remarkable men to go with the flow of  history and ultimately shape it.
Comparative history humanizes and adds depth to historical figures. The authors scholarly approach (think footnotes et. all.) to his subject  might remind one of the old school, boring,  approach to historical writing but Ferling overcomes this tendency with an evocative and dramatic writing style.  Washington comes across, not as an icon but as a living breathing human being, who has a few less than perfect points and lot of goods ones.
Not so much for Jefferson. Ferling had one thing good to say about him: the man could write. And that's about it. He was a lousy leader, a self indulgent  and rich Virginia planter, he was a racist who pretended to be otherwise.

And then there's Adams. Ferling's thesis here was that Adams, while ambitious,  did everything in his power to assure the independence of the colonies. I do think this book goes a long way to reinforce the impression many people got from reading  David McCulloughs Pulitzer Prize winning biography on John Adams. That is to say, that Adams supremely important role in the American Revolution had been vastly underrated and largely ignored.
I found this book to be a very honest a fascinating read…..

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Faith of St. Nick

As we approach the beginning of the Advent Season, I just finished reading  The Faith of St. Nick: An Advent Devotional by Ann Nichols.   Ann is a fellow blogger whose unusual and always interesting blog ( http://www.stnicholasandchristmas.com/) focuses on the history of St. Nicholas (a.k.a.), Santa Claus and the many beautiful Greek Orthodox churches throughout the world dedicated to him. Which brings me back to the his faith.
The day by day  devotional tells the story of   the life and faith of the man who was Nicholas of Myra.  Known and revered thoughout Christianity this  man of great faith this iconic figure became the  role model for Santa Claus.   Each days topic includes scripture, history of the saints life and devotions. It is readable for children and would be especially great for parents to read to or with their children.  Think Christmas gifts as Mrs. T and I did....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Longest Trip Home

Looking for something I hadn’t read in our small town library I ran across a book by John Grogan titled The Longest Way Home.  You remember John Grogan the author of the memorable Marley and Me. Followed up by the movie of the same name starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. This book has to be good, I thought. And so it was…

It turned out not to  be a book about another dog. Instead, it was a family memoir, anecdotal and at the same time heart rending, funny, and deeply moving. Grogan grew up in a deeply pre-Vatican II Irish/ Catholic family, along with three siblings. Grogan was the family brat who get into constant trouble (think lovable Marley). He was trying to be a loyal son while slowly heading down his own lifes path of vocations and opinion.   That is to say he  evolved from apathetic student to anti-establishment underground newspaper editor and found his calling with the encouragement of a high school English teacher. Ultimately, his parents' religious dream for their children created a rift. Grogan failed to share their strict Catholic faith - Sundays were for sleeping in, sex before marriage didn't condemn him to damnation - and finally stops hiding that fact. They tried to avoid the subject, but the religion that bound the young John to his parents separated the adult John from them. The "trip home" in the title described his attempts to cross that divide, with a satisfying result.   This is a great story of how the author painfully redefines his relationship with his parents and copes with their aging. But best of all, his stories of their unconditional love despite his abundant youthful mischief is very satisfying This isn't Marley, the sequel. It's about life before Marley, life in the 1960s and 1970s and how that shaped life in all the decades that have followed.

Not having been raised in a Catholic household I found some of the anecdotes  hard to believe. But then what did I know?  Many of the events of the 60’s and 70’s left me as puzzled as my parents. Coming from a more liberal Protestant tradition some of the social/cultural  changes of that era seemed more natural and necessary. Grogans book though reminded that in the end the tie that binds the best is that of family….

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

American Empire


As some of you may know I’m a huge fan of authentically based and well written popular history, biography and historical fiction. Think Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Godwin, Shelby Foote and many others. They took history away from pedantic boredom and brought it to the masses with the verve of real storytelling. Or the writers of fiction like Coleen McCullough  and Ken Follet who brought the past alive with wonderful writing surrounding an aura of historical accuracy.

Now comes Professor Joshua B Freeman’s American Empire – The Rise of a Global Power The Democratic Revolution At Home 1945-2000.  It’s densely factual and slow to read. Old school with footnotes you might say. And yet, I couldn’t put it down.  Perhaps it brought out the inner “history geek” in me.  But not really. This is a book that I found by turns both fascinating and appalling. Fascinating in that it tied together all the things about the last thirty years in our countries development that I disliked and showed how they were connected.  And appalling in that the pervasiveness of the trends that brought those developments  about and their interconnections seems likely to mean that they will be with us for a long time.

In “American Empire,’’, the United States emerges as an empire with a character all its own — modern, often subtle, but unmistakably powerful. The author demonstrates how postwar economic growth helped spur the great process of democratization that placed America in the first rank among nations in terms of standard of living and basic rights for all citizens. Yet, along with the rise of consumerism, globalism and prosperity, the power shifted from the public to the private realm, specifically corporate. From the 1970s onward, Freeman shows how incipient economic inequality, unharnessed military spending and burgeoning political conservatism threatened to check much of that social progress at the end of the century. The expansion of government with the New Deal promoting socially benevolent programs generated an ongoing debate about whether government should be a muscular arm of progressive reform in the fashion of FDR or more restrained, the latter conservatism given new energy by Barry Goldwater’s ascendancy in 1960. Freeman comes down fairly hard on Kennedy’s “hyperbolic rhetoric” and “obsession with manhood and virility,” while the sections on LBJ and the “democratic revolution” of the 1960s, including civil-rights legislation and the antiwar movement, are masterly and thorough. With the dawn of the ’70s, the country moved from “dreams to nightmares,” from equal rights for women and gays toward an utter contempt for government amid Watergate, urban decline, manufacturing shutdowns, stagflation, new corporate models, deregulation and Reaganism. Fascinating yes.  Appalling as well……  

 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Retorts


Some of history's greatest replies come from people we don't usually associate with great wit. In the decades prior to World War II, Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi led a massive campaign of civil disobedience designed to help colonial India win its independence from the British Empire. In 1931, shortly after being named Time magazine's "Man of the Year," Gandhi traveled to London to meet with British authorities. The entire nation was curious to learn more about this little brown man, as many called him. Constantly swarmed by press and photographers, Gandhi was peppered with questions wherever he went. One day a reporter yelled out, "What do you think of Western civilization?" It was a defining moment, and Gandhi's reply instantly transformed him from an object of curiosity into a celebrity. In his heavy Indian accent, he answered:
Gandhi: "I think it would be a good idea."
Perhaps the most celebrated retort in the history of wit occurred in a famous exchange between two 18th century political rivals, John Montagu, also known as the Earl of Sandwich, and the reformist politician, John Wilkes. During a heated argument, Montagu scowled at Wilkes and said derisively, "Upon my soul, Wilkes, I don't know whether you'll die upon the gallows, or of syphilis" (some versions of the story say "a vile disease" and others "the pox"). Unfazed, Wilkes came back with what many people regard as the greatest retort of all time:
JohnWilkes" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress. "

George Bernard Shaw (to Winston Churchill): Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend - if you have one.
Churchill: Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend second - if there is one.
And Troutbirder sez "I often come up with good retorts but they are  usually about three days too late.".....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Red Baron, The Black& Tan Baron & Snoopy

Manfred von Richthofen:
The Red Baron - The first Red Baron was one of those heroes whose life seems almost scripted. Discipline, pride, hunting skills, and Teutonic patriotism all combined in this man, bringing him to the pinnacle of fame which long outlasted the man himself. But Richthofen was no caricature, methodically claiming 80 aerial victories, before falling himself, in a Wagnerian finale.

Snoopy von Peanuts und Schultz.
"Curse you, Red Baron," cried Snoopy, the Mitty-esque canine ace of Charles Schultz' Peanuts comic strip. Courage, determination, & perserverance against insuperable odds, characterized this indomitable canine, who launching from his doghouse, threw himself into the sky against the German flying ace.












Baron von Goofus Und Katsenjaegger The ambusher supreme. He stalks and waits for the moment to strike. Unfortunately his feline enemies(the neighbors tribe of  semi-wild cats)  know the boundaries of the electric invisible fence border which confines Baron's attacks on the maruading song bird killers. His commander in chief (Troutbirder) is sympathetic to this cause but wishes to prevent forays into foreign territory, thus avoiding incidents with the neighbors. Baron also defends the homeland territory against intrusions by the squirrel tribe.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Unfaithful Queen


From the title,  those inclined  to prejudgment are likely to think “slut” “bimbo” etc.  Of course, her husband, the king, is no longer a prize either.  The once handsome and athletic king is now fat, ill , bad tempered and on his fifth wife.          Oh and his only surviving son and heir is very sick. This can’t end well.   

Young Catherine Howard was doomed from the start when she became the fifth wife and queen to the  King Henry VIII. Catherine was the cousin of his tragic second wife, Anne Boleyn and became proof that history can often repeat itself. In "The Unfaithful Queen" by Carolly Erickson, the story of Catherine Howard, another executed wife of Henry VIII has her story told.

 

The novel begins with Catherine's youth and young adulthood as an impoverished member of the rich and powerful  Howard family. Used, abused and neglected as a young girl by family and acquaintances  Catherine witnesses the execution of her cousin, Anne Boleyn who was once the beloved wife and queen of Henry VIII that leaves an imprint on her life. Spunky but na├»ve the men around take what they can.  After his third wife Jane Seymore dies in childbirth the king is “forced”  to marry Anne of Cleves for political reasons. King Henry is eventually charmed by young Catherine especially when he realizes she is the daughter of his once beloved mistress, Jocasta. When his marriage to the homely and difficult Anne of Cleves falls apart, Henry VIII makes the young Catherine his bride, completely unaware of her romantic past. The marriage is not a success though. King Henry's moods frighten Catherine and she struggles to give a child to the impotent king. Frustrated by her life, Catherine continues previous  romantic and passionate affair with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman in the king's chamber. Her family and lover all seem to think that if Tom fathers a son and the King thinks it’s his everything will work of find. The old codger is likely to last much longer anyway. Catherine's past eventually catches up to her as does her present romance and she is left discarded, forgotten, and eventually executed by the king, the same fate as her cousin who she once watched be executed. "The Unfaithful Queen" is the story of a young woman's rise and downfall, all due to having a past.

I must say I did find some sympathy for Catherine Howard but then again this whole collection of troubled, vindictive and conniving people wasn’t all that attractive. I suspect that the portrayal of some of them was more fictional than historical. I do like historical fiction. The young woman with the troubled background, Catherine Howard, deserved a better shake then….. and in this book.

 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The One Percent Doctrine


Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and bestselling author Ron Suskinds One Percent Doctrine is the inside story of the early genesis and development of George Bushes “war on terror.”  It is nonfiction and contains many exclusive, historically significant disclosures telling what went on behind the scenes.
The  guiding principle is known as The One Percent Doctrine. This is the secretive watchword and strategy, designed by Dick Cheney, which divides America from its founding democratic principles of law and justice It was this “principle” which led our country down the avenue of   decision making being separated from real facts and analysis. Instead “gut” instincts on the part of the President, the paniced and faulty reasoning of the Vice President and his neo-con allies, led to an unmitigated disaster at home and abroad. It was politicized incompetence at its worst.

Were Americas intelligence agencies unprepared before and after the World Trade Towers fell? Yes. But they learned and got better.   Unfortunately, the vital facts they learned and the prescient analysis they came up with was basically ignored by the Bushies. And the prime mover and conniver there was Dick Cheney, who formulated an overriding "one percent" doctrine: threats with even a 1% likelihood must be treated as certainties. Cherry picking and only the few facts that coincided with their previously ill informed conclusions was the result.  I think a reading of this book published in 2005 is essential reading for anyone interested in how the operating mechanisms of our government were changed.  Summing up - one word comes to mind…… appalling.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Football

The Sweet Season is by Austin Murphy who
has for years has covered major college football and the NFL. After fifteen years of traveling about half of
the year, while contending with the antics
of the spoiled major-level athletes of today (both
professionals and so-called amateurs), in 1999
Murphy took a leave of absence in order to temporarily move
with his family to Minnesota while
he wrote a book. The project he had in mind was to spend a
full season covering the 1999 campaign of the St. John's University team which plays Division III football under the guidance of legendary Coach John Gagliardi. Gagliardi
was probably the initial focus of the book as he closed in on the all-time
record for coaching wins, but almost immediately Murphy and
his family were instead captivated and rejuvenated by the alluring and low-key life of small college America, along with
many of the personalities around the school and its top-flight football team. For each week of the season the author beguiles us with
stories of on-campus events leading up to the game and the gradual growing together of his family under the charms of the rural town
and its school. This is a good book about small college football
that goes well beyond the action on the field. It at once creates a nostalgia and an appreciation for a collegiate world that is about more
than some of the conduct that now has become the norm in the
land of Division I. Think of the recent disaster at Penn State where misplaced college pride and egos allowed a sexual
predator on the coaching staff free to roam among his victims. Add that to the criminal behavior common among the so-called heroes of the NFL. A sad mess indeed. That mess is mostly about money. Because of that educational and personal integrity are no longer a critical consideration of major school and certainly not for the pros. Unbeknownst to many college football fans are players, teams, and coaches who play for the love of the sport. Division III NCAA football represents programs where athletic scholarships are forbidden. Athletes in Division III programs may be a step slower or a little smaller than their counterparts who receive scholarships, but they have an equal love for the game. THE SWEET SEASON is a wonderful story about young and old men sharing a love of sport and a love of life. Perhaps more important, it is a story of personal rejuvenation and rebirth for the author. Gagliardi wins with methods that would leave
football fans and coaches befuddled. His philosophy includes a list of 74
"NOs," including: no whistles, no playbooks, no hitting during the
week, and no cuts from the squad. He disdains calisthenics and serious physical drills. Plays are diagrammed on note cards. They do not tackle or cut block one another in practice. No matter how
talented the coach, he still must have quality athletes to win. Murphy
acknowledges that he came to this project with preconceived notions about the level of athletic skill in Division III. "I didn't think they'd suck, but I didn't know they'd be this quick, talented, or tough," he writes. Don't let the Roman numeral throw you, there's quality football in Division III. But the roster is filled with men who are more than football players. This book is more about the Olympic ideal of amateur sport which may have been lost as well. The love of the sport is the
driving motive. How refreshing…..

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as told by Thomas Cromwell. It tells of a time of turmoil in England history on the interface of religion and politics. The authors characterizations are crisp and fascinating.
The dialogue is often riveting and unfortunately confusing at times. Line after line end with a comma and the words, “he said.” Who said the reader might ask of a cast of character list that is
pages long? Perhaps in my dotage I’ve a tendency towards confusion but this is a little too much….

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Three R's

The three R's. Rommney, Ryan & Rand.
There's something seriously disturbing about millions of tea partyiers who froth at the mouth at the idea of providing health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don't have it. Or who take
pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. As our country quickly drifts into an increasing divided society with the middle class being squeezed out of existence it is the right-wing moneyed elites who more and more openly
share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their
philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?
It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to
Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who exerts a huge influence over much of the right-wing and libertarian crowd.


Friday, August 31, 2012

Exit Plan

It seems
Jerry Mitchell has some really rowdy friends but he still takes them for a boat
ride on his submarine. They’re actually
SEALS but not the barking kind. The
problem is the Iranians may have just built an atomic bomb and the Israelis are
about to bomb and start another Mideast War . Of course, then the U. S. will be
involved…..
That
defecting Iranian nuclear scientist has the real dope on this situation as to whether it’s all a scam to involve the
U.S. or not. Those SEALs will have to “extract” her from hostile
territory. They can do the job all right. Just ask Osama Bin Laden.
This whole scenario is a little remindful of the WMD problem for the Bushies. To bad the SEALS weren’t sent to handle that
problem. It might have save a lot of useless trouble.
For the exciting outcome check out Larry Bonds Exit Plan. I think he invented this type of techno/military thriller. If real
problems were only this excitingly action filled and always successfully
solved….

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies
by British author Hilary Mantel is the
sequel to her award winning Wolf Hall. The well known story of Henry VIII is given
new life through her highly interesting tale.
It’s new and fresh. The story
begins in the fall of 1535,
Henry tiring wearying of Anne Boleyn,
who hasn’t given him with a male heir,
already has his eye on shy, dull, flat-chested Jane Seymour, for whom even her
family doesn’t have much use until they see the advantages of being related to
the queen.
The king’s agent for disposing of Anne, is his chief
minister, Thomas Cromwell, one of Mantel’s most intriguing creations and actually the voice of the
book. Here Cromwell is not the a demonic
figure, the opposite of the sainted Thomas More, as in most tellings . Her Cromwell, is no saint either, but he is
not all bad and comes across as surprisingly warm and interesting. Bring Up the Bodies is in many ways a story
of tale of politics. Machiavellli would
have nodded his head in approval.
As you may know I love historical fiction and this is a good
one. One might not always like the Tudors with their major foibles and angst
but they certainly knew how to take charge…

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Manhunt

Peter Bergen is the journalistic expert on reporting on the terrorist central al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. He interviewed him in the late 90’s wrote
definitive books and now, in Manhunt , Bergen picks up the thread with this carefully crafted yet broad account of the pursuit and killing of bin Laden.
There are new details of bin Laden’s flight after the
crushing defeat of the Taliban to Tora Bora, where American forces came
startlingly close to capturing him, and of the fugitive leader’s attempts to find
a secure hiding place. As the only journalist to gain access to bin Laden’s
Abbottabad compound before the Pakistani government demolished it, Bergen
paints a vivid picture of bin Laden’s grim, Spartan life in hiding and his
struggle to maintain control of al-Qaeda even as American drones systematically
picked off his key lieutenants.
It was, as Peter Bergen points out, the most
intensive and expensive manhunt of all time. The cost, simply in terms of funds funnelled to American intelligence services over the past decade,was somewhere around half a trillion dollars. The indirect costs in
government regulation, control and erosion of American rights and image was
incalculable. Whether all that was
necessary or not is a controversial subject.
The manhunt and threat to American existence was hyped beyond all common
sense. An initially small group of
fanatics did NOT pose an existential threat to the American nation as Fascism
and Communism did in the twentieth century.
Our response was a " War of Terror” , a misguided and mismanaged war of
choice in Iraq and the dropping the eye on the ball in Afghanistan led to a ten
year chase which only President Obama and a refocused and energized CIA and
other security agencies finally brought to a successful conclusion with the
killing of the master terrorist…..

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alexander The Great



"I have always been a soldier. I have known no other life." With those words Steven Pressfield (Gates of Fire; Tides of War) crawls
inside the brave heart of Alexander the Great in this chronicle of the king's
bloody and extraordinary accomplishments and boundless ambition. Here the historical novel is presented as Alexander's confessions (and lessons) to his brother-in-law, Itanes. The great Macedonian commander and his increasinglyreluctant armies try to figure out how to cross "this river of India" to engage in yet another battle. Alexander's
voice swoops from high-minded rhetoric to earthy vernacular as he regales Itanes
with bloody battle scenes and stories of horror and triumph Like the epic "Gates of Fire"
Pressfield does what few can do: Transport us to a time in history and make us
feel as if we are there. His attention to detail both with regard to
tactics/philosophy and everyday life, rich and historically accurate while
spinning a darn good story are what makes his historical novels the creme de la
creme. Alexander the Great, was one ofthe greatest hero conquerors ever. He
stands only with Caesar at the top of his class. He describes the tactics of
his army as they faced and defeated foes that that far outnumbered them. The Virtues of War is actually more about leadership than about battles. Perhaps I should say about the psychology of leadership and yes the demons that can invade a brave heart….

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The End Of War

The End Of War – A Novel Of the Race For Berlin by David L.
Robins
The title of this novel sounded good but like the real “The War To End
All Wars” (WWI), World War II didn’t turn out that way. Actually though the story was about how the war actually ended. The British and
American armies were racing toward Berlin in the closing montsh of the war. It
was a close race and the the Americans (Eisenhower) dropped out for tactical
reasons. Churchill saw the political consequences but by this time the Americans
had the final say… Was this a major blunder which ultimately prolonged the Cold
War? The “what ifs” of history can be fascinated and this book meets that test.
Still, the point seems a little mute since we know how that all turned out in
the long run. The story behind the leading political leaders and generals is well known for devoted history buff. It's the well formulated imaginary characters that give this book its real interest. Overall I’d give this book a B+…..

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Not Minnesota Nice

"Minnesota Nice" is the stereotypical behavior of
people born and raised in Minnesota, to be courteous, reserved, and
mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota Nice include a polite
friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a
disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and
self-deprecation. It can also refer to traffic behavior, such as slowing down
to allow another driver to enter a lane in front of the other person. Critics
have pointed out negative qualities, such as passive aggressiveness and
resistance to change.
In 1862
though, after four years of statehood, and the outbreak of civil war Minnesota
wasn’t so nice. Another civil war broke out within the state between the white
settlers and the Dakota Nation. 1862, Minnesota was
still a young state, part of a frontier inhabited by more than one million
Indians. Times were hard and Indian families hungry. When the U.S. government
broke its promises, some of the Dakota Indians went to war against the white
settlers. Many Dakota did not join in, choosing to aid and protect settlers
instead. The fighting lasted six weeks and many people on both sides were
killed or fled Minnesota. Former Minnesota governor Henry Sibley led an expedition
of soldiers and Dakota scouts against the Dakota warriors. The war ended on
December 26, 1862, when thirty-eight Dakota Indians were hanged in Mankato in
the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Afterwards the government forced
most of the remaining Dakota to leave Minnesota. For white Minnesotans, their
experience of blood and terror negated all promises they had made to the
Dakota. Stories and history books told about the great "Minnesota
Massacre," but for many years the Indian side of the story was ignored. Now you can read the “other side of the
story "In Through Dakota Eyes.” While
the book lacks a clearly followed chronology, it consists of a collection of
original documents from legal proceedings and oral history which is well worth
the readers time. If your interested in the tragic story of when
hundreds of settlers, Indians, soldiers and bystanders were killed this
is the book for you. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Conquest - The English Kingdom of France

In the words of Juliet Barker the author of Conquest The English Kingdom of France.
Juliet says: "The most difficult thing about writing a book is usually finding the subject, especially after a major success like Agincourt. I had toyed with the idea of writing about Joan of Arc but my publishers said they wanted to know what happened after the battle of Agincourt and I realised I didn’t know myself. My knowledge of the period ended with Henry V so I was aware that he had invaded France a second time, conquered much of northern France and forced Charles VI to recognise him as his heir. After that, I realised I had only the vaguest notion of what had occurred. In fact I’m ashamed to admit that I thought the English were expelled from France as a result of Joan of Arc’s appearance on the scene. It was therefore a major revelation to me to discover that she was just a blip in the story of the English occupation which continued for another twenty years – twice as long as before her arrival.It was only after I began my research that I discovered that I was treading new ground: amazingly, there has never been a narrative history dedicated to the last thirty years of the Hundred Years War. This gave me a major headache in that I had to create a chronological structure out of a huge number of conflicting sources and I often found that I had to rewrite passages in the light of newly discovered information. On the other hand, I had a wealth of new material describing not just the epic battles and sieges but also the personal stories of those who defended the English kingdom of France and those who lived under occupation.What fascinated me – as with Agincourt – were these human stories which remind us that that these were real people no different to ourselves. The poor French girl Jehanette Roland, for instance, who fell in love with an English herald and was all set to marry him just at the point when Charles VII reconquered Paris: the new government forcibly intervened to separate them, insisting that marriage with the enemy could not be allowed. Or Robert Stafford who complained that it was impossible for him to defend his fortress since his sole gunner was absent, the only cannon was in need of repair and there was just one crossbow left in the armoury – and that had no string. In our own time there is a horrible familiarity in the plight of those on the ground, fighting and often giving their lives to defend the English kingdom of France whilst denied the men, money and equipment they needed by the politicians who had sent them there in the first place. Conquest tells an extraordinary story – and one that ought to be remembered." What the cover says: In her best-selling Agincourt, Juliet Barker gave us the definitive narrative of Henry V’s extraordinary victory over the French. Now, in Conquest, she tells the equally remarkable, but largely forgotten, story of the dramatic years when England ruled France at the point of a sword.
Troutbirder says.... "well done."

Monday, July 23, 2012


Former Secretary of State Madeliene Albright writes of her childhood, family and the tortured history of the land of her birth- The Czech Republic, in her new book Prague Winter. It was only recently that she found out that most of her relatives were killed in the Holocaust. Her parents, who escaped in the early phases of WWII,chose not to tell anyone of their Jewish ancestry...
I found this book to be the best personal memoir I had read in years.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Presidents Club

Once in a while our local librarian (and a former student) notifies me of the arrival of a new book she thinks I might enjoy. Thus I received a copy of The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It's one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, usually boasting only six or fewer members. This club has only one requirement for membership: having served as President of the of the United States. I must admit I was a little skeptical at first. Another Washington political potboiler filled with rumor, speculation about motives and unsubstantiated so-call "facts". Not at all. The Presidents Club is a clear and well-written glimpse into the modern presidency. It's worth reading and rereading for its behind-the-scenes insights.
It all began with Harry Truman bringing Herbert Hoover back from the limbo of being assigned the entire blame for the Great Depression. Hoover was given the job of unscrambling the bureaucratic logjam block food aid to a hungry and war torn Europe after World War II. This was exactly the same service he had successfully performed for President Wilson after World War II. A working relationship and even friendship ensued between the two men that in spite of future up and downs among future presidents set up pattern for the "club." The authors proceeded to explore how the relationships between former chief executives of often very different ideologies and politics have shaped history. I found these relationships sometimes petty and even distasteful but quite often inspiring. That was particularly so in these ideologically rigid and highly polarized times.
The sourest note in the whole book for me was to learn what a truely amoral, even immoral man, Richard Nixon proved to be. This relates to the story of Nixon's actions during the '68 presidential campaign, his successful effort to kill President Johnson's desperate hope for talks in Paris to end the Vietnam war in 1968. And Humphrey's well intentioned but mistaken decision not to publicly incriminate Nixon as a traitor to his country. The vicious block thrown by Nixon and his henchmen, including the go-between, Madame Chenault, prolonged the war for seven years. LBJ, knowing from secret wiretaps, that Nixon, through Chenault, was double dealing, phoned Nixon and appealed to him not to endanger the peace effort. "Oh no, Mr. President, said Nixon to LBJ, I would never do anything like that." Thousands more Americans died in Vietnam in the succeeding years.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Dead Duck




Meanwhile, the big story was happening in Embarrass, MN (where else!), where a distraught woman brought her pet, a very limp duck – an Aflac look-a-like – into a veterinary surgeon.The vet laid the pet on the table, then pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird's chest.After a moment or two, the vet shook his head sadly and said, "I'm sorry, your duck has passed away."The distressed woman wailed, "Are you sure?""Yes, I am sure. The duck is dead," replied the vet."How can you be so sure?" she protested. "I mean you haven't done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something."The vet rolled his eyes, turned around and left the room.He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador Retriever.As the duck's owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom.He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head.The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room.A few minutes later he returned with a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly and strolled out of the room. The vet looked at the woman and said, "I'm sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck." The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman.The duck's owner, still in shock, took the bill. "$550!" she cried. "$1550! – just to tell me my duck is dead!" The vet shrugged, "I'm sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, but with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it's now $1550."And that’s the way it is!


btw... I'm off to the Mayo Clinic next week for some tests. Maybe I should bring Baron and Simba.... :)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interviewing Mark Twain

Flyfishig today? Too windy. Birding today? Too windy. Tree limb trimming today? Too windy. Instead, today, I had time to reflect upon a recent conversation I had with well known author and humorist Mark Twain. I had met him during a recent trip to Dubuque, Iowa. Mark Twain wrote hundreds of comments about the nature and cause of humor. This quote reflects my own view.
"What is it that strikes a spark of humor from a man? It is the effort to throw off, to fight back the burden of grief that is laid on each one of us. In youth we don't feel it, but as we grow to manhood we find the burden on our shoulders. Humor? It is nature's effort to harmonize conditions. The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth." - Interview in New York World Sunday Magazine, November 26, 1905 Troutbirder - Actually, I’m from Minnesota, MarkMark Twain - I was there one winter a few years back and cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we'd all have frozen to death.
Troutbirder - It’s my birthday tomorrow and I must admit I’m feeling my age!Mark Twain - Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.Troutbirder - On a serious note you probably know that we have been fighting in Iraq for many years now because of their weapons of mass destruction and support of the Muslim terrorists. Mark Twain -Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.Troutbirder - But Sir, what about patriotism? Mark Twain - Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.






Also, after meeting him, Mrs Troutbirder pointed out - "I think we could have used a few more wise men in recent years like Mr. Twain'