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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


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.