Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nemisis - Chalmers Johnson

When I read the fly leaf I knew I wasn't going to like this book.  I was correct. It's dark, negative, and anti-American. The author quotes Noam Chomsky, George Soros, Norman Mailer, and  Hannah Arendt quite often, and his views echo those of Arundati Roy, Seymour Hersh, Gore Vidal and George Soros. I have no use for any of these people. I am a political conservative with libertarian tendencies and surprised that someone actually printed this book of hate.  

Chalmers Johnson is convinced that America is imploding on it's own arrogance. He has nothing good to say about America or it's people. Nearly every sentence, fact or opinion, is biased and negative. There is no balance.

"The U.S. imposed sanctions against Iraq from 1991 to 9/11: One million Iraqi children have thus far died."  That is not true. Different sources give different answers. It's doubtful that anyone knows for sure.

Chalmers claims that General Tommy Franks said that "....he (Franks) was open to the idea that the Constitution be scrapped in favor of a military form of government."  I don't believe that. Chalmers goes on to say that, according to Newsmax,  Franks also said that "Martial law will replace the Constitution after the next terrorist attack."  I confirmed that he did say THAT.

 "Adam Young, a Canadian political commentator, wondered,  how did the chief magistrate (Geo. W. Bush) of a confederated republic degrade into the global tyrant we experience today, part secular pope, part military despot, part pseudo-philosopher-king and full time overbearing gangster?" This is the kind of invective found on almost every page. 

" American militarism is the contemporary Leviathan that dominates Washington, threatening our nation with bankruptcy, turning many of the organs of our 'free press' into Pravda like mouthpieces, and disgracing the nation by allowing our young men and women to torture prisoners picked up on various battlefields or even snatched from city streets in allied countries."  This is, apparently, his opinion. He offers nothing to back it up.

He states that Hannah Arendt: ". . . called him (Adolph Eichmann) a 'desk murderer,' an equally apt term for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfield - for anyone, in fact, who orders remote control killing of the modern sort." This is a badly distorted view of all military personnel who believe they are fighting to protect a  valued principle.  

Johnson defines collateral damage: "This military euphenism has been substituted for plainspoken words that might induce guilt in airmen when they bomb and strafe defenseless communities or in soldiers when the kick down doors of private homes, rush in pointing assault rifles at women and children, and sometimes rob residents under cover of searching for enemies or contraband." He continues and complains that American "soldiers are unaccountable for their acts to any authority except their military superiors."  During the time of war who else should they be accountable to?"  

Stop here. Certainly WAR is an ugly business, and wholesale murder and collateral damage is inhuman, torture will always be a controversial issue, and most people I meet agree that  the only way to avoid WAR is not to start one.

The entire book "Nemisis" is filled with dubious opinions given as facts . . . and opinions distorted by hate.


Washington Rules - Andrew Bacevich

This is an outstanding and very important book. 

Every American should read "Washington Rules". The author examines the causes and consequences of  American "wars" and  then describes how our culture evolved until the current time. Today, after reading this book,  we realize that "war" has become a normal American condition. 

"Washington Rules" describes the effect of overwhelming national power. The book explains how this inevitably has lead to the presumption that only the most powerful nation knows how to govern others. The book contends that Americans have harnessed so much power that it has resulted in the current attitude of arrogance in relation to all other nations. Mr. Bacevich uses clear reasoning, good logic, and careful words to describe how American dominance happened . . .  and then (after World War II), began to subside. 

"Washington Rules" is fascinating to read and difficult to argue with. It has convinced me that our government has gone astray, and that our national ability to evaluate other nations is basically from only one perspective, ours. This one sided view often leads us to make incorrect assumptions and to impose the wrong solutions to various national problems. 

America is not perfect and the author pulls no punches as he describes why. Unlike Chalmers Johnson's book "Nemisis", Andrew Bacevich manages to do this without wild and foolish anti-American rants.   

Friday, July 15, 2011

Scurvy - Stephen R. Bown

Now and then the Geezer's Book Club discovers an unlikely winner. Scurvy is one of those.  Who, besides an overly curious doctor,  is interested in a book about disease?   Well, I began the thing with trepidation and a certainty that I wasn't going to like it. I was wrong once again!

Scurvy reads like a good mystery. It's researched and written very well, and it compels the reader to "turn the next page" to see what's going to happen.  I an sure that I'm not the only one that was unaware of the horrendous impact of this awful disease. I didn't know, for example, that in 1763, at the end of the British war with France, over 184,899 men were rounded up for the war, and 133,708 of them died from disease, primarily Scurvy, and only 1512 were killed in action.

                                               184,899     Soldiers and Sailors
                                               133,708     Died from disease, primarily Scurvy
                                                   1,512    Died from action in the war.
                                                 49,679    Survived
The book "Scurvy" is a fascinating rendition of naval activities from before 1700 to about 1850. It describes in detail the miserable conditions on board military and civilian ships of the day, the unsanitary and brutal and normal conditions. It also offers a detailed vision of the medical profession during that time.

This is, despite it's focus on scurvy, a brilliant and excellent read.


Monday, July 11, 2011

The Irregulars - Jennet Conant

This book let me down a notch. It's good but not great! It is reminiscent of a mythical soap opera that might have been written by Walter Winchell or Louella Parsons.  I was looking for substance and the book just didn't deliver. The prime character, Roald Dahl, seems to have been a rather shallow person. He was handsome and articulate and cruised easily in the political and social circles during World War II, but he was on all counts rather a lightweight.

I did learn more about Henry Wallace. He was more of a heavyweight than I remembered. He may have been the brightest and most inquisitive member of the government at the time. He wasn't a communist but he was interested in communism.

Wallace wrote a paper entitled "Our Job in the Pacific" that summarized his (as the Vice President) post war goals that included:
  • international control of the airways 
  • economic assistance to develop industry in Asia
  • the de-militarization of Japan
  • the emancipation of colonial subjects in the British Empire including  India, Burma, and Malaysia.
Raold Dahl was a low level spy with connections. He made the society news, played with the "in-crowd", boosted war time propaganda and, at the same time, he was a successful writer of (children's) books.

Now we know.


The Fear Within - Scott Martelle

Excellent study of a complicated period of American life. After World War II the fear of Soviet style communism caused our citizens to urge measures of extraordinary security to protect our nation. In doing so our Constitution's First Amendment was trampled by American politicians and court systems.

President Truman and his feud with J.Edgar Hoover contributed to the increasing concern. The Chief Justice, Fred Vinson, led the Supreme Court to erroneously override the First Amendment by reducing the freedom of individuals and increasing the power of government.

Sen. Joe McCarthy raised the level of discontent and increased public fear that communists had already invaded American businesses, universities, and union organizations. He claimed, without adequate substantiation, that they were aggressively working to overthrow the American government.

Eisenhower took over from Truman, Fred Vinson died, and Earl Warren became Chief Justice. Warren saw the danger of the assault on the First Amendment and led the Supreme Court in an effort to reverse the damage.

The author of this book, Scott Martelle, calls attention to the similarities between the post war legislation against the First Amendment and the more recent Patriot Act. They both reduced citizen freedoms and increase governments ability to fight the aggressive attacks on America by fanatic Muslim terrorists.

The author is clearly not a fan of the Patriot Act.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rebels. The Irish Rising of 1916 - de Rosa

I almost quit about a third of the way through. Too many names and organizations not sorted very well. Confusing for a while. . Had trouble sorting English from Sinn Fein, The Irish Volunteers, The Irish Republican Army, Orange Ireland, Green Ireland, the Fenian Movement, and The Irish Brigade from one another. Then keeping the cast in the right organization was a bit confusing.

But I didn't quit. The second half was fascinating. It read easily and the confusion cleared up. The authors  Irish use of words is terrific . . . and sometime brought a chuckle. 

Quotes noted:
  • One condition of waging a just war is that it has some prospect of success and a rising at this time has absolutely none.
  • With his faithful brother beside him, his sword trailing behind, the Commandant General, Commander if Chief of the Irish Republic, President-Elect of the Irish government, rode off on his bicycle.
  • Dublin led Europe in drunkenness and prostitution; in disease, it led the world.
  • A gang of toddlers put on silk top hats which reached down to their shoulders so the cut slits in them for eyes.
  • On O'Connell Street, looters were into pubs and liquor stores. Some smashed the necks of bottles in their hurry to submerge their back teeth.
  • Of course the Catholic Church was the real Government of Ireland. It had irked him that an adulterous Protestant had more authority over the Irish people than he.
  • You can not conquer Ireland. You can not extinguish the Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed. 
  • "Loyalty," he scribbled, is a sentiment, not a law. It rests on love, not on restraint. The Government of Ireland  by England rests on restraint and not on law; and since it demands no love it can evoke no loyalty.
Those quotes sum up the book pretty well.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Snowflower & The Secret Fan - L. See

(Definitely not a book club selection.)

Daughter Trisha gave me this book saying that she really liked it and thought I would too. I read the fly leaf and was pretty sure I wouldn't. I started to read it anyway and was trapped to the end. Ms. See is a very good writer and the story line is quite unusual. I couldn't put it down.  It's a tale about two very young Chinese girls, similar in many ways, who become "sames" (best friends). They are each selected to have their feet bound to change their shape and limit their growth.

The process is described in detail and it is truly horrific. The feet are tightly bound each day in a manner that the toes turn under the arch. At some point as the girls try to walk the bones in the foot break and allow even tighter binding. The object is for the girl to have "golden lilies" which are very small specially formed feet that fit into hand made shoes with a beautiful gently pointed front. The feet become nearly useless. The girls (eventually women) can painfully walk a few or even several steps, but are otherwise carried on someones back or transported by "palanquins" carried  by paid bearers.

A palanquin is two long poles with a flat platform between the poles. A  small chair is placed on the platform and then surrounded by a kind of decorated box with a roof and partly open sides. It serves as a taxi for whoever can pay.

As they grow from children to girls, Snowflower and Lily, refer to themselves as "old sames" and believe they will be special best friends forever. 

The daily life of these "worthless" girls, each with severely bound feet and semi-confined to an  upstairs room (chamber) in their family's home. Their relationship to each other is describe in detail, as well as their family relationships and how they fit into the society of the times. 

The story follows the girls as the each is married and moves from their "natal" homes to the family home of their husband's. Each of the "sames" has babies.  Baby boys are highly valued, desireable and favored. Girl babies are considered just another mouth to feed, worthless and not wanted. 
to be continued

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winner Take All Politics - Hacker & Pierson

I've become very critical of American politics. There are too many news articles pointing out the confusion, dishonesty, lack of ethics, and downright corruption. What is happening to the America I grew up with? It's changed, and not for the better. Our society has also changed.  Is the government changing to keep up with the evolution of society? The answer seems to be yes and no. Over 200 years ago our founding fathers designed a constitutional government they expected to last for centuries. It was unique in many respects, one of which was it's intention to have principles, priorities and plans that would stretch far out into the future.  Today, there is a persistent concern. Is our government  straying from the path set out for us? 

This book is a carefully drawn explanation of how and why our government is changing. It does a fairly good job describing why our country is gradually moving from the responsibility of individuals to the collective responsibility of all.  In other words from Democracy to Social Democracy.

We've settled in to a two party government, Democrat and Republican, and there is room in each for both left and right wings. The old distinctions have changed with changes of each party's constituency, and new elements have been added to our government structures.

1.    The idea of a temporary citizen politician is gone.
2.    The main job of an elected official is to insure his or her re-election.
3.    Lobbyists and Special Interests are now very powerful and influential.
4.    The election of public representatives is largely determined by
      television advertising and emotional appeal, rather than character,
      qualification, and ability. 
5.  Citizen's vote for individuals and expect them to represent their
     interests, but the representatives face several important obstacles:
           * party line pressure,
           * special interests,
           * the size of the impact of a decision,
           * politicians often disregard right and wrong to gain re-election.
           * the misdirection of biased media, excessive advertising, and
                     tilted opinion polls.  

This book is a good primer describing the way government works, how our elected representatives are influenced, and why the government is not working very well. The book appears to have been triggered by: 

The ever increasing gap between rich and poor. 

As explained by the book, runaway inequality is the cause of most citizen discontent.

1.   Plutarch said that the imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.

2.   New Dealers tried to construct a new economic order built on the conviction that the federal government had a responsibility to stabilize the economy, provide economic security, and ensure a more reasonable redistribution from rich to poor.

3.   From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, average real expenditures by incumbents in the White House roughly TRIPLED!

4.   It was Nixon, not Johnson, who presided over the most rapid increase in domestic spending  since the New Deal. Each of these programs were started or significantly expanded: (Social Security, national food stamps, Old Age Assistance, Supplementary Security Income, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Traffic Safety Commission, Mine Safety and Health Commission, Consumer Product Safety Commission)

5.   The federal tax code is still progressive but the key feature of the code - it's steep progressivity at the very top income levels - has simply disappeared.

6.  Equity and hedge fund managers legally treat their extraordinary incomes as capital gains and therefore subject to only a 15% tax rate.

7.   The most recent financial recession of 2010 to the present caused the federal government to draw massive loans from the future (the deficit) to save the nation's financial sector.

8.   The government purchased privately held companies thought to be too big to fail.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Matterhorn - Karl Marlantes

Just finished this outstanding book. It is certainly the best book I've read on the down, dirty and senseless war in Viet Nam. It's narrative describes the bloody and endless on-the-ground futility experienced at the company to grunt level. Of all the wars America has endured, this war was arguably the most bitter and grungy of them all, and this very believable book is the most disturbing of them all.

World War II may have been the last war with a clear purpose.

The Korean War  was a nasty and brutal "police action" that never actually ended. It's purpose was vague or nonexistent. Korea was no threat to the United States. We stepped into a civil war in order to protect the non-Communist South Koreans from Communist Northern Korea. This was a dubious purpose from the beginning.   

Viet Nam was another war we should never have entered. Viet Nam posed  no threat to the United States. We let our nation get sucked into Viet Nam in an effort to stop the spread of Communism in the Far East. From our first tentative military action in Viet Nam preventing the "domino theory" of Communist take overs - it was a false purpose.  Communism was already dieing of it's own failures.  

But this book is not about the politics of war or the way the war was directed at the top. Matterhorn is about filthy, bloody, wounded, thirsty, hungry, dispirited, prejudiced, Marine foot soldiers dieing in muddy tall grass and in the bleak and desolate hills.

In the end it is a powerful indictment of modern warfare waged against impoverished farmers and innocent victims. An anti-war novel that really makes a point. Read it.