29 July 2015

Thomas Friedman and a few facts

I don't always agree with Friedman but this column from today is worth reading for the raw facts it presents. I have never understood why American conservatives and neo-cons, or Americans in general, think Shia Iran is the great enemy.

It is Saudi Arabia. And we fund it.

On Tuesday the Middle East Media Research Institute released a translation of a TV interview by the Saudi author Turki al-Hamad about the extremist discourse prevalent in Saudi Arabia. “Who serves as fuel for ISIS?” he asked. “Our own youth. What drives our youth to join ISIS? The prevailing culture, the culture that is planted in people’s minds. It is our youth who carry out bombings. … You can see (in ISIS videos) the volunteers in Syria ripping up their Saudi passports.”

The Republican Crack Up

The Republican reliance on Tea-Party types to provide the oomph to their electoral efforts while delivering essentially nothing to them has worn thin. The coalition of the cynical and the delusional and angry is beginning to fray. A party representing big business, the Republicans traditional role, does not fit well with a populist common man base.

And so, it goes.

Trump is only one part of this. The Republican party simply can't get anything done one way or another. Other than investigate Benghazi for the what, sixtieth time, or vote to repeal Obamacare one more time. And now they are even trying to fire John Boehner. Even Fox News is appalled. And shocked, shocked, no doubt 

Here is a good explanation of the problem for the remaining sane pragmatists who actually want to govern. If the Grand Old Party were actually an elephant, we'd have to put it down to end its suffering.

27 July 2015

My personal broken record

Since the beginning of this blog it has always been "All our elites have failed."

Still true and getting truer. I think it is a symptom of a civilization struggling to be born on the still warm corpse of the previous civilization.

But here is a good example of what I mean. It's about psychologists. You know. The folks who will use their scientific medical findings to decide when you need to be sent to a nursing home.

20 July 2015

A little history on Greece

Why are the modern Greeks so weird, so anti-American, so hapless?

Interesting question. This may be a partial explanation, or at least an intro to the beginning of a partial explanation.

Greece has a certain sensitivity to foreign ultimatums, etc.

08 July 2015

Clemens' Book Shelf

I have been keeping a running list of things I have read or listened to lately. I'll put them up here, month by month.

March 2015

Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson. audio book. Part of the fine trilogy Atkinson has done on the Americans in World War II in Africa and Europe.

Political order and Political Decay by Francis Fukayama. audio book. Huge, immensely engaging, thought provoking -- and probably a book I need to read the old fashioned way. There is a lot of stimulating theories regarding the development of the modern state and where we are now. Fukayama is careful however to give no advice on what we do now!

April 2015

The Autobiography of Mark Twain. Read. Splendid work by a genius, not always writing as a genius, but never less than interesting. Life on a daily basis for a family of a gifted fellow who was a celebrity of the times. Also his opinions about a great many things he never gets around to in his books, such as how to write an autobiography. A thick read but perfect for daily reading while you wait for your coffee to brew.

The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella by W.H. Prescott. Read on Kindle. Another great classic whose reputation has suffered because he clearly could not be as clever as modern historians. Do not believe that for an instant. Prescott's achievement has not yet been equaled in English and he still has a lot to teach us. Considering that he wrote within a culture deeply vested in believing the Black Legend in which Catholic Spain was evil, "medieval," superstitious and cruel, it is a remarkably balanced account. He makes no bones about his admiration for Isabella. It could take you all summer to read it through.

Crusading Warfare by R.C. Smail. Read. The path-breaking work on medieval warfare in general and Crusading warfare specifically this is still a useful work to read, though dated in many ways. It opens with a good survey of the literature and is based squarely on primary sources. I ordered it for my class on medieval warfare mainly because it is a good starting point for debate and because it is both in print and affordable, not something you can say about many books on this topic.

End: The Defiance and Defeat of Hitler's Germany by Ian Kershaw. An amazing book that throws new light on a period of history one might assume has been covered enough. Kershaw's starting point is that it is unusual, almost unheard of, for an entire society to go down fighting in blood and ruins. Not even the Japanese did it.  Yet the Germans did. Kershaw writes to learn "why?" and that answer is fascinating and disturbing. By the end I came away convinced that if the Germans had not fought on until their society was virtually obliterated the free, democratic, and peaceful Germany we know today would never have seen the light of day.

Gray Lensman. E.E. "Doc" Smith. audio. A brilliantly hammy narrator made a revisit to a classic from my teenage years a delight. Nevertheless I was struck by the fascistic and racial dictatorship of the Patrol (i.e. the space military) and the values its stories must have instilled in legions of addled young men. Like me, say. This is definitely a guilty pleasure and I can't really recommend it for anyone, but I intend to listen to the whole serious. The was an entire Japanese TV anime series based on it, called "Starblazers" in this country.

The Fiery Trail by Eric Foner. audio. A revealing account of Lincoln and his evolving attitude towards both slavery and race. If you have seen the movie "Lincoln" you should read this. In fact, read it anyway for whatever reason. America would be a different place if not for Lincoln. It makes clear that all actors in history are simply humans, subject to the errors and tides of judgement all of us are, but some manage to craft great and good results from it.

The Revenge of Geography by Robert D. Kaplan. Audio. Excellent intro to the concept of "geopolitics" and how it developed. Hitler based much of his idea for germanic expansion on the early works of geopolitics and much of US diplomacy - especially in the Kissinger era - has been based on it. A good place to start I think.

William Marshal: Knight Errant, Baron, Regent by Sydney Painter. Read. Not the version of William Marshal's life I would have picked, especially since I've read it at least twice before, but it is the only decent study in any language still in print. William led an eventful life at the peak of the English military aristocracy spanning a career from landless knight and tournament champion to virtual ruler of England. Painter does him justice, but I would also recommend the biography by David Crouch. There is a new book on the Marshal by Thomas Asbridge that I hope to read soon.

The Old Testament. read on Kindle. Took months, a bit each day, learning something every day, sometimes terrible, sometimes moving and sometimes uplifting. And sometimes you wonder just what the Author had in mind. One of the few books, or collections of books, for which you can honestly say everything you have heard about it is true.

That's it for March and April. More to come. 

What did Jesus want

Well, Paul of Tarsus certainly tried to tell us. Here in 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15.

...but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
"The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had llittle did not have too little."

Someone probably told Him to stick to religious matters and leave politics out of it.

06 July 2015

Waterloo and French literature

Many years ago I had a Classics Illustrated Comic called "Waterloo" based on a novel by someone I'd never heard of nor could ever remember. I copied the pictures of the soldiers a lot and for a long time it was all I knew about the battle of Waterloo.

Now I am all grown up. Erckmann-Chatrian were a pair of writers who wrote historical novels about French history. When I checked what they had written I found that Waterloo was actually a sequel to The Conscript: The Story of the French War of 1813. Naturally I went to gutenberg.org to find a copy and began to read, expecting the usual late nineteenth century pro-Emperor, pro-gloire rhetoric. I was quite taken aback by the following quote:

If those who are now masters, and who tell us that God placed them here on earth to make us happy, would foresee at the beginning of a campaign the poor old men, the hapless mothers, whose very hearts they have torn away to satisfy their pride—if they could see the tears and hear the groans of these poor people when they are coldly told 'Your son is dead; you will see him no more; he perished, crushed by horses' hoofs, or torn to pieces by a cannon-ball, or died mayhap afar off in a hospital, after having his arm or leg cut off,—burning with fever, without one kind word to console him, but calling for his parents as when he was an infant,'—if, I say, these haughty ones of earth could thus see the tears of those mothers, I do not believe that one among them would be barbarous enough to continue the war. But they think nothing of this; they think other folks do not love their children as they love theirs; they think people are no more than beasts. They are wrong; all their great genius, their lofty notions of glory, are as nothing, for there is only one thing for which a people should fly to arms—men, women, children—old and young. It is when their liberty is assailed as ours was in '92—then all should die or conquer together; he who remains behind is a coward, who would have others fight for him;—the victory then is not for a few, but for all;—then sons and fathers are defending their families; if they are killed, it is a misfortune, to be sure, but they die for their rights. Such a man, Joseph, is the only just one, the one of which no one can complain; all others are shameful, and the glory they bring is not glory fit for a man, but only for a wild beast."'