Sunday, January 1, 2023

Thwap's Post Wherein He Shall List the Books He's Reading in 2023


Apparently there was a series called "The Librarian."

In October 2021 I started a post: "Latest Reads."  About a month later I decided to make it my one-stop shopping post for all the future books that I'd read.  The post's title was amended to "Latest Reads: [NOW THWAP'S GIANT BOOK DEPOSITORY!!!!] I continued it into 2022.  But that eventually became too unwieldy to edit.  By Autumn 2022 I decided to start another post for the year's book readings in 2023 and here it is.


I finished a collection of short stories from Kurt Vonnegut Jr. a day or two ago.  Welcome to the Monkey House.

There's a story about a right-wing Republican loudmouth who hates the Kennedy's.  There's a story about decent, upstanding US-Americans being forced to be human chess-pieces with a deranged Asiatic warlord and his amoral, inhuman Russian overseer.  Seems Vonnegut was something of a Cold War liberal.

There were a few stories similar to the one novel of his I recently read (Cat's Cradle) about a breakthrough scientific discovery that goes causes unforeseen outcomes.  There were a few stories about people learning to let their hair down.  I found it entertaining.


I'll post some titles, links and images of covers and then maybe say something later.

The Hero's Way: Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna by Tim Parks (2021)

I really enjoyed this book.  Parks has an eye for important details.  Both for human behaviour and the physical landscape.  As you would be able to tell if you'd seen my Giant Book Depository post, I've been doing some reading about 18th and 19th Century Europe.  Italian Unification was one of the big things I wanted to know about.  And my hazy knowledge of Garibaldi's importance to that subject made me want to learn more about it.

In this book Parks and his wife follow (as best they can given the scanty source material and the changes to Italy's roads since the 1860's) to follow Garibaldi's retreat from the failed Roman Republic to eventual escape from the Austrian, French and Naples forces chasing his small band of followers.  You really get a sense of the desperation of the flight as well as a sense of the changes that have happened to the world since then.

Twelve Stories by Emmet Grogan (2018)

For all I know the BMV employee who recommended the book (since I was already buying Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle) was Emmet Grogan himself.  It's available at BMV outlets.  It's about a guy who grew up in the 1970's in small town Northern Ontario.  Lot's of drinking and weirdos.  The protagonist's transformation from drunken ne'er do well to successful gallery owner and seller of counterfeit Native art seemed a trifle hurry.  As was his transformation from drunken imbecile to sensitive Torontonian man of the world.  Still, the stories never let up.  The mystery of where him and his friend were the weekend that "Star Wars" came out had a totally unexpected conclusion.

Oliver Cromwell and the Rule of the Puritans in England by Charles Firth (1900) 

I was surprised that my e-book from the Toronto Public Library had actually been written in 1900.  Anyhow, I pretty much agree with the review.  Firth's was one of the first scholarly reevaluations of this controversial figure.  Cromwell genuinely thought that he was doing the work of his imaginary God.  He was a bizarre figure in many respects.  He was also an impressive military man.  Leading charges against enemy counter-attacks personally while in his mid-fifties.  He made England a major European power.


I forgot to add that I've been reading The Stories of John Cheever.

I'd read his famous short story "The Swimmer" in college and read an interesting article about him in Harper's, so when I saw this book on the shelf of a beautiful, smart, funny and talented young lady who I'm crazy about I asked if I could borrow it.  That's when I found out the pages were on very thin paper and that there are more than 50 stories in it.  I've only read twenty and the book is starting to fall apart in my hands.  So no more.  These are mostly sad stories.  Some of 'em are damn tragic.


Yesterday I finished Mark Zuelhke's The Liri Valley: World War II Breakthrough to Rome.

This is part of Zuelhke's Canadian Battle Series about the CAF in WWII.  I've read a few of them already.  Not in order.  Just whenever I see one in the library. I started with his book about "Operation Husky" which was the invasion of Sicily. I remember in that one a moment when a small number of Canadians hiding in the cliffs beside a road saw a German army truck with about ten soldiers sitting in the back driving past them and one of the Canadians tossed a grenade in with them killing most of them and badly wounding the rest.  I thought what an insane thing it was to have done that.  Then I remembered that they were fighting a war and such murderous behaviour is expected.

I have read a few books about detailed battles but not too many.  So I don't know how unique Zuehlke is in conveying the insanity of war.  In The Liri Valley there's a part where some Canadian tanks are sitting behind German lines and a number of German soldiers walk past them and, thinking they were German tanks, waved at them before stopping for a second look, whereupon the Canadian tanks opened up with their machine guns and killed them all.

Zuelhke makes it very clear how Canadian military leadership's lack of experience and training made things like "Operation Chesterfield" the needless, bloody clusterfucks that they were.


I recently finished Odd Arne Westad's The Cold War: A World History.

The definitive history of the Cold War and its impact around the world

We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological confrontation, with early roots in the Industrial Revolution and ongoing repercussions around the world.

The Cold War, Westad offers a new perspective on a century when great power rivalry and ideological battle transformed every corner of our globe. From Soweto to Hollywood, Hanoi, and Hamburg, young men and women felt they were fighting for the future of the world. The Cold War may have begun on the perimeters of Europe, but it had its deepest reverberations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where nearly every community had to choose sides. And these choices continue to define economies and regimes across the world.

Today, many regions are plagued with environmental threats, social divides, and ethnic conflicts that stem from this era. Its ideologies influence China, Russia, and the United States; Iraq and Afghanistan have been destroyed by the faith in purely military solutions that emerged from the Cold War.

Stunning in its breadth and revelatory in its perspective, this book expands our understanding of the Cold War both geographically and chronologically and offers an engaging new history of how today's world was created.

Westad is a Yale historian.  The book is okay except, as is to be expected, he is a little too understanding of the motives of US policy makers.


I try to read most of a book before I say that I've read it here.  But I've decided that I want to read seriously about democracy and revolution for a personal project of mine and I'm going to have to return these two books unfinished.  I'm going to post about 'em here to potentially remind myself about them and maybe I'll finish them in the future.

First up is Insel by Mina Loy. I've only read a quarter of it.

The Loy-like narrator, Mrs. Jones, is a middle-aged writer in Paris, employed acquiring art for a New York gallery, and is interested in Insel's work. That their relationship combines business and personal elements is possibly the only conventional thing to be said about it. They are immediately drawn together by an ineffable nonsexual attraction; they "see" each other as others do not. As the book proceeds through a Spartan plot—they hang out; they talk; she washes his laundry—the drama that develops is not a conflict between the two characters but simply Mrs. Jones's quest to understand and articulate the supernatural qualities of this "Surrealist" man, Insel, and the inexplicable effect his presence has upon her.


"Insel" could certainly be called a difficult book, with the proviso that its difficulties are always at the heart of the matter. Although Loy can be wonderfully simple in her strangeness—"I have always presumed that hair with its electric properties will not remain unutilized in a future evolution of the brain"—the novel's pleasures require exertion, such as wrangling with bizarrely gymnastic metaphors. Describing Insel's speech, Loy writes: "In his unusual liveliness, words, like roomy cupboards, dipped into the reservoir of excited honey and flapping their open doors spilled it all over the place as they passed."

The greatest linguistic challenge, however, is the one that Mrs. Jones faces as she works to find words to describe the otherworldly qualities that Insel holds for her. Here Loy invents or cobbles together a terminology, much of it borrowed from Christian Science—words like "rays" and "magnetism"—out of which she builds an aesthetic cosmology all her own: "Some infrared or there invisible ray he gave off, was immediately transferred on one's neural current to some dark room in the brain for instantaneous development in all its brilliancy. So one saw him as a gray man and an electrified organism at one and the same time." The inclusion in this edition of "Visitation," a later ending that Loy had purposefully left off the finished manuscript, is a mixed blessing. Though an interesting piece and of scholarly value, it suggests a literal explanation for Insel's peculiarity—that he was a morphine addict—which works against the rich ambiguity that Loy took pains to create.

Second up is France in the World: A New Global History.  I've read about half of it.

The bestselling Histoire mondiale de la France (2017) conceives of France not as a fixed, rooted entity, but instead as a place and an idea in flux, moving beyond all borders and frontiers, shaped by exchanges and mixtures. As a  “discontinuous” history, this book rejects traditional periods and spatial confines; as a popular history, it articulates a new way of writing about the past; as a civic endeavor, it invites readers to trace their own routes across the past; as a political gesture, it intervenes in debates about the contours of national identities. 

I found the introduction to be a bit of a slog.  But the chapters themselves are nice little vignettes of segments of France's history.

2023 - 03 - 26

Finished Eleen Meiksins Wood's Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy.  (I had no idea that I was reading a book by a York University professor who later married Ed Broadbent!)

Meiksins Wood argues that the assertion that Ancient Athens embraced a "aristocratic" culture that despised manual labour, with even poor citizens claiming subsistence payments for political participation and jury duties and the like, and that this was made possible by the massive use of slave labour, is a false assertion.

She says that, actually, democratic Athens was made possible by freeing peasants from the obligation to support a royal government and a bureaucratic state with a standing army, a mass of artisans and officials, first by the reforms of Solon, and later Cleisthenes.  What she calls "bureaucratic states" like Egypt or Babylon, put enormous demands on peasant labourers who were compelled by law to give over much of what they produced to a state which then dispersed this wealth to its minions.  All political and legal power resided with the kings and their officials or a hereditary aristocracy.

In archaic Attica things were different.  There had been something like that there in the period known as Mycenaean.  This disappeared during the Bronze Age Collapse.  The Homeric Period (of the "heroes" Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, Agamemnon, etc.,) were lesser rulers of a diminished economy.  By the time Homer's epic was written down population growth in this less centralized political-economy had produced intense rivalries between noble families that were not much stronger collectively than the masses of poor farmers they were exploiting.  Exploiting as in driving them into debt, debt-bondage and then, actual slavery.  Anger was running high and Solon's reforms were meant to dissipate it.

Solon's reforms didn't actually work but they started the process of increased democratization.  First, the middling peasants (like Hesiod from an earlier period) with their traditions of village self-government (This book pointed out to me that "villeins" came from "villages.") were more than capable of participating in democracy and law-making.

Meiksins-Wood spends a lot of time arguing that slaves probably didn't work much in agriculture.  Not like the giant farms in Imperial Rome (latifundia?).  The wealth in Athens weren't fabulously wealthy.  And they owned patches of land scattered about which would have made renting them to peasant proprietors a more economical proposition than slaves who would have to be supervised.  Much of the claims for the pervasiveness of slavery hinge on the way the aristocrats (the only people who had time to do a lot of writing) treated all manual labour as debased and who saw little difference between a farmer paying rent and a slave.

Later on, such things as the importance of the Athenian navy (especially at the Battle of Salamis) extended the claim to democracy on landless labourer-citizens, the thetes (who were crucial for rowing Athenian triremes).

I think the last thing I want to point out is where she has Homer saying that whatever the heroes decided was what got decided because that's the way things went, whereas Hesiod criticized the nobles for their corrupt legal decisions and said that they would eventually face justice.


I finished Federica Carugati's Creating a Constitution: Law, Democracy, and Growth in Ancient Athens.

A comprehensive account of how the Athenian constitution was created—with lessons for contemporary constitution-building

We live in an era of constitution-making. More than half of the world's constitutions have been drafted in the past half-century. Yet, one question still eludes theorists and practitioners alike: how do stable, growth-enhancing constitutional structures emerge and endure? In Creating a Constitution, Federica Carugati argues that ancient Athens offers a unique laboratory for exploring this question. Because the city-state was reasonably well-documented, smaller than most modern nations, and simpler in its institutional makeup, the case of Athens reveals key factors of successful constitution-making that are hard to flesh out in more complex settings.

Carugati demonstrates that the institutional changes Athens undertook in the late fifth century BCE, after a period of war and internal strife, amounted to a de facto constitution. The constitution restored stability and allowed the democracy to flourish anew. The analysis of Athens's case reveals the importance of three factors for creating a successful constitution: first, a consensus on a set of shared values capable of commanding long-term support; second, a self-enforcing institutional structure that reflects those values; and, third, regulatory mechanisms for policymaking that enable tradeoffs of inclusion to foster growth without jeopardizing stability.

Uniquely combining institutional analysis, political economy, and history, Creating a Constitution is a compelling account of how political and economic goals that we normally associate with Western developed countries were once achieved through different institutional arrangements.

I'll add that she says the collapse of the democracy following defeat in the Peloponnesian War produced an oligarchy that was enforced at the tip of Spartan spears.  But this fell apart when the clique at the center refused to extend power to other oligarchs.  The turmoil eventually restored democracy, but a democracy that was chastened and in which the demos and the oligarchs were both resigned to make work so as to end the period of chaos.

I also read The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Pericles.

I'll copy and paste from the review the parts that dealt with the themes that were important to me:

This companion is divided into eleven chapters by eleven specialists and includes an introduction and conclusion by the editor, Loren J. Samons. The chapters are thematic and focus upon the social, economic, religious and political contexts of the age of Pericles (mid-fifth-century BC). There are endnotes after each chapter, as well as a list of suggestions for further reading. 


In the first chapter (“Democracy and Empire”), Rhodes traces the rise of the Athenian empire and investigates its connection with Athens’ democracy. R. contends that the empire strengthened the democracy by involving the mass of citizens, namely by adding ‘to the business which the citizens had to transact’ (28) and necessitating a high level of involvement from the lower classes ( thetes), who were the source of Athens’ naval power (30). Consideration is also given to ‘how far the Athenian combination of democracy and empire is to be attributed to Pericles himself’ (32). R. challenges Thucydides’ view that Athens was ‘in theory democracy but in fact rule by the first man’ (2.65.9) because ‘that is not how Athens worked’ (32). However, he concludes that, although Pericles cannot be responsible for everything that happened in this period, the Athenians largely chose to pursue Periclean policies (33).


In Chapter 3 (“The Athenian Economy”), Lisa Kallet examines ‘the place of money, economic activity, and numeracy in the life of citizens from rich to poor, urban to rural’ (70). K. argues that the Athenians had ‘an economic mentality’. Challenging the view that Athenians had little interest in economic matters, K. provides evidence that ‘money, trade and market infuse the texts of diverse genres’ (71). The chapter is divided into two main parts with subsections. The first considers domestic economic activity (such as agriculture, mining and domestic taxation) and economic activity abroad (involving Athens’ empire). The predominant argument of the chapter is that Athens’ economy under Pericles was complex and unique and that the period was ‘pivotal in the development of economic behaviour, both public and private’ (91).

Kurt Raaflaub contributes Chapter 4, “Warfare in Athenian Society”. This comprehensive discussion is divided into 8 subsections, considering a range of topics, from Athens’ resources for the Peloponnesian War, Pericles’ strategy, and the role of the lower classes, to broader topics, such as the ideology of warfare, Athenian civic identity and the soldiers’ experience of war. The two questions central to this chapter are: ‘What had brought Athens to such a height of power and self-confidence that its leader could predict victory in a war with Sparta?’ and ‘Why was Pericles able to convince his fellow citizens to accept his “hawkish” policies?’ (97). Stressing that ‘we must avoid thinking from hindsight’, R. contextualizes the Peloponnesian War and the events leading up to it and argues that Athens’ empire was an essential factor in the Athenians’ decision to embark upon this ‘astronomically’ expensive war. The main conclusion is that the Athenians, with their lucrative empire, powerful fleet and strong civic pride, had every reason to feel confident at the outset, unable to foresee the lengthy ‘total war’ with ‘its untold miseries’ that the conflict would become (111).


Jeffrey Henderson discusses “Drama and Democracy” (Ch. 7). Although drama flourished under Athens’ democratic government, H. asks to what extent the development of Athenian drama can be related to the development of Athenian democracy and empire. The chapter focuses primarily upon tragedy, which, H. argues, has a more tenuous relation to democracy than the more political genre of comedy.4 Although H. allows that there were some democratic elements to tragedy and its production, he contends that ‘traditional practices’ were put above ‘democratic rules and ideology’ (185). H. concludes that, while comedy has ‘a fair claim to being a phenomenon related to democracy’, tragedy transcended the concerns of democracy, preserving older themes and ideas based upon the polis and panhellenism (188). This chapter is one of the more contentious. Ralph Rosen, for instance, provides a compelling contrasting view in his book Old Comedy and the Iambographic Tradition (1988) that some of the supposed “social functions” (which might be considered democratic) of Old Comedy actually predate the democratic period, such as “collective obscenity”.5 Moreover, H.’s conclusion that tragedy is little reflective of the democratic period contrasts with the more common view that tragedy was considerably influenced by democratic ideology.6

In Chapter 8, “The Bureaucracy of Democracy and Empire”, J. P. Sickinger provides an illuminating discussion of the important role that written texts played in maintaining Athens’ government and empire. After providing an overview of the history of the civic uses of writing at Athens, S. primarily surveys the functions of ‘non-lapidary texts’ since ‘inscriptions tell a very small part of the story of Athenian bureaucratic practice’ (198). The chapter stresses that the function of writing in fifth-century Athens should not be ‘downplayed’ or ‘minimized’ and provides convincing evidence that most writing was likely on perishable materials, such as papyrus or wood.


One of the more dense chapters in the companion is Sealey’s examination of “Democratic Theory and Practice” (Ch. 10). The chapter begins with a discussion of the development of the polis, then examines its political and judicial organs, and ends with an assessment of the relationship between Athens’ demokratia and its independent courts. S. holds the “new” view, based upon more recent scholarship, that early Greece did not have monarchies, but rather that power was private, organized around wealthy households and their dependents. As settlements grew larger, informal meetings organized by household were no longer satisfactory and assemblies and councils were gradually formed, giving rise to the polis-structure. S. stresses that traditional stories of early kings should not be taken literally but rather ‘were fictions invented in the fifth and fourth centuries’ by families wishing to align themselves with a more ‘distinguished ancestry’ (239).

Finally, I completed Anthony Everitt's The Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest Civilization.  (With a subtitle like that you already know it's not a scholarly tome.)  

A thick, lively popular history that tells a complex story without dumbing it down or devoting more than a modest effort to distinguishing fact from myth.

All ancient histories begin with prehistory, and veteran British historian Everitt (The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire, 2012, etc.) describes the Homeric age before 1000 B.C.E. as Greeks themselves viewed it, an ingenious approach that emphasizes the many differences between ancient cultures and modern societies. The heroes of the Iliad were a surly, murderous lot. Lovers of Mary Renault’s classic The King Must Die (1958) may not welcome news that Theseus, the mythical founder of Athens, raped any woman that took his fancy. After a dark age, classic Athens emerged around 700 B.C.E., a turbulent city riven by conflicts between the rich and the poor. The vaunted democracy that emerged after 600 B.C.E. inspired America’s Founding Fathers but also taught them what to avoid. Every male citizen gathered and voted, so it often resembled mob rule. An aggressive aristocratic class remained, and charismatic leaders became populist dictators. Yet it worked. Athens prospered and dominated other cities for two centuries until it tangled with rival city-state Sparta in 434 B.C.E. and lost. After 400 B.C.E. Athens declined into a more modest town, but its intellectual heritage—Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Aristotle, Archimedes, etc.—carried through its fourth-century conqueror, Macedonia, second-century conqueror, Rome, and, subsequently, the Western world. Though dense with incident, the narrative is highly readable, and the glossary and timeline are helpful additions.

Nearly 500 pages of names, plots, betrayals, battles, and murders may be more than some readers want to know about ancient Greece, but Everitt keeps the action moving, making this a worthy alternative to the classic doorstop, Will Durant’s The Life of Greece (1939).

That's all for now.


I read about 2/3rd's of The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane by David George Gordon.

I'm going to be writing a fiction piece that features giant, intelligent slugs as characters and I thought this book would be a good introduction to them.  Here's how my library described it:

A preeminent expert on the small wonders of the natural world, David George Gordon playfully and thoughtfully sheds light on the fascinating lives of slugs and snails. Covering everything from snail sex to the manufacture of synthetic slug slime, Gordon takes us on a journey through the languid and magical world of these charismatic invertebrates. From essays like Grow Your Own Escargot to indispensable gardening tips, this book is chock-full of information on the much-maligned mollusks. Whether removing non-native slugs from your garden or following a native snail as it meanders across the forest floor, you'll never look at these underdogs the same way again.

And here's from the link above:

Unlikely as gastropods may seem as a topic for a book-length study, naturalist Gordon ably enlivens them, combining facts with quotations, a colloquial style, and curious historical references, from Pliny the Elder and Roman snail farmers to 18th-century pharmacists. Fildes’s line drawings recall woodcuts and add a touch of whimsy, aiding the impression that soft-bodied creatures should be regarded as more than agricultural nuisances or "cogs in nature’s Grande Machine." In four chapters—divided with clever, occasionally tongue-in-cheek subheadings as well as informational boxes—Gordon offers a solid overview of these gastropods, beginning with their place in the animal kingdom; continuing with discussions that reveal medicinal and culinary uses; listing some of the common varieties; exploring their physiology (including the properties of their slime); and finally, providing environmental suggestions for balancing their populations in the average yard. A highly approachable read for the neophyte science aficionado and the gardening enthusiast and an entertaining take on the timeless adage, "the meek shall inherit the earth." 

Sounded good.  But what I read was mostly descriptions of various types of North American slugs and snails, some recipies and tips for managing them in your garden.  There was a part that told me they don't have brains but instead have five things that control various internal functions.  I returned it unfinished.

I also FINISHED Charles Allen Whitney's wonderful The Discovery Of Our Galaxy.

Whitney is a very accessible writer.  I was surprised that he was an astronomer and not a popularizer.  Because the writing was just so well done.  But towards the end he showed that he genuinely knew what he was talking about and wasn't just a science writer conveying the knowledge of others.

This is a book about the mystery and the passion, the imagination, religion, and poetry, the philosophy, the intellectual flights—and, above all, the people—that have created the science of astronomy, from Thales of Miletus predicting eclipses in the sixth century B.C. to today’s scientists probing the cosmic significance of the mysterious “black holes” discovered in 1970.  With authority and charm, the distinguished Harvard astronomer Charles A. Whitney here re-creates the lives and temperaments of the great astronomers and retraces the ingenious arguments, the feats of observation and deduction, and the leaps of intuition by which they have gradually unveiled a picture of the universe and have brought us to an understanding of our own planet’s place in it.

The book is from the early-seventies so it's a little dated, but much of what he's writing about is Ancient and Early Modern history so it's not that big an issue.  Plus, it's cool to read an astronomer talking about Black Holes when they had just become a respectable hypothesis.  The historical profiles of various astronomers were very well done.  Apparently Edwin Hubble was a bit of a bad-ass.


As a diversion I read Travis Elborough's Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World's Most Unusual Corners.

This atlas of weird and unusual locations from National Geographic unveils the strange-but-true history, trivia, and geography of our planet’s most intriguing and curious places. From deserted cities and strange settlements, to remote islands and underground labyrinths, this atlas features more than 50 unusual locations around the world—from San Juan in Parangaricutiro, a town entirely submerged by lava, to Leap Castle in Ireland, allegedly the most haunted house in the world. Inviting text by British cultural commentator Travis Elborough is paired with photos, artfully drawn maps, and illustrations. Over the course of five chapters, readers will explore floating worlds, utopian cities, deserted places, man-made oddities, obscure locations, mysterious underground realms, and more. Lyrically written and beautifully illustrated, this book will inform, enlighten, and intrigue you as it takes you on a journey to far-off, peculiar, and often unreachable parts of our world.

It's a nice enough read.  Lil' inneresting vingettes.

I also read (but obviously didn't have time to write about it last week) David Cannadine's Victorious Century: The United Kingdom 1800 - 1906.

The opening of the book is page after page of superlative praise for it.  And I have to say it's pretty well deserved.  Cannadine is a very eloquent writer.  Paragraphs just flow by.  He deals with an enormous amount of of subject matter in a very efficient, eloquent manner.  He reads as if he's more sympathetic to the self-centered, blinkered assholes who governed the UK during the 19th Century than they genuinely deserve.  Still, he does acknowledge their flaws, including their self-delusions about their own moral probity and their self-worth.

One really gets a sense of how tenuous the British period of dominance was and how inevitable was the waning of its power.  This was something that many of the leading men of the time actually understood. (While others felt that God had placed them at the apex of human civilization.)  An excellent, comprehensive introduction to an important topic.


James Laxer's 2009 Democracy (A Groundwork Guide):

Nice little book.

James Laxer’s Democracy, the latest in the Groundwood Guide series, begins with a statement that may surprise young readers: “In the West, citizens assume that they live in a democracy.” He then lists some of the characteristics typically associated with democracy: the right to vote in free elections, the right to self-expression, and the quest for social justice. The “but” comes later, when Laxer, a prominent political science professor and commentator, explains how the rise of multinationals has widened the gap between rich and poor and has endangered our democratic process to such an extent that “unless it is effectively addressed, little else that is achieved will matter very much.”


Democracy is written at a fairly sophisticated level that may overestimate its readership’s grasp of recent history. At the heart of the book, however, is the message that we cannot take democracy for granted: “There is no compelling evidence that there is a universal yearning for democracy in all cultures and social settings, and we can dispense with the dubious proposition that democracy is an outgrowth of human nature.”

I'm tired.

I also finished Ramon Pacheco Pardo's Shrimp to Whale: South Korea From the Forgotten War to K-Pop.

Being an old fogey I know about K-Pop but it means as much to me as any other youngster's music.  I don't give a shit about the Oscars so the importance of "Parasite" winning Best Picture didn't register.  I was briefly on Netflix during the pandemic quarantine but I cancelled it because I hardly watched it.  I watched a couple of episodes of "Squid Game" but grew depressed as it just reflected the oligarchy's current victories while an impotent left-wing pats itself on the back about imaginary victories.

But reading this book made me understand just how far South Korea has come since it emerged as the super-impoverished former enslaved colony of Japan in 1945.

The book’s title is taken from an old Korean perception that Korea was a shrimp among whales geopolitically, surrounded by much larger neighbors like China, Japan, and Russia. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, this proved to be true as Korea was exploited, colonized, and then partitioned into North and South Korea under the influence of foreign nations. Then, a brutal three-year war between the two Koreas involving other nations like the US and China took place in 1950, caused millions of civilian and military deaths and destroyed cities. After the war ended in 1953, South Korea faced a bleak future, impoverished with a GDP per capita of US$67 (not a typo) and high illiteracy rate.


South Korea thus went from a democracy at its founding to an authoritarian state interspersed with elections and coups and protests, a rocky political history that in Pardo’s clear flow does not get bogged down in details. Each president of South Korea and an overview of his or her rule is provided, which enables readers to see a clear path in how the nation progressed gradually to a modern democracy while shedding its authoritarian past.


The book covers events up until 2022 during the Covid pandemic so it is quite contemporary, but its brevity means a number of events get condensed and there is often an extremely bullish tone. The author’s enthusiasm for South Korea certainly flows through the pages, but this also leads to a lack of rigor in comparison to other works with a more strictly historical or journalistic focus. While major political and societal scandals are mentioned, there is not much focus on the country’s significant challenges such as having one of the world’s lowest birthrates and substantial economic inequality.

It remains to be seen if the country can continue to shine as brightly as portrayed by Pardo, but Shrimp to Whale is an enjoyable read that does well to describe how South Korea became an improbable “whale” from its humble beginnings during the mid-20th century.

Maybe a little too rah-rah hooray, but a good read nonetheless.


I finished a short little book (69 pages) called Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie by Jon Ronson.

I saw the movie at a screening and was given a copy of the book as a prize.  The movie is great and the book is funny.

I also just finished Peter Bogucki's The Barbarians from Reaktion Books' "Lost Civilizations" series. 

The Barbarians examines the prehistoric cultures of Europe that existed before coming into contact with the Greeks and Romans as well as the societies that remained outside the frontiers of the Roman Empire.   Bogucki uses the archaeologist’s tools to demonstrate the sophistication of civilizations that are more typically treated as a backdrop for the story of Rome. Despite their skills in art, metalworking and farming, these cultures never developed writing. Because they left no written records, it is up to archaeologists like Bogucki to write their histories.

Two take-aways.  Some of those pre-historic Europeans travelled surprisingly long distances.  And Bogucki argues that the archaeological evidence says that the Barbarian Invasions of Ancient Rome were a much more gradual affair.  Oh yeah.  One more thing.  They can date things incredibly accurately.  They can tell where a last meal came from and what part of the world a person came from using science.


Finished Magna Carta: The Medieval Roots of Modern Politics by David Starkey.  (He's apparently a formerly centrist historian who became a right-wing fire-breather to obtain a television career.)

I liked it.

David Starkey is well known for his television programmes as well as for his books, especially on Tudor England. His focus here is primarily on the machinations behind the scenes and the differences between the original Magna Carta of 1215 and the subsequent Magna Carta granted in November 1216 following King John’s death the month before. The story is fascinating, not least because of the role played by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, Regent to the nine-year-old King Henry III.

Starkey’s book is scholarly yet accessible. Analytical yet clear, it is a pleasure to read.

The story of the Magna Carta is an example where the law of unintended consequences comes into play. What was a localised squabble and an ad hoc solution could have remained just that. But circumstances ensured that that was not to be. After granting the Magna Carta in June 2015, King John then appealed to Pope Innocent III in Rome, who declared the charter to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” since John had been coerced, and accordingly the charter was “null, and void of all validity forever”.

The pope ordered the king not to observe the Magna Carta and the barons not to enforce it under threat of excommunication, thus emboldening King John to fight back. The papal intervention, the subsequent war between King John and the nobles, and the deaths of King John and the pope the following year combined to set the scene for the granting of a new Magna Carta under the regency – and this time by agreement and not by coercion.

By setting limits on the king’s powers over the nobles, the historical actors were unwittingly over those two years laying the foundation for the principle that no person, not even the king, is above the law and for the concept of the rule of law.


“No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”

There is an Irish connection to the Magna Carta. One of King John’s advisers was William Marshal, a social climber if there ever was one. Landless and without money but a great swordsman and jouster, he had married well, as they say. In fact, he married Aoife and Strongbow’s daughter, Isabel de Clare. He was 43 at the time and she was 17. He eventually succeeded to the title of Earl of Pembroke, with vast estates in England and Ireland. By now he was 70 years old and appointed Regent for the young king, Henry III, when King John died in 1216. He had sided with King John and was his principal lay negotiator the year before. But he was politically astute and realised that the situation had changed, so he worked for a compromise, which was the Magna Carta of 1216.

Also: I just finished Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner.  It's a curious book.

From the CounterPunch link:

Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes”

In 1971 the New York Times published its edition of the Pentagon Papers, based on the government documents concerning Vietnam policy which had been borrowed by Daniel Ellsberg. In its preface to the book, the Times commented about certain omissions and distortions in the government’s view of political and historical realities as reflected in the papers: “Clandestine warfare against North Vietnam, for example, is not seen … as violating the Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the French Indochina War, or as conflicting with the public policy pronouncements of the various administrations. Clandestine warfare, because it is covert, does not exist as far as treaties and public posture are concerned. Further, secret commitments to other nations are not sensed as infringing on the treaty-making powers of the Senate, because they are not publicly acknowledged.”
In his new book, “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA”, New York Times reporter Tim Weiner also relies heavily on government documents in deciding what events to include and what not to, and the result is often equally questionable. “This book,” Weiner writes, “is on the record — no anonymous sources, no blind quotations, no hearsay. It is the first history of the CIA compiled entirely from firsthand reporting and primary documents.”(p.xvii)

Thus, if US government officials did not put something in writing or if someone did not report their firsthand experience concerning a particular event, to Tim Weiner the event doesn’t exist, or at least is not worth recounting. British journalist Stewart Steven has written: “If we believe that contemporary history must be told on the basis of documentary evidence before it becomes credible, then we must also accept that everything will either be written with the government’s seal of approval or not be written at all.”
As to firsthand reporting, for Weiner it apparently has to be from someone “reputable”. Former CIA officer Philip Agee wrote a 1974 book, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary”, that provides more detail about CIA covert operations in Latin America than any book ever written. And it was certainly firsthand. But Agee and his revelations are not mentioned at all in Weiner’s book. Could it be because Agee, in the process of becoming the Agency’s leading dissident, also became a socialist radical and close ally of Cuba?

Former CIA officer John Stockwell also penned a memoir (“In Search of Enemies”, 1978), revealing lots of CIA dirty laundry in Africa. He later also became a serious Agency dissident, and the Weiner book ignores him as well.
Also ignored: Joseph Burkholder Smith, another Agency officer, not quite a left-wing dissident like Agee or Stockwell but a heavy critic nonetheless, entitled his memoir “Portrait of a Cold Warrior” (1976), in which he revealed numerous instances of CIA illegality and immorality in the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia.

There’s also Cambodian leader Prince Sihanouk, who provided his firsthand account in “My War With The CIA” (1974). Sihanouk is also a non-person in the pages of “Legacy of Ashes”.

Even worse, Weiner ignores a veritable mountain of impressive “circumstantial” and other evidence of CIA misdeeds which doesn’t meet his stated criteria, which any thorough researcher/writer on the Agency should give serious attention to, certainly at least mention for the record. Among the many CIA transgressions and crimes left out of “Legacy of Ashes”, or very significantly played down, are:

*  The extensive CIA role in the 1950s provocation and sabotage activities in East Berlin/East Germany which contributed considerably to the communists’ decision to build the Berlin Wall is not mentioned, although the wall is discussed.

*  The US role in instigating and supporting the coup that overthrew Sihanouk in 1970, which led directly to the rising up of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, and the infamous Cambodian “killing fields”. Weiner, without providing any source, writes: “The coup shocked the CIA and the rest of the American government.”(p.304) (See WILLIAM BLUM, “Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II”, p.137-8) Nor does the book make any mention of the deliberate Washington policy to support Pol Pot in his subsequent war with Vietnam. Pol Pot’s name does not appear in the book.

*  The criminal actions carried out by Operation Gladio, created by the CIA, NATO, and several European intelligence services beginning in 1949. The operation was responsible for numerous acts of terrorism in Europe, foremost of which was the bombing of the Bologna railway station in 1980, claiming 86 lives. The purpose of the terrorism was to place the blame for these atrocities on the left and thus heighten public concern about a Soviet invasion and keep the left from electoral victory in Italy, France and elsewhere. In Weiner’s book this is all down the memory hole.

*  A discussion of the alleged 1993 assassination attempt against former president George H.W. Bush in Kuwait presents laughable evidence, yet states: “But the CIA eventually concluded that Saddam Hussein had tried to kill President Bush.”(p.444) Weiner repeats this, apparently, solely because it appears in a CIA memorandum. That qualifies it as a “primary document”. But what does this have to do with, y’know, the actual facts?

*  Moreover, the book scarcely scratches the surface concerning the dozens of foreign elections the CIA has seriously interfered in; the large number of assassination attempts, successful or unsuccessful, against foreign political leaders; the widespread planting of phoney stories in the international media, stories that were at times picked up in the American press as a result; manipulation and corruption of foreign labor movements; extensive book and magazine publishing fronts; drug trafficking; and a virtual world atlas of overthrown governments, or attempts at same.

“A Legacy of Ashes” is generally a good read even for someone familiar with the world of the CIA, but it’s actually often rather superficial, albeit 700 pages long. Why has so much of importance and interest been omitted from a book which has the subtitle: “The History of the CIA”; not, it must be noted, “A History of the CIA”?

Whatever jaundiced eye Weiner focuses on the CIA, he still implicitly accepts the two basic beliefs of the Cold War: 1)There existed out there something called The International Communist Conspiracy, fueled by implacable Soviet expansionism; 2)United States foreign policy meant well.  It may have frequently been bumbling and ineffective, but its intentions were noble. And still are.

Weiner writes well enough about older topics.  The coups in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950's produced horrible, tragic results.  The Vietnam War was a crime.  The attacks on Cuba were a waste.  But the closer he gets to the present day the more Weiner becomes an apologist for US government policy.  Reading this book on the drive towards bush II's invasion of Iraq one gets the impression that the bush II regime was misled by the "Bad Intelligence."

The fact that the CIA's original analysis that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs and that Dick Cheney made unusual trips to CIA headquarters to emphasize his insistence that they find something isn't mentioned.

Colin Powell is presented as having total faith in CIA Director George Tenet's "slam-dunk" case for Saddam Hussein when he made his presentation to the United Nations.  In fact, Powell knew that some of the CIA's case was "bullshit" and he would therefore have no reason to trust anything else they were giving him.  He was deliberately concocting an excuse for war and he knew it.

If anything, the book's subtitle could be "Hope springs eternal."  No matter how many decades of (often incompetently performed) imperialism Weiner describes, it's always the case that the "talent" at the agency is burning out; and new recruits, the equals of the geniuses that Weiner has already shown were bumbling ignroamuses, are hard to come by.  The CIA turned towards "The Dark Side" when it introduced torture during bush II's GBWT.  Oh sure, there was the torture and murder in the Phoenix Program in Vietnam.  And the torture training for Latin American death sqauds from the 1950's to the present day.  But the Agency sullied itself in the GBWT.

I did learn the great extent that the CIA controlled Italian and Japanese politics in the 1950's and 1960's.  That was an eye-opener.


I read what turned out to be more of a picture book than I'd anticipated; Athina Cacouri's Mycenae: From Myth to History, about the discovery of the site of the lost city of Mycenae, the history of the archaeology and the development of the thesis about what it meant.

It's a pretty cool book.  It helped that I was stoned when I read it.

I also read a fair chunk of Frank McLynn's The Road Not Taken: How Britain Narrowly Missed a Revolution. (I got to the end of the chapter on the Chartists but somebody is waiting for it.)

I like the way McLynn thinks.  He seems open-minded and not dogmatic.  He might be too comfortable within the state of the world as an individual and a thinker but I tend to agree with him as I follow his arguments.


* Britain has not been successfully invaded since 1066; nor, in nearly 1,000 years, has it known a true revolution - one that brings radical, systemic and enduring change. The contrast with her European neighbours - with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and Russia - is dramatic. All have been convulsed by external warfare, revolution and civil war - all have experienced fundamental change to their ruling elites or their social and economic structures.

* In The Road Not Taken Frank McLynn investigates the seven occasions when England came closest to revolution: the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, the Jack Cade rising of 1450, the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, the English Civil War of the 1640s, the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6, the Chartist Movement of 1838-48 and the General Strike of 1926.

* Mixes narrative and analysis, vividly recreating each episode and providing compelling explanations of why social turbulence stopped short of revolution.

That's it for today.


Finished Harry Sidebottom's Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction.  (Oxford University Press has produced a series of these "very short introductions."  I've read a few.  They're quite good.

Anyhooo ....


Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction examines all aspects of ancient warfare, from philosophy and strategy to the technical skills needed to fight. How did wars shape classical society? How was the individual's identity constructed by war? Can a war be just? Why was siege warfare particularly bloody? What role did divine intervention play in the outcome of a battle? Greek and Roman warfare differed from other cultures and was unlike any other forms of warfare. The key difference is often held to be that the Greeks and Romans practised a ‘Western Way of War’, where the aim is an open, decisive battle, won by courage instilled in part by discipline. What is this ‘Western Way of War’?

I'll only add that the book delivers on all of that.  But Sidebottom's writing give you a really visceral understanding of the probable reality behind the speculation.  I read this book for one reason.  I wanted to know how someone like Xerxes or Cyrus financed a huge expedition to fight the Greeks.  I didn't find what I was looking for.  Oh yeah.  The "Western Way of War" was pretty much a vague, self-promoting, very flexible, B.S. concept.


I decided to put my research about how rebellions and revolutions arose and how they contributed to the democratic instinct on hold for a bit and read some books about current political-economic conditions.  The three books I signed out appeared as an accidental trilogy.

Thom Hartmann's The Secret History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore Its Greatness, David Dayen's Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, and Wolfgang Streeck's How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System, worked out to tell the story of how we got here (Hartmann), what the end-result of neoliberal theory has produced (Dayen), and the likely near-future for humanity given the failure of neoliberalism specifically and capitalism in general.

First, Hartmann's Secret History of Neoliberalism:

This book goes back to the founding of the Mont Pelerin Society, where liberal economists like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises got together after World War II to come up with a set of prescriptions that would save civilization from totalitarian fascism and communism.  In their theoretical fantasy-world, the capitalist free market, when left to its own devices, functioned perfectly.  Unregulated prices sent signals to profit-maximizers who self-interestedly produced wealth for themselves that would subsequently trickle down or filter out into the wider society.  It was the best, nay, the ONLY way to run society.  

The problem was that it didn't work fast enough and it didn't always make everybody richer.  Some people suffered at the hands of the market.  But that is life.  That is reality.  However, some people don't want to accept reality.  Like the toiling masses for instance.  Democracy was dangerous in that it gave uneducated, immature populations, the power to interfere with the capitalist free market, creating regulations and rigidities and distortions that would eventually produce disaster.

Supposedly the inflation and high levels of unemployment of the 1970's ("stagflation") was the inevitable disaster that they'd predicted.  "Stagflation" supposedly discredited the Keynesian social welfare state, the class compromise of the post-war era.  It was time to sweep away such nonsense and impose the technocratic, neoliberal, free market regime that economic "SCIENCE" had established as the one, true way for humanity.  First, in the UK under Margaret Thatcher, and soon afterwards, by Ronald Reagan in the USA.

America’s most popular progressive radio host and New York Times bestselling author Thom Hartmann reveals how and why neoliberalism became so prevalent in the United States and why it's time for us to turn our backs to it.

With four decades of neoliberal rule coming to an end, America is at a crossroads. In this powerful and accessible book, Thom Hartmann demystifies neoliberalism and explains how we can use this pivotal point in time to create a more positive future.

This book traces the history of neoliberalism—a set of capitalistic philosophies favoring free trade, low taxes on the rich, financial austerity, and deregulation of big business—up to the present day. Hartmann explains how neoliberalism was sold as a cure for wars and the Great Depression. He outlines the destructive impact that it has had on America, looking at how it has increased poverty, damaged the middle class, and corrupted our nation’s politics.

America is standing on the edge of a new progressive era. We can continue down the road to a neoliberal oligarchy, as supported by many of the nation’s billionaires and giant corporations. Or we can choose to return to Keynesian economics and Alexander Hamilton’s “American Plan” by raising taxes on the rich, reversing free trade, and building a society that works for all.

Indeed.  Hartmann advocates protectionism and some form of mercantilism. Economic nationalism.  He has chapters on how neoliberalism destroyed Russia and Chile, and other chapters on how the rejection of neoliberalism by the Chinese and South Koreans made them stronger.  He talks about how Reaganism has destroyed the state's ability to provide necessary services and hollowed-out the economy, causing unemployment, inequality and a loss of skills.  His chapters on the out-sourcing of military procurement by profiteering, gouging oligarchs, and how this has weakened the USA's ability to produce its own weapons is playing out before our eyes in the [welcomed, to my relieved eyes] USA's failure to ramp-up production for the proxy-war in Ukraine.

Personally, I don't favour economic nationalism.  I prefer regional integration of large areas (for instance, North America from Panama to the Arctic, with the free movement of people, and the expansion of democracy and human rights and legislative authority over the economy for everyone within this group.  And I think Hartmann's belief that a returned to enlightened, regulated capitalism under a restored New Deal is unrealistic.

David Dayen's Monopolized describes the world that was created by neoliberal ideologues.  A state that does not, by pretending that it cannot, regulate capitalism, loses the ability to control oligarchies and their collusion, which amounts to the same thing as monopoly.  

And when uncontrolled oligarchies exist, things get bad for the majority:

Over the last forty years our choices have narrowed, our opportunities have shrunk, and our lives have become governed by a handful of very large and very powerful corporations. Today, practically everything we buy, everywhere we shop, and every service we secure comes from a heavily concentrated market.

This is a world where six major banks control most of our money, four airlines shuttle most of us around the country, and four major cell phone providers connect most of our communications. If you are sick you can go to one of three main pharmacies to fill your prescription, and if you end up in a hospital almost every accessory to heal you comes from one of a handful of large medical suppliers.

Dayen, the editor of the American Prospect and author of the acclaimed Chain of Title, provides a riveting account of what it means to live in this new age of monopoly and how we might resist this corporate hegemony.

Through vignettes and vivid case studies Dayen shows how these monopolies have transformed us, inverted us, and truly changed our lives, at the same time providing readers with the raw material to make monopoly a consequential issue in American life and revive a long-dormant antitrust movement.

It is a damning indictment of neoliberal nonsense.  A very worthwhile read.  Each chapter shows how powerful corporations exploit, abuse, and plunder.  It's infuriating.  It is the world we've been living in since Reaganism.  It makes life for ordinary people more expensive, insecure, and unjust.  Read it.

Finally, Streeck's How Will Capitalism End? describes the place we find ourselves in since the 2008 financial crisis, which was caused by unregulated, neoliberal, financialized capitalism.  It is an era of corruption, stagnation and increasing social-economic inequality.

Capitalism destroyed the ability of institutions (politics, labour unions) to control it.  But it needs to be controlled or else we have the abominations described by Dayen and the nightmare dystopia described by Streeck.

Capitalism is in critical condition. Growth is giving way to secular stagnation, inequality is leading to instability, and confidence in the capitalist money economy has all but evaporated. In How Will Capitalism End?, Wolfgang Streeck, an observer of contemporary politics and economics, argues that capitalism’s shotgun marriage with democracy that began in 1945 is breaking up because the regulatory institutions restraining its advance have collapsed. After the final victory of capitalism over its enemies, there is no political agency capable of rebuilding them in sight. The capitalist system is stricken with at least five worsening disorders for which no cure is at hand: declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of the public sphere, corruption, and international anarchy. Wolfgang Streeck asks whether we are witnessing a long and painful period of cumulative decay: of intensifying frictions, of fragility and uncertainty, and of a steady succession of "normal accidents."

It is a fairly dense, detailed work.  This is a scholarly work of social-economic analysis.  Which makes it all the more worthwhile.  It focuses on Europe but makes connections to other polities, especially the United States of America.  In the European Union, neoliberal technocrats have created the true dream of the Mont Pelerin ideologues.  An economic zone where democracy has been effectively removed from decision making.  What that resulted in was a European banking system that tried to imitate the massive (if imaginary) wealth creation (based on fraud) of Wall Street and the City of London.  This saw massive, easy loans from German and French banks to real-estate speculation and etc., in the Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and Greece.  With the 2008 international financial crisis that all went bust and the technocratic geniuses are focusing on austerity as the solution.  But austerity is only going to squeeze the European working class to pay back the bankers the money that the bankers themselves lost.

Streeck talks about a taxation and redistribution state in the 1945-73 era.  Redistribution was partly an increase in working class consumption to compensate for continued political inferiority.  Briefly there was the inflation state of the 1970's as wage increases were allowed to meet the price increases of the era.  Then Reagan initiated the debt state.  An era when first the public sector, and then the private sector (including households) were allowed to borrow to maintain consumption.  Now we're in the consolidation era.  Canada probably got their first with the blinkered austerity and tax-cuts era of Paul Martin.  The public sector is cannibalized to pay for the tax-cuts for the wealthy.

Streeck points out how the 2008 crisis and the pandemic forced governments to return to deficits, but this simultaneously alarmed the fucking oligarchs about the solvency of their cash cow.  MORE AUSTERITY!

Streeck's book is particularly important for how he realistically explains that this state of affairs of lurching from neoliberals' self-imposed disasters, one after another, will probably be extended, because no viable alternative movements exist.  A sad, but welcome bit of reality after all the useless patting themselves on the back of Leftists, endlessly celebrating their tiny, or non-existent "victories" as the world careens out of control and conditions for the majority continue to decline.

I'm tired of writing today. 


I finished two books about two famous French painters.  First Warren Roberts' Jaques-Louis David Revolutionary Artist: Art, Politics and the French Revolution.

Roberts repeats himself in some sections.  I recall reading the same statement sometimes three times. Nevermind.  I know what I'm trying to say.  I'm just tired.  Also, at some point, Roberts writes about David reconciling with his wife and I don't recall his mentioning when David ever got married.   It was an interesting book because David was an interesting guy with an interesting career.  And now I have a sense of the whole story.

So, French society at the end of the 18th Century was embracing what they believed had been the stoic, self-sacrificing, public-spirited virtues of republican Rome.  It was a reaction against the culture of frivolity of the Rococco and decadence of Louis XV's day.  (Typified by the painting above.)

What's funny is that his career-making painting "The Oath of the Horatii" was about individuals sacrificing for the collective but he broke the official Academy rules for the size and proportions of the canvas, saying that his personal vision was more important.

Anyway the French Revolution broke out a few years later and David became its official artist.  He was going to do a big propaganda painting of the Tennis Court Oath but the revolutionary government became increasingly radical and many of the heroes in his prepatory sketch were out of favour or had even been executed.

David became a follower of Robespierre and signed some arrest and death warrants as well as working on revolutionary festivals such as the founding of the Church of the Supreme Being.  He also painted a commeration of the death of the revolutionary journalist Marat:

Then Robespierre got himself executed and the Republic's leadership became more conservative.  David avoided execution but he was placed under arrest.  He felt very let down and decided to concentrate on art from then on.  He painted a picture of "The Intervention of the Sabine Women" between their male family members and the Romans who had kidnapped and raped them.  David used to have the manly men doing their manly sacrifices while the women wept.  But after the tumult of the Revolution and his arrest he made the female advocacy for peace take command.  (To his credit, David appears to have treated women well personally.  He encouraged his female students and looked out for them when they were away from their homes staying with his family in Paris.)

But then Napoleon came to power and David found himself intoxicated with him.  But that was only for a short time.  He decided that Napoleon was a brilliant military man but a philistine when it came to culture.  I'm tired of typing about this.  There was a part about how David's son was thought to have been killed fighting under Napoleon when he actually survived the five saber (sabre?) slashes through timely medical intervention.  He escaped his Prussian captors and made it (barely) to the French lines before showing up unexpectedly at his parent's door.  Then the crazy kid went back to the front-lines.

David did a painting of King Leonidas of the Spartans as the wars turned against France.  David hoped for victory until the end and worried about his son and son-in-laws the whole time.  (They all survived.)

The Bourbons were restored and David was given an amnesty.  But when Napoleon returned for his "Hundred Days" David rallied to him.  As a result he was exiled to Belgium (The Netherlands?) on the Bourbon's return.

I'll write about the Delacroix biography later.

And now it is later.  Delacroix: A Life by Timothy Wilson-Smith was a pleasure to read.

I don't agree with the review that Wilson-Smith (while adeptly portraying the era and its culture) fails to describe the individual at its center.  Of course, I haven't read much else about Delacroix.  Maybe it's a comparative thing.

Wilson-Smith does not deny Delacroix's complexity, but he cannot convey it: the volcanic flame that inspired the next generation and fired Van Gogh and Cezanne is cold. Despite its well-researched precision, this book reminds one of Delacroix's own painting of The Execution of the Doge Marino Falieri - a periphery crowded with figures and detail, but the centre void, a blank space of stairs and, at their foot, a corpse.

Delacroix came to the artworld when it was still under the spell of David's classicism.  It's highly finished painting and clean lines.  There were already contrarians to this hegemony.  Gericault was an influence on the young Delacroix.  They would become part of the early-19th Century culture of Romanticism.

Was Delacroix the son of Talleyrand?  Or someone else?  His cool detachment reminded me of Talleyrand.  But all his life Delacroix revered the memory of his legal (and perhaps genuine) father, a diplomat of Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France.

Delacroix loved English writers, most notably Byron and Scott.  He painted scenes from their books and poems.  He didn't like the Bourbons.  One of his most famous paintings commemorates the 1830 Revolution that toppled them: "Liberty Leading the People."

The popularity of this work made Delacroix a favoured artist of the Louis-Phillipe monarchy.  He accompanied a French diplomatic tour of North Africa and was thereby exposed to new cultures and new environments.  

Delacroix did not believe in equality.  He wasn't a democrat.  He was an elitist and he hung around with cultural elites like Chopin and George Sand.  He tried again and again to join the official Academy of the Arts.  I liked this book.  Bye-bye.


I just finished Tony Iommi's biography Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath.  

T'was a whimsy I had.  It's a very low-key book but Iommi had some wild times.  He writes very diplomatically and plays down the personal animosities that occasionally popped up between himself and other band members especially Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio.  I guess they all did become friends at the end because they eventually all worked together again at different times.  That having been said, Iommi doesn't shy from criticizing the corruption of various managers he had in the past.

Iommi describes himself as the reasonable guy, the guy who had to make all the big decisions to keep the band going.  There is probably a lot of truth in that.  He also writes about violent practical jokes, often at the expense of drummer Bill Ward.  Like the time he set him on fire and gave him third-degree burns to his leg.

It was interesting reading about his childhood in postwar Birmingham with his volatile parents.  And, if you're interested, he summarizes the various post-Dio line-ups of Black Sabbath as well as his side-projects.  Some of those recordings were well received and successful.  At the end of it you see a guy who calmed down and who got to make music that he wanted to make while remaining the Godfather of Heavy Metal.


I read a fair bit [a little past the part about Hammurabi and then I skipped to the epilogue] of Michael Hudson's ... and forgive them their debts: lending, foreclosure and the redemption from bronze age finance to the Jubilee Year.

The core assumption underlying his economic analysis is simple: as a law of mathematics, debts growing at compound interest are irremediably bound to overtake – typically s-curve – economic growth. In this book, Hudson recounts how scribes from ancient Babylonian temples (2,000 BC) were trained to be aware of this phenomenon: debts tend to become unpayable. This is the logic behind the adage with which the author is most closely associated: ‘Debts that can’t be paid, won’t be.’ The real question is how they won’t be paid, by way of write-downs or foreclosures.


Hudson claims that, contrary to widespread economic beliefs, most debts have not arisen as a result of loans for productive enterprise. Throughout antiquity they were mostly back fees from failed crops or other unpaid tax obligations. Thus, when sovereign rulers proclaimed clean slates of personal debts – contracts for financing trade were typically exempted – they were cancelling obligations owed mostly to themselves.

Such periodic debt amnesties by rulers had a dual purpose: a) preserving the economic solvency of the population, and with it its ability to supply corvée labour and taxable surpluses; and b) preventing the rise of a creditor oligarchy capable of rivalling – or limiting – royal power.


Nearly anyone with the necessary patience will benefit from reading this book. Alas, Hudson does not make the task an easy one. The book demands an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the Bronze Age – though more realistically an actual encyclopedia – on the part of the reader, lest one gets lost in a maze of facts and terms that are as informative as they are obfuscating. Nevertheless, the effort is well worth it. Just as it is difficult to imagine someone being indifferent to Hudson’s arguments and findings, it is equally difficult to conceive anyone whose outlook on history, religion and/or economics will be left unchallenged – or even unchanged – upon turning over the last page.

It is a bit of a slog, like the reviewer says.  As well, I just started to get depressed thinking about all the centuries of the vast majority of the people being oppressed and exploited by creditor oligarchs.  But, just as the reviewer also says, it is an important and worthwhile read.

I also read an anthology of cartoonists from Fantagraphics Books entitled Kramers Ergot 10.

For me, this issue suggests itself as a more ideal version of the eternally benighted Best American Comics series: an anthology showcasing new work by a collection of proven talents, both long established and still ascending, with an elevated level of quality as its lone polestar. "In comics there's no reason to do anything that doesn't put quality as its number 1 priority," Harkham opines. "You can't say that about any other medium, pretty much - people are trying to get things done on deadlines or fill a slot on Netflix or whatever. But with this the goal is to make the book as good as you can. It connects to this idea of comics as a whole. With an anthology you're not focused on this book or this artist. You're saying I like this medium. I like all of it, you know?" 

Indeed, more than any previous issue, this Kramers has something for anyone who's into comics, if the rep it's been assigned doesn’t circumscribe who'll pick it up. One-page gags by a history of greats from Frank King to Simon Hanselmann orbit longer pieces by Connor Willumsen or Harkham himself that demand equal weight be given to both ends of the old “literary comics" descriptor, with squint inducing formalism from C.F. and Marc Bell forcing readers to confront work that reads like nothing else, and Lale Westvind throwing red meat to the peanut gallery with a body horror comic rooted firmly in the Golden Age superhero idiom. The book sees talented artists like Aisha Franz, John Pham, and Will Sweeney making comics that don't really invite comparison to any others, but fit perfectly in a collection bound together more by the high level its contributors are working at than any stylistic tendencies. 

Yes.  It does have some cartoonists from decades and decades ago.  But it also has newer artists.  All of them showing the vast diversity of what comics can be.


I got 2/3rds through Serhii Plokhy's Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (It's an e-book, due today, and two people are waiting for it.)

Plokhy discovered a few previously unknown documents relating to the Cuban missile crisis, and although his research does not essentially change the story, his outstanding talent for weaving a narrative from myriad sources makes his new book hard to put down.  ... In his answer to the perennial question of who blinked first, he emphasizes that both sides were operating in “a dark room of deception and mutual suspicion,” so “when one side blinked, it took the other side more than a day to realize what had happened.”

I'd never actually read a book dedicated to this story.  Plokhy comes across as obviously more sympathetic to Kennedy than to Kruschev but not overtly so.  There really were a LOT of close calls.  Something today's propaganda hacks, senile shits and brainwashed .... not that I think anyone in the early-sixties was all that much smarter.  Who is kidding whom?


Finished Tariq Ali's The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold.

I honestly did not know that Tariq Ali has been writing since the Vietnam War. [The review at the link above is quite good BTW.]  He was therefore covering the period from the beginning with the 1979 Soviet invasion (which he is quite fair about).  Reading this series of articles, which extends from the Soviet invasion and the book itself was completed on the day the Taliban re-took Kabul in August 2021, shows how anyone with an ounce of knowledge and honesty could see how this was going to play out.  It is infuriating to think of all the stupid assholes who, either through corruption, delusion, ignorance or cynicism, subjected millions of people, generations of Afghanis, to suffering and horror.  I think I recall pompous asswipe Terry Glavin once having the temerity to criticize Ali in his [Glavin's] blinkered support for NATO imperialism.  Forty years of getting it right isn't enough for arrogant dilettantes it seems.


I just finished Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960's Los Angeles by Mark Rozzo.

I'd probably seen Dennis Hopper before I saw him as Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet" (perhaps when watching "Apocalypse Now" on television)but if I had,  I don't think I really knew who he was.  But his playing of Frank Booth was amazing.  I don't think I ever hated, despised, loathed, a movie villain like I did Frank Booth.

So, over the years I found out a little bit more about Hopper.  From being an up-and-comer in the late-1950's, acting in major films with James Dean, Hopper burned his bridges in Hollywood and instead became a photographer with some connections to the Arts scene.  Then he became a drug addict and directed and starred in "Easy Rider" and then he went into rehab and "Blue Velvet" was his combeback movie and he became a respected, sober actor who had also become a right-winger politically.

It turns out that it was his marriage to Brooke Hayward that allowed him to stay in Hollywood, be one of the first people on the West Coast to buy an Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Can print and galavant about photographing art openings, the Civil Rights Movement, hippy festivals and the riots in Watts and the Sunset Strip.  Hayward was the daughter of Maraget Sullivan and Leland Hayward.  The former a top-tier Hollywood actress from the 1930's and the latter a very successful agent and later theatre producer.

Talented in her own right, she was first discouraged of pursuing an acting career by her mother and then, later, by Hopper when, as her only sporadically employed husband (mainly low-budget films and parts on "The Twilight Zone" and "Petticoat Junction" [!]) he was jealous of her easy success.  The book comes to an end with their divorce which was decided upon after Hopper's violent behaviour was intolerable, which happened just as filming on "Easy Rider" was about to start.

Rozzo's book is a very entertaining, readable account of Hayward's and Hopper's life in the eye of the hurricane of the burgeoning art scene in 1960's California.  And it shows how much this couple helped create that hurricane.

Hopper, Hayward, & Groucho Marx during the filming of their episode of General Electric Theater


Finished Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August a couple of days ago.

I'd read three of her other books years ago.  A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (I don't know where my copy went.  I looked for it yesterday.), The March of Folly, and The Proud Tower.  The Guns of August would have its own historical significance as it was (legends say) just finished being read by President John F. Kennedy before the Cuban Missile Crisis and it served as a warning to him about how events could spiral out of control due to hubris or simple misunderstandings.  In a small way, Tuchman's book might have helped save (or postpone) the destruction of human civilization.

I have to say that this book is EXCELLENT.  Perhaps it's useful to have more than a cursory knowledge of World War I before reading it.  Otherwise, the foreign names of the actors and the places can be overwhelming.  But WWI had a lasting effect on Western Civilization and the subsequent history of the world.  It destroyed European autonomy and began the process of that continent's vassalage to the United States of America.  It contributed mightily to the disillusionment of Europe's youth and the whole population's disaffection with the cultural pretensions of the elites.  It produced the USSR and laid the foundations for WW II and thereby nuclear weapons.

As such, the way that Tuchman shows how the decisions that led to the German battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau getting to Istanbul brought Turkey into the war, thereby producing a front in the Middle East and weakening Russia.  She shows how Russia's hasty invasion of Prussia (at the desperate insistence of France) convinced the German military leader Moltke to deviate from the Schlieffen Plan, which had been to concentrate all possible forces against France first, and send two German corps to the Eastern Front.  Moltke saw that France's left flank was crumbling, the British high command was attempting to flee back to England (until Lord Kitchener personally came to France to stiffen the spine of Sir John French) and he thought he could spare those two corps to rescue the estates of the Prussian Junkers from the unexpected early Russian attack.  Those two corps might have been the difference between the close Allied victory at the Battle of the Marne which stopped the German advance and produced the bloody stalemate of the Western Front.

In other words, The Great War was a bloody, close battle to the finish between all the sides.  It was, as Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo: "the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life."  And in the first thirty days in August 1914 that Tuchman describes in her book, it was a series of near-run things that all combined to produce the nightmare from 1914-1918.  And she makes them all come alive with the skill of a brilliant novelist.


I read Giles Sparrow's A History of the Universe in 21 Stars (and 3 imposters).

In this book Sparrow uses the 24 extraterrestial objects as representatives of the sorts of things going on in space.  Often these stars n' imposters were the phenonemena that helped astronomers gain their insights.

In this new non-fiction book, the author explains key scientific discoveries through stars: from Polaris and the calculation of sky angles/directions and the discovery of Mizar’s double nature and what it ultimately said about star systems, to the mysteries of sunspots and the discovery of the existence of black holes through the exploration of Cygnus X-1. Although A History of the Universe does engage in a lot of confused “cherry-picking” of scientific facts and discoveries, and the language does get quite annoying, the book can still be described as a pure “starry” wonder and a good read for all those interested in stars and key scientific discoveries related to them.

We learn through this book how the colour of Aldebaran, one of the brightest stars in the sky, paved the way for discovering the properties of stars; how the discoveries related to Betelgeuse contributed to finding new forms of measuring distances between objects in space; and in what ways Supernova 1994-D contributed to expanding our knowledge about dark matter. It is also interesting to read about numerous globular clusters, including the impressive Omega Centauri, and how these were also first thought to be stars, as well as about the mysteries of the Andromeda nebula (nebulas are linked to the birth of stars).

Two things that I remembered: First, ... some flickering and occasionally almost disappearing stars are binary systems of a red giant and a white dwarf.  Sometimes the red giant comes in front of the white dwarf and sometimes the white dwarf pulls matter from the red giant and grows in size until it burns the new material away.

The energy from an unremarkable looking star was enormous when radio telescopes came around.  It turns out that the star was a galaxy almost 4 billion light years away.  The energy released from it came from massive stars at the core smashing against each other and exploding, or hitting the event horizon of the black hole at the core and being ripped apart.  The fact that the light coming from this galaxy (3C 273) was 3.9 billion years old when it got to us shows that all this happened a long time ago and that it likely represents the way our own Milky Way was in its youth.  (Oh yeah, the Greeks said the Milky Way is the squirting of Hera's breastmilk when she woke up and found that Zeus had put Hercules on her nipple while she was sleeping.) [Evidently Sparrow read a different version of that myth from the one at the link.  Whatevah.]

I noticed an error or two in the illustrations.  Especially one near the beginning that confused me.  Sparrow is an okay writer.  I'm just not a fast learner.  This book deals with A LOT of heavy shit in a breezy, brisk manner.  I'll have to gain more familiarity with each topic to judge how clearly or not he actually writes.


It was a slim thing.  But what the hell, I read it.  And it had a hard cover.  So I was at my local branch of the Toronto Public Library and on a whim I decided to see if they had a book about Petro Aretino.  He was an interesting dude.  You should look him up. I'd first heard of him when I read Sheila Hale's biography of Titian.  There was really only Titian's Petro Aretino.

It turns out this little booklet was put out by the Frick Gallery.  

An essay by Xavier F. Salomon paired with a contribution by Francine Prose brings to life one of Titian’s most personal and revealing portraits. The author of lives of saints, scurrilous verses, comedies, tragedies, and innumerable letters, Pietro Aretino (1492–1556) attained considerable wealth and influence, in part through literary flattery and blackmail. Little is known of his early years, but by 1527 he had settled permanently in Venice. Among Aretino’s friends and patrons were some of the most prominent figures of his time, several of whom gave him gold chains such as the one he wears in this portrait. He was on intimate terms with Titian, who painted three portraits of him. Here the artist conveys his friend’s intellectual power through the keen, forceful head and his worldliness through the solid, weighty mass of the richly robed figure.

Frick was a late-19th Century asshole who worked for a bigger little asshole named Andrew Carnegie.  He ran Carnegie's steel business for him and became a multi-millionaire and eventually an art collector.  This was one of the paintings he bought.  Emma Goldman's boyfriend Alexander Berkman tried to assasinate him during the Homestead Strike.


Yesterday I finished Ross King's Leonardo and the Last Supper.

Here's what Charles Nicholl in The Guardian has to say about it:

The story of Leonardo's creation of the work has now found an ideal chronicler in Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, which have won plaudits for their concise, close-focus study of great renaissance achievements. King has the gift of clear, unpretentious exposition, and an instinctive narrative flair. Here he cross-cuts between the political tensions of 1490s Milan – with expansionist threats from France culminating in the invasion of 1499 – and the dogged concentration of Leonardo at the Grazie. He ferrets through various aspects of the mural and its composition – the "secret recipes" of paints and glazes; the complex geometry of the perspective, which makes the fictive space seem like an actual annex of the refectory; the wave-like formation of agitated apostles' heads as they react to Christ's announcement of impending betrayal; the eerie exactitide of the vanishing point, marked by a nail-hole just visible on the paint surface around Christ's right temple.

I liked it.  At times I thought King missed some facts that I'd recently learned about in another biography of Leonardo that I read recently (mentioned either in this post or my list of readings from last year) but he eventually got around to them.  King really does describe the details of Leonardo and his work on the mural, Leonardo's other pursuits, and the wider world of Milan, Italy as a whole and the relevant facts about the wider European context at the time in a very accessible way.


I finished Geoffrey Roberts's Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov.

Here's a bit of a review from "Good Reads":

When he first began researching this book, author Geoffrey Roberts planned to be highly critical of General Zhukov, and provide a "warts and all" portrait that would expose many myths about the Soviet war hero. However, he admits that as he delved deeper and deeper into the subject, he became more sympathetic to this complex character.
This book provides an excellent, balanced, in-depth portrait of a man who was largely responsible for the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. Roberts compares him to other famous generals such as Eisenhower, Patton, and Montgomery. He concludes that Zhukov was the best all-around general, but that he was so adapted to the Communist system that he would not have been able to duplicate his success in a different army.


This book will let you see him "warts and all" and you may, as Roberts did, grow to admire his better qualities. One lone reservation that I have about the book is that it is focused on the big picture of World War II, and does not dwell in detail on the tactics of specific battles. If you are looking for many maps and diagrams showing how Zhukov won some of his most famous battles, such as Kursk and Nomonohan, look elsewhere. There is a good account here of the battle of Nomonohan, but this fight has been the subject of a book in itself. This biography is focused more on the overall Soviet strategy of the war, how Zhukov made it work, and what sort of a man he was in both his public and his private lives.

I thought it was a decent book.  I thought I'd heard from other sources that it was Stalin who kept insisting on futile counter-attacks at the opening of the German invasion but Roberts says this had been the policy of the Soviet general staff from before the war and that Zhukov ordered them.  I also thought that Zhukov had told Stalin they didn't have enough war material to push the Germans entirely out of the USSR during the counter-offensive after the Battle of Moscow but Roberts portrays Zhukov as being pretty much on the same wavelength as Stalin.

The part about Zhukov's postwar career shows what a sick culture existed in the Soviet Union.  Stalin's worst crimes took place in the 1930's, and things mellowed considerably after he was gone, but it was still a place where you could be denounced for imaginary crimes or for crimes that everyone condemning you also did.

The fact of the matter is that Zhukov threw lives away with a brutal callousness.  He made a lot of mistakes.  But maybe, in the end, the Soviet system was the only thing that could have effectively ended Hitler's nightmare regime of racism and terrifying stupidity and hypocrisy.  Certainly the USA wouldn't have sacrificed the hundreds of thousands of more men than they'd already lost fighting the Germans in WWII for the sake of Europe.  Of course, Hitler would probably not have been the same man had not the Soviet Union come out of WWI.  Which all goes back to Gavrilo Princip assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Speaking of World War Two, I also read George Marshall, by Debi and Irwin Unger (with Stanley Hirshson).

I liked it better than the reviewer:

Of vastly greater stature than Patton, George Marshall has never been the subject of a Hollywood biopic. He has not quite been forgotten. His name is forever commemorated in the Marshall Plan. But neither does he have any real place in American cultural memory. He is a monument without a profile and hence a challenge to his biographers. His most recent biographers are Debi Unger, an editor at Harper Collins; Irwin Unger, an emeritus professor at New York University; and Stanley Hirshon, author of biographies of General Sherman and General Patton. A professor at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, Hirshon died in 2003. They try to get behind the monument in George Marshall: A Biography. Still, they have a hard time interpreting this elusive man. At best they make wintry allusions to his character, to “his reticence,” “his limited social give,” “his austere ethic” and “unbending persona.” (Marshall refused to laugh at FDR’s jokes.) His personal life was entirely free from scandal. Even his heroism was somehow private.

In this biography, we see Marshall’s heroism reflected in the eyes of others. He “could mesmerize Churchill” according to Churchill’s private secretary, Jock Colville. Truman declared Marshall “the greatest military man that this country ever produced—or any other country for that matter.” A State Department employee who worked under Marshall, Charles Kindleberger, thought that Marshall “was Olympian in his moral quality.” There are so many quotes testifying to Marshall’s greatness that they cannot be dismissed as political boilerplate. Yet Hirshon and the Ungers offer little commentary on Marshall’s character, treating it as one might a personnel file, pointing out areas of strength and weakness, achievement and failure. If Marshall’s career is meticulously analyzed, his heroic presence vanishes into the wooden prose of this sober, unemotional book.

Maybe that's because I thought the biography confirmed my suspicions about Marshall.  Once upon a time I was going to write a screenplay about Averill Harriman and I did a lot of reading about WWII.  George Marshall, the US military's Chief of Staff was always described as this man of sterling integrity and moral authority.  Eventually I looked him up and one source described him as a mediocre student, an insecure young man and an unremarkable military career before the war. Other sources weren't as harsh but neither did they have much more that was better to say.

This biography shows (to my mind) that Marshall was a man of limited intellectual gifts but decent managerial skills.  Most importantly, he knew his limitations and was not intimidated by them.  Because he was good at organizing men and resources to accomplish what was necessary.  He wanted to become a general but he determined to achieve this through dogged persistence and competency and not through obvious careerism and sycophancy.  He decided that as a military man it was best if he was perceived as non-partisan, and so he was honestly non-partisan.  He was (as a military man) eager to promote the idea of a military that could and would effectively act in world affairs which made him an internationalist, but socially and economically he probably was more comfortable with the Republicans.  So his non-partisan aspect came naturally to him.

The book is harsh in its assessment of his training program and his recruitment and replacement policies.  He was often NOT a good judge of his men's abilities.  Some of his favourite generals turned out to be incompetent.  Eisenhower was consistently a better politician and conciliator than he was a general.  On the other hand (as the review states) it was a huge task simply to grow an instituion from 275,000 men to 8,000,000 and to fight a world war on two fronts against two armies, one of which had the best officers and the most experienced soldiers in the world.

Two final things: It seems that both sides in what would be the Chinese Civil War (Mao's Communists and Chiang Kai-Chek's Nationalists) trusted his integrity when he tried to mediate between them.  And, it made me smile to hear that Harry Hopkins was one of the few public figures (or few people anywhere) he considered a friend and allowed to call him "George."


Last night I finished Tim Cook's Warlords: Borden, Mackenzie King, and Canada's World Wars.


In his engaging new work, acclaimed military historian Tim Cook asks us to believe just that. With confidence, flair, and dry wit – and enough biographical and historical context to give texture to the men and their times – Cook resolves that Borden and King truly were warlords, though of a particularly Canadian kind. Both were confronted with similar overwhelming issues: raising and fielding a military from a pool of civilian recruits, stick-handling the complexities of war finance and production, managing the divisive issue of conscription, and making “the agonizing appraisal of how far the nation could be pushed in the pursuit of victory.” Both were ultimately successful, variously employing restraint, conciliation, manipulation, and diktat to navigate, not steamroll, a very difficult nation through a time of worldwide conflict.

Warlords will be especially useful to general readers of Canadian military history, providing an often overlooked political perspective on Canada’s experiences in two world wars. Cook points out that the two prime ministers and their times were so utterly different that comparing them is a false construct.

I bought this because it was on sale for half-price  at the VIC Book Sale at U of T.  Anyways, I don't think Borden was successful.  He did a lot of damage to national unity and I'm sure the tens of thousands of young Canadian men would have preferred Canada stayed a colony if it meant they'd be allowed to live their lives rather than get blasted to fragments by artillery shells or perforated by machine-gun bullets.

Mackenzie-King rose somewhat in my estimation by the way that he truly agonized over sparing the lives of Canada's soldiers.  He saw war for the hideous insanity that it was and wanted to steer clear of the worst of it.  Cook mentions the absence of the mentioning of actual soldier's deaths in Mackenzie-King's diary, so it's possible that this morality was an intellectual-ethical position rather than one founded on genuine empathy.  It's hard to say.  King had mad political skills but he was also a fairly weird dude.

What really stands out is the almost complete lack of a state bureaucracy in 1914-1918 Canada, reflecting the lack of development at the time, versus the much greater sophistication of Canada's political-economy by 1939-45.  To a great degree, the First World War spurred this growth.  As well (I guess) as the continued economic development of the railroads (finished in the 1880's and 1910's) and the Laurier immigration boom.  These wars were pressure-cookers of political-economic development and Warlords is a good introduction to how our governments at the time managed them.


I was at the library and I wanted to read a book about something in European history from between 1300 and 1800. I found a book about Henry II of France, but I hardly touched it.  I'd also wanted to read something about or by Werner Herzog.  And I found The Twilight World, about Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who lived in the jungle on a Philippine island until 1974 thinking the war was still ongoing.  It turned out to be a slim little thing and I realized I could finish it that evening.  So I did.

Herzog tells Onoda’s tale from the beginning, when the psychologically remote sentinel had a few companions. One was captured early on and two were killed, all well after the war had ended. Onoda, though, was convinced that the war was ongoing since year after year vast armadas of American ships and airplanes came by—though bound for Korea and then, a decade later, Vietnam. “Our tasks are to remain invisible, to deceive the enemy, to be ready to do seemingly dishonorable things while keeping safe in our hearts the warrior’s honor,” Onoda exhorts, sure that the leaflets and broadcasts directing him and his troops to surrender are all “just a trick to lure them out of their jungle fastness.” Three decades after the war ended, a young Japanese student named Suzuki—whose goal after having ferreted out Onoda is to find a yeti and then a giant panda—strikes a deal: If he returns with the commander who had ordered Onoda to remain on Lubang, then Onoda will surrender. What happens next has the bittersweet dimension that is another Herzog trademark, marked by graceful prose: Onoda becomes a rancher in Brazil, and among the cows and away from people, “he knows he is where he is.”

I thought it was an eloquent account of something I'd read about on Wikipedia but still didn't have much of a grasp on.  There's a part where his brother was given a loudspeaker and called out to him to give up but Hiroo (though profoundly disturbed by the experience) managed to convince himself it was another trick.  He believed that he was to maintain a presence on the island until the Japanese Imperial Army made its triumphant return.


I read Kliph Nesteroff's The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy.

Here's "Kirkus Reviews":

At the beginning, Nesteroff, a former stand-up comedian and host of Classic Showbiz Talk Show, makes two important assertions. First, he sets out to dispel the myth of the tragically flawed funnyman who uses comedy as a way of hiding his insecurities. While there is some truth to the trope, not all comedians fit the stereotype of the tragic clown figure. Second, Nesteroff states that comedy does not age particularly well. It is an art form very much of its time, one that is not typically designed for posterity. It’s a worthwhile distinction, because while the author describes the acts of the comedians he profiles, clearly explaining their differences and similarities, he is careful not to excerpt too much of their actual acts. A good comedian is principally judged by his peers, and Nesteroff reclaims the legacy of many of the older, forgotten comedians.  ... Nesteroff’s narrative follows the form through the mob-run nightclubs of Las Vegas and Miami Beach, radio and TV, and the emergence of comedy-specific clubs in the 1970s. The author skews toward midcentury comics with only a passing mention of the new millennium, but this is in part because that was when comedy was a business and culture unto itself. The high stakes of comedy at its peak is perhaps best evidenced by the purported assassination attempt on comedian Jackie Mason in 1966. Anecdotes, firsthand recollections, and gossip like this are what distinguish Nesteroff’s history as a definitive volume.

A lively, raucous, and immensely entertaining love letter to the funny business.

For my part I agree with Nesteroff's way of writing about older comedy.  I'm not sure though, how much of the book's claims are accurate.  But everything is based either on the historical record or on the recollections of those who were there at the time.  This is a very vibrant, entertaining and occasionally dark story.  Highly recommended.

I also read the two-volume collection of the graphic novel series, The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman (writer) and Tom Coker (art) [with Michael Garland and Rus Wooton credited as colourist and letterer respectively].

A review:

Before becoming known for long and complex superhero sagas Jonathan Hickman had a lot to say about the state of the world, why he thought it was in that state, and who was responsible. He returns to those concerns with The Black Monday Murders, presenting a longstanding organisation, the Caina-Kankrin investment bank, uniting Western and Eastern financial traditions. They combine the acquisition of money with the ceremonies and symbolism of a religion. When one of their directors is found dead, it opens a police investigation, and because his instincts are at an uncanny level, Detective Theodore Dumas is placed in charge.

Hickman is playing a very long game, toying with the often fostered conspiracy theory that an elite cabal of financiers control the world. As far as this is concerned they may not exactly do that, but neither is there an elected official who can stand in their way. There are over two hundred story pages in All Hail Mammon, and by the end we’ve learned very little beyond names and dates. There has been a conspiracy in the 1980s, and it failed. Or did it? There is an ancient language, possibly the world’s first, that very few understand. A family member has been brought back in from the cold. Consumption of blood seems to be literal and de rigeur among certain types, and everything has a price to be paid. Everything.

As we burrow down into the minutae, at times it almost becomes dull, but Hickman’s not without an awareness, and will throw in a shocking scene or glimpse of the past, like a sardine to a captive seal. The comic strip pages have information pieces sifted between them, a list of bankers heading an influential group from 1929 to the 1980s, the investigation sheet of Detective Dumas, interview transcripts, and other documents, some partially redacted. It all builds up the feeling of an investigation more solid than the usual shorthand procedures enabled in graphic novels.

My biggest problem with the story is that I didn't see enough of the various characters to be confident as to who was who.  There were several families rotating between occupying various "chairs" (granting them certain powers and responsibilities) in their world-controlling organization.  And we're presented with three generations of them.  But not enough time was spent fleshing these people out and saying who was now sitting in what "chair" and I was often flipping back to the Dramatis Personae page.


I read Christopher Hibbert's Venice the Biography of a City.

Here's an excerpt from his obituary in The Guardian:

He served as a London Irish Rifles infantry officer with the 8th Army during the Italian campaign, being awarded the Military Cross during the attack on the German fortification on the River Senio during the winter of 1944-45. He was wounded twice while fighting along with the partisans during the battle of Lake Comacchio in April 1945. He then moved on to become personal assistant to General Alan Duff at allied force HQ in Italy. In a field hospital in Italy, he met the actor Terence Alexander - most famous for playing Charlie Hungerford in the TV series Bergerac. Hibbert was in the next bed to a German soldier. At least one nurse neglected to dress the German's bandages. Hibbert and Alexander tenderly did so, on the grounds that the war was hardly this individual's fault, any more than it was theirs.

Back at Oxford, Hibbert met Susan Piggford, a fellow undergraduate, who was reading English at St Anne's College. She was the love of his life and they married in 1948. After graduating, he began a career as a land surveyor (1948-59) which he did not greatly enjoy. He wrote in his spare time, and, became television critic of the now defunct Truth magazine.

His wife supported his wish to make a living out of writing even though money would inevitably be tight, but she may have cut short his career as a fiction writer. Hibbert had written a radio play about adultery. Sue typed it for him but omitted the raunchy and saucy parts on the grounds that it would upset his parents if broadcast. The play was declined by the BBC. It was only some time later that his wife confessed to that; but by then, his career as a historian had started.


He enjoyed gardening, bringing home mud-caked vegetables for his wife from his "allotment" - a big corner of a friend's garden - the Simpsons and Coronation Street. The house was crammed with cats when his family was growing up. He was not a connoisseur of film, but liked the adventure of going to the pictures and loved taking his children to appallingly unsuitable films. He enjoyed anything from westerns to Carry On and was proud that he once helped Sid James park his car in Jermyn Street. Above all there was his family, and friends, for whom he would give big parties with big drinks.

Hibbert died in Henley-on-Thames, his home since 1954. He had had just over 60 years of an extraordinarily happy marriage. He was described by JH Plumb as a "writer of the highest ability", and by the New Statesman as a "pearl of biographers". He could not write a dull word if he tried, suggested the Sunday Times. He was uxorious and philoprogenitive, generous, loving, and loved. He was devoted to his children, James, Tom and Kate, and to his three granddaughters, as they were to him.

I couldn't find a decent review for this book online.  So I'll say that it's a nice, entertaining, fairly detailed book about an interesting city.  He traces the city from the early days to 1966.  In their early days of power the Venetians had to kill a lot of people to build their empire.  Nasty stuff.  The section on the revolution of the 1840's is a well-told story that I'd never encountered before.  I wanted to read about Venice the city because in my recent readings on Renaissance artists I'd already looked at Florence and Rome.

I also read Gender Magic by Rae McDaniel.

That's all for now ...


I was looking for a horror novel to read for October and after a few lists on websites I decided upon Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

Basically I agree with this reviewer at that link:

Heart Shaped Box was a simple and original story with some terrific writing reminiscent of Joe Hill's own father, but the book failed to deliver anything remotely scary. Although it did explore some creative supernatural elements and mediocre plot twists, I guess I expected more horror. I did like that the relationships and behaviours of the characters seemed natural and not vain for the plot's sake. I felt myself caring about some of these characters amidst their tribulations. I would recommend this book but not as a horror novel but as more of a suspenseful thriller with a supernatural twist. 3 stars.

The part where the package arrived in the mail and the person who sent it started talking crazy on the phone creeped me out but the rest of it felt like an adventure story.  I wasn't surprised to find out the author behind the pseudonym was Stephen King's son.


Finished The Conjure Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher.  T'was an ebook from the Toronto Public Library.

As you can see from the link, Fisher was an accomplished guy.  Didn't think I was reading a book from 1932 when I got it out.  It gets a little convoluted towards the end but it was enjoyable.



Last night I finished John F. Melby's The Mandate of Heaven: Record of a civil war CHINA 1945-49 with photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (University of Toronto Press, 1968).  I was visiting the University of Toronto and (as is common for a university history department) there was a box with a bunch of books that professors were giving away.

At first I thought this was a strange book.  There are around 25 chapters that begin with Melby summarizing what happens in the time period to be discussed, followed by his diary entries during that time.

What makes his diary entries relevant is that Melby was a high-ranking diplomat in the United States Embassy in China (Chungking 1944-45, Nanking 1946-48).  So he had access to many of the main actors in the drama of the fall of the Kuomintang government and the eventual victory of the Chinese Communist Party.  

Melby comes across as a sensitive liberal humanist.  He's obviously used to travelling in elite circles but his reflections on the ordinary people he meets are generally free of condescension and, with regards to the Chinese, entirely free of racism.  I said that I thought this a strange book at first, because it was so personal.  But it turned out to be the sort of literary style of history that I find makes the subject easiest for me to grasp.  In his round-about way, Melby's musings provide the context in which so many ideas were circulated and policies made.

CCP Troops reach the Forbidden City (photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

The story of the defeat of the KMT is this: China had fallen behind the West militarily by the 19th Century and European imperialists took advantage of their power to humiliate and exploit this once great empire.  The last emperors of China had been the Manchurians.  Their inability to resist the West had led to their overthrow in 1911.  But with the fall of the Manchus, China split up into various warlord kingdoms.  Japan had been similarly abused, but because it had always been a weaker and poorer entity than China, it was merely a sideshow to the Europeans, and, moreover, the Japanese were more capable of realizing the importance of seriously learning from other cultures.  (Until it was too late, China's rulers regarded the Europeans as troublesome barbarians whom they would somehow triumph over in the natural order of things.)  Japan's example of imitating/absorbing Western knowledge and building up its industrial, economic and military strength served as an example for Chinese intellectuals.

Eventually the Chinese Nationalist Party formed along Western lines under Sun Yat-Sen and dedicated itself to uniting and modernizing China in order to restore their autonomy.  (The Nationalists were the Kuomintang/KMT.)  The KMT was successful in eventually uniting China through the party's own military-political power, and by making deals with the warlords, the mandarin class and the new business class.  These were the sorts of people whose position depended upon the economic exploitation of the vast majority of the population who were peasants.  It was only Mao, in opposition to the dogmatic Marxism of both the Russians and the CCP who saw the obvious reality that revolution in China depended on the peasants.  The KMT's leader from the late-1920's to, ... well, forever, but they had to flee mainland China for the island of Taiwan/Formosa in 1949 was Chiang Kai-Chek.  And he was able to hold the rickety alliances of the KMT (warlords, fascist party members, capitalists and intellectuals) together, while mainly depending on the KMT's fascist wing.

Chiang's wife was Sun Yat-Sen's sister-in-law.  Her brother was T.V. Soong.  He was the KMT's finance minister during the 1940's.  Educated in the United States (like his sisters) he used his position to become very wealthy.  Melby spends a lot of time on the massive corruption of the KMT, stating at one point that almost one-third of the over $3 billion dollars that KMT-ruled China got from various international sources in the 1940's disappeared into the hands of the party's leadership.

During the 1930's and the 1940's, Chiang was forced to stop his policy of extermination against the CCP and fight alongside them to defeat the Japanese.  The war against Japan increased the prestige of both the CCP and the KMT.  On top of that, the CCP's fighters, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) likewise rose in the estimation of the peasantry.  In China, soldiers had traditionally been treated as the scum of the earth both by their officers and by the society they lived in.  In return, they often lived up to the part, looting and raping and killing wherever they went.  The KMT treated their soldiers abysmally for the most part whereas the CCP treated them as comrades and Mao instructed them to treat the peasants with respect.  The peasants were the sea that the PLA fish swam in.  As well as not molesting the peasants, PLA soldiers paid for what they needed, helped with the harvest and basically gave a good accounting of themselves

The war gave the CCP access to captured Japanese weapons as well as US military supplies.  Their land-reform policies were supremely attractive to the peasantry.  When the war ended the CCP was far more powerful than they had been before the war.  There was no way that Chiang could immediately go on the offensive against them.  The country was exhausted from the war and did not want to renew fighting with a civil war.  Fighting did resume but the population did not appear to be happy about it.

The USA was the dominant foreign power in China and everywhere else in the world.  The USSR had its own rebuilding to do.  It had civil relationships with both the CCP and the KMT.  Stalin did not think it realistic that the CCP would come to power in the then foreseeable future.  Truman sent former Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, to construct some sort of political arrangement between the CCP and the KMT.  Neither side bargained honestly but the KMT (still in power) was the most duplicitous.  Eventually, Chiang decided he could dispense with diplomacy and bring a military solution to the situation.  General Marshall (rightfully as it turned out) told Chiang that this was nonsense.  He was overextended.  Sustained fighting would be ruinous.  The CCP had all the advantages in the north.

Here's Wikipedia's summary of part of the situation:

Although General Marshall stated that he knew of no evidence that the CPC was being supplied by the Soviet Union, the CPC was able to utilize a large number of weapons abandoned by the Japanese, including some tanks. When large numbers of well-trained KMT troops began to defect to the Communist forces, the CPC was finally able to achieve material superiority.[57][58] The CPC's most effective political reform was its land reform policy. This drew the massive number of landless and starving peasants in the countryside into the Communist cause.[59] This strategy enabled the CPC to access an almost unlimited supply of manpower for both combat and logistical purposes; despite suffering heavy casualties throughout many of the war's campaigns, manpower continued to grow. For example, during the Huaihai Campaign alone the CPC was able to mobilize 5,430,000 peasants to fight against the KMT forces.[60]


Using the pretext of "receiving the Japanese surrender", business interests within the KMT government occupied most of the banks, factories and commercial properties, which had previously been seized by the Imperial Japanese Army.[54] They also conscripted troops at an accelerated pace from the civilian population and hoarded supplies, preparing for a resumption of war with the Communists. These hasty and harsh preparations caused great hardship for the residents of cities such as Shanghai, where the unemployment rate rose dramatically to 37.5%.[54]

Hyperinflation meant those employed in the Kuomintang forces lost the purchasing power of their pay.[62]: 204  This resulted in corruption and the embezzlement of supplies which disappeared into the barter economy.[62]: 204  Ordinary Kuomintang soldiers were often malnourished and desertion was common.[62]: 204 

The US strongly supported the Kuomintang forces. About 50,000 US soldiers were sent to guard strategic sites in Hebei and Shandong in Operation Beleaguer. The US equipped and trained KMT troops, and transported Japanese and Koreans back to help KMT forces to occupy liberated zones as well as to contain Communist-controlled areas.[54] According to William Blum, American aid included substantial amounts of mostly surplus military supplies, and loans were made to the KMT.[63] Within less than two years after the Sino-Japanese War, the KMT had received $4.43 billion from the US—most of which was military aid.[54]

Social-economic relations in the Chinese countryside had been murderous.  Peasants living on the margins of existence were exploited to the last penny (or whatever) by landlords and usurers.  A lifetime of hardwork could count for nothing with a small run of bad luck and entire families would fall into destitution.  Elites were merciless in getting their cuts.  When the CCP took over an area, the tables were turned and the peasants often used the opportunity to exact violent retribution.

The People's Republic of China would show that (even with their occasional mistakes) socialism would organize China's resources better than the feudal and feudal-capitalist systems that had prevailed before them.  During the Chinese Civil War of the late-1940's, they showed the superiority against the ossified, selfish leadership of the KMT.  The PLA's motivated soldiers, backed by the masses of the peasantry prevailed against the bankrupt, corrupted KMT and their half-starved, demoralized troops.

Wealthier Chinese frantically trying to buy gold with their depreciating paper currency. Shanghai, 1948.

What made me want to write a separate post about this book (I'll add this entry to my page about my readings for 2023 later) is the way that Melby disparages the Chinese liberals and intellectuals for their ineffectual activism in the struggle for China's future.  Time and time again he writes admiringly of their personalities and their ideals, sympathizes with and laments their plight, while criticizing them for their unrealistic aims and their failure to organize.  When they do pull of some inter-party coup or force some principles' inclusion into some constitutional document somewhere, Melby explains that it only amounted to all theatre and empty words.

It was the KMT with their single goal of national unification and the restoration of China's autonomy, and then the CCP with their goal of socialist revolution, and their mutual agreement to employ violence and dedicated zeal to their ideals who would prevail against these gentle intellectuals and Confucian bureaucrats.  

Which isn't to say that Melby preferred either the KMT or the CCP.  For the most part he feared and loathed both of them.  Because Melby was himself a liberal intellectual.  Here's Wikipedia:

In December 1945, he recorded his assessment of the two sides in his diary:[14]

One of the great mysteries to me is why one group of people retains faith, whereas another from much the same origins and experiences loses it. Over the years the Communists have absorbed an incredible amount of punishment, have been guilty of their own share of atrocities, and yet have retained a kind of integrity, faith in their destiny, and the will to prevail. By contrast the Guomindang [Nationalists] has gone through astonishing tribulations, has committed its excesses, has survived a major war with unbelievable prestige, and is now throwing everything away at a frightening rate, because the revolutionary faith is gone and has been replaced by the smell of corruption and decay.

He faulted U.S. policy in his diary in June 1948 as the communist victory neared: "All the power of the United States will not stem the tides of Asia, but all the wisdom of which we are capable might conceivably make those tides a little more friendly to us than they are now."[12]

Melby himself would be on the receiving end of McCarthyism.  T.V. Soong used his financial resources and his political contacts built up over years of China helping the USA to fight the Japanese to get right-wing Republicans to unite around the shit-for-brains idea that China was lost because of communist sympathizers in the State Department.  Melby's romantic relationship with Lillian Hellman (which cooled to a friendship over the years) became the reason for his own purge from the USA diplomatic corp for decades:

In the early 1950s, at the height of anti-communist fervor in the United States, the State Department investigated whether Melby posed a security risk. The investigation began in September 1951, a week after ex-communist Martin Berkeley told the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that Hellman had attended an organizational meeting of the Communist Party in 1937. Initially, the issues Melby was asked to address were minor.[27] Then in April 1952, the department stated its one formal charge against Melby: "that during the period 1945 to date, you have maintained an association with one, Lillian Hellman, reliably reported to be a member of the Communist Party." Based on unverified testimony from informants that she was a member of the Communist Party, along with her participation in many communist-front organizations and left-wing advocacy groups, Melby's suitability for government service was questioned, and when Melby appeared before the department's Loyalty Security Board, he was not allowed to contest Hellman's communist affiliation or learn the identity of those who informed against her, only his understanding of her politics and the nature of his relationship with her, including detailed discussion of their occasional renewal of their physical relationship. He never promised to avoid contact with Hellman, but allowed that he had no plans to renew their friendship.[28]

In the course of a series of appeals, Hellman testified before the Loyalty Security Board on his behalf. She offered to answer questions, but the board was not prepared to hear testimony about her politics, which it had already determined on the basis of an FBI investigation. She was only allowed to describe her relationship with Melby. She testified that she had many longstanding friendships with people of different political views and that political sympathy was not a part of those relationships. She described how her relationship with Melby changed over time and how their sexual relationship was briefly renewed in 1950 after a long hiatus: "The relationship obviously at this point was neither one thing nor the other: it was neither over nor was it not over."[29] In summary, she said that:[30]

... to make it black and white would be the lie it never has been, nor do I think many other relations ever are. I don't think it is as much a mystery as perhaps it looks. It has been a ... completely personal relationship of two people who once past being in love also happen to be very devoted to each other and very respectful of one another, and who I think in any other time besides our own would not be open to question of the complete innocence of and the complete morality, if I may say so, of people who were once in love and who have come out with respect and devotion to one another.

After seven hearings, the State Department dismissed him on April 22, 1953. As was its practice, the loyalty board gave no reason for its decision.[31] The entire process went unnoticed by the press. Melby later credited his good relations with the press: "I think among newspapermen there was a kind of conspiracy to protect me."[32]

In December 1960, as the Kennedy Administration took shape, Melby tried to have his security clearance restored, encouraged by the appointment of Dean Rusk, who was familiar with his State Department work, as the new Secretary of State. His longtime friend Averell Harriman was becoming ambassador-at-large. Robert F. Kennedy blocked their efforts. Appeals to State Department officials responsible for administrative matters failed, as did the advocacy of Pennsylvania Senator Joseph S. Clark Jr. on Melby's behalf. HUAC maintained a list of persons it considered ineligible for government employment that overrode State Department views. Melby dropped these efforts in 1966, when he moved to Canada.[33]

Harriman urged Melby to press the issue once again in 1977 at the start of the Carter administration, and Richard Holbrooke lent his support. Secretary of State Edmund Muskie restored Melby's security clearance in December 1980 and hired him to work as a consultant on the Sino-Vietnamese Conflict for several months.[34]

It is ruthless ideologues who often hold power.  People stupid enough, or fanatical enough to say anything, to believe anything, to fearlessly contradict themselves, to shamelessly debase themselves, who ofteh rise to power.  And it is the sensitive, intellectual, artistic types, ... those who can see both sides of an argument, those who are willing to admit they are wrong and who are often afraid to act because they might be wrong, who are thrown aside.

And this is the fatal flaw in liberalism.  Corrupt, right-wing autocracy loses China.  Corrupt, right-wing autocracy loses Vietnam.  Corrupt right-wing autocracies in the Philippines.  Throughout Latin America.  In Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan.  Mobutu in Zaire (now the Congo).  The Duvaliers in Haiti.  The puppet government in Afghanistan that fell to the Taliban in 2021. 

In the end, Melby was just as ineffectual as China's libeals.  Liberals seem to believe that the best they can do is to ameliorate the worst barbarisms of capitalist exploiters and fascist psychopaths.  They're like "How can we help ordinary US-Americans access healthcare without pissing-off the greedy monsters of the private healthcare sector?"  The answer, of course, is that they can't.  And thus we have "Obamacare."

They're like: "How can we improve conditions for peasants in developing countries without alienating their rapacious landlords, plantation owners, and other assorted scumbags?  How can we do this while simultaneously suppressing the violent revolution that wants to eradicate the parasites we're allied with?"  The answer is that they can't.

Moreso, many liberals become corrupted by their association with scumbag oligarchs.  They come to enjoy the nice restaurants, the expense accounts, the dinner parties, the private planes, the revolving door between business and government, the nice clothes, ... all of it.  And, like scumbag Tony Blair, or Barack Obama, or the Clintons, they become indistinguishable from the creatures they thought they could persuade to act better.

To mask their failure, liberals will hide behind the phrase: "It's complicated."  But it really isn't.  They can't solve problems because they don't want to.  Sure, it's "complicated" to try to square a circle.  But that's because it's impossible.  It's a waste of time.  It's a fake attempt at a solution.

In the 1940's, capitalism was on the ropes.  It had obviously been ripping-off the majority of people in industry and agriculture.  It's ideals were discredited in the Great Depression and by the mobilizing of resources by the state in WWII.  The trade union movement was at the height of its power.  Left-wing ideas prevailed throughout the culture.  But the capitalist ideology fought back and, through the development of "public relations" or "propaganda" or brainwashing since the 1920's, this dog-shit ideology is in the ascendent.  The fact that it is entirely discredited is of no real significance because the absence of an alternative has given us "zombie neo-liberalism."

Neoliberalism is dead…again. It died the first time in the aftermath of the Great Depression and Second World War, in the heady days of the Marsh Papers, Beveridge Report and New Deal, when it seemed that profit and high wages could coexist, that endless growth would benefit just about everybody. It stayed dead for several decades, during which democracy flourished, inequality declined, but came back in full vigour after the economic upheavals of the 1980s.

Neoliberalism was again pronounced dead after the Dotcom bubble burst around 2002 and even deader after the financial meltdown of 2008. Books announcing its demise can be purchased cheap in bookstore bargain bins.

And now, post-pandemic, in the midst of “build back better” commitments here, in the U.S. and Europe, neoliberalism is yet again being pronounced dead. Just how many lives does it have or, as some have begun to wonder, is it more like a zombie wreaking havoc long after its demise because we haven’t figured out how to take it out of its misery, our misery.

I guess that's what I wanted to say.  I thought I'd be more profound.  At the moment I'm tired and this is just an entry on my blog.



A friend of mine recommended that I read some stuff from US-American union organizer Jane F. McAlevey.  Around about the same time, when I was still a subscriber to his YouTube channel, Jimmy Dore had her on as a guest:

Yesterday I finished No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age

In No Shortcuts, McAlevey critiques not only the failed business unionism adopted by most unions, but also what she describes as the “mobilizing” model adopted by many more progressive unions. The book describes a model of “deep organizing,” based on the methods used by the emerging radical Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) unions in the 1930s and ‘40s. This was a period when working-class militancy put its stamp on U.S. history. As a result of these militant strikes and struggles, the basic industries of auto, steel, rubber, and electricity were organized for the first time – changing U.S. history. She also discusses the central importance of community organizing as an essential companion piece to powerful workplace organizing.


McAlevey draws a sharp distinction between three different organizing models: Advocacy, Mobilizing, and Organizing. She describes how “Advocacy,” the dominant method of mainstream union leaders, looks to use the courts and political lobbying to win one-time gains and does little or no mobilizing. It is ineffective and does not raise the consciousness of workers. Otherwise described as business unionism, it looks to work out an agreement with the bosses without mobilizing the workers.

The dominant section of the current union leadership see the power of the union rooted in their own “persuasive skills.” At the same time, they seek to find “common ground” with the boss. They see workers as bargaining chips. They see possible outcomes as limited by the “existing political climate,” i.e., the limits of capitalism. Example of this can be found through a quick glance at the methods of the current leadership of the UAW, the building trades, and Teamsters.

She contrasts this to the “mobilizing” model, which, while giving the appearance of being bolder and more dynamic, is very shallow and ineffective. Its central weakness is that it fails to organize an expanding base among workers, thus failing to develop the overall strength of the labor movement.

One chapter exposes the methods of David Rolf and SEIU Local 775 in Northwest Washington State, and the broader SEIU leadership among health care workers between 2005 and 2007 as a particularly obnoxious example of that strategy. In this campaign the workers were used as pawns in an elaborate scheme to use the union contract to get concessions from the Washington legislature to fund the employers, to then pay for a terrible union contract. In this whole process, the workers were passive by-standers.

Her model, by contrast is a return to “deep organizing” of workers in the workplace as done by CIO and that seeks to transform consciousness and is a starting point to sustained struggle.


McAlevey stresses that real power rests with the workers themselves. Her deep-organizing model can be broken down into the following steps:

  • Only strikes can win real gains and we need to build power in the workplace to win a strike
  • Success depends on workers building networks in the workplace
  • The first essential step is to identify natural leaders who can build such networks
  • That involves challenging these leaders to accept the risks and responsibilities
  • These leaders then need to build powerful teams around them
  • The strength of these teams needs to be tested through escalating public actions.

Workers need to build support in all areas of their life outside the workplace. The more fundamental the struggle, the stronger the structure that needs to be built. Only then will workers be prepared for what it will take to win.

If you didn't click on it, that review was from Socialist Alternative. (The top of the google search.) Here's some links to some other reviews:

Labor Notes:

Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts is an exciting book. It tells the stories of important struggles and it tackles the big questions facing the labor movement. McAlevey is a former staffer, organizer, and national leader of the Service Employees (SEIU) on the losing side of a power struggle, then an academic and now a consultant.

Readers will recognize the concepts McAlevey promotes as driving many of the rank-and-file struggles reported in Labor Notes over the years. She explains them well and provides historical context. If on some topics she “bends the stick” too far and misses some important subtleties or complications, she is bending it in the right direction.

McAlevey builds her argument with five cases. She compares the approaches of two nursing home organizing efforts in what she calls “Class Snuggle vs. Class Struggle.” She goes into depth on the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012, the successful organizing of giant Smithfield Foods in a right-to-work state, and the development of Make the Road New York, a model of community organizing.

The Commons Social Change Library:

McAlevey argues that a movement needs serious power to win serious outcomes, and this power comes from engaging organic leaders who already have influence. This specifically contrasts with the approach taken by most NGOs, and many unions, who engage with people McAlevey calls “activists” who already support the cause but don’t necessarily have a following. Instead of taking the shortcut of working with activists (which might be sufficient for a mobilising approach and low concession costs), No Shortcuts suggests doing the deeper, harder work, of winning over organic leaders.

The reasoning for this is twofold. Firstly, building majority power in a “bounded constituency” (such as is required for a strike) makes it necessary to reach out to every person in that constituency, regardless of their “preexisting interest in the union”. Real power means a committed majority, and that can’t be achieved by only working with an activist minority that already supports the cause: “because the goal is building majorities of a bounded constituency, organizers are constantly forced to engage people who may begin with little or no initial interest in being a part of any group”.

Secondly, it’s worth taking the time to identify and win over “organic leaders” because they already have influence in a workplace. Rather than find people who are supportive and work to build their influence, you find people who are influential and work to build their support. McAlevey argues that developing these leaders is more valuable than training “random volunteers”, as they start “ with a base of followers”. “They”, she notes, “are the key to scale.” So, although organic leaders don’t necessarily support the union (or the cause), they are a natural target because they have influence in the constituency and will shape the views and behaviour of other constituents.

Is this concept relevant outside union organising? While it makes sense to speak of leaders in a workplace, or in a faith community, does it make sense to talk about leaders in civil society in the same way? Outside the shop floor, are there community member who are also organic leaders — who are influential, with a base of followers?

The answer, probably, is yes. But more importantly, the key distinction here is between activists who may display commitment and “leaders” who can move others to act. Recruiting activists is not the key to scale and, in fact, limits scale. If you are using resources to train and coordinate activists who are very supportive but can’t move others to act, you won’t be able to create the sort of distributed leadership structure that mean you can scale up the operation without saddling a few professional staff with an ever-growing workload. Being able to identify leaders, distinguish activists from leaders, win over leaders and develop them as necessary, is the key to building majority power — because leaders build your capacity to grow to scale.

The part about the difference between "leaders" and "activists" reminded me of a chapter in a book I read in university The Romance of American Communism (which I see came out in a new edition in 2020).  There was one interview with a CPUSA member who went from university into the factories to spread the socialist gospel but who found that he was more a bookish nerd than leader of the proletariat.  He mentioned how genuine leaders would be talking during some workplace struggle and how on the occasions when he did speak up the natural leader (and the few others who bothered to acknowledge his existence) regarded him with pity.

Speaking of memories of other books, in the chapter where McAlevey contrasts the different methods employed in unions for nursing home unions in New England and Washington State, she mentions the radical, worker-driven local 1199.  Seeing that number reminded me of a book by an eloquent weirdo named Martin J. Levitt called Confessions of a Union Buster.  Whatever his faults, I don't believe that Levitt fabricated the scene where his union busting firm had a dinner where they invited prospective clients from the nursing home industry and played a pro-union film about the 1199 Local to get them all fired-up about hiring the firm to crush further unionization drives.

In the film (Levitt writes) there is one scene with a close-up of a Black nursing home woman's face and she says "Just give me 11-9-9."  Levitt says that the whole room erupted into racist jeers and muttering.

That chapter was pretty eye-opening.  I remember hearing in the 1990's that unions were putting resources into organizing new members.  The Washington State showed one cynical way of getting this done.  Washington State's politicians are fairly sympathetic to unions. (Relatively speaking.)  The SEIU convinced employers to let them organize the workers, give them an extra dollar an hour, and in return for a no-strike pledge (promised by the organizers with no input from the workers), taking lots of workplace issues off the table, and successfully lobbying the state legislature to subsidize the wage increase, the SEIU would get more dues-paying members.

Suffice to say, Local 1199 behaved completely different and subsequently gets MUCH better wages and working conditions. 

To conclude, I pretty much agree with everything McAlevey says.  People need to be "organized" instead of "mobilized."  (By which I mean the specific useages of the words as intended by McAlevey.)  All my ignored political campagins were dependent upon citizen activism and individual responsibilities.  My personal long-term project, "Workers as Citizens" simply acknowledged the importance of a sympathetic political-legal system for successful unionization drives.  At one time, unions were illegal, with the class-war reason being obscured by the legal justification that they were conspiracies in restraint of trade.  It was "price-fixing" by labour.

It wasn't so much a successful common-law legal challenge that got unions recognized, so much as decades of brutal fighting and the concommitant political pressure that led to victories in Britain, the USA (especially under FDR) and in Canada.  I believe that conditions for working class organization are still incredibly difficult today and that we need all the help that we can get.  Workplace democracy is another form of individual worker agency that McAlevey says is so important.

I usually don't enjoy stories about worker struggles because, being a pessimist in my own head, I don't need to read about the defeats and sufferings of ordinary people.  But McAlevey's book is a clearly written book mainly about victories and how they were achieved.

On pages 61 and 62 McAlevey talks about "settlement costs."  What is it going to cost your enemy to concede something?  If it costs very little, you might get it without much of a struggle.  If it's going to cost them a lot, prepare for a fight.  This obvious truth sadly escapes many on the left.  As she writes on page 62:

An incorrect power analysis can lead people who want to end capitalism to think that small numbers of demonstrators occupying public spaces like parks and squares and tweeting about it will generate enough power to bring down Wall Street.  Others might think that the good frames used for or derived from these occupations will marshal enough emotion to suddenly overwhelm lawmakers with the revelation that the system is unfair and the lawmakers then will institute a set of fair regulations to govern corporate capital.

In her last chapter, "Pretend Power vs. Actual Power" McAlevey talks about narrative frames and how working class organizations have to speak to workers in ways that they understand.  And given the oligarchy's massive control of the hegemonic narrative and the resources they pour into sustaining and intensifying it, this means that socialist counter-narratives have an uphill struggle just to survive.  I have said this over and over.  "Democracy" should be our watchword.  It costs us nothing to employ it.  We believe in it after all.  We don't have to reject words like "socialism" as the NDP stupidly did before incoherently trying to reclaim it a short while later.

This is an important book and a very worthwhile use of your time if you care about justice and an end to oligarchic insanity.


I finished reading Brandon R. Brown's Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War last night.

I was in the Locke branch of the TPL without my glasses and I was just scanning the shelves and I saw the name "Planck" in large letters on the book's spine.  Lately I've been watching a YouTube channel called "History of the Universe" to supplement my "Science for Shit-Heads" reading for my Sci-Fi Comic/Personal Edification and Planck's name has come up occasionally.

Max Planck is famous for starting physics on the road to quantum physics.  Brown says that Planck was not so much a genius as he was brilliant and hard-working.  He can also be credited with having a remarkably supple brain.  Physics went through two revolutions in his time and in early middle-age (when mathematicians and physicists and other kinds of scientists' ideas tend to start ossifying) Planck recognized the genius of the undiscovered Albert Einstein and was the first to publish his radically new ideas.  He would later try to restrain Einstein's theories before grudgingly coming to accept them.  The later developments of the next generation of physicists (such as Bohr and Heisenberg) who upset even Einstein, were even more offensive to Planck but he came to make a sort of peace with them.  One of the coolest things that Planck did was come up with a series of universal constants based on the speed of light and gravity.

Brown tells his readers that Planck possessed a gifted intellect, but “it is difficult to label Planck a genius in the end” (p. 114). To begin, Plank is the father of quantum theory, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. He excelled as a theoretical physicist as he “elevated the concept of entropy, gave the world the notion of natural units, and discovered the ubiquitous ‘zero-point’ energy” (p. 131). Brown argues convincingly that Planck was one of the top physicists in a city (Berlin) renowned for scientific achievement and helped to usher in “new” physics at the time when classical physics was on its way out, while Nazi sympathizers clung to it tenaciously (p. 130).

The most famous Jewish scientist affected by the rise of Hitler was Albert Einstein, who left Germany amid growing anti-Semitism. Planck, as the editor of a noted academic journal, was one of the first to recognize the genius of Einstein’s work through a manuscript Einstein submitted to the journal. After Hitler’s rise to power, some German scientists embraced the Nazi’s racial views and ridiculed the work of Jewish scientists, while Planck tried to protect them. The force of their hatred was too powerful for Planck, however, as the mass of German scientists distrusted “the mathematically oriented Jewish group” (p. 98).

Throughout the book, Brown shows that Planck often tried to use his position and near celebrity status to alter the course of events in Hitler’s Germany. He used every ounce of influence he possessed to try to secure the release of his son through appeals to Hitler and Heinrich Himmler, but was not successful. He tried to minimize the Nazi purity laws directed at Jews and their impact on academics, but he failed in this also. Planck may have tried to mitigate the impact of Nazi decisions, but he did not challenge the Nazis directly, and he followed Nazi orders to dismiss a number of Jewish scientists in his department. Additionally, Planck signed his letters with “Heil Hitler” and saluted the Nazi flag, but Brown argues that he never totally aligned with the regime. Planck tried to work within the framework of the government to change its course, reiterating the importance of international cooperation and recognition or amnesty for Jewish scientists. Planck was caught between his loyalty to Germany and his hatred of the Nazi system. Brown makes no excuses for Planck but tries to explain the man’s actions.

The book starts near the end of Planck's life and focuses on his son Erwin being arrested in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler.  Then it jumps around randomly throughout Planck's long life dealing simultaneously with the tragic impact of Germany's 20th Century wars on his family and on discoveries and controversies in physics during his lifetime.

I have to say, having watched the US-American Empire engage in long-term atrocities over the decades of my life in all parts of the world, but especially in the Middle East since the 1990's, and having watched the media, the USA's allies [including Canada] go along with these crimes, and especially today, seeing pleasant, "respectable" liberals making their idiotic justifications for Israel's genocidal rampage in Gaza, I find the "enomous condescension of posterity" of post-1945 Anglo-American writers towards the citizens of Germany, Japan, or the Soviet Union, to be a little tiresome.  To his credit, Brown is (when all is said and done) very fair in his treatment of the compromises and other decisions that Planck made.  But I just find most of these Anglo-American judgments betray an ignorance of the same moral failures being perpetrated by liberal and [now "respectable"] conservatives (like Liz Cheney!) New York Times readers.


Finished reading William Adlington's translation of Lucius Apuleius's The Golden Ass.

French academic painter Bouguereau's "Cupid & Psyche" which is a tale told in the book.

You can read all about it at that Wikipedia link.  I'll just say that I thought it was a hoot.  In all honesty, I think it gives one a sense of everyday life in Roman imperial times.  Like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales does for his time.


It's December!  And we're getting near the finish line in yet another trip around the Sun.  A couple of nights ago I finished Sarah Dry's Newton's Papers: The Strange & True Odyssey of Isaac Newton's Manuscripts.  [For the record, sometime in October there was a ransomware attack on the Toronto Public Library.  Apparently the personal information of employees was stolen.  But the Library's online services remain down to this day.  So I tend to grab books off the shelf by their titles.]

Anyway, what I knew about Newton's papers was that they sat pretty much unread from his death in 1727 until the 1930's when John Maynard Keynes bought them at an auction, read them, and then announced to a shocked world that one of the titans of rational thought and the Scientific Revolution had spent just as much time on studying alchemy and trying to interpret the Book of Revelations as he did on his genuine science and mathematic.

That Newton was actually "The Last Magician" as much as one of the first scientists entered the lexicon and that was apparently from a speech Keynes gave on the subject before the Second World War and his death in 1946 interrupted his work on the subject.

I thought this book was going to be some sort of analysis of what those papers meant to his science but it really was the story of the papers.  The link for the book is Sarah Dry's own summary at the website, ... so, I guess to save time, I'll just say that I enjoyed it and paste something from there and then something from a review.

Here's Dry:

When Isaac Newton died at 85 without a will on March 20, 1727, he left a mass of disorganized papers—upwards of 8 million words—that presented an immediate challenge to his heirs. Most of these writings, on subjects ranging from secret alchemical formulas to impassioned rejections of the Holy Trinity to notes and calculations on his core discoveries in calculus, universal gravitation, and optics, were summarily dismissed by his heirs as “not fit to be printed.” Rabidly heretical, alchemically obsessed, and possibly even mad, the Newton presented in these papers threatened to undermine not just his personal reputation but the status of science itself. As a result, the private papers of the world’s greatest scientist remained hidden to all but a select few for over two hundred years.

Here's a review:

Sarah Dry’s history of what happened to the mass of Newton’s papers – a staggering ten million words – is also a brilliant biography of Newton and how his reputation has changed over the centuries. Rather like the wonderful The Trouble With Tom by Paul Collins – a biography of Paine structured around what happened to his bones – this is both a life and an afterlife. It brings in John Maynard Keynes and David Brewster (best known as the inventor of the kaleidoscope despite his other achievements), Abraham Yehuda, a friend of Einstein who was a significant figure in Zionism, and the ninth Earl of Portsmouth, who, faced with divorce payments on account of his “indiscretion [that] has been so reckless as to make you a danger to the institution, for the protection of which you enjoy hereditary privileges”, put the papers on the market.


Those privileged enough to see the papers in the coming centuries had to confront a slightly thorny dilemma. The morning star of the Enlightenment was also, to be frank, a cranky nutjob. Some papers were older papers rewritten with minimal alteration; the majority of them were about matters biblical and alchemical rather than scientific or economic; and his correspondence revealed a petulant, vindictive man. The French writer, Jean-Baptiste Biot, came up with an ingenious solution: in 1693, it was known, Newton had had some kind of breakdown at the age of 51. The mathematical genius was his early brilliance, the nonsense about the chronology of the world and the date of the apocalypse was his latter babblings. It was neat, though it was not true.


In between, we get the rapacious and the ghastly, the informed and the acquisitive, the cultured and the needy, all of whom think that there might be something in these papers which is either “magickal” or esoteric or a trump to their opponents. Dry has a wry raised eyebrow throughout this story of the manuscripts. Every owner had an agenda (financial or philosophical). Newton’s papers are not a trove of truth, but an insight into a mind, however conflicted and contrary that might be.

I'll have a couple more books done before the month, and the year, is out.

2023 - 12 - 11

Finished Chris Hedges's Death of the Liberal Class.

Very quickly, my take: Hedges (to me) exaggerates the quality of the pre-1914 radical press and its effectiveness and pretty much, the overall quality of US-American society and culture up until then.  1914 (and especially 1917) are important because those were the years that World War I started with the latter being the year the USA entered the conflict.  It was mass media, mass propaganda, industrial slaughter and the precursor to the mass culture, consumer culture, public relations brainwashing in the service of capitalism that has defined us ever since.

And it transformed liberals from critics of state power and champions of individualism to servants of a professional state and to paid propagandists, whether as public relations managers, teachers, advertisors, corporate media voices.

Later in the book it seems that Hedges is twisting everything to fit his thesis.  For instance, he talks about the arts becoming an elitist culture, more content with serving the wealthy and the powerful than with helping the people.  But that is hardly just a 20th Century phenomenon.  Artists had long been and continue to be providers of artifacts to those with the money to pay them.  Which is to say, the wealthy.

Artists have also been individualists.  Writers, painters, filmmakers, ... they march to their own drum-beat.  That is not a newly created problem of 20th Century industrial-capitalist society.  So, when 20th Century artists didn't make revolutionary art for the people, it wasn't always for the reasons that Hedges provides.  When artists took their resources to live as bohemian wanderers rather than fight for social justice, it wasn't necessarily from a desire to imitate the leisured lifestyle of the old aristocracies or the children of old money.  It was because they wanted to be on their own and see and experience things.

And, at the same time that he's trashing the post-1945 Left for not wanting to be with the people and instead pursuing the hippy lifestyle, he's also trashing the dour, humourless Maoists, even though they're sort of doing what he wanted the left to be doing.

But the Maoists in North America failed.  And the Left in general fails.  Because they're flawed example doesn't resonate with people.  But if the radical Christian Left fails, this is a beautiful failure because it is inspired by a beautiful vision and its failure is unimportant because of this.

And, anyway, apparently we're all going to fail.  We must prepare for this.  Its all coming to a crashing end and we've all got to get some land and make our own stuff and break from this dying society.  And write poetry and make revolutionary art.

There's an interesting section about violence where Hedges admits that he can see why some people (mostly men) in some circumstances (like being a Palestinian in Gaza or a Central American peasant) can take up the gun.  But this always leads to brutalization of the soldier and the wider society.  Of course, allowing the brutes in power to get away with their brutal plans forever is the result of making that moral choice.  There is no right or wrong answer in my opinion.

Hedges put this book out in 2010.  His last pages about the coming disaster read a little hasty so far as the imminent collapse goes.  Nonetheless, the trajectory is right.  It's a disaster happening in slower-motion than Hedges describes but a disaster nonetheless.  

From the NPR link.

In his new book, Death of the Liberal Class, Hedges slams five specific groups and institutions -- the Democratic Party, churches, unions, the media and academia -- for failing Americans and allowing for the creation of a "permanent underclass."

Hedges says that, for motives ranging from self-preservation to careerism, the "liberal establishment" purged radicals from its own ranks and, as a result, lost its checks on capitalism and corporate power.

I thought it would be a review.  But that was pretty much it.  Here's another summary:

Perhaps more will come before the year is out.



Steven Gimbel's Einstein: His Space and Times, is an excellent book.  It's a slim little book, less than 200 pages and with a rather large font, but at the same time it provides some of the very best summaries of the physics concepts that late-19th and 20th-Century physicists were wrestling with.  For the first time I genuinely understood the "Ultraviolet Catastrophe" and what it meant; just how Einstein proved the existence of atoms; how Lise Meitner recognized the splitting of the atom and nuclear fission; Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle"; and how Einstein proposed the quandry of "spooky action at a distance."

He also has one of the best summaries of how the otherwise respectable scientists Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark were warped by the crises of their times and by personal pique against Einstein to become (at least) nazi sympathizers and antisemites.

The book also became timely for me as it discussed Einstein's views about Zionism.  The book was written in 2015 and Einstein (obviously) was writing in the mid-20th Century, but this latest explosion of Zionist barbarism reflects the wisdom of Einstein's views.

Einstein saw himself as a citizen of the world.  In World War I he proposed a "United States of Europe."  He was born in Germany but loathed the militarism and chauvinism of Prussian-Germanism.  He was happy to move to Switzerland and he renounced his German citizenship.  He also renounced Judaism.  He's been a fairly religious youth but science soon replaced the world of faith in miracles.

He moved back to Germany to take a prestigious post in Berlin where he would be free of teaching duties and able to pursue his theoretical investigations.  But the rise of antisemitism in the 1920's and 1930's disturbed him.  He did not see much of himself in the Eastern European Jewish refugees from pogroms in Russia, Ukraine and Poland.  But he did see them as his cousins.  He felt a kinship with them.  But at the same time he rejected the denial of Jewish heritage and the incorporation of antisemitic beliefs in those Jews who wanted to pursue assimilationism.  He came to believe there was a Jewish nation.  They were a people defined by their heritage.  He also believed that part of this heritage was a rejection of chauvinism.  A (perhaps self-interested but genuine nonetheless) devotion to justice and understanding.  As well as a respect for learning and creativity and industry based on being minorities trying to succeed in societies prejudiced against them.

He came to see Palestine as a place of safety for Jews as the situation became increasingly grim in Europe.  His vision though, was of Jews paying their way in that new land.  I guess we could see it as the "One-State Solution" proposed by anti-zionists today.  There was no need for animosity between Arabs and Jews if they lived together, worked together, respected one another.  Einstein did not call for the displacement of Arabs from the land.  Nor did he support exclusionist schemes that separated Jews from the Arab community.  He lost his faith in the whole zionist project with the rise of the Revisionist Zionist Party which he saw as nothing more than a Jewish version of fascism.


Finished Ken Cuthbertson's 1945: The Year That Made Modern Canada

It was a watershed year for Canada and the world. 1945 set Canada on a bold course into the future. A huge sense of relief marked the end of hostilities. Yet there was also fear and uncertainty about the perilous new world that was unfolding in the wake of the American decision to use the atomic bomb to bring the war in the Pacific to a dramatic halt.

On the eve of WWII, the Dominion of Canada was a sleepy backwater still struggling to escape the despair of the Great Depression. But the war changed everything. After six long years of conflict, sacrifice and soul-searching, the country emerged onto the world stage as a modern, confident and truly independent nation no longer under the colonial sway of Great Britain.

I'm far-sighted.  I can walk around fine.  But since I turned 50 the letters on a book's page have become too blurry for me to read without corrective glasses.  But I keep my glasses in a case in whatever bag I'm carrying around with me.  When I saw this book for sale at a reduced price and I read the jacket sleeve summary and reviews I got the impression that it would be much more scholarly than it turned out to be.

Cuthbertson is a popular writer.  Maybe he's got all sorts of inner depth and complexities.  Maybe he has a brother who's a heroin addict and he's had to go into Hell on a few occasions to rescue him.  But reading him, I get the impression that if you paid him a visit he'd serve you cookies and ask if you want to watch the latest prime-time series that the CBC is showing. ("Heartland"?)

A lot of this book is NOT about 1945.  There's someone like Mackenzie-King or Maurice Richard or C.D. Howe, who was doing something in 1945, with a lot of well known background information from previous years.  Still and all, I did learn some stuff.  I actually knew very little about Maurice "Rocket" Richard before this.  And there are handy paragraphs on the various committees and scholars and bureaucrats who sat down to discuss the building of the Canadian welfare state in the postwar reconstruction.


I'm pretty darned sure that this'll be my last entry for this post.

I finished Gabriel Garcia Marquez's No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories.  There used to be a bar in Toronto at Bathurst and College called "No One Writes to the Colonel." I once asked a woman to meet there for a date but she wanted Sneaky Dee's instead.  She mentioned to me on three occasions that if she had to eat a dead human's body in order to survive, she would.  We only had the one date and the bar named after NOWthC closed in 2018.

Garcia Marquez is a good writer.  I'm just too superficial for him.  I did like Big Mama and her funeral. And the one about the guy who stole the billiard balls.  And the old, deluded priest.  

I've got two more chapters to read in Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100.  (It's from 2011.)

So it's a little dated.  Stuff he talks about for the future of computing had already been passed.  On the other hand, he says that this thing to measure gravity waves with something called "LISA" would be launched in 2020 but now it's apparently going to be 2037.  Kaku is good at making chowderheads like me able to understand what he's talking about.  He's so happy and well-off though that you can tell he buys into the vacuous political-economy of oligarchic neo-liberalism.  So, like, when he ventures off into talking about the economy, or terrorism or nuclear proliferation, it's slightly irritating to a better informed person such as myself.

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