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February 28, 2015

Stalin Showed that a Single Individual's Decisions Can Matter




(p. C29) . . . , [Stephen Kotkin] is not shy about assailing what he regards as false interpretations by other historians. His Stalin is not a disciple who deviates from Lenin; he is Lenin's true disciple, in pitiless class warfare, in the inability to compromise, and, above all, in unshakable ideological conviction.


. . .


There is little equivocation in Mr. Kotkin's judgments. Scholars who argue collectivization was necessary to force Russian peasants into a modern state are "dead wrong." The conclusion by the British historian E. H. Carr that Stalin was a product of circumstances, and not the other way around, is "utterly, eternally wrong." On the contrary, it is one of Mr. Kotkin's major theses that Stalin "reveals how, on extremely rare occasions, a single individual's decisions can radically transform an entire country's political and socioeconomic structures, with global repercussions." Or, as he puts it in a more graphic passage: "The Bolshevik putsch could have been prevented by a pair of bullets" -- one for Lenin and one for Stalin.


. . .


This reader, for one, still hopes for more evidence that Stalin was indeed singular, a historical malignancy, and not a product of circumstances of the kind that might already be shaping the next chapter of Russian history. And that only whets the appetite for the next installment, in which Stalin decides to starve Russia almost to death to bring peasants under state control. That, Mr. Kotkin has already declared, was an assault on the peasantry for which there was no political or social logic, and that only Stalin could have done. It is a testament to Mr. Kotkin's skill that even after almost a thousand pages, one wants more.



For the full review, see:

SERGE SCHMEMANN. "From Czarist Rubble, a Russian Autocrat Rises." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 8, 2015): C29.

(Note: ellipses, and book author's name in brackets, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.






February 27, 2015

"How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm"





Wikipedia tells us that the song "How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)" was popular after the end of World War I.


(p. C6) Dick Cavett, a son of Nebraska, used to ask (quoting Abe Burrows), "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen the farm?"


For the full review, see:

A. O. SCOTT. "Off to the Stars, With Dread and Regret." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 5, 2014): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 4, 2014, and has the title "Off to the Stars, With Grief, Dread and Regret.")






February 26, 2015

The Case that Hamilton Was Better than Jefferson




One of my entrenched beliefs has been that Thomas Jefferson was one of the great heroes of human history, and Alexander Hamilton was not. It is rare that I read something that changes my entrenched beliefs. But Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton did that. He makes a strong (and long) case that Alexander Hamilton was mainly a decent, brilliant, courageous, hard-working, self-made man, who not only talked the talk on liberty, but walked the walk (taking fire in the revolution, and strongly opposing slavery). He wasn't perfect in either his personal life or his beliefs. But he now has my vote as one of the great heroes of human history (and Jefferson does not).

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most revealing or thought-provoking passages of Chernow's book.

PS: I also previously learned a lot from Chernow's Titan, a big book about a big entrepreneur.


Main book discussed:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.


Other book, briefly mentioned:

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






February 25, 2015

Wall Street Democrats Question Hillary Clinton's Views on Job Creation




(p. B1) "Hillary said what?"

That was the question whispered among some of Wall Street's most prominent Democratic supporters over the weekend after Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on the campaign trail for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts.

"Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs," Mrs. Clinton said on Friday in Boston.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. "Wall St. Wonders About Hillary Clinton." The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 28, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCTOBER 27, 2014, and has the title "Hillary Clinton's Comment on Jobs Raises Eyebrows on Wall St.")






February 24, 2015

In Defense of the "Degar-Andish"




(p. C9) "The Lonely War" begins by retelling a lesson from Ms. Fathi's mother, imparted on the first day of third grade. "If anyone asks you whether your parents support the revolution, you must say, 'Yes, they do.'"


. . .


As the Islamic dress code became obligatory, Ms. Fathi and her sister, Goli, faced the tyranny of a "morality" teacher at school who tried to mold them into ideal Muslim girls.

The author remained steadfastly critical through it all. "To feel human," she writes, "we needed to retake control of our minds as well as our bodies. We waged the war on both fronts."


. . .


Defying a ban on covering the protests any further, Ms. Fathi was under surveillance at her home and tailed by government agents; her life was threatened. She, her husband and two children left Iran in June 2009.


. . .


Her portraits of the women's rights activists Faezeh Hashemi and Shahla Sherkat make for fascinating reading. So do her accounts of other courageous Iranian women like the lawyers Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi (the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2003), who made legal challenges against discriminatory laws against women, and publishers like Shahla Lahiji who dared to print the work of those branded as "degar-andish," literally, "those who think differently."



For the full review, see:

NAHID MOZAFFARI. "Books of The Times; Portrait of Iran, Where Revolution Is Ideological and the Costs Are Human." The New York Times (Thurs., Jan. 1, 2015): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 31, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Fathi, Nazila. The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran. New York: Basic Books, 2014.






February 23, 2015

Piketty Prefers Reform Instead of Receiving Legion of Honor




(p. A16) PARIS--French economist Thomas Piketty, author of the best-selling book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," has turned down the Legion of Honor, saying the government should focus on reviving the country's anemic economy rather than "decide who is honorable."

Mr. Piketty's refusal of one of France's highest distinctions--announced via a short declaration to the Agence France-Presse news agency--is a snub to the government a day after President François Hollande cited the global influence of French scholars as evidence of the country's unfailing might.



For the full story, see:

INTI LANDAURO. "French Economist Refuses State Honor." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 2, 2015): A16.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 1, 2015, and has the title "French Economist Thomas Piketty Refuses Legion of Honor.")






February 22, 2015

Free Market Tour Guide Challenges Savannah's Attack on Free Speech




(p. A25) SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Especially when she sips French onion soup at a restaurant that was featured in the Julia Roberts movie "Something to Talk About," Michelle Freenor is an irrepressible tour guide.

She rattles off the history of Methodism in this city, as well as tidbits about William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. She discusses the canopy of Spanish moss that hangs above Savannah's streets, whether "Jingle Bells" was actually composed here, and just how haunted one of the country's largest historic landmark districts might be.

But Ms. Freenor has also emerged in recent weeks in a new role: plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that could reshape Savannah's lucrative and potent tourism industry. Backed by a nonprofit law firm with libertarian leanings, Ms. Freenor and three others, including her husband, are challenging the Savannah ordinance that requires tour guides to hold licenses and pass regular academic and medical examinations.

"It's the free market that made us successful, not the City of Savannah," said Ms. Freenor, 43. "You shouldn't have to pass a test to be able to tell people where the best ice cream in Savannah is."


. . .


"What tour guides do is talk for a living," said Robert Johnson, one of Ms. Freenor's lawyers. "They're just like stand-up comedians, journalists or novelists. And in this country, you don't need a license from the government to be able to talk."



For the full story, see:

ALAN BLINDER. "Lawsuit May Reshape Tourist Industry in History-Rich Savannah." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 21, 2014): A25 & A31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2014. The online version says that the New York paper version of the article started on p. 28. It does not say on what page of that edition, the article continued. My page numbers are from the National Edition, which I usually receive.)






February 21, 2015

"In Nebraska, You Don't Have to Die to Go to Hell"





A 1939 entry from Don Hartwell's diary:


(p. 300) July 10

The same clear, glaring sky & vicious blazing killing sun. Cane is about dead, corn is being damaged; it will soon be destroyed. Those who coined the phrase 'There's no place like Nebraska' wrote better than they thought. In Nebraska, you don't have to die to go to hell.



Source:

As quoted in: Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)






February 20, 2015

High Costs of Public Sector Unions




(p. A11) . . . the costs of public-sector unions are great. "The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste," the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city's$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations.

There is something grotesque about public workers fighting for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Citizens who vote Democratic may choose not to acknowledge the perversity out of party loyalty. But over the years a few well-known Democrats have sided against the public-sector unions. "The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service," a Democratic politician once declared. His name? Franklin Roosevelt.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "BOOKSHELF; Public Unions vs. the Public; Pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2015.)


The book under review is:

DiSalvo, Daniel. Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.






February 19, 2015

Mandated Health Treatment Regulations Are Often Reversed




(p. A25) After spending nearly two decades in medicine, I am still amazed by how spare the evidence is on which we doctors base our medical decisions. Treatment guidelines, often accompanied by a de facto mandate, are frequently reversed.

Only a few years ago, for example, beta-blocker drugs were routinely recommended for almost all patients undergoing noncardiac surgery. Since then, research has shown that these drugs may significantly increase the risk of stroke at the time of surgery. I remember colleagues questioning the beta-blocker recommendation for certain patients and being admonished for not being "evidence-based." I shudder to think how many patients were left disabled by strokes because of the blanket adoption of this standard.

What is in vogue today is often discarded tomorrow. Hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause is an example of a once widely implemented treatment that we have now largely abandoned. In September, in response to new research, the American College of Cardiology revoked a major recommendation on heart-attack treatment. "Science is not static but rather constantly evolving," said its president, Patrick T. O'Gara, in explaining the decision.


. . .


Instead of being allowed to deliver "patient-centered" care, many physicians feel they are being co-opted by regulations. Some feel pressured to prescribe "mandated" treatment, even to frail older adults who may not benefit. Guidelines are supposed to assist and advise. But all too often, recommended care in certain situations becomes mandated care in all situations.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "Don't Homogenize Health Care." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 11, 2014): A25.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 10, 2014.)






February 18, 2015

Private Power Lights the Darkness




(p. A10) NUSEIRAT CAMP, Gaza Strip--It was just after sunset when the power went out in this Palestinian refugee camp. Within seconds, Ali al-Majdalawi flipped a switch on a blue generator in his backyard and the lights in 500 homes flickered back on again.

The 64-year-old patriarch runs what he calls the A. Majdalawi Electricity Co., a pop-up utility that consists of three generators and a spider's web of power lines radiating from an empty lot he owns in the camp.

Mr. Majdalawi has no license to operate his company. But he does have an invoice pad at the ready and boasts a long list of customers including five mosques, a library and a police station.


. . .


Along with three partners, Mr. Majdalawi, a retired school official for the U.N., invested $80,000 of their savings to buy several diesel-powered generators two years ago and set about building their own power-delivery network.

The community of about 65,000 began in 1948, the year of Israel's creation, when hundreds of families displaced by war between Jews and Arabs set up rows of temporary dwellings. Decades later, the refugees and their descendants still live here, tightly packed among schools run by the United Nations and a cemetery built into a sand dune at the center of town.

Because his company is private, Mr. Majdalawi couldn't use municipal power polls to string up lines. He and his sons asked neighbors to let them use the walls of their homes for the wiring and allow crews to come in for periodic maintenance.

In most other respects, the business runs much like any other electricity company. Customers apply to join the grid and if approved, one of Mr. Majdalawi's sons enters their names into a computer for monthly billing. Most clients request two amperes, enough to run lights, a television and a computer during blackouts. The price is 120 shekels a month, about $30.

"It is an alternate grid," explained Mr. Majdalawi's son, Rafet, the company's chief accountant.

Deya Shaheen, a 25-year-old barber, said Mr. Majdalawi's electricity has kept his year-old shop in business. The electric razors and the lights he uses to light the shop when customers drop in at night are powered on the three amperes he receives from the grid.On many nights, his shop is filled with young men looking for somewhere to watch soccer matches on television.

"Look, the power thing destroys your life," he said. "People go to bed early not because they are sleepy, but because there is no power. There is nothing to do, no TV, no Internet. It is just dark."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CASEY. "Entrepreneur Fills in Gaza Electricity Gap; Palestinian Territory's One Power Plant Meets Barely a Quarter of Demand, Posing an Obstacle in Reconstruction Efforts." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., DEC. 24, 2014): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 23, 2014, and has the title "Entrepreneur Fills in Gaps in Gaza Electricity Supplies; Palestinian Territory's One Power Plant Meets Barely a Quarter of Demand.")






February 17, 2015

Congress Appropriates Funds to Test Concussion Theory of Rain




(p. 190) the first century A.D., when the Greek moralist Plutarch came up with the notion that rain followed military battles. Napoleon believed as much and fired cannons and guns at the sky to muddy up the ground between him and his attackers. Civil War veterans who wallowed in cold slop believed that ceaseless, close-range artillery fire had opened up the skies. In the late 1890s, as the first nesters started to dig their toeholds on the dry side of the one hundredth meridian, Congress had appropriated money to test the concussion theory in Texas. The tests were done by a man named Dyrenforth. He tried mightily, with government auditors looking over (p. 191) his shoulder, but Dyrenforth could not force a drop from the hot skies of Texas. From then on, he was called "Dry-Henceforth."

Government-sponsored failure didn't stop others from trying. A man who called himself "the moisture accelerator," Charles M. Hatfield, roamed the plains around the turn of the century. A Colonel Sanders of rainmaking, Hatfield had a secret mixture of ingredients that could be sent to the sky by machine. In the age before the widespread use of the telephone, it was hard to catch up with the moisture accelerator after he had fleeced a town and moved on.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 16, 2015

Smart Phones Bring Power to the Patient




(p. A11) We instinctively reach for our smartphones when we need to take pictures, get directions, deposit checks or reserve a table. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and digital pioneer, thinks that they are ready to perform at least one more task: revolutionize health care. In "The Patient Will See You Now," he argues that smartphones will democratize medicine by bringing data and control directly to the people.

The power of doctors, says Dr. Topol, "can be likened to that of religious leaders and nobility" in centuries past, when knowledge and authority belonged to a small elite. He notes that we've never seen "a discrete challenge to the medical profession" akin to Luther 's challenge to the Roman Catholic Church or democracy's challenge to monarchy and despotism. "But we've not had the platform or landscape for that to be accomplished. Until now." Smartphones, he says, enable a range of medical applications to move from the hospital to the home, and they shift medicine's locus of control from doctor to patient.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. "BOOKSHELF; Doctor Android; In the same way that Luther challenged the Catholic Church, smartphones are poised to upend the medical profession." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 13, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Topol, Eric. The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






February 15, 2015

Police Unions Make It Harder to Get Rid of Bad Cops




(p. A29) A small percentage of cops commit most of the abuses. A study by WNYC News in New York found that, since 2009, 40 percent of the "resisting arrest" charges were filed by just 5 percent of New York Police Department officers. In other words, most officers rarely get in a confrontation that leads to that charge, but a few officers often get in violent confrontations.

But it's very hard to remove the bad apples from the force. Trying to protect their members, unions have weakened accountability. The investigation process is softer on police than it would be on anyone else. In parts of the country, contract rules stipulate that officers get a 48-hour cooling-off period before having to respond to questions. They have access to the names and testimony of their accusers. They can be questioned only by one person at a time. They can't be threatened with disciplinary action during questioning.

More seriously, cops who are punished can be reinstated through a secretive appeals process that favors job retention over public safety. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a riveting piece with egregious stories of cops who have returned to the force after clear incompetence. Hector Jimenez was an Oakland, Calif., cop who shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man in 2007. Seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him in the back three times while he ran away. The city paid damages. Jimenez was fired. But he appealed through his union and was reinstated with back pay.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "The Union Future." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 19, 2014): A29.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 18, 2014. )






February 14, 2015

Delta and Atlanta Protect Their Huge Hartsfield-Jackson Airport from Little Silver Comet Field




(p. B6) DALLAS, Ga. -- Airports do not get much smaller than Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, where an undeveloped two-lane road weaves to a church-quiet setting framed by small hills.

On a recent weekday morning, four small business jets were planted on the tarmac, if it can be called that. Nine automobiles dotted the parking lot, most of them driven there for a meeting. Outside the two-story building that serves as the terminal, which was reminiscent of a lodge in off-peak season, there was no sign of human life.

Only 50 miles away sits the world's most bustling airport, Hartsfield-Jackson. It maintains a monopoly on commercial flights in Atlanta, the largest metropolitan region without a secondary airport.

Paulding Northwest would like to change that grip on the market. The airport has applied for a commercial license so it can introduce two flights a week, and has since encountered stiff opposition.

Leading the charge against the bid is the Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which averages about 1,000 daily departures from its sprawling hub.

But the airport's supporters are crying foul, saying that Delta, along with the city of Atlanta, which owns Hartsfield-Jackson, has managed to throw up a series of barriers, legal and political, against the bid.



For the full story, see:

MIKE TIERNEY. "Fighting for 2 Fights a Week." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2014, and has the title "Tiny Airport Fights for Sliver of Atlanta Market.")






February 13, 2015

The Federal Government's "Arrogance on a Grand Scale" Encouraged the Dust Bowl




(p. 126) In the last years of the wheat boom, Bennett had become increasingly frustrated at how the government seemed to be encouraging an exploitive farming binge. He went directly after his old employer, the Department of Agriculture, for misleading people. Farmers on the Great Plains were working against nature, he thundered in speeches across the country; they were asking for trouble. Even in the late 1920s, before anyone else sounded an alarm, Bennett said people had sown the seeds of an epic disaster. The government continued to insist, through official bulletins , that soil was the one "resource that cannot be exhausted." To Bennett, it was arrogance on a grand scale.

"I didn't know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence," he said.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 12, 2015

Former Nebraskan Writes that Football Breaks the Soul




(p. C1) The poet Erin Belieu was born in Nebraska. It's a place where, she once wrote,

football is to life what sleep deprivation is

to Amnesty International, that is,

the best researched and the most effective method

of breaking a soul.

Ms. Belieu got out, soul entirely unbroken. She's spent the past two decades composing smart and nettling books of poems, beginning with "Infanta" (1995), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Hayden Carruth. I've admired her three previous books, but her new one, "Slant Six," seems to me better by an order of magnitude. It's got more smoke, more confidence, more wit and less tolerance for obscurity. Her crisp free verse has as many subcurrents as a magnetic field.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "From a Slim Book, Many Observations." The New York Times Book Review (Weds., DEC. 10, 2014): C1 & C4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 9, 2014, and has the title "From a Slim Book, Many Observations." The name of the interviewer, presumably the author of the italicized passage above, is not given in either the online or print versions.)


The book under review is:

Belieu, Erin. Slant Six. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2014.






February 11, 2015

Ways Technology May Decrease Inequality




(p. 7) As the previous generation retires from the work force, many more people will have grown up with intimate knowledge of computers. And over time, it may become easier to work with computers just by talking to them. As computer-human interfaces become simpler and easier to manage, that may raise the relative return to less-skilled labor.

The future may also extend a growing category of employment, namely workers who team up with smart robots that require human assistance. Perhaps a smart robot will perform some of the current functions of a factory worker, while the human companion will do what the robot cannot, such as deal with a system breakdown or call a supervisor. Such jobs would require versatility and flexible reasoning, a bit like some of the old manufacturing jobs, but not necessarily a lot of high-powered technical training, again because of the greater ease of the human-computer interface. That too could raise the returns to many relatively unskilled workers.



For the full commentary, see:

TYLER COWEN "TheUpshot; Economic View; The Technological Fix to Inequality." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 6, 2014, and has the title "TheUpshot; Economic View; How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality." )






February 10, 2015

Yucca Mountain Has Multiple Barriers to Isolate Nuclear Materials




(p. A20) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday [Oct. 16, 2014] released a long-delayed report on the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a disposal spot for nuclear waste, finding that the design met the commission's requirements, laying the groundwork to restart the project . . .


. . .


. . . the report released Thursday, mostly done in 2010 but frozen until a recent court decision, concluded that the design had the required multiple barriers, to assure long-term isolation of radioactive materials.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD "Calls to Use a Proposed Nuclear Site, Now Deemed Safe." The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 17, 2014): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 16, 2014., and has the title "Calls to Use Yucca Mountain as a Nuclear Waste Site, Now Deemed Safe.")







February 9, 2015

The "Miracle Machines" of Farming




(p. 75) Nobody had washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or incandescent light bulbs. But the farmers did have their miracle machines. In fifteen years, the Lucas family had gone from a walking plow pulled along behind a mule, to a riding plow, in which horses carried the blade through the soil, to a fine-tuned internal combustion plow.

"Machinery is the new Messiah," said Henry Ford, and though that sounded blasphemous to a devout sodbuster, there was something to it. Every ten seconds a new car came off Ford's factory line, and some of them were now parked next to dugouts in No Man's Land.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 8, 2015

Balducci Wants a Sequel Where Winston Smith "Actually Triumphs Over Big Brother"




(p. 10) The author, most recently, of "The Escape" was a library rat growing up: "Libraries are the mainstays of democracy. The first thing dictators do when taking over a country is close all the libraries, because libraries are full of ideas."


. . .


What's the one book you wish someone else would write?

A sequel to "1984" where Winston Smith regains his senses and his independence and actually triumphs over Big Brother. Right now we could all use a little more hope about the world.



For the full interview, see:

"By the Book: David Baldacci." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., NOV. 30, 2014): 10.

(Note: italics, and bold, in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 26, 2014, and has the title "David Baldacci: By the Book." The name of the interviewer, presumably the author of the italicized passage above, is not given in either the online or print versions.)


The book for which Balducci wishes a sequel is:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].






February 7, 2015

Marxist Chinese Education Minister Bans "Western Values" from Textbooks and Lectures




(p. D8) This week [the week starting Sun. January 25, 2015], China's ideological drive against Western liberal ideas broadened to take in a new target: foreign textbooks.

Meeting in Beijing with the leaders of several prominent universities, Education Minister Yuan Guiren laid out new rules restricting the use of Western textbooks and banning those sowing "Western values."

"Strengthen management of the use of original Western teaching materials," Mr. Yuan said at a meeting with university officials, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. "By no means allow teaching materials that disseminate Western values in our classrooms."

The strictures on textbooks are the latest of a succession of measures to strengthen the Communist Party's control of intellectual life and eradicate avenues for spreading ideas about rule of law, liberal democracy and civil society that it regards as dangerous contagions, which could undermine its hold on power.

On Jan. 19, the leadership issued guidelines demanding that universities make a priority of ideological loyalty to the party, Marxism and Mr. Xi's ideas.

Mr. Yuan's message this week spelled out how universities should do that.

"Never allow statements that attack and slander party leaders and malign socialism to be heard in classrooms," he said, according to the Xinhua report. "Never allow teachers to grumble and vent in the classroom, passing on their unhealthy emotions to students."



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "China Warns Against 'Western Values' in Imported Textbooks." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 31, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 30, 2015.)






February 6, 2015

Reagan's "Failure" Helped End the Cold War




(p. 9) Failure is in fashion these days. We read about failing fast and failing well, about grit incubated by repeated failure in school and innovation by repeated failure in business. So it may be a good time to consider the hidden virtues of failure in foreign policy. And who better to demonstrate those virtues than one of modern America's great optimists?

On a Sunday evening in October 1986, Ronald Reagan returned to the White House after what he called "one of the longest, most disappointing -- and ultimately angriest -- days of my presidency." He had spent more than 10 hours in discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev, in Reykjavik, Iceland, coming gut-­wrenchingly close to a breakthrough in United States-Soviet nuclear talks before everything fell apart. He was, in his personal assistant's judgment, "borderline distraught." Network news pronounced "the magic of the Reagan persona gone," Gorbachev called him a "feebleminded cave man," and even his own generals told him that his ideas "pose high risks to the security of the nation." Soon, the Democrats would retake Congress, and the revelations of Iran-contra would spur talk of impeachment.


. . .


. . . foreign policy "failure" turned out to be the foundation of future accomplishment.



For the full review, see:

DANIEL KURTZ-PHELAN. "A Thawing in Iceland." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., Aug. 3, 2014): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 1, 2014.)


The book being reviewed is:

Adelman, Ken. Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War. New York: Broadside Books, 2014.






February 5, 2015

Justice on the Plains




(p. 71) "What are you doing here?" the judge asked again.

"I cannot talk," Ehrlich answered, in his hybrid English-German. "This guard will stab my heart out."

"You talk to me," Judge Alexander told him. "Now what are you people here for? It's the middle of the night."

"Pit-schur."

"What's that? A picture?"

"Yah."

An officer produced the picture that Ehrlich kept in his house--Kaiser Wilhelm and his family in formal pose.

"That's a beautiful picture," the judge said, then turned to the police. "Is that all you got against these people?"

"They're pro-German. They're hurting the war effort. Spies, for all we know."

The judge turned to the Germans from the Volga. "How many of you are supporting America in the war?" All hands went up.

Ehrlich reached into his pocket and produced two hundred dollars' worth of government stamps issued to support the war effort . A friend produced war bonds. The judge looked at the sheriff and asked him how many of his officers had war bonds or stamps. None.

(p. 72) "Take these people home," the judge said. "If anything happens to them, I'll hold you responsible ." They drove back in the freezing predawn darkness and released the men to their families at sunrise. A daylong party followed.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)






February 4, 2015

Václav Havel Viewed America as the Natural Foe of Evil in the World




(p. C7) Havel's personal and political philosophy can be summed up in a phrase from his 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless": "living within the truth." The world imposes great burdens on men, Havel argued, the first of which is a collective responsibility to be honest about the society they inhabit. In Havel's political context, "living within the truth" meant speaking plainly about an inhuman political system--communism--and the lies and humiliating routines it forced its subjects to tell and endure. The bravest testament to this credo was Charter 77, a public appeal to the regime to respect the human rights it claimed to uphold. Havel was one of several co-authors and its main spokesman.

What drove Havel and others to sign the document was the persecution of a rock band, the Plastic People of the Universe, whose members were accused of "disturbing the peace." Havel, who would cheekily adopt that malediction as the title for one of his books, soon followed the band to jail for similar offenses against the state. Imprisoned from 1979 to 1983, Havel was denied medical attention and endured great physical pain for his thought crimes. But the communists could not break him, and he refused an offer of early release in exchange for leaving the country. The greatest anguish the future president suffered at the hands of the sclerotic regime, which, in Mr. Zantovsky's apt phrasing, "elevated oblivion to a method," was the suppression of his ability to publish and speak freely.


. . .


As Czech president, Havel was a supporter of Western military intervention both in the Balkans and then, more controversially, against Saddam Hussein in 2003. At home and abroad, Havel was moved by the same humanitarian impulse: "Our indifference toward others can after all result in only one thing: the indifference of others towards us," he said in 1993. This is what Mr. Zantovsky dubs the "Havel Doctrine" and it is rooted in Czechoslovakia's history of being the victim of foreign invasion and occupation. "Our own historical experience," Havel said in 1999 on the eve of NATO intervention in Kosovo, "has taught us that evil must be confronted rather than appeased." The author hesitates to label Havel's worldview "neoconservative," and, at least as far as domestic politics are concerned, he is right: On most social and economic issues Havel was decidedly left of center. But Havel personally understood the role of evil in international relations and looked to America as its natural foe.



For the full review, see:

JAMES KIRCHICK. "Disturber of the Peace; Havel wrote passionately about evil, yet he abhorred confrontation." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 5, 2014, and has the title "Václav Havel: Disturber of the Peace; The dissident wrote passionately about evil, yet he abhorred confrontation.")


The book under review is:

Zantovsky, Michael. Havel: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 2014.






February 3, 2015

"Valuable Things Should Be Paid For . . . Music Should Not Be Free"




(p. R10) Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is. I hope they don't underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.


For the full commentary, see:

Swift, Taylor. "WSJ 125 (A Special Report): Music --- it's Too Soon to Write Off the Album: Yes, Musicians Aren't Selling as Many of them; but Taylor Swift Argues that the Best Artists Will always Find Ways to Break through to the Audience." Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 8, 2014): R10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 7, 2014, and has the title "For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story.")






February 2, 2015

More Than 200,000 Volunteer to Die if They Can Be on First (One Way) Trip to Mars




(p. D2) When Seth Shostak, an astronomer who scans the cosmos for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, asks middle school students how many of them want to go to Mars, all hands shoot up. When he asks how many would rather design robots that go to Mars, most hands drop back to their desks.

And when he asks general audiences how many would go to Mars even if it meant dying a few weeks after arriving, he invariably finds volunteers in the crowd. "I kid you not," said Dr. Shostak, the director of the Center for SETI Research. "People are willing to risk everything just to see Mars, to walk on the surface of our little ruddy buddy."


. . .


There is a catch, they say. Where NASA-style flight plans are designed on the Apollo moonshot model of round-trip tickets, the "one" in Mars One means, starkly, one way. To make the project feasible and affordable, the founders say, there can be no coming back to Earth. Would-be Mars pilgrims must count on living, and dying, some 140 million miles from the splendid blue marble that all humans before them called home.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the Mars One scheme has been of middle-school proportions. Last year, the outfit announced that it was seeking potential colonists and that anybody over age 18 could apply, advanced degrees or no. Among the few stipulations: Candidates must be between 5-foot-2 and 6-foot-2, have a ready sense of humor and be "Olympians of tolerance." More than 200,000 people from dozens of countries applied. Mars One managers have since whittled the pool to some 660 semifinalists.



For the full story, see:

Angier, Natalie. "Basics; a One-Way Trip to Mars? Many Would Sign Up." The New York Times (Tues., Dec. 9, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 8, 2014.)






February 1, 2015

How the Federal Government Caused the High Plains Dust Bowl




(p. 50) People were pouring into town, taking up rooms at the Crystal Hotel-- suitcase farmers who had no intention of ever settling there. They wanted only to rent out a tractor and a piece of ground for a few days, drop some winter wheat into the fresh-turned fold, and come back next summer for the payoff. It was a game of chance called "trying to hit a crop." One suitcase farmer broke thirty-two thousand acres in southeast Kansas in 1921. Four years later, he plowed twice that amount. The banks seldom said no. After Congress passed the Federal Farm Loan Act in 1916, every town with a well and a sheriff had itself a farmland bank -- an institution! -- offering forty-year loans at six percent interest. Borrow five thousand dollars and payments were less than thirty-five dollars a month. Any man with a John Deere and a half-section could cover that nut. If it was hubris, or "tempting fate" as some of the church ladies said, well, the United (p. 51) States government did not see it that way. The government had already issued its official view of the rapid churning of ancient prairie sod.

"The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses," the Federal Bureau of Soils proclaimed as the grasslands were transformed. "It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted, that cannot be used up."



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






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