Lots of recipes for putting stuff in other stuff and waiting for their flavors to be extracted. Most are fairly obvious (peach bourbon), but a lot areLots of recipes for putting stuff in other stuff and waiting for their flavors to be extracted. Most are fairly obvious (peach bourbon), but a lot aren't: roasted pineapple mezcal, and salted lime syrup, for example. Some of the recipes are overly complex: for example, their recipe for bloody mary mix is just more than is needed. Overall, though, plenty of good ideas, and maybe worth the $17 that Amazon wants for this....more
I am in the awkward situation of wanting to write something about a book that I scarcely understood. Part of the problem is that I read it in roughlyI am in the awkward situation of wanting to write something about a book that I scarcely understood. Part of the problem is that I read it in roughly 20 page chunks over a span of two weeks, so I wasn't able to track the continuity and the discontinuities in Gramsci's thought. But the bigger problem is the same that I had when reading Lenin many years ago: both authors wrote many polemics, arguing with their fellow socialists about the correct tactics to take in their current situation. But without having a deep understanding of that situation, and without being aware of the arguments put forth by the other side, it is hard to grasp the main points of the polemic, let alone form an opinion. But, of course, forming an opinion on tactics is not really the point of reading Gramsci: you might as well form an opinion about the accession of Charles II. The point of reading Gramsci is to gain an understanding of his principles and methods.
The book spans the period from just before the Russian revolution to near the time of Gramsci's death in 1937, including the ten years that he was imprisoned by the Fascist regime. The first third of the book contains excerpts from his articles in Avanti!, L'Ordine Nuovo, and Il Grido del Popolo. The period from 1917 to 1920 was one of great revolutionary possibility because of the terrible suffering caused by the world war. The industrial north of Italy saw tremendous growth in working class membership in socialist / revolutionary parties. Gramsci advocated for something beyond trade unionism, calling for workers' councils to take over management of the large industrial enterprises. This idea fell apart when the weak Gioditti government managed to break the largest strike in Turin. Throughout that period, and after, Gramsci time and again says there is a need to understand the national context and to base tactics on that deep understanding rather than on more general principles. He attacked fellow Marxists who took a mechanistic approach; those who operated on a belief in economic determinism. It was at this time that he began to develop his important contributions to Marxism regarding the dialiectical relationship between structure and superstructure; i.e. the interplay between the objective development of capitalism and the layers of culture and politics that overlay that base.
The remainder of the book consists of extracts from the prison notebooks. These were necessarily less tactical than the earlier works, and were written in a way to get past the censors - referring to Marxism as "the philosophy of praxis", for example. In these works he continues the analysis of structure and superstructure, and draws a distinction between the "state" and "civil society". For Gramsci, the state, if I understood correctly, consists of the coercive elements of what we normally call the state. Civil society consists of some parts of government (public education, for example, or government pension systems) along with non-state civil organizations and mass political parties (n.b. please don't believe anything I say here - this is from memory of a poor reading of his work). This distinction is useful if for no other reason than it allows us to avoid certain absurdities when talking about the state as operating solely or mostly on behalf of the ruling or dominant class. That case can be made much more easily when talking about the state in Gramsci's sense, and allows us to see that elements of public education, for example, are not explicitly or solely controlled by ruling class interests.
The main theme throughout Gramsci's work is the insistence that local and national conditions must drive practice; and that Marx's approach to dialectics does not pre-ordain any particular unraveling of history. The end of capitalism does not come about merely because the conditions have become ripe for worker control of the means of production. He understood early on that the interplay of superstructure with structure has a big impact on the ability of workers to gain class consciousness. Popular culture, mass media, and religion all play a role in retarding the uptake of revolutionary ideas.
At the end of the revolutionary period, around 1921-1924, Gramsci began to develop a theory of revolution using war as a guiding metaphor. This was unfortunate, because the war that was most on his mind was the one that had just ended: a war that was unique in its strategy and tactics. Gramsci discussed the nature of "war of maneuver" and "war of position" (trench warfare, basically), and concluded that "war of position" had become the only possible way of conducting warfare because of the specific technologies that had been developed. And he used that conclusion to draw conclusions about the proper strategies to be adopted by revolutionary parties. This was unfortunate, since the events of 1939 would show that "war of maneuver" defeats "war of position" every time, if done right. If Gramsci's analogy was correct, then his conclusions about revolutionary strategy should be rejected out of hand.
My overall impression is that Gramsci was excellent at fundamentals, but made many errors, perhaps as a result of the terribly dynamic situation in Italy from 1917 to 1924. I can't say that I learned a great deal by reading him, but it was probably worthwhile taking the time, just for the pleasure of seeing a genuine revolutionary navigate rough seas. ...more
The contemporary cocktail book is a beautiful thing. The renaissance of cocktail culture has been brought about by a cadre of talented and innovativeThe contemporary cocktail book is a beautiful thing. The renaissance of cocktail culture has been brought about by a cadre of talented and innovative mixologists who are obsessive about the art and craft of making cocktails, and who are able to write intelligently. Speakeasy by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric of Employees Only in Greenwich Village, Dale Degroff's The Craft of the Cocktail, and The Craft Cocktail Party by Julie Reiner are all excellent books, loaded with useful advice for the home cocktail afficionado; and they express a passion for fresh ingredients applied to variations on classic cocktails.
Liquid Intelligence is different. Dave Arnold is as passionate as the others about cocktails made from fresh ingredients, but takes a systematic and scientific approach. He measures everything he can, debunks misconceptions through the power of data, and gains understanding of cocktail construction from models based on his data.
After the usual preliminaries about bar tools he talks about ice. For several pages he talks about ice: its chemical and physical properties; how to make clear ice; why clear ice is a good thing; how dilution relates to chilling ("The Fundamental Law of the Classic Cocktail"); and how ice relates to the relative effects of acidity and sweetness. The Fundamental Law is : there is no chilling without dilution, and there is no dilution without chilling. And the law is essentially independent of the size of the ice: everything from a large rock to crushed ice causes chilling in proportion to dilution - crushed ice is just a whole lot faster. The Fundamental Law invalidates a misconception that I had: namely, that it is better to have super cold ice when shaking a drink. But in fact, you want ice that is just at freezing, because most of the chilling occurs by melt water, not by the ice itself. Good to know.
He conducted a series of experiments on the rate of chilling by shaking and by stirring across a range of alcohol by volume (ABV). Then, using Excel, he created a quadratic model that can predict chilling (and therefore dilution) based solely on the ABV of the cocktail. Impressive, though I suspect the model is not very robust: the coefficient of the high order term is negative in the case of stirred cocktails - an indication that a quadratic model is not correct for that case. But, no matter, the data is probably valid of the range of ABV found in drinkable cocktails.
He includes a database of characteristics of about 50 spirits and mixers, listing their ABV, acidity and sweetness. Using this database he is able to construct drinkable recipes based solely on a mathematical model that he formulated that relates ABV, sweetness, and acidity: by matching the profile of classic cocktails he is able to determine the correct proportions of spirits and mixers that have, perhaps, never been combined before.
So this is a book that takes a fresh approach, and is a worthy addition to anyone's cocktail library. ...more
After reading this book I am very glad not to be a writer: it sounds like a lot of work. Oh, sure, Zinsser says it's necessary to be passionate and enAfter reading this book I am very glad not to be a writer: it sounds like a lot of work. Oh, sure, Zinsser says it's necessary to be passionate and enthusiastic, and to take joy in the work of writing, but I don't see how, not with all the rewriting, the editing, the trimming, the constant worry that the wrong word has snuck in somehow.
But, if I were a writer I would be very grateful for this book: straight-forward and practical advice for the would-be non-fiction writer; advice that is sure to improve the writer's (output? product? work? - oh, dammit, now he's got me doing it).
He proceeds more or less bottom-up, from words and punctuation, through paragraph structure, the parts of a typical non-fiction piece, and finally to meta issues such as choice of subject. And throughout the book he returns to his most basic themes: writing with clarity and simplicity, and writing in a logical and orderly way (unlike this review, which is wandering all over the place).
One thing I found helpful was his insistence that a good writer must avoid banality and cliched writing: it is so very easy to just spew out hackneyed prose rather than take the time and effort to find an original way of saying something (see what I just did there?).
Well - one thing has become obvious to me while writing this: if you read this book (and I hope that you do), set it aside for a while before you try to write anything. Trying to write even a simple throw-away review immediately after reading this book is damned near impossible. I feel, correctly, that I should take this drivel and rework it several times before inflicting it on the world. Last week I would have just said "good enough is good enough".
Unless you've been living in a cave in a remote desert you are probably aware that we are now in the midst of the second golden age of cocktails hereUnless you've been living in a cave in a remote desert you are probably aware that we are now in the midst of the second golden age of cocktails here in America. I came of age in the 1970s at a time when bartending skills were at an ebb; when most bartenders had just about enough skill to put rum and coke in the same glass, martinis were considered highly exotic and were prepared with second rate gin and the third rate vermouth available at the time, and when a Long Island Iced Tea was the drink of choice by my college friends. But oh how things changed starting in the early 2000s, with fresh infusions and syrups, high quality spirits, an ever increasing range of options for vermouths, bitters, and aperitifs, and a new cocktail culture that emphasized freshness and originality while paying homage to the classics. And Julie Reiner was as responsible for that risorgimento as anyone.
This is a beautiful book with plenty of photographs, lots of recipes, and a great resource for the home cocktail maker. Most of all, it is inspiring. It really doesn't require a lot of effort to make an infusion or a syrup, or to use fresh instead of bottled juice, and Reiner offers plenty of specific instruction on how to do it properly. Stocking the bar is a whole other question, of course: that can become very expensive. Reiner doesn't really offer any help on that score, but she does go to lengths to say which specific spirits she likes best in each category of drink, so that's a help.
The book is remarkably inexpensive (list $26 and currently available for less that $19 at Amazon), and a great addition to any cocktail library. Though I haven't read the Kindle edition, I cannot imagine that it is anything like the hardcover. Spend the extra $6 and get the real deal....more
Nicely researched words and pictures, showing many Seattle locations and landmarks "then" (early 20th century, mostly) and "now" (around 2013). MostlyNicely researched words and pictures, showing many Seattle locations and landmarks "then" (early 20th century, mostly) and "now" (around 2013). Mostly of interest to Seattlephiles (which I am decidedly not).
There is one story in this book that I'm not sure whether it makes me want to laugh or cry: Back around 1900 representatives of the Seattle chamber of commerce went to Alaska on a "cultural expedition", where they promptly stole a 110 year old totem pole, brought it back to Seattle, and installed it in Pioneer square. The Alaskan Tlingit tribe sued them for $20,000 for the theft, but eventually settled for $500. Decades later, in 1938, the totem pole was destroyed by an arson fire. The city sent the ashes back to the Tlingits.
A replica of the totem pole was later installed in Pioneer Square....more
You may be tempted, as I was, to give up on this short book after the first 20 pages. But if you press on you will be rewarded for your effort. ModianYou may be tempted, as I was, to give up on this short book after the first 20 pages. But if you press on you will be rewarded for your effort. Modiano intertwines three stories: that of Dora Bruder, a young Jewish girl in occupied Paris; Modiano's father, who barely escaped arrest at that same time; and his own story, in postwar France. And the reason you might feel like giving up on the book is that it is at first hard not to think of the story of Modiano and his father as being unnecessarily narcissistic, given the great crime and tragedy that befell Dora Bruder.
Modiano came across a brief notice in an old Paris newspaper of a father asking about the whereabouts of his daughter, Dora, who had disappeared two weeks earlier. Modiano was intrigued, in part because he had lived in the same neighborhood as the Bruder family, so he began to do research, to learn more about Dora and her family. They were Jewish, the father from Vienna, the mother from Budapest. Dora had been born in France. Prior to her disappearance Dora had been boarded at a Catholic girl's school, presumably to hide her from the authorities. Her parents had been obliged to register, as Jews, at the local police station and the father omitted Dora from the family registry. Conditions at the school were highly regimented, and Dora was said to be an independent and rebellious girl, and after 18 months she ran away. She was either apprehended or returned of her own volition (it's not clear which) and resumed living with her mother; her father by this time had been arrested and was in an internment camp. Eventually, Dora was arrested and sent to the same camp as her father, and the two of them were sent east, to Auschwitz where she and her father died, or were murdered.
Interwoven with this is the story of Modiano's father, living as an outlaw under the occupation and, later, becoming estranged from his wife and son. We are told the story of Modiano's mother sending him, Patrick, to collect the meager child-support payment from his father, and having his father call the police to report him as a hooligan. We hear about how the father narrowly escaped from detention during the occupation because a timed light went off in the police barracks just as he was being led in.
Finally there is the story of Modiano himself, quitting school, living somewhat rough in the suburbs of Paris, at times in the same neighborhood where the Bruders lived. Living in apartments that, he would later learn, were connected in some way with the story of Dora Bruder. Seeing parts of pre-war suburban Paris razed to the ground, in much the way that the records of the occupation were destroyed either during or after the war.
The power of this book comes from the way that Modiano reveals the slow but inexorable persecution of Jews in Paris. It was not as though one day Jews were fully a part of French life and the next they were rounded up and sent to camps. No. It started with the requirement that all Jews register with the police; then came curfew restrictions; then the requirement to wear a yellow star; and they were forbidden to use the telephone, or to own a radio, or a bicycle. And then began the roundups, at first making a distinction between males over the age of 18 and everyone elsee; and finally, no distinctions were made: children age three were "arrested", as were the very elderly and frail. And all of this with the active cooperation or tacit acceptance by the bulk of French citizens. The Paris Metro police were crucial to the success of the program; as were good French neighbors who helpfully reported that such and such Jewish girl was often seen leaving her apartment without the mandatory yellow star.
And now fascism is once again on the rise in Europe and America, this time directed not at Jews but at Muslims - though Jews will certainly be the next target if fascism gets well and truly underway. And I am tempted to say that this is a result of collective amnesia about what happened a mere 80 years ago, but I no longer believe that to be the case. Fascism was a popular movement, with enthusiastic support across most of Europe, among the bourgeoisie and the working class. Whether a result of "false consciousness" or not, fascism and anti-Semitic racism was an attractive proposition given the terrible hardships of the depression era, and Jews were a convenient scapegoat. As Muslims and immigrants are now.
It is in my nature to condemn those who aided fascism, as well as those who opposed it but did nothing. But in my heart I know I would have remained in that latter camp for as long as possible, out of fear and a desire to simply live my life as well as possible. Just as I do today, despite my deep and sincere opposition to what I see as a fascist movement here in America. It is the slow tightening of the noose that makes this possible. Each small step seems both impossible to stop and not big enough to justify turning one's life upside down. The Patriot Act, the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, the establishment of extra-judicial detention without due process, the use of torture on "terrorist suspects", the imposition of mass surveillance: how, I ask myself each time, could I possibly effectively resist these steps? And the answer each time has been: I can't, so I do nothing. But what is at the end of this road is a condition that will be intolerable, and how then will I justify my lassitude and inaction?
These are the questions that this book raised for me. Your mileage will vary, but in any case this is a book worth reading. ...more
Anyone paying attention the past 12 years knows something of the CIA rendition program - seizing suspected terrorists around the globe and shipping thAnyone paying attention the past 12 years knows something of the CIA rendition program - seizing suspected terrorists around the globe and shipping them off to be interrogated and tortured in Jordan or Egypt. And we all think we know something about Guantanamo. Naturally the US government denied the very existence of the rendition program, and for years denied that the torture conducted in Guantanamo was anything other than "harsh interrogation" (as NPR continues to call it, to this day). But parts of the truth were eventually revealed, and so we know now of the waterboarding, the wrist suspension, the sleep deprivation, the beatings, the cold, the 24 hour interrogations, the isolation, the use of psychomimetic drugs. And, in this book, we get a clearer picture of what that really means, though as Slahi tells us, we can never really know and can scarcely imagine what it is like to experience these things.
I began to say, "this is an amazing book' - as though it were the latest stylish literary work, something to be read and enjoyed and forgotten when the next nice piece of writing comes along. But this is not that. It is a book written by a man while in Guantanamo, in 2005, recounting the five years of harassment, kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture that he had undergone. It took another 6 years for his pro-bono attorneys to get the US government to allow a highly redacted version of the book to be released, and a further 3 years for the book to be published.
The book is remarkable, first, because Slahi had to basically teach himself English while at Guantanamo. Second, because it is a very clear account of what he went through, told as dispassionately as possible. Third, Slahi reveals a deep humanity: he must surely feel a great deal of anger and bitterness over what has been done to him, yet throughout he expresses understanding and even sympathy for some of those who have mistreated him so terribly.
I suspect that there are relatively few people who will read this book. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are pretty OK with the fact that our government uses torture, and believe that it is "worth it." Dick Cheney gets to have his ugly face on cable news and tell the world that he "would do it again" (a clear admission that he did it in the first place) and this it "was worthwhile." And so most Americans would likely not want to be bothered hearing from a "terrorist suspect".
But there are people who will want to read this book: people with some sense of ethics and decency, and people who grew up believing that the US is a nation based on law, and that there is at least some modicum of justice in America. I hope that I have a sense of ethics and decency, but I stopped believing long ago that law in America means anything, or that our government is even the least bit interested in justice.
In 2010 Slahi was ordered released from Guantanamo by a federal judge, based on the fact that the government had not charged him with any crime nor presented evidence that he had committed a crime. The Obama Justice department appealed that decision and it was sent back to federal district court. No decision has yet been made. Slahi remains in Guantanamo. ...more
Taking as its premise that reading is a complex activity, one that does not come naturally but must be learned, the authors present a set of goals forTaking as its premise that reading is a complex activity, one that does not come naturally but must be learned, the authors present a set of goals for good reading, a set of principles to apply to the practice of reading, and a specific set of steps and rules to be followed to maximize the value to be gained from reading.
If you can ignore the somewhat dated prose, especially the pervasive use of "he" or "men" and its implicit assumption that the reader (and author) is male, and if you can get past the emphasis on the great books (Great Books) of the western canon (an emphasis that is natural and expected, given that the primary author was Mortimer Adler), I believe that this is a good and useful book. Reading it and absorbing its rules, and making those rules a habit, will not make you (or me) into a George Steiner or George Plimpton, but it might well improve our ability to quickly and completely understand the books that we read. I suppose that many of us already practice many of these rules; still, their conscious and systematic application cannot but help.
What follows is not part of the review but a brief summary, mostly as an aid to (my) memory.
This is a very methodical book, from which most traces of ambiguity and uncertainty have been vigorously excised. I will try to summarize the method here, as a kind of overview.
The authors devote a brief chapter to elementary reading, outlining 4 stages in achieving this lowest level, and taking the time to express their dismay that elementary is often the highest level of reading attained even by those with a high school or college education.
There are two types of inspectional reading: Systematic skimming or pre-reading, and superficial reading.
Systematic skimming includes the following:
1. Look at the title page and the preface 2. Study the table of contents 3. Check the index 4. Read the publisher's blurb 5. Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to the book's argument, and read their summary statements, if any. 6. Dip into the book and read a paragraph or two here and there
Superficial reading consists of reading a difficult book quickly beginning to end, not stopping to understand difficult ideas and not looking back.
Both types of inspectional reading are to be done quickly and with great concentration.
Before proceeding with their lengthy discussion of analytical reading, the authors discuss the importance of active reading. THere are 4 questions the active reader must ask about a book:
1. What is the book about, as a whole? 2. What is being said in detail, and how? 3. Is the book true, in whole or in part? 4. What of it?
They go on to say that the reader should liberally mark up his or her book with margin notes, underlining, etc. (Easier said than done with ebooks, though Kindle does try to make it possible).
And prior to getting to the many rules that they are about to propose, they remind the would-be good reader that the goal is to transform the many rules into one habit, in the way that a novice skier eventually just skis, rather than concentrate on the many individual aspects of skiing.
The rules of analytical reading:
1. You must know what kind of book you are reading, and you should know this as early in the process as possible, preferably before you begin to read. (This is followed by a lengthy discussion of the many categories of books, and subcategories, and ambiguities) 2. State the unity of the whole book in a single sentence or at most a short paragraph. 3. Set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole. 4. Find out what the authors problems were (i.e. what problems was the author trying to solve).
Gaining understanding (interpretive reading)
5. Find the important words and through them come to terms with the author (i.e. understand the terms that the author uses) 6. Mark the most important sentences in a book and discover the propositions they contain. 7. Locate or construct the basic arguments in the book by finding them in the connection of sentences. 8. Find out what the author's solutions are.
9. You must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, "I Understand," before you can say any of the following things: "I agree," or "I disagree," or "I suspend judgment." 10. When you disagree, do so reasonably, and not disputatiously or contentiously. 11. Respect the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by giving reasons for any critical judgment you make.
If you disagree with an author you show at least one of:
1. The author is uninformed. 2. The author is misinformed. 3. The author is illogical. 4. The author's analysis is incomplete.
The final part of the book deals with 'syntopic' reading: the reading of many books on the same subject, and emphasizes the importance of efficient inspectional reading.
Tariq Ali focuses almost exclusively on Trotsky's political life, leaving his personal life and even his military career during the civil war as no moTariq Ali focuses almost exclusively on Trotsky's political life, leaving his personal life and even his military career during the civil war as no more than an afterthought. The aim of this political biography is to show that, for the most part, Trotsky and Lenin had similar theories of revolution, differing occasionally but generally converging in the end. Trotsky was politically aggressive, by which I mean he believed that the revolutionary struggle must be pushed aggressively forward, and that compromise with the bourgeoisie, whether revolutionary or reformist, must be avoided whenever possible, in favor of working class revolution. He also believed in the necessity of democratic action: open and unconstrained debate prior to making decisions, combined with party discipline in carrying out the agreed plan. In this, he and Lenin were of the same mind, until the necessities of war made democratic practice untenable. In the aftermath, though, Trotsky believed that democracy was essential, but by then it was too late: Stalin had consolidated power, and democracy became merely a means of identifying enemies to be liquidated.
Ali has only contempt for most of Trotsky's contemporaries and comrades: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bucharin; and deep hatred for Stalin. Fittingly, as far as I can tell.
The period from around 1928 to 1940 is covered in just a few pages, other than an extended discussion of Stalinist perfidy in Spain, and the terrible decision (mandated by Stalin) of the German communist party not to join a united front with German socialists to oppose the Nazis starting in 1930, leading to the Nazi electoral victory in 1932 and all that came after. By 1928 Stalin was in control, Trotsky was stripped of all responsibility, and eventually expelled from the communist party. He left Russia in time to avoid a show trial, and eventually ended up in Mexico, where he lived the last three years, until eventually murdered by a soviet agent.
This book makes it clear that Trotsky was a brilliant intellectual, but doesn't adequately convey the extent to which Trotsky was able to turn theory into effective action. It completely downplays his role as head of the Red Army during the civil war, and says little about his role in St. Petersburg in seizing control of power there during the October revolution. But, it's a short book, and Trotsky's revolutionary theory was as good a choice as any other as the book's theme....more
With the deluge of news, fake news, government propaganda, speculation, and opinion about Guantanamo, I had completely missed this incident: the deathWith the deluge of news, fake news, government propaganda, speculation, and opinion about Guantanamo, I had completely missed this incident: the death in custody of three detainees, and the subsequent cover-up in the summer of 2006. I vaguely remember the nonsense about detainee suicides being a case of "asymmetrical warfare" and thinking what a crock of shit that was. But the specifics, as eventually revealed by the researchers at Seton Hall, and by Hickman via Scott Horton: this completely escaped my attention. In part, I suppose, because the mass media completely ignored the story, even after it was published in Harpers: they were far too busy, after all, transcribing official government pronouncements.
The cover-up began with the NCIS report of the incident - a report riddled with inconsistencies and absurdities, and released in such a fashion that it was extremely difficult to make any sense of it all. Its 3000 pages were released out of order, in pdf format, with many pages lacking page numbers, and heavily redacted. The cover-up continued after Hickman told his story to the army inspector general, representatives from the FBI, and a prosecutor from the Justice department. These representatives of justice simply dismissed his story as not credible, without interviewing the additional witnesses Hickman provided, and without reinterviewing the witnesses whose sworn statements in the NCIS report were nonsensical or impossible. This final stage of the cover-up occurred under the Obama administration.
The details of how and why the detainees died will forever remain a mystery, probably. But what is certain is that they did not commit suicide in their cells, as an act of asymmetrical warfare or for any other reason. ...more
1. His analysis of the 60s was interesting. Basically: the worldwide student revolt in the 60s was not rAn interesting life, to be sure. Three things:
1. His analysis of the 60s was interesting. Basically: the worldwide student revolt in the 60s was not really political in nature: it was a sort of personal and cultural revolt, nothing more, and nothing that posed any threat to the existing order.
2. His position during the disastrous rise of Thatcherism and the implosion of Labour. He favored "tactical voting", and saw the main goal as being the defeat of Thatcher, and had no patience with the sectarians on the left who wanted to maintain their ideological purity. I would undoubtedly have been among the sectarians, had I been British, but I see Hobsbawm's point.
3. His extensive travels in Latin America, and his seemingly effortless ability to meet and befriend the intelligentsia in all countries.
OK, more than three things: his apparent ease at learning languages; his nearly lifelong love of jazz; and his seemingly non-ideological Marxism.
Worth reading if you've read any of his work. ...more
This is a collection of 4 interviews with Gore Vidal, from 1986 through 2007. They mostly cover the same ground, and he tends to give roughly similarThis is a collection of 4 interviews with Gore Vidal, from 1986 through 2007. They mostly cover the same ground, and he tends to give roughly similar answers to the same questions, with slight variations over time.
Vidal was an immensely intelligent man, and was among the first to recognize and portray the United States as an empire - a term that earned him scorn from the establishment press at the time (the 50s and 60s), but which is now a commonplace. He also coined the term "national security state" back in the early 80s - another term that is now generally recognized as descriptive of our government but which was, then, subjected to derision and contempt.
He was born into a wealthy and politically connected family, which only partly explains his early access to notable politicians and artists in the early postwar period. He wrote his first two books when he was 19 and 20 while in the US army, receiving favorable reviews from the New York Times. But when he published The City and the Pillar, about the life of a gay man, he was placed on the New York Times shitlist, and never again received a favorable review from them. Which tells us a great deal more about the Times than it does about Gore Vidal.
He became left-wing by degrees, after starting as an America Firster while at Exeter. By 1968 he had recognized the American empire for what it was, and his trajectory to the left by then was irreversible. He had access to all the main political players during the 60s, and knew that the trumped-up fears about the USSR were only for public consumption, a way to advance the interests of what he would eventually term the national security state. That sort of knowledge is bound to make anyone a bit cynical. And he early on recognized the criminality and utter pointlessness of the Vietnam war, before opposition to the war was popular. He maintained his principled ant-war stance to the end, even breaking off his friendship with Christopher Hitchens because of the latter's support for the invasion of Iraq.
For those of us who have been reading Glenn Greenwald for the past decade, Glennon provides an alternative theory to explain the continuity of the staFor those of us who have been reading Glenn Greenwald for the past decade, Glennon provides an alternative theory to explain the continuity of the state surveillance and security policies; policies that are largely independent of which party happens to be in power. Glennon makes a distinction between the "Madisonian" institutions that are the public face of our government - the executive, legislative, and judicial branches - and the "Trumanite" institutions - the network of surveillance and security departments. He makes the case that the public, Madisonian, government has little effective control over the operation of the Trumanite network; that it would be nearly impossible for a President to simply give an order that would cause that network to change course; that congress members do not have the time or the expertise (or the desire) to effectively oversee that network; and that members of the judiciary are pre-vetted as adherents of the aims and autonomy of the Trumanite network. He says that the Madisonian institutions occasionally are able to rein in on rare occasions - just often enough to maintain the appearance that they are in control, without actually being so.
The Trumanite network, consisting of the military, CIA, National Security Council, NSA, and dozens of other surveillance and security organizations, operate with secret budgets, secret missions, secret interpretations of the law, and secret, captive and separate judiciary. The heads of those organizations are basically above the law, and treat their would-be overseers with contempt and derision. The network is technocratic, bureaucratic, and tactical. Advancement within the network is predicated on agreeing with, and never challenging, the decisions of its leaders past or present. Thus even failed policies, such as the nearly permanent wars of aggression in the middle east, are continued and even enhanced over time - there is simply no incentive within the Trumanite network to admit failure, and strong motivation not to.
You might think that since Glennon has found a plausible and somewhat testable theory of operation of the "double government", that he would be able to offer a remedy. But he really has none. He sees no prospect that the Madisonian institutions will be able to reassert control. In part he blames this on the lack of "civil virtue" of the populace at large: the widespread ignorance and indifference of the citizenry. He points to articles in the Federalist papers that acknowledge that the finely-tuned balance of powers relies for its effectiveness on a citizenry that is informed and engaged. Our population is neither. But he also acknowledges that the situation has developed to a condition in which it is literally impossible to be informed: virtually everything done by the Trumanite network is classified, and there are "only a handful of investigative reporters" still working in the United States; and because of the high wall of secrecy, even they are unable to shed much light.
So this is a book that is both enlightening and depressing. It leaves me hoping that there are a hundred more Edward Snowdens willing to throw open the doors of secrecy and reveal the workings of the security apparatus - perhaps that would, finally, rouse the masses from their slumber. ...more
This is a good brief overview of Trotsky's life and career. In other treatments it is all too easy to get lost in a morass of Russian names, intricateThis is a good brief overview of Trotsky's life and career. In other treatments it is all too easy to get lost in a morass of Russian names, intricate details of battles, and arcane Soviet politics. But here we get the high-level picture, and Trotsky's contribution to the Russian revolution comes through load and clear, as well as his post-Lenin decline as Stalin consolidated power.
Geary uses a number of Verso books as his source material, so we get a fairly friendly perspective. Overall, Trotsky comes across as a reluctant revolutionary; one who would have greatly preferred to remain a theorist, well in the background, but who stepped up to take a leadership role because it was the right and necessary thing. He certainly never expected to be a battle commander, but that's just what happened during the civil war and allied invasion of Russia after the revolution.
He also comes across as inflexible and a bit dogmatic, thereby losing the friendship of Diego Rivera. Sad for him, really, since it's possible he would have avoided execution by ice ax had he been able to remain in Rivera's house. ...more
I would give high marks to any 30 pages from this book chosen at random. Byron was very knowledgeable about architecture and provides detailed and evoI would give high marks to any 30 pages from this book chosen at random. Byron was very knowledgeable about architecture and provides detailed and evocative descriptions of the ancient buildings on his travels in Iran and Afghanistan. His account of the actual travel and the conditions he found there was compelling. The trouble was that he circled, seemingly endlessly, between Teheran, Meshed, Isfahan, Herat, and a few other places, and by the middle of the book I was getting fairly bored. I basically skimmed the second half (to my loss, I'm sure) mostly because I knew I would remember scarcely anything about the book, other than general impressions, in a month or two.
For the modern Western reader it is interesting to see that modern Islamic fundamentalism had already developed in large part by the mid 30s, including the deadly conflicts between Shia and Sunni. The missing ingredient was organization and resolve.
I have to wonder how many of the architectural sites described in this book still exist. Even then many of them were in terrible condition, and I suspect that the past 80 years of turmoil and war have accelerated the destruction. Poignantly, Byron describes the Bamian Buddhas which had already been partially damaged and which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Fortunately the architectural highlight of his travels, the Sheikh Lutfullah mosque, is still standing and in good condition....more
Even in translation this is a beautifully written book. Part adventure, part philosophy of life, the author describes the experience of aviation in thEven in translation this is a beautifully written book. Part adventure, part philosophy of life, the author describes the experience of aviation in the 20s and 30s and concludes with a meditation on war in the final chapter, with the Spanish civil war as an example and guide.
Saint-Exupéry began as an aviator, flying for the French mail service in the mid 20s. He describes the many dangers of flying from France to west Africa, and later, flying from Argentina to Chile over the Andes. This was at a time when airplane motors were not utterly reliable, and incapable of high speeds or high altitude. So when a pilot was caught in a storm he was as nearly powerless as a feather to resist the winds and downdrafts. It's pretty exciting stuff, but Saint-Exupéry goes to lengths to explain that he cannot really convey the actual experience of the pilot who, faced with such urgent dangers, is quite unlikely to experience fear but, rather, will be entirely focused on the tools of his trade: his intimate understanding of the capabilities of his plane, the controls, the instruments, the glimpses of mountain peaks or desert sands.
The facing of danger is the only "truth" of mankind that Saint-Exupéry acknowledges (until the very end of the book), and he expresses a no dount sincere pity for the clerks and bookkeepers that muddle through their existence without facing anything more demanding than a choice of where to have lunch. You can take that or leave it, but he makes an interesting case either way.
The constant theme in this book is the precise way in which man lives in the world; the sources of joy and sorrow; the nature of friendship and comradeship. In that sense it is a humanistic book to the core. Saint-Exupéry is open-minded - various bigotries notwithstanding - and embraces mankind with all its faults, and views life as a precious gift to all who possess it. I found the book to be by turns exciting, moving, and thought-provoking. ...more