I stumbled across this book while doing some research on Colditz, the supposedly escape-proof castle/prison where incorrigible escapees were housed byI stumbled across this book while doing some research on Colditz, the supposedly escape-proof castle/prison where incorrigible escapees were housed by the Nazis. I had never heard of Neave but reading just a couple of pages hooked me completely. It’s fascinating.
As a child Neave had been sent to Germany in 1933 to learn the language. This gave him an opportunity to witness fascism in practice and he formed a lifelong hatred of authoritarianism that became an obsession.
Unlike his fellow students who wanted nothing to do with war, Neave joined the Territorials. When the war began, he was shipped off to France as part of a Searchlight unit which was unfortunate enough to be assigned to defend Calais against Guderian’s panzers. He was shot by a sniper and captured. (He described these events in his bookFlames of Calais: A Soldier's Battle 1940.**) He was captured and imprisoned in several different POW camps from which he tried to escape each time. Eventually, he wound up in Colditz, the supposedly escape-proof camp (that’s a laugh). He escaped to Switzerland in 1942 where he came to the attention of MI9, one of those shadowy numbered agencies of British Intelligence which, in this case, was “a wholly owned subsidiary of MI6.”
During the war, following his escape, he worked for MI9 in establishing and maintaining the escape routes for downed airmen. Anxious to get France following the Normandy invasions, he pushed through on the heels of the American Third Army in order to personally liberate one of the rather spectacular camps they had established right under the noses of the Germans. It held over 100 men and was supplied by air. One interesting and confirmed story has him preventing the destruction of Chartres Cathedral by American troops with orders to blow it up for fear snipers might be hiding in the towers. If so he personally saved one of the great Gothic cathedrals.
There is a relatively short chapter on Neave’s role in the Nuremberg trials. I was disappointed in its brevity for Neave’s -- he was one of the junior prosecutors -- comments on the reactions of each of the major defendants as the indictments were being read to them I thought were fascinating and would have enjoyed learning more. I realize in a biography one has to be selective, but I would have traded some of the escape detail for more depth about Nuremberg. Especially since the author questions whether Neave took its lessons to heart: “...soldiers should also understand politics, and Nuremberg was the greatest example of civil society seeking to make soldiers understand the nature of their actions and their responsibility to recognise political right and wrong. In his own life, the soldier – politician Neave was not always so scrupulous. He vigorously propounded the virtues of liberty and democracy but flirted dangerously with quasi-military groups in Britain determined to halt what they saw as a drift towards Communism. For the most part, the politician was in charge, but sometimes the soldier took over, as in his attitude to Northern Ireland much later."
He then morphed into politics, but his heart always lay with the secret service and he intertwined the two. Following a heart attack in 1959 (most likely caused by his excessive drinking and smoking, he resigned his ministerial offices and relegated to the back benches where he began to nurse a resentment against what he considered ill treatment from his conservative brethren taking a job as a lucrative parliamentary consultant for an atomic energy company. Back as an MP, his efforts were unspectacular except in the area of compensation for British POWS who had been held by the Germans in concentration camps. He was active in debates on the ‘brain drain’, care of the elderly, nuclear energy, toll bridges and the foot and mouth epidemic among English cattle. Making a long story shorter, Naeve offered his services to Margaret Thatcher as her campaign manager and using the psychological skills of the secret service, performed brilliantly. His intelligence network was “unsurpassed.”
By the early seventies, IRA violence was dominating the news. Following Thatcher’s election, Naeve could have virtually any position in her cabinet. Perhaps because of his MI6 experience he chose Northern Ireland. “Despite his reputation as a vaguely progressive Conservative, Neave was now moving in very deep shadows on the hard right of British – and Irish – politics.” No doubt he thought he could use force to quell the Republican movement. "Roger Bolton, a television producer who knew him and put together a documentary on his assassination, argues the paradox that Neave was a moral man willing to do things that immoral people were not: ‘If necessary, he took the gun out and there were difficult things to be done but for the most honourable of reasons.’ Thatcher perhaps owed him a great deal as Neave was the mastermind behind the coup that “dethroned” Edward Heath. using the “psy-ops” techniques he had acquired during his years in the intelligence services.
Neave was killed by a bomb in his car in 1979. Routledge managed to interview the team (another one of the hopelessly confusing quasi-independent groups with its own acronym (INLA) they were black-hooded and still very secretive, but hoped that by revealing the truth of Neave’s killing, they might persuade the British government to reveal information about some of the government’s own killings.
"He was a public servant who never really stopped being a secret agent.”
A riveting book. One caveat: some knowledge of 20th century British parliamentary history would be invaluable, something I did not have, and without it the central section seemed often ungrounded, but the recounting of his time during the war, his shadowy operations to get Thatcher elected and Northern Ireland make up for that. Highly recommended.
** In his book, Neave makes the case that holding Calais “at all costs” made the evacuation at Dunkirk possible. Liddell-Hart thought that was rubbish noting that the panzer division assigned to Calais was only one of seven and had been deployed because “it had nothing else to do,” and that the brave stand against overwhelming odds was a useless sacrifice that Churchill later glorified to salve his conscience. ...more
Audiobook: By age 28, Capone was virtually “King” of Chicago. He had orchestrated the reelection of Big Bill Thompson, a lunatic so weird that he woulAudiobook: By age 28, Capone was virtually “King” of Chicago. He had orchestrated the reelection of Big Bill Thompson, a lunatic so weird that he would debate animals in cages, in 1927. Thompson is considered the most unethical Mayor in Chicago history and was the last Republican to win election to that office. He ran on a platform of shutting down police raids on the ordinary citizen and had full support of the criminal element. “When I’m elected we will not only reopen places these people have closed,but we’ll open ten thousand new ones…. No copper will invade your home and fan your mattress for a hip flask.” By that time the police had become much more hated than the gangsters. Rather than go after the big guys (who were paying them graft) the cops made arrests by invading people’s homes and arresting anyone with a minute amount of alcohol. Corruption was endemic. (I suspect there is similar if less obvious corruption from the war on drugs.) There was just too much money to be made. The Volstead Act was celebrated, especially by the crooks.
No one was ever quite sure just how much Capone’s empire took in, but reasonable estimates place it close to $1.5 billion a year in today’s money. The intricate web of speakeasies, prostitution, gambling, and every other imaginable criminal enterprise all paid Capone. He was smart, however, in that he was lavish with payoffs to cops and politicians and never was envious of others in his organization being ostentatious with their wealth. For himself, he was not. His sole extravagances were gambling, fine suits, and a seven-ton Cadillac, heavily reinforced so has to make it impervious to bullets. Other than that he lived a modest lifestyle.
It was the passage of the 16th amendment that probably got Capone. Aside from the fact that constant gang warfare and street shootings were having an impact on the rich by driving up insurance premiums and reducing their income of the wealthy; now gangsters were required to report their income. Manny Sullivan had argued in court that reporting income on illegal activities was tantamount to self-incrimination (United States v Sullivan, 1927) and thus a violation of the 5th amendment. He lost unanimously and tax fraud investigations were conducted by postal inspectors, famous for their honesty and integrity. No one dared violate the postal regulations because they were sure to be caught and convicted. President Hoover had declared that the rule of law would prevail and it was reported that every day he would ask his associates if Capone was in jail yet. Hoover, in his inimitable way suggested that everyone just stop drinking and that would ruin the crooks. Well, we know how well abstinence theory works.
The stock market crash (It’s just a depression, not a panic, said Hoover) affected Capone little. He had refused to participate in the stock market, arguing he was a piker compared to the crooks on Wall Street and given the activities of the media and brokers to hype stocks (“hey, they will only go up, be sure to hang on to them, and what a great time to buy” while they were selling,) he had a point.
One hindrance to any Capone prosecution was that he didn’t keep any books. So the details necessary to get him had to come from the inside. That insider was Eddy O’Hare. Eddy had managed to get the rights to the electric rabbit that revolutionized dog racing. Recognizing he was better off colluding with Capone than competing with him in dog racing, they formed a partnership. Frank had a son, Butch, who desperately wanted to fly airplanes. Apparently he was a loveable kid and the apple of his father’s eye so Eddy made a deal with Frank Wilson, the most active of the prosecutors (Eliot Ness and the “untouchables” should have been called “the inactives” according to Eig) to help Butch get into the Naval Academy. As everyone knows who flies through O’Hare airport in Chicago, Butch was killed during the war in 1943 after becoming the Navy’s first ace. He was also awarded the Medal of Honor.
Lots of detail about shootings and the role of the “Tommy” gun, the staccato sound of which apparently became familiar background noise for Chicagoans. Not to mention how the new science of ballistics was used in the investigation of the St. Valentine's Day massacre. I found the early parts of the book to be quite superficial, but it definitely became more interesting as the decade progressed..
Anyone complaining about corruption today needs to do some reading about the early 20th century. Prohibition, much like our current drug laws, created multiple scenarios for graft, murder, and political decadence. We obviously learned nothing from prohibition, but then we don’t have machine guns going off in the streets constantly, either. Oh, wait....more
If you are looking for information about Alan Turing, look elsewhere. The title is a metaphor.
The Nazis did the U.S. a huge favor with their boorish aIf you are looking for information about Alan Turing, look elsewhere. The title is a metaphor.
The Nazis did the U.S. a huge favor with their boorish and stupid racial policies. Many prominent Jews were brilliant mathematicians and physicists, and when the “cleansing” of universities began by the Nazis, people like Van Neumann, Einstein, and many others fled to the United States where they were of immense assistance in the development of the atomic bomb.
This book is about the origins and development of the digital age and Dyson spends considerable space on the people and institutions key to that development. The Princeton Institute for Advanced Research, for example, under Abraham Flexner and Oswald Veblen, recruited many of these refugees who helped build the Institute into one of the premier research institutions. I suppose it all has special interest for me as my life span parallels the development of the computer. I was born in 1947. In the 7th grade I became fascinated by ham radio and electrons and studied the intricate workings of the vacuum tube, a device for which I still have some reverence. I’m still dismantling and messing with the insides of computers.
Ironically, given the book’s title, John Van Neumann takes center stage with Turing playing only a peripheral role. Van Neumann’s interest in digital computation was apparently sparked by reading Turing’s seminal article. “On Computational Numbers” that led him to the realization of the importance of stored program processing.
What Turing did that was so crucial was to take Gödel’s proof of the incompleteness theorem that permitted numbers to carry two meanings. Turing took that and thought up the paper tape computer that produced both data and code simultaneously. That realization alone was fundamental in providing the basic building block for the computer.
The builders had conflicting views of the incredible computational power they had unleashed that was to be used for both ill and good. Van Neumann recognized this: “ A tidal wave of computational power was about to break and inundate everything in science and much elsewhere, and things would never be the same.”
It would have been impossible to develop the atomic bomb without the computational abilities of the new “computers.” So naturally, the Manhattan Project is covered along with the influence of the evil Dr. Teller (I must remember to get his biography,) who was the character (Dr. Strangelove) brilliantly played by Peter Sellers. After the war, Teller pushed very hard for the development of the “super-bomb” even though he knew, or must have known, that his initial calculations were flawed because he didn’t have the computational power to do them completely. One number that I questioned was the Dyson’s reporting that when the Russians exploded a three-stage hydrogen bomb in 1961, the force released was equivalent to 1% of the sun’s power. That sounds wildly improbable. Anyone able to contradict number?
Some interesting little tidbits. One computational scientist refused to use the new VDTs, preferring to stick with punched cards (he obviously never dropped a box of them) which seemed far more tangible to him than dots on a screen. I guess fear of new technology is not reserved for non-scientists.
One of the major and very interesting questions addressed by Turing and reported on in the book is what we now call artificial intelligence. When we use a search engine are we learning from the search engine? or is the search engine learning from us? It would appear currently the latter may be true. Clearly, the search engines have been designed to store information and use that information to learn things about us both as a group and individually. I suspect that programs now make decisions based on that accumulation of knowledge. Is that not one definition of intelligence? (I will again highly recommend a book written and read quite a while ago that foresaw many of these issues: The Adolescence of P-1 by Thomas Ryan (1977)** . Note that Turing talked about the adolescence of computers and likening them to children.)
Some reviewers have taken Dyson to task for emphasizing abstract reasoning that went into the development of the computer while downplaying the role of electrical engineers (Eckert and Mauchly) in actually building the things. I’ll leave that argument to others, not caring a whit for who should get the credit and being in awe of both parties. On the other hand, the book does dwell more on the personalities than the intricacies of computing. There are some fascinating digressions, however, such as the examination of digital vs analog and how the future of computing might have been altered had Vann Neumann not tragically died so young as he had a great interest in biological computing and the relationship of the brain to the computer.
A quote from his blog that got me interested: "And there was worse to come. Whether it was Rep. Joe Wilson boorishly yelling “you lie!”– unprecedentedA quote from his blog that got me interested: "And there was worse to come. Whether it was Rep. Joe Wilson boorishly yelling “you lie!”– unprecedented behavior during a joint meeting of Congress assembled to hear a presidential address – or the obscene carnival of Birtherism, Obama-the-secret-Muslim, death panels, and all the rest of it, the party took on a nasty, bullying, crazy edge. From my perch on the budget committee I watched with a mixture of fascination and foreboding as my party was hijacked by a new crop of opportunists and true believers hell-bent on dragging the country into their jerry-built New Jerusalem: an upside-down utopia where corporations rule, the Constitution, like science, is faith-based, and war is the first, not the last, resort in foreign policy."
Several years ago I helped a dear old friend (he died a day after his 102nd birthday in 2009) edit his memoirs. He was not new to writing. In his younSeveral years ago I helped a dear old friend (he died a day after his 102nd birthday in 2009) edit his memoirs. He was not new to writing. In his younger years he had produced an interesting series of essays about his love for the farm he had purchased and the horses he rode called River Hill Soliloquy: The Story Of An Illinois Farm. It was published by the University of Illinois Press. After his death I had it reissued as an ebook. The book had a local following. The book I helped to edit years later called Montana Montage: Memoir of a Dude Wrangler was a collection of stories from his very early days as a trail hand in Montana. It had considerable historical interest.
The last item that we worked on, however, The Diary of a Journeyman: The Life and Times of the Past Century, despite my best efforts became a litany, a virtual list, of the many friends he had had during his years as the editorial director for a large printing and publishing firm in Mt. Morris, Illinois that produced fraternal organization magazines. He was afraid of leaving anyone out regardless of their importance. It had the potential to be a fascinating study of changes in the printing industry, but he was adamant in spending time mentioning people. Clarence, like L'Amour was self-educated and never had much formal education. He went on to become a wealthy benefactor of the local community college and its library of which I was the director. I helped him self-publish Diary of a Journeyman and Montana Montage, but by that time, he had outlived most of the people in Diary so the very limited initial market had dwindled even more.
So it is with L'Amour's book. Far from the action-packed westerns that built a large following (I'm but a lukewarm fan as I find much of his writing pedestrian), this book borders on being merely a catalog of the books he has read over the years with assorted comments. The writing, in its short cadences with abrupt transitions reminded me so much of Clarence's final product it was eerie, the only difference being that the subjects were books rather than persons. It's very superficial and of only limited interest. I fear I must admit to skimming it quite quickly.
That Daniel J. Boostin, one of my favorite cultural historians -- his trilogy The Americans, Vol. 1: The Colonial Experience, which I read in the late seventies, is enthralling history and brilliantly written -- speaks more to his friendship with L'Amour than the book's content.
Fascinating book. We are about to begin another in the perennial and interminable battles for the presidency. Several of the candidates claim extensivFascinating book. We are about to begin another in the perennial and interminable battles for the presidency. Several of the candidates claim extensive experience as business leaders so it's always interesting to read the inside stories of corporate business successes, failures, and often malfeasance.
I've read many books about Enron, the HP/Compaq merger problems, the 2008 housing crisis, etc. and much of the blame for those debacles can be blamed on individuals at the top. What is it we consider success for a company? Increased stock prices?Long-term viability? Best products and services? One common factor seems to be enormous compensation regardless of success or failure.
Marissa Mayer was lucky. The initial investment in Alibabo was just paying off when she became CEO injecting huge amounts of capital into the struggling Yahoo whose founder, Yang, and Chairman of the Board Bostock had rejected a purchase of from Microsoft that would have paid stockholders a 62% premium!
One of the first things she did was to institute a management system used at Google (and at Enron, I might add.) It involves employees coming up with quantifiable goals which they are then measured against annually and get a score. "It was a forced curve. In general, only 75 percent of any group got in the top three buckets. Twenty-five percent of every team had to go into the bottom two—“ occasionally misses” and “misses.” The result: Teammates directly competed with each other to make sure that they weren’t a part of that 25 percent." Those with low scores get no raises and/or the axe. A well-intended system, it's major flaw is (as Kurt Eichenwald noted in his article in Fortune) that employees work poorly in groups because since there are usually quotas for each performance category even a good employee might rank low in a team of high performers, someone has to. That means they tend to work poorly in groups and to undermine each other since they were ranked relative to their colleagues. That's what happened at Enron as well. It tends to destroy morale.
Yahoo is currently under attack by shareholder activists who argue that Mayer has not turned Yahoo around, nor has she met any of her original goals or timetables. Whether anyone could have is another story. Yahoo got famous by providing something people needed at the right time in the evolution of the Internet. Reinventing oneself once a certain level of size is achieved is very difficult. The Yahoo saga continues and may be fun to watch.
I used to like Robert Gates. I realize that memoirs, (I have also read Robert McNamara’s mea culpa In Retrospect -https://www.goodreads.com/review/shoI used to like Robert Gates. I realize that memoirs, (I have also read Robert McNamara’s mea culpa In Retrospect -https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...- which I highly recommend) by their very nature, tend to be self-adulatory, but there are passages that encouraged self-emetic tendencies in me. The idea that he left Texas A&M as president, where he describes himself as being overwhelmingly loved by students and faculty after only four years, to return to government as Secretary of Defense only out of a sense of duty? Really? In 2005 he had turned down a request to become Director of National Intelligence. I suspect his nostalgia for the university had as much to do with his greater control there than he was able to forge in government.
He calls names, disrespecting many others in government. While those others may have been bimbos, time will tell if it’s not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. It’s really easy to become enamored of oneself when most of the time is spent looking in the mirror. He blames Obama for lousy policy with regard Afghanistan but doesn’t dwell on what he did to try to influence that policy in a different direction. Clearly he loathes Congress considering most of them political hacks who aren’t interested in the “facts.” The book is filled with righteous anger, bile, even.
One of the most telling comments, I thought, came early in the book. He and several others had gone to Iraq as part of the Iraq Study Group (he considers his membership in that group one of the reasons why Bush 43 wanted him as Defense Secretary) when he asked one of the top-ranking military people how things were going with the CIA as far as cooperation. The reply was telling: “ “Oh, sir, it’s so much better than when you were DCI.” I was not offended because what he said was true and, in fact, a vast understatement. The close and growing collaboration, in fact, was bringing about a revolution in the real-time integration of intelligence and military operations.” Now I would have expected some deeper introspection as to why his successor was succeeding where he had obviously failed. I’m sure he included that little anecdote to show how honest he could be, yet to me it showed a complete failure to recognize his own limitations. Belittling his colleagues struck me as a similar failure.
It seems to me that much of his complaints result from a pettiness that not everyone hopped on board with his strategies. He makes much of the “Megan” letter (with “[sics]” inserted lest you think he made the mistakes) yet ignores her advice and goes for the fifteen-month deployment change to support the surge anyway. And I totally disliked his assumptions that one could not be supportive of the troops if one didn’t support the mission. “The frequently used line “We support the troops” coupled with “We totally disagree with their mission” cut no ice with people in uniform. Our kids on the front lines were savvy; they would ask me why the politicians didn’t understand that, in the eyes of the troops, support for them and support for their mission were tied together.” Hogwash. Sometimes the best way to support the troops is precisely by opposing the mission.
He makes a big point early on that his parents considered lying a major offense, yet Gates was apparently a very effective SofD by getting along with Congress and Congressional leaders all the while considering them miserable sons of bitches. Perhaps Rumsfeld, who made enemy of Congress and the press was just being more honest. Obama comes off rather well, but largely because he acceded to the positions of Clinton and the Joint Chiefs as well as Gates. According to Gates (and is he credible here?) where they did differ, Gates adopted more dovish positions out of concern for the troops welfare. But many of his anecdotes displaying his concern for the troops came from personal exposure to grieving relatives or combat deaths. Hed portrays himself as the antithesis to Cheney who argued for the military option at every crisis (he wanted to bomb both Syria and Iran before leaving office) while he (Gates) tried to consider that as the last option. I was surprised at the level of discord within the military and the lack of support from Republicans in Congress, having assumed opposition for the surge and slow progress in the drawdown was coming primarily from Democrats in 2007. I was also taken aback by the level of discord within the military itself and disagreement on how things were going. (See the “Fox” Fallon episode on page 68.)
Gates is generally kind to Obama considering his decision to go after Bin Laden “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed at the White House.” (And he worked for eight presidents.) He was disturbed by Obama’s mistrust of the generals, believeing they were trying to box him into sending more troops. Yet Gates’ department fueled much of that distrust and he says as much on page 476: “We at Defense certainly at times contributed to White House suspicions.” He accuses Obama of politicizing military decisions, yet in the same breath notes how Obama would over and over go against the political recommendations of his advisors.
A problem I saw with Gates’ tenure at Defense was that while he was very good at identifying problems, he personalized the fixes, i.e., took personal responsibility for going around the bureaucracy rather than reforming the bureaucracy to make it more responsive and accountable. That meant that after he left, everything reverted to the status quo.
One of the most telling observations about Gates was made by Fred Kaplan of Slate. Given Gates’ rise through the ranks of the CIA and the intelligence community, “He knew how to insinuate his views into a discussion without leaving fingerprints behind, and he could calmly toss obstructionists overboard if necessary.”
Gates by all lights, Gates was a very good SofD. He managed to get Congress to go along with cutting many major weapons systems but forced through $16 billion for MRAP troop carrier that was hardened against IEDs and saved many lives. And you have to respect his compassion for the kids he was sending off to war. No doubt he made a difference in many of their lives and he writes with great compassion about the suffering of those left permanently scarred and wounded by the war. The way he handled the Washington Post story about the terrible conditions at Walter Reed was more than commendable.
But here we are ten years later facing virtually the same problems. Gates never considers that he might have been wrong about some things, preferring to ridicule his opponents, in particular Joe Biden who argued for a smaller counter insurgency force. More than 3,800 soldiers and Marines died on Gates’s watch in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps Gates owes us an explanation. But he’s burned his bridges.
One last irony. Gates writes dismissively (pages 392-3) of Obama’s comments after they had discussed what to do if Israel attacked Iran:
I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his closest advisers, he said, “For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decision about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness.” I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.
Barely a few months later guess who’s writing his memoirs? Nevertheless, an important book. I am not doing it justice.
N.B. One astonishing little tidbit. It cost Gates $40,000 for a law firm to complete the financial disclosure and national security documents required of every incoming appointee. That’s crazy.
As a companion piece, I highly recommend James Fallows recent piece in the Atlantic, “The Tragedy of the American Military, Jan/Feb, 2015” as well as several of the responses to his article. In particular, Chickenhawk Nation, Response No. 4: 'Actually, Our Military Keeps Winning' Here’s a quote: “ The more the military is isolated from our society and its political limitations, the more it can harbor this view. Likewise, the more the military is placed on a pedestal, the more its confusion of tactical military success with political victory will go unchallenged by our political system, and likely shift to reluctance to criticize the political leadership’s war goals and means.”...more
One of the really great things about the ease of self-publishing today is the plethora of personal memoirs of WW II and Vietnam veterans (not so manyOne of the really great things about the ease of self-publishing today is the plethora of personal memoirs of WW II and Vietnam veterans (not so many from the Korean War, oddly) that have appeared recently. Some of these approach the status of literature, others are more like the stories told by your grandfather to his children and grandchildren. Either way, they are extraordinarily valuable, providing insight into the experiences and feelings of young people (for most were barely out of their teens) facing truly difficult circumstances.
Weinstein’s brief book fits the second category and often the snippets feel a bit disorganized and rambling. But would you criticize your grandfather for that in the midst of an enthralling story? I didn’t think so. ...more
Reading this book is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. We know it’s painful and really shouldn’t watch, yet the grinding and twisting of theReading this book is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. We know it’s painful and really shouldn’t watch, yet the grinding and twisting of the family members, bashing each other and causing pain and suffering to each other, has a salacious interest that draws the reader in for more. It’s truly a Bleak House.
Americans suffer from the conflict of two myths: the lottery get-rich-quick syndrome versus the Puritan ethic of hard work and avoidance of luxury. The result of this struggle means that we love to see the rich suffer and be unhappy despite, or especially because, of all that money.
This Johnson family will battle presents a good case for why inheritances over, say $1,000,000, should be taxed at 100%. Not to mention a lesson in why there should be better oversight over the trustees. It’s a sad story of kids fighting over huge amounts of money they have done nothing to earn. The whole idea that a will could be successfully contested makes a mockery of the legal system. Johnson had a battery of lawyers drawing up the 48 page will. The children, after his death, didn’t like the result so it was challenged in court. It wasn’t fair,” was their argument. The lawyers didn't care, they were making millions off the battle. So why bother with a will if a court can intervene and change how the money is allocated? Just go straight to probate and let the court decide. Or, as I noted above, tax it all at 100%.
The trusts were set up in a rather bizarre fashion so that the children were skipped and the benefits devolved onto the grandchildren. They were also designed in such a way that control of the huge corporation remained in the hands of the family and not stockholders which provided substantial tax benefits. The trustees were virtually untouchable and exerted control at the expense of everyone but themselves, making themselves quite rich.
The book is structured in an unusual way, laced with snippets of interviews with the family members, often contradicting each other, always hostile. It sometimes feels disjointed with little sense of connectedness or linear feeling. Lots of interesting detail, but little of substance. You feel empty, sad, bewildered, and not a little angry at the selfishness and stupidity of nearly everyone.
The first part of the book is background, family history, setting the stage for the longest trial relating to a will in US history. When the elder J. Seward Johnson died in 1983, he left the bulk of his estate to Basia Johnson, his most recent wife, who was 42 years his junior.
The trial occupies the last section and here the anomalies were most apparent. One juror was heard to exclaim how she couldn't live on $12 a day and what was she to do. She was being asked to sit in judgement on a family, the individual members of which had a net worth of $50 to $100 million each and were fighting over the distribution of another $500 million. In the end, the trial, which lasted 17 weeks before it was settled, was hog heaven for the more than 200 lawyers who participated and who shared more than $24 million in legal fees. There were over 300,000 pages of documents. Had it gone to the jury (many of whom reported being totally appalled at the time they had spent for very little money when` a settlement ultimately resulted) no matter who had won, there would have been decades of appeals until, most likely, all of the inheritance had been transferred from the defendants and plaintiffs to the lawyers. Even lawyers who observed the case thought it represented a nadir of American trial law. I would disagree. We haven’t seen the bottom yet.
Audiobook that’s good shower listening. The dirt can be washed off immediately....more
Maurice Herzog was the first person to reach the summit of Annapurna, one of the 8,000 meter peaks. The expedition he guided in 1950 suffered tremendoMaurice Herzog was the first person to reach the summit of Annapurna, one of the 8,000 meter peaks. The expedition he guided in 1950 suffered tremendously on the way down, as did Herzog who lost all fingers and toes to frostbite. His account of the journey was a testimony to the team-building self-sacrifice and wonderful spirit of the four mountaineers (less was said of the Sherpas who carried Herzog and Lachenal for miles on the descent.) His colleagues, Lionel Terray, Gaston Rebuffat and Louis Lachenal, were successful climbers in their own right, and Terray’s and Lachenal’s mountaineering books are considered classics. Herzog’s book, which he dictated from his hospital bed, made him a national hero in France. The question Roberts raises in his book is whether Herzog’s account is true.
Herzog made himself into a hero with canny public relations and perhaps by not emphasizing the important role his colleagues played in the ascent. He made each of them sign contracts not to publish before they left. That he was self-aggrandizing is not in doubt. In my experience, mountaineers who write books about their feats all tend to have blinders on, completely understandable when you consider their isolation, even when in a group, as they make the climb.
David Roberts compared the individual accounts of each climbers diary with Herzogs published version and notes what Herzog changed or omitted. He intersperses his narrative with comments of his own reflections about climbing, and he then uses the other climbers' reports and diaries to dismantle Herzog's self-aggrandizing recollections. In the end, I think the author is perhaps making a mountain from a valley. He says it best himself:
Surely the discrepancies begged critics to accuse him of dishonesty. The new, more self- serving version might cast a better light on Herzog, but it was an open invitation to readers such as myself to call his rewriting bluff. The third possibility, I thought, was that this is indeed how memory works, in all its fallible reinvention of the past. After nearly fifty years, Herzog’s emotions about those dramatic days high on Annapurna had perhaps restructured his memories… These reconstructions need not be cynical, or even fully conscious, on Herzog’s part. They could be the fruit of memory’s seizing again and again on disturbing, pivotal events, reshaping them with each rehearsal, trying to find meaning where there was only happenstance.
A terrific book for anyone who likes to read about mountaineering and even, perhaps, those interested in the malleability (not to mention fallibility) of memory....more
Riveting, but not for the faint-hearted. The term “widowmaker” comes from the slang term given to battalions with casualty rates approaching 90 percenRiveting, but not for the faint-hearted. The term “widowmaker” comes from the slang term given to battalions with casualty rates approaching 90 percent. The average was around 50 percent. Definitely not the Marine Corps of John Wayne. Mortensen’s squad has descended to a level of inhumanity that’s difficult to read. He tries to maintain a level of sanity, but the pressure to become as evil as the rest is overwhelming. “Then, I begin thinking about what I am becoming in this wretched place. Something evil grabbed hold of me today. I feel my spirit of patriotism and belief in just causes slowly slipping away. I have moved a step closer to being a boonie rat in the Nam.”
Arriving in ‘Nam as a grunt Marine, one of the first tasks his platoon engages in is to burn a Vietnamese village. Having just lost three Marines to severe injuries from a makeshift IED (“ Mr. Frankenstein, a trip wire connected to a grenade stuck inside a spool of barbed wire.”) the leader of the platoon orders his men to tie up three village women and then kicks them over a cliff to their deaths. The new Marines are horrified and protest, only to be threatened with death themselves :
This ain’t the fuckin’ real world, asshole! Y’all better get your shit together before it’s too fuckin’ late. Now y’all know what payback is.” Dusty stares at me with icy blue eyes. He turns, lights a cigarette, and walks away with Tanner. I’m in shock and very confused. This unconscionable attack against defenseless women can’t be justified under any circumstances. I keep repeating to myself, Why? Cars and I walk silently back to our position along the dike. I am still stunned about what had happened when Killer, Calahan, and a fire-team leader from third squad named Corporal Stafford approach us. I’m thinking, now what? Stafford does the talking. “You guys better learn to keep your mouths shut or something bad might happen to you. What I mean is, when there is one of those crazy firefights, anything could happen.
“I’m really feeling the pressure to become one of the hardcore members of the platoon. Getting my first gook is one thing, but I am expected to move on to more insidious, evil acts. Becoming an animal in the eyes of others is the next step. Now, I will be evaluated on how well I rape or kill in cold blood. It seems I am constantly being pressed to walk the fine line between bravery and blackhearted insanity… This is the Vietnam War I had never envisioned. I had always believed that American fighting men were brave and honorable like John Wayne and Audie Murphy. This war, however, is nothing like the movies. I feel empty, betrayed, and alone in a world of chaos. Nothing makes sense any more.”
Mortensen’s life is saved only by being badly injured during an attack on an NVA stronghold, one that gave the battalion its nickname of “widowmaker” All of his friends but one were killed. His description of the scene is extraordinarily vivid and realistic and equally horrifying. The nightmare continued on the hospital ship where a soldier, reminiscent of the famous scene in Catch-22 where nurses come daily to switch bottles on the soldier in white, has lost all his appendages and screams constantly. “The Marine Corps is supposed to produce heroes—not freaks. Tears fall down his cheeks like a dreary autumn rain. Now he must come to grips with the reality of being a freak, a war leper destined to live in a country where beauty and strength are worshipped. He’s distant, remote, and totally alone. He probably would have been better off dead. As my mind clears, I become aware.”
Another soldier, his arms and legs shot to pieces, his nose and ears missing and having been tortured by the NVA is lying in the hospital at Bethesda. “Later that afternoon his parents rush onto the unit to be with their dying son. I’m shocked they let them see him in such a hideous condition. From my bed at the end of the ward, I hear his mother let out a blood-curdling scream. She falls to the floor, unconscious. I am so upset I leave the ward and walk around the hospital in disgust. Mercifully, the Marine dies later in the day. He will always remind me of the real horror of war." Mortensen comes to truly appreciate the benefits of pain-killing drugs, a relief that comes back to haunt him when he is discharged back into civilian society and is labeled “baby-killer.”
Having suffered a “dear John” letter earlier, he was fortunate to meet his first wife, Jean, but that relationship became haunted by the specter of Vietnam, also. The final 20% of the book reminded me of “Chickenhawk,” and the problems of psychologically having to deal with the horror of what he experienced.
A disturbing book, and I fear for my son, having already been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, may be yet again. When are we humans ever going to stop this insanity.
And let’s not forget that those who tell us the highest honor is to die for one's country are those who didn't.
Can't wait to dig into this, although I fear it may result in another of my mammoth reviews. Fascinating interview of Kinzer by Brian Lamb at http://wCan't wait to dig into this, although I fear it may result in another of my mammoth reviews. Fascinating interview of Kinzer by Brian Lamb at http://www.c-span.org/video/?315393-1.... Even if you never read the book, you must watch the interview. For the only time in our history two brothers controlled both overt and covert foreign policy, and their Calvinist good v. evil view of everything, coupled with their fear of neutralism, led them to embark on a host of nation building (and ultimately anti-democratic) experiments that left us with several messes, the largest of which was Vietnam followed by Iran.
George C. Wallace came up the hard way. He was desperately poor and 'scrambled for any job that literally might earn him a few pennies. At the same tiGeorge C. Wallace came up the hard way. He was desperately poor and 'scrambled for any job that literally might earn him a few pennies. At the same time, everything he did was with an eye to-ward future political power. Even as a youth, when one job required traveling all around the county inoculating dogs for rabies, he was making friends and winning potential votes. Many remembered him years later and voted for him in droves. In some ways he was quite progressive. As a first-term legislator he sponsored and ramrodded a bill to provide low cost vocational post-secondary education for blacks and whites (separate of course) and many of the issues he favored were populist in nature.
In WW II he enrolled as a cadet to learn to |fly but wound up as a flight engineer on a B- 9 flying several missions over Japan toward the end of the war. Most flights were routine but they had several close calls with engine fires and other mechanical difficulties. Finally he had enough and refused to get in an airplane. His colonel, who could have had him court-martialed, instead sent him to the base hospital where he was diagnosed with battle-fatigue. Forever after he was white-knuckled on every campaign flight.
Stephan Lesher’s biography of Wallace brings Wallace and his role in American politics very readably to light. Wallace will be forever recalled as the man who enshrined racism as a political stratagem. Clearly everything he did, every hand he shook, every statement he made, was intended to get him elected to office. The man lived politics, and during the sixties attacking civil rights was good politics in Alabama.
Wallace argued then and later in 1930 that to take any other approach was political suicide. “It was not any of my making. . . .It was political suicide to offer any moderate approach. . . Alabamians are gullible for that kind of thing. . . .Give the people something to dislike and hate, create a straw man for them to fight, they’d rather be against something than for something. As long as our people are of that frame of mind and like their politics with that brand, then we’re going to have people to take advantage of that kind of situation.” And he did with a vengeance.
It also clear from this biography, that Wallace’s residential campaigns tapped a deeper malaise in the electorate as the votes he garnered during his presidential campaigns reveal. Many of his issues were used successfully in successive campaign by both Republicans and Democrats: prohibition of school busing for integration, school prayer by constitutional amendment, tax reductions for the middle class (to be paid for by taxing church-owned property, and law and order, to name few. In fact, Kevin Phillips considered Wallace as “the first national tax-revolt leader [and] the man also in the vanguard of so many other populist causes.” Lesher reiterates that no president was elected between 1963 and 1992 “without clearly embracing and articulating. ... the Wallace issues. . . .George Wallace’s wish to be rehabilitated by history may or may not be realized - but history already has substantiated his idea of history.”...more
Gary Solis(author of Son Thang: An American War Crime) begins his book with a short review of the history of military justice (a misnomer, perhaps) siGary Solis(author of Son Thang: An American War Crime) begins his book with a short review of the history of military justice (a misnomer, perhaps) since the founding of this country. I had no idea the Code of Military Justice was of such recent vintage: 1950. The last Marine executed was in 1817 (in the Navy it was 1849.)
One astonishing number Solis cites is that there were 1,700,000 courts martial during WW II (pg 4). That's incredible. The changes made to the military justice system were a direct result of the feeling that many of those courts martial were much too subjective and the charges and outcomes at the whims of officers. The system was often extra-legal and officers with legal training played no part until the revision of 1950. "The reforms of 1950 reflected the continuing question of the purpose of military law: is it to enforce discipline or to insure justice? Or both? Can both ends be simultaneously served?"
The soldiers in Vietnam were in a bizarre position. Because of a treaty signed while the French were still there and long before Americans arrived in significant numbers, “The agreement provided that all American forces entering Indochina were to be considered members of the U.S. diplomatic mission with the same legal status as actual members of the U.S. mission of corresponding grade. American military personnel were divided into three categories: senior military members of the U.S. mission with full diplomatic Status; a lesser, undefined category which, significantly, excluded its membership from the civil and criminal jurisdic- tion of Vietnam; and the third category, whose membership was again undefined, but with the legal status of clerical personnel of the diplomatic mission. In 1958. the United States advised the Vietnamese government that it would consider top U.S. military commanders to be in the first category. officers and warrant officers to be in the second, and enlisted men to be in the third category. So, in diplomatic terms, Marine riflemen were considered diplomatic mission clerks.”
Legal officers labored under difficult conditions (not as bad as the troops obviously.) Electricity was unreliable making the required verbatim transcripts taken from recording devices problematic. Language barriers were significant. Vietnam had numerous dialects and translators not easy to find. One Colonel’s first interpreter, a very good one, was a thirteen-year-old boy. But often the lawyers wondered if the interpreters and witnesses were having side conversations while they were being cross-examined in court. Getting witnesses to trials was more than difficult. It often required assigning special patrols to accompany the lawyers into enemy held territory to bring back those willing to testify.
Locating American witnesses was difficult. Infantrymen were often in the field and his company not easily found.Sometimes a witness might have been killed or even rotated back to the United States or even gone AWOL. Communications were spotty.
The definition of war crime was not what one would expect. Killing a South Vietnamese citizen or a non-combatant was not a war crime. It was considered murder since their were from an allied nation and not an enemy who would have been covered under the Geneva Convention. Despite the effects of higher command, there were numerous courts martials of Marines charged with violations of the Geneva Convention in their treatment of prisoners.
The Marines had a shortage of lawyers, but since lawyers were required only for *general* court-martials, non-lawyers were given the responsibility of handling *special* court-martials. These were in-unit disciplinary actions.
Solis (channeling Westmoreland and others) blames rising rates of crimes against the Vietnamese and against American officers on McNamara’s decision to expand the pool of men eligible for the draft. Now men who scored lower on the intelligence tests were available for draft and Solis’s strong suggestion is that the lower standards brought along with them lower morality and higher crime rates. Westmoreland himself said: “Category IV is a dummy. . Give him menial jobs and he is not a troublemaker. But it is awfully difficult to utilize that many category IVs . . . that is important when you start reflecting on the drug syndrome, the fragging.That introduced a weak.minded criminal, untrained element . . When those people came to Vietnam that's when disciplinary problems began on the battlefield.” That sounds a bit too 17th century for my taste.
I was surprised at how the sentences of many convicted Marines were vacated or reduced on appeal for some truly heinous crimes. The case of John D. Potter, Jr. for example who had supplanted the regular patrol leader: the other Marines followed Potter rather than Vogel, whom they viewed as ineffective. The patrol's Navy corpsman, Hospitalman Jon R. Bretag, later testified: He [Potter] said that this would be a raid instead of an ambush - . . . We are to beat up the people, tear up the hooches and kill, if necessary. . . . He told us to roll down our sleeves, take our insignias off, make sure our covers are on [and] assigned us numbers. He said if you want to get somebody, don't mention his name, call him by number . . . The entire squad moved out. They entered the hamlet of Xuan Ngoc . They seized Dao Quart, whom they accused of being a Viet Cong. and dragged him from his hut. While they beat him, other patrol members forced his wife, Bui Thi Huong, from their hut. They pulled her three year-old child from her arms. Then four of them raped her. A few minutes later three other patrol members shot her husband, her child, her sister-in-law, and her sister-in-law's child, with automatic and semi-automatic rifle fire. Hearing the sister-in-law moan, Potter exclaimed, "Damn, she's still alive!" He fired another burst of automatic fire into her at point blank range. Potter then tossed a hand grenade near the bodies in an attempt to cover the patrols' atrocities and "to make it look good." Next, they shot the rape victim, Bui Thi Huong, and left her for dead. She lived to testify at their courts-martial.
Upon returning to the battalion command post, the company commander sought details of the reported enemy contact:' Suspicious, he ordered their new platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Stephen J. Talty, to go back to the scene of the "contact" with the patrol. Once there, Talty realized what had happened and directed efforts to disguise (my emphasis) what had occurred. As they were doing so, one of the previously wounded chil- dren was discovered still alive. Potter raised his rifle over the child, saying, "someone count for me." Vogel counted to three as Potter repeatedly slammed his rifle butt into the child's head, killing him.”
Talty later admitted all. Potter was given a life sentence, later reduced to twelve years (he was released in 1978 having served the longest sentence of anyone charged during the Vietnam War) and several others were given long sentences for murder and rape, all of which were later reduced considerably. Talty’s was found guilty of filing a false report. He was fined $500 and dismissed from the Marines, a dismissal that was later revoked.
This book is not for everyone, but if you have any interest in the law during times of armed conflict and the special problems faced by those charged with military justice, you will find it fascinating as did I.
N.B. The Potter case gets its own mention in the The Oxford Companion to International Criminal Justice ( https://books.google.com/books?id=bHV...) The horrific nature of the case is cited as a reason why the military insisted on “trying its own for grave breaches” of the law during armed conflict.
Sort of a Blue Highways of the Sky. Gosnell has a passion for flying, especially in small, single engine planes into uncontrolled airports. She descriSort of a Blue Highways of the Sky. Gosnell has a passion for flying, especially in small, single engine planes into uncontrolled airports. She describes the myriad of interesting characters she meets along the way, each with a unique story to tell, and she retells them well.
She learned to fly in Africa where she and a friend had gone for several months. Since the only way to get around is by small plane, she was once flown from hither to yon in a small Cessna and a young woman pilot. Together they swooped down low over herds of elephants and other wildlife and scenery. Gosnell was enthralled and vowed to learn how to fly.
Back in the states, she continued her lessons and purchased an old Luscombe, a very serviceable, if antique tail-dragger. (She discusses at length the advantages and disadvantages of the "conventional" v tricycle type landing gear.)
Her stories reminded me of flights with my uncle when I was barely 10 (This was in the late fifties). He was in the Civil Air Patrol (which I also later joined as a radio officer -- but that's another story) and took me up in his Super Cub, many of which are still around.) Fun.
She beautifully captures the pathos, loneliness, and eccentricities of the people who man the small, often deserted, little airstrips around the country and the yearning many of them feel for the outside world. Particularly poignant was Laura, a thirty-five-year-old mother of Dawson, Georgia, who had learned to fly on a whim and now wanted nothing more to escape the parochialism of the small town where the goals and aspirations for women were pre-determined a century before. Ridiculed and shunned by the community for daring to do something women just don't do (fly a plane), she latched on to Gosnell as a symbol of freedom she didn't have the courage enough to embrace, but which Gosnell (perhaps because she was a cosmopolitan New Yorker) had adopted.
I suppose curiosity drove me to get this book for my Kindle (well, alright, perhaps a bit of prurient interesPut the kids to bed. Time to go slumming.
I suppose curiosity drove me to get this book for my Kindle (well, alright, perhaps a bit of prurient interest.) I've always been interested in subcultures, e.g. snake handlers, volcanologists, the mole people in New York etc., each of whom has his own culture and support group. (see references below.) And besides it was cheap and short.
Tara Burns -- unlikely that's her real name -- lives in a remote area of Alaska and makes the trek into the city every few months to work for a few days as a call girl/escort/hooker, often even as a therapist. I'm assuming her stories are true; if not, then I'm just another john who gets fooled by an accomplished actress, for that's what she is, although she insists it's a nifty way to make money.
The clients are such a varied assortment: the lawyer who sues corporations but can only get off by being dominated and spanked; the great lover (she likes him) who has a fine sex life, but his wife, well, she weighs 400 lbs.; and the guy whose tongue just doesn't taste right.
We learn about the pressure points she knows that will cut off the blood supply and knock you out really fast if you give trouble and what she does in the bathroom while you are getting ready (count the money --interestingly, it's not illegal to pay for sex, nor to have sex, but it is to ask for money for sex - go figure,-- and call her friend to see if her dog got fed or update on her safety.)
Clearly, this woman could probably make a fortune as a therapist. She is very good at relating to her clients and seeing to it they leave a little happier than they were when they arrived (oh, my, the opportunity for puns is just driving me crazy.) She gets $250 per hour and usually books 2-hour sessions.
Just what Tara will do when she reaches her fifties? remains to be seen. One thing is for certain: This is what I want to always be doing. I love this strange overlapping and balancing of money, power, ethics, and healing. . . .Now that my land is paid off, I can live here for the rest of my life for free. I want to erect an altar to whoring where I'll make offerings every day in thanks for my security. I want a big sign that says, “this land paid for with blow jobs,” in case I ever forget.
Waffling between 2.5 and 3, but a magnificent cover.
I have never read any Burroughs and based on this weird biographical sketch I suspect I never willWaffling between 2.5 and 3, but a magnificent cover.
I have never read any Burroughs and based on this weird biographical sketch I suspect I never will. Seemingly fueled by any drug he could get, often in a stupor, with little sense of responsibility, I would have crossed the street to avoid walking past him.
Garcia-Robles met Burroughs in 1990 and out of this meeting came the idea to write about Burroughs's stay in Mexico, a period of time Burroughs was reluctant to discuss. His time there resulted in the death of his wife from Burroughs's gun.
It was not the first time he had been related to a violent act. His friend Lucien Carr murdered David Kamerer in 1944 and Carr had enlisted the aid of Burroughs and Jack Kerouac to hide the evidence. As a result he and Kerouac were arrested for the cover-up. Burroughs's father bailed him out but Kerouac's family refused to help so he had to marry into money a few days later (I wish this had been explained more fully, but I suppose it had little to do with the main story.) Supposedly Kerouac's "And the Hippos Boiled in their Tanks" was based on the incident. It was about this time that Burroughs met Joan Vollmer his later wife and future victim of his gun.
It was a bizarre relationship, both indulging in their own predilections and often self-destructive actions. ("She told everyone, for example, how making love to him [he of homosexual tendencies] sometimes gave her foot cramps.") Burroughs was soon also married to illicit substances and shaking down bums on the street to supplement the $200 a month his family sent unwillingly (so why do it?) supporting his heroin habit.
Sentenced by a judge to his family in St. Louis (he hated anything remotely familial) he soon fell in with Kells Elvins and together they bought some land in Texas, departing with numerous grandiose schemes. Joan in the meantime had become destitute, was overdosing on Bennies, and was finally sentenced to Bellevue. When Burroughs was notified, he schemed to get her out and took her off to Texas for five years of intense relationship where he planned to raise marijuana and sell it wholesale. He didn't even think of writing, but found time to impregnate Joan (no foot cramps this time?) They spent their time smoking weed and listening to music. Soon the crop was in and they drove 3000 ( according to the author -- my google maps says more like 2200) miles with the crop stuffed in their vehicle to New York, but they had failed to dry the crop properly so it was unsaleable. Burroughs went back to sticking a needle in his arm. Are you beginning to get a picture, here? In the meantime, Kerouac and Nel Cassady, the "American Dionysus" weave their way in and out of Burroughs and Joan's lives, although little is said about their relationship, especially with regard to writing.
Burroughs finally decided to give writing a try while under the influence. His decision was motivated by a need to make some money, his writing a form "of mumbling."
Garcia-Robles occasionally makes some snide comments: "the apartment on 115th Street lacked just one thing: for his highness Burroughs to move in..." There was little preceding that comment to justify it, regardless of its correctness. On the other hand, none of the characters was particularly likeable so perhaps they are justified. One wonders about the little asides, such as the digression into the life of Lola, the Mexican drug lord. I also was skeptical about the perspective, i.e., how much came from Burroughs in the interviews, and how much the author gleaned about his subject from less subjective sources. Comments like, "Joan wanted to die and Bill served as her escort to the final precipice. Further still, he would be the executor of her fate. What better companion toward the darkness than William S. Burroughs, over whom death loomed every minute of his life, like a swarm of mosquitoes around his head, like a black aura enveloping his body? Death was always breathing down his neck, though he never succumbed in desperation. Bill was a leathery reptile with an incredible ability to plunge to the depths and surface unscathed. Not Joan. Joan was tender. Her intelligence and clarity were not made of the same bullet-proof stuff as Burroughs’s. Joan was more like Kerouac: life seemed too large for them. Neither could face the world, neither could deal squarely with it, so it destroyed them—in different ways, but in the same measure," while intriguing, left me wondering.
Ultimately, this book is more of a curiosity that pulls us along wondering what calamity will befall Burroughs next. All of his own making. The central goal of the book, the shooting of Joan, I will not comment on in fear of raising the ire of the spoiler Nazis.
Full disclosure: I haven't read anything of Burroughs and this book was kindly made available to me by the University of Minnesota Press through NetGalley....more
Good grief. At the time of this posting there are almost 70,000 ratings and baskets of reviews. So why another one? Good question.
Predictably, if youGood grief. At the time of this posting there are almost 70,000 ratings and baskets of reviews. So why another one? Good question.
Predictably, if you are a Mormon you won’t like this book, although it does seem to be well-researched and relatively even-handed. What appears to us skeptics as just silly nonsense is, for some people, inspired holy writ. Go figure. The Mormons themselves can't figure out what's revelation or not and who is or is not a prophet as Joseph Smith discovered to his dismay. His original revelation suggested that any Mormon could receive a revelation but quickly got another message from God that revelations would only go through Joseph Smith or his appointee. Very convenient way of maintaining control. God said so, so do it. What a great line.
It's interesting, but reading about some of the misdeeds of the early Mormon settlers and comments about this book on other sites, I was reminded of similar remarks made on Civil War book reviews by adherents of the "Lost Cause" myth. The same kind of myopic view .
I had no idea that those "other" Mormons, the FLDS, the polygamists, thrive(d) in assorted little places like Colorado City/Hildale, AZ/Utah twin cities that straddle the border. ** The whole town is controlled despotically by the local leader/prophet (it sure is tempting to declare myself a prophet and start pronouncing, what a kick.) The police, the school board, the mayor, everyone in authority is FLDS. The United Effort Plan owns almost all the town property. Many men there have many wives and it has become (or should anyway,) a scandal in the way they manipulate the system. Since the wives are legally single mothers and are unemployed they draw millions in benefits which becomes a major source of income for the hubby in charge. Ironically, if the marriages were declared legal, they would lose millions. The FLDS folks are positive they represent the true adherence to the "principle", celestial marriage without which one cannot go to heaven; the mainstream is equally positive their prophet got a message from God indicating that being admitted tot he union was more important than celestial marriage. So, there you are. I say put it to trial by ordeal. Dump both prophets in a vat of boiling oil. Of course, in the end, it's all about money and power.
The issue of what constitutes valid revelation from God (somebody explain to me why God finds it necessary to speak in 15th century English.) Since all male Mormons become priests (blacks excepted until God changed his mind about their essential evilness in the early sixties) many of them feel God is speaking unto them. Most of us would consider them delusional and in the case of Dan and Ron Lafferty who insisted God had told them to strike down the infidels who happened to be their wives. Raised in an atmosphere of religious fanaticism and paranoia, not to mention hatred of the federal government (I’ve never understood why federal and not state and township,) they saw themselves as the true righteous and holy. Ron’s descent began when his wife refused to go along with his desire to take a polygamous wife. In 1984 he received a “removal revelation” from God which he recorded on a yellow legal tablet. He and Dan then murdered Brenda and Erica. Last I checked, Ron was awaiting execution in Utah. He is now 61 and his brother is serving two life sentences.
The Lafferty’s had been fans of Robert Crossfield, otherwise known as Onias, who claimed to have received several revelations of God making hm the one and true prophet. They helped to distribute the Onias revelations, which, conveniently, also said the Lafferty’s had been the chosen ones even before they were born.
Krakauer interweaves the history of the Mormon church i n this bloodthirsty account of the Lafferty brothers. He finds the seeds of their crimes in the church.
Tidbits: Brigham Young wanted the state to be called the Beehive state rather than Utah (after the Ute Indians) because of its emphasis on the collective doing what's best for the group rather than emphasizing the individual. Today, given the association of collective with communism, the beehive on the state flag is considered to represent "industry."
If you are interested in the whole revelation business, I recommend the LDS website’s transcript of the revelation regarding blacks and the priesthood. It’s available here: http://www.lds-mormon.com/legrand_ric... Hard to believe there are people who take this stuff seriously.
For a recent example, I quote this from the June 3 Washington Post: "
The leaders have come under intense scrutiny. Barely 36 hours after the caustic New Year’s Day vote, Boehner faced a coup attempt from a clutch of renegade conservatives. The cabal quickly fell apart when several Republicans, after a night of prayer, said God told them to spare the speaker…..
Southerland woke up convinced that Boehner should be spared. Others, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they, too, prayed before siding with Boehner.“ He’s not a God of chaos, he’s a God of order,” Southerland said."
Amazing that God might give a shit about the Speaker of the House.
Oh, and by the way, I have just received a startling revelation. Everyone reading this must get together and purchase for me an around-the-world cruise on the QM2, a suite of course. Chop, chop, if you want to avoid everlasting damnation. Now explain to me how that might be different from a revelation to kill my wife or to add wives. Or start a new religion.
What was originally intended to be a meditation on the trial of a Holiness pastor, Glenn Summerford, who was convicted of using snakes to kill his wifWhat was originally intended to be a meditation on the trial of a Holiness pastor, Glenn Summerford, who was convicted of using snakes to kill his wife morphed into a rather bizarre memoir that follows the spiritual development (?) or devolution of an erstwhile Methodist to snake-handling Holiness followers in Scottsboro (yes, *that* Scottsboro**) Alabama. He traces his ancestors back to earlier generations of snake-handlers assuming in a rather Lamarckian fantasy that their fascination with holy rolling is genetic. He's clearly fascinated by his (and his daughter's) intense physical reaction to the music. A risk-taker himself, having been a journalist in war-torn Central America, where he had been under fire several times, one cannot help but wonder if putting oneself in danger doesn't have an exceptional appeal to some people.
His original idea was to write a book about these people. The result of is a very interesting cultural essay filled with delightful little tidbits of irrationality:
"She explained what they were, bare trees in rural yards adorned with colored glass bottles. Then I remembered I’d seen them before. I thought they were only decorative. But my neighbor told me spirit trees had a purpose. If you happen to have evil spirits, you put bottles on the branches of a tree in your yard. The more colorful the glass, the better, I suppose. The evil spirits get trapped in the bottles and won’t do you any harm. This is what Southerners in the country do with evil. But this nonsense -- in the literal sense -- is no different from the recent Pope Benedict's resurrection of the Office of the Exorcist. (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/436...)
His discussion of the origins of snake handling reinforces what I have learned elsewhere, i.e. that it represents a rejection and fear of encroaching industrialization with its concomitant societal upheaval.
"Snake handling, for instance, didn’t originate back in the hills somewhere. [A debatable point, I believe.] It started when people came down from the hills to discover they were surrounded by a hostile and spiritually dead culture. All along their border with the modern world — in places like Newport, Tennessee, and Sand Mountain, Alabama — they recoiled. They threw up defenses. When their own resources failed, they called down the Holy Ghost. They put their hands through fire. They drank poison. They took up serpents. They still do. The South hasn’t disappeared. If anything, it’s become more Southern in a last-ditch effort to save itself....Enter the snake handlers, spiritual nomads from the high country that surrounded Scottsboro, from isolated pockets on Sand Mountain and the hollows along South Sauty Creek. They were refugees from a culture on the ropes. They spoke in tongues, anointed one another with oil in order to be healed, and when instructed by the Holy Ghost, drank poison, held fire, and took up poisonous snakes. For them, Scottsboro itself was the wicked, wider world, a place where one might be tempted to “back up on the Lord.” They’d taken the risk, though, out of economic desperation. They had been drawn to Scottsboro by the promise of jobs in the mills that made clothes, carpets, rugs, and tires. Some of them had found work. All of them had found prejudice."
The author finds himself drawn to the emotional excess of the handler "services" and his description of becoming part of the experience, handling a huge timber rattler, is, for him, quite exotic and unsettling. But his rational side also admits to being drawn to danger. He describes the experience this way: "It occurred to me then that seeing a handler in the ecstasy of an anointing is not like seeing religious ecstasy at all. The expression seems to have more to do with Eros than with God, in the same way that sex often seems to have more to do with death than with pleasure. The similarity is more than coincidence, I thought. In both sexual and religious ecstasy, the first thing that goes is self. The entrance into ecstasy is surrender. Handlers talk about receiving the Holy Ghost. But when the Holy Ghost is fully come upon someone like Gracie McAllister, the expression on her face reads exactly the opposite — as though someone, or something, were being violently taken away from her. The paradox of Christianity, one of many of which Jesus speaks, is that only in losing ourselves do we find ourselves, and perhaps that’s why photos of the handlers so often seem to be portraits of loss."
One is tempted to look for a rational reason why the snakes don't bite more often, but the fact remains they bite all the time and deaths from snakebite are disproportionately large compared to those in the general population. Handling is clearly stressful for the snakes who rarely live out a season whereas they can survive for several decades in the wild. Often the snakes will die while being handled. They are certainly untameable and contrary to popular opinion one does not attain a certain immunity to snake venom after multiple bites. To the contrary, one is more likely to develop an allergic sensitivity.
My rational side recoils from the unfathomable need of these people to lose themselves in what is clearly something very precious and moving. Having read three different accounts of snake handling (not to mention strychnine-drinking), I remain baffled but fascinated.