The American presidency has no doubt changed since the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974. Cynicism of and distrust toward government and polThe American presidency has no doubt changed since the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974. Cynicism of and distrust toward government and politicians are high. Political opponents and reporters are constantly on their toes, ready to pounce if a President does, or appears to do, something wrong. Rightly or wrongly, Presidents no longer have as much power to enact a sweeping agenda like FDR or LBJ did. Shadow chronicles the five presidencies immediately following Watergate. Using presidential documents, diaries, and hundreds of interviews with firsthand witnesses, Woodard attempts to show how each president discovered the Presidency had been altered, but his attempts ultimately fall short.
The book is broken into five sections - one for each President. The first four sections focus more on the office of Independent Council that was created in the aftermath of Watergate. The largest section of the book is a point-by-point account of Ken Starr's investigation into Bill Clinton.
Clinton comes off the best of all the Presidents portrayed in the book, while the others are reduced to the common caricatures of them. Woodward paints Gerald Ford as a good guy, but ill-equipped to be President. Jimmy Carter is two-faced and preachy. Ronald Reagan is unengaged and moody, while Nancy rules the White House by astrology. George Bush is a wimp who wanted a war with Iraq to prove his tough-guy credentials. Bill Clinton is a good-old boy who was persecuted by nasty Ken Starr. The only person who comes off as more sympathetic is Hillary.
Woodward merely used Watergate and Nixon as a hook to get readers to buy this book. He offers very little evidence that the subsequent presidents learned anything from Watergate. The only president who appears to have thought of Watergate was Ronald Reagan, when he hired Howard Baker to conduct an internal investigation into Iran-Contra.
Shadow is ultimately a shallow book. Woodward hardly does any analysis of the men and the problems they faced. By hyper-focusing on the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals and dismissing Whitewater (not to mention spending three sentences on the White House Travel Office affair), the book reads as a defense of Bill Clinton and the first attempt at rehabilitating his reputation after impeachment....more
This is one of the books I read on vacation. It was a quick read with some good things to say. There wasn't a whole lot new I learned from the book, bThis is one of the books I read on vacation. It was a quick read with some good things to say. There wasn't a whole lot new I learned from the book, but that's more of a testament to how influential this book has been than an indictment of any shortcomings.
My one takeaway is to act mindfully as a manager. You want to do stewardship delegation as opposed to gopher delegation. In stewardship delegation, you allow your direct reports to learn and grow. Gopher delegation is simply having them paint by numbers to implement your vision. I try to do this with my team, but I think I should be more explicit about wanting them to do things on their own and to hold myself back when I feel like I'm making them "gophers"....more
President George H. W. Bush has stated on many occasions that he doesn't plan to write a memoir. Given that Bush is 90 years old, it seems unlikely thPresident George H. W. Bush has stated on many occasions that he doesn't plan to write a memoir. Given that Bush is 90 years old, it seems unlikely that he'll do so, even if he reverses his stand. But in 1998 he wrote a book with his National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft about the major foreign policy decisions they made during their four years in office. These events were Tienanmen Square, Desert Storm, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In one of the lighter sections of the book, President Bush talks about The Scowcroft Award, given every year to an Administration official who fell asleep in a meeting and did the best acting job of trying to appear they were awake the whole time.
Reading about these events that occurred only 25 years ago, one is reminded about how much chaos and uncertainty there was on the world stage in those four years. Nearly every day there was another country moving toward independence from the Soviet Union, Germany moving toward reunification, and shifting borders between countries. After the great personal diplomacy and treaties between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, relations were better between the US and the USSR than they had been at any point in the histories of the two countries. Bush and his team performed a high-stakes high wire act between supporting these breakaway republics and not antagonizing our new Soviet Allies.
In hindsight, the reunification of Germany was seamless and almost inevitable, but it didn't appear that way to those in power at the time. Everybody in government of all of the allied countries underestimated the speed of the dissolve of East Germany. Some of our allies were wary of German reunification, partially because of the history of German aggression (this was only 40 years after WWII), but mainly because of the unresolved issue of Germany's border with Poland.
Each chapter in the book is made up of alternating sections: one written by Bush, the next by Scowcroft. Sometimes this was a little jarring and stopped the good narrative flow, but it was interesting to get the participants' differing perspectives. Bush's style was a lot more readable than Scowcroft's. Another thing I found interesting was how Bush referred to foreign leaders. He'd talk of phone calls with Margaret (Thatcher), inviting Francois (Mitterand) to Kennebunkport, and trying to reach Mikhail (Gorbachev) during the attempted coup against him. In all the books I've read by world leaders, nobody has ever done that.
Some sections of the book were more interesting than others, but overall it provided a good insight into the diplomatic efforts of the Bush Administration and a real fly-on-the-wall feeling of the tumultuous early '90's....more
This Is Orson Welles is an edited series of interviews that director Peter Bogdanovich did with Welles in the 1960's and 1970's. The topics run the gaThis Is Orson Welles is an edited series of interviews that director Peter Bogdanovich did with Welles in the 1960's and 1970's. The topics run the gamut from Welles's life and career (he considered the book his autobiography) to people he knew to his thoughts on all things art. Even for someone as familiar with Welles's life and work as I am, there were some surprises in this book.
It is quite well known that when Orson arrived in Hollywood, his first picture was going to be an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Welles was to play Marlow and there were going to be long stretches of the film shot from the point of view of Marlow (a device that proved unsuccessful in Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake). There was also talk of Welles doing a film version of the Bible with all the dialogue directly quoted from the Gospels. But what I didn't know was that he tried to do a movie called Smiler With a Knife, co-starring Lucille Ball. The studio said "What do you want her for? She's practically washed up in pictures." Smiler was to be a total farce featuring the kind of gags Lucy made famous 15 years later on her television show.
There is a famous theory that Welles hated finishing his movies. How else could you describe his running away to Rio during the editing of The Magnificent Ambersons, giving the studio the opportunity to tear the film apart? I can't remember if Simon Callow explicitly said it in his bio The Road to Xanadu, but he definitely left the reader with that impression. Bogdanovich point blank asks Welles about this and Welles shoots him down.
Welles also pontificates on the subject of all art being autobiographical. I agree with him when he says that the work is the important thing, not the mind that created it. He says, "It's an egocentric, romantic, nineteenth-century conception that the artist is more interesting and more important than his work... The emphasis on the artist himself - the glorification of the artist - is one of the bad turns civilization has taken in the last hundred years."
On actors: "Everybody in the world is an actor. Conversation is acting. Man as a social animal is an actor; everything we do is some sort of a performance."
The book is thought provoking, elucidating, and quite funny. There are numerous times where you can just hear the smile in Orson's voice and see the twinkle in his eye as he answers Bogdanovich. In the old game of "Name three famous people living or dead who you want at a dinner party", I've always included Welles and if you read this book, you will, too.
I'll close with an excerpt from Bogdanovich's introduction, an essay he calls "My Orson".
My favorite memories of him? Many: like Orson moving hurriedly through my study in the afternoon on his way the the bedroom, anxious not to miss a second of his favorite TV rerun, The Dick Van Dyke Show....And, vividly: Orson under the trees at night on a Beverly Hills sidewalk lithely doing a little song-and-tap-dance routine from a musical he had written up in school at age thirteen. There was a full moon, and Orson's face was beaming at us, looking remarkably like an out-to-please teenager, unburdened by legends, lies, mistakes, triumphs, or failures. the whole world still out there for him to conquer....more
Meh. That’s my biggest take-away from The Pragmatic Programmer. It’s usually touted with Code Complete as one of the best programming books out there,Meh. That’s my biggest take-away from The Pragmatic Programmer. It’s usually touted with Code Complete as one of the best programming books out there, so I was a bit disappointed. The book is dated and the writing style is clunky. While Code Complete contained a fair number of things I knew already, there were compelling arguments about why things should be a certain way. There were things I didn’t know, or hadn’t thought about, and I came away from each chapter energized and ready to re-engage with my career. I found myself skimming large sections of Pragmatic Programmer.
The book is broken into bite-sized chapters, but each chapter makes a number of blanket assertions and doesn’t back anything up. It feels dumbed-down. That’s not to say the advice is bad, but they’ve already been adopted by even the most mediocre developers and development shops. You can summarize the entire book in a handful of bullet points:
- Don’t repeat yourself - Design by contract - Prototype - Create unit tests - Automate builds (automate everything) - Use source control - The real world is scary, so there’s no such thing as perfect code
There are two really good pieces of advice that everyone should follow. First, programming languages are just tools. Some might be better for jobs than others, so don’t always run to your favorite. Second, learn a new language every year. This gives you more perspective about what’s out there, not to mention makes you more valuable to potential employers....more
From its present state, its hard to imagine how small, how irrelevant, how insignificant conservatism was in the early 1950's. National Review did notFrom its present state, its hard to imagine how small, how irrelevant, how insignificant conservatism was in the early 1950's. National Review did not exist, the future editor of The American Spectator was only a boy. There were no conservative think tanks - no Heritage Foundation, no Cato Institute, no Center for Strategic and International Studies. There was no talk radio. There were only a handful of conservative intellectuals and their works; F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the most quoted source. In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr. made a big splash with God and Man at Yale, but not much had been heard from him since (he founded NR in 1955). In short, it seemed as though liberalism would be the dominant ideology for years to come. This is the climate in which Barry Goldwater was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1952.
Lee Edwards' Goldwater traces Goldwater's career and shows how the seeds of Ronald Reagan's victory and the 1994 Republican Revolution were sown in Goldwater's historic defeat at the hands of LBJ in 1964. He shows that Goldwater was a man who stuck to his principals (rather than playing politics), and inspired a generation plus of conservatives to speak out for what they believed in.
Goldwater is more a political biography than a personal one. Edwards starts with tracing how the Goldwater family came to America and Barry's early life, leading to his decision to run for the Senate in 1952. From then on, he goes into great detail about the 1964 campaign and the Senator's dealings with various presidents (from LBJ to Carter) after his return to the Senate. I wish there was more time spent on Goldwater the man, but what's here is very interesting.
Goldwater described himself as a "Jeffersonian", by which he meant he adhered to five basic principles:
1) individualism, stemming from the belief in the ability of man to govern himself 2) republicanism, reflecting a faith in the people and a conviction that government should be kept close the people 3) anticentralism, based on a distrust of executive power and the protection of the rights of the individual states 4) strict constructionism, that the government has only the powers prescribed to it in the Constitution 5) frugality and simplicity, calling for economy of government, paying of debts, and the cutting of taxes.
During his 30 years in the Senate, Goldwater said the better legislator was one who repealed laws rather than passed them. This reminds me of Calvin Coolidge's famous statement "It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones". Goldwater also gave the best definition of conservatism I've ever heard; one that modern politicians would do well to learn. The conservative approach, he said, "is nothing more or less than an attempt to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today."
When we read about the past, we often find similarities in what has happened to what is happening today. Life, and politics, is nothing if not cyclical. In July 1953, the administration wanted to increase the debt limit and Goldwater, then a freshman Senator, took to the floor to argue against it. He felt it was Congress's job to say to the administration that it cannot spend money because the people don't have it. He warned his colleagues of the perils of deficit spending, something we don't bat an eye about these days.
In 1963, a group of influential Republicans formed a Draft Goldwater committee. They ginned up support across the country in an effort to get Goldwater nominated for President. There were several large rallies held, including ones at New York's Madison Square Garden and a July Fourth rally in Washington, D.C. The rally in D.C. was described like this:
It was a typical Goldwater crowd. There were little old ladies in tennis shows, truck drivers with tattoos, professors who read Mises rather than Keynes, right-wingers who were convinced that Wall Street and the Kremlin were conspiring to run the world, Southern whites who had faith in the Cross and the Flag, retired people on Social Security who were worried about inflation, Westerners tired of catering to Easterners, anticommunists demanding action against Cuba and Khrushchev, small businessmen fighting a losing battle against government rules and regulations, readers of The Conscience of a Conservative, high school and college rebels looking for a cause - all of them believing that it was possible to solve problems as America had in the past...without federal bureaucrats.
That description reminds me very much of the present day Tea Party movement.
Goldwater presents a fuller picture of the times in which the man lived and his lasting impact on the country. By speaking plainly and sticking to principle, Goldwater was like a modern day Jeremiah. But, unlike other Old Testament prophets, Goldwater was able to see his ideas vindicated a mere sixteen years after his crushing defeat....more
Not bad. There was a lot of interesting information about memory research and how the brain works. It was maybe too much about Josh Foer's journey froNot bad. There was a lot of interesting information about memory research and how the brain works. It was maybe too much about Josh Foer's journey from journalist to mental athlete. The conclusion was that you can improve your memory for numbers, faces, and trivia, but can still forget where your put your car keys....more
Americans are living lives increasingly isolated from each other, recent research finds. A quarter of Americans now report that they have not a singleAmericans are living lives increasingly isolated from each other, recent research finds. A quarter of Americans now report that they have not a single person to confide in with their most personal troubles, which is more than double the number reported twenty years ago. Overall, Americans report an average of two close confidants, down from three twenty years ago.
The definitive text on the phenomenon is Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, mentioned briefly in the above article. It’s a thick and dragging read on the concept of “social capital,” i.e. the social benefits we derive from interpersonal relationships. Putnam argues that our isolated lives have undercut America’s reserve of social capital, which in aggregate leads to much less pleasant lives (a neighborhood with poor social connections, for example, is not likely to form a Neighborhood Watch and keep crime down).
One would think that with our increasingly networked lives, via Facebook, IM, email, Twitter, and the like, people would be more connected than ever, but that seems not to be the case. A person can have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but no one to talk to when faced with a scary medical situation, for example. Our communications networks are vast, but our messages are trivial and at least one or two steps removed from actually sitting down and talking to someone face-to-face. How many of us email or IM our co-workers rather than walking over to his/her office?
There's a lot more Putnam says about the problems withering social capital cause, but one is struck by how isolated and less involved we are in our communities than our grandparents were....more
In the Arena was the eighth book written by Richard Nixon, published in 1990, and one of his most candid. The subtitle of the book is "A Memoir of VicIn the Arena was the eighth book written by Richard Nixon, published in 1990, and one of his most candid. The subtitle of the book is "A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal" and Nixon opens with one example of each. For victory, the former President talks about his groundbreaking visit to China in 1972. For defeat, it is his resignation and self-imposed exile to California. His previous memoir, RN, ended with Nixon and Pat boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn, and the chapter on defeat picks up the night before, dealing conversations with his daughters, who wanted him to fight. He then talks about a sever bout of phlebitis, which sent him to the hospital for a surgery that almost killed him, and his years in the wilderness. For renewal, it was the writing of his memoirs and the television interviews with David Frost that helped him rediscover his purpose and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Nixon critics who want to hear about Watergate shouldn't look here for answers (RN is better for that), as the President barely mentions the scandal. After the trio of chapters on victory, defeat, and renewal, the book is divided into five page mini-essays, each on a one word topic (e.g. faith, family, war, peace). He offers advice for politicians or anyone in a leadership role based on his years in office and things he learned from some of the big names of the 20th Century like Churchill, Eisenhower, and de Gaulle. The last chapter, "Twilight", is all about the importance of keeping active and mentally sharp as you age.
This is the third Nixon book I've read, and the man could write. He was also a very clear thinker and knew how best to communicate his ideas. It seems funny to say it about the only U.S. President to resign from office, but he writes at great lengths about duty and honor. If any politician lifts from his chapters on power, privacy, or governing, they'll have my vote.
Democrats hate Nixon for Alger Hiss and Watergate. Republicans hate Nixon for the EPA, OSHA, and wage and price controls. Conservatives should be heartened to know that in this book, Nixon says the wage and price freeze of 1971 was a mistake and he would not take that action if he had to do it over again.
In the Arena is a great read that I'd recommend to any student of American politics or history....more