FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA

The excellent THEODORE ROOSEVELT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, the Republican candidate for Vice-President of the Republican Party in 1900 tells, 

…the monotony usually attendant upon such a campaign of political speaking was diversified in vivid fashion by occasional hostile audiences. One or two of the meetings ended in riots. One meeting was finally broken up by a mob; everybody fought so speaking had to stop. Soon after this we reached a town where we were told there might be trouble. Here the local committee included an old and valued friend, a “two-gun” man of repute, who was not in the least quarrelsome, but who always kept his word. We marched around to the local opera-house, which was packed with a mass of men, many of them rather rough-looking. My friend the two-gun man sat immediately behind me, fixing his gaze with instant intentness on any section of the house from which there came so much as a whisper. The audience listened to me with rapt attention. At the end, with a pride in my rhetorical powers which proceeded from a misunderstanding of the situation, I remarked to the chairman: “I held that audience well; there wasn’t an interruption.”

To which the chairman replied: “Interruption? Well, I guess not. Seth had sent around word that if any son of a gun peeped he’d kill him!”

Chapter 4, p. 129-130; New York, DA CAPO, 1985. 

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AMERICAN PROMETHEUS

KAI BIRD AND MARTIN J. SHERWIN

This J. Robert Oppenheimer biography attempts to tell the physicist’s story and exonerate him completely. I agree with the conclusion: Oppenheimer should not have lost his Clearance for being a security risk. 

Most of the book proves otherwise, and the text makes it difficult to understand fully. The number of physicists worldwide capable of doing work on the gadget is small. Yet this book fails to describe this community in the 1920s and 1930s. Readers learn how productive and helpful Oppenheimer was, but a sense of the physicists and their activities is sparse or non-existent.

A sense of the brilliant physicists, as persons, is also not told. Because they are brilliant in one field, does not mean they are at all capable in another, e.g. human behavior, society and politics. Like Oppenheimer they may have knowledge in other disciplines or have a passing acquaintance. That does not mean they fully appreciate politics, ideologies and how they played out in human society. The physicists work and produce in a discipline that begins with inductive reasoning – general to the specific.

Countering espionage and conducting a police probe prize deductive reasoning: collecting many, many facts and putting together pieces of the puzzle: Specific to General. It is the best way to arrive at the truth in human problems. This book tells that Oppenheimer failed to admit facts – sound equipment is recording everything – or nothing bothers him and the investigators should not worry. I don’t know if Oppenheimer’s judgment was correct or not. The rub between investigators and the physicist is making sure the investigators don’t arrive at the wrong judgments based upon partial facts (known to Oppenheimer), jumping to conclusions or thinking Oppenheimer was just plain wrong. Sometimes the investigators could not tell. Oppenheimer seemed to be hiding something.

So what was the world the physicists lived in, a basic approach to life based upon inductive reasoning? They always understood the major premise, the minor premise, but how does one get human beings and their society – apart from a scientific logic – to change and adopt new ways? Physicists may have a crazy thought, consider what is wrong is right, and say completely stupid stuff. Yet, in the end none believed any of it, yet none knew why.

This book tells much of the investigators’ stories without settings. There is no attempt to describe politics in Berkeley or the campus during the 1930s: This is the place Oppenheimer jumped into when he took a professorship there.

On a biological note there seems little set-up and passing thoughts in Oppenheimer that he will return to Berkeley after the War, and go back to physics. He seemed headed to return to physics, but some schools believed he was finished as a Star. Instead, the book says Oppenheimer  was entering one side of the military-industrial complex and he was right and righteous. He was Oppenheimer; he had overseen the construction of the gadget. He was entering politics, not physics.

American Prometheus devotes much time to what the physicists thought about the bomb, and how they wanted open, free research, exchanged worldwide. No one working at Los Alamos had become a politician. It is difficult to imagine in 1944, the naiveté of the physicists, the airy, free flow of information. It would be disapproved of today, although I have heard but not seen on the Internet plans showing how-to-build a nuclear weapon. Certainly the Soviet Union fought Germany after June 21, 1941, but before that date the Soviets were buddy-buddy with the Nazis, signing the August 1939 Non-Aggression Pact which let World War Two begin a week later. 

Totalitarianism in Stalinist Soviet Union apparently made no impression on physicists. Most people knew or suspected that Stalin was sending millions of citizens to Siberia. There was no reason ever to believe that Western and Soviet science would have a free exchange of information. 

When it was clear that Germany would surrender, some physicists stopped working in Los Alamos as early as December 1944, before the Battle of the Bulge. There was their assumption that the bombs would be dropped on Germany, likely Berlin. When Germany surrendered, physicists asked, why use it on Japan. American Prometheus is short on facts, analysis and history. Some American physicists were pining for a perfect world of international agreements and general education before the bomb was used. 

This is a shortcoming in this biography, not presenting the historical setting accurately: Note after Hiroshima the Japanese cabinet without the Emperor deadlocked on peace or war. In the War the Japanese lost cities before in fire bombings; they got a report from Japanese physicists that Hiroshima had been hit with an atomic bomb. The Cabinet asked, Can you make one for us? After August 6, 1945 the message from Japan was, Let the American destroy Japanese cities.

Drop the second bomb on Nagasaki. The Emperor of Japan showed up at the cabinet meeting and  declared the War should end. He had his people and his nation in his heart. The War that might have ended in 1946, ended in August 1945.

American Prometheus would be better if its authors had put Oppenheimer’s flying blind while proposing nuclear this or that into a historical context. Oppenheimer met Truman in the White House, and was gravely disappointed that the President did not snatch up his International Control of the bomb, some physicists wanted. Oppenheimer was horribly naive, a position the authors hold out as commendable. Yet, it is no wonder why Americans having different slates of facts did not trust Oppenheimer.

 

  

CALL FOR THE DEAD

John Le Carre

This short book is instructive and a delight to read. 

1. For writers who have wondered about the differences between detective stories and espionage tales, this story, having both, is an example.

2.  For writing wondering how much dialogue to put into a story and where, this story    presents  dialogue judiciously well. There are no frills. The dialogue advances the story.

3.  Writers wondering about description by using adjectives, a phrase or a prepositional phrase, the scenery and the characters are further developed by description.

This writing advances each story well until the stories break into their constituent parts. It seems like a free for all, except bad guys (or spies) are identified or caught and the success of the espionage is identified and analyzed. 

The story revolves around the death of a British civil servant who is identified as a possible security risk. An interview with George Smiley causes his East German handlers to kill the civil servant and everyone else associated with him. Murder is committed to insure security (espionage) but some of the acts are unnecessary and criminal. Not much is investigated about each course. Smiley predicts who will be the next victims. I suppose the story does not need Smiley’s report to his superiors in the last chapter: It is a reminder that espionage is a dangerous business.   

PATRIOTISM

During the Vietnam War the refrain of the British or other European idiots was popular in the United States: My country, right or wrong. It was only fitting that a Briton, George Orwell where I found it, offered a correction: My mother, drunk or sober.

Patriotism in the United Staes does not mean supporting the President. Every American who believes Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) or Richard Nixon deserved complete support of the American people all the time, should stand now. From the number of sitting Americans, it seems no Americans are willing to commit to LBJ or Nixon, right, left or wrong. 

Indeed, those sitting Americans have common sense and a sense of history. They are cynical when they hear Trump sputter about many diverse things, frequently unconnected, disjointed and ill-put; They is no reason anyone would support Trump. He has a credibility gap which is filled with irrationality and growing wider. Hearing Trump is like listening to LBJ tell the American people that he is sending another 75,000 troops to Vietnam to win that War. 

FAT BOOKS

Non-Fiction: Read one, Jettison two.

This year I’ve bought or checked from the library three fat books. 

READ: Thomas Cromwell, Diamaid MacCulloch, presenting a detailed study of Henry VIII’s most competent and efficient advisor and Chancellor. From 1530-1540 Cromwell’s story as been hidden and marred behind the glow of persons who like Thomas More, chief proponent of the Church of Rome in England.  

Cromwell was an accomplished businessman whose excellent judgment and actions saved Britain from the upheavals centuries later which arrived in France and the remainder of Europe. He made Henry VIII the sole sovereign, and let institutions – Parliament, nobility, gentry, commerce, universities – begin whittling away the monarch’s power. Cromwell lost his head, but his family survived; 109 years later a relative, Oliver Cromwell, cut off the head of Charles II who wanted to restore Britain to an absolute monarchy and who conspired with foreign powers. 

This book is detailed to show that Cromwell was not only well-informed but also there not a person of significance whom Cromwell did not know, it seems. For literary persons there are passages in which Crowell recognizes the functionality and the efficiency of English as a language. He fostered learning in the language and its widespread use.

VALUE OF READING? Jefferson Davis, Felicity Allen, 570 pages, tells of the President of the Confederate States, 1861-1865, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of War and a soldier in the Mexican-American War. Except during the Civil War he was considered by peers as a competent manager of affairs.

Davis has all the deficits of a hate-spouting, fire-eating, slave-owning, ante-bellum Southerner, even after the South lost the war. (Grant took over one of his plantations around the Mississippi River in the middle of the War.) Davis could not compromise, he hated inferiors and intellectual superiors like Abraham Lincoln (also born in Kentucky), and he rode the crest of Southern Society until that was ended by the Civil War.

I gave the book, heavy lumber, and Jeff Davis 60 of 560 pages. Fortunately my cost was $1.00-2.00.

VALUE OF READING? None. The Day of Battle, Sicilian/Italian Campaigns, Rich Atkinson, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy.

I read about the Sicilian campaign, about 170 pages. I had read a more detailed analyses of that Campaign. The only new fact I learned was Patton on two separate occasions, slapped two Americans in hospital tents. 

The Author, Rick Atkinson, gives a lot of gossipy facts that are not germane to the success of the American Army in Sicily. Attributed to Audie Murphy is the observation: “I’m a fugitive from the law of averages.” Those quotes are enjoyable and lend humanity to men fighting the battles.

Yet, many men were not quoted, or they did not survive. They were sacrificed. The Command structure was weak because Eisenhower was stupid and incompetent, along with Marshall and Eisenhower’s favorite inferiors. The plan for the Sicilian innovation was hastily made up; it was incomplete: Montgomery began fighting in the American sector without announcing what he was doing; he lengthened the fighting on Sicily two or three weeks, Atkinson admits. Note, from another source Montgomery always attacked the Germans with less than a division while the Americans were using complete divisions on the attack.

Sicily is an island, right? No one wondered how the Germans would leave Sicily. They all evacuated because Eisenhower and every advisor and lackey (British and American) in the planning never wondered what could happen to the Germans? Eisenhower did not want to use airpower to destroy port facilities or attack shipping. Those Germans were another 50,000 Germans to terrorize Italy and to contend with for the remaining two years of the War. 

Reading about the American performance in Italy is a waste. Everyone knows and knew, at the time, that the American Generalissimo Mark Clark, was one of the most inept Generals since George McClellan. But Clark was one of Eisenhower’s buddies. I refuse to read about one mistake after another. I note the Italian Campaign was the first time Japanese-Americans soldiers, once in American concentration camps, fought. Author-Atkinson does not mention Company 100 although heroism by those men was as professional and complete as in Division 442.

It is unlikely that Author-Atkinson will detail mistakes after mistakes by Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley and Montgomery in his third volume, the campaign against Germany following D-Day.

A World To Be Won,  Murray/Millet, in fewer words, gives more insight into strategic and tactic mistakes and successful plans than Atkinson seems capable of presenting.

 

THE DEVELOPMENT OF SHAKESPEARE’S IMAGERY

Wolfgang Clemens

It does not take long to consider and review this criticism. What is meant by imagery? Settings, characters’ expressions, characters’ psychology, story, etc. Imagery means an analysis of all the plays and the capabilities and capacities that the playwright inserted by use of the words. 

The next question is what would Bill Shakespeare think? Shakespeare would read and wonder:

“I did that? Huh?”  “The analysis on this point sounds pretty good, but I don’t remember writing it that way.” “I like what he says about Hamlet. I must be the smartest guy in the world.” “Too bad about Love Labor’s Lost. It sounds so prosaic, although I inserted many good one-liners about love. That chapter says more about the author than it does about the play or my abilities.” 

THE MAKING OF THE MIDDLE AGES

R.W. SOUTHERN

I will reread this text to have it in mind completely. Briefly, the author in the Bibliography describes what the book is about and what it does: “The greatest collection of printed material for understanding the life and thought of the period…[970-1204] is Migne’s Patrologia Latina.”

So how did minds shift for the 240 years to make Western man open to education, learning and art, apart from religion, leading to the Renaissance beginning in 1300 and going onto more recent advances? Understanding this text, from its well-expressed points of view, is an excellent starting point. Southern may not be totally correct in his analyses, but he advances a cogent argument. 

What does this text have to do with events today? One can learn minds can shift from set or established rules and philosophies. And today that is needed. It seems regularly human beings are stumbling over the same mistakes that were made in the Tenth Century.

THE COUNTRY UNDER MY SKIN

Gioconda Belli

In a store the cover says this book costs $16.00. Imagine my delight when I found a copy in new condition at a library sale for a quarter. Having read a bit, I want my two-bits back. I’ll explain.

The book’s cover states, “A Memoir of Love and War.” It is a memoir, not an autobiography, a more serious effort to convey one’s life and put it into context. A memoir might include overly described incidences. Either autobiography or memoir, there is a beginning, a middle and an end, all advanced chronologically so the reader can easily understand the progress of the tale and the life. 

There are no memoirs with flashbacks or advances in time of twenty years. That sort of book comes from from science fantasy, or are by alcoholics and other drug users.

Chapter One announces, Cuba, 1979 – arriving at a shooting range, although the author is 30 years old and the describes the trip like a elementary school outing to see animals at the zoo. 

NEXT PAGE: 

“I see you liked the .50, didn’t you?” Fidel mused with a malicious grin when I saw him a few days later. He had come to visit the Sandinista delegation and we had been summoned to the Presidential Suite. I said nothing. I smiled at him. He turned back and continued talking to Tito and the other companros who had been invited to Havana for the Cuban Revolution’s twentieth-anniversary.

I sat back and watched them. It was inevitable that the sight of Fidel would stir a collage of memories in my mind. Fidel was the first revolutionary I had ever heard of….

Reader to author: You are writing a memoir. You are not telling of the memories of your mind. Tell what happened. The author is to put those thoughts and related actions into a cogent form, not as a distracting interruption to the text.

And what about extra words, which undoubtedly clutter the author’s mind and her text? It is, “ I watched,” not “I sat back and watched them,” like you are a princess where her view of the open room allows her to spy on everyone – Revolutionary Number Uno meets Revolutionary Number Quinto. Plus if an author is sitting back, watching, she is describing the scene and the people, not recalling Fidel from her earlier memories. Finally, does the author have an impression of Fidel in the room other than her prosaic memories? Is Fidel there truly because he likes the clapping of the 50?” “Does he ask anyone for a match to light his cigar?” “Is he there trolling for babes?”

Not once does the author mention Fidel is Fidel Castro. She should do a little name dropping, after all she married someone named Castro but afterward dumped that hubby for another. 

The description of Fidel reminds me of Fidel Gonzales from Paraguay. I always suspected that Fidel had Leftist tendencies, so being in Cuba in 1979 would not be out-of-sorts. Fidel Gonzales is a good guy. The blackmarket is his business – electronics, leather goods (South American are the best; don’t buy Chinese) and garments. Fidel is thinking about opening his own fashion house. I don’t believe all the trademarks and labels are legit, but if a gown survives a season, then falls apart and the price is right, who cares? Fidel makes a lot of money on fake clothes.

About 1000 words later at the beginning of Chapter Two the author flips to Santa Monica, California, 1998. So much for chronology; so much for Fidel; so much for love and war. There is much to be said about muddleness. The subtitle of Chapter Two is, Where I tell of certain bizarre connections between California, interoceanic canals, and my life. 

Can anyone tell me how I can get my twenty-five cents returned?

PORN MOVIE

Late night on cable TV and I had just awakened. I wanted to sleep another three hours and give myself a solid eight hours.

I surfed, trying to find a movie giving a story like I was being read to. I came across a movie by Stormy Daniels – producing, directing and acting – and thought this might be newsworthy.

At best it was soft-core. Someone tried writing a script of poor dialogue and crummy action: “Hi, how are you?” “What are you doing?” (like the camera can’t show that) “You look great [tired] [harried] [used] today.(like the camera can’t show that).”  The title of the movie was Sexquarian, an attempt to tell about horse competitions, persons, corruptions and jumping two-feet fences while trotting a pony around a lawn. Of course the horses aren’t the heroes, and no one ever kisses her horse. No animal cruelty allowed.

No use wondering about sex. Men were in long conversations together. They looked like they had stepped from a jungle after 20 years, or they had just been released from prison. There were big muscles but no finesse. The talks came to nothing. Women also talked about horses, men and issues of the day. Nothing simpatico came from those conversations either: The story had indiscernible twists, turns and nothing noteworthy. 

Toward the end a competitor tried drugging Stormy’s horse. The perpetrator, a cowhand for a rich guy, got tossed on the ground, the extent of the fight. Next came the denouement, a woman, purportedly Stormy on the competition course (no close-ups) and her entourage was applauding each jump. Later in the Tack room there were ribbons, blue, red and silver (one each), harnesses but no saddles, and nothing else. 

The big moment, Stormy’s close up: A male player came in for congradulations, and Stormy lost some clothes. There were close shots. Everything looked manufactured. She has a 42 inch waist, larger wheel-wells and the fabrication on top. I now know why Don Trump stopped seeing her. Were they fake, or did they say Made In China? But something is completely wrong. He made a bad deal. He paid $130,000.00!

THE GREAT PIANISTS

Harold G. Schonberg

This is a thoroughly enjoyable volume which is well-worth reading.

What does it lack? Interesting text that would make it longer.

The author describes keyboard playing by most of the great pianists. The text changes in the last half of the twentieth century, losing some description and comment: A vocabulary arises in the eighteenth century which extends into the Twentieth. But this text becomes more concert criticism than analytical when the author has heard the pianists.

There is no accurate representation of the first-class composers set forth – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and sometimes, Liszt and Schumann, and others less capable, original composers for the piano like Mendelssohn. How did composition change their playing. The author treats these persons as pianists, yet some of Mendelssohn’s music isn’t fit to be played at a dog fight: The rhythms are uninteresting; they are straightforward rhythmic (if any) and thematic development, and the general presentation of imagination is incomplete. Indeed, many of he pianists whom the author describe played their own, insufficient compositions. That music is lost today, or might be taken from cold basement rooms of libraries and castles. None is as good as the piece discovered in Czechoslovakia in 1960, a second Haydn Cello Concerto.  

The audience is not fully explained. Did they only want acrobatics, displays at the keyboard of music that should not be played. Although opera was popular in the nineteenth century, the rush to arrange portions of operas for piano concerts was everywhere and a waste of time. Those arrangements are not played today. Yet these pieces, technically difficult and harmonically improved, took as much as half of each concert. Pianists into the Twentieth Century performed them  and other favorites – waltzes by Johann Strauss and others. Why these arrangements fell out of favor or have been ignored by pianists since 1970 remains open.   

The relationship of pianists to one another is not fully set forth. Individual meetings are noted, followings are chronicled and schools and methods are mentioned. But what of the true effect of Liszt who would sight read and play anything up to speed, or faster with control. Saint Saens had the same sight reading ability. Where were the force and effect of their compositions, definitive works? After 1855 the reader has no idea of the effect of Liszt’s E-Flat Concerto, a remarkable work that develops one theme. And the Saint-Saens Second Concerto in C minor was popular into the cartoon age, but Pianists were graded on their performance of it. Obviously Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, D Minor (l909) (the most difficult piano concerto) set a high bar for technical performance, endurance and interpretation. Schonberg does not describe much of this.

Indeed, Saint-Saens and other composers were not composing for piano alone. Why? Change of audience, or something else? Music for the piano played in 1900 was mostly composed before 1850, unless a gross adaptation of an operatic piece. The author does not explain or mention why music composed for the piano fell off. Not everyone was willing or capable of composing for orchestra. Much orchestral music of the Nineteenth Century, as well as the Eighteenth did not survive their centuries.   

What The Great Pianists also lacks is one pianist looking and hearing another and saying, “I never have to perform that piece of music again,” Sergei Rachmaninoff’s reaction after hearing Josef Hoffman playing Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata in recital. Indeed, Hoffman plays it well and distinctly.

There is little sense that pianists listened to one another much. Beginning in the first half of the Twentieth Century when recordings were made, pianists had more opportunity to listen and be informed.  More recording has made it an issue. It becomes a different issue because about 1950 the world lost two young pianists who were masters. Schonberg devotes a paragraph to each of them, and acknowledges had each lived he would have had a great career (and influence?). Indeed, Dinu Lipatti (died 1950) and William Kapell (died 1952) may have lifted pianistic performances during the last half of the Twentieth Century. The sense that any pianist during his or her life time actually influenced or lifted piano playing is not described well.