Thursday, December 22, 2016

God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

The following constitutes the minutes of the annual meeting of the Rosewater Foundation held Thursday 15 December 2016 on the estate of Eliot Rosewater, Rosewater, IN. Those present were requested to discuss the concept of pearls before swine, with relevance to the following points:
  • When did you first read a Kurt Vonnegut novel?
  • What worked in this 1965 story that would not work today? 
  • Why is it that every year some rich young man comes in to our Law Firm and wants to give all his money away? "Your travels are over, Space Wanderer!" ­ 
  • The works of Kilgore Trout.  
  • Re Norman Mushari of Cornell Law School: how does one certify that his tremendous ass was indeed luminous when bare? 
  • Poo-­tee-weet? 
  • How does God Bless You, Mr Rosewater lead into Slaughterhouse Five? 
An accurate transcription of the investors' comments follows.
       Respectively submitted,
                             The Law Firm of McAllister, Robjent, Reed, and McGee

Jack Farrell:  I had read Slaughterhouse Five previously.  Like SHF, this book was thought- provoking, involving issues associated with distribution of wealth;  The Father-Senator figure is an image since Roman times. It was tragic that the rewards for compassion and sharing was life in an insane asylum.  I highly recommend it:  A

Charlie:  these were cartoonish characters, in a satiric and dark view of all things, not a compassionate view.  B+

Bob Woods:  I was 14 when I first read Vonnegut.  I read lots of them and considered it almost science fiction, not a lot from the story.  This did not meet my expectations for a Vonnegut story.  I missed the point until the last chapter.  Not impressed.  B+

Kenny G:  This was my first Vonnegut book.  Since I thought the meeting was not until next week, I blasted through, Genoni-style.  I found it repetitious, I expected more humor.  I did not find it to be very humorous.  "... luminous ass" and the "banana thrust through a pineapple ring"  B+

Bob Simon:  I found it a fast read, I loved the dialogue.  Good at, raised some interesting points such as how rich people make a life for themselves when endowed with great riches.  I found the ending very unsatisfying and similar to Farewell to Arms by Hemingway.  B

Dick Jensen:  I have been reading Kristin Lavsransdatter, a Norwegian historical trilogy.  I read this Vonnegut after one-third of Kristin, and enjoyed it because everyone was crazy, and very tongue-in-cheek.  Giving to 53 kids, we create a multitude of lawsuits, Fred probably did not get anything.  A-

Keith:  Kurt Vonnegut would reply to our criticism by saying:  "I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous.  He or she is like a person who has put on full body armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split."  He loathed science, and his brother was a scientist.  The writing was rambling with islands of wisdom.  Does not know what he does not know.  B-

Dick Arms:  I had no problem with his character development, he had great characters.  Fred was a great character.  The high school girl selling porn.  But what is he trying to tell me?  I never resolved why did he write the book?  The ending was an enging that kept the money from going to Rhode Island part of the family.  A-

Tom Genoni:  It was a disappointing ending.  Preachy stuff - adolescent. Vonnegut:  "I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out - I am a fool."  There is a surreal fel throughout the book.  Would not recommend it.  B

Mike B:  This is the first time I have read this book since 1965.  I read a lot of sci-fi then; now, as a more discerning reader, I find that I enjoyed this more than Slaughterhouse Five, except for the catch phrase, "So it goes."  SH5 was an anti-war book written at the height of the Vietnam War.  I really liked the Fred character, trying to sell life insurance.  There was a great deal more plots and things going on, and it was fun and cartoonish.  I would recommend it.  B+

no comments submitted from outside of Rosewater, IN.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kit Carson's Autobiography

   Once again we were on the trail.  We had remained in our camp on Powder Creek till the first of April, 1837.  It was time to head to Park Avenue in the great Southwest and attend the seasonal rendezvous.  This has been one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced, but Capt Simon assured us of warm victuals and vino to assuage our needs.
  This year's rendezvous commenced on the 17th of November 1837 with six wagons arriving after sundown, once the Blackfeet permitted passage.  With the mules we proceeded south, looking for any extranieous mountain men. Capt Jensen and Private Blackledge did not make this trip.  In periods of delirium they perceive they are somehow related to the Blackfeet and seek a replacement scalp.
    Rendezvous attendees are often encouraged to send dispatches of their understanding of the manuscript and this gathering will be no different.  The remainder of the crew will be served well if they can but remember to guard the horses, keep the buffalo from our camp by building large fires in the bottoms, and cover their shorts.

 The following I hereby transfer to Capt. Robert O. Simon to be used as he may deem proper for our joint benefit.
              -  C. Carson

Tom G – Unique; nothing like it. An interesting read after I stopped reading the footnotes. I got a real feel for his life and history of the time and places. It seemed to be an introduction to lots of other history. Grade - B

Ron B. – I found Carson’s Autobiography interesting because it dealt with so much familiar territory, especially Taos. I am thinking of reading other accounts of this history. One of the things I found interesting is how old historical accounts such as this book express a different point of view of their world than a contemporarily written history describing that same time and events. This Autobiography provided insight into the minds of the people who populated that time, an especially interesting period of American history.
  He lived in almost constant danger among Indians. What an amazing series of adventures! I was impressed by the several trips he made as courier of dispatches several times from California to Washington, D.C. and back in the late 1840’s because that was the fastest form of communication. There is no way to judge the writing. Fascinated by the events in the book and its good information about our area. Grade – B

Charles P. – An Important historical account and document. I am amazed how Carson could sustain such a life of action as a hero for 40 years. His actions exceed by far the lives of most persons. As a book it was nothing, simply a repetition of events without any real insight into him or the events of his life. I experienced no enjoyment in reading it. It is not a literary work and I would not recommend it, except to someone interested in the history of the period. Grade – C

Keith G. – For me the Autobiography paints a picture of an American: small in stature, big in ego, following orders, a womanizer, with a Napoleonic complex. An enormous Ego.

Carson is a unique character in American history. Bigger in life than in death. “Uniliberatable?” (Possibly, “an illiterate”). Each person must judge Carson by their own standard. Grade – a good B

Dick A. – had difficulty getting the book on Kindle, so ordered by post. Then got it on Kindle. So I read both the Kindle and the hard copy. Since the Kindle aggregates all the footnotes at the end of the text, I found reading the hard copy with the accompanying footnotes gave a much better flavor to the whole thing but made it a more dry read. Interesting history and geography, but I would not recommend it to someone unless they love history. I am glad I read it. I learned a lot. The book was written and Carson lived in a period before attitudes toward Indians changed to our current politically correct views. I give it a B, especially interesting for exposing that historical period’s attitudes toward Indians, Mexicans, and Washington.

Bob W. – I read it on Kindle, so did not read the footnotes. I found it an interesting account of what it was really like being there. Now we think of Indians differently; then it was war over horses. I also found it an interesting juxtaposition to the Zorro stories about life in California at the same time from the Mexican perspective. It is not a work of literature, but I learned a lot about history. Carson’s Autobiography brought the history of the Southwest to life. Grade - B

Ken G. – I tend to agree with Charlie. A little about history that was shocking. I found the book to be repetitious, boring, and did not cover all of Carson’s life. My research into Carson’s life on Wikipedia provided more complete information on his life. I noticed that there were many conflicts with Indians, but not all Indians were the same. Some were peaceful. I was shocked that the Americans massacred the Klamath Indians for no reason. The slaughter that occurred in much of the book seemed like Isis, murder without rhyme or reason. I learned a lot but the book was not well written. Grade – C

Bob S. – my opinion of the book as literature is the same. It is not a literary work, perhaps because it was a recitation by an illiterate. But I chose the book because it is an amazing 1st person account of an important era of American and Southwestern history. I became interested in primary source material when I took William H. Goetzmann’s American Studies course at UT in 1966. Charlie and I attended UT in Austin at the same time and were both exposed to some of America’s great academics because of our special curriculum. Goetzmann’s idea was that a better understanding of history can be gained from the study of primary sources. He created the discipline he called American Studies from this concept, first at Yale and then at UT. There are several themes I am exploring in this choice. One is whether there is a continuum of literature that has on one end the Great Books, as Mike noted and on the other end simple historical narratives like the Autobiography that merit reading only because they are of historic importance. This book is clearly the latter. I put down Blood and Thunder several times but could not put down the Autobiography. Grade – B

Scrivener’s Footnote – I am amazed that so many comments appeared to validate Goetzmann’s unique American Studies approach to American history. I think Goetzmann would have been pleased by comments, such as, “Whites and Indians were at war over horses.” “There were lots of conflicts but some Indians were peaceful.” “The book gave an insight into how attitudes towards Indians have changed in America from Kit Carson’s time to our time.” And finally, the thought expressed by several that the book exposes a very different perspective about the historic times than we can get from a historian writing about the same events from a contemporary point of view.

Your thoughts seem to validate Goetzmann’s idea that studying history from the perspective of 1st person accounts and historic literature written in the era being studied gives a different understanding of those historical events than reading a historian’s account of the same events written in our era. I am happy I chose both Kit Carson’s 1st person narrative and Hampton Sides’ contemporary Blood and Thunder, because comparing the two provided a great opportunity to examine Goetzmann’s theory. For me, Carson’s original 1st person narrative of his life, even filtered through the mind of a scrivener, engages me in Carson’s life and time more than a contemporary work written by even such a skilled writer/historian as Hampton Sides. It is a shame that we do not have a better account in Carson’s own words. As Dick J. commented; “He (Sides) also makes the point that Carson was good at telling stories in gatherings at peoples’ homes—why did he not tell stories when he was writing an autobiography?” I am reminded of a couple of Hatchet Jack’s comments to Jeramiah Johnson in the movie by that name, which seems to loosely follow the life of Carson: “Watch your topknot” and the great one that applies to each of you who participated in this intro to American Studies, “You’ve come far, pilgrim.”

and from well outside the Sangre de Cristos:

Hi, Bob - I wish I could be at the meeting.  I have read both books on Kit Carson and below are my comments on both.
   -  Dick J.
             Kit Carson's Autobiography edited with an Introduction by Milo Milton Quaife

   The brief autobiography of Kit Carson was an interesting read but it provided little information about Carson as a person.  I did learn that he traveled a lot, killed a lot of Indians, and that he really did not respect the courage of Mexicans.  He did seem modest in spite of his many accomplishments.  I wish the unkonwn author would have kept some of Carson's language - I think that may have made the book fore interesting.   I would have liked to learn more about him  maybe I will learn more when I read the etyra credit book by Hampton Sides.  Sides has a perfect description of Carson's autobiography (p. 10).  He said it was "a bone-dry recitation of his life and leaves us few clues.  It was said that Carson told a pretty good story around the campfire, but his book carefully eschews anything approaching an insight."   He also makes the point that Carson was good at telling stories in gatherings at peoples' homes - why did he not tell stories when he was writing an autobiography?"  Maybe it was because he did not like his fame nor was he willing to promote himself.

   The footnotes that Quaife put in the text added a great deal of information and made the events in the book clearer.

  The introduction by Quaife was quite pompous (as we professors tend to be) and in the end did not prove to be useful. He set out to explain how the manucript was produced and who the real author was (apparently someone listened to Carson and wrote down the stories).  In the end, Quaife concluded that he really did not know who produced the manuscript - though he does take a feeble guess.

    Grade:  C+

                                          Hampton Sides, Blood and Thunder

  Blood and Thunder is a very thoroughly researched and quite well written book.  The title is taken from a series of twenty-five cent novels of the "blood and thunder" genre.  Many of these books told stories about Kit Carson that never happened.  The books made Carson into a national celebrity and hero.

  Sides attempts to outline the events in the American West from the 1820s into the 1860s.  The book focuses on Kit Carson's role and actions over that period.  The author also discusses the role of a Navajo leader and leaders of the U.S. Army.  I think the book suffers because the author attempts to tell too many stories.  He jumps from period to period and from person to person, often interrupting the flow of the story.  I found these interruptions unnecesary and frustrating.  I also wonder why he left out significant periods of Carson's life such as the years he spent as an Indian agent.

  I learned a great deal about Carson.  This book is 500+ pages long.  At times I had to force myself to keep reading.  I'm glad I finished the book but I was tempted to quit on several occasions.

  Grade:  B+

Dear Bob, I'm holed up near Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island without shoes and doubt I'll be able to complete the Long Walk before the rendezvous near the Rio Grande on the third Thursday, so I hereby transfer the following to you to use as you may deem proper:

 Driven by curiosity and by what I thought was a need to know, I plowed through Kit Caron's Autobiography, including the "Historical Introduction" and the 131 footnotes. I was curious to see how an illiterate mountain man would write his biography and I thought I should learn more about what makes an American "hero" tick. Not sure my curiosity or my thirst to learn was satisfied.

Although not as graphic, I could not help thinking about Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, where scalp count/body count was the measure of success and fortune. If Kit Carson wasn't anything else, he was a killer. I am glad I read Hampton Side's Blood and Thunder, because it gave a more complete and perhaps a more sympathetic picture of this man of contradictions.

Not sure I would recommend the Autobiography. C

Regards, Jack

Kit Carson’s Autobiography: Mule Meat Matters
                             Review comments by M.A. Blackledge

We attacked them, and although I do not know how many were killed, it was a perfect butchery. 

Last night I went to a Women’s Basketball Game at The Pit. The National Anthem was sung by a Navajo woman, in the Navajo language. It was a strangely moving experience, hearing that most familiar of American anthems with words that I could not comprehend. It made me think of Kit Carson, who I too quickly label as illiterate, with his great linguistic skills, his ability to communicate with essentially any tribe or group in the American West in the 1840s.

Prof. Simon has informed us that his professor at UT encouraged his students to read original source material. This is not an uncommon methodology for a college education – I suggest our members skim the Wikipedia article on Great Books. Most of us have heard of The Harvard Classics (now in the public domain), and the program of St. John’s College (with two campuses – Annapolis and Santa Fe) is famous for this approach, having its students read the original texts and then enter into discussions with their mentor rather than the more traditional classroom approach. I am embarrassed to confess that I have experienced so few of those Great Books – probably about 3% of those listed in the Wiki article. But as Prof. Gilbert will tell you, I am a graduate of the US Naval Academy and thus never had a college education. And since my reading discipline is perhaps about 3% of Prof. Jensen’s, it is unlikely that I will cover many more of them during my remaining reading regimen. Recall Stephen Ambrose thought that all of us should read the diaries of Lewis and Clark. I haven’t done that either.

However, in the realm of history, we are fortunate to have historians who read those original sources for us, and produce great distillations such as Band of Brothers, Alexander Hamilton, and Blood and Thunder. These are obviously not primary sources, but for me, for many reasons, these are better. They provide the alternate views and the context of the times. Now consider Kit Carson’s Autobiography. We accept that Carson did not write these words. What did Carson actually say to Turley, and how did the ghost writing project proceed? What was left out, what was smoothed over, what was punched up? I am hoping that the Book Club discussion included the concept of patois – that it is fairly accepted that #TheRealKitCarson spoke in a backwoods patois, the dialect of the mountain man. We have snippets of his actual quotes in life which reinforce this. This is not the language of Turley’s transcription. Thus is not Carson’s ‘Autobiography’ by definition several degrees of separation from the true story of Kit Carson? If not what he actually lived, certainly not what he actually said.

Regardless: I found portions of the Autobiography to be moving and informative for my concept of Carson. One of the best examples of this is the unfortunate story of Mrs. White, whose rescue was imminent, and one of the few places where the usually terse Carson repeats himself due to his conscience, with his second guessing that an immediate attack on her Indian captors, which he espoused, would almost certainly have saved her life. And one of the most endearing stories for me occurred soon after, when at the end of an Indian and Californian fight, Carson came across one of the many books already written that publicized and exaggerated his life – how surreal an experience.

But I love Hampton Sides characterization of Carson: “He was also a natural born killer.” I was privileged to experience the anguish of Prof. Simon as he struggled with the choice: should I have the Club read Hampton Side’s Blood and Thunder, with the Autobiography as extra credit? Or the other way round? I am glad I read both. An example context that Sides provides and Carson could not: The happenstance of the mountain man riding 26 days across the desert and into Socorro at the very moment that Gen Kearney had also arrived south from Santa Fe changed both of their fates and gives credence to the vicissitudes of fortune for all of us. Kit Carson’s Autobiography is not one of the Great Books. I honor Prof. Simon’s courage and vision in the trail he chose for us semi-literates traversing the desert of pulp non-fiction, the trail less traveled. He gave up a sure “A” selection to have us encounter this “C“ exploit.

The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future. - Stephen Ambrose

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre

Nine unwitting investors gathered at the Four Hills home of the original stock operator, Prof. Dick Arms, on the last Thursday evening of the month.  They understood the evening to be BYOB (Bring Your Own Bucket).

Prof. Arms explained in detail how the concepts developed by Livermore relate to the Arms Index (on volume).  For the rest of us, there is also a Wiki article.  Further, we enjoyed the Wiki article on the real Jesse Livermore.  And finally, for you non-capitalist puppets of Putin, here is a one-sentence description:
an unauthorized office operated by bad hombres for speculating in stocks or currency using the funds of unwitting investors.

Bob Simon:  I enjoyed this book - I found it very interesting.  I was a Finance major and I found it fascinating.  Livermore gained an awareness of how to manipulate the market.  It was historically interesting - and it couldn't happen today.  The self-analytic components that he developed on the facts gave rise to the personal question:  can you hold on to your methodology and act on it faithfully?  A-

Rob E:  I must claim an Incomplete - I read some 25% to 30%.  The story was Buy - Sell, Buy - Sell, and I got tired of it.  The Wisdom he dispenses:  Know when to buy, when to sell.  You can't buy unless someone wants to sell.  My grade:  Inc

Bob Woods:  I give it a B-  As literature, it is a total disaster.  An 8th Grade student could have written this.  Historically it was of some interest.  What put me off:  Livermore achieves brilliant success based on his intuition - but gives no indication of how that intuition works.  The book does give some inclination of what the guys in the corner offices do.

Dick J:  I enjoyed reading it.  I was intrigued by that display of intuition.  Myself, I rely on brokers.  The book was not well written, but I enjoyed the old-style language.  B

Keith:  As a top level summary:  the market is driven by fear and greed, with insider trading rampant, and the government does nothing to control or regulate.  Big money talks (e.g., Warren Buffett).  Tape watchers have all this data, yet they had less available to them in the largest brokerage house in 1906 than I have on my iPhone today.  Stock mutual funds average 10%, better than what the brokers could do for you.  Bernie Madoff, hundreds of other such examples - greed drives it all.  The Book:  I felt like I jumped into a huge ocean of decimal points, and I was searching for integers.  C

Kenny G:  The book describes the Wild West days of the market, when there were little or no regulations.  I found that history very interesting.  These issues still exist.  The writing was tedious and repetitious.  B-

Dick Arms:  The market is a delicate balance between fear and greed today, just as it was in the early 1900s.  I thought the most interesting portion of Livermore's life occurred after 1923, after this book ended, and I didn't hear anything about his Life.  I agree with what Jack said.  Good writing, but needs more personal details.  I recommended the book but I give it only a B.

Charlie:  It was a difficult book to start with - highly technical subject, tought to make people like me interested in the subject.  Way too much on trading, I wanted more on how the rest of his Life went.  The book has big limitations - way too long.  Grade:  B- due to these defects.

Ron Bousek:  Too long, but a one-track objective:  tell us all of his trades.  I listed his sayings:  "Follow the path of least resistance."   What does that mean?  "Can't beat the market."  Interesting insight on how the market worked when you could watch shares being traded in real time.  Then there were spots/locations in the city where the traders could gather around to obtain money offered by the customers at high interest rates.  This was very simple writing style that provided a snapshot in time.  B

Mike B:  I have the enviable position of batting clean-up, so I can respond to some of the earlier comments.  I would tell Rob that he does not need to claim incomplete - if he read 20% to 25%, he read it all - the rest of the book repeats the first 1/4, just with different stocks and different prices.  It was highly repetitious, and I would never recommend this book to anyone.  Dick Arms mentions that this is required reading for new brokers - I submit that there are books today that give a much, much better overview of the market processes - and something called investing.  This was not about investing, but gambling, pure and simple.  To say you have intuition, that you knew to short the Western railroads, and then two days later the San Francisco earthquake strikes - that is blind luck.  (But as Ron B. notes, he did follow up after the earthquake when others were slow to respond.)  C

... and from well outside the New York Stock Exchange:

Dear Dick,

I am sorry I won't be able to make it to the LTBC meeting at your house on Thursday.  I am sure I would have gained a better understanding and appreciation of  your selection after hearing the discussion.

I cannot say reading Edwin Lefevre's novel was fun for me.  I found the first part of the book interesting, but then it became too repetitive.  My eyes tend to gloss over anyway whenever economists and financial operatives discuss the market, so an account of Livermore's personal life would have offered more drama (Ran away at age 14; married three times in the course of 33 years (once to an 18-year old Ziegfield Follies showgirl); lost his fortune; fatally shot himself at age 63.) and hence would have been more enjoyable for me.  C

-  Jack

PS  One thing I failed to mention in my comments was the fact that the story did reinforce a point I thought I had learned many years ago from my mother and that was the need to always cover your shorts. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

Eleven well-to-do-yet-highly-mature men-about-town came in out of the rain at the Parkland brownstone apartment of Prof. K.I. Gilbert, and were delighted and mesmerized with the apparition-like appearance of a real-life Holly Golightly, complete with up-swept blonde hair, cigarette holder and glass of wine, a real pearl choker almost from Tiffany's, and, of course, the iconic little black dress.  Wow!  Were we dreaming, or what?  We all wanted to give her $50 for the powder room, but Bob W. thought she was selling drugs, and Tom G. didn't have anything on him less than $100.  What a character!  110 pages, and we discussed her up one side and down the other for two hours:

Dick J:  I really wanted to hate this book.   Truman Capote was an obnoxious curmudgeon, and I can't stand Audrey Hepburn as an actress.  But I really liked it!  I especially like the way he left the ending, making it not a love story.  A-

Jack F:  I thought it was a great story, he's a great writer.  I can't recall from my 13 years with this group of talking for two hours about one character who is covered in 85 pages.  I want to read more by Capote. A great evening and a spellbinding discussion.  A

Bob S:  I liked it, it reminds me of my mother's life.  The book was infinitely better than the movie.  The book captured a cultural aspect of America lucidly.  A

Ron B:  Good, short, not hard to follow, not verbose, I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed In Cold Blood.  This was the story of a young girl escaping from her past.  Good writing.  A

Dick A:  Really was 105 pages vice 85, as a study of one character, Holly.  She was very unconventional character, and he made her believable.  I call it a tragedy because she disappears at the end, a downer that she heads down to South America.  The ending was much better than the movie.  The writing was excellent.  I give it an A.

Kenny G:  Capote really knows how to write.  It could have been a comedy, it could have been a tragedy, it could have been simply a character study - you didn't know how it would turn out.  I give the book an A and the movie a B-

Rob E:  I liked the book.  The only thing that didn't ring true to me was Tulip, Texas.  This is so often the NYC literati view of anything west of the Hudson River as Rubesville.  I didn't mind that Blake Edwards made Hollywood-style changes to the book.  I liked the movie and its feel-good ending.  I had never seen Audrey Hepburn in this movie before a couple of days ago.  She was Holly:  flighty, strange, coping.  Even stealing the masks was fun.  I enjoyed both the movie and the book.  A-  (would have been an A book without the Tulip, Texas stereotype.  Note:  Tulia, Texas is the Panhandle hometown of Bob Wills. You can see one of his touring buses there and get a good chicken fried steak.  Saw no 14-yr old brides there, however one of the waitresses ...)

Bob W:  I thought it was an exercise in excellent writing.  You begin not liking Holly.  I didn't think there were people like Holly, but Bob S. says yes.  You end up liking her.  I thought the movie was piss poor.  The book:  A

Tom G:  1. re the movie:  Hollywood can make any movie they want, but it is dishonest to use the name of a well-known book and then make a movie that is not true to that book.  2.  This book reminded me of Shane - a story told by a narrator years later, about an iconic character that comes into his life (Shane, Holly), makes a huge impact, and then disappears.  3.  The word that describes all these stories is melancholy.  A

Mike B:  Truman Capote wrote a wistful, melancholy, heart-tugging American tragedy with uplifting and downing (mean reds) life cycles.  Blake Edwards made a romantic comedy with slapstick overtones - but was fortunate to have Audrey Hepburn create on screen the quintessential Holly Golightly.  Capote packed so much into his 110 pages, much the way that Holly packed so much into her dialog, into her Life - run, run, run; go, go, go.  I loved so many little feelings that Capote captured, right from page 1 when he talked of the good feeling of having that key in your pocket that meant this dreary apartment was really yours, with your things and your Life.  Beautifully done, all the way through.  A

Keith G:  You all covered it very well.  One character developed in 100 pages and you never understand her.  A

25 Things you may not know about Breakfast at Tiffany's (55th anniversary is 5 Oct 2016)

And from well outside downtown Manhattan:
I will be unable to attend the meeting tonight.  I have been entertaining my sister for three days and I am exhausted.  
I read the book and I found it very disconnected and rambling. I have always disliked Truman Capote ever since I saw him interviewed on TV.  He came off as a whiny little self-absorbed curmudgeon.  The movie was much more entertaining but the only part that was correctly cast was the Cat.  George Peppard as the author/narrator was miscasting. 
    -  Tom Eaton

Friday, August 26, 2016

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Eight nattering nabobs of negativism reluctantly checked into the Park Avenue Therapeutic Institution and were welcomed by Dr. Charles Palmer, COO and Gift Shop Coordinator.  The decision to transition from a single family residence to an assisted living facility can be overwhelming to many mature males.  However, the social interactions through snacking experiences and discussion groups soon put them at their ease.  The following comments were overheard in the hall:

Bob S:  I enjoyed the book.  I thought it was well written and informative.  The only chapter that did not resonate with me was the philosophical one, where I had difficulty following.  A-

Mike B:  This is an important book.  I felt Gawande did an excellent job combining data from various studies with personal anecdotes to include his own family.  A-

Tom Eaton:  Originally I thought the book was very depressing - probably because I am closer to this age, with heart problems.  The first part was depressing, but brought you through the evolving convalescent facility history.  I enjoyed the part with the dogs, cats, birds in the facility.  I'm going to send a copy of the book to all my kids, and declare it as mandatory reading.  A

Dick Arms:  When I saw this book in the schedule, I was in denial.  I was trying to think of ways to miss this meeting.  The first half was depressing, and the second half was depressing.  From the standpoint of writing, it was skillful, clear; I think the book was extremely well written, and I'm glad I read it.  I am going to have my daughter and my girlfriend read it.  Solid A.

Keith:  I saw this book as an indictment of the medical community, sans solution.  I went to a medical appointment recently, and was told they had no gerontologist on staff.  The medical community needs more than a wake-up call, they need an epiphany.  They only want to treat my pain and my illness, not address my quality of life.  The AMA has demonstrated not one iota of change.  B-

Dick J:  My wife read this book a couple of years ago, and said I should read it.  I avoided doing so, and Charlie now gets my thanks for choosing this book.  It made me think about these decisions.  A-

Bob W:  I couldn't read this book.  Both my parents died of cancer.  After the discussion, perhaps I should try to read it.

Charlie:  I give it an A.  Gawande is a wizard.  I think he set out to define the problem, and he did.  Given the current climate, and the imposed fee schedule based on CPT codes, the industry is not focused on caring for old people.  Gawande's our designated physician writer and observer.

And from far outside of Brigham and Women's Hospital:

If all goes according to plan, I should be tucked into bed at the Hotel Post in the village of Jungingen in the Swabian Alps at the time your meeting begins. I am truly sorry to miss the discussion. It is an important one to have. My comments about the book follow: 

I found Atul Gawande's Being Mortal the most informative and compassionate discussion of end-of-life situations/questions I have ever read. His observations and conclusions are based on 20 years of research, medical practice, and personal experience with friends and family. The case studies and conversations he built the book around are touching and insightful. What matters in the end, he contends, depends on our own definition of what makes life worth living and what brings us joy. To pursue that according to Gawande, each of us should be allowed to continue to be the author of our own life's story. The book also served as a reminder of how important it is, particularly at this stage of our lives, to focus on everyday pleasures and the people closest to us. I have recommended his book to everyone and will continue to do so. A 
Regards, Jack

I really liked the book, particularly after it got past the early depressing case studies and into chapter 5, A Better Life. I'm going to make that chapter required reading for our kids. That chapter could be "end-of-life-changing" for Susie and me. 

One way the author characterizes the goal of our life that is to come is to: "escape a warehoused oblivion that few really want." (p. 188) I think of my mother transiting into 'warehoused oblivion' as Alzheimer's took her and I've seen many examples of warehoused oblivion when our church's jug band visits various "homes." On the other hand, I've seen heartwarming examples of how music can bring meaning and pleasure to a home's residents. People who can't tell you their name will smile and sing along on songs that are stored somewhere in their brains. My Mom, up to the end, would often break into singing one particular hymn. There are books written on this. 

Then on p. 229, a phrase that captured the theme of chapter 5 is that the goal of aging parents and their families should be for the parents to "live for the best possible day." This simple goal can help make decisions along the way. 

Perhaps this will come out in your discussion, but I wonder how Gawande's criticism of surgeons and other MDs has been responded to by others in the medical field. Unless he was using made up names for patients, MDs that were criticized in the book could be known by name by insiders. That could make things tense at AMA conventions.

Thanks for picking this book. If I make good notes, and mark the pages, I'll be able to indicate to my kids how they should deal with my mortality.

 I did a little online searching to see if I could find Albuquerque facilities that follow the Chapter 5 approaches, e.g., the Green House, but couldn't find any. Does anybody know if any such programs exist here? Grade: A. The author writes well and entertainingly and addresses vital issues. I look forward to reading the reviews.


Friday, July 29, 2016

The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy

Nine stalwart pongids gathered in the Spanish-moss covered forests of Ventana del Sol, walking quite well and beating their chests occasionally as they proclaimed to suffer no ill effects from a little straight-up Na-24.  The testimonies follow:

Bob S:  I think this is between a B and B-.  Some good descriptive writing; I enjoyed the first part of the book.  It spun out of control, and I didn't enjoy the latter part.  I can't recommend this book.  It was intriguing: the whole idea of tinkering with personality via chemicals is still prevalent in our society.  The conflict and comparison of Humanism vs Science, and the Catholicism sanctity of Life vs destroying life via Eugenics.  B-

Dick Arms:  The plot devices were so contrived, really contrived, that I would not recommend the book.  Nothing fit together.  C

Mike:  Walker Percy managed to put the "You" back in euthanasia.  We read his first novel (The Moviegoer) and now his final novel; and perhaps his best and his worst.  The first part, the medical mystery, was intriguing, fascinating, well written.  But when he had the 'bad guys' react to the discovery of their plot with a "Hey, no big thing!  We will save the world!  Come join us!" then apparently he had to think of something to make them really bad - so thus we are into the child molestation by happy (if not hairy) apes.  Or not.  And how do you convince an entire Board of Directors to all drink the molar concentration of heavy sodium? Just the threat of the crazy uncle with the shotgun?  B-

Dick J:  I found the book very frustrating.  I read sections, and said, "Oh, this is very good!"  Then the drinking of the molar concentration Na-24.  B-

Charlie P:  The book started out well - he writes well.  I thought, oh, Science Fiction? Themes were interesting:  science vs humanism.  The Characters were really interesting - Vergil and The Uncle and Hudeen.  The Ending not so good.  I am not a prude, but the worst for me was the perversion of the children.  Now I told my wife NOT to read it.  C

Jack:  I echo Mike and Charlie - I did enjoy the first part, and I wish he would have spent more time on Ethics:  Bob Comeaux and Tom More argument re making the world a better place.  B-

Gary S (guest):  I am not a big reader, and I did not read the book.  But from your discussion tonight, my reaction is that it irritates me to hear of authors completely misrepresenting nuclear stuff - an isotope of sodium would react in the body just like a regular molecule of sodium, not create personality disorders.

Rob E:  I thought he was trying to bring up some big moral issues - it could be good/bad intentions.  The child molestation was unnecessary, as if he didn't already have enough against these guys.  I enjoyed his writing style and his flashes of humor.  I had major issues with it:  B

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

Eleven survivors of the Sandia Heights White Oaks Death Drive gathered at dusk on the Last Thursday of June, 1945, to compare footnoted history vs popular writing, interviews vs personal appearances, camp guards vs Imperial Army, Rangers vs prisoners, and forgotten vs rejuvenated.  The following MEMORANDUM  To: All Concerned was issued:

Tom G:  I was caught up in the book.  I haven't anything bad to say.  A fabulous job of story telling - back and forth between the prisoners and the Rangers.  I read this and I realize I don't stack up, not many of us do, to the men of this story.  Capt. Prince was just a regular Joe, thrust into this story - the character, the bravery they demonstrated were inspiring.  We would be hard pressed today to find men to match these described by Sides.  A

Charlie:  Not much to add.  Not a great book, but a very good book.  The author did what he set out to do.  A-

Dick Arms:  The side stories added to it.  This is the way history should be told.  The writing is good.  A

Bob S:  I'm a little ambivalent on my feelings on this book.  It did not have the breadth and depth of an A book, but the author succeeded in telling his story well.  A-

Rob E:   Before I was far into the book, I was put off by what seemed to me to be the author's focus on trivial things and his straining to come up with colorful phrases.  Some examples:

 p. 64.  When the Rangers left their base camp, the author made a big deal of the fact that Mucci had shaved his mustache.  Why was that important?  Did it boost morale? 
 p. 117.  When villagers were excited by the arrival of the Rangers, he likened it to John the Baptist announcing the coming of Jesus.  Makes me scratch my head, rather than visualize the friendly village. 
 p. 164.  When entering another village, the Rangers were greeted by the villagers singing "God Bless America."  This is indeed a emotional scene, but his depiction removed all the charm from it for me when he wrote that their "melody (was) charmingly curdled with the occasional stale note."  That phrase curdled my initial enchantment with the scene. 
 p. 165.  When searching for a way to depict MacArthur's well-known egotism, he characterized him thusly: "his incorrigible fixation on the vertical pronoun."  I've never seen a horizontal pronoun - or maybe they all are, except for "I."   I haven't learned the new multi-gender pronouns yet. 

Another aspect of the book that bugged me was the maps.  Several times the author would mention a village or river along the route of the Rangers, and I would turn to the maps and they weren't shown.  In contrast the route of the Bataan Death March was shown with lots of detail.  But, the book's focus was on the Ranger's rescue mission and the maps didn't help me visualize how it happened. 

 So, for the last half of the book I did some skimming - trying to pick out the meat of the paragraph and ignore the distractions of style.  I also decided to focus on the Ranger chapters and mostly skip the prisoner chapters.  From the discussion we had, I realize now I missed some good stuff.  My thinking was that we knew quite a bit already about Japanese prison camps from "Unbroken" and various WWII movies and from annual remembrances of the Bataan March and the New Mexico soldiers who died in or survived it.  But, I missed the individual vignettes that would have made it all more memorable.  My bad.

 I have no quarrels with the rescue mission itself and its heroic qualities.  And I'm very impressed by Sides's in-depth research.  It's just that his telling of the story too often distracted me, rather than helped me understand and appreciate the awesomeness of the mission. Bottom Line.  B-

Mike B:  I felt this book rates up there with Alfred Lansing's treatment of Endurance - a compelling story, well told.  I appreciated so many things the author did - e.g., starting with the massacre at Powhatan prisoner camp to set the stage for the closing horrifics of the POW camps; then alternating chapters between the Rangers preparations and advance, and the prisoners dealing with life in the camps, plus flashbacks to Bataan and "The Hike."  I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat.  A

Dick J:  I read this book in one day; an OK book, not sure it was a great book.  I felt I needed more.  It was better than [Kilmeade's] Thomas Jefferson.  I can't give in an A; probably a B+

Ron Bousek:  An interesting book about a fascinating part of the war that I knew little about.  For his book held my attention.  Much better than fiction, where the author has too much leeway.  Highly readable for me.  A-

Bob Woods:  If we are to evaluate a book as a book, we must distinguish the book from the story which is impressive.  The author touched all the bases.  If written in three years, especially impressive.  Few books rate an A; this is an A-

Keith:  I would highlight the culpability of the High Command in abandoning 70,000 troops in Bataan.  The carriers were available; they could have been used to help in many ways.  The book had no bibliography of note; no interviews with Japanese who ran the camps.  Some time back I was in Bataan Park and came across a survivor whose name is on that memorial and asked him:  How would you summarize your time?  His answer [also captured in the book]:  "No papa, no mama, no Uncle Sam; no one ever gave a damn."  B-

Kenny G:  This book reminded me of Endurance.  I read it straight through the first time.  A.

And from well outside of Subic Bay:
Dear Ken,

I washed ashore at Ellis Landing in Brewster on Cape Cod on Tuesday and won't be conveyed in a Nippon vehicle off the peninsula until I am freed on Independence Day.  The dangers here are many--great whites, excessive numbers of crazy tourists, and an overabundance of sun, sand and beer.  And if that were not bad enough, when I forded a tidal river yesterday (and although I don't believe it was the Cabu), I came upon hundreds of young people in uniform carrying bows and arrows camped there.  I noticed some signage with the letters CCSC on the fence surrounding the camp, and so I decided to stay low and keep my distance.  Dick Arms may know the meaning of all this, since he has spent some time west of here.  Not sure when I will be reunited with my friends on the mainland, so I am sending you my comments about your book selection from my beachhead in Brewster now.

I found Sides' Ghost Soldiers to be a moving and gripping story.  And even though it was hard to put down, it was at times difficult to read.  The descriptions of the atrocities the Japanese carried out and what the prisoners had to endure reminded me of the horrible tales we read about in Bradley's Flyboys and Hillebrand's Unbroken.  Sides gave horror and honor equal billing and as was the case in the other two books we read, the strength of the human spirit to survive and the bravery of so many who fought for our country were underscored.  It is an important and compelling story everyone should read.  A 

Regards,  Jack

 (at left) the Memorial to those lost in the Hell Ships in Dec 1944.  Erected at Subic Bay, Philippines, 2012.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager

A gaggle of well-seasoned erstwhile pirates gathered on dry land near the Four Hills and quaffed sufficient rum to produce the following comments:

Dick J:  Thomas Jefferson and the Pirates was an easy, quick read.  I learned some interesting information about a period of history that I did not know much about.  Unfortunately, I think the book reflected Kilmeade's political biases, was not well researched, and was not particularly well written. If I had time I would go and read other books on the period to get a broader view.  I would give it a B- and that is generous.

Rob E:  When I saw that the lead author was a Fox News Channel host, I suspected the book might be political.  NPR listeners would be aghast.  As I mentioned to you, the underlying narrative could have been:  Barack Obama - you're no Thomas Jefferson; Hillary Clinton - you're no James Madison.  But the authors didn't take that sort of line and mostly just told the story in layman, not scholarly, mostly nonpolitical terms.  And, I understand that they were not nautically correct.  But, who in this book's readership would know?  
There are some interesting contrasts that might have been examined.  Jefferson and Madison took the lead in battling the North African Barbarians.  Clinton and Obama characterized their role in the attack on the Libyan barbarian, Qaddafi, proudly, as "leading from behind."  

There are some parallels.  Regime change was the objective in both cases.  The Navy couldn't communicate with Washington, except by cross-Atlantic ships.  Our ambassador and his limited security forces in Benghazi had trouble getting somebody in Washington to pick up the phone.  At this point in time, though, what difference does it make?

Politics aside, I learned something about a period and a war that I knew very little about.  I thought the early part of the book was a little tedious, but things picked up when the big ships and big guns went into action.  Had some of the feel of the Horatio Hornblower novels I read as a lad.

Grade: B

Tom, Charlie, Keith, Ron B, Bob S:   We agree with Jack's comments.

Charlie:  i'm one of the villains who agreed with Jack.  The subject matter of the book was previously unknown to me and was most interesting.  But, it was poorly written.  On subject matter and content alone, I would give it an A, on writing alone a C-.  I averaged these and came up with B-.

Bob Simon:  The most interesting comment to come out of the evening's The most interesting comment of the evening was how a cabal of talking heads at Fox News use ghost writers to write books that they put their names on and then they send out tens of thousands of them to people who follow Fox News and the books garner good sales numbers and appear to be popular titles.

It's an interesting publishing business. 

And from well outside the seven mile limit:

Dear Tom, Won't be able to make the LTBC meeting at your house next week.  Will probably be in Palo Duro Canyon SP that evening enjoying the red rocks, but my comments about your choice follow:
I enjoyed reading Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates and learned a lot in the process.  I knew nothing about this war and very little about this period of our country's history.  Not sure what I learned in high school.  I am also amazed when two people write a book like the authors of this one and Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Series" with Martin Dugard.  Does the author in bold print do the writing and the other does the research or do they take different chapters and rely on the editor to fold it all together?  It may affect the style of writing, as I thought it did in this case, resulting in a bland vanilla flavor.   B+
     Regards, Jack

Rush Limbaugh has written a series of books on the theme of Rush Revere and his Talking Horse Liberty.  At least there, the reader had an understanding of the audience that was intended.  Here, it was not at all clear – yet the product was certainly not a scholarly historical account.  More of a popularized 200 page quick sell.  Let’s publish a second book while the press is still humming with our first.  I came to this conclusion after reading the book, and reading Kilmeade’s confession in the Acknowledgements:  “Unlike our last book, George Washington’s Secret Six, a subject I had been studying since 1988, this book had a shorter runway.”   Yeah, like 2 years vs 24 years.
One of my colleagues said, “It’s a good story.”  Yes – but poorly told.  To prove this point to myself, I purchased several other accounts of the same time period and have read some of each.  Give Me A Fast Ship by Tim McGrath is really more on the Continental Navy during the Revolution.  But The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 by Richard Zacks (2005) is spot on, excellent.  I also highly recommend Six Frigates by Ian M. Toll. 
Summary review:  I would recommend against this Kilmeade book to anyone interested in the subject, in favor of the scholarly Six Frigates, or the highly entertaining  The Pirate Coast
Why?  I will give a smattering of reasons against the Kilmeade book:

Lack of naval knowledge:  I have never read a book about the time of Wooden Ships and Iron Men that did not clearly define and specify the armament of the ships.  Saying a ship is a frigate or a brig is not enough – although it would have been a plus if the authors had at least defined those classes of war ships.  Kilmeade seems to go out of his way to blur the armament – several times he says ‘they had more cannons’ but no specifics.  First I thought he was dumbing it down for 12-year olds.  But then I remembered that I once was a 12-year old, and I would want to know that the Constitution was a 44-gun frigate, but the Philadelphia was a 36-gun frigate.  Instant strength stats.

 Kilmeade starts with a list of characters in the book that just adds to the confusion (e.g., Richard Dale and Stephen Decatur are not listed as a master of any ship, yet most others are, including Stephen’s brother James).  Compare with the list that starts The Pirate Coast, where the characters are categorized – including a category of ships!   With their armament!

One more example to demonstrate that this was written by naval neophytes:  on page 122, near bottom of page re the USS Philadelphia:  “One moment she was coursing through the sea at the land equivalent of roughly ten miles an hour…”  Say what?  Are we too dumb to say that the ship was traveling at 10 knots?  But even worse, ‘the land equivalent’ – does Kilmeade not think that 10 miles an hour is the same on land as on sea?  Unbelievable! 

Another place he actually mentions ceiling wax.  Ceiling wax?   What editor over the age of 12 would not know this should be sealing wax?

Presentation:  A few good things:  I liked the historic paintings and the maps – with one exception:  what was the story on the track of Decatur’s Intrepid in the chart on page 147:  It shows the Philadelphia ‘struck’ (surrendered) way up at top of chart, yet Intrepid sails all the way deep into the harbor?  To what end?  I thought they got away after the torching of the Philadelphia!  And we had an American Fort in Tripoli harbor?  Did you realize that?  This chart needed some serious explanations – at least for us 12-year olds.

However, I have numerous examples of where the book drops to a low level of writing.  Often he ‘interprets’ the officers feelings or thoughts, completely unnecessary.  Here is but one example, again I claim poorly written, from page 70:  “Dale hoped that the sight of the frigate, its hull lined with gun ports though which its dozens of guns could be seen, would inspire awe and deter the would-be pirates of all stripes from challenging unarmed American vessels.”  Note again that he doesn’t want to tell you exactly how many guns are actually there – does he consider this classified info?  This is written at some low level – I know that 5th graders would have no trouble with this.  But I consider it poor writing, reminding me of being 12-years old trying to fill out the 1000 word requirement on an English paper.

Many other things pissed me off.  Fortunately for you, I’m not going over all those.
Having said all that, I’m still glad I read this book as it inspired all this research by moi, and I learned many things from the book itself – such as the freedom of movement of officers that were captured by the pirates.  (Toll explains the parole papers that each officer had to sign, to allow such freedom – self-guaranteeing that he would not attempt escape.)  Final grade:  C-   and not recommended.

Note:  Each of these three books begins with an interesting historical anecdote:  Kilmeade’s book starts with the capture of Capt. Richard O’Brien and his crew, to be held for 10 years; The Pirate Coast starts with another pirate attack:  7 ships and 1000 pirates on an Italian port where they capture Christian women and children as slaves, and lists the Sura that justifies this; but Tull starts his book with 8 pages on Lord Nelson.  Why Lord Nelson?  Why indeed?  The guy was 5’ 6” and weighed 130 lbs.  Do we realize our enlisted Navy troops have 3 white stripes on their blue uniforms today to memorialize Lord Nelson’s three greatest sea battles; we should know what Trafalgar did to the naval power ambitions of Spain and France; and we should know that Britain had 800 warships at a time when we had but … Six Frigates.  Riveting stuff.  Tripoli starts on page 145.

I love getting emails... one of the best parts of writing, which is such a solitary occupation.

Anyhow, no I haven't compared my book to Kilmeade's. I am told there are many similarities. One pro-Zacks reader popped that exact question at a Kilmeade tour stop and BK answered gruffly. 
"Zacks's book is more detailed. Next question."

One cannot copyright history. I think he and his co-writer were too smart to plagiarize, so there's not much I can do.

All best,
Richard  [Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Coast]

               I was particularly sorry to miss our meeting  on Thursday because I had read the book a couple of months ago and enjoyed it.    In addition, Thomas Jefferson played a role in one of my brief articles in Mechanical Engineeringdevoted to history of technology.  Here is the URL.  It shows that Jefferson kept busy after the American revolution: 
               I still can’t explain what happened  on Thursday.  My Garmin GPS swore that I was at the  right address.  The number on the curb was right; apparently the address is ambiguous.  After unsuccessful attempts to get directions by phone,  I said the hell with it and went home. I didn’t feel particularly well, having numerous contusions from a bicycle accident that morning.
               Bob Woods