Thursday, August 14, 2008

World of Washington Irving (2)

Van Wyck Brooks
E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc.

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
"...Crockett won his election to telling a few good stories, after letting the other candidates wear out the crowd with oratory."

"As late as 1815, the President's wife was called 'her majesty.' "

"The Federalists perpetuated European forms; the Republicans devised and developed forms that sprang from the habits and history of the American people. They represented new men in a new world."

"Jefferson's new republic was a secession from the time-worn categories, kings, nobles, priests, burghers, artisans and peasants; and it place life on a new basis by affirming that 'a man's a man' and that the pursuit of happiness was every man's right. Now, much of this was old in theory, but what government had ever tried to carry it out in practice?"

"Meanwhile, the Hudson River Valley and all the country about New York teemed with the legends of the Dutch.... All these legends had been long current when Washington Irving, in 1800, made his first voyage up the Hudson...."

"For this was an age of letter-writing, preeminently so, and the sexes were equally accomplished in the epistolary art. Many novels were written in the form of letters....The highest of female accomplishments was to write a fine letter.... Aaron Burr excelled in the letters he wrote to his daughter, largely to instruct her in letter-writing."

"There was no one like Mike Fink for dodging snags, bark, islands of driftwood or for mastering the wild cross-currents of the Mississippi. He was the forerunner of the race of river pilots whom Mark Twain was to celebrate in after days" [in Life on the Mississippi].

"Thomas Paine in Common Sense proclaimed that the cause of America was the cause of mankind."

"Paine, in The Rights of Man, attacked the assumptions of hereditary government."

Joel Barlow had prophesied, "...the Americans would have forgotten how much they owed to Paine and would take him for an atheist and a drunkard. Indeed, he was taken for little or nothing else. In these fifteen years the mind of the country had changed in many ways, and he [Paine] might have been another Rip Van Winkle."

"Thus, unhonored, lived the man of whom Benjamin Franklin had said that, while others could rule and many could fight, 'only Paine could write for us.' "

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

World of Washington Irving

Van Wyck Brooks
E.P. Dutton & Compnay, Inc.

Why read it? To remind Americans of the struggle to define America, whether it would become just another imitation of a European state, or a country in which the people are responsible for its government. To remind Americans of the foundation for the American way of life, the period just beyond the "Declaration of Independence," the Revolutionary War and the constitution, 1800 to 1840. A new kind of history. Its title is deceptive, yet literal. The book is really about the WORLD of Washington Irving, rather than focusing on Irving himself. This book is about many people of Irving's time--writers, statesmen, naturalists, explorers and painters--who helped to open the American continent and define the government of America.

The author paints pictures of the times. The details are graphic and vivid. And he's also a name dropper and a gossiper. Almost anyone you have heard of or have not heard of from that period is in his book, usually accompanied by a brief biographical sketch with details you did not know. In addition to Irving, the following are the names of people and places that Brooks describes in detail in his history of American culture between 1800 and 1840:

Philadelphia; Parson Weems; Thomas Paine; Franklin; Benjamin Rush; Alexander Wilson (ornithologist); the Bartrams; Charles Brockden Brown (early novelist); New Jersey; New York; Lindley Murray (grammarian); Cooper; Freneau; Jefferson; Trumbull; Timothy Dwight; Connecticut; the South; South Carolina; Virginia; John Marshall; the frontier; Lewis and Clark; Paulding; Bryant; Charleston; South Carolina; Alabama; William Gilmore Simms; Poe; Davey Crockett; Schoolcraft (Indian lore); Ohio; the prairie; Andrew Jackson; NP Willis; the Hudson River Valley; Boston.

Man of the ideas of these Americans focused on politics: the enthusiasm of Americans for republics and democracy vs. those who admired European aristocracy. The Americans of that time knew what America was all about. Americans were "tired of kings." Between 1800 and 1840, America was defining itself, its people proud of their independence, their differences from European governments and proud of their society and geography. Many a writer of that period wrote travelogues to counter the negative messages about America from European visitors. But the essential political issue was the battle between the Federalists who did not trust the people to run their own government and the Republicans who did. Andrew Jackson, says Brooks, was the successor to Thomas Jefferson.

I found, as a reader, that with Van Wyck Brooks's style, I would begin to read his sometimes agonizingly long paragraphs and could not stop until the end of the paragraph. His paragraphs flow, uninterrupted, from beginning to end. Just as Emerson's style was the sentence, Brooks's style consists of the paragraph, mini-compositions within the chapters.

Brooks creates a tapestry of people, scenes, and ideas that help the reader to understand the culture of America between the 1800s and the 1840s. The struggle was between the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, who wanted to make America a duplicate of Europe, and the lovers of the republic, led by Jefferson. In those years, the direction of our government had not been finally decided.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Universe and Dr. Einstein (2)

Lincoln Barnett
New York: Time Inc. Book Division
1957 (1948)

Ideas and Quotes to Discuss
"From the outset, he [Barnett] realized he could not proceed at once to Princeton to interview Dr. Einstein, for he did not have the faintest notion of what questions to ask...." Editors of Time.

"...began to read everything he could find on Einstein and relativity." Editors of Time.

"In the midst of his researches, he began going to Princeton--not to see Einstein, but to see others who could prepare him to see Einstein." Editors of Time.

"The daring nature of Einstein's concepts, the revolution they had wrought in the entire structure of physical and philosophical thought, the radical way in which they had redesigned the architecture of the universe--all this somehow had to be communicated to a wider audience." Editors of Time.

"There are two reasons for writing a book on science for the general public.... to further man's understanding of the universe he lives in, whatever his background or education. Second is to encourage young people to study science by giving them a better appreciation of its importance and implications." Glenn T. Seaborg.

"In accepting a mathematical description of nature, physicists have been forced to abandon the ordinary world of experience, the world of sense perception."

"Questions involving the relationship between observer and reality, subject and object, have haunted philosophical thinkers since the dawn of reason."

"It is the mathematical orthodoxy of the universe that enables theorists like Einstein to predict and discover natural laws simply by the solution of equations."

"...the equations of quantum physics define more accurately than any mechanical model the fundamental phenomena beyond the range of vision...."

"Equations work, as the calculations which hatched the atomic bomb spectacularly proved."

"Nothing can ever move faster than light, no matter what forces are applied."

"...we can't feel our motion through space; nor has any physical experiment ever proved that the earth actually is in motion."

"Motion is a relative state...unless there is some system of reference to which it may be compared...."

"If matter sheds its mass and travels with the speed of light, we call it radiation or energy; and conversely, if energy congeals and takes on a different form, we call it matter.... Since July 16, 1945, man has been able to transform one into the other.... On that night at Alamogordo, New Mexico, man, for the first time transmuted a substantial quantity of matter into the light, heat, sound and motion which we call energy."

"In the Einstein universe there are no straight lines, there are only great circles.... Like most of the concepts of modern science, Einstein's finite spherical universe cannot be visualized.... Its properties can be described mathematically."

Einstein: "My religion...consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself into the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. ...deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God."

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Universe and Dr. Einstein (1)

Lincoln Barnett
New York: Time, Inc. Book Division
1957 (1948)

Why read it? Haven't you always wondered about what Einstein said concerning the universe? Well, after reading this book, you probably won't still be able to talk about it at cocktail parties, but Barnett does shed light on Einstein's ideas. And after you have read even these highlights, you will be struck with the wonder of the universe in which we live and the intellect and force that created it.

We can no longer know the reality of the world around us through our senses. It can only be described by mathematical equations. Equations were the method by which the atomic bomb was developed.

When man attempts to observe his universe, he changes it because he is part of that universe.

Since everything in the universe is moving there is no stationary frame of reference to use in measuring its motion.

Nothing moves faster than light.

E = MC squared. Mass becomes energy at the square of the speed of light and becomes radiation. "This extraordinary relationship becomes more vivid when its terms are translated into concrete values: i.e., one kilogram of coal (about two pounds), if converted entirely to energy, would yield 25 billion kilowatt hours of electricity or as much as all the power plants in the U.S. could generate by running steadily for two months."

"In other words matter is energy and energy is matter, and the distinction is simply one of temporary state. Matter and energy are interchangeable." Man turned mass into energy at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945.

Magnets do not attract. They create a field that operates on the piece of iron. Stars, the moon and other celestial objects also create fields.

The Einstein universe is curved, but can't be visualized, can only be described mathematically.

The process of finding the unity beneath reality began with the 90 elements, then reducing those to electromagnetic forces and then to space, time, matter, energy and gravitation; then Einstein in Special Relativity showed the equivalence of matter and energy and in General Relativity, the indivisibility of space and time. This urge to find the unity behind the variability of the universe is the passion of science and the human intellect. However, as this unity is discovered, reality becomes even more remote from direct experience.

Concepts like gravitation, electromagnetism, energy, current, momentum, the atom and the neutron are theoretical concepts that are metaphors, inadequately described, because we lack direct experience with them.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Soldier's Heart (2)

Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point
Elizabeth D. Samet
New York: Farrar, straus and Giroux

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
“The ‘uses’ of literature [at West Point] have always been more difficult to evaluate, the metrics for cultural awareness, empathy or knowledge of the human condition being far less precise than the moon’s diameter or the number of gallons in the reservoir.”

“A glance at entrance examinations from the early twentieth century reveals the kind of knowledge required to enter West Point. Applicants in 1927 had to identify in a ‘correctly constructed sentence’ each of the following; Christopher Marlowe, Sir roger de Coverley, Elia, Cordelia, Tom Jones, Anthony Trollope, Modern Painters, George Meredith, Henry Esmond and John Silver. I wonder how many high school seniors could identify those names today.”

“I don’t consider myself a ‘non-thinking slasher’…and I don’t think Iraq is going to turn me into one.”

“It is also true, perhaps to a degree remarkable given institutional history, that my being a woman is immaterial to many of my colleagues—or so it seems to me. In my department, if an opinion has merit, if an idea can help us better to accomplish the mission, then it doesn’t matter from whom it comes. The only thing that matters is your investment in and commitment to that mission.”

“The American army prides itself on the soldier’s ability to recognize immoral or unlawful orders: ‘I was just doing what I was told’ isn’t a satisfactory excuse.”

“Many of the sociological studies on combat motivation conducted in the decades after World War II suggested that soldiers fight for their own survival and for that of their comrades but only rarely for causes and ideals.”

Judge Louis Brandeis: “Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties…. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage t be the secret of liberty.”

Dan on the treatment of detainees: “My experience at least supports…[the] contention that the blame rests, rather on unclear policy and unclear or inappropriate guidance from higher up the chain…. My position now, after much reflection, is that we should be permitted to treat detainees in ways comparable to the ways we treat domestic criminals. If it is permitted in the domestic arena, it is probably okay with respect to detainees. If it is not permitted in the domestic arena, then we should not permit it towards detainees.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Soldier's Heart

Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point
Elizabeth D. Samet
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Why read it? The title of the book, Soldier’s Heart, refers to the symptoms of heart disease that appear in soldiers with post-traumatic disorders. They do not have physical heart disease. They do have a disease of the feeling, human heart.

The author, a female English teacher at West Point, who obviously has a close relationship with the institution and its students reveals much of what it is like to attend West Point—the rituals, the language, the culture of the military. Many of these details make fascinating reading.

Her subject, English, is out of keeping with the rest of the military training that makes up the cadets’ day. But the cadets’ interaction with the literature and the films to which she exposes them, is thoughtful, relating their lives and careers to the ideas of what they read and view. And it is a wide and varied range of literature and film that she uses.

So much of what she writes about is her interpretation of the institution and its training. The reader is taken inside its walls to view the scene from the point of view of the outsider who has willingly agreed to become an insider. She philosophizes about the psychology of the cadet, the duality of obedience and critical thought. She tries to reconcile the contradictions of the military mind. She deals with the many issues of what happens when free Americans volunteer to join the military.

As I read the book, looking for interactions with literature and life, I sometimes longed to be back in the classroom, but would I be allowed to create a culture that encouraged the personal relationship with literature as she was able to do? She taught the skills of reading literature, but she says little about explication, the isolated view of interpreting literature’s language and structure with no reference to the reader’s personality and experience. Throughout the book she refers to literary works that show the range of works she has read. One of her favorite authors, however, is General Ulysses S. Grant. In his books, he reflects thoughtfully on the military life. She not only teaches books, but she demonstrates what she has learned from them.

In my opinion, this interaction between literature and life is the only important reason for teaching literature. And it was the main reason for my purchasing this book. I was not disappointed. The author quotes from literary works and describes the responses of her students to literary works both in class and after graduation, including from the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The book strikes me as being somewhat like Moby Dick. In a way Moby Dick is about whaling, but that certainly is not the theme, which is the effect of one man’s obsession on those whom he leads. This book is about literature and its effects on the Cadets, but it is also about West Point and the life of the military and the effects of those institutions on the Cadets.

The author has her own agenda that has nothing to do with the theme of the book, the effects of literature on West Point cadets and graduates. For example she spends considerable time on the treatment of detainees during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While I agree with the position of the soldier she quotes on equating treatment of the detainees to the domestic treatment of prisoners in the States, it really has nothing to do with the effects of literature on the West Point cadet and graduate. Her agenda is larger than the stated theme of the book: “Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point.”

One of the interesting characteristics of her writing and teaching is the ways she can interrelate literary works from different eras and places. Truly impressive. She is an eclectic reader who can join the most disparate works by applying them to her themes with her cadets.

In the last chapter she reflects on how young the cadets are and the contrast with what waits for them after they graduate. But she has helped them to think about life and war through her reading literature with them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Underworld (2)

Don DeLillo
New York: Scribner

Ideas and Quotes to Discuss:
"...sees the great open horseshoe of the grandstand and that unfolding vision of the grass that always seems to mean he has stepped outside his life...."

"...he hears the warmup pitches crack into the catcher's mitt; a series of reports that carry a comet's tail of secondary sound."

"...little waxy napkins they got with their hot dogs...."

"...circus-catching dimes on the wing and then sailing peanut bags into people's chests."

"This is the nature of Thompson's homer: it makes people want to be in the streets, joined with others, telling others what happened, those few who haven't heard--comparing faces and states of mind."

"This is the day he has never shaken off, the final Sunday before the first Monday of school."

"You used to have the same dimensions as the observable universe; now you're a lost speck."

"She intended to meet her own end with senses intact, grasp it, know it finally, open herself to the mystery that others mistake for something freakish and unspeakable."

"...the energy that hurrying people make, lunch crowds and buses and bike messengers, all that consciousness powering down the narrow gorge of Manhattan...."

"They rode home on the Third Avenue El, rattlebanging up Manhattan and through the Bronx, looking out the train windows into tenement apartments on both sides, hundreds of film-flicking lives shooting past their eyes forty feet above the street..."

"He'd served in Vietnam, after all, where everything he'd ever disbelieved or failed to imagine turned out, in the end, to be true."

"...a dead afternoon in a dark bar was not the worst of fates."

" 'Let's go eat,' or whatever people say when a thing begins to be over."

"The serenity of immense design is missing from her life."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Underworld (1)

Don DeLillo
New York: Scribner

Why read it? Novel. When I worked as a k-12 language arts supervisor, I encountered a question from a parent that I did not answer satisfactorily. She asked me, "Why is all the literature we study in the secondary schools so depressing?" I gave her the standard answer, of course: even when concerned with tragedy, literature affirms life. That answer did not satisfy her. Well, this novel is another in the "Depressive" school of literature. And yet, it affirms life. It defines the people in the "underworld," the bottom of the social ladder, as depressed, helpless, hopeless and having no control of their lives. In other words, it's an attitude or mood that puts people in the dregs of society.

Don DeLillo is a good writer. The novel begins with Bobby Thompson's home run, the miracle home run that won the playoff for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. That baseball, seized by a kid playing hooky from school, seems to connect the stories throughout the book. The author goes on to highlight events in the second half of the twentieth century. The attitude toward life is pessimistic. All the characters are weary. The novel features both real and fictional characters, including Russ Hodges, baseball announcer; Frank Sinatra; Jackie Gleason; Toots Shor; Lenny Bruce, with lengthy excerpts from his routines--talk about a pessimistic view of life--and J. Edgar Hoover and his companion. [Remember, he was gay.]

The mood is weariness, pointless lives, meaningless sex.

But DeLillo writes vividly. He is able to capture the look and feel of a professional baseball game through the eyes of a kid; a ride on the elevated train; the teeming life and language of the tenement streets; walking out of a movie house into the glare of a sunny afternoon when you were a kid and the "movie was all around you"; and the little things in life that you noticed, but didn't remember until the author put them into words--and your memory.

But the mood defines the social class. Life goes on and on. It doesn't get any better. We live, but with no reason to live. We're not thinkers. We're feelers. Things happen and we feel. We don't control our destinies or any events in our daily lives. We're moved to action by emotion; we respond with emotion, not reason.

We lack even the purpose of an insect.

All things are connected.

I think that DeLillo does the reader a service by defining the lowest social class as victims of a mood. And in my mind, he raises the question, how far are the affluent classes from falling victim to the same mood?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle (2)

Washington Irving
New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
1802-1803 (1983)

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
"...the lady was seen, with the most bewitching languor, reclining on the arm of an extremely attentive beau, who, with a long cane...was carefully employed in removing every stone, stick or straw that might impede the progress of his tottering companion, whose high-heel'd shoes just brought the point of her toes to the ground."

"What husband is there but will look back with regret, to the happy days of female subjection."

"...the audience, who, I assure you, furnish no inconsiderable part of the entertainment [at the play]."

"I had got in the neighborhood of a very obliging personage, who had seen the play before, and was kindly anticipating every scene, and informing those about him what was to take place...."

"The even strive to be inattentive...propose a game or two of cards in the theater during the performance....."

"As to the dull souls who go for the sake of the play, why, if their attention is interrupted by the conversation of their neighbors, they must bear it with patience--it is a custom authorized by fashion. Persons who go for the purpose of chatting with their friends are not be deprived of their amusement."

Critics:"...the most 'presumptuous,' 'arrogant,' 'malevolent,' 'illiberal,' 'ungentleman-like,' 'malignant,' 'raucous,' 'villainous,' 'ungrateful,' 'crippled,' 'invidious,' 'detracting,' 'fabricating,' 'personal,' 'dogmatical,' 'illegitimate,' 'tyrannical,' 'distorting,' spindleshanked moppets, designing villains and upstart ignorants."

"Nothing is more intolerable to an old person than innovation...."

"...for this I can give no other excuse, than that it is the privilege of old folks to be tiresome...."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle (01).

Washington Irving
New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.
1802-1803 (1983)

Why read it? The years are 1802 and 1803 in America. The commentator is Jonathan Oldstyle, an older man, a conservative, someone who does not like innovation on old habits.

He sends letters to the editor, commenting on the fashions of the young, on the foppishness of young men, on the habits of playgoers, most of which modern readers will recognize in the movieplexes of today--except for cell phones, of course--and on the contemporary methods of dueling when pistols replaced swords, and other modes of dueling are not quite like what Abraham Lincoln used, cow flop, but are also designed to assure that no one is seriously hurt. It's all in good fun.

But since your reviewer is an old man--74 years old--he is sympathetic to the older point of view toward contemporary society and its youth and the manners of those who engage in social functions. If I were still teaching, I would set my young scholars to imitating the style of Mr. Oldstyle in studying today's fashions, youth and social gatherings.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793. (2)

JH Powell
New York: time Incorporated
1949 (1965)

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
"And two Negroes [Absalom Jones and Richard Allen], former slaves...the first to show that fear could be conquered by the spirit of Christian love."

"No conduct, however heroic, could expiate the original sin of a dark skin."

"A poor Negro named Sampson went from house to house caring for the sick and taking no reward. When he himself fell a victim of the fever, none of those he had helped would aid his family."

"That he [Dr. Rush] was wrong [in administering purging and bleeding],tragically, disastrously, frightfully wrong, everyone was not to realize for more than a century, nor shall we ever know how many lives his errors cost, but the courage he imparted to others was as healing as his purging and bleeding were undoubtedly destructive...."

"For Dr. rush stood forth unafraid in a community dominated by fear. There was only one doctor who would enter a fetid chamber, scorn all protections, sit on the edge of a vomit-soiled bed, smile cheerfully to the frightened patient, say blandly, 'You have nothing but a yellow fever.' "

"In doorways and alleys, in yards and courts, in open streets people lay dying," turned out of their houses by their families.

"Those who were in health one day were buried the next."

Symptoms: "...lassitude, glazed eyes, chills, fevers, headaches, nausea, retching, nosebleeds; yellow tinge in the eyeballs, puking, straining in the stomach; black vomit, hiccoughs, depression, comatose delirium, stupor, purplish discoloration of the whole body, death. Insanity was often the last stage of its horror."

"But from September 15 on, panic would meet its match in the leadership of three men--in Dr. Rush's serene confidence, in Stephen Girard's organizing genius, in Matthew Clarkson's cool and resolute determination. These were the leaders who refused to fear fear."

"There are heroisms unrecorded, great moments of beauty and courage that have left no trace, unknowable human experiences that could teach wisdom and understanding.... But history is always full of gaps."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793. (1)

J.H. Powell
New York: Time Incorporated
1949 (1965)

Why read it? The anatomy of a crisis. How this particular crisis--the yellow-fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793--was dealt with. Ultimately, it was not resolved by human effort, but by nature's change of seasons, the frost that killed the real culprit, the mosquito. But to some degree the crisis was dealt with by people.

The first need was firm leadership, in this case, the mayor of Philadelphia, Matthew Clarkson, who did not desert his duties or the city. Second was the need for organization--to identify the many complicated problems within the crisis and then to set out to deal with them in an organized and efficient manner, from picking up and burying the dead to managing a hospital, Bush Hill, away from the city. The need to deal with the many excuses or obstacles to getting things done. Ultimately, the greatest need was to give hope and confidence to both victims and survivors. How to deal with fear and panic. (Another example of the power of organization and firmness in making decisions can be found in John Hersey's Hiroshima about the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Japan.)

Help came from both well-known people and ordinary citizens who did not desert the city, including black people. Matthew Clarkson, the mayor, did everything he could to help organize its remaining citizens and Stephen Girard, the future philanthropist, organized and managed the hospital at Bush Hill. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were two of the many blacks who helped their white brethren. Also helpful was financial assistance from people, including those from outside the city, rural areas in Pennsylvania, and from other states, New Jersey and New York, in paying for needed services, like transporting and burying the dead. But these areas also refused to admit Philadelphians who, they thought, would infect their own inhabitants. The resistance to admitting Philadelphians, at times, bordered on persecutions.

What about the professionals in the field? Like doctors today, the doctors in this epidemic were able to agree on the description of the disease, but were bitterly antagonistic toward each others' theories about causes and suggested cures. The essential disagreement was whether the epidemic came from bodies (infectiousness) or from an external source, like the poisonous city fumes. Today, we know that the cause was from the bite of an infected female mosquito and that the infection cannot be spread from one person to another. The disease was not infectious.

In 1793, the theories of how to stop the epidemic were sometimes extraordinary: camphor, vinegar, wearing tarred ropes, shooting off guns to clear the air in and out of houses and burning bonfires in the streets and on street corners to clear the air. Common sense--like washing the streets and picking up the garbage--didn't help reduce the epidemic, but, from a sanitary point of view, improved the environment. When the federal government returned to the city at the end of the yellow fever epidemic, its members found clean streets.

In short, the professionals did not know and could not agree on the cause of the problem which they were trying to treat. The complex heroism of Benjamin Rush is an example. His extravagant purging and blood-letting were wrong and probably killed many more than he was able to cure, but his confidence, his assurance, his calmness, and his conviction that his methods were right gave confidence to his patients and to the rest of the surviving citizens who worshiped him. However, his bitter disagreements with his fellow professional physicians over his purge and bleed strategy, which he was absolutely sure was the best way for treating the illness, expended his valuable energy on anger and vituperation at the expense of his patients and of learning about the disease through cooperation with everyone trying to combat it.

What can we learn about dealing with crisis from reading this book about a crisis in Philadelphia in 1793? The leadership and decision-making must be firm, action must be organized and the goal must be to give survivors hope. Every effort must be made to resist panic. Professionals need to work together, rather than to antagonize each other by clinging to and arguing about unproven theories.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Travels with Charley. John Steinbeck (2)

New York: The Viking Press

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion:
“When you decide you want to get away from Here, you first have to find a reason.”

“…a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

“Next, I was told that a stranger’s purpose in moving about the country might cause inquiry or even suspicion. For this reason I racked a shotgun, two rifles, and couple of fishing rods in my truck, for it is my experience that if a man is going hunting or fishing his purpose is understood and even applauded.”

“A dog…is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree [“kind?”] of dog is that?’ ”

“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here…not toward something but away from something.”

“I also knew from thirty years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment. I must do what a friend calls ‘mull it over’ for a time before it goes down.”

“American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash—all of them—surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.”
“The dairy man had a Ph.D. in mathematics…. He liked what he was doing and he didn’t want to be somewhere else—one of the very few contented people I met in my whole journey.”

“It seems to me that coffee smells even better when the frost is in.”

“I soon discovered that if a wayfaring stranger wants to eavesdrop on a local population the places for him to slip in and hold his peace are bars and churches. But some New England towns don’t have bars and church is only on Sunday. A good alternative is the roadside restaurant where men gather for breakfast before going to work or going hunting.”

“I have found many readers more interested in what I (a writer) wear than in what I think, more avid to know how I do it than in what I do. In regarding my work, some readers profess greater feelings for what it makes than for what it says.”

“It might have been caused by the season with a quality of light, or the autumn clarity. Everything stood out separate from everything else, a rock, a rounded lump of sea-polished driftwood on a beach, a roof line. Each pine tree was itself and separate even if it was part of a forest…. The people have the same quality…. Surely I never met such ardent individuals.”

“A farmer in upper New York State painted the word cow in big black letters on both sides of his white bossy, but the hunters shot it anyway.”

“In establishing contact with strange people, Charley [my French poodle] is my ambassador…. A child can do the same thing, but a dog is better.”

Four lady mooses. Pressed the lever on the cattle caller and they all turned and came at me with romance in their eyes. “Four romances, each weighing well over a thousand pounds! And much as I favor love in all its aspects, I trod my accelerator and got the hell out of there fast.”

“I feel that there are too many realities. What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style.”

“Those great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the car behind and the side-mirror for the car or truck about to pass, and at the same time you must read all the signs for fear you may miss instructions or orders.”

“There’s one thing you can say about cars, there’s nearly always something wrong with them that got to be fixed.”

“It seems to me that regional speech is in the process of disappearing, not gone but going. Forty years of radio and twenty years of television must have this impact. Communications must destroy localness, by a slow, inevitable process.”

“I who love words and the endless possibility of words am saddened by this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of the poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless. Localness is not gone but it is going.”

“You know when show people come into what they call the sticks, they have a contempt for the yokels. It took me a little time, but when I learned that there aren’t any yokels I began to get on fine. I learned respect for my audience. They feel that and they work with me, and not against me. Once you respect them, they can understand anything you can tell them.”

“…a profession older than writing [acting] and one that will probably survive when the written word has disappeared. And all the sterile wonders of movies and television and radio will fail to wipe it out—a living man in communication with a living audience.”

The one-thousand mile retreat of the Nez Perces before the U.S. Army. Charles Erskine Scott Wood: “If they hadn’t had their families with them we could never have caught them…. And if we had been evenly matched in men and weapons, we couldn’t have beaten them. They were men…real men.”

“Again it might have been the American tendency in travel. One goes, not so much to see, but to tell afterward.”

“And that ancient law went into effect which says that when you need towns [on a trip] they are very far apart.”

“To me dawn and dusk are quiet times, and here in the Redwoods nearly the whole of daylight is a quiet time.”

“Sometimes the view of change is distorted by a change in oneself.”

“Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous.”

“My return caused only confusion and uneasiness. Although they could not say it, my old friends wanted me gone so that I could take my proper place in the pattern of remembrance—and I wanted to go for the same reason.”

“And the desert, the dry and sun-lashed desert, is a good school in which to observe the cleverness and the infinite variety of techniques of survival under pitiless opposition. Life could not change the sun or water the desert, so it changed itself.”

Black man avoids helping a drunken woman who has fallen flat on her face on an icy New York City sidewalk. He was afraid that she would yell rape if he helped her. “I’ve been practicing to be a Negro a long time.”

“I want to be very clear about one thing. I have not intended to present, nor do I think I have presented, any kind of cross-section so that a reader can say, ‘He thinks he has presented a true picture of the South.’ I don’t. I’ve only told what a few people said to me and what I saw. I don’t know whether they were typical or whether any conclusion can be drawn. But I do know it is a troubled place….”

“My own journey started long before I left, and was over before I returned. I know exactly where and when it was over. Near Abingdon, in the dog-leg of Virginia, at four o’clock of a windy afternoon, without warning or good-by or kiss my foot, my journey went away and left me stranded far from home. I tried to call it back, to catch it up—a foolish and hopeless matter, because it was definitely and permanently over and finished.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Travels with Charley. John Steinbeck. (1)

New York: The Viking Press

Why read it? I found out when I read the novel East of Eden, that John Steinbeck likes to philosophize and he does it well. He does it by the sentence. Brief. Concise. To the point. That makes Travels with Charley, a travelogue, I guess, the perfect vehicle for Steinbeck who can cross America and comment on what he finds, the people, the speech, the unforgettable characters and scenes. I thought of some other “travelogues” as I was reading it: Lolita (a novel by Nabokov) and On the Road (Kerouac). Both of those books conveyed impressions of Americans and American culture at a particular time.

For three-fourths of the book, I enjoyed the narrative of Steinbeck’s experience, his impressions and reflections. But it ends with the South—and then the book turns nasty. It’s the South I discovered when I made a trip across the country at the same time as Steinbeck, in 1960, the South that hates blacks with a vehemence and rage that stunned me and stunned Steinbeck, too. His reports of the use of the N-word, like Mark Twain’s in Huckleberry Finn, mean that I could not read the book as a teacher with middle-schoolers who would be the natural readers for it. It would be censored because that word encapsulates the feelings by some (?) people of the South.

Steinbeck’s narrative is as much about the nature of travel as it is about what he has rediscovered from his journey across America. His impressions of driving the super highways. Maine. Montana. The Mohave Desert. The people he met. But he knew when his trip was over. He knew the trip was finished at the very place and time it was finished before it was officially finished. I think his experience with travel is symbolic of careers and even living. We know when we are finished.

Steinbeck offers a few ideas that are thought-provoking. Otherwise, the narrative isn’t deep. But it is entertaining—until he reaches the South. He says he is not drawing conclusions about the nature of the people in the South. But it is hard not to. A very disturbing finish to an otherwise idyllic trip across America.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Memento Mori. Muriel Spark (2)

New York: Time Incorporated
1958 (1964)

Ideas and Quotes to Discuss
"I've quite decided to be cremated when my time comes. Cleanest way. Dead bodies under the ground only contaminate our water supplies."

"There is a time for loyalty and a time when loyalty comes to an end."

"If you look for one frequently find another."

"He [Godfrey] was all the more disturbed by Charmian's increasing composure. It was not that he wished his wife any harm, but his spirits always seemed to wither in proportion as hers bloomed."

Godfrey: "...having made the mistake of regarding Charmian's every success as his failure."

"The ward lay till morning, still and soundless, breathing like one body instead of eleven."

"I would be glad to be let die in peace. But the doctors would be horrified to hear me say it. They are so proud of their new drugs and new methods of treatment--there is always something new. I sometimes fear, at the present rate of discovery, I shall never die."

"As we get older these affairs of the bladder and kidneys do become so important to us."

"If the book does nothing else, it demonstrates how hard it is to approach tranquility at the end of a long life marked by the deceits, subterfuges and willful departures from ordinary decency that plague all men at all times."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Memento Mori. Muriel Spark. (1)

New York: Time Incorporated
1958 (1964)

Why read it? Novel. If, as a young person, you think old people (over 70) live out their old age serenely, reflecting comfortably on their positive experiences over the years, this novel depicts a very different existence--fretful, self-absorbed, worried about trivial circumstances, hyper-critical of other old people, noting their mental instability, reflecting on affairs and embarrassments during the years, using their wills to retain influence over people looking for their inheritance, problems with their bladders, taking pills, no longer valued for their knowledge and as important individuals, wildly suspicious and swiftly dying off because of medical and other causes, including violence and car collisions. Spark writes with a dead-pan, blank expression as she states matter-of-factly what the characters think, say and do. The result is hilarious--and irreverent--and true to life.

The novel centers around the anonymous caller(s) who phones to say, "Remember that you must die" ("Memento Mori"). The old people who receive these calls describe the caller(s) as of different ages and even sexes. The statement is a matter of fact--you old people must remember that you are going to die. And they do. One after another. The police believe that the calls are the old people's hallucinations. Could it be a case of mass hysteria? Could it be themselves reminding themselves unconsciously that they know they must die? The caller is never identified, but Alec Warner is a suspect because he takes notes on every one of his friends and acquaintances, in the end even wanting to know if the death was a good one or a bad one and even asking them to take pulse and temperature before and after the bad news he has given them.

Two sets of old people in the novel--wealthy aristocrats and old women in a nursing home, the "Grannies." The wealthy have had affairs among themselves that they are trying to keep from being revealed. Then there are relationships with their servants who know all that they did--and Mrs. Pettigrew, the professional maid, who moves from one wealthy family to another and who gradually encourages them to leave their wealth to her And Charmian, successful writer, and her husband, Godfrey, who have both had affairs, thinking that the other did not know. But their servants and most of their acquaintances did.

The "Grannies" battle the nursing staff and themselves. "Sister Bastard." "Sister Lousy." Miss Taylor, former maid to Charmian, seems to be the voice of a clear, objective intelligence and common sense.

Old age, according to this novelist is a fitful, confusing mix of feelings, memories, incapacities and, at last, death. It is not serenity.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tales of the South Pacific. James Michener. (2)

New York: Fawcett
1946 (1974)

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion:
"I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting."

" 'Why hell!' the Major snorted. 'Seems all he did was sit on his ass and wait.' "
" 'That's exactly it!' I cried...."

Dinah: "No wonder I never got married. I guess God made a mistake and gave me a brain."

"Great lights flashed through the dark waters. Japs and their ships were destroyed without mercy. Our men did not lust after the killing. But when you've been through the mud of Guadal and been shelled by the Japs night after night until your teeth ached; when you've seen the dead from your cruisers piled...and your planes shot down and your men dying from foes they've never seen; when you've seen good men wracked with malaria but still slugging it out in the jungle...."

The "remittance man," a nondescript, but courageous Englishman, a coast watcher who reported to the Americans on Jap troop and ship movements, is shot, tortured and slaughtered by the Japs: "American peoper! You die!"

"Suicide runs--you get some Nips, but you lose some bombers and their crews. And eventually, you can bomb with impunity--they're the milk runs."

"If you sit at home and read that two hundred and eighty-one men die in taking an island, the number is only a symbol for the mind to classify. But when you stand at the white crosses, the two hundred and eighty-one dead become men: the sons, the husbands and the lovers."

"I wondered where the men would come from to take Commander Hoag's place. Throughout the Pacific, in Russia, in Africa, and soon on fronts not yet named, good men were dying. Who would take their place? Who would marry the girls they would have married? Or build the buildings they would have built? Were there men at home ready to do Hoag's job? And Cable's? And Tony Fry's?"

"It was then I learned that Harbison had been saved in a life raft. He spent most his time expressing his desire to fight the Japs. But when his unit was about to be moved up to take the island of Kuralei, he arranged in four days to have himself sent back to New Mexico for 'rest and rehabilitation.' He thus avoided the slaughter."

Chaplain: "Brave people are dying throughout the world. And brave people live after them."

Officer, Captain Kelley, creates the discipline that will help when the men are involved in war. "We will shortly be faced with responsibilities almost beyond our capacity to perform. At that time there will be no place for weaklings." But he uses humiliation and "chicken shit'" as his preponderant tool for achieving that discipline. In the process, he breaks the spirit of the unit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tales of the South Pacific. James Michener. (1)

New York: Fawcett
1946 (1974)

Why read it? Series of short stories based on incidents experienced by the author when he served in the South Pacific during WWII. The theme is waiting, the endless waiting, to see action. The waiting occurred because the islands leading toward the Japanese mainland had to be staffed and prepared for the string of attacks on islands nearer the Japanese mainland. In fact, the planning, including the medical planning in anticipation of certain types of wounds, is absolutely amazing. It made me think that what won WWII was superior planning and organizing--and waiting (or patience).

The author describes the beauty of the South Seas, the characters, the interaction between the military and the natives, the courage of people like the British "remittance man," who reported on Japanese troop and ship movements to the U.S. military until he was tracked down and butchered by the Japanese. The battle scenes are vivid and memorable and so are the actions of soldiers, sailors and airmen doing the job they were asked to do.

And then there was the Japanese honor graduate of Cal Tech who planned the Japanese defense of the island of Kuralei and the mad Japanese soldier who held a hand grenade to his chest and blew not only himself but Commander Hoag, a leader whom his men respected, into the next world. And the Christmas Eve service where the men were told that they were going to be the group to hit the next beach and the men cheered.

The experience of WWII in the Pacific is best summed up by Michener on page 12: "They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific.... They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge."

But this book will keep these men and women who served in the South Pacific and the environment in which they lived alive as long as people will read it.

Next: Ideas and Quotes for Discussion.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Roderick Hudson. Henry James (3)

New York: The Library of America
1876 (1983)

Note: I could choose many more quotes from the pages of Roderick Hudson, but today's and the preceding day's quotes should give you a flavor of the one-sentence quips and ideas that James makes use of in the pages of his novels.

205 Mr. Striker: “After he has been looking three or four years [at antiques]….” Rowland: “He studies the living model.”

207 “…a lawyer whose conversational tone betrayed the habit of cross-questioning.”

215 “But I have the misfortune to be a rather idle man, and in Europe the burden of idleness is less heavy than here [in America].”

216 “Don’t you know how to do anything? Have you no profession?...What do you do all day?” Rowland: “Nothing worth relating. That’s why I am going to Europe. There, at least if I do nothing, I shall see a great deal; and if I’m not a producer, I shall at any rate be an observer.”

216 Miss Garland: “Do you mean to do a great deal for him?” Rowland: “What I can. But my power of helping him is very small beside his power of helping himself.”

220 Roderick on leaving Miss Garland at home in Northampton to go to Europe: “We shall be condemned for some time to come, to do a terrible deal of abstract thinking about each other.”

222 “Rowland went off envying the intellectual comfort of genius, which can arrive at serene conclusions without disagreeable processes.”

223 “Success is only passionate effort.”

224 “You’re a better Catholic than the Pope.”

224 “The curious thing is that the more the mind takes in, the more it has space for.”

225 “…there was an indefinable expression of experience rapidly and easily assimilated.”

226 “Rowland told him that when he turned sculptor a capital novelist was spoiled.”

226 “And surely youth and genius, hand in hand, were the most beautiful sight in the world.”

227 “He declared that Rome made him feel and understand more things than he could express….”

234 “…one more example of Yankee crudity, a capital recruit to the great army of those who wish to dance before they can walk.”

238 “…and looking up at him as if Roderick were himself a statue on a pedestal.”

239 “She talked in a sweet, soft voice…and made literary allusions.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Roderick Hudson. Henry James (2)

New York: The Library of America
1876 (1983)

Ideas and Quotes to Discuss:

167 “Rowland Mallet had an uncomfortable sensitive conscience…and his visits to Cecilia were rare because she and her misfortunes were often uppermost in it.”

168 “And in truth, with his means, his leisure, and his opportunities, what had he done? He had an unaffected suspicion of his uselessness.”

168 ‘What is it you mean to do in Europe?’ she asked lightly.” Rowland: “Why very much what I do here…no great harm.”

170 “[Rome]…is evidently only a sort of idealized form of loafing: a passive life in Rome, thanks to the number and the quality of one’s impressions, takes on a very respectable likeness to activity. It is still lotus-eating, only you sit down at table, and the lotuses are served up on rococo China.”

171 “I am tired of myself, my own thoughts, my own affairs, my own eternal company. True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of one’s self; but the point is not only to get out—you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.”

171 “…I spend my days groping for the latch of a closed door.”

171 “What an immense number of words…to say you want to fall in love.”

174 “…he felt the friction of existence more than was suspected….”

185 “Sculpture, to her [Roderick’s mother’s] mind, is an insidious form of immorality.”

185 “Then his mother, as she one day confessed to me, has a holy horror of a profession which consists exclusively…in making figures of people without their clothes on.”

187 “It’s a wretched business…this practical quarrel of ours with our own country, this everlasting impatience to get out of it.”

193 “It’s rather a hard fate, to live like a saint and to pass for a sinner.”

199 “Perhaps you believe in the necessary turbulence of genius….”

204 “Mrs. Hudson…looked painfully perplexed between the desire to confess the truth and the fear of being impolite.”

205 “How do you study sculpture, any how?” “By looking at models and imitating them.”

205 Mr. Striker: “An antique, as I understand it…is an image of a pagan deity, with considerable dirt sticking to it, and no arms, no nose, and no clothes.”

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Roderick Hudson. Henry James. (1)

New York: The Library of America
1876 (1983)

Why read it? Novel. Why read any Henry James novel or story? The insightful ideas about human relationships. The wit, the cleverness, the surprise at the language. Almost like Emerson, James writes in the sentence. It’s like an evening with Oscar Wilde. The characters take their shape. They don’t move very often. They talk. But clever talk it is.

That’s why I read Roderick Hudson.

Roderick Hudson is an egotist who manipulates people. We all know the type. It’s probably one part of all our personalities. He makes no attempt to hide his self-absorption. He makes no attempt to hide his making use of other people. In telling the story, James gives the reader some not-too-sophisticated insights into the world of sculpting. And of Rome and of Florence and of Switzerland, and Northampton, Massachusetts, by contrast with the former.

Plot Summary: Wealthy, idle, Rowland Mallet befriends a young, egotistical, brilliant sculptor in Northampton, Massachusetts, America, Roderick Hudson, taking him to Rome to study antique statuary, where he creates several small works that are well received by experts in the arts. He falls in love with a beautiful young European woman who teases him, then is attracted to him, but marries a prince.

In the meantime, Rowland has fallen in love with Roderick’s fiancĂ©e, Mary Garland, with no apparent reciprocity.

Roderick has become so infatuated with Christina Light that at her invitation, he wants to follow her and her prince even though they have been married. He needs money. Rowland, who has freely given what Roderick has asked for, as his patron, feeling that this is a destructive course of action, withholds it. In the course of a long discussion, Rowland tells Roderick that he is a selfish, spoiled child, and then admits he loves Mary Garland, Roderick is surprised, and walks thoughtfully off into the Swiss Alps from which he does not return. Whether on purpose or by accident, he has fallen to his death at the height of a thunderstorm.

Rowland who has generously supported Roderick, his mother and Mary Garland, pays their passage back to Northampton, Massachusetts. When he visits Mrs. Hudson and Mary, Mrs. Hudson, who blames Rowland for Roderick’s death, will not see him, but Mary does. And Rowland waits, perhaps forever, and probably in vain, for Mary Garland to return his love.

Roderick is a spoiled brat genius. Rowland is the uncomplaining supportive patron who accepts all of Roderick’s sleights without showing any resentment. Roderick basks in the worship and adulation of his friends and uses them or disposes of them at whim. He cares only for his own feelings, never for the feelings of anyone else. Rowland, Roderick’s mother and Miss Garland think they own and control Roderick, but they don’t. They are owned and manipulated by Roderick.

At one point in the dialogue, it becomes a contest to learn how little these people say they care for each other. Everyone cares for Roderick; he cares not a tittle for anyone but Christina Light, and the rest of them go out of their way to insist that they couldn’t care less for anyone but Roderick. Rowland and Mary Garland have sacrificed everything for Roderick, who nonchalantly goes away to fall off a mountain as if in dying, he has given his final reward for all of their concern.

This novel is James’s first or second [I think Watch and Ward was his first] novel. It will be interesting to see how the focus of his novels shifts as James grows in his art. One thing I will say for Henry James in his early stages: he is fun to read, if only for the one- or two-sentence insights into life, character and relationships that he drops into his sometimes very long paragraphs.

Tomorrow: Ideas and Quotes to Discuss.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

New York: Penguin Books

Why read it? Do you think every Muslim is a potential terrorist? You need to read this book. You need to become familiar with the moderate Muslims, the Muslims who live in the mountains of Pakistan, impoverished, illiterate people who don't have any chance for an education, except an education that teaches terrorism.

Greg Mortenson learned the following about Muslims: The faith of the Muslims is devout. Their greatest virtue is patience in fulfilling the will of Allah. They respect the land. They believe that humans and nature are one. They oppose Western lasciviousness. They desperately want a "balanced" education for their children.

In return for their kindness to him after he arrived in Korphe, exhausted from a failed mountain climb, Greg Mortenson promised to build them a school--a school especially for girls. Schools--that's how Greg Mortenson thinks the U.S. should be responding to 9/11. Let the Muslims learn what Americans are really like as Mortenson learned about the Muslims. A military solution will not reduce or eliminate terrorism. Schools will. That is Greg's credo. He has built 53 of them in Pakistan.

The greatest lesson Mortenson learned was to understand the differences in culture between Muslim patience and American impatience. Greg wanted the school built yesterday. The mountain people had the immense patience to know that they needed a bridge first in order to transport the supplies to build the school over the river instead of one piece of material at a time, in turn, carried in a jerrybuilt box swaying over the river, which could result in the loss, not only of the materials, but also of human life.

What exactly is a "balanced" education? What is the curriculum? I guess that question comes because I am an educator who wonders how I would provide a balanced education--with my American ideals--in a radically different culture. I think the answer is crucial to mutual understanding of two different cultures. And maybe I suspect that the two cultures can never really mix. They must learn, instead, to respect each other, though their attitudes toward life are in some ways significantly different.

The book reads fast. Many incidents are fascinating--stories within stories. The time-tested formula of overcoming adversity repeats itself. One crisis finished, another begins. Enjoyed the epigraphs before each chapter, echoing ancient philosophy, usually expressing patience, the will of Allah and a oneness between humanity and nature.

For Greg Mortenson schools and universal literacy are the cure for terrorism. Mortenson believes that education will give children reasons to live rather than only to die committing terroristic attacks.

Ideas and Quotes to Discuss:

"With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don't envy you your restless spirits. Perhaps we are happier than you. But we would like our children to go to school. Of all the things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children." --Conversation between Sir Edmund Hillary and Urkien Sherpa, from Schoolhouse in the Clouds.

"He [Haji Ali] picked up his dog-eared, grease-spotted Koran and held it before the flames. Do you see how beautiful this Koran is? ...I can't read it.... I can't read anything. This is the greatest sadness in my life. I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling. I'll pay any price so they have the education they deserve."

Haji Ali: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to anything, even die."

Americans must read this book.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Up the Organization Robert Townsend.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Why read it? A common-sense (to me) book abut how to help organizations succeed by treating employees as people, not "personnel." Townsend's theme is getting things done through organizations. The best leader is the one who, when people are successful, they say, "We did it" and do not know they have been led. Decisions are made by one person who is in charge, but the leadership can be transferred from one person to another depending on the situation, the types of problems and the decisions that have to be made. The model for organizations is a round table. Stop using the organizational system of the Catholic Church and the Roman legions.

The author seems to stand conventional wisdom on its head. Most organizations don't change. Most organizations go on and on in the same ways, ways that eventually make the organizations no longer effective. CEOs should leave after five or six years because they become stale and ritual believers in their own cliches, even if their ideas in the beginning were revolutionary.

Ideas and quotes for discussion:
"Fear of punishment is not an effective motivator."

"The best objectives are short enough to be memorable and don't have to be written down."

"The best organizations put people in a position to grow."

"Tight budgets may constrain, but they produce creative ways to achieve results."

"You have to give up being an administrator who loves to run others and become a manager who carries water for his people so they can get on with the job."

"People don't hate work. It's as natural as rest or play. They don't have to be forced or threatened. If they commit themselves to mutual objectives, they'll drive themselves more effectively than you can drive them. But they'll commit themselves only to the extent they can see ways of satisfying their egos and development needs."

"People who are good at what they do in the field may not be good managers, a leadership position that involves a different set of skills."

"Admit mistakes openly." The author says that 2/3 of the decisions he made at Avis were mistakes.

"The greatest sin is hubris, becoming overconfident when things are going well."

Two types of meetings: information and problem-solving. End on time or earlier. One-page minutes on the same day of the meeting. Don't announce what you're going to do. Gives people time to build up their resistance. Just do it.

"A good manager doesn't try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of the people."

Keep copies of the worst letters written by employees and rewrite them. After collecting a dozen or so, talk to your employees about how you improved them. Their letters will get better.

"Ideas are good for a limited time--not forever."

Lao-Tzu: "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate...."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Under the Banner of Heaven. Jon Krakauer.

New York: Anchor Books

Why read it? A study in extremism. While this book is primarily about Mormon fundamentalists (read, believers in polygamy, which mainstream Mormons do not accept today), it is also a history of Mormonism. Hard to believe that people would be credulous enough to accept Joseph Smith's account of the Angel Moroni and the golden plates which he translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics by means of magic glasses and a magic stone.

While Krakauer's book suggests some reasons for the appeal of Mormonism--the close relationship with God, the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, the clear statement of what is good and what is evil, the desire to submit to authority, thus removing the uncertainty and discomfort of having to make individual decisions--I still fail to understand why people are attracted to the religion. And they are. Along with Islam, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing world religions. Like Islam's Koran, Mormon scripture purports to be the actual word of God.

Religions take the characteristics of their founders and, in the case of the Mormons, Joseph Smith gave to his followers a belief in personal revelations from God and a culture of violence.

Some Quotes and Ideas to Discuss:
John Taylor, Jan. 4, 1889: "God is greater than the United States, and when the government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the government. I defy the United States; I will obey God."

Judge Bullock: "In my twelve years as a judge, I have never presided over a trial of such a cruel, heinous, pointless and senseless a crime as the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty. Nor have I seen an accused who had so little remorse of feeling." [God told him to do it.]

"Faith-based violence was present long before Osama bin Laden, and it will be with us long after his demise."

"In any human endeavor, some fraction of its practitioners will be motivated to pursue that activity with such concentrated focus and unalloyed passion that it will consume them utterly. One has to look no further than individuals who feel compelled to devote their lives to becoming concert pianists say, or climbing Mount Everest. For some, the province of the extreme holds an allure that's irresistible."

"Extreme and bizarre religious ideas are so commonplace in American history that it is difficult to speak of them as 'fringe'...."

"...sermons frequently stress the need for total submission. 'I want to tell you that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience.... Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.' "

"David Leavitt doesn't consider Green's plural marriages a matter of religious freedom or a harmless sexual relationship between consenting adults. Leavitt views Green as a pedophile, plain and simple. 'He preyed on little girls who, from the cradle, knew no other life but polygamy.... He robbed them of their childhood.... They are victims of pedophiles.' "

"What goes on in our homes here is nobody's business," asserts Sam Roundy, Colorado City's polygamous police chief. "We're not infringing on anybody. Don't we have the right to practice our religion?"

"But polygamy is a crime in all fifty states as well as in Canada, and police officers are sworn to uphold the law."

"Mormonism is a patriarchal religion, rooted firmly in the traditions of the Old Testament. Dissent isn't tolerated. Questioning the edicts of religious authorities is viewed as a subversive act that undermines faith. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over."

"As for Brian David Mitchell, in the days following his arrest [for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart] he steadfastly insisted that he had done nothing wrong, arguing that forcing a fourteen-year-old girl into polygamous bondage was not a criminal act because it was a 'call from God.' "

"I do not believe that zealots are mentally ill, per se. A zealot is simply someone who has an extreme, fervently held belief and is willing to go to great lengths to impose those beliefs, act on those beliefs. I guess my actual the existence of an extreme religious, personal or political belief system is not, per se, an indication of mental illness."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Harry S. Truman by Margaret Truman.

New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc.

Why read it? Some of the highlight events of Truman's Presidency were his sudden assumption to the Presidency, negotiations with Churchill and Stalin, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the shift from a war-time to a peace-time economy, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin blockade, Palestine, the Korean War and the dismissal of MacArthur. While these facts are carefully documented in his own memoirs, Margaret Truman, his daughter, shows the human side of the President, his feelings under the pressure of events during his Presidency. She also provides a good summary of the events and the principal people involved in them. She shows his sense of humor, his pride in his family, and his knowledge of history that often served to guide his actions.

She shows the man behind the scenes, because Harry S. Truman never said in public what he was really feeling. And as a politician, he expended a lot of emotion on people who disagreed with him and who double crossed him on issues he cared greatly about.

I have no doubt that Harry S. Truman is one of the five or six great presidents in American history. Any person in a leadership role can learn much about leadership in a democratic organization by studying the leadership principles of Harry S. Truman as revealed in his own memoirs and this biography by his daughter. I was struck again and again by how often the principles of Truman and JFK were similar and suspect that Truman's apparent dislike of JFK was rooted in the differences between Truman's blue-collar background and self education and JFK's Ivy League education and affluent background. In fact, Truman had said about Adlai Stevenson, when talk turned to who should be Truman's successor, "I don't believe the people of the United States are ready for an Ivy Leaguer." I don't know how much JFK modeled his presidency on Truman's, but their leadership styles resembled each other a great deal.

For example, Truman and Kennedy clearly thought through the purposes for their decisions and explained those purposes. They were both plain speaking, saying directly what they thought. They could both be patient and negotiate tirelessly with their antagonists. They both had to deal with the deadening thinking of the "permanent government," the State Department, etc. Both were undermined by the members of that "permanent government." They both believed in educating the public about their decisions.

They both recognized the limitations of the power of the presidency.

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
HST: "On that trip coming home I ordered the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a terrible decision. But I made it. And I made it to save 250,000 boys from the United States and I'd make it again under similar circumstances. It stopped the Jap War."

"Admiral Leahy...pointed out that in the bloody Okinawa campaign just ending, American losses (41,700) had been 35% of the attacking force. The Japanese still had an estimated 5,000 planes ready for kamikaze assaults. There were an estimated 2,000,000 troops in the Japanese home islands. Facing the Americans in Kyushu would be seventeen well-equipped battle-ready divisions."

"On both Kyushu and Honshu [islands in Mainland Japan], Japan's soldiers would, if their performance on Okinawa was any indication, fight with total fanaticism to defend their sacred home soil. Based on this assumption, General George C. Marshall predicted total American dead on land and sea might reach 500,000 men."

HST: "I believe in the brotherhood of man, not merely the brotherhood of white men but the brotherhood of all men before the law.... In giving the Negro the rights which are theirs we are only acting in accord with our ideals of a true democracy."

"HST's image was that of the average man. But 'average' did not mean mediocrity."

HST on his Cabinet: "I told the Cabinet members the story about President Lincoln--when he was discussing the Proclamation--every member of his cabinet opposed him in making the Proclamation. He put the question up to the whole Cabinet and they voted no. That is very well the President said. I vote yes. That is the way I intend to run this [his Cabinet]."

HST: "Even though Soviet leaders profess to believe that the conflict between capitalism and communism is irreconcilable, and must eventually be resolved by the triumph of the latter, it is our hope that they will change their mind and work out with us a fair and equitable settlement when they realize we are too strong to be beaten and too determined to be firghtened."

HST on the difference between communism and democracy: "Communism is based on the belief that man is so weak and inadequate that he is unable to govern himself, and therefore requires the rule of strong masters. Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and intellectual govern himself with reason and justice."

HST: "A President may dismiss the abuse of scoundrels, but to be denounced by honest men, honestly outraged, is a test of greatness that none but the strongest men survive."

"Most important was not failure, but the way HST handled it."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Uncommon Wisdom of JFK. Eds. Bill Adler and Tom Folsom.

New York: Rugged Land, LLC

Why read it? John Kennedy was a prolific reader. He thought deeply about government and life. He fully appreciated that America was a model for free societies. If America failed, society based on freedom would also fail. He appreciated the transience of life and was fully conscious that the effects of a World War III could obliterate the earth. They were the times in which he lived and governed.

Ideas and Quotes for Discussion
"If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help."

"A man does what he must--in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures--and that is the basis of all human morality."

"Every man is an enigma."

"If we fail, then freedom fails."

"What we do in this country, the kind of society we build, that will tell whether freedom will be sustained around the world."

"The great trouble with American politics today is that we talk in slogans."

"The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life."

"Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."

"All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days, nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime. But let us begin."

"The mere absence of war is not peace."

"Total war makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air force in the the Second World War."

"Freedom is not merely a word or an abstract theory, but the most effective instrument for advancing the welfare of man."

"I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit."

Monday, June 30, 2008

This Side of Paradise. F. Scott Fitzgerald.

New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
1929 (1948)

Why read it? Novel. The contrast between the superficial college kid whose main interest was flirting with girls as he attends Princeton and world-weary, cynical, regretful, not-yet-thirty-year-old after serving as an officer in France during WWI. The novel is remarkable for its honest and detailed descriptions of the early "Jazz Age," the "Lost Generation." The book established Fitzgerald's reputation.

Some ideas or quotes for discussion:
"Experience is the name so many people give to their mistakes." Oscar Wilde.

"I've got an adjective that just fits you--one of his favorite starts--he seldom had a word in mind, but it was a curiosity provoker, and he could always produce something complimentary if he got in a tight corner."

"The chief characteristic of the big man seemed to be a great confidence in himself set off against a tremendous boredom with everything around him."

About Rosalind:
"But all criticism of Rosalind ends in her beauty."

"When I meet a man that doesn't bore me to death after two weeks, perhaps it'll be different."

"You've made me talk about myself.... That's against the rules."

"Men aged forty-five know life and are so adorably tired looking."

"I have to be won over again every time you see me."

"Clever men are usually so homely."

About Amory:
"Probably more than any concrete vice or failing, Amory despised his own personality--he loathed knowing that tomorrow and the thousand days after he would swell pompously at a compliment and sulk at an ill word."

"He began for the first time in his life to have a strong distrust of all generalities and epigrams."

"He found something that he wanted...not to be admired...not to be loved...but to be necessary to people, to be indispensable."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Twelve Moons of the Year. Hal Borland.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Why read it? Each Sunday, Hal Borland published essays on the editorial page in the New York Times on the seasons in Connecticut where he lived. He wanted to show New Yorkers that there was life outside of New York City. These essays are beautifully written short gems with not a word wasted, describing the changing seasons in rural New England. He expresses the spirit of the seasons using all of the senses. His essays in the book, one for each day of the year, are "sheer celebrations of life."

The following sentences taken from the essays for each month of the year should cause you to recall your own memories of each season.

January: "January can be cold, raw, bitter, icy, edged with a wind that chills the marrow and congeals the blood."

February: "We can split atoms, send rockets to the moon, fly faster than sound, but we still can't subdue a blizzard."

March: "March means maybe, but don't bet on it. There are no rules for March. March is spring, sort of, usually."

April: "By April you begin to see the buds against the sky."

May: "May is apple blossoms and lilacs, and if any other month can surpass that combination we have yet to learn its name."

June: "The world is new and young in the June dawn, fresh and sweet and almost innocent."

July: "By the first week in July the day lilies at the roadside and the brown-eyed Susans in the old pastures splash the countryside with Van Gogh orange."

August: "August comes with hot days, warm nights, a brassy sun, and something in the air, perhaps the season itself, that begins to rust the high hung leaves of the elms. The night still twinkles with fireflies but the day's heat lingers and the air has a dusty August scent, the smell of languid summer."

September: "September comes, and with it a sense of autumn. Summer thins away."

October: "October...crisp nights, mild days, and the whole satisfaction of ripeness and achievement. October is the glory and the magnificence of the year's late afternoon."

November: "November is simply that interval between colorful October and dark December. The owls are the voices of November nights...a chilly sound, a dark and frosty sound that hints of ice and snow...a fireside sound, one that goes with wood smoke and sheltered evenings...winds that rattle the latch. November brings long, chill nights of glittering stars and restless whispery leaves."

December: "December...winter's moon with more than fourteen hours of darkness to rule in cold splendor. Behind the vanished complexity of leaf and blossom is the greater complexity of their source.... Those stark winter trees...are already budded with next April's leaves...the ultimate riddle of complexity, for it is the root of life itself."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The True Believer. Eric Hoffer.

New York: Time Incorporated
1951 (1963)

Why read it? Hoffer has thought deeply about mass movements and seems to put those thoughts on paper in a random fashion. What's missing is transitions from one paragraph to another. However, the ideas from paragraph to paragraph are connected. The reader has to make the connections. In Hoffer's opinion, "True Believers" are frustrated people who seek to lose their personalities in a cause, any cause, for which they are willing to do anything, even give their lives. Hoffer explores the many implications of this type of personality.

Ideas and quotes from the book for discussion:
"Hoffer's hero is the 'the autonomous man,' the confident man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.' "

" 'The true believer'...begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future good."

"...spoiling the present with dreams of the future."

"In our world, frustration is the inescapable and unendurble fate of the many; they can break away from this fate only by losing themselves in causes, ends, and movements greater than themselves."

"Key terms, 'frustrated' and 'mass movement' seem to depend on each other."

"The fanatic who dies for a cause is willing to sacrifice others as well as himself for his truth."

"There is nothing that a fanatic will not do to achieve his goal; the end justifies the use of any means."

"Thus in the end...the movement is an instrument of power for the successful and an opiate for the frustrated."

"Though there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalist, the fanatical Communist and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet true that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one."