Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Parliament of Whores—Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

This P. J. O’Rourke book is subtitled “A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government” and it includes many things I’ve heard about and had no idea how to look up.

To begin with, there is the concept of parity—the deep thought behind all of the USDA’s price- and income-support measures. Parity is the idea that the price farm goods bring ought to be the same, now and forever, in inflation-adjusted dollars, as the price farm goods brought in the years 1910 through 1914.…

If we applied the logic of parity to automobiles instead of feed and grain, a typical economy car would cost forty grand. $43,987.,50 is what a 1910 Nash Rambler cost in 1990 dollars. And for that you got a car with thirty-four horsepower, no heat, no A/C, no tape deck or radio and no windows around the front seat. If farm parity were a guiding principle of human existence, we’d not only have lousy, high-priced economy cars, we’d have a total lack of civilization. Cheap, plentiful food is the precondition for human advancement. When there isn’t enough food, everybody has to spend all his time getting fed and nobody has a minute to invent law, architecture or big clubs to hit cave bears on the head with.

If you follow this blog, you might remember parity from the Li’l Abner musical number, The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands. Now I have a better idea of what “no one understands”. Despite the complexities of reform in DC, which, he writes, are very real, reforming the USDA and parity is the only “straightforward” issue he has seen: “a simple problem with a simple solution. Drag the omnibus farm bill behind the barn, and kill it with an ax.”

And while the USDA is spending $10 billion a year to increase farm income [by destroying food, not growing food, and otherwise increasing the cost of food], the same government agency is spending $20 billion to make food available to poor people through the Food Stamp program. A moron, an imbecile, an American high-school student can see there’s something wrong with this equation. Just give the $10 billion to the poor people, and let them buy their own damn food from the farmers.

He starts the book by saying,

I thought I’d observe the 1988 presidential race and then go to Washington for the first six months of the new administration, learn everything there is to know about government and write a book. But the six months turned into two years. I’m not sure I learned anything except that giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

No One Left to Lie To—Sunday, April 6th, 2014

As an evil conservative, Clinton must also bear the conservative’s evil clothing. Clinton is not just a failed conservative, he is also provincial and racist.

Hitchens starts off—all of chapter two—skewering that most blatant of political triangulations, that Clinton was the “first black president”. In Hitchens’s telling, Clinton was the most racist president of recent times, overseeing the execution of black children, deserting political allies and close friends at the drop of a pin if those allies were black, and pandering to the worst of southern culture throughout his political career.

I’m not sure I’ve read an honest to god screed before. This is well-researched, but not well-thought. Hitchens is the kind of leftist intellectual smart enough to recognize that leftist policies implemented by other leftists always fail—but vain enough to think that if they just listened to him and implemented them his way leftism would suddenly succeed.

For example, in the section on the Clintons’ failed health insurance takeover, he writes:

The “triangulation” went like this. Harry and Louise sob-story ads were paid for by the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA), a group made up of the smaller insurance providers. The five major insurance corporations spent even more money to support “managed competition”… The Clinton's demagogic ally campaigned against the “insurance industry,” while backing—and with the backing of—those large fish that were preparing to swallow the minnows.

It’s cronyism. Hitchens doesn’t seem to recognize that this is the inevitable result of government taking over or threatening a takeover, regardless of the form the takeover takes. Large companies can afford to buy influence; smaller companies have to band together to buy enough influence to survive.

He has a lot to say about Hillary Clinton as well. She’s totally devoid of substance, for example, he quotes her as saying this while running for the Senate in New York:

I think it’s appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the issues that people of faith have in common, and from my perspective, as I have traveled extensively through New York and been in the company of New Yorkers from so many different walks of life, I agree that the challenges before us, as individuals, as members and leaders of the community of faith, as those who already hold positions of public responsibility and those who seek them, that we do all share and should be committed to an understanding of how we make progress, but we define that progress, deeply and profoundly.

He also suggests that she tried to woo the Puerto Rican vote by convincing her husband to pardon some Puerto Rican nationalists who were in prison for placing “bombs in lower Manhattan.” When the ploy turned out to be less favorable among the rest of New Yorkers, she pivoted to oppose her husband’s pardons, saying she knew nothing about it and had nothing to do with it. Hitchens doesn’t believe it for a second.

An Old French expletive and The Three Musketeers—Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

My current writing project references The Three Musketeers a lot, so I’ve been rereading my own archive here on Negative Space. In the process I’ve been fixing errors. Most of them are obvious. This weekend I ran across the following exchange between d’Artagnan and his lackey Planchet in A Family Affair:

“Well!” cried D’Artagnan, “tell us all about it.”

“Dame, that’s a long job, monsieur.”

In context it seemed like an odd typo for “damn”, but before fixing it I thought I ought to look for confirmation. A quick Google search on the text absent the “dame” found a page full of entries all with the strange word.

Well, perhaps they all come from the same original source. Mine came from an early online source, probably the On-line Book Initiative.

I looked it up in my paperback version—I already knew my paperback and the online version are from different translations—and their translation used “Lord”, which sounds more appropriate:

“Lord, monsieur, that’s a long job.”

I also have a paperback in the original French. In that book, the word appears verbatim:

— Dame! c’est bien long, Monsieur

Is my paperback’s translator right? While it makes sense in context, I have never heard “Dame” used to mean anything other than “Lady” in French. A Google translate query of the original French came back with:

Lady! It is very long, sir.

Which, besides being oddly suggestive is completely out of character for Planchet. It is, however, the translation I expected. Was Lady some strange expletive in French in the time of Dumas, as it sometimes seems to be in old movies in English? I did a Hail-Mary Google search on “dame French exclamation” and got:

Dame! which must not be confounded with the feminine substantive dame (=lady), is the abbreviation of Dame-Dieu, an Old French exclamation equivalent to Seigneur Dieu (=Lord God). We constantly find in medieval texts: que Dame-Dieu nous aide! (=the Lord God help us!). Dame-Dieu, and simply Dame (that is to say, Lord God), was used as an interjection; and the exclamation Ah! dame (=ah! well), which, nowadays, has lost all meaning, signifies really Ah! Seigneur! (=ah! Lord!). The word dame is still found in the geographical names Dammartin, Dampierre, etc., which signify the Lord Martin, the Lord Peter, etc.

The Secret Knowledge—Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

If there is one quote that typifies David Mamet’s thesis in The Secret Knowledge, it is when he writes, on page 24, that “Kindness to the wicked is cruelty to the righteous.”

Nothing is free. Everything is a trade—everything is a compromise. The error of the left is a deliberate ignorance that short term actions have long term consequences. And, more generally, a deliberate refusal to accept the concept of cause and effect. Leftists go out of their way to show the corruptibility of politicians—and then argue in favor of giving government more power.

You can ask, after all, that politicians render competing claims for state benevolence with “fairness” but,

The politicians and bureaucrats discriminating between claims will necessarily favor those redounding to their individual or party benefit—so the eternal problem of “Fairness,” supposedly solved by Government distribution of funds, becomes, yet again and inevitably, a question of graft.

More specifically, fairness to the left is not fairness of law, but fairness of outcome regardless of law; the former can be set and applied equally, but the second requires a “politician or bureaucrat” to discriminate between claims based on the sentiment of the case at hand. He analogizes to sports, where,

The job of the referee, like that of the courts, is to ensure that the rules have been obeyed. If he rules, in a close case, sentimentally, he defrauds not only one of the two teams, but, more importantly, the spectators. The spectators are funding the match. As much as they enthuse over their favorite team, their enthusiasm is limited to that team’s victory as per the mutually understood rules. (Who in Chicago exulted over the triumph of the 1919 Black Sox?)

The product for which the spectators are paying is a fair contest, played out according to mutually understood and agreed-to rules. For though it seems they are paying to see success, they are actually paying for the ability to exercise permitted desire, and so are cheated, even should their team win, if the game is fixed. To fix the game for money is called corruption, to fix the game from sentiment is called Liberalism.

What greater act of colonialism than to bind a segment of our own population to shame and poverty through government subsidy and by insistence that they be judged by lower standards than the populace-at-large?

Trevor Fry’s Natchez Trace photo—Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

This comes from Trevor Fry.

My son, Adam, is doing research with the hopes of installing a historical marker regarding the Nightriders and the old wagon road they haunted, the El Camino Real/Harrisonburg Road.

Last summer we traveled with Dr. Frank Mobley from the ferry crossing at Little River all the way to the ferry crossing at Red River, and soaked up all of the Nightrider sights we could along the way. Last week we took a photo of the old wagon road after a snow fall which really shows the contours of the sunken trace.

Part of the above is from his email, and part from his comment in the original Nightriders book review.

I think a historical marker along the trace is a great idea.

Front Row at the White House—Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Helen Thomas worked at United Press International for most of this book, contrary to Walter Cronkite’s early advice in A Reporter’s Life that UPI expected its reporters to move on once they became successful.

She left her job with UPI on May 17 2000 when it was purchased by News World Communications, then also the owner of the Washington Times. That was about a year after finishing this book. She then denounced the last fifty years of her life, presumably including this book, as having been self-censored. In 2002, she said in a speech at MIT, that “I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter. Now I wake up and ask myself, ‘Who do I hate today?’”

Hate was her final undoing. Her solution to war in the Middle East was the destruction of Israel and sending Israelis back to whence they came—Poland and Germany were her examples.

The only clue to that worldview in evidence here, in her self-censored 1999, is her inability to draw conclusions from multiple events in sequence. What really stands out to me in this autobiography is that she doesn’t seem to make any big connections; things happen because they are events worth reporting on, not because actions lead to consequences, nor because principle leads to action.

After reading Front Row At The White House, I can believe that she really didn’t make any connection between the concentration camps in Poland and the Jewish exodus to Israel. To her, they could have been simply isolated events. This was how she was able to maintain her leftist worldview over decades covering the White House—by never connecting events, such as LBJ’s Great Society, with results—the vast expansion in poverty among blacks in inner cities.

Stride by Stride—Thursday, December 12th, 2013

“People bite, put your faith in horses.”—Kaylee Powers

A Reporter’s Life—Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Cronkite starts his life story in Moscow, in 1948. He worked for UPI. He tells us that his wife took a job with the US embassy while they were there, but,

Although my United Press salary wasn’t exactly munificent, it wasn’t the extra income that attracted her to this job. It was more a matter of necessity to keep us fed.

He then explains how they had to buy food just as other Muscovites did, which is to say, through Soviet food rations and what little they could acquire through the Soviet markets. Only on the next page does he explain that “not for the money but to keep us fed” meant that the embassy provided their employees with food from the states. They did not provide this food to private citizens in Moscow, something he still holds against them:

The only other Americans living in Moscow were the eight news correspondents, but the State Department, in its bureaucratic wisdom, determined it would somehow violate its sacred rules to take care of us as well.

I can understand the desire to be taken care of by one’s government, but it’s a little ironic that, seeing how poorly the Soviet system worked, he wanted the US to emulate it for him. He doesn’t claim to have asked UPI to provide some of his pay in the form of care packages; the government should have provided.

Cronkite then returns to his formative years in Kansas City, Missouri. About his high school mentor, Houston journalist Fred Birney, Cronkite writes:

Birney, as far as I know, was never taught to teach. His strength was in his deep practical knowledge of his subject, his love of it, and his intense desire to communicate that knowledge and that love to others. That must be the secret of all great teachers, and the shame is that there are probably thousands of them out there who are denied a chance to practice that talent because of crowded facilities, disciplinary overload and stultifying work rules imposed by bureaucratic administrations and selfish unions.

After newspaper work in Houston, he went to work as the news staff of a Kansas City radio station. Here, he was also shanghaied by the police to take part in vote fraud for Kansas City’s Boss Pendergast, voting at least twice when they drove him to the polling place and gave him the name of the people he was voting as each time.

And then he goes to World War II, where his anecdotes read even more like urban legends; having read the entire book, I’m still not sure I trust them.

Older posts.