Lead-Up to “The Unnecessary War”


I was in Boston last week, hanging out with a friend and fellow-philosopher. He gave me two book recommendations:

and

I’ve read the first four chapters of Dubay, but that isn’t enough to have a firm opinion about it yet. I’m halfway through Buchanan and I’m prepared to recommend it for its carefully documented but iconoclastic interpretation of the lead-up to World War 2.

buchanan-unnecessary-warThe verdict on Hitler is pretty well-established, I’d say. Buchanan doesn’t veer from that. But Winston Churchill may have been a more dangerous war-monger than most would think. The evidence of Churchill’s predilections for military engagement, and for shifting blame for the war’s outcome, casts a pall over the received view of his leadership through “inevitable crisis.” David Lloyd George has become a person of interest to me. And I now know more about Chamberlain than before. Lord Balfour is a puzzle to me. These are achievements of the author. They reflect his success in stirring my interest and leaving clues to follow for further study.

Buchanan is not a professional historian; but he is a provocative interpreter. His thesis is controversial and has already been challenged by aficionados. He could get to the point more quickly. But he’s determined to support his claims with statements made by the players themselves and by sharp historians of the period. He quotes someone on virtually every page, sometimes at length. In every case, however, his choice of quotes is a valuable contribution. Each remark helps to capture the mood of the figures who made the critical decisions and altered the course of history.

Buchanan’s chief objective is to explain how World War 2 might have been averted, if it hadn’t been for vanity, or incompetence, or misinformation at numerous turns and among numerous parties. This story has no doubt been told before. But only here is it told in Buchanan’s style, and with his perspective on current events.

My thoughts about the war, its lead-up, its aftermath, and its present significance have been enriched:

  • I can now entertain the possibility that the Kaiser’s war (i.e., World War 1) was a war of German survival without imperialist ambitions.
  • I think I understand better how Hitler managed his coup and led a demoralized people into unwelcome conflict with the European powers.
  • I hadn’t known of Mussolini’s disgust toward Hitler and of Hitler’s almost obsequious admiration for Mussolini.
  • The hypnotic effect of Hitler on Western leaders who knew of his diabolical behavior (who were even, at times, on the receiving end of it) never ceases to astonish. This mystery is compounded by Buchanan’s telling of the story.
  • Ever since my visit to the Brenner Pass in the majestic Italian alps I’ve wondered how it came about that this region, formerly a precinct of Austria, had been handed over.
  • The roles played by Czechoslovakia and Poland impress me as much more significant now.

I could go on. Instead, I’ll read on, and probably learn more about how America came to abandon its protectionism and make war on the continent (I suspect it has something to do with the Japanese, who had been disenfranchised by the British), the mystery of alliance with Stalin’s regime, and much more. I expect—I hope—I’ll have more questions when I’m done reading. But before the book is closed, I feel comfortable already recommending it to others.

Note: There’s a Kindle version of Buchanan’s book. If there wasn’t, I might never have gotten round to reading it. Learn about Kindle here.

Jesus and the Democratic Process


“WakeUpAmerica,” a welcome visitor to this blog, recently made an interesting suggestion. I liked the suggestion and decided to create a post that might encourage readers to think about the issue and post their comments.

If Jesus was living in America in the 21st century, what would his politics be? Would he be registered with a political party? If so, which one? Would he start his own party? Would he run for office? Would Jesus vote? What issues would matter to him most? Would he campaign for a political candidate? In the most recent general election, is there a candidate he would have voted for? Would Jesus favor a democracy, or some other form of government? In other words, how would Jesus participate, if at all, in the political process if he was a 21st-century American citizen?

Here are three questions about the questions listed above:

  1. What difference does it make what Jesus would do? What’s the point in asking?
  2. Is what Jesus would do what we should do?
  3. Is it any different to ask, “What would Jesus do if, instead of being Jesus, he was one of us?”

Here’s one more question, for good measure: On what basis can we speculate how Jesus would conduct himself if he lived in a democracy like ours?

I Want a Bailout


Suppose it’s August 2007. You apply for a line of credit against the equity in your existing home. CitiBank approves a line of credit that allows you to invest in some undeveloped property and still have something left for building a modest vacation home where you can be near your family for part of the year.

Fast forward to November 2008. CitiBank sends you a letter. It claims that the venerable financial institution has reviewed your assets and concluded that you are no longer in a position financially to meet payments on the balance of your line of credit, should you wish to borrow that money. They’ve decided to zero out your balance, effective November 5. The letter you hold in your hands arrived by regular mail on November 6.

You’re stuck. You have a piece of property with no prospect now of building. It’s unlikely that you could sell it for what you paid for it a year ago. And, in any case, you don’t want to sell it; you want to pursue your dream. But CitiBank has revoked your line of credit. This despite the fact that you’ve made all your monthly payments on schedule for over a year.

You wonder what changes in your financial situation could have reversed CitiBank’s kind disposition toward you. And then it occurs to you. Maybe it’s not your financial condition that has them worried, but their own financial condition that has them over the barrel. Maybe they’re afraid you’ll write a check against your line of credit and they won’t be able to cover it.

Sure enough, a week later you learn that CitiBank has recently laid off tens of thousands of employees and that they lost billions of dollars during the past twelve months. “Aha!” you think. “So that’s what happened!”

Is it any consolation to know that they freaked, and then dissembled? Of course not. You’re still stuck. You secretly hope that CitiBank will be held accountable, that maybe the CEO will have to look for work.

And then you learn today that CitiBank has been offered a bailout, because the economy needs it. Isn’ that nice?

The above scenario has been played out for countless customers of CitiBank. The details vary but the shenanigans are the same. Some customers “took out” a line of credit to have greater security for a rainy day. Others to meet expenses for children in college. And others to make essential repairs on the only home they’ll ever own. Every one of the customers victimized by CitiBank’s recklessness deserves a bailout as much as CitiBank. But what are the chances they’ll be getting a letter in the next week saying, “We’re happy to announce that your original line of credit has been reinstated?”

Update for “Jason Bourne vs. James Bond”


Now that Bond has made another appearance recently, in A Quantum of Solace, I’ve updated my post of four months ago on “Jason Bourne vs. James Bond.” Click here.

The Brea Fire—15 November 2008


We’re monitoring the Brea fire very closely here. It concerned us when it jumped the 57 freeway in a westerly direction. We live about two miles from that spot. The Brea-Olinda High School was a base station for firefighters to keep the school buildings protected. I think they were successful in that endeavor.

There’s a spot up the road in our neighborhood that I’ve been visiting periodically for a good view. If, from that location, I see fire, we’ll be heaving things into our vehicles and “taking our leave.” We have our things gathered in case that becomes necessary.

20081115brea-fire-mapI’ve attached a fire map that’s about six hours old at this point — 10:15 p.m. (click image to enlarge). If you’re interested in our location on this map, visualize a vertical axis extending north directly above the “t” in the street name “W. Lambert Rd,” and a horizontal axis extending east along Whittier Blvd (seen on the left side of the image). Where these two axes meet is right on our spot.

My vista point to keep track of its proximity to us is north from that point along the same vertical axis, and then east about the same distance. At the end of that road there’s a large undeveloped area with a tall hill. I’m watching the crest of that hill.

As a point of reference for people who don’t know the area, Carbon Canyon is the spot of greatest concern nearest to us. That will be watched throughout the night and covered on television. In the early hours of the morning there’s the significant possibility of high winds like we had earlier today. That would not be good.

I’d rather not evac. And it looks like a long night of staying alert. But I’m optimistic.

* * *

Note: While our Brea PD is busy with the fire activity, I’ve seen police patrol vehicles from distant places. I spoke with an officer who came up from San Clement to provide backup duty. So the coordination has been excellent.

Update:

Here’s the map after the events of today, twenty-four hours later:

Bold red lines are road current road closures

Bold red lines are current road closures

Be a Good Student—Best Book in This Category


armstrongstudy-is-hard-workIt’s brief, it’s well-organized, and it’s full of sane advice. It’s a book called Study Is Hard Work. The author, William H. Armstrong, explains all the fundamental skills needed to be a successful lifelong learner. Here are the chapter titles:

  1. Learning to Listen
  2. The Desire to Learn
  3. Using the Tools
  4. Getting More From What You Read
  5. Developing a Vocabulary
  6. Putting Ideas in Order
  7. Books and the Library
  8. Written Work
  9. Acquiring Skill in Methods
  10. How to Study Languages
  11. Letting Mathematics Serve You
  12. How to Study Science
  13. Getting the Most Out of History
  14. Tests and Examinations

All of this in 143 pages. Each chapter begins with an Interest Measurement Test and ends with five Review Questions. Each “Interest Measurement Test” is a set of five questions that get readers to think about their current experiences and skill level in some category of study. Here are a few samples:

  • “Have you ever stopped to think what your life would be like if there were no books?”
  • “Do you believe that you really have a desire to learn, or would you, had you been left alone from birth, be totally primitive and beastlike in your thoughts and feelings?”
  • “Do you believe that, other than your parents, the people who will most influence your life for good are your teachers?”
  • “When you have read a book do you feel that you have talked with, and come to know, the author?”
  • “Do you know certain traits of your own mind that lend themselves to some methods of study more effectively than others?”
  • “Would you agree that there is much of the poet in all great mathematicians?”
  • “Do you believe that your life will be influenced by your interpretation of history?”
  • “Are you afraid of tests, or do you consider them a challenge?”

Chapters are loaded with numbered tips, steps, strategies, for doing all the things a college or university student must do to succeed, all showing students how to achieve real success by learning with pleasure and good work management. My students are exceptional graduate students, and every one of them could benefit from practicing the methods set forth here.

bookstoreport-book-newsI came across this book at a charming little bookshop we visit when we’re in Port Angeles, Washington. One tip for studying foreign languages struck me right away as eminently sensible and yet generally unknown.

“Make your own vocabulary cards, writing the word to be learned on one side and the English meaning on the other. If you are lucky enough to be studying two languages, write the meaning in the second language on the back also.”

The second sentence is simply brilliant. It makes a truly powerful suggestion, and it strikes a positive chord about foreign language study. My first thought was, “If you’re going to learn a foreign language, why not make it two?”

If you aren’t officially a student and you read this book out of curiosity, you may feel a strong desire to sign on for a class at your local college or university. I say, go for it! But if for some reason you aren’t able to take a class, Armstrong is still an excellent guide through the steps to independent learning. It all begins with a desire to learn (chapter 2).

Note: There are two other groups who would be helped by this book. First, high school students, especially those who plan to go on to higher education. Why not learn how to learn before learning gets even harder? Second, home school parents. These heroic people know what lifelong learning means, and welcome suggestions for organizing the learning process into manageable steps. I believe that practicing the principles presented in this handy book will shave hours of labor from the task of home schooling, make the whole experience more enjoyable, and result in much less stress.

From Amazon:

armstrongstudy-is-hard-work1

From “That Bookstore in Portland”:

armstrongstudy-is-hard-work1

Leave your comments about this book in the reply box below!

Eric Chartman Charts the Political Age of Sarah Palin


Eric Chartman, over at American Heartland Bar and Grill, explains why Sarah Palin has plenty of time to return to the national scene in politics. Click here for his chart analysis of “political aging.”

Then come on back to this post and place your bet on Palin’s future:

  1. She will go back to Alaska as governor and never rise to a higher level of political leadership.
  2. She will go back to Alaska as governor and deliberately position herself to return to the national spotlight in 2012.
  3. She will go back to Alaska as governor and seek election to the U. S. Senate at the earliest opportunity.
  4. She will eventually run for President of the U.S. and win.
  5. She will eventually run for President of the U.S. and lose.
  6. She will become the CEO of the largest American oil company.
  7. She will spend the rest of her evenings watching Star Trek re-runs.
  8. Other: __________________________________________.

Nominate Your Favorite Blog or Blog Post for Post-Election Obama Coverage


Question #1—What is the best conservative blog or blog post for post-election Obama coverage?

Question #2—What is the best liberal blog or blog post for post-election Obama coverage?

Don’t analyze this too carefully. If you’ve seen interesting and worthwhile general coverage or an especially good post, just let me know about it in the reply box!

Would You Like to Be Called a Family Friend by Bill Ayers?


So Bill Ayers was this morning’s Good Morning America celebrity. What a way to say “Good Morning” to America!

In the course of the interview, which lasted for quite awhile, Ayers was asked about a remark in his new book. In the book he refers to Barack Obama as “a family friend.” What’s that supposed to mean?

How would you like to be called a family friend by Bill Ayers? And if you really are a family friend of Bill Ayers, and now you’re also the United States President-elect, how do you respond to this bit of news?

What say you?

Oh, one more thing. How does Obama the “Elect One” respond without making it look like he’s trying to fool the American people about whatever relationship he may have had with Bill Ayers?

Back in the Saddle


For the past two weeks I’ve been off-blog. Two weeks ago I was in Birmingham, Alabama to debate Michael Shermer on the question, “Does God exist?” Then I travelled to Spokane, Washington for a conference on “Faith, Film and Philosophy,” co-hosted by Gonzaga and Whitworth Universities. The title of my presentation was “Big Ideas on the Big Screen—How Arguments Work in Film.”

When the conference ended, my daughter caught up with me and we flew over to Seattle, then drove to the Olympic Peninsula to do some writing without distraction. I worked on an essay on “Death and Immortality.” She worked on two novels she’s been drafting.

Today was the first day back on my motorcycle, a ritual that comes before blogging. With that out of the way, I’m ready to log on.

With the election past, and the unctuous posturing of the media, I think my blogging in the immediate future will move into other areas. I’ll still find it irresistable to post comments on the media, political happenings, and media coverage of political happenings. But there’s so much more to think about!

Catch ya later!

How I Managed to Miss the Election


I have a passion for politics. Thus, I deeply regret that about the only access I have to its vicissisitudes is through the media, so beloved by Americans today. The truth is, I’m what once would have been called, metaphorically, of course, a “junkie.” You can imagine what this means for me during the year of a general election. At least I had the sense to wait until January 1, 2008 to tune in to campaigning that had already been going on for nearly a year. I vaguely recall the relief I felt when the primaries were over.

That was nothing compared to the relief I now feel about being able to think about something other than the future condition of the United States of America. That was such a huge responsibility. The election took that particular weight off my shoulders. It was as if the fate of our national culture had been decided and there was nothing left to do about it. My vote had been cast (by absentee ballot), and my contribution—the climax of hours, days, and months of careful analysis of every nuance of truly weird media coverage—was complete.

But there’s something else that fills out the explanation for my equanimity subsequent to this particular election decision: I missed it! I missed the election!! I was holed up in a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state, with no TV, no radio, no web connection. I did have popcorn and a microwave, but that didn’t translate into an evening of couch potato, election-watching entrancement—I mean, enchantment—that has been my joy every four years since Ronald Reagan challenged Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But I’m on sabbatical leave from my teaching duties, and due to a series of unavoidable events, the only days I could work into my calendar for “ideal sabbatical working conditions” encompassed the one day when ideal working conditions would cause deep frustration—November 4, election day.

As it happened, I managed pretty well. I did have a cell phone, so my wife was able to fill me in with admirable brevity and enviable composure. She should have been a news anchor for a major cable network. At any rate, and to my surprise, the call was enough for me. I may have swallowed hard a couple of times. But I got right down to work on my writing projects with virtually no remnants of concern. And so, I owe a great debt to the simple grandeur of the Olympic Peninsula and my dear friends who graciously made their cabin available. I learned that I could survive without the usual inoculation of political serum. I found that I could miss the election . . . without missing the election.

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