A Journalistic Tour de Force

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500 Days – Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, by Karl Eichenwald

Newspaper journalism is often myopic. Largely that’s due, I think, to daily, piecemeal reporting. And 24-7 TV news is often little more than hourly soundbites. This then is where books such as Eichenwald’s are extremely valuable. His 500 days encompass the lead-up to 9-11 and the subsequent lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it fills in the more than 90% of blanks in what we average citizens knew about the events during this period.

The author writes in serial vignettes that remind this reader of newspaper articles, mixing the events following 9-11 with an odd series of bits on the anthrax scare that was totally unrelated to the terror acts, then the slowly evolving decisions of how to house and interrogate captured al Qaida and Taliban fighters – including the eventual blowback to the CIA/Army interrogation techniques – and the U.S.’s bullying of its allies and the U.N. in gaining something of a consensus to invade Iraq on the pretext of disarming Saddam Hussein’s imagined WMDs and his supposed collusion with al Qaida.

The picture painted here in this rather dense, almost 600 page book is one of bad decisions, governmental infighting, and outright mistakes, from President Bush down to the lower enlisted levels of the military. One only gains the complete impact of this picture in Eichenwald’s Epilogue, in which he updates many of the players in this drama and the consequences of their actions during those 500 days.

My rating 18 of 20 stars

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The Last Gasp of the Mythic West

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The Last Kind Words Saloon, by Larry McMurtry

I hadn’t read a McMurtry in ages, so this one just out, I felt the whimsy of new books in my bones and bought it. It’s a short read – two and three-page chapters, the book not over 50,000 words. McMurtry himself calls the book “a poem in prose,” and I suppose I can go with that.
A cursory read will convince you that McMurtry is washed up, a brain-starved has-been now trading on his fame. But a deeper read tells you that this book, like much of McMurtry’s books, trades on a masterful use of language. If there is indeed such a thing as a prose poem, The Last Kind Words Saloon is one. Rarely will you read a book with characters so lively, scenic depictions so vivid, and a story that’s really about nothing at all so memorable.

McMurtry traces Wyatt Earp and his brothers Warren and Morgan, along with the dentist-gunslinger Doc Holliday from one one-horse Texas panhandle cow town to the next, eventually heading west and ending up in Tombstone, Arizona, and their famous but brief dispute with the Clantons and McLaurys at the OK Corral.

There – a McMurtry plot for you.

Still the book, due in large part to McMurtry’s way with words, leaves one with an adventure built on little more than ennui. It’s a character study, not only of these famed people, but of the American west as it went down in a burst of gunfire.

My rating 18 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Farewell Sweetheart, Hello Cancer Patient

Some of you who read my posts here regularly have surely caught mention of my wife Becca, affectionately known via Gridley, as “the missus.” She has had health problems for some time; she’s suffered not only from the squamous cell carcinoma that ended her life but perhaps even more so from the radiation and chemo regimens promising to extend her life.

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Sadly, she left this world, her hand in mine, on October 10th at 7:49 Eastern Daylight Savings time. And so her difficulties are at an end. From these almost two years of trial comes the determination to ask all those, near or far, known to us or unknown, to begin to support the cancer patients and not the cancer industry. Specifically, we hope, through you, to start a movement of people, one by one, spending a day with a cancer patient, preferably someone you don’t already know. This is easy enough if you live near a cancer treatment facility: simply place a call to that facility, tell them you wish to do this and ask for their permission to spend a day with one of their patients. We feel that this will do far more good than swamping these patients with more radiation or chemicals. It may not save their lives, but it may strengthen their souls.

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Taking on Today’s Sophists

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Plato At The Googleplex – Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

There are times when I want a challenging read, and when Goldstein’s book came out, with hot to tepid reviews, I knew I had to read it. Philosophy, you see, has been an interest of mine for quite a while, particularly the proto-philosophy of Plato. The book did prove a challenge, as any by an academic might, but it proved well worth the effort.

So how did she put forth her position that philosophy is here to stay? She took an indirect path, pitting a 2400 year-old Plato against various intellectual disciplines from a Google coder to a Bill O’Reilly sound-alike to a scientist involved in brain studies. These rather charming inventions alternated with Goldstein’s own take on Plato and his mentor, Socrates, depict the modern intellectuals she allows Plato to take on as neo-sophists. In each fictive account, the author has Plato wait politely for his adversaries to stake out their positions and defend them with gaping holes in reasoning, then gently guide these intellectual miscreants back toward the beauty of truth.

Is there a fault in Goldstein’s depictions? Just one, in my view: that today’s sophists are likely to remain in their argument’s bubbles, never open at all to reason. And likely we’re now entering an age in which emotion and power prevail over a desire for truth, one in which Plato and Socrates would be seen by too many as kooks and intellectual provocateurs. But then this is very likely the same situation these two ancients put themselves into over two millennia ago.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.