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Review: Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-10-23   

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
by William L. Shirer
Thirtieth Anniversary Edition
1245 pages
Simon and Schuster (November 1990)

I fully expected The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to be a dry detailed history. At nearly two pounds worth of dead tree, this mighty tome proved intimidating in the extreme. So it has gathered dust on my shelf for several years. Recently, I was on long trip that would give me enough down time to attack it in earnest.

Shirer begins with the standard fare of the youth and background of Adolf Hitler. Having read a number of Hitler biographies in high school, I found little new information here. I was prepared for the aforementioned sleep aid, but I was to find something different. Shirer was a journalist. That made a real difference. To be fair, some historians are excellent writers, but many excellent historians are unexciting writers. Rather early in the story (1925), Shirer would begin to provide first hand accounts of history in the making.

The number of first person observations is staggering. It is nearly unbelievable, except as the job description of a foreign correspondent. We can see that the Shirer's very vocation demanded presence at and attention to so many significant events and such contextual comprehension. Whether it be in the form of personal descriptions of the mood on the street or passionate speeches, or tense meetings, the author offers the reader a real sense of the time.

In addition to the well known, Shirer makes a point of detailing some obscure personages, including a number of crackpots who provided "intellectual" support for the National Socialist movement. It is easy to overlook the "social scientists" that contributed so much to Nazi ideology. In science, those found to be cranks are quickly poured into the dustbin of history. Shirer ensures that the insane ideas of many in this story are brought to light.

I had long wondered about the extreme negative view of Chamberlain taken by modernity. In Shirer's description, however, we see that if anything Chamberlain deserves more discredit. While it is true that we have the envied position of 20/20 hindsight, it is nevertheless difficult to imagine the events unfolding as the did absent the machinations of Mr. Chamberlain.

Shirer tells a story with myriad contributing factors to the devastation of the second World War: the unwillingness of the Western powers to risk war, the extreme willingness of the same Western powers to sacrifice smaller nations, the intransigence of the Poles (owing to mistrust of Russia), the disinterest of the United States, and many others. The politics of each individual nation and the interaction of nations and blocs within nations are brought together in an enthralling narrative that reads better than a novel. Sadly, in this set of circumstances, the cynical outlook most often matched the reality.

Inside an overarching narrative, we see a tapestry of smaller stories. With the vast resources of meticulous Nazi documentation made available at the Nuremberg trials, Shirer is often able to tell each vignette in subtle detail and ending with the fates of the participants. On the darker side, the reader hears more of the unadulterated evil of individual Nazis than is pleasant. Of course, the story would be incomplete absent the sadism. At times, the reader may find himself wishing to skip whole sections, but to do so would trivialize the effect of Nazism on modern society.

This work is a monumental record of the era and a terrifying reminder of the vast potential for evil intrinsic to a culture of fear.

Comments: 2
Review: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-10-16   

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?
by Robert M. Price

I listen to a lot of podcasts. Through this medium became familiar with the voice of Dr. Robert Price. Formerly an evangelical preacher, Dr. Price's study into the foundations of the Christian Bible led him to stray from the proverbial path. He is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, and his fascinating off-the-cuff discussions of Bible history incited in me a previously unknown interest in the Bible as a great literary tradition. Also interesting is that Dr. Price is a conservative, bucking the trend among apostates. When I found out about his new book, I was anxious to get a hold of it.

I travel a lot for work, and it just happens that this book was unusually well suited for this. Given Price's vast knowledge of the Bible (Aside: I could sit and listen to Price have one-on-one discussions with another Bible scholar such as Hector Avalos for hours. It is really amazing how they can bring to a discussion specific points and counterpoints with relaxed conversational fluency. I would love to be so knowledgeable on a subject.), much of his effort would be wasted on explaining minutiae to lay persons. Instead, he refers to Biblical passages. While the book can certainly be read without looking up every single passage to which the author refers, I am a bit compulsive about things like that. Thanks to the Gideons, however, I didn't need to drag a Bible along with me everywhere I went (the idea of getting the Kindle was to stop lugging around several pounds of dead tree material on every long trip). It took me much longer than a typical book of this length, but the added insight gained from browsing the source material was worth it. Price obviously loves the Bible. It is not mere collection of myths and traditions. Rather, it represents many generations of work and even the history of its creation is fascinating.

I had always considered the historicity of Jesus an accepted fact. Podcast interviews with Price and other scholars informed me that this may not necessarily be so. With an understanding gleaned from decades of careful scholarship, Price lays out much of this esoterica to the lay person. Just having read this single book, I find my own knowledge of the Christian Bible has greatly increased. This book will not make you a Bible scholar, but it will probably make you more knowledgeable of the Bible in general (and the Jesus story in particular) than the majority of its supposed adherents.

Comments: 2

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-10-15   

Sometimes even I notice trends among the random noise with which I am so often inundated. Having spent much of the last couple of years drinking in the nature and implications of statistics, I find that ultimately my sights are set on economics. Books recently read have tended to push me in this direction. From books on pure statistics to others with a more ancillary relation, I see that all that I am interested in is within the purview of statistics, but is called economics. Nevertheless, I cannot help but to be drawn in to the fascinating field of stats. I have read a translation of Gerolamo Cardano, and originals by Blaise Pascal and John Maynard Keynes, but I think more can only help to increase my understanding. Someday, I may even know enough be practically employable.

Comments: 0
Back from Numerous Trips to Hawai'i

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-10-08   

I have been away on a combination of personal and professional travel to Hawai'i. Including this post, I will have made an average of one blog post per month. That has pretty much moved me from "blog" territory into "occasional rants by some weirdo" territory. I hope to be updating a bit more often now. Among the things I've missed are that I've read these books without reviewing any of them.

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man
Lost in Shangri-La
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Extreme Fear
Sleights of Mind
and possibly others. I have just been too busy. It's a weak answer to be sure, but I fully expect to get back into the swing of things despite taking yet another graduate statistics class. We shall see.

Comments: 0
Review: The One Percent

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-09-02   

The One Percent is a 2006 documentary addressing the gap between the richest 1% of the population and the rest. Producer/director Jamie Johnson is heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. In this film, he conducts a number of interviews, interweaving them with commentary. It is not nearly as polished as most documentaries, and not nearly as depressing as those of this ilk tend to be.

I thought that overall, Johnson did a fair job of presenting the wealthy individuals he interviewed. While he doubtless had the opportunity to edit the interviews of such men as Steve Forbes, Roy Martin (of RoyOMartin lumber), arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, or Paul Orfalea (Kinko's founder) in such a way as to show them in a bad light, I don't believe he did so. In fact, I thought Steve Forbes seemed more agreeable, more reasonable, and more likable than he usually appears. I wouldn't even disagree with most of what he or Paul Orfalea had to say. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman (Economics - 1976), on the other hand, came across as anything but cultured or academic. He appeared combative, almost delusional, and ultimately mean.

Not having a track record, it is hard to say whether Johnson treated Friedman fairly, but it is hard for me take out of context the cartoonishly evil "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." in response to how the poorest fare in the transfer of wealth upward. More to the point, this exchange occurred:

Johnson: "I'm just advocating a slightly more progressive tax structure."

Friedman: "That's Socialism."


Friedman: "The one thing you can depend on everybody
[sic] is that he's going to put his interests above yours."
I find this last line interesting in a way that I hope to address in a long piece someday. But I digress.

One other individual who said things that might be considered damning on some level was Roy Martin. He made it clear that his entire economic view was shaped by Christian dominionist theology. Matthew 19:24 states, "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Mr. Martin's understanding of this seems to be that the difficulty the rich man encounters is due to the great responsibility that God (namely, the Christian god) has placed on him. In his view, he has taken on that burden and will execute it in accordance with the wishes of his god. Note: that is my interpretation of Mr. Martin's words, so I may be mistaken as to his intent. But Martin does leave us a good quote that I think can summarize the philosophy of many wealthy Christians:
"America has been blessed because of its Judeo-Christian background, its alliance [sic] to the Ten Commandments. And its laws are based on that and that's why it's been blessed. If it gets away from that, it will fail." I think most former Christians understand. Not that I find his views any less disturbing, mind you, but I understand.
Bill Gates, Sr. and Oscar-Meyer heir Chuck Collins are presented as activists working in support of the Estate Tax. Far from being hippies (as, apparently, is Nicole Buffet, Warren Buffet's disowned-due-to-her-appearance-in-this-movie granddaughter), these two appear to be rationally acting not for anything like Socialism but, rather, a more fair tax burden.

In a way, I think the almost amateur feel to this movie gives it a certain charm. Johnson's technique will improve with work, but I think this film accomplished its mission.

Comments: 0
I Really Hope Mitt Romney Wins the Nomination

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-08-16   

Scanning the mood of the blogosphere, I find a number of liberals hoping that a borderline unelectable borderline sane person like Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry gets the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama in the election. The idea is that either of these two is so radical as to ensure the reelection of the incumbent. That is an interesting theory. First, I do not think that is true. Historically, a crumbling economy has spelled doom for an incumbent president. Even when it is obvious that the lion's share of the blame for the current economic situation lay in the hands of Bush Jr. and Clinton, Obama has made a show of capitulating at any hint of a challenge. In fact, his handful of accomplishments have not appeased the "Free Mumia" hippies to the extent that they are actively calling for the Democratic Party to challenge Obama in the primaries. Given their obliviousness to the obvious, they can almost certainly be counted on to take their ball and go home during the general election. As such, I would certainly prefer that a reasonably competent former governor be the challenge.

If a Romney candidacy spells doom for the reelection of Obama, there are a number of things to consider:

1) Obama is from the Neville Chamberlain school of negotiation.

2) Where every Obama deviation from the hippie platform is unacceptable, right wing assholes will vote for their guy with 100% certainty, regardless of his transgressions.

3) Since there exists no possible means for anyone to defeat an incumbent Mitch Romney for reelection (as the Supreme Court recently legalized unlimited flow of right wing monies directly to candidates), Romney has every reason in the world to govern the country as he did the state of Massachusetts: reasonably and competently.

4) Nomination of any other single candidate would open the floodgates. That is to say that allowing such an obvious loon as Bachmann (she had 23 foster children and is the beard of Benny Hill impersonator Marcus Bachmann who is extremely preoccupied with the sex lives of gay men) or Rick "Texas should secede if Obama continues to be a Negro" Perry.

Even if one of these bizarre caricatures of right wing nuttery were defeated, the fact that he or she had been presented to the American people (and, further, the world) as a viable candidate for the most powerful position on the planet will announce for all perpetuity that clinical insanity is not a bar to the presidency.

Given Obama's anemic defense against right wing attacks, I can't even say that if Romney were elected, his administration would be any worse than Obama's.

If Romney gets elected, it will not be the end of the world. If Bachmann or Perry does, on the other hand, it might. To add a chill to this discussion, I should mention that Bachmann and Perry both ascribe to fundamentalist Christianity that depends critically on the end of the world. Election as president would grant him or her the capability to make it happen.

Comments: 2
Semester Complete

Author: Marc

Date: 2011-08-11   

I have completed the semester in which I devoted all my free time to learning the supposedly amazing tricks statisticians of the last hundred years have come up with to allow normal people to understand complicated things. While statistical tools allow us to accurately assess any number of things, overall I think the "display" mission of statistics has failed.

Try to convince a person that things like economics are absurdly obvious when viewed via statistics, and they will accuse you of being an O-bot. Basically, if you refuse to accept that Barack Obama is exactly as incompletent as George W. Bush, you are a tree hugging hippie. If I claim that 3+3=5, and my opponent claims that 3+3=89, then my refusal to accept anything less than 3+3=47 is unacceptable intransigence on my part. The more I think about it, the more I say, "Fine." I am not among the filthy peasants that vote against their own interests. In fact, I am among the group that (mostly falsely*) believe they are the beneficiaries of insane right wing actions. As such, as long as I suffer no major health problems, I will continue to almost tread water. Overall, my net income will decline next to the mean, but my increase above the median will accelerate. Yes, the acceleration above the ignorant poor who vote billions more into the pockets of billionaires will continue. Most of the transfer from poor-to-rich will be into the pockets of the super-rich to be sure, but I will benefit*. At least I will "benefit" in the sense that I will be even farther beyond the filthy peasants that dwell in ghettos, trailer parks, and barrios across the nation.

Fine. I only wish I could be as cold to the undergender. The major platform of those who will soon take over this nation is the eradication of reproductive rights for women. More than anyone else, this enormous segment of the population will suffer under their own Quislings.

Do you want to get elected? Be a traitor to you social class! If you are a willing to spout incoherent right-wing canards while possessing --insert subhuman traits such as dark skin, belief in the wrong gods, or breasts here-- , then you are perfect for our outreach program.
I can wish evil upon the underclass as the trappings of acceptance of fealty. Unfortunately, a nation is only as good as its treatment of out groups (how, again is it that a 51% of the population is an out group?).

*Real wages continue to fall for all but the wealthiest, but the real wages of the upper middle class are falling more slowly than those of the peasants, so they will still gain relative to the middle class and below.

Comments: 0

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