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Archive for the tag “USA”

The Secret History (book review)

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A crime novel, but not a whodunit, because you know who did it right from the first page. But the crime is central to the lives of the main characters.

I read this book because it was recommended in The Modern Library as one of the 200 best novels of the latter half of the 20th century. I don’t rate it quite as highly as that, but nevertheless found it quite an interesting read.

It takes the form, almost, of a student diary. I kept a diary as a student, but not in as much detail. This one weighs in at over 600 pages covering one academic year; mine for any one year was not more than 200. So the book goes into great detail, including what they ate, what they drank, what they smoked and how they smoked it,

In some ways the detail enhances the book. A middle-class small-town Californian student, Richard Papen, goes to study at Hampden College in Vermont. The landscape is unfamiliar to him, so he describes it in detail. I found that useful; not having been to Vermont it helped me to picture the scene, and not to mix it up with universities that I am familiar with.

Having done some ancient Greek at his previous college, Papen decides that he wants to major in it, but is advised against this. The professor, Julian Morrow, is fussy about which students he takes, and indeed rejects Papen at first, though when he accidentally helps some of the other students on the course in the library, he is eventually accepted, and becomes part of an elite group of six students who hang out together. The others all seem to have rich parents, though one of them, Bunny Corcoran, does not receive much support from his parents, and behaves like the last of the great spongers. It is Bunny who is eventually murdered by his fellow students.

The setting is the late 1970s or early 1980s, when personal computers were rare and smoking less outré, though the classics students, unlike most of the students of those days, go round in formal dress, the males in suits and ties, and even braces, even when working in the garden. The more casually dressed students they despise as “hippies”, under which label they seem to lump everyone who doesn’t fit their social model.

The leader of the group is Henry Winter, who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of money. In the book Richard Papen does not, however, play Boswell to Winter’s Johnson, or treat him as the Great Gatsby, though there are echoes of those works in his writing from the periphery, observing the great man. It is only in retrospect that Papen recognises how much influence Henry Winter had over others in the group and so his descrip[tions are of his perceptions of the others, and he is quite self-effacing; we know what the others look like, because we see them through his eyes, but we never see him through their eyes.

The central theme of the book is the effects of their crime on members of the group — both in planning it and in trying to avoid discovery afterwards. Though in some ways the central group are the privileged among the privileged, and somewhat eccentric in their old-fashioned ways and manner of dress, in others they are fairly ordinary students, and their crimes are not those of monsters exiled from the human race. Crime is not confined to the “criminal classes”, nor are the criminals uniquely monstrous. What comes across is the banality of evil. Somehow amid their normal student pursuits — drinking, arguing, playing cards and, occasionally, studying — they murder one of their fellow students. In a way this book falls somewhere between Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby, but it isn’t as good as either.

View all my reviews


The new Cold War

This morning a friend asked on Facebook what I thought of this article, and I will try to reply here. BREAKING NEWS – PUTIN EXPOSES OBAMA’S PAID ISIS MERCENARIES IN MIDDLE EAST AND SYRIA! | THE MARSHALL REPORT:

(Putin speaking): First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.

But I can’t reply to this in isolation. It is part of a whole string of media reports and media reporting that goes back two years or more.

Concerning the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, we are bombarded by  increasingly shrill and decreasingly credible media propaganda from all sides that I’ve simply stopped paying attention to most of it. If there is any truth wrapped up in the all-too-obvious lies, I have no means of sifting and discerning it.

I have tended to interpret all in the light of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis, as expounded in his book The clash of civilizations and the remaking of the world order. I’ve already written about that here, so I won’t repeat much of it now, except to say that things are now much worse.

I have tended to attibute the growing American Russophobia, which strikes me as loony and entirely irrational, to Putin’s blocking of Obama’ s plans to bomb Syria. But now the Russian air force is bombing Syria.

The world... is going to hell in a hand cart

The world… is going to hell in a hand cart

Two years ago, I regarded Russia Today as  a more reliable news source than most of the Western media, especially on events in the Middle East. Now it is blatantly filled with anti-American propaganda, so I don’t watch it any more. It’s clearly playing tit-for-tat to the Russophobic line of the BBC, Sky News, CNN, and Fox news. As a result the truth suffers.

Can Al Jazeera be trusted? When reporting on other parts of the world, perhaps. But Syria? I’m not so sure. Al Jazeera’s base is Sunni, the Syrian government tends to be Shia. There could be some bias there that would be difficult for non-Muslims to discern.

Also, since I’m inclined to be pacifist, I find the increasing belligerence of warmongering politicians distressing. Obama promised “change you can believe in” but he is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as his predecessor George Bush and the only difference is that he is more articulate about it. David Cameron is just as belligerent and bloodthirsty as Tony Blair, but I didn’t expect him to be any better. I did, at one time, and probably foolishly, hope that Obama would be better than Bush and Clinton. But it’s always naive to believe in politicians’ promises, and Obama proved to be no exception.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

If the Labour Party, under Jermy Corbyn’s leadership, manages to win the next UK general election, will it be any better? Will this, at last, be “change you can believe in”?

Not if the British media have anything to do with it. They have slammed him left, right and center, dismissed him as insane because he has qualms of conscience about annihilating millians of people in a nuclear holocaust.

And my mind goes back more than 50 years to Jeremy Taylor, a Johannesburg school teacher who sang this song:

Well one fine day
I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street.
“Good day,” I’ll say
“I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
“But I lack, you see
the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose my zest
to look my best
when I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
that’ll blow us all to hell and gone.
If I’ve gotta die
then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?

Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
three cheers for the future years when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.

I would fight quite willingly
In the forces of Her Majesty
but not at the price of sacrificing
all of humanity.

That expressed my sentiments when I was 21, and still does, now that I’m 74.

And, since the politicians of the world seem to be determined to restart the Cold War, and threaten to make it hot, another Cold War hymn seems appropriate.

The day God gave thee, man, is ending
the darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
and in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky high.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays

to all my American and Jewish friendsturkey



Niagara Falls and climate change

This photo of the Niagara Falls was taken just over 100 years ago, in 1911. Has anyone seen anything like it recently? Will we ever see its like again?

Niagara Falls in 1911

Niagara Falls in 1911

Hat-tip to Nourishing Obscurity, where there are more pictures of the same event.





Is Putin’s "secret weapon" going to blow up in his face?

More contrasting views from Russia and the West. According to Time the Orthodox faithful constitute Putin’s new “secret weapon”. Russia: Pussy Riot and Putin’s Religious Backing | World |

The prison sentence handed down last week against three members of Pussy Riot, a group of activists opposed to President Vladimir Putin, will restrict a lot more than the personal freedoms of the young women convicted. Judge Marina Syrova sentenced them to two years in prison for offending the faithful of the Orthodox Church by performing a crude anti-Putin song near the altar of a Moscow cathedral in February. While many were offended by the gesture, the judge’s verdict has put the state’s seal of approval on the righteous anger of one community, and that anger is proving hard to control.

But according to a Russian source something different is going down Russian Orthodox to Form Party | Russia | RIA Novosti:

Autocratic Russia and the Union of Orthodox Citizens are planning to register an “Orthodox” political party, Izvestia daily reported on Thursday.

The organization’s founders said they see Russia as a monarchy with a special role for the Russian Orthodox Church and the patriarch of Moscow and all Russia as the country’s spiritual leader.

Does that mean Putin is going to leave his own political party, and join this new one?


US politics in a nutshell

Someone posted this on Facebook, and for those living outside the USA it says it all. It tells you all you need to know about both main parties in the current US election, and the other parties don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected anyway.

Yes, I know it’s simplistic, and it over-simplifies complex issues, but unless you’re a professional political fundi, it tells you all you need to know.

Hat-tip to Daniel Lieuwen, who shared it on Facebook.


I know more about America than the average American

A few days ago I wrote a blog post critical of American notions of justice, of its legal system, and the attitudes of its lawyers. I had a few qualms about it, since I’m not American, and the longest time I spent in America was two weeks, back in 1995. What do I know about it?

Well, more than most Americans, it seems.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace for the ISI civic-literacy quiz:

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%. Can you do better? Questions were drawn from past ISI surveys, as well as other nationally recognized exams.

The result?

You answered 29 out of 33 correctly — 87.88 %


Thousands Protest After Wisconsin Governor Threatens to Deploy National Guard to Intimidate Unions | Moral Low Ground

They’re rioting in Africa, there are earthquakes in New Zealand. It’s all over the TV news channels. The US government has been expressing disapproval of an armed forces crackdown on demonstrators in Libya, but I had to turn to Russia Today to learn that the Governor of Wisconsin in the USA is threatening to use armed forces to intimidate demonstrators there, and that those protests have been going on for longer than the ones in Libya, but have gone largely unreported in the rest of the world.

Thousands Protest After Wisconsin Governor Threatens to Deploy National Guard to Intimidate Unions | Moral Low Ground:

ThinkProgress reports that Governor Walker has threatened to call out the National Guard if state workers resist his draconian rollback of their rights. Walker told a reporter that the Guard is “prepared… for whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for.” Veterans groups denounced the governor’s threat to use the National Guard, traditionally deployed to help citizens in times of natural disasters or other life-and-death emergencies, to settle personal scores. “Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet– but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force,” said Robin Eckstein, an Iraq War veteran, former Wisconsin National Guard member and member of the veterans group

I wonder if any National Guard members in Wisconsin will be defecting to Canada, as the Libyan Airforce pilots defected to Malta?


Where was that again?

I knew that many Americans had a poor knowledge of geography — perhaps they don’t teach it in school — but I didn’t realise it was this bad.

No wonder they haven’t found Osama bin Laden after looking for more than 8 years.

Hat-tip to whoever sent this in an e-mail to my wife at work.

I gather that WGN9 is a broadcast station in Chicago.


You might be an American Evangelical if…

You might be an American Evangelical if:

10. T-shirts with Christian catch-phrases are a part of your evangelism strategy.

9. Your car is equipped with the ever-popular license plate frame that reads, “In case of rapture, the car is yours!”

8. You’re convinced Jesus was a Republican.

7. Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind book series is gospel truth.

6. Your favorite authors are Stormie Omartian and Joel Osteen.

5. Anyone who disagrees with you has taken the wide path.

4. You’re convinced Sarah Palin has a bright future as a political candidate.

3. Your notion of God’s purpose for your life happens to correspond nicely with upper middle-class suburban life.

2. You can’t fit anymore music on your ipod because it’s full of songs by John Tesh and Michael W. Smith.

1. You feel this post is alienating and abrasive, and your first inclination is to unsubscribe from this blog.

With acknowledgements to Christians in Context: from orthodoxy to orthopraxy.: Top Ten Marks of a Mainline Evangelical.


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