Glenn A Knight

Glenn A Knight
In my study

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Knight's Reading List XIII: January 2008

Reading List:

Buhler, Patricia. Streetwise Human Resources Management.
Church, Forrest. So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
Keegan, John, editor. The Book of War.
Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States.
Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain.


Buhler, Patricia. Streetwise Human Resources Management. 2002. xiii + 367 pages. I read this book as part of an effort to expand my project management skills. Buhler is sensitive to the legal environment of human resources work in this “politically correct” age, so her practical tips on interviewing and selecting candidates are particularly helpful. While she exaggerates the importance of the personnel function in management, it is a matter of importance, and one which too many managers neglect at their peril.

Church, Forrest. So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State. New York: Harcourt, 2007. 530 pages. Index.
I really liked this book by the son of the late Idaho Senator Frank Church. For one thing, a book on religion by a man named “Church” is just irresistible, isn’t it? For another, Church is the pastor of a large church, of a mainstream denomination, in Manhattan, and he knows something about the content of the religious positions he describes.

This book covers church-state relations during the first five presidential administrations in the United States, 1789-1825. Washington’s term was largely uncontroversial. Adams, who believed himself to be a man of broad tolerance, was, in fact, constrained by his Puritan upbringing to offend people in this area, as he did in so many others. Jefferson, who was mistrusted, even hated, by the religious establishment, especially in New England, maintained enough of an appearance of respect for religion to deprive his enemies of ammunition. By the administrations of Madison and Monroe, the religious establishment was passing from the scene, and institutional interference in politics was a thing of the past. This is one reason why the Monroe administration was known as the “Era of Good Feelings.”

The most interesting theme, for me, was that the more the churches, as churches, tried to interfere directly in politics, the less influential they were, in politics and in society at large. Thus, the Congregational Church in New England was explicitly political, especially in opposing Jefferson, but Jefferson had a successful presidency, and the church was eventually disestablished. In fact, Church makes a good case that, once churches stopped trying to be the “second estate,” they became much more successful as churches, and their indirect influence on politics became stronger than their direct influence had ever been.

It has been noted that one reason for low church attendance in Europe is that the churches are supported by the several governments. Therefore, the ministers don’t need to fill the pews in order to feed their families and fix their roofs. The origins of churches in the United States as marketing organizations lies in the end of their status as government bureaucracies. Church tells that story, and he tells it well.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2005. vii + 277 pages. Gladwell investigates the manner in which we come to know things without knowing that we are learning them. This provides a basis for what is loosely known as “intuition.” Gladwell is also concerned with the cases in which such immediate impressions turn out to be wrong. What I see as most interesting is the possibility that one could train oneself, or be trained, to make accurate, intuitive judgments, by-passing a lot of reflection and calculation. The point is that intuitive judgments are often reached in five or six seconds, while a reasoned justification of them could take days, if it were possible at all. (See the novel Tactics of Mistake (1971), by Gordon R. Dickson, for a speculative exploration of intuition and the possibility for its development and training.)

Keegan, John, editor. The Book of War. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Copyright 1999. xix + 492 pages. Sources and Acknowledgements. Index of Authors. Index. This is a large collection of writings about war, from excerpts of Thucydides and Xenophon, to accounts of the Gulf War in 1990. The “Sources and Acknowledgements” provides one with a splendid bibliography of first-person accounts and original sources on the history of warfare.

Alexander Stahlberg gives a unique account of the Prussian cavalry before and during the Hitler years. Lieutenant-Colonel Fremantle’s diary describes the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of an English observer. One of the most interesting documents collected here is the obituary of David Stirling, founder of the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS), the model for special forces units in various countries, including the United States.

Keegan’s book does what a really good anthology ought to do; it makes you want to go out and read more of the works of these authors, and others, on the subject at hand.

Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. New York: Basic Books, 2000. xxiv + 467 pages. Notes. Index. A good and thorough academic study of the expansion, and occasional contraction, of the right to vote in America. Keyssar’s main point is that the right to vote has not expanded steadily and inexorably since about 2.5% of the population elected George Washington. Rather, there has always been a tension between groups wanting to expand the right to vote, and groups wanting to restrict it. The current battle between Republicans who see voter fraud in every polling place, and Democrats who see any attempt to validate a voter’s credentials as “voter suppression,” is typical, not unusual, in American politics.

One of the four components of the Republican Party at its founding was the Know-Nothing bloc, the old American Party, which was anti-immigrant, and which sponsored laws to prevent non-citizens from voting. (Yes, at one time, and in some states, citizenship was not a requirement for voting in the United States.) That strain, as well as forces opposed to the enfranchisement of non-whites, women, migrants, and many other groups, has been around since 1800, and, after 208 years, is still going strong.

A good corrective for anyone who thinks that such rights as voting “naturally” or “inevitably” expand their reach.


Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain. Translated from the German by John E. Woods. New York: Vintage Books, 1995 [1924]. xii + 706 pages. Someone has certainly published a list of the 100 best novels ever written. I suspect that there are many such lists. One short list I saw included The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Madame Bovary, From Here to Eternity, The Pearl, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and Tom Jones. One list I found online had Pride and Prejudice at the top. Another featured Don Quixote and included The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve read those, as well as Hemingway, Faulkner, Tolstoy, and Hugo. I would place The Magic Mountain near the top of the list. It isn’t very popular these days, and the only “action sequence” is at the very end. But it explores profound questions of the health of men and nations, and the relations among people, individually and collectively. Taking tuberculosis as a metaphor for the political sickness of Europe that resulted in the First World War, Mann constructs a masterpiece around the story of Hans Castorp, whose life has just come to mean something when it is thrown away.

The Prospects for Robert Gates at Defense

Fred Kaplan, in the linked story from, thinks Bob Gates is a great choice for Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration. Kaplan reviews Gates's resume in some detail, and I don't think anyone doubts that he has the credentials for the job. Moreover, Kaplan makes the very good point that a new secretary would spend about a year, with the White House nipping at his heels about possible spending cuts, just figuring out where the problems might be. Gates has some ideas for changing the Pentagon, and Obama might just provide him the tools to make those changes.

The other thing I like about Bob Gates is his essential humility. I'm not kidding myself that anyone who has run the CIA and the Department of Defense is without a healthy dose of ego, but Gates does not seem to be carried away with himself. He knows he has a job to do, and he knows that someone else defines the overall goals and objectives of that job. Bob Gates may, because of that, put his personal stamp on the U.S. military to a greater degree than some of his predecessors who had that as an explicit goal.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Se Habla Espanol?

Here is how Ruben Navarette, Jr., sees the Republican loss of Hispanic support in 2008.

Specifically, there are five things that Republicans did which cost them Hispanic support.

They made language and culture the issue rather than illegality, which irked U.S.-born Hispanics who might otherwise have stayed out of the fray;

They didn’t condemn the racism in their ranks on the part of those who believe that Hispanic immigrants are inferior to the immigrants of old;

They let the debate digress from one that was anti-illegal immigration to one that was anti-immigrant to, finally, one that was anti-Hispanic;

They fell into the trap of offering simple solutions to what remains a complicated problem; and

They either assumed that Hispanics were not in play or that they could win some of those votes on the cheap with a spattering of Spanish ads.

Yes, indeed, Ruben, the Republican Party needs to be more open and welcoming. But as long as they think that nominating people like Sarah Palin is a good idea, I'm not holding my breath. I don't associate a pit bull with lipstick with a big, sincere, welcome sign. More like, "Beware of Dog!"

But Mr. Navarette makes one important point. In 2004, John Kerry did as badly among Hispanics as any Democrat since they started tracking these figures. It would be unwise of any party to take the Hispanic vote for granted. Moreover, it would be unwise for any party or candidate to treat the Hispanic vote as a unitary bloc. As this country's largest minority, Hispanics are going to swing elections for years to come. But they don't all swing the same way.

Did the Right Do Itself In?

John Hawkins asserts that conservatives are largely to blame for the defeat of their positions, and their candidates, in the November elections. His take is that conservatives didn't stand up and complain soon enough, or effectively enough, when President Bush and the Republican Congress went for non-conservative programs. In fine, he says, liberals are more passionate about their causes than conservatives are about theirs. Conservatives need to take to heart the old slogan: We work harder.

I'll agree with part of that diagnosis. Certainly conservatives were not all fired up for John McCain, and the Republicans in Congress took a beating, too. Hawkins also notes that tax cuts don't play well when about a third of the electorate are already exempt from Federal income taxes. He mentions that sniping at Democratic health care plans is insufficient. These examples make a different, more important point, than lack of conservative verve. As I have often said, "enthusiasm is no substitute for competence."

I think there are lots of passionate conservatives out there. The problem is that their passions blind them to the fact that no one shares their concerns. Take abortion - please. The five people in the United States who think that abortion is a very important issue are as passionate as all hell about it, but very few other people are willing to vote for or against a candidate solely on the basis of his or her views on abortion. Similarly, the people who think that the Second Amendment is the sole bulwark against our government in Washington painting the capitol red and becoming the second Kremlin are really excited about that issue, especially when they're off their meds. But who else cares?

The real problem with the conservative "movement" is that it isn't a movement at all; it's an agglomeration of little groups of people who are very concerned about these niche issues. They're passionate, all right, but they're too much like the man who leapt upon his horse and rode off in all directions. The reason a lot of people miss the old Republican party, the party of Dwight Eisenhower, is that it focussed on issues of real importance and broad interest. Sound fiscal policy, a strong national defense, development of the national infrastructure, and a rational tax policy benefit everyone, even those who don't support those things at a given time. That party was capable of turning into a majority whenever its prime issues gained some salience with the electorate. The current edition is drifting off into membership in the tin-hat league.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Knight’s Reading List XII: December 2007

Reading List:

Arnot, Bob. The Prostate Cancer Protection Plan.
Drake, David. Mistress of the Catacombs.
Edmonds, David, and John Eidinow. Wittgenstein’s Poker.
McGraw, Phil. The Ultimate Weight Solution.


Arnot, Robert, M.D. The Prostate Cancer Protection Plan: The Powerful Foods, Supplements, and Drugs That Could Save Your Life. Boston, New York and London: Little Brown and Company, 2000. xiii + 338 pages. Endnotes. Index. There are a few comments I’d like to make about Bob Arnot’s little book: 1) It contains a nice example of how careful one needs to be when the state of the art is in flux; 2) the title of Part One – A Nutritional Disease, gives away a lot about Arnot’s predispositions; 3) the lifestyle and diet changes recommended here (following Dean Ornish to a large degree) are probably good for your heart, your vascular system, and your digestion, but I wouldn’t count on them to prevent prostate cancer, let alone cure it. (Not that Arnot claims that they will; his book could, however, leave one with that impression.)

At the time Arnot wrote there was a vogue for PC-SPES, a natural supplement that was supposed to reduce PSA (prostate-specific antigen) scores. Unfortunately, PC-SPES had some nasty side effects, and, in the end, it was demonstrated that PC-SPES only worked when it was contaminated with a drug that had known problems – like causing uncontrolled bleeding from every orifice. There are a lot of fads in the prostate cancer world, partly because the legitimate treatments (surgery and radiation) have their own side effects, and one should be careful about any claims for miraculous success.

Yes, I believe that diet and lifestyle can, perhaps, slow down the progress of prostate cancer, and quite probably help to prevent a recurrence. But a disease that affects one in every six human males is just too widespread to be entirely environmental. It may be that those with a genetic predisposition start incubating abnormal cells as soon as puberty kicks in. Again, be wary of easy ways out.

Finally, I’m glad I eat one of Dr. Arnot’s soy protein shakes every day, and that I’ve lost some weight on the low-fat, vegetable-intensive diet I’ve followed for the past year and more. I think I’m less likely to have a heart attack or a stroke than I was a year ago. But I’m really glad I chose to have a course of intensive high-density radiation for the prostate cancer. Now I view the diet as supportive of the other treatments I have going on to make sure the cancer is permanently knocked down.

Edmonds, David, and John Eidinow. Wittgenstein’s Poker. 2001. x + 340 pages. Index.

Terrific book! I wrote a review after I read it, and that review is posted on this blog.

McGraw, Phil. The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Lost Freedom. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Singapore: The Free Press, 2003. xiv + 320 pages. Index.

Yes, that Dr. Phil. If you’re looking for originality, this ain’t it, kid. But I would prefer tried-and-true methods to a brand-new miracle cure for obesity. Don’t buy the potato chips in the first place, and then you can’t eat them when you get the yen. Don’t go on a diet so monotonous you can’t stick with it, and it might be compromising your general nutrition. Choose lower-fat and lower-calorie alternatives. That’s the kind of common-sense advice you get from The Ultimate Weight Solution.

On the one hand, this is the kind of book that you might think you don’t need if you’re ready to lose some weight. I mean, we all know this stuff. But I found the book useful because it pulled together a lot of information in a coherent format, and because Dr. Phil makes it easy to apply his recommendations.


Drake, David. Mistress of the Catacombs. New York: Tor, 2001. A Tom Doherty Associates book. 464 pages. Sequel to Servant of the Dragon.

Two Republican Issues

Jennifer Rubin, in the linked article, asserts that there are two big issues of which the Republicans can take advantage: school choice and union elections.

First, attempts by Chancellor Michelle Rhee to clean up and improve the District of Columbia schools may be blocked by the teachers' union. As far as I can tell, the DC teachers' union has gone along with most of Rhee's moves, including closing schools, firing principals, and reducing central office staff. Rubin asserts that the union intends to stop Rhee from firing bad teachers, and she may be right - this is a critical issue for unions. Rubin thinks Republicans in Congress should support a move to declare a "state of emergency" in the DC schools, so that the union could be overridden.

Second, unions are engaged in a campaign to eliminate the secret ballot from representation elections. There was a measure on the Colorado ballot this year to that effect, but it was soundly defeated. During the presidential campaign, the Obama campaign indicated it would support this kind of measure. Rubin thinks congressional Republicans should make this a key issue in 2009, fighting for the American right to a secret ballot.

I think Rubin may be right on one of these issues, but wrong on the the other. First, voting for a "state of emergency" in the nation's capital because the DC schools are really, really bad is just going to make everyone look ridiculous. The DC schools were bad in 1954, when they were desegregated; they were bad in 1968, when the town was torched; they have been wrong through administrations both Republican and Democrat - so where's the emergency? On the other hand, every time Congress interferes in the District's affairs, the "home rule" advocates get all upset, and people start talking about "plantations."

Sure, I think the DC schools need serious reform, and I think Rhee should have a pretty free hand to do it. But just firing teachers won't do it; the District needs a major teacher re-training program, and forcing bad teachers to go back to school might just get them to quit. The biggest problem with the DC schools is the same for most bad school systems: too many of the teachers came up through the same system they now work in. There isn't any basis for comparison, and most DC teachers have never seen a good school. So something has to be done to let in the fresh air of comparison.

Second, I think Congress should oppose the elimination of the secret ballot in union elections. If the Democrats are so close to the unions that they're ready to allow intimidation to decide elections, the Republicans will lose this one. But it's an issue that resonates with all of us who treasure the secret ballot, and it will place a really bad light on criticisms of the Bush administration's attitude to civil liberties. Finally, of course, the reason for the secret ballot was to prevent employers from intimidating their workers. What makes the unions think that they can out-intimidate the man who signs the workers' paychecks?

But criticizing the Democrats and nibbling at the margins of union power isn't going to bring the Republicans back from the wilderness. They need a new John the Baptist, heralding the coming of a full-scale program of government. So far, they don't have anyone with shoulders that broad.

Gauging Success of Failure in Iraq

To decide whether something was successful or not, one needs to understand the objectives it was supposed to accomplish. A continuing problem in historical analysis is that objectives are often multiple, vague, or equivocal, while apologists sometimes seek to modify the objectives after the fact. For example, the United States lost the War of 1812, and lost it decisively, in terms of the original objectives of the War Hawks, such as Henry Clay, who wanted to annex Canada. One of the results of the Treaty of Ghent was the end of impressment of sailors from American ships. So, after the war, publicists spread the notion that our objective had been to end impressment, and we had. Ipso facto, we won the war! In fact, the British had agreed to terminate the Orders in Council authorizing impressment before they received word of the American declaration of war.

That sort of equivocation has consequences. Because American history texts tended to go along with the notion that we had won the War of 1812, the Richard Nixon’s assertion that he refused to be the first U.S. President to lose a war had some credibility. In fact, Jemmie Madison was the first U.S. President to lose a war (and, one might argue, Jefferson Davis was the second), so Mr. Nixon’s point wasn’t as valid as he liked to think. Valid or not, it did help to prolong the Vietnam war. In one of the great cases of such equivocation, assertions by right-wing German politicians that the German army had won World War I, and that victory had been given away by left-wing (Jewish) politicians, led to the rise of Hitler.

In the May/June 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, Steve Simon’s article “The Price of the Surge: How U.S. Strategy Is Hastening Iraq’s Demise,” is ostensibly a straightforward critique of the infusion of additional U.S. soldiers into Iraq in 2007-2008. In reality, Mr. Simon is establishing a basis for blaming the “loss” of the war in Iraq on the surge. Because of the way the surge has developed, Simon asserts, its successes are largely due to the “bottom-up” developments of better relations between Sunni tribes and the U.S. forces, the withdrawal of Shiite militias from active combat, and the reduction of friction between groups through “ethnic cleansing.” All of these are, according to Simon, threats to the development of a strong, unitary Iraqi state. As he says, “A strategy intended to reduce casualties in the short term will ineluctably weaken the prospects for Iraq’s cohesion over the long run.”

Simon assumes throughout that weakening the central Iraqi state is bad, and that the model that should be followed is that of subordinating the tribe and sects to the state. He asserts, and I’m sure he is correct, that there will be some negative effects of encouraging these centrifugal forces. On the other hand, Simon at no point adduces any evidence that a strong, centralized Iraq is, in fact, the goal of U.S. policymakers or military commanders. It may be true, for example, that strengthening the tribes against the state will weaken the center. But lessening the burden of the center on the tribes may make life tolerable for those tribes, so that they will remain in a (weakly) united Iraq. They might not so readily submit to a strong center dominated by Shiites. Similarly, restoring strong central authority over the three Kurdish provinces is likely to exacerbate, rather than relieve, stresses between the ethnic groups. In brief, a weakly centralized Iraq may be more stable in the long run than an attempt to impose a strong central government on a disunited populace.

The surge appears to have succeeded, not only in “reduc[ing] casualties in the short term,” but in demonstrating that a decentralized approach to Iraqi governance is more workable than attempting to clothe an emperor in Baghdad. I could point to parallels with the American experience before the Civil War, when the slave states were willing, if not content, to remain in a weak Union, but felt themselves force to secede at the prospect of a stronger central government. Moreover, whenever I hear someone lament that Iraq will be weak and disunited, I think to myself that the last time we had a strong central government in Baghdad, it attacked its neighbors in Iran and Kuwait. Would a failure to achieve a powerful Iraqi government really be a sign that we had lost the war?

Knight’s Reading List XI: November 2007

Reading List:

Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers.
Drake, David. Queen of Demons.
Drake, David. Servant of the Dragon.
Drake, David. The Mirror of Worlds.
Krantz, Steven G. Calculus Demystified.
Marks, Sheldon, M.D. Prostate and Cancer.
Ornish, Dean, M.D. Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish.
Rosen, Jeffrey. The Supreme Court.
Theroux, Paul. The Old Patagonian Express.
Torrey, E. Fuller, M.D. Surviving Prostate Cancer.


Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 512 pages. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

The late Steve Ambrose was a very well-known popular historian, author of Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, and multivolume biographies of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. This book is in the tradition of oral histories of World War II, of which John Toland’s Battle: The Story of the Bulge (1959) is a fine example. I was a little surprised not to see Toland’s book in Ambrose’s Bibliography. Nor did he refer to John Keegan’s Six Armies in Normandy (1982, with a new introduction 1994), a really fine account of the period June-August, 1944.

Ambrose’s accounts of D-Day and the liberation of France, the Battle of the Bulge, and the late battles will be familiar to those who have read much in the history of World War II. Less familiar and, therefore, perhaps more interesting, was the section on the battle of the Hurtgen Forest. The drama of the battles around Bastogne may have led us to ignore the almost utterly pointless slaughter occasioned by Eisenhower’s decision to continue offensive operations on the Western Front through the bitter winter of 1944-1945. Had the allies settled down into winter quarters, a fine tradition of European warfare, they could have resumed the offensive in the spring with little difference – except that many casualties suffered in the Hurtgen Forest would not have occurred.

Another interesting aspect of this book is that Ambrose devotes a section of six chapters to “Live in the ETO.” This covers the roles of the many non-combat personnel involved in the theater: nurses, medics, prisoners, as well as some discussion of what was a thoroughly segregated army. Even though World War II modified American social and technological life, it was, nonetheless, a product of the culture of the time, and many assumptions and relationships were carried over from the homeland to the European theater.

Krantz, Steven G. Calculus Demystified. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. xii + 343 pages. Bibliography. Solutions to Exercises. Final Exam. Index. About the Author.

I still find calculus mysterious, but that isn’t Krantz’s fault.

Marks, Sheldon. Prostate and Cancer: A Family Guide to Diagnosis, Treatment, and Survival (Third Edition). 2003. xv + 349 pages. Index.

I concur with Dr. E. Torrey Fuller’s comments on this book. “Originally published in 1995, this is one of the best books available on prostate cancer. It is user friendly, with forty chapters in question-and-answer format and a helpful index. Like most books written by urologists, it primarily covers treatment issues and includes little on causes (except nutrition), research, and other issues.”

Ornish, Dean, M.D. Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish. 1996. xxi + 344 pages. Index.

Ornish is a well-known television doctor who pushes diet and meditation as pathways to better health. This cookbook represents an attempt to bring Ornish-healthy food to people who can’t afford a personal chef. I didn’t find it an indispensable addition to my kitchen’s library (unlike, say, Joy of Cooking). I do have Ornish’s Eat More, Weigh Less, but his recipes end up on my table a lot less often than dishes from Gabe Mirkin’s Fat Free, Flavor Full or Sarah Schlesinger’s 500 Fat-Free Recipes.

Rosen, Jeffrey. The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries that Defined America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Times Books, 2006. 274 pages. Cases Cited. Notes. Acknowledgments. Illustration Credits. Index.

This book was written as a companion to a PBS series on the United States Supreme Court in American history. (I have not seen the series, so I can’t compare the book to it.) This may explain Jeffrey Rosen’s choice of format: Each of the four principal chapters is structured around the relations between two key players in an important period of the Court’s history: John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson in the early history of the Republic, John Marshall Harlan and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., around the beginning of the 20th century, Hugo Black and William O. Douglas in the mid-century period, and William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Rosen’s thesis is that temperament matters more than intellectual brilliance, political power, or legal knowledge. A justice with the right temperament will be able to build coalitions, broker compromises, and affect many decisions. A less fortunate justice will anger and alienate his or her colleagues, and write many minority opinions whose brilliance can’t conceal the simple fact that they are written in a losing cause.

This is an attractive thesis, and it helps to account for the inability of Antonin Scalia to participate more often in the majority side of decisions. I have, however, a few reservations. John Marshall’s congenial (and convivial) disposition certainly helped him to carry his Court on many occasions. On the other hand, one reason for his influence in American jurisprudence is that Marshall was Chief Justice from 1801 until 1835; Jefferson was President from 1801 to 1809. It may also be a little unfair to compare Holmes and the first Harlan, as they were on the Court together for only nine years, out of tenures that exceeded thirty years for each man.

Theroux, Paul. The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. (Introduction, 1997). A Mariner Book. xv + 404 pages.

This is a really fine travel book, by one of the outstanding travel writers. The author travelled from Boston, Massachusetts, to southern Argentina, by train. Theroux’s observations are keen, and his descriptions are clear. Theroux isn’t about taking his own viewpoint out of the picture; in his books the reporter – his experiences, his frustrations, his opinions – is very much a part of the story. An elegantly written book.

Torrey, E. Fuller, M.D. Surviving Prostate Cancer: What You Need to Know to Make Informed Decisions. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, Health and Wellness, 2006. xv + 280 pages. Notes. Index.

Fuller was an M.D., but not an oncologist (cancer specialist), when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004. His purpose was to write “the book I wish had been available to me when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.” In my opinion, as an interested party, he has succeeded remarkably well. Of the various books I have read on prostate cancer, this one ranks with Prostate Cancer for Dummies as the most useful.

Part of the usefulness of Surviving Prostate Cancer is Fuller’s attitude, as captured in the title. Fuller expresses, and shares, a determination to beat this disease. Driving this book is the conviction that prostate cancer is beatable. Fuller covers the various treatment options – and there are many – clearly and thoroughly. His bibliography includes a brief description of each book, with an indication of his recommendations. (He recommends both Prostate Cancer for Dummies and Prostate and Cancer.) For example, he does not recommend the American Cancer Society’s Complete Guide to Prostate Cancer with this comment: “Thus, the book lacks specific information to help a man choose which treatment is best for him. These shortcomings may be an inevitable consequence of having sixty-two authors and trying not to offend anyone.”


Drake, David. Queen of Demons. New York, Tom Doherty Associates, A Tor Book, 1998. 480 pages. Sequel to: Lord of the Isles.

Drake, David. Servant of the Dragon. New York, Tom Doherty Associates, A Tor Book, 1999. 612 pages. Sequel to: Queen of Demons.

Drake, David. The Mirror of Worlds. New York, Tom Doherty Associates, A Tor Book, 2007. 333 pages. Sequel to: The Fortress of Glass.

David Drake, who recently became a contributor to this blog, has been writing excellent science fiction and fantasy since the early 1970s. I’ve known Dave for 34 years now, and he is both a good friend and one of my favorite authors. The Lord of the Isles/Crown of the Isles series encompasses a total of nine novels, all featuring a group of four young friends from a village back of beyond, who are thrust into position of power and peril in an age of powerful magic and malevolent magicians. Drake very nicely balances the naturalism of his prose with the fantastic aspects of his subject matter. There is very little more frightening than a horror story told in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone, and David Drake is very good at letting his stories develop their own atmospheres.

You can find out more about Dave and his books at:

Long Time, No See

Readers -

October was a good month for this blog, with 12 posts. I had a pretty good rhythm going, moving back and forth between (more or less) five-paragraph essays and reading list articles. November has been much slower here on the blog, in large part because I've been caught up in work. But nobody wants to hear excuses. I'm going to continue to post as I can, and hopefully that will be somewhat more often than in the past few weeks.

Please contribute your comments and your original essays as you have time and energy. I welcome comments on, and links to, articles and blogs of interest.

Thank you for your patience.

Glenn A. Knight

Monday, November 17, 2008


A definition is a statement of the meaning of word, phrase, or term. Consider that definition for a moment. (Do we see the beginnings of an infinite regress, definition of definition of definition?) If we replaced the word "is" with an equals sign, it would read: A definition = a statement of the meaning of a word, phrase, or term. This form is reversible: A statement of the meaning of a word, phrase, or term = a definition. The statement is also stable under alternation: A definition is a statement of the meaning of a word, or a statement of the meaning of a phrase, or a statement of the meaning of a term. In short, the word, phrase or term defined, and the defining word, phrase or term, may be substituted for one another, without changing the meaning of the statement in which they are used.

To be happy is to be characterized by good luck. Happy is synonymous with fortunate. The definition of happiness is good fortune. One can use "happy" in any sentence in which one would use "fortunate," without changing the meaning of the sentence. The Queen of Sheba said to Solomon, "How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom." This sentence retains its meaning when one modifies it to, "How fortunate your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom."

When one is happy, one is enjoying, showing, or marked by pleasure or joy. Happy is a synonym for glad, and unhappy is a synonym for sad. "A happy face makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit." This is a perfectly acceptable meaning of the word "happy," and it is commonly used in this way. There is a degree to which the two meanings impinge upon one another. If one has good luck, one should be cheerful. But they are, in fact, distinct meanings. When one says that one had a run of bad luck, that is not interchangeable in meaning with saying that one was depressed or sad all day. Solomon's officials may be pleased to hear his wisdom, but they are lucky to receive it, even if they take no pleasure in it.

Aristotle says that equivocation occurs when two objects share a name and nothing else. Another way to put that is to say that a word may have two (or more) definitions. So it is with "happiness." One must always be clear whether one is using "happy" to mean "lucky," or to mean "showing joy." When a word has two definitions, either of which may be accepted for some uses, great confusion can result from a failure to specify which definition is in use.

While definitions are important, it should be remembered that they tell one nothing of the empirical content of a concept. "God" has been defined as "a being than which there can be no greater." That is a workable definition, clear and unambiguous. It could be used to substitute for "God" wherever it occurred, although it would substantially increase the length of the document. However, when one tries to use this definition to prove that God exists, one is going beyond the power to definitions, which is, after all, merely to express the relationships of words to one another. That a = b proves neither that a exists, not that there is any b.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The happiness of free people

Click on this link:

to go to the great ideas forum if you would like to discuss the implications of the November issue of Great Ideas Online , where Dr. Adler explains the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia or happiness. As usual, I am grateful to Dr. Adler for stimulating essays, but find I totally disagree with his conclusions and most of his premises. In this case, I have argued that the Aristotelian definition of happiness is suitable only for a nation of rulers and subjects and propose an alternate definition, based on Stoic philosophy which I will argue is more suitable for a free people.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Republican Future

I just posted here an article by David Drake, author of Hammer's Slammers, Lord of the Isles, and Some Golden Harbor, as well as many other science fiction and fantasy novels. Dave is a terrific writer, and I've known him for many years. But that's not why I posted his reflections on the Republican Party. Dave's writing skills make the article a pleasure to read, but the main reason I wanted to post Dave's piece is that it expresses so well my own feelings, and those of a lot of other former Republicans.

In the movie A River Runs through It, the narrator notes that his father, a Presbyterian minister, used to say that Methodists were Baptists who could read. (By the way, as far as I can tell, the line does not appear in the story on which the movie was based.) For some years now, I have referred to myself as a Republican who can read. This was my way of distinguishing myself from the ignorant, superstitious, anti-intellectuals who have come to dominate the Republican Party.

In the history of American politics, stupidity has not been a monopoly of the Republican Party. In fact, for most of the twentieth century, the center of ignorance and superstition was the Southern Democratic party. The Democrats, after all, nominated William Jennings Bryan for President, and were represented in Congress by such paragons as Theodore Bilbo, Huey Long, and James Eastland. It was the movement of white southern Democrats to the Republican party in the wake of the civil rights revolution that transformed the GOP into the party of medieval superstition. Oddly enough, it was Richard Nixon, that most intellectual of Republican Presidents, who decided to exploit the disaffection of southerners from the Democratic Party.

In the wake of Barack Obama's victory, the Republican Party has some serious decisions to make. The GOP may be on the path to permanent minority and irrelevance trodden by the Federalists and the Whigs. Avoiding that dead end road will require good decisions - decisions of a quality we can't expect from Sarah Palin and her ilk.

What Have They Done with My Party?

The title comes from the question plaintively asked some months before the 2008 presidential election by a friend who's a businessman. Like me he's well on the wrong side of Fifty, and like me he was raised a Republican. I think we'd both describe ourselves as conservatives (note the small c).
Max Hastings, a right-wing British journalist, put it in a slightly different fashion when he noted during the campaign (I'm paraphrasing) that the Republicans had become the party of the poorly educated, superstitious, and rural. You only have to listen to one of Sarah Palin's campaign speeches to see that he has a point.
The Republican Party my friend and I identified with was the party of business. Republicans were neither exciting nor cuddly, but you could trust the economy to them and expect them to avoid foreign military adventures. We liked Ike.
In 1983 I became rewrite man for Newt Gingrich on the book which became Window of Opportunity. Newt is a very smart, very dynamic man; working with him was both an honor and an education.
In the course of our first meeting, Newt told me that he was going to engineer a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Thank goodness I didn't say, "Right, and pigs will fly," but I certainly thought it. I was colossally ignorant, though in 1983 most people would have agreed with me. The only smart thing I did during the exchange was to keep my mouth shut.
Newt continued to work from within to change the Republicans from a party of the elite and privileged (people like me, not to put too fine a point on it) into a real populist movement. In 1994 he achieved his end: Republicans took control of the House.
There has been quite a lot of movement since then, but not--from the vantage of hindsight--a great deal of progress. The House Republicans didn't seem to know what to do with their victory. Newt himself left the House and elective politics. His economic mantra had been, "Reduce the national debt." His majority spiraled into a wasteland of tax cuts and deficit spending.
The populist majority fell away, not so much in anger as boredom. Quite a lot of people dislike Bill Clinton, but very few would say that it was worth shutting down the government of the United States to delve into his sex life.
What remained isn't the Republican Party of Eisenhower (or Dewey and Taft): it's a populist fringe. It certainly represents a significant portion of the citizens of the United States, just as the Taliban represents a significant portion of the citizens of Afghanistan, but it isn't the business party, the Safe Hands party.
It's a party which has turned away from people like me and my businessman friend. And, though he worked with the fringes too in putting together his majority, I believe it's a party which is equally alien to Newt Gingrich,.
It's a shame. I still like Ike.

Dave Drake