Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book review - The Anti-Federalists.

Jackson Turner Main's book The Anti-Federalists is subtitled "Critics of the Constitution 1781-1788." The 286 page book was published in 1961.

I had always been interested in the ratification battles concerning the U.S. Constitution so I was eager to read Mr. Main's book. While I did find the read to be tedious at times I was not disappointed. Mr. Main first lays the political foundation for the ratification fight and then breaks down the ratification battles by state. While his delving into state by state politics makes the book drag at times it remains an interesting read.

I was previously aware that such notables as Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and George Mason had opposed the Constitution as establishing a too powerful Federal Government. I was not aware that the they did not have a problem with strengthening the Federal Government as it then existed. Their concern was that the Constitution, as written, gave too much power to what they perceived would be a National, not Federal, government. In fact, several opponents called themselves "real Federalists." They did this because they felt that the true issue was whether or not the United States would have a national government or federal one. A national government was perceived as overshadowing and eventually absorbing the states. A federal system was perceived as the states delegating certain powers to a very limited central government but maintaining their rights to govern their internal affairs as they saw fit.

The proponents of the Constitution countered by stating that the proposed government was not national in nature but federal and would never trample on the states. This won over some anti-federalists but most remained concerned. As intervening history has proven, they had good cause to be so concerned.

Another division that Mr. Main explores is the financial one. Most federalist were well off while the anti-federalists were generally the working class. The middle class was mostly evenly split. This led to some heights of rhetoric which I was surprised at. Some of the opponents of the Constitution called for redistribution of wealth. Somewhat of a contradictory view for those who were concerned about an overreaching federal government.

All in all I give The Anti-Federalists a half a thumb up. While the subject matter is of great interest Mr. Main often becomes bogged down in the minutia of the fight. This leads to his well-researched volume dragging at some key times. A good book for anyone interested in the origins of the Constitution and those who have ever wondered why The Federalist Papers needed to be written.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Allergic reaction.

When I first got into emergency services I actually started as a volunteer EMT. Less than a year later I moved onto the Police Department but kept up my by then heavy involvement in EMS.

I can't recall if I was on the Police Department yet or not on the night in question. I was on the overnight call shift which ran from seven at night until five the next morning. Because the town is fairly small we were not required to be at the station while on call, just have our pagers on. I turned my pager on at seven that evening and a few hours later turned my light off and hit the sack.

Sure enough, in the middle of the night the pager tones woke me up. Woman with difficulty breathing. I pulled on my EMS uniform, stumbled out to my car, and drove the the shed. There I met Larry and Ringo. Larry was the patrolman assigned to that night shift and he was starting the ambulance up. Ringo was the other EMT on call and he looked about as sleepy as I felt. Off we went.

Once on scene we encountered an elderly woman who was panting as she tried to catch her breath. After getting a quick history we decided to start the woman on oxygen to try and alleviate her distress. Ringo thought a mask would be good so I set it up. Ringo told the woman what he was going to do and placed the mask on her face. Panic set in. Ringo pulled the mask off. The woman calmed down. Ringo explained again, in more detail. Mask back on, panic. Mask off. Explain. Mask on. Panic. Mask off.

So far Ringo, Larry, myself, and the woman's son had all tried to explain to her about the oxygen. She was coherent and said she understood but didn't want the mask on. She claimed that oxygen was no good for her. What? She had no medical condition that made oxygen use dangerous. No matter, it just wasn't good for her she said. Larry escaped by going out to the ambulance to get the cot. Ringo talked the woman into allowing him to hold the mask next to her face and let the air blow across her nose and mouth. Not as good as if the mask was on but better than nothing.

Larry returned with the cot. The woman wouldn't sit on it. Said she couldn't. We brought the back all the way up. No dice. We tried to talk her onto the cot. Nope. I looked at Ringo. He looked like he was in the middle of a long night. Larry was looking at the ceiling. The woman's son asked if she could ride in a seat in the ambulance. Worth a try. The woman agreed that she could do that. Progress!

We carried the woman out on a dining room chair because she was too weak to walk. As we set her down beside the ambulance she stated that she could not ride in the ambulance because it was too high. Larry assured her that this was not a problem because we would lift her in. No we wouldn't she replied, it was too high. That was her final say in the matter, she would not ride that high up. Nothing we could say was going to change that. Larry looked like a man who wanted to swear but knew he couldn't.

Ringo asked the woman what she wanted to do. She stated that her son could take her to the hospital in his car. The son looked like he might faint at the suggestion. He pointed out that Mom was not doing well in the breathing department. This concerned him. Ringo stepped in, the important thing was to get the lady to the doctor. What about if we EMTs rode in the car with the woman and her son? That would work said the woman.

Grabbing a jump kit and the oxygen we piled into the back seat of the car (the woman would only ride up front). Larry followed in the ambulance. I kept in radio contact with Larry and documented the proceedings. Ringo leaned over the front seat and held the oxygen mask to blow across the woman's face. Whenever he got the mask too close she would push it away and remind us that oxygen was not good for her.

It was a long ride to the hospital. A long explanation to the ER staff as to why our patient wasn't on board the ambulance when we came in. A long report. It will also be a long time before I forget the woman who was allergic to oxygen and the four door car that became an ambulance.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book review - The Twelve Caesars.

The Twelve Caesars is Michael Grant's 260 page study of the first twelve Roman emperors. The book is divided into an introduction, twelve biographical sketches of the rulers, and a conclusion. The style of writing is engaging without being needlessly dramatic.

In the introduction Mr. Grant explains that his biographical pictures of the emperors will lack detail due to the time that has passed since they lived and the loss of primary sources. Such sources as go exist are somewhat compromised as well by the necessity of the author's survival (the living emperor would be closely monitoring the contemporary historians). This makes them somewhat biased. Mr. Grant also warns that the emperors must be seen in the light of their times to be understood. He claims that what seems depraved and evil to us today was accepted in their time and so they were not necessarily any worse than any of their fellow citizens. The main difference was the lack of restraint imposed. An interesting point but one that gives rise to the question, is evil wrong because it is evil or because it is viewed as such?

In spite of the dearth of source information, Mr. Grant does an admirable job of tracing the creation of the Roman Empire by Julius Caesar through the end of the reign of Domitian. Mr. Grant is careful to clarify what he can reasonably confirm as fact and what is mere legend. Each chapter follows one emperor and the length of each is regulated by the information available as well as by the length of the emperor's reign. For the three who lasted less than three months each there is not much to be said. In contrast, the chapters on Agustus and Tiberius are longer.

In the conclusion the author briefly sums up the impact each emperor had and the lessons that can be drawn from their performances. He also quotes Lord Acton's observation that, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are always bad." Mr. Grant takes the corruption spoke of in this statement to be the physical breakdown due to the stress of the job. He also contends that the Caesars were no more bad than any other hero or leader and that they "demand our awed respect and admiration."

I give The Twelve Caesars a half a thumb up. While I learned much about the men and events of the period I was dismayed at the author's attempt to gloss over the atrocities committed by many of these rulers. I was somewhat confused by this tendency until I read the conclusion and discovered his misunderstanding of Lord Acton and his rationalization of evil. While these men may have scaled the utmost heights of power and glory, in the end they gained the whole world but lost their souls.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book review - Theodore Rex.

Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex is a 555 page study of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency. The book begins with the notification of President McKinley's death and closes as TR leaves Washington following the inauguration of President Taft. In between the two events Morris clearly traces Teddy's actions and outlines the political environment he was operating in.

The first President Roosevelt was a much more complicated figure than he appears in most textbooks. His habit of sounding one way and then another in the same speech confused his opponents and allies alike. His actions though are clearly the forewarning of another Roosevelt who would later assume the presidency.

Mr. Morris' personal beliefs are hard to determine but he concisely lays out TR's populist tendencies and correctly classifies him as one of the first progressives. Roosevelt's policies on railroads and his later war on capitalism are two examples of such tendencies.

By his second term, TR's expansionism had moderated and he was focusing more and more on domestic issues. This did not prevent him from brokering peace between Russia and Japan though. Initially an admirer of Japan, TR began to suspect that a future war was likely. His policy of peace through security helped to stave off that war for a few decades.

All in all President Theodore Roosevelt could be viewed merely as a light version of his more well-known relative, Franklin D. Roosevelt. His policies tended to the socialist side of things, he was an adroit politician with a huge ego, and he had trouble letting go of power. It would have been well had he adhered to his own statement concerning his duties as President, "I do not represent public opinion: I represent the public. There is a wide difference between the two, between the real interests of the public, and the public's opinion of those interests."

One thing is for sure; Edmund Morris serves the public interest well with Theodore Rex. I give this well-written book two thumbs up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Off the Tallahatchie bridge.

So when I came to work this morning the radio was playing "Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry. I asked the night shift officer what he thought the girl singing and Billie Joe had thrown off the bridge. He stated that he didn't know but had often wondered himself. We discussed the various possibilities for a couple of minutes before he got out of the car.

According to Wikipedia, we're not the only ones who have wondered what got thrown off the bridge. Apparently it was big news at the time the song was originally released and even involved police questioning. There seems to be no clear answer as to what Bobbie Gentry meant when she wrote the song and she has never cleared the matter up very well either.

So, what did get thrown off the bridge? Did that have any connection to Billie Joe's later jump? What is your theory?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book review variety show.

Ok, so I was planning on reviewing each of the books that I have read in the past few months. Problem is, I still have six books to go. At my present rate that will take me forever since I am still reading. As such I have decided to take a shortcut and do quick reviews of each book. Here we go:

Adams vs. Jefferson by John Ferling - Excellent read about the election of 1800. Ferling does a superb job of laying the foundation and explaining the issues. I learned a lot. Much about Jefferson, more about Adams and his term as president.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose - An overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition with the focus being on Meriwether Lewis. I had never read any of Ambrose's work and knew only the basic facts about the Lewis and Clark adventure. Learned much about both. The information was fascinating but I am not sure I share others' enthusiasm for the author.

Benjamin Franklin, An American Life by Walter Isaacson - This book was a very revealing look at America's original inventor. I knew little about Franklin outside his participation in the founding of the United States. This work filled in his background nicely and made his decisions and actions understandable.

Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times by H.W. Brands - Andrew Jackson was an intriguing figure in American history. Brands brings him to life and gives a clear picture of his life, service, and presidency. I was able to glean a lot about Jackson in reading this and it solidified my view of him as one of the worst presidents we have had.

The Second World War by John Keegan - Handy overview of the war by a British historian. The British take on the war was very interesting. While that was not Keegan's purpose in writing the book, it did show through at times. His method of dividing the war into theatres and segments was also interesting.

Mathew Brady by Barry Pritzker - As is fitting the subject matter, this is a nice coffee table type book. The author mixes text containing Brady's biography in with photos containing his work. Being familiar with Brady's Civil War works I was particularly impressed by some of his other pictures. Relaxing and interesting read.

Whew! So there we are, all caught up. I'll try and not let that happen again. If you have any questions about these six books or want more information on them just give me a shout.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book review - The Late Great Planet Earth.

The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey was written in 1970 and the copy I read was printed in 1973. The topic is Biblical prophecy concerning the last days. As a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary Mr. Lindsey is familiar and comfortable with his topic.

While the references to current events are obviously dated, I found the book to be an interesting read. Mr. Lindsey starts by addressing why Biblical prophecy should be taken seriously. He points out the many instances where it has been borne out in other areas. He convincingly contends that this record of accuracy lends credibility to the predictions about the end times. This was actually the part of the book that I found to be most interesting.

Mr. Lindsey stumbles a bit when addressing future events. The most obvious reason for this was the time in which the book was written. For example, while there are certain prophecies directed roughly at Russia, Mr. Lindsey attempts to apply them to the Soviet Union as he knew it at the time of the writing. While this might have made sense in 1970 it hardly does so now. In other instances Mr. Lindsey gives credence to some of the United Nations bilge on overpopulation and such. Since Mr. Lindsey avoids specific applications the effect of these flaws, though jarring, is not fatal to his work.

Overall I give The Late Great Planet Earth a thumb and half up. Mr. Lindsey does an excellent job of exploring the end time prophecies and laying the foundation as to why those prophecies should be taken seriously. This book is well worth the reading in spite of the Cold War flavor of some passages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book review - Days of Our Years.

I have actually read several books since the last review I posted. My Grandfather passed away in June and so I have inherited quite a few books and look to receive more. My Grandfather was a voracious reader who kept almost everything he read. His literary interests were varied and his library vast. I will try and catch up with my recent reading as time permits.

The latest book from the collection that I read was Days of Our Years by Pierre Van Paasen. When I started reading I had no idea who Mr. Van Paasen was, the book was published in 1939 though and promised to be an interesting read about the period between the World Wars. A note written on the title page in my Grandfather's handwriting further piqued my curiosity. In it he stated that the book was of the type that "nearly justifies the burning of books." I do not share my Grandfather's political or religious views so the note was more of an invitation than warning.

In the book Mr. Van Paasen writes of his childhood in Holland, his family's immigration to Canada, and his service in the Canadian army in World War One. That is just the background. He then proceeds to lay out various experiences he had while working as a newspaper reporter.

While I found his sketches of rural French life, his account of being detained at Dachau (yes, the concentration camp), and his travels in French Morocco to be of interest, they paled against his telling of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the conflict in the British mandate of Palestine, and his interviews with Benito Mussolini.

In Ethiopia Mr. Van Paasen was befriended by Emperor Haile Selassie. This allowed him to see and recount the Ethiopian side of the invasion. The accounts of Selassie's views and hopes concerning international intervention is of great interest. In one particularly vivid account Mr. Van Passen recalls walking in on the Ethiopian Minister of War as he was holding his youngest son who had just died after being gassed by the Italian troops.

Mussolini comes across as just the type of egotistic buffoon who would jump at the chance of invading a stone age country and then try to claim glory from the endeavor. Mr. Van Passen had a couple of interviews with The Duce and came away with a good understanding of him. He missed though in predicting that Benito would not stay tied to Hitler and would ally himself with Britian and France in any coming war.

In Palestine Mr. Van Paasen spoke with Jewish leaders, the Mufti of Jerusalem, the British governor, and common folks of all stripes. What he reveals about the Arab leadership's duplicity and the British complacency is almost shocking.

All in all I would give Days of Our Years one thumb up. While the accounts of travels and events are very interesting and Mr. Van Paasen is a skilled observer and story teller, he is hampered in two respects.

First, as an avowed Socialist he gives the Soviet Union, and communism in general, a free pass on many things. In one instance he states that the USSR is moving forward and that the end will justify the "discomfort" experienced in the process.

The second area that I found Mr. Van Paasen lacking in was his understanding of human nature. Strange since he was a reporter of human events. Mr. Van Paasen's view that humans are naturally good at their core blinds him to the cause of the events he is recording. He tends to try and blame circumstances and conditions for human atrocities. While circumstances and conditions can affect human viewpoints and strategies every man must still give account for his actions. Mr. Van Paasen misses this and his otherwise insightful work suffers from the loss.