Oct 21

Hollywood Propaganda; How TV, Movies, and Music Shape Our Culture, by Mark Dice ★★★★★

Mark Dice has been making a series of books about modern culture, the most recent being The True Story of Fake News, Liberalism: Find a Cure and the Liberal Media Industrial Complex. The format of these books are all the same. I’ve written reviews on each of them already. In this book, Mark attacks the entertainment industry, showing how they have intentionally written script into their shows to persuade the public toward a particular end. Mark covers various things, such as making the public accepting of abortion, LGBTQ issues, Feminist issues, immigration issues, and political issues, such as painting a negative spin on Donald Trump. Hollywood is deeply influenced and affected by the state, including the military, FBI and CIA, and other government agencies. Hollywood has been very strong at promoting an anti-USA agenda, and stirring up race issues, creating a war against white people. There is no corner left unturned, and even sports have become political via Hollywood. Mark laments how late-night comedies have gone from equal opportunity attacks against both Republicans and Democrats with Johnny Carson to a full all-out attack on conservativism by recent talk show hosts. The book contains hundreds of examples of how Hollywood has intentionally scripted its shows with the intent to influence the beliefs and thinking of the general public. He doesn’t offer solutions, save for turning off your tv. That is what our family has done, beginning about 1995. We couldn’t have been better off.

This is a great book. It doesn’t have a plot. It doesn’t have progression in a storyline. But, it is a concerted attack against what the radio preacher Oliver Greene would call “the sewer pipe from Hollywood”. What was amazing to me was Mark Dice pointing out how deep this Cesspool of filth was in the Hollywood circuit, and how seriously it may be affecting how we think and what we believe. This is a good book to read, which I highly recommend. I’m sure my brother Dennis would stand with me on this one.

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Oct 18

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham ★★

I published this book review on 10/18/2020, but after some forethought and starting yet another period history book on the War of 1812, am realizing that this book does not deserve the faint praise that I gave to it. I also added additional reasons why I truly disliked this text.

This book unsurprisingly details the life and thoughts of our third president, Thomas Jefferson. I had already read the biographies of Washington, John Adams and Hamilton before attacking this book. I had awaiting me yet a history of the war of 1812, Andrew Jackson, as well as that of Madison and Monroe. After that, I will return to studies on the Civil War. This book was not as well liked by me, and does not stand up to the standard set by the other biographies mentioned above. I realize that this book might have been a NYT best seller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, yet truth be told, such accolades are essentially meaningless. This text is much shorter than other period biographies in several ways. There are multiple short chapters, each chapter named in standard fashion by some brief snippet of text found within that chapter. This book has a lengthy reference section, yet the text itself is only 505 pages, and the type face is 12 point on 15 point leading (larger than the typical 10/13 or 11/14 point type found in most texts), in narrower than typical columns, thus deceptively making the reader believe they are getting as much content as a typical biography text.

As would be expected, Meacham starts with the birth and early years of Jefferson’s life, being born on his father’s land at Shadwell, VA which lies in the shadow of Monticello. He attended college in Williamsburg, and there demonstrated some of his brilliance that led him to rise to echelons of power. His teachers and acquaintances at William and Mary college eventually put him into revolutionary circles. Meacham does not point out any illustrative traits that would suggest Jefferson’s greatness, and instead avoids laudatory praise at this stage in his life. Jefferson was eventually assigned the duty of writing the Declaration of Independence, though with the help and corrections of other founding fathers. During the Revolutionary War, there are large lacunae in Jefferson’s life, save for an episode in 1781, where Benedict Arnold and a troop of Redcoats moved on Monticello, with Jefferson running for his life, branding him a coward by many. Jefferson, having a love for all things French, became involved as an ambassador to France, and was assigned to be the secretary of state by Washington. Meacham omits much of the struggles between him and Hamilton while serving on Washington’s cabinet. Jefferson’s time in France and his interactions with John Adams in England are chronicled.

Jefferson was described repeatedly as a man that loved agriculture and loved the land. He designed and built, and then rebuilt the mansion at Monticello, and had his best moments while at Monticello, or at his vacation home at Poplar Forest. Jefferson was non-confrontational. He was not a Trump. Jefferson enjoyed the art of hospitality while at Monticello. Meacham speaks about Jefferson’s family. Jefferson lost his wife fairly early on and never was remarried. Jefferson’s sexual escapades included Sally Hemings, one of his “slaves” (though more white than black) who he took to France with him. He had a number of children from his real wife, though only two survived early childhood. With Sally, Jefferson also had children who were freed at Jefferson’s death and then went on to productive lives in the north as whites.

The presidency of Jefferson was notable for three events. First was the Louisiana purchase. Almost simultaneously was the commissioning of Lewis and Clark for their expedition. Thirdly was the trade embargo with England in hopes of avoiding a war with England. Sadly, many details were missing from each of these episodes. This is true of many other events in Jefferson’s life, making it very frustrating to read this book. Meacham did not master the art of story-telling.

Up until now, Jefferson’s life had not been portrayed by Meacham in glowing terms. Meacham was open about the many inconsistencies of Jefferson and tended to disparage him all along. Most notable was Jefferson’s inability to remain consistent with his ideology. Jefferson soundly condemned Hamilton’s banking system, yet realized he could not live without it and left it essentially unchanged. Jefferson condemned strong federal functions, yet purchased the Louisiana territory from France almost independent of the congress. Jefferson deployed the navy against the Barbary pirates, again in contrast to his arguments against Hamilton in forming a strong military. Jefferson remained a Francophile, blinding himself to the French revolution and its associated atrocities. Jefferson remained forever duplicitous regarding slavery, both wishing it gone, but finding that he couldn’t live without it. Jefferson was a brilliant, convivial man of great contradictions.

The last few years after his presidency was spent back at Monticello. Jefferson engaged in starting the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in valley below Monticello. This was intended to deter Virginians from needing to go up north to Harvard and Princeton for their education.

There are several reasons why I have problems with this book.

  1. Many of the events in Jefferson’s life are mentioned by starting the event story, but never completing it. This made the reading of this book to be very frustrating. A side story was started, and one expects that the story will perhaps be completed later in the book, yet it doesn’t happen. There are huge silent periods. What was Jefferson doing for most of the Revolutionary War? How was he aiding the war effort, and did he have any input into how congress or the war conducted itself? Meacham starts the story of the commissioning of the Lewis and Clark expedition, yet one is left with Lewis and Clark somewhere in the Rockies, presumably hunkered down for the winter after sending gifts back to Washington. Did they ever make it to the Pacific and back to the east coast? How did it affect Jefferson and further development of the country? The Louisiana purchase is briefly mentioned, but then one if left dangling. And then what happened? How did it go through congress? How was it received? How was it paid for? How did Jefferson justify the purchase as it seemed to go against his small-government Republican principles? At the end of Jefferson’s life, he started to build a university in Charlottesville and would watch its construction from Monticello. What became of that? How far did the university go in Jefferson’s lifetime? What was distinctive about it? How did it become the University of Virginia? How was it financed, since Jefferson was stone broke at the end of his life? I could mention many more examples of Meacham leaving the reader dangling.
  2. Details of importance related to many of the events of Jefferson’s life are glossed over. One misses the struggles of the Federalists vs. the Republicans, thus failing to show how Jefferson altered politics at the beginning of his term. One misses how Jefferson’s British policies were responsible for the eventual War of 1812. One loses the fanatical Fracophile leanings that Jefferson possessed that blinded him to tragedies such as the reign of terror in the French Revolution. One is not filled in how Jefferson’s enlightenment world view affected his religion and his decisions as President. The embargo enacted by Jefferson toward the end of his second term had colossal effects on America’s relationship to England and France, yet this is barely discussed.
  3. There is offered no serious analysis as to how Jefferson’s decisions and life affected the world to come. I don’t expect Meacham to offer his personal opinions, but I would love to know how the various controversies of Jefferson’s life, and how they were analyzed from and 18th and early 19th century perspective. Jefferson truly hated Hamilton for his system of banking, yet almost nothing was mentioned about it, even though it was a very big deal to Jefferson. Regarding Jefferson with his stance with the Indian populations; what were they? There was no serious analysis of Jefferson’s thinking regarding slavery, and how he justified his stance. Books of this sort should lead the reader in deep thought about the nature of our government and issues that existed in Jefferson’s time that persists today. Meacham does not compel the reader to think seriously about anything, and perhaps he is simply catering to the mentality of the readers of the New York Times?

One is left with an enormous question as they come to the close of reading this book. What was so great about Thomas Jefferson? Yet, the last two chapters of this book were an apotheosis of the man. The events surrounding his death, his worship by his friends, and his legacy were not well explained by this text. Is the book worth reading? Perhaps, in that, you do receive a brief history of the man, Thomas Jefferson. My advice would be to seek out other texts on Jefferson if you are indeed seriously interested. You will be disappointed with this text. What you will be missing is the development of the greatness of the man. Perhaps there is a better biography of Jefferson out there; this book is not the definitive text of Thomas Jefferson’s life.

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Oct 01

Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow ★★★★★

This is the third book that I’ve read by Ron Chernow, Washington and Grant being the other two. Chernow is a superb biographer and is capable of giving one the history and times of a given person, but also a strong flavor as to his character. Of his books so far, Grant has been by far the best and most enjoyable read. Hamilton has been a wonderful story but is a much darker tale than either of the other Chernow books, as well as biographies in general. Hamilton was a tragic hero, and Chernow paints a picture of Hamilton’s life that describes his greatness, but also his flaws which ultimately led to his untimely death. It has been said that Washington gave us a country, Madison gave us a constitution, but Hamilton gave us a government. There is great truth to that statement.

Hamilton started his life in the West Indies, being born of parents that did not play a lasting role in his life. His father disappeared from the scene when Hamilton was quite young, and in fact, it still remains uncertain exactly who his father was. Of his mother, there was more certainty, though she did not remain an integral person in her son’s life. Hamilton proved to be precocious as a child, with French as his native tongue, though he quickly mastered English. He was of sufficient brilliance that when he was ready for advanced schooling in America, he had an offer of support from a wealthy patroness. Hamilton ended up in New York City, which was to remain his primary residence for most of the rest of his life. Initially applying to Princeton, his traditional British temperament ended him studying at what is now known as Columbia University. Though an immigrant and a foreigner, he became fiercely patriotic and in support of the Revolutionary War. Hamilton excelled in writing and became the indispensable aide-de-camp to George Washington. Much of Washington’s war correspondence was handled by Hamilton. Frustrated by Washington not allowing him to lead battles, Hamilton resigned his post, returned to New York, and completed studies in law, and began his career as a lawyer. Toward the end of the war, Washington finally consented to give Hamilton leadership of a unit which played a major role in the final victory at Yorktown. Hamilton returned to NYC and developed a very thriving law practice, but could not keep his fingers out of politics. Hamilton’s political leanings were toward a very strong central government, for which his opponents accused him of seeking for a monarchy. A constitution finally written, Hamilton, with Madison and John Jay produced a large series of articles called the Federalist Papers in which Hamilton goes to great lengths to explain the meaning and rationale for each section of the constitution. The Federalist Papers are still referred to today and we have Hamilton to thank, who wrote the overwhelming percentage of the articles.

Washington was voted in as the first president and John Adams as the vice president. Washington formed a cabinet, of which Hamilton was selected to be the treasury secretary and Jefferson as the secretary of state. The animosity between Hamilton and Jefferson accelerated during this time, with Hamilton coming under fire for establishing the US financial system to the basic form that we have today, a strong central economic system. Jefferson preferred a simple to non-existent economic system. Hamilton fought hard to establish a standing army and navy and developed the coast guard to protect against tariff-avoiding smuggling. Once Adams became president, the cabinet, consisting of Hamilton-leaning federalists, essentially had Hamilton controlling the country. Hamilton stepped down as treasury secretary and became Inspector General, making him now in control of the military. Adams, as the last Federalist party president, poorly managed the presidency, and when Jefferson became president as a Republican (not the same as our current Republican party), the nation had essentially flipped sides and voted Republican with the ultimate death of the Federalist party, Hamilton being its last great defender.

With Jefferson now in control, Hamilton returned to NYC as developed his law practice. He had a home built called the Grange on a large plot of farmland, that still exists in Upper Manhattan. Earlier in life, Hamilton and Aaron Burr started as good friends, both Federalists, but time and chicanery by Burr, with Burr switching to the Republican Party to foster a political advantage, caused a progressive falling out. Never-the-less, Hamilton remained amicable with Burr who served as vice-president under Jefferson for four years. Burr and Jefferson became bitter enemies, and on Jefferson’s second term, Burr opted to run for governor of New York state. Hamilton was against and made statements at a party which eventually got back to Burr, who felt deeply offended. Burr failed to win the governorship and blamed Hamilton. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and in order to protect his honor, Hamilton accepted. Hamilton had no intention of killing Burr and fired his shot intentionally off into the trees. Burr, being of dispossessed mind, fired a fatal shot at Hamilton. Ultimately, this was political suicide for Burr, who lived as a pariah and scoundrel his remaining life.

Chernow is not remiss to discuss Hamilton’s many downfalls. His personality is possibly best described as similar to Donald Trump’s, aggressive, very goal-oriented, brilliant, impeccably honest (though endlessly accused of fraud), and not worried about political correctness. He was a non-politician politician. Hamilton had an affair for several years with a married woman, which ultimately was exposed to the public. Hamilton repented dearly of this affair, living out the remainder of his life committed and endeared to Eliza, his wife.

What I found most interesting in this book are the events that Chernow described in early America. Chernow (I assume) was faithful in describing the Revolution and the birth of our country as a very tumultuous event. There was serious disagreement about going to war for independence, about replacing the articles of confederation for the constitution, about the interpretation of the newly written constitution, about developing the character of our country (was it to become an industrial giant or preserve its agrarian roots?), about the nature and character of the military and the court system, about the nature of foreign policy (the choices were to be either pro-British or pro-French) and essentially about everything that we still dispute to this day. Hamilton was militant antislavery but surrounded by slave owners, including Washington, Madison, Monroe, and even Aaron Burr. Hamilton was an outspoken Christian man though he rarely attended church; Eliza his wife was a very devout church-goer. I’ve left out many details of this complex and fascinating man. It is sad that we are taught so little about him in school, as his influence on the development and character of our nation to the character can be attributed immensely to Hamilton’s writings and actions during his truncated lifetime. It is most surprising that in spite of the very different ideologies of our founding fathers and the contempt that they held for each other, that they managed to assemble a constitution that has lasted up until today. Graft and corruption were rampant in early America, though some of the people most accused of corruption (like Hamilton) were the most innocent. The press was very inflammatory and deceptive in those days. Fake news is NOT a recent event—it is amazing how little has changed since the inception of our country.

It took me longer than usual to read this biography. It has a dark character to it from the beginning to the end. Chernow is a master at developing Hamilton’s personality and character, of seeing through the smoke of history and discovering what Hamilton and events in America’s birth years were all about. We owe Hamilton a great deal for setting America on a course that it has taken. This is a book that I highly recommend. It will take the reader down from the fairy tale version of the founding of our country that we were taught in school, and give the reader a grasp of our deeply flawed but also noble founding fathers.

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