The last book I started on my Italy vacation turned out to be a rather tough one. I hadn't thought it would be scientific as it in reality was. History of the Lincoln County War - A classic account of Billy the Kid by Maurice G Fulton is quite intriguing anyway though. While the title is a little misleading - Billy the Kid is really only a subcharacter in the bigger scale of the Lincoln County War even if he is the most interesting one of the actual gun men - this is a very good description of the hold on power a few early entrepreneurs had on small towns, counties, states even in the early West. This grip-hold was quite simply ensured by violent measures - not that this comes as a surprise to anyone who has ever seen a Western - yet the brutality and even more so the amount of scheming and bribing that took place in the South West during the later half of the 19th century leaves one awe-struck. Without going into too much detail, the Lincoln County War pits one fraction (McSween, Tunstall, Chisum (yes, THAT Chisum) trying to break the grip on wealth and power another fraction (Dolan, Murphy, Ridley). The former group in the beginning tries to resort to lawful measures only, but when Tunstall is murdered they too become implicated in the fighting that overtakes Lincoln and its neighboring towns. Fulton offers a very detailed (in regard to name-dropping sometimes a little too detailed) account of the events surrounding these mythical men (OK, I might be exaggerating a little here, but then, if Billy the Kid and Chisum are not mythical, who else could make a claim for that?). The only downside to the book is the very old-fashioned style of writing (it is based on material recorded in the 30s) which at the same time is not as classy as Faulkner's for example, more like an old-fashioned scientific writing than an old-fashioned literary style (which I wouldn't have a problem with). This problem is compounded by long quotations of newspaper articles appearing during these New Mexican troubles written often by the protagonists of the war itself and accordingly not of the highest literal quality. Yet, I enjoyed it and while I would not recommend it to anyone who is not as obsessed with certain aspects of American history as I am, it was definitely worth whatever (I can't remember, it's been awhile) time I spent on it for me.
"Asked whether that [the situation in Iraq being as bad as it is right now] would be true if the United States had not invaded Iraq, Bush responded: 'Imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.'"
I cannot believe he still has the audacity to even imply that Saddam was in any way connected to 9/11, unbe-fuckin-lievable.
Concerning this topic it is good news that the American public seems to have developed a more sensible approach finally.
Sehr, sehr interessanter Artikel, welcher darstellt, daß nicht strukturelle Gründe für den schwachen Wachstum in den letzten Jahren geführt haben, sondern andere - temporäre - Anpassungseffekt hieran schuld waren. Da diese jetzt beseitigt seien, würde die Wirtschaft auch wieder schneller wachsen. Bzw andersherum, das hohe momentane Wachstum liegt daran, daß diese temporären Aspekte eliminiert wurden.
Der Autor gibt drei Probleme, welchen sich Deutschland inzwischen angepasst hat:
1 - Durch die Einführung des Euros verlor Deutschland Investitionsgelder die als Spekulation auf einen Kursanstieg der DM ins Land flossen, diese hatten deutschem Kapital jahrzehntelang - im internationalen Vergleich - niedrige Rendite ermöglicht, da der deutsche Finanzmarkt hierdurch vom internationalen abgekoppelt agierte.
2 - Mit der DM als Leitzins Europas war es der Bundesbank möglich die günstigsten Finanzierungsbedingungen zu schaffen, auch dies viel mit der Einführung des Euro weg.
3 - Da Kapital meist durch Anleihe bei Banken angesammelt wurde, bestand weniger Druck für hohe Rendite (da Banken keine kurzfristige Ausschüttung, sondern eine langfristige Rückzahlung ihrer Kredit erwünschen).
Two articles caught my attention today. The first is a description of the judicial follow-up to Haditha - as a reminder, Marines there killed 24 civilians including many women and children. According to this article the commanding officer claimed that he had not considered the killings unusual, part of the regular routine so to speak, and for that reason did not initiate an investigation. If that is the case then obviously, this must happen so much more often than the world knows or ever will find out. Apart from the fact that the supposed American moral authority in this war thus becomes questionable, it also spells doom on their efforts in Iraq. No wonder civil war is erupting there if the American troops act like this and I can only repeat myself, what a mess Mr Bush has created there, unbelievable.
The second article is an Op-Ed from the NY Times arguing that American ties to Pakistan should be strengthened as they helped prevent attacks from occurring a few days ago. The authors go on to list various positive aspects of General Musharraf's regime. I simply cannot believe that in a war supposedly fought for the defense of the enlightenment, for the spreading of democracy (sorry, I like to get corny with stuff like this sometimes) what these two guys are advocating is to support a dictator who tight-fisted rules with the help of the military. History does repeat itself it seems, as long as the dictator's enemies are our enemies, the worst ones will be supported (Saddam in the 80s, Pinochet in the 70s, Mobutu, the Iranian Shah, the list goes on and on).
Seriously wonder how this struggle can ever be won by the West if this is how we fight it.
The third book I managed to read during my vacation was Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird. This one of the 'must-reads' of American literature I hadn't read yet (there a others, but trust me their numbers are dwindling :d) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Quite simple, a very good book. Harper Lee seems to be one of those JD Salinger type authors who pop up for one amazing book and then vanish from the public scene again.
The story is one of a young girl and her brother growing up with their father alone in a small Southern town. While sampling many aspects in the novel, the authors most important strain is the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman (THE perpetual fear of Southerners most likely brought about by the fact that white men had been raping black women for centuries by then, no, I guess I'm just kidding). The father is his attorney and tries to defend this hard-working upright citizen against the charges brought against him by a family residing on the lowest rung of the social ladder. The narrator is an 8-year old girl (the American obsession with young narrators is really quite intriguing btw, Catcher In The Rye, Huckleberry Finn...) telling the story out of her naive point of view.
Again, a really good book, I ate it up, finishing it in a day and a half (or something like that). I recommend it to anyone. One point of criticism does apply though. This is of a very similar nature to the attacks launched on Uncle Tom's Cabin and others later (like, again, Huckleberry Finn). While it is obvious that the author sympathizes with the plight of the American black men (including women in this, maybe people would be more appropriate) the portrayal of the few black characters that appear in this novel are quite unflattering. The woman taking care of Atticus' (the father) household is the stock character of the unselfish, nice black mother figure that takes care of the children as if they are their own. Yet, she is the only black character developing any kind of depth, even if hers is very shallow indeed. Every black character (including the, surely educated to some degree, reverend) address Jem (the 13-year old brother of the narrator) as Sir. He is thirteen for God's sake. Lee seems to fall for the typical white Southern, she does so well-intentioned, but yet her description of the race problem in the South explores the topic from one side exclusively, making it lack in profoundness to a certain degree.
The Time Of Our Singing was written by Richard Powers and follows a biracial family and how their lifes play out over the background of the 2nd World War, the Civil Rights Movement into Reagan's presidency. The father - a German Jew - and the mother - a black woman from a well-respected and educated Philadelphia family - meet and decide to marry in the late 30s. As they are both musically inclined - the mother having been an aspiring classical singer - they teach sing with their children from an early age on, leading to the two sons developing an astounding classical musical talent. Yet, racial problems lead to an estrangement of the mother from her family and - later - of the daughter from her father. Ultimately it seems as if race trumps family and even love. The three children in various degrees seem to fail in their attempt to deal with their mixed heritage.
The book was an engulfing read even though - and I believe some people might consider this a reason for the quality of the book - the too prominent and frequent descriptions of the families or the two sons singing or performing music. Powers tries to portray music as an all-compassing, all-explaining medium, which might even be true but in a literal description and with this kind of repetitiveness it creates boredom. Less annoying, but also overdone where the detailing of physics in which the father indulges himself in - he is a professor at Columbia. These discussions also lead to a very bizarre and lame meta-physical ending which not only seems unnecessary but also contrary to the logic deployed in the rest of the book.
What made the book intriguing was the children's attempt to deal with their position in the world which does not approve of them. Their heritages seemingly cannot be combined. Powers does a very good job of describing the narrator - the younger brother - and his sentiments, his attempts at dealing with being a black classical pianist who is of German and Jewish heritage and thus not being able to fit in either world.
Yet, some more criticism is valid and obligatory. 1 - The father never appropriately learns English but always falls back on using some German in his everyday speech. This of course is totally unrealistic for someone who has no family but his only English-speaking wife and kids and works and teaches in an American university. Powers also commits the occasional blunder in regard to his attempts to introduce these German phrases. Once for example the father proclaims that someone might be 'burning a path for himself'. The word should be 'blazing' of course but since there is no equivalent saying like this in German there is no reason whatsoever for the character to blunder like this. Either he knows the saying or he does not, there is no wrong translation of a saying that does not exist in the other language.
2 - According to Powers the father can 'never be more to her [the wife] than almost recognizable, a stranger to her blood, the father of her children' making it sound as if a black man would be able to become more but him because of his skin colour cannot. I do not know what skin colour Powers has - and I do not intend to find out - but this whole BS of skin colour in any way inherently influencing who you are is ludicrous.
3 - The older brother is compared with various classical figures in the headlines to some chapters such as Aeneas and Job. I am relatively familiar with both of these and truth to be told I found no resemblance between that brother and either of those figures. Bizarre usage of classical references.
So, do I recommend the book? After all this criticism probably should be a clear-cut no. Yet, it is not, I liked reading it. Admittedly, it probably helps that I read quite fast making it easy for me to race through the musical parts, but the portrayed mindset and decisions made by characters from a biracial background during the 60s were interesting even if I did not agree with most of them.
I am in a transient living situation right now, which means I haven't set up my harddrives here, which translates to there being no title songs for a lil...
Apart from that I had a nice and relaxing vacation in Italy and finally got around to read a couple of books again - if not as many as I would have liked to. I will post on these books over the next few days.
The first one I read was The Hamlet by William Faulkner. This actually might be the hardest one to write anything about. Just saying it is by Faulkner seems to be enough. He is hands-down one of the greatest writers - if not the single greatest - I have ever read. The Hamlet he wrote in 1940 and it describes Flem Snopes beginning rise to power in Yoknapatawpha County. It is the first part of a trilogy about the Snopes family in general. In a way I guess it could be described as vintage Faulkner containing pre-marital sex, violence and even bestiality. Yet, these outbursts of the ugly side of life is not what Faulkner focuses on, rather it is the ruthless rise of Flem Snopes who slowly takes over Frenchman's Bend.
Flem in a lot of ways resembles the carpet-bagger who comes in from the North and through his bold and ruthless measures overpowers the naive locals, only that he himself alos comes from a poor, white sharecropping family. The only individual capable of putting up any kind of resistance to Flem is Ratliff. He also is a successful and scheming dealer and wheeler, but he always stays in the limits of Southern courteousy, thus limiting himself in his actions against Flem. If Ratliff can be taken as a symbol for the Old South then and Flem as one for Modernity arriving in the backwaters of Mississippi, it should be quite clear who will win in the end.
This in itself is nothing new for a Faulner novel. They all seem to deal with the vanishing of the Old South. Yet, they do so in manners and stories that differ a lot from each other and Faulkner's eloquence and powerful imagery ensur that the reader (read: me) is always grasped by the unfolding events. While it is clear that in a Faulkner Pantheon The Hamlet need not be included and that for the uninitiated reader I would propose to start out with Absalom, Absalom or Intruder in the Dust, this, like all of Faulkner's novels really, is a very intruiging and interesting book that I would recommend anyone to pick up if the see it anywhere. I know that I will get myself the latter two books of the trilogy when I see them somewhere and my reading schedule and budget allow for it to happen.
Maria Muldaur - Me And My Chaffeur Blues The sexuality of this music is really quite amazing considering how old it is and considering how much of conservative backlash certain things still produce, but 'I want you to ride me' might refer to her new Mustang only as well I guess.
So, after the last two horrible weeks of no fun and games, but virtually only studying economics tout le jour, I am finally on vacation. Will be going to Italy tomorrow and stay there for 10 days. Shortly after that it will be off to Paris to begin my studies there. I am really looking forward to this vacation now, finally one which I can actually claim I deserve, and after that studying in Paris and improving my french should be fun. I'll definitly be more of a frequent writer on here, once I am back from the communication-hole that Italy represents for me.
On add-on, tomorrow morning I am going to take a TOEFL exam (Test Of English As A Foreign Language), I need that in order to apply to exchange programs with the US (which I intend to do quite soon, apply that is, see whether they actually take me). The maximum in points achievable is 120, a certain arrogance in regard to my knowledge of the English language makes me claim that anything below 110 will be an utter disappointment for me. I am kind of curious to see whether I'll be able to fulfill my own expectations.