Mike Kueber's Blog

October 30, 2016

Sunday Book Review #166 – Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Filed under: Book reviews,Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 2:38 am

Sebastian Junger is famous for writing the book, The Perfect Storm, but also has been a war correspondent involved in the making of several documentaries.  In his newest book, Tribe, Junger makes a fascinating hypothesis about the exploding number of returning war veterans who are mentally damaged – specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Junger lays the groundwork for his hypothesis by contrasting the stressful, worrying life in modern American society against the relatively calm, satisfying lifestyle of the American Indian in frontier days.   According to Junger, the communal life of the American Indian encouraged cooperation and harmony, whereas the capitalistic life in modern America creates self-reliance and selfishness.  (Junger doesn’t glamorize uncivilized Indian life and notes that it was in some ways not much advanced past the Stone-Age.)

Junger’s great insight is that the current spike in PTSD results not from the horrors of modern war, or even the improved diagnosis of the problem, but rather from the fact that people in the military gradually learn the more fulfilling communal way of life and then their mental system goes into shock when the person returns to the selfish, polarized lifestyle that currently is prevalent in America.  People in the service become accustomed to working toward a common good, but in civilian life things are more dog-eat-dog, and this is exacerbated with the political lefties and righties at each other’s throats:

  • The ultimate betrayal of tribe isn’t acting competitively – that should be encouraged – but predicating your power on the excommunication of others from the group.  That is exactly what politicians of both parties try to do when they spew venomous rhetoric about their rivals.  That is exactly what media figures do when they go beyond criticism of their fellow citizens and openly revile them.  Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge outpost are deluding themselves.”

Junger is not an academic expert, and this small book is only the general musings of a well-read and well-rounded guy who seems to be imbued with a lot of common sense and good judgment.  And his musings are food for further thought and review.  The military is one of the most respected institutions in America, and perhaps the civilian way of life could adopt some of its best practices.







August 25, 2015

Sunday Book Review #165 – Go Set the Watchman by Harper Lee

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 10:30 pm
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Go Set the Watchman is Harper Lee’s first draft of her all-time classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.  The draft was written in 1957, and the prospective publisher didn’t think it was ready for publication, but liked its flashback scenes so much that Lee was guided into writing a new/revised story that flashed back even further – 20 years.

Mockingbird was published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and was made into a Best Picture-nominated movie in 1962 starring Oscar-winning Gregory Peck and Oscar-nominated Mary Badham.  Lee became a bit of a recluse and never published another novel until this first draft was recently discovered.

The setting of Go Set the Watchman is Macomb, Alabama in 1954, shortly after the Supreme Court’s controversial mandate for integration in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.  The protagonist remains Jean Louise Finch (Scout), but instead of the six-year-old girl in Mockingbird, she is now a 26-year-old woman who works in New York City and returns annually to Macomb for a two-week vacation.

The entire book transpires in those two weeks and primarily concerns two storylines:

  • Racism.  Scout is dismayed to learn that her lawyer dad, 72-year-old Atticus Finch, feels strongly that the Brown decision will be a disaster and should be actively resisted by white Southerners.
  • Classism.  Scout is pursued romantically by Henry (Hank) Clinton, who was her older brother Jem’s best friend until Jem died two years earlier.  Although Hank is Atticus’s legal protégé and by all accounts a fine young man, Scout’s aunt Alexandra considers him to be white trash unsuitable to marry Scout.

Scout is a fascinating person in Watchman; the other characters not so much.  Now I need to read Mockingbird and compare the two.

July 13, 2015

Sunday Book Review #163 – The Silencing by Kirsten Powers and Inequality by Anthony B. Atkinson

Filed under: Book reviews,Economics,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 12:57 am
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The Silencing describes how the left is killing free speech in America.  They do this by attempting to ostracize and punish anyone who holds a contrary political opinion.  The most common technique used by the left is to demonize the offender as bigoted, racist, sexist, etc.  When the left is charged with intolerance of alternative opinions, they respond that these issues are already settled within civil, mainstream society.  When the left is charged with killing free speech, they say that speech will continue to be free, but civil society is similarly free to levy punishment on those who stray far from the so-called mainstream.

I’ve always been a bit of a devil’s advocate, and The Silencing motivates me to redouble my efforts.  It also makes me feel a bit of shame for my reaction against the Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines said some mean things about George W. Bush.  I’m sorry they are no longer making great music that I loved.

Inequality reminds me of one of my favorite books from last year, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, a French economist.  Piketty explained why the world economy was moving toward greater income inequality (r>g; return on capital was greater than the growth of economy) and provided some common sense solutions, such as increased education subsidies, greater progressivity in personal taxes, and reduced corporate tax loopholes.

Although Piketty’s analysis and proposals might seem radical to some conservatives, his tone was so nonpartisan that he persuaded me to see him as a reasonable man.  Atkinson not so much.  He is a British economist who reportedly mentored the younger Piketty on inequality, but his focus is more on the elimination of poverty, which seems to produce more draconian socialistic proposals.  Among them:

  • New technology should be developed in ways that encourage greater employment, not less.
  • Greater power to labor vis-à-vis capital.
  • Jobs guaranteed for everyone.
  • Minimum wage should be a “living wage.”
  • Guaranteed return on capital saved by low-income individuals.
  • Large inheritance granted to all individuals upon reaching majority; funded by wealthy.
  • Increase state ownership-participation in private companies.
  • Progressive taxation, up to 65%.
  • Increased estate tax and a new tax on wealth.
  • Payments to parents for having children.
  • Increased social security.

Although Atkinson seems quite bold in his willingness to interfere with capitalism, I confess to being intrigued by several proposals.  Especially interesting is the proposal to grant a large sum of money to all young adults, funded by a robust estate tax and an annual tax on wealth.  I think the first-world countries can afford to give their young adults a jump start on their life to think and act like a capitalist.

June 8, 2015

Sunday Book Review #162 – Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 3:49 am

A couple of years ago I blogged about a subject discussed in Time magazine and the LA Times – a childfree life.    The LA Times column was written by Meghan Daum, and I was not persuaded:

  • Call me cynical, but I think Daum is rationalizing. Someone with the discipline to become a great writer surely has what it takes to become a good parent. Yes, some people are naturally great parents, but the vast majority of people can be good parents. Unlike Daum, I think these unborn kids deserve the opportunity to experience what we have been given. Furthermore, from a purely private perspective, Daum should consider that virtually all parents, regardless of whether they were natural-born parents or parents because of societal pressure, will declare with unabashed certainty that parenting was the most satisfying experience of their lives.”

Well, Daum’s column proved to be so provocative that she decided to produce a book on the subject.  As suggested by the book’s title, Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, the book comprises sixteen explanations for not having kids, plus an introduction by Daum.

In the introduction, Daum points out that childfree people are not a monolithic group.  Indeed, “the common theme is that there is no common theme.”

I beg to differ.  Beyond the obvious fact that all of these sixteen people are artsy writers devoted to their craft despite its financial and professional insecurities, they also tend to share many other significant characteristics, like being an only child, abandoned, having a horrible relationship with a parent, or needing mental therapy.  As Daum initially noted in her LA Times column, some of the childfree writers claimed to lack the necessary skills to be good parents.  Others, however, felt they had both the skills and human warmth to parent, but merely lacked the inclination.

After reading 270 pages of explanations for choosing to go childfree, I agree that the precise journey that each writer took to reach their common destination is unique.  To some, it was an easy journey, with little or no doubt, as they march to the beat of their own drum.  Others, however, have vacillated for years with uncertainty coming from either their own soul or from societal pressure.

I don’t think society is wrong to apply some slight pressure in favor of parenting, just as there is slight pressure to help your neighbor or to enlist in the military. As John Kennedy said, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. Some developed parts of the world (including white America) are experiencing negative population growth because so many of their people are going childless, so this trend does not bode well for America’s future.

America’s future is something that more than a few of the writers don’t care about.  They care only about their lifetime, without thinking about how to make the world a better place in the future.  For most of us, that means raising kids to be better than us.  And some of the writers act as if kids are fungible things, easily replaced by someone else having kids, while failing to recognize that their kids could have been special.

In my initial blogpost, I suggested that Daum was rationalizing her decision to go childless.  In her book, some of her writers suggest that parents often rationalize their decision to have children, and that may be true.  Upon further reflection, maybe we should accept, without recrimination, that each person should be able to decide for themselves how to spend their limited time on Planet Earth.

June 1, 2015

Sunday Book Review #161 – The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:09 am
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Many years ago, I read David McCullough’s book, The Great Bridge, which describes construction of the Brooklyn Bridge from 1869 to 1883 by the Roeblings, father and son.  Although the subject was interesting, I was most drawn to the book because it provided a fascinating perspective on living and working more than a hundred years ago in my favorite town, New York City.

McCullough’s most recent book, The Wright Brothers, provides a similar historical perspective, although Dayton, Ohio in the first years of the 20th century is not quite so bewitching as NYC.  Further, The Great Bridge is about the City, not the Roeblings, while The Wright Brothers is not about Dayton, OH, but rather about the Wright Brothers. And they are impressive brothers.

Two quotes from Wilbur Wright are especially impressive:

  1. If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”  As someone born and bred in the Midwest, I appreciate someone who appreciates how lucky we were.
  2. “I do not think I am especially fitted for success in any commercial pursuit even if I had proper personal and businesses influences to assist me.  I might make a living, but I doubt I would ever do much more than this.  Intellectual effort is a pleasure to me and I think I would be better fitted for reasonable success in some of the professions than in business. In business it is the aggressive man, who continually has his eye on his own interest, who succeeds.  Business is merely a form of warfare in which each combatant strives to get the business away from his competitors and at the same time keep them from getting what he already has.  No man has ever been successful in business who was not aggressive, self-assertive and even a little bit selfish perhaps.  There is nothing reprehensible in an aggressive disposition, so long as it is not carried to excess, for such men make the world and its affairs move….  I entirely agree that the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push.  That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen.”  As someone born and bred in the Midwest, I appreciate the humility that is so common there, even with those who are gifted & talented.  Regarding their talent, the Wrights remind me of the Oracle from Omaha, Warren Buffett, who attributes his success to luckily having a skill that is especially marketable in the current economy.

Of course, all of this common sense and good judgment didn’t fall out of a tree.  Their father, who was a Methodist minister, taught his kids, “All the money anyone needs is just enough to prevent one from being a burden to others.”   The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and although neither of the boys were business geniuses, their world-changing invention enabled them to become wealthy.  More importantly, they lived the life they were intended to live.

The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards doesn’t contain a plethora of insights.  Rather, it is filled with guidance that most financially competent people already know – investing, borrowing & spending, budgeting, saving as much as you reasonably can, and determining where you are and where you want to go.  There was, however, one very useful insight.  Author Richards suggests the following as the most important threshold question before you can do any financial planning – i.e., why is money important to you?

Many years ago I remember questioning why I should be strongly motivated to make an additional $20k a year when I already had enough money to buy everything important to me.  A co-worker suggested that with the additional $20k, I could retire earlier, and that made sense to me.

So money was important to me because it would enable me to quit working and do what I want.  Or, as described by author Carl Richards, “It’s about giving you the time to do what matters most.”  Now that I’m retired, I have the luxury of deciding what matters most.

May 23, 2015

Sunday Book Review #160 – Missoula by Jon Krakauer

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:22 am
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Jon Krakauer, is famous for writing for writing noble outdoorsy books like Into Thin Air and Into The Wild.  His latest book, Missoula, which is subtitled “Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” seems dramatically different on the surface, but on a deeper level with this book he continues his Don Quixote quest for man’s nobility.

Missoula, MT is the setting for this book because a few years ago the city had several newsworthy incidents of alleged sexual assault, most involving University of Montana students, including several University of Montana football players.  But Krakauer points out that rape is statistically no more prevalent in Missoula than most other places in America.

Krakauer is very sympathetic to the alleged victims and very critical of the law & order folks – i.e., the police, the prosecutors, and the college administrators.  He accuses them of being cynical of the alleged victims.

But I don’t blame them, because the women rarely come before the court of equity with clean hands.  They were almost always drunk, they almost always voluntarily got into bed with the guy, and then in a he-said, she-said, she says she changed her mind at some point prior to consensual sex. This is often called Date Rape.

I’ve never understood why Date Rape is treated under the law with the same severity as Rape between strangers.  When a drunk woman declines to have sex with a drunk guy, but allows him to sleep it off in her bed, and then awakens to him fondling her (this was one of the reported incidents), do we really want to lock him up and throw away the key?

I understand that a woman has the right at any time to change her mind, but from the perspective of a criminal prosecution, this is a tough case to prove beyond reasonable doubt.  Colleges, however, can expel on the basis of the lower preponderance-of-evidence standard.

To make matters more complicated, Krakauer argues that for some psychological reason the victim will often refuse to call for help.  With one alleged rape, there was a third-person outside the bedroom door; with another rape, there was a third-person in another bed in the same room; and finally with a third rape, there was another person in the bed with them.  None of the three called out for help.

Both the alleged victim and the alleged assailant are often guilty of being falling-down drunk.  And it is the slogan du jour that drunk women can’t give consent for sex.  But what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.  Does that mean that a woman who has sex with a falling-down drunk guy is likely to be prosecuted for rape?

As John Wayne said in The Searchers, “That’ll be the day.”

p.s., as I wrote this blogpost, I was unable to find a column that suggested that feminists had pushed their concern for date rape beyond reasonable limits.  Today, I stumbled across the column by Cathy Young in the Washington Post. It is titled, “Feminists want us to define these ugly sexual encounters as rape.  Don’t let them.”  Subtitle – “We need to stop prosecuting bad behaviour as rape.”

p.s.s., NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently opined on “acquaintance rape” and Missoula.  I don’t disagree.

May 17, 2015

Sunday Book Review #159 – The Most Good You Can Do by Peter Singer

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:45 am
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Peter Singer is a world-famous philosopher professor who espouses a philosophy – utilitarianism – that seems most reasonable to me.  According to utilitarianism, the correct moral action is the one that maximizes utilities such as pleasure, economic well-being, or the absence of pain. This sounds a lot like my Jesuit-trained best friend, who espouses “the preponderance of satisfying consequences.

The Most Good You Can Do is Singer’s explanation of “efficient altruists” – i.e., individuals who apply evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to improve the world.

One of my favorite philosophers, Ayn Rand, has written extensively in opposition to altruism, and I have adopted one of her pithy anti-altruism sayings on the subject:

  • I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Phil Donohue once asked Rand why she had a problem with do-gooders who wanted to be charitable and help others.  Rand responded that helping others or doing good was fine if (a) you did it by your own choice, (b) it wasn’t your primary aim in life, and (c) you didn’t regard it as a moral virtue.  When Donohue pressed her on why doing good for others shouldn’t be considered a moral virtue, Rand said that characterizing it as a moral virtue would mean that you are preaching self-sacrifice, that you place the welfare of others above your own, and that you are living for others as justification for your life.  That, according to Rand, is immoral.  For historical evidence, she asserted that self-sacrifice or altruism was the basis for Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

The philosophies of Rand and Singer seem irreconcilable, with Rand seeing altruism as immoral while Singer sees it as the ethical path.  But Singer in his book devotes an entire chapter, titled “Altruism and Happiness,” to describe how efficient altruists deny being selfless or making sacrifices of anything important to them.  Rather, they see their good deeds as essential to their happiness and self-esteem.  And, yes, Singer recognizes that this essentially modifies the definition of altruism.

Singer’s book is really a primer on becoming an efficient altruist.  The following are a few examples of the practical considerations discussed by Singer:

  • What sort of job will maximize your positive effect?
  • Do kids detract from your ability to be an altruist?
  • How important is empathy?
  • Should your help be local, national, or international?
  • Is it important to live modestly?
  • Should you donate part of your body (blood, bone marrow, kidney)?
  • Is animal suffering comparable to human suffering?
  • Is pet suffering comparable to livestock suffering?
  • What are the concerns regarding human extinction?

The first three dot points are especially interesting:

  1. What type of job is best?  Singer starts the book by describing a brilliant philosophy student of his at Harvard who decided he could be more effective, not by taking a do-gooder job, but rather by becoming an investment banker and donating a high percentage of his income (more than six figures) to highly effective causes.  I had a Hispanic friend in law school who once told me essentially the same thing – i.e., when we talked about the possibility of working for a low-paying legal aid clinic, he pointed out that he wouldn’t be advancing the cause of his people by declining to be economically successful.  If he didn’t take the job, Legal Aid could hire someone almost as effective as him, so his positive effect would be marginal.
  2. Will having children diminish your ability to do good?  Although this question might initially seem to concern only radical altruists, upon further reflection it is quite analogous to the Catholic Church rationale for celibacy for those who become priests and sisters/nuns.  Raising kids clearly draws from your energy and financial resources, but Singer points out that the kids don’t need to cost that much and provide much joy to you and are likely to be forces of good in the future.
  3. How important is empathy to altruism?  Singer describes two types of empathy – emotional empathy includes “empathetic concern” and “personal distress” while cognitive empathy includes “perspective taking” and “fantasy.” Effective altruists may not possess emotional empathy, but they invariably possess cognitive empathy.

Later in the book, Singer elaborated on the job-selection conundrum by describing an MIT grad who did essentially the same thing as the Harvard grad (joined a hedge fund instead of investment banking).  The choice of the MIT grad was subsequently formally challenged by my favorite columnist at the NY Times, David Brooks.  According to Brooks, a grad who takes a job based on maximizing his income runs three risks:

  1. Our daily activities change us, and by working as an investment banker or at a hedge fund, a person’s ideals could slip and be less committed to giving.
  2. Choosing a profession that does not arouse your passion might leave you loving humanity in general but not the particular humans around you.
  3. Most importantly, turning yourself into a machine to make money and redistribute money might be corrosive to your humanity.

Suffice to say, Singer refuted, or at least deflected all of these charges.  One of his most significant caveats was that “earning to give is not for everyone.”

Fascinating book.  I’m going to have to think some more about Rand’s fear of preaching self-sacrifice or selflessness.  While I think people helping people should be voluntary, I also think it would be unethical for me to live a life that consumes an inordinate amount of the world’s limited resources.  Despite how capitalism allocates rewards, “You didn’t built that!”

Incidentally, while reviewing my earlier blogposts about Ayn Rand and altruism, I noted the following discussion in a review of George Gilder’s book, Wealth and Poverty:

Because Gilder is a great fan of Ayn Rand, he felt it necessary in his Prologue to explain why Rand was incorrect in concluding that capitalism and altruism were inconsistent:

  • “I hugely admired Rand, who flung her moral defense of capitalism in the face of Soviet terror and socialist intellectual tyranny.  But toward Christian altruism she indulged an implacable hostility, stemming in part from her own simplistic atheism and in part from her disdain for the leveler babble of sanctimonious clerics.”

Gilder is a confirmed supply-sider and his protagonists are Arthur Laffer, along with Friedman, Hayek, Buckley, Kristol, Kemp, and Wanniski, while his antagonists are demand-siders Galbraith, Thurow, Zinn, Chait, Krugman, and of course Keynes.

In addition to Gilder’s moral defense of capitalism, I was most impressed by his two-pronged argument that effective capitalism requires (a) the accumulation of capital, and (b) a capitalistic spirit in its people.

I dare say that Singer’s effective altruists retain their entrepreneurial spirit, but they are not so good on accumulation of capital.  Indeed, one of my fundamental concerns about massively spreading the wealth is the significant damage that would be done to the economic engine of the modern world economy.

May 11, 2015

The Sunday Book Review #158 – Do Over by Jon Acuff and In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:12 am
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Do Over by Jon Acuff proposes a formula for producing career success.  It begins with a building a Career Savings Account (CSA), which is similar to a 401k.  CSA = (Relationships + Skills + Character) x Hustle.

  • Relationships are represented by the old adage – It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.  Networking, in other words.  Over several chapters, the author explains why relationships are important and how to maximize the quality of your relationships.
  • Skills are what you do.  Although relationships may get you your first gig, skills get you the second.  You must be able to produce.  Again, several chapters illustrate skills that are not obvious, such as personal skills, plus the need to continually maintain your skills lest they become outdated.
  • Character is what you are.  Certain characteristics need to be nourished, like empathy and being in the present, while others need to be pulled out as weeds, like narcissism, apathy, and pessimism.
  • Hustle or hard work serve to multiply the collective sum of your relationships, skills, and character.  As with the other attributes, however, the author makes hustle a nuanced thing.  Hustle does not justify “the rallying cry of the most aggressive, annoying, self-promoting people we know. There is a thin line between hustle and hassle. It can also mutate into raging workaholism….  Hustle needs the other components of the CSA as much as they need hit.”

Each of the CSA components has a critical role to play on one of the four common career transitions that people invariably encounter:

  1. Career ceiling (no obvious promotion path) is smashed by your skills.
  2. Career jump (doing something new) is achieved by your character.
  3. Career opportunity (windfall) is taken advantage of by hustle.
  4. Career bump (losing a job) is minimized by relationships.

Although the lessons of this book are common sense, it always helps understanding to have them clearly articulated and placed in a framework instead of being vague beliefs lurking in the background.  I’ve previously talked to my sons about the components of a good job (i.e., autonomy, worthwhile product, and mental challenge) and a good life (developing your mind, body, soul, and heart).  Acuff’s formula for a successful career may be a bit more prosaic than the others, but I think I will share it with my sons, also.

I’ve recently browsed a couple of books by Fared Zakaria that I found disappointing – The Future of Freedom and The Post-American World.  Zakaria is an immigrant from India and, like CNN colleague Christiane Amanpour, seems to have too much international flavor for my taste.  But Zakaria’s newest book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, strikes my fancy even though it is just as international as the others.  I guess I like reading Zakaria when he expounds on positions that I agree with

In his book, Zakaria provides a brief history of a liberal education before shifting to its key attribute – i.e., learning to think.  Indeed, Zakaria takes that concept one level deeper to “learning to write and writing makes you think….  In what is probably an apocryphal story, when the columnist Walter Lippmann was once asked his views of a particular topic, he is said to have replied, ‘I don’t know what I think on that one.  I haven’t written about it yet.’”  I find that so often true in connection with something I consider posting to my blog.  Without writing, so many of our positions are probably half-baked.

Zakaria concludes by describing a natural aristocracy that will develop in a society that values the ability to think.  And, of course, the ability to think is critical not only to professional success, but also to personal success.  Hear, hear.

May 2, 2015

Sunday Book Review #157 – The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 2:55 am
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The Train to Crystal City is subtitled, “FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.”  Crystal City is a small city 120 miles southwest of San Antonio, but this local connection with FDR’s infamous Japanese internment is not what makes the book especially popular in San Antonio.  Rather, that popularity is due to the local connection with the author.  Jan Jarboe Russell, who has written for Texas Monthly magazine for years and happens to be a Facebook friend of mine, hails from San Antonio and is quite connected with the city’s cultured society.

The biggest surprise revealed by The Train to Crystal City is that FDR’s WWII internment was not limited to Japanese people in America, but extended to people from America’s two other WWII enemies – Germans and Italians.  The difference was that the Japanese on the West Coast were rounded up en masse and sent to “relocation centers” away from this so-called War Zone, while Germans and Italians throughout the nation were hand-picked based on FBI- collected evidence of a security risk – e.g., active connections with their homeland or membership in nationalistic clubs.  Because of this different selection criteria, more than 100,000 Japanese were rounded up, while the German contingent was closer to 10,000, and the Italians even less.

Although there were around 20 internment camps throughout America, including one in North Dakota at Fort Lincoln, author Russell focuses on Crystal City because it was the only one that interned entire families of the security risks in separate housing units.  Ironically, interning an entire family may seem harsh because of the harm inflicted on innocent wives and children (husbands were almost always the identified security risk), and this harm provided much of the dramatic focus of the book.  But the family internment camp was created by sympathetic figures in the Roosevelt administration who wanted to ease the pain of being interned and help preserve the family unit.  Several thousand were interned in Crystal City, and the book follows in particular detail one Japanese family from California and a German family from Ohio.

The next biggest surprise from the book is revealed by the first phrase in the subtitle, “FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program.”  During the war, FDR shipped several thousand of the internees to Japan and Germany in exchange for Americans being held by those nations.  This so-called “repatriation” included children at Crystal City who were American citizens.  Suffice to say that sending American children into a war zone was not in their best interest, and many struggled to return to America after the war.

After the war, German and Italian Americans seemed disposed to let the internment camps fade into history, but not the Japanese.  Their contrary disposition is probably based on the vastly different numbers of people involved, plus the Japanese internment was more racial and less security risk.  After many years of lobbying by Japanese-Americans for redress, Congress during the Reagan administration passed a law that admitted the Japanese internment was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” and awarded $20,000 each to 82,219 Japanese who had been interned (or their heirs).  Germans have filed for similar reparations, but have been denied because their detention was based, not on race, but on being security risks.

I think Congress got it right.  Even an existential war against Japan and Germany doesn’t justify rounding up all persons with those ancestries.  But it does justify the internment of those deemed security risks, even with something significantly less than the full recourse of peacetime due process.

As indicated above, I was surprised to learn of the internment of German-Americans during WWII.  I have German ancestry and my hometown in North Dakota is mostly German or Norwegian.  Further, my adopted hometown of San Antonio was, according to author Russell about one-sixth German during WWII.  Yet, I have never heard or read about this piece of history.

Since reading the book, I have asked several of my elders about this subject, and they are similarly unaware.  My German aunt explained that she had never met someone who came from Germany, so it appears that my ancestors and those in my hometown had immigrated generations earlier and were already assimilated. One friend who grew up in another part of North Dakota with more recent immigrants said that those folks had been stressed during the war, but not interned.

As a final note on the book, the author describes Crystal City as the only “family” internment camp operated during WWII.  Yet, 30,000 Japanese children were interned in relocation centers throughout America.  It seems that their stress would have been greater than those in Crystal City except for not having to face potential repatriation to their homeland.

April 6, 2015

Saturday Night at the Movies #146 – Beyond the Lights and Imitation Game and Sunday Book Review #156 – 41 by George W. Bush

Filed under: Book reviews,Movie reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:32 am
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Beyond the Lights (2014) is a low-budget romantic drama about two young adults who are being pushed toward achievement by their ultra-ambitious single parents. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker are the kids – a successful singer and an aspiring politician, respectively – and Minnie Driver and Danny Glover are the single parents with big dreams.

I previously saw Mbatha-Raw in Belle, a period drama in which she played a mulatto, and she is even more attractive here.  She starts Beyond the Lights by attempting to commit suicide, and flashbacks never fully reveal what precipitated her action. Parker does minimal acting, but the former college wrestler likes to take his shirt off.

Like Belle, the Rotten Tomato critics (81%) and audience (80%) enjoyed the movie. Me, not so much. I give it only two and a half stars out of four.

Imitation Game (2014) is another of this year’s Oscar nominees, and I found it much more satisfying than some of the other artsy films that were nominated – e.g., Whiplash, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as a math genius who helps Great Britain break a German code during World War II, but this idiosyncratic war hero is also afflicted by his then-illegal homosexuality in flashbacks and going-forward scenes.   His co-stars are a bit jarring to me because Keira Knightley is not convincing as a math genius and his two other co-stars, Allen Leech and Matthew Goode, play characters nearly identical to the roles they played in Downton Abbey Season Five. The Rotten Tomato critics score the movie at 89% and the audience is a bit more favorable at 92%. That’s about right. Based on Cumberbatch and the fascinating story, I give it three and a half stars out of four.

41 (2014) is George W. Bush’s paean to his dad, George H.W. Bush. Although I admire Bush-41, I still expect a book to include provide me, if not with any great insights, at least with some interesting information. In that regard, this book fails. There is virtually nothing in the book that I hadn’t already read somewhere else.

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