Finally! A serious book by a liberal about liberalism. McGowan has read the conservative theorists (Kirk, Hayek, etc), explains their viewpoints fairly, then counters them with the liberal argument.
I might have given the book five stars except for the strong emphasis the author puts on the extreme difficulty of changing Washington and the tiny number of incumbents who lose in most elections. The book was published in 2007 and was apparently being written before the 2006 election because 2006, 2008, and especially 2010 were "wave" elections. Large numbers of incumbents lost their seats in those years, so one of his major points is no longer valid - especially after 2010.
The introduction and conclusion are models of their kind. McGowan writes that the difference between liberals and conservatives comes down to this: liberals favor equality and conservatives favor inequality. Depending on how you define these terms (and he does define his terms), this is a valid point. Liberals want the government to redistribute wealth and power. Conservatives point out that such attempts in the past(think Communism) have led to deeper inequality and to bloodshed. Never has there been nor will there ever be real equality of outcome and democracy and capitalism are historically the fairest means of apportioning "goods."
This is a "popular" book but it's published by an academic press (the University of North Carolina) and is not easy going. I'm willing to bet the author has had a rigorous classical education because the book is well structured and his paragraphs are sublime. (The English teacher in me approves. He is, by the way, not a political scientist but an English teacher at Chapel Hill.)
The appendices contain some valuable statistics that show what both liberals and conservatives can agree are problems. The ratio of employee to CEO pay in the US is 475:1, vs Japan where it's 12:1. There is a large and increasing disparity of income in the US. Skyrocketing campaign costs and increase in lobbying are not good.
Ultimately McGowan makes the claim that liberals are the party in favor of less government, not the conservatives. But all of his solutions to social and economic problems (and he sees many problems that conservatives do not think are problems at all) are solved by government intervention in the society and the economy. He doesn't seem to recognize that increased government regulation means larger government and that government taking over sectors like health care, finance, and transportation produces larger government. I thought that was amusing.
But aside from a few holes in his argument McGowan describes the liberal and conservative approaches to politics and economics without raising his voice. His arguments are sometimes based on sentimentality rather than logic and historical evidence, but this is a fair and balanced book.
A bizarre book. The early chapters are full of amusing and enlightening info about numbers, especially statistics and probability. But around the middle of the book the author goes off on a liberal screed. In one section not more than two pages go by for an entire chapter where he doesn't call Justice Antonin Scalia every nasty name he can dredge up. Too bad. We all need to know more about numbers and the author has the knack of explaining things mathematical and arithmetical. A good book ruined by self-indulgent and irrational ranting.
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui etes pain comme un etudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable a etres emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l'etonnement et la tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fete and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
The Heart of Spirituality reading group at the Spokane South Branch Library met last night to talk about Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. This book has been on the best-seller lists for some time but I looked at it and decided I didn't need to read about about a woman coping with the death of her husband. How interesting can that be?
Turns out, very interesting indeed. Her husband, John Gregory Dunne, had a heart attack one December night in 2003 at a time when their daughter was in a coma after the flu, which turned into pneumonia. Somehow, Didion pulled herself together and got through the shock and grief and fatigue and the craziness that ensued.
Magical thinking they tell us is a psychological term used to refer to children with imaginary friends. For Didion it took the form of finding she couldn't bear to throw out her husband's shoes -- because he would need them when he came back. Or not wanting to call the west coast because it's earlier there and he might not have died there yet.
I suspect many people faced with crushing loss think like this occasionally. Fortunately, Didion is able to recognize what she is thinking, figure out why she is thinking that way, and tell us about it, in a book that contains not a shred of sentimentality or self-pity.