Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Storm Over The Land by Carl Sandburg

The author gives bare sketches of the major battles of the Civil War but describes in detail the principle generals with a very sympathetic approach to Lincoln and Grant. Lincoln is the giant emancipator and redeemer - all true! Grant is the dogged commander. The sheer numbers of losses, however, boggle the mind and make one wonder about what it really means to be a general: to be willing to sacrifice great numbers of soldiers at the risk of losing a battle. McClellan stands out from the rest because of his hesitation to do battle. His confrontations are almost inadvertent.  He was dismissed by Lincoln because of that hesitation. Perhaps, he deserves a second look. Maybe McClellan was not interested in so much sacrifice of men? The Confederate Generals understood McClellan's hesitation to their advantage being very aggressive against him.   Some histories characterize him as a coward, yet, Sandburg does not agree saying that McClellan proved his bravery in the Mexican/Indian Wars.

Phil Sheridan reminds me of George Patton: energetic, passionate, brazen and fearless.  Although Robert E. Lee comes off fatherly and sage like through his circumspection about his men and the war, he prosecutes his battles with brilliance and genius. 

The book gives the impression that the South did not have a chance to win because the North outnumbered the South in men and resources.  The North basically choked off the resources of the South. Defeat of the South was then a matter of time.

Lincoln is described as a very sympathetic human being wanting to be lenient with the South at the war's conclusion, allowing for the Confederate leadership's escape to England and not desiring trials for treason.

There was something incongruous about the author's magisterial, almost romantic style about the Civil War, a most bloody affair in American History.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Anguish of the Jews by Edward H. Flannery

This exhaustive study of Anti –Semitism brings to light an important Church doctrine: to be an Anti-Semite means to deny the Pauline doctrine of Love.  Hating Jews also means an awkward lack of identification of the experience of Christianity’s central figure since he was hated as a Jew (by the Romans.)  The author, a Catholic priest concludes that a true Christian cannot be an Anti-Semite because of the Pauline doctrine. 

A Jewish reader will find the author’s opinion that the Jewish people are complicit in encouraging or causing Anti-Semitism by their separatism somewhat disturbing.  Although the author is quick to clarify that Jewish separatism is only a secondary cause and cannot be the sole cause, he does claim that it is obvious. I would counter and say historically, even when the Jew attempted to assimilate, Jew hatred nevertheless showed its ugly face.  Separatism is certainly easy to point out, but not easy to prove nor obvious to justify vicious hatred.

Throughout the book he defends the Church against the charge that the Church is the fundamental culprit.  He proves from the ancient world of Greece and Rome predating the Church that Jew hatred was well established.   He shows that not all Churchmen were anti-Jewish.  Interestingly, Martin Luther is compared with Mohammed: each expected the Jewish people as allies and when this expectation failed to fructify, each turned vicious against the Jewish people.  During the Enlightenment there was a general assault against religion, Church included.  He shows that Hitler’s racial theory fits well into the pagan Anti – Church authority.  During WWII, the author acknowledges the Church’s silence but so was most of the world silent, making a terrible blemish on humanity. He names many individuals who fought against Hitler, saving Jews. 

The book shows that the USA never had the deep seated roots of Anti-Semitism and it never really took root, even though great Americans like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh tried hard to poison Americans against the Jewish people.  Although there have been periods of “Gentleman’s Anti-Semitism” with restrictions in lodging and eateries and quotas in education, these actions were never popular.

The timing of the book is interesting by the fact that it comes out at the heels of Vatican II, a conference of conciliation with the Jewish people.  After giving some highly psychological interpretations of Anti-Semitism, he concludes that identifying the causes of Anti-Semitism is difficult even illusory. 
Unfortunately in the 21th century, Jew – Hatred is still part of current events, not related to the Church as much as to Islamist ideology.  The book is a fine read from a Christian point of view.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

After finishing Moneyball by Michael Lewis, I was reminded of my own short lived high school baseball career as a pitcher.  The last year that I pitched, I had a record of 5-2 and our overall second place team finished with a 7-4 record.  My coach had a very successful strategy: in a 7 inning game, I would start for 4 or 5 innings and be replaced with a dominating closer.  After a few years out of baseball and in College, I bumped into my old coach and after a genuine warm greeting, he commented about my pitching.  Although I am sure he meant well (there was always a rapport between us) he said, “I don’t know how you were so successful for us!  You must have baffled the hitters with such slow pitches!”   I was his workhorse starter and he did not seem to understand that I threw so many different types of pitches all at different parts of the plate.  It was true that I was not like our 6’4’ fireball closer; I was short, left handed with three different fast balls (overhand, ¾ and sidearm) and three different curve balls (deliveries that came from the same way as the fast balls).  I had a sidearm curve that broke off the table that I considered my strikeout pitch.  I was a little hurt that all my coach could remember was that I threw with such little velocity. That he remembered I was successful but did not fit the mold of a classic pitcher and thus implied I was some sort of fluke was disappointing.   After reading about Billy Beane’s approach: efficient, effective and economical baseball based on statistical analysis and results, I compared myself to Chad Bradford, his unusual delivery, his effective results and felt vindicated!

The book is about prejudice and lack of creativity on the part of traditional baseball insiders versus those who see the game with a creative look of success.  The concept of getting on base to generate runs is so basic to baseball but noticing how a hitter works the pitcher is real poetry in getting to 1st base!  I think of the 1927 Yankees (Murderers Row) as the model of the establishment and how it looks for talent vs. the A’s looking for stats about who get on base every which way and make put outs every which way (like the unorthodox delivery of Chad Bradford).

Billy Beane has the recipe for creating superstars; he sees success in subtle ways through statistics when the player is unknown,  letting them develop with their own style that would have been overlooked by the establishment  because the player did not have the traditional physique of a true athlete.  At Oakland, a player develops and when he is a proven asset and just before free agency eligibility, the A’s sell his contract to the more affluent teams.   Theoretically, the player is thankful and the A’s save and make money.

Lewis’s style is philosophic.  Each paragraph is well constructed and provocative.  Many think baseball as  pastoral, slow and dull, Lewis proves, however, baseball is a business and raises the bar and intelligence quotient.  The book reinforces Vince Scully’s famous characterization that “Baseball is only as slow as the mind that watches it!”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Abravanel by Benzion Netanyahu

I thought I would investigate the scholarship of Israel's Prime Minister's father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu by reading his contribution on Don Yitzchak Abravanel.

After a brief overview and summary of Abravanel's life, the author evaluates Abravanel's thought as it manifests itself politically, historically and religiously.  He concludes that Abravanel fits really as a Medievalist than a man of the Renaissance.

Abravanel's life was filled with tragedy: he flees his birthplace of Portugal because of a purge - he is accused of disloyalty, a claim that he vigorously denies even after there is no fear of retribution.  His service to King Ferdinand and Isabella is well received, however, Abravanel is unaware that the monarchy has been percolating to expel the Jewish people.  With masterful tact and diplomacy, Abravanel's appeal to cancel the decree of expulsion is unsuccessful.  For Don Yitzchak conversion is not an option, he decides to leave the realm with his family and brethren.  He goes to Naples and services the royal court but also has to leave and after of few other places he finally settles in Venice.

The salient features of Abravanel's scholarship was his anti-rational approach - he disagreed with Maimonides although he held Rav Saadia Gaon in very high esteem.  He generally adopted a mystical approach to history.  He developed a messianism that affected the generations that came after him. He did not believe in civil disobedience even if one suffered from an evil tyrant.  He advocated prayer, asking for the Almighty to remove the tyrant because everything comes from Gd.

Prof. Netanyahu believes that most of the conversos were not secret cryptic Jews; they willingly convert due to great persuasive tactics of the church through public sermons and public disputations.  The author sees Abravanel well versed in all the secular works of his age and places him squarely as a Medievalist and not on the verge of Modernity that brought on severe materialism and secularism.  Prof. Netanyahu does not evaluate Abravanel within the context of Jewish scholarship.   In Yeshivah circles, for example, Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinovitz sees Abravanel's scholarly independence of the Sages as problematic.

I found this volume a fine critical analysis of one of Spanish Jewry great leaders at a very dark time of Jewish History.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann

What is striking about Chaim Weizmann's story is that it is providential: a young chemist making his way from Eastern Europe to Central Europe and ending up in England at the time when Zionism needs a spokesman.  His contribution to the war effort (the production of acetone) aids his entry into the upper echelons of English society and effectively convinces the Foreign Secretary to declare Britain's affinity toward the concept of a Jewish State in the ancient land of Israel.  What makes Weizmann's position so important is that the politics of the day - the British interest in the Suez Canal and the Turkish empire aligning itself with Germany in the First World War - sidelined the world Zionist leadership which was Germanic and needed to declare neutrality.  Weizmann ably convinces Britain that the Jewish people are solidly behind the Allies and with the victory against Germany there is a predisposition on the part of the British Empire to help the Jewish people now in a position to help because it controls Palestine.

As one reads this memoir, one is struck by Weizmann's steadfast belief in loyalty and diplomacy with the ever changing British policy that turned a blind's eye, even hostile to its commitment to the Balfour Declaration. He decries "Jewish Terrorism" against the British and he himself is sidelined by Zionist leadership.  He mentions his hurt at being labeled a "British Agent" on more than one occasion.  David Ben Gurion is hardly mentioned except in the context of being asked to become Israel's first president - a clear indication that there must have been serious disagreements.

He goes out of his way to mention more than once that the Peel Commission (to which he testified) proved once and for all that Jewish settlement of the land did not displace any Arab population.

The book is a fascinating study of what Weizmann calls assimilationists and Zionists.  He comes into contact with many people in England and the USA who did not believe that the Jewish people needed a State of their own.  One gets a glimpse of Weizmann's power of persuasion when is is able to convince a Felix Warburg or a Julius Rosenwald.  He mentions Rosenwald with incredulity because his philanthropies were vast and predominantly to non-Jewish causes.  Edwin Montagu, an English cabinet member stridently objects to Zionism saying that he is English and belongs in England and not Palestine.

What I gleaned from Weizmann's perspective was his insight on the conflict within Zionism between the assimilationists and the Eastern European faction as it manifested in the Uganda option.  There was a clear difference of opinion about the fundamental role of Zionism.  Some like Herzl believed that Zionism was fundamentally a solution and refuge from Antisemitism.  Others like Weizmann believed that Zionism was fundamentally a nationalistic cultural movement toward the re-unification of the historical association of the Land of Israel and the People of Israel.  For refuge, Uganda certainly made sense but for a re-unification of the People of Israel with the land of Israel it made no sense.  Weizmann argued that even if one would concede that Uganda was only an interim solution, it was naive to believe that once the Jewish people would have a functioning state (of Uganda) that eventually they would get the land of Israel.  The nations, he argued, would always say "why do you need Palestine, you already have a state!" For the Eastern European Jews who were imbued with Yiddish, Hebrew and religious literature, Zionism needed to be much more than a refuge.  As a result of this disagreement, however, some assimilationists broke away like Louis D. Brandeis in America and author Israel Zangwill in England.

This book is an important contribution to the study of Zionism and a dramatic build up to the State of Israel.