The Symposium (Again)


I re-read this again, again. I’m not actually sure how many times I’ve read it, but I was happy to do so one more time.

But it’s not my favorite Platonic dialogue, though it is my second favorite depiction of a classical party after the one in Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods. I will also digress to say that Iearned that the traditional Greek symposium in classical Athens featured very shallow bowls for drinking, instead of cups. Part of attending such a drinking party was a test of one’s ability to hold your liquor; being able to hold and drink from your bowl and not spill it was a sign of manhood and maturity. You were in control of your emotions and body (incidentally, that is why the statues of male figures from that time can feel… inadequate; priapism was a sign of a man whose rational mind was not in charge; conversely, a resolutely unaroused member was the sign of a real man).

In this and in the Phaedra’s, I find myself less tolerant of Plato’s anti-democratic tendencies seeping through, like water from a leaky pipe into the walls and ceiling. I was accused of always thinking that Plato is writing political philosophy, which is resolutely false. But I feel that that democracy and it’s susceptibility to demagogues, for which he blames Socrtes’ death, is his bête noire and it bubbles up in his diatribes against popular rhetoric, which appear not just in the Gorgias, but throughout his works.

Betrayal: The Final Act Of The Trump Show


At this point, there’s not much new compared to the coverage of the book and other reporting… but, good heavens, what a lot of crazy people. Vice President Pence comes across as… sort of good? Even if he waited until the very last moment to say, enough is enough, can we please stop destroying the Constitution and American democracy?

The role of John McEntee, a Trumpy, horndog who was put in charge of Stalinist purges, was interesting. I’d heard of him, but the salacious tidbits, like hiring attractive, twenty year old female Instagram ‘influencers’ alongside hardworking, loyal young men who also weren’t competition for any sexual conquests McEntee felt like embarking on.

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What Kind Of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, And The Epic Struggle To Create A United States


This is a fascinating, reasonably brisk read and a worthwhile book, but the subtitle wildly overpromises.

Jefferson and Marshall didn’t like each other. In fact, it appears that Marshall positively hated Jefferson and during the near crisis of 1800, expressed a desire that Burr be made president instead of Jefferson.

I learned a great deal about Marbury vs Madison that I didn’t know and the cunning way that Marshall used it to establish constitutional review, as as well as much about the trial of Aaron Burr for treason. But here’s the thing, Jefferson was rather peripheral to those and Simon doesn’t even make a more than half-hearted stab at suggesting he was (at the time) terribly concerned about Marbury vs Madison, for example (though he was hellbent on leather on seeing Burr hanged). In fact, perhaps a quarter of the narrative takes place after Jefferson had retired from public office.

The Four Horsemen: The Discussion That Sparked An Atheist Revolution


The title is writing checks that this transcript can’t cash. Or maybe it did. Maybe this banal festival of self-satisfaction did spark a revolution of people who think that reading Sam Harris makes you smart.

The thing is, I find half of the participants to be smug, shallow t—ts. Dennett is a legitimately fine philosopher and Hitchens one of the great raconteurs of the last fifty years.

But Dawkins cashed in his well earned fame from his early work as an evolutionary biologist into a second career as a low rent Jordan Peterson and Harris has been a first class a— for many years.

The format lets no one get a real head of steam going and if you’ve ever watched the video, you can see a progressively drunker Hitchens get frustrated at how boring his compatriots are.

I hadn’t any desire to read this, but my child and I were at the library and I wanted something to read while she did her thing, so looked to see if this branch had any Hitchens and they did… sort of. Best thing I can say about this: it’s short and fast to read.

The Cave Dwellers


I am not familiar with DC old money or their habits, but I do know that smart senators do not move their families to the District anymore (rarely since Santorum and surely never since Robert’s easy chair in Kansas).

I also know that if Fox News invites a Senator to appear as a talking head, he can’t just send his press secretary in his place; the network will decline and find a Senator who will come in person.

And, let’s be honest, newly elected Republican Senator from North Carolina is not, in 2020 (the year this book was published), going to take the lead on expanding the Violence Against Women Act to include ‘psychological coercion.’

But it was a reminder of the so-called cave dwellers, nickname for the very rich, socialite families who are mostly not directly tied to politics, but too old money and who hobnob with cable tv personalities, establishment figures in the Cabinet, and a sprinkling of foreign diplomats and their families. It is no longer a case where much is decided in their drawing rooms, as in a Gore Vidal novel, but I am at least aware they still exist. The depiction of the adolescents, whose antics took up much of the novel, were rather depictions from an R rated Gossip Girl, mixed with an early Jay McInery novel. And the ending was a reminder how the invulnerable world of the one percent both has, but mostly has not changed.

‘TekNet’ Or, The Series Ends


It’s the end of an era.

Well, actually, the era ended almost a quarter of century ago. But this is the last Tek novel. I suppose that since the television show ended a few years before this final book came out, Mr. William Shatner decided it was time to wind up this project. But, heaven help me, I find myself wanting more. Maybe I need to watch the show.

I was nervous about this one because, years ago, I read that Jake Cardigan, the usual protagonist, didn’t appear in TekNet, that it was all about his partner, Sid Gomez. But they both appeared, though Gomez continued a process, begun several books ago, of becoming the real lead (there seemed to be, a while back, an aborted effort to make Jake’s teenage son the next in line, but he was boring, so I’m glad that didn’t happen).

Gomez is problematic, being a bit of stereotype (and also being the target of many ethnic insults tossed by bad guys and passers-by), but he is also much more interesting than Jake at this point.

Without bothering to tell you the story, I will say it revolves around one of his (many) former wives. At the end, he cut ties with her, but acknowledges to his partner that she was very special to him. Near the beginning, Jake was also dumped by his girlfriend on account of not truly being over the love interest who dominated the first couple of books, which felt like the series reverting to ‘canon,’ if that makes any sense. So it did all feel like a decent place to stop, even if I wish it hadn’t.

We Are Safe


But not well. If you have been complaining that November’s election was illegitimate, you may not care, but you have been an integral part of a massive, collective feedback that has caused my child emotional harm. It has also resulted in deaths, but I am not ashamed to say that my child is my first priority.

I am a Democrat. I do not actually fall easily into categories beyond that, being progressive in many ways, but also centrist on many issues.

I did not vote for Trump. Going further than that, I did not vote for Bush. I did not like how shenanigans meant the latter won the election nor how the Electoral College meant that the choice of most Americans was not the man inaugurated in 2000 and 2016.

But I did not say they were illegitimate. I believed that the proper response was to organize to win during the next election, in other words, to use our small “d” democratic process to make change.

That is the difference.

‘Vostok’ Is Even Worse


I don’t know even know why I really did, but I read the sequel to The Loch. It’s about another lake: Vostok, which is a real place in Russia.

But does the real lake have an alien outpost with telepathic extra-terrestrials who provide a pseudo-scientific argument for the existence of God and who planted information about atomic theory in the Bible and in Kabbalistic texts? Who knows really? I mean, probably right?

And is that real lake being investigated by a cabal of super rich companies who believe in aliens and are part of Majestic 12 (which, should you google, will lead you down a supremely stupid rabbit hole, so I recommend that you do not, but I did enjoy a particularly erratic character explaining that they stopped Obama from revealing the truth by exploding a missile nearby when he was in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peach Prize)?

In addition to his weird religious beliefs, Mr. Steve Alten (I keep on wanting to write ‘Steve Allen’) is a big fan of the idea of weird natural effects creating preserved ecosystems from prehistory. He showed a hitherto unknown to me lack of talent when it comes to writing science fiction about multiple and alternate timelines. Let’s call this Steve Alten (not Allen) ‘really terrible Philip K. Dick.’

Vostok is superior to The Loch in one key way, I will say. It is much shorter. While I haven’t read his most famous novels, the ones about giant sharks, he does gamely tie those novels to this one, creating, let’s call it, the Megverse. Actually, let’s not.

But it wasn’t all bad. I did learn something, like that there are multiple plains of existence. I would have thought that if such a thing existed, it would be multiple ‘planes,’ but apparently on page 308, the author launched a novel theory about alternate… grasslands? All very cutting edge stuff.

As one final note, let me just point out that the cover is a photo an alligator badly photoshopped into some generic snowy mountain lake. And while a giant, prehistoric crocodilian does appear, it is supposed to be closer to a caiman than an alligator. This is a pet peeve of mine. John Grisham wrote a book about a man who travels down the Amazon River and sees many, many alligators. Alligators only live in North American and China. There are no alligators in the Amazon. This felt like some super lazy research and an even lazier copy editor.

The Horse And His Boy


The title does a neat trick. The Horse (usually capitalized because, if you are unaware of how all this works, the Horse in question is a talking, Narnian horse) comes first and he is the dominant figure. The boy (not capitalized) is his, not the other way around. But really, the book is about the boy, not the Horse and especially not about the girl.

This was my favorite Narnia book as a child, barely, but definitely, beating out The Lion, The Witch, and the WardrobeAnd I thought my daughter my like it. It’s a simpler story than that first Narnia book (and it was the first he wrote and, frankly, everything will make much more sense if you read them in the order he wrote them than if you attempt to retroactively place them in a chronology based on the timeline of Narnia, itself) and less allegorical. The stakes feel lower because, even though the hero, Shasta (the boy), saves the nice kingdom of Archenland, Archenland is only Narnia’s neighbor and not the home of Talking Horses and the like.

But, if you read it now, you will find a muted, but still nasty form of orientalist racism running through. Thankfully, the girl, Aravis, is from the more or less Middle Eastern style kingdom of this world (though, really, it’s less Middle Eastern than inspired by, I would guess, childhood readings of The Arabian Nights). She does get some decent characterization and growth and is a strong person with brown skin and black hair (like my daughter, to whom I was reading this). But this doesn’t make up for the moment when the titular boy is singled out for being blonde and fair skinned and obviously of northern stock and though never said, one can’t help but feel that we are supposed to feel that this makes him somehow better than all those vaguely Arabic chaps. Reading those bits to my daughter almost made me put down the book.

I also had not remembered that C.S. Lewis made the correlation between Aslan and Jesus clearer than at any other point before the final book in the series. He even puts in a parallel to the incarnation.

What, in the end, as a grown up living in the days after the death of George Floyd (which came after the death of countless others), did I take from it? Anything at all? It is an old fashioned adventure story, more similar to the serials of the 20s and 30s than anything else in Lewis’ oeuvre and I like those stories, for all their many faults.

Shakespeare In Quarantine


This weekend would normally be the Shakespeare birthday celebration at the Folger. But, you know. Pandemic.

Tomorrow is his actual birthday, but it just makes me sad. I just don’t miss that celebration. And now. Ugh.

The things I miss. Museums, libraries, bookstores.