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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‘Mortality’ By Christopher Hitchens

Of necessity, his last book (though I suppose a collection of miscellany could still, and perhaps already has, come out; but that wouldn’t have been written last).

Am amazing stylist and, equally or more important, a master of his craft. There are plenty of talented writers who never properly learned their craft and any decent reader can quickly discern the difference.

Mortality is not an example of Hitchens the craftsman.

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War For Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle Of Global Power Brokers

So, there’s this insane right wing, slightly racist philosophy called Traditionalism. When capitalized, it means something very specific, more than a little occult, and deeply weird.

It’s non-fiction, but most resembles Umberto Eco’s great novel of occult paranoia, Foucault’s Pendulum. Listening to Teitelbaum’s breathless accounts of conversations with right wing esotericians, I keep thinking of Eco’s narrator and his encounters with important seeming occult thinkers.

This is also because, even though Teitelbaum repeatedly presents himself as a scholar (specializing, apparently, in right wing ethnomusicology, which doesn’t sound like a real thing), he doesn’t write as on. One review said he seemed a bit star struck by Bannon, but beyond that, the book is more of a mostly chronological account of his descent into crazy town, with Bannon as his Gandalf (a wise man who tends to disappear and then reappear, offering wise words). I also pick up hints of Bernard Henri-Levy, in it. The globetrotting name dropping and the self-importance of it all.

He acknowledges the book was rushed and it has a breathless quality, like he’s embarked on a mystery he must solve : Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Traditionalist. He uncovers clues, only to find that it wasn’t clue, only the self-important ramblings of a minor figure that no one cared about. It also has a chronological quality; it is more or less directed by the timeline of his interviews with Steve Bannon.

I learned that the godfather of traditionalism is the French philosopher, René Guénon. I have somewhere his book, The Multiple States of Being, which I haven’t read. It was given to me by an acquaintance; later, I figured out that giving me that book was his way of expressing his romantic feelings for me. Having learned from this book that Guénon helped found a neo-fascist movement makes that seem an odd choice, but I’ll give that acquaintance the benefit of the doubt.

However, my main takeaway from this book is this: Bannon and I used to frequent the same metaphysical bookstore in Los Angeles: The Bodhi Tree. Did I ever see him? Maybe. Would I have recognized another shaggy, middle-aged white dude as the future political strategist for the apocalypse? Meh.

The Rise And Fall Of Classical Greece

Despite the Gibbonesque title, this is a not traditional history of classical Greece. It aspires to be more data driven, though spiced with classical learning. Sort of like a Jared Diamond who didn’t reach for tendentious assumptions with uncomfortable racial overtones.

An early example was identifying that, even though ‘Greece’ expanded to many places in the Mediterranean beyond Greece, the distinctly Greek city states (did you know that plural of polis is poleis, because I didn’t) were located in a narrow climate band that featured relatively mild winters and not too much rainfall. While the first seems natural, the latter is counterintuitive, but it seems the liked dry summers, despite the potential benefits to agriculture.

So, I was enjoying this right?

Well, kind of. I actually didn’t finish it. I don’t have limitless reading time and, frankly, I decided to allocate it elsewhere after getting about 100 pages into it. I prefer cultural history to economic history. If I read about classical Greece, I want more Empedocles and Pericles and less olive oil output. Just a personal preference, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think this book is worth your time, though, should you be so inclined.

The Mysterious Affair At Styles

My second Agatha Christie book within recent memory (my mother had some many around the house, that I feel certain I read some growing up) and the first mystery she ever wrote.

The last one I read was all about motive. Her most famous creation, Hercule Poirot, spent much of the book criticizing a police detective who spent a lot of time examining physical evidence, while Poirot shrugged his shoulders, said, meh, who care, motive is everything.

In this one… well, motive was pretty obvious, in the end, and it was all about physical evidence (though, sometimes, also about the absence of something), with the mustachioed Belgian even sending some samples of cocoa away to be analyzed.

I am too lazy to look for it, but I read a very nice article about Christie that posited a unifying feature in her work: a great belief in the evil of mankind. And, well, you can really see it here.

A lot of disagreeable people, including a thin-skinned, self-righteous, and not very bright narrator (though, in his defense, Poirot seemed to constantly making fun of him and disagreeably and spitefully withholding information).

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.

Ninefox Gambit

After reading this science fiction novel and then recommending it to a friend (I won’t say it was great writing, though perhaps it is better in the original, but it’s good writing and I just found it very fascinating), he immediately noted the en media res factor, with Lee tossing into a well thought out, but very outre science fiction universe and society. Mathematics based around calendars can, apparently, affect reality in some way that winds up wreaking havoc on technology based around other ‘calendrical’ systems. It’s like if the presence of a vinyl record player caused your all your iTunes songs to either blow up your phone or play nothing but ‘Baby Shark’ at ear splitting volume.

He also commented on how this society placed an emphasis on the wearing of gloves and how that was also part of the society of the Radch Empire in the amazing novel, Ancillary Justice.

This got me thinking and I eventually decided that Frank Herbert’s Dune was the forerunner of all this. The culture and the social and technological mores of that universe were detailed, well thought out, and completely alien to us. While Ninefox Gambit is no Dune, I can see the lineage.

Cyril Mango

I got this because it was the only thing in the library by Cyril Mango. I only heard about him an article mourning his passing, as a preeminent Byzantine scholar.

Ironically, his contribution is a remembrance of another deceased Byzantine scholar.

Look, obviously there were a bunch of other articles, but I just wasn’t feeling all those specialized pieces about Byzantine history.

First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned From The Greeks And Romans And How That Shaped Our Country

I loved this book, because it’s all about the stuff that fascinates me about the Founders, particularly Jefferson. Does not necessarily make it for everyone. But if you wish you read Latin (or if you do and wish that everyone else did, too).

One of the central claims is that the early period examined – sort of late late colonial to the early 1800s – was heavily influenced by Roman and Latin history and philosophy. Later, as ideas of classical virtue declined, Greek to precedence.

He closes with an epilogue that addresses contemporary issues, including Trump, and how classical learning, especially Latin, can help.

While I don’t disagree, he never properly made that case in the previous two hundred odd pages. Too bad.

Brutus: The Noble Conspirator

Equal parts fascinating and maddening book which readily admits it is weaving a whole cloth out of not much thread. It asks an interesting question: Brutus is given a certain amount of respect, relative to his co-conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar, but why?

He is typically depicted as being rather more high minded than the ‘lean and hungry’ looking Cassius.

What does Ms. Tempest conclude? That he had a bit of a reputation as being a high minded person while alive and that he also actively sought to promote that image, even if it wasn’t always warranted (because there is, apparently, evidence that he was also greedy, rapacious, and rather petulant).

The primary sources appear limited and she relies heavily on the letter of Cicero, including his letters to Brutus (also, Plutarch’s biography of him).

It was a maddening read, the lack of certainty (which sometimes felt compensated for by a bit of padding). But also because he seemed like such a bright fellow. He was a well known orator (even if Cicero didn’t like his rhetorical style) and writer of philosophical texts, though no copies of his orations nor his treatises appear to have survived.

What I hadn’t really known was how long Brutus and the other conspirators were allowed to basically continue on after the assassination and how long it took for things to devolve into a(nother) civil war.

So having finished it, I picked up some Cicero I’d started but never completed, so that’s an accomplishment that book achieved.