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BOOK REVIEW: Herman Badillo’s ‘One Nation, One Standard’ Pulls No Punches in Attack on Nation’s Touchy, Feely Multiculturalism, Lax Educational Standards

Posted by kinchendavid on February 6, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV  – Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, New York City’s City College was known as the “Harvard of the Poor,” relates Herman Badillo (City College, Class of 1951) in his outstanding new book “One Nation, One Standard,” (Sentinel, a Penguin USA imprint, 240 pages, $23.95).

Born in 1929 in Puerto Rico, Badillo came to the mainland without a word of English at his command. He was a product of what he calls the Hispanic “500-year Siesta,” a fact of life that has prevented Latin American nations – with the exception of manufacturing powerhouse Brazil – from achieving their potential. It could be called the reverse of German sociologist Max Weber’s famous “Protestant Ethic” discussed just over 100 years ago in his famous treatise “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

Thanks to growing up in non-Hispanic neighborhoods like Burbank, CA and parts of New York City, Badillo became fluent in English – without the crippling effects of bilingual education – which as a liberal Democrat he once embraced.

Badillo could say – like Ronald Reagan – that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party – it left him. In the wake of his work with Rudy Giuiliani’s successful mayoral campaign in 1993, where he contributed the campaign slogan “One City, One Standard,” Badillo changed his registration to Republican, a not unusual situation in the strange world of New York politics – consider the case of current Mayor Mike Bloomberg — but a rarity among Puerto Ricans.

City College, one of the crown jewels of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, and its sister colleges like Hunter College and Queens College, boasts such eminent alumni as polio vaccine inventor Dr. Jonas Salk, civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable and Congressman Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Moynihan – who was a distinguished sociologist – is a particular role model for Badillo, who in the 1960s became the first native of Puerto Rico to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. In his first term as a congressman, Badillo represented a predominantly Greek-American constituency in Astoria, Queens, and he praises the Greek community for preserving their culture while at the same time “participating fully in the life of New York City” as Americans.

Badillo, who went on to become both a CPA and an attorney after graduating from City College, states that City College and CUNY in general once had higher admission standards than Harvard – and the quality of its graduates was living proof.

All this changed beginning in 1969, when radical black and Hispanic students took over CUNY headquarters and demanded “open admissions” to CUNY. Badillo relates in this memoir that is also a call for higher standards in education and political discourse that the caving into the demands of the radicals destroyed the reputation of the CUNY system. Only after Badillo and others began working to restore the reputation of the system in the 1990s did the CUNY system recover from this decline.

Badillo confirms many of my suspicions that higher education has declined since he – and I, who graduated 10 years after he did, in 1961 – attended college. Much of this is due to grade inflation, but lower admission standards and various forms of affirmative action that were supposed to help under-served minorities have had the opposite effect by depriving many poorly educated blacks and Hispanics of a meaningful and valid college degree.

Badillo points to other American groups that have faced discrimination (Pages 27-28) — including Jews and Asians – and how their dedication to education – and especially their parents’ faith in study and learning – made these groups achieve the highest levels in America.

“The primary determinant of any immigrant group’s success or failure in America is its attitude toward education,” Badillo writes. “American Jews and Asian immigrants have succeeded because both of those cultures place an enormously high value on intellect, educational diligence, and hard work.”

He might have added black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, including retired Army General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It’s a truism that blacks from Jamaica and other English-speaking Caribbean nations place a tremendous premium on “educational diligence” and hard work.

On pages 28 and 29, Badillo writes that even in the “dysfunctional” school system of New York City, Asian kids are the achievers of today: “Gotham’s elite high schools – such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science – have substantial Asian populations.”

Kudos to Badillo for bringing this to light in this outstanding book, which bears the intriguing subtitle of “An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups”: It’s something I noticed from my 16 years in California, a state with an abysmal history of discrimination toward Asians, including those from China and Japan.

Despite this history, Asians are the highest achievers in the Golden State — a state that has the economy of a major nation. Silicon Valley without Asians – including many from India — would be a shadow of its impressive presence today.

Hispanics who buy into the value of education are also achieving much throughout California and the Southwest. One of the most impressive speeches I’ve heard in five decades of journalism was at a 2004 seminar in Houston, where I heard former Clinton cabinet member – and former San Antonio mayor — Henry Cisneros speak on housing for lower income groups. For another take on Cisneros, read (Page 168) Badillo’s account of President Bill Clinton’s use of then Housing and Urban Development Secretary Cisneros to aid in the failed re-election of NYC Mayor David Dinkins in 1993.

I’d like to see Badillo elected President of the U.S., although I have a feeling he’s backing Rudy Giuliani. At another 2004 journalism seminar, this time in the late fall in New York City, I listened to Giuliani address a standing-room only audience of urban planners and developers. I must say I was impressed with his eloquence.

Speaking of Giuliani – who contributed the foreward to this book – here’s the assessment of “America’s Mayor” of Badillo’s book: “The greatest lesson of Herman Badillo’s story is that the genius of American life — the upward ladder of opportunity that American freedom at its best provides — is better at solving most any problem than any government program.” Wise words, indeed!

I recommend “One Nation, One Standard” to all those who believe that politicians can recognize the error of their ways and return to the straight and narrow path of righteousness.

About the Author: Herman Badillo is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute. He is, in addition to being a former congressman, a former deputy mayor of New York City; a former borough president of the Bronx and chairman of the board of the City University of New York.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.penguin.com


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BOOK REVIEW: Columnist, Educator Edith Lank Puts Some Fun Back Into Real Estate with ‘I’ve Heard It All and So Should You’

Posted by kinchendavid on February 1, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV  – Real estate is no laughing matter for most folks: It’s deadly serious – too serious. Now comes real estate columnist and educator Edith Lank with “I’ve Heard It All and So Should You: Confessions of a Real Estate Columnist (Dearborn Real Estate Education, Chicago: 250 pages, $22.39 paperback) to put some laughter back into the subject.

As fans of the 1929 Marx Brothers comedy “The Cocoanuts” (about the Florida land boom and bust of the 1920s) know, there’s a lot of humor in housing. Lank, based in upstate New York and the author of eight previous books on real estate – all serious tomes – looks at the lighter side of property in a book that collects letters and emails from her syndicated column – a column that appears in more than 100 newspapers and web sites.

Think Ann Landers or Dear Abby and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Edith (I can call her that because I’ve known her and husband Norm and their son Avi for years from my membership in the National Association of Real Estate Editors) is up to in this entertaining and informative book.

Yes, humor can be informative, because a funny book with real-life situations is an excellent teaching tool. Edith Lank, a former real estate broker, has written textbooks on real estate law in New York and New Jersey and has taught pre-licensing classes for prospective real estate agents.

Down through the years, buyers and sellers have asked Edith Lank questions that they’re too embarrassed to ask their own agents. She shows that situations that might seem obvious to the experienced broker or sales person are not necessarily all that obvious to lay people.

Here are some samples from the book:

* “…please send all information on how to sell our home without using a realator. I think you call it being a FSOB…”

* “Would adding extra to our mortgage payment save us money in the long run? If so, should we pay extra on principal, interest or escrow?

* “I would appreciate any information on Fanny Mae. Also if she has any books out…”

* “Hello Edith: I don’t know what to do. First of all I’m incarcerated and the reason is my husband, well x-husband was sleeping around with my best friend and I walked in on them in our home and lost it with a golf club…”

* “Forgive the ‘Dr. Laura’ nature of this letter. Recently my fiancée allowed a friend of hers to rent a room from us while she gets her life back on track. The only lease is a verbal agreement, and her rent is a token amount. However, I’m growing tired of her lifestyle with a steady stream of men entering our house….how do I go about removing her with no written lease?”

* “Dear Edith: My daughter recently bought a home and is interested in how to pay it off so she will save as much as possible. I saw an account in your column but forgot about it and used it to wrap some jars. I would like you to send me a copy so I can give it to her.”

Edith notes in her delightful, informative book: “At least she didn’t use it to wrap fish!”

If you think you know a lot about real estate, think again. You don’t know Jack compared to Edith Lank. But after reading her new book, you’ll be both entertained and educated. It’s an unbeatable combination.

About the Author: Edith Lank’s real estate column has won awards for journalistic excellence and consumer education from the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the Real Estate Educators Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, various Bar Associations and NAR. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Minnesota Public Radio, Public Radio International, has hosted her own television and radio shows and is heard weekly on public radio at WXXI-FM in her hometown of Rochester, NY. Edith has taught real estate at the college level for 15 years, and her work has been published in many national magazines. Edith is a past director of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and also of the Real Estate Educators Association.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.dearbornRE.com


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BOOK REVIEW: Awful Title, Several Passages Mar Carter’s Controversial ‘Palestine Peace Not Apartheid’ Book on Israeli-Arab Conflict

Posted by kinchendavid on January 28, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV – Where to start with Jimmy Carter’s extremely controversial book on the Israeli-Arab conflict, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon & Schuster, 288 pages, $27.00)?

The book’s publication in mid-November 2006 was followed by the resignation of 15 members of the Carter Center Advisory board — who called it one-sided, biased in favor of the Palestinian and/or Arab side of the conflict.

Ambassador Dennis Ross says that maps on Page 148 were apparently copied from Ross’s 2004 book on the conflict – “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace” – without attribution. Click on http://www.thepoliticalpitbull.com/2006/12/video_dennis_ross_says_carter.phpm for Ross’ comments on the maps. From what I’ve heard about the Ross book, it’s a much better tome on the subject than Carter’s – much more balanced and even-handed.

In further damage control, the one-term president and prolific author has apologized for what he called a “stupid” passage in his book that critics say is a de facto endorsement of Palestinian violence against Israelis.

“I apologize to you personally and to everyone here,” Carter said when asked about the passage by a student during his appearance at Brandeis University on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007. After explaining that the passage was “worded in a completely improper and stupid way,” Carter said he has asked publisher Simon & Schuster Inc. to change the wording in future editions of the book.

The questionable passage, which appears on Page 213 of the book, reads: “It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.”

Some of Mr. Carter’s critics, including the Carter Center board members who resigned, say the text reads as defending terror tactics until a peace accord can be reached between Israel and Palestinians.

“Repeatedly I call on all to terminate the use of violence,” Mr. Carter said in response. In all fairness to Carter, his book describes acts of Arab terror that lead to reprisals by the Israelis – although Carter suggests that the reprisals are “disproportionate” – to use a word popularized in last summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

He also addressed critics who said the book title unfairly compared Israeli policy to the racial separatist policies of South Africa’s government, which ended apartheid in the early 1990s. Mr. Carter said he did not mean to “equate Zionism with racism” when choosing the title.

Some readers would have problems with Carter’s statement on Pages 189-190 that “The driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa – not racism, but the acquistion of land.” In other words, the Jews of Israel aren’t racists, just typical greedy land-grabbing Jews! Is that what you mean, Mr. Carter?

The punctuation of the title mystified me; in the book it doesn’t have a colon after “Palestine”, although many citations of the book put one there. The press release accompanying my review copy has no title punctuation.

Nowhere in the book does Carter refer to the hundreds of thousands of Jews driven out of the Arab countries in the years following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948. Nor does he note their second-class status – apartheid? – in virtually every Muslim Arab country.

Carter angrily attacks the security wall – one of dozens similar to those in other countries in the Middle East (including one between Syria and Turkey) and other areas – something he fails to mention – but doesn’t explain that the wall was a response to suicide and other terrorist attacks by “Palestinians” against Israeli civilians, including those celebrating Jewish holidays and attending weddings or merely enjoying a pizza in Tel Aviv or Haifa. There was no call for a security fence or wall during the decade-long period – from 1990 to 2000 – preceding the so-called “second intifada.”

Carter wears his evangelical Christianity like a sheriff’s badge, and he’s undoubtedly dismayed – as a member of the far-left branch of the Democratic Party – at evangelicals in the U.S. who overwhelmingly favor the Israeli position in the conflict.

I think that’s one reason why he repeatedly makes references to alleged Israeli mistreatment of Christian Arabs in his book. The fact of the matter is that Muslims in the Territories and Gaza have repeatedly attacked Christian houses of worship – something Israel hasn’t done – and that Arab Christians in Israeli cities like Nazareth are treated with respect by Israeli authorities.

I’ve talked to Arab Christians in Chicago who’ve described the “apartheid” they experienced under Muslim regimes. That’s one of the reasons why they emigrated to the States. All the data I’ve seen shows a decline in the Christian population in the Territories, while in Israel proper it’s stable or gaining.

One of the 15 who resigned from the Carter Center in Atlanta, Emory University history professor Kenneth Stein, in a statement released earlier this month through the university’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel, noted that the Palestinian terror organization Hamas has never recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish state, calling it a “vile entity.”

Carter suggests in his book that Hamas is “ready for dialogue”, although he repeatedly states that Hamas doesn’t recognize the existence of Israel. For instance, on Page 178, Carter states that Hamas “had not accepted the PLO’s commitments at Oslo that recognized the ‘right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.””

Ross’s book was published in paperback in 2005. If you want to read about the seemingly never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of almost 4,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis in the first six years of this millennium, I suggest that readers of this review find a copy of “The Missing Peace” and give a pass to the book by Carter.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.simonsays.com

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BOOK REVIEW: Caper Crime Novels Come to Life with Steve Brewer’s ‘Whipsaw’, ‘Monkey Man’

Posted by kinchendavid on January 24, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV   One of my favorite sub-genres of crime novels is a caper mystery, where quirky characters populate a particular city and are constantly getting into and out of mishaps. One of the best practitioners of caper novels in the spirit of Donald E. Westlake, Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard is Steve Brewer.

Brewer’s “Whipsaw” (Intrigue Press, Madison, Wis., 256 pages, $24.00) is set in the dot-com world of San Francisco, always a good venue for oddball characters, and his “Monkey Man” (Intrigue Press, 232 pages, $24.00) centers around murder and mayhem involving employees at the Albuquerque, N.M. zoo.

Two reviews in one column…first off is “Whipsaw.”

The title refers to a computer game geared to girls (I always though this was a guy thing, but a large percentage of gamers are female, Brewer points out) involving a Lara Croft-type character, strong and beautiful, wielding a bull whip like a female Lash La Rue.

Somebody has stolen the code for the game and is threatening to put the game on the Internet unless computer magnate David La Costa comes up with $3 million in cash. La Costa’s minions contact Matt Donahue, the former security chief of La Costa’s company, DelaTek, to deliver the money and retrieve the code.

The thieves have insisted that Donahue deliver the money in exchange for the code. (One question: What’s to stop the thieves from making CD copies of the code and keeping them?)

Ex-Marine Donahue has major issues with La Costa. For starters, Donahue’s wife Carol left him for the former geek, now living the lavish lifestyle in Hillsborough, a Beverly Hills-style suburb in San Mateo County south of The City — as everybody in the Bay Area calls San Francisco.

Donahue, to protect his investment in stock that he received as a buyout when he left DelaTek, reluctantly agrees to act as bagman. Naturally, things go horribly wrong with the plan and a cycle of deaths makes it evident that the “Whipsaw” title has taken on its meaning of subjecting someone – in this case, Matt — to two opposing forces.

Donahue teams up with the beautiful (naturally) Kate Allison at DelaTek in an effort to determine who in the company is involved in the extortion plan. It’s dead certain that it’s an inside job – with the accent on “dead.”

One of the conventions of caper novels is that a reader can follow the travels of the characters in the novel with a city map in a good caper novel. This is certainly true of “Whipsaw,” where Donahue lives in a nice – and very pricey — apartment in a Victorian building in upscale Pacific Heights and DelaTek is in the city’s dot-com district not far from what everybody in the compact (800,000 people crammed into 46.7 square miles) city still calls Candlestick Park.

I’ve been to San Francisco numerous times and I recognized many landmarks in “Whipsaw.” This is a standalone, but Matt Donahue is too attractive a character not to reappear in a future Brewer novel. Let’s hope so!

* * *

“Monkey Man” is another in the continuing saga of Bubba Mabry, a private investigator in Albuquerque, N.M. Bubba’s wife and the family’s principal source of income is Felicia Quattlebaum, ace reporter with the Albuquerque Gazette, a tough, finely drawn character who – with the oversized glasses and the long straight hair — resembles a lot of female reporters I’ve worked with in my adventures and misadventures on five daily newspapers, including the Milwaukee Sentinel and the Los Angeles Times.

Slip and fall lawyer Marvin Pigeon is always after Bubba to do what most private eyes do in the real world, work as investigators for lawyer. But Bubba wants excitement….

Things go horribly wrong for Bubba when Albuquerque Zoo employee Jeff Simmons meets the private eye at a coffee shop to discuss weird goings on at the zoo. Seems that a lot of animals are dying or otherwise disappearing at the facility and Jeff wants Bubba to look into the matter. Before they’ve finished their coffees, Simmons is shot dead by a person in a gorilla suit.

Ignoring warnings from Lt. Steve Romero, his detective friend on the Albuquerque Police Department, Bubba gets involved big time in the ongoing police investigation of the Simmons murder. As anyone who has read even a small amount of detective fiction knows, it’s a major no-no for a private peeper to get involved in an open case. Bubba being Bubba, this rule is disregarded from the beginning after he’s hired by Jeff’s fiancée Loretta Gonzales, a lovely young fellow zoo employee whose father, Armando Gonzales is the fiercely protective and wealthy head of a food processing company.

Bubba begins to investigate what made a man – or maybe it was a woman? – shoot him Jeff Simmons in broad daylight. Was it the disappearing animals? Or was it something else? As in “Whipsaw,” the reader can follow Bubba’s travels around New Mexico’s largest city with a road map. As a map freak, I like this attention to detail.

Before he moved to Redding, CA. in the northern part of the state, Brewer and his family lived in Albuquerque, so he knows the town as only a former resident and former reporter can.

Film note: The first Bubba Mabry novel, “Lonely Street”, published in 1994, has been turned into a movie helmed by Peter Ettinger (“The Phoenix”) — starring Jay Mohr as Bubba. Other cast members include: Robert Patrick, Lindsay Price as Felicia, and Joe Mantegna, one of my – and David Mamet’s – favorite actors. Check out Steve Brewer’s web site: http://www.stevebrewerbooks.com, for more details. For more on the movie, scheduled for release this year, click on: http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2006/09/what-does-bubba-say.html

Observant readers of this web site will also recognize Brewer’s byline from the weekly humor column he writes for Scripps Howard News Service which we run every Friday.

“Monkey Man” and “Whipsaw” are excellent “entertainments”, as author Graham Greene called his crime novels. I look forward to more from Brewer.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.intriguepress.com

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BOOK REVIEW: Veteran Foreign Correspondent Stanley Meisler Writes Fair, Balanced Biography of Kofi Annan – ‘A Man of Peace in a World of War’

Posted by kinchendavid on January 21, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV – Although it’s obvious from Stanley Meisler’s biography “Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War” (John Wiley & Sons, photos, notes, index, 384 pages, $30.00) that the author admires much about the former UN Secretary General, it’s also evident that this is not an authorized biography.

Full Disclosure: Stanley Meisler was a foreign correspondent at the Los Angeles Times from 1967 to 1997, serving in Nairobi, Mexico City, Madrid, Toronto and Paris and ending his career at the newspaper covering the UN. I worked as a reporter at the L.A. Times from 1976 to 1990 and our paths didn’t cross. I admired Stan’s work and read his dispatches carefully during what I consider to be a golden age at the newspaper. I instinctively knew that a Meisler story was fair and accurate, written in a graceful, forceful style. We’ve kept in touch by email and when I heard he was writing a biography of Annan, I asked him to have the publisher send me a review copy.

Born in 1938 in the British colony of Gold Coast, which became Ghana in 1957, Annan was the son of upper middle class parents – his father was a manager in charge of cocoa buying for the African subsidiary of Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. Kofi Atta Annan attended a prep school modeled on the ones in England, went on to study at a Gold Coast technical university and received a Ford Foundation scholarship to attend Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn in 1959, graduating in 1961. He earned a master’s degree from M.I.T. in 1972 while he was rising through the ranks of United Nations bureaucracy.

It’s important to note that Annan, as the author repeatedly stresses, is a product of the UN; he’s not only the first black African to be secretary-general, he’s the first S-G to rise through the ranks to the highest position of the world body. It’s also important to note, as does Meisler, that Annan has harshly criticized the backwardness of most African nations, including his own Ghana. Annan points to the “Tigers” of Asia – many of them former colonies – and how they’ve succeeded as resource-rich African nations have been looted by tyrants and monsters. His willingness to criticize Africa and insist that it stop blaming colonialism for all the continent’s problems has increased Annan’s stature in my eyes.

Meisler does something I wish more biographers would do: He provides a time line or chronology, so we can trace major events in the life of Annan. This is particularly important from about 1993 on, when Kofi Annan was named (February 1993) undersecretary-general in charge of peacekeeping operations by his predecessor as S-G, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt.

Speaking of the oddly named Coptic Christian from Egypt, Meisler provides a detailed account of the efforts by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright (later named Clinton’s secretary of state and derisively called Madeleine Halfbright by her detractors) to deny the Egyptian a second five-year term as secretary-general – at the same time working more or less secretly to have Annan named secretary-general.

The UN’s secretary-general is appointed by the UN’s General Assembly for a five-year, renewable term, subject to the unanimous approval of the Security Council. On instructions from President Clinton, Albright vetoed the second term for Boutros-Ghali, with the Security Council voting 14-1 to give him a second term. The veto stirred up cries of U.S. unilateralism, but the Security Council gave the nod to Annan and the Clinton strategy worked.

It’s important to note that U.S. unilateralism toward the UN didn’t begin with Bush the Younger; Bill Clinton obviously thought the U.S. educated Annan would be more favorable to the U.S. in the world body. Of course, the disdain for Annan and the UN ramped up exponentially during the Bush Administration, culminating with the appointment of John R. Bolton – a very undiplomatic critic of the UN, as Meisler takes pains to point out – as U.S. Ambassador to the UN in a recess appointment in 2005. Bolton resigned from the post at the end of 2006.

The book’s subtitle is, if anything, an understatement; since Annan’s appointment as peacekeeping chief in 1993, the world has seen war after war, genocide after genocide, ethnic cleansing after ethnic cleansing in places as varied as Somalia, Rwanda, the Congo, Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor and – most recently and still continuing – the Darfur region of Somalia, where Arab Muslims are raping and murdering African Muslims in what the current President Bush has called a genocide. Of course the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endures, with no end in sight.

Man’s so-called “inhumanity to man” is, in my opinion, a misnomer, since it seems that the normal condition of humanity is for its members to rape, starve and kill each other at increasing rates. By all accounts, Kofi Annan, whatever his faults as an administrator – and Meisler points out many – is an honorable, decent man caught up on the seemingly unending cycle of human violent behavior that marked his two terms of office that began at the beginning of 1997 and ended Dec. 31, 2006.

Meisler comments on Page 241 that “Kofi Annan does not have a combative, stubborn or fiercely independent personality. But he has a deep sense of moral integrity, of duty to the United Nations and its charter, and of the need for patience and discussion before action. These qualities would often put him at odds with the Bush White House throughout the Iraq crisis and war.”

The author doesn’t indulge in psychological speculations of what led to the end of Annan’s first marriage to Titi Alakija of Nigeria with a separation in 1980 and a divorce three years later. They married in 1965 – a marriage that produced a non-controversial daughter and a very controversial son, Kojo Annan.

Meisler deals frankly and comprehensively with the involvement of international playboy Kojo in the Iraq oil for food scandal, investigated by Paul Volcker’s committee, which found no fault with the secretary-general, Meisler says. Like many parents, Kofi Annan is fiercely protective of his son and refused to break off contact with him, despite the world of woe Kojo brought upon his dad.

In 1981, Kofi Annan met divorced Swedish lawyer and artist Nane Lagergren, who was working in Geneva with Annan at the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. They married in 1984, following Annan’s 1983 divorce from Titi. If I were doing a movie version of Kofi Annan’s life, I would center it on these personal events in the life of Annan. Who knows? Maybe there is a movie in the works! I’d like to see Greta Scacchi as Nane and Don Cheadle (wonderful in “Hotel Rwanda” and “Crash”) as Annan. It was obviously love at first sight for the two.

Stanley Meisler has produced a masterful, if at times overly sympathetic, look at a complex, thoughtful and thoroughly human Kofi Annan. The book is a major achievement by one of my favorite reporters and writers, who has already produced a warts-and-all history of the world body entitled “United Nations: The First 50 Years” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995, paperback edition, 1997).

For more on Meisler’s writing, which includes contributions to the L.A. Times and Smithsonian magazine, visit his web site: http://www.stanleymeisler.com

Publisher’s web site: http://www.wiley.com.

By the way, Wiley is celebrating its bicentennial this year; it was founded in 1807. Congratulations to a distinguished American publisher!

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BOOK REVIEW: Grisham’s ‘The Innocent Man’ Attacks American Prosecutorial System – As Readable as Any of His 18 Novels – and It’s All True

Posted by kinchendavid on January 12, 2007

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV – Are we as a nation “stuck on stupid” – to use the phrase popularized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 — or am I just getting even more paranoid than usual? John Grisham’s magnificent “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town” (Doubleday, 368 pages, photos, $28.95) is his first venture into true crime and it’s a winner.

It’s also a best seller, as well it should be, because this book is nothing less than an indictment of the American adversarial, prosecutorial system – something we’re seeing in Durham, N.C. with D.A. Mike Nifong, just as much as in Grisham’s Ada, Oklahoma with D.A. Bill Peterson. Call it D.A.s Gone Wild.

As far as I’m concerned, Grisham can write true crime from here on: This book reads like one of his novels and serves to educate the reader about the dirty big secret that is the American criminal justice system. As a reporter who has covered trials, including murder trials, first off let me say I’m glad I live in West Virginia, which abolished the death penalty more than 40 years ago.

Still, even West Virginia is saddled with all the outdated paraphernalia of the justice system we inherited from the British – including grand juries, which the Brits wisely abolished in 1933. There’s an old saying that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a clever D.A. wants it and it’s certainly true in phenomenally corrupt Pontotoc County, of which Ada (population 16,000) is the county seat.

Maybe “The Innocent Man” should really be called “The Innocent Men,” since it involves the prosecution of both Ron Williamson, the first player chosen from the state of Oklahoma in the 1971 Major League baseball draft, and his friend Dennis Fritz. To give him full credit, Grisham – who had dreams of major league glory as a youth — devotes plenty of coverage to Fritz, exonerated on April 15, 1999 along with Williamson for the 1982 rape and murder of Ada resident Debra Sue Carter.

Grisham and Williamson are almost contemporaries – born in 1955 and 1953, respectively — and the author has acknowledged that while Williamson had the talent to become a major leaguer, Grisham didn’t. So he went on to become a lawyer and phenomenally best selling writer of 18 novels, arguably — along with fellow lawyer/writer Scott Turow of Chicago — one of the best in the business.

Throughout “The Innocent Man” Grisham writes with scorn and loathing of the prosecution team, headed by D.A. Bill Peterson, who – amazingly – still has the job of prosecuting alleged criminals in the 35,000 population Pontotoc County in southeastern Oklahoma.

Grisham tells us that Peterson has never acknowledged his errors of judgment and his bias toward the two innocent men, Williamson and Fritz, or his failure to go after Glen Gore, the man who from the start was the most logical suspect in the case and who was finally prosecuted — by a special prosecutor, not Peterson — and sentenced to life without parole for the crime just last year.

About that bit of praise for West Virginia and its abolition of the death penalty: It’s a surprise to people from my twin home states – Michigan, where I was born and Illinois, where I grew to adulthood – that so often derided West Virginia has advanced closer toward civilization as Europeans see it than Michigan and Illinois, both of which have death penalties. I’ve worked on newspapers in Indiana (death penalty), Wisconsin (no death penalty) and California (death penalty), so the whole red state-blue state concept is out of whack as far as putting people to death.

Williamson’s dreams of reaching “The Show” – the major leagues – ended six years after he was drafted by the Oakland A’s, done in by injuries and the riotous style of living that brought him to the attention of Peterson in the first place. The 3 Ds I call them – Drinking, Drugs and Dames – combined with signs of the mental illness that probably afflicted Williamson from his youth but wasn’t detected until later for a child growing up in a fundamentalist Christian environment that dismissed psychiatry.

Williamson, whose idol was fellow Oklahoman Mickey Mantle, kept on boozing and womanizing and he moved into his mother’s house, where he was living when 21-year-old cocktail waitress Debra Carter was raped and murdered on Dec. 7, 1982. Williamson and his college-educated friend, a former teacher named Dennis Fritz, were suspects from the beginning, for reasons unknown to everyone but Peterson and the local cops.

Williamson and Fritz were indicted in 1987 and quickly convicted of capital murder, with Williamson ending up on death row at the state prison in McAlester, not far from Ada, and Fritz receiving a life sentence. Williamson’s main court-appointed attorney was a blind older lawyer named Barney Ward, who was paid a total of $3,600 for his valiant but futile attempt to defend “The Innocent Man.”

There was no physical evidence, Grisham writes and the two were convicted on the basis of “junk science” – including hair analysis that was so flawed as to be criminal itself – and the testimony of jailhouse snitches, a tactic indulged in to the fullest in Ada.

Eventually, DNA evidence – or the lack of a DNA connection to the crime and the two men – resulted in their exoneration. Much credit is due the good guys and gals, Grisham writes: people like Innocence Project lawyer Barry Scheck (www.innocenceproject.org), Oklahomans Mark Barrett, his main appeal lawyer, Judge Frank Seay, Jim Payne, Judge Tom Landrith, Janet Chesley, Bill Luker and Kim Marks of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.

Grisham found out about the case through a New York Times obituary of 51-year-old Ron Williamson in 2004 (Fritz is alive and living as far from Ada, OK as he can get). Grisham, who lives in Virginia and Mississippi, was turned on to a now-out-of-print book by Robert Mayer called “The Dreams of Ada: A True Story of Murder, Obsession, and a Small Town” by residents of the town and other Oklahomans. It deals with many of the same people covered in “The Innocent Man” and Grisham credits Mayer’s “astounding book” with helping him getting a handle on the intricacies of what passes for criminal justice in Pontotoc County.

If you still believe – as I have long since stopped believing – that our justice system is the best in the world, read “The Innocent Man.” You’ll stop believing, too.

* * *

Publisher’s web site: http://www.doubleday.com

Author’s web site: jgrisham.com

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Beast on the East River’ Rages against UN’s World Government Aspects, Alleged Attempts to Supplant U.S. Sovereignty

Posted by kinchendavid on December 29, 2006

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV – Nathan’s Tabor’s “The Beast on the East River: The UN Threat to America’s Sovereignty and Security” (Thomas Nelson/Nelson Current, 304 pages, notes, bibliography, index, $24.99) pulls no punches in its antipathy to the 61-year-old organization on Manhattan’s East Side.

Tabor doesn’t like the aspects of the United Nations that impinge on U.S. laws and sovereignty, including – but definitely not limited to — what he says are attempts to take away gun ownership rights; using abortion as population control; using “junk science” to lower our standard of living by driving up the cost of energy sources; the controversial Law of the Sea Treaty – aptly named LOST; and placing U.S. soldiers under the command of UN officers in peacekeeping missions.

In the latter instance, he discusses the fate of U.S. Army Spec-4 Michael New, who refused to wear the U.N. uniform when President Clinton ordered U.S. troops into U.N. service in Macedonia in 1995. For his refusal to don the U.N. uniform, New was court-martialed and given a dishonorable discharge, even though he had served with distinction as a medic in the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Tabor definitely doesn’t care for the International Criminal Court, which uses inquisitorial methods reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s People Courts – my analogy — and in fact has a German named Hans-Peter Kaul as one of its inaugural judges. Tabor points out that the ICC is not to be confused with the World Court in The Hague; in fact, the U.S. has not ratified the Rome Treaty of 1998 that created the ICC.

If you’re a liberal, you’ll probably automatically dismiss Tabor’s polemic as part of the “Black Helicopter” school of fear mongering; if you’re a conservative, you’ll probably agree with his attack on the often scandal-ridden organization that many view as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

There seems to be no middle ground on the subject. My litmus test is the treatment of departing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John R. Bolton. I think he’s a breath of fresh air, but he resigned rather than face a confirmation battle that he would probably lose. Conservatives love the in-your-face Bolton; liberals hate him. President Bush appointed Bolton using a recess appointment in August 2005 and his resignation was accepted Dec. 9, 2006. Alejandro Daniel Wolff, Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations, will be acting representative until a permanent replacement is found.

Even its staunch supporters agree that the UN is desperately in need of reform. The past 10 years under outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan have seen scandal after scandal – many involving Annan, 68, of Ghana, who will be replaced on Jan. 1, 2007 by Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea as the UN’s eighth secretary general.

Tabor traces the idea of a supranational organization back to Tennyson’s 1842 poem “Locksley Hall,” which spoke of …”the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World./ There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe, / And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.”

The poem was an inspiration to those who worked to form the League of Nations, promoted by President Woodrow Wilson, but rejected by the U.S. Congress in 1920 because of Wilson’s refusal to compromise, Tabor says. He also notes that President Harry S. Truman, one of the biggest supporters of the United Nations in 1945, carried a copy of “Locksley Hall” in his wallet.

While it’s definitely a polemic, “The Beast on the East River” is well researched, exploring the concepts of world organizations, world federalism and the final step, world government. Tabor quotes extensively from the writings of Professor Inis L. Claude of the University of Virginia who says there is little or no difference between world federalism and world government: World federalism is just a sugar-coated euphemism for World Government, the distinguished professor of government has written.

Tabor quotes from advocates of World Federalism/Government who call for an end to traditional nation states, to be subsumed by an even more powerful U.N., financed by taxes on emails, with a standing army of mercenaries similar to the French Foreign Legion. National sovereignty would gradually disappear, much like it is being eaten away by such supranational combinations as the European Union, Tabor says.

Some might be put off by Tabor’s quoting John Birch Society sources (“Get the U.S. Out of the U.N. and the U.N. Out of the U.S.” has been the JBS slogan for more than 40 years), but those who don’t want the U.S. – which contributes 22 percent of the budget of the bureaucracy bloated UN – to give up any more of its sovereignty to the world body will find many talking points in Tabor’s book. Full disclosure: As a libertarian, I count myself in this group, so Tabor was preaching to the choir in my case.

I did note a minor error: Tabor says that Pat Buchanan, of whom he speaks favorably, is in his 70s. Buchanan was born in November 1938, so he’s a mere 68! He’s exactly one month younger than the present reviewer.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.thomasnelson.com

Author’s web site: http://www.theconservativevoice.com

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Dangerous Nation’: A Provocative, Revisionist Look at American History – First of Two Volumes

Posted by kinchendavid on December 26, 2006

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV (HNN) – At last, a historian has finally gotten it right. Americans were “neoconservatives” from the start of the nation – nay, even before the start. That is, if the word “neoconservative” is used to designate an expansionist, righteous worldview that sees America as different from others. Not only different: Better!

That’s my reading of Robert Kagan’s “Dangerous Nation: America’s Place in the World from its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century” (Knopf, $30, 527 pages, index, notes, bibliography), the first of two volumes that take a fresh – often radically provocative – look at American history and foreign policy. I’m eagerly awaiting the second volume which should be published in 2007.

Founding father Ben Franklin saw himself as both a loyal Briton and an American citizen and suggested well before the Revolution that the center of gravity of the British Empire had moved across the Atlantic to the emerging United States of America, Kagan notes. The standard of living in the colonies at the time of the American Revolution was higher than that in England, for most people, and the population was growing rapidly, in contrast to slow growth in Europe (If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s true to this day, with America growing rapidly – much of it because of legal and illegal immigration — in the 21st Century, in contrast to stagnant Europe).

Historians have been too quick to take American politicians at their word – or used just part of a speech to come to conclusions, suggests Kagan. Adams, Jefferson and succeeding presidents ignored the words of George Washington to avoid permanent, entangling alliances with European and other nations and went about building an American Empire.

Washington himself, in his younger days, in the mid 1750s, was part of an expeditionary force that attacked French strongholds in today’s Pennsylvania, even though official British policy was to have a buffer of Indian territory between the British colonies and the French ones, Kagan says.

The part about entangling alliances in Washington’s Farewell Address (for the complete text from the Avalon Project, click here: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/washing.htm) was written with the help of Alexander Hamilton at Washington’s request, to attack the pro-French feelings of Jefferson, at a time the new nation was in a “quasi” war with France, Kagan says. Hamilton and Washington favored better relations with England. By the mid-to-late 1790s, the “factions” that Washington inveighed against – and which occupy most of the text of the Farewell Address of 1796 – had become the nascent political parties: The Federalists of Hamilton, Adams, Washington and others and the Anti-Federalists or Republicans of Jefferson, Madison, Patrick Henry, etc.

The second volume promises to deal with Wilson and other presidents like FDR who said one thing and did another. In my recent commentary on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Woodrow Wilson, http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/061219-kinchen-comment.html, I cited the late Concord University professor Sidney Bell’s 1972 book about Wilson’s foreign policy — “Righteous Conquest” — in stating that Wilson said one thing about foreign military adventures and did what he wanted, usually the exact opposite — as in leading the (mostly) unwilling U.S. into World War I in 1917.

Indian removal didn’t start with Andrew Jackson, Kagan writes. The sainted Thomas Jefferson was as ruthless as Jackson in clearing out Indian settlements in places like Tennessee and even Georgia almost three decades before Jackson went about removing the indigenous peoples of the Southeast and newly acquired Florida.

To read what Jefferson says about the Indians and their future in America is enough to turn any present day reader’s stomach, just as it is with Jackson. Jefferson wanted the Indians to become “civilized.” The tribes that did so, the Cherokees, for instance, who settled down and became farmers and Christians, fared little better than the ones who wanted to keep their own style of living as hunter-gatherers, Kagan writes.

I was surprised to find no mention of Aaron Burr in the book’s index or in the book. There was a reference to James Wilkinson of Kentucky, the corrupt, double-dealing commanding general of the U.S. Army at the time (1805-6) and one of Burr’s most important co-conspirators in his alleged plot – for which Burr was tried (and acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall – a bitter foe of Jefferson) for treason in 1807 – to separate the western part of the nation from the eastern. Burr was an expansionist in the tradition that Kagan writes about, some would say even celebrates, in “Dangerous Nation.” Burr attempted to do in the early 1800s what the Americans who settled in the Mexican province of Texas finally did in 1836 – carve out an independent country in lands held by the Spanish.

“Righteous Conquest” is a good description of what the Pilgrims and Puritans had in mind; they were expansionist from the very beginning. After the Revolution, the U.S. standing army was a puny 700 men strong, Kagan says, and only the militias of the various states were available to keep settlers out of Indian lands – and they didn’t do a very good job.

Both the Indians and the French – and later the Spanish – saw the Americans for what they really were: Believers of “Manifest Destiny” before it acquired that popular designation in the mid-1800s.

Kagan emphasizes the divisive nature of slavery from the nation’s beginning, and how it affected foreign relations. Even many Southerners recognized the hypocrisy and contradiction of preaching freedom while owning slaves, Kagan says.

Southerners were especially fearful of a slave revolt in the wake of the one led by free blacks in Haiti at the end of the 18th Century and Jefferson refused to recognize or trade with the black nation. De Tocqueville’s account of America in the 1830s noted the difference between the industrious north and the almost entirely agricultural south and he used the term “American” only to refer to northerners, Kagan says.

This is a densely packed history, with extensive notes. If I were a history teacher and could use any book as a textbook on American history and diplomacy, “Dangerous Nation” would be on my short list. I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone seeking a fresh perspective on American history.

Kagan’s 2002 “Of Paradise and Power” made him a hero to the neoconservatives because of his view that Americans are from Mars (warlike) while Europeans are from Venus (effeminate). This is an oversimplification, of course, but “Dangerous Nation” may end up making Kagan popular with the far left-wing fans of Howard Zinn (“ A People’s History of the U.S.”) and Noam Chomsky! Stranger things have happened.

A State Department official from 1985 to 1988 in America’s first “neoconservative” administration, that of Ronald Reagan (a former liberal Democrat turned Republican), Kagan, 48, is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a Washington Post columnist. He is a 1980 graduate of Yale University, earned a master’s from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and holds a PhD in American History from American University in Washington, D.C. He keeps his keen, contrarian eye on the world from his home in Brussels. He is married to Victoria Nuland, U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.aaknopf.com

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Walt Disney’ Shows in Great Detail Influence of Mickey’s Creator on American Culture; Author Neal Gabler First to Have Full Access to Disney Archives

Posted by kinchendavid on December 24, 2006

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

Hinton, WV  – First off, Walter Elias Disney (1901-1966) was not cryogenically frozen, Neal Gabler tells us, upon his death from lung cancer at age 65: He was cremated and his ashes are at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, CA, — not far from the Disney corporate headquarters in Burbank.

Gabler (“An Empire of Their Own,” “Winchell”) spent seven years researching and writing “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” (Knopf, 880 pages, $35, 32 pages of photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index) and it shows: The details and insights and revelations provide the most complete picture of Disney and his genius that we’re likely to see. Gabler shows himself in this magnificent biography to be a perfectionist worthy of his subject. “Walt Disney” is on my short list of prize winners; it’s the best biography I’ve read all year.

As Gabler points out, Disney was not a great cartoonist, writer or animator, but he had the vision and imagination – and perseverance – to create immortal characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and create groundbreaking feature-length movies like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and (my favorite) “Fantasia” (1940) – to mention just two of his dozens of features. “Snow White” was not the first feature-length animated movie, but it was the first in the new Technicolor process and set the pattern for those today that are produced with computer technology but owe their spirit to “Snow White.”

This biography is important if only because we shouldn’t take a talent like the Chicago-born Walt Disney for granted (one of these days I’m going to do an appreciation of the great cinematic talent from the Windy City, including such directing immortals as Preston Sturges and Don Siegel, as well as actors, writers and others as varied as David Mamet, William Petersen and Harrison Ford).

Gabler, himself a Chicago native, demolishes several myths and misconceptions about Disney. One of them is that his studio turned out nothing but box office and critical successes. It’s true that the cartoon shorts enabled Disney to hire the best talent in the business from the late 1920 on, starting in earnest with “Steamboat Willie,” the first talking short cartoon, and continuing to “Snow White” and beyond.

The fact is that Disney was always on the edge of financial disaster because his shorts cost twice as much as competing ones from Warner’s, the Fleischer brothers and other studios and his feature-length animated movies were stupendously expensive and often didn’t return the investment on the first release. Walt Disney in his early years was a perfectionist and perfection costs a lot of money for an animation studio – or any other enterprise. Gabler shows how this perfection withered away to a large degree as Disney concentrated on his theme parks, his work with the New York World’s Fair of 1964-5 and his live action features to the detriment of animated ones.

Another myth that Gabler – famous for writing about Jews in the movie industry – “An Empire of Their Own” – and Jews in show business and journalism – “Winchell” – at least partially demolishes is that Walt Disney was an anti-Semite. Gabler says he sometimes expressed the casual anti-Semitism of the time and was a member of a “restricted” club, Smoke Tree Ranch, in Palm Springs, but Disney was also honored as “Man of the Year” by the Beverly Hills Lodge of the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith in 1955 — the same chapter that less than a decade before had attacked him for the alleged racism of his retelling of Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus in “Song of the South” (1946).

After a bitter 1941 union organizing strike at his newly occupied Burbank studios, Disney became a red-hunter who maintained his own blacklist, Gabler tells us. Jews in Hollywood were fully represented in union organizing efforts and were well represented in left-wing, anti-Fascist, anti-Nazi causes before Pearl Harbor. Some of the biggest Jewish moguls were also on far right of the political spectrum with Disney, including the Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Louis B. Mayer, Gabler notes.

But Disney had many Jewish animators and executives, such as Dave Swift and Harry Tytle (shortened from Teitelbaum) and one of his most enduring friendships was with a Jew, Herman “Kay” Kamen, who brilliantly marketed Disney products beginning in the early 1930s, keeping the quality at the highest levels and creating yet another facet of the entertainment business that is with us today. Kamen and his wife died in an Air France plane crash returning from Europe in 1949 and Walt and Roy Disney began marketing the products themselves.

Speaking of Roy Oliver Disney (1893-1971), he’s a relatively minor figure in Gabler’s book — where the focus, naturally, is on Walt. Gabler does credit Roy, co-founder of Disney Productions and its CEO from 1929 to 1971, as the financial anchor to his creative brother. Roy was almost always the one who went hat in hand looking for money from the Bank of America and elsewhere and wasn’t the naysayer to the creation of Disneyland that I always thought he was.

Roy and Walt came up with the idea of WED Enterprises, a private company within the publicly traded Walt Disney Productions — with the view to protecting the studio from Walt and Walt from the studio, Gabler says — and was instrumental in bringing ABC and Disney together that led to the wildly successful, for both ABC and Disney, “Disneyland” television show. Today, of course, Disney owns ABC.

Roy made sure that his younger brother was immortalized by renaming the Florida theme park from “Disney World” to “Walt Disney World” and oversaw its completion, retiring in the fall of 1971 when the park opened and dying two months later at 78. Bob Thomas published a biography of Roy Disney in 1998, but maybe it’s time for an update, with full access to the archives. Financial geniuses are creative, too.

The idea for a Disney theme park, which was realized with the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. in 1955, germinated for a long time in Disney’s head. He incorporated parts of his beloved Marceline, Mo., where the family lived during much of young Walt’s childhood, as well as bits and pieces of the 1933 Century of Progress fair in Chicago, Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., European amusement parks like Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark and American amusement parks like Chicago’s now defunct Riverview and Cincinnati’s Coney Island.

A devoted family man, Walt took his daughters Diane and Sharon to Southern California amusement parks in the 1940s on Sundays. He wanted what he called a “clean” amusement park, in contrast to the often raffish parks like The Pike in Long Beach and others in the Southland, as Californians are wont to call the greater Los Angeles area.

Although Gabler was granted full access to the Disney archives, this is definitely not an “authorized” biography. Gabler deals fully with the often stormy relationship between the eccentric Walt and his feet-firmly-planted-on-the-ground wife Lillian. She was opposed to Disneyland, not to mention “Snow White,” Gabler points out, resulting in a wry comment from her husband that if he had listened to her, his career would have been a shadow of what it became. Disney’s temper and ego are dealt with, as is his 1931 nervous breakdown and continuing bouts with depression.

The deal with ABC secured financing for the park and businesses scrambled to be represented in the Orange County facility. Oil companies, chemical companies, automobile manufacturers – even the often skeptical Bank of America which had a long relationship with Disney – were enthusiastic about the park and contributed financially for discreet naming rights – another Disney innovation. We learn that one who didn’t make the cut was a Chicago fast-food entrepreneur named Ray Kroc, who trained to be a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War I with Walt (Walt saw action, Kroc, a year younger, didn’t go overseas). Walt Disney turned over Kroc’s request to the park’s construction manager, C.V. Wood, who brushed off the man behind McDonald’s!

The park originally was to have been built in Burbank, in the San Fernando Valley, not far from the Disney Studios, but the city’s staid officials objected to an amusement park in the city that was home to Disney and Warner Bros., among other studios. Professional market research, Gabler writes, went into the choice of an orange grove in Anaheim, convenient to the freeways which were being built to replace the extensive network of interurban trains that linked the communities of the sprawling Southland. (It’s ironic that today, the L.A. area is engaged in replicating the rail system which it destroyed after World War II. Rail fanatic Walt Disney would appreciate the irony.).

Forty years after his death on Dec. 15, 1966, Walt Disney is a powerful American icon, polarizing critics and other intellectuals, but remaining popular with mass audiences who grasped that the vast majority of his cartoon features and live action features are not the simple-minded stereotypes that some critics have called them. Gabler has succeeded in showing how Walt Disney was the ultimate “Imagineer.” This is a must-read book for anyone interested in American culture and the movie industry.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.aaknopf.com

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature’ is – Among Other Things – a Self-Study Book for Students Who Want to Learn, Not be Indoctrinated by ‘PC’ Ideologues

Posted by kinchendavid on December 14, 2006

Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic

“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Culture’s Got to Go” – Chant of Stanford University Protesters, Marching with Jesse Jackson in 1987

Hinton, WV – Almost 20 years after that chant was heard on the photogenic campus at one of the nation’s most expensive universities, Western Culture – at least in the English Departments of the nation’s colleges and universities – is pretty much gone.

That’s the view of Elizabeth Kantor, Ph.D., author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature” (Regnery, 288 pages, index, notes, $19.95). She wrote the book, she says, partly to provide a self-study guide for students who want to study American and English literature on their own – because in most institutions of so-called higher education, the canon of works that were standard for all English majors when I was one in the late 1950s and early 1960s has been replaced by fads and fluff, as well as “gods that failed” like Marxism.

I’m willing to bet that a course in grammar, required when I attended Northern Illinois University from 1957 to 1961, is absent for undergraduate English majors today. We also – if we wanted a B.A. – had to take two years of a foreign language — I took French and I’m proud to say got straight A’s from a professor who was educated at the University of Paris. The French teacher was a woman, as were a number of other professors at what had formerly been a teacher’s college. NIU provided me with a first-rate education at minimal cost, in sharp contrast to the $30,000 or so it costs to attend Stanford or Columbia or Harvard or any of the other so-called “prestigious” higher education joints.

Kantor says that, Instead of teaching Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, Dryden, Marlowe, Beowulf, Wordsworth, etc., today’s English professors teach the literature of pornography; how females are oppressed by “patriarchal” males; Jewish writers in Latin America, films made from literary works and other peripheral subjects that are more “politically correct” than reading the works of Dead White Males. What a loss!

That’s another reason Kantor, who earned her doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (she also has a master’s in philosophy from Catholic University in Washington, DC) , wrote this latest Politically Incorrect Guide (I’ve reviewed a number of them): To demonstrate how far the colleges and universities have declined. I’m glad it’s not just a pre-Boomer like me complaining. I saw Kantor on Fox & Friends Sunday and she’s relatively young. In her book, she singles out UNC professor emeritus – and distinguished Wordsworth scholar — Mark L. Reed for teaching English to her and other students as it should be taught.

She confirms my suspicion – strengthened by reading David Horowitz’s “The Professors” (also reviewed earlier this year on this site) that there’s something horribly wrong with the nation’s colleges and universities, where indoctrination has all too often replaced education. Her description of Reed’s methods (see page 217 ff) remind me of my professors. “Reed’s Rule,” as Kantor calls it, is vital to the proper study of literature.

After seeing Kantor on “Fox & Friends,” where she said that an entering freshman English major is often smarter and a better writer than a graduating senior at many universities, I contacted her and asked why she wrote the comprehensive and insightful book and are there any colleges or universities left that still follow the old practices. Here is her response:

“That’s why I wrote The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature — so people who wanted help learning the great literature in English could start teaching themselves.

“I’ve heard really good things from several students in the Catholic U. English department in Washington, D.C. There’s Hillsdale College, [Hillsdale, Mich.] of course.

“And certainly, anyone who wants to study English in college would be well advised to take a look at university English department course descriptions—they’re mostly available online now.

“The problem, though, is that most students can’t afford to pick the college they go to strictly on the basis of whether it has an English department in which the chief subject of study is the great literature itself, rather than a mish-mash of various kinds of “literary theory”—ranging from radical feminism to Marx and back around to “gender studies” and “queer theory”—or else not-so-great works, including even comic books and The Da Vinci Code. Students have to consider location, price, and where they can get a degree that might help make them employable.

“English literature used to be something students, whatever subject they were majoring in, were getting at least a decent dose of in college. You could trust that almost anywhere you studied as an undergraduate, you’d stand a chance of being introduced to Chaucer or Shakespeare or Milton. Now, you can trust that pretty much wherever you study as an undergraduate, you’ll be introduced to the various strains of postmodernism: through “postcolonial” literature, or feminist readings of Shakespeare, or Marxist literary theory. And while Shakespeare’s poetry is the kind of thing all college students can benefit from, I don’t think the same is true of the content of the typical “English” education going on on American college campuses today.”

Thanks, Dr. Kantor, for confirming my suspicions about my beloved major that I don’t recommend students take. Major in business administration, art history, music appreciation, basket-weaving, accounting, pre-med, anything but English and the other humanities. English as it was taught by my professors – I didn’t have a single massive lecture class taught by graduate assistants – was a delight, that has helped me in my chosen career of journalism far better than majoring in “mass communications” would have. I still remember the names of most of my professors after all these years! They made the right kind of impression on me. Just for the heck of it, I located the English Department course offerings for Marshall University and I’m happy to say that based on the descriptions, the traditional approach to English and American literature is still followed at MU. Here is a link to a recent catalog:


Here’s what the author has to say about a few writers that every English major should read, that “PC English professors don’t want you to learn from”:

– Beowulf: If we don’t admire heroes, there’s something wrong with us

– Chaucer: Chivalry has contributed enormously to women’s happiness

– Shakespeare: Some choices are inherently destructive (it’s just built into the nature of things)

– Milton: Our intellectual freedoms are Christian, not anti-Christian, in origin

– Jane Austen: Most men would be improved if they were more patriarchal than they actually are

– Dickens: Reformers can do more harm than the injustices they set out to reform

– T. S. Eliot: Tradition is necessary to culture

– Flannery O’Connor: Even modern American liberals aren’t immune to original sin

This is a refreshing, stimulating, thought-provoking book that should be read by everyone. Without a working knowledge of the literature of our great native tongue, we’re doomed. That chant of the (mostly) over-privileged Stanford students is one more marker of the end of culture as we know it.

Publisher’s web site: http://www.regnery.com
Elizabeth Kantor’s blog: http://www.conservativebooknotes.com

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