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review 2017-04-16 13:25
JFK - Why He Continues to Mean So Much as a Great & Inspirational Leader
ALL HIS BRIGHT LIGHT GONE: The Death of John F. Kennedy and the Decline of America - Peter McKenna

The title of this book comes from the remarks made by Jacqueline Kennedy in a March 1964 newsreel in which she thanked the nation for its expression of sympathy to her in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. She spoke of her husband in the following way: "All his bright light gone from the world."

The author goes on to share with the reader how he, who had been a wayward youth in high school during Kennedy's tenure in the White House, had been inspired by JFK to become more engaged in study and public affairs, and to lead a more purposeful life. He then provides a brief biography of JFK, showing what factors in his background helped to make him a statesman of substance and a wise, charismatic, discerning, and dedicated President of the United States. In doing so, the author does not shy away from touching upon President Kennedy's weaknesses (e.g. his affairs). After all, JFK was human and subject like all human beings to err from time to time. But McKenna looks at the totality of President Kennedy and seeks to explain why, more than 50 years after his death, he continues to inspire millions of people across the world.

The author contends that President Kennedy - who had been well-traveled and a voracious reader and student of history, government, and economics all his life - understood, unlike some of the presidents who followed him, that the United States, from its inception, was a democratic republic, "the most enlightened form of government" devised by humanity. Given that understanding of the country, Kennedy "knew it was based on trust in government and the belief that the common good is more important than the enrichment of individuals or special interests." Therefore, President Kennedy made it his focus to govern wisely in the best interests of all Americans while encouraging its citizens to "embrace [their] civic responsibilities" and "to believe that politics is a noble profession." Nowhere perhaps does President Kennedy explain this position better than in the address he made to students at Vanderbilt University on May 18th, 1963.

"I speak to you today, ... not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past. Increased responsibility goes with increased ability. For those to whom much is given, much is required.

"Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding: Your obligation to the pursuit of learning; your obligation to serve the public; your obligation to uphold the law. If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.

"For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system. Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon -- which we shall do -- than the cynics and skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country. They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

"But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power -- more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, 'enlighten the people generally,' 'tyranny and the oppressions of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.' And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans -- from grade school to graduate school.

"Secondly, the educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. ... He may be a civil servant or a senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator. At the Olympic Games, Aristotle wrote, 'It is not the finest and strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists. For out of these the prize-men are selected. ' So, too, in life," he said, 'of the honorable and the good, it is they who act who rightly win the prize.'

"I urge all of you today, especially those who are students, to act -- to enter the lists of public service and rightly win (or lose) the prize. For we can have only one form of aristocracy in this country. As Jefferson wrote long ago in rejecting John Adams's suggestion of an artificial aristocracy of wealth and birth, 'It is,' he wrote, 'the natural aristocracy of character and talent.' 'And the best form of government,' he added, 'was that which selected these men for positions of responsibility.' I would hope that all educated citizens would fulfill this obligation, in politics, in government, here in Nashville, here in this State, in the Peace Corps, in the Foreign Service, in the government service, in the Tennessee Valley, in the world! You will find the pressures greater than the pay. You may endure more public attacks than support. But you will have the unequaled satisfaction of knowing that your character and talent are contributing to the direction and success of this free society.

"Third and finally, the educated citizen has an obligation to uphold the law. This is the obligation of every citizen in a free and peaceful society. But the educated citizen has a special responsibility by the virtue of his greater understanding. For whether he has ever studied history or current events, ethics or civics, the rules of the profession or the tools of the trade, he knows that only a respect for the law makes it possible for free men to dwell together in peace and progress. He knows that law is the adhesive force of the cement of society, creating order out of chaos, and coherence in place of anarchy. He knows that for one man to defy a law or court order he does not like is to invite others to defy those which they do not like -- leading to a breakdown of all justice and all order. He knows, too, that every fellow man is entitled to be regarded with decency and treated with dignity. Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human degrades his inheritance, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligations. Certain other societies may respect the rule of force. We respect the rule of law."

And sadly, as the author sets out to show the reader, President Kennedy's death had "a far more profoundly negative impact on the United States than is commonly realized" or appreciated.

 

This is demonstrated through the administrations of the some of the presidents that followed Kennedy (e.g. LBJ in his support of the Vietnam War and his failure, in certain respects, to be fully honest with the public; Richard Nixon; and Ronald Reagan who promoted the belief among the public of government as enemy of the people, de-emphasized the value and importance of civic virtue and public service in a democratic republic, and extolled the virtues of corporatism in creating a strong economy and society.)

Despite some editing errors I discerned in some of its pages (hence the 4 stars), this is a book I would strongly urge anyone to read who is deeply concerned about the present state of the nation, the levels of corruption in Congress from which its leadership profits at the expense of the public good, and wishes to become more constructively and purposefully engaged as a citizen to help reverse the tide of perversion that has overtaken the republic for the past 50 years. Furthermore, study the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy and take inspiration from a man who possessed rare gifts of brilliance, wit, and compassion.

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review 2017-03-27 02:42
Hawker VC - The First RFC Ace: The Life of Major Lanoe Hawker VC Dso 1890 - 1916 - Tyrrel M Hawker

Originally published in 1965, "HAWKER VC - RFC ACE" is a well-balanced biography of an exceptionally talented pilot and squadron leader by his brother Tyrrel Hawker.

 

Tyrrel's older brother, Lanoe (born in 1890), began his military career when he joined the British Army in 1910. A year later, he earned an officer's commission in the Royal Engineers and proved remarkably adept in any task allotted to him, for Lanoe had a very agile, inventive mind. While in the Army, he became deeply interested in aviation. Both he and Tyrrel were members of the Royal Aero Club and as a result, both were able to visit Hendon aerodrome near London in 1910, where Hawker made the acquaintance of some of the airmen and mechanics there. A few of them were French and Lanoe (who had acquired fluency in the language from the years he had attended school in Switzerland) avidly chatted with them and was taken aloft on a flight. Lanoe would go on to earn, in March 1913, his "ticket" (i.e. certification as a pilot) from a flying school at Hendon. This allowed him to join the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), where Lanoe received more extensive flight training at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Upavon. Flight training at that time was not so much a systematic process as a haphazard series of steps designed to produce what the authorities judged to be a competent pilot. (Only later, under the pressures of wartime demands and necessity, would the Gosport system of flight training come into being which gave the pilot trainee a thorough grounding in both theory of flight, navigation, aerobatics, and flight training from a basic to an advanced level in a variety of aircraft types.)

 

Lanoe passed out of CFS in October 1914 with a high rating and was soon assigned to No. 6 Squadron, RFC. This was one of the newly formed squadrons which were soon sent to France to assist the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in its operations against German forces by gathering intelligence (via reconnaissance flights above and behind the lines) and providing artillery support.

 

Air warfare as such in late 1914 was in its embryonic stages. What I found particularly interesting in reading this book was how, over the following 2 years Lanoe saw action on the Western Front, the tempo of war hastened revolutionary developments in aviation that produced planes capable of carrying out a variety of functions above and beyond the frontlines (e.g. 2-seater planes capable of carrying machine guns, a camera, and bombs as well as single-seater 'scouts' with one or two machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller arc - a plane which didn't exist when Lanoe first arrived in France).

 

Lanoe, while with No. 6 Squadron, flew many reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions against the Germans. It was highly stressful, hazardous work, especially as German anti-aircraft guns improved in accuracy and the emergence of the Fokker Eindekker - one of the first true 'scout' or fighter planes which carried a single forward-firing machine gun - served as a potent threat from the late summer of 1915 in challenging the RFC for air supremacy on the Western Front. Lanoe also undertook in a Bristol Scout a number of offensive patrols against enemy aircraft. On one of these patrols in July 1915, he took on single-handed 2 enemy planes, one of which he managed to shoot down in flames in plain sight of thousands of British troops. For this remarkable achievement, Lanoe was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for bravery in combat. (He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order - DSO - for his overall work with No. 6 Squadron.)

 

After about a year on active service, Lanoe Hawker was promoted to Major and returned to Britain to take command of a new squadron, No. 24. No. 24 was one of the first true 'scout' or fighter squadrons in the Royal Flying Corps. Its role would be to provide escort to RFC reconnaissance and bombing aircraft to ensure the completion of their missions against the enemy. Furthermore, No. 24 was also free to engage in offensive patrols against enemy aircraft.

 

The book goes on to provide much information on the service record - through combat reports and personal letters from Lanoe Hawker himself - of No. 24 Squadron under Hawker's leadership. Though a stern commander, he was always attentive to the needs of his pilots and squadron personnel. And, though his flight time was restricted, given his responsibilities as squadron commander, Lanoe flew patrols whenever he could and inspired fierce devotion among his "chicks' as he called the pilots under his command. Indeed, from the time of No. 24 Squadron's arrival in France in February 1916 with the new DeHavilland D.H. 2 fighter, it went on to play a significant role in re-establishing air supremacy for the RFC against the Fokker Eindekker, which it outclassed in terms of flight performance. This supremacy would last well into the summer of 1916 (the Battle of the Somme) and was later lost before year's end by the introduction of superior German fighters (such as the Albatros DI and DII) and specially trained fighter squadrons (Jastas) now arriving at the front in increasing numbers.

 

Yet despite the challenges these changes in the air war placed before Hawker's squadron, it continued to maintain (notwithstanding some heavy losses it sustained) a high standard as a combat unit. Lanoe was slated for higher command at the time he undertook what proved to be his last patrol on November 23, 1916 in which he engaged in an epic 35 minute fight against the rising star of the German Luftstreitkräfte - Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, aka 'The Red Baron' - who killed him just as he was within striking distance of reaching safety behind the British lines. He was 25 years old.

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review 2017-03-03 20:54
The Fall of the House of Wilde / Emer O'Sullivan
The Fall of the House of Wilde: Oscar Wilde and His Family - Emer O'Sullivan

Not the easiest book to read, but it does provide a comprehensive view of Oscar Wilde and his family. And the author is correct, you don’t really understand Oscar the man without the backdrop of his famous family.

Unfortunately, I went into this expecting to adore Mr. O. Wilde, but I came away with my illusions dented, if not shattered. I kept wanting to shake him and yell, “That person doesn’t really care about you! Let him go!” or “Pay attention to your money, dammit!” I will probably regain my fondness for this brilliant man, but it was difficult to see how he fooled himself about so many things. After spending time in prison and penury, all for the sake of a man who must have been a narcissist, Oscar still didn’t “get it” and continued to think that loving the jerk was the thing to do. I’ve watched many women do the same thing, and it drives me crazy!

The whole family had money issues, i.e. they wanted to spend it, but they also wanted it to just magically appear with no effort on their part. I have some sympathy for them—I don’t want to go to work every day either. The difference is that I suck it up & go, whereas they tried marrying people, reissuing books, or just ignoring their lack of money until the problem was breathing down their necks. Oscar really didn’t stand a financial chance, as neither of his parents were dreadfully responsible with cash and he and his brother took that tendency to new lows for the family. To his credit, he endured a personally horrendous tour of North America, all for the money, but squandered that effort by spending the cash almost immediately.

It was also spooky to see how much Oscar’s marriage & affairs mirrored his father’s life. His father chose women while Oscar chose men, but the parallels beyond that difference were uncanny. We really do absorb patterns and behaviours from our families, don’t we?

Considering how small his output was, it is amazing how famous Oscar Wilde continues to be. There is absolutely no doubt that the man was a genius, even if he was a self-destructive one. I will continue to enjoy his many epigrams and his still-relevant & funny plays and try to purge some of my dismay with the realities of his life.

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review 2017-02-28 13:58
Beginning French: Lessons from a Stone Farmhouse - Les Americains

This is the story of 2 Americans  (and their adult daughter) buying a holiday home in France  (Dordogne).And of course the expected ups and downs.The leaking pool, a wonderful nightmarket, plumbing problems, wine tasting opportunities,a different language ....bref,la France!

It is a fun read, scattered with recipes  (not great ones, just French ones).

The thing is, it has been done before, and quite well  (for example:A year in Provence by Peter Mayle),so yes, it is a sunny read but not an brilliant sunny one.

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review 2017-02-26 17:00
Book
Whoopigoldbergbook - Whoopi Goldberg

Well, this was fun. The style of the book immediately reminded me of the scene in one of my favourite Goldberg films Jumping Jack Flash, where her character, Terry Doolittle, is injected with a truth serum and can't stop herself from commenting on everything that is going on around her.

 

I loved that scene, but I can see how the train-of-thought approach to writing might not be to everyone's tastes.

 

Nevertheless, this was a book I really enjoyed. Goldberg is honest and forthcoming, to the point that she does admit that she had the help of a co-author when writing this, her first ever, book.

 

The sad aspect of the book of course is that many of the issues she writes about in this mixture of biography and social commentary are still relevant 20 years after the original publication in 1997.

 

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