Eye of the Needle

A Review of Lynne Olson’s Troublesome Young Men

“The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope.”
— Winston Churchill

“Thirty resolute men in your House of Commons could save the world.”
— Felix Frankfurter to Richard Law, July 1939

How profoundly different the past century of blood and tears might appear today without the unique and essential role that Winston Churchill played in the narrow triumph of good over an incomparable evil.

In retrospect, it is nearly impossible to conceive the course of the Second World War without his unparalleled energy, vitality and dynamism at the helm of beleaguered Britain, the catalyst of victory, the sine qua non of survival for Western democracy. Yet Churchill’s advent was not by any means an historical inevitability. On the contrary, it was the very narrowest of chances.

Lynne Olson’s Troublesome Young Men is an excellent account of “the rebels who brought Churchill to power and helped save England,” and, not merely incidentally, saved freedom in the world. As she writes, “it was the actions of these individuals — not impersonal historical forces, not ‘parliamentary spontaneous combustion,’ not some intangible deus ex machina — that resulted in Neville Chamberlain’s resignation and Winston Churchill’s accession to power in May 1940. However cynical, jaded, opportunistic, or politically wrongheaded they might have become in later life, Macmillan and the other parliamentary rebels showed resolution and moral courage when it mattered most, during the greatest crisis in Britain’s history. ‘Politics, it is truly said, is the “art of the possible,”‘ Paul Emrys-Evans once observed. ‘But great causes have only prevailed through the vigour and energy of resolute men who attempted — and succeeded — in making the impossible possible.'”

My own perception of Olson’s work may be colored by the fact that I had just finished the two volumes of William Manchester’s biography of Churchill, The Last Lion, before leaving for Europe, then read most of Troublesome Young Men on the flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. In this context, the added texture and detail of Olson’s focus on the very events with which Manchester’s history ends were especially intriguing. It may be that some would find that larger context essential to a true appreciation of the work. As for me, I share the opinion of the Christian Science Monitor’s Terry Hartle that it is “an extraordinary tale of political courage in perilous times — and a wonderfully written book.”

[For two brief excerpts, see the following post.]

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Published in: on September 28, 2008 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  

The Center Holds

Laura Moriarty’s The Center of Everything is a beautiful, bittersweet coming-of-age first novel, gritty in its particularity, insightful in its universality, pungent in its humanity, rich with perception, funny, sad and true.

The story of Evelyn Bucknow, growing up under substantial adversity, but with considerable perspicacity, in Kerrville, Kansas — the “middle of nowhere” yet “the center of everything.”

For me, it is especially poignant to have read Ms. Moriarty’s book thousands of miles from “the center of everything” in my daughter’s third floor (for the Germans — we would say fourth floor) apartment on Graunstrasse in the Wedding district of Berlin, then to have stepped out onto her balcony in the early morning hours to observe, as young Evelyn would have done from the roof of her little apartment in the Treeline Colonies, Orion rising once more in incessant circumnavigation of the earth in vain pursuit of the Pleiades seven sisters.

The Center of Everything is just the novel to help you understand anew the beautiful fragility, random tragedy, and ineffable wonder that is life. Do read it.

(The Center of Everything is the first book in our four-part book discussion series “Literature with Kansas Connections,” sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council. On Monday, October 6th at 7 pm, McPherson College’s Kim Stanley will discuss the book. You still have plenty of time to stop by the Haysville Community Library and check out your copy.)

Published in: on September 26, 2008 at 5:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Saving On Energy

Want to make your own personal contribution to the battle against global warming and the drive toward energy self-sufficiency for the American economy, while (not so coincidentally) saving your own money?

The US Department of Energy has an excellent little website of incredibly useful Energy Calculators & Software, with emphasis on buildings, homes, industry and vehicles. The range of tools that you can use to maximize the energy efficiency are nothing less than stunning. Just a few among the dozens of useful alternatives are a Home Energy Saver Audit Tool (input your zip code and it lets you know instantly that the average home in Haysville spends $1623 per year on energy, while the most efficient can cut that expense to $897 per year); a Zip Code Insulation Tool (after entering the first three digits of your zip code, you learn that in the greater Wichita area average annual heating degree days are 4800 and cooling degree hours 21,200, while the average prevailing price of natural gas is $11.27 per 1000 cubic feet); an array of Energy Star Appliance Cost Calculators; and even an Energy Cost Calculator for Compact Fluorescent Lamps which allows you to determine the payback period for a conversion from incandescent to fluorescent lighting.

These are but a few of the extraordinarily valuable tools which can help you decide how best to save energy, maximizing your savings and minimizing your expenses.

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Banned Books Week At HCL

Published in: on September 18, 2008 at 9:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Constitution Day

Signing the Constitution, September 17, 1787.

Signing the Constitution, September 17, 1787.

Today is the 221st anniversary of the signing of the Constitution – the document which preserves, protects and defends the liberties of the American people, and continues even to this day to serve as an emblem and aegis of freedom and democracy for all mankind.

It is also, not coincidentally, the 146th anniversary of the battle of Antietam – the single bloodiest day in all American history, fought in America’s most desperate and bloody war – a war fought to determine what the Constitution meant, and what it would mean, a war to make manifest the great promise of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” a war fought to decide whether that Constitution, and with it the United States of America, would survive.

It is a day to remember just how dearly bought our freedoms are – and to remind ourselves that we have our freedom, if we can keep it.

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 9:00 am  Comments (1)  

Constitutional Countdown 1

“If there be any among us who wish to dissolve this union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed, as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

How appropriate it is that the most fundamental of all rights — freedoms of conscience, thought, expression and speech — should appear in the first of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress
of grievances.”

Others more eloquent should state the case:

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

“In Germany, the Nazis came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”
— Reverend Martin Niemoller

For a significant review of First Amendment rights, see the voluminous exploration of First Amendment rights in the Analysis and Interpretation of the Constitution: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 8:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Constitutional Countdown 2

Certainly one of the most controversial among the Bill of Rights (at least, during the past half century), ostensibly used as a “wedge” issue in recent political campaigns, and with widely divergent popular interpretations only belatedly addressed by the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment prescribes that:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

For the merest hint of the legal controversies over interpretation of the Second Amendment, see the rather skimpy analysis in “Bearing Arms” in Analysis and Interpretation of the Constitution: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Published in: on September 16, 2008 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Constitutional Countdown 3

The Third Amendment to the Constitution reads:

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

It is the only one among the Bill of Rights which has received no interpretation from the United States Supreme Court.

Published in: on September 16, 2008 at 12:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Constitutional Countdown 4

In his preface to Edward S. Corwin’s great classic on The ‘Higher Law’ Background of American Constitutional Law Clinton Rossiter remarked that “it should do us good to remember at the height of our power and self-esteem that our political tradition and constitutional law are late blooms on a sturdy growth more than two thousand years old and still vigorous.” Rossiter penned those words nearly 50 years ago, yet they are no less true today. It is revealing to note, as Roscoe Pound recounts in The Development of Constitutional Guarantees of Liberty, that 670 years ago “in a case in 1338 the Court of King’s Bench allowed cattle taken in distress for not paying the king’s taxes to be replevied from the king’s collector because the latter had no warrant. An official could not seize the property of a subject except in the legal manner and under the authority of a lawful warrant.” The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution enshrines this principle in fundamental American law:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but
upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Few amendments are more central to our concept of fundamental liberties, or have received more attention from the Supreme Court, than this crucial guarantor of freedom. For a review of the Fourth Amendment in significant detail, see the “Search and Seizure” in Analysis and Interpretation of the Constitution: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, an 80 page commentary on the history and adjudication of the Fourth Amendment.

Published in: on September 16, 2008 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Saving Energy & Money

This week’s Publication of the Week from the Federal Citizen Information Center is a 36 page brochure entitled “Energy Saver$: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home.” The booklet is available for 60 cents in English or $1.10 in Spanish. Either version is well worth the money. It is remarkably detailed and comprehensive for such a brief document, including quick tips on saving energy and money, the fundamentals of home energy use (including energy audit tips), an overview of home insulation and the sealing of air leaks (including a map and chart of recommended r-values for various climate zones), a detailed discussion of home heating and cooling, a review of alternatives for heating water, as well as discussions of windows, lighting, appliances, and a great deal of additional useful information on an array of topics. This is one of those nearly-free government documents which is well worth you investment.

Published in: on September 16, 2008 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Constitutional Countdown 5

With only the possible exception of the “right to remain silent” of the Sixth Amendment, popularized by hundreds upon hundreds of cops-and-bad-guys television dramas, there are few clichés derived from the Bill of Rights better known or more frequently invoked in popular discourse than “pleading the 5th.” Yet few Americans could even begin to quote the words of the Amendment from which the expression is extracted – much less the other related rights in this diverse addendum to the Constitution:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

An excellent source book on the history of this crucial and frequently controversial protection is the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning Origins of the Fifth Amendment, by Leonard W. Levy. Most recently there is Alan Dershowitz’s Is There a Right to Remain Silent?, reviewed in Torture and Taking the Fifth in the latest Sunday New York Times. For further reading, see the “Rights of Persons” in Analysis and Interpretation of the Constitution: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, a 132 page commentary on the various elements of the Fifth Amendment.

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Constitutional Countdown 6

The Sixth Amendment focuses upon the rights of accused persons in criminal prosecutions:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

Many of the Sixth Amendment guarantees have only comparatively recently been applied to the States by decisions of the Supreme Court. As late as the 1960s, for example, the Supreme Court determined that the 6th Amendment right to a speedy and public trial had been incorporated and applied to the States by the adoption of the 14th Amendment (Klopfer v. North Carolina, 1967). Many of the most contentious criminal justice debates of the past forty years have focused on such belatedly guaranteed rights as the right to counsel, applied to the states by Supreme Court decision as late as 1963 (Gideon v. Wainwright) and 1966 (Miranda v. Arizona).

These crucial rights and others guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment are discussed at length in the 54 page overview of “Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions” in theAnalysis and Interpretation of the Constitution: Annotations of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States

Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment