Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Hiking Mountains with Small Children

April 21, 2012

A Review of Up by Patricia Ellis Herr 

UPAs someone who has done a lot of what the author has written about, I easily fell in love with this wonderful book about  Patricia Ellis Herr’s White Mountain adventures with her young daughter Alex – and to some extent with her even younger 2nd child, Sage.

Society and individuals love to put limits on people – especially people that have been traditionally marginalized – women and children immediately come to mind. Trish was having none of this and refused to let societal thinking impact her young daughter’s lives.

My own children also love to hike – which may be the greatest gift I can possible give them – my appreciation of the outdoors. All children are different though. I think for my kids to hike like the Alex it would only be because I pushed them to hard. It is so obviously clear that the author needed almost no prodding at all to get Alex into this great hobby/sport – Alex loves to hike and be outdoors. Like many children there is a button that can be easily pushed when the child is told “you cannot do that.” Nothing motivates children (or me) more that being told I cannot do something. Alex did not hear “you cannot do that” at home – or from herself – but there was a good deal of it on the trail from people who probably meant well but harbored ridiculous notions of what a child or a woman are capable of (in case you did not know – the answer is “anything!”)

The chapter titles give you a hint to the lessons that are learned and taught from mother (and father) to the children. “Know What You’re Getting Into”, “I Think I Can”, “Ignore the Naysayers”, “Roll with the Punches”, “Enjoy the Journey While it Lasts” and the very tough and difficult lessons of “Mistakes Can Have Serious Consequences.” Alex and Sage are home schooled and you can see that the outdoors make up a large part of their education.

Author and daughters

Author Patricia Ellis Herr with daughters Alex and Sage

The author’s style is a pleasure to read and makes for a very hard to put down book. The well-paced narrative moves towards its climax with a sense of excitement and wonder – you really pull for Alex to reach her goal and it is great to read about her special day and the many who took part in it.

I recommend this book to almost anyone – people who like the outdoors, a great book to share with your children – but even more so I would like to see people read this book that are afraid of their own shadows and whose children never get to experience any sense of real adventure outside of a gaming or television screen. People who hate the outdoors may read this book and realized they are missing the greatest things in life. Up recounts great experiences and triumphs and like all good books makes me wish it were longer – and makes me want to get back outside where I feel the most alive.

Up is available at your local book retailer or online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/up-patricia-ellis-herr/1104239654 

http://www.amazon.com/Up-Mother-Daughters-Peakbagging-Adventure/dp/030795207X 

Author’s website 

http://www.trishalexsage.com/

Photo credits:

Book cover courtesy of Patricia Ellis Herr

Author and daughters photo courtesy of Clay Dingman

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Kenny Chambers – Under the Tracks

September 3, 2010

CD Review

Recording artist Kenny Chambers recently released his latest CD Under the Tracks which is his first release in fifteen years.

The CD is available at CD Baby http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kennychambers

Kenny Chambers - Under the Tracks

Kenny Chambers - Under the Tracks

This collection of songs is dedicated to his two bandmates from the original Moving Targets lineup Pat Leonard and Pat Brady who both passed away far too soon within the past two years. Kenny has a storied history in the post-punk scene of the 1980s and beyond with his bands Moving Targets and American Pulverizer (has there ever been a better name for a hard rock band?) and stints with Bullet Lavolta and Dredd Foole and the Din. Those as old as me and from our shared hometown of Ipswich will remember the earlier version of Moving Targets known as Iron Cross too! Ah – the vague memories of underage keg parties…

Kenny Chambers live at the Rat - Boston, MA 1987

Kenny Chambers live at the Rat - Boston, MA 1987

Kenny has long been a man who listened to all music – genre is not important to him – style and having something to say is. Under the Tracks shows us Kenny’s diversified influences from his hard rock and punk rock roots to his knowledge of folk, pop and country music too. Earlier in his career Chambers had aptly covered songs by artists as diverse as Simon and Garfunkel and Led Zeppelin.

Kenny credits many influences in his music – which all at the same time are easy to hear and hard to pinpoint. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones for their ability to craft songs; Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s brilliant songwriting and storytelling; the raw punk and ability of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash;  the authentic country sounds of Merle Haggard; the post-punk efforts of Bob Mould (ex-Husker Du) and Paul Westerberg (ex-Replacements); Steve Earle and Neil Young to name a few.

Kenny Chambers - acoustic

Kenny Chambers - acoustic

Picking favorite tracks on this collection of songs from Kenny’s songbook is difficult – they are all good. I like the sound of the opening track Crawl, Medicine has a nice pace and feel, and Secret and Waiting for You are very tasteful and will be well received.

Kenny recorded all of this by himself – all instruments and voices. My type of one man band! Short term plans include touring Europe either with a band or with willing European bands (which there are no shortage of) backing him up with a smattering of solo acoustic shows thrown it too. Kenny is hoping to put this tour together for spring 2011. Me and many in the Boston area are hoping we get a glimpse as well.

Kenny Chamber’s Under the Tracks is a top-notch effort by a talented songwriter and musician – the two missed friends that this CD are dedicated too would be very proud of the effort.

Buy it here:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kennychambers

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Catching Up With Spaulding Smails

July 20, 2010

A Few Minutes with Actor, Realtor and All-Around Fun Guy John Barmon

 One of the nice things about being alive in the social networking era is how so many people can be connected, even if only electronically. I have had the pleasure of meeting many people throughout the world that I either share an interest with or find interesting. That is how I met John Barmon and many others who have been great to be able to communicate with.

John Barmon as Spaulding Smails in Caddyshack

Spaulding Smails gets a free drink

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Caddyshack[1], John Barmon who portrayed the unforgettable spoiled rich brat Spaulding Smails graciously agreed to talk with me about Caddyshack and his experiences and memories from the movie that means so much to anyone who has ever golfed, got drunk and vomited into a sunroof, picked their nose or was from the generation coming of age in the early 1980s.  

There are many movies that are hijacked by a quality supporting character, but rare is it that a very small role like the John Barmon’s portrayal of the obnoxious rich kid/grandson Spaulding Smails in Caddyshack is so memorable. John has a little more than a handful of lines and scenes in the movie and they are all priceless. More often than not Spaulding’s dialogue sets up the perfect one liner from his grandfather Ted Knight (Judge Smails) or offensive real estate developer/tycoon Rodney Dangerfield (Al Czervik.) So common in the vernacular of young men raised in the 1980s are the lines “You’ll get nothing and like it,” “Ahoy (sic) polloi,” and “Now I know why tiger’s eat their young” from this comedy classic. John Barmon either said the lines or set up the killer scene and dialogue with his hilarious mannerisms.

 John explained to me that he has no real idea of how he landed this role. It is a popular tale online how John accompanied his friend to the friend’s agent’s office and a couple of weeks later the agent wanted to speak to John about the role – not his friend. I have a sneaking suspicion it was obvious to the agent after meeting John that he was Spaulding.

 The cast and crew really had no clue how big the movie would become, and in fact in 1980 the movie did well in US theaters but it really developed a cult following and ballooned in popularity in the ensuing years. John was as surprised as anyone with how popular the movie became. The movie’s popularity also has grown with the popularity of golf. We all like to imagine that making a comedy that is so nonstop funny is a hilarious and joyous experience – John assured me that this was not the case for him making Caddyshack. Long, tedious days of hot humid Florida weather were the existence for the cast and crew during the shoot. 

John Barmon - Coldwell Banker Reality

John Barmon

When asked about the ad libbing and improvisation on the set John explained that about 50 % of the movie was scripted and the other half was ad libbed and developed on the spot. An example of an ad libbed scene is at the food stand (“You’ll get nothing and like it”) and the dinner party scene at the country club (“Now I know why tigers eat their young”) was scripted. John’s favorite memories were with his fellow supporting cast members Henry Wilcoxon (Bishop Pickering) and Dan Resin (Dr. Beeper)[2] who were both great guys to hang around with and the best time of the shoot was the weekend in Boca Raton where the country club dinner scene was filmed. 

Caddyshack was John’s first and only film role – he had done some acting up to that point and never had the desire to do it again. (I say “go out on top!”) John Barmon has enjoyed a successful real estate career over the past 15 years with Coldwell Banker in the Boston area – he assures me the market is improving! John luckily was not asked to be in the horrific Caddyshack II – you would have to think even Jackie Mason thinks this is a horrible movie – and has not had any urge to reenter the acting game. It was a fun experience at the time and he years later it provides good memories, stories and laughter for John and all of us.

 As a film buff I live in constant fear of remakes (I swear if I live long enough some idiot will remake The Godfather)– I asked John how he would feel if he were to find out Caddyshack was going to be remade? John had never really given the idea a thought but quipped “who would they get to play ME!?” Indeed – who would they get to play such a memorable role that was so perfectly played by John Barmon?

Follow Symptom of the Universe on twitter: http://twitter.com/sapblatt 


[1] Caddyshack was released in the United States on July 25, 2010.

[2] Dan Resin is well known to my generation as the Tidy Bowl Man in television commercials of the 1970s.

Is Western Society and Thought Doomed?

June 21, 2010

A Look at Paul Berman’s 2003 book Terror and Liberalism.[1]

Note – June 24, 2010 – Some of my thoughtful readers pointed out some unclear wording on my part in this essay – to help clear this up I want to add that the movements I described as totalitarian and fundamentalist are not conservative movements, but rather can at times be viewed as reactions to liberalism, or the fear of liberalism.

June 21, 2010 

Paul Berman penned this important book not long after the 9/11 tragedies. Terror and Liberalism is an incredible look at the history of the 20th century, why all of the horror of totalitarianism occurred and more importantly for all of us residing in the 21st century, why extremism is still a factor in our modern society. 

In order to understand Berman’s book and premise, as well as my discussion of the material we must understand that Berman is using the term liberalism as the overriding principle that guides the western democracies in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. He is not using the term in the sense of the United States politicized context of President Obama is a liberal and President George W. Bush was a conservative. Liberalism is an over-reaching philosophy that dates to the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the United States Constitution – nations that respect individual’s rights. Conservatism in this set up is viewed as totalitarianism (i.e. Nazism, Stalinism, Communism, Franco’s Spain, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and not as a conservative view in American politics.

Berman sees a grave error in the thinking of many who consider the “bookends” of the 20th century to be the start of World War I and the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in 1989. He writes of the further atrocities in the 1990s in the Balkans as the Serbs tried to “ethnically cleanse” their land, the wars of Saddam Hussein in Iraq against Kuwait and against ethnic minorities in his own country. The revolts against liberalism that framed many years of the 20th century were by no means dead and gone. There is still fundamentalist totalitarianism in many corners of the globe – particularly in Islamic states like Saudi Arabia.

A large portion of the text is reading I wish I were aware of sooner. Berman proffers a detailed yet concise history of the Islamic fundamentalist movement and one of its intellectual fathers, Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) who was a leading Muslim intellectual who spent some time in the United States and was a founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. His many texts include his epic In the Shadow of the Qur’an(Koran) – a polemic on the Muslim life and condition. Shadows is a 30-volume commentary of the Koran where Qutb outlines the issues he sees in modern societies and why Islam will prevail over all others. Berman quotes Qutb at the start of his book with a sentence that sums up a lot of the Islamic view on the clash of cultures: 

Death comes to all, but for him there is no martyrdom. He will proceed to the Garden, while his conquerors go to the fire.  

He views Islam as superior because of its requirement of total commitment – he believes the west will ultimately fail due to its lack of faith and commitment to God. Islam does not meld with liberal western democracies ideas of secularism and the separation of church/faith and state. Beliefs that the Nasser government in Egypt would be Islamic in nature did not pan out and Qutb spent many years in prison. He was eventually hanged for being involved in a plot to assassinate Nasser.

Berman also looks to Albert Camus as a great thinker on the subject of 20th century totalitarianism. A companion quote by Camus was included with the Qutb quote – this one sees the evil and danger from all sides: 

Here, suicide and murder are two sides of the same coin.

 Berman draws great connections from the two sides of the French left during World War II. The Paul-Fauristes wanted peace at any cost and the leftist government of Leon Blum who saw the inherent dangers of appeasing the fascists, and later the communists. Blum was part of a parliamentary minority who voted against giving Marshall Petain’s Vichy governmental powers in collusion with the Nazis. Paul Faure’s “Fauristes” saw the enemies as war and war profiteering – not fascism, totalitarianism and Hitler. Berman sees Blum as wise realist who would not sit back on liberalism and watch fascism destroy his country. 

Berman has a knack for seeing things clearly from outside of the normally accepted views. While many admired the European nations of Sweden and Switzerland and their neutrality in World War II and since, Berman sees a problem in that these nations choose not to engage in hostilities while others like Poland and France fight and die. Berman sees a bit of cowardice and hope that others will take care of their problems. The truth of course is that Sweden and Switzerland were lucky – Hitler’s war machine would not have stopped at their borders had they not been defeated by the Allies. Berman makes a strong case that there is too great a cost and far too much at stake to look the other way from totalitarian regimes. 

So where does all of this leave us in 2010? The popular view may be that the conservative elements of the liberal democracies (i.e. ex-President George W. Bush and centrist British Prime Minister Tony Blair) see the battles as an attempt to strong arm and manipulate governments and despots that differ from us, or who will not bend and cave to western demands. Berman[2] posits that these wars can also be seen as bastions of liberalism and that the west is trying to foster an era of democracies in predominantly Muslim countries and is genuinely concerned in areas like women’s rights.[3] While Bush may have had pragmatic reasons for attacking Iraq post 9/11 (revenge and payback come to mind) there is still an intellectually liberal rationale behind the cause. Controversial scholar and historian Bernard Lewis believes it was possible to make inroads toward liberalism in nations with predominantly Muslim populations – but not in Islamic strongholds such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but rather in places like the new Iraq and possibly in Iran with student movements. Berman mentions as Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban women were happy to lose the burqas and learn to read and men happily lost their mandated beards. 

It may not be a lot to go on, or a lot to pin the hopes of human civilization – but there is a chance for the world to be more accepting and tolerant place – but for this to have any chance at all, large groups will need to subscribe to this idea and want their populations to embrace it.  

If you enjoyed this piece you may want to read another article on atheism and the world:

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/atheism-%e2%80%93-savior-of-the-world/

[1] Berman, Paul. Terror and Liberalism. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2003.

[2] Journalist Christopher Hitchens is another prominent liberal who supports “the war on terror” as a great liberal cause. 

[3] Ironically, George W. Bush is viewed as a champion of women’s rights in places like Afghanistan, and as an opponent of the same in his own country.

What the Bleep Do We Know?![1]

June 19, 2010

Well for starters – the difference between science and pseudoscience…

 June 19, 2010 

“If you get to mellow first you ripen, then you rot.” – Woody Allen 

A friend that is aware of my atheism suggested that I watch 2004’s “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” a strange little film that tried desperately to be a cute self-discovery movie and at the same time an intellectually serious documentary. Kudos to the movie part – Marlee Maitlin is as good as ever and she conveys a wide range of human emotion and her character develops and grows over the length of the film. The major issues I have with the film are the attempts to convey an element of scientific proof to its new age mysticism. 

The transformation story of Maitlin’s character is done well enough, but it is completely used to push the agenda of the filmmakers, William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente – all of who are interestingly enough are students of J.Z. Knight – an American huckster  with a charming fake accent who claims to channel a 35,000 year old spirit named Ramtha.[2] Knight’s schools offer programs all over the world in such clever, subjects as Consciousness and Energy, Create Your Day and Analogical Archery. The school charges upwards of $800 for its weekend programs. How spiritual – how profitable.[3] 

Maitlin is Amanda who is at a difficult time in her life – she is bored, having trouble with her photography work, in need of anti-anxiety medications and self-loathing. As she travels thru a few days she learns that not everything is at it appears – which is often true in real life. However, the film makers try so foist the theories of quantum mechanics into all of this in such a ludicrous manner as to make us believe our minds can crystallize water.[4]  Later in the film she is photographing a wedding and sees a couple through blurry glass having sex – she is so sure that it is the groom that she goes ballistic as she recently ended her marriage to a philandering husband. A new friend at the wedding soon shows her that the couple were in fact having sex, but it was not the groom, but a similarly dressed groomsman. There is no connection to this type of “everything is not as it appears” situation to the suggestion that one of the talking heads makes that we could all walk on water if we could only get over our negative thoughts that it is impossible. If this was truly possible wouldn’t the filmmakers have shown this on film to bolster their case? Utter nonsense. 

All of these fallacies aside the infuriating part of this movie is its intellectual dishonesty and its misuse of one of the physicists that agreed to be interviewed for the movie. Columbia physicist David Albert was right to be upset when he learned that the producers edited his answers to their interview questions where he told them there was no connection between quantum physics and spirituality only to find the filmmakers edited his answers to fit their agenda.[5] Other scientists have chimed in to criticize the intellectual inaccuracies and fallacies of this film[6] – I have little problem with the New Agers and their cute little film – but to so utterly distort the answers received in their interviews and to portray this psychic nonsense as real science is a lie and needs to be called out.

If you liked this post, you may want to read this prior article – thanks – Mike

https://sapblatt.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/atheism-%e2%80%93-savior-of-the-world/


[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0399877/

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/may/16/g2.science

[3] http://events.ramtha.com/events/2010/

[4] I love this part of the movie – the so-called “Chi Experiment” – they show beautiful images of crystallized water that was made possible from an “open mind.” The film makers must have forgot to mention that the water was in fact ice, and ice form crystals naturally thru the laws of physics – there is not mind-crystal connection.

[5] http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-10/cult-science

[6] http://scitation.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_59/iss_11/14_1.shtml?bypassSSO=1http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/may/16/g2.sciencehttp://pubs.acs.org/cen/reelscience/reviews/whatthe_bleep/

Racism, Education and Thoughts on Arthur M. Schlesinger’s “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society”[1]

June 13, 2010

 June 13, 2010

 Famed Pulitzer Prize[2] winning historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) was perhaps best known for his work as the historian for the Kennedy administration penned the long essay in 1991 that is the subject of this article. Schlesinger does an admirable job explaining the history of the United States in the terms of how we educate our children in grade school and in colleges. Long known as part of the liberal establishment Schlesinger takes us on a journey in his essay that may surprise many of us in its views on multiculturalism, ethnicity and the importance of forging an American identity for the future. 

Schlesinger shows us how the United States has been built, and has thrived due to its inherent multi-ethnicity – in fact America is by and away the greatest success story ever in this area. Other nations have struggled with retaining their national identity while allowing immigration from other areas. This is not to say that the United States is perfect – we also have a long history of racism, hatred and intolerance that is not so easy to dismiss. The country was built on the idea of freedom and acceptance and over time this idea has become more inclusive. Schlesinger argues that the debates of what to teach on our history classrooms can have a lot to do with how our nation succeeds in the classroom, and that the Left idea of bashing all that is Eurocentric is in fact denying history and our legacy. Teaching multiculturalism is important, but to deny the role of Europe in the development of our collective nations thought is in wrong.

 His argument attacks the idea that all ethnic groups wish to destroy the European traditions of our history in the American classroom. Schlesinger argues that so many universities force students to take classes on culture and history from the Third World while taking no classes on the history and legacy of Europe that has brought our country together and moved it forward. Schlesinger is not denying the existence and importance of diversity and multiculturalism but is questioning how important it is in light of learning about the dominant history and culture that has shaped our nation. In his book he points that right or wrong African-Americans have more connectivity to their history in the United States than they do to their ancient history in Africa. Many who emigrate here, including my own family wanted to assimilate into American life and culture as quickly as possible – in the 1940s many Italian-American families made a point of not speaking Italian in the home and not teaching their children to speak Italian. Statistics used by Schlesinger point to similar trends with Hispanic immigrants in more recent years – the goal is often to assimilate into American society and opportunity as quickly as possible – and learning English is a key component.

So – where are we now – nearly 20 years after the original publication and 12 years after the updated edition of The Disuniting of America? In certain circles there are certainly major improvements – the United States has its first black President in Barack Obama[3] and race is less of an issue to no issue for many Americans. This is a far cry from utopia though as racism is rooted deep in our collective thought and culture. We see racism daily in the methods many are calling for in immigration reform and enforcement. Arizona’s recent law, SB 1070 that was signed by Governor Jan Brewer is giving Arizona law enforcement to arrest and detain illegal immigrants, even though this is an area of law reserved for federal jurisdiction. The very nature of this law forces racism when enforced – police will naturally go after people who look Latino and in effect will be profiling and harassing the millions of legal Arizona citizens who are of Latino or Native American heritage. Well know Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio[4] is breaking the law, abusing his power and using his staff as his own personal vigilante force for his twisted view of what America should be. Daily Arpaio avoids his departments work in investigating real crime and he is using his force to unlawfully detain citizens who disagree with him. Americans should always take the high road – we need reform and solid policy – racial profiling is inherently un-American, the low road and poor policy. 

Schlesinger’s view that all of our varied pasts and cultures are part of what makes this country special and great are valid. Equally valid is his desire for all of us to learn American history and the importance that western values and culture have upon our collected history. Schlesinger points out an interesting idea; the Western nations and cultures are the only ones that have adapted, grown and evolved quickly from their past wrongs. Western culture embraced slavery and ended slavery – he notes that slavery pre-dated the west’s arrival in Africa and survived long after the slave trade to the America’s ended. Western culture bred religious intolerance and also ended it many times – although I fear we may be moving back towards it. Schlesinger sees inclusion and tolerance of groups and education of the citizenry as the keys to a successful America in the future – we need to learn and understand our past if we are to have a collective American identity as we move towards the future.


[1] Schlesinger, Arthur M. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society – Revised and Enlarged edition.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

[2] Schlesinger was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for 1946’s book “The Age of Jackson” about former President Andrew Jackson.

[3] The author of this article is a supporter of President Obama and wants to point out that by “improvement” I mean that the nation is improved by the fact that we elected a minority from a diverse background to our highest office, as opposed to his individual policies, which I generally agree with.

[4] At risk of derailing the original intent of this essay, please read here for further detail of the madness that is occurring daily in Arizona: http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/next-arizona-how-about-governor-joe

A Review of Christopher Hitchens’s “Hitch-22: A Memoir”

May 4, 2010

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Christopher Hitchens1

Talented and erudite writer, educator, debater, journalist, socialist and atheist Christopher Hitchens has long been making people think. His soon to be released (June 2, 2010 from TWELVE BOOKS) memoir goes deep into the essayist’s upbringing, education and life experiences that made him who we read today.

“Hitch” was born in 1949 into a middle-class English existence with a retired naval officer father, The Commander and his mother Yvonne who hid her Jewishness from Christopher and his brother Peter due to her belief that they would better fit into the British class and education system. Through his mother Hitchens achieved in his education at prep schools and later at Oxford’s Balliol College where he studied politics, philosophy and economics. Hitchens goes into some detail about his mother’s tragic suicide that occurred when he was a young man.

It is very evident to anyone who has read any of his books or listened to him debate – Mr. Hitchens is well-read and well-informed. He developed a love of reading, literature, poetry and knowledge at an early age. His ability to recall material from the greatest tomes of English literature is amazing. Reading any of his works leaves the reader with an ever-growing list of books that they feel must be read. Outside of academia one could only dream of being as familiar with the authors that Hitchens is either friends with or can quote from memory – Shakespeare, Martin Amis, Oscar Wilde, James Fenton, Edward Said, W.H. Auden and Susan Sontag, to name a few.[2] As well read as Hitchens is, the reader does not have to be as well read to enjoy and learn from this interesting memoir.

Hitch provides what some will take as tabloid fodder on his recounting of his bisexual life during his younger years. Hitchens has since been married twice and has two adult children. He writes of his bisexual adventurers as being a part of growing up in through and it is admirable how he addresses this subject fondly with candor.

The complexities of Christopher Hitchens manifest themselves throughout the book – it is impossible to pigeon hole and label him. Most often a champion of the liberal Left and at times far enough Left to be called a socialist or even a Marxist he also reserves the right to change his mind. Hitch is not stubborn – he wants the facts as they are now with a proper respect for the history of the situation. As a war journalist he has a knack for cutting through the politics and being able to present the salient facts. Hitchens is well known for his support of President George W. Bush and United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair’s war to end the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Many believed this went against all of Hitchens’ earlier thinking about the west’s interference in the affairs of lesser nations, but that is not how he saw it. He saw parallels to other horrid governments who terrorized their own people and had horrific human rights records and felt that it was of utmost importance to stop Hussein and free the Iraqi people. Hitchens clearly understands the complexities of the world – he feels for the Kurdish minority that is stuck between Iraq and Turkey and he feels for the Palestinian situation while still understanding the need and desire for the existence of Israel.

Hitchens does not shy away from anything that is deeply troubling or emotional for him – he is extremely candid throughout the book. He writes about his troubled relationship with his brother Peter[3] and a relationship that went from close to strained to bad through time with Edward Said. The emotions are tear-inducing in a section of the chapter “Mesopotamia from Both Sides.” Here Hitchens tells of meeting the family of young U.S. soldier, Lieutenant Mark Jennings Daily from California who was tragically killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. Daily was a reader and believer in what Hitchens wrote about the world. Daily, like Hitchens believed  that freedom has a price and that it was ultimately worth that price for him to put his life on the line for a free Iraq. Hitchens beautifully details his experiences with Daily’s mourning family and the somber scattering of Lieutenant Daily’s ashes on the Oregon coast. Hitchens was deeply moved to be part of this with the late soldier’s family and he is quick to point out that he has never really put his life on the line in such a manner and that he does not have the kind of courage that Daily and other soldiers have each day on the front. Hitchens who has adopted the United States as his home, clearly has a love and a deep emotional connection to and appreciation for what this country represents.

I came to Hitch through his atheistic books God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, (Twelve Books, Hachette Book Group; 2007) and The Portable Atheist, (Da Capo Press; 2007). With these two titles Hitchens was preaching to the choir – his writings can help give readers clarity to their own positions and make them think about things in new and clearer ways. Later I read books by Christopher Hitchens on as diverse subjects as Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, George Orwell and Thomas Paine – in addition to his frequent contributions to Slate and Vanity Fair. He possesses a unique voice that is both enlightened and progressive that shines brightly on bringing to justice the oppressors of the weak – Hitch is the enemy of tyranny in all of its forms – totalitarianism, corruption, dictatorships, religion and outdated and dangerous dogma. His writing style is informative and entertaining – using such words at “creep/y” to describe shady politicians or the phrase “high-risk narcissist” to describe JFK,  Christopher Hitchens enlightens us all with his writing and his ideas; his hopes will take civilization towards a higher plain, or at least clearly explain why we are not getting there. Hitch-22 is a memoir that shines light on its subject and is not afraid to ask or answer the difficult questions. We should all read and learn from Christopher Hitchens and hope that he continues to write and educate us for many more years.

Hitch-22: A Memoir will be available at Amazon.com on June 2, 2010.

Thank you to all of my readers – I am truly humbled by how many folks have been reading and commenting on my essays. If you like what your read – or even if you don’t please consider subscribing for updates by entering your e-mail address on the right-hand side of my blog page. Last and certainly not least I would like to thank my editor, friend and wife, Gail Greenblatt Saporito – thanks to her late night efforts you are reading complete sentences with proper punctuation and not the rambling mess of unclear ideas I started with. – Mike


[1] http://tewalkerjr.com/blog/wp-content/Hitchens.jpg

[2] For those of us not as well versed in literature as Mr. Hitchens I will fill in some brief information on some of the lesser known of these writers. Biographical information for this footnote is from Wikipedia.

Martin Amis (born 1949) is a British novelist and a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. His best known novels include Money (1984) and London Fields (1989).

James Fenton (born 1949) is an English journalist and poet.

Edward Said (1935-2003) was a Palestinian-American Professor of Literature at Columbia, perhaps best known as a Palestinian rights supporter and as the author of Orientalism (1978).

W.H. Auden (1907-1973) was an Anglo-American poet who often wrote on moral and political themes.

Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was an American author who was politically active.

[3] Peter Hitchens (born 1951) is also a respected writer – he is religiously and politically the polar opposite of his older brother.

“Point Omega”: A review of Don DeLillo’s latest novel

March 30, 2010

The latest short novel from award-winning author Don DeLillo is an interesting study of our present day world and the realities that people create to fit what the situation calls for. DeLillo is in tune with the vagaries of the modern world where society has grown accustomed to having news constantly made available and to have governments and media outlets constructing their own versions of reality.

The story revolves around a young documentary director who is hoping to shoot a film on an intellectual who worked at a think tank that created a lot of the spin necessary to produce a recent war. He visits his subject at a home in the southwestern desert that is occasionally used by Richard Elster (the intellectual.) Elster’s writing and work for the administration is broken down into simple components and he likes to consider his statements regarding war policy as thoughts that fit into simple haikus.

Notions of what is real, not real or real only in our minds, permeate the novel. The filmmaker only planned on staying for a couple of days but ends up staying for a month. Elster’s twenty-something daughter Jessie, with her own ambivalent life enters into the story and the filmmaker is soon attracted to her. The daughter eventually vanishes into the Arizona desert and the two men attempt to locate her with the authorities.

A thread that is followed throughout the book is the film director’s observation and obsession with an art exhibit in New York that shows the Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller Psycho – but in a manner in which the film is slowed down so it takes 24 hours to view the entire film. The filmmaker meets a young woman at the film who he is attracted to – in fact he follows her out of the theater and they have some disjointed, ambivalent conversation. His attraction to this woman and to Jessie seems to be borne out of his frustration with his own so-so marriage and with his desire to connect with real people.

Point Omega is a quick read that takes a long time to absorb. DeLillo’s prose points towards many issues of the modern citizen of the world – issues of communication, feelings, space, time, distance and of being accustomed to finding all of life’s needs at your fingertips on a moments notice. DeLillo is acutely aware that people are often lost and need to connect with real people and not just in a fabricated, media driven social network that has consumed the way many people exist.

NOTE: I am an avid reader – not an avid literary critic!