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In line with what we have been covering, a group reading of Ragtime might be a lot of fun. I loved the way Doctorow contrasted such characters as J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford, and had Evelyn Nesbit become a pet project of Emma Goldman. Really great novel on the gilded age. It was made into a musical no less.


  1. Now I see what you meant about posts out of order. I missed this and Mencken earlier.

    Didn't we read Ragtime as a group at the Times? I vaguely recall rereading it and being the only person who didn't like it.

    I read it when it first came out and loved it, but on the second read something struck me as cartoonish and flat (the brother, the mother, etc.). The musical looks good, though!

  2. I read it a long, long while back. Saw the musical last time it was on Broadway. Some of it was pretty good, but it was very long and a lot of the songs were similar.

  3. You might also want to consider the third volume of Dos Passos' "USA Trilogy," that being "The Big Money."

  4. I once intended to read all three, but only read 1919 because I was interested in that year. Sort of like a cross between On the Road and a jazz symphony. Can't say that I enjoyed it, but it was definitely worth reading.

  5. I found this little nugget online by Alfred Kazin regarding The Big Money:

    Dos Passos' subject is indeed democracy, but his belief-- especially as he goes into the final volume of his trilogy--is that the force of circumstances that is 20th century life is too strong for the average man, who will probably never rise above mass culture, mass superstition, or mass slogans."

  6. Very interesting.

    Or these days mass war.

    I have great faith in the president but I'm still very depressed by all of this. I couldn't even watch the news tonight I find it so disturbing.

  7. It is disheartening. Democrats and Republicans by and large don't appear to have a shared concern for what is best for the country. Members of both parties seem always to think first about scoring political points and then rarely go beyond that. And the American public is essentially feckless, whether it's health care, Afghanistan, or any of the other issues facing the nation.

  8. I believe it was Thoreau who said that we get the government we deserve, or words to that effect. He may have stolen the idea from Machiavelli. But that's what I mean by feckless.

  9. Rick and NY, you may be right but I get a sinking feeling, as Seeger's song says, that I've heard this news before.

    Rachel Maddow interviewed Susan Rice last night and she makes a very persuasive argument that the extra troops are needed and can make a difference there. I don't believe her, but she appears to believe it. And I have to have some faith in an administration that would put her at the UN after Bolton. That shows how far we have come as a nation.

    But that said, just because I voted for Obama and have great respect for the man doesn't mean I have to agree with everything he does. Fire the social secretary for one thing! Give the critics some red meat. But that may not be part of his modus operandi either.

    My fear is that if things turn bad, as they very well could, the Republicans will step up to the plate in 2012 to finish the job.... I say that with great irony, of course, but that's where we are right now I fear.

    Interesting that this comment comes in under Ragtime. This is far from the gilded age.

  10. And New York, I am chipping away at Ghost Wars. I keep in my car for emergency reading. I find it very disturbing.

    Mostly I read about taxidermy these days, and the very early attempts to spread science and education beyond the elite which I still think is a good idea. I may leave Ghost Wars behind and take Trollope along with me on the plane.

  11. No one has to agree with everything he does. And unfortunately the Afghanistan move does look like Obama's version of the "troop surge." On the other hand, now that Iran is getting nuttier by the day, maybe having 30,000 more troops in the neighborhood makes sense for a couple of reasons. That may sound bellicose of me, but the region doesn't appear to be on a fast-track to peace and harmony.

  12. Rick, I consider myself the loyal opposition, which Obama (unlike Bush) allegedly likes having around him.

    But for $1 million per soldier, I think I'd rather be putting money back in suitcases and letting all these tribal leaders take credit for schools, hospitals, whatever.

    I heard one analyst who had recently resigned from the State Dept. over Afghanistan say that it's basically a civil war over the future of the country. Give the right people suitcases full of money to help ensure that future and you might have a "victory."

    On the other hand, it sounds like our strategy is to give Karzai enough time to build up enough military might to turn into a dictator to squelch any popular uprisings. Certainly giving him enough power to overturn any so-called elections.

    NY may have a different take having read Coll, but my guess is that the US is trying to recreate Saddam's Iraq there. Be interesting to see how long it takes for that to come back and haunt us. Although it may create a stalemate with Pakistan and Iran, which is why I"m sure they see this as all in our national interests.

    It's a mess however you look at it. And I"m sorry to see Obama have to clean up the mess George made. But this is the world he inherited, not the one he made. And, again, I applaud him for surrounding him with people like Susan Rice. What a refreshing change.

  13. On a totally different note, did you see that the bio of Carver won one of the top ten books of 2009 slots at the NY Times? Wow!

    Also so interesting (and encouraging) to see so many women this time around.

  14. Maybe it's partly the term "War." I'm sure for many it's hard to picture war as something other than military conflict between sovereign nations. The declared enemy may be terrorists but we blame nations for harboring them though there might not be anything resembling a "nation" as far as government with or without poplar support.

    The more I read of Coll and other sources, the more I see Afghanistan as a region full of fiefdoms ruled by warlords, druglords, etc. where politics is hostage to ancient tribal conflicts (Karzai is Pashtun, Massoud of another tribe, and there are several others with sizable percentages of the population) overlaid by competing religious sects trying to turn back the clock even as superpowers seek to impose at least sufficient modernization to allow access to oil. Add to that the heavy influence of conflicting neighboring states, Pakistan vs. India, etc. and the ambitions of others in the region.

    Our habit of pouring in the funds to buy friends on the "my enemy's enemy is my friend" theory hasn't been wildly successful, but seems a hard one to break.

    At home, the antiwar movement will likely not be resurrected as long as there's no draft and there are sufficient volunteers to supply the forces to be marched into "Big Sandy" (loved that!)

    Sigh. I, too, had such hopes for better from the new admin., but in this as in many another matter, the older I get, the more I have to admit I don't know. That, of course, does not allow me to abandon the effort to find out as much as I can.

  15. I'm with you, NY. I think it was Eugene Robinson from the Post who said if Obama were a senator right now he probably wouldn't even vote for this policy.

    It's a mess no matter what he does but it does seem like the US has injected itself into it in a way that is beyond our nation's ability to sustain it.

    Maybe we should all read Coll (although he's on the side of staying over there -- not sure that's the kind of advice I need to read right now).

  16. This seems to be a voice of reason:

  17. "Perhaps the greatest problem for Western policymakers is that Taliban leaders watch CNN and Al Jazeera. They know that the British public has turned against the war, probably irrevocably, and that American opinion is deeply divided. They believe they have more patience than us, and they may be right."

    The above quote is from Hastings' Op/Ed piece. Not exactly an in depth analysis of the situation.

  18. Fair enough. That example isn't exactly deep thinking. But I agree with him when he concludes:

    "The president’s troop surge was perhaps politically inescapable. But any chance of salvaging a minimally acceptable outcome hinges not on what American and allied soldiers can do on the battlefield, but on putting together a coherent political strategy. Mr. Obama’s speech represented a gesture to his generals rather than a convincing path to success in Afghanistan."

    I also agree with NY when she writes that this isn't a traditional war. We're not at war with Afghanistan. And we're really not fighting over territory. It's an occupation, in support of a government we claim to be legitimate but everyone on the planet knows that's not true.

    And yet, the US marines stand on street corners with guns to ensure the government has time not to become more legitimate but to become powerful enough to sustain attack. Doesn't sound like an ideal environment for the US to win in militarily.

    But as I said earlier, it's done. I don't have that hopeless feeling I used to have when Bush made decisions like this so am going to wait and see what happens over the next year. Clinton and Gates are already hedging on the exit strategy, but in theory they don't make the final decisions.

    And against all odds I still have a glimmer of that old hope....

  19. This may fit your frame of mind, avrds, as it did mine:

  20. Nice one NY.

    Can't help but smile reading that (and of course recognize myself who wants him to turn everything organic, cure all disease, and provide single-payer health care and a tiny car that runs on sunflowers and hemp popsicles).

    I'm there!

  21. This post took an interesting meander. It seems that a lot of Dems thought that Obama was simply paying lip service to independents and cross-over Republicans when he pledged his support to the war in Afghanistan during the primaries. Now, they seem downright angry that he is actually pursuing this policy.

    Again, this is much more than an American war, it is a war that has major international implications, which Obama long ago recognized but it seems many Democrats have long since forgotten about. The key, as Obama has noted in his plan of action, is to set a timetable, which the Republicans failed to do. It doesn't necessarily mean he will succeed but it atleast clearly establishes a goal in this beleagured country, which it has lacked for several years now.

  22. Anyway, I take it no one is up for Ragtime.

  23. Another meander -- it's the weekend after all.

    I may not agree with the outcome, but it is good to read about the amount of thought that went into the decision and the fact that he understands the human cost, which I think totally escapes the Republicans:

    Now if we can just get him to focus that much attention on the rest of the nation's problems, we may actually get somewhere.

    And Gintaras, this non-Democrat isn't angry. I always heard his talk about Afghanistan, which is why I supported other anti-war candidates. But I am disappointed. Still, I'm not giving up on him and totally recognize myself in that column NY posted from San Francisco. Of course I want him to change the world. Why else would I vote for him? But I'm willing to give him a little more time.

  24. Glad to hear it, av. In the end I don't think you will be disappointed.

    I can't say I like this war anymore than you do, but understand Obama's position on it. I wish Bush had taken the international mandate to heart back in 2001, but so it went and now Obama is left to clean up the mess, like he is all the other messes left by the Dubya administration. I think the Obama administration will make some headway in Afghanistan.

    More troops will allow the allied forces to establish a broader control over the country, regain Kandahar and other districts, create safe zones, and hopefully begin rebuilding the infrastructure in the country. But, this is a long term commitment which I doubt most Americans, or for that matter Europeans, are willing to accept.

  25. I'm not, that's for sure, but I'm willing to give him some time before taking to the streets.... (it's hard to keep a good anti-war demonstrator down!)

    Since we're still meandering to ragtime, I thought this was an interesting commentary on the two Roosevelts and Pearl Harbor. I recently picked up his Imperial Cruise as an antidote to Brinkley.


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