Friday, June 23, 2017

The Power Broker; Enough already
   I’ve gotten to just under p. 900 (with more than 200 to go) with only now-and-then short bits of skimming. I plan to finish the book. But I must say, it’s not a pleasant experience. The last chunk I read is typical. [1] Moses proposes the route for a road that is costly in dollars and, more importantly, in the upheaval of families who live in the houses that would be demolished. [2] A much less damaging alternative is proposed and pushed for by adherents, solid citizens. [3] Moses is approached, but won’t even listen to the alternative proposal.
   It makes for downright unpleasant reading, so that I have to force myself to go on. I’ve come to  wonder how the book’s author, Robert Caro, could carry on, since he had to give an account of all this in the meticulous detail that he does, without—at best—getting disgusted. One moral of this story is that we don’t give enough credit to the fortitude of the stomach that listens to and gives an account of a lot of crap.
* * * * *
   There are volumes to be said about the Robert Moses book, but I don’t plan to comment further on this theme. It’s either do it right or don’t do it at all. I’m for the latter.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Time Out

I'm still reading the Robert Moses book and will get to more faithful blog-minding when I am done with it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Caro's Megabook on Robert Moses

   I’m now past page 600 of Robert Caro’s book on Robert Moses, about half-way through its text. (There are an additional hundred pages of notes plus an extensive index.)  When I’m done, this will make the longest continuous one volume book I can recall reading. But it’s the wrong question to ask whether Moses, a  New York politician of the first half of the 20th century, merits as much prose as might be devoted to a Napoleon biography.
  The Power Broker, in all of its unwieldy girth, is not really a biography, but the accounting of Moses’s political and economic activities while serving in several positions in and around  New York City and how his personality shaped his actions and how they in turn affected his personality. That calls for the introduction of a large number of “characters”—a huge number—who were active then—a lot or a little.

   But the direction of the flow seems to be toward some sort of nadir of the book’s “hero.” While there are plenty of sections that give an account of Robert Moses’ inappropriate willfulness, there is no sign as yet of the nadir that accounts for the book’s subtitle, “Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.” I fully intend to read the rest of the book, but I must say that much of that is not a pleasant experience.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

On the Way to Becoming Mayor

An Odd Moment on the Way to LaGuardia’s Becoming Mayor of New York
   While I’m well into Robert Caro’s book on Robert Moses, it’s “only” to page 360—there being 1162 of text. The complex narrative is immensely interesting (that Pulitzer was certainly deserved) and of course about much more than the book’s ambiguous hero. Needless to say, you won’t get a review on this blog; that much work I leave to others. But I will probably report about some passages that strike me of particular interest, starting with the following.
   A Fusion Party had been formed with the aim of beating the Tammany candidate for New York City mayor whose term would begin in January 1934. The clean government elders serially approached a large bunch of distinguished New Yorkers and were turned down. Then they came to one who refused the nomination on quite unusual grounds.
   That would-be candidate was Nathan Straus who was both delighted and flattered by the proposal and asked for a couple of days before giving his response. When they met again Straus told the Fusion elders that he had decided to decline. “The ill-fated star of Adolf Hitler was rising. . . . Jews were accused by Hitler of endeavoring encompass the control and government of the whole world . . . Straus refused to accept a nomination for Mayor at a time when Herbert Lehman [a Jew] was Governor because it might give credence in some quarters to Mr. Hitler’s charges. . . .” (p.353)
   This refusal led to the nomination of Fiorello LaGuardia who was then elected Mayor of the City of New York. It is not known whether The Little Flower knew of Hitler’s role in the prologue to his nomination.
   P.S. LaGuardia was mayor from the time we arrived in New York in March 1939 until 1945. I was in high school for most of those years and listened always to LaGuardia’s Sunday broadcasts on WNYC. He ended each of these talks with a resounding “Patience and Fortitude.”   



Monday, May 29, 2017

Producer vs. User

The User Comes Second 
In the past, I have occasionally fulminated about the distinct advantage that is often given to the packager of whatever, as compared to the consumer of the package. Good examples, if strictly only an analogy, are those envelopes sent out by various governmental agencies: messages that require the recipient to carefully insert a knife on three sides of an envelope to get at some trite message thus revealed. Euch mach ihr’s leicht; mir macht ihr’s schwer, as Hans Sachs would have it in the Meistersinger. There is nothing surprising about that package, since basically, it shoves the work from the “producer” to the consumer. (What else is new?)
   I’ve now come across an analogous example of a rarer sort. As previously mentioned, I am now reading Robert Caro’s book on Robert Moses. If ever there was such a thing, it’s a mega-book of nearly 1300 pages; big pages.

   But its bulk makes it a nuisance to read. Over two inches thick and weighing maybe five pounds. It’s OK to have reference text come in big packages, since they are usually just consulted in bits and pieces, but it is not equally suitable for a book to be read through from beginning to end to be so huge. To put it bluntly, a monster book like that is a nuisance to read. The “user”—that is reader—would have been better off with two volumes, even though that would be slightly more costly (it’s only a paperback). An e-book version would have even be better, but, surprisingly, none such is available. The user is not the first considered in the book’s design.                                                                                                                                                         

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


   I’m done with Katharine Graham’s autobiography. A very long, well written, and immensely interesting book. When I now read of the deeds of the Washington Post I wish there were a narrative that bridges the Graham period to that of Jeff Bezos, the current owner. Unlike some of my friends, I’ve never followed the Post, being a NYTimes addict from way back, while also trying to keep my newspaper reading within limits.
  I was rummaging Kindle possibles, when I clicked on Kory Stamper’s “The Secret Life of Dictionaries” a subtitle, instead of the “Sample” I was aiming to get. So, I’m reading it. Interesting enough: I’m learning quite a bit. The future will tell whether I stick with it to the end. (It is no doubt an age phenomenon, but while in earlier years, I felt that I had to read a book to the end—though I did not always do so, always with feelings of guilt—I have gotten over that inhibition.

   So much so, that I have now interrupted that reading with Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, which just arrived in the mail. This book about New York’s fabulous (take that label literally) Robert Moses mimics its subject in being just short of two inches thick—and immensely heavy. It’s a good thing I don’t read in bed these days. I’ll no doubt report—eventually.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump's Sins

Is it Curious? I don’t think so.
   I read a great many articles about Trump, almost all of them negative, many of them exceedingly so. I am sure everyone who is awake to the current scene is having the same experience: being constantly apprised of our president’s stupidities, ignorance, impulsiveness, and more of the same—no doubt all true.
   What surprises me is that as far as I know, there are no rebuttals issued by the Trump camp. These attacks that would be slander if they weren’t true are simply being absorbed, so to speak.

   I have a simple, two-part, explanation and wonder whether any readers have a more complex one.  [1] Trump himself doesn’t read these attacks and, for the most part, is ignorant of them. And [2], his aids and hangers-on have no motive to rebut them, even when on occasion they don’t agree. For them, in the language of game theory: high risk, no gain.