20 Jun

‘They Might be Giants’ (1971) Film Review

Sherlock Holmes has taken many forms over the centuries, none more compelling and engaging than in this eye-popper.

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George C. Scott, at the height of his considerable powers, is Justin Playfair who had been an attorney of note and then a judge of discerning insight, striving always for justice in large and in small things. Striving always and never yielding, but the years passed and world seemed no more just and then his wife died. Lost of her compass, Justin shut himself away in the family mansion, for Justin has many dollars, and became….a reborn Sherlock Holmes, complete with period costume, laboratory, and (a poor) Brit accent. He secrets himself away in the house for months at a time in a waiting game with Professor Moriarty, who else, the nemesis.

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Justin’s brother needs money and a lot of it soon to pay off a mobster, and sets in motion the wheels to have Justin committed to a mental asylum so that he, the brother, can take control of the dosh. He finds a compliant doctor who will sign anything for a dollar, and then needs a second expert’s signature. Enter none other than Dr Mildred Watson, played by that star of the Hollywood firmament, Joanne Woodward, a frumpy single woman with broken fingernails and an irritating manner.

Yes, Holmes has his Watson, at last! What follows is movie magic when movies still had magic.

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Playfair as Holmes is a force of nature and intellect (‘I never guess!’). When she introduces herself as Dr Watson, Scott’s eyes pop off the screen; even on a DVD on a small television, he is electric.

Of course, he’s nuts, she can see that, but…. well, it takes time to be sure. He meets her, he because he wants a Watson, she because she wants a diagnosis that can be published to enhance her career. Both get more.

Scott’s march down the hall of the mental hospital is a delight to behold. Force of nature, indeed! (No spoiler. But Scott was a Marine for four years and it shows.) It gets better when, with his deductive powers, he diagnosis one of Watson’s patients far better than she has been able to do, working by the book.

It turns out someone is now out to get Scott, to settle the wayward brother’s debts, and the game is afoot.

The search for clues leads to a telephone exchange where a scene with a caller and an operator stayed in my mind for near fifty years. That is some credit to all the players, writers, and directors. When the operator turned, I knew what to expect. It was silent comment on enslavement of us all to the machine that is society, which Michel Foucault would recognize.

There is much more, but best of all is a scene and speech. which over the ensuing many years I have sometimes quoted and often recalled.

Seeking respite from the pursuing villains, Scott takes Watson to a theatre, an old broken down movie house; as they climb the stairs, she, querulous, asks ‘Why here?’ ‘Why … because they only show westerns here,’ says Scott as though naming the self-evident.

‘Huh!‘ is the learned doctor’s reply. Patiently, as to a slow-witted child, he explains why westerns are the ultimate expression of morality. It goes something like this: ‘If you look closely at Westerns you can see principles, the possibility of justice; you can see individuals who move their own lives, bringing them to the ends they deserve.’ There are no masses, no bureaucracies, no excuses. (Bring on Randolph Scott! I cried.)

There are false notes to be sure. Jack Gilford is wasted. The episode with the garden elves is pointless. The scenes of sidling are silly and without purpose. The plot is full of holes. If it is blackmail, no one seems to care. The march of acolytes at the end is fun but pointless, and the final descent in the end still seems…. confusing., incomplete, a let down. Writers sometimes just cannot figure out what to do at the end, maybe because they do not want it to end. I know, in this case, I did not either. A great trip with no arrival like ‘L'année dernière à Marienbad’ (1961).

It is a tribute to many hands that Joanne Woodward, that belle from Georgia by way of LSU in Baton Rouge, could be turned into this dowdy woman, she who melted the screen fours years later in ‘The Drowning Pool’ with that molasses accent and honey blond beauty. Here she looks exhausted and cranky or cranky and exhausted with a big city accent, and shambles around like a lame department store window mannequin. She has many other credits, of course, and I mention a few for the sheer pleasure of calling them to mind: ‘The Long Hot Summer’ (1958), ‘The Sound and the Fury’ (1959), ‘The Fugitive Kind’ (1960), ‘Paris Blues’ (1961), ‘A Fine Madness’ (1966), ‘Rachel, Rachel’ (1968), ‘Winning’ (1969), ‘The Effect of Gamma Rays’ (1972), the list goes on.

Woodward-1.jpg Woodward-2.jpg

Scott, he too from the South — Virginia, was never better, and that is high praise. Among his remarkable performances was the prosecuting attorney in ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ (1959) who was so smart that he outsmarted himself, ‘The Hustler” (1961) as an avaricious agent, one of many crazed generals in ‘Dr Strangelove’ (1964), before taking the world by storm in ‘Patton’ (1970). He also did a noteworthy television series ‘East Side, West Side’ (1963-1964) as a social worker in the bowels of New York City. He had the reputation for professional intensity that sometimes put off other actors. Once he was in-character, he stayed there for the duration. Though not trained as a method actor, he out-methoded most of them.

Scott intense.jpg That intensity shows in another role.

The IMDB entry is sketchy with only first names for the characters, and not all of them. It has a rating of 7.0 which is respectable but not high enough.

I saw ‘They Might be Giants’ on the wide screen in Edmonton Alberta Canada when a callow graduate student and a night at the movies was a major financial commitment. It was memorable and I have checked many times in the following decades to see it again. No luck. Then a few weeks ago I happened to check again and lo, there it was on the Amazon site. I ordered it and when it arrived, I ripped it open and watched it, a rare treat that has withstood the test of time.

Put aside suppositions and watch Rowan Atkinson as Maigret.

My membership in the Maigret Fan Club began way back in high school French class, and has continued through irritated readings of Penguin translations which take many liberties with the original text, compounding the sin by boldly proclaiming that they are faithful when it is plain that they are not. I have read all the stories, including ‘Maigret’s Memoirs’ in which Jules Maigret recounts his association with one Georges Simenon.

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While I enjoyed MIchael Gambon’s turn at Jules Maigret some years ago, and recently watched them again, they made many of the characters into cardboard to accentuate Gambon’s Maigret. Gambon was a perfect fit for Maigret physically. Rowan Atkinson is not the doppelgänger of Maigret but his performance is compelling for its simplicity, its inwardness, its intensity, its prism for the emotions of others, its humanity.

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‘Maigret Sets a Trap’ is a gem. It is quiet and slow, qualities that are sure to bore some viewers, but for those with an attention span, it repays attention. The crimes are terrible, the press is irresponsible, the politicians are desperate, and through it all plods Jules Maigret. He has nothing to say to the representatives of the press who joyfully blacken his name. When assailed at a dinner party about the incompetence of the police, he says nothing. Indeed, this Maigret says even less than Simenon’s, and the silence is itself a message. When threatened with censure by his superior, Maigret persists in doing things his way. He says nothing, no theatrics, just more plod.

Margret chooses, as he knows he must, to tell the family of victim, and it is agonising. Almost nothing is said, but the weight of responsibility on Maigret is palpable.

The trap fails, and the minister has to have a scape goat. But the trap did produce a button, and from that button a mighty Niagara eventually flows. (A reference to an aside of Sherlock Holmes on the volumes that can be found in scraps of evidence.) It is ground pounding, endless interviews, triple cross-checking, meticulous examination that finally locates the culprit. No flash of semi-divine insight, no laboratory magic, no table pounding or shouting. Just more plod.

We all know Maigret will prevail, yet there is tension, mainly produced by the silences. Maigret’s techniques of interrogation consists largely of silence, patiently waiting to be told. The desire to tell someone, that is a theme in many of the Simenon’s Maigret novels, sometimes it is boasting, and at other times it is confession.

The team of Lucas, Maigret’s alter ego, muscle man Janvier, and the boyish La Pointe are established.

Gabin Maigret.jpg As Sean Connery IS James Bond, so Jean Gabin IS Jules Maigret with that weathered face, scarred by combat service with the Free French.

simenon.jpg Georges Simenon, one of Belgium's most successful exports.

A Portuguese krimi set in the 1960s during the dictatorship of Prime Minister Antonio Salazar who ruled from 1928 to 1968 with both velvet glove and iron fist.  A body washed up on a beach and the police arrive.  The corpse is that of a man, slightly disfigured by the water but clearly murdered, who is identified as army Major Luis Dantas Castro, a soldier with a distinguished record in Portugal’s many African wars.

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The homicide squad opens a dossier, but then it seems PIDE is involved. PIDE?  Policia Internacional e de Defensa do Estado, the secret political police.  Some months before Dantas had escaped from confinement for plotting the overthrow of the regime. Much of the novel is almost documentary as Inspector Elias Santana studies the dossier. Footnotes add to the verisimilitude.

The inspector is an introspective, methodical, and repressed fellow who speculates, even fantasises about might have happened. Was Dantas killed by government agents? By his own comrades in conspiracy? Or because of sexual jealousy? Elias tries to reconstruct Dantas's last few weeks of life, working from scanty evidence. Elias uses his imagination to create the scenes at the conspirators' hide-out that led up to the murder.

Sad to say that the novel is cryptic, hard to follow at times, and of most interest to those curious about Portugal of the time. And they were interesting times.

Cardoso.jpg José Cardoso Pires

In the 1960s the Portuguese Army chaffed at the isolated and insular dictatorship, in part because it was under-equipped and under-funded for the ambitions of its officers and also in part because the regime neglected its restive colonies which the army had to secure.  At the time the Portuguese Empire included Goa and two other smaller enclaves in India, East Timor, Macau, Angola, Mozambique, Sao Thomas, Cape Verde, the Azores, and Guinea Bisseau and.... The one that got away, Brazil.  

Africa map-1.png Portuguese Africa

Between 1960 and 1974 Portugal was engaged in three colonial wars in Africa in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau.

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While other European powers had been, often reluctantly, withdrawing from colonial empires, Portugal, neutral during World War II, had not. By 1974 it had 220,00 soldiers in combat in Africa. The financial, social, and political impacts in Portugal were extensive. The combined populations of Sydney and Melbourne come to about eight millions, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Imagine them together sustaining three wars in northern Asia without allies.

Salazar was an intellectual, an economist by education, who conceived of Portugal as a pluri-continental, multi-cultural nation. The colonies were provinces which were at a distance from Portugal, but represented in the parliament.  Salazar wrote papers and gave speeches on these themes which taken together with Portugal's undiluted Roman Catholicism, largely untouched by the Enlightenment, made it the New Jerusalem for the entire world. He termed it the Estado Novo, or the New State, a model for all others to follow. This backward, repressed, impoverished, and inward looking country, according to Salazar, was the only pure expression of the West!  (Compare to Albania for its communist purity at the same time.) Like many intellectuals, he apparently mistook words for deeds, and was content to talk, not act.

Salazar desk.jpg Antonio Salazar

During the two generations that he dominated Portugal, it was sealed off from the world. Border control was stricter than in Berlin before the Wall. The PIDE had a reputation like that of the Statsi though not the same kind of massive budget.  

Travel was restricted and all travellers had their baggage searched. not for drugs, but for books that might be illicit.  Karl Marx was at the top of that list but also on it were Thomas Paine, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and William Shakespeare.  

A special literature evolved, cut down to Portuguese size. Huh? All the great works were translated and edited to remove the big ideas of autonomy, liberty, human rights, majority rule, women who were not barefoot and pregnant, judicial review, the rule of law, equality, these were all removed. For example, Marie Curie was excised from science texts.  The Beatles’ music was banned. Foreign movies were cut for screening to remove ideas as well as sex.  

Even Spain, ever a frenemy, was viewed as lax and kept at arm's length.

Brazil was a problem. The regime wanted trade and cultural relations with it because it was and remains the largest Portuguese-speaking country but though it had its own dictatorship, it accepted Portuguese exiles who set up opposition groups there. Because Portugal allowed first the Allies and then NATO to use the Azores it was tolerated and left to its own devices during the Cold War. Perhaps Salazar even hoped that one day Brazil would return to the Portuguese embrace.

There were incidents including the high-jacking of the Portuguese cruise ship the Santa Maria in 1961 by some army officers in mufti. They captured the ship with the aim of going to Angola, amid much publicity to attract supporters, to set up a government in exile.  They were soon apprehended as pirates, and instead went into exile in Brazil.

When the African colonies rebelled with some encouragement and very little support from the USSR, the overstretched Portuguese army lost. Betrayed by the regime, now presided over by Salazar's heir Marcello Caetano, another economist, junior officers (captains, even lower in rank rather than the Greek colonels) effected a coup d'état, and into the breech stepped the flamboyant General Antonio de Spinola (1910-1996), who had had combat successes in Africa yet was known to oppose the wars. The coup was set in motion by a signal, namely a certain fado ballad in which a carnation was a token between two lovers was played on national radio at a specified time. Thus began the Carnation Revolution.

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The regime, seemingly eternal the day before, fell in one stagger. The result morphed into democracy in Lisbon. Spinola wore a monocle, ergo flamboyant. There are a few parallels to De Gaulle’s return during the Algerian crisis in France, but with this difference, Spinola was committed to ending the wars and he did. It was said then and now, that only he could have done this. He had served among Portuguese volunteers in the Spanish legion with the Germans at Leningrad, and had led successful military operations in the Portuguese African colonies. His family was connected to Salazar. As a result, he had credibility and prestige with the old guard, but at the same time he was a hero to the captains and earlier he had made clear in writing his opposition to the wars at the expense of his own career.

'The Murmuring Coast' both the novel and the 2004 film comment on Portugal's African war(s) in a retrained way. The film screens on SBS now and again.  

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True his word, General Spinola ended the colonial wars from one day to the next and negotiated settlements with the African colonies, made contact with China about the future of Macau, and left Timor. Thereafter as Portuguese democratic politics went left in the heady days, now largely forgotten, of Euro-Communism, Spinola went into exile himself to Brazil, where he plotted against the democratic regime with a small group of acolytes in a pathetic coda for a larger than life figure. He did return to Portugal and lived the rest of his days in quiet retirement.  

There seems to be no biography of him in English.

Alexander Hamilton (1755 –1804) was widely expected to succeed George Washington as leader of the Federalist party, which advocated a strong central government. That is until he was murdered by Vice-President Aaron Burr. Yet his face is there on the ten dollar bill. To find out why, read on.

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Born out of wedlock on the Danish island of St Croix in the West Indies, he was legally a bastard. His mother, a French Huguenot, died when he was fifteen and left him an orphan. He attended a rabbinical school on the island because the Christian schools would not accept a bastard. He was both intelligent and quick to catch on, but his education was basic. He went to work at fourteen for the Cruger Brothers trading company in St Croix which had headquarters in New York City. In later life he was religious, but it is not at all clear he was ever baptised.

St croix island.gif Now part of the US Virgin Islands.

When the local proprietor, Cruger, became ill and returned to New York for treatment, he left his chief clerk, the boy Hamilton, in charge for a few weeks that unexpectedly turned into months. Hamilton had lied about his age to get work by adding two or three years. As Cruger’s absence stretched over the months, Hamilton ran the business, made decisions, signed orders, negotiated prices, initiated law suits to secure payment, signed correspondence, deposited monies, honoured contracts, and took several initiatives. When the owner returned he was very pleased with Hamilton’s stewardship.

This period of management was crucial to Hamilton’s subsequent career. St Croix was part of the triangle trade in slaves, rum (sugar), and New England goods. The man-child Hamilton ran slave auctions. He bought from and sold to New England merchants, who came to know his name from these transactions.

He also drew some conclusions, albeit slowly. First that slavery was abhorrent after his first-hand experiences, and he acted on that conviction often in later life. Moreover, he concluded that those American colonies with which he was trying to do business needed a cash currency of their own, and to get that they had to be united. He also acted on this point later. Without that the business was transacted by converting Spanish dollars, to Portuguese Josephes, to British pounds, to weights of gold or silver, and so on. None of these European currencies was readily available in the New World. Hence transactions were often paid with a mix of coins, metals, and bartered goods. Moreover, a mix of currencies and coins that worked for a Massachusetts contract, did not work for a New York one, and so on and on.

A hurricane flattened St Croix, bringing business to a standstill and in the doldrums Cruger decided to send his protégé Hamilton to the United States for an education. Smart as he was, Hamilton had no systematic education and had to start from scratch to prepare for the entrance examination to the College of New Jersey, before it became the country club of Princeton, until Woodrow Wilson made it into a university. His employer’s connections put him in the company of the social and economic elite just as New York City was becoming the chief city of the American colonies.

Arriving by ship in Boston, he found it an armed camp. The ten thousand citizens were sequestered by two thousand British army regulars. There had much restiveness among the locals because the British parliament was intervening ever more directly into each colony in the search for taxes to pay debts incurred in London. The crown dissolved reluctant local assemblies. Direct taxation was introduced. Protests were ignored. Delegations to the governor(s) were met with a wall of red coats. As Edmund Burke said, the British government’s actions drove the American colonists to rebel. All of this was much discussed by his travelling companions in the week-long stage coach ride to New York City.

Some of the division was religious with Anglicans siding with the crown, and Presbyterians with the colonists. To some Anglicans to dispute the prerogatives of the crown was blasphemous as well as treason.

Hamilton was in a box seat to observe because the members of the New York City elite he joined were in the firing line. It was their businesses being taxed, regulated, controlled in ways never before done.

While Hamilton performed well in the Princeton entrance oral examination, he was refused a place. No explanation survives. The author speculates that his bastard origins might have become known. When Hamilton next visited at Princeton, he came with cannons (during the Revolutionary War). He then turned to King’s College in New York, which was dominated by Anglican loyalists but…needs must. In a later evolution it became Columbia University to leave behind the English connection.

The pot continued to boil and the precocious Hamilton wrote anonymous pieces for newspapers on Enlightenment rights, though largely unschooled, he had read some of John Locke and had a good turn of phrase using natural and geographic images that communicated readily. But by day he sat dutifully in class and kept his opinions to himself. He did however join one of the militia companies created by the Sons of Liberty, which drilled around the local Liberty Pole. He was good at mathematics and learned trigonometry that made him an artillery officer in no time. Later he wrote the bulk of ‘The Federalist Papers’ which was once required reading in every college American history course.

He was not particularly good-looking nor did he speak well, or have a commanding presence according to contemporary descriptions and reports. A sloping forehead, a lantern jaw, a disproportion among his features, close-set eyes were described by his friends. Some of these were later masked by artistic technique in portraits.

Hamilton portrait.jpg Alexander Hamilton

But he did have brains and a will to match which took the form of an enormous appetite for work.

First and foremost, he was Washington’s chief of staff during the last half of the Revolutionary War, and Hamilton did much to win it. He founded the Artillery Corps, and made the first plan of acquisition and use of cannons. Infantry Drill Regulations, the training manual of the US Army, Hamilton wrote the first edition and trained much of George Washington’s Continental Army with it in hand. He was twenty-three at the time. As a field commander he promoted men from the ranks to officers, and this outraged many, but he persisted, and prevailed. He outraged still others by advocating, proposing, planning to emancipate slaves to help repel the British in the south. On this one he did not prevail but antagonised many. Washington supported both these latter initiatives, but even his prestige was inadequate to the second proposal.

One of the many ironies is that South Carolina refused to consider freeing and arming slaves, and Charleston was then duly invested by the British who promptly freed its slaves and enlisted them in the British navy, about 2000 in all. By the way, Dr. Copeland, the indomitable black physician in Carson McCullers's 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' (1940) named one of his children after Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton was slandered by the Tea Party of the day for his bastard birth, his lack of parents, and his foreign birth. An orphan, a bastard, and foreigner. Imagine what Donald Trump would make of that. What a loser! For several years while attached to General George Washington's staff, Hamilton was responsible for all prisoners of war. He negotiated with the British many times to exchange prisoners, to improve living conditions for Americans imprisoned, to seek compassionate release for individuals, to create a schedule of exchanges, to procure medical treatment and food for both American held by the British and for British held by Americans. For his trouble, rivals labeled him a British spy. With the same scruple, when the French entered the war as an ally, the native French-speaker Hamilton became Washington’s liaison with the French. As he spoke French with them, rivals labeled him a traitor for revealing secrets to these foreigners. It is easy to image Fox News mangling all this into one of its outraged broadcasts.

Burr and Hamilton crossed paths many times, first, in the Continental Army, where Burr served a general who hated George Washington and all who served with him, a hate the good subordinate Burr internalised. They were also thrown together after the war in legal studies and in their careers in law. Though neither was important enough to the other to figure in any of the surviving letters from that period. Later when Hamilton bought a house in New York City, Burr was the conveyancing lawyer of for the vendor.

Perhaps because of his background, Hamilton tried to be more of gentleman than a gentleman by birth. Ergo he was ever alert to insults and slanders, and challenged to a duel more than one person he perceived to have slighted him. The first few of these challegenees declined the honour. Washington himself rebuked him for doing this, supposing there were more pressing matters at hand.

While he was de facto chief of staff for General Washington, his official capacity was an aide-de-camp, a messenger, and the highest rank he achieved was lieutenant-colonel. As an aide-de-camp he could go no higher. Ambitious as he was, and sure that the war would end in a British defeat, he wanted to rise higher, and left Washington’s service to seek a field command in order to do so. There was a rupture of sorts, though each regretted it and said so, but Hamilton got a command with the New York militia and played a decisive role in the final attacks at Yorktown, leaving the army as a full colonel and a reputation for success on the field of battle. His attack at Yorktown was coordinated with the French army there, and proved to be the end.

He married into a wealthy Dutch family but strove always to live off his own meagre income, as a soldier, public servant, lawyer, and author. That was not easy and his wife often took the children back to the paternal estate on the Hudson River.

Washington made him Secretary of the Treasury and he worked like a demon to make the USA a viable economy, through a sinking fund, a national debate, debt consolidation, the mint, the dollar, the reserve bank, tariffs, customs, and more. He bought compliance from the states by assuming their debts from the Revolutionary War. Somehow he found time to ease the secession and adhesion of Vermont from New Hampshire and into the Union as the 14th state. He worked twenty hours a day for many stretches, far more than any of the clerks employed in the Treasury who arrived at work each day to find trays full of directives, orders, draft letters Hamilton had written overnight. At one time he employed twenty-seven clerks exclusively working for him.

Though a native French speaker, and an admirer of French writers and fashion, he foresaw ‘the special relationship’ between the United States and Great Britain and worked at repairing relations with England, first through commerce and later through some unofficial diplomacy, which aroused the animosity of the French lobby in the person of Thomas Jefferson.

During the Quasi-War with France (1798-1800), President Adams commissioned Washington as Commander in Chief who appointed Hamilton a major-general. Since that war was mostly maritime, Hamilton bent himself to enhancing the US Navy and together with President Adams he can be credited one of its chief founders.

Aaron Burr.jpg Aaron Burr, one time Vice President who murdered Hamilton and was later tried for treason at the order of Thomas Jefferson.

Hamilton was never much of a husband to Betsy, the shy, retiring, insecure, hesitant, ill wife who bore him five children; he preferred the company of her vicious, extroverted, well-read, worldly sister Angelica, but there is no reason to believe it was sexual. But he was putty in the hands of a pretty face. When Benedict Arnold bolted, Hamilton believed the lies told by Mrs Arnold, and gave her money, which she promptly used to bolt and join Arnold. Later another woman seduced him and Hamilton crept around to her backdoor several times a week for eighteen months. Her husband then set about blackmailing Hamilton at the very time when John Adams was promoting Hamilton as a presidential candidate. Think Gary ‘The Zipper’ Hart.

The rumour mill worked overtime and finally Hamilton told all in a pamphlet to save his reputation as a public servant and the credit of the Treasury department, at the expense of his personal reputation. Hamilton then resigned. Despite more than twenty inquiries, investigations, trials no peculation was ever discovered. His wife found out of this infidelity by reading about in the newspapers.

But he could not leave public life, and campaigned in the gubernatorial election in New York state against Aaron Burr. Burr claimed Hamilton had slandered him at a private dinner party and challenged him to a duel, and killed him before he reached fifty.

I read Randall’s one-volume biography of George Washington some years ago and liked it.

Randall author.jpg Willard Randall

There is no summing up at the end of the book, so here is mine. Hamilton was an economist avant le mot, one of the very few who realised the importance of establishing the financial viability of the new country even during the Revolutionary War. He had a great capacity for work in the best of the Puritan Ethics..Though many tried to blacken his name, including some heavy hitters like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, his personal probity was absolute. Hamilton was clear-headed and rational in argument, and in anger grew cold and slow, but he never seems to change his mind or accept compromise, though he had enough sense at times to leave the room rather than erupt in anger.

He rose to the occasion time after time and in different ways, first in arriving in the north America, then as a soldier, and then as an economist. He was inventive and no insurmountable task discouraged him. He also despised mobocracy or democracy. The state governments were democracies and they were irresponsible, corrupt, and incompetent and they would always remain so in his view.

But he also he also was putty in the hands of several women, at the expense of his wife, and one of those dalliances, which certainly was sexual, was his downfall.

In public life he made enemies easily, and often deliberately. He would name those who opposed his arguments as dunderheads. The wonder is that he was not killed in a duel earlier. Some of this seems to have been his intellectual arrogance. John Jay was his tutor in college, lent him money in later life, worked with him on the ‘Federalist Papers,’ but once when Jay differed from Hamilton he assassinated his character in print without hesitation.

This book is marred by non sequiturs that increase toward the end, and the story of his last years is truncated compared to the nearly day-by-day account of earlier years. That unevenness may reflect the paucity of sources, the fatigue of the writer, or the demands of the publisher. Whatever the reason, it is obvious.

By non sequiturs I mean passages like this: ‘Hamilton’s proposal was widely opposed. It passed easily.’ Huh? I had several of these ‘Huh?’ moments. There other inconsistencies. Early on Hamilton is said to be not attractive, and later he is said to be so. The goal posts seemed to move.

At some point it is said Hamilton advocated rights for women, but I had not noticed anything on that subject to that page, nor indeed after it.

I also found distasteful the opening of the book with the duel and his death. It makes almost no sense put first without the context of his life, if not his times. But it is lovingly detailed, the stroke of the oars, the colour of the coat, the shine on the pistols… I suppose this was the demanded by the publisher.

There are also some typos. This from Harper Collins.



Here is some food for thought, were that possible for the Donald Trumps (and Peter Duttons) of this world.

Who is the most famous American illegal immigrant?

There are many candidates, but have a look in the wallet, bleaders in the U.S.A. Got a ten spot? Look at Alexander Hamilton. He is one of the finalists.

Ten spot.jpg

First, why is he on the ten, and then how did he get there.

He is on the ten because he created the United States currency. He devised the reserve bank system, coinage, paper money and a lot more. A founder indeed. (He was also an artillery officer in the Revolutionary War, more military service that Trump has seen.)

Until he was murdered, it was widely supposed Hamilton would succeed George Washington as leader of the Federalist Party. It was Hamilton who first bruited the Washington Monument.

Hamilton was also an undocumented, illegal immigrant born out of wedlock to a French mother on a Danish island in the Caribbean Sea who entered America at age eighteen. What a trifecta. Moreover his maternal language was French. He learned English as a teenager at a Jewish school and from the Dutch businessman for whom he worked.

What would Trump or his local imitator Dutton make of that?

A voodoo frog on a bicycle and a bastard to boot. Literal in the case of Hamilton and figurative in the other cases.

The closer Donald Trump gets to the Republican nomination the more the media, other Republicans, and some Democrats will discover his virtues. It is always the same, every four years the cycle is repeated as though for the first time.

Earlier in the campaign qualities deprecated and ridiculed in a candidate, will come to be accepted and then celebrated as positive.

For example, inattention to facts will transform to strategic thinking, untrammelled by petty details.

For example, flippant and destructive remarks, will be transformed into suggestions, and trial balloons.

For example, hostility to Hispanics, refugees, Muslims, women, left handers, homosexuals, will become — thanks to the alchemy of opportunism — unifying remarks.

For example, vague and diffuse threats to other nations will become, presto, disguised diplomacy.

The media always leads the way in this prostitution. When it seems a candidate is going to win, the realisation follows that an accommodation will have to be made with the candidate to keep manufacturing the news.

Even a big target like Trump will get the benefit of this self-censorship. Indeed, the more he threatens the media, the sooner some of its representatives will fall into line in the hope of securing favours before others comply. When it comes to self-serving opportunism, no one can beat Murdoch’s organs.

Soon there will be a rapprochement between Foxy News and The Donald. ‘You read it here first!’

Other Republicans will accept their own candidate, no matter what. All the posturing and playing hard to get will evaporate when success looms. The office seekers ever so subtlety seek office with more finesse than Chris Christie.

Then there will be Democrats who see Trump’s pull in their electorate, and have no wish to rile voters. These are the ‘If I keep quiet maybe their will not notice my party label is Democrat’ leaders. Some of them will couch their campaign publicity to omit the very word 'Democrat.' such leaders as they are.

Jimmie Carter went from ‘Jimmie Who?’ to a sage in this kind of transformation. Ronald Reagan’s habit of falling asleep in meetings, became a cool detachment. John McCain’s long past use-by-date became maturity. Mitt Romney's narrow sectarianism became a virtue.

Chick Lit and I want more of it!

A delightful account of the culture clash between a single Swedish tourist who comes to Broken Wheel, Iowa, population 640 and declining. Sara is her name, and though she is classroom fluent in English the Iowa accents and idioms do not readily translate.

Wheel cover.jpg

The good citizens of Broken Wheel are delighted to find a tourist in their dwindling midst. Sara left Sweden because there was nothing there for her, and she is pleased to be warmly welcomed.

Iowa sign.jpg

Sara, however is nonplused, because her pen-pal and prospective host for the stay in Broken Wheel, Amy, is nowhere to be seen. She and Amy have been corresponding about books and life for a long time. The absent Amy has left instructions that Sara should stay in her house and make use of her books. She does.

Broken wheel cartoon.jpg

Caroline runs the town by the force of personality. Formal positions mean nothing, and in the end that pays off, but not before this pillar of rectitude learns herself of sin first hand. Wow!

Jenn chronicles it all in her newsletter, blog, and private diary. Grace observes with disdain, a shot gun at the ready. The Grace women are always armed.

George stays off the drink one day after another, that is, until his long lost daughter returns, and then leaves again. The second loss is too much for George.

Andy and Chris pull the beer at the tavern, and the six hundred residents accept this gay couple without a word.

Cornfields play a part, too, because after all it is Iowa; there are a lot of cornfields, but none as scary as the one in the first episode of ‘Star Trek: Enterprise.’

cornfield.jpg Spot the Klingon.

Then there is handsome Tom who cannot help noticing the new face in Broken Wheel. He is too handsome for her, and she is too smart for him, but, well, in books anything can happen, right Mr Darcy?

Then Gavin the regional representative of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service appears. Gavin hated his old job in the USCIS because he had to arrest and deport hard working, god-fearing, polite, resigned, clean, and illegal Mexicans who never complained about how badly they were treated.

His remit is now Europeans, and Sweden is in Europe, right? Europeans, these he is ready and willing to arrest and deport for the slightest infraction of visa rules. If only…

Gavin descends on Broken Wheel with the full might of Federal government at his disposal, and finds that he is overmatched against Caroline.

Bivald.jpg Katarina Bivald

To give the devil its due, I noticed this comment on Good Reads

‘This book was absolute rubbish. 394 pages of stupid observations written in a clumsy and somewhat childish language combined with unbelievable characters.’

A salutary reminder of why I do not bother with Good Reads.

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Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.
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