Archive | August 2014

Request for the readership

 I am going to be running free Kindle offers for each of my three books over the next couple of months. The first one will be for Trojan Hearse: A Light Look at the Dark Side of the War on Terror. This free offer will run on Tuesday, September 16, for one day. I’d like to try to let as many people as possible know about the offer.

If you’ve read Trojan Hearse, or any of my other novels, then please consider writing an (honest) review on Amazon. If you have a friend with a Kindle, tell him or her about the free offer, which can be found on my Amazon website, https://www.amazon.com/author/charlesvella. I’ll send out reminders as the date approaches. Please also like this posting on Facebook and pass it along. If you don’t have a Kindle then send me an email at CharlesLVella@gmail.com and I’ll send you a hard copy in exchange for a review.

This is something of an experiment to see whether Facebook can generate more attention for this kind of an offer. Self-publishing is like starting any other small business. To be successful you need to put out a good product and let people know about it. I keep working on the product, and this is an attempt to let more people know about it. There are thousands of self-published books coming out every day. If you think mine are worth looking at, then consider tell a friend. Thanks.

Lion Feuchtwanger and Joseph Goebbels

Among the many things that I think are wrong with the world is the undoubted fact that more people remember Joseph Goebbels than Lion Feuchtwanger. If you don’t remember either of them, Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister who looked like a character actor specializing in horror movie corpses. A creep’s creep. Feuchtwanger was a German-Jewish writer who wrote a novel about the rise and fall of the Nazi party in 1930, his timing being admittedly off even if his heart was in the right place. That book is called Success, and I’ve written a review of it.

Among the many things that I think is wrong with the world is the undoubted fact that more people remember Joseph Goebbels than Lion Feuchtwanger. If you don’t remember either of them, Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister who looked like a character actor specializing in horror movie corpses. A creep’s creep. Feuchtwanger was a German-Jewish writer who wrote a novel about the rise and fall of the Nazi party in 1930, his timing being admittedly off even if his heart was in the right place. That book is called Success, and I’ve written a review of it.

Among the many things that I think is wrong with the world is the undoubted fact that more people remember Joseph Goebbels than Lion Feuchtwanger. If you don’t remember either of them, Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister who looked like a character actor specializing in horror movie corpses. A creep’s creep. Feuchtwanger was a German-Jewish writer who wrote a novel about the rise and fall of the Nazi party in 1930, his timing being admittedly off even if his heart was in the right place. That book is called Success, and I’ve written a review of it.

So what do those two guys have in common? Feuchtwanger also wrote a book called Jew Suss, which I haven’t yet read but I understand is the story of human weakness, pride, and ambition. (No lack of material there.)

Feuchtwanger moved to America out of what appear in hindsight to be realistic concerns about how he might be treated if he went home. He might have been clued in by the fact that the French threw him in jail for being a German, and after Germany defeated France the Vichy government kept him there because the Germans wanted him. He lived in a time when if you weren’t paranoid, you probably weren’t paying attention. (Remind you of any other eras?)

 While Feuchtwanger was in the US being advised to stay there, Goebbels and Hitler were sitting around between bulldozing quaint villages and shooting innocent people, and they essentially redefined truth to mean whatever they wanted it to mean. (Again, remind you of anyone in politics today? Everyone in politics today?) They also decided, being a couple of fun guys, to make some movies. As you might imagine, they weren’t thinking along the lines of Mary Poppins or the Love Bug. And Goebbels seemed to hit on the idea of Jew Suss.

 It’s easy to think of the Nazis as homicidal, lunatic, sexual deviants and wonder what planet they dropped off of. Easy because for the most part, that’s an accurate characterization. But they also had fits of evil genius, and Jew Suss was one of these. What could be better than taking a novel by a Jewish writer and turning it into an anti-Semitic diatribe of a movie? Twisting history or the truth into unrecognizable shapes seems commonplace now, but at the time it was pretty original. On top of it, they actually used decent writers, actors, and directors so that the actual movie was supposedly pretty well made and popular. (I haven’t seen it, not having the stomach for that sort of thing.)

 So what’s the moral of all this? Is there a moral to all this? I think so. People remember Goebbels (or given the state of education today they at least remember Hitler). In fact, you still see the swastika today. (Evidently a Sanskrit word meaning good feeling, although that comes from the Internet so I’m open to it being incorrect.) What is certain is that the swastika was around for centuries and used by cultures all over the world before the far right in Germany adopted it and Hitler decided it’d be something catchy for his flag. (Again, these guys’ originality was in twisting things for their own purposes, not making up new things.)

You still see the swastika tattooed into shaved heads and other places of interest. Madison Avenue must be in awe of Goebbels and the Nazis. What other product has ever brought down an entire country and almost a continent into flaming inferno and remained a viable marketing tool 70 years later? And it’s not just the swastika. The Nazi propaganda methodology, pioneered by Hitler and perfected by Goebbels, which was to twist the truth into a shape its mother wouldn’t recognize and then scream it like a lunatic it at everyone who hints at a different opinion, is alive and well. If you don’t think so, watch a little television. (I don’t watch much, again not having the stomach for it.)

 So the question, if not the moral, is what kind of a society remembers people like Hitler but seems to have completely forgotten not only his victims, but those who actually tried to fight back in some way that? And what is the future of a society that reserves its most admiration for people who knock down and destroy things rather than those who build, grow, and create things?

George Santayana (I know you don’t remember him.) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I used to know a guy who said something similar, “If I had to do it all over again, I probably would.” Whether you like the academic standards of the week being pushed, it would be nice if more people came out of school knowing about Lion Feuchtwanger.

Book Review: Enigma by Robert Harris ★★★★

There’s a lot that’s good about this book. It is set in England during the war, and focuses on the people trying to break the Enigma code used by German U-boats. You can learn something about cryptology from reading it if you’re so inclined. But unlike the whaling chapters in Moby Dick the cryptology never threatens to take away from the story.

 The main character is Tom Jericho, a brilliant mathematician/cryptologist who has folded under the stress and at the beginning of the book is dropped off at Cambridge to try to recover, we don’t know from what except that there is, as usual, a woman involved. Jericho is sent back to the code breaking center, and when he tries to find the woman who broke his heart, runs into another problem of an entirely different kind.

 I won’t tell you any more than that because it would be easy to give away much of the story. Suffice it to say that this is well-written, a good story, and covers a very interesting time and place.

Success by Lion Feuchtwanger (8/2/2014) ★★★★

It’s hard to find anything written about this book. It’s been out of print a long time. What you do find describes it as being about the rise and fall of the Nazi party. That is part of what it’s about. It was published in 1930 and the author eventually found to his surprise that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the fall of the Nazis were premature. Feuchtwanger was imprisoned in France, first by the French because he was a German, and then by the Vichy government because he was wanted by the Nazis. It’s sometimes hard to please anyone. He escaped with the aid of an American diplomat aided by Eleanor Roosevelt. That sounds like the idea for a pretty good novel.

On the surface, Success is mostly about Martin Krüger, who is convicted and jailed unjustly in post World War I Bavaria, and Johanna Krain, who spends the better part of two years trying to free him. This story segues into an extremely thinly veiled, novelized version of the beer hall putsch of 1923. Success was published in 1930, and at that point it appeared that the Nazi party was disappearing into insignificance. It wasn’t until the Reichstag elections of September 1930 that the party polled a significant percentage of the vote. While the novel is a damning account of the early rise of the Nazi party, that doesn’t appear to me to be the actual point of the story.

I won’t tell you about Krüger’s fate in case you decide to find and read the book. In my (humble) opinion though, what Success is really about can be summed up by the quote from its final pages,

Now the voice was speaking of the Market of Justice…Martin Krüger…found himself in one of the worst booths in that market. Do not tell me that he is dead and his fate is finished with. The market still goes on, and you are all doomed to be its customers.

Success is about injustice and the breakdown of law and order, which are two different things. It is set in Bavaria in the early 1920’s, but the story is more universal than that. There are a few people who are dead set against Martin Krüger being freed, a few people who want to free him, and a lot of people who don’t really care. Throughout the book, this single injustice is shrugged away as just one example in a society that doesn’t appear to value justice since the end of the Great War (WWI). As the True Germans (Nazis) begin to rise and become more and more violent, they become the obstacle to Krüger’s freedom. But even when the putsch fails embarrassingly (as did the real one) and their leader Rupert Kutzner (aka Adolf Hitler) flees the field leaving his supporters to the guns of the Army, and it appears that the True Germans are being swept away from power (temporarily as it turned out in real life), the injustice rolls on.

Finally, the novel is also about how little anyone can actually do to help someone else when society turns its back on him. There is a great quote in this book. “Life is a primitive jungle through which everyone had to hack his own path.” That is a realization most parents are forced to accept in some form as their children become adults, and the conclusion that Johanna Krain ultimately comes to.

 I can’t honestly say that I was impressed by the actual prose. It’s hard to know whether the issues were with the writing or the translation, but it drags in parts and the characters flip emotionally with a speed that can give whiplash to a reader trying to keep up. There are also a lot of superfluous characters who don’t have any real role in the story. Having said that though, I was never tempted to give up on it and the second half picked up a great deal from the first. It’s worth getting ahold of a copy. It is an ambitious and important story. I’ll certainly be looking for some of Feuchtwanger’s other works.

 

The Case for Stupidity

I don’t watch much television. (I have to say that or you’d stop reading, but it’s actually true.) But at some point I used to see a commercial that showed babies dressed up in items associated with various professions. One wore a pilot’s hat, another had a stethoscope around his neck. You get the idea. The message was something like anyone can do anything. Very positive. But of course complete nonsense. Every time I saw it I’d think, what about the stupid people?

 Anybody can do anything? I know this is America, but come on. If you believe that, think of all the people you know. Now rank them from the smartest to the least smart (Unless everyone you know has exactly the same intelligence there has to be a least smart no matter how positive a person you are). Now imagine you’re about to have brain surgery. They’re rolling your gurney into the operating room. The anesthesiologist (Yes. I looked up the spelling. I may not be the dumbest person I know but I’m not the smartest either.) puts the plastic mask over your face and tells you to breathe deeply. Now imagine, just as you’re going out, that least smart person you came up with a minute ago leaning down from above, smiling at you, and saying, “Don’t worry. I Know I can do this.”

 You see what I mean? Everyone can’t do anything. So what’s interesting about this? Why bring it up now? The stupid have been with us as long as the rest of us (you notice how I’ve subtly separated them from myself), so what’s new about this? Well I’ll tell you. If you think about it, pilot schools and medical schools actually do, for the most part, have standards. Try to get into medical school if you didn’t finish eighth grade or become a pilot if you try to read maps upside down. So while the commercial sounded good, the people with rocks in their heads really can’t become doctors or pilots (And who really feels badly about that?) So where are those people going?

Think about it. What’s the largest category of employment that doesn’t have any requirements, or at least not any requirements related to intelligence? Exactly. Elected officials. What does it take to become a member of Congress or the President? You need to be 25, 30, or 35 years old and that’s about it. Even the stupid generally manage to reach those ages without trying to change the tires on a moving car or picking up a chainsaw by the wrong end. Elected public service is tailor-made for the stupid. If you don’t believe it, then read the newspapers (Or watch the evening news if you find the newspapers taxing. We won’t think worse of you for it.)

What were the founding fathers thinking? I believe the problem must have been that they spent too much time hanging around each other. Whenever they looked around the room who’d they see? Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. They should have taken a night or two off and hung out in some of the taverns. I bet they would’ve come up with a job requirement or two.

There is a great quote by John Kennedy. He was speaking at a dinner attended by every living American Nobel laureate at the time. He said, “There has never been a greater concentration of intellectual power here at the White House since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” How many times have you read about your elected officials in recent years, from either party, and had something like that come to mind? Alright, I don’t expect everyone in public office to be Thomas Jefferson, but it would be nice if more of them could attain the level of Bonzo in Bedtime for Bonzo (Google it if you don’t know.)

This isn’t a partisan view. I see plenty of examples in both parties and along both ends of the political spectrum. I’m not particularly political myself and don’t have any desire to engage in a political discussion, most of which I find as stupid as I find most politicians. And to some extent I can appreciate the clown show our public servants have become. But at some point there has to be a cost. When bridges and sewer systems crumble while our elected officials debate whatever nonsense they’ve come up with today, it conjures up images of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and remember what happened to Nero, and Rome.