Diary of a West Point Cadet

The Book of the Week is “Diary of a West Point Cadet” by Captain Preston Pysh, published in 2011. This slim volume tells of a West Point student’s experiences as a member of the Class of 2003.

Pysh (rhymes with “fish”) was originally from a small farm town in Pennsylvania. He was a growth-oriented, goal-oriented individual who survived the military-style draconian training meted out at the academy because he understood the lessons behind the rigor. The place had a demanding, exacting atmosphere– forcing the students to find creative solutions to problems in serving the upperclassmen. Only about one tenth of the students majored in electrical, mechanical or civil engineering. The author was passionate about aerospace engineering. The highlight of his college career was his senior project– an experimental device for NASA that he and his project-group members tested in a KC-135 aircraft.

Read the book to learn more about Pysh’s trials, tribulations and triumphs in navigating the high pressure, military-career oriented institution that is West Point.

Side Note: This book appears to have been written: a) with the aid of speech-recognition software (which has yet to be perfected) or b) simply never edited after the first draft, as it contained an annoying number of misspellings, skipped words and grammatical errors.

Partisans

The Book of the Week is “Partisans” by David Laskin, published in 2000. This book describes the soap-opera lives of a few of New York’s literati from the 1930’s into the 1970’s; specifically those associated with the left-wing publication “Partisan Review.” The relationships of the people described therein were like those of tabloid celebrities. They had alcohol-related physical fights, breakups and reconciliations with their multiple significant others. However, they considered themselves superior to others because they were literate.

This included promiscuous Vassar graduate Mary McCarthy, who, for a spell, shacked up with Philip Rahv, the journal’s editor. In early 1938, she left him to wed Edmund Wilson, more than a decade her senior. “Philip Rahv and Allen Tate… had a gift for spotting new talent… and sleeping with the discoveries when they were attractive females (sometimes the same females…)” In his lifetime, poet Robert Lowell had to deal with the traumas of mental illness and his parents’ deaths.

The women writers in those days, for whom it was customary to attach themselves to men, being female– were forced to confront the issues of “… power, money, work, prestige, sex, domestic labor, body image and freedom.”

Read the book to learn more about the lives and times, books, articles and poetry penned by other “New York intellectuals” too, such as Jean Stafford, Elizabeth Hardwick, Hannah Arendt, Caroline Gordon and Diana Trilling.

CNN, The Inside Story

The Book of the Week is “CNN, The Inside Story” by Hank Whittemore, published in 1990. This volume tells the history of CNN, Cable News Network. The point of CNN was to create an alternative to the then-three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, that monopolized American TV.

In 1976, Ted Turner owned a company that provided cable TV via satellite, consisting of games of the professional sports teams owned by him, and movies. By the end of the 1970’s his goal was to start a 24-hour cable network of just news. He was like the American president Donald Trump in that “…Turner had set the goal and the deadline and the sense of mission; and now, as he always did, he was putting together the people who knew how to make it happen.” However, the entertainment industry in the United States is a completely different animal from the federal government.

Nevertheless, a headquarters– a previously decrepit structure, gutted and created from scratch– for the new cable channel in Atlanta, had been readied sufficiently to provide minimal functionality in six months. The secretary of Reese Schonfeld, a high executive in the venture, had this to say, “… they had sketched out the whole newsroom one night on the back of a grocery bag…”

Launched in mid-1980, CNN evolved into a “revolving door” station (viewers tuned in periodically to see whether there was breaking news; they didn’t watch it every second) because it had to do things on the cheap and fill 24 hours of airtime every 24 hours. The big three networks practiced cartelizing behavior in order to shut CNN out of information-sharing. So CNN sued all parties involved, not just the networks.

Read the book to learn of what became of CNN, up until the book’s writing.

No Heroes, No Villains

The Book of the Week is “No Heroes, No Villains– The Story of a Murder Trial” by Steven Phillips, published in 1977.

In late June of 1972, an off-duty cop was shot in the Hunts Point subway station in the South Bronx, New York City. If the accused was convicted of all charges against him, he faced the electric chair. However, his lawyer was the famed William Kunstler.

Read the book to learn of the spirit of the times on issues of race, guns, criminal law and jury trials in early 1970’s New York City.

Chester Alan Arthur

The Book of the Week is “Chester Alan Arthur” by Zachary Karabell published in 2004. This history book describes a little-known president who became so, through the assassination of President James Garfield.

In 1871, Arthur was earning about $10,000 a year as counsel to the New York Tax Commission when the average American earned about $500 annually. Arthur’s pay rose significantly when he assumed the powerful position of collector of the customhouse of the Port of New York. He received a percentage of the revenue collected when smugglers were caught. The numerous conflicts of interest and widespread influence-peddling that was considered standard procedure in New York City politics then, would be considered morally repulsive in this day and age.

In 1880, the Republican Garfield chose Arthur as his running mate. “They had won the ticket, but they lived hundreds of miles apart, barely knew each other, and were hardly friends.” In those days, a new president was inaugurated on March 4. In summer 1881, Arthur became president, an unwanted promotion. Nevertheless, he got to ride in the then-equivalent of Air Force One– a luxury horse-drawn carriage.

Read the book to learn of Arthur’s public-service career, and what his administration accomplished despite various unhappy circumstances in his life and times.

The Brethren

The Book of the Week is “The Brethren” by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong, published in 1979. This book documents the power struggles of, and kinds of cases decided by members of the U.S. Supreme Court– the highest court in the land– covering the period from autumn 1969 to the spring of 1976, during President Richard Nixon’s administration.

Annually, the Court received about five thousand petitions that were handwritten, mostly from prisoners appealing their cases. The justices ruled on only a tiny number of cases. The ones they chose to rule on, gave rise to weeks or months of scrutiny, debate, hours of research, and reams of writings. When the justices or their clerks (assistants) gave further consideration to a case, they might procrastinate reviewing the case until the next court session in the fall, or order it remanded to a lower court.

The major controversial cases involved desegregation, pornography, monopolies, abortion, freedom of the press, and the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court had the final say on where local control (States’ Rights) ended and Constitutional protections began.

Warren Burger, a conservative, was the Chief Justice. His authority was exceeded only by the President and Vice President.  Nevertheless, there were usually two or three justices who might vote one way or the other in any given case, as tiebreakers. So they had the real power. The Court members were always divided in their votes along liberal/conservative lines.

The early 1970’s were eventful years for the Burger Court, what with the replacements of a few justices who retired due to ill health; and attempted lobbying of two justices on a monopoly case (considered not just a conflict, but an overtly aggressive act that would have biased the justices had they not been sufficiently principled in demanding the departure of the lobbyist forthwith). Oh yes, and a near-impeachment of a president.

In June 1971, the first installment of the 47-volume Pentagon Papers was published in The New York Times. It was the job of the Court to decide the extent to which publication of the 1945-1967 study of Vietnam would affect: national security, the process of the termination of the war, and release of prisoners of war. However, the government had lied too much about the war already.

The Court– at least five justices– had to decide whether to expedite the case relating to Nixon’s turning over of audiotapes consisting of conversations of administration officials. The overall dispute was not uncommon, over the authority of two branches of the American government– the Executive and Judicial. Nixon (a member of the Executive) was attempting to claim executive privilege (invoking Constitutional protection) in not turning over the tapes. Seven of Nixon’s top aides had already been indicted by a grand jury. They had implicated unindicted coconspirators. One was the President himself.

Those portions of the tapes containing Nixon’s voice engaging in interactions of a conspiratorial nature were not protected by executive privilege. At least one justice believed that such audio evidence bespoke of obstruction of justice.

Nixon’s attorney attended the hearing that would determine the role the Court would play in presiding over Nixon’s conspiracy case. It was the attorney’s contention that Nixon would basically be the judge at his own trial, as he should get to interpret the Constitution, after the Court made a recommendation on the case law.

Read the book to learn the details of the office politics in the Court, different aspects of the endless ideological debates on various super-controversial issues, how the justices dealt with the Chief Justice’s actions, as well as Court-related lore– during a particularly tumultuous time in the nation’s political history.