Monday, July 10, 2006


By Thomas Riggins

SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE SAUDI-U.S. CONNECTION by Gerald Posner, Random House, 2005, 254pp., reviewed by William Grimes in The New York Times 5-21-05.

Remember the news clip of Bush holding hands with Crown Prince Abdullah back at the ranch? Grimes thinks that is a good symbol of the US-Saudi relation-- very cozy. It is also the subject of this book-- which, by the way, Grimes doesn’t think too much of because it is derivative and unoriginal. Grimes says it does show that “the thirst for Saudi oil and the greed of American companies... have driven the United States into an unseemly alliance with a corrupt ruling family [he doesn’t mean the Bush family, but I don’t know why] whose chief export, besides oil, is the fanatical brand of Islam that led to the 9/11 attacks.” The reviewer doesn’t mention the fanatical brand of Christianity that has killed about 100,000 Iraqis. Posner does have one new thing to tell us-- i.e., the Saudis have a Dooms Day plan to destroy all their big “wells, refineries, pipelines and storage depots”-- in case they are attacked. One push of the button and Arabia becomes one big oil flambĂ©! When attacked? I should think they would wait to see if they lose first. Also, the explosive devices are hooked up to dirty bombs! So much for the new information-- and even that is somewhat speculative. Grimes concludes, “There may be an inside story to be told. But it’s not here.”

MARRIED TO THE MILITARY-- FOR BETTER OR WORSE by Karen Houppert, Ballentine Books, 2005, 248pp., reviewed by Laura Shapiro in The New York Times Book Review,
Sunday, June 5, 2005.
After reading this review it must be for the worse. How would anyone feel married to someone who was in an organization run at the top by a bunch homicidal maniacs? You think the government appreciates the grunts who fight for US corporate interests? Think again. The pay is so low “that more than a third of military families make use of federal poverty programs.” This is a book about what it is like to be a military wife. It is such a great experience that 64 percent of the wives don’t want their husbands to re-enlist. And, what does being in the military do to the husbands as human beings? Well, “rates of domestic violence are much higher than among civilians.” The review doesn’t give the exact rate (maybe its too shocking?). Please note the use of the word “official” that Shapiro uses in this quote: “From chapter to chapter, what emerges as the defining feature of the whole military-domestic complex is an official commitment to gender stereotyping at its most extreme and relentless.” This should tell you that besides hating gay people the Pentagon also hates women! What happens to your brain when you are married to the military. Speaking about the war in Iraq one of the wives says “’I’m surprised the CIA hasn’t planted some,’ she added, alluding to weapons of mass destruction. ‘I’m like, please, just plant something and let me believe.’ “ When the only way you can feel good about your country’s military is to practically beg to be brainwashed you know it is all over. If that’s how the wife thinks, just imagine how fried the husband’s brain is. Two eggs frying-- “this is your brain in the military.” But the wife has the right idea. She says, “You have to support the troops; what are you going to do?” She is correct. We must support the troops. But the Pentagon is misusing them in order to swell corporate profits. The best way to support them is to bring them home now-- and get them out of the control of the codswalloping Republican militarists in Washington. Don’t enlist, don’t re-enlist, and ladies-- if you have any desire for a normal life-- don’t marry anyone in the military. Houppert concludes that the basis of the problem with the wives is the “vast disconnect between what the Army [et. al.] believes about wives experiences and the reality of that experience.” Shapiro concludes that, with respect to the world of the military wife, Houppert “is a skillful guide to its paths and shadows.”

HENRY SIDGWICK: EYE OF THE UNIVERSE: AN INTELLECTUAL BIOGRAPHY by Bart Schultz, Cambridge, 2005, 858pp., Reviewed by Martha Nussbaum in The Nation, June 6, 2005.

A great review of what looks like a great book. Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) was one of the three great English philosophers in the the tradition of Utilitarianism, along with Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Remember the Utilitarian slogan: “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Too bad we can’t agree on what that good is.
Sidgwick is mostly remembered for his book The Methods of Ethics. Still a good read. This biography discusses both his personal life and his philosophy. He lived in a Victorian closet, even though he was married with children. Nussbaum writes, “He tried hard to be a proper Victorian, but he failed in two big ways, losing faith in God and owning up (though not publicly) to forbidden desires for sex with men.” [By the way, we can see how backwards the so-called Christian right is for still peddling these pre-Darwinian prejudices.] Nussbaum points out the three major ideas of Utilitarianism-- namely 1. consequentialism-- always choose that which brings about the best consequences, 2. sum-ranking-- we add up everyone’s satisfactions to get a total which would express the greatest good for the greatest number, 3. a definition of what is ‘the good’. Most Utilitarians opt for “pleasure”-- at least Bentham, Mill, and Sidgwick did. Sidgwick, Nussbaum says, had a major problem he was never fully able to solve. He called it the “dualism of practical reason.” It goes like this. I’m after maximum happiness (pleasure) so why should I sacrifice any of it in order to help someone else? I feel a duty to perhaps but is it a rational thing to do? Can society make me feel pleasure in sacrifice? Sidgwick also said that we must make moral or ethical judgments from “the point of view of the universe”-- i.e., impartially. But how can we be impartial if our own pleasure is involved? Only the elite can figure this out. So he ends up with “indirect utilitarianism.” Following the tradition of Plato’s “philosopher kings” he thinks that, according to Nussbaum, “only a select few could be trusted to know the true principles of Utilitarian ethics, and the rest of the people would be better off believing in ordinary morality, with its notions of virtue and vice.” Marxists should disagree with this notion of an “elite.” While Communist Parties have had a notion of “vanguardism” it was never the view that the masses were too ignorant (or worse, stupid) to understand Marxist thought. Rather the view is that education will bring intellectual equality in moral and ethical understanding to all. So the Utilitarians have, perhaps, not answered the question “How can we be happy while at the same time pursuing fairness?” I think Marxists have a better shot at dealing with this question. Nussbaum has written a very interesting and informative review and this book should be read by anyone interested in these kinds of problems.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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