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Lincoln – The Statesman

Lincoln in the World

Lincoln in the World by Kevin Peraino is not your regular biographical history of President Lincoln during the American Civil War. If you are looking for biography of Lincoln, I don’t recommend this book. However, if you are generally familiar with Lincoln and are looking for a different perspective to fill in your knowledge; this book is for you.

Peraino organizes the book in an usual way, focusing on specific relationships between Lincoln and key persons of the period. In this way Peraino illustrates the development of Lincoln, the statesman and diplomat. While never leaving the United States and much focused on the Civil War, Lincoln certainly had his share of international crises and demonstrated quite a high level of skill in international relations. Perhaps the most important was to ensure that no European power sided with the Confederacy.

In the section Lincoln vs. Seward the reader will learn a good deal about Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. At first being rivals for the presidential nomination, Lincoln and Seward grew to be quite an effective diplomatic team relying on each others strengths.

I found a quote from Seward to be very apropos of a political view much needed today “I learned early from Jefferson that, in political affairs, we cannot always do what seems to us absolutely best. We must be content to lead when we can; and to follow when we cannot lead; and if we cannot at any time do for our country all the good that we would wish, we must be satisfied with doing for her all the good that we can.”

A second quote from Seward gave me great pause to consider current world and our relationship to China. Seward said “The nation that draws the most materials from the earth, and fabricates the most, and sells the most of productions and fabrics to foreign nations, must be, and will be the great power of the earth.”

In the section Lincoln vs. Palmerston, describes the diplomatic balancing act needed to manage the economic effects of king cotton on the British economy. Peraino’s descriptions of the Trent Affair (abduction of Confederate agents Mason and Sidell from British ship, HMS Trent, in international waters) is an excellent example of the Lincoln/ Seward diplomacy.

Most readers know Karl Marx for his Communist Manifesto. Little known to this reader was that Karl Marx was quite the international journalist and critical observer of the American scene during the Civil War. In the section Lincoln vs Karl Marx, we learn that he was one of the most widely read columnists of New York Tribune.

I found the section on Lincoln vs. Napoleon perhaps the most interesting. In the deep recesses of my memory I knew the basics of Napoleon’s ventures in Mexico and his installation of Maximilian as puppet Mexican emperor. However, what was surprising to me was uproar in the United States to invade Mexico at the same time

Particularly interesting was a 4 hour meeting between the Confederacy’s Vice President, Alexander Stephens, Lincoln and Seward at Hampton Roads, Va on February 3,1865. The topic was a serious proposal by Stevens for the Union and Confederate armies to join forces and invade Mexico to expel the French army! Lincoln was skeptical of the proposal and nothing came of it.

Crystal Clear – How crystals may have won World War II

Crystal ClearI just finished a very interesting book on a little known aspect of World War II history. There have been many books on technological developments of World War II that allowed the Allies to when the war. For example, in ‘The Invention that Changed the World‘, Robert Buderi describes how a small band of scientists and engineers developed radar. This invention was the key advantage during the Battle of Britian.
However, as a ham (radio amateur) of 50 years, I am always interested radio related technologies and ham radio contributions. In his book, ‘Crystal Clear‘, Richard J. Thompson, Jr. describes how the development of military radio using crystal oscillators gave the Allies a major advantage.
Prior to World War II the fledgeling crystal oscillator was dominated by one & two man companies serving the ham radio community and a very limited industry base. The outset of the war, the Signal Corps was still wrestling with the choice between crystal-based radios from this almost nonexistent industry and the more mature master oscillator design. The final decision swung to crystal design because of the poor stability of master oscillators in moving platforms such as armored vehicles and airplanes. Once committed the Signal Corps had the daunting task of creating an industry that could meet wartime demands. From only 100,000 units produced in 1941, the industry grew to produce 5.8 MILLION units in 1942 and a staggering 20.3 MILLION in 1943!
As a direct result of using crystal oscillator radios the Allies were able to have reliable communications at all echelons of command. Allied Signal Corps men could rely on accurate frequency assignments when planning and executing operations across the world.
The story of this amazing growth is one of unprecedented cooperation between the civilian government, the military and industrial rivals. The elements of this effort start with securing the only known source of radio-grade crystals in heart of Brazil to the hand delivery of critical crystals in support of important military operations.

Are we killing our bacteria friends?

Missing MicrobesFull disclosure – in my youth I found Paul de Kruif’s book, Microbe Hunters, one of the most captivity books and for awhile considered becoming a pathologist. I eventually was captured by the electronic technology bug but never lost an interest in our invisible biology. This is important for Martin Blaser’s new book, Missing Microbes. If you are a germophobe or squeamish about the fact that we are colonized by billions of bacteria in every crevice of our body, inside and out, then this book isn’t really for you.
However, if you are concerned about what may be happening to our bacterial ecosystem through the extensive and inappropriate use (Blaser position) of antibiotics in our food and as medical treatments; then you will find Missing Microbes compelling book.
Blaser starts off modestly with some personnel history and evolutionary history of homo sapiens along with our bacterial brethren. The human microbiome that consists of 10 times more cells than our entire body and weighs a staggering 3 lbs! Blaser describes the rise of pathogens and our response with the creation of “wonder drugs”, antibiotics.
Much of the book addresses our gut bacteria, H. pylori. H. pylori is the cause of ulcers and contributes to stomach cancer but also has therapeutic benefits!
The book’s main theme is our use/over use of antibiotics in modern life and the implications for human health. For example, in our food, livestock are given large doses of subtherapeutic antibiotics for rapid weight gain. If this treatment works for livestock does it have a similar effect in us? Does ingesting these antibiotics in our food supply (use in the EU is band) affect our microbiome?
I found Blaser’s description of the relationship between a mother’s microbiome and the birth process one of the most interesting discussions. Blaser roundly condemns elective C-section births and post natal antibiotic treatments as endangering babies for life of health complications.
Much of the book addresses our gut bacteria, H. pylori. H. pylori is the cause of ulcers and contributes to stomach cancer but also has therapeutic benefits!
Blasser even addresses heartburn and acid reflux (GERD). Isn’t it fundamentally plausible that if we are impacting our microbiome with antibiotic use then there would be a price to pay in our digestive processes?
In summary, Martin Blaser has laid out sound arguments based on his own studies (and others) that our indiscriminate use of antibiotics is contributing to many of modern maladies. The reader is cautioned however that Blaser does freely speculate and frequently extrapolates to more general conclusions than is supported by current data. In his defense, however, Blaser does indicate his opinion or the need for further investigations in these cases. It is left to the reader to carefully note these author speculations.