Monthly Archives: October 2011

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire': A Different Way of Looking at the History of the Superpower That Came Before the U.S.
Long before we were embroiled in conflicts in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the British Empire — yes, the one on which the sun never sets — was there, writes  H.W. Crocker III in “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire” (Regnery Publishing Inc., 384 pages, index, $19.95). Like previous Politically Incorrect Guides, Crocker’s look at the British Empire turns conventional wisdom — which says that empires are by definition bad things — on its head.

Iraq, like Palestine and Transjordan, was handed to the Brits in the aftermath of World War I — called “the Great War” in those days — after  the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary,  was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the victorious Brits and French, with France getting Lebanon and Syria. What was left of the Ottoman Empire became Turkey — the republic — not the bird! in 1923.

The British, Crocker writes, had to contend with many of the same foes as we are encountering now in both Afghanistan and Iraq and they had to deal with the fate of Palestine as Jews and Arabs fought each other — and both fought British soldiers. Crocker discusses at length British soldiers like John Bagot Glubb, AKA “Glubb Pasha,”  who came to Iraq in 1920 and later headed the Arab League, fighting the nascent Jewish army for control of Jerusalem. He also deals extensively with T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia.” Both men, as well as others, fell in love with the romantic image of Arabs, and some, like Harry St. John Philby, father of the traitor and soviet spy Kim Philby, even converted to Islam.

Missing in the book is any reference, even slight, to another British soldier, Major General Orde Charles Wingate (1903-1944), who came to Palestine in the 1930s and ended up aiding the Jews of the mandate, setting up Special Night Squads  to protect Jewish communities from Arab raiders.   No fan of the Arabs, Wingate was a highly religious Christian and ardent Zionist. Assigned to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1936, he began training members of the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization that became theIsrael Defense Forces in 1948 when Israel declared independence. Wingate, today a national hero in Israel, was involved in several other military missions in the Sudan and later with the Chindits in the China-Burma-India front in World War II. He died in a plane crash in that front. Crocker writes about many eccentric British army officers and Orde Wingate certainly qualifies.

What can we learn from the British Empire? Crocker writes that with more than 75 percent of Americans believing the United States’ economy is getting worse,  we can see how the British — the pre-socialist British, that is, he emphasizes — provided a model of limited government, thrift, and economy that we could still stand to learn from today.  I might add that probably the greatest gift we colonists received from the British Empire was the magnificent English language. But, as an English major, I’m not exactly unbiased!

Everywhere the British went, they managed to set up frameworks for democracy that exist today, in most places. I can think of a country where I lived for several months in 2008, Belize in Central America. The tiny country, formerly a British colony called British Honduras, with about 300,000 people in an area the size of New Hampshire (about 9,000 square miles) is a member of the Commonwealth and is a parliamentary democracy. It has avoided the dictatorships and the civil wars of fellow Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua — former Spanish colonies of the region — in large part because it was settled by the British, Crocker would argue. Belize isn’t perfect, but it hasn’t experienced the violence of neighboring Mexico and the other countries I mentioned.

A  small force of British soldiers remains in Belize to train Belizean troops and  to keep Guatemala — which considers Belize to be part of their country–  from invading Belize. I often saw British soldiers in uniform at the big supermarket on the Northern Highway of Belize City. They looked as if they could handle just about anything, as they did in Malaya (now Malaysia) under Gerald Walter Robert Templer, the “Tiger of Malaya” in the 1950s. Templer succeeded in doing in what became Malaysia, what the U.S. and its allies failed to do in Indochina — driving out the Communists.

In an section (Pages 233-243) that is particularly relevant, given the basket case that Zimbabwe is today under Robert Mugabe’s misrule, Crocker discusses Ian Douglas Smith (1919-2007), a decorated Royal Air Force officer and the man who led the Unilateral Declaration of Independence for  Rhodesia that was almost universally attacked, despite being supported, Crocker writes, by a majority of black Rhodesians.

Crocker’s sprawling book says that the British Empire was actually the greatest establishers and defender of freedom in history—despite what the PC professors and pundits would preach. After participating in the African slave trade, with the connivance of African chiefs and Arab slavers, the British changed course and abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833 — and used the massive power of the British Navy to enforce the change.

In his very readable (especially for conservatives and libertarians!) book, Crocker reveals:

* How, far from being anti-imperialists, America’s colonists were more British than the British and wanted to create an empire of their own.

* How Mahatma Gandhi, a British trained lawyer, praised the British Empire for what it had done for India. During World War II, when many Indians were flirting with the Nazis and the Japanese, Gandhi said that “India would be nowhere without Englishmen” making the point that the Germans and Japanese were not the models to follow (Page 145).

* How the British Empire handled today’s troubled hot-spots—like Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, andPakistan
What the world would be like if the British Empire were still governing a quarter of the globe—hint: everyone would be a lot better off, Crocker says.

If all you know about the British Empire was what you learned in high school or college or at the movies, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire will be enlightening — and surprising. But you have to approach this P.I.G. with the proper open-minded attitude, checking your Political Correctness at the door.

About the Author 

H.W. Crocker III is a bestselling author who frequently writes about military history. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to the Civil War, Robert E. Lee on Leadership, Triumph, Don’t Tread on Me,and the prize-winning comic novel The Old Limey. His journalism has appeared in National Review, The American Spectator, The Washington Times, and many other outlets. Educated in England and California, Crocker lives on the site of a former Confederate encampment in Virginia.


Parallel Universe: Bring Back Glass-Steagall and Turn Banks Into Credit Unions

By David M. Kinchen

Thomas L. Friedman hit the nail squarely on the head when he suggested needed Wall Street financial reforms in a wide-ranging Sunday, Oct. 30 opinion piece in the New York Times:

“We can’t afford this any longer. We need to focus on four reforms that don’t require new bureaucracies to implement. 1) If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big and needs to be broken up. We can’t risk another trillion-dollar bailout. 2) If your bank’s deposits are federally insured by U.S. taxpayers, you can’t do any proprietary trading with those deposits — period. 3) Derivatives have to be traded on transparent exchanges where we can see if another A.I.G. is building up enormous risk. 4) Finally, an idea from the blogosphere: U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they’re taking money from. The public needs to know.”

(Link to Tom Friedman’s column:

Friedman’s column starts with the story of Citigroup having to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, “with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.”

Why these guys and gals aren’t dressed in prison garb and picking up trash around a Club Fed is beyond me — and probably beyond the Occupy Everywhere people. I’d like to see all these financial wizards in prison, stripped of their smartphones and fancy duds.

I’d also like to see a reversal in our treatment of banks, going back to the 1933 Glass-Steagall act that separated commercial and “investment” banks. I put the quotes around investment because most of them have shortchanged investors and have made money only for the principals of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and all the rest of them. Glass-Steagall also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which was virtually the only part of the act that was retained in 1999 when, at the urging of President Bill Clinton and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Glass-Steagall was replaced with Gramm-Leach-Bliley. G-L-B led inexorably — in my opinion — to the irrational exuberance and bubble economy that contributed to the 2008 meltdown and the recession that still continues, despite the federal government’s insistence that it ended in June 2009.

Tell that to the people who are underwater in their overpriced houses, an inevitable outcome of Clinton and Bush 43 insisting that the U.S. should become a nation of homeowners. Forcing people to become homeowners is like force-feeding geese to produce pate de foie gras; it’s a form of animal cruelty, if we consider underwater homeowners to be animals! (Amphibious ones?).

Switzerland and Germany are widely considered to be affluent countries, yet their homeownership rates are 29 percent and 40 percent, respectively, according to a site I discovered (Link: Canada, with a homeownership rate of 64 percent, didn’t have the mortgage meltdown that afflicted the U.S., with a 59 percent homeowner rate. (I’ve seen U.S. homeownership rates as high as Canada’s but with all the foreclosures, I think that number for the U.S. is probably correct). Greece has a homeownership rate of 72 percent, yet it’s a basket case financially. My point: There doesn’t seem to be a correlation between homeownership and prosperity when it comes to nations  — or states, for that matter. West Virginia has the highest homeownership rate of all the 50 states, largely because it’s a rural state. It’s also one of the poorest states in the union based on per capita income.

The site where I found these numbers makes another point that, despite the passage of years, still sounds sensible to me:
“America’s decline in home ownership is symbolic of a larger erosion in living standards, which Americans have met in two ways. The first is that America has gone deeply into debt to maintain its lifestyle. The second is that families have been able to hold ground only because wives have joined their husbands in the work force. (Note: this is a comment on the difficulty of making ends meet, not on working women!)Europe and Japan suffer much less from either of these problems.”

Debt and savings numbers from that site support the quoted statement.

The site says the U.S. has an average household debt of $71,500, followed by the United Kingdom with $35,500, Germany with $27,700, the Netherlands with $5,000 and Switzerland with a mere $800 — which is about where I stand. (I have a deathly fear of debt and refuse to buy anything that has to be financed). The site’s numbers are several years old, but from what I’ve found in other Google searches, the comparisons between countries are still valid.

What about household savings, from the same site? Japan tops the list with $45,118, followed by Switzerland with $19,971, Denmark with $18,405, France and Germany with $17,649 and $17,042; the U.K. with $7,451 and the U.S. at the bottom with $4,201.

Now about different types of banks. Germany has a form of bank that basically performs the same functions as our credit unions, called publicly or state owned banks (link:

This model is followed in only one state in the U.S., North Dakota, which has a state owned bank. It also has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and is begging for more workers, especially in its petroleum sector. Coincidence? I think not.

I say to reformers, let’s change all federal banks into credit unions, which are basically banks owned by the depositors. Sounds like socialism, doesn’t it? Texans must like socialism because two of the biggest financial institutions in the Texas town of 12,000 where I live are credit unions!  (TDECU, which stands for Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, and Cal-Com Federal Credit Union). Credit unions are open to all and are federally insured, like banks.

And from what I’ve heard, they help keep Prosperity Bank, IBC, Capital Bank, First National Bank, Wells Fargo and the other banks in Port Lavaca in line. Both the credit unions and banks require sound credit ratings and substantial downpayments on any loan, home or car, that they make.

Friedman ends his column with a statement that I can agree with — and that the Occupy folks should, too:
“Capitalism and free markets are the best engines for generating growth and relieving poverty — provided they are balanced with meaningful transparency, regulation and oversight. We lost that balance in the last decade. If we don’t get it back — and there is now a tidal wave of money resisting that — we will have another crisis. And, if that happens, the cry for justice could turn ugly. Free advice to the financial services industry: Stick to being bulls. Stop being pigs.”

Right on, Tom!

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ZooBorns Cats!: The Newest, Cutest Kittens and Cubs from the World’s Zoos

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'ZooBorns Cats!: The Newest, Cutest Kittens and Cubs from the World's Zoos' A Delightful Followup Book to 'ZooBorns'
How cute it is!  Too cute for words alone, so that’s why in “ZooBorns Cats! The Newest, Cutest Kittens and Cubs from the World’s Zoos” (Simon & Schuster, 160 pages, $11.99)  Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland have come up with a wonderfully photographed, strictly feline sequel to their two previous “ZooBorns” books. For my Nov. 2, 2010 review of their “ZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from The Worlds Zoos and Aquariums” click:

That wonderful book, which I treasure, included feline newborns, of course, but this book is exclusively feline. Check out the   photos (Pages 116-121)  of a somewhat scary looking — but still cute — melanistic or black Jaguar cub named Magala who calls the Bosphorus Zoo in Turkey his home.

I first saw Jaguars at the wonderful, fun and educational Belize Zoo several miles from Belize City in the central American country when we lived there for several months in 2008. Melanistic jaguars represent about 6 percent of the elusive big cats, the third largest big cats after lions and tigers and the only big cats native to the Americas.

Black jaguars are the same species as the spotted coat ones, and if you look closely (but be careful, they have the most powerful jaws of any feline!), they have the same markings as spotted ones  My chief reference on Jaguars — and one of the reasons we decided to spend some time in Belize — is Alan Rabinowitz’s “Jaguar” (Arbor House, 1986). Rabinowtiz, an American, studied Jaguars in Belize and is credited with helping preserve the species. (For more on black jaguars in Belize, click on:

Cats are widely believed to hate water, but the fishing cats (Pages 20-23) of southeast Asia, includingThailand  not only aren’t scared of water but are experts in seizing prey in water, hence the name. Chet, Lek and Kiet, the fishing cats illustrated and described in this book, are cute beyond description!  (You can tell I like cats!). They’re at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

“ZooBorns Cats!” is a wonderful book for adults and young people alike, a book to treasure and read again and again. It’s an important contribution to efforts to preserve endangered feline species throughout the world, including jaguars, Persian leopards and Amur leopards (pages 130-135). With only 30-35 individuals remaining in the wild, Amur leopards are critically endangered, making Tuffy, born in 2010 at theJacksonville (FL) Zoo an important cat indeed.

In sharp contrast to the disaster of the Zanesville Ohio man who haphazardly collected wild animals, accredited zoos and aquariums staffed by dedicated professionals are important in the preservation of animals like the ones in the “Zooborns” books. The books illustrate the connections between zoo births and conservation initiatives in the wild.

About the Authors

Andrew Bleiman is a lifelong animal nerd who serves on the Auxiliary Boards of the Lincoln Park Zoo andShedd Aquarium in Chicago. He also runs, a bizarre zoology news blog on the ScienceBlogs Network (a division of Seed Media). In his day job he develops new media strategy for theBradford Group.  Chris Eastland is a classically trained artist and photographer, who studied and taught at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy, and now lives in Brooklyn. Chris was formerly the Photography Editor for Quest Magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings’: Alison Weir Rehabilitates Reputation of Anne Boleyn’s Older Sister

BOOK REVIEW: 'Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings': Alison Weir Rehabilitates Reputation of Anne Boleyn's Older Sister
The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones — Mark Antony in Act 3 of “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare
Mark Antony could have been talking about Mary Boleyn, the older sister of Henry VIII’ s ill-fated second wife, Anne, who failed to provide Henry with a male heir, instead giving birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I. In her forensic biography “Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings” (Ballantine Books, 400 pages, 16 page color  photograph insert, bibliography, index, $28.00) Weir provides a fresh look at a much maligned woman.

Tudor junkies who read “Mary Boleyn” can get their fix with the most logical scenarios of a woman whose reputation has been tarnished — to say the least — by romantic fiction, TV shows and movies, garbled gossip and misconceptions and untruths repeated down through the centuries by historians and others.

I’ve reviewed two books by English historian — and novelist — Weir: “The Lady in the Tower”, a detailed 2010  examination of the trial of  Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife (link to my…/ and a 2009 biography of Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt “Mistress of the Monarchy” (my review:…/

I tell myself and everyone who asks me why I’m so interested in the Tudors that no, I’m not a Tudor junkie, but maybe I am! The era to me is like a chain reaction highway pileup, with people in high places behaving badly, murderously. The gap between the wealthy and the rest of the people was even wider than it is today. Bad behavior is endemic and continues today with the actions of politicians and the CEOs of corporations and investment banks on Wall Street, who behave like kings — proving that the more things change the more they stay the same. By reading about the Tudors we can understand bad behavior — even evil — today.

Using the same kind of extensive forensic research she employed with great effect in “The Lady in the Tower” to show how and why Anne Boleyn was falsely condemned to death — with the participation on the jury of her father Sir Thomas Boleyn —  Weir  presents in “Mary Boleyn”  a rebooted portrayal of her subjects, showing how Mary was treated by her ambitious family and the complicated nature of Mary and Anne Boleyn. She also presents new evidence restoring the reputation of Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, who was falsely rumored to have been an early mistress of Henry VIII.

There’s no doubt that Mary Boleyn was first a mistress of the French king François I, while she was at the French court as lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor, who was married to Louis XII. There’s no doubt that Mary Boleyn was also a mistress of Henry VIII while she was married to her first husband William Carey — and that Henry VIII was most likely the father of her daughter Katherine.

All this sounds like enough to blacken Mary Boleyn’s reputation, but Weir says it’s not enough to justify calling her a  “great and infamous  whore” — one of many epithets attached to The Other Boleyn Girl. Her marriage to Carey was a love match, unusual and even frowned upon in the Tudor era, but Carey was, in Weir’s estimation, a handsome young man who was Henry VIII’s cousin and a rising star in his court. He wasn’t the nonentity that historians have called him.

After Carey died in 1528 of the mysterious plague “the sweating sickness” that afflicted England and consumed many people — including Henry VIII — with terror, Mary Carey lived in a kind of limbo, which continued even after she met and married a soldier named William Stafford, much younger than Mary. It was another love match and Mary’s failure to get her sister’s permission to wed  further estranged the sisters and, for that matter, the entire Boleyn family. Stafford outlived Mary, who died in 1543, probably at the age of 43 or 44. The exact birth dates of Mary and Anne are not known, as Weir explains in detail, but there is no doubt that Mary was a few years old than Anne.

About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of many historical biographies, including The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the MonarchyHenry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and of the novels Captive Queen, Innocent Traitor, and The Lady Elizabeth. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband.
Her websites: and

BOOK REVIEW: Meryle Secrest’s ‘Modligliani’ Debunks Many Misconceptions about ‘Quintessential’ Bohemian Artist

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

      Amedeo (“Beloved of God”) Modigliani (1884-1920) is the very model of the quintessential bohemian artist, renowned as a womanizer, a heavy drinker, an artist who barely scraped by selling his drawings and paintings in cafes.
     In her magnificent biography “Modligliani: A Life” (Knopf, 416 pages, 105
photos in text, 8 pages of color photos, index, notes, $35.00) Meryle Secrest  debunks many of the misconceptions about the Italian artist and reveals how the tuberculosis that eventually killed him shaped his life and drove his final productive years in Paris.
     Modigliani was born in the port city Livorno (Leghorn) Italy with Sephardic Jewish ancestors on both sides of his his impoverished but genteel family. Secrest, born and educated in Bath, England and a naturalized American,  has produced a very readable and comprehensive biography that compares well with her previous depictions of Frank Lloyd Wright, Stephen Sondheim, Salvador Dali, Kenneth Clark, and others.
     Secrest describes Modigliani’s  training as an artist, his carefully hidden tuberculosis (the disease was as shameful in that era  as AIDS is now and sufferers did everything they could to hide it); his striking good looks (although he was a short man at about 5-3)  and his move to Paris in 1906 to practice his art amidst the greatest concentration of artists since the Renaissance.
     Secrest shows how Modigliani the sculptor was influenced by the so-called “primitive” sculptures of Africa and Oceania with the simplified, masklike triangular faces, extremely long necks and elongated silhouettes.Modligliani  was influenced by Sandro Botticelli and others of the Italian Renaissance, and by the monochromatic backgrounds of Van Gogh and Cezanne, as well as the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Secrest says he never was part of a group like the cubists, surrealists or futurists.
     He did it his way as much as another Italian —actually Italian-American — Frank Sinatra. And like Ole Blue Eyes, Amedeo Modigliani had plenty of female companionship. His lovers included Russian poet Anna Ahkmatova, South African born journalist and woman-about-Paris Beatrice Hastings and the woman who gave birth to his daughter, Jeanne Hebuterne, who is buried alongside him in Pere Lachaise Cemetery (where Jim Morrison of “The Doors” fame is also buried).
     Hebuterne, pregnant with their second child, committed suicide shortly after Modigliani died of meningitis that was induced by the spread of tuberculosis to his brain. Their infant daughter, Jeanne Modigliani, was raised by Amedeo’s family, inherited her father’s socialist views and became her father’s artistic custodian and biographer. She died in 1984.
     I was surprised to learn that Modigliani wasn’t represented in the famous Armory show of 1913 that introduced the modern art of Paris to New York and the country, so-called because it was held at the 69th Regimental Armory at 25th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan —  although he was well represented in another New York exhibition in 1915.
The last four years of Modigliani’s life were very productive, with many portraits — quite often of fellow artists — nudes and caryatids.
     Secrest writes that Modigliani is one of the ten most faked artists of all time, keeping company with such masters as Dali, Van Gogh, Corot and Utrillo. His trademark style or “line” makes it easy to produce a “Modigliani” but experts can readily tell the difference. Just a thought: I wonder how many fakes of all artists are owned by famous art museums in the U.S. and elsewhere.
    Secrest does all she can do to demolish the  “vie maudit” (cursed life) myth of the artist, “that over the decades has hardened into a certainty. It is axiomatic that Modigliani was a brilliant young artist who ruined his health and died prematurely from drugs and drink….This version is based on a tragic misconception, but it is, unfortunately, one that Modigliani deliberately cultivated….Only his closest friends knew he had tuberculosis, for the reason that, if such a fact had been known, he would have been avoided, if not shunned by everyone.” Secrest says Modigliani used alcohol and drugs to suppress the coughing that would have given away his secret.
    “Modigliani” is well worth reading by the general reader, as well as those who are particularly interested in modern painting and sculpture.

COMMERCE DEPT.: New Home Sales Rise 5.7% in September, but Still Below Sept. 2010 Pace

By David M. Kinchen

COMMERCE DEPT.: New Home Sales Rise 5.7% in September, but Still Below Sept. 2010 Pace
Sales of newly built, single-family homes rose 5.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 313,000 units in September, according to a report from the U.S. Commerce Department released Wednesday, Oct. 26. This marks the fastest pace of new-home sales in the past five months. LINK:

The 313,000 number is 0.9 percent below the September 2010 estimate of 316,000, the Commerce Dept. report noted. The median sales price of new houses sold in September was $204,400; the average sales price was $243,900.

“Today’s report highlights the gradual improvement in housing market conditions that is becoming evident in certain pockets of the country, as consumers who can surmount very restrictive lending standards to qualify for a favorable mortgage rate seize on this opportunity to buy,” said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nev. “The latest numbers also reveal that first-time buyers are driving the new-homes market right now, as evidenced by the volume of lower-priced, entry-level homes under contract. It’s worth noting that these consumers are very dependent upon federal policies and programs that support homeownership, such as the mortgage interest deduction and low-downpayment mortgage options that have been threatened by recent government proposals.”

“The improved rate of new-home sales in September is on par with NAHB’s forecast for the overall number of sales this year and in keeping with the spotty improvements that our latest builder surveys have highlighted in select markets,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “While 313,000 is still an exceptionally low rate of new home sales by historic standards, it is an encouraging sign of an anticipated broader recovery over the course of next year, and builders have helped the situation by keeping their inventories of homes for sale very lean in areas where there is an oversupply of existing units.”

Regionally, new-home sales were mixed in September, with gains of 11.2 percent and 9.7 percent registered in the South and West, respectively, and declines of 4.2 percent and 12.2 percent registered in the Northeast and Midwest, respectively.

The inventory of new homes for sale held at an all-time record low of 163,000 units in September. This represents a modest 6.2 -month supply at the current sales pace, Crowe added.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Twelve Drummers Drumming’: Murder, Mystery, Secrets Darken Springtime in an Idyllic English Village

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'Twelve Drummers Drumming': Murder, Mystery, Secrets Darken Springtime in an Idyllic English Village
Anyone who’s read a mystery novel set in an idyllic English village — by writers from Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell and all those in between —  will instantly realize  that “idyllic English village” is the ultimate oxymoron. “Twelve Drummers Drumming” (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House,  384 pages, $24.00) is no exception as author C.C. Benison introduces us to the Devon village of Thornford Regis and to Father Tom Christmas,  the newly arrived vicar of the parish.

No, despite the title, this isn’t a Christmas novel in the commonly accepted sense. But it is the first of a series of books featuring the Rev. Tom Christmas, a former magician turned Church of England priest. Christmas, recently widowed when his wife of ten years, the former Lisbeth Rose, is murdered, arrives in Thornford Regis to take over pastoral duties at St. Nicholas Church after the vicar, Peter Kinsey, goes missing.

That should have been a tip-off to Christmas, who, along with his nine-year-old daughter Miranda, is still mourning the death of Lisbeth. Add to this the presence in the small village of Julia Hennis, Lisbeth’s sister, and her husband Dr. Alastair Hennis, who was involved with Lisbeth before Tom came on the scene, and the plot thickens like the porridge prepared by the vicarage’s housekeeper Madrun Prowse. Madrun’s typewritten letters to her mum are like a one-woman Greek chorus, bringing us up to speed on the events of the novel and adding another level of humor.

Thornford Regis has never been lovelier: larks on the wing, lilacs in bloom, and the May Fayre in full swing. Another clue that murder and mayhem will follow! When the body of Sybella Parry, the beautiful 19-year-old daughter of Colm Parry, the parish’s choir director and a retired rock star, is found in a fetal position inside the slashed open huge Japanese o-daiko drum, we’re on the way to having just about everybody in the village either a suspect or person of interest. The drum is there for a special percussion demonstration — the twelve drummers drumming of the title.

Did Sybella’s apparent connection with Goth and the black arts, and her rumored drug use, attract someone that led to her death? Or was she mistaken for somebody else and murdered by mistake?

In either case, Father Tom concludes, along with the police officers investigating the death, Detective Sgt. Colin Blessing and Detective Inspector Derek Bliss of the Totnes CID that someone in the parish may be the culprit. No, I’m not making these names up; the author did! And Totnes is a real market town in Devon, the large English county that contains the Dartmoor of Sherlock Holmes fame: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is set in Dartmoor.  Was the murderer the gone-missing vicar or could he be a victim, too?

No one is above suspicion — not Sebastian John, Father Tom’s deeply reserved verger, nor Mitsuko Drewe, a local artist, nor the 80-somthing retired banker Colonel Phillip Northmore, survivor of a World War II Japanese prison camp. One by one, infidelity, theft, and intrigue are exposed.

Benison — Middle English for a blessing or benediction — mixes sly humor with sheer terror in a page-turner of a novel that will make readers wonder what the author will come up with his next novel, “Eleven Pipers Piping.”

About the Author
C.C. Benison is the pen name of Doug Whiteway, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, and was educated at the University of Manitoba and at Carleton University, in Ottawa. He has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to nonfiction books. He started writing mystery fiction in the 1990s with “Death At Buckingham Palace”, which was published by Bantam Books in 1996. Since then, with gaps in between to work on other projects, he has published five novels.

Publisher’s website:

S&P/CASE-SHILLER: Home Prices Up Slightly in August Over July; Nationally, Price Levels Still Below a Year Ago; Overall, Home Prices Are at Mid-2003 Levels

By David M. Kinchen

S&P/CASE-SHILLER: Home Prices Up Slightly in August Over July; Nationally, Price Levels Still Below a Year Ago; Overall, Home Prices Are at Mid-2003 Levels
Home prices showed increases of +0.2% for the 10- and 20-City Composites in August versus July, according to data released Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011 by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller  Home Price Indices. In addition, 16 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites posted improved annual returns compared to July’s data; Los Angeles and Miami saw no change in annual returns in August; and Atlanta and Las Vegassaw their annual rates of change fall deeper into negative territory.

As of August 2011, average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in mid-2003. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks through August 2011, the peak-to-current declines for the 10-City Composite and 20-City Composite are -30.9% and -30.8%, respectively. The recovery from recent lows are +3.9% and +3.8%, respectively. The 10-City Composite hit its crisis low in April 2009, whereas the 20-City reached a more recent low in March 2011.

“In the August data, the good news is continued improvement in the annual rates of change in home prices,” Blitzer added. “In spring and summer’s seasonally strong period for housing demand, we cautioned that monthly increases in prices had to be paired with improvement in annual rates before anyone could declare that the market might be stabilizing.

With 16 of 20 cities and both Composites seeing their annual rates of change improve in August, we see a modest glimmer of hope with these data. As of August 2011, the crisis low for the 10- City Composite was back in April 2009; whereas it was a more recent March 2011 for the 20-City Composite. Both are about 3.9% above their relative lows.”

“The Midwest is one region that really stands out in terms of recent relative strength,” Blitzer said. “Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis have all posted very sharp monthly increases going back to May. These markets were some of the weakest during the crisis, particularly Detroit. But as of August 2011, Detroit is the healthiest when viewed on an annual basis. It is up 2.7% versus August 2010. Prices there are still back to their 1995 levels, but the recent pickup in the US auto industry may finally be helping.” Detroit’s MSA includes some of the nation’s wealthiest suburbs such as Gross Pointe, Troy, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.

“As seen in our past few monthly reports, there were large revisions across some of the MSAs,” Blitzer said. “In particular, Washington DC was the most affected in August. Additional sale pairs data for May – July 2011 in the Washington DC MSA were received this month and resulted in the revisions.”

The 10-City and 20-City Composites were up 0.2% from their July 2011 levels. Las Vegas was, again, the one city that posted a new index level low in August 2011 and is 59.5% below its August 2006 peak. Detroit and Washington DC were the only cities with positive annual returns, up 2.7% and 0.3%, respectively.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices are revised for the 24 prior months, based on the receipt of additional source data. More than 24 years of history for these data series is available, and can be accessed in full by going to

Source: S&P Indices and Fiserv Data through August 2011

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Plain & Fancy Christmas’: Being Switched at Birth Leads to Many Complications Years Later to Women from Two Different Cultures

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: 'A Plain & Fancy Christmas': Being Switched at Birth Leads to Many Complications Years Later to Women from Two Different Cultures

One nightmare of every parent is that the child they’ve raised was switched at birth in the hospital and isn’t their offspring. Cynthia Keller (“An Amish Christmas”)  skillfully and gracefully explores this nightmare in “A Plain & Fancy Christmas” (Ballantine Books, 336 pages, $16.00).

Keller presents us with a “clash of cultures,” with an Amish girl, Rachel, called Ellie,  being raised by a family in New York City, where she’s long felt different from her parents and the New York child, also named Rachel, growing up in a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Amish farm family.

Rachel Yoder, widowed three years ago, has moved back with her parents and is raising her daughter, Katie. She’s dark haired, unlike her blonde parents and most of the other Amish, but doesn’t suspect anything until the wife of the attending physician at her birth sends her a letter explaining how the doctor, now dead, made the error when he delivered the two babies in a Lancaster County hospital 30 years ago. The widow of the doctor had kept the mistake hidden because one more error would have ended her feckless alcoholic husband’s medical career.

Blonde Rachel (Ellie) Lawrence, 30, is a high-powered account executive in a public relations firm, a job she has come to despise because it leaves too little time for her personal life and because of the people she has to deal with — including her boss. When Ellie gets a letter from the doctor’s widow she decides to make the four-hour journey to Lancaster County to meet Rachel Yoder and her Amish kinfolk.

Cynthia Keller

Cynthia Keller

In Lancaster County, Ellie quickly bonds with her Amish family and is eager to learn about the strange new culture she should have learned about from childhood. Keller writes sensitively and with more than a little humor about the ease of Ellie and the natural jealousy of Rachel, as she watches the only mother she’s ever known bond with Ellie.

Rachel Yoder decides to do what Ellie did and travel to New York with Katie to meet her own biological family. The Lawrences are worlds away from the Amish culture, as both Rachel and Katie quickly discover. The materialism of the culture she finds herself immersed in shocks her. One thing Rachel Yoder discovers in the book-rich Lawrence apartment is that she loves reading  and wants to further her education, which is limited to eight grades in the Amish culture.

In “An Amish Christmas” (see my review at: Cynthia Keller showed she could write with understanding about the clash of cultures between the Amish and the “English” — everybody who isn’t Amish. With her new Christmas-themed book, Keller shows that her 2010 novel wasn’t a fluke.

Even if all you know about the Amish — Anabaptists (Anabaptists required that candidates be able to make their own confessions of faith and so refused baptism to infants. Because of this,  Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th by both other Protestants and Roman Catholics) — who fled persecution in Europe to find freedom to live their lives in the United States, comes from the movie “Witness,” starring Harrison Ford, you’ll find yourself immersed in a world that seems like a fly trapped in amber to those who aren’t Amish. As in her first novel, Keller excels in character development to a point where Ellie and Rachel and all the other people in the book are fully developed.

About the Author

Cynthia Keller is the author of An Amish Christmas. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. Her website:   Publisher’s website:

BOOK REVIEW: A Selection of Thirty Perry Mann Essays Now Collected in a Quality Paperback Book

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: A Selection of Thirty Perry Mann Essays Now Collected in a Quality Paperback Book
Readers of Huntington News Network need no introduction to Perry Mann. His essays on nature, philosophy, religion and many other topics have struck a chord in readers — often provoking angry letters to the editor. That said, overwhelmingly most of the readers love his columns.
I take credit for this because quite a few years ago, I convinced the publisher of Huntington News Network to run Perry’s columns. I’ve known Perry and his family since 1992 when we moved to Hinton and I consider him a friend indeed. This article will not be unbiased, if only because I share many of Perry Mann’s views on a wide range of topics.

It took Ann Farrell Bowers,  a former student of Perry’s now a teacher in Wisconsin, when he taught English at Hinton High School in the 1960s, to convince the teacher-lawyer-farmer-philosopher-renaissance man to collect 30 of his essays in a beautifully printed book “Mann & Nature: A Collection of Essays” (Kettle Moraine Publishing Co., Delavan, Wisconsin, 156 pages, $20.00 from the publisher

Ann Bowers considers Perry Mann to be a major influence in her life. She wrote in an email:

“Public education in America bears the brunt of public scorn because so many seem to carry baggage from their experiences and are quite eager to discuss the few, I have found, incompetent teachers in their lives.

“I too had those experiences, but it has been said it takes only one good teacher to change a life forever, and mine was Perry Mann who arrived in my high school in the turbulent ‘60’s breathing fresh air and new ideas into all of us who hungered for knowledge of the events shaping our nation.

“Motivated by him, I went off to college armed with my list of college bound books he gave me, and inspired by him I became a teacher.

“I lost track of him, but I never forgot him, and in May, 2011, we were reunited through a comment I made on social media and posts from former classmates who told me that at 90 he was still practicing law in my hometown.  I wrote him to tell him I turned out okay and to thank him for his profound influence on me in my teenage years of confusion.  He responded, and we have been in daily contact since.”

* * *

As I said, I share many of Perry’s views and I have jokingly called him West Virginia’s answer to  New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, who often writes about rural life. Perry knows who Klinkenborg is and takes this as a compliment.
Born in Charleston, WV in 1921, Perry spent many summers on his grandparents’ farm in Summers County.  I spent the first 10 plus years of my life on a dairy farm, actually a subsistence farm, in Van Buren County, Mich., so we both know farm life as insiders. We know why farmers always have cats, to keep the rodents from devouring their corn and grain, and are often leery of dogs, especially if they — as we did — raise chickens.
 From Ann Bowers:   “His [Perry Mann’s] description of his imagined sleeping spot for a butterfly convinces us to consider all creatures in the web of life:   ‘Where does this creature, constructed with spider webs and filaments of silkworms, wings woven of cumulus clouds, sculpted by Michelangelo and painted by da Vinci go to relax, relive the day and dream of zinnias?’

‘I like to think she wings to a hemlock forest shaded in day and dark at night. Her nest, formed with the gossamer of milkweed and dyed purple with the juice of elderberries, is in the fork of a hemlock where a limb leaves the trunk and touches the clouds. An outgrowth of bark serves as her canopy. The queen of flowers lies there for the night looked over by fairies and guardian angels sent by the Maker to protect this delicate, beautiful, and innocent creature, one that preys on nothing but just purloins pollen from zinnias.’

So,dear readers — and all readers are dear to this English major! — get a copy of “Mann & Nature” and enjoy the thoughts and lifetime reflections of a truly great writer and philosopher. He’s our own living John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson  and Henry David Thoreau.

We can only hope that “Mann & Nature” is the first of many collections of Perry’s essays. We desperately need more writers like Perry Mann.   To conclude, here’s another sample of Perry’s poetic prose, describing life many decades ago on that Summers County homeplace:
 “The hog lot ran to the sugar orchard, a cathedral of trees, nearly all of which were sugar maples ranging in age from fifty to two hundred years or more.  In summer it was a sequestered island of cool and quiet; in the fall, a wonderland of yellow and red leaf.  In the winter it was a vault of memories.  A walk among those trees any time was a spiritual experience for me.  It was my playground and my world of dreams.  I would have built a cabin there for my dog and me were boyhoods longer and dreams for real.”
About the author
Perry Mann  was chosen as one of fifty Americans who tell the truth and was featured in Robert Shetterly’s book of the same title. His connection to nature through his gardens and mountains is the substance of his truth. A resident of Hinton, West Virginia at 90, still practices law with his daughter Amy. For past columns by Perry Mann, use the search engine on It’s at the top right hand side.   Publisher’s website: