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Old 10-23-2017, 09:03 PM   #176
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

We Were Soldiers Once and Young and Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu are two books I've read about Vietnam and recommend but they're about specific battles and not the overall war.

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Old 10-31-2017, 10:57 AM   #177
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

The book covers Lincoln's life. The organizing feature of David Donald's book is to try and tell the biography mostly using only knowledge that Lincoln himself would have known. It centers the story a lot more on Lincoln himself, his affectations, and how he interacted with the people around him and how he took in events as they came, but at the expense of locating Lincoln in history.

It also makes Lincoln seem very much human. He sometimes puts people off he doesn't want to talk to instead of confronting them, he passively tried to get a woman to stop courting him for months by saying she wouldn't like the city, his accommodations, etc to eventually he had to rebuff the woman differently by telling her he didn't want to get married. You really do feel emotions along with him as he loses an early love, his mother, his sons, etc.

One funny tidbit is we make fun of Presidents for not knowing things, but when the Civil War started Lincoln went down to the Library of Congress and checked out books on military tactics because he thought he at least ought to learn something about war.

Also we tend to thing of Lincoln as The Great Emancipator but for most of his political history he was the quintessential moderate, neither agreeing with slave owners or abolitionists. He thought a resettlement program would work, he publicly said he didn't think blacks and whites were on equal ground etc. (On a side note, the "moderation" was the result of reactionary slaveholders claiming that ending slavery meant miscegenation, black political rule, black education, etc. The standard reactionary tactic of trying to take a small step and push it to it's limits a la Trump "Where will it end?". In this case Lincoln often took the bait). Many have pushed completely in the other direction and said those things were evidence that Lincoln was racist, but over time Lincoln saw that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and that emancipation was the only way forward and his attitudes towards blacks changed after seeing black heroism in the Civil War. He wasn't exactly the pure hero we would like imagine but neither was he an abject fraud, he was a man of his time if not one of the better men of it.

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Old 11-02-2017, 12:30 AM   #178
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I didn't take it that easy this month. I read Fathers and Sons by Turgenev which I liked, but didn't love. Memoirs of a Revolutionist mentioned Turgenev quite a bit and nihilists (the main character of F&S was a nihilist) and that inspired me to check it out. It was interesting and the story moved along alright. I also read a book on the brain. It was Descarte's Error - Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. It was pretty much me selecting a book that agrees with my ~theories about emotion, reason and the brain, so it's not surprising that I agree with it. It was written in a pretty boring way though.

But for a more political book

Bad Samaritans - The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism - by Ha-Joon Chang

This is presenting objections to Free Trade which I have repeatedly made and have heretofore only caught bits and pieces of support. The thrust of this book is about how the developed world developed not through free trade, but through very strong protectionism. In the 16th Century England had an extremely protectionist policy which allowed it to go from an also-ran behind The Netherlands in manufacturing to the world leader and then continued strong protectionism, especially of shipping for a long time. Only when England was on top did it start free trade policies which were to its advantage. The US did the same thing, having the highest tariffs in the world to protect it's fledgling industries. This policy was advocated by Hamilton who called it supporting 'infant industry'. Protectionism in the US continued for a century until the US was on top and then pushed for free trade.

This is what is called 'kicking away the ladder'. Countries with weak industry need protection, which takes on forms other than tariffs, so they can have space to develop productive and profitable industries, but the already developed world would prefer they specialize in providing raw material or simple labor. The first world forces free trade and later a whole suite of policies (neo-liberal) which hold back developing countries. I know this is counter to what is commonly thought, but the book is quite full of examples. The economic development of South Korea, Japan, the US, England, Switzerland, Finland, Argentina, Chile - all kinds of history of development economics from the 16th century to today.

The writing is not super-wonderful and it's a little repetitive. He starts out with a little weird vision of the future and that comes up again at the end. He's trying to be entertaining and it's not bad, but not great. Don't let it put you off though. You can just skip that if you want.

Anyone who just says "Free Trade" "duh econ 101" "how come so many have risen out of poverty then?" etc. should read this book.

I think he's a little too kind to the developed world as is. He attributes a lot of this to mistaken ideology rather than intentional exploitation. He mentions the phrase "libertarianism for the poor and socialism for the rich" or something to that effect, but he never attributes any of this to nastiness. He never claims anyone foresaw the US exporting subsidized corn and prohibiting similar protection would crush foreign competition or that political and military interference was designed to maximize the advantage the first world has.
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Old 11-02-2017, 03:13 AM   #179
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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Aborted book review

American Amnesia Hacker and Pierson

I suspect a fair amount of it is good and interesting amd that the authors have made an effort to make decent arguments when the points are close to the thesis. But, there is too much that's poorly thought out and argued.

Imo don't bother, but if you've read it and have something good to say about it let me know and maybe I'll reconsider.
I've read it and have something good to say about it. In an era when the government is looked upon as a complete negative by so many, and "free" enterprise a complete positive, the books reminds us that what has led to our success as a country has been largely achieved by a partnership between government and the private sector. The idea, trumpeted by the right and by the Trump-eter in chief, that we were made great by free enterprise and are being made ungreat by government, is simply false. The book goes a long way towards showing how that "history" is fake history.
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Old 11-02-2017, 08:02 AM   #180
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Great thread—just started Chernow’s Grant biography that came out a few weeks ago. Already very good, will report back later when finished.
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Old 11-02-2017, 10:34 AM   #181
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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I've read it and have something good to say about it. In an era when the government is looked upon as a complete negative by so many, and "free" enterprise a complete positive, the books reminds us that what has led to our success as a country has been largely achieved by a partnership between government and the private sector. The idea, trumpeted by the right and by the Trump-eter in chief, that we were made great by free enterprise and are being made ungreat by government, is simply false. The book goes a long way towards showing how that "history" is fake history.
I'm on board with the thesis especially for the 30's-70's and recommend the Henry Wallace (New Deal Sec. of Agriculture and VP) bio I reviewed that goes into many details along these lines. Maybe I was just impatient when I started this book.
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Old 11-02-2017, 05:29 PM   #182
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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Great thread—just started Chernow’s Grant biography that came out a few weeks ago. Already very good, will report back later when finished.
TNC posted an article yesterday dedicated to John Kelly called Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War - yours was #2, and I just ordered #1:

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1) Battle Cry Of Freedom: Arguably among the greatest single-volume histories in all of American historiography, James McPherson’s synthesis of the Civil War is a stunning achievement. Brisk in pace. A big-ass book that reads like a much slimmer one. The first few hundred pages offer a catalogue of evidence, making it clear not just that the white South went to war for the right to own people, but that it warred for the right to expand the right to own people. Read this book. You will immediately be less stupid than some of the most powerful people in the West Wing.

2) Grant: Another classic in the Ron Chernow oeuvre. Again, eminently readable but thick with import. It does not shy away from Grant’s personal flaws, but shows him to be a man constantly struggling to live up to his own standard of personal and moral courage. It corrects nearly a half-century of stupidity inflicted upon America by the Dunning school of historians, which preferred a portrait of Grant as a bumbling, corrupt butcher of men. Finally, it reframes the Civil War away from the overrated Virginia campaigns and shows us that when the West was won, so was the war. Grant hits like a Mack truck of knowledge. Stupid doesn’t stand a chance.
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Old 11-05-2017, 10:55 PM   #183
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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I didn't take it that easy this month. I read Fathers and Sons by Turgenev which I liked, but didn't love. Memoirs of a Revolutionist mentioned Turgenev quite a bit and nihilists (the main character of F&S was a nihilist) and that inspired me to check it out.
You might be interested in Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev by the Australian author Robert Dessaix. I thought it was very good. Dessaix is a fantastic writer.
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Old 11-06-2017, 04:20 AM   #184
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

This Amazon review of it is a good summary btw:

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This is a book about travel - about love - and about Turgenev. I knew next to nothing about Turgenev when I began reading it and, if you're reading this soley to learn about the great Russian author - don't! This is a book about falling in love - with people, with subjects and with landscapes. I am a college professor and too often I see students who are just not besotted with ANY subject. This book will show you the heights to which a spirit may climb once it has found its passion. A perfect summertime read - episodic, intelligent, entertaining and inspiring.
It's not really about Turgenev per se, but his life and writings are used to illuminate larger philosophical issues Dessaix is interested in. I'm not sure I agreed with his thesis but it was interesting to grapple with and the writing is superb. Another point in its favour is that other than me and the person who chose it, the book club I'm in (which is largely suburban middle aged women) universally hated it.
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Old 11-06-2017, 07:15 AM   #185
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

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TNC posted an article yesterday dedicated to John Kelly called Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War - yours was #2, and I just ordered #1:
I read Battle Cry in high school for a Civil War class--it really is great. I need to reread that if I can ever find the time.
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Old 11-08-2017, 09:46 PM   #186
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Anyone have any opinion on Kevin Phillips? My F-in-Law gave me two of his books, 1775 and American Theocracy. I see from wikipedia he's a disaffected Republican turned independent who had worked as a strategist (southern strategist) for Nixon. hmm.

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Old 11-09-2017, 01:04 PM   #187
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Antifa The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray Professor at Dartmouth and previously an Occupy WS coordinator. It's very good the history of fascism in Europe especially with the internecine struggles of the left and the space that provided to fascist parties in particular of relevance today.
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Old 11-22-2017, 03:24 AM   #188
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Not exactly politics, but sorta. The Comedians by Graham Greene 1966

It's set in the 50s in Haiti after Papa Doc took power. I don't want to review really because it's fiction and don't want to spoil anything. I think it's probably a good look at what was going on at the time in Haiti from the perspective of characters from very different backgrounds. I don't know exactly how accurate it is, but Graham Greene did stay in Haiti for some time around when the book was set.

I don't want to say it's a must read or anything, but I recommend it.
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Old 12-09-2017, 02:47 AM   #189
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Again, not exactly politics, but sorta. Burmese Days by George Orwell 1934

Orwell spent 5 years in Burma/Myanmar and although this is a novel and not autobiographical it's almost certain almost entirely based on real people and events even if the people are combined and caricatured and the events are fictionalized. It's not the strongest book in the world for sure, but I think the criticism I've heard is a little unwarranted. Orwell is better at non-fiction than fiction, but despite this not being a history or anything, the non-fiction of this is not really less relevant because it's not based on specific real events and people.

I more or less expected Orwell's attitudes toward most of the characters in the story, but one thing that I didn't really expect was so much self-loathing. That's not a huge surprise though since one of his defining characteristics is being scrupulously honest.
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Old 12-18-2017, 12:59 AM   #190
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

More Orwell and even more obscure: Keep the Aspidistra Flying 1936

It's ok, but not great. The main character is not exactly Orwell, but it's obviously some of the more bitter things that he's thinking and is based on some of Orwell's experience. As I have mentioned a few times Orwell's non-fiction is generally better than his fiction and this, like Burmese Days, I think is better read as a fictionalization of Orwell's life written as such so he could take a little poetic license and exaggerate and/or speculate without being as committal as non-fiction would be. It's about poverty and rejecting money and the commercial society.
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Old 12-20-2017, 01:37 PM   #191
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump 2nd Edition
by Corey Robin (Author)

Modeled after The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot by Russell Kirk Corey Robin attempts to answer "what is Conservativism?". It has an intoduction and then a series of short essays covering a different main figure and how they were conservative.

Corey's core thesis of what conservativism is

Quote:
Though it is often claimed that the left stands for equality while the right stands for freedom, this notion misstates the actual disagreement between right and left. Historically, the conservative has favored liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the lower orders. What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom but its extension. For in that extension, he sees a loss of his own freedom.
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If women and workers are provided with the economic resources to make independent choices, they will be free not to obey their husbands and employers. That is why Lawrence Mead, one of the leading intellectual opponents of the welfare state in the 1980s and 1990s, declared that the welfare recipient “must be made less free in certain senses rather than more.” 13 For the conservative, equality portends more than a redistribution of resources, opportunities, and outcomes— though he certainly dislikes these, too. 14 What equality ultimately means is a rotation in the seat of power.
Quote:
Conservatism, then, is not a commitment to limited government and liberty— or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue. These may be the byproducts of conservatism, one or more of its historically specific and ever-changing modes of expression. But they are not its animating purpose. Neither is conservatism a makeshift fusion of capitalists, Christians, and warriors, for that fusion is impelled by a more elemental force— the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere. Such a view might seem miles away from the libertarian defense of the free market, with its celebration of the atomistic and autonomous individual. But it is not. When the libertarian looks out upon society, he does not see isolated individuals; he sees private, often hierarchical, groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees. 40
He then looks at the issues of conservatism. For instance, if Conservatism is an elitist movement how can it win in democracy?

Quote:
Beyond these contingent changes, we can also trace a longer structural change in the imagination of the right: namely, the gradual acceptance of the entrance of the masses onto the political stage. From Hobbes to the slaveholders to the neoconservatives, the right has grown increasingly aware that any successful defense of the old regime must incorporate the lower orders in some capacity other than as underlings or starstruck fans. The masses must either be able to locate themselves symbolically in the ruling class or be provided with real opportunities to become faux aristocrats in the family, the factory, and the field. The former path makes for an upside-down populism, in which the lowest of the low see themselves projected in the highest of the high; the latter makes for a democratic feudalism, in which the husband or supervisor or white man plays the part of a lord. The former path was pioneered by Hobbes and Maistre, and the latter by Southern slaveholders, European imperialists, and Gilded Age apologists. (And neo– Gilded Age apologists: “There is no single elite in America,” writes David Brooks. “Everyone can be an aristocrat within his own Olympus.”
He does go into what Conservatism hopes to build. In his sense conservatives are a kind of reverse liberal. Whereas the liberal wants to open freedom to the lower classes, conservatives want to build hierarchies. Different than a traditionalist because a traditionalist wants to maintain a specific hierarchy or way of life a Conservative is flexible creating new ways to build hierarchies. The process by which that usually happens is the Conservative feels some pain for the lost hierarchies of the past. He mentions Burke reminiscing about the monarchy, but the Conservative also loathes the old regime because it fell to liberalizing forces so mere return to the old regime isn't sufficient a new regime to retain power needs to be created.

From the introduction though it it's pretty weak. It's hard to know if the dots he's connecting are really there or are perhaps one off statements made and then connected later. I don't know enough of Burke or Hobbes to say that the conclusions he draws from the are warranted.

His section on Nietzsche and Hayek is really good though. He connects Nietzsche's philosophy directly to reacting to the events of his day from the fall of the old aristocratic orders, the rise of workers' socialism and the abolition of slavery. Nietzsche then emphasized the aristocratic values and wanted to demolish a key claim of socialism, that the worker's product had inherent value. While Nietzsche's claims were mostly political the marginalist revolution took Nietzsche's claim that nothing had intrinsic value but what we gave it and ran with it. The marginalists supposed that if nothing had intrinsic value but what we gave it, who gives labor its value? Capital does. And with that the object of focus became the capitalist, with whose gaze value came into the world. The capitalist and the higher orders became the center of economic and political life, the worker's work held no intrinsic value and become another tool, like a plow or sheer. Entrepreneurs created new tastes and new moralities, capital was deployed to make it happen. That's where value came from, not from the daily grind of the worker. Hayek goes a bit further and says that work itself is a detriment to imbuing things with value. If you work then your evaluations are inevitably tainted with that work and so a landed gentry who don't have to work are the best ones to effect change in the world. The policy changes are what we've been seeing. Abolition of the estate tax, removal of protections for workers, and less concretely a focus on innovators and visionaries who change the world as the center of moral and political life as opposed to the New Deal orientation of the average worker's sacrifice.

The section on Trump is a total wash and wasn't even needed in this edition. Robin says that the Art of the Deal wasn't written by Trump but then he proceeds to quote it abundantly to prove his points. But if it was ghost written then how much of it is authentically Trump vs whatever the ghost writer wanted. In the end there isn't any need to connect the dots that Trump is a conservative, he's the loudest, most boorish version of one.

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Old 12-20-2017, 02:26 PM   #192
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

I just started that the other day. Interesting so far.
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Old 01-01-2018, 02:20 AM   #193
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories

A collection of 90 short stories that range from 1941 to 2007, but the biggest portion of them are from the early to mid 50s. As any Vonnegut fan knows, he was captured in WWII and spent some time as a prisoner in Dresden. This comes up a lot. He spent some time working for General Electric in PR and there are a lot of stories set in huge industrial complexes. There's a fair amount of sci-fi of course, but probably less than you'd expect. Almost all of the stories were good, but not many really great. There are glimmers of his style coming through, but the early stories come across as cautious. I still recommend reading this.

I looked at some lists and ranking of Vonnegut books and am surprised to find Galapagos not too highly ranked. It may be my favorite and is one of few novels which I have reread.
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Old 01-02-2018, 09:28 PM   #194
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg.

Review: Walp, that's the most disturbing ****ing thing I've read in a long time.

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Old 01-02-2018, 09:34 PM   #195
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Really struggling to see an upside to reading that book. It's not like I will ever have any ability to influence anything in a positive way, and it will surely give me nightmares and generally make me anxious. Nope.
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Old 01-03-2018, 11:04 PM   #196
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

Animal Farm Orwell 1945

I had never read it. I guess I never happened to get assigned it and it didn't really seem like it would be that good. I was interested I guess mostly in how Trotsky was portrayed, but it wasn't really much of a portrayal at all. I had been lead to believe that it would have been a friendlier treatment of Trotsky and that was why the common reading that Orwell hates socialism is wrong. It's somewhat that, but it's much more of a statement that the USSR wasn't socialist at all. As The Who said, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

As I've said before non-fiction > fiction for Orwell and it certainly holds here, not that this is bad. It's short and clever.
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Old 01-04-2018, 06:45 AM   #197
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It's been a while since I read it but I don't recall Trotsky's treatment as unfriendly. Snowball right?
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Old 01-04-2018, 10:54 AM   #198
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It's been a while since I read it but I don't recall Trotsky's treatment as unfriendly. Snowball right?
Yeah, Snowball.

I didn't mean it was unfriendly. I had heard him referred to as the hero of the story or something like that. He was portrayed positively, but wasn't anything like the hero.
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Old 01-04-2018, 10:56 AM   #199
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Re: Politics Book Review Thread

There are no heroes in Animal Farm. It's more of a cautionary tale.
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Old 01-04-2018, 11:12 AM   #200
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Yeah, Snowball.

I didn't mean it was unfriendly. I had heard him referred to as the hero of the story or something like that. He was portrayed positively, but wasn't anything like the hero.
Yeah I get you, though Trots are always likely to overstate their case.
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