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Monday, April 26, 2010
Intellectual Betters?

Interesting paragraph from Richard Posner's book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline that I caught from a reference in Paul Hollander's The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries, and Political Morality in the Twentieth Century:

A proclivity for taking extreme positions, a taste for universals and abstractions, a desire for moral purity, a lack of worldliness, and intellectual arrogance work together to induce in many academic public intellectuals selective empathy, a selective sense of justice, an insensitivity to impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism and excessive self-confidence.

Sound like anyone you know?

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Thursday, April 01, 2010
The Plot's The Thing

If you're looking for elements to make up a good thriller, you usually can't go wrong with the three Ms: medicine, military, and murder. Thomas Jackson manages to combine the three in his first fictional effort Death of a Cure: A Thomas Briggs Novel.

"Death of a Cure" introduces us to Dr. Thomas Briggs, a Marine surgeon who's a member of an elite military unit that conducts special operations. We first meet Dr. Briggs as he prepares for a rather unusual insertion. The story is told through the eyes of Briggs, who, after completion of the novel-opening mission, learns of the death of his brother, a renowned medical researcher in New York City. Briggs travels to New York to find that police believe his brother committed suicide. He isn't satisfied with that answer and endeavors to learn what really happened to his brother.

After quickly realizing that he's in over his head, he gladly accepts the assistance of his "friend" and FBI agent Marilena Riggatti. As the two of them work to discover the truth, their relationship develops into much more than friendship. Clichéd yes, but pretty well done. There's enough romance and sex to keep you interested without being gratuitous.

Early in the book, you realize that Jackson has a number of hobby horses which he intends to ride hard in his writing. Airport security is one and corporate bureaucracy is another. But the chief focus of the author's ire are non-profit organizations whose mission is to cure diseases. Jackson is obviously highly skeptical of their claims to altruism and a good part of the book consists of Dr. Briggs uncovering the unseemly underbelly of the organization on whose behalf his dead brother toiled.

The strength of "Death of a Cure" lies in the characters. Thomas Briggs is a likeable yet flawed hero. He's far from perfect, especially when it comes to exercising patient or navigating social situations. Even though most of us can't relate to what he does for a living or his background, we can appreciate his limitations and his struggles to overcome them.

The weakness of the book is the plot. At a broad level, it's probably something that could work. The problem is in the way it unfolds. There's not enough mystery or enough thrills to really engage the reader. There aren't any red herrings or dead ends to get stuck on, because it's never really clear who the main suspects are, what their motivations might be, or how it all could tie together. A good mystery encourages you to speculate and keeps you guessing. This does neither. We see the ending coming far too soon and the actions of Dr. Briggs and FBI agent Riggatti leading up to it are implausible.

This being Jackson's first effort at the mystery/thriller genre and because he has managed to craft some appealing characters, I'm willing to give him another chance with the next Thomas Briggs novel. A characters as good as Dr. Briggs deserves a much better plot.


Monday, March 15, 2010

In the epilogue to Paul Johnson's biography of Winston Churchill, he offers up five lessons from Churchill's life that we can all learn from:

* Always aim high.

* There is no substitute for hard work.

* Never allow mistakes, disaster-personal or national-accidents, illness, unpopularity, and criticism to get you down.

* Don't waste time on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting the blame onto others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas.

* Leave plenty of room for joy in your life. Share and give joy.

None of us can realistically ever hope to equal the life of a man like Churchill. But, as Johnson shows, there are aspects of it that we would well to strive to emulate in our manner and circumstances.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Johnson and Johnson

Anyone who has spent any amount of time studying 20th century history and/or is a big biography buff would likely greet the arrival of a new biography of Winston Churchill with a disinterested shrug. Especially when that biography of one of the greatest figures in modern history chocks in at a very modest one-hundred-and-ninety-two pages. What more could you possibly learn about a man who--in addition to already being the subject of several comprehensive biographies--was a prolific writer in his own right and left behind detailed chronicles of nearly every significant (and some insignificant) event in his life? Why should I even bother cracking this latest volume in the vast literary library on Churchill?

The simple answer is because the author is Paul Johnson. Johnson has written a number of excellent books in his long career, including "Modern Times" which is probably my favorite book on history. His works are informative, engaging, and most of all enjoyable to read. His apt descriptions, elegant use of language, and perceptive insights are on again on full display in "Churchill." Pretty impressive for a man who celebrated his eighty-first birthday last November.

He makes no bones about the fact that he's a lifelong admirer of Churchill and his bias is no doubt reflected in his interpretation of Churchill's role in history. So what? At this point, there isn't much in Churchill's life and work that isn't known (although Johnson does include a few nuggets that I have not read elsewhere). I for one don't want or need to read a completely objective above it all historical recounting of Churchill, especially when I can have the option of having Paul Johnson's perspective instead. My only really complaint is with the length, but it shows that Johnson may share Churchill's ability to recognize what really matters.

I recently read another short book by another English author named Johnson called "The History of Rasselas: Prince of Abissinia." The paperback version I bought was a mere one-hundred-and-twelve pages, but the novel condenses a lot into its short length:

The distinguished English writer's only novel provides a compelling glimpse of his moral views as he assails 18th-century optimism and man's unrealistic estimates of what life has to offer. Rasselas ponders such subjects as romantic love, flights of imagination, the great discoveries of science, and speculations about the meaning of happiness.

Even though the work was published more than two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, its exploration of the restless nature of man and our inability to ever truly find complete happiness in this world still resonates today. It's not exactly an easy or exciting read, but it will give you pause to think and realize that the quest to answer the existential questions of life is hardly unique to our age.


Saturday, January 09, 2010
What Price Freedom?

Yesterday's WSJ had a 2010 book preview that included Jonathan Franzen's forthcoming "Freedom":

"Freedom," due out in September, is a multi-generational epic that follows an idealistic young couple that settles in a rough neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn. Mr. Franzen's editors at Farrar, Straus & Giroux can hardly contain their excitement.

"It's a very powerful, amazing book about the disillusion of marriage. It's about the challenges and costs of personal freedom, and the burdens of it and the opportunities of it. It's about ecology, personal politics and general issues; it's about Iraq," said Jonathan Galassi, Mr. Franzen's editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

As if they weren't going to be treated to enough angst and agony with "the disillusion of marriage," ecology, and personal politics, readers will also be dragged into the quagmire of Franzen's views on Iraq. Hmmm...I wonder how he'll come down on the war in the book? I think I'd get more enjoyment out of reading the phone book.


Friday, December 04, 2009
Measures of Defeat

Gary Larson belatedly (better late than never) reviews Mark Moyar's excellent book on the Vietnam War--Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965--and shares some of his own experiences in a piece at Intellectual Conservative :

We laugh, yet again, at joke #10 in our repertoire of what passes for barracks humor. In a few precious hours we will count the Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs (a.k.a. "thuds" to us), as one by one they return to base, touching down with empty bomb racks, another sortie over North Vietnam, unreported by news media anywhere.

Today their return is 100%, but it is not always so. When the unthinkable happens, a pall settles over our jungle air base. Long faces everywhere, mess hall to chapel. Friends of the downed crews are glum, quiet over the tragic loss(es). Survivors, yet to be informed.

My smart-alecky remark about not bombing Hanoi, ironically, reflects the typical, cynical, young GIs' exasperation with LBJ's "limited" warfare. The reaction of most of us then twenty-somethings, young Turks all, is summed up by one seething sentence: "We're asked to win this f'in war with one arm strapped behind our backs."

"Limited war" puzzles us. So, too, are its fuzzy, dippy cousins, "appropriate response," "measured" and "graduated pressure." What the hell is THAT all about? Who does the measuring? What's appropriate? Do we really want to win this g_d? awful bloody war, or not? Defecate or get off the pot, dammit.

Fundamentally, "limited war" violates longtime U.S. military precepts. That is, when faced by an intractable foe, apply overwhelming power at the point of attack, to overwhelm the enemy, drive it to ground.

LBJ inherited JFK's batch of "the brightest," also called "Whiz Kids," led by a know-it-all former car-maker, the later regretful Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara. Opting for "limited war," not all-out, they squirrelly contradicted advice of wiser, seasoned heads, mainly military, often called "warmongers." Fighting a limited war became a politically correct, politically expedient Rx on how to lose slowly, painfully, with devastating loses, in a protracted conflict in a faraway place.

What WAS Washington thinking? Such decisions, far above our junior pay grades, were incomprehensible to us jungle lackeys. Pull our punches? Not give the struggle our all? But then, what did we young, dumb "boots on the ground" know? We had not studied von Clausewitz's treatises on war, or War & Politics 101. Our lives were merely on the line. Ours was not, in the old soldiers' phrase, to question why.

We had the opportunity to interview Mark Moyar on his book back in December of 2006 on the NARN. You can listen to that interview here. If you want to understand the real history of the Vietnam War, "Triumph Forsaken" is a good place to start. The guys like Gary who served there deserved better from their leaders at the time and today deserve for more people to appreciate what really happened.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Two For The Road

Read two worthy books on my recent bidneess trip. First up was Jonah Goldberg's indispensible work on the history of fascism and its connection to progressive American politics.

So much has already been written about the book that I don't feel the need to add much other than to reaffirm that it's a must read for conservatives. You might even want to try to get your liberal friends to give it a go if they're open to new ideas. If they think George W. Bush was a fascist wait until they learn about the real Woodrow Wilson.

The second book was the debut novel from Bryan Gruley--WSJ Chicago bureau chief--about a mystery in a small Michigan town that revolves around journalism and hockey.

Yeah, pretty much right in my wheelhouse. Anyone who's ever played hockey or spent any amount of time in a small resort town in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan will instantly recognize and appreciate the characters and settings that Gruley has created. He also takes on one of the most difficult of tasks in writing: telling the story from a perspective that you don't share. A man giving voice to female characters (or vice versa) is child's play compared to a forward trying to get inside the twisted mind of a goaltender. To his credit, Gruley nails it. Or at least I think he does. God only knows what's really going on with those demented souls who choose to play between the pipes.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Alpine Redoubt

Last week, there was some wild speculation about the possible meanings of a dream that I had that featured an appearance by noted libertarian blogger Vox Day. While the theories offered were interesting and even entertaining, there's likely a very simple explanation. Vox has a new book coming out soon called The Return of the Great Depression. He had sent me an advance preview of the book and asked for my comments on it. While I finished the book a few weeks ago, I haven't had a chance to collect my thoughts on it yet. With its October 29th (that dates seems familiar...) release looming, it's been moving up on my priority list of things that do. Therefore the dream was likely nothing more than subconscious reminder to take care of business and scribble a review. Sometimes a dream is just a dream and requires no further interpretation. Now, that dream where I'm lying in bed and Vox comes flying through the window...

Let me start my passing on a shocking piece of information: Vox Day is not an economist. That may lead some to discount his views on matters economic, but in this case it proves to be beneficial. He approaches the subject as an outsider and is not wedded to any particular school of economic theory from his background. This allows him to be rather dispassionate in his analysis and also forces him to be more vigorous in his research since he doesn't come into it with a great deal of experience.

It also makes "The Return of the Great Depression" a more understandable and entertaining read than your average economic tome. That's not to say its been dumbed down or overly simplified. Vox takes on some rather weighty and complicated economic topics. But, as he previously did in "The Irrational Atheist," he does so in his own unique voice (Vox's vox?). Even while explaining the inner workings of the money supply or the components that make up GDP, he maintains his straight-shooting style infused with the mix of cynicism and sarcastic humor that readers of his blog have come to expect. Its also one of the few economic texts that you're going to find sprinkled with gaming references. I was a little disappointed that he didn't find a way to work the Vikings in somewhere along the way.

"The Return of the Great Depression" covers a lot of ground in its relatively short (less than 250 pages) length. Vox begins by looking back at what happened to Japan's economy in the 1990s, why the attempts made to turn things around were bound to fail, and what lessons we can draw from that experience today. He then tries to explain how we got into the mess we're in today. One of my favorite chapters was "No One Knows Anything" where Vox casts a skeptical eye toward the economic data that we've come to rely on for guidance and decision making. For all the progress that the dismal science has made over the years there's still a frightening amount of uncertainty when it comes to knowing what's really going on with the economy and even more so with what will happen next.

One of the strengths of the arguments that Vox puts forth is his willingness to understand where the other side is coming from. He demonstrated this ably in "The Irrational Atheist" and does so again in "The Return of the Great Depression." For while he's firmly in the camp of the Austrian school of economic theory, he's obviously spent a lot of time studying the Monetarists and Keynesians. In fact, at times he seems to understand the underlying theories of Keynes better than some of his modern day adherents. After he details why he believes the Austrians offer the best (although far from perfect) explanations for how economic cycles work, he gives us a critique of the Austrian Theory from a Keynesian perspective. When you've taken the time to not only tear down your opponent's arguments, but also show that you can argue the case from their point of view, it demonstrates the thoroughness of your approach and understanding.

The book close with Vox presenting six possible scenarios for what might happen next to the global economy. They range the gamut from boom to gloom. The title of the book tells you what Vox thinks will happen next and he makes a strong case for it. I'm not quite as pessimistic as he is. While happy days aren't and won't be here again for some time, I don't believe that we're on the verge of Great Depression 2.0. We'll muddle through a period of prolonged stagnation and maybe even experience a double dip recession. No thanks to any conceivable government action. Vox also lists ten things that should be done to prevent things from getting any worse. The chance of any of those practical steps actually taking place is quite remote.

One possible criticism of the book is that it reflects Vox's style. Some might be put off by the at different times strident, arrogant, and flippant tone. But that's just Vox being Vox. It's definitely not for everyone. But if you want to read an informative, thoughtful, and even sometimes entertaining book on the current economic situation, you can't go wrong with "The Return of the Great Depression." Personally, I think that any book on economics with a chapter titled "The Whore, The False Prophet, and The Beast From The Sea" merits a look.

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Monday, October 12, 2009
Wave Theory

Last night, I dreamt that I was riding in a car being driven by Vox Day. We were discussing his new book The Return of the Great Depression. Not sure exactly where we were going or why, but there was a vague sense that we were late for a meeting of some sort. We turned down a dirt road into a wooded area when suddenly we drove into a lake. I don't mean we stuck the nose of the car in either. We literally drove out into the lake, although for a time we managed to keep going--almost like a snowmobile skipping over the surface--before the car started sinking beneath the waves. I don't recall anything after that point. I assume we both escaped unharmed.

I'm not sure how to interpret the deeper meaning of this little dream. But I have a hunch it might be a good time to buy gold.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Second Order Change

More from Angelo Codevilla's book Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft on what the U.S. could do if we were serious about going after the money that funds terrorism:

It is true that our own regime's present proclivities and prejudices make cutting the Saudis off from money well nigh impossible. But it is just as true that actually doing the cutting would be easy. Instantly, U.S. banks (and such other banks as value their access to the U.S. banking system) can freeze the accounts of Saudi citizens. Saudi oil revenues can be placed in escrow accounts. Simultaneously, U.S. forces can seize control of the main Saudi fields and loading centers almost without opposition, pushing the Wahabi Saudis back to their original tribal areas in the Arabian Peninsula's center. This would please mightily the coastal Shia tribes whom the Saudis oppress and live nearest the oil. The various foreigners who actually run the oil industry would also get a better deal. On the Red Sea side of the peninsula, U.S. forces could help the tribes who lost to the Saudis in 1921, descendants of the Prophet Muhammed who chafe under Wahabism, to take their historic vengeance. To forestall the interior tribes' resistance, the United States can blockade to deprive them pf food and essential maintenance, while letting it be known that the material and financial blockade would be lifted somewhat once the Saudi regime had been replaced, the Wahabis eliminated, and the tribes posed no danger to the world. That would be war.

Indeed it would. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I thought that seizing the Saudi oil fields should have been our first military response. Nearly eight years later, it's a bit depressing to consider how little has changed vis a vis Saudi Arabia and its importance in supporting (directly or indirectly) Islamic terrorism.

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Monday, August 31, 2009
Still Blaming Neocons For Iraq? Get Real

Whilst reading the provocative and convention challenging Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft by Angelo Codevilla, I came across this passage (which is the book's first endnote from the preface) which definitely goes against the grain of standard thinking:

There is no truth to the commonly held opinion that Neoconservatisim and Neoconservatives were primarily or even substantially responsible for the G.W. Bush Administration's foreign policy, especially its venture in Iraq. The occupation of Iraq was urged by Secretary of State Colin Powell using arguments both Realist (the Saudis demand it) and Liberal Internationalist (since we've broke it we've got to fix it). The occupation's political policy was set by Robert Blackwill, a Realist from the Council on Foreign Relations, and military policy by Walter Slocombe, a Liberal Internationalist from the Carter and Clinton Administrations. The intellectual architect of the Administration's 2007-2008 political military strategy was Stephen Biddle, another Realist from the Council. National Security Advisor and (later) Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice--the person closest to the President--either enabled whatever tendency in the Administration was strongest at any given time or just amalgamated the factions' contrasting recipes into "bridging documents." Yet she herself had risen through the Realist ranks under the patronage of former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. As we will see, Iraq was no different from other twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy ventures in that it was a vessel in which the several tendencies of contemporary American statecraft mixed like oil and water.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009
Reading Too Much Into It

The WSJ asked Joseph Finder to list the five best novels about political conspiracy. His selections include some books that I definitely want to check out. Especially the top pick:

1. It Can't Happen Here

By Sinclair Lewis

Doubleday, 1935

A charismatic Democratic senator who speaks in "noble but slippery abstractions" is elected president, in a groundswell of cultish adoration, by a nation on the brink of economic disaster. Promising to restore America's greatness, he promptly announces a government seizure of the big banks and insurance companies. He strong-arms the Congress into amending the Constitution to give him unlimited emergency powers. He throws his enemies into concentration camps. With scarcely any resistance, the country has become a fascist dictatorship. No black helicopters here, though. Sinclair Lewis's dystopian political satire, now largely forgotten except for its ironic title, was a mammoth best seller in 1935, during the depths of the Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe. His president, Berzelius ("Buzz") Windrip, is a ruthless phony with the "earthy sense of humor of a Mark Twain"; one of the few who dare oppose him openly is a rural newspaper editor who is forced to go on the run. Lewis's prose could be ungainly, but he captured with caustic humor the bumptious narrow- mindedness of small-town life.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Objectivism Overruled

At the First Things blog, Joe Carter points us to a well-done review of Atlas Shrugged by The Cranky Conservative:

And that leads to the philosophic problems with the book, namely with Rand's objectivist philosophy. Now as a conservative with libertarian sympathies, especially as it relates to economics, one would expect me to agree with much of what Rand has written. In a word, no. In two words, hell no. Oh, that's right, there is no hell.

The atheism is only a small part of the issue with objectivism. Galt (and thus Rand's) objection to the concept of original sin is naive, but even absent this aspect of objectivism, it remains a dehumanizing and abhorrent moral philosophy. Rand detests totalitarianism, it is true, but other writers have written better and less repugnant works in defense of capitalism and against totalitarianism. If libertarians and conservatives wish to seek out inspirational works on the topic, they are better off with the likes of George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Sowell, Wilhelm Roepke, F.A. Hayek and countless others.

The fundamental problem is that Rand is as naive about human nature as the socialist utopians. After all, a utopian is a utopian, whether they are Marxian or Randian utopians. Therefore the rejection of the concept of original sin is something of a problem because it blinds Rand to the idea that human beings cannot simply shut off their passionate desires. If totalitarians are blind to the reality that human nature cannot be perfected, Rand is blind to the fact that the altruistic tendencies of humans cannot similarly be wiped out. Believe it or not, we are social beings (Aristotle and Aquinas being right), and it is simply unrealistic--and Rand is supposed to be about reason and realism--to expect humans to simply ignore these aspects of their personality.

It's probably worth you while to slog your way through "Atlas Shrugged" at some point. But when you do, it's important to recognize that while Rand made some very astute and prescient observations, her underlying philosophy of life is as barren and empty of truth and meaning as those that she so successfully critiqued.


Thursday, August 20, 2009
Sieg Heil Jeeves!

E-mail book recommendation received from Amazon yesterday:

As someone who has purchased or rated Bertie Wooster Sees It Through (A Jeeves and Bertie Novel) by P. G. Wodehouse, you might like to know that With Hitler to the End: The Memoir of Hitler's Valet will be released on September 1, 2009.

So are the books linked because they both feature a valet? If you liked reading a light comedy with a fictional valet, you'll love the new book about the man who served one of history's evil monsters. Or was Bertie secretly a B.U.F. Blackshirt? He always seemed a little too carefree to be a Nazi to me.


Friday, August 14, 2009
Everything Is Better In Threes

When I heard that the third and final installment in Robert Ferrigno's "Assassins" trilogy was going to be released in August, I couldn't wait to get my meaty paws on it. Now, I can say that my anticipation proved well-founded.

"Heart of the Assassin" arrived on my doorstep this past Monday and before I drifted off to Nod last night I had polished it off. You know you're reading a damn fine novel when you experience mixed emotions as you race to the conclusion. You want to keep reading to find out how it's going to end, but at the same time you don't want it to end. I tried to slow down and savor the experience as much as possible, but in the end the anticipation of what might come next was too hard to resist.

I was also "working" under a bit of a deadline since I knew that we'd be interviewing Robert Ferrigno on the NARN First Team show this Saturday. It takes something special to lure me back into the AM1280 The Patriot studio bunker these days and the chance to discuss Mr. Ferrigno's latest work with him definitely fits that criteria.

He'll join us tomorrow at noon. You can listen to The Northern Alliance Radio Network starting at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at their web site. You can also join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

If you haven't read the first two books in the trilogy yet, I'd encourage you to do so. Beginning with "Prayers of the Assassin":

My review here.

Followed by "Sins of the Assassin":

My review of the book here and our March 2008 interview with Robert Ferrigno on it here.

SP ADDS: We'll also be giving away a pair of free tickets to the Minnesota Symposium on Climate Change: How Politicized Science Endangers Prosperity. It's coming up on August 19 at the Earl Brown Center and sponsored by our friends at the Minnesota Free Market Institute. For details on the event, check ou their Web site.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Welcome To The Jungle

Do you or anyone you know believe the following?

- That we had Saddam "in a box" and that if we had only continued with the United Nations weapons inspections programs and sanctions regime we could have contained his ambitions.

- That the United Nations is a place where countries and individuals come together to work for peace.

- That we should rely on the United Nations to competently and objectively implement and execute peace-keeping and humanitarian missions around the globe.

- That the United Nations acts in the best interests of the poor, persecuted, and repressed peoples of the world.

If you or anyone you answered "yes" to any of the following, you should read Michael Soussan's "Backstabbing For Beginners: My Crash Course In International Diplomacy" to get a much needed dose of reality.

Actually anyone interested in the inner workings of the U.N., the run-up to the Iraq War, and particularly in the culture of corruption that permeated the U.N.'s infamous "Oil For Food" program should read the book. It's a fascinating and infuriating account of a bright-eyed believer who enters the U.N. with dreams of "making a difference" and ends up leaving as a burned-out skeptic. His tales from inside the organization's bureaucratic and political meat-grinder are at times amusing and at times appalling. Luckily for him, he did manage to get out with his integrity intact--something that cannot be said for many of his colleagues.

One of his bosses whom he worked closely with went by the name "Pasha," better known to the world as Benon Sevan. During the time that Soussan worked for Sevan he was not aware that Sevan was as knee deep in kickbacks and payoffs as others who profited handsomely from a program ostensibly set up to help the Iraqi people under sanctions. In hindsight, a lot of what he didn't understand at the time suddenly made sense once he learned of Sevan's corruption.

By no means is Soussan a U.N. basher or a neocon schemer. He's more like an international idealist who was mugged by the reality of the United Nations.

There are many aspects of tragedy to this story: from the Iraqi people suffering while their leaders and others around the world grew rich to the way the U.N. wasted resources (both financial and human) that could have been put to much better use to the inept U.N. security in post-war Iraq that resulted in the needless loss of life. One of the sadder and more frustrating aspects is that it's hard to see that the U.N. has done much in the wake of the revelations of this scandalous activity to fundamentally change anything. Despite some happy talk about "reform," the U.N. today isn't really all that different from the U.N. where Soussan worked.

One final thought that Soussan shares near the end of the book is his view that the best blueprint for a healthy international organization was laid out by Immanuel Kant in Perpetual Peace. Kant foresaw a group of republics who would apply the laws and values of responsible and responsive domestic governance to international relations. The U.N. is a far cry from that ideal today and shows no sign of moving toward it in the future. Which is why we should expect to see more stories like Soussan's emerge from the dysfunctional world body.


Thursday, July 16, 2009
The Shape Of Things To Come?

What do the next one-hundred years hold in store for the United States? Another cold war with Russia? Being able to fulfill most of our energy needs from space? Dealing with the emergence of Mexico as a world power? A world war pitting the United States and Poland against Turkey and Japan???

Those are just some of what George Friedman sees when he dares gaze into a crystal ball in his book The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. Lest you think his work the screed of a wide-eyed lunatic or more fictional than futurist, he asks that we imagine what the 20th century would look beginning in 1900:

Imagine that you were alive in the summer of 1900, living in London, then the capital of the world. Europe ruled the Eastern Hemisphere. There was hardly a place that, if not ruled directly, was not indirectly controlled from a European capital. Europe was at peace and enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Indeed, European interdependence due to trade and investment was so great that serious people were claiming that war had become impossible--and if not impossible, would end within weeks of beginning--because global financial markets couldn't withstand the strain. The future seemed fixed: a peaceful, prosperous Europe would rule the world.

Imagine yourself now in the summer of 1920. Europe had been torn apart by an agonizing war. The continent was in tatters. The Austro- Hun gar ian, Russian, German, and Ottoman empires were gone and millions had died in a war that lasted for years. The war ended when an American army of a million men intervened--an army that came and then just as quickly left. Communism dominated Russia, but it was not clear that it could survive. Countries that had been on the periphery of European power, like the United States and Japan, suddenly emerged as great powers. But one thing was certain--the peace treaty that had been imposed on Germany guaranteed that it would not soon reemerge.

Imagine the summer of 1940. Germany had not only reemerged but conquered France and dominated Europe. Communism had survived and the Soviet Union now was allied with Nazi Germany. Great Britain alone stood against Germany, and from the point of view of most reasonable people, the war was over. If there was not to be a thousand-year Reich, then certainly Europe's fate had been decided for a century. Germany would dominate Europe and inherit its empire.

Imagine now the summer of 1960. Germany had been crushed in the war, defeated less than five years later. Europe was occupied, split down the middle by the United States and the Soviet Union. The European empires were collapsing, and the United States and Soviet Union were competing over who would be their heir. The United States had the Soviet Union surrounded and, with an overwhelming arsenal of nuclear weapons, could annihilate it in hours. The United States had emerged as the global superpower. It dominated all of the world's oceans, and with its nuclear force could dictate terms to anyone in the world. Stalemate was the best the Soviets could hope for--unless the Soviets invaded Germany and conquered Europe. That was the war everyone was preparing for. And in the back of everyone's mind, the Maoist Chinese, seen as fanatical, were the other danger.

Now imagine the summer of 1980. The United States had been defeated in a seven-year war--not by the Soviet Union, but by communist North Vietnam. The nation was seen, and saw itself, as being in retreat. Expelled from Vietnam, it was then expelled from Iran as well, where the oil fields, which it no longer controlled, seemed about to fall into the hands of the Soviet Union. To contain the Soviet Union, the United States had formed an alliance with Maoist China--the American president and the Chinese chairman holding an amiable meeting in Beijing. Only this alliance seemed able to contain the powerful Soviet Union, which appeared to be surging.

Imagine now the summer of 2000. The Soviet Union had completely collapsed. China was still communist in name but had become capitalist in practice. NATO had advanced into Eastern Europe and even into the former Soviet Union. The world was prosperous and peaceful. Everyone knew that geopolitical considerations had become secondary to economic considerations, and the only problems were regional ones in basket cases like Haiti or Kosovo.

Then came September 11, 2001, and the world turned on its head again. At a certain level, when it comes to the future, the only thing one can be sure of is that common sense will be wrong. There is no magic twenty-year cycle; there is no simplistic force governing this pattern. It is simply that the things that appear to be so permanent and dominant at any given moment in history can change with stunning rapidity. Eras come and go. In international relations, the way the world looks right now is not at all how it will look in twenty years...or even less. The fall of the Soviet Union was hard to imagine, and that is exactly the point. Conventional political analysis suffers from a profound failure of imagination. It imagines passing clouds to be permanent and is blind to powerful, long-term shifts taking place in full view of the world.

Friedman's book suffers from no such failure of imagination. He refuses to let his thinking be bound by historical constraints and recognizes that geopolitical alignments always appear more stable and permanent at any given time than they prove to be in the long run.

Friedman's foresights are based on analysis that is largely free of passions or prejudice toward any particular country or political system. It isn't always easy for Americans to step back and take an objective view of the United States and its place in the world now or in the future. The clear-headed, dispassionate approach of Friedman reminds me in some ways of the work of Thomas P.M. Barnett.

And like Barnett, Friedman's view of the future is for the most part an optimistic one. He foresees another "golden age" for the United States in the mid twenty-first century similar to the one we experienced after the Second World War. While he recognizes the economic and societal consequences of coming technological changes will contain both positives and negatives, he generally sees more good than bad.

Two of his predictions that I found particularly interesting are:

- The struggle between the West and the Islamists is already winding down and will not have a significant influence on events the rest of the century. While this may seem a bit unlikely now, Friedman explains that since there aren't any Islamist states per se, it's unlikely that a loosely organized movement based on its beliefs can be sustained.

- Unlike many, he does not see China emerging as the next great power. In fact, he believes that China will actually begin to be riven with internal strife and fracture into disparate regions of power relatively soon (2020s).

Will everything that Friedman predicts come to pass? Of course not. But some likely will and thinking and arguing about which events might is one of the distinct pleasures of reading this book.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009
More Kindling On The Fire

Interesting article in Monday's WSJ on the on-going debate over pricing for e-books (sub req):

Publishers are concerned that so many successful new titles are sold for $9.99 or less on Inc.'s Kindle electronic book reader and Fictionwise, an e-book retailer owned by Barnes and Noble Inc. In contrast, new hardcover novels typically retail for $25 to $27.

Like most publishers, Sourcebooks Inc., an independent publisher based in Naperville, Ill., usually makes new books available as e-books upon print publication, but not this time. In an interview, Sourcebooks' chief executive said it will delay by at least half a year the e-book version of "Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse," a young-readers title in the vein of Harry Potter that goes on sale Sept. 9. While the book is a debut novel, the author, Kaleb Nation, has a following with his blog.

Sourcebooks is issuing 75,000 copies of "Bran Hambric," a sizable print run in this economy, and has arranged a substantial marketing campaign and book tour for Mr. Nation.

"It doesn't make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99," said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, which issues 250 to 300 new titles annually. "The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn't cannibalize it." An e-book for "Bran Hambric" will become available in the spring, she said.

This is the conundrum that the publishing industry will face as the popularity of e-books continues to grow. While I don't think that we'll see the end of the traditional print version of books anytime soon, we are in the beginning stages of a transition to e-books that will force publishers to rethink many aspects of the business, pricing in particular.

Of the top 15 fiction books on the July 19 New York Times best-seller list, only Catherine Coulter's novel "Knockout," which ranks No. 4, is unavailable in the Kindle format. Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group LLC and Ms. Coulter's literary agent, said he doesn't allow any of his authors' books to be published simultaneously as an e-book when he can prevent it.

"It's no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters," he said. "Why would you do that?"

While I can appreciate the basis for Mr. Gottlieb's argument, his analogy is not an apt one. Going to a theater to watch a movie is an experience with significant differences between watching the same movie at home. The differences between reading a book in a print or Kindle format are nowhere near the same.

Music labels went through a similar pricing fight with Apple Inc., which for years set the price of all the digital music in its iTunes store at 99 cents. In April, Apple expanded to a tiered pricing system, offering songs for 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29.

"Publishers are in denial about the economics of digital content," said Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. "What we've seen in other industries and in the evolution of digital content is that consumers are not willing to pay as much for content that is separated from its physical medium."

At first blush, music does seem to offer a better comparison. However, it's not a perfect one either. If you download an e-book, you can't replicate the physical medium of the book. But it's quite easy to burn a CD after you download an album from iTunes. That's why the cost difference between purchasing a recently released album as a CD in a store or downloading the same album is relatively small. While consumers want to pay less for the electronic version of the music, they also recognize that there isn't that much cost in the CD itself. If a CD sells for $12 in a store, no one expects that they should be able to pay $4 for it on iTunes.

The problem for the publishers is trying to strike the right balance between the price they charge for a hard cover book and what they charge for the same e-book. If you look at music, the price of CDs has come down over the years while the price of digital music has remained relatively stable. Obviously, publishers have fixed and variable costs in printing hard cover books that far exceed those that music label do in making CDs.

The answer probably lies in trying to have more of the content costs (author advances, marketing, book tours, etc.) included in the price of the e-books and at the same time lowering the price of the hard cover books while still covering the costs of producing them. Which would lead to a situation where the price spread between the two versions would shrink to the point where publishers wouldn't have to worry about e-books cannibalizing their hard cover sales.


Monday, June 22, 2009
Seasons Change

Summer is really kicking into high gear this week with forecasts of hot, humid weather in the Upper Midwest. And while we should cling to the all-too-short season for all its worth, we should also recognize that the falling leaves and crisp air of autumn harken in the not-too-distant future. The pain of letting go of summer and embracing fall should be just a tad bit easier this year with the release of two much anticipated books.

One comes out just as summer begins its farewell:

This is the culminating novel in Ferrigno's post-apocalyptic Assassin trilogy, following Prayers for the Assassin (2006) and Sins of the Assassin (2008), which was recently selected as a finalist for the Edgar Award. Key leaders are planning to reunite the U.S., long divided into an Islamic Republic and a Christian Bible Belt. Elite Muslim warrior Rakkim Epps' wife, Sarah, believes the path to reunification lies in retrieving a relic of Christ's cross kept in a safe room beneath Washington, D.C., an area long looted by scavengers known as zombies who are willing to risk contamination from nuclear fallout in order to retrieve and sell treasured items. Also interested in reuniting America is the Old One, a 150-year-old despot who has achieved near immortality through genetic engineering. Now, though, his time is running out as his body begins to reject enhancements to his system. He sends his ruthless, voluptuous daughter, Baby, to recruit Rakkim into his plan to achieve world domination. Ferrigno wraps up his provocative trilogy in grand style, alternating scenes of inventive mayhem with sweeping indictments of spineless politicians and fanatical extremists.

The first two books in the series have been great fun to read and I expect more of the same with "Heart of the Assassin." You can read the first chapter at Robert Ferrigno's Blog.

The second release will come when fall is already underway:

There is no product description yet at Amazon, but this is a pretty summary of We Are Doomed:

Derbyshire aims in this book to pour cold water on all "schemes for political improvement," both at home and abroad, to argue that our civilization is in its twilight, and to show that while there are things we could do to save the situation, we won't do any of them, because we have sunk into a collective mindset that won't let us. Hence: We are doomed.

It's not a frivolous subject. Still, every sinking ship should, like the Titanic, have a band playing on deck as she goes down. He aims to bring the bad news with a light touch, to highlight some of the ironies, and to emulate the late, great Samuel Beckett, who seasoned his sermons on futility ("we give birth astride a grave") with jokes and slapstick. Furthermore, the acquiescence of conservatives in the happy talk has been a big part of the problem. That should never have happened. Conservatism ought to be pessimistic. It has always had a strong streak of pessimism, from Hobbes and Burke, through Lord Salisbury and Calvin Coolidge, to Pat Buchanan (DEATH OF THE WEST) and Mark Steyn (AMERICA ALONE) in our own time. Derbyshire aims to out-gloom all of them, thereby sparking a needed debate within conservatism as to the proper temperament of the movement.

A tome sure to warm the cold hearts of conservative curmudgeons everywhere. While I don't share Derbyshire's sense of existential doom in the higher matters (with God there is always hope), when it comes to the affairs of men I find myself becoming more and more pessimistic with the passing years. Happily pessimistic of course.

Best to pre-order these two books now. Summer'll be over before you know it.


Friday, June 12, 2009
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Finally got around to reading Iris Chang's "The Rape of Nanking" (the Chinese city now usually called Nanjing). The book is the story of the wide-spread massacres and atrocities committed by Japanese troops after taking the city in 1937. Like Richard Rhode's Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust (which details the actions of SS units who began the "Final Solution" on the eastern front) the horrific nature of the acts makes for difficult reading at times.

I was struck by the similarity between the reaction of the Chinese civilians and soldiers to their fate and that of many Jews during the Holocaust. Despite plenty of obvious evidence to the contrary, they clung to a belief that they would be okay right up until the very end. The Japanese troops carrying out the killings were often outnumbered ten and even a hundred to one by their prisoners yet there were very few instances of any resistance even though the Chinese likely would have been able to overwhelm their captors had they acted together. It's probably part of human nature at some level to refuse to accept that a horrible fate awaits and to rationalize your way into inaction.

I don't know if there are any lessons that one can take from this (and hopefully they would never need to be applied), but one seems to be that if armed men come to take you away you should assume the worst. Resistance at that point, even if futile, is probably preferable to the alternative. It reminds me of how people are usually advised that if you are getting car jacked or kidnapped, the best chance of escape is in the initial moments of the attack.

Unlike the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking has not received the historical attention or study that it deserves. I would venture to guess that most Americans aren't even aware that it occurred and few appreciate the scale and scope of the murderous brutality. Chang's book is a good place to start to remedy that ignorance.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Still Some Bite In The Bulldog?

One of my favorite NARN radio interviews was with British historian Michael Burleigh. He's the author of Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War and Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror, two essential works in understanding the interplay of religion and politics in modern history.

Now, he's just released his latest work, Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism:

Blood and Rage is a sweeping and deeply penetrating work of history that explores the nature of terrorism from its origins in the West to today's global threat fueled by fundamentalists. Distinguished historian Michael Burleigh ("There are few better writers at work today"--The Sunday Times) emphasizes the lethal resentments and the twisted morality that spawn terrorism rather than the ideological or religious justification that routinely accompanies it. He reveals who the terrorist groups are, how they organize and operate, what motivates their violence, and how wider support encourages them.

Burleigh takes us from the roots of terrorism in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Russian Nihilists, and the London-based anarchists of Black International to the various terrorist campaigns that exist today. He also explores the lives of people engaged in careers of political violence and those who are most affected by terrorism.

Burleigh argues persuasively that history enables us to see how terrorism can be effectively contained and countered by avoiding the major mistakes of the past and by exploiting weaknesses within terrorist organizations. The problems in today's world, as well--especially the chaos inflicted by terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan--reflect the tragic, disastrous, and far-reaching consequences of this long war.

Definitely one to add to the Wish List.

And Mr. Burleigh is now blogging at Standpoint.Online, the web outpost for the promising new British mag:

Standpoint's core mission is to celebrate our civilization, its arts and its values--in particular democracy, debate and freedom of speech--at a time when they are under threat. Standpoint aims to be an antidote to the parochialism of British political magazines and to introduce British readers to brilliant writers and thinkers from across the Atlantic, across the Channel and around the world.

There most certainly is a need for such a stout defense of civilization in the U.K. and the world for that matter. And for the works of men like Michael Burleigh.

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What Are Your Reading?

Package from Amazon arrived on Monday. Contents included:

Yes, my recommendations list at Amazon does look a little wacky at times.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The Good Life

If you're looking for a last minute Christmas gift (I believe Amazon can still deliver in time) for someone trying to climb their way up the leadership ladder whether it be in politics, sports, or business, you should consider Alexandre Havard's Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence. It's not about winning friends and influencing people. Or effective habits or fromage rearranging or whatever the latest and greatest leadership fad of 2008 is. Instead, Havard harkens back to the traditional virtues that he believes are essential to leadership and personal development:

Virtuous Leadership defines each of the classical human virtues most essential to leadership magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, self-control and justice. It demonstrates how these virtues promote personal transformation and the attainment of self-fulfillment. It also considers the Christian supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity without which no study of leadership can be complete. The book's final section, "Towards Victory", offers a methodology for the achievement of interior growth tailored to the needs of busy, professional people intent on imbuing their lives with a transcendent purpose. Thus, the aim of Virtuous Leadership is ultimately practical. It is meant to be your guidebook in the quest for moral excellence.

Even if you're not aiming for anything higher than life than simply being a good person of moral integrity, Virtuous Leadership is worth a read. Havard sites examples throughout history of people who have lived lives that exemplified such leadership. It's not everyday that you come across a book that is meaningful for your work, religious, and personal lives and Virtuous Leadership is just such a rare gem.


Monday, August 25, 2008
Summer Reading Four

In general, I consider myself fairly well-versed in American history, especially when it comes to the post-World War II era and especially when it comes to politics. Therefore, I was surprised (pleasantly) when I read Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America to discover just how much I didn't know about what transpired politically in the United States from 1965 to 1972. I also never fully realized just how messed up the country was at the time and the extent of the riots, protests, crime, and moral decay.

In "Nixonland," Perlstein provides an exhaustive (748 pages of material) and well-researched (746 noted references) look at why American voters went from delivering LBJ to the White House in a landslide victory in 1964 to re-electing Richard Nixon by an even larger margin in 1972. This tectonic shift in the political landscape is documented by Perlstein in an informative and usually interesting manner.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is the number of names that you come across from that time who would later play larger roles in American cultural and political life. Just a quick perusing of the index brings forth:

Roger Ailes
Julian Bond
George W. Bush
Johnnie Cohcran
Bill Clinton
Mike Gravel
Al Gore Jr.
Gary Hart
John Kerry
Richard John Neuhaus
Leon Panetta
Charlie Rangel
Karl Rove
Donald Rumsfeld
Richard Mellon Scafie (buh-wah, buh-wah, buh-wah)
Caspar Weinberger

A lot of them cut their political teeth during this period and the tumultuous environment of the time influenced their later decisions in life.

Perlstein is a man of the Left and his partisan perspective on events is not hard to detect. His views reflect the Left's obsessions about the Sixties (and today to a certain extent): race, Vietnam, and Nixon. There's a racial context to almost everything, either overt or covert. He accepts the standard narrative on Vietnam; that it was an unwinnable war that highlighted America at its worst. And he views Nixon as a sort of contemptible but at the same time pathetic evil genius, giving him far too much credit for orchestrating, manipulating, and influencing the course of events (similar to the way that many lefties view Bush today).

A lot of the political dirty tricks (a.k.a. rat f***ing) employed by Nixon and his cast of cronies were juvenile, stupid, and for most part ineffectual. Perlstein exaggerates their impact if not their intent. He also is obsessed with the language Nixon used and likes to decode the words to reveal the "real" message being sent. This is an extremely subjective area of course and a lot of the secret meanings that Perlstein finds seem to be more a product of the writer's slightly paranoid imagination than the politician's subliminal messaging.

All that being said, "Nixonland" is still a valuable resource for anyone who wants to understand the politics of the period and how we're fighting many of the same battles today. Perlstein believes that we're still living in "Nixonland" and the level of antagonism between the two sides of the political spectrum isn't much better. Personally, I'm more optimistic and glad to live in a time when we're attacking each other verbally in books and blogs rather than physically with bullets and bombs.


Friday, August 08, 2008
Summer Reading Three

With age and experience, one hopes comes wisdom. Well, at least until the senility kicks in. One of the pearls of wisdom that you pick up over the years is that high expectations are often not fulfilled and the greatest joys in life sometimes follow from the lowest expectations. Such was the case when I received 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help by Benjamin Wiker in the mail.

It was a small, rather unimpressive looking volume with a hacky title and a picture of a screw through a book. My first thought was that it was one of these quickly dashed off "list" works that involved little thought or analysis by the author. Therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that--contrary to my expectations--it was actually a well-written, informative, and at times even humorous look at books that did indeed greatly contribute to human misery. The front flap provides a pretty accurate preview:

You've heard of the "Great Books"?

These are their evil opposites. From Machiavelli's The Prince to Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto to Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, these "influential" books have led to war, genocide, totalitarian oppression, family breakdown, and disastrous social experiments. And yet these authors' bad ideas are still popular and pervasive--in fact, they might influence your own thinking without your realizing it. Here with the antidote is Professor Benjamin Wiker. In his scintillating new book, 10 Books That Screwed Up the World (And 5 Others That Didn't Help), he seizes each of these evil books by its malignant heart and exposes it to the light of day. In this witty, learned, and provocative exposé, you'll learn:

* Why Machiavelli's The Prince was the inspiration for a long list of tyrannies (Stalin had it on his nightstand)

* How Descartes' Discourse on Method "proved" God's existence only by making Him a creation of our own ego

* How Hobbes' Leviathan led to the belief that we have a "right" to whatever we want

* Why Marx and Engels's Communist Manifesto could win the award for the most malicious book ever written

* How Darwin's The Descent of Man proves he intended "survival of the fittest" to be applied to human society

* How Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil issued the call for a world ruled solely by the "will to power"

* How Hitler's Mein Kampf was a kind of "spiritualized Darwinism" that accounts for his genocidal anti-Semitism

* How the pansexual paradise described in Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa turned out to be a creation of her own sexual confusions and aspirations

* Why Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was simply autobiography masquerading as science

The genius of Wiker's work is not simply describing the books in question and explaining how they screwed up the world. It's the convincing connections he makes between the authors. Not all of them are intertwined, but it's revealing and disturbing to see how many of these authors were building on a foundation provided by other bad books that had come before. Darwin to Sanger to Hitler (and they turn two!) is just one of the many examples.

Wiker also highlights other strands that connect the authors. They were for the most part atheists, which Wiker says was often the root of their rebellion. And they were for most part pretty messed up in their personal lives. It's interesting to see how Mead, Sanger, Kinsey, and Friedan (among others) tried to promote the ideas in their books as a way to validate and justify areas in their lives that were outside of the traditional values system. Wiker unveils hidden psychological factors that were often the author's real motivators. On Kinsey he remarks:

He represents, in sterling coin, the evil that results from attempting to change the world to match one's character, rather than changing oneself to match the deep moral order written into human nature.

As he summarizes in the book's conclusion:

The cracks in the soul become more visible when they are ignored. They become more visible when the twisted soul tries to rid the world of the very idea that each individual has a soul accountable to God. The twisted soul does this in order to deny its own twistedness, and that good and evil are defined by a divine source outside the self. The authors we've examined who have taken a turn at twisting the screws that have screwed up the world all have this in common. They all deny sin.

The fact that "10 Books That Screwed Up The World" is a small book is also one of its blessings. It's a quick, enjoyable read that you'll breeze through, but will likely want to keep in a handy place on the bookshelf for future reference. I liked the free copy I received so much that I ordered one for each of my fellow Fraters.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Summer Reading Two

Recently, I received two excellent coffee table books (not books about coffee tables) for my birthday. The first concerns the history of brewing in Minnesota:

The second is a pictorial history of the NHL team that I grew up, the Minnesota North Stars (autographed by Lou Nanne):

This post isn't a review of either book since I haven't had a chance to actually read either. However, I have perused them both quite a bit and the rich photographic snapshots of history contained within each ensure that I will be going back early and often.


Monday, May 19, 2008
Finding The Time

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
A Merciless Deconstruction

Anthony Sacramone reviews Vox Day's The Irrational Atheist at the First Things Blog and, for the most part, likes what he reads:

Nevertheless, whether you embrace Day's theology or toss it, there is no avoiding the cumulative force of the author's counterassaults or the sting of his wit when it comes to the true focus of the book-atheism's continuing love affair with nonsense. In short, The Irrational Atheist is a blast and will no doubt occasion many a late-night debate. And don't forget to thank your village atheist when you get the chance. Like heretics before them, atheists are inspiring a steady flow of truly inspired Christian polemic, which may prove to win the world for Christ in ways that must send shivers down the collective spine of that most "Unholy Trinity."


Sunday, December 23, 2007
Book Talk

Thomas PM Barnett provides a partial list of books he read this past year and his thumbnail reviews. Granted he's no oasis of literacy like Dan Barreiro, not a single pulp romance or mystery appears on this list. But it is a very impressive list. Given my respect for Barnett's intelligence and discernment, I'm happy to say I considered reading no less than three of these. No doubt many of the remainder will make up the list of books I will have considered reading by the end of '08.

Not appearing on the list is something I ran across in the Pioneer Press the other day. Looks like former Gopher basketball player Walter Bond has gotten into the old writing game, with this destined to be classic:

Former Gophers and Timberwolves guard Walter Bond, 38, who has become a nationally sought motivational speaker, has sold nearly 7,000 copies of his new book, "All Buts Stink," which decries the use of excuses as alibis.

Chapter One, He Who Smelt It Dealt It - How To Stop Blaming Others.

Chapter Two, Pull Your Own Finger - Be an Agent of Change

OK, I could go on and on with embarrassing, sophomoric banter. And I just might offline (it will be more entertaining, and less scatological, than how the Vikings are playing right now). But I see someone else already has taken the case. TC Sportszone noticed this book seven months ago, took a look at the author's web site, and provides the definitive review.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Yeah, but are you gettin' it? - Armageddon it!

Yesterday, Lileks brought back some memories with his reference to Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth. The book postulated that the end times were just around the corner and offered evidence of current events to support the theory.

My mother owned a copy of said book and it was quite compelling reading. At least for a youngster who also liked reading the Book of Revelation for fun. Throw in repeated viewings of the first couple of Omen movies (the pond hockey scene still creeps me out) and I was all but convinced that the Anti-Christ was soon to make an appearance.

It's interesting to look back and realize that although my mother was a rock-ribbed Catholic, she was also running with an Evangelical/Born Again/Pre-Millennialist crowd back in those days. She would attend prayer meetings and lectures and come back with books on the evils of rock-and/or-roll (did you know that KISS stands for Knights In Satan's Service?) and strange theories about how the battle of Armageddon would begin.

One particular scenario that I can still clearly recall her passing on was that the USSR was going to invade Israel. When I expressed my twelve-year-old skepticism--borne of my reading of military history--about how realistic that actually was, she explained that they were going to use horses so as to not be picked up by radar. Okay, then.

A blast from the past. The good ol' days of end times.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Nanny State 911

Last Saturday on the First Team broadcast on the NARN, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing David Harsanyi, columnist for the Denver Post and author of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children. You can learn more about the book here and also check out David's blog.

Not only is David a great judge of talk radio talent, but he also proved to be an amusing and interesting guest. You can now listen to the interview commercial-free here.


Monday, October 01, 2007
Nanny Borough?

Next Saturday, we're going to welcome David Harsanyi to the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network to discuss his new book Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children.

As part of my usual thorough show prep, I've been reading Harsanyi's book and came across this passage of interest:

In early 2007, a New York State senator from Brooklyn planned to introduce a bill banning talking on a cell phone, listening to an MP3 player, or using a BlackBerry or any electronic device while crossing the street in New York City. "While people are tuning in to their iPods and cell phones, they're turning out the world around them," Senator Carl Kruger explained.

Geez, and I thought Minneapolis was getting bad. Word has it that next up for the Brooklyn pol are plans to ban cannoli, playing stick ball in the street, and wearing Guido suits.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

When I heard that William F. Buckley had a new political novel coming out, I thought that it would nice to have.

When the read the book review in the latest issue of National Review (sub req):

The Rake tells the story of Reuben Hardwick Castle, a North Dakotan who rises from obscurity to the U.S. Senate and nearly wins the Democratic nomination in 1992. He has no real-life analogue (this is not a book about William Jefferson Clinton), yet his character is familiar to us all.

He begins as a charming, even likable person. But his is the fast charm of a restless man, more an involuntary emotional tic than evidence of underlying warmth. We see Castle in 1967 as a freshman at the University of North Dakota, where he is vying for a position on the college newspaper. Buckley writes, "He was by nature competitive but also adroit about the expenditure of energy....He reasoned that by a shrewd application of practical and psychological intelligence he could increase the prospects of success, while diminishing the pains of achieving it." Castle reasons correctly, and rises through the ranks of college life: editor-in-chief of the newspaper, class president, leading protester of the Vietnam War, and all-around man about campus.

I knew that I had to have it. How can you not read Buckley writing about North Dakota?

Despite the heavy passions at play, the book is full of light-heartedness. For example, Buckley pokes fun at the signature vices of the late-'60s generation--false spontaneity, selfish indulgence in loose morals--with "Zip to Zap Day," one of Castle's college schemes. Thousands of students descend on the farming town of Zap, N.D. (population: 450), to manifest their youth through beer and rock music. When after a few days food runs low and the weather turns cold, the organizers urge everyone to leave. But no one budges, and the National Guard is called in to calm "the first 'riot' ever officially recorded in North Dakota."

The Zip to Zap was a real event. When I was in college at UND, people described it to me as "North Dakota's Woodstock." Not exactly:

Students began arriving in Zap on Friday, May 9, 1969. They quickly filled the town's two taverns. The demand for beer was such that the tavern owners decided to double the price. This action upset the students, but in the long run it did not matter since all the beer was rapidly consumed. Drunken students took the streets of the small town. Vomiting and urinating on the streets by the students caused great concern among the locals, who quickly began to fear for their safety.

The temperatures fell below freezing and the drunken college students started a bonfire in the center of town, using wood that was left over from a recent demolition project. The townspeople, led by Mayor Fuchs, asked the students to leave: some complied and some did not. What had started out as a spring break get-together quickly turned into the only riot in North Dakota's history. Local security forces were overwhelmed and the cafe and one of the bars were completely destroyed.

Governor William Guy called in 500 troops from the North Dakota National Guard to quell the riot. Over 1,000 partiers were still in Zap when the guard arrived on the scene at 6:30 am, although just 200 of them were still awake. The guardsmen with fixed bayonets roused the hungover students. There was little resistance to the dispersal. This all took place in front of national media outlets that had gathered at Zap to document the occasion.

In fact, the Zip to Zap was the lead item on the CBS Evening News that day. It was also covered by Pravda, the news outlet of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the Stars and Stripes of the United State Armed Forces. Damage from the riot was estimated to be greater than $25,000. These bills were ultimately paid by the student governments of North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota.

I look forward to enjoying Buckley's treatment of the Zip To Zap. It should be a riot.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Cherry Picking

The other day, as I was perusing the Air America Minnesota web site, I happened upon their Book Club for progressive readers. Along with expected fare from the likes of Franken, Rich, Brock, Alterman, Conason, Gore, and Wallis, I was surprised to find The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. I was especially surprised to find it under the heading:

The Bush Administration's Failure To Get Tough On Al-Qaeda:

While Wright's book is generally non-partisan in tone, he doesn't shy away from exposing the failures of our political leaders to take the threat of Al-Qaeda seriously enough and act forcefully against it prior to 9/11. If you're going to recommend the book as a source for information on the Bush Administration's eight months of failure pre-9/11, you should recognize that it also is a damning indictment of the EIGHT YEARS of similiar failures under President Clinton.

However, it is encouraging to see Air America recommend "The Looming Tower" (the only book that also appears on our reading recommendations) to its listeners. If they actually read it, they might realize the true nature of the threat we still face and that the war that we are currently engaged in is indeed much more than a bumper-sticker slogan.


Monday, August 27, 2007
The World's Greatest Deliberative Bowel?

Page thirty-one of Rowan Scarborough's interesting and infuriating book, Sabotage: America's Enemies Within the CIA, gives us a peek behind the scenes at the Senate Intelligence Committee in late 2003 as chairman Pat Roberts from Kansas and the top-ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller lead an investigation into whether pre-war intelligence had been manipulated by the Bush administration:

Rockefeller would sometimes sink to locker-room chitchat, bringing up his bowel movements in closed committee meetings. "I just had the most magnificent shit," he remarked one day to Roberts as the session was about to begin.

Nice to know that even uber-wealthy elites like Rockefeller still take pride in their daily business.


Friday, July 13, 2007
Rough Man

George Orwell's famous quote:

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

Was never more appropriate than with the story of Marcus Luttrell, as told in the riveting read Lone Survivor.

If you missed our interview with Marcus last Saturday on the NARN, you can now listen to it here.

He's also featured as one of the military heroes on this DOD site. Thank God we have men like Marcus Luttrell.


Friday, June 29, 2007
Barnes & Bendover

Usually I do all my book shopping through Amazon or better yet get books for free as part of promotional efforts. I can't remember the last time I went to a bricks and mortar store and bought a book.

Today, I remembered why I've avoided them. I strolled over to the local branch of a large national book chain during lunch and picked up a couple of books to give as gifts. The jackals fed well as I paid full price for both. Full frickin' price.

I almost forget how painful that is. The idea of paying 33% more for a book just because I was picking it up at the store today rather than ordering it online was not easy to swallow. Sure, I'm paying for the convenience, but a FULL THIRD MORE seems to be approaching any reasonable definition of gouging. When are the politicians in Washington going to wake up and do something about Big Books?


Friday, June 22, 2007

Yesterday, I received an e-mail promoting the release of a new book (and trying to score an interview request for the NARN) that purports to "expose one of the best-kept secrets in political history." Daniel Estulin's The True Story of the Bilderberg Group is also described as:

This explosive publication offers readers an unblinking investigation into an elitist conclave once shrouded in total mystery and impenetrable security. Expect a fascinating account of the annual meetings of the world's most powerful people--the Bilderberg Group.

Not being much of a conspiracy guy (unless you count the far-ranging plot to keep the Vikings from winning the Super Bowl), I haven't taken much of an interest in the Bilderberg Group in the past. I had heard the name bandied about and knew that it was alleged to be some sort of supra-national organization that was really running the world. The name itself probably contributed to my disinterest. It's hard to get riled about something as innocuous as the Bilderberg Group when you've got the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Free Masons, and Skull and Bones plotting to fluoridate your drinking water.

In fact, I wasn't even aware of where the name came from:

Since its inception in 1954 at the Bilderberg Hotel in the small Dutch town of Oosterbeek, the Bilderberg Group has been comprised of European prime ministers, American presidents, and the wealthiest CEOs of the world, coming together to discuss the economic and political future of humanity, far beyond the range of democratic expectations.

Oosterbeek? I was in Oosterbeek a few years ago. Had I known that the Bilderberg Hotel was there, I would have made an effort to find it to see if I could spot any puppet masters lurking about. As it was, I had a different hotel as my destination.

The Hartenstein Hotel, now home to the Airborne Museum, which honors the British, American, and Polish paratroopers who fought in the region during WWII as part of Operation Market Garden. Not as secretive as the Bilderberg Group, but much more interesting to one concerned more with history than conspiracy.

In case you were curious, we will not be having Daniel Estulin on our Northern Alliance Radio Network show. Brian and I were all for it, but for some reason Mr. Hinderaker was adamant that he not be allowed on the air. It was all very unusual.

You don't suppose that John is...nah.


Monday, May 07, 2007
Rave Reviews

The following is a sample of book reviews that caught my eye this past weekend.

We start with Douglas Feith--the man who put the neo in neocon--in Friday's Wall Street Journal on what George Tenet's book should have been called:

Mr. Tenet's point here builds on the book's much-publicized statements that the author never heard the president and his national-security team debate "the imminence of the Iraqi threat," whether or not it was "wise to go to war" or when the war should start. He paints a distorted picture here.

But even if it were true that he never heard any such debate and was seriously dissatisfied with the dialogue in the White House Situation Room, he had hundreds of opportunities to improve the discussion by asking questions or making comments. I sat with him in many of the meetings, and no one prevented him from talking. It is noteworthy that Mr. Tenet met with the president for an intelligence briefing six days every week for years. Why didn't he speak up if he thought that the president was dangerously wrong or inadequately informed?

One of Mr. Tenet's main arguments is that he was somehow disconnected from the decision to go to war. Under the circumstances, it seems odd that he would call his book "At the Center of the Storm." He should have called it "At the Periphery of the Storm" or maybe: "Was That a Storm That Just Went By?"

Next, we have Mark Steyn's opening in his review of "Can We Trust The BBC?" in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

Despite the 24/7 quagmire wallow of CNN International (which makes CNN domestic look like the Michael Savage show), the rolling news network founded by Ted Turner is still seen around the world as, believe it or not, "American." The truly globalized broadcaster remains the BBC.

Truer words have never been spoken about CNN International.

Finally, we close with David Pryce Jones reviewing "The Life of Kingsley Amis" in the April 30th edition of National Review:

Amis was no respecter of persons, but neither was he a rebel. For him, exhibitionism had priority over social commentary. His many comedies of manners are similar, and rather restricted in range, because they are so many urgent dispatches from the war between the sexes, a war in which he often led the charge. He could never quite make up his mind whether men or women were perpetrators or victims of the many traps and betrayals in this war, nor could he say what victory might be like. He also wrote a lot of pretty good poetry, criticism and journalism, a James Bond pastiche, a futuristic account of Britain under Soviet rule, a book about language and another about Kipling, a memoir, and much else besides. The professionalism driving this output was all the more impressive because he would polish off a bottle of whisky a day and a variety of wines as well, spending most afternoons sleeping off lunchtime boozing, and going to bed drunk again every night. Those who knew him used to marvel that he could sit down to work soon after breakfast, apparently free from hangovers and with a liver that never acted up.

Makes Atomizer look like a piker.


Saturday, April 28, 2007
A Book By Its Cover

Dropped off by the Fedex dude today:

You can often determine the approach a book takes towards its subject by the cover photo and this one of Hillary is a doozy.


Friday, February 16, 2007
Required Reading

On my recent trip to Manila, I brought along three books.

Grant Comes East

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

The Code of the Wooster's

I didn't get a chance to crack open "The Code of the Woosters," so it will come along on the next journey. Wodehouse is timeless.

If you're a Civil War buff like our own Saint Paul or even a Civil War buff buff like Atomizer (he enjoys spending his time studying people who enjoy spending their time studying the Civil War), you'll enjoy "Grant Comes East." It's a sequel to "Gettysburg" and the second work in the Gingrich/Forstchen alternate history trilogy. History purists are sometimes turned off by the alternate history genre, but this is what I would call reasonable alternative history, not "what if the South had AK-47s?" a la Turtledove.

Rarely have I heard as much hype about a book as I had prior to reading "The Looming Tower." Usually when your expectations are set so high you're bound to be disappointed, but in this case there is a reason for the hype. This book is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the roots of Al Qaeda and what they seek to achieve. You'll read it now and refer back to it often.

Whilst on the subject on books, I should report that I just started reading Father Richard John Neuhaus' Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splendor of Truth and, after only a few chapters, I'm already recommending it for those with an interest in the Church. A quick sample:

Dissent from the official teachings--typically from teachings that do not sit well with the surrounding culture, and most typically from teachings touching on sexuality--is taken to be a mark of having grown up. The disposition is this: "Yes, I am Catholic but I think for myself." The somewhat implausible assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.

Father Neuhaus will be joining us on the Northern Alliance Radio Network at noon on March 10th to discuss this book and other matters of religion in the public square. Mark your calendars.

SAINT PAUL AVERS: Recommended reading for Atomizer and his fellow Civil War Buff Buffs is Confederates in the Attic.


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Podcast Archives

This week on The First Team:

Brian and John continue to voice their heated rhetoric and troublesome vitriol.

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3/13--Nancy Pelosi
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10/31--Levi Johnston
10/24--Alan Grayson
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5/23--Jesse Ventura
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4/25--Janeane Garofalo
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3/28--Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
3/21--Charles Grassley
3/14--Seymour Hersh
3/7--DL Hughley
2/28--Sean Penn
2/21--James Clyburn
2/14--Chuck Schumer
2/7--Nancy Pelosi
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