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Topic: Books (Read 9600 times)
November 01, 2006, 11:01:58 AM »
From a circular in which I participate
XYZ has recently brought a fascinating book to our attention. Having just finished reading it, I want to promote this book to circular participants. Greg Mortenson has become quite a famous guy in recent years, and I am appalled that I am just now hearing about him and his work. If others are ahead of me on that score, please chime in with your thoughts and observations.
The book is titled: Three Cups of Tea, with a subtitle of "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ? One School at a Time." Greg Mortenson is that man with the mission. I will provide links to quotes and book reviews, but I just want to add a few personal thoughts about this magnificent book, this inspiring man, and his remarkable accomplishments.
Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating read. It's a story you can't put down. If it were fiction, some readers might think the leading character is too brave, too unassuming, and too successful to be believable. But it looks like Greg Mortenson is the real McCoy.
Even if you are militarily inclined in your approach to our terrorist problems, you should enjoy this book. Mortenson served with distinction in the military, and he supported the U.S. attack on the Taliban. His experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan have left him all too familiar with the "distinctive sound of the Kalashnikov assault rifle." He has also had the enriching experience of waking up to find a radical Muslim pointing a Kalashnikov at his chest. Mortenson even had two fatwahs issued against him and his work, but his Pakistani supporters won in Shariat Court! Mortenson has been allowed to continue his work, with praise and thanks from high religious figures and the court.
The story about how Mortenson ended up building schools in some of the most remote Himalayan villages in Pakistan is a great adventure yarn ? and a fascinating story about overcoming long odds to achieve a personal goal. In the process, Mortenson became fluent in Urdu and intimately familiar with many Muslim customs and rituals. He also became that oxymoron: a trusted, famous, and even revered infidel.
Mortenson's knowledge of Pakistan and Muslims became so impressive that he was asked to brief members of Congress. In fact, somebody thought he was important enough to introduce to Donald Rumsfeld. Someone in the Pentagon subsequently offered Mortenson government money to accelerate his work; the money was briefly tempting, but he knew it would destroy his credibility in Pakistan .
This is one heck of a terrific read, as entertaining as it is informative and timely. Here are a couple links I hope you will check out.
Last Edit: February 05, 2007, 03:35:04 PM by Crafty_Dog
Re: Book Reviews
Reply #1 on:
November 03, 2006, 03:05:09 PM »
Another entry from the circular:
Thanks, XYZ for accepting my 3 Cups of tea recommendation and passing the word around. I appreciate your trust.
At this point, I don't want to say much about the book and possibly take away from your experiences in reading it. I had the good fortune to meet the author, Greg Mortenson, last week and based on that meeting want to make some comments on XYZ's excellent review below.
The book is titled: Three Cups of Tea, with a subtitle of "One Man's Mission
to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ? One School at a Time." Greg Mortenson
is that man with the mission. (Tom Burger)
Greg said that he was very unhappy with the Subtitle of his book and has been in a battle with the publisher about it - possible wanting a change for the paperback due out next year. He says that his school building and other Central Asia projects have nothing to do with fighting terrorism although he believes that education will contribute to positive and peaceful changes. He first conceived of his idea to build a school in 1993 after being nursed back to health by the indeginous people in a northern Pakistan village Korphe in the Karakoram mountain range area. Greg wanted to do something to repay the villagers for their kindness and told the Korphe people that he would return and build them a school. The first school was built in Korphe in 1996. Terrorists, terrorism, and Jihads, were not buzz words at the time and in no way was greg on a mission to fight anything. Greg merely wanted to follow through on his committment to the Korphe people and fulfill their longing for a school to educate their children. As other villages heard about the Korphe school, other communities wanted schools for their children and so on and so forth. Since then, Greg has built 58 schools. His work has also included over 24 potable water projects and water filtration systems, over 3000 cataract eye surgeries, Sanitation and latrine projects, over 14 women's vocational Centers, and much, much more. Currently their are over 24,000 students in his schools including 14,000 girls.
In person, there is nothing in Greg to give even the sightest hint of the word "famous" as XYZ called him. He is very ordinary, unassuming, and without a bit of grandiosity or other "guru-like" qualities. The book was published quite recently in March, 2006.
Re: Book Reviews
Reply #2 on:
November 17, 2006, 11:39:35 AM »
Of Mailer and Murder
by Theodore Dalrymple
On a recent visit to New Zealand, I happened across a book that I had long intended to read, In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott. (Before the advent of the Internet, which equalised world prices, New Zealand used to be the best place in the English-speaking world for second-hand books.)
The name probably faintly rings a bell. He was a career criminal, and had spent the vast majority of his life in penal institutions of one kind or another. At the time he first wrote to Norman Mailer, he was serving a sentence of up to nineteen years for having killed another inmate. Previously, he had broken out of jail and robbed a bank. For whatever reason, he was not a good man.
Mailer was much taken, however, by his literary ability, his prose style and his thoughts (among other things, he was a communist, and was of the opinion that the American penal system was far worse than that of the Soviet Union, even in the time of Stalin). Mailer supported Abbott?s appeal for parole, and Abbott was duly released. His book was published, he became for a short while the lion of the New York literary scene, a kind of interesting specimen (a petty criminal would have been of no interest, of course), until, a couple of days prior to the publication of the favourable review of his book in the New York Review of Books, he killed again, only six weeks after his release. His victim was a young man, an aspiring writer, who was working temporarily as a waiter, with whom Abbott had an impulsive quarrel. He stabbed him with a knife that he ?happened? to have on him.
Abbott was on the run for a short while, but then returned to prison where, about twenty years later, he hanged himself. In his only other book, called My Return, he argued that he could not have intended to kill the young waiter, because he stabbed him only once, and a man like him would have stabbed him many times had he intended to kill him. This was not the argument of a good man.
In fact, there was a passage in his first book, In the Belly of the Beast, that might have alerted Mailer and others to his penchant for stabbing people. It describes how prisoners take revenge in prisons. It is worth quoting in full:
Here is how it is: You are both alone in his cell. You?ve slipped
out a knife (eight- to ten-inch blade, double-edged). You?re
holding it beside your leg so he can?t see it. The enemy is
smiling and chattering away about something. You see his eyes:
Green-blue, liquid. He thinks you?re his fool: he trusts you. You
see the spot. It?s a target between the second and third button on
his shirt. As you calmly talk and smile, you move your left foot
to the side to step across his right-side body length. A light
pivot toward him with your right shoulder and the world turns
upside down: you have sunk the knife to its hilt into the middle
of his chest. Slowly he begins to struggle for his life. As he
sinks, you will have to kill him fast or get caught. He will say
?Why?? Or ?No!? Nothing else. You can feel his life trembling
through the knife in your hand. It almost overcomes you, the
gentleness of the feeling at the center of a coarse act of murder.
You?ve pumped the knife several times without even being aware
of it. You go to the floor with him to finish him. It is like cutting
hot butter, no resistance at all. They always whisper one thing at
the end: ?Please.? You get the odd impression that he is no
imploring you not to harm him, but to do it right. If he says your
name it softens your resolve. You go into a mechanical stupor of
sorts. Things register in slow motion because all your senses are
drawn to a new height. You leave him in the blood, staring with
dead eyes. You strip in your cell and destroy your clothing,
flushing it down the toilet. You throw the knife away. You jump
under the showers. Your clarity returns.
No doubt the first thing that struck Mailer about this passage was its quality as prose. It is very graphic. But the words, after all, are those of a murderer, and suggest more than a merely vivid imagination. It would have been as wise to take them literally as it proved to be foolish not to have taken the words of Mein Kampf literally. But Mailer lived in a world (that of radical politics protected by a bourgeois order) in which words never really meant what they said or said what they really meant, in which moral exhibitionism was the highest good and the sine qua non of the regard of one?s peers. So safe were they in their literary enclave that reality didn?t matter much; what counted was the ability to use words in the approved fashion, and truth was nowhere.
Ten years later, Mailer indirectly recognised his mistake, saying that the Abbott episode was not one of which he was proud. But it seems that the disregard of reality that he displayed has now entered the New Zealand criminal justice system.
You probably think of New Zealand as an empty land of beautiful landscapes: and so it is. It is tolerably prosperous, it is egalitarian in ethos, it is uncrowded, even its fauna and flora are gentle. It has no native carnivores and no snakes. Its climate is temperate and in places among the most pleasant in the world. It should be peaceful.
And so it once was. In 1950, when it was one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it had almost no crime whatever, or at least an irreducible minimum of crime. Now it has one of the highest crime rates in the western world, including crimes of violence. It is very puzzling.
While I was in New Zealand, I learned of two cases that seemed emblematic of the Mailerian developments in the new Zealand criminal justice system. The first concerned a man with 102 convictions, many for violence including rape. (I should point out that 102 convictions means many more offences, since the conviction rate is never 100 per cent of the offending rate, and is sometimes only 5 or 10 per cent of it.)
This man nevertheless became eligible for parole. As conditions of parole, the board told him he must not drink, smoke cannabis or frequent certain places. The man told the board that he would abide by none of these conditions, but he was released on parole anyway. Within a short time, he had killed three people and so maimed a fourth that she will never recover.
The second case was of a man with many previous convictions, some for violence, who abducted and murdered a young woman aged 24. He was imprisoned and applied for bail. Three times he was turned down, but a fourth judge granted him bail. He was sent to live at a certain address, where he befriended his neighbours, who did not know that he was accused of murder. Eight months later, while babysitting their children, he killed one of them.
Perhaps the most extraordinary twist of this terrible tale is that the parents of the murdered child then had another baby, which the social services then removed from them on the grounds that they had previously entrusted a child to the care of a murderer and were therefore irresponsible parents. The state blames its citizens for the mistakes - if that is what they are - that it makes.
What lies behind this terrible, wilful incompetence? I suppose some people might say that anecdotes mean nothing; that it is statistics we have to look at, and the majority of people sent out on parole, or on bail for murder, do not kill again. The questions we should be asking are what proportion of people who say in advance that they have no intention of abiding by parole conditions go on to commit serious crimes if granted parole anyway, and what proportion of accused murderers granted bail kill again while on bail. In the light of these questions, the decisions taken in the two cases I have cited might appear slightly less absurd.
This is dust in our eyes, however. The presumption must be against someone who has been convicted of 102 previous offences, many of them violent, or someone who has been convicted of many previous offences and is suspected on the strongest possible grounds of having killed. It is morally frivolous to suggest otherwise.
In other words, the moral frivolity of the New Zealand criminal justice system could not have been more plainly demonstrated than in these two cases. (On the day before my departure from the country, a young man, also with a long record, who attacked an old woman in her eighties, and fractured her facial bones in two places, having first given her what he called ?a king hit? - that is to say a single punch that felled her - was sentences to a year?s imprisonment, which, with remission, will mean he will be at liberty in less than six months.) The question arises, Where does this moral frivolity come from?
The judges in New Zealand are not entirely to blame, since they have to sentence according to guidelines laid down for them. They cannot impose any sentence that they happen to think is just. But they do not protest against guidelines that are patently absurd. Nor was there any reason why the fourth judge should have granted bail in the first case I described. Therefore the judges cannot absolve themselves entirely of responsibility.
Lying behind the frivolity of the New Zealand criminal justice system (which also infects the British system) is a willingness to ignore, or an unwillingness to take seriously, the most obvious prognostic signs, or even to take considerations of justice into account. Just as Mailer failed completely to recognise the significance of the passage in Abbott?s book, which after all was composed of letters to himself, that I have quoted above, so the judges and others in New Zealand ignored the most obvious considerations in their dealings with the criminals before them. Their own reputation for generosity of spirit and lack of vengefulness was more important to them than protection of the public.
Lying in a layer of the mind yet deeper than this desire for approbation is the baleful influence of Rousseau?s idea that Man is or would be good but for the influence of society upon him. If this is the case, then the murderers in the cases I have cited were as much victims as their victims, and the society which has thus victimised them has no moral right to treat them harshly. Rather, it must reform, indeed perfect, itself. Until it does so, it ought to expect cases of the kind I have described.
This, of course, was precisely Abbott?s point in his letters to Mailer. He said that society had made him the way he was, and thus had no right to point the finger at him; throughout the book, he alluded in a moral fashion only to what had been done to him, never what he had done.
There is no doubt, of course, that most criminals come from a very bad background (though it does not follow, thank God, that everybody from a bad background is a criminal, else we should none of us be safe in our beds). Of course, where the bad background itself comes from is another question, and much disputed. I think in large part it comes from the intellectual and moral zeitgeist that intellectuals have created. But the undoubted fact cited above has confused us utterly, and caused us to confute two questions: first, how do we prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place, and second, how do we prevent those who have become recidivist criminals from committing further crimes? The two questions have different answers, and there is not a single answer to them both. When, however, we mistake the first question for the second, and the second for the first, we end up making Mailer?s, and the New Zealand criminal justice system?s, mistakes, over and over again.
One thing is evident, however: those who make the mistakes do not pay the price for them. They feel the warmth of generosity without feeling the cool current of responsibility.
Re: Book Reviews
Reply #3 on:
January 01, 2007, 09:29:02 AM »
August 6, 2006
The Plot Against America
Review by DEXTER FILKINS
When Mohamed Atta and his four Saudi confederates commandeered a Boeing 767 and steered it into the north tower of the World Trade Center, they began a story that still consumes us nearly five years on, and one that seems, on bad days, to promise war without end.
But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were in many ways less the start of a tale than the end of one, or at least the climax of one, begun many years before in many different precincts: in the middle-class suburbs of Cairo, in the mosques of Hamburg, in Jidda, in Islamabad, in the quiet university town of Greeley, Colo.
In its simplest terms, this is the story of how a small group of men, with a frightening mix of delusion and calculation, rose from a tormented civilization to mount a catastrophic assault on the world’s mightiest power, and how another group of men and women, convinced that such an attack was on the way, tried desperately to stop it.
What a story it is. And what a riveting tale Lawrence Wright fashions in this marvelous book. “The Looming Tower” is not just a detailed, heart-stopping account of the events leading up to 9/11, written with style and verve, and carried along by villains and heroes that only a crime novelist could dream up. It’s an education, too — though you’d never know it — a thoughtful examination of the world that produced the men who brought us 9/11, and of their progeny who bedevil us today. The portrait of John O’Neill, the driven, demon-ridden F.B.I. agent who worked so frantically to stop Osama bin Laden, only to perish in the attack on the World Trade Center, is worth the price of the book alone. “The Looming Tower” is a thriller. And it’s a tragedy, too.
In the nearly five years since the attacks, we’ve heard oceans of commentary on the whys and how-comes and what-it-means and what’s nexts. Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker — where portions of this book have appeared — has put his boots on the ground in the hard places, conducted the interviews and done the sleuthing. Others talked, he listened. And so he has unearthed an astonishing amount of detail about Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Muhammad Omar and all the rest of them. They come alive.
Who knew, for instance, that bin Laden, far from being a warrior-stoic fighting against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, was actually a pathetic stick-in-the-mud who would fall ill before battle? That the combat-hardened Afghans, so tired of bin Laden’s behavior, declared him and his Arab associates “useless”? Or that he was a permissive father and indulgent husband? Or that he is only six feet tall?
More important, who knew — I sure didn’t — that bin Laden had left behind such a long trail of words? Wright has found them in books, on film, in audio recordings, in people’s notebooks and memories. This has allowed him to draw an in-depth portrait of bin Laden, and to chart his evolution from a self-conscious step-child growing up in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, to the visionary cave-dwelling madman who mimics the Holy Prophet in his most humdrum daily habits.
Wright takes the title of his book from the fourth sura of the Koran, which bin Laden repeated three times in a speech videotaped just as the hijackers were preparing to fly. The video was found later, on a computer in Hamburg.
“Wherever you are, death will find you, Even in the looming tower.”
There is poetry, too. Here is a particularly chilling bit, found on another videotape, which bin Laden had read aloud at the wedding of his 17-year-old son, Mohammed. The celebration took place not long after a pair of Qaeda suicide bombers, riding in a tiny boat filled with explosives, nearly sank the billion-dollar guided missile destroyer Cole. At least with regard to his abilities as an author, bin Laden was unusually modest: he let someone else write the words. “I am not, as most of our brothers know, a warrior of the word,” he said.
A destroyer, even the brave might fear,
She inspires horror in the harbor and the open sea,
She goes into the waves flanked by arrogance, haughtiness and fake might,
To her doom she progresses slowly, clothed in a huge illusion,
Awaiting her is a dinghy, bobbing in the waves.
“The Looming Tower” is full of such surprising detail. Al Qaeda’s leaders had all but shelved the 9/11 plot when they realized they lacked foot soldiers who could pass convincingly as westernized Muslims in the United States. At just the right moment Atta appeared in Afghanistan, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad al-Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi, all Western-educated transplants, offering themselves up for slaughter. The game was on.
Just as dramatic as the portraits of bin Laden and Zawahiri is Wright’s account of the roots of Islamic militancy — the intellectual, spiritual and material world from which the plotters came. Wright draws a fascinating picture of Sayyid Qutb, the font of modern Islamic fundamentalism, a frail, middle-aged writer who found himself, as a visitor to the United States and a student at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley in the 1940’s, overwhelmed by the unbridled splendor and godlessness of modern America. And by the sex: like so many others who followed him, Qutb seemed simultaneously drawn to and repelled by American women, so free and unselfconscious in their sexuality. The result is a kind of delirium:
“A girl looks at you, appearing as if she were an enchanting nymph or an escaped mermaid,” Qutb wrote, “but as she approaches, you sense only the screaming instinct inside her, and you can smell her burning body, not the scent of perfume, but flesh, only flesh. Tasty flesh, truly, but flesh nonetheless.”
It wasn’t much later that Qutb began writing elaborate rationalizations for killing non-Muslims and waging war against the West. Years later, Atta expressed a similar mix of obsession and disgust for women. Indeed, anyone who has spent time in the Middle East will recognize such tortured emotions.
WRIGHT shows, correctly, that at the root of Islamic militancy — its anger, its antimodernity, its justifications for murder — lies a feeling of intense humiliation. Islam plays a role in this, with its straitjacketed and all-encompassing worldview. But whether the militant hails from a middle-class family or an impoverished one, is intensely religious or a “theological amateur,” as Wright calls bin Laden and his cohort, he springs almost invariably from an ossified society with an autocratic government that is unable to provide any reason to believe in the future. Islam offers dignity, even in — especially in — death. Living in the West, Atta and the others felt these things more acutely, not less. As Wright notes:
“Their motivations varied, but they had in common a belief that Islam — pure and primitive, unmitigated by modernity and uncompromised by politics — would cure the wounds that socialism or Arab nationalism had failed to heal. They were angry but powerless in their own countries. They did not see themselves as terrorists but as revolutionaries who, like all such men throughout history, had been pushed into action by the simple human need for justice. Some had experienced brutal repression; some were simply drawn to bloody chaos. From the beginning of Al Qaeda, there were reformers and there were nihilists. The dynamic between them was irreconcilable and self-destructive, but events were moving so quickly that it was almost impossible to tell the philosophers from the sociopaths. They were glued together by the charismatic personality of Osama bin Laden, which contained both strands, idealism and nihilism, in a potent mix.”
In John O’Neill, bin Laden almost met his match. The supervisor of the F.B.I.’s New York office and of the team assigned to track Al Qaeda in the United States, O’Neill felt, as strongly as anyone in the government, that Al Qaeda was coming to America. He was a relentless investigator, a volcanic personality and sometimes his own worst enemy. In the end he broke himself on a government bureaucracy that could not — and would not — move as quickly as he did. O’Neill and others like him were in a race with Al Qaeda, and although we know how the race ended, it’s astonishing — and heartbreaking — to learn how close it was.
Some of the F.B.I.’s field agents, as we now know, had premonitions of what was coming. When the supervisor of the Minneapolis field office was admonished, in August 2001, for expressing fears that an Islamic radical attending flight school might be planning a suicide attack, he shot back defiantly that he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” Amazing.
The most gut-wrenching scenes are the ones that show F.B.I. agents trying, as 9/11 approached, to pry information from their rivals inside the United States government. The C.I.A., Wright says, knew that high-level Qaeda operatives had held a meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, and, later, that two of them had entered the United States. Both men turned out to be part of the team that hijacked the planes on Sept. 11. The C.I.A. failed to inform agencies like the F.B.I. — which might have been able to locate the men and break up the plot — until late in the summer of 2001.
The fateful struggle between the C.I.A. and F.B.I. in the months leading up to the attacks has been outlined before, but never in such detail. At meetings, C.I.A. analysts dangled photos of two of the eventual hijackers in front of F.B.I. agents, but wouldn’t tell them who they were. The F.B.I. agents could sense that the C.I.A. possessed crucial pieces of evidence about Islamic radicals they were investigating, but couldn’t tell what they were. The tension came to a head at a meeting in New York on June 11, exactly three months before the catastrophe, which ended with F.B.I. and C.I.A. agents shouting at each other across the room.
In one of the most remarkable scenes in the book, Ali Soufan, an F.B.I. agent assigned to Al Qaeda, was taken aside on Sept. 12 and finally shown the names and photos of the men the C.I.A. had known for more than a year and a half were in America. The planes had already struck. Soufan ran to the bathroom and retched.
Great stuff. I just wish Wright had given us something, even a chapter, on the hijackings themselves; as it is, he takes us right up to the moment, and then straight to the burning towers. Perhaps he felt that ground was too well-trodden. My other complaint is more substantive. Through the enormous amount of legwork he has done, tracking down people who worked with bin Laden and Zawahiri over the years, Wright has drawn up verbatim reconstructions of entire conversations, some of which took place more than a decade ago. Many of these conversations are riveting. Still, in some cases, it’s hard to believe that memories are that good.
“The Looming Tower” ends near the Pakistani border, where Zawahiri, or someone who looked like him, rode through a village on horseback and then disappeared into the mountains. It’s not a definitive ending; there is no closure. And that’s the point. For as amazing as the story of Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11 is, it’s not over yet.
Dexter Filkins is a Baghdad correspondent for The Times.
Re: Book Reviews
Reply #4 on:
January 07, 2007, 11:28:45 AM »
Well, not a book review, but a piece about one of my favorite writers:
Jokers to the Right
P.J. O'Rourke takes liberties with Adam Smith.
BY JOSEPH RAGO
Saturday, January 6, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON--Who's funnier, on the whole, liberals or conservatives? It's an old question, but a terrible one. Even to inquire after it reduces the whole curve of human comedy to politics; and besides--sad to contemplate--perhaps the most accurate answer is that they're both humorless. On the liberal side of the register, you can hardly be funny if you're constantly feeling guilty about things; many conservatives meanwhile believe that everything is going to pieces, and there's nothing funny about that.
P.J. O'Rourke, the political satirist, neither hesitates nor hedges. "Conservatives generally tend to be funnier in their private lives," he explains, "because of the hypocrisy factor. I am of course a big fan of hypocrisy, because hypocrites at least know the difference between right and wrong--at any rate, know enough to lie about what they're doing. Liberals are not nearly as hypocritical as conservatives, because they don't know the difference between right and wrong. But anyways the personal lives of conservatives tend to be funnier: They've always got the embarrassing gay daughter, and so on."
In public policy, Mr. O'Rourke claims, "liberals are always much more hilarious. Liberals are always proposing perfectly insane ideas, laws that will make everybody happy, laws that will make everything right, make us live forever, and all be rich. Conservatives are never that stupid. Having conservatives in government is like having a stern talk with your dad in the den about what your allowance will be. . . . Of course, the Republicans always end up giving in: You know, giving you more money than you should have in your pocket, and the keys to the car, and then also a bottle of whiskey."
So--clowns to the left, jokers to the right: not an uninteresting answer to the "who's funnier?" question, mainly because it presupposes politics as the object of satire and not its wellspring. The circumstance, for Mr. O'Rourke, runs in the other direction: He is one of the foremost comic writers in the Anglophone world, and his mirth derives, as much as anything, from his politics. Over the last several decades Mr. O'Rourke has crowded his C.V. as the scourge of fashionable causes at home and also abroad, serving as foreign correspondent to "the absolute, flat-out, goddamn worst places in the world," as he puts it. His 150-proof journalism is savage, profane, relentlessly irreverent, throwing in various breaches of decorum and moral trespasses for good measure--and usually vertiginously, caustically hilarious. When I meet him, he looks well marinated, cured even, as though he'd be great company for steaks and stiff drinks, with several orders of first- and secondhand smoke on the side. In fact, he is.
Mr. O'Rourke divides his time between D.C., where I join him for lunch, and a country place in New Hampshire. His views are firmly of the live-free-or-die variety, though he is unsparing in his commentary on the last election, in which all but one of the New England Republicans were dispatched in favor of "some left-wing gals and other complete nonentities." "I think it was all about the war, and about George Bush," he says. "They just hate Bush in New England, even in New Hampshire, and I don't know why it is that they seem to loathe him more than everybody else. Is it because he's a traitor to the New England tradition of transcendento-liberalism? . . . Bush went to Groton, and then he goes to Yale, then Harvard, and at the very worst he should have emerged boring like his old man. Instead he comes out this Southern, borderline-evangelical, hard-right conservative."
Hold one beat. "Except as a hard-right conservative myself," he continues, "Bush has been a pretty miserable failure on that front. It's called failure. Bush and the Republicans are offering a Newer Deal, a Greater Society. Where the hell did this come from? And there's no other word for it but failure: failure to control spending, failure domestically and failure in Iraq."
Mr. O'Rourke is particularly cutting on the situation in the Persian Gulf, which he covered most recently during the war proper, and also in 1990 and intermittently thereafter. "I was very much in favor of the Iraq invasion," he says. "What were the questions? Is Saddam Hussein a bad man? Is he doing bad things? Does he have the oil money to do more bad things? Is he likely to do more bad things? If these were the questions, was the answer more cooperation with France?"
In the aftermath he expected "a great spontaneous return to order," much like, he says, what he saw after the Iraqis were expelled from "devastated" Kuwait. "After they got chased out of there the Kuwaitis totally took control, and it was as though somebody had been chased out of, I don't know, Dayton. Everything was working again within days. Civil society came to the fore--Hayekian social forces. It was amazing. We thought--I know I thought, knowing a fair number of sophisticated, intelligent Iraqis--that this would happen in Iraq. You remove the oppressor, and there would be these self-organizing forces. Well, nooo," he says, drawing out the word. "Instead what you got was Yugoslavia. Triple Yugoslavia. You might call it the really violent Bosnia.
"I have no idea if some societies, anthropologically speaking, aren't really suited for democracy. I don't think that's true. But there certainly are societies that just love to fight. Northern Ireland, for instance. You couldn't stop that problem because they were having fun--they were really, really enjoying themselves. It would still be going on full-force today if the sons of bitches hadn't accidentally gotten rich. What happened was, more and more people started getting cars, and television sets, and got some vacation time down in Spain, and it wasn't that they wanted to stop fighting and killing each other and being lunatics, but they got busy and forgot.
"So our job," he says, "is to make the Iraqis get busy and forget. 'You know, I meant to kill all those other people but, well, jeez, I had to get the kids off to school, the car was filthy and I had to take it down to the car wash, the dog got sick on the rug. Killing all those Shiites is still on my to-do list . . .' " Mr. O'Rourke argues we are well on our way to creating "Weimar Iraq"--a grave phrase--and concludes, mordantly, "I'm so glad the problem is above my pay-grade."
When Mr. O'Rourke set out into the world after a youthful Maoist phase (it was, after all, the '60s) there was an element of novelty to his insouciance, and his beliefs, like the larger movement of which he was a part, constituted their own kind of insurgency. Now, all that was fresh and scandalous then has become the stock-in-trade of every other pundit, blogger and radio-show bore, while the right has also made its own establishment--and correctness, of any kind, cripples humor. "Well, I'm almost 60," says Mr. O'Rourke. "It'd be a damn shame if I was the avant-garde." But, he allows, "I don't think there'd probably be a place any more for the kind of stuff I was writing," and says, "There is a power to seeing things for the first time, with fresh eyes, that you can't duplicate."
There does, in truth, seem to be a seriousness increasingly smuggled into Mr. O'Rourke's work--if still impertinently expressed. Humor, he argues, comes from "distance, not disengagement," and humor that "stands for nothing, means nothing."
Consider his latest book, "On 'The Wealth of Nations,' " a foray into Adam Smith's 1776 masterwork. Mr. O'Rourke argues we can't understand Smith as a "personality"--"In the 18th century, the neo-Ptolemaic view of the cosmos hadn't come into fashion: the self had not yet taken the earth's place"--but we can understand his ideas. "My book is defiantly middlebrow, the poor, neglected middlebrow," says Mr. O'Rourke. "You're never going to read 'The Wealth of Nations,' and you shouldn't really. It's 900 pages. . . . I wanted to (a) give people a sense of some of the things Smith was getting at, and (b) give normal people a kind of Michelin guide to what they might like to read. And I also hope (c) to send some people back to 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments,' which can actually be read through from left to right in its entirety."
"Moral Sentiments" was published 17 years before "Wealth of Nations," and Mr. O'Rourke sees it as central to Smith's thought, noting that Smith wasn't an economist but a moral philosopher, who argued for the fundamental morality of the unfettered market as a form of social organization and the lodestone for prosperity.
It's a bit odd to hear P.J. O'Rourke--who is always calling attention to the fraudulence of earnestness and its Siamese twin, sanctimony--talk about morality. But his is almost no morality at all, a non-morality, in that it demands nothing: The only basic human right, he says, is "the right to do as you damn well please" and take the consequences. He is not, however, a true libertarian. They're "too logical," he says. "It's a failed but admirable mission. They keep making these suicide attacks on principle, Kamikaze raids on the aircraft carrier of government. . . . Libertarians suffer the same problem that Smith runs into in the last book of 'Wealth of Nations,' which was a pretty considerable failure. He tries to make proscriptions for government that fit his rationalist philosophical and moral logic. Everything comes apart. He's self-evidently wrong, wrong by his own reasoning. The problem with politics is that philosophy and morality are never really options.
"The important thing," he continues, "is negative rights: freedom from. But politics is all about positive rights: What're you going to give me? In a democracy it's always vibrating back and forth. People want the government to do everything for them, then when they see that it sucks, they want the government to let them take charge, and when that doesn't work, they want the government to come back and fix all the problems that they themselves caused when they took charge." There's a kind of separation of church and state, Mr. O'Rourke contends: "You simply cannot put your ideas into action."
Mr. O'Rourke's cynicism is finely ground, but it's also the foundation for his humor: He revels in the untidiness and chaos of the world. Things are funny to Mr. O'Rourke precisely because they're already in pieces, and there's nothing that can be done. You may as well have a good laugh about it.
Mr. O'Rourke says he is adjusting well to middle age, or, he prefers, "very late youth": "I can't complain. Well, I can complain. It's a f---ing nightmare."
"I'm still getting out enough, as much as I like," he permits. "I spent about a month in China recently. I was over in Kyrgyzstan. But I can't do it like I used to. It's a matter of age-appropriate. Again, a lot of the fun of seeing the Third World is first impressions. I covered my first war in Lebanon about 22 years ago. Everybody just gets exasperated. Twenty years ago we were all very interested in what was making these people fight each other, and who was right and who was wrong, and after a while you say: Sit down and shut up. Go to hell."
Mr. Rago is an assistant editorial features editor at The Wall Street Journal.
Re: Book Reviews
Reply #5 on:
January 10, 2007, 11:50:59 AM »
O'Rourke is one of my favorites:
"The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it."
Reply #6 on:
February 05, 2007, 03:35:26 PM »
My friend Tom writes:
I may be the last one to discover this service, but ... just in case ... I thought I would bring it to every body's attention.
Mises.org is using a service called Lulu to make a bunch of out-of-print books available. I am not suggesting that anybody on the circular will want to buy the mises.org books -- just using it to illustrate the Lulu service. Here is the link to the mises offerings:
I haven't read all Lulu's stuff, but apparently anybody with a "pdf" formatted book can have it published, one book at a time. I think mises.org is using this capability for a worthy purpose -- making out of print books available at such a nominal price.
Has anybody had experience with this or a similar print-on-demand service?
Reply #7 on:
February 15, 2007, 04:17:19 AM »
Libertarians in America
Free to choose, and a good thing too.
BY JOHN H. FUND
Thursday, February 15, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Scores of books have been written on the role of communists and socialists in the U.S., dour chronicles of welcome failure. But very few writers have devoted much attention to the role of libertarians, a more appealing and optimistic group of thinkers, political activists and ordinary citizens who believe that respect for the individual and the spontaneous order of market forces are the key to progress and social well-being.
The neglect is strange, given how much libertarians and their limited-government logic have shaped the culture and economy of the U.S. The ideas of John Locke and David Hume animated the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Libertarian principles kept what we think of as "big government" in check for much of the 19th century and well into the 20th, despite tariffs and war. The federal income tax officially arrived, in permanent form, as late as 1913. Coolidge and his Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, took a famously minimalist approach to governing. Of course, we now live in a post-FDR age, with government programs everywhere. Still, the libertarian impulse is part of our political culture. "I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism," Ronald Reagan declared.
Today, pollsters find only 2% of people refer to themselves as libertarians, but some 15% of voters hold broadly libertarian views and can be a swing factor. In the photo-finish presidential race of 2000, some 72% of libertarian-minded voters supported George W. Bush. Last November, many of them abandoned the GOP, disillusioned by its profligate ways, and helped hand control of Congress to Democrats.
With "Radicals for Capitalism," Brian Doherty finally gives libertarianism its due. He tracks the movement's progress over the past century by focusing on five of its key leaders--Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman. The emphasis is on their ideas, but Mr. Doherty also takes into account their personal struggles--not least their feuds with other thinkers and their relation to an intellectual establishment that for most of their lives thought they were either crazy or irrelevant or both.
Libertarian ideas have enjoyed a surge of respect lately, helped by the collapse of Soviet central planning, the success of lower tax rates and the appeals of various figures in popular culture (e.g., Drew Carey, John Stossel and Clint Eastwood) who want government out of both their bedroom and wallet. Even so, libertarianism is often not the people's choice. Part of the problem is the inertia of the status quo. "In a world where government has its hand in almost everything," Mr. Doherty writes, "it requires a certain leap of imagination to see how things might work if it didn't." Many people couldn't make that leap when, for example, economists proposed channeling some Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts.
Mr. Doherty introduces us to an entertaining cast of minor characters who kept individualist ideas alive from the New Deal through the Great Society. There was Rose Wilder Lane, the editor of her mother's "Little House on the Prairie" frontier books, and Robert Heinlein, the science-fiction writer who coined the acronym "Tanstaafl" (for "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch"). Howard Buffett, the father of financier Warren Buffett, was a fiery Old Right congressman from Nebraska who compared the military draft to a form of slavery. During World War II, Henry Hazlitt put economic analysis from his friend von Mises into unsigned editorials he wrote for the New York Times, then a far more free-market paper than today.
Mr. Doherty is candid enough to note that not every individualist he sketches consistently respected the rights of individuals. Textile baron Roger Milliken, for instance, required his executives to attend a libertarian "college" in the Rockies but also lobbied for tariffs to protect his products. And other libertarians showed a certain want of personal character. LSD guru Timothy Leary raised money for Libertarian Party candidates but didn't exercise the integrity or personal responsibility he himself said must accompany freedom. Ayn Rand sold millions of copies of her novels but treated her acolytes abominably and "ended up kicking out of her life pretty much everybody."
Inevitably--as with any constellation of like-minded people--there is squabbling and the petty search for heretics. But there is also, Mr. Doherty shows, the great work of fertile, unorthodox minds. Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick abandoned the New Left when he realized capitalism worked best but acknowledged feeling for a while that "only bad people would think so." Hayek, a supreme rationalist, ended his life believing that "a successful free society will always be in a large measure a tradition-bound society." He even praised religion for encouraging restraint and long-term thinking "under circumstances where everyone believes that God will punish all for the sins of some."
Today the Internet has become, Mr. Doherty notes, an efficient way to transmit libertarian ideas and show their practical application. (With its decentralized, free-wheeling ethos, the Internet is itself libertarian without even trying to be.) Jimmy Wales, the man who started the interactive online encyclopedia Wikipedia, believes that "facts can help set the world free." The largest retail market in the world is eBay, which allows anyone to buy and sell without a government license.
Louis Rosetto, the "radical capitalist" who founded Wired magazine, notes that, even if libertarian ideas must now push against a statist status quo, "contrarians end up being the drivers of change." Among the most ornery contrarians, he says, are the libertarians "laboring in obscurity, if not in derision." They have managed "to keep a pretty pure idea going, adapting it to circumstances and watching it be validated by the march of history." Mr. Doherty has rescued libertarianism from its own obscurity, eloquently capturing the appeal of the "pure idea," its origins in great minds and the feistiness of its many current champions.
Mr. Fund is a columnist for OpinionJournal.com. You can buy "Radicals for Capitalism" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.
D'Souza goes PC
Reply #8 on:
February 26, 2007, 08:23:42 AM »
D'Souza Goes Native
A onetime scourge of political correctness offers an ultra-PC view of Islam.
BY SCOTT W. JOHNSON
Monday, February 26, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
Dinesh D'Souza was an early editor of the Dartmouth Review, the conservative student newspaper. He earned a reputation as an enfant terrible before he graduated from college. In his tenure at the Review, Mr. D'Souza brilliantly tormented the liberal college administration that presented him with the perfect target. Whatever his earlier attainments, he established himself as a writer of substance with his 1991 book "Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus," a critique of political correctness and multiculturalism. Intensely reported, the book was full of astute commentary and analysis. It justly won the applause of such knowledgeable observers as the eminent historian Eugene Genovese, who celebrated the book in a New Republic cover story.
In his subsequent career as an author and controversialist, Mr. D'Souza has followed the path he started down in "Illiberal Education." If he has sought to provoke, he has also sought to illuminate. Thus in his 1995 book, "The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society," Mr. D'Souza ably summarized a massive body of scholarship and literature. While there was much to disagree with in the book, he presented the evidence in such a way that an intelligent reader could both learn from him and form his own opinions.
"The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11"--Mr. D'Souza's new book--is something else entirely. The book works a strange metamorphosis. Whereas "Illiberal Education" and "The End of Racism" proved Mr. D'Souza a precocious commentator and gifted polemicist, the new book is crude and sophomoric. Worse than its sophomoric treatment of serious issues is its presentation of a blinkered and politically correct version of the Muslim world. It is a presentation that the young Mr. D'Souza would have scorned. It is as though, having arrived on the scene as Franz Kafka, he has turned himself into Gregor Samsa.
The subject of the book is the shooting war and the culture war. Mr. D'Souza frames the book on a thesis that, he acknowledges, "will seem startling at the outset." His thesis is an indictment that he levels in the second sentence of the book's introduction: "The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11." Mr. D'Souza does not reveal how, more than five years after the event, he alone among the thousands of commentators on 9/11 has tumbled to its root cause.
Mr. D'Souza identifies "the cultural left" that is responsible for 9/11 as "the left wing of the Democratic Party" and "a few Republicans, notably those who adopt a left-wing stance on foreign policy and social issues." As Mr. D'Souza himself proudly notes, he doesn't just hold a piece of paper in his hand and wave a list of names around. He actually names names, identifying the "leading figures" among the cultural left: Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, George Soros, Bill Moyers and Noam Chomsky. He also names organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and Planned Parenthood. (And to those named in the introduction he adds an extensive enemies' list in the last chapter of the book.)
The charge is serious, even if Mr. D'Souza's invocation of Joe McCarthy belies its seriousness. And the list is long. Does Mr. D'Souza prove his case? Although prosecutors are famously able to get grand juries to indict ham sandwiches, I don't think that Mr. D'Souza's indictment would make it out of a grand jury room. Mr. D'Souza simply lacks any evidence to sustain the charge connecting "the visceral rage," as Mr. D'Souza calls it, of the Muslims who carried out 9/11 to "the cultural left" that supposedly provoked it. Given the disparity between the seriousness of the charge and the thinness of the evidence, the book is a disgrace.
Mr. D'Souza acknowledges that he "is making a strong charge, one that no one has made before." One therefore expects that the book will bear the stamp of deep research to support its controversial thesis. On this count "The Enemy at Home" is a curious book. It purports to probe the deepest motives of Osama bin Laden and his followers. Yet the book lacks a bibliography and otherwise shows no evidence of familiarity with important accounts of the evolution of al Qaeda such as Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's "Age of Sacred Terror" (2002), Richard Miniter's "Losing bin Laden" (2004) and, most recently, Lawrence Wright's "Looming Tower" (2006). Mr. D'Souza acknowledges the 9/11 Commission Report but does not mention its account (chapter two of the report) of the evolution of bin Laden's thought. Mr. D'Souza observes dismissively of the 9/11 Commission Report that "it does not tell us why [9/11] happened." None of these basic secondary sources support Mr. D'Souza's thesis. But a vision has been vouchsafed unto Mr. D'Souza.
Were Mr. D'Souza not a respected conservative commentator affiliated with one of the finest research institutes in the United States (the Hoover Institution), one could write his book off as unserious or worse. To be sure, as might be expected from a writer of Mr. D'Souza's caliber, parts of the book sparkle, such as Mr. D'Souza's exposition of the unholy alliance (in David Horowitz's words) between elements of the American left and radical Islam. Nevertheless, the book's insubstantial thesis and superficial research are not its only curiosities. In the four years he claims to have spent studying America and the West "through Muslim eyes," Mr. D'Souza appears to have gone native. Early in the book, for example, Mr. D'Souza writes: "No one can deny the horror of Palestinian and Chechen attacks on civilians, but these have to be measured against the state-sponsored terror on the other side: the bulldozing of Palestinian homes, the shooting of stone-throwing teenagers." I'm not sure that even State Department foreign service officers have yet gone quite as native as Mr. D'Souza.
Mr. D'Souza's reference to alleged "state-sponsored terror" by Israelis desperately seeking to defend themselves is of a piece with the blind eye he turns to the anti-Semitism that is ubiquitous in the Muslim world. Muslim anti-Semitism has turned "Mein Kampf" into a bestselling book, as Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out, under the title "Jihadi." Television in Muslim countries likewise features such rank anti-Semitic programming as the 41-part series based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Mr. D'Souza cannot even see bin Laden's anti-Semitism. "Yes," Mr. D'Souza asserts without any citation or support, "bin Laden opposes Israeli occupation because in his view it constitutes foreign rule over Muslims. But as bin Laden sees it, the deeper problem is a conspiracy on the part of Israel and America to take over the Muslim world." Mr. D'Souza omits any reference to the title of bin Laden's 1998 manifesto--"Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and the Crusaders." According to Mr. D'Souza, Muslim radicals "could repudiate the entire Islamic tradition and argue that Christians and Jews are no different from atheists and deserve the same treatment." Daniel Pearl didn't get much of an argument on the subject of his religion before he was murdered by radical Islamists, but they appear to have "repudiated the entire Islamic tradition" as Mr. D'Souza understands it. Mr. D'Souza appears to be unfamiliar with the sermons denouncing Jews as apes and monkeys that regularly issue from fundamentalist mosques.
Mr. D'Souza's portrait of the Muslim world verges on apologetics. He makes a gratuitous gibe at Jewish tradition in his discussion of the severity of Islamic justice: "Islam is notorious for the harshness of some its punishments, such as cutting off the arms and legs of thieves, flogging adulterers and executing drug dealers. In this respect, one may say, with only a hint of irony, that Muslims are in the Old Testament tradition."
One wonders if Mr. D'Souza is making a lame stab at humor with his concession that the "Western effort to understand the Islamic world is never more difficult than when Muslims do things like blow themselves up while flying planes into buildings--actions no sane Westerner would even contemplate." Mr. D'Souza holds himself out as one who has made the effort to understand Islam even in the face of 9/11. He issues pronouncements that suggest he is not a reliable guide either to Islam or to 9/11 as in the false antithesis he draws to dispel conservative misunderstanding: "This may come as news to some conservatives, but Wahhabi Islam is not a breeding ground of Islamic radicalism. It is a breeding ground of Islamic obedience." Mr. D'Souza does not address the authoritative accounts that connect Wahhabi Islam with Islamic radicalism or to the perpetrators of 9/11.
Mr. D'Souza's parenthetical comment on the Danish cartoon controversy is as inexplicable as his characterization of Wahhabi Islam: "If it is within the parameters of acceptable satire to blame Muhammad for the pathologies of radical Islam, why is it not within those same bounds to blame [Martin Luther] King for the pathologies of inner-city black America"? Mr. D'Souza condemns as "churlish and exaggerated" the view that, "since pious Muslims are the ones launching terrorist attacks against Europe and America, Islam is to blame and Islam is the problem," just as he does the view that Islam fosters "the fanatical mind-set that leads to terrorism." He does not stop to explain why.
Indeed, Mr. D'Souza stigmatizes such views as "Islamophobic." It is a judgment he expresses in the lexicon of the high church of political correctness that Mr. D'Souza mocked in a previous life. Getting in the spirit, he asserts that conservatives "have to cease blaming Islam for the behavior of radical Muslims." (We must instead learn to blame "the cultural left" for the behavior of radical Muslims.) Mr. D'Souza also advises that "it is time for conservatives to retire the tiresome invocation of Turkey as a model for Islamic society." Why? "What Atatürk did for Turkey was anomalous and, in all candor, ridiculous." Such candor! Of all the Muslim countries discussed in The Enemy at Home, Turkey is the only one that earns Mr. D'Souza's frank contempt.
Mr. D'Souza seeks to "refute the notion that radical Islam can be understood as the latest incarnation of totalitarian movements the West has seen before, such as the Nazis and the communists." Mr. D'Souza draws the following distinctions. There is no intellectual lineage between the Western totalitarian movements and radical Islam. Moreover, "there is not even a similarity" between fascism and contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. Islamic radicalism has produced true believers "who are willing to give their lives to destroy America and the West," while Nazism and communism did not. Finally, the totalitarian movements were atheistic, but "the distinguishing feature of Islamic radicalism is Islamic." Eureka!
Compared with his discovery that the distinguishing feature of Islamic radicalism is Islamic, his assertion that the totalitarian movements of the 20th century lacked true believers comes as a surprise. When Auden referred to Hitler as a "psychopathic god" and Richard Crossman titled his famous anthology of essays on disillusionment with Communism "The God That Failed," well, they lacked the benefit of Mr. D'Souza's insight. Will somebody get this man a copy of "Darkness at Noon"?
D'Souza goes PC, part two
Reply #9 on:
February 26, 2007, 08:24:37 AM »
Mr. D'Souza seeks "to understand [Muslims] as they understand themselves." His effort culminates in a chapter devoted to a defense of patriarchy. There he observes that the practices most offensive to modern Americans, such as arranged marriage and polygamy, are not distinctively Islamic. Rather, Mr. D'Souza explains, they are characteristic of patriarchal cultures such as those of ancient Israel. "More recently in America," Mr. D'Souza adds, "polygamy was permitted and practiced by the Mormons." Mr. D'Souza fails to note the traditional American condemnation of polygamy, in the words of the 1856 Republican platform, as a relic of barbarism; Utah was not admitted as a state until it prohibited polygamy. Mr. D'Souza seeks to mitigate our antipathy to polygamy with the observation that Islamic law limits polygamy to four wives and that it is conditioned on requirements so onerous that "its practice is quite rare in the Muslim world." Reliable data on the incidence of polygamy are not readily available and Mr. D'Souza cites no data whatsoever. It is at least worth noting in this context, even if Mr. D'Souza does not see fit to do so, that bin Laden is the issue of a polygamous marriage and is himself a polygamist. Bin Laden's father took numerous wives who collectively bestowed some fifty children on him.
Mr. D'Souza ignores secondary sources that contradict or fail to support his thesis, and he fares no better in his treatment of primary sources. Mr. D'Souza only briefly discusses bin Laden's pre-9/11 manifestos and does so in an extremely misleading manner. Foremost among them is bin Laden's 1996 "declaration of war" against the United States. The declaration obviously bears on Mr. D'Souza's thesis, but he never even cites the declaration by name: "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places (expel the infidels from the Arab peninsula)." Bin Laden decries "the Zionist-Crusader alliance" and asserts that, with the American "occupation" of Saudi Arabia, Islam has suffered "the latest and greatest of" the aggressions committed against it in recent history. "It is the duty of every tribe in the Arabian peninsula to fight jihad," bin Laden announced, "and cleanse the land from these Crusader occupiers." According to Mr. D'Souza, bin Laden's grievance with the American occupation of Saudi Arabia "must be understood in a metaphorical sense. . . . What bin Laden objected to was America staying in the Middle East, importing with it the immoral ingredients of American values and culture." I think it's fair to say that the rambling 25-page text of the 1996 declaration belies Mr. D'Souza's reading of it.
The second of bin Laden's pre-9/11 manifestos is his 1998 declaration of holy war against the West and Israel. Again bin Laden complains of America "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places." Again bin Laden refers to the "Crusader-Zionist alliance," alleging that more than one million Iraqis have been killed by Americans stationed in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden then issues his "ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military," proclaiming it the "individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip." Mr. D'Souza does not devote more than a few words to bin Laden's 1998 manifesto specifically, though it is bin Laden's final pre-9/11 written declaration of war. Mr. D'Souza generally observes, "When bin Laden calls America a Crusader state, he means that America is on a vicious international campaign to impose its atheist system of government and its pagan values on Muslims."
According to Mr. D'Souza, bin Laden's war against the "Crusader" United States and his condemnation of the "Zionist" half of the "Zionist Crusader alliance" are not based on the religion of either, but rather their lack of it. "The context of bin Laden's arguments clearly shows that bin Laden is not speaking of a religious war between Islam and Christianity. . . . In the classical Muslim understanding, there is a fundamental distinction between Jews and Christians on the one hand and polytheists and atheists on the other." Mr. D'Souza suggests that bin Laden either thinks highly of Christians and Jews, consistent with Mr. D'Souza's understanding of traditional Islam, or maintains a discreet silence concerning his dissent from the tradition for fear of "alienat[ing] traditional Muslims." To paraphrase the Biblical verse, in Mr. D'Souza's book you shall not hear of jihad or rumors of jihad. The word does not appear in the index and the concept is not discussed in the book.
Mr. D'Souza places great stock in bin Laden's November 2002 "Letter to America." Mr. D'Souza cites it as cardinal evidence of bin Laden's hatred of "the cultural left." In the letter, bin Laden calls on Americans to "reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling and trading with interest." For the purposes of argument we might concede that "fornication" and "homosexuality" can in some sense be laid at the feet of "the cultural left" and shoehorned into Mr. D'Souza's thesis. But alcohol, gambling and trading with interest cannot. Mr. D'Souza uses the passage to support his claim that bin Laden's quarrel with America does not derive primarily from foreign policy. He does not even pause to take note that the passage supports the proposition that Islam contributes more to the quarrel than does "the cultural left." Mr. D'Souza conveniently omits bin Laden's statement that "the first thing we are calling you to is Islam."
Mr. D'Souza is neither a historian nor a student of Islam. His research is neither broad nor deep. He refers in passing to interviews he conducted for the book, but he does not appear to have interviewed many scholars, journalists, or witnesses who have devoted themselves to the subjects that bear on his book's thesis.
"The Enemy at Home" is a strange book, both for what it says and for what it does not say on subjects that Mr. D'Souza must know conflict with its thesis. Mr. D'Souza says, for example, that he would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Michael Moore than with the grand mufti of Egypt (is this another lame stab at humor?), but that when it comes to "core beliefs," he feels closer to "the dignified fellow in the long robe and prayer beads than to the slovenly fellow with the baseball cap."
Having engaged in the effort to understand the Muslims as they understand themselves, in "The Enemy at Home" Mr. D'Souza generally does not seek to judge them by a standard above or beyond Islam. In this respect "The Enemy at Home" stands in contrast with Mr. D'Souza's first post-9/11 book, "What's So Great About America." In the earlier book, Mr. D'Souza first rehearsed many of the same themes that he explores in "The Enemy at Home." There he placed radical Islamists among the "blame America first" crowd. There Mr. D'Souza lauded the disentangling of the institutions of religion and government, "a separation that was achieved most completely in the United States." There he argued that Islamic fundamentalists don't just object to the excesses of American liberty, they object to liberty itself. There he noted that America could not appease the radical Islamists by staying out of their world because we live in an age when the flow of information is unstoppable. There he concluded that there was no alternative to facing their hostility. There he condemned the "coerced virtues" of the realm of Islam, because "compulsion cannot produce virtue." There he declared America to be, on balance, "an oasis of goodness in a desert of cynicism and barbarism." There he chose to cast his lot with his fellow citizens rather than with the grand mufti of Egypt.
If provocation is the standard by which "The Enemy at Home" is to be measured, the book is undoubtedly successful. It seems to me, however, that its cynicism exceeds its provocation.
Mr. Johnson writes at Power Line Blog This article appears in the March issue of The New Criterion.
Jessica Seinfeld cookbook
Reply #10 on:
October 31, 2007, 10:30:51 PM »
I believe it is very likely Seinfeld is making misleading statements. It may be literally true that his wife never read, saw, or heard about the other book, but it is also likely true her cookbook was either written for her, or the ideas that she in fact claims were hers, were in fact handed to her from her publisher who in turn stole the ideas from the other lady.
It makes business sense to take good ideas from another and pitch it to a star's wife and pawn it off as her creation to garner sales. She of course is happy to do so because she makes extra money and she comes off as smart, creative, and with an appearance that she has talent of her own. Anyone who thinks this is a coincidence would almost certainly be mistaken.
Seinfeld just shows that he is a selfish sleezeball. His wife is caught red handed and his response is not to apologize and be a real man, but be the coward he really is and to denigrate the real victim for the purpose of saving his/wife's sorry asses. But this is nothing unusual with the people of the entertainment industry who so many idolize and ador:
Reply #11 on:
November 07, 2007, 07:36:56 AM »
John Bolton's new memoir shows that he's no neocon.
BY BRENDAN SIMMS
Tuesday, November 6, 2007 12:01 a.m. EST
The British conservative Enoch Powell once famously said that all political careers end in failure. John Bolton's career, as we read in the opening pages of "Surrender Is Not an Option," began with the defeat of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, on which he had served as a teenage volunteer. It is a disarming start to the memoir of a man usually caricatured as a bombastic tub-thumper. In any case, history records that John Bolton bounced back from this disappointment, rose through the Republican ranks in the 1980s and, after loyal service interpreting Floridian chads during the 2000 election count, found himself propelled into high office. He tells the rest of the story with a focus, brutality and exasperation that will give pain and pleasure in all the right places.
Among Mr. Bolton's pungent chapter titles ("Sisyphus in the Twilight Zone," "Why Do I Want This Job?"), my favorite may be "Following the Yellow Cake Road on North Korea." Certainly "The Wizard of Oz" would have served as good preparation for Mr. Bolton's two Bush-era portfolios: undersecretary of state for arms control (2001-05) and U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations (2005-06). Mr. Bolton often finds himself in a fantasy-fueled Munchkinland in which all the problems of the Middle East are blamed on Israel and the Iranian quest for a nuclear bomb is either denied or ignored--or justified as a legitimate response to U.S. and Zionist hegemony.
The U.N. in particular, Mr. Bolton makes clear, was a place for Third World ax-grinding and waywardness. To be asked by a Congolese staffer during difficult Iran-related negotiations "Why do we care about nuclear weapons?" was par for the course, and to find many U.N. member states determined to revive the spirit of the long-repealed "Zionism is racism" resolution was almost routine. In that sense, Mr. Bolton's experience matched that of U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. going back to Jeane Kirkpatrick, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and perhaps beyond.
Much more worrying is Mr. Bolton's account of European policy on Tehran's nuclear program. The policy started as a well-meant attempt to avoid military confrontation by persuading the Iranians to abandon their plans peacefully. At almost every stage along the way, however, the French, British and German negotiators were hoodwinked by the Iranians, who later gloated over the deceptions they had been allowed to get away with. Far from holding all this against Iran, the Europeans--or "Euroids," as Mr. Bolton calls them--tended to vent their frustration on Mr. Bolton and America's supposed intransigence.
Thus the British representative to the Security Council is quoted as being "so tired of having to go out in front of those damned cameras and explain why we gave up on this or conceded on that." Far and away the most feeble performance is put in by the envoy from Berlin, who reflexively gives the Iranians the benefit of the doubt, crediting their claims of peaceful intentions. The Germans of all people should care about nuclear weapons in the hands of a maniac such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel. Their diplomats at the U.N. should not be making excuses for an Iranian nuclear program that is plainly intended for military purposes.
Mr. Bolton, it should be said, does not proceed merely by assertion: He supplies dates, names names, cites documents, recounts conversations and gives a blow-by-blow record of his diplomatic dealings. His memoir is entirely without coyness and spares no one, not even George W. Bush himself, whom he accuses of dropping the ball on Iran in recent times.
Mr. Bolton is merciless with the senior and middling State Department officials who he felt tried to sabotage the campaign against Tehran. His criticism will no doubt send them back to their diaries to pen a rebuttal. For the moment, however, "Surrender Is Not an Option" serves as a first draft of history. Even for those who disagree with him, Mr. Bolton's account will be the first port of call for those seeking to understand U.S. policy on nuclear proliferation during President Bush's two administrations.
It will also lay to rest a tenacious misunderstanding about the author. Mr. Bolton has long been described, even by otherwise well-informed commentators, as a "neoconservative." In fact, his political roots in small-government Goldwater Republicanism could not be further removed from the big-government origins of the formerly Democratic neoconservatives. Moreover, Mr. Bolton is innocent--too much so, in my view--of any ambition to put the export of democracy at the center of U.S. foreign policy.
In fact, Mr. Bolton is, in many ways, a member of the same "realist" family as Colin Powell, Richard Armitage and Condoleezza Rice. But unlike them, he sees nothing realistic about appeasing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Mr. Bolton provides a depressing account of how, within the Bush administration itself, initial firmness gave way--in Mr. Powell's case to a concern for his "legacy" and in Ms. Rice's to a penchant for "carrots" over "sticks" in her dealings with Iran. He was so outraged over one of her capitulations that he pointedly ordered carrot soup at his next dinner with her.
In the end, history will record all this as a question of judgment. If Iran is peacefully persuaded to stop short of the final turn of the screwdriver--or even if Tehran uses a nuclear device it develops "responsibly"--then Ms. Rice, Mr. Powell and "the Euroids" will be vindicated. But if--as seems more likely--the Iranians develop a deliverable nuclear device and put it in the hands of the zealots currently running the country, then we shall rue the day that John Bolton stepped down. After all, to adapt Goldwater, restraint in the pursuit of durable solutions is no virtue, and robustness in pursuit of American interests is no vice.
Mr. Simms is the author, most recently, of "Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire, 1714-1789" (Penguin/Allen Lane). You can buy "Surrender Is Not an Option" from the OpinionJournal bookstore.
Free to choose wrongly
Reply #12 on:
June 24, 2008, 03:00:45 AM »
Free to Choose, But Often Wrong
By DAVID A. SHAYWITZ
June 24, 2008; Page A17
By Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
(Doubleday, 206 pages, $21.95)
Flirting With Disaster
By Marc Gerstein, with Michael Ellsberg
(Union Square, 340 pages, $24.95)
Consider Linda, a 31-year-old woman, single and bright. As a student, she was deeply concerned with discrimination and social justice and also participated in antinuclear protests. Which is more probable? (a) Linda is today a bank teller; (b) Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.
When psychologists Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky conducted an experimental survey in the early 1980s asking people to answer this simple question, they discovered, to their surprise, that most respondents picked "b," even though this was the narrower choice and hence the less likely one. It seems that saliency – in this case, Linda's passionate political profile – trumps logic.
Over the past quarter-century, Mr. Kahneman and his colleagues have gone on to identify a range of flaws in our critical faculties, reshaping the study of economics by challenging the assumption that a person, when faced with a choice, can be counted on to make a rational decision.
While Mr. Kahneman (who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002) has confined most of his writing to academic journals, his ideas have found their way into popular culture through books such as Barry Schwartz's "The Paradox of Choice" and Nassim Taleb's "The Black Swan." "Sway," by brothers Ori and Rom Brafman, is the latest addition to this literature. It offers a breezy introduction to the science of decision-making and shows the many ways in which logical thought can be subverted or "swayed."
Loss aversion, for example, may explain why car rental companies persuade us to purchase gratuitous insurance or why flat-rate telephone plans are so popular even when they end up costing us more. Value attribution – transferring "value" signals from one thing to another – may explain why hot-dog sales at the Coney Island food stand of "Famous Nathan" Handwerker shot up when he recruited local doctors to shop there while wearing their white coats and stethoscopes. Procedural justice may be the reason why venture capitalists favor the entrepreneurs who communicate with them most; a willingness to observe the dictates of process is taken as a proxy for quality.
Some examples in "Sway" are less forceful than others. It seems a bit much, for instance, to blame value attribution for the failure of morning commuters to applaud a virtuoso violinist performing in jeans and a baseball cap at the entrance to a subway station. A simpler explanation: People were in a hurry to get to work. But the pacing of "Sway" is so fast that even questionable examples are gone in seconds, and soon you're on to the next, perhaps more enlightening, vignette.
While the Brafmans are amused by our irrationality, Marc Gerstein is troubled by it and wants to understand why we have such difficulty recognizing our mistaken thinking before it is too late. In "Flirting With Disaster," Mr. Gerstein (assisted by Michael Ellsberg) explores the psychology underlying a series of disasters, including the Challenger explosion, the flooding of New Orleans, the collapse of Arthur Andersen and the fall of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund run by supposed "geniuses." Mr. Gerstein believes that each disaster resulted from a series of bad decisions that could have easily been avoided. Why weren't they?
In some cases, such as the 1981 collapse of the skywalk of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency, the central problem was a design change that was not properly evaluated. In New Orleans, bureaucratic inertia stripped the intensity from a series of urgent warnings. Another source of danger is the conviction that sophisticated models will enable us to capture complexity and defeat uncertainty. Long Term Capital fell as a result of such hubris.
Mr. Gerstein is passionately interested in people and is profoundly disappointed when they behave badly; he is especially critical of bystanders – workers who know enough to speak out but who decide not to do so or who stop short of preventing a bad thing from happening. For Mr. Gerstein the question isn't just why NASA pushed for a Challenger launch over the objections of its engineers; he also wants to understand why the engineers relented despite their obvious concerns. Similarly, he is frustrated by employees at Arthur Andersen who reported gross irregularities to their managers but simply gave up when their complaints were ignored.
Mr. Gerstein concludes that there are too many disincentives to speaking up; he would like to see more whistleblowers. He would also like us to pay more attention to warnings from experts. An important question raised by "Flirting With Disaster," though, is whether unheeded expert warnings are either as significant or as potentially useful as he implies. It seems probable that there is an element of selection bias here: Such warnings may be extremely common, especially in high-risk activities such as space flight or options trading – we just notice them when they happen to be both ignored and right.
Moreover, the distinction between good ideas and dangerous ones – or between good leaders and bad – is seldom as clear as Mr. Gerstein would have it. Decisions must often be made with imperfect information. Clearly, a balancing act must be performed each time a rocket is set to launch, each time a new drug or medical device is introduced, and, for that matter, each time a decision is made. There is always a trade-off between action and reflection. Even if we could address every conceivable concern, disasters would still occur (after all, we can't think of everything) – only they would be accompanied, in the long run, by considerably less innovation and progress.
As Mr. Gerstein urges, though, we could all do more – in our personal and professional lives – to reduce error, learn from mistakes and resist the passive acceptance of a flawed status quo. The question is whether we're rational enough to respond to the challenge.
Dr. Shaywitz is a management consultant in New Jersey.
Writings of original George Bush
Reply #13 on:
June 27, 2008, 09:11:57 AM »
Interesting piece on the original George Bush a first cousin to Bush elders great great great grandfather was a student of Hebrew and Mohammed.
Harvey Stack Remembers
Harvey G. Stack
History and Numismatics
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The numismatic world has new commemorative dollars to collect- the Presidential Series. Also one can also collect the gold half-ounce First Lady Series. As these new coins are released to the market they remind us of the presidency and family of our forefathers. They also pique our interest in the history, lore and character of each presidential family. It brings us closer to those who formed and lead our nation as it grew. Each presidency had stories attached to them and the history of their families always excited the thoughts and imaginations.
Most recently, the cable network HBO ran a series about John Adams, our second president. The history and stories of the president and his family, before, during and after his presidency will stimulate the interest in our national history. The coins further enforce our appreciation of the work that each did.
It will be close to a decade before the George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush will appear on the new dollar coinage. In the meantime, those interested in history and background can study past to learn more about them, apart from what has appeared in modern history and ongoing political commentary.
Last year, in the New York Times Magazine of July 22, 2007 an interesting story appeared discussing the first George Bush (1796-1859), which revealed one of the ancestors of the presidential family.
According to Ted Widmer, who wrote the article in the New York Times, the pioneer George Bush was a first cousin of the president's great-great-great grandfather. He was hardly the black sheep of the family (which the current president likes to call himself), but was very distinguished during his lifetime. He was very interested in the esoteric religions. His opinions were described as liberal. Among other intellectual pursuits he was profoundly interested in the traditions of the Mid East.
The George Bush of the 1800s name was carried into the 20th century Dictionary of American Biography, in which no other Bush family member was mentioned. No doubt, any future edition will hasten to correct that!
The early George Bush read so incessantly that his parents became frightened as to the direction his interests were taking him. He later entered the ministry, but his controversial attitudes left him with no church to go to. He considered himself as a specialist predicting the Second Coming. He was not the only ones, and the Millerites captured national attention in this regard.
By 1831 he became a professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages. He also wrote a book, The Life of Mohammed. The volume was well received and added to his popularity. In it he expressed deep respect for the prophet, but also gave many negative opinions, calling the prophet an "imposter.". However, he concluded his biography of Mohammed by calling him a "remarkable man." Not unexpectedly, George Bush's opinions, both pro and con, made him very controversial. It went out of print in the 19th century and was mostly forgotten. Then in the mid-20th century it was republished in a limited edition. In 2004 the book attracted attention when it was denounced by Egyptian censors. Yet in 2005 the Egyptian censors ruled it was acceptable. This concluded that "Bush I" may not have been an enemy of Islam as thought by the earlier censors.
Possibly the history and writings of the "Bush I" may reveal some of the religious character that George W. Bush has inherited and since professed for himself.
In view of the continuing interest in the current political figures, including candidates as well as those in office, the above story becomes timely. When the Bush coins are issued in the future, I wonder if the first George Bush will be mentioned as a footnote?
History has always been commemorated in coins, but any additional facts and stories can only help complete the appreciation of each special dollar coin issued, and the respect each president deserves.
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WSJ: Acquainted with the Night
Reply #14 on:
July 18, 2008, 08:42:07 AM »
Acquainted With the Night
By GEOFFREY NORMAN
July 18, 2008; Page A11
Central Park in the Dark
By Marie Winn
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 304 pages; $25)
Urban living does not lend itself to encounters with the wild, and city dwellers might be forgiven for thinking that wildlife consists of rats, pigeons and a few squirrels – that "real nature" exists out beyond the last line of high-rises. Maybe so. But if one lives in America's most razzled urban environment, New York City, and craves the experience of nature, it is right there in the middle of things. In Central Park.
There are birds in the park, as anyone who has walked through it knows. But 244 species? This is the number recorded by one diligent Manhattan birdwatcher. Among the most celebrated birds of recent times are the pair of red-tailed hawks that messily took up residence alongside a high-rise at Fifth Avenue and 74th Street in the early 1990s, eventually causing a controversy among the building's tenants that captured the interest of a lot of other New Yorkers. The hawks were the central figures of Marie Winn's best-selling "Red Tails in Love" (parts of which first appeared in The Wall Street Journal). When the saga ended, Ms. Winn didn't stop observing and recording her encounters with Manhattan wildlife, of course. She simply sought out its nocturnal side.
In its very title "Central Park in the Dark" calls to mind something mysterious and perhaps frightening. Over the years there have been plenty of horror stories, lavishly recorded in the tabloids, to make anyone reluctant to enter Central Park once the sun has gone down. But for Ms. Winn, the darkened park is a place of magic, not menace. Raccoons come out to feed. Owls stir themselves and go on the hunt. Bats take flight. Moths of many types appear in vast numbers. The park comes alive.
"In all the years I've been walking around the park at night, both alone and with friends," Ms. Winn writes, "I've had only two scary experiences." One occurred when she encountered some faux undercover cops – Guardian Angel types with whom she eventually exchanged pleasantries – and the other involving real undercover cops who were less convivial. Otherwise, she says, the prevailing mood has been one of enchantment.
As it turns out, Ms. Winn often makes her nocturnal rounds with other park enthusiasts and lovers of the urban wild. They compose a kind of nightly audience for nature's theater. And there is much to observe – like the emergence of a cicada from its nymph stage: "Suddenly fluid begins to throb through the veins. At first the wings take on a golden, glittery color that sparkles in our flashlight beams. Then, almost immediately, they turn as bright green as the legs. Let there be life! The rapt audience lets out a collective exhalation – ah!"
Ms. Winn's passion for the life of the park extends to all manner of creatures – the large, the small and even the slimy. There is a whole chapter (no kidding) on the sex life of slugs, and while it is not exactly erotic in the most appealing sense of the word – slime has a limiting effect – it is fascinating. "Like our own species," Ms. Winn writes, "slugs prefer to engage in sex under the cover of darkness. Yet people who have managed to observe the arcane rituals of slug sex by lantern or flashlight confirm that what happens when slug embraces slug is ravishingly beautiful."
She is equally lyrical on observing the fly-out of an owl – the occasion when the bird awakens, preens, looks around and in various stages of contemplation decides finally to get up and go to work. Those who gather to watch the fly-out with Ms. Winn are a precise lot, given to recording in their notebooks the exact moment, from night to night, when the owlish event occurs. "Seeing the clock time of an owl's exit change over the months serves a deep purpose: it provides a powerful connection with what Thoreau called 'the steady progress of the universe.' As you stand on terra firma watching the same little drama every day, over time, you begin to absorb the realities of the life on a planet rotating on its axis."
Sample-collecting can be another part of the nightly vigil. At one point Ms. Winn takes some owl pellets that she has gathered – the undigested remains of whatever an owl has killed and consumed and then regurgitated – to the nearby American Museum of Natural History to be analyzed. The pellets are from a barred owl, a species rarely seen in Manhattan. Ms. Winn and her associates are curious about its diet. It turns out that the owl is killing and eating pigeons. This is one version of urban justice.
Among Ms. Winn's nighttime park companions are a group that calls itself the Central Park Mothers. Together they witness the moths that come to an English oak just south of the Boathouse Restaurant, in the middle of the park. The tree gives off a "strong alcoholic smell," suggesting that it is diseased. But the aroma makes the tree attractive to the moths and thus also a gathering place for Ms. Winn and her compatriots. The Central Park Mothers are especially fond of the moths known as "underwings," perhaps because their names are so suggestive: Inconsolable Underwing; Tearful Underwing; Dejected Underwing. Keats might have made something of such melancholy.
Ms. Winn writes as affectionately of her park companions as she does of the wildlife experiences that are their bond. When one of them dies – Charles Kennedy, who "loved Central Park with the passion of the Iowa expatriate that he was" – his friends scatter his ashes near the site where he had seen "his first prothonotary warbler," after a 10-year quest. "We didn't feel sad at all," Ms. Winn writes. "We joked around about Charles's devotion to the stunning warbler. Who else would have chosen such a hard-to-spell name for his e-mail address?"
Mr. Norman, a writer in Vermont, is the author of "Two for the Summit: My Daughter, the Mountains, and Me."
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
Here Comes Everybody Review
Reply #15 on:
November 26, 2008, 07:36:21 PM »
I also recently read Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff on this topic
I like Here Comes Everybody better but Groundswell is more practical.
Here Comes Everybody Review
In 1937, Ronald Coase answered one of the most perplexing questions in economics: if markets are so great, why do organizations exist? Why don't people just buy and sell their own services in a market instead? Coase, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics, answered the question by noting a market's transaction costs: buyers and sellers need to find one another, then reach agreement, and so on. The Coase theorem implies that if these transaction costs are low enough, direct markets of individuals make a whole lot of sense. But if they are too high, it makes more sense to get the job done by an organization that hires people.
Economists have long understood the corollary concept of Coase's ceiling, a point above which organizations collapse under their own weight -- where hiring someone, however competent, means more work for everyone else than the new hire contributes. Software projects often bump their heads against Coase's ceiling: recall Frederick P. Brooks Jr.'s seminal study, The Mythical Man-Month (Addison-Wesley, 1975), which showed how adding another person onto a project can slow progress and increase errors.
What's new is something consultant and social technologist Clay Shirky calls "Coase's Floor," below which we find projects and activities that aren't worth their organizational costs -- things so esoteric, so frivolous, so nonsensical, or just so thoroughly unimportant that no organization, large or small, would ever bother with them. Things that you shake your head at when you see them and think, "That's ridiculous."
Sounds a lot like the Internet, doesn't it? And that's precisely Shirky's point. His new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, explores a world where organizational costs are close to zero and where ad hoc, loosely connected groups of unpaid amateurs can create an encyclopedia larger than the Britannica and a computer operating system to challenge Microsoft's.
Shirky teaches at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, but this is no academic book. Sacrificing rigor for readability, Here Comes Everybody is an entertaining as well as informative romp through some of the Internet's signal moments -- the Howard Dean phenomenon, Belarusian protests organized on LiveJournal, the lost cellphone of a woman named Ivanna, Meetup.com, flash mobs, Twitter, and more -- which Shirky uses to illustrate his points.
The book is filled with bits of insight and common sense, explaining why young people take better advantage of social tools, how the Internet affects social change, and how most Internet discourse falls somewhere between dinnertime conversation and publishing.
Shirky notes that "most user-generated content isn't 'content' at all, in the sense of being created for general consumption, any more than a phone call between you and a sibling is 'family-generated content.' Most of what gets created on any given day is just the ordinary stuff of life -- gossip, little updates, thinking out loud -- but now it's done in the same medium as professionally produced material. Unlike professionally produced material, however, Internet content can be organized after the fact."
No one coordinates Flickr's 6 million to 8 million users. Yet Flickr had the first photos from the 2005 London Transport bombings, beating the traditional news media. Why? People with cellphone cameras uploaded their photos to Flickr. They coordinated themselves using tools that Flickr provides. This is the sort of impromptu organization the Internet is ideally suited for. Shirky explains how these moments are harbingers of a future that can self-organize without formal hierarchies.
These nonorganizations allow for contributions from a wider group of people. A newspaper has to pay someone to take photos; it can't be bothered to hire someone to stand around London underground stations waiting for a major event. Similarly, Microsoft has to pay a programmer full time, and Encyclopedia Britannica has to pay someone to write articles. But Flickr can make use of a person with just one photo to contribute, Linux can harness the work of a programmer with little time, and Wikipedia benefits if someone corrects just a single typo. These aggregations of millions of actions that were previously below the Coasean floor have enormous potential.
But a flash mob is still a mob. In a world where the Coasean floor is at ground level, all sorts of organizations appear, including ones you might not like: violent political organizations, hate groups, Holocaust deniers, and so on. (Shirky's discussion of teen anorexia support groups makes for very disturbing reading.) This has considerable implications for security, both online and off.
We never realized how much our security could be attributed to distance and inconvenience -- how difficult it is to recruit, organize, coordinate, and communicate without formal organizations. That inadvertent measure of security is now gone. Bad guys, from hacker groups to terrorist groups, will use the same ad hoc organizational technologies that the rest of us do. And while there has been some success in closing down individual Web pages, discussion groups, and blogs, these are just stopgap measures.
In the end, a virtual community is still a community, and it needs to be treated as such. And just as the best way to keep a neighborhood safe is for a policeman to walk around it, the best way to keep a virtual community safe is to have a virtual police presence.
Crime isn't the only danger; there is also isolation. If people can segregate themselves in ever-increasingly specialized groups, then they're less likely to be exposed to alternative ideas. We see a mild form of this in the current political trend of rival political parties having their own news sources, their own narratives, and their own facts. Increased radicalization is another danger lurking below the Coasean floor.
There's no going back, though. We've all figured out that the Internet makes freedom of speech a much harder right to take away. As Shirky demonstrates, Web 2.0 is having the same effect on freedom of assembly. The consequences of this won't be fully seen for years.
Here Comes Everybody covers some of the same ground as Yochai Benkler's Wealth of Networks. But when I had to explain to one of my corporate attorneys how the Internet has changed the nature of public discourse, Shirky's book is the one I recommended.
Reply #16 on:
December 04, 2008, 02:17:06 PM »
The Trouble With Thomas Jefferson
The eloquent Founder's original sin
Damon W. Root | January 2009 Print Edition
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 800 pages, $35
In 1775 the English essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson wrote a spirited political pamphlet titled Taxation No Tyranny. His subject was the loud and increasingly aggressive rhetoric coming from the American colonies, where criticism of British economic policy was giving way to calls for popular revolution. “How is it,” Johnson retorted, “that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”
It’s still a good question. Perhaps no one illustrates the paradox better than Thomas Jefferson. The celebrated author of the Declaration of Independence, which famously declares that “all men are created equal” and are born with the inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Jefferson was also a slaveholder, a man whose livelihood was rooted in the subjugation of hundreds of human beings, including members of his wife’s family and his own.
At the center of Jefferson’s tangled, frequently horrifying web of blood and bondage were two women: Elizabeth Hemings and her daughter Sarah, better known as Sally. Elizabeth, the daughter of an African slave and an English sea captain, was the slave mistress of a Virginia slave owner and broker named John Wayles. Sally Hemings was the youngest of their six children. Wayles also had children from his three marriages, including a daughter named Martha. Sally Hemings, in other words, was Martha Wayles’ half-sister. At her father’s death in 1773, Martha inherited his human property, including Elizabeth and Sally Hemings. In 1772 Martha married Thomas Jefferson. Thus the Hemingses came to Monticello.
In 1782 Martha died from complications after giving birth to her sixth child with Jefferson. Among those with him at her deathbed were Elizabeth and Sally Hemings, who then was 9 years old. Edmund Bacon, one of Jefferson’s overseers at Monticello, reported that as Martha lay dying she asked her husband not to remarry. “Holding her hand, Mr. Jefferson promised her solemnly that he would never marry again,” Bacon recalled. “And he never did.”
That doesn’t mean Jefferson became celibate. In 1789, while serving as U.S. envoy in Paris, he almost certainly began a four-decade-long relationship with his late wife’s half-sister. (In addition to the oral testimony of numerous Hemings family members, the evidence for their relationship includes DNA tests conducted in 1998 establishing that a Jefferson family male fathered Sally Hemings’ son Eston.) At this point Sally Hemings was 16.
It was an affair the historian Edmund S. Morgan has called a “monogamous spousal relationship.” In her extraordinary new book The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history at Rutgers University and a professor of law at New York Law School, uses a more specific term: concubine, which Virginia law defined at the time as a woman living with a man who was not her husband. If Sally Hemings were white, we might describe her relationship with Jefferson as a common-law marriage. But as Gordon-Reed reminds us, “Any black woman who lived with a white man could only have been his concubine. It was legally impossible to be anything else.”
This relationship apparently lasted until Jefferson’s death in 1826, by which time Hemings had given birth to seven of his children, four of whom survived into adulthood. In his will, Jefferson formally emancipated two of them, James Madison Hemings and Thomas Eston Hemings. The other two, William Beverly Hemings and Harriet Hemings, simply left Monticello on their own in the early 1820s to live—“pass”—as white. (All three males, it’s worth noting, were named after men Jefferson knew or admired, a common practice among Virginia’s planter elites.) Eight years after Jefferson’s death, his daughter Martha Randolph quietly freed Sally Hemings, who was then 53 years old. Why didn’t Jefferson emancipate her too? “Formally freeing Hemings,” Gordon-Reed observes, “while also emancipating two people obviously young enough to be their children, would have told the story of his life over the past thirty-eight years quite well.”
Among the many achievements of Gordon-Reed’s compelling, if slightly repetitive, book is her vivid illumination of these previously hidden lives. She persuasively argues that Hemings exacted a promise from Jefferson that proved no less momentous than the one he had granted his dying wife. In essence, 16-year-old Hemings, who was pregnant with Jefferson’s child and working as his domestic “servant” in Paris, chose to return to America with him, rather than remain in France, where she could have formally received her freedom. (By law any slave that set foot on French soil was automatically free.) She did so because Jefferson promised to emancipate her children when they became adults—a promise he kept. In exchange, she lived as his concubine. “Like other enslaved people when the all too rare chance presented itself,” Gordon-Reed writes, “Hemings seized her moment and used the knowledge of her rights to make a decision based upon what she thought was best for her as a woman, family member, and a potential mother in her specific circumstances.”
Jefferson apparently cared for Sally Hemings and their children, and he clearly treated members of her family (some of who were also his deceased wife’s family) with much consideration. Elizabeth Hemings, for instance, became something of a revered matriarch. Her sons Robert and James (brothers to Sally Hemings and Martha Jefferson) received instruction in the skilled trades of barbering and cooking, respectively.
Both were permitted to work for private wages, and both enjoyed relative freedom of movement outside of Monticello—so long as they came running at their master’s command, of course. “Despite their status on the law books,” Gordon-Reed writes, “Jefferson treated them, to a degree, as if they were lower-class white males.” Eventually, Jefferson freed them both.
But let’s not draw too rosy a picture. As part of the marriage settlement for his sister Anna, Jefferson handed over the slave Nancy Hemings (another of Elizabeth Hemings’ offspring, though not by John Wayles) and her two children. When Anna’s husband decided to sell these three slaves, Nancy Hemings implored Jefferson to buy them back so they could remain together as a family. Jefferson bought Nancy, an expert weaver, and her young daughter, but refused to buy her son. The family was split apart. “No matter how ‘close’ the Hemingses were to Jefferson, no matter that he viewed some of them in a different light and did not subject them to certain hardships,” Gordon-Reed writes, “their family remained a commodity that could be sold or exchanged at his will.”
Which brings us back to Samuel Johnson and his quip about slaveholders yelping for liberty. Does the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves—probably including his own children—negate the wonderful things he wrote about inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence? To put it another way, why should anyone listen to what Master Jefferson (or other slaveholding Founders) had to say about liberty and equality?
It’s important to remember that the idea of inalienable rights didn’t start or stop in the year 1776. The historian Gordon S. Wood, in his superb 1991 book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, argues that “to focus, as we are apt to do, on what the Revolution did not accomplish—highlighting and lamenting its failure to abolish slavery and change fundamentally the lot of women—is to miss the great significance of what it did accomplish.” In Wood’s view, by destroying monarchical rule and replacing it with republicanism, the American revolutionaries “made possible the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements of the nineteenth century and in fact all our current egalitarian thinking.” They upended “their societies as well as their governments…only they did not know—they could scarcely have imagined—how much of their society they would change.”
As evidence, consider two very different figures whose lives intersected with slavery in the 19th century: the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the pro-slavery politician John C. Calhoun. An escaped slave and self-taught author and orator, Douglass understood better than most just how potent the Declaration’s promise of inalienable rights could be. “Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body?” Douglass would demand of his mostly white audiences. “There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”
Calhoun, by contrast, believed the Declaration’s assertion that “all men are created equal” was “the most dangerous of all political error.” As he put it in an 1848 speech, “For a long time it lay dormant; but in the process of time it began to germinate, and produce its poisonous fruits.” This false notion of equality, Calhoun continued, “had strong hold on the mind of Mr. Jefferson…which caused him to take an utterly false view of the subordinate relation of the black to the white race in the South; and to hold, in consequence, that the former, though utterly unqualified to possess liberty, were as fully entitled to both liberty and equality as the latter.”
Think about what Calhoun is saying here. The idea that “all men are created equal” has slowly developed in the American consciousness, producing the “poisonous fruits” of the anti-slavery movement. Jefferson may or may not have intended such an outcome; he certainly did little actively to bring it about, though he did denounce slavery and its brutalizing impact on white society. But the libertarian ideas that inspired Jefferson, the ones coursing through the Declaration of Independence and later through the Constitution, nonetheless did bring it about. Douglass welcomed that result; Calhoun despised it.
That’s why Jefferson’s words matter. In spite of his despicable actions, he gave eloquent and resounding voice to the ideas that have been at the forefront of human liberty for hundreds of years. That members of the Hemings family may have heard such rhetoric while they lived in bondage further highlights the tragedy of their terrible situation. Thanks to Annette Gordon-Reed, these forgotten and silent individuals at least have the opportunity to register their own verdicts on this shameful period.
Damon W. Root is an associate editor of reason.
Reply #17 on:
February 22, 2010, 04:14:25 PM »
Genhgis: Birth of an Emprie
an excellent fictionalized novel on the upbringing of Temujin from boy to raider to khan. So good I read 90% of it in a day.
consipricay theories - Jesse Ventura
Reply #18 on:
April 05, 2011, 01:49:10 PM »
Well he certainly sounded like a nut job on Piers Morgan last night but I haven't read his book
Reply #19 on:
April 05, 2011, 01:55:17 PM »
Jesse Ventura is faker than his professional wrestling.
Our man formerly in Iraq recommends
Reply #20 on:
August 22, 2011, 10:50:05 AM »
It is rare that I will straight up make a mass recommendation of a book but War by Sebastan Junger is one I will. I am only 1/3rd of the way through the book and find it full of insight on a variety of topics that should interest persons interested in combat dynamics, real combat, and the situation in Afghanistan.
If you have not read this book, you should. It is not a rehash of the movie Restrepo. It is superior in content, story and insight.
"...grappling happens. It just does." - Top Dog
Book exerpt of War by Sebastian Junger
Reply #21 on:
September 13, 2011, 09:51:47 PM »
Quote from: Crafty_Dog on August 22, 2011, 10:50:05 AM
It is rare that I will straight up make a mass recommendation of a book but War by Sebastan Junger is one I will. I am only 1/3rd of the way through the book and find it full of insight on a variety of topics that should interest persons interested in combat dynamics, real combat, and the situation in Afghanistan.
If you have not read this book, you should. It is not a rehash of the movie Restrepo. It is superior in content, story and insight.
Will add this book to my To Read list which is way too much, but with your reco and 'our man formerly in Iraq', I will bump it up closer to the top of my list
Cut and pasted from
Book One- FEAR
NEW YORK CITY
Six Months Later
O'Byrne is standing at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 36th Street with a to-go cup in each hand and the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up. It's six in the morning and very cold. He's put on twenty pounds since I last saw him and could be a laborer waiting for the gate to open at the construction site across the street. Now that he's out of the Army I'm supposed to call him Brendan, but I'm finding that almost impossible to do. We shake hands and he gives me one of the coffees and we go to get my car. The gash across his forehead is mostly healed, though I can still see where the stitches were. One of his front teeth is chipped and looks like a fang. He had a rough time when he got back to Italy; in some ways he was in more dan-ger there than in combat.
O'Byrne had been with Battle Company in the Korengal Valley, a small but extraordinarily violent slit in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains of eastern Afghanistan. He was just one soldier out of thirty but seemed to have a knack for putting words to the things that no one else really wanted to talk about. I came to think of O'Byrne as a stand-in for the entire platoon, a way to understand a group of men who I don't think entirely understood themselves. One valley to the north, two platoons from Chosen Company accumulated a casualty rate of around 80 percent during their deployment. Battle Company wasn't hit that hard, but they were hit hard enough. This morning I'm going to interview Justin Kalenits, one of the wounded from Chosen, and O'Byrne has asked if he could join me. It's a cold, sunny day with little traffic and a north wind that rocks the car along the open stretches and on the bridges. We barrel southward through the industrial dross of New Jersey and Pennsylvania talking about the deployment and the platoon and how strange it is — in some ways for both of us — to find ourselves in the United States for good. I spent the year visiting O'Byrne's platoon in the Korengal, but now that's over and neither of us will ever see it again. We're both dreaming about it at night, though, weird, illogical combat sequences that don't always end badly but are soaked in dread.
Kalenits was shot in the pelvis during what has come to be known as the Bella Ambush. Bella was one of the firebases operated by Chosen Company in the Waygal Valley. In early November, fourteen Chosen soldiers, twelve Afghan soldiers, a Marine, and an Afghan interpreter walked to the nearby village of Ara-nas, met with elders, and then started to walk back. It was a setup. The enemy had built sandbagged po-sitions in a 360-degree circle around a portion of the trail where there was no cover and the only escape was to jump off a cliff. By some miracle, Chosen held them off. Six Americans and eight Afghans were killed and everyone else was wounded. An American patrol hasn't taken 100 percent casualties in a fire-fight since Vietnam.
We turn into Walter Reed Army Medical Center and park in front of Abrams Hall, where Kalenits lives. We find him in his room smoking and watching television in the dark. His blinds are down and cigarette smoke swirls in the slats of light that come through. I ask Kalenits when was the first moment he realized he was in an ambush, and he says it was when the helmet was shot off his head. Almost immediately he was hit three times in the chest, twice in the back, and then watched his best friend take a round through the forehead that emptied out the back of his head. Kalenits says that when he saw that he just "went into awe."
There were so many muzzle flashes around them that the hills looked like they were strung with Christmas lights. The rounds that hit Kalenits were stopped by ballistic plates in his vest, but one finally hit him in the left buttock. It shattered his pelvis and tore up his intestines and exited through his thigh. Kalenits was sure it had severed an artery, and he gave himself three minutes to live. He spotted an en-emy machine-gun team moving into position on a nearby hill and shot at them. He saw the men fall. He went through all of his ammunition except for one magazine that he saved for when the enemy came through on foot to finish everyone off.
Kalenits started to fade out from lack of blood and he handed his weapon to another man and sat down. He watched a friend named Albert get shot in the knee, and start sliding down the cliff. Kalenits's team leader grabbed him and tried to pull him back, but they were taking so much fire that it was going to get them both killed. Albert yelled to his team leader to let go and he did, and Albert slid partway down the cliff, losing his weapon and helmet on the way. He finally came to a stop and then got shot three more times where he lay.
Rocket-propelled grenades were exploding all around them and throwing up so much dust that the weapons were jamming. Men were spitting into the breeches of their guns, trying to clear them. For the next hour Kalenits faded in and out of consciousness and the firefight continued as one endless, deafen-ing blur. It finally got dark and the MEDEVAC bird arrived and started hoisting up the wounded and the dead. There was a dead man in a tree below the trail and dead men at the bottom of the cliff. One body fell out of the Skedco harness as it was being hoisted into the helicopter, and a quick-reaction force that had flown in from Battle Company had to search for him most of the night.
The last thing Kalenits remembered was getting stuck with needles by doctors at the base in Asada-bad; the next thing he knew, he was in Germany. His mother had come home to a message telling her to get in contact with the military immediately, and when she did she was told that she'd better fly to Ger-many as fast as possible if she wanted to see her son alive. He was still alive when she arrived, and he eventually recovered enough to return to the United States.
O'Byrne has been quiet most of the interview. "Did anyone bring up the issue of walking at night?" he finally says. "On the way out, did anyone bring that up?"
I know why he's asking: Second Platoon left a hilltop position during the daytime once and got badly ambushed outside a town called Aliabad. A rifleman named Steiner took a round in the helmet, though he survived.
"No — the lieutenant said, 'We're leaving now,' " Kale-nits answers. "What are you going to say to him?"
"F--- off?" O'Byrne offers.
Kalenits smiles, but it's not a thought anyone wants to pursue.
KORENGAL VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN
O'Byrne and the men of Battle Company arrived
in the last week in May when the rivers were running full and the upper peaks still held their snow. Chi-nooks escorted by Apache helicopters rounded a massive dark mountain called the Abas Ghar and pounded into the valley and put down amid clouds of dust at the tiny landing zone. The men grabbed their gear, filed off the birds, and got mortared almost immediately. The enemy knew a new unit was coming into the valley and it was their way of saying hello; fourteen months later they'd say goodbye that way as well. The men took cover in the mechanics' bay and then shouldered their gear and climbed the hill up to their tents at the top of the base. The climb was only a hundred yards but it smoked almost everyone. Around them, the mountains flew up in every direction. The men knew that before the year was out they would probably have to walk on everything they could see.
The base was called the Korengal Outpost — the KOP — and was considered one of the most dangerous postings in Afghanistan. It was a cheerless collection of bunkers and C-wire and bee huts that stretched several hundred yards up a steep hillside toward a band of holly trees that had been shredded by gunfire. There was a plywood headquarters building and a few brick-and-mortars for the men to sleep in and small sandbag bunkers for mortar attacks. The men ate one hot meal a day under a green Army tent and showered once a week in water that had been pumped out of a local creek. Here and there PVC pipe was stuck into the ground at an angle for the men to urinate into. Since there were no women there was no need for privacy. Past the medical tent and the water tank were four open brick stalls that faced the spectacular mountains to the north. Those were known as the burn-sh---ers, and beneath each one was a metal drum that Afghan workers pulled out once a day so they could burn the contents with diesel fuel. Upslope from there was an Afghan National Army bunker and then a trail that climbed up to Outpost 1, a thousand feet above the KOP. The climb was so steep that the previous unit had installed fixed ropes on the bad parts. The Americans could make the climb in forty-five minutes, combat-light, and the Af-ghans could make it in half that.
Several days after they arrived, O'Byrne's platoon went on patrol with men from the 10th Mountain Di-vision, whom they were replacing in the valley. Tenth Mountain had begun their rotation back to the United States several months earlier, but Army commanders had changed their minds and decided to ex-tend their tour. Men who had arrived home after a year of combat were put on planes and flown back into the war. Morale plunged, and Battle Company arrived to stories of their predecessors jumping off rocks to break their legs or simply refusing to leave
the wire. The stories weren't entirely true, but the Korengal Valley was starting to acquire a reputation as a place that could alter your mind in terrible and irreversible ways.
However messed up 10th Mountain might have been, they'd been climbing around the valley for over a year and were definitely in shape. On the first joint patrol they led Second Platoon down toward the Ko-rengal River and then back up to a granite formation called Table Rock. Tenth Mountain was intentionally trying to break them off — make the new men collapse from exhaustion — and halfway up Table Rock it started to work. A 240 gunner named Vandenberge started falling out and O'Byrne, who was on the same gun team, traded weapons with him and hung the 240 across his shoulders. The 240 is a belt-fed machine gun that weighs almost thirty pounds; you might as well be carrying a jackhammer up a moun-tain. O'Byrne and the rest of the men had another fifty pounds of gear and ammunition on their backs and twenty pounds of body armor. Almost no one in the platoon was carrying less than eighty pounds.
The men struggled upward in full view of the Taliban positions across the valley and finally began tak-ing fire halfway up the spur. O'Byrne had never been under fire before, and the first thing he did was stand up to look around. Someone yelled to take cover. There was only one rock to hide behind, and Vandenberge was using it, so O'Byrne got behind him. 'F---, I can't believe they just shot at me!' he yelled.
Vandenberge was a huge blond man who spoke slowly and was very, very smart. 'Well,' he said, 'I don't know if they were shooting at you . . .'
'Okay,' O'Byrne said, 'shooting at us . . .'
Inexperienced soldiers are known as "cherries," and standing up in a firefight is about as cherry as it gets. So is this: the first night at the KOP, O'Byrne heard a strange yammering in the forest and assumed the base was about to get attacked. He grabbed his gun and waited. Nothing happened. Later he found out it was just monkeys that came down to the wire to shriek at the Americans. It was as if every living thing in the valley, even the wildlife, wanted them gone.
O'Byrne grew up in rural Pennsylvania on a property that had a stream running through it and hundreds of acres of woods out back where he and his friends could play war. Once they dug a bunker, another time they rigged a zip line up between trees. Most of those friends wound up joining the Army. When O'Byrne turned fourteen he and his father started fighting a lot, and O'Byrne immediately got into trouble at school. His grades plummeted and he began drinking and smoking pot and getting arrested. His father was a plumber who always kept the family well provided for, but there was tremendous turmoil at home — a lot of drinking, a lot of physical combat — and one night things got out of hand and O'Byrne's father shot him twice with a .22 rifle. From his hospital bed, O'Byrne told the police that his father had shot him in self-defense; that way he went to reform school for assault rather than his father going to prison for attempted murder. O'Byrne was sixteen.
A shop teacher named George started counseling him, and O'Byrne spent hours at George's wood shop carving things out of wood and talking. George got him turned around. O'Byrne started playing soc-cer. He got interested in Buddhism. He started getting good grades. After eight months he moved in with his grandparents and went back to high school. "I changed my whole entire life," O'Byrne told me. "I apologized to all the teachers I ever dissed. I apologized to kids I used to beat up. I apologized to every-one and I made a f---ing vow that I was never going to be like that again. People didn't even recognize me when I got home."
One afternoon, O'Byrne saw a National Guard recruiter at his high school and signed up. The unit was about to deploy to Iraq and O'Byrne realized he would be spending a year with a bunch of middle-aged men, so he managed to transfer into the regular Army. The Army wanted to make him a 67 Hotel — a tank mechanic — but he protested and wound up being classified as 11 Charlie. That's mortars. He didn't want to be a mortarman, though — he wanted to be 11 Bravo. He wanted to be an infantryman. His drill sergeant finally relented after O'Byrne got into a barracks fight with someone the sergeant didn't like and broke the man's jaw. The sergeant was Latino and spoke English with such a strong accent that often his men had no idea what he was saying. One afternoon when they were filling out information packets, the sergeant started giving instructions that no one could understand.
"He'd be like, 'Take your motherf---er packet and put it in your motherf---er packet,' " O'Byrne said. "And we're all like, 'What the f--- is he talking about? What's a "motherf---er packet"? And then he starts pointing to things he's talking about: 'Take your motherf---er packet' — which is a packet — 'and put it in your motherf---er packet!' — and he points to his pocket. Oh, okay! You put your packet in your pocket!"
O'Byrne wanted to go to Special Forces, and that meant passing a series of lower-level schools and selection courses. Airborne School was a joke; he passed SOPC 1 (Special Operations Preparation Course) with flying colors; got himself selected for Special Forces; tore through SOPC 2; and then was told he couldn't advance any further without combat experience. 'You can't replace combat with training,' a black E7 at Fort Bragg told him. 'You can't do it. You can't replace that f---ing experience. Get deployed, and if you want to come back, come back after that.'
O'Byrne thought that made sense and joined the 173rd Airborne, based in Vicenza, Italy. He'd never been out of the country before. He wound up in Second Platoon, Battle Company, which was already thought of as one of the top units in the brigade. Battle Company had fought well in Iraq and had seen a lot of combat in Afghanistan on its previous deployment. There were four platoons in the company, and of them all, Second Platoon was considered the best-trained and in some ways the worst-disciplined. The platoon had a reputation for producing terrible garrison soldiers — men who drink and fight and get ar-rested for disorderly conduct and mayhem — but who are extraordinarily good at war. Soldiers make a distinction between the petty tyrannies of garrison life and the very real ordeals of combat, and poor garri-son soldiers like to think it's impossible to be good at both.
"I used to score three hundreds on my PT tests s----canned . . . just drunk as f---," O'Byrne told me. "That's how you got sober for the rest of the day. I never got in trouble, but Bobby beat up a few MPs, threatened them with a fire extinguisher, pissed on their boots. But what do you expect from the infantry, you know? I know that all the guys that were bad in garrison were perfect f---ing soldiers in combat. They're troublemakers and they like to fight. That's a bad garrison trait but a good combat trait — right? I know I'm a sh--ty garrison soldier, but what the f--- does it matter? Okay, I got to shine my f---ing boots. Why do I care about shining my goddamn boots?"
The weekend before they deployed to Afghanistan, O'Byrne and three other soldiers took the train to Rome for a last blowout. They drank so much that they completely cleaned out the café car. Traveling with O'Byrne were two other privates, Steve Kim and Misha Pemble--Belkin, and a combat medic named Juan Restrepo. Restrepo was born in Colombia but lived in Florida and had two daughters with a woman back home. He spoke with a slight lisp and brushed his teeth compulsively and played classical and fla-menco guitar at the barbecues the men threw on base. Once in garrison he showed up at morning PT drunk from the night before, but he was still able to run the two-mile course in twelve and a half minutes and do a hundred sit-ups. If there was a guaranteed way to impress Second Platoon, that was it.
On the train Restrepo pulled out a little one-chip camera and started shooting video of the trip. The men were so drunk they could barely speak. Kim was propped against the window. Pemble tried to say something about putting a saddle on a miniature zebra and riding it around. O'Byrne said his job in Rome was to just keep Restrepo out of trouble. "Not possible, bro," Restrepo said. "You can't tame the beast."
On the far side of the window the gorgeous Italian countryside slid past. "We're lovin' life and getting ready to go to war," Restrepo said, his arm around O'Byrne's neck. His face was so close to the camera there was almost a fish-eye effect. "We're goin' to war. We're ready. We're goin' to war . . . we're goin' to war."
The Korengal Valley is sort of the Afghanistan of Afghanistan: too remote to conquer, too poor to intimi-date, too autonomous to buy off. The Soviets never made it past the mouth of the valley and the Taliban didn't dare go in there at all. When 10th Mountain rolled into the valley in 2006, they may well have been the first military force ever to reach its southern end. They were only down there a day, but that push gave 10th Mountain some breathing room to finish building the KOP at the site of an old lumberyard three miles in. The lumberyard was not operational because the Afghan government had imposed a ban on timber exports, in large part because the timber sales were helping fund the insurgency. Out-of-work timber cut-ters traded their chainsaws for weapons and shot at the Americans from inside bunkers made out of the huge cedar logs they could no longer sell.
They were helped by Arab and Pakistani fighters from across the border in Bajaur Province and local militias run by a veteran of the Soviet jihad named Gulbuddin Hekma-tyar. Video made by insurgents dur-ing one attack shows tiny figures — American soldiers — sprinting for cover and trying to shoot back from behind ragged sandbag walls. The KOP is surrounded by high ground, and to mount an attack local fighters only had to scramble up the back sides of the ridges and pour machine-gun fire down into the compound. This is called "plunging fire," and it is hard to suppress or take cover from. The only way to fix the problem was to take over the high ground with small outposts, but those positions then also became vulnerable to attack. The battle plan for the valley became a game of tactical leapfrog that put the Ameri-cans into the village of Babiyal by the spring of 2007.
Babiyal was about half a mile south of the KOP and had ties to the insurgents, though it was not overtly hostile. American soldiers with 10th Mountain rented a residential compound from a local school-teacher and fortified it with enormous cedar logs that locals had cut on the upper slopes of the valley. The position was named Phoenix, after the city in Arizona, and had its counterpart in Firebase Vegas across the valley. Unfortunately, all you had to do to figure out the tactical problems at Phoenix was to tilt your head upward at Table Rock. Insurgents could pound Phoenix from there and then just run down the back side of the ridge when the Americans started hitting back. One American was killed by an 88 mm recoil-less round that shrieked through the narrow opening of his bunker and detonated; another was killed while running to one of the machine-gun positions during an attack. A soldier at the KOP was shot while stand-ing at one of the piss tubes. An American contract worker was shot and wounded while taking a nap on his cot. Another soldier stumbled and drowned while wading across the Korengal River in his body armor.
At a brief ceremony at the KOP on June 5, Captain Jim McKnight of 10th Mountain took down his unit's guidon, climbed into the back of a Chinook, and flew out of the valley forever. Battle Company's guidon was immediately raised in its place. In attendance was a dark, handsome man of Samoan ancestry named Isaia Vimoto; he was the command sergeant major of the 173rd and the highest enlisted man in the brigade. Vimoto's nineteen-year-old son, Timothy, was a private first class in Second Platoon, and af-ter the ceremony Vimoto asked Battle Company's First Sergeant LaMonta Caldwell where his son was. Caldwell walked Vimoto over to the wire and pointed down-valley.
'He's down there at Phoenix,' he told him.
Vimoto had requested that his son serve in Battle Company because he and Caldwell were best friends. 'You tell him I said hello,' he told Caldwell before he left the KOP. 'Tell him I came out here.'
There had been some contact earlier in the day, and Second Platoon spotted what they thought was an enemy position on top of Hill 1705. A twenty-five-man element, including two Afghan soldiers and an interpreter, left the wire at Phoenix in early evening and started walking south. They walked in plain view on the road and left during daylight hours, which were two things they'd never do again — at least not at the same time. They passed the villages of Aliabad and Loy Kalay and then crossed a bridge over a western tributary of the Korengal. They started up through the steep holly forests of 1705, crested the top, and then started down the other side.
The enemy was waiting for them. They opened fire from three hundred yards away with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. A private named Tad Donoho dropped prone and was low-crawling to cover when he saw a line of bullets stitching toward him in the dirt. He rolled to one side and wound up near PFC Vimoto. Both men began returning fire, bullets kicking up dirt all around them, and at one point Donoho saw Vimoto open his mouth as if he were about to yell something. No sound came out, though; instead, his head jerked back and then tipped forward. He didn't move again.
Donoho started shouting for the platoon medic, but there was so much gunfire that no one could hear him. It didn't matter anyway; the bullet had gone through Vi-moto's head and killed him instantly. One mo-ment he was in the first firefight of his life, the next moment he was dead. Donoho shot through all twelve magazines he carried and then pulled more out of his dead friend's ammo rack. There was so much gun-fire that the only way the men could move without getting hit was to low-crawl. They were on a steep ridge at night getting raked by machine-gun fire, and everyone knew the MEDEVAC helicopters would never dare attempt a landing in those conditions; they were going to have to get Vimoto and another man named Pecsek down to the road to get picked up. Pecsek had been shot through the shoulder but seemed able to walk. A staff sergeant named Kevin Rice hoisted Vimoto onto his back, and the men started down the steep, rocky slopes of 1705 in the darkness and the rain.
Captain Dan Kearney, the commander of Battle Company, drove down to Aliabad in a Humvee to help evacuate the casualties and remembers turning a corner in the road and hitting a wall of Taliban fire-power. "I was blown away by the insurgents' ability to continue fighting despite everything America had to throw at them," Kearney told me later. "From that point on I knew it was — number one — a different enemy than I fought in Iraq and that — number two — the terrain offered some kind of advantage that I'd never seen or read or heard about in my entire life."
When Battle Company first arrived in the Korengal, O'Byrne was a gunner in Second Platoon's Weapons Squad. A squad is generally eight men plus a squad leader, and those eight men are divided into two fire teams designated "alpha" and "bravo." In a Weapons Squad, each team would be responsible for an M240 heavy machine gun. O'Byrne spent two months in Weapons Squad and then switched to First Squad under Staff Sergeant Josh McDonough. The men called him "Sar'n Mac," and under his tutelage First Squad became one of the hardest-hitting in the company, possibly the entire battalion. When his men didn't perform well, Mac would tilt his head forward and bore through them with an unblinking stare that could go on for minutes; while he was doing that he was also yelling. "Mac was just a f---ing mule," O'Byrne said. "He was just so goddamn strong. His legs were the size of my head. His guys were his only concern. If one of us team leaders wasn't doing our job he got furious — because he cared. He just had a very rough way of showing it."
First Squad was line infantry, which meant they fought on foot and carried everything they needed on their backs. Theoretically, they could walk for days without resupply. O'Byrne was in charge of First Squad's alpha team, which included a former high school wrestler from Wisconsin named Steiner, an eighteen-year-old from Georgia named Vaughn, and a wiry, furtive oddball named Monroe. Each man car-ried three or four hand grenades. Two out of the four-carried standard M4 assault rifles and a chest rack of thirty-round magazines. Another man carried an M4 that also fired big fat rounds called 203s. The 203 rounds explode on impact and are used to lob onto enemy fighters who are behind cover and otherwise couldn't be hit. The fourth man carried something called a Squad Automatic Weapon — usually referred to as a SAW. The SAW has an extremely high rate of fire and basically vomits rounds if you so much as touch the trigger. If you "go cyclic" — fire without stopping — you will go through 900 rounds in a min-ute. (You'll also melt the barrel.) O'Byrne's fire team probably had enough training and ammo to hold off an enemy force three or four times their size.
Every platoon also has a headquarters element composed of a medic, a forward observer, a radio op-erator, a platoon sergeant, and a lieutenant who had graduated from officer candidate school. Second Platoon went through two -lieutenants during the first half of their deployment and then wound up with Steve Gillespie, a tall, lean marathon runner who reminded his men of a movie character named Napo-leon Dynamite. They called him Napoleon behind his back and occasionally to his face but did it with af-fection and respect: Gillespie was such a dedicated commander that his radioman had to keep pulling him down behind cover during firefights.
Lieutenants have a lot of theoretical knowledge but not much experience, so they are paired with a pla-toon sergeant who has probably been in the Army for years. Second Platoon's sergeant was a career sol-dier named Mark Patterson who, at age thirty, had twelve years on the youngest man in the unit. The men called him Pops. Patterson was both the platoon enforcer and the platoon representative, and his role al-lowed him to keep an eye not only on the grunts but on the lieutenants as well. His face got bright red when he was angry or when he was working very hard, and he could outwalk just about everyone in the platoon. I never saw him look even nervous during a fight, much less scared. He commanded his men like he was directing traffic.
The men of Second Platoon were from mainland America and from wherever the American experiment has touched the rest of the world: the Philippines and Guam and Mexico and Puerto Rico and South Ko-rea. A gunner in Weapons Squad named Jones claims he made thousands of dollars selling drugs before joining the Army to avoid getting killed on the streets of Reno. O'Byrne's soldier Vaughn was eleven years old when 9/11 happened and decided right then and there to join the U.S. Army. As soon as he could, he did. Danforth was forty-two years old and had joined the year before because he was bored; the others called him Old Man and asked a lot of joking questions about Vietnam. A private named Lizama claimed his mother was a member of the Guamese Congress. There was a private named Moreno from Beeville, Texas, who worked in the state penitentiary and had been a promising boxer before joining up. There was a sergeant whose father was currently serving in Iraq and had nearly been killed by a roadside bomb.
The Army has a lot of regulations about how soldiers are required to dress, but the farther you get from the generals the less those rules are followed, and Second Platoon was about as far from the generals as you could get. As the deployment wore on and they got pushed farther into enemy territory it was some-times hard to tell you were even looking at American soldiers. They wore their trousers unbloused from their boots and tied amulets around their necks and shuffled around the outpost in flip-flops jury-rigged from the packing foam used in missile crates. Toward the end of their tour they'd go through entire firefights in nothing but gym shorts and unlaced boots, cigarettes hanging out of their lips. When the weather got too hot they chopped their shirts off below the armpit and then put on body armor so they'd sweat less but still look like they were in uniform. They carried long knives and for a while one guy went on operations with a small samurai sword in his belt. The rocks ripped their pants to shreds and they occasionally found them-selves more or less exposed on patrol. A few had "INFIDEL" tattooed in huge letters across their chests. ("That's what the enemy calls us on their radios," one man explained, "so why not?") Others had tattoos of angel wings sprouting from bullets or bombs. The men were mostly in their early twenties, and many of them have known nothing but life at home with their parents and war.
The men who were killed or wounded were replaced with cherries, and if the older men got bored enough they sometimes made the cherries fight each other. They'd been trained in hand-to-hand combat, so they all knew how to choke someone out; if you do it right, with the forearm against the carotid artery, the person loses consciousness in seconds. (They die in a couple of minutes if you don't release the pressure.) Choking guys out was considered fine sport, so soldiers tended to keep their backs to some-thing so no one could sneak up from behind. Jumping someone was risky because everyone was bound by affiliations that broke down by platoon, by squad, and finally by team. If a man in your squad got jumped by more than one guy you were honor-bound to help out, which meant that within seconds you could have ten or fifteen guys in a pile on the ground.
O'Byrne's 203 gunner, Steiner, once got stabbed trying to help deliver a group beating to Sergeant Mac, his squad leader, who had backed into a corner with a combat knife. In Second Platoon you got beat on your birthday, you
got beat before you left the platoon — on leave, say — and you got beat when you came back. The only way to leave -Second Platoon without a beating was to get shot. No other platoons did this; the men called it "blood in, blood out," after a movie one of them had seen, and officers were not exempted. I watched Gillespie get held down and beaten, and Pops got pounded so hard his legs were bruised for days. The violence took many forms and could break out at almost any time. After one particularly quiet week — no firefights, in other words — the tension got so unbearable that First Squad finally went after Weapons Squad with rocks. A rock fight ensued that got so heavy, I took cover behind some trees.
Men wound up bleeding and heated after these contests but never angry; the fights were a product of boredom, not conflict, so they always stayed just this side of real violence. Officers were left out of the full-on rumbles, and there were even a couple of enlisted guys who had just the right mix of cool and remove to stay clear of the violence. Sergeant Buno was one of those: he ran Third Squad and had Aztec-looking tattoos on his arms and a tattooed scorpion crawling up out the front of his pants. Buno almost never spoke but had a handsome, impassive face that you could read anything you wanted into. The men sus-pected he was Filipino but he never admitted to anything; he just wandered around listening to his iPod and saying strange, enigmatic things. The men nicknamed him Queequeg. He moved with the careful precision of a dancer or a martial artist, and that was true whether he was in a firefight or brushing his teeth. Once someone asked him where he'd been the previous night.
"Down in Babiyal," he answered, "killing werewolves."
Excerpted from 'War' by Sebastian Junger. Copyright © 2010 by Sebastian Junger.
"A good stickgrappler has good stick skills, good grappling, and good stickgrappling and can keep track of all three simultaneously. This is a good trick and can be quite effective." - Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
The Flinch by Julien Smith
Reply #22 on:
December 14, 2011, 04:39:31 PM »
I haven't gotten very far in it but it is currently free from Amazon and may not always be
“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.” - Thomas H. Huxley
Julien Smith has delivered a surprise, a confrontation, a book that will push you, scare you and possibly stick with you for years to come. The idea is simple: your flinch mechanism can save your life. It shortcircuits the conscious mind and allows you to pull back and avoid danger faster than you can even imagine it’s there. But what if danger is exactly what you need? What if facing the flinch is the one best way to get what you want? Here’s a chance to read the book everyone will be talking about, before they do. What are you afraid of? Here’s how to find out.
Video Interview with Chris Brogan ( It has a lot of swearing)
Reply #23 on:
March 02, 2012, 10:48:23 AM »
Reply #24 on:
July 03, 2012, 11:35:57 AM »
Last Edit: July 03, 2012, 11:37:59 AM by JDN
bin Laden book
Reply #25 on:
August 31, 2012, 10:53:17 AM »
Now that’s a letter you don’t want to get. The Pentagon’s top lawyer has written to the author of the upcoming book about the top-secret raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden to threaten legal action Thursday. The book, which wasn’t vetted by government agencies, is “in material breach and violation of the nondisclosure agreements you signed,” said the letter obtained by Reuters. The author is a former Navy SEAL known by the pseudonym Mark Owen, who issued a statement saying he has not disclosed confidential material that would compromise national security.
Legal action may be the least of the author’s worries—his real name and photo were posted on an official al Qaeda Web site last week after being revealed by Fox News.
Reply #26 on:
September 01, 2012, 09:18:25 AM »
Although I am quite intrigued to see what he will say, I must say he should be keeping his word about giving a prior look for prior approval. He may be correct that what he says does not violate security requirements, but it is not for him to say.
More on "No Easy Day"
Reply #27 on:
September 04, 2012, 01:45:24 PM »
A SEAL’s Own Story, Bin Laden and All
By JANET MASLIN
NO EASY DAY
The Firsthand Account
of the Mission That Killed
Osama bin Laden
By Mark Owen
with Kevin Maurer
Illustrated 316 pages
The Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, learned from ABC News that they had “gazelle legs, no waist, and a huge upper body configuration,” not to mention calloused hands and gigantic egos. They learned from other American news sources that they had taken part in a 45-minute firefight and that an armed bin Laden, once cornered, had tried to defend himself in his final moments, staring straight at the fighters who would shoot him. Their raid was being turned into a bad action movie.
These distortions seemed funny at first. But “Mark Owen” (the pseudonym of one gutsy, transgressive member of the SEALs, who served 13 consecutive combat deployments) began to want to set the record straight. He hoped to deliver firsthand a visceral and often surprising version of the bin Laden raid and other SEAL stories. The emphasis of his “No Easy Day,” written with Kevin Maurer, is not on spilling secrets. It is on explaining a SEAL’s rigorous mind-set and showing how that toughness is created.
The bin Laden story is the marquee event in “No Easy Day,” of course. But the formative steps in the author’s own story are just as gripping. In a prologue the author, who grew up in Alaska and earned his SEAL Trident in 1998, writes about reading a book about SEALs (“Men in Green Faces” by Gene Wentz) as a junior high school kid, realizing that this was his vocation and hoping that he too could one day write a book that would inspire others. Mission accomplished.
“No Easy Day” gets off to a worrisomely formulaic start: A pumped-up prologue on the flight to the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, then a potentially dull flashback to the author’s early SEAL training. (“If I failed the situps, I was done.”). But it quickly becomes an exciting, suspenseful account of how his fighting skills were honed.
In the first contentious days of this book’s arrival the author’s real identity has been outed: He is Matt Bissonnette, and the Defense Department has threatened to prosecute him for violating confidentiality agreements. But his book is careful to avoid all but the most basic information about his SEAL experiences, and its emphasis is on the close-up experience of a team member in action not on the big picture policy questions that determine how he has been deployed.
That basic material is hugely illuminating in its own right. Just by describing the model of a kill house in which he trained to raid buildings, he conveys the ferocious pragmatism of SEAL thinking. Years ago, in Mississippi, he repeatedly raided this modular structure, which could be reconfigured as conference rooms, bathrooms or even a ballroom.
“We rarely saw the same layout more than once,” he says. Meanwhile instructors overhead on catwalks watched the trainees perform, eliminating the group’s weaker members as if they were failed contestants on a reality show. Mr. Owen made one false move that might have gotten him booted out during such exercises. He learned never to make it again.
While deployed in Iraq (though most of his service was in Afghanistan) he was part of a team in Baghdad that mistakenly landed on the wrong roof. The raid’s target is discreetly identified as “a high-level weapons facilitator, just another link in the chain funding the insurgency.” The book describes how quickly the team adapted to turn the error to its advantage and speculates about how much worse the outcome would have been had it hit their original landing site.
What he gained from this experience was a healthy understanding of the importance of luck. For the tightly controlling Type-A personality that is apparently common to some members of the SEALs this was humbling indeed.
Although “No Easy Day” gives a strong sense of SEAL camaraderie and even the team members practical joking (who knew they could be punked with glitter?), the author’s fellow fighters are identified strangely at best. One is said to have a big head. Another has “hands as big as shovels.” A third resembles a taller version of the dwarf Gimli from “The Lord of the Rings,” and that’s about it for distinguishing characteristics. Before the bin Laden mission, the author says, he was present at the 2009 SEAL rescue of Richard Phillips, the captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, from the hands of Somali pirates.
It is only after the George W. Bush presidency that the author begins complaining about the slow-moving “Washington machine” that members of the SEALs found frustrating. That irritation mounts in 2011, when the SEALs anxiously awaited their signal to raid Abbottabad, but this account is determined to steer clear of serious politics or leave itself open to election-season manipulation. The worst it has to say about President Obama is that none of the fighters who caught bin Laden wanted to help re-elect him, and that he never followed through on a promise to invite them to the White House for a beer.
Mr. Owen’s new information about the Abbottabad attack adds a human element to much of what has been previously reported. Even reporting like Peter L. Bergen’s in his meticulous book “Manhunt” does not have this new book’s perspective. Mr. Bergen knew what the men had done, but this author knows what at least one of them was thinking. Why were they able to shoot bin Laden’s son Khalid on a staircase in the building where his father was also hiding? This book cites the fact that one assaulter recognized Khalid from a very brief glimpse and whispered, “Khalid,” causing Khalid to peek out of his hiding place one time too many.
The manner in which bin Laden died, in this book’s version, differs crucially but not materially from other accounts. The author says that his team’s point man shot bin Laden — who also peeked at the SEALs and showed himself to a sniper — before the team even entered his living quarters; that bin Laden was shot again as he lay on the floor with a grievous head wound; and that the SEALs shot to kill.
Much more shocking and revelatory is the way the author describes his own handling of the “dead weight,” as the men hustled the body bag to the helicopter. Yes, he had a sense that this was an event of great historical import. But he also had a job to do. And in a set of actions that came as the culmination of all that he had learned from experience, he pulled bin Laden’s beard left and right in order to get the best possible identification photo. He took out a booklet of pictures to help him realize that the Qaeda leader’s nose was his best remaining identifying feature.
He went through a dresser in the bedroom, finding it extremely neat, just like his own. When he found that bin Laden’s guns were not loaded, he felt a SEAL’s contempt for the dead man: “There is no honor in sending people to die for something you won’t even fight for yourself.” And on the helicopter ride out of Abbottabad he sat with bin Laden’s body at his feet while another raider sat on top of it. The flight was overcrowded, he reports.
There is no better illustration in “No Easy Day” that SEALS are ruthless pragmatists. They think fast. They adapt to whatever faces them. They do what they have to do.
Reply #28 on:
September 05, 2012, 08:36:12 AM »
USMA history dept. book list
Reply #29 on:
September 21, 2012, 05:07:07 AM »
"...grappling happens. It just does." - Top Dog
NY Times - Long Live Paper
Reply #30 on:
October 11, 2012, 02:08:21 PM »
Quote from: bigdog on September 21, 2012, 05:07:07 AM
very cool! thank you.
Long Live Paper
By JUSTIN B. HOLLANDER
Published: October 9, 2012
LAST week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared a war on paper textbooks. “Over the next few years,” he said in a speech at the National Press Club, “textbooks should be obsolete.” In their place would come a variety of digital-learning technologies, like e-readers and multimedia Web sites.
Such technologies certainly have their place. But Secretary Duncan is threatening to light a bonfire to a tried-and-true technology — good old paper — that has been the foundation for one of the great educational systems on the planet. And while e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous.
A renowned expert on reading, Maryanne Wolf, has recently begun studying the effects of digital reading on learning, and so far the results are mixed. She worries that Internet reading, in particular, could be such a source of distractions for the student that they may cancel out most other potential benefits of a Web-linked, e-learning environment. And while it’s true that the high-tech industry has sponsored substantial amounts of research on the potential benefits of Web-based learning, not enough time has passed for longitudinal studies to demonstrate the full effects.
In addition, digital-reading advocates claim that lightweight e-books benefit students’ backs and save schools money. But the rolling backpack seems to have solved the weight problem, and the astounding costs to outfit every student with an e-reader, provide technical support and pay for regular software updates promise to make the e-textbook a very pricey option.
As both a teacher who uses paper textbooks and a student of urban history, I can’t help but wonder what parallels exist between my own field and this sudden, wholesale abandonment of the technology of paper.
For example, when cars began to fill America’s driveways, and new highways were laid across the land, the first thing cities did was encourage the dismantling of our train systems. Streetcar lines were torn up. A result, for many cities, was to rip apart the urban core and run highways through it, which only accelerated the flow of residents, commerce and investment to the suburbs.
But in recent years, new streetcar lines have been built or old systems extended in places like Pittsburgh, Jersey City and Phoenix. They are casting aside a newer technology in favor of an older one.
This lesson of technology-inspired extinction can be retold in many other domains of life: the way phonographs nearly disappeared when the music CD was invented; the rejection of bicycles in the middle of the 20th century; the shuttering of Polaroid factories with the advent of digital cameras.
My point is not that these are all pernicious or reversible developments. On the contrary, we have all benefited from new advances in medicine, communications and computing, even those that displaced familiar technologies.
The Polaroid is a wonderful device for what it is, but it will and should remain a technological novelty. On the other hand, few higher-tech formats deliver the lush sound quality of the vinyl record, and younger generations have recently returned to the format.
In other words, we shouldn’t jump at a new technology simply because it has advantages; only time and study will reveal its disadvantages and show the value of what we’ve left behind.
Which brings us back to paper. With strength and durability that could last thousands of years, paper can preserve information without the troubles we find when our most cherished knowledge is stuck on an unreadable floppy disk or lost deep in the “cloud.”
Paper textbooks can be stored and easily referenced on a shelf. Data are as easy to retrieve from paper as reaching across your desk for a textbook. They are easy to read and don’t require a battery or plug. Though the iPad and e-readers have increasingly better screen clarity, the idea that every time a person reads a book, newspaper or magazine in the near future they will require an energy source is frightening.
The digitization of information offers important benefits, including instant transmission, easy searchability and broad distribution. But before we shred the last of the paper textbooks, let us pause and remember those old streetcars, and how great it would be if we still had them around.
Justin B. Hollander is an assistant professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University and the author of “Sunburnt Cities: The Great Recession, Depopulation and Urban Planning in the American Sunbelt.”
Last Edit: October 12, 2012, 08:54:26 PM by Stickgrappler
"A good stickgrappler has good stick skills, good grappling, and good stickgrappling and can keep track of all three simultaneously. This is a good trick and can be quite effective." - Marc "Crafty Dog" Denny
Big e-reader is watching you
Reply #31 on:
October 11, 2012, 10:47:24 PM »
Patton's reading list
Reply #32 on:
November 29, 2012, 05:24:56 AM »
Reply #33 on:
February 14, 2013, 06:52:26 PM »
It's like the author has been lurking here....
Reply #34 on:
March 04, 2013, 07:12:29 PM »
Want to read a book about a dystopian future that appears to have been distilled from much of the discussion here? Read "Flashback". Aside from the theme discussed here, it's well written and full of great action sequences in a near future we might recognize, or god help us, live to see....
Reply #35 on:
June 08, 2013, 09:59:12 AM »
Is there and explanation? Good back I read a while back exploring the subject. I think this is where I first read that there is absolutely nothing in writing that directly links Hitler to Holocaust.
That fact could go into Ripley's believe it or not. So too (so far) could be linking Obama to the take over of America. You can fool some of the people all of the time. Or just pay em off with taxpayer checks.
Re: Explaining Hitler
Reply #36 on:
June 08, 2013, 02:23:40 PM »
Quote from: ccp on June 08, 2013, 09:59:12 AM
... I think this is where I first read that there is absolutely nothing in writing that directly links Hitler to Holocaust...
Yes, no direct link except that he was in charge and that was what was happening. Nazi analogies to anything short of genocide are never good, but... in the case of the IRS scandal, Benghazi, and others, our President was in charge when things for which he is responsible happened. We keep looking for a smoking gun that likely doesn't exist instead of just holding the responsible people accountable.
Re: Explaining Hitler
Reply #37 on:
June 08, 2013, 08:43:05 PM »
Quote from: DougMacG on June 08, 2013, 02:23:40 PM
Quote from: ccp on June 08, 2013, 09:59:12 AM
... I think this is where I first read that there is absolutely nothing in writing that directly links Hitler to Holocaust...
Yes, no direct link except that he was in charge and that was what was happening. Nazi analogies to anything short of genocide are never good, but... in the case of the IRS scandal, Benghazi, and others, our President was in charge when things for which he is responsible happened. We keep looking for a smoking gun that likely doesn't exist instead of just holding the responsible people accountable.
Perhaps Hitler only found out about it by reading about it in the papers.....
Reply #38 on:
June 08, 2013, 11:41:37 PM »
***Perhaps Hitler only found out about it by reading about it in the papers.....***
Good reversal of the logic of Brock the Terrible.
Perhaps if Hitler had simply fired Himmler and moved Goering over to another branch of the military he would have proven to the world he had no clue.
more frustrated ranting.
Reply #39 on:
June 09, 2013, 10:35:16 AM »
No witness that came forward to directly link Hitler to the final solution. No documents. No signatures. No tapes. No record of orders, meetings, conversations. Nothing. Can anyone not conclude this is remarkable.
The circumstantial and corroborative evidence is overwhelming. Yet if one just looked at Hitler's personal official business history one could come away thinking he had nothing to do with the final solution.
Fast forward to today. We have a President who is the front man for a major political soft tyranny in America. No bodies as evidence. No mass killings. He denies any knowledge and responsibility. There is nothing to directly link him to the scandals. No witnesses, no tapes of meetings, no minutes of White House meetings (that we know of in public), no signatures, no emails, etc. Just vague and hazy and shadowy references to what are essentially hundreds of clandestine meetings with hundreds of liberals from within and without government.
Sound familiar. Many of Obama's political mentors, advisors, and directors are Jewish and would certainly have known this about Hitler not directly being linked to the final solution. The case against Obama is not quite as iron clad as against Hitler. And of course there are not millions of bodies in graves. Yet the overall information we know about Obama and his team, and all the recent revelations continues to support the soft tyranny theory. No honest reasonable objective person could not possible make this conclusion.
We still have Hitler apologists today. We still have holocaust deniers today.
Reply #40 on:
June 09, 2013, 04:50:57 PM »
We have a president that turned the center of the arab world over to al qaeda's parent organization.
"He wore a kippa at AIPAC."
Books, George Gilder: Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism
Reply #41 on:
June 17, 2013, 10:14:31 AM »
Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How It Is Revolutionizing Our World
We’ve tried a government spending spree and learned it doesn’t work. Now is the time to rededicate our country to the pursuit of free market capitalism, before we’re buried under a mound of debt and unfunded entitlements. But how do we navigate between government spending that's too big to sustain and financial institutions that are "too big to fail?" In his new book, George Gilder proposes a bold new theory on how capitalism produces wealth and how our economy can regain its vitality and its growth.
In Knowledge and Power, Gilder reflects on entrepreneurship in its most successful contemporary examples – the tech and digital industries. Having seen firsthand the beneficial effect of a large grouping of individuals left to innovate and grow their businesses unmolested, he argues for the positive results of knowledge left to evolve without the restricting hand of government oversight. The astounding growth of upstart companies both big and small in Silicon Valley was made possible by the freedom they had to wager and risk as they saw fit. Now, in an era where encroaching regulations threaten to stymie further growth, Gilder makes the case why government involvement should be limited.
George F. Gilder is a journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and preeminent economic thinker who is credited with helping to develop the supply-side economic theory. He has served as Chairman of the Lehrman Institute's Economic Roundtable, was Program Director for the Manhattan Institute, and is the Co-Founder of the Discovery Institute. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Forbes, and other publications. His previous books include Men and Marriage, Visible Man, and Wealth and Poverty.
'The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide'
Reply #42 on:
June 17, 2013, 10:36:55 AM »
**I strongly recommend this book to everyone.**
'The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide'
By Jennifer Harper - The Washington Times
January 23, 2013, 01:53PM
It didn’t take long: Here comes all the edgy speculation about President Obama’s second term in office, and the implications therein. “Build your wealth. Protect your faith and family. Secure your freedom. Don’t just survive Obama. Learn how to outsmart his big-government, socialist system and thrive,” advises Wayne Allyn Root, a boisterous talk radio host, author, Las Vegas oddsmaker and former Libertarian presidential and vice presidential hopeful.
He is now readying “The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide: Secrets to Protecting Your Family, Your Finances, and Your Freedom,” destined for bookshelves on April 15, tax day.
“Root delivers the cold hard facts: how Obama is working to steal your liberty, your hard-earned cash, and your opportunities, and where he has already got a leg up on his redistributionist, anti-personal-freedom agenda while no one was looking,” proclaims eager advance materials from Regnery Publishing.
Mr. Root supplies “practical, real-life ways you can fight back, not just in the ballot box but in your bank account, on your tax forms, at your church, in your home, your schools, and at your doctor’s office. He’s not just talking about political activism. He’s giving step-by-step instructions you need to protect yourself and your family right now from the Obama invasion of every aspect of your life,” Regnery exclaims.
Lindsey: Human Capitalism- how economic growth has made us smarter and more un=
Reply #43 on:
July 25, 2013, 10:26:42 AM »
Brink Lindsey on the opportunities and inequities of our free-market system
24 July 2013
Human Capitalism: How Economic Growth Has Made Us Smarter—and More Unequal
by Brink Lindsey
Princeton University Press, 144 pp., $14.95
Once a mysterious concept to non–social scientists, “human capital” has become a generalized designation for an individual’s range of competencies—intelligence, creativity, and social skills, among others. The growing importance of human capital in a knowledge-based economy has led, Brink Lindsey argues, to a new system of “human capitalism.” Despite that gentle-sounding name, human capitalism is characterized by social and economic complexity, and it creates demand for people with the skill sets to deal with abstract issues: bankers, scientists, and doctors, among others. The widening inequality that has resulted is not a new subject, but Lindsey, formerly a scholar at the Cato Institute and now a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, offers some original proposals for how to reduce it.
Inequality is more the symptom than the problem, Lindsey maintains. “Rising inequality is often depicted as a failure of capitalism,” he writes, “but in fact capitalism is operating exactly as we might wish it.” In the new American economy, he argues, jobs across the spectrum require ever-growing levels of human capital. There are and always will be people who work harder, who are smarter, and who can do more, and if the market values their contributions, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be appropriately rewarded. Capitalism isn’t broken, but its economic incentives don’t seem to be working for those at the lower end of the income scale. But Lindsey believes that we can make the incentive structure apply more equitably.
Here Lindsey ventures into an area that conservatives have often ignored: the social exclusion of low-skilled adults. Their increasing isolation is at least partly the result of misguided or misapplied social-insurance policies, like Social Security Disability Insurance. The percentage of adults on SSDI has doubled over the last two decades, from 2.3 to 4.6 percent. Relaxed eligibility standards for enrollment have largely been responsible for this growth. Getting those wrongly categorized as disabled back into the workforce would be a boon to them—and to economic growth. Lindsey suggests supplemental payments that would encourage people with some disabilities to continue working—because their employment income, plus subsidy, would exceed what they could earn by collecting SSDI and staying home.
In other areas, subsidies can work against low-income recipients. Lindsey believes that federally subsidized college loans—which “benefit” both students and schools—should be limited. While subsidies might make college more accessible nominally, they have the unintended effect of guaranteeing higher tuitions, because the colleges can charge based on “ability to pay.” They also saddle students with debt and, because they’re so generous, can encourage students to pursue often less practical and remunerative fields—like liberal arts—when they might be better served, for example, by attending trade school.
The disparities between winners and losers might, in the end, have more to do with culture than economics. “Culture by its very nature is sticky,” writes Lindsey, “it simply . . . gets passed from the heads of one generation to the heads of the next.” Growing complexity has certainly benefited the middle and upper classes, but persistent behavioral differences prevent the lower classes from making similar gains. Middle-class parents, for instance, spend more time helping their kids with homework than working-class parents do. How people value their time represents an even more basic divide between the classes. Those in the middle class regularly forego short-term gains for long-term ones; working-class people, on the other hand, are often more present-oriented, leading them to underinvest in resources like education. Even differences between seemingly similar groups—GED holders and high school graduates, for instance—are salient. Those who graduate with a diploma tend to be more motivated than those who pursue a GED.
Lindsey’s biggest break from traditional conservative thinking, though, is the attention he gives to America’s vast prison population. The “lock-’em-up strategy” has largely failed, he says, as inmates continue to flood into prisons after crime has already leveled off. He notes that the penal system has harmed communities and the families of those incarcerated. Though he doesn’t explicitly say so, Lindsey seems to view mass incarceration as “criminogenic”—generating crime more than deterring it. While Lindsey’s solutions here aren’t terribly inventive—he wants to reform drug laws and mandate milder punishments for non-violent offenses—policymakers on the right should take note of the prison issue, which is begging for serious attention and ripe for reforms.
Human Capitalism is a powerful and timely analysis of American inequality. While Lindsey acknowledges a serious problem, he also makes a convincing case that the government’s approach to fixing it should be guided by essentially capitalist principles.
Yevgeniy Feyman is a research associate with the Manhattan Institute.
Science of Liberty
Reply #44 on:
August 01, 2013, 08:23:43 PM »
Reply #45 on:
August 14, 2013, 11:54:34 AM »
Arms and Influence
Reply #46 on:
October 06, 2013, 12:22:28 PM »
From the article:
And more specifically, Schelling argues that ‘saving face’ is something worthwhile in international relations:
“It is often argued that ‘face’ is a frivolous asset to preserve, and that it is a sign of immaturity that a government can’t swallow its pride and lose face. But there is also the more serious kind of ‘face’, the kind that modern jargon is known as a country’s ‘image’, consisting of other countries’ beliefs (their leaders’ beliefs, that is) about how the country can be expected to behave. It relates not to a country’s ‘worth’ or ‘status’ or even ‘honor’, but to its reputation for action. If the question is raised whether this kind of ‘face’ is worth fighting over, the answer is that this kind of face is one of few things worth fighting over.” (Pg. 124)
Gaiman: Our future depends up reading
Reply #47 on:
October 17, 2013, 07:12:51 AM »
Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 October 2013 09.51 EDT
'We have an obligation to imagine' … Neil Gaiman gives The Reading Agency annual lecture on the future of reading and libraries. Photograph: Robin Mayes
It's important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members' interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I'm going to tell you that libraries are important. I'm going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I'm going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.
And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I'm an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living though my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.
So I'm biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.
And I'm here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.
And it's that change, and that act of reading that I'm here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What it's good for.
I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn't read. And certainly couldn't read for pleasure.
It's not one to one: you can't say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.
And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.
Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it's hard, because someone's in trouble and you have to know how it's all going to end … that's a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you're on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.
The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.
I don't think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children's books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I've seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.
"There is no such things as a bad writer"
It's tosh. It's snobbery and it's foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian "improving" literature. You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.
We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen King's Carrie, saying if you liked those you'll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen King's name is mentioned.)
And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You're being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you're going to be slightly changed.
Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.
You're also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it's this:
The world doesn't have to be like this. Things can be different.
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.
And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if "escapist" fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.
If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.
Tolkien's illustration of Bilbo's home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins
Another way to destroy a child's love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children's library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children's' library I began on the adult books.
They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.
But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.
In the last few years, we've moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That's about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.
Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before – books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.
I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical
book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.
A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It's a community space. It's a place of safety, a haven from the world. It's a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.
Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.
Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.
According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the "only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account".
Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.
Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.
I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us – as readers, as writers, as citizens – have obligations. I thought I'd try and spell out some of these obligations here.
I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.
We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.
We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.
We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.
We writers – and especially writers for children, but all writers – have an obligation to our readers: it's the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers' throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.
We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we 've lessened our own future and diminished theirs.
We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.
Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I'm going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It's this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.
We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world we've shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.
We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.
Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. "If you want your children to be intelligent," he said, "read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.
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