Thursday, October 9, 2014

TMV columnist Shaun Mullen has written a great book for those of us who came of age in the 60′s and 70′s – There’s a House in the Land: (Where a Band Can Take a Stand)    It was a troubled time  because of the Vietnam war but also a magical one because of the response of people like Shaun and me.   The book is about a house not a commune in 1970s Pennsylvania where a group of eclectic individuals live most of which are running from something. It is not a linear novel but a collection of short anecdotes that often seem to be barely related and seem to jump around in time. But the novel weaves those anecdotes together into a fine tapestry you may not be able to see until you are finished. It is an easy and fun read for those of us who lived during that period.  There are also stories of frequent “road trips” all over the US. Shaun Mullen does an excellent job of painting a picture of the assorted characters, both the bad and the good. I’m 68 and for me it was like stepping into the way-back Machine. After decades of gray pinstripe suits it reminded me of simpler and happier times.  I recommend this book to both those who might want to revisit that time and those who might want to visit it for the first time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A History Of The Future

James Howard Kunstler was best known for his dystopian non fiction until he made the move to fiction in 2008.  I reviewed his first novel, A World Made By Hand, in 2010.  The US Economy and for all intents civilization has collapsed suddenly.
The reasons really don't matter, there are hundreds of scenarios that might result in such a collapse.  Only the strongest and the brightest are able to survive and move from a 21st century technocratic society to a 19th century agrarian society.  The first novel centers around the town of Union Grove in up state New York.  For more background read my review of the World Made By Hand.
 A History of the Future is the third novel in the series.  It takes place about 2 years after the first novel.  Union Grove has made great strides in organizing thier 19th century civilization.  The benevolent feudal lord Bullock  still runs his estate although he is out of spare parts to repair his water powered electrical generator so he too will soon have to do without electricity.  Brother Jobe who is the head of the cult/commune has become an important part of the community because  included among his flock are engineers and skilled tradesman.  He opens a tavern and restaurant in town which serves as a gathering place for the people of the time.
The thing that really makes this 3rd novel different is we learn what is going on in other parts of what used to be the United States.  In the first novel Robert Earle's  son Daniel takes off with a friend to see what is happening in the rest of the country.  Daniel returns after two years on Christmas eve.  He is nursed back to health by the local doctor and then begins to tell his story.  It is almost a novel within a novel.  I understand that in the print version of the book his story is actually is actually presented in a different font.
All three novels are dystopian Science Fiction and Kunstler does not try to pass them on as predictions.  For someone best known for non fiction Kunstler does as good a job of any author I have read of creating characters with depth and personality.  I recommend all three novels in this series for the joy of reading.
Originally Posted At The Moderate Voice 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A senior's take on E-Books

At 67 I am officially a senior. A tech savvy senior, I have been writing code for 40 years and have been an IS administrator.  I resisted the Kindle and e-books until recently however.  About a year ago there was a book I wanted to read that was only available as an e-book  so I put the Kindle app on my PC.  Reading it on my PC was not easy but it was better than not reading it at all.  When I moved a few months ago I had to move boxes of books accumulated over the years so when I got my tablet I downloaded the Kindle app and got a couple of books.  The tablet was much better than the PC - it was possible to read in bed once again.  It seemed to be an acceptable way to read a book and for books not yet out in paperback much cheaper and a lot lighter than a hardback.  So this old fart made the leap and I purchased the Amazon Kindle Paper White.  Much smaller and you can carry it around and read much like you would a paperback.  As an aging hippie the fact that I can adjust the font size is also a plus.  This 67 year old is sold - better late than never.  I just purchased 3 New York Times best sellers for what I would have paid for 1 hardcover.

Over at the American Conservative Daniel McCarthy wonders if e-books have peaked.  He sites an article by Nicholas Carr who observes a "flattening of e-book sales."   It's not always clear if this is a decline of  the sale of readers like Kindle or a decline of book sales.  My thought is Amazon and others should target the new seniors, more tech savvy.  Seniors read a lot, like to save money and the font thing should be a real selling point.

Originally posted at The Moderate Voice

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

This is an unconventional book review as it consists of two posts at The Moderate Voice.

Part One: The Sixth Extinction

Photo I took of Pacific Tree Frog that appeared in the LA Times
I have just started reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.  There have been five previous massive extinctions in the past.  Over at the Wonk Blog they have an interview with the author.  I have read chapter 1 and it concerns the extinction of amphibians world wide.  The fact that amphibians were disappearing was noted more than a decade ago.  The cause remained a mystery until recently.  It is the result of human activity but has nothing to do with climate change.  In his book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created Charles Mann documents how plants and animals from the New World altered the planet and our diets.  This only increased in the 20th century with air travel and large ocean freighters.  The impact was not always positive which brings us back to the amphibians.
The first clue to the mysterious killer that was claiming frogs from Queensland to California came— perhaps ironically , perhaps not— from a zoo. The National Zoo, in Washington , D.C., had been successfully raising blue poison-dart frogs, which are native to Suriname, through many generations. Then, more or less from one day to the next, the zoo’s tank-bred frogs started dropping. A veterinary pathologist at the zoo took some samples from the dead frogs and ran them through an electron scanning microscope. He found a strange microorganism on the animals’ skin, which he eventually identified as a fungus belonging to a group known as chytrids. Chytrid fungi are nearly ubiquitous; they can be found at the tops of trees and also deep underground. This particular species, though, had never been seen before; indeed, it was so unusual that an entire genus had to be created to accommodate it. It was named Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis— batrachos is Greek for “frog”— or Bd for short. The veterinary pathologist sent samples from infected frogs at the National Zoo to a mycologist at the University of Maine. The mycologist grew cultures of the fungus and then sent some of them back to Washington. When healthy blue poison-dart frogs were exposed to the lab-raised Bd, they sickened. Within three weeks, they were dead. Subsequent research showed that Bd interferes with frogs’ ability to take up critical electrolytes through their skin. This causes them to suffer what is, in effect, a heart attack. Kolbert, Elizabeth (2014-02-11). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Kindle Locations 198-209). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
As it turns out one explanation of the spread is the wide scale importation around the world of North American Bull Frogs (for food) and the African Clawed Frog (used for pregnancy tests).  Both carry but are resistant to the fungus and their spread would not have been possible without air transport.
I have personally witnessed this 6th extinction. Just 5 or 6 years ago the Pacific Tree Frog was common here on the West Coast.  Their chirping or croaking was a way of life.  If you were unfortunate enough to have one outside your bedroom window in the summer you probably wouldn't get a very good nights sleep.  Three or four years ago they simply disappeared.  The North American Bull Frog was not indigenous to this area but had been introduced several years ago - a possible explanation.
There are many similar examples.  The introduction of the European earth worm nearly destroyed the North Eastern hardwood forests before the Revolutionary war  is is still causing problems in the entire northern half of the United States.  The Fox and Eastern Gray squirrels are spreading across the country from the North East probably hitching rides on trucks and trains.  The result is the Western Gray squirrel is threatened.  When debris from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan started washing ashore here on the west coast the major concern was not radiation but invasive species.
I guess the question is can human beings survive the 6th extinction they are responsible for?
Pacific Tree Frog

Part Two:The Anthropocene
There is widespread agreement that we are in a new geological era, the Anthropocene.  I just finished The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and it is all about the Anthropocene.  There are some who think this era started when man began to use fossil fuels a few hundred years ago but they are wrong.  Homo Sapiens and yes even Neanderthals altered the world tens of thousands of years ago.  The extinction of large mammals  can be associated with human migration.  Being large was a survival advantage until smart hunters came along.  We were also responsible for the extinction of our retaliative, the Neanderthal, but not before we had had enough sex with them to leave all of us of with European or middle eastern descent with 3 to 6 percent Neanderthal genes.  It's estimated that up to 90% of the Native American population was killed not by European weapons but European diseases.
Human caused global climate change may only be the most important because it may result in man's own extinction.  There have been shifts in the climate of the planet before but the thing that makes this different is the speed it's occurring. The ocean is dying, because of acidification  the corral reefs will all be dead by 2050.   The combination of entire ocean ecosystems dying and over fishing will result in the starvation of millions and perhaps billions who depend on the sea for food.   It is also estimated that up to 50% of all species on earth in 1900 will be extinct by 2050.  While it's easy to blame the Koch brothers and Exon/Mobile how many of us are willing to give up our energy intensive life style?  This post has been written from both my desktop and laptop computers. I have a large screen TV and I stream movies and TV shows. I don't drive or own a car but this is because of vision problems and I probably would if I could.  So I plead guilty, I'm   part of the problem.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review - A Great Aridness

A few months ago I did a post on an article by William deBuys  Exodus From Phoenix.  This article was just an introduction to his book A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest.
DeBuys says that this book did not start out to be a book on climate change but as a general environmental history of the Southwest.  It was already becoming obvious that the growth in the Southwest could not continue, this was especially true of the Phoenix area but applied to the entire region.  He could see that the environmental factors that were the subject of the book were being exacerbated by climate change and that end was going to come a lot sooner.

It becomes at once obvious that William deBuys loves the desert Southwest.  His prose is almost poetic sometimes making it a wonderful read.  It is full of history and science, politics and human stories.

Lake Mead
So what's the problem?  The problem is the lack of water.  The dams on the Colorado River no longer fill up.  As the area continues to grow the available water continues to decline.  This is not the first drought to hit the area and not even the first to bring an advanced society down. He gives us a history of the 12th century drought that brought down several advance societies in Arizona.  Of course it's not just man made climate change man has had other impacts.  Because of mismanagement the forests are more susceptible to forest fires.  Of course climate change plays a part in this too - dryer and warmer winters make insect infestation more severe.  
I recommend this book to everyone.  There are human stories as well as history and science.  While the desert Southwest is on the frontlines climate change is already impacting us all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review, Murdoch’s world: The Last of the Old Media

Book Review, Murdoch’s world: The Last of the Old Media (via The Moderate Voice)

Murdoch’s world: The Last of the Old Media Empires’ by David Folkenflik gives us a look at Rupert Murdoch from the time his father died to the middle of 2013.  Rupert Murdoch was 21 when his father died and he inherited a small regional Newspaper…

Book Review - Climate Myths

Hurricane Sandy
We are seeing the impact of global climate change almost daily.  There is of course the drought in the Midwest of the United States as well as part of the Russia, two the the largest grain producing regions in the World.   The East Coast of the United States was hit by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012 and then a nor'easter in February of 2013 resulting in millions of dollars in damage.  The Phoenix, AZ area may be on it's way to becoming one of the first climate change ghost towns.  As summer ends in Australia it was the warmest on record with 123 records broken in 90 days.  That's just a few of them.  In spite of this the energy industry has been successful at creating doubt and blocking legislation by creating a series of myths about climate change.  Dr John J. Berger successfully destroys those myths in Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science.

Chapter one deals with the disinformation campaign  of the oil, coal and other large industries in the U.S. to give talking points to climate change deniers.
For decades, the oil and coal industries and some of their largest industrial customers have conducted a sophisticated and wildly successful multimillion dollar campaign based in the U.S. to convince the American public that climate change is not a serious threat.  The impetus for the campaign has been to protect industry profits by blocking any action designed to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other global heating gases produced in burning fossil fuels.
This has always amazed me.  Are these executives so concerned about profits today that they will risk their children and grand children's future.  There is really on one explanation - they are sociopaths.

This disinformation has come from various right wing think tanks and trade groups that produce papers that appear to be based on science but unlike the "real" papers produced by scientists are never peer reviewed.  Chapter two introduces us to the activities of these organizations.

The rest of the book is a look at eleven myths of the climate change deniers and explains why they are disinformation.

Myth One
The scientific foundation for concerns about climate change is uncertain and unproven.  The evidence is contradictory and inconclusive.

Myth Two
Even if humans added substantially to the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration carbon dioxide is not a powerful enough gas to cause global warming.  Other gases such as nitrous oxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and even water vapor are far more powerful.  

Myth Three
Human burning of fossil fuels is not the source of observed increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration above naturally occurring levels.  Increases are caused by natural processes, such as the outgassing of the Earth's mantel.

Myth Four
Climate varies naturally.  We are in a natural warming cycle that has little or nothing to do with human influence.  There have been warm periods in the past, such as the Medieval Warm Period, that prove the world heats and cools naturally, unaffected by greenhouse gas emissions from human industrial activity.  Indeed, periods of warming may actually be caused by natural fluctuations in cosmic rays or solar radiation.  

Dr Berger dismantles these four myths and the seven others.  The trick here is that there is a little real science in most of these myths giving them the appearance of real science.  The problem isn't what they say so much as what they don't tell you - what they leave out.

I don't have any faith that anything is going to be done to mitigate climate change in time.  We are already past the point of no return.  I'm 67 years old and will not be impacted but the children and grandchildren of the executives responsible for this disinformation will be.

This is a quick easy read that will make it possible for you to refute the talking points of the change deniers and I recommend it.

Dr Berger's website.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Globalization and the failing economy

Paul Craig Roberts has a PhD in Economics and a conservative background. As the Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury in the Reagan administration he was a big believer in supply side economics.  He was a very establishment economist who was editor of the Wall Street Journal, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and holder of the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at Georgetown University.  He was a regular on FOX news until he turned on the Bush administration in 2002.
He has a new book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and the Economic Dissolution of the West (Towards a New Economics for a Full World).  (Unfortunately it is only available in Kindle E-Book format) He sounds more like  a very shrill Thom Hartmann.

Dr Roberts explains why the job creation has been slower than in any recession in recent history and no it's not just because of the Republicans alone - it's globalization and the offshoring of jobs.

The fact that millions of jobs have been moved offshore is the reason why the most expansionary monetary and fiscal policies in US history have had no success in reducing the unemployment rate. In post-World War II 20th century recessions, laid-off workers were called back to work as expansionary monetary and fiscal policies stimulated consumer demand. However, 21st century unemployment is different. The jobs have been moved abroad and no longer exist. Therefore, workers cannot be called back to factories and to professional service jobs that have been moved abroad.
Economists have failed to recognize the threat that jobs offshoring poses to economies and to economic theory itself, because economists confuse offshoring with free trade, which they believe is mutually beneficial. I will show that offshoring is the antithesis of free trade and that the doctrine of free trade itself is found to be incorrect by the latest work in trade theory. Indeed, as we reach toward a new economics, cherished assumptions and comforting theoretical conclusions will be shown to be erroneous.
The economies of the United States and Western Europe are in decline because they now produce little that can be exported and most of what we consume is imported.  An economy that doesn't turn raw materials into something more valuable is not sustainable.

This book is organized into three sections. The first section explains successes and failures of economic theory and the erosion of the efficacy of economic policy by globalism. Globalism and financial concentration have destroyed the justifications of market capitalism. Corporations that have become “too big to fail” are sustained by public subsidies, thus destroying capitalism’s claim to be an efficient allocator of resources. Profits no longer are a measure of social welfare when they are obtained by creating unemployment and declining living standards in the home country.
The second section documents how jobs offshoring or globalism and financial deregulation wrecked the US economy, producing high rates of unemployment, poverty and a distribution of income and wealth extremely skewed toward a tiny minority at the top. These severe problems cannot be corrected within a system of globalism.
The third section addresses the European debt crisis and how it is being used both to subvert national sovereignty and to protect bankers from losses by imposing austerity and bailout costs on citizens of the member countries of the European Union.
There is not a lot in the book but Dr Roberts puts it all together in a concise if shrill way.  He explains what could be done to turn it around but then says it won't be because Wall Street and the large financial institutions have captured the government - we have essentially become an Oligarchy.  Much of his discussion of the financial system comes from Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History by Matt Taibbi.

He also explains why nearly all economists get it so very wrong.

Economists do a poor job of adjusting economic theory to developments brought by the passage of time.   Just as capital theory originated prior to the income tax and free-trade theory originated at a period in history when capital was internationally immobile and tradable goods were based on climate and knowledge differences, economists’ neglect of the ecosystem as a finite, entropic, non-growing and materially closed system dates from an earlier “empty world.”     In an empty world, man-made capital is scarce and nature’s capital is plentiful.   In an empty world, the fish catch is limited by the number of fishing boats, not by the remaining fish population, and petroleum energy is limited by drilling capability, not by geological deposits.   Empty-world economics focuses on the sustainability of man-made capital, not on natural capital.   Natural capital is treated as a free good. Using it up is not treated as a cost but as an increase in output.   Economic theory is based on “empty-world” economics. But, in fact, today the world is full.
In a “full world,” the fish catch is limited by the remaining population of fish, not by the number of fishing boats, which are man-made capital in excess supply.   Oil energy is limited by geological deposits, not by the drilling and pumping capacity of man-made capital. In national income accounting, the use of man-made capital is depreciated, but the use of nature’s capital has no cost other than extraction cost.   Therefore, the using up of natural capital always results in economic growth.
In other words economic theory is based on a world that no longer exists.  Nature's capitol is nearly exhausted. 

This is an important book not because there is anything really new in it but because it puts all the pieces together and is a must read

If you don't have a Kindle you can download a free app for your PC at Amazon.

Edgar Rice Burroughs and Frank Frazetta

When I was in the 7th grade I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs.  My fascination with his stories continued through high school.  There was of course Tarzan but there was also Barsoom and Pelucider not to mention Venus.  Silly fantasy but it could have been worse - I might have become interested in Ayn Rand.  Burroughs  was a master of "graphic prose."  It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words: well Burroughs could do it with 20 words or less.  Fifty years latter I can't really appreciate Edgar Rice Burroughs like I did when I was young.  I watched the movie John Carter of Mars but wondered off to do something else abut a quarter of the way through it.  What I can do is think about what attracted me to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It was the art work on the covers of those Ace paperbacks by Frank Frazetta.
There is little doubt that cover art can sell paperbacks and Frank Frazetta was a master marketer.
Or as an adolescent perhaps is was the scantily clad voluptuous females.
Frank Frazetta could sell books and was a great artist at the same time.  Edgar Rice Burroughs died in 1950 and Frank Frazzeta died in 2010 but they will both be with us for a very long time - that's as close to immortality as you can get.

Book Review - Ayn Rand and the World She Made

With the Ayn Rand cultist Paul Ryan becoming the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate today I thought this might be a good opportunity to republish my reveiw of the Ayn Rand Biography by  Anne C. Heller from 2010.


The picture on the left may represent the beginning of the deregulation frenzy that resulted in the current world wide economic disaster. It was taken in 1974 by David Hume Kennerly and pictured are President Gerald Ford, Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand, Rand's husband Frank Conner and Greenspan's mother Rose Goldsmith. The occasion was Alan Greenspan being sworn in as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. The significance of the picture is that Ayn Rand is there next to her disciple Alan Greenspan but to understand the significance you must understand Rand herself and her philosophy. Anne C. Heller helps us do that with her excellent biography of Rand,Ayn Rand and the World She Made

I recommend this book not because I agree with anything Ayn Rand stands for but because it's a really good read and it's necessary to understand Rand and undererstand how we arrived where we are today. Heller makes it clear that Rand and her life are much more interesting than any of the creations in her fiction and there are times you forget that you are not reading fiction. I am going to concentrate on Rand's early life in this review - it's important because narcissists and sociopaths like Rand are either created early if not born that way.

Alyssa Zinovievna Rosenbaum was born in St Petersburg, Russia in 1905 of Jewish parents. While it's often said that it was the Bolshevik revolution that was responsible for Rand's philosophy and world view according to Heller the foundation for Rand's philosophy predates the revolution.

When Rand was five or so, she recalled, her mother came into the children's playroom and found the floor littered with toys. She announced to Rand and Rand's two-and-a-half-year-old sister, Natasha, that they would have to choose some of their toys to put away and some to keep and play with now; in a year, she told them, they could trade the toys they had kept for those they had put away. Natasha held on to the toys she liked best, but Rand, imagining the pleasure she would get from having her favorite toys returned to her later, handed over her best-loved playthings, including a painted mechanical wind-up chicken she could describe vividly fifty years later. When the time came to make the swap and Rand asked for her toys back, her mother looked amused, Rand recalled. Anna explained that she had given everything to an orphanage, on the premise that if her daughters had really wanted their toys they wouldn't have relinquished them in the first place. This may have been Rand's first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call "altruism." Her understanding of how power can be acquired by a pretense of loving kindness would grow only more acute with time.
Perhaps it's little wonder, then, that from the age of four or five onward, Rand developed a keen sense that anything she liked had to be hers, not her mothers, the family's, or society's, an attitude that readers of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead will recognize in the perverse and complicated character of Dominique Francon. As a corollary, she claimed not to care about being approved of or accepted by her family and peers. Since she generally wasn't accepted, the proud, intelligent child appears to have learned early to make a virtue of necessity. In her twenties and thirties, she would construct a universe of moral principles built largely on the scaffolding of some of these defensive childhood virtues.

The second influence in Rand's life came when she read a serial in a French Boys magazine, The Mysterious Valley. It was there that Rand met Cyrus Vance, a handsome and heroic figure and in Rand's eyes a hero in every way. Rand would spend the rest of her life looking for a Cyrus Vance and creating him in her fiction.

Rand herself was an elitist who lived on cigarettes, amphetamines and chocolate. Elitism was also what she was marketing in her novels. Her characters like Galt and Roark were unbelievable because they were little more than abstract principles personified. Her vision of capitalism was simple and had a grade school like quality to it.

But Rand has impacted us all and still does. The principal architect of our current economic crisis, Alan Greenspan was a disciple for most of his life but after looking at the havoc he had created had to recant. (Via Digby)

"I have found a flaw" in free market theory, Greenspan said under intense questioning by Representative Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the Government Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives. "I don't know how significant or permanent it is," Greenspan added. "But I have been very distressed by that fact."

Pressed by Waxman, Greenspan conceded a more serious flaw in his own philosophy that unfettered free markets sit at the root of a superior economy.

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms," Greenspan said.

Waxman pushed the former Fed chief, who left office in 2006, to clarify his explanation.

"In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working," Waxman said.

"Absolutely, precisely," Greenspan replied. "You know, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well."

But she still has her followers in important places today like the Republican's wonder boy, Congressman Paul Ryan.

It's important to know what motivates the enemy and the Rand cultists are still with us.  As Digby notes Rand's followers are passing out free books.  For that reason this is an important read for anyone concerned about how Ayn Rand is still an influence.


I received a copy of this book from the publisher for this review.

Book Review - The Trust

It's not easy writing a review for a mystery novel and The Trust by Norb Vonnegut is no exception. I can't say too much without being a spoiler but I'll try.

Successful investment manager Grove O'Rourke receives a mysterious call from his wealthy mentor, Palmer Kincaid and suspects something is wrong. The next day Kincaid's body washes ashore an apparent accidental drowning victim. O'Rourke is contacted by Kincaid's daughter to get the family's financial affairs in order. He suddenly finds himself in charge of Palmer Kincaid's charitable organization, The Palmetto Foundation. One of the first issues involves The Catholic Fund and a mysterious priest, Father Frederick Ricardo. The Catholic Fund has given 65 million dollars to the Palmetto Foundation and Father Ricardo now wants to dictate where that money goes. O'Rourke is suspicious and that is only reinforced by attorney Biscuit Hughes who has discovered that The Catholic Fund is the owner of a Sex Superstore in Fayettville, North Carolina. At the same time O'Rourke's investment firm in New York is being taken over Morgan Stanley and the FBI is asking questions about him.  O'Rourke himself is contacted by the FBI but agent Torres has lots of questions but few answers.  Then Palmer Kincaid's widow is kidnapped and O'Rourke is forced to join forces with agent Torres to save her.

If you like mysteries this is a great read that includes murder, a kidnapping and financial shenanigans. It is often hard to separate the good guys from the bad ones.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Book Review - Guest of Honor

In 2008 the United States elected a black President - the result was a very negative reaction by about 25% of the population. It's not the first time there was a reaction to shifts in racial equality. In his concession speech in 2008 John McCain mentioned T.R, Roosevelt's dinner with Booker T. Washington in 1901. Like most of us this was the first time author Deborah Davis had heard of this historical event. She became curious and researched the history of the event and wrote Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation.

The first half of the book is a mini biography of both T.R Roosevelt and Booker T. Washington. For me this was very informative since I had little knowledge of this period of US history. TR was born into wealth and privilege and Booker T. was born a slave but their lives had many parallels. They first met in 1898 when they discussed the performance of the black soldiers that were part of TR's Rough Riders.

While Booker T. continued to build Tuskegee TR used the popularity of the Rough Riders to become governor of New York. Being TR he manged to upset the New York Republican political machine. The machine convinced McKinley to choose TR as his Vice President just so they could get him out of the State House. TR continued his communication with Booker T and agreed to visit Tuskegee. Fate had other ideas and when McKinley was assassinated TR suddenly found himself President and Booker T suddenly found himself an adviser to the President of the United States.

On October 16, 1901 TR had a evening meeting with Booker T. In addition TR had a big family meal planned that included a hunting friend from Colorado. He made the decision to invite Booker T to dinner. Both men recognized the danger - TR almost withdrew the invitation and Booker T almost turned it down. But the dinner happened and the next morning it was reported in the press.

A summary of TR's daily agenda was read by a reporter at the Washington Post and suddenly realized that a black man had dined with the President at the White House.

"Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee, Ala., dined with the president last evening." he wrote in his column. That one line caused the telegraphs to start clicking furiously in the capital, their shocking message reverberating across the nation like a thunderclap.

In the South the reaction was immediate and angry. TR was blasted for the invitation and the "uppity" Booker T for accepting. The loss of slavery was bad enough for the South but the idea that "coons" were social equals was just too much. The press in the North was for the most part positive.

Although both men were able to accomplish a great deal that dinner haunted them for the rest of their lives.

This is a very readable book covering the history of the US 30+ years after the civil war. It is valuable because it gives us not only a picture of how things have changed in the century since TR was President but also how much really hasn't changed.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in this short period of history.

Cross Posted At The Moderate Voice


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Book Review - The RX Factor

I read mostly non-fiction and when I read fiction is usually Science Fiction. But I also like a good suspense thriller once in awhile. The RX Factor by J. Thomas Shaw certainly qualifies. There is certainly enough suspense and enough murders and assassinations to qualify it as a thriller. In addition there is a lot of corporate and government malfeasance.

Dr Ryan Mathews discovered a cure for ovarian cancer. His company did not have the resources to do the human testing so he sold out to a large pharmaceutical company. Human testing commenced and the results were not good - it didn't work. Ryan's wife came down with ovarian cancer and she was part of the human testing. When the testing was canceled Ryan stole the last two doses his wife required. He was caught and fired from the large pharmaceutical. All of the tests indicated his wife was going to die within months so the decision was made to move to the Bahamas for the last few months of her life. His wife and children were killed in a plane crash on the way to the Bahamas and Ryan spent the next few years drinking in paradise. One day Ryan met another medical researcher there to spend some time with her aunt and uncle. When her relatives ship was blown up Ryan partnered with her to find out what was going on and the adventure began. Many murders and attempted murders in addition to many surprises. It came to Ryan's attention that his drug had worked and the results had been tampered with. But why - the big pharmaceuticals don't want to cure people. People who are well don't buy drugs. More adventures and murders along the way and an ending that unearths an even more sinister plot.

A really great read that I had trouble putting down and the ending was a shocker.

Cross Posted At The Moderate Voice


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

The RX Factor
by J. Shaw Thomas

Book Review - The Monster

Do you like a good crime novel – a corporate crime novel? If so The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America--And Spawned a Global Crisis by Michael W. Hudson is for you. Unfortunately it's not a fictional novel but the history of the mortgage crisis that may yet bring down the US and world economy.
This book is not directly about the foreclosure crisis but about the seeds of that crisis – deceptive and fraudulent mortgages that left desperate people worse off than before and without a chance of meeting the obligations of the contracts they had signed.
The seeds were initially planted over 30 years ago in the form of deregulation of the financial industry. The seeds sprouted in the late 80s and blossomed into the S&L crisis. Little if anything was learned and the deregulation continued – still more seeds were planted. By the early and mid 90's the players that had escaped the S&L crisis and even some who didn't were back at it writing predatory sub prime loans. The deception and outright fraud was becoming even more prevalent easily circumventing the few new consumer protections. At about the same time mortgage backed securities were a hot commodity. The Wall Street investment banks had stayed clear but a familiar name in the most recent crisis, Lehman Brothers, saw an opportunity it couldn't pass up. As the money to be made in subprime mortgages increased so did the deception and fraud as well as involvement by more and more Wall Street banks.
Like any good crime novel this story has a cast of villains and victims. Of course this is not a novel so the people are real. One of the main characters is Roland Arnall who grew a small Orange County S&L into the mortgage giant Ameriquest. The way it grew was to place sales and profit above all else. There was nothing an Ameriquest salesman would not do to close a loan.
At the downtown L.A. branch, some of Glover's coworkers had a flair for creative documentation. They used scissors, tape, Wite-Out and a photocopier to fabricate W-2s, the tax forms that indicate how much a wage earner makes each year. It was easy: Paste the name of a low-earning borrower onto a W-2 belonging to a higher-earning borrower and, like magic, a bad loan prospect suddenly looked much better. Workers in the branch equipped the office's break room with all the tools they needed to manufacture and manipulate official documents. They dubbed it the "Art Department."
What if a customer insisted he wanted a fixed-rate loan, but you could make more money by selling him an adjustable-rate one? No problem. Many Ameriquest salespeople learned to position a few fixed-rate loan documents at the top of the stack of paperwork to be signed by the borrower. They buried the real documents—the ones indicating the loan had an adjustable rate that would rocket upward in two or three years—near the bottom of the pile. Then, after the borrower had flipped from signature line to signature line, scribbling his consent across the entire stack, and gone home, it was easy enough to peel the fixed-rate documents off the top and throw them in the trash.
There was lots of money to be made so neither the investment banks that were packaging the loans or the investors buying them questioned the loans themselves. But the continued growth depended on a continued influx of new loans and rising home values – it was in effect a Ponzi scheme. When the housing bubble deflated in 2007 the Ponzi scheme collapsed.
I recommend The Monster: You can pretend it is fiction and have an enjoyable read or you can learn about how greed driven fraud and deception resulted in the worst economic crisis since the great depression. While Wall Street and the bankers are still quick to blame those who don't make their mortgage payments you will see who the real victims are.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Book Review - We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran

I receive several opportunities a month to do book reviews. I turn most of them down in spite of the fact it means I won't get a free book. I almost decided against reviewing We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran but eventually agreed. After reading the first few pages I knew I had made the right decision.

We Heard The Heavens Then by Aria Minu-Sepher is the story of the last few years of Shah’s Iranian monarchy and the revolution that brought it down as seen through the eyes of a young boy who's father was a powerful general in the Shah's air force. The author has had decades in the United States to think about what happened and presents us with a measured and fair account of social-political reality that led up to the revolution.

There are several characters in this story both family members and others. Aria Minu-Sepher grew up in a privileged world. As we might say now he was part of the one percent. His mother is mentioned but it is rarely a flattering picture. She was proud of the fact she was part of the aristocracy. His father, “Baba,” plays a key part in the narrative. A very competent pilot and General who adores his son and attempts to mold his son in his own image. In a way this book is a tribute to his father. The rest of the authors extended family represent an eclectic mix of Iranian society. The household staff also plays a part but none more than the housekeeper “Bubbi.” She is a very conservative Muslim, a classic member of the Iranian 99%. She is offended by Western influence. She objects to serving wine, shrimp and ham. She objects to automobiles and thinks the F14 fighters the General commands are straight from the devil. We get the impression that she represents a lot of the 99%.

The author paints a picture of an Iran that is not just divided along 1% - 99% line but also on a secular – pious line, but there is a great deal of overlap. Much of Iran was not enjoying the miracles from the west but they didn't want to. I think that we can see some of the problems we are having in Afghanistan – a majority who simply don't want to be forced into a secular world.

Normally this subject matter would be rather dry but this book is an enjoyable and easy read because it is made up primarily of personal anecdotes. I highly recommend this book.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Book Review - The Arms Maker of Berlin

 This weeks book is a historical spy/mystery/ thriller but mostly it's a work of fiction and as such should be judged mostly on it's entertainment value. I received Dan Fesperman's The Arms Maker of Berlin (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) right before dinner on Thursday and started to read it after dinner. Before I turned out the lights that night I had read over a third of it and had a hard time putting it down.

I can't do much better than this description from the dust jacket.

When Nat Turnbull, a history professor who specializes in the German resistance, gets the news that his estranged mentor, Gordon Wolfe, has been arrested for possession of stolen World War II archives, he's hardly surprised that,even at the age of eighty-four, Gordon has gotten himself in trouble. But what's in the archives is staggering: a spymaster's trove missing since the end of the war, one that Gordon has always claimed is full of "secrets you can't find anywhere else . . . live ammunition."

Yet key documents are still missing, and Nat believes Gordon has hidden them. The FBI agrees, and when Gordon is found dead in jail, the Bureau dispatches Nat to track down the material, which has also piqued the interest of several dangerous competitors. As he follows a trail of cryptic clues left behind by Gordon, assisted by an attractive academic with questionable motives, Nat's quest takes him to Bern and Berlin, where his path soon crosses that of Kurt Bauer, an aging German arms merchant still hoarding his own wartime secrets. As their stories and Gordon's-intersect across half a century, long-buried exploits of deceit, devotion, and doomed resistance begin working their way to the surface. And as the stakes rise, so do the risks . . .

The characters are well developed and the novel takes place both in the present and in Berlin and Switzerland in the mid 40's. Some of the characters are real like John Foster Dulles, America's spy chief in Switzerland during the war and Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust.

You also get some insight into the anti-Hitler resistance in Germany as much of the plot centers around the White Rose student movement.

I recommend this book for both it's entertainment and it's history but beware, once you start it's hard to put down. I had not heard of Dan Fesperman before but I am going to check out some of his earlier works.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ender's Game - the Movie

While I may despise the bigoted politics of Orson Scot Card I have always enjoyed his science fiction novels.  The Ender's Game series and the Ender's Shadow series are among his best.  When I heard that they were going to make a movie of Ender's Game I could only wonder how they would screw it up.  Well I watched the movie and they didn't.  Yes, when you make a two hour movie based on a 500 page novel you are going to have to leave a lot out but they did capture the spirit of the novel.  The only deviation was really the ending which will make it difficult for them to produce sequels  based on the other three books in the series.  I'm not really sure that the rest of the series is movie material however as they are more philosophical than action packed.

This is a war movie that is an anti-war movie - a story about children fighting old men's wars.  Not unlike young men and women sent to fight old men's wars.  As it turns out this was not a war that needed to be fought.  Although the novel was written long before George W. Bush this is a case against pre-emptive  war.  Ender realized this and suffered his own form  of PTSD because he won.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

World Made By Hand

Tainter makes this observation; substantial increased costs occurred late, shortly before collapse and were incurred by a population already weakened by a pattern of declining marginal returns. It was not a challenge that caused the collapse but a system that had been unproductively complex was unable to respond.

Tainter says that the only solution for over complexity is simplification but complex systems are unable to voluntarily simplify. Collapse is nothing more than involuntary simplification.

The above is from my review of The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter. At the forefront of those predicting the collapse of our civilization is James Howard Kunstler. In a 2004 article Kunstler had this to say:

When the tipping point comes, Americans will be compelled to live very differently than they do today. One leading American social critic, James Howard Kunstler, sees serious political and cultural turmoil up ahead as the way of life Americans have built over the last 60 years begins to break down. With decreasing access to cheap oil, Kunstler sees the fundamentals of industrial agriculture, manufacturing and retail trade changing significantly.

"The whole Archer Daniels Midland model of turning oil into corn into Taco Bell that whole complex, that system, is really going to be over," says Kuntsler. "We're going to be forced to grow more of our food locally and return to a kind of agriculture that really hasn't been practiced here in a long time. A lot of the land that has only had value as suburban development in the past 30 or 40 years is going to have to be reassigned."

Likewise, Kunstler foresees "the demise of Wal-Mart style, big box, national chains." Companies whose profit margins depend on "merchandise made by factories 12,000 miles away" simply won't function in a world of $100-plus barrels of oil. "We're going to have to seriously reorganize our whole system of retail trade and economy."

Kunstler expanded on this in his book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. But what might the collapse look like? To answer this question Kunstler turns to fiction, World Made by Hand

It is the summer of 2025 and the location is Washington County in upstate New York. There has been a major war in the middle east. Washington DC has been destroyed taking out the US Government and Los Angeles has been destroyed dealing a death blow to the US economy. There is no government, no electricity, no oil, no automobiles, no newspapers or any other communication. Millions have died and the ones that remain spend most of their time producing food. The main character is Robert Earle, a former software salesman turned carpenter/handyman. We also meet a minster and his wife, a group of thugs that work as scavengers, a large landowner who has a fiefdom complete with serfs and a charismatic religious cult leader.
This is all about a group of people trying to create a new civilization on top of the ruins of the old one with very little to work with. Robert Earle is forced into a position of leadership he really doesn't want but he knows that someone has to do it. The subjects are humans so there a good people and bad, many with a lot of ambition and many with just enough to survive. There is love and murder, lawlessness and frontier style justice. As depressing as it sounds there is always a thread of hope.
This novel may have a political message but even those who don't but the message were forced to admit it is a well written story and a good read. It is not what you would expect from an author known primarily for non fiction. Kunstler manages to take us into the hearts and souls of the characters.

Even if you don't agree with the premise I would still recommend the book because it is simply a very good read.  You can find out more about the book here. I can hardly wait for the sequel, The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel, which is coming in September.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice


The Collapse of Complex Societies

The implication is clear: civilizations are fragile, impermanent things.

This is the review of a book most of you will not read, The Collapse of Complex Societies. The Author, Joseph Tainter, is an academic and writes like one and it's full of examples and histories of past societies.

Anyone who has studied history knows that societies/civilizations are born and eventually collapse. The collapse of societies have been analyzed individually but Tainter was interested in what those failures of complex societies had in common - he was looking for a unified theory of collapse. He evaluates several complex societies that failed and discovered they all had one thing in common - increasing complexity until there was a sudden simplification or collapse.

The first part of the book is dedicated to the discussion of 11 popular explanations for the collapse of societies.

  1. Resource depletion.

  2. New resources.

  3. Catastrophes.

  4. Insufficient response to circumstances.

  5. Other complex societies.

  6. Intruders

  7. Conflict/contradictions/mismanagement.

  8. Social dysfunction.

  9. Mystical.

  10. Chance concatenation of events.

  11. Economic explanations.

With the exception of "Mystical" Tainter thinks they all have some validity but come up short because they only look at one or two societies and don't explain how some societies survive the same adversities. Tainter builds on the economic model for his unified collapse theory.

Human societies and political organizations, like all living systems, are maintained by a continuous flow of energy.

The real currency is energy and until the industrial revolution that energy was primarily grain and other foodstuffs to feed people. Today with think of energy as fuel to feed machines but a shortage of that fuel will ultimately result in a shortage of the historical energy.

When we discuss energy sources we have to look at the EROEI - energy return on energy invested. It takes energy to produce energy. As the process to recover energy becomes increasingly complex it takes more and more energy to produce it. When oil was first tapped the EROEI was 100 - for each barrel of oil spent you got 99 barrels you could use to make energy. Compare that to the Alberta tar sands that have an EROEI of 1.6. Ethanol from corn has an EROEI of less than 1 - it takes more energy to produce than you get back when it is used as a fuel. A nuclear power plant has to operate at near 100% for 15 years to produce the energy that was required to build the plant and process the fuel.

Could something similar apply to societal complexity? Is it possible that the benefits of complexity can reach a point where they no longer justify the expense? Tainter supplies four concepts to help answer the above questions:

  1. human societies are problem-solving organizations;

  2. sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;

  3. increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and

  4. investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.

To demonstrate his concept Tainter looks at three complex societies;

  1. Western Roman Empire

  2. Maya of the southern lowlands

  3. Chacoan Society of the American Southwest

Tainter makes this observation; substantial increased costs occurred late, shortly before collapse and were incurred by a population already weakened by a pattern of declining marginal returns. It was not a challenge that caused the collapse but a system that had been unproductively complex was unable to respond.

Tainter says that the only solution for over complexity is simplification but complex systems are unable to voluntarily simplify. Collapse is nothing more than involuntary simplification. He further states that collapse is "not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity-an economizing process" - it's not a catastrophe. I would guess that the millions (billions)of people who are displaced or will die might disagree with that conclusion.

What we see today is a sociopolitical system that requires more and more resources to maintain but is unable to respond to challenges in a meaningful or productive way. Climate Change, Peak oil, peak water, peak soil and peak many other resources most of us wouldn't recognize are the challenges.
Cross Posted at The Moderate Voice.

Kaboom: Embracing The Suck In A Savage Little War

I graduated from college in June, 1968. This was a few months after the Tet Offensive. The United States still had a draft and I was caught in it. I received my draft notice in September and I was ordered to report in November. If I went the draft - two year route it was almost guaranteed that I would end up as a grunt in Vietnam so I went down to the local recruiting office and enlisted for Army Intelligence. I gave up another year of my life to possibly save it. I never saw Vietnam or combat. I served with other college graduates on the frontiers of freedom in downtown Munich, Germany. Most of us opposed the war and opposed being in the Army. We might not have been in or near combat but we had a relationship I had not experienced before and have not experienced since.

Fast forward forty years and some things have changed but others are the same. There is no draft but there is a futile war managed by men who don't know what they are doing. The situation on the ground in Iraq is the subject of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher. Kathrine Tomlinson of California Literary Review tries to compare Gallagher's book to other war literature - she misses the point. Ms Tomlinson has never been in the military or close to war and doesn't understand that this is not a book about war but a book about soldier's relationships in war. It's about what they refer to in the military as esprit de corps. It's about those personal relationships - looking out for others in your unit regardless of politics because of the shared "suck".

So who is Matt Gallagher?

I was born into a class, in a time, to a people, in a place where someone else's sons and daughters served in the armed forces. While I wasn't a politician's boy or a spurner of old money like in the fables, a child of two lawyers still qualified as a Fortunate Son in most parts of the world. I was raised in that curious subculture of Americana enslaved to emo music, new friend requests on Facebook, and lots and lots of Internet porn-part of the generation that the "An Army of One" slogan supposedly appealed to, due to our obsession with all things self. I didn't come from the breadbasket of rural America or the urban ghettos like most of my men, and I didn't seek out the military for glory or for country. I came from the West Coast suburbs, modern white collar contentment at its most gnarled and escapist, and happened to read too many damn books about soldiers.

While Gallagher was from a different world he easily became one with his men - that is esprit de corps or shared "suck" at work. One of the things they shared was a disdain for incompetent field officers and civilians. You can appreciate that if you have been in the military but even if you haven't you have probably had experience with incompetent middle mangers in the civilian world.

In December, 2007 Gallagher and his platoon, The Gravediggers, found themselves NE of Baghdad in Saba al-Bor doing counterinsurgency as part of "the surge".

Just another day in the Suck. Just another day of counterinsurgency tedium, solving a nonconventional, nation-building, political problem with a conventional military used to nation destroying that sometimes forgot it was trying to be nonconventional. Just another day of our dismount teams walking with me between creeping Strykers, winding through the back alleys and alley backs of Saba al-Bor. Just another day of talking to the locals and listening to their multitude of gripes, bitches, and complaints. Just another day of "mistah, mistah, gimme-"
"Please, sir, I want some more."

Gallagher gives is a first hand account of the nuts and bolts of the counterinsurgency effort during the "surge". He does very little editorializing and I will leave it up to you to decide the wisdom and effectiveness of the policy.

More important for me was not the war itself but the relationship of men thrown together 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an alien and hostile place far from home.

The majority of Americans have no idea what war is all about. I recommend Kaboom because it may well help in a small way facilitate that understanding.  It's also a good read as Matt Gallagher also has a pretty good way with words and adds some humor to what should be a humorless situation.
Cross posted at The Moderate Voice


I received a copy of this book from the publisher for this review.

The Day We Found The Universe

Astrology began to morph into astronomy in 1543 with the publication of Nicolaus Copernicus' "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres."  It was here, much to the dismay of theologians, the Earth lost it's place as the center of the universe.  The transformation was complete about 60 years later when Galileo Galilei demonstrated his telescope.  It was over two hundred years later that astronomy morphed into cosmology.  That transformation is what The Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak is all about.

While the earth may have been demoted by Copernicus further demotions  were to follow.  At the start of the 20th century it was thought that the sun was in the center of our galaxy, The Milky Way and that The Milky Way was the only galaxy.  All that was about to change. 

In early 20th century America there were wealthy men who were willing to donate money for bigger and bigger telescopes.  Astronomers had been looking at spiral nebulae. With the larger and more powerful telescopes it became obvious that those spiral nebulae were actually spiral galaxies just like our own Milky Way.  It was also determined that the earth's sun was not in the center of the Milky Way.    So we had a double demotion - the earth was not in the center of this galaxy and the Milky Way was not even the only galaxy. 

In addition to the more powerful telescopes the cosmologists  had another powerful new tool, color spectrum analyzers.  But in addition to the tools there were the personalities and Bartusiak gives them all some time.  While everyone has heard of Edwin Hubble who has an orbiting space telescope named after him how many have heard of James Keeler who was both a master with spectroscope but helped make the reflecting telescope the tool of choice.  And there was Henrietta Leavitt who's study of  Cepheid variables made it possible for male astronomers to determine the size of the universe.  There are of course many more - some hardly known but most forgotten by history.

Now if you still think the earth is 6,000 years old and that the sun orbits the earth this book is not for you.  But if you are interested in the history of scientific thought this is a wonderful book.  Bartusiak is a wonderful science writer and this book is the result of extensive research to find the important players that have been forgotten.  Even in serious scientific circles there are personality conflicts, egos and competition and Bartusiak makes that a part of the story.

The Day We Found the Universe
by Marcia Bartusiak

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Octagonal Raven

Some fiction again this week but not just fiction - science fiction.  Now I like a good mystery and good science fiction.  There are two authors that do a great job of combining the two - the late Charles Sheffield and L.E. Modesitt.  It's Octagonal Raven by Modesitt we will be looking at this week.

The Octagonal Raven takes place on earth in the distant future.  It is full of technological innovations most of which are not really hard to imagine with what we know now.  As we have seen technology is not without moral dilemmas, pitfalls and unintended consequences.  That's really what this science fiction thriller is all about.

Genetic engineering has reached the point where anyone with enough money can pre-select the characteristics of their offspring.  These "pre-selects" make up about 10 percent of the population but hold about 95 percent of the wealth and most positions of authority.  As one might expect this has created an atmosphere of resentment among the 90 percent of the population who are "norms".  For some of the "pre-selects"  the status quo is not enough and they lust for even more power.  The result is a plot to overthrow the existing order by the already powerful along with social unrest among those who who are not.  The main character, a enlightened "pre-select" from a very wealthy family, becomes involved after a number of attempts on his life.

A really exciting read with lessons that we can identify with today.

Octagonal Raven
by L E Jr Modesitt

Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story

Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould is a must read book for anyone who wants to understand world geopolitics since the Vietnam war and even before.  It might be surprising what  an important part the small country Afghanistan played in the politics of the cold war.  This was a difficult review simply because there is so much information. Some of it contains information I knew nothing about.  In some cases I had little knowledge but most striking was how much of what I thought I knew was wrong. 

The first quarter of the book covers Afghan history up to 1960 and I did not fully appreciate the country's importance.

A great deal of what is traditionally denoted in historical studies as Persian, Iranian, and even Indian history involves the cities and principalities of what is now Afghanistan. Composed of tribes that were even at the time recognized as ethnically and culturally distinct, such ancient cities as Kandahar, Bamiyan, Mazar, Herat, Kabul, Bagram, and Baikh played a leading role in the evolving history of the region and the civilized world. Over the millennia, rulers from these cities swept far outside their territories to conquer and for long intervals rule over kingdoms stretching from China to the Caspian Sea. At times Afghan dynasties controlled the fate of Indian and Persian empires, while no less a figure than Zoroaster (Zarathustra) is said to have gained renown as a priest-scholar in the northern Bactrian city of Baikh, now located in Afghanistan, not far from Mazar-e Sharif.
But the ancient apocalyptic religious teachings accredited to Zoroaster take on even more meaning when placed against a backdrop of today s holy war. For what may seem to our modern secular society a hopelessly anachronistic throwback to the past is in fact seen by its mystical holy warrior participants in Washington and elsewhere as the final act in an ancient historical drama.

Afghanistan become important to the west in early in the 19th century when Britain saw it as a buffer between Tsarist Russia and it's economic empire in India.  The most significant thing to come out of  the British actions in the 19th century was the Durand Line which sliced off a chunk of Afghanistan and divided the Pashtuns.  That was to remain a contentious issue to this day.

Moving forward to the mid 20th century Afghanistan was still seen as a buffer to Russia by the "B-Team", which I discussed here.  To the B-Team Afghanistan was more than a buffer, it was a way to further weaken the Soviet Union and pay back for Vietnam.  The Soviets did not want to invade and occupy Afghanistan but the B-Team forced their hand and made it impossible for them to withdraw when that was really what they wanted to do.

Dreyfuss writes, "In the Nouvel Observateur interview, Brzezinski admitted that his intention all along was to provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan-even though, after the Soviet action occurred, U.S. officials expressed shock and surprise. 'We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would,' said Brzezinski." "'Now,' he told President Carter in 1979, 'we can give the USSR its Vietnam war.'"

To do this they supported and encouraged the very Islamic extremists that were responsible for 911 and we are fighting now in Afghanistan.  Even as the American's and their allies were fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban Pakistan's ISI was giving them support.

This entire effort required that the American people be fed what can only be described as propaganda.  Just like the lead up to the Iraq war the media was more than willing to play along.  The failure of the media to do their job is nothing new.

After the fall of the Soviet Union the Reagan, Bush 41  and Clinton administrations still assumed that instability created by religious extremists in Afghanistan was in the best interest of the United States and watched or even encouraged Pakistan's ISI and Saudi Arabia create the Taliban.  It was only after the bombings of the two US embassies in Africa and the near sinking of the USS Cole that they realized they had created a monster.  The events on 911 were icing on the cake.  But this was good news for the neocons and the military industrial complex - they had an enemy again which would justify military spending.

Fitzgerald and Gould close the book with some advice for President Obama:

President Obama will face the toughest foreign policy decisions of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. But among the toughest of those tough decisions will be how to handle the ongoing battle for Afghanistan.

Lest he fall prey to the popular misconceptions and the self-fulfilling delusions of Washington s current Beltway wisdom, he should be well advised that today's Afghanistan is more a creation of Washington, Islamabad and London than it is of Kabul. He should also be advised that achieving anything resembling a real victory will require much more than just additional troops or taking the battle into Taliban- and Al Qaeda-controlled areas of neighboring Pakistan. It will require rethinking some basic assumptions about both Afghanistan, and Pakistan and America's goals in
the region.

I see little evidence that Obama is willing to take the advice.  The same hawks are still in charge.

I repeat,  Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story, is a must read for anyone trying to understand AF/PAK policy.  I have not even scratched the surface of what you will find in this book. And how about a teaser? - Pakistan's ISI was involved in the 911 attacks.