|Richard Pachter||February 22nd 2010|
Miami Herald reviewer
Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones. Joseph Jaffe. Wiley, 2010. 286 pages.
It's bizarre and baffling to me that companies expend so much time, money and energy on customer acquisition and then follow it up with crappy service after the sale.
Think about it: Advertising, marketing, and sales departments are all geared toward convincing prospects to buy the company's products and services. But after asking for the order and getting it, the customer—especially if it's a consumer and not a business—is often ignored. Worse, they're frequently forced to deal with incompetent, unhelpful, or ignorant people several continents away when they have a problem.
There's nothing inherently wrong with outsourcing customer service to India or South America. For example, I've had exceptional service, in fact, from friendly and well informed people in those places. But I've had also awful ones, too. Every interaction with a customer holds the potential to not only serve their needs, but turn them into evangelists and advocates for your company and continued sources of sales and revenue. So why is this not obvious to every enterprise?
Joseph Jaffe wonders the same thing. In this new book, he looks at every aspect of the client experience, including, obviously, “customer service” interactions. But he goes well beyond that, too. Engaging people is the challenge. Your product is secondary. After all, they're not buying what you're selling; they're buying a solution to a problem or a fulfillment of a need. Read more ..
|Eddy Portnoy||February 15th 2010|
The Cartoons That Shook the World. Jytte Klausen. Yale University Press, 2009. 240 pages.
“What are you reading?” my 8-year-old daughter asked me as I sat with Jytte Klausen's The Cartoons That Shook the World on my lap. “A book about cartoons,” I said. She looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “Where are the cartoons? What a strange book.”
Strange, indeed. Even before it was published, Klausen's history and analysis of the Danish cartoon crisis was big news because, in its wisdom, Yale University Press (YUP) had decided that the cartoons in question, the primary documents on which the book rests, were too inflammatory to include.
In its desire to err on the side of caution, YUP has caused irreparable harm not only to the text itself, but also to academic discourse as a whole. In its “Publisher's Statement,” YUP claims that it is “an institution deeply committed to free speech.” But that depth is apparently not too profound. If the editors were too frightened to publish the book, they should have passed on it. As for the author, Klausen claims on her Web site that she wanted the cartoons included. But if that were true, she would have been wise to have given YUP the boot and to have taken her book to a publisher that has some backbone and academic integrity.
In lieu of actually showing the images, Klausen provides prose descriptions of the cartoons that are decent enough, but simply don't do them justice. That the book doesn't include images of its very topic is, quite simply, ridiculous, and even she admitted in an interview last year that this presents a “significant loss to the reader.” Yet perhaps part of the reason she so easily jettisoned the images may have something to do with the fact that she is less interested in the cartoons themselves than in the events surrounding them. Understandable, perhaps, but problematic, because the reader is never informed of the roles of cartoons or images in either the Danish or various Islamic societies in which reactions took place. It's a component of the story that the book completely ignores. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||February 8th 2010|
Miami Herald reviewer
The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money. Brad DeLong, Stephen S. Cohen. Basic Books. 176 pages.
I've long thought that the best advice one can give a youngster seeking success in the business world is to learn Chinese. Our pals in Beijing and Shanghai hold serious paper on us (``Us, U.S.,'' as Paul Harvey used to say) and they can wreak terminal havoc upon America, its institutions and infrastructure, if and when they chose. But it's not really in their best interests to ask us to ante up and watch us turn our pockets inside out, show our empty hands and shrug.
Cohen and DeLong invoke the quote, ``If you owe the bank $1 million, the bank has you; if you owe $1 billion, you have the bank,'' then spend much of the rest of the book explaining why and how it's true. Along the way, they discuss the failure of neoliberalism, which sought to transfer portions of the control of the economy from the public to the private sector, skewer former Fed head Alan Greenspan, and describe with palpable awe the pandemic failure to oversee credit and banking in the United States and the major role it played -- and continues to play -- in our ongoing economic meltdown. The rampant corruption of the political system is also calmly recounted as a powerful catalyst for this dissolution and dispersal of American wealth.
Though both authors are academics, they're rather decent writers; DeLong is also a blogger, see http://delong.typepad.com who struggles online daily to make sense of various economic effluvia and ephemera with a combination of alacrity, disgust and amusement. But this book is far from a knee-slapper and unlikely to be chosen by Ms. Winfrey for her book club. Read more ..
|Murray Polner||February 1st 2010|
History News Network reviewer
Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath. Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman's. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.
For Americans old enough to remember 1941-2 when the Japanese took control of the Philippine Islands—that economic and strategic prize seized by the United States in an imperial war of conquest---the depressing events of those years are hard to forget. Despite the many thousands killed and maimed, Japanese war crimes, the eventual U.S. reconquest of the islands and the vengeful, perhaps even legally questionable, execution of the two top Japanese commanders, the brutal era is captured in this engrossing history of the Bataan Death March, grounded in large part on the experience of Ben Steele, a death march survivor and Montana artist, whose impressive sketches of his years as a prisoner are scattered throughout the book.
Michael Norman, a Marine combat Vietnam veteran, previously wrote the impressive and moving These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War. Elizabeth, his wife, is the author of two striking accounts of military nurses, We Band of Angels, about the women captured on Bataan, and Vietnam’s nurses in Women at War. Both now teach at New York University.
Before the Japanese attacked, thousands of Americans, civilian and military, lived lives of colonial tropical ease. At the summit sat the imperious, egomaniacal, proconsul General Douglas MacArthur, for whom the authors reveal a deep distaste for his military blunders long hidden from worshipful wartime Americans desperate for heroes. Read more ..
|Jacqueline Bacon||January 25th 2010|
African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents. Maurice Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon. Routledge publishers. 2009. 272 pages.
Scholars as well as religious and political leaders have rightly condemned Pat Robertson’s racist and absurd claim that the recent earthquake in Haiti was punishment because the Haitian people “swore a pact to the devil” during their revolution in the 1790s to gain freedom from the French. It has been ably noted not only that Robertson’s remarks were bigoted and heartless but also that the “history” he alluded to was a crude misrepresentation.
But beneath the surface of Robertson’s remarks there is another underlying assumption, one both racist and ingrained in conventional American lore. In his bizarre and merciless condemnation of the Haitian Revolution, Robertson perpetuates an unfortunately all-too-common historical myth: that black people are incapable of freeing themselves, and must rely on outside forces to “save” them.
This illusion has long been promulgated in popular culture and historical texts, from the representations of abolitionist leaders as white men to the white saviors of Mississippi Burning. The reality is in fact quite different—African Americans were the primary founders and innovators of antislavery activism in the United States and the architects of the Civil Rights struggle—but the misconception endures.
Within scholarly circles, many historians have finally begun to attend to the important work done by African-American scholars such as Carter G. Woodson, John Hope Franklin, and Nathan Huggins, but cherished myths die hard. Claims that white abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison “started” the abolition movement and influenced the thinking of his black colleagues (when in fact it was the other way around) can be found in books published in the last decade. It’s not difficult to figure out what is at play here and why these narratives persist: white supremacy depends upon the notion that freedom and rights, when attained, are “granted” to blacks by benevolent whites, who then can distance themselves from their racist history through their purported efforts at salvation. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||January 18th 2010|
Cutting Edge Africa Correspondent
Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden. Public Affairs. 2009. 592 pages.
Few people come here, writes Richard Dowden, former Africa editor of The Economist, even though it’s only a few hours from Europe. The visitors are package tourists, back-packers, aid workers, multi-national CEOs and international civil servants. They seldom stay long. But when they do they’re often surprised by Africa’s welcome, entranced rather than frightened, because its people are friendly, gentle and infinitely polite. They have a natural ability for social skills; they look you in the eye and empathize, share and accept from others without twitchy self-consciousness.
Africa is big and dazzlingly beautiful. Outsiders lose inhibitions and feel more themselves here. The essentials of existence—light, water, food, birth, family and death—are more immediate and more intense. Visitors suddenly understand what life is about: the richness of humanity, of other people.
This positive scenario is counterbalanced by the hell of poverty, famine, disease, war, corruption and chaos in countries like Zimbabwe, Somalia and Darfur. "Africa just can’t get its act together," mutter newspaper readers in London and New York.
But as Dowden wryly points out, it’s in the media’s interest to keep Africa backward, as it is for the aid agencies too, and the arms manufacturers. A Nigerian journalist tells him: "Yes, Nigeria is chaos. But the chaos is created by the government. Chaos allows it to stay in power." And so for much of the continent. Read more ..
|Richard Umbers ||January 11th 2010|
What Science Knows And How It Knows It. James Franklin. Encounter Books. 2009. 200 pp.
In What Science knows and how it knows it James Franklin presents us with a defense of reality and common sense against the attempt by post-modernists to dismiss science as just another form of colonial, white male oppression. Irrationalists love to pepper their works with quotation marks around such success terms as “facts” or “proof” as a way of downplaying their value.
A few moments of reflection are sufficient to show that post-modernist skepticism is as dim-witted as the liberation group in Monty Python railing against the Romans: ‘what has science ever done for us? Nuffing!’ ‘Well, there is penicillin, adult stem cell cures, the Internet, awareness of the importance of eco-systems and biodiversity, a tripling of the average life span...’
Science is not Voodoo. Science is a systematic practice that leads to knowledge about the world, much of which seems pretty straightforward once it has been pointed out to you. Theses like ‘sex can lead to conception’ or ‘the blood of animals circulates’ were not always known among our ancestors but they can be easily tested and are not about to be falsified.
The rationality of science rests on the validity of induction and thus on probabilities rather than metaphysical certainties. If the sun has risen everyday in the past, and no blackhole is in the vicinity, it’s a safe bet that it will rise again tomorrow too. An analysis of π’s first million decimals reveals randomness. Read more ..
Authors on Tour
|Sam Orez||January 11th 2010|
Award-winning author Edwin Black – author of War Against the Weak, IBM and the Holocaust, and other groundbreaking works of investigation, will appear on January 12 in Atlanta GA to speak about his latest book Nazi Nexus. Black will appear at Congregation Beth Tefillah in Atlanta. The event is cosponsored by Congregation Beth Tefillah, Ahavath Achim Synagogue and the Hebrew Order of David in association with the Georgia Holocaust Commission.
Nazi Nexus links five major American corporate entities in direct and pivotal complicity with the horror of Nazi genocide. Corporations working to advance Adolf Hitler’s murderous racial policies and military conquest were household names in the United States: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and IBM. A review in the Miami Herald called the book “powerful and astounding.” Black has given lectures on Nazi Nexus at dozens of campuses, synagogues and resource centers since its 2009 release, and has published on the topic extensively. Echoing other reviewers, Michael Hirsch of Newsweek called the research “Stunning.”
Following his appearance, the award-winning film War Against the Weak, based on Black’s bestseller of the same name, will be screened at Lefont Theater in Sandy Springs, GA on two dates: January 17 and January 20, 2010,. The film by director Justin Strawhand, reviewed as “chilling,” has already won numerous awards including Best Feature Film at 2009 Beverly Hills Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2009 New Jersey Film Festival. Black will not be in attendance at the screenings; but in an Atlanta Jewish Times interview, Black described the film as “factual to a fault.” Read more ..
|Francis Phillips||January 4th 2010|
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 1906-1945 by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. T & T Clark. 432 pages.
There is something about the history of Germany before and during the last War that continues to haunt us. Perhaps it is the spectacle of a highly civilised, modern European nation destroying itself; perhaps is it because the choice between good and evil was so stark. The life of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer exemplifies both aspects; he came from a cultured and musical family which also chose - unlike the Wagner clan at Bayreuth, for instance – the painful road of opposition to National Socialism.
The author of this new biography understands this Kulturkampf from within. Not only is he the son of a pastor from the German Confessing Church but he was also a close friend of Eberhard Bethge. It was Bethge who, rather as Robert Bridges did with the poetic legacy of his friend, Gerard Manley Hopkins, preserved the posthumous writings of Bonhoeffer, brought them to international attention and wrote the first important biography.
In this book Schlingensiepen touches on the development of Bonhoeffer’s theological ideas only as they impinge on his life; he does not try to place his subject within 20th century Lutheran scholarship, so much as bring sympathetic insight to the man and to his milieu. His subtitle is "Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance."
Bonhoeffer himself would have considered them as one: his Christian beliefs made him resist Nazism and this resistance ended in his execution. Born in 1906 to a professor of psychiatry in Berlin and one of eight children who all excelled academically, he surprised his non church-going family by announcing aged 14 that he wanted to study theology. At first this was an intellectual pursuit; the brilliant and highly ambitious student early made a name for himself in Lutheran academic circles. Nonetheless, in his first sermon he stated "Christianity entails decision" – an indication that he recognised that being a Christian would affect the way one lived. For him the statement was to prove prophetic. Read more ..
|L. Hunter Lovins||December 28th 2009|
Alcohol Can Be a Gas: Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century. David Blume. International Institute for Ecological Agriculture. 2007. 640 pages.
In his revised edition of Alcohol Can Be A Gas, David Blume provides an accurate, comprehensive case for the effective use of alcohol as a liquid fuel source. This book is far more than a survey of the basic issues surrounding ethanol. Organized as six books in one, the compendium presents Blume's vision for national utilization of alcohol as a solution to the nation's desire for transport fuels. It describes the business and economics of alcohol: how to make alcohol, alcohol co-products and how to use them to enhance products, and how to use alcohol as a fuel. The breadth and depth of information and the perspective that Blume brings to the work make this volume the definitive work on the subject of producing, selling, and using alcohol and its by-products. Assertions are backed by extensive references and solid science. Blume typically cites official government and academic sources.
Blume's insistence on “designing farming as a method of harvesting solar energy for multiple uses” (p.31) takes the book beyond single-issue thinking and offers integrated solutions to the challenges facing those seeking to grow food, produce and use liquid fuels, treat sewage, and more. The discussion in Chapter 3 provides a stand-alone manual on how to do farming right.
Blume's analysis refutes the old myth that alcohol production detracts from growing food. He also dispenses with the inaccurate assertions that alcohol production necessarily requires more energy than is obtained; that there isn't enough arable land; that it's ecologically unsound; that making alcohol takes away from food crops; that alcohol negatively impacts global warming; and more. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||December 21st 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
Poisoned Wells. The Dirty Politics of African Oil. Nicholas Shaxson. Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. 280 pages.
“Oil,” wrote Ryszard Kapuscinski, “is a great temptation… the temptation of ease, strength, fortune, power…wealth achieved through lucky accident…” We know too that oil can be a curse; world politics and dirty deals centre on oil. A country where oil is found in large quantities is much more prone to conflict, and extremes of opulence and stinking, violent poverty. In “Poisoned Wells,” Nicholas Shaxson, zeroes in on the politics of oil along the West African coast-line, from Angola to the Niger Delta. It is a bumpy ride with plenty of pot-holes and nasty shocks along the way.
In 2005 the United States imported more oil from the Gulf of Guinea than from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. West African oil is in special demand: it is “light” and “sweet,” ideal for refining into motor fuels. Most of the region’s oil is off-shore, so that wars on the mainland can go on undisturbed –as happened in Angola, for example; and there are no pirates, no Suez Canal to prevent the transporting ships making a quick dash for America and Europe.
The author’s research, he says, taught him that the oil trade is about information; whoever knows the most makes the most money. Because of the complexity of the energy markets and their secrecy, transparency is difficult and corruption abounds. It’s everyone for himself. Read more ..
The Ancient Edge
|Edwin Black||December 14th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
Mesopotamia—now known as Iraq--enjoyed a 2,000-year head start on Western civilization. What happened?
Part of the answer lays millennia before our current turbulent times. Understanding this pivotal land and its peoples is necessary.
A single ancient people did not monopolize the historic territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates to create one cohesive, shining civilization as a beacon to others. Mesopotamia was in fact a diverse, often contentious, network of competing city-states. At different times, in different centuries BCE, cities such as Uruk, Lagash, and Eridu in the south, and Kish, Nippur, and Sippar in the midsection, as well as Assur, Nineveh, and Nimrud in the north, each flourished and made their mark. These city-states were ruled by their own kings, developed their own gods and cults, spoke their own languages and dialects, and manifested their own distinctive cultures.
A succession of disparate groups came from near and far to conquer the developing prize of Mesopotamia, and each conqueror was in turn conquered. The Semitic Akkadians arose among the original Sumerians, for whom Sumer was named. In the third millennium BCE, the Akkadian king Sargon created history’s first “empire,” extending his political reign, military dominance, and commercial primacy from western Persia, through Syria, to what is now eastern Turkey. But Sargon’s almost 150-year dynasty was overrun by the Guti mountain people. The Guti ruled until the Sumerians regained supremacy, only to be succeeded by Amorites from the west, and then the Elamites from the Zagros Mountains. Other invaders included the Indo-European Hittites from Anatolia and the obscure Hurrians and Kassites.
These invading and pervading groups destroyed and built up the city-states between the two rivers, as well as those in surrounding lands. During Mesopotamia’s golden millennia, each of these dynasties and empires, no matter how transient, purloined or planted something valuable, advancing the ever more complex culture growing atop the ancient Sumerian foundation. Over 3,000 years—perhaps 120 generations—the region became not a cradle but a veritable engine of civilization, energizing the entire Fertile Crescent, that is, the lands from the Nile Valley up through Palestine and Syria into the Tigris-Euphrates valley and beyond. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||December 14th 2009|
Miami Herald Reviewer
The Chaos Scenario. Bob Garfield. Stielstra Publishing. 294 pages.
When advertiser-supported media -- print, broadcast, online, whatever -- cease to exist as audiences shrink below the critical mass needed by businesses to justify placing advertising therein, it's what Advertising Age columnist and NPR host Bob Garfield calls ``The Chaos Scenario.''
He began documenting this meltdown in 2005 with a column that engendered widespread industry hysterics. The book took all this time to write, he said, because the chaos was ongoing and accelerating. But he told me at the Miami Book Fair International that he was compelled to write this. Driven. This was something that needed saying.
If he'd managed to do it quickly, this book would have been even more explosive and mind-blowing, four years ago. Now, his tour of the emerging media-less landscape is slightly less shocking. Most mavens and everyone else already know what's ahead and take Facebook, Twitter, blogs, social networking, crowdsourcing and all that other Googlely stuff pretty much for granted.
But Garfield's take remains invaluable and is still quite timely, even urgent. Major components of the scenarios he describes are still unfolding. For example, Jay Leno's nightly TV chat show is a direct result of NBC's plummeting ratings and the relatively low cost of producing that show compared to (more or less) original dramatic presentations. Daily newspapers' diminishing circulation numbers have publishing execs considering patently suicidal tactics like charging for online access or withholding content from the great god, Google. (Good luck with that one, Rupert!) Read more ..
|Kenneth Weisbrode||December 7th 2009|
The Atlantic Century: Four Generations of Extraordinary Diplomats who Forged America's Vital Alliance with Europe. Kenneth Weisbrode. DaCapo Press. 2009.
It has become a commonplace that the post-Bush era is one of the unclenched fist. Gone are the days of military “cakewalks,” shock and awe. George W. Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, repeatedly urges jaw-jaw over war-war.
The notion that diplomacy and the use of force are alternative “tools of national power” or, at worst, mutually exclusive policies, ought to seem absurd. But this is the legacy, not only of the Bush years, but also, I'd argue, of the Vietnam War and the strains it placed upon officialdom. An generation of American leaders has been brought up with a kind of Manicheanism: to some, bombs are the necessary catalysts to negotiation; to others, bombs are just evil. To only just a few traditionalists, it seems, dropping bombs represents a diplomatic failure, however necessary it may be as a last resort.
Such reductionism in foreign policy thinking is compounded by the periodic rivalries between the State and Defense Departments (and the White House), and the widespread but bizarre perception that negotiations (and “diplomacy” itself) are the weapons of the weak. Obama has rightly ridiculed the perception. But he will need to show some results for his critique to take hold. He won’t get those results if his diplomacy continues to be as tentative and under-managed as it has been to date.
This is hardly his fault. The machinery of American diplomacy warped much during the past few decades; dozens of departments, agencies and now increasingly non- or quasi-governmental organizations exercise roles that, once upon a time, fell under the purview of the State Department. Even within the department, many of the top positions are held by outside appointees instead of by professionals who have come up through the ranks. "Functional" expertise continues to outpace local and regional knowledge in career advancement. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||November 30th 2009|
The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies. Jonathan A. Knee, Bruce C. Greenwald, Ava Seave. Portfolio. 320 pages.
The first word that you usually hear when seemingly disparate corporate entities unite is ``synergy,'' but the authors of this new book demonstrate that there usually isn't much of that after the fact.
Early in The Curse of the Mogul, the authors cite a full-page ad by Vivendi Chairman Jean-Marie Messier published upon that media conglomerate's acquisition of venerable publisher Houghton Mifflin. The Frenchman mused about the new opportunities that were going to emerge, including a movie featuring Curious George, the venerable kid lit character whose exploits were published by Houghton Mifflin. That Messier was blissfully unaware that such a project was already underway, and seemingly clueless, as well, about the general nature of intellectual property, served as apt foreshadowing of the disaster ahead.
But most of new media clusters were illogical amalgamations to begin with. And clumsy execution guaranteed their failure, even with the best of intentions. Inevitably, the value of the properties quickly bled out. For example, the following passage, although a bit clunky, thoroughly describes the numerous flaws of the Time Warner/AOL merger and how it all unraveled:
``Time Warner announced in May that it plans to spin off its AOL division by year end. The new AOL's value will likely be barely 1 percent of the market price of the inflated stock that Time Warner accepted in the original $175 billion merger almost a decade ago -- despite the inclusion of numerous subsequent expensive add-on acquisitions. While extreme, the Time Warner-AOL combination was no aberration. The deal represents less than half the financial damage done during an unprecedented era of excess in the media business. Since 2000, the largest media conglomerates have collectively written down more than $200 billion in assets, a record that would make even Citigroup blush. These write-downs reflect a broad-based legacy of value destruction from relentlessly overpriced acquisitions, `strategic' investments and contracts for content and talent.'' Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||November 23rd 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
I am Justice: A Journey out of Africa. Paul Kenyon. Preface (Random House). 2009. 256 pages.
A new book, “I am Justice. A journey out of Africa”, by BBC tele-journalist, Paul Kenyon, highlights the precarious plight of migrants from West and Central Africa to Europe. While no unemployed Kenyan, Tanzanian or Ugandan would think of making his way to Libya over land as the first stage of migration to Europe, that’s what hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, Ghanaians, Congolese, Ivorians, and men from Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo and Central African Republic do every year.
They make two crossings: first of the Sahara Desert, which begins in Niger. If they manage that, and reach Tripoli safely they plan the next stage: crossing the Mediterranean, by boat. Their dream? To reach Sweden, where there’s work and a generous welfare system, or Britain where they can meet plenty of their own people, land a job, talk soccer all day, and perhaps get Wayne Rooney’s autograph.
According to the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) at this moment between 750,000 and one million African migrants, mostly young men, are waiting on the Libyan coast for a passage to Italy. May–June is the time of bright, calm weather after the storms of the northern spring, and the people-smuggling business starts another season. Hundreds of thousands more will be waiting hundreds of miles to the west, mainly from Senegal, to take the shorter passage to mainland Spain or the longer one to the Canary Islands. Read more ..
|Francis Phillips||November 16th 2009|
Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. Victor Sebestyen. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London. 480 pages.
It is rare to read an historical study that is unalloyed good news. Victor Sebestyen, a journalist specialising in East European affairs, whose own family fled Hungary when he was a boy, has provided the reader with a dramatic account of the death throes of Communism in the six Soviet satellite countries comprising the Warsaw Pact: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Romania and Bulgaria. (Yugoslavia is not included as the author rightly judges that it requires a book on its own.) Of course it is a complex story; but still a story in which "good" -- the right of a country to govern itself -- triumphs over "evil" -- a tyrannous empire determined to control it. In the democratic West we have belatedly discovered the greedy shadow side of capitalism; learning here of daily life under Communism is still a salutary reminder of our own good fortune.
The author begins with an arresting quote from Lenin: "It is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution. It is governed by its own more or less mysterious laws. But when it comes, it moves irresistibly." Lenin was more right than he could have known and in a way that he would never have foreseen: in a fine irony it was his own vaunted "proletariat", the ordinary working people of Eastern Europe, who voted with their feet and in mass peaceable demonstrations, to throw off the intolerable yoke that the Communist system had imposed on them. The puzzle is that what to western observers looked like a permanent monolithic structure finally folded up in a matter of months. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||November 9th 2009|
Miami Herald Reviewer
Healing the Wounds: Overcoming the Trauma of Layoffs and Revitalizing Downsized Corporations. David M. Noer. Jossey-Bass. 272 pages.
The effects of layoffs on individuals have been well documented. The trauma of being forcefully separated from job, friends, co-workers and company leaves painful, lingering scars. But the aftereffects of a layoff, or multiple layoffs, also have widespread and lasting implications and manifestations for the survivors, which extend throughout the organization.
It's super-easy to heap scorn on what remains of a company as it strives to become leaner and meaner following the “right-sizing,” which is not always a result of incompetence or malevolence. Companies are composed of people. The complex and conflicted set of feelings that managers and associates must process can be troublesome—or fatal.
Author and professor Noer likens it to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief felt by survivors after a death: denial; anger; negotiation; depression; and acceptance. Noer also compares it to the emotions felt by survivors of disasters, natural or otherwise.
Despite it all, the challenge is to persevere despite guilt, fear and more. He writes: “Layoff survivors carry heavy emotional baggage, and unless they are given the opportunity to drop it, they are unable to progress beyond their debilitating funk.”
Clearly, perseverance is not enough. The goal of any business is to make money, not just survive. In this turbulent economy, with continuing waves of layoffs and a tentative recovery that lacks job growth, the challenges are ongoing. Some firms may remain untouched, but the pressure to cut costs, outsource labor and remain competitive is ongoing. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||November 2nd 2009|
Miami Herald Reviewer
American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot. Craig Ferguson. HarperCollins. 268 pages.
Acknowledged that this may seem to be a left-field choice for a biz book review but upon closer examination, maybe not. Two reasons: first, some of the best business advice comes from life itself, not just unambiguously mercantile situations. Second, in many ways, this really is a business book: Fergusons' story is an archetypal tale of the pursuit of the American dream . . . and not just in terms of achieving success by owning a house with a wife and 2.6 kids.
Unlike most memoirs of CEOs and other biz whizzes, Ferguson isn't quite the faultless hero of his own story. In fact, he lopsidedly portrays himself in a pretty poor light, mostly due to his alcoholism, which took hold at an early age. He's also currently on his third marriage, so he made a number of bad choices that may not have been solely attributable to substance abuse. Regardless, his bracing, self-effacing autobiography is replete with examples of product development, innovation, networking, human resources and other business practices.
Ferguson grew up in Scotland and describes, with humor and love, his parents, their community, its poverty and their determination to improve themselves and support their children. His father started as the equivalent of a telegram delivery boy and steadily rose through the ranks to run the Glasgow city post office. Mother became a teacher and rode herd over two daughters and two sons.
When young Craig and his father visited relatives in the U.S., he was smitten with our open society and boundless possibilities, vowing to return. And so he did, but first, he drummed for several punk bands in Scotland, dropped out of school, tried stand-up comedy and became a raging alcoholic. When he married, the young couple moved to America. Read more ..
|Sam Orez||November 2nd 2009|
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the violent revolution that ended Nicolae Ceauşescu’s cruel dictatorship in Romania, journalist Alan Elsner has captured those dramatic events in his new novel Romance Language.
Elsner was State Department correspondent for Reuters News Service in 1989. He traveled with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to Berlin, Prague, Moscow and Bucharest and was present during tense negotiations and dramatic street events.
His 30-year career with Reuters has included stints in Jerusalem, London, Stockholm and Washington. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) said, “Alan Elsner is a world class reporter with a deep reservoir of experience and ability who understands the craft of writing and selling a story.” In 2007, Elsner was a Knight International Journalism Fellow in Romania where he advanced the cause of a free media in an emerging democracy.
Elsner’s first book, Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America’s Prisons won wide praise as a dramatic exposé of appalling neglect and abuse in the nation’s jails. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy said: “Elsner makes an overwhelming case for reform, and his many sensible proposals deserve to be implemented. This book should be a wake-up call for federal, state, and local governments across America.”
In 2007, Publisher’s Weekly called Elsner’s first novel, The Nazi Hunter, “a gripping debut thriller” while Library Journal said it “chimes with the bells and whistles of a thriller while tracing the honest emotions of its appealingly sincere characters." Read more ..
|Samuel Edelman||October 26th 2009|
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine. Edwin Black, a 25th anniversary edition, afterword by Abraham Foxman, Dialog Press. 2009. 430 pages.
Seventy-six years ago a small group of Jewish German Zionists met with the Nazis and created a device for the rescue of the German Jewish community called the Transfer Agreement. That agreement helped rescue my wife’s aunt and uncle. That agreement rescued more than 60,000 Jews and permitted the transfer of their wealth to the tune of more than 100 million dollars or just fewer than 1.7 billion dollars in today’s money.
It also caused rifts in the Jewish community in Jewish Palestine and the US that are still being felt today. It caused division and bitterness in the Zionist movement that still is felt today. It provided anti-Zionist, anti-Israel propagandists with ammunition to question the very founding of the modern State of Israel. It was, without a doubt, one of the many choice-less choices that would confront the worldwide Jewish community throughout the years of the Shoah. Yet, it had to be done.
Edwin Black’s 25th anniversary edition of The Transfer Agreement tells the story of this tragic success wonderfully. He lays out all of the characters involved, the ups and downs, the emotional responses, the feeling of many that a devil’s agreement was being put together. Black insightfully shows us that the perception of the Nazis was that the worldwide anti-German boycott was feared by the Nazi hierarchy.
The Nazis in many ways were fooled by their own anti-Jewish propaganda which railed against world Jewry allegedly in control of the world economy. Yet, the Zionist leadership in Palestine before the war understood perfectly how weak the world wide Jewish community really was. So in a kind of brilliant turnabout the Zionist leaders used the very same myths to gain Nazi agreement for thousands of German Jews and their wealth to be transferred out of Germany to Palestine. This continued until just before the war began in 1939. As Black points out the Transfer Agreement “stands alone as the sole asset rescue that actually worked.” Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||October 19th 2009|
Miami Herald reviewer
Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders. Alan Deutschman. Portfolio. 208 Pages.
Each of us may be the star of our own movie, but that doesn't guarantee an intriguing plot. In a similar fashion, most war stories recounted by business leaders are dull cautionary tales rather than inspiring works offering useful examples and actionable instructions.
In many cases, the problem is that deeds fail to match words. These captains of industry may be legends in their own minds who can glibly talk the talk, but may not walk the walk. No one is perfect, of course, but most leadership failures can invariably be ascribed to the disconnect between the walk and the talk.
We see it all the time in Washington, D.C., and in our local governments. Two-faced politicians, for example, call for austerity, slash spending on important programs yet reward allies, cronies and lackeys at the expense of the public. But when other supervisors fail to follow their own rhetoric, especially in business, there's a ripple effect. ``Leaders'' are supposed to lead, and their behavior is far more revealing and meaningful than mere words.
Alan Deutschman's short and readable book looks at a number of people and the failure and success they achieved for themselves and their organizations based on whether or not their actions aligned with their words. Military leaders, coaches -- even companies -- that were consistent in their rhetoric and practices are profiled, as well as those who failed to live up to their own responsibilities and standards. Read more ..
Confronting the Transfer Agreement
|Martin Barillas||October 12th 2009|
Spero Forum editor
Prize-winning investigative author Edwin Black, known for holding dozens of speaking events on each of his several books, has decided to participate in just a single presentation for the 25th anniversary re-release of his controversial volume The Transfer Agreement (Dialog 2009). The historic event, slated for October 30 in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is the first on the topic Black has agreed to in years, and will feature questions emailed from around the world. Articles and postings on the Internet and in Jewish and academic media have solicited questions in advance from readers, communal leaders and Holocaust survivors. For years, the author has declined interviews or speaking events on this topic.
Rather than deliver prepared remarks, Black will be interviewed by Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B'nai Tzedek. Mitchell Bard, editor of Jewish Virtual Library, will moderate and posit questions from both the audience and from those emailed in advance. Questions worldwide can be addressed at www.transferagreement.com or emailed to TAinquiry@edwinblack.com. Emailed questions must include a verifiable name and address. The Transfer Agreement event innovates the inclusion of questions previously submitted from those not present in the audience, a first for a book store author event.
Although Black is best known for books such as IBM and the Holocaust and War Against the Weak, his first bestseller was The Transfer Agreement, in 1984, chronicling the minute-by-minute dealings of Zionists and Nazis in 1933 that brought some 60,000 Jews and the equivalent of $1.7 billion dollars to under-developed Palestine. The controversial agreement rescued European Jews and assets, and helped create the Jewish State, but was the subject of a firestorm of outrage both during the 1930s and then again when Black’s book was first published in 1984.
The Transfer Agreement was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award for the best book of the year in 1984 and became the basis for Black’s entre into the world of Holocaust journalism. Quickly, however, the book became a cause célèbre for partisan recriminations among Israeli political parties, Holocaust deniers, and anti-Zionists. The book was the first to focus on assets as a central Holocaust issue, which at the time in the early 1980’s was considered a taboo approach to the subject. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||October 12th 2009|
Miami Herald reviewer
I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad. Jeanne Bliss. Portfolio. 198 pages.
If advertising is becoming increasingly diffuse and ineffective, and marketing has to go into stealth mode to have any effect, how the heck do you promote your business? Maybe by doing what you're supposed to do in the first place: taking care of your customers.
During the last century, I had a management gig at a wildly dysfunctional production house. It was a bizarre experience that had all the makings of an HBO comedy series (outline and treatment available upon request). I was struck by how they burned through customers, with little regard to building relationships by over-delivering -- or just delivering -- on promises and expectations.
This scorched-earth policy was extremely bad business given the cost of client acquisition versus retention. Whenever I grabbed the phone and tried to soothe a seething customer by listening to their concerns and providing solutions, they were palpably astonished and grateful just to be treated like human beings. It was a great (and thankfully brief) lesson.
Bliss began at Land's End, the Wisconsin-based mail order (later online) clothier renowned for superior customer service. She writes effusively of her experiences there and how management treated its employees extravagantly well, which sent a message that soon spread to its customers. Now, Land's End is considered the paradigm of consumer service, engendering fanatical and devout buyer loyalty, which also made the company an extremely profitable enterprise. Read more ..
Africa on the Edge
|Martyn Drakard||October 5th 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
St. Mary’s is a typical boarding-school for girls established by Catholic nuns in Central Africa. Situated in the village of Aboke in northern Uganda, it might never have been heard of were it not for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that has been terrorizing northern Uganda, and now Congo and South Sudan, for the past twenty-odd years. One night in 1996 the rebel army crept up on the school dormitories and abducted about 150 girls, herding them into the forest. A brave Italian sister, assisted by one of the male staff, went in pursuit, offered her life for the girls to be set at liberty, and managed to have over one hundred released. A few others had managed to escape in the confusion, while some thirty were captured.
The last one to get away was Catherine Ajok, who fled into the Congo forest in December 2008 when Ugandan army soldiers tried to destroy Kony’s base, where she was held. For several weeks, clinging to her child, she endured tropical rain, hunger and wild animals, and was eventually rescued by Congolese soldiers and handed over to the Ugandan army and flown back to Entebbe and her parents. Read more ..
Confronting the Transfer Agreement
|Edwin Black||September 28th 2009|
from the Jerusalem Post
On the afternoon of August 7, 1933, at 76 Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin, on a day when well-dressed Jews in Germany could not step into the street without fear, when laboring kibbutzniks in Palestine proudly swept the midday perspiration from their foreheads, when anxious German businessmen worried the next telegram would cancel yet another order for increasingly unsellable Reich goods, when Nazi organizers throughout Europe gleefully reviewed statistics on Jewish populations and Jewish assets within their midst, when Polish blackshirts viciously beat Jews in town squares, when ordinary jobless Germans wondered where they could find enough money for the next meal, when young Jewish boys in German schools were forced to stand painfully before their classmates as examples of detestable vermin, when defiant Jews across America and England raised their fists in anger proliferating their punishing anti-German boycott, when Jewish Palestinian exporters wondered nervously whether their biggest customer Germany would retaliate, when thousands of homeless German Jews existed as refugees and some in concentration camps, when the prospects for Jewry in Europe seemed over, on this fateful day in the first summer of the Hitler regime, an official delegation of four German and Palestinian Zionists and one independent Palestinian business man were ushered into an Economics Ministry conference room. The Jews had been authorized by a combine of Jewish and Zionist bodies to negotiate with the Third Reich.
After hours of wrangled debate, Hans Hartenstein, Director of the Reich Office of Currency Control, was about to call the meeting to an inconclusive close when a messenger from Deutsche Reichpost delivered a telegram from the German Consul in Tel Aviv. The telegram advised Hartenstein that a coalition of official and commercial Zionist interests in Palestine was the best way to break the growing Jewish-led worldwide anti-Nazi boycott that was crippling the Hitler regime in its first months. A deal with the Zionists would be necessary.
And so it was done. The Transfer Agreement was created. Read more ..
|Jason Weixelbaum||September 28th 2009|
The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 2009. 430 pages.
Twenty six years ago, author Edwin Black asked a question at the end of a long and difficult journey: Was it madness or genius? This journey would begin further back in time, at a bleak moment in world history when a madman named Adolf Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor of Germany. Although this could be the start of any number of narratives regarding the Third Reich, The Transfer Agreement involves a particular esoteric agreement between Jewish Zionists and Nazis.
The Zionists wanted to assist (and direct, if necessary) their German-Jewish brethren to emigrate and reestablish themselves in the land promised long ago by God and more recently by the British: Palestine.
The Nazis, for their part, not only shared the goal of wanting the Jews out of Germany, but also wanted to quickly end the rapid, worldwide boycott that was organized against them by other Jewish and non-Jewish groups in 1933. Thus begins a complex web of reactions, rationalizations, back-stabbing, misrepresentation, and ultimately, hard-nosed negotiations on the part of each side.
Despite the odiousness of dealing with the Nazis, the Zionists that took part in the agreement held their national aspirations above all else and offered to break the boycott in exchange for Jewish refugees and their capital in the hopes that these could be used to establish a new Jewish state. This arrangement would come not only in the form of political support to stymie the boycott, but also in the deliberate promotion of German goods to Jewish Palestine. Other historians have supported the book’s premise that the influx of foreign capital, resulting from both Jewish emigration and sale of German goods abroad, was an irresistible incentive to the Nazis, as this currency was in dangerously short supply for a Germany wracked by the Great Depression. Read more ..
|Michael Cook||September 21st 2009|
The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. Peter Singer. Random House. 2009. 224 pages.
If the wealthiest 10 percent of American families set aside at least 5 percent of their after-tax income, US$471 billion would be available each year to house, heal and feed the world's poorest 1.4 billion people. This is vastly greater than the US$189 billion a year needed to meet the Millennium Development goals -- the UN's targets for halving world poverty by 2015.
Hence, if people who suffer such dire poverty can be helped at the cost of so little sacrifice, it is morally depraved not to do so.
Such is the opinion of Peter Singer, the world's most controversial philosopher. He is better known for his radical utilitarian arguments for euthanasia, abortion, infanticaide and animal rights than for moonlighting as Mother Teresa. However, his latest book is about philanthropy, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now To End World Poverty, and it could have been ghost-written by Francis of Assisi.
To his credit, for many years Singer has been a passionate advocate of a frugal lifestyle and philanthropy and a stern critic of the consumer society. He gives away 25 percent of his own income.
As far back as 1972, he wrote an influential article, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", which asked how it could be ethical to ignore the suffering of starving and diseased people. Singer seeks to shame Americans and citizens of other wealthy nations into digging deep. He cites heart-rending statistics to show that more people have died of preventable causes over the past 20 years than in all the wars and all the government repression of the bloody 20th century. It is deeply immoral, he says, to ignore this suffering. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||September 14th 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
The Challenge for Africa. Wangari Maathai. William Heinemann. 2009. 319 pages.
Outside Africa Wangari Maathai is known mainly for her work as founder of the Green Belt Movement, and winner of the 2004 Nobel peace Prize. Inside her country, Kenya, she is respected as an often lone voice defending the rain forests from being cut down, and the environment from degradation. She is also known as someone who has often risked arrest, assault and public humiliation in the cause of human rights. In this, her third book –she has published one on the Green Belt Movement, as well as her autobiography, Unbowed, she writes from experience and with authority on the present situation of a continent in a stage of delicate transition.
Africa, south of the Sahara, she writes, has been seen as a land of unparalleled riches, startling beauty, and extraordinary wild life; as a place of strange and at times primitive tribal customs, civil disorder and armed militias; of child labour and child soldiers, mud huts, open sewers and shantytowns; of corruption, dictatorship and genocide. These and other perceptions have framed the world’s response to Africa.
Yet, she goes on, a dangerous and unfortunate psychological process ensues that subtly and perhaps unconsciously affirms to Africans their inability to be agents for their own destiny. These depictions fail to capture another reality, which is that every day, tens of millions of African women and men go about their business, live their lives responsibly and industriously, and look after their immediate and extended families, even if they lack certain material possessions, higher education or access to the range of opportunities and goods available to the wealthy in other countries or even their own. These are the real African heroes, and it is these images the world should see more of. Read more ..
|Francis Phillips||September 7th 2009|
In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea. John Armstrong. 2009. Allen Lane/Penguin. 208 pp.
John Armstrong, a Scot who was educated at Oxford University, is currently Philosopher in Residence at the Melbourne Business School. This job description suggests that he is managing to live out in his daily life one of the major preoccupations of his book: how to bring cultural enrichment to daily living. "Business" has the smack of the material world; "philosophy" conjures up the life of the mind; happy the man who can marry the two.
His book is a large subject, which he frankly acknowledges in this thoughtful, brief and very readable discussion. In it he includes several very personal anecdotes as a way of illustrating his own intellectual journey. "Civilization", for Armstrong, has four key features: it requires belonging to a society that combines aspects of "grace, dignity, good order and security"; it needs a certain level of material development; it concerns the art of living; and -- most important of all -- it demands "spiritual prosperity".
Within these four general headings the author shapes and refines his theme, examining popular conceptions -- and misconceptions -- of civilization and teasing out their implications. We might think of ancient Greece and Rome as civilized societies -- yet they assumed slavery and low status for women. We might reasonably point out that it can only flourish within advanced economic and political societies -- yet who is to say that the Christian hermits clinging to their lonely and inhospitable rocks during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire were uncivilized?
Sybarites might plead for the inclusion of fine wine, good food, beautiful furniture and landscaped gardens within the definition, bringing to mind the great age of the English country house -- yet this co-existed with punitive laws that hanged children for stealing a loaf of bread. Yet again, aesthetes point to Michelangelo and Mozart as examples of the high level of artistic excellence that should define civilization, even though they lived within often cruel and ignorant societies. Read more ..
|Martyn Drakard||August 31st 2009|
Cutting Edge Africa correspondent
It's our turn to eat: the story of a Kenyan whistleblower. Michela Wrong. Fourth Estate Books, 2009. 354 pages.
“Eating” is how Kenyans dub the gorging on state resources by the well-connected. After the 2002 elections, writes Michela Wrong in It’s our turn to eat, many eyes were on Kenya. President Moi stepped down after twenty-four years as head of state. The atmosphere after Christmas –when elections are generally held in the country- was euphoric. In an international poll taken at the time, Kenyans were rated the “most optimistic people in the world.” Things were looking good. Five years later, the electorate was more divided, with more than half in favor of a change of rule.
Many eyes turned to Kenya again in the low news season at the end of December. If only the new regime could get it right on corruption, if only Kenya could find its way, there was hope for the rest of Africa. Post-apartheid South Africa, post-military Nigeria and a revived Kenya could form the three points of a triangular success establishing Africa on firm, unshakeable foundations. This was the thinking in Western embassies and corridors of power.
After the 2002 elections, the new regime started to do all the right things: free primary education, prosecute land grabbers, clean up the judiciary….. John Githongo was appointed anti-corruption czar, the new government thereby showing its determination to end sleaze. In his youth, John had written a short story about a man who wakes up one morning to discover a giant pile of manure dumped outside his house. Puzzled, he tries to discover where it came from and how to shift it. This, somewhat modified, was to be John’s future task. Read more ..
Eugenics in America
|Edwin Black||August 24th 2009|
This article is based on the award-winning bestseller War Against the Weak--Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (Dialog Press). Buy it here
The summer of 2009 has been rife with misplaced fears about government death panels arising from proposed insurance reform. These fears are not based on anything in the proposed legislation. But government death panels and mass euthanasia were always a public option during the first decades of the twentieth century. This campaign to exterminate all those deemed socially or medically unworthy was not conducted by the worst segments of our society but by the elite of the American establishment. They saw themselves as liberals, progressive, do-gooders—and even utopians— trying to create a more perfect society.
The mission: eliminate the existence of the poor, immigrants, those of mixed parentage, and indeed anyone who did not approximate the blond-haired blue-eyed ideal they idealized. This racial type was termed Nordic, and it was socially deified by a broad movement of esteemed university professors, doctors, legislators, judges and writers. They called themselves eugenicists. This widely accepted extremist movement was virtually created and funded by millions in corporate philanthropy from the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune through a complex of pseudoscientific institutions and population tracking offices at Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. From there, leading academics supported by big money lead a termite-like proliferation of eugenics into the laws, social policies and curricula of the nation. During these turbulent decades, eugenics enjoyed the active support of the government, especially the U.S. Department of Agriculture which wanted to breed men the way they bred cattle, and many state and county offices.
Indeed, Eugenics was enacted into law in some 27 states during the first decades of the twentieth century, and then exalted as the law of the land by the U. S. Supreme Court. In a famous 1927 opinion, revered jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes compared social undesirables to bacteria to be wiped out. The sanctioned methods to be used were nothing less than a combination of pseudoscientific raceology, social engineering, ethnic cleansing and abject race law, designed to eliminate millions in an organized fashion. More specifically, the American eugenics movement sought to continually subtract the so-called “bottom tenth” of America. These were to include Blacks, Native Americans, Southern Italians, East Europeans, Jews, Hispanics, the poor, criminals, the intellectually unaccepted, the so-called “shiftless,” and many others. The drive for perfection even included excising the existence of Appalachians with brown hair, frequently rounded up by county officials for confinement. When this effort began in the early twentieth century, some fourteen million Americans were targeted for elimination. Read more ..
|Jason Weixelbaum||August 24th 2009|
Cutting Edge Contributor
IBM and The Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation. Edwin Black. Dialog Press 2008. 528 pages. Buy it here
The nature of American business activity in Nazi Germany has only recently started to be reviewed in a critical framework. Given America’s popularized role as the liberator of Europe in World War II, many sources of a now rapidly expanding body of research have been neglected for decades. The widely read book, IBM and The Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation, is a testament to the public’s growing interest in this topic. Furthermore, the importance of such work cannot be understated as the American version of the events of World War II, omitting this recent research, is often used to justify the moral intentions the U.S. has had in most of its subsequent conflicts.
Edwin Black has preemptively responded to the tendency in America to dismiss controversial books by producing one of the most exhaustively researched works on the subject. IBM and the Holocaust utilized over 100 hundred researchers working in seven different countries, producing thousands of footnotes, and reviewing an enormous number of documents. The breadth of this work provides inspiration to serious historians willing to embark on the unpopular journey of exposing the misdeeds of one’s country.
IBM and the Holocaust is a thoroughly detailed book about the history of International Business Machines’s (IBM) dealings with Nazi Germany. As densely packed with information as this text is, its thesis is simple: Directed from its worldwide headquarters in New York, IBM was a willing and decisive organizational force behind Nazi rearmament and genocide plans. The documentation supplied to support this thesis is both massive and well organized. Read more ..
|Deepak Tripathi||August 12th 2009|
Only about 20 years ago, the United States was the preferred destination for dissidents tortured and incarcerated in secret prisons in the Soviet Union and satellite states in Eastern Europe. Pictures of the brief journey on foot by the Soviet dissident, Anatoly Scharansky, across the Glienicke bridge to West Berlin in February 1986 have acquired a permanent place in the annals of Cold War history. Scharansky, a Soviet Jew, settled in Israel, but Alexander Solzhenitsyn and many others made the United States their home upon escaping persecution.
As the Iron Curtain was blown, who could have imagined that barely a decade after, the United States would commit large-scale acts of kidnapping, torture and murder beyond its territory and send people, based on mere suspicion or hearsay, to secret prisons in ex-Soviet bloc countries for interrogation under torture, euphemistically called ‘extraordinary rendition’?
The unimaginable two decades before happened during the presidency of the George W Bush. In the shadow of 9/11, innocent, vulnerable people, some as young as 13 and as old as 93 years of age, were kidnapped and handed over to American military and intelligence officers for bounties by local players in countries where the United States had no legal jurisdiction. Among them were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – allies of America.
To neoconservatives in the corridors of power in Washington, the fact that many of the detainees were condemned to extreme acts of torture and humiliation in friendly dictatorships was of no consequence. Laws had to be broken, justice denied, human dignity violated, individual liberties curtailed at home and abroad to ‘defend freedom’. That all this was perpetrated under a president who was previously governor of a US state (Texas) with the worst record of judicial executions is worth noting. The number of inmates on Death Row in Texas showed a steady increase during the governorship of George W Bush from 1995 to 2000. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||August 10th 2009|
Cutting Edge reviewer
Darknet: Hollywood's War Against The Digital Generation. J.D. Lasica. Wiley. 308 pages.
If the future of America is not in manufacturing but in the creation of intellectual property, we're in big trouble. Writer J.D. Lasica reveals that access to the new creative digital domain is being severely limited by the incumbent owners and controllers of popular culture.
They have exerted their influence, Lasica contends -- and he's far from alone in his beliefs -- in ways that subvert the original intentions of the copyright laws. They also criminalize many of the methods that allow the full range of artistic expression and creation afforded by the digitalization of content.
A de facto alternative network, the ''Darknet'' of the book's title, has emerged as a result of this attempt to control access. The parallel -- and nonlegal -- network will continue to thrive unless and until the gatekeepers embrace and profit from these new capabilities.
Historically, nearly every technological innovation in the entertainment industry was initially resisted by the status quo, fearful their revenue stream would be cut off.
Sheet music publishers sued producers of piano rolls; musicians' unions tried to ban radio broadcasts of recorded performances; film studios resisted home videotaping. In each case, the innovation soon emerged as a lucrative new business for the resisters.
The owners of TV networks and movie studios also feel compelled to control distribution in previously unimaginable ways. Lasica points out the laws they demanded of Congress that nullified traditional terms and fair-use aspects of U.S. copyright are not in the public interest, but in the studios'. Meanwhile, technology has opened up a vast world of media possibilities, but implementation is limited by the threat of litigation, says Lasica. Read more ..
Arabs and the West
|Edwin Black||July 27th 2009|
This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here
Every day, politicians and pundits talk of another chance at Mideast peace missed, delayed or subverted. The focus is always on Palestinians and Israelis as the keystone to a global settlement with the West and across the region. But in the original peace arrangement between the Jews, Arabs and the Western powers, it was not settlements and Jerusalem that were at the heart of the problem. In fact, the Arabs originally agreed to a Jewish state complete with massive Jewish immigration. For Arabs, the prize was not Palestine, it was Syria.
This is the story of how the original Middle East Peace Plan crafted among all sides in the aftermath of World War I was subverted—not by Jews or Zionists, but by the French.
It begins at the Paris Peace Conference, on January 1919, in a flag-bedecked, battle-scarred—but victorious—Paris. There, the great top-hatted Allied men of vision and illusion gathered to remake the world and invent the post-Ottoman Middle East. At those fateful meetings, the Arabs and Jews formally agreed to mutually endorse both their national aspirations and live in peace.
This was the deal: The Jews could have an unrestricted Zionist state in Palestine. The British could have Iraq and its fabulous, albeit still undrilled, oil. The Arabs only wanted Syria and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Arabian Peninsula.
During the first days of the League of Nation’s Paris Peace Conference, Faisal, accompanied by T.E. Lawrence, widely dubbed "Lawrence of Arabia," met in Paris with Zionist Organization president Chaim Weizmann. Following up on meetings the two leaders had held the previous June in Aqaba, Faisal signed an enlightened and tolerant nine-point agreement endorsing the Balfour Declaration and inviting the Zionists to coexist in Palestine. The text includes great specificity about mutual national aspirations. But the chief goal of the Arabs for an Arab national state at that time was not Palestine—but Syria. The text: Read more ..
|Scott H. Bennett||July 27th 2009|
History News Network reviewer
Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Disarmament Movement. Lawrence S. Wittner. Stanford University Press, 2009. 272 pages.
In Confronting the Bomb, historian Lawrence S. Wittner provides an abridgement of his massive, award-winning Struggle against the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement trilogy (1993-2003). An encyclopedic project on a vast transnational scale, his struggle entailed seventeen years of research and writing and made landmark contributions to peace history, international history, diplomatic history, and the history of social reform movements. Reviewers hailed it as a model of international and transnational history, with exhaustive research in archives on five continents. Based on the records of disarmament organizations, previously secret government documents, interviews with antinuclear activists and government officials, peace movement periodicals, and memoirs, Struggle examines both top down government policies and bottom up citizen activism. It chronicles scores of antinuclear organizations and individuals over six decades of global antinuclear activism.
At 225 pages, Confronting the Bomb offers a cogent summary of the trilogy’s powerful arguments and supporting evidence, without its extensive detail, notes, and bibliography. (By my count, the trilogy totals nearly 1,800 pages, including 1,300 pages of text, 280 pages of reference matter containing nearly 3,500 notes, and nearly 100 pages of bibliography.) This well-written, persuasively-argued book is a pleasure to read. By making his research and arguments assessable in a short, single volume, Wittner has performed a valuable service—one that promotes the mission of encouraging professional historians to write for a popular, though serious, audience. This book will appeal to general readers and experts alike—and will work well in courses on peace studies, diplomatic history, international relations, and social movements, as well as courses on modern history and politics. Read more ..
|Richard Pachter||July 20th 2009|
Miami Herald Reviewer
Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. Douglas Rushkoff. Collins. 336 pages.
The new age of marketing books is upon us. It has actually been going on for a while. The author of this latest entry, Douglas Rushkoff, is calling for a business Renaissance, or says that we're already in the midst of one (I'm not sure which). That's easy for him, since he's certainly the embodiment of, well, a Renaissance Man, having covered culture, media and technology as a journalist for NPR, The New York Times, CBS News and other venues, and has been a consultant to various organizations. He's also written graphic novels, the latest, Testament, is a science fictional explication of the Torah, which he refers to as ''a media hack.''
Whatever . . .
In this book, Rushkoff joins people like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Daniel Pink and the ''Cluetrain Manifesto'' guys who understand that business has changed dramatically, mainly due to increased choice, media fragmentation and the Internet. But, like dinosaurs with a huge bodies and tiny brains, many firms just can't seem to move fast enough, or break their old, bad habits. Worse, they seek quick fixes, fast turnarounds and overnight transformations without making the fundamental changes or commitments required to really improve the ways they interact with their customers and employees. And when the needle fails to move after their half-hearted atmospherics fall flat, they're baffled. Read more ..
|Anita Crane||July 13th 2009|
On July 10, The Hurt Locker expanded from Los Angeles and New York City to more cities around the United States. From beginning to end, it is an eye-opening, teeth-clenching thriller about a U.S. Army bomb squad, formally classified as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
Jim O’Neil, executive director of the EOD Memorial Foundation of Niceville, Florida, endorsed this film. As a retired master explosive ordnance disposal technician and chief warrant officer for the U.S. Navy, his praise doesn’t come lightly.
“This film is intense, but the world is intense,” said O’Neil. “EOD techs don’t give a flip about the political reasons for bombs; they just care about saving lives. These are people who voluntarily take that long walk into uncertainty.”
Director Kathryn Bigelow co-produced The Hurt Locker with screenwriter Mark Boal, Greg Shapiro and Nicholas Chartier. Bigelow’s previous films include Blue Steele, Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days, and K19: The Widowmaker.
What’s her take on the bomb squads? “The fact that these men live in mortal danger every day makes their lives inherently tense, iconic, and cinematic,” Bigelow is quoted in the production notes. “And, on a metaphorical level, they seemed to suggest both the heroism and the futility of the [Iraq] war.”
“Futility”? We’ll get to that later.
Mark Boal’s background is journalism, and impressive at that. He co-wrote In the Valley of Elah, which was hailed by reviewers as an anti-war movie.
However, that film was based on his Playboy article, “Death and Dishonor,” the tragically true story of an Army veteran who found out that his son didn’t deserve to join the Armed Forces. (While I hate Playboy, Boal’s article is free online and it actually gives a little credence to the old excuse that some men buy this magazine for the writing.) Read more ..
|Francis Phillips||July 6th 2009|
The Weight of a Mustard Seed. Wendell Steavenson. HarperCollins. 304 pages.
Investigative journalism can be an honorable trade. In this book the author, a journalist and travel writer, investigates the life of one of Saddam Hussein’s generals, Kamel Sachet, in order to shed light on the other Iraq: that lived by a prosperous army family before the invasion of 2003. The title might suggest a Christian perspective; actually, it is a quote from the Koran, chapter 21, verse 47. In this context the “mustard seed” represents the critical balance between a man’s good and bad deeds on the Day of Judgement.
General Sachet was born in 1947 from a humble background. He joined the police in 1975 and then the army; swiftly promoted to the Special Forces he distinguished himself as a brave commander during the long Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. Later, he was in charge of the army during the first Gulf War. Then, wishing to distance himself from the regime in charge of his country, he took early retirement to tend his farm. Later, he was briefly recalled by Saddam Hussein to become Governor of Maysan Province. Finally – and inevitably - he fell foul of the President’s magic circle, was arrested and executed at Abu Ghraib prison in December 1998.
The chief problem of the book, therefore, is that Steavenson never met her subject before his death, and so she must rely on interviews with others who did know him. Such people, now living in exile but still bearing the psychological wounds of their earlier lives and careers in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, tend to equivocate, prevaricate, justify themselves and offer selective accounts. Read more ..
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