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Book Reviews

Acting Now to End World Poverty--Some Say It Can be Done

September 21st 2009

Book Covers - Life You Can Save

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 ..


Book Reviews

Africa Challenged by Green Activist

September 14th 2009

Book Covers - The Challenge for Africa

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 ..


Book Review

In Search of Civilization--a Brave Enterprise that Could be Braver

September 7th 2009

Book Covers - Search for Civilization

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 ..


Book Reviews

Exposing Corruption in Kenya Becomes a Political Thriller

August 31st 2009

Book Covers - It's Our Turn to Eat

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

Government Death Panels and Mass Murder was Always an Option in 20th Century America's War Against the Weak

August 24th 2009

Book Covers - War Against the Weak

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 ..


Book Review

IBM and The Holocaust Still Stuns Readers as Big Blue Remains Silent

August 24th 2009

Book Covers - IBM 2008

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 ..


Book Review

Torture, Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law in America

August 12th 2009

Book Covers - Getting Away with Torture

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 ..


Book Reviews

Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation

August 10th 2009

Book Covers - Darknet

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.

Failed Attempts

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

Original Mideast Peace Plan Recognized Jewish State in Return for Arab Nation in Syria

July 27th 2009

Book Covers - Banking on Baghdad

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 ..


Book Review

An Explosive History Worth Reading

July 27th 2009

Book Covers - Confronting the Bomb

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 ..


Book Review

Getting Back in the Box Requires Something New These Days

July 20th 2009

Book Covers - Get Back in the Box

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 ..


Movie Review

Hurt Locker Detonates on the Screen

July 13th 2009

Film - Hurt Locker

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 ..


Book Reviews

The Weight of a Mustard Seed: Trapped in Lies and Corruption

July 6th 2009

Book Covers - The Weight of a Mustard Seed

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 ..


Book Reviews

Rethink Should Have Been Rethought

June 29th 2009

Book Covers - Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation

Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation. Ric Merrifield. FT Press. 240 pages.

Maybe I'm taking a cheap shot here, though I don't mean to. But a book entitled Rethink invites every wise-guy and a well-intentioned reviewer to apply the implied invitation to this endeavor as well.

Merrifield, a Microsoft business scientist (cool title!), presents a series of examples of companies that either were or were not successful in analyzing what he calls the ''hows'' of their business in an effort to discover the true nature of their enterprises. He cites McDonald's, which we may think is in the fast-food business but is really engaged in real estate acquisition and development, according to Merrifield. They identify a location, buy the land, develop the business and then sell it to a franchisee. The food (such as it is) is just the ''how'' not the ``what.''

Amazon.com figured out that it had the infrastructure to be more than a seller of books, then realized that its capacity was so massive, it could be ''rented'' by outside parties, generating more revenue. That was a good thing, obviously, but on the other hand, Merrifield also cites Office Depot which, he writes, fell into the ''how trap'' and neglected the ''what'' of their business by focusing on cost-cutting, labor reductions and other supposed efficiencies at the expense of the attributes that were most meaningful to their customers, including experience and expertise from their employees, in particular. Read more ..


Book Review

Scholarly Study of Spies Names a lot of Names

June 22nd 2009

Book Covers - Spies book cover

Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev. Yale University Press, 2009. 794 pages.


The Haynes/Klehr/Vassiliev (hereafter Haynes) volume contains a great deal of highly valuable scholarship within a massive tome consisting of over 40 pages of prefatory matter, 550 pages of main text and 90 pages of footnotes. Despite raising massive and extremely troubling methodological, historiographical and, sometimes, judgmental questions, it is unquestionably a major contribution. In general, this reviewer finds it convincing, and certainly a book which anyone interested in the post-World War II Red Scare cannot ignore.

Some disclosure is required here: I have a very slight acquaintance with co-author Harvey Klehr, who recently did me a great kindness by loaning me some research materials, even though he surely knew that my political views and scholarship are probably often at odds with his. I also have a very modest, but less slight, acquaintanceship with Ellen Schrecker, perhaps the most prominent historian of the post-World War II Red Scare, with whom Klehr and Haynes have been involved in a sort of academic cold war for many years.

In an earlier joint book, Early Cold War Spies (Cambridge University Press, 2006), which in general I find quite reliable, Klehr and Haynes let their ideological bias and personal pique explode--rather than “peak” through--when (on page 22) they ridiculously declared that Schrecker’s leading study Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America, Princeton University Press, 1999, was a “broad academic denunciation of any form of opposition to communism,” which are all “conflate[d]” with “McCarthyism.” My own published views and interpretations are sometimes “conflated” with Schrecker’s and are unquestionably far closer to hers than those of Haynes and Klehr, who have written about half-dozen studies of Russian espionage in pre-Cold War America and are certainly the pre-eminent authorities on the subject.  Read more ..


Book Review

Trading with the Enemy: A Review of the Shocking Revelations of U.S. Corporate Collaboration with Nazi Germany

June 15th 2009

Book Covers - Trading with the Enemy

Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949. Charles Higham. Delacorte Press. 1983, 2007. 277 pages.

Americans are unceasingly reminded of the shared memories of the self-titled “Greatest Generation” that beat back the Nazis and saved the world from fascism. Is there another side to this heroic narrative? Although historians generally commend the United States as an instrumental force behind the undoing of Hitler’s Nazi regime, many prominent American companies and citizens knowingly aided the inception and military efforts of Nazi Germany. 

The text, Charles Higham’s Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949, provides this subject with a significant degree of depth. The work is groundbreaking in the information it presents.  Trading with the Enemy has spurred new public dialog and research among historians. Although this book involves similar types of activity to other books in the field, it has a markedly different approach and methodology. These differences present a challenge to researchers and the public in gaining insight into the big picture of this sordid past.

Trading with the Enemy casts a long shadow on the study of World War II era US corporate activity in Nazi Germany. Published in 1983, the information presented in the text has a continuing impact on the study of its subject matter. Like Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust, Higham’s text also lays out an extensive array of details for the reader to digest.

Higham’s thesis is also just as blunt: Many US financial and industrial figures knowingly aided Nazi war efforts. Higham supplies a selective bibliography to support his claims and provides copies of a few key primary sources at the end of the book. Trading with the Enemy is organized by business, exploring the activities of individuals and their related enterprises in each section chronologically. Read more ..


Film Review

Terminator's Salvation Without Schwarzenegger

June 15th 2009

Film - Terminator Salvation

Without Arnold Schwarzenegger, the fourth film in the series, Terminator Salvation, is a bit limp, in the opinion of most critics – notwithstanding the car chases, explosions, and high-tech shoot-outs. But, believe it or not, obscured by billowing clouds of smoke and spurts of flame, there is a significant question: Is it better to be a man or a machine?

Without revealing the absurdly convoluted plot, our saviour is Marcus Wright, a prisoner executed in 2004. He wakes up in 2018 as a cybernetically-enhanced participant in a war between us and Skynet, an artificial intelligence system which has become conscious and turned on its creators. Most of humanity has already been obliterated in a nuclear holocaust. The ragged remnant spend their time plotting to win back the planet and screaming at each other over the noise of colliding machines and exploding gas tanks.

Where do the loyalties of half-human, half-machine Marcus lie in this crisis? Well, this is Hollywood and you can guess the answer. T4’s muscles are titanium, but he still has a heart and sacrifices himself to save humanity.

For most viewers, Terminator Salvation is as realistic as Grimm’s Fairytales. At least it has a sensible outcome: humanity wins.

But there are a number of computer experts who sympathise with Skynet rather than with humanity. They look forward eagerly to a time in which homo sapiens will perfect itself and become more and more like super-intelligent machines. And they are already planning for its coming. They call it "the Singularity". Read more ..


Book Review

Sacco-Vanzetti Affair Still on Trial

June 8th 2009

Book Covers - Sacco/Vanzetti

The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial. Moshik Temkin. Yale University Press. 2009. 344 pages.

In 1927, two revolutionary anarchists of Italian ancestry, Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were executed outside of Boston, Massachusetts six years after their conviction on murder charges in one of the most controversial criminal cases in American history. Critics have long claimed that Sacco and Vanzetti were framed because of their radical political convictions.

It has been widely acknowledged that they did not receive a fair trial because of widespread prejudice, fueled in part by the jingoistic and anti-immigrant climate of the first Red Scare. Moshik Temkin’s book, The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial provides new insights on the socio-political resonance of the case and its broader historical implications. He argues that the heated passions that were invoked dispel the myth promoted by many historians that the 1920s were apolitical and the decision to go through with the execution further exemplified the provincialism of many political elites of the era, who rejected a broad international consensus supporting the right of Sacco and Vanzetti to a fair trial.

An Assistant Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Temkin devotes the first few chapters to exploring how the case became a political cause celèbre. He chronicles the dissent of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and labor activists who viewed the case as a reflection of class warfare and structural inequalities in American society. He also analyzes how liberal intellectuals who had predominantly defended the Palmer raids came to support Sacco and Vanzetti’s right to a fair trial, which he sees as a turning point in the growth of the popular front, or alliance between liberals and radicals during the 1930s. Read more ..


Book Review

How to Earn Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World

June 1st 2009

Book Covers - Taming the Customer

Taming The Search-And-Switch Customer: Earning Customer Loyalty in a Compulsion-to-Compare World. Jill Griffin. Jossey Bass. 288 pages.

Prospective consumers are armed with information and dazzled by choices, but their new empowerment provides an opportunity for businesses to build customer loyalty

There are hunters and there are gatherers. With the advent of online commerce, hunters are now ascendant. And why not? Thanks to Google, anyone who can key in a name, even one spelled incorrectly, can suddenly gather information about a product, service or provider in detail that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

For those of us who tend to obsessively research prices and features before making a purchase, it's heaven, but the extra edge afforded by discovering testimonials (or cautions) from users is the real killer app. Some online retailers, most notably Amazon.com, recognize the value of this and encourage buyers to post reviews and ratings of products.

The same situation exists in the nonconsumer sector. In fact, the b-to-b segment is usually tougher in its ratings, since they generally employ more exacting requirements, and technical and legal standards may be involved as well.

It's great if you're a buyer, but if you're a provider, what the heck can you do to, at the very least, participate in the process? And can you control it?

Jill Griffin may not have all the answers, but I was blown away by her deep understanding of this complicated subject and her intelligent and actionable assessment of the necessary strategies. Having a firm grasp of the obvious is all too rare. Read more ..


Book Reviews

An Honorable German Shows Another Side of Life Under Nazism

June 1st 2009

Book Covers - An Honorable German

An Honorable German: A novel of World War II. Charles McCain. Grand Central Publishing. May 2009. 384 pages.

A German hero of gigantic proportions is depicted by Charles McCain in his debut novel, An Honorable German. Throughout World War II, images of the Nazi war machine were used to denigrate truly patriotic and honorable men who made up traditional military forces who fought alongside those who pledged their allegiance to the Third Reich.

Those who do not understand the call to duty and honor to country will not comprehend the viewpoint expressed by this book. Following orders is a necessity in wartime. Those who take it upon themselves to disobey put themselves at risk with those in power to be dealt with severely. Here, it is the Nazi war machine which runs the country. It has spies placed in the military to tattle on those who do not follow the orders strictly given by the cruel and thoughtless SS. 

One of the most famous of all warships, Graf Spree, is described playing an important part in the main character’s career. Max Brekendorf, a proud young German naval officer, serves his country with honor and courage.  Max emerges to show he is different than the Third Reich which is bent on conquering the world. Max cares for his men, ship, and country. He is recognized for his bravery by being awarded several medals of the highest order including the Iron Cross 1st Class. His personal life is interspersed within his career. This book does it justice by bringing two facets together for an intriguing tale of courage, defiance, and romance.  Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Measuring Just How Stupid American Voters Actually Are

May 25th 2009

Social Topics - Ballot Box

Exactly one year ago this week the hardback of Just How Stupid Are We: Facing the Truth About the American Voter was published by Basic Books. Is the book still relevant? After Barack Obama's election friends emailed me wondering if I still believed the voters are uninformed. Didn't Obama's election mean they were pretty smart?

Alas, the answer is no, I believe. And I am baffled that anybody could reach a different conclusion after the campaign we lived through. The highlights of the 2008 election included controversies over Obama's bowling score, his middle name Hussein, and Hillary's crying. These were not exactly issues of much weight at a time when the financial collapse of the country was happening before our eyes. And yet they drew extended media commentary.

The media was to blame for the deplorable low quality of much of the campaign. But I am firmly convinced that you get the campaign you deserve. If that is so we should be asking ourselves why did we deserve the campaign of 2008? Was it not because the voters found it easier to debate issues like Obama's bowling score than the complicated questions involving high finance?

Read more ..

Book Review

Actor Christopher Plummer writes of Hollywood's Decadence with Frankness and Verve

May 25th 2009

Book Covers - Christopher Plummer

In Spite of Myself. Christopher Plummer. 656 pages. Knopf. 2008.

The autobiographies of most movie stars, like those by Tony Curtis and George Hamilton, are epics of egotism. I am beginning to wonder if there's anybody from Hollywood's olden days who hasn't been urged on by publishers to turn out a tell-all memoir. The number of autobiographies by film personalities arriving at bookstores in the past several months is nothing short of astounding, and given the aplomb of some of the authors a bit amusing.

Tony Curtis was bold enough to declare himself a royal by titling his memoir "American Prince," while the perennially-tanned George Hamilton claimed his entitlement by naming his book "Don't Mind If I Do." Both are ego exercises, to be sure—typical reminiscences about a mythic rise to celebrity, followed by "insider" reflections on alliances—at work and at play—with other legendary celebrities.

Neither Curtis nor Hamilton hesitates in pointing out his irresistible appeal to females, young and older. Autobiographies like these offer little real insight into motion picture culture and history, and the titillation comes off as excruciatingly bland at best.

Somewhat loftier in intention and less prone to tales of romantic conquest are Robert Wagner's "Pieces of My Heart," Roger Moore's "My Word Is My Bond," and Robert Vaughn's "A Fortunate Life." I found some provincial interest in Robert Wagner's account of his childhood years in Michigan; plus the retelling of the life and tragic death of his wife, Natalie Wood, is deeply poignant. Vaughn's memoir embraces the obligatory celebrity-insider impulse but also recounts the actor's quest for a Ph.D. and his stance as an outspoken early opponent of the Vietnam War and consequent involvement in Presidential Democratic politics of 1968.

For James Bond fans there's a worthy amount of behind-the-scenes lore about Roger Moore's tenure as 007. There's even an aura of wisdom in this autobiography written by a celebrity in his 80s. Yes, Roger Moore is 81! Read more ..


Book Review

A Prince and His Times

May 25th 2009

Book Covers - The Last Prince of Mexico

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. C. M. Mayo. Unbridled Books, 2009. 432 pages.

Fictional accounts of history often take liberties with how things really happened, but when C. M. Mayo wrote The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, she first traveled to the places whence the stories emanated. Mayo traversed Mexico, the United States, and many European countries to tell the engaging story of love, betrayal, and ultimately the death of one of the members of a royal family.

Reading achieves in the Library of Congress in Washington led her to other locales where she read many documents in the original language and translated them herself so that her characters could speak words as originally spoken.

With this strong factual foundation, the story of a young prince, Maximilian, and those intertwined in the royal family's lives, becomes a spellbinding tale of deceit and selfishness. Mayo gives us a glimpse into an era not far removed from today. 1866 was a time when healing from the civil war had begun in the United States and also when the French occupied Mexico. Staying clear of entanglement with another battle was foremost in the minds of Americans. A civil war in Mexico was brewing, and this novel gives an inside look at the motives and the opulence, and at the same time, describes the extreme poverty endured by the Mexican people on a daily basis, while the ‘visitors’ lived luxurious lives. These ‘visitors’ included Maximilian; French Generals, and their entourages.

What may appear as free flowing dialog describing actions that did take place is based upon a meticulous approach to real facts. Getting inside a person’s mind and describing their feelings is somewhat difficult. The brilliance of this novel is the manner in which Mayo achieves this incredible task by using flowery language, which is believable considering the turbulent times and the seriousness of the circumstances.

Read more ..

Author Appearance

Edwin Black and Nazi Nexus Rebroadcast on C-SPAN’s Book TV Back-to-Back with War Against the Weak Movie Screening

May 22nd 2009

Book Covers - Nazi Nexus

Author Edwin Black is going to have a big Saturday.

His latest appearance on C-Span’s Book TV, devoted to his new book Nazi Nexus, will be rebroadcast on May 23 at 2:15 pm EST. The documentary based upon Black’s bestselling, award-winning book, War Against the Weak will be screened at a Florida film festival a little more than an hour after the television appearance concludes.

Nazi Nexus details the direct corporate complicity in the Holocaust undertaken by five leading American commercial icons: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and of course International Business Machines. The author maintains that when one connects the dots, the emerging picture makes clear that while there always would have been a “Hitler Holocaust,” American corporate involvement pivotally influence the size and scope of the genocide. Or as the author stated in a recent series of syndicated articles: “Adolf Hitler was completely responsible for the Holocaust. But Hitler had help.”

Newsweek called the research woven into the book, “Simple and Stunning.” The Miami Herald called Nazi Nexus “Powerful and Astounding.”

The C-Span Book TV rebroadcast nationally will be particularly handy for South Florida residents who follow Black’s work because C-Span experienced a near total cable blackout during the original airing.

Black’s C-SPAN presentation of Nazi Nexus was delivered during a Yom Shoah memorial, that is, a Holocaust Day commemoration, recorded several weeks earlier at the Park East Synagogue in New York before a leading grass-roots Holocaust survivor group known as NAHOS—the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors. Black’s original event was cosponsored by the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, and a coalition of other groups, as well the Spero Forum, the Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, and History Network News. Read more ..


Book Review

Rethinking the "War on Terror"

May 18th 2009

Book Covers - Phares-The Confrontation

The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. Walid Phares. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 304 pages.

The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad is the third book in Walid Phares's trilogy that began with Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West (2005-2006) and continued in The War of Ideas (2007). In the first book, the author uncovers the historical evolution of the jihadi movements and strategies against America and the West. In the second book, Phares explains how the jihadists delayed the Western counteroffensive for decades until 9/11. In the third book, he proposes strategies and policies to win the confrontation.

Redefining the War

In his first chapter, Phares puts the finger on the wound: We must define the war. In fact, he calls for a "re-definition" of the eight-year-old confrontation that began officially on September 11, 2001, but has started historically decades earlier. The classical definition used by the United States government, "war on terror" has served its purpose even if it wasn't intellectually accurate. The foes of America and other democracies, namely the jihadists, aren't confining themselves to military activities and acts of terror. Rather, they have a global agenda they seek to attain which would lead to collapse of international law. Though many have doubted the ability of democracies to eventually win the confrontation with the jihadi forces, the author maintains that the free world can still win. But to win, he argues "you must define the threat and the enemy." At a time when the United States and Great Britain's governments are gradually dropping the term "war" from the lexicon of foreign policy, the author reviews the pillar-arguments of the debate and suggests identifying the actual enemy by referring to its ideology and goals, not to cater to our public relations needs. It is neither a war "on terror," nor is it just an overseas effort against individuals and particular organizations. It is a confrontation with an ideological movement which uses terror as one of its means, Phares correctly argues.

Read more ..

Author Appearances

Edwin Black and Nazi Nexus Connect the Dots on C-Span Book TV

May 15th 2009

Book Covers - Nazi Nexus

Author Edwin Black will make his latest appearance on C-Span’s Book TV on May 16 at 7 pm EST and again on May 23 at 2:15 pm EST. This time his presentation covers his new book Nazi Nexus. The book details the direct corporate complicity in the Holocaust undertaken by five leading American commercial icons: Ford Motor Co., General Motors, the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and of course International Business Machines. The author maintains that when one connects the dots, the emerging picture makes clear that while there always would have been a “Hitler Holocaust,” American corporate involvement pivotally influence the size and scope of the genocide. Or as the author stated in a recent series of syndicated articles: “Adolf Hitler was completely responsible for the Holocaust. But Hitler had help.”

Black’s C-SPAN appearance recorded several weeks earlier at the Park East Synagogue in New York before a leading grass-roots Holocaust survivor group known as NAHOS—the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors. Black’s event was cosponsored by the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, and a coalition of other groups, as well the Spero Forum, the Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, and History Network News.

After the book lecture, Black conducted a dramatic, no-holds-barred question-answer session with Holocaust survivors on a range of Holocaust-era issues. The author was given a standing ovation at the end of the presentation.

Newsweek called the research woven into the book, “Simple and Stunning.” The Miami Herald called Nazi Nexus “Powerful and Astounding.”

Find C-SPAN Book TV information on the appearance here.

Find further information on Nazi Nexus here.

Buy the book here.

If you have news of an author appearance, send the information to booknews@thecuttingedgenews.com 


Book Review

Probing the Messiah Story

May 11th 2009

Book Covers - Real Messiah

The Real Messiah: The Throne of St. Mark and the True Origins of Christianity. Stephan Huller. Watkins, 2009. 288 pages.

Stephan Huller’s The Real Messiah is a stunning work. I have followed the development of his research and theorizing for several years and have found myself more and more amazed at this man’s ocean-wide command of ancient sources and equally at his ability to see old things afresh as if never glimpsed before. No reader is obliged to accept every theory Huller offers as the price for learning very much from him. And no reader has the right to dismiss his more shocking theses just because they are unheard of.

The Real Messiah presents the idea that Jesus did not consider himself the Jewish Messiah, or sacred king, but instead predicted the imminent unveiling of someone else as Messiah. This would mean the historical Jesus was a fore-runner figure like John the Baptist—a charismatic figure but hardly the center of his own message. Muslims understand Jesus in just this way today. Perhaps, Huller argues, they are closer to the truth than Christians have given them credit for. Is such an idea really so outlandish in view of the fact that Jesus is shown in the gospels frequently talking about the coming of “the son of man” in the third person (“he”) not in the first (“I”)? The gospels report him as saying that the greatest among his followers was as a small child; Huller infers that Jesus had a specific youngster in mind. The tradition of the Coptic Church in Egypt has always held that this is exactly what Jesus meant, and that the boy who accompanied him, whom he named the greatest of his disciples, was the future evangelist Mark. Read more ..


Book Review

Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest in the Turbulent 60s

May 5th 2009

Book Covers - Turmoil at Stanford

Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972. Richard W. Lyman. Stanford University Press. 2009.

In 1966, when I was an undergraduate there, Haverford College set out to find a new president to succeed the austere, formal Hugh Borton. They came up with John R. Coleman, an outgoing, accessible leader who turned out to be the right man for that time and place. Haverford was small—fewer than 600 undergraduates—and intense, and although the spectrum of its campus politics was relatively narrow, ranging from anti-war liberal to anti-war radical, its disputatious undergraduates demanded a lot of their elders. Coleman’s warm inclusiveness and respect for students’ seriousness made the institution a far more civil place than many other colleges in that agonized and angry time.

Coleman’s appointment also seemed to confirm the Pendulum Theory of Presidential Hiring: search committees seek to make up for the perceived deficiencies in the departing executive by hiring his opposite. So imagine my surprise when, 43 years later, Richard Lyman reveals that Haverford had offered him the presidency first. Reading this in the light of my own vague recollection of Lyman’s buttoned-up persona, I couldn’t help but wonder what Haverford had seen that made Lyman seem the right man for the job. That question stayed with me as I read the rest of his book. Read more ..


Author Appearances

Edwin Black to Appear at Borders White Flint For Autographing

May 1st 2009

Book Covers - Nazi Nexus

Author Edwin Black will drop by Borders Books in Rockville MD for a brief autographing of his new book Nazi Nexus. The visit will be the first scheduled visit to a Borders by Black in years. His appearance was sponsored by History News Network and cosponsored by the National Association of Child Holocaust Survivors, State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Spero News, The Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, The Cutting Edge News and Dialog Press.

Black, who makes hundreds of appearances each year at universities, churchs, synagogues, and at special institutes, has avoided bookstores in general preferring traditional lecture venues for his book tours. He was recently featured in a Miami Herald article about best selling authors who become incessant "road warriors" on book tour.

"At this time when book retailers--large and small--are suffering the ravages of the economic downturn--like every other segment--authors should make an effort to support their favorite bookstores. The Rockville Borders is one of my favorite and has been for years." The author will not make remarks or a presentation but will merely drop by for a brief autographing and will answer any questions. 

More than that, Black is using the opportunity to introduce the latest edition of his award-winning international bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. The new edition just released, and the Rockville Borders is the first in that chain to get their hands on copies. Nearly a million copies of IBM and the Holocaust have been sold in 14 languages in 60 countries. The investigation of IBM will be among the topics discussed in a 90-minute presentation on Nexis Nexus which will air on Book-TV May 16 at 7 PM EST.

If you have news of an author appearance, send the information to booknews@thecuttingedgenews.com


Book Review

An Irreverent Guide to Texas Movies is...well, Irreverent

April 27th 2009

Book Covers - State Fare

State Fare:  An Irreverent Guide to Texas Movies. Don Graham. TCU Press. 2008.

Lights, camera, action!  On September 24, 1900, Thomas Edison’s men began filming the shambles that was Galveston. Only two weeks before, a powerful hurricane had devastated the island city. The earliest image of Texas in the movies thus started “with a documentary of disaster.” So begins Don Graham’s smart little history, State Fare: An Irreverent Guide to Texas Movies. 

During the industry’s infancy, the leading movie producer in Texas was Frenchman Gaston Melies, founder of San Antonio’s Star Film Ranch. Between 1910 -1911, Melies produced over seventy films, including The Immortal Alamo (1911), the “first significant movie made in Texas.” Actor Francis Ford (brother of legendary film director John Ford) appeared in Melies’s feature, as did a group of cadets from the Peacock Military Academy, who played General Santa Anna’s troops. 

But Texas was not destined to be the motion picture capital.  California beckoned. Despite Melies’s “valiant efforts to turn San Antonio into a mecca of moviemaking,” Graham observes, “it was another town in the West, Hollywood, that soon dominated the nascent film industry.” In late 1911, Melies departed Texas for the West Coast.

Graham divides his study into six chapters, several of them cleverly titled:  “When the Shooting Started,” “The Strong Silent Type,” “A Handful of Texas Steers,” “Grade A Texas Beef,” “Tex Messaging,” and “Schmaltz Across Texas.” He assesses a number of motion pictures, iconic, middling, and minor. Read more ..


Book Review

The Accidental Zionist: Why Israel Matters in Being Jewish and Saving the World

April 20th 2009

Book Covers - Accidental Zionist

The Accidental Zionist. Rabbi Ian Pear. New Song publishers. 296 pages.

'Know with whom you are speaking" is one of the many lessons Rabbi Ian Pear learned in his younger years, and is one of the primary tactics he employs in his inspiring and down-to-earth new book The Accidental Zionist: What a Priest, a Pornographer and a Wrestler Named Chainsaw Taught Me about Being Jewish, Saving the World and Why Israel Matters to Both.

This may seem like a mouthful, but Pear makes it go down easy as he unabashedly poses and attempts to answer a fundamental question: "Why has Judaism failed?" In a free-spirited but well-structured argument speckled with personal anecdotes, the rabbi of Jerusalem's Orthodox Shir Hadash congregation outlines the purpose of Judaism as the dissemination of ethical monotheism - that is, ethical behavior in the service of God - on a global scale, and the Jewish people as the messengers of this cause. He defines and describes the importance and advantages of this philosophy, and goes on to show how a halachic lifestyle is the ideal method of training Jewish adherents to embody and thus adequately spread this message.

This may seem like a mouthful, but Pear makes it go down easy as he unabashedly poses and attempts to answer a fundamental question: "Why has Judaism failed?" In a free-spirited but well-structured argument speckled with personal anecdotes, the rabbi of Jerusalem's Orthodox Shir Hadash congregation outlines the purpose of Judaism as the dissemination of ethical monotheism - that is, ethical behavior in the service of God - on a global scale, and the Jewish people as the messengers of this cause. He defines and describes the importance and advantages of this philosophy, and goes on to show how a halachic lifestyle is the ideal method of training Jewish adherents to embody and thus adequately spread this message. Read more ..


Book Review

Collapse of Distinction: Move Up While your Competitor Fails

April 13th 2009

Book Covers - Collapse of Distinction

Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails. Scott McKain. Thomas Nelson. 272 pages.

It's a strange time, uncertain and frightening. But it's a logical outcome for an economy fueled by funky credit, inflated real estate, cooked books, regulatory dereliction and more. Add the Internet, the commoditization of, well, nearly everything, and sundry international instabilities and you have quite a mess. We have quite a mess but life goes on and so does commerce, one of the surest expressions of human behavior.

Mindful of this context, the author of a new book implores us to discover ways to make our products and services (and the marketing thereof) more relevant and compelling by being different.

This is familiar ground. Seth Godin immediately comes to mind, with his purple cows and meatball sundaes. But Scott McKain takes a slightly different approach, starting with a trip to his hometown (in common with John Mellencamp) -- Seymour, Indiana. He visits some local businesses and notices the scant variation among the offerings of the various (though unvaried) chains of restaurants, insurance companies, whatever.

For some people, that's a good thing. A sales rep I knew confounded his more adventurous colleagues by insisting upon dining only at chains during their frequent road trips. One of his frustrated fellow travelers complained that they'd hit cities like Memphis and New Orleans with great local grub and this guy (senior in rank, alas) would invariably gravitate to the ubiquitous and familiar. But if you're not a chain, what can you do to survive and succeed? Read more ..


Book Reviews

David Ogilvy: King of Madison Avenue

April 6th 2009

Book Covers - King of Madison Ave

King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising. Kenneth Roman. Palgrave Macmillan. 304 pages.

For anyone serious about the craft of advertising, there are several essential books. Two of them, Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising have permanent places in my own ever-shifting library. The author of both volumes had been a cook, a spy, an Oxford dropout, savior of Masterpiece Theatre and chairman of the United Negro College Fund. He grew up in England (and considered himself a Scot), made his name and fortune in the United States, but never became a citizen (though the head of the CIA offered to make it happen).

When David Ogilvy, the most famous advertising man of his era, died, it merited front-page notice in the New York Times. He introduced the range-riding Marlboro Man, the eye-patched Man in the Hathaway Shirt and Schweppes' Commander Whitehead (and ''Schweppervesence''). He turned Dove (``one quarter cleansing cream'') into a powerhouse brand, catapulted American Express from a charge card for travelers into a multifaceted worldwide brand and established one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world. He's also credited with creating a ''corporate culture'' decades before the term was coined. Read more ..


Holocaust History

Nazi Nexus Powerfully Tracks American Corporate Connections to the Holocaust

March 30th 2009

Book Covers - Nazi Nexus

Nazi Nexus: America's Corporate Connections to Hitler's Holocaust. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 192 pages.

Author Edwin Black is a child of Holocaust survivors. When he first saw an IBM card-sorting machine as part of an exhibit at the United States Holocaust Museum, he vowed to learn more about this machine and the role of its manufacturer. The result was 2001's IBM and the Holocaust, a devastating account of the venerated American firm's hand-in-hand collaboration with Adolf Hitler's Nazi government in identifying, organizing and exterminating Jews and others who were deemed non-Aryan and undesirable. Black's exhaustive investigation, abetted by an international research team, resulted in worldwide headlines—and stonewalling, obfuscation and denials by its subject—which continues to this day.

Black's next book, War Against the Weak (2003), studied the role of the fake science of eugenics and its rise in the United States in the early 20th century, which provided the rationale for Hitler's racial policies. In shocking detail, Black related the subjugation, sterilization and murder of thousands of Americans solely on the basis of their race, country of origin or failure to pass culturally biased ''intelligence'' tests. This was fueled by xenophobia and ignorance, and supported -- astonishingly--by corporate names like Carnegie, Rockefeller and others.

New Work

Black's new Nazi Nexus uses these earlier works as primary sources. But this new volume offers a compact and highly concentrated dose of history that powerfully demonstrates the deleterious effects of the convergence of avarice and ideology, American-style. Read more ..


Book Review

United in Hate: Leftists Love for Tyranny and Terror

March 23rd 2009

Book Covers - United in Hate

United in Hate: The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror. Jamie Glazov. WND books. 264 pages.

After 9/11, the social-democratic political philosopher, Michael Walzer, asked the readers of Dissent magazine a tough question: “Can there be a decent Left?” His essay was in reality an appeal for its creation, since Walzer was smart enough to realize that so many who spoke in the name of the Left that horrific year were anything but. But now, so many years later, little has changed. If anyone has any doubts about this, there is no better place to start than Jamie Glazov’s important new book, United in Hate.

Glazov discusses both the philosophical underpinnings of the leftist world-view and the current form it’s taking in the U.S. Starting from the premise that existing reality in democratic America has to be destroyed and that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” large segments of the left today seek to forge an alliance with America’s enemies, once the Communist world, now the forces of radical Islam. Glazov traces and seeks to analyze the causes of this movement from the left’s support of “the red flag of proletarian revolution” to that of the “black flag of Islamic jihad.”

In many cases, Glazov shows how the same people who once sang the praises of Stalin as an anti-fascist leader now praise Islamic terrorists who seek to attack the West. While many learned from 9/11 that the West had real and very dangerous enemies, major figures of the once pro-Soviet Left apparently felt rejuvenated, viewing the attack on the twin towers as the revenge of the masses for American oppression of the Third World. For these people, Glazov writes, 9/11 was a “personal vindication,” since they saw “only poetic justice in American commercial airplanes plunging into American buildings packed with people.” Read more ..


Tracking the Nazi Nexus

American Corporate Complicity Created Undeniable Nazi Nexus

March 9th 2009

Book Covers - Nazi Nexus

This article is based on the just released book, Nazi Nexus: America's Corporate Connection's to Hitler's Holocaust (Dialog Press). Buy it here.

Adolf Hitler was completely responsible for the Holocaust. But Hitler had help.

When zealous Nazis were motivated to wage war against an imaginary generation-to-generation Jewish conspiracy… when Nazis created ghastly extermination plans to help ensure their master race would rule the world… when the German military was enabled to smash across Europe with lightning speed in heavy Blitz trucks, bomb mercilessly from the air in advanced JU-88s, and create carnage across the seas with deadly torpedoes… when Josef Mengele saw the scientific need to undertake heinous medical experiments on twins in Auschwitz… when the Reich was enabled to identify the Jews everywhere in Europe and then systematically pauperize and destroy them… when all these terrible things were done, the shape and scope of the horror was pivotally determined by major American industrial giants.

Now the dots can be connected. They create an undeniably Nazi nexus between iconic American corporations and the greatest crime of the twentieth century: the Holocaust.

Who gave Hitler the initial basis for transmogrifying centuries of outgroup religious hatred into a new twentieth century political anti-Semitism? It was Henry Ford, acting directly through the Ford Motor Company. In 1920, the gullible but mercurial Ford acquired a forged typescript convincing him of an evil international Jewish cabal determined to subjugate the world through devious manipulation of the world’s governments, newspapers, and economic systems. The revelations were contained in the notorious and fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

To purvey this new brand of Jew hatred to the world, Ford purchased a failed newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which serialized The Protocols for 91 weeks. His company then published the series as a book, The International Jew. Using the techniques of mass production, Ford was able to escalate the Protocols from a negligible, randomly circulated irritant to a national sensation of 500,000 copies. Devoting the national sales force and the assets of the Ford Motor Company to the task hatred made Henry Ford the first to organize political anti-Semitism in America. Indeed, he was the hero of anti-Semites the world over. Read more ..


Book Review

Inside NEST: America's Secret Nuclear A-Team

March 9th 2009

Book Covers - Defusing Armageddon

Lawrence S. Wittner. Review of Jeffrey T. Richelson's "Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America's Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad". Norton. 2009.  416 pages.

The vast destructive potential of nuclear weapons is not limited to wars, for nuclear devastation can be triggered by accident or by determined individuals. The good news purveyed by Jeffrey Richelson's new book, Defusing Armageddon, is that the U.S. government has been hard at work for decades seeking to prevent such devastation. The bad news is that, in a world bristling with nuclear weapons and other nuclear materials, the possibilities for nuclear catastrophe are immense.

Richelson, a senior fellow with the National Security Archive, has employed declassified documents, interviews, and published materials to produce a full-fledged history of NEST, the Nuclear Emergency Search (later changed to Support) Team that began to take shape in the mid-1970s. Drawn from government agencies, government and corporate nuclear labs, and think tanks, NEST members specialized in everything from detection of radioactive material to geography, from explosives to psycholinguistics. They were soon jetting about the United States and the globe in response to a variety of nuclear threats.

Much secrecy still surrounds NEST's operations, many of which involved very limited communication with local officials at the time. Indeed, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist acts, NEST was placed on alert for a nuclear attack on midtown Manhattan without any notification to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, his police commissioner, and senior FBI officials. Read more ..


Book Reviews

The Origins of the Cold War and How We Grew to Love the Bomb

March 3rd 2009

Book Covers - Atomic Bomb

The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War, Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, Yale University Press. 2008. 232 pages.

Probably the last occasion which directed the attention of most non-specialist historians, and certainly most lay folk, to issues related to the motivations and impact of American “atomic bomb diplomacy” during and after World War II was the 1965 publication of Gar Alperowitz’s metaphorically “explosive” book, Atomic Diplomacy from Hiroshima to Potsdam, which argued that the primary drive behind the use of nuclear bombs against Japan was to politically intimidate the Russians in the postwar world.

Published on the verge of major American escalation in Vietnam, when at least in retrospect, historians, the news media and the general public, often lived in an age of political innocence (but then, was it not ever thus?), this argument that the bomb’s use had any goal other than to end World War II as quickly as possible and with the least possible loss of American lives was a concept that left many “shocked, shocked.”

Adding to Alperowitz‘s mixed reception was the lack of availability of key government records, which made it difficult to even “trust but verify” his account, which was heavily based on interpreting scattered fragments of statements and documents.

Adding to Alperowitz‘s mixed reception was the lack of availability of key government records, which made it difficult to even “trust but verify” his account, which was heavily based on interpreting scattered fragments of statements and documents. Read more ..


Book Review

Neocons Knew They Were Right From the Beginning

February 23rd 2009

Book Covers - They Knew They Were Right

They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons. Jacob Heilbrunn. Anchor Books. January 2009. 336 pages.

“I myself was once attracted to neoconservatism,” Jacob Heilbrunn tells his readers. “As a teenager and adult, I found that it supplied me with a beguiling but ultimately artificial clarity about the world.” Why he abandoned the faith goes unexplained but “They Knew They Were Right” is, despite some unnecessary characterizations, an astute and comprehensive group portrait of men and women who think of themselves as neocons.

Some of the book draws on the familiar (see, for example, Peter Steinfels’s earlier and more critical book “The Neoconservatives,” 1979), such as the early neocon generation’s City College years when Communists and Trotskyists, eating brown bag lunches, positioned themselves in rival cafeteria alcoves and taunted one another while the vast majority of students ignored them. The Trotskyists rightly expressed their revulsion at Stalin’s mass murders but also managed to overlook Trotsky’s authoritarian bent. After graduation they continued fighting while splintering into minuscule, ideological sects.

The neocons who emerged from that cafeteria never had any use for liberalism and never understood why Jews consistently vote Democratic. (78% voted for Obama). But liberal and moderate Jews have always been a mystery to neocons. It was the late Milton Himmelfarb, a Commentary contributing editor who famously wondered why Jews lived like Episcopalians yet voted like Puerto Ricans.  Read more ..


Book Review

Who's Ga-Ga for Google?

February 16th 2009

Book Covers - Google Book

What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis. HarperCollins. 2009. 224 pages.

Unless I missed an earlier one, this is the first religious tract about Google. Jeff Jarvis, a high-profile blogger, journalism teacher, entrepreneur and editor preaches that with few exceptions, businesses ought to embrace and embody the qualities that he calls (ugh!) ''Googley.'' Essentially, this involves total transparency and user empowerment through blogging, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet conveyances.

For many industries, following Google's lead is a great idea. As detailed in numerous books, aggregated intelligence is a powerful force and by enabling it, businesses can enhance and accelerate product development, marketing and other vital functions. It's also an ideal way to handle customer support and service.

Jarvis cites his own case of being burned by computer manufacturer Dell and his subsequent (and oft-linked) blog posts, which he humbly suggests might possibly have contributed to the company's fall from grace (and profits). He followed up with measures to address his concerns and prevent others from suffering as he did. Ultimately, Dell adopted a number of Jarvis's ideas, though he extravagantly disavows any responsibility for their implementation.

Ironically, Google itself largely fails to embrace the transparency Jarvis says is so vital. The company, he writes, ''is as opaque and as secretive as the Pentagon.'' Guess Google isn't sufficiently ''Googley,'' according to its acolyte. Read more ..



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