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Book Reviews

I am Justice: A Journey out of Africa

November 23rd 2009

Book Covers - I Am Justice 2

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 ..

Book Review

The Fall of the Soviet Empire - A House of Cards

November 16th 2009

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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 ..

Book Review

Life Goes On after Layoffs, But it Won't Be Easy

November 9th 2009

Book Covers - Healing the Wounds

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 ..

Book Review

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot

November 2nd 2009

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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 ..

Book News

Correspondent Gets Romantic with Romance Language

November 2nd 2009

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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 ..

Book Review

The Transfer Agreement--A Tragic Story Told Wonderfully

October 26th 2009

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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 ..

Book Review

Leaders Must Walk the Walk not Just Talk the Talk

October 19th 2009

Book Covers - Walk the Walk

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

Author Holds Historic Event on The Transfer Agreement

October 12th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

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 ..

Book Review

The Ins and Outs of Customer Loyalty

October 12th 2009

Book Covers - I Love You More Than My Dog

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

"Girl Soldier" Film Opens More Questions than Answers

October 5th 2009

Africa Topics - Congolese child

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

The Transfer Agreement- Why Zionists Made the Deal with the Nazis

September 28th 2009

Book Covers - The Transfer Agreement

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 ..

Book Review

The Transfer Agreement: An Unyielding Account of One of the Most Contentious Issues in Jewish History

September 28th 2009

Book Covers - The Transfer Agreement

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 ..

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

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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?


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.


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.


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 ..

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