Jan 07 2013
I know I have been long overdue in posting some reviews of recent books I have read. Perhaps the one benefit of my recent trip across the pond is the books I got read ( and in one case) re-read. But I have been remiss in sharing them with you.
Well, no longer. Lets start with the one I most recently received:
I only received it recently and am only about half way through it. I like Kaplan's books even if his support for the Iraq war was totally misplaced. I think, from his tone in this book, he realizes how much the Bush administration fucked up its planning and execution of the war-and it also serves as a prime example of how a failure to understand how geography, and how it influences groupings of people-caused the US to experience nothing but pain and suffering in Iraq.
Kaplan also makes a great point that Americans live lives that are largely ignorant of the travails of the rest of the world. Protected by two oceans and unbombed and uninvaded, Americans have a sense of superiority over Europe that is unjustified. As he points out: "The militarism and pragmatism of continental Europe, to which Americans always felt superior, was the result of geography, not character." reminding us as John Adams did, "There is no special providence for Americans and their nature is the same as that of others."
I am just now to the section discussing the Indian Sub-continent where he is pointing out that for all their faults, the British were a unifying force in India-and their leaving created a vacuum that has never been fully replaced. ( Not that I believe either the Indians or Pakistanis are fully capable of doing so).
I am looking forward to finishing the book.
Next up is Thomas Rick's book The Generals. This is a comprehensive look at America's Army flag leadership from World War II to the present. Like Rick's other books its very readable-but at the same time its hard to agree with all of his conclusions. A few of my disagreements:
1) He is too much in love with the idea of firing people. He cites Marshall's propensity to fire people. This may have indeed been the case-but in Marshall's day people got second chances. Plus, as the history shows, sometimes firing someone only made matters worse. Firing only should be an option of last resort-not first. And times now are different than then.
2) He has clearly drunk the Petreaus Kool-Aid, more than a little too much of the stuff. ( The book was written before the great and powerful man was exposed as just a man-with unfulfilled needs like the rest of us.) In his examination of the Iraq war and Petreaus he glosses over the fact that Petreaus was a part of the problem before he became the solution. And that contrary to popular belief, "The Surge" of which he was proclaimed a saint because of-did not work.
3) While some of his other criticisms of generals are on the mark-in particular his sizing up of MacArthur, he is very, very, unfair in his criticisms of Norman Schwarzkopf. Basically he takes the side of the "we should have gone to Baghdad" crowd. I think this a case where "Stormin Norman" was smarter than Washington Post journalists. And Schwarzkopf was fortunate enough to have a President who understood what his real mission was.
It still a good read-so long as you understand up front, that Ricks has his own agenda, and its not necessarily right.
Don't drink the Kool-Aid!
I re-read Joseph Stiglitz book, The Price of Inequality. I think the guy is right on the mark.
To Mr Stiglitz, this inequality is the result of public policy being captured by an elite who have feathered their own nests at the expense of the rest. They have used their power to distort political debate, pushing through tax cuts to favor the rich and adjusting monetary policy to favor the banks. Many of the new rich are not entrepreneurs but “rent-seekers”, he says, who use monopoly power to boost profits.
I happen to agree with his view point 100%
Stiglitz is right to focus on the issue. Across the developed world, the average worker is suffering a squeeze in living standards while bankers and chief executives are still doing very nicely. This dichotomy is bound to have social and political consequences. Most reasonable people understand that-not so your average Fox News viewer in America. Who is too busy complaining about "wealth redistribution" to the "Lucky Duckies" than what is really happening. Namely that the wealth is heading upwards.
The final book I am in the process of finishing ( have been reading it off and on in starts when I am depressed, which lately has been a lot) is submitted without comment.