Monthly Archives: July 2013

Book Review: Shadow of the Corps: A Novel

Shadow of the Corps: A Novel by James Dupont falls in the category of a thriller. It combines a background of a Marine Corps trial in the past and a serial killer in the present. DuPont is a Marine with twelve years of active duty as a pilot and legal adviser. He is currently a commercial pilot and holds the rank of major in the Marine Corps Reserve. This is his first novel.

Dale Riley fresh out of law school joined the Marines to be a hero. One case will change his life and his career. A Marine is accused of bombing an Afghan village with out authorization, killing seventy eight civilians and five Marines, and Dale, against better advice, chooses to defend the pilot. The main story opens with Dale, his wife, and their son living with Dale’s parents. Dale is unemployed, out of shape, and down on life. Almost by accident he sees an obituary for Marine lawyer, the name is familiar: the prosecuting attorney in the pilot bombing case. Here is where the story takes off. There are plenty of twists and surprises in the book and the pace is constant. As the novel develops, more of the trial and the past are brought to the present.

Contemporary novels are not my usual reading, but occasionally I do take a break from non-fiction or the classics and read a modern novel. The Marine Corps imagery on the cover drew me in as well as the short description of the book.Shadow of the Corps supplies everything I needed. As a former Maine, I appreciated the back-story. The story telling is more than adequate and easily holds the readers interest. It is a good escapist novel, although nothing in it is far fetched even with the twists and turns. It is a good summer read or great read for those who enjoy crime thrillers. It was an enjoyable read.

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Book Review: Where They Bury You

Where They Bury You is a novel by Steven W. Kohlhagen, whose background is economics, not history. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Freddie Mac and is an Advisory Board member for the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. From 1973 to 1983 he served as professor of International Economics and Finance at U.C. Berkeley. He’s held senior management positions with several major financial institutions in both the private and public sectors. As an author, Kohlhagen has written several books on economics and now a historical fiction novel

I didn’t read the author’s biography before starting the book or I might have wondered how Kohlhagen came to write historical fiction. His only connection to the West seems to be living in the San Juan Mountains. Reading the book, however, you would assume his PhD would have been in history and not economics. Kohlhagen captures the history, color, and flavor of the Old West and weaves a compelling story around historical events. Although there are a few stories running simultaneously, they are seamlessly woven together. The individual stories more than hold their own and could be be considered complete by themselves. Even with my background in history, I didn’t feel the need to fact check or nit-pick historical events. Unlike many historical fiction novels, I was caught up in the story and not the historical details. This presented a unique and enjoyable experience.

Before the book begins, each character is introduced and listed in their order of appearance, and further separated into historical and fictional players. There is a simple but adequate map covering all the important locations and events, and the preface sets the background for the historical mystery. Major Cummings was found dead with what would with about $1 million in today’s money. Kit Carson believed Cummings was killed by a “hidden Indian” but does history support that explanation? And what was an Army major doing carrying around that much money in battle?

The novel takes place in the New Mexico Territory beginning in 1861. Kohlhagen includes readily recognizable characters in the story, including Geronimo, Kit Carson and Cochise. Cochise is introduced as a peaceful Indian in the territory until a freshly-minted West Point lieutenant changes all that and begins over ten years of violence between the Indians and settlers. Thrown into the Indian troubles is the start of the Civil War and the friction between Union and Confederate settlers. Complicating matters are General Sibley’s and Colonel Baylor’s Texas Volunteer forces that move into the New Mexico territory to claim it for the Confederacy.

Finally, intermixed into both historical events is the main story. This provides the bulk of the fiction in the novel and serves to solve the mystery surrounding Major Cummings. The cast of charters here is mix of fictional and historical characters and a scam they run against the army, the territory, and the Catholic Church in New Mexico.

Where They Bury You is a very readable and enjoyable Western novel. The character development is very well done and the fictional characters play an integral part of the story, written as though they belong in the actual history. Personal lives and histories of the fictional characters add to the realism of the story. The characters have human wants and needs, from wanting retirement, to buying a ranch, to their own “private interests.” The writing is clear and easily draws the reader into the story. I will admit Westerns and Civil War books are hardly my favorite books to read; I count only three on my shelf, but Kohlhagen avoids all the traps and clichés of typical Westerns and keeps true to his story. All in all, Where They Bury You is a very impressive novel for fans of Westerns and even for those who are not fans of Westerns. It has a universal appeal. Definitely a quality read. 4.5 stars.

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Book Review: Cuban Revelations:Behind the Scenes in Havana

Cuban Revelations:Behind the Scenes in Havana by Marc Frank is a study of Cuba’s recent history and the gradual turning over of power. Frank has witnessed many events in Cuba from the good times to the fall of the Soviet Union and the transition of leadership. In the closed Cuban system, Frank is holds a definite edge in English language reporting on Cuba. He is also the recipient of various Thomas Reuters awards for Latin American and global stories.

In Vietnam, America suffered 58,209 deaths in a war against communism. Twenty years later, America opened diplomatic relations with the communist government of Vietnam. The war was a traumatic time for many in the US (and more so Vietnam), yet the page was turned. Ninety miles south of Florida is the island nation of Cuba. In 1959, Cuba had a revolution and overthrew the Batista government. Initially the US recognized the new government but quickly relations soured over property rights. Relations further dissolved into the missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion. All in all, only four Americans died, but to this day the US does not have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba. This something shared with only four nations: North Korea, Iran, Bhutan, and Taiwan.*

Frank opens the door on what seems to be a secretive Cuban government. He is able to take the American reader inside Cuba. He talks to the people and get a personal perspective on the workings in Cuba. He describes the workings of the government and government policy. More importantly he take the reader into the change of leadership and the changes that are being instituted under Raul Castro. Many changes came quietly and many have caused some questioning of the revolution. Private businesses and selling of property are being conducted in the open with government permission. The fall of the Soviet Union has created an urgent challenge for Cuba. It lost its major source of subsidized trade and is now loaded down by debt. Countries are hesitant to offer loans Cuba, and Cuba does not have access to the World Bank or the IMF.

Cuban Revelations gives a short history of Cuba mainly dealing with the time from the fall of the Soviet Union and the aging and retirement of Fidel Castro. Frank gives the reader an insiders view to Cuba that most do not get to see. Most information is first hand reporting, but there is also over twenty pages of documentation. Cuban Revelations is a timely and well written book covering on of the most interesting American foreign policy issues and the inner workings of a country closed off to Americans. A very worthwhile read.

*Bhutan only has relations with 22 countries. Since Recognizing the People’s Republic of China, the United States no longer recognizes Taiwan as an independent country.

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Book Review: Qatar: Small State, Big Politics

Qatar: Small State, Big Politics by Mehran Kamrava is a study if Qatar and how it rose to prominence in today’s world. Kamrava is Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. He is the author of eight books and numerous journal articles. Kamrava holds a PhD from Cambridge University in Social and Political Sciences.

Qatar is a small country that most Americans would be hard pressed to tell you much about; perhaps that is something Qatar counts on. It is a country that would make Machiavelli proud. Qatar depends on the United States’ security umbrella and the two major US bases for protection, but at the same time enjoys friendly relations with Iran and regional Islamists. It is also sandwiched between two major powers in the region Iran and Saudi Arabia and must rely on being smart because it does not have the military to be a hard power.

Instead of spending on the military Qatar develops its infrastructure. From universities, desalinization plants, luxury residences, and a modern society, Qatar has built an unique country in the Middle East. It’s capital, a dusty fishing village in the 1930s, is now a modern growing city, out classing many western cities. The government’s social net is huge and supported by large oil and natural gas reserves and smart investments by the government. Qatar owns 10% of Porsche, and percentages of Tiffany’s, the London Stock Exchange, the Nordic Stock Exchange, and also went on a buying spree during the banking collapse. Smart government also budgets well under the expect price of oil and gas. Qatar has managed to separate itself from the usual single commodity economy of many oil nations.

Smart government has spared Qatar from civil unrest experienced in other Arab countries. Qatar supported the rebels against Qaddafi. A member of the ruling family is quoted as saying “We believe in democracy, We believe in freedom,we believe in dialogue, and we believe in that for the entire region…” Surprising words from a monarchy. The Shia minority is integrated into the society and there is seemingly no friction between the Shia and Sunni majority. To further reduce friction religious Qatar does not use contract or migrant workers from other Muslim countries, instead preferring to use South Asians workers.

Qatar is a very interesting study in small nation power in world affairs. I cannot think of a small country that has had so much wealth and power on the world stage since 17th century Netherlands. It has broken the role of a minor player by making smart moves that further its interests without damaging the interests of other nations. Kamrava explains many more aspects of Qatar than what I have mentioned. Qatar is quiet in its policy. It does not create waves; it says what seems to be right. It is the richest country in the world and at the same time under the radar. Qatar is an excellent study in modern history, foreign policy, and development. Highly recommended

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Book Review: Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II

Behind the Lines: A Critical Survey of Special Operations in World War II by Michael F. Dilley is a study and critique of the beginnings of special forces operations in World War II. Dilley grew up in a navy family spend his youth in various US and Far East bases. He joined the army in 1964 and served as a counterintelligence agent, interrogator and intelligence analyst. Dilley served two tours in Vietnam and is a master parachutist and graduate of jumpmaster school. He is also the author of two other books on the military.

Dilley starts with an introduction to what make a unit a special purpose or special mission unit:

Units that conduct missions not typical of their branch of service
Units that are formed to conduct a particular mission
Units that receive special training
Units that use specialized equipment of standard equipment in a non-standard role
Units that preform scouting, ranging, raiding, or reconnaissance missions
Units that conduct or train indigenous people in guerrilla warfare or unconventional warfare

This definition is helpful in setting a modern definition of special operations. For example, the US Marine Corps fit this definition in the 18th Century. They were created to to perform roles for the navy not usually assigned sailors. Marines filled the role of infantry for the navy. They were sharpshooters on naval vessels (think of snipers firing ship to ship). Marines conducted amphibious raids and reconnaissance for the navy. Lastly, and most famously, they trained and organized local tribes against the Barbary Pirates of Tripoli. Today, however, the Marines are not considers special forces because they are a branch of the military assigned to these tasks as part of their regular duties.

Once Dilley establishes what a special operations unit is, he gives example of historical missions. The examples used cover a wide variety missions and mission types. Airborne, jeep, and amphibious missions are included with various objectives. Not all missions are successful and those that are successful are successful in varying degrees. Dilley evaluates each mission with his own set of parameters:

Adequate intelligence
Poor Coordination
Provision of faulty information to the national leadership
Wishful thinking
Inappropriate intervention in mission execution

There are many excellent stories in Behind the Lines. From the German rescue of Mussolini to jeep attacks against the Germans in North Africa, the stories hold the reader’s interest. Not every story has something to do with attacking the enemy. The Triple Nickle, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, America’s first black paratrooper unit was trained as smoke jumpers to combat Japanese incendiary balloons in the Pacific Northwest.

Behind the Lines provides the reader with more than history. The stories of the operations are well written and cover a wide variety of mission types. That alone makes this book well worth reading. Dilley goes a step farther and critiques each mission: what went well, what went wrong. There are failures in the best planned actions and sometimes success by accident. The missions are not restricted to American operations but include British, Russian, Japanese and German. Behind the Lines is a very worthwhile read. It is an excellent history and also a very study into planning and results. It should have a wide appeal beyond historians and World War II students.

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Book Review: Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism

Cartography of Revolutionary Anarchism by Michael Schmidt is a study in the world history of Anarchism. Michael Schmidt is Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism and Administrative Secretary of the Professional Journalists’ Association of South Africa. An active participant in the international anarchist milieu, he is an investigative journalist, a researcher, an amateur song-writer and a tireless advocate for journalistic freedom. With Prof Lucien van der Walt, he is the author of Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, published in 2009 by AK Press. He lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. 1

Cartography is published by AK Press a collectively owned and operated publisher. It specializes in radical left and anarchist literature and accessories. I usually do not include publisher information in reviews, but AK Press practices what they publish. They are organized as a worker’s co-operative; there are no bosses, all members are paid the same and have equal say in the company.

Schmidt has a rather straight forward mission: Provide a global history of Anarchism. He does a through job of writing a detailed history divided into five waves:

First Wave 1868-1894
Second Wave 1895-1923
Third Wave 1924-1949
Fourth Wave 1950-1989
Fifth Wave 1989 to the Present

Each Wave has major events that anchor in place. The Fifth Wave, for example, starts with the fall of the Soviet Union. The introduction is detailed and provides background information and defines anarchism and syndicalists as well as making comparisons to Marxism. The history is very detailed, but the writing style is extremely dry. At times I felt like I was reading a list. Schmidt does an excellent job documenting his work and the notes give plenty of additional source material. This is a rather difficult book to review because the history is presented without embellishment, but the reading is dry. Cartography is an excellent reference book, but probably something you would want to read cover to cover. 4 stars for the information. 2 Stars for the writing. 3 Stars overall.

1 Michael Schmidt’s biography is pulled directly from the AK Press www.akpress.org

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Book Review: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan is a study of the historical Jesus and the Jewish people and their relationship with the Romans. Rez Aslan is an Iranian-American writer and is on the faculty of University of California, Riverside. He came to America in 1979 with his parents who were fleeing the Iranian Revolution. Aslan holds a BA in Religions, a Masters in Theology in from Harvard Divinity, and a PhD in Sociology of Religions from UC, Santa Barbara. He is well published in newspapers and has made numerous appearances on television and radio. He has also written several books on religion.

Warning: This book and this review is not for everyone. I can see how some would be offended by the contents of this book and for that matter this review. Aslan writes about the historic Jesus and not the divine Jesus. He places events in their historical context, examines the original language texts, and compares it to Hebrew scriptures. The Gospels are compared for content and for the time period they were written.

Aslan provides a good history of the Jewish people and the Roman occupations. Pontius Pilate who had a great dislike of the Jews. He wold never release a prisoner for Passover, and it is unlikely that he would have given any personal attention, let alone a trial for a Jew accused of treason. Death sentences were carried out regularly without much more thought the a stroke of a pen. If there was to be a question asked of Pilate it would be “Are you the King of the Jews? “ King of the Jews was a political title, Herod held that title. For someone not appointed by Rome to take that title would be considered treason against the Roman Empire.

Zealot challenges many ideas and words that have been misrepresented through history. Jesus was a Nazarene; he was not born in Bethlehem. Only Mathew and Luke place Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but consistently refer to him as a Nazarene. The census that supposedly brought Jesus’ family to Bethlehem was a fabrication to tie Jesus to the House of David. Rome would not shut down its entire economy for weeks or months so that people could return to their birthplaces and wait to be counted. People were counted where they held property so that their taxes could be assessed, not in their birthplaces.

Paul is also covered in the book and his rise to prominence over James the Just, brother of Jesus. Paul is shown to do his own thing and ignore many of the teachings of Jesus. In fact his only mention Jesus life is the crucifixion, resurrection and the Last Supper. Paul appoints himself as the 13th apostle and he is the one who breaks with the Old Testament teachings much to the astonishment of the twelve apostles.

It’s not that Aslan is trying  destroy Christian beliefs. He looks at the events strictly as a historian. He covers a great deal of ground inZealot. Temple history and practices are covered as are the Romans and Roman Law. Healing, purification, and the many messiahs that existed before Jesus are also covered. Very little in first century Holy Land is left unexamined.

Zealot will make you rethink what you know about the New Testament and Jesus. Alslan writes a very well thought out book and a very well supported book. He includes over seventy pages of documentation to back up his claims, and that support is needed on such a sensitive subject. It is an very informative book for any reader with an open mind and willing to look at history. I highly recommend the book.

For those posting comments:

1) I am not Reza Aslan, PhD.  I just reviewed his book.

2) Your personal religious beliefs are your own.  They do not belong here and will not be approved unless, you have a book detailing your religious beliefs.  Then I would be more than happy to review it.  Send me a copy along with your academic credentials.

3) Post concerning material in the book or my review are always welcome.

And finally, Thank You to the hundreds of people who took the time to read my review.

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Book Review: Building Bridges: Is there hope for North Korea?

Building Bridges: Is there hope for North Korea? by David Alton and Rob Chidley is a study of North Korea and world. David Alton is a former teacher and a long time British politician, life peer baron, and member of the House of Lords. Originally a member of the Liberal Democrats, he left the party over their pro-choice position. Alton is an outspoken supporter of human rights and has been appointed to two Roman Catholic orders of chivalry. Rob Chidley, also a former teacher, and former wrote for the British office of Habitat for Humanity and has authored the novel The Third Tribe.

North Korea has been receiving more than its fair share of attention lately. The world’s only family communist dynasty is now in its third generation and not slowing down in its rhetoric. Still technically still at war with South Korea, it now has nuclear weapons and the capability to launch them beyond their borders. North Korea has the disastrous mix of one of the world’s largest army and one of the poorest economies. It is the text book example of a rouge nation.

The problem has been how to deal with North Korea. America is not a viable party in peaceful debate. North Korean leadership has indoctrinated the public to believing America is the force of evil. School children attacked and beat effigies of Americans as a popular recess game. South Korea is seen merely as a pawn of America. The authors introduce a new dimension to the mix: Christianity. South Korea has a sizable Christian population, but in the North, Christianity is effectively outlawed. It is seen as a connection to America and South Korea and although freedom of religion is guaranteed in North Korea, Christianity is seen as treason.

Another topic is food. Food cannot be used as a weapon because it only causes the poorest to suffer more and allows the ruling government to blame those imposing the sanctions. Sanctions, often portrayed as a humanitarian option to war, usually always fail. US sanctions in Cuba probably did more to prop up Castro than bring any change. In other countries sanctions had a devastating effect on the people and little effect on those in power. Food should never be used as a weapon; as a weapon it has failed miserably in North Korea, only adding to the deaths.

China needs to be a major player in the the region. Finished with exporting Marxism/Maoism, China finds itself growing in world prestige and power. China however has attached itself to North Korea half a century ago and cannot find a way to break the bond. It has a policy of mandatory deportation for all North Koreans crossing the border. China has this policy to keep itself from being flooded by refugees, but all the deported refugees are sent to prison camps or die before they get there. China no longer unconditionally supports North Korea any more which is further isolating the country.

The authors suggest something like the Helsinki Accords for North Korea. The Helsinki Accords were a declaration between thirty-five European states, the United States, and Canada to reduce tensions between the the West and the Communist Bloc. The authors support this type of thinking for North Korea. South Korea has repeatedly tried to better relations, and some times they were successful. China and the US (under Clinton) have tried also. The problem with a Helsinki-like solution is that when it was tried in 1975 many people in the Eastern Bloc remembered freedom and the pre-Soviet era. Eastern Europe was also bombarded with the Voice of America and even shortwave BBC. The people knew what western life was and many wanted it. In North Korea, no one remembers living in an open society, and very, very few listen into South Korean radio. There is no outside influence to North Korean life; many people believe that they have a higher standard of living than most of the world because that is what they are told. Opening North Korea would expose the regime for what it is and that will not happen under the current government. The people in Eastern Europe knew they lived under tyranny and wanted to end it. There are no visible cracks in the North Korean regime and no popular dissent among the people. A Helsinki type accord would probably only add legitimacy to the regime and human rights abuses.

It is easy to poke holes into other people’s theories and ideas, but what are the options. Invasion is not the answer. No matter how much you think you are liberating a people, they will still see you as invaders as the US found out in Iraq. Aid in exchange for stopping the nuclear program did not work. South Korea’s olive branches usually end up broken. North Korea is something unique; it is a non-rational player in the world. There can be no reasoning with the regime. It is like trying to talk with a delusion paranoid.

Building Bridges does several things right. First, it provides a detailed history of the Korean peninsula, rather than starting at the end of World War II. Secondly, it includes the Christian tradition in the Koreas; something that is usually not thought of in a Far Eastern country without Western colonization. Third, they offer new ideas on the Korean situation. Lastly, and most importantly, they remind the reader that million of innocent people are victims of some of the worst human rights violations. People, particularity Americans, forget that countries are not just governments, but other people– men, women, children, families. Solutions to international problems must also reflect the impact on the people. Starving a country with a blockade or sanctions is generally as well received as an open invasion. I fully support the authors compassion and their Christian ideals. I appreciate the fact they bring new ideas to the table, but unless there is an improbable change in the regimes thinking or equally improbable popular uprising, I fear there will be no meaningful solution the the Korean question for some time. The authors know this is a difficult problem and it is reflected in the title. It is easier to build walls than bridges; the authors chose the more difficult path. Building Bridges offers a refreshing change form the usual solutions of military power and sanctions. I would recommend it to anyone interested in North Korea or current foreign affairs.

The reviewer hold a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX

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Patti Smith Declaration of Independence

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July 4, 2013 · 12:56

Patti Smith 4th of July

Patti Smith 4th of July

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July 4, 2013 · 12:50