Monthly Archives: July 2014

Book Review: The Great War at Sea: A Naval History of the First World War

“There is something wrong with our bloody ships today.” Vice Admiral David Beatty to Captain Ernle Chatfield at the Battle of Jutland

H.H. Asquith British Prime Minister 1906-1916: “with deference to our soldiers, this war has been won with sea power.” 

The Great War at Sea by Lawrence Sondhaus

The Great War at Sea: A Naval History of the First World War by Lawrence Sondhaus is a detailed look at how sea power played a role in WWI. Sondhaus is an associate professor in the department of history and political science at the University of Indianapolis. He is the author of Naval Warfare, 1815–1914 Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf: Architect of the Apocalypse Preparing for Weltpolitik: German Sea Power before the Tirpitz Era ; and two volumes on the Austrian navy.

For many, myself included, World War I was usually covered in the History of the 20th Century or a similar class. My recollection was Germany invaded France through Belgium and the rest of Europe fell into war and a system of trenches. America entered the war to end the slaughterhouse that Europe had become. The Western front was covered in some detail. The Eastern front, which was far more active, was for the most part ignored. Naval warfare consisted of the Battle of Jutland and Germany’s unsuccessful submarine warfare. Over the years I have learned a great deal more of the war that formed the 20th Century. Naval warfare has always been limited in coverage with the exception of Jutland. Sondhaus presents a wealth of data on the effects of naval power on the outcome of the war. 

Prior to WWI, the world was recognizing the importance of a modern navy. Navy’s could easily change the outcome of the war. Japan’s navy humiliated the Russian navy twice in the decade before the Great War. Britain used naval power to secure trade routes for her Empire. America needed a navy, to support its claims in Latin America and the Philippines. Naval power meant power projection. Militarily, Germany and Britain were opposites. Britain had a strong navy and a weak army; Germany the strong army, fresh from the defeat of France in 1871, and a weak navy. Germany began a naval build up before the war with the intention of equalling Britain. 

Technology lead to changes in ship designs and much larger capital ships. Ships moved from burning coal to oil burning oil. Systems were designed for ranging and firing at targets, however even in the best situations accuracy was about 4% — four out of one hundred fired would actually hit the target. Torpedoes came into play with longer ranges,up to 5,000 feet. In an impressive growth spurt naval guns now could fire a 19,000 feet. Perhaps the most the most important bit of technology was wireless communications. From humble beginnings of 50 meters range grew to almost half a world away. Communications allowed better control of navies. 

On of the earliest naval battles was the running battle between HMAS Australia and von Spree’s squadron of German ships across the Pacific. Spree was intent on doing as much damage to the Allies as he could on his way back to Germany. Spree waged a running attack against the Allies until he was defeated at the Falkland Islands in December 1914. Spree’s run lasted 15,000 miles– unheard of in steam powered days. 

There was warfare in the Mediterranean Sea, though limited. Austria-Hungary’s navy was trapped by the French and British navy. Austria-Hungary did score a first in naval history on September 15th, 1916 when a naval seaplane sunk the french submarine Foucault. Unlike surface ships where guess work played a large role in dropping depth charges, from the air, a low running submarine gave a visible silhouette and an easy target. The problem was with the accuracy of dropping bombs. 

The sinking of the Lusitania is usually credited with bringing the United States into World War I. The US did not declare war on Germany until two years later. The Lusitania, did however, change US opinion of the war. Early on England and it’s strict interpretation of wartime contraband prevent almost all trade, including cotton, affecting United State’s rights as a neutral. Unrestricted submarine warfare did turn public opinion from German support to Allied support. 

The Great War at Sea is the most comprehensive account of the power and projection of naval forces in WWI. Sondhaus gives details of many events that usually do not make it into the general history books, or even other books on the First World War. There is a chapter devoted to the Russian Navy in the Russian Revolution, several chapters to the naval build up before the war, the war in the Mediterranean, detailed accounts of Germany’s main efforts in submarine warfare, and of course the Battle of Jutland and who won, if anyone. A very detailed and well cited work of history recommended for anyone want to know more about naval history or wanting a more complete history of WWI.

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Book Review: Shadow of a Dead Star

Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean

Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean is a dark, near-futuristic, science fiction novel that takes place in Seattle in the year 2078. The world is is different. The European War has set the civilization back but let technology advance. Old cities are deserted, except for the roving gangs that are out to rob you for what you have, including body parts. Civilized portions are patrolled by private police forces and somewhat overseen by the Bureau of Industrial Security. Thomas Walken works for the Bureau. Walken a former cop was recruited based on his job and his abilities. He is the best at what he does. Private police carry out most of the day to day law enforcement for those important enough for protection while completely ignoring those who are not. The Bureau becomes involved in federal matters like Wonderland. Wonderland is technology of evil. For example, Walken becomes involved in a case involving very young girls who are cyber enhanced sex slaves. Walken like most people are disgusted by the practice and these particular sex slaves may be something even more sinister.

Shadow of a Dead Star is fast moving and very, very dark view of the future. The future is the worst case scenario. Humanity has fallen to the lowest common denominator. Technology, all though impressive, is also oppressive. There is no where to hide if someone is looking for you. Corporations for the most part run their bit of the world, and they are for the most part untouchable. Genefex, is perhaps the most powerful. The story evolves nicely from a crime investigation to something far bigger and far more devious than imagined. Walken turns to friends when the system turns against him. Luckily for him Roberta “Bobbi” January is his friend. 

Shadow of a Dead Star is a book that will pull you in and not let you go. The reader will be pulled in by the characters, story, technology, or the depravity that humanity has become.Shadow of a Dead Star is perhaps one of the best science fiction novels I have read in quite some time. Fast paced, original, and very dark. I am looking forward to the sequel: Redeye

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Book Review: Joining Empire:The Political Economy of the New Canadian Foreign Policy

Joining Empire by Jerome Klassen

Joining Empire:The Political Economy of the New Canadian Foreign Policy edit by Jerome Klassen is a collection of essays discussing Canada’s foreign policy centering around the Afghan conflict. Klassen is a postdoctoral research fellow with the International Development Studies Program at Saint Mary’s University. Joining the Empire contains essays from experts in the field and journalists to provide a comprehensive look at how Canada became involved in the Afghan conflict and how it’s roles and views changed over a decade. The book also gives an outside look into American policy and motives. 

Since the end of World War II Canada has allied itself more closely with the United States than with England. The economic ties with the US allowed Canada to focus its military in peacekeeping programs rather than defense. Canada fell under the United States’ protection umbrella. Without the need to grow a huge defensive force Canada was able to look inward to social and infrastructure development. After 9/11 Canada felt the need to intervene with the United States in Afghanistan. Canada fought for peace, development, women’s rights, and international security. After a decade and 150 dead and 1,500 wounded, Canada still had not realized those goals. Contributor, Angela Joya, writes, you cannot have peace and democracy under a military occupation. The war was unpopular and not without its own scandals. Canadian troops turned over suspected Taliban to the local governments where they were tortured. 

Joining Empire also takes a critical look at US policy. It calls the invasion of Iraq an illegal war. Canada felt bound to intervene in Afghanistan, but took no part in the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. In the 1970s a communist backed government took control of Afghanistan and with it came human rights including women’s rights and an end to under aged and arranged marriages. Women made up a large percentage of university students. Things were improving in Afghanistan. The US did not support the communist government and covertly opposed it. When the Soviets moved into Afghanistan to support the communist government the US supported the resistance movement arming some of the most vicious Islamic groups and leaders including Osama bin Laden. US oil interests in the Caspian Sea area created a need for a pipeline through Afghanistan to avoid placing it in Iran. Negotiations with the Taliban failed after 1998 attacks on US embassies by bin Laden. In early 2001 the US military was asked to draw up invasion plans for Afghanistan. 

Joining Empire points out that US support for radical Islam in Afghanistan eventually came back to haunt the US; our allies became our enemies. In the same line of thinking the US claimed victory at the fall of communism as the USSR and the Eastern Block moved to market economies. China’s move to allow capitalism was also seen as a victory. However, these victories were short lived. The growth of consumer economies in the former second world has created a large demand for resources, competing with the US demand. Here again is a victory that creates problems twenty years in the future. Another example of US policy is the end of World War II. The Allies are victorious and impose strict military limitations on both Japan and Germany. While the US spends on a worldwide defense, Japan and Germany are allowed to concentrate on economic development and forego expensive military investment. 

Canada refers to itself as a junior partner to the US almost as it was to England before WWII. It picks it battles based on its own interests. Canada joined the Afghan battle, but refused to fight in Iraq or join in on the missile defense shield. Canada moved with idealism to Afghanistan but recognized the reality of the situation and the objectives of its allies. Paul Martin’s government developed an enlightened foreign policy practice known as 3D: Development, Diplomacy, and Defense. Canada wants to occupy the moral high ground in its policy, but the reality of the situation often hinders the execution of those plans. 

Joining Empire is a very well documented, scholarly look at Canada’s foreign policy and Canada’s intention to do the right thing. The book mentions that the terrorist did not hate America’s freedom. They hate America’s policies. Canada does not always do the right thing, but it does learn from its mistakes and the population is very skeptical of military involvement. The recognition of 150 deaths in Afghanistan (compared to the US with 15 times that number) has made Canada consider the cost of the war, in which none of their objectives were met. Many American’s will not agree with the book, but then many American’s had no idea Canada was fighting in Afghanistan or even had a full time military. It is refreshing to see America’s actions through the eyes of others. One must ask if our allies see us like this, how do other less friendly countries see America. Very well done book on international foreign policy. 

The reviewer earned a MA in International Relations in Security Policy from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX 


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Book Review: The Shovel & The Hare

I loved that the city was breathing at a runner’s pace yet inside all was as calm as a baby in the womb. ~ A Polaroid 

The Shovel & The Hare by Cory Basil

The Shovel & The Hare by Cory Basil is fable and excerpts from two collections of poetry: one previously printed and a collection to be published this fall. The title fable is a one of a work ethic in lines with Aesop’s Ant and Grasshopper fable. The poetry is well done and makes connections on several levels. “Jet Black Hair” is a short but dense poem about saying good-bye. “Already Strangers” tells about drift in relationships. “Falling Like Leaves” describes the recognition on aging. “All This Madness For a Cup of Coffee” is an observation of a typical morning outside a chain coffee shop. These and several other poems were first published Skinny Dipping in Daylight. These poems are well done and in a standard familiar form. The use of few words to convey great meaning is a typical format throughout. Short lines and simple observations lead to deeper understanding. 

The excerpts from the forthcoming Everything You’ve Heard is True follows the same format as Skinny Dipping with the addition of some paragraph poetry, like A Polaroid in the previous collection. The short line poem’s messages have been condensed even more. “Under a Blood Red Cry” is a powerful memorial to the Sandy Hook massacre. “I Can’t Find the Words to Keep You Near Me” is perhaps the most lyrical poem in the collection. The stronger messages and the additional paragraph poetry is enough of a taste to Everything You’ve Heard, to long for the full edition this fall. This young poet is one to watch and read. 

I received this collection as a Goodreads giveaway, and added Everything You’ve Heard is True to my to purchase list

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Book Review: London Fields

London Fields by Martin Amis

The story is about a murder that is going to happen, the book is about 450 pages (21 hours) leading up to that event. You know who is going to die, so that is not a secret. Nikki Six knows she is going to die and accepts that. She convinces one main character she is a virgin, while in reality being quite the slut. She has a fetish that she lets the narrator in on and in her own mind goes on to compare it as Cygnus X1, a binary star system in which one of the stars is now a black hole. One gives life, the other death. She relates this to her fetish by comparing the binary system to her own anatomy. She does it in such a way that it makes perfect sense in a very warped way. 

The man who believes she is a virgin, is Guy. He has money, a wife, and a truly monstrous toddler. I mean, not just terrible twos. This kid has violence issues. Joining the mix is Keith (pronounced, Keef). He a drunk, criminal, and possibly even worse. He, too, has a wife and child and cheats on his wife regularly. From girlfriends to paying the mother pimping her under 16 year old daughter. Keith is scum, but apparently fairly good at darts. He mumbles half thoughts in a drunken, hungover, just woke up, incoherent way. 

The narrator is a writer visiting London and staying at an acquaintance’s house. His first exposure to London is Keith. He meets Nikki at the Black Cross Tavern and meets Guy also. He interacts with the characters, and knows a murder is going to happen. So much so that the book he is writing is about the future murder that he does nothing to stop. 

What I did like in the book were some of the phrases and images. Airplanes were called crucifixes in the sky. Niki’s lingerie was described as “candied vulgarity”. The tv weathermen were described as the new combat reporters — braving the elements to delivery the important story. The description and the getting into the mind of the characters is also done well. You will actually hate some of the characters, really hate them. What Stephen King does for horror, Martin Amis does for loathsome characters. All in all, a good read although the characters rose above the story for me. Three and a half stars, rounding up to four. 

I listened to this book over the course of two weeks walking to and from work. I walk six miles each way so I have plenty of time to burn. I chose this as something lighter than the more classical book I have from audible. 


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Book Review: The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses

The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham is the book about the book. Kevin Birmingham received his Ph.D. in English from Harvard, where he is a lecturer in History & Literature and an instructor in the university’s writing program.

I am old enough to remember the Larry Flynt obscenity trial and remember hearing it compared to “Howl”. At the time I figured Flynt must be doing something absolutely vile because, it was the bicentennial year and America stood for freedom. There had to be a very good reason for a book to be banned in America. Joyce more closely resembles Ginsberg than Flynt, but the idea of censorship and proclaiming books as obscene is unheard of in today’s America. Most young adults would be hard pressed to name a censored or banned book. Groups express outrage and burn books ranging from about Harry Potter to the Koran. Politicians expressed their outrage over the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Karen Finley. However, you can buy just about any book or get any book you want. At the beginning of the twentieth century things were quite a bit different. 

I read Ulysses prior to reading Birmingham’s history. I found myself chuckling at some of the cracks both about sex, bodily functions, and religion. However, most of the book was pretty much what was expected in a modernist novel. One hundred years makes a huge difference in what is considered obscene.

Joyce could not his book published. Publishers turned the book down. Virginia Woolf’s small press also rejected the book. Woolf did not like the book, but rejected it on the grounds that it was much too big of a project for her small press. The portions she read, according to several scholars, did influence her writing Mrs. Dalloway. 

Ulysses did get published by a small bookstore in Paris run by the American Sylvia Beach exporting the book remained a problem. The surprising part was how America handled the book. The Comstock Act prevented any obscene material (and contraception information) to be sent through the postal system. Although today, the reader may not see the post office as a law enforcement agency, but at the time only the post office covered the entire country down to every street. There was no FBI at the time. The Sedition Act of 1917 gave the federal government power and forbade the use of “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. The Sedition Act stayed in effect until the end of 1920; two years after WWI ended. 

The Most Dangerous Book not only describes the difficulty of getting Ulysses published, but brings all the participants in the effort: Joyce, his family, Comstock, The Little Review, Margaret Anderson, Ezra Pound, and players on both sides of the censorship issue in the United States. The book also gives an in-depth look at censorship in America, which is usually stifled in American history. This is an extremely well done book with extensive documentation. It is a history that covers more than the attempts to publish a book. Reading the novel, Ulysses, is not necessary before reading The Most Dangerous Book. Aspects of the novel are covered in the book. Very highly recommended to history readers and for fans of James Joyce. An outstanding read.

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Book Review: The Road to Spring: Collected Poems of Mary Austin

The Road to the Spring by James Warren

The Road to Spring: Collected Poems of Mary Austin, edited by James Perrin Warren, is a collection of poetry influenced by the American Southwest. Austin was born in Illinois in 1868 and graduated Blackburn College in 1888. She married and settled in Bakersfield, California. Mount Mary Austin in the Sierra Nevada chain is named for her. 

I had no information on Mary Austin when I chose to read this collection. My usual shots in the dark with poetry have yet to lead me astray. This collection proved to be something very different from any of the poetry I have read before. It was centered on Native American life and traditions. I have studied Native Americans some in the historical context and know of the oral tradition of the people. Her work was something totally unexpected. Native American tradition put to poetry. It is not a combination that is expected, but Austin’s work is brilliant in capturing and combining two different cultures. From parting

Breaks now, Breaks now my heart
Thinking, from thee I part
Heart thou what says my heart 
Keep me
Keep me in thine alway 
(Sioux Song of Parting)

To nature

I do not know if there is a God
The center of this whirling orb
Making and unmaking 
I do not know if there is a God —
But there is spirit in the wood.
(I do not Know) 
To war

Weep not for warriors who go
Gladly to battle
Theirs to revenge
Fallen and slain of our own people;
Theirs to lie low
All our foes like them,
Death to make, singing
(Warrior’s Song) 

The collection with a strong Native American theme also contains a few diversions with San Francisco as the topic for two poems and forest rangers the topic of another. There is also a Southwestern feel to other poems. The Road to Spring is a unique collection of poetry that spans two cultures. Warren’s editing includes a great deal of notes and clarifications for the reader. This is an excellent collection that, in addition to great poetry, provides historical and cultural insight to America’s original inhabitants and the turn of the century American settlement into the Southwest. 

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Book Review: Collected Poems by Risa Stephanie Bear

Collected Poems

Collected Poems by Risa Stephanie Bear is a collection of poetry by author and naturalist Risa Bear. I had previously read her Starvation Ridge, a work of fiction, and became interested in the author. Her biography and postings on Google + peaked my interest. Here is a person who cared for the planet and her footprint on the planet before most people did. Her views and life reflect a more Native American respect for life and the earth than the modern environmentalist, but, unlike many other spokespeople for the planet, she truly walks the walk.

The collection seems to be separated into two distinct sections. In the first half of the collection the poetry, although written with feeling and imagery, takes a form much like nature. There is a pattern to her work; an earthy, natural pattern that is not confined to meter or line. It does have a recognizable form but like nature itself is free to grow and form as it pleases, where it can.

A few poems really jumped out at me. “we went to see the place” is about growing and eating locally. Instead of eating what is in our backyards, we would rather have food trucked in from hundreds of miles away. At this place Bear tell about the man selling the land and the fences round the property for sale. There is no fence between the man’s property and the property for sale. When asked why the man responded, “Oh, I don’t need a fence. Don’t want your apples, and you are welcome to mine.”

“we are that kind” took me a bit off guard, by my own assumptions, about the author’s diet. It is easy to assume that in a modern society meat is not needed, but in a self-sustained environment I can the reasoning and need. That faith was reaffirmed in ‘’fourth of july.” It is rare to find a person so honest in their beliefs. The first section finishes with the lengthy poem of “marching on the potomac, 1971” where she tells of protesting at the Selective Service Headquarters, being arrested, and of other people who in their own small way help make a difference.

The section is a collection of more traditional poems in subject and form. There is still the author’s personal connection with nature and her own beliefs. “the lessons we gave in our home school, such as it was” takes simples lessons on life and history and shows how they are twisted by society.

There are a handful of writers that I would really love to meet. Not just for their writing abilities, but for the message they spread. It is a small group and Risa Bear is certainly at the top of my list. Here is a person who lived a life I wish I could have, and an inspiration to live better.

4 1/2 stars

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