Discussion in 'Off-Topic Discussions' started by Ted Heiks, Jul 27, 2013.
Fighting Means Killing-Jonathan Steplyk
The Martian by Andy Weir
The movie version is actually my favorite movie. The movie version is very faithful to the book (with some content in the book excluded in the movie because of time, of course) although I wasn't prepared for the depth of the exposition around the scientific concepts, a lot of which goes over my head.
Then you'll be happy to know that Artemis is also very good and that Hail Mary, his latest, is phenomenal.
While God Is Marching On- Steven Woodworth
Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. Strongly recommended.
From Rebellion to Revolution by Eugene Genovese
LinkedIn posts from smart people with fat bank accounts.
"Have you checked out the three sieves from Socrates?
Socrates always asked people if they had checked whether what they were going to tell him was true, good and useful when they came to him to tell him something about a friend. If it was neither checked for accuracy, nor good or useful he would tell them to keep it to themselves. We modern westerners could learn a thing or two frome those Ancient Greeks ''
Guess who is going to steal this and tell it at work as if it were their own?
But in all seriousness : I love Ancient Greek literature.
I'm going to re-read the allegory from Plato this weekend sometime.
I recently finished two books.
The Taliban: War and Religion in Afghanistan, 2nd Ed., by Peter Marsden (2002). Updated in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks it goes through the history of the Taliban and Afghanistan itself. It's a quick read, about a hundred pages and really helped me understand the value clashes that define the Taliban in relation to Afghanistan and why the US mission there was hopeless. Under Taliban rule, many Afghans never had any contact with them because the Taliban focused mostly on the cities they were felt too liberal. Combining that with most communities making decisions with committees of elders (jirga) and having little want or need for a central government, it's easy to see why, in retrospect, the Afghan government was always going to struggle without change coming from the inside.
There's so much history in this book that I couldn't keep it together, this one definitely needs a re-read so I can soak in the chronology that the author painstakingly sets out, from antiquity to the modern day.
Safety, Liberty, and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism, edited by Gary J. Schmitt (2010) was interesting. Another short read (150 pages but about 50 pages of endnotes), this book examines the counterterrorism frameworks of the United States, France, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. It compares and contrasts the systems, showing that although there is wide variability in how they work it's not simple enough to say that we (the US) need to adopt X country's process because each has strengths and weaknesses - and each exists in the framework of that country's law.
It pushes back on the idea that we've had a significant curtail in civil liberties in the US despite an increase in the executive power (not sure I agree with the editor on this one.) One notable part of this book included Germany's civil rights laws being so strong that a bill allowing the shooting down of hijacked planes was found to be incompatible with the law. A good reference book but not one that I'm likely to read again.
Read Johan Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle Ages.
Republic of Detours- Scott Borchert
I recently read Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed (2014) by Ahdaf Soueif. I picked it up at the dollar store. Then later thought I lost it when I moved last year and just bought another copy, only to find my original copy.
So I finally decided to read it since now I own it twice. It's written as a series of diary entries. Unfortunately it's very hard to follow and I found it rather boring. Perhaps useful for those who had also lived through the Arab Spring in Egypt, to compare and contrast experiences. As an outsider though, it very much reads like someone's actual diary: out-of-context entries with lots of detail only meaningful to the author.
Finished The Great War of Our Time: The CIA's Fight Against Terrorism--From al Qa'ida to ISIS (2015) by Michael Morell, former Deputy Director of the CIA. This was an enjoyable read. You really get an intimate view of the CIA, and events like the intelligence leading up to and decisions around the killing of bin Laden are described in detail. I also like that, barring one enormous exception, Morell discusses missteps he made or qualifies himself, acknowledging where he could have done things differently.
The only part of the book I struggled with was his defense of Bush administration torture. He claims, directly contradicting the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the matter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senate_Intelligence_Committee_report_on_CIA_torture), that torture led to information of value being collected from detainees. He also minimizes rendition, explaining it as the process of moving someone from the US to their "country of origin", when the reality is that numerous individuals suspecting of terrorism were from one third party country (like Germany) to another third party (like Egypt or Yemen), where they were tortured.
He defends torture by indicating that in his opinion it works, and also that the Bush-era DOJ found it "legal." Of course, legal doesn't make moral. To Morell's credit, he says he personally is not in favor of waterboarding, but it was a package deal. He effectively endorsed other people getting waterboarded as long as he didn't have to do it.
Another interesting part of the book was his lengthy discussion of Edward Snowden. Although I think Snowden did something of value, I do think that Morell raises a good point - Snowden did not need to do the bulk disclosure of documents that he did, when many were unrelated to the warrantless wiretapping. He could have selected a small selection of "smoking gun" documents to provide the media and not the 10,000 documents he stole, out of the 2 million he had access to.
Outside of that, I felt like it was a very good book providing a behind the scene's look at the CIA. It's also useful for anyone interested in counterterror because a lot of the book discusses Al Qaeda affiliates and specific terrorists and their actions and foiled plots.
I just finished American Cipher, a detailed account of Bowe Bergdhal's life, kidnapping and recovery.
It really highlights the magnitude of the mistakes, the comedy of errors that needed to be made for Bergdahl to wind up in that situation.
He had clear mental health issues before he joined the military, including self-injury. Two separate teams of Psychologists diagnosed him with schizotypal.
After being discharged in Basic Recruit Training for "failure to adapt" from the Coast Guard, he found himself joining the Army in 2009, his past discharge and scars ignored because they needed bodies.
He was assigned to a band of "screw ups" and felt leadership was ineffective. His original plan was to hike to the nearest base from his outpost and let them know of the command failures he believed he was witnessing. He was only in Afghanistan 5 weeks, joining his unit months late because of an infection in his foot.
Eventually his disappearance was leveraged by mission planners all over Afghanistan. Any mission or resource was approved if they said they were looking for him, even though they knew 3 days after his disappearance he was already in Pakistan.
That led to a tidal wave of soldiers who believed they were injured in Afghanistan "looking for Berghdahl" (what they were told, not the truth) and right-wing media called him a secret Muslim who played soccer with the Taliban and trained them in tactics when the reality was he spent the better part of 5 years in a cage being tortured and made repeated escape attempts.
A very good book. I came away from it feeling immense sadness for Berghdahl. He pled guilty to desertion, because he did leave his post. He served no jail time, even though John McCain (in his role confirming nominees as Chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee) personally promised to railroad the career of any officers who allowed Berghdahl to walk without jailtime.
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