Category Archives: Book Reviews

Orwell Reads the Finale of 1984

Bouncing around YouTube on a Friday night:

What Books Changed Your Mind in 2006?

I chronicled my favorite business-y books of 2006 on my business-y blog.
Here’s the political books:
Whose Freedom?: The Battle for America’s Most Important Idea by George Lakoff. Lakoff is a Berkeley linguist best known for introducing the concept of ‘framing’ into political discussion. You also know it as ‘marketing’. His most accessible book is Don’t Think of an Elephant where he details the cognitive differences between conservative and progressive/liberal politics. In Whose Freedom he takes apart the concept of ‘freedom’ – an underpinning of the US Constitution – and then shows where we all agree – and where you can use/abuse the concept for your own political gain. Sometimes dry but never dull. –
The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War by Andrew Bacevich. This book is amazing. Written by a military historian trying to reconcile his experience in Vietnam up through the Reagan years and into our current Project for the New American Century. Is American society inherently war-mongering? Why are US citizens so easily seduced into war and carnage? Bacevich runs through American military history from colonization to Baghdad and shows the common threads, warnings and themes that allow US citizens to fail to fully challenge military engagement. Not a partisan book at all. Bacevich tears apart illusions from both side of the aisle and illustrates the rehabilitation of the military post-Vietnam. I was born right after the last helicopter left so I really didn’t ‘get’ much of this context until after reading this book.
Exception to the Rulers by Amy Goodman and David Goodman. The host of the only independently produced news show in the US (and her brother) are back with a stunning collection of stories and examples to explain exactly why we are all in this handbasket together.
Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast. Ex-pat journalist Palast rakes the muck with a scarring investigation into nearly every pie the US has its finger in right now. You won’t believe why the US is really in Iraq.
The United States v George Bush et al. by Elizabeth de la Vega. A former federal prosecutor writes a hypothetical indictment [full text of indictment] and conspiracy trial against our dear leaders. I’d love to produce a staged version of this. Searing.
An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire by Arundhati Roy book. Novelist and activist Arundahti Roy is a great antidote to Thomas Friedman’s ‘India is coming to eat you.’ Roy remains a compelling voice for human rights and common sense as globalization continues our race to the bottom. Sad, angry and persuasive.

Light Holiday Reading

My holiday reading list:

Guns, Germs and Steel: When I kept talking about American Theocracy (oil panic, crazy debt, crazy Christians) everyone kept thinking I was talking about this book. So I got a copy. I want to read it before we get the PBS special which I hope is available on DVD.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail (by the author of Guns, Germs and Steel)

The Plan by Rahm Emanuel et al: Everybody’s favorite trashmouth Israeli-American ex-premier danseur Chicagoite has put together a treatise on his vision for the Dems.

Iraq Study Group Report: I feel like it is required reading if I’m going to be sufficiently informed.

United States v George W. Bush et al: Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega’s hyopthetical indictment and hearings against the whole gang.

Ya know, light holiday reading.

American Theocracy: Preface and Part III, Chapter 8

I’m celebrating Easter and the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ by reading the Kevin Phillips’ new book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed MOney in the 21st Century.

Phillips posits that the Republican party has been hijacked by oil interests, radical religion and the ‘borrower-industrial complex’.


3 biggest threats to the United States

Continue reading

Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11

Kristine Borjesson is back with a new book about media, politics and perception. Her previous book, Into the Buzzsaw is pretty mindblowing.

When I watch network news, it’s just so hard to watch. It isn’t attractive. They all look alike, they all sound alike, they all say the same things. And I don’t care how much makeup Robin wears, or how high she teases the back of her head and smiles and whatever. She’s not interesting, and she’s not covering interesting stories. Literally — the other day, she was covering something about dogs. It was obviously a throwback to one of those [ideas that] “the key stories are vets, pets, tits and tots.”

Added to the wishlist.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

(from last weekend in Nashville)

It is weird that as much as I love the movie Fight Club, I’d never read the book on which it was based.

There was a copy in my sister’s second bedroom so I was grabbed it and read almost all of it last night and then finished it this morning before I got on the plane. What I really respect is the intense love of the language of the book and how much of that idiom made it into the movie. The ending is different but still as satisfying as Ed Norton and Helen Bonham Carter watching as the buildings of credit card companies collapse. Other differences are the original source of the first soap and how the main character meets Tyler. I was surprised at the complete lack of physical description of Tyler. Most men in this country would love to have Brad Pitt’s body (either as their own or for their very own) so I was surprised Tyler wasn’t more fleshed out phsycially – but it makes sense and the book is surprisingly durable for being written many years ago. FIght CLub is one of those books I wish I’d written. The marriage of violence, crippled masculinity and consumerist rage were right up my alley.

I was also surprised to find that Chuck Palahniuk is an out gay author. He evidently is wary of being ghetto-ized as a gay author but it is refreshing.

I’d still like to adapt it into a stage play.

Book Meme

1. How many books do you own?

Probably in the 200 range right now. I purged many college texts a year ago. I don’t trust people that don’t own books.

2. Last book read?

Chain of Command by Sy Hersh and  Hegemony or Survival by Chomsky. Light summer reading.

3. Last book purchased?

Hmmm… I think Start Making Sense which I got for donating to Alternet. 

4. Name five books that mean a lot to you.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Need to return to this soon.

The Portable Coach by Thomas Leonard. A mind-changing book from a missed master.

Blowback by Chalmers Johnson. Single-handedly changed my entire worldview.

The Empty Space by Peter Brook. Musings on theatre: the sacred and the profane.

The First Folio of Shakespeare. The closest thing we have to his original intent.

5. Tag five more people. 

Um… Dunner, Sven, Chris, Richard and Cerda. And Beastmomma.

Problem From Hell, A: Chapter 5

Notes from Chapter 1-3, 4.

Lemkin needs the 20 UN members that voted for the genocide ban in the general assembly to now take that legislation home and ratify it domestically. Many assumed the U.S. would be among the first to ratify (we were among the first to sign the pact).

U.S. grievances to law:

Nature of violence needed to trigger global response not specific enough (law focuses on the intention to wipe out a group/culture – not just numbers or percentage points).

American Bar Association criticized law:

Certain [this] doesn’t mean that if I want to drive 5 Chinamen out of town… that I must have the intent to destroy all teh 400,000,000 Chinese in the world.

These details would be used later to argue intervening in the Cambodia/Khmer Rouge, Iraqi and Bonsian Serb exterminations.

Convention includes bodily harm, sterilizing, removing children – as part of a larger plan of extermination.

Concerns this would apply retroactively to the genocide of Native American tribes in the 19th century. Or even segregation in the South.

1950 U.S. Senate Subcommittee considered rider saying that:

Genocide does not apply to lynchings, race riots or any form of segregation.

Biggest opposition: American sovereignty (amplified by 1950s ‘Red Scare’).

Even though Eisenhower lauded the liberation of Buchenwald – he didn’t choose to put his support behind the convention ratification.

Post-WWII Holocaust was barely discussed (fears of reigniting Anti-Semiticism, Americans uncomfortable with topic of extermination).

1952 Diary of Anne Frank play, then movie (1959), then 1961 Judgement at Nuremberg.

1959 – New York Times uses the word ‘holocaust’ for the first time.

1945 – Universal Declaration of Human Rights eclipsed Lemkin’s campaigning. Some opponents of the genocide convention would try and kill the ratification since the UDHR might cover the genocide legislation.

1959 – Lemkin collapses and dies of a heart attack. 7 people attended his funeral.

Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire takes up gauntlet and begins speaking every day on genocide in Congress – over 22 years – 10,000 speeches (also originated the Golden Fleece awards for worst pork-barrel spending).

1968 Nigeria rages war on Christian Ibo – attempted to seceded – cut off food supply to population. Is starvation a legitimate weapon of war? 1 million people in Nigeria starved to death.

1971 – Pakistani troops kill 1-2 million Bengalis, raping 200,000+ girls/women. Indian invasion halts genocide.

1972- Burundi – Tutsis hunt down and kill 100,000 – 150,000 Hutus (mostly elites). 1,000 dead/per day. No reaction from U.S. for fear of disrupting U.S. relationship with the Tutsi regime.

Proxmire continue his daily soliloquies.

Problem From Hell, A: Chapter 4

Notes for chapters 1, 2, 3.

Chapter 4

Scholars urge that sacrosanct sovereignty does not include slaughter.

Hans Frank: (former German minister of justice)

Law is that which is useful and necessary for the German nation.

The shiny new United Nations would decide if genocide would go in the same container as piracy, forgery, sex trade, slaves and drugs (and later, terrorism).


It seems inconsistent with our concepts of civilization that selling a drug to an individual is a matter of wordly concern, while gassing millions of human beings might be a problem of internal concern.

Nuremberg trials chip away but treat agressive war as the crime – crimes committed after Hitler crossed an internationally recognized border. Atrocities before WWII were not included in the jurisdiction.

49 of Lemkin’s family members (incl parents) perished in Warsaw ghetto, death camps or death marches.

1945 October: Genocide mentioned in Nuremberg trials – first mention of the word in an int’l legal context.

19 Nuremberg defendants convicted of ‘crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity’ – but not genocide.

1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Criteria for guilt – party had to:

  1. Carry out one of the acts
  2. With the intent to destroy all or part of
  3. One of the groups protected.

Key word is intent – not success.

What mattered was that one set of individuals intended to destroy the members of a group not because of anything they did but because of who they were.

Convention closed loopholes of internal aggression, pre-war agression. (Of course, prevention and prosecution was a huge concern)

1948 December: 48 signatories vote yes.

40 years would pass before the United States would ratify the treaty.

50 years would pass before the int’l community convicted anyone of genocide.

Problem From Hell, A: Chapters 1 – 3

Book cover: red and white blinds, a pair of blue eyes looking through.

I re-started reading A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide today. Samantha Power takes us through the major genocidal events of the last century and the American reaction (or lack of). I’m gonna blog my notes:

Chapter 1

1915 persecution of Armenian population in Turkey (Wikipedia Entry)

Pasha Talaat: (Turkish Interior Minister)

We have been reproached for making no distinction between the innocent Armenians and the guilty. But that was utterly impossible, in view of the fact that those who were innocent today might be guilty tomorrow.

Talaat attempted to get New York Life Insurance Company, which insured many Armenians, to pay up saying: “They are practically all dead now and have left no heirs. The Government is the beneficiary now.”

This mass murder pre-dated Hitler. Before WWII, the yardstick for slaughter was Abdul Hamid (kiled 200,000 Armenians in Turkey 1895-1896) and the Belgian king Leopold, who pillaged the Congo for rubber (late 19th/early 20th cent).

Djelal Munif Bey: (Turkish consul)

Discrimination is utterly impossible and it is not alone the offender who suffers the penality of his act, but also the innocent whom he drags with him…. The Armenians have only themselves to blame.

1918 – war ends – first war crimes tribunal is planned (to try Kaiser and friends + Talaat and Co.). No U.S. support (isn’t that a surprise). Fell apart when Britian and Turkey did a prisoners/war criminals swap.

Chapter 2

Raphael Lemkin – Polish Jew – linguistics prof – came up with the term ‘genocide’
Apalled that ‘state sovereignty’ shielded wiping out a minority.

Sovereignty cannot be conceived as the right to kill millions of innocent people.

Youth: Occupied with studying atrocity. Russian/German battle came to his home. They hid in the woods.

Talaat’s assassination (by an Armenian survivor) brought him back to the topic. Wanted to link barbarity and vandalism – not just physical extermination, but cultural/intellctual as well.

Advocated for international law – always rebuffed (incl League of Nations).

WWII Persecution of Jews (and other groups) by Hitler Germany (Wikipedia Entry)

Hitler: (1939)

The aim of war is not to reach definite lines but to annihiliate the enemy physically. It is by this means that we shall obtain the vital living space that we need. Who today still speaks of the massacre of the Armenians?

(one week later – invasion of Poland, Hitler later restored Talaat’s ashes to Turkey where he was enshrined as a fallen hero)

Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: secret Soviet/German agreement. Poland divided into 2 zones.

Lemkin frustrated by his fellow Jews’ apathy, a baker said:

There is nothing new in the suffering of Jews, especially in time of war. The main thing for a Jew is not to get excited and to outlast the enemies. A Jew must wait and pray. The Almighty will help. He always helps. How can Hitler destroy the Jews, if he must trade with them? I grant you some Jews will suffer under Hitler, but this is the lot of the Jews, to suffer and to wait. We Jews are an eternal people, we cannot be destroyed. We can only suffer.

Lemkin tried to get his brother and parents out but they resisted leaving.

I read in the eyes of all of them on plea: do not talk of our leaving this warm home, our beds, our stores of food, the security of our customs. We will have to suffer, but we will survive somehow.

Lemkin makes it (alone) to Sweden in 1940 then to United States, began campaigning and lecturing. No result from Vice President (Wallace). No result from Roosevelt (who requested Lemkin prep a one-page summary).


We are in the presence of a crime without a name.

Chapter 3

Szmul Zygiebojm, also traveled Europe/U.S. lobbying and lecturing.

Why the apathy?

  • Hitler presented a threat to civilization – overshadowing his targeting of the Jewish population.
  • Anit-semiticism contributed as well, people were indifferent to their fate.
  • Belief that the Allies were doing all they could (no point in getting depressed).
  • Cremation factories/gas chambers sounded too far-fetched.

April 1943 Allies reject proposals to expand refugee admissions (limiting the number of Jews granted refuge in U.S. and Europe).

Zygielbojm kills himself in May 1943, suicide letter:

By my death I wish to express my strongest protest against the inactivity with which the world is looking on and permitting the extermination of the Jewish people. I know how little human life is worht, especially today. But as I was unable to do anything during my life, perhaps by my death I shall contribute to destroying the indifference of those who are able and should act.

Nov 1944 Lemkin published Axis Rule of Occupied Europe. 712-page exam of rules/decrees in 19 Axis countries:

The present destruction of Europe would not be complete and thorough had the Gemran people not accepted freely [the Nazi] plan, participated voluntarily in its execution and up to this point profted greatly therefrom.

Came up with ‘genocide’ term: ‘geno’ (tribe/race) ‘cide’ (killing).

Many of Lemkin’s Jewish contemporiaries desparied, wanting silence preferable to naming.

Also from Axis Rule:

Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor.

(A group did not have to be physically exterminated to suffer genocide – they can be stripped of cultural identity)

On to Chapter 4…