"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman


The title of Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? pretty much tells it all - it is an academic exploration into the people who deny the Holocaust ever happened and their motivations for making this claim.

Of course, you may be wondering why someone would make a claim like this, despite the film footage of newly-liberated camps, eyewitness testimony from both victims and perpetrators, the population records that show that, indeed, some 6 million Jews did not survive World War II and damning circumstantial evidence from Hitler and members of his inner circle that alludes to a "Final Solution" to the "Jewish problem".

Well, the deniers are a motley lot. Some are educated and well-spoken and others are not. Some feel that Germany has become a martyred nation to the cause of eradicating racism. Others are pro-fascist in politics and want to get rid of the taint that Nazi-ism gives to fascism, so they try to exonerate the Nazis.

Auschwitz's infamous "Work sets you free" sign
Others are just plain anti-Semites and sincerely believe the Jews somehow "cooked up" the population figures or even somehow managed to conspire to kill off 6 milion of their own people in order to create sympathy for the creation of a Jewish country, namely, modern-day Israel.

It was a fascinating book, a little deep at the beginning and the end with the different theories on how to approach history, but the middle was quite informative. 
I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Denying History.
Reviewed on February 11, 2005.

Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (audiobook) by Mark R. Levin

Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto reminds me of an expanded, modern version of Thomas Paine's Common Sense or Frederic Bastiat's The Law. It's nearest direct competitor is Glenn Beck's Common Sense, but Levin's work is superior.

Levin has a nice touch with a pen. He is, for the most part, a careful author that explains his points of view in everyday language, sometimes in a quite stirring way. This is ironic because Mark Levin is perhaps most famous for his radio show (The Mark Levin Show) where he is given to bombastic rants and over the top comments that make me cringe from time to time.

The audiobook is read by Adam Grupper who does a solid job, but, surprisingly not as good as Levin who reads the introduction himself. The introduction is a particularly strong - I think it is the best part of the book -  and if you have an Amazon Kindle you can download the introduction as a free sample and read it for yourself.

Levin defines conservatism in its most basic of terms and does not split the movement into its separate parts, such as social conservatives, fiscal conservatives but he does have comments towards some of the Neo-Conservative ideas concerning foreign policy.

Mark Levin
Areas of discussion include:

-Social Security. This area was very well discussed, including such alarming statistics as the fact that we now have 54 million people drawing Social Security/SSI checks;

-Socialized medicine. It works so well in the UK that dentists do not work once their yearly quotas have been reached (why would they - they don't get paid to do anything beyond their quota?). The creepy story of Barbara Wagner of Oregon who was not offered life-extending (but not curing) cancer treatments due to cost but was offered a free doctor-assisted suicide instead may be a harbinger of things to come;

-The section of Global Cooling/Warming/Climate Change (depending on the year) is strong;

-The Immigration Reform chapter is strong, but stat-laden. It is interesting to note that Cesar Chavez was against illegal immigration because competition from illegal immigrants lowered wages for the United Farm Workers. It is ironic because Chavez is touted as a hero in nearly every English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom I have seen. Other interesting facts that Levine cites (Note: I have no idea as to his sources since I heard it as an audiobook) are that 9% of Mexico's population is living in the United States (if you figured in the American-born children of illegal immigrants you could probably come up with this number) and 27% of Mexico's labor force works in the United States for 1/3 of their formal wage earnings. The comments from Mexico about how it considers the American Southwest to still be part of Mexico are alarming;

-Levin waffles on the topic of the Iraq War and the anti-terrorism laws passed after 9/11;

-Levin also, in my mind, unfairly attacks a vacuous foreign policy speech given in 2007 by then-Senator Obama. I have little patience for most politician's blathering niceties, but it is unfair to interpret the text of one speech given in 2007 as Obama's literal foreign policy stances as president;

-Levin ends with a flourish with a section about international treaties and conventions that emphasize "global citizenship" vs. the true purpose of government (to protect our rights, as noted by Locke, Jefferson and Bastiat).

An entertaining, interesting and thoughtful introduction to Conservatism.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin.

Reviewed on October 30, 2010.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals (audiobook) by Stephen E. Ambrose

An Interesting Study of Male Friendship

Published in 2001 by Recorded Books.
4 compact discs
4.5 hours
read by Nelson Runger

Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals is an exploration into male friendship by renowned historian and author Stephen E. Ambrose (1936-2002).

He looks into different kinds of friendship including friendship between brothers, friendship among schoolmates (especially college), friends from among his students, friendship among men who have been in combat together, friendship as young men, friendship as old men and the friendship that can develop between a father and son once his son is an adult.

Stephen E. Ambrose
Specific friendships studied include:

-The three Ambrose brothers;

-Dwight and Milton Eisenhower;

-The Custer Brothers, who all died at Little Big Horn;

-Crazy Horse and He-Dog;

-Eisenhower and Patton - two very different men who respected and valued their differences;

-Nixon as the friendless man (talented, driven but no skill at being himself and making friends);

-Ambrose's best friend;

-Lewis and Clark (perhaps the most poignant tale of the bunch);

-The men of Easy Company from his book Band of Brothers (perhaps the most touching of the book was a comment that is highlighted in HBO's serialized version of Band of Brothers - a veteran of Easy Company is asked by his grandson, "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?" "No. I served in a company of heroes.")

-Men who fought against each other but meet and become friends decade after the war;

-Ambrose and his father.

Fans of Ambrose will note that there is absolutely no new ground covered in this book - all of the people in this book are mentioned in other books, with the possible exception of his family stories. However, this is an interesting and useful analysis by a veteran historian who has finally completed enough studying to observe some basic characteristics of human nature.

I wonder why Ambrose did not mention his own sons when discussing the friendships between sons and fathers.

Ambrose comments on the beauty of friendship between old men - no rivalry, nothing but support and love. He notes that he can't wait until he is old and can enjoy such friendships. Sadly, Ambrose died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 66.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals by Stephen E. Ambrose.

Reviewed October 23, 2010.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I recommend hearing it as an audiobook

Kurt Vonnegut
I could add to the volumes of literary criticism that fills the reviews of Slaughterhouse Five, but what's the point of that?

Rather, I will recommend that you hear the book as an audiobook - the book's a stream of consciousness, disjointed approach works very well on tape. The reader shifts from one scene to another as easily as Billy Pilgrim does. The version I heard was not the one available here. Mine was narrated by Jose Ferrer and he did a wonderful job. Too bad Ferrer has passed on.

So it goes.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Slaughterhouse Five

Reviewed on February 3, 2005

The Associate by Phillip Margolin

Good, fast-paced roller coaster ride

If the first two opening scenes don't grab you than you had better check your pulse and see if you're still alive!
Phillip Margolin
Others have reviewed The Associate and correctly stated that it is not a pure legal thriller. True enough. There are legal parts to this story, but the case is not resolved through fancy legal footwork. Rather, the thriller becomes a mystery too and we race along with our heroes to see if they can save everyone and expose the villains.

Is it great literature? Hardly. But, it's a lot of fun and I tore through it like a starving man at a buffet.
I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: The Associate by Phillip Margolin.
Reviewed on February 1, 2005

Friday, October 22, 2010

When the Tripods Came by John Christopher

Solid Prequel.

When the Tripods Came is a prequel to the YA sci-fi trilogy known as the Tripods Trilogy. In the original trilogy, an alien master race rules the earth around the year 2100. The aliens are never seen and travel the world in giant tripods with prehensile legs (I often think of the Tripods when I see water towers in small towns). The aliens use mind control techniques to control the human population which lives in a low tech feudal type society. Every year young people are brought to the Tripods to be "capped" - a process that involves having a metallic cap attached to the skull that facilitates the control of humanity.

John Christopher

The original series was published in 1967 and 1968. The prequel was published in 1988. The prequel tells how humanity first encountered the Tripods when the Tripods landed on earth and seemed bent on destruction. The Tripods were quickly defeated militarily so the aliens pulled back and began using cartoon shows and pop music as a cover to deliver mind controlling messages. Soon enough, there are fights among those that have been mesmerized and everyone else. The mesmerized people attempt to cap everyone and the stage is set for the world that exists in the Tripod Trilogy, including the placid villages of those that are capped and the remote locations of those that continue to resist.

Comic Book Guy
The author, John Christopher (a psuedonym for Christopher Samuel Youd) says in the preface that he wanted to clarify how the world came to be as it was when the Tripod Trilogy began because so many sci-fi fans (I imagine them as British versions of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons) were critical of the technology that is described in the book and if this would have been enough to have overcome modern human technology. They were not considering that the level of technology in human history is rapidly advancing and even accelerating, so Christopher felt he had to justify it in some way.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found here: When the Tripods Came.

Reviewed October 22, 2010.

Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker

Painted Ladies is Robert B. Parker's latest offering in the long-running Spenser series. Parker died in January 2010 and this book was already in the pipeline waiting to be published (he has one more coming out called Sixkill). According to my count, this is number 37 in the Spenser series.

Painted Ladies is a solid novel. It is nowhere near as good as the best of the series (in my opinion, that would be Looking for Rachel Wallace and the ones created at about the same time in the late 1970s and early 1980s) but it is not an embarassment like Potshot, either.

The plot revolves around the theft of a piece of art called Lady with a Finch. Someone has called with an offer to return the painting for a ransom and Spenser is hired to protect Ashton Prince, the art expert who will deliver the ransom to the kidnappers during the exchange. Spenser ultimately fails as a bodyguard as the painting is booby-trapped with a bomb and Ashton Prince is vaporized right in front of Spenser as he waits in their car on page 13.

The bulk of the book is about Spenser and his decision to find out who killed Prince and why. No one from Prince's side of things is particularly interested in his offer to investigate, although, for a change, the police are. All of Spenser's police friends  (Quirk, Belson, Healy, etc.) are in this, but Hawk is not (he is purported to be in Central Asia working for the government).

Robert B. Parker
The story itself unfolds the way most Spenser novels do - Spenser starts pulling at loose threads in the investigation until he angers someone and they lash out at him and then he figures he's onto something and has a new course of investigation.

It is an enjoyable book - Spenser is slowing down a bit but the investigation is still interesting. There's at least one more book coming out - hopefully it's as solid as this one. While not as great as his best, it is solid and nothing to be ashamed of.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found here: Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker.

Reviewed on October 22, 2010.

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (audiobook) by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Better than the first book.

6 Discs
7 hours, 30 minutes
Read by: Stephen J. Dubner, one of the authors

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance is the sequel to the wildly popular book by the same authors, Freakomonics the movie and a newspaper column. One author is the economics talent - the man with all of the questions who knows where to find the answers. The other is the writing talent (who is learning a good bits of economics along the way, no doubt) who takes these interesting topics and puts them on paper in an interesting way.

The goal of these books and the newspaper column is to get people to look at the world in a different way - an economic way of thinking. I find these works to be fascinating, eye-opening and always entertaining, even if I don't always agree with their conclusions (sometimes I think they are asking the wrong questions or have not gathered in enough information).

Their main premise is that people generally respond rationally to incentives, sometimes you just have to figure out what the incentives are. Ironically, if not for me responding to the incentive of nearly free classes offered by the Indiana Council for Economics Education I would not have had the pleasure of having my mind blown by professor Mohammad Kaviani, who introduced me to the thoughts behind books like Freakonomics before the book was even published by teaching me and other teachers how to incorporate economics into every school discipline. I was so inspired that I went back to school and added economics to my teaching license.

Levitt and Dubner

Levitt and Dubner explore any number of items, including:

-Why horse manure nearly destroyed the great cities of the world and the car saved us from being buried in it.

-How prostitutes set their prices and why it would be a good idea for prostitutes to have a pimp

-How to figure out who is the best doctor in the E.R.  Like figuring out who is the best teacher, it is not as easy as it would seem - the very best doctors tend to get the sickest patients or they may avoid the sickest patients in order to get the accolades and compensation (if it is offered). Turns out, the best doctor tends to come from a top medical school, went to a top hospital for her residency, has more than 10 years of experience and is a woman. Peer rankings have no basis in reality.

-The relationship between terrorism and banking and why terrorists should buy life insurance.

-Why homo economicus is still a good symbol for people - a person that responds to incentives and is not, by nature, horribly altruistic.

-Car seats? Certainly they are better than letting the kids run wild through the car but are they better than seat belts?

-There is an extended discussion on global warming, including a potential cheap fix. The discussion should have been a little longer and looked into the incentives of people like Al Gore - why would he be against even discussing the cheap fix? He has remarkable incentives to keep his climate change panic machine running - fixing it puts him out of a job and cuts him off from the seat of power he has created for himself.

-and, last but not least, there is an entertaining story about teaching capuchin monkeys about money. As a result, we get monkey bank robbery and monkey prostitution. Amazing.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Superfreakonomics.

Reviewed on October 22, 2010.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (audiobook) by Mary Roach

Enjoyable - offbeat, funny, informative, thought-provoking

9 CDs
approximately 11 hours
Read by Sandra Burr

NASA Artist's conception of a Mars rover

The point of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void is not the technical challenges of sending an object to Mars. We have demonstrated that we can send a probe to Mars, operate it and do a bit of exploring.

No, this is about sending a human to Mars, a much more difficult proposition. Mary Roach deals with the following (and more) in her Packing for Mars:

-We eat, drink, and create bodily waste. How do we store enough food to make the trip to Mars?

-How do we deal with expelling bodily waste in a zero gravity environment (no toilets - everything would just float out!)

-What do we do with the waste? Can you recycle it back into food? Who would want to eat that?

-Can people actually live together in cramped quarters for months at a time with no break and not kill one another?

-What will zero gravity do to the human body during this trip?

-Can people actually have sex in a zero gravity environment? What if a pregnancy results - what will the fetus be like if it is developed in zero gravity?

-Zero gravity tends to create lots of nausea. How do we deal with it?

Mars, the red planet
-Can you propel yourself in space with flatulation? (sure, not a serious question, but now you want to know, don't you?)

-Personal hygiene in space. How stinky will that capsule be?

-What about dust that comes from sloughed off skin and hair? It is just going to accumulate all over the capsule.

-Can you bail out of a space capsule or shuttle if it has a bad take off or landing?

In this book you learn that the biggest challenge is, in Roach's words, "gravity and life without it." The 2nd issue, and it is a big one too, is size. The vehicle to Mars will be, by necessity, small. This means little storage, little elbow room and no place to go if nausea or escaping bodily waste become issues (her inclusion of the transcript of a space capsule conversation about free-floating "turds" is hilarious and serves to highlight that this has already been an issue that NASA has dealt with in the past).

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Packing for Mars.

Reviewed on October 21, 2010.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Drive Thru History: East Meets West DVD

I love this series

 I teach history in a public school so using this Drive Thru History: East Meets West in my classroom is not a viable option due to the contemporary religious references. However, if you are in a Christian school or homeschool with a Christian emphasis I can enthusiastically recommend this series.

East Meets West has two 30 minute plus programs about Turkey and Asia Minor. Turkey is literally where the Middle East meets the West.

In episode 1, Dave Stotts takes us to Cappadocia, a unique area with an underground city and roots in the Old Testament and in the post-Biblical era as a scene of anti-Christian persecution by both the Romans and the Muslims.

Episode 2 is the stronger of the two. It covers the Emperor Constantine, the controversy that caused the creation of the Nicene Creed, the fall of Constantinople and the wonderful Hagia Sofia church turned to mosque now museum.

Episode 3 is a "best of" for the first 4 volumes with a blooper reel.

Okay - bottom line. The history is good. The presentation is light and effective. The graphics are great. It's funny. Highly recommended.

I rate this DVD set 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Drive Thru History: East Meets West DVD.

Reviewed on July 21, 2009.

Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter

An entertaining read

W. Hodding Carter covers plumbing from the Ancient Indians, Greeks and Romans to modern day Japanese badet toilet in Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization, a meandering romp through sewers, both past and present.

Carter's light-hearted writing style makes it a fun read. He meanders all over the world of bathrooms, pipes and open-pit sewers but the trip is a fun one. There are a lot of detours, but it's fun and informative.

W. Hodding Carter
That being said, there are a couple of stumbles. On page 30 he claims the Hellenistic Age is named for Helen of Troy, which is ridiculous. Chapter 8 "Blame It On the Christians" is an equally ridiculous attempt to blame all of the Western world's issues with defecation and urination (mostly cutesy names like poo-poo and the desire to defecate alone) on Christianity. He quotes Francis of Assisi to make his case that Christianity made using the bathroom and being physically clean a "dirty" thing (page 144) but also quotes him to say that Christians should be clean (page 145).

But, those slip-ups do not diminish the book as a whole. Very entertaining.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization.

Reviewed on July 21, 2009.

Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes (audiobook) by Barbara and Allan Pease

Starts out strong, ends up tiresome

Read by one of the authors, Allan Pease
3 discs
3 hours

Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes starts out with a bang, delving into a lot of the differences that drive men and women crazy. These are mostly humorous and mostly full of good advice. But, we never do find out about women and shoes, nor do we find the answers to some of the questions posed in the opening section, such as, "Why don't women initiate sex more often?"

Barbara and Allan Pease
There is interesting commentary on the reactions of men and women to retirement, why men switch the channels so often and the comments on men's behaviors in public restrooms is dead on accurate. However, I felt cheated that so much of the book (about 1/3 by my estimate as a listener) is about the physical characteristics that of the opposite sex that interest men and women. I felt that this was not germane to the topic at hand and really offered no new insights - is anyone really surprised that men like breasts, long legs, sensuous mouths and long, full hair? No. I didn't think so.

There was one "fact" that was certainly not true. Pease claims that Coca Cola picked its unique bottle shape to remind soldiers of the women at home and make more sales. Sounds good except for the fact that the bottle shape was chosen in 1915 and the United States was not involved in World War I until 1917. This sounded false to me from the beginning because as a proud Hoosier, I know that the unique shape of the Coca Cola bottle was created in Terre Haute, Indiana to distinguish Coca Cola from all of its competitors.

I believe that the abridgment hurt this audiobook quite a bit.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes.

Reviewed on October 17, 2010.

The Broker by John Grisham

Fairly boring story, lots of good info on Italian culture, history and cuisine

Published by Random House Audio in 2005.
Read by Michael Beck.
11 hours, 4 minutes.

The last two thrillers that I have read by John Grisham have been anything but. A couple of years ago I listened to The King of Torts and came away with a great education in class action lawsuits but at the cost of a disappointing story. With The Broker, I came away with a great education in Italian culture, cuisine and great insights into the oft-overlooked city of Bologna, Italy - but it was a thriller with precious few thrills.

John Grisham
The Broker is centers around Joe Blackman, a Washington, D.C. lobbyist that plays fast and loose with all of the rules and revels in throwing his weight all over town. Blackman is approached by Pakastani computer hackers who have discovered and hijacked a set of super high tech spy satellites with a special computer program. They want Blackman to sell it to the highest bidder and soon enough the Israelis, the Saudis, the Chinese and the CIA are all interested. One of Blackman's associates winds up murdered and an FBI probe into Blackman's practices place him in prison.

A portico (covered walkway) in Bologna - I felt the need
to include a picture because Grisham
mentioned them so often.
Suddenly, he is part of a surprise last minute pardon deal by an outgoing president and he is whisked into a witness protection program administered by the CIA in Italy. Blackman is forced to learn a new language and a new culture. Most of the book deals with Blackman's lessons and endless trips to drink espresso in one coffee shop after another in Bologna, Italy. Seriously, at least 2/3 of the book is Italian lessons, lunch at one Italian restaurant after another or visits to Italian cultural sites. I am quite sure the inspiration to write this book was the desire to spend a great deal of time in Italy and still be able to write off every bill as a business expense on Grisham's income taxes.

If you are a fan of Italy, this may very well be your book. If you are a hardcore international spy thriller book fan, don't bother.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on October 17, 2010.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Law by Frederic Bastiat

I cannot recommend this book enough.

The Law is a small book on the basics of economic principles written by Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), a French economist and member of their National Assembly. He only published works during the last 5 years of his life, which was cut short by a lingering illness.

The Law struck me as an economics version of Thomas Paine's Common Sense - a short, easy to understand book full of impassioned, clearly laid out arguments and examples that clearly demonstrate the author's arguments.

Frederic Bastiat (1801-50)

Bastiat was a man who was not in synch with his times or his country. He grew up in Napoleonic France, a time and place that replaced the idea of individual liberty with government action for the good of the individual. Bastiat argues (and supplies plenty of examples to back his arguments) that this is a perversion of the purpose of government: "The organizers maintain that society, when left undirected, rushed headlong to its inevitable destruction because the instincts of the people are so perverse. The legislators claim to stop this suicidal course and to give it a saner direction. Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above humankind; if so, let them show their titles to this superiority. They would be shepherds to us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us." (pp. 62-3)

Bastiat begins with a look at the origins of government. He argues, like Locke and Hobbes that governments had to have been organized to protect life and property. That is their purpose and when they stray from it, be it with protectionist schemes like tariffs or with Legal Plunder programs that "take from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong...if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do with committing a crime...then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but it is a fertile source for further evils...it will spread, multiply and develop into a system." (p. 21)

Bastiat would not be happy with amount of influence most modern Western governments have over the economies of their countries and the lives of their people. I can only imagine this Frenchman would be a proud supporter of the Tea Party movement - low taxes, no loopholes or special breaks for favored industries, take a hard look at all government programs and get rid of those that engage in the "Legal Plunder" that I mentioned in the previous program.

So, what is this short book The Law? I found it to be exciting, invigorating, intellectually stimulating, simple in it language and argument and every bit of a match for Thomas Paine's Common Sense. If the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence have meaning for you, if Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations makes sense to you, if you think Hayek's Road to Serfdom and Friedman's Free to Choose are relevant to the modern world make a point of reading this short book - it is powerful in its simplicity and it still has meaning 160 years after its initial publication.

I cannot recommend this book enough. 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: The Law by Frederic Bastiat.

Note: Please make sure you get the 1950 translation - by all accounts it is superior.

Reviewed on October 16, 2010.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jericho's Fall by Stephen L. Carter

It just didn't work for me

This wasn't a bad book - I finished it and I wanted to know what was going on, but...

The book successfully creates a mood. It reminds me of one of those novels set in the Highland Moors in which creepy Lord Whatshisname gathers his family, friends and professional acquaintances to his manor as he lies dying. The sparks fly and secrets are revealed as the horrible weather howls outside.

Jericho's Fall is not based on the Highlands, but on a lonely mountaintop mansion compound in Colorado. There is no English Lord, but instead we have a former Secretary of Defense/CIA Director. His daughters, his ex-lover and loads of professional contacts are in and out of the compound. Sparks do fly and secrets are revealed as freezing rain and snow fall.

Well, I hate those kinds of books and this one had a few too many hidden agendas, double secret agents and super spy secret gadgets for my tastes. Too much posturing and too many mind games. It is readable, but not great.
Stephen L. Carter
On the positive side, however, I was intrigued by the author's non-fiction titles inside the front cover and have begun to read them. I have found them to be quite well-written and have added many of them to my wish list.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Jericho's Fall by Stephen L. Carter.

Reviewed on July 23, 2009.

The Great Progression: How Hispanics Will Lead America to a New Era of Prosperity by Geraldo Rivera

Much like Geraldo himself, this book is a lot of sizzle and not much substance

Sadly, I have to establish my bonafides here, otherwise I'll just get attacked in the comments section. I am a history and a Spanish teacher (20th year this year!). I live in an ethnically mixed neighborhood in which my best neighbors are, by far, a Mexican family. I live with illegal immigration every day, in my neighborhood and at my work. I am not a raving nut that says "round 'em up!" Nor am I an open borders guy that wants to take in the whole world. My neighborhood has been improved, my workplace has not - thanks to No Child Left Behind, my school's population of non-English speaking Hispanics will doom us to be labeled a failed school (fail just one category, you fail - period!) because they cannot pass the tests in English.

So, now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to Geraldo's book, The Great Progression: How Hispanics Will Lead America to a New Era of Prosperity. It is a lot of sizzle, half-baked commentary and an endless series of attacks on Lou Dobbs (who I must admit that I have not watched for years now since we ditched cable and we don't have satellite - I thought he was the host of a financial show).

Early on Geraldo Rivera attacks Rush Limbaugh for a series of anti-immigrant comments entitled "Limbaugh's Laws." I did an internet search and I found 3 paragraphs of the same title. They are inflammatory. They are awful. But, here's the essential third paragraph of the commentary - the paragraph that Rivera ignores: "I can imagine many of you think that the Limbaugh Laws are pretty harsh. I imagine today some of you probably are going, "Yeah! Yeah!" Well, let me tell you this, folks. Every one of the laws I just mentioned are actual laws of Mexico, today. I just read you Mexican immigration law. That's how the Mexican government handles immigrants to their country."

That's a telling example of the slipshod commentary throughout. Rivera's thesis doesn't even hold up to his own scrutiny. He is critical of those that claim illegal immigration drives down wages and than, a few chapters later, he notes that Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers fame was against illegal immigration for that same reason. He even calls it an economic law.

Rivera asserts that the anti-illegal immigration crowd (he disingenuously calls them anti-immigration) is racist because it is afraid of the gang violence of such groups as MS-13 and than he has a whole chapter devoted to drug-related gang violence on the border. So, the violence is real, but trying to keep it out or even to talk about it is racist? He does a similar thing with ARM mortgages and immigrant families (they aren't overly-represented, but then, a few chapters later they are because they are victims). He gets upset that Hispanics are hassled for ID to prove they are citizens and then notes that the presence of "obviously foreign" day laborers. Is only Mr. Rivera allowed to make such assumptions?

The book begins with "hard hitting" interviews with such political greats as J-Lo, George Lopez and Rosario Dawson. We get lists of baseball players of Hispanic origin (literally - paragraph after tedious paragraph) is a chapter called "Beisbol." I am still unsure as to the purpose of the chapter.

Geraldo Rivera gives us a look into his jet-setting lifestyle (he notes that he is writing in L.A. for this paragraph, Puerto Rico for another and so on) but shows how truly out of touch he is when he comments that America's lawns wouldn't be mowed, their kids cared for or our toilets cleaned if it weren't for Hispanics. Really? I wish I had that kind of money. The only lawn mowed by Hispanics in my neighborhood belong to houses with Hispanic families living in them.

Geraldo Rivera
Is he all wrong? No. Rivera gives an impassioned argument as to why education must become a priority in the Hispanic community. His chapter on "The Hispanic Consumer" is fascinating and entertaining. He makes valid points when discussing allowing illegal aliens to join the military as a path to citizenship in another chapter.

But, more often he wanders afield in commentary such as his on unions - he wants the so-called "Card Check" legislation to pass but isn't quite clear as to why, especially when businesses can just go to newly arrived workers with fake IDs to replace the strikers.

More irritating is his tendency to name call. For example, he calls "Joe the Plumber" a "douchebag".

If you want a lot of splash, this is your book. If you want well-reasoned commentary - the kind that has been thoroughly researched, discussed and evaluated, well,this is not it. There is no middle ground in this book. Even attempting to have a reasoned conversation about immigration with Rivera would be cause for attack and liberal use of the epithet "anti-immigrant".

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: The Great Progression: How Hispanics Will Lead America to a New Era of Prosperity.

Reviewed on August 3, 2009.