What fun! I was sure I had read all the Inspector Morse mysteries but I stumbled across one that was new to me. Occasionally I will begin a mystery thWhat fun! I was sure I had read all the Inspector Morse mysteries but I stumbled across one that was new to me. Occasionally I will begin a mystery that I had read years before and soon realize that I knew what was going to be happening as it happened in the novel--not so much in advance but sufficiently contemporaneously that it spoiled the mystery aspect, having forgotten many of the details but somehow kept filed away all the clues that one should not necessarily figure out as they happen.
The usual rich description of Oxford University, the city in which it sits and some of the various colleges that comprise it (Morse and Lewis take over the investigation of the murder of a tenured academic) along with excellent depictions of suspects, witnesses, police officers and members of the university. ...more
This isn’t really a tale of genocide or of the civil war that created Bangladesh from what had been East Pakistan but of how deliberate actions and inThis isn’t really a tale of genocide or of the civil war that created Bangladesh from what had been East Pakistan but of how deliberate actions and inaction on the part of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger facilitated the mass slaughter of Bengalis and the forced relocation of millions while the United States destroyed any chance of long term influence in South Asia. The narrative centers on Archer Blood, the last U.S. consul general in Dhaka when it was still the capital of East Pakistan, and the cable he sent through the official State Department “dissent channel”, a telegram that described the actions of the Pakistani army as genocide against the Bengali people including targeting intellectuals, political leaders and students. Official Washington was able to ignore Blood’s message simply by declaring that a bloodbath carried out by an American ally using arms supplied from this country and with tacit encouragement by the Richard Nixon himself was an internal matter to be dealt with by Pakistan.
The diplomats on the scene (28 State Department officers signed the telegram in addition to Archer Blood) reported that the systematic destruction of Bengali society fit the terms of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide all too well. Unfortunately for those in East Pakistan, Henry Kissinger was cultivating the military ruler of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan as a conduit to the rulers of the People’s Republic of China so Khan’s forces were given a free pass to do their worst—and they did. The United States had significant leverage with Khan and could have forced him to put an end to the atrocities committed by his army using U.S. weapons but chose to wash their hands of it.
Gary J. Bass has a definite point of view; not to put too fine a point on things he has real contempt for both Nixon and Kissinger. But it is hard to fault his approach—he knows the sources cold and makes excellent use of recently declassified documents, unused White House tapes and hours of interviews with U.S. officials in who had served in Dhaka and Washington as well as Indian Army officers. A former reporter for “The Economist”, now an academic historian, Bass knows how to frame a story that has been too little known in this country. ...more
The sixty-six year conflict between the Israelis and the Arab world (counting from the founding of Israel in 1948) seems as intractable as any that laThe sixty-six year conflict between the Israelis and the Arab world (counting from the founding of Israel in 1948) seems as intractable as any that lasted for centuries and become known simply by a place name—Northern Ireland, Cyprus or Kashmir for example. Gaza now heads that dire list. There is plenty written about the troubles; indeed the propaganda war is as important as either (a) the struggle for self-determination by the citizens of the Occupied Palestinian Territories or (b) the defense of the Promised Land by the descendants of Abraham.
It seems well-nigh impossible to find what one may call an objective or neutral view of the history, culture and even the geography of the area. Dale Hanson Bourke has made valiant to provide one and has largely succeeded. She takes a straightforward “just the facts, ma’am” approach with brief but well rendered answers to typical questions. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers is like an extended, specialized version of an entry in the “The World Fact Book” published by the CIA, a source she references a few times and which I feel is as unbiased a source as one will find in English on the nations of the world. This book is an excellent primer for readers who want a basic introduction of the people and places of Israel/Palestine.
The book is aimed at Christians in the United States and is published by InterVarsity Press, a Christian publisher which gives rise to my only real quibble with it. The Holy Land— Calvary, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, etc.—is full of sites vital to Christianity and includes the locations of every minute of the life of Jesus. Christians in in both Palestine and Israel are part of living, vibrant communities of faith with rich spiritual and theological traditions—but there aren’t very many of them and they have little (if any) political or economic power. It is a matter of emphasis—Christians living in the Holy Land now are barely a blip on the radar screen of those in power there. Again this makes sense—a Christian author would include much of interest to her co-religionists who probably make up the majority of her audience but from a secular, unchurched, worldly point of view—mine—it is unnecessary.
InterVarsity did a great job with copy prep and production for this ebook--it is very easy to do a slapdash, mediocre presentation of visual aids. I read the Kindle version and this is about the best rendition of graphic material I have seen in a book on that platform. Sharp pictures, legible flow charts and maps that you can actually read add a lot to its value. ...more
A combination of ripped from the headlines reporting and original documentation (speeches, manifestos, lists of grievances and demands) from each sideA combination of ripped from the headlines reporting and original documentation (speeches, manifestos, lists of grievances and demands) from each side of the crisis in the Ukraine up to a few months ago. Excellent on the cut and thrust of national politics, less so on relationship with Russia and western Europe. ...more
"The Ipcress File" was Deighton's first novel and it showed the promise that was fulfilled in his work to come. A terrific description of time-servers"The Ipcress File" was Deighton's first novel and it showed the promise that was fulfilled in his work to come. A terrific description of time-servers waiting for retirement, second sons of the gentry with no qualifications besides their name, masters of the cut and thrust of inter-agency politics and the occasional patriotic British subject willing to deal with all of them while bending a few rules in the service of Queen and Country.
Acerbic, observant, witty and even a bit upbeat. ...more
Thinking about peacebuilding, the subject of “Peaceland”, Séverine Autesserre’s new book, makes it hard to imagine that such an endeavor could ever woThinking about peacebuilding, the subject of “Peaceland”, Séverine Autesserre’s new book, makes it hard to imagine that such an endeavor could ever work well enough to be critiqued. There are the operational difficulties inherent in coordinating varied participants, some of whom had been recently trying to kill others in the group, conflicting goals among local stakeholders, pressure from outside sources pursuing their own agendas and the presence of not quite disarmed or demobilized groups on the fringe of the action. Tribal, ethnic, linguistic and religious antagonism among groups of people combined with competition for resources and histories of domination of one group over another seems to make long-term or even limited peace impossible.
But dedicated people still set out from the United Nations, the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Service and myriad other organizations in order to help countries recover after they have experienced mass slaughter, marauding armies, mob violence and the atrocities that accompany internecine warfare.
Séverine Autesserre defines peacebuilding “to include any and all elements identified by local and international stakeholders as attempts to create, strengthen, and solidify peace...thus encompasses the various elements of the security, socioeconomic and political dimensions that scholars study.” This includes work from immediate post-conflict situations where peacebuilders work alongside peacekeepers to demobilize combatants and help them reintegrate into society by preventing the resumption of violence through reconciliation of the warring parties and reconstruction of the material basis of the community.
So they are faced with a difficult task to begin with. Autesserre asks why peacebuilders aren’t more successful more often. She took an ethnographic approach, immersing herself in the activities of a community of interveners in the eastern Congo for over a year, drawing on her history as an intervener and researcher in the Kivus where a number of locals and expats knew her or her work. She was able to build relationships of trust over time to get beyond the party lines created for outsiders—the press, donors, drop-in researchers—and find out what the peace workers personal opinions were. She accompanied them on patrols, shadowed them in their daily work, participated in missions and spent days and nights in base camps and compounds—research like this is not for the faint of heart. This was supplemented by comparative research in eight other conflict zones to refine and extend her work in the Congo.
She found that the daily practice of peacebuilding—what happened on the ground where, with the best of intentions, years of training and experience, expats continue to carry out programs that haven’t worked in the past and continue to fail. One telling example involves security routines and risk management. “Bunkerization” with fortified compounds, guards, tight restrictions on movement outside the compounds, essentially a military view of security, has become the norm in most missions. This leads to further isolation from the local population, lessens opportunities for communication and creates resentment among those they are trying to help. And it creates an unnecessary climate of fear among those deployed. Autesserre, in a great example of using her own experience in the field as part of her research, writes that interveners were more fearful than business travelers and scholarly researchers in the same area. “My husband, several other contacts, and I noticed that when we were attached to an intervening organization in a conflict zone we felt much more scared than when we worked in the same area for other reasons.”
This is just one of about a zillion examples that Autesserre uses to show that the political assumptions, career concerns and organizational bureaucratic demands of interveners have a significant, perhaps telling, effect on the success of peacebuilding missions. She is an indefatigable researcher, pounding home her points with lessons learned in the field so that her conclusions are reliable. She writes well—while “Peaceland” is an academic work anyone interested in how nations that have been to hell and not quite all the way back can stitch themselves back together and avoid the scourge of civil war and communal strife in the future. ...more
Well, this is interesting. I had read Bury's "The Ancient Greek Historians" several months ago but had forgotten to add it to my books on Goodreads. "Well, this is interesting. I had read Bury's "The Ancient Greek Historians" several months ago but had forgotten to add it to my books on Goodreads. "Historians" is an excellent work although severely dated--both Herodotus and Thucydides are seen much differently by historians and literary historians than they were in the early 20th century although that is not to say that today's views are any more valid than those of Bury. But that is another book and another review.
Bury is a free-thinker--specifically he opposed the institution of the Church (any Church, it seems, although he eviscerates only those he knows well, which is all of Christianity) and of literal belief in the Bible. He wrote that "the character of the Sacred Book must be held partly accountable for the intolerant principles of the Christian Church". Describing the Greeks he writes "The Greeks fortunately had no Bible, and this fact was both an expression and important condition of their freedom." Bury sees a millennia long struggle of authority vs. reason, with most religious beliefs about nature and man serving social and economic interests for those in authority. They were always very willing to protect their interests, as expressed through religion, by force against those with the inconvenient habit of using reason. While he felt that religion was an institution of social and political control more than anything else, he didn’t feel it necessary to prove his assertion. It was enough to make it and then provide examples from history that ranged from the Greeks to a few years before he was writing.
The rise and fall of the notion of the idea progress as opposed to the obscurantism of established religion in England, both Roman Catholic and Anglican provides much grist for his mill as do the attitudes and actions of formerly persecuted religions. He is particularly vehement while going after Calvin and Luther and, for reasons that didn’t quite penetrate my brain, the Anabaptists and has thumbnail sketches of the Continental struggle against intolerance and persecution that were expressed politically such as the French revolution and Germany unification.
Bury’s preferred epoch regarding civil/religious balance seems to be the early Roman Empire, essentially from Augustus Caesar in 27 BC to Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century. While this was a period of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression with a year of four emperors followed by a century later with the year of the five emperors, Rome tolerant of any religion that didn’t interfere with the solidarity of the Empire. The general rule of Roman policy was to tolerate all religions and all opinions—blasphemy wasn’t a crime since there was no one single god or system of gods that was set above any other by the state. Tiberius (14 AD to 37 AD) expressed it perfectly with the maxim “If the gods are insulted let them see to it themselves”.
The one exception was Christianity seen by the Romans as a rapidly growing offshoot of the Jewish religion that was aggressively hostile to all other creeds and whose adherents upset the public order by constant and generally intrusive proselytizing. The dictum “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's” is anathema to Roman rule since it leaves obeying the law up to the individual. For the Romans religion was a matter of social control, useful for cultivating the suspicion of the masses—a compliant religion was necessary for government.
“A History of the Freedom of Thought” is an artifact of its time—published in 1908. Bury has a very straightforward style that is completely at odds with academic prose of today. There are no buzzword or catch phrases describing whatever is au courant in scholarly research although he does assume the reader, like all educated people of the day, knows Greek and Roman history as well as some literature and philosophy. But even if you don’t know Lucretius from Lincius or Plato from Plautus it is worth reading ...more
I haven't read one of Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks novels in several years so I can't really tell if "Friend of the Devil" is significantly more eI haven't read one of Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks novels in several years so I can't really tell if "Friend of the Devil" is significantly more entertaining and suspenseful than most of the rest of his work (and most British crime fiction not written by P.D. James, Ruth Rendell) or if my response to it is just getting away from Banks, his lady friends and his family for a while.
The clues for Banks and Annie Cabot are uncovered in the hit-or-miss way that knotty problems in real life are solved--hard work and intense concentration colored by occasional flashes of insight (literally in this case) lead to the eureka moment while the reader is carried along, missing (or at least this reader did) pointers and suggestions along the way. ...more
Well done and (apparently) well translated Norwegian crime novel. A severed left foot, still clad in a running shoe, is washed up on the shore; the peWell done and (apparently) well translated Norwegian crime novel. A severed left foot, still clad in a running shoe, is washed up on the shore; the person it was part of has to be identified before the investigation begins into whether the person was the victim of a murder and then who committed the crime. Hopes that it is an isolated accident, possibly someone who fell off a boat and macerated by a ship's propeller are dashed when another and then another foot surfaces.
A police procedural with the reader looking over the shoulder and into the mind of the lead detective of the squad tasked with the crimes. Unlike many Scandinavian fictional detectives, Chief Inspector William Wisting isn't lumbered with unsolvable family problems--no dementia raddled parents, no drug addicted children, criminal siblings or even an unfaithful wife. His daughter, an enterprising and talented young photojournalist moves from the edges of the plot to the center as the story she is working on intersects with his investigation.
Wisting is a sympathetic character who thinks Norwegian society fraying at the edges. His policeman's point of view is that arrest and conviction was formerly scandalous but now is just something unfortunate that happens to someone, like losing a job (which isn't really a problem in Norway, of course) or suffering a minor but painful injury. There is a subplot concerning his health which is a clunky add-on--it can only be resolved in one way and it is obvious from its introduction what that will be--but "Dregs" is overall a satisfying murder mystery with credible characters....more
As others have said this book is close to vintage le Carre--long scenes of the men at the sharp end of the spear depicted in grinding detail and the fAs others have said this book is close to vintage le Carre--long scenes of the men at the sharp end of the spear depicted in grinding detail and the futile absurdity of senior officers in London or Washington trying to manage an operation that has already collapsed. The impetus for all the action takes place on the rocky face of Gibraltar when armed covert action by a combination of British intelligence, U.S. CIA and mercenaries hired from one of organized groups of former soldiers. It blew up in everyone's face.
I feel that the main difference in tone and theme to le Carre's great middle period--"Honorable Schoolboy", "Smiley's People". "Tinker, Tailor..."--goes beyond the worldly cynicism of the 1980s when, no matter how rotten the core seemed with Percy Alliline being run circles around by Bill Hayden, Circus golden boy recruited by Moscow decades before or Jim Prideaux being shot and then abandoned in enemy territory, there were still powerful people keeping an eye on things and fighting back. The establishment might have traitors within and might be rotting from the center but it was still the establishment and, corny as it might seem, still full of individuals (Smiley, of course, "young" Peter Guillam who comes across as a man in his early 40s, Connie who keeps all the records, Oliver Lacon who reports to and probably controls various government ministers) with their morality and dedication to service (and the Service) intact.
This is no longer the case in "A Delicate Truth". Everyone is compromised, no one is willing to take responsibility and if a botched mission can be covered up then it never happened and the innocent people slaughtered never really died. It seems to be a much darker and more despairing view of the world as refracted through spies, double agents, heroes and time-servers than existed before.