Somewhat disappointing book. In Gessen's descriptions, the Pussy Rioters come off as a bunch of not very bright malcontents, who have had the good forSomewhat disappointing book. In Gessen's descriptions, the Pussy Rioters come off as a bunch of not very bright malcontents, who have had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. Brave they certainly are, and you have to appreciate the tremendous risks they have taken standing up to the Putin regime. But their passion for protest seems to be a bigger driver for their actions than any clearly articulated beliefs.
Disappointing, too, is Gessen's rather dull prose, which comes as a surprise: her New York Times editorials are excellent and full of sharp insight. Anyone seeking the same flashes of brilliance found in her opinion pieces will be sore pressed to find them here. ...more
Not at all impressed with this book. Packer describes the gradual disintegration of the American economy over the last 40 years, and what that has meaNot at all impressed with this book. Packer describes the gradual disintegration of the American economy over the last 40 years, and what that has meant for Americans now. He tells this story through a series of vignettes of both famous and ordinary people over the last few decades. The stories are well told and mostly interesting, but Packer reports only: no explanation, no analysis, just context. Not really illuminating for anyone who has been reading the newspaper for the last few decades, but I could see the book as being very useful for historians half a century from now. ...more
David Brooks commented in a recent NYT piece ("Where Obama Shines", July 19, 2012) that Obama has been a pretty effective president, from a foreign poDavid Brooks commented in a recent NYT piece ("Where Obama Shines", July 19, 2012) that Obama has been a pretty effective president, from a foreign policy standpoint: "He, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the rest of his team have created a style of policy making that is flexible, incremental and well adapted to the specific circumstances of this moment. Following a foreign policy hedgehog, Obama’s been a pretty effective fox." David Sanger's Confront and Conceal lays out some of the details of Obama's policy, specifically in regards to the Middle East. Sanger notes, "By narrowing America’s strategic objectives, by showing considerable patience and ingenuity in handling challenges like Iran’s nuclear ambitions, by rethinking the management of China’s new influence, and by insisting that other nations no longer take American intervention for granted, Obama created a foundation for a new direction for America’s global role." The key to Obama's policy is a new willingness to act unilaterally, quickly, and with deadly force where needed. The examples are clear: the bin Laden raid, the escalating drone strikes that have brought al-Qaeda to the brink of strategic defeat, and—perhaps most important as a symbol of Obama’s approach—Olympic Games, the plot to destroy the Iranian uranium enrichment facility via cyber-espionage.
The chapter on Olympic games is by far the most interesting and engaging chapter in the book. As Sanger describes it,
"The intent of the operation was twofold. The first was to cripple, at least for a while, Iran’s nuclear progress. The second, equally vital, was to convince the Israelis that there was a smarter, more elegant way to deal with the Iranian nuclear problem than launching an airstrike that could quickly escalate into another Middle East war, one that would send oil prices soaring and could involve all the most volatile players in the region."
Sanger describes the operation in great detail, and has clearly enjoyed incredibly privileged access to top intelligence officials within the US government. Reading the detailed description of the whole process by which Olympic games was put together and implemented, I couldn't help but wonder, is this a good thing? Is it really necessary to have a reporter reveal every detail of the planning and operation of one of the most sophisticated cyber-weapons ever created? Officially declared or not, we are at war with Iran, and I don't see the benefit to US interests of the release of sensitive intelligence data to the general public. During World War II, would it have been acceptable for a New York Times reporter to published detailed stories about the Allie's use of the broken Japanese military codes, just a few months after the battle of Midway, when the war was not yet won?
This is a well researched, engagingly written book, and certainly highly illuminating. I just wonder what damage may have been done to the US intelligence community, and if it was really necessary for this book to be published now. ...more
In “The World America Made”, Robert Kagan presents a very tight and well-assembled argument that America must continue to play the dominant role in woIn “The World America Made”, Robert Kagan presents a very tight and well-assembled argument that America must continue to play the dominant role in world affairs for the foreseeable future. Here is the essence of his argument: America is a completely different kind of empire, a reluctant empire. Americans “resent and fear the burden of responsibility they have taken on themselves.” The steady rise in American power since WWII, and particularly since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 has enable America to create a world hospitable to the rise and spreading of democracy. Americans have created “an institutionalized system of hegemony” by “establishing international norms” in accordance with American principles of behavior. Once these norms are “accepted by a majority of countries,” American hegemony becomes “legitimized.” The world has accepted American hegemony because of perceptions of American motives and goals. “Whatever other countries may say, many implicitly accept that when America uses force, it is rarely in pursuit of narrow interests alone but also in defense of principles of an order that other liberal nations share and from which they benefit.” The United States, China, India, Russia, and Japan, as well as numerous lesser powers, including Brazil, Iran, and Turkey, are still willing to pay large amounts of money to prepare themselves for war. What deters them from using those weapons against one another is not conscience or commerce but a distribution of power in the world that makes success highly unlikely. Were that distribution of power to change, were there to be a genuine shift in the balance of power toward greater equality, then these great and rising powers might pursue more ambitious policies because war would be a more viable option. So imagine a world in which the autocratic powers were stronger and the democratic powers weaker. The shift in the rough balance of power between autocracies and democracies might be enough to tip the world into a “reverse wave,” which, based on past experience, has arguably been overdue. In a more evenly balanced world in which the United States had declined to a position of first among equals, both Chinese and Russian influence would be proportionally greater, with negative effects for global democracy.
The logical outcome of this argument is that America must continue to dominate the world politically and militarily. Kagan’s argument is completely rational, well thought-out, and his conclusions are inescapable. It is no coincidence that Kagan is highly though of by the presidential candidates of both parties, and it seems likely that Kagan’s analysis will be the dominating theory of American foreign policy for years to come. ...more
The purpose of The Righteous Mind is to attempt to discover why people are divided by politics and religion. After several hundred pages of minute anaThe purpose of The Righteous Mind is to attempt to discover why people are divided by politics and religion. After several hundred pages of minute analysis of the last quarter century of psychological research, the author discovers that,
"...the explanation is that our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult—but not impossible—to connect with those who live in other matrices..."
The author explores the foundations of our moral architecture, what he terms the Moral Foundations Theory, pointing to five basic concepts that underlie our political thinking: Caring, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity. In the final analysis,
"Liberal moral matrices rest on the Care/harm, Liberty/oppression, and Fairness/cheating foundations, although liberals are often willing to trade away fairness (as proportionality) when it conflicts with compassion or with their desire to fight oppression. Conservative morality rests on all six foundations, although conservatives are more willing than liberals to sacrifice Care and let some people get hurt in order to achieve their many other moral objectives."
The author suggests that a path to easing political conflict can be found in thinking about the six moral foundations, and trying to figure out which one or two are carrying the most weight in any particular controversy. That's over-simplifying a very detailed and complex book, but that's the gist of it. This is a well-argued book with rock-solid evidence supporting clear and very sensible arguments. Highly recommended--read it, and while you're at it, send copies to your congressmen. ...more
In this expansive analysis of servant leadership, Shann Ray Ferch examines a humanist model of leadership, and some of its models in the modern politiIn this expansive analysis of servant leadership, Shann Ray Ferch examines a humanist model of leadership, and some of its models in the modern political landscape. The author finds in servant leadership a paradigm for both personal development and an attitude toward leadership that is both humble and empowering, yet capable of great strength. Using the work of Robert Greenleaf as a foundation, Ferch lays out essential characteristics of servant leadership, which flows naturally from the belief in the dignity of individuals. As he puts it, "...the power of servant leaders emerges from their devotion to being transparent with regard to their own faults and humble in their approach to self, others, and leadership. ... In servant leadership...humbleness of spirit leads to strength of relationship, whether the relationship be personal, familial, organizational, or global." Further, "Servant leadership calls people toward a communal effort with others that both invigorates the individual person and draws the community toward moral clarity; therefore, it requires a sustained effort at both personal and spiritual formation, the contemplative and active will to understand the inner life."
This leads quite naturally to an analysis of precepts of servant leadership as exemplified by Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Vaclav Havel, and others. Ferch quotes from Vaclav Havel: " ...the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility." Both Tutu and Havel's roles in fostering national forgiveness and reconciliation are models of servant leadership, and their work is seen as a model for future endeavors. "Many people have begun to follow Desmond Tutu's resolute call to the nations: 'The most effective wat to build a new world community is for the perpetrators or their descendants to acknowledge the awfulness of what happened and the descendants of the victims to respond by granting forgiveness.' Tutu states unequivocally that there is no future without forgiveness."
Although Ferch does not discuss the Middle East, it is clear that, among others, the Israelis and Palestinians are both awaiting leaders who embrace the humility and dignity of servant leadership. "For people who hold tight to an intense need to declare right and wrong, forgiveness is an empty vessel, but for those willing to live in the paradoxical tension of forgiving on one hand while not depleting personal power on the other, the center of life calls forth the best of our humanity." We can only hope that such leadership is manifest before further political disasters engulf that region.
This is a powerful book, full of Shann Ray Ferch's own personal experience, enlightenment, and grace. Parents, community leaders, politicians, and businessmen can all benefit from a full understanding of the attitude and practice of servant leadership, and this book provides a rich examination of how these principles have played out in different parts of the world.
--a review copy was provided by the author. ...more