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December 20, 2015

Sunday Morning Book Thread 12-20-2015: Totalitarianism Made Easy [OregonMuse]

Star-Wars-staff.jpg
"I Find Your Lack of Payment For Overdue Books... Disturbing."


Good morning to all of you morons and moronettes and bartenders everywhere and all the ships at sea. Welcome to AoSHQ's stately, prestigious, internationally acclaimed and high-class Sunday Morning Book Thread. The Sunday Morning Book Thread is the only AoSHQ thread that is so hoity-toity, pants are required. And when I type up the book thread, my pinkies remain elevated the whole time, that's how classy it is.


Here's how you can avoid #StarWars spoilers. Close up social media for a couple days and spend that time reading a book.

--Anthony Breznican


The Book Fetishist

Monty wrote a pretty good piece this week. Of course, pretty much anything Monty writes is worth reading, but I do have a comment or two about it.

I've often said that my Amazon Kindle re-ignited (appropriately enough, given the name) a passion for reading that had begun to cool as I grew older.

Similarly, my Nexus tablet got me reading again after a number of years of stagnation. Well, it was teh stoopid internets, that's what. Night after night after work, I'd be in front of the computer reading traffic from the mailing lists I had subscribed to (this was before the age of the www), and then the online news and commentary sites (any of you morons remember The Ether Zone?), and then came the blogs. And then click here and click there and click on the one weird trick you can use to prevent hair loss, and then, poof, it was midnight and time to turn in. I didn't stop to think that all that net surfing was taking up all my time, so there was none available to use for actual reading that was not a mile wide and inch deep.

I wanted to get out, but teh internet kept sucking me back in.

Stupid internet.

I'm all for getting kids to read and love reading, but this fetishization of books sort of misses the point...I am second to no one in my appreciation for the power of the written word, but that power can be delivered in any number of ways these days apart from being printed on paper and being bound between two covers.

This is certainly true, insofar as it goes. But books are not only good for information acquisition, but also information storage as well. Printed books, stored in individual libraries, serve to preserve a permanent, decentralized record of the world as it actually was at the time they were written, not one bowdlerized to fit modern sensibilities and expectations, or to reinforce narratives currently favored by the authorities.

E-texts don't have this advantage. By their nature, they are extremely malleable, and subject to the whims of whatever technician, corporation, or government agency owns the area of "the cloud" where they're stored.

Example: One of the Kindle books I purchased came with a sample chapter of one of the author's other works. And then one day when I opened the Kindle app, a pop-up window announced that an update to the book I had purchased was being downloaded. The reason given was the correction of some errors. Note that it did not ask my permission, it just did it on its own. When it was finished, the changes were evidently so small that I didn't see them, but I did notice that the sample chapter had disappeared.

Now this particular instance is relatively harmless. But you can easily see what could happen if some text became inconvenient or embarrassing to the owner of whoever you bought it from. If you still maintain the "cloud" links, your text could be stealthily revised to accommodate whatever version of reality the owner thought more congenial to his purpose. One moron commenter objected to this, saying that if the authorities put out a fake pdf doc, for example, it could easily be countered by disseminating the real one. But how can anyone to know for certain which one is the "real" one? Certainly not by the content. File date and time stamps can easily be altered. And with tools like Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop, you can make any document look any way you want.

In Orwell's classic novel 1984, Winston Smith, the main character, is employed by a government agency known as the "Ministry of Truth" where it is his job to help revise the historical record to bring it in agreement with current government policies. Newspaper clippings arrive by pneumatic tube at Smith's desk that he must edit or shove down "the memory hole" into non-existence. It's a clumsy, time-consuming process, but Orwell never envisioned e-texts and cloud storage. But if he had, he'd probably say, "yeah, that sounds about right."

Personally, I've always distrusted "the cloud". The point of having your own computer, personal computers they used to be called, is that the computer is your property that you own, therefore you control it. But now, I think, they're boiling the frog: little by little we're ceding final control over our personal information and e-texts to whoever is running the cloud. And if one fine day some Obama-fueled agency pounds on Microsoft's door (or Apple's or Google's) demanding all the files stored on their servers for you, do you think they'd put up even token resistance? I think you can bet that your data would be in the hands of the feds faster than you could say "enthusiastic voluntary compliance".



Star Wars

How about The 6 Most ridiculous Star Wars books ever written?

First, there's The Star Wars Cook Book: Wookiee Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes, then there's the children's book Vader's Little Princess, which actually sounds not at all ridiculous:

In this irresistibly funny follow-up to the breakout bestseller Darth Vader and Son, Vader—Sith Lord and leader of the Galactic Empire—now faces the trials, joys, and mood swings of raising his daughter Leia as she grows from a sweet little girl into a rebellious teenager.

I mean, the cookbook sounds ridiculous. But this, I can see how this would work as a basis for an SNL skit.

But how would you like your pre-school kids taught by Jar-Jar Binks, or your 1st-grader math from the Dark Lord of Evil himself?

And as for The Extremely Unofficial and Highly Unauthorized Star Wars Kama Sutra by one "S N Herder", I question whether a book should be included on a "ridiculous books" list that is trying its hardest to be ridiculous.

Also, since the ever-litigious Disney, Inc. now owns the Star Wars franchise, I wonder what their lawyers would have to say about this book?


Pop Quiz

I was reading Winston Churchill's famous essay Fifty Years Hence and came to this part:

I read a book the other day which traced the history of mankind from the birth of the solar system to its extinction. There were fifteen or sixteen races of men which in succession rose and fell over periods measured by tens of millions of years. In the end a race of beings was evolved which had mastered nature. A state was created whose citizens lived as long as they chose, enjoyed pleasures and sympathies incomparably wider than our own, navigated the interplanetary spaces, could recall the panorama of the past and foresee the future.

I suddenly realized I knew what book he was talking about. At least I think I do. I was quite surprised to see it referenced by a great statesman. A year of AoSHQ Platinum™ content goes to the first moron who can Name That Book.


Are You Man Enough To Read Like A Squid?

As befitting AoSHQ's well-deserved reputation as a Smart Military Blog™, a couple of weeks ago I posted the official reading list of the United States Marine Corps, books that the Corps requires both officers and enlisted to read. This prompted 'ette commenter 'All Hail Eris' to provide what she described as "a more squidly perspective" with a link to the UNO reading list. And that's not just a link, that's a website with its own domain name dedicated to naval education.

Right at the top of the page, and available to anyone for download as a pdf doc is How We Fight: Handbook for the Naval Warfighter. This "ground level" book explains what the Navy is, what it does, and how it goes about its business. It's a

...concise, single volume that explains the basic, unique, and enduring attributes associated with being a Sailor, going to sea, and conducting war at sea. It highlights the fundamentals of the environment in which the Navy operates, our uniquely maritime characteristics, our history in this domain, and the way of Navy warfighting. This book should serve as a companion piece to other sources of literature enabling Sailors to understand the essence of being “a Sailor” as they develop their skills as sea going professionals.

And then there's A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy, which

...brings to life the events that have shaped and inspired the Navy of today. Its perspective is thoroughly and decidedly democratic, high­lighting the role of all Sailors—from seaman to admiral. Rather than focus entirely on such naval icons as Jones, Decatur, and Nimitz, as most histories tend to do, author Thomas J. Cutler (a former gunner’s mate and retired lieutenant commander) brings to the fore­front the contributions of enlisted people, such as Quartermaster Peter Williams, who steered the ironclad Monitor into history, and Hospital Corpsman Tayinikia Campbell, who saved lives on the USS Cole after the terrorist attack in Yemen. The book’s struc­ture is unique...grouped thematically in sections named after the Navy’s core principles of honor, courage, and commitment; its traditions of “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Don’t Give Up the Ship”; and other significant aspects.

Naval personnel can download ths book for their own use, and for the rest of us, its available for purchase on Amazon.

Here's a timely book on this list, The Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis, which

...examines the historical roots of the resentments that dominate the Islamic world...The Crisis of Islam looks at the theological origins of political Islam and takes the reader through the rise of militant Islam in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, examining the impact of radical Wahhabi proselytizing, and Saudi oil money, on the rest of the Islamic world...For getting into the mind of the radical Islamist, for achieving a greater cultural understanding of an insidious and relentless foe, this concise, eye-opening book is a must-read in the post-9/11 world.

Here is the link to The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror on Amazon.

I was surprised to see Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life by Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski on the list, but it

provides entertaining and informative lessons on how to build a culture of success. ...Krzyzewski's story is a great example of living the American dream through hard work and dedication. He is the son of working class Polish immigrants, who earned a scholarship to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he first played and later coached basketball...His secrets to success are built on an ethos based on communications, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride. The lessons offered in the book are valuable for any leader of any organization.

I never knew Coach K's background. It makes me happy to know he's from the working class, rather than the lah-de-dah east coast elites.

Another book that looks that it might be of general interest is Fallout: The True Story of the CIA's Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking by investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins who

tell an alarming tale of international intrigue through the eyes of the European and American officials who had suspicions about Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, tracked him, and ultimately shut him down, but only after the nuclear “genie” was out of the bottle. This well-researched book tells the story of how Khan managed to steal enough nuclear secrets to give Pakistan atomic weapons and then to go into business selling atomic secrets to Libya, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others.

Ugh. Sometimes it only takes one guy to screw the world.

And I might have guessed this book would be be required reading for the Navy: Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. If you were alive in the 18th century, you knew about the longitude problem,

the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day—and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land...Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

But then

one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution—a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of Harrison’s forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer.

Even though, as I said about the previous book, it only takes one guy to screw the world, fortunately, sometimes it only takes one man to make it demonstrably better.

God bless the Navy. The only armed service specifically authorized in the original Constitution.

And speaking of military books, here is The Year's Best Military Literature, at least according to J. Ford Huffman, book reviewer for the Military Times. I'm not familiar with any of the books listed, nor the reviewer, but the writing style has got this liberal vibe about it, like it's something you'd read in the Guardian or The Puffington Host. I'm not sure why this would be, it just feels that way to me.

Next week, we'll look into what the US Army is reading.


Books Of Note

The three novels that comprise C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) have been collected into an omnibus edition and is currently selling on Kindle for $3.99. Don't know if this is a permanent price or a short-term sale price.


___________

The author of This Is War! Quit Sniveling e-mailed me to let me know the Kindle edition is available for 99 cents. He says:

This is a short ebook along the lines of my Guantanamo Clarity but it pertains to the overall war. Much of it will be things that AoS readers already know, but I do expect there will be a few things they hadn't seen before.

And of course Guantanamo Clarity: What You Need to Know is also available on Kindle.


___________

Kevin Trainor is one of the bloggers over at The Other McCain. He has just published his new book, which is his account of his career spent as a Russian linguist for the Army Security Agency:

You’re in the Cold War Army now as Kevin Trainor’s memoir returns you to a time of clashing superpowers and nuclear tensions. As a Russian linguist for the Army Security Agency, Trainor was an increasingly square peg in a series of round holes...Light-hearted, yet serious, Trainor’s recollections stretch from the Cold War through the first Gulf War. This collection of creative nonfiction...transports you to the realm of military intel with its annoying internal politics, frequent travel demands, and - in the Reserves - a constant disruption of any reasonable work-life balance.

Wild, fun, and informative, this eBook of approximately a hundred pages will make a pleasant evening’s read with a glass of wine or a good cup of coffee.

What Did You Do in the Cold War, Dad? is available on Kindle for 99 cents.

___________

Don't forget the AoSHQ reading group on Goodreads. It's meant to support horde writers and to talk about the great books that come up on the book thread. It's called AoSHQ Moron Horde and the link to it is here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/175335-aoshq-moron-horde.


___________

So that's all for this week. As always, book thread tips, suggestions, bribes, rumors, threats, and insults may be sent to OregonMuse, Proprietor, AoSHQ Book Thread, at the book thread e-mail address: aoshqbookthread, followed by the 'at' sign, and then 'G' mail, and then dot cee oh emm.

What have you all been reading this week? Hopefully something good, because, as you all know, life is too short to be reading lousy books.

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