Friday, November 21, 2014

Warfare Welfare?

Former Lt. Col. John A. Nagl has written a memoir titled “Knife Fights: Modern War in Theory and Practice.” Narrated by Brian Hutchison, it details the shift toward counterinsurgency within the military after the Gulf War, in which Nagl saw action as a tank commander after leaving West Point. Nagl’s path led him to study and write about this shift in “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife.” He next became an operations officer, then worked for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, eventually writing a new field manual on doctrine. “When it comes to modern war, there are only bad choices,” he says. “The question is which are better and which worse.” He details this new reality on the battlefield, showing that the old shock-and-awe way doesn’t work, and only creates more enemies. Iraq? “It’s a war that did not need to be fought,” he says. Serious mistakes were made by Rumsfeld and others, with a slow and bureaucratic Pentagon needing a reboot on policy so as not to repeat those mistakes (and bankrupt the country in the process.) It’s a sobering book that in some ways parallels another new book, not on audio yet, titled “Why We Lost” by former Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, who said that if we go in and fight ISIS for Iraq with full on-the-ground operations, “It would be like four times biting that poison apple: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and then Iraq again.” What’s needed is to fight smarter, not harder. Enlist the locals, and force them to defend themselves, too. Otherwise it’s no different than warfare welfare. The audiobook is very ably narrated by Hutchison, who brings both theory and personal history to life with an engaging and nimble tone. A must-hear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime

SPAM NATION by Brian Krebs follows “The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime—From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.” Krebs is editor of a security blog and a former Washington Post reporter. It’s a must-listen deftly and intelligently narrated by Christopher Lane, tracking the methods used by the “digital mafia,” those growing legions of spammers who phish and snare unsuspecting computer users, since criminals find it easier to steal your identify or credit card numbers than to get a real job (where you have to punch a clock and count on working for thirty years before retirement on a meager pension.) Criminals always look for shortcuts, and in ways they are no different than players at singles bars wanting to score with naive young women. Their “lines” come in the form of code or enticing promises. Their viruses, similar to VD, here troll for access to your computer and data. When “private parts” are invaded, privacy is no more, and piracy occurs. These digital mobsters can be individual hackers in Russia, or American spammers who use Yahoo accounts for a hit-and-run attack, with the goal of harvesting passwords and usernames and selling them to the black market. Cyber crime is up, especially during the holiday season, and home invasion is down. Why? It’s easier. There’s less risk. And you can come away with more money (or credit to buy stuff) before the victim even knows what happened. This is a book the Postal Service should want to promote, since it just might send more people back to mailing letters for business payments (and even personal letters) rather than to risk being hacked and bankrupted. A postage stamp, after all, beats an email if your personal account numbers falling into the wrong hands in calculated into the cost. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Citizen Coke: More Bad News for Coca-Cola

Bartow J. Elmore delivers another sucker punch to the world's more ubiquitous brand. CITIZEN COKE: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism is read by William Hughes, and continues on the theme of the books The Coke Machine and Salt Sugar Fat to examine the strategies employed by Coke to succeed on the backs of suppliers, franchisees, and duped consumers. By spending a billion dollars per year on ads that link it to everything from happiness to patriotism to (believe it or not) a memorable funeral, the world's favorite soft drink is, instead, linked to diabetes, cancer, and environmental degradation. In Colombia and India people have rioted in protest of crimes committed by Coca-Cola bottlers, only to meet resistance by police, hired thugs, and denials by company honchos. Now a history teacher at the University of Alabama, Elmore grew up in Atlanta drinking Coke, and uncovered disturbing truths about the shift in American business practices while researching the history of the company...which led him to outline it all using the ingredients which Coke uses---from water and sugar and high fructose corn syrup to aluminum, plastic, and glass.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

ALL THE TRUTH IS OUT: Elections via Matt Bai and Graham Greene

The classic film THE THIRD MAN was written by Graham Greene, and is available as a full cast play from L.A. Theater Works on audio as well. Called the greatest British film of all time (and on many top ten lists of best films ever filmed from any country), the movie is a classic political thriller/romance that starred Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton, about a western writer who attends a friend’s funeral in Vienna after the war, only to discover that he may not be dead after all…which leads to an investigation of who “the third man” seen at the supposed accident may have been. There's an affair involving a woman who believed in a charming sociopath who secretly preys on children for profit, slipping back and forth over political boundaries in Vienna. The dialogue is given new character in this production, including the voices of Rosalind Ayers, Barry Phillips, Kelsey Grammer, Ian Abercrombie, Ethan Glazer, and others. Other Greene titles on audio are The Quiet American (made in a movie as well), The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, Brighton Rock, The Living Room, The Comedians, and The Little Fire Engine.  
ALL THE TRUTH IS OUT: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai is about how the Gary Hart affair changed the way the media reports political campaigns. More than this, it's the turning point for when news became entertainment, and scandals (both on and off the field) became the target of TMZ, BuzzFeed, and competing mud-slinging advertising. It's a sport now, actually...and it all started when someone snapped that photo of Hart and his mistress next to a yacht called Monkey Business. Rob Shapiro reads.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

FOOD: A LOVE STORY by Jim Gaffigan

DAD IS FAT by Jim Gaffigan was a rabid mix of blog posts, essays, observations, and stand up comedy related to his real life experiences raising five kids in a two-bedroom walkup. Topical gallows humor taken from his stand-up routines for various comedy clubs and late night shows like Letterman were combined to produce his first actual book. (Previously his Mr. Universe, Beyond the Pale, King Baby, and Doing My Time were only audiobook stand-up routines, so the complaint that some of that material was reproduced there was not a valid one.) Once Jim had an actual book to sign at bookstores, he toured the country, culminating in performances at universities, arts centers, and the Mirage Hotel in Vegas. While another complaint about that hilarious book is that it mostly relates to the trials of being a parent, (and the loss of sleep and eating habits resulting from being caught in those particular cross-hairs), I believe that this too was a plus. Being a bachelor without kids, I can learn and laugh over what it tells me about that side of life---(what might have been, had I been wise or stupid enough to leap/stumble into that wonderful/horrid situation.) My only complaint about the subject matter can be seen in the stand-up video below. Humor is made by laughing at any possibility of choice we have regarding pop culture and eating at McDonalds. His new book FOOD: A LOVE STORY continues on this theme, saying he's given up trying to resist all the ads for junk food, while embracing the American obsession with basic food porn and overeating. And, ironically, maybe he's right. The patriotic thing to do does, these days, seem to be: get a cheeseburger topped with a ham sandwich and two donuts. "We eat for the rest of the world," he jokes, "so maybe the solution to starvation is that we eat the starving, too." Reading this sentiment sounds outrageous, so I recommend hearing these books on audio. This is satire, and audio is the only way to listen to a comic, to get their gist and nuance reading words, unless the writer is as good as Woody Allen, writing in The New Yorker. Gaffigan is no Woody, but neither are most comics. (Ed. note: Most Americans are not into written satire, anyway, but rather blunt jokes, and escapes. This is why sports and gaming are two of the most indulged fantasies on Earth. Seems we only surface long enough for another Baconator and a few one-liners from the news media, consumed like fries. It’s like we’re on this giant merry-go-round, Jim seems to be saying, with lots of bells and whistles, going in circles, and what do we do instead of getting off? Play the ponies. Pretend we’re racing.) Most of the audiobook is comedy about various foods, while Jim has "no idea" why anyone is vegetarian or a health nut. Taste is all that matters here. You shouldn't eat for any other reason. Except for that feeling of fullness: "I know I haven't finished eating until I'm sick." Luckily he hasn't discovered drugs yet. Like for diabetes. If he was serious---and you can't tell if he ever is---perhaps his gravestone would read LIVED FAST, DIED YOUNG. The stone would, no doubt, resemble a strip of bacon.

Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong

In her provocative new book FIELDS OF BLOOD: Religion and the History of Violence, author and scholar Karen Armstrong argues that violence is not synonymous with religion, but is rather adopted by radicals who cherry-pick verses in order to justify their political objectives. She examines religions throughout history, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and others, bringing to bear statistics and quotations, both written and oral. Specific incidents are downplayed in favor of a wider view of these religions from their founding until now. The big picture, she says, is that religion permeated agrarian societies in which wealthy landowners brutalized peasants to keep them in line. Agrarian aggression begat the warrior ethos, and warriors used (and continue to use) religion to justify their atrocities, speaking of the “glories” of battle and the sense of camaraderie and hero status attained by “winning” in an emotional setting. (Young men are most likely to be aggressive since their relative status is based on physical superiority over peers, while the US vs. THEM message of nationalism is a tune played by all nations, even at the Olympics.) The carryover into today is that terrorists have been brainwashed (and/or are brainwashing themselves) into believing they are “fighting the good fight,” which the foundations of their religions do not support. Ayaan Hirsi Ali would disagree with this, but regardless of one’s take on this complex subject, Armstrong can be commended for not pushing her own agenda in presenting this detailed history, unless you believe peace and cooperation is an agenda. Usually an author doesn’t read their own book for audio (unless it’s an autobiography or humor book), but Armstrong here demonstrates narrative skills and acumen in writing too. She has won a TED prize, and is working on the Charter for Compassion. In addition, she was awarded the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal, and the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding. Regardless of one’s religious or political views, I recommend this book simply for framing the debate, and the rich scholarship displayed in laying out the history. It is well written and well narrated as a bonus. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.