More Book Reviews 8

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ISBN: 1888363932
Dark Alliance

This book is about how the CIA turned a blind eye when Nicaraguan Contras (rebels) were selling cocaine in the United States to fund its war against a new Nicaraguan leader who was hated by the U.S. government. Tons and tons of those drugs were piped direction into inner cities, where they were processed as crack and sold to black people. The book provides more than enough evidence to show the government knew this was happening. They let it proceed because they felt overthrowing the Nicaraguan government was a cause worth sacrificing Americans who were already living on the margins of society.

At the same time Ronald Reagan was teaching you to Just Say No, he was letting cargo planes of drugs enter the U.S. (many owned by CIA contractors) in a program run by Oliver North, all because he was chafed by Congress’ decision to pull funding on the Contras, “freedom fighters” that were composed of human rights abusers and corrupt officials who looted Nicaragua when they had held power.

“The administration had allowed South Central’s biggest cocaine trafficker to call the United States his home.”

At the same time, crack hysteria by the media set the stage for the creation of extreme drug laws that locked up users and small-time dealers for long mandatory sentences. The government allowed the drug to enter the inner cities while locking up black men en masse who touched it, all while letting the big-time traffickers go. The black community was hit three times: they were flooded with drugs, they were further impoverished while buying those drugs (helping fund a war in Central America), and finally they were jailed in massive numbers, ensuring destruction of the lower class black family unit.

People who want to blame black people for their failings or addictions can do so all they want, but it doesn’t make it right that the government allowed this to happen. From the beginning they knew where those drugs were going but carried out their illegal program anyway. Things Malcolm X said over two decades prior about white participation of black destruction eerily went down exactly according to his words.

The media was complicit in all this:

“One truly remarkable thing about the crack scare was the degree to which the national press—particularly the New York Times—walked in lockstep with the federal government on the issue, fanning the flames of hysteria and unquestioningly parroting the official line, a media phenomenon usually seen only in times of armed conflict.”

Attacking crack and being “tough on crime” was a great way to score votes at the polls, leading to many easy re-election campaigns in the second half of the 80s. You couldn’t find a politician who didn’t think crack was going to destroy the country.

Once this “dark alliance” was exposed, the government repeatedly lied and stonewalled. The Justice Department should be renamed the Obstruction of Justice Department. The DEA is the Drug Enabling Agency. It was almost amusing how many government agencies did the very opposite of their publicly stated missions.

This book confirmed to me that the CIA is independent of U.S. law, with tentacles in ever major media organization and federal agency. It’s an enterprise that funds its own projects through illegal means if need be, using contractors, front companies, untraceable bank accounts, and layers of agents to evade detection in order to support programs that the American people would unquestionably be against. They are the most powerful group in the world, with no accountability and near unlimited power to accomplish its covert goals in the name of preserving “American interests.” They especially love using drug money to support paramilitary groups that aren’t big fans of human rights (Laos and Afghanistan are other countries suspected of CIA involvement when it comes to drug trafficking).

The depressing part is that this is only one program that got exposed, though every once in a while there is a mistake that suggests the CIA is still involved in drug trafficking. The author’s efforts to expose the CIA sadly contributed to his suicide. He wrote a powerful book that makes you lose whatever remaining faith and trust you had in the government. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 1560259302
Kill the Messenger

This book is basically a summary of Dark Alliance with additional reporting that gives more insight into the life of Gary Webb until he committed suicide. It describes how the mass media, particularly the Los Angeles Times, wrongly attacked Webb’s credibility and ensured he could never again get a job in journalism. They set up a straw man saying that Webb failed to prove that the CIA sold crack cocaine, when in fact Webb never said that (his argument was that the CIA knew where the drugs were going but didn’t put a stop to it). The media were ten times more focused on combing through Webb’s past than actually advancing the CIA-contra link that he provided solid evidence for.

I felt like the book was forced to adopt a more nuanced view on the CIAs role in drug trafficking. It’s one of those things where unless you have a copy of a drug contract printed on CIA letterhead and signed by the director, you have insufficient evidence and therefore are a loony conspiracy theorist. On the other hand, when the U.S. wants to invade a country, all it needs is to find one disgruntled soldier to say that he saw weapons of mass destruction to get the war drum beating. If you want to take down the CIA you need HD video with sound and nothing less.

Gary Webb was just doing his job, but unfortunately he had some existing character weaknesses that made his banishment from the profession he loved result in depression and then tragedy. It looks like he died in vain, for nothing has changed.

ISBN: 1936719118
Anything You Want

I met the author of this book in Rio, after already having been a fan of his blog. We talked a little about life, business, and travel, surprised that so many of our beliefs were similar yet our paths so different. He poured his energy into music and business while I poured mine into women and writing. I hold him up to be a business role model, a guy on the same page as myself who brought value to his customers over several years and was greatly rewarded for it.

I bought his book the day it came out and read it in a couple hours. It’s an inspiring and practical story of how he took a hobby and turned it into a business that later sold for $22 million, including the gut-wrenching mistake he made that cost him $3.3 million. He tells you what worked for him, knowing full well that his strategies go against what they teach you in business school. I highly recommended it if you want to start your own business.

“When someone’s doing something for the money, people can sense it, like a desperate lover. It’s a turnoff.”

ISBN: 0060822554
Ask The Dust

This book was a strong inspiration to Charles Bukowski, so I thought it deserved a read. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of an insecure young man trying to crack it as a writer in Los Angeles during the Great Depression, written in a stream-of-consciousness style. Most of the book revolves around his attempts to get paid for his writing while trying to seduce a Mexican girl who happens to be in love with another man.

I couldn’t sympathize with the protagonist because he had absolutely no game. He came across as a loser with a level of betatude that made me cringe at several points throughout the novel, not at all deserving to get the Mexican girl. The little action in this book stems from his attempts to come to terms with his feelings for her while she uses him as a tampon again and again.

The bright side of this book is the prose; the writing completely won me over. It’s up there with the best I’ve read, though it’s hard to describe why. It’s not too descriptive, it’s not too floral, but it just flows, and you want to keep reading even though you don’t care about the story or the characters. If you like Bukowski or Henry Miller then you’ll like this book.

ISBN: 0670018708
City Of Thieves

This is a historical fiction novel using the Siege of Leningrad as a backdrop, when the Nazis surrounded the city for nearly three years in an attempt to destroy it. It’s about two men (a soldier and a teenager) who got into trouble with the Russian secret police. Their “crimes” would be usually punishable by death, but a general decided to spare their lives if they can find a dozen eggs so he can use it for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Under normal times this is not a hard task, but during the blockade, when people were resorting to cannibalism to survive, eggs were worth their weight in gold.

In a capable story that is both entertaining and engaging, the reader is whisked from one scene to the next in the characters’ futile attempt to find eggs. It’s a good book written by someone who followed his writing workshop notes to a T, but it’s not great for two reasons. The first is that the main character is a pathetic beta who falls in love with a girl who is stronger and more masculine than him. At several points in the book I was hoping he’d die.

The second problem with the book is that the author keeps interrupting the best action with lame and irrelevant side stories. Just tell me the fucking story and spare me from your hack attempt to build suspense.

Other than that I recommend the book as a fine read, especially if you have any interest in Russian history or World War II.

ISBN: 0806512717
How To Learn Any Language

I was looking for a language learning blueprint that could help me learn any language. I believe I found it with this book, which was written by a guy who has mastered 25 languages. He gives you practical advice on how to tackle new languages with the goal of helping you gain fluency.

The book had two strong tips that I immediately implemented while studying Polish. The first was to take a stack of blank notecards wherever you go and write down the things you wanted to say but couldn’t so that you can later get a translation. This tip understands that you won’t later remember at home what you wanted to say at the grocery store, for example. I’ve even started taking pen and paper to me with the club, writing down game lines that I want my Polish teacher to help me translate.

The second tip was using mnemonics to memorize tough vocabulary. He teaches you how to make a story out of each word, that while labor intensive on the surface, is the fastest way I’ve found to get words to stick in my brain.

My only complaint with the book is that it was somewhat contradictory. At one point he says don’t worry about grammar, but at another he’s saying to do your best to learn proper grammar. It was a minor issue in an otherwise fast read of one man’s journey through the world of language learning. If you’re trying to learn a language right now, this book will definitely motivate you.

ISBN: 0804100039
If You Survive

This book is one foot soldier’s experience in World War II, from his landing in France after D-Day to his injury a few months later. The story unfolds battle to battle as the author tells you how the war was fought and what he did to survive. Instead of talking about war through the sweeping eye of a historian, this book gets at a micro level of detailing logistical issues like transport and reloading on ammunition in the thick of battle.

What struck me most about this book was how an inconsequential act, like picking up a pack of cigarettes, would lead to death. Just one inch to the left and you might have lived. More than anything else, reading about war teaches me how insignificant human life really is.

While it contained a lot of technical descriptions that sometimes made it hard to visualize the battle scene, If You Survive was a riveting story that avoided editorializing about the evils of war. It simply told you how it is.

ISBN: 0679745440
A Concise History Of The Russian Revolution

The crux of this book is that Lenin and his cronies managed to take over a country with a small minority of support from the people. Once in power they resorted to permanent use of terror and absurd governance that almost destroyed a “great” nation.

Lenin made it up as he went along, especially since the idealistic writing of Marx didn’t work out so well in practice. He was great at winning the game of politics but horrible at managing a country with a goal of increasing his people’s standard of living. His efforts to abolish money for a barter system and to eliminate the laws of supply and demand seem comical in hindsight. He treated Russia as one big laboratory that destroyed the economy and resulted in a famine that cost millions of lives along with untold human suffering. His crackpot schemes make you feel sorry for the Russian people.

Many historians say Stalin was one of the most ruthless men the world has ever seen, but his whole ideology came from Lenin. The only thing that stopped Lenin from killing millions more people was his premature death.

“Soviet Russia was the first state in history to outlaw law. This measure permitted the authorities to dispose of any individual who stood in their way.”

This book has a couple of strange features. The first is that it’s suspiciously pro-Jew. I don’t care either way of Jewish participation in the rise of Russian communism, but the author went out of his way to make sure they came out favorably. Secondly, the author is vehemently anti-Communist, repeatedly asserting that life under the tsar was better for Russians. I looked into his Wikipedia biography and turns out that he is indeed Jewish, with ties to both the CIA and Council of Foreign Relations. When he was accused of writing “the Polish version of Russian history,” he called his attacker an anti-Semite.

Overall this was a dry work full of facts that kept me engaged only because of my interest in Russian history, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading propaganda.

ISBN: 1400081882
Improv Wisdom

Call me a sexist but I hesitated to buy this book because it was written by a woman. I can’t think of the last time any woman has given sound life advice that has helped a man, but the 5 out of 5 stars it got on Amazon convinced me to drop my cash on it. That was a mistake.

This book has several problems:

  • Straight-up bullshit, such as “When we train our minds to accept whatever arises, ideas grow, and we nourish the garden of our imagination.” I think I saw that sentence on the back of a milk carton.
  • Real-life examples are about women, often the “busy mom” variety.
  • Beta male advice about caring for others, saying yes all the time, leaving thank-you notes for trivial reasons, and paying tolls for random strangers.
  • Cheesy hands-on exercises that I doubt the author did herself.

The author admits she has brought forth no new wisdom at all, but collected a bunch of feel-good tips she gleaned from Buddhism and other self help works. This book is entry-level self help for women who need an easy follow-up to Eat Pray Love. The best thing about it is the title.

ISBN: 0452284236
1984

I already read this book twice before but wanted to hit it one more time. From reading Russian history in the past year, I feel like this book was “based on a true story.” The only difference between the Bolsheviks and their stranglehold on Russia for so many decades and 1984 are names and technology. If the communists wrote a manual on power I believe it would not be far off from this.

Unfortunately for us, 1984 does act as a manual for countries where “freedom” and “liberty” rein today.

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.”

Even though WTC7 looks like a controlled demolition, it fell because of office fires.
Even though WTC7 looks like a controlled demolition, it fell because of office fires.
Even though WTC7 looks like a controlled demolition, it fell because of office fires.

I have to ignore what my eyes and gut tells me and tote the Party line. Nineteen terrorists, box cutters, Osama, jealous of America, and so on.

“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed… The object of war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.”

1984 is easily my favorite book. I like to revisit it occasionally to help remind me of government’s true goal, its boot pressed against my face.

Do you want to read more book reviews? Click here for the previous set.

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