April Book Reviews

Priest, Dana. The Mission. 2003.

Fly-on-the-wall reporting on the US military, in three different areas. The regional Commanders in Chief: Anthony Zinni comes off very well and the rest of the brass are well-intentioned and narrow-minded. Special Operations: Based on the flawed assumption that training foreign soldiers will lead to their being less brutal; instead, they just become more effectively brutal. Peace-keeping: a mix of success, fiasco, and farce, but many nations share the blame. In general the US military comes off as professional and well-intentioned but, if I had $300 billion a year to spend on making the world safe for Americans, I wouldn't spend it on the instruments of war. Of course, the military is in large part of jobs program and a system for wealth transfer from taxpayers to military contractors, and on those terms it seems fairly successful.

(How would I spend $300 billion a year to make America safer? First, I would spend $70 billion a year to end most infectious diseases (WHO Fact Sheet N° 189, WHO press release, another WHO press release) - which would produce a 5x or greater improvement in productivity, providing many socioeconomic alternatives to America-hating for billions of people.

I don't have hard numbers for this one, but I imagine we could afford to simply pay all the evil dictators to retire to an island somewhere (especially if we stop making more, as we are currently doing in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, (all of the 'stans, really), Indonesia, Sudan, etc etc.). Then at least people would have a chance to hate us for who we are rather than what we've done to them by supporting totalitarian regimes because they are more convenient for our policy makers and our corporate interests. Oh, and as long as we're on the subject, and as long as we're still training terrorists at Fort Benning, Georgia, let's stop. That should save some pocket change.

A billion dollars a year would be enough to fund all of the domestic political races and eliminate lobbying, at which point we could have real debate leading to, for example, increasing CAFE fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and eliminating our dependence on foreign oil, most of which exists underneath people who have come to mistrust us because we act like we only want their oil (and do things like let their cultural treasures and hospitals be looted because we didn't want to spend the money to have enough troops on hand to protect both those sites and the oil wells and buildings. (And, to be fair, most American troops were apparently busy protecting caches of weapons throughout Baghdad, weapons that were mostly sold to the Iraqi by the French and Russians, not Americans. Mostly.)) (Judah, Tim. The Fall of Baghdad. New York Review of Books. May 15, 2003.) Also on the subject of domestic politics, $600 million would let us buy optical scanners for every voting precinct in the US (not just the middle-class white ones). I'm not talking about the paperless, inherently flawed crap that Florida bought because they're stupid. Then we could have some fair elections (though not free, not until the police stop harassing black voters) and maybe elect a president who merely bores the rest of the world, or vomits on world leaders, rather than one who insults, provokes, and infuriates the other 5.8 billion people on the planet. I think at this point I would feel safer with Zombie Richard Nixon in the White House.

We could fund our fair share of the UN. That would only be a few billion dollars a year. We could fund more than our fair share, and then UN peacekeepers could provide integrated policing, judges, and legal system support, backed by neutral military units, that would provide a safe environment for the International Red Cross and other groups to come in and support recovery of failed states. Then we could take Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, East Timor, Cyprus, Georgia (the other one), Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, and Kosovo off the list of anti-American terrorist breeding grounds. (UN Peacekeeping Missions. Infoplease.com).

By now we're down to $200 billion. How else can we spend money to make America safer? There's always tax cuts for the rich, guaranteed to cure any ailment, but I somehow feel like that's a copout - surely there's one more thing we can waste money on?

Well, we could spend $5 billion to build a space elevator to cut the cost to orbit by a factor of a hundred and unleash a new wave of exploration for the human race. It might not make people stop hating us, but we could just leave. (A cheaper option: for $3 billion (300 million people times $10 per buzz), we can all get bad haircuts and then pretend we're Canadian.))

Perez-Reverte, Arturo. The Club Dumas. 1993, 1997 for English translation.

The source material for the very good movie The Ninth Gate. Very readable but not great by any measure. An excellent example (in this sense up there with Blade Runner and its source, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by the incomparable Philip K. Dick) of making the right decisions creating a movie from written material.

Sturken Peterson, Barbara , and Glab, James. Rapid Descent: Deregulation and the Shakeout in the Airlines. 1994.

Everybody who ever ran an airline was either a union-busting bastard, a fool, or just a plain nitwit. That's the main takeaway. We'll never know if deregulation works better than regulation because we can't do either well. More precisely, attempts both to regulate and to deregulate are routinely subverted by special interests, and neither system (based on my wholly inadequate research, driven primarily by the frequency at which books by veteran industry reporters about deregulation in the industries they cover appear in the $1 rack at Elliot Bay Book Company (see my other posts on regulation, specifically the FCC and digital television (fka high-definition television), the latter of which was based on a $1 read)) seems at all resistant to abuse.

(For more information the use and abuse of parantheses, see Lisp: Function calls, parentheses, and blanks)