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Friday, June 29, 2012
Reading List: Freedom Betrayed
- Hoover, Herbert.
Edited by George H. Nash.
Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2011.
This book, begun in the days after the attack on Pearl
Harbor, became the primary occupation of former U.S.
president Herbert Hoover until his death in 1964. He
originally referred to it as the “War Book”
and titled subsequent draft manuscripts
Lost Statesmanship, The Ordeal of the
American People, and Freedom Betrayed,
which was adopted for this edition. Over the two decades
Hoover worked on the book, he and his staff came to
refer to it as the “Magnum
Opus”, and it is
magnum indeed—more than
950 pages in this massive brick of a hardcover edition.
The work began as an attempt to document how, in Hoover's
view, a series of diplomatic and strategic blunders
committed during the Franklin Roosevelt administration
had needlessly prompted Hitler's attack upon the Western
democracies, forged a disastrous alliance with Stalin,
and deliberately provoked Japan into attacking the U.S.
and Britain in the Pacific. This was summarised by Hoover
as “12 theses” in a 1946 memorandum to his
research assistant (p. 830):
…all right—eleven theses. As the years passed, Hoover
expanded the scope of the project to include what he saw as
the cynical selling-out of hundreds of millions of people in
nations liberated from Axis occupation into Communist slavery,
making a mockery of the principles espoused in the
and reaffirmed on numerous occasions and endorsed by other members
of the Allies, including the Soviet Union. Hoover puts the blame for
this betrayal squarely at the feet of Roosevelt and Churchill, and
documents how Soviet penetration of the senior levels of the Roosevelt
administration promoted Stalin's agenda and led directly
to the loss of China to Mao's forces and the Korean War.
As such, this is a massive work of historical revisionism which flies
in the face of the mainstream narrative of the origins of World War II
and the postwar period. But, far from the rantings of a crank, this
is the work of a former President of the United States, who, in his
career as an engineer and humanitarian work after World War I lived in
or travelled extensively through all of the countries involved in the
subsequent conflict and had high-level meetings with their governments.
(Hoover was the only U.S. president to meet with Hitler; the
contemporary notes from his 1938 meeting appear here starting on p. 837.)
Further, it is a scholarly examination of the period, with
extensive citations and excerpts of original sources. Hoover's
work in food relief in the aftermath of World War II provided additional
entrée to governments in that period and an on-the-ground
view of the situation as communism tightened its grip on Eastern
Europe and sought to expand into Asia.
The amount of folly chronicled here is astonishing, and
the extent of the human suffering it engendered is difficult to
comprehend. Indeed, Hoover's “just the facts” academic
style may leave you wishing he expressed more visceral anger at
all the horrible things that happened which did not have to.
But then Hoover was an engineer, and we engineers don't do
visceral all that well. Now, Hoover was far from immune from
in the Oval Office called him
“wonder boy” for his enthusiasm for grand
progressive schemes, and Hoover's mis-handling of the aftermath of the
1929 stock market crash turned what might have been a short and
deep recession into the First Great Depression and set the
stage for the New Deal. Yet here, I think Hoover the historian
pretty much gets it right, and when reading these words, last
revised in 1963, one gets the sense that the verdict of history
has reinforced the evidence Hoover presents here, even though
his view remains anathema in an academy almost entirely in the
thrall of slavers.
In the last months of his life, Hoover worked furiously to ready
the manuscript for publication; he viewed it as a large part of his
life's work and his final contribution to the history of the epoch.
After his death, the Hoover Foundation did not proceed to publish
the document for reasons which are now impossible to determine, since
none of the people involved are now alive. One can speculate that
they did not wish to embroil the just-deceased founder of their
institution in what was sure to be a firestorm of controversy as
he contradicted the smug consensus view of progressive historians
of the time, but nobody really knows (and the editor, recruited by the
successor of that foundation to prepare the work for publication,
either did not have access to that aspect of the story or opted not
to pursue it). In any case, the editor's work was massive: sorting
through thousands of documents and dozens of drafts of the work,
trying to discern the author's intent from pencilled-in marginal
notes, tracking down citations and verifying quoted material, and
writing an introduction of more than a hundred pages explaining the
origins of the work, its historical context, and the methodology
used to prepare this edition; the editing is a serious work of scholarship in
its own right.
If you're acquainted with the period, you're unlikely to learn
any new facts here, although Hoover's first-hand impressions
of countries and leaders are often insightful. In the decades
after Hoover's death, many documents which were under seal of
official secrecy have become available, and very few of them
contradict the picture presented here. (As a former president
with many military and diplomatic contacts, Hoover doubtless
had access to some of this material on a private basis, but
he never violated these confidences in this work.) What you will
learn from reading this book is that a set of facts can be
interpreted in more than one way, and that if one looks at the
events from 1932 through 1962 through the eyes of an observer
who was, like Hoover, fundamentally a pacifist, humanitarian,
and champion of liberty, you may end up with a very different
impression than that in the mainstream history books. What
the conventional wisdom deems a noble battle against evil
can, from a different perspective, be seen as a preventable
tragedy which not only consigned entire nations to slavery for
decades, but sowed the seeds of tyranny in the U.S. as the
welfare/warfare state consolidated itself upon the ashes of
limited government and individual liberty.
- War between Russia and Germany was inevitable.
- Hitler's attack on Western Democracies was only
to brush them out of his way.
- There would have been no involvement of Western
Democracies had they not gotten in his (Hitler's)
way by guaranteeing Poland (March, 1939).
- Without prior agreement with Stalin this constituted
the greatest blunder of British diplomatic history.
- There was no sincerity on either side of the Stalin-Hitler
alliance of August, 1939.
- The United States or the Western Hemisphere were never in
danger by Hitler.
- [This entry is missing in Hoover's typescript—ed.]
- This was even less so when Hitler determined to attack Stalin.
- Roosevelt, knowing this about November, 1940, had no
remote warranty for putting the United States in war to
“save Britain” and/or saving the United States
- The use of the Navy for undeclared war on Germany was
- There were secret military agreements with Britain probably
as early of January, 1940.
- The Japanese war was deliberately provoked. …
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Reading List: Abuse of Power
Savage, Michael [Michael Alan Weiner].
Abuse of Power.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2011.
The author, a popular talk radio host who is also a Ph.D.
in nutritional ethnomedicine and has published numerous books
under his own name, is best known for his political works,
four of which have made the New York Times bestseller list
including one which reached the top of that list. This is
his first foray into the fictional thriller genre, adopting
a style reminiscent of
in which the author, or a character closely modelled upon him or her,
is the protagonist in the story. In this novel, Jack Hatfield is a
San Francisco-based journalist dedicated to digging out the truth
and getting it to the public by whatever means available,
immersed in the quirky North Beach culture of San Francisco, and
banned in Britain for daring to transgress
the speech codes of that once-free nation. Sound familiar?
While on a routine ride-along with a friend from the San Francisco Police
Department bomb squad, Hatfield finds himself in the middle of a
carjacking gone horribly wrong, where the evidence of his own eyes
and of witnesses at the scene contradicts the soothing narrative issued
by the authorities and swallowed whole by the legacy media. As Hatfield
starts to dig beneath the surface, he discovers a trail of murders
which seem to point to a cover-up by a shadowy but well-funded
and ruthlessly efficient organisation whose motives remain opaque.
This leads him on a trail which takes him to various points around
the world and finally back to San Francisco, where only he and his small
circle of friends can expose and thwart a plot aimed at regime change
in the country which fancied itself the regime changer for the rest
of the world.
Inevitably, I have some technical quibbles.
This is an enjoyable and promising debut for an author who is embarking
upon the craft of the thriller, and none of the natters above (if you
chose to read them) detracted from this reader's enjoyment of the story.
Is it up to the standard of recent work from masters of the genre such as
Vince Flynn or
No—but it's a good read and auspicious start; I will certainly
give forthcoming novels from this author a try.
- On p. 25, it is assumed that a cellular mobile
telephone can communicate with a like unit without
going through the cellular network (which, in this case,
is blocked by a police jammer) if it is in line of sight
and close enough to the other telephone. This is not the
case; even if it were technologically possible, how
would the Phone Company charge you for the call?
- On p. 144 a terrorist mole is granted a G-2 visa
to work at a foreign consulate in the U.S. In fact, a
visa is granted only to individuals travelling to the U.S.
to attend meetings of international organisations. The
individual in question would have required an A-1 or A-2
diplomatic visa to enter the U.S.
- On p. 149 Jack takes out a Remington shotgun loaded
with 12-gauge rounds, and just two paragraphs later lays
“the rifle across his forearm”. A shotgun is
not a rifle.
- This is not a quibble but a high-five. The shortened
URL in the decrypted message on p. 257 points
precisely where the novel says it does.
- When will thriller authors sit down and read
Effects of Nuclear Weapons? On p. 355 we're
faced with the prospect of a “satchel nuke” being
detonated atop one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and told:
There would have been thousands of deaths within days, tens
of thousands within weeks, over a million within a month—many
of those among people who would have been needed to keep the
infrastructure from collapsing. Doctors, police, workers at
power plants and sewage centers. [sic (sentence fragment)] The
environment would have become so toxic that rescue workers couldn't
have gotten into the area, and poisoned food and water would have
added exponentially to the death toll. Airdrops of fresh supplies
would have led to riots, more death. Silicon Valley would have
been ravaged, all but destroying the U.S. computer industry.
Nonsense—a plausible satchel nuke of a size which Sara (admittedly
a well-trained woman) could carry in a backpack would be something
like the U.S.
which weighed around 68 kg, more than most in-shape women. The most
common version of this weapon was based upon the
W54 warhead, which had
a variable yield from 10 tons to 1 kiloton. Assuming the maximum
one kiloton yield, a detonation would certainly demolish the
Golden Gate Bridge and cause extensive damage to unreinforced
structures around the Bay, but the radiation effects wouldn't
be remotely as severe as asserted; there would be some casualties
to those downwind and in the fallout zone, but these would be more
likely in the hundreds and over one or more decades after the detonation.
The fact that the detonation occurred at the top of a tower taller
than those used in most surface detonations at the
Nevada Test Site
and above water would further reduce fallout. Silicon Valley, which
is almost 100 km south of the detonation site, would be entirely
unaffected apart from Twitter outages due to #OMG tweets.
The whole subplot about the “hydrazine-based rocket fuel”
tanker crossing the bridge is silly: hydrazine is nasty stuff to be sure, but first
of all it is a hypergolic liquid rocket fuel, not an “experimental
solid rocket fuel”. (Duh—if it were solid, why would you
transport it in a tanker?) But apart from that, hydrazine is
one of those molecules whose atoms really don't like being so
close to one another, and given the slightest excuse will re-arrange
themselves into a less strained configuration. Being inside a nuclear
fireball is an excellent excuse to do so, hence the closer the
tanker happened to be to the detonation, the less likely the dispersal
of its contents would cause casualties for those downwind.
Friday, June 15, 2012
Reading List: A Step Farther Out
- Pournelle, Jerry.
A Step Farther Out.
Studio City, CA: Chaos Manor Press, [1979, 1994] 2011.
This book is a collection of essays originally published
magazine between 1974 and 1978.
They were originally collected into a book published in 1979, which
was republished in 1994 with a new preface and notes from the author.
This electronic edition includes all the material from the 1994 book
plus a new preface which places the essays in the context of their
time and the contemporary world.
I suspect that many readers of these remarks may be inclined to
exclaim “Whatever possessed you to read a bunch of
thirty-year-old columns from a science fiction magazine which itself
disappeared from the scene in 1980?” I reply, “Because
the wisdom in these explorations of science, technology, and the human
prospect is just as relevant today as it was when I first read them in
the original book, and taken together they limn the lost three decades
of technological progress which have so blighted our lives.”
Pournelle not only envisioned what was possible as humanity expanded
its horizons from the Earth to become a spacefaring species drawing
upon the resources of the solar system which dwarf those about which
the “only one Earth” crowd fret, he also foresaw the
constraint which would prevent us from today living in a perfectly
achievable world, starting from the 1970s, with fusion, space power
satellites, ocean thermal energy conversion, and innovative sources of
natural gas providing energy; a robust private space infrastructure
with low cost transport to Earth orbit; settlements on the Moon and
Mars; exploration of the asteroids with an aim to exploit their
resources; and compounded growth of technology which would not only
permit human survival but “survival with style”—not
only for those in the developed countries, but for all the ten billion
who will inhabit this planet by the middle of the present century.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, Pournelle nails that as well.
Recall whilst reading the following paragraph that it was
written in 1978.
[…] Merely continue as we are now: innovative technology
discouraged by taxes, environmental impact statements, reports,
lawsuits, commission hearings, delays, delays, delays; space
research not carried out, never officially abandoned but delayed,
stretched-out, budgets cut and work confined to the studies without
hardware; solving the energy crisis by conservation, with fusion
research cut to the bone and beyond, continued at level-of-effort
but never to a practical reactor; fission plants never officially
banned, but no provision made for waste disposal or storage so
that no new plants are built and the operating plants slowly are phased
out; riots at nuclear power plant construction sites; legal
hearings, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers…
Can you not imagine the dream being lost? Can you not imagine the
nation slowly learning to “do without”, making
“Smaller is Better” the national slogan, fussing
over insulating attics and devoting attention to windmills;
production falling, standards of living falling, until one day
we discover the investments needed to go to space would be
truly costly, would require cuts in essentials like food —
A world slowly settling into satisfaction with less, until there are
no resources to invest in That Buck Rogers Stuff?
I can imagine that.
As can we all, as now we are living it. And yet, and yet….
One consequence of the Three Lost Decades is that the technological
vision and optimistic roadmap of the future presented in these
essays is just as relevant to our predicament today as when
they were originally published, simply because with a few
exceptions we haven't done a thing to achieve them. Indeed,
today we have fewer resources with which to pursue them,
having squandered our patrimony on consumption, armies of
rent-seekers, and placed generations yet unborn in debt to fund our
avarice. But for those who look beyond the noise of the headlines
and the platitudes of politicians whose time horizon is limited
to the next election, here is a roadmap for a true step farther
out, in which the problems we perceive as intractable are not
“managed” or “coped with”, but rather
solved, just as free people have always done when
unconstrained to apply their intellect, passion, and resources
toward making their fortunes and, incidentally, creating wealth
This book is available only in electronic form for the Kindle
as cited above, under the given ASIN. The ISBN of the original
1979 paperback edition is
978-0-441-78584-1. The formatting
in the Kindle edition is imperfect, but entirely readable.
As is often the case with Kindle documents, “images
and tables hardest hit”: some of the tables take a
bit of head-scratching to figure out, as the Kindle (or
at least the iPad application which I use) particularly
mangles multi-column tables. (I mean, what's with that,
LaTeX got this
perfectly right thirty years ago, and in a manner even
beginners could use; and this was pure public domain software
anybody could adopt. Sigh—three lost
decades….) Formatting quibbles aside, I'm as glad I bought
and read this book as I was when I first bought it and read it
all those years ago. If you want to experience not just what
the future could have been, then, but what it can be, now,
here is an excellent place to start.
The author's Web site is an essential resource
for those interested in these big ideas, grand ambitions, and the destiny of
humankind and its descendents.
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Reading List: Ark
- McCarry, Charles.
New York: Open Road, 2011.
All right, I suppose some readers will wish me to expand
somewhat on the capsule review in the first paragraph, but
it really does say it all. The author is a veteran and
bestselling author of spy fiction (and former deep cover
CIA agent) who is best known for his Paul Christopher
novels. Here he turns his hand to science fiction and
promptly trips over his cloak and inflicts a savage dagger
wound on the reader.
The premise is that since the Earth's core has been found
to rotate faster than the outer parts of the planet
(a “discovery” found, subsequent to the
novel's publication, to have been
by six orders of magnitude), the enormous kinetic
energy of the core is periodically dissipated by being coupled
to the mantle and crust, resulting in a “hyperquake”
in which the Earth's crust would be displaced not metres on a
localised basis, but kilometres and globally. This is said to
explain at least some of the mass extinctions in the fossil
Henry Peel, an intuitive super-genius who has become the
world's first trillionaire based upon his invention of
room temperature superconductivity and practical fusion power,
but who lives incognito, protected by his
ex-special forces “chaps”, sees this coming
(in a vision, just like his inventions), and decides to use his
insight and wealth to do something about it. And now I draw the
curtain, since this botched novel isn't worth carefully
crafting non-spoiler prose to describe the multitudinous
absurdities with which it is festooned.
One gets the sense that the author hadn't read enough science
fiction to fully grasp the genre. It's fine to posit a
counterfactual and build the story from that point. But you
can't just make stuff up with wild abandon whenever
you want, no less claim that it “came in a vision”
to an inventor who has no background in the field. Further,
the characters (even if they are aliens utterly unlike anything
in the human experience, which is not the case here) have to
behave in ways consistent with their properties and context.
In a podcast interview
with the author, he
said that the publisher of his spy fiction declined to
publish this novel because it was so different from his
Well, you could say that, but I suspect the publisher was
being kind to a valued author in not specifying that the
difference was not in genre but rather the quality of
For no reason apparent in the text, Henry recruits the protagonist
and narrator, a somewhat ditzy female novelist (at one point she
invites a stalker to her hide-out apartment because she forgets
the reason she moved there in the first place). This character
makes occasional off-the-wall suggestions which Henry, for some
reason, finds profound, and becomes a member of Henry's inner
circle and eventually closer still.
Henry decides that the way to survive the coming extinction event
is to build a spacecraft which can cruise the solar system
for generations, tended by a crew that reproduces itself, and
carrying a cargo of genetically enhanced (oops!—never
mind—Henry changes his mind and goes with showroom stock
which can be decanted to establish colonies
on the planets and moons and eventually repopulate the Earth.
To this end, he invents:
- A single stage to orbit reusable spaceplane
powered by a new kind of engine which does not
emit a rocket plume
- A space drive which “would somehow draw its
fuel from the charged particles in the solar
- Artificial gravity, based upon diamagnetism
Whenever an invention is needed to dig this plot out of a hole,
Henry just has a vision and out it pops. Edison be damned—for
Henry it's 100% inspiration and hold the perspiration!
He builds this enormous infrastructure in Mongolia, just across
the border from China, having somehow obtained a free hand to do
so while preserving his own off-the-radar privacy.
Sub-plots come and go with wild abandon. You think something's
going to be significant, and then it just sputters out or
vanishes as if it never happened. What the heck is with that
circle of a dozen missiles in Mongolia, anyway? And you could
take out the entire history and absurdly implausible coincidence
of the narrator's meeting her rapist without any impact on the
plot. And don't you think a trillionaire would have somebody on
staff who could obtain a restraining order against the perp
and hire gumshoes to keep an eye on his whereabouts?
Fundamentally, people and institutions do not behave the way
they do in this story. How plausible is it that a trillionaire,
building a vast multinational infrastructure for space migration,
would be able to live off the radar in New York City, without any
of the governments of the jurisdictions in which he was operating
taking notice of his activities? Or that the media would
promptly forget a juicy celebrity scandal involving said
trillionaire because a bunch of earthquakes happened? Or that
once the impending end of human civilisation became
public that everybody would get bored with it and move on
to other distractions? This whole novel reads like one of
my B-list dreams: disconnected, abstracted from reality,
and filled with themes that fade in and out without any
sense of continuity. I suppose one could look at it as a kind
of end-times love story, but who cares about love stories
involving characters who are unsympathetic and implausible?
Monday, June 4, 2012
The New Napster
You know you're really an old-timer when you mention Napster
and the kids say, “Wasn't that the thing our parents used to use in college?”
Well, during that evanescent moment of music striving to be free, even folks who earned their living selling goods protected by copyright relished being able to find even the most obscure tune from their distant memory, put online by some stoner from a dorm room, shared at a LAN party, and downloaded by thousands of people who hadn't heard it in decades. High times, those.
But here we are now and, guess what: Napster is back!
Well, not Napster, neutered and brought down by The Man, but rather its successor, owned and operated by The Man or, as we now speak of him, Google and its media front organisation, YouTube.
As an experiment, I put together the kind of stream of consciousness play-list I would have done back in the days of shuffling through CDs or Napster, and then searched for them on YouTube. Every one of the following videos (many of which have mostly audio content) came up on the first page of results—most in the first five items. I did not fail to find a single song which popped into my mind during this free-association fest.
Napster is back! Where is the outrage from the music industry? Do they quake in fear before the mighty Google? Now, of course, you cannot directly download an MP3 file from the audio track of a YouTube video, but capturing the audio, trimming extraneous start and end material, adjusting levels, and saving it locally is hardly challenging to youth with tech savvy comparable to their elders who made Napster a global phenomenon.