Reading List: Lord of the World
Thursday, April 24, 2014 00:27
Reading List: John Glenn: America's Astronaut
Monday, April 21, 2014 22:49
Reading List: The Crusade Years
Monday, April 14, 2014 23:07
Reading List: Kill Decision
Sunday, April 6, 2014 21:33
Reading List: Full Black
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 22:03
Thursday, April 24, 2014 00:27
- Benson, Robert Hugh.
Lord of the World.
Seattle: CreateSpace,  2013.
In the early years of the 21st century, humanism and secularism
are ascendant in Europe. Many churches exist only as monuments
to the past, and mainstream religions are hæmorrhaging
adherents—only the Roman Catholic church remains moored
to its traditions, and its influence is largely confined to Rome
and Ireland. A European Parliament is asserting its power over
formerly sovereign nations, and people seem resigned to losing their
national identity. Old-age pensions and the extension of welfare
benefits to those displaced from jobs in occupations which have
become obsolete create a voting bloc guaranteed to support those
who pay these benefits. The loss of belief in an eternal soul
has cheapened human life, and euthanasia has become accepted,
both for the gravely ill and injured, but also for those just
weary of life.
This novel was published in 1907.
G. K. Chesterton is reputed to have said
“When Man ceases to worship God he does not
worship nothing but worships everything.”
I say “reputed” because there is
whatsoever he actually said this, although he said
a number of other things which might be conflated into a
similar statement. This dystopian novel illustrates how
a society which has “moved on” from God toward
a celebration of Humanity as deity is vulnerable to a
charismatic figure who bears the eschaton in his hands.
It is simply stunning how the author, without any knowledge
of the great convulsions which were to ensue in the 20th
century, so precisely forecast the humanistic spiritual
desert of the 21st.
This is a novel of the coming of the Antichrist and the battle
between the remnant of believers and coercive secularism
reinforced by an emerging pagan cult satisfying our human thirst
for transcendence. What is masterful about it is that while
religious themes deeply underly it, if you simply ignore all
of them, it is a thriller with deep philosophical roots. We
live today in a time when religion is under unprecedented assault
by humanism, and the threat to the sanctity of life has gone far
beyond the imagination of the author.
This novel was written more than a century ago, but is set in our
times and could not be more relevant to our present circumstances.
How often has a work of dystopian science fiction been cited by the
Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church? Contemporary readers
may find some of the untranslated citations from the Latin Mass
obscure: that's what your search engine exists to illumine.
This work is in the public domain, and a number of print and electronic
editions are available. I read this
because it was (and is, at this writing) free. The formatting is less
than perfect, but it is perfectly readable. A free electronic
edition in a variety of formats can be
Monday, April 21, 2014 22:49
- Chaikin, Andrew.
John Glenn: America's Astronaut.
Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2014.
This short book (around 126 pages print equivalent), available
only for the Kindle as a “Kindle single” at a modest
price, chronicles the life and space missions of the first
American to orbit the Earth. John Glenn grew up in a small Ohio
town, the son of a plumber, and matured during the first
great depression. His course in life was set when, in 1929, his
father took his eight year old son on a joy ride offered by a
pilot at local airfield in a Waco biplane. After that, Glenn
filled up his room with model airplanes, intently followed news of
air racers and pioneers of exploration by air, and in 1938
attended the Cleveland Air Races. There seemed little hope of
his achieving his dream of becoming an airman himself: pilot
training was expensive, and his family, while making ends meet
during the depression, couldn't afford such a luxury.
With the war in Europe underway and the U.S. beginning to rearm
and prepare for possible hostilities, Glenn heard of a government program,
the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which would pay for his
flying lessons and give him college credit for taking them. He
entered the program immediately and received his pilot's
license in May 1942. By then, the world was a very
different place. Glenn dropped out of college in his junior
year and applied for the Army Air Corps. When they dawdled
accepting him, he volunteered for the Navy, which immediately
sent him to flight school. After completing advanced flight
training, he transferred to the Marine Corps, which was
Sent to the South Pacific theatre, he flew 59 combat missions,
mostly in close air support of ground troops in which
Marine pilots specialise. With the end of the war, he decided
to make the Marines his career and rotated through a number
of stateside posts. After the outbreak of the Korean War, he
hoped to see action in the jet combat emerging there and in 1953
arrived in country, again flying close air support. But an
exchange program with the Air Force finally allowed him to
achieve his ambition of engaging in air to air combat at ten
miles a minute. He completed 90 combat missions in Korea, and
emerged as one of the Marine Corps' most distinguished pilots.
Glenn parlayed his combat record into a test pilot position,
which allowed him to fly the newest and hottest aircraft of
the Navy and Marines. When NASA went looking for pilots for its
Mercury manned spaceflight program, Glenn was naturally near
the top of the list, and was among the 110 military test pilots
invited to the top secret briefing about the project. Despite
not meeting all of the formal selection criteria (he lacked a
college degree), he performed superbly in all of the harrowing
tests to which candidates were subjected, made cut after cut, and
was among the seven selected to be the first astronauts.
This book, with copious illustrations and two embedded videos,
chronicles Glenn's career, his harrowing first flight into
space, his 1998 return to space on Space Shuttle
STS-95, and his
24 year stint in the U.S. Senate. I found the picture of Glenn
after his pioneering flight somewhat airbrushed. It is said that
while in the Senate, “He was known as one of NASA's
strongest supporters on Capitol Hill…”, and
yet in fact, while not one of the rabid Democrats who tried
to kill NASA like Walter Mondale, he did not speak out as
an advocate for a more aggressive space program aimed at
expanding the human presence in space. His return to space
is presented as the result of his assiduously promoting
the benefits of space research for gerontology rather than
a political junket by a senator which would generate
publicity for NASA at a time when many people had tuned
out its routine missions. (And if there was so much to be
learned by flying elderly people in space, why was it never
John Glenn was a quintessential product of the old, tough America. A
hero in two wars, test pilot when that was one of the most risky
of occupations, and first to ride the thin-skinned pressure-stabilised
Atlas rocket into orbit, his place in history is assured. His
subsequent career as a politician was not particularly distinguished:
he initiated few pieces of significant legislation and never
became a figure on the national stage. His campaign for the 1984
Democratic presidential nomination went nowhere, and he was implicated
scandal. John Glenn accomplished enough in the first forty-five
years of his life to earn him a secure place in American history.
This book does an excellent job of recounting those events and
placing them in the context of the time. If it goes a bit too far
in lionising his subsequent career, that's understandable: a biographer
shouldn't always succumb to balance when dealing with a hero.
Monday, April 14, 2014 23:07
- Hoover, Herbert.
The Crusade Years.
Edited by George H. Nash.
Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2013.
In the modern era, most former U.S. presidents have largely
retired from the public arena, lending their names to
charitable endeavours and acting as elder statesmen rather
than active partisans. One striking counter-example to this
rule was Herbert Hoover who, from the time of his defeat by
Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election until
shortly before his death in 1964, remained in the arena,
giving hundreds of speeches, many broadcast nationwide on
radio, writing multiple volumes of memoirs and analyses of
policy, collecting and archiving a multitude of documents
regarding World War I and its aftermath which became the core
of what is now the Hoover Institution collection at Stanford University,
working in famine relief during and after World War II, and
raising funds and promoting benevolent organisations such
as the Boys' Clubs. His strenuous work to keep the U.S. out
of World War II is chronicled in his
Freedom Betrayed (June 2012),
which presents his revisionist view of U.S. entry into and
conduct of the war, and the tragedy which ensued after victory
had been won. Freedom Betrayed was largely completed
at the time of Hoover's death, but for reasons difficult to
determine at this remove, was not published until 2011.
The present volume was intended by Hoover to be a companion to
Freedom Betrayed, focussing on domestic policy
in his post-presidential career. Over the years, he envisioned
publishing the work in various forms, but by the early 1950s he
had given the book its present title and accumulated 564
pages of typeset page proofs. Due to other duties, and Hoover's
decision to concentrate his efforts on Freedom Betrayed,
little was done on the manuscript after he set it aside in 1955.
It is only through the scholarship of the editor, drawing upon
Hoover's draft, but also documents from the Hoover Institution
and the Hoover Presidential Library, that this work has been
assembled in its present form. The editor has also collected a
variety of relevant documents, some of which Hoover cited or
incorporated in earlier versions of the work, into a
comprehensive appendix. There are extensive source citations and
notes about discrepancies between Hoover's quotation of documents
and speeches and other published versions of them.
Of all the crusades chronicled here, the bulk of the work is devoted
to “The Crusade Against Collectivism in American Life”,
and Hoover's words on the topic are so pithy and relevant to the
present state of affairs in the United States that one suspects that
a brave, ambitious, but less than original politician who simply
cut and pasted Hoover's words into his own speeches would rapidly
become the darling of liberty-minded members of the Republican
party. I cannot think of any present-day Republican, even
darlings of the Tea Party, who drew the contrast between the
American tradition of individual liberty and enterprise and
the grey uniformity of collectivism as Hoover does here. And
Hoover does it with a firm intellectual grounding in the history
of America and the world, personal knowledge from having lived and
worked in countries around the world, and an engineer's pragmatism
about doing what works, not what sounds good in a speech or makes
people feel good about themselves.
This is somewhat of a surprise. Hoover was, in many ways, a
progressive—Calvin Coolidge called him “wonder boy”.
He was an enthusiastic believer in trust-busting and regulation
as a counterpoise to concentration of economic power. He was
a protectionist who supported the tariff to protect farmers and
industry from foreign competition. He supported income and inheritance
taxes “to regulate over-accumulations of wealth.”
He was no libertarian, nor even a “light hand on the tiller”
executive like Coolidge.
And yet he totally grasped the threat to liberty which the
intrusive regulatory and administrative state represented. It's
difficult to start quoting Hoover without retyping the entire
book, as there is line after line, paragraph after paragraph,
and page after page which are not only completely applicable to
the current predicament of the U.S., but guaranteed applause lines
were they uttered before a crowd of freedom loving citizens of
that country. Please indulge me in a few (comments in italics
are my own).
I could quote dozens more. Should Hoover re-appear and give a
composite of what he writes here as a keynote speech at the
2016 Republican convention, and if it hasn't been packed
with establishment cronies, I expect he would be interrupted
every few lines with chants of “Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver” and
nominated by acclamation.
It is sad that in the U.S. in the age of Obama there is no
statesman with the stature, knowledge, and eloquence of Hoover
who is making the case for liberty and warning of the
inevitable tyranny which awaits at the end of the road to
serfdom. There are voices articulating the message which
Hoover expresses so pellucidly here, but in today's
media environment they don't have access to the kind of
platform Hoover did when his post-presidential policy speeches
were routinely broadcast nationwide. After his being reviled ever
since his presidency, not just by Democrats but by many in his own
party, it's odd to feel nostalgia for Hoover, but Obama will do that
In the Kindle edition the index cites
page numbers in the hardcover edition which, since the Kindle
edition does not include real page numbers, are completely useless.
(On his electoral defeat)
Democracy is not a polite employer.
We cannot extend the mastery of government over the daily
life of a people without somewhere making it master of
people's souls and thoughts.
(On JournoList, vintage 1934)
I soon learned that the reviewers of the New
York Times, the New York Herald Tribune,
the Saturday Review and of other journals of
review in New York kept in touch to determine in what
manner they should destroy books which were not to their
Who then pays? It is the same economic middle class and the
poor. That would still be true if the rich were taxed to the
whole amount of their fortunes….
Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national
Regulation should be by specific law, that all who run may
It would be far better that the party go down to defeat with the
banner of principle flying than to win by pussyfooting.
The seizure by the government of the communications of persons
not charged with wrong-doing justifies the immoral conduct of
Sunday, April 6, 2014 21:33
- Suarez, Daniel.
New York: Signet, 2012.
A drone strike on a crowd of pilgrims at one of the holiest
shrines of Shia Islam in Iraq inflames the world against the
U.S., which denies its involvement. (“But who else is flying
drones in Iraq?”, is the universal response.) Meanwhile,
the U.S. is rocked by a series of mysterious bombings, killing
businessmen on a golf course, computer vision specialists meeting
in Silicon Valley, military contractors in a building near the
Pentagon—all seemingly unrelated. A campaign is building
to develop and deploy autonomous armed drones to “protect
Prof. Linda McKinney, doing research on
in Tanzania, seems far away from all this until she is
saved from an explosion which destroys her camp by a
mysterious group of special forces led by a man known
only as “Odin”. She learns that her computer model
of weaver ant colony behaviour has been stolen from her
university's computer network by persons unknown who may
be connected with the attacks, including the one she just escaped.
The fear is that her ant model could be used as the basis
for “swarm intelligence” drones which could
cooperate to be a formidable weapon. With each individual
drone having only rudimentary capabilities, like an isolated
ant, they could be mass-produced and shift the military balance
of power in favour of whoever possessed the technology.
McKinney soon finds herself entangled in a black world where
nothing is certain and she isn't even sure which side
she's working for. Shocking discoveries indicate that
the worst case she feared may be playing out, and she must
decide where to place her allegiance.
This novel is a masterful addition to the very sparse
genre of robot ant science fiction thrillers, and this time
I'm not the villain! Suarez has
that rare talent, as had Michael Crichton, of writing
action scenes which just beg to be put on the big screen
and stories where the screenplay just writes itself. Should
Hollywood turn this into a film and not botch it, the result
should be a treat. You will learn some things about ants
which you probably didn't know (all correct, as far as I can
determine), visit a locale in the U.S. which sounds like something
out of a Bond film but actually exists, and meet two of the
most curious members of a special operations team in all
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 22:03
- Thor, Brad.
New York: Pocket Books, 2011.
This is the eleventh in the author's
Harvath series, which began with
The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010).
Unlike the previous novel,
The Athena Project (December 2013), in
which Harvath played only an incidental part, here Harvath once again
occupies centre stage. The author has also dialed back on some of the
science-fictiony stuff which made Athena less than
satisfying to me: this book is back in the groove of the geopolitical
thriller we've come to expect from Thor.
A high-risk covert operation to infiltrate a terrorist cell operating
in Uppsala, Sweden to identify who is calling the shots on terror
attacks conducted by sleeper cells in the U.S. goes horribly wrong,
and Harvath not only loses almost all of his team, but fails to
capture the leaders of the cell. Meanwhile, a ruthless and carefully
scripted hit is made on a Hollywood producer, killing two filmmakers
which whom he is working on a documentary project: evidence points to
the hired killers being Russian spetsnaz, which indicates whoever
ordered the hit has both wealth and connections.
When a coordinated wave of terror attacks against soft targets in
the U.S. is launched, Harvath, aided by his former nemesis turned
ally Nicholas (“the troll”), must uncover the clues which
link all of this together, working against time, as evidence suggests
additional attacks are coming. This requires questioning the loyalty
of previously-trusted people and investigating prominent figures
generally considered above suspicion.
With the exception of chapter 32, which gets pretty deep into the
weeds of political economy and reminded me a bit of John Galt's
speech in Atlas Shrugged (April 2010)
(thankfully, it is much shorter), the story moves right along and
comes to a satisfying conclusion. The plot is in large part based
upon the Chinese concept of
which is genuine (this is not a spoiler, as the author
mentions it in the front material of the book).