Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review #114 - Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski

Book 38 of 52
Audio book - 9 discs

A previous book I reviewed called Command and Control showed just how paranoid the Americans were during the Cold War.  The story of the space race is closely tied to the creation of ICBMs and the days of nuclear proliferation.  As a matter of fact, the space race and the missions to the moon may not have happened had the Soviets not been having technical difficulties with a heat shield.

With the Americans constantly testing Soviet air pace with bombers and U2 over-flights they felt pressured to develop a capable missile.  The flight of Sputnik was a project promoted and engineered by a single man, Russia's Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev, who believed that satellites would be very valuable.  Since there had been no satellites to date, neither the Americans nor the Soviets could imagine the usefulness of one.

But Sputnik did go up and it changed the world.

Sputnik 1
 Before the race to the moon there was the race to orbit and before the race to orbit there was the race to perfect missiles.  This is the story of how missile technology almost accidentally created an industry that, it could be imagined, that has made our world a better place.

The book follows both sides of the missile race, concentrating on the Soviet side, we discover that they were not nearly so advanced as the United States declared.  Money, politics and pride were all very important factors on both sides of the race.

The story sheds light on yet another facet of the Cold War and I found it fascinating.  The book does not stop at the Sputnik 1 launch but continues well past Sputnik 2 and on to the successful launch of Explorer 1.

Explorer 1

An interesting point to know is variants of the R-7 are still in operation today transporting material and crews to the International Space Station.

Matthew Brzezinski

Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review #113 - The World America Made by Robert Kagan

Book 37 of 52
Page count - 140

What would the world look like if America were to reduce its role as a global leader in order to focus all its energies on solving its problems at home?

Is America really in decline?

These are the two fundamental questions this brief book tries to answer.

Of course, the answer is - it's complicated.  However, Kagan does a nice job of putting the United States current role in historical context which shines a bright light at how fleeting power structures are in human history and how unique the current order is.

I felt the author's look at what our modern world could look like if the United States were to reduce it's influence to be balanced and well thought out.

I found myself stopping my reading simply to think about some of his observations.

Well worth reading.

Robert Kagan

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review #112 - No Place to Hide, Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Serveillance State by Glenn Greenwald

Book 36 of 52
Page count - 253

The last book I read that scared me was Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm.  This one scared me more because it's happening to all of us.

Here is presented the account, from the journalist who broke the story, of domestic spying by the NSA, of how Edward Snowden blew the whistle and made public this illegal activity.

The first part of the book described how Snowden approached the author to help him reveal the domestic surveillance taking place.  The second part looked more closely at the documents themselves while the third looks at how living in a surveillance society effects the behavior and attitudes of the population.  The last part of the books looks at how journalism in the US has changed over the past decades and just how it's independence has eroded.

It is a chilling story that should make anyone who reads it look at the nightly news and general main stream reporting with a cautious eye.  Everything revealed in the book was previously embedded in my subconscious but it took reading it on the page to make me notice just how journalism favours the government.  We seldom see the rogue journalist chasing corruption.  Instead journalists are threatened personally and the owners of media corporations are coerced to sit on news items, sometimes for months at a time, or prevented from reporting outright.

Anytime you read a book like this you have to take a cautious approach so as not to get sucked in completely by the author.  It's an important part of reporting but it is also a one-sided read.  That said, what is truly important here,  is the fact that these things ARE taking place.  The NSA is gobbling up nearly all communications data on everyone.  The government of the USA is funding and using all this information.  Anything we do online, including reading this review, is tracked and recorded.  Independent journalism is under great threat; there are only a few truly independent reporters left in the world.

But you can't let these revelations scare you into curling up in a ball and giving up on the Internet.  It is also important to know that since the revelations of Snowden have been made public the tide is showing sign of turning.  We live in a period of time that will eventually pass; it is always difficult to have perspective when we are in the middle of things. 

What you will come away with is a new awareness of everything you say and do on-line.  Every time you post on Facebook or do a Google search you will think of what you read in this book.  Maybe it will stop you or maybe it will awaken a need to get a different view of things from sources that are defying the pressure to conform.

Very interesting reading.

You may also be interested in a current article of Snowden from Wired magazine.

August 2014 issue of Wired Magazine - Edward Snowden

For some independent journalism try The Intercept website in which Greenwald is a contributor.

Glenn Greenwald

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review #111 - Ocean Titans by Daniel Sekulich

Book 35 of 52
Page count - 242

This book was published in 2006 and looks at modern commercial shipping.  The twist here is in the sub title; Journeys In Search Of The Soul Of A Ship.  Most times a ship is humanized first by giving it a name and then by referring to it as "she."  Emotional connections are often formed with vehicles, from bicycles to cars, planes and ships, even spacecrafts; they take us from one place and, hopefully, safely deliver is to another.

Sekulich begins his journey where it all ends; the ship-breaking yards of Alang, India, where we find him searching for clues about the last crew of the tanker SS Sag River.  He wanders the vessel looking through the various areas finding small, personal items left aboard by its last inhabitants.  It's really is quite a sad scene but from it we are shown the wonderful and largely invisible world of commercial shipping.

Just about everything we own has spent some time aboard a ship, transported from a factory to a dock, a rail car and or a truck and delivered to a store to be purchased by us.  It's a system that is vital to our economies and yet we only hear about them when disasters happen.

The author takes us around the world searching and experiencing the impact a ship has on people.  We start at the design phase to the fascinating world of ship building; from the first cut of steel to sea trials.  We get an understanding of the ship owners, the captains, the engineers who keep the vessels running and to the deck hands.  We also learn about the sea itself and how people cope with the weeks and months of isolation.  Finally we see the last days of a ship; from being beached to being taken apart by the folks who's lives depend on recycling these gigantic machines.  We are also treated  to a glimmer of life in the creation of something new from the scrapped, forgotten and yet wonderful boats.

From the title I expected a romantic view of the subject and I was not disappointed.  It was also a well researched and interesting subject, I can't recommend it enthusiastically enough. It was a charming, understanding, respectful and hopeful read.  I've come away with a well rounded understanding of this nearly invisible, world-spanning industry.  Through it all the book is deeply infused with humanity; it would have been easy to get lost in the numbers and the technicality of it, but the author never lost sight of the fact that it is people that make the whole damn thing work.


Daniel Sekulich
You can find his blog HERE.