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Archive for the ‘Recommended Reading’ Category

Zhivago

zhivago2It may puzzle modern readers why the Soviet Union engaged in a decades-long effort to suppress the seemingly harmless romantic novel Doctor Zhivago, why it denied its author the Nobel Prize, or why the CIA engaged in a similarly sustained effort to smuggle the novel in. The Zhivago Affair, by Washington Post National Security Editor Peter Finn and Petra Couvée unravels the mystery and tells a fascinating story of statecraft, tradecraft, and the price Pasternak and his family paid.

“All these years later, in an age of terror and drones … the CIA’s faith – and the Soviet Union’s faith – in the power of literature to transform society seem almost quaint”, the authors wrote. The iron curtain may seem to have no contemporary relevance, but the story remains important today, as China and other states fight to control their people’s access to information, and the State Department and the CIA promote new tools to defeat other nations’ electronic barriers.

Soviet leaders including Khrushchev eventually repented their campaign against Doctor Zhivago, not for its irrelevancy, but for the opposite reason.  The effort fanned the flames of the novel’s fame, and thereby showed up the Soviet system for its mindless suppression of the human spirit – including the suppression of the novel’s fictional protagonist, and its living readers, author, and family.

There is a lesson for China’s leadership in there somewhere.

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Donald Crop
The New York Times provided an insightful explanation for the baffling appeal of Donald Trump.  Fear is the basis of his support.

Hence the irony of a campaign based on what makes America great – because fear, and acting out of fear, certainly isn’t it.

What makes America great is the exact opposite of fear – doing the right thing because it is right, even when there is risk – doing the good thing because it is good – home of the brave. Brave is the exact opposite of Bravado, which is a bold manner adopted to hide behind when one lacks internal conviction. Brave appeals to what is best in us, our wisdom, generosity, and our faith; bravado appeals to what is base, mean and low. Brave is real courage and confidence, the confidence to take the harder, better, wiser path. And Trump hardly exemplifies that.

Trump does provide an apparently confident persona to hide behind, someone who seems to provide the courage to face a challenging world that a voter lacks for himself.

I do understand the strong attachment his supporters feel. If you’re in a state of panic, he is the only candidate offering visceral solutions to your anxiety. Unfortunately, those solutions are also chimerical. He is a dangerous candidate because he lacks the wisdom to govern, would lead us to reckless disasters, and is profoundly well endowed with a charismatic appeal to people who are afraid.

He could well win the nomination on that strength. My only remaining hope is that swing voters are not so easily moved out of the rational and into the limbic brain. My fear, and I do have one, is that we are one terror attack away from even moderate voters seeking false refuge in a scoundrel.

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Barack Obama

Recommended reading: What Happened to Obama’s Passion?

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The Shock Doctrine

The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is required reading if you want to understand the failure of the neo-cons to deliver prosperity.  She argues persuasively that economic crises have been used, repeatedly and effectively, to short-circuit emerging democracies and disastrously divert the wealth of nations, in such extreme measure that these societies have become needlessly impoverished and hopelessly in debt.  Sound familiar?

I think it’s safe to say that many of the Chicago School neo-cons who brought these economic policies to the developing world had envisioned far more beneficial outcomes, had not understood that their policies could only be implemented by brutal and criminal means, and have yet come to grips with their failure.  Read past the polemic radical tone.  There are valuable lessons to be learned here.

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