Thursday, August 26, 2010

"A Most Wanted Man" Review

  • Title:  "A Most Wanted Man"
  • Author:  John Le Carre
  • Finished:  August 25, 2010
  • Synopsis:  A young Muslim Chechen, Issa, arrives in Germany illegally after escaping from both Sweden and Russia.  He befriends a Turkish family and obtains an idealistic young human rights lawyer. Issa is not entirely what he seems because he has large inheritance waiting for him in a private German bank.  The intrigue surrounding him brings all parties into an old fashioned spy game mixed with the war on terror.
  • Impression of the book:  It is pretty clear that Le Carre is trying to make a statement on the American war on terror.  He ends up telling the story that makes it difficult to determine the good from the bad.  A liberal will probably read the book picturing the "spies" as bad guys while viewing Issa as a misguided victim. I read the book thinking of Issa as a fugitive from the law, so his situation did not really tug at my heart strings.  Le Carre has written a story that allows for a lot of interpretation, and he does it in very compelling way.
  • Read Again Scale:  3
    • I enjoyed this book a great deal, but it is not the kind of book that I typically read again.  This is especially true if I am able to use the "Read & Return" option from the Paradies Shops in the airport.
  • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  7
    • If I encounter same situation while traveling, I would be willing to read Le Carre again.  However, I won't search him out at the library.
This book was an airport impulse buy.  Fortunately, I finished a book that was intended to last me an entire road trip, and I found this book to be a pretty good replacement.  Le Carre takes a dim view of the war on terror but writes his characters with enough depth that you can understand motives on both sides.  If you like spy/mystery novels, this one is a very good one.  You will probably enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Bone Garden" Review

  • Title:  "The Bone Garden"
  • Author:  Tess Gerritsen
  • Finished:  August 18, 2010
  • Synopsis:  As with the previous reviews of Gerritsen books, the synopsis is probably best handled by linking to Gerritsen's webpage.
  • Impression of the book:  This book was much different than the typical Gerritsen novel.  The suspense and gruesomeness are suppressed to some degree by the knowledge that the murder in question takes place about a hundred years earlier and the killer is not out there stalking today.  I enjoyed reading this one a bunch.
  • Read Again Scale:  7
    • Unlike the previous four Gerritsen novels, I would re-read this one if I happen across it in the library. The other Gerritsen novels were "definite maybe" re-reads.
  • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  10
    • Since I am reviewing a 5th book by this author, you have a pretty good idea that I will read her work again.
Tess Gerritsen shows a lot more range to her writing in this book. She weaves historical fiction with a modern day story.  The flashbacks that reveal the story that she is telling do not distract from the present day adventure that the main character is going through. For you "Rizzoli & Isles" fans, Maura Isles is a very small character in this one, but Rizzoli doesn't even make an appearance. So, don't pick this one up thinking that you are getting an installment of that dynamic duo.

The Bone Garden brings the modern reader into a time when "Resurrectionists" delivered cadavers to medical schools.  I think that many will find it offensive that early medical schools resorted to paying these grave robbers OR looked the other way as their students obtained their own gross anatomy specimens. It also shows us that, once doctors started WASHING THEIR HANDS between patients, the epidemics of some diseases (such as puerperal fever) were vastly reduced in scope.  Wow, what a difference a hundred years makes!

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Nuclear Posture Review Report - Post #4

    This post is part of a series that I continue to write about the NPR report issued by the Obama administration. You can download the report here. Once again, before I continue commenting on the NPR, I need to add a disclaimer. I am employed by Sandia National Laboratories. The views written here are not the official position of SNL and should not be viewed that way. They are my views as a private citizen.

    In the first 3 posts, we dealt with the Executive Summary (Post #1 and Post #2) and the Introduction (Post #3). I am going to dissect the "The Changed - and Changing - Nuclear Security Environment" chapter during this post.  I found that I was actually able to read a couple of pages (page 3-4) without too much consternation. This situation quickly deteriorated as I read about the United States relationship with China.

    On page 5 (2nd paragraph), I was sickened by the fact that, "The United States welcomes a strong, prosperous, and successful China that plays a greater global role in supporting international rules, norms, and institutions."  This, in and of itself, is a mockery of what I know about the PRC with respect to human rights, monetary policy, etc. However, the Obama administration CANNOT resist this welcome.  It is ironic that in the very next paragraph (3rd paragraph) the administration notes that the very same China lacks transparency with regard to its nuclear arsenal.  It also notes a lack of transparency with respect to its pace and scope of the modernization of its arsenal "as well as the strategy and doctrine guiding them."  This administration, like many others (including the GWB administration), does not recognize the threat of a strong, prosperous China.  It seems that the billion+ people economic market is the driving influence of too many of the policy makers.  These wonks should spend more time worrying about their responsibilities to the 300+ million Americans on this end of their policies.

    Moving on to the "Adapting to a Changed Security Environment" section, I see that once again the modification of the United States nuclear weapons policies and force posture "have not gone far or fast enough."  The next sentence is, "As the President has said, we have to 'put an end to Cold War thinking.'"  My notes on this section are particularly biting. Here is the transcription from my notes, "THANK GOD we have the 'The ONE' here to show us the way." For those that don't know me that well, that is definitely sarcasm.

    As the report continues to bullet list the changes to the U.S. nuclear posture, I made a note on the last bullet on page 5 that reads in full:

    • "The United States has reduced our reliance on nuclear weapons as Cold War nuclear rivalries have eased and as our conventional military forces and missile defense capabilities have strengthened, but we have sent mixed signals about the importance we place on nuclear weapons in our national security strategy."
    I noted that we have sent mixed signals in the past because previous administrations have recognized that "ambiguity about U.S. nuclear weapons policy is a good thing. It prevents our enemies/potential enemies from feeling too comfortable about how we will respond to acts of overt and covert aggression." However, the NPR seems to imply that this ambiguity is not what we want and then moves forward to remove that ambiguity.  As I find later in my reading, this is a particularly bad outcome.

    In the "Implications for U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policies and Force Structure" section, I have one word for the first bullet on page 7 -- RIDICULOUS.  The way in which we choose to use nuclear weapons in foreign policy and/or force projection and the number that we have, will have absolutely no impact on countries in compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and will have even less impact on regimes in Iran and North Korea OR with terrorist groups intent on obtaining a weapon.

    My final note in this chapter of the NPR is related to the last bullet on page 7.  The note reads, "Thus far (in my reading of the document) I think that this NPR does exactly the opposite of this statement."  This bullet is where the administration claims that implementing the policies in the NPR will reduce the likelihood of nuclear weapon use. After several months from the release of this document, I still feel the same way about this bullet.

    The next post in this series will address the "Preventing Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Terrorism" chapter of the NPR. Hopefully, the final 4-5 posts in the series won't have the long time gap between publication.

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