Dereliction of Duty by H.R. McMaster

derelictionofdutyA book that should make you angry……..  ***

If you served in Vietnam, served during the Vietnam era, had a relative who was killed or served, knew someone who was killed or served, or care anything about the senseless war that defined the sixties, then this book will make you angry.

McMaster goes into painstaking detail about the politics and incompetence that not only kept us in Vietnam, but in how the war escalated to the point that it did. Since this is a review of the book and not the war, I will, as hard as it is, keep my comments focused on the book. I will say that this was a difficult book to read as I kept getting angry about how the whole thing was handled. I was in the military from 1966 to 1969 and, as many of us did, knew this was a war we should have never been in.

My problem with the book is that although McMaster does an excellent job of providing insight into who was making decisions, the political climate of the time, and the lack of military expertise being listened to, the book is very repetitive. He explains an event, then gives a different view of the same event, but feels the need to repeat much of what he has already said.

After slogging through the minutiae and finally reaching the epilogue, I was expecting some new insight about what I had just read. Instead, it was a recap of the book, and one could almost read it alone and get the message McMaster intended.

This is an important book. It proves that we do not learn from the past, and just how much our government is capable of doing to keep the American public in the dark. For me one of the saddest quotes is from Admiral David Lamar McDonald, “Maybe we military men are all weak. Maybe we should have stood up and pounded the table….. I was part of it and sort of ashamed of myself too. At times I wonder, ‘why did I go along with this kind of stuff?'”

Yes, why did you?  Okay I said I was not going to lose focus.

This one gets three stars. It could have been better written but it is a must read.

 

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Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America by Jeff Pegues

jeffpeguesA well written text on a complex subject…….   ****

The issue of confrontation between the police and the black community is a major problem in this country. Understanding both sides is a necessary step to resolving a problem that has deep roots. Taking a side and blaming the other is easy and requires very little thought.

In this book Pegues presents both sides, both perspectives, and the frustration felt by all. Having interviewed several police chiefs, black leaders, and politicians, he lays out in great detail the problems facing communities. Through their eyes, Pegues gives a rational approach to solving the problem.

As a white male, I found this quite an eye opener. Especially regarding the lack of funds that police departments face in being able to hire and train good police officers. The fact that community policing would be a great step toward solving many of the problems and is hindered by funding is sad. Community policing being defined as having sufficient coverage by police to keep officers in one area where they get to know the community, Almost as astonishing was the lack of reprimands or discipline of police officers who over stepped their authority. A department that cannot remove the bad apples only perpetuates the problems.

The issue of poverty and crime in black neighborhoods is too large for this book to address, but Pegues gives a glimpse into understanding the black community’s frustration over being neglected. Add to this the abuse by law enforcement and Pegues gives us a sense of what life in these neighborhoods is like..

This is a good book to help us understand the issues, it is also a book that will make you want to know more about what can be done to bridge this blue/black gap. Here is my only criticism of the book, it lacks a clear suggestion for what the average citizen can do to help.

This one gets four stars.

Asia-literacy and Global Competence: Collections and Recollections by Alicia Su Lozeron

asialit  Not sure how to describe this one……  **

This treatise came to me by request based on my reviews on Amazon. I was intrigued enough to read it after reading the description which promised a raising of awareness between East and West in the name of global competence.

The premise is sound, as a better understanding of the world around us not only broadens our outlook, but helps bridge the divide between people of varying origins. Lozeron does this in part with several short vignettes that explain the different approach to certain aspects of life by various nationalities. Describing how certain cultures handle marriage, care for the elderly, funerals, and child rearing. These parts are interesting to read, although short and lacking depth.

Sadly, the majority of what is written, reads like a Chamber of Commerce pitch for Las Vegas. There are several chapters devoted to what this city is doing to entice and service Asian tourists. How this serves global competence escapes me, other than the filling of Las Vegas coffers.

This booklet does have some value, and at the Kindle price is possibly worth it, but I notice the hardback releasing in September is priced at $20.99. That I would not recommend.

This one gets two stars.

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

alfranken  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…..  *****

With a sharp wit and a refreshing honesty, Al Franken reflects on his journey from comedian/writer to United States Senator. In the telling of his story, he also pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of our government. While his satire made me smile and occasionally laugh out loud, reading about our dysfunctional government was sad.

In the current political climate we all (or most of us) realize our government does not function as well as it could, one might say it is a disaster. The gap between Democrats and Republicans seems too large to bridge. But, Franken does offer a ray of hope. He purports that 64% of the things that have to be decided, both parties actually agree on. So if politicians focus on those, things can get better. I am not so sure I agree, but Franken is on the inside and I am not.

Franken does an excellent job of explaining the Republicans’ unwillingness to work with Obama when he was in office. He also has insight into why Republicans are so against climate change, whether they believe it or not. Hint: Koch brothers. He also has no qualms about dissing Ted Cruz or Trump.

This is a book that needs to be read more than once, marked up, and used to remind all of us that there is hope, as long as more politicians are willing to be as open as Al Franken.

This one gets five stars. Regardless of your politics, read it.

 

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

NeildeGrasse   Close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades…..   ***

The intent of this book is to give a simple and quick understanding of the universe. Maybe that in itself says why this didn’t quite meet expectations. The stated intent is to be able to read a chapter, “While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive…”  This works if your coffee pot takes a while, or your bus is late, or the train is late, or you get to the airport two hours early.

The book is full of interesting information and is a good starting point for understanding our universe and its makeup. The problem is that it is not simple to absorb. DeGrasse suffers from the problem of knowing something so well, he has a hard time explaining things as simply as they could be.

On the positive side, deGrasse writes with wit and does pack a lot of information in just over two hundred pages. His passion for the subject comes through and is infectious. The last chapter, “Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective”, is worth the price of the book.

I am giving this one three stars only because it is marketed incorrectly. This is a book that should be read, read several times. But does take time to understand and digest. It is worth missing a flight over.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

ontyranny The second book every American should read…..   *****

The first “book” every American should read is the Constitution of the United States, the second would be Snyder’s On Tyranny. Fortunately, they both come in pocket size so are easy to carry around. Under the current political climate, this isn’t a bad idea.

The book begins with a quote from Leszek Kolakowski, “In politics, being deceived is no excuse.” With the current flood of “fake news”, that quote alone is worth the price of the book. But that is just the beginning of the lessons this treatise offers.

Snyder sets the tone in the prologue with these statements: “Americans today are no wiser than Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” He then proceeds to give twenty lessons on just how to accomplish this.

Each lesson has an action item, an example of how it applies to the past, and what each of us can now do to prevent our future from becoming something other than democratic.

There is so much meat in this little book it needs to be read several times. Passages should be marked and committed to memory. The lessons here should be filters through which we view what is happening around us today.

Perhaps one of the best quotes comes at the end of lesson nineteen: “A nationalist will say that ‘it can’t happen here’, which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”

Regardless of one’s political stance, this is a book for all Americans to read and digest.

This one gets a strong five stars.

 

Tears We Cannot Stop (A Sermon to White America) by Michael Eric Dyson

tears   Unnerving, unsettling, a message we all need to hear…   *****

What does it mean to be black in America? Dyson answers this question in dramatic fashion. Using the clever setup of a sermon, complete with all the parts of a good Baptist message, he relentlessly lays out the harsh reality of being black in this country.

This is a hard book to read, at least if you are white. It made me realize how little I know of the black experience, even though I thought I had a fair amount of knowledge. It made me want to argue with the author on several points, only to find as I read more, I was wrong. I felt, at first, Dyson was too angry in his writing, only to come to realize justifiably so.

At times the message seems repetitious, but then maybe it needs to be for the reader to fully grasp the severity of it. There is a quote from Stephen King on the cover that says, “If you’re white, Dyson tells you what you need to know – what this white man needed to know at least.” I would add my name to that list.

As I read, I kept asking myself, “Okay, if this is the problem, what am I supposed to do about it?” Dyson answers that question in the section labeled Benediction. Giving the reader concrete steps any of us can follow, which takes this from being just a rant on white privilege to a call to erase the divide between black and white.

What does it mean to be black in America? The question alone makes this a must read.

This one gets five stars.