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Thread: What Are You Currently Reading? 2013

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default What Are You Currently Reading? 2013

    Moderator at work

    A series of new thread created to enable easier searching, so this once huge thread has now been split into years, starting with 2007. For an odd reasons it shows 132k views, no matter (ends).


    So much of what we deal with today is shaped by the Cold War. At the confluence of politics and human nature one finds insurgency and terrorism. Not everywhere at the confluence, but in the dark corners where people perceive conditions to be insufferable and little effective legal recourse to address the same.

    We all need to understand the Cold War better, to get past the spin and to better understand the realities. I look forward to giving this "Fifty Year Wound" a look.

    Equally, Santa left me "Einstein - His Live and Universe" by Walter Isaacson." I find Einstein's insights on what I call "thinking about thinking" to be unparalleled. The military attempts to reduce thinking to a battle drill, and in so doing increases efficiency and uniformity at the expense of lost creativity and understanding (both being by their very nature neither efficient or uniform).
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-05-2013 at 05:07 PM.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default What has changed and what has not ...

    Slogging through "the Changing Character of War", Ed. Hew Strachan & Sibylle Scheipers. Interesting thoughts on the definition of war and its political aspects.

    A number of chapters in this book come to the conclusion that the practice of war has changed over the past 500 years. The most striking factual changes in this respect are, first, the unlocking of the relationship between war and the state and, second, the unlocking of the relationship between war and the nation. However, this change is not to be misunderstood as a sudden dissolution of the 'normal' trinity consisting of war, the state, and the nation, and the dawn of a new, less orderly, and mor chaotic era of war. Rather, the interlocking of war and the state was, according to David Parrott, an exceptional case in the history of war that prevailed only for the rather short period from 1750 to 1950.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
    ---

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Four plus one

    I tend to read books in groups, invariably on holiday, so these four were read late in 2012.

    'Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, The Nazis and The West' by Laurence West, pub. 2009 by BBC Books in paperback. Cleverly written from the summits to the battlefield, in places hard to read and Poland gets a special mention:http://www.amazon.com/World-War-Behi...+laurence+rees

    'Political Demography: How Population Changes Are Reshaping Internatioal Security and National Politics' Edited by Goldstone, Kaufman & Toft, pub. 2012. A variety of chapters to chose from and an issue politicians prefer IMO to avoid thinking about:http://www.amazon.com/Political-Demo...ional+Politics

    Now for fiction books, both are political/military/technological thrillers.

    'Kilo Class' by Patrick Robinson, pub. 1998 (bought second hand); by no means comparable to 'The Hunt for Red October', but in places a taut read:http://www.amazon.com/Kilo-Class-Pat...trick+Robinson

    Finally the latest Tom Clancy tome 'Threat Vector', pub. 2012. I can't resist these, although the plots are becoming formulaic and one twist was easily identified. Once again China is the enemy, this time reliant on cyber warfare. The best review, 700 pgs. read in two and half days:http://www.amazon.com/Threat-Vector-...tor+tom+clancy

    Awaiting attention, now for six weeks plus, an Eastern Front WW1 slim book 'Blood on The Snow: The Carpathian Winter War 1915' by Graydon Tunstall, pub. 2010. Likened to the 'Stalingrad of WW1' and I've been in that part of Poland. Very mixed reviews:http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Snow-Car...inter+War+1915
    davidbfpo

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    several years late, but I loved reading http://contemporarylit.about.com/b/2...sun-shuyun.htm

    As someone who read (and completely believed) Edgar Snow's Red Star over China in high school, this was an education.

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    Wild beasts and their ways : reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America (1890) by Samuel White Baker.

    Some great hunting stories and tales written with keen observation by a man who had time and money to travel in an age when the world was a different place. Sometimes his opinion is a bit off but he certainly shows that you can observe a lot by just looking - especially when you gralloch and skin an animal.

    Parts of his study on wildlife are first-class. The simple yet effective way he comes to the conclusion how (old world) vultures find their game with their sight and the sight of other birds is just one of many. It is needless to say that this book does often not reflect always the PC of our age .

    His discussion about guns and bullets are of course old-fashioned but the principles are still relevant:

    1) You have to place your bullet into the right way (anatomy!)
    2) It has to penetrate into the right area to do it's job (He prefered heavy solid harderd or heavy solid soft spherical lead for the most dangerous game)
    3) There the bullet should wreak havoc.
    4) It should be matched to the animal while erring on the right side. (He mentions a lot of cases, some witnessed when the rifle and it's bullet just didn't the job. Sometimes with deadly results ...)

    I only differ about the exit wound. Having one just helps to track it in the worst case, but of course it is much easier today. His attacks on 'Express' rifles with fragile hollow bullets are very understandable. Still today, with all our technology some hunters I know use have made a mess by hitting the shoulder of animal like a red deer with too soft of a bullet for the velocity . (Bad shooting is of course a vastly bigger problem. It can happen to everybody it just happens much more to some ...)

    All in all a great read for the hunting-less season.
    Last edited by Firn; 01-03-2013 at 05:57 PM.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member Backwards Observer's Avatar
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    Default welcome to the magic theatre

    It is not for everyone. John Gray's Straw Dogs.

    The prevailing secular worldview is a pastiche of current scientific orthodoxy and pious hopes. Darwin has shown that we are animals; but - as humanists never tire of preaching - how we live is ‘up to us’. Unlike any other animal, we are told, we are free to live as we choose. Yet the idea of free will does not come from science. Its origins are in religion - not just any religion - but the Christian faith against which humanists rail so obsessively.

    [...]

    Some readers have seen Straw Dogs as an attempt to apply Darwinism to ethics and politics, but nowhere does it suggest that neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contains the final account of the human animal. Instead Darwinism is deployed strategically in order to break up the prevailing humanist worldview. Humanists turn to Darwin to support their shaky faith in progress; but there is no progress in the world he revealed. A truly naturalistic view of the world leaves no room for secular hope.

    [...]

    The Buddhist ideal of awakening implies that we can sever our links with our evolutionary past. We can raise ourselves from the sleep in which other animals pass their lives. Our illusions dissolved, we need no longer suffer. This is only another doctrine of salvation, subtler than that of the Christians, but no different from Christianity in its goal of leaving our animal inheritance behind.

    [...]

    Having lost the skills of sewing, fishing and making fire, the indigenous people of Tasmania lived more simply than even Aboriginals on the Australian mainland from whom they had been isolated by rising sea levels around ten thousand years ago. When the ships bearing European settlers arrived in Tasmania in 1772, the indigenous people seem not to have noticed them. Unable to process a sight for which nothing had prepared them, they returned to their ways.

    They had no defences against the settlers. By 1830, their numbers had been reduced from around five thousand to seventy-two. In the intervening years they had been used for slave labour and sexual pleasure, tortured and mutilated. They had been hunted like vermin and their skins had been sold for government bounty. When the males were killed, female survivors were turned loose with the heads of their husbands tied around their necks. Males who were not killed were usually castrated. Children were clubbed to death. When the last indigenous Tasmanian male, William Lanner, died in 1869, his grave was opened by a member of the Royal Society of Tasmania, Dr George Stokell, who made a tobacco pouch from his skin. When the last ‘fullblood’ indigenous woman died a few years later, the genocide was complete.

    Genocide is as human as art or prayer. This is not because humans are a uniquely aggressive species. The rate of violent death among some monkeys exceeds that among humans - if wars are excluded from the calculation; but as E.O. Wilson observes, ‘if hamdryas baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week’. Mass murder is a side effect of progress in technology. From the stone axe onwards, humans have used their tools to slaughter one another. Humans are weapon-making animals with an unquenchable fondness for killing. (from Straw Dogs by John Gray)

    Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals - Amazon

    John N. Gray - Wikipedia

    ***

    Straw Dogs review by Terry Eagleton:

    John Gray's political vision has been steadily darkening. Once a swashbuckling free-marketeer, he has, in his recent studies, become increasingly despondent about the state of the world. With the crankish, unbalanced Straw Dogs, he emerges as a full-blooded apocalyptic nihilist. He has passed from Thatcherite zest to virulent misanthropy.

    Not that nihilism is a term he would endorse. His book is so remorselessly, monotonously negative that even nihilism implies too much hope. Nihilism for Gray suggests the world needs to be redeemed from meaninglessness, a claim he regards as meaningless. Instead, we must just accept that progress is a myth, freedom a fantasy, selfhood a delusion, morality a kind of sickness, justice a mere matter of custom and illusion our natural condition. Technology cannot be controlled, and human beings are entirely helpless. Political tyrannies will be the norm for the future, if we have any future at all. It isn't the best motivation for getting out of bed.
    Guardian review of Straw Dogs by Terry Eagleton - Guardian - 7.11.2002

    Terry Eagleton - Wikipedia

    ***

    The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma Translated by Red Pine.

    Many roads lead to the Path, but basically there are only two: reason and practice.
    The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma - Amazon

    ***

    Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse.

    I was amazed to see a small and pretty doorway with a Gothic arch in the middle of the wall ... Probably I had seen it a hundred times and simply not noticed it. Perhaps it had been painted afresh ... it seemed to me in the dim light that a garland, or something gaily colored, was festooned round the doorway, and ... over the door I saw ... bright letters dancing and then disappearing, returning and vanishing once more.

    MAGIC THEATER
    ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY (from Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse)
    Magic Theater - american-buddha.com online library

    Steppenwolf - Amazon

    Steppenwolf (novel) - Wikipedia

    Steppenwolf (Hawkind) youtube
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    Last edited by Backwards Observer; 02-01-2013 at 07:46 AM.

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    Council Member Backwards Observer's Avatar
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    Default what, me horror?

    The Silence of Animals, the new offering by international man of misery, John Gray.

    When Conrad used his experiences of the Congo in Heart of Darkness (1899), he was not telling a story of barbarism in faraway places. The narrator tells the tale on a yacht moored in the Thames estuary: barbarism is not a primitive form of life, Conrad is intimating, but a pathological development of civilization. The same thought recurs in The Secret Agent (1907), Conrad’s novel of terrorism and conspiracy, which is set in London. The anarchist Professor, who travels everywhere with a bomb in his coat that he intends to detonate if arrested, wants to believe that humanity has been corrupted by government, an essentially criminal institution. But, as Conrad understood, it is not only government that is tainted by criminality. All human institutions - families and churches, police forces and anarchists - are stained by crime. Explaining human nastiness by reference to corrupt institutions leaves a question: why are humans so attached to corruption? Clearly, the answer is the human animal itself. (from The Silence of Animals by John Gray)
    The Silence of Animals - John Gray - Amazon

    Interview with a writer: John Gray - spectator - 2.22.2013

    The Silence of Animals - review - guardian - 2.15.2013

    The Silence of Animals - review - telegraph - 2.19.2013

    ***
    Also,

    Conrad in the Nineteenth Century by Ian Watt - amazon

    Born March 9, 1917, in Windermere, Westmorland in England, Watt was educated at the Dover County School for Boys and at St John's College, Cambridge, where he earned first-class honors in English.

    Watt joined the British Army at the age of 22 and served with distinction in World War II as an infantry lieutenant from 1939 to 1946. He was wounded in the Battle of Singapore in February 1942 and listed as "missing, presumed killed in action."

    In fact, he had been taken prisoner by the Japanese and remained a prisoner of war at the Changi Prison until 1945, working on the construction of the Burma Railway which crossed Thailand, a feat that inspired the Pierre Boulle book 'Bridge Over the River Kwai', and the film adaptation by David Lean. He criticized both the book and the film for the liberties they took with the historical details of his imprisonment and, more subtly, their refusal to acknowledge the moral complexities of the situation.

    More than 12,000 prisoners died during the building of the railroad, most of them from disease, and Watt was critically ill from malnutrition for several years.

    "There was a period when I expected to die," Watt told the San Francisco Examiner in a 1979 interview. "But I didn't know how sick I was until they gave me some of the vitamin pills that had just come into the camp. I remember being very surprised that I was considered sick enough to receive vitamins."

    Professor Watt died in Menlo Park, California, USA. (from wikipedia)
    Ian Watt (Literary Critic) - wikipedia

    ***

    Gratuitous film clip:

    Lord Jim (1965) - youtube

    Lord Jim - wikipedia
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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Kattekoppen, a piece in the latest number of The New Yorker set in Logar Province and narrated by a DEVGRU member. I really admire how the author has managed to create a narrator who is detached and incredibly observant at the same time. And there is a great bit about sleep deprivation and fingernails.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Ganulv:

    The most interesting part of that New Yorker story were these lines spoken by the narrator:
    As SEAL Team Six, we were at the top of that scheme. Our ideas about the war were the war.
    To me that sort of encapsulates in two sentences the supreme and invincible arrogance of the big military, a supreme confidence even though what is being done hasn't worked and isn't working. The stats are good though.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 03-07-2013 at 12:19 AM. Reason: citation in quotes
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    The Signal and the Noise.

    A great book. The Baseball chapter was a bit long for my European taste, the poker one maybe too and I have some slight ceveats in other areas. However the positives dominate. Coming from a somewhat different angle it gels well with Kahnemans studies and surprisingly enough with aspects of the works of Ben Graham and Buffet. He ends with the words:
    The more eagerly we commit to scrutinising and testing our theories, the more readily we accept that our knowledge of the world is uncertain, the more willingly we acknowledge that perfect prediction is impossible, the less we will live in fear of our failures, and the more freedom we will have to let our minds flow freely. By knowing more about what we don't know, we may get a few more predictions right
    Should work well most of the time for investors...
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 03-07-2013 at 12:19 AM. Reason: Citation in quotes
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Firn View Post
    The Baseball chapter was a bit long for my European taste
    I assure you that you don't have to be European to be bored by baseball.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Council Member Backwards Observer's Avatar
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    Default two shades of grays

    Modern Strategy by Colin S. Gray. Straightforward and readable so far. A useful mainstream foundational primer for the layperson.

    The moral of this chapter, perhaps, is that we learn from history both that we cannot learn from history and that human beings continue to be literally capable of anything. The sadness of strategic history that sparks sentimental popular songs with rhetorical lines such as 'when will they ever learn?' promotes the hard-nosed question, 'learn what?' The horror of war has been known to mankind for ever. If full recognition of that horror were all that we humans had to learn, then the social institution of war might have been long banished. Unfortunately, things are not quite that elementally simple. (from Modern Strategy by Colin Gray)
    Modern Strategy by Colin Gray - amazon


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    Default Ditto

    Using Gray as a text next term.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Shorter than Clausewitz’s On War and shorter

    When Sir Michael Howard, the pre-eminent British military historian (who is still attending conferences in London) writes a book review I notice; ah, yes I've not read the book he reviews!

    Some four decades ago, the TLS sent me a book to review by a young lecturer at Sandhurst entitled The Face of Battle. It impressed me so much that I described it as “one of the best half-dozen books on warfare to have appeared since the Second World War”. I wondered at the time if I had made a total fool of myself, but I need not have worried. The author, the late Sir John Keegan, proved to be one of the greatest military historians of his generation. It would be rash to put my money on such a dark horse again, but I shall. Emile Simpson’s War From the Ground Up is a work of such importance that it should be compulsory reading at every level in the military; from the most recently enlisted cadet to the Chief of the Defence Staff and, even more important, the members of the National Security Council who guide him.
    He ends with:
    It is impossible to summarize Emile Simpson’s ideas without distorting them. ...... In short (and here I shall really go overboard) War From the Ground Up deserves to be seen as a coda to Clausewitz’s On War. But it has the advantage of being considerably shorter.
    The book is 'War From The Ground Up: Twenty-first-century combat as politics' by Emile Simpson. 285pp. Publishers: Hurst. £25. 978 1 84904 255 0 and in the USA by Columbia University Press. $32.50. 978 0 231 70406 9.

    Link to fuller review:http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1239841.ece

    Two reviews on Amazon UK:http://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Ground-U...at+as+politics and no reviews on Amazon USA:http://www.amazon.com/War-Ground-Up-...=emile+simpson
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ganulv View Post
    I assure you that you don't have to be European to be bored by baseball.


    I`m actually hard to bore if the matter is discussed with some intelligence but that chapter was a bit much...

    In any case I gave Common stocks a read.

    I enjoyed it even if pretty nothing was new, but Fisher did a superb job when he wrote it and forcefully states many an important point.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Default I finally found something on the Winter War

    albeit only a few pages, chapter 35 of Roland Huntford’s Two planks and a passion. The book is a very well done history of skiing up to 1945. (There is a final chapter with a post-War history of skiing that feels a little tacked-on, but that period has already been covered by a number of books, in any case.)
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Default ganulv,

    For fun - you might like its brand of ironic humor - try Tikkanen's "The 30 Years' War" (used at Amazon and at AbeBooks).



    Tikkanen was a young 18-19 year old soldier in the last two years of the Continuation War (1943-1944) - and a very dissatisfied soldier at its end.

    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    For fun - you might like its brand of ironic humor - try Tikkanen's "The 30 Years' War" (used at Amazon and at AbeBooks).
    That does sound like it would be in my wheelhouse, I'll have to give it a look. Thanks!
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default An intellectual dance between foes

    The former FBI agent and interviewer, Ali Soufan, wrote 'The Black Banners: Inside the hunt for al-Qaeda' and published in 2011, with extensive redactions, some of them a single letter or a short word. I waited till the book appeared in paperback in the UK and took time to read it last month.

    I know some here have been critical of his recollections compared to others, but for the context of the LE and intelligence campaign that was aimed at AQ it is very good. Especially on working in the Yemen.

    On the value of the interview -v- 'enhanced interrogation' his position is very clear - interviews got confessions, evidence and information; with arguments familiar to those who have followed the controversy and several threads. See 'One Stop Interrogation Resource', this includes pointers to all the relevant threads:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=9446

    There are some references to his work in London which I shall have to read again; his comments on one person at liberty known for civil litigation are very interesting.

    Link to Amazon, with many good reviews (71 on .com and 27 on UK site):http://www.amazon.com/Black-Banners-...rds=ali+soufan and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Banner...rds=ali+soufan
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-07-2013 at 10:54 PM.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    I know some here have been critical of [Soufan's] recollections compared to others, but for the context of the LE and intelligence campaign that was aimed at AQ it is very good. Especially on working in the Yemen.
    He was on The Colbert Report during his book tour for The Black Banners and I found him surprisingly engaging for someone from his line of work. (FBI agents would come around from time-to-time on the Indian reservation where I grew up and let’s just say that neither they nor we tended to part impressed with the other.)
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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