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D Glover (northern bc, canada)
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Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP
Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP
by Tom Bergin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.56
37 used & new from CDN$ 6.03

4.0 out of 5 stars The wages of spin, Aug. 14 2012
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Tom Bergin has written a compelling tale of a company, British Petroleum, who sacrificed the safety of its own people, its stakeholders and the environment for the sake of a robust bottom line. While the thrust of this book, like all stories, can never be purely objective, Bergin certainly was in a position to know the story more fully than anyone else, being the head of Reuters resource and energy sector coverage and personally managing coverage of BP for years. Bergin ultimately tells the tale of how the Gulf spill happened and the events leading up to it, but he is not satisfied with examining a few weeks ahead of the disaster. Bergin's story, and BP's, begins decades earlier.

Bergin traces the history of BP, particularly when John Browne was at the helm and then afterwards, when he handed the reigns to his former `turtles'. Bergin exposes a history of cost cutting, stop-gap or misdirected safety measures, and expensive green-washing PR and media messaging campaigns, to convince shareholders, regulators and the general public that BP was the operator of choice. Bergin argues that BP's long-time operating model, conceived of and implemented from the very top down, of rewarding its top executives for their business unit's ability to run with lean and shrinking budgets in order to maximize profits, ultimately led to multiple large-scale disasters such as the Texas City refinery explosion and the Prudhoe Bay, Alaska oil spill. When BP effectively made no real changes to its operating model after these events, it should have set off huge warning alarms for everyone concerned. Bergin convincingly argues for a systemic flaw in BP's operating model, one that put maximizing profits ahead of people and the environment. In the author's opinion, the `Macondo' spill in the Gulf was not an unforeseeable freak accident but merely a matter of time. And it's very hard to argue with his conclusion. `Spills and Spin' ought to be required reading for energy company executives and regulators as well as shareholders who desire to see their money wisely and not just profitably invested.

Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
by Mitch Stokes
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.47
46 used & new from CDN$ 1.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Science as worship, Aug. 14 2012
This review is from: Isaac Newton (Paperback)
I was pleasantly surprised by this brief biography of Isaac Newton. This is not the first book by Mitch Stokes that I have read, so it wasn't his abilities as a writer that surprised me. Stokes is a good writer and there are some truly memorable turns of phrase in this book which is something I haven't often found in biographies. He also traces some themes throughout which serve well to tie Newton's life story together. Rather, what surprised me was how good a feel one gets for Isaac Newton as a person and how good an overall appreciation of the many and varied areas of his life's work one comes away with from such a short study (less than 200 small pages). The other aspect of this biography that was surprising was how naturally Stokes seems to translate a broad overview of complex concepts that Newton laboured over into easily digestible language for the layman. Its one thing to understand these concepts, which the author's masters in mechanical engineering no doubt aids in, but its quite another to write in such a way that one's readers are not lost in the discussion, yet this is exactly what Stokes does. Stokes introduces the reader to the many fields of Newton's life work including natural philosophy (science), math, optics, alchemy (proto-chemistry), theology and biblical exegesis as well as his time as master of the mint, and he weaves the narrative of Newton's relationships, struggles and triumphs throughout, telling not two parallel stories (as some biographies do) but one integrated story. This integration seems only fitting as Newton himself treated his myriad fields of study as an integrated search for truth to help us understand the universe and thereby its Creator better. Contrary to the Newton reinvented by modern atheist scientists, the fictional Newton who distrusted the church and who privately rejected "religion" for the purely mechanical universe of hard laws, Stokes shows us the true Newton, who looked at his lifelong learning as a profound and sacrificial act of worship. Newton believed that the better he could come to understand the two volumes of God's revelation, God's Word and God's world, the more he could come to understand the Author of those two volumes and the more glory and honour would be rendered to God.

If Mitch Stokes' aim in writing this book was to entice his readers to further study of the life and works of Sir Isaac Newton, he has certainly succeeded in my case. I highly recommend this book even to those who have no previous interest in Newton. You won't be disappointed. (And how cool is it to say that you're reading a biography of Isaac Newton.)

A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists
A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists
by Mitch Stokes
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.86
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A double shot of faith and reason, June 7 2012
This is a thoughtful, clearly communicated, witty and well written response to the new atheists. This response doesn't agree to argue with the atheists from the ground of their own assumptions but shows how those assumptions are themselves highly suspect and depend more on faith and less on observable, objective fact then any of them would like to admit. In fact, Stokes makes it clear that the new atheists aren't actually doing science when they argue for the non-existence of God, since that can't actually be objectively proven. Rather, they are doing philosophy and they are doing it very poorly. This book does a good job of exposing the flimsy philosophy of new atheism.

As part of helping to equip Christians to be able to defend their faith, the author introduces the reader to the work of Alvin Plantinga, and to a lesser degree, Nicholas Wolterstorf and Peter van Inwagen. These are three very intelligent and articulate Christians who also happen to be stellar philosophers by anyone's measure and who successfully defend their Christianity in the academy. One of the key ideas Stokes brings forward is the idea of warrant. Plantinga argues (and Stokes boils it down for the reader) that there is reasonable warrant for belief in God and that, far from what the new atheists claim, and which they themselves cannot live consistently with, not everything ought to be disbelieved until proven by incontrovertible and observable fact. Stokes shows how Plantinga argues convincingly that there is much in life and thought that people, including the new atheists, take on the testimony of someone else or by the authority of a document (like the time and place of their birth, or who their parents are).

Stokes does an effective job of pointing out that so much of the atheist's case against God is actually just bald pronouncement and then a whole lot of yelling and intimidation to "support" their arguments. This book and the arguments and strategies presented herein are a much needed shot of faith to any Christian's head (think "reason enhancing steriods") and its also a shot of faith to the head (think philosophical "right hook") of any atheist who is brave enough to engage the arguments it contains. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to Christians everywhere. It will also serve as a helpful guide to honest searchers and as a bucket of cold ice water down the back of the shirt of some overheated, tirading, cranky atheists as well.

Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life
Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life
by Douglas Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.26
23 used & new from CDN$ 6.31

5.0 out of 5 stars A writing "how-to" that shows what it tells, May 28 2012
For a really good review of this book, check out Tim Challies review at goodreads. Here's my additional 2 cents...Wilson describes this book as a Russian doll of writing advice, with seven main points that are in turn further fleshed out by seven supporting points. There is plenty of good material here so no where does this format seem forced. I have only read a handful of books on the "how-to" of writing, and some of them were quite helpful, but this was the only one where I could underline something on every page that was true, useful and thoroughly enjoyable.

This isn't a quick and easy guide on how to write a good book. This book focuses more on the type of life a writer ought to live in order to be worth listening to. Wilson advocates being part of the real world, and not just to compile useful but outside material for the latest writing project. He says that an interesting person is an interested person...I couldn't agree more. A true reader knows when an author really loves their subject or whether they just signed up for a night class.

Wilson is a master of punchy sentences, whether in his books, articles or blog posts (which is how I read the first version of this material), and he can place a well crafted summary sentence or illustration to jump out at you and knock you betwixt-the-lookers like very few living authors. Such sentences don't result in migraines so never fear, but they serve to drive his points home in a way that seems to make everything else he just said on a particular point stick with you as well. This book is a little gem with practical, down to earth wisdom and advice that, if taken seriously by a good number of up-and-coming writers, will result in a whole lot less shlock on book store shelves. I will close with one of my favourite sentences of the book: "Our world already has too much verbiage in it that comes off like it was written by a committee or a computer - or maybe a committee of computers." AMEN. And to paraphrase a phrase from Wilson, which phrase he first borrowed from Churchill (in one of the many instances where his book practices what it preaches without making a big deal of pointing out that fact), thankfully, Wordsmithy is not among the verbiage up with which we ought not put.

Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, & Hope in Western Literature
Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, & Hope in Western Literature
by Peter J. Leithart
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.59
21 used & new from CDN$ 9.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Hopeless vs. Hopefull Literature, Feb. 28 2012
In this brief but convincing study, Peter Leithart compares and contrasts the overarching ethos of the literatures of ancient paganism (represented by Greece & Rome) and Christendom. Leithart shows that pagan literature was (and modern and postmodern secular literature still is) inherently tragic in nature, declining from the origin of all things through ages of progressive deterioration, like Greece's golden age, silver age, bronze age and iron age. This is contrasted with Christian literature's fundamentally comedic nature (comedy in the classic sense, not in the movie genre sense) even when the tale told is a tragedy. In the Christian meta-narrative, history progresses from perfection, through fall and curse, to redemption and ultimately points to an ever increasing glorification greater even than the state of original perfection. Leithart argues that this historical tragectory is the work of the triune God as revealed in Christian scripture, and that only in a world and mind enlightened and informed by such revelation is truely and deeply joyful and hopeful storytelling possible.

Leithart examines The Odyssey and The Aeneid, two of ancient paganisms most comedic works (supposedly "happy ending") and shows that, even when the ancients were going for a positive trajectory in their works, they were still fundamentally tragic at their core, ending in death or in stasis, and concluding that one was not much more than a puppet of the gods an must simply accept what fate sent. Contrast that with the canon of Christian literature which, even when the specific work itself is tragic, the world in which the work exists and which exists within the work, is infused with hope and at least the constant possibility, if not always the realization of, redemption, reconciliation, resurrection and eternal growth. Leithart effectively illustrates this point by walking through two Shakespeare plays: a tragedy, King Lear, and a comedy, Twelfth Night. He shows that, far from being at the mercy of unmerciful fate, every character has true moral choice and the possibility to do right and that, even when things end sadly for the innocent or the helpless, there is still the hope of justice in the next life. Leithart concludes that only literature created from within a Christian worldview can be considered deeply comedic.

At times, it feels like this book is too short and examines too few examples on either side to make its case as well as it could. One thinks of the tragedies of Norse mythology as well as the triumphs of the Arthurian legends (which get some skinny treatment here) and wishes these could be fleshed out as they would certainly serve to bolster the author's argument. Leithart himself admits this is a brief treatment and laments the fact that the premise could not have been more fully explored and more works examined. This reader, at least, hopes for another volume as the present one was both enlightening and edifying and the topic of deep comedy could certainly be sounded to greater depths.

Saint George and the Dragon
Saint George and the Dragon
by Margaret Hodges
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.55
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story with great lessons, Feb. 14 2012
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Reading books to children is an endangered activity in our present culture. The books that publishers are still printing for children seem more and more to be competing with movies, video games and noisy toys for market share (books with flaps, buttons, touchy-feely patches, sounds, hologram pictures, and books that are just a repackaging of some still shots from the latest animated movie). Many children's books have gone the way of most Hollywood movies, using big special effects and eye candy to make money rather than trusting to story and characters to draw in the hearts and minds of the audience. So in a world like ours at a time like this, it is refreshing to come across a story like this. This is a solid retelling of the classic tale of valiant St. George of England battling an evil dragon to save a princess and her kingdom from fear and destruction. Of course the fight is fierce (boys love that part) but George triumphs and wins the hand of the princess (girls love that part).

As with all good stories, this one appeals on multiple levels. The youngest children will be captivated by the detailed and rich illustrations and artwork on every page. Kids of all ages (and their parents) will be engaged by the story and characters themselves taken at face value. This story lends itself to teaching children the virtues of courage, perseverance, self-sacrifice, generosity and keeping your word. And, as with the original tale, there is the Christian symbolism present but not overdone (no where does the author come out and connect the dots for the reader). We have a lot of good books in our home but this is one our 3, 5 and 7 year olds all regularly pull out and ask us to "read it again".

Puffin Classics Tales Of Ancient Egypt
Puffin Classics Tales Of Ancient Egypt
by Roger Lancelyn Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 5.69
54 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Egyptian myths for parents and kids, Feb. 14 2012
This is a collection of stories about the gods, goddesses, Pharaohs and heroes of ancient Egypt (and sometimes of the surrounding nations). It is a rare writer who can faithfully retell traditional myths or historic tales in such a way as to capture and hold the imagination of both children and parents but Roger Lancelyn Green has done it and done it well. Each story moves along at a quick enough pace and with just the right amount of detail to hold our children's attention (ages 3, 5 & 7). At the same time they include the twists, intrigues, unpredictability and historical tidbits that draw parents in to the world of ancient Egypt. The combination will make these stories familiar favourites but keep them perennially fresh. This is a road-trip-went-by-so-fast-we-didn't-notice and a bedtime-came-too-early kind of book. More than once my wife and I were tempted to pick this little volume back up and read "just one more chapter" once we were sure the children were asleep.

The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World
The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World
by Stephen Mansfield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.00
43 used & new from CDN$ 15.66

4.0 out of 5 stars Guinness is Good for You, Nov. 9 2011
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This is the biography of a beer. I've never read the life story of a beer before. I have, however, read several biographies of great people and have always come away with an even greater appreciation of and respect for them, having learned more about them and how they impacted the times in which they lived. Like any good biography, the story of Guinness has bolstered and deepened my admiration for the tall, dark and handsome stout. I appreciate and respect it more now knowing its humble beginnings and the times, often harsh, in which both the beer and the family who brewed it lived and worked.

Mansfield tells the story in a straightforward and sympathetic manner. There is little flourish and, truthfully, not a lot of literary artistry here. But this seems fitting somehow in light of the plain, direct and sympathetic people the Guinnesses were. Mansfield's telling has enough detail to satisfy a popular audience about the family that founded this global institution as well as about the dark nectar itself, all without getting bogged down in brewing minutiae or the generations old gossip and conjecture which often finds its way into books on the Guinness family, much to their (and sometimes their lawyer's) annoyance. The reader is familiarized with the three "streams" of the Guinness family, those who brewed, those who banked, and those who preached, all of whom, in their day, were known as much for their humanitarian and charity work as they were for their vocations.

I appreciated the description of the author's own "beer pilgrimage," coming from a background that had largely viewed beer as a negative force in society to the realization that beer has played a very important and in some cases very central role in shaping many societies for the better, whether improving general health and nutrition, combating addiction to hard liquor or just being a central feature in social and celebratory gatherings, like good food, jolly music and a bright and toasty hearth. And I must say a hearty "amen" to one of the author's conclusions - we need to recover a generational approach to vocation and craftsmanship. Our culture suffers from a strong bias toward the instant and the cheap. Mansfield brings out the multi-generational nature of the Guinness brewing philosophy (and indeed worldview), where a craftsman would apprentice his sons in the family arts and secrets and those sons would grow up into the trade to one day raise up their own sons in the business and pass along the family craft with confidence and pride.

There are some things in life, like eating fast food meat products, where knowing more about the back story won't necessarily improve the experience. I can honestly say that the pints of Guinness I've raised after reading this book have tasted just a little bit richer for having consumed this literary appetizer. I'd give the beer 7 stars and the book 4.5. Cheers.

Notes from the Underground
Notes from the Underground
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 3.57
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Study on human nature, Nov. 1 2011
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"I AM A SICK MAN...I am a spiteful (some translations - wicked) man." The first sentence of this book summarizes well the truth about human nature that Dostoyevsky wants to teach us, namely that humans are sick and wickedness is the disease. This is not primarily a story about a man struggling with alienation and isolation, as many critics have interpreted, but rather about a man struggling with that oldest of all ailments - sin (recall, Dostoyevsky self-identified as a Christian). Isolation and alienation are only symptoms of the disease which the underground man sometimes fights against, sometimes wallows in, alternatively desiring the society of others and then wanting to dominate or spurn them. Underground man wants to be his own master and wants to elevate himself over others, making them either respect him or cower before him, yet he ends up rendering these very things to others and then hates himself for it. Ultimately it is underground man's perceptions of God he is railing against as he attempts to exercise his will randomly and illogically just to prove his free will, as if shaking his fist at the heavens. This is an excellent study of the human heart and the human condition and I believe Dostoyevsky never intended his character to be some kind of unique and anomalous social misfit nor a helpless victim of overwhelming societal forces and philosophical trends but rather for us all to see part of ourselves in underground man and to recognize that this part of us will rise to the surface (or that we will raise it to the surface) if not consciously and intentionally kept at bay by our conscience and what we know to be right, something which no one can do apart from the power of grace.

Very well crafted. I recommend reading part 1, then part 2, and then part 1 again. Reading "Notes" this way will add to your initial impression as a reader the historical order and point of view of underground man himself and part 1 the second time around will have whole new layers of pertinence.

After America: Get Ready for Armageddon
After America: Get Ready for Armageddon
by Mark Steyn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.06
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's the end of the world as we know it, Part 2, Oct. 21 2011
To summarize my appreciation for this book, I echo the sentiment of Ann Coulter in that only Mark Steyn could make you laugh this hard while reading a book on the death of America. However, unlike Coulter, my praise for Steyn's astute observation and critique of the ills must be counter-weighted by my disappointment and downright puzzlement at what Steyn proposes in place of the status quo. With a problem this bad, the solution must be far more radical than Steyn proposes. For these reasons, I give him 4 stars for this critique and elucidation of the problems but only 3 for his answers to them (more on this later).

In his previous book, America Alone (see my review), Steyn argued from a demographics perspective that the Islamic world was taking over the west and that the U.S. was the only nation in the west with a birthrate that didn't portend a hopeless national death spiral. In After America, Steyn looks at the world through the lens of economics and he determines that the U.S. has joined the rest of the west in a self-destroying debt spiral, one which will result in a short shift of power to countries like China and Russia, but which will ultimately end in the balance of power going to the new world order that radical, determined and forward-planning Islam is working hard to establish.

Since Steyn published America Alone, a lot has happened. Obama was voted in by a star-struck, celebrity worshipping, fiscally suicidal U.S. majority who believes that Obama's personal charisma can underwrite an eternal and bottomless credit line with China and other (often hostile) foreign creditors. But unlike most party-line republicans, Steyn recognizes that, while Obama has done much to worsen and hasten the U.S. fiscal death spiral, he is not the real problem. In fact, the best America could hope for from a majority of republican politicians and presidential candidates would be to slow the car from 90 to 70 miles per hour as it speeds toward the cliff. What the U.S. (and every other western nation) needs is not token cuts to spending but systemic and wholesale change to how the whole nation thinks and functions. The umbilical cord that runs from the over-weaning nanny state to citizens everywhere needs to be cut and tied until it withers and drops off. People need to come to value personal liberty and the resultant responsibility for their own well being once again instead of looking to the state for everything from unemployment income to health care to education to old age security to grants for the arts to...well, pretty much everything. We need to ditch the mindset that sees the left-leaning media's latest panic-crusade and responds with the knee-jerk reaction of "there oughta be a program for that" or "the gummint should do sumpin `bout that".

The problem as Steyn sees it is that, while the U.S. may have a 2 party system, any difference in worldview between the two are rendered ineffectual since both parties are beholden to a centralized, heavily regulated, over-taxing, gross deficit spending mega-state bureaucracy and it's attendant maverick justice system bent on reinterpreting the constitution to mean the opposite of what the founding fathers intended. Sure, the president or congress or senate might change, but the bureaucracy never does. The system is broken and continues to be so. The way Americans (and citizens of other western nations) view the state needs to change. The federal government is the most powerful institution in the U.S. today, with oversight and regulations that touch every aspect of daily life, like telling a local hardware store it can't provide free coffee and donuts for its patrons as it has for 30+ years since it does not have a licensed kitchen. This was not what the founding fathers envisioned for the republic. They believed the sphere of family should have the most authority, then church and other voluntary associations of citizens, then local communities, then individual states and then, last and least of all, the federal government. When the state becomes so very big, as it has, it creates small citizens. The more powerful and larger the state, the weaker and smaller its citizens.

As we have come to expect from Steyn, the book is full of sharp verbal barbs, snappy shots and devastating blows and his scathing critique of the ethos of present-day America and the west is nearly spot-on. He ably examines the deterioration of family, community and the can-do spirit of an America gone-by. But his strength lies in pointing out the heights from which they/we have fallen and in describing the problems, not as much in proposing solutions. Not that Steyn has no good advice to avoid what is surely certain ruin if there is no radical and immediate change of direction. In the last chapter, he does propose some crucial and necessary sea changes to western society. And yet, even he is not radical enough. There are some glaring inconsistencies with his approach. For example, you can't both radically scale back government and sever the over inflated borrow-spend Keynesian mentality of both bureaucracy and the general public at the same time as carrying on a global "war on terror" which, as it turns out, is primarily an excuse to secure cheap oil for the average American consumer who believes that the constitution somewhere protects their right to cheap foreign oil. Radically cutting government spending while continuing to be the world's beat cop through a massive military spend (more than the next several highest military spending countries put together) isn't possible. The U.S. needs to get their own house in order, not provide unwanted maid service to half the third world, the middle east and legacy Cold War bases across the west. Steyn talks about this as well, but his solution seems to be that the US demand compensation from the rest of the UN countries which benefit from their security services. This is about as intelligent a solution as it is likely that the DND will start receiving multi-billion dollar free will donations from the EU. Get real. Along with the domestic big gov't nannyism and bloated, hippopotamic bureaucracy, it was foreign military-industrial imperialism that got the US into their massive economic woes in the first place and the only reason many nations went along with it was that the nation instigating it was the financial powerhouse of the globe. The phrase, "not any more" applies here in multiple ways.

The logical conclusion of Steyn's observations and the most clear and decisive thing the average American citizen could do to begin to transform and reform the US back into the constitutional republic it was intended by the founders to be is to vote for Ron Paul as the next president. I kept waiting for Steyn to draw this conclusion himself but Paul doesn't even get a passing mention in this book - a glaring oversight as Steyn spends some time talking about the Tea Party, the very grass roots movement which wouldn't exist without Ron Paul. Could Steyn himself be a little too mainstream republican/neo-con to really take the radical steps necessary to see the U.S. return to its true, constitutional republican roots? That's the conclusion I'm left with in light of Steyn's disparaging remarks about Paul in the media. Steyn needs to pick between US domestic fiscal and social survival OR extension of the "global war on terror" and an expansion of US global policing against radical Islam and every other interest which threatens to compete with US interests around the world because he can't have both. The former would mean getting one's own house in order, in part, by bringing home the military presence from the four corners of the globe. The latter would mean continuing and expanding it and continuing to bear both the cost and the backlash from it, thereby worsening the fiscal heart rate of the US (which is already nearly flat-lining). Steyn is better than most at critiquing the ills of the US but he isn't very astute at proposing a radical or real enough solution to fix them and perhaps his biggest fault is that he doesn't get Ron Paul. Like Steyn, I am no friend of radical islamofacism, but his desire to "take the fight to them" will not only perpetuate the very problems his book was written to expose but will serve to make them far worse.

I wish someone would introduce Steyn to Ron Paul at a Tea Party rally and Steyn could get to work campaigning for Ron Paul for the next President of the United States and the only one in the running who understands the dire situation in the US, which Steyn so rightly worries about, far better than Steyn himself does. Next to Ron Paul, Steyn is still a bloated, big government, big military, neo-con status quo preserver. Big problems require big solutions and Steyn's proposals ain't nearly big enough to do enough fast enough.

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