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D. Friedman (New York, NY United States)
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Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw
Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw
by Mark Bowden
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
143 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an interesting argument against the drug war, July 14 2004
This book, inadvertently, I suspect, is really an argument against the drug war. By now a cliche, this line of thought postulates that, were drugs like cocaine not criminalized in the states, there would be no or little incentive for murderous thugs in Latin America to risk murder and lengthy prison times getting the drug in this country.
Thus, one could argue, quite blithely, that, had the American government wised up and attempted to regulate drug trafficking like any other international business, many of the unsavory elements of the business would depart for greener (more illicit) pastures. The natural consequence of this, of course, would be that millions of dollars otherwise spent on futile attempts at interdiction and eradication would be spent elsewhere, and many of the thousands of people killed both in the United States and Latin America over the past 25 years would instead be alive.
Would that it were true that the United States could hew to the lessons learned in the alcohol trade: once alcohol was legal again in the United States and it became a regulated drug sold only to people legally eligible to buy it, the violence associated with it declined precipitously. In fact, the only violence associated with alcohol use today is domestic violence and drunk driving. Those violent acts, while of course tragic to all those involved in them, are far fewer and far less bloody than the gang wars initiated by Al Capone and his antogonists.
That the same lesson applies in the drug war is sad.
On another note, a number of reviewers on this site have mentioned many apparent parallels between the hunt for Pablo Escobar and the hunt for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. While it is true that, superficially, there are parallels, such as the US government deciding that its national security in all three instances was at risk with these monsters operating openly, it is nonetheless an unfair comparison. Relatively few Colombians liked Escobar, and he never had the legitimacy of the state behind him, as did Hussein.
Given all that, this is an excellent account of the travails leading up to, and concluding with, the execution of Escobar.

Origins Of The Crash
Origins Of The Crash
by Roger Lowenstein
Edition: Hardcover
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars dry, acerbic wit accurately dissects the money culture, June 22 2004
This review is from: Origins Of The Crash (Hardcover)
This is a really good, introductory book that explains the whole money culture of the 90s, its origins, and many of the seemingly absurd and illogical justifications used by various players to justify the bubble that permeated Wall St.
It is quite informative, always entertaining, and Lowenstein's wit and acerbic sense of humor make one chuckle at the outrageousness of some situations.
That said, the book, while descriptive, is not prescriptive: it does not offer much in the way of solutions to the issues so eloquently raised in its pages. It is quite easy, after all, to determine that a hitter swings his bat too wildly to make contact with the ball; it is much harder to tell the batter how to make contact with the ball. Describing the history and culture that gave rise to some of the more egregious practices of the past ten years is certainly informative; however, such descriptions merely contextualize the problem and do little to advance debate on how to overcome such problems.
For example, Lowenstein quite correctly points out that one big cause of the mania for shares was managers' sudden infatuation with hitting quarterly earnings targets...which fascination these managers fixated on because the Street told them that is the yardstick by which they would be judged. So? Good analysis, good explanation that the logic implied in the relationship between managers, their colleagues on the street, and the maniacal focus on hitting earnings targets is self-referential if not outright incestuous. But Lowenstein does not take this argument to the next step: what do we do to cut off such self-referential silliness as that which is described?
That is a discussion he does not approach, and one that neither he nor anyone else seems to have. History, of course, will judge if the corporate reforms as of late, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and the focus on corporate governance will have the desired effect.

Skipping Toward Gomorrah
Skipping Toward Gomorrah
by Dan Savage
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars the reviews are even funnier than the book, June 21 2004
The negative reviews here are even funnier than the book! But then I'm not a homosexual so I can't really take offense at people recoiling in moral shock from Savage's politics. On the other hand I suppose if you are gay, the negative reviews on this site are a depressing reminder that people like Savage are judged for their sexuality and not for their ideas.
But still, the reviews make me laugh even more than the book.

American Sucker
American Sucker
by David Denby
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.79

4.0 out of 5 stars an interesting look at a self-absorbed, humbled investor, June 14 2004
This review is from: American Sucker (Hardcover)
This is an interesting look at a self-absorbed and humbled investor who fell for the allure of the markets and the get-rich-quick mantra of the late 90s. It chronicles, cliched though it is, the rise and fall of a man's portfolio, along with his ties to some of the more notorious corproate crooks of the past few years. It is worth 4 stars if only because the author is remarkably candid about his greed, his desire for quick riches through the market, and his admiration and jealousy of the 'rock star' CEO embodied in Sam Waksal.
There's not much original in here, or interesting beyond that rare candor. Candor, however, is a rare quality in writers, and such makes this an interesting trifle of a read.

Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner
Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner
by David Bach
Edition: Paperback
121 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars good, but conservative, advice, June 11 2004
This is an excellent book to use when planning your family's finances. Obviously, given the power of compounding, to which the author repeatedly refers, the earlier in your life you start planning for your financial future, the better off you will be. I recommend the book to anyone with the understanding that it follows a conservative, fairly conventional path toward financial security.
If you are a finance whiz, you will find parts of the book too conservative and too plain. If you try to magnify your investment returns by trading options, for example, or you invest in real estate, or any other kind of investment other than 'plain vanilla stocks and bonds' you will find the book limiting.
That said, the book provides an excellent organizational structure for any one trying to get a hold on his financial picture.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
by Eric Schlosser
Edition: Paperback
158 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars good writing, bad ideology, June 9 2004
I hate fast food. I look with pity and derision on those that consume it daily and those who find it to be their misfortune to work in such environments. But I am not a liberal. I do not buy into the idea that people are automatons without will, who can be controlled and manipulated by corporations in the way that a hunk of metal can be controlled and manipulated by a lathe.
But, that is the image Schlosser presents in this book: we are all doomed to be used like a child's toy at the hands of the big, bad, evil corporation.
Look, what Schlosser is arguing is that people are unable to make decisions for themselves, that they are duped into working at McDonald's because they think it glamorous or they think it a better route to fame and fortune than an education. It is a specious to assert that McDonald's forced anyone to make these decisions; rather, people decide, based on their own igorance or failings that time spent flipping burgers is a better use of one's time than time spent, say, reading Shakespeare or doing calculus. It is hardly McDonald's fault that it 'exploits' people's ignorance.

Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing + The Marketing of Culture
Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing + The Marketing of Culture
by John Seabrook
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.10
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars not great, May 25 2004
Interestingly, I read this book in one setting, but, upon finishing it thought to myself: 'And what of it?' Never a good sign when reading, or reacting to, a book. I suppose I read it all in one sitting because I'm a devoted New Yorker reader and have lived in New York my entire life, so there was a large part of my ego that was gratified when I read references about which I was intimately familiar (New York City) or read references to the culture of a magazine I read regularly (The New Yorker).
But, again, what of it? All his observations are anecdotal but they don't add up to much beyond incidental coherence. For example, Seabrook refers to a 14-year-old kid who just signed a multi-million dollar recording contract with Mercury Records. In his recollection of his encounter with the kid, he makes reference to the kid playing Star Wars on Nintendo. Next chapter, Seabrook is out in California meeting with George Lucas to discuss the myth of Star Wars and understand for himself how Star Wars exemplifies the 'low brow' culture which is the centerpiece of the book.
Thus, incidental coherence. There is an incidental relationship between the teenager and George Lucas: namely, Lucas received more money in the year that the kid (or his parents) bought the game than if the kid never had the game. Perhaps I'm being too drastic here, but it seems that the message of the book is that low brow culture has permeated American (if not the world's) culture, and therefore, it is easy to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, or phenomena that are only tangential or loosely related to one another. This is the narrative as told by anecdote: Anecdote A makes reference to issue 1, and issue 1 can be turned into anecdote B because it allows us to make reference to issue 2, et cetera. But, of course, given a large enough and vibrant enough culture (low or high) it is highly probable that seemingly unrelated anecdotes can be said to have common threads.
What of all this? Again, the same question.

The Culture Of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid Of the Wrong Things
The Culture Of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid Of the Wrong Things
by Barry Glassner
Edition: Paperback
63 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars well written but at times didactic, May 24 2004
The Culture of Fear is a book the demonstrates the ignorance of the American public and the willingness of major media outlets to pray on such ignorance in order to make easy points about issues that are really quite complex.
To wit: in an anecdote about anti-abortionists, Glassner relates the story of certain of the lunatic fringe of anti-abortionists claiming that a woman who has an abortion has a greater chance of developing breast cancer. Media reports and politicians' please followed. The underlying problem with these claims was that they were reductive: the reduced a complex problem about epidemiology, probability, and statistical analysis to 'abortion = high chance of breast cancer'. That such an equation is emotive and not conducive to intelligent discussion of how cancers develop is not lost on Glassner but is lost on the American publics thirst for easy answers.
What Glassner alludes to, but never squarely comes to terms with, is that Americans by and large are ill-educated, ignorant, deficient in comprehension of mathematics, and utterly devoid of any understanding of scientific inquiry and the scientific method. Instead, far too many Americans are seduced by the canivalesque emotion of the evening news; Dan Rather's stentorian authoriatarianism being sufficient proof that the end of the world is nigh.
On these points, Glassner excels: Americans are deluged with emotionalism and sensationalism, all to the detriment of intelligent discourse on the issue at hand. But he does not finish this argument; namely, that America has inculcated in itself a culture in which such ignorance and naivete can flourish, and even be tolerated and expected. That is an interesting discussion Glassner does not touch.
Despite these good qualities, there are times when Glassner becomes didactic in tone, especially when discussing the Catholic Church and the issue of gun control. On the one hand he claims the demonization of the Catholic Church is misplaced (he claims sexual predators among the clergy is not as widespread as it appears to be) and on the other, he hews to the simplistic argument about guns that the mere existence of guns promulgates murders with guns.
Neither of these positions really holds up to scrutiny. While Glassner makes the interesting point that the Church ought to be criticized on the basis of its affiliations with certain political parties in Europe, that is really irrelevant to the discssion of the Church here in the United States, what with its rampant denials of widespread abuse by priests. He in effect is saying, the Church ought to be criticized, but not because of sexual abuse by priests. He fails to explain why the Church's affiliation with certain political parties in Europe (which he fails to mention by name) is a more worthy basis of criticism than is the wanton abuse of children by priests.
On the issue of guns, Glassner asserts that, if there were fewer guns (i.e., more gun control) there would be fewer murders. No doubt this is true, however, he comes to this conclusion by effectively saying that the mere presence of guns contributes to mass slaughter. This is like saying the mere presence of alcohol in a bar makes you drunk. In both cases, of course, it takes the conscious action of a person for an undesired effect to occur.

From Beirut to Jerusalem
From Beirut to Jerusalem
by Thomas L. Friedman
Edition: Paperback
93 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars objective reporting only gets you so far, Feb. 18 2004
There is a strain of thought among journalists, to which Friedman unfortuantely succumbs, which says that one must at all costs be objective. While that practice is instructive and helpful when reporting in a newspaper (this is why Daniel Pearl's murder was so heinous) it is of little use in a memoir.
One wishes that Friedman would take a stand, on any person and any issue about which he writes. Unfortunately, that is not this book, so we are treated to vague, noncommittal descriptions of such heinous individuals as Arafat and Saddam Hussein. These are descriptions devoid of context or judgment. Friedman's resolute refusal to engage in the moral subtleties of the Middle East's contentious territorial fights is at once alarming and banal.
The principle of objectivity to which Friedman hews so closely is of limited use, and in a book like this, one hopes for more depth than the mere attempt to treat Palestinians as if they were Israelis, or to treat Kurds as if they were members of the Ba'ath party. In short, Friedman espouses the morally relativistic multiculturalism that has become de rigeur among intlelectual liberals in the United States: judge no one, offend no one, and surely, don't morally indict the violent actions of those whose actions may be 'justified' under the rubric of 'oppression.'
His is a venal and insidious view of the Middle East conflict because he refuses to judge, analyze, or critique its state of affairs. Rather, he merely wants to report. What a shame.

The Price Of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House, And The Education Of Paul O'Neill.
The Price Of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House, And The Education Of Paul O'Neill.
by Ron. Suskind
Edition: Hardcover
76 used & new from CDN$ 0.27

5.0 out of 5 stars sour grapes, Jan. 13 2004
This is an unsual book, so allow me to explain my rating before launching into my critique of Paul O'Neill. I find Paul O'Neill a vapid man bent on revenge, and, were he the author of the book, would give it one star. However, given that it was not he who exposed his own stupidity, but rather Ron Suskind (the man to whom Paul O'Neill gave a lot of his records), I feel that Mr. Suskind deserves credit for exposing O'Neill's angry thirst for revenge. Mr. Suskind has created, in my mind, an image of King Lear thrashing about recklessly in the tempest. I don't know if such was Mr. Suskind's intention or not, but the image he creates of Paul O'Neill is nevetheless illuminating, sad, and ultimately incisive.
Thus, to continue: Given the extraordinary amount of press coverage and controversy this book has received, and will receive, over the coming weeks, it is tempting to believe that the book contains earth-shattering revelations.
But, O'Neill is not writing about Watergate, or even Monica Lewinsky. He's writing about his disatisfaction of, and alienation from, an anti-intellectual, politically motivated, focused, and principled man with whom he unilaterally disagrees on economic issues.
This is surprising? It is surprising to me that the American press seems so naive as to believe it unbelievable that one could disagree with a President whose Administration normally is so tightly sealed. But, people are people, and O'Neill, playing the role of relic, feels out of touch with the current Administration and its modus operandi.
And thus. He gets even. Or, at least he thinks he gets even, by spilling the beans: Bush did not want debate on Iraq; rather, he told people to 'find a way to do it.' It hardly seems damning to me for a President to state explicitly that he did not want debate on the subject of removing a dictator from power; it's a pity that no previous president stated such a goal. Sure, we may have our disagreements with the man on his bluntness, and his anti-intellectual refusal to engage in Clintonian or theological discussions of public policy minutiae, but there is a reason he was elected president, and not Al Gore.
The point is, Paul O'Neill offers less than an incisive critique of President Bush's Administration, and more of an angry outlashing at the Administration whose methods and political concerns were oblivious to him.
It is a testament, perhaps to O'Neill's stunning naivete and ignorance that he did not 'get' the Administration. Here is a man who ran a large company--Alcoa--and yet...he shows himself utterly deaf to the realities of the organization for which he worked. Such a thought makes the mind reel at the fact that he actually managed Alcoa pretty well.
There is a strain of thinking among management gurus which states that upper management--powerful CEOs, especially--are so used to getting their way simply by uttering words, that they are flummoxed when put in a situation in which their words account for nil. This seems to be the psychological issue here: O'Neill, accustomed to power, intellectual rigor, and analytical discourse, is simply too blind to account for the more controlled atmosphere of Bush's Administration.
One can say all one wants about the inherent, willful, and venal stupidity of President Bush; still, such criticisms are irrelevant to this book. This book is not a criticism of Bush's presidency or his methodology, but, rather, it is an unintentional case study into the bruised ego of Paul O'Neill, and the historical events that washed over him like so much seawater over a sunken boat.

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