Friday, March 27, 2015

Book

United States

Strategic Failure: How President Obama's Drone Warfare,
Defense Cuts, and Military Amateurism
Have Imperiled America
Nonfiction book by Mark Moyar
Publication Date: June 23, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
A distinguished historian with over a decade inside the U.S. Department of Defense shows how the downsizing of our armed forces lowers the nation's defense and puts us at risk. 
In this stunningly detailed account of U.S. military power in the Obama era, Mark Moyar reveals how Obama's military decisions have led to the international catastrophes of his second term. While our current downward spiral did not grab the attention of the American people until 2014, Moyar finds its roots in Obama's first-term decisions to shrink the U.S. military and replace large overseas military commitments with "light footprints." 
Obama's preoccupation with his political self-interest has consistently trumped the national interest. Moyar documents how Obama has failed to deliver on his substitutes for military power. Cutting through the chaff of partisan bickering with penetrating analysis, he homes in on the events and personalities driving failures across the globe. 
Moyar illustrates how Obama's policies led to the rise of ISIS, and how conditions are primed for future cataclysms. He shows how the killing of the U.S. ambassador at Benghazi was the result of a light-footprint approach in Libya, and reveals the problems stemming from our reliance on drone strikes. The ongoing military drawdown and international perceptions of Obama's passivity have heightened the risks to America from her enemies. 
Drawing upon the lessons of Obama's presidency, Moyar concludes by identifying a better way for U.S. national security in the twenty-first century. Strategic Failure is a timely and fascinating opening salvo in the looming 2016 showdown between Republican and Democratic presidential contenders.
Moyar's controversial book Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (Cambridge University Press, 2006) is "one of the most-discussed histories of the past decade."

Somalia

Voice of America: "Al-Shabab militants on Friday attacked a major hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least nine people, including a Somali ambassador."

Singapore

Voice of America: "Dozens of world leaders will be in Singapore on Sunday for the state funeral of the small country's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Lee was greatly admired in the region where other leaders sought to emulate him and replicate his success."

Albino Body Parts

Voice of America: "The United Nations human rights office reports political action is growing in Tanzania, Malawi, and Burundi to clamp down on the horrific trade in albino body parts. While welcoming these moves, the agency says much work and commitment will be needed to stop the trade and protect the people being maimed and killed."

New York

U.S. Justice Department:

Thailand

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL): "Thailand has extradited a Russian citizen wanted by Kemerovo regional police in Siberia for banditry, kidnapping and extortion."

Vladimir Putin

Chris Bowlby, BBC News: "Anyone who wants to understand Vladimir Putin today needs to know the story of what happened to him on a dramatic night in East Germany a quarter of a century ago."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's
Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
Nonfiction book by Simon Goodman
Publication Date: June 23, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
The passionate, gripping, true story of one man's single-minded quest to reclaim what the Nazis stole from his family, their beloved art collection, and to restore their legacy. 
Simon Goodman's grandparents came from German-Jewish banking dynasties and perished in concentration camps. And that's almost all he knew about them — his father rarely spoke of their family history or heritage. But when he passed away, and Simon received his father's old papers, a story began to emerge. 
The Gutmanns, as they were known then, rose from a small Bohemian hamlet to become one of Germany's most powerful banking families. They also amassed a magnificent, world-class art collection that included works by Degas, Renoir, Botticelli, Guardi, and many, many others. But the Nazi regime snatched from them everything they had worked to build: their remarkable art, their immense wealth, their prominent social standing, and their very lives. 
Simon grew up in London with little knowledge of his father's efforts to recover their family's prized possessions. It was only after his father's death that Simon began to piece together the clues about the Gutmanns' stolen legacy and the Nazi looting machine. He learned much of the collection had gone to Hitler and Hermann Göring; other works had been smuggled through Switzerland, sold and resold to collectors and dealers, with many works now in famous museums. More still had been recovered by Allied forces only to be stolen again by heartless bureaucrats — European governments quietly absorbed thousands of works of art into their own collections. Through painstaking detective work across two continents, Simon has been able to prove that many works belonged to his family, and successfully secure their return. 
With the help of his family, Simon initiated the first Nazi looting case to be settled in the United States. They also brought about the first major restitution in the Netherlands since the post-war era. 
Goodman's dramatic story, told with great heart, reveals a rich family history almost obliterated by the Nazis. It is not only the account of a twenty-year long detective hunt for family treasure, but an unforgettable tale of redemption and restoration.

Opinion

Emma Ashford, Cato Institute:
Confused About the Middle East? So Is the United States. 
Since the Arab Spring, many Middle Eastern countries have fallen into political chaos like dominoes. This week's explosion of conflict in Yemen is just the most recent example. Though many of these conflicts are based on local grievances, they are being exacerbated by the involvement of the region’s larger states, and by the United States. 
America's leaders denounce intervention by unfriendly states like Iran. Yet the United States ignores or even enables such actions by U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia. In doing so, America is simply contributing to the mess in the Middle East. Washington should back off and refuse to get more deeply involved in further Middle Eastern conflicts. 
Yemen's conflict is nothing new; the Houthi rebels have been active in Yemen for more than a decade, and captured the capital in January, forcing President Hadi to flee south. This week, as the rebels finally reached the southern city of Aden, Hadi fled, and apparently appealed to Saudi Arabia for help in combating the Iranian-backed insurgency. 
Yesterday evening, that help arrived in the form of a massive Saudi air campaign and a reported 150,000 troops. The Saudi efforts are supported by a number of other GCC and Arab states, as well as U.S. logistical and intelligence support. 
But like everything in the Middle East today, this conflict isn't as clear cut as it seems. The Houthis are indeed aligned with Iran, and probably receive monetary support. But they also represent a sizeable fraction of the Yemeni population, and many of their policies — such as opposition to U.S. drone strikes in Yemen — are widely popular. Even more confusing, the Houthis are also adamantly opposed to Al Qaeda, and have spent substantial time and resources fighting AQAP fighters inside Yemen. 
This conflict fits with a broader pattern of post-Arab Spring clashes in the Middle East, conflicts which are complex and local in nature, but which are treated as simply proxy wars or sectarian conflicts. The fear that Iran might make gains in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya and elsewhere drives Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to respond militarily, increasing tensions and conflict. 
The U.S. response to this complex reality has been to reflexively back traditional U.S. allies. But in doing so, American policy has become confused, contradictory and overleveraged. We're working towards similar goals as Iran inside Iraq, opposing them in Syria and Yemen, all while trying to reach a nuclear deal before the March 31st deadline. How this mess of policy contradictions is supposed to produce viable results is anybody's guess. 
Yemen has a long history of instability, and any military solution to the crisis will likely fail to produce a long-term solution; it will just paper over the problem. It's not even clear whether the reinstallation of the Hadi government would be best for U.S. interests: though a Houthi government is unlikely to allow U.S. drone strikes against al Qaeda, they might prove more effective at fighting the group than the government has. 
America should stop reflexively backing traditional U.S. allies in the region, and refrain from deeper involvement in these conflicts. Instead, we should think more clearly about when (and whether) the United States should be involved in Middle Eastern conflicts, and about how such actions fit our overall strategic goals. Because one thing is certain: further U.S. intervention in the Middle East would be an exceedingly bad choice.

Russia

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL):
A senior Chechen official has said that Russia will provide arms to Mexico if Washington supplies weapons to Ukraine.  
Chechen Parliament Speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov said the arms would be aimed at reigniting U.S.-Mexican disputes over "territories annexed by the United States in the American states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and part of Wyoming."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book

Goods From the East, 1600-1800: Trading Eurasia
Nonfiction book edited by Maxine Berg
with Felicia Gottmann, Hanna Hodacs
and Chris Nierstrasz
Publication Date: June 24, 2015

Palgrave Macmillan:
The imperative of the long-distance seaborne trade of Europeans, from the age of exploration, was to acquire the goods of the exotic East — the silks and porcelains and tea of China, the spices of the spice islands and the textiles of India. Goods from the East focuses on the trade in fine products: how they were made, marketed and distributed between Asia and Europe. This trade was conducted by East India Companies and many private traders, and the first Global Age that resulted deeply affected European consumption and manufacturing. This book provides a full comparative and connective study of Asia's trade with a range of European countries. Its themes relate closely to issues of fine manufacturing and luxury goods in the current age of globalization. Goods from the East brings together established scholars, such as Jan de Vries, Om Prakash and Josh Gommans, and a new generation of researchers, who together look into the connections between European consumer cultures and Asian trade.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Subsistence Hunting

Survival International:
Indigenous organizations and thousands of people from around the world have called on delegates attending a major conference on the illegal wildlife trade to recognize tribal peoples' right to hunt for their survival. 
Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples' rights, indigenous organizations from Brazil, Cameroon, Kenya and many other countries, and over 80 experts on hunter-gatherers, have urged delegates attending an intergovernmental conference in Kasane, Botswana, on March 25, to recognize that tribal people should not be treated as criminals when they hunt to feed their families. 
Thousands of supporters of Survival sent a similar message to representatives of the EU, USA and UK, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). 
The Kasane conference follows a similar event in London in February 2014, attended by heads of state, Prince Charles and Prince William, who called for stronger enforcement of wildlife laws. But they failed to recognize that these laws often criminalize tribal peoples as "poachers" because they hunt their food. 
Tribal peoples face arrest and beatings, torture and even death for hunting to feed their families, while fee-paying big-game hunters are encouraged. 
Baka "Pygmies" in Cameroon and Bayaka "Pygmies" in the Republic of Congo have been beaten and tortured by anti-poaching squads, and fear going into the forest to hunt. And despite winning a major legal victory which confirmed their right to hunt inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Bushmen in Botswana are routinely arrested and beaten when found hunting. 
During a symposium organized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and others on "wildlife crime" in February, human rights lawyer Gordon Bennett issued a damning legal analysis of the negative impacts of wildlife law enforcement on tribal peoples. 
Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, "It's utterly irresponsible for conservationists and politicians to call for tougher law enforcement against 'poaching' without clearly acknowledging that tribal subsistence hunters are not, in fact, 'poachers.' It's not a matter of semantics — tribal hunters are being systematically arrested, beaten and tortured for 'poaching,' and it is happening because conservationists are not standing up for tribal peoples' rights. If delegates at the Kasane conference cared even the slightest about the lives of the indigenous communities their policies affect most, they would acknowledge that tribal people should not be treated as criminals when they hunt to feed their families."

Novel

Radiant Angel
A novel by Nelson DeMille
Publication Date: May 26, 2015

From the official website of author Nelson DeMille:
After a showdown with the notorious Yemeni terrorist known as The Panther, John Corey has left the Anti-Terrorist Task Force and returned home to New York City, taking a job with the Diplomatic Surveillance Group. Although Corey's new assignment with the DSG — surveilling Russian diplomats working at the U.N. Mission — is thought to be "a quiet end," he is more than happy to be out from under the thumb of the FBI and free from the bureaucracy of office life. 
But Corey realizes something the U.S. government doesn't: The all-too-real threat of a newly resurgent Russia. 
When Vasily Petrov, a colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service posing as a diplomat with the Russian U.N. Mission, mysteriously disappears from a Russian oligarch's party in Southampton, it's up to Corey to track him down. What are the Russians up to and why? Will Corey find Petrov and put a stop to whatever he has planned before it's too late? Or will Corey finally be outrun and outsmarted, with America facing the prospect of a crippling attack unlike anything it's ever seen before? 
Prescient and chilling. DeMille's new novel takes us into the heart of a new Cold War with a clock-ticking plot that has Manhattan in its crosshairs.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Elephants

Agence France-Presse (AFP):

Argentina

BBC News: "Archaeologists in Argentina are investigating whether ruined buildings in a remote nature reserve may have been built to hide Nazi officers."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Venomous Snakes

American Chemical Society (ACS):

Book

Politics: United States

A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Miracle of America
Nonfiction book by Ted Cruz (Republican)
Publication Date: June 30, 2015

HarperCollins Publishers:
Liberals love to hate Ted Cruz. The outspoken Texas Senator has a knack for getting under their skin. His quotable remarks — and even more, his principled stands on numerous national issues — have made him a political lightning rod and the most googled man in Washington. 
There is a simple reason Senator Cruz has dominated so much of the national conversation. Since his election to the Senate in 2012 he has refused to go along with the established way of doing business in Washington. As a result, he has become a voice for millions of Americans frustrated with governmental corruption and gridlock. 
Telling the truth is a radical act in our nation's capital — a city dominated by empty promises, meaningless "show votes," and a self-protection racket designed to get politicians re-elected rather than heeding the demands of the American people. Cruz has told the truth — about Washington collusion, a corrupted political process, and the institutional barriers to actually fixing the enormous challenges we face. 
In A Time For Truth, his first book, Cruz tells his story as a Cuban immigrant's son who made it to the Ivy League, to the Supreme Court bar, and eventually the U.S. Senate. It's a deeply personal journey that begins with Cruz's father experiencing brutality in a Cuban prison and ends with Cruz's discovery that Washington has neither the courage nor the desire to preserve the freedom and opportunities that gave hope to his father, and millions like him. 
Pulling back the curtain on the backroom deals between Republicans, Democrats, and the lobbyists who keep them in office (instead of keeping them accountable to their constituents), Cruz offers an inside look at what has gone wrong in our nation's capital. He argues that the need for change is urgent, and that the only way to bring about real change is to revitalize the Constitutional principles that made our country great. 
It's a book that will win Ted Cruz few friends in Washington. Then again, that isn't why he went there in the first place.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Middle East

Daniel Silas Adamson, BBC News:

Book

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction,
and Houdini in the Spirit World
Nonfiction book by David Jaher
Publication Date: October 6, 2015

Random House:
History comes alive in this textured account of the rivalry between Harry Houdini and the so-called "Witch of Lime Street," whose iconic lives intersected at a time when science was on the verge of embracing the paranormal. 
The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with an unseen spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics — and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities. 
Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon became the idolized focus of the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement centered on communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. A socially prominent woman of exceptional charm, her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes' creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery's powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee. Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified, and her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince — the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.  
David Jaher's extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, the world's greatest unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation's most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry and the competition that brought them into each other's orbit, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: Is there life after death?

China

Smithsonian magazine: "The Indiana Jones of Imperial China has become a modern pop-culture celebrity."

Tanzania

AramcoWorld:

Book

Hemingway in Love: His Own Story
A Memoir by A.E. Hotchner
Publication Date: October 20, 2015

Macmillan Publishers:
In June of 1961, A.E. Hotchner visited an old friend in the psychiatric ward of St. Mary's Hospital. It would be the last time they spoke — a few weeks later, Ernest Hemingway was released home, where he took his own life. Their final conversation was also the final installment in a story whose telling Hemingway had spread over more than a decade. 
In characteristically pragmatic terms, Hemingway revealed to Hotchner the details of the affair that destroyed his first marriage: the truth of his romantic life in Paris and how he lost Hadley, the true part of each literary woman he'd later create and the great love he spent the rest of his life seeking. And he told of the mischief that made him a legend: of impotence cured in a house of God; of a plane crash in the African bush, from which Hemingway stumbled with a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin in hand; of F. Scott Fitzgerald dispensing romantic advice and champagne in the buff with Josephine Baker; of adventure, human error, and life after lost love. This is Hemingway as you've never known him — humble, thoughtful, and full of regret. 
To protect the feelings of Ernest's wife — Mary, also a close friend — Hotch held back, keeping the conversations to himself for decades. Now, for the first time, he tells the whole story, mostly in Hemingway's own words. Hemingway in Love is the intimate and repentantly candid chapter missing from the definitive biography of a literary giant.

Friday, March 20, 2015