Saturday, November 20, 2004

Christmas is sparklin'

Christmas is sparklin'
Out on Carol's lawn.
This girl of my childhood games
Has kids nearly grown and gone,
Grown so fast
Like the turn of a page.
-- "Chinese Cafe" words & music by Joni Mitchell

With the gift giving of the various holidays on the horizon, here's a list of twelve books that could both make wonderful gifts and also increase knowledge (and membership in the reality based community). As editorials this year bemoaned, readership is down in the United States. So book gifting is something we could all try to work in.

Local bookstores and web sites such as are good sources for these books. In addition, I'll occassionally note other websites.

Twelve books that come to mind as worthy holiday gifts (listed, not ranked in any order):

1) Benajmin Barber's Fear's Empire. 220 pages. $23.95 list price.

Where are we and what are we doing? Barber writes:

Preventive war against terrorists is reactive, since it is only the terrorists' overt act (or acts) that identify adversaries as terrorists in the first place. America's war on terrorism is in fact a responsive conventional war (if by unconventional means) against an aggressor who has already shown Americans the "smoking gun."
The problem for the preventive war doctrine comes when the appropriate logic of a war against terrorists whose acts are known even when their orignins are not is applied to states whose addresses are known though their connections with terrorism are not. Here the subjunctive logic of preventive war comes into play, raising questions about its slippery slope reasoning, the reasoning that constantly moves it from certainty to uncertainty, from claims that "our enemy has committed aggression" to "our enemy might/could/may commit aggression." Preventive war as a doctrine is designed to apply to known terrorist perpetrators who have committed aggressive and destructive acts but whose location and origins remain uncertain; it has been applied however, to states whose location is known and indentity obvious even though their connections to actual aggression is far less certain. Terms like states that harbor or states that sponsor terrorism are used in place of explicit casual explanations that would show such states to be actual or even imminent aggressors. To make sovereign states -- themselves self-evidently inappropriate candidates for preventive war -- appear more appropriate targets, fuzzy terms like rogue state are introduced that putatively link states that can be militarily defeated to terrorists who are far more elusive. (p. 105).

2) Amy & David Goodman's The Exceptions to the Rulers. 318 pages. $21.95 list price.

Goodman hosts Democracy Now! with Juan Gonzales. Fans of Democracy Now! (of which I am one) are used to Amy Goodman's no nonsense approach to the news. She takes journalism responsibilities very seriously and has a strong code of ethics. Whether charting her own experiences reporting in and on East Timor, or taking on the mainstream media for it's unwillingness to play the role of watchdog, Goodman's (or the Goodmans', to note her brother David who is also a journalist) book will make you think about what stories make the news, how they are reported, what stories don't make the news and why, as well as the line between journalists and their sources.


[Richard] Holbrooke got up and thanked all his "friends in the media." "The kind of coverage we're seeing from The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN,, and the newsmagazines lately has been extraordinary," Holbrooke said. "You are all doing this on a twenty-four-hour-a-day basis with great skills so far, and I commend you. . . . That kind of reporting can have a great impact. . . . I want to say how important it has been."
Holbrooke then continued with a major foreign policy address. Midway through, he made an announcement. "Eason Jordan [then president of CNN International] told me just before I came up here tonight that the air strikes hit Serb TV and took out the Serb television, and at least for the time being they are off the air. That is an enormously important event as Eason reported it, and I believe everything CNN tells me."
Laughter broke out in the room.
"It is an enormously important and I think positive development," Holbrooke added.
Here were hundreds of reporters supposedly upholding the highest principles of journalism, and they chuckled on cue -- at a war crime committed against journalists.
Now, what would have been different if Milosevic had stood up to announce "We just bombed CBS!" and a bunch of Serb journalists had laughed? Radio Television Serbia, whatever its faults as a mouthpiece for Milosevic, is not a military target. We went back to our office later that night to see the pictures of body parts being pulled out of the wrecked TV studios in Belgrade. It wasn't soldiers blown to pieces in the rubble. It was the people who apply makeup, the cameramen, and the journalists who were inside. People like 27-year-old technician Ksenija Bankovic, whose mother Borka, we interviewed on Democracy Now! Borka asked how journalists could laugh at the killing of her daughter, whose only crime was going to work that night. In all, sixteen media workers were killed in the bombing (pp. 286-287).

Another resource for purchasing this book is which also contains reviews and comments on the book.

3) Nancy Chang's Silencing Political Dissent, 168 pages, $9.95 list price.

Chang's book, with an introduction by Howard Zinn, focuses on the the climate post-9/11 where civil rights were trumped by a vague undefined "security." This is a strong book dealing with Constitutional issues but it's far from dull. Chang looks at the complete domestic landscape and finds many strange things going on:

Even more troubling than the timidity of the television news organizations are signs that the press has been censoring itself. At least two newspaper columnists were fired for criticizing President Bush's actions on September 11. Dan Guthrie, an award-winning columnist for the Grants Pass Daily Courier in Oregon, wrote a column entitled "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tender Turn Tail," in which he accused President Bush of "hiding in a Nebraska hole" on September 11, in an act of "cowardice." A week later, the paper's publisher fired Guthrie, and the editor ran a front-page apology for having printed Guthrie's column. In a similar scenario, Tom Gutting of the Texas City Sun was fired for writing a column in which he accused President Bush of "flying around the country like a scared child" on September 11, and the paper's publisher ran a front-page apology for having printed Gutting's column. These attacks on journalistic freedom send a clear message to all members of the press that they would be wise to fall in line behind White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and "watch what they say" (p. 131).

This book from Seven Stories Press can also be purchased at where you can also find reviews of the book.

4) Peter Phillips & Project Censored's Censored 2005. 352 pages. $17.95 list price.

In their annual collection of unreported and under-reported stories in the mainstream media, Project Censored ranks their top twenty-five. But that's just the first chapter. In the fourteen other chapters, they deal with media coverage, newspaper circulation numbers fraud, media consolidation, junk food news and so much more. (The comic strip This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow also pops up throughout the book.)

Concluding paragraph from "Junk Food News and News Abuse":

As this chapter illustrates, much of that sacred and rare space is taken up by programming that is essentially garbage. Americans seem to be less and less concerned about real issues, about the real reality. While perhaps initially unpleasant, concering oneself with what is really going on will allow more individuals to gain a unified voice, increasing the chance to change and further the concept of equality for all. People need to become outraged at the complacency the majority of individuals and our corporate media feel towards the discrepancies around this world. If the Junk Food chapter is a window into the soul of America, the sight is not pretty. Our country should be sick and tired of the trash that is filling our airwaves. It is time that America get out of their comfort zone and stop tuning out the real truth and real reality that is happening around them. And it starts with you (p. 176).

I'll cite two additional resources for this book. First, it can be ordered directly from Project Censored at (where you can also find more information about the book including the top twenty-five censored stories that make up the first chapter). Secondly, it can also be purchased at for a minimum price of $23.00 -- the additional cost goes to support buzzflash a web site I'm sure everyone's aware of. Providing links to breaking stories in various media, interviews and columns done by buzzflash staff (the number one censored story "Wealth Inequality in Twenty-First Century Threatens Economy and Democracy" notes that one of four sources for coverage of this issue is buzzflash; the number twenty-four store "Reinstating the Draft" notes buzzflash columnist Maureen Farrell as one of four sources covering the issue -- Farrell also writes an update for this book), buzzflash
provides a wealth of information. So if you haven't already, check out .

5) Elizabeth Drew's Fear and Loathing in George W. Bush's Washington. 68 pages. $7.95 list price.

With an introduction by Russell Baker, this collection of essays by Drew traces the rise of the neocons and fear as the primary tool used by the administration.


The neocons' assurance that the United States could not only remove Saddam Hussein but also convert Iraq and the rest of the Middle East into democratic nations relies on several false analogies. Wolfowitz, his neocon allies, and the journalists who circulate their ideas often cite Germany and Japan after the Second World War as examples of countries that were transformed into democracies. But unlike Iraq, Japan had a largely homogeneous culture and a symbol of national unity, the Emperor, who kept his title if not his power. Japan, in any case, has had essentially one-party rule since the end of the war. And Germany, which also had a cohesive society, had a democratic constitution and parliamentary institutions until Hitler was barely elected chancellor in 1933. Moreover, the US occupied Japan for seven years and Germany for four. Rumsfeld has said that no time limit can be set on the occupation of Iraq, but US officials are aware that the longer it goes on the greater will be the danger to US troops there -- and perhaps domestic pressures to bring them home. (The neocons -- as well as officials of previous administrations and some academics -- also assert that democracies don't make war on each other, but this is a highly debated proposition.) (pp. 38-39.)

An additional resource for purchasing this book is:

6) Alice Walker's Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart. 213 pages. $24.95 list price.

One of only two novels on the list, Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart speaks to larger issues of our time (which naturally led to it being slapped down on the pages of the New York Times).
Kate Talkingtree leaves the meditating hall in the first chapter to go on her own journey. Along the way, Walker addresses issues of identity, connections and responsibility.

For any fan of Walker's fiction, Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart will be a satisfying and nourishing read.

7) Seymour M. Hersh's Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. 370 pages. $25.95 list price.

Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib prison abuse stories in The New Yorker. Hersh takes the reader through the aftermath of 9/11 to present day. This is the primer, filled with everything some know but many of us either missed completely or didn't fully absorb. Whether it's how JAG was cut out of policy decisions early on, the death of Abdul Haq and what N.S.A. intercepts revealed about the Saudi royal family, this book is full of details that were either ignored or lost in the news cycle. On the flights provided out of Afghanistan, Hersh writes:

The airlift "made sense at the time," the C.I.A. analyst said. "Many of the people they spirited away were the Taliban leadership" -- who Pakistan hoped could play a role in a postwar Afghan government. According to this person, "Musharraf wanted to have these people to put another card on the table" in future political negotiations. "We were supposed to have access to them," he said, but "it didn't happen," and the rescued Taliban remained unavailable to American intelligence.
None of the American intelligence officials I spoke with were able to say with certainty how many Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were flown to safety or may have escaped from Kunduz by other means. Operatives in India's main external intelligence unit -- known as RAW, for Research and Analysis Wing -- reported extensively on the Pakistani airlift out of Kunduz. RAW has excellent access to the Northern Alliance and a highly sophisticated ability to intercept electronic communications. An Indian military adviser boasted that when the airlift began, "we knew within minutes." In interviews in New Delhi soon after the airlifts, Indian national security and intelligence officials repeatedly told me that the airlift had rescued not only members of the Pakistani military but Pakistani citizens who had volunteered to fight against the Northern Alliance, as well as non-Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda. Brajesh Mishra, India's national security adviser, said his government had concluded that five thousand Pakistanis and Taliban -- he called it "a ballpark figure" -- had been rescued (pp. 131-132).

8) James Wolcott's Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants. 312 pages. $22.95 list price.

Wolcott's written a very funny, very lively book. Attack Poodles are the pundits we see on the chat shows, sometimes they also write, but mainly they exist to "advance the narrative of the political power struggle; they supply the 'beats' in the storyline, the weekly soap opera crisis" (p. 8). The chapter on Peggy Noonan ("Best in Show") is hilarious and a must read. The book works as a humor read only as well as illuminating the state of mainstream media. No excerpt because the pleasure of the humor is often in how it sneaks up on you.

9) Bonnie M. Anderson's News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment, and the Bottom-Line Business
of Broadcast News. 235 pages. $26.95 list price.

Anderson's focus is on what has happened to mainstream media. A veteran of print, broadcast and cable, someone who's been in front of the camera and worked behind the scenes, Anderson's documenting the very serious crisis in our "news" resulting in the wall being torn down between "entertainment" and "news"; the bottom line mentality of news existing only to make profits; "pretty faces" trumping experience and training; the news cycle and being first trumpeting being correct; and assorted other issues.

Commenting on the stories of content left out to focus on other "issues," Anderson notes, "And what it boils down to is that airtime that could be used to truly inform the public, to educate viewers about important topics relevant to their lives, is wasted on this sort of fluff. And it becomes self-perpetuating" (p. 105).

Anyone who's gotten frustrated with a friend of family member who is still defending the "news" we see on TV, this is the gift you need to consider giving.

10) Gore Vidal's Imperial America. 172 pages. $18.00 list price.

Vidal's essay collection opens with the essay ("State of the Union: 2004") and moves on to deal with the issues such as the national security state, informed democracy and the meaning of patriotism.

In addition to the dealers noted before the list, this Nations Book publication can be purchased
directly at along with many other titles of interest.

11) Sara Paretsky's Blacklist. 415 pages. $7.99 list price.

Newly out in paperback, this is more than a mere page turner. Mystery book lovers will enjoy this latest V.I. Warshawski adventure but it should reach beyond that core audience because Warshawski's bumping up against the Patriot Act as she attempts to unravel a murder.

12) Langston Hughes' Let America Be America Again and Other Poems. 21 pages. $6.50 list price.

With a preface by John Kerry, this collection contains nine poems by Hughes. Poet, essayist, playwright, novelist and the author of children's books, Hughes' creative genius is always worth noting. A brief biography of the late Hughes can be found at

Excerpt (from the poem "Some Day"):
Once more
The guns roar
Once more
The call goes forth for men.
The war begins,
False slogans become a bore.
Yet no one cries:
Like angry dogs the human race
Loves the snarl upon its face
It loves to kill.
The pessimist says
It always will.
That I do not believe (pp. 14-15).

Though you can't order the book on this page, click on "ordering info" and it will assist you in finding a bookstore near you that carries Let America Be America Again and Other Poems.

There are many other books that would make strong gifts. Feel free to utilize the comment sections to note some of your own.