Thursday, June 29, 2017

Recent Wall Street Journal Article about Used books

I have often said and thought the same, and it is why I enjoy book sales, browsing through old books.  Besides as I posted int he review of See No Evil here, there are many not so current books that I have yet to read, not every great read is a current bestseller.  Some good books like classics are timeless, after all.   For a long time I stopped making my own peculiar or insightful comments along the margins of pages of books I have been reading.  I was trying to not spoil the page for whomever would get the book next, sometimes I pass them along, sometimes I donate to sales..  Finally I have resumed doing so, because I enjoy it and why bother to get a separate sheet of paper for my own notes.  One woman told me years ago that she always enjoyed getting the books I read at local used book sales and she could tell because of my underlinings and margin hand written commentary.  When I read this in the Wall Street Journal, I knew I had to post it here.

A Secondhand Book Is a $3 Time Machine
Danny Heitman
June 27, 2017 7:17 p.m. ET
My 16-year-old son loves to read as much as I do, but unlike me, he prefers to savor his nonfiction and novels on an electronic reader. Although I’m thrilled when any young person enjoys reading regardless of format, I wonder if my teenager is missing out on the joys of used books.
This came to mind recently when I attended a used-book sale. I go every year, and I often spot complete sets of Dickens, Twain or Poe labeled with the personal library seals of their former owners. When I find several volumes from the same donor, I can’t help but wonder if a household bookshelf has been emptied, perhaps because someone died or moved into a nursing home. I’ve come to regard the hints of personal history in these books as a sheltering presence, like lingering in an old church for an hour or two.
This year, for three bucks, I took home a first-edition copy of the American anthropologist Loren Eiseley’s 1975 memoir, “All the Strange Hours.” The first page bore an inscription: “To Gar. Christmas 1976. From Mickey.”
“Gar” sounded like a nickname, which made me feel as if I were eavesdropping on an intimate conversation. Within the fourth chapter, I found a longer message from Mickey, written in cursive on a yellowing sheet of loose-leaf paper: “Gar—I ended up having to send you my very own copy (still crackling new) of this because, believe it or not, I haven’t been able to get to the bookstore to get you a copy. Getting ready to wrap it for you, I started reading parts of it again. I know you will enjoy reading every page of it. Have a nice Christmas. Hope to see you soon. Greetings also to Peggy. Love, Mick.”
Secondhand books remind me that the world of reading spans time as readers reach across the years to shake hands with each other. Eiseley isn’t read much today, but before his death in 1977, he was a big deal. His books sold well and were eagerly anticipated, which Mickey’s note conveys. My vintage copy of “All the Strange Hours” had landed me in a yuletide some four decades ago, when Jimmy Carter had just defeated Gerald Ford for the presidency, and readers raw from raging inflation and Watergate would surely have found respite in reading a naturalist’s memoir.
In “84, Charing Cross Road,” Helene Hanff celebrated old books as torches passed between generations. “I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest,” she wrote. “The day Hazlitt came he opened to ‘I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade!’ to whoever owned it before me.”
Like Hanff, I’ve opened old books and found some path a prior pilgrim has worn through the text. In my tattered copy of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” a reader I’ll never know penciled “integrity” throughout one chapter, inviting me to consider to what degree that single word might summarize Woolf’s sensibility.
I’ve been thinking about how I might extend my own greeting to some future soul through the books I’ll leave behind, as I turn each page of my old Eiseley, hoping, as I always do when I read, to touch the eternal.
Mr. Heitman, a columnist for the Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., is author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”
Appeared in the June 28, 2017, print edition.

See No Evil by Robert Baer

Picked up this in Port Isabel,Texas, February this year at a library sale, one of the library books cleared  from the shelves, a lucky find for me. This  2002 memoir by Robert Baer about his career in the CIA as a case worker/operative, is a paperback, 279 pages and reads as a good intrigue.  Once again this book proves that there are many good books out there not on current best seller lists, books from the past that I have not read. Fascinating, well written intrigue, timely today just as when it was written an released 15 years ago  If anything the political maneuvering by federal bureaucrats and politicians has likely become worse than what the author encountered.  It is frightening to think that we no longer have an effective CIA.   

Pages 229- 230, discuss the downward spiral consuming the CIA beginning with the FBI arrest of Rick Ames on February 1994...."I was in Dushanbe.  Watching on CNN as Ames stood handcuffed by the side of his new Jaguar XJ-6, my first reaction was that no one at the CIA owns a Jaguar......The officers who once could have afforded one--the investment bankers and lawyers who fought with the OSS in World War II and the few who'd stayed on to establish the CIA in 1947 were all gone.  Ames Jaguar must have been the only one in the CIA parking lot.  How could security have missed it?   But the lapse of internal security was just the beginning of the misery.  Rick Ames wasn't your average spy.  When he gave away a dozen Soviet agents at one liquor soaked lunch, he established himself as one of history's greatest traitors, in the company of Benedict Arnold, the Rosenbergs, and Kim Philby.  Just as Britain's M-16 would never live down Philby, so the CIA would never live down Ames.  He had ratted out our crown jewels, the reason we existed.  ......The CIA had screwed up so badly with Ames that it could no longer be trusted to clean its own house..... Woolsey, turned the CIA over to its worst enemy in Washington--the FBI.  Way back at the beginning of the cold war, J.Edgar Hoover had wanted to keep all national security operations domestic and foreign under his heavy thumb.  Now it looked like his ghost was about to get its way......The executioner the FBI picked for the task was Ed Curran, a serving FBI agent.......His first act was to fire anyone who knew anything, especially the little old ladies in tennis shoes--the CIA's institutional memory on Soviet espionage...The idea was to spread fear and paranoia through out the CIA and in that he couldn't have been more successful." ." 

it was difficult to read all the Arab  names, but his story is centered in that part of the world and the author is very specific about names along with iterating the culture of tribalism and  family clans.  It is just one of the reasons why we are failing against the terrorists, their bloodline alliances are entrenched.   

Page 279, the last page last paragraph is haunting still today, 2017.:"  ..concerns me that I hear so little talk about doing something about future Ziyad Jarrahs and the groups they belong to.  They are our real problem. ...compounded by the fact that we know so little about these groups and have virtually no intelligence on how they are structured.......No doubt going after Saddam sounds like a good idea around the conference tables of Washington's think tanks and in the hallowed office suites at the National Security Council, but is he that enemy?  Are we not hitting the target we can rather than the target we should?  Shouldn't we be pulling from the roots the people who hit us on September 11 rather than going after the Gulf's bogeyman?  It seems to me it's always the evil we refuse to see that does us the greatest harm."

There are many reviews online  and I have copied this from Wikipedia :
 "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War Against Terrorism is a 2003 memoir by Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer in the Directorate of Operations. Baer begins with his upbringing in the United States and Europe and continues with a tour of his CIA experiences across the globe. Approximately the first two-thirds of the memoir focus on the various experiences of Baer's two-decade (1976–1997) career at the CIA, while the last third depicts the growing cynicism brought on by the corruption and obliviousness encountered in Washington.
One of the main focal points of the story is Baer's obsession with uncovering the perpetrators of the unsolved 1983 United States Embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. Baer's memoir describes his own solution of the mystery.
The overall theme around which the memoir is built is his view of the CIA losing its prowess due to increasing diplomatic sensitivity in Washington's foreign policies in the aftermath of political fiascoes from active American involvement in foreign politics in the 1970s and 1980s. Baer describes how he believes the CIA steadily degenerated from a potent human-intelligence resource that often saved or spared lives, to a people-shy, satellite-obsessed, and politically oriented branch of a centralized government.
Other topics Baer discusses in the book include: the extent to which the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been involved in anti-American terrorist activity, most publicly in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing (a death toll of over 300), but allegedly in a far more diverse range of terrorist operations. Baer also writes about how he believes the CIA failed in forecasting the September 11 attacks on America. Baer's story clearly lays out how the CIA came to the point of not even having a useful agent in the Middle East in the period leading up to the attacks. He goes on to describe the loss of effectiveness of the CIA in the mid-1990s, in the wake of the catastrophic treason of CIA agent Aldrich Ames, and the CIA's failure to identify the mole before lethal damage had been done to many of their operations worldwide.
The final section of the memoir deals with Baer's experience with oil politics in Washington, and the extended reach granted to oil's agenda by the politically fixated and strategically oblivious American government. At one point, Baer is stunned at being asked to approve the sale of a sophisticated American defense weapon to a former Soviet-bloc country as an incentive for participating in an oil deal, while that same country had recently obstructed the investigation of the murder of an American diplomat on their soil. Baer recalls his unwilling association with infamous oil businessman Roger Tamraz and the uneasy realities he extracts from his period of involvement in Washington politics.
The film Syriana (2005) was loosely based on the book."

I gave this 5 *****