I had never heard of the story, until it was featured in CNN a couple of weeks ago. The book is written by Adam Makos and Larry Alexander and is focused on two pilots on the American and German sides of World War II.
The centerpiece of the story is four days before Christmas in 1943. American pilot Charlie Brown was attempting to fly his bullet-ridden B-17 back to England. One crewman was already dead, the guns were jammed or destroyed, and the only things barely working were two of four engines.
In the German 109 fighter was Franz Stigler who had lost his older brother, August, to Allied pilots. Franz was a survivor of the ill-fated African campaign and was only one bomber 'kill' away from the Knight's Cross, a prestigious medal of valor. With it would come national fame and a month's vacation.
When the American fighter did not fire its guns at him, Franz pulled closer and even flew alongside. He could see crewmen the back of the bomber, huddled, trying to keep warm and attend to the wounded. He saw the fear on the American pilot's face and despite having the moral right to send this warplane flaming into the German countryside, he did not pull the trigger. For some reason, he felt 'a higher call'.
But the American pilot was steering his plane to cross anti-aircraft guns at the German border. Franz could do nothing and the gunners on the ground would easily clear the sky of this American plane that could no longer keep altitude. But he did something remarkable - he flew in escort position, hoping the gunners on the ground would hold their fire when they saw a German plane. (Germany had some B-17s which they used on secret missions.)
Franz escorted the B-17 to the water and then turned back to Germany, fearful for what he had done. He ever told the story; he would surely face a firing squad for aiding the enemy.
Ironically, the Americans classified the incident as a military secret. The B-17 crewmembers could never talk of the incident. It was feared that other American pilots would expect mercy instead of fighting in similar circumstances and not have such a benevolent opponent.
Charlie Brown survived the rest of the war and pursued the great American dream. Decades later, he wondered about the pilot that had violated his orders and training. Eventually he would advertise in a German aviation magazine, providing only some of the details of that December day. In a Disney moment, Franz Stigler saw the advertisement and replied to Charlie, also curious about the American he had spared so long ago.
The two first talked on the phone, then met in Seattle, and eventually became fishing buddies in Florida. They died within 6 months of each other.
I recommend the book, although I caution you it is written for someone that enjoys military battle history. We learn a lot about Charlie and Franz and although at the time, their lives appeared to be snapshots of the chaos we call life, there was a higher story in the making.
Some time ago, perhaps before the railroad monopolies, I amassed four courses in economics. Yet, the bigger economy has always been a bit fuzzy to me - how it really works.
Krugman explains that the economic problem facing the U.S. and Europe is the same, but we got there differently. When the European currency was created, it suddenly made loans to Spain, Greece and Italy safe for the lender. Prior to the Euro, loans to the southern European nations were more expensive because they were riskier. German and Brit bankers were happy to push loans to the southern Europeans, and this created a housing and credit bubble. When the bubble popped, individuals and companies could not cover their loans with the precipitous drop in their asset values.
The lingering effect of the bubble remains - their wages, tied to the Euro are too high and there is no relief in sight. Normally a nation would devalue their currency to reset its financial system, but the German and Brit bankers are forcing austerity upon them since everyone is tied to the common Euro. They are going to have a really lousy decade.
In the U.S., we too, had a bubble of credit where shadow banking essentially printed money and real estate prices soared to the stratosphere. Then when the bubble popped, a hundred million Americans suddenly had negative asset value. These Americans have quit purchasing and are slowly rebuilding the finances of their households. But it has sidelined all of these people from the economy.
The Austerians, as Krugman labels them, now demand that the government as well, refrain from spending. The net result is that our economy is not producing as much as it could because no one is buying. With no one buying, there is no incentive for businesses to hire workers, and with government layoffs, we are repeating Japan's lost decade. "Collectively, the world's residents are trying to buy less stuff than they are capable of producing, to spend less than they earn." There is an economic theory that is called the Minsky moment at which this happens, and it is simply a collapse of the economy. In order for everyone to be employed, we need to purchasing what other people are producing; else we become unemployed.
(Dismiss the Austerian claim that we only need to educate the unemployed workers. Krugman explains if this were correct, some workers would have exactly what the economy needs and their wages would ratcheting toward the troposphere. Know any sector like that?)
The only way to get the economy moving is for the government to temporarily consume the services and products. Else, we are going to bump along with a terribly under-achieving economy. We want the households in the U.S. to get their finances in order. But in order for them to have jobs to accomplish that, the government needs to be the consumer. Yet, "Lenders want governments to make honoring their debts the highest priority." Voters should be insisting the highest priority is jobs.
Krugman explains that the deficit can be handled - our economy is producing $1-3 trillion a year less than it is capable, which is lost revenue to the government. He also explains that inflation is not a problem when workers cannot ask for large wage increases and when that starts to happen, then government stimulus can be reduced to prevent the economy from overheating.
The Nobel-winning economist argues simply and succinctly throughout the book that the Austerians are attempting to steer us down a wrong path. I am persuaded.
I have taken a couple of weeks to read and re-read Bill Clinton's Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy. I wanted to pass along my perspective.
First a growl. Why can I get a hardbound version of the text shipped in two days for $14.37, but the version I download to my Kindle is $11.99? Amazon explains the price was set by the publisher. My heartburn is with the publisher because it maximized profit rather than providing a fair price to the consumer.
The ex-President expends considerable pages in defending his administration's economic policies instead of launching into the discussion of how we got here and how we can extract ourselves from this sorry mess. To be fair, he was the last President who achieved a balanced budget, but I confess I grew weary of the political discussions. I will also add that I believe he is honestly passionate about wanting to get America back to a strong economy.
He convincingly explains the political climate has changed. Once we had idealists but today we have ideologues who are committed to a specific perspective even when the data changes.
He also writes, "In the 1980s, Wall Street and many large corporations embraced what was then a new idea - that publicly traded companies' first and overwhelming obligation is to their shareholders. Until that time, most people thought that a corporation, which receives limited liability and other privileges under the law, owed an obligation to all its stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers and the communities of which they are a part."
This change in perspective has resulted in fiscal quarter-by-quarter microscopic focus on profit, exorbitant executive compensation, and decreased research and development, not to mention, almost disregard for employees and their communities.
The former President meticulously reviews multiple metrics such as college enrollment, economic mobility, quality of life, etc, which indicate America has slipped from the 70s and 80s while other countries have improved.
His prescription to economic health is rather complex and lengthy, but I would argue far more substantive than the complete austerity measures being deployed in Europe. First, we need to resolve the mortgage crisis. Somehow the government and the banks must share a write-down and get the housing market out of the tank. Second, the banks need to be encouraged to lend. He suggests that the banks be charged a parking fee for funds placed in the Federal Reserve. Change corporate taxing and tax the shareholders appropriately so the companies have reason to bring international profits back into the USA instead of investing where the corporate rates are lower. Fix our dependency upon foreign oil with green energy research. There is a lot more - as I said, it is a complete list, and way too lengthy to pass through our political process.
So what do I think? I think he could do it. He did it before. Since our current constitution forbids him to run for a third term, I think we need to somehow use his considerable intellect and experience to better national advantage.
The book is not an easy read - but he has changed my perspective on some of his recommendations. I recommend the book because America needs informed voices participating in the economic debates. We must avoid the problems Europe is experiencing.
In January 2008, I received my first Kindle and fell in love with the convenience of E-book readers. My Kindle DX shown on the left replaced my original, although I'm not certain I would choose the larger size again. It takes up a lot of space, while reading, and while stashed in my computer bag.
There is only one thing that vexes me - the price of the bestsellers. For example, Donald Rumsfeld's Known and Unknown: A Memoir was more expensive for the Kindle than a hardbound book. When the Kindle first came out, Amazon attempted to keep the prices of the bestsellers below $6. Then Apple introduced the iPad. Publishers flocked to the Apple wonder and threatened to leave the Kindle unless Amazon permitted the publishers to set the price. Hence, on Kindle, the cost of Known and Unknown is $19.99, pretty costly when it doesn't have to be.
E-book Sales, Devices, Soar notes that many independent writers have lower prices, hoping to entice readers. (My two novels are priced at $0.99, which is the lowest price Amazon will permit.) The MSNBC article speculates that eventually E-book prices will come back down again, because readers will shy away from the higher-priced offerings. It also speculates that writers may be the real losers, because eventually compensation to the authors will be reduced. Mmm. In The Great Buck Howard, the Tom Hanks character muses, 'you hardly see the word writer without struggling in front of it.' Too true.
Amazon Now Selling More Kindle Books than Print Books tells the e-retailer giant is selling more Kindle books than hardcover and paperbacks combined. The trend is also international - Amazon.co.uk is also selling more E-books than hardcovers.
Domain Name Suggests New Kindle Will Have Stylus explains that Amazon has registered the domain name, kindlescribe.com. Tech watchers believe a new product offering will be soon - Amazon has once again reduced the price of the current generation, but refurbished, products. They did that just prior to releasing the Kindle 3. Who says there aren't patterns to life?
Einstein's Cosmos: How Albert Einstein's Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku is a rather short read, but an interesting one.
Undoubtedly you have seen Michio Kaku in short interviews on Discovery and other science-oriented documentaries. He is a passionate, energetic, and engaging speaker. His clever wit and strategic thinking also appears in his writing.
Michio provides a short, but satisfying introduction to the life of Albert Einstein. He doesn't dwell on any particular aspect, save one, but moves rapidly through the venerable scientist's life. For example, he briefly mentions Einstein's love for the violin, but doesn't discuss how Dr. Einstein used music as a focus when he was struggling with a theory.
The story Michio keeps referring to is, as a teenager, Einstein attempted to image racing a beam of light. Faster and faster, he would approach the speed of light and then he would look over and see what light beam looked like. At the time, physicists believed light was merely a wave. But in his imagination, Einstein couldn't imagine what a wave would look like - it would be standing still if he was at the same speed of the light beam. This thought experiment of racing a light beam stayed with Einstein his entire life.
It obviously led to his theory of the photon, which no one believed for decades. It also motivated his work with relativity. While racing the light beam, he imagined looking back at the town clock (sounds like Back to the Future, doesn't it?). He realized that because the light from the clock could not catch up with him traveling at the speed of light, that time would move very slowly for him - the first insight into relativity.
With the outbreak of World War II, Einstein was a wanted man in Germany. A poster had his picture and the caption, 'not hanged yet'. He crossed the Atlantic to the U.S., and here, he was instrumental in convincing President Roosevelt that the nation should develop an atomic bomb. Ironically he was not trusted, and spent the war in Princeton, when his younger colleagues were producing the bomb at Los Alamos.
Curiously Einstein first worked through thought experiments and then attempted to prove the theory in mathematics. Often he would turn to world-class mathematicians to help him express his theories. Also, it was other scientists that made additional discoveries about his equations such as time travel.
Perhaps the most briilliant scientist the world has known, he was humble and courteous to everyone. At Princeton, children would walk and talk with him as he walked to his office. He died at age 76 on April 18, 1955 of an aortic aneurysm.
I have been a Kindle user for over three years, and a Kindle author for almost that long. This past Christmas I upgraded from the Kindle 1 to the Kindle Dx, which has a much larger display. The newer model lacks a couple of features from the original that I miss such as the expandable memory and randomized MP-3 play. (The new model plays MP-3s only in file order, which seems a bit 1980-ish.)
The future of education is with electronic bookreaders. Whether the bookreaders are more productive or not, textbook printing and distribution is simply too expensive compared to the Kindle. Like the Texaco gas station attendants (I learned of them from the Back to the Future film), old fashioned books will soon be only a memory.
Clearwater High program putting Kindles in student's hands attracts national attention tells there are advantages and disadvantages of Kindles. Who knew - unplugging a Kindle too quickly can fry the electronics. Also, don't place them near something that can demagnetize the screen. The St. Pete Times reports the school purchased 2,200 Kindles at $177 apiece. The school has had to replace about 7 percent of them.
The students are not complaining that traditional textbooks are better. The larger complaint from educators is that textbook publishers are dragging their feet in releasing electronic versions. Most adult users of Kindles use the keyboard very sparingly, but the high school students seem to prefer typing notes into the Kindle instead of writing notes into a notebook.
Mmm. The Kindle acceptance at Clearwater High seems better than I would have anticipated for an early adopter.
Known and Unknown. Gosh, it is a long book - 815 pages. Also, if you thought living through the Iraq War was long, the book makes it seem longer. The executive summary is that it is a complicated world and sometimes your best designs and intentions don't work.
Rumsfeld began his career as a naval aviator and found himself working for a Congressional office during the Eisenhower administration. He mined his political support and served four terms as Congressman for a Chicago district. As a harbinger of the trouble he would continually find himself in for the rest of his carrer, he worked for the Nixon administration. He was in the middle of the haphazard transformation from Nixon to Ford. As you recall, Ford was an unlikely President, following the resignations of Spiro Agnew and later, Richard M. Nixon. Rumsfeld describes Ford as a kind and compassionate man, just the person needed to heal the nation after the disgrace of Watergate. The Ford administration though, never had an opportunity to succeed. There is a lesson here - it is very difficult to fix an organization or project once things go bad. We witnessed that last summer in the Gulf of Mexico and note the difficulties of NASA's James Webb Telescope. (Obviously as well, Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Rumsfeld finished out Ford's presidency by becoming Secretary of Defense. Then he entered commercial business, first serving as Searle Company's CEO until selling it off to Monsanto, and then General Instrument. Don writes several times in defense of Dick Cheney, saying the nation has forgotten what a truly imperial vice president was like - Nelson Rockefeller, who became Ford's VP. He writes that Dick Cheney is incredibly brilliant and with a keen sense of humor, not the manipulative shark that is painted by the media.
Fast forward then to Rumsfeld becoming Bush's Secretary of Defense. Don was in his Pentagon office when the hijacked plane struck the building on 9-11. The fog of war began. He writes that he was never able to properly articulate the response to terrorism. With a war, there are boundaries and eventual closure. Terrorism is very different, because as a terrorist sent a message to Margaret Thatcher after a narrow-miss on assassination - "We only have to be lucky once - you have to be lucky every time." Rumsfeld uses this axiom to explain that we cannot just be defensive with terrorism. We must not allow them the time or preparation to 'get lucky'. We must keep them on the move, or else they will have successes such as 9-11. He also claims the U.S. has been successful in its response to terrorism. In the immediate days following 9-11, no public official would have ever believed the U.S. would escape ten continuous years without another terrorist success - yet we have.
I agree with Rumsfeld that too many have selective memory concerning the decision to attack Iraq. There was both Congressional and International support of the initial decision to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction. Similar to Adlai Stevenson's Cuban Missile Crisis presentation, Colin Powell did the same for the Iraq evidence at the United Nations. The weapons of mass destruction were never discovered - it was a massive intelligence failure, not just on the part of the U.S., but the entire world.
Then the U.S. quickly subdued the Iraqi army, which was about the same size as the U.S. army. What went wrong was reconstruction. This was not another Vietnam - we never got this far with Vietnam. In hindsight, Don suggests two large blunders - a) dismissal of the Iraqi army, and b) delaying immediate government turnover to the Iraqis. Paul Bremer was assigned responsibility for the reconstruction, not the Secretary of Defense. As we know, things went badly, and members of the Bush administration became frustrated with each other. But sheesh - in the end, the Iraqis have to want it for themselves.
Rumsfeld discusses lawfare, which is the use of legal methods to slow down the response of western civilization. He notes that the DoD has over 10,000 lawyers, who are required to advise the decision makers of the Department of Defense continually over the slightest action. The U.S. had less legal trouble with 400,000 German POWs than 140 inmates at Guantanamo Bay. On the latter, he writes that it was just another horribly wrong thing in the Iraq morass. Besides the pictures of the POWs, there were also completely inappropriate pictures of Americans on Americans. The security contingent at Guantanamo was just completely amok - it was not the administration attempting to improperly treat the POWs.
Something else to think about - this lawfare. Western preoccupation with due process and laws can permit small nations and organizations to unduly influence the future of the U.S. Suppose a legal challenge to a new nuclear power plant is secretly funded by an adversary? (My extrapolation.)
Then as if Iraq wasn't enough by itself, the U.S. had to return its attention to Afghanistan. Don writes the DoD has studied the lessons of the Russians in Afghanistan, but the problem remains, what do you do about it? We cannot permit terrorists to plan and train casually without risk. Otherwise the terrorists will enjoy a succession of successes. It is a problem that goes beyond the responsibility of the U.S.
Yet the rest of the world wants the U.S. to bear the burden. Rumsfeld tells about attempting to solicit South Korean participation, only to hear the response, "Why should Koreans send their young men and women halfway around the globe to be killed or wounded in Iraq?" He pointed out the window to the bright lights of the South Korean city and said, "Why should Americans have sent their young men and women halfway around the world to Korea some fifty years ago?"
Mmm. As I described earlier, it is a long book. I think that Donald Rumsfeld is a brilliant man who did the best he could when everything was going wrong outside of his control. I don't believe that he will be as haunted by his decisions as Robert McNamara.
Bird Flu is a disease that has adapted to birds. The USDA's FAQ tells that similar to human flu, there are several different strains. It affects both wild and domestic birds. It is spread by both direct and indirect contact between birds.
Interestingly, GM chickens created that could prevent the spread of bird flu explains that UK scientists have produced a transgenic chicken with a DNA molecule that looks like the bird flu virus. When the virus attempts to reproduce, it incorporates the molecule which prevents the virus from spreading.
If the transgenic birds are directly exposed to bird flu, they can still become infected, but they are unable to spread the disease.
Mmm. Merry Christmas - on my Sirius radio, the New Christy Minstrels are playing, "Beautiful City". A nice but old tune, I can foresee downloading some of their tunes in the future.
Wikipedia explains that December 26 is celebrated as Boxing Day in Europe, Australia, and Canada. Like many national holidays, it is officially celebrated on the first weekday following Christmas.
There are a couple of theories about its origin. One is that wealthy families required their servants to provide a perfect Christmas for their masters and then in return, they received the day after Christmas in compensation, along with boxes of gifts. Another possibility is that tradesmen would have patrons place gifts in their boxes for their service during the year. In Australia, Boxing Day is much like Black Friday - a massive shopping day.
One of my gifts this Christmas was the Kindle DX, replacing the first-generation ebook reader I've had for almost three years. In the event that you are going shopping tomorrow on Boxing Day, or if you are going to treat yourself with something you didn't receive as a gift, I prepared a few observations.
1) You don't have to change pages nearly as often, with the much larger display. There is better contrast, and it more closely imitates a printed page.
2) It is a little heavy if you are a single-hand holder, as I liked to read with my earlier Kindle. I don't know whether I will develop stronger wrists or change reading style.
3) Grr. It does not have a replaceable battery, following the trend established by Apple. As a road warrior, that inconveniences me. As a consumer, I believe it is in the advantage of Apple and Amazon to make products which require people to discard them or pay unreasonable replacement charges. Greens - we need some Congressional legislation to stop this nonsense.
4) I miss the page turning buttons on both sides of the reader. The Kindle DX only has forward and backward buttons on the right-hand side of the display.
5) I much prefer reading the Kindle than traditional computer display like an iPad or iPhone. It does not fatigue my eyes like the back-lit displays.
6) I'm still reading my first book on the DX - it is Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It is a good yarn - I'll write more about it as I finish. (I'm also reading Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains in the ink-and-paper format. I really enjoyed The Soul of a New Machine, which he wrote about during the halcyon mini-computer days.)
7) I decided to purchase a silicone skin and protective display film instead of the portfolio-style case for the reader. I never cared for the original Kindle's case, and have been pleased with the silicone skin for my Android Evo. I'll let you know how that works out.