Friday, November 27, 2015


Pacific War (Part of World War II)

The Battle for Hell's Island: How a Small Band
of Carrier Dive-Bombers Helped Save Guadalcanal
Nonfiction book by Stephen L. Moore

Penguin Random House:
From the author of Pacific Payback comes the gripping true story of the Cactus Air Force and how this rugged crew of dive-bombers helped save Guadalcanal and won the war. 
November 1942: Japanese and American forces have been fighting for control of Guadalcanal, a small but pivotal island in Japan's expansion through the South Pacific. Both sides have endured months of grueling battle under the worst circumstances: hellish jungles, meager rations, and tropical diseases, which have taken a severe mental and physical toll on the combatants. The Japanese call Guadalcanal Jigoku no Jima — Hell's Island. 
Amid a seeming stalemate, a small group of U.S. Navy dive-bombers are called upon to help determine the island's fate. The men have until recently been serving in their respective squadrons aboard the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown, fighting in the thick of the Pacific War's aerial battles. Their skills have been honed to a fine edge, even as injury and death inexorably have depleted their ranks. When their carriers are lost, many of the men end up on the USS Enterprise. Battle damage to that carrier then forces them from their home at sea to operating from Henderson Field, a small dirt-and-gravel airstrip on Guadalcanal. 
With some Marine and Army Air Force planes, they help form the Cactus Air Force, a motley assemblage of fliers tasked with holding the line while making dangerous flights from their jungle airfield. Pounded by daily Japanese air assaults, nightly warship bombardments, and sniper attacks from the jungle, pilots and gunners rarely last more than a few weeks before succumbing to tropical ailments, injury, exhaustion, and death. But when the Japanese launch a final offensive to take the island once and for all, these dive-bomber jocks answer the call of duty — and try to perform miracles in turning back an enemy warship armada, a host of fighter planes, and a convoy of troop transports. 
A remarkable story of grit, guts, and heroism, The Battle for Hell's Island reveals how command of the South Pacific, and the outcome of the Pacific War, depended on control of a single dirt airstrip — and the small group of battle-weary aviators sent to protect it with their lives.




Marketplace: "The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) will soon have a new terminal, but it's not for regular folks. It's for celebrities, diplomats and wealthy travelers who are willing to spend bucks for their own lounge, security lines and the ability to avoid the rest of the flying public."


War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur
and the Forgotten Fight for New Guinea, 1942-1945
Nonfiction book by James P. Duffy
Publication Date: January 5, 2016

Penguin Random House:
A harrowing account of an epic, yet nearly forgotten, battle of World War II — General Douglas MacArthur's four-year assault on the Pacific War's most hostile battleground: the mountainous, jungle-cloaked island of New Guinea. 
One American soldier called it "a green hell on earth." Monsoon-soaked wilderness, debilitating heat, impassable mountains, torrential rivers, and disease-infested swamps — New Guinea was a battleground far more deadly than the most fanatical of enemy troops. Japanese forces numbering some 600,000 men began landing in January 1942, determined to seize the island as a cornerstone of the Empire's strategy to knock Australia out of the war. Allied Commander-in-Chief General Douglas MacArthur committed 340,000 Americans, as well as tens of thousands of Australian, Dutch, and New Guinea troops, to retake New Guinea at all costs. 
What followed was a four-year campaign that involved some of the most horrific warfare in history. At first emboldened by easy victories throughout the Pacific, the Japanese soon encountered in New Guinea a roadblock akin to the Germans' disastrous attempt to take Moscow, a catastrophic setback to their war machine. For the Americans, victory in New Guinea was the first essential step in the long march towards the Japanese home islands and the ultimate destruction of Hirohito's empire. Winning the war in New Guinea was of critical importance to MacArthur. His avowed "I shall return" to the Philippines could only be accomplished after taking the island. 
In this gripping narrative, historian James P. Duffy chronicles the most ruthless combat of the Pacific War, a fight complicated by rampant tropical disease, violent rainstorms, and unforgiving terrain that punished both Axis and Allied forces alike. Drawing on primary sources, War at the End of the World fills in a crucial gap in the history of World War II while offering readers a narrative of the first rank.


Associated Press (AP):

Thursday, November 26, 2015

South Africa

Deutsche Welle (DW): "A South African court has lifted a domestic ban on trade in rhino horns."


Voice of America:
The Boko Haram extremist group killed at least 15 people in an attack Thursday on a village in Niger's southern border area of Diffa. 
Niger security sources said that militants arrived in the village of Gogone on foot and opened fire indiscriminately on villagers, adding that government troops pursued them.
The United Nations has put at 50 the number of attacks and clashes between Islamist fighters and Niger troops since February, dozens of them in the Diffa region.


Voice of America:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection
Between Violent Extremism and Education
Nonfiction book by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog
Publication Date: March 1, 2015
The violent actions of a few extremists can alter the course of history, yet there persists a yawning gap between the potential impact of these individuals and what we understand about them. In Engineers of Jihad, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog uncover two unexpected facts, which they imaginatively leverage to narrow that gap: they find that a disproportionate share of Islamist radicals come from an engineering background, and that Islamist and right-wing extremism have more in common than either does with left-wing extremism, in which engineers are absent while social scientists and humanities students are prominent. 
Searching for an explanation, they tackle four general questions about extremism: Under which socioeconomic conditions do people join extremist groups? Does the profile of extremists reflect how they self-select into extremism or how groups recruit them? Does ideology matter in sorting who joins which group? Lastly, is there a mindset susceptible to certain types of extremism? 
Using rigorous methods and several new datasets, they explain the link between educational discipline and type of radicalism by looking at two key factors: the social mobility (or lack thereof) for engineers in the Muslim world, and a particular mindset seeking order and hierarchy that is found more frequently among engineers. Engineers' presence in some extremist groups and not others, the authors argue, is a proxy for individual traits that may account for the much larger question of selective recruitment to radical activism. 
Opening up markedly new perspectives on the motivations of political violence, Engineers of Jihad yields unexpected answers about the nature and emergence of extremism.


Voice of America:
Bangladesh's home minister says two Islamic State militants connected with the killing of a Japanese agricultural scientist near Dhaka have fled and crossed into India. 
The revelation by Home Minister Assaduzzaman Khan Kamal came as a Dhaka court indicted a suspected coordinator of the Bangladesh chapter of Islamic State and three other members of the militant group under the Anti-Terrorism Act. 
The militant group recently claimed its presence in South Asia, particularly in West Bengal and Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government has been denying an IS presence on its soil and has blamed violence on homegrown terrorists and opposition politicians. But the admission by the home minister and the indictment contradict that stance.


Voice of America:
The United Nations special envoy for the Sahel warned Wednesday that drug traffickers are increasingly working with terrorist groups in this expansive region across northern Africa. 
Hiroute Sellassie told the U.N. Security Council that traffickers pay terrorists to let them safely pass through areas they control, providing a source of funding for the violent extremists.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Worldwide Travel Alert

U.S. State Department:
The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. Current information suggests that ISIL (aka Da'esh), al-Qa'ida, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.  These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and nonconventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests. This Travel Alert expires on February 24, 2016. 
Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da'esh return from Syria and Iraq. Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, and aviation services. In the past year, there have been multiple attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali. ISIL/Da'esh has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt. 
U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowed places. Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events. 


Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams
Along a Shanghai Road
Nonfiction book by Rob Schmitz
Publication Date: May 17, 2016

Penguin Random House:
A narrative account profiling the ordinary men and women who live, work, and dream on the author's street in Shanghai, inspired by his enormously popular Marketplace series of the same name 
Marketplace's Rob Schmitz moved to Shanghai in 2010. To gain perspective on China's new reality, he interviewed the ordinary people who lived and worked beside him. He spoke to shop owners, young professionals, beggars, and countless others about their everyday experiences, their troubled histories, and the hopes that fuel them. Schmitz forged deep relationships with the diverse array of people who make up China's most vibrant city, their stories connected by a single street that runs through the heart of Shanghai. 
At a time when president Xi Jinping has launched a political agenda entitled "The Chinese Dream" to guide the country's 1.4 billion people, Street of Eternal Happiness sheds light upon the dreams of individual Chinese along a single street in the nation's largest city. A humorous and at times heartrending journey through the static, mixed messages the Western world is fed about the planet's most populous nation, Schmitz treats readers to recurring characters that illuminate the distinct generations of 21st-century China. Each memorable character’s story adds another layer of humanity and texture to modern China, and these portraits merge with Schmitz's personal discoveries through his work as a foreign correspondent. The result is an intimate, surprising, involving portrait of contemporary China that dispenses with the tired stereotypes of a country we think we know.

United Kingdom

Associated Press (AP):

Sunday, November 22, 2015


NPR: "Like many of the stops on one of the world's great trade routes, the Silk Road, Trabzon used to be a lot more important than it is today. But the old market streets of this Turkish Black Sea port city still ring with sounds that could have been heard when ancient Greeks and Romans walked these streets."



Myanmar (Burma)

Deutsche Welle (DW): "A landslide near a jade mine in Myanmar has killed at least 100 people. More than 100 are still missing."

Saturday, November 21, 2015


The Banjo: America's African Instrument
Nonfiction book by Laurent Dubois
Available: February 15,  2016

Harvard University Press:
The banjo has been called by many names over its history, but they all refer to the same sound — strings humming over skin — that has eased souls and electrified crowds for centuries. The Banjo invites us to hear that sound afresh in a biography of one of America's iconic folk instruments. Attuned to a rich heritage spanning continents and cultures, Laurent Dubois traces the banjo from humble origins, revealing how it became one of the great stars of American musical life. 
In the seventeenth century, enslaved people in the Caribbean and North America drew on their memories of varied African musical traditions to construct instruments from carved-out gourds covered with animal skin. Providing a much-needed sense of rootedness, solidarity, and consolation, banjo picking became an essential part of black plantation life. White musicians took up the banjo in the nineteenth century, when it became the foundation of the minstrel show and began to be produced industrially on a large scale. Even as this instrument found its way into rural white communities, however, the banjo remained central to African American musical performance. 
Twentieth-century musicians incorporated the instrument into styles ranging from ragtime and jazz to Dixieland, bluegrass, reggae, and pop. Versatile and enduring, the banjo combines rhythm and melody into a single unmistakable sound that resonates with strength and purpose. From the earliest days of American history, the banjo's sound has allowed folk musicians to create community and joy even while protesting oppression and injustice.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Deutsche Welle (DW): "A Roman-era hoard of more than 4,000 silver and bronze coins has been discovered in Switzerland."

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Pew Research Center:


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP):
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Mariposa Commercial Facility seized $2,539,700 in marijuana — 5,079 pounds — from a Mexican national Nov. 13 when he attempted to enter the United States through the Port of Nogales. 
Officers discovered the drugs within six palletized boxes identified as aircraft parts in a tractor-trailer driven by Jaime Alfonso Valdez-Yocupicio, 40, from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, following an alert by a CBP narcotics-detection canine.


U.S. Justice Department:
INOAC Corp. has agreed to plead guilty and to pay a $2.35 million criminal fine for its role in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids on certain plastic interior trim automotive parts installed in cars sold to U.S. consumers.  
According to the felony charge filed today in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky, INOAC, based in Nagoya, Japan, and others conspired from as early as June 2004 until at least September 2012 to fix prices and rig bids on parts sold to Toyota Motor Corp., including certain of its subsidiaries and affiliates in the United States and elsewhere.


Deutsche Welle (DW): "Russia has signed an agreement with Egypt to build the country's first nuclear power plant."


According to John F. Sopko, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the United States has spent more than $100 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan.

"It is more than the U.S. has spent on reconstruction in any other country in our nation’s history," Sopko said yesterday. "Adjusting for inflation, it is more than the U.S. spent on the entire Marshall Plan effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. And we still aren’t done in Afghanistan — we, in addition to our allies, have promised billions more for years to come."


Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story
Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises
Nonfiction book by Lesley M.M. Blume
Publication Date: June 7, 2016

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:
The making of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, the outsize personalities who inspired it, and the vast changes it wrought on the literary world 
In the summer of 1925, Ernest Hemingway and a clique of raucous companions traveled to Pamplona, Spain, for the town's infamous running of the bulls. Then, over the next six weeks, he channeled that trip's maelstrom of drunken brawls, sexual rivalry, midnight betrayals, and midday hangovers into his groundbreaking novel The Sun Also Rises. This revolutionary work redefined modern literature as much as it did his peers, who would forever after be called the Lost Generation. But the full story of Hemingway's legendary rise has remained untold until now. 
Lesley Blume resurrects the explosive, restless landscape of 1920s Paris and Spain and reveals how Hemingway helped create his own legend. He made himself into a death-courting, bull-fighting aficionado; a hard-drinking, short-fused literary genius; and an expatriate bon vivant. Blume's vivid account reveals the inner circle of the Lost Generation as we have never seen it before, and shows how it still influences what we read and how we think about youth, sex, love, and excess.