Tag Archives: Book Reviews by Bill Dahl

The New Masters of Capital – American Bond Rating Agencies and the Politics of Creditworthiness by Timothy J. Sinclair

A journey into a cavern of capitalism that is rarely explored.


 

The New Masters of Capital – Sinclair

The assessment of financial risk in society evolves. In this volume, one gets a guide to the inner working and evolution of Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poors. Yet, it is vastly more than that.

As Associate Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick, Sinclair’s methodology and commentary are simply magnificent. With such a paucity of books authored on this subject, I searched and selected this volume. I am very glad I did.

The honesty that guides the author’s analysis is refreshing:

Rating, as it exists today, is not rocket science. It attempts to meld quantitative and qualitative variables that are not commensurate and therefore cannot be placed into an equation. It is crucial to understand this point for much of the commentary in the financial media passes over the inherent subjectivity of bond rating.  Ratings are not deducible. They reflect the application of rules of thumb. What follows from this observation is that ratings are judgments – the realization that ratings are actually more contestable than they may appear.” (emphasis is mine. p. 176).

In a society where quantitative modeling seems to lead to “leaving it to the experts” – the realization that subjectivity in risk assessment remains an all too often overlooked element within this reality. Sinclair’s chapter on Blown Calls (and the footnotes therein) are tangible evidence of this fact.

The chapter entitled “Unconscious Power” was absolutely fascinating. The ever-increasing global power that these entities exercise over humanity is an awareness that did not go unnoticed by this reader.

This book is a gem, crafted by an incredibly capable and insightful scholar. Timothy J. Sinclair is a superb guide.

I HIGHLY recommend it.


 

 

 

The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis by Jessica M. Lepler

Superb! Period!


 

Far too many financial histories inhabit the shelves and stacks that have one thing in common: an intellectual agenda in search of support. This work is a uniquely refreshing exception. It is a work that distinctly deserves the scholarly recognition it has received – from many, diverse audiences.

Lepler Many Panics

I enjoy reading in this subject area. This particular work was delicious for me for a myriad of reasons. Here are a few:

1. Linguistics – Lepler’s appreciation for the words, terms and phrases people used to describe their life experience was precious to me. It is too often overlooked by other authors.

2. The sheer depth and breadth of Lepler’s research was, to say the least, unique and vividly rewarding for her readers.

3. Lepler’s appreciation for the impact of “culture” was quite apparent – again and again – enlightening.

4. AGAIN – Far too many authors who write financial histories seem to have a thesis that they attempt to validate via the introduction of a supporting narrative – such is the human penchant to “be right” and get at “the truth.” Lepler’s methodology and multi-dimensional approach to the issue of “many” panics was terribly refreshing.

5. It was a pleasure to read a financial history book that was authored by a bonafide historian vs. an economist or a political hack with an agenda. The author’s objective dedication to her scholarly craft was apparent on every page.

6. The author’s critiques of other works were, in my opinion, “spot on.” I was grateful for the courage to say what she wrote.

7. I adored the characters brought to life. It made the book fascinating.

8. Lepler’s appreciation for epistemology was apparent throughout.

9. The author’s contributions from the “phrenology folks” were priceless.

10. Lepler’s focus on the impact of communication (or lack thereof) between persons, media outlets of the day, groups and organizations (and governments) is a fundamentally important dimension of the author’s contribution.

As Lepler states on page 253: “Even when economic events seem beyond the control of any individual, the shaping of their meaning remains within our grasp.” – How marvelously this work remained true to this statement – in every sense of the phrase.

My edition of the “Many Panics” by Jessica M. Lepler is marked up like a child writing with crayon on a kitchen wall. This book is a treasure for me and I have learned to become a better researcher and story teller because of it. It is simply VERY rare to have the privilege to devour and digest such a magnificent work. I sincerely hope that Lepler’s dedication to a tireless methodological approach for source documents will serve to inspire other historians and writers – and students – as this work inspired me. This work will occupy a prominent position in my personal library. I will refer to it quite often.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS WORK!!!


 

BOOKS Recently Read by Bill Dahl at 3/24/17

Here are the books I have recently completed reading through 3/24/17. Yes, my focus is currently the history of the evolution of capitalism in U.S.  I find the degree of financial illiteracy in the U.S. in the 21st century absolutely shocking. History provides a basis from which to more deeply appreciate where, when, how and who influenced  the emergence and current state of this “Grand Experiment.”

Every book always leads me to interest in another. I am particularly grateful to author/historian Jessica Lepler, Assistant Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire (and author of a fantastic work: The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis. Also – author/historian Stephen Mihm, Associate Professor of History at the University of Georgia and author of a MUST READ: A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States (Harvard University Press, 2007). Both these scholars shared their recommended reading lists with me on 19th century U.S. financial history.

Here’s the list of books I have read in this genre in the past few weeks:


 

The depth and breadth of research contained in this volume is difficult to comprehend. Jessica Lepler invested years in the research and writing of this fascinating treatise – on two continents. My Oh My – this book is a national historical treasure. Period. The characters she brings to life and the various escapades they venture upon – priceless. This volume occupies a distinct place of honor in my personal library

A journey into the untold economic historical mystery that 21st Century Americans are completely unaware of. Thrilling, intriguing, reality of the force of counterfeiting in the history of the U.S. – Gosh, I adored this work. Stephen Mihm is a master researcher, story teller and weaver of the sinew of an oftentimes overlooked subject in the ligaments of U.S. economic history. Honestly, this volume is SIMPLY SPECTACULAR!!!

A sociological and historical classic. The history of risk in the U.S. – insurance companies, the rise of the corporation, the Freedman’s bank, the emergence of employee benefits,  etc.- the

This book explained my never ending discomfort with Timothy Geithner as U.S. Treasury Secretary. I doubt if you will ever see Giethner and Blair breaking bread together after reading this book. The book is insightful for Blair’s inside look at her term as Chairperson of the FDIC during the Great Recession – and her incessant advocacy for the fate of the U.S. consumer and homeowners…a noble effort, throughout years of public service, too often obstructed by others. Without Blair at the helm of the FDIC during the great Recession – trust me – things would have been much worse. Yet, there remains much financial re-engineering yet to be done…as she urges her readers to passionately advocate for TODAY.

No treatment of the history of U.S. economy can overlook the emergence and establishment of railroads. A phenomenal treatise.

A CLASSIC – although focused on the evolution of international banking, the treatment of the U.S. institutions, policy and practice development are a CANNOT MISS THIS BOOK!!!


 

ENJOY!!!

Recently Read: By Bill Dahl

Okay…okay…I get emails every week asking me what I am reading. So here’s a list of what I have recently read (MOST are for research regarding a book I am currently writing…(Nope – won’t tell so don’t ask – it’s a two year project – look for it in LATE 2018):


 

  1. The House of Morgan – An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance – Honestly, a historical treasure. Winner of the National Book Award.

2. America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve – by Roger Lowenstein – I adore anything Roger writes.

3. Origins of the CrashThe Great Bubble and Its Undoing – by Roger Lowenstein – An uncharacteristically harsh critique from the pen of Lowenstein. However, for its historical relevance for me, another treasure from Roger.

4. The Empire Express – Building the First Transcontinental Railroad – by  David Haward Bain – LOVE LOVE LOVE this author and writer. WOW! What a story by a splendid story teller. This book will absolutely captivate you via the author’s research and his uncanny ability to share the personalities of the principal players and their interactions.

5. Jay Cooke’s Gamble – The Northern Pacific Railroad, The Sioux and the Panic of 1873 – by M. John Lubetkin – A Tremendous Story that will fill in details of American History that you had been completely unaware of. Superb writer and researcher.

 

6. The Panic of 1819 – Reactions and Policies by Murray N. Rothbard – A Political science and economic policy classic. I truly enjoyed it.

7. New ERA – Reflections on The Human and Natural History of Central Oregon by Jarold Ramsey – A priceless contribution to the cultural landscape of Central Oregon. ADORED IT!!!

8. East of the Cascades – Philip Brogan – A historical and sociological (geological) classic as it relates to Central Oregon.

More to come in my next post…some of my reading is currently 6-700 page volumes with microscopic print so it takes more time to complete them.

ENJOY!


 

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian McLaren – A Book Review

McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY


 

A Review by Bill Dahl

In the Foreword to the book entitled, Mis-Measuring Our Lives,[i] France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy[ii] wrote:

The time to change our trajectory is now. Amidst all these difficulties we cannot rest content with reacting on a day to day basis; we will not recover from the crisis with just ad hoc solutions…the only thing that will save us is unchaining our minds so as to gather the strength to make the necessary changes. The only thing that will save us is unchaining our minds so as to free ourselves from conformism, conservatism and short sighted interests….such a revolution is inconceivable without deeply challenging the way we represent the challenges of what we undertake, the results of what we do.”[iii]

Although writing in two, somewhat different contexts to a global audience, one underlying theme of McLaren’s new book, The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian is the uncanny parallel with Sarkozy’s tremarks above:

  1. The time to change the trajectory of the worldwide Christian faith is now.
  2. Christians must unchain their minds.
  3. A revolution in Christianity must include deeply challenging the way Christians represent the challenges they undertake, how they behave, and the results of what they do.

McLaren writes:

The Christian faith needs to be radically converted to a new fuel. We need to be energized by something other than beliefs; because beliefs are not the point.” Not the point? That’s not to say beliefs are insignificant. They are powerfully significant, for better or worse.”[iv]

The author then launches into some superb examples of how specific Christian beliefs have led to unfortunate historical and current day outcomes. McLaren envisions the migration like this:

“Must we stay where we are, forever defining ourselves as a system of beliefs, or may we migrate to a new understanding of Christian faith as a way of life, (emphasis is mine), a practice of ongoing personal growth and cultural evolution ?[v]

McLaren then turns to the life of Jesus as the example of what he refers to as the way of love; a life embodying love, mercy, compassion, reconciliation, community, solidarity, friendship, kindness, tolerance, forgiveness, love for neighbor, the other, the earth  and humanity.

McLaren’s thesis is a call to what I refer to as “re-belief.” He makes the distinction between beliefs and faith as follows:

“Beliefs are commonly defined as opinions or judgments about which a person is fully persuaded. Although beliefs generally cannot be proven they are treated among believers as certainties, perhaps not as absolute certainties, but as certain enough that they aren’t up for questioning (statements that a group requires members to and not question or contradict. In contrast, faith is conviction, the deep and motivating sense that a course of action is right and worth doing…a conviction (faith) lived out in the context of uncertainty, involving risk, proceeding not through certainty but through confidence (hope) and expressed through love.”[vi]

McLaren goes on to share very personal examples of his own journey “seeking to conform to the way of Christ by willing to rethink”[vii] the beliefs he was saddled with at certain points in his life. These examples are poignant and powerful, demonstrating walking the talk. This concludes the first section of the book entitled “spiritual migration.”

The second part of the book delves into the essential “theological migration’ where McLaren addresses the issue of the conception of God as a violent God of domination versus a nonviolent God of liberation. He dives into the history of “justifiable homicide,” (my term), violence, prejudice domination, subjugation and “un-love” perpetrated in the name of the faith. He lays out a rational, logical narrative as to how these outcomes are related to our conception of God, our reading of the Bible (literal vs. literary) and other causal factors. He suggests an approach consistent with the way of love.

McLaren titles the third section of the book The Missional Migration. – the transition from organized religion to organizing religion. His focus is on moving away from the extractive, consumptive and unsustainable way of life that is destroying both civilization and planet. In this sense, the migration McLaren is calling for is moving from a “religion organized for self-preservation and privilege to a religion organizing for the common good of all.”[viii] This section contains innumerable practical examples of exactly what some of those beliefs and behaviors for might look like for modern day Christians, modeled by the life of Jesus.

The book contains superb lists of questions at the end of each chapter and three appendices to guide individual readers and groups into further discussion, contemplation and a guide to the behavioral migration to the way of love.

Admittedly, I have read every book Brian McLaren has penned. I have met him on several occasions and enjoyed his presence. His life, mind and passions are inspirational to me on a personal level. As one who is self-described as widely read on the topic(s) of faith and culture, this particular book stands out to me, for several reasons:

  1. As we age, the proximity and reality of the light at the end of this earthly life becomes tangibly more apparent. In this book, it is clear to me that Brian McLaren is no exception to this truth. The passion, compassion, and love for the Christian faith, Jesus, his followers and institutions erected in His name are all distinctly expressed here (as they have been, in my opinion), throughout the author’s lifetime.
  2. There is a rather unique sense of urgency expressed by McLaren in this book. Perhaps, this too, emanates from A. above.
  3. The vision McLaren lays out in this particular writing, is accompanied by a roadmap to guide both individuals and institutions (as he has done in several previous books). However, this particular roadmap is informed by specific global and cultural imperatives where spectating just won’t cut it anymore. The urgency of global challenges (and the state of the Christian faith) demands concurrent, immediate changes in individual and group behavior to positively inform, and re-direct the trajectory of those current challenges.

For me, this book is an urgent call for the faith and the faithful to immediately engage in the process of what has been referred to as de-illusionment. I believe it is also a deeply personal  sharing of McLaren’s actual life journey whereby de-illusionment has been an incredibly important aspect of his development as a person, his relationship with Jesus, and voice for his cherished faith. In this sense, the term de-illusionment is defined in the following:

As he attempts to reappraise his life, a man discovers how much it has been based on illusions, and he is faced with the task of de-illusionment. By this expression I mean a reduction of illusions, a recognition that long held assumptions and beliefs about self and world are not true. This process merits special attention because illusions play so vital a role in our lives throughout the life cycle.”[ix]

There is much here for those involved in organized communities of faith. Clearly, McLaren has not abandoned his deep respect and love for the church, in its myriad of forms, wherever it may be found. In this work, McLaren maintains his ongoing “within-stitutional” (my term) voice, echoing through the corridors of organized religion. The value of the book is also for those with no current church attendance and/or denominational commitment. Yet, if I had one recurring longing during my consumption of this work, it was the resurging hope that Brian McLaren pens a fiction work in the near future; one that may embody what carrying out the vision shared in this book, just might look like…

Read Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. May you end up where I did, embracing McLaren’s call for V’yisa’u! – To get going, go forward, go farther, NOW!

May “finger by finger, the fist of your little heart be pulled open, where a new depth of naked, essential faith in God mysteriously become possible.”[x]

Buy this book. Share a copy with a friend. Engage in the dialog it compels. Introduce it to your faith community. Unchain your mind. Accept the permission and invitation to re-belief. Begin the essential process of de-illusionment.

V’yisa’u!


 

 

NOTES:

[i] Stiglitz, Joseph E., Se, Amartya ans Fitoussi, Jean-Paul Mismeasuring Our Lives – Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up – The Report By The Commission on The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, Copyright (c) 2010 , The New Press New York, NY Excerpts that make up this quote are compiled from pages vii, xv.

[ii] Nicolas Sarkozy was the President of France from 2007-2012.

iii McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 31.

iv McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 42.

[vi] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 45

[vii] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 40.

[viii] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 153.

[ix] Levinson, Daniel J., The Seasons Of A Man’s Life, New York: Ballantine Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 1978, p.192. This sociological classic was one of the first longitudinal studies of how people’s beliefs and perceptions change throughout the life cycle.

[x] McLaren, Brian D. – The Great Spiritual Migration – How The World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian,  Copyright (c) 2016 by Brian D. McLaren Convergent Books, an Imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Random House, LLC. New York, NY. p. 203.

 

 

Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel P. Bolger

Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars – By Daniel P. Bolger

 

The 21st Century U.S. Military Post-Mortem

 


 

 

 

Daniel Bolger is a 35 year veteran in the U.S. Army. He retired in 2013 as a Lt. General. During his career he was awarded five Bronze Stars.

 

As a U.S. citizen, this book should be required reading for the lay person with no military experience. Why?

 

Bolger provides unparalleled access into the lives of U.S. military men and women who were engaged in these wars – and provides uniquely, frank and descriptive accounts of the conditions and challenges they encountered. Bolger’s insightful accounts provide the reader with an appreciation of their service, sacrifice, courage and bravery that one simply cannot garner from the mainstream media coverage of the same. You walk away from this book with a deep and renewed sense of appreciation for the bravery and courageous contributions of our men and women who were/are involved in these conflicts.

 

This book is written in a brutally honest fashion. It is definitely not a muckraking attack on the U.S. military – nor is it a one-sided justification treatise for all things military written by a insider zealot. It is a fair and balanced treatment of every dimension of these conflicts from a participant’s perspective…Bolger’s voice is refreshingly fair, providing uncanny, forthright commentary surrounding the genesis of these wars, the conduct of the wars, and U.S. attempts to extract ourselves from the aftermath of this mayhem.

 

Finally, Bolger’s insights into “now what” regarding the lessons learned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq provide fertile ground for the essential dialog that must take place regarding the role of the U.S. military in the 21st century.

 

Who is the enemy? This is a central theme throughout the book, and remains the question today embedded in the threats to geo-political stability that continue to inhabit our globe. There are some quotes Why We Lost that should serve to provide the basis for a dialog far too many in the U.S. choose to avoid. Here are a few:

 

“The war cost the U.S. a lot of money, almost a trillion dollars since September of 2001, about two-thirds for Iraq, the rest for Afghanistan. Just how much permanent damage this did to our country’s economy is hard to determine. War funding certainly elevated the Federal government’s already burgeoning annual deficits and added a few more unwelcome strata to the accreting mountain of long-term debt. Both political parties pointed accusing fingers even as the spending continued. By any measure, fighting a protracted war on the opposite side of the world with a volunteer military and a lot of expensive contractors is no cheap” (p.419).

 

“We did not understand our enemies. Indeed, drawn into nasty local feuds, we took on too many diverse foes, sometimes confusing opponents with supporters and vice versa. Then we compounded that ignorance by using our conventionally trained military to comb through hostile villages looking for insurgents” (pp.429-430).

 

“The record to date shows that no senior officers argued for withdrawal. Instead, like Lee at Gettysburg, overly impressed by U.S. military capabilities and our superb volunteers, commander after commander, generals up and down the chain, kept right on going. We trusted our invincible men and women to figure it out and rebuild two shattered Muslim countries and do so under fire from enraged locals” (p. 430).

 

“Stay the course. Add forces. Pull out. Over time, in both countries, all three approaches were tried. Only the third one, pulling out, worked, and that in the finite sense that it ended U.S. involvement. But it left both friends and foes behind, sowing the seeds for future troubles” (p. 431).

 

As Dwight Eisenhower warned decades ago, the military-industrial complex is – well – a business. Like any organization, it knows what it knows and does what it does – learning along the way.

 

However, after reading Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, I came away with an appreciation for another reality of organizational behavior; inertia.

 

Inertia is an energy that propels an organism/object/organization ahead, knowing what it knows, doing what it knows how to do. The problem with the energy of inertia is that it possesses an intrinsic characteristic; motion. Once you combine energy and motion and a huge organization begins lumbering downhill into vast and remote terrain – it is terribly difficult to pause, take account of oneself, change direction and rethink what we thought we knew. It is difficult for organisms and organizations to unlearn, reconstitute themselves and become more fit for the challenges that will undoubtedly unfold in the future.

 

In my mind, the dialog about the role of the U.S. military in the 21st Century is the unequivocal contribution of Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost – A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

 

This is a superb contribution for anyone desiring to become more informed about the role and future of the U.S. military…a discussion that we should not avoid or postpone.

 

BUY THIS BOOK!!! I deeply appreciated General Bolger’s masterpiece. I’m confident you will too.

WHY-WE-LOST