This is the audio of a review of the fantastic biography of The Who's Peter Townshend by Mark Wilkerson.
Originally self-published as "Amazing Journey," a new edition, retitled "Who Are You: The Life Of Pete Townshend" was recently released. In addition to a bit of polish, the new edition boasts an introduction by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and a new interview with Townshend.
Wilkerson was not a professional writer when he began, but his herculean research, deft organization and very readable prose certainly earned him the title of "author." It's a terrific book for Who fans and non-fanatics alike.
When this review ran on WLRN-FM, the Miami NPR station in August 2006, Endless Wire, The Who's first album of new songs in 24 years, had not yet been released, and I was thrilled to debut its new "mini-opera," Wire & Glass following my review (and included herein).
Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Strong selling strategies are the key
Selling is a required skill in business. But how to do it is the question. Four current books provide insight and advice.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
In the real world of business, selling is a required skill. Top management people without sales experience are at a clear disadvantage, and you can bet that any CEO who isn't tight with his sales staff isn't long for this world. It's an inextricable part of the equation, always.
But as vital as it is, the process can be simple or complicated. Or both.
Here are four recent books with advice on the process.
Making The Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance. Greg Alexander, Aaron Bartels and Mike Drapeau. Portfolio. 288 pages.
Benchmarking is already applied to most every other aspect of business, so why not sales? That's the premise upon which these authors, founders of an Atlanta-based consultancy, base their book. Using data-driven methods, they seek to employ metrics to define and control the sales process and identify potential areas of growth.
Though I know a little about sales and have actually had a bit of training and experience in this area, I wouldn't presume to judge the efficacy of their methodologies. But I can assess their presentation, which seems fairly clear and comprehensible. In addition to ample exposition, they cannily invoke a bunch of likely objections to their methods, then knock 'em down — something all good salespeople can relate to.
Selling To Zebras: How to Close 90% of the Business You Pursue Faster, More Easily, and More Profitably. Jeff Koser and Chad Koser. Greenleaf Book Group. 224 pages.
The Kosers start with the 80-20 rule, here modified by five percent, which is an acceptable margin of error. They state that salespeople "only close about 15 percent of the deals in their sales pipeline.''
That actually sounds pretty decent to me, but I suppose it depends on the diameter and length of their virtual pipeline.
Instead of ''activity-based selling,'' which is what they call the usual sales-funnel method (or "numbers game''), they've developed ways to prequalify prospects to increase the efficiency of their initiatives. They use the zebra as a metaphor for a prime catch, which is as good as any symbol, I guess.
In addition to their instruction, a fictional narrative to illustrate the Kosers' methods is larded through the text. Like most of these parallel narratives, this one apparently takes place on an alternate universe, where people generally act rationally, unlike our own unpredictable plane.
Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship. Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig. Portfolio. 254 pages.
If you're a fan of Stephen Covey and his endless array of tomes and supporting material, then you probably will love this book, which employs many of the same principles: Begin with the end in mind, treat other people as you would be treated, ensure that every exchange is a win-win transaction — that sort of thing.
There's nothing wrong with this approach and very much that's right with it, especially if you're an advocate or practitioner of consultative selling. But I suspect beginners to the sales game would probably benefit the most from its lessons, as well as people who have been flying blind and need some fundamentals to professionalize their approach.
Beyond Price: Differentiate Your Company in Ways that Really Matter. Mary Kay Plantes and Robert D. Finrock. Greenleaf Book Group. 224 pages.
With commoditization engulfing every industry, consultative selling is now called to create value — or the perception thereof — to ensure that price alone does not determine sales.
The authors are smart enough to lay out the basics and provide a framework for savvy sales people to try them out on their own products and services.
It's a worthwhile endeavor and at the very worst, can only complement any existing sales pitch.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Took me about 2 and a half hours but I did it.
The early voting began at 10 am. I lined up about 9:20 and finally got to vote a bit before noon at my polling place in West Boca, where Jews voted for Pat Buchanan in 2000.
Chatted with a couple of nice retirees while on line. Discovered that one of the reasons for the delay was that each early polling place is open to voters from all over the county, so ballots for each person's specific district have to be printed on the spot. Plus the hours were limited by the state legislature. The vote was strictly along party lines, which tells you plenty about actual voter suppression as opposed to the phony stuff you hear about on the cable news channels.
Anyway, glad I did it. Hope you do, too!
UPDATE: The state extended early voting hours, which is good! Thanks to Gov. Crist! (Say, is the wedding still on, Charlie?)
Monday, October 27, 2008
In early 2001, I learned of a new book that was embargoed before release — not an atypical occurrence or something that portends significance; advance copies of books that may possess newsworthiness in the opinion of a publicist or publisher may include a non-disclosure promise that reviewers are asked to sign, or they don't get a book. But that doesn't mean that the book contains anything important; I had to sign a non-disclosure statement before receiving a copy of a relatively innocuous biography of mogul David Geffen.
But with a title like "IBM and the Holocaust," I knew that something was up.
I tracked down a copy, read it quickly and wrote the following review.
IBM'S CONNECTION TO NAZI GERMANY: THE UNTOLD STORY
BY RICHARD PACHTER
IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation. Edwin Black. Crown. 528 pages.
Edwin Black's book came out two weeks ago with no advance publicity. In fact, the book was virtually kept under wraps, with hardly any information offered to booksellers or the media. Nonetheless, as of this writing, it is a best-seller.
The subject matter is explosive: the collaboration between International Business Machines and the government of Adolph Hitler. According to Black, the firm was not merely a passive order-filling vendor, but an eager and proactive partner who enabled and empowered the Nazi Reich with their technology. Specifically, IBM, (a company founded by a U.S. Census Bureau employee who invented a punch-card machine to automate the counting) devised, sold and supported a system for recording the German population's ethnic make-up. This allowed the extermination of Jews and other so-called non-Aryan religious and cultural groups deemed unacceptable by the Nazis.
One of the biggest mysteries of the war, according to Black, was the uncanny prescience displayed by Germany in identifying and organizing its population and those of the nations it conquered. When he stood in front of an IBM card-sorting machine on display in Washington at the United States Holocaust Museum in 1993, Black, accompanied by his parents-themselves Polish Holocaust survivors-vowed to learn more about the role of this machine and its manufacturer.
"What was the connection of this gleaming black, beige and silver machine, squatting silently in this dimly lit museum, to the millions of Jews and other Europeans who were murdered-and murdered not just in a chaotic split-second as a casualty of war, but in a grotesque and protracted twelve-year campaign of highly organized humiliation, dehumanization, and then ultimately extermination."
"For years after that chance discovery, I was shadowed by the realization that IBM was somehow involved in the Holocaust in technologic ways that had not yet been pieced together. Dots were everywhere. The dots needed to be connected.''
The result is an exhaustively researched, highly detailed look at IBM, its history and business dealings. Thomas Watson, the company's undisputed MaximumLeader, is portrayed as a ruthless, amoral, avaricious operator. Just weeks before the Nazi's key election victory, Watson invested millions in fortifying his German operation, ready to assume an active, hands-on role in accommodating-and anticipating-der Furher's needs. The subsequent collection, organization and analysis of data, married to the Nazi's pseudo-scientific theories of eugenics and race, streamlined the process of mass murder on an unheard of scale. Furthermore, IBM technology, Black asserts, also enabled the German war machine's mighty manufacturing and distribution prowess. For these contributions, Watson received the Merit Cross of the German Eagle in 1937, a medal second only in prestige (per Black and his sources) to Hitler's Grand German Cross. Watson kept the award until a year before Pearl Harbor, well into the European war, and the persecution and extermination of millions.
The question is raised how Watson and other IBM employees managed to get away with this murderous collaboration, how they escaped the notice of the press and the government. The answer, naturally, is complicated. Though much of the firm's activities at home and abroad were reported in newspapers (television news reporting was virtually nonexistent, and radio hardly a credible news medium) there was little effort made to "connect the dots'' — with one significant exception. In 1942, an investigation by a minor U.S. government bureaucrat did, indeed, make the necessary connections, but IBM, by then the world's biggest corporation, was also an integral part of the Allied war effort, and had been careful to create an unimpeachable image of patriotism. The investigation was abandoned.
Black's book is, in many ways, like Spielberg's movie, Schindler's List; IBM and the Holocaust is an ugly story, hidden for years, told by a master craftsman in a compelling way. More than just another Holocaust tale, the author paints a remarkable portrait of how a powerful company created enormous opportunities, irrespective of moral concerns and consequences. It's a chilling lesson in politics and business that remains potent, relevant, and highly revelatory.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Here's the rare, single version of "Everyone's Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine," written by Gerry Rafferty and produced by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller on A&M Records.
It came out in 1973 after the first Stealer's Wheel album, the one with "Stuck In The Middle With You."
But when they recorded their second album, "Ferguslie Park," they re-did this song.
Unfortunately, the album track is the one that's used on every Stealer's Wheel and Gerry Rafferty compilation and this superior version (recorded by the band pictured above, which had split by the time of the second album) is nowhere to be found.
This stereo version was only issued on a promo single.
Everyone's agreed that everything will turn out fine
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
(Note: This is not a political site. When there's political commentary herein it's invariably from the perspective of marketing because politics, in a sense, can be defined as the marketing of statesmanship and ideas.
A couple of months ago, the West Boca Forum, my local weekly "throw-on-your-lawn" paper ("shopper"), ran several guest political commentaries. After stewing a few weeks, I wrote my own.
As much as I enjoy arguing in print, I tried to be low-keyed, relatively formal and fact-based. Name-calling can be fun, but when the facts are so powerful and damning, why bother?
I sent it in and was told it was too long and had to be cut. I resubmitted it and then was told that they didn't want to run any commentaries for a few weeks. No problem! Last week, I was informed that it would run today.
I asked the editor to put the link to this site so that interested readers could see the longer version of this commentary, which follows. Your comments are welcome.)
In the upcoming election, it's important to focus on facts and issues rather than on personalities and images.
Unfortunately, McCain and the Republicans do not want American voters to do this. They think you're stupid and have a very short attention span and memory, hence the "lipstick on a pig" silliness and "hockey mom" nonsense.
It's worth remembering that Sen. McCain triumphed over a very weak field of rivals to win his part's nomination. When he did, there was disdain and revolt from the party's so-called conservative base. They were unenthusiastic until he chose former sportscaster and mayor Sarah Palin as his running mate. That's an important decision, given McCain's age and health. Was that the best choice he could have made? Does anyone believe that he couldn't have found a better running mate?
Despite her claims, Gov. Palin welcomed that famous "bridge to nowhere" until it was killed and then said she didn't want it in the first place. Now, she lies about that (among other things). Examining her qualifications (or lack of same) is another story for another time, but the information is readily available, if you care to look.
Let's review the larger issues of this election.
Do you favor continuation and extension of the disastrous Iraq War? McCain does, and has advocated similar attacks on other countries. Iran may pose a potential threat but should we start a war with them, given our depleted military resources and exhausted troops? If you think provoking and fighting another unnecessary and costly war is a good idea, vote for McCain.
The economy? We had a trillion-dollar surplus in the Federal budget before Bush took over. Our economy was expanding and new jobs were being created. Now, most people consider themselves lucky if they haven't been laid off. Gas prices have skyrocketed and food costs increase. We have inflation and are in a recession.
The ongoing failure of major financial institutions can be traced to their deregulation, spearheaded by former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, McCain's main economic adviser. That's the same man who said people who complain about the current disastrous economy were "whiners." Would you like him in charge of the economy under McCain, who admits not knowing very much about the subject? If so, vote for McCain.
Republican tax cuts invariably favor corporations and the top 1% of wage earners. If you are wealthy, you will benefit, but if you're a wage earner with an annual income less than $250,000 you will not. How about tax cuts for the middle class? That's what Obama and Biden advocate. McCain is against them.
The next president will nominate several Supreme Court justices. Do you like Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts? Do you favor civil liberties, individual freedom and women's rights (including the right to choose — or not choose — to have an abortion)? The McCain-Palin Supreme Court will be far more restrictive and activist in stripping away constitutional protections and civil liberties.
Do you fear global warming, favor stem cell research and an open discussion of scientific issues? The Republicans oppose these things and are in strong favor of the destruction ("privatization") of social security by handing the accounts over to Wall Street.
Health care? McCain's plan to treat employee health insurance benefits as taxable income is a giant, radical step in the wrong direction.
Barack Obama may not walk on water or be perfect. But how will Sen. McCain, who voted with Pres. Bush 90% of the time, change the country in a positive way? His candidacy represents a continuation of the present government, not a change.
Is McCain a "maverick"? Well, in addition to his voting record, his campaign is riddled with — and run by — corporate lobbyists and special interests.
"Straight talk"? Even Karl Rove declared that McCain's campaign rhetoric has gone "too far" and surprisingly, many conservative columnists agree. Yet the attacks and name-calling continue.
Values are important in this campaign — but real values, not just saying one thing and doing something else. How McCain's first marriage ended is a good indicator of his values, as is Gov. Palin's success as a parent. Do a little research if you're interested in the particulars. Feel free to compare those "values" with Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden, and their families. Obama was raised by a single mother and his grandparents, put himself through college (with scholarships and grants) and became a U.S. Senator. Biden commuted to Delaware from Washington every day to raise his children after his wife was killed in an auto accident. Neither one is perfect, but action speaks louder than words.
The next election is a critical one. Can this country really afford more of the same — or worse?
Can you? Can your family?
If you're still confused and uncertain, think of it this way: if Al Gore had taken office in 2001 and the country was in its current state, would you vote for the candidate who's eager to continue those disastrous policies?
I hope not.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Seth Godin's blog is among the Internet’s most popular, and an obvious medium for promoting his books. But doing so overtly violates his own "permission marketing" philosophy. For each of his recent books, though, he’s deployed decidedly remarkable methods. In July, Godin launched a new social networking site, Triiibes.com, a “gated” online community of self-identified leaders, initially open only to those who pre-ordered his new book. It opened to the public, by invitation-only from current members, last week.
Anyone can help fill our society's leadership void
Lead or get out of the way. Everyone can and should be a leader, according to Seth Godin.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Seth Godin, Portfolio. 160 pages.
This is an odd one, even for Seth Godin, a statement he's certain to embrace as the compliment that's intended. He's the guy, after all, who encouraged business people to emulate a mythical purple cow to be unique and highly remarkable.
In his last book, The Dip, Godin looked at people who quit and compared them to those who persevere and succeed. But he refused to advise readers to stay with something blindly. In fact, he urged some to quit after making certain that they were doing so for the right reasons. After all, perpetuating a doomed enterprise is hardly wise.
The difficult thing, however, is determining when to stay and when to go, and Godin's advice in this area was more than a bit ambiguous. How could it not be, though? Each case — and every person — is very different and unless he published the business equivalent of the I Ching, there'd be no way to cover every possible circumstance.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
This new book, however, is about an entirely different issue, at least as far as I can tell. The Great and Wise Godin now casts his attention toward leadership, a very timely and worthwhile subject, as the absence thereof is one of the biggest problems we face in just about every aspect of culture, commerce and life.
Think about it; research, once a smart tool to gauge effectiveness seems to be mostly used as a crutch, or worse, a mechanism to cover mediocrity and the posteriors of the guilty parties. But doing things intuitively, not necessarily wildly or blindly, is perhaps our greatest strength. Travel to the moon? Sure! We'll work out the details as we go along. Godin encourages this actualized passion and positions it quite wisely as leadership, which is really a great way to put it, as it requires doing not just saying.
As usual, his writing is clear, clean and deceptively simple, and he invokes a requisite number of salient examples but doesn't overdo it.
Though most of the leaders he cites aren't captains (or even corporals) of industry, they all followed their own bliss, instincts, interests or whims. And some of them aren't even individuals but organizations like the L.A. Philharmonic, which cast a counterintuitive choice as its conductor.
Leadership is not just doing outrageous stuff or going outside of the box for no reason other than to be kooky or zany. Not at all. He writes: "Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. If everyone tries to lead all the time, not much happens. It's discomfort that creates the leverage that makes leadership worthwhile.''
This was not an entirely comforting book to read, either, as some of my own shortcomings surfaced, recalling opportunities I'd failed to embrace. There's no DeLorean in my driveway, so like everyone else, I can only travel forward in time. But Godin's plea to lead — even if it's just a matter of leading oneself — is resonant and inspirational.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Here's another one from the archives, assigned by Sun-Sentinel books editor, Chauncey "Definitely" Mabe.
Just discovered that this book is allegedly going to be turned into a movie called "The Colossus," directed by Sean Mathias and starring Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Ian McKellen and Colin Firth.
Prose is charming, but Boer War story is for the birds
By RICHARD PACHTER
Manly Pursuits. Ann Harries. Bloomsbury Publishing. 352 pages.
One of the biggest literary vanities, the one authors seem to get away with time after time, is the intermingling of fictional characters with real people; not merely the commonplace off-camera appearance of political leaders and cultural icons for texture, context and atmosphere, but actual interaction with past personages.
This is nothing new; Shakespeare's plays, of course, are populated with historical personages, and contemporary writers like erstwhile mystery-man Kinky Friedman routinely populates his potboilers with pals like Willie Nelson and Ratso Sloman.
So when South African author Ann Harries summons the personalities of Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling, along with Cecil Rhodes, founder of the nation now known as Zimbabwe, it's hardly remarkable. And in this case, it is even less so.
Harries must have found it irresistible to resurrect these legends, weaving their doings into a story of her own. But other than Rhodes, they're bit players in the strange story of Francis Wills, an Oxford ornithologist who is lured by Rhodes to Africa in order to introduce English songbirds there in an attempt to save the colonist's life. On such silliness is Harries' story built.
Though her prose is charming and authentic-sounding, the preciousness of it all is vexing, as is Harries' conceit of naming her historical pastiche Manly Pursuits, with a lead character who is both effete and effeminate. One wonders if she's being ironic, man-hating or simply prosaic.
Regardless, the narrative ping-pongs between Francis Wills' childhood in mid-19th century England (with cameos by Charles Darwin and other contemporary celebs), and South Africa in 1899, on the eve of Rhodes' war with the Boers, to that point the chief colonizers of southern Africa.
Oscar Wilde comes and goes, much is made of Wills' childhood infirmities, and so on. Culminating in Wills' unhealthy fascination with a young girl, and a bungled effort at averting the inevitable war (which Rhodes interprets as a traitorous act), Harries' story inevitably ends with the disgraced protagonist's return to his homeland.
Unless Manly Pursuits was written in an arcane code, or is a symbolic tale in which the characters are intended as something other than what they appear, or is a bald-faced farce, one is left with the singularly unsatisfying residue of a highly skilled writer having expended her efforts for less than naught.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
A couple of quick ones.
Small books designed for busy people
For businesspeople who are wrapped up in their daily duties but want to read, these little books could be the solution.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Strange but true! Not everyone has the time and attention they imagine they need to read books that could help them in their work. I'm a fast reader and endlessly curious about a zillion things, so that's my motivation, but many people are wrapped up in their daily duties and think they're too busy to read a book.
Maybe if they discovered shorter books with tighter, more concentrated material, those issues wouldn't keep the benefits of enlightenment and personal development — and the pleasure of productive reading — from them.
To that end, here are two new books that can each be sampled and enjoyed over a couple of lunch hours or during other brief moments throughout the day.
The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do. Mark Sanborn. Doubleday. 144 pages.
Sanborn, an author and speaker, focuses here on the fundamentals. The effect he alludes to in his title is evocative of the appreciative recognition that performers receive when they provide a superior performance. Similar to the recent "Bulletproof Your Job" by Stephen Viscusi, the intent here is to coach the reader into becoming an essential and irreplaceable member of the team. Unlike that author, Sanborn is far gentler and less didactic while advising and presenting the requisite amount of illustrative anecdotes to demonstrate the value of his ideas. He draws examples from a diversity of sources, and this variety adds value. For example, he cites the founder of Chick-Fil-A, who closes all of his 1,240 outlets on Sundays, consistent with his religious beliefs. He also lightly admonishes author Richard Carlson, contradicting the premise of his bestselling Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. Sure, avoid getting bogged down in unnecessary details, Sanborn says, but many of those details are quite necessary and can spell the difference between success and something far less.
This little book can either serve as a pleasant refresher course for veterans or a lesson book of basic business behavior for younger employees. Either way, it can't hurt and can certainly help.
My Little Black Book to Success. Tom Marquardt. Tate Publishing. 146 pages.
Fort Myers resident Marquardt brands himself as "The Profit Repairman," and his little book is aimed mainly at small businesspeople.
The tone is helpful and folksy; no one will confuse his prose with any great literary work, but that's all right. Marquardt might have benefited from working with a more demanding editor, but his ideas come through regardless. It's clear that he's lived through many of the challenges he writes about and is not an academic or a theoretician. For executives of start-ups and modest enterprises who may not have had formal business training, Marquardt explains sales, marketing, human resources, accounting and operations in comprehensible and actionable terms. Few business operators will find everything contained in this book brand new and revelatory, but the benefit of Marquardt's approach is that he presents his lessons simply and unambiguously.
The current business environment will likely continue to be challenging, but modest operations can navigate through it more nimbly than most larger concerns. Though an endless stream of new books offer radical and revolutionary ideas, it's likely that managers of these smaller companies will benefit from Marquardt's easy and pleasing approach to the fundamentals.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This was reviewed by me — and my book club, too. Their reviews are here. Mine follows.
Rebels' tales well worth reading
New edition outlining business heresies offers lessons in improving practices
The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management (2nd Edition). Jossey-Bass. Art Kleiner. 432 pages.
A heretic is someone who sees things that others do not, yet is shunned and reviled by the authorities.
I doubt that author Art Kleiner has been shunned or reviled, though he clearly sees things that eluded others. In this new edition of his book, Kleiner tells the stories of executives who looked for and found better ways of doing various aspects of business, and in the process, revolutionized their chosen field and often others, too.
He writes, "corporate heretics may be the closest thing we have, in our self-contradictory time, to a true conscience of large organizations. Many of them have lost their jobs or failed to reach their potential because they would not turn back from the truth they saw. Despite all of these frustrations, it is better to be a heretic than to have one's soul wither through the denial of a truth. And in the end, the corporations of our time are much, much better because the heretics existed.''
Each chapter of this book is prefaced with a profile of a religious heretic, serving as an unsubtle but effective foreshadowing. Kleiner is a skilled and sensitive writer, so even though his focus throughout is squarely on business, the human aspect of every interaction is always at the center of the story. In fact, this humanity is the story.
He writes about a young worker who was bound in tape by co-workers for daring to work faster than the rest on his production line, managers who thwarted bold and productive initiatives by denying funding, and executives who feared empowering workers because it meant that their own authority and autonomy might be diminished despite any positive effects of the endeavor.
In all of the tales Kleiner spins, it's easy to relate to these outcast rebels whose ideas threatened the status quo. But it's also simple to understand why disruptive ideas are often difficult to embrace because they represent major threats to the incumbents who feel they have little stake in a future that would surely displace the present. Any of us who ever attempted to introduce deviation to sacred standard operating procedures should have no trouble with this concept. To be ostracized for advocating improvement must be painful and frustrating — and unnecessary.
Heretics is not a quick read, but well worth the time. Devotees of the ongoing crop of short, slick, glib biz books would do well to understand the roots of transformational business thought. Kleiner presents a broad and expansive look at the people and the changes they wrought. There's even a spiritual element to parts of the story, though quite distinct from the foreshadowing passages, which recount traditional heretical church-based conflicts.
Kleiner packs a lot into his book. The story of how business guru Tom Peters got his start is interesting and funny, including the role that kidney disease, his frenetic loquaciousness, an auto accident and his severance agreement with his employer played in his career. But it's just one of many memorable and fascinating tales in this terrific collection.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Here's the actual review. (I like to give The Herald an exclusive for at least a day.)
Conquering our oil addiction
Edwin Black's book is enlightening without being at all depressing. No hyperbole or hysterics, but some suspension of disbelief is required.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
published 10/13/08 in The Miami Herald
The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops — or the Day Before. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 192 pages.
I was expecting a dark tale of gloom and doom, a post-apocalyptic tableau of a born-again, prehistoric oil-free society. After all, Edwin Black is the author of the chillingly revelatory IBM and the Holocaust, a disheartening exposé of America's disgusting attraction to the racist pseudo-science of eugenics, War Against The Weak, and other sobering and impeccably researched investigative works.
Surely Black's new book about ending our country's self-destructive addiction to fossil fuels would be brilliant, but dark and deeply depressing.
Black states the problem clearly and without hyperbole or hysterics. He then presents a sane and remarkably rational step-by-step scheme for quitting our fossil fuel dependency. Along the way, he cites published, noncontroversial works plus his own primary research, which keeps the proceedings well out of the realm of science fiction, except perhaps for one element (I'll get to that in a bit).
IT'S NO ACCIDENT
The fact that this unending and expanding thirst for oil is the world's economic and political choke point is no accident, as Black recalls from his previous book, Internal Combustion. Throughout history, fuel has been controlled by political and commercial interests that were, as now, two sides of the same coin. And despite the fact that oil pollutes, affects all other prices and forces us to play nice with interests that are antithetical to our own, a huge socioeconomic infrastructure supports and promotes its perpetuation. But rather than pound the obvious, Black calmly sets the table, then moves on to his recommendations for extricating ourselves from the nightmare.
The required actions are all rational and involve the use of existing technologies -- electricity, bio-fuels, hydrogen fuel cells and more. Black lays it out week by week, with each successive step building upon previous ones to move away from the petroleum morass.
The auto industry will have to be a large part of the solution. One would consider this a no-brainer with the economy in the dumper right now. Manufacturing and selling gas-free vehicles could revive the industry.
But according to Black, automakers that have already developed the technology are reluctant to fully roll out new vehicles to compete with their large stock of unsold gas guzzlers. But the good news is that they would be forced to do so as their business spirals downward.
The challenge is to get past the incumbent infrastructure. Between lobbyists, politicians and the public, the addiction to oil is entrenched. That's where The Plan requires some suspension of disbelief. With their profits on the line, we can expect a fierce and concerted campaign of fear, uncertainty, doubt and obfuscation to dissuade the migration from oil. The government, which should be part of the solution, is still a large part of the problem. The EPA, for example, makes conversion of internal combustion engines to alternative fuels more difficult, according to Black. And its determined indifference toward mileage standards has encouraged inefficiency, too.
So is Edwin Black's Plan the road map to our future? Maybe, but at worst, it's an excellent point of departure from our current suicidal path. Highly recommended.
Monday, October 13, 2008
An edited version of this interview appears in the October 13th edition of The Miami Herald along with a review of the new book, The Plan.
Though based in Washington, DC, South Florida seems to be Edwin Black’s second home. The peripatetic author’s current and previous books were launched here, he frequently speaks at local events and visits to recharge a bit between writing and the promoting.
I first met Black after reviewing IBM and the Holocaust and have followed his successive work with great interest. During a recent visit in late August, we had a quick chat over lunch, then a flurry of phone calls and e-mails that resulted in this colloquy.
Why did you write this book? Specifically, why did you select this topic and the form it took; literally, a plan?
The Plan was an outgrowth of my commitment to tackle America’s addiction to oil in the age of petro-terrorism and petro-politics. I’ve spent my life chronicling a terrible past in hopes of preserving a precious future. My oil addiction books — this is my second — documents a precious past juxtaposed against a terrible future. Our addiction to oil is a clear and present danger. But The Plan is not about energy independence which is, at best, a distant goal. The Plan outlines how to recognize and survive an energy Pearl Harbor imposing an oil interruption on America—this can come at any moment. This crisis will require a plan to survive. Amazingly, no government official, local or federal, has even discussed such a plan — but our allies have.
How long did it take to research and writing the Plan?
Most of my books require one to two years of intense writing and research, much of it in dusty archives located in numerous countries. The Plan was different. Centering on the confluence of historic precedent, existing energy policy and the threats against the Strait of Hormuz, I was able to write this book in about six months with the help of only half dozen research assistants. My established paper-intensive, on-site documentation techniques were converted to electronic and computerized methods. Therefore, I was able to footnote every paragraph and organize the documentation as usual, but using Internet databases and reducing everything to a series of Adobe PDFs, rather than yards of archival documents.
In your earlier books, you encountered resistance from some of the companies that were profiled, specifically IBM and GM. Who wouldn't speak to you this time, and did they seek to prevent others from cooperating with you?
This time is was certain groups within the Department of Energy, and certain industrial association such as the American Trucking Association and oil industry group. But The Plan yielded a tremendous turnaround in one company, General Motors. In my previous investigations, General Motors would not answer any questions or even communicate. They tried to stonewall and rebut their involvement with the Hitler regime and the subversion of America’s trolley system. After three years of the most negative publicity based on my writings and facing bankruptcy, GM underwent a complete turnaround. The response time of their media department was this time measured in minutes — indeed moments. This time, they were honest, admitted all their past misdeeds, but were also quick to explain their fresh new commitment to the electrification of their fleet beginning 2010. If GM can be believed, it will be a major part of the solution to getting off oil.
Has your book reached either of the presidential candidates? If so, any feedback?
In my opinion, nothing can reach any of the presidential candidates. No matter how good a plan is, they will be oblivious to it. Between McCain offering a $300,000,000 bonus for a battery invented decades ago and Obama offering to position one million plug-in hybrids seven years from today, when there will probably be 300 million gas guzzlers on the road, increasing at the rate of 1.5 million per month, it became clear to me that while someone needs to provide them with a copy of The Plan, I think they are too busy making empty promises and using alt energy buzzwords to absorb any new ideas. Between the old guard and the new guard, in the event of an oil interruption, America will discover that its leadership has been uniformly negligent. There will be a Katrina-style catastrophe in every city from South Beach to Seattle. No one will care until it is too late.
Beyond promoting this book, what's the next step for you in trying to secure the implementation of The Plan?
I’m just one man working with no help with no one’s permission rallying a diverse national movement of alt energy advocates who are only now awakening to the reality that beyond the warm and fuzzy goal of energy independence, there is no plan for an energy interruption, which could occur at any moment. My website www.planforoilcrisis.com will bring people together to develop such plans. Not only am I speaking to public groups around the country in book and author events, I am meeting with key industry leaders, employers and organizations explaining exactly how they can help get a plan for their company, association and community. In fact, my very first meeting the day before I officially launched the book in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was a closed-door briefing with two key magnates in the transportation sector who are determined to move aggressively to adopt a plan and to help get our country off oil. But I have found too many are reacting too slowly to the necessity to learn about the coming hurricane in the Gulf…not the Gulf of Mexico but the Persian Gulf, which holds the key to 40 percent of all seaborne oil, 18 percent of the global supply and 15 to 20 percent of America’s oil lifeline. It can all be shut down by Iran or Al Qaeda at a slender choke point just two miles wide in each direction called the Strait of Hormuz.
What role does Nova University play in your book promotion?
Nova Southeastern University has been the launch pad for each of my books during the past several years. To me, Nova represents the most enlightened university management I have encountered, willing to commit its resources, its campus and its support to new ideas and the pursuit of new revelations. I have found Nova particularly interested in helping the country get off of oil by promoting the discussion and jumping at every chance to adopt new technology as soon as it’s available. Unlike most universities which seek the aggrandizement of their own institution to the exclusion of others, I have found Nova exercises profound caring and sharing with the community.
Next book, tying all the American corporate Holocaust collaborators? Then what?
My next book is Nazi Nexus, already announced and should appear by the end of the year. Nazi Nexus will connect the dots like never before demonstrating the indispensable and pivotal involvement of America’s major corporate entities in the Holocaust—it’s inspiration, it’s planning, its execution and its cover-up. These include, at the top of the list, IBM followed by General Motors, Ford, the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. Assembled in one volume, the indictment should be devastating.
And after Nazi Nexus?
Another megabook just as frightening for our future as anything I’ve written about our past. It’s called codenamed Project R, and I can’t wait. But like all my projects, it will be a secret until it releases.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Though it can be pretty corny — probably because it's so corny — I like to listen to Garrison Keillor's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion.
I'm hardly a regular, but if I'm near a radio when it's on, why not? I even took my son, Ray to see a live PHC performance in Miami and enjoyed the Robert Altman PHC film, too.
But try as I might, I never warmed up to Keillor's prose. Maybe in small doses, but Lake Woebegone novels? Nah.
Here's a Sun-Sentinel review of Keillor's non-canon fiction based on the then-Minnesota governor.
ME BY JIMMY (BIG BOY) VALENTE AS TOLD TO GARRISON KEILLOR. Garrison Keillor. Viking. 152 pages.
by Richard Pachter
Did you hear the one about the pro wrestler who knocked out the Republican and Democratic heavyweights, and was elected governor of Minnesota?
It's not a joke. Or at least it's not an apocryphal one (though it may be a sign of the apocalypse of politics as usual.)
Former performance artist Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who achieved fame and fortune in that field facetiously referred to as "professional wrestling," did, indeed, become Minnesota's governor this year. One of his first official acts was a proposal to eliminate the state's support of public radio. In what can only be construed as a grudge match, Garrison Keillor of Minnesota Public Radio's weekly A Prairie Home Companion wrote this mock "as told to" biography of a character closely resembling his state's new chief executive.
Ventura is said to be troubled by this putative roman a clef, perhaps because he's cut out of any ancillary revenue. But Keillor's quickie pastiche is a surprisingly warmhearted pseudo-biographical mockumentary that does no harm to Ventura, or his fictional counterpart.
Keillor's character's first-person narrative is entertaining, clever and not excessively dumbed-down. Despite a few misplaced cultural referents (for example, there were no mosh pits at Led Zeppelin concerts in the early '70s, as I recall) the writing is punchy and playfully preposterous. The Ventura analog's prodigious ego and bombast are cleanly conveyed. There's very little plot in the tale — just biographical narrative and a relentless parade of mostly-buffoonish players — but the comic bearing of the protagonist and his world has to be swallowed whole or not at all. There's no room for contrast or complexity, just seamless (though self-evident) irony.
Despite himself and his assumed commie-pinko-leftist-Democrat leanings, Keillor makes Ventura/Valente patently likable and almost charming. The jugular-as-target is nowhere in sight, so one wonders what the author was really up to. Can it just be to benignly entertain and amuse with a story too ridiculous to not be true?
In fact, the only thing the real governor has to concern himself with is his inability to cash in, if and when this colorful story is turned into a movie, comic book, cartoon or action figure ensemble.
Keillor is too nice a person, sadly, to get into the chilling politics of the real story, its underlying creepiness and crypto-facsism, and what the success of this type of character says about the voters' intelligence and judgment. But Ventura may yet prove to be more (or less) than meets the eye, so perhaps it's still too early to ascribe any malevolence to his doppelganger.
In the meantime, this fast, funny fable may be all anyone needs to see where our silly obsession with heroes — real or otherwise — may lead.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The best magazine profile I've read in a long time (by the great John H. Richardson) reveals the secret origin of director Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood," "Boogie Nights," "Punch Drunk Love" etc.).
Sent me to read this and this too.
I already knew it, but maybe you didn't: Anderson's father was Ernie Anderson the legendary ABC-TV VO announcer. Remember "The Lo-o-o-o-ove Boat"? That was Ernie. He also used to host a TV kiddie horror show in Cleveland as "Ghoulardi."
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Well, not live but I'm still reading and haven't finished it yet.
Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business. Danny Goldberg. Gotham. 320 pages.
Just started it a few days ago. Nothing special so far. Goldberg is a longtime artist manager and label exec. Met him back in the day when I was the A&M Florida promo guy and we distributed his Gold Mountain label. They'd just signed Timmy Thomas and we did a retailer thing on a boat in Biscayne Bay.
Anyway, I just got to the part in the beginning of the book where he was a rock critic and was hired by Michael Lang of Woodstock fame to do PR for artist Karen Dalton.
Goldberg sent out a bunch of albums to his writer friends but none of 'em "got it," he said. So he wrote a review of her album which was published in Rolling Stone.
A little conflict of interest maybe? Breech of ethics?