## Which is bigger?

Problem: Which is bigger…$$3^{\pi}$$ or $${\pi}^{3}$$?

Solution: Write …$$\pi=3+\delta$$, where $$\delta>0$$ is the fractional part of …$$\pi$$.  Then, in terms of $$\delta$$:

$${\pi}^{3}=(3+\delta)^3=27+27 \delta+9 \delta^2+\delta^3$$.

On the other hand…

$$3^{\pi}=3^{3+\delta}=27 \times 3^{\delta}=27 e^{\delta \log 3}$$.

Now we make the observation that $$\log 3>1$$, and use the expansion for the exponential function

$$e^x=1+x+\frac{1}{2} x^2+\frac{1}{6} x^3+\ldots$$

Given these facts, we can then state the following:

$$3^{\pi}>27+27 \delta+\frac{27}{2} \delta^2+\frac{9}{2} \delta^3>27+27 \delta+9 \delta^2+\delta^3$$

And therefore $$3^{\pi}>{\pi}^3$$.

## Is there antisemitism on the right?

Another odd story begets an odd claim from my favorite Jewish crank, Norman Podhoretz.  We begin with a rather crude remark from Rush Limbaugh [OMG OMG!!], who claimed that Obama’s remarks about bankers was really an attack on Jews, and geez shouldn’t they be regretting electing such an anti-semite?  This earned a denunciation from Abe Foxman at the ADL because in reading so zealously so as to accuse Obama of antisemitism,  it was Limbaugh himself that propagated such an antisemitic canard:

Limbaugh’s references to Jews and money in a discussion of Massachusetts politics were offensive and inappropriate. While the age-old stereotype about Jews and money has a long and sordid history, it also remains one of the main pillars of anti-Semitism and is widely accepted by many Americans. His notion that Jews vote based on their religion, rather than on their interests as Americans, plays into the hands of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.

But since Rush is such a hero of the Right, he has his defenders.  And here he must have a Jewish defender.  NPod, take it away:

Foxman has a long history of seeing an anti-Semite under every conservative bed while blinding himself to the blatant fact that anti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past forty years, and that it has found a hospitable new home on the Left, especially where Israel is concerned. … Now Foxman has the chutzpah to denounce Rush Limbaugh as an anti-Semite and to demand an apology from him to boot. Well, if an apology is owed here, it is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League who should apologize for the defamatory accusation of anti-Semitism that he himself has hurled against so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.

Man, in that little passage, NPod has managed to say two things that are ridiculous on their face, and an additional one that is at best questionable.  Let’s start with the first:

Foxman has the chutzpah to denounce Rush Limbaugh as an anti-Semite…

Wrong.  He denounced Limbaugh for making the link between Jews and money.  Even I don’t think Limbaugh is an antisemite.  [I do think he’s a racist, but never mind.]  Rush’s goal was to paint the President [who is pure evil in his eyes] as an antisemite, which is even more ridiculous than his being an antisemite.  In order to do this, he had to make insane leaps in logic, which led him to the bankers = Jews canard.  Foxman’s job is to refute such lies and call out those who propagate them, which he did.  Limbaugh is guilty of insensitivity in his quest to mow down his enemies.  NPod, as I have observed before, has a bizarre system for labeling antisemitic material.

Next:

[A]nti-Semitism has largely been banished from the Right in the past forty years…

Really.  I guess Pat Buchanan is a leftist.

Writing of “group fantasies of martyrdom,” Buchanan challenged the historical record that thousands of Jews were gassed to death by diesel exhaust at Treblinka: “Diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody.” (New Republic, 10/22/90) Buchanan’s columns have run in the Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight, the German-American National PAC newsletter and other publications that claim Nazi death camps are a Zionist concoction.

Joe Sobran, as NPod has more than help point out?  [Getting booted by Bill Buckley doesn’t mean that you are a Commie all of a sudden.]  And has NPod ever read the Occidental Quarterly and its even more obnoxious little brother, the Occidental Observer?  I will not reprint any of the garbage in there, not on this blog.  But I will state that, however NPod and his allies would say that they are not representative of the right, they are a fringe, so be it.  But, all the same, they are well-funded, are staffed by educated nutjobs, and claim to represent the Right.  NPod may ignore and marginalize these folks at his peril.  I refuse to do such a thing.  [And we should recall the publishing of incredibly anti-Semitic stereotypes, without irony, by Jennifer Rubin in his magazine last month.]

Finally, there is this observation by NPod:

…so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh.

For NPod, a loyal friend of Israel is one that assumes that everything Israel does, even in its maximalist behaviors, is a-OK.  Even when those behaviors will obviously lead to all-out war, apartheid, or the loss of Israel as a Jewish state.  For NPod, anyone who criticizes Israel at any time for any reason is not a friend of Israel.  For NPod, Rush and Sarah Palin are friends of Israel.  You know, I’ve seen friends of alcoholics encourage their drinking.  In reality, Rush and his ilk are no friends of Israel.  True friends are supportive of policies that will keep Israel a thriving democracy for the long-term.

It is time for NPod to retire to a quaint West Bank outpost, where he can safely ignore the neo-Nazis on the Right here in the US and elsewhere.

## A plea to my friends who plan to vote tomorrow

No, I’m not going to try to talk you into voting for Coakley.  I really don’t think I have that ability, nor do I really think Coakley is worth such an effort.  [This is where I thank G-d I am not a highly-visible Democrat.]  I have spoken with a number of you over the past week and asked why you are all ready to vote Brown.  I will not judge you for that, because, honestly, I don’t blame you.  Coakley’s campaign is too little, too late.  They made the assumption that MA was so blue that anything she said would go against her, so she said nothing.  She made little effort to meet you and learn about you.  She was delivered as the candidate from a primary in which few folks took interest, where the really interesting candidates [Khazei and Capuano] were shoved aside.  Martha was safe, she was an heir to the Kennedy’s, and she really didn’t need any of you.  When pressed with these annoying facts as Scott Brown surged, she grunted about her effort.  “Look at my website,” and “You expect me to stand outside Fenway Park, in the cold, shaking hands?”  To her, meeting SEIU leaders to get the vote out was her campaign.

Meanwhile, Scott Brown has really impressed.  He’s put together a campaign from nothing.  Nobody gave him a chance.  He scored perfect sound bytes like “This is the people’s seat” [which Coakley has stolen], and has terrific ads that crush Coakley in her weaknesses.  [The one where he’s in S Boston greeting people is killer.]  Coakley’s ads grate and some border on untruth, all evoke a sense of desperation.

But, but, but…yes, you know that I am holding my nose and voting for Coakley anyway.  Even though there is a chance she will remain entrenched, given MA politics.  [Brown, OTOH, could be given the boot after 3 years, which isn’t such a bad proposition.]  Even though her campaign is a farce.  Even though I voted against her in the primaries.  Even though her stance on law and order is contrary to my being.  [Her participation in the Amirault case is one hell of a black stain.]  Why?

Look, I am not going to attack Brown.  You all know why I cannot vote for him.  But what I ask is that you all look beyond your personal likes and dislikes, because these have NOTHING to do with how the election of a candidate impacts your life.  Nothing.  The sound bytes, the zingers, the mistakes…in a year, nobody will remember them.  What matters are the issues that surround the election, and whether you are voting your interests.  And, from what I have heard this past week, not enough of you are doing that.  And that includes a lot of you voting for Coakley.

I fear that our elections, especially this one, have become a war of symbols.  From “The Coming of the Third Reich” by Richard J Evans:

The decay of parliamentary politics was graphically illustrated by the increasingly emotive propaganda style of the parties, including even the Social Democrats…[T]he political struggle became reduced to what the Social democrats called…a war of symbols.  Engaging a psychologist – Sergei Chakhotin, a radical Russian pupil of Pavlov, the discoverer of the conditioned response – to help them fight elections in the course of 1931, the Social Democrats realized  that an appeal to reason was not enough.  ‘We have to work on feelings, souls, and emotions so that reason wins the victory.’ In practice, reason got left far behind.  In the elections of July 1932 the Social democrats ordered all their local groups to ensure that party members wore a party badge, used the clenched-fist greeting when encountering each other, and shouted the slogan ‘Freedom!’ at appropriate opportunities…In adopting this style, the parties were placing themselves on the same ground as the Nazis, with whose swastika symbol, ‘Hail Hitler!’ greeting and simple, powerful slogans they found it very difficult to compete.

Seeking for an image that would be dynamic enough to counter the appeal of the Nazis, the Social Democrats…and a number of other working-class organizations…came together…to form the ‘Iron Front’ to fight the ‘fascist’ menace…Long, boring speeches were to be replaced by short, sharp slogans.

No, Scott Brown nor the Republicans are Nazis.  The proper context is that the absence of examination of the issues and the replacement of them with sound bytes and snippets can have disastrous consequences for a democracy.  I hear women voting for Coakley because Brown is anti-woman.  [Brown is quite moderate on this issue.]  I hear loads of people voting for Brown because he won’t coddle terrorists, he’ll lower taxes, he’ll really stick it to the libs.  But ask yourself, what will either of these candidates do for your family?  How will they contribute to making your life better?  How, for example, will Brown seek to cut taxes without hurting whatever you care about?  How will we pay for the health care reform, and what are the provisions of the bill?  Is abortion REALLY the number one issue affecting you and your family?  [Maybe it is, I don’t know.]

Please consider this before you go to vote tomorrow, and take a minute or two to read up on the issues.

## Why I am holding my nose and voting for Martha Coakley

Maybe it’s not Martha Coakley’s fault.  Likely, she was just given the same advice that anyone else would have received.  She’s a Democrat in a Democratic state, filling in for the venerable Ted Kennedy, miles ahead in terms of name recognition, running away in the primaries.  She was very probably told to lay low, establish relationships with the union bosses and other Democratic heavy hitters whose support she would need down the line.  It’s a special election with a short time span, any time she opens her mouth brings risk.  Best just to run a silent campaign, with her ahead by over 35% in the polls, the election would take care of itself.

Then this happened:

Coakley bristles at the suggestion that, with so little time left, in an election with such high stakes, she is being too passive.

“As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?’’ she fires back, in an apparent reference to a Brown online video of him doing just that.

That quote was in an article meant to portray Coakley in a positive light.  But in my opinion, it stands for everything that is wrong with her candidacy and MA Democrats.  What I think she was trying to say was that, in such circumstances as this special election, she has to carefully budget her time, and it is better spent dealing with people who can bring out larger blocs of voters, rather than individuals.

The problem is, this is no longer the world in which we live.  We now live in the world of The Interwebs, where the individual has a lot more power to cause a ruckus.  So, when Coakley publicly eschews – even appears to deride – meeting the people who will vote for her, it reveals an arrogance, a taking for granted of the very voters who can vote her in, to whom she says she will be responsible in one of her ads.

The negative ads have more than a whiff of desperation.  I got one in my email, announcing a rally with Pres. Obama.  But here’s a juicy line:

With right-wing reactionary Scott Brown and his Swift Boat allies launching new attacks every day, we need to get out there and show our support for Martha Coakley.

Uhhh…no.  That’s not even close.  And how exactly is Coakley being Swift Boated?  The Brown campaign has not spread a single lie about her.  They have had no reason to do so.  Coakley apparently is Swift Boating herself.

This election, however, is about bigger things than the idiotic campaign by Coakley, or Brown’s great zingers.  It’s about whether or not we wish to see the most progressive piece of legislation in our generation pass.  It’s about giving help to a President who I believe in and I feel deserves it.  So I will hold my nose, take a Dramamine, and vote for Coakley because I care about these things.  But the MA Democrats are officially on notice as of this campaign.

## Why [non-self-hating] Jews Hate Commentary

Having read Hitler’s biography and various historiographies on anti-Semitism and racism in general, I have come to the conclusion that there is no more offensive phrase to me than “The Jews”.  Enemies of Jewish people everywhere lump in some set of characteristics attributable to The Jews.  There are no individuals, just The Jews.  And what of them?  They are overeducated, over-represented in the professions, overly liberal, hate work that gets the fingernails dirty, hate the military, love big words and complicated reasons.  Responsible for the mess we find ourselves in right now.

You can find this rationalization for this stereotyping of Jewish people in tracts like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  You can also find it in the article recently written by Commentary‘s Jennifer Rubin, “Why Jews Hate Palin”, in order to get at the [incomprehensible] reasons why most Jews retch in disgust at the sight of Sarah Palin.

Yes, I am serious: I am equating an article in Commentary with Mein Kampf.  I am left with little choice after passages like this:

Palin calls herself a “hockey mom” and brags aloud about the athletic prowess of her children, while Jews are more likely to sport “My child Is an Honor Student” bumper stickers. Palin’s oldest, Track, has joined the military, while many Jews lack a family military tradition.

Or this:

Pro-life Americans saw Palin’s son Trig, born with Down syndrome in April 2008, as an affirmation of Palin’s deeply held beliefs, a rare instance in which a politician did more than mouth platitudes about a “culture of life.” But in affluent communities with large Jewish populations, Down-syndrome children are now largely absent due to the widespread use of diagnostic testing and “genetics counseling.” Trig was not a selling point with many Jewish women who couldn’t imagine making a similar choice—indeed, many have, in fact, made the opposite one.

Or this:

For those for whom an Ivy League education is the essential calling card for leadership of any sort, an elite-bashing populist with a journalism degree from the University of Idaho who lacks both a mellifluous grasp of policy and a self-consciously erudite vocabulary was always going to be a hard sell. As Continetti observes with savage irony, “The American meritocratic elite places a high priority on verbal felicity and the attitudes, practices and jargon that one picks up during graduate seminars in nonprofit management, government accounting and the semiotics of Percy Shelley’s ‘To a Skylark.’” Given that Jews are overrepresented in these sorts of professions, it is not surprising that they would be among those most put off by Palin.

Or this:

Jews…are swayed by the notion that the presidency is a knowledge-based position requiring a background in the examination of detailed data and sophisticated analysis. They assume that such knowledge is the special preserve of a certain type of credentialed thinker (the better the university, the more unquestioned the credential) and that possessing this knowledge is the key to a successful presidency…The argument that such knowledge might be acquired or accessed when necessary by a person who has demonstrated a more instinctual skill set—the capacity to make decisions and to lead people—does not resonate with those for whom intellectual rigor has been a defining characteristic and a pathway to success.

The mind reels.  I have never in my life read a more obvious instance of Jewish self-hatred than the one on display within the pages of Commentary, a magazine more recently known for placing that epithet on anyone that disagrees with its concepts.  Let me see if I can summarize Rubin’s view of the great majority of her co-religionists:

Jews’ hatred of Palin goes beyond liberal/conservative divide.  They hate who she is.  Palin is sexy, Jews like frumpy.  Palin is blue collar and has worked jobs Jews won’t touch.  Palin’s child is in the military, Jews never do that.  Palin has 6 (or 5) children, Jews never have that many kids [oog, unless their frum, then they’re OK].  Jews read, but they have been misinformed about Palin, who loved to read as a child, and they simply don’t appreciate “instinctual” leadership anyway.  O, and Palin has a Downs baby, while Jews love to abort.

On that last point.  Does Rubin have children?  Has she ever had a Tay-Sachs test?  Would she knowingly bring a Tay-Sachs baby into the world?  Would Sarah Palin?  And as far as Downs babies are concerned, we have Jewish friends that have kept theirs: Shalom Lowell is now 26 years old and is, from what I understand, a happy young man.

Commentary is no longer of any use as an intelligent forum for American Jewish issues, as it once was.  They are a right-wing Republican vessel, taking sides with whoever has the most maximalist Israel policy, at all costs.  They can gai kaken so far as I can care.

## An interesting sequence and its limit

Problem: Consider a sequence of numbers $$a_m(j)$$ such that $$a_m(j+1) = a_m(j)^2 + 2 a_m(j)$$ for all $$j \geq 0$$ and $$m \geq 0$$ with $$a_m(0)=\frac{d}{2^m}$$ for some real number $$d$$. Determine $$\displaystyle\lim_{m \to +\infty}a_m(m)$$.

Solution:  The above recursive relation can be rewritten as follows:

$$1+a_m(j+1)=(1+a_m(j))^2$$

One of the most underrated tricks in solving recusive relations is to substitute in a new sequence whose pattern has a clear path to solution.  In this case the substitution glares at you. Let $$b_m(j)=1+a_m(j)$$.  The new sequence satisfies the recurrence

$$b_m(j+1)=b_m(j)^2$$

and has an initial condition $$b_m(0)=1+\frac{d}{2^m}$$.  We then can step through the first few cases:

$$b_m(1)=(1+\frac{d}{2^m})^2$$,

$$b_m(2)=(1+\frac{d}{2^m})^4$$,

until we get to the desired case:

$$b_m(m)=(1+\frac{d}{2^m})^{2^m}$$.

Using the known limiting relation $$\displaystyle\lim_{m \to +\infty}(1+\frac{z}{m})^m=\exp{z}$$, and the relation $$b_m(j)=1+a_m(j)$$, we get the desired result:

$$\displaystyle\lim_{m \to +\infty}a_m(m)=\exp{d}-1$$.

## Bullies and genocide

I plead with you to read this piece by Shalom Auslander.  I am ashamed to have thought of this myself.  Then again, no I’m not…

Brian is a fat dumpy turd who is going to get his ass kicked one day. Not by me, because I’m almost 40, and he’s not yet eight. But he’s a bully, and he’s been bullying my son, who is not yet five. I look at Brian—almost half my height and damn near double my weight, his barely-fitting XL “Transformers” t-shirt covered with bits of cake and ice cream, his fat little legs already starting to splay out in the manner of the morbidly obese, the cursed beams of his insufficient structure already too weak to cope with the oversized load they are being asked to support, his hollow, heavy-lidded eyes blinking out at the world in the sort of dumb, mouth-breathing incomprehension you see in mall kids and SS men and Glenn Beck—and I think about the genocide books I’ve been reading. They all wonder why. They all seem to think there’s a reason, and that if they can identify that reason, these horrible crimes will never happen again. The reason, they say, is poverty. The reason is racism, the West, the East, religion, atheism, capitalism, communism. But it isn’t.

The reason is Brian.

There is no reason for Brian. I’d like there to be. But there isn’t. Brian just is. Brian happens. Is Brian going to lead Hutus to slaughter Tutsis? I don’t know. Perhaps he’s not that ambitious. But if Brian were a Hutu, Brian would hack a Tutsi, no question about it. Brian would hack a lot of Tutsis. Brian would be the Hutu in that news footage, dancing around the mangled corpse of a young Tutsi with his bloody machete raised triumphantly overhead. Only fatter. And eating a Twinkie.

“That fat little asshole,” my wife said.

“Brian.”

She had just come upstairs from tucking our son into bed, which was when he told her what had happened. Brian had been teasing him on the bus, poking him and trying to steal his GI Joe doll.

“That fat little asshole,” she said again.

“Okay,” I said, putting down The History of Torture and Execution from Early Civilization Through Medieval Times to the Present. “Just calm down.”

My wife is Middle Eastern; if you don’t stop the rock-throwing right away, pretty soon you’re shutting down East Jerusalem. I reminded her that our son has a vivid imagination, and that while something probably did happen, we don’t know for certain exactly what it was, and after all, this is Woodstock, it’s not like he was attacked by the Crips, and eventually, by the way, he is going to have to learn to fight his own battles.

“Okay,” she said. “You’re right.”

My son began to cry. I went downstairs, sat on the edge of his bed, and asked him what was wrong.

“I was having a bad dream.”

That fat little asshole, I thought.

“We’re on the bus,” he said, “and he’s picking on me and stealing my toys and then the bus stops and it’s my turn to get off but he won’t let me and the bus leaves and I can never get home.”

That fat little asshole.

I wanted to tell him that he didn’t need to worry, that there was a man who lived a long time ago named Charles Darwin, and that Darwin figured out that we all evolved from monkeys and apes, and that some of us are more evolved, and some of us are less evolved, and some of us—the Brians of the world—have actually devolved somehow into something less than apes. But I heard my shrink in my head, telling me that all your children need to know is that you love them, and will always love them, and that’s all that matters. And so I told my son that I love him, and that I would always love him, and that was all that mattered. I may have mentioned something about the fact that if Brian ever touched him again, I would cut him up into tiny bits, stick them on skewers, put him on the grill until he was all cooked up, and then feed him to the dogs. And that I really, really love him.

My son laughed.

“Will you mash him up into peanut butter and put him on a sandwich?”

I laughed and said I would.

“Will you drop him off a building and drop a piano on his head.”

He’s been watching a lot of Bugs Bunny lately.

“Will you…”

“Okay, buddy, it’s time to get some sleep.”

“I love you, buddy.”

I went upstairs.

“That fat little asshole,” I said to my wife.

I picked up my History of Torture and Execution, and forced myself again to find the humor in it. Because it seems for some things—like the seemingly-genetic, obviously-incurable bestiality of man toward his fellow man—laughter isn’t the best medicine.

It’s the only goddamn medicine.

## Sarah Palin: The political equivalent of herpes

O.  My.  G-d:

Palin on Being Qualified for President

O’REILLY:  Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN:  I believe that I am because I have common sense.  And I have,  I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values.  And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that’s based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles .  Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership.  I’m not saying that has to be me. [Emphasis mine]

This shit comes from a woman who can’t even educate her own children properly.  BTW Sarah, you’ve said nothing, nothing that distinguishes you from the unwashed masses for which you really, behind the scenes, have so much contempt:

No, she is the most unqualified person in history to even consider the office.  She is a product of the elites, the Ivy-educated ones that have never worked in the private sector, the ones for which she pretends to have so much scorn.  But it is really those who follow her like sheep that she really fears.  And it is those idiots that give her any non-noise numbers in the polls.  The mere thought drives one to despair.

## The incorrect – and correct – way to deal with Islamists

II guess Dick Cheney won the torture waterboarding debate, because Rasmussen said so:

[A]ccording to today’s Rasmussen survey:

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques should be used to gain information from the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 30% oppose the use of such techniques, and another 12% are not sure.

There’s this, too:

Seventy-one percent (71%) of all voters think the attempt by the Nigerian Muslim to blow up the airliner as it landed in Detroit should be investigated by military authorities as a terrorist act. Only 22% say it should be handled by civilian authorities as a criminal act, as is currently the case.

My conclusion: the debate is over, and Dick Cheney won it.

Aaaah…Rasmussen.  Two things about the post from the really patriotic folks at Powerline:

• Rasmussen polls have this weird tendency to tell Republicans mainly what they want to hear.
• Even if Rasmussen did not have some inherent bias, the results of the poll matter not a whit.  What matters is the law, not public opinion.  Of course, public opinion informs the law, so that if public opinion is strong enough, we should have the debate and change the law.  But that hasn’t happened.  Cheney broke the law and as such is a criminal.  His thinking and therefore the thinking of folks such as those on Powerline are that of fear, so much fear that the Constitution will not survive if allowed to flourish.  It is folks like this, and not Andrew Sullivan and Jack Goldsmith, that are anti-American.

If you really want to fight radical Islam, this is how you do it:

## Top Ten of the Decade: Books

Well, I just had to turn it up to 11, as Nigel Tufnel would say.  So I call this a Top Ten, but there are 11 books on the list.  Sorry.

• The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay, Michael Chabon.  I’m sure this is on the list of many people’s Top Ten.  Beautifully written with a terrific plot and chock full of surprises, this is the book that made Chabon.  The team of the perennially-driven survivor Kavalier and his somber cousin Klay – who is living a closeted life – experience rags to riches to…well, read the book.  By the time you end up in Antartica, you are almost unsurprised.  If I wanted to expand this list to a Top 25, I would have also included The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and Gentlemen of the Road.
• Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Goldstein.  There is so much to Spinoza that fascinates me.  His philosophy has made it possible for religion to thrive in America.  That’s right.  This soul that said such horrible things that he was excommunicated by the Amsterdam Jewish community has made it possible for his Jewish brothers to thrive in the most powerful, influential, and free country in the world.  Goldstein lays this out with a beautiful story of not only Spinoza’s life and journey, but her own.  Did you know that Spinoza made a living as a lens grinder [the toxic effects of which would kill him at an early age], and that his work there was known to the greatest pre-Newton mathematician of Europe, Christiaan Huygens?  Wow, just…wow.
• Charlie Wilson’s War, George Crile.  How was the Cold War won?  Well, we forced the Soviets to kill their economy in an arms race.  But really, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Afghanistan, and the story behind the covert ops that pushed the Soviets out is told by Crile in a cool, collected way, relying on direct interviews with the participants.  The film version, while entertaining, doesn’t really do justice to the complexity of the operation, the innumerable roadblocks, and the changing cast as the years went on.  A cautionary tale of history for everybody.
• Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace.  Wallace is famous for Infinite Jest, but I think his non-fiction is really what sets him apart as the writer of our generation.  This is his 2nd collection, and it is a beaut.  Some essays are simply subjects he’s thought about, some are based on actual reporting.  “Authority and American Usage” is of the former type, and cuts to the heart of how to walk the tightrope between prescriptive and descriptive usage of an evolving language – the debate resembles the divide between liberals and conservatives.  “Big Red Son” takes you to the AVN Awards in Vegas [o my], and “Host” is an attempt at an observational view of right-wing talk radio.  In “Host”, he completely strips the medium of any pretension, and literally predicts the economic crisis of 2008.  If I had to pick a best book of the decade, this would be it.
• Gaming the Vote, William Poundstone.  Possibly one of the most frustrating aspects of life today is to see a solution to a problem stated so clearly, and yet know that it has no chance of being implemented.  Such is the case of how we count votes in the US.  There are ways to do it so that crises that occurred in 2000 just never happen, and Poundstone clearly lays out the work in this field.  Some interesting math comes into play, but it is never so advanced that it is unreachable for someone of average intelligence to grasp.  The problem, of course, is the same problem as that which befell us when Carter tried to move us to the metric system in the 1970’s: we are too stupid to make such a change.  And so we are hopelessly stuck with the same stupid system, and we will have yet another disaster like in 2000.  And I’ll bet this is why the country is so polarized.
• The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell.  I struggled with this one.  Yes, it’s in my Top Ten, but I would never tell anyone to go read this.  It’s sick, demented, perverted, the product of someone who needs some therapy.  Coprophagy: will I ever need to see this word again in a book?  I bloody well hope not.  Yet, this fictional memoir of a Nazi in the Eastern Front is incredibly accurate and thought-provoking as well as horrifying.  And a real page-turner: I finished this > 1000-page time in about 2 weeks.  I do not like his preference for Greek mythological ethos, which leaves one scratching the head [why is intent not important in crime?], but his portrayal of the Eastern Front from the Nazi perspective is terrific and a real eye-opener.  I understand the horrid reviews [mixed in with terrific reviews], but for better or worse, I have to say that I am glad to have read the book and it has made a mark on me.
• Hitler vols. 1 and 2, Ian Kershaw.  No, Mao wasn’t the cruelest person of the Century.  Not Stalin.  Hitler.  Even I could not believe this – and I am Jewish and lost relatives in the Shoah – but there you have it.  Only Hitler started a World War based on racial superiority that killed upwards of 50 million souls.  Mao and Stalin were mainly cruel to their own.  Hitler was cruel to everybody: Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Westerners, and yes, Germans.  He was a dude with amazing power, gifts of rhetoric that brought him that power, and a serious gambling sickness.  Kershaw spares nothing in this 2000-page bio.  Hitler garnered amazing power through the apathy and idiocy of the western states that he took over through 1940.  Then, it all slipped away through his gamble into Russia.  Kershaw, through the gift of Goebbel’s diaries, documents the behaviors that led to the destruction of Europe and all the souls within it, as well as the near-obliteration of the Jewish people there.  Reading this book changed me forever.
• Mao, Jung Chang & John Halliday.  An 864-page indictment of what I thought – at least for a while after reading this – was the worst, most cruel human being of the 20th Century.  A lot of leftish people think this book is way too harsh, but the facts speak for themselves.  Mao was not really a Communist: he was an opportunist.  His only true purpose was the increase of his own power, no matter what.  Look at the 5 things you will learn about Mao in the Amazon link.  They are horrifying.  The famine of 1958-61 was caused by nothing more than Mao’s need to export wheat to Russia for weapons and, more importantly, face.  38 million people died in particularly gruesome ways as a result.  I finally understood what The Cultural Revolution was about – it’s the same as any threatened dictatorship.  And let’s not forget the Korean War.  Mao ruled and terrorized a nation of an almost limitless supply of human meat, and he used that to gain a most terrifying power.
• Nixonland, Rick Perlstein.  This is not a biography of Nixon.  Rather, this is the witness to a birth of a movement that elected Nixon and continues to polarize the country to this day.  Nixonland begins not in 1968, with Nixon’s election, but in 1965, with the Watts riots.  The polarization of the country comes between those who desire change from the injustice suffered by disadvantaged minorities, and those who demanded the safety of the status quo, no matter what it did the those minorities.  The racial polarization between 1965 and 1968 spawned Nixon and his henchmen, and we have never really been relieved of this polarization.  Perlstein has penned a terrific narrative which illustrates this with incredible clarity.
• Now I Can Die In Peace, Bill Simmons.  The 2004 Red Sox have spawned many books, from the diary format of Faithful to Dan Shaughnessy’s putrid marketing opportunity for his Curse.  But nothing stands out like Bill Simmons’ collection of essays leading up to the 2004 Goeterdaemmerung.  Simmons has the unique ability to use movies, TV,…any pop culture to make his point.  And he just nails it with “Zihuatanejo”, that magical place from “The Shawshank Redemption” which is where we Red Sox fans finally got to when out beloved team knocked off the Yankees in the most sick, insane way possible, and then swept the World Series from a 105-win team as easy as a sneeze.  I must have read this, like, 12 times.
• A Problem From Hell, Samantha Power.  Why are we so much better at building monuments to slaughter than actually preventing it in the first place?  Samantha Power lays it out, bare, and takes no prisoners.  There continues to be evil, real evil, in the world, and it is in our interest to stop it.  Vietnam, Mogadishu, and Haiti have scared us into not acting.  So much downside and almost no upside, we are told.  So, time after time, we have stood there, limp dicks in our hands, while hundreds of thousands are killed in horrific ways.  This book will anger you, as well as make you understand why the world continues to watch events in Darfur and just sigh.