About 55% of this site's readers come from countries other than the U.S., and some of you ask me from time to time about U.S. politics, especially concerning Iraq. I do read a lot about the subject—far more, I'm sure, than the average citizen, although far less than the average policy expert. I find it a difficult topic. Mostly, one ends up reading polemics, or immersions into the minutiae of policy, or defenses and condemnations of the red-herring rationales put forward to bamboozle the hoi polloi. If you really want to know what's up with Iraq, in easy-to-digest, compact form, I recommend Part I of Kevin Phillips' book American Theocracy, "Oil and American Supremacy."

Phillips is an outstandingly talented and highly prolific author who writes long books and lots of 'em. But for words aplenty, this sprawling work goes well over the top—one could argue it's some 300 pages too long. His overall thesis is that a sort of "perfect storm" is brewing for America. The three conditions feeding this storm are oil economics, the rise of radical religion, and debt. American Theocracy is thus divided into three parts. Each part could really almost be a separate book, even though Part I—the shortest of the three—is only 96 pages long. Plus, only Part II ("Too Many Preachers") is really served by the book's overall title (most of the criticisms of the book have come from religious quarters). Part I and Part III ("Borrowed Prosperity") don't have much to do with theocracy, although I don't imagine the author minds the implication that we're overly worshipful of oil and money.

I found Parts II and III interesting, if a bit turgid, but not so compelling as Part I. "Oil and American Supremacy" is the first thing I've ever read that has actually made me feel sympathy for Bush and Cheney's misguided goals—and I'd rather kiss a lizard on the lips. I've written a letter to Mr. Phillips and his publisher suggesting that they put "Oil and American Supremacy" out as a separate little book. True, it's only 96 pages, but it's the most trenchant, direct, and clear-eyed explanation I know of that truly explains U.S. involvement in Iraq, in its global, historical, geopolitical, and economic dimensions. If it were shorter and titled more appropriately, more people would read it. That would be a good thing.

As it is, I really believe you can read Part I of this book as a stand-alone essay, ignoring the rest of the book if you're so inclined, and get an awful lot out of it. It might seem bad value to buy a nearly 400-page book just to read a quarter of it, but not in this case. It may be only 96 pages, but it's a brilliant 96 pages.

The book's cheap, too. Here's a link in case you want to buy this book from Amazon.

Back at the ranch, I've also recently found two new technical photography titles that I think are head and shoulders above the crowd—the first ones I've found that deserve to stand next to Bruce Fraser's Camera Raw. I'll be writing about both when I finish reading them.


*Off-Topic Alert

Featured Comment by Matthew: "You've got a good photography blog, please don't ruin it with political comments. This guy is a far to the left nut—which is just as scary as far to the right nut.

"If your aim is to have a photography blog with only people that think like you politically then forget what I've said above and good luck. One more post like that and I'll simply end my RSS feed and stick with more mainstream photography blogs.

There's enough extremism in the world—no need to add more...

Mike Replies: Extremism? I recommend a book by an historian and that's extremism? Funny, and here I thought extremism was strapping nails and plastic explosive to your torso and detonating yourself in a crowded market, or exploding a truck bomb in front of a Federal building, obliterating a bunch of toddlers in the daycare center there. Silly me.

Kevin Phillips is not a "far to the left nut." He's a white guy who lives in Connecticut—politically more like an Eisenhower Republican than anything else. He has no Communist or Socialist sympathies that I can detect (that is, after all, what "far to the left" means). He's a distinguished historian and one of the nation's leading writers on current affairs. The section of the book I recommended is about geopolitics—oil politics—and it provides useful background about the history of energy (wind in Holland in the 1600s, coal in England in the 1700s, etc.), energy sources, energy policy, and the relationship between U.S. policy and oil and how it's evolving. It's a good read.

I've gotten a number of comments on this posting that are examples of what I call "The Get Out of My Living Room Gambit." As far as I know this originated with, or at least was popularized by, the radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, a yellow journalist and agitator whose brief—whose mission—is to foment anger, resentment, and social strife...but who is certainly clever. The GOOMLR Gambit goes like this: whenever anyone says anything that is not what you want to hear, you can always complain about being within earshot.

Thus, if a writer in a magazine makes a political aside, you write a letter to the editor complaining that you did not "invite the writer into your living room" to have his political opinions thrust upon you. The standard threat is that you will no longer subscribe to the magazine, watch the television station, read that newspaper, or whatever, unless they repress any and all political comments of the sort you happen to dislike.

This would be a laughable ploy, except that it's also kind of, er, sinister. It amounts to saying that you have a right to your ignorance, and you will not take the responsibility upon yourself to simply ignore the writers or articles or shows or posts that you dislike, even if you're afraid to read them. Rather, you insist that everything even mildly unpleasant to you be suppressed, so that nobody can read them.

First of all, you really shouldn't be so afraid to listen to opinions different from your own. Believe it or not, it doesn't hurt to learn things. It doesn't sully your brain to know where other people are coming from. It can actually be broadening and informative to expose yourself to a wide range of viewpoints.

And, in any event, it was only a recommendation—as far as I know, there's no way I can actually compel you to go buy or read the actual book.

Unless, that is, you are some sort of Zombie. Do you have any decaying flesh on you anywhere? Have you been walking around stiffly with your arms held straight out in front of you, intoning, in a broken monotone, "MUST...READ...KEVIN...PHILLIPS..."? Do you find yourself doing whatever I say, with no free will or your own? Did you toss your digital point-and-shoot in the trash can the other day and go buy yourself an old mechanical 35mm camera on eBay?

No? If you answered "no" to all these questions (well, or all but the last), then you can rest easy: you are probably not a zombie. You can leave all those nasty book-thingies alone, and never learn a blessed thing about geopolitics or anything else if you don't want to. Ah, freedom.

On the blogosphere, the whole premise of The GOOMLR Gambit falls apart. There are hundreds of millions of web pages and sites. Millions of blogs. Hundreds and hundreds of photography blogs. Wherever you go, you choose to go. You pay nothing. In this post, I didn't ambush you. I announced in the first sentence that it was about politics, just out of politeness to people such as yourself, so you could skip it if you wished. It was not even the only post for the day, much less the only one you might be able to find to read. And yet, still, your threat is "one more post like that" and you're going to take me off your RSS feed?!?

I'm shakin' like a leaf. Not that! Anything but that! I feel my legs getting stiff, my eyes widening, my arms going straight out in front of me...MUST...STAY...ON...MATTHEW'S...FEED....

Or not. Matthew? 'Bye.


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