Monday, January 29, 2007

Google Search Using Government Documents

If you are looking for government information, or just looking for any information, but want to be certain that the information is dependable, instead of just entering a query into Google, enter the query into Google/ig/usgov . What looks like your standard Google search bar is, on closer observation, limiting the search to government information. Only government websites will be returned for your search! Try it—enter “wild flowers” and determine for yourself if this information is superior to a standard Google search.

Although the US Government is the world’s largest publisher of information, you will not be able to locate all the answers on a government web site. But you should try a government source if there is any chance that your answers could be there. Limiting the scope of the Google search by eliminating much of the commercial garbage is refreshing.

Google has finally "made it" officially. The term "google" has been incorporated into two of our major dictionaries. I cannot wait to see the term in a real, printed edition of the dictionary. I always wanted to know what "google" actually meant.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Book Review- "The Places in Between"

Americans know nothing whatsoever about how people live in far off countries such as Afghanistan. This ignorance leads the governments of Western nations to do many foolish things in a vain attempt to assist the less advantaged peoples of these third-world nations.

This is one of the many impressions to be gained by readers of Rory Stewart's book, "The Places in Between." Stewart walked across Afghanistan in 2002, from Herat to Kabul, employing his rudimentary knowledge of the lanquages of the people, plus quickly assimilated details of local customs. He maintained a quick wit, in lieu of any weapon besides a walking staff. Otherwise he undoubtedly would not have survived the trip.

His trip took about a month to complete, and included confrontations with packs of dogs, snow storms, rock-throwing kids, rifle toting militiamen, and many other adventures. It will become quite evident to the American reader that although Stewart engineered the distance successfuly, that the reader likely would not have.

Stewart is a brilliant writer. His detail of the people, mostly men, and the customs of the people he encounters, is spellbinding. Through his writings one comes away with an understanding of just how very different are the peoples of Afghanistan from us. At the same time, he is careful to detail the ways in which modern society has impacted the way of life of the people of the various tribes he came across.

This book was included by the New York Times on its list of best books for 2006. After reading it, I concur with the opinion of the experts.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Book Review--The Looming Tower

Just completed "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright. I chose to read this book because I was anxious to read a concise and accurate story of the events leading up to the trajedy of 9/11. I try to limit my reading to books of high quality, and this book was listed among the one hundred best books of 2006 by the New York Times Book Review--and it was dead on target, all about how 9/11 came to happen. Reading it has been an eye-opening experience!

Several assumptions that I have carried around for were reversed by this book. For instance, I was of the thought that Osama bin Laden was a wealthy man. In fact, although he had been fairly wealthy at one time, due mainly to the efforts of his father before him, but attributable in part to his own successes in business, I learned that bin Laden was wiped out financially when he departed Sudan in the mid-90s. That government was happy to see bin Laden go, but being a corrupt government, it decided that since he was leaving for good, why not take most of his assets from him as they booted him out. So they did just that, forcing him to sell most of his assets for pennies on the dollar or for nothing at all. After that, donations funded his operations.

A second assumption that I have long harbored was that there is some degree of solidarity among Muslims and Arabs concerning bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. This appears not to be the case. In fact, a number of the governments of the Middle East would like nothing better than to see him dead. These include Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey among others. This has been the case for many years. Al-Qaeda brews discontent, and discontent is not a good thing for those in positions of government power. So when it comes to Muslim governments at least, Bin Laden and his accomplices are enemy #1.

I had heard and read numerous sources all to the effect that the US government had bungled matters in its investigation of Al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. This formed the core subject of the book. In vivid detail, the web of facts is presented to the reader. It is clear that 9/11 probably would not have occurred had the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) not been cut off from each other by the wall of silence that existed. These agencies each had information that the others could have used to put the puzzle together. Interagency competitiveness prevented cooperation. The reader will be very angry with our government beurocracy when the truth is revealed!

Lawrence Wright lists at the end of this book all the people he interviewed prior to writing. His evidence is first hand, all gleaned from talking to principals. He lists over 500 persons with whom he spoke. He includes an extensive bibliography as well. I suggest that if a person seeks to understand Al-Qaeda, and the threat it poses, read the book. As a truthful history of an event, it just doesn't get much better than this.