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Four fresh takes

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

New perspectives — on fighting terrorism, a major Chinese Communist Party scandal, college as a formative experience for political views, and America's top Revolutionary War commander and first president — can be found in the following new and upcoming books.

“Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda” by Philip Mudd (University of Pennsylvania Press) — The author is well-situated to write this first-person account of the war-on-terror interface between the intelligence community and the rest of the executive branch. A 15-year CIA analyst working next door to the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, he'd be sent to Afghanistan weeks later — after the U.S. military had invaded and removed the Taliban from power — as part of Washington's efforts to establish a new government in Kabul. And he'd later be named deputy director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, and then serve as the FBI's senior intelligence adviser. He recounts how intelligence professionals' focus shifted from Osama bin Laden and other core terrorist leaders to affiliated groups and homegrown European, Middle Eastern and Asian extremists. He also describes relations among the White House, State Department and national-security and intelligence agencies before and during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The book is a reminder that decisions can only be as good as the information they're based on — and it presents an opportunity for readers to gain rare, “front-row-seat” insight into the sort of information and analysis that the intelligence community has provided, and how officials have used that information and analysis in making policy, since 9/11.

“A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel: Murder, Money, and an Epic Power Struggle in China” by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang (PublicAffairs) — The scandal that resulted in China's Communist Party expelling former rising political star Bo Xilai and charging him with taking bribes and improper sexual affairs — and his wife being handed a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, and a former Chinese police chief and Bo confidant who'd sought refuge in a U.S. Consulate being sentenced to 15 years in prison for abuse of power and other offenses — made plenty of headlines in the West. This book — written by journalists and based on their own reporting from what the publisher calls “an unrivaled array of sources, some very high in the Chinese government” — portrays the scandal as the first major outward manifestation of a continuing power struggle within the ruling party that encompasses even Xi Jinping, China's new president. They contend that some scandal details were leaked — and some of those were simply invented — to manipulate Western media, making those leaks tactics in that power struggle. And they say that power struggle's full economic and political implications, domestic and global, are yet to be seen for China and for other nations that cannot ignore its ever-growing influence and importance.

“Letters to a Young Progressive: How to Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand” by Mike S. Adams (Regnery, available April 22) — The author, a convert to conservatism and critic of “diversity” in academia who teaches criminology at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and writes a column for, shares wisdom based on what he's learned about “the moral dilemmas young, susceptible students are exposed to at institutions of higher learning,” according to the publisher. That wisdom takes the form of letters written to a former student, Zach, and concerns the typical college experience of tending away from religion and traditional values. Adams “dispels leftist myths and dissects deceptive statistics” as he tackles topics including abortion, equality, Social Security, crime and wealth distribution. The publisher suggests that the book “is the perfect way for parents to start an engaging and frank conversation with their adolescent young adults” and is a good one for young conservatives to share with peers, too. Readers inclined toward the author's viewpoint may well wonder what the book's effect might be on another group — and send a gift copy or two to higher-education leaders. But there's no guarantee they'd read it, or heed it if they did.

“Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency” by Logan Beirne (Encounter Books, available April 23) — Looking to the Revolutionary War and its aftermath for lessons applicable to America today, the author — Olin Scholar at Yale Law School — draws on the letters of Washington and other Founders, plus other primary sources, to show how they approached issues that remain familiar and troubling to us. The publisher says his examination of use of military tribunals rather than civilian courts is informed by an eyewitness account of a military tribunal that ordered the execution of a British prisoner. And when the book deals with government debt and who sets military strategy, it looks back to Founders' warnings and evidence of conflict between Washington and the Continental Congress. Then there's partisanship in politics and the proper role of Congress, all considered in light of Washington's fierce defense of American liberty. Knocking down misconceptions about him and other Founders and their times, “Blood of Tyrants” contends that Washington's Revolutionary War role and actions on such issues played a key role in shaping both the Constitution and the presidency, and that he served as “the template for all future presidents.” His is an example worth revisiting, as so many fundamental questions about governance that he faced persist, even as circumstances change.

Setback for used e-book sales

A court ruling that says online sales of used iTunes music files violates U.S. copyright law means it's less likely that readers will be able to sell used e-books — at least anytime soon.

Capitol Records sued Boston-based ReDigi in January 2012, alleging that ReDigi's patented “cloud” technology violated copyright law, even though ReDigi insisted its technology ensured that sellers couldn't retain or use copies of used iTunes files that they sell. In a March 30 ruling made public on April 1, Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan ruled that ReDigi's system “infringes Capitol's reproduction rights under any description of the technology,” according to Reuters.

The judge said ReDigi doesn't deserve protection under either of two legal doctrines protecting legal owners' usage of copyrighted material: “fair use” (which allows uses that don't harm the copyright owner) and “first-sale” (which allows reselling of copyrighted materials in physical form).

The ruling's important for readers because the next market that ReDigi intended to target after used iTunes files was used e-books. It's also important for Amazon, which was awarded a patent earlier this year for an online system for selling used digital goods, and Apple, which is seeking to patent its own such system.

ReDigi's appealing, but Sullivan made clear that he doesn't see courts as the proper final arbiters of the issues involved in its case, according to Publishers Weekly. His ruling says users can resell devices along with digital music files stored on them, and while that might be “onerous,” “physical limitations” may be desirable.

It's up to Congress, Sullivan said, to decide whether those “physical limitations” are “outmoded.”

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

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