• I just finished Enemies by Tim Weiner. It’s his new-ish FBI equivalent to his CIA book, Legacy of Ashes, which I thought was just terrific. The new book has a bit of a built-in advantage in that half the FBI’s history took place under a single man, J. Edgar Hoover, so having him as a focal point for much of the book allows for a close, thematic study of both the man and the institution, which wind up being pretty much interchangeable. It’s definitely eye-opening and specific, and debunks many of the myths of the FBI–turns out that conventional law enforcement was always a small part of what the FBI does, they had little involvement in bringing down organized crime, and the idea of the “incorruptible” FBI Agent is, as you might expect, utterly silly. What the FBI actually did for most of the 20th century was to act as a domestic intelligence agency with zero interest in following the law, and most of their big successes were accomplished by illegal searches and wiretaps rather than by brilliant analytical and investigative work. After a certain point they couldn’t keep operating that way anymore, leading to a dysfunctional to borderline failed agency for the past forty years. Not that Weiner celebrates the old ways, he mostly holds them to account for constantly taking the easy route, ultimately leaving an institutional culture that hasn’t prioritized the kind of investigative rigor that, you know, could be useful. Very interesting read. Also, I have been of the belief that Bill Clinton’s worst appointment was putting nutty neocon Jim Woolsey in charge of the CIA, but appointing Louis Freeh to run the FBI might have been even worse, he comes off as utterly useless at administration and politically moronic. The way the book paints him actually made me revise my opinion of Janet Reno, both because she got the blame for his mistakes, and for having to put up with him. Honestly, the Clinton Administration made so many strange personnel decisions I think I’d read a book just about staffing the Clinton White House. The comedy potential of it…
  • I might or might not write more about this later, but I’ve already listened to the newly-released David Bowie album twice, and it’s really terrific. I liked his two ’00s albums, but this is something else, he seems to have gotten back in touch with his late-70s muse because there is a toughness and aggressiveness to the music that those albums lacked, not to mention currency and meaningfulness. Definitely recommended if you like, you know, good music.
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