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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Review of "If We Can Keep It" by Chet Richards

I owe a lot to Chet Richards. His publisher provided me with a free copy of his new book, If We Can Keep It, as well as a wonderful wedding reception gift Lady of tdaxp and I will put to immediate use. More substantively, Chet's done the hard work of keeping the legacy of John Boyd alive, leading to a wonderful annual conference, at least one major book (Science, Strategy, and War, currently the subject of an intellectual rountdtable), and of course his own titles, such as Certain to Win and A Swift, Elusive Sword.

The new book by Chester Richards, Ph.D.

If We Can Keep It is not a Boyd book. It quotes from Boyd on occasion, but for the most part If We Can Keep It focuses on popularizing William Lind. The connection between If We Can Keep It and Boyd's thought is not clear to me. For many readers, this is a non-issue. Conversely, for those interested in the evolution of Chet's thinking, Keep It may prove to be a pivotal work in bridging the two very different discourses of the Hegelian conservative Lind and the cognitive theorist Boyd.

Dr. Richards book contains three general trends: a criticism of counterinsurgency, a general pessimism toward our bargaining position, and a general rejection of economic thought, among other themes.

Read more ...

Monday, February 04, 2008

123 Meme (c/o Wizards of Oz)

Tagged by Shane. The rules:

  1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).

  2. Open the book to page 123.

  3. Find the fifth sentence.

  4. Post the next three sentences.

  5. Tag five people.

Nearest book is J.A.G. Roberts' A History of China: 2nd Edition. From page 123:

The 22-year-old Emperor, with the encouragement of Wang Zhen but against the advice of his officials, decided to lead a counter-attack. His forces, said to number half a million men, were ambushed at Tumu, 70 miles north-west of Beijing. The emperor was captured and Wang Zhen was killed.

More about Wang Zhen (王禎) and the Battle of Tumu Forrest (土木之役) is at Wikipedia. (The poor Emperor was not missed by the Imperial Court, which refused to pay any ransom. The Mongols eventually just let him go four years later -- uponwhich he was promptly arrested by his family, which seemed to be less-than-delighted to see him.)

My five tags:

Go at it!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review of "A Farewell to Alms" by Gregory Clark

Greg Clark's book could easily be called "In Inquiry into the Nature, Causes, and Effects of the Industrial Revolution." But that's a boring title, unfit for the world-altering subject matter. So instead the book's titled A Farewell to Alms, which sounds like the title of an adventure story -- which of course, it is.

A Brief Economic History of the World

A Farewell to Alms focuses on three questions: What caused the Industrial Revolution? What were the Industrial Revolution's positive outcomes? And what were the bad effects of the Industrial Revolution? Answers to these questions follow below.

1. What caused the Industrial Revolution

Clark's analysis is generally limited to the past 800 years, though on occasion he reaches back as far as the roman Empire. Thus, causes that preceded the Christian era are not addressed. Books such as Before the Dawn or potentially Guns, Germs, and Steel better serve to lay the deep-foundations for why some places have more advanced civilization than others.

Thus, A Farewell to Alms focuses on comparing Europe, China, and Japan. In the centuries preceding the Industrial Revolution both the European states and the Chinese empire experienced territorial growth, through the use of navies to settle distant colonies or the settling of agricultural lands by Han under the late Ming and the Qing. Technologies improvements allowed Japan to outpace Europe during this time, in spite of being confined to a few islands.

ca. 13005.9 million6 million72 million
ca. 17506.2 million31 million270 million

Table 13.1, pg 267

Clark argues that by about the time of the American Revolution, an Industrial Revolution was inevitable in all three cultures. Europe, China, and Japan were all undergoing population growth limited by starvation. This meant that there was constant downward selection, meaning that even if here was no variation in thrift, prudence, and other virtuous traits at the beginning, these traits would be selected over time. (Clark does not go into the genetics, but these traits are highly heritable).

Read more ...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Review of "Cool it: The skeptical environmentalist's guide to global warming" by Bjorn Lomborg

The New York Times report on Vice President Al Gore and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chanel winning the Nobel Peace Prize makes Bjorn Lomborg's book, Cool It, all the more timely. Dr. Lomborg is a founder of the "Copenhagen Consensus," a scientific approach that provides specific steps to making the world a better place.

Cool It is based on costs and benefits. While Lomborg's book does not use the term, Bjorn is clearly annoyed by global warming religionists who see climate change as an issue of good and evil, rather than pluses and negatives. For instance, consider the (accurate) claim that if temperatures warm, more people will do from heat in the summer. Now consider the (equally accurate) claim that as temperatures warm, many more people will not die from cold in winter. Lomborg compares these two facts, and shows that over all, climate change saves more people than it kills via temperature. So he advices the reader to "cool it" when it comes to climate change hysteria.

Don't panic

Other incidents of global warming hysteria are addressed at as well. Some polar bear populations are declining. However, polar bear populations over all are increasing, and those that witness declining populations are in places that are getting colder. Similarly, a carbon tax would slow down warming, saving a percentage of land on island nations that may be lost to global temperatures. But the growth from not having any carbon tax would allow those same countries to be much richer, allowing them to afford to protect more of their land from the ocean.

For topic after topic, area after area, Lomborg applies policy science to the anti-climate change debate and finds the alarmists to be doing much more harm than good. Because Bjorn believes that global warming is caused by human beings, he proposes a modest carbon tax as part of a much wider effort. Bjorn Lomborg concludes with a call for a generational mission, but one that (unlike various CO2-centric ideas) actually might de a lot of good: eradicating malaria, greenery in cities, and economic development.

Tom Barnett, whose recommendation is the reason I bought this book, things it's "cool" that Gore won the Nobel Price. After reading Cool It, I can't agree. Gore's alarmism is counterproductive, harming both science as an enterprise and humanity as a species. The very best that can be said about Al Gore's work is that, hopefully, it will mostly be ignored.

Online, Frontier Channel has Lomborg's presentation, The Real State of the World. And Catholicgauze reviews Lomborg's companion op-ed, "Chill out.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Review of "Don Quixote in China: The Search for Peach Blossom Spring," by Dean Barrett

There is a special joy in being recommended a book you are currently reading while being given a book you intended to buy. Such was my luck when Dean Barrett, whose Murder in China Red and Skytrain to Murder I previously enjoyed, mailed me Dragon Slayer and suggested that I read Don Quixote in China: The Search for Peach Blossom Spring.

A Travelogue

Don Quixote follows author Bean Barrett's travels in southern China in search of the Chinese version of Shangi-La. While I've only been to two of the cities Dean traveled in (Shenzhen and Zhongshan), much of what he mentioned rang through. From western breakfasts at hotels, the bizarre Chinese-market logo of Haier, and adventures on trains, Dean has clearly been-there and done-that. The landscapes of Don Quixote are not as romantic as in Barrett's other books (such as Bangkok Warriors or Kingdom of Make Believe), though I wonder if it's because I'm more familiar with China than Thailand.

Unlike fiction writers, travel writers are confined in their characterization by what actual people actually disclose. Too many of the folks that Barrett meets in his journey are described only in outline. While again this is understandable, the reader wants to learn more than is ever presented.

I have never read Cervantes' Don Quixote, and if I had I imagine I would not have found references to the original so distracting. Barnett is an excellent writer, but the humorous references to the text took away from the broader narrative and hurt the book.

Don Quixote in China is an appropriate volume for anyone seeking to complete a Dean Barrett library. However, better books by Barrett -- and more enjoyable travelogues -- are available.

Amazon.com both sells the book and has a list of positive reviews. The introduction to Don Quixote in China is available online.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lind: Buy (Osinga's) Boyd Book

Read a great review by Bill Lind of a great book by Frans Osinga.

For the OODA article I am writing, Osinga's book is the most cited source. It's invaluable in understanding Boydian psychology. Get it. Read it. Learn it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What is the best biography of Deng Xiaoping?

At the very least I would want something that covers 1949 till his death, but a full biography might make more sense.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Review of "Mao's Last Revolution" by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals

This book by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schnoenhals a history of the insane Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. I saw "insane" purposefully. Such actions as the Holocaust and even Cambodia's "Year Zero" in a way make sense, as they were purposeful applications of an ideology designed to achieve a defined end. Mao's war against the Communist Party, however, Hitler was more-or-less in charge of the destruction of the Jews, as Pol Pot more-or-less oversaw the destruction of the Cambodians. Mao opted for a less conventional approach. Rival "Red Guard" organizations tested dirty bombs in a series of escalations and even attacked arms shipments intended for the Vietnam War. Mao's Last Revolution is the story of this madness.

Mao's Legacy

The Cultural Revolution took place in the context of Soviet "revisionism," where first Khrushchev and then Brezhnev reformed the soviet system away from a cult of personality to the nondescript party oligarchy it eventually became. Mao feared a similar transformation of the People's Republic, and identified "Khrushchevs" around him. Immediate threats were the pragmatic Secretary-General of the Communist Party Deng Xiaoping and Mao's designated successor, Liu Shaoqi. Mao recognized the broader threat as the Chinese Communist Party itself, however, and proceeded to destroy it.

Smash the Liu-Deng Line!

Mao first purged the Mayor of Beijing and the Chief of Staff of the People's Liberation Army to severe the Party's links to supporting organizations. Then he proceeded to destroy it. Red Guards were incited to tear down the Party organization, and the Army was then unleashed to tear down the Red Guards. (The self-described Red Terror is told in enough detail that one positively roots for the Army as it mows down "student demonstrators." The context of Tiananmen has never been more clear.)

Red Guards (Useful Idiots)

Throughout the book specific incidents and anecdotes are elaborated on. The cities of Beijing (radicalized by the presence of Peking and Tsinghua Universities, not to mention the sometimes presence of Mao himself), Shanghai (where the Red Guards were subsumed by the organization of factoryworker-cum-intellectual Wang Hongwen, later one of the Gang of Four), and Wuhan (where Mao might have been deposed). Wuhan is especially notable as the beginning of the misfortunes of Wang Li, a high-ranking but not especially powerful member of the Central Cultural Revolutionary Group. Wang is attacked and tortured by enraged followers of a PLA General that Wang completed peace talks with, later is imprisoned by his fellow Culturally Revolutions, and only released by the Deng government in 1982.

The People's Liberation Army

Mao, whose Lou Gherig's disease worsens as the history continues on, is a master politician who is able to place one group against the other. His Red Guards destroy the Party, the People's Liberation Army (headed by toady Lin Biao) destroys the Red Guards, and the purging of Lin and other top generals in the PLA returns the government to "civilian" rule. Mao's 5GW is in a brilliant position on his death, with his wife and the rest of the Gang of Four in power behind a hapless toady, Hua Guofeng. Only a rump and discredited band of "survivors," those kept alive and with nominal party membership by Mao Zedong, remain.

Happily for the fate of the world, Madame Mao is an idiot many times over and provokes a defensive coup by Hua Guofeng which results in Deng Xiaoping's final, and successful, rise to power. In an epilogue, the authors note that Mao is the last of the "traditional" Chinese rulers (anti-market) and Deng the first of the radicals (pro-market). Deng has now been succeeded by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who now "re-envision" Mao's legacy in what must be a nightmare to the Chairman's Ghost.

Mao's Last Revolution is one of the best histories I have ever read, and easily the most readable. Strongly recommended.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Review of "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark

I read The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Become the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries based on the recommendations from blog friends. I am not disappointed. Rise is an excellent sociological history of the first Christian centuries, beginning roughly with the martyrdoms of James, Paul, and Peter and ending with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. A must read for those interested in rising religious movements in general, Stark's brilliant application of "rational choice" economics to the field of religion is a must-read.

The Reform Judaism of the 1st Century

Rodney Stark is a rational-choice sociologist, who views belonging as a good that people attempt to maximize. Belonging-providers can either be public or private. Examples of private providers are magicians, wizards, heelers, and pagan cults, while public providers tend to demand exclusive committment and accept some degree of alienation from society. Most of Rise of Christianity is an extremely readible exploration of this delving into many aspects of city life.

I first heard of The Rise of Christianity after a commentator noted its similarity with my blog series, Jesusism-Paulism. Because this has been mentioned before, I will now address how his 1997 book relates to 2000s series.The similar is clear, and the posts that overlap most with Stark's book (in particular, "Love Your Enemy As You Would Have Him Love You," "Caiaphas and Diocletian Did Know Better," and "the Fall of Rome") clearly share a similar orientation, though Stark's methods and focus are different. As Rise ends with Constantine, the claims of my last two posts, "The People of the Book" and "Embrace and Extend," are not addressed at all. Finally, while both Dr. Stark and I view women as vital to the success of Christianity, my focus on harmonious deconfliction contrasts with his more feminist interpretation.

The Rise of Christianity is an excellent book. Strongly recommended.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Brave New War, Aftermath: Mountainrunner's Review

Mountainrunner wrote a great review of Brave New War yesterday, in which he emphasized that John Robb doesn't bother explaining the motivation for "global guerrillas":

When Robb does go into the Why, he, like William Lind and Martin van Creveld who he cites and builds upon, oversimplifies motivations and goals to the extent of ignoring fundamental realities. Not all groups he builds his case on seek to "hollow out" the state. These little details tell us how threats grow and expand and how to shut them down. The details show that in many, if not most, of Robb's cases it isn't an attempt to bring down the state or hollow it out, but by a variety of reasons that built up over time. The Why is messy business and he chooses to ignore the causes behind the guerrilla movement, leading to his own catastrophic superempowerment of groups in his examples.

I agree completely. Global guerrillas are two-bit realists more concerned with bothering a government than actually winning. To my knowledge, Robb has never satisfactorily addressed the issue of the motivation of "global guerrillas." Mountainrunner's words were the perfect opportunity for Robb to fix this error and address real concerns.

Brave New War, by John Robb

Instead. he pens this:

Knew it was going to happen. Oh well. To tell you the truth, I kinda expected more push-back to an outsider like me from the "conference crowd" guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washinton. This guy is the only one to do so publicly.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Mountainrunner is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and presumably not in a position to "guard the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washington." However - demonstrating his grace -- Mountainrunner's answer is devestatingly funny:

I don't know that I am trying to protect the "money/fantasy machine", mostly because I don't know what he means (a little help?). However, it does sound bad and I would probably agree the "money/fantasy machine" needs to be whacked based on name alone. Whatever it is, my issue with the book pivots on his failure to include and factor in purposes and support systems into the analysis of his guerrillas. Insight into these two not insignificant data sets can't be dismissed or ignored, but that is just what BNW does.

Brave New War combines insight into a hurtful but ultimately harmless form of terrorism with selective use of buzzwords that flatter potential reviewers. Ultimately, however, it fails to address the issue of motivation (as MountainRunner points out). It has other problems, as well, but those are posts for another time...

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