Self Referential A&L

It’s old news – three days old when “Truth Hates Delay” – but A& L links to Fulford celebrating A&L Dutton makes 21st century “haste” with the eclectic curiosity of eighteenth century conversation; maybe man hasn’t changed much from the coffee houses of Congreve to Starbucks at Barnes & Noble, but the borders have.  Dutton teaches philosophy in Christchurch and the managing editor, Tran Huu Dung, economics in Dayton. This distance hints at the width of their interests – but then, its the nature of the net. He’s one of those people – it is one of those projects – that makes me feel lucky to live in the 21st century. I’m grateful – they make me laugh, make me think, and, by pulling together endless links, puts many the riches of the web within a click or two.  (Though of course one would think they’d include the incomparable Chicagoboyz on their blogroll.) Of course, it’s seductive – always beckoning with far more charm than grading papers or cleaning house.

A Very Good Immigration Post

Opponents of the wall genuinely think that sealing the border is impossible–at least those in the mainstream do. Furthermore, if they refuse to even entertain the notion that sealing the border is possible a) they will never be proven wrong; and b) their adversaries will never be proven right. And it doesn’t hurt that their stance will make them the favored choice at the polls for the very vocal hardcore believers who think that any attempt to close the borders is a betrayal of their ideals.
The argument that X is an intractable problem so we shouldn’t even try to fix it is kind of an odd argument for the left to be making, considering their faith in social engineering. Yet it’s become their fallback position in recent years.

Read the whole thing.

I was wrong about immigration, at least the politics of it. I thought the political divisions would force the competing constituencies into some kind of messy but reasonable compromise that would be an improvement over the current situation. Instead, one side used dishonest arguments and raw political leverage to try to impose its preferred outcome on everyone else, which further radicalized opponents and alienated many citizens who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Bush’s approach.

Whether a real compromise, the status quo or some kind of smaller and more incremental reform is now more likely is anyone’s guess.


(Click the photo to display a larger version.)

Location: The lower left side of the big U in the photo here.

The Nature of Dictatorships

It seems like there are a lot of people these days who justify–or at least make excuses for–dictatorships. “Well, it’s true there are some things you can’t do,” goes one typical line. “But if you steer clear of politics, you’ll be just fine.” Dictatorships are justified based on many purported benefits, including suppression of internal violence, enabling economic development, and above all “stability.”

Mario Vargas Llosa talks about what dictatorship really is and what it does to people.

Related: Ralph Peters takes on the “stability is always good” argument. I have related thoughts here.

Vargas Llosa link via Neptunus Lex.

Book Review: The Changing Face of War

Eminent Dutch-Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld has the rare distinction among historians of having been more right about the future than he has been about the past. His earlier 1990’s works, The Transformation of War and The Rise and Decline of The State were radical interpretations for military history and clashed somewhat with the views of Europeanist and late Medieval specialists but they pointed to the current state of global affairs with great prescience and scholarly authority.

Van Creveld’s latest book, The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat From the Marne to Iraq is not an example of a historian resting on his laurels but of expanding and extrapolating upon previous ideas. In this book, Dr. van Creveld analyzes the evolution of twentieth century warfare up to it’s WWII apex and subsequent decline to a 21st century nadir of shrunken conventional armies, overloaded with goldplated technology but unable to beat shadowy terrorist groups and ragtag insurgencies armed with homemade bombs.

The perspective here is theoretical ( “trinitarian” vs. “non-trinitarian”), systemic and Germanocentric. Van Creveld clearly admires the technical and cognitive martial prowess of the Wehrmacht and the old Imperial German Army that stamped itself so heavily on the bloody history of the twentieth century. He clearly relates the connection between effective logistical coordination between a mass production, capitialist, industrial economy and the armies in the field, unlike most historians, accurately crediting the Kaiser’s Quartermaster-General, Erich Ludendorff ,for having had the breakthrough insights into the political economy of Total War.

The most interesting chapters are the last ( here I agree with William Lind) where Van Creveld takes premier military historian John Keegan to task and critiques the performance of American arms in Iraq. Van Creveld is returning the warm embrace that the Fourth Generation Warfare school has given his body of work in disputing Keegan’s contention that a Nazi-occupied Europe could not have been liberated by indigenous partisan forces. In my view, van Creveld is correct that the Manhattan Project would have rendered the whole question moot but is wrong in overestimating the ability of partisans to have overthrown Nazi domination.

Assuming the defeat of the USSR, Hitler would have simply liquidated the Serbian people as an example, incorporated the Scandinavian countries into a racial confederation system with Greater Germany, and been satisfied with a National Socialist “Findlandization” of the rest of Europe. Except for Russia, which Albert Speer indicated in his final book had been slated for depopulation and Slavic enslavement with no fewer than 30 million eliminated or worked to death building massive transnational autobahns. Preponderant force would have been used by the Nazis to quell open resistance to the ” New Order” but most European countries would have resembled Denmark or Vichy France, not Poland’s rump state “General Gouvernment”.

Van Creveld’s assessment of American performance in Iraq is bitterly harsh, bordering on vicious, but it is accompanied at the very end by a wise set of ” rules” for counterinsurgency warfare ( van Creveld advises throwing out the bulk of COIN literature as having been written by ” losers”) that merit widespread dissemination. One case study of successful counterinsurgency he points to favorably is the British experience in Northern Ireland where the use of military force was highly economized ( a case he omits, curiously, was El Salvador, where it was not), a general consideration for winning at the “moral level of warfare” when powerful state forces seek to defeat a “weak” opponent.

While The Changing Face of War is not the pathbreaking text that The Transformation of War represented, it is highly accessible to the layman, clearly written and coherently argued. It fits well on the shelf of any serious student of military history.

Cutting Edge Military Theory: A Primer (Part III.) – UPDATED
William Lind review at DNI
Fabius Maximus review at DNI

Gregarious gluttony

From a book review by Caitlin Flanagan:

As for what they [female college students around 1900] ate — just about anything that wasn’t nailed down, apparently. One cannot read this book and continue to believe that the “disordered eating” that besets so many college women is a recent phenomenon. Today it may be marked by grimly endured starvation campaigns or bulimia, but in decades past it was the stuff of a strange glee: festive communal gorging. The midnight suppers or “spreads,” once a major pleasure of college girls’ lives, were conducted around a chafing dish — by the 1890s, it was a popular gift for a college-bound girl — in which the hostess cooked rarebits, omelets, and (most popular of all) pan after pan of fudge. By the early 20th century, groups of female eaters commonly gave themselves nicknames: the Stuffers, the Nine Nimble Nibblers, the Grid L. Kakes. While college men during the same period were forging friendships through cane rushes, fraternity hazing, and other acts of ritualized violence, the girls ate — and ate — their way to community and affection.

Sounds like fun, and much healthier than anorexia or bulimia.

Zielenziger – Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

Zielenziger, Michael, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, Doubleday: New York, 2006. 340 pp.

While Michael Zielenziger was the Tokyo bureau chief for the Knight Ridder chain of newspapers during the 90s, he learned of an unusual pattern of reclusive behaviour in young Japanese men — the so-called hikikomori (literally, “pulling away, being confined“). Numbering in the thousands, they were shutting themselves off in their rooms — from friends, family, career, and society in general — for years at a time. As a Western journalist he found himself largely alone, at the time, in taking an interest in the subject. It was all but ignored by the Japanese media.

In talking to Japanese sociologists and health professionals, Zielenziger found that this behaviour seemed to be a relatively new phenomenon. It didn’t appear in the global bible of mental health disorders (the DSM IV). Its particular set of symptoms didn’t appear in Western countries, nor in Japan’s Asian neighbours. Japan’s increasing affluence in the 70s and 80s seemed to correlate roughly with a baffling new behaviour afflicting those most likely to benefit from the country’s economic success. The economic downturn of the 90s seems to increase rather than decrease the incidence of hikikomori.

Read more

Share Your Juror Narratives — A Bleg

My new site, Jury Experiences, is up and running. The main idea behind the site is to create a central forum for juror narratives and related discussions. The site needs more user-generated content!

If you’ve ever served as a trial juror and are at all interested in writing about your experiences, and have not yet done so, please consider contributing a post to the Jury Experiences discussion forum. (If you want to post to the forum you will have to register first, but this is quick and easy to do.)


UPDATE: A commenter points out that the Jury Experiences forum registration system is a hassle that discourages reader participation. I agree entirely. I think the forum paradigm is inappropriate for many potential contributors for this reason, and am considering easier alternatives. Suggestions are welcome.

Beijing Travelogue

Over a course of two weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June, I had the good fortune to take a class on international trade, focusing on China and the WTO, in Beijing. Naturally, I brought back many pictures, and I’ve written the trip, as reflected in the pictures, in nine parts at my blog. Not all of my reactions and reflections about China are expressed in the write ups, because there was just so much. Still, if you’re interested in what I do have up, please visit:

  1. UIBE
  2. Beijing in General
  3. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
  4. The Great Wall
  5. Clubbing
  6. Food
  7. Farewell Banquet
  8. Hanging Out
  9. Post Script


Pox Americana, Pox Churchill

James McCormick’s charming review of Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map reminded me of a series of incidents I was trying to make sense of when I wrote the “Gospel as Gossip.” These thoughts were prompted by a comment on another blog: “Yes, the United States must be above even ‘false stories’ of torture. We are the United States.” Well, that sounds noble and I can understand how we should avoid the appearance of impropriety. At this point, we are a powerful nation and with that comes a grave responsibility; with it also comes the likelihood of unforeseen consequences and hubris. However, being above being questioned is problematic: this ambition misunderstands human nature. While little bad is breathed about candidates with 99% of the vote, I doubt that is a good thing. And myths can permeate our thinking – that Alger Hiss was pursued by witchhunters long dominated thought about the fifties and remains a valid example to many. Can a court system ever be above murmurs that an innocent is found guilty? We would not want to live in a society in which such thoughts were never spoken; one of the reasons is that, given man’s fallibility and nature, such a fact would be true at times.

Read more

Quote of the Day

Later, of course, the same prosecutors who so vigorously defended Nifong’s conduct became vocal proponents of a severe sanction. Marquis has worried over the undermining of prosecutorial authority, due to the “Nifong effect,” and Murphy has also recently edged away from the former DA. What once played as reasonable conduct is now portrayed as the misdeeds of an outlier. A simple calculus explains the shift: If Mike Nifong’s conduct is commonplace, then the whole system is corrupt. If other DAs do what he did, then we have to face up to how widespread and corrosive prosecutorial misconduct really is—a discussion Marquis and Murphy and other prosecutors would strongly prefer to avoid.
Though the Duke case has been spun from the outset as a parable about race, it has always been far more about class, access, and power. From the beginning, the three boys had extraordinary legal talent, unusual political access, and significant press savvy. With a steady stream of exculpatory evidence and investigative triumphs that would have eluded all but the wealthiest of defendants, the defense team mounted an extremely well-funded and successful public campaign, exerting tremendous pressure on Nifong and other state officials. In the end, the Duke defendants orchestrated Mr. Nifong’s downfall and also won an outcome almost unheard of in our criminal justice system—a pretrial exoneration.
The disbarment of Mike Nifong, and the civil suit or even criminal charges that are almost sure to follow, might seem a pleasing end to a sad saga. And yet Nifong is a scapegoat. Despite their terrifying power to ruin lives, prosecutors are afforded almost unparalleled discretion to do their jobs and extraordinary deference from the courts. As a result, serious sanctions for prosecutorial misdeeds are virtually unheard of. This makes it highly unlikely that Nifong’s comeuppance will deter aggressive prosecutors. Instead, his punishment will be seen for what it is: a freakish anomaly.

David Feige

Lacking Perspective

Things are pretty grim. Armed gunmen are getting bolder. Agents of the duly elected government are at risk, with many of them being assassinated in front of their families. Police officers are specifically targeted, often being kidnapped so they can be tortured to death. The message is simple: Join the side of law and order and you will be killed. The favorite method of execution is to behead the victim, a tactic favored by terrorists.

Sounds like the most overwrought prose from a journalist describing the situation in Iraq, or maybe the Palestinian Territories. But I’m talking about the drug war being waged in Mexico at this very moment. The Washington Post article behind that last link states that 600 people have died this year.

I doubt very highly that either their figures or analysis of the situation is accurate. I have reason to believe that things are much worse. states that over 1,200 people have been killed this year. What is most alarming is that the drug gangs are actively recruiting regular Mexican Army deserters, men that have had training in combat, weapon use, and who are able to plan and carry out complex operations.

There are a few questions about this situation that need to be asked. The most important is: How did the drug gangs manage to become so powerful that they are able to take over whole towns, defy the Federal government, and assassinate important officials?

Read more

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

Johnson, Steven, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Riverhead Books, New York, 2006. 299pp.

The Ghost Map is a retelling of the events and consequences of a famous outbreak of cholera in Golden Square Soho, London in the late summer of 1854. As a result of dogged investigation by a polymath doctor (Dr. John Snow) and a gregarious Anglican assistant curate (Dr. Henry Whitehead), the ultimate cause of cholera was pinpointed, and practical steps were taken to contain the disease. Because the cholera bacteria was too small to see in the microscopes of the day, the efforts to control the disease were not only constrained by the tools of science but also by the competing theories of disease etiology (causation).

The major competitor at the time was the “miasmic” or “bad air” theory … bad smells were the basis of disease. Johnson opens his book with a detailed and hair-raising chapter on how the Victorian city of London managed the feeding and waste management for two million closely packed humans. Suffice it to say, people got their hands “dirty” … and conducted daily animal slaughter and recycling on a scale, and at a level of detail, that would put the modern industrialized world to shame. The humble and poor of the London would have quickly recognized the lives of garbage-pickers in Mexico City or Mumbai, however. Pity for a moment, those designated to collect each day’s supply of dog excrement on the London streets, recycled for use in the tanning industry. Nothing was wasted … in a way that would make any Hollywood Indian proud.

Read more

The “Lesser Evil” Finds Little Welcome in Gaza

Listening to the news about Gaza, Ignatieff’s description of “the process by which nihilism leads to a war without end” comes to mind:

In such a terrorist cult, many praiseworthy moral virtues are inverted, so that they serve not life but death. Terrorist groups typically expropriate the virtues of the young–their courage, their headstrong disregard for consequences, their burning desire to establish their own significance–and use these to create an army of the doomed. In this way, violence becomes a career, a way of life that leads only to death. (131)

Read more

Article Roundup

Too busy to blog lately. As a father’s day gift, I am being granted some keyboard time. What follows is the merest surface-scratching on what could easily be ten or more meaty blog posts that will never get written.

I have been following with interest the discussions on Zenpundit, Coming Anarchy, TDAXP and Thomas Barnett’s blog. (I mentioned this “family” of blogs here, and I heartily endorse them all.)

One interesting subject discussed recently is the new book by John Robb, Brave New War, which I mentioned here. (Robb’s personal blog here, and his other blog Global Guerrillas, here.) It is a good, short, bracing read. Despite being too jargon-laden in spots, it is a cold analysis of what we might be facing in the next decade or so, in the form of a global “bazaar of violence” which generates networked and nimble sub-national enemies, jointly operating as terrorists and international criminals-for-profit. I will observe that the last section provides a sketch of what a “network commonwealth”, such as Jim Bennett has written about, based on a strong, networked civil society (“armored suburbs”), would look like in the security dimension. Barnett and Robb are sometimes portrayed as two sides of a yin / yang view of the future, with Barnett the optimist and Robb the pessimist. It is more complicated than that. Both see resilience as the key to success and survival in the years ahead. Robb sees the impact of blowback out of the “Gap” being greater, and the prospect of positive developments there as lower than Barnett does. Robb does see a happy future here in the Core, but only after a “time of troubles” has cleared away the dead of obsolete institutions. Nonetheless there is a fair amount of overlap between them as thinkers.

Read more

‘History’s Shortest Geological Column’

Russel Seitz offers at the Adamant ‘Deep Time For Dummies’, ‘Biblically Correct Geochronology’, based on ‘the addition of Begats by eminent 17th century divine Archbishop Ussher and the noted Revelation scholar & alchemist Sir Isaac Newton’:

A brief excerpt:

2584 B.C.: Earliest sedimentation; discovery of slate leads to stone tablets.

2384 B.C.: Breathable atmosphere develops; first sermon preached.

1794 B.C.: Children of Ham split from Israelites, insisting that the Burgess Shale fauna are kosher; chowder invented.

1704 B.C.: Charshumash the Hittite bitten by first vertebrate; lawyers emerge from slime.

A.D. 494: Snakes evolve and are driven out of Ireland.

Read the whole thing, for it is good.

Even Communists Pack It On

In a previous post, I discussed how obesity levels might just be an indicator of increasing wealth.

The headline of a recent news item reads “30 Percent of Cubans Are Overweight”. Since Cuba is hardly known as a garden spot so far as economic vigor is concerned, this is a pretty good sign that I might be wrong about how more wealth equals larger waistlines.

The author of the news article states that Cubans average over 3,000 calories a day, 30% of which is subsidized rations provided by Castro’s government. Healthy food such as fresh vegetables are prohibitively expensive, and the diet tends towards fried starches and fatty meat.

It could be that food production technology has just gotten so efficient that obesity is in the reach of just about everyone. Except, apparently, for the North Koreans.

The Chicagoboyz Bug of the Week!

isn't he cute!

Answers to anticipated questions:

-About 3″.

-I haven’t identified the species. (Some kind of Sphinx Moth larva? Does anyone know?)

-The head is on the Left.

-I don’t know what the green thing is. It looks like an egg.

There is a ton of info on the Web about caterpillars (e.g., here and here). However, there are so many distinct varieties that identification is difficult if you don’t already know where to look.

Reviews of Reviews

Update:  Example of a lengthy book review in the print world:  Pankaj Mishra discusses the future of India and its problems in moving toward the open market is the NYRB review  “Impasse in India”,  it concentrates on Martha Nussbaum’s  The Clash Within:  Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future.

One of the richest additions to this blog have been the book reviews by James McCormick; Lex likes to summarize his reading and keep us in touch with the way works that influence him – and why. Most of the bloggers here do something close to a book review every once in a while, though I can’t remember any of fiction or poetry. Even in my narcissistic way, I couple the personal with published, more thoughtful discussions of the general topic. So, some Chicagoboyz and Chicagoboyz readers might be interested in A&L’s link to Adam Kirsch’s “The Scorn of the Literary Blog.” This review is prompted by a National Book Critics’ Circle survey of “reviewer ethics.” He contends that problems of conflict of interest were not important because,

Read more