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  • Archive for August, 2007

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali Video Interview

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Via David Foster, this is an excellent video of Ayaan Hirsi Ali being interviewed by a Canadian leftist:


    UPDATE: More thoughts about independent-minded, outspoken Muslim women here.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Europe, Islam, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Religion, USA, Video | 34 Comments »

    Heresy With a Smile

    Posted by Ginny on 17th August 2007 (All posts by )

    A&L links to Freeman Dyson’s “Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society“; Edge excerpts sections of Many Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe. While this demonstrates neither an obnoxious nor vain spirit, he does wryly demonstrate how terribly wrong scientists can be – what with being human and all. (A good instance would be the patronizing sympathy he felt for Crick, thinking that WWII had destroyed his chance to do good science and that going into biology would be a dead end.) But, he argues, heresy is necessary – an attitude that may not sit well with some of the characters whose vanity John Jay describes with such a sharp edge. Dyson is self-deprecating:

    We are lucky that we can be heretics today without any danger of being burned at the stake. But unfortunately I am an old heretic. Old heretics do not cut much ice. When you hear an old heretic talking, you can always say, “Too bad he has lost his marbles”, and pass on. What the world needs is young heretics. I am hoping that one or two of the people who read this piece may fill that role.

    Of course, one of his heresies is toward the great religion of this decade – global warming.

    But, fortunately, no one has been yet stoned for being a “global warming denier.”

    Update: Dyson makes several points about global warming, about which he is certainly heretical, and the roles of scientists. Below the jump at a couple more excerpts of the excerpts, but some of you are likely to find the whole enjoyable.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Science | 1 Comment »

    Death of a Brand

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 15th August 2007 (All posts by )

    I remember in the late 80’s when Montgomery Wards was having financial problems. They embarked on an advertising campaign called “Brand Central” where the front entrance of the store featured the names of all the brands inside, prominently displayed. My first thought was, wow, Montgomery Wards must have NEGATIVE brand equity. They felt that their name was driving away customers, and instead they put up the names of their products. Montgomery Wards went bankrupt, as everyone knows, and now their former HQ in River North is a chic high rise called the “Montgomery” and hipsters hang out in the remodeled former catalog facility nearby, which has high end restaurants and a health club.

    This sign, broadly defined, signifies the same damaged brand name – in this case, AT&T. Comcast is using AT&T as a synonym for poor service and high prices – assuming that leaving AT&T would be a “plus” for their customers. I won’t comment here on the irony of Comcast as the pot calling the kettle black… Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 15th August 2007 (All posts by )

    We’ve been assured again and again that RFID passports are secure. When researcher Lukas Grunwald successfully cloned one last year at DefCon, industry experts told us there was little risk. This year, Grunwald revealed that he could use a cloned passport chip to sabotage passport readers. Government officials are again downplaying the significance of this result, although Grunwald speculates that this or another similar vulnerability could be used to take over passport readers and force them to accept fraudulent passports. Anyone care to guess who’s more likely to be right?
    It’s all backward. Insecurity is the norm. If any system — whether a voting machine, operating system, database, badge-entry system, RFID passport system, etc. — is ever built completely vulnerability-free, it’ll be the first time in the history of mankind. It’s not a good bet.
    Once you stop thinking about security backward, you immediately understand why the current software security paradigm of patching doesn’t make us any more secure. If vulnerabilities are so common, finding a few doesn’t materially reduce the quantity remaining. A system with 100 patched vulnerabilities isn’t more secure than a system with 10, nor is it less secure. A patched buffer overflow doesn’t mean that there’s one less way attackers can get into your system; it means that your design process was so lousy that it permitted buffer overflows, and there are probably thousands more lurking in your code.
    Diebold Election Systems has patched a certain vulnerability in its voting-machine software twice, and each patch contained another vulnerability. Don’t tell me it’s my job to find another vulnerability in the third patch; it’s Diebold’s job to convince me it has finally learned how to patch vulnerabilities properly.

    Bruce Schneier

    Posted in Human Behavior, Privacy, Tech | 3 Comments »

    Gawande — Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

    Posted by James McCormick on 15th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Gawande, Atul, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 2007. 273 pp.

    Several years ago, Dr. Gawande published a best-selling book on his experiences as a young surgeon called Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. In the intervening years, he’s written a number of elegant essays on medical topics for the New Yorker while maintaining a surgical practice at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In a further embarrassment of talent, he was a MacArthur Fellow in 2006 and now also teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School for Public Health.

    Notably, he’s a rare voice of humility amongst his profession in reflecting on the day-to-day practice of medicine. Not just on the larger issues of “what we don’t know” or “what we can’t do” but on the oft-overlooked issues of “what we do poorly, every day, merely out of habit.” That honesty adds particular strength to his writing. In his latest book, he’s assembled his essay-chapters into three larger themes (diligence, doing right, ingenuity) all tied around his reflections on how he wants to improve his own practice as a doctor.

    The results are fascinating. As befits a writer for the New Yorker, Gawande makes good use of anecdote and the background research for each topic covered. He writes well and writes for a general audience. A few months ago I listened to a podcast interview with the author and he mentioned that it’s a real struggle for him to get writing done because of his professional obligations. To some extent, that time limitation is reflected in this book. The subject area, improving individual doctor performance, could cover a lot of ground. Gawande doesn’t pretend to do so exhaustively. Instead, we have a series of vignettes on the limitations and successes of medical practice. For any reader interested in a particular chapter’s topic, the results are excellent. Those interested in the “gaps” between chapters may need to head for the academic literature and something closer to a textbook. More’s the pity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Science | 4 Comments »

    Random Thoughts

    Posted by John Jay on 13th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Anyone interested in the scientific explanations for atmospeheric phenomena (including the dispelling of some myths that even scientists cling to) should check out Craig Bohren’s Clouds in a Glass of Beer and What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?

    Also check out Derek Lowe’s observations about his new job in a new lab. Regarding AC/DC’s “Back in Black”? Guilty (it’s also excellent work-out music). Terse and obscene reminders to treat equipment properly? Guilty (at least I didn’t threaten to hang the Chinese grad student who kept putting teflon tape on brass gas-line ferrules – with his own teflon tape!). And keeping strange-looking innards of machinery in my drawer on the off chance someone will want to get it working again? Really guilty.

    Posted in Book Notes, Science | 3 Comments »

    Atmospheric Optics

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Great photographic illustrations of optical effects in nature.

    (via Mike Hiteshew)

    Posted in Environment, Photos, Science | 2 Comments »

    Possibly the Best Quote in All of Russian Literature

    Posted by John Jay on 13th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Or at least the most realistic. The following is from Voinovich’s Moscow 2042, and takes place on a Lufthansa flight.

    Улыбнувшись в полном соответствии со служебной инструкцией, она спросила меня, что я буду пить. Разумеется, я сказал: водку. Она опять улыбнулась, протянула мне пластмассовый стаканчик и игрушечную (50 граммов) бутылочку водки «Смирнофф». Она собралась уже двигать свою тележку дальше, когда я нежно тронул ее за локоток и спросил, детям примерно какого возраста дают такие вот порции. Она понимала юмор и тут же, все с той же улыбкой, достала вторую бутылочку. Я тоже улыбнулся и довел до ее сведения, что, когда я брал билет и платил за него солидную сумму наличными, мне было обещано неограниченное количество напитков. Она удивилась и высказала мысль, что неограниченных количеств чего бы то ни было вообще в природе не водится. Поэтому она хотела бы все‑таки знать, каким количеством этих пузырьков я был бы готов удовлетвориться.

    — Хорошо, — сказал я, — давайте десять.

    Translation: Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Russia | 14 Comments »

    Urban Renewal In Chicago

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 12th August 2007 (All posts by )

    In today’s Chicago Tribune real estate section there is an “article” titled “Into High Gear – Redevelopment puts Motor Row in fast lane among city neighborhoods”. Motor Row is an area south of the loop and north of US Cellular Field. At one time the car dealers for Chicago all located their shops in this neighborhood, hence the name. Now, like most of the other areas near the loop, it is being gentrified, hence being worthy of an article in the Tribune. Per the article:

    “The people we knew in the suburbs were looking at us like Martians when we told them we were moving out here” Franco Lanzi said. “It is a bet right now. A few years ago, this was NOT A PLACE WHERE ANYONE WOULD WANT TO LIVE” (capital letters are mine)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Chicagoania, Economics & Finance | 2 Comments »

    Patca’s Law

    Posted by Shannon Love on 12th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Commentator PatCA said the following in a comment on Ann Althouse’s blog.

    In today’s world, everyone will get their “15 minutes” of victimhood…

    I vote we christen this Patca’s Law (suggested pronunciation pat-ka).

    You know you’re living in a wealthy and compassionate society when people compete over who gets to claim the most victimization.

    Related post: Angie’s Law

    Posted in Quotations, Society | 10 Comments »

    Quote of the day

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 11th August 2007 (All posts by )

    If violence isn’t the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

    From Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog

    Posted in Humor | 11 Comments »

    Whale meat isn’t good for you

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 11th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Link via The Chumslick

    TOKYO (Reuters) – Whalemeat served in school lunches in an area of rural Japan are contaminated with alarming levels of mercury, a local assemblyman said on Wednesday, calling for a halt in plans for the meat to be shipped to schools nationwide.
    Hisato Ryono, a assemblyman in Taiji, a historic whaling town some 450 km (280 miles) west of Tokyo, said two samples of short-finned pilot whale had mercury levels 10 to 16 times more than advised by the Health Ministry.

    Ryono and a fellow assemblyman conducted tests after local authorities ignored their calls to have the whalemeat inspected before it was served in school lunches in the town’s kindergartens and elementary and junior high schools.

    Whalers are an important voting demographic, you wouldn’t want to alienate them just because the meat they bring in is poisonous.

    Posted in Environment | 7 Comments »

    Blogs Keeping Check on Stupid Newspaper Tricks

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th August 2007 (All posts by )

    This happens a lot. Someone writes a letter to the editor of a MSM publication. The letter is published — but with so many edits and deletions as to change substantially its meaning.

    The old excuse for this kind of tendentious editing was, “space considerations.” That was an obvious lie in some specific cases, but there was enough general truth in the phrase to maintain the plausible deniability of editorial bias.

    But now, with zero-marginal-cost Internet publishing, there is no excuse for editing on-topic, clearly written, non-abusive reader comments or letters. Yet some MSM editors still do it.

    Here’s a recent example (with additional commentary here).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Media | 5 Comments »

    Behind the Woodshed

    Posted by John Jay on 10th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Regarding the comments at Reason and Instapundit and the knee-jerk libertarian response about funding priorities and the Minnesota bridge collapse, Dave E. has this to say:

    So no, this was not a matter of priorities. It was a sudden and unexpected collapse of a thought to be serviceable bridge. I like a little snark as much as the next person, but in this case it’s snark that is wrong and intellectually lazy and downright defamatory if you think about it. As though those of us who live in the Minneapolis area would knowingly fund a stadium versus replacing a dangerous bridge that we and our loved ones drive over every day. If that’s the perspective you want to have in the upcoming discussion then fine, you are a moron.

    Yeah, sometimes people on our side can be jerks, too. “Instapundit adds his one cent”: I like that. If we claim that leftists infantilize debate (and they generally do), we need to police ourselves pretty carefully.

    Posted in Civil Society, Libertarianism, Politics | 10 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 10th August 2007 (All posts by )


    Chicagoboyz are color-coordinated.


    Posted in Humor, Photos | 11 Comments »

    This Time It’s Not Different

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th August 2007 (All posts by )

    From MarketWatch:

    SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The liquidation of a big hedge fund or investment-bank trading portfolio is wreaking havoc in some parts of the hedge-fund business, according to managers and investors.
    Black Mesa Capital, a hedge-fund firm that uses computer models to track down investment ideas, said that at least one large hedge fund or investment bank is liquidating “massive” trading portfolios, according to a letter the Santa Fe, N.M.-based firm sent to investors Wednesday.
    The warning is causing disruptions and triggering big losses among other so-called market-neutral hedge funds, Black Mesa said in its letter, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by MarketWatch.
    “Clearly, something is amiss in the markets that few in our strategy, if anyone, have experienced before,” Black Mesa’s managers, Dave DeMers and Jonathan Spring, wrote. DeMers declined to comment Thursday.
    The firm’s hedge fund, which has about $1.9 billion in long positions and $1.9 billion in short positions, was down roughly 7.5% this month through Aug. 7. Those losses could grow to as much as 10% for August so far, Black Mesa noted.

    I love this quote: ‘Clearly, something is amiss in the markets that few in our strategy, if anyone, have experienced before.’

    Something unanticipated is always amiss in the markets in these situations. That’s how these situations happen.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Markets and Trading | 6 Comments »

    Better Greenery Through Tax Minimization

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 8th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Hardly a month goes by without an IKEA catalog showing up on my door. For those that haven’t been to an IKEA store, they are immense “destination” stores full of low priced furniture and other household items. IKEA is famous for its “green” activities; you can hardly walk without a placard explaining the pristine source of its raw materials and how they are operating in a sustainable fashion. Here is an article from their Seattle store lauding their commitment to the environment. I’d quote from the article but it is the usual “commitment” gibberish and not particularly enlightening.

    One of the core elements of the environmental movement is a huge governmental role in the economy; we need to put taxes on activities that are not viewed as beneficial and an army of lawyers and regulators to ensure that “Big Business” doesn’t run roughshod over ma’ nature. In my experience a libertarian philosophy and serious environmentalism have very little in common.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Environment, Management, Taxes | 21 Comments »

    Why We Need Jackasses in the Academy

    Posted by John Jay on 7th August 2007 (All posts by )

     Ginny pointed out something very important in the comments to this post:

    One of the arguments in Jonathan Rauch’s “In Defense of Prejudice,” is another dirty secret is that, no less than the rest of us, scientists can be dogmatic and pigheaded. “Although this pigheadedness often damages the careers of individual scientists,” says Hull, “it is beneficial for the manifest goal of science,” which relies on people to invest years in their ideas and defend them passionately. And the dirtiest secret of all, if you believe in the antiseptic popular view of science, is that this most ostensibly rational of enterprises depends on the most irrational of motives–ambition, narcissism, animus, even revenge. “Scientists acknowledge that among their motivations are natural curiosity, the love of truth, and the desire to help humanity, but other inducements exist as well, and one of them is to ‘get that son of a bitch,’” says Hull. “Time and again, scientists whom I interviewed described the powerful spur that ’showing that son of a bitch’ supplied to their own research.” Shortly after I taught that essay we went to a family celebration, where one of my husband’s cousins, a geology ph.d. who worked for Exxon, explained to me that he was grateful Exxon had let him work for ten years before he showed he was right and he had found something useful. (I’m no scientist, if he explained it, I didn’t understand it.) But he phrased his explanation in just that manner: Those guys thought I was crazy and wrong; I was determined to show them I was right. In other words, what kept him going was his desire to show those sons of bitches. Of course, there are happier attitudes to have for ten years, but, then, the rest of us can be happy that some of those guys figured out better ways to find oil and to get it out of the ground.

    The scientific method is a mechanism for the evolution of thought. Evolution depends on conflict and stuggle as its motive engine. Conflict requires competitive personalities. Those personalities are not always the easiest to deal with. QED, most good scientists are jackasses. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education, Science | 39 Comments »

    A New Cornucopia of Old Color Photos from Russia

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th August 2007 (All posts by )

    A collection of fabulous color photos of Czarist Russia was publicized a couple of years ago.

    Now there’s a new exhibition of the same photographer’s images, including thousands of photos that were not previously shown.

    These photos are well worth looking at. The photographer was sponsored by the Czarist government and recorded many scenes of great interest. He produced his images using a photographic process that, while cumbersome, yields excellent color.

    (IIRC I blogged about these photos a year or two ago, but I can’t locate the post.)


    Newly restored images.

    Earlier exhibit.

    Technical details.

    UPDATE: From John Robinson comes this tutorial on how to assemble the color images from the B&W originals, and some interesting thoughts:

    Perhaps one of the reasons for Prokudin-Gorskii’s rediscovery in the present time period is the fact that it is now possible, with computers, to make these into marvelous color depictions that were impossible with the technology of Prokudin-Gorskii’s day (printing the images, for example, was out of the question). This might, additionally, be an indication of the man’s being born well ahead of his time.

    Posted in History, Photos, Russia | 18 Comments »

    We’re Rats, So We Race

    Posted by Shannon Love on 6th August 2007 (All posts by )

    A New York Times article [via Instapundit] titled, “In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich” explores why many people with assets and sometimes incomes in the millions who live in Silicon Valley don’t feel particularly rich. One paragraph gets to what I consider the heart of the effect.

    But many such accomplished and ambitious members of the digital elite still do not think of themselves as particularly fortunate, in part because they are surrounded by people with more wealth — often a lot more.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy | 17 Comments »

    America’s Corporate Tax & Market Distortions

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 5th August 2007 (All posts by )

    One of the most troubling failures of the Republican led congress (which is no more) is their failure to substantially reform the US corporate tax code. I wrote an article that summarizes how the corporate tax is applied at an overview level and the fact that today the US is among the least competitive corporate tax regimes among developed countries. The Economist recently chimed in, too, with an article titled “Tax Reform – Overhauling The Old Jalopy” which does a decent job of summarizing the situation and stating that an average tax rate of 27% without major deductions would accomplish the same thing as our current tax rate of 34%. Not mentioned by the Economist is how this backfired on us with the Alternative Minimum Tax, when a simplified tax methodology with lower rates and a broadly applied based ended up netting millions of middle Americans, including the middle class.

    All of these articles miss a more troubling trend, however – the issue isn’t as much the tax methodology applied to EXISTING companies (who have strong incentives to stay in place) but how the tax impacts NEW companies that are choosing where to set up shop and what sort of structure to utilize for their business. This photo is a cornerstone of the Accenture “Headquarters” in downtown Chicago – Accenture is the surviving consulting firm from the Arthur Andersen debacle (grist for a future post as I am an alumni) that chose to locate their headquarters in Bermuda rather than the United States, primarily to minimize their income tax burden.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Economics & Finance, Taxes | 2 Comments »

    The Edinburgh Festival – and how!

    Posted by Verity on 5th August 2007 (All posts by )

    The Edinbugh Festival begins in Scotland’s capital city tomorrow and despite the fireworks of creativity that it always delivers, I think this year is going to be hostage to “Jihad! The Musical!” – “A madcap romp through the wacky world of international terrorism”.

    It was written by an Old Etonian and a 25 year old female compatriot.

    The Edinburgh Festival opens on tomorrow (Monday), and I await the reviews with interest. In the meantime, here is one of the songs, “I Wanna Be Like Osama” for your evening viewing pleasure.

    The chap who plays Osmana is stardom bound, that’s for sure. I’ll let you know when the reviews come out.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, Islam, Leftism, Politics, Religion, Terrorism | 3 Comments »

    A Portrait of the Ancestors of our American Jacksonian Backcountrymen

    Posted by Chicago Boyz Archive on 4th August 2007 (All posts by )

    Scottish Borderland in its widest sense embraces the country from the Ken to Berwick, and from the Solway and the Cheviots to the backbone of mountain which runs from Merrick to the Lammermoors and cradles all the streams of the lowlands. In that broad region the Britons of Strathclyde, the Northmen from the sea, and the later immigrants have so mixed their blood as to produce a certain uniformity of type, akin to and yet something different from other Lowland stocks. The history of each valley has been the same tale of poor soil, inclement seasons, stunted cattle and niggardly crops, a hard life varied by constant bickering among neighbours and raids into England; these valleys lay, too, in the track of the marching armies, whenever there was war between Stuart and Plantagenet and Tudor, and, save for the religious houses and the stone castles of the nobles, there could be few enduring marks of human occupation. It was a gipsy land, where life could not settle on its lees, since any night the thatch might be flaring to heaven, and the plenishing of a farm moving southward under the prick of the raiders’ spears. There the hand must keep the head, and a tough, watchful race was the consequence, hardy as the black cattle of their hills, tenacious of a certain rude honour, loyal to their leaders, staunch friends, and most patient and pestilent foes. Rough as the life was, it had its codes and graces. The Borderer was quarrelsome, but he was also merciful, and was curiously averse to the shedding of blood. He was hospitable to a fault, scrupulously faithful to his word, and in giving and taking hard knocks preserved a certain humour and mirthfulness. “The men are lyght of harte,” wrote Bartholemew the Englishman in the thirteenth century, “fiers and couragious on theyre enemies.” And Bishop Lesley, writing in the sixteenth century, noted that they were skilful musicians and “lovers of eloquence and poetry.” Mr. Andrew Boorde, an English physician, who visited them about that date, bore witness to the same qualities, and had little fault to find except with “their develysh dysposicion not to love nor favour an Englyshman,” their extreme clannishness, and their boastful pride of race. “Many,” he wrote, “wyll make strong lyes.” Among their green glens harpers and violers wove some of the loveliest of Scottish airs, and the gift of imagination had other issue than mere vaunting, since it gave birth to the noblest ballads that ever graced a literature.”

    From John Buchan’s Lord Minto, A Memoir.

    See also, (you knew this was coming), David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, to see how these folks fared when they came over here, to North America. (John Buchan, by the way, was quite a guy.)

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes, History | 5 Comments »

    What Do You Think?

    Posted by Ginny on 4th August 2007 (All posts by )

    I have a question that some of you might like to ponder: among the people who lived in the twentieth century, who (barring political and religious figures) will people in another hundred years remember from the twentieth century?  Whose discoveries or ideas or work is sufficiently important to represent the twentieth century and affect the twenty-first?  Or, perhaps, whose work that we now consider important is not likely to stand the test of time? This may be a negative effect, as well.

    This may be one of my pedagogical ideas that is not likely to work – which is, unfortunately, true of many.  However, most of us find people interesting and I would like some of my students to get a sense of the difference an idea or theory or invention can make.  The paper is supposed to be argumentative and it certainly shouldn’t be mainly biographical, let alone hagiographic. So, I’m asking you all for suggestions.  Or, perhaps, you would like to express doubts that I will be able to prevent such essays from wandering off into he’s a nice guy or he’s a rotten guy. Further description of the course is below the fold if you are interested in the context.

    This was inspired by my sense that I don’t know much about Borlaug and it wouldn’t hurt  and I could learn from papers; also, some of my students might be interested in the accomplishments of someone they might conceivably see.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education, Society, USA | 31 Comments »

    Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife -Book Review

    Posted by Zenpundit on 3rd August 2007 (All posts by )

    Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife
    by Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl
    University of Chicago Press

    In writing Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife, LTC John A. Nagl set out to discover the lessons learned and not learned in counterinsurgency warfare with a comparative study of the experiences of the British and American armies fighting Communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia. Nagl has done so, admirably and concisely; even readers familiar with the extensive literature on the Vietnam War will find many of his examples instructive. More than that, in measuring British success against American failure in waging counterinsurgency, Nagl has pointed to a larger explanation on why complex organizations succeed or fail when faced with unexpected challenges.

    Well crafted comparative histories are difficult, even for accomplished historians and Colonel Nagl succeeds brilliantly. The case studies are as well chosen as comparative history might permit; the 1950s’ “Malayan Emergency” of the largely ethnic Chinese and Communist revolt against waning British rule and incipient Malayan domination, and the 1960s’ Second Indochina War that featured massive American intervention in South Vietnam to crush the Viet Cong insurgency sponsored by North Vietnam. The superficial similarities of the British and Americans armies served Nagl well in highlighting the deep organizational and cultural differences separating the two militaries.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, History, Military Affairs, National Security | 3 Comments »