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A Bit of Summer Reading

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

dead wakestraight to hellGhost Fleet

The Fate of a ManBachCalvin Coolidge

 

Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Straight to Hell, True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals, by John Lefevre

Ghost Fleet, A Novel of The Next Work War, by P.W. Singer & August Cole

The Fate of a Man, by Mikhail Sholokhov

BACH, Music in the Castle of Heaven, by Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, by John Derbyshire

The summer of 2015 for me is becoming memorable for the diversity of the books making it into my queue through unexpected circumstances. Larson’s Dead Wake was an surprise gift from a neighbor familiar with my professional pursuits. I read “Wake” in two sittings and it is superb. Larson puts faces on the victims, and highlights the politics from both sides of the Atlantic, to include the German U-boat commander responsible for the sinking. This tragedy reads like a novel and is wicked good.

Last year my son turned me on to the feed of @GSElevator on Twitter. I would have never read this book  had I not become a fan of Mr. Lefevre’s decidedly politically incorrect sense of humor. With over 700k followers on Twitter he created an instant potential market and I bit. Straight to Hell is an entertaining irreverent look at the top of the banking profession, and is not for the faint of heart—and very funny.

Ghost Fleet is one of the most anticipated techno-thrillers in recent memory. Singer and Cole have spun a good yarn of how a future world war between the USA and China/Russia. While the book is a page turner, the authors thankfully sourced their technology assertions in 22 pages of notes! A great resource for a very good book. One could quibble over lack of character development, but this book is driven more by technological wizardry and is a fun and instructive read.

Fate of Man was recommended either at a blog or in blog comments—I don’t remember. This tiny but poignant book (it is more a bound short story) provides the reader with a glimpse of the hardships and sacrifices in Russia post WWII. Torture and suffering on a scale foreign to 99.9% of those living in the modern Western world.

BACH was a birthday gift, and I would like to report I have finished Gardiner’s masterpiece, but that may take some time (I’m at page 330). Gardiner shares insights on JS Bach’s life and music, and while I have over forty Bach recordings in my iTunes account, this lovely book is introducing a massive body of Bach’s cantata work—over 200 and I’m unfamiliar with most. My method has been to read Gardiner’s description of the piece, then find a recording on YouTube. Unfortunately, Gardiner does not discuss one of my all-time favorite Bach Cantatas Ascension Oratorio BWV-11 (the last five minutes are simply divine).

Finally, the Calvin Coolidge book came to me via CDR Salamander in a Facebook thread. As a fan of Coolidge and Derbyshire, I grabbed a copy and I’m glad I did. Derbyshire has written a sweet and insightful story of love, betrayal, and redemption, all the while providing the reader a frightening description of China’s cultural revolution.

My China study continues, adding Edward Rice’s Mao’s Way, along with CAPT Peter Haynes’ Towards a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking on the Post-Cold War Era—-both are thus far very good. Also thanks to a friend, I recently spent some quality time with the late master naval strategist, Herbert Rosinski’s The Development of Naval Thought. This is my third or fourth pass through a very good little book.  If naval strategy holds any interest, this little book is not to be missed.

Are you reading any unusual titles?

Recommended Reading & Viewing

Monday, July 27th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Top Billing (Multi-post Blogging)! Cheryl Rofer of Nuclear Diner, on the Iran DealYes, There Is An Iran Deal , Approaching The Iran DealThe Fun Part Of The JCPOATaking Samples – Not As Simple As You Might ThinkThe Volunteer Verification CorpsThe JCPOA – Monitoring Uranium EnrichmentTwenty-Four Days

….A number of you have requested posts on JCPOA verification and the “24-day” issue. A way to start is with Jeffrey Lewis’s request for how environmental remediation relates to JCPOA verification. It’s something that I will need to refer back to in discussing those issues. And it’s clearly something that numerous commentators have no idea about. Basically, the requirements for sampling should be pretty much the same for IAEA inspections as for environmental remediation. Both have to stand up to legal scrutiny.

I’ll use three sites as examples: a metal plating bath outflow that was one of my responsibilities at Los Alamos, the Parchin site in Iran, and Al Kibar. I’m not making any big points here about Parchin and Al Kibar. I am using them to show what sampling requires.

Sampling is easy, right? You dig up some soil and put it in a baggie, or you swipe a wall with a tissue, and then you send it to the analytical lab and they tell you. BZZZZT! WRONG!

Sampling starts at a desk. First, you have to figure out the question you are trying to answer. The environmental remediation questions are pretty standard – what is there, how much, and where it is spread to – but the IAEA’s questions tend to be more varied. At Al Kibar, the question is whether there was a reactor there before the Israeli raid and the Syrian cleanup of the site. The situation at Parchin is more complicated. Three types of experiments are alleged to have been done in a containment chamber inside a building, after which the Iranians made many modifications to the site, including modifications to the suspect building, soil removal, and asphalt overlay. The basic question is which, if any, of those experiments took place there.

Second, you have to figure out what kind of samples you need to answer the question. For the plating outflow, that meant going to the archives to find out what kinds of metals and other chemicals were involved in the plating operation, what was released in the outflow, when and for how long. You also need to know what kind of samples the analytical laboratory will need to get good analyses. If you spend days getting 10-gram samples and the lab needs 100 grams for the analysis you want, well, you’ll have to do it again. And the IAEA doesn’t always get to do it again. [….]

David Brin – Altruistic Horizons: Our tribal natures, the ‘fear effect’ and the end of ideologies 

….Deep thinkers about human nature start with assumptions. Freud focused on sexual trauma and repression, Marx on the notion that humans combine rational self-interest with inter-class predation. Machiavelli offered scenarios about power relationships. Ayn Rand postulates that the sole legitimate human stance is solipsism. All are a priori suppositions based on limited and personally biased observations rather than any verified fundamental. Each writer “proved” his point with copious anecdotes. But, as Ronald Reagan showed, anecdotes prove nothing about generalities, only about possibilities.

In fact, while the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli (also Madison, Keynes, Hayek, Gandhi etc.) attracted followers, I think a stronger case can be made for tribalism as a driver of history. 

….When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent. The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger.

Lexington Green – “… a cyber attack has the potential of existential consequence.” 

“Based upon the societal dependence on these systems, and the interdependence of the various services and capabilities, the Task Force believes that the integrated impact of a cyber attack has the potential of existential consequence. While the manifestation of a nuclear and cyber attack are very different, in the end, the existential impact to the United States is the same.”

Bruce KeslerA Marine Murdered In Chattanooga Comes Home With Proper Respect

War on the Rocks – CHINA’S NEW INTELLIGENCE WAR AGAINST THE UNITED STATES and IRAN DEAL OR NO DEAL 

Small Wars Journal – Despite Nuclear Deal, US and Iran Locked in Regional Shadow War and Why Troops Avoid a Fight 

Fabius Maximus – Martin van Creveld: Our armies become pussycats, part 1 and Martin van Creveld: Our armies become pussycats, part 2 

Chet Richards – On OODA Loops, Fast and Slow 

Scholar’s Stage – “The OODA Loop, Ancient China Style” 

Venkat Rao –The Boydian Dialectic 

Steven Metz – Why Americans won’t like the New Middle East Order 

The Bridge –The Cockroach Approach: Bombing Our Own Failed Narrative

Feral Jundi –Books: Composite Warfare, By Eeben Barlow

Cicero MagazineDisarming the Profession of Arms: Why Disarm Servicemembers on Bases? 

Aeon MagazineCheeseburger Ethics  

Smithsonian – How Geography Shaped Societies, From Neanderthals to iPhones

RECOMMENDED VIEWING:

 

Not everything that counts can be counted

Monday, July 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not Einstein but a fellow Cameron gave me my title ]
.

I’ll admit I was uneasy when I read about the “effective altruism” movement in Peter Singer‘s Boston Review piece, The Logic of Effective Altruism, but I didn’t quite see how to phrase my unease. Here’s Singer’s explanation of the concept:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

That’s the gist, but there’s a lot of what I can only term “moral cost-effectiveness” in there, as though goodness were a problem in engineering.

Today I read Michael J. Lewis‘s Commentary piece, How Art Became Irrelevant, and think I found the “why” of my unease, in the writer’s description of the German idea (“ideal”) of an architectural Existenzminimum:

This was the notion that in the design of housing, one must first precisely calculate the absolute minimum of necessary space (the acceptable clearance between sink and stove, between bed and dresser, etc.), derive a floor plan from those calculations, and then build as many units as possible. One could not add a single inch of grace room, for once that inch was multiplied through a thousand apartments, a family would be deprived of a decent dwelling. So went the moral logic.

**

  • Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
  • The heart has reasons Reason knows not of.
  • Actions speak louder than.. ahem, narratives

    Monday, July 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — pondering the use of narratives to “counter violent extremism” ]
    .

    I’m pondering the use of narratives to “counter violent extremism”, and have been thinking about letting this post consist of its title and the government-sponsored words:

    This Page Intentionally Left Blank

    I’m hoping this post will find its place in the comments section, in other words. If the opposing party — whether that means, effectively, IS, salafist-jihadis, the Ikhwan, or Islamists in general — pushes a narrative about US actions towards the Islamic world, can a narrative alone succeed at pushing back? What actions can we show that refute the simple form of that narrative? What actions might we take in future that would appear to affirm it? To refute it?

    Are we so busy thinking about counter-narratives that we allow our actions to undercut our words?

    **

    Come to that, is the appeal of IS really its apocalyptic theology (which is what I mostly address), its success as a military force (which may be down to the presence of ex-Baathist military in high positions of command), its critique of US policy in respect of the Islamic world (dictatorships included), the prospect of adventure (and perhaps concubines?) in foreign lands, or, as Prof Andrew Silke would have it, altruism?

    The key message is that you have got to see the terrorists as they see themselves if you genuinely want to understand why people are getting involved. If you talk to terrorist themselves, they portray themselves as altruists – they see themselves as fighting on behalf of others, whether it’s the IRA fighting on behalf of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, or if it’s Islamic State fighting on behalf of the Muslim ummah.

    **

    I suspect there’s a lot to be said here, and the floor is open. I’m eager to hear your voices..

    Sunday surprise – Dylan and the Bauls

    Sunday, July 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — how Buddha came by his Middle Way, among other things & songs ]
    .

    John Wesley Harding Bauls

    **

    In a fascinating article titled Dylan tunes like you’ve never heard them – in Hindi and Bengali a few months back, Nate Rabe made the assertion — I only saw it today —

    Bob Dylan, unlike many of his contemporaries, seems to never have been drawn to India. There were no pilgrimages to Rishikesh, no gurus, no lost years by the Ganga and, to date, I’ve not detected any Hindustani musical influence in his music.

    Okay — how about his album covers?

    On the cover of John Wesley Harding (above), Dylan is flanked by “Luxman and Purna Das, two Bengali Bauls” — “South Asian musicians brought to Woodstock by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman” according to Wikipedia.

    **

    The Bauls — with their one-stringed instrument, the ektara, and their ecstatic songs of devotion — have been an interest of mine at least since the time that album came out in 1967. It was shortly thereafter that I also ran across the album The Bauls of Bengal issued by Elektra in 1966.

    A writer in the rec.music.dylan newsgroup notes:

    Through their songs, dances, gestures, through silences, through postures and looks, the Bauls tell stories of the earth, of the body, of lovers uniting – subtly revealing the mystery of life and laws of nature. Submission to the divine is their tightrope to wisdom. Most Bauls are wandering mendicants, living on what they are offered by villagers in return for their songs. They sing from the heart on their never ending tours and consecrate their lives to a fusion of music, song and dance as the privileged vehicle for attaining ecstasy.

    Edward C Dimock Jr, author of The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Cult of Bengal and co-author with poet Denise Levertov of the “slim volume of poetry”, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali, wrote on the liner notes of the Bauls’ album:

    Some people have said that it is possible to characterize the Bauls by a distinctive doctrine. I have never found it possible to do so, for it seems to me that they are first and foremost individuals, and that the term Baul encompasses a wide range of religious opinion, traceable to several Hindu schools of thought, to Sufi Islam, and much that is traceable only to a man’s own view of how he relates to God. All Baul’s hold only this in common: that God is hidden in the heart of man, and neither priest nor prophet, nor the ritual of any organized religion, will help man to find him there.”

    Dimock, as you have guessed, is another long-time favorite author of mine, and I once had the privilege of meeting Denise Levertov, whose poem A Tree Telling of Orpheus I hold to be one of the great poems of the 20th century.

    **

    There is an album out titled From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, which includes a rendering of Mr Tambourine Man by one Purna Das Baul

    and Nate Rabe’s piece introduces us, among others, to Susheela Raman, covering Like a Rolling Stone:

    **

    It was a wandering musician playing an ektara, so I have heard, whom the ultra-ascetic known as Siddhartha Gauama overheard saying or singing:

    If you tighten the string too much it will snap and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play.

    That hint was enough. Siddhartha grasped from those words the essence of the teaching he was to make famous as the Middle Way, set aside his austerities as he had earlier set aside his princely status, and in short order attained enlightenment — becoming Gautama Buddha, one of the great masters of our age.

    h/t 3 Quarks Daily


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