[ by Charles Cameron — waiting for the wave function to collapse ]
[ by Charles Cameron — waiting for the wave function to collapse ]
[by J. Scott Shipman]
Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr
The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks
This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.
I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.
2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).
David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.
Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)
Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!
Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry. His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.
White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.
Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.
This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are you reading this summer?
Anne-Marie Slaughter had a short but bombastic WaPo op-ed on Syria and chemical weapons use that requires comment:
….The Clinton administration did not want to acknowledge that genocide was taking place in Rwanda because the United States would have been legally bound by the Genocide Convention of 1948 to intervene to stop the killing. The reason the Obama administration does not want to recognize that chemical weapons are being used in Syria is because Obama warned the Syrian regime clearly and sharply in August against using such weapons. “There would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical-weapons front or the use of chemical weapons,” he said. “That would change my calculations significantly.”
….But the White House must recognize that the game has already changed. U.S. credibility is on the line. For all the temptation to hide behind the decision to invade Iraq based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, Obama must realize the tremendous damage he will do to the United States and to his legacy if he fails to act. He should understand the deep and lasting damage done when the gap between words and deeds becomes too great to ignore, when those who wield power are exposed as not saying what they mean or meaning what they say.
Another installment of Octavian Manea’s excellent COIN interview series at SWJ. This one focuses on social science and varieties of insurgency:
….OM: In your research you pointed out to a spectrum of conceivable individual roles in an insurgency. What is the methodology behind this typology?
RDP: This methodology comes from my 2001 book (Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe) which focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviets in the 1940’s. Insurgency is a complex phenomenon, especially in how violent organization and networks are created and sustained, and the methodology of that book involved breaking down this complexity into component parts and then building back up into a coherent whole. At the base of this process is the way individuals position themselves relative to the dramatic and violent events of insurgency. Most people may wish to remain neutral and just take care of their families but events push significant numbers of individuals into roles of unarmed support of insurgents, or local armed position of a militia, membership in a mobile non-local organization, or equivalent positions in support of the government. Furthermore, individuals may move back and forth along this spectrum of roles. If one is skeptical of broad and vague theories at a high level of aggregation, as I am, then you need to get down and observe dynamics at a basic level. Observing movement along this spectrum of roles is one way to do that.
…..Is it FM 3-24 and the whole contemporary Western COIN discourse too narrow, too much focused on rational, cost/benefit models of decision-making? Is it too restrictive when making this inventory of driving motivations or causal mechanisms?
RDP: I think there is a tendency in the Western academic analysis to focus on rational theories. Those theories are straightforward. But they also might be too straightforward, too simple. In Iraq, the coalition did not plan on the emotion of resentment stemming from a status reversal affecting Sunni calculations in the beginning stages of the conflict. We did not understand the revenge norms that exist in some of the places. We did not fully understand the social norms that helped to produce the tribal militias in Anbar province. We did not understand the psychological mechanisms underlying the Sunni view of the new world they were living in.
The last part is a curious lacuna.
The incompetence of the planning for the occupation of Iraq has been amply recorded – the high level disdain of General Tommy Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld for what befell the day after victory, the keeping of professional Arabists at arms length in preference for Beltway contractors and college kids with AEI connections, the haplessness of Jay Garner and the political obtuseness of Paul Bremer ad so on. This is not what I mean about lacuna.
I mean something more fundamental, in terms of understanding human nature as the root of political behavior and therefore political violence. We are all familiar with the Clausewitzian trinity (or should be) but less attention is paid to the motivational factors that make men decide to stand, fight and die or stand aside. Thucydides also had a trinity that did not attempt to capture the nature of war but rather explain why wars happened and it seems to me to be of particular use for evaluating the decision in small wars to pick up a gun or not, to side with the government or join the rebellion:
“Surely, Lacedaemonians, neither by the patriotism that we displayed at that crisis, nor by the wisdom of our counsels, do we merit our extreme unpopularity with the Hellenes, not at least unpopularity for our empire. That empire we acquired by no violent means, but because you were unwilling to prosecute to its conclusion the war against the barbarian, and because the allies attached themselves to us and spontaneously asked us to assume the command. And the nature of the case first compelled us to advance our empire to its present height; fear being our principal motive, though honour and interest afterwards came in. And at last, when almost all hated us, when some had already revolted and had been subdued, when you had ceased to be the friends that you once were, and had become objects of suspicion and dislike, it appeared no longer safe to give up our empire; especially as all who left us would fall to you. And no one can quarrel with a people for making, in matters of tremendous risk, the best provision that it can for its interest.
Fear, honor and interest are ever present in “calculation” both by men and by the political communities they compose and the factions that threaten to tear them apart. All the more so in a defeated and broken country divided by ethnicity and sect where all parties were uneasily eyeing the conqueror. No special knowledge of Arab culture should have been required to anticipate that Iraqi men, if made desperate by uncertainty and circumstance, might have at least seen it in their interest to achieve some measure of security with the gun and to enact policies of carrots and sticks a priori to discourage that, before the insurgency gained critical mass.
Awareness of the universality of the Thucydidean trinity would not have in itself guaranteed success in Iraq but knowing it is a rudimentary minimum of political competence upon which you can at least build.
[ by Charles Cameron — wondering whether it can ever be possible to expect the unexpected, and if so, what exactly that might mean? Libya & Mali ]
Alex Thurston at Sahel Blog: Covering Politics and Religion in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa posted Libya and Mali, Part I today. The topic is one I am not qualified to comment on, although I’m trying to learn from those (such as AT) who are — but this sentence caught my eye and got me writing:
A failure to soberly consider the possible unexpected consequences of intervention and transition has helped chaos to develop in post-Qadhafi Libya.
I wonder if that’s a koan?
Is it ever possible to “soberly consider the possible unexpected consequences” of anything? Consider Donald Rumsfeld‘s remark:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
Throw in the missing fourth category, supplied by somebody for Wikipedia:
Moreover, one may criticize Rumsfeld statement for omitting the most dangerous type of unknown: the “unknown known”. That is, as Mark Twain famously expressed it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you think you know that just ain’t so”. Indeed, Rumsfeld was really discussing an “unknown known” which provided faulty justification for the war — members of the Bush administration claimed that the Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction (see Rationale_for_the_Iraq_War), but it just wasn’t so.
Now allow for what you might call informed guess-work, what CS Peirce called abduction — I’m just now introducing my elder son to Eco & Sebeok‘s magnificent book, The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce — and “non-predictive” attempts to lay out a spread of possible outcomes by means of scenario-planning, as Tom Barnett wrote in his Year 2000 International Security Dimension Project Final Report:
By “decision scenario approach,” we mean using credible scenarios to create awareness among relevant decision-makers regarding the sort of strategic issues and choices they are likely to face if the more stressing pathways envisioned come to pass.
Again, none of our material here is meant to be predictive in the sense of providing a step-by-step “cookbook” approach to Y2K and Millennial Date Change crisis management. Our fundamental goal in collecting and synthesizing this analysis is to avoid any situation where US military decision makers and/or operational commanders would find themselves in seemingly uncharted territory and declare, “I had no idea . . ..”
We (myself at times included) seem to be busily employed making non-predictive predictions.
Black swans… Nassim Nicholas Taleb may have been the one who most recently crept up behind us and clapped loudly to alert us to the unexpected, but Stéphane Mallarmé was there first in 1897 with the great graphical poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard, featured in the lower image of the pair at the top of this post.
My own “zen telegram” version, for those who neither know the poem nor read French:
A ROLL OF THE DICE
not even when tossed sub specie aeternitatis from the depth of a shipwreck
WILL NEVER EVER ABOLISH
— now there’s a koan for our times — and always.
Listen to the poets…
Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walk’d among the ancient trees…
Sources and links:
Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard from Wikipedia le début de la typographie moderne by Étienne Mineur with page images Un coup de dés, French original and English translation, by AS Kline See that voice of the Bard, William Blake…
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