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Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

ancient religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

“…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.

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The Wire, with a hat-tip to John Boyd

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with thanks to Netflix and David Simon, and the same with Don Vandergriff, Secretary Gates and Boyd himself ]
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In the second season of The Wire aka “the Great American Novel for Television“, first episode, Ebb Tide, Detective Roland Pryzbylewski talks about his future in a discussion with his father-in-law, Major Valchek. The conversation goes (emphatically, on the Major’s side) like this:

Valchek: What do I think? I think you’re gonna take the Sergeant’s Exam next month. And because I have Andy Krawczyk’s ear and because he has City Hall’s ear you’re gonna make Sergeant. Then you’re gonna come out here to the Southeast where, because I’m your father-in-law you’re gonna be assigned a daytime shift in a quiet sector. Then you’re gonna take the Lieutenant’s Exam where you’ll also score high.

Pryzbylewski: I don’t want to make rank. I want to work cases. Good cases.

Valchek: Roland. Listen to me. You did good with the drug thing. You buckled down, you did the work. And except for that thing with the Grand Jury you helped take some of the stink off yourself. Now if you’ll just shut up and listen to me you might actually have a career in this department.

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That’s pure Boyd, dramatized, if I’m not mistaken. I’d just reread Boyd’s speech in an older post from Don Vandergriff, SecDef talks about Boyd’s “To Be or To Do” speech, and of course I know that speech is a favorite of Scott‘s, so the impact of Det. Pryzbylewski’s predicament was pretty strong.

John Boyd:

Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed in another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?

There’s a choice, sure. But on another level, is there really any choice?

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A Low Visibility Force Multiplier – a recommendation

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Low Visibility Force Multiplier, Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions, Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, Jingdong Yuan

Through an interesting turn of events I was able to attend an event at the Center for a New American Security today where Dennis Gormley and Andrew Erickson discussed their new book, A Low Visibility Force Multiplier. A colleague with CIMSEC posted a link to a Wendell Minnick story in Defense News which led to the National Defense University pdf. I managed to read a large chunk last night/this morning—for a document that was written using open sources, the authors make a pretty compelling case that China’s Anti-ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM), the so-called “carrier killer” isn’t the only missile in the PLAN arsenal U.S. Navy planners need to factor in.

From the Executive Summary:

Assessment

China has invested considerable resources both in acquiring foreign cruise missiles and technology and in developing its own indigenous cruise missile capabilities. These efforts are bearing fruit in the form of relatively advanced ASCMs and LACMs deployed on a wide range of older and modern air, ground, surface-ship, and sub-surface platforms.(9) To realize the full benefits, China will need additional investments in all the relevant enabling technologies and systems required to optimize cruise missile performance.(10) Shortcomings remain in intelligence support, command and control, platform stealth and survivability, and postattack damage assessment, all of which are critical to mission effectiveness.

ASCMs and LACMs have significantly improved PLA combat capabilities and are key components in Chinese efforts to develop A2/AD capabilities that increase the costs and risks for U.S. forces operating near China, including in a Taiwan contingency. China plans to employ cruise missiles in ways that exploit synergies with other strike systems, including using cruise missiles to degrade air defenses and command and control facilities to enable follow-on air strikes. Defenses and other responses to PRC cruise missile capabilities exist, but will require greater attention and a focused effort to develop technical countermeasures and effective operational responses.

The authors speculate that China has done the calculus and determined they can’t match us (or perhaps have no desire) in platforms, but rather are choosing a lower cost alternative: omassive missile barrages—so massive ship defense systems are overwhelmed. Numbers matter; as the great WayneP. Hughes, Jr. (CAPT, USN, Ret) points out in his seminal Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, naval warfare is attrition warfare. With that in mind, this paragraph illustrates the gravity (emphasis added):

Cruise Missile Ratios

DOD transformation assumes that by shaping the nature of military competition in U.S. favor, or “overmatch,” rivals will continually lag in a demanding security environment. What if this is a false assumption? In other words, China may be choosing to com- pete in a traditional or conventional maritime environment in which transformed U.S. forces are structured and equipped in a significantly different way. As analyst Mark Stokes has reported, some Chinese believe that, due to the low cost of developing, deploying, and maintaining LACMs, cruise missiles possess a 9:1 cost advantage over the expense of defending against them. (103) The far more important—and difficult to estimate—ratio is that of PLA ASCMs to U.S. Navy defense systems. Numbers alone will not determine effectiveness; concept of operations and ability to employ cruise missiles effectively in actual operational conditions will be the true determinants of capability. Even without precise calculations, however, it appears that China’s increasing ASCM inventory has in- creasing potential to saturate U.S. Navy defenses. This is clearly the goal of China’s much heavier emphasis on cruise missiles, and it appears to be informed by an assumption that quantity can defeat quality. Saturation is an obvious tactic for China to use based on its capabilities and emphasis on defensive systems. PLAN ASCM weapon training, production, and delivery platform modernization continues to progress rapidly. Scenarios involving hostile engagement between PLAN and U.S. CSG forces could be quite costly to the latter due to the sheer volume of potential ASCM saturation attacks.

Dr. Erickson pointed out in today’s meeting that the Mark Stokes estimate may be an overstatement, but certainly illustrative of economics involved.

This is an important contribution and the challenges facing our Navy and Allies in the South China Sea/East China Sea lead me to conclude with hope that policy makers read and heed.

Strongest recommendation.

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Divinity, Odd Numbers, and the Invention of the Modern World

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invention of the Modern World by Alan Macfarlane

This title arrived today. I was prompted to purchase after Mr. Macfarlane mentioned the book in social media, though I’m not sure when I’ll have time to read it. Perhaps I’ll read this Macfarlane book the way I read his Montesquieu and the Making of the Modern World — on the Metro and while traveling (highly recommended, too).

I also shared because on the back cover is a phrase I knew Charles would find at least amusing: There is Divinity in Odd Numbers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invention is derived from lectures Macfarlane gave at China’s Tsinghua University. The book was written “explicitly for a Chinese audience.” As I enjoyed Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, I look forward to Macfarlane’s take. 

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Today’s DoubleQuotes 1: in the wild

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- fascinated to see the uses others make of the juxtapositions I call "DoubleQuotes" ]
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This first one was suggested to me by Scott Shipman as a “match” for my DQ about Von Karman’s mathematics of flow in liquids and Van Gogh’s night sky — and indeed, the two of them make a fine double DoubleQuote.

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The second comes from the “HSM Press Office” twitter feed, the exact nature of which is unknown, but which calls itself the “High Spirit Mission Press” and sports a jihadist “black banner” as its avatar:

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And the third?

M’friend Bryan Alexander suggested what he called “a Piketty doublequote” in a note to me this morning:

It may be excessive to accuse senior executives of having their “hands in the till”, but the metaphor is probably more apt than Adam Smith’s metaphor of the market’s “invisible hand”

**

Let’s take the two visual “DoubleQuotes in the wild” above, and look at my own equivalents:

I have to say that I find the respective beauties of the von Karman vortext street diagram (upper panel) and the Van Gogh night sky painting (lower panel) seem perfectly balanced to me, while the fractal generator still has a ways to go before it arrives at the brilliance of Hokusai.

The fractal-wave comparison, btw, is one that has obviously occurred to more than one person — here’s another version:

It’s also interesting to me that in both cases — that of Hokusai and that of Van Gogh — the arts appear to have been “ahead of” the sciences.

**

As to the second “wild” DQ –

I’ve used TinEye and Google image-search engines, and haven’t found any other uses of the double image HSM Press Office posted, showing an Imam praying for a deceased US soldier and US aoldiers urinating on the bodies of deal Taliban — so I imagine the pairing of the two images may be KSM Press Office’s own. And it’s funny, because I think the intention is to suggest “we” (ie jihadists) treat “you” (ie US military dead) with appropriate respect, while you show no such respect for deal Taliban.

The thing is, here’s a caption for the photo of the Imam praying:

Imam Hashim Raza leads mourners in prayer during a funeral for Mohsin Naqvi at al-Fatima Islamic Center in Colonie, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. Naqvi was a Muslim, a native of Pakistan (he emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 8 years old and became a citizen at 16) and a U.S. Army officer. He was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

So what we’re seeing is an American imam at the funeral of a fellow Muslim — in this case a fellow Muslim who was also American soldier. And BTW those American soldiers urinating on Taliban corpses? They’re not representative of the American military as a whole.

Knowing this, I’ve made my own DoubleQuote in response to the one above.

In the upper panel, it shows the New York imam at the funeral of Lt. Mohsin A. Naqvi, whose flag-draped coffin was carried to the service by an Army honor guard from Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division.

In the lower panel, we see US medics — marines, I think [ Army, see correction below] — treating wounded Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

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