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Books and Bookish Things in 2009

Monday, December 21st, 2009

The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama by Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman – just arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Flipped through it today and scanned the index; it looks like a book that would appeal to both “political” bloggers, including Nixon aficianados and the security-defense-foreign policy types who compose a large segment of the readership here.

This year I decided to keep track of all the books I read and see what conclusions I could draw from that experience. I learned a number of interesting things.

First, I did not read nearly as many books cover to cover that I thought I would, though in fairness some of them were a) large and b) ‘hard”. Those I had to read for a grad program were also tedious in the sense of often being composed in the worst kind of academic jargon being overused to convey relatively simple arguments. That said, I could probably have read more than I did. Partly, the problem was a tight schedule and partly it was a case of my reading time being taken consumed more by blogs, PDFs, email, listservs, e-zines and news. All useful but not the same thing as deep reading provided by books.

Secondly, the variety of reading material was not as diverse as I’d have liked, though that is unfortunately the nature of formal programs of study. By definition they are narrow and drill down. I need to add more science and more literature to my repetoire.

Without further ado, my list:


Classics and Ancient History:

The Anabasis of Cyrus by Xenophon ( Wayne Ambler, trans.).    
On War by Carl von Clausewitz (Michael Howard, Peter Paret, trans.)
Caesar’s Commentaries On The Gallic War by Julius Caesar
Alexander the Great by Paul Cartledge
How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy

War, National Security, Military History and Strategy (Modern):

Great Powers: America and the World After Bush by Thomas P.M. Barnett
Threats in the Age of Obama by Michael Tanji (ed.)
The Culture of War by Martin van Creveld
Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P.W. Singer
The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security by Grant T. Hammond
Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton
The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer
The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against America by Douglas E. Schoen
This Is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America’s Most Violent Gang by Samuel Logan

Islamic World:

Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole
The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr

Society, Arts, Literature and Science:

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Fatal Revenant: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform Our World by Wendy Smith

Educational Theory, Learning and Schools:

Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality by Charles Murray
Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith
What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action by Robert J. Marzano
Teaching What Matters Most: Standards and Strategies for Raising Student Achievement by Richard Strong
Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work by Robert E. Eaker
Getting Results With Curriculum Mapping by Heidi Hayes Jacobs
SuperVision and Instructional Leadership: A Developmental Approach by Carl D. Glickman
Pretending to Be Normal: Living With Asperger’s Syndrome by Liane Holliday Willey
Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker
The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
School, Family, and Community Partnerships : Preparing Educators and Improving Schools by Joyce Levy Epstein
American Public School Finance by William A. Owings
Ethics Of School Administration by Kenneth Strike
Ethical Leadership in Schools: Creating Community in an Environment of Accountability by Kenneth Strike
Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Educational Issues by James Noll
Teachers and the Law by Louis Fischer
Practicing the Art of Leadership: A Problem-Based Approach to Implementing the ISLLC Standards by Reginald Leon Green
On Common Ground: The Power of Professional Learning Communities by Roland S. Barth
Leading in a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan
Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching by Carol A. Tomlinson
Studying Educational and Social Policy: Theoretical Concepts and Research Methods by Ronald H. Heck
Data Analysis 2nd by Victoria L. Bernhardt

Currently Reading Now:

The Call of Nepal: My Life In the Himalayan Homeland of Britain’s Gurkha Soldiers by J.P. Cross
Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count by Richard E. Nisbett
The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism by Howard Bloom


I also make use of a Kindle            


Guest Post: Cameron on Millenarianism and the Paranoid Style

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Charles Cameron has been guest blogging here in a series on radical Islamism and terrorism and is now branching out in to more general posts that touch upon apocalyptic or esoteric religious movements.. A former researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, his most recent essay, an analysis of the powerpoint presentation of Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, appeared in the Small Wars Journal.

Personally, I found this post very interesting because I have seen repeated – and in my view, nutty – speculation or argument by progressives that the U.S. military has a secret fundamentalist Christian agenda. Charles highlights a flipside form of paranoia below reminiscient of Richard Hofstadter:

Millenarianism and the Paranoid Style

by Charles Cameron

A major writing his thesis for the MMAS degree at SAMS / Fort Leavenworth a couple of years back took for his topic “Strategic Implications of American Millennialism”. He wrote about the impact that  (eg) the expectation of Christ’s soon return to Jerusalem implying that the Israelis should rebuild the Temple on Temple Mount (and thus arguably displace the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock which currently stand there) might have on peace talks in the ME. And he thought that thinking of this kind was a poor foundation on which to build US foreign policy. I imagine he got the degree, since his monograph has been available on the web along with 2,500 others.

Strategic Implications of American Millennialism

It seems that early this week, a pre-millennialist Christian ran across the document an began to alert others. If you search Google for “Strategic Implications of American Millennialism” today, you’ll get 13,000 hits, including one on the blog of a prominent “prophecy” writer, John McTernan, and another on the “Worldview Matters” podcast of Christian Worldview Network, which offers an interview with McTernan. McTernan claims:

This … is an United States Army report about the literal believers of the Bible and how they affect American foreign policy. It is the most dangerous document to believers that I have ever read in my entire life. After reading this document, it is easy to see the next step would be to eliminate our Constitutional rights and herd us into concentration camps.

So a grad student’s monograph is being taken for something with the authority of a Field Manual, and thousands of Christians are concerned enough that their government is about to intern them that they read the monograph as strong evidence of that theory.
This ties in with late 1990s concerns that FEMA was about to herd people into camps. Indeed, a commenter on McTernan’s blog writes:

Why would the National Guard need so many “Internment/ Resettlement Specialist” for “FEMA camps”…in the USA? This administration recognizes there will be those who WILL NOT compromise their faith, military members included (about 25-50 million Americans according to some articles). So, these people (we) will have to be dealt with. Put two and two together: the radical thinking of this administration and the “FEMA camps” for those that need “reeducation

The FEMA concentration camp story has long legs — I first wrote about it in a paper on “web-based conspiracist and apocalyptic interpretations of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency” back in 1999, when it was routinely tied in with Y2K concerns — and the degree of  “connecting the dots” can be pretty impressive: one commenter on a FEMA camp scare site proclaims:

….the Bush Family are very strong supporters of the new world order and if viewed closely; resembles the Communest [sic] Manifesto

I don’t think we should read the sudden interest in concentration camps for evangelicals as pointing inexorably to some terrifying outcome, but it is becoming part of the scenery. What its impact on military personnel who regard people like McTernan as prophetic voices will be is hard to estimate — but Maj. Stuckert who as far as I can tell is currently deployed to Kabul, is in for a shock when he finds out that a paper he wrote now has him figuring as a principal spokesman for the US Army’s preparations to serve the Antichrist. And the same is presumably true for Col. Stefan J. Banach, the Director of SAMS, who is named as “Responsible Person” on the monograph’s “Report Documentation Page” — who has already fielded at least one irate phone-call on the subject, and is suggested as a target for such calls by McTernan.
One thing that might really help ease the situation would be for DOD or the School of Advanced Military Studies to post a note attached to Maj. Stuckert’s monograph, stating unequivocally that it does not represent Army policy but is one of 2,500 similar theses explored by students in the course of obtaining a degree, and as such presents one student officer’s views only.

We Laugh Because it is Funny but also Because it is True: The Weakness of the Historical Method

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

This amusing videoclip makes the same point that my polymathic amigo Dave Schuler likes to make about the true state of historiography about classical  antiquity:


I will now let Dave speak for himself:

….Take the example of a single book, Plato’s Republic. The book was written in something like the 4th century BCE. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt in the 1945 the very earliest manuscript of The Republic that was known to exist was from around 895 CE. The version of The Republic in the Nag Hammadi library dates from something like 325 CE. Assuming that the text that came down to the Founding Fathers was derived from the 895 manuscript (a very bad assumption-it wasn’t), the book had been preserved for a half millennium by Christian scribes for Christian purposes.This would be a good point for a digression-within-a-digression about the Arab copyists who preserved many works of classical antiquity but that would be too big a digression. Suffice it to say that these copyists took copies that had been preserved by Christians and preserved them themselves for their own, presumably Muslim, reasons.So The Republic has a history something like this. We don’t have a single copy of the work from Plato’s time. For six or seven hundred years it was copied by Greek and Roman scribes for reasons we can only guess at. It was then copied for between a half and a full millennium by Christian, Jewish, and Arab scribes for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim reasons.That is the history of every single work from classical antiquity that survived until the time of the founding of our republic. We have, essentially, no idea of the entire body of work produced by the ancients. What was known of classical antiquity at the time of the founding our republic consisted of the buildings that still survived that they had built (often highly modified for Christian use), works of art and other artifacts, classical writings that had been preserved by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scribes for their own purposes and that, presumably, furthered their agenda, and accounts of classical antiquity from Christian and Jewish writers.That’s it.

History is an empirical profession based on standards of evidence – in part. It is also an art of crafting a narrative that can effectively communicate the meaning of the evidence of an event that is known to exist.  Leopold von Ranke, one of the founders of the modern historical method, admonished his students that history should explain “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist” ( “Tell it how it really was” or “how it actually has been”) and eschew grand theories in seeking causation. These are difficult objectives to balance.

Historians are prisoners of their primary sources. Without them they are theorists or mere speculators. Too few, as with ancient history, and the historian is engaged in the same sort of guesswork as archaeologists and paleontologists or they are reduced to ideological theorizing, something historians are supposed to hold as suspect and as fit only for political scientists.

Too many sources, as with any modern presidential administration, and the sheer number makes it difficult to find critical evidence or draw upon a defensibly representative sample. Ronald Reagan supposedly signed one million documents in his eight years in the White House. True or not, the figure would represent a fraction of what his administration generated. Many documents of great importance are nonetheless not important enough at the time to cross the desk of the President of the United States.

The need to craft a narrative, imposes other restraints. There is no “history” unless the results of a historian’s work are disseminated and understood, challenged and defended.  Narrative works require the formating of historical events as a story and while this is reasonable in most instances, some periods of crisis are products of chance or a series of small acts that while unrelated, happen to intersect. Imposing a strong narrative frame on these situations is misleading but without the “story” there is no hook attractive enough to secure the attention of the general audience.

This is not to say, as Henry Ford did, that “history is bunk” but rather we need to be aware of the practical limitations under which historians labor. While history is not sociology or philosophy, it is not to be confused with physics.

Reader Recommended Reading

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

From reader Chris, of the USMC. Ties in well with prior discussions here of the need for cultural-educational-cognitive renovation in American society and the marked inadequacy of the current elite: 

National Affairs -“Keeping America’s Edge” – Jim Manzi

….Reconciling these competing forces is America’s great challenge in the decades ahead, but will be made far more difficult by the growing bifurcation of American society. Of course, this is not a new dilemma: It has actually undergirded most of the key political-economy debates of the past 30 years. But a dysfunctional political dynamic has prevented the nation from addressing it well, and has instead given us the worst of both worlds: a ballooning welfare state that threatens future growth, along with growing socioeconomic disparities.

Both major political parties have internal factions that sit on each side of the divide between innovation and cohesion. But broadly ­speaking, Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been the party of innovation, and Democrats have been the party of cohesion.

Conservatives have correctly viewed the policy agenda of the left as an attempt to undo the economic reforms of the 1980s. They have ­therefore, as a rhetorical and political strategy, downplayed the problems of cohesion – problems like inequality, wage stagnation, worker displacement, and disparities in educational performance – to emphasize the importance of innovation and growth. Liberals, meanwhile, have correctly identified the problem of cohesion, but have generally proposed antediluvian solutions and downplayed the necessity of innovation in a competitive world. They have noted that America’s economy in the immediate wake of World War II was in many ways simultaneously more regulated, more successful, and more equitable than today’s economy, but mistakenly assume that by restoring greater regulation we could re-create both the equity and prosperity of that era.

The conservative view fails to acknowledge the social costs of unrestrained economic innovation – costs that have made themselves ­powerfully apparent in American politics throughout our history. The liberal view, meanwhile, betrays a misunderstanding of the global economic environment.

…. The level of family disruption in America is enormous compared to almost every other country in the developed world. Of course, out-of-wedlock births are as common in many European countries as they are in the United States. But the estimated percentage of 15-year-olds living with both of their biological parents is far lower in the United States than in Western Europe, because unmarried European parents are much more likely to raise children together. It is hard to exaggerate the chaotic conditions under which something like a third of American children are being raised – or to overstate the negative impact this disorder has on their academic achievement, social skills, and character formation. There are certainly heroic exceptions, but the sad fact is that most of these children could not possibly compete with their foreign counterparts.As the lower classes in America experience these alarming regressions, wealthier and better-educated Americans have managed to re-create a great deal of the lifestyle of the old WASP ascendancy – if with different justifications for it. Political correctness serves the same basic function for this cohort that “good manners” did for an earlier elite; environmentalism increasingly stands in for the ethic of controlling impulses so as to live within limits; and an expensive, competitive school culture – from pre-K play groups up through graduate school – socializes the new elite for constructive competition among peers. These Americans have even re-created the old WASP aesthetic preference for the antique, authentic, and pseudo-utilitarian at the expense of vulgar displays of wealth. In many cases, they live in literally the same homes as the previous upper class.

Read the rest here.

Recommended Reading

Monday, December 14th, 2009

The Journal/e-zine edition….always gotta change it up 😉

American DiplomacyThe Arab as Insurgent” – Norvell DeAtkine

….In a widely quoted book among senior Arab military professionals, The Qu’ranic Concept of War, Pakistani general, S. K. Malik has written that “war is the cause of God” and not a calamity to be avoided.  There is much in this book that would promote unconventional war, including the importance of total war concepts, the use of terror to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy, the use of psychology, using economic tools, and as he wrote, avoiding “the kid gloves” approach to war.  For many pages he details the strategy promoted in the Qu’ran, mostly based on the early wars of the Prophet and his followers against the “apostates.” In other passages he extols the early Muslim armies’ ability to fight on favorable terrain, at a time of their choosing, and using deception and intelligence to gain advantage over the enemy.  Echoing a theme written by T. E. Lawrence, the principal aim in warfare is to win “bloodless battles” by convincing the enemy of the futility of resistance

SSI “Schools for Strategy: Teaching Strategy for 21st Century Conflict ” –  Dr. Colin S. Gray

Because strategic performance must involve the ability to decide, to command, and to lead, as well as the capacity to understand, there are practical limits to what is feasible and useful by way of formal education in strategy. The soldier who best comprehends what Sun-tzu, Clausewitz, and Thucydides intended to say, is not necessarily the soldier best fitted to strategic high command. It is important to distinguish between intellect and character/personality. The superior strategist is ever uniquely a product of nature/biology, personality/psychology, and experience/opportunity. Nonetheless, formal education has its place.

Strategic genius is rare, strategic talent is more common, though still unusual. The latter can be improved by formal education, the former most probably cannot. However, there is merit in the educational aspiration to help educate instinct for a better performance.

Marine Corps Gazette– “Where Is Our Kilcullen?: Professional relevance as a result of education” – LT.Col. Michael D. Grice

That is not to say that the Marine Corps hasn’t produced brilliantly intellectual officers. Pete Ellis, the eccentric but brilliant mastermind who not only predicted war with Japan 20 years before it was fought but had the foresight to provide the operational plans to win it, is one Marine who comes to mind. Victor “Brute” Krulak, an enormously influential Marine whose book, First to Fight, is required reading by every Marine, is another. More recently, the intellectual talents of LtGen P.K. Van Riper and Gen James N. Mattis have had enormous impacts on the Marine Corps. We have brilliance within our ranks; that is inarguable. What we do not have, however, is a systemic way to develop and educate officers to a level consistent with our Army, Navy, Air Force, and coalition counterparts.

Studies in Intelligence – “Thinking About the Business of Intelligence: What the World Economic Crisis Should Teach Us“- Carmen Medina and Rebecca Fisher

Lesson 2: We are overly sanguine about how close our information and intelligence sources approximate reality.

“Our understanding of causality and sequence leaves much to be desired.”

The second lesson from the global financial crisis is that economists thought their limited data accurately reflected reality. Famously, many of the financial houses in New York quantified their risk positions using algorithms that “assumed away” the very conditions that led to the crisis. In addition, as blogger and CNBC commentator Barry Ritholtz has noted, many of the actions that precipitated the crisis were hidden even to the most careful observers; what was in essence a “run” on the world’s largest financial institutions didn’t occur in the physical world-it happened as people pulled the virtual plug on their investments in the privacy of their own homes.

The Wilson Quarterly Robots at War: The New BattlefieldPW Singer

….Lawrence J. Korb is one of the deans of Washington’s defense policy establishment. A former Navy flight officer, he served as assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. Now he is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a ­left-­leaning think tank. Korb has seen presidential administrations, and their wars, come and go. And, as the author of 20 books and more than 100 articles, and a veteran of more than a thousand TV ­news-­show appearances, he has also helped shape how the American news media and public understand these wars. In 2007, I asked him what he thought was the most important overlooked issue in Washington defense circles. He answered, “Robotics and all this unmanned stuff. What are the effects? Will it make war more likely?”

Korb is a great supporter of unmanned systems for a simple reason: “They save lives.” But he worries about their effect on the perceptions and psychologies of war, not merely among foreign publics and media, but also at home. As more and more unmanned systems are used, he sees change occurring in two ways, both of which he fears will make war more likely. Robotics “will further disconnect the military from society. People are more likely to support the use of force as long as they view it as costless.” Even more worrisome, a new kind of voyeurism enabled by the emerging technologies will make the public more susceptible to attempts to sell the ease of a potential war. “There will be more marketing of wars. More ‘shock and awe’ talk to defray discussion of the costs.”

The Wilson Quarterly – “Rediscovering Central Asia” – S. Frederick Starr

In AD 998, two young men living nearly 200 miles apart, in ­present-­day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, entered into a correspondence. With verbal jousting that would not sound out of place in a ­21st-­century laboratory, they debated 18 questions, several of which resonate strongly even ­today.

Are there other solar systems out among the stars, they asked, or are we alone in the universe? In Europe, this question was to remain open for another 500 years, but to these two men it seemed clear that we are not alone. They also asked if the earth had been created whole and complete, or if it had evolved over time. Time, they agreed, is a continuum with no beginning or end. In other words, they rejected creationism and anticipated evolutionary geology and even Darwinism by nearly a millennium. This was all as heretical to the Muslim faith they professed as it was to medieval ­Christianity.

Few exchanges in the history of science have so boldly leapt into the future as this one, which occurred a thousand years ago in a region now regarded as a backwater. We know of it because a few copies of it survived in manuscript and were published almost a millennium later. ­Twenty-­six-year-old Abu ­al-­Rayhan al-Biruni, or al-Biruni (973-1048), hailed from near the Aral Sea and went on to distinguish himself in geography, mathematics, trigonometry, comparative religion, astronomy, physics, geology, psychology, mineralogy, and pharmacology. His counterpart, Abu Ali Sina, or Ibn Sina (ca. 980-1037), was from the stately city of Bukhara, the great seat of learning in what is now Uzbekistan. He made his mark in medicine, philosophy, physics, chemistry, astronomy, theology, clinical pharmacology, physiology, ethics, and even music. When eventually Ibn Sina’s great Canon of Medicine was translated into Latin, it triggered the start of modern medicine in the West. Together, the two are regarded as among the greatest scientific minds between antiquity and the Renaissance.

National Defense – Marines Use Simulations To Hone ‘Critical Thinking’ Skills – Grace V. Jean 

Before sending them to war, the Corps puts units through a pre-deployment exercise called “Mojave Viper” at Twentynine Palms, Calif. The simulated battle gives marines a chance to test their cognitive decision-making skills against live actors who role-play tribal leaders, civilians and insurgents. With the digital trainer, “we can better prepare the unit or leader for that live exercise through some of these other tools, and give them an opportunity to rehearse and remediate through numerous repetitions,” said Lt. Col. Dave Lucas, program manager of Combat Hunter.

….The interactive program walks students through a number of scenarios in which they are asked to interpret what is going on and to look for clues that can tip them off to potential threats. For example, if troops are arriving in an area for the first time, they can look at the townspeople’s body language to learn about their attitudes. Details such as whether they are standing in an open or closed posture, exposing the soles of their feet – an insult in many Middle Eastern cultures – or making eye contact are subtle but crucial signs of friendliness or hostility.

ISN Mexican Cartels Recruit Texan Teens – Samuel Logan

Teenage assassin

Rosalio Reta, also known as “Bart,” worked for Miguel Treviño, the second in command of Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations. Based in Nuevo Laredo, Triveño oversaw the movement of drugs through his city into the Texan city of Laredo and destinations beyond, across the eastern half of the US.

Reta likely never met Treviño, but did spend enough time in the bars of Nuevo Laredo to meet one of Treviño’s recruiters, someone on the lookout for young American kids interested in earning a little money on the side. Reta, however, was not hired to work as a mule, the most common job for new recruits. He was hired to kill; and as court documents revealed, he killed for the first time when he was 13, in 2000 or 2001.

As he grew into his assassin role, eliminating targets for Treviño on both sides of the border, Reta began earning between $5,000 and $50,000 a hit. He sometimes received a bonus – a kilo or two of pure cocaine – and at the very least received a $500 weekly retainer fee just so he was available when his Mexican handlers called.

That’s it!

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