Review: The Party’s Over–Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (Paperback)

5 Star, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Complexity & Catastrophe, Environment (Problems), Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity

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5.0 out of 5 stars Historical, Contextual, Critical Reference,

December 12, 2005
Richard Heinberg
There are other books that I consider to be better at the over-all challenge of “connecting the dots” among cheap oil, drugs and drug money gladly laundered by U.S. banks, and war profiteering, but this book must be considered one of the finest underlying reference works that support the more speculative conclusions of others.

This book provides both a solid history of how we got to where we are and why we continually dismiss the known future consequences of not providing for energy conservation and alternative energy; and it also provides a very finely presented review of what the author calls the “banquet of consequences” across transporation, food and agriculture, heating and cooling, the environment, public health, information storage and transmission, and the over-all geopolitics of oil.

Had we all read this book, The Long Emergency, and Crossing the Rubicon prior to Dick Cheney’s taking us to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we would have realized that invading and occupying those two countries is about the oil catastrophe and Wall Street’s need for drug money to provide liquidity (a point made in Rubicon, not in this book).

Cheap Oil has been the Fool’s Gold of this era. Unhappily, the fools (We the People) have ended up with our pocket’s picked, and Wall Street and a few very large immoral organizations have ended up with the Gold.

The party is indeed over. The only question that remains is: can we repossess the Commonwealth from those that have stolen it using profits from cheap oil?

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Review: The Outlaw Sea–A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime

4 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe, Crime (Organized, Transnational), Environment (Problems), Geography & Mapping, Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity

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4.0 out of 5 stars Threat From the Sea–75% of the Planet,

July 28, 2004
William Langewiesche
This is not the book I was expecting. Normally it would only have gotten three stars, for recycling three articles, only one of which was really of interest to me (on piracy), but the author is gifted, and his articulation of detail lifts the book to four stars and caused me to appreciate his final story on the poisonous deadly exportation of ship “break-up” by hand. It is a double-spaced book, stretched a bit, and not a research book per se.

Two high points for came early on. The author does a superb job of describing the vast expanse of the ungovernable ocean, three quarters of the globes surface, carrying 40,000 wandering merchant ships on any given day, and completely beyond the reach of sovereign states. The author does a fine job of demonstrating how most regulations and documentation are a complete facade, to the point of being both authentic, and irrelevant.

The author’s second big point for me came early on as he explored the utility of the large ocean to both pirates and terrorists seeking to rest within its bosom, and I am quite convinced, based on this book, that one of the next several 9-11’s will be a large merchant ship exploding toxically in a close in port situation–on page 43 he describes a French munitions ship colliding with a Norwegian freighter in Halifax. “Witnesses say that the sky erupted in a cubic mile of flame, and for the blink of an eye the harbor bottom went dry. More than 1,630 buildings were completely destroyed, another 12,000 were damaged, and more than 1,900 people died.”

There is no question but that the maritime industry is much more threatening to Western ports than is the aviation industry in the aftermath of 9-11, and we appear to be substituting paperwork instead of profound changes in how we track ships–instead of another secret satellite, for example, we should redirect funds to a maritime security satellite, and demand that ships have both transponders and an easy to understand chain of ownership. There is no question that we are caught in a trap: on the one hand, a major maritime disaster will make 9-11 look like a tea party; on the other the costs–in all forms–of actually securing the oceans is formidable.

Having previously written about the urgent need for a 450-ship Navy that includes brown water and deep water intercept ships (at the Defense Daily site, under Reports, GONAVY), I secure the fourth star for the author, despite my disappointment over the middle of the book, by giving him credit for doing a tremendous job of defining the challenges that we face in the combination of a vast sea and ruthless individual stateless terrorists, pirates, and crime gangs collaborating without regard to any sovereign state.

I do have to say, as a reader of Atlantic Monthly, I am getting a little tired of finding their stuff recycled into books without any warning as to the origin. Certainly I am happy to buy Jim Fallows and Robert Kaplan, to name just two that I admire, but it may be that books which consist of articles thrown together, without any additional research or cohesive elements added (such as a bibliography or index), should come with a warning. I for one will be more alert to this prospect in the future.

Having said that, I will end with the third reason I went up to four stars: the third and final story, on the poisonous manner in which we export our dead ships to be taken apart by hand in South Asia, with hundreds of deaths and truly gruesome working conditions for all concerned, is not one of the stories I have seen in article form before, it is a very valuable story, and for this unanticipated benefit, I put the book down a happy reader, well satisfied with the over-all afternoon.

See also, with reviews:
Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness

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Review: Human Security and the New Diplomacy–Protecting People, Promoting Peace

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Atrocities & Genocide, Civil Society, Complexity & Catastrophe, Diplomacy, Disaster Relief, Environment (Problems), Humanitarian Assistance, Stabilization & Reconstruction

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5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution of Man Demands Attention to Global Human Security,

January 14, 2004
Robert Grant McRae
In the mid-1990’s the United Nations (learn to respect them, they stink at the details but work at the strategic level) declared human security to be a just cause for intervention. Since then a number of extremely thoughtful works have documented the links between failed states (where human security is non-existent) and direct threats to the homelands of the advanced Western states. See my various lists, especially the list on Stategy & Force Structure.This book, by an extraordinary duo including the man who may well be Canada’s foremost authority in this arena, provides the first and as best I can tell only comprehensive discussion of why human security in every clime and place matters locally, that is, to the future of your children.

It places special emphasis on the importance of multi-cultural (i.e. not bully boy unilateral “we are the light and might makes right) approaches and large investments (commensurate with what we waste now on B2 bombers and nuclear carriers) in peacekeeping and stabilization operations which provide a vastly greater return on investment than funds wasted lining the pockets of military-industrial complex managers.

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Review: At War with Ourselves–Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World

4 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Complexity & Catastrophe, Culture, Research, Democracy, Economics, Education (General), Environment (Problems), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Insurgency & Revolution, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), True Cost & Toxicity, Truth & Reconciliation

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4.0 out of 5 stars Useful Supporting Views for Prestowitz’ Rogue Nation,

September 1, 2003
Michael Hirsh
Edit of 21 Dec 07 to add comment and links.

New Comment: I am distressed to see so many important books no longer available. Even though it makes my summative reviews valuable as a trace, I have tried to get Amazon to realize that it should offer such books electrionically, micro-cash for micro-text, and Jeff Besoz just doesn’t want to hear it. I predict that Kindle will fail.

The author has provided a very informed and well-documented view of the competing “axis of thinking” (unilateralism versus multilateral realism) and “axis of feeling” (isolationism versus engagement). The two together create the matrix upon which a multitude of ideological, special interest, and academic or “objective” constituencies may be plotted.

The endorsement of the book by the Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs is a very subtle but telling indictment of the unilateralist bullying that has characterized American foreign policy since 2000–indeed, the author of the book coins the term “ideological blowback” as part of devastatingly disturbing account of all the things that have been done “in our name” on the basis of either blind faith or neo-conservative presumption.

The book received four stars because at the strategic level, Clyde Prestowitz’ book, Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions is better in all ways–easier to read, more detailed, more specifics. Historically, I would bracket this book with the collection of Foreign AffairsThe American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World Essays from 75 Years of Foreign Affairs articles, , and I would add Wilson’s Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century by McNamara and Blight, Kissinger on Does America Need a Foreign Policy? : Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century, Boren et al on Preparing America’s Foreign Policy for the 21st Century, and finally Joe Nye’s, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone There are many other books I have reviewed on these pages, and one could make a fine evening of reading only the reviews, as they are summative in nature.

In any event, and the reason I mention other books above instead of in the last paragraph, is to make the point that everyone–other than a few obsessive neo-conservatives who happen to hold the reins of power–is saying the same thing: America must engage the real world, in a multilateral fashion.

The author of this book differs from other authors in that he explicitly recognizes, in his preface and then throughout the book, the fact that a coherent U.S. foreign policy cannot be achieved without the U.S. public’s first understanding what is at stake, and then making its voice heard.

The author is also noteworthy in detailing the hypocrisy and ignorance of existing U.S. national security policies. Although Prestowitz does this in a more useful fashion, this book is very valuable and has many gifted turns of phrase. Consider this one, from page 10: “Despite a century of intense global engagement, America is still something of a colossus with an infant’s brain, unaware of the havoc its tentative, giant-sized baby steps can cause. We still have some growing up to do as a nation.”

A third aspect of this book that I found compelling was the author’s continued emphasis on the need to change mind-sets and emphasize *awareness* over “guts”–as he tells this compelling tale, Americans are too quick to show “toughness” when they perhaps should slow down, orient, observe, decide, and then act on the basis of a fully-informed appraisal of all the linkages and potential consequences of their actions.

A fourth valuable feature of this book is the author’s focus on one chapter on American vulnerabilities in the age of globalization and super-empowered angry men. He quotes the incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in explaining to Congress the military’s incapacity to intervene on 9-11, as saying “We’re pretty good if the threat is coming from outside. We’re not so good if it’s coming from inside.”

This leads to the fifth and final aspect of the book that I found noteworthy: the author’s discussion of the mismanagement–even lack of management–of the broad spectrum of the varied instruments of national power. As Suzanne Nossel, a top Holbrook aide puts it, “Today, when it comes to U.S. diplomacy, one hand rarely knows what the other is doing. The U.S. government has no central ledger in which bilateral relationships are tracked. There is no place to turn to find out what the United States has done for a particular country lately, or what a country may want or fear.” The book clearly supports what appears to be an emerging consensus within the Senate that some form of “Goldwater-Nichols Act” for civilian and joint civilian-military national security management.

The endnotes are good, the index useful but annoyingly below 8 font type (possibly as low as 6) which is a very foolish act on the part of the publisher. A readable index would have increased the reference value of this book by at least 10%. The book lacks a bibliography, and here we urge the author to consider one for what we hope will be a second printing: books on realism, books on unilateralism, books on blowback (e.g. The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World, or Why Do People Hate America?), etcetera.

See also:
The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress

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Review: High Noo–20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them

6 Star Top 10%, Best Practices in Management, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Complexity & Catastrophe, Complexity & Resilience, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Future, Games, Models, & Simulations, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Priorities, Public Administration, Survival & Sustainment, United Nations & NGOs, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity

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5.0 out of 5 stars Straight-Forward, Understandable, URGENT, “Strong Buy”,

August 29, 2003
Jean-francois Rischard
Edit of 21 Dec 07 to aadd comment and links.

Comment: This is still the best strategic overview and a book I would recommend all. See the others below.

Having read perhaps 20 of the best books on global issues and environmental sustainability, water scarcity, ocean problems, etc, over the past few years (most reviewed here on Amazon) I was prepared for a superficial summary, political posturing, and unrealistic claims. Not this book–this book is one of the finest, most intelligent, most easily understood programs for action I have ever seen. The book as a whole, and the 20 problem statements specifically, are concise, illustrated, and sensible.

The author breaks the 20 issues into 3 groups. Group one (sharing our planet) includes global warming; biodiversity and ecosystem losses, fisheries depletion, deforestation, water deficits, and maritime safety and pollution. Group two (sharing our humanity) includes massive step-up in the fight against poverty, peacekeeping-conflict prevention-combatting terrorism, education for all, global infectuous diseases, digital divide, and natural disaster prevention and mitigation. Group three (sharing our rule book) includes reinventing taxation for the 21st century, biotechnology rules, global financial architecture, illegal drugs, trade-investment-competition rules, intellectual property rights, e-commerce rules, and international labor and migration rules.

The author’s core concept for dealing with these complex issues intelligently, while recognizing that “world government” is not an option, lies with his appreciation of the Internet and how global issues networks could be created that would be a vertical complement to the existing horizontal elements of each national government.

The footnotes and index are professional, but vastly more important, the author’s vision is combined with practicality. This is a “doable-do” and this book is therefore my number one reading recommendation for any citizen buying just one book of the 360+ that I have recommended within Amazon. Superb.

See also, with reviews:
The Future of Life
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Green Chemistry and the Ten Commandments of Sustainability, 2nd ed
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution

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Review: Our Final Hour–A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century–On Earth and Beyond

3 Star, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Future

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3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but High Noon by Rischard is Better,

May 29, 2003
Martin Rees
This is a good book. If E.O. Wilson had not published “The Future of Life” or J. F. Rischard “High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve them”, or Brian Czech, “Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train,” then this would be a great book. The book could not have a more distinguished author or more erudite arguments–it suffers from a boring presentation, including an unreadable choice of colors by the publishers for the back cover.If this is an area of professional interest, the book is absolutely essential. If this is an area of personal interst, and you can afford five books, this book definitely deserves to be in that number. If you can only afford one or two books, buy “High Noon”, followed by “Future of Life”.

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Review: Environmental Security and Global Stability–Problems and Responses

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Complexity & Resilience, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Security (Including Immigration), Strategy

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5.0 out of 5 stars

May be “Ref A” for New National Security Focus,

May 24, 2003
Dr. Col Max Manwaring
Vice Admiral Paul G. Gaffney II
This book is very original and very helpful in exploring an area of national security conceptualization and doctrine that has been long neglected–that of the relationship between environmental security and stability, and all the bad things that happen when this is lost–ultimately causing poverty, mass migrations, disease, crime, and war.The contributing editor, Dr. Max Manwaring (Col USA Ret) uses an interview with General Anthony Zinni, then Commander-in-Chief of the Central Command, to examine key issues such as the desperate need for inter-agency coordination and information sharing, the looming catastrophic problems with rain forests, seabed resources, and inland water scarcity, ending with the urgent need for a national security “game plan” for dealing with this non-traditional threat over time and across all nations including the 32 failed states where many of the problems will not be addressed without outside intervention.

All eight of the chapters, the last being a conclusion by the contributing editor, make provocative, documented cases for the urgency of this non-traditional threat. Throughout the book it is clear that the US Department of Defense has some extremely bright uniformed and retired (teaching) officers who are thinking great thoughts, and it is equally clear that they are not being listened to. This book is probably ten years ahead of its time, and it will be ten years before this book is read and understood by a Secretary of Defense (or ten years before someone reading the book today will be eligible for that position).

I recommend this book be read together with Andrew Price-Smith’s book on “The Health of Nations” (on re-emerging infectuous diseases), Laurie Garrett’s book “Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health”, Marq de Villiers’ book “WATER: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource”, David Helvarg’s “BLUE FRONTIER: Saving America’s Living Seas,” and Brian Czech’s “Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train” (on errant economists and shameful spenders).

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Review: High Noon–Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them

7 Star Top 1%, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions)
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5.0 out of 5 stars 7 Star Life Transformative Holistic Analytics – Practical Bottom Line on Saving Planet–Do It or Lose It,

May 29, 2003
J.F. Rischard

Having read perhaps 20 of the best books on global issues and environmental sustainability, water scarcity, ocean problems, etc, over the past few years (most reviewed here on Amazon) I was prepared for a superficial summary, political posturing, and unrealistic claims. Not this book–this book is one of the finest, most intelligent, most easily understood programs for action I have ever seen. The book as a whole, and the 20 problem statements specifically, are concise, illustrated, and sensible.The author breaks the 20 issues into 3 groups. Group one (sharing our planet)includes global warming; biodiversity and ecosystem losses, fisheries depletion, deforestation, water deficits, and maritime safety and pollution. Group two (sharing our humanity) includes massive step-up in the fight against poverty, peacekeeping-conflict prevention-combatting terrorism, education for all, global infectuous diseases, digital divide, and natural disaster prevention and mitigation. Group three (sharing our rule book) includes reinventing taxation for the 21st century, biotechnology rules, global financial architecture, illegal drugs, trade-investment-competition rules, intellectual property rights, e-commerce rules, and international labor and migration rules.

The author’s core concept for dealing with these complex issues intelligently, while recognizing that “world government” is not an option, lies with his appreciation of the Internet and how global issues networks could be created that would be a vertical complement to the existing horizontal elements of each national government.

The footnotes and index are professional, but vastly more important, the author’s vision is combined with practicality. This is a “doable-do” and this book is therefore my number one reading recommendation for any citizen buying just one book of the 360+ that I have recommended within Amazon. Superb.

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Review: Normal Accidents–Living with High-Risk Technologies

5 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe, Economics, Environment (Problems), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Science & Politics of Science

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5.0 out of 5 stars Of Lasting Value, Relevant to Today’s Technical Maze,

January 27, 2003
Charles Perrow
Edit of 2 April 2007 to add link and better summary.

I read this book when it was assigned in the 1980’s as a mainstream text for graduate courses in public policy and public administration, and I still use it. It is relevant, for example, to the matter of whether we should try to use nuclear bombs on Iraq–most Americans do not realize that there has never (ever) been an operational test of a US nuclear missile from a working missle silo. Everything has been tested by the vendors or by operational test authorities that have a proven track record of falsifying test results or making the tests so unrealistic as to be meaningless.

Edit: my long-standing summary of the author’s key point: Simple systems have single points of failure that are easy to diagnose and fix. Complex systems have multiple points of failure that interact in unpredictable and often undetectable ways, and are very difficult to diagnose and fix. We live in a constellation of complex systems (and do not practice the precationary principle!).

This book is also relevant to the world of software. As the Y2K panic suggested, the “maze” of software upon which vital national life support systems depend–including financial, power, communications, and transportation software–has become very obscure as well as vulnerable. Had those creating these softwares been more conscious of the warnings and suggestions that the author provides in this book, America as well as other nations would be much less vulnerable to terrorism and other “acts of man” for which our insurance industry has not planned.

I agree with another review who notes that this book is long overdue for a reprint–it should be updated. I recommended it “as is,” but believe an updated version would be 20% more valuable.

Edit: this book is still valuable, but the author has given us the following in 2007:
The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters

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Review: The Politics of Fortune–A New Agenda For Business Leaders

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Complexity & Resilience, Congress (Failure, Reform), Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Environment (Problems), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Intelligence (Public), Survival & Sustainment, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution

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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! Could Save the Business of America….,

December 13, 2002
Jeffrey E. Garten
The author, dean of the Yale business school, has rendered a most valuable service to the business leaders of America, and in the process opened the possibility that new forms of business education, new forms of business practice, and new forms of moral global governance might yet emerge in America.Originally inspired by the “double-whammy” of 9-11 and Enron on business–(the one costing America, by Fortune’s estimate for businesses alone, $150B in additional security measures, or close to 1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product; while others suggest 9-11 has reduced profits by 5-6%), the author provides an easy to read, well-documented overview of why CEOs have to engage in rebuilding the integrity of business, protecting the homeland, preserving global economic security and free trade, taking on global poverty, and influencing foreign policy.

The author excells at pointing out, in the most gracious way possible, how all of the preconceptions of the current administration, and in particular its penchant for unilateralist military bullying, have proven both unworkable in achieving their intended results, while also unsuitable in being translated to economic gains. Military power does not translate into economic power or added prosperity.

This book is *loaded* with common sense and specific ideas for getting business leadership back into the global stabilization dialog. The author focused on two ideas that I consider to be especially important: the need to reexamine how the taxpayer dollar is being spent on national security, with a view to redirecting funds (I add: from military heavy metal to what Joe Nye calls soft power: diplomacy, assistance, intelligence); and on the urgency of restoring the independence and expanding the mandate of the U.S. Information Agency so as to overcome the acute misperceptions of the US fostered by Saudi-funded schools for youths being taught to hate, and little else.

The non-governmental organizations come in for special scrutiny, and the author has many good ideas, not only for promoting better business-NGO partnerships, but for auditing the NGOs and not ceding to them the moral high ground. As he points out, many organizations that oppose globalization or specific business practices do not have any standards or transparency with respect to who funds them, how decisions are made, and so on.

Finally, the author concludes with a focus on business education. While citing many improvements made by many schools, he notes that a comprehensive study and reengineering overall has not occurred since the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and that the time is long past when graduate business education must be completely revamped. He is exceptionally astute and credible throughout the book as he explores the many things that CEOs need to know but do not receive training on, to include understanding and dealing with government, NGOs, citizen advocates, and the real world. As he notes, Master’s in Business Administration tend to train students for the first years in the corporation, not the long-haul. He places some emphasis on the need to consider continuing education as an extension of the original program, and I immediately thought of an MBA as a limited-term license that must be renewed by recurring personal investments in education.

As someone whose opening lecture line to citizens and businessmen is “if the State fails, you fail,” I found this book extraordinarily valuable and urgent. We get the government we deserve. If citizens do not vote, if businessmen do not think of the larger social goods and social contexts within which they operate, then the government will prove incapable and at some point the party will be over.

Yale has always had an extra helping of morality and humanity; in this book the dean of the business school ably makes the case that business leadership and engagement in national security and global stabilization is the sine qua non for continued prosperity. He’s got my vote–if I were a mature student looking for a place to learn, he’s put Yale right at the top of my list.

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Review: The Fifty Year Wound–The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory

6 Star Top 10%, Atrocities & Genocide, Complexity & Catastrophe, Congress (Failure, Reform), Crime (Government), Diplomacy, Environment (Problems), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Force Structure (Military), History, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Security (Including Immigration), True Cost & Toxicity, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle, Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Breath of Sanity–Hard Look at Cost of Cold War,

December 1, 2002
Derek Leebaert
This is an extraordinary book, in part because it forces us to confront the “hangover” effects of the Cold War as we begin an uncertain path into the post 9-11 future. It begins by emphasizing that the Cold War glorified certain types of institutions, personalities, and attitudes, and ends by pointing out that we paid a very heavy cost–much as General and President Eisenhower tried to warn us–in permitting our society to be bound by weaponry, ideology, and secrecy.Two quotes, one from the beginning, one from the end, capture all that lies in between, well-documented and I would add–contrary to some opinions–coherent and understandable.

“For the United States, the price of victory goes far beyond the dollars spend on warheads, foreign aid, soldiers, propaganda, and intelligence. It includes, for instance, time wasted, talent misdirected, secrecy imposed, and confidence impaired. Particular costs were imposed on industry, science, and the universities. Trade was distorted and growth impeded.” (page xi)

“CIA world-order men whose intrigues more often than not started at the incompetent and went down from there, White House claims of ‘national security’ to conceal deceit, and the creation of huge special interests in archaic spending all too easily occurred because most Americans were not preoccupied with the struggle.” (page 643)

Although the author did not consult the most recent intelligence reform books (e.g. Berkowitz, Johnson, Treverton, inter alia), he is consistently detailed and scathing in his review of intelligence blunders and the costs of secrecy–in this he appears to very ably collaborate the findings of Daniel Ellsberg’s more narrowly focused book on “SECRETS: A Memoire of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” He points out, among many many examples, that despite Andropov’s having been head of the KGB for fifteen years, at the end of it CIA still did not know if Andropov has a wife or spoke English. He also has a lovely contrast between how little was learned using very expensive national technical means (secret satellites) and open sources: “So much failure could have been avoided if CIA has done more careful homework during the 1950s in the run-up to Sputnik; during the 1960s, when Sovieet marshals were openly publishing their thoughts on nuclear strategy; or during the 1970s and 1980s, when stagnation could be chronicled in the unclassified gray pages of Soviet print. Most expensively, the CIA hardly ever learned anything from its mistakes, largely because it would not admit them.” (pages 567-568).

The author’s biographic information does not include any reference to military service, but footnote 110 suggests that he was at least in Officer Candidate School with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. The biography, limited to the inside back jacket flap, also avoids discussing the author’s considerable experience with information technology. Given the importance of this critique of all that most Republicans and most 50-70 year olds hold very sacred, we need to more about the man goring the ox. Future editions should have a much expanded biography.

Bottom line: America muddled through the Cold War, made many costly mistakes, and developed a policy-making process that is, to this day, largely uninformed due to a lack of a comprehensive global intelligence capability, or a sufficient means of consulting diverse experts (as opposed to the in-town intellectual harlots). If ever we needed a clean-sheet look at how we make policy and how we provide decision-support to that policy process, this is the time. The “fifty-year wound” is still open, and the author warns us it will not heal without a reappraisal of how we do the business of national security.

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Review: Environment, Scarcity, and Violence.

4 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe, Culture, Research, Environment (Problems), History, Justice (Failure, Reform), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Survival & Sustainment

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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, General, Missing the Big Bang,

October 10, 2002
Thomas F. Homer-Dixon
Last year we had some exceptional works on water scarcity (de Villier), resource wars (Klare), corporate razing of the environment (Czech), among many others that I reviewed here on Amazon. This year we have two extraordinary books, this is the second of the two in my estimation (the other being Andrew Price-Smith’s “The Health of Nations: Infectious Disease, Environmental Change, and Their Effects on National Security and Development”- as both authors are from the University of Toronto, one can only applaud the collection of talent this organization seems to nurture).The author is brilliant and has a longer track record than most for being both prescient and meticulous about in the arena of environmental scarcity.

His book is effective in making the point, but very candidly, did not go the full distance that I was hoping for–he is, in a word, too general and the book lacks a single chapter that pulls it all together with very specific rankings of both the variables and the countries.

The general proposition is clear-cut: environmental scarcity has social effects that lead to violent conflict. However, the author takes a side road in exploring “human ingenuity” as an ameliorating factor, and while he makes reference to crass corporate and elitist carpet-bagging and the social structures of repression, he fails to draw out more fully and explicitly the inherent association between repressive corrupt regimes with extreme concentrations of wealth and power, scarcity, and violence.

For myself, I found two gems within this book: the first, a passing comment on the crucial role that unfettered urbanization plays in exacerbating scarcity and all that comes with it (migration, disease, crime); the second, the author’s prescriptive emphasis, extremely importance, on the prevention of scarcity rather than adaptation or amelioration of scarcity.

The endnotes would have been more useful as footnotes but are quite good. The bibliography and index are four star rather than five star, and I was quite disappointed to not have a single page about the author, nor a consolidated bibliography of his many signal contribution over time in the form of articles and lectures.

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Review: The Future of Life

5 Star, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Future

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5.0 out of 5 stars Practical Manifesto for Preservation of *Value* in Nature,

February 27, 2002
Edward O. Wilson
Whereas the author’s last really big book, “Consilience”, addressed the integral relationship between the knowledge offered by the humanities and that of the sciences (too often isolated and out of context), this book brings together political economy and nature.It is more easily readable than his more heavily foot-noted and astonishingly deep earlier work, but all the more valuable for its smooth overview of why life on the rest of the planet matters to the American heartland; why we must deal with the limits of food production and control population (both in terms of numbers and in terms of consumption per capita).

The heart of the book, for me, can be found in three profound numbers–numbers that we must all appreciate:

Value of the Ecosystem/Cost to Replace: $33 trillion per year in increased Gross National Product (GNP)–and presumably everything would be artificially recreated.

One-Time Cost of Fund for Preserving Nature: $24-72 billion one-time funding. His numbers vary from $24 billion (one -time) to preserve 800,000 square kilometers already under protection, to $28 billion to preserve a (different?) representative sample. The bottom line: for a one-time $100 billion investment, 25% of what the US spends on its military *every* year, we could, at our own expense, save the world.

Subsidies for Unsound Acts Against Nature: $2 trillion per year and rising ($2000 per American alone–this refers to energy, water, deforestation, and agricultural subsidies that encourage and perpetuate unsound acts against nature as well as unneeded exploitation–one example: $20 billion a year in subsidies for fishing–this is the difference between the actual value of $100 billion and the lower subsidized revenues of $80 billion a year).

Wilson’s book, in combination with those by Brian Czech and L. O. Stromberg, is in my view a capstone endeavor that moves the environment to the forefront of any intelligent person’s agenda. As he concludes, we have entered the century of the environment–we must save it or lose it.

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Review: The Skeptical Environmentalist–Measuring the Real State of the World

5 Star, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions), Misinformation & Propaganda, Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design
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4.0 out of 5 stars Gives New Meaning to Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
January 22, 2002

Bjorn Lomborg

UPDATED 6 Oct 09 to upgrade to five stars and add links that comprise an apology of sorts. The more I read the less I know, and the more I appreciate the absolute essentiality of getting all points of view face to face before a citizen’s wisdom council. New links that complement this book:

The Resilient Earth: Science, Global Warming and the Fate of Humanity
Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America
The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters
Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death
The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment’s Number One Enemy

I rate this book a 5 for effort, a 3 for half-truths, and a 4 over-all. I am updating this review to note that my basic points were recently validated when the Danish committee for scientific integrity slammed this book for dishonesty. It is never-the-less a tour de force for Lomborg and his students (the latter appear to have done most of the tedious data gathering and basic analysis)–at its best, it provides a severe spanking for environmentalists who get careless with their data and their assertions. At its worst, it provides a semblance of cover for corporate carpet-baggers intent on liquidating what any child can understand is a closed system with limits.

At root, Lomborg is a disciple and blind follower of the paradigm best articulated by Julian Simon, who has himself been discredited here and there by well-educated environmentalists. Lomborg’s professionalism and devotion to data are not questioned here–one either shares his paradigm or one does not. It merits comment that there are now several web sites, one of them in Denmark founded by his own colleagues, dedicated to exposing the flawed assumptions and analysis that went into this corporately attractive politically-biased treatise.

This is indeed a brilliant and powerful book, just as a nuclear explosion is brilliant and powerful–and very destructive. However well-intentioned–and I do not question, even applaud, the author’s intentions, what we have here is a rather scary combination of fragmentary analysis in depth, combined with a strong belief system that accepts as a starting point the concept that the earth is infinitely renewable and no matter what happens, that is a “natural” turn of events.

Just as 9-11 was necessary before a paradigm shift in national security concepts could be achieved (now we know that individuals without weapons can turn our own civilian instruments against us in really damaging ways), I fear that a major environmental–perhaps even a terrorist-environmental event, such as exploding train cars full of chlorine, will be required before citizens as a whole experience the paradigm shift and understand that a) we live in the closed system and b) the burden of proof must be precautionary rather than exploitative.

We are soiling our seed corn and the earth it grows in. Lomborg would have us believe that what we grow within such a paradigm is natural and good–no doubt he has an explanation for the dramatic drops in sperm counts around the world, the troubling increases in asthma across Canada and the East Coast and other nations reeling from antiquated coal-fueled power plants (most of them in the mid-West), and other documented demographic costs to uncontrolled liquidation of the earth.

I will end with one very significant concession to Lomborg and his adherents: this book, compelling in isolation, makes it clear that nothing less than the full application of the distributed intelligence of the citizenry on a 24/7 basis, will be sufficient to monitor, evaluate, and comprehend the breadth and depth of our attacks on the earth. It is now clear to me that until we have a global web-based community of citizen observers able to enter data at the neighborhood level, using peer-to-peer computing power to analyze distributed data, that the citizens will continue to be at the mercy of corporate computers and political manipulation.

I strongly recommend this book, and Czech’s book, as companion volumes framing a much higher level of data and debate that is now beginning.

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Review: Floods, Famines, And Emperors–El Nino And The Fate Of Civilizations

4 Star, Complexity & Catastrophe, Disaster Relief, Environment (Problems), Environment (Solutions)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Weather Side of History–One Really Big Core Idea,

November 12, 2001
Brian Fagan
This book is an excellent complement to David Key’s book on “Catastrophe”, and I found it a worthwhile fast read.It has one really big core idea that ties environmental, political, economic, and cultural readings together–it explores the inter-relationship between sustainability of any given society within the constraints of the time and the legitimacy of the government or other form of political organization.

Two things appear to help: long-term vision on the part of the leader, and whatever it takes to maintain the people’s faith in their leadership.

The author concludes with an overview of where we stand today, and draws attention to the especially dangerous combination of overpopulation, global warming, and rapid climate changes occurring all at once.

For me, this book combined an overview of how seriously we must take ocean currents and related climate changes; and how important it is that our leaders understand these issues and take long-term views that add stability and sustainability in the face of varying challenges to our well-being.

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