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: Islamic Leviathan–Islam and the Making of State Power

4 Star, Atlases & State of the World, Country/Regional, History, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Religion & Politics of Religion, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), Truth & Reconciliation

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4.0 out of 5 stars Two Case Studies on Islam and the State,

March 10, 2002
Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr
This book seems to have been overlooked in the rush to understand Islam in the aftermath of 9-11.I recommend it because it provides two reasoned case studies on how two different states, Malaysia and Pakistan, used the intensity of Islam to legitimize their governments and states.

In the end, both had to control their fanatics.

Well documented, with good notes and bibliography, this book is the first in a new series from Oxford on Religion and Global Politics. It is a very fine first start, and in the aftermath of 9-11, I would suggest to the editors of the series that they dramatically accelerate their other endeavors–at least three more books are needed on Islam in relation to state politics, in relation to political economy, and in relation to neighborhood or ethnic politics; and several others on the relationship of Judaism and Catholicism and Mormonism to state structures. A special emphasis on religious education and how this affects political perceptions would be helpful.

This is a thoughtful book and one that should be part of the broader reading on Islam and global politics.

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Review: Secrecy–The American Experience

5 Star, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), History, Information Society, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Contribution to National Sanity and Security,

May 31, 2001
The Honorable Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Senator Moynihan applies his intellect and his strong academic and historical bent to examine the U.S. experience with secrecy, beginning with its early distrust of ethnic minorities. He applies his social science frames of reference to discuss secrecy as a form of regulation and secrecy as a form of ritual, both ultimately resulting in a deepening of the inherent tendency of bureaucracy to create and keep secrets-secrecy as the cultural norm. His historical overview, current right up to 1998, is replete with documented examples of how secrecy may have facilitated selected national security decisions in the short-run, but in the long run these decisions were not only found to have been wrong for lack of accurate open information that was dismissed for being open, but also harmful to the democratic fabric, in that they tended to lead to conspiracy theories and other forms of public distancing from the federal government. He concludes: “The central fact is that we live today in an Information Age. Open sources give us the vast majority of what we need to know in order to make intelligent decisions. Decisions made by people at ease with disagreement and ambiguity and tentativeness. Decisions made by those who understand how to exploit the wealth and diversity of publicly available information, who no longer simply assume that clandestine collection-that is, ‘stealing secrets'-equals greater intelligence. Analysis, far more than secrecy, is the key to security….Secrecy is for losers.”
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Review: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

5 Star, Change & Innovation, Culture, Research, Economics, Education (General), Education (Universities), Games, Models, & Simulations, History, Information Operations, Information Society, Intelligence (Commercial), Intelligence (Extra-Terrestrial), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Strategy, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Enduring Classic on the Hard Truth about Changing Minds,

May 29, 2000
Thomas S. Kuhn
Two points are worthy of emphasis: 1) the paradigm shift is always forced and 2) until the paradigm shift occurs, always suddenly, the incumbents can comfortably explain everything with their existing paradigm. There will be many from the current “laissez faire” academics without accountability environment who would be critical of this book, but the fact is that it's fundamentals are on target; as the sociology of knowledge has shown time and time again, “thinkers” are nepotistic, incestuous, and generally lazy, as well as mono-lingual and culturally-constrained, and it takes a major shock-wave to push any given intellectual domain up to the next plateau.
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Review: World Brain

5 Star, Consciousness & Social IQ, Culture, Research, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Democracy, Economics, Education (General), Education (Universities), Future, History, Information Operations, Information Society, Intelligence (Collective & Quantum), Intelligence (Commercial), Intelligence (Extra-Terrestrial), Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Intelligence (Wealth of Networks), Misinformation & Propaganda, Philosophy, Strategy

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5.0 out of 5 stars Updated Edition is Even Better,

May 29, 2000
H. G. Wells
First published in 1938, a modern edition is vastly improved by the addition of a critical introduction by Alan Mayne. Very much focused on how a world-brain might alter national policy-making, how Public Opinion or an “Open Conspiracy” might restore common sense and popular control to arenas previously reserved for an elite. The information functionality of the World Brain easily anticipated the world wide web as it might evolve over the next 20-30 years: comprehensive, up to date, distributed, classification scheme, dynamic, indexes, summaries and surveys, freely available and easily accessible. We have a long way to go, but the framework is there. The communication functions of the world brain would include a highly effective information retrieval system, selective dissemination of information, efficient communication facilities, effective presentation, popular education, public and individual awareness for all issues, and facilitate social networking between organizations, groups, and individuals. The world brain is the “virtual intelligence community” qua noosphere. This is one of the fundamental references for anyone thinking about the future of politics, economics, or social systems.
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Review: Thinking in Time–The Uses of History for Decision-Makers

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Consciousness & Social IQ, Education (General), History, Information Operations

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5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, Useful Guide to Presenting Intelligence to Policy,

April 7, 2000
Richard E. Neustadt
This book is an essential point of reference for understanding the analogies and other devices that decision makers use to evaluate information.The bottom line is both straight-forward and scary: policymakers see everything in terms of their own (usually limited and largely domestic) historical experiences, and they interpret what they are given by intelligence professionals in the context of their own personal perspectives.

This has several implications, and I regard this book as one of perhaps five that are long-term essential building blocks for the new craft of analytic tradecraft being devised by the CIA's Kent Center and Jack Davis:

1) Intelligence is remedial education for policymakers. There is no getting around this. While the authors are much more diplomatic than I could ever be, the raw fact is that most policy makers are very loosely-educated and generally do not have a high-quality international affairs education or substantive experience dealing with foreign affairs or even national affairs. They are local lawyers, businessmen, “friends of the President,” etcetera.

2) Objective, internationalist intelligence will always be in conflict with subjective, domestic politics unless–and this is the other new theme just now emerging, years after the author's published their work–there is a public intelligence community and the citizen-voters are receiving sufficiently compelling intelligence they can use to demand and vote for early and thoughtful action instead of in extremis reaction.

3) The book breaks new ground in establishing the importance of history, not only for drawing intelligence conclusions (understanding ethnic conflict, for example, is best done in the context of 200+ years of prior history), but for translating, converting, interpreting foreign events, threats, and opportunities in domestic historical terms that can be more easily absorbed by very busy policymakers.

I do not mean to suggest that the authors are condescending. Far from it. They take a very difficult and complex matter, that of speaking truth to power about foreign issues, and offer it up in a very sensible and understandable form.

The best of the students using this book for coursework will understand that it is a “keeper,” of lasting value as a future reference, worth returning to from year to year for a refresher on the value of history in both understanding and communicating.

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Review: Rebels Against The Future–The Luddites And Their War On The Industrial Revolution: Lessons For The Computer Age

5 Star, History, Information Society, Insurgency & Revolution
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4.0 out of 5 stars Luddites, Technology, Industrialism, and Humanity,

April 7, 2000
Kirkpatrick Sale
Lessons from the Luddites for the Computer Age include: 1) Technologies are never neutral, and some are hurtful; 2) Industrialism is always a cataclysmic process, destroying the past, roiling the present, making the future uncertain; 3) “Only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines.”; 4) The nation-state, synergistically intertwined with industrialism, will always come to its aid and defense, making revolts futile and reform ineffectual; 5) But resistance to the industrial system, based on some grasp of moral principles and rooted in some sense of moral revulsion, is not only possible but necessary; 6) Politically, resistance to industrialism must force not only “the machine question” but the viability of industrial society into public consciousness and debate; 7) Philosophically, resistance to industrialism must be embedded in an analysis-an ideology, perhaps-that is morally informed, carefully articulated, and widely shared; 8) If the edifice of industrial civilization does not eventually crumble as a result of determined resistance within its very walls, it seems certain to crumble of its own accumulated excesses and instabilities within not more than a few decades, perhaps sooner, after which there may be space for alternative societies to arise.
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