May 22, 2007

Firebreak Doctrine




The Firebreak Doctrine
An Alternative to Chaos or Surrender
March 25, 2005

American policy in Iraq is a failure. Alternatives suggested by opponents of the war or the Iraq Study Group, offer no viable solution and amount to nothing more than surrender. In a tragedy reflecting deep divisions in our democracy, politics has trumped policy. The Republican administration forges ahead towards further failure while the loyal opposition merely sees Iraq as a stick with which to bludgeon President Bush. Creative solutions languish on the sidelines while deaths mount and chaos grows. The Surge can only be a stopgap measure and its success rides on the hope and prayer that good generals might solve political, or even more absurdly, cultural problems.

The program of reconciliation within Iraq, ardently desired by the well intended, can hardly develop within a pseudo-nation constructed by post World War I colonial ambitions. Iraq must be understood as a nation of contradictions patched together as a counterweight to Iran held together by dictatorship. To expect reconciliation to grow out of centuries of hatred between Shiites and Sunni is wrongheaded and, quite possibly against our national interest. If the United States believes that it can create order in an artificial country that craves conflict, it is sorely mistaken. Yet paradoxically, to simply leave would be the height of irresponsibility, and almost certainly give rise to catastrophic consequences on a global scale.

We thus propose the Firebreak Doctrine. It consists of three parts:


I.    Divide the Country


II.   Manage the Wealth


III.  Govern from a Distance



Part One: Divide the Country

The internal contradictions within Iraq must be faced. Kurdistan is relatively peaceful because of its autonomy. Give similar autonomy to the Shiites and the Sunnis. More importantly allow these warring factions to separate themselves officially. In point of fact, this process has already begun in one of the few mixed regions, namely Baghdad. The foreign policy establishment, and the fourth estate reject out-of-hand the division of the country into its presently hostile camps due to the belief that a united Iraq provides balance to the potential superpower of the region, Iran. Iran, its nuclear program notwithstanding, has little or no chance of absorbing the Arab Shiites of Iraq and typically acts as a regional power whose influence is overstated. Iran, failing to achieve its policy initiatives conventionally acts as a rogue state, calling attention to itself via acts of piracy such as hostage taking. Nor is Iran the monolithic theocracy sometimes portrayed. Deep divisions create fault lines among many subcultures, the more prominent being that between the theocrats and the modernists. An inherently divided and unstable Iraq "united" through a weak and dysfunctional federalism provides less, not more balance to an ambitious Iran. The United States, in Wilsonian tradition, ought to encourage the formation of coherent countries, not prop up leftovers from the colonial era.


Part Two: Manage the Wealth

Simultaneously with the division of Iraq, U.S. military forces ought to be re-deployed to all areas of oil and natural gas production and distribution within Iraq. The purpose of such a shift in U.S. troops would be threefold: first, to reduce immediately and radically the casualties of U.S. troops in the country, second, to control the source of wealth in the country, and third, to substantially decrease the ongoing cost of fighting. Critics might believe controlling the wealth a transparently cynical move. In reality, it is enlightened compared to the present policy of funding all sides. In effect the bureaucracy in Iraq (both pre- and post-war) is so corrupt that vast quantities of U.S. funds find their way to the very terrorists, Baathists, and jihadists the U.S. presumably fights. Critics of our policy are right to point out that the fragmentation of the country has produced an anarchical situation. Oil revenues fund all sides and the U.S. funds all sides, exacerbating the growing chaos. Remove the source of that powerful chaos, namely the money. Control of the purse will give leverage to a rational program of securing, rebuilding, and pacifying the country. The most democratic way of realizing this is to assign the oil and gas wealth of the country to the people in equal proportions paid out to the government's they elect in accordance with that governments conformity to universally valued (but U.S. mandated and monitored) mandates such as eliminating sectarian violence, rebuilding infrastructure, and ensuring basic freedoms.


Part Three: Govern from a Distance

Division and control of the wealth imply the effectiveness of governing from a distance. No longer policing what cannot be controlled, namely the sectarian fighting, the U. S. military would guard the oil, allowing the United States to effectively control the behavior and therefore the policy direction of the region. In point of fact, any illusions of real, much less consistent influence that the United States has on the decision making process in Iraq should have died long ago by the sword of realpolitik. Unfortunately, policy makers have no end to a supply of delusion. The present administration persists in its public proclamations of spreading democracy, establishing the rule of law, and denying the Middle Eastern heartland to the terrorist enemy. Sadly, these ambitions appear all but lost except in the mind of the most die hard neo-conservative. The implementation of the Firebreak Doctrine would resurrect these policy goals. As firefighters regain control of a wildfire by controlled burning, the U.S. could both eliminate casualties (virtually) and assert control over the direction of politics in Iraq.  Only by unapologetically and conspicuously controlling the great wealth of Iraq's annual oil annuity does the U.S. stand a chance of successfully implementing the fundamental components of a civilized society, including the neutralizing of militias, establishing the rule of law, and the building of lasting public infrastructure.

The United States may need to fight this war until rationality and prosperity blossom or it may need to leave the region. Either outcome does not preclude the possibility of containing the conflict. The Firebreak Doctrine resurrects this possibility. Our fatigue with Iraq is based on our revulsion with the irrational, oft political, and grating incongruence: children encouraged by their families to blow themselves up and strange na├»ve doctrines of virgins in heaven. 

Our greatest vulnerability as a civilized society is our civility. Who in a culture other than the jihadist would not wish to simply run away?  Our contemporary body politic peddle the status quo, thus as a nation we remain predictable, gentle even.  By contrast the Firebreak Doctrine advocates a more radical, muscular, and heavy handed approach to the problem of Iraq.  For good or ill, we locked in a mortal combat with a radicalized enemy, conventional tact and diplomacy is no longer an option, whether we know it yet or not.


Christian Hunter
Peter Benbow

Thoughts on North Korea

originally posted: Sunday, October 15, 2006

The problem of N. Korea is swarming the news lately. For the few in the know, little of that superficial news is of interest. For the majority -some of whom have been asking me for my thoughts- the day-to-day details like "what'd Kim Jong-Il have for dinner" etc. overwhelm the important macro-causes that underly this grave world crisis.

I thought I would, for the few interested, offer a "N. Korea 101" (by my perspective) and, more importantly perhaps, offer a few unorthodox remedies of my own.

N. Korea and S. Korea have been split since the war between the two (which was fought between 1950 and 1953). In a nutshell: in world war two, japan kicked ass all over southeast asia, we then kicked ass all over japan. what ended up left was (like with europe) a mish-mash of redrawn states, with half democratic/capitalist (allied with the United States), and the other half communist (allied with the soviet union/china). Korea was no exception. By most expert accounts, Kim Jong-iL's father invaded the south in an attempt to unify the two under his dictatorial control. The US came to the aid of the South (fearing - as we feared with Vietnam - that if the south was allowed to fall, so too would many other split states...we called it "Domino Theory"). Allot of ass was kicked on both sides, and a stalemate eventually called. The UN sanctioned a split between the two states at the 38th parallel: hence, North Korea, South Korea.

After his fathers death, KJ-iL, assumed control of the country. I won't bore y'all with tales of what a total nutbag he is, but for fun, and if bored enough, google his name with key-words like kidnapping, and freak. Suffice it to say, he is LITERALLY crazy.

This is probably where our problem starts. You see, KJI has made the acquisition of nuclear weapons his primary ambition for almost 20 years. At first, as with Reagan when he made a lot of noise about SDI (the strategic defense initiative) during the 80's, Reagan scared Russia to the bargaining table without even needing to develop the technology. Well, KJI did that with Clinton; threatening to develop a nuclear weapons program unless we gave him stuff. Clinton did. He gave him Nuclear power plants, oil, cash, and food. It's hotly debated, but KJI monkey-fucked us. That is to say, he took our loot and developed nukes anyway. I'm fairly sure that if KJI didn't have a nuklear ability when Bush took office, he was years into development, and months away.

Finger pointing doesn't mean much now however. He got 'em.

Nukes that is. Roughly enough Highly Enriched Uranium to develop 8-13 warheads by most expert accounts. As opposed to our nukes, his are simple (gun design), crude (likely to suffer high failure rates), and low yield (in the 50 kiloton range vs. ours...more in the 30 megaton range!). However, a nuke is a nuke when you're talking about negotiating power, and KJI is milking it for all it's worth.

Our biggest fear is that he'll sell one of his nukes to terrorists. This isn't Saddam Hussein type overblown rhetoric, he really has them, and has a very active market for weapons systems (buys/sells missile technology freely with iran and russia among dozens of nations around the world). This is uncontested fact.

OK, so, to the present:

KJI is a true despot, and sadly, the civilized world doesn't remember what that means. It means he has a "to the last man" attitude when it comes to threats to his power. This is a mind boggling but accurate statistic: roughly 2,500,000 N. Koreans died of starvation in just four years (between 94-98). KJI however has a 100k per year liquor habit, numerous compounds, dozens of barely 12 year old virgins delivered every year, and over 12k US movies to watch when he's done drinking, fucking, and basically being a maniac. A real fuck-rag of a dude.

When we "negotiate" with parties like this, we forget (as the civilized world) that we're negotiating with one man. ONE MAN! One man who, if confronted with the choice between a total megafuck of a war, where 22 of his 23 million citizens died (but a war where he'd be viewed as a hero by the surviving 1 million) vs. avoiding a war all-together but remembered as a failure by all 23 million souls...he'd certainly choose war.

CERTAINLY

That seems like a simple to understand concept, and, in my view is. But the political topography being authored by the US and co-shaped by Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea flatly ignores that paradigm.

If I'm right in my assumption about what a pigfucking cat-puncher he is, then we need a new approach, one - I might add - that could have use not just with N. Korea, but in many despot controlled nations around the world.

In a sentence, my prescription for turning this mess around is this:

Augment his benign power, while containing his malignent power.

More specifically, increase the weight and importance of those areas of power, reward, and fulfillment KJI gets that don't materially harm our national interest. Simultaneously, we should work to diminish the importance (to him) of those areas of power that do conflict with our national interest.

Do we really care if KJI lives out the rest of his existence fulfilled or miserable? Trick question. Yes, we do. And again, that's the point of my suggestion. To the extent he's happy as a fat fucking shitbag of a despot, we have leverage. Remember the old axiom: "never negotiate with someone who has nothing to lose". Our foreign policy "experts" may not. As a consequence, when a country does something against our interest we "ratchet up pressure". We don't negotiate, rather, we act like Dick Cheney did on the phone last month with famous writer Bob Woodward when, angered by an unfavorable piece done on him, called BW's inarguable factual position "bullshit", then hung up on him. LOL! These mother fuckers crack me up. That is, until I remember the stakes: millions -perhaps tens of millions- of lives.

We should absolutely be negotiating with NK, with KJI, and with any nation (Iran included) that is desirous of negotiating with us. Not "back channel", not "multi party". Direct. As we did with our arch enemy -the soviet union- for decades. It isn't appeasement to negotiate with an enemy.

Fundamentally, we ought to figure out ways to enrich KJI, using NK as a proxy, in attempt to increase our political control, give KJI more to lose, and diminish the risk of a worst-case-scenario.

There are some things we should be doing that we aren't, and some we are, that we shouldn't. Among those we shouldn't, and perhaps most obviously shouldn't, is our embargo against NK.

Does it really help us to encourage and enforce a trade embargo against N. Korea (as we've recently sucessfully lobbied to do)? We need only look 90 miles south to the small communist island nation of Cuba for crisp indisputable evidence to the contrary. Embargos against nations with the intent to foment dissent/break will/or otherwise cause a fundamental change to national policy is, almost totally, dead wrong.

If tomorrow, by some bizarre magic, I could totally posess the body of the President....well, I'd do a lot of funny shit. However, one of the less funny, and most important things I'd immediately do would be to schedule a summit to be held in Seoul South Korea between the US and NK. This geographic and negotiatory gesture of good will would -regardless of summit outcome- work wonders to diminish the Presidents reputation as a warmonger, and to restore the US's credibility as a peace-making super-power.

In the summit, I'd agree to lift trade embargo's on all non-military trade. In addition, I'd work to establish a Surrogate Labor State (straight up in China's face) in North Korea. What do you care if your pillows are made in China vs. NK? You don't, but you should. Stuffing down into cloth for our sleeping comfort pays better than digging through garbage, or, more accurately, not working at all. And that's basically what they're doing up there in NK.

Let's get 'em stuffing our pillows. Let's get 'em sewing our boxer shorts. Let's give 'em something to lose.

Lay out a plan for KJI that basically says "yo, you fucked this joint up. bad. but we're here to save the day. let's get your economy booming (theirs is 1 40th the size of S. Korea...so that's not hard). let's make you the hero. we've got work/money for your unemployed masses, and they'll love you for it".

Shit, labor would be cheaper there. It's just one NEGOTIATED deal away, and suddenly, massively, things start changing there. Capitalism is seeded, and starts digging in its deep, and once intact, impossible-to-oppose tentacles into a system that, today, lives entirely without it.

Wal-Mart wins, the ppl of N Korea win, KJI is a hero, and we're vastly less likely to see war.

This is one of many dozens of schemes we could negotiate. The US houses the largest body of brainpower, influence, and power the world has ever known. Only through negotiation however will it be felt. Well, technically I'm wrong. There is another way it could be felt, and, absent negotiation will: through war.

Let the fuckers in

I went to the pro-immigration/illegal immigrant/amnesty/communist mayday...whatever...rally today. Overall it was an interesting experience. Some things I enjoyed: the passion, activism in a usually apathetic youth, frightened white people. Some things not so much: yelling in Spanish, underlying socialist lean, getting my photo taken as the token Blenders-Mocha-sipping white dude (by more than one photo-journalist). When they started handing out burrito's for everyone (not kidding), I really had to bail. The idea of freeloading a burrito off these guys seemed a bit too far into the strange for me.

But fuck all that noise.

I was there to show my support not for illegal immigrants, or aliens, or Mexicans (allright, maybe for Mexicans); but rather, for people. People, like you and I, that want the best for themselves and their families. We're all immigrants in one form or another, how dare any of us suggest the gate should close when we've established a comfortable life.

At the surface, the issue/question is this: we've got allot of immigrants here illegaly (12 million roughly), and more coming in everyday. The "anti" group suggest they come here, "drop kids" on our dime, take our jobs, depress wages, don't pay taxes, etc. The "pro" group claim they're significantly more valuable to the economy (and our comfortable way of life) than we realize; they posit that without them, crops would go unpicked, dishes unwashed, and bratty ass rich kids untended to.

The problem - as I see it - is: both groups are, in many ways, very right. So, what to do? Well, I can't help but tender my opinion. It is, at least, unique.

I say we tax the fuckers.

And I mean "fuckers" in the most endearing way. We impose an Immigrant Tax; but like our creative Graduated Tax system (which imposes higher taxes as a percentage of income as it increases), we connect the tax to the immigrants country of origin.

Mexico isn't poor because Mexicans are stupid. Same is true with every nation on earth less fortunate than we. Mexicans are generally poor because of the bad choices made by the Mexican government. So what do the smart Mexicans do? They bail. No blowback, no pressure on their ex-government to reform. If we want to see less immigration, hell, if we care about the condition of our fellow man, we must, to our ability, pressure these governments to reform. 12 million immigrants screaming at their ex-governments, vs. ours, is a pretty powerful lobby. Especially considering that a great deal of their earnings are flowing back to their countries of origin.

So the US can open up a heavy channel to force reform, bring 12 million hard working Americans into the tax paying system, and offset (perhaps entirely) the cost of providing social services to this group.

The Immigrant Tax my take into consideration simple things like:

Tax system

Private vs. Government ownership

Citizen participation in government (democracy vs. communism)

Social service net

Education system

Make as simple or complex as we see fit. "Oh, you're from Venezuela, sorry, that Chavez fucker needs to be gone, you're tax rate is 35%. Welcome to the States". You get the idea.

This tax should be finite. Maybe 10 years, maybe less. But at graduation, "Congratulations Sir/Ma'am, you're a full-fledged American, for good or ill. Best wishes"

Now, if by some miracle the government had the balls to pass such legislation, concurrently, we'd need to pass a fresh batch of knuckle-cracking penalties for business' and criminals who continue to work outside of it. As a former business owner, few words have quite the efficacy in getting attention as the word: felony. You hire illegals, felony. You sneak into this country outside the system, felony (we'd need to figure out sufficiently scary Guantanamo-style punishment to deter that group).

Now Immigrant flow-control is an economic function. Want to slow immigration, increase tax. Although it should be noted, from a purely economic standpoint, that heavy immigration of the work-inclined is a net benefit to the economy. In my view, even that is a dramatic understatement. Among other factors, our baby-booming parents are heading into retirement. Many of them smoked away their retirement savings, and are planning to plan when it's too late. A large working class is needed to subsidize their error. Enter immigrants.

Could a good spanking be a fate worse than death

originally posted March 30 2006

Don't know if any of you have been following the trial of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but for those of you that haven't, a quick update from someone who's been following it carefully:

It's a chaotic, embarrasing mess.

Since found hiding out in a spider-hole near his hometown of Tikrit, the US Justice Department has been preparing to put him on trial for his resume of unbelievably grisly atrocities against his own people, and neighbors during his 25 year reign. If you do the math in his favor, you might be able to attribute only 2 million deaths to him directly. He's been a pretty naughty boy.

This should be an open and shut case right? To the simple-minded, yes. And that could be our problem. We are, by contrast with much of the world, civilized, and perhaps we've been that way too long.

More than half a century ago, Winston Churchill had some very simple postwar plans of Adolf Hitler. He let others know that, "If Hitler falls into our hands, we shall certainly put him to death."

That we didn't, after catching Saddam, immediately move to eliminate him from the barely-held-together political topography of Iraq, is looking more and more on the level of the sanity Saddam himself is so brazenly putting on for the camera's.

G. Bush said/promised plainly: "Saddam will face a justice he denied so many".

I'm afraid we may be putting too much un-creative stock in our concepts of "democracy" and "justice", thinking that by granting freedom, suddenly Jeffersonian style democracy would take root: yeah right, the Shia majority voted in an Islamic government (not that sweet a change considering, albiet violent, the Hussien government was secular), and to think they're ready for our brand of justice...sadly, it doesn't look that way.

But that's how it is. So, now he's on trial, and from the first few moments (which I stayed up till 4am one mid-week morning to watch), it became clear that the whole trial idea...well, it was clearly a bad one.

Hussein immediately took control (c'mon, he's a dictator guys, remember, they have some strong-suits), and basically started pimping the first judge (who eventually stepped-down and was replaced under backroom pressure for being Saddams bitch), berating him with rants such as: "Down with the traitors. Down with the traitors. Down with Bush. Long live the nation. Long live the nation.", you know, cool, catchy, convenient slogans for insurgents to chant while slappin IED's together, and their wives around.

Numerous walkouts, numerous postponements of the trial, basically none of the beneficial media the US adminstration had so naively hoped for.

"Naively, isn't that a bit harsh" you might say? Fuck no!

Think about it, we're not putting some white collar Ken Lay on trial, this Saddam fucking Hussein. Delusional? yeah. Murderous? duh, absolutely nothing to lose...well, that's where the spanking comes in (more on that in a sec.)

At present, Saddam has nothing to lose. He knows the Americans consider death the ultimate penalty. He further understands that we put men to death in this country for the murder of 1. This doesn't bode well for a dude who might be able to hide a few...thousand. But he's still got another million or two bloody limbs hanging out the proverbial trunk. He's a cooked goose, and he knows it. Why not mock us all the way down, why not die a marytr...hey, I'm sure somewhere deep down, down in Saddam's private place, the place he accesses right before bed, and after pulling the legs off a cockroach for not respecting him as absolute ruler of Iraq; he hopes he'll be rescued.

Why in the world would he sit passively while the US Justice Dept. manipulated court parades a bunch of savaged witnesses before the media making him look like the barbarian he is? Well, that gets me to the meat of my proposition. I think I have a world-changing plan that could not only help turn the tide of this trial in our favor, but perhaps other trials of brutal dictators, from Serbia, to Rwanda, to Liberia. What do we do?

We spank him.

You read me right. We spank the naughty fucker. We spank him good and hard everytime he explodes into an outburst and makes a mockery of the court.

Now, I'm not advocating we do it right away. No, no, we warn him first. Something to the effect of: dirga, dirga, muha....no, sorry, translated in English: "dude, look, in case you don't know it, there was like...well, this whole war. Two actually..but anyway, yeah, there was this whole war, and, um, you lost. I'm sure you tried, but we actually kicked your ass in like 4 days. I understand it's hard to take after being lied to, after wearing the Emperors New Clothes pretty much everyday. But really, it's over. You're in our custody now. OUR CUSTODY, and you're going to start treating this court with respect, or, well, look over there in the corner". This is when Saddam would look over to the right, to see something like (I liberally estimate) 8 guys all surrounding this one particularly large, and frustrated looking Iraqi...with a paddle in his hand. For effect, the paddle could be inscribed with the Iraqi word for "Justice".

The Judge would go on to say: "So, yeah Saddam, basically, if you don't chill the fuck out, those dudes over there are going to grab you, 2 to a limb if need be, and they're going to put you over Asim's (the big guy) knee. Then, well, then Saddam, Asim over there's going to swat your bottom".

Not being an expert in Middle Eastern culture, there might need to be a pause here for various exhalations, prayers to Allah, etc.

But not from Asim. He'd need to keep pretty cool through the whole thing.

If pressed, if really pressed to guess whether or not Saddam would truly get spanked...I'd put the odds of one spanking at 92% (give or take a couple hundred basis points). Two...I'd put those odds at 15%. Past two, meaning if Asim's forced to take Saddam over his knee a second time, I really think, again, if asked, I think then the whole odds thing goes out the window, and it probably becomes some perverse national spankfest.

Which would probably turn out, at least from a media/entertainment standpoint, pretty fucking cool. But I digress.

I want you to think about how significant those odds could be, and why I believe them to be true. But first, we have to refocus on Saddam's motivation: In his mind, he's already dead. He clutches but two remaining hopes; to be rescued, and resume control of Iraq; or to die a martyr, and enjoy a legacy of power and prestige.

Which is, incidentally, really, really hard to do when taken over a grown mans knee and spanked like a redheaded stepchild on international television.

But I do think it would take one good solid spanking to get in his head that we're serious; that being cracked repeatedly on the bottom by a large, sweaty, slightly weirded-out ex-constituent, all the while kicking, screaming, protesting, and perhaps even whimpering; is really embarrasing. It is. And I seriously doubt any man with an ego the size of his, no matter how stubborn, would want to endure that experience twice.

This radical policy shift would represent a win-win for the US. If Saddam, when warned, through whatever creative imagination he has intact, could anticipate the utter bodyblow to his ego and legacy such a punishment would ingender, and decided to cooperate and stand trial, we win.

If he doesn't, and I guarantee you our Jerry Springer addicted public would be down on their knee's begging for him to-not, well, aside from getting better viewer ratings than Idol, I think the barbaric dictators in office around the world, and in those training, would take a savage hit to their perceived authority as men of power.

And if that's not a win in this shit-bog of a mess, I don't know what is.

Perspective on modern conflict - Part 1

War, and modern warfighting have been on my mind a lot lately. In particular, the question: "Is the United States, the only remaining super-power in the world, prosecuting conflicts to her fullest advantage".

In so many of my thought-chains, the answer is immediately "no", then, after fuller reflection, "no" still.

From our "hot wars", such as in Iraq, and Afghanistan, to our "cold ones", with, sadly, the near remainder of the planet, but more overtly: North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and Syria. The U.S. appears to be caught in abject limbo; both in terms of determining sufficient basis to escalate conflict, and, indeed as we are made to view on television nightly: how, once engaged in direct conflict, to fight well.

In this post, and a constellation of others, I'll attempt to flesh out for myself, and anyone interested, what I believe to be significant errors in current warfighting policy, and a host of unorthodox solutions designed to play to our strengths, as the most powerful nation on the planet.

Basis for conflict

Inspiration for conflict today, as I see it, is principally domestic security. Not since WWI have we derived security from the buffer offered to us by vast oceans. Modern Ships, Airplanes, and later, ICBM's, served as sharp arguments against Isolationism. The ambitions and ideologies of states "over there" became geometrically more threatening against the steady march of technological advance. To suggest, at the turn of the 20th century, that we'd be embroiled in a global war, then acting as nation builders, not once, but twice, before mid-century, would have landed you a seat not on Meet the Press, but probably the looney bin.

It's a sad and terrible coincidence that exactly 100 years later, we as a nation will once again have to overthrow so many sacred, and hard-won precepts. Very little of our experience in dealing securing our nation through international diplomacy, and, when necessary, through warfighting, will, in my view, be of much use.

It should be easy for us as a nation to know what to do if a Dictator were to abruptly sieze power over a nation of wealth and resources, then begin to attack/annex his neighbors, and summarily round up hundreds of thousands of his own people for wholesale slaughter. Intercede right?

Just as with the war in Iraq, it wasn't easy for us as a weary post WWI nation to act either. Only in hindsight did we realize what the implications of not acting would have been: most likely, geometrically more casualties, if not, total domination by Nazi, Japanese, or the Soviet forces. Even after involving ourselves so aggressively, as the US did in WWII, 60 million people lost their lives. Keep in mind that war was fought - save the 300k lost in the atom-bomb attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - with conventional weapons.

The new threat

Just over 50 years later, owing exclusively to technology, we stand on the brink of another world war. A war far more dangerous than the last, and, as it was at the dawn of WWII, equally confusing.

We as a nation, during the start of WWII, were highly unclear as to what all the dying was about overseas. In fact, one of the largest Nazi parties on the earth was right here in the US. Few, if any anticipated the savage ambitions of Germany, Japan, or Russia. Only post-war did we grasp the world-changing implications inaction would have had.

I find a bizarre similarity between then and now. It seems today, we're as confused, or understandably more confused, about why we're fighting in Iraq, as we were when fighting in Europe and Asia.

History, as is so often said, isn't conveniently "repeating itself"; though I do believe, with enough information, one can see how it's rhyming.

The fundamental similarities in why we're fighting are much the same today, as they were then: we're opposing aggressive, competitive, enemies that threaten our way of life at home.

The principal difference however, is that these enemies aren't just States, but (as Thomas Friedman defines them) much more lethal "super-empowered individuals".

In what I'm sure will be considered by anyone reading this "arrogant", I'll attempt to cut away as much confusion as I can as it relates to what's so different about modern day conflict, why we should all know what super-empowered individuals are, how to fight them, and the stakes at hand should we (as we were so tempted to do in the first two world wars) choose to isolate ourselves in peace.

Perspective on modern conflict - Part 2

Who would have thought that one determined man, with no powerful state backing, sixty thousand dollars, and two dozen men could kill 3,000 civilians, and cause over one quarter of a trillion dollars in losses to the US?

Sadly, few.

Even after the original unsuccesful attack on the WTC by Ramsey Useff, we couldn't as a nation, come to grips with the growing reality that it no longer took another nation to destroy us; it could be done by as few as one man.

That failure of public consciousness is an equal -if not greater ingredient- than the motivations of Osama Bin Ladin in what transpired on September 11th (Bin Ladin's second successful attack on the WTC). To our great national detriment, it seems that the fresh horror of September 11th, and corrosponding public appetite for security, is once again draining below a level likely needed to stave off future attacks.

We have Bin Ladin on the run, but he's just one in legions-to-be of super-empowered individuals.

Who are these men? What makes them different from maniacs of the past? One thing: Technology.

That's it. It's a simple mathmatical reality: As technology's efficacy increases, so too does the ability for one man to use it more effectively to destroy. Put another, perhaps more frightening way: technology increases geometrically (as opposed to linearly...Your computer, for instance, doesn't make steady utility increases in a straight line, but follows Moore's Law, and generally multiplies in processing power over short spans of time, returning vastly increased processing power), in addition, technology democratizes geometrically (take the cost to communicate...150 years ago: The difficulty and cost of communication made it available to few. In increments of 50 years, if put on a graph, the diffusion of that technology is geometric, and the reason that 1/2 a billion chinese are on cell phones today, when 10 years ago, most didn't even have access to a fixed-line telephone). Using those two accelerating realities to describe technology's destructive potential: If you put on a graph the increase in technological efficacy to destroy, the diffusion of that technology to those with an appetite for destruction, and time: well, you have an inevitable rendezvous with calamity. And not just one. In my view, September 11th was the first, and likely to be among the least destructive types of consequence owing to that intersection between angry men, and the ever increasing empowerment technology affords.

Our public sense of urgency needs rallying. In reading countless books and material on WMD proliferation, I've come to understand the myriad ways in which whole tens of thousands to millions of innocent civilians could be killed. Unfortunately, it's only a matter of time before realized. It is, however, within our national purvue to radically increase the time between attack intervals, and radically diminish the severity of each. In my view, it starts with recognizing the threat these empowered individuals pose. In the same way we recognized the threat the Soviet Union did, but multiplied by the number of empowered and dangerous men (yes, I'm suggesting that we should view this emerging threat as thousands, even tens of thousands of unique, equally lethal Soviet Unions). Then, as I'll suggest in later posts, determine the most efficient ways to defeat them.

Do you empower others?

It occurred to me, not 20 minutes ago, in nude anticipation of a shower, clearer than ever before, that power is derived from abundance of choice.

It further occurred to me, that there are, simplified, two camps of people:

Those that seek to empower those they love with choice, and,

Those that seek to consolidate their power by denying choice for others.

Don't let the primacy of the first camp lend likelihood to the inclusion of you, or those who claim to love you. The rancid truth of the matter is that, for all the relationships I've been party to, or known of, the latter camp rules the day.

By plain example, they:

Tell you that you look good, when you don't, and they look better, or,

Oh fuck that, just think of the general reception you get from your "friends" when you share good news, vs. bad...?

Which are they more interested in?

From every mother who seeks to usurp the authority and influence of your newest boyfriend, to the boyfriend who seeks to overthrow the subversive power of your girlfriends, to the girlfriends who connive you away from the boyfriend who, by his good company, is syphoning your attention away from them. And on and on, eh?

The most disturbing aspect of this bizzare social institution is this:

For that one in a thousand(?) that are comfortable enough with their own value, and appreciative enough of yours to move in favor of empowering you; well, to the extent you have so much as one detractor (those that seek to subvert you) in your life, that you "love", that person will act like cryptonite to the potential for a healthy relationship.

Why?

Too tired to fully explain, but if anyone's interested....

Books worth reading

As some of you may know, I was a fairly active reviewer on amazon.com until last October. I've grown increasingly uninspired by amazon reviewing. Truth be told, the whole endeavor started seriously when I lied to my best friend. I told him one drunken night at dinner (in front of others we wanted to impress) that I was a top-reviewer on amazon. Well, he really liked that idea, bragged about me, and sadly, it wasn't true. How even the white lies can getcha 'eh? Long story short, I needed to quickly go from rank: 2,000,000th, to within 999. I worked like a maniac for a year to make my fib true, did it, then confessed.

And I also reevaluated my interest in reviewing.

So, for those of you interested in viewing my reviews, visit:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A3BOUPGDLG7QPP/104-5230705-5210305

Here are my favorite books of the past couple years, and their corresponding reviews by me:

Confessions of a Street Addict by James J. Cramer
Like Cramer, this book is high powered, interesting, and fun, January 5, 2004

Much like the first time I watched Cramer on his CNBC nightly program Kudlow & Cramer, his book had me hooked instantly.

A quasi-biography, quasi self-help piece (peppered with the occasional egocentric yarn) this simple and often intriguing read offers intimate insight into one of media's most interesting mouthpieces. Cramer is a hard-driving, hyper-opinionated, "kill or be killed" Wall Street shark. Or at least that's what I thought before I read this book. What changed? Well, I was intrigued to learn about the humble beginnings that so shaped and conditioned him, the people who helped him when he otherwise would have imploded, and the trials and tribulations that almost destroyed the now-hero. Much like he treats the guests on his show, Cramer puts his own life out to the reader for fearless examination.

Often funny, always interesting, I recommend this book highly.

The Prize : The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, by Daniel Yergin

Masterful, important, exquisitely informative, and loooong., January 5, 2004

You should get a PhD in Hydrocarbononics (not a real word) upon finishing this book. Everything you could possibly want to know about oil; its physical origins, the technologies that helped catalyze our insatiable demand for it, the minority it made rich, and its heavy influence on global politics (which range from "important" to "imperative").

Very well written, D. Yergin takes the time to tell a story with each important chronological step. Many of the stories are quite interesting, and certainly highly detailed.

I would warn people with ADD, or little time, to be careful of this book. It's quite an investment of time, but in my opinion, well worth it.


Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by Jim Collins
The most influential book of its kind., February 12, 2004

It's been some time since I read this (about 2 years ago), but I was at the order page (getting a couple of copies for employees) and curiously scrolled down expecting to see nothing but glowing reviews for what has been the most influential "biz book" I've ever read.

I was surprised at the widely varying opinions of this gem. I guess I shouldn't be, corporate strategies (in similar verticals) are as varied as political ideology. I'm convinced that just like there will unlikely be any book that unites Republicans and Democrats in one happy envelope of agreement, there will never be one book about business designed to focus companies on "The Right Way", that everyone will agree is totally valid.

I can only offer my personal testimony to how important this book has been. Since my first read, my business' annual sales have doubled, profit is up ten fold, and we're more organized and focused than ever.

The most significant takeways for me were:

Figure out what your company is best at doing, then focus myopically on developing it.

Get the right people on the bus BEFORE you drive it where you want to go.

Each sound so rudimentary, in fact, I went into the book with a cursory understanding of its lessons and believed "I'm observing all the central tenets...duh..) only in reading the book and "unpacking" the supporting basis for each lesson did I realize just how out of alignment my business was.
Exquisitely researched, intelligently organized, and well written. I recommend this book highly to anyone who has a business, or desires to run one.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
Intimate, important, and intriguing American history..., February 16, 2004

I'm a history junkie, but have always taken a particular fascination to American Revolutionary History. J. Ellis' book "Founding Fathers" is one of the highest quality of its kind.

Ellis doesn't settle in simply recounting the period in some chronological order or with a particular emphasis on an individual; rather, he looks at the entire period holistically. "Founding Brothers" examines the extremely precarious, fragile, and doubt ridden formation of this nation.

We sometimes forget (as powerful as the USA has become) that this nation wasn't an inevitability, that freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of individual happiness wasn't exactly on the ruling class' minds back in 1700's. Many millenia had gone by ignorant to the value of these principals before a handful of noble, determined, oppressed, and brilliant men organized and changed history forever.

"Founding Brothers" is an aptly titled play on the popular label for those men (Founding Fathers); it reveals the seldom mentioned intimacy between them, and how personalities, and the interplay between them determined so much about how and when this country would organize and face the myriad difficult choices about what it stands for, and (as in the case of slavery), what it couldn't afford to stand for.

This is a wonderful read for all levels; from history buffs to those passively interested in how America became what it is.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
A fascinating & important addition to anyones understanding., February 16, 2004

This is very important book about the powerful role that geography plays, and has played, in determining the relative success or failure of the societies it originates and gives shelter to.

I've had some fun in reading through the various and extremely varied reviews on the merit of J. Diamonds thesis. Many "educated" minds have weighed in on the validity of "this or that" aspect of his basis. Now, I'm not exactly at the forefront of modern biological, political, or social science, but I know enough to firmly believe that "geographic determinism" is a major influence on societal development. When I look at it through the lens of Chaos Theory (where big outcomes are sensitively influenced products of tiny variables) it seems clear to me that where societies originated on this map could very well be the biggest factor in determining their success.

This is a fascinating read. Very well researched, peppered with interesting historical stories and insight. I'm sure there are holes in Jareds position, as is the case with even well developed science, but this is an important addition to anyones understanding about history, societies, and their frequent inequity.


Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
An eye opening, mouth closing, commercial thriller!, February 16, 2004

John Grisham, take notice, the fast food industry is a fertile field for your genre of writing.

As a self-made CEO of a large corporation, you might not expect to find me on the frontline of any anti-globalization rally, or lining up early to vote for Nader (and you'd be right), however, there are verticals within the USA's commercial juggernaut that need closer scrutiny and regulation. E. Schlosser makes a very good case that the fast food industry should be one of them.

I think this book will be an interesting and worthwhile read for pretty much everyone (w/ exception of die-hard fast food burger fans). Whether you are personally offended by the violence in slaughter houses or concerned about the implications of a "cheaper, faster, cheaper" corporate production philosophy on the already low paid, high risk workforce; you'll no doubt be intrigued by the clear picture the author gives of the dilemna facing everyone (that includes those in the industry with a conscience).

I still go to Taco Bell, and love it, but I don't think I'll ever order anything with meat at a fast food joint again...

The Spike : How Our Lives Are Being Transformed By Rapidly Advancing Technologies by Damien Broderick

Science non-fiction that's stranger than fiction., March 8, 2004

I picked this book up because I'm an futurist info-junkie. My expectations were modest, the reviews for this were good, but not stellar. However, after just a handful of pages I was completely hooked (I read this book in a night, a very long, very late night).

Damien Brodericks' book "The Spike" screams for our immediate attention to an impending convergence of a handful of rapidly developing technologies (principally nanotechnology, biotechnology, networking, and Artificial Intelligence), each revolutionary on their own, but combined, transcendental; Broderick calls that convergence "the spike".

The concept alone is worth the read. Seldom do most people consider just where humanity now stands in relation to technology and its utility. Where, for example, transportation technology for all but a few thousand years of almost 3 million was our feet and crude "shoes" that permitted 3 mile per hour travel, then animals, chariots, etc. up until about two hundred years ago where a train could propel people at 20 miles per hour, then, "within living memory of the elderly", cars enabled ever faster travel, then planes, jets, rockets, now technologies allow for video conferencing at light speed. Broderick points out that if you put that progress on a chart, and drew out just the last 300,000 years of mankinds progress in transport speed increases, you'd see a flat line until you get to the furthest edge of the graph, then a near vertical spike.

Cool stuff.

And much cooler when you consider that (in his well reasoned belief) if you were to draw out a graph starting 100 years ago, and ending one hundred years from now, we'd find ourselves right at the very beginnings of an incline into a technological spike that will (barring some catostrophic event) fundamentally re-landscape humans (and what it means to be human) in such a material way, you could argue that we wouldn't really remain human at all...

This is very approachable science, Broderick, unlike many other writers attempting to translate the almost imponderable and ever increasing torrent of science from the frontier, does allot of digesting for us in this book. So, while a Matt Ridley (author of "Genome" and "Nature Via Nurture" among others) might be more inclined to try and fill in more factual basis to cement understanding of a particular science, Broderick casts a justifiably wide net over a whole constellation of different scientific disciplines; and, as a consequence, doesn't go into great detail in giving a full "3D" view of each very interesting technology. This will no-doubt leave some more scientific-minded readers wanting for more in the "basis department". For that class, I'd suggest Ridley, but also writers like Hans Moravec (writer of "Robot"), or Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines".

"The Spike" offers optimistic and intensly interesting scenarios for the prospect of a better life in the future as well as realistic concerns that we should start to seriously think about. At a time where it seems we are constantly bombarded by nay-saying "gloom and doom" forecasts for the future, this book is a refreshing (but not overly optimistic) glimpse into a future so potentially wild, so potentially different, it seems more like Science Fiction.

The Diamond Age : Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book) by Neal Stephenson
I read this book 7 years ago and it still affects me..., April 20, 2004

...few books do that. Admittedly at the time of read I would have given the book 3.5 to 4 stars. Lacking in my opinion was a coherent storyline; the book was convoluted, you never knew what the point really was.

However, this novel has left a lasting impression on me. Of the numerous "takeaways", the most enduring are these:

1. Nanotechnology will change everything (not so apparent to the public now, much less back in 97).

2. Technology of this magnitude could offer the key to "leveling the playing field" with respect to economic inequity.

3. I devised a business term as a consequence of reading this book that has helped me immeasurably in my career: "attention units". In the future Stephenson posits that marketing will be so efficient that virtually every piece of visual real estate will be covered with what he calls "mediaglyphs"; billboards with audio and video (even on chopsticks). Not saying that I think that's a future I'd like to help build, but it does give you greater appreciation for any venue that could garner consumer attention.

And finally, my greatest lesson of all was what the Primer (the supercomputer/teacher designed by the futures equivelant to a Bill Gates for his grandaughter in an effort to stave off the near inevitable corruption of his heirs owing to great fortune); the Primer's number one lesson in all of it's teaching was appreciation and capability in one principal skill; subversion. It taught her how to go "around, under, over" any obstacle with unorthodox, even risky thinking.

Cool stuff.

Anyway, didn't give anything away of great substance there, but did want to give you a few more reasons from my perspective to read this very special book.

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower
This book came out 4 years too early..., April 27, 2004

...were it to be modified to contrast the policies and efforts of the US in its occupation and democratization of Japan between 1945 and '52 against the present attempts to do the same in Iraq...forget about the colossal increase in sales, such a book would serve as an awesome instrument of guidance, and perhaps even temper some unreasonable criticism being leveled against the occupation as "unprecedented".

And while there are clear and material differences between the basic environments and nature of the occupations, there are some striking lessons learned in the 7 year slog led by McCarthur, and promoted by "radical-idealogues" in the US gov't who maintained a belief Japan could sever its centuries old embrace of Imperialism in favor of Capitalism and Democracy(despite material dissent among many in the War Department and Congress who scoffed at the notion that the Allies, as conquerors, could democratize such a ravaged nation of Imperialist subservients).

The most interesting takeaway for me was the ingenious use of Hirohito as a proxy to the "hearts and minds" of the Japanese people. The US wisely leveraged the extraordinary (cult-like) capital in servitude that the Emperor had built up in the war ravaged empire. Using what was dubbed the "Wedge Strategy" the US seperated the Emperor from the rest of the Japanese Imperial Government, attributing blame for all the evils of the empire that caused devastation and failure to "the Government that betrayed the Emperor, and the people of Japan". The US then proceeded to use the Emperor as a proxy to the public; asserting his preserved authority to conform the Japanese to the basic charter of the Potsdam Declaration and, more significantly, to McCarther (as "Supreme Commander"; jeez, that was actually his title, imagine if Bremer was assigned such a title, times have certainly changed).

From a detailed accounting of the extraordinary devastation to Japan (their economy, their population, their identities), through the mechanics of the occupation, the writing of a constitution (both literally and philosophically) and through the final stages of engineering, this book (at over 500 pages) is chock full of fascinating understandings of one of the greatest undertakings in history; the reconstitution and habilitation of a defeated nation by the nation that defeated it.

This is a fascinating read that is well organized. That it's well organized is worth noting, for as long a read as it is, the casual reader can (from the Table of Contents) skip around the book, read certain chapters of interest, and never feel lost.

Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan
My favorite Sci-Fi book since Snowcrash. Maybe ever..., April 29, 2004

...It would be difficult for me to overstate my appreciation and respect for Broken Angels; the second in what will be a series of novels about Takeshi Kovacs, the semi-immortal antihero who is as animated and complex as the mind-numbingly interesting times he operates in.

Not since (Neal Stephenson's) Snowcrash has my thirsty sci-fi craving mind been deluged with so many fantastically interesting technology spawned drama. From "cortical stacks" (devices that sit at the base of the brain stem and record the exact neural map of their host serving as a de-facto redundant brain) to "re-sleeving" (the process of transferring the stack to a new body); from "hypercasting" (speed of light transmission of consciousness from on point to another for re-sleeving) to the "virtuals" (AI governed simulations that serve every purpose, from entertainment to torture and interrogation - all at a subjective speed of their choice...5 minutes could equal 1 year, 100 years could equal 5 minutes...not fun when someone who wants the truth out of you decides to use fire and pliers at 1,000,000X slower than real-time).

At this day in age it's difficult for an author to spawn un-heard-of concepts, however, Richard K. Morgan gives life to theoretical possibility and stitches it into thrilling drama as good as any author today. Consider this is his second (after Altered Carbon) published book; we have reason to celebrate the arrival of a major force in the Sci-Fi scene. There is no doubt in my mind that this (still relatively obscure) author will be popularly regarded as one of the best in the genre in coming years.

So, with that glowing preface, a bit about the book. I guess there are two principle ways I could consider its value...first, in contrast to his first work, Altered Carbon; second, to other contemporary Sci-Fi.

To the first, in contrast with Altered Carbon, a book I regarded at reading as the best since Snowcrash, I consider Broken Angels a better work. In my opinion, Morgan's creative capacity for description has matured (from extraordinary to brilliant). As an amatuer writer, voracious reader, and semi-experienced reviewer, it's none to common to find an author in this genre that can combine high-minded scientific concepts with delicious prose.

Altered Carbon had Takeshi Kovacs serving as a mercenary detective working for a "victim" of a suicide that (when revived) couldn't buy the explanation of the police as to the motive of his suicide. A brilliant and fantastic work. Broken Angels centers Takeshi in a much broader and complex environment. Acting as a warrior-for-hire in a massive struggle to put down a planetary revolt, Takeshi is pulled into even higher drama when he is coerced into a close-knit consipiracy to lay claim to an ancient (Martian) spacecraft; the archeological find of several lifetimes.

In terms of how this novel matches up to others, as indicated at the start of this review, not since Stephenson has an author been able to "put so many conceptual balls in the air" and still maintain a cohesive, entertaining, and rich reading experience.

Without giving much away, the sophistication and abundance of Takeshi's adversaries; from hyper-evolving nanotech weapons, nuke-lobbing Rebel forces, Interplanetary governments, and even his own crew; keep you turning the pages like you've been poisoned and the next page has the antidote...However, it's not just carnage, quite the opposite, Broken Angels is rich in social commentary and philosophical perspective. From the effects of semi-immortality on individual perspective to this novels exploration of "Martian culture" and the mysterious evidence of alien civilization left behind, ideas and fascinating considerations abound...

So much FUN!

If you haven't read Altered Carbon, I'd recommend reading that first. I don't consider that necessary, but I do believe reading AC and being exposed to allot of the jargon and technical terms of the series will permit a richer experience in Broken Angels.

Enjoy.

I Love You, Ronnie: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan by Nancy Reagan
Heartwarming insight as rich in poetry as it is in history., June 9, 2004

I, like so many others, was saddened by the death of Ronald Reagan just a handful of days ago. Innundated by coverage as we have been lately, one strip of video had a particularly strong affect on me: it was the video of Nancy Reagan stroking the flag that lay over her late husbands coffin. Her hands moved back and forth over it almost as if she were trying to pat out wrinkles from a perfectly pressed flag; and she was speaking to her husband, moving her mouth uttering words unaudible to the public.

My eyes welled instantaneously.

I immediately remembered why that scene affected me as it did. I remembered reading the letters written by Ronald, saved by Nancy, organized and published in this wonderfully interesting and telling book. I remembered how deeply in love the two were with each other, and how utterly devastating it must be for her to lose such a great husband...such a great friend.

If my memory serves me correctly, Reagan held some high position in the acting biz (perhaps it was the Screen Actors Guild), and was introduced to Nancy by a mutual friend (she wanted to be an actress, and I think had done some work...it was some time ago that I read this, so please forgive any inaccuracies), anyway, they hit it off immediately, as is so often the case in relationships of great quality. Almost immediately (like a modern day relationship might start trading e-mails) they began to trade letters. She saved them all, and published them chronologically in this book.

He soon after took a job with GE as a corporate spokesperson and was shuttled around the country to speak on the company's behalf (despite his great fear of flying). It was during his time on the road that he really grew comfortable trusting Nancy with his innermost thoughts. And private they are! She was a friend, a lover, a mother (of both him and their children), priest, and parishioner.

I was struck by the eloquence in Reagan's writing. His often labeled "The Great Communicator", well, that holds true not just in his ability to give great speaches, he's an equally adept writer. Some of his letters are so tender, passionate, and well composed that it reads more like poetry than a simple letter.

I recommend this book to any who would like a deeper, more intimate understanding of who R. Reagan was when the lights were off, and cameras were stowed.

Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan
Profound thinking explained in simple terms and compact form, July 6, 2004

In the spirit of Kagan I'll keep this review short and to the point: This essay, delivered in a thin hardcover, has all the punch and insight (if not more) than most books 4 times its size, and is delivered in "plainspeak".

I saw a graph the other day on CNN that showed a whole host of books of this type on a large 2D screen. It made connections between books that people polled read in common. Liberals were in blue, Conservatives in red. It looked like 2 spider webs. Liberals read one set of books (Bushwacked, etc.) and Conservatives (Deliver us from Evil, etc.). A sad paradigm considering the need for national and international unity.

I found no clear bias in this book. Kagan doesn't set up Europeans as useless gun-dropping appeasement junkies, or Americans as dangerous gun-loving cowboys; rather, he uses history and philosophical conditioning (Hobbesian vs. Kantian) to assist the reader in - if not empathising with both sides - at least understanding the unique circumstances of each side, and the consequential positions they've taken on important world events of late (mostly related to security).

This essay taught me more than most books do, and I didn't feel like I had to keep my "partisan bull**** filter" running on high (makes reading much more enjoyable).

I recommend this highly.

The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

A mindblowing "radar update" of what's to come., July 13, 2004

This book is an exhilarating glimpse into the future of technology, with an emphasis on when and how it could ultimately affect us: "us" as vulnerable injury prone biology, us as students, us as workers, us as socialites, and perhaps most interestingly, us as mortals.

Hard science in plain terms, Kurzweil stitches in humor and optimism to keep the reading fun, but never sacrifices the basic ambition of this book; I believe that ambition is to share his well-founded exitement about the likilihood that "just around the corner" (owing to the laws of accelerating return) things are going to get real interesting, and really strange.

While I note that plenty of reviews take issue with the pace of change Kurzweil predicts, few dispute the likilihood technologies outlined in the book (Nanotechnological production, AI, man-made/machine-made alternatives to biology such as prosthetics that work as well or better than nature designed) will ever come about, or take issue with the myriad ways in which they will have a profound effect on our individual lives, society, and the world at large.

Kurzweil is an optimist, but not a blind one. He was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Many of his tech-prophecies have come true, and he has well earned respect in the scientific community.

Even if he's somewhat "off" on timing, or the exact embodiment these technologies will take, just throwing one of your neural legs over the sweeping impact these technologies could usher in makes this book more than a worthwhile read.

Christian Hunter

Santa Barbara, California

The Golden Age (The Golden Age, Book 1) by John C. Wright
Life changing..., July 20, 2004

Ok, so there are a few things I'd like to get straight with you right off the bat...

1: I just got back from a semi-romantic dinner with my 24 year old ex...stunningly beautiful, tall, Mexican...an absolute angel. Anyway, all to say I needed a few drinks to help reconcile why she's my ex, so, technically, I'm drunk.

2: I've been agonizing over how to write a review about a trilogy so important to me, so life changing, that in all my determined creative ability, I've failed to find proper words for.

Allright then, now that I've set the contextual table for my mindset in writing this review...

Hmmm...three 400 something paged books, that's quite an investment for even the most voracious reader. Me, I almost abandoned this series in Shanghai China (where I brought it to serve as a semi-cerebral distraction from the dark melee that is Shanghai to a well-to-do 30 year old). Anyway, about 50 pages into this first book I almost dropped it. Although fascinated by the bigness of its scope (10,000 years into the future, insanely well-thought-through...it just wasn't hooking me right). I put it down for a couple of months, but found myself talking to friends about what I had read. For instance, I would share how (that far into the future) characters took the potential for miscommunication so seriously that it would take a page or so to issue a simple salutory greeting (of course! strange, but that's just right!) So, while it didn't grip me from the start, its unique style, complexity, and substance stayed with me. I decided to give it another chance.

I'm so thankful I did.

At around 80-100 pages I was consumed in this strange but believable world of the future, set so far ahead of any reasonable predictatory event horizon most mere mortal authors would attempt. John Wright pulls it off in a way that is sure to earn him a place at the table of some of the best sci-fi writers of all time. Delicious prose gives life to a story so well detailed, characters so solid and dynamic, it wouldn't surprise me if there exists whole books he wrote just to make sure there weren't inconsistencies.

Damnit, I'm getting off the subject. Here is the essence of what I'd like to communicate. Having waited until finishing this trilogy before writing this review I can say this:

The first book (The Golden Age) is fascinating, well-written, and rife with mind-numbing concepts detailing the wildly fantastic potential of humanity that far off in the future.

But that's not why you should read The Golden Age.

You see (and this is where I'm really going out on an assumptive limb) I believe the author constructed the entire series to make one life changing point; a point made in one paragraph of the second to last page of the trilogy...the most important advice I've ever read or heard in my life.

I've told this to friends, and in each instance tendered this warning (because I could see what they planned to do): "It won't make sense to you unless you read the books".

And I mean it.

Unfortunately, as rational beings we need basis to believe anything; important understandings require substantial basis. That's what this trilogy is about. Other than being enormously entertaining, it builds 1500 pages worth of basis in making a simple, elegant, and enormously important statement.
It's now 2 in the morning, I'm exhausted (but newly sober). I hope that this review stimulates sufficient interest to compel you to pick up this first book, read 80 pages, and see if you yourself aren't seduced. However, unlike most pleasures, this series will leave you more fulfilled, more inspired, more uplifted after finish than during.


The Phoenix Exultant : The Golden Age, Volume 2 (The Golden Age) by John C. Wright
Extraordinary bridge for an extraordinary trilogy., August 9, 2004

I abstained from writing reviews on any volumes of this trilogy until and unless I finished them all. I just recently completed the final volume of The Golden Age Trilogy, and am happy to report that each book is a wonderful read in its own right.

For me, the first was a mind-bending introduction into a world so strange, so fascinating, it took an entire volume to get me comfortable with the basic attributes of the environment. This book, the second volume in the trilogy was a real treat to read. I was already comfortable with the "user interface" of GA, and the plot unfolded with less strain. The third book, Golden Transcendence is the most remarkable of them all.

But back to Phoenix Exultant. I won't spoil any of the developments this book offers (warning: some reviews below do), and it's difficult (having read all 3) to parse out what is now a blended understanding, but some general impressions:

This was a much more exciting read than the first book. Phaethons transition from immortal to mortal, his struggle for survival, and the effects such turmoil had on his basic belief system was at times mindblowing. The effects environment has in changing or reinforcing a mans basic virtue is always interesting, but when that man is thousands of years old, well, infinitely more so.

It was also intriguing to explore the basic history, tendencies, and roles each major character (and neuroform) play in this colorful and highly detailed future. In particular, the relationship between Daphne (Phaethons wife), their present, and VERY interesting past.

If you're like me, you'll sail through this book and enjoy every minute of it. Trust that as good as the first two volumes are, John Wright saved the best for last.

Enjoy

A Wild Sheep Chase : A Novel (Vintage International) by Haruki Murakami
A fun, fresh, and sexy romp through the mind of a freak..., August 9, 2004

...and I use the term freak in the most reverent of ways. I also use it to describe the author; because while the main character is a freak in his own right, he's one of an entirely different caliber.

A Wild Sheep Chase takes us to Tokyo Japan 'round 1980 and dumps us into the sharp but entirely unexercised, and increasingly apathetic mind of our 30 year old (male) main character. Funny, I just checked the book because I couldn't remember his name. I couldn't find it. I may be wrong, but I don't know if the author gives him one.

Anyway...

Newly divorced, incessantly smoking, and always musing in very interesting ways about largely uninteresting things, I found myself pulled into this novel immediately. "We" soon find ourselves embroiled in an epic and supernatural mystery with only a half-tank of gas. When tasked by an uber-powerful businessman to find a certain certain one-of-a-kind sheep or face financial ruin (if not death), our adventurer shruggingly agrees, and half-heartedly pursues.

The slurring pace of this book, filled with philosophical musings, "David Lynch like" weirdos, and a spattering of phenomenon, was a rare treat for me.

Murakami is a wonderfully gifted creative writer. His prose (even though translated) is at once elegantly crafted and playful. I recommend this book highly.

Christian Hunter
Santa Barbara, California

Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man by David T. Hardy
Reveals Moore as a filmmaker, not a documentarian., January 11, 2005

David T. Hardy and Jason Clarke have helped set in motion what I predict will be the ultimate downfall of M. Moore.

Half of those reading this will cheer, the other half are certainly jeering..."Red Blue difference right"? Let's hope not. It's to the latter group (and those on the fence) I'll address this review.

This book, while certainly biased against Moore, appeals to human reason and our natural allergy to hypocrisy, deceit, and slander in opening up vectors to attack Moore. The basic assumptions it attacks are summarized in this widely-held belief: "Michael Moore is a documentarian activist, he exposes corruption, greed, thievery, and power-systems that have gone awry (be they business or government) on film".

This book proves in inarguable and exhaustive detail how untrue that basic assumption about the man is. In fact, this expose brings to light the irony in that assumption by proving in fact that: Michael Moore is an ultra-capitalist filmmaker who would (and has) go to any length to create successful movies.

That's more than mere hyperbole, consider the following:

Moore was born and raised in the white "bedroom town" of Davison, MI, NOT the poor and disenfranchised Flint, MI. where unemployment (at 4.6%) is 1/3rd that of it's urban neighbor, and, incedentally, less than one half of one percent of Davison is African American. He's hardly the "boy from the hood" as he so often purports to be.

In Bowling for Columbine Moore villified Charlton Heston, insinuating that immediately after the Columbine massacre, the NRA held a rally in nearby Denver. Absolutely false. In fact, it was an annual meeting, and according to the bylaws of the organization, was too late to cancel. However, what he does neglect to mention, is that the entire meeting was gutted of all festivities. Only the necessary business of the NRA was tended to.

In addition, the speech Charleton Heston delivered in B. for C. was grafted from a speech delivered pre-Columbine! When viewing B. for C., it's impossible not to be outraged at the audacity of Heston when he energetically starts in with "...from my cold, dead, hands" - well, in fact, this speech was delivered after being presented an award at an NRA function in North Carolina!

Ugh, I'm sitting here with the book, and just now realizing it would take me an entire night to cover at least the basics of what makes Moore such a repugnant character. The deception of "Roger and Me", the criminal innacuracies and downright lies contained in "Stupid White Men" and "Dude, Where's my Country", the slander and "special effects" in "Bowling for Columbine"...Suffice it to say, you should read this book if:

You think Moore is a great American, and can't understand how anyone can see different. Or,

You despise Moore, and crave Tractor-Truck-sized amounts of ammunition to prove what a complete and utter liar, hypocrite, and vile man he truly is.

Christian Hunter

Santa Barbara, California

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

by Robert B. Cialdini

A WMD in the battle to gain permission., January 17, 2005

This study of compliance (a study of the factors that cause one person to say yes to another person) was among the most fascinating, useful, and, quite frankly, "scary" books I've ever read. I've always known that asking for permission has allot to do with "how" you ask, I just didn't know how much. This author shows us scientifically "how much", and it's a disturbing amount.

Clearly, the workings of the mind are a mysterious and universally interesting science; from how it operates the way it does, to why, it's when science can tell us how to operate the mind "remotely" that things get very, very interesting. Robert Cialdini, in this extensive study, shows us how various practitioners of compliance (from salespeople, to fund-raisers and advertisers) deliberately use what tools they have (for good or evil) to increase their chances of getting us to comply with their will.

The author breaks down the basic means by which to obtain compliance into 6 different categories: reciprocity, commitment/consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. In each section you'll find a wealth of well researched, sometimes funny, always interesting, facts and experiments that show how our basic instincts, societal conditioning, and even our physiology, respond to basic permission requests. I was repeatedly shocked to learn just how automatic many of those responses were.

From a study that shows how many people associate "expensive" with value. In the first chapter of the book the author give an example of a jeweler who accidentally doubled instead of halved the price of some jewelry they had that was not selling well. After a leaving the shop for a short time, to the jewelers surprise, the accidentally marked up items had all been sold.

Or how about a study that demonstrates that people are more likely to agree to a request if a reason is given. One proof had a group simply ask if they could cut in line, another group asked to cut in line and then gave a ridiculous reason. The latter group enjoyed something like a 3X success rate. Simply adding a "becuase" enhanced the chances of success geometrically.

The "contrast principal" gives an example from the retail world where Salespeople are often instructed to sell the most expensive items first. Having paid a lot for a suit, for example, most people will pay more for shirts and ties than if they started with those relatively inexpensive items first. Car salesmen will sell the car first, then load you up on the optional extras.

There are dozens and dozens of additional examples; details on the efficacy of "walking someone down in price", to why giving dirt cheap gifts make airport Krisha's so successful in their pitches. I'd love to include more, but can't for lack of time.

Suffice it to say, this book will give you a very interesting and valuable education on the art of gaining permission, as well as some useful tools in defending yourself from others battling to gain yours.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C. K. Prahalad
"Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day..., January 31, 2005

...Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime". A famous Biblical quote, one that resonated with me strongly, and profoundly influenced my thinking on international aid, but more broadly, the problem of poverty, and the reticence of Capitalism in addressing it.

I'm a strong believer in capitalism, this wonderful book reinforced my belief in that system. It did so by showing how world poverty and consistently non-functional economies aren't because of capitalism, but for lack of capitalist attention.

Times have changed, technology and it's rapidly increasing efficacy in efficient delivery of products and services, necessitates that we change our attitude about heretofore neglected markets, and the nearly 5 billion people in them. "Inclusive Capitalism" as the author calls it.

Rich with important concepts like "Installment Sales" (which address the needs and constraints of low-income consumers), this book is a virtual blueprint for companies, as well as entreprenuers, who are interested in serving low-income consumers around the world.

The hardcover book also contains a CD. I usually skip viewing those, but I'm glad I didn't in this instance. Prahalad gives the introduction, then roughly a dozen case studies follow. From Appliance sales companies in Brazil, to a Cement company in Mexico; seeing the passion on the faces of their customers, how the companies have changed their lives, it is incredibly touching. You aren't watching customers, you're watching "evangalists" that would make your most devout American iPod fan seem like an unsatisfied customer.

Fantastic Voyage : Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurzweil

Nothing short of revolutionary!, January 31, 2005

I read books about health, nutrition, and diet all the time. In the nearly 150 reviews I've done here, I've never found a single book in any of those genres significant enough to comment on or recommend in a review...until this one.

Described as a "modern day Benjamin Franklin", Ray Kurzweil teamed up with one of the worlds most accomplished authorities in anti-aging. I use the term accomplished, because while there may be more accredited theorists on anti-aging, few, if any enjoy the success in hands-on application of anti-aging in the consumer space.

This book, while extremely detailed, is written simply, and is highly interesting throughout. Readers will be treated to one of the (if not "the") most up-to-date and comprehensive 3D views of health maintenence available. From diet and exercise, to aggressive supplementation, the authors explain in detail how to determine your current state of health, then how to gradually (or radically) modify it to an optimum state.

While many diet fads promote the "power of X, Y, or Z", this book recognizes that there is no one Silver Bullet that'll make you thin/give you energy/make you look younger, etc. Instead, the prescriptions in this book are balanced and integrated, often showing the important relationships between food, exersize, supplements, and lifestyle. For example, if you don't get enough nourishment from food (as many diets require), you'll have an energy deficit, and often that'll steal from your ability to maintain a good exersize regime. Countless other examples exist of those interdependencies, suffice it to say, most all are addressed in this book, and accompanied by guidance for optimization.

Always the health enthusiast, at 31, I'm 5'10, 160, haven't been sick in 2 years (ok, fine! I got a mild cold that lasted 3 days, but that's it!), have more energy, and look and feel better than I ever have. I attribute my health to a near fanatic approach to diet, exercise, and supplementation. This book validated a number of my approaches, but opened my eyes to some truly significant new understandings. Since adding some of the recommended diet and supplementation regimes from the book, I look and feel noticably healthier.

More a service than a book, Ray and Terry maintain a support site, along with updated information, referrals to various products they recommend, they even have their own meal replacement shake (sweetened with Stevia, an herbal sweetner) that is hands-down the best in its class. You can visit the site at rayandterry .com.

Here I've gone on and on about the immediate benefits of this book, and neglected to even mention its special charter, and what I view as perhaps the most important aspect of its value: the science behind radical life extension.

Kurzweil became interested in Life Extension and wrote "The Age of Spiritual Machines". Where he predicted that with certain technologies in the future, man could live indefinitely. I'm no authority in that space, but after reading that book, he convinced me that it is indeed possible.

This book represents a "bridge" of sorts to a time where such technologies exist. A "50 something" baby-boomer, Kurzweil, despite being diagnosed with diabetes (and treating himself off medicine), looks every bit the youthful enthusiast this book will very likely make you into.

Christian Hunter
BTW: The best product for Vitamin C and some B's is Emergen-C. I get the Tangerine, and take twice a day. Also, whenever I start to feel like I could be getting a cold, I get Zicam. It's a liquid Zinc compound that you put in your nose. It binds to the same cellular receptors that the Rhinovirus (Rhino, meaning "nose" in Latin...i think) does. I'm a psycho evangalist for both products. Hopefully they'll benefit you as they have me.

Longitudes and Attitudes : The World in the Age of Terrorism by Thomas L. Friedman
Extraordinary scope, simple reading, invaluable knowledge., February 14, 2005

Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas L Friedman knows the Middle East. Not just because he's been stationed there as a New York Times Affairs Desk columnist for over a decade, but more because he's one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and progressive political thinkers of our time.

Longitudes and Attitudes is a collection of columns divided up into 3 parts: Part One consists of pre-9/11 columns, Part 2, post-9/11 columns, and Part 3 his diary of the tumultous times immediately after 9/11.

Each column is about 750 words. Each make a clear and important point (whether you agree with him or not). And together, they'll give the average reader a massive boost in understanding as it relates to:

1. The Palestinian Isreali confict

2. The moral, social, and philisophical topography of the Middle East, and,

3. Ideas on how to intervene (both nationally and internationally) with the "Middle East problem"; that is, terrorism, fanaticism, and economic plight.

Unorthodox, intelligent, daring, and always interesting, T. Friedman has been an important voice out of the Middle East for some time now. Longitudes and Attitudes is a well organized opportunity for the average reader to benefit from it.

Christian Hunter
Santa Barbara, California


Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Heartwarming insight. As rich in art as it is in history., March 8, 2005

I read Persepolis tonight.

I mean the whole thing. I started it after dinner, and just finished it at the 153rd page. For those of you who've read, or should I say "experienced" this work, that won't come as a surprise. For those of you who haven't, consider it a high-endorsement. I had other plans for my night...

..I also had my doubts about this work. Despite the rave reviews, I've never even read a comic book. That, coupled with the fact that at first glance, it seemed very...well, childish?

Oh the shame! Marjane Satrapi has created an apologetic convert out of me.

Persepolis is the story of one girls experience during the fall of the Shah of Iran, the ensuing Islamic Revolution (which included Stalin like "purges"), and war with Iraq. Only it's not told in plain text, but rather is a pictured in a comic book style.

A history buff myself, I have an above-average awareness of the historical goings on of that period. However, told in this unorthodox style, with pictures, through the creative and emotional eyes of a child, the "facts" gained a vibrance and color for me like never before. The human side of history had so much more meaning, and seemed to imprint a deeper and easier understanding in my mind than most accounts.

When I was thinking about what was so compelling about this book, I thought of Edward Tufte. He's a famous professor and scientist in the field of displaying information graphically. I went to a seminar by him once. He passionately explained the concept of neural bandwidth, and how most text and plain graphs don't take advantage of the massive processing power of our minds. The pictures in Persepolis, coupled with Marjane's rich historical account seemed to take advantage of that latent neural ability. For me, they compounded and achieved something of an emotional critical mass of understanding that few books have.

So, like I said, I'm a convert. I just ordered her second work "The Story of a Return". Only this time, I'll have a nice bottle of wine, and no plans for the night.

The following are books I've read over the past 5 months, but have yet to review. If anyone has an interest in them, and would like my opinion, let me know:

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the world

Samson Blinded

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl

The Golden Transcendence (part of Golden Age trilogy)

After the Quake

Jim Cramer's Real Money

Disinformation, by Miniter

The Google Story

The Underdog, by Joshua Davis

The Koran

Mind Boosters, (definitely not worth reading, about supplements that are supposed to increase intelligence)

Spin State, by Chris Moriarty

The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

Socrates Cafe, by Christopher Phillips

New Ideas from Dead Economists, updated edition, and

Woken Furies, by Richard K. Morgan

Is "faith" an evil moral tenant?

Is "faith" an evil moral tenant? Is it the core DNA of mankind's most malignent thought virus?

We as a society are constantly admonishing skeptics to "have faith", but do we really know what we're saying? When asked to "have faith", you're really being asked to believe something without evidence. There is, in my opinion, no thought-concept more decaying, more subversive and dangerous than that. Websters Dictionary defines faith as: "(1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof " . That may seem benign enough, especially when thought about in the traditional use: have faith in god, in family, in love...but put it to work in a more nefarious use: "have faith that I love you even though I beat you sometimes, that you have job security for your sacrifice, that things will work out somehow". Even more vitriolic and dangerous: "have faith that honey dipped virgins await you in heaven for suicidal sacrifice".

It's all connected.

How can we fault the obvious logical errors of others if we ourselves submit to faith? How can someone's faithful misguided attempt at salvation and freedom from a miserable life on earth, by taking a leap of faith, be so condemnable when we, many of us vastly more fortunate, error in the same color, just on a smaller less impactful scale?

Would innocence of a similar transgression require absolute proof for every decision we make? No. But what about trading faith for "confidence"? Confidence isn't absolute belief, it's relative belief.

I can't help but have confidence in the likelihood that a person, a family, a country and world, would live much more at fluid-peace and greater happiness if the standard of belief (for who we love, what religion we do or don't choose, what the moral "right way is) were raised from proofless faith, to provable confidence.

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