Notes From All Over 13/06/2010

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit.

As I have spent much of the last two weeks away from the blogosphere, this one is a bit smaller than usual.


Commentator’s Disease
Fred Reed. Fred on Everything. 11 June 2010.

Mr. Reed identifies what is perhaps the greatest flaw of our pundit class – and I will admit that it is a flaw I find often in my own writings. It is nice to say that every American should read Democracy in America or have a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of energy flows in society. But these things are simply not something every person is capable of. Too often is it that we – both the libertarian and the leftist – forget the flawed nature of our Earth. Yet may we forget it or not, it is the only world we have to work with. (H/T Fabius Maximus.)

High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration
John Schmitt, Kris Warner, and Sarika Gupta. Center for Economic and Policy Research. June 2010.

From the report:

We calculate that a reduction by one-half in the incarceration rate of non-violent offenders would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion per year and return the U.S. to about the same incarceration rate we had in 1993 (which was already high by historical standards). The large majority of these savings would accrue to financially squeezed state and local governments, amounting to about one-fourth of their annual corrections budgets. As a group, state governments could save $7.6 billion, while local governments could save $7.2 billion.

It is about time we step back and ask ourselves whether our war on drugs is worth its costs. I suggest you read the report in full (or at least its executive summary) to see the full extent of this problem.


 Headless Chicken vs. Magic Bullet
“Joseph Fouche”. Committee of Public Safety. 8 June 2010

JF continues his stellar series on the “strategy of the headless chicken.” Much recommended.


Whats in a Name?
“Galhran.” Information Dissemination. 8 June 2010.

A practical example of information operations (broadly defined) in action.

Director of National Intelligence Shortfalls: is it the Man or the Mission?
Stephen Johnson.  Shadow Government. 13 June 2010.

Adventures in Futility: Covert Paramilitary Action as an Instrument of State Power
“NerveAgent”. Visions of Empire. 31 May 2010.


Don’t Fight the Last Insurgency
Ashok Malik. Corner Plot. 1 June 2010;

Though rarely discussed in the American COIN community, India has had a long history of defeating insurgencies. But those insurgencies – defeated with a brutality akin to the campaigns that destroyed the Tamil Tigers a year ago – are a bad model for India’s conflicts of today. The Naxalites, argue Malik, realize they cannot win a typical Maoist insurgency through force alone. But unlike past attempts to do just that, they do not have to do so. The Naxals know how to play the game of media-saturated politicians; in such an environment, and against such opponents, the iron hand of past campaigns would do more ill than good to the Indian effort. You can only bomb so many of your own citizens before the protests begin.

What to do About North Korea
Nick Nielson (“Geopolitcratus”). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 8 June 2010.

The money quote comes at the end of the post:

A state apparatus in the capture of a dictator represents a real threat to the peace, stability, and prosperity of the world. Such a state of affairs ought to provoke a robust response, but as the willingness to consider unconventional options decreases, the behavior of the most stable and wealthy nation-states becomes increasingly predictable. This predictability becomes something that emerging dictators and rogue states can play upon. If that predictability could be removed, or even lessened, not by careful diplomacy but by diplomacy that looks reckless even while it is in fact rational, the options of those who would play upon the predictable behavior of stable nation-states would be narrowed, and their ability to act, especially to act with impunity, would be constrained.

This reminds me of a recent conversation I had with an informed friend on the subject of Iran. My friend proposed that President Ahmadinejad and the rest of the Iranian ruling class were mad. Perhaps they are. But even if they are not, they have a vested interest in acting as mad as possible.

Brace Yourself: Good News On Africa.
Karen Rothmyer. The Nation. June 2010.

This is another case of narrative trumping reality. Poverty rates across Africa have been falling steadily since 1990. The several dozen international agencies and NGOs that define themselves as crusaders against African poverty will never recognize this, however – if Africa’s poverty is declining, they will never be able to drum up the money they need to survive. Such is the institutional imperative.


Virus Ravages Cassava Plants in Africa
Donald McNeil Jr. The New York Times. 31 May 2010.

Cassava is one Sub-saharan Africa’s core staples. It is not the cash crop used by most African farmers, or even the region’s main source of nutriment, but it is the steady back-up poor farmers rely on when all other crops have failed. The death of these plants is the death of their resiliency.

The 800 lb Gorilla in the Ocean 
Matt Scalia. Global Warming: Man or Myth? 6 June 2010.

A helpful introduction to ocean acidification, its causes and consequences. My thoughts on the matter can be found here. (H/T Sublime Oblivion.)

Nigeria’s agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it.
John Vidal. The Guardian. 30 May 2010.

In sum: Nigeria has had oil disasters on par with that of Deep Horizon. And nobody here gives a dip. (H/T NewsHoggers.)


Explaining the Origins of the Tea Party: A Rebuttal of Mark Lilla

John Sides. The Monkey Cage. 2 June 2010.

In an earlier Notes From All Over I highlighted Mark Lilla’s essay for the New York Review, “Tea Party Jacobins.” My initial impression of that piece was that Lilla had brilliantly captured the source of America’s discontent. Now I am less sure. (H/T Howl at Pluto).


Who Are the Most Widely-Cited Historians?
Dave Lieberson. History News Network. 25 May 2010.

This list was an interesting one. On it can be found men of three types:

  1. Popular writers whose books were widely read (and presumably cited) outside of historical academia (e.g. McCullough, Johnson, Zinn). 
  2.  Historiographical pioneers whose methods impacted entire generations of historians (e.g. Braudel, Fogel). 
  3. Historians who have written comprehensive “go-to” books on selected subjects of intense popular interest (everybody else).

All but one of the fifteen or so listed are historians specializing in Revolutionary America, the U.S. Civil War, American racial history, the rise of 20th Century totalitarianism, or the Cold War. These same subjects were the focus of the popular writers who earned a place on the list. I have written before on the potential dangers of using small slices of history as a template for the future. Our slices are small indeed.

Speaking of popular history:

That Barnes and Nobles Dream: Academic Historians vs. Popularizers
David Greenburg. Slate. 17 May 2005.


When Do People Learn Languages?
Mark Rosenfeld.

An interesting article on language acquisition.

Infographic: Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench
Karl Tat. Our Amazing Planet. 7 June 2010.

The coolest infographic I have seen in a long time. (H/T ThreeSources.)

Leave a Comment


I'm presently readin' up Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. He believes that the NGOs are more bane than assistance to the African states. Leave African problems for Africans to solve he says.

I do not think things are so simple as "NGOs hurt much more than they could ever help." As Rothmyer's piece notes, African economies have been growing in strength and stability for the last 15 years. This leaves the question: is this growth because of the NGOs, or despite of them?

I will go out on a limb and say "both". We like to lump 'em all together, but NGOs are a diverse group. Some are more helpful than others. Some get it, and some do not. Texas in Africa had a stellar post on this topic recently – the real divide is between those who seek to aid impoverished Africans, and those who seek to empower them. Those in the latter group are always welcome in my book.

Wendy Smith's Give a Little: How Your Small Donations Can Transform our World is an excellent introduction to some of the organizations that do the latter.