Monthly Archives: October 2015

Book Review — Don’t Forget the Couscous

Don’t Forget the Couscous by William Darwish is the poet’s first collection of published poetry. Darwish was born and raised in Syria until the age of 17. In 2002, he moved to the United Kingdom where he became a tri-lingual interpreter and poet. He studied history at Teesside University and recently received an acceptance to commence a postgraduate course in international studies at Durham University, United Kingdom, which started in September 2014.

Darwish gives a fresh image at being Muslim that can be easily absorbed into the Western mind. The poems offer a wide range of settings from Morocco, Austrailia, Spain, The Danube, and the bedroom. He opens with an apology from all Muslims for what they have given to the world. The list includes coffee, navigation, astronomy, and even Rumi. His poems tell of the Arab experience in the West and the life he left in the Middle East. While expecting more of the witty attitude, Darwish quickly moves to human relationships:

Like Adam and Eve were the first two
We are the last two
Don’t go
Or else
There will be no more lovers left.

There are themes of drinking and livers, tears and eyes, love and breasts, and gazelles. Not what one would expect from poet rooted in the Middle East. This is an excellent first collection of poems that will open the reader’s eyes to another part of the world or another culture that may even be in their neighborhood. The verse is well done as the subject matter and character of the written lines.

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Book Review –The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea

The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea by Hyun Ok Park is a book heavy in language, theory, and (I can only call it abstract) thought. Park is an associate professor of sociology at York University which she joined in 2007 after receiving PhD in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and teaching at New York University. She has written widely on global capitalism, transnational migration of Koreans, Japanese empire, democratic politics, and the issue of comparison and comparability.

This is a difficult book. The language is intimidating even for a person with an advanced degree. There is the inclusion of political theory and the author’s own political beliefs:
South Korea is/was a military dictatorship that oppressed its population.
The North is the model of self-sufficiency.
China lost track of its revolution.

Indeed, the south has had it’s problems and has recovered nicely. Is there mistreatment of Chinese Koreans? I don’t know, but would be surprised if there was not. It is common in almost every society that minorities are not held as the equals of the majority. That has little to do with capitalism or communism. The North has many problems conveniently ignored by Park. Inequalities of labor and value are dismissed as corruption and dishonest low-level capitalism. The heavy industry self-sufficiency of the north was funded by Sino-Soviet aid and not the miracle of the Kim Il Sung. When the Soviet Union fell North Korea lost its subsidized imports and loans. North Korea went into a tailspin complicated floods brought on by deforestation resulting in famine. Massive Gulags and the Kim cult of personality is not mentioned. The North’s military spending represents almost 23% of its GDP. South Korea’s military spending is 2.7% of its GDP. Even countries known for their military spending like China and the United States both rank about 4%.

Park likes to reference Zizek, Marx, and Kim Il Sung in her work her position of an unbiased researcher is critically compromised. One easily gets the feeling that communism would be Park’s preference, if it was not tainted by political corruption and crooked capitalism. I have can see Marx’s point in the period that he wrote. Rapid industrialization created exploitation of the people. Marx, however, was wrong in thinking that Capitalism would not bend to the will of the masses. Collective bargaining and the threat of revolution was enough to change the system. Kim Il Sung played a role in unifying the people against the Japanese, either in reality or propaganda, but his time is well over. Who would want to colonize North Korea today? German unification cost roughly $2 trillion and that was to bring a rather advanced East Germany to West German standards. The cost of repairing North Korea economically, psychologically, and environmentally would be astronomical.

I see the problems of unrestrained capitalism and the problems with planned economies. Most educated and honest people would. Park with selective sources and complex language creates her own little world. At first, I was hoping that I misunderstood what she was writing. I looked for reviews of this book and her previous book to see if I was wrong. I found none for this book which has been out for nearly a month and her previous work garnered nothing positive. I am sorry to say, but this book is one you can skip.

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Book Review — Will Africa Feed China?

Will Africa Feed China? by Deborah Brautigam

Will Africa Feed China? by Deborah Brautigam is a look at China’s involvement in Africa. Brautigam is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the International Development Program (IDEV), and the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

There can be little denial of China’s interest in Africa and its resources and arable land. The question is what is the purpose of China’s involvement. China’s need for minerals and metal from Africa is understandable as it is an export economy. But farming Africa seems counterproductive. Many Americans remember growing up and being told to eat all our food because there are starving children in China. In the 1980s, our televisions were full of videos of the famine in Africa. What can farming in Africa produce?

China is not starving. It produces enough grains and is looking to import corn and soybeans as animal feed. The Chinese diet is becoming much more meat centered. Food security is as important as food production and China is working on securing its future. China’s food interest in Africa is not altruistic, but for profit. China is not stealing food from Africa but working to develop, produce, and sell food locally. China has more than enough cheap labor farming at home that importing grains is not cost effective. Controlling production is effective. China wants to have its own Archer Daniels Midlands or Cargill and is looking to Africa for its farmland.

Sub- Saharan Africa, counter to popular belief, is fertile and has plenty of fresh water. The problem is access to the land and water. The most fertile areas are difficult to get to or require advanced irrigation. China aims to bring technology to the region and profit from it and at the same time be seen as spreading good will. The appearance of goodwill is necessary in a region that has seen outsiders as colonial powers.

Brautigam works to dispel many myths circulating about China’s involvement in Africa. Rumors of massive numbers of Chinese farming in Africa and buying up land. There are also rumors of China exporting rice it grew in Ethiopia despite a starving population. Will Africa Feed China is a well-researched look at China’s involvement in African agriculture. For those worried about China grabbing land in Africa, America is well ahead of the Chinese. A timely book providing an accurate picture of world affairs.

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Book Review — The Evolution of Cyber War: International Norms for Emerging-Technology Weapons

The Evolution of Cyber War International Norms for Emerging-T... by Brian M. Mazanec

The Evolution of Cyber War: International Norms for Emerging-Technology Weapons by Brian M. Mazanec is a look at the history of international norms and the future of Cyber Warfare. Mazanec is an assistant director for defense capabilities and management with the U.S. government and an adjunct professor in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University. He is the coauthor of Deterring Cyber Warfare: Bolstering Strategic Stability in Cyberspace, and his work has appeared in Strategic Studies Quarterly, the National Cybersecurity Institute Journal, Comparative Strategy, Politics and the Life Sciences, and the Journal of International Security Affairs.

Cyber Warfare became a reality with the Stuxnet attack on Iranian centrifuges. A clever attack that was intended to go unnoticed and it almost did. The attacks slowed down Iran’s uranium enrichment program without causing any harm to the population. The possibility to attack a countries ability to make war or support war is a huge benefit. To do this without loss of life is a great accomplishment. The problem arises when the attack is not so covert and limited. An attack on a nation’s infrastructure or air traffic control could be disastrous and cause a large loss of life. The Y2K scare is a decade and a half removed from us and we are even more dependent on our interconnected computer networks.

Mazanec looks to see what would stop cyber warfare in the next conflict. To do this, he examines the history of unconventional warfare and the norms for their use. Chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare are looked at and examined as to their use and status today. Chemical warfare was early on seen as a clear and sanitary form of warfare. It was viewed as a much cleaner death than bullet and shrapnel wounds. Soldiers felt much different about this and chemical warfare to the largest extent did not exist after the first world war. There have been incidents such as in Syria, Iraq, and in the Iraq-Iran War. The first two of these have been heavily condemned by the world at large.

Biological weapons have been used for centuries mostly in the form of catapulting diseased bodies over city walls and or dropping them in wells. On a large modern scale, these weapons are undependable, hard to store, very unpredictable and of little use in modern warfare. On the nuclear side, there have only been two incidents on their use, both by the US in Japan. The horror of this weapon has prevented its use. Couple that with the tense Cold War any use of a nuclear weapon by any nation might have triggered an all-out nuclear war.

The world or man has been fairly successful in ending the use of these weapons in warfare. Other weapons have not so successful. There has been a crusade against landmines. Although terrible and even worse they often active remain after hostilities end. The 1992 Ottawa Treaty banned the use of antipersonnel landmines, The US, Russia, China, Iran, and India have not signed. These nations not only represent the lion’s share of the world’s military and population. Strategic bombing has been another area of concern. This brings warfare to civilian centers. These civilian centers, however, produce war material. World War II removed much of the controversy as the allies bombed Germany into submission and fired bombing Japan. We look at the death toll from Nagasaki and Hiroshima in horror and do not realize the firebombing of Tokyo produced roughly the same number of casualties. Strategic bombings have improved accuracy with the latest generation of smart bombs, but there are still civilian casualties.

Some weapons earn a reputation and are viewed as unusable by many in the world. The first use of any weapon of mass destruction is widely seen as impermissible. Israel could have, but did not use it nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan have been fighting on and off and neither has used their nuclear weapons. Chemical weapons have been condemned when used in Syria and in Iraq against the Kurds. In the Iran – Iraq War there was not much of an outrage, perhaps, it was because as Kissinger hope that they both could lose the war.

What does all this have to do with cyber warfare? Cyber warfare can be deadly and it has no precedence in warfare. Unlike nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons there is no need for technical labs and centrifuges, and factories to produce deadly chemicals. There is not even a need for a central location. Countries as backward as North Korea have cyber warfare units. The problem is so far the use of cyber warfare has not created a single human casualty. There are no international norms for its use.

Mazanec should have called his book The History of International Norms and the Future of Cyber Warfare. This book spends the bulk of its pages discussing and defining international norms for other weapons of war and leaves the reader at the doorstep of cyber warfare. Mazanec sets the stage for the reader on what may be the future of warfare.

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Book Review — The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World

The China Boom by Ho-fung Hung

The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World by Ho-fung Hung is a look at China’s history and its likelihood as a world power. Hung is an associate professor of sociology at the Johns Hopkins University and researches the development of capitalism, state formation, and protests in China and the world.

China is the boogie man in American contemporary culture. It has replaced Japan as the killer of the American dream in the 1970s and 1980s and the media feeds this fear. Claims from China developing a massive blue water navy to trying to set claims on the moon are frequent watercooler talk. What we do know is that China is the last country helping to support the North Korean regime. It relies on the US naval presence to keep its sea lanes safe. Talk of China’s huge military budget of $129.4 billion is dwarfed by the United States’ 571 billion in military spending. China is exercising its regional hegemonic powers where it knows it can make progress — Spratley Islands vs Tiawan. China is the second largest economy and expected to eclipse the US by mid century.

Hung spends a great deal of time explaining China’s history to explain the culture and its motives. His primary thesis is that China will not rule the world and the argument is convincing. Much of the argument centers on growth and economics. For those hoping for a more political and or power related explanation, there will be some disappointment. On the international development, China does not want to change the world order. It benefits greatly from the current setup. It’s military does not need to worry about power projection on the world stage. It is an export nation and it benefits from the current consumption based economies. Its development in Africa contributes to its access to resources and markets, and goodwill. It succeeds where India is failing — developed infrastructure, low consumption, and a large trade surplus.

Hung goes a long way at dispelling the rumors and myths of a China-centric future world. China will play a role in the world and a fairly large role. Its dependency on export markets and the US dollar will hold it in check and to a great extend keep the world order in place. One annoyance I found with the book was the use of in line parenthetical referencing citations. Most historical and political books use endnotes or footnotes. This book on the whole contains useful and well documented information and goes a long way in setting straight the role of China in today’s world and the limits of its future role.

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Book Review — Airwolf Airstrikes Volume 1

Airwolf Airstrikes Volume 1

I remember Airwolf as a teenager. It’s over the top the action ranked it up there with other shows of the period like the Dukes of Hazzard. It was easy to recognize the impossible scenes but still had the viewer’s undivided attention. It was that 80s excess rolled into television. I was happy to receive the Airwolf Airstrikes graphic novel to review. I was hoping it would bring back some of my youthful memories.

Airwolf, the helicopter, is as awesome as it always was and updated for the new century. The regular cast is back, however, Santini no longer looks like Ernest Borgnine or Italian for that matter. Like the television, the graphic novel is big on action and light on story and as far-fetched as the original. The stories are all very short and really need to be developed. Flames and explosions can hold one’s attention on the tv screen but its very hard to do in print. This graphic novel does its best to pull it off, but it doesn’t pull through as intended.

I wanted to like this series, but it does not seem to translate well into the 21st century. In the age of drones, satellite surveillance, GPS pinpointing of locations, the helicopter loses much of its awe. Even the Marine Corps is starting to phase out helicopters. Airwolf is an admirable attempt to bring the series into the present, but the task may be unattainable. A good effort.

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