Archive for May, 2018

Review: How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

It is always a bit surprising to hear a Georgetown Law Professor write discursively, but this is one of the great strengths of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything. It has the title and back flap summary of another current events book focused on foreign policy.  And it certainly is that.  The parts of it that I found more thought provoking and engaging are when Rosa Brooks writes like she’s lecturing a grad student seminar in international law.

When that happens, she tells a convincing story that Western Civilization is worth saving.  That the vague consensus on values and authority of nations to enforce mores and influence on the worst of human behavior works well enough to make a positive difference.  That expressing the values of human rights, when merged with that consensus, advances the species.

Neither Books nor I believe that these institutions work all of the time.  We may not believe that they work most of the time.  Her realistic and hard won experience in these matters – she was high up in the Pentagon and significant Human Rights groups – have effectively tempered her idealism.  Though the running gag on Deep State Radio is that she’s uniformly pessimistic about humanity, but much of Everything undercuts that.  She is ruthlessly pragmatic, but ultimately seems to hold a flickering flame of hope up against the To Build a Fire odds.

The other aspect of Everything that I found compelling is her penetrating analysis of the changes technology and resulting politics have wrought in sovereignty with respect to international law.  I have long taken these legal concepts to be set in stone.  They framed my understanding of the morality of international intervention and violence. Brooks has moved me a significant distance off that base.  She has convinced me to strongly consider that enough has changed in the world that there are significant gaps in the ideas that underlie those legal constructs.  I also admit the possibility that humans may be able to adapt the ideas, laws, and consensus that form the basis for international law.

Strongly Recommended.

Review: The Forever War

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

Dexter Filkins is a journalist in the best sense of the term. Different folks have different ideas about the goals of the vocation, so here’s how I evaluate them. Journalists go into a situation, immerse themselves in it, and return stories that help us understand it. They bring their observation, investigation, and communication skills.  They also bring their minds, biases, and hearts.  Humans have to.

Filkins plied that trade in the Middle East in the first decade and a half of the 21st century.  He’s seen Taliban beheadings, daily life in Mujahideen camps, been embedded with US Marines in Fallujah, and watched the Green Zone, and US attitudes that underlie it, evolve.  He reports on it all clearly, with head and heart.  And he is honest about the prices he paid to be there, even when others paid them. Readers may disagree with elements of his reporting but his dedication to bringing these stories to others is outstanding.

H/T @kairyssdal for the recommendation.

Strongly recommended.

Review: Astrophysics for People In A Hurry

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

This collection of essays from Neil deGrasse Tyson warmed my heart, but didn’t delight me.  That may say more about me and prejudices – having read Asimov’s math & science essays as a kid – than Tyson’s writing.  He’s writing about interesting stuff.  He’s engaging.  He illustrates difficult concepts with interesting analogies.  He taught me things I didn’t know.  But I still come off more warmed than excited.

If you – or your kids – have any interest in cosmology and astrophysics take a look.  If you want to find out if you have an interest in those things, have a look.


Review: The Annihilation Score

Friday, May 4th, 2018

I’m a fan of Stross‘s Laundry Files. Most of my reviews of the series don’t have much to add to those links.  Annihilation Score marks an interesting point for me in that it is set in the same universe but from a different character’s viewpoint.  I was drawn in to the world partially by the computer science in-jokes, so it’s compelling and interesting to see the world without those references.  Stross carries it out well, showing us how the Laundry looks from an academic woman’s perspective.  He doesn’t miss a beat.