Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reasons for Delay....and What I've Read and What I am Currently Reading

Well, many things have happened at once that will delay my promised posts. Because of some emergencies at work my part-time job as become full time for a while and my classes have started in full and already are proving intensive. So it will be two weeks or so before I can get back into a regular routine.

Someone asked me on a forum the other day what I had read so far this year and what I'm currently reading and since right now I don't have anything else to post I'm going to share that for the time being:

What I have read for the year so far:

1. The Path Between the Seas (David McCullough)- A solid, popular history of the conception and building of the Panama canal.

2. The Man in the High Castle (Philip K. Dick)- I'm a fan of Philip K. Dick's work but only recently got around to reading this intriguing counter-factual historical fiction set in an alternate past in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were the victors of WWII.

3. The Coming of the Revolution (L.H. Gipson)- A study in the origins of the American Revolution with an emphasis on the British side of the conflict.

4. Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)-A classic American play worth reading (and seeing!). However, do not read it in a depressed or melancholy state.

5. Undisputed (Chris Jericho)- The second part of Chris Jericho's autobiography. Not quite as funny as his first A Lion's Tale but still quite entertaining.

6. The Naked Ape (Desmond Morris)- A blunt, zoological and evolutionary take on the human animal. My evolutionary fix for the month.

7. The Varieties of Religious Experience (William James)- A classic psychological study of the various characteristics of religious phenomena; an easier read than one might initially suspect.

8. The Jewish Mind (Raphael Patai)- An intellectual history of the Jewish mind. A little on the verbose and pedantic side but informative nonetheless.

9. Racism: A Brief History (George Fredrickson)- One of the best introductions to this topic I've read so far. A great place to start for the uninitiated.

10. A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)-I reluctantly jumped on this bandwagon and am very glad that I did. Though I found the initial reading difficult and a bit boring at first it eventually found its rhythm and by the end of the book I was immensely satisfied. I've started watching the HBO series that is based on this book and so far it has been an excellent adaptation.

In progress:

1. A Brief History of the Jewish People (Raymond Scheindlin)- Treads ground that I've covered many times over so a bit tedious of a read. Plus, the author accepts certain things as factual that scholars have long since declared other wise such as the myth that Rabbinic Judaism began at the Council of Yavneh just after the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple.

2. The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)- A classic economic work. My on and off read that I've mentioned before.

3. Origins of the American Revolution (John C. Miller)- An older but fairly comprehensive study of the origins of the American rebellion.

4. Empires in World History (Burbank et al)- A study of world empires from a macro historical perspective.

5. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Maxwell and Hayes)- A study of the origins of Israelite society up to the Persian period. The approach here is a historical-critical one and not a confessional and/or faith one.

6. Before European Hegemony: The World System AD 1250-1350 (Janet L. Abu-Lugold)- I just started this one so I don't have anything to say about it yet.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Zombies, Muppets, and Female Orgasms, Oh My!

I know that not too many people read this blog, something I knew would probably be the case when I started it a year ago. I think this is partly because I don't have a particular niche that I fit in though on the whole I do write about history proportionately more than other topics. I simply don't like to be pigeonholed and have many varied interests that I want to express on my blog.

This blog was started chiefly for two reasons: (1) boredom; during the downward phase of my deployment in Afghanistan I had a lot of free time and needed to find something else to do besides reading and working out; and (2) writing discipline; I also knew that eventually I would be back in academia and so realized that it would be essential to get myself back into the habit of writing as frequently as possible. In other words, I knew beforehand this blog was unlikely to catch on with many people but that was never the intention. This blog has chiefly been for my own benefit. And for those of you who do take the time to read it rest assured that I am deeply grateful.

Nonetheless, I do occasionally take a cursory look at the most popular search queries that lead people to this blog and I thought I would share them. Here are the top three:

1. Zombies. By far this is the most popular and those that happen upon my blog do so because of my The Geopolitics of Zombies post. It remains the one with the most page views but I highly doubt it has ever convinced anyone to subscribe to my blog simply because I'm sure the people that are putting "zombies" in their search engines were not looking for a quasi-academic treatment of the undead.

2. Female Orgasms. No surprise that this is a popular search query. My two posts on this subject (here and here) also have quite a few page views. Of course the people that were searching for this topic probably weren't looking for the kind of intellectual stimulation that I was providing but rather for an altogether different kind of gratification. Other search terms related to this subject that directed people to my blog: clits, clitoris, evolution of the clit, women cumming, mystery of female orgasms, et al.

3. The Muppets. This one was a surprise but a pleasant one. I've said many times that I'm a Muppets fan and its immensely satisfying to see that there are apparently still quite a few other fans out there given how many page views my A Very Muppets Post has received. Still, I guess not even the Muppets could supersede the compelling subjects of female sexual climaxes and the living dead.

And so because of the popularity of these subjects I've decided to center my next three posts on these respective topics. (I toyed with finding a way to incorporate all three into one post but alas realized I could not unless I was doing a combined review of Peter Jackson's Braindead and Meet the Feebles.) You're probably now wondering why I would do something like this with the obvious intention of directing even more traffic to my blog when I just explained that was not what I was looking for. Well, the answer is that I'm human and so a bit prideful. Truthfully, it would be nice to have more readers :). Anyways, as a teaser here are the titles for the upcoming posts (subject to revision of course):

1. Biblical Zombies? An Examination of Matthew 27: 52-53

2. Re-revisiting the Female Orgasm

3. The Top ____ Adult Oriented Muppet Moments

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ramblings on Henry Kissinger's "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy"

Every so often I get the urge to read one of Henry Kissinger's books. Recently, I finished his first published one entitled Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, a study that was commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations to assess just how significantly power relations, particularly between the US and the Soviet Union, had been altered by the introduction of nuclear weapons to the post-war world. Though published in 1957 I think it's a work that's still applicable for American foreign policy today even if the world no longer lives under the threat of a nuclear holocaust. I started out trying to do a proper review of the book for the site but struggled because there are so many different (though interrelated) themes that Kissinger tackles in this remarkable work. Instead I'm just going to list some of the more important insights that I gleaned from the book.

1.) The concept of a limited war is a foreign one to American policymakers chiefly because of US preoccupation with total warfare doctrines extrapolated from the overwhelming experiences of two world wars, both of which were "total" wars.

2.) Additionally, US failure to comprehend limited warfare principles has led to an unnatural divorce between diplomacy and war thus violating Clausewitz's famous dictum that "war is politics by other means."

3.) Example: The Korean War; mishandled because the US found itself forced into a limited war that it could never determine how to conduct, evidenced by confused political and military objectives both at the outset of the war and at its end. "Korea caught us completely unprepared, not only militarily but above all in doctrine." (p. 30)

4.) Chief inquiries of the book: has the proliferation of nuclear weapons fundamentally altered the nature of diplomacy? (Kissinger thinks not) Is it possible to engage in limited nuclear warfare? (Kissinger suggests it is). Kissinger notes that most don't believe the latter to be possible; prevailing wisdom is that once nuclear weapons become entered into the equation all out nuclear war becomes inevitable. "The arguments against limited nuclear war are the absence of a natural cutoff point, it is argued, the employment of any nuclear weapon may start a cycle of gradually expanding commitments ending in all-out war." (145)

5.) Kissinger thinks this conclusion is misguided resting as it does on the ever so tenuous slippery slope argument (aka gateway argument). He argues that limited nuclear warfare would be possible if the following conditions were to apply: conducted with highly mobile units only, restrictions agreed by both sides on what could be considered legitimate targets (e.g., bans on certain kinds of infrastructure and large population centers), and a limit to the amount of megatonnage that can be used by the participants.

6.) Kissinger also suggests that the US should re-evaluate the Atlantic Alliance (NATO) because he thinks that, one, the allies aren't bearing enough of the deterrent burden and, two, that they most likely wouldn't have the will to face down Soviet aggression in their spheres of influence. "What if the Red Army attacks in Europe explicitly to disarm West Germany, offering the United States and the United Kingdom immunity from strategic bombing and promising to withdraw to the Oder after achieving its limited objective? Is it clear France would fight under such circumstances? Or that the United Kingdom would initiate all out war which, however it ended, might mean the end of British civilization?" (205)

7.) Domestically, Kissinger suggests an overhaul of the relations between the various military departments in the US, specifically arguing for more centralization in military policy.

8.) Kissinger provides an adroit analysis of Soviet (and Chinese) foreign policy. He describes it as one of "strategic ambiguity". "The nature of the Soviet challenge is, therefore, inherently ambiguous. It uses the 'legitimate' language of its opponents in a fashion that distorts its meaning and increases the hesitations on the other side." (58); Furthermore, mirroring some of the arguments put forth by George Kennan (the so-called father of containment theory) Kissinger states that Soviet policy is essentially expansionist, i.e., it seeks to expand its security sphere via limited aggression taking advantage of US reluctance to engage in limited warfare for fear of escalation into total war and, hence, nuclear annihilation. Strategic advantage: Soviet Union.

As I said this was written in 1957 but it remains a solid work . I don't agree with everything Kissinger argues in the book, particularly his position on limited nuclear warfare. While I accept that the slippery slope argument is dubious where I think his argument is problematic is with the conditions he says must apply if limited nuclear warfare is to be feasible. The difficulty with this position is that it depends on the Soviet Union agreeing and then abiding by said conditions when it's likely that they wouldn't except as another means of taking advantage of the US through its "strategy of ambiguity" by for example accepting the conditions but then failing to adhere to them.

The real value of the book for present American foreign policy needs is to be found in Kissinger's discussion about US failure to comprehend the nature of limited warfare. When it comes to warfare the US's myopic perspective forces it to think that there is only ever one option, namely, total war. This failure to develop a robust doctrine of limited warfare partially accounts for the many international blunders the US has been in since WWII (the Gulf War maybe being the sole exception though I have my problems with the way that war was conducted). In many ways this is a reflection of the still very immature foreign policy of the US. It's easy to forget that this is still a relatively young nation that has yet to form and solidify its own tradition of foreign policy. In many respects this country still operates from a belief that diplomacy and warfare are essentially separate modes of engaging with other states. For the most part this is faulty reasoning and these two ways of dealing with other countries should never be entirely unlinked from one another. And until this is grasped America will continue to misuse its own might. To sum up the development of a healthy doctrine of limited warfare is essential in the avoidance of more foreign policy blunders by the United States something that becomes increasingly more crucial as the United States begins its decline as the sole superpower.