Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New and Noteworthy (Year's Last Space Review, Paul Samuelson's Legacy)

In today's edition:

* The year's last edition of the Space Review is an especially strong one, including an excellent piece by Dwayne Day on "space activism’s obsession with technological and ideological saviors," Taylor Dinerman on the new British National Space Centre, Jeff Foust's review of Selling Peace, an insider account of the commercialization of the Russian space program, and a gallery of images from the belated roll-out of SpaceShip Two.

* By way of the Demand Side Blog, here's a reprint of Michael Hudson's piece over at Counterpunch regarding the legacy of the late Paul Samuelson, which offers a good bit of context-and critique-regarding the direction economic thought has taken since the break with classical economics in the mid-nineteenth century.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New and Noteworthy (China's Nuclear Energy Expansion, Drug Money and the Economic Crisis, Rock-Breathing Bacteria, the LHC, Singer on Robots)

In today's edition:

* A New York Times article on China's massive expansion of its nuclear energy production, focusing on the safety concerns that go with such a rush in a "national business culture where quality and safety sometimes take a back seat to cost-cutting, profits and outright corruption" (a point touched on in my article "The Impending Oil Shock" in Survival last year, available here).

* By way of Charlie's Diary, a report in the Guardian regarding the role organized crime played in salvaging the world's financial system during the recent economic crisis, by virtue of its possession of scarce liquid capital-a rare acknowledgment of the way in which the "black" economy interacts with the mainstream.

* An article from Science Daily on recent research regarding "rock-breathing" bacteria, which people in the field hope could be applied toward cleaner energy production and environmental clean-ups.

* An update from Science News on the Large Hadron Collider, due to begin operating early in the coming year, with a more than usual bit of attention given to potential applications for the research.

* And, finally, a take from a different Peter Singer than the one whose book I reviewed this year (I'm referring to the well-known professor of bioethics from Princeton, not the Brookings Institute defense analyst) on recent developments in robotics and their implications.

Strategic Insights, Winter 2009/2010

The new (Winter 2009/10) issue of Strategic Insights is out.

A special edition on Extended Deterrence, Security Guarantees and Nuclear Proliferation (with a focus on strategic stability in the Gulf region), this section begins with an introduction by guest editors Daniel J. Moran and James Russell, and five feature articles offering different takes on the subject, including Russell again on "Extended Deterrence, Security Guarantees and Nuclear Weapons: U.S. Strategic and Policy Conundrums in the Gulf," James Acton on "Extended Deterrence and Communicating Resolve" (in which he scrutinizes the received wisdom regarding, among other things, the role of nuclear-armed Tomahawks in American deterrence, and the reasons commonly given for why the U.S. could not make really deep cuts in its nuclear arsenal), Bruno Tertrais's "Security Guarantees and Extended Deterrence in the Gulf Region: A European Perspective" (which puts France's new relationship with Abu Dhabi in context), Shahram Chubin's "Extended Deterrence and Iran," and Lewis A. Dunn's "Strategic Reassurance if Iran 'Goes Nuclear': A Framework and Some Propositions."

There are also four articles in the Forum, in which Sergey Smolnikov discusses the revitalization of European foreign and security policy; Captain Russell J. Isaacs discusses Al-Qaida's North African "franchise," Al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghrib; Major Shon A. McCormick and David A. Anderson search for an empirical relationship between economic and political freedom (so often simplistically linked though the evidence they examine suggests a more complex picture); and James E. McGinley revisits the issue of whether the presence of oil resources can be correlated with armed conflict. (For me the biggest surprise here was McGinley's study, which "failed to confirm the propositions that abundant oil resources may attract armed conflict and that oil resource deficits may compel participation in armed conflict abroad," in contrast with the work of researchers like Paul Collier, whose work I cited in my own writing on the issue of energy and conflict. This seems to fly in the face of the evidence-personally, I remain sold on the view taken by writers like Collier and Michael Klare-but the author makes no claim that this means energy resources are irrelevant to the likelihood of warfare, suggesting, rather, that the mechanisms by which conflict turns into warfare of this type require more study.)

The two-article Viewpoint section shifts the emphasis to East Asia, Sico Van Der Meer discussing four scenarios for a post-Kim Jong Il North Korea, while Peter A. Coclanis examines the situation in Myanmar.

Finally, there is my review of Peter Singer's Wired for War, his book on the robotics revolution and warfare which attracted so much attention earlier this year, extending to an appearance on The Daily Show. (Those interested in the book can also check out the review that ran in the current edition of Parameters, which is available here.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New and Noteworthy (The "Soviet SDI"; New From Thomas Homer-Dixon; Nature on ClimateGate)

In today's edition:

* A recent article from Dwayne A. Day and Robert Kennedy III in Air & Space Magazine regarding the Soviet missile defense program, with a particular focus on the Polyus-Skif D project.

* In the Toronto Globe & Mail Thomas Homer-Dixon and Andrew Weaver recently offered succinct responses to four standard arguments of the greenhouse "skeptics"-global warming's stopped; sun spots are the cause; "climate's always changing, so what?" and the tobacco exec line that science is so uncertain anyway it doesn't matter. (For those interested in more from Dr. Homer-Dixon on the issue: a number of pieces on cultural and intellectual implications of the issue, including another piece in the Globe & Mail regarding inducements to "greener" consumption; this speech at a June conference in Essen, Germany; and this case for ecology replacing physics as the "master science" of the 21st century.)

* This editorial at the British journal Nature regarding

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New and Noteworthy (Brain Chips, Geoengineering, Helium-3 Shortages Already?)

In this edition, by way of

* A two-page piece in Computer World regarding a claim by researchers at Intel Labs (lab director and VP of research Andrew Chien, scientist Dean Pomerleau) and elsewhere (Charles Higgins, Associate Professor at the University of Arizona) that by 2020 we will be using our brains to interface directly with our computers.

While the article is interesting, there is not a whole lot in it to support these claims, which are exactly the kind I wish consumers and producers of futurism were more inclined to remember and test as a corrective to futurehype-the way I did with Ray Kurzweil's famous predictions for 2009 in The Age of Spiritual Machines. (Incidentally, I expect to test those predictions again at the end of this year, and don't expect to find my assessment changed much.)

* A reasonably meaty piece on geoengineering that ran in The Guardian last month, which touched on both the legal implications of such enterprises, and their possible place in the climate change debate.

• A piece from The New York Times on the prospects of "supercomputing for the masses." Of course, with the author's assessment being that "Just about any organization with a few million dollars can now buy or assemble a top-flight machine," this affordability is only a relative thing for the time being.

Global Energy Crunch

Jorg Friedrichs-whose earlier paper "Global Energy Crunch: How Different Parts of the World Would React to a Peak Oil Scenario" I mentioned on this blog back in October-has a new paper out on the same issue, "Peak Oil Trajectories: Same Crisis, Different Responses." Setting aside the case for and against the peak oil theory (referring the reader to other papers, my own "The Impending Oil Shock" included, for a quick overview), it similarly concentrates on reactions to the situation.

Tracking three possible trajectories, "predatory militarism, totalitarian retrenchment and socioeconomic adaptation" (based on the cases of Japan, North Korea and Cuba examined in the previous paper, and revisited here), much of its analysis will be familiar to those who read the first paper, but this second one offers a more comprehensive and polished set of projections-which are, perhaps predictably, "not a cosy world to imagine" as Friedrichs notes. However, as he rightly notes, the scenario (which differs from my own in key points, not least of them his predictions of how the standing of Europe and Japan would shift relative to that of the U.S.) nonetheless should not be treated dismissively.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Fall 2009 International Security

The Fall 2009 issue of International Security is out. The offerings this time include two China-themed pieces, namely Daniel W. Derzner's "Bad Debts: Assessing China's Financial Influence in Great Power Politics," and Robert Ross's "China's Naval Nationalism: Sources, Prospects, and the U.S. Response."

There is also Nicholas Sambanis and Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl's "What's in a Line? Is Partition a Solution to Civil War?"; Elizabeth N. Saunders's "Transformative Choices: Leaders and the Origins of Intervention Strategy"; Michael Horowitz's "Long Time Going: Religion and the Duration of Crusading"; and in the Correspondence section, a dialogue concerning Alexander Downes's Spring 2009 article "How Smart and Tough Are Democracies? Reassessing Theories of Democratic Victory in War" between Downes and Dan Reiter and Allan Stam.

Derzner's "Bad Debts" (interesting in part because of how often the issue is raised, and how rarely it is explored in much depth, as Derzner himself notes in the first pages) is freely accessible online, as is Sambanis and Schulhofer-Wohl's "What's in a Line?"

The Autumn 2009 Parameters

The Autumn 2009 issue of the U.S. Army War College Quarterly Parameters is available now, in print and online.

Of the six feature articles, no fewer than five concern different dimensions of insurgency, counterinsurgency and irregular warfare. Four of them are organized under two thematic headings. The first, "COIN and the People," includes Gian P. Gentile's "A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army," and Heather S. Gregg's "Beyond Population Engagement: Understanding Counterinsurgency." The second, "Irregular Warfare and the Interagency Process," includes "Filling Irregular Warfare’s Interagency Gaps" by Lew Irwin, and "The Defense Identity Crisis: It’s a Hybrid World" by Nathan Freier. Lincoln B. Krause also offers "Playing for the Breaks: Insurgent Mistakes."

The sixth article is "Conventional Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age," by Michael S. Gerson, with the discussion of WMDs carried over into George Quester's review essay on "Our Nuclear Future," covering four new books on nuclear weaponry, while the "Editor's Shelf" and "Book Reviews" sections offer plenty of additional discussion of recently published works relevant to the journal's concerns. As usual publishers are putting out plenty of works on World War II and al-Qaida/Afghanistan/Iraq, but there are also a number of items on other subjects, including a trio of books on East Asian security (two of which focus on China); Ian Worthington's new book on Philip II of Macedonia; editor Kate McLaughlin's The Cambridge Companion to War Writing; and for the more futuristically inclined, Peter Singer's highly publicized Wired for War, and George Friedman's The Next 100 Years (reviewed on this site back in July).

Finally, the journal offers, in place of the commentary and reply section, Colonel Chuck Callahan's "To Stay a Soldier"-a rare first-person narrative about the care of wounded veterans from the commander of DeWitt Army Community Hospital and Health Care Network at Fort Belvoir, and former Deputy Commander of Clinical Services at the Water Reed Army Medical Center.

The Summer 2009 Parameters
The New (Spring 2009) Issue of Parameters

Friday, December 4, 2009

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The Real Unemployment Rate

The official, U-3, unemployment rate has edged down from 10.2 percent in October, to 10 percent in November, according to today's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, the U-6 rate went down by an even larger margin, from 17.5 percent in the last report, to 17.2 percent in this one.

However, a quick check shows that the number of long-term unemployed actually climbed, from 5.7 percent in October to 5.9 percent in November. The improvement, as Kurt Brouwers of Marketwatch suggests, may simply be "a statistical change rather than a real improvement" due to a number of frustrated job-seekers giving up the hunt.

In other words, the fact that people give up looking for work because the situation is so awful ends up, perversely, looking like a sign of improvement.

It also seems that, as suggests, the "drop in payrolls was entirely driven by goods-producing firms shedding jobs. Goods-producing companies lost 69,000 jobs in November." Read: manufacturing and construction. This is also bad news rarely commented upon, fashionable as it may be to slight actual goods production as trivial.

As always, the details count.

The Real Unemployment Rate
"Unemployment Problems Are Worse Than Meet the Eye"
The Real Unemployment Rate
Second Quarter Growth, 2009
The Real Unemployment Rate-And What It Means
Economic Update (OECD, Joshua Holland, Tim Hanson)
Global Finance Development 2009
More On The Economic Crisis (Eichengreen and O'Rourke on Industrial Output, Wolf on Eichengreen and O'Rourke, Austerity?)
Is the U.S. the New France?
The Human Cost of the Economic Crisis
The Real Unemployment Rate-And What It Means
On Consumer Spending
On the Global Economic Mess

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