The Fourth Turning

The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe

This is one in a series of books by Strauss and Howe (Wikipedia) that looks at American history based on the cycles of generations, such as GenX, Boomers, etc.. It proposes a theory that history goes in cycles, with 4 types of generations, and they name and describe all of the generations going back the 1300s. They call my generation, Generation X, the "13th Generation" because it is the 13th American generation, and somewhat unlucky in its place in history. It is a "Nomad" generation, and the last Nomad generation was known as the "Lost Generation" which was born between 1880 and 1900. We are broadly characterized as hard, scrappy, cynical and tough. Strauss describes all the prior generations and patterns, but it is also a prophecy of where events are headed. Roughly every 4th generation there is a major crisis event (Revolutionary War, Civil War, Depression/WWII) and we are now due for the next crisis which will occur during the prime of life of the Nomad generation. The book was writen in 1997 and he predicted the crisis event could be a terror attack in the USA by no latter than 2005. Crisis events occur over a roughly 20 year period, so 9/11 was just the begining with a WWII-scale crisis occuring no later than 2025.

The book is fascinating. One has to approach it on the same level as predicting the future of the stock market. Based on historical data, looking at patterns, it attempt to lay a theory of history based on prior events.. seductive, enlightening, but always with a degree of caution. The first 30 pages of the book pretty much lay out the entire idea, with the rest of the book providing supporting facts. One often hears people say "it feels like somthing big is on the horizon" and this cycle of history may help explain the feeling of dread.

Posted by stbalbach at 09:50 AM | Comments (1)

The Unpolitical Animal

The Unpolitical Animal: How political science understands voters by Louis Menand, The New Yorker, [archive text]

Fascinating article about various studys that show why people vote the way they do. Only about %10 of Americans have a logical political belief system. The rest of us vote for other illogical reasons.

2.8 million people voted against Al Gore in 2000 because their states were too dry or too wet as a consequence of that year’s weather patterns.. these voters cost Gore seven states, any one of which would have given him the election.
Long article, first half or so is most interesting.

Posted by stbalbach at 09:27 PM | Comments (1)

Blade Runner Brilliance

Blade Runner Brilliance, by George Dvorsky. [archive txt]

One of the better essays on the meanings and significance of Blade Runner. Interesting insights on particular scenes and quotes and how they are more relevant today than ever.

Posted by stbalbach at 09:52 PM | Comments (1)

The Age of the Essay

The Age of the Essay by Paul Graham [archive text]

I've been writing/editing Wikipedia articles lately on medieval history topics and so it was with interest I read this article on the nature of writing Essays. Paul Graham provides a short history of the essay, how what we are taught in school with a topic sentence, supporting facts and conclusion is not what an essay is. That an essay is basically the thoughts of the author and where it leads is not known beforehand. In the things you write in school you are, in theory, merely explaining yourself to the reader. In a real essay you're writing for yourself. You're thinking out loud.. In other words, the process of thinking through somthing and writing it out is an essay. An interesting approach to writing that free's one to write on topics where the answers are not allready known. Graham concludes by saying the Internet allows anyone to publish an Essay. The Web may well make this the golden age of the essay. And that's certainly not something I realized when I started writing this.

Posted by stbalbach at 07:18 PM | Comments (1)

Good Teeth from Birth to Death

Good Teeth from Birth to Death, by Dr. Gerard Judd

Every once in a while I run into a wacky way out idea that actually makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure what that says about me, but Dr. Judd is a crazy old scientists kind of guy who worked on the Manhatten Project (A Bomb in WWII) among other things. One of his pet hobbies has been to figure out how to have healthy teeth so he basically did all his own research outside of the Dental community and has come to some interesting findings. I love it when someone really smart shakes up the established order and totally rethinks a subject from the ground up questioning the most basic cherished beliefs. Like, bacteria and sugar cause cavities. Or, flouride is good for you. The link above is a summary of what he found and also includes the secret of how to have good teeth. It's actually very simple and somthing you can try right away. I did and have to say my teeth feel cleaner than normal. I've always distrusted the mega toothpaste corporations and besides we all know flouride is a Communist plot!

Posted by stbalbach at 03:26 AM | Comments (3)

Psychology of Fear

Fear of Death Wins Minds and Votes, AP article July 29 2004 [archive text].

This study on the nature of fear and politics is about a common sense idea expressed succinctly in terms that are quantifiable. There is new/additional scientific evidence by psychologists that by appealing to fear and death a politican can increase popularity. "A lot of leaders gain their appeal by helping people feel they are heroic, particularly in a fight against evil. Sometimes that may be the right thing to do.. it is a psychological approach, particularly when death is close to peoples' consciousness." Based on his research findings "If I was speaking lightly, I would say that people in their, "right minds", don't care much for President Bush.. policies in Iraq." He wants voters to be aware of psychological pressures and how they are used. "If people are aware that thinking about death makes them act differently, then they don't act differently."

The idea of using fear to garner power is nothing new, but it is interesting to see his research results in the current election climate, and clearly Kerry could be just as capable of the same corruption of power.

Posted by stbalbach at 03:48 PM | Comments (3)

Arctic Grail

Arctic Grail, by Pierre Berton

I first read this book in 2000 when it was out of print and tracked a first-edition copy down through the used book network, which then got ruined suitably in a flood. It has since been reprinted in paperback with a snazy cover and getting the rave reviews it deserves. It is generally considered the best book on Arctic exploration. Anyone interested in polar adventures other than the Shackleton story this would be right up there at the top on books to read, in many cases the stories make Shackletons ordeals look tame simply because many people die, unlike with Shackletons skillful rescue. If your into that kind of thing this book will leave you with a lifetime of many adventures to explore further. And it is relevant to the headlines of today anything happening in the Arctic this book provides the historical trail to understand, such as the recent discovery of Franklins grave site.

Like the sweeping wide-open spaces of the Arctic, this book covers a lot of territory. Foremost is a survey of Arctic exploration from the begining when the maps were blank and theories of warm northen oceans and pathways to China ran wild in post-Napoleon pax-Britania, to the final controversy of American Admiral Peary reaching the North Pole (or not), it is an examanation of explorers and the lessons to be learned applicable to every person who travels: Live off the local environment. Travel light. Adapt to locals customs. It is a triumph of human spirit over adversity equally balanced by human failings. Berton brings historical accuracy to the legends, we see the good side and bad side of the explorers through page-turning edge of your seat descriptions of tragedy and triumph.

Pierre Berton is a Canadian historian and all his books seem to get solid 5-stars on Amazon hope to read more if his work in the future.

Posted by stbalbach at 07:07 PM | Comments (1)

Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World

Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansk.

My Dad, an old sea salt, handed me this book and I rolled my eyes like how interesting can a book about a fish species be. The version he gave me is a Penguin Classics, a James Beard winner and a New York Times top 25 books of the year which was a good sign this is no ordinary book so I took the plunge and well, they are all right this is a most interesting and charming book. The length of the paperback is 200 pages with lots of photos and fish recipes so it can be digested quickly but more so the writing is outstanding never boring and reads like a mystery unfolding. And the tales to be heard are actually important to our lives, the entire history of New England and eastern Canada is wraped up in the Cod, it was only recently that the Bostonian "Cod Aristocricy" the old Pilgrim line that ruled New England from its founding till the early 20th century died out but ask anyone who the Cod Aristocracy is today and you get blank stares. New England is known for its mercantile character and it was the Pilgrims and Cod that started it all. It's a global story one that touches Europe and indeed the author shows us the Basques were fishing off the Grand Banks 100s of years before Columbus arrived, keeping the productive fishing grounds a secret. And in the end it is a bitter tale of ecological disaster the hubris of man a modern lesson for us all when we fish the last fish from the sea and still can't understand why none are left.

Posted by stbalbach at 03:52 AM | Comments (2)

The First World War

The First World War, by Michael Howard

The First World War is recently making a renaissance with a flood of books coming on the market on the heels of new material previously unavailable to historians and new revisonistic theories to its origins. Everything I know about World War One is from popular culture but I still have some big questions: How did the War start? Why was the Middle East carved up like it was? Was it a war about Nationalism and how did the idealogues that followed arise from the ashes?

This book by Michael Howard is 170 pages long and the size of a small paperback it's really more an extended essay in length. Howard is editor of the Oxford First World War book and a leading expert in the field and has managed to create what amounts to a summary of all the important points and theories of the war in a highly readable compact form. Every sentence is highly efficient in getting an idea across and flows clearly. It's like a Cliff Notes of the War but not simply facts but excellent state of the art analysis and conclusion about the meaning and signifigance of events.

In a world of information overload it is a pleasure to find deep answers about world events in such an enjoyable and easy to read compact summary. I may go on to read other books about the war which cover areas in more detail, what was once a seemingly boring and complex subject has suddenly become very interesting and relevant to current events.

Update: New Yorker has put out an excellent survey of books out on the market now. It can be found here or archived here

Posted by stbalbach at 01:43 PM | Comments (0)

The Corporation

The Corporation, a film by Mark Achbar.

Winner of Sundance awards. The film brings to light the internal contradictions of corporations such as human rights, the environment, patents and also looks at the history of the Corporation and how it became the leading instution in the world.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the corporation was a relatively insignificant entity. Today, it is a vivid, dramatic and pervasive presence in all our lives. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today’s dominant institution. But history humbles dominant institutions. All have been crushed, belittled or absorbed into some new order. The corporation is unlikely to be the first to defy history. Based on Joel Bakan’s book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, this film is a timely, critical inquiry that invites CEOs, whistle-blowers, brokers, gurus, spies, players, pawns and pundits on a graphic and engaging quest to reveal the corporation’s inner workings, curious history, controversial impacts and possible futures. Featuring illuminating interviews with Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Howard Zinn and many others.
Posted by stbalbach at 02:14 AM | Comments (2)

Open Source Everywhere

Open Source Everywhere, by Thomas Goetz, Wired Magazine November 2003 [archive text]

This is one of the better articulations of just how broadly the idea of open, collaborative, distributed innovation can be used. Open Source is a revolution across every discipline not just the more famous Linux. Unlike many relatively mainstream articles about open source, Goetz manages to explain the concept clearly enough for beginners without being patronizing, while still providing sufficient new material for veterans to chew on.

Posted by stbalbach at 02:28 AM | Comments (1)

Power Steer

Power Steer by Michael Pollan March 2002 New York Times. [archive text].

This is the article that got me buying grass fed beef from local farmers. A NYT reporter buys a calf and follows it from birth to slaughter in the modern industrial beef raising system. Classic.

Pollan is author of Botany of Desire.

Posted by stbalbach at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)

The Jouney Of Man: A Genetic Odyssey

The Journey Of Man: A Genetic Odyssey by Spencer Wells

This book is amazing. It's a laypersons overview of the current technology and understanding of DNA research into the origins of man. We have discovered a lot very recently about when and where man came from answering age-old questions. There is a set start-point, 60,000 years ago, when people started populating the globe. We know when regions were first settled and where they came from. Linguists have tried to do this for a long time but DNA sets the record straight and there are surprises. This is an easy read about 200 pages, you will come away an expert in how DNA technology works without much strain, and have a deep understanding of the migration paths man took in populating the globe where and when. I believe a lot of new multi-disciplinary work could and will come out of this, it is a gold mine of ideas for further study.

Posted by stbalbach at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

Rapid Climate Change

Rapid Climate Change, by American Institute of Physics Aug 2003 [archive text]

Here is a super single-paper introduction to the topic of Rapid Climate Change - probably the best overview I've read. Woods Hole also has some excellent papers for further research.

Posted by stbalbach at 12:29 AM | Comments (0)

Is there really a Fatherhood Crisis?

Is there really a Fatherhood Crisis?, by Stephen Baskerville Spring 2004 [archive pdf]

Abstract: Virtually every major social pathology has been linked to fatherless children: violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, unwed pregnancy, suicide, and psychological disorders—all correlating more strongly with fatherlessness than with any other single factor. Tragically, however, government policies intended to deal with the “fatherhood crisis” have been ineffective at best because the root cause is not child abandonment by fathers but policies that give mothers an incentive to initiate marital separation and divorce. {emphasis mine} .. wow.

Posted by stbalbach at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

Global Baby Bust

The Empty Craddle by Phillip Longman May 2004 [archive pdf]

You may or may not agree with his conclusions but the facts presented here are stark and real. The world population is on the decline. This goes against everyday experience and the common belief that the world will run out of resources. In fact the world may run out of people it needs to maintain the current civilization. Is that a good thing? You decide. Excellent article.

See also my MetaFilter post on this article with further reading and discussion.

Posted by stbalbach at 03:14 AM | Comments (0)

The Clash of Civilizations

The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington Summer 1993 [archive text]

This is a pretty famous work about the state of the world post cold war. It came out a few years after the classic End Of History 1989 by Francis Fukuyama. End Of History is more in the realm of Philosophy than History as it's based on the Hegalian Dialectic which says History has an End, but provides a nice bookend to Clash which is more about finding patterns of conflict in history and predicting where we are headed. For a comparison of Fukuyama and Huntington 10 years later see this article, Huntington won.

Here's a quick paraphrase to get an idea of the historical context and concept of what Samuel means by a "Clash of Civilizations".

Patterns of Conflict

After the emergence of the modern international system in 1648 (Peace of
Westphalia) conflicts in the western world were among Princes - Emporers,
Monarchs, Constitutional Monarchies. During the process of consolidating
territory the Princes created what we now know as nation-states and
Nationalism. Begining with the French Revolution conflicts shifted, they
were now between Nations, Nation vs Nation. The wars of kings was over, it
was now wars of people with "total war" and conscript armies.

This pattern of conflict lasted untill the end of WWI. Then the pattern
shifted, largly because of the Russian revolution, to a conflict of
Ideologies. First among Communists and then among Nazi-Socialists and
Democracy. This conflict of Ideologies continued through the Cold War.

The conflicts of Kings, Nation States and Ideologies were all within the
context of Western Civilization, "Western Civil Wars" they have been
called. At the end of the Cold War there has been a new shift of focus to
the conflict between Western and non-Western cultures. Non-western
cultures are now the central focus of International politics. It used to
be they were caught up in the wars of the west.. Vietnam War is a good
example, an extension of the US/Soviet conflict.. now the non-Western
countries are the center piece of the conflicts.. it is "us" (The Western
Culture) vs "them" (non-Western). Clash of Civilizations.

More followup discussion at Metfilter here and here and this interesting blog entry.

Posted by stbalbach at 02:16 AM | Comments (0)

An Oil Enigma

An Oil Enigma Alen Brensen, New York Times, June 11, 2004 [archive text]

Ok there's a lot of scary stuff on the net about 'peak oil' and the collapse of civilization and for the most part it's been easy to shrug off as too controversial or tin hat or far in the future. This article showed up on the front page of the New York Times and has some real meat to it that pretty much shows, yeah, we are gonna run out of oil perhaps sooner than later. Granted main-stream press is picking up on reader interest which may or may not mean anything. Good article overall with some interesting background on how the industry works. Who knew that only %10 of the worlds oil was owned by corporations the rest is government controlled so even if Exxon were to suddenly change overnight and become a green corporation, what we need is the consumer to change and force Governments to change. Oh the web we weave.

Posted by stbalbach at 01:16 AM | Comments (0)

The Mentality Of Homo Interneticus

The Mentality Of Homo Interneticus: Some Ongian Postulates by Michael H. Goldhaber, April 29th 2004 [archive text]

Curious and insightful read on how the mind is shaped by the mediums we use. Those who read books primarily will think diffrently then someone who uses the Internet. That our educational and journalistic institutions are struggeling for the first time in 500 years by an entirely new mode of thinking they are not adjusted or designed for. Find out how the mind of blogger and Internet surfer works shaped by the medium.

Posted by stbalbach at 01:03 AM | Comments (1)

Blunt talk by General Zinni on Iraq

Blunt talk by General Zinni on Iraq, interview with General Anthony Zinni, May 14th 2004 [archive text]

This is the article that won me over that the war in Iraq is a bad idea. Hearing it from a cigar chomping General tell it like is has some kind of effect.

Posted by stbalbach at 12:51 AM | Comments (0)

The Oil We Eat.

The oil we eat - Essay by Richard Manning, Feb 2004 [archive text]

"The day is not far off," Kennan concluded, "when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

This is an interesting article about agriculture and food and oil and energy and takes a critical look at modern agri-business industry. It talks about how food and oil are both forms of energy and how interconnected they are, the history of agriculture, the problems with the green revolution and current choice of modern crops and processed foods all forms of energy (oil). Everything is looked at in terms of the energy cycle. Some of the conclusions are controversial but this article is loaded with interesting facts that are worth a read.

Based on a book by Manning Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization.

Interview with Manning in The Atlantic.

Posted by stbalbach at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)

Bugs, Sweat and Fear

Bugs, Sweat and Fear by Felicity Lawrence, May 3rd 2004 [archive text]

This is another article about how bad industrialized agriculture is except instead of focusing on America it looks at Euope and amazingly they can be just as bad if not worse. Full of interesting stories and facts and highly recommended reading. Follows the trail of a bag of salad from the UK to Spain.

Posted by stbalbach at 12:41 AM | Comments (0)