Review (Guest): American Nations – A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

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Colin Woodard

Phi Beta Iota:  Elevated to four stars on recommendation of Chuck Spinney.  Synopsis of book in article for:  A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party

3.0 out of 5 stars How many sub-nations compose the USA?,October 10, 2011

Many people think of the United States as a nation with two regional or sub-national entities — the North and the South. The two sub-nations have identifiable differences in outlook. The South, a traditionally rural and agricultural region, has always been perceived to have a relatively conservative and individualistic outlook, oriented toward small government and states rights. The North, dominated by urbanized commercial centers, has always been relatively more aligned with big government agendas, a natural characteristic of densely populated areas where most people’s livelihoods are derived from industry and commerce.

The geographical, political, and cultural divides between the North and South have been fairly well defined by the “Mason-Dixon Line” — approximately the line of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers . Indeed states like Kentucky and Maryland are called “Border States” as if they were on an international frontier. And of course a military frontier DID materialize between the North and South when the Southern sub-nation attempted to assert its sovereignty during the Civil War.

This great divide between the Northern and Southern sub-nations continues to this day. I’ve read commentaries from foreigners who explain the politics of the United States as consisting of a struggle for dominance between the Northern and Southern sub-nations. We Americans refer to this as the “Red State / Blue State” divide. So the idea of the USA consisting of two sub-nations is well established.

The question this book addresses is whether it makes sense to subdivide the United States into MORE THAN TWO subnational entities. Others have asked this question before. Joel Garreau wrote about it in 1981 in his book THE NINE NATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA. I read NINE NATIONS then and concluded that it was partially valid in an economic sense, i.e. relatively more Westerners earn their livelihoods from mining, relatively more people on the Great Plains earn their living from growing wheat and corn and livestock, and relatively more Northerners earn their living from Industry. So from that perspective there are arguably nine economic nations in North America. But Garreau did not convince me that there are more than two political sub-nations inside the USA.

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Oct 18

Review/Reference: Black World Books by Trevor Paglen

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Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes is Trevor Paglen’s long-awaited first photographic monograph. Social scientist, artist, writer and provocateur, Paglen has been exploring the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies–the “black world”–for the last eight years, publishing, speaking and making astonishing photographs. As an artist, Paglen is interested in the idea of photography as truth-telling, but his pictures often stop short of traditional ideas of documentation. In the series Limit Telephotography, for example, he employs high-end optical systems to photograph top-secret governmental sites; and in The Other Night Sky, he uses the data of amateur satellite watchers to track and photograph classified spacecraft in Earth’s orbit. In other works Paglen transforms documents such as passports, flight data and aliases of CIA operatives into art objects. Rebecca Solnit contributes a searing essay that traces this history of clandestine military activity on the American landscape.

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Blank Spots: According to Trevor Paglen, a geographer by trade, this black world can bounded by adroit compilation of blank areas on official maps, deleted passages from official documents, and acute observations of restricted areas and activities. Well he has certainly done a very thorough job of it. He begins with the secret and unacknowledged government test sites scattered throughout the country, but especially in the South Western U.S. that actually employ an astonishingly large number military and civilian workers yet still are literarily off the map. He subsequently tackles such arcane topics as black operations, black funding, and a host of other unacknowledged, often denied, U.S. activities including questionable and even illegal programs and operations. Perhaps the most discouraging information he provides is how easily it is for officials of the black world to hoodwink congress and the media, both nominal guards against government excesses. Certainly the most astonishing thing he reveals is that the black world in total may employ as many as 4 million military and civilians who carry secret or higher clearances. The fact that this many people can be involved and yet so many black activities remain completely off the gird is pretty scary in itself.   This reviewer has tremendous respect for the academic discipline of geography. It combines some of the best features of social and physical science and perhaps is the most effective system for understanding the phenomenon of Globalization. Some 60 years ago one branch of geography that was called “cultural geography” sought to describe the relationship between societies and the environment in which they lived. The term may no longer be used, but Paglen is a cultural geographer in the best sense of the term.  [Retired Reader]

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I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me: Emblems from the Pentagon’s Black World

Shown here for the first time, these sixty patches reveal a secret world of military imagery and jargon, where classified projects are known by peculiar names (“Goat Suckers,” “None of Your Fucking Business,” “Tastes Like Chicken”) and illustrated with occult symbols and ridiculous cartoons. Although the actual projects represented here (such as the notorious Area 51) are classified, these patches—which are worn by military units working on classified missions—are precisely photographed, strangely hinting at a world about which little is known.

By submitting hundreds of Freedom of Information requests, the author has also assembled an extensive and readable guide to the patches included here, making this volume one of the best available surveys of the military’s black world—a $27 billion industry that has quietly grown by almost 50 percent since 9/11.

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Since 9/11, the CIA has quietly kidnapped more than a hundred people and detained them at prisons throughout the world. It is called ”extraordinary rendition,” and it is part of the largest U.S. clandestine operation since the end of the Cold War.

They find that nearly five years after 9/11, the kidnappings have not stopped. On the contrary, the rendition program has been formalized, colluding with the military when necessary, and constantly changing its cover to remain hidden from sight.

“Shows just how far two guys without any highplaced government contacts can go in blowing open a story of global import.” — The San Francisco Chronicle

“The cool, almost dispassionate tone…. makes their book all the more disturbing.” — The Washington Examiner

“The logistics of torture, and the public’s role in the brutal business…. the book excels at filling in blanks.” — TIME OUT Chicago

“The real thing… and not on the evening news. Go figure.” — New York Times

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Oct 2

Review: The Atlas of Water, Second Edition–Mapping the World’s Most Critical Resource

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5.0 out of 5 stars Single Best Book on Content, Visuals, and Price

August 26, 2010

Maggie Black and Jannet King

This is one of twelve books on Water that I have read or am reading, expecting to get through all of them in the near term.

In comparison to the other works, this is the single best book when considering content, visuals, and price. This is the one book to buy if you want just one book and for that reason it is the only 6 in the lot, although Marq de Villier’s book, the last one listed below, is in that group as well as the first book to really put it all together. Here are ten other books, reviews for all of which will be posted here at Amazon and at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog where you can access all my reviews on books about water with one click.

The Evolution of the Law and Politics of Water
Governing Water: Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institution Building (Global Environmental Accord: Strategies for Sustainability and Institutional Innovation)
Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization
Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It
Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water
Whose Water Is It?: The Unquenchable Thirst of a Water-Hungry World
Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water
Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

It is a real shame the publisher has not posted the table of contents, which I find to be one of the most holistic and useful I have seen in a very long time, and/or used Inside the Book capabilities that Amazon makes so easily available.

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Aug 26

Review: Mapping Sustainability–Knowledge e-Networking and the Value Chain

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3.0 out of 5 stars 5 for Potential Value, ZERO for Greed Pricing

August 21, 2010

Nazli Choucri (Author, Editor), Dinsha Mistree (Editor), Farnaz Haghseta (Editor), Toufic Mezher (Editor), Wallace R. Baker (Editor), Carlos I. Ortiz (Editor)

I was about to buy this book when I noticed the price–$189. This is, once again, a situation where the authors have to think clearly when arranging for publication. News flash: you can still publish and be listed on Amazon, get the publication credit, and NOT be a prisoner to a greedy publisher out of touch with the information society. It is not enough to be published–one must be published in a manner that makes the knowledge accessible to all others, not “locked down” by publisher over-pricing.

Springer is offering it for $139, and Barnes & Noble is offering it for $103.

An online version is offered but Springer site is not at all friendly and there is no obvious price-checkout option for guests.

This book should be selling for no more than $49.00. I am adding it to my Amazon list of outrageously priced books antithetical to the needs of society.

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Aug 21

Review: Endless War–Middle-Eastern Islam vs. Western Civilization

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27 March 2010: Full spread sheet and optimal links added below Amazon review.GOT TO RUN, Links later today.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Five Stars…Gifted Mix of Intelligence, Integrity, Insight Deeply Rooted in History and Firmly Focused on Today’s Reality

March 21, 2010

Ralph Peters

I do not always agree with Ralph Peters, but along with Steve Metz and Max Manwaring, both at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army, I consider him one of America’s most gifted strategists whose integrity is absolute. He simplifies sometimes (e.g. Iraqis turned against Al Qaeda because of the demand for marriage that was refused followed by the bloodbath execution of the family by Al Qaeda, not because of anything the US did) but that aside, Ralph is the ONLY person that reminds me of both Winston Churchill–poetry and gifted turns of phrase on every page–and Will Durant, historian extraordinaire. Ralph has a better grasp of history, terrain, and the military than Robert Kaplan, and deeper insights into our failed military leadership (no longer leaders, just politically-correct administrators out of touch with reality) than my favorite journalist-adventurer, Robert Young Pelton.

I have read and reviewed most of Ralph’s books, and am proud to consider him a colleague and a fellow Virginian. Ralph is the only author whose books jump to the top of my “to read” pile, and I absorbed this masterpiece over the course of moving my own flag from Virginia to Latin America. US national and military intelligence have completely given up their integrity, and it resonated with me that the key word that Ralph uses throughout this book–a word I myself adopt in my latest book in carrying on the tradition of Buckminster Fuller on the one hand, and most respected mentor-critic Chuck Spinney on the other–is that very word: INTEGRITY.

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Mar 27

Review: GIS for Decision Support and Public Policy Making

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ESRI Sales Material, Excellent Price, Recommended,

July 20, 2009
Christopher Thomas and Nancy Humenik-Sappington
As a publisher who is also an author, I continue to be outraged by the prices being charged for “trade” publications. This book is properly-priced–other books on GIS I would have bought are priced at three to four times their actual value, thus preventing the circulation of that knowledge. Those publishers that abuse authors and readers refuse to respect the reality that affordably priced books are essential to the dissemination of knowledge and the perpetuation of the publishing industry.

The book loses one star for refusing to address Google Earth and elements of the Google offering in this industry space. While Google is predatory and now under investigation by the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice, to ignore Google and its implications for cloud management of data in geospatial, time, and other cross- cutting contests, is the equivalent of poking one eye out to avoid seeing an approaching threat.

Having said that, I found this book from ESRI charming, useful, and I recommend it very highly, not least because it is properly priced and very well presented. Potential clients of ESRI can no doubt get bulk deliver of this volume for free.

Return on Investment factors that ESRI highlights up front include:
+ Cost and times savings
+ Increased efficiency, accuracy, productivity of existing resources
+ Revenue generation
+ Enhanced communications and collaboration
+ Automated workflows
+ More efficient allocation of new resources
+ Improved access to information.

The book consists of very easy-to-read and very well-illustrated small case studies, most previously published in Government Matters, which appears to be a journal (there are a number listed by that title).

Here are the highlights of this book for me personally:

+ Allows for PUBLIC visualization of complex data
+ Framework for “seeing” historical data and trends
+ Value of map-based dialog [rather than myth-based assertions]
+ Allows for the visualization of competing perspectives past and future
+ Illuminated land population dynamics, I especially like being able to see “per capita” calculations in visual form, especially when per capita can also be sliced by age, sex, income, religion, race, and so on.
+ Mapping derelict vessels underwater is not just a safety function, but opens the way for volunteer salvage and demolition
+ GROWS organically by attracting new data contributors who can “see” the added value of contributing their data and then being able to see their data and everyone else’s data in geospatial terms. This is a POWERFUL incentive for information-sharing, which more often than not receives lip service. GIS for me is the “key” to realizing sharing across all boundaries while also protecting individual privacy
+ Shows “pockets” of need by leveraging data gaps in relation to known addresses (e.g. immunizations, beyond 5 minute fire response, etc.)’
+ Gives real meaning to “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB)” and–not in this book–offers enormous potential if combined with a RapidSMS web database that can received text messages from hundreds of thousands of individuals across a region
+ Eliminates the time-energy cost of data collection in hard copy and processing of the individual pages into an aggregate database.

The book discusses GIS utility in the routing of hazardous materials, but avoids the more explosive (pun intended) value of GIS in showing the public as well as government officials where all the HAZMAT is complacently stored now. For a solid sense of the awaiting catastrophe, see my review of The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters.

The book also avoids any discussion of the urgency as well as the value of GIS in tracking and reducing natural resource consumption (e.g. water usage visible to all house by house), and the enormous importance of rapidly making it possible for any and all organizations to channel their data into shared GIS-based aggregations. For a sense of World Brain as EarthGame, see my chapter in Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace the chapter is also free online at the OSS.Net, Inc. website forward slash CIB.

This book, 189 pages of full color, is a righteous useful offering. I would encourage ESRI to become the GIS publisher of choice, buy out the titles that I could not afford, and enter the business of affordable aggregate publishing in the GIS field. Other titles by ESRI on GIS:
Measuring Up: The Business Case for GIS
The GIS Guide for Local Government Officials
Zeroing in: Geographic Information Systems at Work in the Community

Five other cool books on data pathologies that GIS can help resolve:
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
Fog Facts : Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (Nation Books)
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’
Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
The Age of Missing Information (Plume)

The latter remind me that GIS will not blossom fully until it can help the humanities deal with emotions, feelings, and perceptions across tribal and cultural boundaries. Right now, 23 years after I first worked with GIS in the Office of Information Technology at CIA, GIS is ready for the intermediate leap forward: helping multinational multiagency data sets come together. ESRI has earned deep regard from me with this book and I will approach them about a new book aimed at the UN, NGOs, corporations, and governments that wish to harmonize data and in so doing, harmonize how they spend across any given region, e.g. Africa. This will be the “master leap” for GIS, enabling the one billion rich to respond to micro-needs from the five billion poor, while also increasing the impact of aggregated orchestrated giving by an order of magnitude.

ESRI: well done!

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Jul 20

Review: Evolutionary Dynamics–Exploring the Equations of Life

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Exquisite in Every Respect, Two-Fifths Equations & Charts, April 3, 2008

Martin A. Nowak

I don’t do math, so I must disclose right away that the math was lost on me, except in the context of this equisitely presented book, I am compelled to recognize that mathematics as well as computation science is going to be a major player is the EarthGame, in modeling alternative outcomes for social and cultural complexity, and in cross-fertilizing disciplines by creating a common language.

I tend to be hard on publishers, so in this instance I want to say right away that the Belknap Press of Harvard University has done an absolutely phenomenal job with this book. The paper, the use of color and white space, every aspect of this book is exquisitly presented, and at an affordable price. I therefore recommend this book for content as well as for its artistic context, for both those who love mathematics, and those who do not, but want to understand the promise of mathematics for the future of life.

The text across the book is elegant, clear, easy to understand, and coherent. The summaries at the end of each chapter are in English, and for me at least, obviate the fact that I am mathematically-challenged.

I have a number of notes that merit sharing as encouragement to buy and read this book, one of just two that I found in the right context and price range as I venture into the intersection of modeling social complexity and doing real-time science in the context of an EarthGame where everyone plays themselves. The other book I bought and will read shortly is Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life (Princeton Studies in Complexity). Too many otherwise worthwhile books are grotesquely over-priced, and the authors should release free PDFs online in protest and to have effect on this exciting emergent inter-disciplinary endeavor.

The author stresses early on that Information is what evolves–errors are mutations, mutation plus selection in a noisy (i.e. natural) environment is evolution. I like that idea, and point the reader to Hans Swegen’s “The Global Mind: The Ultimate Information Process” (Minerva UK, 1995)which first made the connection for be from DNA to World Brain.

The author inspires with his view that the field of evolutionary dynamics is “on brink of unprecedented theoretical expansion.” I must say, as one who is focused on connecting all people to all information in all languages all the time, I have been slow to understand that while that is a wonderful baseline, only models can project alternative scenarios into the future, and hence, the modeling of the past is but a prelude to the shaping of the future by displaying compelling alternative paths.

The author sees mathematics as a common language that can help disciplines interact, and when they do so, progress occurs. He speaks specifically of disciplinary “cultures” that must understand each other.

Early on he delimits the book, and in the process notes that mathematical biology includes:

+ Theoretical ecology
+ Poulation genetics
+ Epidemiology
+ Theoretical immunology
+ Protein folding
+ Generic regulatory networks
+ Neural networks
+ Genomic analysis
+ Pattern formulation

The main ingredients of evolutionary dynamics are

+ Reproduction
+ Mutation
+ Selection
+ Random Drift
+ Spatial Movement

Terms of interest (all explained in English not just mathematics):

+ Sequential space
+ Fitness landscape
+ Error threshold
+ Neutral versus random drift

Thoughts that grabbed me across the book (all from the author):

+ Evolutionary game theory is the most comprehensive way to look at the world.

+ Natural selection favors the defectors over the cooperators BUT if there are repeated interactions, cooperation is not assured, but is made possible.

+ Models show alternative scenarios–inclulding coexistence of all.

+ Evolutionary graph theory yields a remarkably simple rule for the evolution of cooperation.

+ Under natural selection the average fitness of the population continuously declines [we're there!]

+ Direct reciprocity is a mechanism for the evolution of cooperation (the collective intelligence world has been calling for reciprocal altruism and a shift to a gift economy with open money and an end to scarcity–I see all this converging).

+ War and peace strategies CAN be modeled (as my own books suggest, the problem is the information asymmetry that Charles Perrow speaks of. Elites make decisions that have consequences for all of us, but they lie to us (935 lies leading to the war on Iraq) and they also externalize costs into the future.)

+ A SINGLE INDIVIDUAL can move an entire population from war to peace.

+ 10 cooperators in a string comprise a sustainable “walker,” and is two such cooperative walkers meet, they can induce a “big bang” in which cooperatives sweep the game away from defectors.

+ Cooperators and defectors can co-exist for near-eternity.

+ Evolutionary graph theory can plot relationships (I think to myself, not only of people to people, but costs to things, time, and space).

+ Language makes infinite use of finite media–bulk of progress in last six hundred million years has been cultural, using language, not genetic.

+ The author credits Noam Chomsky with the Chomsky hierarchy relating language to mathematics. I read most of what Chomsky publishes, and had no idea he had done original work in mathematics back in the day.

+ Learning differs from memorization in that the learner is enabled to acquire generalizations that can then be applied in novel circumstances. I strongly believe that we must radically redirect education toward team learning, project learning, learning to learn, and learning in vivo, one reason I want to map every person, every dollar, every thing, every language, every idea, in Fairfax County.

+ Mathematical analysis of language must combine three fields (at least):
– Formal language theory
– Learning theory
– Evolutionary theory

The author concludes that mathematics is a way to think clearly. I cannot disagree, but as I put the book down, VERY PLEASED with the complete package of such very high quality, I was not convinced that mathematics can do intangible value and cultural nuance is multi-cultural context under stress and with time limitations.

The author provides both a bibliographic essay and a superb extensive bibliography, but if I could change one thing and one thing only in this book, it is that I would integrate the two. I have neither the time nor the inclination to look up each cryptic (Bloom, 1997) in the longer list. I would have preferred to see the actual bibliography organized by chapter, with all books on, for example, “Evolution of Virulence” listed there after the explicatory section. This is a nit.

I learned enough from this book to budget for and demand the full inclusion of evolutionary dynamics in all that the Earth Intelligence Network will strive to accomplish in the next twenty years.

Kudos again to the publisher. Nothing gives me more pleasure, apart from intelligent content, than very high-quality materials, thoughtful editing and lay-out, and honorable pricing. This book is a gem in all respects. BRAVO.

I did not appreciate Stephen Wolfam’s A New Kind of Science but treasure the book (another enormous gift to mankind at an affordable price) and urge the mathematically-gifted to take a close look at that work.

Other books that have caught my attention as I circle this area of interest:
Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems
Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World
The Philosophy of Sustainable Design
Green Chemistry and the Ten Commandments of Sustainability, 2nd ed
The Future of Life
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them

I would also point the reader toward Pierre Levy’s Information Economy Meta Language (IEML) as one approach to creating a universal dictionary of concepts, easily found on the Internet, and also Doug Englebart’s Open Hypertextdocument System (OHS), easily found at the Bootstrap Institute.

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Jul 4