Temporary people

They serve native populations, once fishermen and tradespeople, as poor as their own ancestors, now made outlandishly rich by the world’s dependence on oil — a happenstance of geography. The fiction book reviewed below, Temporary People, humanizes the “neocoolies” of the present-day international order — those who do the dirty-job work for the wealthy in the Arabian Gulf.

It’s worth pointing out that these individuals are the same men and women who find service as subcontracted workers on America’s military bases throughout the region. Though the wages earned would drive a soldier to mutiny, and have been the subject of controversy, they remain, relative to home opportunities, high enough to continue to lure economic migrants from the poorest of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.

The DoD is aware of the exploitation that can be part of employing such temporary people and has taken steps to train soldiers and contractors to report abuse.

Stories of Fragmented Lives in the Emirates

TEMPORARY PEOPLE By Deepak Unnikrishnan227 pp. Restless Books. Paper, $17.99. Deepak Unnikrishnan’s novel-in-stories narrates a series of metamorphoses. Guest workers dissolve into passports, a man begins “moonlighting as a mid-sized hotel” and a sultan harvests a fresh crop of laborers.

 

— Marcus

Keep quiet so he may live

‘Total Catastrophe of the Body’: A Russian Story

After a week in critical condition, the young Russian journalist and pro-democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been improving. He remains hospitalized in Moscow, with a diagnosis of “acute intoxication.” Kara-Murza has been a vocal proponent of individual sanctions-so while most Russians have probably never heard of him, he has made a record number of enemies among the people who run the country.

When leaders of a state — or for that matter subordinates operating without accountability within states — abuse powers to harm citizens who question policy and legitimacy, so are planted the seeds of unrest; these seeds, however long they lay dormant, grow, in time, to great stands of resistance.

“And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

Thomas Jefferson, Traitor to King George, President of the United States of America

— Marcus

 

Pax Americana vs. The Information Society

Below, in a 2012 interview, former Secretary of State George Schultz explains that the roots of the modern world order, the “economic and security commons”, as he puts it, lay in the power systems set up after World War II to prevent a repeat of this catastrophic conflict.

Due to developments in communications technology, he asserts, governments no longer possess a monopoly over the best, most accurate information — economic, political, or otherwise. This disruptive change in the distribution of power, in concert with the negative effects of monolithic economic policies in Europe, weakened the established order. An assessment of the current political climate in the West (5 years since this interview) might claim it is both animated by and a reaction to this weakening.

Resistance to globalism, a product of the success of Schultz’s world order, is, interestingly, a factor in the growth of extremist groups in the Muslim world. Curiously, these regressive groups readily embrace the new information society, capitalizing on social media and advanced communication technology to recruit adherents.

Related, and of interest, are the negative effects of filter bubbles — “fake news” and news designed to appeal to existing biases. Social media outlets (Facebook, Google, YouTube, sites with the familiar “Suggested for you” links) now source news information to a vast number of citizens, resulting in increasing inside group/outside group identification and the acceptance of misinformation as truth, factors that significantly degrade the ability of these citizens to make informed, pluralistic political choices. The precipitous break-up of our society into poorly informed, self-interested, reactionary, mistrustful factions, compounded by pre-existing factors like gerrymandering that increase political polarization, might be avoided if electronic media companies were required by law to include diverse viewpoints in their algorithms and police misinformation.

Another prediction from the past:

Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview.

— Marcus

Pax Americana

Though many of the parallels drawn and claims made by the author here are quite debatable (modern counterinsurgency has nothing to do with what the author describes in this book review, e.g.), nonetheless, the subject, that we should examine, debate and understand the history of American interventionism, is worthy of our time and consideration:

How the US Began Its Empire

For decades, anti-imperial thought has been largely absent from public discourse. So has the word “imperialism.” The chief substitute for it has been “internationalism.” The rhetorical shift from imperialism to internationalism suggests a sanitizing process at work during the twentieth century, as the United States moved away from a formal empire based on the occupation of foreign territory to an informal empire based on proxy governments backed by occasional US invasions.

 

— Marcus

Aggregate behavioral science pt. 2

What are the best ways to encourage others to behave better? Psychologist Daniel Pink explored this subject in his 2014 National Geographic series:

Meet Daniel Pink

With over 20 years experience as a journalist and writer covering all aspects of Behavioral Science Daniel Pink now gets to find out what really works. Drawing on academic theories, experiments and the secrets of retail and advertising, Daniel turns urban explorer in National Geographic’s stand out new series ‘Crowd Control.’

 

When we wish to change the behavior of others (as many of us do who have engaged in the long war with militant extremism), it’s also helpful to understand the cognitive biases that shape human thinking, as well the psychological roots of conflict.

— Marcus

United States Ship

Our new commander-in-chief had the good instincts to appoint a man to lead the Armed Forces who opposes stooping to the values of our enemies, who stood his ground against unexamined impulses and offered wise counsel when asked about torture. The new Secretary of Defense also skillfully assures America’s allies that the crew of the United States ship of state will avoid sailing her into uncharted waters at the whim of her new captain. Below, an internet link said to be former general and current Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s recommended reading list from his days in command — worth a look for those who wish to understand (and perhaps learn a thing or two from) a key leader in the new administration:

Lt. Gen. James Mattis Professional Reading (75 books)

75 books based on 15 votes: Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield, The Rommel Papers by Erwin Rommel, One Bullet…

 

Another source is here.

Secretary Mattis writes about the value of reading here.

— Marcus