Thursday, June 25, 2015

What I'm Reading Now - Private Armed Forces

Private Armed Forces and Global Security by Carlos Ortiz

Why I’m reading it:

I’m taking part in a writing collaboration project, my part of which concerns the activities of private military companies (PMCs). My own experience is with the formal US military, so I needed some background reading to get up to speed.
Not exactly the A-Team.

What I think of it:

It is a well-researched and compiled book, aimed at the academic or the consultant, not the general reader. The author starts by explaining the historical place of PMCs (a term he prefers to the more colloquial mercenary), and lays out what they look like in today’s world. The third part of the book presents the issues surrounding such forces – their relationships to states, non-state groups, international corporations & non-governmental organizations. PMCs have their supporters and their critics, and Ortiz tries to present all sides without taking sides.

Will I finish it?

I am not reading it cover-to-cover, I’m reading through several of the chapters looking for information on normative practice for PMCs.

Would I recommend it?

To someone who was studying modern conflicts and international law, yes. The writing style is academic and sort of dry; it is not a fun or fast read. However, as it’s not likely to be read as leisure reading, that’s not an issue. So no, it won’t make anybody’s list of titles for their next book club.

Gimme a quote:

(p. 48) “For the purposes of this book, I define PMCs as legally established international firms offering services that involve the potential to exercise force in a systematic way and by military or paramilitary means, as well as the enhancement, the transfer, the facilitation, the deterrence or the diffusing of this potential, or the knowledge required to implement it, to clients.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RIP, Cynthia Hurd

The murderous attack on Charleston, SC churchgoers on June 17th has shocked and saddened the nation, but now I've learned another reason to be dismayed. My faith has lost brothers and sisters, and my profession has lost a longstanding member. According to an article at Inside Higher Ed, Cynthia Hurd was a librarian at a regional public library, and a part-time librarian at The College of Charleston. The IHE article quotes an open letter to the campus from the CoC president.

"She was a protector and lover of books and a fountain of knowledge whose loss will be felt by our entire college community,” he wrote. “Known for her quick wit and sense of humor, Cynthia connected with every person with whom she came in contact. She could relate to anyone, no matter who they were or where they came from. In that sense, she represented the very best of our college and our beloved Charleston."

Rest in Peace, Cynthia. May Light Perpetual shine upon you, and may your Memory be Eternal.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What I'm Reading Now - Admirable Evasions

Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality
Theodore Dalrymple
Encounter Books, New York 2015
ISBN 9781594037870

Why I’m reading it:
I’m reading because I’ve gotten through Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom, and along the way I decided that this guy is a clear thinker and writes really well.

What I think of it:
          Dalrymple’s thesis can be expressed very simply as: ‘ignore the experts and take responsibility for your own behavior, if you want to be free from what’s making you miserable’. Hard words, but important.
I feel the impulse to justify myself like anyone does, and it can be hard to hold to an ideal like being responsible, when so many people don’t. It is the narrow way that leads to life. Dalrymple has not written a religious defense of morality, rather he assumes morality exists as a starting point, and goes on to explain how psychology has tried to evade, deride, and ignore that reality in pursuit of Love of the Self.

Will I finish it?
          Yes, it’s not a long book, and Dalrymple’s writing style makes for fast reading.

Would I recommend it?
          Absolutely, for the thesis given above alone. It also bears recommending for Dalrymple’s dissection of multiple psychological tropes that have been used to justify immoral and self-destructive behavior.

Gimme a quote:
          “The notion of self-love or self-esteem is in itself either ridiculous or repellent. No one ascribes his good character or successes in life to an adequate fund of self-esteem. No one says of any human achievement that it was the fruit of self-esteem. Indeed, a dose of self-doubt is, if anything, more likely than self-esteem to lead to the effort necessary (but not sufficient) for such achievement.” Page 56, paragraph 2.

“But as habits become character, so the habit of superficiality eventually becomes . . . deeply ingrained. Perhaps this explains the increasing need of extravagant expression and gestures that seem to accompany thinness of content. Only thus can one obtain notice in the torrent, the ocean of verbiage, though such extravagance of expression and gesture is ultimately futile, since it leads to a competition for attention that no one can win.” Page 70, paragraph 1.

          I have discussed this problem before on this blog. Perhaps I was on to something after all.