Saturday, July 31, 2010

Israelis and Palestinians: One State, Two States, or More Confrontation?

Saree Makdisi has written a detailed and compelling description of what life is like for Palestinians living Israel, Jerusalem, and in the occupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation. He describes the myriad ways in which the Israelis discriminate against and torment the Palestinians in hopes of encouraging them to leave and, where possible, force them to leave. A bleak picture is painted in which the native Palestinians are gradually being squeezed into ever smaller enclaves where entry and exit are completely and arbitrarily controlled by the Israelis.

The Strategy of Israel was formed many years before the holocaust and has changed little over time. The goal was, and is, to create an ethnically pure state for Jews and to render the creation of a viable Palestinian state difficult, if not impossible. Israel does not rule out such a state, but its intention is that should one be created it would be dominated economically and militarily by Israel. Israel’s motives are clear. They may not be deemed honorable, but at least one knows where they are coming from. What is not clear is the extent to which they might be willing to compromise.

Makdisi depicts the Palestinian people as having the simple motives of just wanting to lead a normal life on the lands they have traditionally owned. The Israelis are characterized as tormentors who use arbitrary and suffocating "security" measures to make leading a normal life all but impossible. I have no doubt that that is true. The author gives many personal accounts of abuse and assorted harassments that the Palestinians must endure. However, he weakens his case by barely mentioning the incidents of Palestinian-originated violence and terrorism. It may be that the Israeli response is disproportionate and inappropriate for the actual threat. If he had presented an Israeli side of the story—and then proceeded to demolish it—he would have had more credibility in the eyes of the unfamiliar reader.

Makdisi says early on that he is in favor of a single-state solution. It is not until the end of the book that he discusses what that means and how he thinks that will come about. What he envisages is full right of return for the displaced Palestinians to a state where Jews and Palestinians would coexist as citizens with equal rights. This would be a state where the Palestinians would have a significant population advantage. He believes that a combination of public opinion and the types of sanctions, boycotts and divestments that were used against South Africa would be successful in forcing change. He goes on to say
"The idea that people should be forcibly separated from each other according to their religious preferences has no place in the twenty-first century. And if such an approach —separation based on religion—is a guaranteed recipe for future conflict, only its opposite—secular and democratic cooperation between people—offers a chance for genuine peace."One could write a book about all the scary things that are contained in those two sentences. In fact, Niall Ferguson has, The War of the World. The Jews were highly dispersed throughout Europe before the Second World War. According to Ferguson the country in which the Jews were the most highly integrated—with secular and democratic cooperation—was Germany. The prewar chaos and the War itself unleashed ethnic violence on a scale that may seem inconceivable to us now in the twenty-first century, but we need only think back to the Balkans and what happened there just twenty years ago. The ethnic cleansing and mass murders only ended in Europe when the various groups had been separated by voluntary migration, or by the mass migrations of populations enforced by the allies after the War. Consider Tony Judt’s description from his book Postwar.
"At the conclusion of the First World War it was borders that were invented and adjusted, while people on the whole were left in place. After 1945 what happened was rather the opposite: with one major exception boundaries stayed broadly intact and people were moved instead....If the surviving minorities of central and eastern Europe could not be afforded effective international protection, then it was as well that they be dispatched to more accommodating locations. The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ did not yet exist, but the reality surely did—and it was far from arousing wholesale disapproval or embarrassment....The outcome was a Europe of nation states more ethnically homogeneous than ever before."In terms of considering how comfortable the Jews might be with their minority position in Makdisi’s one-state solution, recall that even after all that had transpired during the War, the Poles, in 1946, were still participating in pogroms in hopes of driving away or killing the few remaining Jews. Tens of thousands of Jews had to flee to Germany for safety. How ironic is that! The Jews of Israel are never again going to allow themselves to become a minority.

I can only view Makdisi as either hopelessly naive, or transparently devious.

Curiously, Makdisi makes no mention of the Arab League, which should be his most dependable ally. The Arab league has bought into the two-state solution which Makdisi deems impossible. He also dismisses the Palestinian authority as a feckless and corrupt bunch of Israeli tools. Consider this view from a 6/29/2010 column by Tom Friedman in the New York Times.
"What’s that? It’s the P.S.E., or Palestine Securities Exchange. Based in Nablus, in the West Bank, the Al-Quds Index has actually been having a solid year—and therein lies a tale.....The P.S.E. was established in 1996 with 19 companies and now has 41—and 8 more will join this year....The expansion of the Al-Quds index is part of a broader set of changes initiated in the West Bank under the leadership of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the former World Bank economist who has unleashed a real Palestinian ‘revolution.’ It is a revolution based on building Palestinian capacity and institutions not just resisting Israeli occupation, on the theory that if the Palestinians can build a real economy, a professional security force and an effective, transparent government bureaucracy it will eventually become impossible for Israel to deny the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem."
"The most senior Israeli military people told me the new security force that Fayyad has built is the real deal—real enough that Israel has taken down most of the check points inside the West Bank. So internal commerce and investment are starting to flow, and even some Gazans are moving there."
Friedman ends with a note of caution. He worries that this new tack by the Palestinian Authority is upsetting many on both sides. The Israelis have grown accustomed to the notion of incompetent Palestinians who are no longer a concern while penned behind the security wall. The last thing they want is competence in a potential adversary. Many of the Palestinians have grown comfortable in the perpetual role of the exploited victims, dreaming of revenge and the reclamation of their historic homeland. That dream will not die easily.

Ehud Yaari, an Israeli author and policy expert, has similar concerns. He has written an article entitled An Interim Agreement for Israel and Palestine that appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs. He suggests that the two-state solution should be put into concrete now even if all the details cannot be ironed out until later. He fears that the two sides may drift further away from reconciliation if too much time passes. As the Palestinian Authority grows stronger, it may conclude that it is in a position to make greater demands on Israel than Israel is ever likely to accept. On the Israeli side, the majority of people are currently in favor of a two-state solution, even though that would certainly lead to a violent response from conservatives and settlers who would have to be moved. The longer the settlers reside in place and the longer the Israelis have to grow comfortable and secure behind their barriers, the less interested they will be in any traumatic accommodation. Yaari claims that the following offer was made and ignored by the Palestinian Authority.
"The secret high-level negotiating sessions in 2007-8 ended in failure even though Olmert offered Abbas more territory than Ehud Barak had offered Arafat in 2000, when Barak was prime minister: all but six percent of the West Bank. Israel would have compensated the Palestinians by transferring areas adding up to a similar size to Palestine and relinquishing control of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Olmert’s offer included entrusting management of the Holy Basin—Jerusalem’s Old City and its immediate surroundings—to a multinational commission in which both Jordan and Saudi Arabia would have been partners. Palestine leaders never responded to this offer....."If true, that seems like a reasonable offer for the Israelis to make. It would require destruction of a large number of settlements with much grief for the Israeli government. The Palestinians apparently felt they had to hold out for even more. Meanwhile, a more conservative government is now in power in Israel and is not likely to ever make that good an offer. Now we also see a revitalized Palestinian Authority. Will they, with renewed confidence, be willing to accept a practical compromise, or will they feel they have a stronger bargaining position and demand more than they will ever get? Will they feel that, with growing international support, they can confront the Israelis again, either violently or with nonviolence?

This is a complex situation with no single obvious solution. However, there are obviously bad solutions, such as Makdisi’s concept of a single state.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Economic Mobility: Is the American Dream Alive and Well?

The title of this post is the title of a report issued by the Economic Mobility Project. This project is a collaboration between the Pew Charitable Trusts and The American Enterprise Institute, The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and The Urban Institute. The participants believe that
"....economic mobility plays a central role in defining the American experience and that more attention must be paid to understanding the status and health of the American dream."The issue of economic mobility is critical to understand. We have sold ourselves on the notion that it is acceptable to shortchange the general population on providing an adequate economic security net because we provide plentiful opportunities for hard-working individuals to move up the economic ladder and better themselves. We also shrug our shoulders when confronted with increasing income inequality, comforted by the belief that we can work hard and become one of those excessively paid people at the top. We refer to this as "The American Dream." It makes a compelling story, but is it true? That is the question the Economic Mobility Project seeks to address and understand.

The report I have linked to is short, easy to read, and chock full of interesting data. The authors define "absolute mobility" as a rising or falling dynamic that tends to carry everyone with it in one direction. The term "relative mobility" refers to the dynamic that allows individuals to raise or lower their position relative to others.

It is relative mobility that is promised in the American Dream. And we are led to assume that it is uniquely in America where such bountiful opportunities exist. What does the Economic Mobility Project observe?
"Using the relationship between parents’ and children’s incomes as an indicator of relative mobility, data show that a number of countries, including Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and France have more relative mobility than does the United States."Why is it that whenever we discover something unpleasant about ourselves it turns out to be something associated with our ties to the British? Why couldn’t we have been colonized by the Scandinavians?
"Compared to the same peer group, Germany is 1.5 times more mobile than the United States, Canada nearly 2.5 times more mobile, and Denmark 3 times more mobile. Only the United Kingdom has relative mobility levels on par with the United States."What this data means is that if you are born rich and incompetent then you are in the right country and have a good chance of eventually dying rich and incompetent. If you are born poor and competent you should move to Europe or Canada as soon as possible. If you stay here, the odds of becoming rich and competent are not good.

This report also has some things to say about absolute mobility. It does this by comparing salaries from different generations of men in their thirties. They find that between 1964 and 1994 the inflation adjusted salaries (median personal income) for this class of men rose 5%. Comparing a more recent pair of generations, 1974 and 2004, income fell 12% across that generation. That means that the American Dream of seeing your children do better than you is already ancient history. The only thing that keeps families afloat is the entry of women into the job market. If you compare the same figures for family income for the same sets of people you find that between 1964 and 1994 family income rose 32%. The more recent data between 1974 and 2004 indicates that family income rose only 9%. Clearly the two-income family is running out of steam. So much income is being funneled to the high earners that there is only one thing left for the middle class to do. So get off you duffs, show some ambition, and get out there and create the three-wage-earner family. Just think how interesting that could become.

There is yet one more knife to be sunk into the back of the working class. The report plots productivity growth and median family income growth between 1947 and 2005. The two curves track almost exactly until about 1980 (the Reagan years!) at which point income begins to lag behind. Curiously enough, during the Clinton years income did not catch up but it at least rose at the same rate as productivity. Even more curiously, about the time George W. took office, income growth went dead flat while productivity grew ever faster.

We seem to have stumbled into an economy where profits and pay have become somewhat disconnected. There is no economic law that says that the number of "good" jobs must equal the number of people, but here is a political law, actually a law of the jungle too, that says that if enough people are poor, under-paid, and generally unhappy, bad things are likely to happen. It would behoove our politicians to start addressing this long-term problem and look beyond the current election cycle.

That is enough venting for now. These are all complex issues that require more study and illumination. The Economic Mobility Project continues to pursue these studies. There are more reports to read and ponder over. Check out their web site if you are interested.

More to come—much more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn have written a book entitled Half the Sky. It has the subtitle: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. In the introduction they introduce the term "gendercide" which, I have to admit, I had not seen used before. Given the data they provide, I am surprised, and a little ashamed, that I had not encountered it previously. The authors proceed to make a very strong statement.
"The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century."I wish the authors had been more explicit in quoting numbers. Depending on how one counts, twentieth century deaths from genocide could vary from ten million to close to a hundred million. In any event the "gendercide" deaths are frighteningly large.

Where do these deaths come from? There are of course the mass murders and current day genocides that are especially deadly for women. Then there are the even more disturbing forms of gender discrimination.
"In India a ‘bride burning’—to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry—takes place about once every two hours....In the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, five thousand women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws—or, perhaps worse, been seared with acid—for perceived disobedience in just the last nine years."And then there are many thousands of girls who are kidnapped or sold into the various forms of slavery. But to get to the multimillions of female deaths you have to depend on a more prosaic form of abuse. The authors refer to the fact that countries where women are held in especially low regard have male to female ratios in their populations greater than one. In India, for example, the ratio of males to females is 1.08. In our country the ratio in the 2000 census was 0.963. There is a section of India where women’s rights have been emphasized. It is stated that in that region there is an excess of females similar to that in our country. This is what one would expect. When treated equally, women live longer. If one considers this deficit of females in India to be ascribed to their treatment by society, then, with a population of one billion, you have to have a mechanism whereby about sixty million women are rendered "not alive."

The tools one has available to make sixty million women disappear are abortion, murder and negligence. Murder is not efficient enough. Abortion would be rampant in India given modern technologies, but in India it has become forbidden for a doctor or a technician to tell a woman the sex of her fetus. It appears that good-old-fashioned neglect is the culprit. The authors quote a study that indicates that for every 100 abortions of female fetuses that are prohibited, 15 little girls will die from neglect. That is not a very good bargain to have to make. Even more disturbing is the data indicating that
"All told, girls in India from one to five years in age are 50 percent more likely to die than boys the same age."Why buy medicine for a daughter or a wife when you may need it for a son?

Kristof has been writing about these subjects and championing just treatment for women for many years. He and his wife are committed to making change happen.
"In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world."I have thus far read only the Introduction. I look forward to the rest of the book, and I anticipate there will be many interesting things to talk about.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"I think I'll have a cup of coffee and go to bed"

Like many others I became engrossed in the Stieg Larsson trilogy about his Swedish heroine Lisbeth Salander. Since we are talking almost 2000 pages in a Swedish setting one is bound to pick up a few insights into Swedish culture. The ritual of sharing coffee in just about all known social circumstances is the one I found most striking. I swear I remember one of the characters uttering the line "I think I’ll have a cup of coffee and go to bed." I at first thought that that was a crazy way to approach falling asleep. Eight or ten cups a day I could see, although that would have destroyed my stomach lining immediately. Then I recalled that we had once, many, many years ago, stayed a few weeks with a Swedish couple. Every night at 9pm they would gather together whoever was in the house at the time for coffee and cake. We would chat and drink coffee until 10pm at which point they would head off to bed. It was a wonderful custom. Since my schedule had me busy for several more hours, the issue of falling asleep did not come up.

So much for fond memories. The point of this was that I came away from those books thinking the Swedes must drink more coffee than anyone else on earth. Not so! I found an article on coffee consumption here that listed the top fifty coffee consuming countries. Sweden was only number seven. We were ranked number sixteen. According to this compilation the US consumes 105.9 liters of coffee per person per year. The denominator here includes all the children and various other non coffee drinkers. If you assume six ounces for a cup of coffee then that is equivalent to 1.65 cups per day per person. Assuming half the people do not participate the daily consumption by actual coffee drinkers is then about 3.3 cups per day. That seems a reasonable number. The Swedes drink 139 liters per capita. The equivalent numbers for them are 2.17 per person or 4.34 per coffee drinker. Actually, that is not much difference. Now consider the winner in this competition—the Finns. In Finland the per capita consumption is 608.2 liters. Using the same logic, the average Finn drinks 9.52 cups per day or, again assuming fifty percent participation rate, 19 cups a day for coffee drinkers. Wow! The Swedes’ neighbors in Norway come in second with 322 liters per capita, a pretty impressive number.

It is now 2am. I am about halfway through six ounces of a non-coffee beverage and I am thinking that what I have just written is pretty interesting. I am thinking that my beverage is better for sleeping, but perhaps not so good for writing. Past experience tells me I had better check back in the morning.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bill Gates: Teachers' Pest?

The title of the cover article of the July 19-25, 2010 edition of Businessweek was Teachers’ Pest. Note the lack of a question mark in the title. This article discusses the plans and goals of the Gates Foundation in the area of education. As of the end of last year the foundation had assets of $33.9B. The intention is to spend about $3B on education in the next five to seven years. That is comparable to the amount congress made available for the "Race to the Top" program. In fact, as the article points out, one could argue that these are two funding lines for the same effort.

The Gates Foundation and the Department of Education are both interested in funding experiments in improved teaching procedures. Gates is focused on teacher performance. His goal is to provide incentives for teachers to investigate and apply the best teaching practices available. Teachers will be graded by a combination of peer and supervisor review, and student test scores. Test performance will contribute 40% to the performance evaluation. The remainder will be split equally between principal evaluation and peer evaluation. Gates is planning to fund trials at school systems in Tampa, Memphis, Pittsburg and Los Angeles. The program (Intensive Partnerships for Effective teaching) provides funds that can be used to financially reward high performing teachers.

The Gates Foundation has a number of other efforts ongoing. There is a trial program to videotape teachers in the classroom so that there techniques can be evaluated in hopes of providing improvement. The foundation provided funds to assist states prepare proposals for "Race to the Top" funds. It is also supporting the development of proposals for a common curriculum that could be applied nationally. There is certainly a lot more going on than was mentioned in the article. Gates has close ties with the Secretary of Education and appears to cooperate closely with his efforts.

This all sounds like a good thing. Something needs to be done so let’s try what we think has the greatest chance of succeeding and see where that takes us.

While this article provided some useful information, it was rather biased. It begins by attacking Gates’ credibility by labeling the foundation’s first foray into education, smaller school sizes, as a failure. Then Gates is left to be the only voice to support the current initiative. He then gave the platform to just about every critic he could find, including Diane Ravitch. To her is attributed the inane notion that Gates’ money would be better spent giving it to parochial schools which seem to perform well as a class. She is a frequent critic of charter schools because they have student selection options available to them that public schools do not have. What in the world does she think happens at parochial schools?

The author devoted most of his effort to criticizing the use of test scores as part of the evaluation process. He trotted out all the standard objections and treated the tests as if that was the only thing teachers would be graded on. He ignored the fact that past experience with using test scores might have provided some guidance as to how to proceed in the future.

The author describes the situation at one of the school districts selected by the Gates Foundation for the trials, Hillsborough, in Tampa.
"Hillsborough currently terminates one-half of one percent of its teaching force annually. More than 99 percent of Hillsborough teachers were rated satisfactory or outstanding in 2007-2008, and 98 percent of those eligible received tenure."That data is absurd. With 99.5% retention you aren’t even weeding out the addicts and pedophiles. In any population of professionals you will find wide disparities in motivation, ambition, training, intelligence, and just about any other trait that will contribute to performance. It is the school system’s job to come up with appropriate criteria so that individual teachers can be ranked against their peers. Who better to do that than the teachers themselves? Of course it will be difficult. Of course it will be subjective. Of course test scores alone are not sufficient. Of course it will not always be fair. Monetary compensation is a great motivator. Most other professionals are on merit pay systems and face the same issues. It can be made to work, so join the program and quit complaining.

Props to the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration for their attention to the problems in our educational system and for the empirical approach they are taking.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

God, Man, Evolution, and the Burgess Shale

Christopher Hitchens has written a book entitled God Is Not Great. I do not intend to comment here on the book in general or on his thesis as indicated by the title. The purpose of this note is to discuss an interesting reference he made concerning evolution and man’s place in the order of things.

No one has ever accused Hitchens of being dull. Consider this opening to his chapter savaging those who would believe that man has a special place in the cosmos.
"The three great monotheisms teach people to think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous god who, according to discrepant accounts, fashioned them either out of dust and clay or a clot of blood. The positions for prayer are usually emulations of the supplicant serf before an ill-tempered monarch. The message is one of continual submission, gratitude, and fear. Life itself is a poor thing: an interval in which to prepare for the hereafter or the coming—or the second coming—of the Messiah.....On the other hand, and as if by way of compensation, religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited. It assures them that god cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind."It is the latter notion, that humans are the culmination of either God’s creation, or, if you prefer, the inexorable evolution towards consciousness and domination of the world around us, that arouses Hitchen’s ire. In response to this rather universal belief that humans have some intrinsic "specialness," he reminds us of some facts about the evolution of life on earth. He refers to the fossil discoveries recorded in the Burgess Shale and references a book by Stephen J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess shale and the Nature of History. If one wants a more casual reference, Gould wrote a Scientific American article entitled The Evolution of Life on Earth. My comments are taken from that article.

To understand the importance of the Burgess Shale one must first have an understanding of the history of evolution. Gould points out that the first evidence of cellular life emerged rather early in the planet’s history
"The oldest rocks sufficiently unaltered to retain cellular fossils—African and Australian sediments dated to 3.5 billion years....Thus, life on earth evolved quickly and is as old as it could be. This fact alone seems to indicate an inevitability, or at least a predictability, for life’s origin from the original chemical constituents of atmosphere and ocean."Evidence of multi-celled structures does not appear until about 600 million years ago. Then suddenly(?) about 500 million years ago the earth experienced what is referred to as the Cambrian explosion, a brief period (in terms of millions of years) at the beginning of the Cambrian era when many forms of life developed, most of which died out. The fossil records contained in the Burgess Shale provide some understanding of what was taking place during this period. From Gould again
"....maximal diversity in anatomical forms (not in number of species) is reached rather early in life’s multicellular history. Later times feature extinction of most of these initial experiments and enormous success within surviving lines. This success is measured in the proliferation of species but not in the development of new anatomies. Today we have more species than ever before, although they are restricted to fewer basic anatomies."In other words there were millions of anatomical experiments carried out during the Cambrian explosion, but only a few survived. This brings us to the point that Hitchens wishes to make: man is not the center of the universe, but, rather, he is an evolutionary quirk of extremely low probability. Again from Gould
"Humans arose, rather, as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events, any one of which could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway that would not have led to consciousness...only one member of our chordate phylum, the genus Pikaia, has been found among these earliest fossils. This small and simple swimming creature , showing its allegiance to us by possessing a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, is among the rarest fossils of the Burgess Shale, our best preserved Cambrian fauna....Moreover, we do not know why most of the early experiments died, while a few survived to become our modern recognized traits unite the victors and the radical alternative must be entertained that each early experiment received little more than the equivalent of a ticket in the largest lottery ever played out on our planet—and that each surviving lineage, including our own phylum of vertebrates, inhabits the earth today more by the luck of the draw than by any predictable struggle for existence."Gould goes on to discuss other aspects of evolution. He claims that there is no evidence to support the notion that there is a path in evolution towards greater complexity. That means that if we want to consider ourselves as the most complex beast ever to evolve, we must also view ourselves as the statistical freak of the highest order. To place us further into the proper perspective, Gould reminds us that after all the luck we possessed up to that point we still required a meteor strike to wipe out all the dinosaurs in order for our species to thrive.

Thank you, Christopher, for bringing up this fascinating topic. But have you made the point you wished to make? A creationist could read this and conclude that God does indeed work in mysterious ways. Also, our status as a low probability event does not really detract from the feeling that we are special. In fact, it may enhance that notion.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Malthus Returns?

Carlisle Ford Runge and Carlisle Piehl Runge have written an interesting article in Foreign Affairs, January/February 2010, entitled Against the Grain: Why Failing to Complete the Green revolution Could Bring the Next Famine. They begin by asking the question: was Malthus right? The answer: probably not. Their bottom line is that if the world’s population tops off at about nine billion people as anticipated, the supply of food should be sufficient to meet the demand. The problem, as they see it, is that "meeting the demand" will not happen automatically. Hunger is a large problem now and it will only continue to get worse unless action is taken.
"In June 2009, the Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN agency, projected that hunger now affects one billion people—about one-sixth of the world’s population—due to ‘stubbornly high food prices’ and the global economic slowdown, which has depressed the income of the world’s poorest people."The authors point out that the world’s net surplus has been diminishing, making it ever harder to get food to the poorest and most in need. They quote the Earth Policy Institute as claiming that world grain production was below the rate of consumption in six of the last nine years. The authors attribute the growing supply issues to three factors.
"First, the rate of increases in crop yields appears to be slowing. Second, and this is related, agricultural research expenditures have diminished since the 1980s, especially in Africa. Third, global food supplies have begun to fall relative to demand and prices have begun to rise—problems that are being exacerbated by the increasing use, in rich countries, of grain not only as food and feed but also as biofuel."The slowdown in the growth of crop yields is not too surprising. There must be a law of diminishing returns that kicks in somewhere, but the actual causes are more subtle and in some cases insidious. The modern agricultural methods that have performed so well in terms of yield, depend on methods that are not sustainable.
"Over-irrigation and the excessive use of fertilizers and agrochemicals polluted and depleted water supplies and sapped the soil’s fertility....Thus, the impressive climb in average agricultural yields over the last half of the twentieth century is but a surface reality. The deeper reality is that in the twenty-first century, as water and soil quality has fallen, unsustainable techniques have pushed the biophysical systems to their limits."The slowing in yield growth is also caused by cutbacks in agricultural research. These cutbacks have been particularly severe in funds aimed at the poorer countries, the ones who need help the most. As national and international research budgets have declined, a greater portion of the research is carried on by private companies. The corporations are in the business of making money so it is not to surprising that the beneficiaries of their research are generally the big commercial farming organizations. It has always been true that advanced agricultural techniques have been costly and the ones best able to take advantage of them are the already wealthy.

The authors lament the fact that while farm productivity in some areas exploded, many poor areas were not able to take advantage of the new techniques and fell further behind. It is precisely these countries, with their growing populations, that are suffering the most from meager local supplies and increasing prices. The problem is not always just one of seeds and fertilizers and techniques. The authors tell one tale of a successful project to increase yields in Ethiopia that produced more product than the country could absorb and ended up creating a catastrophic decline in produce prices. The problem was that the focus was on increasing yield. No one worried that there were was not sufficient infrastructure in the country to get the product to markets in time to be of any value.

One will find no sympathy here for the biofuel production efforts that have become so popular. Produce that goes to provide fuel for automobiles is not available to provide fuel for those one billion hungry humans. This diversion exacerbates the scarcity by driving up the price of the remaining product.

While a Malthusian catastrophe seems neither imminent nor inevitable, there are a billion people hungry right now. Demographics and economics seem destined to push that number higher. Output is struggling to keep up with demand and prices have risen dramatically. Something needs to be done before more people fall into the "hungry" category. Malnourishment can have long-term consequences that are not reversible. The authors believe the key to addressing this growing food problem is to make sure that the agricultural revolution is experienced by all countries, not just the wealthy.
"Getting both the science and the economics right continues to matter today. Substantial investment in research to increase crop yields are needed, especially in Africa, as is extending this research to scientists in all developing countries. Agricultural development aid, for its part, needs to focus on stabilizing markets and developing the infrastructure to distribute any increased production. Such measures made US agriculture the world’s most productive in history. They can, and must, be repeated elsewhere now."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Israelis and Their Religion

I am reading Palestine Inside Out by Saree Makdisi. I am being barraged with tales of Israeli discrimination and violence against the Palestinians. The violence and discrimination are sanctioned and encouraged by Israeli police and soldiers. The purpose is to make the Palestinians disappear, either by walking away or by being pushed away. Makdisi’s book may prove to be biased and exaggerated. I will have to wait until later to decide that, but there is enough corroborating evidence to conclude that there is a strong strain of truth in what he is saying.

I am struck by an analogy. Consider a government driven by racial and religious hatred to persecute a specific ethnic group. Police and soldiers look on as people are attacked and houses are destroyed. This group will be forced to leave, either dead or alive. This is all part of a government plan. Does this sound in any way familiar? Jimmy Carter thought it reminded him of apartheid in South Africa. My first thought was of 1930s Nazi Germany. Carter is more correct, but I am outraged and will stick with the outrageous. Considering a comparison between the Nazi’s and the Israelis is something that makes the head spin. Years of built-up sympathy for the historical plight of the Jews sets off all kinds of warning alarms in my consciousness. Nevertheless, the images presented by Makdisi of Israeli actions driven not only by purposeful policy but also by "pure hatred" are compelling—and suggestive.

Having recently read Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World with all its examples of ethnic violence, it becomes easier to consider that Jews are human beings just like everyone else. Being "just like everyone else" means that they are capable of discrimination and violence against another group. Never before have they had the power to impose their prejudices and hatreds on another people. Now they do. One can carry the Nazi analogy a little further. The Germans had twisted theories of genetic superiority that aided them in their belief that others were inferior beings. The Israelis have their religion that teaches them that they are superior. They are God’s chosen people with a special covenant with God. Everyone else is—not chosen. The land Israel wants was given to them by God himself. What is there to negotiate? Whenever a group with political and military power believes that God is on its side, it is guaranteed that discrimination, violence, and death will follow.

Enough with the venting—back to the book—hopefully I will encounter no mention of a final solution.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Of Chimps and Men

In an earlier post, Mass Murder, Mass Rape, the tendencies of humans to respond to the appearance of strangers of the same species, but different tribe/clan/culture with violence and often female rape were discussed. The notion was that this response must have some kind of evolutionary value. The ideas considered were that these responses could easily be associated with population and resource protection, and perhaps gene homogenization. After coming upon an article discussing aggression among chimpanzees, I thought this would be an opportunity to perhaps associate primitive origins of human behavior with that observed in chimpanzees.

The article described observations of small groups of chimpanzees who would go out and patrol the boundaries of the community’s territory. They would attack chimpanzees from an adjoining territory if they had a tactical advantage. Eighteen killings where observed in one particular location before the chimpanzee group took over that section of their neighbor’s territory. Of the eighteen killed, none were females. Adult males and children were killed, with the added twist that infants were occasionally eaten (another way to eliminate "the other?". So far, this appears like it could be one of those stories describing man’s nature as being inherited from his animal origins. But what happened to the females? Apparently they were left alone, presumably to return to their own community. The only description I could find of chimpanzee rape involved a male who insisted on mating with his sister—something taboo in chimp society. The sister repeatedly refused and was assaulted. Apparently, chimpanzee females readily make themselves available and the issue of force rarely comes up. Suddenly the thesis that man’s behavior can be explained as a residue from another species’ evolutionary roots becomes a little shaky. Further study indicates that nature is too complicated for such simple-minded analyses. While man is a product of his evolution, he is probably a unique product of a unique evolution.

Scientists tell us that Chimpanzees are our closest cousins, genetically, and that our human ancestors diverged from the chimpanzee line about six million years ago. The chimpanzees, themselves, bifurcated into two groups about one million years ago. These two groups were geographically separated and developed completely different social behaviors over the years. The most familiar chimpanzee (referred to as a common chimpanzee) is the most prevalent and does have many well-known human-like qualities. The study mentioned above related to this type of chimpanzee.

The other type of chimp is often referred to as a Bonobo. If we wish to consider humans as inheritors of the same characteristics inherited by current common chimpanzees, then we must also consider ourselves as relatives of the Bonobo chimp. Bonobos have a much more peaceful temperament than the common chimpanzee. They also have produced a society with a matriarchal tendency. The alpha male seems to have responsibility for executing tasks, but the alpha female can refuse to follow his orders and the rest of the community will follow her lead. In fact, the males seem to inherit their authority based on the rank of their mother. One researcher referred to the alpha male as the general— who could be trumped by the alpha female who was the queen. Perhaps the most unusual and interesting aspect of Bonobo society is the role of sex. Someone was quoted as saying that if two groups of Bonobos would meet unexpectedly, it was more likely that an orgy would breakout rather than warfare. The Bonobos, both male and female, are bisexual, very inventive, and very active. They occasionally experiment with the missionary position and practice oral sex. The offer of sexual activity is given in much the same way we might provide a guest with a cup of coffee.

It is easy to get drawn into the study of animal societies and to try to draw conclusions about human nature. The fact that these two lines of chimpanzees could develop so differently over the course of a million years leads me to conclude that humans could also go off in their own unique direction over a period of six million years. We are what we are, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why I Changed My Mind: Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and was Assistant Secretary of Education for Research in the George H. W. Bush administration. She has written a book entitled The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. She has also written an article for the June 14, 2010 edition of The Nation magazine which seems to provide a preview of her book. Ravitch says she was an initial supporter of charter schools and the accountability through testing approach incorporated in the No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB). The article discusses why she has changed her mind on both counts.

The author argues that the testing requirements in NCLB have had unintended consequences. Since each state was allowed to set its own standards, many have lowered their requirements to appear more proficient than they actually are. The focus on testing has also directed too much education time to preparing for a specific test to the detriment of a more general understanding of the subject and leaving less time for other classes.
"Billions have been invested at the federal and state levels in testing and test-preparation materials. Many schools suspend instruction for months before the state tests, in hopes of boosting scores. Students are drilled on how to answer the precise types of questions that are likely to appear on the state tests. Testing experts suggest that this intense emphasis on test preparation is wasted, because students tend to learn test-taking techniques rather than the subject tested, and they are not likely to do well on a different test of the same subject for which they are not prepared."She supports her position further by indicating that there are no signs of progress when students take national tests for which they are not provided this time for preparation.

Ravitch is upset because the focus has been taken off the need to provide a "coherent curriculum" that includes strong classes in history, literature, geography, civics and the arts, as well as math and science. She seems to support a return to a more traditional approach to education provided it can be made to work better. Better teachers, better administrators, better curricula and national standards seem to be her solution.

The author’s argument against charter schools is based on the evidence that they do not perform any better than traditional schools. There is of course a range of performances among the various versions of charter schools, but she argues that the ones who perform better have gamed the system in some way, usually through student selection. She worries that charters will attract the best students and weaken the remaining public system.

Ravitch also has a problem with evaluating teachers performance using student test scores because it is difficult to do that fairly, and it places the blame for student performance on the teacher when there are, in fact, many factors at work over which the teacher has little control.

Finally she criticizes the Obama administration.
"I expected that Obama would throw out NCLB and start over. But, on the contrary, his administration has embraced some of the worst features of the George W. Bush era."My initial reaction to Savitch’e comments is that she is overreacting. My recollection of what the Obama administration is planning is a series of experiments aimed at figuring out what does and does not work. That supposedly was the philosophy behind the "Race to the Top" funding which Ravitch also criticized. If my impression is correct, then all of Ravitch’s complaints are null and void until a specific policy is enunciated for national application. If there are good and mediocre charter schools, let’s sort them out and keep the good and get rid of the bad. Some level of performance testing is necessary. The devil will be in the details, which we do not have. Teachers do have to be held accountable for their performance. Even the unions are beginning to realize that. Again, it will be beneficial if it is done right and disastrous if it is done poorly. Let’s wait and see how this plays out.

This topic and Ravitch’s book sound like great material for a book club to sink its teeth into. I know for sure that I need to do more reading.

I found this brief description of the goals of the Race to the Top competition.
Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:

Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;

Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;

Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and

Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Awards in Race to the Top will go to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform. Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come.

That sounds pretty good to me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mass Murder, Mass Rape

Anyone who has read Niall Ferguson’s book, The War of the World, or my discussion of it, will be aware of mankind’s capability to go on sprees of deadly violence. What might be less obvious is that these episodes of mass murder are often accompanied by incidents of mass rape. Ferguson points this out and ponders over the meaning of this combination, but he does not try to offer a definite conclusion. I have no definite conclusions to draw either, but I agree with Ferguson that it is an interesting subject over which to ponder.

Let us start first with the obvious tendency to respond with violence to the appearance of a strange creature. This intruder might be physically quite similar, but from another tribe/clan/family, or it might have recognizable physical differences but still be recognized as being of the same species, or it could be of a different species entirely. Let us ignore this latter case as being irrelevant to the question of why humans are willing to kill other humans. We must also make the assumption that we are the result of our evolutionary history and that natural selection has bred into us characteristics that were useful for survival.

If we take a round number of 1M years for the timescale for human evolution, we have about 50,000 generations under our belt. If we assume that mankind has spent the last 10,000 years trying to live together in a community, we then have about 500 generations of what might be referred to as civilization. Recognizing that evolution proceeds by incorporating modifications to an existing structure, it becomes apparent that behaviors imprinted during the first 49,500 generations are likely to still be lurking within us.

The tendency toward violent response to a stranger is relatively easy to envisage. A group of hunter gatherers will tend to grow until it reaches the limits of its food supply. Therefore any new person or group instantly becomes a threat to their existence. Animals and humans will also form chains of dominance. A leader will emerge who will see any intruder as a threat to their dominance and respond accordingly. The real question is the role that sex plays in the equation.

If one views the hunter-gatherer existence as one fraught with mortal threats, particularly for children, then a possible response to meeting another group would be to kill the males and capture the females for breeding purposes. Since people don’t normally like being captured, the breeding part could easily require violence to accomplish. Thus we have a possible survival-favoring response combining murder and rape. There could be something as simple as this operative, and buried within us is the tendency to respond in this way.

Ferguson suggests that something more subtle may be operative.
"The most murderous racial violence can have a sexual dimension to it, as in 1992, when Serbian forces were accused of a systematic campaign of rape directed against Bosnian Muslim women, with the aim of forcing them to conceive and give birth to ‘Little Chetniks.’ Was this merely one of many forms of violence designed to terrorize Muslim families into fleeing from their homes? Or was it perhaps a manifestation of the primitive eradicate ‘the other’ by impregnating females as well as murdering males?"Ferguson adds an additional thought for consideration.
"Sure enough, there is strong empirical evidence to suggest that ‘optimal outbreeding’ is achieved with a surprisingly small degree of genealogical separation. A first cousin may actually be biologically preferable as a mate to a wholly unrelated stranger."This reasoning suggests a less obvious, but powerful evolutionary imperative for mating with "the other." We are at a stage now where there is very little genetic difference between the various races. That may not have always been the case. The need to breed with whichever females are available will always be with us. The breeding would become more efficient as gene pools mixed and became homogenized, and any physical characteristics signifying "the other" would be diluted. Thus one could argue that there was evolutionary value in males attempting to breed with any females they encountered. And, of course, the more physically aggressive the male the more likely he would produce offspring, thus propagating the trait.

Men, if you have ever been made to feel ashamed of your "anyone, anywhere, anytime" approach to sex, take some comfort from the thought that you may just be following Mother Nature’s orders.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The War of the World by Niall Ferguson

Niall Ferguson has written a truly exceptional history of the twentieth century called War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. This is perhaps the most thought-provoking history I have ever read. Ferguson provides new insights into the events of recent history and raises fundamental, and rather frightening, questions about mankind and its nature.

The author takes his title from H. G. Well’s science fiction novel The War of the Worlds (1898) which he describes as
"...much more than a seminal work of science fiction. It is also a kind of Darwinian morality tale, and at the same time a work of singular prescience. In the century after the publication of his book, scenes like the ones Wells imagined became a reality in cities all over the world—not just in London, where wells set his tale, but in Brest-Litovsk, Belgrade and Berlin; in Smyrna, Shanghai and Seoul."Wells’ novel tells a story of the world being attacked by an alien species that uses advanced weapons to systematically slaughter helpless humans. Ferguson makes the analogy to the type of warfare waged in the twentieth century that had many of the characteristics of the interspecies conflict in Wells’ novel: the attempts to exterminate "sub-human species," indiscriminate killing of civilians, industrial scale murder. The author argues that
"The hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in modern history, far more violent in relative as well as absolute terms than any previous era....By any measure, the Second World War was the greatest man-made catastrophe of all time. And yet, for all the attention they have attracted from historians, the world wars were only two of many twentieth-century conflicts. Death tolls quite probably passed the million mark in more than a dozen others."What makes his book so interesting is the focus Ferguson brings to the causes of this extreme violence. The question he seeks to answer is
"What made the twentieth century, and particularly the fifty years from 1904 to 1953, so bloody."He discards the more commonly presented causes such as class conflict, economic crises, more lethal technologies, or the actions of a few evil megalomaniacs, as being unable to explain the prevalence and the ferocity of conflict. What Ferguson ends up doing is framing the entire history of the twentieth century in the context of ethnic strife. Used in this context the terms "ethnic" and "racial" become interchangeable.

World War Two is normally viewed as the attempt of two countries, Germany and Japan, to create empires through aggression. That is part of the story. What Ferguson emphasizes in his history are how the concepts of racial superiority formed the basis for these ambitions, and justified the methods that were ultimately used.

The author also suggests that one misses much of the history of the past century if one focuses on only the big picture having the allies struggling against the two evil empires. He indicates that it is more informative to think of the world war as a collection of individual conflicts. The war Hitler waged against Western Europe was a tactical war in which was mixed an element of revenge. Hitler needed control of the resources and manpower of the western nations in order to support his war machine so he could attack to the east. The war against Poland and Russia was not just to expand an empire; his intention was to wage a war of extermination against the indigenous populations. These are two different wars requiring different perspectives on mankind’s capabilities and flaws.

If one looks at the history of the past century as a collection of many local conflicts, as the author suggests, one is overwhelmed by the pervasiveness and the ferocity of the violence. It is not just armies slaughtering other armies, but also neighbors slaughtering neighbors. One finds it hard to believe that humans are capable of such brutality. After reading this book it is difficult to ever think of history or mankind in the same way again.

The author’s study led him to conclude that one could attribute the onset of violence to three factors: ethnic conflict, economic volatility, and empires in decline. One puts down this book firmly believing that there is a fourth reason: man’s own innate nature. The industrial slaughter of Hitler and the lethal enslavement policies of Stalin are relatively tame and understandable in comparison with the extreme violence that occurred when multiethnic regions lost their controlling governance. This is when neighbor began murdering neighbor, often with exceptional cruelty. The fear and loathing of "the other" has its roots in the earliest stages of evolution of mankind. When the thin veneer of civilization breaks down, people seemingly revert to much more primitive modes of conduct. The evolutionary and social implications of this behavior will be the subject of a separate post.

Interestingly, Ferguson’s focus is on economic volatility rather than merely bad economic conditions. Everyone suffers in bad times. In volatile times the winners and losers can change roles and uncertainty and such change seem to be a fearsome trigger for violent behavior. The reference to empires in decline pinpoints the trigger for decades of political volatility which culminated in the multiple clashes that we refer to as World War Two.

The twentieth century begins with the globe dominated by European empires. An empire is, by definition, hegemony of one political entity over a range of geographic and ethnic entities. In fact, the existence of an empire, with its remote governance, encouraged the mixture of peoples from different regions and cultures. When there is no local control, there is no local competition for dominance. Ethnic mixtures could remain stable for generations. The problem for the world was that these empires were in decline. The inevitable march of history was towards the establishment of regional nation states.
" certain parts of the world there was an exceptional mismatch between ethnic identities and political structures. The ethnic map of Central and Eastern Europe, to take the most obvious example, was a true patchwork. In the north—to name only the largest groups—there were Lithuanians, Latvians, Byelorussians and Russians, all linguistically distinct; in the middle, Czechs, Slovaks and Poles; in the south, Italians, Slovenes, Magyars, Romanians and in the Balkans, Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians, Greeks and Turks. Scattered all over the region were German-speaking communities."

"The fatal triangle of territory between the Baltic, the Balkans and the Black Sea was a zone of conflict not just because it was ethnically mixed, but also because it was the junction where the realms of the Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs, Romanovs and Ottomans met, the fault lines between the tectonic plates of four great empires."
The First World War set the stage for what was to come. It introduced new technologies to enhance and extend lethality so that death need not be limited to a narrow battle line. This war also hastened the decline of the political structures that had been holding the world in place. In the aftermath, the requisite political and economic volatility was readily available. Remote governance was breaking down and people wished to form regional nations based on a common culture. The inevitable ethnic conflicts ensued.

This violent process of transformation was exacerbated by the popularity of the burgeoning science of eugenics which allowed one group to justify dominance over other groups. The worst of the bad actors were Germany, Japan and Russia. All were driven, to various degrees, by motives of racial superiority that justified treating classes of peoples as sub-human. Once one has labeled a group as "sub-human," the next step seems to be enslavement and/or extermination (remember the analogy to Wells’ story).
"This capacity to treat other human beings as members of an inferior and indeed malignant species—as mere vermin—was one of the crucial reasons why twentieth-century conflict was so violent. Only make this mental leap and warfare ceases to be a formalized encounter between uniformed armies. It becomes a war of annihilation, in which everyone on the other side—men, women, children, the elderly—can legitimately be killed."Hitler is best remembered for his attempt to exterminate all Jews, with six million deaths attributed to his campaign, but he had other peoples in his sights also.
"The Nazis simultaneously sought to annihilate a variety of other social groups deemed to be ‘unworthy of life,’ notably mentally ill and homosexual Germans, the social elite of occupied Poland and the Sinti and Roma peoples. In all, more than three million people from these other groups were murdered."The idea of war against an entire population was clearly what Hitler had in mind.
"From the outset Hitler had determined that his campaign against the Soviet Union was to be fought according to new rules—or rather without rules at all. It was to be he told his generals on March 30, ‘a war of extermination’.....General Erich Hoepner, the commander of Panzer Group 4 took his orders to mean that ‘every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron will to exterminate the enemy mercilessly and adherents of the present Russian-Bolshevik system are to be spared."There were various versions of "General Plan East" which anticipated extending German settlement to Archangel in the north and Astrakhan in the south. One version concluded:
"....the total unwanted population would be closer to fifty or even fifty-seven million, assuming that 15 percent of the Poles, 25 percent of Ruthenians and 35 percent of Ukrainians would need to be retained as agricultural laborers, the rest being deported to Siberia. The Russian population would whither away through the use of contraception, abortion and sterilization. The Jews would be exterminated."Presumably, the 50 or so million were to be sent to Siberia to die. Although Hitler’s plans may have been more grandiose, when it comes to accomplished lethality, he pales in comparison to Stalin.
"Stalin had perpetrated comparable acts of violence against national minorities within the Soviet union....Of around four million non-Russians who were deported to Siberia and central Asia, at least 1.6 million are estimated to have died as a result of the hardships inflicted on them....A minimum estimate for the total victims of all political violence in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1953 is twenty-one million."Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide up what was once Poland. It is amazing how similar and how heinous their plans were for the conquered people.
"The Soviet zone of occupation was in many resects a mirror image of the German zone....Like Hitler....Stalin wished to decapitate Polish society....Between September 1939 and June 1941 the Germans killed approximately 100,000 Jewish Poles and 20,899 non-Jewish Poles in their occupation zone; the NKVD (Stalin) came close to matching that body count in just two operations....between February 1940 and June 1941, around half a million Polish civilians were rounded up....most were deported to the camps and collective farms of Siberia and Kazakhstan....By 1942, according to some estimates, barely half the deportees were still alive."While Stalin’s distaste for "untrustworthy" ethnic groups, such as the Poles, was based more on practical considerations than ideology, his actions were just as murderous. The German invasion of the Soviet Union was particularly brutal. The Germans, military and civilian, were repaid in kind when the Russians recaptured their territories and invaded Germany. Consider this quote from Tony Judt’s book Postwar:
"In the final months of the war, as the Soviet armies pushed west into central Europe and eastern Prussia, millions of civilians—most of them German—fled before them. George Kennnan, the American diplomat, described the scene in his memoirs: ‘The disaster that befell this area with the entry of the Soviet forces has no parallel in modern European existence. There were considerable sections of it where, to judge by all existing evidence, scarcely a man woman or child of the indigenous population was left alive after the initial passage of the Soviet forces....The Russians....swept the native population clean in a manner that had no parallel since the days of the Asiatic hordes."The German soldiers who behaved so brutally when they invaded the Soviet Union and the Soviet soldiers who retaliated were not monsters. Before the war they were farmers and clerks. These endless descriptions of mass murder and mass rape make one suspicious that there is more active here than just the extenuating circumstances of war.

The Japanese leaders had their own plans driven by this same racial madness.
"....a report completed in July 1943, officials in the Population and Race Section of the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry’s Research Bureau took as their premise that the Japanese were the ‘leading race’ of Asia, whose mission was to ‘liberate the billion people of Asia’ by planting as much Japanese ‘blood’ as possible in Asian soil....’We should actively improve our physical capacity eugenically by promoting such methods as mental and physical training as well as selective marriages’....each Japanese couple being encouraged to have around five children. This would provide the surplus of Japanese necessary to colonize and run what had been known since 1940 as The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere....Like the Nazis, the more radical theorists of Japanese imperialism saw racial ‘pollution’ as one of the gravest threats to their own innate superiority."There are many familiar examples of Japanese brutality that emerge from the War years. Perhaps the worst incident, and the one that puts them in the same league as Hitler with his death camps and Stalin with his Gulag, was what is referred to as "The Rape of Nanking." This was about a five week period in which Japanese soldiers murdered a quarter million Chinese civilians in the city of Nanking. This was not industrialized slaughter. This was an individual soldier murdering a helpless civilian repeated a quarter million times. The term "rape" is not used lightly. Thousands of Chinese women were literally raped to death. When asked by a journalist about the nature of these proceedings, a Japanese officer replied:
"Frankly speaking, you and I have diametrically different views of the Chinese. You may be dealing with them as human beings, but I regard them as swine. We can do anything to such creatures."The US and its allies were not innocent in their mode of waging war. Let us remember that the US willfully characterized Japanese as "sub-human" and, night after night, sent its bombers off, in good conscience, to kill hundreds of thousands of Japanese and German civilians.

The industrial scale murder carried out by the major players in the Second World War is somewhat familiar. The Japanese behavior in Nanking is an introduction to the parts of Ferguson’s tale that were the most disturbing. They relate to the acts of violence that individual human beings are capable of when the restraints of civilization are removed. These were not a few isolated incidents where one group suddenly turned on another. This is a response repeated over and over throughout Central and Eastern Europe. One is tempted to say that the humans behaved like animals, but animals do not torture their prey before they kill them—only humans are capable of that.
"The Ukraine was perhaps the most blood soaked place of all. In Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), egged on by the Germans, massacred between 60,000 and 80,000 Poles. Whole villages were wiped out, men beaten to death, women raped and mutilated, babies bayoneted....As another Pole recalled, ‘Stories abounded of Polish mothers being held by the Ukrainian Nationalists and forced to watch as their families were dismembered piece by piece; of pregnant women being eviscerated; of vivisected pregnant women having cats sewn into their bleeding abdomens; of Ukrainian husbands murdering their Polish wives; of Ukrainian wives murdering their Polish husbands; of Ukrainian fathers killing their own sons in order to prevent them from murdering their own Polish mothers; of sons of Polish-Ukrainian heritage being sawn in half because, the Nationalists said, they were half Polish; of children being strung up on household fences; of helpless infants being dashed against buildings or hurled into burning houses’."One is tempted to read these accounts and conclude that they must be exaggerations, but that would be a mistake. Ferguson recounts several such incidents, and we have ample evidence within our own lifetimes of mankind’s capability to commit such atrocities.

The author identifies the end of the "War of the World" with the stabilization of the two Koreas in 1953. At that point the world had attained a relatively stable configuration. The ethnic cleansing murderously attempted via the nation-empires during World War Two was followed by enforced migrations, to essentially the same effect, as part of the post-war cleanup process. Most states ended up with clearly defined ethnic majorities, or, at least, well-defined governance. This relatively stable phase was not without violence. The cold war ushered in a period of warfare by proxy in which the two sides supported opposing groups in various counties in what was usually a civil war between ethnic groups. The violence continued for the remainder of the century but it was localized.

The facility with which highly cultured countries could turn their expertise and technology to planning, and sometimes realizing, many millions of deaths is bewildering, shocking and frightening. However, it is the capability of individuals to convert from law-abiding citizens to ruthless murderers that leaves me the most unsettled. I am beginning to suspect that there must be some physiological response, perhaps buried in our reptilian brain that, in certain circumstances, removes all inhibitions to violence and encourages rape. And what is to keep those circumstances from being repeated?

Ferguson finishes his story on an ominous note. Ethnic clashes were minimized by an administrative form of ethnic cleansing. Massive population transfers occurred after the war in an attempt to make the European nations as ethnically homogenous as possible. The trends fostered by twenty-first century dynamics counter this homogeneity. The European countries all have declining populations and are experiencing large rates of immigration from the Muslim countries of North Africa. This is a potentially volatile mixture of cultures. Ethnic conflicts have already begun to emerge. We certainly have our share of economic and political volatility at the moment. Could history repeat itself?

Stay tuned.
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