Archive for the ‘History’ Category

classics as ‘other cultures’

Monday, April 8th, 2019
There are a lot of cultures very different from America [meaning the USA]. China was and is a civilization perhaps more distant from us than Rome.  And learning its language and culture is likely to be more instrumentally useful for most students in world where that nation is rising to challenge the United States in commerce and power.
John O. McGinnis, “How Classicists Undermine the Case for Classics“, Law & Liberty blog, 5 April 2019.
The author is Professor of Constitutional Law at Northwestern University. His book Accelerating Democracy was published by Princeton University Press in 2012.

communication technologies, from Gutenberg to Google

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

“We must root out printing or printing will root us out,” the Vicar of Croydon told his 16th century parishioners. The cleric was responding to Gutenberg’s discovery not just as a standalone technology, but as an information network. His lament differs little from what we hear about the effects of the internet today.

In my new book, “From Gutenberg to Google,” I examine the two great network revolutions of the past—the aforementioned printing press in the 15th century, as well as the combination of the railroad and telegraph in the 19th century—to put in historical perspective the confusion and uncertainty brought about by the internet today.

Tom Wheeler, “With new technology challenges, remember we’ve been here before“, Brookings Brief, 22 February 2019.

With new technology challenges, remember we’ve been here before

The full blog is much longer. Mr Wheeler (born 1946) is an American businessman and politician. He was Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from November 2013 to January 2017. His book was published this month by the Brookings Institution Press.

When I read Mr Wheeler’s blog today, I recalled that I drafted a paper on the same subject, for the International Symposium on Network Economy and Economic Governance, Beijing, China, 19-20 April 2001. A slightly revised, post-conference version was published in the Journal of Information Science, 28 (2) 2002, pp. 89–96, and is freely available here and here.

Here is the abstract of my paper:

The development of what one might call ‘modern’ systems of information and communication began with the Gutenberg printing press in the fifteenth century, and progressed through the pre-paid postal system, electric telegraph and telephone in the nineteenth century, radio and television broadcasting in the twentieth century, and most recently the internet. This essay focuses on the response of governments to these innovations, beginning with the printing press.

The title of the paper is “Government policies toward information and communication technologies: a historical perspective”.

Priests, Mounties and poverty in indigenous Canada

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Maria Campbell’s memoir, Halfbreed, is short (157 pages) and free-flowing. It is a shocking, true account of what it is like to grow up poor and mixed-race in Canada. The book today is read almost universally by school children in Canada. (more…)

Adam Smith for our troubled times

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

An old joke is that a classical book is one that everyone cites, but no-one reads. By this measure, each of the two books that Adam Smith wrote are classics. If his followers today took time to read then, they would disagree with much of what he wrote. (more…)

intellectual property theft by developing countries

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Dean Baker has posted a blog that nicely complements yesterday’s TdJ on “the rise of China“.

[I]t was largely the United States that has set the rules in this story and it is demanding ever more money for items protected by its patent and copyright monopolies. We do this through our control of trade arrangements, most importantly the WTO …. These rules were about forcing developing countries to pay more money to companies like Pfizer and Microsoft for everything from drugs and medical equipment to seeds and software. ….
(more…)

John Bolton’s wartime experience

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

John Bolton, Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, is known to be a keen advocate of war, with a dislike for all things international, including the United Nations. He has never met a war that he didn’t like. I was curious to see whether he had any military experience, so looked up his biography in Wikipedia. I discovered that, like his former boss, George W. Bush, he avoided service in Vietnam by enlisting in the National Guard. He served in the Maryland National Guard for four years, then in the US Army Reserve for two additional years. In those days, without political connections it was difficult to join the National Guard, because that was a way to avoid the draft, and service in Vietnam. (more…)

the rise of China

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

FT columnist Martin Wolf has a long essay in today’s Financial Times on China as an emerging superpower and the potential for destructive clashes with the USA. It is balanced and well-written, exceeding even the high standards I have come to expect from Martin. (more…)

the leadership styles of JFK, GW Bush and Donald Trump

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Today, while searching for information on varied topics, I came across an old interview with Ted Sorensen, a lawyer who was speechwriter for and close adviser to President John F. Kennedy. This segment caught my attention. (more…)

crony capitalism with Chinese characteristics

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

FT columnist Martin Wolf warns us of the danger of China’s return to strongman rule, even though the framework “strange though it may sound (and indeed is) — communist capitalism”.

Mr Xi has discarded the attempt by Deng Xiaoping to institutionalise checks on the power of China’s leaders — itself a reaction to the wild excesses of the era of Mao Zedong. What is re-emerging is strongman rule — a concentration of power in the hands of one man. It now looks a bit like “Putinism with Chinese characteristics”.

Martin Wolf, “Xi’s power grab means China is vulnerable to the whims of one man“, Financial Times, 28 February 2018 (gated paywall).

the high risk of nuclear conflict

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

This frightens me.

[The US, according to a draft document seen by the New York Times, is] on the point of revising its defence policy — to allow the use of nuclear weapons … in response to “attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons”. ….

[This] demonstrates how seriously the US is now taking the threat of cyber warfare; and is clearly designed to massively increase America’s deterrence capacity.

At the same time, however, the policy shift carries considerable risks. By lowering the bar to the first use of nuclear weapons, it makes nuclear war more thinkable. The dangers of such a move are increased because concerns about nuclear proliferation are mounting — with North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme making rapid progress, and both Pakistan and Russia incorporating the early use of nuclear weapons into their war-fighting plans.

Gideon Rachman, “Nuclear weapons are a risky defence against cyber attacks“, Financial Times, 19 February 2017 (gated paywall).