Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos

!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2008/rashid-chaos.jpg! A good overview of Pakistan and Afghan history and American involvement – and a very bleak assessment of where they’re headed. The gist of the book is that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are hovering somewhere on the point of no return, descending into chaos and bringing the whole region down with them. It’s very well researched, and the author really knows what he’s talking about – there is a lot more in the book –

It’s a brilliant, encyclopedic summary of the current situation in Pakistan. The book, just like his last book, is extremely timely, as region after region in Pakistan falls to the Taliban, and the government pulls back further and further.

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Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons

!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2008/deception.jpg! The book traces Pakistan’s nuclear history, wherein Pakistan with Chinese, Saudi, American and North Korean help (and a whole lot of private contractors) developed numerous types of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

The book is really interesting, not because of the exact details of how Pakistan developed the bomb, but the insight it gives on how Pakistan really operates. It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who kicked of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, famously declaring “we will eat grass if we have to, but we will make the bomb”. For the next 20 years this statement was literally and figuratively true – everything took a backseat was tens of billions of dollars were poured into two competing nuclear labs.

This is the most depressing account of Pakistani/American political history I’ve read. The old maxim “the end justifies the means” was the one and only motto of the Pakistan Army & the Republican Party, which ran the country for the next 30 years, sucking in practically every dollar of foreign aid and diverting it to nuclear weapons development and regular arms procurement. They had to let parts of the billions of dollars pouring in for the Afghan war though, under American pressure, but development aid money was mostly fully diverted to the bomb.

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A Perilous Course: US Strategy and Assistance to Pakistan

bq.. For American assistance to be effective in a large-aid-recipient state such as Pakistan, it must go beyond transactional, quid pro quo deals and address the country’s main drivers of conflict, instability and extremism. Despite more than $10 billion in U.S. assistance since September 11, 2001, distrust, dissatisfaction and unrealistic expectations continue to undermine the official goal of developing a strong, strategic and enduring partnership.

Pakistan’s main drivers of conflict, instability and extremism include: a culture of impunity and injustice, discontent in the provinces, ethnic and sectarian tensions, a rapidly growing and urbanizing youth population, and extremist views among traditional allies. Militant groups exploit these underlying conditions to recruit followers on the basis of a narrative of shared suffering and injustice and the failure of the state to provide stability or prosperity. “Link”:http://www.csis.org/index.php?option=com_csis_pubs&task=view&id=4147

p. A short summary of the report: America is not getting it’s desired bang for it’s 10 billion plus bucks and they are upset. The reports view of Pakistan is damned bleak.

Randy Paush’s last lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

bq. Almost all of us have childhood dreams: for example, being an astronaut, or making movies or video games for a living. … all » Sadly, most people don’t achieve theirs, and I think that’s a shame. I had several specific childhood dreams, and I’ve actually achieved most of them. More importantly, I have found ways, in particular the creation (with Don Marinelli), of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (etc.cmu.edu), of helping many young people actually *achieve* their childhood dreams. This talk will discuss how I achieved my childhood dreams (being in zero gravity, designing theme park rides for Disney, and a few others), and will contain realistic advice on how *you* can live your life so that you can make your childhood dreams come true, too.

Vanity Fair on the American Media

Vanity Fair, in a rare introspective piece on the many failings of the American media:

bq. Al Gore couldn’t believe his eyes: as the 2000 election heated up, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other top news outlets kept going after him, with misquotes (“I invented the Internet”), distortions (that he lied about being the inspiration for Love Story), and strangely off-the-mark needling, while pundits such as Maureen Dowd appeared to be charmed by his rival, George W. Bush. For the first time, Gore and his family talk about the effect of the press attacks on his campaign–and about his future plans–to the author, who finds that many in the media are re-assessing their 2000 coverage. “#”:http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/10/gore200710?printable=true&currentPage=all

The article is long winded, so here is the short summary: Seven long years after the 2000 elections, parts of the American media are finally looking back at their coverage of the 2000 elections, and starting to realize that it was a bit biased towards the republican side.

By attacking Gore so viciously, often with made up quotes and stories, they helped to swing the elections away from him. _As Jonathan Alter points out, “Overall, the press was harder on Gore than it was on Bush…. The consequences of [that] in such a close election were terrifying.”_

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US Assistance to Pakistan since 9/11

money_army.jpg

Interesting article on US Assistance to the Pakistan Army: “When $10 billion is not enough: Rethinking US strategy towards Pakistan”:http://www.twq.com/07spring/docs/07spring_cohen-chollet.pdf. The picture is taken from the article, and aptly sums up the situation. Over 90% of official US assistance to Pakistan has gone to the Pakistan Army, and more interestingly, the article estimates that besides the official figure over $10 billion of classified US money has also gone to the Pakistan Army! That’s over $20 billion dollars from 9/11 to now – a heck lot of money, most of which has been spent on high tech toys for the army.

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Creationist Nonsense

bq. When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution’s truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere–except in the public imagination.

Scientific American: 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense: :: *Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don’t hold up.* Based on the Bible, the universe was created about “six thousand and 9 years ago”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher-Lightfoot_Calendar, so it stands to reason that evolution isn’t possible for so many people the world over.

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Fast Food Nation

“!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2006/fastfoodnation.jpg!”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060938455/002-4895661-3006400?v=glance&n=283155 An eye opening book on what lies behind the shiny facade of most fast food restaurants today. The book pokes deep inside the modern American meat packing industry, which the race for the ever cheaper and larger McMeal has turned into a monstrosity. Micheal Pollan’s “brilliant interview on modern meat”:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html covers the some of the basics talked about in the book very well. A key factoid: *By the time a modern American beef cow is six months old, it has seen its last blade of grass for the rest of its life.* Industrialized meat farming is more akin to medival europe back in the dark ages than something out of this day and age.

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Charlie Wilson’s War

“!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2006/charlieswar.jpg!”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0871138549/002-4289368-6803240?v=glance&n=283155 This is the book on how the US got involved in Afghanistan supporting Islamic militants against the Soviets. Highly recommended. George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War is the story of how one man, U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson, almost single-handedly launched the several billion dollar CIA/Saudi operation in Afghanistan to force out the occupying Soviets, without a vote in Congress, and without the clear approval of the President. What started as barely a nuisance campaign turned into the greatest covert operation in CIA history.

Besides the Afghan war, this book gives a brilliant insight on how the US government works. Those from the third world will find themselves at home with all the congressional wheelings and dealings. The amazing thing is the amount of power US congressmen and senators have. Thirdworld senators are barely able to push around a few million dollars, while their US equivalents are dealing in the billions.

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An Inconvenient Truth

“!(big)http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2006/An_Inconvenient_Truth.jpg 490×135 (The Early Days)!”:http://www.climatecrisis.net/

A film on the dangers of global warming. It’s basically Al Gore presenting a very slick slideshow, but there is no more important subject. It’s ‘illuminating, fascinating and sometimes frightening.’:http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/reviews/2006-05-23-inconvenient-truth_x.htm:

bq.. Gore’s point is a simple one: We have a moral imperative, as individuals and as a nation, to do something about global warming, the dramatic, precipitous rise of world temperatures in the atmosphere, on land and in bodies of water, caused by greenhouse gases.

Gore has a gift for making scientific data digestible, understandable and intriguing. He is so consumed by the subject and impassioned in his efforts to change minds that it is hard not to get caught up in his fervor.

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