Saturday, June 2, 2012

eBook Review: The Three Conjectures

Richard Fernandez, The Three Conjectures

Product Details

  • File Size: 111 KB
  • Print Length: 32 pages
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006SOCAO6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars (1 customer review)
  • Price: $1.99 (Warning:  I have seen the price vary from $1.99 to $3.99.)
1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  No misspellings.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Neither; non-fiction.
This book wasted my time. It is a collection of essays taken from Mr Fernandez's blog. It came late to the party, trumpeted old ideas as new, and added nothing to the discussion

2.2. What I did not like: Everything in the book.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:  Sogenannte Harvard scholars.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No foul language but I would not want to expose children -- or adults -- to this ostentatious, factually inaccurate, logically flawed fraud of a collection.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No. No. Never.

2.6. Other:
con·jec·ture (kən-jĕkchər) n.
1. Opinion or judgment based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence; guesswork.
2. An opinion or conclusion based on guesswork.
-- The American Heritage Dictionary
      Mr Fernandez was born in the Phillipines but holds Australian citizenship. He earned a master's degree in public policy from Harvard.
     The book is a collection of Mr Fernandez's blog posts as essays. The book lacks a Table of Contents. In order of appearance, the essays are (cumulative percentage of the work give in parentheses)
1) The Judge of All the Earth, [no date] (50%);
2) The Bomb Rises Again, May 6, 2003 (58%);
3) The Three Conjectures, September 19, 2003 (82%);
4) Abu Ghraib, May 7, 2004 (95%); and
5) The Fable, August 17, 2006 (100%).
     'The Judge of All the Earth' is an apologia for all who act without certainty; that is, everyone, but especially American presidents. The instances cited include FDR greenlighting the Manhattan Project, Truman choosing to drop atomic bombs on Japan, and George W. Bush invading Iraq on the weight of the evidence that Hussein was building nasty weapons. In Mr Fernandez's words, "[t]he challenge humanity confronts in the second decade of the 21st century is the same as Abraham's: to find a way to survive and still remain righteous."
     'The Bomb Rises Again' bemoans the fact that nuclear proliferation makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely. Here Mr Fernandez makes a factual error. He avers that the US Navy mounted nuclear warheads on SAMs. For his source, he cites the New York Times, a newspaper whose contact with factual accuracy is only tangential and fleeting.
     'The Three Conjectures' lays out Mr Fernandez's case that acquiring nuclear weapons will destroy Islam. The three conjectures are
1) Terrorism has lowered the nuclear threshold,
2) Attaining WMDs will destroy Islam, and
3) The war on terror is the 'Golden Hour' -- the final chance.
His argument is that radical Moslems will use nukes the first chance they get. The West -- read, the US -- in retaliation will slag the Moslem world. Moslems will ceast to exist. 
     'The Three Conjectures' also contains another error. It states "[t]he terrorist intent to destroy the United States . . . has been a given since September 11." Perhaps that is true for Mr Fernandez. I assure you that US intelligence services were aware of terrorist intent much, much earlier, and the people of New York City were put on notice of it the morning of 26 February 1993 when terrorists exploded a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center.
     'Abu Ghraib' is a mishmash of a tale that grieves the loss of morality in war.
     'The Fable' is Mr Fernandez's vision of how Osama bin Laden will triumph even in death, because by destroying Islam the West -- read, the US -- will lose its soul. (When Mr Fernandez wrote this piece bin Laden lived.)

     After reading this work, I had the feeling that I had been regaled with a cocktail-party theory by a self-indulgent, self-righteous intellectual who marshaled for evidence only dubious newspaper reports. All I lacked was a stiff drink to enable me to swallow it. But the theory was delivered glibly with ten-dollar words and phrases that mimic erudition. This gloss of linguistic fluency fools other ignorant intellectuals who get their facts from NYT headlines and count themselves informed. Worse, the work is arrogant. It implies that these thoughts are new with it.
     Pthu! I would rather have a beer and hear a plumber describe his day clearing a blocked sewer.

     Let me tell you how the real world works.
     Thirty years ago, as a junior USAF officer, I sat in a seminar which had as its purpose to get us -- junior officers -- to think the unthinkable: when do we use nuclear weapons. Part of thinking the unthinkable was to figure out what the Russians were thinking, because they, too, had nukes.
     Why did the Air Force spend considerable time and money having all its junior officers study this question? Because the Air Force knew that some few of those junior officers would rise to become generals who had to think the unthinkable, and the Air Force wanted those generals to have the experience of thinking the unthinkable before that heavy responsibility fell on them. Folks, that's wisdom.
     The nuclear use equation reduces to two variables: capability and intent. We were told in the seminar that we had to assume that Russian nukes would be 100% effective; that is, all rockets would launch, all guidance would work correctly, and all warheads would detonate. All that was left was intent.
     In the seminar, I argued that the 100% effectiveness assumption was flawed. It was based on lack of evidence. That lack pointed up a hole in our intel. I also argued that the Russians were rational and had no intent to use nukes. Why? I can't tell you. You don't have the security clearance required to hear my reasons or the need to know.
     When the Soviet Union collapsed, I was doing performance analyses for the USAF Satellite Control Network. I was sitting with a contractor and a young captain over coffee discussing the fall of The Evil Empire. The contractor lamented its passing, because, he said, it would make his job and the jobs of his coworkers superfluous. I disagreed.
     The fall of the Soviet Union meant that the menace of nuclear exchange lessened dramatically. We could send a large fraction of our boomers (SSBNs) to the pens and keep them there. We could decommission some older ICBM wings and strategic bomber wings. We could call troops home from NATO, maybe stand down an armored division. But we needed more, not less, intel.
     When the USSR lived the threat to the US was monolithic. We only had to consider one enemy. Our intel focused on him. But with the fall of the Soviet Union the threat fractured. Now we had to look everywhere, and that would require more intel resources and more intel personnel. The threat was no longer existential for the nation, but the opportunity for multiple Pearl Harbor incidents exploded.
     The captain nodded. He got my message. Unfortunately, Congress did not.

     The Three Conjectures deduces that use of nuclear weapons boils down to capability and intent, something I knew thirty years ago. The Soviets had the capability but not the intent. Islamic terrorists, the book says, have the intent but not the capability. I am confident that, as I studied the problem thirty years ago, there are young men in blue today who study today's problem. And tomorrow's problems. And, unlike Harvard intellectuals, they will not be conflicted between the choice of unleashing Hell and the loss of their 'righteousness'. They will do what they have sworn to do: They will defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
     Sleep well tonight. You don't have to think the unthinkable. There are professional soldiers who have done that, do that, and will do that so you don't have to. And those soldiers do not abrogate their duty to the conjectures of Harvard intellectuals.


2.7. Links:  Richard Fernandez at The Belmont Club

2.8. Buy the book:  The Three Conjectures

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