The “Why” of Personal Archives

Last week a friend and I were debating whether I had lost my mind, archiving articles I had read and enjoyed either in Evernote or as PDFs on my hard drive. His point was simple, and one I have heard made often. “Why should I archive stuff on my hard drive,” he asked. “If I ever want it again, it will be there for me with a quick search on Google.”

His words struck me today as I was going back through a folder of articles about writing that I had culled from the Internet. I wanted to move those onto Instapaper so I could read them en masse in advance of jumping into my first book project, after which I would archive the articles to Evernote and toss the PDFs

So I input the links conveniently saved at the bottom of each pdf page, expecting to call up these articles on the web, just as I had found them originally.

No such luck. Fully half of the articles were either gone, behind paywalls, or only available through a paid archiving service.

Was I surprised? Yes.

See, what really got me started on info-hoarding was my desire to be able to refer to a library of electronic resources even if the Chinese government should pull the plug on access to my preferred sites. Paranoid? Perhaps. But I have lived in China long enough to remember the days when The New York Times, The Washington Post, and dozens of other publications of record were blocked and there was no consistent means around the blockage. The bad old days may be gone, but nobody who understands China is betting that they are gone forever.

I had never really conceived that the information would go away courtesy of the nice people who created it. But it has. Some I have lost because I no longer pay the freight of subscriptions (FT wants $260 per year, Economist $130), some have firewalls (many Department of Defense websites do not seem to like Chinese IP addresses), some have moved (like my International Herald Tribune links) and some are really just gone.

The point of all of this is simple: we provide a lot of links to some interesting (and, for the moment, free) books and book-length works. Take advantage of the price and availability while you can: there is no guarantee, in this age where The Great Internet Enclosure Movement meets the Digital Commons, that any of it will be free for long.

PLAAF: Shaking the Heavens and Splitting the Earth

j-10a seen at zhuhai airshow

Image via Wikipedia

Shaking the Heavens and Splitting the Earth is a new RAND Corporation monograph that describes how the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has reached a turning point in its development. No longer a motley collection of weed-grown bases and Soviet hardware, the force is beginning to transform itself into a thoroughly modern air arm.

Keeping in mind that funding for this effort came from a U.S. Air Force that is determined to justify the skyrocketing costs of its new air-superiority fighters, the book offers important food for thought. China faces an expensive effort in modernizing both its air force and its navy at the same time, and the challenge of creating the training and doctrine to mould the new hardware into an effective fighting force should not be underestimated.

A good read for followers of Chinese defense policy.


Daily Post 02/22/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

UN Security Council Enlargement and US Interests

This excellent Council on Foreign Relations report by Kara McDonald and Stewart Patrick takes on another frequently-overlooked but critical aspect of U.S. foreign policy: the planned enlargement of the UN Security Council. The authors urge the Obama administration to step away from America’s neutral stance on the issue and begin urging the process in a direction in keeping with the best interests of the United States.

Congress and National Security

Kay King from the Council on Foreign Relations looks at the effect of Congressional gridlock on foreign and national security policy in this quick read from the CFR. New media and the longer election cycles have placed a higher political premium on pithy sound bytes and have eroded reflective debate. Fixing the problems won’t be easy, but King has some recommendations on where to start.

Sustaining Key Skills in the UK Military Aircraft Industry

The Ministry of Defense of the United Kingdom commissioned the RAND Corporation in California to help Her Majesty’s Government figure out how, in the face of the growing dominance of US and European aerospace manufacturers, Britain can retain the human infrastructure for a healthy military aircraft industry. This short but pointed book outlines a solution.

This concern is not limited to the UK. British designers have played an important role in the creation of generations of highly successful military fixed-wing aircraft, and the loss of this capability would be a grievous loss to the industry as a whole.

Indeed, what fascinated me most about this book is that worries about “skills retention” in the face of long-cycle industry downsizing extends to a series of industries in the US, Japan, and elsewhere. As this AP article notes:

Centerline Machining & Grinding in Hobart, Wis., which makes custom parts for manufacturers in the paper industry, plans to add to its staff of 26. But it’s struggling to find the skilled tradesmen it needs for jobs paying $18 to $25 an hour.

CEO Sara Dietzen laments that local vocational schools cut back training courses in recent years, having concluded that the future for manufacturing was dim. Not from her view it isn’t. For her company, output is all about speed.

Applying that background, this is a fascinating read, and far more relevant than its limited title suggests.

Rethinking Operations for a Two-speed World

In a new special report, Wharton and the Boston Consulting Group explore how companies need to figure out how to operate in a world where their core markets are developing at radically different paces.

This is an interesting thesis, and will be of varied value depending on the industry, but for any company in the internet and technology businesses trying to bridge the BRIC countries on the one hand and the developed economies on the West on the other, this is an essential read.

My only quibble with the thesis would be the question “is this a two speed world or ten speed world.” Certainly China and the UK are now growing at two different speeds. On the other hand it could also be argued that the pace of market development varies widely among the BRIC countries, to say nothing of the differences among the BRICs, the West, and Africa.

In short, Wharton is taking the first steps in an important direction with this report, helping companies rethink and restructure to address this emerging challenge of globalization. Expect to see more debate along these lines in the future.

The Iraq Effect: The Middle East After the Iraq War

More compelling Chinese New Year reading.

In this excellent analysis, researchers have pieced together what remains the most important untold story out of Operation Iraqi Freedom: American arms and blood have opened the door for opportunities for Russia and China.

This study raises some critical questions about who should be policing the global system – America, or an international consortium.

The First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR): Leading Through Civilian Power

Taking a page from the Department of Defense, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on her department to produce a document that lays out State’s purpose and blueprint for advancing U.S. interests abroad. The result is this document, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. Not only is this the first attempt at putting to paper the “soft” side of the Obama doctrine, it is probably the first time in living memory that the Department of State has actually articulated its worldview and its perceived place in Pax Americana.

An essential read for anyone watching U.S. foreign policy, and a necessary companion to the Quadrennial Defense Review.

A Question of Balance: Political Context and Military Aspects of the China-Taiwan Dispute

In A Question of Balance, David Shlapak and his co-authors have tried to evaluate the nature of the military balance between China’s People’s Liberation Army and the armed forces on Taiwan.

There is great value in going beyond the rhetoric that implies that Taiwan’s technically superior arsenal and its professionalized military would be at least a transactional match for the PLA, and it is worth ignoring the recent thawing between Beijing and Taipei when doing so. These are still two heavily armed opponents staring at each other across a narrow body of water, increased communication notwithstanding, and a slight shift in the wind could make this a global flash point again.

The authors are clearly on the side of Taiwan, the seeming underdog in such a conflict, and recognize the brutal choices that would confront a US President when deciding whether and how to come to Taiwan’s aid if the island were attacked. The book makes for fascinating reading, regardless of where you stand on the matter of Taiwan.

China’s International Behavior: Activism, Opportunism, and Diversification

Without plunging too deeply into the byzantine intricacies of the making of Chinese foreign policy, in China’s International Behavior (RAND, 2009) Evan Medeiros has written an excellent primer covering how China’s worldview is evolving in light of its own rise and international events. Based in Washington, DC with the RAND Corporation, Dr. Medeiros is particularly sensitive to the gap between how China is perceived within the Beltway and the reality in China itself, and he writes to attempt to bridge that gap.

His book is thus interesting to China hands new and old because even as he encapsulates China’s diplomatic Weltanschauung and its resulting approach to global affairs, he provides a twixt-the-lines look at the vast gaps in the appreciation American policymakers have of their new competitor/partner/rival in Asia.

Highly recommended and topical reading for this Chinese New Year holiday, whether you have time off or not.

BTW, if you are a subscriber to Foreign Affairs, Medeiros co-authored this superb essay, “China’s New Diplomacy” in 2003. Very, very worth the read, underscoring that the hints of China’s new global assertiveness were evident eight years ago. So, one wonders, why are any of us surprised?