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Short Notes On Books

Instead of writing a regular post on a single topic, I’m going to address a few topics from books I’ve been reading recently, in short note form.

Zhao Ziyang – Prisoner of the State – Secret Journals of China’s Former General Secretary

Two more things I learned about China in reading this book, beyond what I’d written in my first post on the book:

a) Despite the one-party system, there are differences of opinion – sometimes quite large – within the party. As far back as the 80s there were rightists and leftists within the party, though of course everyone paid lip service to Communism.

It’s fascinating, because when we think of a one-party system, we think of monolithic thought.

Ironically, China had (still has?) a “theoretical front” which comes up with the political theory justifications for whatever the Party needs to do.

Below the surface, the support for those theories varies widely.

b) The notion of a benevolent dictator leading a country has severe drawbacks, including politics being too personal.

To a large extent, modern China has been shaped by Deng Xiaoping’s personal sensitivity to insults explicit or implicit. The chief-commie-in-charge did many things well, but would have probably had anyone calling him ‘chief-commie-in-charge’ kicked out of the party and certainly removed from any leadership position.

That’s what catalyzed Hu Yaobang’s exit from the post of General Secretary in 1987.

Yaobang didn’t contradict a Hong Kong journalist clearly enough, when that journalist said Yaobang should take over leadership of the Central Military Committee.

(The underlying reason for Deng booting Hu was Hu’s lackluster support for Deng’s “anti-liberalization rhetoric,” meaning those calling for more democratic politics. As with most dictatorships, those in power are afraid of democracy because losing power is a big change and it may mean reprisals.)

That’s also what lead to Ziyang’s eventual removal, as people mislead Deng into thinking Ziyang had insulted him.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

The first and most important thing in getting organized is to

1) Write down all your projects in a central location. Add a miscellaneous item.

2) Associate with each of them a target outcome (except for misc.).

3) Categorize them according to how much work needs to get done.

4) Write out the exact next physical actions to make progress. For miscellaneous, list your random to-dos that cropped up recently. (E.g. Have daughter’s cough checked out. Rent tux for cousin’s wedding.)

5) Revisit this list and update it regularly. Checking things off or crossing them out is a nice mental reward for progress.

Cyber War by Richard Clarke

– One of the problems Clarke mentions regarding America’s military is its dependence on the web, which he calls netcentricity. This may seem dumb, but why not just disconnect your jetfighters from the net? Certainly GPS systems existed before and can continue to exist without it…

– Another issue is that American cyberspace is constantly being penetrated and loads of data being stolen. Why not seed the computer code with junk? And make that code easier to steal…

– Not only does it let you find out who stole it – e.g. a Russian tank playing the Star-Spangled Banner on its radio, at a pre-arranged date – but you can deliberately mislead others.

Posted in Books.


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