Monday, February 08, 2016

Superforecasting by Gardner and Tetlock (Book Review #6 of 2016)


Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

(This review appears on my personal blog, hence the personal nature of the review.) I work in a state government office responsible for forecasting large-dollar revenues and expenditures. Given the billions of dollars at stake, you would hope the profession would follow the advice of this book; I can assure you, taxpayer, that they rarely do. I have been to many econometrics and forecasting training seminars, as well as seminars put on by analysts at the Federal Reserve. These are put on by academics and practitioners and attended by forecasters in both government and private sector (energy, finance, real estate, etc.). I can say, sadly, the studies and Nobel-prize winning research underpinning this book are never mentioned.

I like this book because it's in the logical progression of books produced by several authors who are cited in the book, all of which were influential to me. Kahneman (who sits on the board of the Good Judgement Project), Taleb (and Mandelbroit), Silver, Thaler, and a couple books on chaos theory I read long ago (Ziauddin Sardar was one author), for examples. The book lays out several concepts those authors presented about cognitive biases, not being fooled by randomness, and thinking probabilistically that I already try to be aware of daily-- I try to be a Superforecaster. One of the authors (Tetlock) gives a good summary of the book in his interview with the Freakonomics podcast, and there is some depth on particular details of the book in an interview on Russ Roberts' EconTalk as well; I recommend listening.

This book is the result of The Good Judgment Project, an experiment funded by IARPA (ie: US National Intelligence) to see if crowdsourced forecasts of world events by thousands of closely-scrutinized/measured forecasters could beat "experts" with greater access to unclassified intelligence. IARPA's involvement follows an over 20-year study by Tetlock and others involving hundreds of researchers making tens of thousands of forecasts. The authors are studying the difference between accurate and inaccurate forecasters and looking for differences. The researchers were aware of random success and messed around with regrouping experimenters to see how the results would be affected. The Brier Score is used to evaluate success, and the book explains the concept well. IARPA was interested in short-term forecasts as opposed to long-term ones.

The book, alarmingly, opens with Tom Friedman as an example pundit/forecaster. (Friedman is of course laughable for his repeated "wait six months" comments repeatedly from 2003-2007 during the Iraq war, creating the term "Friedman unit" for an inconvenient amount of time to be proven right/wrong. The authors are nowhere near harsh enough with Friedman.) How did Friedman, who travels the Middle East and gets news translated from various languages, not forecast the Arab Spring? The difficulty of forecasting the Arab Spring is that nobody could. Conditions weren't really different than they had been in previous years, some of which saw pundits predicting upheaval to no result. The Tunisian man setting himself on fire and sparking protests that spread like wildfire is a bit like the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Gardner and Tetlock cite Lorenz's insight that events aren't easily predictable because phenomena (like weather) are non-linear and cannot be precisely modeled.

Kahneman's first and second systems are discussed (as explained in Thinking Fast and Slow). One of Kahneman's insights that sticks with me is that algorithms, mathematical models, will beat subjective judgements almost every time; even in cases they don't, they're usually only tied with subjective judgement in successes. There is a good summary of various cognitive biases that plague decision-makers and forecasters. In hindsight, we look for reasons for everything. It pains me to watch PBS Newshour and hear "the Dow dropped 5 points on disappointing earnings news." Really, millions of shares changed hands over the course of the day and one indicator drops a tiny fraction of a percentage and there is only one reason for it? The best forecasters teper intituion with caution.

One caution that I need to heed in my own job is to avoid adjectives. "Significant" or "serious" mean different things to different people. The most famous example of this in the book was the CIA's assessment of success at the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy interpreted the CIA's "fair chance" of success to mean >50%, when the CIA meant more like 30%. (I'm not sure the veracity of this story.) Leaders need to know probabilities and possible outcomes.

Brier scores are concerned with resolution and calibration. It is a bit like the mean squared error but in dealing with probabilities rather than specifically forecasted variables. A weatherman who forecasts a 60% chance of rain can be measured over time to see how often it rained. If it rains exactly 60% of the times that he predicts a 60% chance, his Brier score is a 0, the best possible, he is completely reliable. All of the "sabermetrics" found in sports these days always have me looking at probabilities of teams winning. The best team does not always win, it would win the majority of the time. College basketball and football don't have best-of-7 series, it's an n=1 deal. So, models may predict an overwhelming 75% chance of success for a team, which means it would still lose 25 out of 100-- and perhaps the next one. (This drives me nuts every March when people marvel about bracket predictions. Don't be fooled by randomness, the best team will rarely win a one-and-done tournament.)

The best forecasters are also Bayesian, they update their forecasts when new information comes available. Nate Silver has probably written the most about Bayesian statistics from a popular standpoint. The book notes that Silver got famous by calling each state's presidential votes, but that a "no change" prediction would have won you 48 out of 50 states, almost as good. Adjusting and updating rather than sticking to your original forecast is crucial. Try, fail, analyse, adjust, try again. Don't let noise sway you (though it's hard to determine signal from the noise). Research shows that even when people adjust their positions to new information, they do so less so than Bayes' theorem would say is optimal-- conservation bias. This is slightly better cognitive weakness to have than confirmation bias, where you selectively screen out information that contradicts what you think is true.

Blending forecasts, as Silver also does, leads to better results than just one forecast. Interestingly, the researchers culled the top 2% of forecasters after one year and grouped them together and found that their forecasts significantly improved-- they became even more "super." 30% of "superforecasters" regressed to the mean, suggesting their initial success was luck. The authors admit they have no way of knowing how many of the "superforecasters" are still successful by chance, but as time and more predictions are made it appears pretty certain that there is a significant difference among those at the top. This is not Bill Miller beating the S&P 500 for 10 years straight, this is more akin to someone beating the S&P 500 thousands of times.

The authors seem to steal language from Jim Collins-- foxes versus hedgehogs-- by assigning definitions. (Collins borrowed from the Greek Archilocus.) Hedgehogs are people who have only one idea. These may be the Nouriel Roubinis or the Jim Cramers of the world, everything is "recession" or "inflation." A broken clock is right twice a day but this is not very useful for predictions. Foxes, meanwhile, have a broader range of knowledge and are significantly better at forecasts--particularly short-term ones. Foxes were also more accurate in the confidence level they put on their forecasts.

Another key to forecasting is to be sure to get the "outside view," again espoused by Kahneman and Tversky. The infamous 2003 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and its WMD capabilities never had any "red teams" check it for accuracy or question the assumptions. "Red teams" of people who will push back on these points and find weaknesses in the argument are critical. The CIA did a better job of this vetting in finding Osama bin Laden and the authors give illustrations from the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Probability estimates were given by each CIA analyst and each key decision-maker read those probabilities differently. The authors contrast President Obama's decisions and Leon Panetta's. (One now-famous analyst had the guts to say "100%" when going around the table.) President Obama supposedly put the odds at 50-50 and gave the order to go in anyway, while Panetta allegedly did not want the risk. (I've read Panetta's account of this in his memoir, there are differences.)

One interesting aspect of the research is that a forecaster's "faith score," ie: how strongly he felt about God's intervention in the world, or fate, correlated negatively with accuracy. Basically, people who believe events happen for a reason or are foreordained make worse forecasters than those who chalk things up to randomness. The authors wonder "is misery the price of accuracy?" (As a Calvinist/Augustinian-oriented Christian who happens to make forecasts and judgments about those forecasts, I find I can be detached enough and be mostly aware of the cognitive biases I might succomb to. As it is, I'm always warning people not to be fooled by randomness. How I square this with believing that no molecule in the universe spins outside God's control is a difficult matter that I have not pinned down yet. I have listened to R.C. Sproul lectures on the subject of chance and lectures by Christian physicists. Sproul has a better grasp on it as a philosopher than myself. I have also not yet determined which theory of time I subscribe to, and it's all related.)

Interestingly, the book contains a decent critique of Taleb's thoughts on antifragility. I agree with them that it is "expensive" and "impractical" to insure that decisions are antifragile. Fragility is essentially the existence of fat tails-- events with really small probabilities but enormously bad outcomes. I fly on airplanes because it would be inconvenient not to, even though airplane travel clearly falls into the realm of the fat-tail event of the crash.

It's hard to make predictions on everything. "Not everything that can be counted counts, and some things that count can't be counted." In the end, the researchers beat IARPA's objectives, their forecasters were up to 60% more accurate answering questions that IARPA proposed than analysts who had access to more sensitive information. The book closes with a less admirable look at Tom Friedman. The authors argue that our nations' critical institutions must change how they forecast in order to improve outcomes and the lives for everyone at stake.

I give this book five stars out of five. It is a good illustration of how I try to problem-solve. I would give it to anyone who wants to know how I think.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Taking a Stand by Rand Paul (Book Review #5 of 2016)


Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America

I live in Kentucky where Rand Paul is my Senator. I'm writing this review after his 5% finish in the Iowa caucus, and I'm glad his Presidential star has long faded because I'd rather he build his brand as a Senator. This book raises important points about liberty, privacy, and public policy that are not being heard much on the political stage. He can further his positions best by remaining in the Senate. Ironically, Paul believes in the information conveyed by the free market but ignores his poor poll numbers that suggest very few people want him to be President.

I think it's important for all constituents to monitor their elected representatives' thoughts and policy preferences-- be an informed voter. I finished this book while the Kentucky General Assembly was in session, where one of Paul's policies, restoring voting rights for felons, was passed by the Legislature with support from the Governor (the measure failed last after Paul came to testify on its behalf). Paul touches on several aspects of Kentucky-related policy, the state is featured throughout the pages. Hence, I recommend it to all Kentuckians.

Paul begins with criticism of Obama's overreach by bypassing Congress with unconstitutional executive orders, including ones regarding legislation like the ACA, targeting at least one American citizen without a trial, etc. Much of this book seems written just after Paul's filibuster to get an answer from AG Holder regarding drone strikes. Later in the book, Paul makes his criticism bipartisan, where "Clinton stomped on the Third Amendment, Bush trampled the 4th."

The Senator then goes into his biography. His grandmother's occular degeneration inspired him to become an ophthalmologist. He tells of the courtship of his wife and their marriage in her Kentucky hometown. He even claims to have rooted for Kentucky in the 1992 Duke-UK game, even though he was a recent Duke alum at the time (and writes of how he enjoyed their championships, right). He notes the problem of red tape in professions like his own. He formed a group of ophthalmologists to form their own accreditation body to compete with the ruling one, which was passing regulations that would have held older doctors to more lenient standards than new doctors who were competing for their business. He tells of his charity work in Kentucky with the Lions Club, free surgeries, and trips to Guatemala.

The book has a strong libertarian defense of the price system, Paul quotes Von Mises and Hayek and explains the basics of The Fatal Conceit in layman's terms. Paul cites many books throughout this work, including several biographies and many works on the NSA. (I'm glad my Senator reads.) Paul applies the logic of The Fatal Conceit to America's healthcare system and Obamacare, writing that the ACA quells competition, discourages transparency, and encourages wide spread price controls via the Medicaid expansion. He seems to believe encouraging voluntary indigent care would have been better than Medicaid expansion.

As a Kentuckian, he's familiar with his forebear Senator Henry Clay. Paul notes several strengths and weaknesses of Clay, including his waffling on abolition. Paul considers Cassius Clay, Henry's abolitionist brother, to be the greater Kentuckian. He is clearly currying favor with the coal vote in Kentucky, hyping he "war on coal." He writes that "The coal industry is not destroying the natural beauty of Kentucky," writing that mountaintop clearing is not so bad and criticizing environmentalists: "They make it sound as if miners are laying waste to the land." Activists I know aren't critical of miners; they're critical of mines and infringement on the property rights of those who live downstream-- those whose groundwater gets contaminated with slurry and streams contaminated by lead. Nevertheless, Rand Paul proclaims himself an "actual tree hugger" who even composts.

Paul has a list of policy prescriptions as the basis of his Presidential campaign: Eliminate "corporate welfare," establish term limits, a balanced budget amendment, require an aloud reading of all bills in Congress (no more "we have to pass it to learn what's in it"), have computers draw districts to abolish gerrymandering, audit the Fed (the CFPB is also unaudited, why not both?), and basically abolish or dramatically scale back the NSA. Paul cites no fewer than four books on the NSA and hearkens back to the Church hearings. He writes that he "knows how many" people the CIA kills based on metadata, but it's classified so he can't say. There are "hundreds of thousands" of FISA warrants, and the government can essentially justify a warrant for anything. He writes that the media has been complicit in all the government overreach, there is sort of a media-industrial complex. He does not seem to fault the readers who implicity choose what the media publishes with what they click on or tune into.

Of government failures, Paul puts prisons at the top. Prisons are a "waste of money," and I am sympathetic to his argument that prisons are local boondoggle projects to get federal dollars and jobs into communities. This then justifies more laws being passed, or local law enforcement aiming for harsher sentences in order to fill those prisons. Paul would push to abolish mandatory minimums, push for greater expungement, and look at programs to better integrate prisoners back into society. Local police departments seem to care little about the Constitution and more about jobs. Rand Paul agrees with President Obama's alarm about the increased militarization of the police force, questioning why police need rifles with scopes that can kill from 400 yards away. Paul was one of the first from Washington to visit Ferguson, MO, he takes a swipe at other Congressional reps that didn't bother. He highlights much of the tension and unfairness related to race and relates it back to unfair housing policy and other ills. Civil asset forfeiture is another concern.

No Child Left Behind is the great unfunded mandate. Sen. Paul writes that the pubic school system in Washington, D.C. spends $18,000 per child per year with little to show for it. Paul would push to utilize MOOCs to provide free quality education to students, and school vouchers with school choice. Worse than education policy, perhaps, is the federal housing policy, which Paul blames for much of the segregation and racial tensions we see today.

What are some of Rand Paul's specific policy prescriptions? For places like Detroit and Eastern Kentucky, Paul would establish "economic freedom zones" where there would be a lower or eliminated personal income and payroll tax rate. Paul proposes a payroll tax of just 2% and an income tax of just 5% in any county with unemployment greater than 1.5 times the national rate. He proposes a flat 17% income tax across the board. He claims to be working with Sen. Boxer to lower the corporate repatriation tax and move it to the road fund to shore up US infrastructure. He also proposes ending foreign aid to any country who supports policies or groups that are hostile either to America or to Christianity. In this, he is targeting countries like Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq which get large amounts of military and humanitarian aid but tolerate or encourage open persecution. He gives many "war on Christianity with your tax dollars" examples, he seems to neglect persecution of Jews and other minorities in these same countries, but does take up the issue of women's rights, having met with one of the female survivors of Boko Haram kidnappings. Paul writes that he is "hesitant" to talk about his faith, but that he is a Christian who, like Dostoevsky, suffers from doubts about God's goodness while observing so much suffering in the world.

His foreign policy is largely centrist "neither an interventionist nor an isolationist, but a realist." He believes in a strong military but one that does not go searching for demons abroad to fight. Congress, as stipulated by the War Powers Act, would have to authorize any prolonged military engagement. Paul is a firm believer in free trade and believes in opening trade with Cuba, China, and Russia-- trade, but not aid. Paul blames Hillary Clinton for the Libyan debacle, generally, and Ambassador Steven's death, specifically. (Having read Bob Gates' memoir, I'd agree Hillary is to blame for much of the desire to engage in Libya without much strategy other than overthrow of Qaddafi.) Paul reminds the reader that Mike Mullen's own independent review blasted Hillary's management of the State Department. Paul writes of CIA gun running through Benghazi to Syrian rebels and potentially secret cover-up. Paul would definitely limit the militarization of foreign policy, citing Bob Gates on this point.

Paul also concludes with a defense of capitalism-- rich capitalists like Rockefeller and Bill Gates are the greatest humanitarians and environmentalists. Capitalism is no enemy of the environment. He even finds praise for Donald Trump's work in New York City projects, his environmental concern and improvement of property values. This finds odd placement in this book, given the forthcoming campaign as he was writing it.

In all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Paul explains his observations and policy prescriptions clearly. Whether you agree with them or not, they are at least intelligible. Kentuckians should read this book to understand who they have elected and where his priorities are.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese (Book Review #4 of 2016)


Coal: A Human History
I read this book after reading Jeff Goodell's Big Coal, which was written later. I find Freese's work to be much better, much more comprehensive, and overall better-written. It ranges from the discovery of coal burning in England by the Romans to the development of coal in Pennsylvania and Virginia in the US Colonies to the modern Chinese state's mass consumption of coal at the price of thousands of lives lost a year. Freese is an environmental lawyer and assistant Attorney General in Minnesota who became disturbed when she saw coal industry push-back against a study produced by the Minnesota legislature examining the environmental implications of its energy consumption. It surprises me that it is not rated more highly; the negative reviews seem to dislike either the scope or the environmentalist bent. Climate change was more controversial when this book was published (2004) than today.

In 1306, English coal was first burned by blacksmiths and artisans. The Romans had actually discovered that coal could make fires, but this knowledge was lost to the Dark Ages before being rediscovered. Interestingly, the Chinese were burning coal centuries before and had invented smelting by the 11th century, but the dynastic rulers' turning inward and barring foreign trade caused innovation to diminish and development was stunted. When King Henry broke from the Roman Catholic church he dissolved the monasteries on whose land coal deposits were found. When he sold them off, entrepreneurs developed the mines and competition pushed innovation. The author thoughtfully ponders the alternative history-- if coal hadn't been developed, England would have likely been deforested. It was already importing iron from abroad because it did not have enough necessary firewood to do the smelting. Foliage actually increased during the Industrial Revolution as coal replaced wood as the primary fuel. But with coal burning came the stench in London, which was increasingly distateful-- and coal was banned until the 1500s, when it then began to be justified both in rational terms and religious. The author quotes several British and American religious personalities who argued that coal was God's gift to the Anglo-Saxon to subdue the earth.

The air quality in London was terrible and there was growing concern and recorded fear that half of deaths were resulting from lung issues. Meanwhile, coal miners were developing their own culture of isolation and ruggedness that seems to be common among miners around the world. The author chronicles the importance of the invention of coke to smelt iron. Manchester became the first factory town where the plight of workers and the rise of labor movements would be found. Friedrich Engles penned his influential The Plight of the Working Class in England in 1845 after observing the factories in Machester for two years. Freese surmises that it was a mix of economic justification and willful ignorance that kept coal burning at great loss of life.
She quotes a Puritan pamphlet touting the wood fires, abundant trees, and fresh air as an incentive to move to the New World.

The first mine in the Colonies was probably 1750 in Virginia. It was too difficult to transport coal over land to the coast, but discoveries of anthracite coal deposits in Eastern Pennsylvania in the 1760s sparked an American industry. Canals were built, followed by railroads, followed by battles among the railroad barons. By 1860, Pennsylvania coal was fueling the industry of the North against the South, another "what if?"

Freese them moves quickly to modern issues both with mine safety and health, citing many studies on coal-related illnesses. She tours an American coal-fired plant and couments the processes and potential green technologies. Like Goodell's Big Coal, she chronicles the industry's campaign against global warming and education. Her statements on global warming were probably considered alarmist at the time, but in light of the 2016 Paris Accords they seem mainstream. She admirably visits both a coal-fired power plant in China, allowed in because they thought maybe she was a western investor, as well as coal mining areas where people actually live in caves (apparently tens of thousands of Chinese still live in caves with little development and uder threat of earthquake). In 1991, 10,000 Chinese allegedly died in coal mining. The Chinese have been pushing the smaller mines to consolidate, hoping to create an oligopoly that is easier to manage and keep from cheating on price controls.
Freese pens a brief but fascinating history of China's industrial revolution through the frame of coal. The last chapter in the book ponders an alternate history of the world without coal-- one in which there might be vast deforestation, maybe no labor movement, maybe no Union victory against slavery in the US, etc.

I found the book to be very educational and widely correct in its broad lens of development. Freese shows the benefits of coal better than Goodell, even though her pen is perhaps sharper in looking at its impact on global health. I give the book 4.5 stars out of 5, I recommend it. I would put it next to Daniel Yergin's The Quest (which looks at the global history of oil) on a bookshelf of someone interested in energy policy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Big Coal by Jeff Goodell (Book Review #3 of 2016)

Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
This is one author's attempt to frame the modern American coal industry explain where it has come from and ask where it is going. I read Barbara Freese's Coal: A Human History after this book and I highly recommend Freese's work over Goodell's. Freese is a better writer and also takes the time to look at the broader worldwide history of coal, beginning in England, and looks at the development of the entire U.S. economy touching coal. Both books have a strong bent of environmental concern.

Is there such a thing as clean coal or should we relegate coal to the dustbin of history? The "dirty secret" seems to be "no," or maybe the dirty secret is that the figures on coal abundance in America are misleading in that only 20-30% of what is within our borders is economically viable to mine. The "War on Coal" and environmental regulations are not the main reason for the industry's decline, they simply speed up what is already projected. Goodell writes that companies like Georgia Power spend a lot of money on material and seminars casting doubt on climate change in small, rural, red state areas to help portray any coal-bashing as mythological. I recently read Sen. Rand Paul's book where he makes the statement "The coal industry is not destroying the natural beauty of Kentucky." Even miners who rely on the mines for a living wouldn't go that far.

Big Coal's weakness is that it focuses solely on America and ignores the wider history of coal and its relationship to other energy markets. Some of the reviews on Amazon by environmentalists suggest that the author's optimism on geological CO2 storage and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle is misplaced or that he caved somehow to special interests. It is not a really hard-hitting expose, most of what is discussed is already common knowledge. There is criticism of Bush-Cheney energy policy and a retelling of the disappointment of Christine Todd Whitman. (Also claims the war in Iraq was good for the little energy companies in the US because of a greater desire for energy independence.) While the future may be in clean technologies, the author ignores any waste or untoward activity regarding taxpayer subsidies to green energy.

Goodell examines various ideas like carbon sequestration and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants. Goodell writes that IGCC plants cost only 20% more than a normal plant, so he chafes at industry complaints and lobbying over cost concerns and points to one in Tennessee which turned a profit without federal subsidy. However, others argue that the cost estimates are higher than what Goodell thought reliable, so the debate continues. There is not a great deal of depth is given to solar or other advancements; reading a magazine article could get you about as much.

For me, the most interesting chapter in the book focused on the role the monopolist railroad BNSF has in helping determine the price of coal. Transportation costs via BNSF are a major factor keeping Wyoming coal from having an even larger advantage over Appalachian coal. The railroad has a reputation for retaliating if coal companies sue or complain. The author also records the difficult life of railroad engineers and safety issues-- how many work long shifts and get little sleep; think of the horror stories you've heard of airlines and then increase it by a factor. Instead of carrying passengers, they carry toxic freight that can poison a community if it derails in the right spot.

The average American burns 20 pounds of coal a day. I'm writing just after 2015, when Americans finally got more electricity from natural gas than coal in the last several months (according to the US Energy Information Agency). Appalachian coal is less marketable as the glut of oil and natural gas have put downward pressure on prices. Coal in Montana, while dirtier and harder to remove mercury from, is much cheaper (and easier in terms of productivity) to mine than the bituminous Appalachian variety. The boom-bust cycle of coal mining here in Kentucky is currently in a bust, and unemployment rates in these regions are well above the national average; many are migrating West to find jobs in automobile plants in Kentucky which are, ironically, experiencing a boom due to low gasoline prices.

If there is a villain in the book, it's Massey Energy Chairman Don Blankenship. Even before the 2010 Big Branch disaster that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, Blankenship's firm had a reputation for cutting corners and being the "biggest bully in the sandbox" when it came to lobbying and litigation. Blankenship lived in the region where Massey operated and just miles from where groundwater became polluted by his company's coal slurry. Massey apparently paid to build his own water line to a neighboring town than rely on the local well water; he declined to help his neighbors do likewise. 

There are not actually very many secrets in this book. A decent primer on the state of the American coal industry circa 2007. 3 stars.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Kentucky Fried Pensions by Chris Tobe (Book Review #2 of 2016)


Kentucky Fried Pensions: Worse Than Detroit Edition

This book is the most important work of non-fiction that has never been edited. The horrible quality is why some don't take Tobe seriously, even though he is a CFA with a long record as a pension consultant. It is like reading a pre-release draft. There are paragraphs that are copied and pasted again in various locations and very little logical flow. There are misspellings, grammar mistakes, font changes, etc. Tobe claims his son worked on the book with him, I guess that makes him the editor; that is just sad-- is there not a serious publisher who would take on this work?

That this book has few reviews either on Amazon or Goodreads is disturbing. This book spells out the pension disaster that is the Kentucky Employees' Retirement System, of which few people outside of KY are even aware. Matt Taibbi with Rolling Stone and some other journalists have cited the work, but few others-- even locally. Tobe signed books in 2014 at my local library but it didn't even bother to shelve a copy.

At 17 percent (as of late 2015, probably worse now), Kentucky may have the worst-funded pension system in the U.S. and be the first to be unable to pay current obligations. Even if the KY General Assembly makes the actuarial required contributions (ARC) in the next few years, it will still face a cash-only position in a short time; it needs more than ARC. No one knows what will happen once it reaches that point. I write this about a week before newly-elected Governor Matt Bevin submits his first biennium budget, hopefully with a full-fledged plan toward funding the pensions and supporting efforts toward transparency.

This book explains how KERS got that way, how it is dragging the Counties' and Kentucky Teachers' pensions down with it, and what happened when people like Tobe tried to shine a light as disinfectant. It is a story of greed, corruption, stupidity, and complicity (complicity in that hundreds of thousands who rely on the KERS pension have never actually read what this book says or know how unlikely it is they will ever see the benefit they were promised).

In 2008, Tobe became the first person with investment experience or financial certification ever to serve on the investments committee of KERS. He was secretly voted out in 2009 when he started poking around, only to be reinstated by legislative mandate in 2010. He witnessed ad vocally opposed KERS' hiring of a currency manager with no large-scale investment experience and a non-sensical strategy (which lost the system $125 million) and a start-up hedge fund, both under shady pretenses, without consulting the independent investment consultants that KERS pays for, and with large payouts to placement agents. The use of placement agents and their cost to the system are what Tobe is the most angry about. Crit Luallen, the State Auditor, defended KERS' use of placement agents even while other retirement systems have been banning their use. Key members of the Board were given vacations and trips to England all while retirees' money was being poorly invested in an untransparent manner.

"The KRS culture has even corrupted something as basic as custodial services. The lack of competitive bidding through RFP's is a major cause. KRS has investment policies in place to prevent corruption, but they break them whenever they want. I pointed out a number of investment policy violations...but they have been totally ignored by KRS--enabled by an auditor and attorney general who refuse to enforce them" (p. 99).

Whenever competent people, such as future State Budget Director Jane Driskell, get elected to board positions where they can ask questions, KRS cites or stretches rules to send them packing. Where there are rules, or even laws, limiting the terms of board members, KRS finds a way to keep them on.

For example, a law preventing KERS board members to run for a fourth or fifth turn was nullified by an opinion by Attorney General Jack Conway in 2009. Those board members were friendly with a particular hedge fund, which also employed a Conway campaign advisor (he was running for Senate against Rand Paul). Two months after the AG's decision, $100,000 from a Wall Street fundraiser featuring various pension fund vendors was deposited in his campaign fund (p. 111). Tobe expresses his frustration at informing the Attorney General of various violations only to be ignored or rebuffed. Draw your own conclusions. 

Judging from statements made about Detroit's ailing retirement system, and Puerto Rico's bond default, Republicans controlling Congress are vocally unwilling to bail out states, territories, or localities. (Detroit's pension was a problem not because it hadn't been fully funded, unlike Kentucky, but because the city could no longer afford to make the full ARC.) Future Governor Bevin (misspelled "Beavin") only makes a cameo in the book as Sen. Mitch McConnell's more conservative Senate primary opponent who would seemingly put pressure on McConnell not to bail out the KERS.

The Kentucky Teachers are in better shape, but have also suffered from the chronic underfunding as the Kentucky legislature found away against its constitutional requirement to pass a balanced budget by borrowing from its pension. But KTRS has not made the same unwise investment decisions or hired as many shady characters. "If KRS had allowed their neighbours at KTRS to manage its portfolio, the system would have been more than $420 million richer in the 2013 fiscal year alone....KTRS uses low-cost index funds while KRS sends $50 millio in fees from no-bid contracts to its Wall Street hedge fund and private equity pals."

The actuarially assumed 7.75% rate of return seems fantasy. Even when the fund sees high returns and the General Assembly makes the full ARC (as in 2014) it goes backwards because the drain on its assets from the increasing number of retirees is so great. I'm told the assets are being sold at firesale prices in order to have enough cash on hand. Now that the current Governor has put a hiring freeze in place, there are few new hires to pay into the system to counter the recent increase in retirees with the exit of the previous Governor's administration. I'm sure the next analysis will show it further on the brink and risk further downgrades of Kentucky's debt, especially as legislators are still floating the idea of issuing bonds to make ARC payments. Anything under 80% funded is considered a "death spiral," and Kentucky is well past that. What happens next?

Tobe offers a couple solutions, both of which are unlikely. The first would be for a court to rule that the pension must adhere to the same laws as private pensions, which would bring much more transparency and discipline. Even then, Kentucky would still have to pony up the money for the full ARC. The other solution is just to pay the full ARC for the next 30 years. This would require $1 billion in additional contributions each year and likely $1 billion in tax increases to fund it. Add a slighly less amount for the Kentucky Teachers and you have Kentucky's current fiscal picture.

In a week's time, the newly elected Republican Governor will drop his budget likely filled with dramatic austerity measures into the General Assembly. Given the debts incurred by decades of mismanagement, this should not surprise anyone, but it will because very few people have read this book. There is vague outrage, but few pitchforks in Frankfort demanding change at KRS. The KY Senate just passed a bill that would bring greater transparency to the system, but it stands little chance of passage in the House. People are afraid of the light. As illustrated in the book on Kentucky feuds that I reviewed just prior to this one, evil prevails when the majority stays silent.

3 stars due to the unedited quality.

Kentucky's Famous Feuds & Tragedies by Charles G. Mutzenberg (Book Review #1 of 2016)

Kentucky's Famous Feuds and Tragedies
by Charles G. Mutzenberg

This book was a second edition published in 1916 and is public domain now. I am glad Roger Melin at librivox discovered it and read it for a free audio download.

I work for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and much of what I do revolves around the January-April period where the General Assembly comes to Frankfort to do business. I read books related to Kentucky and its governance during this period to help me put historical context on the milieu before me. (Sadly, most of the legislators and staff do not seem to engage in the same practice.) Night Comes to the Cumberlands is still the must-read when it comes to Appalachia, and this book can only provide supporting evidence of what Harry Caudill gave his own history about. I recommend Kentucky's Famous Feuds as further reading into the unique culture that is Appalachia-- the second edition had to be written because feuds were still going on and needed updating less than a century ago. Despite having a relatively small population and contributing among the least of the regions to economic output, Appalachia has continued to maintain an outsized influence on the state and its politics. I live in a county that sees a lot of migration from Eastern Kentucky and it also helps to understand the culture my neighbors are coming from.

Mutzenberg begins his retelling of feud stories by giving credit to the "culture of fighting the Indians" in the late 1700s for toughening up frontiersmen and making them quick to go to arms. I disagree. Having read one good biography of Daniel Boone, I would note that endemic to that period of Kentucky was the fear of being called a "coward" or "yellow," and many good men were lost to Shawnee warriors by doing something stupid to prove they were not cowards-- but blood feuds seem rare among the earliest settlers. Boone and company were not really mountain men, most settled far away from the mountains where they could farm-- mountain territories were settled a bit later by those who had no means to go elsewhere.

I find it interesting that Mutzenberg writes that psychologists would have to determine the causes that feuds turning into wars are more common in Appalachia than elsewhere; psychology was still a relatively young field at the time, and psychologists are still writing about the phenomenon. Caudill would write later about the dearth of churches in the Appalachian counties, it seems to me that there may have been little to bind the community together under a common ethic. Yo'av Karny wrote a book called The Highlanders which focuses on the hundreds of ethnicities in the Caucasus mountains. Karny notes, however, that the culture he describes is not dissimilar from the culture described by other authors in the Alps, the Balkans, the mountains of Spain, or of Appalachia. Having lived in such places, I agree, mountain people are very similar-- particularly in the area of family/tribalism and blood feuds.

It is interesting, however, that these particular feuds took place at a similar time, in the late 1880s. There is not much speculation on that point, other than coal interests suddenly allowing some to profit at the expense of others; perhaps that was enough. Perhaps it was a perfect storm of Civil War grievances, coal interests, nationwide economic depression, etc. Or perhaps the author simply leaves other feuds out and has better records on these.

I agree with Mutzenberg's assessment that it is largely the failure of law enforcement that bears the blame for violence growing to such a state as no one was safe. The failure of justice by the state caused people to take matters into their own hands, exactly what J.S. Mill argued in regards to capital punishment. Multiple times, Governor Buckner (who has an incredible biography) refuses to send state troops to enforce the law because it is on the locals to show the backbone to enforce it. It helps to understand that Kentucky's counties are small-- there are 120 of them. Most of the feuds remarkably did not spill across county lines, even though a short distance away. This suggests something about the difference in laws or enforcement between those counties mattered.

Mutzenberg also thinks like an economist, noting that there is no correlation between wet and dry counties and their feudal tendencies. One county where feuds are common may be dry in order to prevent disturbances believed to be caused by drunkenness whereas the neighboring county might be "wet" and see no such feuds. Alcohol, however, did play a major role in local elections; the candidate who gave or promised the most booze to those who voted for him would win. (This is why many Kentucky localities still have laws about alcohol sales on election day.)

Most of the feuds are, at their heart, very uninteresting. An unpaid debt, a drunken mistake, etc. that simply spirals out of control as others are enlisted into the fight-- often with money. These get complicated when an aggrieved party is a relative of a judge or a sheriff, or maybe the judge and sheriff are on opposing sides of the feud.

The first feud covered is the Hatfield-McCoy war between Pike Co. and West Virginia. The second is the lesser-known "Rowan County War," or the Tolliver-Martin-Logan vendetta, from 1884-1887 but the roots of which were Civil War-related. In Rowan, the battle lines were drawn Republican-Democrat, and the state militia had to be dispatched to maintain order on court days. 20 people died and the county was almost dissolved. 

The third feud is the French-Eversole War in Perry County from 1887-1894, which killed several dozen people. The root of the particular feud lay in the land-grab of coal interests and concern by the locals; although Metzenberg also gives the romantic version of the story. But the law in Perry Co. appeared to be weak before the feud. Governor Buckner, a Confederate veteran, declined to authorize state troops when he received a letter from the County Judge that it was impossible to hold court. Buckner put the onus on the locals to organize law and order and did not want to set precedents. However, the list of untried crimes was growing and eventually the Adjutant General sent troops in as it became clear locals had lost control. Mutzenberg cites sources that the state troops witnessed both poverty and incest among their mountain fellow Kentuckians. The "Battle of Hazard" took place during court days in 1889 and the court house was burned down. After a sort of martial law allowed court proceedings in 1890, the feud appeared to die until certain actors returned to the county in 1894 and were summarily killed. The feud kept existing under the surface and the final murder was committed in 1913.

The last feuds covered are that of Breathitt County which gave it its nickname "Bloody Breathitt." These feuds lasted for 40 years. In Breathitt, as in Perry County, Governor Buckner again declined to send troops even though it was impossible to hold court; the terse correspondence between judge and Governor are reprinted by Mutzenberg. Again, troops are eventually sent to Jackson.

Mutzenberg concludes with thoughts about patriotism-- those who don't obey the law are not loyal and not patriots. The ultimate cause of feuds in these counties, Mutzenberg concludes, is an unwillingness of the majority of people to stand up and do something-- a tyranny of a minority. This, Mutzenberg concludes, is un-American and "unpatriotic." I think there is a good lesson here about the importance of the rule of law in property right enforcement. I give this work 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Inside a U.S. Embassy by Shawn Dorman (Book Review #105 of 2015)


Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work, All-New Third Edition of the Essential Guide to the Foreign Service
This is my final review of books from 2015.

The State Department helps produce this book with the American Foreign Service Association as a marketing/recruitment piece for those interested in becoming Foreign Service Officers. It contains stories by FSOs in the different "cones" - Consular, Economic, Management, Political, or Public Diplomacy. Something like 25,000 people apply annually to join the 14,000 member FSO workforce around the world; last year the State Department had money or need to hire fewer than 300. For many aspirants, reading this book is as close as they will come to achieving their dream.

The book begins with an introduction to the Foreign Service and a bit of its history. Part I is a collection of profiles of specific people in embassies around the world, including Ambassadors, USAID reps, entry-level FSOs, and even locally-hired employees. Part II explains the process of becoming an FSO and being deployed, and features some day-in-the-life profiles giving examples of work. Part III is a collection of "one day journals, "day-in-the-life" stories written by FSOs highlighting their everyday routines including problems they've solve, challenges they face, and routine boredom they deal with. It gives details about their family life (many spouses work or volunteer for the embassy), workout routines, deployment history, etc. Part IV contains tales from the field -- interesting stories written by FSOs highlighting stresses (disasters and terrorist attacks), problems they solve, and people they meet.

The most interesting story is by an FSO in Macedonia in 1999, serving under Christopher Hill (later a negotiator with North Korea and Ambassador to Iraq).
"One summer midnight in the Balkans, an American ambassador walked into a (Kosovar Albanian) refugee camp to try to quell a riot and save the lives of Roma (gypsy) refugees under attack. He succeeded, and went home to bed. It wasn’t diplomacy around big tables in grand rooms. The U.S. embassy had no responsibility to intervene, and few who were not there ever heard about it. But the actions of Ambassador Christopher Hill highlight the power of the individual Foreign Service officer’s moral and physical courage...We never talked much about that night again—each day at Embassy Skopje brought too many new problems and issues connected with the Kosovo crisis. But I’ve come to realize that night was characteristic of much of our work in the Foreign Service: We confront so many unknowns, we have so little time, and— on scales large and small—the consequences of our actions and inactions can be so extraordinarily profound."

I give the book 4.5 stars out of 5. A must-read if you're interested in the Foreign Service. The individual day-in-the-life stories get a bit repetitive or dry, as they should-- this is real life.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Six Days of War by Michael B. Oren (Book Review #104 of 2015)

Six Days of War
I read this book after reading Ari Shavit's My Promised Land and Izuddin' Abuelaish's I Shall Not Hate, as well as Paul Johnson's A History of the Jews. 1967 seems to be such a pivotal moment both in Israeli and Arab psyche and had wider implications in the perspective of the Cold War. I agree with those who call "lazy" the pundits who claim the rise of Islamic fundamentalism finds its roots in the disappointment of 1967. As usual, reality is more complicated than that. One  resource website I found while writing this review is www.sixdaywar.org, a good place to go for the quick Israeli-leaning narrative; Oren's work simply adds the military and political details and personalities. It's one of the highest-rated books I've read on any topic, especially one as widely covered as the Six Day War.

I'm 36, and it's not uncommon to hear people younger than me (and maybe some older) think gloom and doom about the world today, particularly the situation in the Middle East. "What has the world come to?" "Surely this is the end times." Nuclear Iran, ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Syrian civil war, Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Saudi and Iranian proxy war in Yemen, etc. But let's examine 1967:
The world divided between communism and markets, both armed with nuclear weapons and just a few years away from various almost blowing up the world. America in the midst of a liberal social revolution while being increasingly mired in its own proxy war called Vietnam. Every nation surrounding Israel refusing to recognize any right to existence, armed and eager to invade. Much more of the world in poverty and under despotism than today.

The first half of the book is the long spring build-up to the 1967 war, which is dominated by actions by Abdul Nasser's Egypt. We forget (or are ignorant) today that Haffez Al Assad and Nasser forged an alliance unifying Egypt and Syria into one nation. Egypt had been fighting battles in Yemen. The Arab League was bent mostly on the destruction of Israel and if they had dreams of a pan-Arab region it was always at risk from internal squabbles. Nasser held contempt for Jordan after Jordanian troops refused to help his battalion, leading to a glorious defeat and his elevation as a national hero. Nasser held Jordan's King Hussein in disdain, and Jordan seriously feared (as Nasser threatened) Egyptian troops pushing through Israel straight into Amman. Hussein had already survived multiple coup attempts he saw Nasser's hand behind.

Oren does a good job helping the reader feel the building tension. The Israelis were genuinely concerned about being wiped off the map by the overwhelming 500,000-strong Arab force, and Prime Minister / Defense Minister Levi Eshkol walked a fine line between hawks calling for pre-emptive strikes and a desire for Western support by not being the belligerent. The Jewish diaspora held protest rallies at universities and raised funds and other support for the besieged country, increasingly cut off from trade after the Egyptians blockaded the Straits of Tiran. Meanwhile, the Soviets helped the Syrians design a battle plan (shades of 2014-2015) and were eagerly shadowing any US ships in the region; tensions were high. Lyndon Johnson advised the Israelis to be patient and not be the ones to strike first-- at least not until they absolutely had to. This would give the US some clout in the UN, Israel had to be recognized as the non-belligerent, something Soviet propaganda would contradict. Johnson, while now known as a complex figure and often racist in conversation, had many Jewish advisors in his White House. "They consider the war to be like the Alamo and I don't aspire to be like Santa Anna." The US proposed the "Regatta Plan" to sail a convoy of international ships through the Straits of Tiran (at the Gulf of Aqaba) which would demonstrate if Egyptian belligerence if prevented, but could also risk a much wider war if a NATO ship was fired upon. Johnson was not prepared to come to Israel's aid in anything other than diplomacy, hoping a wider war could be avoided or, at the least, that the Arabs would fire first and the UN could intervene quickly. 

Egypt poured troops into the Sinai while Syria did likewise on the Golan Heights, both expelling UN observers or preventing their access to locations where they could observe the buildup. Iraq and Jordan began mobilizing their own forces sensing the impending attack. Chief of Staff (and future Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin had to take a temporary leave of absence after exhaustion from stress. As Israel finally activated reservists, they were condemned by the USSR as war-mongerers. On May 30, the Jordanians signed a defense pact that gave the Egyptian army command of Jordanian forces while reopening PLO offices, the PLO would also play a part in the battle. Moshe Dayan was named Israeli Defense Minister and folk hero Menachem Begin was also brought into the Cabinet. Arab propaganda across all nations prepared their people for a glorious retaking of Palestine.

On June 4, the Israeli cabinet voted to launch a pre-emptive strike to end any Arab hopes of victory and force a quick UN resolution. The greatest emphasis in Israeli strategy was given to the Egyptian front in the hopes of crippling their military and convincing the Jordanians to the fight was futile. Air superiority is the key to any modern war. The most telling statistic in the book was that Israel had trained to develop an eight minute turnaround between a jet's landing and its refueling, rearming, and being back in the sky. Compare that to the reported eight hour turnaround for the Egyptian Air Force and it's not hard to do the math. Israel also had scouted any gaps in the Egyptian radar system.

On the morning of June 5, after dawn patrols and when Egyptian leaders were stuck in traffic, Israel flew almost its entire air force over the Mediterranean then back behind Egyptian lines from the west to strike Egyptian air bases. Jordan had cabled Egypt warning of the approaching planes but a remarkable miscommunication about the channel or updating the Jordanian codes to be used between the forces Egypt to entirely miss the warning. The Israelis were able to fly 144 sorties in 100 minutes in a strategy where waves of jets would be able to attack in a non-stop rotation.  

Israeli tanks and paratroopers poured into Sinai simultaneously, a costly but successful campaign. Some Israeli mistakes led to casualties, but the Israeli forces were able to push through to the Suez Canal where Israeli commanders had forbidden anyone to cross. Egypt lied via its state-run media about dramatic Israeli defeat and Egyptian forces pressing on to Jerusalem, which sowed greater confusion both among Egyptian army and the other Arab states. The author writes of pledges from around the world of volunteers to the Egyptian cause that came pouring in after June 5. The Egyptians ordered Jordanian forces to begin attacking while claiming they had destroyed 75% of the Israeli air force in the opening hours, when the opposite was true!

Given the information by the Egyptians, including a claim that Egypt was launching its ground invasion of Israel, the Jordanians rebuffed Israeli attempts to push a cease-fire with its sometimes amiable neighbor Jordan, Israel was promising no attacks on Jordan if Jordan would do likewise. Israel initially held off counterattacking the Jordanian forces who were inflicting casualties on the Israeli side. Suddenly, Jordan's army, weak compared to Egypt's, began fighting the most fiercely and took up positions formerly held by UN peacekeepers. Meanwhile, the Iraqi air force seemed lax and uneager to join the fray and moved slowly before mobilizing-- remarkable given the long buildup and knowledge that the war was imminent.

Israel had remarkable luck or skill in destroying Jordan's small air force while it was on the ground refueling. The late-mobilizing Syrians and Iraqis also quickly lost any air superiority to Israeli jets. But Jordanian and Syrian artillery poised a threat, particularly to the airbases and civilian settlements. Jewish portions of Jerusalem that were surrounded by Arabs were also threatened. Having advantage in the air, the Israelis had success counterattacking near Jerusalem with a small, outnumbered infantry force on the ground while their air force punished any incoming reinforcements. The Israeli cabinet was ecstatic to learn that by the morning of June 6, recapturing the Temple Mount with the rest of Jerusalem was now a distinct possibility before a UN ceasefire could be imposed. Oren retells the story of the ecstasy of Israeli troops able to again pray at their holiest site. After heavy fighting against other Jordanian forces, Jordan was out of the fight on June 7 and a UN-brokered truce was signed.

By now, the Arab media spread false rumors of British and US planes and involvement, with Egypt blaming their embarrassment on intervention by Western imperialist forces backing the zionists. Despite no actual US involvement, 34 Americans on the USS Liberty died when Israeli forces mistook it for an Egyptian destroyer on June 8 (for which Israel later paid reparations to victims). With their Arab allies losing badly, the US feared Soviet involvement in order to avoid the humiliation of their supported allies' defeat.

Syrian troops were well-trained and with a Syrian advantage as most of Israel's army and air force was focused on the Sinai. But as Egypt retreated and Jordan dropped out, forces were quickly shifted to the Syrian front. Israel gained air superiority over Syrian on June 6, and after Syria violated a cease-fire on June 8, Israel mobilized its forces for the attack. After a fierce tank battle, Israel captured more territory, including Masada, while the Syrians tried to get the USSR more directly involved. A decision to announce the impending fall of Damascus in the media in order to ensure Soviet protection (again, think Russia moving to protect Assad in 2015) had the reverse effect of Syrian retreat and surrender, giving the Golan Heights to Israeli forces. Fighting officially ended on June 10. Some of the best fighting, interestingly, seemed to have been done by PLO operatives in already-occupied territories.

One of the bizarre effects of the war was to cause Abdul Nasser to withdraw from all contact for three days after June 5 when he learned his army had been humiliated. After he appeared on national television to announce the truth of the defeat, blaming US and British armed intervention and Israel for attacking "from the West," he resigned. People took to the streets in a panic, calling for Nasser to return (which of course he did).

As documented well by Ari Shavit, in the aftermath of the war Jews were rapidly expelled from all over the Arab territories. Confidence in Arab regimes was perhaps tainted, but not shattered. In 1973 everyone would again make a go at it before suffering similar humiliation and no liberation of occupied territories. Meanwhile, Israel would be left with a long legacy of occupation and abuse of Palestinians. Interestingly, the author does not mention much about the nuclear question. As Shavit points out, the Israelis had long since completed a nuclear reactor with the aid of France, and likely had nuclear arms by 1967. If Tel Aviv had been in danger of falling, might Israel have started a nuclear war?

An aftermath not mentioned is the increasing religiosity around the Israeli victory, which Shavit writes came soon after the insecurity 1973 Yom Kippur war. Zionism began in the late 1800s as a secular movement and most remained that way through the 1950s. But the capture of Jerusalem and a determination through archaeology and religious history to show historic claims to land began to justify continued occupation of the Arab territories, despite international condemnation. The UN passed Resolution 242 in 1968, which basically left Jewish ownership of now-occupied Jerusalem in question, but it increasingly became central to Jewish nation-state identity. It was vague enough to be interpreted a dozen different ways as in a "yet to be determined." In the West, many evangelicals see Israel's victories in 1948 and 1967 as miraculous fulfilment of biblical prophecy. The Six Day War seems to be straight out of the Hebrew Bible-- impossible victory with few casualties despite overwhelming odds. While there is widespread theological disagreement about Israel's claim to the land, given their rejection of the Messiah, many influential evangelical politicians (Michelle Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, etc.) point to 1967 as divine intervention that America would be wise not to ignore. As I read this book, I was reminded that there were always many fortunate coincidences that a much more organized military is able to take advantage of in all of Israel's wars (from what I've read regarding the Maccabean revolution, 1948, the Yom Kippur War, etc.). 500,000 troops, 5,000 tanks, 1,000 fighter planes from seven different countries, plus the pledge of support from the USSR was able to bring nothing but humiliating defense and further loss of Arab territory. The Israelis lost hundreds while the Arabs officially lost thousands. Relevant or not, I'm still exploring covenentalist theology versus dispensationalist in an attempt to understand events in my own mind.

I would like to read King Hussein's personal memoir of the war which he published later.
I give this book 4 stars out of 5. Highly readable, great with details. However, it makes me wonder what the author missed.