Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Book Review: The Next Decade


It seems that Friedman is an author whom if you read one of his book, you have read all. In the review of The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, I deposed that he has missed a number of key factors which will affect the next 100 years. In this book, I was expecting to read a proper analysis of the leading up to the current financial situation and what are the policy options for USA in the next decade. I am equally disappointed by his stubborn obsession of American domination as his book I last reviewed.

I disagree with his reasoning that the current financial situation in the America is part of a financial cycle. I agree with the view that it is the accumulation of no real wage growth while corporations reported soaring profits since 1980's. [ref] The middle class of USA has been collapsing. [ref] USA Government debt is about 100% GDP, almost as high as the one during the second world war [ref] The American's industrial base has almost completely off-shored to China. As I have noted in my last review, the intellectual capital of USA is also declining.

IMF predicts that China economy will overtake USA by 2016 which is within the scope of this book and Friedman just seemed unaware of this and continued to paddle that China will collapse due to internal conflict. [ref] Is that selective data gathering?

Politically, USA is corrupted. Bribery is legalized as lobbying. Friedman's notion that USA is an empire is ironically head-on. The government is working for a few privileged. The current style of western democracy has only been around for a few hundred years. When political leaders are elected based on popularity rather than demonstrated ability to govern and decision-making, one would wonder if the political system evangelized by USA is reaching its limits.

The next decade is an important decade for humanity. There are difficult decisions to be made, especially for the environment and climate - which is very much linked. Water, food, energy, climate, displacement of people are some of issues I was looking forward to.

Friedman did mention about water. He deposited that there are plenty, except not directly usable by human. The scarcity is fresh water and desalination is energy intensive and costly. Here are two possible projects USA government would have chosen to support. A few years ago, there was a project in Eritrea at which sea water was used to farm shrimps and fish. After that, the nutrient rich water is used to feed salt loving plants such as salicornia and then mangroves before returning to sea. Salicornia can by consumed by human, animals and/or converted into bio fuel. Unfortunately, the project was terminated by political reasons. If USA is to be a force for good, her political capital could have been used to save these projects. [ref] The other is seawater greenhouse as a possible solution for food and fresh water. [ref] While it is not too late to rescue the former project and provide support for the latter, if USA leaders, however, continue to think in line as described by Friedman, she could miss a golden opportunity and the world would be a little bit worse off.

Production of oil looks like have peaked in middle of the first decade of 21st century, a fact acknowledged by Friedman. If that is true, the price of oil will only go up. If USA economy can magically recovered in the next few years, the competition of oil from China and USA will drive the price to the roof, creating mayhem to a lot of people. Switching the transportation system to renewable energy source will need at least a decade. Switching baseline electricity load to renewable sources is also decades ahead. These infrastructures takes time to change. The geopolitical issue resulted from this is very dangerous if according to Freidman. Bumpy roads ahead, both for governments and people!

Food production is tightly linked to climate change. As the earth's average temperature is expected to continue to rise, extreme weather events will make food production unpredictable. Food price fluctuations would have significant political implications around the world - not only to USA.

If the consuming economy continues, one of the key resource in electronics and battery is rare earth elements. China has the largest reserve of them and produces almost 90% of all the rare earth elements in 2000. [ref] Again Friedman failed to see the importance of the control of these elements in a technological age and the implication to the USA economy.

When a country has been living out of her means for an extended time, when her political system is showing signs of weakness, when her economy is in trouble, when she is spending disproportionately in military rather than upgrading old and mal-functioning infrastructure, when intellectual capital is declining (comparatively), when health care cost is double that of the other nations' average without significant benefit, when a significant portion of the population is plagued by obesity, heart disease and/or diabetes, and a changing climate, declining energy source are in the near future, a world domination mentality would only led to a more dramatic decline. A policy based on military means to secure the scarce resources would only led to conflict. As there are many nations with nuclear capability, such a policy is very dangerous if not outright infeasible.

To be fair to Freidman, this book is about geopolitics and he was trying to look into a crystal ball. By missing several key factors, his future can only be wrong. He is also driving his predictions by a USA centric, dominating role overtune. For the sake of humanity, I hope there is no USA political leaders who will take his future as policy guides.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Book Review: The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century


With the advantage of writing this review 10% into the 21st century, I can point out the important factors that Friedman has missed in this book.

Friedman does not show an understanding of the Chinese culture which is rising rapidly and hence has misjudged the implication of a powerful China. He is absolutely correct that China was more like an isolated island, with difficult to penetrate borders on all sides. That is no longer true in light of modern technology. In 1421, before Columbus set sail to 'discover' the world, Chinese fleet, led by ZhengHe has already visited Middle East and Eastern Africa. The size of the ocean going junks used by ZhengHe built over 60 years earlier towered over Columbus ships. [see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI1AmTa-bV0] Until about 500 years ago, China was the world's leading economy and power.

China has been conquered by foreign powers twice in her entire history. First at Yuan Dynasty which lasted less that 100 years and the second time at Qing Dynasty [1644-1911 CE] - the last dynasty before the new China was born. The result is that the conquerors were melted into the Chinese culture and became Chinese.

The above two snippets of history tell a story which Friedman has completely missed.

1. Being geographically isolated in the past, China has to be self-sufficient in order to survive. China could not depend on conquering other people to steal wealth. For an agricultural society to remain viable, a stable society was a prerequisite. As such, Chinese is a peace loving culture. When she has the power to conquer the world, she chose not to do so.
2. Being self sufficient, it was tempting for the Emperors to close the border and focused mainly on internal affairs. Of course the closing of trade in the last 500 years proved to be disastrous for China. Chinese, thus, has learnt a lesson which is still painfully remembered. A country needs a sufficient strong defense in order to protect herself. That's the main motivation why Mao insisted on China becoming a nuclear nation.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell described a difference between rice culture and wheat culture. The southern China is a rice culture and that hard working moral has permeated throughout China. The discipline and efficiency of achievement as demonstrated by the 2008 Olympics, for instance, reflects the collective will of the Chinese people.

Can China continue to develop her economy? Friedman did not think so. I think that is his first mistake. Yes, dynasties came and gone. But China has remained as a unity. As Kissinger, correctly observed, China is more a culture than a nation state. It will not fragment as Friedman suggested.

Chinese economy started at a very low level. Until her per capital income is in par with leading economy, her economic growth is easy. She does not need to make mistakes which are typical at the "cutting edge". When Chinese per capital income is in par with USA, her economy would be 4 times larger than USA - just by size of the population. Recent global financial crisis indicates that USA economic strength is not at powerful as Friedman would have wished.

With a powerful peace loving nation in place, the world would be safer. Unless some leaders in a country are insane, waging war against a nuclear nation is MAD. There has been no world war since the invention of nuclear weapons speaks volume to the danger of major conflict. USA's navy power could not be used to force her will onto China, nor be used to limit Chinese economic grow.

Just by the size of the population, China is producing more PhDs in Science and engineering than USA. A report in 2002 predicts that by 2010, China will have more PhD graduating than USA. [source: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200210/21/eng20021021_105393.shtml] The consistent relatively poor performance of USA students in all educational measures points to a weakening intellectual capacity of USA. The best students in USA choose to study the soft easy subjects such as commerce and law. The best students in China choose to study the hard sciences. The intellectual strength of China will only increase while the same cannot be said to USA. The limiting factor to Chinese growth is resources and energy. The lower living standard in China means Chinese manufacturing can afford to pay more for the scarce resources than USA. In a world where military might could not be used to steal other nations' resources, China will compete on economic terms with USA for energy and resources.

China is the largest foreign creditor of the USA government. Chinese strategic dumping of USA Treasury bonds into the market can influence the interest rate at which USA government can borrow money. If there is any leverage a government can put on another, it would be China having an upper hand than the USA.

21st century will not be an easy century. The climate change will have significant impact on relationships between nations. Friedman has completely ignored this factor in this book. The world has already warmed by 0.8 deg C and there is a 1.6 deg C locked in even if by a miracle every country on this planet wake up tomorrow morning and take the most serious steps to fight climate change - which is not likely to happen. There will be large population displacement and serious "natural" disasters due to the effect of extreme climate. Economic resources will be stretched.

The declining of fossil fuel will also significantly affect the economic development. China has put renewable energy source as her main strategic goal and determined to be the leading manufacturer of renewable energy. Independence of fossil fuel has been a national agenda since President Carter. The domestic politics of USA has been delaying any action in reducing USA's dependence on oil. That's not a sign of a power nation.

From history point, USA is young, very young. In the wild, death at young age is not uncommon. Being young does not imply powerful.

If USA policy is informed by Friedman, she will be in very dangerous water. USA needs to learn from UK how to survive in a world dominated by power other than USA.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Role-based E-learning: A Guide to Designing and Moderating Online Role Plays (Paperback)

A new book on role-based e-learning, from your truely, co-authored with Sandra Wills and Elyssebth Leigh will be available from Amazon from December 2010. From the Introduction:

This book offers an overview of a form of blended e-learning which provides students with authentic learning experiences through role-based activities. It describes a particular approach to learning design that places learners in roles requiring them to collaborate and communicate about actions and decisions within authentic scenarios created in online environments. The chapters offer advice, information and examples for educators moving role play into blended e-learning contexts and to those who are unfamiliar with role play. The book demonstrates in a practical ways how role-based e-learning builds on the pedagogical power of role play in face to face situations and shows how to add value to e-learning via wholly online and/or blended contexts.
Whilst this Introduction defines online role play in contrast to the more familiar mode of face to face role play, Chapter 1 Games, simulations and role plays positions this role-based e-learning alongside recognised learning designs such as problem-based learning and case-based learning and illustrates its connections with other online modes such as simulations and games. In addition it provides a more in-depth look at the educational rationale for role-based e-learning.
The three authors each have over twenty years experience with designing and researching role-based e-learning allowing them to describe examples of how role plays have developed over that period and been adapted as e-learning evolved. Altogether the book offers a comprehensive and non-technical introduction which is heavily informed by practice as well as research.

The book cites twenty-five examples, contributed by a network of international colleagues (listed in Appendix A). Examples cover a range of disciplines including: Education, Engineering, International Relations, Media, Journalism, Public Relations, Communications, Business, Environment, Health, Law, Language, Economics, History, Politics, and Geography. Many of these examples are described individually in Chapter 2 Examples of role-based e-learning to illustrate the possible similarities and differences and to compare the approaches of different role play designers from across the world.

Examples in Chapter 2 are referred to throughout the book and are labelled Example 2.1, Example 2.2 etc. In addition each chapter contains one or two examples relevant to the chapter’s theme and these are labelled according to their chapter number. The full description of Example 3.1 occurs in Chapter 3 but may be referenced in brief elsewhere in the book by citing its label (Example 3.1) in case the reader needs the full description again.

Appendix B contains a set of reflective questions for readers to use in reviewing each chapter. If this book is being used as a textbook in an education or design course, this appendix might lay the groundwork for group work and online discussion between learners. Appendix C describes a free role play available for educators to try with their classes.

A large part of the book is a practical guide to designing online role plays. Quality learning outcomes from this e-learning design depend on practical design choices. These decisions about design are overviewed at the conclusion of Chapter 2 and then described in detail in the next three chapters: Chapter 3 Designing online role plays, Chapter 4 Designing the problem and Chapter 5 Designing the roles and rules.

The design decisions that impact assessment are explored in Chapter 8 Assessing learning in online role play. Not all online role play designs require participants to be assessed however the learning design does provide unique opportunities to integrate powerful and authentic assessment tasks.

Meanwhile design decisions that affect the implementation and running of online role plays are explored in two chapters: Chapter 6 Moderating online role play and Chapter 7 Platforms for online role play.

A significant feature of role-based e-learning is that role play is a co-created learning activity. Once the educator has designed the initial scenario and roles, the remainder of the learning activity is further developed by the participants via typed dialogue in discussion forums. The success of this partnership between the learners and educators depends heavily on the experience and skill of the person running it, in this book called the Moderator.

Although cost-saving is not a primary reason for advocating online role play, co-creation also means that role-based learning can often be a low-cost educational technology, as outlined in Chapter 7, Platforms for online role play. Whilst the pioneering development of online role play has been text-based, and there are many advantages in this, online role play is now poised to engage with the exciting potential of Web 2.0 applications which support easy sharing of user-generated, multimedia content.

Innovation in teaching can be a time-consuming and risky venture therefore Chapter 9 Evaluating and researching online role play provides advice and support to educators needing to know that their design is effective, efficient, and easy to use. Examples and techniques in the chapter provide the evidence base for deciding whether it was worth the time and effort and what aspects could be improved next time.

The book concludes with a look at what impact current trends in e-learning may have on the future for role-based e-learning. While future development will of course be influenced by changes in the type of technology and how we use it, Chapter 10, Future trends for role-based e-learning, also looks at the potential impact of advancements, based on research, in both the way the learner-educator relationship is viewed and the role of educational institutions.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

“Explore Evolution”—displacing good science with 'dumbed-down' creationism

by PZ Myers

I am not going to discuss the validity of the content of the referred book.

What worries me is that religion is now mixing into /interfering with politics and decision making at the highest level. I remember (but not very sure) that the US president once said he sent US troops to invade other countries because God told him to do that. I really hope I have mistaken. Otherwise, what is the difference between USA and an Islamic-extremist-governed country?

Religious wars kill people. Unlike couple of centuries ago, the weapon today are more dangerous.

Sound, evidence-based education is the only tool to fight against this. Teachers, again, are at the front line.

May reason and common sense bless America!