Category Archives: Book

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia James C. Scott

For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them—slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an “anarchist history,” is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states.

In accessible language, James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our views on Asian politics, history, demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of “internal colonialism.” This new perspective requires a radical reevaluation of the civilizational narratives of the lowland states. Scott’s work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave raiders, Marsh Arabs, or San-Bushmen.

The author of several books including Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science, professor of anthropology, and codirector of the Agrarian Studies Program, Yale University, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Change by Design

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, shows how the techniques and strategies of design belong at every level of business.

The myth of innovation is that brilliant ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses. The reality is that most innovations come from a process of rigorous examination through which great ideas are identified and developed before being realized as new offerings and capabilities.

This book introduces design thinking, the collaborative process by which the designer’s sensibilities and methods are employed to match people’s needs with what is technically feasible and a viable business strategy. In short, design thinking converts need into demand. It’s a human-centered approach to problem solving that helps people and organizations become more innovative and creative.

Design thinking is not just applicable to so-called creative industries or people who work in the design field. It’s an approach that has been used by organizations such as Kaiser Permanente to increase the quality of patient care by re-examining the ways that their nurses manage shift change or Kraft to rethink supply chain management. This book is for creative business leaders who seek to infuse design thinking into every level of an organization, product, or service to drive new alternatives for business and society.

Listen to Tim’s interview with Brian Lehrer on design thinking and Change By Design here.

Out of Poverty


Out of Poverty teaches us to think simple. Paul Polak brings forward ideas and solutions that bypass government agencies and other leaden institutions. Ideas that work!



In this impassioned and iconoclastic book, entrepreneur, inventor and self-identified “troublemaker” Paul Polak tells why mainstream poverty eradication programs have fallen so sadly short and how he and his organization developed an alternative approach that has already succeeded in lifting 17 million people out of poverty. (Watch video of Paul on his 12 steps to Practical Problem Solving).

Drawing on his 25 years of experience, Polak explodes what he calls the “Three Great Poverty Eradication Myths”: that donations alone will end poverty, that national economic growth will end poverty, and that big business, operating as it does now, will end poverty. Polak shows that programs based on these ideas have utterly failed–in fact, in some areas where these approaches have been tried, such as sub-Saharan Africa, poverty rates have actually gone up.

These failed top-down efforts contrast sharply with the grassroots approach Polak and International Development Enterprises have championed: helping the dollar-a-day poor earn more money through their own efforts. Amazingly enough, unexploited market opportunities do exist for the desperately poor. Polak describes how he and others have identified these opportunities and have developed innovative, low-cost tools that have helped impoverished rural farmers use the market to improve their lives.

In Out of Poverty, Paul Polak shares a practical guide to problem solving that helped him address the root causes of poverty and can help us improve our lives. His book also offers specific advice for everyone who wants to end poverty, including development donors, multinational corporations, universities, agriculture and irrigation research institutions and concerned individuals worldwide who would like to join the movement to support innovative design solutions that enable prosperity.

Throughout Out of Poverty Polak tells fascinating and moving stories about the people he and IDE have helped, especially Krishna Bahadur Thapa, a Nepali farmer who went from barely surviving to earning $4,800 a year; solidly upper middle class by local standards. Out of Poverty offers a new and promising way to end world poverty, one that honors the entrepreneurial spirit of the poor themselves.

Stories Spawn Solutions

My fifteen-month-old grandson, Ethan, has fallen in love with a neighbor’s driveway. It sits two houses down from where he lives, and it seems to overflow with small, multicolored stones. He stops there when I take him for a walk, and then he refuses to leave. He picks up a handful of stones and inspects each one carefully. He places them one after another in my hand, watching intently, and I give them back to him one by one until his hand is full again.

I don’t know who has given him the job of turning every little stone over and over in his hand until he understands its very essence, but that’s the job he has accepted, and he’s not leaving until it’s done. I think I must have inherited a lot of genes from Ethan, because I operate just like he does. I live to play and to satisfy my curiosity.

For the past twenty-five years, two questions have kept my curiosity aroused: What makes poor people poor? And what can they do about their poverty? Because of these infernal questions, I’ve had thousands of conversations with one-acre farmers with dirt on their hands, and they have offered me more cups of steaming tea than my seventy-three-year-old kidneys can take. I have learned more talking with these poor farmers than from any other thing I have done in my life.

Out of Poverty tells their stories, describe some of the things they have taught me, and shows how what I learned has been put to work in straightforward strategies that millions of other poor people have used to end their poverty forever.

Each of the practical solutions to poverty I describe is obvious and direct. For example, since 800 million of the people whose families survive on less than a dollar a day earn their living from small farms, why not start by looking for ways they can make more money from farming? And since these farmers work for less than a dollar a day, why not look for ways they can take advantage of their remarkably low labor rates by growing high-value, labor-intensive cash crops and selling them at the time of year when these crops will fetch the highest prices?

I hate books about poverty that make you feel guilty, as well as dry, academic ones that put you to sleep. Working to alleviate poverty is a lively, exciting field capable of generating new hope and inspiration, not feelings of gloom and doom. Learning the truth about poverty generates disruptive innovations capable of enriching the lives of rich people even more than those of poor people.

My hope is that you will read Out of Poverty and come away energized and inspired. There is much to be done.

—From Out of Poverty  by Paul Polak

SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary

I’m currently at the Bauhaus in Dessau Germany – part of workshop lead by Anurhada Mathur & Dilip da Cunha entitled Intense Landscapes: Rail Corridors as Energizing Spines (in India).

Bauhaus - Dessau

Anurhada Mathur & Dilip da Cunha also developed an exhibition/book called SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary. Here is the SOAK website. An the description of the project. There are certainly similarities between Mumbai and Phnom Penh.

Until recently Mumbai was accustomed to being soaked by the monsoon. The rains of July 26, 2005, however did not soak the city; they flooded it.  Hundreds died and much property was lost as parts of Mumbai went under many feet of water. Those rains were unusual. The average for the whole season fell in a day – 944 mm. . . .However, it takes much less to flood Mumbai today. Three years on, 100 mm of rain or less is enough to cause a ‘flood’ and suggest that Mumbai is shifting from welcoming or abhorring a soak by the monsoon to fearing and fighting being flooded by it.

Soak to flood is a profound shift. It makes an enemy of a friend even if it is a friend who is not always welcome. . . . Awaiting the monsoon for better or worse is increasingly being replaced by a readying for battle. The build up to war has occurred on many fronts. . . . But it has occurred more pertinently, from our point of view, through the cultivation of an attitude to terrain grounded in the belief that land and water are separable. This attitude has encouraged a landscape of hard edges and clear and distinct entities, and fostered a spirit predisposed to privileging land over water, firmly held property lines over open terrains, defined land uses over fluid occupancies.

It takes a considerable effort to enforce firmness anywhere, but it is particularly difficult to do so in an estuary, the primary ecology of Mumbai. Unlike deltas where rivers reach into the sea, estuaries allow the sea in. As such the rise and fall of the sea is not restricted to a coastline but is carried inland on a gradient that takes with it not just predictable tidal levels but the complexities of the world’s oceans where the unexpected reaches beyond the horizon and often beyond control. Here the war against the monsoon is also a war against the sea. . . . If the monsoon has been cultivated as a seasonal opponent, the sea has been made a perennial one. Sea walls, landfills, causeways, tetrapods, knowledge and prediction have been used to keep the sea out. . . . The 2005 flood, however, stilled Mumbai long enough to take notice of the sea within land’s edge. It is an occurrence that can be expected to occur more often with the predicted rise in sea levels.

The Mithi is Mumbai’s poster child of the war against the monsoon and the sea. Few knew of its existence prior to the 2005 flood. Called a river by some and a sewer by others, maps show it to be fifteen or so kilometers long, running from the Vehar Reservoir in the hills of North Mumbai, beneath the runway of the international airport, between the ambitious Bandra-Kurla scheme and the famous ‘city within a city’ of Dharavi, to exit through Mahim Bay.

Whether as river or sewer the Mithi is singled out by engineers and the public as a primary cause of the 2005 flood because it failed to fulfill the dual role of a drain on the West Coast, namely, carrying monsoon waters out and accommodating the high tide of the Arabian Sea. Today, engineers are working to ‘master plan’ the Mithi, ‘training’ it with walls to conform as much to two lines on a map as to a channel on the ground, although it is intended that this channel be ‘landscaped’ to also satisfy a ‘recreational’ need.

It is an end-scenario that is questionable not only for its continued refusal to engage the landscapes of an estuary; it is also questionable by its own measures. The planned channel is far too small to carry the waters of another 944 mm rainfall which is deemed by engineers an event that is too expensive and improbable to accommodate both politically and financially given the size of the channel that it demands and the extent of settlement that it will displace.

An estuary demands gradients not walls, fluid occupancies not defined land uses, negotiated moments not hard edges. In short, it demands the accommodation of the sea not a war against it which continues to be fought by engineers and administrators as they carry sea walls inland in a bid to both, channel monsoon runoff and keep the sea out.

Soak is an appreciation of an aqueous terrain. It encourages designs that hold monsoon waters rather than channel them out to sea; that work with the gradient of an estuary; that accommodate uncertainty through resilience, not overcome it with prediction. It moves Mumbai out of the language of flood and the widely accepted trajectory of war with the sea and monsoon that this language perpetuates. It recovers the world of soak.

Soak, in brief, is about making peace with the sea; about designing with the monsoon in an estuary.

The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future

Osborne, Milton. The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.

To follow up on: “Between 1969 and 1997 Cambodia’s total forest cover has been reduced by 30 percent. If the present rate of logging continues the country’s forest reserves will be exhausted by 2003” World Bank Report 1998

Length: 4 800 km
Drainage Basin: 795 000 sq km

Mekong – Alternate Names
Thailand: Mae Nam Khong ‘Mother of the Waters’
China: Dza Chu ‘River of Rocks’
China: Lacang Jiang ‘Turbulent River’
Cambodia: Tonle Thom ‘Great River’
Vietnam: Song Lon ‘Great River’
Vietnam: Song Cuu Long ‘Nine Dragons River’

From Publishers Weekly
“The Mekong River, which begins in windswept, upland Tibet and runs through China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, has a rich history, the subject of Osborne’s pathbreaking, ecologically informed chronicle. Beginning with the fifth-century Khmer empire and the magnificent Angkor temple complex, his brisk narrative moves on to a colorful account of 16th-century explorers, missionaries and merchants who vied for supremacy in the region. Osborne retraces the French Mekong Expedition of 1866-1868, which he calls a heroic, epic endeavor, but he also emphasizes the bloody repression and inequities fostered by French colonialism. From 1966 onward came multiple tragedies–years of relentless American bombing, the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, massacres of Vietnamese living in Cambodia, imposition of harsh communist regimes–and Osborne, a former Australian diplomat, U.N. advisor and author of seven books on Southeast Asia, graphically records the human costs to the Mekong region’s inhabitants. The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s rice basket, thanks to centuries of canal building, and the fish in Cambodia’s Great Lake, linked to a Mekong tributary, provide 60% of Cambodia’s protein intake. Although China’s hydroelectric dam-building projects pose the threat of declining fish catches and disruption of subsistence agriculture, China has shown scant concern for the environmental consequences. Clear-felling of timber, disastrous floods, pollution and an AIDS epidemic also threaten the Mekong civilizations. Although Osborne’s amalgam of travel, reportage and history is not quite the full-bodied cultural saga the river deserves, his book is a pulsating journey through the heart of Southeast Asia.”

Phnom Penh: A Cultural Reader

Osborne, Milton. Phnom Penh: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press, 2008.

A description from somewhere:

“As a one-time resident of Phnom Penh and an authority on Southeast Asia, Milton Osborne provides a colorful account of the troubled history and appealing culture of Cambodia’s capital city. Osborne sheds light on Phnom Penh’s early history, when first Iberian missionaries and freebooters and then French colonists held Cambodia’s fate in their hands. The book examines one of the most intriguing rulers of the twentieth century, King Norodom Sihanouk, who ruled over a city of palaces, Buddhist temples, and transplanted French architecture, an exotic blend that remains to this day. Osborne also describes the terrible civil war, the Khmer Rouge’s capture of the city, the defeat of Pol Pot in 1979, and Phnom Penh’s slow reemergence as one of the most attractive cities in Southeast Asia.”

Milton Osborne’s other books include:

  • Singapore and Malaysia (1964)
  • Strategic Hamlets in South Viet-Nam: A Survey and a Comparison (1965)
  • The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response (1859-1905) (1969, reprinted 1997)
  • Region of Revolt: Focus on Southeast Asia (1970)
  • Politics and Power in Cambodia: The Sihanouk Years (Longman, 1973)
  • River Road to China: The Mekong River Expedition, 1866-1873 (London and New York, 1975)
  • Southeast Asia: An Introductory History (eight editions, 1979 to 2000)
  • Before Kampuchea: Preludes to Tragedy (1979)
  • Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness (1994)
  • River Road to China: The Search for the Source of the Mekong, 1866-73 (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999)
  • The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future, Allen & Unwin, Sydney (2000)

Selected references from the book:

Chandler, David. A History of Cambodia
Tully, John. France of the Mekong: A History of the Protectorate in Cambodia, 1863-1953.
Tully, John. A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival.
Lewis, Norman. A Dragon Apparent, Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Shawcross, William. Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia.

Index of Places & Landmarks

Osborne, Milton. Phnom Penh: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press, 2008.
On my to do list for new year:

Cambodia After Year Zero

Recent article on the Khmer Rouge trials, New York Times, Ex-Khmer Rouge Leaders Go on Trial in Cambodia

Book Review, New York Times
Google Books Excerpt
The Modern History of a Troubled Land
By Joel Brinkley

In the preface to “Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land,” Joel Brink­ley recalls his first encounter with Cambodia. Brinkley was reporting for The Louisville Courier-Journal from a refugee camp near the Thai border in 1979, in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s reign. “As they tell of years of horror and misery,” Brinkley wrote, “their faces are expressionless and dull . . . as if they’re talking about a dull day of work. Their tales end with a nodding acknowledgment of the death of their nation and culture.” Brinkley, who later worked for The New York Times, finds little has changed in the 32 years since then. As the title suggests, his book is an unabashed plea to refocus international aid and diplomacy on a suffering people. It is also an attempt to hold some of those responsible for that suffering accountable — but not all.Cambodia lost a quarter of its population under the Khmer Rouge. For many, survival meant 14-hour days of backbreaking work, often on little more than a cupful of rice or a smattering of gruel. You could be killed on the least suspicion you sympathized with the Vietnamese. The effects of this period have proven hard to shake.

Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest countries. “Among Southeast Asian nations,” Brinkley writes, “only Burma is poorer, on a per capita basis.” At least 30 percent of Cambodians live on less than a dollar a day. About 40 percent of children suffer from stunting (failure to develop because of poor nutrition). In 2010 only 30 percent of Cambodian middle-school-age students were enrolled in school. Asia’s self-described “longest ruling prime minister,” Hun Sen, is a murderous kleptocrat, Brinkley shows. Corruption is rife. The sick may die waiting for treatment if they cannot pay doctors’ bribes in hospitals.

Statistics of suffering aside, “Cambodia’s Curse,” when it is at its most thorough, acknowledges the role of rich countries in this disaster. Every year for more than a decade, Brinkley recounts, donor organizations and states made toothless pleas that Hun Sen pass an anticorruption law. But once money was pledged, the law would stall another year. As a result of this annual pas de deux, donors had given Hun Sen $18 billion by 2010, essentially with no strings, before the law was enacted. And when it finally did pass last year, it had been gutted into meaninglessness.

“Some Cambodians and others remained astounded by the donors’ behavior,” Brinkley writes. Why didn’t they withhold aid? Echoing the economist Dambisa Moyo, Brinkley suggests that the corruption is symbiotic. “If they cut off aid to the government, as the human rights groups were demanding, many donors would lose their jobs.”

Cambodians also suffer from widespread post-traumatic stress disorder. A study by the Cambodian psychiatrist Muny Sothara found PTSD “in 47 percent of the population”; another study, of Cambodian refugees in Massachusetts, found that 60 percent of PTSD victims there suffered from sleep paralysis, a half-conscious state of catatonia. Even Hun Sen shows signs of the malady. One official, describing his own PTSD, relives his experience of starvation: “I would like to inform you that I am very, very hungry.” Social scientists are finding that PTSD is being passed from one generation to the next. Has this become Cambodia’s curse?

Or is impunity the curse? In the aftermath of Pol Pot’s death in 1998, the United Nations partnered with Cambodia’s judges to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Brinkley explains the logic of the costly proceedings. “If nothing else, Ieng Sary fed the state’s omnipresent culture of impunity,” he writes of one Khmer Rouge leader. “If he, with the blood of two million people on his hands, faced no penalty, no censure, no retribution, how hard was it to accept the killing of a journalist here, a trade-union official there?” On June 27, three Khmer Rouge leaders will face trial. Last July, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was sentenced to 19 years.

Americans too frequently seem to enable monsters abroad, then recommend policies to reverse the damage. The United States did not directly foist the Khmer Rouge on Cambodia. But Brink­ley describes how Lon Nol, who was friendly to Washington, overthrew Prince Sihanouk in a 1970 coup, and how the prince, in frustration, implored Cambodians to join the Khmer Rouge.

Brinkley disputes any further American complicity, even though the United States continued a secret carpet bombing campaign until 1973. But two scholars, Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, have seized on data on the bombing released by President Bill Clinton; beginning under Lyndon Johnson, the United States dropped more bombs on Cambodia than the Allies dropped in all of World War II.

Brinkley seems to dismiss the argument that the extensive bombing, with its tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, might have added urgency to Sihanouk’s plea to join the Khmer Rouge. Yet Owen and Kiernan report that former C.I.A. and Khmer Rouge officers affirmed the American bombing helped the Khmer Rouge win support.It seems clear that “Cambodia’s Curse,” apart from providing a portrait of a “troubled land,” holds implications for other American interventions that are worth serious debate. Brinkley portrays Cambodia from what some may see as a postpartisan humanitarian standpoint. But given Washington’s role today in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it might have been braver if he had chosen to hold Americans, and not just Cambodians, accountable for the suffering he so movingly describes.

Three Years, Eight Months and Twenty Days

Widener Cambodia

Three years, eight months and twenty days or the length of time that the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh.

This week I began combing the Harvard Library system for all the research I can find on Phnom Penh before I no longer have access. There is surprisingly little given the size of Harvard’s collection. The majority of books in Widener are on the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. The titles are striking, among them: First They Killed My Father, The Killing Fields, and Pol Pot The History of a Nightmare. There is no doubt that the years between 1975 and 1979 were the defining moments of contemporary Cambodian history – however, this time period also comprises the majority of writing available on Phnom Penh – which is treated as little more than a drop back for the devastation of Pol Pot and his revolutionaries.

The exodus began on April 18, 1975 – in three days an estimated 2 million people were marched out of the capital. Their slogan: “Let us transform the countryside so that it becomes the city.” Central to the revolutionary doctrine was the concept of transforming urban dwellers into tightly controlled agricultural laborers by “extricating them from the filth of imperialists and colonialist culture (in this case the French).”

From David Chandler’s Voices from S-21:

 After the Khmer Rouge had emptied the city in 1975, Phnom Penh had remained the country’s capital, but it never regained its status as an urban center. The bureaucrats, soldiers, and factory workers quartered there probably never numbered more than fifty thousand. During the DK era, the country had no stores, markets, schools, temples, or public facilities, except for a warehouse in the capital serving the diplomatic community. In Phnom Penh, barbed-wire fences enclosed factories, workshops, barracks, and government offices. Street signs were painted over, and barbed-wire entanglements blocked many streets to traffic. Banana trees were planted in vacant lots. Automobiles abandoned in 1975 were rusted in piles along with refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, and typewriters. Scraps of paper in the gutters included prerevolutionary currency, worthless under the Khmer Rouge. On 7 January 1979, no people or animals could be seen. As in 1975, the central government, such as it was, had disappeared. Once again, Cambodians were being made to start at zero.

Despite this codified hatred of the city, few landmarks or buildings were destroyed in totality. Most notably, the Catholic cathedral and the National Bank. Other symbols of urban modernity were destroyed:  car, shops, medical and university buildings. The roads from the airport were maintained and facades of the empty buildings painted  to give the few chaperoned visitors a sense that the city was still in working shape.

”They took Cambodia from a country in the process of development to a communal society without the slightest vestige of the modern or the urban,” Van Molyvann, Cambodia Architect.

On January 7, 1979 the Vietnamese liberated the city from the Khmer Rouge and began their occupation of Cambodia and its capital.

Widener Cambodia

Widener Cambodia