Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Alvin Toffler, the acclaimed futurist and author was interviewed by Edutopia, the Lucas Foundation's education magazine, where he expounded on the need to radically redesign the public education system, starting with a blank slate. It's an excellent summary article ( full version is on the pdf page) An excerpt:

"Future School"

"We should be thinking from the ground up. That's different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

Let's look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, "We can't afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve." There was a big debate. Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce "industrial discipline."

....It's open twenty-four hours a day. Different kids arrive at different times. They don't all come at the same time, like an army. They don't just ring the bells at the same time. They're different kids. They have different potentials. Now, in practice, we're not going to be able to get down to the micro level with all of this, I grant you, but in fact, I would be running a twentyfour- hour school, I would have nonteachers working with teachers in that school, I would have the kids coming and going at different times that make sense for them.

The schools of today are essentially custodial: They're taking care of kids in work hours that are essentially nine to five -- when the whole society was assumed to work. Clearly, that's changing in our society. So should the timing. We're individualizing time; we're personalizing time. We're not having everyone arrive at the same time, leave at the same time. Why should kids arrive at the same time and leave at the same time?

I have written posts along these lines previously and agree with Toffler that the public school system needs a paradigm shift if it is to be relevant and useful to children who will be working in the last decades of the 21st century. It may be that in shifting to Philip Bobbitt's " market state", public education authorities will become a dispenser of funds and an accreditor of quality, certifying that children are being well-educated but that the particulars of education decisions will be left to parents, students and a diverse array of providers.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The father of sociobiology and prophet of consilience, E.O. Wilson is featured in SEED.

"The Synthesizer"

".... In the late 1950s, Wilson discovered pheromones as the basis of chemical communication in ants. He identified 624 ant species in one genus and named 337 of them (19 percent of all ant species in the Western hemisphere). He established evolutionary biology as an esteemed pursuit in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a time when the discovery of the double helix and the molecular revolution it unleashed were eclipsing more traditional scientific disciplines. His work with Robert MacArthur on island biogeography is a seminal text in ecology. He's been recognized internationally for contributions to science and the humanities and has received numerous awards including the National Medal of Science and Japan's International Prize for Biology. He's won two Pulitzers. And if Rachel Carson is the mother of the modern-day environmental movement, Edward O. Wilson is quite arguably its father. Indeed, those who know him call this work his mission. "

Read the rest here.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Welcoming Pacific Empire to the blogroll.

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Steve DeAngelis of the Enterprise Resilience Management Blog had a post on creative thinking on Monday that should resonate with anyone with an engineering or entrepreneurial background where practical "problem solving" was a driver for finding new ideas:

"A New Approach to Innovation"

"....A creative thinker, however, is limited if he or she has little or no expertise. Expertise is, in a word, knowledge -- technical, procedural, and intellectual. When creative, knowledgeable thinkers are presented with challenges, innovation is generally the outcome. This is particularly true if the creative thinkers are motivated. Not all motivation is created equal. An inner passion to solve problems generally leads to the most creative solutions.

....To be truly innovative, an idea must be manifested then taken to market where it changes how things are done. The prize approach is one of those vaunted "win-win" situations."

Read the whole post here.

Nothing wrong with the approach to creative thinking that Steve outlined in his post. It is possibly, given the deomographic research on thinking styles, "hands-on" tinkering may be the dominant form of creative thinking - " tweaking" already existing ideas or items to discover new uses.

However I do not think it is the only, or even the most productive form of creative thinking available. "Tweaking/tinkering or stochastic innovation by collective incremental advances is a gradualist process best exemplified by say, Thomas Edison or George Washinton Carver in the lab. There is also the route of Nikola Tesla, Leonardo DaVinci or Albert Einstein where breakthroughs arrive after a moment of insight sets a thinker working down an untrodden path.

Insight-based creativity, while more rarely taken to a successful, concrete and productive conclusion ( Steve was correct to highlight motivation or "task persistence" as an aspect of creativity. Productivity is quantifiable) can potentially shift fields by orders of magnitude or even result in revolutionary paradigm shifts. Insight, on a neuronal level is very likely a product of horizontal thinking triggering certain activity in the brain that is recognizable on MRI studies ( at least it seems to correlate).
Horizontal thinking is a skill which can be practiced and for which the environmental conditions can be deliberately organized ( Vertical thinking experts, novelty, diverse stimuli, conceptual depth, time for " free play" thought exercises and exchange of ideas).

Neither method of creative thinking should be relied upon alone. Nor should creative thinkers abandon critical analysis any more than your right hand should abandon the left. We simply need to become comfortable using all of the cognitive tools in our arsenal.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm a tad late on this today due to a busy weekend but better late than never. In fact, I am forced to do this one " speedy quick":

Bruce Kesler - "Rules of Engagement for Conscience and Sense". Top billing. Regardless of the prospects for the " surge" (insert healthy realism about the parameters of the possible here) I am totally opposed to attempting to micromanage battlefield tactics from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That's simply a bad precedent for future conflicts and I'm not comfortable with some military manuver becoming the equivalent of "partial birth abortion" at the hands of folks not currently being shot at. There are more responsible ways to signal displeasure with Bush administration policy, if that is the Senators' intentions.

Stephen DeAngelis - " Wikileaks and Secrecy"

Dave Schuler - "The Fog of War"

Michael Tanji - "(Global) Guerrillas in our Midst?"

Thomas P.M. Barnett - "When America threatens war with Iran "

David Kilcullen -"Two Schools of Classical Counterinsurgency"

MountainRunner - "Petraeus on Goldwater-Nichols & Private Security Contractors"

Purpleslog - "Criticism of 5GW found in TDAXP Comments"

Whew ! I'm outta here....that's it!

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Friday, January 26, 2007

(Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz)

One of the sharpest points of contention between Thoms P.M. Barnett and John Robb is over the feasibility of Tom's System Administration concept. This issue has been the topic of numerous posts and the occasional rhetorical jab between the two strategic theorists. This pattern repeats itself, in my view, for a number of reasons. First, even friendly professional rivalry causes a natural bumping of heads; secondly, Robb looks at a system and thinks how it can be made to fall apart while Barnett looks at the same system and imagines how the pieces can be reintegrated. Third, no one really has all the answers yet on why some states fail relatively easily while others prove resilient in the face of horrific stress.

Robb contends that Global Guerillas can potentially keep a state in permanent failure, despite the best efforts of System Administration intervention to the contrary. A new level of systemic collapse, call it State Failure 2.0, where failure constitutes a self-sustaining dynamic. Broadly defined, you would chalk up " wins" for Robb's point of view in Somalia, Iraq and the Congo. In Dr. Barnett's column you would find Germany, Japan, Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone in evidence for the efficacy of Sys Admin work. Lebanon and Afghanistan perhaps could be described as a nation-building draw at this point in time.

Why permanent failure in some cases but not others ? This is something that long puzzled me. Then today, I read an intriguing pair of posts at Paul Hartzog's blog - " Ernesto Laclau and the Persistence of Panarchy" and " Complexity and Collapse". An excerpt from the first post:

"Ernesto Laclau was here @ UMich and gave a delightful talk that gave me some key insights into the long-term stability of panarchy.

...However, with the new heterogeneity of global social movements, Laclau makes the point that as the state-system declines, there is no possibility of the emergence of a new state-like form because the diverse multitude possesses no single criterion of difference around which a new state could crystallize.

Thus, there is no possibility of a state which could satisfy the heterogenous values of the diverse multitude. What is significant here is that according to this logic, once panarchy arrives, it can never coalesce into some new stable unified entity.

In other words, panarchy is autopoietic as is. As new criteria of difference emerge and vanish, the complex un-whole that is panarchy will never rigidify into something that can be opposed, i.e. it will never become a new hegemony. "

While I think Paul is incorrect on the ultimate conclusion - that panarchy is a steady-state system for society - I think he has accurately described why a state may remain " stuck" in failure for a considerable period of time as we reckon it. Moreover, it was a familiar scenario to me, being reminiscient of the permanent failure experienced by the global economy during the Great Depression. Yet some states pulled themselves out of the Depression, locally and temporarily, with extreme state intervention while the system itself did not recover until after WWII with the opposite policy - steady liberalization of international trade and de-regulation of markets that became globalization.

The lesson from that economic analogy might be that reviving completely failed states might first require a " clearing of the board" of local opposition - defeated Germany and Japan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and East Timor were completely devastated countries that had to begin societal reconstruction at only slightly better than ground zero. Somalia, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, and Lebanon all contain robust subnational networks that create high levels of friction that work against System Administration. At times, international aid simply helps sustain the dysfunctional actors in their resistance.

System Administration as a cure for helping connect Gap states might be akin to government fiscal and monetary policy intervention in the economy; it may work best with the easiest and worst-off cases where there is either a functional and legitimate local government to act as a partner or where there is no government to get in the way and the warring factions are exhausted.

The dangerous middle ground of partially failed states is the real sticking point.

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The London Review of Books has a piece up by Perry Anderson, entitled "Russia’s Managed Democracy". It is overly long and meandering, the author, as he is a liberal academic, gives short shrift to the danger posed by revanchist Communists during Yeltsin's first term. He's either clearly misinformed or unwilling to deal with that political complexity because it would disturb the grinding of cherished axes.

Nevertheless, if you graze through this essay, you will find good nuggets because the author's contemporary analysis is backed by a deep comprehension of Russian history and culture. For example:

"The intelligence [of Putin] is limited and cynical, above the level of his Anglo-American counterparts, but without much greater ambition. It has been enough, however, to give Putin half of his brittle lustre in Russia. There, an apparent union of fist and mind has captured the popular imaginary."

A phrase that makes a great deal of sense if you are familiar with the respective roles of the intelligentsia and state in the Russian cultural sphere for the last century and a half.

"We could practice classic counterinsurgency against the Sunni insurgents but AQI members had to be killed"

-LTC John Nagl

The SWJ Blog has a post up - " Spilling Soup OnMyself in Anbar" - by Col. John Nagl, author of the critically acclaimed Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife, which links to an interview where Nagl discusses his tour of duty in Iraq. A must read for those interested in Iraq, COIN and military affairs. Having attracted high profile contributors like David Kilcullen and John Nagl, the SWJ Blog is off to a very strong start.

A big hat tip to Dave Dilegge for alerting me as I stumbled into work this morning :O)
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The always excellent Small Wars Council has burst it's bonds and expanded. Great work guys!


Thank's to Isaac's comment, I'd like to call your attention to "Fourth-Generation Warfare and Network-Centric Warfare" by Capt Richard J. McLoughlin. One of the many new items up at the SWC this morning.


See also Curtis Gale Weeks - " Toward A Better Understanding of 4GW"


The horizontal-thinking Dan of tdaxp -"5GW Tactics and Counter-Tactics in Hockey"

Joining Chicago Boyz has already paid intellectual dividends. John Jay has a formidible post "Whatever Hits the Fan is Never Evenly Distributed" that, in part, responds to my commentary on cyclical vs. linear views of history. Here is an excerpt:

"Trajectories matter. Real world systems are dynamic, not static. Especially human societies. But in the timescale we can measure with our fleeting consciousness and hazy grasp of both history and the present, many times we are measuring the health of our society at time intervals that are too short to determine our own trajectory, especially considering that I would model societies more as a hot-air balloon tossed by the wind, rather than as a bullet swiftly passing through the air. Humans tend to project the present situation forward indefinitely, rendering useless even our current rudimentary ability to determine how the winds of history can blow societies temporarily off course, pointing, for a moment, in a different direction from the vector of long-term progress. David Foster is fond of pointing out that humans have a much easier time discerning and predicting patterns that vary in space, rather than ones that vary in time. And he’s right. The person well-versed in history can overcome this somewhat by studying the past, but only somewhat, because history is a set of experiments in which too many variables have been fixed, so that general theory of human progress is difficult if not impossible to formulate. But at least a good historian understands that taking a single snapshot of today does not do much to help map the path to the future"

Read the rest here.

While this was a section of a much larger post, the point about our innate sense of temporal distortion is very telling. In the absence of very precise and exacting analytical thinking, the error of "presentism"is apt to reign supreme. Not only do we not see the correct angle of the trajectory, we might be oblivious of the operative variables.

Hmm...I see Critt has been busy. Man, that is a lot of "Iraqi grazrs" !

General question to the computer-wise - what podcasting app is convenient and easy to use with blogger ? Anyone try running exclaimable.com audio or video through blogger ? Thanks!
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

At the gracious invitation of Jonathan, I have become one of the co-bloggers at the highly respected Chicago Boyz. It is an honor to be included in such thoughtful and erudite company and I look forward to a long and enjoyable relationship with my new cohorts, including Lexington Green, who has already proven most cordial to me in the offline world.

Primarily, I will be cross-posting select items from Zenpundit but I will also be making periodic original contributions to Chicago Boyz as I find my " groove" there - and I will try hard to refrain from wandering into abstruse military theory from the 5GW dimension ( I'll save that for here).

My maiden post is entitled "On History". An excerpt:

"...Linear paradigms in history, while offering a tidy, chronological sequence that is familiar to anyone who, as a child, was required to draw a timeline in school, present their own analytical problems. On an ideological level, the view of history as unidirectional “progress” tends to breed a spirit of determinism that inclines the historian to ignore contrary evidence. Much has been made about leftist MESA scholars in academia who were blind to the rise of Islamism before 9/11; much the same could be said of conservative scholars in the West who ignored the potential barbarism of Fascism and National Socialism. It is possible for history to move backwards, metaphorically speaking. Or backwards and forwards at the same time, as in the case of the Nazis, who championed both atavistic racialism and modern technology."

Read the rest here.

Again, I'd like to thank Jonathan for the warm welcome and for gibing me another place to hang my hat.

John Robb at Global Guerillas had a post up entitled " The Lost Generation of Warfare" in which he remarks on the stance of the 4GW Theory school toward nuclear warfare:

"The Lost Generation

As per the framework, states that used the most recent form of warfare could reliably defeat those states that still clung to the previous generation. This continued to hold true until the final thrust at the end of WW2 at Hiroshima and Nagasaki proved that nuclear warfare was the new salient generation. Lind and his cohorts ignore this generation of warfare, since with its advent the generational advancement of inter-state warfare breaks down. The technologies of this "lost" generation of warfare quickly progressed to MIRVed (multiple independent re-entry vehicles) ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) that could mobilize for global war in minutes, maneuver to enemy rear areas in fractions of an hour, and unleash firepower that could destroy the entire urban infrastructure of a state. At that point, the trends of interstate warfare reached their logical conclusion in their negation. The well founded fear of this form of warfare made hot war between the great powers unthinkable. "

As I remarked in John's comment section, Martin van Creveld discussed nuclear war in several of his books but Robb is probably right that so important a subject merits it's own generation in the 4GW taxonomy. The amount of nuclear war planning and gaming by the militaries of " the nuclear club" states, to say nothing of the fiscal expenditures and infrastructure, would be strong evidence.

Moreover, the large body of nuclear deterrence theory literature created by theorists, planners, officials and foreign policy experts like Wohlstetter, Kahn, Kissinger, Brodie and so on ought to be reviewed, particularly for their more outlier speculations. As we move into an era of proliferation, "micro-atomic" and specialized nuclear arms, "uncertain" proliferators (do thay have it? Will it work ? To what extent) and non-state actors, the old calculus of massive nuclear arsenals held by two superpowers upon which deterrence is based comes undone.

The unthinkable edges ever closer to thinkable.
Monday, January 22, 2007

I sit down in front of my computer. I have a drink ( a rum and diet coke). I have some snacks. I have scribbled ideas on post-it notes scattered all over. I start writing a post I've been mulling over for a while. The writing flows....in bad directions....aaaghhh...that's NOT what I meant to say....where the hell's the link ? Save to draft ! Save to draft !

Imbibe rum and coke. Go read a book.
Sunday, January 21, 2007

This should be a good edition. Let the sparks fly:

From Dr. Carl Conetta of The Project on Defense Alternatives, a new article "Resolving Iraq" which lays out what I would term the " withdraw now" position on Iraq of the more Democratic side of the national security and defense communities. A summary can be found here. I am pairing this one with:

From LTC David Kilcullen, special adviser to the State Department, "Don't confuse the "Surge" with the Strategy" at the SWJ Blog. Colonel Kilcullen describes the change as
"The new strategy reflects counterinsurgency best practice as demonstrated over dozens of campaigns in the last several decades". This post can also be discussed at The Small Wars Council.

Matt at MountainRunner has a post that should be of interest to many readers here (including Tom, Steve, John, Critt and Dave) - "Visualizing connectivity, civilization, readers of this blog". A picture is worth 1000 words in this instance.

Speaking of Dave, at Thoughts Illustrated he has an example of "Amazode" a very cool " book networking visualization" app. Try entering some of your favorite books into the search.

Updating the series on Evolutionary Cognitivism by Dan of tdaxp:

Selection and Cognition, Epigenetics and Diversity, Children and Diversity, The Implicit and the Explicit, Man among men , More than Genes, Bibliography

eerie at Aqoul reviews Hernando De Soto's The Mystery of Capital. eerie is getting quite good at scouting out good reading material for my book pile.

The latest Hugh Hewitt-Thomas Barnett transcript can be found here.

At Secrecy News they have a copy up (roughly 400 page PDF) of the Defense Science Board's unclassified "Educing Information:Interrogation Science and Art". This was the report I received last week and it has some good material for those interested in the intelligence side of things.

"Difference and Friction" at the consistently excellent Edge Perspective with John Hagel.

That's it.
Saturday, January 20, 2007

Is it working?
Friday, January 19, 2007

Thanks to reader Dominic C. and eddie, I was alerted to a trio of articles by Charles Murray, the influential libertarian public intellectual and author of The Bell Curve, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 and numerous other books. The articles are short and vigorously argued:

"Intelligence in the Classroom"

"What's Wrong with Vocational School?"

"Aztecs vs. Greeks"

Murray writes about IQ and public education from the perspective of the psychometrician and social policy analyst. This is not to say he is wrong - most of Murray's points of argument are well grounded in peer-reviewed consensus and are old hat to experts, even if they sound controversial to laymen - simply that his position is derived from the predictive reliability garnered from looking at the aggregate mean scores of points on the bell curve. In setting national policy with an eye to cost-benefit ratios this is a perfectly appropriate perspective for discussion; indeed, many of Murray's concerns about increasing spending on vocational and gifted educatuion would be in the best interest of millions of school children.

The problem lies primarily in the rigid and deterministic conception of "g" used by Murray, rather than a more fluid, neurobiological one that accepts "g" as one of several major drivers in cognition or as one factor in a complex system of intrinsic processing power, efficiency gained through practice and environmental stimulus to a brain that appears to have a massively modular structure. For example, creativity and insight, some of the most valuable aspects of human thought, overlap but not directly correlate with IQ scores. The ability to handle increasing complexity of variables and mental processing speed are also not always in sync, either.

While Murray is generally correct if you construe his points narrowly, a certain degree of humility about our lack of knowledge about human brain operations is in order. While we see, for example, correlative evidence of brain activity with mental and physical tasks in MRI studies, we have much to learn about what these patterns of activity represent. Intuitive thinking, insight, "fingertip feeling" are not quantifiable with the same ease or reliability as are verbal or mathematical reasoning or even spatial-pattern recognition.

Food for thought.


Gene Expression

Eide Neurolearning Blog
Thursday, January 18, 2007

Not the "Long War" but on the importance of the now dimly recalled, First World War:

" Yet it [ WWI] damaged civilization, the rational and liberal civilization of the European Enlightenment, permanently for the worse and through damage done, world civilization also. Pre-war Europe, imperial though it was in its relations with most of the world beyond the continent, offered respect to the principles of constitutionalism, the rule of law and representative government. Post-war Europe rapidly relinquished confidence in such principles.They were altogether lost in Russia after 1917, in Italy after 1922, in Germany in 1933, in Spain after 1936, and only patchily observed at any time in the young states created or enlarged by the post-war settlement in Central and Southern Europe. Within fifteen years of the war's end, totalitarianism....was almost everywhere on the rise."

- John Keegan, The First World War

It is questionable, to my mind, if Europe has ever recovered from the Great War that broke her spirit, followed by the Second World War which broke her power.

The EU is itself, arguably, an attempt by European elites to refashion the common sense of identity and weaken the primary loyalties of their fellow citizens. If so, they have had but limited success in that regard beyond the circles of the governing and media classes; and that progress must be set against the countervailing rise of disturbing, ethnonationalists, like LePen, whose xenophobic ideas found few if any admirers in the immediate postwar decades (and whose followers would be of infintesimal size were it not for the EU and its bumbling immigration policies).

Here's an interesting question, at least to me. While a number of public figures have referred to the Long War/GWOT as " World War III or IV" or have drawn comparisons with WWII (Pearl Harbor, Appeasement, Axis etc.), perhaps the current struggle bears a better comparison with WWI ?

Not in the area of kinetics, certainly, but in the sense that this war, like the First World War is occurring at a time of an epochal shift in economics, power relations and modes of living. A war that if it does not represent a " clash of civilizations", at least is noteworthy for it's civilizational discontents and the anxieties they produce in the public mind.


At HNN, Lawrence Serewicz, a longtime fellow member of H-Diplo, describes the struggle in Periclean terms.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

John's right - this is very cool.

The influential tech culture magazine WIRED, which I must admit is only an occasional read for me, is proceeding with the experiment in "radical transparency" proposed by Chris Anderson of The Long Tail , who is also one of the editors. The feature writer on this story, Clive Thompson, is soliciting feedback at his blog Collision Detection, where I bestirred myself to leave a brief comment.

Upon reflection, I think there are other things that may be said about this experiment and the paradigm Thompson is espousing, which is:

Secrecy is dead

Tap the Hivemind

Reputation is everything

Looking at this the way an economist might, how these variables will play out in the real world may depend on the operation of " the attention economy".

WIRED may become wide-open but unless they ran a story that related to one of my core research interests, I can't see burrowing into the nitty gritty of their editorial process. Otherwise, I just don't care that much. The overall number of online, regularly " deep diving" readers of a radically transparent WIRED is likely to be quite small. At least compared to their overall readership. But their loyalty and sense of community, if there is a high level of interactivity with each other and the staff, is likely to be strong.

So "radical transparency" make make possible a higher level of intensity of engagement among WIRED readers that did not exist beforehand. A better quality of attention, which would seem to represent, from the perspective of WIRED, an economically valuable demographic for advertising purposes and a well-informed sounding board for magazine ideas.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Jamestown Foundation had a report last month on the rising popularity in the Arab world ( or at least Salafi and devout middle class circles therein) of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. An excerpt:

"HT is regarded with some confusion by Western analysts because while its goals of recreating a caliphate and then converting the world to Islam by force if necessary are almost indistinguishable from bin Laden's, its methods are entirely different. Although HT members sincerely believe that the caliphate will be recreated soon, HT's real significance is likely to be its increasingly important role in radicalizing and Islamizing the Middle East. For example, HT's ideologies also fuel the increasingly common view that the present conflict between Western democracies and Islamists is not a resolvable dispute over land, territory and temporal politics, but is rather an inevitable clash of civilizations, cultures and religions.

HT, by saying that non-Muslim attempts to prevent the creation of a global Islamic empire amount to the deliberate persecution of Muslims, feed the victim culture that fuels Islamic radicalism today, as well as provide the necessary theological justification for individual acts of defensive or pre-emptive jihad. HT argues that the Quran says that all non-Muslim countries, cultures and individuals must submit to Islam. HT members who accept this theory naturally begin to see the world exclusively in terms of Muslims and non-Muslims, and inevitably begin to see all non-Islamic entities as worthy of destruction. In addition, HT's absolute rejection of democracy as un-Islamic is considerably more hard line than that of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, while the group also takes highly conservative positions regarding women, alcohol and freedom of speech."

This meshes with what I have previously read about the group which seems to be favored by educated and well to do " quiet extremists".

I once scanned a translated list of Hizb ut-Tahrir detainees in a Central Asian republic - the professions were heavily represented as were army officers and journalists. The group would seem to have the makings of a " vanguard" movement of radicalized intellectuals that can simmer for decades before abruptly bursting forth into a spasm of revolutionary action.
Sunday, January 14, 2007

Shooting for the provocative today, my linking here does not constitute an endorsement of the following views, except where explicitly indicated. Merely that they will get you thinking:

Colonel W. Patrick Lang - "War Against the Boogey Men"

A strong strand of anti-globalization, paleoconservatism, runs through this analysis combined with some frank observations about Islam and Iran-Israel. As an added bonus, Dave Schuler and Collounsbury are in the comment section ( though so far, Lang has yet to address the pointed remarks of either). Hat tip to John Robb.

Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II of The Strategic Studies Institute -"CHALLENGING TRANSFORMATION'S CLICHÉS "

I am not finished reading this one ( indeed, I was, last night, as a courtesy, sent a truly massive tome being issued by the Defense Science Board, by a respected scholar connected with the Department of Defense -sorry, no link as it is not yet available online. I'm now buried under PDF files) and will comment specifically at a later time. But if you have read Dr. Echevarria's previous slash and burn attack on 4GW then you know that he is a defense intellectual who pulls no punches. Hat tip to Fabius Maximus of DNI.

Dr. Chet Richards of DNI - "Science, Strategy and WarThe Strategic Theory of John Boyd"

Dr. Richards, the "keeper of the flame" of the ideas of the late military strategist Colonel John Boyd reviews the work of Colonel Frans P. B. Osinga, of the Royal Dutch Air Force. Richards calls the book "magnificent". An erudite review that I much enjoyed, so much so that I grant it this excerpt:

"Is it a tough read? Do you know of anything really worthwhile that is easy? Just as there is no royal road to mathematics, there is no royal road to Boyd. I was present at the creation of many of these charts, and I found a lot in this book that was new and helpful in broadening my understanding (for one thing, I have not, as Osinga did, read Boyd’s original notes in the source books)."

I'm impressed. Osinga evidently takes no shortcuts in his scholarship.

From Coming Anarchy, long one of my favorite blogs to read, two posts:

From Curzon - "Kaplan on Thucydides v.s. Herodotus"

A great post for history buffs, classicists and fans of Robert Kaplan.

From Chirol - "Chirol’s Take on a 51st State"

Chirol is known for having the periodic " Big Post". Good for me, as I know beans about Puerto Rico.

From Nonpartisan at Progressive Historians, for whom I am developing a soft spot despite wide differences in political philosophy, two posts " Three Humble Suggestions for the History Blogosphere" and " Is America nearing, or averting, a social revolution? ".

I endorse without qualifications all of Nonpartisan's suggestions for the history blogosphere. The second post I enjoyed for it's focus on the much underrated but influential Brooks Adams, before Nonpartisan descended into -well - let's just say he descended.

Dan of tdaxp - " Evolutionary Cognitivism, Part I: Selection and Cognition"

While many blogs plateau or stagnate, tdaxp keeps getting better and better ( despite a blogspirit induced case of italics) and I'm following Dan's synthesizing of evolutionary psychology with political science and education. This new series reviews a book, The Origins of Human Nature, that Dan considers " almost flawless". Though Dan finds a few.

New Blogs on the Blogroll:

SWJ Blog


Complexity and Social Networks Blog
Friday, January 12, 2007

Via email, Dave Dilegge let me know that The Small Wars Journal has begun its own blog , which featured a post, "A Framework for thinking about Iraq Strategy", by LTC David Kilcullen, a special adviser to the Department of State and an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. An excerpt:

"This is a model, not a strategy. That is, it is a systematic oversimplification, designed to clarify an extremely complex, rapidly-changing reality. It does not tell us what to do in Iraq, but is a basis for evaluating options. It is wrong – all models are – but applied tentatively, with skepticism, and with constant and rigorous “ground truth” from first-hand observation in theater, I have sometimes found it useful.

....The “Four Problems” concept

In essence, the model suggests that Iraq comprises four strategic problems:

an underlying nation-building problem, resulting from the fact that Iraq is a weak and fragile state, and three overlapping security problems that sit “above” that underlying problem, and make it harder to get at it. The three problems are:

Terrorism – that is, the presence of terrorist entities including (but not limited to) AQI who seek to exploit the situation in Iraq to further extremist or trans-national aims

Insurgency – the (primarily Sunni) rebellion against the new post-Saddam order in Iraq, including rebellion against both the coalition presence and the new Iraqi government, and

Communal Conflict – including sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shi’a elements, and ethnic conflict between Kurds, Arabs and other ethnic groups.

These three security problems overlap: incidents may involve elements of more than one dimension – for example, some terrorism is “pure” AQI activity, while other terrorist acts are insurgent-motivated, and yet others incorporate a sectarian dimension. Most incidents in fact include elements of two dynamics, or all three. You might think of the three problems as a Venn diagram of overlapping circles, each constantly changing in size, with any incident able to be plotted somewhere within the interaction of the three dynamics – terrorism, insurgency and communal conflict.

It is a post of high quality and significant length which you can read in full here. Kilcullen references Iraq as a "wicked problem", a subject I have blogged about previously for those interested in the term.

If I may make a suggestion, one element that needs to be added for clarity's sake is some sort of "about us" that is germane to the blog rather than the SWJ as a whole. Who is/are/will be the regular bloggers at the SWJ Blog ? Dave Dilegge promises a varied stable of contributors so I'm looking forward to making SWJ Blog a regular read.
Thursday, January 11, 2007

An interesting PDF -"Creating Creative Children" by the Drs. Eide of The Neurolearning Blog, cites shifts in the information economy as creating demand for insight-generating, horizontal thinkers with what the Eides term "creative expertise", and a (relative) economic devaluation of vertical thinking niche experts.

While the Eides are using some different terms than I have on past posts on cognition, metacognition, creativity and learning, they have a document that is conceptually rich and in which I find substantial agreement. Their points on the importance of visualization and tolerance for ambiguity in are only part of a collection of " ten habits" that serve as categories of cognitive strategies. A much larger brief in terms of scope than the title suggests.

Well worth your time.


Steve DeAngelis - Pattern Recognizers and Solution Simplifiers , The Medici Effect

Zenpundit -Creating a Culture of Mediciexity, Complexity vs. Simplification in Cognition
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The President outlined his plan tonight, along the lines of the much discussed "surge" option. The comments required here on this plan can be brief and on the response by the Democratic Majority, I will get by with even less.

The President's intention to clear and secure Baghdad is a long overdue tactical move to address a problem that never should have occurred in the first place. In itself, this is appropriate and I have no doubt that, if it is planned and executed by the military without being required to cut operational corners to appease idiotic political concerns in Congress, they will succeed in doing so. Albeit with pockets of very bloody fighting with stay-behind suicide-terrorists (the al Qaida in Iraq leadership having long since decamped, no doubt). This will get the government of Iraq at least to the level of controlling its own capital city, most of the time.

The real question is more strategic: what do we have ready to implement as the next three steps after we " clear and hold"? This is the point of concern that will determine what progress, if any, becomes permanent. Simply buying time is not an appropriate answer. Changing the situation requires making very hard political choices in reference to Iraq's sectarian communities and regional diplomacy that "surging" will not allow the administration to ultimately escape. My vote is to throw in with the Kurds and cut a deal with the Shiites that creates a viable medium term, containment plan for an Anbar " Sunnistan" until the U.S. -backed tribals can chew up the nuttier elements. We don't need a city on the hill right now, just manageable levels of violence.

The Democrats have no ideas for what to do with Iraq and scant interest in dividing their party in an effort to find any, so they are limiting their blind opposition to empty gestures. If the Democrats really wanted to bug out of Iraq they'd be all for the surge in order to secure the capital so we could leave without the risk of the city imploding on our exiting soldiery like Blackhawk Down on the Euphrates.

Pelosi and company should be rooting for the Bush administration to get Iraq down to a low roar by 2008 or a possible Democratic president may find themselves in the same position as Nixon taking office after Tet.


American Footprints -New!

Rightwing Nut House -New!

Middle East Perspectives -New!

Whirledview (PLS) -New!

Glittering Eye


Armchair Generalist

Thomas P.M. Barnett

Global Guerillas

Counterterrorism Blog

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Small Wars Council

Bruce Kesler

American Future

MountainRunner & MountainRunner's "11 Steps"

Defense Tech

Don Surber

Dean Barnett

Kevin Drum


Gunnar Peterson, the security expert who blogs at 1 Raindrop was kind enough to alert me to an excellent, link-rich, post of his that where the worlds of the internet security and analytical intelligence come together - "Vulnerability Puzzles and Mysterious Threats". Some excerpts:

"To help focus and find action steps, I advocate for my clients to separate their activities into several categories, two important categories are threats and vulnerability management. How to differentiate the two? Well, first off, it is helpful to understand where you can be proactive (most desirable) and where you must be reactive. I explored the difference of risk and uncertainty in a paper on Identity Management Risk Metrics

Risk differs from uncertainty in that risk may be measured and managed whereas uncertainty may not....

....Malcolm Gladwell explores a related concept - puzzles and mysteries:

" The national-security expert Gregory Treverton has famously made a distinction between puzzles and mysteries. Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information. The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bin Laden, and until we can find that source bin Laden will remain at large.

The problem of what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, by contrast, a mystery. It wasn’t a question that had a simple, factual answer. Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much..."

Superb post. Had my wheels turning.

I have written on a few occasions in the past on questions of uncertainty as have experts like that Art Hutchinson. Deep Uncertainty is very problematic for forecasting but in making economic decisions -i.e. decisions for rational allocations of time, resources, systemic redundancy etc. - for disaster prevention, we can arrive at a functional and useful, if imperfect, decision making process.

Furthermore, regarding contemplation of uncertainty, I am also very intrigued by the ideas of Nissam Nicholas Taleb, who John Robb has posted about recently, both for the Black Swan concept and the longitudinal, non-zero sum, aspect. They indicate a far greater degree of analytical blindness and limitations produced by our worldviews, frames and methodologies, than are generally realized.

What we consider to be an epochal disaster might just be the least significant characteristic of a far larger phenomenon that goes unrecognized.


Eerie, the charming mistress of Aqoul, has helpfully pointed out her review of Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and the Markets.
Monday, January 08, 2007

At Chicago Boyz, Jay Manifold has recently reviewed Annihilation From Within by leading defense intellectual and former Reagan administration official, Fred. C. Ikle (I have ordered this book from Amazon as, inexplicably, it was not on the shelves at any Border's in the Chicago area). An excerpt of Manifold's review:

"I summarize AfW’s main points as follows:

*Science, having become unmoored from political and religious constraints in the 18th century, is the dominant risk-enhancing (if not risk-creating) force in the world today

*Science is a self-sustaining enterprise characterized by effectively unidirectional progress and the development of an immense array of dual-use technologies, making ever-more-dangerous weapons accessible to ever-smaller organizations

*Culture, by contrast, is in a random walk; there is no such thing as “progress,” in the sense occurring in science, taking place in art, politics, or religion

*Science also poses a growing and critical challenge to religion, in the form of imminent and substantial (if not indefinite) life extension, as well as the possibility of a combination of artificial-intelligence technologies with human brains

*The only institution capable of managing large-scale risks, such as those posed by ubiquitous dual-use technologies, is the nation-state

*What matters more than the terroristic use of WMD, however calamitous, is the aftermath of any such incident

*In particular, a charismatic and unscrupulous political leader could use a small number of WMDs to decapitate the leadership of a nation, even a large democratic nation, and seize power

*In general, the likely mass-psychological effects of terroristic use of WMD and subsequent implosion of a major nation-state are far more frightening than the likely scale of immediate casualties in such an event, immense as it may be

*Fortunately, specific historical lessons, especially from World War II and the Cold War, may be constructively applied to this situation

*Prompt measures should be taken to: detect nuclear bombs; assure the continuity of the US government; enact mobilization laws; guard our territorial sovereignty; and enhance national unity "

Manifold goes on to write a thoughtful critique of Ikle's arguments, contesting some but underscoring others, suc as:

"If anything, AfW understates the likely pace of future technological advance. My impression is that most educated Americans, Iklé included, have a mental picture of the technology of 2100 which is, in fact, about where we’ll be by 2030 at the latest. Of course, this implies that some of his concerns may therefore be even more urgent than he argues".

An excellent review of an important book. One that has made me look forward to getting my hands on a copy all the more.
Sunday, January 07, 2007

Recently, the excellent Small Wars Council had a vigorous thread on the ideas of State Department adviser and counterinsurgency expert, LTC David Kilcullen of the Australian Army. Intitated by Fabius Maximus, a regular constributor at Dr. Chet Richard's DNI, It quickly became one of the most popular threads on the board.

Subsequently, Fabius Maximus published an article at DNI, "Why We Lose.
Part four of a series about the US expedition to the Middle East
" where Fabius refined his critique of Colonel Kilcullen's ideas about COIN in the context of 4GW theory and the war in Iraq. An excerpt:

"Begin at the beginning …

With admirable clarity, at the opening Kilcullen defines his subject.

{Counterinsurgency} is a competition with the insurgent for the right and the ability to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population.

As noted, Kilcullen, and I, are not drawing distinctions between guerrilla warfare, to which this statement applies, and insurgency. With that in mind, we can then ask whether it is possible for us “to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population”?

The answer is “no,” and the rationale is critical to appreciating why Kilcullen’s lessons learned for tactical commanders may mislead politicians who try to generalize it to a war-winning strategy (just implement his tactics and we win) or even worse, to grand strategy. For the explanation, we must look at the different types of 4GW.

The Two Forms of 4GW

As a simple dichotomy for analytical purposes, we can say that 4GW’s come in two types, reflecting the degree of involvement of outside interests (obviously there are many other ways to characterize 4GW).

1. Violence between two or more local groups, who can form from any combination of clans, governments, ethnicities, religions, gangs, and tribes.

2. Violence between two or more sides, where at least one is led by foreigners – both comprising, as above, any imaginable combination of factions.

4GW victories by governments are usually of the first kind, local governments fighting insurgencies. Often foreign assistance is important or even decisive, but the local government leads in such areas as political reform and tactics. Western governments have “won” a few type two insurgencies, but only by assisting the locals – with the locals carrying the primary burden. That is, the foreign interest may lead, but the local government must implement

Fabius' crtique should be read in full. I have selected this part to highlight because I believe that attempting to disaggregate the overarching concept of 4GW into a dichotomy ( and perhaps, eventually, a typology) is a necessary step in finding the recurring, related, yet distinct, patterns of state vs. non-state conflict. In that respect, Fabius made a valuable contribution to moving the 4GW discussion forward.

At the invitation of Dave Dilegge, editor of The Small Wars Journal, Colonel Kilcullen has written a response to Fabius Maximus which has been posted on the thread at the Small Wars Council under the administrator's handle ( Grand Vizier), which I excerpt here:

"..."Fabius", I'd be very happy to engage with you in a more detailed discussion of my ideas, of which "28 articles" is actually not a particularly representative sample: I wrote it in response to specific requests from several deployed company commanders when I was in Iraq in January-March 2006, and as I write at the start of it (bottom of page 1 on the internet version) "there are no universal answers...what follows are observations from collective experience: the distilled essence of what those who went before you learned. They are expressed as commandments, for clarity, but are really more like folklore. Apply them judiciously and skeptically."

In other words, in 28 articles I'm not expressing my latest "experimental" or strategic thinking, but rather trying to provide a quick compilation of ready-reference tactical ideas based on extant "classical" COIN thinking, and where possible drawn from proven experience from the field. I'm fundamentally a practitioner rather than a theorist, and my aim was mainly to meet an immediate need from colleagues in the field.

... have to say, however, that as a practitioner I don't believe any of these discussions are ready for prime time. What the guys need in the field are workable frameworks and basic assumptions that help them in their day-to-day. So (especially in "28 articles") I have tried to help where I can without claiming COIN as the silver bullet solution to problems that are actually far more complex. I try to keep the speculative stuff for forums where it won't confuse guys whose average day is way more complicated and dangerous than mine.

Do I believe that the admonitions I make in the paper can be carried out by the average company commander? Actually I have huge confidence in the adaptability and agility of the guys in the field and have been impressed, again and again, as I have served with them in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But even if the advice is not strictly achievable, I still think it's worth giving since it helps turn the "ship of state" in the right direction

Again, as with the article by Fabius, Colonel Kilcullen's reply is something far better read in full than in a short snippet offered here. Kilcullen's expertise, a rare combination of academic preparation ( he has a PhD. in Anthropology), field experience in waging unconventional warfare and in high level policy making, provides a level of insight into problems we face in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely seen in online discussions of this type.

Thanks again to Fabius Maximus and to Colonel Kilcullen for their contributions and to Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle for their tireless efforts at SWJ/SWC in bringing important matters of defense policy to greater public attention.


John Robb enters the discussion with comments and analysis.
Saturday, January 06, 2007

The always excellent Eide Neurolearning Blog had a post today on the topic of public schools in America, entitled "TIME Magazine: How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century". I will give the Drs. Eide not an excerpt, but their full post:

"Time Magazine's lead story about the need for changes in 21st century education identifies problems (out-of-date textbooks, out of touch with the world, aiming too low, poor training for collaboration, abstract thinking, foreign language ability) as well as solutions (EQ, ability to analyze and act on information, more global outlook on history, experience with technology), but the rub will come down to how to efficiently implement these changes in which many students are failing to meet many basic skills.

NCLB is up for renewal, and more national discussion will be on its way. A significant question is whether educational solutions by committee will be able to provide the changes students need in order to contribute intellectually and personally in the changing workforce.

We agree with many of the identified problems in the Time magazine article, but the solutions are not so easy - because the quality of teaching depends on the quality of training by the teacher, the time available for instruction in an already crowded curriculum, and the quality of the teacher-student interactions. Putting students in front of computer terminals is no answer to technological training. Powerpoints are one thing, but programming or designing is another.

When students are learning something very difficult, there is no substitute for well-informed and interactive one-on-one instruction. But teachers just can't do that in classes of 20 or 40 students. It's one reason why chasms exist between the higher and lower socio-economic school districts, and families in which older siblings and parents take an active role in a younger child's education tend to thrive.

Students often don't know what they don't know - and that's why we need guides to help provide us insights into how we think (or don't think...), what our problem solving processes and assumptions may be, and where we are making mistakes. Parking students in front of a Curriki is not the answer. Highly motivated individuals can receive quite a remarkable education on the Internet - but many with high face-to-screen times will fail to acquire the cognitive skills essential for successful 21st century knowledge workers.

One danger of an ever-lengthening laundry list of subjects to be "covered", is that there may be less time for students to learn from examples or their own performance

A child entering kindergarten in 2006, assuming no increases in average lifespan, will not retire until at least 2076, the year of America's Tricentennial. Chances are more likely they will still be working in 2100. In what way are our public schools preparing these children for such a world ?

The public schools in America educate 90 % of the population under the age of eighteen. The school year is run according to a calendar set to accomodate the needs of early 19th century farm communities. The school day is regimented under a Taylorist paradigm to train early twentieth century factory workers to engage in rote behavior in rigidly fixed time periods. Most school classrooms have a routine that would still be recognizable to Joseph Lancaster and Horace Mann. Only the familiarity of common experience keeps so anachronistic a system going.

If we sat down today to design a k-12 school system from scratch, would it look and operate like what we have now ?


Steve DeAngelis at ERMB - "Raising the Educational Bar"

Dr. Von - "Interesting Finding in International Science Education Study - Middle Schools "

Prometheus6 - " Not Just the Naygurs"

Worked on something today. Going to rattle a few cages. Heh.

I'll unveil it when it is ready.
Friday, January 05, 2007

Strategist, author, columnist, blogger Tom Barnett is scheduled to do eight radio shows with radio host, author, columnist and uber-blogger Hugh Hewitt to do an in-depth exploration of The Pentagon's New Map. A few scattered thoughts:

This is an almost unheard of exposure for an author (ok-in ancient times before television, radio programs sometimes did serials but I seriously doubt that anyone reading this was alive back then), particularly for a book that is nearing three years old.

Why PNM instead of Dr. Barnett's more recent Blueprint For Action ? I think the explanation is simple. PNM was conceptual in a way that was radical and rich - almost too many new major foreign policy and defense ideas for the average reader to get a handle on. Tom's horizontal thinking created a shock book for the current affairs set. BFA was more vertical thinking, a " prescriptive", how-to, sequel explaining the benefits and consequences of those new concepts which is a format that is more familiar to readers. More meat, less shock.

Err....as a fan of the former longrunning C-Span series "Booknotes" ...why isn't there a cable TV program dedicated to the blogosphere ? ( Or is there? I don't watch much TV and subscribe just to basic cable -LOL!).

The radio series should be video blogged ( hey Sean, run that by Tom will ya ?). Maybe Hewitt has a camera in his radio studio like Rush or Steve Dahl. I don't know.

Are these different media formats reaching different audiences ? How large is the overlap?

A very nice review of PNM by Hewitt's co-blogger Dean Barnett can be found here. Just for laughs, here is the review I did at the request of HNN.

Looking forward to the series !

Much thanks for the link today - oh, and most of those theorists probably wish they were warriors ( we historians simply want to record what happened after all involved are long dead).
Thursday, January 04, 2007

Rumors are swirling on the internet. IRNW had nothing.

It's that time again !

Top billing: IC veteran Michael Tanji of Haft of the Spear has joined Threatswatch and produced, with co-authors Marvin Hutchens and Steve Schippert, Achieving Victory in Iraq: A Center For Threat Awareness Report (PDF).

John Hagel of Edge Perspectives - " Gaming and Learning"

The Darwin Awards ( I love these)

The Edge Annual Question 2007: What Are You Optimistic About? Why?

That's it !

Hidden Unities


Ross Mayfield's Weblog
Wednesday, January 03, 2007

" I think that every one of these ideas is wrong and must be re-thought..."

An AEI lecture by Dr. Bobbitt, author of The Shield of Achilles.

Hat tip to Eddie.

The noted blogger Shrinkwrapped was kind enough to contact me the other day after my blogosphere-related posts to let me know that had written several of his own ( more on that in a bit). Shrinkwrapped is a psychoanalyst by profession which opened up some intriguing analytical possibilities.

Long time readers here know that this blog periodically deals with matters of intelligence, both the cloak and dagger kind as well as issues of cognition. I approach these subjects from the analytical perspective of historical methodology as well as the experience gained from years of working as an educator, particularly with gifted children. Shrinkwrapped's Freudian background is interesting to me partly because OSS psychoanalysts like Dr. Walter C. Langer - author of the classic psychological profile of Adolf Hitler - were some of the pioneers of the exceptionally difficult art of predictive intelligence analysis ( any fool can write a news summary; accurately assessing probable reactions of a key decision maker to hypothetical events is hard - even Hitler did not make his decisions in a social vacumn).

Shrinkwrapped offers up "The Blogger's Dilemma Part I. " and "Part II." which I would like to excerpt and then offer a few comments, though I strongly encourage you to read them in their entirety. First, "Blogger's Dilemma Part I"

"Once a Blogger has an audience the desire to keep or expand his/her audience begins to influence their blogging in ways that often lead to problems. For example, recognizing that our behavior is the compromise of multiple, primarily unconscious, determinants suggests we should maintain our modesty about our conclusions, yet a Blog that surrounds all of its arguments with qualifiers is likely to be a rather dull read. (I read enough "sophisticated" Psychoanalytic literature to know that the best way to lose the reader's attention is to eschew declarative sentences.) Simple and sharp delineations are favored; furthermore, oversimplified terms, like "liberal" and "neo-conservative", loaded as they are with the great weight of our projections, become bandied about with reckless abandon and are then over-interpreted by readers and writers alike. Yet without such terms, the act of writing a Blog post would require redefining specifics at every occasion. Aside from being unwieldy, it would also rather quickly grow exhausting for all. "

I think Shrinkwrapped is correct. To an extent, I've eschewed writing inflammatory posts about politics because of the loaded simplification the commonly used terms imply, often make it difficult to have a civil dialogue. I'm sure that costs me a considerable amount of potential traffic but I don't much care. The trade-off is that I get to spend my limited amount of blogging time on esoteric subjects that I find more interesting and I've made some outstanding connections with thinkers I greatly respect, a few of which in the case of Dave Schuler and Lexington Green have evolved into real world friendships. Call it the "Jimmy Stewart/It's A Wonderful Life Strategy of Blogging" - I'm the richest man in town. ;o)


"Democracy works essentially by summing the irrationalities of its citizenry in ways which tend to cancel out the most extreme manifestations. When it works well, both parties move to the center and try to appeal to the broad, more rational middle. This depends on a number of important factors, one of which is relatively unbiased information.

In my humble opinion, the Blogosphere has the potential to assist in both the process of "summing our irrationalities" and increasing the availability of unbiased information (derived from summing the biased information that is all we can ever have access to.)

Very astute. Sort of a market of psychologies. Long before The Wisdom of Crowds was published, the late supply-side guru Jude Wanniski was writing about this effect, which led me to exchange views with him a few times back in the late 90's but I never made the jump from economics to thinking about it in strictly psychological terms. Odd, because our individual decisions in the market hinge on our psychology to a large degree.

Now for " Blogger's Dilemma Part II":

"I wrote this thinking that it was clear that both sides of the equation clearly feel that they are correct and wondering how it is that two such completely incompatible views of the same data can be explained. The most likely explanation is that even those of us who are most certain of their position cannot possibly have a complete grasp of reality or a monopoly on "truth." Because Dr. X misunderstood this (or I did a particularly poor job of explaining what I meant; obviously I think my view is more correct about the Iraq War than the anti-War position and I'm sure that comes through in the post) he made a second Blogger's error. He adopted a tone of dismissive snarkiness which would serve to reinforce the prejudices of his readers who agree with him but would tend to discourage those who agree with me from reading further. He loses the opportunity to raise doubts and questions. If the point of our posts is to "preach to the choir" this is of no consequence but if we want to start or continue a discussion/argument, we need to be cognizant of why we resort to snark because what gets thoroughly lost in the post is how best to address our differences of opinion and viewpoint. For a reader, dismissing a post because the author descends into snark (and snark has a definite appeal at times!) can be unfortunate; it sometimes pays to ignore the insults and see if there are any points to be gleaned. "

In all fairness to bloggers everywhere, their flaming matches are no less petty, nasty, one-sided and ridiculous than what often occurs in academia. Or in departments of the executive branch.

Ideological conformity is very strong in the blogosphere and that tendency is inherently distorting of the OODA loop because the effect of only reading people who agree with you is extremely seductive. Like hypothermia of the mind, you just want to flop down in the fluffy, soft snow that is the text and drift off to sleep. One of my mentors, an old Social Democratic Marxist historian, used to regularly caution his grad students (mostly Leftists) not to read only the things that made them feel good and that's some advice I continue to pass along to my own students.

The IC is reading ( or rather "collecting" and doing meta-analysis) the blogosphere. So is the " other side" ( the Islamist jihad theorists are big fans of William Lind, reportedly). While the blogosphere tends to overestimate it's actual importance by several orders of magnitude it isn't irrelevant. In the aggregate at least, what bloggers write, matters.

We should really do a better job of it.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007

After much procrastination, I finally broke down and bought a copy of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat in the " 2.0" updated hardcover. I'm thinking of reading it back to back with Richard Florida's The Flight of the Creative Class in order to have a "Flat vs. Spikey" comparison.

I have no strong opinion on Friedman. I found much to like in The Lexus and The Olive Tree though at times, I also found passages in the book to be gratingly irritating which is why I put off reading The World is Flat as long as I have. I have had some nice exchanges with Dr. Florida on his blog which means he is relatively accessible if I have questions while I am reading The Flight of the Creative Class - an advantage that will no doubt be absent with Friedman.

If anyone out there has read both books -or either book for that matter - feel free to chime in now. I'd like to hear your opinion.
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