Friday, March 30, 2007

So much to try and speed-read through after my brief respite from the blogging treadmill...

One of several posts that caught my eye today was by Steve DeAngelis at ERMB on "Groupthink: Good or Bad?"; not simply because I am a regular reader of Steve's and of Tom's but because the premium put upon organizational and individual creativity in the next quarter century will put the high octane in the term " information economy". That an "edge" thinker, with the "insider" prominence of Steve, is paying attention to creativity as a subject, bodes well.

[Parenthetical aside: Creativity has two poles. Dr. Richard Florida, whose blog I also enjoy reading, represents analyzing the effects of creativity in the societal and global aggregate. The individual, cognitive processing, aspect of creativity studied by Dr. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi is equally, important to understand. The two perspectives, in my view, need to be comprehended and integrated for creativity to be properly cultivated, as they are intimately interrelated]

Steve writes:

"When groupthink becomes the dominant paradigm in a business it can crush innovation. Innovators rarely worry about group cohesiveness or getting along. They might not all be clear-eyed pragmatists either. Janis notes that groupthink results in the lack of realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action. Innovators may be willing to take alternative paths but often those courses of action are not very realistic either. Since the invention of the Internet, critics have started to think about and define groupthink differently. They talk about the power of the many to outthink the few. Patti Waldmeir, writing last year in the Financial Times, discussed this other side of groupthink ["Why groupthink is the genius of the internet," 9 August 2006]. She begins with a short history lesson and a question:

"Friedrich Hayek, liberal philosopher and economist, was born in the 19th century. Did he accidentally predict the genius of the internet? Back in 1973, when not even the average nerd knew about the net, Hayek was writing: 'Each member of society can have only a small fraction of the knowledge possessed by all and ... civilisation rests on the fact that we all benefit from knowledge which we do not possess.' That certainly sounds like a manifesto for blogs and wikis and all the other smart collaborative tools of the information society. Like democracy, they are based on the wonderfully egalitarian notion that even the lowliest among us has something useful to contribute. But can that possibly be true?"

Of course, defining groupthink as "collective wisdom" is far different than defining it as everyone thinking alike. That, however, is how Waldmeir has chosen to define it."

Interesting. I'm not familiar with Waldmeir but my two cents here is that "groupthink" and "collective wisdom" share the common trait of collectivity but are not otherwise the same cognitive phenomena. The latter, as a market-like function, relies upon the sum of socially atomized interaction; the former is socially integrated interaction, a network or a hierarchy ( or both) which are very different from a market, at least those markets with no or minimal barrier to entry.

The problem with "groupthink" is not the formal or " official unwritten rule" requirement for everyone to march ideological lockstep. That characteristic is one easily recognized ( and cursed) by those participating within the system which enforces it. For relevant examples, read the historiography of Soviet Studies dealing with " nomenklatura", defectors and dissidents from Kravchenko forward, if not earlier. The real dilemma, the cognitive sticking point where the true damage is done, has to due with the institutional variety of what social historian Lawrence Goodwyn termed "the received culture". Another useful but highly inexact set of terms might be "worldview" or "paradigm", but writ small.

Any analytical journeymen who values his intellectual integrity is adept at spotting the ritual nonsense of their organization and compensating accordingly. A far more difficult task is self-awarenes in terms of discerning the implicit assumptions in which we have all been inculcated by experience and design. "The wisdom of crowds" functions primarily because anyone is able ( theoretically) to join the crowd at any moment. When that is no longer possible, the crowd grows increasingly stupid as the scenario upon which it is asked to pontificate, broadens and lengthens.

This has implications for America's intelligence community. The Cold War has left a peculair counterintelligence legacy known as " the background check", if you aspire to certain positions in the national security, defense and intelligence communities. It is expensive and redundant and, in many cases, periodic. It served a purpose when the US squared off against the Eastern Bloc. Today, the economic effect of this CI legacy is to slow the velocity of " new blood" into the IC and particular appointive positions to a crawl, which effectively " dumbs down" the "crowd", even in those instances in which the IC managerial hierarchy permits a "crowd" to function. Which, if you are a faithful reader of Haft of the Spear, you realize, ain't much.

Here's a wish, from a humble citizen out in flyover country, directed toward the uppermost G-somethings flitting around the new NDI: have someone with both real experience and political juice tackle revitalizing the creativity of the IC analytical process. I say " process" because I do not see this as a " people problem" but a bureaucratic one, the analysts have, as a group, good educations and fine brains.

Look for new ways to use them. Vigorously engage outsiders. Make the political case for novelty in methodology to both politicians and the public. Experimentation at this juncture beats cautious perfection.

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WIRED has the article online now.

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Mrs. Zenpundit and returned late last night to a quiet O'Hare airport after a much needed vacation. An elderly member of the SS Woman's Auxillary posing as a TSA employee had created enormous lines at the security checkpoint of our departure point by personally rifling through carry on bags and weighing half-used tubes of hair gel and sun bloc in her hand to guesstimate if they were under the 3.5 oz carry on limit. I feel so much safer as a result, knowing that should a terrorist really try to bring 3.6 + ounces of nitroglycerine aboard a plane, somewhere, at some airport, there will be a pair of patent leather shoes, emitting wisps of smoke, sitting next to a metal detector.

The flight itself proceeded without undue delay or nonsense but the crowded conditions, heat ( the AC seemed to be barely working) and lack of food reminded one of a summer camp school bus with wings.

Catching up on email and the posts of blogrfriends that went up in my absence. Will have substantive posts up later today.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

I am going out of town for most of next week and will not be reading email or blogging for the interim. Should be back online sometime on Friday.

In the meantime, a few links to keep you busy:

Bill Roggio -"Al Qaeda's Pakistan Sanctuary"

General Tariq Gilani -"US-Pakistan Relations: The Way Forward"

PINR - "Pakistan's Strategic Goals and the Deteriorating Situation in Afghanistan"

Jamestown Foundation -"GIMF Releases New Doctrinal Lessons for Mujahideen"

Jim Baker -"Systems Thinking and Counterinsurgencies

Max Boot - "Create a U.S. foreign legion"

Foreign Policy -"Who Wins in Iraq?"

Special Note: The excellent Kent's Imperative intel blog is once again active.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gratuitous Self-promotion Department:

Not sure when the article will be available online, but I am quoted in Clive Thompson's article on "Radical Transparency" in the print edition of WIRED magazine that is on the newstands right now. Very nice for a humble blogger like myself to get that kind of a nod from a mainstream periodical. Much appreciated, Clive !

I'll link if/when it becomes available.

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Having spent a great deal of time considering creativity and insight, I'm generally convinced that we benefit cognitively and on an emotive-psychological level from novelty, even if that novelty is to a small degree. Sort of like garnering measurable aerobic benefits from modest daily walking, every little bit helps. You don't have to go from a microbiology lab one day to spelunking the next in order to give your brain some stimulus.

Therefore, I decided to shift my usual reading attention from matters of Western history and military affairs to read in succession, the biographies of three seminal 20th century dictators, all of whom ruled Asian nations but impacted the history of the world. It is a good shifting of gears for me, as the last heavy fare of reading Asian history and politics was back in the early nineties.

First up, is Chiang Kai-Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost by Jonathan Fenby, who gives a critical reappraisal. While we are all accustomed to the standard scholarly historical criticism of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang which is heavily influenced by the politics of academic Marxism, Fenby, a British journalist who is a longtime writer and editor for The Economist magazine and The Observer, (so far as I have read) gives a hard-eyed, pragmatic, thoroughly detailed, flavor that Alan Schom gave to his masterful deconstruction of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Number two will be the critically acclaimed The Unknown Story of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, which like the Fenby book is an act of idol-smashing. All the moreso since Mao ZeDong, unlike his rival Chiang, retains an aging cadre of Leftist admirers both at home and in the West.

I intend to finish with the highly regarded Ho Chi Minh: A Life by former diplomat and Penn State historian William J. Duiker.Duiker himself, served in the American embassy in Saigon during the Vietnam war, which adds a poignant edge to his historical research.

Anyone out there who has read any or all of these books, feel free to chime in.

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At HNN, arch-Cliopatriarch Ralph Luker has collected a formidible honor roll of conservative historians who are bloggers (and perhaps some conservative bloggers who like history) to which he has added yours truly. Never knew so many were out there. Much appreciated Dr. Luker!

Special thanks to blogfriend Nonpartisan of ProgressiveHistorians for the nod. It's a pleasure when a spirit of comity exists across the partisan divide. All too rare these days, unfortunately.

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Relaying information from my friends in the tech world:

Both Critt Jarvis and Dave Davison are very high on Robert Scoble's new "networked book" Naked Conversations. As I am out of my element here, I'll refer you to their substantial investments in things Scoble:

"Lunching with Scoble " - Davison.

"Skinny Dippin' in Naked Conversations" - Jarvis.

As blogger will not let me put Critt's summative Scoble grazr in a post for whatever reason, I may put it in the margin tonight to temporarily replace the old one where the feeds were axed the other day.

Also have to check out this Twitter thing and add it to LinkedIn, which I am already using as a contact and social networking tool.


"WIKINOMICS-another "Networked" book example "

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Friday, March 23, 2007

James McCormick at Chicago Boyz has a tour de force post up "Sherman — Stoic Warriors"; an essay-review of Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind by Dr. Nancy Sherman of Georgetown University. An excerpt:

"For many months, I’ve been grabbing “Stoic Warriors” filled with resolve to finish it and write up a summary. Ethics professor Nancy Sherman reviews the principles of Greco-Roman Stoicism and discusses whether this ancient philosophical tradition can offer something to the modern American military. I’ve had a long-standing interest in military matters and Roman culture. I’ve read a recent academic attempt to resurrect Stoicism as a serious modern philosophy. So I ordered Stoic Warriors with great anticipation, moments after seeing its publication announcement on Amazon. This should be a compelling read, I thought. Yet within minutes of first picking up “Stoic Warriors,” my mind would wander and I inevitably found something more urgent to do. Such as write reviews of forty other books. The cycle of try-and-fail repeated many times, despite the book’s solid writing and apt anecdotes.

It’s not the topic nor the subject matter of the book that has delayed this review. And it’s not the writing style nor any lack of author sincerity. It was instead the underlying set of cultural values that the author brings to the area of military affairs. Since Vietnam, it seems, soldiers are subject to standards above and beyond that of civil society. At least one portion of Americans wants its military victories without guilt and without mess. It wants perfection.

Trauma, error, and mismanagement that is ignored or mocked in prisons, ERs, animal shelters, slaughterhouses, slums, X-Games competitions, football fields, and obstetrics wards is now treated very differently when it involves the military. So does capital “S” stoicism have something to offer American soldiers placed under this unique and hypocritical spotlight by postmodern American culture?

No. I think it’s fair to say that the author, in the final assessment, believes nothing can console soldiers … except ceasing to be soldiers. Soldiering turned into some sort of physically-fit bureaucracy that does nothing useful militarily has a much better prospect of fulfilling its moral mandate.

My opinion, thoroughly amateur, is that ignoring (or underplaying) the mental and physical suffering of warriors (and their enemies) is an essential talent for any successful nation. That the Western world appears to be the first culture unilaterally abandoning that talent is rather amazing. So I see problems ahead.

How she reached her conclusion and how I reached mine, is the subject of a very long blog post"

Indeed, I am still in mid-read. Pour yourself something strong and dive in.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Collounsbury is on to something important.

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I have to hand it to the Bush administration; their determined incompetence in handling war criminals on legal, political, diplomatic and military grounds knows few bounds. Who else could manage to take the onus off of a monster like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and make American judicial procedure the issue instead?

Anthony D'Amato, a professor at Northwestern University Law School and a well regarded expert in International Law, has just excoriated the Bush administration in JURIST. Just for the record, Dr. D'Amato is no softheaded transnationalist or dovish liberal. Quite the contrary, when Israel bombed Saddam's nuclear reactor at Osirak back in 1982, it was Professor D'Amato, virtually alone among IL experts, who went before Congress and testified in favor of the legality of Israel's attack.

"True Confessions? The Amazing Tale of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed"

"Students of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s will recall the astounding confessions made in open court by the accused persons. They had been severely tortured over weeks and months. But they showed up in court without external marks of torture. With all apparent voluntariness, they admitted subverting the Five-Year Plans that would have provided the Soviet people with necessary food items. They sabotaged factories, making sure the production lines were inefficient. They managed to import inferior metals so that Soviet tanks and automobiles would fall apart after a few months’ use. They infiltrated the Soviet Army and through dint of their persuasiveness, convinced the foot soldier that it was absurd to risk his life defending a dictatorial government. In short these accused persons, briefly in court on their way to the firing squad, took responsibility for everything that had gone wrong for the past two decades in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

So why is it today that no one draws the connection between the Soviet purge trials and the confession of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed? Mohammed said that he had been tortured by his American captors. No one contradicted his assertion. Then he went on, with a straight and sincere face, to take responsibility for a long list of crimes recently perpetrated"

KSM should have been tried within shouting distance of 9/11 for violating the laws of war and upon conviction, hanged. Simple enough. The standards of justice there are crystal clear.

Truman did not shrink from executing Tojo or Goring. Eisenhower refused to spare the Rosenbergs despite the noxious clamor of an organized campaign by fellow travellers. Democracies once had the moral self-confidence to try and condemn their deadliest enemies for their crimes and were proud to do so swiftly and openly.

No longer.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Every so often, at work, we are given professional reviews and I like to express my contempt for the meaninglessness of the process to any relevant professional function with tart commentary. My contributions this year were as follows:

In response to a demand for critical information about my colleagues, I replied:

"They are to staff meetings what Moses and the Hebrews were to the Sinai desert"

And of myself:

" I put the 'I' in 'Team' "

No one reads these forms and they have no discernable effect on one's career. Golden ratings will not save you if you screw-up and annoy the wrong bigwig nor will long established mediocrity even be accurately documented. What a waste of time.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Former CIA clandestine operative Robert Baer, author of See No Evil and a loose model for the George Clooney character in "Syriana" has an article up in Vanity Fair profiling Tim Spicer, the CEO of a British PMC called Aegis Defence Services. A sample.

"Iraq's Mercenary King"

"No one planned for a private army of this size. Like most things in the Iraq war, it just happened. After the Iraq National Museum was looted, in April of 2003, and even four months later, after the U.N. headquarters was destroyed by a car bomb, the Pentagon assumed it was dealing with garden-variety crime and terrorism—nothing a good whiff of grapeshot couldn't quell. With U.S. forces stretched thin, why not let private military contractors deal with routine security? They could protect the coalition offices, the supply shipments, the embassies, and also the reconstruction teams, the journalists, the U.N. workers, and the aid organizations. After all, guns for hire in Afghanistan had been keeping Hamid Karzai alive.

As the security situation deteriorated and the insurgency became more sophisticated, the contractors were forced to adapt, operating as small military units, carrying automatic weapons and rocket launchers, and traveling in convoys of heavily armored S.U.V.'s. Their tactics included driving at 90 miles an hour or more and shooting at any vehicle that appeared to be a threat. In some cases, military contractors fought pitched battles. Today, when they get in trouble, contractors can call on help in the form of military air support or a quick-reaction force.

Who are these contractors? Watch the passengers in Dubai waiting for flights to Kabul and Baghdad and you'll get an idea. Half of them are fortysomething, a little paunchy, their hair thinning. They haven't done a pull-up or run an obstacle course in 20 years. You have to suspect that many are divorced and paying alimony, child support, and mortgages on houses they don't live in. The other half, in their late 20s and early 30s, have been enticed into leaving the military early, quadrupling their salaries by entering the private sector. They bulge out of their T-shirts, bang knuckles, shoulder-bump. They can't wait to get into the action.

The mercenaries crowd the duty-free counters buying boxes of Cuban Cohiba cigars and bottles of Jack Daniel's—nights on mortar watch can be very long. There's no doubt they can afford it. Men with service in an elite military unit have been known to make up to $1,500 a day. More typically a Western military contractor will earn $180,000 a year. Depending on the contract, benefits can include a hundred days of leave, kidnapping insurance, health insurance, and life insurance."

Hmmm. I know a couple of people who've done that kind of work, I wonder if they'll chime in on that assessment. It is worth noting that Baer himself has had an exceptionally colorful career with the CIA; so much so that you could easily imagine him sitting in a bar with Robert Young Pelton or Robert Kaplan, comparing scars like Captain Quint and Sheriff Brody aboard the Orca.


Corporate Warriors




Global Guerillas

Thomas P.M. Barnett

The Small Wars Council

Neither Shall The Sword

Intel Dump

Foreign Policy In Focus

Coming Anarchy

The Nation ( hat tip to Patrick Squire via Tom)

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Feel free to stick around, check out a few links or engage in conversation.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

No theme today I'm afraid, except perhaps eclecticism:

Dave Schuler -"Greece and Mesopotamia: Origins of Greek Thought"

The SWJ Blog -"The Four Phases of the U.S. COIN Effort in Iraq"

Dan of tdaxp -"Short Review of "300"

Steve DeAngelis -"Web 3.0 Still Advancing -- Even if People Don't Know What to Call It"

Kent Center - "Rethinking Alternative Analysis to Address Transnational Threats"

SEED - "Scientific Method:Relationships Among Scientific Paradigms"

New Twist: A "Recommended Viewing" - "Conversations with history: Islamic Societies with Ira Lapidus"

"Conversations with history:The Pentagon's New Map with Thomas P.M. Barnett"

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I've been feeling the need for a blogging break, but as Zenpundit is doing so well lately, I've been trying to err in favor of keeping the posts relatively fresh for the readers who like coming here frequently. In an effort to address the other side of the coin, I met some friends and co-workers yesterday in the Wrigleyville area on a pub crawl.

The weather was nice, if a little cold and the crowds were well-behaved and friendly until the early evening, which is when I headed home. Lunch was a tasty Italian beef sandwich with hot peppers at D'Augustino's, on Addison, which hit the spot. I skipped the pizza everyone else was eating as I thought I was getting more than enough calories as it was in liquid form. ;o)

A mellow battery-recharger on a day where everyone is a little bit Irish.

More posts to come later today.....

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Doing a favor for a friend here. Do any readers, perhaps those from the New York city area, know whom can be contacted in regards to putting a scrolling message up in Times Square? Or perhaps on one of the electronic billboards? Leave a comment or drop me an email. Thanks!


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fabius Maximus offers a contrarian argument at DNI -" The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace". I found this to be one of FM's most interesting pieces, which should be read in full; I will comment on several points that intrigued me in particular:

"Having a bureaucracy, capital, constitution, and seat at the UN does not make a government. Governments have specific characteristics. The more of these they possess, the stronger and more durable they are. The most important attributes:

Control of armed forces, or even monopoly of armed force in its borders.

The ability to levy and collect taxes.

An administrative mechanism to execute its policies.

Territory in which it is the dominant political entity.

Control of borders.

Legitimacy (not love) in the eyes of its people.

The national “government” of Iraq has, by most reports, none of these. It lives on oil revenue and US funding. Its ministries are controlled by ethnic and religious groups, parceled out as patronage and run for their “owners” benefit. The only territory it controls is the Green Zone, by the grace of the Coalition’s armed forces

Defining or determining the "legitimacy" of states is one of the stickiest questions in international relations and one in which statesmen, political scientists, historians and international law experts lack a consensus. De jure recognition of other states is a small substantive component but a large diplomatic one and it can matter. Having the consent of the governed, implicitly by primary loyalty or explicitly through an electoral process is critical but it can quickly be frittered away through incompetence and weakness.

"What were the Iraq elections? An expression of hope by its people, or an ignorant or delusional attempt at nation-building by America. Perhaps both.

Either way, it was a step on a path to nowhere. Athenian democracy and the Roman republic were built on a foundation of internal political machinery by which the leaders’ decisions were translated into actions. Iraq lacked that after our invasion, and we constructed the government with no supporting bureaucratic mechanisms. Voting does not magically call the necessary apparatus into existence.

The only effective political apparatus in Iraq exists at the local level. Much of that is done by the most basic form of government: only those commanding armed men have a vote

The democratic vote in Iraq was a historically important moment, Fabius underestimates the import. He is however, quite correct, that the moment was not capitalized upon nor did the administration even attempt to prepare the interim Iraqi government to do so. Most of the political momentum was lost and democracy as a value was depreciated in the long and mostly pointless wrangling among Iraqi parties that followed. Where was General Leonard Wood when we needed him ?

Fabius also offers some advice:

"Beyond that, there are two possible ways we can help.

First, to secure public spaces in Iraq’s major cities – a form of static defense. No longer attackers, clear to all as only temporary helpers, we might transform from targets to neutral guardians.

Second, even more important, we can secure Iraq’s borders, especially with Iran. Iraq has no Army, probably by our design to maximize their dependence on us. In this role we can relocate our forces out of harm’s way (except as needed as above). Unlike the dreams of neocons, this is probably not a long-term arrangement. If Iraq survives, eventually it will build a real army and tell us to leave.

This plan gives us a soft exit path, no matter what happens in Iraq."

Some of this is quite sage but I'm hard pressed to see how the first part in particular is going to be different in the functional military sense from what General Petraeus is doing with the COIN surge. Different intent on FM's part, certainly, but actions will be similar, if not identical.

Much to read in that piece.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sean Meade, webmaster to Dr. Barnett and online editor for Aviation Week is running (designed?)their new defense technology blog ARES. Very sharp !

Adding to the blogroll....

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Monday, March 12, 2007

My review of Frank Miller's 300 - " Then we will fight in the shade" - is posted at Chicago Boyz.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Critt Jarvis has set up some new examples of the evolving grazr app using PNM as a touchstone.

Perhaps someday I'll understand OPML.

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Hmmm...before I pen my review...let's go with a 300 theme, shall we ?

Top Billing !:

Dave Schuler - "Star Wars, 300, History, and Whatnot"

Dave adds some thoughtful historical realism and common to what I expect will soon be a cacophony of hysterics about an enjoyable, highly stylized film that, like Titus or Richard III, wasn't for everyone. I however, will be seeing the 300 again.

Armchair Generalist -"Casual Fridays"

Younghusband -"This is not madness…"

John Robb -"THE 300 is absolutely amazing"

Matthew Yglesias - "300"

That's it !

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Historians, with their methodological emphasis on documentary evidence tend to look somewhat askance at the other social sciences, excepting economics and political science ( in that order). Back in my graduate student days I recall my professors treating economic studies with seriousness, poli sci articles with some respect and cracking jokes at the expense of sociology.

Anthropology, on the other hand, was summarily ignored. Unfortunate for me, as the discipline has as much practical application on matters of societal analysis as does history, economics or psychology. Studying WWII is enhanced by reading OSS psychological profiles of top Nazi leaders or Ruth Benedict's classic -and aptly named -The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

One of the more interesting characters on The Small Wars Council is Dr. Marc Tyrrell, a professional anthropologist, whose insights I have found well worth reading on many a thread (like this one on "Military Totemism" - how's that for an esoteric topic?). Well, The Small Wars Journal has an article by Dr. Tyrrell this quarter entitled "Why Dr. Johnny Won't Go To War: Anthropology and The Global War on Terror"(PDF). Tyrrell puts the field of anthropology and the influence of Franz Boas ( Benedict's mentor, also Margaret Meade's and the father of the standard social science model and cultural relativism) into the context of the war on terrorism. An interesting piece from which learned a few things, an excerpt:

"Boas combined very strong methodologies and a sound theoretical basis with a ruthless political outlook in his drive to professionalize North American Anthropology - a discipline that he and his students ended up controlling....by the end of WWI. This institutional control....decreased importance of Anthropology as an intelligence source, led to a total reformatting of the ethics of research."

Read the rest here.

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People send me many things. Too much in fact, for me to ever post them all unless blogging becomes a paying gig but I do look at and read everything you send to me. This was just em,ailed and it's hilarious - as well as an indicator of where 2008 is going and possibly a harbinger of the role Web 2.0 apps may play in the presidential race. ( Hat Tip: to Fabius Maximus).

This was posted by "Parkridge47" as if it was by a contemporary of Hillary from her High School days at Maine South. Perhaps it is. Some folks have long memories for slights or insults. But if I was to hazard a guess, I'd say the subtle stiletto of David Axelrod (Senator Barack Obama's "political brain") was behind this 4GW move to hit Hillary with some negative advertising in the youth demographic that leaves no forwarding address.

I'd take pride in saying that Republicans were behind this but I can't see the Bush administration pulling off something quite this smart. Or even being aware of Youtube.

And if you think this was something, wait until they engage the social networking platforms.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Chicago ain't ready for reform"

Alderman Paddy Bauler

Jonathan at Chicago Boyz points to "A Brilliant Analysis of Chicago Politics" by Michael Barone entitled "Mayor Daley Re-elected". I have to concur.

I grew up reading columns by the legendary Mike Royko and as a small lad of five or six, I was hustled by patronage minions of Mayor Richard J. Daley's Park District overlord, Ed Kelley, along with other children in a park district summer day camp, onto school buses to participate in a parade downtown marching past Hizzoner himself ( this was my first and last moment participating in Democratic politics). Barone's piece on Chicago politics is one of the few I would put in a league with Royko or alongside the excellent Cohen and Taylor biography of Richard J. Daley, American Pharoah. An excerpt from Barone:

"Things became different after Richard M. Daley was elected to a two-year term in 1989 after the death of Harold Washington. The new Mayor Daley was as popular in the suburbs as in the city–perhaps even more so. He became the face of the Democratic party in Illinois. Even though Republicans, in the Republican year of 1994, were able to re-elect Edgar and get majorities in the legislature, they have fared disastrously otherwise. The Daleys gave great encouragement and tacit support to Bill Clinton in the 1992 primaries, and were amply rewarded: Bill Daley became NAFTA honcho and then secretary of commerce; Richie Daley advanced his plans to expand O'Hare Airport. His father built O'Hare to its present dimensions; he seeks to expand it much more. They both recognized that Chicago established its great eminence in 1850-1950 as the railroad hub of the nation and have consistently sought to make it in 1950–2050 the great airport hub of the nation.

Given New York's dysfunctional airports, long misadministered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the distance of city-mismanaged LAX from the rest of the country, they have had as their major competition only Atlanta and maybe Dallas–Fort Worth; and O'Hare–named after a machine-related World War II fighter pilot who was a genuine hero–is I think the only worldwide equal of Heathrow. Daley's in with the Clinton administration helped, as did his in with Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is from the collar counties and was so much a political ally of Daley's that when it came time to redistrict Illinois in 2001, the Democrats in the legislature, led by Michael Madigan and surely not out of consultation with Daley, sacrificed a Downstate incumbent and left the Republicans the majority of the Illinois delegation.

Asked if the sacrificed Democrat would like the plan, Madigan, in the monosyllabic don't-back-no-losers language of Illinois politics, replied, "No."


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Perhaps my favorite entirely apolitical blog is The Eide Neurolearning Blog run by the Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, two physicians who specialize in brain research and its implications for educating children. With great regularity I find information there that either is of use to me professionally or has wider societal importance.

On Monday, the Eides posted "The Thinking Spot" which adds to the existing mountain of evidence regarding the role of the maturing prefrontal cortex in developing the capacity for higher order thinking that does not quite come to fruition until the early to mid-twenties but may begin as early as preadolescence. The Eides write, regarding the PDF studies cited:

"Rule-based learning has a developmental course (no big surprise), but what is a little surprising is the degree to which 12 year olds lag young adults in tests requiring them to make new rules."

Consider that U.S. or Western intervention in Gap states, or alternatively, internal political reform movements like the " Color Revolutions", are essentially political efforts in forcing a " Rule-set reset" on a dysfunctional society or failed state. If one prefers classic Lockean descriptors, rewriting the social contract to "create a more perfect union".

Most, though not all, of the nations in which state failure threatens are also demographically undergoing a " youth bulge". In Iran for example, 66-70 % of the population is under 30 years of age with the "fattest" part of the population curve being aged between 10 and 20. Indeed, it is the poorest nations that tend to be the youngest. To quote a UN report:

"-- Countries where fertility remains high and has declined only moderately will experience the slowest population ageing. By 2050, about 1 in 5 countries is still projected to have a median age under 30 years. The youngest populations
will be found in least developed countries, 11 of which are projected to have median ages at or below 23 years in 2050, including Angola, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger and Uganda."

What I infer from this data and the Neurolearning Blog post is that the most favorable time for any effort, external or indigenous, to engage in a positive restructuring of a nation's societal rule-sets may be when a given country's youth bulge hits their early twenties. A narrow window of time when the most physically vigorous and largest section of the population has reached mental maturity in terms of accepting, comprehending and processing abstractions yet are most open to new ideas and desirous of a productive future for themselves.

This is of course a two edged sword. Youthful populations that feel alienated and stymied tend to be restive, even revolutionary. 1968 was not just a year that saw tumultuous baby boomers in American streets but also the chaos of Cultural Revolution in China, the Prague Spring, riots in Paris, the rise of Marxist terrorism in Latin America, Germany and Italy and barely preceded an upsurge in PLO terrorism. Today, while Europe and China are rapidly graying and the U.S. is holding relatively steady, much of the world is very young

I suggest that we are not long for an era of great opportunities and great upheavals.

Cross posted to Chicago Boyz

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I hope to have a number of posts of my own up later today but here are two on history and historians that caught my eye:

"When Archivists Deal with Power Players" by Dr. Maarja Krusten

I "know" Maarja from our interaction on H-Diplo and at HNN and she brings a wealth of knowledge to the table regarding the politics of the National Archives ( interestingly enough, she had, if I recall, doubts about Bush's appointment of Cold War scholar Allen Weinstein to head the National Archives, something I strongly supported; I'm betting her opinion of Weinstein is more favorable today). The piece will also interest those readers, like Lexington Green, who have an interest in Richard Nixon.

"Training the Next Generation of Historians " by Kevlvn

A great post at ProgressiveHistorians on the future of the historical profession and the relationship that universities and professional historians could have in improving the education of K-12 students in history and their own teaching of undergraduates (the quality level of which, to put it kindly, is uneven). A commendable post and one that touches on the larger question of the mission of the American university in the 21st century.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

I watched this highly enjoyable TED presentation by Sir Ken Robinson at Dr. Florida's Creative Class blog. Robinson has a solid critique that he delivers with gentle humor

Reproducing my comments at Creative Class, Creativity, in my humble opinion comes in several variants - generative insight, synthesis, tweaking/tinkering and the collective, stochastic/stigmergic, version of tweaking you see in open-source and/or market based "accumulated wisdom" forms of cultural evolution. They are not all the same thing nor do they, in my very limited experience of reviewing studies, look the same in MRI brain studies of cognitive tasks

Public education is not currently designed to promote any of these forms of creativity, though some instructors do. Instead the cognitive emphasis is on recall and at best, application and analysis. Certainly useful thinking skills but not the only ones students should have in their kit.

The good news is that these forms of creativity are not that hard to teach students to practice but the incentives to do so aren't there for teachers or professors. With the former group, NCLB pressure mitigates against doing so; with the latter, the publish or perish ethic makes teaching itself an irrelevance at worst and a minor positive at best.

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A day late but not a dollar short. Mixing topics today.

Steve DeAngelis - " Natural or Manmade Environmentalism?"

Steve gets top billing for his post on scientist and futurist and major "influential" Stewart Brand's predictions of a techno-environmentalism. Any move away from the romanticist, alarmist, statist, and intolerantly authoritarian, neo-Druidism that currently prevails among many greens would be welcomed by me. As an aside, Brand earns major points from me for this unrelated argument here -in fact, it's worth a post in its own right.

ISN The Blog - " Mapping Nuclear Explosions"

Yes, I detonated a 100 megaton bomb in the Loop to see the blast radius extend out over the 'burbs and Lake Michigan. Nuke your favorite city today. The disturbing aspect is on the other end of the spectrum. The small, perhaps 1/10th of a kiloton + " backpack" nukes look more "usable" with this kind of visualization. Not sure if that is really a great idea, making tiny nuclear explosions seem more " survivable".

Real Clear Politics - "Coulter's No-Brainer"

And here I thought she was talking about a bundle of sticks. On the bright side, Ann Coulter just staked her righteous claim to the imperial throne of Right Wingnutistan ( Bill Arkin is the current sovereign of neighboring Left Wingnutopotamia, having dethroned the previous ruler from the DailyKOS)

Marc Schulman - "Al Qaeda, Pakistan and the Taliban "

Marc is always on top of the breaking news on the Terror War bringing to it analytical depth and conservative commentary that is among the best in the blogosphere. Here he highlights disturbing news on al Qaida's reconstituted capabilities.

The Athenaeum - ""Rediscovering Islam" by Brigadier FB Ali"

The Athenaeum is Colonel Lang's other, "literary" blog. This essay is a cri de coeur about the state of society in the Islamic world by a member of the elite.

Next, an unusual and somber recommendation:

As some of you are already aware, one of my great blogfriends, Dan of tdaxp, suffered an untimely loss of his father, who passed away last week. Dan shared his grief in many, frequently touching and deeply reflective, posts. I would like to offer my formal condolences to Dan and his family and thank him for sharing his thoughts in such a terrible time.

That's it.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Fabulous post by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye, " Who were the Etruscans?". Dave delves into the history, linguistics and art of mighty Rome's Northern predecessor:

"The Etruscan language

What we know of the Etruscan language comes from inscriptions and “bilinguals”” like the gold inscription at right. A number of Roman writers testified that the Etruscans had a substantial literature but no extensive texts in the language have been found to date. The Etruscan language was written, like Latin and Greek, in an alphabet derived from the Phoenician. Deciphering the texts has not been so much a problem of determining what the letters were as of what the words meant.

I have read claims of relationships between Etruscan and Hungarian, Ukrainian, Dravidian languages and several others, apparently for reasons as much political as linguistic.

The prevailing wisdom on the Etruscan language has been that Etruscan is not an Indo-European language and, indeed, until quite recently Etruscan was believed to be a “linguistic isolate”—a language with no known affinities. More recent scholarship has suggested otherwise. In 1998 the German scholar Helmut Rix published a paper that demonstrated relationships between Etruscan and a number of other languages including Rhaetic, another extinct language of northern Italy, Eteocypriot, a language of Iron Age Cyprus, and Lemnian, a language spoken on the island of Lemnos, interesting in light of the quote from Thucydides cited above"

A must read post for lovers of ancient history and cultures.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

This is some cool techno-foreshadowing that will warm the hearts of geeks, nerds and sci-fi aficianados everywhere. " Superbots" - robotic modules demonstrating emergent behavior. To quote Dr. Von:

"I just found it fascinating that these concepts are now being introduced and perfected in robotics, where a USC group is demonstrating that robotic modules can act independently, but when combined can communicate with each other, adapt, and perform multiple functions"

Von has posted and linked to a set of videos like this one.

Now imagine this concept married to nanotechnology where each superbot is at the mirco- or nano- level, perhaps in a buckeyball design, and you have a collective superbot that could dynamically adapt to virtually any environment.

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I watched "The Departed" last night, which was generally excellent, if a tad long with an entirely unmemorable and wooden love interest. The plot twists nicely for a gangster film and Jack Nicholson gives an adeptly understated performance as Frank Costello, a character based on the real-life Irish mob boss of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, the notorious James J. " Whitey" Bulger, who like Costello, was both casually murderous and a protected informant of the FBI. Matt Damon is out-acted by Leonardo DiCaprio in their joint scenes, but as neither of them will ever be confused with Sir Laurence Olivier, that really doesn't matter much.

Worth the price of a movie rental.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Historian and public intellectual, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. passed away the other day at the age of 89. Dr. Schlesinger was an author of extensive scholarship, I myself recall reading his Age of Jackson as an undergraduate and I have a number of his Kennedy books, where Schlesinger veered into hagiography, on my shelf. It is difficult to separate the man from most of the subjects on which he wrote, the New Deal and the Kennedy administration seemed to be part and parcel of Schlesinger's very identity.

Schlesinger used his vast knowledge of history as much to shape public debate as to inform the public about history. His "Vital Center", published in 1949, helped separate American liberalism from its myopic indulgence of international Communism that was a de rigeur attitude among intellectuals in the 1930's and 1940's. Schlesinger's career was one of defending liberalism, which he equated with the values of the New Deal and Camelot, and it's icons, from the attacks of conservatives and leftist radicals alike. Schlesinger, like his contemporary and nemesis, Richard Nixon, stayed " in the the arena" of the battle of ideas until his last breath.

I often disagreed with Schlesinger's take on historical interpretation, moreso his politics, but one must acknowledge that as a historian, Schlesinger was a giant.


David Greenberg

Jonathan Zimmerman

Alonzo Hamby

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

On very rare occasions, I reproduce a post from another blog in toto. After hearing from Dave Dilegge, editor of the Small Wars Journal, this is one of those times. The following was posted today at the SWJ Blog by Dr. Dave Kilcullen, an Australian lieutenant colonel, expert on irregular warfare, anthropologist and currently a special adviser on counterinsurgency to the Department of State. Kilcullen takes issue with reporting from The Guardian:

"Guardian article misrepresents the advisers' view

Today’s Guardian article (“Military Chiefs Give US Six Months to Win Iraq War”) misrepresents the Baghdad advisers. So much so, it makes me doubt the reliability of the single, unidentified source responsible for much of the article’s reporting.

I hope SWJ colleagues will forgive this more "personal" post than usual, but as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser I have a duty to set the record straight on this.

There is a real country called Iraq, where a real war is going on, with real progress but very real challenges. We are not going to "win the war" in six months -- nor would anyone expect to. But the Guardian seems to be describing some completely different, (possibly mythical) country, and some imaginary group of harried and depressed advisers bearing no resemblance to reality. As counterinsurgency professionals, we take a fact-based approach and we are well aware of the extremely demanding task we face. That makes us cautious realists -- but we are far from pessimists, as the Guardian's anonymous source seems to imply.

The article is littered with inaccuracies:

• the “advisers” are not bunkered down in the Green Zone, but in another location, and frequently out on the ground.

• the article (incorrectly) describes me as a serving military officer – I’m a civilian diplomat, as any source truly familiar with the team's thinking would be well aware.

• while recognizing the severity of the challenge, the team's mood is far from pessimistic. Success will take months or years, not weeks or days, and although early signs are somewhat encouraging it's really far too early to say how things will play out. The war has been going for four years, the new strategy for less than four weeks. Give it time.

• the State department is not failing to meet its personnel targets. On the contrary, more than 90 % of civilian positions in Iraq are filled, and we will grow to 20 Provincial Reconstruction Teams soon.

• the coalition is far from disintegrating – British redeployment from the South reflects improved security, not lack of will, and the same day the British announced their move the Australians announced a force increase in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

• The plan is not “unclear” or “constantly changing” – we all know exactly what the plan is. The article seems to be mistaking the freedom and agility which have been granted to us, allowing us to respond dynamically to a dynamic situation, for vacillation.

Yes, of course, there are still car bombings. But several recent bombings have been Sunni-on-Sunni, rather than sectarian, with extremists targeting moderates to discourage them from cooperating with the government. That means sectarian violence, overall, is down, and that extremists are worried they are losing support from their base – both good things, despite the appalling violence against innocents we have come to expect from these extremists.

And yes, there is a risk that home-front political will might collapse just as we are getting things right on the ground. Given some commentators’ overall negativity, one suspects that their efforts may directed to precisely that end. You may not like the President, you may be unhappy about the war. But whose side are you on? The Iraqis trusted us, and this is their fight. They deserve our support.

Buried in the article, though, are some references to real-world progress:

• Progress has been made on oil-wealth sharing legislation – a major development
• Joint operations are beginning in Baghdad, and are going well so far

• Iraqi community leaders are reporting somewhat improved morale and public confidence among the civilian population, though this is tempered by previously unmet expectations

• Numbers of political murders have fallen (precipitously) since the operation began, though these are still too high in absolute terms

• Iraqi forces are turning up, and performing well, though not always at 100% strength

• In al-Anbar, tribal leaders have realized extremists have nothing to offer them – a huge development, as influential community leaders have "flipped" from AQ's side to support the Iraqi government

• Regional diplomatic efforts, including with Iran and Syria, are apparently underway

Unfortunately most of these developments are buried in the last paragraph of a long article.

The Guardian is entitled to its own view of the war, and reasonable people can differ on these issues. But the Guardian’s view is not ours, and the anonymous source misrepresents our views. It is really too soon to tell how things will play out, though early signs are encouraging so far, and the advisers as a group remain cautious realists, not pessimists."

Well said.

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I finally went to see a doctor. Turns out I've had a nasty strep infection for some time and not the flu or a cold. Normally, I get by on about 4-5 hours of sleep and have plenty of energy for work, the kids, blogging, weightlifting but lately I've been sleeping 8-10 hours and still feel wiped out.

On some antibiotics which should hopefully get me back on track.


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