Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Soviet Khameini ?

Dr. Barnett has often used the analogy of the Soviet Union under the long rule of Leonid Brezhnev to describe the current Iranian regime:

"This article aptly captures what I saw similarly in the USSR in the summer of 1985: most people simply opt out. They've figured out how to make their private lives decent through a thriving black market and off-line alternative lifestyle and in their public lives they pretend to obey so the mullahs can pretend to rule.

This is the dropped-out mentality Gorby ran into in the USSR with his perestroika: basically everyone told him to go shove it cause they weren't in the mood and there was nothing he could offer them. Thus, the Sovs' sad decline pushed that train right off the tracks.

Watch Ahmadinejad's hard-liner-approved reformist successor try to revitalize the masses through such tactics after Ahmadinejad's crackdown tactics achieve nothing but more opting out in the face of the accelerating economic collapse.

Then watch the real change begin."

I'm not up to date on the details of the Iranian economy, which is ( at a minimum) riven by underemployment, a youth demographic bulge, systemic corruption and underinvestment in critical sectors. Chances are, the Iranian economy, despite it's problems and governmental mismanagement, have not reached the craptacular proportions of decreptitude that prevailed prior to the Soviet implosion. Nevertheless, some of the Soviet-Iranian parallels are striking:

Highly factionalized, undemocratic, leadership
Trend toward gerontocratic ruling class
Opaque decision-making process for strategic problems
Power is both centralized in government hands yet diffused at top levels, creating paralysis
Increasing reliance upon (and expansion of) paramilitary security forces to secure rule
Tightening of political censorship and "public morals" campaigns to appease ideological hardliners
Public alienation from and cynicism toward official state ideology
Rising nationalism separate from state ideology that both supports and undermines the regime
Rampant corruption at all levels of society
Diplomatic isolation
Dual centers of power in foreign affairs
Ideological hardliners in key positions to control security services rather than pragmatists
Critical economic questions are repeatedly ignored in favor of factional interests or ideological concerns
Increasing reliance on raw material commodity exports for government revenue

I'd be interested to know how Iranian towns and cities in the interior compare to Teheran in terms of services, material goods, poverty and like indicators.

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At the behest of Critt, I'm now on twitter as a complement to the blog. Sean and Dan are with me so at least I'm not out there shouting into the wind.

I'll give twitter a fair trial. The geek world, of which I claim no membership in due to technical incompetence and sheer lack of time to fully investigate, seems to be very excited about this app ( though not everybody). Rick Klau (previous link) called it "micro blogging" which I think is probably a sustainable, cognitive format for holding attention, moreso than "hey...I'm going to take a shower now" type messages, which would become a tyranny of the mundane once the novelty of using twitter wears off.

We get a mental "charge" or arousal from connectivity with another personwith the social networking aspect but without some kind of interesting content to sustain the connection, our attention is apt to wander.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Going to take the kiddies to see this one on Saturday or Sunday. I'm wondering how the movie handles the world-devouring Galactus that I remember from my childhood of thumbing through Marvel comic books.

It occurred to me that Stan Lee ( along with the late sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick, another example)may go down as one of the great, unintentionally prolific, screenplay writers.

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Back from vacation.

This will mostly be of true interest to the geeky set, but I've addded a new widget, search engine app called Lijit to the blog, which can be found in the upper margin above the archives. For more information, see this post by Ross Mayfield.

Hopefully, it will help readers find information more easily that is buried in my information junkyard of a blog.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

On a short trip with the family. Internet connectivity with the new laptop isn't quite what I hoped it would be so I will be offline for the next few days, enjoying the beach, the children, some good books and a few cold ones.

Be back Thursday or Friday. Cheers !

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

I have a review of The Changing Face of War posted at Chicago Boyz.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

This will delight some, intrigue many and annoy others but I found it to be a good counterintuitive question worth considering.

Ahistoricality, posting at ProgressiveHistorians regarding the latest Failed States index, wonders about applying the criteria for state failure, used by Foreign Policy, to the linchpin of the global Core, the United States:

"The annual "Failed States Index" is out. The concept is an interesting one, indicating our very recent idea that national governments are supposed to be stable, almost eternal, and that society is supposed to manage all its conflicts with policy, that all land and people deserve stable governance. I'm not criticizing the ideas, I'm just pointing out that they are recent conceits, not eternal verities, and up to the end of WWI the most likely response to a failed state was imperial takeover.

The headlines regarding the index are highlighting Iraq's precarious position as the second most failing state in the world, but it was a tight finish between the Sudan, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Somalia for the top spots. The only two non-African nations in the top ten of this list are Iraq and Afghanistan. Two things come to mind immediately when I look at this list: first, our imperial interventions are clearly short-term disasters, and; second, the history of failed post-colonial states suggests that they might well be long-term ones.

The full list of 177 states is interesting reading. The top thirty-two (the most critical, by their reckoning) are dominated by post-colonial African and Asian states. The rest of the top sixty adds some Latin American and Central Asian governments. Russia and China are tied with Azerbaijan and Lesotho for 62nd place.

The US ranked 160th, or 18th from the top in terms of state stability. I wonder, though. I'm including the list of factors they considered: do you think we're as safe as all that?

Social Indicators

1. Mounting Demographic Pressures
2. Massive Movement of Refugees or Internally Displaced Persons creating Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
3. Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia
4. Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
Economic Indicators
5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
6. Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline

Political Indicators
7. Criminalization and/or Delegitimization of the State
8. Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
9. Suspension or Arbitrary Application of the Rule of Law and Widespread Violation of Human Rights
10. Security Apparatus Operates as a "State Within a State"
11. Rise of Factionalized Elites
12. Intervention of Other States or External Political Actors"

Naturally, I disagree that the United States is in danger of imminent or medium term state failure though such things are not impossible. The secession crisis before the Civil War was an event of critical state failure. Late 1932 and early 1933 saw at least symptoms of state failure and delegitimization amidst the economic implosion of the Great Depression and the collapse of the banking system.

What do you think ?

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Squared off against The Firstborn and the Son of Zenpundit yesterday in a running supersoaker gun battle, occasionally involving the use of heavy artillery (the hose) and antipersonnel mines ( the sprinkler) by a winded Zenpundit, who denies any violations of the Geneva Convention.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Art Hutchinson has had a very stimulating series of posts at Mapping Strategy that cover many topics related to strategic thinking and futurism that I cannot let pass without a high recommendation and brief commetary:

1. "Perils of Prediction: The Elusiveness of Certainty and the Value of 'Simulated Hindsight'"

Art lauds Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" and discusses using "simulated hindsight" as a cognitive tool. This is not unlike counterfactual history exercises applied to futurism.

2. "sdrawkcaB gniknihT - Mind Game or Creative Lever?"

Art is concentrating here on reverse order thinking exercises which powerfully disrupt our brain's natural preference for automaticity in "learned" activities, forcing a rexamination of assumptions in terms of process, sequence and causation. Art also explains why some folks are more equal than others with this technique.

3. "Thinker or Tinker - In Pursuit of Practical Strategy"

Partly a blog dialogue between Art and Dave Snowden on narrative and scenario strategies and Art's advocacy of modular, interactive scenarios. Art also keys into the creativity/innovation aspect of recognizing and managing possibilities at what in the Medici Effect would be called " intersections".


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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tom brought an excellent post by Curtis Gale Weeks at 5GW to my attention and then offered his own commentary. Here are the posts:

"On the Barnettian 5GW" by Curtis Gale Weeks

"Nice post by Curtis on 5GW" by Dr. Barnett

I have to agree with Tom and Shane that Curtis really hit his stride with that post. I have a few comments of my own on their 5GW exchange.

Curtis wrote:

"—There is a term used variously and vaguely in these discussions; I myself conflated two interpretations of the term. The Robbian view seems to depend on unequal distribution of “-powerment”, in which some individuals or groups become more powerful than the general human population; whereas, at heart Thomas Barnett’s Core/Gap paradigm and strategy seem to depend upon an eventual equalization, or a relative equalization (which is a type of oxymoronic phrase), of individual empowerment across the globe"

I don't think Curtis' use of " relative equalization of individual empowerment" is actually as oxymoronic as it seems. This is an astute normative economic observation on Week's part. Instead, it illustrates the aggregate effect of Schumpeter's creative destruction rippling across the globe as the spread of economic connectivity and information technology proceeds apace. The spread, of say, cell phone-based wifi internet access to states with sketchy (at best) landline telephone service, is a quantum leap forward for equalization of empowerment on the macro- scale even as certain small networks or individuals of those states on the micro- scale, possess the ability to leverage still greater levels of empowerment to become "more equal than others".

This seeming dichotomy are flip sides of the same coin in any true market action and is always ongoing to some degree, provided the market is permitted to function. Unless the comparative advantage is artificially locked in by force ( this is what tyrants of disconnectivity, like Mugabe and Kim Jong-Il, do - force everyone else to remain still in order to retain their own local "super empowerment"), any individual or entity's "super empowerment" is apt to be a fleeting condition unless constantly maintained by adaptive improvements.

Much later, Curtis opined:

"Many people seek saviors of one sort or another; many are happy to delegate responsibility for the things they themselves cannot touch or do not have the time or motivation to fix themselves — or do not understand, themselves. The crux of the Barnettian paradox involves the manner and method of assigning these delegations so that the general man-on-the-street can rest easily knowing his prosperous future is assured. Even within the Core, much doubt about this process of delegation exists; various superempowerments within and without the Core threaten to upset faith in the systems of the Core. "

Visible super empowerment within a society is a condition representing both change as well as inequality; two phenomena against which it is nearly always possible to rally anger, envy, fear and political opposition.

Tom Barnett wrote:

" Instead of trying to be all things to all individuals in Vol. III, I'll explore the one thing I know well. I do that because I feel the knowledge is important in its own right, addressing a serious gap in our tool kit vis-a-vis other, rising societies of SEIs (especially China and India).

....The book on SEIs remaking the world in their vision--positively--is a book I could see writing with Steve a few years down the road."

The accent on positively remaking the world by Dr. Barnett is a noteworthy point to keep in mind. Numerically speaking, most highly intelligent, energetic, creative and task persistent individuals who function as change agents are overwhelmingly positive actors. Maslow wrote of a stage of self-actualization and in a certain sense, exceeding oneself by changing society in a positive direction may be an expression of both self-actualization as well as super empowerment The Ted Kaczynskis and Osama Bin Ladens are perverse and statistically rare anomalies; exceptions that prove the rule, in a sense.

Unfortunately, the exceptionally negative super empowered individuals do and will exist and have the potential to inflict system perturbations, at least on a one-shot, " black swan", basis. Deep uncertainty regarding the nature of such future superempowered individuals' actions has to be dealt with in terms of proactively engineering systemic resilience to cope with these malicious one-hit wonders. Steve's Development-in-a Box paradigm at Enterra is one effort to begin comprehensively addressing these deficits. Tom's Sys Admin is another. Building new, highly decentralized, "Wikinomic" mass-collaborative platforms from scratch, may be yet a third.

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Many additions to the blogroll, a few of which I have been looking at for some time. Others caught my eye only this morning. Check them out!

Abu Muqawama

Cognitive Daily


Cox and Forkum


Haft of the Spear ( Tanji has set up a new site and url)

Mind Hacks


Project on Defense Alternatives


The SPOT Report


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Monday, June 18, 2007

A day late but it is here.

Lexington Green -"Article Roundup" An impressively robust reading list in the area of "small wars" and COIN ( some pieces I have already linked to here, others not) as well as a variety of other interesting topics, along with Lex's commentary.

Steve DeAngelis - "Fostering Innovation" Steve continues the conversation on organizational creativity and productivity that he began and I responded to last week (more on this post later).

Dan of tdaxp - "Corporate Bloggers" Dan joined the creativity-innovation conversation too.

The Jamestown Foundation - "The Role of Foreign Trainers in Southern Thailand's Insurgency" Generally, a sleeper issue in the Western media but an important test case on the ability of international Salafist terror networks to subvert states that are overwhelmingly non-Muslim and the willingness of these states to resist.

The NYT -"How Great Leaders Juggle Ideas" Interesting. Indicates a mental "zen" point regarding synthesis of contradictory concepts (hat tip KurweilAI).

That's it!
Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dr. Chet Richards of DNI has posted the introduction to his forthcoming book, If We Can Keep It. From what I have gathered, this book will be an extension of the radical military analysis Richards began with his previous work, Neither Shall the Sword: Conflict in the Years Ahead . An excerpt:

"Three national myths

The first is that “terrorism” poses the most serious threat to our survival and our way of life. In fact, the physical damage that terrorism does is small in comparison to other threats to our national well-being, and there are means available to reduce it even further. The greatest threat of “terrorism” is the damage we do to ourselves in sincere but misguided attempts to deal with it.

The second national misperception is that we still require a military establishment whose cost exceeds not just that of the next most powerful nation or even the next three, but of all the rest of the world, combined. Most of this expense goes into conventional (non-nuclear) forces that are no longer needed or even useful. The reason for this is not that world brotherhood has broken out, as earlier generations of pacifists mistakenly assumed, but that nuclear weapons have made wars between major powers impossible. States that are not nuclear powers, on the other hand, are either U.S. allies or are far too weak to pose any kind of military threat, and our attempts to use military force against non-state opponents, such as the “terrorists” mentioned in the previous paragraph, have not proven particularly successful.

The third, and perhaps the most dangerous because it seduces us into thinking that we can make military force into a normal tool of policy, is the notion of counterinsurgency theory. The problem is not that insurgencies cannot be defeated, but that proponents of this theory sometimes fail to distinguish between different meanings of the term “insurgency.” Several observers, recognizing this limitation, have proposed classifications. Biddle (2006) distinguishes between “people’s wars,” in which groups try to overthrow the government, and “communal civil wars,” where groups are fighting to avoid genocide. Metz (2007) classifies insurgencies based upon whether a legitimate government exists or can be created. These are both valuable and help explain why some insurgencies succeed where others do not.

....In the specific area of national defense policy, I recommend that the Department of Defense be gradually downsized to roughly the current U.S. Marine Corps plus special operations forces and supporting tactical air. This is more than adequate to deal with any future military threat. Concerning strategic – nuclear – forces, 10,000 weapons are more than we need to preserve the proven doctrine of mutually assured destruction (Blair, 2007a). Some reduction in this arsenal is clearly feasible.

Such a reordering of priorities towards our real problems implies a restructuring of the federal government. We should immediately disband the terrorism bureaucracy, particularly the Transportation Security Administration and its parent, the Department of Homeland Security and should review the roles and functions of the other agencies and departments.

Over time, as the Defense Department assumes its natural size, as has already happened with most of our European allies (Bacevich, 2006), intelligence will assume a more important function. Although military operations in the future will be rare, it becomes more important than ever that they be perceived by our friends and allies as justified, and when they do occur, they must be rapid, daring, and successful. Achieving this standard requires a step-function improvement in the integration of intelligence, diplomacy, and operations, so it will make sense to consolidate these functions in a single body where the controlling function is intelligence."

Read the entire introduction here.

It would appear that Richards, whose analytical framework is deeply rooted in the ideas of John Boyd, is throwing the 4GW hat into the ring of grand strategy, remediating a frequent criticism that 4GW thinkers are focused primarily upon tactical conflict and the destructive rather than constructive levels of strategic thinking. It will no doubt be an interesting and thought-provoking book that will stampede an entire herd of sacred cows beloved by defense intellectuals off of a cliff. That alone will make it a useful read.

My questions ( and Richards may very well answer them in his forthcoming book) raised by If We Can Keep It, would hinge on several variables:

* The utility of nuclear deterrence, upon which Richards' strategic transformation seems to depend, in an era when significant power (WMD capacity) appears to be devolving to progressively smaller ( and potentially less accountable, predictable and deterrable) substate and non-state networks. The history of nuclear deterrence and accompanying theory represents a large and complex literature with such thinkers as Brodie, Wohlstetter, Kahn, Kissinger and others who never satisfactorily arrived at answers to the conundrum presented by nuclear weapons.

Eisenhower-Dulles " massive retaliation" and "brinksmanship" put a brake on defense spending ( as Ike intended) but it was a very risky and blunt instrument. The idea that Washington would "trade New York for Paris" with the Soviets was never entirely a credible one. Nor did America's massive nuclear arsenal prevent Nasser from closing the Suez or Ho Chi Minh from subverting Saigon or even deter Khrushchev from his nuclear gamble in Cuba (in fact, our lopsided nuclear advantage probably was an incentive in Khrushchev's eyes to gain parity on the cheap).

* Steady-state assumptions about nation-state behavior in the international arena if conventional American power projection capacity was drastically reduced to levels proportionate to Western Europe. This is a major point to consider when offering a non-interventionist alternative to current strategy - American military power is the focal point of most regional security systems ( or opposition to them). To my mind, statesmen calculate their actions and plan their military expenditures based upon assumptions of American hegemony, welcome or not. The inability to even get to the starting block for military competition with the U.S. - we must think not just in terms of annual military budgets but in the colossal sunk costs of establishing a military-industrial base - is inhibiting regional arms races to a degree. Remove American preeminence from the equation and foreign statesmen are going to arrive at different calculations regarding their interests and security.

I look forward to reading it and entertaining Dr. Richards' argument in full.

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Something completely different. The youtube clip below (hat tip to Dave Davison)is a stunning visual mash-up of famous female faces throughout the history of Western Art.

What struck me was the consistency with which symmetry was a critical element in the conception of female beauty. This affinity for an even facial structure and large eyes in fellow humans may be more of a "hard-wired" brain preference than a simple cultural affectation of Westerners.

Who should your spokesperson be ? If they are going to be presenting in visual mediums, then it would help your message if they have a symmetrical face. Your vision is framed more powerfully than any words you may hear.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Steve DeAngelis at ERMB recently had an important and thought provoking post that should resonate with anyone who has experienced the imposing conformity of a corporate cubicle. In " The Tension Between Creativity and Efficiency", DeAngelis spotlighted an important area of friction as organizations struggle to adapt to macroeconomic shifts created by globalization and the information revolution. While the focus in Steve's post happened to be corporations, it is a paradigm that applies equally well to public education, the military, intelligence agencies, universities - basically any entity that has a legacy organizational structure from the "mass-man", " second wave" era of industrial mass production and Cold War that was so deeply influenced by Taylorist "scientific management".

Specifically, Steve was looking at an article that detailed the implications for the rate of innovation of Six Sigma type programs. Some excerpts:

"The problem, according to the article, is that the culture created by Six Sigma clashes directly with the culture required for innovation.

"Now his successors face a challenging question: whether the relentless emphasis on efficiency had made 3M a less creative company. That's a vitally important issue for a company whose very identity is built on innovation. After all, 3M is the birthplace of masking tape, Thinsulate, and the Post-it note. It is the invention machine whose methods were consecrated in the influential 1994 best-seller Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. But those old hits have become distant memories. It has been a long time since the debut of 3M's last game-changing technology: the multilayered optical films that coat liquid-crystal display screens. At the company that has always prided itself on drawing at least one-third of sales from products released in the past five years, today that fraction has slipped to only one-quarter. Those results are not coincidental. Efficiency programs such as Six Sigma are designed to identify problems in work processes—and then use rigorous measurement to reduce variation and eliminate defects. When these types of initiatives become ingrained in a company's culture, as they did at 3M, creativity can easily get squelched. After all, a breakthrough innovation is something that challenges existing procedures and norms. 'Invention is by its very nature a disorderly process,' says current CEO George Buckley, who has dialed back many of McNerney's initiatives. 'You can't put a Six Sigma process into that area and say, well, I'm getting behind on invention, so I'm going to schedule myself for three good ideas on Wednesday and two on Friday. That's not how creativity works.'"

Does that mean that efficiency and creativity must always be at odds? Can the same company establish efficient processes and foster creativity? The article implies that it may be impossible.

....There are a couple of ways that companies can deal with this conundrum. The first is to separate creative portions of a company from process-oriented portions and apply different rules to the different parts. The second way to deal with the dilemma is to automate processes while leaving the people free to be creative. One of the reasons Enterra Solutions has attracted the interest of big companies is that they see the benefits of relieving people from the drudgeries of routine processes. Not only is process automation efficient and effective, even those who must deal with the rule automation process can be creative in how they approach their job. Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma approaches can be used to drive automated processes without having to change an entire company's creative culture."

Read Steve's post in full here.

I agree with Steve that Six Sigma philosophy has it's place, particularly in terms of final delivery of a service or good but it is ill-suited for maximizing potential productivity in the sense of generating that which is new. Six Sigma, TQM, ISO 900 and related "zero defects" mentality programs, applied unreasonably and unthinkingly across the board by Jack Welch wannabes, have significant costs. For example:

* The emphasis shifts from finding new opportunities to not making mistakes:

This inculcates a "gotcha" attitude in middle-management and makes employees exceedingly risk-averse, conservative and uncommunicative ( when management is hunting for mistakes that will hurt your career, do you run to the boss with bad news. Or do you keep your head down ?). Moreover, employees don't actually have to "be" productive so much as they need to "appear" productive, relative to the instruments by which their performance will be measured. This analytically reductionist perspective discourages a systemic approach.

* It creates a focus on the present process, not alternative pathways:

Maximizing the present and applying multiple measurement tools for individual performance leaves little time or resources for " unproductive" time for speculation, experimentation or planning. People tack to where their incentives are. Moreover, in the hands of middle-management the measurement tools begin to replace common sense in terms of driving the setting of daily objectives and prioritizing the use of time. Independent thought is strongly discouraged.

Creativity required for innovation requires behavior that is inherently "unproductive". There is an apocryphal story of a woman being led on a tour of the Institute for Advanced Study, who was taken by an office where some old loafer had his feet up on a desk and his eyes were closed, hands serenely behind his head. The woman was indignant until her guide solemnly explained that she " had been privileged to see the great Albert Einstein at work". Creativity requires time to explore new things, time to engage in "free play" with co-workers, unstructured time, in other words. In my experience, allowing this to happen is something that appears to cause members of middle-management a significant degree of intense physical pain.

Organizational creativity requires employees who are both autonomous as well as autotelic, which means that their supervisors must be less "managers" and more " leaders" with a style that emphasizes facilitation, connection, strategic thinking and motivation. A model suitable for flatter, flexible, networked-modular organizations rather than authoritarian hierarchies that implicitly encourages intrinsic motivation to create:

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Multiple "meat space" projects and family activities have partially pulled me offline the last few days. Getting this HP and trying it out was one of them. The wireless connection speed is fantastic! Originally, Mrs. Zenpundit had to talk me in to it as our house has no shortage of available PCs, including a brand new Mac, but this laptop is already proving to be quite handy.

Someday, I may even liveblog an event on location. :o)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

To Secretary of the U.S. Senate, Nancy Erickson who had the staff of the Historical Office send me a gratis copy of the newly issued Volume XIX of the Executive Sessions of The Senate Foreign Relations Committee -1967. An important year, and the volume reflects closed session discussions and testimony on such topics as the Glassboro summit, strategic arms control, the Six Day War and Johnson administration policy in Vietnam.

Primary sources like this along with FRUS are the bread and butter of American diplomatic history.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

A Harvard physicist proposes " Unparticle physics".

Dr. Von, you were there for the top quark, what's your take on this ?

And as long as we are on the frontiers of theoretical physics, experimental geneticists have reached the point of designing artificial life. Top that, I say.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Sunday line-up.

Ideas - "Loaded Dice: How to bias research"

Secrecy News - "ODNI Document Suggests a Larger Intelligence Budget"

In From The Cold - "Mr. Putin's Not-So-Serious Offer"

Middle East Perspectives -"New Chairman of the Joint Chiefs "

Pacific Empire - "How to overthrow your government"

Duck of Minerva - "Rome on the Potomac"

That's it.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

A fascinating economics paper sent to me by Fabius Maximus (hat tip accorded) that took me a few days to get to reading. Wish I had looked at it earlier:

"An-arrgh-chy: The Law and economics of Pirate Organizations" (PDF) by Dr. Peter T. Leeson

Peterson argues that historical pirates, far from being Hobbesian outlaws, governed themselves with rule-sets that minimized conflict and maximized cooperation and profit ( albeit at the expense of civilized seafaring states). Looking at broad principles of functionality, Leeson's work is applicable to other violent non-state actors - Latin American drug cartels, 4GW insurgencies and terror networks, warlord and sectarian militias, Bunker's 3 Gen gangs, TOC groups like Chinese Triads and Russian mafiya and so on.

This argument struck a chord with me on two points. First, it mirrors the historical experience of traditional Russian banditry where robber chieftains ruled over there fellows according to "Thieves Law", something Solzhenitsyn discusses at length in The Gulag Archipelago.

Secondly, network theory research indicates that small systems that seem chaotic or "noisy" actually develop emergent rule-sets that bring the system into an orderly pattern, even if the rules and patterns are very simple ones. A pirate ship, even a fleet, much like a terrorist network, is simply a small, complex, social network. Rules accepted on a consensual basis cut down on " noise" and allow the network to become more efficient.

A must read.

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Hat tip to Danger Room.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Took the kids to see Spiderman III which had great potential and some high points but frittered it's energies away on too many villains, jumbled plotlines and a multitude of character vignettes crammed in to an overly long film. The drift toward campy humor, while amusing, indicatesdthe series needs to take a good, long, rest before it starts to resemble "Predator vs. Alien" or "ROCKY IX: THE PROSTATE SURGERY".

Even the young Son of Zenpundit, who lives, eats, breathes and sleeps all things Spider-Man, had enough by about the first hour and a half.



* image and title shamelessly "liberated" from the multidisciplinarily creative Dan of tdaxp who previously posted an excellent series by the same name.

Two articles with diametrically opposed worldviews of American intervention overseas.The path to error lies in the simplification of both approaches:

"Africa Command: The Americans Have Landed" in Esquire by Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett
(This article is currently only available in dead tree format)

"Rethinking Insurgency" (PDF) at Strategic Studies Institute by Dr. Steven Metz (hat tip to Danger Room)

Tom Barnett's Esquire article on the newly created AFRICOM is one of his best pieces in "journalist" mode and it demonstrated the dire need for establishing true ( and not primarily "kinetic") "operational jointness" in interagency cooperation in Africa. This means accepting the inherent complexity of the Gap and answering with synergistic connectivity to globalization in order to engage in societal-building and state-building .


Dr. Metz also accepts the complexity and interconnectivy of globalization but prescribes defusing conflicts by disengagement, accepting the co-option of aggrieved insurgencies into the national power structure even when they are resolutely hostile to American interests. A graceful retreat does less damage, in Metz's view, than would sustained conflict fueled by American aid enhancing the power of states to resist insurgencies.

Unsurprisingly, I am in favor of Barnett's approach but recognize that it is best employed judiciously, with an economy of force and minimalist platforms where aid gives the biggest bang for the buck. Likewise, while I see the Metz approach, if raised to a general rule, as a prescription for strategic erosion of American primacy and the decline of globalization, used with discretion, it is a useful "means-test" for evaluating the strategic importance of failing states and avoiding of the waste of American blood and treasure.

Malawi is not as important as Pakistan, even if al Qaida can be found in both countries. That doesn't mean ignoring Malawi but that we engage it differently than we do Pakistan.


Steve DeAngelis is also discussing AFRICOM at ERMB

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The recent crush of work is coming to an end -regular posting to resume presently.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

An interesting paper about an obscure military classic of the Byzantine Empire (hat tip to TROUFION )

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

A hearty collection today.

Dan of tdaxp has begun a new, research-based, psychology series The Wary Student and has posted Part I. Abstract and Part II. Cognitive Load .

Art Hutchinson- "Recursive PMs: Using the Crowd for Cover" ( Hat Tip to OSD)

NYT Book Review "The Brain: Malleable, Capable, Vulnerable " by Dr. Abigail Zuger (hat tip to JR of Edgewise)

RealClear Politics Blog - "Interview with General Dempsey"

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett - "Our foes' emerging tactics "

House of War - " Primer: the Generations of War"

The Jacksonian Party - "A look at conservatism and where it isn't"

SFGate - "Brainstorming about the brain"

SEED book review "Intimate With Einstein" of Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe .

That's it!


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dr. Barnett had a post that used an WSJ op-ed as a launching pad for some big picture historical analysis:

"Message in a bottle"

In turn, I want to use Tom's post in much the same manner. Here are a couple of quotes and my kibbutzing:

"But first the Euros need to catch up with history: they are not the first multinational state or economic union. They did not invent the first unified currency. They were not the first continent to experience insane civil war and thereupon reason their way to a Kantian peace of transparency, free markets, free trade and collective security. "

Very true. Tom is pointing to America here but Europe itself experienced much the same process during the late Roman Republic. Roman citizenship was once so tightly guarded that it was denied even to the traditional Italian allies of Rome ( who played a role in the Republican empire of akin to that of the Scots in Britain's first great expansion during the 18th century - businessmen, colonial soldiers, in rare instances, minor officials) until after the Social Wars and the civil wars of Julius and then Augustus Caesar. After that, one could find Roman citizens who were Gauls, Iberians, Greeks, Germans, Jews, Arabs and peoples more obscure. The empire in many ways proved to be more a meritocratic, " open system" than did the insular city-state republic beloved by Cato.

China too went through not one but many periods of unification and renewal. Had the Ming dynasty and their Q'ing successors not turned toward resolutely inward, we might be talking today about the legacy of Chinese colonization of the Mideast, Africa and the Pacific rim of the Americas ( disconnection imposes heavy costs).

"America made that journey in the latter half of the 19th century, thanks to our Civil War and the bloody build-out of the American West (actually, most of the blood spilled long earlier). We got to our emergent point (much like China's today, but along a very different path) around 1890, following a 25-year healing period after the Civil War (China reaches its emergent point around 2000, 25 years of healing after the Cultural Revolution)."

There's a great number of historical tangents buried in this paragraph. One can draw a comparison between American dollars flowing to China today and the postbellum surge of British and Dutch investment in American railroads and corporations. Or you can look at America as the Not Quite United States from 1787-1865; not unlike China from 1911 - 1989. Or you can compare the administrations of McKinley-Roosevelt with Jiang Zemin-Hu Jintao. Are there modern Chinese intellectual equivalents to the influential role played by Frederick Jackson Turner, Brooks Adams and Alfred T. Mahan ?

"Europe had a far longer healing point, reflecting the depths to which it sank in its massive civil wars of 1914-1945. It's main problem is that its healing occurred in a very artificial sort of civilizational separateness, which is no longer tenable due to demographics"

Underneath its culture and civilization, Europe remains atavistic. While France has a different and more open tradition because of the French Revolution, many Europeans view their national citizenship primarily in terms of " blood and soil". Third generation Arab and North African citizens are still considered to be "immigrants" as are Turkish descended "gast arbeiters" in Germany.

Historically, China has taken a similar ethnocentric view of citizenship ( it is rare though not impossible, for a foreigner not of Chinese ancestry to become a citizen of China); Beijing's ability to change this and welcome Indians, Americans, Japanese, Koreans and Latins as future "Chinese" will in part, determine China's future role in world affairs.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

The major media have taken note of the poor state of Russian-American relations in the past week and the increasingly dark cast that Putin's siloviki regime has taken at home and abroad. However, neither condition is exactly new. On the one hand, American policy toward Russia has been unimaginative, erratic, shortsighted and occasionally neglectful at least since the re-election of Boris Yeltsin; on the other hand, Vladimir Putin has been exercising a "soft" dictatorship for stabilitarianism and the reconstruction of state power since Russia's liberals and democrats politically self-destructed in 2004.

That moment would have been a good time for the Bush administration to consider the results American and Western policy toward Russia but the administration, engrossed with Iraq, was content to continue to leave policy on autopilot, following the the lead of the EU and of the State Department experts who were running relations into the ground. In a nutshell, we have managed a trifecta of appearing to Moscow to be at once meddlesome and overbearing, ineffectual (in the face of Russian bullying of its "near abroad" neighbors) and uninterested in any kind of strategic partnership with Russia. This is not a recipe for diplomatic success.

In fairness to the Bush administration, our poor foreign policy record in regard to post-Soviet Russia stretches back through Clinton-Gore to the last years of Bush I. where Richard Nixon was virtually tearing his hair out in frustration. Moreover, American policy can only effect Russia on the margin. The locus of choice lies with Putin and his siloviki circle who have opted for creeping authoritarianism; but the U.S. might have made it a good deal easier for them to choose to move forward rather than to turn the clock back.

A few articles across the spectrum that are worth your time to read if you are interested in Russian-American affairs:

"Why Putin is determined to make Russia strong again" by Trevor Royle

"Russia Redux" by Vladimir Popov in The New Left Review ( hat tip to Lexington Green)

"Post-Weimar Russia? There Are Sad Signs." by Dr. Andreas Ulmand at HNN

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