Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The other day, Dan of tdaxp objected to my appreciation of logic as an analytical tool in the comment section:

"Humans are pretty terrible logical reasoners, so relying on logic doesn't do much. Expertise comes from analogical reasoning, which allows faster processing, more reliable rejection of bad options, and effortless cognition in general."

I agree with much of Dan's statement. Most people are highly illogical and emotional in their decision-making process and not a few, though still a minority of the population, remain concrete thinkers their whole lives. We could not get anything done without cognitive automaticity kicking in to gear; having to consciously, sequentially, reason out the steps of every action would leave us exhausted before breakfast. My only quibble with Dan would be to replace "expertise" with "insight" or "creativity" as many variables, including the effects of chance, go into accumulating an experential base of knowledge. That is a minor divergence, for like Dan, I am an advocate of the benefits of synthesis, analogies, metaphors, horizontal thinking, metacognitive reflection and intuitive cognition - those forms of thinking that are generative of new insights.

I have also seen many complaints recently in the blogosphere about the negative effects of analytical thinking, if overused or abused, in these cases by lawyers, the profession most noted for elevating analytical reasoning above the factual variables to which the reasoning is to be applied. Here's one:

From Kent's Imperative:

"Worse yet, we detect a discernable strain of legal thinking which now seeks to impose restrictions not only on the collection of information, but on its use. The idea that a warrant might be required to search against previously accumulated foreign intelligence materials sounds absurd, but recent legal opinions appear to have laid the groundwork for such an argument in future cases. This would also be very nearly absolutely fatal in the context of fusion and collaboration for homeland security intelligence purposes (particularly if critical elements of the intelligence picture are obtained from foreign intelligence activities of DOD and other agencies, as if often the case.)

We have long maintained that the mindsets of the lawyer and the intelligence professional are diametrically opposed. The first seeks to present a structured picture through adversarial argumentation, and by training attacks to exclude evidence from the picture to support a particular viewpoint. The latter struggles to understand puzzles and mysteries, and to assemble a coherent narrative in the face of incomplete, conflicting, and deceptive information in order to support the decision-maker’s choices regarding courses of action. Allowing the lawyers to dictate further the key aspects of the world of intelligence – and allowing intelligence activities to be framed into an “investigative” basis rather than continuing inquiry into matters of standing interest – will be the death of the profession."

Analytical thinking is a tool for reductionism. It helps you take the watch apart and explains how the gears fit together. It can identify broken parts and quantify performance. Analytical thinking works well in this instance because a mechanical watch represents a closed system with limited boundries. What analytical thinking can't do, being an interruptive, destructive, activity is conceptualize an alternative way to tell time or arrive at Einstein's insights about Relativity. For that you require a constructive, generative, pattern of thinking.

Used incorrectly, and analytical thinking often is because more people can analyze than synthesize well, it can destroy group dynamics and productivity through " paralysis by analysis". The downsides of all options become the most significant variables and opportunities are lost. Used correctly, to fine-tune, trouble-shoot, tweak and better adapt, analytical thinking can prevent disasters.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

"I cannot live without books"
- Thomas Jefferson

First, I'd like to thank Dr. Barnett and Dan of tdaxp for the kind remarks and links the past few days. Both men have often provoked me to new thoughts or reconsidered views and it is nice to know that I can return the favor on occasion.

Tom had a post Sunday entitled " Why the grand strategist/visionary needs the discipline of books" that echoed something I've long believed. Something Lexington Green, in his enviably book-lined home, probably would agree with,

a) First, there's really no substitute for a good "hard" book.

b) Fiction becomes a guilty pleasure.

Perhaps, the physicists and mathematicians among us ( Von, Shane, Wiggins) will put a word in for the elegance of the mathematical equation, but for me, the supremacy of the book reigns without a rival. As I reflect on the evolution of my thinking as a teen and an adult, inevitably there are many books and a handful of people who leap to mind. Many, many, books and very, very, few people.

As much as I love history, the best reading I have done, in terms of determined, sustained, thought, involved philosophy and economics - Aristotle, Plato, Marx, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, Galbraith, Von Mises, Von Hayek, Nietzsche, Marcus Aurelius, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Machiaveli, Kuhn -because it trained my mind to accept the discipline of formal logic. Logic is invaluable for a rational mind but wisdom is discerning logic's limitations of functioning within paradigms and that the paradigms themselves are tools for the mind to understand a part of reality; and not one of these paradigms is sufficient to encompass the whole. You have to synthesize, learn, adapt - there is no point at which you " rest" or become complacent with your expertise.

The joy is in the journey and not in the destination.

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The DVD release cometh....


"And Then We Will Fight In The Shade" -review of 300 at Chicago Boyz

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Matt at MountainRunner has a fine post on lessons that can be drawn from George Kennan's "Long Telegram".

"For those who frame the modern conflict in Cold War images, it might be useful to remember the real designs and purposes of early Cold War policies. For those who think public diplomacy is simply a beauty contest to hopefully "win hearts", should go back to the aggressive "five-dollar, five syllable" foundation of public diplomacy as a psychological struggle for minds and wills against an enemy who understood perception management."

Kennan's two volume memoirs make for some interesting reading, as does his work Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, though it helps to have some of the period's diplomatic historiography under your belt to better read between the lines of Kennan's prose. If we have any George Kennan equivalents today, they are probably employed by the Defense Department or have been, which says a great deal about the intellectual and political decline of the State Department since Kennan's time.


"America and the Russian Future (1951)" by George F. Kennan

"More reflections on George Kennan" by Dave Schuler


"George Kennan Speaks to the War on Terror" and "Tipping Points" by CKR

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As the dreaded Four-Zero raises it's head on my own horizon, I am much relieved to hear that Shane has declared " Forty is the New Twenty!".

Woo-hoo! Happy Birthday Shane!

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The nice thing about falling behind on this feature is that good material builds up. Hoo-HA!

Thomas P.M. Barnett - " Managing China's Ascent"

Books are intellectual "auctoritas". The blog is fun. Syndication is nice but op-eds in a few print outlets - The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report - are the big time influencers with the old line establishment. Nice work Tom!

Dan of tdaxp - "Dreaming 5GW"

I was certain that Boyd 2007 would spark a new series out of Dan; here he will delve into the intuitive conflict of fifth generation warfare.

Fabius Maximus - "America takes another step towards the “Long War”Part I"

Fabius draws a contrast with the start of the Cold War to question some of the operative premises of the GWOT. There is also a sustained critique of the COIN philosophy of LTC. David Kilcullen.

1 Raindrop - "William Gibson Thinks You Should Go to Metricon"

Gunnar is one of those guys who deserves to have me link to him more often than I do, a true expert in IT security as well as a Gibson fan ( seems to be a common thread among Zenpundit readers; I am halfway through Neuromancer, my first Gibson read)

Daniel Nexon - "Toward a neo-neo-Reaganite foreign policy "

Dr. Nexon, much in demand for Harry Potter interviews these days, critiques Donald Kagan's grasp of grand strategy, giving both praise and criticism. I like the term "neo-neo-Reganite" too - something to be said for reviving the most effective aspects of Reagan foreign policy. :O)

William Lind - "How to Win in Iraq"

A number of readers, including Morgan, have urged that I read Lind's piece. As someone who grew up reading Ayn Rand, Russell Kirk, Albert Jay Nock, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, it's weird for me to see a genuine paleoconservative like Bill Lind enunciating a grand strategy of conserving the state. Yet the global environment has changed and the Burkean roots of conservatism are finding political traction, at least in some quarters.

PARAMETERS -"A Social Network Approach to Understanding an Insurgency " by Brian Reed

Particularly appropriate paradigm for tribal societies where networks come " hard wired" by genetics as well as by social, political and economic choices.

That's it!


Friday, July 27, 2007

"...eventually, the application of our military power will mirror the dominant threat to a significant degree. In other words, we morph into a military of superempowered individuals fighting wars against superempowred individuals"

- Vice-Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett (1)

"First, very few people would be needed to carry out the attack. A single individual could spread a nationwide pandemic using a highly contagious virus. A two person team would be sufficient to deploy and detonate a couple of nuclear weapons"

- Dr. Fred C. Ikle, Annihilation From Within

"In fact, we may have seen the the first of 5GW in the anthrax and ricin attacks on Capitol Hill. To date, neither has been solved. Apparently a small group, perhaps an individual, decided to take on the power of the United States."

- Colonel T.X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone

"Over time, perhaps as little as in twenty years, and as the leverage provided by technology increases, this threshold will finally reach its culmination - with the ability of one man to declare war on the world and win."

- John Robb, Brave New War

To a paraphrase Karl Marx, a specter is haunting general staffs, intelligence agencies and statesmen the world over, the coming of the superempowered individual. No one quite knows what form the superempowered individual will take, but the devolution of increasingly powerful and versatile technologies at continually descending costs into the hands of individuals, coupled with the increasing interdependency of complex systems due to globalization, make their arrival all but inevitable.

As it stands now, the world is but one self-sacrificing genetic microbiologist away from a superempowered suicide bomber riding international air routes to a new black plague. However, the advancing edge of technology is the province of scientists and imaginative futurists, and even they are unable to predict how emerging technology will be employed for novel uses the inventors never intended. Therefore, I will leave speculating on the means of plausible superempowered warfare to others who are better qualified but human nature, being a more reliable variable, may be within our grasp to comprehend.

Defining Superempowerment:

Superempowered individuals are not mere terrorists with bigger, badder, car bombs. Imad Fayez Mugniyah and even Timothy McVeigh, who carried out thev Oklahoma City bombing in what must have been a very small and insular cell of extremists, are not the models despite their impressive accomplishments at mass murder. Nor are the great monster-rulers of the past like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin who were State-empowered leaders acting through the vast governmental apparatus of the nation-state. To qualify as a superempowered individual, the actor must be able to initiate a destructive event, fundamentally with their own resources, that cascades systemically on a national, regional or global scale. They must be able to credibly, "declare war on the world". Who could or would desire to do such a thing?

The Psychology of the Superempowered Individual:

A useful prototype for the coming superempowered individual, though he never achieved or intended a systemic level of mass carnage, would be the Unabomber, Dr. Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski, a brilliant but mentally disturbed mathematician turned radical environmentalist and terrorist. Kaczynski, who spent years in relative penury in a wooden shack, possessing minimal financial resources, nevertheless managed to elude the FBI for seventeen years while carrying out an intermittant bombing campaign. Ultimately, Kaczynski's terrorism resulted in the showcasing of his weird,anti-technology, ideology ( the "Unabomber Manifesto") in the two premier media outlets of the American Establishment, The New York Times and The Washington Post, and subsequently his message went on to permeate much of the global media. While Kaczyinski's body count and record of mayhem were relatively modest, considered in terms of a cost-to-benefit ratio and information operations, he might be the most successful terrorist of modern times.

Kaczynski demonstrated four characteristics that are likely to be shared with superempowered individuals:

a) "Lone Wolf" actor
b) Superior Intelligence
c) Opportunity for leveraging Complex Systems
d) Profound alienation, isolation or societal disconnection

Kaczinski's work as a student and professional academic in higher mathematics were regarded as highly impressive by his mentor and colleagues and reputedly his IQ was rated between 160 and 170 ( 2). While there is considerable debate among psychometricians about quantifying the upper limits of human intelligence, whatever the scale used, Kaczynski's mental capacity would safely fall within the upper 0.5 % of the population and represents an outlier of ability. Most likely, the Unabomber's level of IQ substantially exceeds what would be required to operate as a superempowered individual and the population base for such actors would be the upper 5 %; those people capable of understanding, calculating or estimating the probable outcome of multiple interacting variables.

According to testimony from family members and associates, Kaczynski suffered from emotional and social deficits relative to his unusual intellectual gifts and has been described variously as clinically paranoiac or schizophrenic by psychiatrists and psychologists. Kaczynski's psychological profile reports his social alienation from his peers starting even before the onset of adolescence (3). By the time of his terrorist career, Kaczynski was writing vitriolic letters to family members, accusing them of abuse and harrassment and his immediate social network was virtually non-existent. Mental or emotional disturbance, especially forms of clinical depression, coincides with unusually high levels of productive creativity, while the unusual sensitivity of profoundly gifted individuals can make them ripe for disappointment(4).

Complex systems provide the opportunity or environment for superempowered individuals to initiate system perturbations or cascading effects that ripple across multiple systems, including the political, economic and physical. Kaczynski's manifesto (as well as his targeting of airlines and technologists) clearly indicated that he grasped, however warped his agenda, the concept of interacting systems and downstream effects. Intelligence and will are not enough; the actor must have or conspire to gain access to a "choke point" from which he can, in jujitsu fashion, leverage the connectivity of a complex system against itself.

Alienation is a useful psychological precursor to cultivating a lack of empathy and devaluation, dehumanization and demonization of intended categories of victims. Adolf Hitler's earliest recorded anti-semitic diatribe comes in a letter written in 1919, giving the future Fuhrer two decades to steel himself before taking concrete steps to enact " the Final Solution". The doctoral dissertations of Pol Pot's collaborators, Hou Yuon and Khieu Samphan, laid out the basis of Khmer Rouge policy way back in 1955. It may be that such long term "mental rehearsals" are required to desensitize or justify the execution of systemic violence and that we would see such a pattern in the lives of superempowered individuals.

What Can Be Done?:

In terms of defense against superempowered individuals, the best option is engineering resilience and redundancy into all our critical systems and platforms, physical as well as social and political. We must with determination, lower our societal vulnerability to catastrophic attack so that back-up systems and third order contingencies " short-circuit" the attack of a superempowered individual on our power, economic, communication and governmental networks. Tom Barnett, John Robb and most of all Steve DeAngelis , have all been preaching the gospel of resilience but the Federal government has yet to make this a priority .

Secondly, (and frankly, I'm not certain how this should be best implemented) we need to address reconnecting mildly disturbed but very talented ( and thus, potentially, exceptionally dangerous) people to wider social support and mental health networks before they wander irrevocably into the isolated realm of delusional violence. Rarely, if ever, do people just "snap" and commit heinous atrocities out of the blue. Instead, there is a prior pattern of drifting away, of eccentric and increasingly belligerent behavior over time until the individual, in isolated rage, mounts toward a crisis and lashes out at the world.

Unfortunately, a superempowered individual will do more than simply barricade himself in his house or shoot up a work place. Instead, he will try to take a good chunk of society with him and will have the capability to do so. We have a window of opportunity now to create strategies to deal with these eventualities and it should not be wasted.


1. Barnett, Thomas P.M. and Cebrowski, Arthur K. " The American Way of War", Transformation Trends, January 2003.
2. Time.com Community Transcript " The Unabomber Trial" November 12 1997
3. Johnson, Sally C. "Psychological Evaluation of Theodore Kaczynski"
4. Simonton, Dean Keith "Are Genius and Madness Related? Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question", Psychiatric Times. June 2005 Vol. XXII Issue 7


Tom Barnett:
"My own personal 5GW dream"

John Robb:
"Lots of discussion of what 5GW is"

Shlok Vaidya:
"What Should Superempowered Individuals Do?"
"5GW And Beyond"

"Dreaming 5th Generation War"


Glittering Eye:
"Zenpundit on the Super-Empowered Individual"

Dreaming 5GW :
"Rule-sets, System Perturbations and 5GW"
"Barnettian 5GW"

Wolf Pangloss:
"Fifth Generation Warfare: Conspiracy and Shadow Government"

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

On some posts that require a little research. Should be up later tonight.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Or the politics of foreign policy. Senator Barack Obama is being blistered by his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination:

" Barack Obama's offer to meet without precondition with leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran touched off a war of words, with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton calling him naive and Obama linking her to President Bush's diplomacy.

Older politicians in both parties questioned the wisdom of such a course, while Obama's supporters characterized it as a repudiation of Bush policies of refusing to engage with certain adversaries.

It triggered a round of competing memos and statements Tuesday between the chief Democratic presidential rivals. Obama's team portrayed it as a bold stroke; Clinton supporters saw it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator's lack of foreign policy experience.

"I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," Clinton was quoted in an interview with the Quad-City Times that was posted on the Iowa newspaper's Web site on Tuesday."

As a tactical diplomatic move, a change of administrations is a good time to quietly investigate de-escalating conflicts with adversaries or improving frigid relations with important partners or allies. In principle, it makes more sense than a blanket refusal to ever negotiate. An early, high profile volte-face in relations with previously hostile countries, provided there are substantive achievments with which to point as well, can be a very important signal to the rest of the world for a new president.

On the other hand, giving out something as valuable as presidential face-time, across the board to some of the world's worst state actors, in exchange for nothing, is stupid. It diminishes the value of a presidential summit, undercuts our diplomats and demoralizes our friends while giving our enemies all the wrong incentives. If I were to guess, I'd say this empty, photo-op, gesture was the brainchild of Tony Lake, a fountainhead of bad national security analysis for four decades and currently Obama's top foreign policy guru.

I could be wrong. Lake may have had little to do with Obama's statement but the political fallout at least would have been easy to predict if it had been widely discussed on the Obama team. My two cents is that Obama should broaden his advisory circle, or avail himself of the experience available to him as a Senator in the form of staffers, elder statesmen and thought leaders. The questions are only going to become harder and sharper from this point on.

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I just finished Caesar: Life of A Colossus by the military historian Adrian Goldsworthy and found it to be a remarkably worthwhile read from which I learned much about Julius Caesar the commander, yet the flanking movements by Gaulish cavalry and Triplex Acies of the Legions do not overwhelm Goldsworthy's portrait of Caesar the man and populares politician.

Goldsworthy succeeds in breathing life into a figure about whom so much cultural and historical commentary has been encrusted, often to the point of distortion. Caesar is a dynamic and charismatic figure in this biography but also a calculating and, at times, overconfident and reckless one. Goldsworthy is sympathetic to his subject but remains critical of Caesar's errors and propaganda while trying to keep all events in their proper 1st century BC context.

The biography does not have quite the same social and cultural richness of the late Roman Republic to be found in Tom Holland's Rubicon ( which was a work of history) but there are gems of information for the reader, nonetheless . Other useful companions to Goldswothy's effort would be Anthony Everett's biographies Cicero and Augustus, especially the former book given the importance of the brilliant but unsteady Marcus Tullius Cicero as Caesar's sometime rival, ally, critic, adviser, enemy and companion.

An excellent read.


"Heather — The Fall of the Roman Empire", "Ward-Perkins — The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization" by James McCormick at Chicago Boyz

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My friend Shane Deichman of Enterra and IATGR has jumped with both feet into the blogosphere at The Wizards of Oz. I'd like to welcome Shane to blogging and I encourage you to check out his latest post - "Large Numbers ". An excerpt:

"A famous thought experiment postulates that a monkey, strumming unintelligently on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, would eventually create all of the works of Shakespeare. Although often attributed to T.H. Huxley, a 19th century English biologist, it is a metaphor used in a 1913 essay by Émile Borel to describe large, random sequences of numbers.

...So let's go back to our monkey. As an undergraduate physics major at Berkeley, one of the first homework problems in my thermodynamics class was a variation of the "infinite monkey theorem": we had to determine the probability of a trillion monkeys, typing randomly without pause at 10 keys per second, to randomly type the words of Hamlet. By assuming Hamlet was comprised of approximately 100,000 characters, and that a typical keyboard has 40 keys (without regard for punctuation or capitalization), the probability of a random string is 1/40 * 1/40 * 1/40 ..., repeated 100,000 times.Since we had a trillion (i.e., 1E12) monkeys typing continuously at 10 keys per second, our solution was that it would likely take 1E1000 years -- in other words, nearly googol (1E100) times the age of our known universe -- before reaching a 50% probability...."

Read Shane's post in full.

While as a society, we are generally aware of the handicaps created by illiteracy, the effects of innumeracy are not well recognized. However, the widespread inability amongst the public to comprehend the significance of large numbers and to weigh the relative importance of probability between variables, negatively effects the ability of the electorate to make informed choices regarding public policy. Or correctly identify economic trends, causation and effect. Or even have a rational discourse on many subjects, leaving the field wide open to demagoguery and magical thinking.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

This is from searchCrystal - in beta version presently. Readers - give it a spin and ( if you have time)sound off in the comments. I'm going to play around with it a bit myself.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

[ed. note - entry corrected, my apologies to Colonel McCallister and thanks to Dave for the clarification]

Dave Dilegge, editor of The Small Wars Journal has an excellent post up at The SWJ Blog entitled "COIN in a Tribal Society", relaying the contents of an email from Colonel William (Mac) McCallister (USA Ret.), currently an adivser with II MEF in Iraq. A very rich bibilographic entry, McCallister hits hard at the point of our general failure to communicate our words and deeds in a culturally relevant and comprehensible frame:

"The design and execution of a counterinsurgency campaign in tribal society must reflect the opponent’s cultural realities, his social norms and conventions of war and peacemaking. The fight in Anbar province is a “clash of martial cultures” and reflects two divergent concepts of victory and defeat and “rules of play”. The conventions of war and peace for both sides are based on unique historical and social experience and are expressed in each side’s stylized way of fighting and peacemaking. The central tenet in the design and execution of counterinsurgency operations is that it must take into consideration an opponent’s cultural realities so as to effectively communicate intent.

The study of the “tribal terrain” is a challenge. The reason - comprehensive research materials on Iraqi tribal organization, tribal diplomacy, and the art of tribal war and peacemaking are sparse. The majority of reading materials therefore are general and regional in nature and require “reading between the lines” to gain an appreciation for tribal organizing principles, cultural operating codes, and the tribal art of war and peace. The material is intended to assist the student of the tribal art of war and peace in developing an analytic structure for assessing personal experiences, observations and unit after action reports. The ultimate objective is to assist the warfighter in assessing the effectiveness of counterinsurgency tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and cultural criteria to determine why certain approaches succeed or fail

I will go one better; the United States government has not come to grips with the need to craft our diplomatic and strategic inititives with a multi-tiered and interactively complex set of audiences in mind. Too often, our leaders are playing primarily to the domestic American audience and then secondarily - and arguably a very distant second - a narrow and westernized foreign elite.

Radical transparency created by the internet and information technologies are breaking down the ability to compartmentalize messages and signals - the amplitude is higher and "broadcasting" can now take place far down the chain with strategic corporals in dusty villages instead of UN ambassadors across polished tables. The rules of the game are changing and we must change with it.


Colonel W. Patrick Lang " How to Work With Tribesmen" (PDF)

David Ronfeldt -"In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes, the First and Forever Form"(PDF)

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PC World magazine has named their " 25 Websites to Watch" ( hat tip to Mrs. Zenpundit) though how many will still exist in 2 years is an open question. Some of these, I have immediate use for; others, I'm not sure how anyone outside of an undergraduate munching cheetos in a dorm room will have the time. I suggest you read the article, as my opinion on tech matters is of negligible weight.

Here are the sites they have chosen by category and see for yourselves. Epistles from the tecno-geek blog set, on the merits of any of these sites, are welcomed.

Mashups, Maps, and More:

Popfly, Yahoo Pipes, BuzzDash, Wayfaring, CircleUp .

Organizers, Searchers and Optimizers:

Pageflakes, Spock, Swivel, Clipmarks, OpenDNS .

Real Estate, Bookmarks and Blogs:

Trulia, PopURLs, Groowy, BlogBackupOnline, Ma.gnolia .

Five ways to Create and Share:

Yodio, Meebo Rooms, Squidoo, SpashCast, Eyespot .

Sites for Collaborative Work and Play:

Approver, Pbwiki, MyPunchBowl, Picnik, Quintura .

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

I was perusing historian David Kaiser's blog History Unfolding, when I came across a remarkable claim regarding Richard Nixon, based in part on Robert Dallek's new book, Nixon and Kissinger:Partners in Power:

"Nixon and Kissinger, to begin with, came into office determined to win the Vietnam War. In an odd parallel to the current Administration—which decided that 9/11 totally discredited the Middle East policies of the last forty years—they evidently believed that the whole experience of the Johnson Administration had nothing whatever to teach them. Nixon, who saw himself far superior both to his two immediate predecessors and to any successor on the horizon, was convinced that Johnson had failed to win the war only because of a lack of will, the quality on which he prided himself the most. One omission from Nixon and Kissinger (which is more of a biographical study than a policy history) is any discussion of NSSM-1, a massive study of Vietnam which Kissinger commissioned upon taking office. It concluded that nothing the US had done had significantly weakened the enemy’s ability to fight, and that no agency of the US government could foresee the day when the South Vietnamese alone could deal with the enemy. A bold and rational leader must have concluded that the United States had to scale down its objectives to end the war, but Nixon did not. He and Kissinger spent about a year vainly trying to get the Soviet Union to end the war by pressuring the North Vietnamese, and then (as Nixon publicly admitted) tried to gain an advantage with the kind of “decisive” action which, Nixon thought, Johnson had avoided—the invasion of Cambodia. Meanwhile, political and military considerations (the latter involving the state of the armed forces) impelled Nixon to withdraw troops, but he continued to believe that he could make the North give in to our terms—an independent, non-Communist South Vietnam—by unleashing an all-out bombing attack whenever he chose. And historian Jeffrey Kimball was right: Nixon was determined not to make peace without giving such a campaign a chance, as eventually, in December 1972, he did—at the cost of 15 American B-52s, and without in the least improving the terms that Kissinger had already negotiated."

For readers who are unfamiliar, Dr. Kaiser is a historian of the Vietnam War era, with special expertise in the Kennedy administration. I have not read the Dallek book yet, though I certainly intend to now ( I did anyway but David's post has advanced it well up my reading list) as the assertion conflicts sharply with what has previously been known about Nixon's strategic thinking at the time.

Nixon was one of the first major political figures to (gingerly to be sure) try to put South Vietnam into the context of it's actual geopolitical value to the United States, which was small, in a major speech at Bohemian Grove and then in a Foreign Affairs article " Asia after Vietnam". Much of the discourse Nixon used about the war among his intimates involved his administration's ( or America's) "credibility" or "toughness" in the eyes of Communist adversaries in Hanoi, Beijing and Moscow. Having read innumerable documents and memoirs I'm hard-pressed to believe that Nixon ever thought the Vietnam War was " winnable" and not an albatross that was hindering him from accomplishing his larger strategic goals, especially the China opening. Nixon desperately wanted to avoid outright defeat in Vietnam, certainly, and to use his handling of the war to send signals elsewhere but throwing his administration, heart and soul into winning the war was never on the table.

Nevertheless, Dallek has new material, according to Kaiser, for a new argument. It needs to be scrutinized objectively to see how or if Dallek broadens our understanding of the war and of Richard Nixon's administration. This is how historical truth advances, one document, one argument, one book at a time.

I look forward to reading it.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Recruiting for the next "rent-a-riot" to disrupt anti-Putin demonstrations. Man, are they just going through the motions here. Sad.

Hat tip to Dr. Von.

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Chirol - " What Kind of Multilateralism?"

Chicago Boyz - Shannon - "Stateless Actors: Myths of 4G Warfare Part I"

Danger Room - "Pentagon Plots Digital "Crystal Ball" to "See the Future" in Battle"

Hat tip to Sean. This one will give everyone at DNI a " don't know whether to laugh or cry" moment.

Hey look...a lightning gun ! I want one! (hat tip Danger Room)

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A good discussion of the limitations of Albert Einstein, the Iraq War, new developments in network theory, politics and the doings of small children. Also a useful reminder for me to crack the Isaacson bio Einstein this summer.

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Shloky has an excellent series of data points from Boyd 2007:

Osinga On Boydian Influences
Boydian Maxims
Gudmundsson On The ANG
Lind On Barnett and IR
Hammes On 5GW
Hoffman On Modern/Future COIN

A review from reader Isaac, which he helpfully posted in my comments section ( Isaac should get a blog ).

"Additional notes and such by presenter:


I found it surprising that, according to Osinga, Boyd hadn’t used a slide of the OODA loop until 1995. He may have wanted to avoid over-simplification via encapsulation. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable until then that his students would realize that he was talking about much more than ‘the decision cycle’, as you well point out.

Osinga also discussed the shift from the technical to the doctrinal in the 70’s and 80’s as a reaction to our defeat in Vietnam. Boyd’s quote at the DNI site saying that, “Machines don’t fight wars. People do, and they use their minds”, flows right with this and all sound hesitance at becoming technology fetishists. Technological advances in warfare are more easily countered than the intangible advances made in our minds as the former represent closed systems, regardless of their other attributes, while the latter represent enhanced, open adaptability. If we’re able to generate rapidly changing environments for our opponents, we inhibit their adaptability while showcasing/utilizing/increasing ours. This mismatch is part of the ‘certain to win’ principle. The more uncertainty experienced by our adversaries, the more we’re able to survive on our terms.

The epistemological character of Osinga’s discussion of the expanded, full OODA loop, to me, admitted of shades of phenomenology in its stress of the individual’s experiences as central to feedback. After all, warfighters use their minds, right?


I found his discussion of the ‘Orientation’ element the most salient. Our orientation is at its best when it is ‘closest to chaos’, that is, when we experience the widest range of possibilities with as much ‘flow’ (feedback and other stimuli) as possible. It is this broad range which provides for a unifying theme in groups as the sheer amount of broadly informing stimuli and feedback creates a more open system. The more/better our information/knowledge the better, and the more intuitively/implicitly we are then able to act/react with less/out thinking, the more we, well, win.

This has implications regarding ‘Command Intent’, of course, in that the better the unifying theme, the better individuals are able to act independently. You noted this as well. In a perfect version of this world, by extension, a totally dispersed force with a strong enough unifying theme and excellent orientation would be capable of truly ‘organic’ swarm activity.

I’ll not attempt to delve into Lind here. Dan’s done some good work on that and your post covers much of what I’d have to say perfectly. He was as much King and Jester to his court assembled. I enjoyed both his acumen and antics immensely.

As for the generals, I’ve little to add.

Van Riper stated that he’d stop all training immediately and get back to Mission-Type orders across the board. This jibes well with both Ossinga and Richards. I also enjoyed his example of the game of chess to show the nature of interactively complex systems as opposed to structurally complex ones. You’re spot-on in your comments. Reductionism works with the latter as their elements are ‘near-static’, linearly-related and have little ‘action’, as he put it. One can easily lose control/understanding, however, of interactively complex systems like chess. He said that after very few moves in a game of chess, the players have surpassed a million possible moves and that there are 10128 possible moves in a full game. That’s a larger number than there are atoms in the universe, he said. Reductionism won’t help you understand chess, or warfare.

This was echoed by Zinni saying that ‘process warfare’ isn’t the answer. Mastering multiple processes is still step-by-step, sometimes on a such a scale that you can drown in it. Besides, if you’re consumed by process, you can’t adapt – not very Boydian, that.

Speaking of reductionism, Zinni also said something very refreshing in the face of those that would reduce all/most/many Muslims to terrorists, ‘Islamists’, or some such epithet. He’s lived in Muslim countries for 17 years and has yet to meet a Muslim who’s even spoken of every alarmist’s favorite – the ‘Caliphate’. He continued to say that institutions in society have to be culturally acceptable as/and ‘order’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘stability’.

Gray said that we need to get back to who we, as Americans, are as a people. I took this to mean (based on his tangential stories and other things) good, just, open, smart and free – imbued with a truly pioneering spirit and a joy of discovery. He said we must educate society as a whole and that, actually, we know nothing of the world compared to what we could in truth. He also said that Foreign Policy and Domestic Policy should work to balance the equation of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for such comments from a former Commandant of the USMC – and one of his magnitude at that. We were sitting in a building complex named for him. I’ll chalk that up to my own joy of discovery and hope for an anthropologist and/or philosopher in each future platoon."

Thanks Isaac!


The return of monster tdaxp graphics!!!!

1. The OODA Loop

2. The OODA-PISRR Loop

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Monday, July 16, 2007

The ideas and arguments presented at Boyd 2007 were stimulating and, at times, controversial. I'm still pondering the implications of many of them and regret that I could not attend the next day's follow-up discussion organized by Don Vandergriff (reportedly, AE of Simulated Laughter was present. Hopefully, he will review it). I took many notes and here are my impressions of the sessions:

Colonel Frans Osinga and Dr. Chet Richards:

These back to back presentations were the ones that dealt in depth with the strategic theories of John Boyd, particularly the meaning and use of the famous OODA Loop. Osinga's major point was that the OODA Loop really reflected the deeper epistemological themes in Boyd's research of military history, theoretical science and strategy; that Boyd's strategic worldview was "neo-Darwinian" and geared to the adaptive competitive fitness of systems in conflict.

Richards focused on the overriding importance of the implicit in the OODA Loop, serving as guidance and control for Orientation and empowering the ability of individuals and harmoniously aligned groups (" novelty-generating systems" ) to sieze and retain the initiative over their opponents. The purpose of the OODA Loop is to " reduce your opponents to a quivering mass of jelly" ( and here Richards means the complex version of OODA, not the simple circular version) by creating disharmony in the other side even as you improve your own.

William Lind, Colonel TX Hammes, Frank Hoffman, Bruce Gudmundsson on 4GW:

I am conflating several sessions here and probably will not or cannot to justice to the views of all of the participants. Anyone who was also there, please feel free to offer corrections or extensions in the comment section.

William Lind was the most colorful and entertaining speaker at Boyd 2007 and, unsurprisingly if you have followed Lind's writings at all, the most radical in his arguments for 4GW. To an extent, many of the participants were responding to Lind's thesis as much as they were putting forth their own arguments. Frank Hoffman is somewhat excepted, as his role was a designated devil's advocate critiquing the weaknesses of the 4GW theory from the viewpoint of mainstream military historians and defense policy academics.

Lind opened by postulating "Three great Civil Wars" - namely WWI, WWII and the Cold War - that irreparably weakened Western civilization physically and, most importantly, morally and led to the rise of 4GW. This view is akin to Philip Bobbitt's concept of the 20th century " Long War" and Niall Ferguson's gloomy interpretaion of the First World War. In Lind's view, this civilizational loss of confidence set in motion by the horrors of the Western Front has led to the nation-state undergoing a " crisis of legitimacy" and the universal decline of the state argued by Martin van Creveld.

As the conflicts today are, in Lind's view, organic cultural conflicts of clashing ( and fractionating) primary loyalties, a new grand strategy must be offered; a defensive posture that seeks to conserve " centers of order" ( like China, America, Europe) and isolate ourselves from those centers of " disorder", including immigration by culturally indigestible groups like " Islamics". Lind also pointed to the need for an intellectual and moral regeneration at home and replacement of a self-serving, corrupt and politically inept bipartisan elite influenced by the tenets of cultural Marxism and political correctness ( interestingly, no one cared to argue the point about the incompetence of the elite though the cultural aspect was disputed).

Lind further dismissed any idea of the emergence of a 5th generation of war from consideration and, in response to a question, offered a ferociously bitter, ad hominem, attack on the ideas of Thomas P.M. Barnett as "a fairy tale", fit for publication in " a comic book". Lind offered no specifics and my impression was that Lind has a visceral dislike of Dr. Barnett's theories because their optimism and economic determinism sharply contradicts Lind's deeply pessimistic, culturally-based, analysis.

TX Hammes, while admiring of Lind's work, did not accept Lind's "kultur uber alles" premise and pointed to traditional political-economic-military indicators as being sufficient analytical categories for 4GW and emerging 5GW. Frank Hoffman hammered hard at the theoretical weaknesses in 4GW theory, accusing the school of making use of " selective history" and being elusive in its definitions - though Hoffman too blasted the ineptitude and blindness of the political and military establishment with much the same vehemence of Lind. In the seniors session, General Anthony Zinni, flatly repudiated Lind's characterization of Muslim societies as myopic, being based upon the mythic rantings of Islamist radicals who were wholly unrepresentative of Muslims or mainstream Islam.

The Generals And the Major:

The senior session with General Paul Van Riper, the aforementioned General Zinni and General Alfred Gray are worth noting as was the seminar conducted by Major Don Vandergriff.

Van Riper called for a return to a "wide open intellectual climate" in the Marines and the military as a whole that ignored rank and focused upon the quality of ideas. An education of "how the world works" in terms of complex adaptive systems and the differences between those that were structurally complex and rigid and those that were interactively complex and fluid must be given and understood in order to confront " wicked problems" effectively. The "Reductionist-Analytical" intellectual model can no longer be relied upon to provide answers, in Van Riper's view.

Much of the rest of the time was taken by the generals answering Shane Deichman's question of operational jointness and Goldwater-Nichols. Shane's question was so good it basically hijacked the rest of the session as the generals offered their experiences and criticism of how "jointness" came to evolve in the 1980's and 1990's. Attaboy, Shane! ;o)

Vandergriff offered an outline in implementing the intellectual change Van Riper hopes to see come about with a forced practice method starting with " Three Levels Above" that requires students to adapt and think in "free play" scenarios. Vandergriff boiled his educational theory down to the principles of:

1. Evolve the Course

2. Every moment offers an opportunity to develop adaptability

3. Student Ownership

4.Develop at three levels.

5. Outstanding teachers

Vandergriff's ideas are centered in military education but their applicability is entirely societal and systemic.

Comments are welcomed, especially if you can fill in anything that I have missed or gotten wrong.

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Lexington Green asks this question at Chicago Boyz.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dr. Maarja Krusten, the fomer archivist for the Nixon tapes collection at The National Archives and Federal historian, has an excellent article up at HNN, "How Hard Is the Job of Nixon Archivists? You Decide.". Her article is worth reading for two reasons:

First, Krusten explains the dilemna faced by archivists trying to do their job when faced with political pressure from influential public figures:

"Former U.S. Archivist Robert Warner once told me that "The Archives faces enormous political pressure but never admits that it does." Whether they deal with stand-up guys or bullies, archivists face them alone.

To the reported dismay of NARA’s Inspector General (IG), Archives officials did not turn to him or call the FBI after an apparent theft in 2003. Instead, they tried themselves to retrieve records removed by Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger.

It was not the only recent loss of a file. As the Senate prepared to hold hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice, White House lawyers in 2005 screened files at NARA’s Reagan Presidential Library. They were left alone with documents at the Library because, as Berger also had said, they needed privacy while making phone calls. Soon, thereafter, archivists discovered that a Roberts file about affirmative action was missing. The IG was unable to establish whether the affirmative action file had been removed from the Library or merely misfiled by NARA staff

Secondly, she offers a test to readers to try to correctly classify a memo that is, I can attest, vintage Richard Nixon:

"How would you classify the December 4, 1970 memo? (If you wish, you first may look at a couple of paragraphs about NARA’s statutes and regulations in a brief description here.)

Here are your voting options.

1) document is purely personal or solely political and has no connection to a President's constitutional or statutory duties. It should be returned to him or his family. It then legally may be destroyed by them, filed away or deeded back to NARA, as personal property.

(2) document offers some personal observations and mentions politics and voters but relates to Presidential duties and is inherently governmental. It should be retained in NARA custody. You may consider restricting all or some portions for privacy, either the President’s or that of third parties, while the people still are alive;

(3) document is governmental, relates to Presidential duties, and should be released during the President's lifetime

Read the whole article here.

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My poor photographic skills, which even then were exercised only very erratically ( the best picture of the set was taken by the busboy at lunch)can be seen here on slideshare. A brief glimpse isn't much but it beats a sharp stick in the eye.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Just returned from the Boyd 2007 conference at Quantico and I have to say that I felt the conference was immensely rewarding on both an intellectual as well as a social level. Dr. Chet Richards and Mr. Bob Howard are to be commended for their organizational efforts in putting Boyd 2007 together with additional thanks to the United States Marine Corps for allowing the use of the Gray Center for the event, which seemed to have been enjoyed by all. If you missed out this year, I highly recommend trying to reserve a slot for Boyd 2008. It's well worth it.

I thought I would give a review of the conference in two parts and, to paraphrase Colonel John Boyd, " People and ideas...in that order!". First the people.

The official conference presenters were outstanding; they included noted authorities on John Boyd, 4GW , COIN and defense policy, such as Colonel Dr. Frans Osinga (Science, Strategy and War), Dr. Chet Richards ( Certain to Win), Colonel T.X. Hammes (The Sling and the Stone), Colonel Eric Walters, William Lind (Manuver Warfare Handbook), Frank Hoffman (Decisive Force: The New American Way of War ), Don Vandergriff (Raising the Bar) and Bruce I. Gudmundsson (Stormtroop Tactics). Robert Coram, the biographer of Colonel John Boyd, was also on hand throughout, signing many copies of Boyd and talking to his readers.

The conference also featured a discussion panel of very distinguished retired generals, General Anthony C. Zinni , Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper and General Alfred M. Gray, Jr., the former Commandant of the Marine Corps after whom the Gray Center was named. General Van Riper in particular, impressed me with the acuity of his intellect, though each managed to project some of their formidible personalities that made them influential senior leaders of the American military. Dan of tdaxp saw some of these generals in action up close during a break-out session while I watched William Lind and T.X. Hammes debate 4GW/5GW.

The audience was, as one might expect, heavily populated by military personnel (active, former, retired and SOF in mufti), especially Marines, along with some defense scholars, military contractors, academics from nearby universities, grad students and a scattering of bloggers. Everyone seemed friendly and deeply engaged in the topics at hand; books were signed and business cards and email addresses flew fast and furious in the corridor inbetween the sessions.

Speaking of networking, it was a delight to meet so many individuals in person with whom I have interacted online as well as new friends. A few ppl, like Isaac and Morgan, came up to me and said " Hey...Zenpundit!" which was amusing (More amusing was the confusion of Colonel T.X. Hammes when I had to explain to him that I was not in special forces but that I taught history and "blogged" - I'm not entirely sure he knew what that was) . It was a particular pleasure for me to meet Dr. Richards of DNI and Dave Dilegge of the SWJ, which was well represented at Boyd 2007, additionally, by Ski and Frank Hoffman.

Lunch was fantastic - Shane Deichman of Enterra, Dan of tdaxp, John Robb, Shloky, Isaac and myself discussing 4GW, physics, platforms, books, careers and such over steaming bowls of pho saigon (thanks Dan ! The charge of "cheap bastardy" is hereby removed). Shane's son, Deichman the Younger, who is about the same age as the Son of Zenpundit, not to be left out of the grown-up talk, entertained us with his original theory of the "Jedi Ninja", which should probably be filed under at least "5GW".

The socializing continued after the conference at the officer's club ( where I managed to lose my cell phone - requiring that Dan and I make a late night return drive to Quantico - sorry, Dan!) with A.E. , Gustave, Fidel and others. Chet Richards graciously invited us to dinner but we (Shlok,Dan,Isaac and myself) continued our bull session for several more hours before adjourning to a nice Italian restaurant where we narrowly missed connecting with Shane thanks to my lost phone.

It was a great, great, time marred only by my consistent inability to navigate the highways and roads of greater Washington, DC - give me a grid, my kingdom for a grid!

Next, PartII: The Ideas and (hopefully) a few Pics.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

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In an admission of cheap bastardy, Dan of tdaxp ponders his nightlife and transportation options in our nation's capitol on $ 5 a day.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Looking forward to this conference. A few links in the spirit of the event.

Patterns of Conflict (PDF)

The Strategic Game of ? and ? (PDF)

FMFM 1-A Fourth Generation War (PDF)


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Monday, July 09, 2007

Picked up the recent issue of Fast Company at the airport, which represents the first time I've actually looked at the actual magazine and not a stray blog link to one of their articles. Have to say that I enjoyed it enough to contemplate ordering a subscription. The cover article on Al Gore, while hagiographic in a mildly sycophantic way, was nonetheless, very informative. The whole tone, while geared toward business, is accented by techno-futurism and looking across domains. I ended up reading the issue straight through.

I still have a delight in magazines retained from the pre-internet era where getting the new issue in the mailbox represented a small pleasure. Currently, I subscribe to The Smithsonian, Edutopia, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly and GQ. Formerly, I did so with The Wilson Quarterly, Foreign Affairs, National Geographic, Foreign Policy, Men's Fitness, Playboy ( strictly for the articles), Muscle & Fitness, Men's Health, Newsweek, The Columbia Journalism Review, Time, U.S. News & World Report, National Review and several local newspapers. My tendency was for the periodical pile to steadily grow to epic proportions until backlogged and unread material threatened to collapse the coffee table.

The internet has rendered such an excess of dead tree text superfluous and I no longer have the free time to even entertain trying to keep up with that kind of deluge. However, I still pick up some of those at the bookstore, along with magazines to which I've never subscribed, like Scientific American, The Economist, The New Republic , The Nation and The National Interest. The change in point of view or subject matter always does me some good.

What do you read ? Or not read ?

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

I return, fairly sunburnt and weary, from the wedding of a close friend but, now, it is time to blog ! Starting with recommended reading:

RealClear Politics - "The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers"

H-Diplo Op-Ed "Whither Iraq? A Commentary for Americans” by Dr. Sally Marks

Edge Perspectives - "Unanswered Questions at Supernova 2007"

Thoughts Illustrated - "Trust Metrics for Social Networks "

Thomas P.M. Barnett - "Army America needs versus the wars Americans prefer to wage"

Pre-Boyd 2007 picks:

John Robb -"A PRIVATE SECTOR WAR IN IRAQ?" and "JOURNAL: Corporate Armies in Russia"

Dan of tdaxp - "The Importance of 5GW" and "Describing the Military-Industrial-Sysadmin-Complex: How We Will Win the 5GW to Shrink the Gap"

Armchair Generalist - "Overplaying The Bioterrorist Threat"

While I do not agree with AG's politics, his blog is excellent, particularly on CBW issues.

SWJ Blog - Josh Manchester's "Counterinsurgents Should Consider A "Fabrication Cell" and Bing West's "Insurgent Media vs. The Strongest Tribe".

Small Wars Journal publisher Bill Nagl has also issued a call for papers. I think we should take this seriously; there are many excellent ideas kicked around in rough form on listservs, on SWC threads and on blogs that are never carried downfield and get developed into a peer-reviewed or policy journal level of quality. That's a shame.

Admittedly, I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, but let us, in the aftermath of Boyd 2007, try to give back by making a formal submission in the arena of ideas. If our work doesn't make the cut, fine, at least we tried to give something back. Consider it.

That's it



Catching up on a flood of email and phone calls. Will be blogging later today.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain Inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Have a happy and safe holiday!

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I'm preparing to leave town on another trip and find myself overstretched in terms of time but I have to note that Kent's Imperative had some intriguing posts up ( hat tip to Michael Tanji) , about which I'd like to offer a few comments:

"Life at Google from an outside perspective"

Aside from seeing how uber-techies live and making me nostalgic about past years of reading defector-dissident Soviet bloc lit, I'd like to highlight this passage regarding a KI suggestion to the IC for personnel reform:

"A chance for line level workers to do the kind of intel they want to do (versus the latest crisis they have been thrown into), at least part of the time? Or to contribute to the literature of intelligence? (Modeled along Google’s 20% time.)"

My unqualified guess is that this would increase the productivity and prescience of the IC by roughly the same proportion that expanding private farming helped the Chinese economy under Deng Xiaoping. People typically generate their most valuable insights about those subjects which they are both curious as well as passionate - i.e. earlier in the learning curve than the status of graybeard authority ( once you think you know everything, you tend to stop learning).

The bar to doing this is not a manpower shortage but a middle-management fear of subordinate autonomy. Forcing a talented subordinate to do irrelevant busywork confirms a manager's authority and power. Autonomous subordinates who do self-directed productive work tend to confirm the irrelevance of middle-management. Few managers have the psychological wherewithal to be adept facilitators, mentors or coaches of gifted employees as an efficient "management" outlook is an inimical perspective to generating creativity and sustaining " unproductive" exploration.

"Regional versus functional issue accounts"

From a historian's perspective, a cool post ( perhaps less interesting to others). Some historiography, lots of methodology. Money quote/conclusion:

"As for our opinions on the great divide between the two kinds of houses, we find ourselves veterans of uniquely transnational issues, having been subject to every manner of surge and task force and working group and crisis cell, in the most unusual of niches. We prefer to see small, aggressive, ad-hoc structures comprised of both analysts and operators from a wide range of issues and regional desks with interests and equities in the same target which overlaps their accounts. Only then, by throwing everything against the wall in a structure short lived enough to avoid its own bureaucracy, and disconnected enough to be (at least partially) immune from the day to day politics within a given agency or office, have we found the kind of answers we sought regarding the great questions of process.

We strongly believe such radically unstable and short lived environments are most effective because they are the very manifestation of Schumpeter’s process of creative destruction. It is certainly no way to create a sinecure, nor even to build a long term career path – but it is the best way we have found to generate new and innovative approaches and answers to hard target problems, and to the problems others have not yet begun to identify let alone address

Hear, Hear! Very strong agreement in a John Arqilla-esque vein.

It will happen but not until after several more disasters force that kind of transformation or an unusually bold and subtle visionary implements it on the quiet. There is far too much bureaucratic inertia because the vested interests prefer paralysis in which they hold the reins to successful action where they become recognized for the marginalized support staff they really are.

In my turn, if any KI gents happen upon this post, I suggest they look here. From this acorn of an idea, an oak will grow. Mark my words.

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Colonel W. Patrick Lang, a former analyst on the Mideast and now a sharp character on the internet, recently put forward an excellent example of a genre of thinking I like to call the " empire argument". It is a school of thought, a critical one, that prevails on the paleoconservative Right and the anti-war Left, the the two variants use some markedly different assumptions in framing their argument but arrive at a similar conclusion.

Like the historian, Paul Schroeder, Lang eschews much of the hysterical, romanticized, rhetoric that typify the "American empire" writers and sticks to a much more thoughtful, realpolitik interpretation.

"Jefferson might not agree.." Peter Principle"

"I'm afraid I have to side with Britannicus (and Livia, the murderous old hag) on this one. It is in the nature of things for republics, if successful enough, to evolve into empires. It is certainly unrealistic to expect a global superpower like the United States, with worldwide political and economic interests requiring the worldwide projection of military power, to remain one indefinitely. The framers, with their horror of standing armies and European militarism, would probably be surprised to learn it has lasted as long as it has, despite more than 60 years of permanent wartime moblization.

There was a time (like the 1950s) when those who thought about such things could hope that the enormous powers of modern bureaucratic institutions -- corporations, unions, the Pentagon, big media, the organs of state security -- could and would be counterveiling, allowing a system designed for the less gargantuan 18th century to survive into the 21st. But instead those institutions are either in terminal decline (the unions) or are integrating and evolving into a more perfected form of imperial control and self-control. Meanwhile, dissent and opposition (terms that already sound almost archaic) are increasingly channeled to the essentially neutered arena of the fringe parties and the Internet.

I'm not sure how much mourning is called for here. Two hundred and thirty some years is a pretty good run, as constitutions go. The framers built well, but no structure lasts forever. We can pine for a lost republic (which, like it's Roman predecessor, was never as golden as it appeared in hindsight) or we can accept reality and see what can be done to make our new empire more humane and rational than it is at the moment."

I disagree, first of all that America has moved into an " empire" state, though I would agree that aspects of our political system are working poorly and that our bipartisan elite are more timorous, self-centered and corrupt than we have seen in some time. That may be, in part, a generational effect of the current Boomer domination of government and the media and could pass as they move off center stage ( unwillingly, kicking and screaming, no doubt). We will have to wait and see if the Boomer legacy is an institutionalization of their cultural narcicism or a reaction against it.

I also do not believe that "imperial control" is the objective of the cultural shift away from hierarchies toward networked structures, as Lang alludes, so much as that globalization and information technology have made hierarchical modes of organization less efficient than in any time since the rise of the state and the industrial revolution. These are fundamental, global, structural and economic shifts that are going to occurr with or without regard to U.S. foreign policy decisions.

Lang however, still posits an interesting argument regarding the health of the republic. Is it remaining in form, while slowly ebbing in spirit like Rome did in the first century B.C. which was increasingly dominated by strong men, polarized politics and civil war ? I think Colonel Lang's view is overly pessimistic and that the Roman analogy has to be taken in context with the very significant differences between the mindsets and culture of ancient Romans and modern Americans. We aren't them. George W. Bush is no Caesar or Sulla much as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not Cicero or Cato. Our times, Iraq included, are not nearly as bad as the troubles that ripped Roman society apart.

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