Monday, November 19, 2007

"FABulous" new site!! Finally, your blog doesn't look like a 1st-gen jalopy that has had various innovations welded onto it as they've arrived!"
- Shane Deichman

A few of you, mostly blogfriends of the computer geek variety, have had some advance notice but tonight I'm proud to announce that Zenpundit is moving off of Blogger and to a new home:


Credit for this long overdue move on my part goes entirely to Mrs. Zenpundit's creativity and long hours of hard work that she put in on this project. Also worthy of thanks, is Mr. Sean Meade - who lit a fire under us and provided constructive criticism and advice ( like pointing out that I had the worst sidebar in the known blogosphere) and my blogriends who opined on progress via email. It was a help!

Cross-posting will continue here for a short time as I realize not all my readers visit daily but I look forward to adjourning sine die and settling into my new blog. Hope to see you all there!

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Dr. Chet Richards, at Certain to Win.

Who knows? Perhaps someday we will even see William Lind blogging.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Many irons in the fire this morning and I'm slurping down coffee fast and furiously but here it is:

Top Billing! abu muqawama - "Petraeus Picks the Next Generation"

I hereby promote this gentleman to the status of " daily read". You should too.

Adam Elkus - "Resilience and American Security

Nice piece by Adam. Historically, when an armed service is out of the national spotlight as the Navy is today, it becomes a time of either intellectual growth or ossification within it's officer corps.

The Center For Threat Awareness in "Think Tank 2.0" form has been launched! ( I knew it was coming but a hat tip to Shlok nonetheless and congrats to Michael Tanji and his compadres)

Strategic Security Blog - "White House Guidance Led to New Nuclear Strike Plans Against Proliferators, Document Shows". Hat tip to Wiggins at OSD.

I'd this one a must-read for national security wonks. It's also good evidence as to how specialist blogs can easily outclass the reportage of even flagship MSM outlets.

Fabius Maximus, often featured at DNI, now has a blog - here are a couple of sample posts
"Empowered individuals — and super-empowered ones!" and "The Essential 4GW reading list: chapter Two, Donald Vandergriff".

Dr. Barnett has been spotted attending Matrix conventions.

That's it!


Friday, November 16, 2007

Colonel Frans Osinga, PhD, who gave a tour de force lecture at Boyd 2007, managed to prevail upon his publisher to sell a paperback version of Science, Strategy and War:The Strategic Theory of John Boyd at a price non-billionaires could afford.

I will be reviewing Science, Strategy and War in December and - tentatively - organizing a roundtable discussion at Chicago Boyz, most likely after Christmas. If you are a blogger, academic or a current or former member of the armed services and are interested in participating, send me an email at zenpundit@hotmail.com.

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Over at Chicago Boyz.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kent's Imperative had a post up that would have been worthy of Coming Anarchy:

Enigmatic biographies of the damned

"....Via the Economist this week, we learn of the death of an adversary whose kind has nearly been forgotten. Khun Sa was a warlord who amassed a private army and smuggling operation which dominated Asian heroin trafficking from remotest Burma over the course of nearly two decades. In the end, despite indictment in US courts, the politics of a failed state permitted him to retire as an investor and business figure, and to die peacefully in his own bed.

The stories of men such as these however shaped more than a region. They are the defining features of the flow of events in a world of dark globalization. Yet these are not the biographies that are taught in international relations academia, nor even in their counterpart intelligence studies classrooms. The psychology of such men, and the personal and organizational decision-making processes of the non-state groups which amassed power to rival a princeling of Renaissance Europe, are equally as worthy of study both for historical reasons as well as for the lessons they teach about the nature of empowered individuals.

Prospective human factors and leadership analysts are not the only students which would benefit from a deeper pol/mil study of the dynamics of warlords and their followers in the Shan and Wa states. The structures which were left behind upon Khun Sa’s surrender were no doubt of enduring value to the ruling junta, and tracing the hostile connectivity provided to a dictatorial government by robust transnational organized crime is an excellent example of the kombinat model in a unique context outside of the classic Russian cases..."

Read the rest here.

There are no shortage of warlords for such a study. Among the living we have Walid Jumblatt, the crafty chief of the Druze during the 1980's civil war in Lebanon, the egomaniacal and democidal Charles Taylor of Liberia, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar the Islamist mujahedin commander and a large assortment of Somali, Colombian, Indonesian and El Salvadoran militiamen and paramilitaries. The history of the twentieth century alone offers up such colorful characters as "The Dogmeat General", the ghoulishly brutal Ta Mok of the Khmer Rouge, "The Mad Baron" Ungern von Sternberg, Captain Hermann Ehrhardt and Pancho Villa among many others.

What would such a historical/cross-cultural/psychological "warlord study" reveal ? Primarily the type of man that the German journalist Konrad Heiden termed "armed bohemians". Men who are ill-suited to achieving success in an orderly society but are acutely sensitive to minute shifts that they can exploit during times of uncertainty, coupled with an amoral sociopathology to do so ruthlessly. Paranoid and vindictive, they also frequently possess a recklessness akin to bravery and a dramatic sentimentality that charms followers and naive observers alike. Some warlords can manifest a manic energy or regularly display great administrative talents while a minority are little better than half-mad gangsters getting by, for a time, on easy violence, low cunning and lady luck.

Every society, no matter how civilized or polite on the surface, harbors many such men within it. They are like ancient seeds waiting for the drought-breaking rains.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Some of my older readers may be familiar with the late Mortimer J. Adler of the University of Chicago, a "popular" philosopher and lifelong advocate of "Great Books" and "Western Canon" programs of liberal education. One of Adler's many efforts in this regard was his editorship of The Encyclopedia Britannica 's 53 volume "Great Books of the Western World" series, which the public could buy on subscription, one volume at a time.

It seems quaint now, in the Google age, to recall buying sets of encyclopedias or series like Great Books but as a product line, it had a definite market appeal for the GI generation that had suffered through depression and world war and only about half of whom had managed to graduate high school. I suspect they liked seeing the rows of "serious", leather-bound books on a shelf and took some pride in the fact that their children, the Boomers, had access to them for school work ( though they were probably used with as little enthusiasm as encyclopedias are used by students now).

I mention this because earlier today, I picked up Adler's entire 53 volume Great Books set from a library for free, saving it from the discard pile when the librarian was kind enough to let me cart them away. Between forty and fifty years old, aside from a little dust, they are essentially brand new books of the highest quality. Few of them were ever opened and they will look quite handsome on my shelf, as I'm sure they once did on someone else's. Running from Homer to Freud they include about every "deep" book that we generally feel guilty that we never read yet. I've read quite a few ( though less than I imagined) and look forward to reading more and I am generally, quite pleased with myself for snagging them.

Part of me though, suspects that Adler would have been chagrined to learn that in 2007 a library had no room or interest in his beloved canon. Or that college students could conceivably graduate from a university without ever having read, cover to cover, any "great book" whatsoever. Times change of course but some things have a lasting value and the Net generation is missing out on some of them.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The publisher and the editor-in-chief of the highly regarded Small Wars Journal, respectively Bill Nagl and Dave Dilegge, are doing a public Q&A at noon on Tuesday with the powerhouse The Washington Post. I imagine that Bill Arkin will be involved somewhere as well - but we can hope otherwise. ;o)

Read about the details at the SWJ BLog.

Submit YOUR questions here.

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I make no promises. However, there may be some very substantial changes coming here soon.

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For wordsmiths, Visuwords.

I looked for an embed code and did not see one anywhere on the site. If one exists, could the more technically capable out there point it out ? I'd like the graphic to appear in this post.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11, 2007.



Last night, I enjoyed a delicious meal at Fogo de Chao in the company of Dr. Barnett, his very bright and spirited daughter, Emily, fellow Chicago Boyz blogger Lexington Green and his gracious wife...umm..."Mrs. Green". As Brazilian cuisine is basically a salad followed by about seven pounds of meat, we may all still be in the process of digestion even as I write this post (Special thanks to Sean " Jack Bauer" Meade and Mrs. Zenpundit for facilitating the communication logistics of this get-together).

This was my first occasion meeting Tom and he was pretty much as I had expected him to be, except taller. An interesting aspect of the discussion was that if you have seen Dr. Barnett's televised brief, that represents a modulated pacing, of his sometimes rapid-fire conversational delivery, highly energized by ideas and their prospective implementation. The discussion was wide-ranging and intriguing, though some elements of it have been or will be posted on Tom's blog as they related to his recent Central Asian tour with Admiral Fallon, chief of CENTCOM, but good books, politics, Japanese anime, various public intellectuals and writing all came up as topics of conversation.

The food was excellent, as was the company. I'd like to thank Dr. Barnett for taking the time out of a very busy travel schedule with Emily for a social engagement with the Greens and myself, as well as for dinner. The generous gesture is much appreciated. It was also a pleasure to see Lex and his wife again. Hopefully, we can all sit down again sometime in the future.

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An eclectic grouping today. Feel badly that I have not posted much lately but I've been working on some short pieces for other venues, a couple of large projects at work and (today) getting my application papers together for a doctoral program ( hopefully, a joint degree if two departments will sign off. We'll see. I've learned to suspect the breezy assertions of university bureaucrats). Without further ado.

Top Billing! The Man Who is Thursday -"
The Creative and the Critical, or Taste and Genius"

This link was left by an anonymous commenter. It's good fodder for discussion and probably deserves a post of it's own in response, by me or Dan of tdaxp. Like me, Dan's pretty busy these days so, we'll see if anyone gets to it. LOL! In any event, worth your time to read.

Robert Satloff in WaPo - "How to Win The War Of Ideas"

One thought that arises reading Satloff, is that we need to distinguish the degree to which non-Salafist or secular Muslims are intimidated by takfiri death threats; to scenarios where they lack the resources to speak out effectively; and finally, the extent to which we are simply unaware of the intra-Muslim dialogue because it is entirely off of our radar.

Pundita -"Speaking your truth vs fighting the ideas of others"

Pundita critiques Satloff and argues that we are not very well suited to try an orchestrate other society's political debates over the fine points of Islamic theology and that investing deeply in promoting democratic or liberal governance, something we understand, is a wiser investment of scarce resources.

Thomas P.M. Barnett - "Barnett: Build better fairy dust, suffer fewer bad actors"

Rule-sets and transparency go hand in hand with connectivity and intersectional convergence. Tom jumps on the The Medici Effect bandwagon. I'm waiting for him to read Wikinomics and see the congruency of the two books.

Swedish Meatballs Confidential - "Sinuous Sunday - The Sharp End of Altruism" and "CATCH-ALL - Suck it Up - All of It"

The first is interesting. The second is important.

Opposed System Design - "Game Theorizing with Bueno de Mesquita"

"Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.”

Hmmm .... amazing ....but predicated on the existence of a particular cultural-epistemological basis of rationality ? Will this work with assessing mountain tribesmen in New Guinea or Vietnamese Politburo members ?

That's it!


Thursday, November 08, 2007

On Creativity and Blogging. You don't need to have a blog to take the survey so be a good egg and help him out.

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One of the more significant developments in terms of creativity in the past decade has been the advance of open-source platforms that permit asynchronous but real-time, mass collaboration to occur. A phenomena that has been the subject of recent books like Frans Johansson's The Medici Effect and Wikinomics:How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams; or, become a functioning business model as with Ross Mayfield's Socialtext; or, a metaphor for the evolution of a new dynamic of warfare, as in John Robb's book, Brave New War. And nearly everyone with an ISP is familiar with Wikipedia and most have at least heard of Linux.

The open source concept is a very useful one because it has efficiency, in both the evolutionary and economic senses, adapting faster than closed, hierarchical, competitors and at lower transactional cost ( the price for these advantages is diminished control and focus). As with scale-free networks, it was the advent of the internet and the web that brought the potential of mass collaboration to the attention of economists and social scientists. But did mass collaboration on the cognitive level (the physical level is as old Stonehenge or the pyramids) only start with the information revolution ?

Probably not.

If we look back far enough in the history of great civilizations, you will find semi-mythological figures like Homer or Confucius to whom great, even foundational, works of cultural creativity are attributed. Intellects of a heroic scale who were philosophers and kings, lawgivers, prophets or poets and who produced works of timeless genius. Except that they may either not have existed or their works represent efforts of refinement by many generations of anonymous disciples ( eventually, scholars) who interpreted, polished, redacted and expanded on the teachings of the revered master.

This too was mass collaboration, over a much longer time scale and of a much more opaque character than Wikipedia. Scriptural works went through a similar process, whether it was the scribes of King James, or a medieval Ulemna favoring some teachings of the Hadith over others, or Jewish sages translating the Torah into Greek, despite occasional claims of divine inerrancy, most religious texts were shaped by a succession of human hands.

What the Web has done is to vastly accelerate and democratize the process of mass collaboration and render it more transparent than ever before.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ouch! At The SWJ Blog, LTC. Bob Bateman, the military historian who debunked the No Gun Ri "massacre" myth from the Korean War ( and thus, no Lefty), savages Victor Davis Hanson. Brutal. I wonder if Hanson will feel forced to respond?

Hat tip to Dave Dilegge.


Yep, he did

Dave Dilegge informs me that he has temporarily pulled the link to Bateman but suggested this one at HNN. Sorry for any inconvenience to readers.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Is not that the military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf has imposed martial law. Much like Poland under Jaruzelski or the recent crackdown in Burma, martial law in Pakistan was not a transition from one kind of state to another but rather a shift from the hypocrisy of a velvet glove to the honesty of an iron fist. Pakistan is no more a dictatorship today than it was a month earlier.

Pakistanis, it must be said, are not universally outraged by dictatorship per se. The wily and ruthless General Zia ul- Haq was a fairly popular figure in his day. Wild-eyed deobandi fanatics, opposed to Musharraf's regime, long for a Sharia-state tyranny that would be far more brutal and incompetent than is the current government in Islamabad. Nor is the growing corruption of the army in Pakistan the central problem; Benazir Bhutto's party, the democratic faction, once looted government coffers with gusto while wrecking the economy. Her father, once Prime Minister but later executed by Zia, was a notable menace to the concept of good governance.

Pakistan's central problem is a crisis of legitimacy. Nationalism is a waning force these days and even anti-Indian feeling is sustained by a marriage of nationalism with Islamist radicalism. Once, a Pakistani leader could declare that Pakistani's " would eat grass" to make their country the nuclear equal of Hindu India. No more. Musharraf's fear of "national suicide" did not rouse his countrymen to his side and there are some, even in the army, who would hold up jihad above the nation. Well above.

Without nationalism or state competence, people fall back on primary loyalties. Pakistan has no intrinsic reason to exist unless it can be welded together in men's minds.

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Picked up both of these on a lark on Saturday, as I cruised through Border's with The Son of Zenpundit, who was getting some independent reader level books about Spider-Man fighting -well- some villain or other. The usual suspects.

Any thoughts from readers as to how high these tomes merit being placed on the "Must read" pile ? I'm currently innundated with things to read, so prioritizing is a must.

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This should intrigue readers with a range of research interests and disciplinary perspectives. Reading it right now as I post.

Dr. Christine Helms - "Arabism And Islam: Stateless Nations And Nationless States" (PDF)

Hat tip to Colonel Lang.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday...where blog reaction is the attraction!

Sean Meade - "Catch-22"

Sean puts away his proofreader's blue pencil and dons the Hat of Literary Criticism to make an (accurate) point about generational zeitgeist.


Great theory post by John Robb. I'd say that the Maoists exploited a latent crisis of legitimacy rather than created one "ex nihilo". Both the Chinese Communists and the Kuomintang were a reaction against the collapse of the Q'ing and the inability Yuan Shih-kai and various warlords to step into the breach. The history of China from the Boxer Rebellion to Mao's triumph in 1949 was a laboratory for questions of 4GW, state-building, state failure, foreign intervention, guerilla warfare theory, counterinsurgency and many of the issues with which statesmen and military commanders are wrestling with in Iraq.

Shane and Curtis at Dreaming5GW - "5GW in Clausewitz’s Trinity" and "John Robb: “On Open Source Guerrilla Vanguards”

Respectively, Shane is expanding on the exchange here over Fabius Maximus and Curtis delves into the above post by John. Speaking as a historian, what we know about about Soviet and American decision-making during the Cuban missile crisis offers a serious caution regarding game theory assumptions of rationality. Excomm was an exercise in attempting rationality but the "fog of war" was so dangerously opaque as to render such intentions almost moot. The problem of information was redoubled on the Soviet side due to the nature of the Soviet system and Khrushchev's political conflicts within the Presidium

Dave at The Glittering Eye - "Obama’s Proposal to Break the Impasse on Iran (Updated)"

Dave gives his trademark serious evaluation to Senator Obama's proposal to give a presidential-level investment in diplomatic talks with Iran and he's right about Obama's monocausal explanation of Iranian behavior.

While I am in favor of serious diplomatic negotiations withIran, I'm not crazy about a foreign policy neophyte like Obama a) taking a personal, presidential, lead in negotiating strategy - that's what the secretary of state is for when the president is green; and b) staking a brand-new administration's prestige on the outcome of negotiations with as difficult and hostile a diplomatic adversary as the Iranians. We don't need to unilaterally ratchet up the pressure on ourselves for a deal when enough real-world, strategic concerns abound.

Dan of tdaxp - "Automaticity (Automation of Schemata)"

Dan's research is investigating a crucial cognitive process, one without which we'd have been hard-pressed to have gotten out of the stone age.

Shlok has been published in Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review with an article on Naxalite Rage ( no link). Congrats, Shlok !!

CKR - "The Strategery Article"

Cheryl Rofer identifies strategic paralysis at the heart of the Bush administration, for which she blames the president. I agree, though for different reasons. One reason would be the self-crippling, insularity of the information-flow around Mr. Bush and his key advisers (which ultimately, is also Bush's fault. A president pretty much gets the national security process he really wants to have). Only part of this distortion is ideological, much of it is court politics to keep control of the king's ear, so to speak. Hadley's origins as a national security expert, for example, were in the Kissingerian-dominated Ford administration, yet he reputedly leads the pack to "shoot the messenger" on Iraq, among the inner circle.

That's it!


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