Foresight in Organisations Revisited

A few years ago I took a Masters unit of study about Foresight in Organisations.  In its early iteration the unit covered several topics:

∙ Conceptual theories of strategic planning: Alfred Chandler‘s structure and strategy, Michael Porter‘s 5 Forces model and contributions to industrial economics, Gary Hamel & C.K. Prahalad‘s early work on core competencies and industry whitespaces, and Henry Mintzberg‘s eloquent critique of the strategic planning function.


The operational span of strategic planning including an overview of
business units, corporate level strategy, and multi-national
conglomerates.

∙ Good practices in change management and organisational interventions such as Elliott Jacquesrequisite organisation, Ralph Stacey’s shadow or informal networks in organisations, Richard Hames‘ strategic navigation, and Peter Senge‘s view on learning organisations.

∙ Practitioner reflections and post-implementation case studies on creating a foresight function in organisations from Andy Hines, Sohail Inayatullah, Peter Hayward and Joe Voros.

The most fun part was a lunch with Hines around the launch of the Association of Professional Futurists.

The
student cohort grasped several hypotheses from these topics: (a) the
limits of traditional strategic planning in a complex environment, (b)
the emergence of anticipatory management and strategic foresight as two
new paradigms, and (c) how the foresight function may be embedded in
organisational culture.

In retrospect three broad trends may have influenced the topics and hypotheses:

(1)
Hamel & Prahalad’s view led a new wave of practitioners to frame
the foresight function as a managerial core competence in pragmatic
strategic thinking (thanks to Mike McAllum
for his practitioner insights on Hamel’s influence).  In the contract
phase of a consulting engagement this meant the practitioners often
linked foresight to growth options, visioning and corporate strategy. 
Clients were receptive, partly due to Hamel & Prahalad’s solutions
at the firm and competition levels.  More broadly, exogenous factors
played a major role in creating the macroeconomic climate for client
demand: the 10-year Juglar business cycle, the late 1990s Internet bubble and the M&A wave of European industry consolidation.

(2)
Hamel & Prahalad’s work coincided with the diffusion of new
frameworks for organisational interventions from management theorists
into consulting firms.  Senge’s systems modelling at MIT’s Society for Organisational Learning and Arie de Geus‘s scenarios work at Royal Dutch Shell
were two such frameworks.  If Hamel & Prahalad provided the
strategic rationale, then Senge, de Geus and others suggested the
intervention points: how a forward view and systems awareness could
enhance managerial decisions about corporate strategy.  However this
alignment of the foresight function with strategic thinking did not
explore other potential intervention points: cost management systems,
project hurdle rates for risk-return, and operations management. 
Attention to these would bridge the strategy|operations divide in
organisations that demand quantifiable results.

(3) An
alternative route for contract phase buy-in was to connect the
foresight function with a hot topic that interested the client.  On the
upside, this was a way to raise awareness of dynamics, forces, trends
and challenges beyond the firm or market.  On the downside, the buy-in
now depended on the currency of the hot topic, the differential
diagnosis skills of the practitioner, and the value created by the
solutions.  If the hot topic waned, so might the buy-in for the
foresight function.

With the benefit of five years hindsight I now see how some barriers to Foresight in Organisations might be avoided.

Foresight
in Organisations gives students a grounding philosophy that informs
their consulting approach.  However its philosophy is also a relatively
young discipline with multiple schools of thought and stances, and in
competition from other frameworks, methodologies and stances for client
dollars.  This poses translation challenges between the Foresight
practitioner and their client that arise in the contract, data
collection and implementation phases of a consulting engagement. 
Clarity on how philosophy informs rationale may help the engagement go
smoothly.

The Foresight practitioner also faces cognitive biases
and judgments that can affect their consulting decisions during an
organisational intervention.  The Foresight practitioner’s enthusiasm
for Foresight as a normative stance and silver bullet solution can set them up to fail or give their solutions a shorter half-life.  Specific cognitive biases that the Foresight practitioner may be prone to include positive illusions about their implementation competencies, illusion of control
over others, and unrealistic optimism about the likelihood of
organisational transformation.  The client may also have a shadow
agenda about power and the direction of organisational change which can
blindside any intervention.  Finally, as the Foresight practitioner is
not embedded in the organisation their enthusiasm for change can
trigger defensive routines from others that may delegitimate the
practitioner, block the microprocesses for change, or derail the
organisational intervention.

I learnt the most from the war
stories of other Foresight practitioners: what worked, what didn’t, how
and why interventions failed, and what was done the next time.  You may
mess up as others have messed up before you.  Now I have my own war
stories to add . . .

Change.gov

During a stint as Disinformation‘s site editor I learnt to monitor how analysts and experts respond to significant events.  Analysts and experts can situate the significant event in relation to a discipline or knowledge area.  So, it’s a strategy in which the event and the expertise are wayfinders to help learn about the discipline, in a contextual, real-time way.

For the past five days I’ve looked at Change.gov: how President-Elect Obama uses open government principles and strategic communication to implement his transition prior to the Inauguration on 20th January 2009.  It’s not all gone smoothly: ProPublica‘s Mike Webb and BoingBoing‘s Xeni Jardin note that some early information on Obama Administration policies were removed (Slate confirmed this occurred).  The Obama campaign’s Twitter page may be dead as the President-Elect now opts for more traditional media outlets.  Despite this, Change.gov is a very intriguing project that generates lots of commentary in the media and policy circles.

As a real-time case study Change.gov may turn out to be a richer learning experience than an entire bookshelf of dotcom era books on change management projects, e-government transformation and e-policy ecosystems.  Who will write the case study for Harvard Business School MBAs and Harvard Kennedy School policymakers?  Will the Obama Administration license David Bowie‘s “Changes” as the site’s theme music?

A side-benefit of Change.gov is some really insightful media commentary about the games that new political appointees must play to thrive in the Beltway.  Exhibit One: The New Republic‘s Noam Scheiber explains how Tim Geitner cultivates a keen political awareness for institutional buy-in and is a frontrunner for the US Treasury Secretary.  Geitner’s insights are useful for change agents or anyone who wants to navigate organisational politics.

CPRF08 Presentation: Disruptive Innovation, Radiohead & Nine Inch Nails

I recently spoke at the 2008 Communications Policy Research Forum in Sydney on disruptive innovation in the music industry.  My presentation looked at the reasons for why Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails pursued online release strategies for their respective albums In Rainbows (2007) and The Slip (2008), and evolved from some initial thoughts here. The reasons suggested in media coverage – Web 2.0 experiments, disruptive innovation and freeconomics – were ‘true yet partial’ explanations.  They overlooked two significant facts: (1) both artists were in the ‘label shopping’ phase near the end of their contracts; and (2) both artists were frustrated with their respective labels EMI and UMG, who each triggered artist defections due to post-merger integration problems.  The presentation also discusses the role of Disruptive Innovation Markets, the Disruptive Information Revelation principle, and lessons for journalists, new media theorists, policymakers and valuation analysts.  Thanks to the Network Insight Institute team (Mark Armstrong, Cristina Abad and Mark Armstrong) and the two anonymous reviewers for their help.

Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Steven Sebring’s sprawling documentary Dream of Life explores a 12-year Saturnian arc in the life of poet and musician Patti Smith.  She moves from Detroit, Michigan to New York’s Chelsea Hotel after the death of husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, and reactivates her touring band.  Sebring interweaves historical glimpses of her early recordings and encounters with Beat author William S. Burroughs with the praxis of a return to performance: late night ideation sessions, fellow musicians tuning Smith’s guitars, a meditation on Coney Island, backstage warm-ups, impromptu jams, and onstage free-form poetry.  Smith situates her search for stillness in the mundane (an angst-free visit to her parents for dinner, scenes with son Jackson and daughter Jessie), the spiritual (breaking down during a reading in memory of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg), the aesthetic (visits to the graves of Beat poet Gregory Corso and Decadent author Arthur Rimbaud), and contemporary politics (a call to arms against the Bush Administration).  Amidst the Romanticist rage for life are moments of quiet revelation: Smith tells how her brother’s death triggered a transmission of baraka (grace).

No Exit

The live shows are amazing when the band focuses on the music but things fall apart in between.

That’s the narrative arc of No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! an SBS/Beyond International documentary on the reformation of the Australian rock band The Angels after eight years of legal battles.  The documentary contrasts fan jubilation with the band’s in-group struggles: leadership battles between lead vocalist Doc Neeson and rhythm guitarist John Brewster over setlists and song arrangements; drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup’s disagreements with management over the contracts for merchandise and songwriting royalties; and the weight of the past, notably an archive trip with revelations about The Angels‘ support tours at their prime with David Bowie, Cheap Trick and The Kinks.

No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! wisely steers away from The Angels’ live performances on a small club tour.  Instead, we see how subgroup coalitions form over the tour, from rehearsals to the final gig.  Neeson and John Brewster’s strong personalities act as two magnetic poles.  Neeson appears frustrated that Brewster and lead guitarist Rick Brewster use pincer-style tactics to get their way on key decisions.  John Brewster feels compelled to defend The Angels’ management which is taking on the financial risk of the tour, and the record company which offers a favourable deal.  Bidstrup is cautious because of past contracts that signed away his
legal rights during The Angels’ 1976-81 vintage period.  He also points that Brewster-Neeson-Brewster received royalties as the core songwriters, so there are incentives and power imbalances in the group that affects the decision-making process.

As the tour unfolds the group dynamics change.  Neeson extracts an early concession to have Neeson-Brewster-Brewster on the tour merchandise.  Bidstrup demands further assurances on the scale and scope of the tour contracts.  John Brewster claims Bidstrup is being “difficult” because of his business management and entrepreneurial experience outside The Angels.  Brewster and Bidstrup misinterpret eachother in meetings as Neeson withdraws.

No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! ends on an uncertain note: management refuses Bidstrup can attend a pivotal meeting, Brewster defends their decision, and Neeson counters that he is uncomfortable with excluding Bidstrup.   As the credits roll Bidstrup wonders on-camera if he will remain in The Angels or if he joined the tour just to “close the circle” on earlier events.  Bidstrup could leave, as Jason Newstead and Joey Belladonna did respectively from Metallica and Anthrax (after their Among The Living reunion in 2005-07).  Alternatively, The Angels could partly resolve Bidstrup’s concerns with songwriting credits for new songs to all band members, as Queen did on their final studio albums with Freddie Mercury.

Foreign Direct Investment In North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Park

For many people North Korea evokes the comic image of the lonely playboy Kim Jong-il in Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s Team America World Police (2004).  I found a more complex sociopolitical reality in 2006 whilst researching a Masters mini-thesis which dealt in part with North Korea’s covert nuclear weapons program.  A week after handing the mini-thesis in Disinformation’s video producer Nimrod Erez sent me links to stark photos of daily life in North Korea’s capital Pyonyang (folio 1, folio 2 & discussion board): deserted highways, military monuments to past battles and derilect residential towers.

Kim Jong-il’s nuclear ambitions were a significant barrier to foreign direct investment (FDI) in North Korea notably under South Korea’s Sunshine Policy to achieve geostrategic stability in the Korean Peninsula.  Jong-il’s nuclear rollback “opens the way” to Hyundai Asan‘s FDI investment in the Kaesong Industrial Park (YouTube promotional video).  South Korea’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) spearhead the FDI initiative which creates an emerging market, provides knowledge transfer, and hedges against country and currency risks.  South Korea’s government further offsets the SME’s country and operational risks with “low-interest loans and insurance.”  The SME’s engagement strategy also benefits emerging market watchers such as the blog North Korean Economic Watch.

If the FDI initiative fails then North Korea officials can always turn Kaesong Industrial Park into a subsidiary of the Erich von Daniken theme park in Interlaken, Switzerland.

Duelling Web 2.0 Scenarios: Boom/Bust

Has Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 meme become a high-tech bubble about to burst?

Origins of the Web 2.0 Boom

O’Reilly’s vision of a new Web platform originally fused two developments.

The first development: C, Smalltalk and object oriented programmers devised design patterns in the early 1990s to reuse software code and workaround solutions across projects.  A 1995 catalog catapulted its four authors to software engineering fame.  To capture the rapidly growing number of design patterns programmer Ward Cunningham created the first wiki: the Portland Patterns Repository.

The second development: a re-evaluation of dotcom era business models to encompass new technologies that enhanced the end-user experience including the site interface and information architecture.  Industry buzz around News Corporation’s acquisition of MySpace (18th July 2005), Yahoo!’s purchase of Flickr (21st March 2005) and del.ico.us (9th December 2005), and Google’s stock-for-stock deal for YouTube (9th October 2006) made O’Reilly’s vision the ‘default’ vision for Web pundits and investors.

The media’s buzz cycle soon went into warp speed as Facebook frenzy replaced MySpace mania.  In a move that exemplified the pivotal role of complementors O’Reilly & Associates morphed into the juggernaut O’Reilly Media.  Ajax and Ruby Rails soon replaced Java and C# as the languages for new programmers to learn.  For activists in community-based media, angel investors investing in scalable programming prototypes and international conglomerates seeking to control their industry white-spaces Web 2.0 provided an all-encompassing answer to venture capitalists on how they would change the world.

Two Scenarios: Web 2.0 Boom & Bust

For industry pundits Google’s decision in October 2008 not to acquire Digg may signal the Web 2.0 boom has become a bubble.  If true Google’s decision could be the mirror of News Corporation and Yahoo!’s acquisitions in 2005.  Slate‘s Chris Anderson points to several factors: no tech IPOs in the second quarter of 2008, the cyclical nature of the digital consumer market, the exit of Yahoo! as a potential buyer due to internal problems, market noise due to low barriers of entry for startups, and a smaller “window of opportunity in which startups can think of a new neat trick, generate buzz, and cash out.”  YouTube’s co-founder Jawed Karim adamently believes that Silicon Valley is in a bubble.

Twitter is the latest startup in the duelling scenarios of Web 2.0 boom versus bust. New York Times journalist Adam Lashinsky experiences a similar euphoria to Facebook and YouTube when he visits Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey.  Sceptics counter that Facebook and YouTube have not ‘monetised’ their business models into profitable revenues.  Portfolio‘s Sam Gustin raises the ‘monetisation’ problem with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone who believes that service reliability is a priority over the “distraction” of revenue pressures.  In support of Stone’s position Anderson observes that cloud computing and open source software are lowering the operational costs and slowing the burn rates of startups.

Yet monetisation remains a primary concern for Sand Hill Road entrepreneurs and other venture capitalists.  They differ in their decision-making criteria to Web 2.0 pundits and high-tech futurists: for angel investors and first round VC funding the entrepreneurs will demand a solid management team, the execution ability to control an industry whitespace, and viable sources of future revenue growth.  This is the realm of financial ratios and mark-to-market valuation rather than normative beliefs and ideals which probably influenced the acquiring firm’s decisions and valuation models in 2005-06.

Furthermore, if a Web 2.0 bust scenario is in play, the ‘contrarian’ sceptics will look to Charles Mackay, Charles P. Kindleberger, Joseph Stiglitz and other chroniclers of past bubbles, contagion and manias for guidance.  With different frames and time horizons the Web 2.0 pundits, high-tech futurists and venture capitalists will continue to talk past each other, creating still more Twitter microblogging, blog posts and media coverage.

Several preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the Web 2.0 boom/bust debate.  In a powerful case of futures thinking O’Reilly’s original Web 2.0 definition envisioned the conceptual frontier which enabled the social network or user-generated site of your choice to come into being.  The successful Web 2.0 startups in Silicon Valley have a distinctive strategy comparable to their dotcom era counterparts in Los Angeles and New York’s Silicon Alley.  Web 2.0 advocates who justify their stance with MySpace, YouTube and del.icio.us are still vulnerable to hindsight and survivorship biases. There’s a middle ground here to integrate the deep conceptual insights
of high-tech futurists with the quantitative precision of valuation
models.

It’s possible that the high-visibility Web 2.0 acquisitions in 2005-06 were due to a consolidation wave and strategic moves/counter-moves by their acquirers in a larger competitive game.  There are two precedents for this view.  Industry deregulation sparked a mergers and acquisitions boom in Europe’s telecommunications sector in the late 1990s comparable to the mid-1980s leveraged buyout wave in the United States.  Several factors including pension fund managers, day trading culture and the 1999 repeal of the US Glass-Steagall Act combined to accelerate the 1995-2000 dotcom bubble.  Thus, analysts who want to understand the boom/bust dynamics need to combine elements and factors from Web 2.0 pundits, high tech futurists and venture capitalists.

If the Web 2.0 boom has become a bubble then all is not lost.  Future entrepreneurs can take their cue from Newsweek journalist Daniel Gross and his book Pop! Why Bubbles Are Great for the Economy (Collins, New York, 2007): the wreckage from near-future busts may become the foundation of future bubbles.  Web 3.0 debates are already in play and will soon be eclipsed by Ray Kurzweil‘s Transhumanist agenda for Web 23.0.

Foreclosure Of A Hedge Fund Dream

Media personalities who took a career detour into managing hedge funds are the latest casualty of the subprime fallout, reports New York Times journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Sorkin profiles Ron Insana the former CNBC news anchor who founded Insana Capital Partners at the height of easy credit in 2006 and closed ICP in August 2008.  Insana raised $US116 million from major investor Deutsche Bank and media contacts.  Rather than invest directly in complex financial instruments Insana chose an intermediary position: a fund of funds investor in a diversified portfolio of hedge funds.

Insana made several errors that led to ICP’s blow-up.  Sorkin notes the US$116 million was a smaller capital raising than its blue chip competitors.  The fund of funds positioning meant a rational herds strategy on the hedge funds that ICP invested in.  Subprime-caused market volatility set off a cascade: the hedge funds didn’t make alpha returns above the market and ICP didn’t have the diversified portfolio to weather the volatility.  Consequently, ICP still had to pay out investors in full for their original investments (the ‘high water mark’ rule) before it could earn its ‘1.5 of 20’ fee (1.5% management fee on funds and 20% of fund profits).

Sorkin is insightful about the cost structures of hedge funds:

That would have been enough if it was just Mr. Insana, a secretary and
a dog. But Mr. Insana was hoping to attract more than $1 billion from
investors. And most big institutions won’t even consider investing in a
fund that doesn’t have a proper infrastructure: a compliance officer,
an accountant, analysts and so on. Mr. Insana had seven employees, and
was paying for office space in the former CNBC studios in Fort Lee,
N.J., and Bloomberg terminals — at more than $1,500 a pop a month —
while traveling the globe in search of investors. Under the
circumstances, $870,000 just wasn’t going to last very long.

This ‘contrarian’ observation highlights the leverage of institutional investors, and, in contrast to the usual media portrayal, the regulatory burdens of institutional compliance on funds.

Sorkin’s profile raises some interesting questions beyond his comparison of Insana and the media-savvy millionaires who blew-up after the April 2000 dotcom crash.  Did ICP adopt the trend following strategy from CNBC’s media coverage and Insana’s popular books?  If so, could Insana distinguish between market noise and critical events?  How did Insana grapple with the career change from CNBC news anchor to hedge fund head?  What risk mitigation steps did ICP’s investors demand, and did Insana exercise prudential caution? When he had to close ICP was Insana able to be self-critical about his past decisions and errrors?  Are there firm-specific, operational and positioning risks for fund of funds?  That would be a really interesting post-implementation review for aspiring hedge fund mavens.

Don’t expect to see it in CNBC European Business or Bloomberg Markets anytime soon.

Global Metal

York University anthropologist Sam Dunn has found a communication strategy to reach a broader audience than many academics and scholars.  Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005) combined Dunn’s fandom of heavy metal music, a taxonomy of subgenres, interviews with influential musicians and a field trip to the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany.  Dunn’s follow-up documentary Global Metal (2008) travels from Wacken to three BRIC members (Brazil, India and China), China, Israel, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Global Metal has rich insights on the coevolution of nation-states in the world system, the challenges of market design, indigenous and hybrid responses to globalisation, and new voices on old debates in heavy metal subcultures.

Anthropologists need an entry point into a new culture.  Dunn achieves this by interviewing Max Cavalera the cofounder of Brazil’s Sepultura and frontman for Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy.  Cavalera explains that Sepultura emerged in the mid-1980s as Brazil evolved from a military dictatorship to a neoliberal market society.  For many heavy metal fans Sepultura’s album Roots (1996) was their first encounter with an indigenous worldview as the band included field recordings with the Xavante Indians and Brazilian percussion.  Dunn’s interview with Cavalera uses Roots to tacitly bring the anthropological models and theories of Clifford Geertz, David Horowitz, Stanley Tambiah and others to fans who are unfamiliar with these influential scholars.  In contrast to this immersive approach Global Metal ends with a more familiar event: Iron Maiden‘s concert on 1st February 2008 the first time that a major Western heavy metal band has played Mumbia, India.

A second entry point for fans is when Dunn revisits past controversies and debates in heavy metal media to include new voices and perspectives.  Does Slayer‘s song ‘Angel of Death’ about the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele promote Holocaust denial and racism?  Dunn turns to the Israeli band Orphaned Land who note that although the song was written for shock value it has been used by politicians to inform Israeli youth about the Holocaust.  Orphaned Land then talk about Jerusalem as a global city and the past religious conflicts between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Far scarier than Middle Ages imagery and occult demons is Orphaned Land’s reality of having to live daily with potential suicide bombers in crowded urban areas.

Dunn returns to this debate throughout Global Metal to show how different individuals and groups reinterpret a meme or symbol and how this can have unforseeable outcomes.  Orphaned Land recount how after playing ‘Angel of Death’ live for Israeli audiences they were sent a mail bomb by Varg Vikernes a notorious Norwegian black metal musician and Holocaust denier.  Iranian fans who are photographed next to Slayer graffiti face possible arrest and torture by religious police – which provokes Slayer’s frontman Tom Araya to comment that the fans seek a death sentence.

More disturbingly, Dunn interviews the Indonesian band Tengkorak whose song ‘Jihad Soldiers’ embraces a militant Islamist worldview.  When Tengorak’s lead singer quotes conspiracy theories from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Dunn observes his jacket has a crossed out Nazi swastika.  “We’re not against Jews,” the singer explains, “just the Jewish system.”  Dunn then visits a Muslim mosque with another Indonesian musician.  Tengorak’s context is the 1997 Asian currency crisis which sparked a wave of conspiracy theories within Indonesia due to macroeconomic destabilisation.

Many of the interviewees give examples of how heavy metal music is reinterpreted differently to Western narratives.  Japanese fans reject Western alienation as an existential motivation and instead create a more emotional and direct identity that is an alternative to their conformist work identity.  KISS had an immediate impact in Japan as the band’s makeup is comparable to Kabuki theatre.  The live improvisation which closed Deep Purple‘s first concert at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan in 1972 has sparked a subculture of ageing salarymen who reform their teenage bands to play ‘Highway Star’.  Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman explains how X-Japan and Death Panda have fused heavy metal with Japanese game shows like Rock Fujiyama and pop music to create rifts within and between subcultures.  In China heavy metal music is used as part of a Confucian state policy to give youth an outlet for aggression, even though the music is officially frowned upon.  Whilst visiting Mumbai, Dunn intercuts scenes of Indian bands playing a local bar with the Hindu wedding playing Bollywood music next door: two alternative cultures coexist.

The heavy metal subcultures that Dunn visits serve as barometers for nation-state development; freedom for religious and political views; and in a nod to Ulrich Beck, P.R. Sarkar and Amy Chua, the relationship of subcultural groups to mainstream society and sociopolitical power.  Japan has a Janus-faced subculture which has Western and indigenous elements.  India and the United Arab Emirates’ subcultures are at an infancy stage which Dunn links explicitly to democratic political institutions and modernisation: UAE hosts a festival with bands and fans who cannot perform in their home countries due to restrictions.  China, Iran and Turkey have subcultures that are underground due to religious authorities who perceive them as antinomian youth subcultures.  Beck’s concept of subpolitics from below and Sarkar’s Law of the Social Cycle provide theoretical insights here: if the fans are shudra (workers) they have coopted insights from vaeshya (entrepreneurs, merchants) and vipra (intellectuals) to create soft power which counteracts the influence of ksatriya (military).

Brazil and Indonesia are two test cases of this hypothesis.  Cavalera’s narrative of Brazil’s transition to democracy st
ands in contrast to Samuel P. Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) which warned of the gap between rapid sociopolitical change and lagging political institutions.  Instead, Cavalera argues that Sepultura’s music signified a subpolitics response by the shudra underclass to poverty and the lack of macroeconomic and sociopolitical reforms by social elites.  The flashpoint is Metallica’s concert on 11th April 1993 at Lebak Bulus Stadiam in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich explains that in order to protect a middle class area Indonesian police prevent fans from entering the stadium.  Fans retaliate by setting fire to the surrounding buildings; the smoke is visible on a bootleg concert tape.  Indonesian authorites then banned all heavy metal bands and live tours until the Suharto regime ended in 1998.  Indonesia’s heavy metal subculture have since gained greater visibility although Tengorak gives voice to subcultural fears of Western geoeconomic, cultural and religious domination.

The consensus of most fans in Global Metal is that heavy metal’s ‘identity politics’ is evolving into a transnational network with a cosmopolitan worldview.  Almost everyone in the documentary wars an Iron Maiden t-shirt – the power of Chinese sweatshops, marketing and passionbrands.  The major facilitator is the heavy metal entrepreneur, such as the cofounder of China’s Tang Dynasty who imported Western heavy metal in the late 1980s and then evolved into an indigenous worldview.  The major barrier to this cosmopolitan ideal and diffusion process is when subcultural identities are caught in Muzafer Sherif‘s assimilation-contrast effect of social judgment: Japanese purist fans who decry the fusion of pop-metal or Indian fans who are caught in a power struggle with authority figures and family traditions.

Failures in market design are one source of these infra-subcultural battles.  In order to change their financial account reporting Western conglomerates dumped their excess back catalogue such as Extreme‘s 1989 debut album as cheap CDs into India and other countries.  Third World countries were the beneficiaries of bootlegs, MP3s and illegal downloads.  Dunn coaxs an admission from Ulrich that this is a positive trend, a reversal of Metallica’s lawsuit against Napster in 2000.  Black markets emerge where demand exists yet there are no official agents and major price differentials exist.  Ironically,  Global Metal is a victim of this trend: the documentary and a soundtrack of featured bands now circulates on illegal BitTorrent networks.  Turn up the distortion to 11.

The Debt

Assaf Bernstein’s The Debt (2007) portrays the breakdown of accountability during a fictional operation by Israel’s Mossad agency to capture a Nazi war criminal.

The film opens with the Mossad team of Rachel Brenner (Gila Almagor, Neta Garty), Zvi and Ehud arriving home triumphantly in April 1965: a scene reminiscent of Beatles mania.  Flashforward 30 years later and Rachel explains to Israeli intelligence trainees what it was like to kill the Nazi war criminal Maximilian Rainer (Edgar Selge) in a safehouse shootout: ‘I didn’t think of anything, I just closed my eyes, thought of my mother and what she had been through.’  The trainees joke about the Surgeon of Burkenau as a symbol of evil.

At a launch party for her memoir My Mission we hear an account of Rachel’s bravery and see her signing books like a celebrity.  As the party ends Zvi arrives with a newspaper story that will shatter the bubble: an old man in a nursing home 40 minutes outside of the Ukrainian industrial city Kiev now claims to be Rainer.  Rachel, Zvi and Ehud all know the truth that has been hidden for 30 years: Rainer escaped from the safehouse and they created the cover-story to hide the truth about the Surgeon of Burkenau’s fate that would have shocked Israel. 

The team is being reactived before Mossad and the Israeli public find out the truth.  Ehud is already in Kiev whilst Zvi cannot go due to wounds from an Israeli embassy bombing 10 years earlier.  Zvi convinces Rachel to go to Kiev armed with poison to confirm Rainer’s identity and to kill him.  She is unsure about the newspaper photograph.  ‘People change a lot in 30 years’, Zvi tells her.  ‘We were different then, weren’t we?’, Rachel wonders.

The Debt‘s narrative cuts back and forth between the 1964 Berlin operation and Rachel’s 1994 visit to Kiev.  Bernstein thus creates a cause-effect relationship between the team’s initial decisions and their consequences.

Mossad tracks Rainer to Berlin in 1964 after a 15-year search.  The night before the team’s operation begins Rachel examines photographs of Rainer’s atrocities in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Rainer now works as a gynecologist so Rachel poses as Mrs. Roget and gets several appointments for an infertility examination.  These scenes have a starkness similar to David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988) as Rainer attempts to discover Rachel’s true identity.  Eventually the team resorts to an extraction operation: Rachel injects Rainer with a serum whilst Zvi and Ehud arrive with a fake ambulance.

Holed up in a safehouse with Rainer imprisoned the team begins to fall apart.  The cover operation to use an embassy party is delayed several times.  The team starts infighting over their motives: Rachel has unrequited love for Zvi, Ehud’s tough personal masks his fears and Zvi is hauned by the deaths of his entire family at Auschwitz.

Rainer emotionally manipulates Rachel and Ehud when they break Zvi’s rule not to speak to their prisoner.  He offers several rationalisations: his work was done for ‘scientific progress’, ‘hundreds of deaths’ were necessary to save millions, and that ‘we could do anything we wanted with the Jews’.  Rachel taunts Rainer that he will endure a public trial similar to Adolf Eichmann
in Jerusalem in 1961.  Rainer explains to Rachel and Ehud that only four guards were needed to send entire families to their deaths: Jewish ‘egoists’ meant that individuals only thought for themselves.  ‘Jews only knew how to die, they didn’t know how to kill,’ Rainer concludes.  The exchanges are a misdirection ploy: with Ehud and Zvi now out of the room Rainer attacks the sleeping Rachel with a razor that she has dropped and escapes.  ‘It took 15 years to find him, we aren’t going to find him in 10 minutes,’ Ehud and Zvi argue.  The truth that happened in Berlin is not the truth that Israel must know.

30 years later Zvi, Ehud and Rachel are each haunted by their lie.  When Rachel arrives in Kiev she meets Ehud who is now an arms dealer to both sides in Sierra Leone: ‘rebel against them’ he explains over a double malt whiskey.  Ehud and Rachel are unable to get into the Kiev nursing home which is a high security facility for former Soviet military.  The next morning Rachel discovers that Ehud has committed suicide because he is a coward.  Zvi asks her to return but Rachel wants to finish what should have been done in Berlin.

After several cat-and-mouse attempts Rachel disguises herself as a nurse to infiltrate the nursing home.  She sees the old man on a balcony.  A Berliner Zeitung reporter also wants to interview the old man and phones his editor in advance to claim a double-spread cover story.  In these scenes Rachel seems cautious to conduct a field operation, unsure of the old man’s true identity and out-of-place in a life after espionage.  Both she and the reporter discover the truth: the old man has Alzheimers and started the story a month ago to the concern of his son.  The reporter leaves in disgust.

Only then does Rachel discover the deeper truth underneath the surface truth and by accident:  she follows the old man’s grandson and his remote controlled car to discover an elderly Rainer playing cards in the dining room.  ‘I should never have confessed to him,’ he tells Rachel, ‘I should have taken this secret to my grave.’  Rachel and Rainer’s bathroom knife fight leave both fatall wounded, and Rachel dies on a train platform, remembering the team’s triumphant return to Israel, the black and white news footage now in colour.

The Debt explores the ethical challenges of intelligence fieldwork, coming face to face with ontological evil, and the cost of living with a lie.  However two other dimensions are only hinted at.  The team’s lie is necessary to maintain Mossad’s invincibility and as a counter-myth against the Nazi postwar survival myths of Adolf Hitler, Martin Bormann and the Odessa in South America.  More cryptic is Rainer’s explanation to Rachel about World War II’s intergenerational trauma: ‘The war changed a lot of people.’