Races to the Bottom in Doomed Digital Media and University Research

“Clicks don’t pay the bills.”


That’s the brutal assessment of New Republic features director Theodore Ross about doomed digital media in 2016. Amongst the downsizing and casualties: The Guardian, Univision, the Huffington Post, Mashable, the International Business Times, Al Jazeera America, Medium, and Gawker. The disturbing trend for Ross? Google and Facebook capture of 85% of the digital advertising market. Pivoting to viral video seemed promising. “Companies have already begun to question whether video clicks really are the best clicks,” Ross notes. In a tweet on 14th December 2016 announcing his New Republic article, Ross mourned, “I will never be able to retire.”


I learned this the hard way in April 2000.


Five months earlier, I had joined The Disinformation Company Ltd (TDC) to edit and write for their Disinformation website. Publisher Gary Baddeley and Creative Director Richard Metzger agreed to sponsor me to work in the United States. I had to finish my overdue Bachelor of Arts degree first. We had great contributors. TDC’s parent company Razorfish was worth $US1 billion. The future looked very bright.


Then in late March 2000 the dotcom crash began to happen. On 14th April 2000, I wrote about the unfolding crash for Disinformation in real-time. “The new e-poor,” I commented. Razorfish’s stock price soon imploded. The US move fell through. I continued to work for TDC as an overseas independent contractor. They later pivoted to television, book, DVD, and Video on Demand production. I finished my Bachelors degree, started a Masters, and then worked in university research for the Smart Internet Technology CRC based at Swinburne University.


In 2006, I met a Fairfax Media online editor at a telecommunications conference. He talked passionately about the algorithms that ranked stories for readers. Age and Sydney Morning Herald readers preferred celebrity and sports coverage. The algorithms drove Fairfax Media’s publishing platform. I privately reflected that watered down op-ed columns had replaced a strong editorial vision.


You have to follow Jim Collins’ advice and confront the brutal facts. The Disinformation experience taught me that web content is a loss leader that builds you an audience. You then offer other content and services such as ebooks, documentaries, or web-based training to earn revenues. You cut costs. You have something to offer more than digital advertising. You cross-promote other sites and authors. You use Facebook, Twitter, Google Scholar and other free tools as outreach. Your authors need to be accessible to their audience (whilst also still protecting sources if needed).


Fairfax Media and the rest of Ross’s doomed digital media did not follow these lessons. They initially funded journalism with high overhead costs like traditional print media. They focused on digital advertising and not other revenue sources. They published content that was noise: it was not distinctive and did not have a unique, compelling voice. They let marketing algorithms take-over editorial policy. They diversified into too many other areas.


I discovered similar mistakes in the university research world. In the past, universities invested in early career researchers to fund conference travel, projects, publishing, and skills development. University research institutes built a large infrastructure to promote their programs and teams. This all involved a lot of money, a lot of administration time, and a lot of negotiation. In other words, high transaction costs. Universities did this in part because they used to take a long-term view of career and talent development.


But in today’s austerity world these high transaction costs are no longer feasible. They are regarded as inefficiencies or overheads. Universities have cut funding for early career researchers (known as ECRs) who compete for precariat, short-term contracts. An ECR’s average career path is between three to eight years before burnout if there is no ‘up or out’ promotion to the professoriate. University research institutes have had to embrace contracts, donor philanthropy, and strategic partnerships. They have had to diversify their funding sources as grants become more competitive.


A race to the bottom drives both digital media and university research. The average academic journal article has between 800 and 1100 unique views. The average book by a university publisher has a 300 copy print run. Authors often assign their copyright and other intellectual property rights to publishers — and so don’t earn licensing or residual fees. These facts and norms are little known outside academia and they highlight the high cost and waste of much research. The Conversation website illustrates some of these trends: it curates academic research to a broader audience but it also doesn’t pay its academic contributors.


I told the Fairfax Media online editor in 2006 that he needed to take a more proactive approach to publishing content. The model I was grasping towards is an event-driven, stream-based approach like the Bloomberg financial news network or complex event processing. The publishing platform helps you to anticipate, respond to, and shape coverage. What is also needed is to build a portfolio of branded intellectual property that discovers and engages with a passionate audience. It’s less like traditional news or university research, and more like Creative Artists Agency (James Andrew Miller’s Powerhouse), perpetual deal-making (Robert Teitelman’s Bloodsport), or even life-hacking (Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans).


You will probably still need another job. And, multiple income sources.

Wealth Secrets of Financial Elites

How do financial elites gain effortful power? What are their wealth management secrets?


Chrystia Freeland’s book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich (New York: Penguin Group, 2012) suggests three factors:


1. Anti-fragility or positive growth from the interaction of volatility and time. Freeland focuses on forces like entrepreneurship, globalisation, technology and political change. The “anti-fragility premia” is perhaps best discussed in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s options trading and philosophy work.


2. Capital Accumulation as inter-generational wealth creation. Pick a famous dynastic family like the Carnegies or the Rothschilds. Capital Accumulation can be expressed as the positive growth of wealth over time expressed as a Present Value to Future Value cashflow. This process can also be considered in terms of the financial decisions that we make over our lifespan: decisions today set-up the potential favourable conditions for tomorrow. Warren Buffett’s official biographer came up with a memorable image to describe this process: The Snowball.


3. Rent-Seeking: Rent-seeking is control of financial / real assets that allow for Capital Accumulation to occur (as an extraction premia). Gordon Gekko exemplifies this in the Oliver Stone film Wall Street. Rent-seeking may be done via entity structures (such as a pass-through vehicle like a limited liability partnership) and through wealth management strategies (such as funds management and legal tax minimisation).


Freeland and others suggest that Superstars are able to use these three factors to gain cumulative career and financial advantages.


This leads to the following equation for elites: rent-seeking control of PV and FV cashflows + anti-fragility + volatility (where the first two are stronger than volatility, which in the case of events like the 2007-09 global financial crisis, can still lead to significant drawdowns).


An example from my own life: the 1998-2008 period of work with The Disinformation Company Ltd (now TDC Entertainment):


1. Pick an anti-fragile trend – such as pre-millennialist conspiracy theories in the mid-late 1990s and a web portal platform during the 1995-2000 dotcom speculative bubble.


2. Set-up a structure for capital accumulation: TDC as a Delaware-registered company that engaged in book, television, DVD, web, and conference projects and that built an audience.


3. Rent-seeking over time via the free cash-flows from the project portfolio.


You can find and understand examples from your own life.

New Academic CV and Publications Track Record

I have a new Academic CV and Publications track record (PDF).


The document integrates for the first time my academic research; PhD and Masters studies; Disinformation website work (mainly from my first editorial and writing tenure in 1998-2003); journalism; and subculture research. There are some known gaps in the publications history – notably the Black Box magazine project in 2002, two small REVelation excerpts in 1996-97, and many more Rabelais student journalism articles / reviews from 1994. It’s as near complete a list that I’m likely to get – unless I do further archival work. Many of the Disinformation articles in 1998-2003 are available at Archive.org. Much of the academic research is available from this website or in the specific academic journals.


A personal reflection:


I spent much of my first decade of public writing as a freelance journalist, subcultural researcher, website editor / writer during the end of the dotcom speculative bubble, and then in the Swinburne University Masters program in strategic foresight. This period covered several phases: (1) a 1994-95 period of primarily New Journalism experimentation; (2) a 1996-97 period of immersive subculture research and magazine articles which largely ended in March 1998; (3) a 19998-2003 period of my first Disinformation editorial tenure; and (4) my 2002-04 Masters studies which were largely a reflection cycle on the prior periods and the lessons I had learned. This period transitioned when I joined the Smart Internet Technology CRC research consortium in December 2003.


I spent my second decade as a researcher; pivoted into research management; did Masters and early PhD work on counterterrorism and political science; and then collaborated with others on academic research. This period covered several phases: (1) a 2003-2007 period of Smart Internet Technology CRC research in which I also pivoted out of doing magazine research due to employment contract restrictions; (2) a 2007-09 pivot period of moving into research management and transitioning my academic research career into political science; (3) a 2010-14 period of collaborative research articles; and (4) a 2009-present period of focus on PhD research about pattern languages and strategic culture, and applied research on hedge funds / terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures.


Collectively, I put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over the 20-year period in journalism and research. The 1994-95 period of New Journalism was skills acquisition and experimentation. The 1996-97 period of subculture research benefited from close work with several talented magazine editors, and led to new insights during the 2003-07 period at the Smart Internet Technology CRC. This was a period in which I enjoyed a brief publicly visible profile as an editor and writer. The 1998-2003 period at Disinformation led to a renewed focus in 2009 on event arbitrage and understanding hedge fund strategies. I experienced personal crises in 1997 and in 2006-07 over financial and ‘decision to publish’ issues that led to life-changing pivots. The 2002-04 and 2007-09 periods were active reflection cycles on these pivots. In Spiral Dynamics terms, the 20-year timeframe of writing involved several sequences of skills cultivation (Alpha new state), rapid growth (Delta surge), life crisis (Gamma Trap problems), and pivot to new opportunities (alternation of Beta questioning and new Delta surge).


This 20-year writing arc has led to a current personal synthesis: (1) PhD and recent academic publications as a new phase of skills building; (2) applied research as a strategy to address the life circumstances of the 1997 and 2006-07 crises; and (3) this blog as a way to capture and communicate some of these ideas to a public audience. My writing is more focused and often more private. I publish more slowly in academic journals than in past internet and magazine work. I work with a smaller group of collaborators. I have a more sustainable daily routine.


I’m grateful for the past experiences. I’m looking forward to sharing new writings in the future with you.

On Minyanville’s Pivot

This week I’m reading Josh Brown and Jeff Macke’s Clash of the Financial Pundits (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014) during my work commute. Brown and Macke interview financial media pundits and bloggers. Minyanville’s Todd Harrison has overshadowed the book’s release in announcing that the popular financial news site will pivot to financial services:


Our current business model does not extend to financial services, and that’s OK — it’s broken anyway. I do, however, believe that what we’ve built is extremely valuable to a broker-dealer looking to leverage a fertile audience, acquire new customers, optimize the social sphere, turn clients into community, market through new channels, engage next-generation investors, and build a lifetime relationship.

This, in my view, can be accomplished by attaching Minyanville to an existing financial services firm as an incubation lab and allocating our assets and abilities across their business model. There are several reasons this makes sense — among them, education, credible content, and creativity are rare commodities on Wall Street.

Financial institutions have been reticent to embrace the online world given regulatory and reputational concerns; they now understand the digital realm isn’t going away and the millennial generation — along with a massive transfer of wealth — is quickly approaching. If they don’t incubate the human capital and creative elements necessary to service the entire vertical across multiple channels, they will be left behind.

Minyanville provides a plug-and-play, end-to-end solution that delivers smart market commentary with editorial rigor through a FINRA- and SEC-compliant mechanism. This is not traditional research; content is the best online currency — engage the audience in a daily dialogue with one foot inside the firewall (give them a reason to stay in the walled garden) and the other foot outside the firewall (broaden the brand shadow and more effectively target the marketing spend).


Over 14 years ago when Richard Metzger and Gary Baddeley hired me to edit the Disinformation website they were pivoting to television production, publishing, DVD, and video-on-demand interests. Stratfor’s George Friedman planned the StratCap hedge fund before Anonymous hacked his geopolitical intelligence website.


Behind all of these moves are two strategic realities: (1) most web content generates zero income – a painful truth for editors and writers; and (2) value creation often lies in tailored products and services for a website’s audience. Minyanville’s version of (2) was a subscription service for premium content. Disinformation’s version was book, DVD and video-on-demand projects — the site became mostly user-generated content from March 2008. This was all prior to Henry Blodget’s career ‘second act’ with BusinessInsider.


I made a series of decisions about these shifts over the past decade. After undergraduate and postgraduate school I pursued a university-based research career from 2004 whilst doing a second editorial stint with Disinformation. I stopped freelancing for magazines during this period due to publishing embargoes that the research consortium I worked for placed on my research. After leaving TDC Entertainment on 29th February 2008, I turned down several offers to edit websites or to be involved in publishing projects. After March 2007, I self-funded my academic research. Today, I blog – as Josh Brown does – primarily for self-education.


On the surface Harrison’s pivot decision for Minyanville to partner with financial services as an “incubation lab” looks like an entrepreneurial venture. I’m a little skeptical:


(1) As Brown and Macke show in their new book, most financial commentary is noise that is unhelpful to traders. Twitter, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Dealbook section in The New York Times, and a Bloomberg or Wall Street Journal subscription provides most of the major financial news and the major newswire services.


(2) Harrison omits that most website content is usually either for subscription traffic, or is a loss leader.


(3) I read Fundamentals of Stream Processing (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014) and it confirmed that the real alpha is already in complex event processing, machine learning algorithms, news analytics, and high-frequency trading algorithms. This area is at least 4 to 5 years old in quantitative finance already. It may continue to disrupt the broker service model that Harrison has in mind. How many of Minyanville’s customers really have the financial assets to become high net worth customers for a broker?


(4) Harrison looks to the Millennials as the new investor class – but most of them can save money and time by paying US$1 for William Bernstein’s monograph If You Can: How Millennials Can Get Rich Slowly; investing in a low-cost index fund like Fidelity or Vanguard; and reading free web commentary for self-education. More Millennials are likely to use mobile services than subscription-based websites.


(5) As George Friedman found with his StratCap venture, developing alpha/edge in investment and trading is a very different skillset to financial news or commentary. My experience from several different contexts over a 10-year period is that news arbitrage strategies are hyped by journalists and editors — but have significant alpha decay for traders — particularly in a market dominated by high-frequency trading algorithms and low-latency arbitrage. Brown and Macke confirm that this is the case for retail traders who try to trade the news on Bloomberg or CNBC – and that the major news outlets are set-up with availability and disposition biases in mind.


(6) Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy (New York: Doubleday, 2000), Thomas Schuster’s The Markets and the Media: Business News and Stock Market Movements (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), and Dean Starkman’s The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Financial Journalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) show that the financial media-retail trader nexus has been a problem noted in the 1995-2000 dotcom and 2003-07 real estate speculative bubbles, and also in the 2007-09 global financial crisis.


I will keep an eye on what Harrison’s Minyanville evolves into and what it incubates. However, Harrison’s pivot decision looks like an exit.

Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge

Thomas Pynchon‘s new September 11 novel Bleeding Edge (London: Jonathan Cape, 2013) is now out and has a subplot featuring the Montauk Project conspiracy theory. The Counterpunch and Atlantic Monthly reviews mention the Montauk allegations. Pynchon likely found out about the conspiracy from an interview that Alexandra ‘Chica’ Bruce and Richard Metzger did for the Disinfo Nation television show (Channel 4, United Kingdom) which was later included on the Disinformation DVD and Disinformation: The Interviews book. (Both were on-sale prominently in St. Marks and other New York City bookshops.) Richard has blogged at his site Dangerous Minds about how the interview came about. Montauk fits Pynchon’s worldview and the themes of earlier, very influential novels like Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49.


For me, Bleeding Edge evokes the period between the 2000 dotcom crash and the September 11 terrorist attacks, when I first edited the Disinformation website. I wrote about both incidents; as well as experiencing others like Enron’s collapse and the 2000 United States election outcome. I visited New York City between 20th and 25th September 2001, in part to visit author Howard Bloom. Pynchon’s subplots involving the darknet DarkArcher and stockmarket speculation echo some PhD-related work I am doing on the strategic subcultures of event arbitrage hedge funds: several ‘shorted’ airline stocks as the September 11 terrorist attacks unfolded.


The plausible Montauk-Disinfo-Pynchon connection highlights how subcultural ideas and memes can diffuse into mainstream society. Author Robert Anton Wilson likened this to strange loops. Author Don Webb described it as a fictive arcanum.

Discovery Channel’s Faux Documentaries

Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA) has unearthed a new revenue stream: faux documentaries on pseudo-scientific and occulture topics. Slate‘s Chris Kirk observes:


These faux documentaries, which can best be described as anti-educational, seem to have grown more common on in recent years. The Disney-owned History channel, for example, has earned criticism for airing pseudoscience programs like Ancient AliensUFO Files, and the Nostradamus Effect instead of programs about, you know, history.


I originally wrote about this for the alternative news site Disinformation when Fox broadcast its Lunargate documentary in 1999. I was skeptical: the main reason for Fox’s decision appeared to be the combination of cost-effective content, a large audience, ratings, and profitable licensing markets. At the time, Disinformation’s founder Richard Metzger was shooting the Disinfo Nation television series for Channel 4 which would later be pitched to the SyFy Network in the United States. The series led to a DVD and book, and to straight-to-DVD and streaming video releases. There’s a long history of these documentaries: Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels created the genre with The Morning of the Magicians, and I recall Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World book and television series from the 1980s.


Today, I treat such work as an information and sociological model of rumours, and psychological receptiveness to fringe ideas.

4th October 2012: In A Lonely Place

In A Lonely Place (1950)


We had broken up for about a year when I saw Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (1950). I had restarted a ‘lapsed’ undergraduate degree at La Trobe University, majoring in cinema studies and politics. I thought of you during Dr. Geoff Mayer’s class on Pre-Code cinema when he examined the origins of Hollywood’s ‘fallen angel’ image, and its influence on contemporary femme fatales. It was in Mayer’s film noir class that I saw In A Lonely Place. Afterwards, I saw our relationship in a new light.


In A Lonely Place explores the rise-and-fall arc of a brief, romantic relationship between screenwriter Dixon “Dix” Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and neighbour Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame). Steele is suspected of murdering nightclub girl Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) and his relationship with Gray unravels. Ray deals with popular themes in film noir: early Cold War paranoia; Hollywood cynicism; the dark heart of some personal relationships; and the suspicion of major characters as unreliable narrators. Today, In A Lonely Place is regarded as a film noir classic.


Ray’s film evokes a larger truth about the Romantic ideal of living with a writer versus its day-to-day realities. Significant others might initially approach this as the opportunity to live with a cultural creative or to be their muse. Gray and Steele’s initial whirlwind courtship reinvigorates their creative work and they become a dyadic couple. But the Atkinson murder investigation makes Gray suspicious about Steele. Writer’s block also shatters their domestic harmony: both Gray and Steele suffer from decision regret. Steele never develops a habitual routine to write. A writer stuck in their material can become irritable, moody, and withdrawn to live with: absent. D.T. Max’s recent biography Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story (New York: Viking, 2012) evokes these feelings about the late author and critic David Foster Wallace, who struggled with depression, and self-loathing about his giftedness and family.


Our relationship spanned an early, formative period of my academic and journalism career (publications). We met and started dating as I wrote a New Journalism account for Perth’s REVelation Magazine (now a film festival) of Noam Chomsky’s 1995 lecture tour in Australia. In the next three years, I wrote eight published articles on topics ranging from profiles of maverick quantum physicist Jack Sarfatti and computer scientist James Martin, to a roundtable on artificial intelligence and an influential profile of memetics in advertising. I had other, then-unpublished material, including profiles of the progressive rock band King Crimson and author Philip K. Dick (in archive boxes and not available online yet); a rejected profile of roboticist Hans Moravec; and private, initiatory self-work (in the Gurdjieff Work and the Temple of Set). We broke up soon after REVelation and 21C both fell apart. I had an interview with Terence McKenna accepted for REVelation; and an interview with space migration exponent Marshall Savage edited for 21C. During our break-up and its aftermath I finished a profile of designer Jeffrey Veen. Collectively, the published work was around 40,000-50,000 words with a similar amount of unpublished material.


All writers can suffer from the cognitive bias known as ‘positive illusions’. It’s us versus our emotions, thoughts, and a blank page: being in a (potentially) lonely place. As Gray discovered about Steele, we can carry our in-progress writing around as a projective identification onto others. We enter a liminal, subjective state that can be superimposed on others and the objective world. If not inspirational muses then we may look for initiatory allies and significant others to share in the unfolding creative process, to read our work, and to keep us tethered to the everyday world. At its extremes, a writer can venture deep into their material and may not come out of it. David Foster Wallace spent a decade writing drafts and redrafts of his novel The Pale King before he committed suicide in 2008.


You were disinterested to read what I wrote. Fine, I thought, you don’t know or care who guerrilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson was, when I interviewed him for REVelation. You were not going to read or do the exercises in Prometheus Rising. But we had common, shared experiences and polarities. At that period of my life, I wanted to share the exploratory promise of self-change with you and others. When the self-change occurred it wasn’t what I wanted or had hoped for: I learned that you can help to create the conditions for change but that personal growth is different for each individual. Eventually, you found a new fiancé: an ‘indie’ musician who was more emotionally direct and expressive with you than my writing was.


In A Lonely Place taught me that creative work and its choices will usually have personal costs. Gray and Steele’s relationship did not survive the rumours and suspicions about Atkinson’s murder. Director Nicholas Ray and actress Gloria Grahame’s marriage fell apart during filming. I have mixed feelings about the creative work from this period: you felt I became absent and did not pay you enough attention. 21C’s print edition had cultural cachet: to be published in my early twenties alongside cultural critics like Greil Marcus and Mark Dery was an honour. It’s one reason why Richard Metzger (now running the popular blog Dangerous Minds) asked me to write for the alternative news site Disinformation in 1998 and how I became its site editor in November 1999 (1998-2003 site archive). But you didn’t stay for this journey. You decided beforehand that pursuing these dreams was not feasible when the publisher cheque never comes, your credit card defaults, the telemarketing stop-gap job becomes too unstable, and the realtor sells out your rental house from underneath you. After some difficult experiences I agreed with Richard Metzger to “Find the Others” (quoting Timothy Leary) in new, emerging internet subcultures.


REVelation, 21C, and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to do deep background research on the countercultural topics of interest in my early-to-mid twenties. I got to work with leading writers, editors, designers, marketers, and publishers. Disinformation made me part of the dotcom era’s internet history and I had to create a public persona to deal with fans’ expectations. The reality was that I sat in rooms for eight years with computers as the site changed and the company evolved. I made new friends and gave lectures at This Is Not Art (TINA) between 1999 and 2004: the youth arts festival we had heard about one afternoon on Triple J radio (as TINA’s precursor, the LOUD Festival). I took our break-up and turned it into my first peer reviewed academic article on the Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile (1999).


Most importantly, I served an ‘apprenticeship’ period — 10,000 hours of deep/deliberate play/practice — to develop expertise. Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson articulated this approach to talent development whilst Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Geoff Colvin‘s Talent Is Overrated, and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code popularised it. REVelation, 21C and Disinformation gave me the opportunity to discover who I was as an emerging writer. TINA enabled me to share these insights with others. I learned about meso-cosmoi; how cultural transmission works; the creative synergies of high performance teams; and the significance that writing can have on your audience. I helped attract an audience for Disinformation’s other book and DVD projects, and promoted the Disinfo.Con 2000 ‘happening’.


Recently, I calculated the content and value I created during this ‘apprenticeship’ period versus the actual income earned. It was a sobering valuation exercise. (Read Valuation, Sources of Value, or Value Maps for more details.) My freelance journalism period occurred mainly from late 1994 to early 1998: 1500 hours on magazine articles ($A750 to $A1750 per article), interviews, and two book proposals. I did two editorial stints for Disinformation (November 1999-August 2002 and April 2003-February 2008) at $US100 per week salary, or $US42,000 in total. Over 8 years, I spent between 6,000 and 8,000 hours on editing the site; writing articles, news items, and a daily newsletter; responding to emails; handling site redesigns; representing the company in interviews; and from 2005, participating in weekly teleconferences. Add several thousand hours for two Masters degrees, and you get Ericcson, Gladwell, and Coyle’s 10,000 hour target to develop expertise. The per-hour salary of $A6.67 for freelance journalism or $US5.25-$US7 for Disinformation was on par with an entry-level administrative or sales job. However, the body of work produced continues to be of interest and value to others.


The downside was a lesson in offshore economics and cost reduction strategies that many white collar jobs will face in the hyper-competitive future. I left money on the table: I could have negotiated better deals; not signed away rights and potential royalty streams; used process redesign to manage time and task; and not have overestimated the length of my publishing career. Some other mistakes: The ‘standard’ magazine contracts controlled reprints, ancillary markets, and new technologies. For Disinformation, my editorial salary was fixed no matter how much content I produced whereas freelance contributors received $US50 per article or dossier. The salary also remained constant over 8 years. As an offshore contractor, I lost money on currency exchange rate fluctuations and inflation; and did not get end-of-year bonuses, salary benefits or superannuation. Disinformation’s successful expansion into book publishing and DVD distribution meant I had a continued salary but I never had an equity share in the company (so I didn’t share in its growth). I failed to translate my internet work into regular contributions to book anthologies, successful book proposals or projects with other publishers. When I became a university researcher on internet futures my bosses became anxious about Disinformation instead of leveraging this relevant industry experience.


For some of Disinformation’s core audience there was always a tension between its countercultural ideals, its marketing image, and its existence as a profit-oriented entertainment company. I got and responded to email flak about this. Today, I have taken the lessons from this period into providing research management advice; a PhD project (2011 proposal); and using event arbitrage, behavioural finance and market microstructure analysis to trade a small Australian equities portfolio. Some disgruntled Disinfonauts view this as a sell-out but it’s more an evolution from this earlier period. I changed who I collaborated with; I set writing limits; I found exemplars in academia (Alastair Iain Johnston, Jack Snyder, Marc Trachtenberg, and Robert Jervis); and investigative journalism (William D. Cohan, Steve Coll, and Lawrence Wright) to carefully study and model. You might have seen the baseball film Moneyball which is really about competitive advantage, negotiation, and valuation. Oakland A’s coach Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) turned a career arc from being a hopeful ‘star’ and then a ‘failed’ baseball player into a second act: mistakes became an invaluable learning resource.


Every day, I try to do the same.

17th September 2012: Conspiracy Theories In The Middle East

Foreign Policy blogger Stephen Walt observes:


It’s no secret there are conspiracy theories circulating in the Middle East (as there are here in the good old USA: Remember the “birthers?”) I’ve heard them every time I’ve lectured in the region and done my best to debunk them.


I used to edit the alternative news site Disinformation (1998-2003 site archive here). When I got access to the server logs I found the site was getting significant readers from Middle East countries. This was one of several reasons why I did not pursue or publish September 11 conspiracy theories during my editorial stint (which subsequent editors and user-generated content have reversed). It is territory that historian Jeffrey Herf examined during the World War II period in his book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Ithaca NY: Yale University Press, 2009). An Amazon.com search on “conspiracy theories” reveals the book Orientalism and Conspiracy: Politics and Conspiracy Theory in the Islamic World (London: IB Tauris, 2010).


Marc Ambinder and Daniel Drezner’s comments (here) on the Cairo and Benghazi riots recalls a point that Ben Eltham and I made in our Twitter Free Iran (2009) conference paper: social media content can trigger a causality chain that leads to deaths ‘in real life’.

5th August 2012: Year 20 Personal Reading List

This is a personal reading list of books, ideas, and conceptual frameworks that have shaped my self-work, journalism, and Masters and PhD studies in strategic foresight, counterterrorism, and strategic culture. It draws on a range of contexts including two editorial stints with the alternative news website Disinformation (1998-2003 site archive); the Gurdjieff Work; the Temple of Set; and an evolving, personal research program. The TS letter codes refer to the research codes that Dr. Michael A. Aquino created for the Temple of Set’s publicly available Reading List (PDF).




I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter (New York: Basic Books, 2007). (TS-4). Hofstadter is a cognitive science professor at Indiana University. He interrogates the ‘I’ – a person’s unique sense of consciousness – using mathematics, cybernetics, memoir, and analogical reasoning. Personal identity emerges for Hofstadter from self-referential perceptions that he likens to mathematician Kurt Godel’s ‘strange loops’. Hofstadter evokes a radically different ontological conceptualization of human identity, capability, and possibility.


Emotional Alchemy: How The Mind Can Heal The Heart by Tara Bennett-Goleman (New York: Harmony Books, 2001). (TS-3). Bennett-Goleman’s ‘emotional alchemy’ fuses Tibetan Buddhist mindfulness practices with Jeffrey Young’s schema therapy, developed as an offshoot of cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with destructive emotional patterns (schemas) that are often traceable to childhood history and family dynamics. Bennett-Goleman outlines an unfolding series of practices that – like Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi and Martin Seligman’s contributions to positive psychology – can lead to clarity, happiness, equanimity, and connection to a modern wisdom tradition. Jeffrey Young, Janet Klosko and Marjorie Weishaar’s Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide (New York: The Guilford Press, 2003) (TS-4) provides a clinical overview of Young’s initial development of schema therapy, the different schema modes, and has specific guidelines for borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. (There are now more recent books for clinical practitioners that advance the schema therapy approach.) Jerome Blackman’s 101 Defenses: How the Mind Shields Itself (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004) (TS-4) outlines the major psychological defense mechanisms that psychoanalysis has discovered.


The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance (New York: The Free Press, 2008). (TS-1). Waitzkin is a chess grand master and Tai Chi Chuan world champion profiled in the book and film Searching For Bobby Fischer. This book explores Waitzkin’s approach to deep play, learning and performance: it parallels Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s study of ‘flow’ optimal, psychological states.


Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (New York: Penguin Books, 2011). (TS-1). Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky developed prospect theory: the scientific study of cognitive biases and decision heuristics. Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for this influential research program. Thinking, Fast and Slow is an accessible guide to prospect theory that distinguishes between System 1 (associative memory) and System 2 (rational, controlled thinking). It includes coverage of anchoring, availability, framing, narrative fallacy, representativeness, and other major cognitive biases and decision heuristics. Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination (London: Profile Books, 2012) (TS-3) elaborates further on Kahneman’s insight that controlling time can lead to more effective decision-making.


Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011). (TS-3). Baumeister is a psychology professor at Florida State University whose research program focuses on the will, psychological self-regulation, and the reasons for ego depletion. This is a popular account of Baumeister’s experimental psychological research and it shows how habits and routines are one way to a healthy psychological existence. Some of Baumeister’s own books and research papers have greater clarity in writing.


Causal Models: How People Think About The World and Its Alternatives by Steven Sloman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). (TS-1). Sloman is a professor of psychology at Brown University. This book presents Sloman’s research program which combines cognitive science, Bayesian networks, and mathematics to explain how people perceive cause-effect patterns in the world. Judea Pearl’s second edition of Causality: Models, Reasoning and Inference (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009) (TS-4) presents advanced research on causality. James Woodward’s Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) (TS-4) offers an alternative approach to causal explanation. For an in-depth understanding of counterfactuals, Stephen Morgan and Christopher Winship’s Counterfactuals and Causal Inference: Methods and Principles for Social Research (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) (TS-4) and Richard Ned Lebow’s Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) (TS-4) offer a mix of methodological insights and provocative thought experiments. On analogical reasoning, Richard Neustadt and Ernest May’s Thinking In Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: The Free Press, 1986) (TS-3) is influential in politico-military and political science circles. Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock and Peter Menzies’ The Oxford Handbook of Causation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) (TS-4) surveys contemporary research into causality and causal modeling.


Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework by John Gerring (2nd ed.) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). (TS-4). Gerring is a professor of political science at Boston University. This book is an integrative approach to social science methods, conceptualization, description, measurement, and causation. Gerring synthesizes insights from diverse sources to explain the importance and rigor of research design and methodology in a way that is relevant to qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research. Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) (TS-1) offers clarity on the Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-Feyerabend debates, the ‘science wars’, and other recent developments. Perri 6 and Christine Bellamy’s Principles of Methodology: Research Design in Social Science (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011) (TS-4) is an introduction to methodology and research design.


Psychology of Initiation


Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2004) by John Shirley. (TS-1). An accessible, informed introduction to the Graeco-Armenian ‘Teacher of Dances’ and the Gurdjieff Work. Shirley is cyberpunk’s ‘patient zero’, a gifted novelist and short story writer about objective conscience, and a screenwriter (The Crow) who has studied with philosopher Jacob Needleman. He clarifies several complex issues about Gurdjieff’s life and his ‘line of transmission’ through different people. Jeanne De Salzmann’s The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff (Boston: Shambhala, 2010) (TS-4) provides a glimpse of what long-term engagement with the Gurdjieff Work can bring to individuals. Peter Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, 1949) (TS-3) remains an influential memoir of Gurdjieff’s teachings.


Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View by Claudio Naranjo, MD (Nevada City, CA: Gateways/IDHHB Inc. Publishers, 1994). (TS-4). In the mid-1970s, Helen Palmer ‘leaked’ the Enneagram – a psycho-dynamic model of human traits – from Oscar Ichazo’s Arica Institute and created a pop psychology and publishing craze (similar to the fate of Neuro-Linguistic Programming). Naranjo’s study remains one of the most in-depth and nuanced Enneagram studies, informed by his knowledge of Ichazo’s Arica philosophy, the Gurdjieff Work, and Fritz Perl’s Gestalt psychology. Naranjo provides a conceptual overview; a guide to the nine major ennea-types and their dynamics; and has suggestions for further work and differential diagnosis.


Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson (Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Publications). (TS-3). This book presents the Wilson-Leary ‘eight circuit model of consciousness’ and features ‘guerrilla ontology’ exercises to unleash the brain’s neuroplastic potential. Wilson synthesizes diverse sources including Alfred Korzybski, George Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, Buckminster Fuller, Timothy Leary, John Lilly, Jack Sarfatti, and cybernetics into an influential countercultural framework for consciousness expansion. Wilson’s initiatory memoir Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati (Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Press, 1977) (TS-3) is also highly recommended. Make sure you do Wilson’s exercises.


Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2006). (TS-3). In my early twenties I was influenced by Smoley and Kinney’s Gnosis Magazine which explored diverse metaphysical, religious and spiritual systems. Hidden Wisdom collects their insights on the Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Sufism, Shamanism, Theosophy, and other traditions.


Lords of the Left Hand Path: Forbidden Practices and Spiritual Heresies by Stephen Edred Flowers (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2012). (TS-1). The first scholarly descriptive and analytical history of Left Hand Path metaphysical and spiritual traditions, methodologies, and historical exemplars. Flowers is a leading Runic scholar who has reinvigorated the Northern Tradition. This book surveys Egyptian, Greek and Zoroasterian sources, and traces the Left Hand Path via various metaphysical systems to Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and Michael A. Aquino’s Temple of Set. The Left Hand Path emerges from Flowers’ study as a path of individual, creative dissent.


A Blue Fire: Selected Writings By James Hillman edited by Thomas Moore (New York: HarperPerennial, 1989). (TS-3). James Hillman founded the post-Jungian school of Archetypal Psychology. A Blue Fire collects his major writings on the poetic nature of the psyche; the fictions of therapy and imaginal work; and the challenges of eros and the animus mundi. Hillman reached a broader, mainstream audience with The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling (New York: Warner Books, 1996) (TS-3). Also relevant is Healing Fiction (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 1994) (TS-4) in which Hillman re-evaluates the case history approaches of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler.


Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan (Malden MA: Blackwell Business, 1996). (TS-4). Clare W. Graves (1914-1986) was a professor of psychology who conceptualized a biopsychosocial systems model of human intelligences. Beck and Cowan – who knew Graves – combined his work with memetics research and their own conceptual models to develop a framework for understanding change and values systems in people. This book appealed to a management audience who were familiar with Peter Drucker. However, like the Enneagram and Neuro-Linguistic Programming before it, Beck and Cowan’s work diffused outside its original, appropriate context, leading to very different personal syntheses from other authors, and an obsession by some readers with concepts like ‘Spiral Wizardry’ and ‘Second Tier’ thinking. Graves’ original research program is detailed in Christopher C. Cowan and William R. Lee’s Clare W. Graves: Levels of Human Existence (Santa Barbara, CA: ECLET Publishing, 2002) (TS-4). Graves’ unpublished papers can be found in Christopher C. Cowan and Natasha Todorovic’s The Never Ending Quest: Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature (Santa Barbara, CA: ECLET Publishing, 2005) (TS-5) which was a landmark archival achievement.


Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult edited by Richard Metzger (New York: The Disinformation Company Ltd, 2003). (TS-3). Metzger founded the alternative news website Disinformation (which I did two editorial stints for) and the culture website Dangerous Minds, and is a Los Angeles-based warlock. Book of Lies evokes Metzger’s initiatory journey as Timothy Leary described it to “Find the Others” and to curate a new culture. The anthology features Grant Morrison, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Joe Coleman, Paul Laffoley, Phil Hine, Gary Lachman, Stephen Edred Flowers, Michael Moynihan and other collaborators. It might be considered TS-1 if you practice ritual magic and explore the contemporary occulture. Metzger’s Disinformation: The Interviews (New York: The Disinformation Company Ltd., 2002) (TS-3) collects the best material from his Channel 4 and SciFi Network television series. Jason Louv’s Generation Hex (New York: The Disinformation Company Ltd., 2006) (TS-3) passes the Promethean Flame to a new generation of magicians. My pre-Disinformation internet encounters were influenced by Stuart Swezey and Brian King’s AMOK Fourth Dispatch: Sourcebook of the Extremes of Information In Print (Los Angeles, CA: Amok Books, 1990) (TS-3). Simon Dwyer’s Rapid Eye Movement (London: Creation Books, 2000) (TS-3) also influenced me.


Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991). (TS-5). Vallee is an influential cybernetics and information systems researcher, and was a member of Anton LaVey’s Magic Circle. Revelations evaluates the artificial mythologies about Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) around the Roswell incident, Hangar 18, Majestic 12, Area 51, the UMMO documents, the Gulf Breeze 6, and other cases of sightings and abductions. Vallee considers several explanations, ranging from cognitive biases and hoaxes, to psychological operations and guerrilla ontology. Vallee’s “control hypothesis” can be found in The Invisible College: What a Group of Scientists Has Discovered About UFO Influences on the Human Race (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975) (TS-3) as a new religious form. This anticipated my own encounter aged five with Metis (craft, cunning, skill, and wisdom) in Richard J. Anobile’s photo-novel Alien (New York: Avon, 1979) (TS-5).


Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change edited by Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1997). (TS-4). “Macrohistory is the study of the histories of social systems, along separate trajectories, in search of patterns. Macrohistory is ambitious, focused on the stages of history and the causes of change through time (diachronic)” (p. 1). Galtung – a leading Peace Studies scholar – and Inayatullah – a Pakistani futures studies scholar – develop a theoretical framework to understand macrohistory. This volume examines 20 macrohistorians including Augustine, Ibn Khaldun, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Max Weber, Oswald Spengler, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Arnold Toynbee. Galtung and Inayatullah develop a comparative model of these macrohistorians, and models of macrohistory for personal microhistory and world macrohistory. Inayatullah’s doctoral dissertation Understanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory and Transformative Knowledge (Leiden: Brill, 2002) (TS-4) examines the specific macrohistorical contribution of Ananda Marga founder Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar.


Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Bang to the 21st Century by Howard Bloom (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000). (TS-4). Bloom is an independent scholar whose Howard Bloom Organization was influential in the late 1970s and the 1980s in music industry public relations and artist development. Bloom portrays human evolution in the context of a complex adaptive system which has reshaped Earth. Global Brain outlines the Bloom Pentad: an interdisciplinary and dynamical model of how human culture unfolds, and why different conflicts occur. All of Bloom’s books are highly recommended.


Cunning Intelligence In Greek Culture and Society by Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant. Translated by Janet Lloyd (Hassocks, England: Harvester Press, 1978). (TS-4). Detienne and Vernant examine the role of Metis (cunning, craft, skill and wisdom) in classical Greek mythology and as a way to engage and to adapt to transient, changing life conditions. They consider the role models of Athena, Hephaestus, Hermes, Aphrodite, Zeus, Odysseus, and the octopus. Lisa Ann Raphals’ Knowing Wisdom: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992) (TS-4) considers the Chinese art of the stratagem as metic intelligence. William Patrick Patterson’s Struggle of the Magicians: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship (2nd ed.) (Fairfax, CA: Arete Publications, 1997) (TS-3) considers metic intelligence in a Gurdjieff Work context. Michael Rosenbaum’s Kata and the Transmission of Knowledge: In Martial Arts (Boston, MA: YMAA Publication Center, 2005) (TS-4) considers metic intelligence in a martial arts training context.


The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders – With Profiles of Saddam Hussein & Bill Clinton edited by Jerrold M. Post MD (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2005). (TS-4). Post is a professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University. This volume considers the use of leadership development in government policy and intelligence; psychoanalytic and operational code models; and assessment challenges including ‘at a distance’ profiling. The World War II roots of these psychological assessment techniques are detailed in Daniel Pick’s The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind: Hitler, Hess and the Analysts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) (TS-3). Post’s The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to al-Qaeda (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) (TS-3) uses these psychological assessment techniques to analyze terrorist groups and their leadership.


Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War by Robert Jervis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). (TS-4). Jervis is a professor of international affairs at Columbia University. This book includes his post-mortems on the “intelligence failures” of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s coup d’etat in Iran in 1979, and Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the United States on 11th September 2001. Jervis finds a mix of causes: individual cognitive biases, insufficient attention to analytical methods, and organizational culture issues. His analysis of the politics and psychology of intelligence includes consideration of deception, strategic surprise, politicization, and reform opportunities. Amy B. Zegart’s Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007) (TS-4) is an historical, evaluative analysis of United States intelligence reform commissions.


Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History by Alastair Iain Johnston (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). (TS-4). Johnston is a professor in world affairs and international relations at Harvard University. This is the published edition of his 1993 doctoral dissertation about cultural influences on the decision-maker use of force in Ming China. Cultural Realism advanced an historical, analytical and methodological understanding of strategic culture which has shaped my own doctoral research program.


Human Existential Problems


Uncoupling: Turning Points In Intimate Relationships by Diane Vaughan (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). (TS-3). Vaughan is a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. Uncoupling examines the psychological dynamics and patterns of human relationships, romantic break-ups, oath-breaking and betrayal, and divorces. Vaughan followed Uncoupling with The Challenger Launch Decision (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) (TS-4), an influential sociological study of the ‘normalization of deviance’ at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the impact of organizational power and politics on internal decisions and events which led to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on 28th January 1986. Vaughan’s Challenger study also paralleled Charles Perrow’s study of ‘tightly coupled’ systems in Normal Accidents: Living With High-Risk Technologies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999) (TS-4). Joanne Wieland-Burston’s Chaos and Order in the World of the Psyche (London: Routledge, 1992) (TS-3) examines archetypal patterns of the ‘psychotherapeutic chaos encounter’ in divorce, family conflict, and death. Kenneth Kamler’s Surviving The Extremes: What Happens To The Body and Mind At The Limits of Human Endurance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004) (TS-3) examines how and why humans survive extreme environments.


Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Suicidal Behavior edited by Robert I. Yufit and David Lester (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2005). (TS-4). Suicide can be viewed as a failure to adapt to changing life circumstances and human existential challenges. This clinical practitioner volume covers the screening and assessment of suicidality risks; intervention and treatment; outpatient treatment; art therapy; and college student risks. Major assessment instruments like Aaron Beck’s scales and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventories are outlined. The therapeutic approaches range from no-suicide contracts to dialectical behavior therapy, voice therapy and family therapy. James Hillman’s Suicide and the Soul (Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, 1976) (TS-4) provides an Archetypal Psychology interpretation that is also influential in post-Jungian therapeutic circles.


The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (New York: Random House, 2007). (TS-5). In 1971, Philip Zimbardo ran the now-notorious Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) on social power dynamics. The Lucifer Effect is Zimbardo’s first in-depth assessment of SPE and its broader, ethical implications, combined with his expert testimony about SPE-like conditions in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons during the second Bush administration’s Global War on Terror. Chris Mackey and Greg Miller’s The Interrogator’s War (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2004) (TS-3) is a journalistic account of SPE-like social power dynamics in Afghanistan, where the United States military battled the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. John Kekes’ The Roots of Evil (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005) (TS-4) provides a broader historical and philosophical approach to SPE-like social power dynamics, covering the Albigensian Crusade, Robespierre’s Terror of 1793-94; Nazi death camp commander Franz Stangl; the psychopaths Charles Manson and John Allen; and Argentina’s “dirty war” in the late 1970s.


Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism by Robert Jay Lifton (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999). (TS-4). Lifton uses psychohistorical insights to examine what led Aum Shinrikyo to undertake a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 and the role of leader Shoko Asahara’s belief systems. Through interviews with mid-level members and ex-members, Lifton captures the ‘emic’ or internal reality of Aum Shinrikyo and the cultural dynamics of its covert biological and chemical weapons development program. Lifton’s interpretation is shaped by his ‘psychological totalism’ framework, study of religious and cultic gurus, the visibility at time of writing of ‘new terrorism’ frameworks, and his research into the psychology of nuclear weapons. Haruki Murakami’s Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (New York: Vintage, 2003) (TS-3) presents Studs Terkel-style interviews with Aum Shinrikyo members and the sarin gas attack victims. Jeremy Varon’s Bringing The War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004) (TS-4) is an interesting comparison on the role of historical memory, leadership, inter-group dynamics, and learning.


The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Allen Lane, 2007). (TS-3). Taleb is a philosopher and former quantitative hedge fund manager and trader. This book examines the epistemology of low-probability high-impact events and the role of common biases (confirmation bias, narrative fallacy, ludology fallacy, and others) in decision-making. The Black Swan builds on David Hume’s skepticism and Taleb’s previous book Fooled By Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and the Markets (New York: Penguin Books, 2005) (TS-3). Peter Bernstein’s Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998) (TS-3) examines the history of risk whilst Aaron C. Brown’s Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-3) covers Wall Street’s use of risk management techniques. William Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat The Casinos and Wall Street (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005) (TS-3) explores the Kelly Criterion and Ed Thorp’s career in mathematics, casinos, and hedge funds. The cautionary story of Long-Term Capital Management’s rise-and-fall is told in Roger Lowenstein’s When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management (London: Fourth Estate, 2002) (TS-3).


Personal Change Methodologies


Taproots: Underlying Principles of Milton Erickson’s Therapy and Hypnosis by William Hudson O’Hanlon (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987). (TS-1). Milton Hyland Erickson (1901-1990) revolutionized the scientific study of hypnosis and trance states, and created an influential school of strategic psychotherapy. O’Hanlon identifies Erickson’s major patterns; the common phases of Ericksonian therapy; the format of common trance inductions; and has a useful bibliography. Jay Haley’s Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, MD (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973) (TS-3) is another influential introduction to Erickson that emphasizes different strategic therapeutic interventions over the human lifespan. Dan Short, Betty Alice Erickson and Roxanna Erickson-Klein’s Hope & Resiliency: Understanding the Psychotherapeutic Strategies of Milton H. Erickson (Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing, 2005) (TS-3) identifies Erickson’s six core strategies as: Distraction, Partitioning, Progression, Suggestion, Reorientation, and Utilization, and so offers a different presentation to O’Hanlon and Haley. Stephen R. Lankton and Carol Hicks Lankton’s The Answer Within: A Clinical Framework of Ericksonian Hypnotherapy (Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing, 2005) (TS-4) is, like Haley’s book, a very influential clinical approach to Ericksonian hypnotherapy and strategic psychotherapy. Stephen Lankton’s emphasis on epistemology can be found in Assembling Ericksonian Therapy: The Collected Papers of Stephen Lankton (Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen Inc., 2004) (TS-4) which links Erickson’s work to brief therapy. Ronald A. Havens’ The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson: The Complete Volume (Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing, 2005) (TS-4) is a collection of selected quotes from Erickson’s published work that provides insights into his research program’s evolution. Erickson’s influence on Neuro-Linguistic Programming circles is evident in Richard Bandler’s Guide to Trance-Formation (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2008) (TS-3), and Bandler’s use of metaphor, nested loops, altered states of consciousness, and unconscious installation strategies in his NLP training seminars with Michael Breen and Paul McKenna. However, the above contributions illustrate that there is far more to Erickson’s strategic psychotherapy than what is often taught in NLP training seminars. An overview of non-Erickson approaches can be found in Steven Jay Lynn, Irving Kirsch and Judith W. Rhue’s Casebook of Clinical Hypnosis (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2006) (TS-4) which includes case studies on depression, childhood trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder.


The User’s Manual For The Brain Volumes I and II by Bob G. Bodenhamer and L. Michael Hall (Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing, 2000 and 2003). (TS-4). Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in the early 1970s as an epistemology to model human excellence. These books represent Bodenhamer and Hall’s interpretation of Richard Bandler’s Practitioner and Master Practitioner trainings circa the early 1990s, and Hall’s development of Neuro-Semantics models based on Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics. To-date this is one of the only in-depth attempts to systematically integrate NLP developments, models and patterns (although there are different opinions about the content) in what is a fragmented literature with different lineages and no agreed-upon certification standards or accreditation bodies. Hall’s The Spirit of NLP: The Process, Meaning, and Criteria for Mastering NLP (Bancyfelin, Wales: Crown House Publishing, 1996) (TS-4) covers Bandler’s Master Practitioner class from the early 1990s, during the time Bandler developed his Design Human Engineering methodology. The ‘origin story’ of Bandler and Grinder’s original modeling of Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, Milton Erickson, and Gregory Bateson is told in Carmin Bostic St. Clair and John Grinder’s Whispering In The Wind (Scotts Valley: J&C Enterprises, 2001) (TS-4), which emphasizes Grinder’s ‘New Code NLP’ approach. NLP has developed outside the academic research community, so it often lacks the Popperian cumulative knowledge, methodological rigor, and evidence-based advances of scientific research.


Knowledge Base of Futures Studies: Professional Edition edited by Richard Slaughter, Sohail Inayatullah and Jose M. Ramos (Indooroopilly, Queensland: Foresight International, 2005). (TS-1). Slaughter conceived the KBFS project in the mid-1990s to build the meta-discipline of futures studies and strategic foresight. This edition includes the three original books on the foundations, practices and directions of futures studies, and adds a collection of futurists’ personal narratives and case studies. Slaughter founded the school of critical futures studies and is past president of the World Futures Studies Federation. The Australian Foresight Institute period of Slaughter’s work including his collaboration with Ken Wilber on Integral Futures is detailed in Futures Beyond Dystopia: Creating Social Foresight (London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004) (TS-4).


The Art of the Long View: Paths To Strategic Insight For Yourself And Your Company by Peter Schwartz (Sydney: Richmond Ventures, 1996). (TS-3). This book presents the Global Business Network’s approach to scenario planning and the strategic conversations practice. Scenarios are a way to gather and evaluate information and signals about possible, preferable, and plausible futures; to explore creative possibilities; and to inform critical decision-makers. GBN’s approach became popular in the 1990s via Fast Company, Wired and other business and technology publications. Schwartz’s Inevitable Surprises: A Survival Guide For The 21st Century (New York: The Free Press, 2003) adapted these ideas to trend analysis. John Petersen’s Out of the Blue: How To Anticipate Big Future Surprises (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1999) (TS-3) offers an alternative approach to GBN on assessing high-impact events.


The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge (rev. ed.) (New York: Random House, 2006). (TS-1). Senge’s book popularized the concepts of personal mastery, mental models, learning organizations, and the MIT-based Society for Organizational Learning’s interpretation of systems thinking and common systems archetypes (such as ‘success to the successful’ or ‘fixes that fail’). Thinking In Systems: A Primer by the late Donella Meadows (Burlington, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008) (TS-1) is an important book by a very influential systems thinking pioneer who worked on the Club of Rome’s Limits To Growth World-3 computer simulations.


Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2004). (TS-5). Salen is a game design professor at DePaul University and Zimmerman is an award-winning game designer. Rules of Play is one of the most in-depth conceptual and theoretical explorations of ‘ludology’ and game design: games, rules, play, culture, and simulation. The perspectives explored include uncertainty, information systems, cybernetics, game theory, and conflict systems. Some aspects of Initiation can be modeled using game design perspectives. I spent part of 2004 examining this field for the Smart Internet Technology CRC research consortium, and interviewed both authors, and other game designers and software developers. Salen and Zimmerman’s follow-up book The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology (Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2006) (TS-4) surveys the best practices, conceptual insights, and theories of game designers. Salen and Zimmerman have also influenced the development of alternative reality games (ARGs).


The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton M. Christensen (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). (TS-3). Christensen is a business administration professor at Harvard Business School. The Innovator’s Dilemma is the published version of Christensen’s doctoral dissertation on Disruptive Innovation Theory and case studies on the hard disk and mechanical excavator industries. I spent much of 2006 working on an unpublished research monograph for the Smart Internet Technology CRC research consortium about Christensen’s work. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon (New York: HarperBusiness, 2012) (TS-1) covers Christensen’s lessons on business, relationships, and marginal versus full thinking.


Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game (2nd ed.) by Alistair Cockburn (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc., 2007). (TS-4). Cockburn is an influential software engineer in the object oriented and agile software development communities. Agile Software Development outlines his Crystal methodology; strategies for dealing with information, teams, and methodological development; and learning strategies from Miyamoto Musashi (The Book of Five Rings) and others. Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt’s Practices Of An Agile Developer (Raleigh, NC: The Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2006) (TS-3) discusses common practices in agile software development methods which include Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP).


Argumentation Schemes by Douglas Walton, Chris Reed, and Fabrizio Macagno (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008). (TS-4). An academic overview of argumentation research including schemes, classification, and computer systems. Argumentation Schemes includes 96 commonly used argumentation schemes and their epistemological structures. Philippe Besnard and Anthony Hunter’s Elements of Argumentation (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2008) (TS-4) extends argumentation to logic, artificial intelligence, and algorithms.


The Daily Trading Coach: 101 Lessons For Becoming Your Own Trading Psychologist by Brett N. Steenbarger (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2009). (TS-3). Steenbarger is an associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University and a hedge fund consultant. This book is a collection of psychological self-observation exercises influenced by George Gurdjieff and others. Steenbarger, along with the late Ari Kiev, and author Mark Douglas, is influential in trading circles for his performance insights. The closest thing trading has to a wisdom tradition is Jack D. Schwager’s Market Wizards series (considered TS-1 if you trade financial markets), of which the latest is Hedge Fund Market Wizards (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-3).


Creative Lives


Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson by E. Jean Carroll (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993). (TS-3). Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) pioneered ‘gonzo’ journalism: a variant of the New Journalism that emphasized journalistic subjectivity, first person narratives, ethnographic techniques, and creative non-fiction techniques. Carroll’s biography captures Thompson’s rise-and-fall as a Rolling Stone countercultural hero from multiple viewpoints. This book convinced me to use ‘gonzo’ techniques for a year as reporter for La Trobe University’s student newspaper Rabelais and for a 1995 Noam Chomsky profile for Australia’s REVelation magazine. Thompson’s best writing is collected in the anthology The Great Shark Hunt (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003) (TS-3). Tom Wolfe and E.W. Johnson’s anthology The New Journalism (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) (TS-3) places Thompson’s contribution in an historical context and shows how others experimented with creative non-fiction techniques.


Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft by Eric Tamm (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1990). (TS-4). Musicologist Tamm attempts to understand the complex, enigmatic guitarist Robert Fripp and the progressive rock band King Crimson. This book (which can now be found online) introduced me to the Graeco-Armenian ‘Teacher of Dances’ George Gurdjieff, and is notable for covering Fripp’s collaborations with Brian Eno; Fripp’s study with John Godolphin Bennett at Sherborne House; the ‘Drive to 1981’ creative period; and Tamm’s personal experiences in 1986 with Fripp’s Guitar Craft school. Tamm concludes that Fripp is part of an Objective Art lineage that can be traced via Bennett and Gurdjieff to Pythagoras. Fripp felt Tamm’s account only captured part of King Crimson’s creative dynamics and Guitar Craft’s aims, and the book was published before the ‘Endless Grief’ events that led Fripp to found Discipline Global Mobile. The best account of King Crimson remains Sid Smith’s In The Court of King Crimson (London: Helter Skelter Publishing, 2001) (TS-4) in which Smith managed to interview current and former band members. For a background on the creative and psychological dynamics of the ‘Drive to 1981’ period, Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (New York: Penguin Books, 2005) (TS-3) is insightful.


Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin (New York: HarperCollins, 1991). (TS-5). Philip K. Dick’s legacy of science fiction novels, short stories, and inspirations for Hollywood films have created influential subcultures and new artificial mythologies. Divine Interventions charts Dick’s initiatory journey from pulp fiction writer to science fiction celebrity to philosopher. Sutin captures the complex growth of Dick’s subjective universe; the impact of United States drug counterculture; and the 2-3-74 encounter with a Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS) that changed Dick’s later life. This period is explored in Sutin’s anthology The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (New York: Vintage Books, 1995) (TS-3) and in The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) (TS-5).


Transit Lounge: Wake-Up Calls & Travellers’ Tales From The Future edited by Ashley Crawford and Ray Edgar (North Ryde: Craftsman House, 1997). (TS-3). The print incarnation of Australia’s 21C was a futures-oriented culture and technology magazine with a social conscience which is now a collector’s item. Transit Lounge collects together some of 21C’s best material including interviews with and articles on Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Marshall McLuhan, Robert Anton Wilson, Bruce Sterling, Greil Marcus, and more.


Follow For Now: Interviews With Friends and Heroes edited by Roy Christopher (Seattle, WA: Well-Read Bear, 2007). (TS-3). Christopher is a Chicago-based media culture critic and writer. Follow For Now is an interview collection with cultural luminaries on science, technology, media, music, culture and literature that charts the Network Society’s cartographies in the early 21st century. Includes interviews with Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Bloom, Erik Davis, Terence McKenna, Howard Rheingold, Rudy Rucker, McKenzie Wark, and others.


George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011). (TS-5). Gaddis received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2012 for this book. George F. Kennan (1904-2005) was a United States diplomat, historian and political scientist widely credited with formulating the ‘containment’ grand strategy (in the 1946 ‘Long Telegram’ and 1947 ‘X’ article) used to defeat the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Gaddis spent 30 years researching and 5 years writing this authorized autobiography which traces Kennan’s transformation of personal character from career diplomat to influential grand strategist in the US State Department and then to public intellectual and political administration critic. Gaddis evokes both Kennan’s subjective reality and the vast historical, social, and geopolitical forces that he anticipated and responded to. Kennan’s career and contribution can be contrasted with Henry Kissinger’s Harvard period in Jeremi Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007) (TS-4), and Kissinger’s controversial White House period in Robert Dallek’s Nixon and Kissinger: Partners In Power (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) (TS-4). Historian Bruce Kuklick’s Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006) (TS-4) situates Kennan in the post-World War II evolution of civilian defense intellectuals, which included the RAND think-tank, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and personalities like Robert McNamara, Graham Allison, Richard Neustadt, and Ernest May.


Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present by Jeff Madrick (New York: Vintage Books, 2011). (TS-3). Madrick’s critical history of corporate finance traces the interaction of economic philosophers, politicians, and business entrepreneurs to reshape the United States economy and civil society. Amongst those profiled are Walter Wriston, Ted Turner, Tom Peters, Jack Welch, Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan, Michael Milken, George Soros, and Sandy Weill. Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010) (TS-3) is a revealing history of the alternative asset class and its enigmatic managers.

6th March 2012: SXSW 2012 Sabbatical


I’m taking a sabbatical over the next 10 days to visit Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive 2012 with Rosie X. I’ll be meeting University of Texas at Austin professor Jeremi Suri about his work; and having face-to-face chats with Disinformation‘s publisher Gary Baddeley, and Austinites Roy Christopher and Don Webb. I’m looking forward to the session with Stratfor founder George Friedman: read my analyses of the Wikileaks leaked emails and the planned hedge fund StratCap. In the meantime, you can read my body of work to-date.