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.

28th February 2012: Wikileaks & Stratfor’s Emails

Stratfor in December 2011


Yesterday the activist site Wikileaks prepared to publish 5 million emails from the Austin-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. Anonymous hacked Stratfor on 24th December 2011 and gained access to client passwords, databases, and internal emails. Wikileaks claims the emails: “reveal the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defence Intelligence Agency. The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment laundering techniques and psychological methods.”


The leak prompted some hilarious and insightful responses from political pundits. “That @Wikileaks thinks publishing @Stratfor emails matters is a big compliment for Stratfor, biggest sign yet that Wikileaks is clueless,” tweeted Dan Drezner, and then he wrote a Stratfor/Wikileaks critique. “Statfor is on the mild end of the scary shadow CIA/stodgy think tank spectrum,” observed Dan Murphy for The Christian Science Monitor. “A friend who works in intelligence once joked that Stratfor is just The Economist a week later and several hundred times more expensive,” noted The Atlantic‘s Max Fisher.


I briefly subscribed to Stratfor so am probably on the leaked email/credit card list. I found many of Stratfor’s weekly reports to inflate threats. I got Friedman’s first book America’s Secret War during the book buy-up for my PhD but found it to be sensationalistic. Several Stratfor analysts contacted me whilst I edited the alternative news site Disinformation and claimed to be ex-psychological operations people.


I seriously considered developing a private intelligence capability on two occasions.


The first time was at Disinformation in 2000, I pitched a subscriber service to publisher Gary Baddeley that would do for the nascent conspiracy industry what Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood does for the United States entertainment industry. I also had in mind the subscriber services that do 5-8 page summaries of business books. Baddeley wasn’t interested and the nascent conspiracy industry evaporated after the September 11 attacks.


During my postgraduate studies I studied under David Wright-Neville, Andrew Newman and Philip Gregory, and wrote essays on Ulrich Beck‘s world risk society (PDF); Rupert Murdoch’s use of game theory (PDF); considered the developments circa 2002 for news publishers (PDF); explored the collapse of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management (PDF); outlined the post-September 11 changes to intelligence services (PDF); and evaluated DARPA’s Terrorism Information Awareness system (PDF).


The second time was at the Smart Internet Technology CRC (SITCRC): I scoped out a project for Canberra firm The Distillery and looked at the major international and Australian firms that provided market intelligence on information technology trends. I proposed a market intelligence capability for the Smart Services CRC successful bid that would use strategic foresight and strategic intelligence methods. However, this remained scoped out work only for the unfinished Disruptive Internet project, although I did trial the methods in a public blog for a month. I left the CRC in March 2007 due to infra-team conflict.


During preparation for my PhD studies I considered several topics. One was on design patterns and counter-terrorism. A second idea was ‘The Markets for Political Risk: An Analytic View’ modelled on the research of Deborah Avant (The Market For Force) and Andrew Lo (Hedge Funds: An Analytic Perspective). I outlined the historical precursors to Stratfor (RAND, Royal Dutch/Shell, and Kissinger & Associates); found six market segments; considered risk arbitrage, securitisation and trading applications; and began to develop contagion/rumour models. I noted that Friedman “may cultivate ’boutique mystique’ as reputational capital.” In 2009, I began reading the hedge fund and trading literature, and decided it was easier to develop a personal capability for market arbitrage and trading (reflected on during an October 2011 visit to Tokyo’s Stock Exchange). In March 2011, I began a part-time PhD on the strategic culture debate and counter-terrorism studies (2011 initial proposal PDF).


Stratfor’s chief executive officer George Friedman is scheduled to speak at SXSW Interactive 2012 in Austin. I’ll definitely be attending.

17th February 2012: Mediascapes, Conscientisation and Personal Foresight

Several months ago Dr. Jose M. Ramos called for contributions to a special issue of the Journal of Futures Studies on media and futures studies.


I wrote a paper – Mediascapes, Conscientisation, and Personal Foresight (PDF) – rejected by both Futures (Elsevier) and JFS. I had three goals: (1) respond to the debate about mediascapes and futures work; (2) reflect on personal ‘shaping’ experiences in the media that have also contributed to foresight practitioner work; and (3) contribute to theory-building on conscientisation and foresight. The paper contained personal details about my editorial stint with Disinformation and other stuff I rarely talk publicly about.


Futures felt the paper belonged in a digital culture journal. JFS reviewer one wrote: “This is a rambling, overly detailed resume/autobiography. In my judgement it is not a JFS article.  It is poorly written, does not define key terms.” JFS reviewer two wrote: “Although this is quite an interesting read it does not belong in an academic Futures journal.  Firstly, it has little directly Futures content, any connections being limited to quoting a few authors in the field.  Secondly, it is little more than a personal journey, or to be less charitable an ego-trip.”


Whilst I take both reviewers’ comments on-board, they minimised the article’s second goal (auto-ethnographic reflections as a criterion to develop personal foresight). Both reviewers engage in self-policing the field’s boundaries and journal content (an important editorial function – but one where authors and reviewers may have different mental models). Problems like defining key terms can often be solved with a single sentence or two. Both reviewers overlooked the deep connection posited between futures and conscientisation frameworks. I hope others can extract some value from the article: I have other material to write. The experience informed these suggestions on how to handle article rejections.

18th January 2012: Cold War Memories & Afterlives

From an email to Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis on 17th January 2012:


Cold War Memories


1. My first ‘encounter’ with the USSR was aged 7 with the televised closing ceremony to the 1980 Moscow Olympics. I had a sense of viewing an alien, strange culture, with sombre music. I distinctly remember the USSR’s mascot (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHqdWFpJkpk). The Andropov and Brezhnev eras seemed quick and fleeting: news reports of their deaths.


2. I was holidaying in New Zealand with family and New Zealand grandparents during the 1982 Falklands War. The headlines of New Zealand’s Dominion newspaper focused on the HMS Sheffield’s sinking.


3. US President Ronald Reagan’s March 1983 announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApTnYwh5KvE and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq6ZsF6bzOA) terrified my primary school class-mates and I. Around the time of the Able Archer exercise, there was a nuclear war scare in Australia focused on the Nurrungar and Pine Gap facilities. In 1984, my primary school (Marong) had a poster of the ABC tele-movie The Day After (1983) in the school’s common room. The school principal used negotiation between the United States and the Soviets as an example to me, during an argument I had with a fellow student; and later formed a class writing syndicate. From this period, I also remember the finale ‘Blake’ to Terry Nation’s dystopian science fiction series Blake’s 7 (1978-81) modelled on Nicaraguan rebels; WarGames (1983); the mini-series V (1983); the first televising of Peter Watkins’ The War Game (1965); the BBC series Threads (1984); and most resonantly for me, the BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness (1985) in which environmental activists break into a nuclear facility. (My mother had died in a car accident when I was aged 4, so I was perhaps more influenced by this period than most.) Class-mates were influenced by the John Milius film Red Dawn (1984). Together with SDI, the Challenger space shuttle and Chernobyl disasters were perhaps generationally equivalent memories to JFK’s assassination: class-mates vividly remember the incidents, and where they were. As a result of Chernobyl, I became interested in 1990 about the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris; Stalker; The Sacrifice).


4. I was holidaying in New Zealand in 1984 when the Lange Government announced it was barring US nuclear ships from its waters. My New Zealand grandmother took me to visit the Beehive in Wellington – the New Zealand parliament. The foyer had peace sculptures. Wellington had social protests from peace groups, at the time.


5. Saddam Hussein’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait was discussed in high school as a social issue. I was again in Wellington, New Zealand, shortly before Operation Desert Storm broke out. I was reading Nostradamus at the time, and seeing social activist graffiti in Wellington’s main street, Lambton Quay (“no blood for oil” was a common phrase). The media focus was on CNN’s coverage; the Patriot missiles; and later, on the ‘highway of death’. During this visit, I discovered a copy of the USSR Constitution in my grandparents’ storage bookcase. They explained that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the USSR had attempted to hire staff from New Zealand’s electricity and geothermal industries, and that copies of the USSR Constitution were circulated during this period.


6. I was preparing for my high school’s final exams when the August 1991 coup d’etat attempt happened with Gorbachev. The first Australian news reports I saw focused on the Gang of 8, and then on Boris Yeltsin’s declaration on 19th August 1991. I was working on a short video film project at the time, and the coup d’etat attempt influenced the scripting and editing. I remember the time as a period of critical uncertainty about the USSR. Teachers tried for several years to explain Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost to us. Participating in a stage production of Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men in 1990 helped to shape my interpretation.


Post-Cold War ‘Afterlives’


Grand strategies have ‘afterlives’: legacies that continue to reverberate long after events have ended. Books that have explored this include: Barbara Harlow’s After Lives: Legacies of Revolutionary Writing (London: Verso, 1996); Kristin Ross’s May ‘68 And Its Afterlives (Chicago IL: Chicago University Press, 2002); Marianna Torgovnick’s The War Complex: World War II In Our Time (Chicago IL: Chicago University Press, 2005); and Gavriel D. Rosenfeld’s The World Hitler Never Made (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).


Some of how the Cold War continued to affect me over the next two decades:


7. U2’s imagery for its ZooTV tour (1991-93) — influential amongst my undergraduate university cohort — fused Marshall McLuhan and William S. Burroughs’ media theories; William Gibson’s cyberpunk aesthetic; CNN’s Gulf War coverage; post-Cold War triumphalism; and the geopolitical hopes for the European Union. Circumstances changed when the tour reached the Balkans during the Yugoslav War, in which concerts became experiments in Muzafer Sherif’s social psychology on defusing inter-group hostility.


8. In 1993, I read Peter Ouspensky’s book The Fourth Way (1957) on the Graeco-Armenian magus George Gurdjieff. Both had been shaped by pre-revolutionary Russia and by escaping the 1917 Russian Revolution. At the time, I was taking La Trobe University undergraduate classes on cinema studies theories. I had the experience of seeing how lecturers and students were influenced by ideologies, during discussions of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser. The discussion of Marxist theories felt out-of-sync to me.


9. In 1994, I worked as a journalist on La Trobe University’s student newspaper Rabelais. Apart from calling “stop the presses” when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain died, three other incidents stood out (amongst many). First, I discovered that the previous socialist editors had envisaged LTU as similar to University of California Berkeley in the 1960s, and had supported Fidel Castro’s Cuba regime (the newspaper was funded and run by a student union rather than the university administration). Second, during an interview with LTU professor Robert Manne about his book The Shadow of 1917: Cold War Conflict in Australia (Melbourne: Penguin Books, 1994), we talked about The New Republic, Edmund Burke, and centrist political positions (I had taken Manne’s undergraduate class on Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany). Third, the university gave me access to the archives of Rabelais and its predecessor Paringa, and to former editors, now influential in advertising agencies and Prime Ministerial speech-writing. I discovered that Rabelais had adopted a progressive anti-war stance during the Vietnam War; a socialist stance during the 1982-83 Australian recession; and that by the late 1980s, many LTU students were increasingly disconnected from the editors’ political ideology and simply wanted to finish their degrees. On a broad ticket, I co-ran for editor, lost to a scare campaign, and discussed activist psychology during an interview with author J.G. Ballard (Empire of the Sun; Crash). (The editorial team that won the election were taken to court by the state government over union articles which advocated shop-lifting; this incident led to dramatic funding cuts for all university newspapers in Victoria for several years.)


10. In 2001, I wrote an undergraduate essay (archived version with dead links and in-text errors like ‘Hoover Institute’ instead of ‘Hoover Institution’: http://is.gd/MwT0o6) on early Cold War disinformation for LTU’s politics senior lecturer John Chiddick. The essay quality is questionable, but the main experience was discovering a wealth of Cold War literature and archives in LTU’s Borchardt library. Many of the Soviet sources were undoubtedly declarative propaganda, yet it was fascinating to find a ‘different’ history to the 1941-45 Great Patriotic War and the 1946-50 period. Today, many of the journal archives have been replaced, in order for the library to have more space for computers and collaborative group meeting rooms.


11. When Saddam Hussein was captured in ad-Dawr, Iraq on 13th December 2003, I knew immediately from the site names ‘Wolverine-1’ and ‘Wolverine-2’ that this referred to the John Milius film Red Dawn (1984).


12. In 2005, I discovered that cyberpunk film imagery that had influenced me from 1983-97 had been used as a screening tool for some Aum Shinrikyo members.


13. In 2005-06, I decided to follow the SDI thread and looked at Herman Kahn’s career and theories for Masters research at Monash University. This was also a reaction to discussions in 2002-04 with critical futurist Richard Slaughter at Swinburne University’s strategic foresight program about Jonathan Schell’s ‘abolitionist’ approach. Slaughter was highly critical of Kahn, so I wanted to go to the source and evaluate it for myself. I applied Herman Kahn’s work to North Korea’s covert nuclear weapons program (http://is.gd/ibQCD5).


14. In 2010 during PhD preparatory research, I found and took notes for the Aviation Week Video Magazine documentary SDI: The Technical Challenge (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986) in which Robert Zalisk interviews SDI scientists on ballistic missile defence systems, and narrates conceptual videos on SDI’s planned capabilities.


September 11


15. Al Qaeda’s attacks occurred late in the evening of 11th September 2001, Australian time. I found out the next day, late in the afternoon, from a Herald Sun newspaper headline (I was concentrating on finishing my undergraduate degree after a stint in publishing). I did not see much televised coverage of the attacks, their aftermath, or the United States bombing of Afghanistan in October 2001.


16. I spent 20th-25th September 2001 in New York City: the first and (as yet) only time I have visited NYC. The plane played the films Shrek and Bridget Jones’s Diary as in-flight movies. I stayed with author Howard Bloom and saw the dust cloud over ground zero from the roof of his Park Slopes, Brooklyn apartment block. The Brooklyn fire station had memorials to dead fire-fighters, and the streets had missing person posters. At the time, I edited the US-based alternative news site Disinformation (http://old.disinfo.com/archive/) with a different approach to its current incarnation. I met with co-founders Gary Baddeley and Richard Metzger, and discovered that the attacks had taken out our server, and that the FBI had interviewed our designer Leen Al-Bassam. Metzger (now curator of DangerousMinds.net) and I talked in his Christopher St apartment about the attack’s psychological effects on New Yorkers. Manhattan was blocked off below 14th Street. I saw street vendors selling World Trade Center memorabilia and anti-Osama Bin Laden t-shirts. The local media did not cover protests in Washington Square Park, New York. Then-Disinfo.com contributor Preston Peet and I saw the Rollins Band play Irving Plaza on 24th September 2011, where Henry Rollins gave a pre-show patriotic speech to New Yorkers, and I felt like being in an historical moment (http://is.gd/92NApr).


17. In the week after the attacks, I turned to Susan D. Moeller’s Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death (New York and London: Routledge, 1999, pp. 166-170) for a four-stage cycle on assassinations to explain media coverage: (1) replaying the initial event; (2) disclosing the perpetrator’s identity and seeking justice; (3) funerals and public mourning; and (4) closure: “when the media reassert the supremacy of the established political and social order.” (p. 167). For the next several years, I did not publish anything on September 11 conspiracy theories. The Disinformation Company subsequently reversed this decision when it published material by Alex Jones. I left TDC in February 2008.


Iraq War 2003


18. I was in the common room for Swinburne University’s Faculty of Business & Enterprise when senior lecturer Joseph Voros glanced at the television and told me the United States forces had started bombing Iraq. We both remarked that the day felt very strange.

10th December 2011: Google Scholar Update

A few weeks ago I mentioned Google Scholar’s personal profiles (here) and that I was reconstructing the Disinformation articles and dossiers I did in 1998-2003 (here).

Whilst there are still some problems with the 1999-2000 and 2002-2003 periods, I’ve now integrated this material into my Google Scholar citation profile (here). Next is putting this material into my Publications list (PDF).

In retrospect, 2000 and 2001 were very productive years of writing.

8th December 2011: Follow-up Stories

Roy Christopher mentions a 2009 conference paper (PDF) that Barry Saunders and I wrote on ‘quality media’ reputation.

At Disinformation, daily site traffic in 1999-2003 averaged around 18,000-30,000 unique visitors per weekday with a spike during lunch hour. We got high hits from places like Eugene, Oregon, and the Middle East. The traffic averaged around 40,000-50,000 unique visitors when Richard Metzger hosted Disinfo Nation for Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. Disinformation’s archive captures this 1998-2003 era material, including experiments with event-based coverage that I wrote-up in 2002 for Swinburne University’s strategic foresight program (PDF). However, by 2006, people wanted more YouTube-like video content rather than articles or dossiers. Even 600-word pieces were too long for some people. In 2007, publisher Gary Baddeley moved the site to its current user-generated version. The same year, I did laboratory-based usability training and began to see what Christopher notes about eye patterns and ‘scanning’ sites.

As Christopher observed to me in a 6th December 2011 email: “Disinformation always did a good job of including the extra links, and I think for the era, that was good. I don’t find that people click on a lot of links from my site. I think it’s a bygone era. I said it in one piece: “We don’t surf the web so much as we just sit back and watch the waves.” People just don’t “surf” like they used to.”

This makes me nostalgic for Gopher and the old alt. newsgroups I used to surf in 1993-94.

For longer stories, there’s always Longform.org and my personal archive.

25th November 2011: Reconstructing Disinfo.com Dossier Archives

I recently started a Google Scholar personal profile. I spent a day importing most of my academic publication history from the past decade. (There are a few gaps, such as some unpublished work I did on Clayton Christensen and Google for the Smart Internet Technology CRC in 2006-07. I’m reworking that material for peer reviewed journal articles.)

The biggest challenge was what to do with my Disinformation material, which was never peer-reviewed nor published in an academic journal.

I edited the site on a daily basis in two stints: November 1999 to August 2002, and April 2003 to February 2008. I took over from co-founder Richard Metzger who had launched the site on 13th September 1996, and Russ Kick took over from me in the interim, before launching his Alternewswire project. The first period is archived here whilst The Wayback Machine has a snapshot of Disinfo.com’s historical evolution here.

21C publisher/editor Ashley Crawford put me in contact with Metzger in mid-1998 after an RU Sirius profile. Metzger suggested I write some dossiers – partly as a therapeutic outlet to get over 21C‘s print demise and a messy relationship break-up. I emailed him profiles of Anton LaVey, George Gurdjieff, memetic engineering and space migration. When Razorfish acquired The Disinformation Company, Metzger and publisher Gary Baddeley tapped me to edit the site whilst they worked on the Disinfo Nation series for the United Kingdom’s Channel 4. 2000 and 2001 were my most productive years.

By mid-2002 I was burnt out and had turned to archival material from my La Trobe University student newspaper Rabelais, 21C and other sources. I also experimented with event-driven news reportage using lessons from information visualisation, values systems theory, media studies and political science. One day whilst drafting a dossier on the philosopher Peter Ouspensky I realised that I just couldn’t write anymore. Metzger and Baddeley had watched the content decline and reached a similar conclusion.

When he took over the daily editing responsibilities, Russ Kick brought a different, current issues sensibility to the site (Metzger excelled as a curator which he continues to do at his new project Dangerous Minds). My 2003-2008 period shifted away from writing original material to daily news coverage, as I completed graduate school and worked full-time as a researcher for the Smart Internet Technology CRC. Baddely wanted the site to be more blog-like and user-driven. I wrote a final editorial message to Disinformation’s readers that summed up the new user-driven direction, which the site continues with today.

I never kept a daily list of the specific dates that dossiers were published on. We lost several dossiers during site transfers. The early content management platforms did not have the functionality of today’s WordPress and Movable Type blogs. For instance, there were no version control or  rollback features, so articles may have been published at earlier dates than the current site version might suggest. From 1998 to 2002 I did compile an editorial master list of possible topics for the freelance contributors to explore, keyed to an old site topic structure: the Disinformation archives are thus only one of several possible sites that could have eventuated over the 1998-2003 period.

I am reconstructing a timeline of rough year dates, in order to get the bibliographic and citation data of the Disinformation dossiers and articles archived in Google Scholar (and possibly into Swinburne University’s research bank). The initial printout of the relevant dossiers and articles comes to 5 pages — larger in size than the academic research I’ve subsequently done. The material varies from excellent to failed experiments and deadline-driven messes.

It feels strange to re-engage with this material for archival and citation purposes — it feels like another lifetime ago.

PhD: Academic Publications & Scholarly Research History

For the past five years I’ve been working on ‘draft zero’ of a PhD project on counterterrorism, intelligence, and the ‘strategic culture’ debate within international relations theory and strategic studies.

The project ‘flew past me’ during a trip to New York City, shortly after the September 11 attacks, and whilst talking with author Howard Bloom, culture maven Richard Metzger, Disinformation publisher Gary Baddeley, and others. An important moment was standing on the roof of Bloom’s apartment building in Park Slopes, Brooklyn, and seeing the dust cloud over Ground Zero.

The ‘draft zero’ is about 240,000 words of exploratory notes, sections, and working notes; about 146,000 of these words are computer text, whilst 80,000 is handwritten (and thus different, and more fragmentary).

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll write about the PhD application process, and the project when it gets formally under way, to share insights and ‘lessons learned’.

For now, here’s a public version of my CV and academic publications track record (PDF).

This is part of the background material prepared for the target university’s formal application process. In the publications section, the letter and numbers relate to Australia’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) coding for the annual, institutional process of Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC); and the 2010 final rankings of peer reviewed journals for the Australian Research Council‘s (ARC) Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) program. Universities and research institutions in Australia use the ARC, ERA, HERDC and DEEWR codings for bibliometrics, inter-institutional benchmarking, and to inform the strategic formulation, development and review of research investment portfolios.