Calling All Nations

Several weeks ago I noticed new graffiti on street signs in the Melbourne suburb Northcote from an unknown group: the Saracen Soldiers.  A block away from the most prominent graffiti two houses displayed nationalist flags in their front windows.  It could have been coincidence or maybe a signalling game to establish psychological turf.

At the time I thought of the ominous graffiti in Philip K. Dick‘s posthumously published novel Radio Free Albemuth (1985).  The grafiti also reminded me of the wanna-be teenage mercenaries in Leo Berkeley‘s film Holidays on the River Yarra (1990), who are recruited by a racialist organisation to engage in graffiti, brawls and other low-level politically motivated violence.

Two nights ago police fatally shot 15-year-old Tyler Cassidy during a confrontation in Northcote’s All Nations park.  Earlier that evening, Cassidy left home after a family argument then stole two knives from Northcote’s Kmart store.  Four police were called to arrest Cassidy and Victoria Police will now investigate what happened next.  As Rosie X observes, several media outlets speculated about Cassidys membership in the nationalist group Southern Cross Soldiers (SCS) and posed a ‘suicide by cop’ explanation for Cassidy’s death.

There are a couple of interesting things to note about blogosphere and media coverage.

Journalists described Cassidy’s online life as “subterreanean” – a mix of Sherry Turkle‘s theories about online identity fused with cyberterrorist fears – yet did not link to Cassidy’s MySpace page or mention the SCS sites above.  In contrast, Richard Metzger observed to me in 1998 that Disinformation had a different strategy: it would link to white supremacist groups such as Aryan Nations so that readers would understand their ideological worldview.  This got Metzger into trouble with several anti-racialist organisations who confused him with Tom Metzger of White Aryan Resistance.

Anarchist and anti-racialist bloggers knew SCS for months before Cassidy’s death as a white supremacist gang or youth network. The SCS band has copied Rahowa‘s white separatist music as a recruitment strategy.  The social network Bebo has pages for SCS recruitment and the SCS bandJacques Ellul would be proud: SCS (and perhaps Cassidy unwittingly) use a blend of Australian historical imagery for in-group identity and integration propaganda (“Aussie pride”, the Southern Cross flag, conflation of national identity with ethnicity) with agitation propaganda that is aimed at specific out-group enemies (Italians, Lebanese, anyone who does not meet SCS’s criteria for being Australian).

Several questions: How many other pages are there?  Who has been monitoring them?  What if any threat assessments were made?  Will anyone get an opportunity to conduct a sociometry analysis of SCS’s online social network before the pages are pulled (Marc Sageman established a benchmark with his study of Salafist cells that may have had weak ties to Al Qaeda).

Bloggers and journalists alike noted that police might have de-escalated the incident if they were armed with a Taser electroshock weapon.  The incident captures why there is a tactical role under specific circumstances for law enforcement personnel to use non-lethal or less-lethal weapons that could have saved Cassidy’s life.  The four police will likely receive critical incident debriefs and stress counselling.

A few days after Cassidy’s death Northcote remains largely subdued apart from occasional police sirens in the distance.  In contrast. Greece has faced a week of riots after the shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos which may spread to Europe.  As a ‘paired study’ – SCS’s street gang violence, the shootings of Grigoropoulos and Cassidy, and the divergent reactions – illustrate the late sociologist Charles Tilly‘s distinction between individual aggression (Cassidy), brawls (SCS) and scattered attacks (Greece) as different types of collective violence.

Tilly’s urban sociology in the 1960s foresaw how today’s social network sites may be used to coordinate street violence.  Perhaps police intelligence analysts would benefit from a few hours with Tilly’s masterful study The Politics of Collective Violence (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003) to pre-empt any SCS revenge attacks for Cassidy’s death.  SCS might then remain the purveyers of bad hip-hop/rock/metal hybrids (not exactly Australian), poorly designed web sites and street graffiti: the opportunist yet ineffectual extremists that Dick and Berkeley tried to warn us of . . . and that Greece and Europe may face again.

1st December 2008: Two Examples of Waking Sleep

The Graeco-Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff argued in the early 20th century that humanity lives much of its life in a form of waking sleep.  This all sounds very theoretical — Gurdjieff was the subject of one of my first four dossiers in 1998 for Disinformation and a 2001 undergraduate essay — but the right circumstances can drive his point home with clarity.

This past weekend provides two examples apart from the Mumbai siege.  In the first, Jdimytai Damour an agency temp was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart sale in Long Island, New York, on Black Friday, 28th November 2008.  Associated Press coverage quotes Kimberly Cribbs that customers acted like “savages”.  The New York Times blamed the media for creating unrealistic expectations about Black Friday sale bargains: the catalyst for a mania.  In the second, Sydney’s Glebe Coroner’s Court has held an inquest into Emma Hansen’s death: Hansen was a pedestrian accidentally killed in 2007 by learner driver Rose Deng, who is still permitted to drive by Australian authorities.  Both incidents illustrate on a micro-scale Gurdjieff’s Law of Accident or Law of Hazard (“when an event happens without the lines of the events we observe”).

For two overviews of Gurdjieff’s philosophy see Richard Smoley‘s introduction to Gnosis Magazine’s special issue here and John Shirley‘s essay The Shadows of Ideas.  I also recommend Shirley’s book Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Ideas (Tarcher, San Francisco, 2004) and his DVD commentary as co-scriptwriter for Alex Proyas’ dark gothic masterpiece The Crow (1994), infamous for another Law of Accident case: Brandon Lee‘s accidental death during a film stunt.

CPRF08 Paper: Disruptive Innovation, Radiohead & Nine Inch Nails

I recently blogged about a presentation the 2008 Communications Policy Research Forum in Sydney on disruptive innovation in the music industry.

You can now download an Adobe PDF version of the PowerPoint slides here.

The refereed paper has been published in the Proceedings of the Communications Policy Research Forum 2008 (pp. 155-175 or PDF file pp. 179-199).  You can also download a local copy of the paper here.

The paper’s case study examines why Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails released their new albums as digital downloads.  I suggest a major reason why, and one that was overlooked by Web 2.0 pundits, is that each artist was in the ‘label shopping phase’ of a new contract and defected after negotiation problems with their major labels.  This fits a pattern in mergers and acquisitions: the major labels lost artists due to integration problems in a merger or acquisition.  Terra Firma Capital Partners has since partially confirmed this hypothesis: the private equity firm endures more post-acquisition integration problems with EMI and is fighting against government regulation of Great Britain’s financial services sector.

The paper’s data appendices contrast the artists’ strategies with signficant events and innovations in music industry contracts, conglomerate mergers and deal structures.  Somehow I missed U2‘s March 2008 deal with Live Nation: I found out about it in an October 2008 announcementGuns n’ Roses also finally released Chinese Democracy (MySpace audio stream): a new album that has taken 15 years, a rumoured US$14 million budget and 14 recording studios in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and London.  I may write a paper on it . . .

Change.gov

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

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

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

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

CPRF08 Presentation: Disruptive Innovation, Radiohead & Nine Inch Nails

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