12th January 2013: Nuclear Iran & Strategic Culture Research

Bill Keller in The New York Times on new books about nuclear weapons proliferation:

 

What has been sorely missing from the debate about Iran’s nuclear program is a serious, reported effort to understand what goes on in the minds of the Iranians. David Patrikarakos, a journalist who has written for a number of high-end British periodicals, fills that void with “Nuclear Iran,” a cleareyed history of the Iranian nuclear program, enriched by access to a number of key participants and a wealth of scholarly empathy. The book contains more administrative detail and diplomatic byplay than a lay reader will crave, but it also includes a succinct and subtle rendering of modern Iranian political history and a digestible primer on the basics of nuclear science. (For the record, Patrikarakos, unlike Bracken, believes that, as counterproductive as an attack on Iran might be, “the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is worse.”)

In large measure, the history of nuclear Iran is the story of the relationship (“pathology” might be a better word) between Iran and the United States. Our present Iran problem, we are reminded, is partly of our own making. We installed the shah, who embraced nuclear power as a flag of Persian modernity. We indulged Saddam Hussein in his brutish attack on Iran — a war that led Iran’s Islamist government to conclude that it was on its own in the world. The fact that we invaded Afghanistan while paying court to terrorist-­breeding (but nuclear) Pakistan taught Iran that weapons of mass destruction command deference. Then, in the Bush axis-of-evil years, our hard-­liners convinced their hard-liners that nothing short of regime change would satisfy Washington. Add these understandable fears to a long history of xenophobia and Persian status anxiety, and it would be astounding if Iran didn’t at least contemplate acquiring the bomb.

 

When a young Jack Snyder wrote a 1977 RAND monograph that conceptualised strategic culture he tried to understand Soviet politico-military elites and their decision-making on nuclear weapons. David Patrikarakos‘s book joins David Crist‘s The Twilight War (New York: Penguin Press, 2012) in exploring the strategic interdependence of Iran’s nuclear development program with United States politico-military decision-making. A nuclear Iran is thus exactly the kind of geopolitical problematique that contemporary researchers interested in strategic culture might study. Snyder was part of a so-called first generation that might have used national country studies to understand the Iranian leadership. Now, this is the domain of political psychological profiling and estimative assessments for strategic intelligence. The so-called second generation would highlight the strategic interdependence of Iran and United States decision-making, and strategic alliances — including the US support for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the George W. Bush Administration’s decision in late 2001 to invade Afghanistan in order to end the Taliban regime’s support for Al Qaeda. The third generation might examine the evolution of institutional decision-making which has led to the “present Iran problem” for the United States. The fourth generation might examine how the international system and regional developments helped to shape United States and Iran decision-making; and might also compare Iran as a case study to countries like South Africa and Libya that have rolled back their nuclear capabilities. Patrikarakos and the other authors that Keller profiles might be the beginning of a literature review for a research program on United States and Iranian strategic cultures, and their decision-making and threat perception role in nuclear capability-building.

26th December 2012: Picks & Pans

Antifragile: How Things Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York: Allen Lane, 2012). (TS-5) (MAM-5). Taleb (Fooled By Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes) is a former options trader and philosopher who focuses on the ontology and epistemology of uncertainty. Antifragile develops a via negativa philosophy about things that benefit from disorder and shock: vega and long gamma exposure in stock markets; post-traumatic growth in medicine; and cultivating ‘optionality’ and the ‘barbell strategy’ as ways to deal with Hazard, chance, and life stressors (preferably of short duration followed by recovery). Taleb rails against ‘fragilistas’, ‘touristification’ and details a range of Black Swan errors that humans and social institutions can fall prey to. He constructs a dense personal, subjective universe that needs its own glossary to decode. Antifragile’s mix of analysis, critique and personal memoir would have benefited from an editor but is filled with Taleb’s philosophical insights. For a specialist view of vega and long gamma see Robert A. Schwartz, John Aidan Byrne and Antoinette Colaninno’s Volatility: Risk and Uncertainty in Financial Markets (New York: Springer, 2011) (TS-4) (MAM-4). For an historical counter-view to Taleb on vega and risk see Aaron C. Brown’s Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2012) (TS-3) (MAM-3).

 

Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max (New York: Viking, 2012). (TS-3). David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was a United States novelist, short story writer and essayist best known for the maximalist novel Infinite Jest (New York: Little, Brown, 1996) (TS-5). D.T. Max’s autobiography is a cathartic and confronting exploration of DFW’s development as a humanist, philosophical writer, his impact on academia and popular culture, and his personal demons. DFW struggled with depression and nervous breakdowns at Amherst to write the Wittgenstein-influenced novel The Broom of the System (New York: Viking Press, 1987) (TS-3). Infinite Jest combined a critique of popular culture with DFW’s experiences in Alcoholics Anonymous, and brought him major critical acclaim and commercial success. In some ways this could be interpreted as de facto Recognition (‘the most influential writer of his generation’) which DFW was unprepared for, and which attracted criticism from Bret Easton Ellis and other writers. Max is unflinching about how DFW dealt with this disproportionate success and includes some reflective correspondence with Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen and other writers. DFW would spend over a decade writing his unfinished novel The Pale King (New York: Little, Brown, 2011) (TS-3) and struggling with Buddhist mindfulness practices. He articulated this philosophical shift in his commencement speech ‘This Is Water’ delivered at Kenyon College in May 2005 and available on YouTube. Perhaps what DFW missed was a balanced initiatory sense (which developed from Infinite Jest to The Pale King) and the appropriate psyche-strengthening resources and skills to overcome his suicidal ideation. DFW’s papers are now housed at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places by Michael J. Mauboussin (rev. ed.) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). (TS-3) (MAM-1). Mauboussin is Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management and Adjunct Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School. More Than You Know is a guide for investment strategists to find alpha (actively managed returns in excess of a performance benchmark — or, philosophically, what is psyche-enhancing in your life). It is an accessible guide – influenced by Edward O. Wilson’s ‘consilience’ integrative approach – to current thinking about behavioural finance, market microstructure (how market design and transaction costs impact price activity), portfolio management, and how the emerging sciences can be applied to investment management, idea generation, and decision-making. The essay structure in More Than You Know also highlights the importance of metacommunication in conveying new insights to different audiences: this is a book about how the exploratory search for investment and trading ideas can lead to new applied knowledge and can refresh strategic thinking. For an overview of Mauboussin’s interest in the emerging sciences, fitness landscapes, and economics see Eric D. Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics (New York: Random House, 2006) (TS-3) (MAM-3). For an in-depth conceptual and historical account of model-making in economics, game theory and macroeconomic simulations see Mary S. Morgan’s The World In The Model: How Economists Work and Think (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) (TS-4) (MAM-4).

 

How Much Is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (London: Penguin Books, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). In 1928, the economist and philosopher John Maynard Keynes spoke to Cambridge University undergraduates on ‘economic possibilities for our grandchildren’. The Skidelskys set out to examine how and why Keynes’ forecast has failed to occur. This book generated a sustained public debate about consumption, work productivity, and income inequality in London’s Financial Times and other media outlets. The ‘insatiability’ of work, Faustian and self-interested economics, and shifts in global attitudes to wealth are considered. The Skidelskys debate the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth World-3 simulation forecast and its ‘overshoot and collapse’ scenario; happiness economics; and what a ‘good life’ consists of. They conclude that a philosophically-oriented worldview that cultivates the Good is healthier than a consumption-oriented life. For the historical context of the shift from Keynes to Faustian and self-interested economics, and the key personalities involved, see Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (New York: Vintage Books, 2011) (TS-3) (MAM-3). If you aspire to the 1% then Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012) (TS-3) (MAM-3) might convey why this was a highly visible socio-political issue in 2012.

 

The Stewardship of Wealth: Successful Private Wealth Management for Investors and Their Advisors by Gregory Curtis (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Curtis is founder of the wealth advisory firm Greycourt & Co. The first third of this book explores Curtis’s views on creative capital, wealth management, government policies, capital and financial markets, and risk. The second third deals with advisors, family investment decisions, and trusts. The third deals with asset allocation and portfolio decisions including equities, international markets, real estate, fixed income, and alternative investments (including hedge funds and private equity). Curtis addresses money managers, tax minimisation strategies, investment policy statements, and the myths of wealth, the rich and happiness. A website has further chapters and resources. If you are considering a career in private wealth management then you might consult G. Victor Hallman and Jerry S. Rosenbloom’s Private Wealth Management: The Complete Reference for the Personal Financial Planner (8th ed.) (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009) (TS-4) and Harold Evensky, Stephen M. Horan and Thomas R. Robinson’s The New Wealth Management: The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Managing and Investing Client Assets (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2011) (TS-4) which outlines the CFA Institute’s approach.

 

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver (New York: Penguin, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Silver is a United States statistician and ‘sabermetrics’ (sports statistics analyst) whose blog FiveThirtyEight (currently hosted by The New York Times) achieved a highly accurate forecast of the 2012 United States election outcome. The Signal and the Noise outlines Silver’s Bayesian approach to forecasting and prediction, including under what conditions these may fail. His methodology uses Big Data, model building, probability, analytics, inference testing, and other tools. If you grapple with uncertainty or to use statistics insights in organisational management, Silver’s book may be a useful introduction to a rapidly growing field. Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2012) (TS-3) argues for the use of induction, randomised trials, and experimental social science in government, political administrations, and the diffusion of social innovation.

 

Market Sense and Nonsense: How the Markets Really Work and How They Don’t (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Schwager is a futures market expert whose four volume Market Wizards interview series (1989-2012) have status amongst traders as mouth-to-ear initiation. Market Sense and Nonsense collects Schwager’s insights on capital preservation; market experts and the investment media; why he feels the Efficient Market Hypothesis doesn’t always work; and lessons on evaluating past returns, volatility, risk, hedge funds, mutual funds, and portfolio management. A strategic primer for new investors to understand how capital and financial markets work, and how to critically evaluate advice, media, and other information sources.

 

Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story by Greg Smith (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). On 14th March 2012, The New York Times published Smith’s op-ed ‘Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs’. In the NYT op-ed and this follow-up book Smith adopts a ‘whistleblower’ stance about the cultural change he believes the investment bank Goldman Sachs has undergone from client-oriented service to extractive rent-seeking and proprietary trading. This rushed-to-publication book doesn’t live up to the promise of Smith’s op-ed and “muppets” claim about how Goldman Sachs views its clients. However, it can be read as a firsthand, somewhat initiatory account of Smith’s transformation from idealistic intern in 2000 to disaffected sales trader and manager in 2012. Were there ethical dilemmas, shadow projection, or a combination? The reaction to Smith’s book particularly from NYT Dealbook editor-at-large and CNBC co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin offers lessons in framing and metacommunication about ethical dilemmas. For an historical and contemporary overview of Goldman Sachs and its investment bank culture see Charles D. Ellis’s magisterial The Partnership: A History of Goldman Sachs (New York: Allen Lane, 2008) (TS-3) (MAM-3) and William D. Cohan’s reportage Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came To Rule The World (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (TS-3) (MAM-3).

 

Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con by Guy Lawson (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012). (TS-3) (MAM-3). I first heard about the Octopus power elite conspiracy from parapolitical researcher Kenn Thomas and later from open source intelligence advocate Robert David Steele. Octopus resurfaces in this biography of Bayou Group hedge fund founder Samuel Israel III who had $US117 million in debts and trading losses. Israel attempts to enter a purported high-yield bond debt ‘secret market’ involving the Rothschilds and other elite banking families. The first third of the book deals with Bayou’s Ponzi scheme; the second with how Israel becomes ensnared with conspiracy theorist Robert Booth Nichols; and the third with the fallout involving international prime bank fraud. This is a cautionary tale of multiple cons and marks; the ‘medial’ conspiracy netherworld; and the failure of reality-testing. Israel might have benefited from Mark Schindler’s Rumors in Financial Markets: Insights Into Behavioral Finance (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007) (TS-4) and Jeffrey A. Winters’ Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011) (TS-4).

 

The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World by Jonathan Powell (New York: Vintage, 2011). (TS-3). Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff from 1994 to 2007. The New Machiavelli is a defence of applied Machiavellian realpolitik from The Prince and The Discourses that draws on Powell’s unpublished diaries and his political administration experiences. Powell discusses the Blair Government’s rise-to-power; Cabinet, Chancellery, and Civil Service negotiations; the importance of multi-stakeholder decision-making and strategic thinking; and how the Blair Government dealt with Europe, geopolitical crises, scandals, and war. For Powell, Blair was a leader who benefited from both Fortuna and also from heeding Machiavelli’s insights about people, persuasion, and leadership. For a comparative analysis of Machiavellian leadership and statecraft in the contemporary era see Carnes Lord’s The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need To Know (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) (TS-3) which considers states, regimes, elites, and the various levers of national power (such as economics, diplomacy, force, intelligence, education, and strategic culture). Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2010) (TS-3) considers power in organisational culture and leadership.

 

Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination by Frank Partnoy (New York: Public Affairs, 2012). (TS-3). Partnoy is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance at the University of San Diego and a former investment banker at Morgan Stanley. Wait examines evidence and insights from diverse sources—sport, high-frequency trading, neuro-marketing, information economics, and fighter pilot training—that delaying our decisions can give us situational and strategic advantages. This book is pitched at a Malcolm Gladwell audience but with more substantive research and interviews. Partnoy introduces ideas that have become very influential in their fields, such as George Akerlof’s ‘market for lemons’, and John Boyd’s OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) which is situated in Grant T. Hammond’s The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2001) (TS-4). The late Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman’s work on cognitive biases and decision heuristics is detailed in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (TS-1) (MAM-1).

 

Willpower: Why Self-Control Is the Secret to Success by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (New York: Penguin, 2011). (TS-3) (MAM-3). Baumeister is the Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Willpower is the first popular account of Baumeister’s influential research program into emotional self-regulation, self-control, cultivating will, and the danger of ego depletion: perhaps the key to world-building. Baumeister and Tierney discuss current psychological research on will; the design of personal productivity tools; decision heuristics; self-help programs; parenting; dieting; and other topics. This is a gateway to academic research by Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs and others about self-control and experimental social psychology — where the insights and writing can surpass Tierney’s journalistic account here.

 

The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotion by Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2012). (TS-3). Panksepp is a Professor at Washington State University and this book presents his affective neuroscience research program for a broader audience. Panksepp’s research examines how deep brain systems and affective consciousness can affect humans and animals, and might be part of the neuro-evolutionary roots of archetypes, legends and myths. He has identified several deep brain systems—seeking (expectancy), fear (anxiety), rage (anger), lust (sexual excitement), care (nurturance), panic/grief (sadness), and play (social joy)—that shape the neuro-biology of the core self. This book considers how the frontier research on brain emotional systems can affect our mental life and philosophy. Panksepp’s popular account here is supported by a growing number of highly cited academic research papers and collaborations.

 

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss (Las Vegas, NV: Amazon Publishing, 2012). (TS-3). Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) is a raconteur who shifted from self-promoting author to popular blogger and adviser for entrepreneurial start-ups and venture capital. The 4-Hour Chef is Ferriss’s guide to accelerated learning using cooking as a domain of expertise. Ferriss’s framework of DSSS (deconstruction, selection, sequencing, and stakes) and CaFE (compression, frequency, and coding) is a distillation of techniques that Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts developed for Master Practitioner courses in Neurolinguistic Programming, and that were previously outlined in Leslie Cameron-Bandler, David Gordon and Michael Lebeau’s The Emprint Method: A Guide to Reproducing Competence (Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1985) (TS-3). However, Ferriss is able to use metacommunication skills to reach a broader audience: this is a book to be closely studied for how Ferriss distils and presents information, as well as his advice on transferring competence. For two comparative models on developing expertise see Brett N. Steenbarger’s The Daily Trading Coach: 101 Lessons For Becoming Your Own Trading Psychologist (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009) (TS-3) and Robert Greene’s Mastery (New York: Viking, 2012) (TS-3). Cook Ferriss’s recipes at your own risk—and remember to send me some ‘food porn’ photographs.

 

The Net Delusion: How Not To Liberate The World by Evgeny Morozov (New York: Penguin, 2011). (TS-3). In a former life I edited an alternative news website and was a senior researcher on the sociology of the internet for a university research consortium. Morozov’s Net Delusion and his Twitter feed (@evgenymorozov) are one of the wittiest, scathing critiques of the democracy-internet nexus promoted by Wired, Fast Company and Red Herring magazines and by TED’s popular talks. Morozov in the past has been funded by the Open Society Foundations funded by George Soros. Amongst the book’s insights are an exchange between Aldous Huxley and George Orwell about oligarchical social control; how authoritarian regimes use the internet and social networks; how ‘internet freedom’ can have propaganda elements; and the technological determinism embedded in many internet histories. Morozov’s next book is To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (New York: Public Affairs, 2013).

 

The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran by David Crist (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012). (TS-4). A possible conflict between Iran, and Israel and the United States was a highly visible geopolitical scenario in 2011 and 2012. Crist is a United States historian who spent over a decade researching this eye-opening exploration of United States diplomacy and low-intensity conflict involving Iran, from the Carter to the Obama Administration. The “Iran Problem” involves the Middle East, oil, religion, nuclear weapons development and other complex national security issues. For author and defense historian Thomas Ricks, The Twilight War “is the secret history of the last three decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East”: it provides the historical and institutional context to understand current geopolitical debates, forecasts and pundits. Crist’s contribution is to capture the multi-sided decision-making that occurs in a national security confrontation which lies below the escalation threshold of declared physical war.

 

Tantra by Geshe Tashi Tsering (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012). (TS-3). Tsering is a guiding teacher at London’s Jamyang Buddhist Centre and this is the final volume in his very accessible Foundations of Buddhist Thought series (which might be regarded as vital for Buddhists and are useful metacommunication guides on how to present religious doctrines and practices to a broader audience). This book explains with model clarity the Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices of the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools with a Madhyamaka or Middle Path emphasis: initiation and vows; deity, guru, and kriya yoga and visualization practices; highest yoga tantra; the generation and completion stages; and the physiology of esoteric practices involving the subtle body. Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche’s Principles of Buddhist Tantra (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2012) (TS-3) explains the Middle Path of spiritual illumination in greater detail, whilst Lama Yeshe’s Becoming Vajrasattva: The Tantric Path of Purification (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2004) (TS-3) explains Vajrasattva purification and retreat practices.

 

Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1998). (TS-3). Feuerstein (1948-2012) was a major scholar on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and yoga. Tantra provides an accessible, clear introduction to Hindu Tantric cosmology, the major Hindu deities and their religious significance, the subtle body, and the practices of mantra, mudra, and yantra. The chapter ‘The Transmutation of Desire’ quotes from Kaula and Left Hand Path scriptural sources, discusses the panchamakara or 5 Ms (madya, mamsa, matsya, mudra and maithuna); and examines how the ritualised practice of maithuna or sexual intercourse differs from the Western Neo-Tantra derived from the Kama Sutra. Feuerstein dispels many of the myths and misunderstandings in Western contemporary occulture about the panchamakara and maithuna, in particular. Feuerstein also makes comparisons where relevant between Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist forms of Tantra, their religious practices, and cultural transmission.

 

Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion by Hugh B. Urban (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). (TS-4). Urban is a Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University and an expert on the historiography and sociology of Tantra. Tantra posits that Tantra arose through the interplay of Western and Indian encounters and the ‘medial’ battle between scholarship and the popular imagination, and political elite and social non-elite practice. Urban examines the contributions and debates over Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Mircea Eliade, Sir John Woodroffe, Chogyam Trungpa, Osho, Aleister Crowley, and the popularity of ‘sex magick’ in contemporary occulture. Urban concludes that although Tantra is an “imagined category” it can also be reimagined in new ways. This book is an academic theory-dense gateway to the historically contested Vamachara (Left Hand Path) and its influence on Western contemporary occulture.

 

Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). (TS-4). White is professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sinister Yogis examines the esoteric writings of yogis in Hindu Tantra, their development of siddhis (special powers), and cross-cultural encounters with the West. Yogis had a far more sinister reputation in Hindu religious and occult circles before Colonialist discovery, and the modern yoga and Neo-Tantra industries which White traces to B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1930s. White includes a wealth of information and translated texts on the ‘immanent’ Vamachara (Left Hand Path) that contextualises yogic practices involving inner space, apotheosis, self-willed death, and siddhis. Gordon’s earlier books on Tantra and Yoga are highly recommended.

 

The Taming of Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism by Jacob P. Dalton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). (TS-4). Dalton is Assistant Professor of Tibetan Studies at University of California, Berkeley. This scholarly study examines the Tibetan ‘Dark Ages’ period or “age of fragmentation” (842-986 AD) and how socio-political upheaval shaped the subsequent transmission of Tantric Buddhist doctrines in the 11th and 12th centuries. Dalton focuses on Tantric manuscripts found in Dunhuang that explore the taming of Rudra and other Tibetan Buddhist demons; Buddhist warfare doctrines; the 19th century debate about early Tibetan blood sacrifice rites; and transgressive ethics in Vajrayana Buddhism. How early Tibetan Buddhists dealt with the “age of fragmentation” violence had profound effects on its cultural transmission as a religion.

 

Understanding Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory, and Transformative Knowledge by Sohail Inayatullah (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002). (TS-5). Inayatullah is a Professor at Taiwan’s Tamkang University and an Adjunct Professor at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921-1990) was an Indian spiritual philosopher, social activist, founder of Ananda Marga, and conceptualised Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT). Understanding Sarkar is the book-length version of Inayatullah’s PhD that situates Sarkar’s neo-humanist, macrohistorical contribution in the context of Hindu Vedic and Tantra frameworks as initiatory, transformative knowledge, and the Yugas as historical cycles. Sarkar’s social cycle and sadvipra leaders (“the spiritual intellectual”) offer a way for social and civilizational transformation in the Kali Yuga, which Inayatullah compares with Sri Aurobindo and other Indian thinkers. Inayatullah also compares Sarkar to other macrohistorians including Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, Khaldun, Marx, Pareto, Mosca, Comte, Vico, Hegel, Toynbee, Spengler, and others. Inayatullah concludes with an analysis of Sarker’s laws for social change, and contrasts this with Krishnamurti, Foucault, Galtung, Wallerstein, and other contemporary religious and socio-political thinkers. For a background on macrohistory see Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah’s Macrohistory and Macrohistorians: Perspectives on Individual, Social, and Civilizational Change (Westport, CN: Praeger, 1997) (TS-4). Further Sarkar-related analysis can be found in Sohail Inayatullah and Jennifer Fitzgerald’s Transcending Boundaries: Prabhat Ranjath Sarkar’s Theories of Individual & Social Transformation (Maleney, Australia: Gurukula Press, 1999) (TS-3) and Sohail Inayatullah’s Situating Sarkar: Tantra, Macrohistory & Alternative Futures (Maleney, Australia: Gurukula Press, 1999) (TS-3).

 

The Teacher-Student Relationship by Jamgon Kongtrul The Great (Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion, 1999). (TS-3). The institutional challenges of Dakshinachara or Right Hand Path religions in the West often relate to abuses of power rooted in Vedic-derived brahmacharya or guru and wisdom teacher yoga. This excerpt from Tibetan teacher Jamgon Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge provides a Vajrayana Buddhist perspective on the Master or Wisdom Teacher and the Student, the criteria for selection, dangers of the Vajrayana path, and the mind-to-mind transmission of Dharma teachings. Kongtrul’s text provides Dakshinachara insights into the X crisis in the Church of Satan and the Xem crisis in the Temple of Set, and into scandals involving Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Chogyam Trungpa, Adi Da Samraj, and other guru-like teachers.

 

Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal by Jeffrey J. Kripal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). (TS-3). Kripal is the J. Newton Razor Professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. Mutants and Mystics is an historical and thematic analysis of the ‘daemonic’ Super-Stories and mythemes in the occult, paranormal and superhero literature, and their interplay with ‘medial’ subcultures and the individual Quest for higher consciousness and self-actualisation (Divinization or self-godhood). Kripal’s framework distinguishes between Orientation (East-West cultural transmission and fusion of religion, and mythological framing); Alienation (the impact on consciousness of cosmos awareness, an expanded space-time continuum, and UFOlogy); Radiation (how the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum and quantum physics led to speculation about metaphysical energy and ‘siddhis’ or special powers); and Mutation (Eros as a vehicle for evolutionary transformation). For Kripal, this is an initiatory dynamic in which the individual has Realization awareness (they are being ‘authored’ by contemporary culture) and then Authorization enactment and experiences (in which individuals ‘author’ their own Divinization using elements of Orientation, Alienation, Radiation, and Mutation mythemes). Kripal discusses many authors including: Charles Fort, Wilhelm Reich, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, Michael Murphy, George Leonard, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Philip K. Dick, John Keel, the remote viewing debate, and how Gopi Krishna and Sri Aurobindo influenced Western contemporary occulture.

20th June 2012: ETF Investing

Investing

 

Strategic investing using exchange trade funds (Reading The Markets).

 

The party indicator for investors (The Reformed Broker).

 

Wall Street

 

The goodwill tour to Wall Street of US Senator Chuck Schumer (The New Republic).

 

Media

 

News Limited makes $A1.97b bid for Consolidated Media (ABC).

 

Journalists as media-owners (Core Economics).

 

Post-literary metal (Roy Christopher).

 

Politics

 

Julian Asssange seeks political asylum in Ecuador (Wired, The Guardian, The Atlantic Monthly).

 

Iran nuclear talks downgraded (The Guardian).

 

US cyber-attacks on Iran nuclear weapons development program (Washington Post).

15th December 2010: Iran-Twitter Q&A

Over a year ago Ben Eltham and I did a conference paper on Twitter’s role in Iran’s 2009 election crisis. The paper proved too controversial for the conference’s refereed stream yet it has gone on to become our most widely read and cited paper.

Today, Paul Raymond posed some questions about Twitter and Wikileaks for a forthcoming article in Saudi Arabia’s magazine The Diplomat. Below are my email answers:

You express doubts that Twitter and other social network tools will “enable ordinary people to seize power from repressive regimes.” But what other political potentials do these networks have, in terms of broadening the public sphere for debate, mobilizing political networks, and helping to globalise civil society? What will be the results of these potentials for governments?

Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools certainly have the potential to broaden debate, mobilise political networks, and to globalise civil society. Perhaps they are today’s equivalent of the Cold War’s Radio Free Europe or Voice of America broadcasts. They are able to mobilise autonomous, self-regulative networks of people on a salient issue, and allow government agencies like the US State Department to reach a wider audience. However, these same qualities also mean that particularly for Twitter, social networks can be used to spread rumour and propaganda.US neoconservatives recognised these qualities in 2000 during their discussions on what a ‘next generation’ capability might resemble.Twitter’s interest in Iran gradually faded after the weeks of political uncertainty, as it became clear that Ahmadinejad’s regime would remain in power. Our conclusions echo the late sociologist and political scientist Charles Tilly’s work on political violence and repressive regimes.

The US State Department implicitly recognised Twitter’s importance when it asked Twitter to delay server upgrades – or at least, officials wanted to know what would happen next in the political cyber-laboratory of Iran. What would be a proper response by western governments to the results, including the “unintended uses” different actors gained from the network?

Firstly, to understand that Twitter, Facebook and other social networks will have their own dynamics similar to the CNN Effect of the 1990-91 Gulf War. Second, to counterbalance the ability to reach different audiences with the reality that people may only sustain their attention during a crisis. Third, that different actors will use ‘open network’ tools for their own ends and ethics, such as the Iranian Basij paramilitary using Twitter to arrest and kill protestors.

A ‘proper response’ may depend on the specific government agency. Whilst the US State Department was interested in public diplomacy, other agencies may have different agendas or uses for the same data. The US Department of Defense may be interested in the danger of social networking sites to be used for adversary propaganda and disinformation to international public audiences. A US intelligence agency may be interested in ‘contextual intelligence’ that may arise from diaspora networks, or alternatively, how many ‘tweets’ or messages can lead to ‘noise’. We tried to explore how the same data could be used in different ways depending on the aims and objectives of the specific end-user.

The State Department reacted very differently to the recent phenomenon of Wikileaks. What would be a proper governmental reponse to that kind of use of the internet?

The likely response of the US Government will probably be to charge Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange under the relevant espionage and national security legislation for releasing diplomatic information. In the short-term this will also mean increased security and restricted access in the US Government on a ‘need to know’ basis to diplomatic cables. In the long-term, the US Government could work with specific media and scholarly groups — the American Political Science Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or George Washington University’s National Security Archive — to release declassified versions of the diplomatic cables in a more controlled and possibly ‘redacted’ manner. However, this might also require changes to US freedom of information laws and declassification schedules. Marc Trachtenberg at the University of California, Los Angeles, is an expert in these declassification issues for historians and political scientists.

What general rules would you suggest governments apply to make best use of the public diplomacy potential of social networking?

Use social networking tools to openly inform the public, such as Saudi Arabia’s initiatives on combatting terrorist financing and successful rehabilitation programs for ex-jihadists. Understand the limitations of social networking tools, such as their varied use by different groups, and how they can become disconnected in crisis situations from ‘on-the-ground’ events. Have mechanisms in place to identify, monitor and to counter disinformation and propaganda that may propagate on such social networks. Integrate social networking tools into a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy that uses a variety of media.

Can government’s efforts to crack down on freedom of information (such as the Chinese attacks on Google and the worldwide campaign against Wikileaks) work in the long run, or has the playing field been permanently leveled, giving civil society and opposition groups the ability to challenge governments’ influence over media agendas and foreign publics’ perceptions?

Constructivist scholars like Alexander Wendt, Peter Katzenstein and Martha Finnemore note the growing power of civil society groups to shape public perceptions and influence media agendas. Sophisticated governments may even work closely with aid organisations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies during a crisis. It depends on the context and the nature of the information being publicly released. Google’s problems with China were foreseeable since at least early 2006 because of how Google’s management handled earlier crises about the identities of Chinese human rights activists. The campaign against Wikileaks and its publisher Julian Assange appears in part because the information was released in an ‘unredacted’ form and not through an establishment source like Thomas Friedman or Bob Woodward. The realist scholar Stephen M. Walt and others have pointed out the hypocrisy of this: Assange and Wikileaks are being attacked whilst mainstream media institutions like The New York Times are not. Perhaps the challenge also is that the information Wikileaks has published is about recent and current events, and not the usual 20-30 year gap of normal declassification procedures. The public’s demand for ‘real-time’ information and more transparency is an opportunity for governments and public diplomats, should they decide to seize it.

Academic Publications 2009

Burns, Alex & Eltham, Ben (2009). ‘Twitter Free Iran: An Evaluation
of Twitter’s Role in Public Diplomacy and Information Operations in
Iran’s 2009 Election Crisis’
. In Papandrea, Franco & Armstrong,
Mark (Eds.). Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum
2009
. Sydney: Network Insight Institute, pp. 298-310 [PDF pp. 322-334]. Presentation slides here.

Social media platforms such as Twitter pose new challenges for
decision-makers in an international crisis. We examine Twitter’s role
during Iran’s 2009 election crisis using a comparative analysis of
Twitter investors, US State Department diplomats, citizen activists and
Iranian protesters and paramilitary forces. We code for key events
during the election’s aftermath from 12 June to 5 August 2009, and
evaluate Twitter. Foreign policy, international political economy and
historical sociology frameworks provide a deeper context of how Twitter
was used by different users for defensive information operations and
public diplomacy. Those who believe Twitter and other social network
technologies will enable ordinary people to seize power from repressive
regimes should consider the fate of Iran’s protesters, some of whom
paid for their enthusiastic adoption of Twitter with their lives.

Burns, Alex & Saunders, Barry (2009). ‘Journalists as Investigators
and ‘Quality Media’ Reputation’
. In Papandrea, Franco & Armstrong,
Mark (Eds.). Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum
2009
. Sydney: Network Insight Institute, pp. 281-297 [PDF pp. 305-321]. Presentation slides here.


The current ‘future of journalism’ debates focus on the crossover (or
lack thereof) of mainstream journalism practices and citizen
journalism, the ‘democratisation’ of journalism, and the ‘crisis in
innovation’ around the ‘death of newspapers’. This paper analyses a
cohort of 20 investigative journalists to understand their skills sets,
training and practices, notably where higher order research skills are
adapted from intelligence, forensic accounting, computer programming,
and law enforcement. We identify areas where different levels of
infrastructure and support are necessary within media institutions, and
suggest how investigative journalism enhances the reputation of
‘quality media’ outlets.


A 2008 academic publication that made the Top 25 downloaded papers of the past year on Victoria University’s institutional repository:

Floyd, Josh, Burns, Alex and Ramos, Jose (2008). A Challenging Conversation on Integral Futures: Embodied Foresight & Trialogues. Journal of Futures Studies, 13(2), 69-86.

Practitioner reflection is vital for knowledge frameworks such as Ken
Wilber’s Integral perspective. Richard Slaughter, Joseph Voros and
others have combined Wilber’s perspective and Futures Studies to create
Integral Futures as a new stance. This paper develops Embodied
Foresight as a new approach about the development of new Integral
Futures methodologies (or meta-methodologies) and practitioners, with a
heightened sensitivity to ethics and specific, local contexts. Three
practitioners conduct a ‘trialogue’ – a three-way deep dialogue – to
discuss issues of theory generation, practitioner development,
meta-methodologies, institutional limits, knowledge systems, and
archetypal pathologies. Personal experiences within the Futures Studies
and Integral communities, and in other initiatory and wisdom traditions
are explored.

Global Metal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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