29th November 2010: Salon Media’s Exit Strategy

In September I revisited Salon.com’s 10-Q filings after a five year absence. I had kept an eye on Salon.com and other media properties during the ‘deathwatch’ period after the dotcom crash on 14th April 2001. Salon Media is now looking for an ‘old media’ buyer, reports Wall Street Journal‘s Russell Adams.

The trigger for this however isn’t in Salon’s advertising model or operating costs, as Adams suggests. Rather, the trigger is in the repayment schedule of convertible promissory notes and other short-term debt securities which Salon Media needs to pay its investors. As I noted, these notes ‘mature’ in March and October 2012 when investors expect repayment. Interest payments and short-term financing costs could affect Salon Media’s operations. Salon Media’s chief executive Richard Gingras has cut operational costs from its earlier diversification forays, and has trimmed editorial. He is now also looking for Salon Media to be acquired as an exit strategy. Adams observes that Salon Media doesn’t have the network cost structure of Gawker nor the hybrid model of Politco.

It will be interesting to see which suitors emerge, and on what terms, if Salon Media is ‘in play’.

29th November 2010: Cablegate

Germany’s Der Spiegel has launched a series on Wikileaks’ release of 250,000 US diplomatic cables, dubbled ‘cablegate’.

Wikileaks reveals a darkly realist view of the world, likened to a “foreign policy meltdown“.

The New York Times has articles on the ‘decision to publish’ and a selection of diplomatic documents as part of its State’s Secret series.

This will keep colleagues at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations busy for months.

26th November 2010: RIP

Richard Metzger and Roy Christopher both report the passing of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coil’s Peter ‘Sleazey’ Christopherson. The New York Times reports the passing of Asian studies scholar Chalmers Johnston: I was looking at a library copy of The Sorrows of Empire (2004) earlier this week.

Christopherson’s work with Hipgnosis and designer Storm Thorgerson defined progressive rock imagery for the next two decades. His loop-based work for Psychic TV and Coil also influenced industrial artists. Johnson’s work is a model of intelligent, scholarly critique.

For me, these are moments of momento mori. How are you truly living your life? What are you doing to make an impact in the world?

24th November 2010: Counterterrorism Studies Syllabi

Hedley Bull and Richard K. Betts each observed that one signal of a subfield’s growth is the number of new courses developed around a topic or theme.

Part of my ‘sampling frame’ includes the syllabi of counterterrorism studies courses after September 11. I started with the American Political Science Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and the International Studies Association.

I then found some counterterrorism-related resources at TeachingTerror.net (syllabi) and the University of Maryland’s START Consortium (syllabi).

First impressions: (i) despite Academic Board delays counterrerrorism became a ‘hot topic’ after September 11; and (ii) discussion of ‘strategic culture’ can occur in courses on comparative politics, international relations theory, American foreign policy, and issues-based courses.

23rd November 2010: North Korea’s Nuclear Export Program

North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility is again the focus of Western diplomatic negotiations. Nuclear nonproliferation experts are concerned that North Korea may replace A.Q. Khan’s network, and that it may export new centrifuges to Iran and Syria, the Wall Street Journal reports.

I covered this territory in a 2006 Masters mini-thesis for Monash University (PDF). By coincidence, the day I handed the thesis in, North Korea launched another missile test.

22nd November 2010: PhD Tips

Weekend mid-afternoon reflections from Jose M. Ramos after completing his dissertation Alternative Futures of Globalisation: A Socio-ecological Study of the World Social Forum Process (2010):

1. You will probably over-write material substantially compared with the final document.

2. It can take time for ideas in a dissertation to emerge.

3. Life experiences such as during action research and case studies can be amongst the most important and integrative.

4. Send out your draft chapters to a network of colleagues and co-journeyers for constructive feedback and comments.

5. It’s OK to feel exhausted when the dissertation is over.

19th November 2010: New York Terrorist Attack (2001)

A Foreign Correspondent special broadcast by the ABC on 19th September 2001 about the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Reporter Jennifer Byrne opens with a montage: missing people, ‘the hole’ of the WTC site, and 14 dead firemen from Lafayette Fire Station, amongst 300 missing. Newsday‘s Jimmy Bresline reflects on the plane collisions. Lieutenant Brian Smith: “These maniacs . . . these subhuman animals who would orchestrate this.” Breslin reflects on who to target for the attacks. Byrne: “battlefield New York . . . disaster zone.” Further shots of missing people and patriotic images. Sister Cindy Katherine: “Zealouts out there, that want to kill people.” Byrne notes the early estimates of 5,000 people dead. Breslin: “Working people.”

Mark Cochrane reports on Pakistan’s grasroots support for Bin Laden and the Taliban, and the military leadership of General Pervez Musharraf. The focus is already on madrassas as a recruiting ground. Ahmed Rashid speaks about the recruitment of Pakistan’s army officer corps into political Islam as a ‘way of war’, and the ISI’s early support of the Taliban. Discussion of Kashmir as a flashpoint between Pakistan Islamic fighters and Hindu Indian nationalists.

Akbar Ahmed interview via satellite with Jennifer Byrne: fears of war with Islam, founded on Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis. Discussion of Al Qaeda’ bombings of US embassies in Kenya and tanzania (1998), the USS Cole (2000), and September 11 now as an ideological battle.  Ahmed suggests Muslim leadership has failed to come to terms with midernity: some ‘terrorism’ is terrorism whilst other attacks are protests against socio-economic conditions in the Middle East. He suggests that socio-economic and political conditions are drivers of suicide bombings – not Islam. The short-term view of “unleashing the dogs of war” in retaliation and revenge must be counterbalanced by a more long-term view.

18th November 2010: Oklahoma Bomber (1995)

Gavin Hewitt’s 1995 investigation for the BBC’s Panorama, re-broadcast on ABC’s 4 Corners (29th May 1995),  suggests Timothy McVeigh found his identity in a meshwork of military training manuals, gun culture and militia conspiracy theories. Hewitt documents how McVeigh grew up in the GE company town Pendleton, attended Starpoint High School, and graduated in the 1988 recession. McVeigh joined the First Infantry at Fort Riley, Kansas, read training manuals on the weekend, and was dubbed a “30 year man” with the goal to join the Special Operations Forces. In 1990 he went to the Gulf War in Charlie Company’s First Platoon and was angry that US forces did not go to Baghdad to capture Saddam Hussein. McVeigh returned and on his second day of training failed the psychological test for the Green Berets. He drifted, moved in with farmer Jim Nichols, and was introdicued to the Michigan Militia movement. Hewitt the documents the milita’s conspiracy theories about the United Nations and the ‘new world order’ as a reaction to globalisation, economic recession, and outsourcing/offshoring. The Michigan Militia planned an attack on Camp Grayling to recover Russian tanks that were used for training purposes. McVeigh later met the Montana Militia, and became personally galvanised by the FBI face-off with the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas on 19th April 1993. He listened to shortwave radio; Hewitt watches Linda Thompson‘s videos and examines the growth in the early 1990s of online groups and ‘how to’ manuals. Finally, Hewitt traces how McVeigh met Terry Nichols in Herington, Kansas, before hiring a Ryder truck and parking an amminium nitrate fertiliser and diesel fuel bomb outside the Alfred P. Murray Building in Oklahoma City on 19th April 1995.

16th November 2010: Ways of Warfare and Strategic Culture

Gautam, P.K. 2006. ‘Ways of Warfare and Strategic Culture’, Defense and Security Analysis, 25(1), 413-423.

Gautam locates his analysis in the debate between Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) and the more technological Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). He surveys the history and debates about British and American ‘ways of warfare’ and the initial fallout from the ‘shock and awe’ campaign of the 2003 Iraq War. In positing an Indian ‘way of warfare’ Gautam examines India’s 1962 border war with China, the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, and the 1999 face-off with Pakistan in the Kargil region. For Gautam, Indian culture and strategic thinking is often minimised by Westerners in contrast to the Chinese: Hindu cosmology, the caste system, colonialism, and force regimentation are blamed. Gautam includes an appendix on the Maratha as an historical study, and suggests further research could be done. He notes how current Indian strategists are looking to ‘second generation’ thinkers like Ken Booth and China’s Chanakya for guidance on the politico-military aspects. The debate about ‘ways of warfare’ often degenerates, Gautam believes, into positioning over who has the better system, rather than strategic context. Likewise, the juxtaposition of a renewed debate about strategic culture and the US experience of insurgents in the 2003 Iraq War illustrates the failure to use anthropology before a war begins to understand the host society’s culture and dynamics. Indian strategic thinkers will continue to ‘reconstruct’ the post-1947 experience of India’s military in war and counterinsurgency operations.

15th November 2010: Warriors & Politicians

Stevenson, Charles A. 2006. Warriors and Politicians: US Civil-Military Relations Under Stress, Routledge, New York.

The US Constitution and Congressional powers frame the civilian control and oversight of the US military. Stevenson’s historical study spans the US Civil War to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars of the Bush administration, organised thematically around the three challenges of warfighting, rearmament, and transformation. His chapters on the Vietnam War and Robert McNamara frame the institutional and planning failures that would lead in the late 1970s and early 1980s to a reassessment of Special Operations Forces (SOF), the Soviet ‘way of war’ and counterinsurgency. McNamara’s planning, programming, budgeting system however transformed administrative processes in both the public sector and in defence procurement cycles. This in turn would lay the groundwork for Donald Rumsfeld’s stint as Secretary of Defense and his adoption of execution metrics. Stevenson’s chapter on the Goldwater-Nichols Act deftly captures the successful tactics used to ensure greater interagency cooperation and coordination. In closing, Stevenson considers and evaluates several descriptive models of civil-military relations, considers the strategies of innovators, and the dangers of politicisation. He develops different conclusions to Eliot A. Cohen and Samuel P. Huntington, and notes the work and criticisms of emerging ‘new institutionalist’ scholars like Michael Desch, Peter Feaver, Amy Zegart and Deborah Avant. For me, the literature on civil-military relations clarifies an important aspect of politico-military affairs which affects how counterterrorism policies are conceived, debated, and implemented — either as interstate diplomatic alliances, or as SOF-type engagements to pre-empt an attack or to “hunt the perpetrators” (Susan D. Moeller). Stevenson’s study thus provides an historical and analytical backdrop to how counterterrorism strategies were implemented from the Johnson to the current Obama administration.