23rd December 2010: Stray PhD Thoughts

Several stray PhD thoughts amidst the Christmas rush:

The natural unfolding of a project differs from the PhD as an academic job requirement.

Publishing over a period of time can lead to an identity expressed to others as data fragments.

The choice of a topic imposes self-limits in the eyes of others who want a ‘frame of reference’.

Mastering a subject area can lead to awareness of what you do not know.

Anthropological and historical methods need immersion: difficult in ‘real-time’ environments which do not support ‘multi-ethnographic’ self-reflection.

Good writing requires solid editing, redrafting, and thinking time.

‘Holding the space’ can involve acceptance of self-doubt.

On hearing the outcome of an Australian terrorism case on radio news: a lot of time has passed, and the Antipodean context differs from the United States which is partly driven by Iraq and Afghanistan.

22nd December 2010: My Holiday Reading List

I’m spending two weeks editing two articles, outlining several more for 2011, and continuing my PhD ‘draft zero’. Here’s what I may fit in, reading-wise:

The Wall Street Journal (Asia Edition). There’s a simple reason why I pay Rupert Murdoch to go behind the WSJ pay-wall: the market analysis is worth the investment.

Ken Auletta (2009), Googled: The End of the World As We Know It, The Penguin Group, New York. For an unpublished Smart Internet Technology CRC monograph, I read most of the then available studies of Google in late 2006 and early 2007. 60 pages in, Auletta has more substantive detail on co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and their pre-IPO negotiations with angel investors and venture capitalists. The reason? Auletta conducted 300 interviews: 150 with Google staff, and 150 with outsiders including media executives. Googled benefits from Auletta’s refined journalistic reportage and extensive insights.

N+1 (2010), Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of An Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager, HarperPerennial, New York. This is one of the more easily readable ‘tell-all’ books about the 2008 global financial crisis. I’m coding the interview transcript to see how the anonymous hedge fund manager thinks, how and why he conceptualises problems, and how he explains risks. Steven Drobny’s books are also useful for a similar purpose.

Richard Ned Lebow (2010), Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. Counterfactuals are provocative ‘thought experiments’ on alternative histories which would have materialised if different choices had been made, or if conditions had differed. Forbidden Fruit elevates counterfactuals beyond Niall Ferguson’s ‘virtual histories’: Lebow outlines a sophisticated research method and then analyses World War 1, the Cold War’s end, Mozart’s death and post-classicism, causation, and popular fiction. This is dense, well-argued analysis which can be used to re-evaluate the major choices and turning points in your personal life.

21st December 2010: Riane Eisler’s ‘Partnership Culture’ Meme

Author Riane Eisler is perhaps most well known for her ideas on the ‘partnership culture’: a cultural framework of an harmonious alternative future based on transforming our inter-relational dynamics toward more peaceful, sustainable futures. Eisler detailed these ideas in The Chalice and the Blade (1987), The Partnership Way (1991), and Sacred Pleasures (1995). Google’s Ngram Viewer suggests that Chalice established Eisler’s reputation and has overshadowed her subsequent books. This pattern illustrates the ‘blockbuster’ effect on an author.

20th December 2010: Script Projects

I’m working on treatments for the following projects:

The Sheraton Hotel Incident: A group of counterterrorism and media students attempt to reconstruct the disastrous ASIS training exercise of 30th November 1983.

North Moor: A ‘spec script’: an Edge of Darkness prequel in which activists attempt to break into a top secret nuclear facility.

12 Angry People: A high school production of Reginald Rose’s juror drama 12 Angry Men has unpredictable, offstage effects on the lives of its cast.

20th December 2010: Gurdjieff-Ouspensky and ‘Attention Cascades’

Google Ngram Viewer: GurdjieffOuspensky

Google’s Ngram Viewer enables you to track the longitudinal patterns of authors and terms across 5.2 million books and 5oo years of history. The data-set has some limits: it can’t cover secondhand purchases or patterns in library borrowing; it’s limited by copyright access to Google Books databases. However, it can be integrated with other data-points, such as publishing trends in a subculture, the waxing and waning of a topic’s interest due to particular books, ‘idea entrepreneurs’, specific events, and inter-generational change. In other words, the more knowledge you have of a subculture, and the role of specific books within it, the more you might be able to infer from it.

I chose the literature on the Graeco-Armenian magus George Gurdjieff and the Russian journalist Pyotr Uspenskii (Ouspensky) for several reasons. It is a structured ‘body of work’ with primary sources, pupil narratives, and second- and third-generation commentaries. This segmentation means it can be compared with a range of authors and topics using bibliometrics, historical research, and anthropological methods. It anticipated themes of the 1960s Age of Aquarius and 1970s environmental movements. It grew endogenously after some specific events, such as the timed release of Gurdjieff’s authorised writings and the early popularity of Ouspensky’s neo-Theosophical writings on consciousness, mathematics, and comparative religion. The fluctuations in Google’s Ngram Viewer can be interpreted, in part, as the rise-and-fall of what Ouspensky called the ‘Fourth Way’ in the Human Potential movement and other subcultures.

Ouspensky established his reputation with The Fourth Dimension (1909) and Tertium Organum (1912) before meeting Gurdjieff in 1915. World War 1 and the 1917 Russian Revolution delayed Ouspensky’s introduction to the West, where from the 1920s onwards he was known in London intelligentsia circles. Ouspensky’s citations overshadowed Gurdjieff in the 1920s and early 1930s; with G. peaking due probably to well-publicised trips to New York, interactions with authors such as Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson, and scandals involving his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleu, France, including the death of author Katherine Mansfield. This meant that for many people the Ouspenskiian ‘second line, and even the Oragean version, of ‘The Work’ was more accessible than Gurdjieff’s Paris-based groups, particularly during World War 2.

Ouspensky and Gurdjieff peaked again in the late 1940s, with the posthumous release of O.’s In Search of the Miraculous (1947) and G.’s mammoth Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (1950). Ouspensky’s transcripts The Fourth Way (1957) again reignited interest. However, it appears that Gurdjieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men (1961) introduced him to a far broader audience, leading to G.’s positioning as a ‘crazy wisdom’ teacher in the 1960s and as a forerunner of the Human Potential movement. C.S. Nott, Fritz Peters, and other pupils released their memoirs and teaching autobiographies, creating a rich, autobiographical second class of literature. Yet G. remained inaccessible compared with others, even after a late 1970s ‘cascade’ around Life Is Only Real Then, When ‘I Am’ (1978) and Peter Brooks’ film adaptation of Meetings With Remarkable Men (1978).

Google’s Ngram Viewer picks up four ‘cascades’ of interest in both Gurdjieff and Ouspensky since the late 1970s, reflecting the Lakatosian growth in ‘Fourth Way’ literature, compared with other ‘lines of transmission’. The mid 1980s and early 1990s are in part due to publisher reissues of earlier books: my interest coincided with Arkana’s early 1990s re-release of Ouspensky, Nott, Anderson, and others from the backlists of Alfred A. Knopf and other older publishers. The mid-to-late 1990s saw a consolidation around ‘third generation’ authors like David Kherdian and William Patrick Patrick Patterson; Lord Pentland’s transcripts; philosophers such as Jacob Needleman, and archivists like J. Walter Driscoll. This also coincided with interest in the Enneagram as a psychological typology, which G. was briefly associated with, and with the appearance of ‘G-O’ bookmarks from Richard Burton’s controversial school. The post-2001 interest is due probably to a re-release of G. and O.’s books; Patterson’s documentaries and books; Needleman; John Shirley’s excellent 2004 introduction; the release of Jeanne de Salzmann’s transcripts; and academics who have discovered and written about Gurdjieff in scholarly circles. Other factors such as G.’s reputation in the Human Potential movement, various ‘fake’ G. books, promoters such as the occult author Colin Wilson, and the internet may have affected the Google Books data-set.

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s publishing history appears to have a wave-like nature due to ‘attention cascades’. The genesis of their ‘core’ books survived two world wars, revolution, personal schisms, and organisational scandal. Increasingly, the ‘core’ books and the autobiographies of pupils are being supplanted by second and third generation studies of varying quality. An important aspect of this is the role of small, specialist publishing houses, such as Bennett Books which keeps alive the legacy of Gurdjieff’s pupil John Godolphin Bennett. Yet ironically the books are only one ‘form of transmission’ compared with the exercises, dances and in situ teachings often tailored to individuals.

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.

13th December 2010: GWOT Counterfactuals

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, suggests that the 2003 Iraq War was a significant recruitment tool and self-justification for Al Qaeda. This prompts what political scientist Richard Ned Lebow calls a counterfactual: an alternative history or series of events if different choices had been made. What if the US neoconservatives had not strongly influenced the Bush Administration’s foreign policy? What if the US had pursued a more multilateral and international approach to fighting Al Qaeda? What if the US had killed Bin Laden at Tora Bora in late November or early December 2001? What if the US had not invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?

The Bush Administration — along with many counterterrorism analysts and policymakers — embraced the frame ‘Global War on Terrorism’ or GWOT immediately after September 11. Apart from making war on a tactic, this immediately locked the Bush Administration into a line of thinking based on historical analogies including to previous wars and antifascism. It didn’t leave a lot of room to maneuver when conditions worsened in Afghanistan and pre-surge Iraq. Lebow’s counterfactuals approach suggests that rather than taken as a given, GWOT unfolded as a series of foreign policy decisions where other possibilities and strategies existed and that remained unexplored. Perhaps that’s why in his second term Bush quietly abandoned the term, and the successor Obama Administration has conceptualised its national security in a different way.

12th December 2010: Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

In academia, the art world and Web 2.0 consulting you can spend years honing and developing your craft. Or you can just pretend to be the ‘real’ thing, try and create a media buzz, and enjoy your Warholesque 15 minutes of fame and more. Thierry Guetta’s artistic self-creation is odd to watch. Guetta’s Los Angeles home movies lead him to cousin Invader and then into guerrilla street art as Guetta befriends Shepard Fairey, Banksy and others, and shoots some historic street footage. When Guetta’s delivered film project turns into a mess, he turns Banksy’s suggestion of a small exhibition into an LA Weekly media event, sells US$1 million in pop-street art as Mr. Brainwash, and lands the cover of Madonna’s Greatest Hits. A little like what digital curators Jeff Dachis and Craig Kanarick did with dotcom era firm Razorfish: parlaying an art interest into new careers and reinvention. Exit Through The Gift Shop is part street art documentary, part Warholesque reinvention, part speculative bubble, and part guide to ‘project rescue’ decisions.

8th December 2010: Reflections on Editing 1

I spent several hours today editing the third draft of a forthcoming article co-written with Ben Eltham. Some reflections on the process today:

1. Find a co-author who you have synergies with, and whose strengths are a foil for your weaknesses. For the past 5 years I’ve had problems in structuring articles, whereas this is Ben’s specialty.

2. Leave some time to look at a manuscript. Ben finished the third draft in September from conversations that we originally had in November 2009 and earlier. Since then, I’ve read more on Waltzian neo-realism and strategic culture for PhD research. With the extra time, I could immediately see a narrative arc, new argumentation and possible references.

3. Read the journal’s background material: the editorial policy, reference style, and other information. At a strategic level this helps ‘frame’ a developmental editing approach. It also heightens the probability that your academic paper will be accepted into a top scholarly journal.

4. Signpost your key arguments and insights. Often the really interesting material is buried in a paragraph or at the end of a section. Use redrafting to draw it out more clearly for readers. Sometimes it takes a draft or two of getting material down for these ideas to emerge.

5. Kill your darlings. In the first draft I wrote a section on different security threats. It’s irrelevant and misplaced in the current draft. The easiest thing to do was to just cut the entire section. We may have to cut 3,000 words to fit the journal’s preferred word length, so some longer quotations may have to go.

6. Craft your sections and the transitions between each of them. For the article’s narrative arc, I felt several sections from the third draft could be resequenced into a stronger opening. We’ll see how this works – if it doesn’t we can always ‘revert changes’ to the third draft.

7. To hone your material know the field you are writing about. In the subject matter of this particular paper, scholars are expected to immerse themselves in the canonical literature and to understand policymaking processes. Being abreast of this material means we can shape our arguments through careful selection of quotes and references. This is an entirely different approach to some other areas we both write about, which are more fragmented and fluid.

2nd December 2010: U2’s 360° Tour Melbourne

12/01/2010 Etihad Stadium – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Return Of The Stingray Guitar, Beautiful Day / Here Comes The Sun (snippet), I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots, Magnificent, Mysterious Ways / My Sweet Lord (snippet), Elevation, Until The End Of The World / Anthem (snippet), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Mercy, Bad, In A Little While, Miss Sarajevo, City Of Blinding Lights, Vertigo / Highway To Hell (snippet) / Devil Inside (snippet), Funky Town (snippet) / , I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight / Relax (snippet) / Two Tribes (snippet), Sunday Bloody Sunday / Get Up Stand Up (snippet), Scarlet, Walk On / You’ll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
Encores: One, Amazing Grace (snippet) / , Where The Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love (snippet), Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, With Or Without You, Moment of Surrender

Source: The U2 Setlist Archive here.

I last saw U2 seventeen years ago on their 1993 Zoomerang tour (the 12th November gig in Melbourne). In the interim, U2 have honed their setlist and onstage banter for stadiums, bolstered by material from All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) and later albums.  Gone are the early-to-mid 1990s geopolitics references and hipster cyberpunk aesthetic: the band now concentrates on a stripped down, power trio behind Bono’s epic vocals. It mostly works because U2 are one of the few bands with the stamina and back catalogue of hits to play a two hour, stadium show.

Opener Jay-Z warmed the crowd up with hits like ’99 Problems’ and the anthematic ‘Empire State of Mind’. The big surprise was Jay-Z’s backing band: a drummer, percussionists and horn section that were closer to a 1970s jazz fusion outfit and that underpinned his rapping and stylistic poses with a sonic depth and virtuosity that would be powerful in an intimate, club setting like Montreaux.

U2 entered the stadium to the strains of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and then launched into the new, warm-up instrumental ‘Return of the Stingray Guitar’. I had just heard No Line on the Horizon (2009) the day before the concert: ‘Magnificent’ translates well, ‘Get On Your Boots’ improves on the studio version, whilst there are other, superior tracks to ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’. A massive lighting rig and stroboscopic effects don’t cover up the material. Achtung Baby (1991) material like ‘Until The End of the World’ and ‘Mysterious Ways’ still holds up very well, whilst soundtrack filler like ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’ could be dropped given the stronger songs in U2’s back catalogue. ‘I Will Follow’ rocks out, whilst ‘Elevation’, ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘City of Blinding Lights’ almost seem written specifically for a stadium performance. There were surprises: the band didn’t screen the beauty pageant clips during ‘Miss Sarajevo’, for example, and the different permutations of the Claw rig and LED screens during the performance.

The audience was at its most ecstatic during early hits — ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ from War (1983) and ‘Bad’ from The Unforgettable Fire (1984), and anything from The Joshua Tree (1987), notably ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. U2 also integrated their Christian religious beliefs and political activism into this material: Iran election protest footage during ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’; a prayer to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi during ‘Scarlet’ supported by Amnesty International lanterns; and a brief sermon from Archbishop Desmond Tutu before ‘One’. It was at these moments, and during the quiet, terse reflections of ‘With Or Without You’ that U2 deftly turned a stadium concert into a rock ‘n’ roll communion of sentient beings.

Melbourne’s Age newspaper has a review here.