19th April 2012: PhD Proofreading Tips

Alastair Iain Johnston’s Cultural Realism (1998)


1. Have a couple of PhDs in your area as writing models. These may have been published by a university press; may be on an academic’s home-page; or can be obtained through databases like Proquest’s Dissertations & Theses.


For example, for my in-progress PhD, I am using Alastair Iain Johnston’s PhD ‘An Inquiry Into Strategic Culture’ (University of Michigan, 1993), later published as Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton University Press, 1998). For a model of paragraph structure and condensed writing that conveys a lot and uses historical sources, Bruce Kuklick’s Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton University Press, 2007). You will find different examples in your own area. Also look at A* and A-level academic journals in your field or discipline.


2. Early on, talk with your PhD committee about the thesis format they want; the possible chapter structure and sequence; and the particular referencing system that you will use (e.g. Chicago, Harvard, MLA). Also use the PhD committee meetings to discuss exploratory ideas and tentative hypotheses that will contribute to the originality of your dissertation.


3. Before writing up a chapter, do an outline of the key points and possible sections. Keep a separate file for chapter notes – or have some other way to capture rough ideas as they spontaneously emerge. You will find that a sequence of ideas will emerge that will form paragraph and section structure. This will also identify potential problems before you write, so you won’t get stuck. It will minimise scope creep which can add time and complexity to your candidature. And it will mean you don’t over-write when drafting.


4. Approach each chapter or section in a series of write-ups or progressive drafts. The first write-up may be to get specific ideas down on paper: just speed-write and don’t self-censor. The second may be to look at argumentation – use a book like Barbara Minto’s The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking (Essex: FT Prentice Hall, 2002) or Austhink’s Rationale (www.austhink.com) to map out your arguments, counter-arguments, deductive and inductive logic, and evidence. The third may address the specifics of your research design and methods. The fourth may deal with referencing. The fifth may deal with overall flow and ensuring that your conclusions follow from the earlier parts of the chapter. Do a final edit for clarity: try to condense and rewrite over-wordy sentences to convey your key points in a more succinct manner.


5. Pay close attention to editing paragraphs. Does the opening sentence establish the paragraph context? Do the subsequent sentences develop the argumentation and evidence in an analytical rather than in a descriptive way? Does the paragraph explore an idea in an elegant and clear way, or are there several, muddled ideas in it? Does the final sentence transition effectively to the next paragraph? Do the paragraphs provide a narrative arc or flow for the reader?


6. Define and explain all key terms. Define all abbreviations the first time you use them. Clarify any field or discipline-specific terms so that the reader can understand them. Read your chapter out aloud so that you can find sentence fragments and unfinished arguments. Check that your sentences have verb-tense agreement and that they do not have dangling modifiers.


7. Invest in a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (2011 edition) and perhaps Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb’s Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (New York: Longman, 2010). Check out the creative non-fiction and investigative writing on Longreads.com and Longform.org and see how writers for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair approach these issues. Do a forensic analysis of a journal article that has made a significant impact on your field or discipline, and look closely at how all of these issues are dealt with. Academic writing does not have to be dull and boring.


8. Get others outside your PhD committee to read your drafts including ‘naïve’ readers who are non-experts in your field or discipline. Circulate your draft chapters at conferences and student colloquia. Your colleagues will have fresh eyes and are more likely to pick up proofreading and copy errors. Approach experts in your field or discipline to read sections that deal with their work – this can lead to you chairing conference symposia and to potential collaborations with their students. It also increases your research visibility.


9. Consider keeping a public writing blog of your unfolding research journey, and using it to draft initial ideas and to review the relevant literature in your field or discipline. This can attract readers who will proofread your work. Also set up Academia.edu, Google Scholar and Twitter accounts to increase the probability that your academic work will get publicly cited. Schedule time to write and edit/proofread your work.


10. The best academic work goes through several redrafts. Jeremi Suri spent seven years researching and writing his PhD ‘Convergent Responses to Disorder’ (Yale University, 2001). His PhD supervisor, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, who won the 2012 Biography Pulitzer, made Suri proofread and redraft some of his sections up to 12 times. Gaddis would question sentences, ask for more clarity, and seek clarification on the theoretical constructs and arguments that Suri was developing.

18th April 2012: John Lewis Gaddis Receives Biography Pulitzer Prize

John Lewis Gaddis


Congratulations to Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis who received the Biography Pulitzer for George F. Kennan: An American Life (New York: Penguin Books, 2011). Gaddis spent over 5 years writing and almost 30 years researching the diplomat and grand strategist’s life, influences and impact. The chapters on Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram‘ and ‘X’ article are a real education in policy work. You can read the recent H-Diplo discussion of Gaddis’s book here.  Louis Menand’s New Yorker review is here. I’ll miss Gaddis’s talk on Kennan at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations annual conference. Gaddis’s books on the Cold War and history have given me some informative insights as I work on my PhD about counterterrorism studies and strategic culture.


Here’s a 2012 video of Gaddis discussing George F. Kennan: An American Life:



Photo: Strauss Center/Flickr.

31st January 2012: Public Policy Stars

From an email to Harvard’s Stephen M. Walt in reply to a blog post on public policy stars:


1.     Scholars like Anthony Giddens, John Lewis Gaddis and Clayton M. Christensen had a research program with attention to research design/methods. Gaddis’s 1968 PhD, Strategies of Containment (1982) and We Now Know (1997) were hallmarks of Cold War strategy, historical methods, and multi-archival research. Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) based on his PhD was more robust than other dotcom era theories on market change. All of these authors could transition their research program into commercial publishing which then had an impact on broader audiences. Publisher selection was important — such as in the HarperBusiness’  branding of Jim Collins’ management work. Paul Krugman, Robert Putnam, Joseph Stiglitz, Charles Perrow and Herbert Simon also fit this mould. Robert K. Merton, Aaron Wildavsky, James March and Anthony Downs continue to have an impact in emerging sub-fields such as strategic foresight and sustainability.

2.       Each of the scholars mentioned above had a supportive Faculty. This created a ‘success to the successful’ dynamic which means we remember the contribution of these scholars over others. It meant they could combine  basic research in academia, and more applied research in consulting,  publishing, and spin-out ventures. For instance, Gaddis is well-known for  Yale’s grand strategy program, whilst Christensen has the consulting firm  Innosight and a network of collaborative co-authors on recent books.

3.       Media involvement (Krugman and Stiglitz in ‘quality’ media  outlets); collaborative research projects (Gaddis and the Cold War  International History Project); and event-based serendipity (the Cold War’s  end and Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis) can all act as  amplifiers of their ideas.

30th January 2012: On Digital Books & Digitisation

Roy Christopher recently mentioned digital books and digitisation. From my email reply:


At home, I have three bookcases that take up a large room at the back of our house. I’ve run out of book-space — in part because I built up collections from doing different postgraduate degrees over the past 8 years. So, I’m going through my collection and honing it down, and buying what I can on Amazon Kindle to save space.


In an email this week to Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, I mentioned how in 2001, I went through the archives of La Trobe University’s Borchardt library, looking at Soviet journals on the Cold War’s genesis. LTU recently got rid of an entire floor of print magazines and journals — in order to have more space for computers and collaborative group meetings. This material is unlikely to be in databases. So, an entire legacy of print history has gone. This means that today’s students won’t have the library experience of searching through old print archives and discovering material through serendipity.


Several years ago, I discovered that RMIT University’s Swanston St library was planning to get rid of its 21C Magazine print collection. As you know, I had written for them: the print editions are now collector’s items. I requested contact, to buy the collection. Instead, RMIT just got rid of it.


Digital publishing is currently inconsistent regarding new books and back-lists. For instance, I can get University of Texas at Austin historian Jeremi Suri’s Power and Protest (2003) on Amazon Kindle. I also have his 2001 PhD that the book is based on — thesis title ‘Convergent Responses to Disorder: Cultural Revolution and Détente among the Great Powers during the 1960s’ (PDF) — because Monash University subscribes to the expensive Proquest Dissertations database [my employer Victoria University does not subscribe]. I can’t get Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century (2007) or Liberty’s Surest Guardian (2011) on Amazon Kindle. I can get The Cold War (2006) and Strategies of Containment (2005, revised edition) by Suri’s PhD supervisor, John Lewis Gaddis, on Amazon Kindle, but not We Now Know (1997) – a book large and dense enough that the Amazon Kindle version would need page references for academic citation. I bought the print edition of Gaddis’s George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011) because I need the print version to write reviews for Australian political science journals. I got the Amazon Kindle version of Richard K. Betts’ new book American Force (2011), which didn’t have citable page numbers, so I then bought the print edition. This wasn’t a problem with Adobe’s Digital Edition — a ‘failed’ e-book format — as it had PDF pages of the book’s print edition. In Amazon Kindle’s case, the design factors for e-book usability were more important than retaining the print edition’s feature

27th January 2012: Handling Article Rejection

I recently got negative reviews for two articles submitted to the Journal of Futures Studies (JFS). Many academics I know find article rejection to be highly stressful. Below are some comments and strategies addressed to three different audiences: academic authors; reviewers; and university administrators. Attention to them may improve the probability that your article is accepted for publication in an academic journal.


Academic Authors


1. Be very familiar with your ‘target’ journal: its editors and review panel, its preferred research design and methodologies, and how it handles controversies and debates in your field. Look for an editorial or scoping statement that explains what kinds of articles the journal will not accept.


2. Before submission do a final edit of your article. Define all key terms or cite past definitions if you have referred to the scholarly literature. Check paragraph structure, connecting sentences, section headings, and that the conclusions answer the key questions you have raised in the beginning. Cite some articles from the target journal if possible. Consider who is likely to review your article and factor this into your discussion of key debates. Use redrafting for honing the article and for self-diagnosis of mental models.


3. Ask if the journal has a rejoinder process for authors to reply to the blind peer review comments. A rejoinder is not an invitation to personal attacks or to engage in flame-wars. Rejoinders do enable authors to address situations in which one or more reviewers misunderstand the article, frame their comments in terms of an article they wish the author had written (rather than the actual article), or where there are concerns about the methodologies used, the research design, or data interpretation. An effective rejoinder process respects all parties, maintains the confidentiality of the blind peer review process, and provides an organisational learning loop. A rejoinder response does not necessarily reverse an editorial decision not to publish.


4. If the journal does have a rejoinder process then carefully examine the feedback pattern from reviewers. Highlight where one reviewer answers the concerns that another reviewer raised: this should neutralise the negative comments or at least show that varied opinions exist. It is more difficult when several reviewers raise the same concerns about an article.


5. Set a threshold limit on the amount of editing and rewrites you will do: you have other opportunities. A rejected article might fit better with another journal; with a substantial rewrite; with a different research design; or could be the stepping stone to a more substantive article. Individual reviews also reflect the particular reviewer and their mental models: this can sometimes be like an anthropological encounter between different groups who misunderstand each-other. Sometimes reviewers like critics just get it wrong: one of my most highly cited publications with international impact was dropped from the blind peer review stream.




1. Use the ‘track changes’ and ‘comment’ function of your word processor to provide comments. It can be difficult for authors to read comments that you provide in the body text and that is written in the same font. Be time-responsive: authors hate waiting months for feedback.


2. Do a first read of the article without preconceptions: focus on the author’s state intent, their narrative arc, the data or evidence, and their conclusions. Be open to the article you have been asked to review, rather than the article that you wish the author had written. Be open to innovation in data collection, methodologies, and interpretation. Even do a self-review of your own comments before you send your feedback to the journal editors.


3. Know your own mental models. That is, how you see the field or discipline that you are reviewing in; your preference for specific methodologies and research designs; your stance on specific controversies and debates; and what kind of material you expect the journal to publish. Be aware of situations in which you are asked to review articles because you have a particular stance: the tendency is to write lukewarm reviews which focus on perceived deficiencies or ‘overlooked’ material. Be careful of wanting to ‘police’ the field’s boundaries.


4. Use your feedback as a developmental opportunity for the author. Don’t just give negative feedback, faulty sentence construction or grammar. If you don’t like something then explain why so that the author can understand your frame of reference. Focus also issues of research design, methodologies, and data interpretation. If there are other external standards or alternative perspectives (such as on a controversy or debate) then mention them. Articles often combine several potential articles or can have scope problems so note them. Highlight sections where the author makes an original, scholarly contribution, including new insights or where you learned something. It’s important to provide developmental feedback even when you reject an article for publication. A developmental review may evoke in authors the ‘moment of insight’ that occurs in effective therapy. The mystique of the blind peer review process ultimately comes down to the reviewer’s attention to the craft of providing constructive yet critical feedback that sets up future opportunities for the academic to advance their career.


5. Poison pen reviews have consequences. This is clearer in creative industries like film and music where bad reviews can kill a project or career. Pauline Kael and Lester Bangs are honoured in film and music circles respectively because they brought sensitivity and style to their reviews, even when they hated an artist. In academia, the blind peer review process can lead to internecine wars over different methodologies or research designs: problems that don’t usually arise in open publishing (because all parties know who is making the comments) or that can be handled through editorial review standards and a rejoinder process. Nevertheless, a negative review will have consequences. The author may not revise the article for publication. They may publish in a different journal. They may drop the project. In some cases, they may leave the field altogether. Consider how to frame the review so that you address the developmental need in a constructive manner.


University Administrators


1. Know the norms, research designs and methodologies, leading research teams, and the most influential and international journals in at least one discipline. This gives you a framework to make constructive inferences from. You will develop awareness of these factors in other disciplines through your interviews with different academics.


2. Understand the arc or life-span of academic careers: the needs of an early career researcher and the professor will differ, and this will influence which journals they seek to publish in. Every successful publication navigates a series of decisions. Know some relevant books and other resources that you can refer interested academics to.


3. Have some awareness of international publishing trends which affect journals and their editorial decisions. These include the debate about open publishing, the consolidation of publishing firms, and the different editorial roles in a journal. Be aware of the connection between some journals and either professional associations or specific university programs.


4. Know what to look for in publication track records. These include patterns in targeting specific journals; attending conferences; building networks in the academic’s discipline; and shifts in research programs. An academic may have a small number of accepted articles when compared with the number that have been written and rejected by specific journals. Use the publication track record as the basis for a constructive discussion with the individual academic, honoring their experience and resources, and using solution-oriented therapeutic strategies.


5. Understand that quality publications require time which equates to university investment in the academic’s career. The journal letter rankings in the Australian Research Council’s Excellence for Research in Australia led some university administrators to advise academics only to publish in A* and A-level journals. But not everyone will realistically achieve this. There can be variability of effort required: one A-level article I co-wrote required a substantive second draft; another took months to discuss, a day to do the first draft, and it was then accepted with minor changes. On the other hand, articles accepted in the A* journal International Security (MIT) have usually gone through multiple rounds of blind peer review, the authors are deeply familiar with the field’s literature, and have work-shopped the article extensively with colleagues, in graduate school seminars, and at international conferences. This takes a median two to five years to occur. The late Terry Deibel took almost 20 years to conceptualise and refine the national security frameworks he taught at the United States National War College for Foreign Affairs Strategy: Logic for American Statecraft (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Deibel also spent two years of sabbatical — in 1993 and 2005-06 — to write it. John Lewis Gaddis spent 30 years of research on George F. Kennan: An American Life (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011) and five years to write it. Both books make substantive scholarly contributions to their fields; both books also required the National War College and Yale University to make significant financial investments in the authors’ careers. Are you making decisions based on short-term, volume-driven models or helping to create the enabling conditions that will help academics to have a similar impact in their respective fields?

18th January 2012: Cold War Memories & Afterlives

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


Cold War Memories


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


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


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


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


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


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


Post-Cold War ‘Afterlives’


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


September 11


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


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


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


Iraq War 2003


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

12th January 2012: Different Approaches In Scholarly Research

From an email to futures studies and strategic foresight colleagues:


Successful projects for the Australian Research Council must have a research design that compares and evaluates several different approaches — e.g. [for strategic foresight projects] Integral, CLA [causal layered analysis], GBN [Global Business Network] scenarios, political forecasting, simulation methods — and not just ‘advocate’ a position. Examples I currently have for the PhD include strategic culture (Alastair Iain Johnston’s PhD Cultural Realism), American military policy for victory (William C. Martel’s Victory in War), American foreign policy (Walter Russell Mead’s Special Providence), nuclear proliferation that compares two leading theories and has FOIA findings (Scott Sagan’s The Limits of Safety), and war-fighting (Stephen Biddle’s Military Power which uses historiography, case studies, formal mathematics, statistical analysis, and simulation). Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis built an entire career as the US ‘Dean of Cold War history’ out of looking at the Cold War’s genesis and then revisiting and evaluating the material from different historical archives and sources. After seeing the richness and sophistication of this work, I find ‘advocacy’ or ‘critical’ work based on one stance to be just un-nuanced.


There is an art to writing rejoinders and scholarly debate. But when someone writes pithy one-liners and quotes selectively (to mis-characterise) from others’ work, this is a sign of personal agendas and the positive illusions that arise when we get too close to our own ideas. It’s not scholarship, it doesn’t advance the debate, and ultimately I’ve learned personally that it’s best to ignore it.

10th January 2012: John Lewis Gaddis on Nuclear Weapons & Grand Strategy


This lecture at Columbia University on 12th August 2010 features a couple of interesting moments. Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis compares Clausewitz’s absolute war, George Kennan’s containment strategy, and Ronald Reagan’s nuclear disarmament talks with Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. This lecture illustrates how Gaddis constructs a logic chain, uses analogical reasoning, and selects historical sources in order to make arguments (including revisionist debates about particular historical figures, such as James Mann’s The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan). Gaddis also makes a couple of side-comments about a Columbia student simulation on nuclear weapons that was run the afternoon of the talk. The question and answer session touches on several potential research programs that others might explore, such as the role of weapons proliferation in asymmetric wars.

31st December 2011: John Lewis Gaddis on Grand Strategy


I’m reading John Lewis Gaddis’s biography George Kennan: An American Life (New York: Penguin USA, 2011) at the moment.


Gaddis is an expert on the Cold War and grand strategy: the coordinated use of a country’s diplomatic, informational, military and economic resources to achieve national aims. In this lecture at Princeton University on 30th April 2009, Gaddis explains what grand strategy is; the origins of Yale University’s grand strategy program (information and 2010 syllabus here); and considers the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s expansion as a case study. You can read the talk’s transcript here.


Yale’s grand strategy program has three strands. Classics involves immersion into the Western canon of Thucydides, Publius, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Kant, Metternich, Churchill, Hitler and Reagan, and Eastern philosophers such as Sun Tzu. An Odyssey internship provides a praxis in metic intelligence and decision-making. Finally, the Responsibilities semester considers the contemporary grand strategies of Fukuyama, Huntington, and Zakaria; provides student-driven Marshall briefings on contemporary issues; and a crisis simulation exercise.

23rd December 2011: Holiday Reading

My holiday reading for late December 2011 and the first week of January 2012:


1. George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011).  I’ll need a few weeks to get through this masterful biography of the foreign affairs maven who conceived of Cold War containment. It took Gaddis almost 30 years to research and write this authorised book, based on archives and extensive interviews.


2. A bunch of private equity books for a planned journal article on the EMI-Terra Firma Capital Partners deal.


3. Aum Shinrikyo chapter notes for the PhD — hope to have a draft for the PhD committee by mid January.


4. Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Publishers, 2008) for a new project.