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Is Grand Strategy Democratic?

Friday, August 9th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski – a.k.a. “zen“]

Grand strategy in 1941

A very interesting article at Small Wars Journal by Captain Sean F.X. Barrett, USMC on the state of contemporary grand strategy. Definitely worth the time to read the whole thing:, but I am only going to make meandering comments on a few sections:

The Democratization of Grand Strategy 

Calls for a formalized strategic planning process and grand strategy have been mounting for years.  However, those sounding these calls erroneously remember a past that rarely if ever existed and overestimate the importance of a formalized process and a final product.  Most disconcertingly, they assume that government is necessarily the only supplier of grand strategy, while ignoring that those in government are not incentivized to actually produce it.  In fact, the proliferation of communications technology, which provides the means for accessing a wealth of open source intelligence and for disseminating ideas, and the plethora of academics, analysts, and other intellectuals outside of official government communities provide a more effective, democratic, and transparent substitute to the (oftentimes imagined) Project Solariums of the past.  The environment in which these intellectuals operate nurtures “real devils,” who vigorously propose policy and strategy alternatives in which they truly believe and have a stake in seeing implemented, resulting in a de facto strategic planning process, whose merits far exceed those of a de jure one. 

I think the call for a formal process, or at least an institutionalized forum for “doing grand strategy”, derives from both the lack of incentives correctly noted by Barrett and the frequently piss-poor and astrategic performance of American statesmen after the Soviet collapse. That the resulting criticism, proposals, counter-proposals, debates and domestic politics in drag relating to grand strategy are an alternative, open-source and more effective mechanism than formal planning is an intriguing idea.

Certainly, if a statesman or senior policy adviser have not done hard thinking about geopolitics and grand strategy while in the political wilderness then they won’t do it at all. Once in office, there simply is no time even if the inclination is present. Richard Nixon, who thought very seriously on these matters, as POTUS was militant about having Haldeman carve out undisturbed time for him to continue doing so in a secret “hideaway” office in the EOB. This was highly unusual and difficult even for Nixon to maintain – most presidents and senior officials faced with 18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, simply want to unwind in their off hours, see their loved ones or sleep.

….Furthermore, when formalized strategic planning processes and grand strategy have actually existed, their importance has largely been exaggerated.  For example, Richard Immerman debunks some of the myths surrounding Project Solarium, which is often referenced today as a model for grand strategy.  In referencing the intelligence that was ostensibly utilized during Project Solarium to guide the formation of grand strategy, he argues that, even though President Eisenhower—whose highest priority was to exploit the full resources of government to formulate a more effective and sustainable national strategy—was welcoming of CIA input, this input had minimal impact on President Eisenhower’s policies or grand strategy.[viii]  After such a long time serving in the Army, President Eisenhower had already developed highly formed beliefs about national security, and while intelligence has been perceived as playing a critical role by confirming his beliefs, a lack of confirmation would not have significantly impacted or altered his decisions.[ix]  Furthermore, Immerman claims that he has “never been able to locate a scintilla of evidence collected by the CIA and other agencies that changed Eisenhower’s [mind].”[x]   

While Barrett is correct that in discerning grand strategy in historical eras it is often reified and exaggerated retrospectively -that is because grand strategy, much like strategy itself, has a deeply iterative character. In facing the Soviet challenge,  Project Solarium both responded to and built upon a solid foundation laid by the post-warwise menNSC-68, Containment policy, the Marshall Plan, the National Security Act, the creation of the CIA , NSC, NATO, the Department of Defense, the Truman Doctrine, the X Article, the Long  Telegram, Bretton Woods and stretching back to WWII, the geopolitical vision of The Atlantic Charter, Potsdam and FDR’s Four Freedoms. Project Solarium was not ex nihilo but an effort to improve, shape, refine and surpass what the Eisenhower administration had inherited from it’s Democratic predecessors.

Barrett is also on target when he identifies a strong ideological-political predisposition in formulation of grand strategy. Eisenhower had not only operational/experential preferences but a worldview that he brought with him into the White House and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, had even stronger convictions that, especially in regard to his fierce and almost Calvinistic anti-communism, sometimes render him a caricature today. We have to be careful though in parsing public statements and private assessments. Dulles, despite his hardline reputation, was a sophisticated and highly influential figure in American foreign policy as the senior GOP adviser through most of the 1940’s. Despite talk of “rollback”, neither Dulles nor Eisenhower had any appetite for leaping into Hungary militarily to support the anti-Soviet revolt or supporting the Franco-British-Israeli debacle in the Suez. Still less attractive was the prospect of military intervention in faraway Laos. Grand strategic ideas were applied with realism and prudence by the Eisenhower administration.

….It should come as no surprise that three of the first four members of the 2014 QDR’s “independent” panel are those that self-selected into the DOD and conformed and performed so well as to achieve flag officer rank, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Air Force Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former commander of Air Force Materiel Command; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, former Defense Intelligence Agency director.[xx]  The fourth member, Michele Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, has been deemed politically palatable enough by both Congress and the Obama Administration, and one must assume the DOD well, since nominations are not made, and consent by Congress not given, without DOD’s at least tacit approval.  That we insist on calling this panel independent should be disconcerting enough in itself.  The first four members were selected by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will appoint the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the panel, and the other panel appointees will be made by the chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.  This situation is not entirely dissimilar to China under the Ming emperors, wherein the emperors’ concern for stability, obedience, and conformism overlapped with the bureaucracy and their strong aversion to changing the status quo.  The imperial literary examination system of Imperial China helped breed this mutually beneficial conformism, and its effects prove quite relevant in this regard.  While the examination preserved the cultural unity and political stability of China, it also impeded originality and experimentation.[xxi]

Yes.

Arguably, the period of Ming-Q’ing decline may have been superior in the sense that the Confucian classics and the exams upon which they were based that were the gateway to the mandarinate were at least, an objective and respected yardstick, however ossified and ritualized. All we have by contrast are partisan politics, bureaucratic culture and the increasingly oligarchic client-patron networks within the Beltway and Manhattan..

….President Eisenhower commissioned Project Solarium in part to devise a strategy for coping with a lack of knowledge about the Soviets’ intentions and capabilities.  Today, however, more and more strategic intelligence is publicly available.  For example, the National Intelligence Council’s[xxiii] new Global Trends series is unclassified.  We now arguably suffer not from too little information, but from too much. This has increasingly democratized the arena of grand strategy and enabled more and more even amateur analysts to help process the wealth of information in the public domain and formulate it into alternative visions for the future.  One might argue that what these different entities focus on is simply policy or at best strategies for individual instruments of national power.  However, even individual policy or strategy analyses might instead be seen as reflections of the overarching principles that they support (and that are often enumerated in the mission statements of many of these think tanks, institutes, and analysis centers), which as Sinnreich contends, are what in fact help form the basis of an enduring grand strategy

Sort of. There are two other ways to look at this picture.

First, that we have an insufficient consensus bordering on ideological schism within the elite as to what America is and is supposed to become that executing  foreign policy, much less enunciating a grand strategy, cannot get beyond the lowest common denominators between left and right and bureaucratic autopilot. This in turn causes the cacophony of voices on grand strategy. I partially subscribe to this view.

Secondly, that our elite, whatever their divisions over political passions or personalities have a consensus grand strategy ( or at least, an ethos) for generational and class aggrandizement at the expense of the rest of us and American national interest in a way that the former 20th century governing class called the Eastern Establishment would have neither imagined nor tolerated. The resulting ferment of “bottom-up” grand strategy is a result of increasing divergence of interests between rulers and the ruled and an erosion of the former’s legitimacy as a result of their self-aggrandizing game-rigging , abandonment of the ethic of leadership as stewardship for “ubi est mea” and a deficit of competence that contrasts with their enormously inflated collective sense of self-importance.

I partially subscribe to this one as well.

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The Controversial CTC Report

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:

First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminal-insurgency of  the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.

The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement”  where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis,  these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:

….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government.  They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights.  Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government

….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the  Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist  practices,and libertarian ideas 

This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.

By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist,  Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.

As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.

I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.

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Should I whisper, should I scream? – Abu Musab al-Suri redux, Pt 1

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — abu Musab al-Suri, analytic blind spot, prophecy as strategy, redux redux redux ]
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Abu Mus’ab al-Suri appears to have been released from prison recently. Speaking of which, we seem to have a blind spot.

1.

Here’s how an Egyptian activist who was in prison with Abu Musab in 2005 described their conversations, as reported three days ago in The Arab Digest:

Abu Musab’s Philosophy in prison was about spreading hope, and what we have to do now to strengthen our connection to Allah; it is the strong power to restore trust in that we will prevail, and that the nation’s projects will not stop at the tyrants’ plans, and the occupation of Afghanistan. The prophet’s prophecies assures the return of Afghanistan and the rise of the black flags army from Khurasan. We will win and continue our role together till victory – May Allah relieve you Abu Musab – these words had a profound effect on our morale, they ended all of our pains in a moment when we foresee a future and our duties.

As my analyst friend Aaron Zelin, who kindly pointed me to this extract and has himself written on al-Suri for Foreign Policy said:

Yes indeed — Aaron is exactly right. And just to be clear on this, let me repeat myself:

Abu Musab al-Suri is the man who “wrote the book” – the 1,500-page book – on jihad. And as you may remember, his book builds to what Jean-Pierre Filiu calls “a hundred-page apocalyptic tract” while also commenting that there is “nothing in the least rhetorical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action.”

And that black flags army from Khurasan? Those are not just any old black flags, they’re the banners of the “end times army” of the Mahdi.

2.

If you wrote a 1500 page book about jihad and devoted the last 100 pages to describing a set of “end times” prophecies that predicted where and in what order various battles would take place, would you have added those last hundred pages in because you had paper to spare and time to kill?

Or would you have climaxed your book with those hundred pages because those end times prophecies were what the whole business was all about?

And if, on the other hand, you were in the business of analyzing jihadist strategic literature with a view to understanding the jihadist enemy, would you more or less skip those last hundred pages because they’re just “repetitive theological justification” — because, let’s face it, it’s weird religious stuff?

3.

Abu Musab al-Suri is the man who introduced Peter Bergen to bin Laden, and of whom Bergen later wrote:

He was tough and really smart. He seemed like a real intellectual, very conversant with history, and he had an intense seriousness of purpose. He certainly impressed me more than bin Laden.

While he was at large prior to his capture in 2005, the FBI offered a $5 million bounty for information as to his whereabouts.

And Abu Musab al-Suri’s 1,500 page Call to Global Islamic Resistance has been described by counter-terrorist researcher Brynjar Lia as “the most significant written source in the strategic studies literature on al-Qa’ida”.

A source which has has a 100-page closing section which discusses “end times” hadith…

WTF? you might well ask — WTF?

4.

Here’s one answer to WTT? It comes from Tim Furnish, who (unless I’ve missed it, always a possibility) doesn’t mention al-Suri in his book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, which as you can tell from the subtitle is precisely and exactly about Mahdist warfare — but he does let us know, right in the first paragraph, why Mahdist warfare is important, telling us:

Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones…”

Okay, perhaps you think Furnish is screaming — here’s something more like a whisper from J-P Filiu as to what a Mahdist movement might portend:

An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

So. Should I shout, or should I whisper?

5, 6, 7…

This is getting too long, I have too much more to say, I want to tie this in with Richards Heuer and Clint Watts and the Psalms of David, so I’ll just list the books illustrated at the head of this post for your convenience now —

Brynjar Lia, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri
Jim Lacey, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto
Philipp Holltmann, Abu Musab Al-Suri’s Jihad Concept
J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam

— and I’ll be back with a follow-up post tomorrow.

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We spend far too much time on content, and not enough time on form

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — recursion as form — this one’s for analysts: poets should know it already ]

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We spend far too much time on content, and not enough time on form.

We spend far too much time on the data, and not enough time on relationships. It is pattern that connects the dots with accuracy, not more dots – quality of insight, not quantity of information.

And pattern is underlying form.

Haiku is a form. The sonnet is a form, the sonata is a form. And just to juxtapose sonnet and sonata is to recognize the formal relationship between them.

1.

Recursion is the form that Doug Hofstadter explores in his book, Godel Escher Bach, and you’ll find it every time one mirror reflects another mirror (what color does a chameleon turn when placed on a mirror?), every time there’s a doll inside a doll inside a Matrioshka doll, often in the form of a paradox (“this sentence is meaningless”) – and when people take photos of themselves holding photos of themselves…

as in the pic of Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle and (in case your politics doesn’t agree so much with Chomsky) the one below them of Jacob Appelbaum and Donald Knuth in my “specs” image at the top of this post.

2.

Content can be powerful, but form really doubles up on the power. Here’s one way of thinking about it: form is what tightens information into meaning.

A couple of news reports in the last couple of days have caught my attention because of their form:

Charter of Open Source Org is Classified, CIA Says

Open Source Works, which is the CIA’s in-house open source analysis component, is devoted to intelligence analysis of unclassified, open source information. Oddly, however, the directive that established Open Source Works is classified, as is the charter of the organization. In fact, CIA says the very existence of any such records is a classified fact.

“The CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request,” wrote Susan Viscuso, CIA Information and Privacy Coordinator, in a November 29 response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Jeffrey Richelson of the National Security Archive for the Open Source Works directive and charter.

“The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and is intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure,” Dr. Viscuso wrote.

This is a surprising development since Open Source Works — by definition — does not engage in clandestine collection of intelligence. Rather, it performs analysis based on unclassified, open source materials.

That’s hilarious, it’s so misguided: I don’t know whether to laugh or barf (not a word I ever expected to use in my writings, but there you go).

3.

That’s sad, this one’s just plain tragic:

Protesters calling for religious tolerance attacked with stones, threatened with death

Police are investigating a violent attack on a ‘silent protest’ calling for religious tolerance, held at the Artificial Beach to mark Human Rights Day.

Witnesses said a group of men threw rocks at the 15-30 demonstrators, calling out threats and vowing to kill them.

One witness who took photos of the attacked said he was “threatened with death if these pictures were leaked. He said we should never been seen in the streets or we will be sorry.”

Killing your enemies for reasons of religion is one thing: killing those who work for peace between you and your religious enemies is no worse of the face of it – it’s religious killing, no more and no less, in both cases — but it drives the point home with considerable, poignant force.

Keep your eye out for recursion, it’s an interesting business. And respect form – it empowers content.

4.

You’ll find recursion right at the heart of Shakespeare: his plays were performed in a round theater (the “wooden O” of Henry V) called the Globe, whose motto was “totus mundus agit histrionem” – roughly, “the whole world enacts a play” – a notion which Shakespeare put into the mouth of the melancholy Jaques in As You Like It:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…

A martial version of this idea, indeed, can be found in the philosopher Plotinus, who wrote in his Enneads (3.ii.15):

Men directing their weapons against each other — under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport — this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play, that death is nothing terrible, that to die in a war or in a fight is but to taste a little beforehand what old age has in store, to go away earlier and come back the sooner. So for misfortunes that may accompany life, the loss of property, for instance; the loser will see that there was a time when it was not his, that its possession is but a mock boon to the robbers, who will in their turn lose it to others, and even that to retain property is a greater loss than to forfeit it.

Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing.

5.

I thought it would be interesting to see if recursion had power, too, in the field of religion, and this passage from Ephesians (4.8) sprang to mind…

When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…

That’s a lovely recursion, “leading captivity captive”. But I think we can go deeper. John Donne‘s sonnet Death be not proud reaches to the very heart of the Christian message, it seems to me –it parallels the passage from Ephesians closely, while focusing in on the hope of resurrection with its stunning conclusion:

Death, thou shalt die.

Here’s the whole thing: profound content in impeccable form:

Death be not proud

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

6.

What do you think?

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WikiLeaks (and a kiss stolen in the 13th century)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Assange, WikiLeaks, Google Ngrams, impact assessment — and a digression ]

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Charles, duc d’Orleans

1.

Let’s start with Julian Assange; we’ll get to Charles d’Orleans later.

In the movie Julian Assange: a Modern Day Hero? Assange claims for WikiLeaks‘ massive Afghan / ISAF leak

It’s the most detailed history of any war that has been made, ever. It’s significant.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that WikiLeaks has had some impact in many areas of our complex world — but as I was watching the film the other day, I found myself wondering just how small its cumulative impact is, in comparison to that immense complexity.

2.

Assange makes various claims for WikiLeaks in the movie, but perhaps the most instructive one comes at the tail end of his statement describing the WL project as a whole:

WikiLeaks is a project of Sunshine Press; Sunshine Press is a collaboration between journalists, technical people, cyberpunks, some anti-corruption people, and some fairly famous civil rights activists, to try and get as many documents as possible out onto the internet that have never been released before that will produce positive political reform.

Let’s take Assange’s expressed hope that WL will “produce positive political reform” as the benchmark here.

Has it done that? Are there any signs that it will? What positive political reform, precisely?

Have, for instance, the Afghan WikiLeaks influenced the outcome of the war in Afghanistan?

3.

Or – to put the same question slightly differently – is or was WikiLeaks all a bit of a nine-days-wonder?

Google’s Ngram Viewer allows users to search for the frequency of uses of specific terms across a large volume of books over a specific time frame. It cannot have escaped the attention of folks at Google (or no such agency) that an Ngram-style timeline of mentions of names and terms of one sort or another in news articles from the leading news sources would be of similar interest.

A promo page on the movie notes that “WikiLeaks and Assange have been one of THE news stories of 2010″ and suggests “There is a new WikiLeaks story in the media every week and the next wave involves the big banks in 2011″ – not to mention “Julian Assange will remain in the news all year as his controversial sex crime charges come to a head later in 2011″ – no doubt a popular selling point…

Is there a new WikiLeaks story in the media every week? I’m wondering what a Ngram of news mentions of WikiLeaks across the last two or three years would show.

4.

What’s a “nine days wonder”?

I had to use Google myself to verify that “a nine days wonder” (as opposed to “a seven days wonder”) was the phrase I should be using.

I was delighted to find that an old hero of mine – the poet Charles d’Orleans – was among the first to use it:

For this a wondir last but dayes nyne, An oold proverbe is seid.

I have always liked d’Orleans since I first ran across his poetic “confession” to God and his priest:

My ghostly father! I me confess,
First to God, and then to you,
That at a window, wot you how,
I stole a kiss of great sweetness!

To steal is sinful, to be sure, and kisses carry their own moral burden – but confession and penitence purifies the soul.

The thing is, reparation must also be made — and so it is that d’Orleans continues by vowing to God:

But I restore it shall, doubtless…

— the stolen kiss, that is.

He’s willing to give it back — always assuming that particular “window of opportunity” is still open…

5.

But I digress.  Which raises the question: is there a purpose to digression, do you suppose?

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