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Pete Turner on “Collecting Instability”

Friday, June 12th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Collection Center Collects Instability

Pete Turner of The Break it Down Show had a powerful post that encapsulated what is wrong with the American approach to intervention in foreign societies, both in terms of our aid and development programs as well as COIN and military assistance of various kinds.

Collection Center Collects Instability 

….A good example of what we did involves things called Collection Centers, which our government built to afford Afghan farmers a place to showcase products to vendors. The Center is supposed to create greater revenue for farmers. Despite the best of intent, and a lot of hard work, the program was and remains an utter disaster.

Why has the program been such a flop?

We, the US, came in and established these centers without ever considering how the existing system worked. We never bothered to determine how changing the system might be accepted or rejected, or cause harm to those we intended to help. We didn’t consider if the Afghans even had a system (which, of course, they did).

Instead of defining the existing system and assessing whether or how our tool might address a need, we just came in and started changing things It didn’t work, and we barely cared that it didn’t; and we reported the opposite.-

An aside–the if you read the report, look for mentions of Afghan involvement in the process. You won’t find it.  

I spoke with an Army Major in charge of the program and asked him about the existing local market chain from grower to consumer. He admitted that he didn’t know about it. When I asked why he was trying to change it, I was met with silence.

We also never considered if we were creating a harmful situation for farmers, and that ignorance caused unexpected and undesirable outcomes. At the most basic level, Taliban fighters notice “western” influence. A farmer who uses (though they never actually did) the collection center is exposing his allegiance with the US and therefore putting his family and himself in jeopardy. Further, the farmer buyer relationship is established relationship. Changing the nature of their transaction is reckless in such a conservative, Taliban influenced place. What we can’t do is create a situation that is perceived to increase uncertainty for farmers.

We built these centers throughout Afghanistan. At every instance, covering multiple units, I observed the same poor US decision-making. We never bothered to involve our Afghan partners in the decisions and never allowed them to guide us on how to work within their system. We forced these centers upon the people of Afghanistan, and wasted more than money and resources in the process. We wasted opportunities to actually improve the lot of the farmer, which makes de-legitimizing the Taliban fighters more challenging.

Read the whole post here.

Turner wore many different hats in Iraq and Afghanistan but in one extended tour in Zabul, Pete worked closely with political science Professor Richard Ledet, who in addition to his scholarly expertise, was uncannily good at donning local attire and blending in with Afghan villagers.

Dr. Richard Ledet

Turner and his partner Jon, interviewed Ledet recently on their program:

What happens when an institution attempts to make changes intending to improve the lot of others? What if they ignore culture and fail to communicate with the people designed to receive a benefit from the change? We address these questions in ourepisode with Dr. Richard Ledet.

We are fans of Rich. He’s a warrior, professor, surfer, hunter, all-around brilliant, rugged dude. His current gig is working as a Poli Sci professor at Troy University in Troy Alabama. Rich and I worked together in Afghanistan studying how effective or “affective” our work was as US assets helping Afghans. It’s not common for Poli Sci professors to get so close to the ground truth, and then to be able to test our policy and strategic programs as they implemented at the lowest level. This experience, we believe, is fascinating and applies directly to the real world.

Listen to the interview here on The Break it Down Show.

Creativity and Ennui

Friday, August 16th, 2013

[Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]

Creativity is a subject that has  interested me, going back to the days long, long ago when I was an art student. Creativity is only mildly correlated with IQ, but like “intelligence”, the deeper you delve into the study of  creativity and creative thinking the more “creativity” looks like a multifaceted, multidimensional and diverse set of capacities, habits and circumstances than it does a single, universal, characteristic or ability.

Creativity has been studied from a neuroscientific, psychological, evolutionary,  behavioral, economic and social perspective but what of creativity”s opposite?  What about Ennui?

From a cognitive perspective, the two may be flip sides of the same coin, note the correlation between highly   creative  people and incidence of depression. It may also be a sign of overuse of certain brain functions, like adrenal exhaustion from an excess of physical and mental stress over a long period of time. Creativity, being in “the flow” is intoxicating but it usually involves peak exertion which accumulates weariness. Exemplary performance in one area can also come at the expense of penalties in another area.

Or perhaps ennui is the natural, cyclical ebb and flow between generative conceptual fertility and barrenness, the brain preparing itself for the next creative “surge” to come?

When are you creative and when are you not?

Update on America 3.0 Book Events – Bennett and Lotus

Friday, May 31st, 2013

America 3.0 

From Chicago Boyz:

America 3.0: Mike Lotus on The Bob Dutko Show

Mike Lotus will be on the Bob Dutko radio show tomorrow, May 31, 2013 at 12:40 p.m. EST. Bob hosts Detroit’s #1 Christian Talk Radio Show on WMUZS 103.5 FM.

Please listen in if you can!

Many thanks to the Bob Dutko Show for having me on.

This weekend we will post an updated list of upcoming appearances by Jim Bennett, Mike Lotus, and occasionally both of us together, talking about America 3.0.

Thanks to The Takeaway, the The Armstrong & Getty Show, and The Janet Mefferd show for interviewing Jim Bennett — all yesterday. It was a Bennett Threefer! 

And Author Appearances:

Upcoming appearances for Jim Bennett and Mike Lotus discussing America 3.0

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Lou Dobbs Tonight (James and Michael)
We will be on about 7:45 p.m. EST.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Armstrong & Getty (James)
11:15 am EST

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 
Janet Mefferd Show (James)
3:30 pm EST

Friday, May 31, 2013 
Bob Dutko Show (Michael)
1:40 pm EST

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Talk to Adam Smith Society, Booth School of Business (Michael)

Thursday, June 6, 2013
Mornings with Nick Reed (Michael)

Saturday, June 7, 2013
Marc Bernier Show (James & Michael)
4:25 pm EST

Monday, June 17, 2013
Western Conservative Summit, “Envisioning America 3.0” (James)

And their maiden TV appearance with Lou Dobbs:

New Book: America 3.0 is Now Launched!

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – why America’s Best Days are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

I am confident that this deeply researched and thoughtfully argued book  is going to make a big political splash, especially in conservative circles – and has already garnered a strong endorsement from Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, John O’Sullivan and this review from  Glenn Reynolds in USA Today :

Future’s so bright we have to wear shades: Column 

….But serious as these problems are, they’re all short-term things. So while at the moment a lot of our political leaders may be wearing sunglasses so as not to be recognized, there’s a pretty good argument that, over the longer time, our future’s so bright that we have to wear shades.

That’s the thesis of a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century.The book’s authors, James Bennett and Michael Lotus, argue that things seem rough because we’re in a period of transition, like those after the Civil War and during the New Deal era. Such transitions are necessarily bumpy, but once they’re navigated the country comes back stronger than ever.

America 1.0, in their analysis, was the America of small farmers, Yankee ingenuity, and almost nonexistent national government that prevailed for the first hundred years or so of our nation’s existence. The hallmarks were self-reliance, localism, and free markets.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people were getting unhappy. The country was in its fastest-ever period of economic growth, but the wealth was unevenly distributed and the economy was volatile. This led to calls for what became America 2.0: an America based on centralization, technocratic/bureaucratic oversight, and economies of scale. This took off in the Depression and hit its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when people saw Big Government and Big Corporations as promising safety and stability. You didn’t have to be afraid: There were Top Men on the job, and there were Big Institutions like the FHA, General Motors, and Social Security to serve as shock absorbers against the vicissitudes of fate.

It worked for a while. But in time, the Top Men looked more like those bureaucrats at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and the Big Institutions . . . well, they’re mostly bankrupt, or close to it. “Bigger is better” doesn’t seem so true anymore.

To me, the leitmotif for the current decade is supplied by Stein’s Law, coined by economist Herb Stein: “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.” There are a lot of things that can’t go on forever, and, soon enough, they won’t. Chief among them are too-big-to-fail businesses and too-big-to-succeed government.

But as Bennett and Lotus note, the problems of America 2.0 are all soluble, and, in what they call America 3.0, they will be solved. The solutions will be as different from America 2.0 as America 2.0 was from America 1.0. We’ll see a focus on smaller government, nimbler organization, and living within our means — because, frankly, we’ll have no choice. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. If America 2.0 was a fit for the world of giant steel mills and monolithic corporations, America 3.0 will be fit for the world of consumer choice and Internet speed.

Every so often, a “political” book comes around that has the potential to be a “game changer” in public debate. Bennett and Lotus have not limited themselves to describing or diagnosing America’s ills – instead, they present solutions in a historical framework that stresses the continuity and adaptive resilience of the American idea. If America”s “City on a Hill” today looks too much like post-industrial Detroit they point to the coming renewal; if the Hand of the State is heavy and it’s Eye lately is dangerously creepy, they point to a reinvigorated private sector and robust civil society; if the future for the young looks bleak,  Bennett and Lotus explain why this generation and the next will conquer the world.

Bennett and Lotus bring to the table something Americans have not heard nearly enough from the Right – a positive vision of an American future that works for everyone and a strategy to make it happen.

But don’t take my word for it.

The authors will be guests Tuesday evening on Lou Dobb’s Tonight and you can hear them firsthand and find out why they believe “America’s best days are yet to come

Elkus on Mad Dogs and Military History

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Adam Elkus has a lengthy and meaty post at Abu Muqawama, inspired by General Mattis, one that you should really read in full:

The Mattis Book Club

….But while gaining an understanding of the nature of war is useful, there are a lot of things it won’t do. This becomes most apparent in the section of the email where Mattis makes specific claims. Mattis repeatedly states that nothing is new under the sun, makes comparisons across big temporal zones (Alexander the Great in Persian Iraq vs. 2004 iraq), and advances specific analytical arguments about military theories. He does so on the basis of a sweeping generalization that 5,000 years of warfare tells us in aggregate that war has not changed. While this makes for a rousing line, it is also a fairly problematic statement. How do we really know that the nature of war has not changed in 5,000 years?

We should recognize that this is an isolated quote, and strive to not take out of context what was a heartfelt letter to a colleague in need of guidance. But the argument itself—as the cumulative product of a process of self-education in the nature of warfare, does merit some critical analysis. It is part of a humanistic conception of war that stresses the unity of military experience across the ages, and puts the fighting man’s will first. What Mattis dashed off in an email has been repeated by others in journal articles, blog posts, essays, and books. The military historian Brian McAllister Linn, in his seminal study of the Army’s cultures, dubbed it the “heroic” style of war. Linn constrasts this humanistic style this with technocratic Managers, defensive Guardians, and other military tribes with differing values and approaches.

So what do we know about 5,000 years of constant violence?

Often times the answer is that it depends. As my Fuller and Liddell-Hart examples illustrate, the quality of historical accounts is extremely uneven. Military history as a modern discipline only started with Hans Delbruck, a civilian who did some basic math and discovered that many of the most prominent chroniclers of pre-modern warfare were flat-out wrong about ancient history’s greatest battles and campaigns. Anthropologists still argue today about the nature of violence in the evolutionary state of nature and whether it can be mapped to violence in settled states. Second, it may be true that war is war in the Clausewitzian sense. But while it is technically true that Alexander’s Iraqi opponents and Sadrist mobs are both humans seeking to use force to impose their will, this in and of itself is not very useful. There are fairly prominent shifts in the character of politics, the international system, techology, wealth, and society that matter too.  

What constitutes politics is a very important point.

Take for example, the Romans. There was a definite shift between the Early-Middle Republican eras and the Late Republic in elite politics and the socioeconomic conditions upon which Roman assumptions about war and the organization and supply of Legions rested.  Growing inequality of wealth was making it harder for Plebian citizens to afford to muster for a campaign, the need for longserving “professional” Legates to maintain “institutional memory” of the “arts of war” of the Legions expanded even as the highly coveted opportunities for Patricians to command decreased. These trends clashed with what the Romans liked to  believe about themselves and the friction between advocates of reforms (often necessary and practical) and the upholders of  centuries of honored tradition made Roman politics increasingly bitter, dysfunctional and subsequently lethal. The early Romans would have been horrified by Marius and Sulla, to say nothing of Antony and Octavian.

In the end, the politics of the Romans, along with their battlefield experiences, changed how they organized and manned their Legions, why and how they fought the wars as they did and continued to shape Roman warfare as long as the empire lasted. Julius Caesar would have been as startled by Late Antiquity’s semi-barbarian “Roman” Magister Militiums as his own career would have dismayed Decius Mus.

Adam goes on to have some useful things to say about the need for combining historical and quantitative  social science  methodologies and the limitations of each. Delbruck’s overstated skepticism of the ancients aside, sometimes we moderns do not count any better in war or politics – or at times,  even worse

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