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Archive for February, 2006

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006


If you ever wonder why Republicans and conservatives have an almost pathological, knee-jerk loathing of the MSM and continue to complain of liberal bias long after the rise of talk radio, FOXnews and the blogosphere, this is it.

It is however, fun to catch them at it just as the news cycle gets going.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006


My book buying, which is now beyond all sensible bounds, has led me to pick up Admiral Stansfield Turner’s new Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors And Secret Intelligence and I find I like Admiral Turner far more as a popular historian and commentator on Intelligence than I liked him as DCI. While I am familiar with most of the stories Turner is relating, in every case he throws in some nuggets that I have never heard before; I guess being a former DCI opens a lot of doors when you are researching a book. Moreover his personal observations on the historical figures that Turner knew or worked alongside are illuminating in themselves.

On a related note, I direct your attention toward ” Improving CIA Analytic Performance: Analysts and the Policymaking Process” from the Sherman Kent Center For Intelligence Analysis. Short but worthwhile read.

Monday, February 27th, 2006


As with a stone tumbling down a hill that inexorably sets off an avalanche, there are some words that once spoken cannot be recalled and lead to the most profound of changes. Oftentimes beyond what the speaker had intended.

Fifty years ago, First Secretary Nikita Sergeievitch Khrushchev strode to the podium of the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the mighty Soviet Union. Gathered there were the elite of the great Communist empire, now a nuclear superpower like capitalist America. Khrushchev had established his primacy in the Politburo’s “collective leadership” after Stalin’s death by de-fanging the dead dictator’s dreaded security appratus, the NKVD, executing its master Lavrenty Beria and demoting it from a ministry to a mere ” state committee”, tightly supervised by the CPSU Central Committee. He was not without rivals either at home or abroad where Mao ZeDong felt little need to defer to Khrushchev as he once had to his ” elder brother” in revolution, Joseph Stalin.

Let us not romanticize Nikita Khrushchev. He was an extremely brutal man who needed an exceptional ruthlessness and cunning to have reached and survived at the pinnacle of the Stalinist system for as long as he did. Moreover, all of his Politburo rivals were, like himself, hardened Stalinists and seasoned mass-murderers who signed the same grim death-lists and arrest warrants that the dictator had put before them time and again, containing even their own colleagues, friends, relatives and even their wives and children. The stakes in Soviet politics at that time resembled nothing so much as the Roman empire in the days of Caligula or Domitian.

Yet Khrushchev made a speech – ” the secret speech” – that shattered the ideological foundations of the Soviet system but briefly reconnected the regime on a moral level with the Russian people. The audience in the hall was in shock – it was as if the new Communist Pope had just condemned his predecessor as the Antichrist before the College of Cardinals:

“The vicious practice was condoned of having the NKVD prepare lists of persons whose cases were under the jurisdiction of the Military Collegium and whose sentences were prepared in advance. Yezhov would send these [execution] lists to Stalin personally for his approval of the proposed punishment. In 1937-1938, 383 such lists containing the names of many thousands of Party, Soviet, Komsomol, Army, and economic workers were sent to Stalin. He approved these lists.

A large part of these cases are being reviewed now. A great many are being voided because they were baseless and falsified. Suffice it to say that from 1954 to the present time the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court has rehabilitated 7,679 persons, many of whom have been rehabilitated posthumously.

Mass arrests of Party, Soviet, economic and military workers caused tremendous harm to our country and to the cause of socialist advancement.

Mass repressions had a negative influence on the moral-political condition of the Party, created a situation of uncertainty, contributed to the spreading of unhealthy suspicion, and sowed distrust among Communists. All sorts of slanderers and careerists were active. “

Khrushchev did not list all of Stalin’s crimes, not by half. Nor did he dwell on his own crimes or those of the delegates in the hall who loyally and probably enthusiastically helped carry out their share of the Great Terror the way Nazi functionaries carried out the Holocaust. But he did empty the slave labor camps and restrict the machinery of terror. He even allowed some criticism to see the light of day, permitting Novy Mir to publish Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Khrushchev paid for that and for other things at the hands of Brezhnev, Kosygin and Suslov, the last being Stalin’s only remaining Politburo member to cling to power into the 1980’s and who was one of the authors of the calamitous invasion of Afghanistan.

Such frank words though did not come again until thirty years later, at the tail end of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika campaign, when the truth in them unravelled the fabric of the Soviet Union itself.


Orange Revolution

NYT Taubman Op-Ed



Sunday, February 26th, 2006


Edge Perspectives with John Hagel – “The Real Significance of the Dubai Ports Controversy

Top billing post. I have to say that despite my hardline views on the War on Terror, the recent furor over our ports management and Dubai Ports World has left me totally unimpressed and Mr. Hagel here explains why. I’m also intrigued by his reference to “…We suggested that public policy in many different domains should be reassessed in terms of implications for accelerating talent development “ as a general operating concept. This pursuit of niche dominance would be the natural national strategy for a market-state world, especially for smaller powers like Singapore which is currently devoting itself to becoming a world leader in biotech research.

The Eide Neurolearning Blog – “King of Charts: Visual Thinking with Diagrams

From the post title I almost expected that the Drs. Eide might have discovered tdaxp ;o)

I liked this post not merely for the substantive links, of which there were many, but the quote here that drives home the proper use of diagrams in teaching or communication – which if more people were consciously aware of we’d have shorter, better designed, more effective lectures, business presentations and policy briefs:

“The authors add, “diagrams reduce memory load and cognitive effort by computational offloading. Self-explaining is a challenging activity that many learners do not engage in spontaneously. Diagrams free the limited resources of learners to engage in meaning-making activities. Diagrams limit abstraction and aid processibility by restricting the learners’ interpretation of the situation”

Bingo. The diagram isn’t just an illustration or a transmitter of concepts but it sets the parameters for your thought process and reduces tangential errors.

Curtis Gale Weeks at Phatic Communion -” Murder I Wrote

Curtis likes long, comprehensive, posts that consider a wide range of variables and perspectives but his musings here on comparative ideological paradigms, he arrived at a profound observation:

“One last note: I do not know that we should be more afraid of the totalitarian, linear, static system than the complex, chaotic, dynamic system — or, the other way around. BYF’s implication, and one notion circling all of the above ideas, is that ideologies because they are straight lines are far more dangerous, potentially, that pluralistic or diffuse and complex systems. The Jihadists follow the straight-and-narrow (we think) in their advocacy of death, but in America, murder “just happens” or emerges from the general chaos. Which is more frightening? Which is more predictable? “

That was good. Additional questions would be ” Which model is more psychologically attractive ?” and ” Which better reflects reality ? “

That’s it.

Saturday, February 25th, 2006


Matt at Mountainrunner has dug deeply into 4GW theory and found it to be wanting:

Fourth Generation War theory relies on the readers to assume the state is the political actor. This stems from Martin van Creveld and Lind’s erroneous assumption of Clausewitz.

Let’s look for a moment at the “not merely how war is fought, but who fights and what they fight for” statement. Consider Martin van Creveld’s “Through a Glass Darkly”:

To sum up, the roughly three-hundred-year period in which war was associated primarily with the type of political organization known as the state — first in Europe, and then, with its expansion, in other parts of the globe as well — seems to be coming to an end. If the last fifty years or so provide any guide, future wars will be overwhelmingly of the type known, however inaccurately, as “low intensity”. Both organizationally and in terms of the equipment at their disposal, the armed forces of the world will have to adjust themselves to this situation by changing their doctrine, doing away with much of their heavy equipment and becoming more like the police. In many places that process is already well under way.

That, as Hammes wrote and Lind reinforces, the “last fifty years have led to a fundamental erosion of the state’s monopoly on the use of force” relies on the state actually possessing a monopoly on the use of force. First, it wasn’t a three hundred period, but more like one hundred and fifty odd years that the present state has existed. The notion of a monopoly of force entered the vernacular of international relations only in the late 19th early 20th Centuries when Max Weber wrote it. In the 19th Century, states did act to “de-legitimized, de-democratized, and territorialized” non-state forces as Janice Thomson wrote in 1994, but this did not limit the use of force as an exclusive right of to the state. Politics “owned” the use of force and the state was just one incarnation of the political actor with license to use force. 4GW’ers fail to contextualize history in the appropriate moment, instead imposing modernity on all instances of the “State”.

Matt has taken Martin van Creveld’s and William Lind’s theoretical assumption’s about the universality of the decline of the state head-on. The evidence that the state is failing and in varying degrees of dysfunction in some regions is fairly obvious. That the decline follows from the reasons cited by the 4GW school is not.

As my own writing of a review of 4GW has stalled temporarily, I appreciate reading Matt’s tightly-argued piece. A great contribution to the debate !

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