Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Maroons of Jamaica

Long before Al Qaeda, Mao, or even the Swamp Fox, guerrilla escaped slaves in Jamaica, the Maroons, fought the British army to a standstill in the early 18th century.

The Maroons, who had established themselves in the rugged Jamaican interior after the 1655 British conquest, had long had uneasy relations with the plantations along the shore. They sporadically raided plantations and harbored fugitive slaves.

By the late 1720's, the Maroons had become divided into two groups, the Windward and the Leeward. The Leeward Maroons were led by Cudjoe. While the Windward Maroons were not unified, one of their leaders was Cudjoe's sister, Nanny,.

This low level tension broke out into active hostilities in the mid-1720's, and a large British force arrived in 1728. The Maroons, who were better adapted to in Jamaica's rough, humid, verdant terrain adopted hit and run tactics. The Maroons, masters of camouflage, dressed themselves to look like trees. Their villages were difficult to access; while Maroons could flee to more remote outposts if necessary.

After years of inconclusive warfare, the British signed treaties, first with the Leewards in 1739, and then with the Windwards in 1740.

The Maroons fared less well when, in 1795, a group of them from Trelawny began another war. The British deported these to Nova Scotia.

These Jamaican were by no means the only Maroons. Escaped slaves formed colonies throughout the Americas. Francis Drake and other freebooters would ally with them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Move Over Pirates - Here Come the Lawyers

A crew member of the recently attacked Maersk Alabama is
now suing his employer.

Chief cook Richard Hooks, asserting that his employer and another company knowing put the crew in danger, is seeking $75,000 in damages and improved safety.

Somali pirates attacked the US-flagged Maersk Alabama on April 8, 2009. It's captain was seized and held hostage for several days, receiving widespread media attention, until US Navy Seals shot his captors. Based in Norfolk, VA, its crew was comprised of 20 US nationals.

Reportedly, owners are jittery at damages they could face, particularly from US courts, which can award plaintiffs substantial sums.

Fear of US lawsuits and similar concerns with avoiding governmental regulation and supervision have long made maritime shippers "jittery." Precisely to evade these threats, shippers have chosen flags of convenience and shell corporations from weakly regulated countries. Crews typically are impoverished Filipinos or from other Third World countries.

The US flagged, based, and crewed Maersk Alabama is very much the rare exception. US courts would have far greater difficulty in securing jurisdiction over foreign flagged, based, and crewed ships.

Compared to the threat of lawyers, what are a few pirates? Shippers may be vulnerable prey off the coast of Somalia, but we think these lawsuits are attacks they can avoid.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mexican Drug Lords, Italian 'Ndrangheta Link

As increased enforcement on both sides of the border make distributing cocaine within the United States more difficult,Mexican drug cartels are beginning to market cocaine to Europe instead.

To achieve this, they are forming links with Italian organized crime. In particular, they are linking with the 'Ndrangheta crime organization. Less famous than the Sicilian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, based in Italy's toe, dominates Europe's cocaine trade.

Despite the 'Ndrangheta's dominance, Mexican drug cartels are also linking with other Italian organized crime gangs, such as the Naples-based Camorra.

Not surprisingly, Italy is growing more and more like Mexico every day. According to Foreign Policy, Italy is becoming the failed state of Western Europe.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Redefining Luxury

The CEO of the company owning a cruiseship recently attacked by pirates calls for debate over arming cruiseships

Pirates unsuccessfully attacked the cruiseship, MSC Melody, on Saturday.

According to the MSC website, the ship's image is as follows:

MSC Melody is the largest ship of MSC Cruises' classic fleet. She is subtle, rather than glitzy, and has tons of charm.

IMHO, if you arm this ship, it would have more of an Indiana Jones type atmosphere.

Post Partisan Warfare Deconstruction

Larry H. Henke, in A Study of Post Partisan Warfare Reconstruction, studies the factors that enabled South Carolina following the American Revolution, to achieve a civil society despite the guerrilla partisan combat that had torn it apart during the Revolution itself.

While helpful in providing us with lessons concerning what went right in South Carolina, Henke, by focusing on that state alone, fails to recognize many factors that nevertheless generallly were going wrong in the post-Revolutionary backcountry. While South Carolina managed to contain these problems, Western Pennsylvania did not. The result was armed uprising, the Whiskey Rebellion.

After detailing South Carolina's wartime disruption - far worse than Pennsylvania's, Henke cites the following factors as instrumental in it's regaining civil order:

  • George Washington, declining to become a despot, prevented the army from taking over the government. Washington generally rebuilt civic morale.
  • Patriot leaders conceded portions of their political power and shared their limited rebuilding funds for the common good.
  • Security was restored.
  • Law and order were restored.
  • Backcountry received representation.
  • Commercial opportunities were developed.

Henke concludes:

What South Carolina accomplished after the severe brutality of the war was astonishing, but the underlying message of the rebuilding was simple. South Carolina’s leaders aspired to no greater cause than the reestablishment of the land of opportunity via law and order, which they had striven to build before the hostilities with Britain.

In contrast,Thomas P. Slaughter, in The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution paints a very different picture of American life.

According to Slaughter, civic unrest plagued the post-war American frontier from the Carolinas up to Ethan Allen's Vermont. He cites the following factors:

  • No noble statemen, George Washington was a grasping absentee landlord who used ruthless business tactics to frontiersmen's disadvantage.
  • Federal authorities favored Eastern over Western interests. commerce.
  • Westerners, vulnerable to Indian attacks, felt insecure.
  • Courts,which were few and far between, favored Eastern propertied interests. Tax enforcement would be particularly intrusive.
  • Legislatures were so heavily weighted in favor of the East that backcountry representation was ineffective.
  • The government neglected efforts to develop the West by causing Spain to open the Mississippi River to Westerner's commerce.

Such were the factors that gave rise to the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in 1794.

Contrasting Henke's South Carolina with Slaughter's Western Pennsylvania suggests that postwar America was more complex than Henke's article concludes.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chinese Sea Dogs

An informal network of Chinese hackers pose a threat to the United States, according to Popular Science.

According to the article, there is no direct relationship between these Chinese hacker networks, on the one hand, and the Chinese government, on the other. However, it adds that the relationship in China between citizen and state is fluid. The Chinese government's failure to prosecute these hackers amounts to tacit approval. The government to some extent directs and controls them.

This picture resembles Queen Elizabeth I's relationship with her Sea Dogs. Vulnerable and strapped for cash, Elizabeth could not afford directly to confront Philip II's Spain. Instead, she relied upon a swarm of privateers to harry Spain while she refurbished her finances and built her fleet. Susan Ronald, in The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire provides us with an account of Elizabeth's relationship with her Sea Dogs; while Kenneth Andrews in Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Maritime Enterprise and the Genesis of the British Empire, 1480-1630 gives us a broader social and economic overview.

For more information consult the books on my list, Elizabethan Sea Dogs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Your Tax Dollars at Work

We often hear that oceans off the Somali coast are so vast that navies cannot effectively patrol them.

However, they have apparently abandoned a tanker that has already been hijacked.

The chemical tanker, Stolt Strength, which after being held for ransom by Somali pirates for six months, was released last week. Because it is running low on bunkers, it is now drifting, at risk to be attacked again.

A navy vessel escorted it at first but then left it. Now the Stolt Strength drifts alone. Its owners say they repeatedly have requested the escort be resumed, but they have so far been ignored.


Recently, we have been urging John Robb to translate his ideas into science fiction.

It's only fair to our critics, who may contend that we stop picking on Robb and come up with some science fiction of our own, that we respond.

Well, here it is: RoboLawyers. We envision a futuristic society in which all legal work is done by computers, able to unravel complex derivatives with a single bound.

Our plot revolves around some hackers who break into the robolawyers and rewrite the laws.

And we're closer to this than you think. The law firm, Wilson Sosini and Rosati has an onlineTerm Sheet Generator to generate venture financing forms. The law is getting more and more automated each day.

Come to think of it, there are other science fiction potential plots. We could imagine some sort of computerized, human-mechanical Borg attempting to assimilate society into it. Or an Invasion of the Body Snatchers, scenario in which lawyers are covertly replaced by robot substitutes.

The truth is out there....

Hiring the Fox to Guard the Henhouse

John Robb has recently blogged about the problems Oakland, CA, is now facing in its efforts to privatize security. Apparently Oakland's present unionized police forces object to this cost-saving measure and therefore are obstructing it.

However wrong-headed the Oakland police unions may be, we should consider Guatemala, where reportedly private security guards are emerging as a security threat. According to the Washington Post, drug traffickers and gangs have caused Guatemala's problems.

Translated into John Robb's vocabulary, Global Guerrillas are causing in. Which means, to the extent that Global Guerrillas prevail, we should avoid privatized security.

Update: Of course, public employment is no guarantee of integrity, either. Reportedly, the number of United States border agents being arrested for corruption is on the rise.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Science Fiction and the American Dream

Over at Global Guerrillas, some commenters are suggesting that John Robb reach out to the science fiction community.

Meanwhile, according to Fabius Maximus:

All we have left are our myths. Unfortunately our modern myths reflect the spiritual weakness that is one cause of our crisis.

There is a connection between these two developments, for science fiction has expressed the modern American myth. Rather than basing our myths in some hallowed past, we place them forward in some promising future. Where we came from is not so meaningful to us as where we are heading toward.

And we have lost our sense of direction.

Under these circumstances, using Robb's ideas to generate some exciting stories could help get us moving again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Henry Lawson's Answer to Chet Richards

Chet Richards, at Defense and the National Interest, responding to a post by John Robb, asks How afraid should we be?. He states:

So one question to ask every candidate for every office in the land is: If there is an incident, a really bad incident, are you prepared to live in your home, go to work, go shopping, travel, go to church, and so on, with no more security than the incumbent has right now?

With all due respects, this sounds too much like Bush's post-9/11 injunction that we all should go shopping.

Instead I suggest that we learn from the writings of the Australian writer and poet, Henry Lawson. One of Australia's two greatest writers, ( Banjo Patterson, author of Waltzing Matilda, being the other) Lawson wrote of the grit and humor Australians demonstrated when confronting the overwhelming challenges posed by the Outback.

Perhaps Lawson's most famous short sstory is "The Drover's Wife." Lawson portrays an event in the life of a wife of a cattle drover who is absent on a multi-year cattle drive. Alone in the arid country with her mangy dog in her isolated shack, she cares for her small children. A snake has invaded her shack. (Snakes are no joke in Australia; it has snakes 100 times more venomous than the King Cobra. ) Finally, she locates and kills it. The story ends:

She lifts the mangled reptile on the point of her stick, carries it to the fire, and throws it in; then piles on the wood and watches the snake burn. The boy and the dog watch too. She lays her hand on the dog's head, and all the fierce, angry light dies out of his yellow eyes. The younger children are quieted, and presently go to sleep. The dirty-legged boy stands for a moment in his shirt, watching the fire. Presently he looks up at her, sees the tears in her eyes, and, throwing his arms around her neck exclaims:
"Mother, I won't never go drovin' blarst me if I do!"
And she hugs him to her worn-out breast and kisses him; and they sit thus together while the sickly daylight breaks over the bush.

This kind of courage is what we need.

Terrorists are Witches!

Hugh Trevor-Roper, in The European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries asserted that widespread reports of witchcraft during the early modern era resulted from torture. According to Trevor-Roper, Europeans then believe witchcraft to exist. To obtain evidence for this, they tortured confessions out of accused defendants. Torture was a Renaissance institution. Tourists in Tuscany can visit a Torture Museum today.

Apparently we are heading back to the 16th and 17th centuries, for reportedly the Bush administration likewise attempted to use torture to establish links between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

Bush administration torturers apparently lacked the skill of their Renaissance forbearers, for they failed to produce the sought after links.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kaplan: The Revenge of Geography

Robert D. Kaplan in Foreign Policy: The Revenge of Geography, asserts that geography, as understood and practiced in the 18th and 19th century, will come to dominate 21st century political, diplomatic, social, and economic thought. He conludes:

In this century's fight for Eurasia, like that of the last century, Mackinder's axiom holds true: Man will initiate, but nature will control. Liberal universalism and the individualism of Isaiah Berlin aren't going away, but it is becoming clear that the success of these ideas is in large measure bound and determined by geography. This was always the case, and it is harder to deny now, as the ongoing recession will likely cause the global economy to contract for the first time in six decades. Not only wealth, but political and social order, will erode in many places, leaving only nature's frontiers and men's passions as the main arbiters of that age-old question: Who can coerce whom? We thought globalization had gotten rid of this antiquarian world of musty maps, but now it is returning with a vengeance.

We all must learn to think like Victorians. That is what must guide and inform our newly rediscovered realism. Geographical determinists must be seated at the same honored table as liberal humanists, thereby merging the analogies of Vietnam and Munich. Embracing the dictates and limitations of geography will be especially hard for Americans, who like to think that no constraint, natural or otherwise, applies to them. But denying the facts of geography only invites disasters that, in turn, make us victims of geography.

Kaplan, in his article, sets forth his vision of how geography is going to affect us. But what may be more interesting than Kaplan's particular thoughts are why geography now is emerging as so important.

Basiclly, it is emerging because land is now supplanting labor and capital as the primary economic determinant. According to economic theory, the three primary inputs are land, labor, and capital. In the post-WWII era, first labor then capital have failed as primary determinants.

Under Keynes, labor played the primary role. Boost labor by stimulating demand and supply will take care of itself, Keynesians argued. And this worked very well until the 1970's, when the Arab oil boycotts and the Japanese auto invasion demonstrated that supply would not necessarily take care of itself and, indeed, could come from Tokyo as well as from Detroit. Since then, American economic thought has been very concerned with "competitiveness," which basically means that labor must take the shaft.

Keynesianism was supplanted by Reagan's supply side, which - rather than taking supply for granted - sought to boost it. This favored capital over labor. Supply side worked well enough until outsourcing demonstrated that stimulating supply would benefit Bangalore but not necessarily the United States.

By process of elimination, this leaves land as the last man standing. Our current economic malaise results from our current inability to respond to this new situation. Since geography so obviously emphasizes land, Kaplan's writing represents one effort to respond to our new challenge.

There is nothing sacred about Kaplan's particular conclusions. Geography is an art, not a science. For example, Kaplan states:

These deepening connections are transforming the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian and Pacific oceans into a vast continuum, in which the narrow and vulnerable Strait of Malacca will be the Fulda Gap of the 21st century

We should note that, if you like the Somali pirates, then you are going to love those off the straight of Malacca.

But Kaplan helps orient us toward important topics. That is where he is valuable.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Three Cheers for the Irish

According to Paul Krugman, the world economy generally may come to look like Ireland right now:

And it's that closing off of policy options that I'm afraid might happen to the rest of us. The slogan "Erin go bragh," usually translated as "Ireland forever," is traditionally used as a declaration of Irish identity. But it could also, I fear, be read as a prediction for the world economy.

Even though the 16th century Irish slur for British colonists in their midst was "Huguenot," we have long admired them. So despite Krugman's dire portrayal of a world gone Irish, we think there is a bright side.

One of the pillars of medieval Irish civilization was the Brehon Laws. These laws gave structure and meaning to tribal, resilient, transnational Celtic civilization. These laws were administered by Brehons, legal scribes similar to Celtic bards. If, as Krugman fears, we shall all go Irish, perhaps we might best adapt by reviving the Brehon laws.

While providing a rich cultural environment, Brehon laws fail to provide the commercial facilities that modern legal systems provide. But then, if Krugman is correct, there isn't going to be much commerce anyway.

Homer's Take on OODA Loops

"Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, polutropon hos mala polla"

So begins the first line of Homer's Odyssey. Translated, this line goes somewhat as follows. "Tell me, Muse, about the man of many ways, who very many"

Studying what Homer meant by "polutropon" many help us learn what John Boyd meant by OODA loops.

Placing the Odyssey's first line in its broader context, Samuel Butler translates as follows:

Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.
Follow this link to get a translation for each word in the Odyssey's opening. Warning: Greek does not follow English word order.

Note that Butler translates "polutropon" as "ingenious;" while I translated it "of many ways." Do not be surprised by this. Homer has been around for more than 2500 years; so scholars have been picking his bones over and over again. Every single word of every major text, such as the Odyssey, is drilled into. You can spend hours with a classicist haggling over what "polutropon" might mean.

Basically, "polutropon" is a compound word, composed of "polu" and "tropon." "Polu" is Greek for "many;" root for such English words as polyglot, polymer, polymath, polyphony, and so forth. "Tropon" means "turns." So literally, "pollutropon" means "many turned." But what's that?

There are all sorts of meanings we might give it, in addition to Butler's and mine. Such meanings as "twisted," "facile," or "shifty" might apply. Yet such meanings as "widely traveled" and "experienced" also might apply. What meaning we may give to "polutropon" affects how we view both Odysseus the man and the Odyssey, the poem.

In recent years, military theory has been influenced by John Boyd's OODA loops. Boyd, an Air Force fighter pilot, sought to understand how and why during the Korean War the American F-85 so completely outfought the Russian MIG-15 despite the apparent equality of these two airplanes. Looking deeply into the matter, Boyd discovered subtle but vital advantages the F-85 had which enabled American fighters better to observe the situation and more effectively to respond. Boyd theorized that these advantages would apply not only to dogfights in particular but to warfare in general. He formalized his theory of the OODA ( Observe; Orient; Decide; Act):

According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby "get inside" the opponent's decision cycle and gain the advantage. Frans Osinga argues that Boyd's own views on the OODA loop are much deeper, richer, and more comprehensive than the common interpretation of the 'rapid OODA loop' idea.[2]

Boyd developed the concept to explain how to direct one's energies to defeat an adversary and survive. Boyd emphasized that "the loop" is actually a set of interacting loops that are to be kept in continuous operation during combat. He also indicated that the phase of the battle has an important bearing on the ideal allocation of one's energies.

Boyd’s diagram shows that all decisions are based on observations of the evolving situation tempered with implicit filtering of the problem being addressed. These observations are the raw information on which decisions and actions are based. The observed information must be processed to orient it for further making a decision. In notes from his talk “Organic Design for Command and Control”, Boyd said,

This suggests that that OODA loops give "polutropon" a new meaning. A man who is "polutropon" gets inside others' OODA loops. And, indeed, Odysseus apparently often did just that, whether it was devising the Tojan Horse, getting out of Polyphemus' cave, or surprising the suitors. If this is correct, then the Odyssey illustrates Boyd theory in action while Odysseus serves as a model for the modern warrior.

Update: For another translation of "polutropon," See Robert Fitzgerald's:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,

Saturday, April 18, 2009

From Fort Caroline to Somalia

Observers of the current Somali pirate activity often ask whether the United States or some other Western power should not simply destroy the havens the pirates use along the Somali coast.

Sixteenth century Spain did just that to a Huguenot corsair outpost that had been established at Fort Caroline, near what is now Jacksonville, FL.

Huguenots, under the direction of their leader, Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France, began to establish an outpost along the Atlantic seaboard in 1562. By 1564, Fort Caroline had been established.

Huguenots long had been privateering the Spanish Main, and the Spanish also viewed this French outpost as a challenge to their monopoly of the Americas. The Florida Huguenots cooperated with the English sea dog, Sir John Hawkins, who was then attempting to penetrate the Caribbean slave market. Accordingly, in 1565, the Spanish, under Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés attacked and destroyed the Huguenot settlement.

This was part of a broader Spanish backlash against Protestant incursions into the Spanish Main. They would also attack Hawkins in 1568. This Spanish backlash abated but did not end Protestant incursions into the Spanish Main. Coligny's strategy of a seaborne privateering swarm upon the Iberian powers would finally bear fruit a century later, as English, Huguenot, and Dutch buccaneers swept over the Caribbean.

Religion and The Decline of Magic: Part Two

Modern non-state militants bear striking semblance to 17th Century radical British Protestant religious sects, if we compare Hakim Hazim's discussion of modern movements in his postNon State Authoritarian Movements: The Mentoring Challenge with Keith Thomas' discussion of 17th Century Protestant radicals in his classic, Religion and the Decline of Magic.

Hazim explores the psychological dynamics by which member of contemporary groups are made willing to perform violent acts:

For those who pursue the American dream it is hard to grasp the idea of following a charismatic figure to the death; yet, some willingly flock to alternative visions. There are reasons for this servile behavior, and the profiles of the docile sheep are consistent. They find rewards to servility, and the motivations vary from person to person. For some it's the promise of the hereafter, for others it's the tangible rewards in this life. Some unfortunate souls have little choice because they are born into such groups or sold to them. Competent, successful people join as well to escape from freedom due to the painful reminders of the poor choices they have made in life, now preferring to forgo decision-making altogether. This is the list of folks authoritarian non state movements can draw from and they know "the harvest is ripe."

Seventeenth Century England also witnessed radical Protestant sects that could be violent. One such sect was the Fifth Monarchy Men. Discussing the Fifth Monarchists, Wikipedia states:

These were not political parties as that term is understood today, but groups clustered around one or more beliefs, some of the believers attaching themselves to more than one group. Although the pre-war establishment had been split by the Civil War, both of the opposing main factions regarded all radical groups as agitators for change, and they are described as such in the Historical Collections of John Rushworth that document events of the early period, and by the Journals of the House of Commons which cover the period of the Republic itself.

Thomas, in Religion and The Decline of Magic,
discusses how English society, from mid-16th to mid-17th Century, from Henry VIII's Reformation to Charles II's Restoration, underwent enormous stress. People responded variously to this stress, from alcholism to magic ritual to witch hunts. One such response was to join these radical Protestant sects.

Hazim's post suggests that today's America likewise is undergoing such stress; so people likewise are joining radical sects.

Erich Fromm

Dr. C. George Boeree, in his discussion of Erich Fromm, provides us with a picture of what, ideally, such a community should be like:

The productive orientation. There is a healthy personality as well, which Fromm occasionally refers to as the person without a mask. This is the person who, without disavowing his or her biological and social nature, nevertheless does not shirk away from freedom and responsibility. This person comes out of a family that loves without overwhelming the individual, that prefers reason to rules, and freedom to conformity.

The society that gives rise to the productive type (on more than a chance basis) doesn't exist yet, according to Fromm. He does, of course, have some ideas about what it will be like. He calls it humanistic communitarian socialism. That's quite a mouthful, and made up of words that aren't exactly popular in the USA, but let me explain: Humanistic means oriented towards human beings, and not towards some higher entity -- not the all-powerful State nor someone's conception of God. Communitarian means composed of small communities (Gemeinschaften, in German), as opposed to big government or corporations. Socialism means everyone is responsible for the welfare of everyone else. Thus understood, it's hard to argue with Fromm's idealism!

Fromm says that the first four orientations (which others might call neurotic) are living in the having mode. They focus on consuming, obtaining, possessing.... They are defined by what they have. Fromm says that "I have it" tends to become "it has me," and we become driven by our possessions!

The productive orientation , on the other hand, lives in the being mode. What you are is defined by your actions in this world. You live without a mask, experiencing life, relating to people, being yourself.

He says that most people, being so used to the having mode, use the word have to describe their problems: "Doctor, I have a problem: I have insomnia. Although I have a beautiful home, wonderful children, and a happy marriage, I have many worries." He is looking to the therapist to remove the bad things, and let him keep the good ones, a little like asking a surgeon to take out your gall bladder. What you should be saying is more like "I am troubled. I am happily married, yet I cannot sleep...." By saying you have a problem, you are avoiding facing the fact that you are the problem -- i.e. you avoid, once again, taking responsibility for your life.

The obvious objection that we have is that Fromm's vision would be too good to be true. Nevertheless, achieving resilient communities would involve social and psychological as well as technical and political issues. Studying Fromm would give us a start on this.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Mafia's Answer to Naomi Klein

Italian organized crime is now moving into areas affected by Italy's recent earthquake, giving a new twist to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

According to Klein, capitalists have used disasters, such as Katrina, to undermine safety net protections and to advance their position.

In Italy, however, its April 6, 2009, earthquake is giving this opportunity instead to criminal organization's, such as the Sicilian Mafia, or Cosa Nostra; the Calabrian 'ndrangheta and the Naples-based Camorra. Traditionally the earthquake stricken central Italian region has not been a mob stronghold.

Apparently the mob hopes to profit from reconstruction building projects.

Cell Phone Smuggling into Prisons

While we earlier noted that prisons intentionally cluster a violent population, they nevertheless fail to isolate it.

Reportedly, prisoners are smuggling cellphones into prison. This means that prisons not only fester violence, they also spread it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Layoffs for Lawyers

The forty year surge in lawyers and lawyering may be another victim of the current economic downturn. according to figures provided by Law Shucks . Big law firms have laid off 10,000 personnel, including 4,218 attorneys and 6,259 staff. The rate of these layoffs has also been accellerating: Following sporadic layoffs throughout 2008, just under 500 were laid off in December of last year. January, about 1,500 were laid off; February, about 2,700; and March, more than 3,600. These figures apparently do not include lawyers in small firms, solo practice, in-house counsel, or government jobs.

Since the mid-1960's becoming a lawyer has been on of the main avenues to middle class American success. This Paper Chase, celebrated by a host of television programs portraying lawyers as sexy crusaders for social justice, induced large numbers of Americans to enter law school. High salaries also helped; beginning associates at large firms can today earn $160,000 per year. At the same time jury verdicts soared, laws and regulations expanded, and courts asserted new powers.

Unless these layoff figures are a temporary glitch, then this whole social trend will come to an end.

So The Somali Pirates Are Not Terrorists?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced that the United States will begin to use measures similar to those it already is using against terrorists to fight Somali pirates. This initiative begs the question of why the United States has not already been using these measures. Either:

  • The United States knows that the pirates are not linked to terrorists; or
  • While the pirates may be linked to terrorists, our intelligence has not been able to discover that; or
  • The United States has been neglecting a known link to terrorists

Resilient Punishment

One of the original and continuing rationales for using prisons as a form of punishment was that they would help rehabilitate offenders. A synonym for "prison" is "correctional facility."

John Robb's post on resilient communities and scale invariance, sheds light on why this cannot work:
Our global system is composed of intermeshed and tightly coupled networks. These interlinked networks enable our system to be efficient and relatively robust against random shocks. However, large shocks can overwhelm this type of network design, causing it to either act erratically (turbulence) or break apart (into smaller clusters via cascades of failure). We saw systemic turbulence in action via the recent brush with a global financial meltdown in September 2008 and we are seeing it currently with erratic swings in markets, trade, and other forms of economic activity. Examples of network failures that result in disconnected clusters are seen with every black-out in the electricity network. A pandemic would be a mix of the two, intentional clustering (quarantines) and high turbulence.

Prisons share with pandemics the joint features of "intentional clustering (quarantines) and high turbulence" Accordingly, we should not be surprised to learn from Wikipedia that rehabilitation appears to be more successful in non-prison environments:
Residential approaches—whether in prison or some other live-in option—tend to be less effective than non-residential approaches.[4] These researchers found that effective programs delivered in the community were followed by a 35% reduction in reoffending, whereas effective programs delivered in residential settings (such as prisons and halfway houses) were followed by a 17% reduction in reoffending. One very likely reason for this is that for teens and adults, mixing with antisocial peers increases the risk of offending. In prison or residences inmates spend a great deal of time with other people immersed in criminal pursuits and beliefs, whereas in community-based programs there is more opportunity to mix with people involved in constructive, law-abiding activities. Antisocial peers in prisons and residences can form a very powerful pressure group, subtly and not so subtly influencing the behavior of other inmates.