Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, the US foreign policy of economic exploitation & economic colonialism has been tried, tested and exhibited to the world from their own back yard: Central and South America. The US has used the tools of right-wing governments, military coups and unrest, the "red menace", lopsided trade deals, loan programs and currency speculation to exert de facto control over most of the region: Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, Argentina and others. Cuba, under Fidel Castro, has long posed a serious challenge to US policy around the world by demonstrating the possibility, even the advantages, to standing up to US hegemony. His Cuba--while certainly not without difficulties--provides an example of what can be done if the heavy hand of US interest is shed off. In the process, he threatens the expansion and maintenance of post-war US colonialism by demonstrating that another option is possible, even preferable. While his efforts and successes are regularly derided in the US media, Castro's Cuba has provided larger real standard of living increases than any of the Central American nations suffering from an overdose of US aid. The vast majority of those virulently anti-Castro immigrants to the US base their views on the privileged positions they chose to abandon, not on some grounded critique of the relative merits of Castro's policies. This is not an endorsement of state-communism, but rather an illustration that it does not take a very good system--even communism will work--to improve upon the situation of those nations experiencing ongoing economic colonialism by the US. It would take hundreds of pages to adequately support these claims, but fortunately Noam Chomsky's Understanding Power provides an outstanding, authoritative and meticulously-documented review.
This, of course, is all old hat. More recently, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and to a lesser extent Lula de Silva in Brazil have decided that their nations will be better off following the Castro model than the Bush/American model. While pundits in the American press are mostly critical of these moves, they have been solidly validated by recent popular-votes in both nations.
Enter China. China has long attempted to establish an alternative sphere and system of power from the US-dominated world system. These new market-socialist, and more importantly independent, moves from Latin America seem an obvious fit for China's mix of state-capitalism and socialism, and in the last few months we have seen China take the first tentative steps in formalizing this geopolitical alliance. Venezuela appears set to sell off their Citgo subsidiary and redirect 800,000 barrels of oil a day to China. China will fund infrastructure programs to diversify their overseas holdings and win political influence. It is too early to visualize just how broad and how deep this alliance could become, but it represents a potential competing pole to the current uni-polar US hegemony. Especially with the inclusion of an independent oil supply (Venezuela has the most substantial reserves in the Americas), the new Chinese/Latin cooperation could signal a critical challenge to US foreign policy--and a challenge to entrenched hierarchy always promises to be interesting to follow. China is setting up an Axis of Example for nations and peoples that would like to throw off the American economic yoke. This example could be a powerful tool in the expansion of Chinese influence around the world -- perhaps even in their own backyard, as a tool to influence Indonesia, as I suggested recently in "China, Australia and the Indonesian Power Play". An Indonesia composed of various groups tired of seeing their resources and potential skimmed off and sent to far-away America seems ripe for the picking for the strategy of inciting revolution-by-example.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Interestingly enough, rumors and conspiracy theories abound that the Smurfs are a diabolical plot by their creator Peyo (and others?) to indoctrinate the youth of Europe (and later America) with the morals of communism. viz:
They live together, and share everything
Papa Smurf bears a striking resemblance to Karl Marx
Brainy Smurf bears a strikng resemblance to Trotsky (to the extent that he is continually exiled)
Gargamel (representing capitalism) is perpetually trying to turn the Smurfs (Proles) into gold
Bear with me, but I find this pretty interesting. Interesting not in the sense that the Smurfs bear a resemblance to Soviet communism (which they don't), but that the Smurfs epitomize the very qualities which industrial communism cannot achieve, and which form the foundation of the hunter-gatherer way of life. If anything, I think that the Smurfs are a parody by Peyo of Soviet communism by illustrating how a society with such ideals would really look:
- Small scale: only on the tribal/family scale can societies prevent the formation of hierarchal structures.
- Live close to nature: you don't see Smurfs working in coal mines or assembly lines.
- Discussion-orriented decision methods, leadership by respect, government by morality
- Primarily hunter/gatherer
So maybe Peyo was actually saying that an alternative to industrial capitalism is possible, but we need to look to this model (our hunter-gatherer past) to understand how to proceed. Not only did his Smurfs place taboos on ownership and greed, but he also warned about the hidden side effects of technology. An interesting guy, and perhaps a means to spread these concepts to a wider audience...
Monday, January 10, 2005
Before I answer that, let's take a look at how a federal system might work in Iraq, and then we'll see if it meets any faction's idea of a "solution":
The fundamental problems in Iraq are several, but here are the big ones. 1) Oil and population are not evenly distributed, so tribes/ethnic groups living near oil want a larger allotment of the revenue, and tribes/ethnic groups not living near oil want that revenue shared equally. 2) Iraq is a fiction of British colonial cartographers--the lines in the sand do not reflect that many Iraqis look to Iran or Saudi Arabia for spiritual solidarity and leadership, nor that primary loyalties normally fall at the tribal-group level, not the state level. 3) There is a division through all levels and groups in Iraqi society between the desire for secular power (in a multitude of forms) and the desire for religious power (in a multitude of forms), which manifests in the various Islamic extremist groups and actions in Iraq.
Federalism was formalized in America to solve an internal division superficially similar to those facing Iraq: the founding fathers recognized that the US government must be set up to provide for effective central control and coordination, and appropriate influence by the more populous states and interests, while protecting the individuality and influence of the smaller, less populous states and local groups. For most parties, and for a while, this system worked fairly well, although there is no question in my mind that it collapsed completely long, long before I was born. The problem of adapting such a federal solution to Iraq is that, even in theory, federalism only works to overcome a single dichotomy (which is why it eventually failed in the US, which has multiple, if less distinct and divisive, poles of power). In Iraq, with multiple dichotomies, each with far more nuanced difficulties than faced a fledgling America, such a model simply will not work.
A Federal system will not solve the problem of distribution of oil revenues. Even if factions that want to profit from what they see as "their" oil will submit to a compromise of pooled revenue and distribution by population (or some similar scheme), the fact that there are competing an overlapping power structures that will want to receive this distribution invalidates this scheme. Tribes, religious groups, provincial governments, ethnic coups, etc. will all need to be cut in on the compromise. The difficulty of reaching compromise with such an interwoven and blurry set of interest groups is nearly impossible. It can, of course, be an "imposed compromise", but this will only result in those groups being imposed upon resorting (or continuing to resort to) violence.
Federalism will not resolve the problems created by British cartography, as it depends upon the drawing of lines in the sand, not the dissolution of the importance of these lines which, in Iraq, are one of the core sources of division. With interest groups, factions and loyalties overlapping into a muddy confusion, any attempt to make clean-cut divisions will fail--especially when the overlapping divisions are as powerful-yet-blurry as the distinction between secular government and Islamic government--a distinction that is especially powerful because of its cultural history in the region.
So, while it may be a cop-out from answering my original question of "solution to what?", I will simply answer no. Federalism is not the answer to the problems in Iraq, whatever they may be. There are more superficial reasons why federalism won't work being discussed on the news, such as the division of Kirkuk oil revenues, but in the end this is a a structural problem: Iraq is a landscape of highly multi-polar hierarchy, and any attempt to create a uni-polar hierarchy without removing the multi-polar nature of the region will fail.
Landscapes of multi-polar hierarchy are very challenging--simple models and solutions just do not function in the presence of such varied and lasting calcifications of history. While I think that localization and evolution towards a non-hierarchal, rhizome system is the best a"solution" to a world of highly multi-polar hierarchy, it is not a panacea, and will require time to wear down the old pathways of power. But the tendency of hierarchy to evolve unitary, if superficial structures will only fail in light of the memory and history of past (but asynchronous) hierarchies. It's like trying to build a house on the ruins of another house that has not been fully demolished, and repeating the process over and over again... any contractor will tell you that such a home will only be stable if you scrape away to the foundation and start over.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Indonesia is a fiction of Dutch colonial cartography, a huge archipelago separating the political spheres of China and Australia and the West: a hodgepodge of hundreds of ethnic and tribal groups, separated by a divisive geography of 16,000 islands cobbled together for one purpose: control. In the post-colonial aftermath of World War II, the US set up a the modern nation, and ensured the nation's cohesiveness by backing a series of powerful military dictators.
Now, in the wake of a devastating tsunami, Indonesia's cohesion will be stretched to the breaking point--it is already home to multiple, separate independence movements and insurgencies. A strong, unified Indonesia stands as a safeguard against Chinese advance, with the potential to cut off China's access to Gulf Oil. A fractured, collapsed Indonesia provides the ideal opportunity for a new wave of Chinese expansion--the opportunity to play one enclave off against another, just as the British did in India a hundred years ago. The stage is set, and the ability of Indonesia to recover from this tragedy could tilt the tables of Geopolitics in favor of either China or Australia. So what do the "charitable" reactions of the two nations tell us?
Australia has pledged $1billion Australian Dollars (~$750 Million USD) -- by far the largest contribution in the world, and even more dramatic when compared to the relatively small population and economy of Australia. Australian military forces comprise the largest part of the international presence. In fact, the Australian Minister of Defense commented this morning on BBC that Australia views stability and peacekeeping operations in Oceania to be a top national priority. No surprise in light of their concern over Chinese expansion.
Similarly, Japan has much to gain by containing Chinese influence -- and they have pledged $500 million.
What is China doing? They recently upped their aid pledge to $35 million, but only in order to match the pledge from Taiwan. It just wouldn't do to have a renegade province show up the world's most populous nation in this contest of international charity. It is yet to be seen exactly how China will attempt to influence the recovery. This struggle is just beginning, but I will be watching closely--it is an opportunity to observe the turning gears of geopolitics in real time.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Masked protester at the Seattle WTO Protests in 1999
What is Swarming?
Swarming is the tactical (or, in some cases, operational) maneuver of converging of highly distributed forces at a single point to leverage the military principle of mass. That is, you don’t need to have more powerful forces than your opponent, you just need more powerful forces than they have at the point of conflict. For example, the anarchist “Black Block” in Seattle consisted of a relatively small number of individuals prepared to use violence amongst a sea of peaceful protesters. From this highly dispersed position, using their superior communications capability (in the form of text-messaging), they were able to quickly converge on a single place, overwhelm the localized police presence with brief but intensely violent protest, and then disburse and blend back into the crowds before the police could reallocate forces. They repeated this pulsing nature of swarming forces over and over again, and the police were never able to adapt.
Alexander and the Scythians at Eschate: Defeating Swarming
While fighting to gain control of the province of Bactria, Alexander the Great was confronted by the swarming tactics of Scythian horse-archers. His primary unit—the Macedonian Phalanx—could not cope with the mobile, pulsing, ranged attacks of these units, which would swarm around his fixed formations like wasps, darting in, firing arrows from a standoff range and quickly retreating. Alexander pioneered what remains today the US Army’s counter-swarm (though normally labeled counter-guerrilla) tactic: Find, Fix and Defeat. Initially Alexander used fixed geographical obstacles to corner, or Fix, the Scythian cavalry. But at the battle of Eschate, with characteristic tactical genius, Alexander adapted to the lack of terrain by using a formation of his own forces as an artificial terrain against which to Fix and Defeat the Scythian swarm (see tactical graphic below):
Principles of Swarming and Counter-Swarming
Swarming depends on a few very simple principles: achieve them, and it will succeed, but deny these principles to a swarming force and it will be defeated:
1. Elusiveness, in the form of mobility or concealment
2. Standoff Firepower, relative to the opposing force
3. Situational awareness of the local environment, relative to the opposing force
No swarming force has even been defeated if it has achieved these three principles. In several instances, swarming has succeeded even without one or more of these principles. However, swarm tacticians should aim to ensure all three principles, while those hoping to defeat a swarming force must be concerned if they cannot deny all three.
NYC Police Obviously Learned from Alexander
Anarchists, among other protesters, had great hopes that the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York would be another repeat of their success in Seattle. Their efforts largely failed, as they were unable to secure any of the three principles of swarming. In particular, the NYC police were able to deny the protesters their principle strength of elusiveness/mobility. Borrowing directly from the playbook of Alexander the Great, police rolled out mobile plastic-mesh fences to quickly create artificial terrain obstacles, trapping large groups of more violent protesters before they could blend away into the city masses. Anarchists and other protesters, for their part, facilitated this successful tactic by advertising the locations of their actions well in advance (by reacting to convention events they forfeited the initiative), eliminating the need for police to Find them, and facilitating the staging of the forces required to Fix and Defeat.
The Potential Synergy of Swarming and Rhizome
Swarming is not a perfect tactic: It can win battles, and it can be defeated. However swarming forces are currently enjoying great success in confrontation with the traditionally hierarchal US military in Iraq. Iraqi insurgents have clearly achieved the three key principles of swarming—if the US military cannot deny at least one of these principles, they appear to have no chance of gaining the upper hand:
1. Elusiveness through Concealment & Mobility: Insurgents are in their native environment. They can blend in at will and have a robust support infrastructure.
2. Standoff Firepower: Sniping, rocket propelled grenades, roadside bombs and truck bombs, combined with suicide tactics represent a clear edge in standoff firepower over US forces.
3. Situational Awareness: Again, the insurgents are fighting in their backyard, and clearly have the advantage in situational awareness.
Training videos from al-Qa’ida and a new push to prepare for asymmetrical warfare by Iran are also revealing interesting developments in swarm warfare. Both groups are preparing to use small, highly-mobile (usually via motorbike), independent squads or pairs of soldiers armed with standoff weaponry (MANPADS, long-range rifles, RPGs, etc.) to confront larger, hierarchal militaries. This is, in effect, the creation of a network, a rhizome military. Rhizome has the potential to be a very effective military force, provided that it does not ignore the three principles outlined above.
A rhizomatic, swarming method of defense is probably the most practical, effective means of defense for the postulated rhizome civilization of Netopia. It provides a means to defend a rhizome network against the tendency of external hierarchies to intensify and expand. And, most importantly, it provides a means to do this without adopting a hierarchal form (see “The Problem of Physical Power” and the tendency for rhizome to become a hierarchy itself in its defense against hierarchy in A Theory of Power).
Open Source Warfare and Communication in Swarming
The success of a rhizome swarm depends in large part on its ability to communicate and affect the “pulse” of swarm operations coherently. Hierarchal forces that utilize swarm tactics (i.e. most historical examples) utilize hierarchal command and control to decide and communicate when and where to swarm, to mass forces. However, dependence on such hierarchal methods presents a great risk to any rhizomatic structure: the potential to involuntarily transition to hierarchy. Even the clearly rhizomatic Black Block in Seattle relied upon the hierarchy of cellular phone networks to affect their rhizome command and control. Word of mouth networking and other rhizome means of communication are effective, but potentially too slow and exposed for use in swarm warfare. The dependence on existing hierarchal communications systems is, at present, the Achilles ’ heel of any rhizome swarm—I know from personal experience just how easy it is for hierarchal militaries to deny such communications networks at will. In fact, it may not be an exaggeration to state that the future potential of rhizome militaries will rest on the need to identify and utilize a non-hierarchal communications vehicle… However, this need also represents an opportunity: due to the nature of swarm warfare, it is an ideal candidate for using a completely open communications network. It doesn’t matter if a hierarchal force intercepts the communications that result in the pulse of a swarming opponent—they will neither be able to process the rhizomatic nature of the information (i.e. flash mobs), nor will they be able to react fast enough to counter the pulse before it has disbursed.
This is the future of warfare: rhizome, swarm and open source.
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
(Some people may wonder what an article on "Sustainable Housing" is doing in a blog on the politics of Hierarchy and Empire. If you're read my book, you understand, but for the rest of you, one of my main points is that Hierarchy cannot be directly confronted--it will just reassemble in a different manner. It must instead be confronted obliquely though the formation of a competing Rhizome network--and the independence and flexibility of this form of shelter represents a critical step towards the creation of such a network...)
It’s one of humanity’s basic needs: Shelter. It can be so simple, yet modern methods of shelter represent the very worst of our over-consuming, alienated and hierarchal civilization. The design and concepts presented here are an attempt to return to simplicity and sustainability. The hybrid home model presented (see illustration) is simple enough to be made by its occupants, utilizing largely local and sustainable materials. It provides for its own heating, cooling and water, and facilitates a high quality of life, without creating an unsustainable drain on resources. It is very flexible, and can be adapted to most climates and resource-limitations. It is one part of the mosaic of solutions that make up the netopia model of an independent rhizome node…
The principle of hybrid home theory is the use of a combination of sustainable materials, taking advantage of the best that different methods have to offer. There are a number of “sustainable housing” movements alive today, many of which seem irrationally attached to a single method or material. Hybrid homes reject this, instead utilizing the most sensible combination of sustainable materials.
As a general rule, straw bale provides excellent insulation (R40+), but poor thermal mass. Conversely, dense materials (without trapped air) such as cob, earth/tire fill, rammed earth, adobe, brick or stone have excellent thermal mass, but poor insulating ability. The basic hybrid home combines a shell of straw bale (insulation) with a core of a thermal mass material inside the insulating shell, where it can provide efficient, reliable thermal control (effective use of heat/cold stored in thermal mass, without waste to outside). A thermal-mass floor (rammed earth, tile, stone, etc.) is also used to ensure solar heat capture in winter, and for additional thermal mass.
A hybrid home ensures the flexibility of material choice and ratio of insulation to thermal mass to work in nearly any environment, using sustainable and local materials, and allows for the simplicity of vernacular architecture.
Hybrid home theory also integrates effective passive solar heating and cooling, as well as efficient use of an internal wood stove. The home is largely heated in the winter by means of daytime passive solar gain from south-facing glazing. In cold climates, or on especially cold days, heating of both water and house is supplemented by a high-efficiency wood stove (either modern metal stove or traditional masonry stove). In warm climates, or in the summer, heat for water and cooking is provided via roof-top solar collection (passive water heater and passive vegetable-oil heated cook top), avoiding excessive home heating from stove use. Indoor temperature can always be quickly equalized with outdoor temperature (if desired) by opening the large south-facing windows & window/doors.
Water is supplied or supplemented by rainwater collection from the large roof area, and is recycled via a branched-drain graywater system for use in a ‘kitchen garden’.
Soil nutrients are conserved through the use of a composting or moldering toilet system.
Excellent ventilation without heat gain or loss is ensured by passing air through a thermal mass radiator under the floor prior to entry into the home, ensuring that entering air is already at the indoor temperature.
Economy and efficiency of heating are enhanced by efficient use of space: a standard hybrid home is approximately 1000 square feet, with a roof area of approximately 2000 square feet. While the illustration provides one possible and simple design for a hybrid home, these principles can be easily modified and applied to a variety of styles, sizes and layouts. Hybrid home theory doesn’t introduce radically new innovations. Instead, it represents a compilation of proven vernacular-architecture solutions into a composite that is more flexible and efficient than the original.
The hybrid home concept can adapt to any technological level. Only the included windows represent a level of technology that cannot easily be achieved by an isolated farmstead. Windows can be replaced by simple, smaller openings shuttered on the outside and covered with thick insulating curtains on the inside. The solar-gain function of the design’s South-facing glazing can be replaced with a 4” thermal mass wall surrounded by thick, adjustable insulating curtains on both the inside and outside of the wall…
Here are two article that I wrote a few years ago that supplement this post:
Monday, January 03, 2005
(Update, 1/4/05: Oddly, The Advocate has removed the electronic archive of this story, so the link is dead. If you'd like to read where I found it, go to Chrenkoff's blog and read the his "Good News from Iraq, Part 18". I could make a career out of pointing out the contradictions in his writing...)
The US military is now providing free wheat seed to Iraqi farmers--434 tons of it so far. Sounds like a public relations victory on the surface... but then listen to this comment from Army public affairs:
"Iraq's wheat seed has been degraded tremendously because the farmers harvest their grain and then use the same wheat to replant," Acree said
Ahh! The catch: it's F1 hybrid seed that they're giving away--does not produce a fertile product. In other words, they can't replant it and grow more wheat next year. So... now they're dependent on more free wheat seed next year. How long will it be before they have to pay Archer Daniels Midland market price for their newfound habit? This is just one more example of the commodification of sustainable peasant agriculture, and the tendency of hierarchy to continually intensify by creating dependency.
And when the pollen blows in the wind and cross-polinates with other local Iraqi farmers, will the seed-patent holder sue for ownership? That's what is already happening in the US...
This, of course, should not come as a surprise to people who have followed the long history of Indonesian military repression of political dissidents, or of the US government support for these policies. As soon as the framework of the Cold War was in place, the US government began providing significant military aid to the right-wing Indonesian dictator Sukharno. These gifts of weapons and training were put to use killing at least 550,000 Indonesian peasants--ostensibly "communists" as they were agitating for political freedoms and land-reform. Then under the US-backed (and armed) dictator Suharto, hundreds of thousands more political dissidents (also known as freedom fighters) were slaughtered in East Timor. Acheh province (hardest hit by the Tsunami) is one of the latest wave of insurgencies and independence movements that characterize the patchwork quit and powder-keg that is Indonesia today.
The US government--and the US "led" "Global War on Terror"--are faced with two options: A) Support the principles of self-determination and human rights, and watch the colonial construct of Indonesia crumble into a myriad of ethnic and Islamic potentates, or back the only force capable of holding the whole mess together (while sacrificing the ideals of freedom and human rights) by continuing to support and arm the Indonesian military-government (led by General Susillo Bambang Yudhoyono). It is now clear that they have decided on the latter:
Of the millions of dollars of aid pledged to Indonesia, much of it will purchase helicopters and transports for the Indonesian military--superficially for use to distribute relief, but already being put to use for their real purpose: military raids and logistics.
Food aid is also becoming a tool of Indonesian government power. It is being largely distributed through military intermediaries (in other words, based on military priority), or interdicted by military forces. The US learned this lesson well in Somalia: if you distribute critically needed food at concentrated points, then ultimate grass-roots distribution of that food falls empowers the local chiefs that take charge of the distribution. We couldn't undercut the power of the Somali warlords as long as we used them to distribute food. We solved this problem in Afghanistan: we dropped food from the air using a wide-disbursement method that ensured the food went straight to the end consumer, rather than through the political distribution process of local warlords. So any guesses as to which method we've chosen for Indonesia? That's right, we've chosen concentrated point-disbursement of relief supplies, effectively ensuring that the Indonesian military can shape the new power-structure post-tsunami in Acheh (even though this method is considerably more difficult and costly than wide-aerial disbursement).
Finally, and perhaps most frightening, Tsunami Relief '05 appears to be the opening salvo in the campaign for Jeb '08. The President's brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been sent to coordinate the relief mission. What better way to bolster a weak foreign policy resume?? But, in truth, he's well qualified for the job: his prior foreign policy experience consists of working with Florida-based supporters of the Contra forces in Nicaragua.
Lasing devices--long researched as military anti-aircraft devices by the US, China, Russia, Israel, India and others (i.e. they're readily available) are much more than the Radio-Shack standard laser-pointer. It would be nearly impossible to train a simple laser pointer on a cockpit window 10,000'+ away, and the power of the laser would have no appreciable impact. Military lasing devices are gyro-stabilized, with targeting scopes and high-powered lasers capable of dazzling or even permanently blinding a pilot.
There is insufficient information regarding the impact on pilots from the recent incidents to characterize the devices involved, but the sudden appearance of this tactic, combined with the similarity in method suggests a coordinated plan. All incidents have demonstrated intelligent employment, if that is what is in fact happening: targeting aircraft at 5,000 to 10,000 feet--within the capabilities of lasing devices, but high enough (far enough from airports) as to create an impossibly large search grid for security personnel.
IF an adversary group has taken possession of a number of latest-generation, military-grade lasing devices (yet to be determined), then this is indeed a troubling new trend. With such high-powered devices and frequent attacks (again, IF that is what has been occurring), it is only a matter of time before a plane crashes. And when that happens, the inability to prevent these attacks will reveal critical weakness of our air-transport network.