Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Patriot Act II... Worse than Sister Act II

You've probably already heard about the Patriot Act II, otherwise known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act. There are the usual complaints: these changes are permanent (no sunset clause), and they expand counter-terrorism powers to things not at all related to terrorism.

Today I listened to a presentation by International Terrorism Law specialist Claude d'Estree, who is also an advisor to US Northern Command. He let us in on an interesting clause (specifically, an executive interpretation based on a clause): If you are designated as a terrorist (something that requires no disclosure and permits no appeal), and you are a naturalized citizen, your citizenship is revoked. No more due process for you! As precedent, they use the revocation of citizenship to former-Nazis who are later found to have committed war crimes at concentration camps.

Fun times... let me be the first to ask: what kind of new legislation will the fallout from Katrina bring? Get ready for it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rhizome, Communication, and Our “One-Time Shot”


My aim with this essay is to illustrate the historical circumstances that led to the constitutional evolution of the modern state system of hierarchal power centralization, to explain how contemporary events are invalidating the basis for that system, and to present a rhizome scheme of power distribution as a valid and desirable replacement. In addition, I will attempt to show that rhizome must transition from the parasitic use of hierarchy’s communication infrastructure to its own organic infrastructure in order to grow and flourish. Hopefully this will serve as a theoretical framework for people who wish to nurture the development of rhizome as a replacement to hierarchy. MAJOR TAKE-AWAY: Rhizome must develop a superior, organic communication theory or wither on the vine of hierarchy.

The Modern Development of Hierarchal Systems of Power Centralization

Machiavelli consciously shaped Florentine state structure to cope with the dynamic world facing the Italian city-states in the renaissance: the offensive dominance of siege artillery, the unreliability of Condottieri militaries, the need to use a state-structure to fund defenses alongside the contradicting need to establish personal legitimacy. These conscious actions are often cited (see Philip Bobbitt’s ‘Shield of Achilles’) as the turning point in the transition towards the unified hierarchal structure of the modern state, as they replaced the competing and overlapping hierarchies of the church-state system of feudalism. Perhaps most important in Machiavelli’s actions was that he consciously identified the need to create institutions that would intentionally intensify the hierarchal structure of a state in order to compete in a peer-polity world. Furthermore, he clearly articulated this message, influencing the generations of statesmen to follow.

This system is based on the creation of cascading dependencies: the need to continually grow and intensify hierarchies, created by the competition in the world’s peer-polity environment, forces the use of highly optimized systems. Highly optimized systems suffer from a technical difficulty known as ‘highly optimized tolerance’ (HOT), in which the need for continual growth and centralization forces the system to push well past the point of diminishing marginal returns to the boundary of diminishing aggregate returns. HOT systems are vulnerable to minor perturbations causing significant, cascading failures. In order to forestall the inevitable collapse of HOT systems, states create a “tragedy of the commons” scenario: they attempt to stave off diminishing aggregate returns by exploiting finite resources more quickly (and more unsustainably) than their peer-polity competitors. While some states recognize the futility of such non-sustainable resource use, if they refuse to follow such a policy they are summarily eliminated from the peer-polity game, as a state that does follow such a policy can absorb the non-participant and reap the benefits of this additional, temporary subsidy.

The End of the Power-Centralization Era

In the past, such peer-polity resource races led to periodic regional collapse. Today such a collapse is not possible—with the ‘Closing of the Map’ it is no longer possible for one region of the world to collapse while progress, technology, and “civilization” are maintained in another location, much like epidemic diseases. Instead, our global civilization simply swallows up non-performers or attempts at regional collapse and immediately reintegrates them into the global system. Take Russia in 1990, for example. In a ‘non-closed-map’ world, Russia may have languished for years, even centuries, while the reduced drain on resources permitted a reconstitution of resources and ecosystems that would later provide fuel for a renewed race towards yet another collapse. In today’s system there is no respite for such a recovery—“Western” and western-influenced internal forces immediately set to work continuing the exploitation of Russia’s resources, both natural and human. In today’s world, without the ability for regional collapse and reconstitution, the entire world functions as an integrated system. We have had a remarkable run of development, fueled by the twin processes of improving energy subsidy (coal, nuclear, oil, petroleum based fertilizer, etc.) and globalization (always newer and cheaper labor pools, newer and cheaper resource sources). But this will soon come to an end. The fundamental reality of the finite nature of resources upon which we depend (fossil fuels, uranium, metals), combined with the accelerating depletion of renewable resources which without regional collapse can no longer recover (forests, topsoil, clean water) is leading down the road to an inevitable global collapse.

The Fundamental Shift in Economics

At some point, there will be a global collapse. Which resource exactly that will trigger the chain of cascading failures is uncertain, as is uncertain exactly how far global civilization will slide. Perhaps it will be peak oil in 2006? Maybe peak natural gas in 2005? Or perhaps it will not happen until topsoil depletion and global pandemics provide a catalyst in a few decades. Either way, it seems certain that our civilization can only press inexorably forward until we find ourselves already off the edge of a cliff. Whatever resource is the catalyst, there will be a fundamental tipping point in our global economy. Our current system is predicated upon the need to centralize power and create dependency. Hierarchy must grow and expand, and in a closed system this is only possible by finding smaller, less hierarchal entities and unifying them into larger, more starkly hierarchal systems. Centralize power, wealth and control, and create dependencies and power relationships—this is the natural progression of hierarchy. The systemic tipping point will be when our system realizes that resource constraints will not only prevent a continued expansion and intensification, but will actually demand a continued contraction and devolution of hierarchy.

The Necessity of Power-Distribution in a Contracting Economy

In a post-peak world, the progression of structural systems must reverse. Creating dependencies, centralizing power will no longer be tenable in a contracting economy, a shrinking population, and a dwindling resource environment. As these factors converge, any attempt to create dependency (e.g. “here’s a new product and you need it”, or “I produce grain more cheaply and efficiently, so your nation can just import from us”) will face increasing difficulty as the cost of centralization will increase relative to the constant of available human labor. For example, it will be increasingly difficult for Uganda to prosper by developing a coffee-export based economy because it will cost increasingly more to transport that product to world-wide consumers, and to import the staples necessary to create a specialist-class of coffee producers. A poignant illustration of how cascading failures break apart the fabric of our modern world comes from New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

In short, the economic principles of economy of place and economy of scale which have driven economic growth throughout human history do not function in a contracting, post-peak world. This will fundamentally reverse the way our world works. Localization will be the new economic principle of the post-peak world order. As such, the new Machiavelli will tell us that our security and prosperity will hinge on conscious policies of reducing non-local dependency and distributing power.

Rhizome, a non-hierarchal, networked pattern of power distribution and economic organization, is the vehicle of choice. Rhizome does not represent a return to an impoverished and brutish world. However, a post-peak devolution slide, without the conscious implementation of rhizome, will result in exactly that. Without rhizome, we will gradually slide back to a sustainable level of internecine warfare, feudal fiefdoms and local strong-men. Rhizome promises a new means of connectivity and economic interaction that can substitute for the efficiency creating processes of hierarchy, in a form that is more compatible with the needs of humans. But rhizome is built upon a foundation of effective and efficient communication, and that development of that foundation is the issue upon which the future will turn.

Communication is the Lifeblood of Rhizome

Rhizome processes information entirely differently than hierarchy. It depends on the fusion of a regular network of local links between peers along with occasional, distant and weak contacts with a broad and diverse set of contacts. This “weak network” theory, and how rhizome can use it to process information more efficiently than hierarchy, is well illustrated by the classic example of the job search: in a traditional communications model (as used by hierarchy), you ask your 10 close friends for leads on jobs, and they each ask 10 close friends. The result—you don’t span a very large social network in your search. In the “weak network” model you ask 10 distant friends, and they in turn each ask 10 distant friends. With such a method you can span a far wider social network, and are more likely to locate a job prospect. Rhizome is defined by the non-hierarchal cooperation between peer entities, and this cooperation—the fundamental economic activity in rhizome—depends entirely on such effective forms of communication.

If rhizome is to provide a structural pattern for a post-peak world, then it must secure and advance its communication methodology and infrastructure.

Hierarchy Created the Communication Revolution

Hierarchy has created the revolution in communication technology and methodology upon which rhizome currently depends. Spurred by the benefits to hierarchy, technologies such as the telephone, internet, television, cell phone and computer define the current communications revolution. Similarly, methodologies like directories, contact lists, phone trees and push-pull theories have facilitated the ongoing expansion of hierarchal systems. Rhizome has developed as essentially a parasitic theory—in its modern form, with its promise to provide an alternative to the global, hierarchal system, it is a parasite on hierarchy’s communications infrastructure. The front line in rhizome communications—blogs, the internet, cell phones, message boards, etc.—are all technologies of hierarchy, if not all hierarchal themselves. They are technologies that will not continue in the absence of hierarchy, as the very processes that have made such personal electronics available to the masses are a result of our intensely hierarchal system.

The Dilemma of Hierarchy

Hierarchy will face a deepening dilemma: the very communication freedom that assists in countering diminishing marginal returns is also fostering an alternative system—rhizome—that is cutting in to perceived profits and power. At some point, hierarchy will try to re-exert control. Actually, this is already happening. DSL and cable internets do more than just provide greater bandwidth—they also take the internet access mechanism out of the world of more open phone systems and into the realm of exclusive distributorships and geographic monopolies. Microsoft Passport, trusted certificates, media consolidation laws, and other developments are but the first wave in the battle to take control of our communications. Rhizome and its continued viability survive as parasites on hierarchy’s communication backbone. The host is dying.

Transition from Parasitic to Organic Communication Infrastructure

In order to survive, to adhere to its own commandment to avoid dependency, rhizome must develop its own, organic communication hardware and software. There are examples from history and anthropology to draw on, but none of these have historically sufficed to prevent a relapse into hierarchy—especially in resource-rich and densely populated environments. Fortunately, we have the benefit of hindsight, and the temporary surpluses of our hierarchal system to assist in the development of just such a system.


The Olduvai theory states that humanity gets one shot to develop sustainable energy independence. To do so requires using up the surplus of fossil fuels that humanity started off with—this is a one shot deal. It looks like humanity has squandered that shot—but even if we could snap our fingers and invent cold fusion, that might not be the best possible outcome. Continued increase in energy surpluses will only lead to increased hierarchy, and increasing incompatibility between that hierarchy and our ontogeny. The single-shot opportunity to develop a utopian hierarchy is a fantasy; it is really no opportunity at all. In reality, we do have a single-shot opportunity. That opportunity is to use the one-time resources and infrastructure provided to us by our hierarchal system to create a communication system for rhizome—an organic system, one that will facilitate the post-peak transition to a rhizome world.


The basic theoretical model for rhizome communication is the fair or festival. This model can be repeated locally and frequently—in the form of dinner parties, barbeques, and reading groups—and can also affect the establishment and continuation of critical weak, dynamic connections in the form of seasonal fairs, holiday festivals, etc. Additionally, historical land use patterns can be revived towards these ends. In rural Austria the farmers traditionally live in small villages, facilitating frequent interaction and exchange, with each farmer walking each day to his fields a short distance away. Aborigine would gather seasonally in large encampments to exploit temporary resource surpluses, often not re-visiting a specific site again for several years. After this temporary camp, they would break up into smaller bands and retreat to less resource-rich environments. This is what history has to contribute to the structure of a future rhizome communications system.

It is not enough. History has also shown us that, absent something more, rhizome will fall prey to the cancerous spread of hierarchal structures. Where will we find such additional developments? I don’t have the answers to this, at least not yet. I don’t want to cloud this essay with ideas in progress and brainstorming—that is not the point of this piece. This is a call to action—a call to work towards this end. We still have a little time to come up with an answer, but probably not much...

Semilattice and Rhizome

Sajjad Afzal-Woodward of recommended this to me:

by Christopher Alexander

Excellent, fascinating piece...highly recommended, with excellent graphics that clearly explain the concepts. It reminds me of what Turing (I think?) said: humans will never be able to design a machine as intelligent as a human, but they might be able to grow one...

The basic principle of semilattice that Alexander lays out sounds like one of the "lost laws of rhizome". Where are the rest?

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Interesting commentary about Hurricane Katrina over at Weather Undergound. Dr. Jeff Masters has a "Day-After-Tomorrow-esque" comment:

"When hurricanes reach such enormous sizes, they tend to create their own upper-air environment, making them highly resistant to external wind shear."

And hurricane specialist Steve Gregory says:

"there really has never been such an intense storm in the Atlantic region that has been able to maintain this type of intensity for very long. 24 hours is about the longest on record, and 12 hours is probably the average. EVERY storm I know of in which we have been able to observe eye wall replacement cycles has always gone through the process to some degree. It's now been 24 hours since the last cycle finished. And at the moment, satellite imagery and the RECON data shows that the eyewall is clearly expanding. It never was able to get lower than 20NM
early this morning. Last night I conjectured that we may have seen an eye wall replacement cycle start this evening, and if it went slowly, the storm would weaken some before making landfall. (This is in addition to the potential for some light wind shear impacting the system before landfall.) At the risk of hitting enter on this, only to see Katrina begin a real eye wall cycling begin, I am wondering if what we are going to actually see is a 'pulsation effect' where the exiting eye wall expands out to say 40NM, and then shrinks back down towards 20NM by morning. And because there are absolutely no other known environmental variable (except some light shear in the NW quadrant by morning....) this would result in some additional easing of winds during the next few hours, followed by an increase back up to as much as 175mph winds again by daybreak. If this process actually unfolds"

We're already beginning to hear the "storm of the century" remarks. I'm not that old, and I've heard a lot of "X of the Century!" already, so I'm a bit skeptical. Isn't it possible that the warming ocean temperatures--global warming in action--is actually making this kind of thing relatively commonplace? As the temperatures continue to warm, just how commonplace will this become? Starts to sound a lot like that "grossly unrealistic" movie plot from 'The Day After Tomorrow.'

Either way, oil is already up $4 in the normally anemic Sunday night trading, and the information about damaged offshore platforms will not really begin to trickle in until Tuesday. A price of $80/barrel by Friday would not surprise me.

Like the opening minutes of a disaster movie...

Watching the weather channel right now is like the opening moments of a disaster movie--setting the stage for what everyone will be talking about come Monday. Looks like hurricane Katrina, now a category 4 storm with room to intensify further, is headed right towards the jugular of U.S. oil production and importation: Port Fourchon and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. Read this article on their vulnerability to a hurricane!

Speaking of disaster movies, this is shaping up exactly like FX's "OilStorm" movie that came out a few weeks ago... hurricane destroys Port Fourchon and the LOOP, tension in the Middle East (e.g. Sunnis fees further alienated by Iraqi constitution), combine to drive oil prices sky high.

While Peak Oil and this kind of disruption are mostly unrelated, I feel like this type of disaster will help raise awareness that will transfer to Peak Oil, which would be a good thing. That said, I sincerely hope that this doesn't hit New Orleans, as the death toll could be very high--the big question this time next week may not be "Pain at the Pump", but whether there is criminal liability on the part of New Orleans emergency managers for waiting until half an hour ago to issue a mandatory evacuation...

Does make me feel a bit smug, though, about my "long shot" Dec'05 @$100/barrel crude oil call options. For what it's worth, I think that they're still a bit too far off the money.

Tune in Monday morning at to watch the economic carnage. It's like a car accident on the other side of the freeway...

Friday, August 26, 2005

"Creative Commons?" No Thanks...

Why don't I have a Creative Commons license on my site? Easy: to do so would be to concede that I have some kind of ownership over my words. Sure, I can get legal systems all over the world to use the state's monopoly on force to back up that assertion. But it wouldn't make it morally right. Not that I'm big on "morality" either, but to take a moral reading of Kant's categorical imperative, if everyone were to go around asserting "ownership" in such abstract ways, why, we'd end up living in a hierarchal system! Can't have that.

So, just in case there was any confusion, I don't express any ownership over anything that I write here. Go ahead, use it, attribute it to me if you like (I think that's polite), but don't if you don't feel like it. Make money off it--if you can sell my book better than I can, fine by me. You can even call it your own. I just wouldn't turn in any of the stuff on this site as a paper for a university class--you probably won't get a very good grade. This is all pretty silly--why am I "giving permission" for you to do this? You certainly don't need it--I don't think that I have the moral "right" to require my permission...

If anyone wants to disagree with my view here, please explain. If, on the other hand, you want to publicly express that you, too, don't express ownership over your site's work, sign up below!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Random Post

Random thoughts (a more substantial essay is coming soon, really...)

1. Canada and Denmark get in a tiff, and Canada sends warships to the Arctic? What's the deal? Well, turns out that as the ice is melting, the north-west passage is now regularly open for summer ship traffic. That also means that offshore oil exploration in the far north is increasingly possible, with the potential for offshore platforms to operate for several months out of the year. There is likely at least one Prudhoe Bay sized field up there, and Canada and Denmark look like they're the first ones out of the starting blocks to express the requisite territorial claims to the waters around a few previously unimportant frozen rocks...

2. Google is launching a webphone and instant message service. Why jump in now? Looks like Google is unveiling their master plan: a massively asymmetrical assault on Microsoft. Google plans to create the equivalent of MS Office in an entirely web-based format, with these new applications alongside their desktop search, gmail, blogger, etc.. The real strike to the throat will be when Google unveils their own web browser--it's small steps from a web browser to an independent operating system/web-browser to an entirely online-application driven world. Is the the end to Windows & Office? Can this plan take the hat trick of Windows/Mac OS/Linux on all at once because of the beauty of the web's cross-platform compatibility? How long until Google provides everyone with free web-storage, free web-word processors, free-web spreadsheet, etc? Genius! The ability to consciously make such a paradigm shift like this is in many ways like that required in the hierarchy vs. rhizome issue (had to fit that in this post somewhere).

3. Just harvested my first figs. OK, let's be fair, I just harvested my first fig. It was amazing, a full flavored Sicilian fig from the tree in my living room...

4. Bond. Yes, he is an antiquated relic of the cold war, a story that is stretching for relevance in today's world. Well, I think that a return to the classics, something of a James Bond rennaissence is in order. You just can't deny the mastery of flims like Thunderball... but who will replace Pierce Brosnan? Names like Colin Farrell, Jude Law and Clive Owen have been bandied about. Well, I'll throw in my own unsoclicited candidate: Hugh Laurie.

Who? You may know him from his role as "House" on the aptly named "House". You may not know that he's English, Cambridge educated and has a rather distinguished career playing Bertie Wooster of P.G. Wodehouse fame. Dark Horse candidate for James Bond: Hugh Laurie. You heard it hear first. Damn...I'm like a one-man situation room! Or maybe more like Gideon Yago. Ouch either way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Pat Robertson Gets it Right!?

Christian Televangelist Pat Robertson has made some intelligent statments today! Doesn't mean I agree with everything that he's saying, but there's no denying that an evil genius is still a genius--or, in Robertson's case, reactionary front brain function is still front brain function...

With regards to Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, Robertson said "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability." Most major news outlets are now running their lead story: Robertson says "Assassinate Chavez".

That wasn't the intelligent part...

Robertson's evidence of front-brain function was this: "[Chavez is] a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us badly." Right you are, Pat. What scares me is that Robertson is the apparent vanguard of the Neocon's venezuela trial balloon. He has correctly identified that--from the perspective of America's neocon elite--Chavez and his oil reserves are a grave threat. The interesting part of the show will be convincing the rest of the sheep to put themselves in that camp--a camp that is a rational (if amoral in my opinion) choice for elites, but an irrational choice for the commoner. Act II: News reports will say that Chavez supports the communist, drug-running FARC in Colombia, constituting a "clear and present danger" to the national security of the United States. Get ready...

Monday, August 22, 2005

"With Us or Against Us?"

What exactly is going on with Iran these days? The traditional dichotomy--so eloquently phrased by Bush as "you're either with us or against us"--just doesn't seem to apply...

The American public doesn't support military action against Iran, although polls do suggest "they" do think that the Iranian regime is a threat to the US. Seriously? It's about as valuable to poll the average American about the threat from Iran as it would be to get a team of third graders to solve the space shuttle's flying foam problem.

The Mujahedin-e Kalq organization is the Saddam-era insurgent group funded by Saddam... and they're a US State Department designated foreign terrorist organization. THEN WHY IS THE US GOVERNMENT FUNDING THEM? (Source 1 2 3 4 5) Whoa... that's a good question.

See, during the Iraq war we were initially targeting the MEK encampments--bases inside Iraq along the Iranian border from which the MEK staged attacks against the Iranian regime. Pretty quickly we realized that "these guys aren't pro-Saddam, they're anti-IRAN, and so are "WE"! So we stopped bombing them, and since then have been quietly, covertly supporting an insurgency in Iran that is very much like our interventions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc. during the '80s.

So why is the Bush administration funding a marxist-secular revolutionary group in Iran? Specifically, the MEK marxist-secular organization which is also the group that Saddam used to repress the Kurds and Shi'a in Iraq--people who are now ostensibly our allies? Something tells me that the Kurds and Shi'a wouldn't be that happy that we're backing the MEK. The Shi'a aren't just standing still on the issue--they know. They've taken the BADR brigades (the Iranian backed, pro-shia group that fought Saddam before he became a 'constant gardner') and "dismantled them", taking the senior officers and installing them in all the leadership positions of the "new Iraqi army"--especially the special forces units--which they're now using in a classic tribal "erratic retaliator" strategy, killing Sunnis to spread the general perception of the new Shi'a power in Iraq.

But since the Shi'a politicians (elected!) are largely pro-Iranian (especially the Sharistani element), the US can't just sit back and let this whole democracy concept backfire on them, turning Iraq into a quasi-Iranian puppet state. So they're funding the MEK. Why can't the US just support the "legitimate" democratic opposition, the pro-capitalist, pro-US, pro-freedom and democracy and apple pie crowd? Easy--because those people are patriotic Iranians, and they want Iran to control Iran's oil. The US can't have that--they need Iran's oil, and they can't be bothered to pay market price for it, so they need to put a group in power (MEK) that they can control via the classic "exploitation policy" to control a country by putting a distinct minority party in power with US support. What would the Iranian-majority patriots do if they had their way? They're already doing it: they're building an oil and gas pipeline to India--a direct threat to the continuation of hydrocarbon supply to "the West".

Can't have that...problem is that the US has already cried wolf once with Iraq, and are having an increasingly difficult time convincing the world of the ongoing necessity and legitimacy of their actions. In order to get their way with Iran, look out for a whole new quiver of tactics and underhanded, covert imperial tools. The US already made the mistake of saying "we need to support democracy". The budding "democracy" in Iraq will be the biggest policy mistake that the US made in the region (from the neocon perspective). Democracy in Iran would be an even greater problem--one could make an argument that Iran already is democratic, and that is the source of the problem! Iran, over the next decade, will be a proving ground for the tactics first developed in Indonesia, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. And concurently in Colombia.

This is not a conflict of "western democracy vs. evil tyrants." This is a conflict of "western, self-interested elites and their second/third world partners vs. the broader populist movements everywhere that want a more equitable distribution of wealth and power." The fundamental ideological fire that fueled the cold war has not gone away, it has only morphed. What was capitalism vs. communism has come home and shown its true colors: this is hierarchy vs. rhizome. You just knew I would come back to that one way or another!

The Chaco Whitewash

(Photo of Pueblo Bonito by Elisa Drucker)

I've just returned from a weekend road trip to Chaco Canyon, the ruined center of the Chacoan civilization. Impressive ruins. Fantastic scenery. Complete whitewash by the National Park Service...

Chaco is of interest for many reasons, but for me it is perhaps most interesting as a very powerful example of civilizational collapse. It's a learning laboratory for how commodity redistribution can form political networks, how dependence leads to subservience, the role of ritual and astrology in political formation, and a variety of other fascinating topics. It's also only 8 hours from my house... If you've read Joseph Tainter's "Collapse of Complex Societies", then you know a fair amount about Chaco. If not, I highly recommend the book.

Chaco seems relevant to today for so many reasons that I made the trip to see it first hand. I even sat down to watch the movie in the park's visitor center. It was a complete whitewash--and I quickly began to realize that the entire NPS treatment of Chaco was a whitewash. The word collapse, or any reference to the whole concept of collapse, is not mentioned in the movie. It is not in any of the museum displays, informational booklets, nowhere. Instead, fluffy explanations about Chaco's ruined status abound: "the Pueblo people's spirituality means that we are like the clouds, always changing. After some time, the Pueblo people decided to move on." No, what actually happened is that the Chaco civilization collapsed because of diminishing marginal returns, environmental stress and an ever-intensifying hierarchy and aristocracy. But we wouldn't want to scare people...

Back up: driving the last 100 miles to Chaco we passed through the Farmington, New Mexico area. This is the center of Southwest oil and gas... isolated trailer shantys, strip mall "puebloesque" development and oil and gas wells and industry pock mark the scrub brush landscape as far as the eye can see. Despite--or in spite of--New Mexico's natural beauty, we're doing a pretty good job making the place ugly. Chaco canyon is a parable for our peak oil times. Too bad it isn't being told...

Fortunately, there was a silver lining to my Chaco trip: I found a book at their bookstore, "The Chaco Meridian" by Stephen H. Lekson. Very interesting discussion of Chaco in a broader historical context, but even more interesting was discussion of the political mechanics embodied by the Chacoan (and, as he asserts, by the Aztec (the ruin in NM, not the Mexican civilization) and Paquime societies). Lekson discusses the competing organizational models at the time of the collapse of Chaco--namely kachina ceremonialism: "The new kachina ceremonialism promised prosperity without government...[n]ew ritual patterns cemented both the southern region and the burgeoning towns within it, without hierarchies or government." (p.159)

Is it possible that as the chaos of the chacoan collapse ensued, the Pueblo people found a rhizome replacement to Chaco's hierarchy? I find this possibility fascinating: Chacoan and Mississipian civilizations tend to be overlooked when studying the processes of state formation and possibilities for modes of political organization. How much do they have to teach us?

If anyone has enough knowledge of kachina to comment on Lekson's theory, please get in touch with me--I'll be doing my own research and (time permitting) have something on the topic here in the near future...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Tribalism & Rhizome

From John Robb's latest post at Global Guerrillas, it seems that the concept of tribalism and rhizome is spreading rapidly within the international conflict theory community. Take a look at David Ronfeld's article on the topic.

I recently gave a presntation about this at a conference. I was trying to explain the difference in operational command and control between hierarchy and rhizome, and to explain how groups like al-Qa'ida, Hugo Chavez and MS-13 are working together, even if they are not consciously coordinating their activity as a hierarchy would. In fact, their cooperation is emergent cooperation--and it was this that finally gave me the analogy that I needed:

The brain is an example of rhizomatic, emergent command and control. Many neurons, firing back and forth, with no central "command neuron" telling the others what to do. And yet, with remarkable efficiency, this seemingly unrelated activity produces directed, conscious and coordinated action. It produces consciousness, intelligence, memory, analytical processing and physical action. This is how rhizome works--and this is how "organizations" like al-Qa'ida, ELF and the FARC are gradually working together more and more, even though they may have zero direct contacts with each other...

It takes a new paradigm--the paradigm of rhizome--to understand and worth with or against this new mode of world events...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

War Story II

I just finished watching Control Room, a documentary about al-Jazeera and the Iraq War. It reminded me of another story worth sharing:

After the invasion of Iraq had begun, the US 5th Corps and 3rd Corps were driving towards Baghdad in armored spearheads, while the British forces were spreading out and resolving "areas of difficulty" in the South. There was concern that resistance would stiffen as our forces neared Baghdad and the more loyal Iraqi forces began to make concerted stands against the US advance. This led to the fear that the US advance would bog down and lead to a more asymetrical war--definitely not what the US wanted. Of course, we now know that Saddam intentionally siphoned off his core forces to take up future 5th column activities--the current insurgency--but at the time there was significant concern that if Saddam's more crack troops could fall back to urban areas they could mount a serious urban resistance. A plan had to be devised that would take Baghdad early--isolating these forces in the more open areas south of Baghdad where they could be destroyed.

Enter Operation SCORPION. I was involved in planning the electronic warfare portion (specifically communication jammin) as I was the Chief of Intelligence for the 41st Electronic Warfare Squadron at the time, based out of "Camp Snoopy" in Doha, Qatar. However, as Camp Snoopy was also the headquarters of an expeditionary wing of C-130 transport aircraft, it was ground zero for planning, as this was going to be one of the largest airborne insertions since Arnhem. More on that last part in a bit...

To sum up Operation SCORPION: Delta Force with their Little Bird helicopters establish a expedient perimeter around Baghdad International Airport, immediately followed by several dozen C-130 and C-17 aircraft flying in a few thousand infantrymen into a field that barely, hopefully, controlled. Use this island to precipitate the early fall of Baghdad, etc.

The problem: well, other than the extreme risks of landing a plane like a C-130 on an essentially hot airfield in a city that has hundreds of people with SA-14s who want to shoot you down, there was a serious logistical issue with tarmac operations. Once the planes landed and proceeded to the unloading zone on the parking apron, they would create a long single-file line of aircraft. If one broke down, or was damaged by enemy fire, there would be no way for the planes behind it to get around it or turn around. And the whole operation was dependent on throughput--get the planes in and out fast enough to get enough forces into the airfield to be viable in the face of a counterattack. The whole thing was beginning to remind me of the problems that 30 Corps faced in the drive to Arnhem--literally the "Bridge Too Far".

For those of you not familiar with the movie "A Bridge Too Far", in an attempt to sieze a critical bridge over the Rhine in World War II, Field Marshal Montgomery directed a daring airborne operation siezing three towns by air--the last being Arnhem with the actual bridge over the Rhine--and then connecting the dots and providing necessary holding strength by driving 30 Corps (Armored Corps) down narrow one-lane roads all the way there. Germans shot the tank in front, the whole armored column had to stop, ended in disaster and retreat, etc.

We didn't know if Operation SCORPION would actuall go ahead, as it depended on the bogging down of V Corps and III Corps south of Baghdad. But, in the interim, I decided it was time for a little guerrilla warfare of my own--after all, this kind of thing was far too important for a lowly Lieutenant with a history degree to have anything meaningful to add. So... I borrowed a friend's copy of "A Bridge Too Far", marched down to the mission planing tent, and put it up on the big-screen. Lay people may think that when planning a mission of such importance there was no time for watching a movie. On the contrary--in this case a movie was welcome relief from the nearly endless hours of "Medal of Honor", a first-person-shooter game that worked remarkably well on our mission planning LAN. So, we watched a movie, conversations spontaneously sprung up about the similarities between Arnhem and SCORPION, and my work was done.

I'd love to say that this led to the cancellation of the operation, or at least some re-thinking. In reality, our ground advance never bogged down and the operation was never needed.

So it goes...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Daily Show & more...

Last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central the guest was John Hockenberry, the author of a recent Wired article on Military Blogs. Hockenberry discussed the phenomena of blogging—and other advances in non-hierarchal information processing—available for the first time in the current military conflict in Iraq. Fascinating stuff, especially considering that it aired in Prime Time on the Daily Show, something that is quickly becoming (in my opinion) both Main Stream Media REAL news, and the only part of Main Stream media that I regularly take the time to watch.

My recent article “Rhizome” is, I think, very salient to this topic. It will be published next month by the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet in “Politics To Go”, which now has its own web page up.

In other news, as I write this Light Sweet Crude is trading at $65.50 a barrel. I recently (finally) put my money where my mouth is on this one with one CLZ07 call option, at a strike price of $80/barrel. I don’t honestly know if the dramatic disparity between increasing and inelastic demand and level or decreasing supply will precipitate a crisis this Fall, or when exactly, but I have no doubt that it will happen, and soon. Right now, however, this disparity, coinciding with Greenspan feeling secure enough in the US economy to embark upon a long-term program of interest rate hikes suggests to me that price has a long, long ways to go up before it destroys sufficient demand to return to a lower equilibrium. The bottom line is that oil is still quite cheap to produce—but we are more and more fixed on exactly how much we can produce. The whole issue will “tip” when people finally realize that this is not a temporary problem created by refinery capacity, or temporary supply shortage until new projects come on line. When that realization tips, prices will spike. The next realization—that a general peak in energy coupled with our lack of foresight will lead reversing our general expectation of economic growth to a new general expectation of economic contraction—will lag behind a few months, allowing for profit taking.

“Islands” are expensive, whether real or conceptual. And they will only go up in price. Buy now :)

Oh, and Simmons has a new presentation out.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mechanisms of Empire

My paper "All Roads Lead to Rome" is currently in the refereeing process for publication in the Mediterranean History Review (University of Tel Aviv). But as Dan of tdaxp points out, "The blogosphere is abuzz with empires...".

Dan and I recently discussed Chirol's concept of empire. The title of Chirol's essay -- "Why Empires are Inevitable and Positive" -- should make it pretty clear that I don't agree with his formulation. I suggest that "Why Empires Tend to Intensify and Alienate" is a more accurate title, but I've already written about that. Basically, Chirol states that there are two options, empire or anarchy, and that any intermediary stage is just the chaotic transition back and forth. If you accept his premise that you must pick either A or B, then his argument holds more water. My fundamental objection is that I think there is a valid third choice: rhizome.

Theorists of empire seem to enjoy making models for how the thing works--I'm certainly guilty of this. Chirol's model of empire is perhaps best described as a neo-con formulation of empire. He says that: "As a second generation empire, the United States has a responsibility to itself and the world to maintain peace by maintaining unparalleled military and economic might and not allowing these to wane." I prefer to look on empire--and anarchy and rhizome--as mere patterns, the self-organization of flows of energy involving humanity (or the absence thereof, as in anarchy). From this perspective, the critical features that differentiate patterns of human organization are the differing mechanisms of self-organization and intensification. A variety of mechanisms have been proposed--Wittfogel's "Hydraulic Empires", my suggestions of a "Connectivity Empire" based on the Roman Road system, etc. In my discussion with Dan, we entertained the notion that the currently emerging empire may also be a connectivity-based empire due to things like the Internet and the exponential increase in global information flows. My problem with this concept is that conventional wisdom states that the Internet is decentralized, almost rhizomatic. ARPANET was designed to withstand a nuclear attack, so therefore it was based on a rhizome model, not a hierarchal model. Or at least so goes conventional wisdom? In my suggested paradigm of "mechanisms of self-organization", the critical point in the modern empire of global information is the point at which the self-organizing patterns that serve as the foundation of this global information system "tip" from rhizome to hierarchy. Was "The Net" ever really based on rhizome? When and how will it change to a hierarchal model, and has it already? There is no doubt that a wide array of players are already attempting to make it more hierarchal--to create self-intensifying hierarchal institutions within this information system that they will then be able to harness for their own selfish purposes--whether this is corporations like Google attempting to harness surpluses of hierarchy towards the end of corporate profit, or entities like the US government using institutions like Echelon to harness the surpluses of hierarchy towards the end of information control. If we accept the premise (shaky at best) that the Internet really was once rhizome, and that other hierarchal structures are seeking to co-opt this framework, then what will be the face of this change?

This may be the principle battleground of the next Epochal Conflict (more on that soon...). I wrote recently about the unification of many global movements and ideologies around the concept of rhizome in "Rhizome Politics" (which will be included in the soon-to-be-published
"Politics To Go: A Handbook on Using Mobile Tech to Empower Just-in-Time Politics", from ). Rhizome will increasingly attempt to utilize a networked global information system towards its own propagation--and no doubt Hierarchy will contest this high ground.

After-the fact critique is easy for the armchair general. But in the fog of war, as events are moving in real time, it is often far more difficult to pick out this conceptual high ground, this "schwerpunkt", this "center of gravity". Is it possible that for the coming epochal conflict between hierarchy and rhizome the ability to draw the global information system towards one pattern or the other will be the elusive key to victory?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Getting really desperate...

I received this in the mail today from the Army Reserve: find out more about careers, benefits and training close to home, visit the personal website we've created for you. Just go to:

In other conspiracy-theory related news, Democracy Now has an interesting bit:

Bush's Exit Plan: Fomenting Civil War in Iraq?

I had this to say about the very same topic around Christmas time: