George Friedman’s shocker

This is not just unprecedented, it is simply shocking. If you don’t know who George Friedman is, you can google him. He founded Stratfor, then left when it grew larger than he liked and founded Geopolitical Futures. He is perhaps the most widely-read geopolitical analyst and he had always done one thing in his twenty years of public analysis – he has stayed strictly out of partisan American politics. This morning, that changed. I will simply direct you to this morning’s email to subscribers which is also freely available at his website.

I am not surprised by his general analysis and whether his specific prediction turns out to be right or not, we will know soon enough. But this is causing waves as I write. He is simply too well-known and too well-respected to be ignored.

So here is his latest comentary, WTF?.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in Global analysis, Global politics, The Future, US politics | 2 Comments

George Friedman on The First Presidential Debate

George Friedman, founder and CEO of Stratfor for two decades and now CEO of a new global analytical firm, Geopolitical Futures, wrote subscribers today with his reaction to last night’s US Presidential debate. He does it so well that I will share it with you in its entirety. He allows subscribers to share some of his reports freely and this is one of them, so there are no copyright concerns. I will add a brief comment at the end, but I now turn this over to Dr. Friedman.

Sept. 27, 2016
Wrestling Comes to the Presidency
The candidates and the audience have thrown decorum by the wayside.
By George Friedman

I watched last night’s debate having decided that I was going to write something about it in spite of the fact that I don’t normally write on domestic American politics. There are two reasons for this. First, there are so many others doing a fine job of it. Second, and this is particularly true in this election, I know that I will get serious hate mail no matter what I say. The passions in this election are so intense that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters believe that any slight to their hero warrants rage. I had someone email me a few weeks ago that I should be taken to the gallows because of something I wrote about the election. I have to think the writer was British, because who else uses the term gallows.

Let me begin this discussion by saying that I am one of many people who feel that I cannot vote for either candidate. I am the perfect center of American politics, balanced between the two poles, and increasingly unshakeable. So if you feel I have insulted your favorite candidate, rest assured it isn’t because I like the other one.

The most startling thing tonight is the chaos of the election. The first debate I ever saw was John F. Kennedy versus Richard Nixon in 1960. I was bored. I have since watched almost all the presidential debates, and most of them had a substantial element of boredom, with rare moments of striking wit. But all debates I recall had a basic decorum. A question was asked, a certain time was allotted to answering, and the answer might have gone a bit long, but only a little. It was fair to both candidates, and allowed us to see how they formulated answers off the top of their heads. It actually didn’t tell me much, and it was boring, but I had no problem with my president being boring. His job was to oversee many things, filled with details, and a flashy personality might not be a handicap, but it certainly wasn’t essential.

What struck me tonight was the complete absence of decorum. There was no respect for either the question or the time limit. The moderator will undoubtedly be blamed, but there was no way he could control that. He could not insist that the question he asked be answered or that the candidate shut up after a bit. The audience also felt free to ignore the rules. And that was what struck me the most: the candidates and the audience clearly didn’t think the rules mattered or that they were essential to anything as significant as a presidential debate.

It was then I realized that the presidential debate was no longer about the solemn process of the citizenry of the republic selecting the president and commander-in-chief of our armed forces. I was watching World Wide Wrestling. I confess to having liked to watch wrestling in my youth. I knew it was faked. I knew that all the howling and screeching were to please the audience. I suspected that neither wrestler really cared about the other, no matter how much they raged. The referee was ignored or sometimes thrown out of the ring.

The more I watched the debate, the more I felt I was watching a staged wrestling match. No one paid attention to the rules. No one paid attention to the referee. There were howls and screeches, but no one actually laid a hand on the other. Both were in their own world, and the world of their advisers, saying things with the primary purpose of making the other candidate howl in impotent rage.

When did we become this way? I remember a particular program that broke all the rules back in the 1980s. It was called “Crossfire.” Until that point, political discussions on TV were rather sober affairs. “Meet the Press” follows the old line of TV politics. “Crossfire” had two people from the left and two from the right (anyone in the middle didn’t exist). A moderator threw out a question, and the participants began talking over each other, yelling and occasionally hurling personal invective. I recall that it was shocking, and that commentators were solemnly appalled. But the show had an audience. And the more unseemly it was, the more the ratings went up.

Tonight’s debate was the direct descendant of “Crossfire.” It violated all norms of civilized behavior. It was an arena of certainty and contempt, and it treated a debate on serious matters of public policy on national television as if it were a wrestling match. Over time, political discussions on television have deteriorated. When “Crossfire” began, it had some extremely intelligent and knowledgeable people. But as time went on, people were clearly selected for their endurance rather than their knowledge. It must have burned off many calories to get through that show. Today, with a handful of exceptions, that is what political discourse has descended to.

Wrestling or watching the Kardashians does not strike me as significant. But the discussion of war in which Americans might be killed or police arrests where Americans were killed requires a sort of sobriety that we no longer have. Also lost was any sense of a citizen’s responsibilities as a solemn obligation and candidates conducting themselves with dignity.

I saw little dignity in either candidate. Trump played the role he has played all along. Clinton played the role of a policy adviser. Neither seemed to understand that behaving with gravitas, with seriousness, is not meant to impress other people. It is meant to remind yourself that you are a candidate for president of the United States and as such may be called on to make decisions that will affect the future of the country.

More important, the candidates were supposed to represent a truth fundamental to democratic life. As much as they might have disagreed with each other, whatever they thought privately, their public personas toward each other should be meticulously courteous, and personal charges and counter-charges excluded as much as possible. The reason is simple. In a democracy there are elections, but if the republic is to survive, the elections cannot override the fact that we are all citizens, and that our agreements override our disagreements. Each candidate should be honored to support the other if he or she wins.

In the wrestling ring it doesn’t matter. You know that at the end of the night, the wrestlers will have drinks with each other. We have reached the point where insults, no matter how vile, and how unforgivable, are not only accepted but expected by the public. Trump said that Hillary doesn’t have stamina. Clinton charged him with failing to pay his workers. Nothing was out of bounds. And very little that was said mattered. At the end of the night, we can wonder who won the wrestling match, but truthfully it didn’t matter. We had our favorites and that was that.

As I watched the debate I cared little about what they said, most of which I had heard before. What I was struck by was the complete absence of dignity on both their parts, the dignity necessary to hold the office. Assuming the burdens of the office is not a cliché. But the debate was designed to make us forget that. In the end, the most important thing a president will do is something he or she never anticipates doing. There is a moral strength needed at the moment when the unexpected opens its jaws at you. The debate didn’t even try to show us that.

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I can’t add much to that, except to say that this was (and is) the reason I wanted (and want) to see Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party up there behind a third podium. I have heard Gov. Johnson speak and be interviewed on a dozen occasions or more in the last couple months and there is no question in my mind that he deserves to be heard. Lacking his input, and Bill Weld’s in the one and only Vice-Presidential debate, the “debates” are just another form of entertainment and a poor one at that. I am so tired of the self-anointed “elite” and its reduction of the American political process to a sandbox spat. As Americans, we deserve better than that. Indeed, the rest of the world who still occasionally looks to the USA for inspiration deserves better too.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

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We need a new act in the American political circus

I give up. I have been trying to avoid the quadrennial American political circus that, this year, is especially disturbing. I have taken an essay I published here two years ago and updated the statistics, some of the text, and (unavoidably) my age. I think my thoughts of two years ago are still very much valid today. So, here it is.

The excitement caused by Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has died down to a whisper, but not the issues he raised regarding the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority of the population. The futility of implementing his proposed global wealth tax is obvious to all but the most blindly ideological. The argument over how one determines “wealth” will continue.

I will not deal with wealth here, but focus on income, something easier to quantify and a measure of how much a group benefits at any given point in time, and I will concern myself only with the US. The statistics on US income are not the target of particular controversy. Since the same basic trend can be found among the top 1%, the top 5%, and the top 10% of income-earners, I will use the middle group, the 5%, as my example today.

Using the statistics provided at The World Top Incomes Database created by Mr. Piketty’s team, here is a graph of the percentage of total income in the US earned by the  “top 5%” over a 63-year period beginning in 1953 and the inauguration of President Eisenhower through 2015, the third year of President Obama’s second and final term. This removes the impact of World War Two and any residual impact during President Truman’s tenure. Call this, if you like, the Modern Age.

Income share of the top 5%

Clearly, something significant happened in the 1980’s. This graph concerns US income distribution, so it must reflect government policies, at least in good part, right?

Most people’s first reaction to this graph, at least those from my generation (I am 71), is to identify President Reagan’s tax cuts as the turning point. To me, that is too much focus on a tree while the forest stares me in the face.

The first 28 years, when the top 5% received just over 20% of the income, represent six Presidencies (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter), three Democrats and three Republicans.

The remaining 35 years represent five Presidencies (Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush, and Obama), three Republicans and two Democrats.

Some were generally judged to be conservative (e.g., Reagan), some moderate (e.g., Carter), and some liberal (e.g., Obama).

Ignoring trees and looking at the forest, what does this graph tell me? It tells me that the party identification or the ideological identification of the governing President made absolutely no difference at all to the proportion of income received by the top 5%.

There is no correlation, none, nada, zilch. If there was, you would be looking at a roller coaster, not a flat plain leading up to a mountainside. Either that, or Presidents Clinton and Obama are secret admirers of President Reagan.

Now, let me be clear. I see no sense in demonizing people who earn more money than I do. Nor am I a fan of demonizing people who are paid a lot more money than I think they are worth, as long as it’s not my money. If it’s my money given willingly, than I am the demon. But this is not the issue that concerns me today.

What concerns me is that we are now beginning the intense final period of an election year. Once again, I have no doubt Republicans will be criticized, even demonized, as the ones responsible for the results shown above. Once again, I have no doubt Democrats will insist they are the only people standing between the greedy corporate hoard and the innocent public.

I also have no doubt that the Democrats will be demonized as the “tax and spend” party, while Republicans will insist that only they can offer the programs that will strengthen the free market and benefit everyone.

To me, the graph above puts the lie to all that.

I am an independent and am thoroughly unimpressed with both “major” political parties. Their leadership is uninspired and uninspiring, and I am not alone. The results are clear in the polls. But I am especially not a fan of political manipulation from either side and one look at that chart explains why.

I am an American and intend to remain one, but I live and work outside the US. I look back with sorrow on my home nation. The level of semi-hysterical emotionalism from our political leadership is unnerving. The world has changed and I believe they know it, but I don’t think they have a clue what to do about it that won’t cost them votes in the election, if they actually do have a clue. After all, it is not about reality, it is about votes. To make matters worse, it seems most economic and investment analysts are every bit as blind, frightened, and lost. After all, it is not about reality, it is about money.

However, what really aggravates me is that this is so simple and so obvious.  Why is it so hard for the politicians and the analysts to see that it goes ignored?

Our current leaders, both political and economic, of what I call the “Old World of the North Atlantic” are so trapped in the failure of their own analyses and policies of past decades that they are unable to look clearly at the present for fear of the future, especially their future.

I will listen to Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton in the campaign now underway, hoping to hear something far more innovative and convincing than I have heard from either to date.

But I am pleased that I will have one other choice to consider.  For the first time in my lifetime, as far as I’m concerned, a “third party” provides two candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency who deserve attention.  They are the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, former two-term Governor of New Mexico elected to his second term by a double-digit margin, and William Weld, former two-term Governor of Massachusetts elected to his second term by an astonishing 43% margin.  That’s not a landslide; that’s an earthquake!

There are other third parties that will be represented, but none have or expect to have candidates who have the credentials to step into office and go to work as Governors.  Five of our last seven Presidents came to the Oval Office via a Governor’s mansion – Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush.   It is a very credible route to the Presidency and the Vice Presidency and these two gentlemen have earned their credibility as much as any of those who came before them.

At the very least, I would like to see the Libertarian ticket reach 15% in at least five national polls and qualify for inclusion in the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.  The Republican and Democratic tickets need to be forced to deal with serious issues they otherwise likely will ignore or address in the spiteful and nasty way they do now.

There is much yet to be said and done, but it is a relief to know that there are three tickets to choose from, not just two, but the third one needs to be heard by everyone.

Like it or not, the more than seven billion of us who keep things running on this planet must depend on leadership that has a clear idea of where we are, where we should be, how we should get there, and then are able to communicate that to the rest of us successfully. That leadership does not exist today, most clearly not in US or in Europe, but the problem is global.

I like to think that the United States of America, which has been such a great global leader in decades past, can once again be a great global leader in today’s confused and conflicted world.

Until it does, we are all lost in a global forest. And pardon me for saying so, but I smell fire.

Postscript – This campaign has been absorbing my attention recently, despite my distaste for the insults and shouting, but it has brought me back to another concern that is very important to me as a result of five decades of professional work – the ongoing growth of a new global economy. I will be dealing with that, along with my interests in genetics, automation, and other future-oriented topics, in coming weeks.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in US politics | 5 Comments

The End of the Beginning (2)

After sending yesterday’s message to my friend, she responded and some more up-dating was required. So this was my response to her response.


The first step is to understand that each of us is programmed at conception. Each of us is the expression of code written entirely by random without our input or that of anyone else, parents included. Done.

The second step is to organize the code (sequence the DNA) so that it can be read. Done.

The third and fourth steps are being implemented in tandem. Interpret the code and engineer it. Done for plants on a wide-scale and a growing number of animal species.

The fifth step is to engineer a human genome. The Chinese did this first last year, much to the shock of the genetics community. They used fetuses that were “non-viable” (could not come to term), but they crossed the line into human research. The UK gave approval for a new set of experiments that are very modest in goal, but push things one step further. There are a number of other experiments now completed, all for noble purposes associated with disease, but all involving precisely the same techniques as will be used for other kinds of engineering in the future.

A major step was taken very recently at a global summit on gene editing leaving “the door open to one of the most controversial uses of that technology, altering human eggs, sperm, or early embryos in a way that allows those changes to be inherited by future generations (my emphasis). In a statement issued on Thursday as the summit ended, the organizers said the promise of such “germline editing” was so great that “intensive basic and preclinical research” on non-human animals “is clearly needed and should proceed.”

They added that any such changes should not be allowed to continue to pregnancy, but that is the longer-term purposed for any such experiments and everyone knows it. Again, it’s always for noble purposes now, but the ignoble is dealt with in precisely the same manner. The Brits are doing a great deal along these lines and some from the Imperial College believe they have now identified the genes associated with intelligence, another small but critical step.

The potential threat from all of this (if you read the global summit article above, among many others) has led to very emotional and bitter debates, but the direction is set, although the debate and what lies behind it are almost entirely unknown to the public at the moment. That will come.

Gene editing/engineering is now publicly recognized as a threat by the US intelligence community, “Genome editing is a weapon of mass destruction. That’s according to James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, in the annual worldwide threat assessment report of the U.S. intelligence community, added gene editing to a list of threats posed by “weapons of mass destruction and proliferation.” Good article on this at the MIT Tech Review. I have to admit, that does not bring a smile to my face. Just what we do not need, another weapon of mass destruction! But it is what it is, so we have to deal with it.

Two processes entirely beyond human control until now have determined the development of the human race. Genetics provided as great a variety of different kinds of humans as could be provided, given the number of eggs and sperm available. Natural selection allowed those best adapted to whatever circumstances were current at their birth to prosper and leave more progeny than those less well-endowed.

Those processes are much too slow for the challenges of today and tomorrow. Appropriately, humans are now aware that they can take over the processes that have been random for tens of thousands of years and do it themselves to themselves and their progeny. It is not that we will do it. We are doing it and we will do more in days to come. Five years from now, we will be in a different place. Ten years, yet another. Change is already very rapid by historical standards, but more importantly, it is accelerating.

Those are my original messages. In the next post, I will add some reflections and comments beyond those above as my thinking on this topic continues to develop.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in genetics, Technology | Leave a comment

As we come to the End of the Beginning

Are human beings organic machines operated by organic computers that are programmed at the point of conception? How does this limit our “free will”? Do we have any free will now? These are genuine “existential” questions, those that go directly to the concept of who we are – our existence.

I have written in the past on the topics of genetics, genomics, genetic engineering, gene therapy, and so forth, but I always have trouble getting across the basic issue – who we are. Recently, a friend wrote about genetics and behavior and I tried to answer her questions in an email. Below is my first response, lightly edited. I will publish my second follow-up response tomorrow. Then in a third post, I will sum up my feelings on this topic beyond just the material covered here.

Folks, we are entering a transition in human history unlike any before. This is just a step along the way, but new steps are taken every day. We are nearing the end of the beginning of that transition, if we are not already there.

The really interesting developments are in our understanding of human behavior, not human memory. If you follow genetics at all closely, you can see it unfolding right now.

A large majority of liberals, a good majority of moderates, and a smaller, but growing, number of conservatives accept that being gay is “natural”, i.e. gays are genetically pre-disposed to homosexual activity. Therefore, they cannot be blamed for it nor did they choose it, but should be accepted as who they are by nature. I take that position myself. We use words like “by nature” instead of “genetic predisposition” because we are more comfortable with them.

Will those who accept gays as natural be prepared to accept that racism is a genetic predisposition too? In other words, racists are born, not made? But like homosexuality, genetic racism would not be obvious until later in the life of the individual, not at birth.

If we defend gays on a natural/genetic basis, are we ready to defend racists on the same grounds?

Are we ready to have our own DNA sequenced, interpreted, and be found to have some unpleasant genetic code included among the 20–25,000 genes and 3 billion base pairs of our code (and that’s just DNA, there is more than that to the human genome)?

Are we willing to accept that we are programmed with behavioral predispositions, not just hair and eye color, from conception? Are we willing to accept that our “free will” is in great part an illusion? Some scientists already argue that free will is entirely an illusion, but I don’t find their arguments, despite some fascinating research, as being at all sufficient. However, I do accept that we have severe limitations to our free will and that is reflected in how very slowly and incompletely human behavior changes over time.

This is only the very tip of a rapidly growing research iceberg. It is mainstream, not fringe. But it is very upsetting to people. These are not simply existential questions, this is existential reality. Every year, it gets more interesting, but the gap between research and public awareness grows wider.

As only one example, “loneliness” is a subject of study that is “part of a growing effort to map out the genetics of social behavior and its underpinnings in the brain” and reported in Quanta magazine. Today, loneliness, tomorrow, take your behavioral pick.

One of these days, I have argued elsewhere, awareness will suddenly increase. We are waiting for something that forces us to confront ourselves and what we are doing. It may be an event, but the event is not the cause, anymore than the stock market crash in ’29 caused the Depression. It is a process and it is unfolding. It will only seem sudden to the unaware. Research into genetics and the human genome cannot be stopped. Humans will not stop looking for answers to their questions.

We are alive during the most important transition in human history. We will engineer ourselves and our progeny in the not-so-distant future. The debate will likely occur during your and my lifetimes.

We will create the next stage in human evolution. Very exciting, but the getting from here to there is going to be met with fear and often with loathing. We will know how we will respond only when we get there. Political ideology will not tell us now how we will react to what is coming. But there is probably a set of genes in our DNA that could provide us with an answer.

Good, bad, or indifferent, these are exciting times indeed! Come what may, I am happy to see it happen while I am alive, even if I end up appalled with the results. If the latter, maybe I can get that re-engineered!

A tough topic and a huge topic that I had put aside as too time-consuming to deal with “right now”. Well, that’s a good excuse never to get around to it, so my friend’s questions gave me an incentive to begin to put things together. This is that beginning.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in genetics, Technology, The Future | Leave a comment

Terrorism in the Age of the Market State

I wanted to take a moment to share this with you today. The following comes from Stratfor, the influential subscription service that covers geopolitics in all its many forms. Normally behind a “pay wall”, I have permission to republish, so I am offering it to you as food for thought.

Terrorism in the Age of the Market State
June 19, 2016

Analysis

Editor’s Note: In 2008, Stratfor contributor and editorial board member Philip Bobbitt, widely considered a leader in the field of international security, published Terror and Consent, which argued that every era of constitutional order is afflicted by its own unique brand of terrorism. Jay Ogilvy, who chairs Stratfor’s editorial board, sat down with Bobbitt to discuss the current incarnation of terrorism in light of the Orlando shootings.

Jay Ogilvy: In my earlier column introducing Philip Bobbitt, I gave much less attention to his book, Terror and Consent, than to two of his other books. For obvious reasons, it’s time we give Terror and Consent the attention it deserves. And it deserves quite a lot. In his cover story review in The New York Times’ “Sunday Book Review,” Niall Ferguson calls it, “quite simply the most profound book to have been written on the subject of American foreign policy since the attacks of 9/11 — indeed, since the end of the cold war.”

Like Bobbitt’s earlier book, The Shield of Achilles, the argument of Terror and Consent is based on his reading of Western history since France’s King Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1494. According to Bobbitt, the centuries since have seen a succession of different constitutional orders, from the Machiavellian princely state, through the dynastic kingly state, the aristocratic territorial state, the imperial state nation and the industrial nation state to what Bobbitt calls the informational market state, which is just now emerging. Each constitutional order has its own epochal war, and the treaties that conclude those wars determine the terms on which the following constitutional order will be built.

What Terror and Consent adds to this already magisterial construction is another column in a vast matrix of correspondences, this time with respect to terrorism. It turns out, not altogether surprisingly once one has caught the Hegelian sweep of Bobbitt’s thinking, that each of the epochs has its own brand of terrorism. Understanding this historicity of terrorism is important for, like those apocryphal generals who always prepare for the last war, we fight yesterday’s terrorism at our peril.

Over the centuries, the nature of terrorism morphs in part because of advances in technology, from knives and pitchforks to weapons of mass destruction. But more profoundly, the nature of terrorism flexes to the structure of each new constitutional order. “In each era, terrorism derives its ideology in reaction to the raison d’etre of the dominant constitutional order, at the same time negating and rejecting that form’s unique ideology but mimicking the form’s structural characteristics.”

So, for example, in the kingly state, the state and the monarch are joined as one: L’etat c’est moi. And the form of terrorism that typifies the era of the kingly state is piracy perpetrated by sea captains who regard themselves, vis-à-vis the states arrayed against them, as enjoying all the sovereignty of kings.

Bobbitt summarizes the relationships between constitutional orders and their corresponding terrorisms as follows:

“So it was that princely states coexisted with fanatically religious mercenaries, kingly states flourished in the golden age of piracy, territorial states vied with the private armies of commercial consortia for overseas revenues and investments, imperial state nations struggled with international anarchists, and nation states attempted to suppress national liberation movements. And so it will be when the market state finds it has generated a terrorism that negates the very individual choice that the State exalts, and puts in service of that negation the networked, decentralized, outsourcing global methods characteristic of the market state itself.”

And so it has come to pass in Orlando. As many commentators have remarked, the choice of a gay bar as the target represented an attack on the kind of individual liberty that is so prized in the market state. As Frank Bruni put it on the op-ed page of The New York Times:

“This was no more an attack just on L.G.B.T. people than the bloodshed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was an attack solely on satirists. Both were attacks on freedom itself. Both took aim at societies that, at their best, integrate and celebrate diverse points of view, diverse systems of belief, diverse ways to love.”

Bobbitt acknowledges that these are early days for the market state, which itself could unfold in several different forms. On the very first page of his text, Bobbitt calls out three different wars on terror: “an attempt to preempt attacks by global, networked terrorists; a struggle to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and the worldwide endeavor to protect civilians from natural catastrophes.” In light of the mass killings by so-called “lone wolf” shooters from Sandy Hook and San Bernardino to Orlando, I asked Professor Bobbitt whether or not we should consider a fourth war against terror.

Here is his reply:

Philip Bobbitt: As we search to find a successful method of preventing terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando, it might be worthwhile to visit one of the common myths that arise in the wake of such atrocities. This is the myth of the “lone wolf.”

Last December, U.S. President Barack Obama observed that,

“… the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase. As we become better at preventing complex, multifaceted attacks like 9/11, terrorists turned to less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society. It is this type of attack we saw at Fort Hood in 2009, in Chattanooga earlier this year and now San Bernardino.”

This is unquestionably true, and much credit must be given to the FBI and the intelligence services for the fact that the United States has not suffered the kinds of attacks we saw in Paris. We should be very wary, however, about claims — which seem invariably to come quickly after a shooting — that the terrorist was “self-radicalized” and operated essentially alone.

The myth of the lone wolf is that of the killer who is inspired by a terrorist group’s ideology but is not under its operational control. As one commentator put it,

“Because lone wolves operate on their own, their personal agendas often mix with those of the terrorist group they claim to serve. In San Bernardino, the killers struck at a holiday party at the county health department where one of them worked, not exactly the center of the Crusader effort to dominate the Middle East.”

In fact, it seems very unlikely that the San Bernardino murders were the result of the twisted psychological problems of an unhappy couple. The fact that the killings occurred at a civil service office, which might imply a workplace shooting, was actually much more likely to have been a target of opportunity once the imploring calls for action coming from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave the killers an emergency directive to act. This is confirmed by the enormous arsenal amassed by the killers, and the various quotidian acts they undertook in the days before the shooting — buying groceries, getting movie tickets and so on. And, as is almost always the case, once the lives of the killers are scrutinized, we invariably find recent trips to terrorist centers abroad. In the case of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernardino shooters, it was Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In the case of the Chattanooga killer, it was Jordan. In the case of the Boston Marathon terrorists, it was Dagestan. In the case of Omar Mateen, the Orlando mass murderer, it was Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the father of the Chattanooga terrorist was himself on a terrorist watch list. The Tsarnaev brothers were on a watch list and had been interviewed by the FBI. Mateen was interviewed three times by the FBI. His father is a prominent Afghan political figure who urges acceptance of the Taliban. Being on a terrorist watch list, being interviewed by the FBI, traveling through war-torn areas where terrorist groups are prominent: These are not the characteristics of the misfits and loners who attack classrooms. Moreover, following the Islamic State’s recent battlefield setbacks, the Islamic State commander responsible for attacks outside the Middle East called on supporters to carry out killings in the United States during the holy month of Ramadan, which began June 5.

The myth of the lone wolf depends on the comforting distinction between “Islamic State-inspired” and “Islamic State-directed” attacks. The lone wolf, we are told, lacks those links with the terrorist network that would tip off the authorities. In an unfortunate lapse of logic, many people are inclined to conclude that if such links are not immediately apparent, the killer is a lone wolf: Lone wolves lack links, so if a terrorist lacks links, he is a lone wolf.

But the image of the isolated and unhappy youth, mesmerized by messages and violent videos on the Internet, the “self-radicalized” terrorist is an extremely unlikely occurrence. The vast majority of radicalized individuals come into contact with extremist ideology through offline socialization prior to becoming indoctrinated online. The Internet does not, in fact, radicalize in isolation of other factors, and it is not operating on isolated individuals when these people take up violence. Search engines rarely provide links to content that supports Islamist indoctrination. The Internet’s role is less about initiating the radicalization process than acting as a facilitator for educating and indoctrinating people who have already been recruited.

It is comforting to tell ourselves that someone like Mateen is merely hateful and pathetic, and not a component of some grandiose plot.” But it is deeply misleading if the precedents of the past decade are any guide, and it ultimately will be enervating to our strategies. After all, the self-radicalized lone wolf will always get through. What’s the point of expending much energy fruitlessly trying to stop him? And thus, support for more aggressive investigations and surveillance will naturally ebb; what good would they be against the lone wolf?

I was living in London at the time of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. The newspapers the next day were full of assessments and claims that the terrorist group was “local” and had no links with larger terrorist networks abroad. I cautioned at the time that this conclusion was premature, and therefore I was not surprised when the martyrdom videos surfaced. It may be recalled that the fourth member of the terrorist team did not execute his bombing mission on the underground as did the other three. His explosives went off while he was riding some miles away on the upper deck of a bus. Is it really so far-fetched to think that the telephone call to the cellphone that triggered the explosion was made by someone who didn’t want the conspirator to survive? Yet we are discomforted by the possibility of the networks to which these terrorists are attached.

Yesterday, by contrast, a vibrant and popular member of the British Parliament was murdered in her constituency by a deranged man. He seems to have been politically motivated — he reportedly shouted “Britain First” several times during the attack — but he was not politically active. His profile is a familiar one: raised apart from his natural parents, living alone for many years with a grandparent who is now deceased, helpful to neighbors though quiet. One knows the newspaper quotes from relatives: “I am struggling to believe what has happened. He is not violent and is not all that political. I don’t even know who he votes for. He has a history of mental illness.” Or from neighbors: “All this is totally at odds with the man we thought we knew. He was a quiet guy, you would not think it of him. There was no reason to think he would be capable of something like this.” This man, though he committed an act that will have significant political repercussions, was no terrorist. And though he acted alone, he was not the mythical lone wolf. More a wounded creature, I would say. For Americans, the murder of Britain’s Jo Cox is likely to remind us of the attempted killing of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a meeting in her constituency. The assassin actually killed six other people in the attack. He had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was only sentenced when the forcible administration of antipsychotic drugs brought him to a state in which the trial judge reversed an earlier ruling and held him competent for trial. What he shared with Cox’s murderer was a generalized if incoherent hatred of government and an apparently nonviolent personality.

Ogilvy: Professor Bobbitt, one more question please: In your book, you devote a great deal of attention to the danger of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the prevention of the proliferation of these weapons is one of your three wars on terror. But the weapon of choice in all of the attacks over the past several years is the assault rifle. Would you care to comment?

Bobbitt: These are very different problems, the terrorist malcontent and the wounded loner, though they may raise common policy issues like gun control. Where they really differ, however, is in their future access to weapons of mass destruction, which is one more reason to be wary of the lone wolf myth. The assault rifle was the weapon of choice for both the Giffords assassin and Mateen. But the men who sought to kill a U.S. congresswoman and a British lawmaker were not capable of the planning involved in a quasi-military attack. That wasn’t the case with Mateen. If he had had access to more formidable weapons, weapons a terrorist network could devise and deliver, one can only imagine the destruction he might have caused.

Terrorism in the Age of the Market State is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in Global analysis, Global politics | 1 Comment

Genetic Engineering and CRISPR

One of the issues I have dealt with in past posts and remains one of the most important trends that have my attention is genetic engineering. I have found it difficult to provide people who do not follow this trend with a general background of what is involved that is not too technical to understand, too argumentative that it leads to a purely emotional response, or just so “over-simplified” that it offers too little to bother watching. Today, I saw one that I think provides an overview without being too technical, too emotional, or too simplistic, but provides enough information to allow for discussion. It was produced by the BBC’s current affairs television program, Panorama, and I have embedded it below for anyone who is interested.

At this moment, I am buried in other work, so I am not yet ready to post. What I expect to post is also being written for publication elsewhere. When that’s done, I will share it here too. My goal is early next week…knock on wood.

The only other thing I will add today is that, in a couple years, this video will be too far out-of-date to be useful, but that will be then and this is now.

Panorama on CRISPR from Paper Cow on Vimeo.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in Technology, The Future | 2 Comments

Mediocrity reigns

Mediocre means neither good nor bad, but at best, barely adequate. Mediocre political leadership today means it is not as good as it should be, not as bad as it could be, but given today’s world, not even barely adequate. In recent years, I have said, “Occasions arise that demand great leaders, but great leaders have not risen to the occasion.” Still true today.

This is not a long harangue against some individual leader, party, ideology, or nation. I find this sad state in North America, Europe, and most of the nations that we used to call the “First World” back in the 20th century, plus the majority of today’s “emerging markets” (Brazil, Russia, China, etc.) that are closely tied to the first group not just by trade, but by stock and bond markets.

The other sad truth is that these very nations have an incredible pool of talent that have done, are doing, and will do more to promote global progress, despite the failure of their leadership. Why don’t these relatively younger adults get involved in politics? Why don’t the “best and brightest” bring some of that intelligence and determination to public administration?

I think the answer is simple and obvious. It may sound odd, but it is “easier” to work with the complex technology of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, and so many other new fields than it is to lead a fractured, frightened public. On a risk/reward basis, there is no competition. Politics is a mud fight with little or nothing to gain for someone who is truly among the “best and brightest”. So they are simply too smart to get into politics. If there were truly great leaders in those nations I mentioned, these people would be there to help make it work, but it isn’t there, so neither are they.

In the past at Future Brief, I have talked about the emergence of a “global community” based not on nationality, but the ability to work above, beyond, and outside borders. The best and brightest are moving in that direction for the simple reason that they are the best and brightest. So far, they have been too smart to make the mistake of jumping into the morass of nation-state politics. They may do that someday, or they may move to another location globally where they are welcome and where leadership focuses on the future, not the past.

They are waiting for the final dying breaths of the 20th century, but they are not wasting their time on killing it off. They are getting ready to be part of something new, exciting, and potentially “dangerous”, but they are risk-takers, the people responsible for human progress throughout history.

I mentioned last week that these essays would be short in comparison to my past style. Each is a “piece” of a much greater puzzle and this is just one of them. There are more to come. Then we can begin the challenge of putting them together and trying to get a sense of where we are now, where we are headed, what we can expect, and what we can do about it.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in Global analysis, Global politics, The Future | 1 Comment

Is Vladimir Putin on the way out?

There is buzz being generated about an analysis from the European Council on Foreign Relations forecasting the end of Vladimir Putin’s rule. How long does he have left? “In the view of this author, the regime has less than a year”. That is a very strong statement. The paper is only six pages long, not counting two pages that are not part of the actual paper. I think his arguments are very interesting and worth reading.

One of the greatest failures of the 20th century was for a veritable army of analysts, both public and private, academics, advisors, and others whose livelihoods depended on their analysis of the Soviet Union to see that very “union” crumble without recognizing it at the time. I have nothing to be proud of. It was not until December of 1988 when Mikhail Gorbachev spoke at the UN General Assembly that I finally accepted that the Soviet Union was really on the way out. I was not alone.

Russia is clearly in a very weak position and there is no particular reason to think it’s going to get out of it any time soon. This time, I will listen carefully to those who have the background to offer a well-reasoned argument for another “surprise”. Whether it comes out the way the author describes or not, or whether it comes soon or later, this is a paper well-worth reading. Thankfully, it’s not a dull boring academic treatise. It is presented in straight-forward language that any of us can understand.

I will give you a link so you can download your own copy. First, an introduction to the author taken from the paper.

“Nikolay Petrov is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He was chair of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Society and Regions Program. He worked in the Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences from 1982 to 2006. He served as chief organiser of the Analysis and Forecast Division in the Supreme Soviet (1991–1992), was an adviser and analyst for the Russian Presidential Administration (1994–1995), and a scholar at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (1993–1994) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (1994). From 1996 to 2000, Petrov worked at the Carnegie Moscow Center as a senior consultant and scholar-in-residence. Petrov earned his Ph.D. from Moscow State University.”

The PDF document can be downloaded here.

I have a new post of my own almost ready, but I will wait until tomorrow for that. This is enough for today. I hope you find it of interest.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in Global analysis, Global politics, The Future | 1 Comment

It’s a Two-Track World. Now, about the Coming Collision…

We live in a two-track world, a Fast Track and a Slow Track, where the tracks seem to run parallel to each other on a day-to-day basis, but we know they will eventually meet and either merge into one track, or collide with each other.  The one I see coming will change future history in ways we can only imagine, but I’m betting on a collision before a merging of the two is possible.

The Fast Track is taken by those deeply excited and involved with the “Singularity”, automation, virtual reality, artificial/machine intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, autonomous vehicles, and a host of related areas.  In my experience, they are almost uniformly delighted and proud that they are on the Fast Track and look forward to the future with great hope and expectations.  They believe they think exponentially, emphasizing fast change.

The Slow Track is taken by those who spend 98% of their time just trying to keep up with their jobs, families, professions and so forth in the present. Many are not happy with what they have now or the direction we are taking.  Their unhappiness in the US and Europe is obvious.  They are said to think in linear terms which assumes a more gentle growth in the alternative technologies mentioned above.

Those on each track are aware of those on the other.

Fast Track people are a global group where nationality takes a back seat to tech expertise.  Appropriately or not, they tend to ignore the Slow Track because, in their opinion, those people are clueless and much too far behind to make it worthwhile to try to bring them up to speed.  Intentional or otherwise, a certain arrogance marks their work.  I think many of them believe that, by the time the Slow Track catches on to what is happening, they will be impressed by the results and want more.  And if they don’t, then they will be left behind.

Slow track people are not a global group.  Nationality, among other factors, remains important.  They hear from the Fast Track folks more and more, but still sporadically and at a distance.  Often, it relates to their coming loss of employment due to AI and automation.  Or it is their negative reaction to the whole idea of being programmed by their DNA with a lot less “free will” than they like to think they have.  It is important to remember that they are the majority and by a substantial margin. And, by the way, they include many very, very well-educated and “sophisticated” people too, but people whose work is unrelated to the Fast Track’s goals.  They will make their judgment when they have to make it, and if the Fast Track doesn’t appreciate that, they can take a short leap off a very tall cliff.  The majority rules when the majority demands it.  And if they are not dealt with intelligently, they will be the Fast Track’s worst nightmare.

There are two problems with this Fast Track/Slow Track analogy.

Neither track is either faster or slower than the other.  They are both at exactly the same “point in time”, moving in exactly the same direction in time, and moving at exactly the same speed.  The “speed” is just a reflection of what is going on in their heads.  This is something the folks who like to think they are Fast Track seem to sometimes forget.  It’s that arrogance thing again.

The second problem is that we might think the “tracks” run parallel to each other.  But as I mentioned at the outset of this essay, not so.  Whether slowly or suddenly, the two tracks will meet and either merge successfully into one, or provide a spectacular collision.  If I were you, I would place my bet on the collision.

What will bring on this collision?  Well, there will be a number of small collisions, but the Big One that really starts the societal debate can be any of a number of possibilities.  The only qualification is that it is something that smacks people emotionally and which is presented by the Fast Track without taking that very understandable emotional reaction from the Slow Track into consideration.

It could be something along the lines of In Search For Cures, Scientists Create Embryos That Are Both Animal And Human, but more dramatically presented.  Or it could be something along the lines of Soon you will be able to ride in a robo-taxi when both taxi drivers and Uber drivers find themselves without fares, and every other employed driver can start to sweat.  That target date of 2018 is a lot earlier than was being discussed, even a few months ago. 

It could be something that seems small at the time, or something obviously huge, but we all have to wait and see.  I just don’t think we will have to wait that long.

Whatever triggers the collision, it is likely to be based on the failure of Fast Track people to convince Slow Track people that all this is being done for them, not to them.  My experience with people from both tracks, and I am fortunate to have plenty of both, is that this is the real question and it will need to be answered clearly and positively, not just dropped on the public from above as a fait accompli.


A note to my hardly little band of readers!  I have not written much over the last few months, as you know if you have been following Future Brief for awhile.  My problem (it’s a genetic predisposition, I’m sure) is that I try to cover too many points at one time and the essay drags on forever.  So I will return to what this blog was about from the beginning – a personal notebook where I collect ideas that may later be used for publication.  So I expect to post more, but shorter essays (yes, this is a short essay…for me). Think of them as pieces of a much bigger puzzle. I do. Eventually, we can put them together.

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This is a personal blog, more of a personal notebook, unadvertised and without promotion. I try to post on a weekly basis, but there is no guarantee. Should you stumble across it and wish to be notified of new posts, just enter your email address at the upper-right of this page. I have no other use for email addresses. Rest assured, yours will be kept private. I also now tweet to share articles and essays that I think are important, but do not have room for here. You are welcome to make comments, if they are on topic and polite. I have no time or space for insults, foul language, or anything I judge to be offensive to readers.

Posted in Global analysis, Technology, The Future | Leave a comment