Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

17.4.08

Redundancy vs. Interdependency

John Robb has shared some of his early ideas as he brainstorms for his forthcoming book on "Resilient Communities". This recent post describes the need for local capacity in "personal fabrication", opining that "in the longer term, [disruptions don't] need to occur." Communities possessing the ability to create (at low cost and small scale) locally desired goods could, in John's words, "... advance economically and in quality of life faster than communities dependent on traditional centralized sources of production."

The following day, Tom Barnett linked a Bloomberg article under the heading "Early signs of the growing food hyper-interdependency" and Shlõk posted a short piece on "Piggybacking on Existing Infrastructure" (calling it a bad idea).

These two articles underscore the competing notions of of "economic specialization" (which is the at the core of interdependency) and "local redundancy". In an ideal world, with infinite resources, local capacity can be built to suit local needs. However, when resources are finite, the concept of "opportunity cost" becomes paramount: What can I not do if I do this?

For disaster planning, we tend to overestimate the availability (and capacity) of local infrastructure: first responders on the scene, relatively intact communications infrastructures, availability of critical resources like water, ice, medicine. After Hurricane KATRINA in August 2005, however, we saw the impact of lost infrastructure: first responders who had evacuated themselves, cell phone towers with their power generators flooded, impassable transportation grids unable to deliver needed supplies.

I have argued in this 'blog for greater self-reliance -- but how far can we go? What are the practical limits of building and maintaining a local infrastructure that can satisfy all local needs? And would such "islands of self-sufficiency" lead to greater sectarianism?

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16.10.07

Selective Hearing

Last Friday afternoon, at the Military Reporters and Editors Luncheon, LTG(ret) Ricardo Sanchez -- former commander of the Army's V Corps and the top U.S. commander in Iraq until 2004 -- leveled a series of broadside blasts at the mainstream media, the ineffectiveness of the National Security Council, and the partisan bickering in Washington.

If you read any of the copious media reports this past weekend (like these gems from AP and the NYTimes), you undoubtedly read the most damning accusations of a national "nightmare with no end in sight", that "America has failed". However, of all the vitriol he let slip last Friday, the only parts covered by the major media outlets were those most critical of the war and the Bush administration.

Too bad the media didn't present the full story. Thankfully, the blogosphere is replete with pundits who have called the media on their fundamental failure to adhere to their own ethical standards of truthfulness and fairness.

First, and most importantly, is the complete transcript of General Sanchez's remarks (c/o his hosts last Friday). It clocks in at just over 3,400 words and about 10 pages, but it is well worth a careful read.

A sampling of blogs who have called the mainstream media on their "selective hearing":
As this 'blog is intended to be a forum for challenging our mainstream opinions, [and] for identifying the Wizards in our midst, I encourage you to each view all the available evidence and decide for yourself what message General Sanchez intended.

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26.9.07

Languages

September 26th is "European Day of Languages", encouraging language learning across Europe. Regretfully, I only know a smattering of words in a few languages (mostly Spanish) -- though at one time in my life I knew how to say Beer in 14 different languages. I have always been impressed by people that are able to become fluent in another language.

Like they say in France, a person who can speak two languages is bilingue, while a person who speaks only one is Américain...

Rather than wallow in my linguistic inadequacy, I decided to follow a link from blogger Layer 8 to determine "Which Ancient Language" I am. (I figured out after the test that this is a dating site, so hopefully the spam load in my mailbox won't increase...). The results:

You scored: Akkadian



You are Akkadian, a blend of the incomprehensible symbols of the Sumerians with the unwritable sounds of the early Semitic peoples. However, the writing just doesn't suit the words and doesn't represent everything needed, so you end up a schizoid mess. Invented in Babylon, you're probably to blame for that tower story. However, crazy as you are, you're much loved and appreciated, and remain actively in use by records keepers long after schools have switched to other languages.

Could it be coincidence that my characteristic "Ancient Language" is from what is today known as the Al-Anbar Governate in Iraq, the area recently stabilized in large part by the U.S. Marine Corps? And that my own ancestors (grandmother, grandfather, uncle, stepdad, cousin) are all Marines?

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30.7.07

Reconstruction and Stability Ops

Several Bloggers have described the value of simple solutions for complex problems. Last summer, at the STRONG ANGEL III Humanitarian Relief Exercise in San Diego, I met Vinay Gupta. Vinay has the complexion of a south-central Asian, and the voice of a Scottish Highlander. His innovation, the Hexayurt, is another great innovation to provide rapid, relevant relief to people in need:





Vinay is addressing the most overlooked element of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need: the middle tier of "Affiliation".

While many focus on the bottom tiers (food & shelter; security), and post-modernist look at the top (esteem and actualization), the quickest path to stability is by allowing people to preserve their own affiliations.

The irony is that the relief mechanisms of the world do not allow this. The U.N. drops a 100-lb. bag of rice, and the refugee camp grows where the sustenance is delivered. This creates a spiral of disaffect that creates greater security challenges, and delays the restoration of stability.

A better approach, like those postulated by Vinay, is to provide people the means of achieving the lower tiers of Maslow's hierarchy -- while also preserving their native affiliations.

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