Thursday, January 27, 2005

Cordesman on Iraq, Grand Strategy, and the Military Metanarrative

Found this while browsing through Chez Nadezhda's fresh produce, aptly billed as "news, analyses & conversations or an embarassment of niches." She has it listed as "Tony Cordesman on the problems of metanarratives in military history." I recognized it as my own entry of October 23.

With so many new readers who missed the original post and don't have time to browse through the War Historian archive, I figure it's worth calling to your attention.

The entry introduces and comments upon a lecture given on October 19 by Anthony Cordesman at the Kennedy School of Government. His title was "Iraq, Grand Strategy, and the Lessons of Military History." It could equally well have been called:

Tony Cordesman on the Military Metanarrative


nadezhda said...

Here's an item from my collection of today that I'll think you'll find not only tasty but delectable. I assume you're interested in structure, social dynamics and psychology of participants in the blogosphere if you intend to "use the blogosphere to illustrate what I mean when I use the term postcolonial military history."

The post is entitled Burke's Home for Imaginary Friends, a lengthy essay by one of the Cliopatra co-bloggers, Timothy Burke (Swarthmore I believe) from his personal blog, Easily Distracted.

A marvelous discussion of "why we blog," and some of the elements that make this new space of emerging overlapping communities so unusual, and so attractive as a place for conversations. Burke's take is decidedly personal to his personality and experience, but also does a great job of articulating some features especially common among academic bloggers. I'd say his observations extend more generally to experts or professionals who are blogging about topics that are at least closely related to their occupations -- particularly his remarks on role-playing and voice.

BTW -- My sidebar list of clippings just displays the the url or "headline" I've given each item. However, itself gives you space for a brief annotation. So if you look at, for example, my tag page, you'll find the Tony Cordesman item, together with the following annotation: from Mark Grimsley's OSU collection site.

Similarly, the title and annotations I've used on the Burke link indicate both where I found it (a blogger whose interests often overlap with mine on blogosphere matters, fling93) and that I should flag it for your attention. I stuck those notes on as I clipped, and can go back to them at my leisure -- or as reminders 6 months from now why the item was clipped in the first place. [Other than of course my interest in metanarratives generally and the various metanarratives for US foreign policy].

Pretty nifty eh?

Mark G. said...

Hi Nadezhda! Thanks so much for writing. I've been following some of the exchanges about the costs and benefits of academic blogging, but I haven't seen the essay you mention. I'll go take a look.

One of the things that crops up in discussion is the disconnect between those who "get it"--that blogging can be in direct support of one's professional pursuits, energizing the blogger and driving them toward their goal; and those who don't--which at this point seems to include most of the academy.

Now and again you see expressed fears about what one's colleagues may think, and of course what one's colleagues think is often enough, "This doesn't fit my understanding of what academics should be doing. Therefore it is bad and must be discouraged."

I am sure many of my colleagues will see all this blogging as a dangerous distraction from "real" academic work. It's sheer baloney. If you look around at people like Esther MacCullum-Stewart and What a Lovely War, Chris Anderson and The Long Tail, "a public diary on the way to becoming a book," and in a real sense Tom Barnett in Thomas P. M. Barnett Weblog, you see people using blogs as a kind of free-writing tool. Barnett in particular is like a monkey on crack cocaine, and I mean that in a good way! I'd love to be a fifth as productive as he is these days.

So on the one hand academe says, Produce. But on the other it implies, don't unleash your creativity in ways that make us uncomfortable. Ten years ago if you spent days surfing the web people looked at you funny. Now it's routine for academics to do that--though a surprising number can barely handle e-mail. Today blogging is considered sorta flakey. Five years from now, advisors will require their grad students to blog. Academics talk as if they're cutting edge, but man, talk about a Non-Integrating Gap.

I'm still clueless about, so I appreciate the heads up about its capabilities.

I have a question about the The Truth Laid Bear: The Blogosphere Ecosystem.

If, say, 2,000 of us "reptiles" and "amphibians," etc. agreed to link to an "insignificant microbe," couldn't we vault it into "higher being" status? I mean, as long as these were bona fide internal links, isn't that possible? I have a reason for asking; it has to do with the postcolonial military history post.

Mark G. said...

Oh, hey! I did see this essay by Burke. In fact I printed it out so I could read it more easily--and so I could give it to my Gap colleagues if need be.

nadezhda said...

I'm going to break up my comments into two parts. First, some thoughts I've had about academics or experts and blogging, and why they often get cold feet or are dismissive of blogs, at least at first. Later I'll be back at you with some thoughts on your question about Truth Laid Bear.

One thing that often distinguishes "good" blogging by academics/experts also winds up taking them outside the comfort zone of their narrow specialization. Good blogging by experts is where there are connections made, the little epiphanies.

I'll see if I come across the cite, but I recently saw a bit from a study re what attracts readers to the more value-added blogs that aren't essentially gossip/news-with-a-view blogs.

The most important factor isn't comprehensiveness, or definitiveness/authority, or quantity, or regularity (now RSS notifies people of a new post and they don't have to stop by daily) or timeliness. It's what the study called the little "ah ha"s -- sometimes about something new, sometimes a reinforcement or illustration of an insight the reader already had.

The most entertaining and attractive "expert" blogs for often provide a sense of exploration going on for both author and reader. That the author is finding little "ah ha"s as well -- not new knowledge necessarily, maybe just a bit of a different way of thinking or communicating about the item. Maybe just connecting his expertise to a topic that is relevant to the interests of an audience/community that's not dominated by the expert's peers.

I think for expert sites that don't have comments, the "thinking out-loud" voice -- and the freshness that voice conveys -- are often pretty key ingredients for attracting a readership. The given regular readers a sense of being engaged in a conversation, even though it's actually one-way communication.

It's possible for an expert to drill down on some specific topic in a blog. But that may work best within the context of conversation that's a bit of a to-and-fro with others, or thinking out-loud. If you want to write a full-blown definitive polished study and you're an academic, there are other far better forums than blogs to choose from.

But moving outside one's specialization -- and thinking out-loud "in print" where those thoughts remain forever retrievable from cyberspace -- hey that can be pretty anxiety-producing for some folks.
chez Nadezhda

nadezhda said...

Now for your second item -- on a group acting collectively to raise the "rankings" for a new blog.

Short answer -- absolutely yes. It can be done for Truth Laid Bear, it can be done for Technorati, it can be done for the search engines like Google. There are practices that are viewed in the blogosphere as legitimate and those that are viewed as bordering on (if not crossing the line of) fraudulent.

The techniques are far beyond my limited experience, but if you want an introduction to some pretty hinky doings by a right-wing troll using serial-blogger tactics to mess up some heads on the left-side of the blogosphere, the unfolding saga of Ricky Vandal is somewhere between a hoot and an outrage. [link is to most recent entry I've seen; scroll down to appreciate the whole fine mess]

But longer answer -- what you're talking about is having a group of blogs act as what I call a "reputation intermediary."

I've come up with that term as part of a effort to sketch out a model of the blogosphere as an "emerging information market" akin to the emerging financial markets in the developing world. This model would try to add some insights that I find missing or not very robust when use the metaphors from organisms, networks, complex systems, etc

In any emerging market, "reputation" is one of the key elements that makes market development possible. A true "caveat emptor" market would be very, very small. Hence, my focus on the various roles that "reputation" can play in an emerging market as well as the institutional mechanisms through which "reputation" can work.

"Reputation intermediaries" provide major efficiency gains if they extend beyond the informal referral mechanisms of personal recommendations. Truth Laid Bear is a reputation intermediary itself, but a crude one. Just counts links rather than what those links express or how a user of the TLB info would weight those links given the user's personal preferences. But that's basically true of Google today as well, though they're working on a host of ways to try to change that.

You can find my first musings from earlier this week on an EmergingInfoMarket model and, more specifically on reputation, at a blog I've just created for these types of issues that's separate from the more generalist chez Nadezhda..

Its objective is to cover "ideas & trends in global connectivity & the social construction of virtual reality." Whew, that's a mouthful! But you can understand my interest in metanarratives.

So for short I've called the blog CTG (Crossing the Globe) info-napsterizer. It's also got a bunch of fun stuff I've figured out and am generally tracking re -- so it's got a lot of good links to things you might find interesting.

It's early, early days in my attempts to elaborate this model concept, so caveat emptor ;)

Mark G. said...

I concur that "gaming" the blogosphere is a bad idea; I just wanted to know if I'd hit upon a workable strategy for ramping up a blog site's ranking in the The TTLB Blogosphere Ecosystem. Just need it for thought experiment purposes, and was afraid the idea wouldn't "pop" if the readers instantly saw that such a strategy was impossible.

Re the rest of it, it seems to me that we're in the kind of fix these days where we as a society can use all the constructive engagement we can get. Your ideas track well with mine in that regard. And I suspect the reason we're both so intrigued by Barnett's PNM is not because we think it's correct so much as that it makes a great template for engagement. He's a genius at "branding" concepts so that you can convey them economically. I discovered this firsthand today when I showed the map to a friend of mine. He'd never heard of it before and in five minutes he had the major concepts down--functioning core, non-integrating gap, etc. PNM lays out the component issues in such a way that you can address them clearly and directly. You don't wind up talking past each other. Unless, of course, that's all you want to do. But I think enough people realize that it's time to take politics seriously. The Jon Stewart guest spot on Crossfire made such an impact, I think, because he said something many people thought was well overdue.