Monday, June 30, 2014

June 30 2014: Let me confess that I have a weakness for airships. It extends to aerostats (better known as tethered balloons).

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavor to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called 'guessing what was at the other side of the hill.'

The Duke of Wellington


The Duke of Wellington devoted singular effort to knowing what his enemies—normally the French—were up to, and he was equally zealous in ensuring that the French were kept in ignorance of his intentions. A study of the Peninsular wars is well worth while. Actually, why stop there. He evolved into a seasoned and successful soldier in India first—and won some difficult battles there.

The trick to understanding Wellington is to appreciate that he was a thoroughly experienced, hands-on soldier, with an eye for detail, and a deep understanding of how to read a battle—and what needed to be done there and then. Again and again, it was his his personal intervention at just the right time which made all the difference. It is a moot point as to whether his men actually liked Wellington, but they certainly respected, trusted, and followed him with a will.

Where terrain was concerned, the Duke liked to reconnoiter personally well in advance (he was an accomplished and energetic horseman), pick his ground, and—as often as not—mask his true strength by keeping a goodly portion of his force out of sight (and out of  direct artillery fire) on the reverse slopes of the hills he occupied. This tactic succeeded again and again—and was significant in the Battle of Waterloo.

The Duke would have found JLENS useful (though he would have been scathing about the U.S. Army’s consistent over-emphasis on acronyms, and general butchery of the English language). The duke wrote with pithy and forceful elegance.

My Lord,
If I attempted to answer the mass of futile correspondence which surrounds me, I should be debarred from the serious business of campaigning...
So long as I retain an independent position, I shall see no officer under my command is debarred by attending to the futile driveling of mere quill-driving from attending to his first duty, which is and always has been to train the private men under his command that they may without question beat any force opposed to them in the field.

To the Secretary of State for War during the Peninsular Campaign

This is what that useful site says about the JLENS Surveillance Aerostat.

The Army is developing  80-yard long surveillance balloons that can pinpoint targets from  beyond-the-horizon by floating up to 10,000-feet in the sky and using radar technology to locate potential targets — such as approaching enemy missiles, aircraft or unmanned systems.

So far, the Army has acquired two systems of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS. JLENS completed Early User Testing in the third quarter of 2013, and concluded system design and development in the fourth quarter of 2013, Raytheon officials said.

The JLENS system completed developmental testing in December of last year; one of the two systems will participate in an operational evaluation at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., and the other is being placed in strategic reserve by the Army in case it is needed for deployments.

A single JLENS orbit, which can help defend population centers, ground troops or other assets consists of two helium-filled aerostats tethered to ground stations with a cable, Raytheon officials said.

One of the two aerostats is engineered with VHF radar technology that can scan the surrounding areas out to distances of 500 kilometers, said Douglass Burgess, JLENS director, Raytheon. The VHF radar scans 360-degrees and is designed to identify targets or areas of interest for the second aerostat which uses a more precise X-band radar, he added.

The X-band radar, while higher resolution, does not scan a 360-degree area but is instead segmented into specific areas or vectors, Burgess explained.

“The two radars work as a pair. They exchange data back and forth so you have a complete picture of what is around you,” he said. “The surveillance radar gives you large volume with a lot of objects. It provides pretty good quality data on where threats are and where they are going. The X-band radar only sees a sectored wedge at a time and it moves mechanically in the direction the threat is coming.”

By placing the radars high up in the air, JLENS could help ground units see over mountains and identify approaching threats from much longer distances that might be possible on the ground.

“At 10,000-feet, we’re not limited by the horizon anymore,” Burgess said.

On three separate test occasions, JLENS has demonstrated its ability to integrate with defensive systems and help Patriot, Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile and Standard Missile 6 weapons intercept a cruise missile target, Raytheon officials said.

JLENS has also tracked threats such as swarming boats, unmanned aircraft, and detected tactical ballistic missiles in their earliest phase of flight, the boost-phase.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29 2014: Part 3. “Secrets of the Creative Brain” by Nancy Andreasen is one of the finest articles on creativity that I have read to date. If she hasn’t determined all the secrets of creativity, she is certainly on the right track. And she writes with clarity and style.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

Kurt Vonnegut

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”

Oscar Wilde


Creativity? Let me present the Millau Bridge in southern France where it crosses the River Tarn in the Massif Central mountains. It was designed by the British architect Lord Foster and at 300m (984 feet) it is the highest road bridge in the world, weighing 36,000 tonnes. The central pillar is higher than the famous French icon, the Eiffel Tower. The Bridge opened in December 2004 and is possibly one of the most breath taking bridges ever built.

This piece ends with a comment on perseverance. Based upon my own experience, the successful implementation of one’s creative ideas requires persistence above and beyond anything which one’s fellow (normal) humans would consider reasonable. In brief, you must fly in the face of creative failure, repeated rejections, and the immutable logic that your sheer survival demands you do something else. Ignore it all. Creative achievement has nothing to do with logic and the practicalities of living. It is all about the work itself and your commitment to it—and you must be relentless in that regard.

In my case, I have even lost the support of members of my immediate family. In fact, two of my children have worked actively to stop me writing. I have pressed on regardless supported by a few close friends and my fans (who have been—and remain—quite fabulous).

Creativity is nothing if not demanding. It may demand every sacrifice. Stay with it. In the end you will find it is worth it.

And now for the last few extracts from SECRETS OF THE CREATIVE BRAIN by Nancy Andreasen.

As for how these ideas emerge, almost all of my subjects confirmed that when eureka moments occur, they tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed—during that state we called REST. “A lot of it happens when you are doing one thing and you’re not thinking about what your mind is doing,” one of the artists in my study told me. “I’m either watching television, I’m reading a book, and I make a connection … It may have nothing to do with what I am doing, but somehow or other you see something or hear something or do something, and it pops that connection together.”

Many subjects mentioned lighting on ideas while showering, driving, or exercising. One described a more unusual regimen involving an afternoon nap: “It’s during this nap that I get a lot of my work done. I find that when the ideas come to me, they come as I’m falling asleep, they come as I’m waking up, they come if I’m sitting in the tub. I don’t normally take baths … but sometimes I’ll just go in there and have a think.”

Some of the other most common findings my studies have suggested include:

Many creative people are autodidacts. They like to teach themselves, rather than be spoon-fed information or knowledge in standard educational settings. Famously, three Silicon Valley creative geniuses have been college dropouts: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. Steve Jobs—for many, the archetype of the creative person—popularized the motto “Think different.” Because their thinking is different, my subjects often express the idea that standard ways of learning and teaching are not always helpful and may even be distracting, and that they prefer to learn on their own. Many of my subjects taught themselves to read before even starting school, and many have read widely throughout their lives. For example, in his article “On Proof and Progress in Mathematics,” Bill Thurston wrote:

My mathematical education was rather independent and idiosyncratic, where for a number of years I learned things on my own, developing personal mental models for how to think about mathematics. This has often been a big advantage for me in thinking about mathematics, because it’s easy to pick up later the standard mental models shared by groups of mathematicians.

This observation has important implications for the education of creatively gifted children. They need to be allowed and even encouraged to “think different.” (Several subjects described to me how they would get in trouble in school for pointing out when their teachers said things that they knew to be wrong, such as when a second-grade teacher explained to one of my subjects that light and sound are both waves and travel at the same speed. The teacher did not appreciate being corrected.)

Many creative people are polymaths, as historic geniuses including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were. George Lucas was awarded not only the National Medal of Arts in 2012 but also the National Medal of Technology in 2004. Lucas’s interests include anthropology, history, sociology, neuroscience, digital technology, architecture, and interior design. Another polymath, one of the scientists, described his love of literature:

I love words, and I love the rhythms and sounds of words … [As a young child] I very rapidly built up a huge storehouse of … Shakespearean sonnets, soliloquies, poems across the whole spectrum … When I got to college, I was open to many possible careers. I actually took a creative-writing course early. I strongly considered being a novelist or a writer or a poet, because I love words that much … [But for] the academics, it’s not so much about the beauty of the words. So I found that dissatisfying, and I took some biology courses, some quantum courses. I really clicked with biology. It seemed like a complex system that was tractable, beautiful, important. And so I chose biochemistry.

The arts and the sciences are seen as separate tracks, and students are encouraged to specialize in one or the other. If we wish to nurture creative students, this may be a serious error.

Creative people tend to be very persistent, even when confronted with skepticism or rejection. Asked what it takes to be a successful scientist, one replied:

Perseverance … In order to have that freedom to find things out, you have to have perseverance … The grant doesn’t get funded, and the next day you get up, and you put the next foot in front, and you keep putting your foot in front … I still take things personally. I don’t get a grant, and … I’m upset for days. And then I sit down and I write the grant again.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 28 2014: Part 2. “Secrets of the Creative Brain” by Nancy Andreasen is one of the finest articles on creativity that I have read to date. If she hasn’t determined all the secrets of creativity, she is certainly on the right track. And she writes with clarity and style.

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Erich Fromm

The missing word in the above quote is “could.” It should be there instead of “will.”

No, I’m not being negative. I’m merely making the point that if the quote were true, our lives would already be very different. Creativity isn’t something that has just been invented. It has been around since man emerged.

Still, although intellectually I understand full well why we—meaning society as a whole—so under-utilize that amazing force we call “creativity,” emotionally it frustrates the hell out of me.

Every fiber of my being screams:”Creativity can solve just about every problem we humans face—and arguably do something about death and taxes”—and then my logical side cuts in ands says: “The movers and shakers are doing fine the way we are. The last thing they want is a bunch of fresh ideas which will change everything.”

The following are some further extracts from that great Atlantic piece SECRETS OF THE CREATIVE BRAIN by Nancy Andreasen. Best you click on the link and read the whole thing.  

And what are we even looking for when we search for evidence of “creativity” in the brain? Although we have a definition of creativity that many people accept—the ability to produce something that is novel or original and useful or adaptive—achieving that “something” is part of a complex process, one often depicted as an “aha” or “eureka” experience. This narrative is appealing—for example, “Newton developed the concept of gravity around 1666, when an apple fell on his head while he was meditating under an apple tree.” The truth is that by 1666, Newton had already spent many years teaching himself the mathematics of his time (Euclidean geometry, algebra, Cartesian coordinates) and inventing calculus so that he could measure planetary orbits and the area under a curve. He continued to work on his theory of gravity over the subsequent years, completing the effort only in 1687, when he published Philosophiœ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In other words, Newton’s formulation of the concept of gravity took more than 20 years and included multiple components: preparation, incubation, inspiration—a version of the eureka experience—and production. Many forms of creativity, from writing a novel to discovering the structure of DNA, require this kind of ongoing, iterative process.

One possible contributory factor is a personality style shared by many of my creative subjects. These subjects are adventuresome and exploratory. They take risks. Particularly in science, the best work tends to occur in new frontiers. (As a popular saying among scientists goes: “When you work at the cutting edge, you are likely to bleed.”) They have to confront doubt and rejection. And yet they have to persist in spite of that, because they believe strongly in the value of what they do. This can lead to psychic pain, which may manifest itself as depression or anxiety, or lead people to attempt to reduce their discomfort by turning to pain relievers such as alcohol.

I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as “obvious.” Since these ideas are almost always the opposite of obvious to other people, creative luminaries can face doubt and resistance when advocating for them. As one artist told me, “The funny thing about [one’s own] talent is that you are blind to it. You just can’t see what it is when you have it … When you have talent and see things in a particular way, you are amazed that other people can’t see it.” Persisting in the face of doubt or rejection, for artists or for scientists, can be a lonely path—one that may also partially explain why some of these people experience mental illness.

One interesting paradox that has emerged during conversations with subjects about their creative processes is that, though many of them suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, they associate their gifts with strong feelings of joy and excitement. “Doing good science is simply the most pleasurable thing anyone can do,” one scientist told me. “It is like having good sex. It excites you all over and makes you feel as if you are all-powerful and complete.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

June 27 2014: Part 1. “Secrets of the Creative Brain” by Nancy Andreasen is one of the finest articles on creativity that I have read to date. If she hasn’t determined all the secrets of creativity, she is certainly on the right track. And she writes with clarity and style.

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?”

George Bernard Shaw

Before I comment on Nancy Andreasen’s quite excellent—and highly readable—piece, SECRETS OF THE CREATIVE BRAIN, let me list some personal thoughts on creativity as they come to mind. 

Yes, I think about this stuff. It’s hugely important o me.

  • Society, by and large, is neither led nor governed by creative people. This has important implications. If you believe in the power of creativity—as I do—they are largely negative.
  • Creativity is an extraordinarily powerful force which society fails to utilize adequately. Indeed, to a great extent, it suppresses it. It’s an underutilized resource.
  • Creativity is initially discouraged by  educational systems which, by and large, seek to socialize and educate though the imposition of disciplined conformity.
  • Creative people are innately non-conformist.
  • Creative people are often highly disciplined—but in their own way.
  • The creative process, in itself, tends to be messy.
  • Although everyone is creative to a certain extent, there are profound differences between most of us—and truly creative people. As a consequence, most people don’t truly understand creativity—and many, often unconsciously, resent it.
  • Creativity often comes up with answers without questions being asked—in any conscious way—but, arguably, it would be even more effective if we were able to frame the right questions.
  • Creativity—which is innately questioning—is socially disruptive.
  • Creativity is almost invariably opposed by the the powerful interests who are vested in the status quo.
  • Creativity is inherently risky—and creative people are rarely rewarded adequately, if at all, for the risks they take.
  • Creative people are driven by the challenges of the work itself.
  • Creativity—at its best—is holistic in its approach.
  • Rigid, authoritarian organizations—whether they be corporate, government, military, academic, or religious—are hostile to creativity because they are the epitome of the status quo.
  • Creative people do need support—and often a great deal of it—but that support needs to be loose, flexible, and open.
  • Creativity is capable of resolving most of the problems society faces but only at the cost of disrupting the status quo.

I’ll continue on this theme tomorrow, but let me close with a teaser  extract from SECRETS OF THE CREATIVE BRAIN.

Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, a crucial conclusion from Terman’s study is that having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Subsequent studies by other researchers have reinforced Terman’s conclusions, leading to what’s known as the threshold theory, which holds that above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart, at least as measured by conventional intelligence tests. An IQ of 120, indicating that someone is very smart but not exceptionally so, is generally considered sufficient for creative genius.

I suspect the above reveals more about the limitations of the IQ test than creativity. It confirms what I have long thought.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 26 2014: A culture of self-promotion that makes me uneasy—even if it is required behavior for an author today. Are we forever doomed to have to try to out-promote each other? Or should we just chill, and enjoy the game?

“Don't think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.”

Austin Kleon, Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

“Well more than two thirds of the press releases from Douglas MacArthur's command reference only one person – himself.”

Stanley Weintraub, Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941

“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.”

 Gore Vidal, Julian

I feel like something of a hypocrite for even raising this matter because blogging—in itself—is clearly a form of self-promotion, so you could well argue that I’m protesting too much (being a hypocrite).

Not my intention. I’m more puzzled. I think we are faced with a genuine dilemma here and I wish I could see some answers.

On a national level, I do think there is a great deal we could do to rein in the unceasing barrage of promotion we are exposed to. Everything doesn’t have to be paid for through advertising. Europe has already demonstrated that commercialism—and promotion (its seemingly inevitable byproduct), can be restrained in numerous ways while still encouraging a vigorous economy. Here, it is worth mentioning that Northern Europe—despite its constraints on commercialism—is doing better than us economically, and has been doing so for some time.

What are such constraints? Here are a few examples:

  • Limited shop opening hours.
  • Superior consumer protection through legislation.
  • Numerous restraints on advertising in the media.
  • Alternative means of financing the media.

Where writers are concerned, I don’t see such straightforward solutions.

  • The book market is over-crowded to a fault—and the situation only looks like getting worse for the indefinite future.
  • There is abundant evidence that the quality of a book alone will not normally result in significant sales.
  • Word of mouth is hugely important, but that rarely happens by accident.. It is a consequence of marketing. Best Sellers in the U.S. are largely made.

My concerns about self-promotion are:

  • It takes up a vast amount of time which I feel should be spent on writing.
  • I feel our efforts are largely self-canceling.
  • I’m not innately comfortable doing it. I was brought up to regard self-promotion was bad form—“just not done”—so I have something of a cultural problem here.
  • I don’t feel I have a natural talent for it.

But here is the twist. Over time, I find I’m becoming vastly more comfortable with the whole crazy business. I still have the strongest reservations, but I have learned to love blogging—and now regard it as an essential part of my writing life.

Recently, I have been carrying out a series of tests in social media—and, lo and behold, have suddenly found I’m comfortable in the milieu.

As for my new web site, I have put huge effort into it, and am downright excited about it. No, it is not uploaded yet.

I guess the bottom line is that, deplore self-promotion though I do intellectually; I now accept its inevitability—and the fact that it’s all communication.

And communication—normally by way of the written word—is what I do—and enjoy.

As for radio, TV, press interviews, and public speaking, these have not become an issue as yet. However, I’m not entirely inexperienced in these areas—and actually like engaging an audience. It gets the adrenalin going.

Watch this space.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 25 2014: My friend, GI Wilson (combat veteran, retired Marine colonel, military thinker and reformer, distinguished academic, man of integrity and character) and clan.

“Hardness," I was learning, was the supreme virtue among recon Marines. The greatest compliment one could pay to another was to say he was hard. Hardness wasn't toughness, nor was it courage, although both were part of it. Hardness was the ability to face an overwhelming situation with aplomb, smile calmly at it, and then triumph through sheer professional pride.”

Nathaniel Fick

“Great Marine commanders, like all great warriors, are able to kill that which they love most -- their men.”

Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer

For a host of reasons, including extensive family associations, a military orientation in my education, and having been brought up in the shadow of WW II, I have long been interested in military matters—everything from military history to strategy and tactics.

To this day, I remain fascinated, intrigued, skeptical, curious—and constructively (so I would like to think) critical. The military do not handle criticism well regardless of the merits of what is said. They condition themselves to think they are the repository of all military wisdom and will do just about anything to preserve that myth. Their unwillingness to listen and learn is not a strength.

Either way, one would be foolish and ill informed, indeed, to deny the significance of war, and its warriors, in world events. In fact, without war, there would be no United States of America. Correction: Without war, there would be no U.S. in its current form. Who knows what would have happened with Britain over time. Canada, for instance, was not born out of a revolution. That thought is worth pondering.

This interest in matters military now goes back nearly six decades—and has led me to read extensively about such matters, to spend time with units whenever possible, and occasionally to put myself in harms way. But, for all that, I have never wanted to be a soldier (or even a Marine). I doubt I have the temperament, am ambivalent about my courage, and value my independence too much. I also have a problem following orders unless I respect the person giving those orders—and that is not the way the military work. In all too many cases, it is a not a merit-based culture. It is a mindless bureaucracy run, not infrequently, by mediocre people, which breaks things and kills people for morally dubious ends.

Look no further than Iraq to illustrate that point. The courage and commitment of our troops is beyond denial, but neither are the consequences of our actions and our occupation. Was this really a just war? Was Vietnam? Can we really stand behind most of our military adventures since WW II? I have the strongest doubts that we can, yet we have killed millions and inflicted untold misery during such wars (whether called such or not)

We need a strong military—and it’s a good thing that ours is the strongest in the worlds—but a strong military should not be confused with a system for extracting extraordinarily large sums of money from the real economy for the benefit of the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) while neglecting the very real needs of the American public. And they certainly have been neglected. Whereas real household income has increased significantly for most in the developed world, most Americans have received a miniscule overall increase—and currently, real household income is actually in decline.

At the same time, the U.S. military world, at its best, can—and does—throw up some marvelous people, who somehow manage to overcome the innate limitations of their disciplined and structured world—and to think and act constructively, creatively, and courageously.

As a consequence of my research into the U.S. military in the Nineties, I have been privileged to meet many such people whom I’m now proud to call friends.

GI is such a one. He is a prince of a man.

I have been very tempted to phone him up and kid him with: “GI, is that all?” (referring to the size of his clan) but I’m not that brave.

They look delightful.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24 2014: What have Hollywood and the U.S. Army got in common? Both take a truly alarming length of time to get an idea into production—think a decade or two (could be longer)--and ruin many an interesting concept in the process. Sometimes, the result deserves an Oscar!

“Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create markets for weapons?

Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story

Today’s infantry make extensive use of both air and ground transportation—everything from helicopters to armored fighting vehicles—but, in the final analysis, are foot soldiers who, more often than not, fight in  difficult, demanding, and exhausting terrain—with urban terrain arguably being the most treacherous. That means that, not infrequently,they have to carry everything they need—so weight is critical.

If, as the Air Force claim: “Speed is life,” then, as far as the foot soldier is concerned: “Lightness is life.” Weight exhausts and tired soldiers react slower, and die faster.

As far as the infantry are concerned, just about everything the Army develops takes far too long, and weighs far too much. As far as the taxpayer is concerned, it is almost certainly too expensive as well. The MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex is deeply corrupt.)

How long is “too long?” Well, the Army seems to think nothing of spending 20 years on developing something—and still scrapping it—sometimes after billions of dollars have been spent.

Why is the Army so bad at development?

  • The powers that be rarely know exactly what they want—even if they have a fair idea in general terms. The devil lies in settling on the details—and the Army consists of a series of competing fiefdoms, each with with an agenda of its own. Appreciate that, first and foremost, the Army is a bureaucracy—and that it spends more time fighting bureaucratically than against the Nation’s enemies. Internally, the branches compete (branches being airborne, armor etc.) and then comes the real war without end—the fight between the services.
  • They keep on changing the specifications of what is required. Oversight is maintained by a group and since Amy postings are relatively short, and development time long, there is always some new arrival who wants to make his or her mark.
  • No one person is responsible for anything. This isn’t quite true technically—because there is normally a specific officer in charge of a program—but, since the PEO (Project Executive Officer) is rotated so often, and, anyway, reports to higher, it is almost impossible to determine who is really responsible for what.
  • No one want to make a decision in case it be proved wrong.
  • There is no incentive to make any decision.
  • Defense contractors love open ended programs—especially if they are cost plus.
  • Since contractors have a tendency to provide post retirement jobs for those who treat them well, the officers in charge of a project tend to be overly lenient with contractors.
  • Conflicts of interest are rife throughout the process.
  • The development process itself is bureaucratic and extremely slow.
  • Almost no one seems to care about the needs of the soldier in the field. Indeed, the field soldier is rarely involved in the development process except at the end when evaluation is concerned.

The photographs illustrate as vastly lighter SAW—Squad Automatic Weapon—which would have proved invaluable in Afghanistan—and  significantly lighter case telescoped ammunition.

American ingenuity at its best—yet caught in development hell. The combat soldier deserves to be better served.

Why do I write about these issues? Because I’m interested and concerned, because many of my friends are combat veterans, and because I have a major military novel in the pipeline.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23 2014: Do we really need the written word—or will we go back (or forward) to pictograms?

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

“If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”
Edward Hopper

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one's vocabulary and the greater one's awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one's thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

I have long pondered the ever increasing importance of the visual compared to the written word—and am not exactly happy with my conclusions.

The visual seems to be winning out even though it can’t do the same job—and can scarcely handle nuance and complexity at all. The visual appeals primarily to our emotions—with intellect scarcely getting a look in. It also distracts from the writing—which is one of the reasons why enhanced books have not been more successful (except in niche areas). People naturally gravitate to the easy—so, if there are plenty of pictures, they will tend to focus on those. In contrast, reading takes effort—sometimes considerable effort.

Strange how we talk about reading as if it was the complete skill. Doubtless, we don’t mean to because we do also teach comprehension—but my sense is that, all too often, we pay lip service to the latter. Reading—in the sense that one really understands both meaning and context—is a major skill and less than common.

I love the visual—but I love writing more. How to reconcile this? I seem to spend my life dealing with such conundrums? Throughout my life, I have had people telling me I think too much.

They really mean “question too much.”

Since I have great respect for the intellect I have been gifted with, I am of the opinion that the truth is that I think—and question—far too little.

Your brain is there to be used!

Focused thought is a force of extraordinary power (because the logic of such thought tends to lead towards execution as well since an idea left unexecuted is of limited utility), but the trouble is that it means facing up to much that is unpalatable—both about oneself, and elsewhere. Of course, that assumes intellectual honesty.

On the other hand, how can one really think without intellectual honesty—which means focusing solely on the best information available, bypassing your own prejudices, recognizing your own weaknesses, and ignoring your own beliefs (unless those beliefs are supported by the evidence). The answer is that you can’t. Which may explain a great deal.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 22 2014: The hunt for a lighter, more compact semi-auto sniper rifle by the U.S. Army

“A sniper is the worst romancer. They never make the first move.”



I have featured sniping—to some extent or other—in most of my thrillers. Normally, it takes some amazing number of rounds—tens to hundreds of thousands (depending upon the situation)—to kill a single enemy, whereas snipers do the deed with one or two rounds. What is more, they normally kill from a distance and—if they are good—escape undetected. Many kill dozens of the enemy. Some kill hundreds. Snipers are extremely dangerous.

The contrast with the effectiveness—or lack of it—of the average rifleman could not be more marked. This has made many soldiers who are not snipers—which means the vast majority—somewhat uneasy. As a consequence, sniping and snipers have—all too often—not enjoyed the support that they have deserved. Conventional soldiers—not unreasonably—don’t like being shown up, and, anyway, can feel less than comfortable with people they sometimes see as cold hearted killers. They feel there must be something not quite right about people who can kill with such clinical detachment.

All I can say here is that what people show, what they say, and what they really feel, should not be confused.

By the way, the primary reason why snipers are so much more effective at killing the enemy is because they, almost always, have the initiative. Conventional solders rarely have that luxury. In fact, in many cases, the nature of the work they do—such as patrolling—makes them the targets.

Generally speaking, snipers are better trained, are better marksmen, and are equipped with longer-range and more accurate rifles, but it is their ability to retain the initiative that remains the crucial difference.

The following is what the Army wants from their new compact semi-automatic sniper rifle.

- All external and visible surfaces shall be of a rough, dull, non-reflective Flat Dark Earth.

– The unloaded rifle with forward rails for concurrent mounting of required accessories but without suppressor, magazines, accessories, and/or optics shall weigh no more than 9.0 pounds.

– The maximum overall assembled length of the rifle shall be not greater than 36 inches with the stock at its shortest position and no sound suppressor mounted. The stock shall be in the unfolded position if a folding stock is present. The length of the barrel shall be no less than 16 inches.

– The stock of the rifle shall be adjustable for length-of-pull. The length of pull in the shortest configuration shall be no greater than 12 inches. The length of pull in the longest configuration shall be no less than 16 inches. The minimum travel of the stock adjustment shall be no less than 4 inches.

– The rifle shall incorporate a muzzle brake or combination flash hider/muzzle brake.

“Since its initial fielding in 2007, the M110 has provided Army snipers with a very reliable and effective anti-personnel sniping capability. However, advances in warfighting technology have promoted the need for increased sniping capabilities to counter constantly changing threats particularly in urban environments and at extended ranges. As a result, the CSASS initiative evolved directly from Operational Needs Statements submitted by deployed units and sniper feedback. The CSASS capabilities and features have been identified from sniper inputs during weapon Integrated Product Team meetings, conferences, observations and interviews with conventional Army, Special Operations, NATO/allies snipers and Sniper School instructors, according to the June 12 solicitation posted on

The Army adopted the M110 in 2005. Made by Knight’s Armament Company, it’s chambered for 7.62mm, weighs about 15 pounds and measures about 46 inches when fitted with its suppressor.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

June 21 2014: I love to blog (daily if remotely possible)—so if don’t blog for a while, you can safely assume I’m ill—or that the distraction is major. For the last couple of months, I have been recovering—more slowly than I would like—from an accident. It’s been a damn nuisance—but it could have been a whole lot worse.

I think every family is dysfunctional, and some manage to control it better than others.

Viggo Mortensen


Dysfunctional families have sired a number of pretty good actors.

Gene Hackman

The photo is that of my much loved stepfather, Alfred Lyons.

I was about eight when he and my mother were married. I took to him immediately, insisted on calling him “Daddy,” pretty much banned the word “step” from family usage—and hoped for the best.

At the time, my relationship with my mother was contentious—to put it mildly—because, apart from having a short fuse and a violent temperament, she had absolutely no idea how to bring up a boy. She, herself, had been brought up—until her mid teens—as an only child by French governesses—and her solution to any and all problems with me (real or imagined) was to lash out both verbally and physically. She compounded that behavior by sending me to boarding school at the age of five—and parking me with my grandmother during the summer and with a pair of aunts during the Easter vacation. In fact, I was only at home during the Christmas vacation—during which I largely occupied myself. I had rebelled against my mother’s beatings when I was five and refused to kiss her—and maintained that posture pretty much until I left home.

It was relatively easy not to encounter my mother even when were living under the same roof. The large house was divided into her quarters—her bedroom, her drawing room, and the dining-room (a study was added later), and we children were largely confined to the servants’ quarters, our own rooms, and the large garden. She virtually never went into the garden.  That was the gardener’s territory, and she was not—in the main—an outdoors person.

In fact, the only room we overlapped in was the kitchen, where my mother would go for coffee (if it wasn’t brought to her). We children ate there with the servants. Eventually, my mother amended the rules to allow children to eat with her after we were twelve—but that was to come later. In fact, given that the younger kids were under twelve when I left home, I don’t think we ever ate together as a complete family. I was the eldest of 12 children.

I thought nothing of it at the time. Having the children looked after by the servants was common practice amongst the Anglo-Irish in those days. Now, I just shake my head in wonder.

Alfred eased the emotional climate at home during a crucial time in my life—and I owe him a complete deal. He was an exceptional man—intelligent, witty, widely read, creative, the best of company—and extremely kind to me. Yet, given my mother’s destructive nature, the relationship with my mother was doomed from the beginning and—in the end—she killed him (albeit indirectly).

I was devastated when I heard Alfred had died. I felt nothing but a vast relief when I was told my mother was dead. I still feel much the same way.

They say you only need one person to love you to evolve from childhood in a reasonably balanced way (insofar as humans are ever balanced). In my case, Alfred was of the most enormous help, but my real emotional rock was my high-minded grandmother.

My childhood was difficult in the extreme—and I was, indeed, the victim of much violence and other abuse—but I did receive an excellent education for someone destined for the creative world, so, on balance—I feel pretty damn lucky.

As for the many unpleasant episodes, well—as we writers say—it’s all material.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thursday, June 19, 2014

June 19 2014: Infantry combat: How do you kill an enemy who is within rifle range, out of hand-grenade range, but not within your line-of-sight? And, you have no mortars, artillery on call, or air support.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower


Do you wake up and obsess about such issues? Probably not. However, if you were patrolling in Iraq or Afghanistan (pick your trouble-spot) it would be a matter of some concern.

Hostiles, when not blowing you up or shooting at you, like to take cover—to duck down behind walls, rocks, and anything which will hide them, and, ideally, stop a bullet as well—and, over time, become very good at it. This is Darwinianism in action—on the job training. The lesser competent get killed relatively quickly.

For something like 20 years—a truly ridiculous amount of time (and a disgrace given the manifest need) the Army have had a solution in development. This is the XM25, a 14lb boxy sort of weapon, which “features a target acquisition system that calculates the target range with a push of a button, and transfers the data to the electronic fuse built into the 25mm round. When fired, the projectile is designed to explode directly above targets out to 600 meters, peppering enemy fighters with shrapnel.”

The cost for the XM25 and the rounds it fires is expensive today, because the weapons and ammunition are being manufactured by hand. But with development of automated production facilities, the Army say the price is expected to come down to about $35,000 for the weapon and fire control system, and about $55 per round.

By all accounts, the XM25 is effective, but the Rangers, in particular, have been severely critical of it.

After an initial assessment, Ranger units found the XM25 too heavy and cumbersome for the battlefield. They were also concerned that the limited basic load of 25mm rounds was not enough to justify taking an M4A1 carbine out of the mission, sources say.

XM25 is an offshoot of the Objective Individual Combat Weapon program the Army began in the mid-1990s to increase firepower effectiveness. It was then known as the XM29 — an over-and-under system with a 5.56mm carbine on the bottom and the 20mm airburst weapon on top. The OICW program stalled in the face of technical challenges that made the 18-pound weapon too heavy and bulky. The program ended up costing about $100 million.

Read more:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June 18 2014: It would make a great deal of sense for writers to dance—but would it make as much sense for dancers to write?

“And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon.”

Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat

“Somebody just gave me a shower radio. Thanks a lot. Do you really want music in the shower? I guess there's no better place to dance than a slick surface next to a glass door.”

Jerry Seinfeld

“Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.”

Martha Graham

Jean Bulter and Michael Flatley Eurovision 30 April 1994 web

Hard to believe it has been over 20 years since Riverdance erupted on the scene. The date was April 30 1994 and the occasion was the Eurovision Song contest.

The Riverdance segment lasted seven minutes and was a life changing event, as far as I was concerned. It signified the poverty-stricken chip-on-the-shoulder Ireland I had grown up in having evolved into “The Celtic Tiger.”

That particular tiger turned out to have a penchant for economic self destruction, but the consequences of that pattern of behavior were still well over a decade away in 1994—and Ireland, at last, felt confident and dynamic—and showed it.

I was thrilled. I had played a part in that economic progression—at considerable personal cost, as it happens—but Riverdance gave me the feeling it had all been worth it.

It was absolutely compelling—and one of the sexiest things I had ever seen. Still is.

Do I think dancers should write? That might be difficult given the extraordinary demands in terms of time and focus that dancing to a certain standard makes—but are the demands made of a writer who seeks excellence any the less? I think not.

That said, I think it is a great pity that—particularly where creativity is concerned—we don’t cross the barriers more.

Worth reflecting upon.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17 2014: Congratulations! One of my sister Lucy’s drop-dead gorgeous daughters, Faith, has become engaged. Where else to do it but the waters off Istanbul. Her fiancée—that pleasant-looking fellow—is Tom Isaac.


“A fool in love makes no sense to me. I only think you are a fool if you do not love.”


Apparently, this actually happened on June 17 2014—so I’m posting it on that date.

Good family news is a fine thing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

June 16 2014: “Who guards the guardians?” (One of may favorite questions). Well, where the media are concerned, you could make a good case for the UK’s THE GUARDIAN newspaper. It’s doing great work these days. It’s article on Open Source Intelligence guru, Robert David Steele, is an example of just that.

You only have power over people so long as you don't take everything away from them. But when you've robbed a man of everything, he's no longer in your power - he's free again.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Robert David Steele


I consider it fundamental to my role as a writer to keep myself well informed—and I devote considerable time, energy, and resources to so doing. Though I have a wide range of contacts, I rely heavily on open sources. I have found from experience that although open sources may not tell me everything I need to know directly, I can normally deduce what I need to know by connecting the dots—and drawing on my own experience. This is particularly the case where the economy is concerned. In fact, here I could make the case that open sources are more reliable than official sources.

The U.S. has serious problems at present and is currently in decline—and fairly rapid decline at that. That said, the answers to most of our problems are out there, and would be relatively easy to master and implement if we were prepared to swallow our pride and learn from others.

Mostly, we don’t seem willing to do so. Why not? An important reason is that the status quo suits the Ultra Rich just fine—and they have the tools to manipulate our degrees of concern and fan the flames of the ideology we have been conditioned to believe in.

ROBERT DAVID STEELE is the guru of open source intelligence, a truly fascinating man, and you can read the full Guardian article on him by clicking on the link. I would urge you to do so. What he has to say is important. The following is an extract. Best to read the full thing.

The open source revolution is coming and it will conquer the 1% - ex CIA spy

Robert David Steele, former Marine, CIA case officer, and US co-founder of the US Marine Corps intelligence activity, is a man on a mission. But it's a mission that frightens the US intelligence establishment to its core.

With 18 years experience working across the US intelligence community, followed by 20 more years in commercial intelligence and training, Steele's exemplary career has spanned almost all areas of both the clandestine world.

Steele started off as a Marine Corps infantry and intelligence officer. After four years on active duty, he joined the CIA for about a decade before co-founding the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, where he was deputy director. Widely recognized as the leader of the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) paradigm, Steele went on to write the handbooks on OSINT for NATO, the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Forces. In passing, he personally trained 7,500 officers from over 66 countries.

In 1992, despite opposition from the CIA, he obtained Marine Corps permission to organize a landmark international conference on open source intelligence – the paradigm of deriving information to support policy decisions not through secret activities, but from open public sources available to all. The conference was such a success it brought in over 620 attendees from the intelligence world.

But the CIA wasn't happy, and ensured that Steele was prohibited from running a second conference. The clash prompted him to resign from his position as second-ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence, and pursue the open source paradigm elsewhere. He went on to found and head up the Open Source Solutions Network Inc. and later the non-profit Earth Intelligence Network which runs the Public Intelligence Blog.

Robert David SteeleFormer CIA spy and Open Source Intelligence pioneer, Robert David Steele speaking at the Inter-American Defense Board in 2013

I first came across Steele when I discovered his Amazon review of my third book, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism. A voracious reader, Steele is the number 1 Amazon reviewer for non-fiction across 98 categories. He also reviewed my latest book, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, but told me I'd overlooked an important early work – 'A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change.'

Last month, Steele presented a startling paper at the Libtech conference in New York, sponsored by the Internet Society and Reclaim. Drawing on principles set out in his latest book, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth and Trust, he told the audience that all the major preconditions for revolution – set out in his 1976 graduate thesis – were now present in the United States and Britain.

Steele's book is a must-read, a powerful yet still pragmatic roadmap to a new civilisational paradigm that simultaneously offers a trenchant, unrelenting critique of the prevailing global order. His interdisciplinary 'whole systems' approach dramatically connects up the increasing corruption, inefficiency and unaccountability of the intelligence system and its political and financial masters with escalating inequalities and environmental crises. But he also offers a comprehensive vision of hope that activist networks like Reclaim are implementing today.

"We are at the end of a five-thousand-year-plus historical process during which human society grew in scale while it abandoned the early indigenous wisdom councils and communal decision-making," he writes in The Open Source Everything Manifesto. "Power was centralised in the hands of increasingly specialised 'elites' and 'experts' who not only failed to achieve all they promised but used secrecy and the control of information to deceive the public into allowing them to retain power over community resources that they ultimately looted."

Today's capitalism, he argues, is inherently predatory and destructive:

"Over the course of the last centuries, the commons was fenced, and everything from agriculture to water was commoditized without regard to the true cost in non-renewable resources. Human beings, who had spent centuries evolving away from slavery, were re-commoditized by the Industrial Era."

Open source everything, in this context, offers us the chance to build on what we've learned through industrialization, to learn from our mistakes, and catalyze the re-opening of the commons, in the process breaking the grip of defunct power structures and enabling the possibility of prosperity for all.

"Sharing, not secrecy, is the means by which we realize such a lofty destiny as well as create infinite wealth. The wealth of networks, the wealth of knowledge, revolutionary wealth - all can create a nonzero win-win Earth that works for one hundred percent of humanity. This is the 'utopia' that Buckminster Fuller foresaw, now within our reach."

The goal, he concludes, is to reject:

"... concentrated illicitly aggregated and largely phantom wealth in favor of community wealth defined by community knowledge, community sharing of information, and community definition of truth derived in transparency and authenticity, the latter being the ultimate arbiter of shared wealth."

Despite this unabashedly radical vision, Steele is hugely respected by senior military intelligence experts across the world. As a researcher at the US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, he has authored several monographs advocating the need for open source methods to transform the craft of intelligence. He has lectured to the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security as well as National Security Councils in various countries, and his new book has received accolades from senior intelligence officials across multiple countries including France and Turkey.

Yet he remains an outspoken critic of US intelligence practices and what he sees as their integral role in aggravating rather than ameliorating the world's greatest threats and challenges.

This week, I had the good fortune of being able to touch base with Steele to dig deeper into his recent analysis of the future of US politics in the context of our accelerating environmental challenges. The first thing I asked him was where he sees things going over the next decade, given his holistic take.

"Properly educated people always appreciate holistic approaches to any challenge. This means that they understand both cause and effect, and intertwined complexities," he said. "A major part of our problem in the public policy arena is the decline in intelligence with integrity among key politicians and staff at the same time that think tanks and universities and non-governmental organizations have also suffered a similar intellectual diminishment.

"My early graduate education was in the 1970's when Limits to Growth and World Federalism were the rage. Both sought to achieve an over-view of systemic challenges, but both also suffered from the myth of top-down hubris. What was clear in the 1970s, that has been obscured by political and financial treason in the past half-century, is that everything is connected – what we do in the way of paving over wetlands, or in poisoning ground water 'inadvertently' because of our reliance on pesticides and fertilizers that are not subject to the integrity of the 'Precautionary Principle,' ultimately leads to climate catastrophes that are acts of man, not acts of god."

He points me to his tremendous collection of reviews of books on climate change, disease, environmental degradation, peak oil, and water scarcity. "I see five major overlapping threats on the immediate horizon," he continues. "They are all related: the collapse of complex societies, the acceleration of the Earth's demise with changes that used to take 10,000 years now taking three or less, predatory or shock capitalism and financial crime out of the City of London and Wall Street, and political corruption at scale, to include the west supporting 42 of 44 dictators. We are close to multiple mass catastrophes."

What about the claim that the US is on the brink of revolution? "Revolution is overthrow – the complete reversal of the status quo ante. We are at the end of centuries of what Lionel Tiger calls 'The Manufacture of Evil,' in which merchant banks led by the City of London have conspired with captive governments to concentrate wealth and commoditize everything including humans. What revolution means in practical terms is that balance has been lost and the status quo ante is unsustainable. There are two 'stops' on greed to the nth degree: the first is the carrying capacity of Earth, and the second is human sensibility. We are now at a point where both stops are activating."

Former CIA officer's matrix on the preconditions for revolution

It's not just the US, he adds. "The preconditions of revolution exist in the UK, and most western countries. The number of active pre-conditions is quite stunning, from elite isolation to concentrated wealth to inadequate socialization and education, to concentrated land holdings to loss of authority to repression of new technologies especially in relation to energy, to the atrophy of the public sector and spread of corruption, to media dishonesty, to mass unemployment of young men and on and on and on."

So why isn't it happening yet?
"Preconditions are not the same as precipitants. We are waiting for our Tunisian fruit seller. The public will endure great repression, especially when most media outlets and schools are actively aiding the repressive meme of 'you are helpless, this is the order of things.' When we have a scandal so powerful that it cannot be ignored by the average Briton or American, we will have a revolution that overturns the corrupt political systems in both countries, and perhaps puts many banks out of business. Vaclav Havel calls this 'The Power of the Powerless.' One spark, one massive fire."

But we need more than revolution, in the sense of overthrow, to effect change, surely. How does your manifesto for 'open source everything' fit into this? "The west has pursued an industrialization path that allows for the privatization of wealth from the commons, along with the criminalization of commons rights of the public, as well as the externalization of all true costs. Never mind that fracking produces earthquakes and poisons aquifers – corrupt politicians at local, state or province, and national levels are all too happy to take money for looking the other way. Our entire commercial, diplomatic, and informational systems are now cancerous. When trade treaties have secret sections – or are entirely secret – one can be certain the public is being screwed and the secrecy is an attempt to avoid accountability. Secrecy enables corruption. So also does an inattentive public enable corruption."

Is this a crisis of capitalism, then? Does capitalism need to end for us to resolve these problems? And if so, how? "Predatory capitalism is based on the privatization of profit and the externalization of cost. It is an extension of the fencing of the commons, of enclosures, along with the criminalization of prior common customs and rights. What we need is a system that fully accounts for all costs. Whether we call that capitalism or not is irrelevant to me. But doing so would fundamentally transform the dynamic of present day capitalism, by making capital open source. For example, and as calculated by my colleague JZ Liszkiewicz, a white cotton T-shirt contains roughly 570 gallons of water, 11 to 29 gallons of fuel, and a number of toxins and emissions including pesticides, diesel exhaust, and heavy metals and other volatile compounds – it also generally includes child labor. Accounting for those costs and their real social, human and environmental impacts has totally different implications for how we should organise production and consumption than current predatory capitalism."

So what exactly do you mean by open source everything? "We have over 5 billion human brains that are the one infinite resource available to us going forward. Crowd-sourcing and cognitive surplus are two terms of art for the changing power dynamic between those at the top that are ignorant and corrupt, and those across the bottom that are attentive and ethical. The open source ecology is made up of a wide range of opens – open farm technology, open source software, open hardware, open networks, open money, open small business technology, open patents – to name just a few. The key point is that they must all develop together, otherwise the existing system will isolate them into ineffectiveness. Open data is largely worthless unless you have open hardware and open software. Open government demands open cloud and open spectrum, or money will dominate feeds and speeds."

Robert SteeleRobert Steele's vision for open source systems

On 1st May, Steele sent an open letter to US vice president Joe Bidenrequesting him to consider establishing an Open Source Agency that would transform the operation of the intelligence community, dramatically reduce costs, increasing oversight and accountability, while increasing access to the best possible information to support holistic policy-making. To date, he has received no response.

I'm not particularly surprised. Open source everything pretty much undermines everything the national security state stands for. Why bother even asking vice president Biden to consider it? "The national security state is rooted in secrecy as a means of avoiding accountability. My first book, On Intelligence: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World – which by the way had a foreword from Senator David Boren, the immediate past chairman of the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence - made it quite clear that the national security state is an expensive, ineffective monstrosity that is simply not fit for purpose. In that sense, the national security state is it's own worst enemy – it's bound to fail."

Given his standing as an intelligence expert, Steele's criticisms of US intelligence excesses are beyond scathing – they are damning. "Most of what is produced through secret methods is not actually intelligence at all. It is simply secret information that is, most of the time, rather generic and therefore not actually very useful for making critical decisions at a government level. The National Security Agency (NSA) has not prevented any terrorist incidents. CIA cannot even get the population of Syria correct and provides no intelligence - decision-support - to most cabinet secretaries, assistant secretaries, and department heads. Indeed General Tony Zinni, when he was commander in chief of the US Central Command as it was at war, is on record as saying that he received, 'at best,' a meagre 4% of what he needed to know from secret sources and methods."

So does open source mean you are calling for abolition of intelligence agencies as we know them, I ask. "I'm a former spy and I believe we still need spies and secrecy, but we need to redirect the vast majority of the funds now spent on secrecy toward savings and narrowly focused endeavors at home. For instance, utterly ruthless counterintelligence against corruption, or horrendous evils like paedophilia.

"Believe it or not, 95% of what we need for ethical evidence-based decision support cannot be obtained through the secret methods of standard intelligence practices. But it can be obtained quite openly and cheaply from academics, civil society, commerce, governments, law enforcement organizations, the media, all militaries, and non-governmental organizations. An Open Source Agency, as I've proposed it, would not just meet 95% of our intelligence requirements, it would do the same at all levels of government and carry over by enriching education, commerce, and research – it would create what I called in 1995 a 'Smart Nation.'

"The whole point of Open Source Everything is to restore public agency. Open Source is the only form of information and information technology that is affordable to the majority, interoperable across all boundaries, and rapidly scalable from local to global without the curse of overhead that proprietary corporations impose."

Robert Steele's graphic on open source systems thinking

It's clear to me that when Steele talks about intelligence as 'decision-support,' he really does intend that we grasp "all information in all languages all the time" – that we do multidisciplinary research spanning centuries into the past as well as into the future. His most intriguing premise is that the 1% are simply not as powerful as they, and we, assume them to be. "The collective buying power of the five billion poor is four times that of the one billion rich according to the late Harvard business thinker Prof C. K. Prahalad – open source everything is about the five billion poor coming together to reclaim their collective wealth and mobilize it to transform their lives. There is zero chance of the revolution being put down. Public agency is emergent, and the ability of the public to literally put any bank or corporation out of business overnight is looming. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, you cannot screw all of the people all of the time. We're there. All we lack is a major precipitant – our Tunisian fruit seller. When it happens the revolution will be deep and lasting."

The Arab spring analogy has its negatives. So far, there really isn't much to root for. I want to know what's to stop this revolution from turning into a violent, destructive mess. Steele is characteristically optimistic. "I have struggled with this question. What I see happening is an end to national dictat and the emergence of bottom-up clarity, diversity, integrity, and sustainability. Individual towns across the USA are now nullifying federal and state regulations - for example gag laws on animal cruelty, blanket permissions for fracking. Those such as my colleague Parag Khanna that speak to a new era of city-states are correct in my view. Top down power has failed in a most spectacular manner, and bottom-up consensus power is emergent. 'Not in my neighborhood' is beginning to trump 'Because I say so.' The one unlimited resource we have on the planet is the human brain – the current strategy of 1% capitalism is failing because it is killing the Golden Goose at multiple levels. Unfortunately, the gap between those with money and power and those who actually know what they are talking about has grown catastrophic. The rich are surrounded by sycophants and pretenders whose continued employment demands that they not question the premises. As Larry Summers lectured Elizabeth Warren, 'insiders do not criticise insiders.'"

But how can activists actually start moving toward the open source vision now? "For starters, there are eight 'tribes' that among them can bring together all relevant information: academia, civil society including labor unions and religions, commerce especially small business, government especially local, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit. At every level from local to global, across every mission area, we need to create stewardship councils integrating personalities and information from all eight tribes. We don't need to wait around for someone else to get started. All of us who recognize the vitality of this possibility can begin creating these new grassroots structures from the bottom-up, right now."

So how does open source everything have the potential to 're-engineer the Earth'? For me, this is the most important question, and Steele's answer is inspiring. "Open Source Everything overturns top-down 'because I say so at the point of a gun' power. Open Source Everything makes truth rather than violence the currency of power. Open Source Everything demands that true cost economics and the indigenous concept of 'seventh generation thinking' – how will this affect society 200 years ahead – become central. Most of our problems today can be traced to the ascendance of unilateral militarism, virtual colonialism, and predatory capitalism, all based on force and lies and encroachment on the commons. The national security state works for the City of London and Wall Street – both are about to be toppled by a combination of Eastern alternative banking and alternative international development capabilities, and individuals who recognize that they have the power to pull their money out of the banks and not buy the consumer goods that subsidize corruption and the concentration of wealth. The opportunity to take back the commons for the benefit of humanity as a whole is open – here and now."

For Steele, the open source revolution is inevitable, simply because the demise of the system presided over by the 1% cannot be stopped – and because the alternatives to reclaiming the commons are too dismal to contemplate. We have no choice but to step up.

"My motto, a play on the CIA motto that is disgraced every day, is 'the truth at any cost lowers all other costs'", he tells me. "Others wiser than I have pointed out that nature bats last. We are at the end of an era in which lies can be used to steal from the public and the commons. We are at the beginning of an era in which truth in public service can restore us all to a state of grace."

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an international security journalist and academic. He is the author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It, and the forthcoming science fiction thriller, ZERO POINT. ZERO POINT is set in a near future following a Fourth Iraq War. Follow Ahmed on Facebook and Twitter.