Friday, June 19, 2009

Reading :: Worst Enemy

Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military
By John Arquilla

“For David Ronfeldt,” reads the inscription on this book, “visionary, colleague, friend.” Arquilla and Ronfeldt worked together for many years at RAND, and many of the themes they developed during that time made their way into this book, which is all about transforming the US military to meet future demands. Arquilla, who went on to teach at the Naval Postgraduate School, has thought a great deal about the challenges and implications in such an undertaking.

His analysis is even-handed and complex, as he demonstrates beginning in the Preface. “In this book the reader will find [former SecDef Donald] Rumsfeld an elusive, complex character, right on the big issues about military innovation, tragically wrong about both the idea of invading Iraq and the manner in which the campaign there was conducted” (p.xi). Rumsfeld's vision of a more nimble, more networked, more agile military contrasts with the vision of a political rival who usually comes off better in such accounts: “our adherence to a military philosophy of overwhelming force – the so-called Powell Doctrine – seems exceptionally ill-suited to our time, guaranteeing staggering expenditures, major collateral damage inflicted upon innocents, and growing global resentment of the United States”(p.xi).

We can take Rumsfeld and Powell as figures for two possible pathways for the US military and armies in general. On the one hand, the Powell Doctrine pushes us towards massed forces, a larger army, more extensive and expensive weapons systems, more aircraft carriers, more command and control, and conflicts that minimize risk to US soldiers – by maximizing risks to civilians. As Arquilla points out, throughout military history, massed forces have had their day, then suffered from nimbler, more innovative forces: the phalanx fell to the legion, the massed infantries fell to the German stormtroopers, and more recently the US has had its hands full dealing with decentralized terrorists (p.11). In the latter example, the Powell Doctrine has led to maximizing troop safety by maximizing civilian risks, most obviously in airstrikes, and the resulting collateral damage has provided arguments for recruiters for terrorist networks.

On the other hand, the approach that Rumsfeld (imperfectly, intermittently) took involved smaller, nimbler forces, a smaller army made of smaller networked units, lighter weapons, more decentralized decision-making and initiative at unit level, less centralized control, fewer if any aircraft carriers and fewer expensive weapons systems. Arquilla approvingly cites Rumsfeld's “A-Teams” of commandoes whose partnerships with tribal Afghanis made Operation Enduring Freedom such a success (pp.40-41; see also p.87). Arquilla says the Army “should become a force of the 'many and small,' not the 'few and the large'” (pp.45-46). Remodel the Army along the lines of the Special Forces, he says, with as few as 100-200 troops per unit (p.46). Realize, as Rumsfeld belatedly did, that conflicts are more likely to be netwar conflicts in the future (p.161), and that we must prepare military leaders to confront networks as well as nation-states (p.166). Arquilla points out that Rumsfeld initially favored an “Afghan approach” to Iraq, but encountered sharp opposition from the Pentagon and compromised, leading to the massive Iraq invasion (p.216) – and he also argues that the more recent success in Iraq had less to do with the surge and more to do with small, dispersed garrisons (p.217).

Indeed, Arquilla argues that better organization and communication could give an advantage to low-tech dispersed solutions. For instance, he argues that proven, inexpensive WWI-era biplanes and distributed one-gun batteries could be deployed to great effect (p.52), as could drone JetSkis (p.78) and surveillance blimps, if the Air Force controls the skies (pp. 102-103). Compare these, he invites us, to the aircraft carrier – a recurrent symbol of what's wrong with the traditionalist military thinking that Arquilla warns “is leading us toward disaster” (p.24). Aircraft carriers are protected by traditionalism and budgetary inertia – “they represent the largest single line items in the defense budget” - and face no clear rivals on the seas (p.59). Yet they are large, relatively slow targets representing a “big, single 'point of failure'” (p.69), the epitome of massed forces. Meanwhile, the Chinese are working on a “sea power without a navy” (p.63), remote warfare based on supercavitating torpedoes, supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, and “brilliant” seagoing mines with limited maneuverability (pp.63-64). The US armed forces have been slow to innovate in the face of such developments, Arquilla points out.

Arquilla also weighs in on nonlethal weapons, an issue that has become more central recently. These include infantry weapons, and he discusses the Intifada in this context, but it also includes electronic warfare; he argues strongly for a move to a strong encryption regime for the military and the government (p.128).

Arquilla's chapter on influence operations, which clearly shows the mark of his work with Ronfeldt on noopolitik, is also valuable. Influence operations are more than propaganda: they are perceptions management (and in that sense, rhetorical) (pp.132-133). And he argues that they must be better integrated with miilitary concepts (p.133). He reviews the existing principles for influence operations: (1) Don't use them on US citizens; (2) Avoid lying; (3) craft the message and repeat it often (pp.134-136). But, he says, two problems mar this concept of influence operations: (1) “it undervalues listening,” and (2) “it rules out the idea of making concessions in order to induce others to change their behavior” (p.136). While our influence operations have been bogged down, he says, al-Qaeda's have been successful because “they are well suited for exploiting our own 'scaling problem.' They can mount just a few operations and yet be able to count on the Americans having to respond in costly, balky ways,” responding in entire divisions geared for conventional, symmetrical warfare (p.151). Arquilla counsels that instead we “go small,” relying on influence operations more and on conventional methods less (p.153).

And that brings us to the concept of netwar. I've reviewed netwar concepts elsewhere on the blog, mostly in Arquilla and Ronfeldt's writings, but Chapter 7 is a good overview for those who are less familiar with the concept. One key sentence: “Netwar has a postmodern quality, one that takes advantage of the tendency in our time to view the actual fighting in any conflict as a backdrop to the more important 'battle of the story' about why the war is being waged in the first place” (p.162). That's partly why influence operations have become so important. As we see the crisis in Teheran unfolding over YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, shortly after the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, we are seeing an example of netwar in which the regime and citizens battle for control of the story.

So what are the implications for our armed forces? Let's start with a surprising one. Arquilla wants to bring back the draft. The problem with the volunteer army, he says, is that volunteers come disproportionately from specific regions, religious backgrounds, and political affiliations, so the armed forces have come to represent a narrower slice of the citizenry. The results have included instances of overt politicization, undue religious influence, and socioeconomic segregation. Reinstating the draft “would remind all Americans of the implicit social contract that runs from citizen to government, and to one's compatriots” (p.195).

At the same time, Arquilla wants a much smaller armed forces: he wants to reduce active duty forces by three quarters while enlarging the reserves to provide more flexible, scalable forces (p.226). He wants to keep elite forces elite and focus on small, dispersed field units (p.226). Most of all, he wants to see the armed forces phase out the enormous, centralized aircraft carriers in favor of smaller ships, and he wants to see outer space kept for intelligence support rather than advanced weaponry (p.226).

Arquilla's book is a well-written, thought-provoking argument. I'm not qualified to evaluate it as a blueprint for the armed forces, but it has analogical implications for other large organizations. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reading :: Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets

Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation
By Peter F. Cowhey and Jonathan D. Aronsen with Donald Abelson

Drucker wrote at the end of World War II that massive organizations such as the corporation, which had been nearly nonexistent at the beginning of the 20th century, had become the dominant feature of mid-century life. At about the same time that he made that observation, an information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure had begun to grow, creating the beginnings of today's global information technology (Cowhey et al. p.1). And that new infrastructure involved a “radically different model for competition and public policy for this infrastructure ... that is far sounder than its predecessor” (p.1). In this book – available in hardback or as a free download – the authors examine that model, discussing the “inflection point” (p.3) that we face today, sorting through policies and policy implications, and making what they consider to be generally optimistic predictions about how ICT policy will develop over the next few years.

The authors define “inflection point” by quoting former Intel chairman Andy Grove: it “'occurs where the old strategic picture dissolves and gives way to the new'” (qtd. p.7). At this inflection point, “ICT technology is becoming both modular and radically cheaper” and at the same time “ubiquitous wired and wireless broadband can meld these ICT capabilities together” into powerful, placeless applications (p.7). “Modularity and broadband mean that convergence of services and equipment will defy traditional market boundaries,” they explain (p.7). Yet public policy has been slow to adapt to this new reality. “This challenge raises the central question we address in this book: How can national and global policies best fulfill the promise of this inflection point in the global ICT infrastructure?” (p.8).

It's an exceedingly important question since, as the authors demonstrate, public policy can have enormous impacts on technologies and thus on the sorts of commercial, civic, and private possibilities they allow (pp.9-10). (That's what drew me to the book, even though I find public policy discussions to be very tough sledding in places, and this book is no exception.) As the authors note, “in today's world many different private interests back different visions of the public interest” (p.10) – and the way the US in particular balances such visions will be crucial, since “we argue that until about 2025 the United States will be able to lead, but not to dictate, the world's choices about future policies” (p.10).

So what changes are involved in this inflection point? First, ICT changes lead to lower entry costs and more competition over smaller market segments: market leaders are less secure and markets themselves can easily change (pp.11-12). Second, “the inflection point breaks ICT out of geographic and functional boxes”; IT can expand horizontally, out of offices, as well as vertically, up and down organizations (p.12).

ICT infrastructures, the authors argue, are inherently political – and its policies and politics are inherently global (p.13). “There are at least four reasons why the domestic governance of ICT infrastructure depends on global arrangements,” they tell us:

  • “network externalities ensure that networks are more valuable when they connect more users” (p.13).

  • “economies of scale still apply in similar ways to the engineering and the economics of networks,” so suppliers have influence on infrastructure across borders (pp.13-14).

  • Because of the features of network economics, “the pricing for connecting domestic networks internationally often displays unusual characteristics that matter to many political stakeholders” (p.14).

  • The public holds government ultimately responsible for the quality of the networked infrastructure, so network performance becomes highly political (p.14).

The US has been and (the authors anticipate) will continue to be pivotal in developing global ICT policy, so in Chapter 2, the authors review the history of ICT in the US. After discussing the development and breakup of Bell, the authors argue that three features of the US political system are relevant to communication policy:

  • division of powers

  • majoritarian electoral system

  • federalism

I won't discuss these in detail, but I'll note that the authors weave these into their analysis as they examine the post-Bell landscape, particularly the delegation of much discretion over telecomm policy to the executive bureaucracy. Some of the resulting choices had real impact. For instance, when the FCC designed the wireless market system, it anticipated 4-6 competitors per market, none dominating a given market; it mandated low wireless-wire interconnection charges. Later, the Democrat-dominated FCC of the Clinton era interpreted the 1996 Telecommunications Act as calling for “strong interconnect obligations for the Bells at long-run incremental costs” (p.37). In an adjacent telecomm industry without a monopoly history, cable television and satellite TV networks fragmented broadcast markets, shrinking mass audiences and leading to a post-2000 restructuring of the content industry (p.40).

Meanwhile, modularity is also impacting ICT development: modular services and modular broadband have led to geographic distribution of infrastructure, services, and sales (p.54). The web browser has become the common interface, while transparent APIs have led to modular, mashed-up content and developer communities (p.60). “Modularity and interoperability of capabilities signal the demise of the utility model that depends on quasi-monopoly or duopoly in major software and service platforms” (p.65). Heterogeneous services mean that service providers agree on interoperability standards, and as a result different services are substitutable – modular – meaning that a market leader can't leverage its lead in neighboring market segments (p.68). The long tail (p.76), the ad-supported “Cheap Revolution” (p.77), and emerging personalized network platforms (p.84) all emerge from these qualities. And the authors argue that “the availability of ample network broadband is indispensible to fulfilling the inflection point's potential” - yet the spread of broadband in the US is “deplorable” (p.89). The authors explore the current situation and the US' leadership in more detail that I care to summarize here – it's good reading, but thick.

Wireless infrastructure is also examined – a tremendously important discussion, since in the US, the number of mobile lines overtook fixed lines in 2002 (p.178), and mobile lines are increasing rapidly across the world. Internet governance also comes in for discussion, with a detailed history and explanation of its current form (Ch.9). And the authors wrap up with a detailed set of summary and conclusions.

My conclusion? The book is thick and jammed with information. As with many policy instructions, it's hard to get through. Yet it's rewarding. If you're interested in ICT policy, or just curious to see how infrastructure might evolve, take a look at the table of contents or index. If you have a serious scholarly or public policy interest in these issues, read it cover to cover.

Upcoming workshop: Visualizing Patterns of Group Communication in Digital Writing

So Mark Zachry, Bill Hart-Davidson and I will be presenting our workshop at Penn State next weekend. Essentially, we'll be working intensely with a small number of participants to teach the visual models I've been teaching my undergraduate students. It's going to be exciting, I think. If you're one of our attendees, I can't wait to see you there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reading :: The Logic of Care

The Logic of Care: Health and the problem of patient choice
By Annemarie Mol

A few years ago, I posted a glowing review of The Body Multiple, Annemarie Mol's book about how atherosclerosis is constructed across the multiple perspectives in hospitals. Mol is an engaging writer as well as a sharp ethnographer and theorist. Even though her books are translated from the Dutch (partly by Mol herself), Mol's enjoyable writing style comes through – she often brings up an observation early on without comment, drops it as she develops the piece methodologically and conceptually, then offhandedly recalls the observation – which suddenly is nudged into a more layered, more multidimensional sense. Then she does it again. It's rather like watching someone laminate a picture under many layers.

Mol continues this writing style, but whereas The Body Multiple is a more or less standard ethnography interpreted philosophically, The Logic of Care is a philosophical argument that draws from Mol's ethnographic data as well as her own experience as a patient seeking care for a chronic condition. This argument is about two logics: the logic of choice that dominates the public and administrative discourse about health, and the logic of care that infuses (some of) its (best) practices (p.11).

Simply, the logic of choice takes individual choice as an ideal – yet this ideal often does not lead to the best results. “I do not question choice in general, but rather the generalisation of choice,” Mol insists in a characteristic chiasmus (p.1). This logic of choice, which is embedded deeply in market capitalism, involves presenting health practices as a choice for the consumer; but some scholars have noted that “making people long for choices and invest a lot in making them, is a disciplining technique”(p.4; cf. Devo, “Freedom of Choice”). And in medical decisions, choice can overburden people, leading to poor choices – and extraordinary circumstances, in which people are not equipped to make choices, are not so extraordinary in medicine (p.6). It's not about whether people can choose, she argues, but rather about situations of choice, in which a specific mode of organizing and interpreting can be applied. And she doubts that the resulting, organized world - “infused with what I call the logic of choice” - actually “offers a way of living superior to the life that may be led in a world infused by the alternative that this book seeks to articulate: the logic of care” (p.7). This second logic does not construct patients as passive: “they do not primarily figure as subjects of choice, but as the subjects of all kinds of activities. The logic of care is not preoccupied with our will, and what we may opt for, but concentrates on what we do” (p.7).

Mol draws contrasts between the two logics, starting with one customer contact point: advertisements. In the logic of choice, the market demands a product: “The market requires that some product (device, plus skills training, plus kindness and attention) is delineated as the product on offer” (p.18). But “Care is a process: it does not have clear boundaries. It is open-ended. ... care is not a (small or large) product that changes hands, but a matter of various hands working together (over time) toward a result” (p.18). Care is not a transaction, but an interaction (p.18). So the logic of choice yields products that people can delineate and purchase as solutions; the logic of care sees such products as embedded in evolving practices that involve fine-tuning, tradeoffs, and continuing results. And about those results: in the logic of choice, if someone rejects a product, they are no longer considered part of the target market; in the logic of care, the caregiver keeps trying (p.22).

So that's the market version of the logic of choice. But there's also a civic version, that which casts patients as citizens able to “vote” on their care: “the relationship is moulded in the form of a contract” (p.30). But Mol critiques this analogy because a citizen can control, tame, or escape the body politic, but a patient can't control, tame, or escape her own body (except, I will add, in the colloquial sense that we “escape” our bodies during death, a figure of speech that may not translate from the Dutch) (p.31). Rather, Mol suggests “patientism,” an analog of feminism in which patients-living-with-disease can constitute a standard rather than being seen as diverging from a standard.

The logic of care, then, might cast patients as customers or as citizens. But in both variations, choice is seen as a matter of balancing values based on fact (p.42). Mol critiques that stance. For instance, suppose that a patient is trying to keep her blood sugar levels below 10 mmol/l. In the logic of choice, patients attempt to achieve that normative fact, keeping their levels around 10mmol/l and often feeling failure when they cannot. But “within the logic of care, identifying a suitable target value is not a condition for, but a part of, treatment. Instead of establishing it before you engage in action, you keep on searching for it while you act” (p.46). And “what follows is that for the logic of care gathering knowledge is not a matter of providing better maps of reality, but of crafting more bearable ways of living with, or in reality” (p.46).

Another difference is in how the two logics handle collectives. The logic of choice understands collectives as markets or as voting, both of which involve the aggregation of individual choices. But the logic of care starts with the collective, recognizing that we can't separate the patient from her or his collective – family, friends, other support systems, all of which have to conform a bit in order to make care work. The logic of choice involves value-laden judgments, but “In the logic of care, the crucial moral act is not making value judgments, but engaging in practical activities” (p.75).

As I said, I like Mol's work very much, and I really like how she plays with different frames or articulations here. Much of her work in this book has direct applications to rhetoric. At the same time, I think she sometimes assumes remarkably credulous consumers (p.28), weak-willed patients (p.48), and professionals whose self-evaluations amount to simple self-praise (p.87). Consequently, the contrast tends to be a bit overdrawn in places. Yet the book overall is solid and thought-provoking. Definitely pick it up.