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All posts for the month December, 2010

I usually avoid politically partisan material, but this caught my eye.

In the whole “Wikileaks” saga recently, I several times made the points that publication of otherwise secret material was never a “right”, and that responsible journalism was always needed in the loop in a working democracy, as opposed to anarchic free-for-all slanging match politics of governance. The immediacy of web social media possibilities does not change that basic need.

Thanks to Dave Snowden for the anti-Fox-News rant on the same point above, and for several other excellent recent posts.[ Moral Purpose. ][ The Last Thing. ][ The Penultimate Thing. ]

In the absence of easy access to a game involving any club we actively support, we made the short trip to The Stadium of Light to see Sunderland versus Premiership underdogs Blackpool on the bank holiday. Ian Holloway’s management ethic is easy to like, and the Tangerines are living a dream, a bubble they hope will never burst, and of course Sunderland have been having a great season so far, particularly invincible at home.

Great prospect. And the best game we’ve seen in a long time. (Since Leeds won at Boro, or Reading won at Anfield.) End to end passing and running from both teams for all but 15 mins towards the end of the first half. Sunderland had 30 odd shots and Ian Evatt the Blackpool No.6 must have calmly stopped more than half of them himself. Sadly for Sunderland, all of those attempts on target that eluded the defence seemed aimed close to keeper Kingson’s body. The seasiders passed the ball and ran to make themselves available for forward passes everywhere on the pitch – you could almost hear Jack Charlton screaming at them to just hoof it out of defense once in a while, but no, not until the final 10 minutes did they resort to that. Even Evatt’s headed clearances were more often than not passes to feet. In fact both teams passed and ran in attacking directions throughout, Gyan, Bent, Elmohamady, Wellbeck, plus Richardson and Malbranque when they came, on all “looked dangerous” but failed to convert the Sunderland chances they created.

Conversely the lively DJ converted half of Backpool’s mere 4 chances.

Who are ya ? Twice people around us without match programs leaned across and asked, “Who is that No6?”. Well player of the season twice at Chesterfield under Roy MacFarland, and in his 4th season in the Blackpool defense, he’s not exactly unknown outside the premiership. The 29 year old Evatt made his first full 90 minute debut for Derby on the last day of the 2001/2 season … at The Stadium of Light.

Irony was the bumbling Titus Bramble making a return from recurring injury at the other end for Sunderland alongside the other Ferdinand boy. Never impressed with Bramble since the Ipswich fans were raving about him wayback, when Reading visited Portman Road. Actually, I reckon Sunderland having to replace the excellent Onuoha with Bramble after only half an hour was probably the difference between the sides. Evatt for England ?

Special edition of The Edge. Question from Danny Hillis with responses from the great and the good at The Edge.

“Perhaps better would be that we might need separation of ideas/memes/cultures long enough to test them — and then recombine the parts we like best.” George Church

Reinforces the issue of the speed of communication …. no gap between too soon to know and too late to do anything about it, again. And this memetic view is directly analogous to genetic evolution. It can’t be all tooth and claw, there needs to be separation from threats and competition, and nurturing too.

Left hand finger tips raw from practising the guitar recently after months, a year even, without touching it. (Any blog post in General, Music or Facebook categories should come through here ?)

Interesting NY-Times piece by William Gibson from back in August. (Thanks to Edward at Nixon McInnes)

“I ACTUALLY think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” said the search giant’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” Do we really desire Google to tell us what we should be doing next? I believe that we do, though with some rather complicated qualifiers.

Me too. In fact this whole epistemological knowledge-modelling quest has been about the fact that information is always interpreted in the context of a purpose, and that purpose is about making some decision to act, where deciding to act may of course include deciding to further communicate information or ask another question. The answer as a piece of information is never an end in itself.

Complicated qualifiers ? Tell me about it. In just the previous post I yet again used the phrase “life is just complicated enough”. In fact this leads into the Nils Brunsson “decision-rationality equals action-irrationality” paradox too, the management-hypocrisy or scientistic-neurosis angle.

Interesting piece by Gibson, really pointing out the downside of too much transparency and permanent connectivity in media whose business-architecture we as individuals are not as much in control of, as we might think we are. Add these to the downsides pointed out by Jonathan Zittrain in the earlier post. The media technologies are ever newer, but the human social issues are “nothing new under the sun”.

Oh, and thanks to David Gurteen for tweeting the link to this Steve Denning piece, also about Google, warning how too openly social teams may be poorer at delivering on projects.
(Note to self – The Real Hierarchy – HBR, wayback.)

I mentioned Mary Parker-Follett to Euan Semple in a comment on one of the posts linked below. Rather than pollute Euan’s blog with some tangential detail, I thought I’d write a longer post here and simply trackback to Euan’s blog.

My agenda takes in some mystical & pragmatic, monist metaphysics, which can seem a million miles from agendas to do with organizational behaviour and business integration in these times of explosive growth in internet connectivity and social media. That is we live in times where every individual and organization has immediate, ubiquitous, mediated and un-mediated connectivity – McLuhan’s global village writ large. And we’re talking about “organizations” of any kind from family and social groups, clubs, societies, tribes, businesses, states, institutions, nations, their authorities, managements and governance on any local to global level. These are constituencies of “us” growing in scale and in overlapping multiplicity. Organizational behaviour has always been basically some kind of social anthropology – how we humans interact and how those interactions are based on what we believe about the world and each other’s actions, communications, motivations and beliefs, within those many constituencies we inhabit. Social media are as old as society itself.

So what’s new ? The immediacy, speed and ubiquity of the communication medium. And that’s all. But, as David Gurteen tweeted recently:

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” - Mahatma Gandhi

And, picking up on another recent David Gurteen link – to a quote from Jonathan Zittrain – that immediacy, speed and ubiquity has succeeded in removing any time and space between “too soon to know, and too late to do anything about it”. So we are still humans, our behaviours are still anthropology, but our “game theory” for the best response to any situation is increasingly pre-emptive and reactive, with little opportunity to validate and reflect. Instant wisdom required. Unless you have the courage to take a stand and moderate the processes with a little time and space, we may continue to believe we are being rationally objective in making scientifically sound “evidence-based” decisions based on best available information. But without that moderation or inter-mediation, the objectivity of that information, and the moral clarity(*) of the motives of those delivering it, must at least be doubtful.

Our own objectivity becomes highly overrated, or at least illusory. I risked mentioning “mystical” in the opening paragraph, because it is almost heretical to argue even slightly against scientifically-sound objective rationality. But the illusory nature of our objectivity is not a new concept either. [Insert a million philosophical footnotes to Plato.]

At this point the story diverges as many ways as our agendas dictate. “That’s subjectivity and relativism for you”, the scientists scream ;-) . Now, we’re not talking metaphysics, moral philosophy, evolutionary psychology or philosophy of science here; we could be, but we’re not. There is a thread of thought that is common to many pragmatic paths we could take here. That is, where objectivity is poorly grounded, the alternative is NOT subjectivity. That just substitutes one set of doubtful entities and causal motivations for another. The real alternative is integration between subjects and objects. Relationalism rather than relativism.

So to close out the pre-amble and get to the point – Mary Parker-Follett; I came to this subject from the business management / organizational behaviour angle, not some mystical, metaphysical, philosophical, ethical or epistemological trip.

Mary Parker-Follett was a management consultant before there were people known as management consultants with MBA’s back in the 1920′s / 30′s. She was widely-published, widely-travelled and lectured with reputation and credibility at the time, but fell into oblivion until Peter Drucker cited her as the giant on whose shoulders any decent modern management consultant stands. Cited also by Charles Handy, Tom Peters, Warren Bennis and others. Her speciality was arriving at agreements and actioning decisions where there was complexity and/or conflict. Avoiding characterising problems simplistically as Outcome-A vs Outcome-B, Us vs Them, Subject vs Object, and recognising the true value of seeking integration of common interests, by encouraging positive interaction between participants and reducing the focus on distinct objects, objectives and objections.

Win-win as we’d say these days. An ever more relevant approach as more and more issues get reduced to voting in real-time for or against one or other strong position / opinion. (Julian Assange is a freedom-fighter / hero / criminal and government institutions are immoral / confused / defenders of freedoms. Speak truth, freely to power; fine. Don’t start with the explicit presumption that power is immoral, or you’ll get the response you deserve. Or alternatively see Slavoj Zizek’s “Empty Wheelbarrow” take on the “War on Terrorism”. Do me a favour. Life’s just complicated enough not to be forced to choose in a false-dichotomy between two unthinkable downsides.)

Another of her messages is that integration is never a complete solution or end in itself. “Unity does not exist, only the process of unifying”. Integration is more a verb than an object. And so on.

Anyway, I discovered MPF long after I’d done my management education, and long after I’d started the “What, Why and How do we Know?” epistemic & ethical philosophy trip. I read a summary of her work that effectively summarised her “practical philosophy” in quotes of her own statements of principles, after seeing the Peter Drucker citation, and the fit was obvious.

MPF on Wikipedia,
MPF Foundation Summary,
These days there is also an MPF Network on Ning.
Join-up if she interests you.

(*) Moral Clarity … I’m not suggesting people are generally immoral or incompetent. Far from it. In my experience, young or old, parental or childlike, naive or experienced, objective or subjective, people are 99% morally driven and as intelligent and thoughtful as they can be in the decisions they take. Hacktivists and Presidents alike. It’s simply that the more detached and inter-mediated we are by technology alone, the less sure any of us can be about how much trust we can actually place in the content of our logic; our moral logic.

Just watched the Feb2010 update to Jonathan Zittrain’s “Minds for Sale” Harvard law school presentation. (Thanks to David Gurteen for Tweeting the link to LinkedIn).

Excellent presentation – for me – on the downsides of inter-mediated trust and motives in internet organizational models – whether business, general governance or simply epistemic. The lack of any gap between “too soon to know” and “too late to do anything about it”. I’m not specifically interested in the pyramid of internet service outsourcing business here, though I do have an area of interest there too, but the general subject fitting my agenda. Particularly telling is his reversal on whether in fact web intermediaries should be responsible, and unable to disclaim content (and motives of content providers).

(See my comment of the morality of technological detachment on the Assange / Wikileaks story – also relevant.)

[PS - Also note in the lecture the discussion of human spam, something I've noticed in blog comment spam too. Akismet Spam Filter usually catches it, but I often read them, just to be amazed at (a) their ingenuity, and (b) their misguided morality in thinking it is of any value.]

That’s the word. I’ve been refusing to join the baying mob in seeing Assange as any kind of hero, and still do, despite raising my opinion marginally above “Yawn” recently.

Jeff Hall used the word Martyr, commenting on the recent “Something Worth Worrying About” post from Euan Semple, on which I had already commented and referred to Euan’s previous “Parents, Children & Wikileaks” post.

The real danger is the authorities turning Assange into some kind of Martyr, and turning the metaphorical riot police onto an angry mob of millions of newly converted internet hacktivists. Sadly, the internet “kill switch” may come in handy after all. And, we’ll all be sorry. No surprise the children of the revolution are going analogue.

Children, children. Stand up any benevolent dictator capable of banging a few heads together.

Hat tip to David Gurteen for tweeting the link to Euan’s post.

Wikileaks is still a big yawn. Freedom of speech / press is one thing worth fighting for, but governments have power because we give it to them on our behalf to protect our interests.

The ability to hack into and publish anything morally interesting or dubious is not itself a reason to do so, though the threat (ability) to do so is being used  to force institutional change. Well, OK, but watch out for the collateral damage. With responsible press investigation, sure, publish what is relevant to the public interest – like the US military shooting of Iraqi Reuters journalists. Specific story with specific case (in the documentary).

Archive publishing – after the event – of war reports classified / secret in real time – is normal historical precedent. The bulk publishing of hacked material because it would otherwise be secret has nothing to do with freedoms. War is not new. War is hell. War fought with weapons of detached technology is even more inhuman. War is to be avoided. This is not news.

As Assange says himself – quoting Solzhenitsyn – one selected word of truth has most value. Mass hacking is still criminal. Wielding the power to hack anywhere anytime has unsurprisingly brought out the worst in the authorities charged with maintaining stable government. Wikileaks has chosen its own misguided ideological battleground. Governments should know better, but they are we. Perhaps Openleaks will understand that total disclosure is an impractical ideology for any organization that values human trust. We can only hope it will be over by Christmas.

Anyway, once the idiots have stopped posturing, the principal outcome will simply be tighter secrecy and less trust all round. Brilliant shot in the foot Julian. What next, the War on Wikis ?

Thanks to Johnnie Moore for the tweeted documentary link.
(BTW – can’t understand why he doesn’t just get on a plane and go to Sweden ?)

Scary piece by Lisa Jardine about a hero of mine (and hers) where it seems she may have lost her admiration for her father Jacob Bronowski. I have long had the “I beseech you …” Auschwitz scene burned into my psyche, that it was always the punctuation to the grand sweep of science he had presented; That whatever his secret WWII military career, the positive progress of science has always come with that joined-up-moral caveat. And of course he was a man of knowledge well beyond science too. Good to see the Parkinson interview, with Lisa’s commentary on his health at the time. He died so soon afterwards. And good to see any doubts restored in Lisa’s mind too. Phew.

Saw this Sundance Grand Jury winner on the flight back from Brisbane / Singapore.

Really excellent study in evil. Slow, depressing, grim, grey-brown mood builds inexorably towards unavoidable family conflicts of loyalty, with many a predictably unexpected twist. Some good out-of-sequence events arriving at & leaving the courtroom climax add to the temporary confusion. How bad can this get ? Even when the fat lady sings, somehow it doesn’t quite seem over …

(Be interesting to see on a big screen. The claustrophobic tight shots seemed so reminiscent of gritty TV drama.)