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Dance, Dance… Revolution?!?

Who says revolutionary struggle can’t be fun? Not Colombia’s FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army).  Latin America’s longest running militant Communist revolutionary organization hadn’t been having the best of luck, what with the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the death of the group’s leader, Manuel Marulanda. The long years of wandering in the jungles, despite the FARC’s impressive record of kidnapping and sowing chaos, hadn’t brought Marulanda’s cadres any closer to taking Bogota and power. The FARC needed recruits and new wind in its sails.

How did the group plan to do this? More bombings? More kidnappings? Asking for help from Chavez’s sympathetic socialist Venezuela? No. Instead, the FARC chose to reach out to its would-be new recruits in a much more cunning and indirect way: by making a smash hit dance record.  Before dying, Marulanda set his senior commanders a bizarre task better suited for Simon Cowell than for a brutal guerilla commando like his second in command Mono Jojoy. He ordered Jojoy was to create a dance record so successful and popular it would induce a new generation of young Columbians to join the revolutionary struggle. Jojoy and Felipe Rincon, another senior commander, were so enthusiastic about the idea the Rincon chirped in an email “We have to get the guy who makes merengues and we have to offer him a big budget!”

Thus, Guerilla Dance was born, a slickly-packaged and highly-produced dance record complete with lyrics and publicity shots. It wasn’t a cheap birth, though. The FARC reportedly spent $150,000 U.S. on production as well as importing professional musicians from the Dominican Republic.  The finished product was posted on YouTube. The lyrics mix pure revolutionary rhetoric with beats to make you bump and grind. “Taca taca taca, the government will fall,” “carry the grenades and the rifles,” “enemy to the left, enemy to the right,” similar to the traditional merengue instructions to always “move those hips!” Sadly for Marulanda, not only did he die before seeing his dancefloor dreams become a reality, the song did not smash the charts, and only attracted attention as a strange changeup from the FARC’s usual maudlin ballads with little production value.

This odd tale of a Marxist/Merengue mashup reinforces how clearly new media and Pop Culture are wedded to things once considered to be only political. Revolutionaries and insurgents alike are keenly aware of the political and military uses of music, film, video, dance, and gaming.  Many terrorist organizations have theme songs to rally their adherents, but it will be interesting to see whether Hizbullah, given Beirut’s vibrant club scene, will pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the FARC and come out with a song as catchy and well produced.

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The Miscreants of Taliwood

Last night, Strategic Social screened Geoge Gittoes’ most recent film, The Miscreants of Taliwood, at the Letelier Theater in Georgetown, which was followed by a robust Q/A session.  The movie is about the men and women who try to bring a little bit of art and humor to the divisive North Western Pakistani society in which they live.

So, just who is George Gittoes?

George Gittoes has been described as a war artist – he has been to some of the world’s most dangerous terrain from Cambodia to Rwanda to Pakistan in the pursuit of his art, be it painting or film. Leave it up to this celebrated painter/filmmaker, one of the founders of the unconventional art collective The Yellow House, to decide to make an action film right in the Taliban’s backyard. Gittoes’ Miscreants of Taliwood completes his No Exit trilogy of documentaries covering the War on Terror era.

Miscreants is a look inside the Pakistani low budget film industry, which churns out inexpensive films and DVDs to play on the smuggled flat- screen televisions and DVD players that can be bought cheaply in the bazaars of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I didn’t know what to expect going to the film tonight. Despite the poster for the film showing Gittoes sporting white New Wave sunglasses toting an AK-47 rifle wearing shalwar kameez, surrounded by over the top tough guys and bad girls with hearts of gold, you wouldn’t realize that what you are in store for is far from camp but a documentary that blends broad humor and political and cultural commentary in equal measure.

Gittoes explained last night that this artistic world has sadly all but been crushed recently by the Taliban in their campaign to make Pakistan “a joyless country.”  What Miscreants shows us is an intimate slice of the lives of the artists, academics, working people, and shop owners who are struggling to continue their art in the face of the brutal Taliban repression in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

In the movie, we meet actors like Javeed Mushazi and Tariq Jamal, men who make films as a “plea to Pashtuns not to self destruct,” and academics like Tahrima Abdullah, a gender studies professor who tells us that “just being a woman outside can be enough to get you shot dead!” Sadly most of these men and women who describe themselves as “brothers in art” are now out of work.

Miscreants also showcases the important topic of the selective use of technology by the Taliban. Anyone using cell phones or the internet for entertainment is targeted because they promote decadent and blasphemous anti –Islamic behavior.  The Taliban have, however, hypocritically become adept at using the same devices to coordinate bombings, assassinations and coordinate jihadist activities.

This is a rewarding film, educating and entertaining at the same time. Moreover, its focus on the role of the film industry in NWFP is highly pertinent to the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Gittoes plans to return to Pakistan soon, hopefully to find his friends safe and sound, and to bring back more insightful commentary on a land imperiled but still trying to laugh despite it all.

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Do Working Men Rebel?

The National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a paper by Eli Berman, Jacob Shapiro, and Joseph Felter called “Do Working Men Rebel?” The paper challenges one of the few universal tenets held by Counter Insurgency planners and decision makers: the belief that unemployment drives insurgent violence. To put the traditional view succinctly: give young men a job, and they will throw down their rifle and stop conducting attacks. The authors make a compelling argument, using data from the Iraqi district level and the Philippines equivalent- province level, that in fact the opposite is true. Prosperity brings violence, rather than reducing it.

The purpose of this post is not to explore the statistical models, data sources, or other specific academic concerns, as the two case studies and the types of data used are generally well thought out. There are some questions about the implementation, or operationalization, of the data, from a planner’s perspective.

The following vignette will highlight the operating picture the authors consider statistically in the study: The Iraqi district /Philippine province observed for the study is the source of a major government effort against insurgents. Increased patrols and checkpoints (kinetic operations), increased aid to businesses and community (civil military operations), along with a myriad of other efforts, are being used to reduce insurgent effectiveness. As this occurs, violence increases with no significant relationship to unemployment. At first this glance the policy implication is that efforts to employ young males, the most likely insurgents, are a waste of resources, as they do not reduce violence.  However, further exploration might lead to a different conclusion.  The following issues should be more carefully  considered before concluding that increased employment does not reduce insurgent violence.

1. The data show that the area analyzed is the subject of intense effort by the government security forces. That means that such an effort almost certainly draws insurgents into the area to fight. The study’s authors do not have the ability to build a compelling profile of the insurgents. For Iraq, one immediate question comes to mind: what about foreign fighters? They are potentially one of the most likely elements to “march to the sound of the guns” along with other more professional insurgents. The Syrian elements in Anbar province Iraq prior to the tribal awakening would be a great example of external forces that would skew study data.  Since the study occurred in two very small geographical areas, a better question to ask might be “how did the Iraqi province the district resides in perform overall in terms of reduced violence and higher employment?”

2. The government’s forces cannot be everywhere at once. “Clear, Hold, Build” means that you have to establish a beachhead to work from, as the Marines and the Afghan Army are currently doing in Marja. Marja will draw violence for months as the Taliban tries to disrupt the “Building” that is to follow in the wake of the current “Clearing” and “Holding.” Additionally, Marja may remain a problem, but is the seed planted there really unable to affect Helmand as a whole? Perhaps higher employment reduces the number of insurgents emanating from Marja, ultimately reducing the total number of insurgents in the overall battle space? This does not refute the study data, but calls into question whether the geographical areas studied were large enough to enable operational and strategic level decisions to be made about eliminating programs that provide employment to young males.

A follow-on to this effort that examined a larger geographical area and better examined the question of who is behind attacks would be incredibly insightful and add value to the authors’ study.  While any data can be picked apart, the authors should be commended for challenging the status quo and providing a perspective that may prove to be incredibly invaluable for planners and decision makers.

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Bringing a Language Back From the Dead

Some of you may have heard of the Rosetta Stone.  Due in large part to its massive marketing campaign the Rosetta Stone has become synonymous with language learning software.  Recently, the company issued a press release announcing that it had developed a Chitimacha language version of its software exclusively for Louisiana’s Chitimacha Tribe even though the last fluent speaker of Chitimacha died in 1940.  The Rosetta Stone actually has a whole department called the Rosetta Stone Endangered Language Program committed to these efforts, with the goal of “reversing the tide of global language extinction.”

Kimberly Walden, the Cultural Director for the tribe, was full of praise for Rosetta Stone, saying, “The Rosetta Stone component of our language revitalization program will transform the way the Chitimacha language is taught. It will allow us to reach our entire membership regardless of their location and will enable the tribe as a whole to communicate as we did more than 75 years ago.”  Walden also echoed part of our own definition of tribe by emphasizing the centrality of language to the cultural identity of a tribe.

We agree.  Though we have no idea about just how magnanimous this effort really was, Rosetta Stone should be applauded for helping bring back a dying language.  Based on some first-hand experiences with Rosetta Stone language software, the jury is still out on just how effective the software will be at reviving the Chitimacha language.  What are your experiences with Rosetta Stone’s software?

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Kitsch Meets National Security

Different age groups adapt to and use new technology in different ways. While the study of age-based demographics for new media is far from revolutionary, there are some interesting considerations for how decision makers in the federal government choose to implement new technology.  We will use language acquisition as a metaphor for technology adaptation to understand the limitations and tendencies for each generation.

The Youth are Getting Restless

The idea of the restless youth usurping the status quo is hardly new.  For thousands of years, a younger generation waited for a chance to prove its worth while the older generation implemented ideas and made decisions.  This is not necessarily the case with new media. Older decision makers often believe themselves to be, and sometimes are, unable to fully grasp and understand how to use emerging communication technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.  As a result, Subject Matter Experts in these fields are far younger than their peers advising on other issues.  Imagine President Kennedy calling in a 27-year-old Harvard PhD student to advise during the Cuban missile crisis. It would be virtually impossible for a neophyte to have an understanding of Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the political machinations behind how the U.S. government makes decisions.  But new media often works differently.  Substitute Cuba with New Media – that 27-year-old advisor IS the “Cuba” expert, because “Cuba” (New Media in this case) came into being in 2002, while the decision makers only knew it existed 2 years ago. The number of younger Subject Matter Experts overseeing various new media activities throughout the U.S. Government illustrates this point.  This phenomenon forces a heretofore unknown cooperation between organizational superior and subordinate “flattening” elements of even the most hierarchical organizations.

The Graying of the Luddites

For each “kid” who has implemented a communication platform using Facebook, Twitter or Second Life, there is still a decision maker who authorized the effort. It is useful to consider who these decision makers are and how their early life experiences with technology alters their perceptions and ability to adapt to technology. The graphic below illustrates how these technology users are different based on similar life experiences.  For simplicity’s sake we will consider 3 groups:  Generation Jones (the Post Baby Boomers like President Barrack Obama), Generation X, and the Millennium children. Keep in mind that no group is monolithic, and that early adopters and innovators abound in each. However, the behavior of the whole demographic is consistent enough to allow for some generalizations.

First, consider the Generation Jonesers, who are currently the senior decision makers in the Federal Government.  These decision makers once looked at this image on a screen with awe and wonder:

pong

The “Joneses” had televisions with 4 channels: ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS.  They turned the “knob” on the television to change channels, before being  exposed to the idea of paying money for additional television channels, an idea many people said was doomed to fail when HBO first debuted in the 1970s.

The speed of technological innovation and evolution has left the Jonesers behind in many ways. Think of technology like a foreign language: foreign language acquisition is virtually impossible for adults, while native fluency is easily achieved by a 9 year old. Technological assimilation seems to run in the same way. The adult life of the pre-generation Xer was busy enough without the addition of New Media social obligations and distractions. The “language” of technological sophistication for this group ended with the first TV remotes, surfing the Internet and using email, and setting up the answering machine.  This lack of “fluency” means that “translators” in the form of younger advisors are needed. The use of a “translator” should not be interpreted as a negative trait. A diplomat may have some great ideas for a Russian counterpart to consider, even if the diplomat relies on a translator. In fact, the non-native can often see problems those immersed in the problem cannot.  Nevertheless, the Jonesers will always speak “technology” with a heavy accent, they will refer to things in a manner that makes younger, more astute users chuckle at the foreigner speaking “our” language.

The Bridge

Generation Xers are the transitional generation between the child who builds a multi-redundant communications suite with 15 friends for an online collaborative video game (that one was the sole job of a specialist at the Pentagon), and the 60 year old who finds Facebook horribly complicated.  Generation Xers understand the world of the Joneses and the world of the Millenium children. They played video games and often had computers growing up, but are the last generation who went outside to play because there was “nothing else to do.”  They mastered their parents’ remote controls and often had to get up and manually change the channel on the TV.
Generation Xers can mostly figure out satellite TV remotes and may not intuitively understand their cell phones, but after a quick bit of help from a Millenium child, can use the technology as intended.  The Gen. Xers became the gaming addicts obsessively playing video games like Doom or Quake.

The Gen. Xers, and those above and below them, should better understand and utilize this transitional generation for new media communication.  They are old enough to understand the organization, and they are young enough to grasp the technology for planning and policy purposes, though execution should be left to their subordinates, even when a delegation of authority is not commonly used.  In ten years , Gen. Xers will be the power brokers, and while not able to keep up with the dizzying evolution of technology, will at least “know what they don’t know.”

The Masters(?)

The Millennium Children section really cannot be written yet, as time will tell in many respects. Perhaps no one fully assimilates technology, and the Millennium Children will be bridge for a later generation. Who knows what form the next revolutionary media will take or if anyone reading this post now will intuitively understand it as well as their children.

We would appreciate your thoughts and comments on these ideas  – please post in the comments section.

timeline

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