Monday, January 25, 2016

The Haiku of OSINT for 01/25/16

Multifaith talking
Much holiness all around
Not much for action

From Interfaith Dialogue To Multifaith Polylogue

I learned a new phrase today at the Commonwealth Club: "multifaith polylogue." It's the hip new trend sweeping the interfaith dialogue community. Look for it in the Parliament of the World's Religions as participants broaden the discourse. Theologians have talked across faith divisions for millennia. Talk is cheap; deeds are worth more than words.

People of different faiths can discover that they share interests in mundane things like sports and the arts. More importantly, the Abrahamic religions all share narratives emphasizing charitable works toward strangers and the less fortunate. The Noahide Laws offer Gentiles a path to righteous recognition in Judaism. Other faiths should be so generous.

I wonder whether faith conversations travel across civilization's fault lines. One civilization axis for Judaism / Christianity / Islam can find links between the Torah, Bible, and Quran with little difficulty because they all originated from the Middle East's mystery cults and wisdom traditions. Another axis for Hinduism and Buddhism could account for the syncretism of Asian traditions. Taoism and Stoicism developed independently but their modern adherents may be astonished at their similarities.

Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion is modern syncretism's call to action. All it needs are some colorful icons and it will be as compelling for contemplation as the Sistine Chapel's frescos. The compassion movement also needs some archetypal characters like the ones in the Star Wars saga. I would suggest myself as such an archetype because I express compassion for the poor, unfortunate souls who cannot operate at my high level of morality.

Pascal's Wager for the existence of God does not overcome the Epicurean paradox of why an omnipotent deity would tolerate the problem of evil. Theologians of many faiths are welcome to polylogue themselves over this quandry until the cows come home. Compassion activists will meanwhile be busy walking sacred labyrinths, accepting mindfulness, practicing yoga, and drinking masala chai tea (organic and fair trade certified, of course). All of these efforts will garner the usual results in human history, namely political upheavals and wars as Fourth Turning generational crises run roughshod over everyone's best intentions. We all certainly meant well. It's the thought that counts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Haiku of OSINT for 11/11/15

Secret agent man
Unbelievable movie
Really popular

Assessing The James Bond "Spectre" Film

I have never before watched a James Bond film in a theater. I now know why after seeing Spectre today at my local cineplex. I paid to watch an uninformed fantasy about intelligence work. Once is okay, because I learned enough. Here comes the first ever movie review on Third Eye OSINT.

We can begin with elements that would never make sense in the real world of intelligence. Geopolitical differences between rival powers somehow become irrelevant (the "Nine Eyes" sharing arrangement between the Anglo-West countries and presumably the BRICS bloc). Field agents and agency principals display a stunning naivete about pervasive digital surveillance (Bond, M, and Moneypenny discussing background research). Operatives discuss sensitive policy matters out in the open in unsecure areas in front of uncleared people (Bond and Q at the Austrian hotel with Dr. Swann). Technical specialists plug away on sensitive projects using computers whose displays are visible to anyone in a public area (Q typing while on the ski lift). Small caliber handguns can hit targets at enormously long ranges (the speedboat chasing the helicopter) and also blow up facilities the size of a city block (the hotel at the beginning, the desert facility at the end). All manner of vehicles are conveniently placed for a quick getaway (Bond's plane in snowy Austria, his helicopter at the desert facility, and his speedboat on the River Thames), and of course our hero always knows how to operate them. Our hero also always uses his real identity and is never under an assumed cover. He wastes no time getting under the covers with his female leads while their lives are obviously in danger. Yeah, find me a real intelligence system that operates this way.

The standard Bond film tropes are everywhere. The world's most famous secret agent wrecks his very expensive car, defeats a larger man in a fistfight, easily shoots multiple assailants without reloading, and saves his favorite woman just in time. The evil leader always reveals his entire sinister plan to Bond, and Bond gets away without breaking a sweat. It's great that Bond's women are becoming increasingly competent fighters in their own right. Female moviegoers need strong heroines, but the heroines still show glaring emotional weaknesses and need to be rescued from very improbable dangers. Dr. Swann inexplicably leaves the London safehouse to wander away from Bond, only to be captured for display. A truly competent operative would have either stayed at the safehouse during the operation's most crucial phase, or volunteered to go with Bond as backup. Alas, the plot always needs a traditional resolution, and the damsel in distress must always end up as the plot device motivating Bond's final heroics.

Monica Bellucci made an indelible impression while conducting the necessary exposition in Rome. She proves that desire knows no expiration date. Kudos to the producers for casting an older woman in a seductive role. Ms. Bellucci is much closer in age to Daniel Craig (Mr. Bond) than Lea Seydoux (Dr. Swann), so the romantic chemistry of an age-appropriate couple makes more sense. I also think Dave Bautista is getting typecast as the heavy who goes light on dialogue. I wouldn't want to fight the guy. Bond fought the guy on the train without getting a scratch or even getting the carnation dislodged from his jacket's lapel, but that's why he's Bond.

The James Bond franchise is great, mindless fun. Many American men who entered adult life without surrendering their adolescent imagination must see Bond as a role model. He always gets disciplined, suspended, or fired but somehow retains access to all of the resources he needs to do his job. The magical Bond narrative is great escapism for anyone who can't escape a boring life or defeat a petty tyrant at work. I overthink a lot of Hollywood product that isn't aimed at me.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Haiku of OSINT for 10/22/15

Cultural preference
Six traits in the Middle East
Soft power factors

Relative Cultural Power: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey

The tripartite struggle for leadership of the Islamic world between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey rages on in the modern world. These regional powers probe each other's peripheries indirectly. Turkey's deliberate blind eye to the rise of ISIL, for example, was a gamble that instability in Shiite Syria would drain Iran's strategic strength. Regional powers also compete with cultural influence. Modern social science provides data for a useful comparison of these three nations' cultural "soft power" in their regional competition.

Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede has a lifetime of work on cultural power on his personal website. We don't have to go all the way to the Netherlands to use his wisdom. Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory is a lens through which we can view a nation's cultural inclinations. Comparing the six Hofstede scores of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey can tell us how they are likely to interact as regional powers. The Hofstede Centre has enough data on each of these countries to make meaningful comparisons.

I pulled the Hofstede Centre's country comparison drop-down menu for the three countries in question. I also viewed their data on the United States as a baseline for comparison. The US scores high on individualism, masculinity, and indulgence. Iran scores higher than the US on power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Saudi Arabia scores higher than the US on power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation. Turkey also scores higher than the US on power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation. The obvious first impression from this baseline comparison is that these three Middle Eastern powers have very different cultural priorities than the US. Their higher power distance scores predispose them to accept autocratic regimes. High preferences for uncertainty avoidance would favor maintenance of their existing social orders and formal rules, even if this comes at a high cost in economic losses or human suffering.

Comparing the three countries to each other reveals that Saudi Arabia has by far the highest power distance and masculinity. This implies that Saudi Arabia has the most to lose from disruptions to its social order by ISIL or other non-state actors, and that it would respond to such disruption in a more masculine way. Note that a masculine policy from Saudi Arabia is not necessarily the same as an effective military response. Saudi armed forces are notoriously ineffective, as their difficulties in combating Yemen's Houthi faction make clear. The strong Saudi commitment to fighting in Yemen leaves it strategically vulnerable to any ISIL penetration of its northern border. Any social stress from fighting an insurgency on two borders would be exceptionally acute for Saudi Arabia given its high Hofstede scored for masculinity and uncertainty avoidance.

Third Eye OSINT assess that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will continue to prefer proxy fights against ISIL and each other in the near term. The countries' strong preferences for maintaining social order, as measured by their Hofstede scores, currently outweigh any inclination to express their rivalry in more masculine forms like direct combat. Cultural norms offer one predictive approach in conjunction with other considerations of geostrategy, such as demographic pressures, economic cycles,  and competition for resources. The three primary Middle Eastern rivals will continue to test each other's influence. Their cultural preferences indicate how severely they will react to existential threats from non-state actors like ISIL.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Haiku of OSINT for 09/07/15

Interfaith talking
Elite memes and images
Instruct faithful flocks