Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Process: Time, Participation, Enabling

Part 42 of Prisoners of the Real

Time: The Dionysian guide lives in the immediate, nonlinear and simultaneous present, where work is performed at the fitting or suitable time. In short, work is timely, and the clock is de-emphasized. Decisions about what is fitting, along with the duration of work, become matters of individual responsibility or collective dialogue.

You might say that time turns from a line into a point, manifested in the present-centeredness of experiences and the desire to remain receptive to patterns of activity. The Dionysian leader knows that any action, at any point, can bring another cluster of acts into existence. Conscious of this quantum probability, she sees individual events as integral parts of a patterned whole. At each moment all things are possible. As I type these words, it becomes a different computer screen. The relationship between the blank page and the page with words is not temporal. The two are separate entities within a patterned whole.

At every moment each of us can create a totally different world. Every action alters the pattern of the whole.

Participation: These comments stress the Dionysian leader's use of a wide variety of resources to reach collectively established goals. As a result, fluidity of personnel becomes crucial, both in terms of re-arranging relationships and allowing free movement into and out of the group.

We have reached a moment in world history in which the reality of impermanence often provokes a fanatic quest for things that don't change. Many institutions rigidify in the mistaken belief that internal stability can modulate fluctuations in the "outside world." Dionysians respond, on the other hand, by openly acknowledging the temporary nature of all structures and systems. In practice, this means matching knowledge and skills with specific purposes and objectives. Once these have been achieved or change radically, however, the system and its sub-groups also shift.

The matrix approach to organization is a way to enhance participation through frequent changes in personnel relations and the shared pool of information. In this approach participation depends on the congruence of individual and collective purposes, the specific knowledge and skills people bring to the group, each member's contact with outside groups and her or his integration into a sub-group. In short, people select one another as they find their purposes for coming together. They aren't asked to contribute specific amounts of time but rather to commit themselves to certain goals. Thus, one person may be part of more than one group.

Such a situation can be valuable to both groups, since interactions will tend to increase and relationships between purposes may be more fully understood. However, it must be said that this kind of "circuit-making" participation calls for small groups. In fact, most Dionysians believe that human beings function best in small societies where problems remain of a manageable size. That is not to say that these concepts are inapplicable to the enormous urban societies of our time. But the Dionysian thrust is clearly away from creation or maintenance of empires of any kind, based on the evidence of history that they inevitably promote violence and war.

Opposition to violence doesn't imply complete rejection of conflict. On the contrary, Dionysian guides may even lead their groups toward conflict, confident that group values can be clarified and realized through the dynamic tension of opposition. In the search for harmony, peace is not confused with liberation. Peace can be imposed through repression – in many organizations implemented through forms of "group-think" – rather than being promoted through expression. Liberation, on the other hand, is possible only when dissent and disagreement aren't just tolerated but also encouraged. Put another way, liberated participation calls for the unity of opposites.

Enabling: The Dionysian leader replaces control with guidance. She acts as an enabler who assists organizational peers to understand the whole, break free of boundaries, and create new realities for the group. The guide introduces variety and change, offering comfort and occasionally some needed direction to individual or group activity. Rather than reigning supreme as some post-industrial headman, the leader is the group's shaman and critic. Convinced that end-states are merely the product of images brought into the world of matter through group will the Dionysian leader concentrates more on the creation of conceptual frames of references and the designing of means than on refining images as actualities. She or he may participate in that work as a part of one or a number of sub-groups. Yet it is the image and not the leader that directs the group.

The nature of Dionysian collectives supports changes of role, and the managerial role is not exempt. At one point or another almost every group member serves as a manager. This change, like most others, will depend on history, current perceptions, and the nature of the specific tasks that lay ahead. The shifting of managerial roles will decrease the destructive conflicts that result from one person's constant assertion of authority and dominance. When a Dionysian leader has the opportunity to observe someone else in that role, she or he is able to compare the new manager's actions with her/his self-image. That experience will promote further growth and change.

The term "guide" is often used to describe spiritual leaders. "Guiding is an ancient and honorable role," Robert Masters and Jean Houston once noted in a study of consciousness-raising process, "and the guide re-emerges now, at a critical point in human history, to perform services never more urgently or more profoundly needed." The research of Masters and Houston outlined a variety of guidance methods, many of which can be applied by Dionysian leaders. As guides, for example, Dionysians ought to observe others closely and clearly communicate what they intend to say. They should remain alert to non-verbal communication, be able to receive and utilize gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues. The researchers have also warned, however, that guides can easily turn from enabling to "ego-tripping," and therefore suggest that other members of a group not repress their perceptions if or when this occurs. The changing of guides from time to time will also reduce this danger.
The Dionysian leader is an idealist system-changer who uses an ability to move inside of what she sees in order to inspire others and herself. Posing challenges for choice, she widens the boundaries of experience, accepts the timeliness of activities, harmonizes the system with the environment by changing both, observes perceptions of others and promotes satisfaction toward the end of invention.

As an organizational guide, she is an antithesis to the dominance of routine-operational modes of management. The potential to move from rational to Dionysian management exists within all of us. As structural decay in rational collectives, from the nuclear family to the nation-state, leads to annihilation and regeneration, the Dionysian spirit is revived.

"When rationality is not possible," wrote William Thompson, "because the institution of reason...overloads the mind with data without meaning, the institution perishes in its own excremental productivity. Once the individual is without an institution, he (sic) can ascend to suprarational levels of imagination, intuition and creativity or descend to the levels of subrational panic." The promise of Dionysus is our freedom to choose the hopeful option.

Next: The Game of Becoming

To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Process: Info & Communication

Part 41 of Prisoners of the Real

Information: The two phases of Dionysian process rest on the continual revealing of meaning through the sharing of qualitative information. Two types of information are sought: some relates to philosophical issues, some to practical affairs. The first is ends-oriented, the second oriented toward means, as the ideal choice becomes real.

The use of dialogue and testimony, general searches prior to directed inquiries, and associational techniques for brainstorming aim at expanding the group's tolerance for ambiguity. The inspired idea, which may come from the guide or any member of the group, initiates an interactive process during which each person follows a different path beyond the borders of current experience.

The idea, a synthesis of past observations and reflective "seeing," is a reference point to which everyone can relate as they develop their own meanings and strategies. Depending on a person's history and belief system, individual purpose-finding may move one either toward increased order or chaos, unity or individuation. The guide poses questions that enhance variations in viewpoint. Common information bases will be discovered along the way, leading to sub-group searches during the system-building phase.

In the diagram on the left, the vertical axis from chaos to order may also symbolize the point at which purpose is defined and accepted by the group. Boundaries are most permeable at this point, and the group is most aware of its internal similarities and differences, as well as its environment. As purpose-finding gives way to system-building, the scope of information admitted gradually narrows – first through individual searches, next through directed searches, and then through the designing and testing of programs. When a group of programs is synthesized and approved, the group has refocused the inspired idea and made it an operational reality.

At this point, two things occur. First, the idea and the new reality – the purpose and the program – are compared. Second, participants start to move toward firmer roles based on their experiences up to this point. Roles fall between the poles of generalization and specialization. Some people seek to vary their tasks, perhaps moving between sub-groups or acting as liaisons between them, or between the group and its environment. Others prefer to focus on one or a limited number of tasks, giving undivided attention to the skillful application of technique. As work proceeds, the "generalizers" and "specializers" move toward realization of the inspired idea, oriented either to the process or the product. The cycle is complete when some new idea emerges from the mingling of these orientations.

The information generated during purpose-finding is matched with both emerging processes and products. Information gathered during system-building is a common resources for both specializing and generalizing behaviors. The guide acts as a gateway, widening and narrowing the channels of information as the work continues.

Communication Styles: Interactions in a Dionysian system are most effective when they stress uniqueness, attraction, and intentionality. Images and languages developed for the specific moment in group life tend to increase inventiveness. At that point all communication is viewed as ultimately subjective. Nevertheless, it must help to highlight the peculiar nature of the current system – in other word, its uniqueness – as well as providing inducements that attract people to participate in various activities.

Interactions with a unique orientation include descriptive dialogue that indicates tone, feelings concerning the setting, or the physical appearance of the subject, and eyewitness accounts of particular events. The use of superlatives and adjectives is encouraged, but can occasionally be superfluous. On the other hand, comments may also be delivered in a staccato fashion, abrupt and using few words. In written form, this may involve phrases punctuated with periods and dashes.

Attraction can be enhanced in several ways. Information might be presented in a strictly chronological order that provides details but postpones conclusion. An emphasis on situation tends to incite cumulative interest. Forms of parody might also be tried, or a mixture of sayings, current expressions, poems or songs. With either approach, figurative devices are valuable Рmetaphors, similes and figures of speech. There is a danger that the discussion can become trite; the line between a sharp epigram and a clich̩ is, after all, somewhat hazy. This type of interaction can also be somewhat habituating.

A number of tools are available to make communication an accurate reflection of personal intentions. The epigram – a concise expression emphasizing tone or moral – has already been mentioned. First and second person address, particularly in written communication, indicates a personal commitment or identification with what has been written. Guides may also use devices to sustain interest, discussing subjects on a topical basis with indefinite details, putting personal conclusions aside until the end. Questions present problems of collective interest or matters likely to provoke debate. Although they can lead to sometimes unnecessary delays, they are perhaps the most valuable tools used by Dionysian leaders to open communication lines for ideational dialogue.

In addition to these approaches, the guide and others ought to note non-verbal responses and use them as background data – or even discussion topics. The point is to increase the socio-emotive responsiveness of group members as a means of making tasks both more fulfilling and more creative.

Next: Time, Participation & Enabling

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oil Spill Video Feed Crashes Website

Under pressure from Rep. Ed Markey, BP released a live video feed today that shows the oil gushing from the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. It was briefly available online, but not many people got to see it before the U.S. House website on which it was posted crashed.

In this 2 minute clip, with Markey providing commentary, we can see the large plume of oil and gas that is still spewing into the Gulf, shot from a camera 5,000 feet below the surface. Among other things, it shows that BP vastly under-estimated the amount of oil being released every day. The feed was posted on the Web site of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was overwhelmed by the traffic. A spokeswoman for Markey said staffers were trying to fix the problem.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Obama: Words vs. Deeds

On January 20, 2009, millions of people jammed into Washington, DC, to see history being made, celebrating the start of what they hoped would be new era. But a conflict between the hope Barack Obama inspired and the reality of his vision even ran through the inaugural address.

In describing the economic crisis, he said, "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age." However, the people suffering the most didn't "fail" to make "hard choices" about the greed and speculation on Wall Street. They didn’t get to choose. And they didn’t share in the gains that preceded the crash. Yet they were being asked to take responsibility and make sacrifices.

Millions of people probably would make some sacrifices – if the goals were things like universal health care. But Obama was basically asking them to be patient. Meanwhile, the second half of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout was expected to save some banks, while doing nothing for those in danger of losing their homes.

What about his foreign policy goals? Obama did strike a different tone than Bush, offering the Muslim world "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Yet he had remained silent during an Israeli assault on Gaza — carried out, by the way, with US-built F-16 jets and Apache helicopters after a blockade that cut off food and medicine.

Obama said he would "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" — a pointed criticism of the shredding of civil liberties under Bush. But he also claimed that "our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." This and other lines could have come from Bush's speechwriters.

The red flags also included a call for more US troops in Afghanistan without a clear explanation of what they would do there, giving a misleading impression about how soon and how many soldiers would be removed from Iraq by using the term "combat troops" (100,000 mercenaries and up to 50,000 US troops might remain), approving unspecified bailout amounts for unspecified purposes with unspecified oversight, picking a budget director who favored cutting Social Security for those under 60, and picking an attorney general who supported continued immunity for illegal wiretapping and secret searches of library and bookstore data files. Plus, support for the war on drugs, the Patriot Act, and the death penalty.

Obama did issue a call to unite and work together to overcome adversity – to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America." This was a time-honored call by American political leaders, but at least it was about actually doing something.

And what happened after that? Obama’s CIA chief Leon Panetta made it clear that extraordinary rendition wouldn't end, his Attorney General used "state secrets" as the rationale to block a trial, and Obama personally refused to release photos of enhanced interrogation. He also said that past official crimes would not be prosecuted. It was audacious all right, but not an auspicious beginning.

The Bush regime had armed Obama with extended power to take executive action, both domestically and in countries with which the US had major disagreements. Using that power, Obama's overseas strategy began to look a lot like rollback; that is, reversing gains made by “troublesome” governments and movements during the Bush years. Rollback involves a combination of open military intervention, slippery diplomatic rhetoric, and deniable covert operations. The most transparent early manifestation was the buildup of military forces in Afghanistan, defined by Obama as a "necessary" war. The most covert may have been the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya.

There has been no admission of US involvement in Zelaya’s removal. But US policy clearly shifted after he decided to improve relations with Venezuela in hopes of securing petro-subsidies and aid. Even after the UN General Assembly demanded his reinstatement, Obama declined to call it a coup.

The ousted, democratically-elected president ended up agreeing to exile in the Dominican Republic. The next president, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, was a conservative landowner with a business degree from the University of Miami who pledged to be tough on crime and push for reintroduction of the death penalty. Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina called his election illegitimate. Secretary of State Clinton backed the nation’s new leader.

Whatever the real story, the coup sent a not-so-subtle message to any country that found Venezuelan-led economic programs attractive.

Domestically, the administration opted to prosecute rather than reward whistleblowers. In 2006, NSA official Thomas Drake provided information for an article published in the Baltimore Sun. The article detailed NSA mismanagement and use of technology that failed to protect the privacy of citizens. The new administration decided to indict him. Meanwhile, New York Times reporter James Risen faced a grand jury about confidential sources he used in a book that exposes the CIA’s mistakes in infiltrating Iran’s nuclear program. There was apparently more concern about plugging leaks (and restricting the “right to know”) than prosecuting those who illegally spied or tortured prisoners.

Two of the more shocking developments have been Obama’s announcement that he reserves the right to have the CIA assassinate US citizens who are engaged in alleged terrorist activity, and Attorney General Holder’s argument that Miranda rights may to be altered when it comes to such suspects – assuming they survive long enough. But even such moves shouldn’t come as a surprise. As John Podesta, Obama's transition chief, explained shortly after the 2008 election, "There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that."

The truth is that he has largely done what he promised. It’s just that many people misunderstood (or chose to overlook) what he had in mind. The disconnect is particularly significant on foreign policy. While Obama pledged to end the war in Iraq, he also promised to leave behind a large “residual” force. As a candidate, he said his administration would emphasize diplomacy, yet he described Iran as a terrorist state and pledged to use “all elements of American power” to deal with it. “If we must use military force,” Obama told the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during the campaign, “we are more likely to succeed, and will have far greater support at home and abroad, if we have exhausted our diplomatic efforts.”

As far as Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned, he made it plain that he wanted to send more troops, and was ready to take unilateral military action inside Pakistan if necessary. “This is a war that we have to win,” he said.

Obama’s opponents nevertheless insist that he is a radical tyrant intent on imposing socialism and undermining the nation’s security, while his supporters cling to the idea that he is being prevented from implementing a progressive agenda by obstructionist Republicans and their Tea Party foot soldiers. Both groups appear to be suffering from cognitive dissonance – the need to deal with the frustration caused by contradictory information by rationalizing it. After all, it’s easier, not to mention politically convenient, to embrace a comforting myth and deny or ignore disquieting evidence.

Beyond all the hyperbole the man in the White House is neither prince nor usurper, messiah nor anti-Christ. He’s just an ambitious politician whose words cloak a different reality. But for those who still prefer a fairy tale explanation, the story unfolding may turn out to be the latest version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Obama: Myths & Realities. Part three of three.

Part One: Barack in Wonderland

Part Two: Hope or Hoax?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Obama: Hope or Hoax?

Even before Barack Obama was elected some people, notably most Republican politicians and their anti-federal government fellow travelers, imagined a socialist future, as if Vermont’s Bernie Sanders would become Secretary of the Treasury. More likely it would be some Clinton retread. Massive redistribution of wealth? As if.

After the election a struggle continued within the Democratic Party between progressives who wanted big changes, “Blue Dogs” who wanted deficit reduction, and those who hadn't taken a side or wanted Obama to split the difference and move slowly. The latter group was led by Rahm Emanuel – Rahmbo to his friends – the Illinois Democrat and former Clinton aide whom Obama tapped to be his chief of staff.

Could progressives affect the country’s direction under such circumstances? Some predicted that the Left wouldn’t be able to criticize the government as much, since there was a tendency to view the moment in epochal terms, as if past issues, including race, were no longer that relevant. Obviously that assessment was off the mark.

Was the country “tired” of ideology, as the media establishment suggested, or just a specific, bankrupt ideology – corporate fundamentalism? Red-baiting hadn’t worked during the presidential campaign – a major development in itself. But why? Was it because socialism sounded like an archaic label? Or, as some suggested ironically, had the Republicans inadvertently turned the election into a referendum on socialism – and did socialism win? Given the persistence of the tactic and post-election explosion of “Obama is a Muslim-Socialist” sentiment, that remains to be seen.

In any case, you could already feel the air leaking out of the change bubble by the end of 2008. As Obama began to reveal his White House team it became harder to continue believing the pre-election hype. Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Gregory Craig, Eric Holder – the announcements suggested that the country was heading forward into the past. But it was still a bit soon to know for certain whether expectations were just a bit high or the promise of real change would turn out to be a hoax.

Some hoaxes are designed for personal advancement – Clifford Irving’s fake biography of Howard Hughes, for example, or Rosie Ruiz’s first place finish in the 1980 Boston Marathon. But sometimes a hoax influences public opinion enough to change the direction of a country. A case in point: The so-called Zinoviev letter, created by British intelligence, that claimed a Soviet revolution was about to take place in England. The scare was effective enough to get Brits to elect a conservative government. The rationale for the war in Iraq falls into the same category.

So, it was natural to be suspicious about promises of change. In a media-manipulated world, it’s harder each day to tell reality from fakery and misinformation. Although the rise of Obama didn’t yet qualify as a hoax – or just a bait-and-switch operation – there was a quite a bit of hype, mixed with enough reality to keep hope alive.

Throughout the election, for example, the prevailing line was that Obama received about half of his contributions in amounts of $200 or less. The implication was that, for once, regular people were making a difference. After a more thorough analysis by the Federal Election Commission, however, it looked like repeaters and large donors were more important for Obama than analysts had appreciated.

"The myth is that money from small donors dominated Barack Obama's finances," noted Michael Malbin, director of the Campaign Finance Institute. "Obama's fundraising was impressive, but the reality does not match the myth." Only 24 percent of his funds came from donors whose total contribution was $200 or less. This is similar to the 25 percent for George W. Bush in 2004, 20 percent for John Kerry in 2004, 21 percent for John McCain in 2008, 13 percent for Hillary Clinton, and 38 percent for Howard Deal in 2004.

Obama’s cabinet was another early sign that the change would be less dramatic than expected. The national security team included Bush-appointed Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who was asked to stay on for at least another year, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Susan Rice as ambassador to the UN, and Retired Marine General James Jones, former NATO chief in Europe, as National Security Adviser.

On the domestic side there was Eric Holder, another former Clinton official, as Attorney General. Heading the economic team as Secretary of the Treasury would be Timothy Geithner, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, while Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, was picked to serve as Director of the National Economic Council. Geithner and Summers were touted as crisis managers. But they didn’t do so well in East Asia, helping to bring on a regional crisis in 1997 by pressuring governments to de-regulate international financial flows. At the time they insisted that bailout money go through the IMF, and delayed aid until most of the damage was done.

What else did they have in common? Ivy League backgrounds, stints at institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and work in or very near private sector banking. They were friends, had worked together before, and, for better and worse, were actively involved in shaping the global financial architecture we have today.

The mainstream media said that Obama's cabinet was mainly non-ideological. Yet many members had a record of support for corporate-friendly trade pacts, cutting public assistance programs as a strategy of "reform," and deregulatory policies in the financial sector. Overall, it was more like a team of insiders than a team of rivals.

Obama: Myths & Realities. Part two of three.

Part One: Barack in Wonderland
Part Three: Words vs. Deeds

Friday, May 14, 2010

Obama: Myths & Realities

Part One: Barack in Wonderland

It was a fairy tale premise: Once upon a time a charismatic prince appeared magically and gave an inspiring, instantly famous speech. Four years later he was leading the most powerful kingdom in the world from the brink of disaster.

Believable, isn’t it? But, as Ken Silverstein revealed in Harpers long before the 2008 presidential election, by the time Barack Obama gave his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention he “had already undergone an equally successful but much quieter audition with Democratic Party leaders and fund-raisers, without whose support he would surely never have been chosen for such a prominent role at the convention.”

More than a year after becoming president, Obama has done much to justify that early establishment enthusiasm. Health “reform” has passed, but without single payer, a public option, or a fundamental challenge to insurance company control of the system. Iraq is no longer front page news, but the fighting continues, at least 50,000 troops will be stationed there indefinitely, Guantanamo remains open, and US entanglement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is deeper than ever. An economic meltdown has been averted and the president talks tough about Wall Street abuses, but top financial executive still rake in huge bonuses and have easy access to political players.

The nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court is emblematic of Obama’s approach. Rather than putting forward a principled progressive to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, he chose a Democratic insider with an ambiguous judicial philosophy. Described as persuasive negotiator and “coalition builder,” she is associated with the Clinton administration, Lawrence Summers, Harvard, and Chicago politics. Although she criticized the Bush administration’s position on torture, she is an advocate of executive discretion who thinks the President can hold terror suspects indefinitely and, in her current role, has used state secrets as an argument to suppress lawsuits.

To be fair, the administration has made some constructive moves and a number of promises have been kept. Obama has taken steps to insure more children, reversed the Bush policy on Stem Cell research, pushed legislation to somewhat limit greenhouse emissions, increased Pell Grants, cracked down on credit card companies and some bank practices, and helped pass necessary economic stimulus legislation. He has extended a hand to the Muslim world, signed a new pact reducing the number of long-range nuclear missiles, and condemned the US Supreme Court’s disastrous decision to give corporations the right to spend as much as they want on commercials supporting or targeting specific political candidates.

It’s also understandable that a president sometimes must change a position due to unpleasant realities. But some of Obama’s decisions are hard to rationalize, particularly his endorsement of off-shore drilling – after criticizing the policy during his campaign and despite the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The reason is supposedly to use drilling as a bargaining chip to win support for climate change legislation. But he also changed his view on individual mandates under health care reform, selected Social Security and Medicare critic Alan Simpson to co-chair a deficit-reduction commission, and has embraced more of the Bush logic on national security and secrecy than many supporters would like.

As it is working out, the end of that catchy campaign slogan, “Yes we can,” may be something like “…make some small changes without rocking the boat.”

All this becomes easier to understand when you look at where Obama’s meteoric rise actually began. The first favorable elite assessment reportedly came in October, 2003, almost a year before his famous convention speech. Vernon Jordan, the well-known power broker who chaired Bill Clinton's presidential transition team in 1992, placed calls to roughly 20 of his friends and invited them to a fund-raiser at his home. That event – not a cell group meeting in Bill Ayers’ kitchen – was his initiation into an old Washington ritual. According to Silverstein, the essence is “fund-raising parties and meet-and-greets where potential stars are vetted by fixers, donors, and lobbyists."

Obama passed with honors. At meetings with players from the financial, legal and lobbyist sectors, he impressed people like Gregory Craig – a well-connected attorney, former special counsel to the White House, and eventually Obama’s first pick to do it again; Mike Williams, legislative director of the Bond Market Association; Tom Quinn, partner at a top corporate law firm, Venable, and a leading Democratic power broker; and Robert Harmala, another Venable partner and fixer in Democratic circles.

Word spread through Washington's top law firms, lobby shops, and political offices, going massive after his win in the March 2004 Democratic Senate primary. Contributions from attorneys, lobbyists and Wall Street honchos streamed in at a rapid and accelerating pace.

The "good news" for insiders? Obama's "star quality" wouldn’t be directed against the business class. He was, as Silverstein noted, "someone the rich and powerful could work with." According to Obama biographer and Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, in 2003 and early 2004 Obama cultivated support by advocating fiscal restraint, calling for pay-as-you-go government and singing the praises of free trade and charter schools. He "moved beyond being an obscure good-government reformer to being a candidate more than palatable to the moneyed and political establishment."

"On condition of anonymity," Silverstein added, "one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn't see him as a 'player.' The lobbyist added: 'What's the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?'"

The election of the first Black president certainly promised to be a time of change. The question was: what kind? On that, the signs were always ambiguous. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Obama explicitly referred to the Clinton presidency as a model for his own. And he had already surrounded himself with members of the political establishment.

Obama: Myths & Realities. Part one of three.

Part Two: Hope or Hoax?
Part Three: Words vs. Deeds

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dionysian Process: Planning & Decisions

Part 40 of Prisoners of the Real

The promise of Dionysus lies in the recognition that the origins of mechanization are ultimately mystical. To understand this, we must return to humanity's desire to escape the limitations of matter, which has led to dependence on powerful equipment. For centuries matter has seemed a necessary tool for our escape from the constraints of the material world. But the movement is in two directions. As Henri Bergson once wrote, "Machinery will find its true vocation again, it will render services in proportion to its power, only if mankind, which it has bowed still lower to the earth, can succeed, through it, in standing erect and looking heavenward."

In truth, the tools that have extended our power far out of proportion with natural human size and strength have also accentuated the gap between humanity's distended body and its inner nature. But a return to intuitive process -- with technological assistance rather than dominance -- can reharmonize the relation between matter and spirit.

Planning: In Dionysian systems, planning is a process for the development of conceptual frameworks and group attitudes that increase commitments to a common value-image of the future. It facilitates synergistic, "ideal" choices by promoting both cohesion and spontaneity. Purpose-finding and system-building are essentially revitalized forms of goal and objective setting in an intentional rather than an operational mode.

A variety of technical devices can be used in such a process, among them forecasting and goal setting exercises, and cross-impact matrices. For example, the Delphi forecasting approach is based on the idea that end-states can be prioritized in a series of attempts that eventually produce a general consensus. One method begins with the generation of goal statements by each member of a group. Once all the alternatives have been listed, some goals are subsumed under others and tentative priorities are established.

First, each person ranks all the goals. Then the group's ranks are synthesized and adjusted to create a group rank-order. The process is repeated, and testimony is supplied for each top ranked choice. Use of Delphi has revealed that opinions tend to converge after several rounds. Goals are often reviewed on the basis of criteria such as importance, minimum magnitude for significance, inhibiting and enhancing factors, and projected times -- that is, earliest, optimal and latest -- for reaching the goal.

Although Delphi is a simple and direct way to generate and set goals, its linear method doesn't fully meet dionysian standards for synthesis. Very often goals that are ranked lower are considered expendable or beyond the group's boundaries. As a result, Delphi may sometimes lead to unnecessary limitation of group purpose at a point when boundaries ought to be expanding rather than contracting.

Through cross-impacting, which has greater potential for Dionysian planning, various purposes can be related to one another in order to assess the extent of positive and negative effects. A matrix is an associative tool, and can be used for both strategy development and exploration of philosophical questions. The former application matches the skills and competencies of participants with various purposes or short-term objectives to reveal appropriate sub-groups.

The planning process may begin with diffused activity -- association without much specialization -- but through the use of matrices, it will lead to a natural division of tasks. Within the sub-groups that are formed, people can then decide how tasks are to be allocated. When attention is paid early in the process to the development of collective consciousness, participants will be more willing to sacrifice self-interests as association leads to engagement with the subject of organization action.

The guide can also use elements of such techniques to create new tools for a specific situation. For example, a group meeting to plan for some new activity or to redefine purposes could be enhanced by gathering as many epigrammatic suggestions as possible. With these listed in an unnumbered order, the initial task for the group becomes the prioritizing or synthesizing of these items. Although the discussion may begin with a simple numbering of the statements, it will quickly lead to a focus on commonalities. The result will be a new agenda that provides a sequence of discussion natural to the full group.

Through these and other methods, the Dionysian leader aims to increase attentiveness to end-states that are consistent with individual perceptions and set permeable boundaries on the basis of common experience.

Decision-making: Making choices involves a clear recognition of assumptions and the altering of boundaries. Dionysian guides, as promoters of new ideas, often challenge organizational norms in order to free others to make the best choices. If the group is going to move from its initial image to an acceptance and understanding of its new reality, however, an explicit statement of purposes is also required.

Therefore, the rules of Dionysian choice are that leaders:

1. initiate new ideas and patterns through purpose-finding to smooth the change process, rather than allowing the demands of change to overtake the group, and

2. promote frequent procedural alterations to avoid the habituating effects of routine.

The assumption here is that organizational survival depends on the mutual adjustment of systems and the environment. As a result, some decisions may be attempts to intervene in the "outside world" rather than merely reacting to it. Above all, Dionysian leaders are intentional.

Next: Information & Communication

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Oil Spill: Accident or Cyber Attack?

Before the massive oil drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, experts and politicians confidently said that it couldn’t happen. Or, if something did go wrong, the impacts would be swiftly contained with minimal leaking. Now that those assurances have been proven wrong, they claim that it was an accident that couldn’t have been predicted, and meanwhile avoid the elephant in the room – how and why.

It will be some time before we get an official explanation. In the meantime, however, there is plenty of information – and more than one possible explanation – to consider. It could have been a technical failure, for example, or the result of human error. But labeling it an “accident,” as news outlets do every day, is at the very least premature, especially since one possibility not being examined is a premeditated attack.

It’s natural to assume that is impossible, just some far-fetched conspiracy theory, and much easier to believe that another corporation has acted irresponsibly. Perhaps it did. But also consider this: Last August Foreign Policy posted an article citing credible research and directly warning oil companies worldwide that their offshore oil rigs are highly vulnerable to hacking. As Richard Clarke explains in his new book Cyber War, “Computer commands can derail a train or cause a gas pipeline to burst.”

In early 2009, a 28-year-old contractor in California was charged in federal court with almost disabling an offshore rig. Prosecutors say the contractor, who was allegedly angry about not being hired full time, hacked into the computerized network of an oil-rig off the coast, specifically the controls that detect leaks. He caused some damage, but fortunately not a leak.

This January, the Christian Science Monitor reported that at least three US oil companies have been the target of a series of cyber attacks. In these cases, the culprit is most likely someone or some group in China. The incidents, kept secret since 2008, involved Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips. The companies didn’t realize how serious their problem was until the FBI alerted them. Federal officials said that proprietary information – email passwords, messages, and information linked to executives – had been flowing out to computers overseas.

Chinese government involvement hasn’t been confirmed, but some data did end up on a computer in China and one oil company security staffer privately called the breaches the “China virus.”

The companies wouldn’t comment, or even admit that the attacks happened. But the Monitor persisted, interviewing insiders, officials and cyber attack experts, and ultimately confirmed the story. Their overall conclusion was that cyber-burglars, using new spyware that is almost undetectable, pose a serious and potentially dangerous threat to private industry.

As Clarke notes in his book, many nations conduct Internet espionage and sometimes even cyber attacks. Several of the most aggressive are China, Russia, and North Korea. Spying on defense agencies and diplomats is a major focus, but strategically important businesses and even other countries have also been targeted. Google claims that it has found evidence of at least 20 companies that have been infiltrated from China. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, logic bombs have been infiltrated into the US electric power grid. If so, they could operate like time bombs.

On oil rigs, the advent of robot-controlled platforms has made a cyber attack possible with a PC anywhere in the world. Control of a rig could be accomplished by hacking into the "integrated operations" that link onshore computer networks to offshore ones. No one will admit that this has happened yet. But there is confirmation that computer viruses have caused personnel injuries and production losses on North Sea platforms.

The problem is that even though newer oil rigs have cutting-edge robotics technology, the software that controls their basic functions is old school. Most rely on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) software, which was created in an era when "open source" was more important than security,

"It's underappreciated how vulnerable some of these systems are," said Jeff Vail, a former counterterrorism and intelligence analyst with the US Interior Department who talked with Greg Grant, author of the Foreign Policy article. "It is possible, if you really understood them, to cause catastrophic damage by causing safety systems to fail."

The name of the piece, by the way, was “The New Threat to Oil Supplies – Hackers.” It sounds a lot like “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the US.”

Failure to Prevent

How does this vulnerability relate to the Gulf disaster? To understand that, let’s review what we already know. Although the headlines place the responsibility on BP and the oil company doesn’t deny it, CEO Tony Hayward has also argued that “it wasn’t our accident.” His explanation? "The drilling rig was a Transocean drilling rig,” he said. “It was their rig and their equipment that failed, run by their people, their processors."

The dozens of lawsuits already filed recognize that. But they go even farther, naming not only BP and Transocean Ltd, which owned the drilling rig, but also Halliburton Energy Services, whose employees were working on the platform, and Cameron International Corp., which manufactured the blowout preventer (BOP) that was supposed to shut off the oil flow.

Of these, the company most directly implicated is Cameron, a Fortune 500 company formerly known as Cooper Cameron and a worldwide leader in providing BOPs to offshore rigs. In early May, Cameron said that AIG has insured the company for $500 million against legal claims in the event of a problem. Based in Houston, this maker of fail-safe devices created the first blowout preventer of its kind in 1922. A BOP is a large valve that is supposed to seal off a wellhead if something goes wrong – for example, if pressure from an underground formation causes oil to threaten the rig. The valve is usually closed remotely.

According to BP, when workers attempted to activate the BOP from the top of the Deepwater Horizon rig before they were evacuated, nothing happened. The website ScienceInsider says that the shut off should have been automatic. Even after the rig sank, when BP and the Coast Guard tried to use robot submarines to trigger the BOP, it didn’t work.

There were multiple “Panic Buttons” to hit, even a so-called “Deadman” fail-safe that should have been engaged automatically. None of these security procedures worked. According to BP’s Hayward, “It is the ultimate safety system on any rig and there is no precedent for them failing.” In fact, Minerals Management Service records show that this BOP passed a test on April 10, less than two weeks before it failed. Thus far, no one has been able to explain it and Cameron has been conspicuously silent.

“We are all very curious,” said an insider who works for one of BP’s competitors. “What happened to all that equipment, all the computer power, all the automated systems and manpower in place, could not be invoked to stop this?”

A press release by Cameron last November does point to one clue. The company had just acquired NATCO, another wellhead and refinery equipment manufacturer. The merger gave Cameron, among other things, a subsidiary known as TEST Automation & Controls, which upgraded its automated control, safety and SCADA systems.

In short, Cameron uses SCADA systems, which collect data from various sensors and send it to a central computer on oil rigs. Instructions are not encrypted and are sometimes sent over the Internet. Among other things, SCADA monitors information from the blowout preventer, whose failure on the Deepwater Horizon apparently led to the disaster.

In 1999, when a pipeline burst in Bellingham, Washington, a SCADA failure was implicated. A software glitch in a SCADA system also slowed controls on the power grid during a successful computer attack in 2003. Incidentally, SCADA network and control systems also run dams, power plants, and gas and oil refineries.

A recent study funded by security vendor McAfee Inc and released in January by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland concluded that SCADA systems are being attacked by a variety of methods, individuals and gangs. Two-thirds of those surveyed said their SCADA systems were connected to an IP network or the Internet. About half of those said the connection created SCADA security issues that aren't being addressed.

"I would describe the preparedness as quite spotty and in some cases quite lacking," admitted Stewart Baker, a former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency who led the survey team. "Basic key security measures are still not widely adopted." And the problem is getting worse. About 40 percent of those surveyed expected a major incident – an attack resulting in major consequences – within a year.

Unusual Suspects

Who would do such a thing? The Right, of course, says that environmentalists or “eco-warriors” might try, either to punish big oil or build pressure for stricter regulations. But there are other, more likely candidates, including extortionists who hope to blackmail big pocket companies like BP, which reported $6 billion in profits during the last quarter alone, or else a foreign government. Between 20 and 30 countries have cyber attack capabilities. The motives for a government-sponsored attack include a strategic move to change the balance of global oil reserves, or a preemptive strike by a country that feels threatened – or has a bone to pick.

One piece of circumstantial evidence already points toward North Korea. The Deepwater Horizon oil platform was built and financed by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. Its destruction will hurt both the company and the country’s economy.

President Obama’s April 29 decision to dispatch SWAT teams to the Gulf to investigate oil rigs has also fueled suspicions. A related, much more radical theory – mainly circulating on the Right – is that North Korea used a military mini-sub to attack the oil rig. It sounds crazy, especially since a cyber attack could accomplish the same result. Then again, Kim Jong-il does feel that his country is at war with the US, and has invested in several cyber warfare units with around 1000 hackers.

Last July, North Korea was also the main suspect when a series of attacks paralyzed websites of the US and South Korean government. Known as a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDOS) attack, this one hit on July 4th, targeting computers at the White House, the Pentagon, and the New York Stock Exchange. The websites of the Department of Transportation, the Treasury Department and the Federal Trade Commission were shut down for days.

South Korean targets included the presidential Blue House, the Defense Ministry, the National Assembly, Shinhan Bank, Korea Exchange Bank and the country’s top Internet portal. The attacks coincided with North Korea’s anticipated testing of a long-range missile with the potential to hit Hawaii. The missile was never launched, but several scud missiles were fired.

There are already several examples of cyber warfare allegedly orchestrated by a state against a rival government. Russia, for example, has been implicated in attacks aimed at Georgia and Estonia. The 2007 cyber attack on Estonia crippled its parliament, banks, ministries, phone systems, newspapers and broadcasters. The reason was allegedly a dispute over the relocation of war graves and a Soviet-era grave marker. Russia denied responsibility but an ethnic Russian Estonian was tried and convicted for being involved.

Assuming Responsibility

The US government’s failure to address private-sector vulnerability to cyber attacks goes back decades. Even the Obama administration hesitates to challenge the status quo. Given the vulnerability of crucial infrastructure and much of the private sector, surprisingly little is being done to prepare for what sounds inevitable.

There is a US Cyber Command, which attempts to protect federal infrastructure, while various branches of the military have developed their own offensive capabilities. But not even the Department of Homeland Security has taken responsibility for protecting the private sector. According to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, legal and privacy issues get in the way of having the government monitor the Internet or business operations for evidence of potential cyber attacks. Businesses are, as always, wary of any regulation that might accompany government help.

Though cyber attacks have certainly happened, many leave no obvious trace. As Clarke explains, corporations tend to believe that the “millions of dollars they have spent on computer security systems means they have successfully protected their company’s secrets.” Unfortunately, they are wrong. Intrusion detection and prevention systems sometimes fail.

Nevertheless, no federal agency is currently responsible for defending the banking system, power grids or oil rigs from attacks. The prevailing logic is that businesses should handle their own security. Yet their experts readily admit that they wouldn’t know what to do if an attack came from another nation, and assume that defense in such a case is the government’s job.

A US Senate bill in the pipeline could change that – if it survives the usual Congressional cage match. Sponsored by Democrat Jay Rockefeller and Republican Olympia Snowe, it would require the president to work with the private sector on a comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy, create a joint public-private advisory board and Senate-confirmed national security adviser position, and promote what Rockefeller calls “unprecedented information sharing between government and the private sector.”

In the meantime, however, the US continues to suffer from “a conspiracy of secrecy about the scale of cyber risk,” as James Fallows put it in a March article for the Atlantic. Companies simply can’t admit how easily they can be infiltrated. As a result, the changes in law, regulation, or habits that could increase safety aren’t often discussed. But sooner or later, Fallows warns, “the cyber equivalent of 9/11 will occur—and, if the real 9/11 is a model, we will understandably, but destructively, overreact.”

Of course, it is also certainly possible that the Gulf disaster wasn’t caused by intentional sabotage. The BOP may simply have failed. In the late 1990s, there were more than 100 such failures on the outer continental shelf. According to a 2008 lawsuit filed in Louisiana, Cameron and Hydril, a General Electric unit that makes drilling equipment, provided defective blowout preventer equipment resulting in a 2007 leak from an offshore Louisiana well. But nothing comes close to the current disaster, and so far no one can explain why this supposedly foolproof system didn’t work.

“There would have been a dozen barriers that had to fail in order for this accident to happen,” notes Tim Robertson, an oil-spill consultant with Nuka Research and Planning Group in Alaska.

There’s that word again – accident. And maybe it was. But before accepting this assumption as fact, it would be prudent to consider all the possibilities and find out more about what really happened.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dionysian Process: An Overview

Part 39 of Prisoners of the Real

Dionysian leadership is rooted in a purpose- rather than problem-oriented process, a mutable approach through which people promote ideas. The order of the steps depends on the group context at the point when the process begins – in other words, the current character of the place – and on the varying perceptions and beliefs of the group's current members. In short, it is a model of spontaneous and responsive sequence. The leader is a guide who creates a road map as the group determines what the job should be.

The following steps are part of two basic phases of organizational development: purpose-finding and system-building. Though they are particularly effective in newer groups, or those involved in a serious process of evaluation, they can also be used to help maintain normal systemic harmony.


* The Dionysian leader often begins with an inspired idea, some intuitive intellectual sympathy with the state of the group or environment. This mental leap points to a new purpose, a break in the continuity of thought that follows the beaten path. The development of heliocentric theory by Copernicus sprang from such an inspired notion, as did Newton's law of gravity, Darwin's concepts concerning species evolution, and Einstein's theory of relativity. Each of these scientists was at first unable to explain his ideas logically on the basis of recognized premises.

Einstein described his sensation at the time of his great leap: "It seemed to me that the earth had moved from under my feet and nowhere in sight was there any firm ground on which to build." In the process of defining group purpose, therefore, the starting point may simply be a hunch, a conceptual kernel that changes as it encounters other ideas.

* Purpose grows from collective and individual experiences of the past. It is a composite of present and prior commitments to images of the future. The Dionysian leader, therefore, looks at the history of his group's purpose, and shares the findings with others.

Each person develops an "overall point of view" toward this vision of purpose and expresses. The most effective way is in the form of an epigram. After reflecting on these initial statements, group members note the personal associations they suggest, and share the viewpoints that emerge.

* Members discuss their statements, reflections and the associated images that have contributed to them. Everyone is free to testify concerning her or his past as it relates to the emerging purpose and current perceptions.

Set-breaking activities such as role-playing and scenarios help to stretch the boundaries of past experience, establish new circuits and look at the varying individual perceptions that make up the collective purpose.

* New circuits and individual perceptions are publicly shared. The group looks at relationships that can be carried into action.

Conflicting purposes are examined and discussed until everyone has testified to the extent that they wish. The conflicts may end either in the creation of a synthesis of the competing ideas, or in the willing sacrifice of an idea. The Dionysian guide maintains a balance of tensions but avoids the imposition of a synthesis on the group.

* Individuals select purposes to which they can commit themselves from among those remaining in the group's frame of reference. Purposes not selected are set aside. The group leader defines individual relationships – sub-groups – based on the choices that are made.

The group affirms its current purpose, an intended image of the future it wishes to reach within a specific period of time, and an articulated statement – oral or written – which the guide presents for review. Once they have accepted it, this serves as their common goal.


* This phase turns "oughts" into actualities. Each member of the group seeks a broad range of information related to the purpose and means of achieving it. These are independent searches, and general in scope. Some searches may overlap, providing a common base for discussion and pointing the way to more directed searching. The goal is to generate a wide variety of ideas – although not every idea possible. Commonalities represent the germ of collective consciousness.

Various purposes are cross-fertilized through dialogue, creating new strategies. Individuals bring both their data and the ideas that have grown from review to the group.

*  Temporary sub-groups are formed. They are based on common commitments and the attraction of participants to specific ideas and strategies. The guide solidifies these temporary linkages, which may differ from the groups that emerged during purpose-finding.

* The sub-groups develop specific programs. These are matched with search data and past experiences of the group and individuals. Their unique aspects are noted.

The programs are used as scripts to imagine potential outcomes, changed once they are tested through actual or simulated experience.

* Sub-groups present these revised program strategies to the larger collective for approval. The plans are considered for their congruence to the group's articulated purpose. The general rule is that procedures remain subservient to purposes. But the experiences of the group may also lead them to alter the stated purpose.

Individuals often find that their commitments to purposes change as they move closer to actualizing plans, or that estimates concerning capacities have been inaccurate. These perceptions of shifting form are brought to the group as soon as possible after they arise. The guide may either convene the whole organization, or one of its current sub-groups, or several members of more than one sub-group, to seek changes in task or purpose.

Throughout this process, the role of the Dionysian leader is realization of the collective ideal. In addition, she or he assists others in selecting the types of autonomous activity that are appropriate for individuals or sub-groups.

Dionysian systems are process-oriented and purposive. The leader and the groups deal which many components at once, attempting simultaneous action to maintain and improve the organization. If it seems necessary, maintenance activities may be suspended for short periods to reassess purpose or respond to new inspirations. This is especially helpful when the boundaries of rationality become a hindrance. The guide may also choose to initiate this process to jolt others out of their routines. In the end, however, all members can act as guides, organizational enablers who believe that leaders don't make change – everyone does.

Next: Planning & Decisions

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey