Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Wesley Clark: "No Problem with Invading Afghanistan"

General Wesley Clark, of the Afghanistan war: "I was one of the ones that said we should go to Afghanistan - I never had a problem with that."

Is his claim accurate?  It seems incredible to me that Clark believes there is "no problem" if the U.S. orders military invasion of country that is not a threat, on the pretext it "refused to hand over Osama bin Laden" when ordered to do so by the leader of another country.  The government of Afghanistan was even told they would be given no evidence of anything: no evidence Osama bin Laden was implicated in any crime, no evidence he was ever located in Afghanistan - but they were threatened.

Surely Gen. Clark knows this is illegal and immoral behavior...How could he not?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dan Choi's Response to Mattilda Bernstein's Criticism

In this interview regarding the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, Mattilda Bernstein claims it is ridiculous to improve access (of LGBT people) to a monstrous, out of control threat to world stability which murders on an industrial scale.  Bernstein rightly added that this killing and destruction is overwhelmingly for the benefit of corporate profiteers, the politicians they purchase, and maintaining the systems supporting their power.
West Point graduate Dan Choi argued that LGBT equality would provide greater credibility for an argument against militarism, since currently the system discriminates, undermining any greater question of militarism's morality, and making such questions moot by critics like Bernstein. 

I tend to think that the defect in Choi's response might be more apparent if we apply this argument to a well understood historical example with which most Americans are familiar.

If we were living in the antebellum South, and someone were to claim: Racial equality would provide greater credibility for an argument against slavery, since currently the system discriminates and does not allow the ownership of indigenous people or other groups, therefore any greater question of slavery's morality is inappropriate.  The lack of equality makes the larger questions moot, but after we have equality, objections to slavery will have much greater moral authority.

It seems clear we would not accept this response in the context of slavery, but why?

If we try to think of circumstances under which a person in those times might reject calls to end slavery, it seems easier to imagine an analog of Choi's response coming from someone attached to the institution of slavery.  This analogy seems plausibly useful based on what it predicts as the likely background for the supporter of the problem institution.

Here, we have a committed military man who believes in duty, honor, and country within a military context.  In the interview, he appears to recognize the actual history of U.S. interventions and military operations are largely at odds with the official pronouncements, which are largely based on mythologies like those of the Lusitania sinking as a casus belli for WWI, the propaganda of WWII that justified using the ultimate WMD's, U.N. resolutions starting the Korean War, and so on.  Nevertheless, his attachment to the military as a means a) generally to do good and b) personally to serve others, is clear.

Modern myths that the U.S. is under attack and needs to defend itself from WMD's, immigrants, non-traditional marriages, rich welfare queens (i.e.: black), incompetent teachers, sleeper celled terrorists, evil corporate executives, and many more are put forward by elites to deflect criticism, prevent reform, and maintain illegitimate control of others.  Like any lie, these myths are accurate in many ways, perhaps most.  Like any aggressive doctrines, from Nazism to Corporate State Capitalism, it is the costs and risks what they overlook which lie at the root of the problem for the greater society.

So, how should we decide whether responses like Choi's represent a valid objection to calls for ending undesirable activities?  It may be that there are times when making monstrous practices more humane can be justified: and that is when it really is the best we can do.  If the costs are too high for trying to eliminate a practice I don't think criticisms can stand well, so long as maintaining the status quo meets one criteria.

That criteria is "understanding".  If we are familiar with the best information available relevant to our situation and understand the consequences of our decisions, we are entitled to make conscious decisions based on our own values.  We may even decide to violate rules of reason and rationality without objection if we understand and acknowledge our decision is unreasonable and irrational.  Many people are in religions requiring them to profess beliefs they really know are silly and cannot possibly be true, but they cannot live without the social support they receive, and they make a rational choice to go along with group rituals and ignore the problems.  Most of the time, this does not involve obvious harm, other than making a virtue out of refusing to use one's brain to it's best advantage.  These believers are not normally asked to categorize this kind collective deception but when pressed, will go to even dishonest lengths to advocate such decisions as reasonable.

Dan Choi's training and indoctrination appears to be at war with his intellectual acuity and moral sense of justice, which I think we see in the interview as he acknowledges the validity of Bernstein's points.

I'd like to hear what readers think.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review of Complexity Theory and Project Management by Drs. Curlee & Gordon

As a systems analyst, project manager and feral philosopher of science over the past 20+ years, I’ve followed the exciting developments which are now considered foundations of complexity theory.  I had the good fortune to work at IBM during Benoit Mandelbrot’s last years there.  Mandelbrot, the inventor of fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot Set, died last month after an astounding life.  Underlying chaos theory and complex systems ideas, Mandelbrot’s discoveries are well recognized to have incredibly broad application, but to me one of the most revealing realizations of his work is the relationship between the standards and methods of measurement selected, and the results obtained relative to natural structures.

Complexity theory, which could not have been developed without such concepts, deals with complex systems which come in three types: non-linear systems, chaotic, and complex adaptive.  Complexity theory evolved largely in an effort to explain recognizable structures and predictable patterns which emerged, but seemed impossible to understand in terms of the operations of the simple, component parts comprising the systems being studied.

Creation of Complexity Theory and Project Management (CTPM) was based on the author’s perception that “current management practices require adherence to rigid, global responses unsuitable for addressing the changing needs of most projects”.  The number one target of the author’s criticism is PMI’s PMBOK Guide, which is assessed on page 17 of “clearly” being “a completely linear tome”.  In contrast, the authors perceive that the Christian Bible embraces complexity, offering delegation of responsibility by Moses “to enforce and keep the law of the land” and the "detailed plans" for construction of King Solomon's palace as examples.

Crafted as a textbook, the published description of CTPM promises an instructor's companion website, teaching notes, PowerPoint slides, a solutions manual, and a tool box of solutions to common project management problems.  I was able to find some illustrations in the book that may have been copied from PowerPoint slides, but the other components eluded me.

Overview of CTPM’s Structure

The 400 pages of CTPM are divided into five parts: complexity theory itself, how to deploy it, case studies, creating successful communities, and advanced tools.

“Part I - Complexity Theory” comprises an introduction to complexity theory with chapters entitled: “Going Beyond Project Management”, “Virtual Leadership and Complexity”, and “Successful Virtual Projects”.

“Part II – How to Deploy Complexity Theory” is described in its introduction as including review of effective use of complexity, with chapters on strategies, virtual leadership, organizational culture, conflict and resolution, and risk management.

“Part III – Case Studies of Applied Complexity” starts with one of my favorite examples of participatory management: SEMCO, a democratically run company based on mutual respect and equality.  Following chapters include case study chapters of online universities and small teams.

“Part IV – Create Successful Project Communities” reviews the relationship of complexity to leadership, teams, and change. 

First: the Positives

The attempt to use complex systems and complexity theory to better understand projects and improve their performance first struck me as a noble and intriguing goal.  Social interactions are complex and chaotic, much like weather patterns.  if complexity theory could be applied not merely to atmospheric measurements, but to measurements of much more complex human interactions, it would be a revolutionary advance in social sciences, whose effects would certainly transform not just project management, but also cognitive psychology, philosophy of science and even cognitive and behavioral neuroscience.

I was delighted to read the authors’ positional stance regarding academic work, also.  I strongly agree with the value expressed that project management research should be directed toward increasing the available knowledge of the profession.  This stands in contrast to the Project Management Institute’s revised mission statement, which focuses not on creating value and advancing human knowledge as in the past but now, is rather more focused on encouraging forms of dependency on project management, generally for maximizing profits – described in the official wording of PMI's public relations “to make project management indispensable for business results”; Readers will draw their own conclusions on PMI but for me, Curlee & Gordon’s stance is a refreshing example of not constantly "reaching for new ideas to be successful".

Another positive is that Complexity Theory and Project Management cites an impressive list of references for many of its ideas.  While some source authors’ conclusions may appear to stand at odds with those in CTPM, it is reassuring and helpful for readers to be able to review the original work and assess the reliability of conclusions and recommendations for themselves. 

I was also pleased to see the inclusion of an entire chapter focused on SEMCO, one of my favorite examples of participatory economics and worker management based on anarchist principles.  In CTPM’s discussion of SEMCO, sentences like “Everybody is treated equally, from high-ranking executives to the lowest-ranked employees” appear to convey a self contradictory message, since at SEMCO, “equality” is taken to mean that no one has a title, there are no “high executives”, nor is any employee regarded as “lowest” in any way.  This is perhaps a good point to segue to…

Reality Sets In: The Negatives

I would recommend the authors set more modest goals for their book, stick to writing about what they know and understand, and study critical thinking, logic and philosophy.  Because of their obvious passion for the possibilities of CT to assist projects, especially virtual projects in which they specialize, it seems they make a doomed attempt like that of the Joshua tree in Fig. 1.1, which is called: "like a hand reaching for the sky".  A basic rule of risk management is to avoid "reaching for the sky" in favor of balanced, reasonable, and appropriate ideas and goals.  Overreaching introduces sufficient risk to virtually guarantee failure.  As we might predict, the tree and the authors both fail to grasp their respective goals by similar margins.

On every page, this book indicates lack of understanding the basics of modern scientific inquiry appropriate for constructing, developing, and analyzing hypotheses and theories.  Even basic rules for productive discussion appear unknown, including 2000 year old topics explicitly integrated throughout project management literature, such as clearly defining your terms.   Knowledge of what constitutes an "explanation", a "cause", the properties of valid  support, deduction and inference are clearly missing.  We are never told what is “complexity”, a “linear” approach, or distinguishes “sacred” information, which I found frustrating.

The first thing I looked for in the book was a definition of what the authors specifically meant by the main subject of the title: “complexity theory”.  This would give readers an initial scope and understanding of the authors’ approach to the material.  According to the book’s index, there are 95 pages explicitly referencing “complexity” and yet, despite repeated readings of the chapters ostensibly focusing on that attribute, no clear, usable definition is presented.  Meaningless statements that “complexity involves X”, “complexity may be used for Y”, “complexity is a complete system to leverage interactions” and so on suggest the authors possess only a vague conceptualization of their core topic, and much of that appears mistaken.  While alluding to the existence of specific “criteria for complexity”, readers are never given sufficiently clear criteria and definitions to make rational sense of the material. 

This defect is pervasive, rendering much of the book meaningless.  Continuous presentation of dubious platitudes, non-sequitur fallacies, and unsupported claims made me unwilling to invest the time to completely read the last 100 pages.  Random sample turning to any page seems to confirm this.  As a live experiment now, I flip to p119.  Here is the highlighted recommendation on that page:”Be a leader who is serious about trust by talking frequently about trust.”  Talking about trust is not “being serious about trust,” especially when one has not studied to gain understanding of trust.  Frauds and con-men talk about trust quite convincingly.  The way to “be serious about trust” is to study, learn, and make sure one’s behavior is honorable and trustworthy: a polar opposite of CTPM's recommendation. 

Next random flip: p175, where a tyrannosaur skull illustrates a metaphor that “the PM must learn to deal [with conflict] …or suffer a tragic fate at the hands of a cultural T-rex”.  The hands of a T-rex are extraordinarily small, its skull is very lightweight and its nasal cavity is huge.  What does this tell us? T-rex would be in great danger to its jaws trying to hold struggling prey, whereas its roar, teeth and towering size could easily scare off others from a kill, the way lions get most of their calories today.  T-rex’s extraordinary sense of smell enabled location of the kill just like as the similar ability of the turkey vulture today.  Clearly, the authors used poor judgment in their choice of a predatory icon.  What about their core claim that tragedy will befall the PM who does not learn to deal with "conflict".  Several other problems with CTPM's claim arise fairly obviously: one is that "conflict" is never properly defined; It is like a mountain lion, say Drs. Curlee and Gordon.  Conflict, they say : "can happen at any time", "can happen to any team", "can be destructive", "can be constructive" and so on.  The next is the claim that the PM must learn to deal with the conflict.  Unless interpersonal friction adversely affects the project, it may be a very very good idea not to get involved, especially if one is impatient, like me.  The next problem is the prediction of a threat regarded as culturally similar to being ripped apart by a predator.  Such a metaphor is childish, inappropriate for a serious work.  The publisher also should answer for items such as the caption to another black and white illustration, which directs us to “Note the depth and variety of color”.  For hundreds of pages, CTPM continues in this manner.

While we know projects can be “complex” in the everyday sense of the word, the authors never provide sufficiently rigorous criteria that enable us to identify emergent patterns, unexpected structure, and surprising order from complex adaptive systems or other types of complex systems.  What emergent “order” is being explained?  Without adequate definitions or a coherent theoretical structure, such a question is also meaningless and the material is a jumble.

Definitions of foundational concepts are difficult and philosophers of science are working to develop them in what we project managers would consider a scoping effort.  But regardless of inadequacies, we must have some clear rules to guide and govern our passions, whether they are writing or research.  Without a coherent framework, we cast to and fro without any net progress as the authors do, for example by claiming on p194 that people are not generally worried about basics like survival and perpetuating the species because “the human race has reached a higher level on Maslow’s scale of needs.”  One hundred pages later the opposite claim is made, that “the family is focused on survival…when one focuses upon what is essential…it is all about survival.”  While contextual rules could distinguish why one or another standard for analysis is appropriate, as far as I can tell, these are never adequately provided, leaving readers with a stream of random, often conflicting, unwise, or mistaken platitudes and assertions.

Who Might Benefit from Complexity Theory and Project Management?

I believe the primary audiences for this book are students in the authors’ classes, who seem likely to be presented with this as the required text.  The content strikes me overall as a collection of thoughts, concepts and ideas collected by the authors over the course of their own educations without a well-formed plan and packaged into book form.  Complexity may provide a thread that connects the topics covered by its applicability to all project activities, especially when shifting liberties are taken with its meaning.  It is possible that this may help with presentation in a course format; I would guess that will depend on the instructor.

Conclusion

In all, I was obviously and profoundly disappointed with CTPM’s lack of intellectual maturity and rigor in dealing with complexity theory and project management.  The PMBoK criticisms typically seem biased, petulant and sophomoric, without evidence or even a reasonable definition of defects which authors presented as “always” occurring, or as in the example mentioned above as being “totally linear”, etc.  It is reasonable to provide good evidence whenever such broad and strong claims are made, and explain the defects in conflicting views. 

Regrettably, I’m unable to recommend this book as anything other than a cautionary example: the result of drive, ambition, and passion moving ahead without sufficient education, understanding, or preparation.  How did this occur?  A root problem with religious faith is that it makes a virtue of not thinking critically, and the lack of critical thinking alongside religious references within CTPM does not strike me as an accident.  Faith in  mythologies, whether based on stone-age deities or modern free-market fantasies seem to present impediments to serious scholarship because the tools of scientific inquiry make rejection of irrational beliefs almost mandatory in some ways.

Alas, for everyone interested in complexity theory and how it might relate to projects, it seems our ability to obtain necessary metrics for good analysis will remain beyond any reasonable expectations for the foreseeable future.  Serious study of complexity in projects needs data on a statistically significant volume of agents (project team members and the greater group of stakeholders generally), and with sufficient detail on each agent.  If it is possible to get such data for enough people on enough projects to make reasonably reliable predictions on recurring phenomena and emergent properties, we would seem to need a massive amount of additional research in several fields.
Final Score: 1.0 / 5.0

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Radiografia de una mentira (X-Ray of a Lie)

I just recently became aware of a film titled "Radiografia de una mentira", or "X-ray of a Lie" in English.  "Radiografia" claims to summarize the results and conclusions of a debate held regarding the "distorted version" of  facts presented by the film "The Revolution will not be Televised".  The focus and purpose of the debate: "to unravel the mechanisms of such manipulations." Although my experience with Spanish is insufficient to assess nuances of meaning, the English subtitles and much of the video clips indict the film as grossly incompetent in presenting its case, at best.  Crowd estimates do not appear supported by the videos, Chavez' resignation during a coup and while under military siege is called "voluntary", while the self-declared president (usurper?) was "forced" to resign when the lawful government was being restored.  No mention is made that Chavez was taken prisoner (or perhaps hostage) during what was called his "unsigned resignation", while the head of the coup is shown surrounded by corporate reporters.

I can't agree with comments I've read stating  this video lies every time, but some of the objections it raises are rather strange, such as pointing out that the film crew used old footage from when Chavez was initially campaigning.  The film I watched seemed to relay when that footage was shot, when the film crew arrived, and my impression was that the narration made clear the different periods being discussed and shown in the visuals.   Would it be reasonable to criticize this film and its makers based on the same criteria they use for "Revolution"?  Fallacy by opponents (like violence) doesn't justify reciprocity, other than as an illustration to show how rules that are not applicable uniformly tend to be inferior rules, at least if "understanding" is our goal.  It's like justifying violence by claiming: "He started it!" One wonders if the makers of "Radiografia de una mentira" (X-ray of a Lie) would or believe they should accept identical  "criticisms" as discounting their own claims?  If not, it is a hypocrisy they should correct.

Also, to which of the 4 points they are claiming to refute does this objection pertain?  None that I can tell.

To refute "Revolution" (original film) claims about media freedoms, for which evidence exists, "Radiographia" presents Chavez' "attitude".  Although his attitude seems admittedly (and plausibly, IMO) hostile to what he regards as mis-information, it has no relevance to whether his government allowed greater media freedom than past governments.  Yet, even this irrelevant fallacy is badly botched in "Radiographia": Chavez's statements (the "evidence") is spliced rapidly over and over with strange overlays and cuts to clips of people yelling "Assholes", "The people support their president!" giving the camera the finger, etc. in what appears to be a of ham-fisted effort at pontificating what Chavez is REALLY saying.

"Radiographia" claims "Chavez began attacking the media since his first day in office. His violent speeches promoted growing hostility within his supporters against journalists and photographers."  This is probably true.  Unfortunately, whether or not the hostility was justified on the part of the majority of the country, based on systemic criminality by elites (including private media) must be addressed and refuted for this objection to have merit.  Because that issue is not addressed, the objection cannot be held very seriously, even if it were relevant to one of the points under discussion.

The evidence presented of hostility against the media consisted of one anouncer being shoved and one man apparently throwing something too small to be picked up on this video toward a camera.  This is described as "attacking the media" with "violence and aggression running rampant".  This seems doubtful, especially when we see the single, would be thrower swarmed instantly and he appears to be the one in the most immediate danger.  The announcer is being backed up by soldiers in full combat gear, the supposed "violent" Chavez supporter appears to be single guy in a t-shirt who doesn't look like he comes from money.

In Radiographia, Thaelman Urgelles accuses the Revolution of omitting "who started the aggressions against whom", which is a criticism we expect of a four year old, but by seven, the child really ought to know that an objectively minded parent is not going to take that seriously. 

An astounding claim is made that Chavez' election was "supported by almost all the Venezuelan population", "and all Venezuelan sectors, including the media", based on his promise to "produce changes in this country".  I would appreciate the opportunity to ask Mr. Urgelles what examples he could provide of rich elites in any country or society in the history of our species who supported handing over leadership of that society to someone from outside the elites, promising reforms that would radically reduce the power and financial inequalities of the society, and reduce the relative advantage elites had previously enjoyed?  Such a claim is beyond the realm of believability.

Would Mr. Urgelles accept pre-election media clips in opposition to Chavez as evidence that this claim is inaccurate?  This would reveal whether his reasoning seeks ontological truth (accuracy in describing reality) or seeks to adherence to a faith-based ideology.  The level of criticism offered suggests the latter.

Helping rational people determine whether Chavez has committed crimes (I believe he almost certainly has) is pursued by presentation of rationally justified conclusions and supporting evidence in a coherent argument.  Passion and anger are no substitute for clear, insightful analysis.

"Radiografia" points out, undoubtedly correctly, yet  with computer enhanced video, that some Chavez supporters carried arms and stones, above.  Assuming this is true, it is relatively non-violent, given the illegal military coup which appears to have been underway.  As I understand it, the march for Chavez resignation was given government permits for peaceful protest and a march along a route proposed by organizers and the trouble began when some protest leaders directed the group to the presidential palace, which is also the residence, which would have been illegal.  Also dubious is their claimed motivation for suspension of rule of law and Chavez' resignation: that the national oil company had interfered in something - but no details or plausible narrative is presented. With organized strikes, questionable military loyalties and apparent unrest, it is hard to understand how those who are protecting the president from a mob deliberately and illegally deviating in a threatening manner can be reasonably regarded as primary aggressors, anyway.  Were/are there violent Chavez supporters? Certainly.  This does not allow those of us really interested in truth to ignore much greater violence, crimes, or even provocation by one side or another.

The film claims protesters were attacked by Chavez supporters, which is probably true - but the defense argument is ALWAYS invoked for aggression.  Why should viewers take seriously the implication that Chavez and his supporters are more aggressive than the protesters?   This question is especially salient when the description of events are more biased, with less balance, and the language used is consistently even more prejudicial than that of "Revolution".

GMO Safety Defined as "Nutritional Equivalence"

As far as I can tell, the definitions of safety used by the scientific community are not the same as those used by the general public. The a...