We Have Them Surrounded in Their Tanks

by Jordan Peacock on September 17, 2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and hewhocutsdown.net.

“We have them surrounded in their tanks.”

So spoke Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the infamous Iraqi Information Minister in the first days of the American invasion. His missives should be an inspiration to public relations personnel everywhere; he was unshakably on-message even as the foundations on which he stood collapsed. His clueless investment in Saddam Hussein’s regime ended swiftly but not poorly (he was reportedly captured and released by the Americans, and is now living in the United Arab Emirates).

Muhammad was a true believer in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government, and its collapse was inconceivable. In this respect his belief functioned much like that of those apocalypticists whose rapture passes them by, an evaporative cooling effect separating the doubtful from the doubling-down. al-Sahhaf was clueless to be sure, but clueless need not mean unintelligent, nor is the ability to stay on message dependent upon cluelessness.

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Geopolitics for Individuals

by Kartik Agaram on September 9, 2014

Kartik is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf at akkartik.name.

I recently spent a month playing a board game called Diplomacy, and it turned out to be a surprisingly mind-broadening experience. Pretending to be the German Empire before the First World War, exchanging missives all day with the other “great powers” of that time, finalizing troop dispositions before the daily deadline, and then seeing everybody’s moves revealed at once, finding out who lied, who was betrayed, it’s all very dramatic and addictive. It took me a while to realize (rationalize?) why its hold over me was so persistent: it was because it was getting me to grow intellectually as only a few other games have done in my life. Chess taught me to think “a few moves ahead” past the immediate exigencies of any situation. Poker taught me to manage risk when the future is uncertain. Diplomacy is starting to teach me to extend these ideas past the “kiddie pool” of games where you’re playing against coherent opponents. It repeatedly exposes one, like a school of hard knocks, to stable situations that are rendered unstable by the entrance of a new player.

There’s a faint echo of this effect in the chess-like two-player game of Go.

Go position

“Go is to Western chess what philosophy is to double-entry accounting.” — Trevanian

Learning Go, you repeatedly find yourself in situations that seemed stable, where you were holding your own, that are thrown into disarray by distant parts of the board.

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How to Fall Off the Wagon

by Venkat 09.03.2014

Self-help ideas generally belong to one of three schools of thought, whether the originators realize it or not: values-first, goals-first or process-first. Norman Vincent Peale (Power of Positive Thinking, 1952), Wayne W. Dyer (Erroneous Zones, 1976) and David Allen (GTD, 2002) are the authors of the pioneering mainstream classics of each sub-genre. Those dates are significant: the schools […]

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The Creation and Destruction of Habits

by Venkat 08.26.2014

Just for fun, I decided to try and weave a tweetstorm-style chain of thoughts through a chunk of my writing over the last few years. As you might expect, it isn’t exactly short, but at 42 tweet-sized chunks, it’s a decent feat of compression. I’ll spare my twitter followers the actual storm though. 1/ There are […]

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The Veil of Scale

by Venkat 08.20.2014

There’s an old Soviet-era joke about communist notions of sharing. Two party workers, let’s call them Boris and Ivan, are chatting: Boris: If you had two houses, would you give one to your comrade? Ivan: Of course! Boris: If you had two cars, would you give one to your comrade? Ivan: Without a doubt! Boris: […]

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The Economics of Pricelessness

by Venkat 08.12.2014

The digital economy has taught us a lot about one extreme of pricing: zero. The price-point of zero is a place where weird things happen. We now know what it is to have our attention productized in three-way attention markets. We understand what it means to  devalue to a zero price, things which required nonzero effort to […]

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Seoul Station

by Venkat 08.06.2014

More fiction. Because I can. And because it’s August and all of you are probably off vacationing anyway. If you think it’s unsettling to suddenly find yourself in a strange place, with no idea how you got there, try doing it with no idea where you came from. With no sense of there having even […]

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The Heirloom Lounge

by Venkat 07.30.2014

A short story. A sci-fi short story. A kitchen-sink sci-fi short story. You’ve been warned. The flight had been delayed for another hour and my glasses had just been bricked by yet another update. Plus the rim was cracked from when I’d sat on it earlier. There was a printing and service station at the other […]

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Structure Follows Context

by Venkat 07.23.2014

I like mirroring principles in business a lot. My two favorite ones in business are Conway’s Law (product structure follows organizational structure) and Chandler’s Law (structure follows strategy). In conversations about business in recent years, I’ve been adding two more principles to complete a loop of sorts: market structure follows product structure and strategy follows […]

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Close Encounters of the Missing Kind

by Venkat 07.16.2014

My daily routine is a strange attractor.  Every morning, I decide whether to hit one of the cafes on my regular circuit or work at the desk I rent from a local business. After lunch, and sometimes a nap, I pick a different location for my second work session. My most frequent cafe choices are as follows: […]

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