December 4, 2006
The Iraq Study Unconference
James Joyner asks in TCSDaily why we haven't learned yet that commissions are a horrible idea:
The idea that blue ribbon committees of greybeards can come up with novel ways of solving problems that everyone would then agree on has long had great appeal. We're positively overrun with the Blue Ribbon Panel on This and the Bipartisan Commission on That.
Just a quick Google search reveals the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (aka "The 9-11 Commission"), the National Commission on Social Security Reform (not to be confused with the 1998 National Commission on Retirement Policy or the 2001 President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security), the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, the Commission on No Child Left Behind, and the bipartisan Commission to Strengthen Confidence in Congress. The gold standard has to be the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was headed by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. It just doesn't get any more bipartisan, moderate, and statesmanlike!
[ . . . ]
Any solution that Baker, Hamilton, and their colleagues could agree to was destined to be so watered down as to be meaningless. Get more international cooperation! Make the Iraqi leadership take responsibility! Make a more concerted effort to solve the Palestinian crisis! Because nobody currently in office ever thought of those things?
The post "History's End, History's Beginning" considered whether states might benefit from decentralizing and networking much of their operations. If so, then perhaps commissions could be replaced with "unconferences." Wikipedia defines them thus:
An unconference is a conference where the content of the sessions is driven and created by the participants, generally day-by-day during the course of the event, rather than by a single organizer, or small group of organizers, in advance. To date, the term is primarily in use in the geek community. Unconference processes like Open Space Technology, however, have been around for over 20 years in other contexts.For a subject like Iraq, the key would be to include more people, some younger people, and then only give them a few days instead of several months. Unconferences have become very popular in the tech world. Software developer and investor Dave Winer has written this:
The idea for an unconference came while sitting in the audience of a panel discussion at a conference, waiting for someone to say something intelligent, or not self-serving, or not mind-numbingly boring. The idea came while listening to someone drone endlessly through PowerPoint slides, nodding off, or (in later years) checking email, or posting something to my blog, wondering if it had to be so mind-numbingly boring. This observation may turn out to be the Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences:So what to do?The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.It’s probably much worse than that. My guess is that if you swapped the people on stage with an equal number chosen at random from the audience, the new panelists would effectively be smarter, because they didn’t have the time to get nervous, to prepare PowerPoint slides, to make lists of things they must remember to say, or have overly grandiose ideas about how much recognition they are getting. In other words, putting someone on stage and telling them they’re boss probably makes them dumber. In any case it surely makes them more boring.
First, you take the people who used to be the audience and give them a promotion. They’re now participants. Their job is to participate, not just to listen and at the end to ask questions. Then you ask everyone who was on stage to take a seat in what used to be the audience. Okay, now you have a room full of people, what exactly are they supposed to do? Choose a reporter, someone who knows something about the topic of discussion (yes, there is a topic, it’s not free-form) and knows how to ask questions and knit a story together.Sounds much more interesting than the things most conferences produce. John Steinbeck once did a little riff on parties:
Real reporters are often the best discussion leaders. Put your DL at the front of the room, with a mike in hand. A couple of people roam the room with handheld wireless mikes to put in the face of the people who are speaking. No one lines up for a mike. Think Donahue or Oprah. The DL’s job is is to craft a story from the expertise in the room. Everyone is a source, about to be interviewed by someone who’s listening. The DL may actually call on people, so no one should get the idea that they can fall asleep or daydream. Pay attention, you might be the next speaker!
. . . And it is also generally understood that a party hardly ever goes the way it is planned or intended. This last, of course, excludes those dismal slave parties, whipped and controlled and dominated, given by ogreish professional hostesses. These are not parties at all but acts and demonstrations, about as spontaneous as peristalsis and as interesting as its end product.Mr. Steinbeck, I give you the Iraq Study Group.
October 9, 2006
Carolina FreedomNet Report
Well, this weekend found me in Greensboro at Carolina FreedomNet 2006, which was a great event. The John Locke Foundation was a great host, and the participating bloggers were all very interesting folks. I encourage visits to their own sites:
Scott Johnson of Power Line hardly needs any introduction: Power Line was at the very center of the controversy over Dan Rather's faked National Guard memos in 2004. Scott was a very unassuming and couteous guy, a real pleasure to meet.
In his lunchtime address, Scott Johnson mentioned the similarities between the pamphleteers of the pre-Revolutionary period in America and blogging today. Strangely, he did so by quoting the book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Strange because I did so myself in 2005, also in reference to a blog conference. I guess it shows that great minds think alike!
I won't do a comprehensive overview of the content of the conference, but I will be doing a post or piece about it a bit later. One conversation in particular was very thought-provoking.
October 3, 2006
Don't Forget CarolinaFreedomNet 2006!
Coming up this weekend: Carolina FreedomNet2006, where I'll be a panelist, along with a number of other bloggers from both within NC and without. The keynote speaker will be Scott Johnson of Powerline. The price is a reasonable $25. Come one, come all!
(I guess I should note that none of that $25 goes to me; it just pays for all the logistics.)
September 7, 2006
Dispatches from the Defense Forum
The Defense Forum of 2006 was an outstanding event and I'd like to thank the US Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association for making it possible for me to attend.
If any Loyal Readers are interested, here are the pieces I wrote from the conference for Pajamas Media:
First Dispatch: about the remarks of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Giambastiani.
Second Dispatch: about a panel on the progress of the Long War.
The Third Dispatch discusses both the remarks of Tom Ricks, and a panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The final dispatch recounts the final panel, about lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's lots of good stuff in there!
September 4, 2006
Defense Forum Washington 2006
Tomorrow (Tuesday the 5th), I'll be attending the Defense Forum in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Marine Corps Association and the US Naval Institute, two outstanding professional organizations for the Naval services.
While there, I'll be sending email dispatches throughout the day to Pajamas Media, so look for updates on their homepage.
The schedule of events looks really interesting and I'm especially looking forward to the panels entitled "The Long War: Where Are We Now?" and "Fighting on the Terrorists’ Turf: Lessons Learned in Iraq & Afghanistan and the Gap Between Expectations and Realities".
If there's a chance during the panel discussions, I'll be sure to ask a question or two from the back of the room. If any readers have questions you'd like me to try to address, please send them on to my email account, listed in the sidebar to the right.
I'll be attempting to file my dispatches while using my Motorola RAZR phone in a modem capacity for my laptop. There's a backup if it doesn't work, but it will be pretty cool if it does!