Trouble For The Town That NASA Built?

Northrop Grumman Facebook Ad for Huntsville

As people in North Alabama go about their daily lives, they do so without an active press watching out for their best interests. There’s no real newspaper to speak of, as Huntsville’s a part of the AL.com franchise. Huntsville is a boom town that recently captured the title of Alabama’s biggest city from Birmingham, so it stands to reason that it would support efforts to keep an eye on all that money floating around. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and so residents here tend to whistle along in the hope that their leaders aren’t (just) in it for themselves. That’s what happens absent a press that takes its job seriously.

The emperor of Huntsville is NASA, and nobody here has the courage to call a boondoggle what it is, because it puts so much food in so many mouths that it would be inappropriate to say that NASA is leading the parade completely naked. There’s been a significant disruption to the space industry in the form of reusable boosters, led by Elon Musk and the team at Space‑X. While Huntsville relies on our government to support space efforts, the private sector is advancing by giant leaps and bounds.

NASA is well aware of what’s happening, as well as those in Congress who approve or disapprove the massive funding of NASA and NASA projects. SpaceX is winning NASA contracts with increasing frequency based on a history of innovation, expertise, and outstanding performance. When SpaceX won the $2.9 billion Artemis lunar lander contract over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, a Marshall Space Flight Center regular, Bezos sued NASA. The suit was tossed in court, and this was a bellwether event in U.S. space program history, although not publicly acknowledged in North Alabama.

NASA and Huntsville have long been the center of activity between the government and the private sector. One drive through Cummings Research Park, and you’ll see the logos of every private company involved in the U.S. space program, although many go back to the heyday of the race to space between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Huntsville is a museum for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs. The Saturn‑5 that stands along the interstate is a testimony to the gargantuan effort by Werner von Braun’s Nazi rocket team that led up to it and set the U.S. on the path to outer space dominance in a changing world. The problem is that the technology has passed us by. Being married to the archaic means we cannot — dare not — do anything that might conflict with the government. NASA is tied to taxpayers, and therein lies the real problem. U.S. Senators simply cannot continue to fund such a monster forever, and its end is likely to surprise everybody here, because no one’s really reporting about it. The government has watched as NASA has shifted its most precious cargo — astronauts — to SpaceX, which has handled the responsibility with class and perfection. SpaceX has successfully landed over 100 boosters, most of them via landing platforms at sea. Think about that for a minute. Its Falcon9 program has been incredibly successful, especially as it relates to delivering cargo and people to and from the International Space Station.

But what about Huntsville? It’s all hyperbole and golly gee about the Artemis program and its Space Launch System (SLS) approved by Congress and taxpayer-funded. It makes much more sense for NASA to invest in the real future instead of one that’s built on politics and warm, fuzzy memories of days gone by. Cost overruns for SLS and its contractors (here in Huntsville) are enormous and continuous, and the handwriting on the wall is not favorable for a reliable future for the space program in Huntsville. And all of this is taking place without the watchful eyes of even the hint of a questioning press.

Absent a vibrant local press, information becomes public relations or some other form of favorable propaganda. The Huntsville Business Journal, for example, is producing a 3‑part series “Huntsville Takes the Lead to ‘Rock-it’ Back to the Moon” that goes far beyond the make-up of a simple puff piece. It’s hard propaganda that sings the praises of Huntsville’s businesses who are living off the nipple of NASA’s money. Here are just a few quotes from the series:

…Today, a new generation of space explorers is taking over. They are watching and learning and building their own bright futures right here in the Rocket City. They are the Artemis generation, who will once again lead the way as America returns to the moon, this time with the Space Launch Systems (SLS) – the most powerful rocket ever developed…

…“Currently, the SLS program has contributed $2.4 billion to Alabama’s economy; 13,000 jobs across the state; and generated more than $55 million in state and local taxes,” Mayor (Tommy) Battle said. “When you look at how much it is adding to our economy and then look at what it is adding to the world, you realize we are doing something no one else can do, that we’ve done it before, and we are doing it again…

…Home to the propulsion systems associated with the rockets we currently fly, and every successful rocket we have flown in the past, the Rocket City is once again at the heart of world-changing feats and life and death-defying technology.

Rocket scientists here in Huntsville are already working on hardware for five iterations of the Artemis Space Launch Systems (SLS), America’s next generation exploration class rocket, and the only rocket that can fly the manned Orion spacecraft safety to the moon.

Fifteen percent more power than the Saturn V, the SLS is the only exploration class vehicle capable of sending humans into deep space along with large systems that are necessary to live and work in deep space.

And none of these missions can get off earth and escape earth’s gravity field without the SLS, managed and for a large part, built here in Huntsville!…

I hope you can see the denial present in this “news.” The Marshall Space Flight Center needs a rock solid relationship with SpaceX in order to continue with the moniker “Rocket City,” because Musk and others from the private sector (who worry about things like cost instead of just dipping into tax dollars for more) are taking over everything. Likewise, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center needs “used” SpaceX props for its museum. Without those show pieces, the place is, again, a museum about the early days of space.

What does exist of a “press” here in Huntsville seems completely sold on the idea that SLS, Artemis, and the Orion lander are the future of space. Meanwhile, the open nature of SpaceX’s work gives us daily views of what’s taking place in Boca Chica, Texas and the SpaceX Starship program. NASA funds some projects, including a Starship orbit around the moon. Elon Musk, however, has his sights set on Mars and colonizing the red planet. SpaceX has yet to test its genius Starship booster and Starship combination and is waiting for an environmental impact study from the FAA (which certainly has the ears of NASA) before approving a test flight of Booster 4 and Starship 20. This system will destroy the Huntsville claim that SLS is the most powerful rocket ever developed.

Government-generated environmental concerns have kept SpaceX from testing its innovative system, and there’s talk of delays and even moving from Boca Chica to the Florida space coast. Meanwhile, Huntsville holds its breath, for this event is likely to get ALL of the global attention of space industry watchers (including Congress) and firmly place SLS in the junk bin of technological disruption.

Generally speaking, the press outside Huntsville includes skepticism about SLS, but it’s not something you’ll receive here. The bane of local media is always its relationship with local advertisers, and this is no different. Local news departments, for example, stay away from complaints about car dealers, because sales departments would have a cow!

The SpaceX vision includes fuel tankers in space, space stations, and everything else that would be necessary for humans to become an interplanetary species. And Elon Musk’s primary concerns are the outer space aspirations of countries like China, Russia, and other U.S. (business) adversaries. SpaceX gladly embraces these challenges, while NASA and Huntsville are hung up on the costly and time-consuming elements of doing it the old way. The damage to North Alabama’s economy will eventually be devastating.

The Government Accounting Office’s 2021 NASA report will be out this Spring, and it will describe even greater cost-overruns, errors, and delays in the SLS program. There’s talk of another launch delay, possibly to the summer of 2022. In the end, SLS will deliver on its promise to send Americans back to the moon, but as each month passes, Huntsville sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire of yesterday when it comes to innovation and the future. There simply is no future in outer space without reusability, and that’s not what NASA is doing with SLS.

Behind all the public cheerleading for NASA, leadership here knows of what’s happening, and that may be the biggest story of all. Hush everybody, for as long as the emperor THINKS he’s clothed, what’s the problem?

The Postmodern Expertise Conundrum

Areas of expertise | Charles Darwin University

Here’s an interesting question for the experts of our world. What do you do when the knowledge you possess that qualifies you as an expert becomes common? Is your speciality really necessary anymore, or does it simply become a fish flopping around on the dock of life? Make no mistake; modernist views of expertise and its accompanying authority are being challenged and changed right before our eyes.

Experts are the high priests of the various institutional silos built by the management culture in its ongoing efforts to herd and control the rest of us. Authority is granted to those with assumed expertise, because in the modern world, expertise is the secret handshake of those who occupy the higher rungs on the hierarchical human ladder. They do not lead by innovation; they lead by managing existing systems. Order and safety are their public goals, but maintaining the status quo is their real purpose.

Let me refer once again to the profound statement by Henry Adams at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution: “The way of nature is change. The dream of man is order.” The order of the management culture produces a governor on everyone except the super rich, for they are the ones who demand (and need) the equilibrium that comes with order. Meanwhile, nature moves us forward, whether we like it or not.

What may seem like a political disagreement between well-intentioned activists is actually a profound struggle for preeminence in the reinvention of liberty for us in the West. Life (nature) is taking us into the unknown, and our response has been to elect a guy who knew how to ping all that fear in the name of authoritarian dominance. Since order benefits the wealthy, it’s also the core mission of the Silk Stocking Party, a.k.a. the GOP. Their law & order platform cares about nothing or nobody else, and it has driven our culture to the brink of collapse under the weight of trying to take us backwards in the name of order.

Therefore, one of the great enemies of postmodernism is this contemporary view of expertise.

Licensing based on one’s expertise is the purview of the haves, who believe they’ve earned the right (as in paid for it) to make the rules, because, through their expertise, they know better than others. Once one acquires status, one wishes to make sure one keeps it. Consequently, we’re forced to follow a set of rules that favor only those who have the resources to compete for positions of expertise within the culture.

This is one of the most difficult of concepts of modernity to deconstruct, because it seems so logical and reasonable. Logic and reason, however, are the twin gods of modernism and cannot be trusted as anything other that a self-centered method of “managing” one’s life through education. And then there are those whose credentials include a family name or famous roots. It’s the American way to struggle against the odds in achieving success, which is why the first job upon entering the secret handshake crowd is to prevent others from coming in behind you. No where is human nature more on display than with those who push their modernist expertise in other people’s faces. Such folks will trample all over everybody else to be first in line.

Expertise is not only easily corruptible, but it’s corrupt on its face, for one man’s expertise is another man’s homelessness. It’s why celebrities end up in prison for “buying” their children’s entry into Ivy League or other “good” schools. The only “why” that matters is to separate oneself from those beneath one’s place on the ladder.

Expertise requires a paradigm that’s always increasingly complex, ‘lest expert knowledge become common. Experts will always strive to expand and obscure the complexity for which they provide clarity (h/t Clay Shirky). For the consultant, it’s a paradox, for the more expertise they gain, the less they can share with their clients, because renewal of the expert’s contract is always job one. If their expertise becomes common, then their place in the world crumbles. Expertise will always defend itself, so as to never lose its fatted calf.

Credentials given by higher ups are what fuels expertise and governs it at the same time. Getting inside the protection of credentials is the number one path to success in our capitalist culture. And, some people will go to great lengths to acquire even the appearance of credentials. I know a woman who was trying to develop her own consulting and life coaching business, but she didn’t have recognized expertise to be taken seriously by potential clients. She knew that if she could only introduce herself as a doctor, everything would fall into place. Don’t get me wrong. This woman is very smart and has a big heart for women and girls who’ve been through sexual trauma. She’s naturally gifted when it comes to helping such people, and her work deserves to be acknowledged by our society. Why not? Because she lacked the proper credentials. So, she researched the easiest career path for which she could legally be called “doctor” and settled on a health doctorate in Global Health and Wholeness. Bing! Now, she’s “Doctor” in the world of trauma consulting. It’s a great story of how important those credentials are in the marketing of oneself as an expert.

Of course, experts will defend their credentials by stating the many ways people benefit from them, as if the rest of us don’t ever thank them for being so special. It’s a great argument to state that if you’re going to have brain surgery, you want the very best expert there is, but these kinds of obvious arguments are designed to dissuade ANY thinking to the opposite. Fortunately,

TV commercials have been known to pick on credentials for humor’s sake. The Holiday Inn overnight experts were funny, but my favorite is FedEx involving a new employee with an MBA who thinks he’s above doing shipping when asked by a coworker to help out. “Oh you have an MBA? I see. Well, in that case, I’m going to have to show you how it’s done.” We’ve all met or known people like this, because easy is very often the expectation of people fresh out of school. Education provides the idea of expertise, but it doesn’t take into account the innate ability in all of us to observe and learn.

Access to power became the private playground of expertise and is another reason the situation is so volatile today. Thus, our government and our press became servants of the haves, those who could buy influence through marketing and propaganda. This is the life we’ve lived ever since, until the internet.

People are better and more experienced at using the web every day, and that’s a big problem for modern expertise. The geeks built it, and that’s important. They were not controlled by big business and essentially built what they wanted for themselves. While it’s true that these people can build whatever you’d like, the problem is that once it’s in use, the copycats will follow. Humans are always better at copying than innovating.

And, today, everyone is marketing. Everyone is pushing and pressing the envelope of their place in the world. The coronavirus has exacerbated this by taking jobs away and forcing new players into the market. These new players have no choice, and they’re discovering completely new ways to support themselves. Who knew that Instagram Influencer would be an actual job description that anyone could attain? Who knew there were so many women (and men) willing to take their clothes off for people and get paid (rather well) for it? When you’re a single mom who just lost her job, it seems a reasonable way to feed your kids and pay the rent. This is all new under the sun, and every day that goes by with this virus makes more and more fertile ground for innovation.

Let’s face it. No mass marketer came up with YouTube. No existing expert ever saw the value of free. In 1995, the American Medical Association launched a new initiative to assure that only THEY could “practice medicine” online. Their site — WebMD — provides no medicine but lots of referrals to seeing “your” doctor instead. This is just one way that Western Institutions are fighting back, and it’ll work for awhile. Meanwhile, patient sites keep popping up, places where patients can meet other patients and talk about their treatments. It is arming patients with knowledge but causing problems for certain doctors who prefer that THEY be the only expert in the room.

Another word for expertise is authority, and when it begins to slip, there will be new authorities that rise to take their place. Always remember that we are on the leading edge of a change of eonic proportions. Like Dylan sang, “The times, they are a‑changin’.”

Autodidacts will have their day. They may have to prove their worth to us, but postmodernism favors experience over learning anyway. It’s going to be an interesting evolution to watch, because expertise isn’t going away; it’s just being redefined. The doctor is still the doctor, although his authority is not as absolute as it once was.

Just as movable type was coming into its own in the 15th Century, John Wycliffe was finishing his common English translation of the Bible, which brought forth this mysterious statement from him: “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” There followed the Reformation, and Wycliffe’s belief never really materialized, because newly-created hierarchies became, once again, the governing bodies of the faith. The era that followed was dedicated to the processes and systems of culture, dragging us all into the elevation of logic and reason, science and math, computers and technology.

The dawn of the web is often referred to as the “Second Gutenberg Moment” of Western Civilization, for as modernism was to the faith culture, so postmodernism will be for us today.

It will continue to change everything.

Dear Parents and Grandparents

The Scroggins Family of St. Louis

I want to speak to you here as a person with a peculiar study focus. I don’t know why or how, but I’m able to see what appears obvious to me, the birth and growth of the Postmodern Era in human history. Modernity with its logical systems focus has painted itself into a corner and must give way to the new. As modernity was birthed in the printing press, postmodernity was conceived and delivered from the womb of the web. I do not speak of philosophical postmodernism, but rather the changing of the eras in history. The mantra of modernity is “I think and reason, therefore I understand” but it has changed to “I participate, therefore I understand.”

Are you with me?

We must be able to see what’s coming in terms of the big things as this era develops further. We may not be around for the payoff that our children and grandchildren will experience, but there are ways we can equip ourselves to help them today, beginning with an acknowledgement that life is definitely changing. It’s super important for them to participate, even though we’re making this up as we go along.

We are all connected now. That means I can connect directly and sideways with everybody else or just a select few. This is something completely new, and we can’t even image how much life on earth is being and will be changed as a result.

First, a warning. You either do this for them, or somebody else — with less concern for their individuality — will do it for them, and this is not a best practice for tomorrow.

Even to the young man, let’s say, who’s only interested in working in the trades, either for somebody or as an independent contractor, even he will sink or swim on his ability to use the network effectively. It’s the way of future competition, and nobody will be exempt.

Our digital identities will actually be more important than what we know under the sun, and this is where we can help our progeny.

  • Equip them before they are even able to help themselves. Buy domains. Secure usernames. Sit with them and help them develop their online IDs. If they don’t control their own brands, someone else will do it for them.
  • Show them the dangers, but don’t dwell on it, for it’s their creativity that needs tapping more than their security needs protecting.
  • Teach them about links and how everything is linked together. Links are the currency of the web, and you need to teach them why. These links teach a practical lesson in deconstructionism, something that is of enormous value in helping our children shape their lives. It must be taught early and often.
  • Do not discourage their involvement in video games, because they teach mental and manual dexterity and mind-to-finger channeling, skills they will likely need downstream.
  • Teach them to avoid being herded into traps by the lust of their own eyes.
  • Buy a generator for your home, so you can teach the value of being prepared for anything.
  • Show them that their attention is the only real scarcity in the commerce that’s being brought into existence, and as Kevin Kelly says, “We should be paid for it.” This means that postmodern advertising will seek out customers and pay them to watch their ads. The logic of this is solid, but feathers will be ruffled in the process of its development.
  • Teach them to back-up their work before they go to bed at night. Use a form of a server in your home that can serve as storage and back-up for everything.
  • Put searchable books in your digital library, including everything they’ll need for school and the interests that they display.
  • Get them private lessons in Google/YouTube, coding, Photoshop, WordPress, and social media. There are people in your community who will do this on any level you wish.
  • Teach them to think of school as a place where they can practice their branding, to not be swayed by eyes that are being exposed to cultural fads and stereotypes. Just keep them pressing forwards.
  • Show them that the more dependent we become on electricity, the more vulnerable are EMP weapons. Personal protection against such will be a thriving business downstream. Think “shielding” or similar responses.
  • Teach them all you can about human nature, and how it doesn’t change in the digital world. Teach them to study the whys of human nature, which will open the door to better understanding motive. A certain degree of cynicism is healthy, because they will certainly be exposed to propaganda in their search for truth. Teach them discernment.
  • Personal branding belongs to each and every person on the block, and it’s perhaps the most important subject to learn while growing up.
  • Do not forsake teaching them grammar and good English, for technology is still learning nuance.
  • Teach them the true nature of God, for God is most certainly One who participates with us in our everyday lives and provides an internal governor for our behavior.

No matter how much modernist people insist that IRL is better than URL, we’re learning in the 21st-Century that the efficiencies of URL render much of life to be wasteful. Take the current kerfuffle over the Post Office and mail-in ballots. Do you honestly think we can’t eventually create a secure voting system online? The web may lose some of its anonymity, but would that really be all that bad?

I see the day when the opportunities of the web vastly outweigh concerns from our old ways of doing things. We will listen to the naysayers and thank them for their concern, but we must never put them in charge.

Modernity is done; long live the Age of Participation.

Are You (and your kids) TV Ready?

The seminal marketing (see Doc’s comment below) book for the digital age was The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 1999. The first thesis was “Markets are conversations,” and I immediately sensed that this line of thinking would become my own, for I couldn’t argue with the book’s wisdom. It is still highly relevant today, especially if you’re lacking some foundational thinking about the web. It’s available for free here.

Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” in 2004 and J.D. Lasica’s “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation” in 2005 were the first two books to generally describe the disruption of personal media. J.D., in fact, coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to tag what was about to descend upon our culture. And, oh boy, has it ever! I was so convinced of its certainty, that I dedicated many years to study it and report back to television clients about the enormity of it all.

Nobody cared. They were making too much money doing things the old way, and that was professional media’s great downfall. These executives could only see as far as their business model could carry them. They were married to one-to-many marketing and too blind to even see the disruption of targeting individual browsers. Online, I would tell them, afforded two-way advertising wherein the ad was served to eyeballs, but the server received information back from the ad. It was obvious to some of us that the pros were doomed.

When I was teaching college students, they’d ask, for example, what’s the best way to get to be a sportscaster? My response was always, “Just BE a sportscaster. Establish your brand. Blossom where you’re planted. You don’t need the institution to ‘do’ sports, not when you can do it on your own.”

The web loathes filters and their roadblocks, which it views as inefficient annoyances that serve no useful purpose. The web’s basic function is to connect people in a 3‑dimensional media form. It can be one-to-many, many-to-one, and most importantly, many to many, thus turning every browser into a form of media company itself, including the people formerly known as the advertisers.

The personal media revolution has advanced so far today (and it’s got a long, long way to go yet) that everyday people have been able to exploit the free time granted them through the coronavirus to explore beyond surfing or connecting via social media. No institution has been more impacted that adult entertainment. Yup, that’s right; good old porn. For the uneducated, Only Fans and many other similar sites offer software that enables anybody to become a porn star and get paid directly by the audiences they “serve.” This same concept is giving new light to each of the arts, and this is a good thing for our culture.

While this is highly chaotic to many other institutions of the West (and I could go on), but the aspect of this that needs the most discussion is how TV itself is being reinvented. The very definition of the TV is changing. In the beginning, it was reserved for broadcasters only. As each new form of video delivery appeared on the scene, they, too, were tagged (by the disruptors) as “TV.”

And today, YouTube is exploding with fresh content posted by this personal media revolution, and they are called “TV.” In the world of Reality TV, the vast majority of contestants are seasoned TV performers before they set foot on the set. In truth, those who apply to be on reality shows see the experience as a way to dramatically increase their individual influence on social media as experienced TV performers.

On the show Married at First Sight (MAFS), this same thinking applies, although this show can involve some very unusual contestants. Take Henry, of Henry and Christina, one of the couples married at first sight in the current season. Henry is, well, a little quirky with quite an awful set of parents who doubtless contributed to his lack of social skills. Reddit, that online gathering of talkative people with opinions who enjoy the company of others of a similar ilk, has a whole section on MAFS.

One Redditor (as they’re called) who goes by NoWayJeFe, had this to say about Henry: “Decent guy just not TV ready.” It would seem being “TV ready” is a prerequisite for appearing on these sorts of shows, but it speaks volumes about where we are as a society. It would seem that from the earliest years, kids are now learning how to be “TV ready” from the time they face their first cameras and microphones, even if it’s just an iPad.

There’s the Barbie TV News Team dolls, where little girls can pretend to be the real thing. Take a quick look at YouTube’s kids channels, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids playing TV. It’s almost a rite of passage these days, and in so doing, these kids and teens are learning what we all have known for a long time in the world of television news: it’s just not all that hard to do. Sorry if I’m toe-stepping here, but it’s just much, much easier than all the “broadcast” schools would have us believe. I mean, where’s the money for an industry that can be easily duplicated with an iPhone?

Think TV has shot its wad in 2020? Think again, because there are no rules to these youngsters as they invent their own uses for the video medium. They start by copying but soon move to innovating. Those who pretend its rocket science are slowly going to fade into the setting sun.

To parents and grandparents, are your kids TV ready? If not, that would be a great investment for their future. Get them what they need to make media. Buy usernames or obtain them for free on the various sites that require them. They will fight their own media wars downstream, and those who’ve been properly prepared will have a head start.

But what do I know, right? We’ll see. Maybe I won’t see how far it goes, but you certainly may. And, those kids of yours will be the ones who’ll need these skills the most.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey local TV. This remains a viable business opportunity. You balked at it all those years ago, but it’s still there. Who better to teach local people to be TV ready than local TV?)

The Re-Rise of the Newsletter

The professional news industry is being forced to return to its roots by a world it doesn’t — and probably never will — fully understand. It began with the industry’s initial response to the digital disruption, which was to reproduce its entire finished product for the web. The web, however, wasn’t built by newspapers; it was built by highly creative and rebellious geeks who changed the world without the status quo telling them it needed changing.

The web was a brand new communications invention, not a new distribution channel for old ways of doing things, and in missing this truth, the industry was completely lost. The newspaper people wanted to present their finished product online, but the geeks knew from the start that this was inefficient and a cheap substitute for what was possible.

Blog software, with its reverse chronological flow, came first, quickly followed by ways to distribute content apart from its host. Social media is, at core, the news “audience” talking amongst themselves, which was contrary to the top-down relationship that the press had with its readers. The shift to mobile brought new challenges, the biggest being a playing field built around scrolling and video in portrait mode. News drifted away from the finished product variety and into the world of continuous news.

Of course, the biggest disruptor by far was how advertising was changing to adapt to the new, and a realization that smart marketers could provide ads at the browser level and based on the behaviors of that browser. This offered a much greater likelihood of advertiser return-on-investment. History books will cite this as causing the death of newspapers, but it’s really more a case of ignorance, for newspapers still lack the technology and the networks to provide this to local advertisers. The industry has ceded defeat to Google without even firing a shot.

And, now comes the newest era of the email newsletter, a technology that’s been around since the dawn of email but generally only used to provide links to the industry’s “real” content online. The shift today, however, includes those who give the energy it takes to produce actual content for newsletters, and it’s a godsend to overwhelmed news consumers. This trend is going to continue until a company’s online newsletter will become the primary method that news organizations use to disseminate news and information.

People can pass them around, which often results in new subscribers.

The first trader newsletters during the Middle Ages — actual letters from observers in far away places — were the precursor to the newspaper industry. Wikipedia notes that “Trader’s newsletters covered various topics such as the availability and pricing of goods, political news, and other events that would influence trade.” This is the essence of today’s developing process, and it suits not only the web’s unique abilities but also that most precious of earthly commodities: time.

I’ll be 74 this summer, and I spend most of my days online in an endless search for knowledge. Even with all that time, I still feel uninformed, because studying modern times is like trying to take a sip from a firehose. It’s the primary reason I’ve turned to newsletters. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Here are five newsletters that hit my inbox overnight or every morning:

The New York Times: While this is primarily a tool to “drive traffic” back to its newspaper site, the content is growing to include small story summaries throughout. It’s a way to follow the Times without subscribing to its main product.

Mondoweiss: I have family of Palestinians that lived in Amman, Jordan for a great many years, so my window on the Middle East is a little different than most. I don’t trust the Israeli’s, and I need an outlet that understands this. Mondoweiss is a terrific example of a point-of-view news organization that represents an extreme minority in the West. I need that to stay informed.

Dave Winer: Dave is one of the real gems in providing important technology news in a highly conversational format. I also really like Dave as a person, and his takes on life in general also give me food for thought. Dave’s is a constant voice on Twitter, and he uses his newsletter to summarize those thoughts. Moreover, and this is important, Dave is always a yard ahead of everybody else, and if he’s taking the trouble to produce a newsletter, it’s something that requires my attention.

Mathew Ingram: Mathew provides summaries and links to the stories he finds important. I trust Mathew and lean on his understanding to help my own.

Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy: CNN’s Reliable Sources is (by a mile) the most useful contemporary newsletter in the market today. It is the model for others to copy, for it’s loaded with content written for readers of the newsletter. What a concept! Oh, it contains marketing and links, but it is written to be read, and the summaries are specifically aimed at people such as myself and all of those who just don’t have the time to invest in reading complete stories.

There are many others out there, and I’ll probably be extending my subscription list as I find those suited to my tastes. The point is that I get to decide what I wish to influence my thinking, not the forced and irritating offerings of the artificial and manipulative hegemony known as objectivity. That old standard disappeared with the advent of continuous streams of news. Journalism has always spoken with the authority of overseers, which is the luxury afforded to those who could afford a printing press. Today, every single person on the net is a media company and able to distribute their content just like the big boys.

To those who would drag out the ol’ echo chamber meme to accuse me of circular logic, let me state once again that my experience in helping to create right wing news means that I know that it’s just political propaganda disguised as news. Give me a little credit for that tidbit, because I’ve already turned the page on it.

If you don’t subscribe to newsletters, my advice is to begin today. Click on the links I’ve provided, if you’re interested in those. If you find yourself being fed content that you find bitter or tasteless, unsubscribing is just a click away.

To those in the news industry, if you don’t produce a newsletter, what are you waiting for? The only rules are that it can’t be a vehicle that merely “drives traffic” back to its point of origin, and ads should be presented as content, perhaps even written by the newsletter’s author(s).

War Propaganda as “Weaponized Narrative”

Weaponized Narrative Is the New Battlespace is a fascinating and highly perceptive take on the use of manipulating narrative to impact culture. The idea is that individuals, institutions, and nations are using disinformation campaigns to manipulate others to their bidding through the creation of easy-to-understand stories that support the interests of the storyteller. Technology is the bad guy.

Weaponized narrative seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

The efforts to muscle into the affairs of the American presidency, Brexit, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and NATO reflect a shift to a “post-factual” political and cultural environment that is vulnerable to weaponized narrative.

The writers, however, Brad Allenby and Joel Garreau, oo-directors of The Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center on the Future of War, a partnership of Arizona State University and the Washington think tank New America, make four critical errors in their own narrative.

  1. The most glaring is that the entire concept is framed within a modernist world view where top-down, one-to-many-communications is the operating mechanism for communicating deceit. This embraces the worship of order, the vision of a psychopath (benevolent or otherwise) seated at a command and control desk pushing levers this way and that with a sinister smile enveloping a cigarette that appears to have been there for at least a week. Elevating this to an act of war is old wine in new wineskins, because reality isn’t nearly as Orwellian as the fear-mongers would have us believe.
  2. The second error works with the first. It’s a blindness to the disruption created by the bottom of today’s communications pyramid being able to talk with each other and back “up” to the top. This ability turns mass marketing on its head, although you’d be hard-pressed to find any institution that will embrace it. Some political types are tapping the space, but it is always with the assumption that it can be used to get others to pass their narrative around. This is just more modernist thinking, and the future will include educating the bottom in such a way that fooling them will get more and more difficult. I realize some will call this utopian, because it’s too chaotic and we still live in a time where a disruption to order can only be dystopian. I reject this assumption. At best, therefore, this “weaponized narrative” is temporary and not systemic, as the writers believe.
  3. Thirdly, while presented as something new, it really isn’t. Controlling narrative has been around for centuries. It was practiced by the Roman Church until the printing press allowed the laity to access that which had been reserved for the priesthood, and everything changed. It was called “propaganda” by the father of public relations Edward Bernays, a social engineer who used a form of weaponized narrative on behalf of his clients, including the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Bernays was a member of the Creel Committee, organized by Woodrow Wilson to help America justify getting into World War I. If this isn’t “weaponized narrative,” I don’t know what it is.
  4. Finally, how does one pen an article about weaponized narrative without mentioning the real experts at the practice, Israel? The fear of being tagged antisemite blocks all reason when it comes to investigating this phenomenon, for not only is Israel writing the book on how to weaponize narrative, they are doing it in full view of everybody. Within the public information office of the State of Israel are special departments who work with companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to quash anything they view as “incitement” against the crimes they commit daily in the Middle East. This is a frightening reality, for Israel can turn any event into self-defense, regardless of the heinousness of crime. It truly boggles the mind that two highly intelligent people can publish an introductory article on a concept so important without even a mention of the successful efforts of hasbara.

The article also presents America as behind other players in the world in this skill, but the jury is still out on that one. It’s self-serving in the spirit of the Shirky Principle, for the effort the writers are leading attempts to understand weaponized narrative and present solutions. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here, for the article really does present some brilliant thinking and prose:

Narrative is as old as tribes. Humans are pattern-seeking storytelling animals. We cannot endure an absence of meaning. Rather than look up at the distribution of lights in the night sky and deal with randomness, we will eagerly connect those dots and adorn them with the most elaborate – even poetic – tales of heroes and princesses and bears and dippers. We have a hard-wired need for myth. Narrative is basic to what it means to be human.

It’s easy to critical, but this is not nitpicking. The solution to any form of totalitarianism is along the bottom of the new communications pyramid, and I don’t think these manipulative storytellers can count on ignorance forever.

BONUS LINK:  U.S. To Build A “Weaponized Narrative” Into The Future Of War