An Introduction: The Complex Terrain Network

The CTLab’s Review is very much a bloggers’ blog, as opposed to the op-ed and think-type pieces in the Notebook blog, or the various other media formats with which we’re planning on experimenting. It’s built around contributors who are and remain accomplished bloggers in their own rights, the point of it all being that it extends the conceptual tether beyond what CTLab might ordinally attempt as a university-based research unit (which is necessarily broad to begin with). I haven’t written about or addressed the idea of the complex terrain network (CT-NET? TCTN?) before. But if one were to think of the external and independent vehicles of CTLab’s contributors as nodes in an eclectic, elaborate, distributed architecture of percolating concepts, then we’re getting somewhere. I’ll suggest here that CTLab’s citizen media experiments constitute a nexus of sorts for what might eventually morph into a full blown CT-NET/TCTN, made up of  much wider range or contributors and thinkers. What follows in this post is the first of what should become a weekly selection and summary of CT-NET offerings.

CTLab editor Tim Stevens has a brilliant piece of relevant historical color at Ubiwar entitled “Frank Lloyd Wright, Visions of Baghdad“,  on the late architect’s “Plan for a Greater Baghdad”. An excerpt:

It’s a little known fact that the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was involved in plans to modernise the Iraqi capital Baghdad. He visited the city in May 1957, as an old man nearing his 90th birthday and, inspired by both Arab and Persian art and architecture, began to draft a series of blueprints for a new city.

Then monarch King Faisal II invited several prominent architects to contribute ideas to establish Baghdad as a modern world city. This included Le Corbusier, Gio Ponti and Walter Gropius. Faisal was assassinated in 1958, after which a military junta seized power, setting the scene for the modern history of Iraq with which we are depressingly familiar. None of Wright’s buildings were ever constructed, the new revolutionary government deeming them “too grandiose”, although some of the other plans were later implemented: Gropius’ Baghdad University (1960), Ponti’s Ministry of Planning building (1958), and a Le Corbusier sports hall (the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium, erected in 1981).

Lloyd Wright’s “Plan for Greater Baghdad” was drawn up over the course of several months following his visit, and his romantic vision drew heavily on the myth and memory of Harun al-Rashid, the 8th century caliph under whom Baghdad rose to pre-eminence as the regional cultural and political capital in the Islamic period. That Baghdad was destroyed in 1258 by the Mongols, but has remained alive in the Arab memory ever since.

In “Beyond Nihilism, the Bloggable Future,” Tim notes that “As someone who is both employed in internet research and writes for two blogs, I often feel like a slave to the screen.” We know he’s not suggesting the consequence of this is an emergent radicalization against his oppressors – we’re truly grateful, albeit in a non-fiduciary sort of way…


The seduction of the mutual hyperlink, Technorati, traffic reports and Alexa rankings. The panic that comes of finding two thousand unread posts in your RSS reader, the perception that you are falling behind in your responsbilities to your Feedburner fans. And all the while not producing anything of original worth, merely reproducing the tired and, in the zero-time of the internet, old? I’ve always thought that ‘adding value’ to every link posted was one way of mitigating for lack of originality , and I’ve tried to adhere to that vague formula. I confess to feeling uncomfortable when not linking to something, which is perhaps an academic failing – the necessity to scrupulously cite one’s sources lest you be accused of plagiarism. But when the whole world is hyperlinked, who’s to say what is plagiarism and what is coincidence?

Matt Armstrong’s got a thick list of offerings this week at his public diplomacy blog, MountainRunner. Don’t neglect the radio show The Sound of Science that features Matt as a guest expert on robots in war, as well as a post on how the U.S. election is portrayed to the rest of the world. Kudos also to Matt, who shares something that he calls shameless self-promotion, but that others might suggest is a valuable lesson learned (where’s Drezner on this one?) – on the value of some blogs, and of subject matter experts and scholars who blog despite a pervasive and stifling anti-blog mentality that treats it as an untoward thing for serious people to be doing… here it is: a note of thanks sent to Matt from an individual who relied on the MountainRunner blog as a study aid for his successful application to become a Foreign Service Officer:

I have recently received a conditional offer of employment from the Foreign Service in the Public Diplomacy career track, and am undergoing the clearance process (ugh!).  Your site was a HUGE help in my prep for the oral assessment, not only as a research resource, but also to broaden, stimulate and challenge my thinking about PD.  I know it must not be easy to keep posting while you’re busy with other things, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts.  One of these days I’d like to thank you in person, hopefully as a colleague.

At Zenpundit, con
tributor Mark Safranski notes a number of issues, including Barrack Obama’s “national security working group,”  the “Spread of 5GW Terminology,” and “Mao Zedong and 4GW.” He also comments on a forthcoming RUSI journal review essay by LTC John Nagl. Excerpt:

Fielding first rate conventional militaries of local or regional “reach” are inordinately expensive propositions and only the United States maintains one with global power projection capabilities and a logistical tail that can fight wars that are both far away and of long duration.  Economics, nuclear weapons, asymmetrical disparities in conventional firepower, globalization and the revolution in information technology that permits open-source warfare have incentivized warfare on the cheap and stealthy at the expense of classic state on state warfare. The predictions of Martin van Creveld in The Transformation of War are coming to pass – war has ratcheted downward from armies to networks and blurs into crime and tribalism. In this scenario, kinetics can no longer be neatly divorced from politics – or economics, sociology, history and culture. “Legitimacy”, stemming from getting actions on the mental and moral levels of war right, matter tremendously.

Go read the whole thing – and don’t miss the extended discussion that follows.

Now, if I could only get something out of HOTS.

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