The horror, one man at a time

Colonel Kurtz, Apocalyspe Now, quoted in the comments of a truly grim War Nerd post on “Af-Pak: Losing the Long War, One Man at A Time” (Do NOT watch the graphic video).

I’ve seen horrors … horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that … but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face … and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember … I … I … I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized … like I was shot … like I was shot with a diamond … a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God … the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men … trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love … but they had the strength … THE STRENGHT … to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral … and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling … without passion … without judgment … without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.

From: The War Nerd On Af-Pak: Losing the Long War, One Man at A Time – By Gary Brecher – The eXiled

The green rooftops of Copenhagen

Copenhagen currently has about 30 planted rooftops. In future there will be vastly more.

The City of Copenhagen’s has decreed that any new flat roof with a slope less than 30 degrees must be planted with green vegetation.

The new guidelines make the capital to the holder of the world’s most ambitious policy on green roofs.

Only Toronto in Canada is approaching the level of ambition with its requirement that all new flat roofs must partially planted.

Engineering and Environmental Mayor Bo Aamus Kjeldgaard is excited about the new green policies.

“I have the goal that the whole of Copenhagen will be much greener, and that the green roofs will give CO2 savings ‘, he said.

The plants on the roofs also insulate against cold and heat, allowing the  building to conserve energy. It should help the municipality to achieve its objective to be CO2 neutral in 2025.

Furthermore, the plants will clean urban air and act as absorbent sponges when it rains, so sewers and sewage plants will be less loaded.

It is estimated that green rooftops will grow at a rate of about 5000 square meters per year.

The new guidelines do nit require that the roofs should be accessible, it will be up to developers to decide whether they will seize the opportunity to create recreational areas with views of Copenhagen.

Today Copenhagen has about 200,000 square meters of flat roof space, but the new political initiative contains no requirement that they be planted.

The government feels it cannot compel building owners to plant green roofs, but it can educate owners to the benefits and demystify the risks.

The municipality is providing incentive funds for those who want to convert their roofs to gardens.

Creating a green roof is slightly more expensive than conventional roof solutions. It costs around 500 kroner (£50) more per square meter, equivalent to about 0.5 percent above the total construction costs – calculated for buildings above three storeys.

“For the small additional investment you get in return a roof with a double life and a building that is future proof in terms of environmental requirements”, says Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard.

The policy is being welcomed by Copenhageners, being described by Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard “crazy hip”.

From Københavns huse skal have stenurt og husløg på toppen –

Kosovo’s shame debt growing fast

Another day, another attack on Serbs in Kosovo, this time Serb returnees trying to resettle in their homeland.

It has been over a decade since Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo after the NATO bombing ended with UN Resolution 1244 .

In that 10 years, the International community, the Kosovo Albanian majority and the Kosovo government have completely failed the Serb, Roma and Gorani minorities in Kosovo.

These minorities have suffered multiple pogroms, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, intimidation, violent attacks, interruption of basic services and near constant abuse at the hands of ethnic Albanian politicians, criminals, paramilitaries and mobs.

It is worth reminding ourselves what Resolution
promised, especially with regard to security and rights.

Here are selections from two paragraphs  (emphasis mine):

9. Decides that the responsibilities of the international security presence to be deployed and acting in Kosovo will include:

(a) Deterring renewed hostilities, maintaining and where necessary enforcing a ceasefire, and ensuring the withdrawal and preventing the return into Kosovo of Federal and Republic military, police and paramilitary forces, except as provided in point 6 of annex 2;
(c) Establishing a secure environment in which refugees and displaced persons can return home in safety, the international civil presence can operate, a transitional administration can be established, and humanitarian aid can be delivered;
(d) Ensuring public safety and order until the international civil presence can take responsibility for this task;
(h) Ensuring the protection and freedom of movement of itself, the international civil presence, and other international organizations;

11. Decides that the main responsibilities of the international civil presence will include:

(i) Maintaining civil law and order, including establishing local police forces and meanwhile through the deployment of international police personnel to serve in Kosovo;
(j) Protecting and promoting human rights;
(k) Assuring the safe and unimpeded return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo;

Most Serb, Gorani and Roma refugees cannot return home to Kosovo. Those that do are, like all minorities in Kosovo, are subject to violent attacks, intimidation and discrimination.

In addition to the violence, there is low level harassment and intimidation, ranging from having basic utilities cut off (Electricity and Mobile Phone coverage) through to more serious human rights abuses.

Minority communities do not have freedom of movement nor pubic safety. NATO troops need to camp next to Serb villages to guard then against mobs or paramilitary forces taking pot-shots at Serb villagers. Buses are stoned, landmines are laid to
obstruct returnees convoys, people are beaten up and knifed as they walk home, petrol bombs are thrown at houses, there are drive-by shootings.  

All of this has happened since the war was ostensibly over. The worst thing is that this is still going on, 10 years later, and there is very little sign that things are getting any better for the minority communities.

So whilst we acknowledge the crimes of the Milosevic regime committed a decade ago, and we must still account for that crimes of that regime, but we must hold the Kosovo Government and Kosovo Albanian people to account for what has happened and continues to happen now in their country.

The crimes of Yugoslav forces 10 years ago are not and have never been an excuse for the continuing brutal treatment of non-Albanian minorities in Kosovo.

If these Human Rights abuses continue against Kosovo minorities, we should start preparing a cell for Kosovo Prime Minister Thraci at the Hague. 

Perhaps in 10 years we will have apologetic Kosovo Albanians denouncing “the Thraci regime” and acknowledging with shame the crimes committed in their name?

The decent Albanian people of Kosovo need to speak up and act. Their country is widely seen as an absolute disaster. It is riddled with corruption, with no real economy and it is an international organised crime hotspot. Add into that gross Human rights abuses of minorities and one has to wonder: Why do Kosovo Albanians deserve help and support? It is a question being asked in capitals around the world.

Its central role in Human Trafficking alone should be enough to agitate decent people of Kosovo into a frenzy of action.  One day Human Trafficking and its attendant sex slavery, child rape, mass exploitation and murder, will be considered one of the most shameful practices in the modern era.  When the history books are written, Kosovo will be central to the that story, and like the Atlantic slave trade, it will be a badge of shame for generations. Right now you are collaborationists with a regime that tolerates slavery and human rights abuses.

So Kosovan’s, what is happening now in your country is deeply wrong and will haunt you forever. Stop pointing at the past, and what you suffered. That is no excuse. You are accumulating shame. Your history is being blighted by your crimes.  Do something about it.

Design Thinking

I am currently crunching through Steve Litt’s brilliant series of books on Troubleshooting. I am hugely into general problem solving frameworks and his Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP) is one of my favourites.

Today, whilst clearing my backlog on Instapaper I came across this piece on legendary design firm IDEO. They use a simply process called “Design Thinking” that they claim is at the heart of their stunning successes:

Practically speaking, the approach isn’t complicated. In stages, it goes like this: firstly, immersion, whereby the designers research the problem by plunging themselves into it – talking to the people they’re trying to help, working with them, interviewing experts. Secondly, synthesis – whereby they gather together their findings and look for patterns. Third, ideation – brainstorming solutions to the real problems identified by stage two. Then comes prototyping, making mock-ups of solutions to try out against the problem. After that comes the product. Only at the end, at the prototyping stage, are judgements made; until then, all ideas are given equal weight.

This methodology is radical in that it differs from traditional approaches to business strategy in two key ways. Whereas in many companies the concept for a new product may have already been based on, say, an idea from the marketing department with a designer later brought in to make it look pretty, design thinking places the designer at the heart of the innovation process. Secondly, the methodology gives a firm framework within which a wider team can work. It takes the cliché of the lone creative mind being struck with genius, and replaces it with a process that a whole team can follow. Creativity, therefore, isn’t a thing that magically appears, but a process you work through.

From: Reinventing British manners the Post-It way –

I can see similarities to Ken Watanabe’s simplified problem solving methodology as presented in his best-selling children’s “Problem Solving 101

1. Understand the current situation current (Immersion)
Identify root cause (Sythesis)
Develop an effective action plan (Ideation)
Execute until solved, making modifications as necessary (Prototyping)


You can also see similarities between IDEO’s framework and Dan Roam’s framework for proble  solving through visual thinking as outlined in “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures“. In the book Roam explores a four stage process for solving any problem with visual thinking:

1. Look (Immerse/ Understand)
2. See (sythesis / Identify patters / root cause)
3. Imagine (Ideation / Plan)
4. Show (Prototype / Execute)

How do these map to the Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP)?

The UTP shares the core troubleshooting steps with the other three (3, 4,6,7 and 8), but it has some seemingly anachronous and superfluous steps (1,2,5,9 and 10). I say “seemingly” because experience has taught me that the Universal Troubleshooting Process steps are all necessary and in the right order.

It is aimed more at professional, routine troubleshooters and as such addresses the important psychological factors and habits that contribute to long-term effectiveness.

I cannot do this process justice in a few lines, but here is summary:

1. Prepare – This is about having the right attitude and mindset for troubleshooting as well as the required tools, skills and information. For professional troubleshooters (like Technical Support agents) attitude is one of the most important elements in their professional quality and success.
2. Make damage control plan – This is iatrogenic prevention i.e. do not make things worse. If forces you to think of consequences before trying pot luck fixes.
3. Get a complete and accurate symptom description– Here the UTP shares a step with the first principle of the other three (i.e. Look / Immerse/ Understand). In the UTP thi9s is usually achieved by creating a simple block diagram off the problem system so as to understand elements and relationships.
4. Reproduce the symptom This is part of fully understanding and verifying the current situation. You verify the symptoms and measure them.
5. Do the appropriate corrective maintenance – This step is again targeted at professional troubleshooters. So many problems are caused by bad maintenance and fixed by routine maintenance, that often it is worth running the standard best practice maintenance procedures over the system and seeing of that fixes the issue.
6. Narrow it down to the root cause This is the core step. Often it is a process in itself as you look from problem patterns, isolate elements of the system and systematically disqualify them as candidates for root cause. Eventually you generate a most likely root cause hypothesis and proceed to step 7.
7. Repair or replace the defective component Here you generate a plan to test the hypothesis by fixing, replacing or implementing a work-around for the root cause.
8. Test You now apply your fix and test to ensure the problem is indeed solved. 
9. Take pride in your solution – This is another psychologically important steps to help prevent burn-out and boost morale.
10. Prevent future occurrence of this problem – This is simple operational best practice. You learn from your problems, document your solutions and new knowledge, you modify systems and procedures to ensure the problem does not reoccur, or you can respond quickly and effectively.

This universal troubleshooting procedure has been a vital tool for my team and I in beating some extremely tough problems, sometimes involving desperate customers begging us to fix badly broken massively complex undocumented systems and us successfully finding and fixing the root cause problems in 24 hours where the system designers could not succeed for months.

I also heartily recommend the Dan Roam and Ken Watanabe books referred to above. They are both brilliant and accessible.

Dodgy Dopamine

Dopamine is thought of as the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter. New research is revealing that it is not quite a simple as pleasure drug: 

In the emerging view, discussed in part at the Society for Neuroscience meeting last week in Chicago, dopamine is less about pleasure and reward than about drive and motivation, about figuring out what you have to do to survive and then doing it. “When you can’t breathe, and you’re gasping for air, would you call that pleasurable?” said Nora D. Volkow, a dopamine researcher and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Or when you’re so hungry that you eat something disgusting, is that pleasurable?”

In both responses, Dr. Volkow said, the gasping for oxygen and the wolfing down of something you would ordinarily spurn, the dopamine pathways of the brain are at full throttle. “The whole brain is of one mindset,” she said. “The intense drive to get you out of a state of deprivation and keep you alive.”

Dopamine is also part of the brain’s salience filter, its get-a-load-of-this device. “You can’t pay attention to everything, but you want to be adept as an organism at recognizing things that are novel,” Dr. Volkow said. “You might not notice a fly in the room, but if that fly was fluorescent, your dopamine cells would fire.”

In addition, our dopamine-driven salience detector will focus on familiar objects that we have imbued with high value, both positive and negative: objects we want and objects we fear. If we love chocolate, our dopamine neurons will most likely start to fire at the sight of a pert little chocolate bean lying on the counter. But if we fear cockroaches, those same neurons may fire even harder when we notice that the “bean” has six legs. The pleasurable taste of chocolate per se, however, or the anxiety of cockroach phobia, may well be the handiwork of other signaling molecules, like opiates or stress hormones. Dopamine simply makes a relevant object almost impossible to ignore.

Should the brain want to ignore what it might otherwise notice, dopamine must be muzzled.

From: A Molecule of Motivation, Dopamine Excels at Its Task –

The Resilience Doctrine

David Steven and Alex Evans have a new article out in World Politics Review where they present “The Resilience Doctrine“. They argue that ” globalization is both unstable and inevitable, and that governments have little choice but to build collaborative platforms to manage risk…[and] conclude with a dozen guidelines for building an international system fit for the 21st century”.

Here are the guidelines summarised by the authors:

  • Develop a doctrine with resilience at its heart, using it to create a unified narrative about how to manage the risks the world will face between now and 2030.
  • Start with the ultimate objective of building and protecting global systems, cultivating a new constitution for the society of states.
  • Create incentives for connecting to the international system and increase penalties for exclusion. Avoid disrupting the global order for short-term gain.
  • Focus on function (what systems need to deliver in order to manage risk) over form (the organogram that devotees of international politics obsess over).
  • Build the global institutions (rules, norms, markets, organizations, etc.) needed to deliver these functions. Aim for a shared operating system capable of managing each key risk.
  • Invest in mechanisms that create, analyze and debate solutions, delivering the shared awareness that underpins successful reform.
  • Build shared platforms on which state and non-state actors can work together to re-engineer systems. Sustain them over the long periods needed to battle for systemic change.
  • Use open standards to foster interoperability, allowing networks of organizations to work together and achieve elevated rates of innovation and learning.
  • Develop a theory of influence tailored to the modern age and use it to bind together all the instruments of international relations (diplomacy, development, military).
  • Apply a rigorous principle of subsidiarity, devolving responsibilities to regional, national and local levels where possible, thus maximizing resilience throughout the system.
  • Use the opportunity to reform national governments, increasing their openness, while reducing the scope of their mission so that they do less, better.
  • Be accountable for outcomes, using shared metrics and external assessors to report publicly on whether resilience is increasing for those risks that will mean most to the future of our civilization.